Whether Twitter’s board was right to have adopted a poison pill is one thing (spoiler: no), but whether it was within its legal rights to have done so is quite another. We may yet discover whether its decision will survive legal scrutiny. Twitter is a Delaware company, and, only last year, Delaware’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling striking down a poison pill activated by the Williams Companies. The facts of that case were unusual, both in the draconian way in which that particular pill was structured (it was much tougher than Twitter’s) and in the somewhat hypothetical justification for it.
Nevertheless, the fact that the Williams board’s decision was overruled was a reminder that boards do not have unlimited discretion in this area. That said, it remains the case that Delaware courts, like those in many other jurisdictions, are generally unwilling to substitute their judgment for that of a board. When it comes to Twitter’s board, the burden of proof to show that it was not acting in a way that could be reasonably considered to be in the company’s best interests would effectively rest with Elon Musk.
So far as “best interests” are concerned, trying to get a better deal, whether from Musk or some third party (it’s worth noting that buyout firm Thoma Bravo has reportedly approached Twitter expressing interest in putting a bid together), would almost certainly do the trick. So far as Musk’s proposal is concerned, that would be so despite Musk having described it as his “best and final offer” (he would not be the first bidder in a possible takeover to have said that) and his also having dropped a clear hint that he might sell his holding in the company if his proposed deal does not go through. Musk is Twitter’s second-largest shareholder and if he were to sell his stock, the effect on the Twitter share price (as the board will be aware) might well be one that angers many shareholders, as Musk’s offer ($54.20) is considerably above where the stock closed on Thursday ($45.08). Their anger would be likely to be increased by suspicions that the board’s real reason for trying to torpedo Musk’s deal is unrelated to shareholder value. On the other hand, there are questions about how Musk would finance a takeover (he has said that he has sufficient assets, and that he “can do it”).
The board could also point to the fact that Twitter was trading at some $70 a year ago, meaning that Musk would be getting the stock on the cheap, even at $54.20, an argument that stock analysts might question, but a court most likely would not.
The fact that the board has put this poison pill in place without shareholder approval looks, of course, terrible, particularly in the context of a possible takeover revolving, in many respects, around the suppression of opinion, but — like it or not (I don’t) — it is something that it is entitled to do.
Writs will doubtless fly, but I doubt if they will change anything soon, if ever.
Musk has said that he has a Plan B in the event his proposal is rejected. If he does, he may need to deploy it.
Those who walk through Holy Week in the Ukrainian Catholic tradition read passages from the Book of Job. Job, the righteous one in whom God’s heart delights, of whom He is proud before the angelic court. On Holy Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, we hear about Job’s unspeakable trials: all his possessions are destroyed and all his children are killed. In the end, he is stricken by leprosy, a disease that excludes him from society and leaves him on the margins. Leprosy makes his body decay while still alive. Why does this just and righteous man suffer such terrible evil? Why is Ukraine enduring the terrible evil of war and invasion? Ukraine cries out with Job: why are we experiencing this suffering? What have we done to “deserve” this?
Readers of the Book of Job will not find direct answers to the righteous man’s question. God speaks, revealing His greatness. God fully answers Job’s question only in His Son’s Passion. No one can understand why the innocent suffer. So God offers His solidarity as the answer. God is with us in suffering and death; therefore, we must strive to be with God, to be honest with Him, and to seek Him. Place before Him the millions of displaced adults and children, the young soldiers who fell in battle, the thousands of innocent victims in Mariupol, Bucha, Irpin, Kyiv, Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Kherson, and other cities and villages that were bombed, besieged, and occupied. It is only in communion with God that we can find meaning.
Remember that magma-hot cultural controversy from, oh, two weeks ago? The media are trying to keep it going (see the WaPo story from a couple of days ago that features hilarious Dr. Evil-like Democrats warning that Republicans are losing because Disney is “the third rail of Florida politics”), but Disney has obviously thought better of taking on Ron DeSantis in Florida. Its current strategy is the forget-we-said-anything move.
Disney must have blanched and shrieked two weeks ago when DeSantis, rather than rolling over for being falsely dubbed homophobic and a hatemonger, began openly discussing cutting off Disney’s sweetheart tax break, via the Reedy Creek Development District, that allows Disney to essentially be its own government in the Orlando area. At the same time, Fox News was riling up parents and potentially turning Disney’s own customers against it, parents were fighting back with op-ed pieces and television appearances, public-opinion polls were showing support for the parental-notification law, and the Manhattan Institute’s Chris Rufo published the infamous tape of a Disney executive boasting of “my not-so-secret gay agenda.”
Disney, with the full weight of the showbiz culture behind it, thought it was playing with house money. What could go wrong by proclaiming yourself to be opposed to homophobia? Plenty, it turned out. American consumers are irritated with companies that take partisan political positions on controversial topics. It now appears obvious that Disney never should have injected itself into the debate in the first place. So its new tack is to avail itself of the opportunity of choosing tactful silence and hoping the whole thing blows over. The WSJtoday: “Disney . . . declined to comment on criticism from lawmakers. Inside the company, some executives have expressed disappointment that Disney has become politicized, said people familiar with their thinking.”
As the kids say: LOL. A Florida lawmaker says in the piece that he believes Disney’s decision to denounce the parental-notification bill was made in California, which of course has a very different culture from Florida, but no matter how left-wing the state a Disney executive may be sitting in, he should understand that his customers come from a wide range of political convictions, and he should decline to wade into political controversies.
A further note on dogs that didn’t bark: Not only is Disney backing down, note that the bill really had nothing to do with Disney in the first place. Disney is simply a large corporation that, like many other large corporations, does business in Florida. Did any other large corporations speak up about this bill? Not that I have heard of. Coming on the heels of the boycott-Georgia debacle that happened just a year ago, the lack of organized corporate opposition to the Florida law may be an indicator that American firms have changed their minds about the wisdom of taking overtly progressive positions on divisive issues.
Yesterday I remembered this reflection from Thomas G. Weinandy, OFM, during Holy Week in 2020. We were isolated from one another and from God if we were sitting in our homes in fear of the pandemic and not trusting that Jesus is victorious even when the church doors were shut to most of us.
In the face of evil — this pandemic — many people, probably most, will not repent of their sin, for they are blind to their own guilt. In this most holy of weeks, however, Christians — who should not be blind to the world’s sin or their own, are called to be today’s courageous Esther, supplicating Daniel, and interceding Moses.
We can repeat their prayers or make them a model for our own. We should be the ones who repent for our sin and the world’s, and in that ardent repentance should beg our loving and ever-faithful Father to free the world, in his mercy, from this pandemic.
Jesus declared, replicating Moses, that as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must he be lifted up, that whoever believes that he is “I Am” will have eternal life (John 3:14-15 & 8:28). During the sacred Triduum, we are to behold, in repentance, faith and love, the lifted-up crucified and risen Jesus, he who is the great life-giving I Am.
That was Pope Francis’s message in his recent Urbi et Orbi blessing. He walked us to the foot of the Cross so that we might behold the crucified Jesus. He blessed us with a cruciform monstrance that contained the risen and life-giving Eucharistic Jesus. He imparted Jesus’ blessing upon the world that is suffering an evil beyond its imagining, in order to lead the world and the Church back to Jesus — a world and a Church in dire need of repentance and faith, that desperately need the assurance and joy of his resurrection.
On this day, Holy Thursday, we commemorate, we actually re-enact, Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples. In this supper, Jesus washed the feet of his apostles. Today, however, because of the pandemic, that will not take place. Nonetheless, as we watch “The Mass of the Lord’s Supper” on our televisions and computers, we can wash the world’s sinful feet with our own repentant-tears.
We can beseech our Lord Jesus to pour out upon the world, from his pierced side, the cleansing water of his Holy Spirit, so that, in the coming months, the now faithless-world can once again enter opened churches to receive, as newborn Christians, his life-giving risen body and blood — the medicine of immortality.
In our “normal” two years later, is there any repentance? God may have allowed the pandemic so we would remember Him — that He is our only certainty.
Good Friday and Holy Saturday can be brutal if we wallow in our sinfulness. We are sinners. And He loves us and wants to save us if we let Him! That’s the good in Good Friday. It’s more awesome than anything this world offers.
If you put yourself in the position of receiving the love of God on the Cross today, we might just get on a healthy road to repentance. The road the world needs us to be on.
Nigeria is a place of unrelenting terror against Christians. And yet, here’s just a window into the fearlessness of Christians there:
That’s from Eucharistic adoration after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday at St. Theresa’s Cathedral, Yola Diocese, Adamawa State.
My friend Stephen Rasche, who heads the Institute for Ancient and Threatened Christianity, is on the ground there this Holy Week and Easter, getting some video footage of the people to better tell their story. He sent me this brief video last night.
Wednesday’s Quinnipiac poll shows Biden’s approval rating continuing to flounder:
While 33 percent of Americans approve of the way President Biden is handling his job, 54 percent disapprove with 13 percent not offering an opinion. Biden’s 33 percent job approval ties the low that he received in a Quinnipiac University poll on January 12, 2022, when his job approval rating was a negative 33 – 53 percent.
One particularly notable aspect of the poll was Biden’s abysmal approval rating among Hispanics, which comes at a time when Democrats are hemorrhaging support from the demographic overall. According to Quinnipiac, just 26 percent of Hispanics approve “of the way Joe Biden is handling his job as president,” compared to 54 percent who disapprove, and 20 percent who were surveyed as “don’t know/not applicable.” In contrast, Biden’s approval rating with whites was ranked at a slightly better — though still definitively negative — 31 percent favorability:
The latest Quinnipiac poll finds Joe Biden with a 26% approval rating among Hispanics — lower than his rating among whites.
Now, as some have pointed out, Quinnipiac’s numbers are typically worse for Biden than those that are given by other polling organizations. Quinnipiac “is the harshest of all pollsters toward Biden,” John Podhoretz noted on the Commentary podcast yesterday. “They come up with the results that are the worst for Biden,” and so “people who are thrilled to hear this news should keep their powder dry, because most other polls have him closer to 40 [percent approval rating overall], which is terrible, but nonetheless is not 33.”
Of course, recent years have shown that mainstream pollsters often overestimate support for Democrats, so Quinnipiac’s status as an outlier could feasibly be closer to the truth than many of its counterparts. But whether or not this poll is an accurate assessment of the American public’s feelings about the president, Biden’s tanking political prospects — particularly with Hispanics — can be measured in relative terms if you compare them with Quinnipiac’s numbers from two years ago. Out of curiosity, I dug up a Quinnipiac poll from April 8, 2020, to compare Biden’s standing with that of Donald Trump, which presumably was measured using a similar methodology. Two years ago, Quinnipiac showed Trump’s approval rating sitting at 41 percent favorability and 52 percent unfavorability — eleven points underwater, as compared to Biden’s 21-point negative rating. (At the same time, Biden — who was on the cusp of clinching the Democratic presidential nomination at the time — was polling even at 43 percent favorability and 43 percent unfavorability, with 12 percent of respondents saying they “haven’t heard enough.”)
With Hispanics, the April 2020 poll ranked Trump’s approval rating as 32 percent favorable and 60 percent unfavorable — the same 28 percent spread that Quinnipiac now shows for Biden. Of course, approval ratings don’t map onto voting choices. Just because a particular demographic disapproves of Biden’s job performance doesn’t mean they won’t vote for him. But given the traditional Hispanic loyalty to the Democratic Party, these numbers point toward an ongoing rightward shift within the demographic that should worry the Left.
The late Father Richard John Neuhaus, Catholic convert and editor of First Things, was our religion editor for a time at National Review. Every Good Friday I like to read through some of his Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross. And especially his reminder about the importance of Good Friday. In talking about these sacred days of the Holy Triduum — Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday — and then the celebration of Easter, he implores:
Do not rush to the conquest. Stay a while with this day. Let your heart be broken by the unspeakably bad of this Friday we call good. Some scholars speculate that “Good Friday” comes from “God’s Friday,” as good-bye was originally “God be by you.” But it is just as odd that it should be called God’s Friday, when it is the day when we say good-bye to the glory of God. Wherever its name comes from, let your present moment stay with this day. Stay a while in the eclipse of the light, stay a while with the conquered One. There is time enough for Easter.
By these three days all the world is called to attention. Everything that is and ever was and ever will be, the macro and the micro, the galaxies beyond number and the microbes beyond notice—everything is mysteriously entangled with what happened, with what happens, in these days. This is the axis mundi, the enter upon which the cosmos turns. In the derelict who cries from the cross is, or so Christians say, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. The life of all on this day died. Stay a while with that dying.
Every human life, conceived from eternity and destined to eternity, here finds its story truly told. In this killing that some call senseless we are truly brought to our senses. Here we find out who we most truly are, because here is the One who is what we are called to be. The derelict cries, “Come, follow me.” Follow him there? We recoil. We close our ears. We hurry on to Easter. But we will not know what to do with Easter’s light if we shun the friendship of the darkness that is wisdom’s way to light. . . .
Good Friday brings us to our senses. Our senses come to us as we sense that in this life and in this death is our life and our death. The truth about the crucified Lord is the truth about ourselves. “Know yourself,” the ancient philosophers admonish us, for in knowing yourself is the beginning of wisdom. To which the Psalmist declares, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The beginning of wisdom is to come to our senses and know the fearful truth about ourselves, that we have wandered and wasted our days in a distant country far from home. We know ourselves most truly in knowing Christ, for in him is our true self. Or so Christians say. His cross is the way home to the waiting Father. “If you would come to your senses,” he says, “come, follow me.”
The ancient Christian fathers spoke of the Christ event as the “recapitulation” of the entire human drama. In this one life, all lives are summed up; in the eternal present of this one life, the past is encompassed, the future is anticipated and the life of Everyman and Everywoman is most truly lived. “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” he said. Not a way among other ways, not a truth among other truths, not a life among other lives, but the way of all ways, the truth of all truths and the life of all lives. Recapitulation. It means, quite simply and solemnly, that this is your life, this is my life and we have not come to our senses until we sense ourselves in the life, and death, of Christ. This is the axis mundi.
Since taking office, Joe Biden has been busy weaponizing the federal government against Americans who make or desire to purchase firearms. Naturally, he defends this by trotting out false claims about the Second Amendment. A favorite of his is the statement that when the Second Amendment was adopted, people couldn’t buy a cannon.
Since he first made that statement, it has been refuted several times, such as in this article by Robert Wright.
Does Biden know or care? Of course not. The truth or falsity of a claim doesn’t matter, only advancing his agenda.
Even if it were true that the Second Amendment doesn’t allow anyone to buy a cannon, that would not logically lead to his conclusion that the feds should prevent buying all kinds of other firearms. Neither truth nor logic are of any concern to Biden.
If you’d like to be well armed to argue with Bidenistas over the meaning of the Second Amendment, I suggest reading America, Guns, and Freedom by Miguel Faria.
Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute documents the spin from the Biden administration so far in economic policy:
Such economic sophistry has become a trend under President Biden.
White House economic spin is as old as the modern presidency. George W. Bush and Donald Trump portrayed their tax cuts as the most revolutionary economic growth engines in modern history. Bill Clinton took credit for balanced budgets and a late-1990s economic boom that were almost totally unrelated to presidential policies. Barack Obama spun a far-weaker-than-expected recovery from his inherited recession as a magical triumph of economic management.
And now, in just 14 months, the Biden administration has rapidly built a remarkable record of ridiculous economic claims, misrepresentations, and worse. This is especially notable following a campaign in which Joe Biden presented himself as the more professional, level-headed, serious alternative to Donald Trump.
Del Rio, Texas — I’m currently sitting next to a group of Texas National Guardsmen, watching as Border Patrol drives away with a van full of asylum seekers. There was one family unit, composed of a mother, father, and young son and two single men. All of them flew to Mexico from Colombia and made the trek — by foot, bus, and car, they told me — to the Rio Grande near Del Rio. The family unit had their passports and papers. The two men had nothing, not even a backpack.
Referring to the two men, a Border Patrol officer told …
In the battle over college admissions, we sometimes hear people say that while the current system of racial preferences is bad, we ought to encourage schools to preferentially admit students from poor family backgrounds. Rather than giving a boost to minority students who often grew up in comfortable circumstances, let’s boost any student who has had to strive against poverty or other difficulties.
In today’s Martin Center article, I take a look at the case for socio-economic preferences and find it weak.
First, it simply isn’t the case that going to an elite college or university is necessarily any benefit as opposed to going to a school where you’ll be admitted without any preference. The assumption that a degree from a more prestigious institution ensures a more successful future is mistaken. Sure, the leaders of schools like Harvard believe they are much better than their less famous rivals, but it’s not true. Often, students get a superior education at regional or local schools where the faculty actually teach and have time for undergrads.
Second, socio-economic preferences are apt to run into the same problem that racial preferences do, namely that students will be accepted into schools where they are at a significant academic disadvantage compared to their classmates — the mismatch problem. If schools establish such preferences, it’s inevitable that the people who run them will want to do their utmost, meaning that they’ll want to admit many poorer students who aren’t on the same academic plane as the majority of students.
Higher-education leaders should resist the temptation to engage in social engineering, which is what admission preferences are about.
The games that climate-change activists play with language are an interesting sub-genre of the propagandist’s art — from the introduction of the term “denier,” and all the implications that came with it, to the way that “global warming” evolved into “climate change” and then “climate change” became the “climate crisis,” the “climate emergency,” or even “climate chaos.”
Now here’s another example, from (inevitably) Bloomberg:
BlackRock Inc. expects commitments to curb greenhouse-gas emissions will rise significantly by 2030, with most of its assets invested in companies and sovereign debt issuers that have specific targets for arresting global warming.
In the first public estimate of its kind by the world’s biggest asset manager, BlackRock said Thursday that the share of its assets invested in corporations and sovereign governments with science-based targets will rise to 75% by the end of the decade from 25% now.
Dissect that phrase for a moment, and its essential meaninglessness becomes all too apparent. Countless manufacturers, say, have targets that are based, one way or another, on science, yet it is a testimony to the effectiveness of the propaganda of climate activism that most readers will understand what this meaningless phrase, well, means. “Science-based targets” are targets that, one way or another, relate to the greenhouse gas emissions attributable to a company.
Because the #science is climate science.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the same article:
BlackRock, with almost $10 trillion of assets under management, had about $1.8 trillion of investments meeting that description as of Sept. 30. The latest projection also reflects a major change in investor demands, with clients citing the transition to a net-zero economy as a top concern and a rapidly growing number of them wanting their portfolios aligned to the goal.
Then again, I’ll just repost this again from the Financial Times:
Climate-related financial risks are getting growing attention — but a new survey from BCG casts doubt on how seriously institutional investors are taking them. Just one in 20 investors polled by the consulting firm said that climate and ESG-related issues were among the three risks they took most seriously. And only 11 per cent of the 150 investors polled indicated that ESG is a primary consideration in day-to-day investment decisions.
To oppose abortion in America today means being attacked, cancelled, and exiled by the Left. Pro-life views are now considered, inanely, ‘too dangerous’ and thus intolerable for the “harm” they may cause. The pro-life movement has been slandered with claims of complicity in the affairs of the far right; e.g., the Ku Klux Klan, the Capitol insurrection on January 6, and anti-government militia violence nationwide, among others. Breathing life into these claims are legions of progressive talking heads on television, egging on each other without a single opposing voice (too ‘dangerous’ for viewers). To hear a different opinion, except from the odd dissenter brought on to be harangued, is about as likely as having a pro-life host replace Whoopi Goldberg on The View.
Yet, for a moment, the impossible became real on Tuesday. Most Americans didn’t hear it, but Myrka Dellanos, an anchor on Spanish-language network Telemundo, made a short but significant pro-life argument on its most-watched show, La Mesa Caliente (in English, “The Hot Table”). It’s the Spanish equivalent of The View, and Dellanos is its Whoopi Goldberg. On air for a segment on Oklahoma’s new abortion legislation, she raised the debate’s pivotal question: “Who speaks for the lives of the babies?” She added that, “You don’t have to kill the baby.” She also described abortion alternatives, such as adoption, and raised contradictions in pro-choice advocacy — e.g., treating pregnant mothers’ deaths as ‘double homicides’ — so often ignored.
By themselves, these arguments are the bread and butter of pro-life positions. They wouldn’t be special were it not for the context. Telemundo, despite being focused on Hispanic viewers, has long been at odds with the community’s pro-life inclinations. As Jorge Bonilla of Media Research Centre’s Latino division notes, being pro-life is “the mainstream Hispanic position on abortion.” Indeed, according to a 2019 Morning Consult poll, “less than a majority of Hispanics (45 percent) support abortion being legal in all or most cases.”
Unlike them, however, Telemundo is progressive and left-wing in its editorial line – a conformity essential to survive in Democratic Party circles. To be accepted among the progressive faithful, its ideology must be pure, and dissent is uncommon. As viewers observed immediately after Dellanos’s comments, the backlash – from the fellow ladies of LMC – was fierce. Two of her co-hosts were quick to deride her positions and profess the regular dogmas that the pro-choice faction chants. Spanish Twitter, thereafter, was ablaze.
This contrast is precisely what makes Dellanos’s admission so remarkable. In a moment where anchors’ ideological purity and appeal “to the viewership base” (eerily similar to politicians) is seen as essential, to hear dissent being tolerated on Telemundo is refreshing. Frankly, even the network deserves some credit for its openness to her views.
More importantly, Dellanos’s argument represents a shift in Latino attitudes being observed in politics – of embracing their values as political conservatives. The numbers don’t lie. In the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump made a 10-point gain in Hispanic and Latino support over 2016, which carried him to victory in crucial states like Florida. Moreover, as the New York Times reported recently, this support was not concentrated in a few select areas or Hispanic ethnicities – e.g., the Miami-Dade County’s Cubanos, or the Rio Grande Valley’s Tejanos – but was more widespread across the country. On issues from the rise in crime and inflation to even gun rights and transgenderism, many Latinos now more confidently proclaim the faith and family values by which they live. Plainly, they are conservative.
Whether or not that makes them Republican voters, it certainly doesn’t mean they’re progressive Democrats. Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas of the UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative now regards them as a “swing electorate . . . requiring meaningful outreach and engagement.” It’s a far cry from Democrats’ assumed padlock on their support and heralds a tectonic shift in politics, offering Republicans a pathway to victory without compromising on their conservative values. Dellanos’s open pro-life commentary is but the latest result of this trend. As it continues, expect more like her to follow.
“(Qaraqosh) lives in our blood because it is our rock. And all of Iraq lives in our blood, b/c it is our original land. We were forcibly displaced from it because of ISIS, who wanted to kill us…so we had to migrate from the country to a safe place,” said one Iraqi interviewee. https://t.co/0Yg4prvhAa
The Christians of Egypt are suffering. In a matter of a week, a Coptic priest was stabbed to death, a Coptic mother & child were kidnapped, beaten, & forcibly converted to Islam, & a Coptic child was forced to stop eating during fasting hours. More people should know about this.
According to an NBC News report, Trump is planning to make a late-stage endorsement of Hillbilly Elegy author J. D. Vance in the GOP primary for Ohio’s U.S. Senate race. Per Marc Caputo:
Former President Trump is planning to endorse J.D. Vance in Ohio’s crowded senate GOP primary, according to three sources with knowledge of his decision.
In recent days, Trump began calling donors and advisers to get their opinion endorsing on the “Hillbilly Elegy” author, but he held off under intense pressure from the rival Republican campaigns of Josh Mandel and Jane Timken, the sources said.
“The Mandel people hit the roof,” one Republican with knowledge of the discussions told NBC News, noting that Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan tried to dissuade Trump on behalf of Mandel, whom the congressman supports.
The story also claims that Vance’s anti-Trump past had been a source of hesitation for the former president. And there is still a bit of uncertainty hanging over the decision:
“Nothing is final until it’s final. So Trump can always change his mind,” said one source who had spoken recently to Trump about the Ohio race. “But he already kicked the tires on everyone and he’s ready to go with Vance. It’s either Vance or nobody. And it’s only nobody if somehow the other campaigns can get him to hold off.”
Polling has continued to show Vance in third place, behind Josh Mandel and Mike Gibbons (per NBC, another source of doubt for Trump, who doesn’t want his endorsement wasted), although a new April 5 poll from a pro-Vance super PAC showed Vance surging to a three-way tie with Mandel and Gibbons. (Campaign operatives for Mandel and Gibbons have been raising questions about the veracity of that poll, “with both the Gibbons and Mandel campaigns agreeing to publicize portions of their internal polling in a bid to undermine the credulity of the . . . survey,” the Washington Examiner reported earlier this week.)
Both Vance and Mandel (the latter the race’s presumptive front-runner until recently) have vied for Trump’s favor. But by all accounts, Mandel’s efforts have fallen on deaf ears: A February Daily Beast story reported that Trump “has for months told people close to him that he thinks Mandel is a charisma-free weirdo and dork, according to three sources who’ve spoken to Trump about Mandel and the Ohio contest since last year.”
While Vance’s standing in the polls remains uncertain, a Trump endorsement would likely bolster his chances in the GOP primary in a state that went for the former president by upwards of eight points in 2020. It’s an open question as to whether the endorsement will be enough to push Vance over the finish line — particularly as it comes just a few weeks before the primary is set to take place on May 3. But it certainly can’t hurt.
Marcus Garvey was once the face of the “Back to Africa” movement. It appears he’s now been supplanted — by Boris Johnson, nonetheless.
Britain, like the U.S., has been grappling with a migrant crisis along its border for several years. In many ways, they’re quite similar: Whereas, here, illegal immigrants join massive caravans that stream across the Rio Grande River; in Britain, they row across the English Channel from France, after being trafficked there by criminal gangs. In both cases, broken immigration laws mean they’re welcomed by border personnel and soon released into the country, rather than detained and penalized. Both journeys are long, dangerous, costly, and illegal. It hasn’t stopped them from coming.
A new solution, however, aims to solve that problem. On Wednesday, the U.K. Government announced a deal with Rwanda, a nation in Central Africa, to have illegal immigrants to Britain processed in that country. The U.K.-Rwanda Migration Partnership will have migrants who enter the U.K. illegally, e.g., in “small boats or hidden in lorries,” flown to Rwanda to have their asylum claims processed. If accepted, they will be granted “full rights” to remain in Rwanda and permanently settle there.
As part of the deal, the U.K. is investing $156 Million in Rwanda and its own border security. It ensures that illegal immigrants will be removed from Britain, while forcing prospective asylees to file applications from afar the normal way (like everybody else) and not take the dangerous route to enter illegally. As Britain’s home secretary Priti Patel (of Ugandan origin) said, “Change is needed because people are dying attempting to come to the UK illegally.” More importantly, she correctly expressed public frustration over the problem. In her words, “Access to the UK’s asylum system must be based on need. The cost to the taxpayer, and the flagrant abuses are increasing. The British public have rightly had enough.”
All well and good, except for one thing. Britain’s idea isn’t original by any means. It came from across the pond, here in America. The U.S. has had these arrangements – termed ‘Safe Third Country Agreements’ (STCA) – with adjacent nations for years to deal with illegal immigration. These STCAs have enabled migrants’ removal back to safe countries through which they initially passed to claim asylum there – being the first places they entered upon fleeing danger. Migrants with legitimate claims are, thence, given asylum as needed, while illegals are kept out of the U.S., with no legal loopholes that may let them stay.
Apart from one STCA with Canada, three more were signed with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador in 2019, which would’ve torpedoed the chances of caravan migrants being granted asylum after crossing the Southern Border. That is, until the Biden administration – under pressure of the Left – rescinded them. Their companion measure, the Migrant Protection Protocols or ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy, remains in effect after withstanding a court challenge – keeping fraudulent asylees out of U.S. territory (after which they may abscond) while their applications are processed. Britain’s move, at its essence, draws from these American successes.
What this should reveal is that America’s conservative solutions to border security – i.e., STCAs and ‘Remain in Mexico’ – are effective and just. Other nations like the U.K. are now adopting them to control illegal migration. That ‘Rwanda’ was chosen a nation is not a punchline. After the infamous genocide in 1994, it has become one of the world’s safest countries and one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies. It has opportunity, needs newcomers, and is willing to accept them. Surely, there is no excuse for legitimate migrants to turn it down, unless their only goal is to get to the West. If so, they ought to follow the law and get in line.
In sending some migrants “back to Africa,” Boris Johnson thus takes a page from the American policy book. Ironically, back home, Democrats seek to rewrite it and abolish these very successes. Let Britain’s imitation remind us of what America has done well.
Minus the swipe at “Conservatism Inc., including flagship journals like the National Review and flagship think tanks like the Heritage Foundation,”as a “museum of mummies” — a characterization that I, as someone who does not self-identify as a mummy, am obligated to take issue with — Michael Lind’s new Tablet essay offers a fantastic systems-level analysis of the ideological influence of the left-wing foundation-NGO-industrial-complex in today’s elite progressive institutions.
“On today’s center left,” Lind writes, “the groupthink imposed by behind-the-scenes donors and their favored nonprofits and media allies is resulting in electoral disaster . . . for Democrats.” While “in the 1990s, The New Yorker, The Nation, Dissent, The New Republic, The Atlantic, and Washington Monthly all represented distinctive flavors of the center left,” Lind argues that “today, they are bare Xeroxes of each other, promoting and rewriting the output of single-issue environmental, identitarian, and gender radical nonprofits, which all tend to be funded by the same set of progressive foundations and individual donors.” In essence, powerful progressive foundations now define the terms and parameters of debate:
Who decides what is and is not permissible for American progressives to think or discuss or support? The answer is the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Foundation, the Omidyar Network, and other donor foundations, an increasing number of which are funded by fortunes rooted in Silicon Valley. It is this donor elite, bound together by a set of common class prejudices and economic interests, on which most progressive media, think tanks, and advocacy groups depend for funding.
The center-left donor network uses its financial clout, exercised through its swarms of NGO bureaucrats, to impose common orthodoxy and common messaging on their grantees. The methods by which they enforce this discipline can be described as chain-ganging and shoe-horning.
Chain-ganging (a term I have borrowed from international relations theory) in this context means implicitly or explicitly banning any grantee from publicly criticizing the positions of any other grantee. . . . Shoe-horning is what I call the progressive donor practice of requiring all grantees to assert their fealty to environmentalist orthodoxy and support for race and gender quotas, even if those topics have nothing to do with the subject of the grant. It is not necessary for the donors to make this explicit; their grantees understand without being told, like the favor-seeking knights of Henry II: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” In the last few years, even the most technocratic center-left policy programs—advocating slightly higher earned income tax credits or whatever—have often rewritten their mission statements to refer to “climate justice” and “diversity” and routinely sprinkle grantspeak like “the racial reckoning” and “the climate emergency” throughout their policy briefs in the hope of pleasing program officers at big progressive foundations.
The influence of foundations and nonprofits like the Ford Foundation, whose elite ideological priorities are wildly out of step with that of most Americans, is one of the most significant long-term institutional problems facing the Democratic Party — and the broader Left — today. I made a similar point earlier this week in my piece “Don’t Expect a Sister Souljah Moment from Democrats Anytime Soon,” where I wrote that the Democratic Party “seems incapable of distancing itself from the Left’s increasingly radical stance on contemporary culture-war issues such as critical race theory (CRT) and radical sexual and gender ideology,” visible in the fact that “even in the face of a coming red wave, the party has continued to double down on the deeply unpopular left-wing cultural ideology that has captured the imagination of its activist class.” Like Lind, I think this problem has a lot to do with the institutional incentives on the contemporary Left, which make it impossible for them to moderate on social issues — even when it’s in their obvious political self-interest:
You’d think that Democrats facing difficult races in 2022 and beyond would be doing everything they could to distance themselves from their party’s national image on social issues. But the outsized influence of the party’s activist wing, powerful teachers’ unions, and the left-leaning corporate media make it difficult for even the ostensible moderates to pivot to the center on cultural issues. Think about the Left’s contemporary line on the culture war: CRT isn’t being taught in schools and, even if it is, that’s a good thing, because it’s actually just honestly teaching the history of race in America, and parental concerns about it are illegitimate and rooted in racism. Alternatively, teaching young children about gender identity is literally saving lives — and anyone who opposes the ideology in public schools is literally murdering transgender kids. These lines have become something approximating conventional wisdom in elite left-wing institutions — and those institutions define the worldview of the modern Democratic Party.
Against that backdrop, how could a moderate Democrat “pivot” on these issues? You can’t “moderate” on the murder of trans kids, nor can you “compromise” on actual, honest-to-God racism. It’s a “yes” or “no” question. If that’s really what’s at stake, any concessions are morally unacceptable. Moderate Democrats in both the House and the Senate have been willing to break with their party on economic issues such as spending and overzealous regulation. But on CRT, gender ideology, and other cultural issues, the entire party apparatus is in lockstep.
For the first time in decades, the Right looks like it’s positioned to take the upper hand in the culture wars, as I’ve discussed on numerousoccasions in the past. That’s a historic opportunity — not just to actually win on issues that social conservatives care about but also to channel the electorate’s alienation from the Left into a broader, sustainable political coalition that can deliver on conservative priorities across the spectrum. For example, anti-critical race theory (CRT) activists like the Manhattan Institute’s Chris Rufo, working with legacy conservative institutions like the Heritage Foundation, are in the midst of capitalizing on the grassroots anti-CRT backlash to implement sweeping education reforms at the state level, including traditional conservative priorities like school choice. (And as an aside, Heritage’s work with Rufo on new issues like CRT complicates the story Lind tells about the “lobotomized” nature of legacy conservatism’s intellectual stagnation.) This year, 2022, is “going to be the greatest year for education reform in a generation,” Rufo told me back in December. In that sense, as I wrote at the time, “the new anti-CRT agenda is not so much a departure from the traditional conservative education movement as it is a renewal, providing new political capital for advancing those more traditional conservative policies.”
Conservatives rightly point to the Left’s increasing radicalism on social issues as reason for these recent victories. But we don’t spend enough time discussing why. That’s why essays like Lind’s are so helpful. Sun Tzu’s famous remark is applicable here: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.” Lambasting progressive cultural radicalism is not enough. To fully capitalize on the Left’s institutional capture, the Right must first understand the nature of that dynamic. If it can do that, it will reap the benefits in the long term.
There is a Russian pianist named Alexei Lubimov. (I have reviewed him in New York.) He was playing at an anti-war concert in Moscow when police burst in to stop the concert. Lubimov managed to keep going until he had finished the piece he was playing: Schubert’s Impromptu in E flat, Op. 90, No. 2. The audience gave him, and Schubert, a rousing, heartfelt ovation. Watch the video here.
May civilization prevail over barbarism, someday.
Alexei Lubimov is 77 years old. He is using his time well. Strength to his hands, in every way.
• As I noted on Tuesday, Vladimir Kara-Murza has been arrested and imprisoned. Friends of Putin are pleased with this; others of us are not. Kara-Murza is a Russian democracy leader and human-rights activist. He worked alongside Boris Nemtsov, the Russian opposition leader, who was not able to continue as opposition leader because they, whoops, murdered him.
The Washington Post is sounding the alarm about Kara-Murza’s arrest. Here is an editorial. Kara-Murza, in fact, contributes columns to the Post — as Jamal Khashoggi once did. (Whoops.)
I am full of admiration for the Post. Meg Greenfield, who for many years was editorial-page editor, once told Charles Krauthammer something. (He related it to me.) For a long stretch — ’70s, ’80s — she wanted something on Sakharov in her pages at least once a week. An editorial or op-ed piece. At least something mentioning him. That way, the paper might help keep Sakharov alive.
• This will show you pictures of Mariupol, Ukraine. Before Putin: life, color, beauty. After Putin: rubble, ashes, death. But as we all know, Putin had to save Russian-speakers in Mariupol from their Ukrainian oppressors, so well done, Vlad.
Once Ukraine is free — if Ukraine is free — there will have to be one whale of a rebuilding effort. I hope I am witness to that story. I hope I can see it for myself, on the ground.
• A report from Edith M. Lederer, the longtime U.N. correspondent for the Associated Press:
Nearly two-thirds of all Ukrainian children have fled their homes in the six weeks since Russia’s invasion, and the United Nations has verified the deaths of 142 youngsters, though the number is almost certainly much higher, the U.N. children’s agency said Monday.
Here is some more:
Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s emergency programs director who just returned from Ukraine, said having 4.8 million of Ukraine’s 7.5 million children displaced in such a short time is “quite incredible.” He said it is something he hadn’t before seen happen so quickly in 31 years of humanitarian work.
Fontaine said, “They have been forced to leave everything behind — their homes, their schools, and, often, their family members.”
One more thing, from Edie Lederer’s story:
Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, claimed Russia has taken more than 121,000 children out of Ukraine . . .
War crimes. More of them. This will not move Putin’s supporters here in the U.S. and elsewhere. But it should move the rest of us.
The owner of a pizzeria in Kharkiv, Pavlo, delivers pizza around the city on his own. According to him, people call from abroad and pay for orders for doctors, emergency workers and ordinary people.
That’s the spirit.
(I recently did a Q&A podcast with Hanna Liubakova. Extraordinary woman, and extraordinarily brave, too. To listen, go here.)
• Garry Kasparov had it exactly right, in my opinion:
The question isn’t if or why Putin would use chemical weapons in Ukraine, but why wouldn’t he. The US & other NATO nations only draw red lines for themselves, always saying what they won’t do, while Putin continues to escalate his war crimes.
A striking phrase: “red lines for themselves” (but for no one else). Exactly.
• Finland and Sweden appear set to join NATO. Putin is a foe of NATO enlargement (as are many, including in NATO countries). But there is no greater NATO enlarger in the world today than he. This is an alliance of necessity. Many don’t recognize it, of course — but Finns, Swedes, Balts, and others certainly do.
• A headline from yesterday: “Le Pen Backs NATO-Russia Reconciliation and Reduced French Role in Alliance.” (Article here.) Wouldn’t it be something if Putin won at the ballot boxes of democracies what he has failed to win on the battlefield?
• Why has the Russian military struggled against the Ukrainian military? Why has Goliath had such a hard time against David? Max Boot explains it fascinatingly, in a column: It all has to do with military culture. And maybe culture culture? Such an interesting topic . . .
• “This Is the War’s Decisive Moment.” That is the heading of a piece by Eliot A. Cohen. The subheading: “The United States and its allies can tip the balance between a costly success and a calamity.” To me, what Cohen has to say rings true.
• Marc F. Plattner wrote a very interesting piece, also true-ringing: “Nationalism and the Struggle in Ukraine.” Its subheading: “The 20th century left a bitter taste in the mouth about nationalism. But the Ukrainian-style nationalism on display today is not only compatible with, but strongly supportive of, liberal democracy.”
I will also quote from the closing paragraph:
The Russo-Ukrainian war will be a clarifying test for national conservatives. It will force them to decide which version of nationalism they want to embrace — the democratic nationalism of Volodymyr Zelenskyy or the malignant and aggressive nationalism of Vladimir Putin.
One gets swept up in life and work and activities, and the war goes on far away, and one starts to take for granted the amazing courage and achievements of the Ukrainian people. So I want to pause to say again:
Слава Україні! Героям слава!
Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!
Many people are uncomfortable, and understandably, with good and evil. Things must be gray. There is nuance in life, you know? Yes. But Putin’s Russia is perpetrating an assault on Ukraine: destruction, terror, displacement, maiming, murder, rape. Ukrainians are struggling to hold on to their nationhood, their independence, their freedom, their very life. This is as clear-cut as it gets.
For a long while, those of us on the right have argued that many corners of U.S. media world treated the Chinese government with kid gloves. Your mileage may vary, but I would argue bit by bit, month by month, the coverage of the Chinese government has gradually gotten more critical — although perhaps not as critical as you would prefer. But the latest sweeping lockdowns and inhumane treatment of innocent people have brought a fairly widespread revulsion among Americans paying attention; you have to look pretty hard to find any American political leader or health expert nodding and declaring, “Yes, the Chinese government knows what it is doing, and the ‘Covid zero’ approach is working well.”
This is a nice step in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go. Neil Ferguson, the Imperial College professor whose proposals shaped Europe’s lockdowns, declared in an interview with The Times of London that the Chinese government successfully exported its model for dealing with the virus: “It’s a Communist one party state, we said. We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought. And then Italy did it. And we realized we could.”
The Chinese people are as delightful, hard-working, innovative, creative, and inspired as any other country’s population. But the Chinese government is not a role model for the West in any fashion; it is one of the most dangerous, aggressive, reckless, and destabilizing forces on earth. (Admittedly, Vladimir Putin is giving it some fierce competition for that title these days.) The Chinese government cannot be an effective partner for the U.S. on anything — not climate change, not fair or free trade, not building a more stable world. Commerce secretary Gina Raimondo is wrong when she tells the Wall Street Journal that she thinks “robust commercial engagement will help to mitigate any potential tensions” with China.
According to the Washington Post, laws protecting female-only athletic competitions in fact “ban transgender athletes from participating in sports.”
Earlier this week, the Kentucky legislature voted to override Democratic governor Andy Beshear’s veto of a bill requiring athletes in grades 6–12, as well as college athletes, to compete against members of their own biological sex rather than against members of the sex with which they identify.
Opponents of the law have attempted to characterize it as a ban on student athletes who experience gender dysphoria. “We are talking about 12-, 13-, and 14-year-old girls here in Kentucky who will be told that because they are transgender children, they are not allowed to participate with their classmates,” Democratic state senator Karen Berg said in opposing the bill.
In a statement explaining his veto, Beshear said the bill would “ban transgender children from participating in girls’ and women’s sports without presenting a single instance in Kentucky of a child gaining a competitive advantage as a result of sex reassignment.”
Now the Post has adopted that same position, writing in a supposed reporting article that Kentucky lawmakers “used their lopsided majorities to finish overriding a Beshear veto of their effort to ban transgender athletes from participating in sports.”
What both Democratic politicians and their media allies ignore is that the law doesn’t ban anyone from competition; it requires student athletes to compete against others of the same biological makeup, for reasons of fairness and, in some cases, privacy. That they are unwilling to defend their opposition to such laws without blatantly mischaracterizing them speaks volumes about the soundness of their position.
Rex Sinquefield and Andrew Wilson of the Show-Me Institute encourage Missouri to use its extra revenue for tax reform:
Tax rebates are one thing, and tax cuts are another. Tax rebates are appropriate for providing well-deserved tax relief, but as a temporary measure, they do little or nothing to make a state more competitive with others. Slashing or even zeroing income taxes — as eight states, including neighboring Tennessee have done — is a powerful mechanism for improving competitiveness. Income taxes are a tax on work, on investment, and on enterprise itself. That makes them the most damaging of their kind.
An over-reliance on the income tax as the primary source of state revenue is one of the main reasons why Missouri has lagged behind most other states in population and economic growth over the past two decades. Our state is more dependent on the individual income tax than all but seven other states; it generates about 50 percent of Missouri’s general revenues.
On my first day in Del Rio, the max temperature was 103 degrees. That was April 11.
Yesterday, I spent the day with Sergeant Juan Maldonado, an officer in the Texas Department of Public Safety. He told me that going into the summer, 103 is merely “hot,” not even “really hot.”
State troopers like Maldonado are working together with Border Patrol, local law enforcement along the border, and private citizens to shore up weak spots on the border as part of Governor Abbott’s Operation Lone Star.
The number of migrants turning themselves in for asylum has overwhelmed Border Patrol, leaving much of the rest of the border unattended. Operation Lone Star, though fraught with budgetary issues, is seeking to stop migrants sneaking through neglected areas. Sometimes DPS detains migrants seeking asylum and brings them to Border Patrol. They also help migrants in need of medical care while crossing the border.
“If the migrant needs help, it is our duty to provide service to an individual regardless of the nationality. If they need medical treatment, we will summon medical treatment . . . a lot of our troopers have first aid kits.
“They’re humans like we are.”
One of the biggest medical problems they encounter is dehydration. “[Migrants] will be dehydrated,” he told me. He shared that migrants will more often cross the Rio Grande early in the morning to avoid the heat. Maldonado shared that his officers have had to call EMS multiple times, “especially with hot temperatures.”
“[Law enforcement officers] will give the individual water and snacks to hold them over until they get the right medical treatment provided from medical services”
Sometimes help comes too late. Maldonado shared that there have already been multiple heat-related deaths this year.
With the Biden administration intending to lift Title 42 — a public-health mandate and the only current form of border control — in late May, the number of border crossings will rise dramatically. Already, claims for asylum are reaching critical levels despite the use of Title 42. Lifting the order in May coincides with the scorching summer temperatures in south Texas.
According to averages from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, Del Rio, Texas — one of the border cities in south Texas — has an average high of 84 degrees in April. That rises to 89 in May. By June, when Title 42 will be fully abolished, the average temperature will be 95 degrees. July and August have an average of 97 degrees.
Del Rio is particularly dry as well. During my time reporting from south Texas, I’ve had to substantially increase my water intake because of the heat and lack of humidity.
Crossings already average at 7,100 a day. CBP has started rehearsing for situations with up to 18,000 daily crossings when Title 42 is repealed on May 23.
On top of heat-related medical issues, migrants will face a harrowing journey where risk of trafficking, assault, and extortion are high.
When I asked about the lifting of Title 42, Sergeant Maldonado answered that “any law that can help the federal agencies do their job would be great.”
For now, law enforcement will continue to adapt to the situation, helping migrants in need. “We want to provide that service and of course it’s our duty to provide that service for them.”
By an overwhelming margin, the Kentucky legislature has overridden Democratic governor Andy Beshear’s veto of a new pro-life law, with a 76–21 vote in the House and a 31–6 vote in the Senate.
The law prohibits most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and requires women to visit a physician in person before obtaining chemical-abortion drugs. Chemical abortions account for about half of all abortions in Kentucky, similar to the national rate.
Kentucky’s prohibition on abortion after 15 weeks mirrors the Mississippi pro-life law at stake in the Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which the Court will decide this term. If the Court upholds Mississippi’s law — which would be possible only if the justices vote to reverse Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey — then 15-week abortion bans across the country, including this one in Kentucky, will be permitted to take effect.
Until then, these sorts of laws stand little chance in court. Abortion providers and advocacy groups have already vowed to challenge Kentucky’s new policy, and they are likely to succeed in having it blocked.
The portion of Kentucky’s law regulating chemical abortion ought to remain in place regardless of challenge, as it doesn’t restrict abortion but rather prohibits prescribing abortion drugs via telemedicine. This policy stems from concern for the possible complications for women’s health, including in cases when a woman unknowingly has an ectopic pregnancy or is further along in pregnancy that she realizes, both of which could be determined by an in-person doctor’s visit but not via telemedicine.
Sergiu Klainerman, a professor of mathematics at Princeton, has a superb essay on Tablet, in which he explains the nasty treatment being given to Professor Joshua Katz by the “woke” mob.
The problem, Klainerman explains, is that Princeton’s president, Christopher Eisgruber, believes both that the university must advance “social justice” and uphold freedom of speech. The problem is that you can’t have both because the social-justice zealots oppose free speech. So when the inevitable clash occurs, Eisgruber sides with the social-justice crowd and its vicious attacks on Professor Katz.
We see the same thing at many American universities these days. They are run by people who will profess their commitment to freedom of speech but always throw it under the bus when the social-justice warriors must be placated.
Is higher immigration the answer to surging inflation, or at least a big part of the answer? One of the side effects of rising prices has been a spike in the number of people saying so. In January, Chamber of Commerce president Suzanne Clark said we should double legal immigration: “It might be the fastest thing to do to impact inflation.” . . .
I go through some of the reasons this won’t work. One more point: Sometimes this argument for more immigration depends on the idea that we’re in a wage-price spiral, with rising wages driving overall inflation. In fact, though, real wages — inflation-adjusted wages — are dropping.
That there has been, at least in certain sectors of the economy, a labor shortage in the aftermath of the pandemic is undeniable, despite some — shall we say — interesting anomalies in the data, such as in the labor-force-participation rate, which declined from 63.4 percent in January 2020 to 62.4 percent this March, up from a 60.2 percent pandemic-era trough in April 2020, but still short of that recent peak.
Boomers retiring early?
Not really. Take a look at this chart from the St. Louis Fed, which shows the labor-force-participation rate in the 25-54 age group. No Boomers there anymore. In February 2020, following years of decline in the wake of the financial crisis, a decline which only started to reverse in late 2015, the participation rate for this age cohort stood at 83 percent. It bottomed out in April 2020 (at 79.9 percent), but had only recovered to 82.5 percent this March, still some way short of where it was just before the pandemic began to hit.
So, to the extent that there is a labor shortage, it must be one that is highly selective.
To understand what’s going on, perhaps it’s worth looking beyond, say, the impact of savings accumulated during the pandemic, and examining the impetus that Covid-19 gave to automation, including in sections of the service sector, where human contact became less of a virtue than it once was and where the advantages of machines (or, say, QR codes) seemed rather greater. They don’t get sick, nor do they infect others. And nor, as we live through what must now be described as Putin’s Price Hike™ do they worry about declining real wages.
Under the circumstances, this Bloomberg report made interesting reading:
A nascent trend of offering robots as a service — similar to the subscription models offered by software makers, wherein customers pay monthly or annual use fees rather than purchasing the products — is opening [automation] opportunities to even small companies. That financial model is what led Thomson to embrace automation. The company has robots on 27 of its 89 molding machines and plans to add more. It can’t afford to purchase the robots, which can cost $125,000 each, says Chief Executive Officer Steve Dyer. Instead, Thomson pays for the installed machines by the hour, at a cost that’s less than hiring a human employee — if one could be found, he says. “We just don’t have the margins to generate the kind of capital necessary to go out and make these broad, sweeping investments,” he says. “I’m paying $10 to $12 an hour for a robot that is replacing a position that I was paying $15 to $18 plus fringe benefits.” . . .
Even Robex LLC, a traditional automation systems integrator in Perrysburg, Ohio, whose main business is leasing equipment to customers, has decided to offer robots as a service, dubbed Robex Flexx, to expand its customer base, says President Craig Francisco. “I believe if we didn’t have something like this in place, it would hurt our business eventually.” Francisco says the services model could become a quarter of Robex’s business in a few years. “With minimum wages going up and the need for employers to pay a higher wage, it’s becoming really easy to justify the Flexx program.” Even large companies are interested in the financing model because of capital-expenditure constraints for buying or leasing the equipment, he says.
And, given the role that agricultural labor plays in our perennial immigration debate, it’s also worth noting this:
Robots are also moving into agriculture as vision and machine learning improve. Stout Industrial Technology Inc. in 2020 began selling a machine that’s pulled by a tractor and weeds large fields. The machine’s sensors distinguish between a desirable crop and the unwanted weeds after being fed thousands of photos to teach it the difference, and the device chops down the weeds with a hoelike blade. This is usually backbreaking work done by crews of about 25 people.
I could, of course, be wrong about the role that automation may already be playing in blunting current labor shortages, but throw in the short-term dangers of recession as well as the extra impetus given by the pandemic to the already rapid increase in automation, and it is hard to believe that the labor shortage will be with us for very long.
It turns out that the 9 percent share of Twitter that Elon Musk bought a couple of weeks ago was just the opening salvo in a hostile takeover bid. Per Bloomberg:
Elon Musk has made a “best and final” offer to buy Twitter Inc., saying the company has extraordinary potential and he is the person to unlock it.
The world’s richest person will offer $54.20 per share in cash, representing a 54% premium over the Jan. 28 closing price and a value of about $43 billion. The social media company’s shares soared 18% in pre-market trading.
Musk, 50, announced the offer in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday, after turning down a potential board seat at the company. The billionaire, who also controls Tesla Inc., first disclosed a stake of about 9% on April 4. Tesla shares fell about 1.5% in pre-market trading on the news.
In his letter to the board, Musk repeated his conviction that Twitter must protect free expression:
I invested in Twitter as I believe in its potential to be the platform for free speech around the globe, and I believe free speech is a societal imperative for a functioning democracy.
However, since making my investment I now realize the company will neither thrive nor serve this societal imperative in its current form. Twitter needs to be transformed as a private company.
Crises are like magnets. They often attract each other and become powerfully worse. Such has been the case in Texas. In response to the longstanding migration crisis at the border, state troopers have started inspecting all commercial trucks inbound to the state from Mexico, under orders from Governor Greg Abbott. It’s a separate and added measure from normal customs inspections by federal agents. In Abbott’s words, the operation is meant to curb the “Biden administration’s border disaster . . . and curtail the flow of drugs, human traffickers, illegal immigrants, weapons, and other contraband into Texas.” It comes as Biden ends Title 42 expulsions, a pandemic measure that gave the U.S. greater leeway to block entry. Ending it is expected to attract a new surge of illegal migration. Abbott, admirably, wants to counteract this looming disaster.
However, the move is poised to further strain supply chains, already the source of another crisis. Since Monday, Mexican truck drivers have staged a blockade over the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge in protest against Texas’s new rules. As the largest crossing point in the Rio Grande Valley — through which most of America’s produce imports travel — backlogs there have amplified effects beyond the border. Wait times to cross now exceed three days at some locations. Now, as trucks line roads for miles, thousands of tons of goods are stuck and cannot reach their markets. The problem is serious for America’s food imports — e.g., avocados, broccoli, peppers, tomatoes — which are rotting in containers (in heat exceeding 100°F) before they get to grocery stores across the country. Businesses are telling consumers to expect shortages as early as Good Friday while workers sit idle in warehouses and stores, at the risk of being laid off.
In an election year, Abbott’s approach has divided Texas Republicans. State Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller calls it “catastrophic,” and GOP-friendly industry groups have warned that a loss of traffic for Texas — heading instead to Arizona — will hurt the state’s economy before November. “This is destroying our business and the reputation of Texas. I foresee companies making plans to move their business to New Mexico and Arizona,” said Dante Galeazzi, of the Texas International Produce Association, to the Texas Tribune. Even Democratic nominee Beto O’Rourke has the chance to use this as fodder for double-barreled attacks on Abbott on immigration policy and the economy. (One poll has the thrice-failed candidate within 2 points of Abbott, but that may prove an outlier.)
Securing the border is essential, and the Biden administration has, indeed, failed to do it. At the moment, nobody — not even Abbott — really believes that a double inspection of trucks by federal and state agents is necessary; like the Freedom Convoy along the northern border earlier this year, it’s a measure to prompt federal action. However, America’s supply chains are under much stress as it is. In trying to induce border security, this measure could be tackling one crisis by exacerbating another.
A Xinjiang prison camp survivor recounted how Chinese guards forced prisoners to ingest herbal teas and pills during his time at a detention facility in a prefecture bordering Kyrgyzstan. Every time they drank the tea, he said, samples of their blood were taken. He made the comments during a Washington press conference on Wednesday morning.
Since his arrival in the U.S. on Friday, that former detainee, Ovalbek Turdakun, has revealed new, previously unknown details about Chinese government abuses from his ten-month ordeal in a Xinjiang camp in 2018. He described the forcible injection of detainees with a mysterious substance that caused severe symptoms — and a feeling of obedience — during a sit-down interview with National Review last night.
At the press conference this morning, co-hosted by a video-surveillance trade group called IPVM and the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, he revealed new details about other forced medical practices.
“They made us to eat different kinds of pills and medicines. They gave us different types of herbal teas that they said would help our health and gave us different types of injections,” he said.
Turdakun added later, in response to NR’s question, that the guards gave the prisoners a variety of different herbal teas.
“I remember the color was yellow. It smelled like a medicine. And they said if you drink this you will not get ill,” He added that the Chinese guards didn’t tell them what the pills were for. “The only thing they told everybody is it’s good for you. It’s for our health.”
The guards forced the prisoners to drink the tea and take the pills before they left the room, otherwise they would face even more scrutiny. Turdakun, a Christian, added that Muslim prisoners observing Ramadan were forced to drink and eat during that time.
“When we drank those teas and medicines, we did not feel good and we had a kind of pain in our bodies and got red rashes throughout our bodies,” he said. “Also, we had vision problems, and pain in the leg and nerve illnesses.” Turdakun added that “they took blood again from us,” every time they drank the herbal tea.
He also addressed the injections administered to detainees, saying that he believes the shots were intended to calm the prisoners down.
Turdakun told NR yesterday that the injections, which he secretly discussed with other prisoners while they showered, caused aches, fevers, and gastrointestinal problems.
There was another noteworthy effect that was psychological in nature: “You couldn’t get angry. You were really obedient.”
The shot made him so ill that the guards took him to an infirmary within the camp, where they handcuffed his thumb to the ceiling.
Uvalde mayor Don McLaughlin reminded me why it’s so important that Governor Abbott is beefing up border checkpoints by staffing Texas Department of Public Safety officers. On March 23 — before Abbott’s new initiative — Uvalde police department apprehended an 18-wheeler holding 46 migrants and two unaccompanied children. Their Facebook post read:
This morning, officers conducted a traffic stop on an 18 wheeler at the 3300 block of East Main St. While conducting their roadside investigation, officers discovered 46 immigrants and 2 unaccompanied children within the cab and trailer. All undocumented immigrants were released to US Border Patrol. The driver was arrested and charged with smuggling of persons under 18 years of age. The case will be turned over to the 38th Judicial District Attorneys Office for review and prosecution.
Abbott’s new efforts are receiving backlash from some truckers, who are experiencing massive delays as they wait in line for inspection. I witnessed one yesterday in Eagle Pass:
Despite delays, the inspections are one of many strategies meant to specifically apprehend criminals trying to cross the border.
Today, Texas’s DPS Sergeant Juan Maldonado shared that, often, the most dangerous migrants are those who are not seeking asylum or turning themselves in. It’s the migrants that sneak in on train cars, in trucks, and through the brush at vulnerable parts of the border. Those they smuggle with them are at risk of being trafficked or caught up in dangerous police chases:
Maldonado made an important distinction: “The ones that are trying to avoid being caught by Border Patrol…they're criminals. They're gonna do some type of criminal activity and human trafficking…we want to capture them and save the kids from further abuse” pic.twitter.com/bkZgTAd7O9
Under Operation Lone Star, another Abbott initiative to secure the Texas border with Mexico, DPS is working in conjunction with Customs and Border Protection, local law enforcement, the Texas National Guard, and private landowners to shore up vulnerable areas.
There are, indeed, critical vulnerabilities. Yesterday, I drove along “The Wall” in Eagle Pass and found that it ended in an open forest:
Later, I drove all the way down to the Rio Grande river bank in an Eagle Pass park. Across, I saw one man enter the water while another sat on the bank. The international bridge connecting Mexico and the U.S. was just to my left:
Perhaps the most vulnerable areas are the vast expanses of ranches. Sergeant Maldonado shared that landowners now work with law enforcement by calling in to report suspicious activity and signing an affidavit to press charges on trespassing migrants. Many landowners allow law enforcement to stand watch on their properties.
“The whole mission is about supporting the citizens of the state of Texas and providing security for all the criminal trespassing,” said Maldonado.
A former Xinjiang detention-camp prisoner, his family, and others accompanying them appeared to have been followed and discreetly photographed by two women on the National Mall yesterday afternoon, sources familiar with the incident told National Review. This raised suspicions about the possibility that the family was being surveilled, though there is no way to confirm this.
The camp survivor, Ovalbek Turdakun, arrived in the U.S. on Friday with his wife and their eleven-year-old son. Turdakun is expected to present significant, high-value evidence to Congress and the International Criminal Court, revealing previously undisclosed aspects of China’s genocidal campaign in Xinjiang based on …
Picking up on last week’s debate, I see John McCormack responded that J. D. Vance’s position on Ukraine is unpopular if one looks closely.* Well, let’s look again.
John again lays heavy emphasis on a February 19 clip in which Vance says, “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another.” John presents this quote five times in text and once in an embedded video in the first six paragraphs.
Effectively McCormack then takes on the role of an attack-ad consultant by opinining that, “if you play a video clip of Vance uttering that single sentence,” most Republican voters will recoil.
I wonder. Will they?
John’s post is a long exegesis of that one sentence — which he takes to hold all the true substance of Vance’s position. John says that taking this sentence alone implies that Vance is against all forms of aid to Ukraine, and all sanctions. Every other Vance statement on the issue is measured as a shift, a reversal, or a lie. When Vance praises Trump for having deterred Russia, John replies in effect, “I thought you didn’t care.” When Vance gives qualified support to sanctions, John says the same.
But this is tendentious. Just watch a fuller clip from which the “I don’t really care” sentence is pulled. Once you look beyond those eight seconds, things open up.
“I’ve got to be honest with you, I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another,” Vance said. “I do care about the fact that in my community right now, the leading cause of death among 18-to-45-year-olds is Mexican fentanyl that’s coming across the southern border.”
Vance goes on to say: “I’m sick of Joe Biden focusing on the border of a country I don’t care about while he lets the border of his own country become a total war zone.”
This is what could be called Vance’s position on Ukraine. Compared to other problems at home — chaos at the border, drugs in our community, inflation — Ukraine hardly rates at all. Vance has repeatedly noted that Congress authorized $14 billion in aid for Ukraine in the space of a week, whereas for four years they would not approve just $4 billion to build a border wall at home. Sometimes Vance takes a question about Ukraine and pivots to saying that the media talk about Ukraine more than inflation.
And it hasn’t changed at all since the offending clip. Every single time the subject comes up on television interviews or in debates, this is the position Vance reiterates, that other issues far outrank Ukraine.
WATCH: @JDVance1 is the ONLY candidate who opposes U.S. intervention in Ukraine!
"It's a massive distraction. The American media spends 20 minutes on the Ukraine crisis for every 1 minute it spends on inflation. It spends way more time on Ukraine than on the southern border." pic.twitter.com/OEmUUKgJEq
In addition to the reckless risks that Gibbons and Mandel push upon America, the issue of priorities becomes central. Right now, as corporate media delivers nonstop, breathless coverage of Ukraine, and Washington establishment officeholders pontificate endlessly about defending a border 5,000 miles away, we have an all-out border crisis of our own.
I will be damned if I am going to prioritize Ukraine’s eastern border right now when our own southern border is engulfed by a human tsunami of illegal migrants.
This is not the portrait of someone backing off, but doubling down consistently. In polling from before the war, inflation far outranked every other issue, foreign policy was at the bottom, below health care and inflation. There’s good reason to believe this hasn’t been truly disrupted by events.
Vance hit his two opponents for supporting a “European-led” no-fly zone. What did they do? They backed down in the next debate and inched toward Vance’s position. Would they do so if they thought it was so unpopular?
John also hits me for laughing at the idea that Republican voters care deeply about Ukraine. I said that it was a debate for insiders. I stand by it. The vast majority of Americans do not want a major role for the United States in this conflict. In one poll, only 26 percent of respondents wanted the U.S. to have a major role. The rest opposed this. The same poll also found that major involvement was more unpopular with Republicans: “Democrats are more likely than Republicans to think the U.S. should have a major role in the conflict, 32% to 22%.”
What is a major role? It is maddeningly difficult to get precise polling on foreign-policy options when it comes to Ukraine. But some polling has been done. Target Point surveyed Pennsylvania Voters in late February, asking them what the U.S. response should be:
The options present an unambiguously dovish option — do nothing, not our problem, which got 14 percent. And another one: impose strongest possible sanctions and seek a diplomatic resolution, which commanded 45 percent. Together, that takes you to 59 percent. Only 23 percent support arming Ukraine to “kill as many Russians as possible,” the option that most excites pundits in Washington. Less than one-fifth of respondents are for sending U.S. troops.
This debate obviously matters much more to insiders than to Americans, which is why news networks are continually broadcasting less and less content on it. And I think insiders sense it. That is why Eliot Cohen is in the Atlantic, pre-shaming the American voters for their “self-deterring beliefs” about the war. It’s why George Packer complains about Americans not having the sufficient attention span for the war and not being “worthy” of defending Ukraine.
One of the reasons our Founders put the power of war into the hands of the legislature was that they knew executives tended to aggrandize their power in war. The court intellectuals of our executive branch wish for precisely this, because it aggrandizes them, too.
Though there is no perfect way of measuring this, I would bet that every chance that Vance gets to explain his position on Ukraine, that he prioritizes other pressing American concerns above this conflict, he is helping himself. That’s why people who disagree with him are anxious to cut him off after eight seconds, and extrapolate for him.
*On a personal note, in the final paragraphs of my first response, I wrote that “hawks were making an underhanded and dishonest argument about Vance.” As I wrote the post I had in mind a number of figures, but without naming them the only person readers could conclude that I meant was my colleague, John, whom I lumped in and damned with them. That was wrong of me for two reasons. One, I assigned to him an ulterior motive not in evidence — attacking Vance on behalf of his rivals — that would make NR’s mission impossible. John is quite right that not every criticism contains an implicit endorsement. And two, John has always been a good colleague and deserved his presumption of good faith. For this (and all my sins this Lent), I’m sorry.
President Biden just this week got socked with a Quinnipiac poll putting him at an astonishing 35 percent approval rating among registered voters, indicating that Biden is neither enjoying a rally-round-the-flag effect due to war in Europe nor convincing voters that the devastating 40-year-high wave of inflation that amounts to a drastic and sudden pay cut for working Americans is all Vladimir Putin’s fault.
Biden’s approval rating is 40.6, disapproval 52.3, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average.
At the same point in the previous presidency, President Trump spent the month of April 2018 around 42 percent approval, up a tick to around 42.8 percent on April 13. His disapproval numbers were right around 54 percent all month, dipping a bit below that on April 13.
So Biden has slightly lower favorables than Trump, but Trump had slightly higher unfavorables (with fewer voters undecided about Trump). Recall that Trump’s party lost 41 seats in the House during the 2018 midterms. The Republicans can probably thank the Senate Democrats for their disgraceful behavior toward Brett Kavanaugh that autumn for their pickup of two Senate seats.
Do a president’s words count, or not? If a president keeps making declarations that bear no relationship whatsoever to actual administration policy, he is at best irrelevant. But President Biden’s many verbal slip-ups and ad-libs can be expected to enrage Vladimir Putin and make him redouble his efforts when the United States should be exerting effort in the other direction, to encourage Putin to de-escalate.
We’ve just learned that when President Biden called Vladimir Putin’s acts “genocide” the remark didn’t really count, any more than it counted when Biden called Putin “a war criminal,” (never mind, said his staff). Nor was the president making policy when he called for Russian regime change by saying, “for God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power” (no, he can remain in power, said flunkies).
We should also forget all about how Biden said use of chemical weapons by Putin would “trigger a response in kind” (not that kind of in kind, said his team), how he told the 82nd Airborne that they would soon learn about Ukraine because they’d see it firsthand when they “were there” (they were staying put, said underlings), or that when he suggested a Russian invasion wouldn’t be so bad “if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, etc.” No, any incursion would be bad, Biden later said.
As Phil pointed out, Biden is so old and so used to thinking of himself as a member of the Senate, where he spent 36 years, that he still blathers like a senator. Senators can say pretty much whatever they think because no individual senator makes policy, and senators aren’t commanders in chief.
We’ve got war going on in Europe that involves a nuclear power, and we can’t trust the president of the United States not to veer off script and into the danger zone. It seems that for the good of the country, Biden’s handlers should make him stop talking before he blunders us into very scary waters. We have a crisis president who cannot actually be trusted not to endanger us with his wayward tongue every time he opens his mouth. Biden is himself therefore a crisis.
Charlie and Kyle have had oodles of fun kicking around the pathetic start of the likely short-lived subscription streaming service, CNN+. And CNN deserves all the grief they’re getting, for all the reasons Charlie and Kyle lay out, in great detail.
But I think this slow-motion-car-wreck media debacle also offers some useful lessons for any other media company thinking of starting a streaming service. It seems like every content-generating media company in Hollywood saw the success of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and Disney Plus and said, “hey, that looks profitable, we should do something like that!”
(Recall the short-lived streaming service Quibi. Meg Whitman, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, is an extremely successful businesswoman, but it seemed a little odd that she served as CEO of Quibi, an entertainment company, because she said, when asked what her favorite shows were, “I’m not sure I’d classify myself as an entertainment enthusiast.” Ideally, the leadership of the company would have some interest in the sort of product the company creates!)
CNN has a news network, that gets fewer viewers than the network would like. It also has CNN international, reaching overseas audiences. It has the former Headline News channel, now HLN. And on top of all of that, it wanted to create a separate channel that people would pay extra to watch.
The thriving streaming services are all focused on entertainment, and all of them have some popular shows that cannot be seen anywhere else. Netflix has Stranger Things and Bridgerton. Amazon Prime has Bosch and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Disney Plus has The Mandalorian and adorable Baby Yoda and the Marvel superhero shows. No doubt I’ve neglected to mention one of your favorites, but the point is that each thriving streaming service features at least a couple of shows that turned into hits, shows good enough to get people telling their friends, “yeah, you’ve got to subscribe, that show is really great.” And here’s the important part: those shows can only be seen on that particular subscription streaming service. At least for now, there is no network television or basic cable version of Stranger Things or The Mandalorian that is almost as good and available without a subscription.
The problem is CNN’s product is news. And almost all news is covered by multiple outlets, meaning you can get more or less the same thing from other video news services, for free. The annual State of the Union Address is the same, no matter which channel you watch. The footage from Ukraine is horrific whether you’re watching CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC. Maybe one network or another does a better, more thorough, or more viewer-enticing job of covering a particular story. But is the difference big enough that people are willing to pay for it?
To get people to shell out money for a streaming service that was primarily offering news, that streaming service would have to offer something really appealing that was dramatically different from everything else, and that couldn’t be watched any other way. Maybe a host like Tucker Carlson, with his 3 million viewers or so, could get a portion of his audience to shell out for a subscription. But you wouldn’t want to rely on just Carlson; a streaming news service would need a much bigger audience to be financially feasible, so it would have to assemble a bunch of the most popular figures in the news world, and then make it impossible to see them anywhere else. And even that would be a gamble. Ideally, a news-focused streaming network would build a subscriber base of the Tucker Carlson superfans and The Five superfans and the Rachel Maddow superfans and the superfans of some CNN’s most popular hosts and anchors – and figure out some way to develop its own stars.
I like Chris Wallace more than a lot of other conservatives these days, but I think it is clear that people won’t pay $59.99 per year just to watch Chris Wallace. They don’t miss him on Fox News Sunday that much. CNN+ offers live news and … an awful lot of stuff that looks like the programming on regular old CNN, available without a separate subscription – Anderson Cooper, Sanjay Gupta, Fareed Zakaria. I really enjoy, for example, Stanley Tucci’s culinary documentary series, Searching for Italy. But who’s going to pay sixty bucks a year to have it on demand? It airs on regular CNN!
The other angle worth noting is that while people are unlikely to shell out to watch a news-only streaming service, they might be interested in an entertainment streaming service that also had a news option. People who would never subscribe to CNN+ might be a little more tempted to subscribe to Amazon Prime over Hulu, or Netflix over Paramount Plus, if there was a high-quality news network programming attached.
Clayton Kershaw just got pulled while pitching a perfect game, when, of course, completing a perfect game is one of the most extraordinary achievements in the sport.
Who knows, maybe he immediately gives up a bloop and a blast if he comes back out, but this is ridiculous:
We have to get fans back. We have to entertain our fans. We have to keep fans first in our minds. OK, then definitely let’s pull Clayton Kershaw from a perfect game through 7 innings and 80 pitches. #Ridiculous
Patrisse Cullors, the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement has some thoughts about IRS Form 990, which her . . . er, nonprofit is required to file, and then make publicly available upon request, every year:
Cullors: "This doesn't seem safe for us, this 990 structure — this nonprofit system structure. This is, like, deeply unsafe. This is being literally weaponized against us, against the people we work with." pic.twitter.com/xQnCY4S2pw
Cullors’s problem here is that she doesn’t go far enough. I don’t know if she knows this, but every year, with no regard whatsoever for my safety, the IRS weaponizes a form against me, and the people I work with, too. It’s called Form 1040, and I, too, am like, ugh, it’s triggering. Per the terms of Form 1040, I am obliged to tell the federal government about all the money I earned during the last year, and then — and this is the truly weaponized, unsafe part — I am obliged to write a check for a percentage of it. I don’t do this, men with guns will come and punish me.
Obviously, Form 990 is also weaponized and triggering and unsafe and all that, and yet I can’t help but suspect that, because Form 990 is literally the means by which organizations such as Cullors’s avoid paying taxes — an approach that has helped Cullors accrue a rather nice property portfolio, among other things — it is perhaps a touch less weaponized and triggering and unsafe than the process that everyone who actually works for a living is forced to use.
All we’ve heard about supply chains over the past year was about an ongoing boom. Record volumes and skyrocketing profits dominated the headlines.
Now, FreightWaves CEO Craig Fuller is arguing that all signs are pointing to a freight recession.
Fuller is the founder of FreightWaves, a top source of supply-chain news and data. His professional background before starting the website was in the trucking industry, and he knows supply chains inside and out.
On March 24, he began to sound the alarm about a coming freight recession. He wrote, “We think another sharp, painful downturn in the U.S. truckload market is imminent, and it could be as bad as 2019.”
What happened in 2019? Trucking capacity was oversupplied after strong growth in 2017 and the first half of 2018, which resulted in the price of trucking declining steeply. Nearly 800 trucking companies went out of business in the first three quarters of 2019, including Celadon, one of the biggest firms in the industry.
Fuller sees the market gearing up for a similar downturn soon. Trucking demand in March has been unusually weak, he wrote, and retail sales have been below expectations as well. Companies also responded to supply-chain concerns by holding more inventory than normal, so they won’t need to buy as much when demand cools off, he wrote.
Oversupply concerns are back as well. Fuller wrote:
Trucking has enjoyed the largest number of new entrants in its history over the past two years. New fleet registrations were up to 20,166 last month alone. This is unprecedented. The last peak was in August 2019; there were 9,511 new trucking fleets and that was in the middle of one of the weakest freight markets in history. New trucking registrations tend to lag market conditions, so we can expect new fleets to continue to enter the market, even after things soften. This will make the downturn that much worse.
Just because the sky is falling for trucking doesn’t necessarily mean the sky is falling for the economy overall. During the 2019 trucking recession, Barron’spointed out that there had been twelve trucking recessions since 1972, and only six economy-wide recessions in that span. But the conventional wisdom among investors is that a trucking recession could be a leading indicator for an economy-wide recession. We don’t know whether the 2019 trucking recession would have led to an economy-wide recession because the pandemic caused a recession in early 2020 anyway.
Fuller expanded on his prediction in a March 31 article. He walked through the data on tender rejection, which is when a carrier turns down a shipment. If lots of carriers are rejecting shipments, it would indicate that demand is high relative to capacity. If they’re accepting every shipment that comes their way, that would indicate they could be struggling to find customers. The tender rejection rate has fallen significantly in the past few weeks, and prices have fallen as well. Fuller included notes he received from trucking executives of companies of all sizes confirming his suspicions about a weak market.
It’s tempting to say that demand is just returning to its normal pre-pandemic level, so everything will be fine. But writing on April 6, Fuller explained why that view is incorrect. Trucking is a very contestable market, which means it is relatively easy to enter and compete in. Given soaring demand for trucking, lots of new trucks entered the market in the past two years.
“The trucking market has experienced the highest number of new fleet startups in its history. The chart of new startup fleets could easily be confused with a meme stock,” Fuller wrote. They mostly had to buy used trucks because new trucks were in short supply. The price of a three-year-old truck increased from $69,000 in 2019 to $136,000 last month.
Plenty of these new entrants may be finding out soon that they bought at the top of the market. Not only that, they are also operating in an overall higher-cost environment than before. Diesel is much more expensive than pre-pandemic, and insurance and maintenance costs are up as well. Fuller did the math:
With an employee driver, plus a truck purchased in 2022, a new fleet entering the market would have operating cash requirements that are $0.72 per mile more than the same fleet in 2019. Therefore, if a fleet is paying out an additional $0.72 per mile in operating cash compared to pre-pandemic, it will have an incredibly difficult time surviving in a dropping spot rate environment.
Seventy-two cents might not sound like a lot, but trucking is a very low-profit industry. Fuller writes that during the best trucking market ever in 2021, “The operating ratio for dry van truckload carriers . . . ranged from 92 to 97. That means for every $100 of revenue the fleet generated, it generated an operating profit of just $3 to $8.” In an environment like that, an extra 72 cents per mile in costs amid falling revenue spells doom.
Trucking is an extremely volatile industry normally. The boom-bust cycle in the freight market usually takes about three years to play out, so since the last one was in 2019, we’re due. Markets have already priced in a freight recession, according to an analysis from Deutsche Bank. The Dow Jones Transportation Average, an industry index of transportation stocks, is down about 11 percent since it peaked on March 29, and the stock of J.B. Hunt, one of the largest trucking and intermodal companies in the U.S., is down 18 percent over the same span.
In a competitive market economy, events in an industry can turn from good to bad at the drop of a hat. We might be seeing that right now with trucking.