Culture

Entenmann vs. Freihofer

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(Wikimedia Commons)

In response to Top 10 Entenmann’s Desserts — Definitive Ranking

Although I, too, honor the memory of Charles E. Entenmann, allow me to say a word for Charles Freihofer. For those of us who grew up in upstate New York (and no, New York City people, Westchester is not upstate), it is Freihofer cookies, cakes, and donuts that serve as the equivalent of Proust’s madeleine. In fact, it was a point of pride for upstaters to compare “our” boxed pastries and cookies to Long Island’s. I think I speak for all of my fellow provincials (or at least those in the Albany area) when I say that Freihofer’s chocolate chip cookies were the ne plus ultra of boxed chocolate chip cookies — far superior to Entenmann’s, at which we scoffed. If you want to understand the unceasing political acrimony of the upstate–downstate divide, look to the cookie.

Alas, the Freihofer Baking Co. was bought by a national company a while back, and the cookies were never the same after that. You can taste them only in memory, which of course makes them — sweeter.

Film & TV

Give Kenobi a Chance

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Ewan McGregor in the first trailer for Obi-Wan Kenobi. (Star Wars/YouTube)

In response to Obi-Yawn Kenobi

Rian Johnson and Jack Butler share a flaw: They don’t understand Star Wars.

Admittedly, this is a graver indictment of Johnson, Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi‘s director, than it is of Jack, the submissions editor of National Review. But nevertheless, the latter has seen fit to weigh in — hatefully, I might add — on the trailer for the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi show. This is what he objects to:

Jack suggests, without pointing to anything from the trailer, that he expects the series to be nothing more than a retread. It’s a remarkable enough thing for him to have denounced a series he hasn’t yet seen as stale and decadent, but it’s also ignorant in this case.

While the sequel trilogy — of which Johnson’s entry fits in as the ugly duckling and middle chapter — was inexplicably undertaken without a unified vision of the themes and plotlines that would dominate it, and thus ended up relying upon its forbearers to fill in its many gaps, other mediums have been a wellspring of new characters, and concepts.

Take the Inquisitors, the Jedi-hunters first featured in the animated Rebels show, who now play a prominent role in the Kenobi trailer. Jack brushes off the role they and other novel aspects of the show might play — “there may be new some new elements introduced, some new characters explored . . . But . . . ” — without fully considering the implications of their involvement.

Indeed, while he mocks the feasibility of reconciling a line from the original Star Wars ( “When I left you, I was but the learner. Now I am the master”) with the anticipated duel between Darth Vader and Kenobi in the series, he fails to see how Vader acting as teacher to a legion of red-saber wielding Force users can give new meaning and credence to the line.

But in levying his mistaken claim of sameness, Jack also misses the more important point: Star Wars shouldn’t be about telling stories completely untethered from those that have already been told. It’s about capturing that ineffable feeling that grabs you by the lapel when John Williams’s score hits, exploring the themes of family, brotherhood, betrayal, and ambition from within its singularly unique universe, and yes, to an extent, entertaining fans of the franchise. It didn’t need the wholesale makeover Johnson gave it in The Last Jedi, and it need not treat Ewan McGregor’s beloved portrayal of the beloved titular character like a leper now.

Obi-Wan Kenobi shows great promise, and if the reasons why have to be explained to you, you might be beyond redemption.

Jack confesses to being “something of a Star Wars hater now,” but I suspect that he has never understood it for what it is.

World

Biden’s Foreign Policy Inconsistencies Come to a Head in Iran Negotiations

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President Joe Biden speaks at the White House in Washington, D.C., March 3, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Despite speculations that the Iran deal would drop earlier this week, negotiators in Vienna are still stalling, primarily over Russian demands. EU foreign minister Josep Borrell tweeted that the final text of the agreement is “essentially ready and on the table.” 

Russia continues to demand that U.S. sanctions in response to the brutal invasion of Ukraine do not affect Moscow’s trade with Tehran. 

Given Putin’s needless brutality over the last months, it’s by no means unreasonable to block the Russians from seeking a perk from the proceedings in Vienna. On Tuesday, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland accused Russia of “trying to up the ante and broaden its demands” in Vienna, but said the U.S. is not “playing ‘Let’s Make a Deal.’” She confirmed that the administration has not made any binding guarantees to Russia for any insulation from sanctions. 

Biden’s overall response to Putin — including his recent sanctions on Russian oil — have been popular among the American people. According to a recent Wall Street Journal poll, 50 percent of voters approve of Biden’s handling of Ukraine, while 44 percent disapprove. This is better than the president’s overall approval rating, which is 42 percent with 57 percent of voters saying they disapprove of his job performance.

But the stance also reveals a deep inconsistency in the administration’s approach to foreign policy. While appropriately showing strength in response to the brutal invasion of Ukraine, Biden’s foreign policy elsewhere has been capitulatory, especially in the context of this deal. As I’ve written several times, the administration has been willing to give the store to Iran. Between conceding billions in sanction relief, an end to terrorism sanctions, flimsy limits on uranium enrichment, and effectively handing Iran a desperate oil market, the U.S. has shown weakness in response to a rogue and destabilizing regime. And yet, though a little late to the party, the Biden administration finally started punishing Russia for its regionally destabilizing behavior. 

Even when it comes to Russian involvement in Vienna, though, the White House has been deeply inconsistent in its projection of strength, allowing Russia far too much leverage throughout the negotiations. Behnam Ben Taleblu from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told National Review that “Russia has been Iran’s lawyer on the P5+1.” Countries like China and Russia want to use Iran “as a pawn in their game of strategic competition against the West. . . . Iran has often been the shoe that [Russia] could press against the side of Washington,” says Taleblu. And up until Ukraine, Biden gave Russia every impression it could use Iran to its benefit. 

Earlier today, Andy McCarthy listed Biden’s inconsistent approach in regards to Russia: 

Even as President Biden has condemned Russia’s aggression, his administration has made Putin’s regime its most significant intermediary in the talks with Tehran, a client of Moscow. Not only has Putin’s envoy, Mikhail Ulyanov, been delegated a leading role — because Iran still will not deign to meet with Biden’s Iran-friendly envoy, Robert Malley; the new deal hinges on Russia’s agreement to house the uranium that Iran has been enriching to levels ever closer to weapons grade.

Now, as negotiations stall, the Biden administration is facing the complications of its incoherent attempt at foreign policy. But hey, the deal was bad anyway, so you won’t see me shedding any tears.

U.S.

Give Us the Raspberry

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Entenmann’s Raspberry Danish Twist. (Philip Klein )

In response to Top 10 Entenmann’s Desserts — Definitive Ranking

Phil, this is a solid ranking in honor of the late Charles E. Entenmann, but you can’t please all the people all the time, and count me among them. You rank Raspberry Danish Twist as No. 6, which seems miserably low for such a superior baked good. It deserves top billing, IMHO (the “H” is for hungry).

You also raise this point:

This is a really great dessert option that could double as a breakfast food if you’re under 25, or just feeling decadent . . .

We can remove the caveats, I think. If there’s one convention that America has dispensed with, it’s the idea that breakfast isn’t just a continuation of dessert from the night before.

At Denny’s right now in this country, a current “to-go fave” is something called the “Cinnamon Roll Pancake Breakfast,” which is listed next to something else called the “Get That Cookie Dough Pancake Breakfast.” I’d say the only difference between that and dessert is the bacon, but bacon is a ubiquitous cake topping these days.

So: Raspberry Danish Twist, a really good dessert option that will necessarily also be breakfast for most everyone who buys it.

’Merica.

Politics & Policy

Amnesty International: Hell Yes, We Want to Destroy the Jewish State

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The logo of Amnesty International is seen next to director of Mujeres En Linea Luisa Kislinger, during a news conference to announce the results of an investigation into humans rights abuses committed in Venezuela during protests against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela February 20, 2019. (Carlos Jass/Reuters)

Amnesty International’s fixation on Israel veered into antisemitism with the publication of a “report” accusing the liberal democracy of employing “apartheid.” This ludicrous accusation — Arab Israelis, not without their own troubles, are perhaps the freest Arabs in the Middle East — is meant to associate the Jewish state with the defunct racist South African regime in the mind of Westerners to help spark an effort to isolate and economically destroy it.

If you think this is an exaggeration, let Amnesty International’s United States director Paul O’Brien set you straight. Speaking to the Women’s National Democratic Club last week, O’Brien argued that Israel “shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state,” and that the purpose of Amnesty’s report was to “collectively change the conversation,” which “needs to start first and foremost with the Jewish community.”

O’Brien contends that “we are opposed to the idea — and this, I think, is an existential part of the debate — that Israel should be preserved as a state for the Jewish people.” Though polls still show support for Israel among Jews, O’Brien told the group, his “gut” tells him that most do not actually support the Jewish state, per se, but a “safe Jewish space” that is predicated on “core Jewish values.”

A Jewish safe space was forged with rifles, tanks, and fighter jets. Today, O’Brien, and those like him, believe Israel should surrender to their enemies without firing a shot and again leave themselves defenseless. And for those unfamiliar with this debate, “Jewish values” is leftist lingo for “progressive values” — ideas untethered from any semblance of traditional Jewish culture or faith. Advocates of tikkun olam (“world repair”), a malleable nugget of mysticism excavated and highlighted by the Left to mysteriously align with the aims of progressive social-justice warriors and Marxism, have more ideological commonality with Noam Chomsky or Ilhan Omar than with Rabbi Akiba or Bar Kokhba.

Though I do wonder how, in this non-Jewish Greater Israel O’Brien envisions, the Hamas–Fatah unity government will implement Jewish values and protect Jewish safety. And what happens if they don’t? Will Amnesty International send troops to defend them? Or will it be the United Nations?

Politics & Policy

Democrats May Strip Iowa Caucuses of First-in-Nation Status

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Iowa State Capitol in downtown Des Moines. (dangarneau/iStock/Getty Images)

The Des Moines Register reports that the Democratic National Committee will consider a proposal shaking up the presidential-primary process that could end up stripping Iowa of its first-in-the-nation status. 

There are many reasons why the change might happen. Iowa is an overwhelmingly white and rural state, and many in the party want more racially diverse states to vote first. The 2020 Iowa caucuses were a disaster — the results weren’t known for days. But one essential reason why Democrats are even contemplating this change is that they no longer see Iowa as a key battleground state.

The state went for Al Gore by less than one percentage point in 2000 and went for George W. Bush by less than one point in 2004 before swinging decisively in favor of Barack Obama, who carried Iowa by nearly 10 points in 2008 and 6 points in 2012.

In 2016, of course, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in Iowa by 10 points, and in 2020 he defeated Joe Biden there by 8 points.

Stripping Iowa of Iowa of its first-in-the-nation status would be a sure sign that Democrats don’t expect the state to swing back to them anytime soon.

Culture

Entenmann’s Desserts, Cont’d.

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In response to Top 10 Entenmann’s Desserts — Definitive Ranking

I appreciated Phil’s ode to the recently deceased Charles E. Entenmann, who improved our lives immensely with his invention of truly wonderful boxed desserts.

Far be it from me to critique someone else’s taste in pastries, but I couldn’t let Phil’s top-ten ranking pass by without adding what is, in my view, the crown jewel of the Entenmann’s lineup: the rich frosted donut, a yellow cake donut encased in the precisely perfect amount of chocolate. The miniature version might be even better.

Sports

Are We Really Getting Baseball Back?

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MLB commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to the media before announcing the All-MLB team during the MLB Winter Meetings in San Diego, Calif., December 10, 2019. (Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sport)

We finally got some news that the Major League Baseball lockout appears to have come to an end, and the league has announced its delayed opening day, tentatively scheduled for April 7.

It’s a relief to know that spring baseball is almost certainly on its way now, but I’m not going to forget who caused this delay and why. Rob Manfred and the owners were in the wrong and should’ve acquiesced much sooner. The fact that they didn’t robbed us of at least two weeks of baseball, showing once again that they care way more about lining their pockets than they do about their players or their fans.

And while I’m of the mind that any baseball is better than no baseball, I feel somewhat similar to Ed Condon over at The Pillar: I’m not exactly enthralled with the game they’re planning to bring back.

Among the announced changes that, in my view, will alter the game for the worse are the long-threatened universal designated hitter, ads on players’ jerseys, a general pitch clock, a ban on defensive shifts, and a plan to enlarge the bases starting in the 2023 season. In short, while I’m glad they’ve finally agreed to play, it sounds like they’ll be playing a game that looks a lot less like baseball and a lot more like some watered down rapid-play version implemented by lazy dads who want to get their kids’ T-ball game over with faster.

These sorts of changes are always advertised as necessary to speed up the game and thus attract new fans, but I’ll say once again what I always say when I talk about the MLB and its crazy rules changes: There is not a single person in America who would be a loyal baseball viewer if only there were a universal DH, no defensive shifts, larger bases, and slightly less time between pitches. This mythical would-be fan simply does not exist. And in the process of trying to win these mythical people over, MLB continues to alienate its loyal viewers who actually love the game.

World

Talks on Biden’s New Russia-Iran Nuke Deal ‘Paused’ . . . for Now

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi gestures as he speaks at Tehran’s Friday prayer on the occasion of the 43rd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution of Iran in Tehran, Iran, February 11, 2022. (President Website/West Asia News Agency/Handout via Reuters)

The European Union’s top diplomat has announced a “pause” in the Vienna negotiations on reviving the America-led multilateral deal to delay Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. Eleventh-hour Russian demands are said to be the culprit.

EU foreign minister Josep Borrell, in a tweet, cited “external factors” as the cause for suspending the talks. The Washington Post reports that the seven parties were on the cusp of a new deal when things were derailed by last weekend’s Russian demands for written assurances that its key participation in the deal would be insulated from sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies. The sanctions were imposed because of the unprovoked and brutal invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin’s regime.

As I detailed in a column last weekend, even as President Biden has condemned Russia’s aggression, his administration has made Putin’s regime its most significant intermediary in the talks with Tehran, a client of Moscow. Not only has Putin’s envoy, Mikhail Ulyanov, been delegated a leading role — because Iran still will not deign to meet with Biden’s Iran-friendly envoy, Robert Malley; the new deal hinges on Russia’s agreement to house the uranium that Iran has been enriching to levels ever closer to weapons grade.

Borrell reports that the new agreement is so close to being completed that its final text is “essentially ready and on the table.” In fact, the Post says that “a podium for the final ceremonies had been erected in the Palais Coburg hotel” where negotiations are taking place.

Besides the U.S., Iran, and Russia, four other nations are participating in the talks: China, Britain, and — from the EU — France and Germany. The Post speculates that the deal could be completed without Russian participation, particularly if another country were to accept the role of storing Iran’s enriched uranium (the return of which, by the way, Iran expects — and sooner if its side of the bargain decides that the U.S. is not keeping up its end).

Don’t be surprised if China steps up to the plate.

Contrary to the Biden administration’s claims, the new deal would not be a revival of its Obama-Biden administration predecessor, the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Among other things, it is anticipated that Iran would receive sanctions relief for matters separate from its nuclear work, including its sponsorship of anti-American terrorism, its ballistic-missile development, its regional aggression, and its human-rights abuses. The sanctions relief would immediately make approximately $90 billion in frozen assets available to Tehran, which would also reap an estimated $50 to $55 billion in additional annual revenue from oil production enabled by the deal. (See my other prior posts on this, here, here, and here)

White House

As the Pandemic Fades, Biden Doesn’t Get a Bump in the Polls

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President Joe Biden speaks at the White House in Washington, D.C., March 3, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Democratic hopes that the end of the pandemic would boost Biden’s poll numbers don’t seem to be panning out.

A new Wall Street Journal poll finds that just five percent of Americans say the coronavirus pandemic “is the most important issue that you want the President and U.S. Congress to make a top priority.” Most Americans (50 percent) answered inflation and the economy, while 25 percent said Russia and Ukraine, and 15 percent said immigration and the border.

The same poll finds that only 19 percent of Americans say that “COVID is still a serious threat that should continue to be treated as a public health emergency that includes restrictions.” 

Despite the end of the pandemic as a major public-policy concern, Biden’s approval rating remains mired in the low 40s. The latest Journal poll shows his approval rating at 42 percent approve, 57 disapprove — essentially unchanged from November’s results of 41 percent approve, 57 percent disapprove.

Polling averages have also shown little improvement in Biden’s job-approval rating since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 23.

Culture

Top 10 Entenmann’s Desserts — Definitive Ranking

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Boxes of Entenmann’s desserts in grocery store. (Philip Klein, National Review)

This week brought the news of the recent death of Charles E. Entenmann, 92, who helped turn his family bakery into a national brand of boxed pastries and desserts. Many people, especially those in the NY-metro area, grew up eating Entenmann’s desserts. I have many fond memories of destroying boxes of their cookies and cakes. In my house, we typically skipped the step of cutting the cake into slices and simply dug right in with a fork (we weren’t great at sharing in my family). As part of a tribute to Entenmann and his legacy, I have compiled a ranking of the bakery’s top ten desserts. 

Before proceeding, I would just offer one caveat. In this list, I have focused on products that are in regular and wide production and highlighted on the company website. I’m sure boxed pastry aficionados can point to more obscure or seasonal offerings. For my part, I loved their chocolate blackout cake (in the style of the legendary Ebinger’s Blackout Cake), but I have not seen it since around 2002. I had a bit of a tres leches cake addiction in 2005, but it’s been a long time since I’ve come across that one. 

Without further delay, here are the definitive rankings: 

10) NY-Style Crumb Cake — If you want something similar to the crumb donuts described below, but prefer a cake format, this is a really good option. Truth be told, I prefer the softer Drake’s Coffee Cakes as mass-produced coffee cakes go, as the Entenmann’s version has harder crumbles. But this is still a solid option in the crumb-cake genre. 

9) Cheese Danish Twist — The name says it all. Nothing fancy, but even a standard cheesy danish with some icing on top is still pretty damn good. 

8) Pop’ems — These are tasty glazed donut holes. Back in the day, this was one of my go-to items to bring to parties when I knew beverages were already covered. They did not disappoint.  

7) Marble Loaf Cake — Simple and good. That about sums it up. Just sweet enough to pack a punch without being overwhelming. Versatile as a good treat with a hot beverage, or as a dessert. To kick it up a notch, you can add whipped cream and berries. 

Entenmann’s Raspberry Danish Twist.

6) Raspberry Danish Twist — This is a really great dessert option that could double as a breakfast food if you’re under 25, or just feeling decadent — a mix of cake, with raspberry jam running through, and drippings of white icing on top. 

5) Chocolate Fudge Cake — A classic chocolate cake with a rich chocolate icing. While this has a great taste, the icing can harden, especially in colder weather, and become a distinct unit from the cake. On many occasions, I have had the icing stick to my fork and separate from the cake, requiring awkward attempts to try and reassemble the cake and maintain the ratio. Still, the flavor is strong and the cake part moist, so it’s worth dealing with this one issue — especially if you are in need of a chocolate bomb.

4) Louisiana Crunch Cake — This one doesn’t get enough credit and offers a bit of variety. It’s a tube cake, with a nice crunch to it as well as coconut flavor. I remember one time being sick in my room during grad school with just a Louisiana Crunch Cake handy, and it served me well.

3) Crumb Donuts — While the company produces a variety of donuts, the two types that I have in mind when I think of Entenmann’s involve crumbs on top. One of them is the standard buttery donut with glaze and pellet-sized crumbs on top, and another is the Devil’s Food crumb donuts, which have chocolate cake and crumbs, but are also glazed and with some powdery sugar on top. The other donuts are not as good (for instance, I find that the chocolate-coated ones lack flavor). 

A box of Entenmann’s Crumb Donuts.

2) Chocolate Chip Cookies — These are the perfect small chocolate chip cookies, soft enough to be chewy but firm enough to maintain structural integrity. A distinct flavor and the right ratio of chips to cookie dough. This is a great product for sharing with friends without the need for utensils or plates. It’s a challenge to avoid eating the whole box in one session, as you can pop them like M&Ms.  

1) Marshmallow Devil’s Iced Cake — The king of them all. Moist chocolate cake, smooth white frosting, and more crumbles of chocolate cake on top. None of the icing separation issues described above in the Chocolate Fudge Cake come with this one, as the frosting remains soft and fuses perfectly with the cake, delivering the perfect texture to match the explosive flavor. You could serve this to me at a fine-dining restaurant and I’d have a big smile on my face. 

The Real ‘Especially Dangerous’ Materials in Those Ukrainian Biological-Research Labs

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(MIND_AND_I/Getty Images)

When Florida senator Marco Rubio asked Victoria Nuland, the U.S. State Department’s undersecretary for political affairs, “Does Ukraine have chemical or biological weapons?” we all would have been better off if Nuland had accurately and clearly answered, “Ukraine has no biological weapons program, but the country has plenty of laboratories doing public health research that house pathogens that can be dangerous.”

Instead, Nuland answered, “Ukraine has biological-research facilities, which, in fact, we are now quite concerned Russian forces may be seeking to gain control of” — a statement that suspicious minds interpret as an inadvertent admission that Ukraine has a secret

Politics & Policy

A Statement from the Acme Corporation of St. Louis about the Bad Bill

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(Martin Barraud/Getty Images)

The Acme Corporation of St. Louis wishes to express its opposition to the bad bill that was passed through the legislature recently. As an employer that values equality, diversity, and inclusivity, we stand unequivocally against the bad things that this bill will do. Bad things harm all of us, and we understand that many of you are hurting at the prospect of those bad things happening to you.

At Acme, we believe it is important to speak clearly. And that’s why we are speaking out specifically against the parts of the bill that affect women’s health and dignity. Or voting, if that’s what this one is supposed to be about. Good Lord it is hard to keep up, isn’t it? Every few months, young people come into my office using words I don’t understand, crying, and making wild claims about what the latest thing they’ve read about on Twitter is going to do to America, and, to get rid of them I have to agree to write one of these letters. I’ve noticed that none of those horrible things I’m supposedly trying to stop ever actually seem to happen, but that this doesn’t seem to stop the requests. In my staff come — month in, month out — to tell me I have to stand up for this or urge that or be an ally of the other. So I do. I didn’t think this was that sort of job, but I guess every sort of job is that sort of job now.

One time, they came in here and told me that I had to write a letter on behalf of the whole company—to oppose the idea that corporations can have moral or political values. That one was a challenge. “Only individuals can have consciences,” I wrote, “The Acme Corporation condemns any claim to the contrary.” Over the past few years, I’ve written big checks to help get money out of politics; condemned the role that white guys such as myself play in the system; and, at the request of an intern I only hired because I go fishing with his Dad, lamented “the colonization of the BIPOC arts by the architects of misogynoir.” It’s all very odd. We make small-gauge industrial piping, for goodness sake.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. We stand in favor of the political views of some of our employees, and against the political views of the rest. How do we decide? We side with the loudest. Diversity is important, as I like to say, but it’s important that we pick sides in major arguments, too. There is no room in America for bad bills that some of our employees dislike. And remember, we are all in this together: There is no me in Acme.

Energy & Environment

Today in Capital Matters: Clean Energy

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Jakob Puckett writes about how Biden’s approach to clean energy misses the point:

But the time for subsidies (if there ever truly was one) has passed, as technological advances have cut the cost of generating power from wind and solar plants substantially. In fact, the Energy Information Administration estimates of wind and solar generation by 2031 without Build Back Better subsidies are nearly identical to the Congressional Budget Office’s expectations with the subsidies. That these subsidies are expected to have such negligible effect should be a clue that something else is holding back clean-energy development.

The biggest obstacle to getting more clean energy on the grid isn’t federal spending. It’s regulation.

Read the whole thing here.

Elections

Poll: Republicans Beat Democrats among Hispanics, at 27 Percent among Black Voters

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President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., March 1, 2022. (Saul Loeb/Pool via Reuters)

There is a lot of grim news for President Biden and Democrats in the latest Wall Street Journal poll (Cliff Notes version is that while more Americans approve of his handling of Ukraine, they give him low marks for his handling of other issues more important to them, particularly inflation). But I just wanted to take a moment to flag this part of the poll, which is remarkable and not something I can recall ever seeing before:

The survey also found Republicans making gains among minority groups. By 9 percentage points, Hispanic voters in the new poll said they would back a Republican candidate for Congress over a Democrat. The two parties had been tied among Hispanic voters in the Journal’s survey in November.

Democratic margins also eroded among Black voters, who favored a Democrat for Congress by 35 percentage points in the new survey, down from 56 points in November. Support for a Republican candidate rose to 27% among Black voters, up from 12% in November.

It’s fair to say that if these numbers are anywhere close to the actual results, Democrats will be massacred in November.

World

Tempest-Tossed Lives

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A child waits with her family to board a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 22, 2021. (Sergeant Samuel Ruiz / USMC)

The world marches on, often violently. It was only seven months ago that we Americans withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban retook power. That was a disaster, a horror — an occasion for shame, depending on your point of view. Today, there are three and a half million people displaced within Afghanistan. Many people are starving. Abroad, there are two and a half million refugees (most of them in Iran and Pakistan). The Afghan disaster is so great, it’s hard to focus the mind. Better, sometimes, to read about an individual. And I have written about one today: here.

I have known him for several years. Jalil Pazhwak is a journalist and translator, age 23. By the time he was 21 or so, he had had enough experiences for several lifetimes. So it is with Afghans in general. Jalil made it out of Afghanistan and into America. But his mind is on people back home — especially those he is close to. The news is perpetually disturbing.

In any event, I think you will enjoy getting to know Jalil Pazhwak a little. He is an impressive person.

Eyes are on Ukraine right now, as well they should be. There is a link between Afghanistan and Ukraine — and it shows how quickly the world moves. It was only last August that Ukrainian soldiers were acting nobly at the Kabul airport, trying to evacuate as many people as they could. They are many Afghan refugees in Ukraine. Were?

Jalil Pazhwak told me about people he knew, or knew of, trapped in Ukraine. For a brief period, they were free and (relatively) safe in Ukraine. And now . . .

As I say in my piece today, I thought of a phrase from our culture: “tempest-tossed.” “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me.” The phrase “tempest-tossed” comes from the Bible: Isaiah. “O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted . . .” As I say at the end of my piece, “We who live in free and unthreatened countries are incredibly lucky.”

Education

A ‘Frenemy’ on the Left

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Students of New York University (NYU) hold signs during a demonstration joining with other colleges across the nation participating in #SanctuaryCampus, a protest against President-elect Donald Trump in Manhattan, New York, November 16, 2016. (Bria Webb/Reuters)

Every so often, you come across one of those old-fashioned leftists who doesn’t go along with the toxic strands of modern “progressive” thinking, such as identity and diversity.

There aren’t many of them, but among them is Robert Boyers. In today’s Martin Center article, Professor Joseph Knippenberg contemplates his new book The Tyranny of Virtue. Knippenberg focuses his review on what Boyers has to say about the obsessions with identity and diversity.

He writes, “Reflecting both on his own journey from a working-class Jewish boyhood in Brooklyn and on his experience as a teacher, he emphasizes the active role we ourselves play as we move from ‘our families and communities of origin’ to a community of more or less like-minded friends and colleagues that we foster for ourselves. We do not, in his view, totally abandon our old family ties, but we become something more than just a person who only bears the family name and all the burdens and limitations that attend it. Thus he is troubled—as am I—by students who think they can only be what they were when they arrived on campus, as a young woman described in an article who says that she is ‘going home, back to the ‘hood of Chicago, to be exactly who I was before I came to Oberlin.’”

In sum, academic leftism seeks to saddle people with identities (usually freighted with a host of historical grievances) that get in the way of individuality and intellectual growth. Boyers dislikes “the smug attachment to easy ideas,” so characteristic of so many academic leftists today.

Both Boyers and Knippenberg would like to see the university again become a place where people are free to explore ideas and discuss them with civility. Alas, the intolerant leftists who now dominate (think, for example, of the law students who refuse to allow Ilya Shapiro to speak because they are offended by a tweet of his) are not inclined to allow that to happen.

International

Europe, Natural Gas, and Never Letting a War Go to Waste

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attends a news conference at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, December 10, 2021. (Johanna Geron/Reuters)

Olaf Scholz, Germany’s new chancellor, has come up with a more vigorous response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine than many (including me) would have expected, whether it’s freezing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline approval process or proposing a massive (if long overdue) increase in German defense spending.

However, there are certain steps that he is not going to take.

Politico:

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz today pushed back against calls from the U.S. and Ukraine for a ban on imports of Russian gas and oil as part of international sanctions on Moscow.

“Europe has deliberately exempted energy supplies from Russia from sanctions,” Scholz said in a statement, adding: “At the moment, Europe’s supply of energy for heat generation, mobility, power supply and industry cannot be secured in any other way. It is therefore of essential importance for the provision of public services and the daily lives of our citizens.”

…Scholz said that his government and European partners have been “working hard for months” to develop alternatives to Russian energy supplies, but stressed that “this cannot be done overnight.

That, sadly, is true. Not only did Germany develop an unhealthy dependence on Russian gas, but it failed to develop a realistic plan B to develop alternative sources of supply in the event that there was a falling out with Putin. And Germany was not, of course, the only European country to fall into this trap.

To say that this cannot be sorted out “overnight” is to put it very mildly indeed. To take one example, for all the talk of a Berlin airlift-style operation to deliver liquefied natural gas (LNG ) to Europe, there are not as yet enough tankers, liquification facilities (at the exporting end) or regasification terminals in Europe to fill the gap.

And there’s another problem, it seems, with that approach too.

Reuters:

White House efforts to boost U.S. liquefied natural gas exports and cut Europe’s reliance on Russian gas after the invasion of Ukraine are proceeding slowly, because of concerns about the impact on climate change, government and industry sources said.

The White House was weighing the announcement of an interagency review of ways to boost LNG exports to Europe alongside Tuesday’s decision to ban U.S. imports of Russian oil products, people briefed on government decision-making told Reuters.

However, the interagency review has been shelved, at least for now, after some in the White House argued it would counter the administration’s efforts to wean the U.S. off fossil fuels consumption and production and tackle climate change, the sources said.

The priorities of the Biden administration are . . . interesting.

In time, doubtless (which will be more likely a matter of years than months, although the EU Commission is convinced that the plan it has produced would reduce demand for Russian gas by two-thirds in 2022), a solution can be implemented, but until that time arrives, Putin has the threat to turn off the taps, a threat that will hang over much of the EU until then.

In an article for Bloomberg Green, Akshat Rathi and John Ainger look at whether people could be persuaded to use less fuel (current high prices will, I suspect, probably do quite a bit of that persuading), or even whether Europe should consider “rationing energy supplies to avoid importing from Russia.”

Rathi and Ainger conclude:

Most climate scenarios involve reducing energy use as one of hundreds of steps that will help countries zero out planet-warming emissions. But it’s been hard to get most people to treat global warming as an emergency. Nobody questions the emergency nature of wars, which removes many political constraints, including on asking for energy sacrifices.

“If not now, then when?” said Bryony Worthington, a member of the [British] House of Lords and co-chair of Peers for the Planet.

Never let a war go to waste.

Economy & Business

The Market Is Not Enough

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I wrote today for Politico on responding to the economic dimension of the era of Great Power competition that is now clearly upon us:

The new, more threatening era underlines the urgency of what should have already been priorities. We need a much bigger defense budget; we need an all-of-the-above energy policy that takes full advantage of our Saudi Arabia-like bounty of fossil fuels; and we need to use public policy to ensure we are meeting national needs not necessarily fulfilled by the free market alone.

Much of the latter involves the economic competition with a mercantilist China that doesn’t play by our rules and has the ultimate goal of accumulating economic and strategic advantages to eclipse us on the world stage.

This isn’t an indictment of international trade as such — even unfair practices by most countries aren’t of high consequence. However irksome Canada’s timber policies may be, Ottawa is not going to leverage them to eventually wage war on the United States. Nor does every jot and tittle of our trade relationship with China matter. At the end of the day, it matters little how many U.S. soybeans China imports, an obsession of President Donald Trump during his trade battles with Beijing.

No, our focus should be on maintaining a first-class military, winning the high-tech race with China, and reducing our vulnerabilities in the event of a war that disrupts supply chains and our access to key strategic materials and goods.

A robust market economy is a foundational national strength of the United States, but it is not sufficient to achieving these goals and, in some cases, militates against them. It will be painful for some free-market-oriented Republicans to admit this, yet public policy has to be flexible enough to take account of circumstances — principles have to be tempered by prudence.

Culture

25 Things That Caught My Eye: Life in America, Ukraine and Religion, Lent, & More

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1. Father Jacques Hamel murder: Catholic archbishop says ‘justice is done’ as 4 are convicted

2. Biden promotes abortion policies on International Women’s Day

“Every person deserves the chance to live up to their full God-given potential, without regard for gender or other factors,” Biden, a Catholic, said in his March 8 statement. “Ensuring that every woman and girl has that chance isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s also a strategic imperative that advances the prosperity, stability, and security of our nation and the world.”

Biden went on to detail his administration’s efforts intended to improve the status of women, including the launch of “a whole-of-government effort to protect reproductive rights.” He concluded with a call to “renew our efforts to advance dignity, equality, and limitless possibilities for all.”

A girl’s possibilities are obliterated by abortion, as it happens.

3. WHO Calls Down Syndrome A ‘Severe Birth Defect,’ Blasted By Parents Of Special Needs Children

4. Alexandria [Va.] was asked to honor abortion providers. Then Catholics and conservatives spoke up.

5. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith & Tessa Longbons: The FDA Should Follow England—And the Science—on Mail-Order Abortion

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided last December to eliminate a longstanding patient safeguard stipulating that abortion pills could only be dispensed in person. But for abortion advocates that wasn’t enough. The “safer than Tylenol” claim is part of their ongoing effort—with willing help from spoon-fed journalists—to make abortion pills seem risk-free.

Meanwhile, the British government moved in the opposite direction. It announced at the end of last month it would reinstate a requirement that women who want the abortion pill first see a medical professional in person. The reason: safety.

The in-person requirement had been temporarily suspended in England during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Department of Health and Social Care faced significant political pressure to make the suspension permanent. The ruling Conservative government is overwhelmingly pro-choice. But after an extensive review of safety problems that arose during the rule’s suspension, Health Minister Maggie Throup said the priority must be “women being able to access health services in a safe, secure way.”

Among the safety concerns identified in the government review, one stands out.

“Domestic abuse was raised as an issue in the public consultation,” the Department of Health and Social Care said. “We intend to work closely with the Violence Against Women and Girls sector and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to ensure safeguarding and domestic abuse are central to ongoing work.” England now acknowledges abuse and exploitation of women and girls are among the very real risks associated with mail-order abortion.

Without direct, in-person consultation between a pregnant woman and a medical professional prior to chemical abortion, not only is it difficult to diagnose serious risk factors such as an ectopic pregnancy, but the door is left wide open for vulnerable women and girls to be bullied or physically forced into an unwanted abortion. Unfettered and unfiltered access to abortion pills dramatically reduces the possibility of detection and deterrence.

6.

Continue reading “25 Things That Caught My Eye: Life in America, Ukraine and Religion, Lent, & More”

World

Staring Ukraine in the Face

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A woman, Natasha, 83, on a shuttle bus after crossing the border from Ukraine to Poland, March 8, 2022 (Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters)

The reality in Ukraine is hard to look at. Think how much harder it must be to live.

Tetiana Perebyinis and her children, Alisa and Mykyta, are three Ukrainians. Were. They were killed while trying to flee. You can read about them in the San Jose Mercury News, here.

Here is a bulletin from CBS: “Injured mothers were evacuated on makeshift stretchers, while soldiers cared for children,” after Putin’s forces destroyed a children’s hospital and a maternity ward.

The Associated Press reports, “A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Mariupol. Corpses lie in the street as people break into stores in search of food and melt snow for water. Thousands huddle in basements, trembling at the sound of Russian shells pounding this strategic port city.”

From the Financial Times:

With the civilian death toll mounting, Mariupol’s local authorities have resorted to digging a mass grave, saying normal burials have become impossible.

“Sadly, there are just too many bodies,” said Vitaly Falkovsky, a local official. “It was a necessary measure because we can’t bury people in the normal way. The morgues are overflowing.”

(For the rest of that report, go here.)

Let me tell you something. I hope I’m wrong, but I believe these events will be quickly forgotten, if they are known at all. If you bring them up, people will accuse you of exaggerating. And of having a “Cold War mentality.” And of suffering from “Russophobia.”

It’ll happen, I bet.

The perpetrators and their allies will be welcomed back into international councils. Putin apologists will dot our media, doing what they have always done.

• Are people sticking with Putin, even now? They are back on their heels a bit. Maybe blushing. But once you are invested in something — you stay invested, as a rule. Moreover, many people admire Putin’s violence as “strength.”

Writes Illia Ponomarenko, “My fellow townsmen fleeing Volnovakha tell me lots of dead bodies are scattered in the streets. Russia simply swept the town of 25,000 off.”

Here is a picture of Kyiv, evacuating. Here is a village church, burning. A great defender of Christian civilization, is Vladimir Putin. His actions, in Ukraine, Russia, Syria, and elsewhere, are nothing if not Christ-like.

• Look at the face of a woman named Natasha. Eighty-three years old, she was a child in World War II. She has now fled from Ukraine into Poland. Some people won’t let other people alone. Dictators — murderous, expansionist dictators — won’t let other people alone.

There is no use reasoning why. You just have to stop them, if at all possible.

• The town of Mariupol, which Putin has destroyed, is (was?) almost 100 percent Russian-speaking. Asks Eli Lake, “Does anyone still believe Russia that this was a defensive war, that they were protecting Russian speakers, that it was Ukraine that was committing genocide?”

• Let no one fool you. Let no one fog you up. Guilt for this war — this assault, this nation-effacement — belongs to Vladimir Putin. Not President Biden, or the United States, or NATO, or the West. Not the “neocons” or the “mainstream media.” Putin — plus his allies and enablers, who are legion.

• Some Ukrainians are starving, even as Putin’s forces are bombing them. Ukraine cries out for some version of the Berlin Airlift. But by whom and how? To stand by and watch others being starved and murdered is a kind of agony itself.

• I commend a piece by Eliot A. Cohen (always commendable): “The Strategy That Can Defeat Putin.”

• “Russian protestors report being beaten and tortured in detention,” writes Julia Ioffe. “One captured her beating on tape. ‘Putin is on our side,’ says one cop over the sound of blows. ‘You are enemies of the people.’”

It’s always “enemies of the people” with these guys. Can’t they come up with something new, over the generations and centuries? “Enemies of the people,” “enemies of the people.” They are almost boring in their stupid authoritarian language.

• It is so good, and so important, to hear from Vladimir Kara-Murza, the Russian democracy leader (who has twice survived poison attacks by his government’s agents): “Why the West should help Russians learn the truth about Putin’s war in Ukraine.”

• Luke Harding, the veteran Russia reporter at the Guardian, quotes Mikhail Shishkin, the Russian novelist: “Putin is committing monstrous crimes in the name of my people, my country, and me. Putin is not Russia. Russia is hurt and ashamed. In the name of my Russia and my people, I beg the Ukrainians’ forgiveness.”

“Putin is not Russia,” says Shishkin. This is in stark contrast with the infamous statement by that Putin lackey in the Duma: “There is no Russia without Putin.”

• Ivana Stradner is a Jeane Kirkpatrick fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. (That is a title that could have been designed in a laboratory to spook our nat-pops: “Jeane Kirkpatrick fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.”) She took note of a demonstration by Russians in Australia, in favor of Putin. That’s an old human story. Listen to what people say, yes. But, even more, watch what they do. Consider where they live. “People vote with their feet,” goes an old saying. Do they ever.

Those Putin-loving Russians in Oz? I’m sure Vlad would be glad to have them back. Wouldn’t he?

• Amir Taheri, the great expat journalist from Iran, tweeted about Éric Zemmour, one of the big nat-pops in France. Allow me to translate:

He pretends that Russia has never attacked a country first. I have a list of 113 invasions by Russia of 22 countries, including all its neighbors, between 1525 and 2022. If Zemmour is interested, I can send him the list.

I doubt Zemmour or his followers are interested.

• Of Matteo Salvini, I have written before. He is the big nat-pop in Italy, one of the biggest Putinists in Europe. He once wore a Putin T-shirt — Che-style — in Red Square. That kind of thing. Salvini has been to Putin what a bobby-soxer was to Frank Sinatra.

Lately, Salvini has been performing stunts. He had himself videoed bringing flowers to the Ukrainian embassy in Rome. And now? I will quote from a report in Politico:

Matteo Salvini’s admiration for Vladimir Putin came back to bite him during a visit to Poland on Tuesday when a local mayor reminded the Italian far-right leader of the appalling actions of “the person you call a friend.”

Salvini, head of Italy’s League party, was in Przemyśl on the border with Ukraine when the mayor, Wojciech Bakun, held up a T-shirt emblazoned with Putin’s face and the words “Army of Russia” during a press conference . . .

Salvini wore a similar shirt during a visit to Red Square in 2014, when he was a member of the European Parliament. He also wore a similar shirt a year later in the Parliament in Strasbourg . . .

Standing next to a visibly uncomfortable Salvini, Bakun said: “Look at what the person you call a friend did to the people who come across the border in numbers of 50,000 a day.”

Here is a video of the event. An Italian is heard yelling at Salvini, “Buffone! Pagliaccio! Vergogna! Vai a casa!” “Buffoon! Clown! Shame! Go home!” That word vergogna rang with special meaning: yes, shame, if Matteo Salvini and his like are at all capable of feeling it.

• With Putin supporters and defenders, American conservatives should have no truck. Let there be a clean break, at long last, between American conservatism and the illiberal, authoritarian-friendly Right. America ought to be exceptional, including in its conservatism.

• A headline from the Wall Street Journal: “Russia Recruiting Syrians for Urban Combat in Ukraine, U.S. Officials Say.” (Article here.) Gregg Nunziata tweeted,

I say, with love, to my nat con friends: the guy importing Islamist fighters into Europe to help him kill women and children is not the defender of Christendom you hoped he was.

Mr. Nunziata is a very nice man.

• I look forward to post-post-liberalism — or good ol’ freedom, democracy, and human rights, as embodied in the American founding, and realized in fits and starts. Look around the world. Does dictatorship look sexy to you? I know it doesn’t. Putin, big strong macho man? No, a little egomaniac, who gets his jollies flattening cities and killing people. Dictatorship is a siege of tears, a war on good.

• In a previous set of notes, I wrote, “It seems that Putin has at last awakened the West. But how soon will the West fall back asleep?” A reader tells me that I reminded him of the subtitle of Churchill’s book Triumph and Tragedy: “How the great democracies triumphed, and so were able to resume the follies which had so nearly cost them their life.”

• Reading an article by Jim Geraghty, “The Russia Hawks Were Right,” I thought of something. “Hawks” are often accused of warmongering and so forth. But I have always said: If it were up to me, there would be no militaries. No police departments. No locks on doors. But it’s not up to me, or you. And people should deal with the world as it is.

Economics

Profits Are Not the Problem for Oil Companies

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) questions Deputy Treasury Secretary nominee Adewale Adeyemo during his Senate Finance Committee nomination hearing, on Capitol Hill, February 23, 2021. (Greg Nash/Pool via Reuters)

Senator Elizabeth Warren has an idea:

If she had opened the Wall Street Journal yesterday, she would have read the following:

Leaders of the fracking companies that helped make the U.S. the world’s top oil producer say they are responding to calls by the Biden administration and others to increase production after oil prices this week topped $130 a barrel and gasoline prices surged, threatening to dent the broader economy.

But the executives say that some investors, who felt burned after shale drillers gave priority to expansion over profits last decade and lost billions, are still concerned that the companies might spend too much if they return to rapid growth.

They also say that a flight of capital from the fossil-fuel industry in recent years has left U.S. oil patches without enough fracking equipment to bring a ton of new wells online, and that a resurgence of go-go drilling would deplete companies’ most valuable drilling locations. [emphasis added]

That’s right, oil companies are having a hard time attracting investors now because they were perceived to have supplied too much oil and made too low profits over the last ten years.

Most of America’s oil drilling is actually done by relatively small, independent firms, not by Big Oil. From the Independent Petroleum Association of America:

The U.S. Internal Revenue Code section 613A(d) defines an independent producer as a producer who does not have more than $5 million in retail sales of oil and gas in a year or who does not refine more than an average of 75,000 barrels per day of crude oil during a given year. There are about 9,000 independent oil and natural gas producers in the United States. These companies operate in 33 states and the offshore and employ an average of just 12 people.

Independent producers develop 91 percent of the wells in the United States – producing 83 percent of America’s oil and 90 percent of America’s natural gas.

These are not fat cats who should have their profits confiscated by the federal government.

Profits operate as a signal to investors, saying, “Send your money over here.” As these oil companies increased production even when oil prices were relatively low, they didn’t make huge profits. Now that oil prices have gone through the roof, profits will go up, which is great news for them because they desperately need more capital to produce more oil.

The Journal explains:

Small but instrumental players [are] short of the financing they need to repair fracking equipment sidelined during the start of the pandemic, or invest in building drill bits, drilling rigs and blowout preventers.

Chris Wright, chief executive of Liberty Oilfield Services Inc., one of the largest U.S. hydraulic fracturing companies, said the nation’s fleet of available, working fracking equipment is almost fully deployed already.

“A lot of equipment has been retired, a lot of equipment is past its useful life,” Mr. Wright said.

He added his company estimated the U.S. oil industry is only going to add about 15 more fracking fleets to the 235 that were operating in key basins by this summer. “The market goes from tight to quite tight,” he said.

What the federal government needs to do is let the price signals in the market work to attract new capital investment to these oil companies so they can buy the equipment they need. Taxing away their “windfall profits” would keep them starved for capital and unable to increase production.

Senator Warren’s idea is not only misguided, it would actually do the opposite of what she wants. Capital-poor oil-drilling firms will remain capital-poor if their profits are taken by the government — and capital-poor firms are not going to increase oil supply.

Film & TV

Obi-Yawn Kenobi

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The Star Wars fan-service machine churns along. Behold: a trailer for Obi-Wan Kenobi, a forthcoming Disney+ series depicting events in the life of the famous Jedi between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope:

Given that prequel Kenobi actor Ewan McGregor is, well . . . alive (though that hasn’t stopped Disney before), and Disney (since 2012, the owner of Lucasfilm) has lots of money, the existence of this series — set to premiere in May — is not much of a surprise.

In fact, we can probably expect little in this series to be a surprise. In 2020, when Ross Douthat found himself turning toward the Star Wars prequels for their purported anti-decadent spirit, I argued that he was mistaken:

To a person concerned with decadence — a kind of comfortable yet staid cultural holding pattern in which an already-existing civilization circles endlessly around its past achievements without generating anything new — novelty is high praise. To bestow upon the prequels this honor, even if they failed to achieve it properly, is a bold claim. It is also an incorrect one. It is wrong on its face, belied, in the first place, by the very idea of a prequel, which is to elaborate upon things we already know. And it is further confounded by the evidence of repetition that abounds in the stories themselves. Oh, look: A Skywalker destroys the enemy’s command ship! That’s new! Oh, look: A Skywalker loses a limb! Unprecedented. Oh, look: a younger Jedi loses his mentor! Haven’t seen that before. The whole enterprise exists in conscious, deliberate, rote relation to what came before, relying on allusion and reference and what one could charitably call “symmetry” to fill in the gaps left by vacuous storytelling.

“In relying on their own form of cultural inheritance to the point of exhaustion and turning endlessly upon themselves,” I argued, “they represent a form of decadence all their own.” I expect this series to be similar. There may be new some new elements introduced, some new characters explored. Star Wars fans might find this all very wizard. But at the end of the series, Obi-Wan, Darth Vader, and Luke Skywalker will all be alive, waiting for the events of A New Hope to begin.

I doubt, morever, that this series will attempt to reconcile some of the more nonsensical incoherencies of the prequel trilogy with the original trilogy. Such as the fact that Obi-Wan Kenobi, supposedly in hiding, uses the airtight disguise “Ben Kenobi,” while also wearing the same Jedi garb he did before it was decreed that all Jedi be killed. Or how when Vader and Kenobi see each other again for the first time in two decades — unless this series retcons that — Vader calmly and confidently approaches the man who cut off his limbs and left him to burn by a fiery lava pit. “When I left you, I was but the learner. Now I am the master.” Sure, George Lucas was definitely planning everything all along.

Anyway, I’m something of a Star Wars hater now that I can spend time in a richer, more entertaining desert. Come at me, Star Wars fans.

Religion

Masks Now Optional at D.C. Catholic Schools

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Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser testifies at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on the D.C. statehood bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 22, 2021. (Carlos Barria/Pool via Reuters)

Earlier this week, I wrote about the efforts of the Alliance Defending Freedom to end a mask mandate for Catholic schools in Washington, D.C. Catholic schools technically fall under the authority of the Archdiocese of Washington, which last month instituted a mask-optional policy. But they remained legally beholden to the D.C. government’s mandate. This meant that Catholic schools in the parts of Maryland in the archdiocese no longer required masks, while those just across the border in the District did — a ridiculous situation.

Incoherence abounded, in fact: As of last Monday, churches no longer had a mask requirement, making schools the outlier, and comparable secular activities didn’t either. This last fact led ADF to make an argument that the policy was a First Amendment violation, with religious exercise treated with undue harshness by the mandate. ADF’s case also made note of the social, educational, and physical harms of continued mask-wearing.

Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner reports that, in the face of formal legal action, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser has folded (somewhat):

It was perfectly fine for 20-somethings to go unmasked on a packed dance floor at Cafe Citron. But a 6-year-old sitting at a school desk at Sacred Heart School was considered a public health risk if her face was uncovered.

That was the logic underlying the February mask rule issued by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. Catholic school parents sued Bowser on Tuesday to correct this idiocy. That same day, Bowser backed down, dropping her school mask mandate.

While the mandate is no longer in force, masks aren’t going to disappear from schools just yet. Washington-area publication DCist notes:

D.C. Health lifted its indoor mask mandate for schools on Tuesday, shifting the decision to require face coverings in schools – or not – to education leaders.

The updated guidance does not necessarily mean students in the District will immediately be able to attend school without a mask. D.C. Public Schools, the city’s traditional school system, and individual charter operators may still choose to maintain their mandates.

D.C Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said in a statement the 51,000-student school system will keep its mandate for the time being. Ferebee said the district will engage with the Washington Teachers’ Union and other groups representing school workers before moving forward with any decisions.

So the madness may continue, to some degree. But Catholic schools need no longer be party to it.

Energy & Environment

How Are Environmentalist Groups Responding to the Energy Crisis?

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Protesters against fossil fuel hold signs along a road as President Joe Biden visits Mather, Calif., September 13, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

The three highest-spending environmental groups during the 2020 election cycle were the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and the Sierra Club. All in all, they ran up a pretty good tab: $18,058,948 from LCV, $6,491,361 from EDF, and $4,047,638 from the Sierra Club, according to OpenSecrets.

The Biden team worked hand in glove with environmental activists on the campaign trail and throughout the administration’s first year in office, maintaining that its effort to decarbonize the economy would be good for American interests in the long term. But in the face of rising gasoline prices and new sanctions on Russian oil, that strategy has come under fire from many of the White House’s critics. It’s worth looking at how dominant environmentalist groups such as the LCV, the EDF, and the Sierra Club are responding to the burgeoning energy crisis. After all, their advocacy sits at the intersection of environmental and energy policy. 

The League of Conservation Voters’ main web page has links to an article about “celebrating black leaders who defined the environmental justice movement,” a call to tell the Senate we need climate action now!, and a memo about “why LCV’s fight for voting rights and democracy reforms is stronger than ever.” There’s also a (now months-out-of-date) report on a “Jan. 6 Candlelight Vigil for Democracy,” detailing how thousands gathered across the country “in remembrance of that dark day one year ago when insurrectionists stormed the Capitol, threatening our precious democracy.” There’s no mention of Russia, Ukraine, or rising gas prices on the home page. A search of the whole website reveals two March press releases on the topic: The first, a statement from the LCV president solemnly informs readers that “the need to ban Russian oil in response to Putin’s unlawful attack on Ukraine is a sobering reminder of why we must end our addiction to fossil fuels.” The second argues that “families in need of relief from higher costs are being lied to by corporate polluters and their allies — we can’t drill our way out of high gas prices. The only real solution to high, unreliable energy costs is investing in clean, renewable energy and shifting to electric vehicles.”

The latest updates on the Environmental Defense Fund’s front page celebrate “Biden’s first year: A robust record of climate action,” and feature a statement from the organization’s vice president of equity and justice on “the ongoing harmful legacy of redlining.” But nothing on Russia, Ukraine, or rising gas prices. The whole website features only one mention of the issue, published March 4: “The truth about Russia’s war: Our addiction to oil gives Putin power.” The article, penned by EDF’s senior vice president of energy, laments “how sad” it is “that some columnists here in the United States are using it as an opportunity to spin up a partisan attack on the Biden administration’s energy policy.”

The Sierra Club’s home page features a call for designating the site of the Springfield Race Massacre as a national monument, a section celebrating Women’s History Month, and links to campaigns for passing the “For the People Act,” expanding “equitable access to the outdoors,” and “tearing down” the border wall. Ukraine, Russia, and gas prices don’t appear. A search of the website reveals just one mention of the energy crisis sparked by the Ukraine invasion this month, titled: “Amid War, Ukrainians Envision a Fossil-Free Future.” (“And how Big Oil is attempting to exploit the crisis,” the subtitle notes, without a hint of irony.)

Alas, the environmentalist movement deserves better leaders. When it comes to energy security and climate policy, it’s not actually an either/or. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. But rather than attempt to explain, rationally and coolly, how a cleaner economy would serve U.S. interests in the long run — while recognizing that an all-of-the-above approach is the only viable way to get there in the interim — the top environmentalist organizations are opting to either politicize the crisis or ignore it altogether.

All this is a stark illustration of the difference between so-called “climate justice” and serious, prudent climate action. The latter is a sustained, long-term approach — endorsed by serious thinkers from across the political spectrum — that recognizes the relationship between U.S. leadership on clean energy and green technology and American prosperity in the 21st century, while rejecting alarmism and utopian schemes. The former is an abstract ideological project that serves as a not-so-subtle Trojan horse for the entire progressive agenda. The Green New Deal, for example, was not originally “a climate thing at all,” according to one of its chief architects, Saikat Chakrabarti. Instead, Chakrabarti admitted to the Washington Post in 2019, “We really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.” When they tell you who they are, believe them.

One would have hoped that our contemporary predicament would provoke serious self-reflection and strategic reassessment on behalf of left-wing climate-advocacy groups. The fact that they haven’t figured out how to respond to the energy crisis points to a serious defect in their worldview.

World

Expose the Perpetrators of War Crimes Now

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In the march up to Baghdad in 2003, there was concern that Saddam would order chemical attacks against our forces. By overt and clandestine means, each of Saddam’s generals was individually and firmly warned that if he fired a chemical weapon, his name and address were known, and he would be prosecuted for war crimes.

That technique can be applied on steroids in Ukraine today. President Zelensky should announce that the Ukrainians know the name and have a photo of every Russian commander of an air, artillery, or missile unit. The time and location of each war crime will be sent to NATO, together with the name of the Russian commanding officer responsible.

To take the concept a step further, post the names and pictures on the global Internet of all Russian officers commanding a battery or above. Announce that they and their families are banned from all NATO countries. Don’t just ban oligarchs. Impose a serious, long-term cost upon all Russian commanders deploying to Ukraine. Crank up the public pressure.

Should We Redo the Census?

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(Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The Census Bureau has a confession to make. A pair of analyses “revealed that the 2020 Census overcounted or undercounted various demographic groups”:

The results show that the 2020 Census undercounted the Black or African American population, the American Indian or Alaska Native population living on a reservation, the Hispanic or Latino population, and people who reported being of Some Other Race. On the other hand, the 2020 Census overcounted the Non-Hispanic White population and the Asian population. The Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander population was neither overcounted nor undercounted according to the findings. Among age groups, the 2020 Census undercounted children

White House

Secretary of State Blinken Sure Gets Overruled a Lot in This Administration

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President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken attend the EU-US summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 15, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

If this Politico report is correct, and President Biden rejected the advice of Secretary of State Antony Blinken to assist in the transfer of Polish jets to Ukraine, it fits a pattern.

On Sunday, Blinken said Poland had a “green light” to send its MiG-29s, and added, “We’re talking with our Polish friends right now about what we might be able to do to backfill their needs if, in fact, they choose to provide these fighter jets to the Ukrainians.”

Politico reports: “Five U.S. officials said there was general agreement within the administration that Washington should work with Warsaw to support Ukraine. But staffers from the Pentagon and intelligence community opposed the three-way plan.” (If the Pentagon and intelligence community opposed the plan, that leaves the State Department and National Security Council to support it.)

Early on, Blinken pledged that the administration “will stand against human rights abuses wherever they occur, regardless of whether the perpetrators are adversaries or partners.” Then Biden watered down the penalties against human-rights abusers.

Blinken wanted to immediately lift the Trump-era cap on refugee admissions, but Biden overruled him. Blinken pushed for a slower withdrawal from Afghanistan, and Biden chose to go in the other direction.

You have to wonder how satisfied Antony Blinken is, serving as secretary of state to a president who rarely seems to accept his advice.

Energy & Environment

So the Biden Administration Is Pro–Fossil Fuels Now?

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President Joe Biden participates in a meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) on climate change, from an auditorium at the White House in Washington, D.C., September 17, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

On the 2020 campaign trail, Joe Biden positioned himself as a staunch opponent of fossil fuels. During the Democratic primaries, he pledged not to accept donations from PACs, lobbyists, or executives of fossil-fuel companies. (And he even returned a donation from an oil executive to prove he was serious.) He toed a similar line after clinching his party’s nomination. “I would transition away from the oil industry, yes,” he said in an October 2020 presidential debate with Donald Trump. “The oil industry pollutes, significantly . . . it has to be replaced by renewable energy over time.” The Biden campaign released an ambitious climate plan hailing its septuagenarian executive as a “climate change pioneer,” praising the Green New Deal as “a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face,” and promising to “take action against fossil fuel companies and other polluters who put profit over people and knowingly harm our environment.”

That attitude continued to color the early days of the Biden administration. On January 27, 2021, the new president signed an executive order promising a “whole of government approach to put climate change at the center of our domestic, national security, and foreign policy.” He quickly moved to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate agreement, cancel the Keystone XL pipeline, and pause new leases for oil and gas drilling on public lands. John Kerry — the elder Democratic Party statesman known for his fondness for private jet travel — was appointed to the position of “climate czar” in the new administration. In April, Biden pledged to halve U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030. 

But reality has a way of scuttling even the most ardent utopian fantasies. As gas prices soar — and are set to climb even higher in the face of new sanctions on Russian energy — the American electorate’s interest in punitive domestic-energy policies, even those justified in the name of environmental conservation, is likely to diminish. Climate change is real, and will have consequences for American interests in the coming decades. But it is necessarily an elite issue. Wealthy activists like Kerry can afford to worry about something as seemingly abstract as a steady increase in global temperatures. Working- and middle-class voters are understandably more concerned about the immediate issue of the price at the pump.

That presents a challenge for the more prudent environmentalists who want to see a global reduction in carbon emissions, driven by U.S. leadership on clean energy and green technology, but understand that a serious approach to climate action must serve American interests rather than coming at their cost. This White House has modeled the exact inverse of that approach, pursuing a haphazard and incoherent “worst of both worlds” energy and environmental strategy. In its early days, the administration kicked off an aggressive war on domestic oil and gas production. It’s not clear what the White House thought that would accomplish; whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t a viable and smooth transition to a cleaner fuel economy. And when American energy prices inevitably began to climb, there was no Plan B. 

Today, the administration is in outright denial about the effects of those policies. To hear the White House tell it now, this has been the most aggressively pro–fossil-fuel administration in recent memory. At a press conference earlier this week, Biden struck a tone on oil and gas that would have been unrecognizable a year ago:

It’s simply not true that my administration or policies are holding back domestic energy production.  That’s simply not true.

Even amid the pandemic, companies in the United States pumped more oil during my first year in office than they did during my predecessor’s first year. 

We’re approaching record levels of oil and gas production in the United States, and we’re on track to set a record of oil production next year. 

In the United States, 90 percent of onshore oil production takes place on land that isn’t owned by the federal government.  And of the remaining 10 percent that occurs on federal land, the oil and gas industry has millions of acres leased.  They have 9,000 permits to drill now.  They could be drilling right now, yesterday, last week, last year.  They have 9,000 to drill onshore that are already approved.  

So let me be clear — let me be clear: They are not using them for production now.  That’s their decision.  These are the facts.  We should be honest about the facts. 

That was an echo of a similar line from White House press secretary Jen Psaki a day earlier. During a heated interchange with Peter Doocy of Fox News, Psaki maintained that “the suggestion that we are not allowing companies to drill is inaccurate,” and that “we have actually produced more oil . . . at record numbers, and we will continue to produce more oil.” The Biden administration, she boasted, “produced more oil this past year than in President Trump’s first year. Next year, according to the Department of Energy, we will produce more oil than . . . ever before.” In fact, she argued, the problem wasn’t that Biden’s environmental policies were hindering domestic oil and gas production — it’s that the oil companies weren’t drilling enough. “There are 9,000 unused, approved drilling permits,” she said. “So, I would suggest you ask the oil companies why they’re not using those if there’s a desire to drill more.”

Should there be a desire to drill more? Psaki didn’t say. And therein lies the fundamental incoherence of the White House’s line on energy and environmental policy. Fluctuating between “climate change pioneer” and “drill, baby drill” is no way to run a country.

Politics & Policy

Colorado Considers Expansive Pro-Abortion Legislation

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Colorado state capitol building in Denver. (carl173/iStock/Getty Images)

Legislators in Colorado are considering a bill, the Reproductive Health Equity Act, that would radically expand legal abortion in the state. According to the draft text, the bill would allow abortion for any reason throughout all of pregnancy, prohibit regulations on abortions chosen based on the child’s sex or diagnosis with a disability, remove parental-notification requirements for abortions performed on minors, and forbid safety regulations aimed at protecting the health of pregnant mothers seeking abortions.

What’s more, the law would explicitly state that “a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent or derivative rights” under state law.

Democratic state senator Julie Gonzales, one of the bill’s sponsors, said at a rally promoting her legislation that it is needed “to ensure that Colorado is truly a legal and safe place for anyone seeking access to their right to reproductive care.”

Colorado has a long history of promoting legal abortion; in 1967, it became the first state in the country to permit abortion outside of instances when a woman has been raped or her life is at risk. In 2020, Colorado voters considered a ballot measure that would’ve made abortion illegal after 22 weeks’ gestation, the point at which unborn children are able to survive if born prematurely. That measure failed, 59 percent to 41 percent.

The Way to Beat Ilhan Omar or Marjorie Taylor Greene Is through Their Primary Opponents

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Representative Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., April 10, 2019 (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

The more offensive and radical a member of Congress is, the more grassroots donors from the other party all across the country want to help defeat them. For the parties and outside groups, that can be a boon to fundraising. But donations made directly to a hopeless campaign are wasted money that could be better spent elsewhere. As a conservative, I would love to see Ilhan Omar replaced by a Republican. Progressives such as Ed Kilgore of New York would love to see Marjorie Taylor Greene replaced by a Democrat. And if Omar or Greene ran for statewide office or ran

Politics & Policy

National Populism Loses Momentum

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After rapidly rising in influence, this faction of conservatism is suddenly beset with troubles on all sides. My new Bloomberg Opinion column.

It’s been a rough few months for national populists.

They’re the faction of the American right that is challenging the tenets of the conservatism we have known since the 1950s. That conservative consensus included a strong preference for free markets, support for an assertive foreign policy willing to use military force abroad based on an expansive conception of U.S. interests, and moral traditionalism. The populists instead favor a much more restrained foreign policy and government activism to protect working-class families. It wants to retain the social conservatism, which it believes will be better served by a politics that is less attuned to corporate sensibilities than conservatives have historically been . . .

Music

Roll Over, Beethoven — the Cancelers Come for Tchaikovsky

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The Bolshoi’s David Hallberg and Maria Alash rehearse Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty in 2011. (Denis Sinyakov / Reuters)

In the old TV series The Waltons, one episode set during the beginning of World War II pits John-Boy against the townspeople. To highlight the growing European conflict, John-Boy wants to print excerpts from Mein Kampf in his newspaper, but the community objects strongly. John-Boy and his family become the target of vandals, and he is ready to give up the printing when everything comes to a head: The local preacher has gathered German books for a public burning. Appalled, John-Boy snatches a book from the pile and asks if anyone in the crowd can read German. A woman who has heretofore remained quiet about her heritage for fear of retribution bravely steps up. What was the book she read from? The Bible.

Today, a comparable cancellation effort is underway, with its sights set on Russia — its composers, to be specific. Cardiff Philharmonic is under fire after announcing that it would remove the music of Russian composer Tchaikovsky from an upcoming concert. While the orchestra’s director, Martin May, stated that the decision was due to the military nature of the two programmed Tchaikovsky pieces and the fact that a current orchestra member has family involved in the Ukraine conflict, the Western outrage was immediate.

Though May claims this is a one-time occurrence and that the music of other Russian composers scheduled for later in the season will remain untouched, his original decision presents the possibility of a slippery slope. This war will end, but Russia may well commit another atrocity — should Tchaikovsky remain canceled? What about Shostakovich, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Mussorgsky? Why not cancel them, too? One might argue that the 1812 Overture was written about a Russian victory, but that shouldn’t matter. One of the beauties of music is its ability to transcend time and space.

What the Ukrainian people are suffering is horrific, but canceling a long-dead Russian composer with no connection to Putin does not help those in need and serves only to deprive listeners of the much-needed splendor and majesty of Tchaikovsky’s works.

Law & the Courts

The Cruelty and Recklessness of LGBT Ideologues

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Trans pride flag at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., June 23, 2021 (David Berding-USA TODAY Sports)

On Monday, the Heritage Foundation hosted a panel discussion titled “How Radical Gender Ideology Is Taking Over Public Schools & Harming Kids.”

One mother who spoke was Abby Martinez from California. She explained how her suicidal teenage daughter, Yaeli, was taken into foster care after Abby expressed skepticism that gender transition would cure her daughter’s severe mental-health problems.

Several years later, at the age of 19, Yaeli killed herself by stepping in front of a freight train in Pomona, Calif.

The response of local LGBTQ+ ideologues — who had already done so much to break up a loving family and alienate a deeply troubled adolescent from those most willing and best positioned to help — was to lament that they didn’t meddle even further.

“Andrew [Yaeli’s trans name] M.’s death must be met with urgency to provide youth, including transition-age youth in foster care, identified as LGBTQ+ with support and resources to live proud, productive, happy lives,” reads a motion proposed by Los Angeles County supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl. Solis and Kuehl pledged to “create and implement prevention and intervention services that minimize family rejection when such services are necessary.”

The implication, which conveniently absolves them of all accountability, is that Yaeli’s family is the reason she killed herself and that, if only her family had been more effectively “re-educated,” this tragic outcome could have been avoided.

How cruel and arrogant can you be?

Of course, Abby Martinez’s version of events tells a very different story. Abby says that it was nothing but her skepticism of the supposedly life-saving benefits of gender transition that led the school psychologist (in partnership with LGBT activists) to tell the Department of Child and Family Services that Yaeli would be better off out of the house.

“They took away my daughter when she was 16 years old,” Abby tearfully told the audience at Heritage. “I tried my best to get her back. Going to court every single month. I never missed a court day because I wanted my daughter back. That’s all I wanted — to see her happy, and back home.”

Now that will never happen.

Watch Abby’s testimony here. Her segment begins around 21:00.

 

World

NATO Begins a ‘Cold Response’ Training Exercise in Norway Next Week

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An F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-211 (the “Fighting Checkmates”) takes off from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman under way in the Atlantic Ocean, September 7, 2018. (Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Joseph A.D. Phillips/US Navy)

At the beginning of the month, the U.S. government canceled a previously scheduled intercontinental ballistic missile test, to ensure the test could not be “misconstrued” by Russia. Many observers saw it as a reasonable or even wise step to ensure Russia did not misperceive it as an American nuclear attack. But others, like the Washington Examiner‘s Tom Rogan, argued that the decision sent the wrong signal to Vladimir Putin: “It is nonsensical to offer an olive branch in face of a sword being waved in your face. Putin, a leader inculcated by the KGB in the mastery of deception, manipulation, and brinkmanship, acts with and will not be disabused of this KGB mentality by American hesitation.”

Whatever you think of the decision to cancel the scheduled missile test, the sense of just what is too easily misconstrued by Russia or escalatory or provocative seems pretty fuzzy these days. On Monday, NATO launches Cold Response, a long-planned training exercise in Norway.

This training exercise will be a big one — approximately 3,000 U.S. Marines will join roughly 30,000 military forces from 27 NATO ally and partner nations. Approximately 220 aircraft and more than 50 ships will take part in the exercise, including two aircraft carriers, the HMS Prince of Wales and the USS Harry S. Truman.

The Norwegian armed forces even made a slick English-language video previewing the training operation:

The Norwegian military states, “This exercise is a central arena for testing the deployment of the NATO Response Force, and for Norway it is important to test its system of receiving, catering for and managing the allied reinforcements arriving in Norway.” (Notice no one says who those forces would be deploying to fight, or why Norway would need those NATO reinforcements. But looking at a map, there’s a big country on the other side of that northernmost eastern border.)

NATO is quick to emphasize that “this year’s exercise was announced over eight months ago. It is not linked to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine, which NATO is responding to with preventive, proportionate and non-escalatory measures.” Norway informed Russia about the exercise back in January and invited Russia, as well as all member nations of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to observe the exercise; Russia declined the invitation.

Portions of the exercise will occur in Norway’s “High North,” above the Arctic Circle, but Norwegian authorities emphasize that “there is a solid distance to Russia, and we are very much aware of what areas we operate in and for our not moving too close to Finnmark.” (Finnmark is the Norwegian county that shares a border with Russia.)

The NATO exercise is likely to proceed without incident. But it is a little surprising that a routine, regularly scheduled missile test is considered too dangerous at this moment while a major NATO exercise involving tens of thousands of troops, more than 200 airplanes, and two aircraft carriers off the coast and in a country bordering Russia isn’t.

World

Five More Questions for Stephen Kotkin: Ukraine Edition

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Last month, Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson asked Princeton Professor and Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Stephen Kotkin five questions, all in the foreign-policy and history realm. Since then, the world has changed in ways that were unimaginable just three weeks ago. So we asked Professor Kotkin to come back for a second round of questions, this time all dedicated to one topic: the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And as usual, his answers are concise, incisive, and analytic. If you want to understand this crisis and some possible outcomes, don’t miss this conversation.

Recorded on March 3rd, 2022

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Economic Dependence

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Jordan McGillis of the Institute for Energy Research writes about economic dependence on Russia and China:

Too late for its energy security and, more obviously, too late for the Ukrainians, the Germans have realized the folly of energy alignment with a geopolitical foe. As Russian forces gathered on the border with Ukraine in February, new German chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a certification halt to Nord Stream 2. As the invaders moved deep into Ukraine, Scholz announced that Germany will increase its strategic reserves of natural gas and coal. Even with these changes, though, Germany refuses to starve the Russian war machine by abstaining from its energy exports altogether. Inexplicably, the German government decided on March 9 not to extend the lifespan of the country’s existing nuclear facilities. Decades of policy errors associated with the Energiewende, coupled with a refusal to devote adequate funds for defense, have rendered Germany tottering geopolitically.

Glaring as Germany’s shortsightedness now appears, the U.S. is stumbling into an analogous trap with our primary geopolitical opponent. Menacing though Russia is, for the United States, the long-term challenge is China, a state seeking to establish hegemony in the world’s most populous and most economically dynamic region, the Asia-Pacific. This century’s global politics will be defined by Sino-American competition in that region — and the world more broadly. Amid this reality, the United States ought to reconsider an energy and environmental orientation that favors China.

Read the whole thing here.

Politics & Policy

How Could ‘the Gain from Transferring those MiG-29s’ Be So Low?

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A Polish air force MiG-29 assigned to the air force’s First Tactical Air Wing, flies at the wing of a U.S. Air Force C-130J Super Hercules aircraft out of Ramstein Air Base, Germany, during Aviation Detachment Rotation 21-4 over Powidz, Poland, September 21, 2021. (Airman Edgar Grimaldo/USAF)

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby, yesterday: “The Ukrainian Air Force currently has several squadrons of fully mission capable aircraft.”

Two weeks into the war, that is terrific news, and indicates that the Russian air force is perhaps much less effective than its reputation suggested.

But there’s a catch. Fighter squadrons typically are assigned 18–24 aircraft. Assuming several means two or more, this means Ukraine has at least 36 mission-capable aircraft remaining.

According to Flight Global’s world air force directory, at the start of 2022, Ukraine reportedly had 43 MiG-29s, twelve Su-24s, 17 Su-25s, and 26 Su-27s — plus another eight MiG-29s and six Su-27s used for training that could presumably be thrown into service. That adds up to 112 fighter planes.

So far, there are accounts of twelve Ukrainian combat aircraft destroyed or heavily damaged — seven MiG-29s, three Su-27s, and two Su-25s.

Ukraine started the war with perhaps as many as 112 combat aircraft, and now has at least 36, and perhaps as many as 100.

But this makes another comment from Kirby yesterday implausible: “We assess that adding aircraft to the Ukrainian inventory is not likely to significantly change the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force relative to Russian capabilities. Therefore, we believe that the gain from transferring those MiG-29s is low. ”

Clearly, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and his country’s military see it differently. It is simple math. In a fight against an invading Russian army, would you rather have 36 MiG-29s, or add Poland’s 28 jets and have 64 MiG-29s available to patrol the skies and attack invading Russians? Adding Poland’s jets would nearly double the amount of MiG-29s that Ukraine can bring to the fight.

PHOTOS: MiG-29 Fighter

 

International

The Coming Food Crunch: Hoarding and the Hunt for Self-Sufficiency

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A farmer harvests wheat during the sixty day of the lockdown imposed by the government amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus in Lalitpur, Nepal, May 22, 2020. (Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters)

On Wednesday, wheat prices took a bit of a breather, down to around $11.10 a bushel, ending a six-day run. As I noted the other day:

Wheat futures had shot through $12 a bushel as of Friday’s close, well over double where they were before the pandemic, and are up again today.  Wheat prices had been rising for quite some time before the Ukrainian crisis, but this is yet another turn of the ratchet, and it seems reasonable to think that they will rise further.

I’ll stick with the view contained in the last sentence.

As Trading Economics reminded us:

Amid heavy sanctions and restrictive measures from western economies, exports from the Black Sea have nearly halted. Multinational food companies such as Bunge and ADM have closed facilities in the region, while the world’s biggest container ship operator, Maersk/MSC, suspended service to Russian ports. At the same time, the Ukrainian military suspended all commercial operations from Ukrainian ports. Such supply disruptions came on the heels of an already tight market with wheat stocks in major exporting countries at low levels.

Among the consequences of this, a growing search for food self-sufficiency will provide another example of the fissures that are opening up in globalization.

The Wall Street Journal:

Food security and self-sufficiency have long been high on the agenda of Chinese policy makers. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine gives Beijing more reasons to focus on the issue. Weaning itself off imported foodstuffs would mean more investment into the biotechnology industry and more widespread use of genetically modified food.

Given lemons, the Chinese will make genetically modified lemonade.

The WSJ:

Over the weekend, Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated the importance of being self-sufficient in food, according to state news agency Xinhua. “The rice bowls of the Chinese people have to be filled mainly with Chinese grain,” he said.

History weighs. China has had terrible experiences of famine (a number of them due to the policies of the Communist party, something that Xi is unlikely to be stressing), and its unease will be increasing  in a world where trading relationships are shifting: The trade war with the U.S. at the end of the last decade highlighted, among other things, China’s vulnerability when it comes to food.

One particular weakness that is emerging on the back of the current Russo-Ukrainian war is likely to be that a shortage of sunflower oil, a major Ukrainian export, will drive up prices for alternatives such as soybean oil. The latter is important as, the Journal’s Jacky Wong explains, “China imports more than 80% of what it consumes. Soy is also critical as feed for pigs, the country’s main source of meat protein.”

A move to greater agricultural self-sufficiency is also in line with China’s shift to a form of fascism: The quest for substantial economic autarky, at least in certain sectors, was a characteristic of mid-century fascism, and, as Wong observes “self-sufficiency is a key economic plank” of Xi’s regime. Food will be no exception. The historically minded will note that Mussolini pursued his “battle for grain” to that end. And that did indeed lead to a substantial increase in production, although, to no small degree, it damaged other agricultural sectors. Central planning can be like that.

Wong:

[B]oosting  [China’s] domestic crop output might be easier said than done. Urbanization has driven labor to cities and reduced arable land. The country needs better technology to improve crop yields. That probably entails use of GM foods: China has been revamping its regulations on that in recent months. Scarce water, particularly in the north, is another intractable problem.

Improving agricultural productivity was probably the main rationale for state-owned chemical company ChemChina’s $43 billion acquisition in 2017 of Swiss seed and pesticide company Syngenta, which is in the process of an initial public offering in Shanghai. But the other heavyweight GMO companies are mostly American and European such as Monsanto, Dow, BASF and DuPont. China will hope to groom its own homemade champion, but that would take time and investment.

There have been other acquisitions as well.

And, to borrow Ray Dalio’s unfortunate formulation, the “stern parent” has been busy too.

Nikkei Asia:

The National People’s Congress, China’s national legislature, in April adopted a food waste law that bans excessive leftovers. At the end of October, the Chinese Communist Party and the State Council instructed officials on how to reduce food waste.

In fact, China will be able to avoid trouble for quite some time. Its buyers have already been marching in lockstep with Xi.

Wong:

The direct impact on China should be manageable. China imports around 7% to 10% of its wheat and corn, according to Goldman Sachs. Such imports have jumped in recent years, partly because the country has been filling up its strategic reserves. China’s grain reserves are at a historically high level, state media reported in November. They could probably be used to soften the blow.

And how high is historically high?

According to a report from Nikkei Asia published in December, China has managed to stockpile more than half of the globe’s maize and other grains. Its reserves are good for a year and a half.

Other countries may not be so fortunate.

Bloomberg:

Grains are the staples that keep the world fed, with wheat, corn and rice accounting for more than 40% of all calories consumed. But grain stockpiles are poised for a fifth straight annual decline. A combination of higher shipping costs, energy inflation, extreme weather and labor shortages have made it harder to produce food.

As a result, global food prices are already at record highs, with the benchmark U.N. index increasing more than 40% over the past two years. The surge has had crushing consequences. Food insecurity has doubled in the past two years, and the World Food Programme estimates 45 million people are on the brink of famine.

The current crisis is going to make things worse, likely sending hunger to unprecedented levels as the conflict turns millions of people into refugees and sends food prices even higher…

The world has grown hugely dependent on Ukraine and Russia for their wheat, a crop used in everything from bread to couscous and noodles. The nations account for a quarter of global trade. They are also cheap suppliers, which makes their exports favorites for importers in the Middle East and North Africa, including in Egypt, the world’s biggest wheat buyer.

As I observed in my earlier note, rising prices in those markets will have political consequences.

And there’s something else too: While the specialization that comes with being part of a globalized market comes with enhanced efficiency and productivity, it can also increase vulnerability at difficult times.

Bloomberg:

Many countries have positioned agricultural production toward exporting a few key products, rather than for food sufficiency. So nations like Ghana and Cameroon can be big global players in the cocoa market, but are still hugely dependent on shipments for wheat.

Meanwhile, grain-exporting nations can see what’s happening in Russia and Ukraine and decide that the world won’t have enough wheat or barley, so instead of shipping, they move to keep supplies at home. That can lead to a dangerous domino effect of increasing protectionism that hurts the world’s poorest and the countries most-dependent on imports.

There are some early signs of protectionism brewing. Hungary is banning grain exports, and Serbia’s president said Monday the country will soon curb wheat shipments. Argentina and Turkey made moves last week to increase their control over local products. . . .

In Cameroon, which imports all of its wheat supplies, prices for grain shipments have jumped 70%. On top of that, the surging price of oil is sending freight rates soaring, so transportation costs for wheat have climbed by some 70% as well, according to Jean Marie Kakdeu, president of the Cameroon Coalition for the Promotion of National Production . . .

To repeat myself, if I had to guess, wheat’s breather won’t be for very long.

National Security & Defense

More Bad News on the Botched Handling of Poland’s MiG-29s

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Polish Air Force MiG-29 take off for a training mission at the military airport near Minsk Mazowiecki, Poland, December 6, 2005. (Peter Andrews/Reuters)

In response to The Botched Handling of Poland’s MiG-29s

It gets worse. The AP reports:

The Pentagon on Wednesday slammed the door on any plans to provide MiG fighter jets to Ukraine, even through a second country, calling it a “high-risk” venture that would not significantly change the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Polish counterpart on Wednesday and told him the U.S. assessment. He said the U.S. is pursuing other options that would provide more critical military needs to Ukraine such as air defense and anti-armor weapons systems.

Poland had said it was prepared to hand over MiG-29 planes to NATO that could then be delivered to Ukraine, but Kirby said U.S. intelligence concluded that it could be considered escalatory and trigger a “significant” Russian reaction.

Kirby’s remarks went beyond his comments in a statement Tuesday, rejecting Poland’s offer to give fighter jets to the United States for transfer to Ukraine.

Defense department spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday (emphasis added):

The intelligence community has assessed that the transfer of MiG-29s to Ukraine may be mistaken as escalatory and could result in significant Russian reaction that might increase the prospects of a military escalation with NATO. Therefore, we also assess that the transfer of MiG 29s to Ukraine to be high risk.

By conceding now that transferring any fighter jets to Ukraine from a NATO country “may be mistaken as escalatory,” the Biden administration has almost certainly ensured that neither the United States nor any NATO ally would transfer the jets as long as the war persists — even if circumstances change and the Ukrainian need for the jets becomes greater.

The latest concession from the Defense Department comes just three days after Secretary of State Blinken gave the “green light” to Poland to transfer the jets to Ukraine:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that NATO members have the go-ahead to send fighter jets to Ukraine as the U.S. and allies continue their efforts to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s invasion.

“That gets a green-light,” Blinken said in an interview with “Face the Nation” when asked whether the Polish government, a member of NATO, could send fighter planes to Ukraine. “In fact, we’re talking with our Polish friends right now about what we might be able to do to backfill their needs if in fact they choose to provide these fighter jets to the Ukrainians. What can we do? How can we help to make sure that they get something to backfill the planes that they are handing over to the Ukrainians?”

PHOTOS: MiG-29 Fighter