Politics & Policy

So Long, Chesa Boudin

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How bad do things have to get in San Francisco before the locals have had enough? This bad. It turns out that refusing to enforce the law brings lawlessness. From last November:

The thing is, we are talking about real money — organized-crime money — not chump change from a little freelance pilferage. Operation Proof of Purchase, a multiagency law-enforcement effort organized by CVS, turned up more than $8 million in stolen goods from a single location — there was $1.6 million in stolen razor blades alone. And that $8 million worth of goods was only a tiny fraction of the tens of millions in goods believed to have been boosted by a single Bay Area ORC — that’s “organized retail crime” operation. When police served a warrant at the Concord, Calif., home of suspected ORC ringleader Danny Drago and his wife, Michelle Fowler, they found high-speed bill counters and $85,000 in cash. Bundles of $100 bills were found at the home of an associate. Millions of dollars of goods stolen from Bay Area retailers were recovered from a number of storage and processing facilities — goods that were bound for resale on eBay and Amazon, headed back into the retail market via corrupt distributors, or destined for overseas markets. The scale of the criminal operation is vast, and so is the scale of the law-enforcement response: Operation Proof of Purchase involved the efforts of more than 100 law-enforcement personnel spread from the California Highway Patrol to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, along with the sprawling and presumably expensive private-sector effort led by CVS. . . .

Facial recognition is not only being used to study old security footage — it is now being deployed for real-time analysis of customers entering stores. The idea is to spot thieves as soon as they come in, and, especially, to flag the violent ones. “Face recognition makes it possible to stop crimes before they start,” Trepp added in the LPM interview. This raises some pretty obvious red flags for privacy, something that might not be entirely welcome for people wandering into CVS at 1:00 a.m. to buy condoms and Monster energy drinks.

Facial-recognition systems and other biometric technologies are controversial. During the George Floyd riots, it was learned that law enforcement was conducting facial-recognition surveillance. After receiving bitter criticism, Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM stopped selling facial-recognition software to law-enforcement agencies, with Amazon and Microsoft promising to extend the moratorium until Congress enacts comprehensive regulation, which Congress has so far declined to do, while IBM quit the business entirely. (The European Data Privacy Board has called for “a general ban on any use of AI for automated recognition of human features in publicly accessible spaces, such as recognition of faces, gait, fingerprints, DNA, voice, keystrokes and other biometric or behavioural signals,” according to an agency statement.) All around San Francisco, modest shops and restaurants have signs reading “Smile! You’re on Camera!” But there is a world of difference between detectives reviewing security footage and an AI-managed biometric surveillance network that essentially runs a spot background check on everybody who enters a shop.

For the moment, COVID-19 has given professional shoplifters something very valuable: a mandate to wear masks in public. For years, California maintained a prohibition on public mask-wearing, but that law was overturned after a challenge from Iranian expatriates in California who wished to cover their faces while protesting the abuses of the ayatollahs’ regime. (The University of California at Berkeley has a policy prohibiting the wearing of masks by people for the purpose of “intimidation” — unless the masked parties are affiliated with the university.) Now, California maintains only a generally unenforced prohibition on wearing a mask while committing a crime. For comparison, New York State maintains a prohibition on “being masked or in any manner disguised” in public and has sometimes arrested people on those grounds, in some cases at the Occupy Wall Street protests. But the AIs have learned to read signs other than faces — “gait analysis” is another tool in the surveillance toolbox.

Criminals will find it difficult to hide. But in San Francisco, the victims are more interested in protecting their identities than are the criminals, who often are brazen, with no apparent concern for having their faces recorded. Store owners, on the other hand, are terrified, because these often are violent crimes as well as property crimes. An elderly woman operating a small shop in San Francisco’s Chinatown was exasperated by a thief who brazenly stole cellphone accessories and then returned a few hours later to “return” them for cash. She chased him off but a few hours after that he returned again to steal some more. That time, a shopper stopped him. A few hours later, the thief returned once more, but not to steal — he pepper-sprayed the shopkeeper as a warning not to interfere with him again. Others interfering with shoplifters have been beaten, stabbed, and shot. Unless storekeepers are actually murdered, city officials have almost no discernible interest in these cases. There have been few convictions or even prosecutions resulting from them.

So, there’s your super-appealing choice: sci-fi corporate surveillance state or Mogadishu in the Tenderloin.

Education

Don’t Squander Your Money on College Philanthropy

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There have been many cases where people have given large sums to colleges with specific uses in mind, only later to find out that school officials have used the money for other purposes.

In today’s Martin Center article, George La Noue advises people to be extremely careful in their giving to colleges and universities. He writes, “Savvy donors need to think carefully before entering into endowment agreements, which are difficult to change before death and virtually impossible after death. Several questions need to be answered. First, since money is fungible, will the donor’s gift simply replace a routine institutional expenditure, creating no net gain for the program being supported? Second, is the activity likely to be preserved in the long term as programs, student interest, and curricula constantly change? Third, and most important, will the institutional values once known and cherished endure?”

Prospective donors should not think about how the old alma mater was back in their student days and think about what it is like now. Old values may well have been discarded and replaced with a host of new, “progressive” ones that aren’t at all appealing. Christianity may have been expunged and critical race theory elevated.

Rather than just writing a check, invest wisely with strings attached, for programs you can monitor.

La Noue concludes, “If you decide not to bequeath money for uncertain causes or institutions, take the hard next step and explain your thinking to those who might expect to be recipients. Otherwise your silence will be the sound of one hand clapping, and there will be no awareness that at least some donors no longer regard the recipient as congruent with their values, or as trustworthy.”

Politics & Policy

Progressives Get Mugged by Reality and Also by Muggers

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I have a theory that when normie Democrats vote for radical progressives such as Chesa Boudin, they don’t take the rhetoric seriously. They hear buzzwords like “decarceration” or “abolition” and assume that it’s just another variety of meaningless lefty posturing that doesn’t actually mean what it means, which is “letting criminals walk free.” San Francisco — which, like most major cities in the United States, is a one-party city that illustrates what happens when Democrats go unchallenged by anyone except other Democrats — is one of the most beautiful places in North America. Now, it’s become a byword for squalor because normie Democrats have spent the last few years nodding along as the radicals promised to do exactly what they have done. The Democratic Party’s pathological need to demonstrate that it feels guilty about historic racism is the direct cause of the filth, crime, and disorder that have come define large sections of San Francisco.

A wave of discontent with far-left policies is about to sweep the nation this year. In some places, this will manifest as right-wing Republicans replacing Democrats; in other places, it will mean non-crazy Democrats replacing their extremist peers. As Chesa Boudin gets ejected from office, normie Democrats in other cities must step up and assert themselves. After two years of race hysteria, the phantom menace of “systemic racism” must be overlooked so that cities can deal with the actual menace of unchecked lawlessness by restoring district attorneys who will honor their oaths and uphold the law. Next up: Recall L.A. district attorney George Gascon.

Business

Target: Pointing (Again) to a Hard Landing?

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(Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Having disappointed the market the other day with its results, Target has now disappointed the market with a profit warning.

CNBC:

Target warned investors Tuesday that its profits will take a short-term hit, as it marks down unwanted items, cancels orders and takes aggressive steps to get rid of extra inventory.

The retailer slashed its profit margin expectations for the fiscal second quarter to account for a wave of goods winding up deeply discounted or on the clearance rack.

Shares closed on Tuesday at $155.98, down 2.31%.

Another sign that consumers are under pressure?

On balance not, I reckon. It may be that the company has simply been caught out by a relatively routine change in consumer-spending patterns, a regular hazard in the retail sector. Taking a hit on inventories is common enough for just that reason, although it’s clear (as is mentioned below, and I discussed here) that inflation is also having some effect on consumer behavior. Moreover, inventories may have been built up in an effort to protect against supply-chain disruptions of the type that we have been seeing recently.

CNBC:

Retailers from Walmart to Gap face a glut of inventory as inflation-pinched shoppers skip over categories that were popular during the first two years of the pandemic. Gap, for instance, said customers want party dresses and office clothes instead of the many fleece hoodies and active clothes the company has. Walmart said some families are making fewer discretionary purchases as the prices of gas and groceries rise. Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle Outfitters both reported a steep jump in inventory levels, up 45% and 46%, respectively, from a year ago from a mix of items not selling and supply chain delays easing.

The extreme shift in consumers’ spending habits comes as retailers start to get back to healthy in-stock levels. That means some have an abundance of sweatpants, throw pillows and pajamas just as consumers search for swimsuits and suitcases. Plus, some shoppers are trimming back on spending due to inflation or putting more of their dollars toward experiences like dining out and traveling.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Analysts expect the excess inventory to crimp retail profits this year and potentially send the industry into a downward spiral of discounting that plagued it before the pandemic.

That will be awkward for the greedflationists to explain away.

One comment I noticed in a Bloomberg report on the inventory issue was worth noting.

“The just-in-time mentality is broken now,” said Jen Bartashus, a retail analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “So you’re seeing retailers carry more inventory than they traditionally carried.”

That’s probably going to last a while. Major economic trauma can have a ‘scarring’ effect on corporate (and not just corporate) behavior (I wrote about this here and here). There’s a good argument to be made, for example, that the financial crisis led to a long-term reevaluation of risk, a phenomenon that goes some way to explaining the relatively depressed rates of investment activity that followed the financial crisis, and we may see an echo of that as companies begin (at some level) to price in pandemic risk, a risk not many of them had previously considered with any seriousness. The same will almost certainly hold true of supply-chain risk. Over time that will lead to reshoring/nearshoring, but it’s easy to see how the view of what is a prudent level of inventories is going to change over a wide range of industries, at least for now. However, as Target has just reminded us, higher inventories are not without their risks either.

However, any gloomsters who feel that this comment has been altogether too upbeat might like to note this.

Financial Times:

The head of Trafigura [Jeremy Weir]  has warned that the oil market could reach a “parabolic state” this year with prices surging to record highs and triggering a slowdown in economic growth . . .

Weir added it was highly probable that oil prices could rise to $150 a barrel or higher in the coming months, with supply chains strained as Russia tries to redirect its oil exports away from Europe . . .

Weir said the rising price of other commodities, including metals such as copper and lithium, was also likely to weigh on global economic growth and could ultimately trigger a slowdown to curb demand.

“If we see very high energy prices for a period of time we will eventually see demand destruction,” he said. “It will be problematic to sustain these levels and continue global growth.”

Or this, in the New York Times:

For large and small nations around the globe, the prospect of averting a recession is fading.

That grim prognosis came in a report Tuesday from the World Bank, which warned that the grinding war in Ukraine, supply chain chokeholds, Covid-related lockdowns in China, and dizzying rises in energy and food prices are exacting a growing toll on economies all along the income ladder. This suite of problems is “hammering growth,” David Malpass, the bank’s president, said in a statement. “For many countries, recession will be hard to avoid.”

World growth is expected to slow to 2.9 percent this year from 5.7 percent in 2021. The outlook, delivered in the bank’s Global Economic Prospects report, is not only darker than one produced six months ago, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but also below the 3.6 percent forecast in April by the International Monetary Fund. . .

Or this, from Freightwaves:

Credit card spending has been accelerating at a time when personal savings rates have continued to decrease and move toward some of their lowest rates (last reading 4.4) since the Great Financial Crisis (4.5 in August 2009). There are two ways to read very low savings rates: either consumers are exceptionally confident and exuberantly spending their money or consumers are spending every last dollar they have in an attempt to keep their heads above water in a high-inflation environment. Either way, there isn’t any slack left in consumer wallets — it’s hard to imagine consumer spending growing from here.

An ‘ordinary’ recession ahead or stagflation? Take your pick. My guess? The latter.

Politics & Policy

Expand the H-1B Visa Program

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(ALFSnaiper/Getty Images)

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal discusses how the slow and bureaucratic immigration process forces adult children of H-1B work-visa recipients to return to their parents’ countries. The article uses the example of Athulya Rajakumar, who grew up in Seattle, attended high school, and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, yet may face deportation as she ages out of eligibility for her family’s work visa. This problem affects over 200,000 children of immigrants, who are forced to leave the country that they have known their entire lives because of a backlogged and broken immigration system. To avoid such cases, the H1-B program should be expanded for children of work-visa recipients and provide more opportunities for highly skilled immigrants to work in America and boost innovation.

Many children of H-1B visa holders like Athulya have already assimilated to American culture and identify with American values and beliefs. Forcing these children to return to the countries of their parents is unreasonable and counterproductive for the American economy and society as a whole.

Increasing the number of H-1B visa holders is also important for improving the economic state of the country. Holders of H-1B visas are typically highly educated, with around 75 percent of H-1B visa holders coming from India. H-1B visas are granted to uniquely high-skilled immigrants who can grow and innovate. While some critics of the program, including Mark Krikorian, argue that H-1B visa holders reduce employment opportunities for Americans, highly skilled workers actually provide positive complementary skills to American workers and disproportionately file more patents and start more VC-startups than their American counterparts. Increasing the number of H-1B visa holders provides American firms and businesses with the human capital necessary to prosper and succeed, thereby increasing the wealth and prosperity of America as a whole. 

America should reward ambitious and intelligent immigrants who migrate to America legally to pursue opportunity and success. Expanding the H-1B visa program sets a precedent for meritocratic avenues for legal immigration to America that can be followed by well-intentioned migrants who wish to better the economic conditions of themselves and their families.

The Economy

Americans Care More about Real Wages Than Jobs Stats

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If wages aren’t keeping up with prices for most people, they’re going to think it’s a bad economy. They’re going to think it even if the economy and the number of jobs are expanding. That’s my read on the last 30 years or so of data about public opinion and the economy, and it makes intuitive sense. Even when unemployment is high, most people have jobs. When inflation is high, a much larger percentage of voters feels it directly at the grocery store and gas pump.

It’s a point that Paul Krugman does not seem to have fully absorbed. Back in November, he was saying that gloomy media coverage had distracted Americans from the boom we were experiencing. He’s still pointing to public ignorance of job growth as an explanation for its conviction that we’re in a recession. Maybe it’s true that people would be much happier about the economy if only they knew the statistics, as Krugman seems to think. Or maybe they judge the economy based on their direct experiences, and what they know best is a function of what they care most about.

Politics & Policy

Celebrities Are Not Going to Save Biden and the Democrats

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President Biden welcomes BTS to the White House in Washington D.C., June 4, 2022. (Screenshot via The White House/YouTube)

Today actor and former Uvalde, Texas, resident Matthew McConaughey spoke at the White House, expressing hopes for some sort of deal to address mass shootings in schools, and as far as Hollywood celebrities go, McConaughey has always seemed like a decent, well-meaning, and not particularly partisan voice.

But McConaughey comes just a few days after Biden welcomed the K-Pop group BTS in the Oval Office, discussing anti-Asian hate crimes and inclusion, and it is hard to shake the sense that the Biden White House expects pop-culture celebrities to help get them out of the doldrums, low job-approval numbers, leaks, infighting, messaging problems, and more significant policy problems.

I am reminded of 2018, when Democrats convinced themselves that Taylor Swift getting involved in races in Tennessee was a game-changer. Both then and now, Taylor Swift is about as big a name as they come in American pop culture. I did not remember Swift’s endorsements making much of a difference, but I went back and checked this 2018 article from Billboard:

After Taylor Swift surprised fans and pundits last month by throwing her endorsement behind former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen for Senate and incumbent U.S. House member Rep. Jim Cooper in two closely watched races in her home state, poll watchers wondered whether the pop star — who has not typically waded into politics — could move the democratic needle.

The impact, at first, seemed, pretty significant, with Vote.org reporting a huge spike of 65,000 newly registered voters in the first 24 hours after Taylor’s Oct. 7 post. Alas, Bredesen lost his race to Republican Marsha Blackburn by a nearly 11-point margin, while Cooper kept his seat after beating Republican Jody Ball by more than 35 points.

This is why you shouldn’t turn to a pop-culture magazine for your political analysis. I suppose Tennessee Democrats could argue that Bredesen’s 43.9 percent is better than usual for Democrats. That’s a bigger share of the vote than other Democratic Senate nominees; Gordon Ball won 31.9 percent in 2014, and Marquita Bradshaw won 35.2 percent in 2020. But then again, 2018 was generally a good year for Democrats nationally.

As for Cooper’s big win with 67.8 percent in 2018, he won 65 percent in 2012, 62 percent in 2014 and 2016, and he was effectively uncontested in 2020. This is a heavily Democratic district, scoring D+9 on the Cook Partisan Voting Index. I’m sure Jim Cooper appreciated Swift’s endorsement, but he was extremely likely to win reelection with or without Swift’s support.

Swift helped Tennessee Democrats boost their turnout in 2018; it helped Bredesen get a little closer in a longshot bid in a red state, and it expanded Cooper’s margin of victory in a safe, heavily blue district. That’s not nothing, but that’s not really a significant factor compared to the overall political cultures of the state and the district. Celebrity endorsements rarely have much of an impact — and when gas is averaging $4.91 per gallon nationwide, I don’t think many voters will care what any pop star or movie star thinks.

Politics & Policy

Twitter Promotes Stats from Center for Reproductive Rights

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In a sidebar feature today, Twitter shared some information about “How abortion laws in the US compare to the rest of the world.” Among the statistics offered:

  • “73 countries permit abortion on request with varying gestational limits”
  • “13 countries permit abortion under a broad range of socioeconomic circumstances”
  • “51 countries permit abortion on the basis of health or therapeutic grounds”

Aside from being rather unclear in its contents, this list excluded some notably illuminating points of international comparison: The United States is one of only seven countries, along with China and North Korea, that permits elective abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. And: Forty-seven out of 50 European countries either don’t allow elective abortion at all or prohibit it after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Perhaps these omissions are because Twitter sourced its data from none other than the Center for Reproductive Rights, one of our country’s foremost abortion-advocacy organizations.

Politics & Policy

Where Is Planned Parenthood’s Annual Report?

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Activists with Planned Parenthood and the Center for American Progress protest in Washington, D.C., June 28, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Since 2017, I’ve written a piece every year analyzing Planned Parenthood’s most recent annual report, which the organization typically releases in January. The reports disclose information about the abortion group’s funding, how it spends its money, how many clients it sees, and how many “services” it provides.

We’re now a full week into June, and Planned Parenthood’s annual report for last fiscal year has yet to appear.

In 2021, the group published its annual report in February. In 2018, 2019, and 2020, the reports came out in January, usually within the first few days of the month. The last time it took nearly this long for a report to emerge was 2017, a delay almost certainly caused by Planned Parenthood’s damage-control efforts during the congressional investigation into the group’s alleged participation in illegal sales of fetal tissue from aborted babies.

So why this year’s delay, the longest in at least five years? My guess is the group is holding the report until we get a Supreme Court decision in Dobbs, so that it can serve as the group’s opening salvo in the post-Roe abortion policy fight to come. Whenever it emerges, the report is likely to reveal what Planned Parenthood’s reports nearly always reveal: a rise in the number of abortions performed, hardly any provision of abortion alternatives or actual health-care services, and continued expansion into providing highly profitable hormone “therapy,” which the group calls “gender affirming care.”

Politics & Policy

On the Childish Thinking of Our Leaders

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The White House in Washington, D.C., August 5, 2021 (Brent Buterbaugh/National Review)

Writing for AIER, Don Boudreaux explores here the disastrous phenomenon of childish thinking among our leaders. Name any problem and they have a simple solution that always involves coercion and ignores all trade-offs and underlying complexities.

Inflation is a good illustration. According to our “clerisy” (a term Boudreaux borrows from economic historian Deirdre McCloskey), it’s caused by greed and can be solved by government price controls.

The point I would add to Boudreaux’s analysis is that politicians and intellectuals (most of them, anyway) don’t have to suffer any bad consequences from being wrong. For ordinary people, superficial thinking leads to adverse results. If the owner of a business that’s losing money were to conclude that all he needs to do is increase prices to bring in more revenue, the pain would be felt quickly: still less revenue. And that’s why few business owners do think or act that way; with their own money at stake, they can’t afford to.

But public officials don’t have their own money at risk when they make decisions “in the public interest.” They’re easily swayed by faddish claims and glittering rhetoric. They often make horrible mistakes and then stay with them long after it’s evident that they’ve blundered. Our Covid experience over the last two years is a good illustration.

As government takes over more and more decision-making that used to be done by individuals and firms, we get more and more lousy decisions. To get out of the mess we’re in, we need to begin scaling back the scope of the state.

Media

What the Washington Post Controversy Is Teaching Its Young Journalists

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Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel (Washington Post/YouTube)

Something that may have gotten lost in the controversy between Felicia Sonmez and Dave Weigel is that yesterday was the first day for the Washington Post summer interns, if we are to believe a tweet from multiplatform editor Laura Michalski.

Those interns surely had an unenviable start date. If they were able to get placements at such a great paper of record, they are certainly talented. But seeing their colleagues engaging in a Twitter spat resulting in the suspension of one of them must not have been what they expected for their first day.

As a fellow summer intern, I can empathize with their situation. We are all trying to break into the journalism industry. Doing so at a publication in the throes of controversy must not be easy. Still, we have a duty to learn skills not only to advance our own careers but also to make the world of journalism better as a whole.

It is worth looking at what impression the interns’ workplace may be making on them. These are the journalists of the future, and they will no doubt be eager to learn from their more-senior colleagues. If we look at the story through this lens, we can see that the decision by the Post to suspend Weigel has implications long into the future.

This new generation of journalists is learning something that is already instilled in them on their college campuses: that their emotional security is paramount.

People can go back and forth over whether the joke Weigel retweeted was professional or appropriate for his job. Even if it was not and Sonmez’s offense to the retweet was well-founded, the way she went about expressing it was wholly inappropriate.

From the beginning of our lives, our parents teach us the proper way to approach most problems we have with others: we first talk to them, then, if the issue can not be resolved on a personal level, we bring it up the chain of command. If we ever think to take the dispute public, we do so only as an absolute last resort after we have exhausted all other options.

My first real job was a non-political one. On my first day, my boss brought my co-workers and me into his office to talk about how we can be cohesive in our jobs. Our chief takeaway from the meeting was that, when a colleague says something offensive, we should sleep on it and see if we are still upset over it.

Unfortunately, the world of left-wing publications is developing different rules. The habits that their new, young hires are learning toxify the publication’s culture in two different ways.

The first is that it emboldens employees to emulate the actions of Sonmez and Lorenz. Youngsters at the Post will believe that this type of behavior is appropriate for a professional setting. The higher-ups are doing them a disservice in their professional and personal development.

Second, it creates a culture of fear within the workplace. Weigel has done valuable work for the publication, but now he has been suspended over a retweet. Employees may now be scared that one mistake could define the way their bosses see them or even damage their employment statuses.

None of this is conducive to a healthy work environment, but it is what young journalists will learn if the Washington Post normalizes this behavior. Storied publications like the Post need to ensure their survival in the future, but if this is what the editors want their future to look like, they will be in for a rude awakening.

White House

What Is Biden’s Strategy in the Middle East?

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President Biden delivers remarks at the White House in Washington, D.C., May 4, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

The Biden administration has sought to foster the growing diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Over the past couple years, relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia have improved substantially, largely due to the Abraham Accords, which brokered peace agreements between Israel and several Arab nations such as the UAE and Morocco. Recently, the administration coordinated with both nations to develop an agreement that allows commercial planes the right to fly from Israel over the kingdom. But these efforts belie other foreign-policy prerogatives of the Biden administration.

Specifically, the Biden administration is attempting to broker an Iranian nuclear agreement — a deal withdrawn by the Trump administration — that would ease economic sanctions on Iran on the condition that the Iranian government dismantle its nuclear programs. The intention behind this “Iran Deal” is to reduce Iran’s nuclear capacity for destruction and conflict. However, Israel and other Sunni Arab nations have lambasted the nuclear agreement as strengthening the economic and political power of their historic and regional rival. In particular, Israeli officials have argued that the Iran Deal would increase Iranian state-sponsored terrorism of groups such as Hezbollah that are responsible for a plethora of violence in Israel. Both Israel and Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia have harshly criticized the Biden administration for working with Iran. According to the Times of Israel, for example, last year Israel prime minister Naftali Bennett “told Blinken that instead of a return to the 2015 nuclear deal — which the United States pulled out of in 2018 — ‘concrete steps’ against Iran should be ‘taken by the major powers.'” The Biden administration has also spurned the Saudi government through its lack of support for Saudi intervention in the Yemen civil war. Overall, the Trump administration supported initiatives and policies that better appealed to Israel and Sunni Arab nations, leading to greater goodwill and more economic support from these respective nations.

On the other hand, the Biden administration has faced significant negative consequences for its foreign policy in the Middle East. Following the crisis in Ukraine, Saudi and Emirati leaders refused to speak to President Biden about using their vast petroleum resources to reduce oil prices in response to the Biden administration’s request. The lack of support from Arab leaders during the oil crisis is especially damaging considering the astronomical rise — above $100 per barrel — in crude-oil prices after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In addition, the American alliance with Saudi Arabia is important for maintaining political influence in the region to counteract antagonistic powers in the region and secure American interests.

The recent decision to foster greater relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia by the Biden administration suggests an inconsistent Middle East foreign policy. Perhaps the Biden administration has realized its mistake in pursuing a nuclear agreement with Iran and in antagonizing useful and strong allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. The strategy and intentions of the administration in the region remain to be seen in the coming years.

Woke Culture

One Little Retweet

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(Pixabay)

Over the weekend, a friend of mine reminded me of a passage in The Divine Comedy. Early in Purgatorio, Dante meets Bonconte I da Montefeltro, a warrior and false councilor who followed his own father into a life of sin. Dante had met the father in Inferno. Bonconte died on the battlefield after his throat was slit, but he uttered one word before death, “Mary,” and shed a repentant tear. A demon and an angel show up at his death, and the former rages that God would spare the soul of a life-long sinner because of “one little tear”—“una lagrimetta” (Purg. 5.107). But such is God’s mercy.

Dante was really communicating the depth and breadth of God’s mercy. He is willing to build the salvation of a soul out of the tiniest gesture of sorrow for sin.

It’s interesting that our culture still believes that there are moments where our soul’s true identity and destiny is revealed, but today this revelation only works for our damnation.

My old friend David Weigel (we once were roommates) has been suspended from the Washington Post for retweeting and unretweeting a joke by Cam Harless that stated, “Every girl is bi. You just have to figure out if it’s polar or sexual.”

One of his colleagues took a screenshot of the tweet and publicly complained in a way that invoked the threat of a civil-rights lawsuit. The Post then rushed to clarify that, “Editors have made clear to the staff that the tweet was reprehensible and demeaning language or actions like that will not be tolerated.”

Kat Rosenfield notices that some of the commentary just assumes that finding the joke at all funny reveals the total inner character of a person:

In this case, Weigel probably made life more difficult for himself by unretweeting the joke and apologizing. Human-resource bureaucracies are equipped with no philosophy or theology for judging actions and intentions, they just exist to minimize liability for the company. Confessing your sins to God excites divine mercy. Confessing the same to HR facilitates the swift legal apportionment of blame and punishment. “Oh, so you agree it was wrong! Perfect, now we can punish you to cover ourselves.”

It’s probably unhealthy that our culture assumes that the worst thing you’ve done — or the worst thing you can be plausibly misrepresented to have done — is the definitive portrait of one’s character. The old Christian ethic enjoined us to build upon the good moments we find in each other, rather than the worst. But suggesting that we should be merciful because God is merciful is probably also a fireable offense in the American workplace.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Peak Inflation?

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Joseph Sullivan examines whether inflation has peaked using a Google search data:

To expect Google’s data on searches for “inflation” to confess at least some accurate information about forthcoming official consumer price data is only to expect it to behave now as it has in the past. Between January 2011 and April 2022, the monthly value of the Google Trend for “inflation” registered a correlation of 0.72 with the year-over-year change in that month’s overall consumer price index. For context, a correlation of between 0.7 and 0.8 puts the predictive relationship between the two on par with the predictive relationship between Body Mass Index and body-fat percentage. Having increased from 82 in April to 100 in May, if the previous data are any indication, the Google Trend now foreshadows that Friday’s release of official inflation data for May will show an uptick, perhaps around 9 percent year-over-year.

Read the whole thing here.

White House

On Biden’s Decline

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President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

In response to When Does Joe Biden Start Firing People?

Regarding our senescent POTUS, Dan observes:

If you have spent much time around elderly men with declining faculties, you will recognize the all-too-common pattern of lashing out because they need help for things they could once do themselves, rather than being thankful for the help.

Okay, but the main thing the in-his-prime-such-as-it-was Joe Biden could do for himself was say stupid stuff . . . that he would then have to pretend not to have said.

The difference between then and now is that, as president rather than blowhard senator, Biden has legions of staff, rather than just the media, to walk it back.

He was grateful for the media. But now he’s angry at the staff. I guess that’s the measure of decline.

History

Reagan on D-Day: Isolationism Is Never Acceptable

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President Ronald Reagan at the White House in 1986. (National Archives)

Today is the 78th anniversary of D-Day — when, in 1944, over 160,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy in France to liberate Europe from Nazi clutches. In his famous order of the day to the troops before they left, General Eisenhower called it the “Great Crusade” of our times. He added, “The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.”

Seventy-eight years later, something similar can be said about Europe right now. It is in the midst of another war, in Ukraine, where Russia’s tyrannical regime has invaded a fledgling democracy. The threat is not to Ukraine alone, but to all the free nations of Europe — starting with the Baltic republics, Finland, Sweden, Moldova, and others along Russia’s periphery. Many have, rightly, called the war a symbol of the clash between democracy and autocracy — akin to one waged on the same European plain eight decades ago.

Though it’s disheartening that this same battle must be fought again, the occasion offers the chance to reflect on the continuity of American foreign policy, and the “America First” Right’s critique of it. They deride involvement in “foreign wars.” Many prominent conservatives — Tucker Carlson, J. D. Vance, and Thomas Massie — oppose aid and support for Ukraine. Any involvement, they believe, will lead to a “war with Russia,” while the money would be better spent at home.

PHOTOS: D-Day: June 6, 1944

In 1944, isolationist arguments against D-Day would not have held up. Germany had not attacked the United States like Japan did at Pearl Harbor before war was declared, yet defeating the Nazis was widely seen as important. Apart from Ike’s appeal to principle, the war was grounded in practical realities. Then and now, America recognized that an unfree Europe threatens our own security. Over 15 percent of our exports are sent directly to the EU, while much more is carried in ships through the Mediterranean and European waters. American jobs depend directly on this trade, which is viable only with European democracies. Moreover, a hostile power in Western Europe would rival America’s naval supremacy and harm our national security along the Eastern Seaboard. We cannot leave unsecured this front in the Atlantic, especially as we rival China in the Pacific. It requires ensuring a strong and democratic Europe, under NATO’s aegis. In material terms, Europe is both America’s marketplace and buffer zone.

Hence, we must be involved, to keep Europe free — at least for our self-interest. The populists can agree with that. Not every war is another Afghanistan or Iraq. Ukraine’s certainly isn’t.

Today, Jack Butler quoted Reagan’s famed D-Day Memorial Speech, about “the boys of Pointe Du Hoc.” Amid that tribute, Reagan reminded the world about the purpose of their sacrifice. It is worth repetition:

We in America have learned bitter lessons from two World Wars: It is better to be here ready to protect the peace, than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We’ve learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent.

This is as true in 2022 for Russia as it was in 1944 for Germany. Much blood was spilled for the Great Crusade. Eight decades later, we must not let that sacrifice be in vain.

Science & Tech

Electric Vehicles and Job Creation

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A Tesla Model S electric vehicle drives along a row of occupied superchargers at Tesla’s primary vehicle factory in Fremont, Calif., May 12, 2020. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

I wrote a bit last week about what the developing electric-vehicle sector might mean for job creation. We have, after all, been told that decarbonization of the economy is going to generate lots of new jobs. I’m not convinced, particularly, as I noted last week, when it comes to net job creation. To be sure, the transition away from greenhouse gases ought to create quite a large number of new jobs for regulators, lawyers, and all the rest, and maybe even some well-paid blue-collar jobs too, but it will also cost jobs. The classic example of that, of course, will be in the oil and gas business, but, as discussed last week, electric vehicles are going to represent a significant challenge to existing auto companies (and the companies that supply them) and a significant opportunity for manufacturers in China, not least because of how (relatively) easy it is to manufacture EVs.

Here’s part of a passage I quoted from the Financial Times:

The drive train of an electric vehicle . . . is extraordinarily simple: a battery, a motor and not much else. Production of the crucial component, the battery, is a business of huge scale and thin margins; the economics are similar to another green technology, the solar panel. Assembly of electric vehicles needs some of the skills of traditional carmaking, but bears comparison as well to other electrical goods. Solar panels and consumer electronics are industries where Chinese manufacturing dominates on cost.

Well, if they are simple to make, how difficult can they be to repair?

LAist:

The pungent odor of motor oil and grease wafts through the air at JR Automotive in San Francisco as Jesus Rojas lifts the hood of a 2014 Honda Civic to inspect its engine.

Gasoline-powered vehicles like this one have hundreds of moving parts and other components that keep mechanics like Rojas busy. Rojas, 42, has spent much of his life refining the specialized skills needed to inspect and repair them.

But as California switches to electric vehicles in its battle against climate change and air pollution, these skills will be needed less and less over the next decade. By 2040, the state projects that nearly 32,000 auto mechanics jobs will be lost in California, since electric vehicles need far less maintenance and repair than conventional combustion engines. . . .

The trade provides a steady and reliable income in California for many workers with no college degree. On average, mechanics across the state earn about $26 an hour or $54,190 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. . . .

Electric cars have fewer fluids, such as engine oil, and fewer moving parts than a conventional car. Brake systems also last longer because of regenerative braking, which converts energy from the brake pads into electricity to recharge the battery, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. They also don’t have mufflers, radiators and exhaust systems.

California currently has around 61,000 auto-service technicians, so over time, that’s an attrition rate of more than 50 percent.

According to the BLS, around 630,000 auto-service technicians were employed in the country as a whole in May 2021. So, assuming that most states, particularly the larger ones, follow California’s example in squeezing out and ultimately banning the sale of new vehicles powered by internal-combustion engines, that could be over 300,000 jobs lost. Admittedly those job losses would be phased in over time, but they are likely to be lost in a period when economic growth will (in my view) be significantly held back by the energy transition, which is, after all, not a response to consumer demand but a mandated top-down change, not typically the best way of creating good new jobs.

There is also (and again, in my view) the threat to the labor market posed by the ever-increasing encroachment of automation/AI. Certainly, technological transformations have always created more jobs than they cost, but that word “always” says nothing about the delay between the loss of old technology jobs and the creation of new work to replace them. Those interested in the topic ought to take a look at the (contested) “Engels’ pause.” To pessimists (and that would include me), it is a less than reassuring precedent.

LAist:

Throughout the [Californian] economy, an estimated 64,700 jobs will be lost because of the [anti-internal-combustion-engine] mandate, according to the California Air Resources Board’s calculations. On the other hand, an estimated 24,900 jobs would be gained in other sectors, so the estimated net loss is 39,800 jobs, a minimal amount across the state’s entire economy, by 2040.

Maybe that’s not an enormous figure, but it is still a net loss. No matter, green jobs created elsewhere will more than cancel it out!

Won’t they?

Film & TV

A Lesson from the Failed Re-Release of Morbius: The Internet Is Not Real Life

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Jared Leto in Morbius. (Sony Pictures)

It was not, in fact, “Morbin’ Time.”

On April 1, Sony released Morbius, which tells the story of Dr. Michael Morbius, who suffers from a rare blood condition for which there is no cure. He captures dozens of bats for a longshot of an operation that he hopes will rid him of his disease.

The cure works, but it has the unfortunate side effect of turning the title character, played by Jared Leto, into a vampire with super powers, driving him to commit acts of evil. Morbius must then choose whether to develop a new cure or embrace his identity as a vampire at the expense of those he loves.

The film enjoyed relative success at the box office, bringing in over $173 million worldwide, more than double its reported budget of $75 million. While the movie reportedly will make a profit for the studio, the critics despised it, giving it a 17 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

“Cursed with uninspired effects, rote performances, and a borderline nonsensical story, this dreary mess is a vein [sic] attempt to make Morbius happen,” the “Critics Consensus” read.

Audiences, on the other hand, were much warmer, giving the movie a 71%. All-in-all, the release was no great blockbuster or cultural phenomenon like Spider-Man: No Way Home, but it was not an absolute disaster for Sony.

That changed when the movie released on digital.

On May 26, a user on the streaming site Twitch, operating under the username “Morbius247,” began streaming the movie on a loop. The channel spammed the chat with the messages “I love Morbius,” “It’s Morbin’ time,” and “Morbius Sweep,” a reference to a hope that the movie would sweep the Oscars.

The channel and its stream remained operational for a surprisingly long time before it was shut down due to violations of Twitch’s copyright policy, and the opportunity to watch Morbius for free gave the internet the incentive to make the movie into a meme.

In the days following the stream, Internet users ironically espoused their love for the movie with “Morbin’ Time” memes, leading some large brands to riff on them. Some Twitter users tried to manifest a Morbius 2, while others pointed out that the movie had a higher audience score on Rotten Tomatoes than Captain Marvel.

Even Leto himself joined in the fun. On June 3, he posted a video of him reading the screenplay for a fake movie entitled Morbius 2: It’s Morbin’ Time.

Sony executives must have mistaken the memes for fandom because, on the day before Leto posted his video, the company made the decision to put Morbius back into 1,000 theaters for the weekend.

The result was a massive box-office flop. Over the weekend of the re-release, the movie brought in only about $300,000, approximately $300 per theater.

Morbius’s failure taught Sony a valuable lesson that we can apply to our politics: The Internet is not real life. Simply because people make something trend on Twitter or another social-media platform does not guarantee real-world philosophical or electoral consequences.

We saw it in 2020. Over the summer, social media was awash with black squares in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. On Election Day, however, Democrats suffered more than a few losses in the House of Representatives, which some in the party attributed to their association with calls to “defund the police.”

With data from Pew Research center, we see it on an empirical level in addition to the anecdotal. Over the past year, Pew has found that only about one-fifth of U.S. adults use Twitter, that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to use almost any given social-media platform, and that 25 percent of Twitter users produce 97 percent of tweets.

It is understandable that we give so much deference to social media given how ubiquitous it seems, but, if we confuse the bubble for the real world, we run the risk of looking like fools.

Elections

No, I Am Not Running for California Attorney General

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California Attorney General candidate Nathan Hochman (Screenshot via Nathan Hochman for Attorney General 2022/YouTube)

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one Republican to distinguish himself from another who shares an identical name, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that he should declare the causes which impel him to the separation. Friends, Americans, countrymen: It is with a heavy heart that I must admit that, contrary to popular belief, I am not running for California attorney general. That’s Nathan Hochman, a former U.S. assistant attorney general and the Republican nominee in the race.

This issue has been the subject of significant confusion in recent months, as I’ve been inundated with inquiries about my electoral ambitions:

On top of that, I have had not one but two — two — television shows book me and then subsequently cancel on the grounds that they had meant to book the other, far more successful — but less dashingly handsome — Nate Hochman. And that’s just in the past 72 hours alone. 

Now look: I’m a Republican, and as a West Coast native, I know how desperately our region of the country needs conservative governance. I wish my fellow Mr. Hochman all the best, and encourage our readers to donate to his campaign. (Although not at the expense of donating to us, of course.) It is a red-wave year, after all, and it would be nice to have a California law-enforcement official who actually, you know, wants to enforce the law. But if he wins — and I hope he does — maybe he could consider taking his wife’s last name. It would cater to the progressive, socially liberated tastes of his state, and it would cause me less of a headache. This conservative movement ain’t big enough for the both of us.

World

Canadian Bill to Allow Euthanasia of Dementia Patients

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(Pixabay)

The Netherlands and Belgium already permit people diagnosed with dementia to sign an advance directive ordering themselves killed when they become incapacitated. This has even resulted in one case in which such a patient was euthanized despite resisting — and the government responded by changing the law to enable death-doctors to drug and euthanize such patients without permission.

Now Canada — which last year greatly loosened the criteria for euthanasia — may be on the verge of taking the same path. A bill has been filed in the Senate that would permit patients to order themselves killed without final consent if they become mentally incapacitated. From S-248:

For the purposes of subparagraph (3.‍2)‍(a)‍(ii), a person may waive the need for final consent [to receiving lethal jab] if

  • (a) they made a declaration in writing that a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner may administer a substance to cause that person’s death should the person lose the capacity to consent to receiving medical assistance in dying and be suffering conditions related to their serious and incurable illness, disease or disability that are identified clearly in the declaration and can be observed by the medical practitioner or nurse practitioner;

  • (b) the declaration was made after a diagnosis of a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability by a medical practitioner, but no more than five years have elapsed since the declaration was made;

  • (c) in the declaration, the person consented to the administration by a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner of a substance to cause their death if they are suffering from the conditions listed in the declaration and have lost their capacity to consent to receiving medical assistance in dying prior to that point;

  • (d) the declaration was witnessed by two independent witnesses to confirm that it was made voluntarily and not as a result of external pressure and each witness signed and dated it . . .

If the patient resists, the killing is not supposed to take place. Right. As though the person would know what was happening.

Once the seeds of euthanasia are planted in a culture, it grows like weeds.

Politics & Policy

Analyzing the Findings of the New WSJ Poll on Abortion

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Pro-choice and pro-life demonstrators outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., May 3, 2022 (Evelyn Hockstein / Reuters)

Last week, the Wall Street Journal released the results of a poll of public opinion on abortion, conducted with the National Opinion Research Center (NORC). The poll surveyed more than 1,000 adults in May, after Politico published a leaked draft of Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The results of the poll seem to suggest that there has been a significant increase in public support for legal abortion. For instance, the survey found that 57 percent of respondents said women should be able to obtain an abortion “for any reason,” an increase of 14 points from a 2016 NORC survey asking the same question.

There are several reasons why pro-lifers needn’t be especially concerned by the results of this survey. First, a poll conducted in the aftermath of the leaked draft opinion likely doesn’t provide the most accurate reflection of public attitudes toward abortion. Most subsequent media coverage was unsympathetic to the pro-life position, and it is possible that the negative coverage could have  temporarily increased public support for abortion.

Second, it has historically been the case that, when pro-lifers appear poised to make policy gains, there is an attendant and temporary uptick in public support for legal abortion. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, before the Supreme Court’s decisions in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, several polls showed a substantial increase in public support for legal abortion that later disappeared.

Third, in recent years, multiple polls conducted by NORC have shown an increase in support for legal abortion. NORC conducts the General Social Survey (GSS) which has asked respondents the same questions on abortion since the early 1970s. Specifically, the GSS asks whether abortion should be legal in a range of different circumstances. Since the 1980s, the GSS has typically found that majorities oppose abortion in cases where the woman is  A) low income, B) unmarried and does not want to marry the man, or C) married but does not want to have more children.

However, starting around 2018, that began to change, and a higher percentage of GSS respondents indicated that they would support legal abortion in these three circumstances. This suggests that there may have been a shift in NORC’s sampling mechanism, affecting the outcome. Also around 2018, the GSS introduced new questions on abortion, asking whether the respondent would help a close friend or family member who was obtaining an abortion. Individuals’ responses to abortion survey questions are often sensitive to many factors, including the previous questions asked, which may have played a role in this uptick.

Of course, it is possible that these NORC polls are revealing an actual increase in public sentiment in favor of legal abortion, but there are other reasons to be skeptical. Most other polls from reputable research firms have found that opinions on abortion have remained fairly stable over the past few years. Recent surveys from Gallup, Pew Research Center, and the annual Marist College poll commissioned by Knights of Columbus have found stability in public opinion on abortion policy.

Meanwhile, since the Dobbs draft opinion was leaked in early May, a few polls have posed specific policy questions about abortion and found strong public support for protective pro-life laws. A Fox News poll released in early May found that a majority of Americans would support a 15-week abortion ban in their state, and a plurality would support a six-week abortion ban in their state. A new LifeWay research poll indicates that majorities oppose abortions after 15 weeks’ gestation, and a Wall Street Journal poll conducted in March found that 15-week bans enjoy plurality support. Overall, pro-lifers should not discouraged by the results of this recent Wall Street Journal poll and should continue their efforts toward building a culture of life.

Politics & Policy

The Campaign against Biden’s Nominee to Head U.S. Agency for Global Media

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Amanda Bennett (Screenshot via VOA Africa/YouTube)

Critics of President Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. agency that oversees several independent U.S.-grantee media organizations, including Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, are urging senators ahead of a key hearing to scrutinize what they characterize as a pattern of political bias and mismanagement.

Amanda Bennett, a former VOA director and Biden’s pick to run the U.S. Agency for Global Media, will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, during a confirmation hearing that could yield some contentious exchanges.

If confirmed, Bennett will oversee the U.S. government’s work to support media outlets on which millions of people around the world rely for information untouched by authoritarian censorship.

For years, USAGM has been a political lightning rod, attracting bipartisan criticism for a series of lapses identified by government investigators. The Office of Personnel Management and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have both found serious flaws in the agency’s vetting of its foreign-national employees.

During the Trump administration, the agency was also the scene of a number of high-profile political disputes, with Democrats objecting to the way in which Michael Pack, the Trump-appointed CEO, ran the agency. Bennett, just ahead of Pack’s arrival at USAGM in 2020, quit her VOA job, as she anticipated that she would be fired.

Soon after taking office, the Biden administration fired Pack’s team and restored members of the previous leadership of USAGM to their roles. Biden nominated Bennett for the CEO post in November.

All of this has set the stage for a quiet but intense campaign against Bennett’s nomination on Capitol Hill.

At least a dozen current and former VOA staffers have mobilized in recent months to lobby senators of both parties against Bennett’s confirmation, alleging that she wasted federal resources, empowered questionable administrators, and oversaw serious security lapses during her tenure as director.

The staffers involved in that specific effort, the majority of whom are concentrated in VOA’s Persian Service, have focused on Senators Bob Menendez and Jim Risch, the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the committee. Committee staffers for each of the lawmakers have taken meetings and calls with the Bennett opponents, a source affiliated with that effort said.

During those conversations, the VOA staff members alleged that Bennett gave choice positions only to her friends within the agency and wasted government funds on an unnecessary management software that cost $12 million.

A separate dossier circulating around Capitol Hill prompts senators to ask Bennett about those topics, as well as a number of other controversies that occurred during her tenure.

In May, before Bennett’s hearing was scheduled, a congressional aide told NR that “a number of offices on the Hill” are looking into information they have received about Bennett, as is standard for any nominee.

Another congressional staffer said that Bennett’s record should inspire some rigorous questioning during tomorrow’s hearing.

“Given concerns raised that Bennett is hyper-partisan, that she presided over significant security lapses while at the agency and squandered public funds on content management systems that never worked,” the staffer said, “we hope the Senate will ask probing questions and scrutinize her record.”

International

‘Major Stagflation Problem’ Hurting Emerging Markets

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A truck transports a China Shipping Group container at a commercial port in Baltiysk, Kaliningrad Region, Russia, October 28, 2021. (Vitaly Nevar/Reuters)

Bonds from developing countries are being sold off in what one emerging-markets fund manager called “the worst start I can remember across the asset class and I’ve been doing EMs for more than 25 years,” the Financial Times reports.

What with the aftereffects of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, rising inflation, and lower global economic growth, things are looking down for emerging markets. The FT quotes David Hauner of Bank of America Global Research:

Hauner said that rate rises in major developed market economies were not necessarily bad for EM assets if they were accompanied by economic growth. “But that is not the case now — we have a major stagflation problem and central banks are raising rates to kill rampant inflation in some places, such as the US. This is a very unhealthy backdrop for emerging markets.”

The largest emerging market, of course, is China, and it looks to be in deep trouble. An economist at the Institute of International Finance told the FT that he expects negative outflows in the Chinese bond market for the rest of the year.

Other developing countries will be affected as well. The FT reports that fund managers aren’t moving investments out of China into other emerging markets; they are leaving emerging markets entirely. As interest rates increase in major economies and inflation takes a larger bite out of returns, managers are rushing to the safer returns in wealthier countries instead of the riskier propositions in the developing world.

Countries with stronger ties to Russia are facing the steepest losses, with Hungarian bonds losing 18 percent over the past year, the FT says. Brazilian bonds, on the other hand, are up 16 percent over the same period, as the country’s exports have benefited from higher prices.

Sri Lanka appears to be the first developing country to undergo serious collapse, with especially poor leadership within the country a major contributing factor. But with food and other commodities becoming more expensive in the global marketplace, other poorer countries will feel the heat soon.

One of the many advantages of living in a wealthy country with a diversified economy is that even severe global downturns can be weathered without a major collapse in institutions or the economic system at large. The jury’s still out on whether a severe global downturn is on the way (although Jamie Dimon is not sounding optimistic these days), but even a relatively mild one can shake developing countries hard.

A world where international ties are strengthening and interest rates are low is very different from one where international ties are disappearing and interest rates are rising. Many had become accustomed to the former, but Russia’s war in Ukraine and China’s increasing authoritarianism are pushing countries apart, and central banks around the world are raising interest rates in efforts to lower inflation.

Economic growth is a big deal for everyone, but it’s an especially big deal for developing countries, where it means major material improvements in people’s standard of living and better health outcomes. The reversal of economic growth can be a cause for protests and demonstrations, and in some cases, revolts. As the leader of the free world, the U.S. must be prepared for the international fallout from economic disruptions and beware of an economically wounded China under an increasingly authoritarian leader.

Politics & Policy

When Does Joe Biden Start Firing People?

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President Joe Biden attends the U.S. Naval Academy graduation and commissioning ceremony in Annapolis, Md., May 27, 2022. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

NBC News last week delivered this message that the Biden White House seems to want known:

Biden is unhappy about a pattern that has developed inside the West Wing. He makes a clear and succinct statement — only to have aides rush to explain that he actually meant something else. The so-called clean-up campaign, he has told advisers, undermines him and smothers the authenticity that fueled his rise. Worse, it feeds a Republican talking point that he’s not fully in command.

Jim Geraghty’s apt response:

The reason Republicans have the talking point that Joe Biden is not fully in command of his White House is because Joe Biden is not fully in command of his White House. As Kyle Smith observed, if Biden was really in charge, he could fire anyone he felt was undermining him.

That’s exactly right: Biden could put a stop to the public walkbacks immediately by firing one or more people for publicly contradicting him. There are two overlapping reasons why he hasn’t done that: He isn’t willing to stand up to his own staff, and at some level, he grasps that they keep walking back things that he should never have said in the first place. If you have spent much time around elderly men with declining faculties, you will recognize the all-too-common pattern of lashing out because they need help for things they could once do themselves, rather than being thankful for the help.

In fact, Biden has been remarkably averse to firing anyone. It was once common practice in D.C. to make underlings walk the plank as a way of not only deflecting blame, but also showing that the president was serious about holding people accountable if they failed the voters. Donald Trump, while he was surprisingly averse to firing people directly (even after having made “you’re fired!” into his personal catchphrase on The Apprentice), at least knew how to make people miserable enough to leave, then dump blame on them as they left. Trump’s management style left a lot to be desired, and he often looked weaker by complaining about his own cabinet on Twitter instead of being more direct, but at least voters got the sense that he had limits to his willingness to tolerate being walked over by his own staff. With Biden’s job-approval ratings stuck in the low 40s and now threatening to go below that, you’d think he would try to send some sort of signal that he’s gotten the message and is demanding more. Instead, he just complains.

Say what you will for George W. Bush, he was the last president who didn’t play the game of acting as if the federal executive branch was something he was watching on TV. We could use a return to that ethos. But even aside from its desirability as a matter of good governance, Biden’s refusal to stick up for himself is terrible for his political image and standing.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Vaccine IP and Regulatory Reform

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Philip Thompson of the Property Right Alliance warns of the danger of waiving intellectual-property protections for Covid vaccines:

Nearly two years ago, developing countries led by India and South Africa proposed that intellectual-property rights should be waived indefinitely for Covid-19 related products (including vaccines). They argued that patents and copyrights might restrict the global supply of needed medical goods, and it would be best to give them up entirely as long as Covid-19 was spreading. Up to now, that effort has not succeeded.

Instead, the opposite has played out. Aided by intact property rights that allow firms to safely share their vaccine recipes, data, and other know-how, manufacturers all over the world have been able to take part in increasing the supply of crucial medical goods. In fact, as a direct result of intellectual-property protections, India and South Africa have not only increased their capacity to produce vaccines on their own, but they are sitting on stockpiles they can’t get rid of.

Dustin Chambers of the Mercatus Center writes about how regulatory reform can protect the economy from stagflation:

This idea is not at odds with the acknowledgment that clear, well-designed, and sensible regulations are essential to protect the environment, working conditions, and consumers. Nor should it be controversial to acknowledge that regulations may be costly to comply with and give rise to a host of unintended consequences. Unnecessary red tape exacerbates these costs — whether it’s policies designed by large and established businesses that discourage startups and other competition, occupational licensure or other labor laws that reduce employment, nanny-state rules that increase the cost of consumer goods and services, or a host of other regulations that appeal to politicians but don’t hold up to scrutiny.

These policies are like a vise that squeezes economically vulnerable populations. It is, therefore, not surprising that peer-reviewed research has found that higher levels of federal regulations are associated with both higher levels of income inequality and poverty in the United States.

Media

NBC News: Did We Mention He Was White?

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NBC News has a lengthy feature story on a dispute between the Standing Rock Sioux and an outside linguistic group studying the Lakota language:

The Lakota Language Consortium had promised to preserve the tribe’s native language and had spent years gathering recordings of elders. . . . But when [Ray] Taken Alive, 35, asked for copies, he was shocked to learn that the consortium, run by a white man, had copyrighted the language materials, which were based on generations of Lakota tradition. The traditional knowledge gathered from the tribe was now being sold back to it in the form of textbooks. [Emphasis added.]

The story profiles the co-founder and chief linguist of the consortium, who are, respectively, Austrian and Czech immigrants. The latter is described thus:

Ullrich grew up in the Czech Republic, and in the 1980s he joined a group of white hobbyists who appropriated Indigenous culture by dressing up as Native Americans, living in tipis and smoking peace pipes, which was captured in a 1995 documentary. After spending several years studying Lakota, Ullrich first visited the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1992. He has spent his summers in the Dakotas working on a new Lakota dictionary and teaching since. [Emphasis added.]

Now, the fact that this is a dispute with an outsider who is not Lakota and, in fact, not a Native American is understandably significant. The biographical detail on where the two men are from adds some color. But what, exactly, is added to this story by saying “white man”? If these were black men, Jews, Muslims, Koreans, whatever, would NBC make the same choice? Even if the text of the story did so, would it put the race of the linguists in the headline, as it does here? “Lakota elders helped a white man preserve their language. Then he tried to sell it back to them.” [Emphasis added.] There is no legitimate journalistic reason to do that; it is simply an effort to stoke racial resentment.

Economy & Business

Weighing the Risks of Tighter Money

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Tightening money too much and too fast would unnecessarily boost unemployment and could even cause a recession. We’re now at a point where it’s a risk worth taking, I argue at Bloomberg Opinion:

The costs of a relatively quick restoration of monetary stability thus look low. Putting off that restoration, on the other hand, risks letting [inflation] expectations drift upward. We’re not in 1981, having to choose between continued high inflation and a severe recession. We’re in 1968, deciding whether to halt inflation in its early stages so that we never reach 1981.

Elections

Another Challenge for November: Getting Enough Paper for the Ballots

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Workers sort ballots at the Sacramento Registrar of Voters in Sacramento, Calif., as California goes to the polls in a gubernatorial recall election, September 14, 2021. (Fred Greaves/Reuters)

You’ve heard a lot of talk about threats to democracy and to our elections, and how this faction, or that rhetoric, or that refusal to accept the results or some other factor could well destroy the functioning of the U.S. election system.

But if you want to hear about a real threat to our elections . . . consider how lingering supply-chain problems could mean your local election officials can’t get enough paper to print up the ballots the way they usually do. This morning, the Bipartisan Policy Center released a new report, Preparing for Ballot Paper Shortages in 2022 and 2024, laying out the growing concerns:

With heightened demand at home and abroad, international trade wars, and costly and unreliable shipping, many of the countries the U.S. used to import paper materials from are now retaining materials for their own populations. This volatility has caused an unexpected uptick in the market size of domestic paper mills since 2020, but less overall availability of paper for industries outside of delivery and transportation.

When faced with shortages, private companies can pivot by taking a more aggressive approach to ordering and directing customers to alternative paper types. Election officials rarely have that luxury. While ballot envelopes and other nonballot collateral can be printed on alternative paper weights and types, ballots themselves need to meet certain specifications to be processed correctly by ballot tabulators.

The center warns, “election offices that have not already placed their orders for November should do so immediately. Those unable to place orders due to uncertainty about the size of paper needed (or other similar factors) should alert vendors to anticipated order sizes and timelines. Those that have placed orders already should contact their vendors to ensure that they are on track to fulfill the orders on time. Any election office without a contract in place for November should identify a vendor, secure a contract, and place their print orders as soon as possible.”

One of the potential colossal headaches is a vendor sending a different kind of paper that doesn’t work in a ballot tabulation machine, which is calibrated to process paper of a particular opacity, brightness, or weight. Once the tabulation machines fail, a locality would suddenly have a giant stack of ballots that all need to be tabulated by hand — and we all know how calmly and rationally both campaigns and the general public respond to sudden changes in the vote tabulation process and long delays in announcing an official winner.

Runaway inflation is also a threat, or at least a complication, to the operations of the upcoming elections. The BPC report warns, “in the printing industry, costs have soared 40 percent or more. Unable to cope with rising costs of raw materials, some paper mills are breaking price contracts with print vendors. This has resulted in print vendors breaking pre-existing price contracts with election offices, further driving up costs.” The report calls for state legislatures and/or the federal government to allocate additional funds to localities to mitigate costs that are significantly higher than expected.

As if all of this wasn’t complicated enough, some states like Ohio require all ballots to be printed within the state. Ordinarily, a law like that has little consequence — but during a paper and labor shortage, it is conceivable that in-state printers will be unable to handle last-minute changes in ballot requests. “While this is a particular concern for the 2022 midterm elections, recent supply disruptions are only continuations of long-term trends, and this issue is not going away in 2024. As such, rather than a temporary exception, state legislatures should permanently allow the procurement and printing of ballot materials from vendors nationwide.”

The report also warns “courts and state legislatures should resist last-minute changes to the voting process, particularly those impacting ballot design. . . . Given the months-long lead times for obtaining ballot orders, with each passing day, the available mitigation options will shift from those that prevent problems to those that respond to them. Time is of the essence, and we encourage state and federal lawmakers to act swiftly to promote a smooth and secure election in November.”

The good news is that many local election officials will keep an eye on these kinds of details, and will be prepared. Unfortunately, it is likely that at least a few won’t — and woe to the community where local election officials run out of ballots because they didn’t print enough beforehand. These kinds of troubles will likely lead to new anecdotes of election-night confusion, and set off another round of suspicion, accusations and counter-accusations, and claims of behind-the-scenes shenanigans.

Politics & Policy

BREAKING: Ilya Shapiro Resigns from Georgetown Law School

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Ilya Shapiro at the 2016 CPAC conference. (Gage Skidmore)

As I noted on Thursday, Ilya Shapiro’s reinstatement at Georgetown’s law school may have been a victory for outside pressure against the forces of cancel culture, but it also sent an unambiguous signal that Georgetown would have caved to the mob and fired Shapiro if it was at liberty to do so, and would lie in wait for the first instant that a student found it politically useful to claim offense at Shapiro in order to make that happen once his defenders had let down their vigilance. That makes an obvious mockery of the university’s supposed commitment to the sort of robust free speech we associate with academic freedom when the speaker is left-of-center.

Shapiro is not a fool, and rather than work under such conditions, he submitted his resignation this morning. National Review has obtained a copy of his letter of resignation, citing the “hostile work environment you . . . have created.” “You’ve made it impossible for me to fulfill the duties of my appointed post,” he writes; “you’ve painted a target on my back such that I could never do the job I was hired for.” By allowing any student to claim offense without proving that offense was intended or that comments were objectively offensive, “all sorts of comments that someone — anyone — could find offensive would subject me to disciplinary action. This would be a huge Sword of Damocles over my head as I try to engage in my educational mission.”

He also notes the absurdity of suspending him for four months simply to read a tweet and conclude that it was written before he started the job: “a sham investigation that apparently could’ve been resolved by looking at a calendar.” The problem is endemic: “The proliferation of IDEAA-style offices (more typically styled Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) enforce an orthodoxy that stifles intellectual diversity, undermines equal opportunity, and excludes dissenting voices. Even a stalwart T-14 law school dean bucks these bureaucrats at his peril.”

As Shapiro notes in his resignation letter, his original tweet was not offensive, it was merely poorly worded: “No reasonable person acting in good faith could construe what I tweeted to be ‘objectively offensive.’ It’s a complete miscomprehension to read what I said to suggest that ‘the best Supreme Court nominee could not be a Black woman,’ as you did in your very first statement back on January 27, or that I considered all black women to be ‘lesser than’ everyone else . . . its meaning that I considered one possible candidate to be best and thus all others to be less qualified is clear. Only those acting in bad faith to get me fired because of my political beliefs would misconstrue what I said to suggest otherwise.” Of course, bad faith is a hallmark of this sort of cancel-culture mob. Moreover, as he notes, “any harm done by my tweet was done by those seeking that Georgetown fire me” — mainly, Mark Joseph Stern of Slate, who labored to stoke the controversy. “I deleted my tweet well before any student was likely to learn of it. Screen captures of the tweet were then disseminated by others seeking to harm me because of my political views. It was they, not I, who intentionally and knowingly caused any harm to any student who later came to learn of and read their screen captures of the tweet. It is they, not I, who are morally culpable for any such resulting harm.”

Shapiro also notes the egregious double standard applied by Georgetown to belligerent, malicious, and bigoted tweets by faculty on the left side of the political spectrum:

• In 2018, Georgetown protected this tweet from Professor Carol Christine Fair during Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation process: “Look at this chorus of entitled white men justifying a serial rapist’s arrogated entitlement. All of them deserve miserable deaths while feminists laugh as they take their last gasps. Bonus: we castrate their corpses and feed them to swine? Yes.” When Prof. Fair advocated mass murder and castration based on race and gender, Georgetown did not initiate an investigation, but instead invoked Georgetown’s free-expression policy.

• In 2020, Georgetown took no action when law professor Heidi Feldman tweeted “law professors and law school deans” should “not support applications from our students to clerk for” judges appointed by President Donald Trump. “To work for such a judge,” Prof. Feldman continued, “indelibly marks a lawyer as lacking in the character and judgment necessary for the practice of law.” These comments have the potential to threaten the careers of all of our conservative and libertarian students, or indeed anyone who clerks for duly confirmed Article III judges.

• In April of this year—well after my own tweet—Prof. Feldman tweeted, “we have only one political party in this country, the Democrats. The other group is a combination of a cult and an insurrection-supporting crime syndicate.” She went on to reference Ron DeSantis, Ted Cruz, and Mitch McConnell and say, “The only ethically and politically responsible stance to take toward the Republican ‘party’ is to consistently point out that it is no longer a legitimate participant in U.S. constitutional democracy.” As you know, unlike me, Prof. Feldman teaches 1Ls in mandatory courses. On the IDEAA theory, this pattern of remarks certainly created a hostile educational environment for our Republican students, who are a protected class under D.C. antidiscrimination law. Yet no investigation of these tweets was instigated after they were brought to your attention, after the precedent of investigating my tweets had already been established. Instead, a month after they were first published, they were quietly deleted without apology.

• Just last month, law professor Josh Chafetz tweeted: “The ‘protest at the Supreme Court, not at the justices’ houses’ line would be more persuasive if the Court hadn’t this week erected fencing to prevent protesters from coming anywhere near it.” He added, “When the mob is right, some (but not all!) more aggressive tactics are justified.” Later, he tagged Georgetown Law in a tweet saying that the law school was “not going to fire me over a tweet you don’t like.”

Should these professors have been punished? Under a genuine regime of academic free speech, no, and Shapiro says as much. But under the standard applied to him, yes. And therein lies the problem. Calling out the double standard would shame the university, if it was capable of having principles to which fair-minded people could appeal. Because it plainly does not, Ilya Shapiro will not be teaching at Georgetown.

GULC Resignation

Regulatory Policy

The Biden Team Struggles as Gas Prices Set New Records

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Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg speaks during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, November 10, 2021. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

This morning, the national average price for a gallon of regular gas is $4.86 — which is almost 60 cents per gallon higher than it was a month ago, at $4.27. The price a year ago was $3.06.

For perspective, before this surge, the previous highest price in the Energy Information Administration records was $4.11, in July 2008. (Adjusted for inflation, that would be $5.52.)

This weekend, Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg tried to make two contradictory arguments simultaneously. The first was an obliteration of a straw man, declaring that “We know that the price of gasoline is not set by a dial in the Oval Office.”

The second was an insistence that President Biden’s energy policies had worked well:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Earlier this year the president tapped the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which hasn’t made any difference at all. Was that a failure?

BUTTIGEIG: Well, look, I don’t think it’s correct to say it hasn’t made any difference at all. This is an action that helped to stabilize global oil prices. The action the president took around ethanol, introducing additional flexibility there, that’s having an effect on prices in the Midwest.

Those “prices in the Midwest” are marginally better than the rest of the country, but those prices also largely reflect factors such as state gas taxes and proximity to refineries and gas pipelines.

Back in November, when President Biden announced the release of 50 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, his statement pledged the release would helps provide relief to Americans immediately:

The U.S. Department of Energy will make available releases of 50 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in two ways:

  • 32 million barrels will be an exchange over the next several months, releasing oil that will eventually return to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in the years ahead. The exchange is a tool matched to today’s specific economic environment, where markets expect future oil prices to be lower than they are today, and helps provide relief to Americans immediately and bridge to that period of expected lower oil prices. [Emphasis added.]

By December, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee offered a tweet praising President Joe Biden for lowering gas prices, sharing a graph that had no start date showing gas prices going down by two cents from November 22 to November 29, from $3.40 to $3.38. It was a laughable attempt to hype a miniscule and short-lived decline, one that most consumers probably never noticed.

A word that never came up in Buttigieg’s conversation with Stephanopolous: “Refinery.”

Education

Self-Identified ‘Compelling Interests’ Should Not Override the Law

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A gate to the Yard at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., March 10, 2020 (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The higher-education establishment has long said that it has a “compelling interest” in having a “diverse” student body and therefore uses racial preferences in admissions to make sure that schools have “enough” students from some groups and “not too many” from others. Such preferential- admissions schemes are under attack in the courts, and the Supreme Court has the opportunity to rule against them in cases involving Harvard and the University of North Carolina.

In today’s Martin Center article, Wenyuan Wu explains the crucial points in the amicus brief her organization (Californians for Equal Rights Foundation) has filed with the Court. She identifies the fatal flaw in the Court’s previous “affirmative action” rulings, which paid lip service to the concept of “strict scrutiny” but actually trashed it: “In reality, the paradigm of strict scrutiny has translated into an incoherent and illogical set of conflicting standards, chiefly because Supreme Court rulings in affirmative action cases (Grutter v. BollingerFisher I, and Fisher II) have consistently given universities the authority to justify racial discrimination. In other words, courts have deferred to universities and colleges to make academic judgments on whether race-based affirmative action is warranted.”

Instead of deferring to institutions like Harvard and UNC, the Court ought to defer to the great majority of Americans who believe that racial preferences are a bad policy.

Why not let the “diversity” bandwagon roll on? Wu writes:

Clearly, supporters of enforced racial diversity represent a factional passion in direct conflict with the rule of law. Instead of satisfying a compelling public interest, their version of diversity has legitimized a multi-billion-dollar, largely unregulated industry. Collectively, industry players channel both public funds and private money towards university bureaucrats, market consultants, non-profit associations, and accreditation agencies to perpetuate the inaccurate presumption that racial proportionality is a public good with key educational benefits. Ironically, just like the prolonged failings of race-based affirmative action, the insatiable desire for racial diversity does not guarantee intended results.

Racial preferences have proven to be one of our worst mistakes. Will the Court have the guts to undo them?

History

‘The Boys of Pointe du Hoc’

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On the beach at Pointe du Hoc. (National Archives)

June 6, 1944, was D-Day, “the largest amphibious invasion in history since King Xerxes’s 480 b.c. combined sea and land descent into Greece,” as Victor Davis Hanson has noted. The Allied effort to free Western Europe from Nazi subjugation began on the beaches of Normandy, stormed by thousands of brave soldiers, many of whom perished in the act. It was ultimately successful, though that success was no sure thing; not for nothing did Dwight Eisenhower, then Supreme Allied Commander, prepare a speech in the event of its failure.

Forty years later, Ronald Reagan became the first president to speak at Normandy. To honor the occasion more broadly, Reagan chose to focus on “the boys of Pointe du Hoc,” choosing the “lonely windswept point on the northern shores of France” as both the setting and the main subject of his address. This redoubt was of great significance to the day’s fighting. As Senator Tom Cotton has explained:

Visitors to the Pointe rarely fail to comment on its imposing terrain — a sheer white cliff that juts dagger-like into the sea. The German battery atop the Pointe was no less imposing. Pointe du Hoc was a stronghold of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, a series of fortifications and obstacles built by slave labor to repel an Allied invasion of Europe. Neutralizing Pointe du Hoc was a key American objective in the run-up to the invasion, both because it was the most powerful gun battery in Normandy and because of its critical placement directly between the American landing sites. If the six German guns had roared on D-Day they could have multiplied American casualties on Utah and Omaha beaches.

It fell to the 225 soldiers of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, 62 of whom were in the audience for the speech, to take the cliff — one of countless feats of heroism during the entirety of the campaign. “These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.” Reagan singled them out not to exclude these other feats but to represent them:

All of these men were part of a roll call of honor with names that spoke of a pride as bright as the colors they bore: the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Poland’s 24th Lancers, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Screaming Eagles, the Yeomen of England’s armored divisions, the forces of Free France, the Coast Guard’s “Matchbox Fleet” and you, the American Rangers.

Why did they fight? “It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.” And:

You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.

Reagan spoke as a contemporary of these men, involved in the war effort though he did not himself fight. World War II was a formative experience and memory for their generation. Now, that generation is dwindling; Reagan himself died 18 years ago. In another speech by a man who would be president, a young Abraham Lincoln spoke of how losing the memory of significant occasions presents a challenge to the perpetuation of American institutions:

I do not mean to say, that the scenes of the revolution are now or ever will be entirely forgotten; but that like every thing else, they must fade upon the memory of the world, and grow more and more dim by the lapse of time. In history, we hope, they will be read of, and recounted, so long as the bible shall be read; — but even granting that they will, their influence cannot be what it heretofore has been. Even then, they cannot be so universally known, nor so vividly felt, as they were by the generation just gone to rest. At the close of that struggle, nearly every adult male had been a participator in some of its scenes. The consequence was, that of those scenes, in the form of a husband, a father, a son or brother, a living history was to be found in every family — a history bearing the indubitable testimonies of its own authenticity, in the limbs mangled, in the scars of wounds received, in the midst of the very scenes related — a history, too, that could be read and understood alike by all, the wise and the ignorant, the learned and the unlearned. — But those histories are gone. They can be read no more forever. They were a fortress of strength; but, what invading foeman could never do, the silent artillery of time has done; the leveling of its walls. They are gone. — They were a forest of giant oaks; but the all-resistless hurricane has swept over them, and left only, here and there, a lonely trunk, despoiled of its verdure, shorn of its foliage; unshading and unshaded, to murmur in a few gentle breezes, and to combat with its mutilated limbs, a few more ruder storms, then to sink, and be no more.

Such is the position we are now in. So what can be done? We would do well to recall the sacrifices of our forebears, through tribute, memory, instruction, and perpetuation of what they fought for, as D-Day itself fades from living recollection.

Politics & Policy

The Culture War Now

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A man waves an American flag during the Independence Day parade in Barnstable, Mass., in 2016. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Nate, congratulations on your tremendously interesting New York Times piece on the new, secular Right. I agree with your fundamental premise that the axis of the culture war has shifted away from sexual morality per se to issues of national identity. I offer a few additional thoughts for discussion and perhaps clarity, though.

One is that it’s possible to draw overly sharp distinctions here. For instance, Phyllis Schlafly, whom you note as an exemplar of the old, more religiously oriented social conservatism, would presumably be largely comfortable with today’s less religiously social conservatism. She hated elites, free trade, open borders, and was always up for a fight over the direction of public schools. Indeed, in important respects, she can be seen as an old New Right forerunner of the new New Right.

Also, evangelicals remain absolutely essential to the conservative coalition. Donald Trump wouldn’t have gotten elected without them in 2016 (and he knew it), and he wouldn’t have come close without them in 2022. Glenn Youngkin benefited from record evangelical turnout.

Donald Trump blew up a lot of assumptions in winning the Republican nomination in 2016, but he confirmed the core importance of the single most important issue to social conservatives — abortion. He could stray on a lot of other issues, but if he had strayed on this one, there’s no way he would have won the nomination.

Another complication is that some of the architects of the main new post-Trump intellectual current, national conservatism, want to return to the old religiously oriented social-conservative issues and believe that they weren’t fought hard enough, or at all, the first time around.

Then there’s the question of winning. I think the fight against CRT has been extremely important — credit Christopher Rufo and Tucker Carlson with catalyzing it. And I’ve been heartened by the incredible grassroots ferment and organizing around this issue. But we shouldn’t exaggerate to what extent this is a fight that only the new New Right would have taken on — any conservative of any stripe would have been on the ramparts of this battle any time over the past 60 years. Bill Bennett and Lynne Cheney, among many others, did engage in the precursors to this fight, as did our own stalwart Stanley Kurtz (see his war on the biased AP history standards, for instance).

And we shouldn’t exaggerate what has been accomplished here. The fact that we are now in a position of fighting a battle over whether or not racialism will be taught in the public schools isn’t a sign of tremendous strength. In fact, it’s more a sign of how much the culture has continued to slip away from us.

An analogy might be if ten years from now conservatives organized to defeat an initiative to mandate that every public-school student in America be referred to by the pronoun “ze.”

One reaction might be, “Wow! We’re finally winning! Our forebears never thought to fight the battle against mandatory gender-neutral pronouns.” A more appropriate reaction from the perspective of 2022 would be, “Dear God. How is it possible that things got so bad that the conservatives of the future considered that a resounding victory?”

To use Phyllis Schlafly as an example again, the latter would surely be her attitude to our current victories against CRT and some of the transgender excesses. She, by the way, was in no way a loser. No, she didn’t reverse a massive cultural tide toward more permissiveness. But she won on the ERA, forced busing, creating space for homeschooling, unilateral disarmament, and common core.

Anyway, all of this to say is that there’s much to chew on in your very well done, thought-provoking piece.

Woke Culture

You’ll Never Think of a Chicken Crying the Same Way Ever Again

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I haven’t watched Matt Walsh’s highly praised “What is a woman?” documentary yet, but some of the clips are mesmerizing and extremely disturbing.

 

Here is the chicken lady:

And here is a long, telling exchange with a “social scientist” (forgive me, I saw the clip via a hostile tweet):  

 

World

Wrong of Africa

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Michela Wrong at the Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway, May 2022 (Oslo Freedom Forum / Jan Khür)

Some years ago, for reasons I could explain, I had need to know about Mobutu Sese Seko and his regime in Zaire (as he renamed the country). I was led to a book called “In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz,” by Michela Wrong, a British journalist (or, more specifically, an Italo-English journalist). I couldn’t put it down. Ms. Wrong is my latest guest on Q&A, here.

She has written four other books, all concerning Africa, the latest being Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad. (That would be the regime in Rwanda, led by the atrocious Paul Kagame.)

Ms. Wrong has reported from Africa for three decades, and is one of the most admired Africa correspondents in the world. People say to her, “Oh, you must have fallen in love with Africa.” Or, “I bet you come from colonial stock.” No: She got assigned. She had wanted to go to Israel, or to Romania, after the downfall of Ceausescu. But Reuters sent her to the Ivory Coast. And she had a slew of Africa assignments thereafter.

Before going to Africa, she reported on fashion from Paris. And on the scene at the Cannes Film Festival. And on Church affairs at the Vatican. Etc. She says, “I tend to insist that whatever you write about is fascinating. All realms of human endeavor are. It’s a question of how you write about it and the depth you go into and the human angles you draw out.”

I could not agree more. Also, I think that, at a certain level, a writer is a writer. I remember an essay that William F. Buckley Jr. wrote for Cigar Aficionado. There are few subjects I could care less about than cigars. WFB’s essay, of course, was delicious.

Michela Wrong grew up in London (and for a brief period in Scotland). Her mother was Italian (hence “Michela”). Her father, Oliver Murray Wrong, was an eminent doctor and educator. One of her great-grandfathers, George Wrong, wrote standard histories of Canada. Another great-grandfather, A. L. Smith, was the master of Balliol College, Oxford.

As for Michela, she went to the Camden School for Girls in London — the alma mater also of Emma Thompson — and then to Jesus College, Cambridge. She belonged to one of the first classes that admitted women. Jesus College is known for rowing, in addition to academics. Michela rowed. (“It was the fittest I’ve ever been.”) And studied.

Being a seasoned Africa correspondent, she must have a taste for adventure, right? “No. I’m a real scaredy-cat.” As a rule, she sees the effects of conflict and violence — not the conflict and violence themselves. For example, she went into Rwanda after the genocide. Photographers and cameramen — they have to be there when the bullets are flying, she says. Text journalists are something else.

Has she ever worried about reprisals for her reporting? Yes. Kagame, for example, is famous, or infamous, for reprisals. He hunts down dissidents, journalists, and human-rights activists, not just in Rwanda itself but also abroad (“transnational oppression”). “There are moments when you get a little bit antsy,” Ms. Wrong says (in a characteristically British way). The most worrisome time, perhaps, is when you’ve done all your interviewing and gathered all your material but have not yet gone to print — “because then it would be worth taking you out.” Once you’ve gone to print, “I think you’re safer, in a way.”

The late George Ayittey, the Ghanaian economist and champion of liberty, used to say, “Africa is poor because she is not free.” Ms. Wrong says that Africa suffers from bad leadership. The continent has many countries with mineral assets, oil, hydroelectric power, forestry, and other “wonderful blessings from nature.” They ought to be “steaming ahead,” but they are held back by rotten leadership. Everyone knows about corruption. But there is also capital flight, Ms. Wrong says. And this flight reflects a belief that it’s not worth investing in your own country, your own continent.

Westerners like to talk about foreign aid, she says — aid and its effects. But you know what? Aid has damn little to do with Africa’s condition and prospects. So says Michela Wrong, and she is a damn interesting interviewee. A true-blue foreign correspondent. Again, to hear our Q&A, go here.

Woke Culture

We’re Going to Need More Colors

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If you didn’t notice, it’s day 5 of pride month and a mere rainbow is no longer enough:

Politics & Policy

Is the ‘Deep State’ Impervious to Elections?

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A woman holds up a “Drain the Swamp” sign before President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a “Make America Great Again” rally in Washington, Mich., April 28, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Jeffrey A. Tucker argues it is in this Brownstone Institute essay.

The problem is that we are now to a great extent ruled by the administrative state — all of those governmental apparatchiks who work in the huge number of federal agencies. They all believe not in liberty or even democracy, but in government by experts like themselves. They are empowered to make many of the decisions that control us, from covid to communications to labor unions and on and on.

Tucker observes, “this machinery of coercion ruled in concert with a network of private-sector actors, including media and financial companies, that have outsized influence and routinely use these agencies as weapons in their own economic interests at the expense of everyone else.”

We are suffering from the “success” of the progressive vision — replacing freedom with administrative control. This isn’t how America was supposed to work, as Columbia law professor Philip Hamburger in his 2014 book Is Administrative Law Unlawful? Unfortunately, the Supreme Court decided to allow Congress to hand over its legislative responsibilities to administrative agencies and later to defer to those agencies (so-called Chevron deference) when it comes to the interpretation of the statutes that have delegated power to them.

The Deep State keeps growing in scope and power. Stopping that growth and then reversing it is the great challenge that liberals (using the word in its original meaning) now face.

Politics & Policy

Don’t Fall for the ‘Price Controls Worked Before’ Argument

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The Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece arguing that price controls might be worth trying now that inflation is clearly not going to be merely “transitory.” Supposedly, price controls worked during WWII because there was a “national will” that they work.

In response, GMU economics professor Don Boudreaux demolishes the argument. His conclusion: “The indispensable role that prices play in allocating economic resources combines with the indisputable role that politics play in allocating government restrictions to counsel us never again to allow government to control prices.”

Read the whole thing.

Using price controls to cure inflation is no better than putting the thermometer in ice to cure a fever, but it’s just the sort of showy gesture we should expect from politicians like Biden who want the people to believe that they’re “doing something.”

Politics & Policy

We’re Not Sending Our Best

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An agent of the National Immigration Institute talks to Cubans detained by the Mexican National Guard as they tried to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico June 21, 2019. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

The Washington Post recently ran an interesting story on law enforcement tracking and deporting criminal aliens. A Spanish-speaking Post reporter and photographer embedded with agents as they sought a criminal alien, one Damion Ariza Salinas, a murder suspect who’d fled across the border. He was just “another guy who thinks he can create a new life” by crossing the border, the lead agent said.

The agents spoke freely about their motivations and experiences. “We don’t want a bunch of criminals in our community,” said one, while another speculated on the source of the criminality: “Honestly, I think it’s all the drugs over there.”

Of the criminal aliens the team was tracking, “there were eight accused of drug trafficking, two of murder and one of pedophilia,” the story reported. One of the officers had pictures on his phone of all the criminal aliens he’d nabbed, “like a digital trophy gallery,” in the reporter’s words.

The agents work from tips received from other law-enforcement agencies, they track social media, and they interview potential witnesses and collaborators. Among the criminal aliens on their list is one Baldomero Barrientos Banuelos, wanted for stabbing his wife, who’s been at large in the country for 29 years.

When the team finally tracked down Salinas, he protested in his native tongue that “I came out here for a better life,” before one of the agents admonished him to learn the country’s language: “‘Everyone tells me that,’ Salinas responded, blushing a little.” He eventually acknowledged that he’d fled across the border to escape arrest, but “I knew they were looking for me.”

The sole woman on the team used to want to visit across the border but, as the reporter put it, “Is it possible to arrest a nonstop procession of [foreign] criminals without feeling a little less enthusiastic about their country?”

But wait, how can this be happening? Hasn’t the Biden administration drastically cut back on deportations, even of criminals, while de facto abolishing the immigration parts of ICE? Shouldn’t these agents be fired, as Biden has threatened, or at least disciplined?

Well, that would be difficult because these are Mexican officers arresting American criminal aliens in their country. They’re members of a Baja state police unit known informally as the Gringo Hunters, who track down and deport Americans who’ve fled across the border and are living illegally in Mexico. Neither the reporter nor any of the story’s subjects seem to think there’s anything wrong with deporting undesirable foreigners — from Mexico.

Would that our own law-enforcement officers were able to do the same here.

Film & TV

Downton Abbey Plays the Hits

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Highclere Castle, the filming location for Downton Abbey, in Hampshire, England, May 22, 2019. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Downton Abbey: A New Era is exactly what you would expect from the Downton Abbey franchise by this point in its extended encore. It is gorgeously shot, crisply acted, full of charm, and mostly careful in its re-creation of its time and place. It is also playing for low stakes, short on the sorts of conflict that drove the show’s plot in its heyday and long on fan-service that caters to the audience’s nostalgic embrace of now-familiar characters. The plot, such as it is, is predictable at every turn, with one of the major plot points lifted directly from an all-time classic Hollywood film, and a number of beats repeated from the last film. There are, of course, a few quibbles. When a British film crew sets up shop at Downton, characters equate the movie business with “Hollywood” in ways that seem a bit premature for the late 1920s. I remain skeptical that homosexuals in the 1920s were able to identify one another instantly on sight quite as easily as they do in the Downton universe. And Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham) and Jim Carter (Carson the butler) seemed caked in a bizarre excess of orangey makeup.

If you liked the last film in spite similar limitations, you will probably enjoy this one. It certainly marks the end of an era: by wrapping up even more of the remaining loose ends, providing definitive exits for some of the show’s most important characters, and leaving things off on the very eve of the Great Depression, creator Julian Fellowes has written himself into a corner from which he could extricate himself — if he ever decides on a third film — only by forcing the residents of Downton Abbey more painfully into the dismal 1930s, taking the show in a darker direction that it eschewed in its late seasons. He did that once before, taking us through the First World War, but it seems unlikely that anyone has an appetite to take that trip. The Downton audience is largely content with nostalgia by now (aside from our teenage daughter, my wife and I were by far the youngest people in the theater). Better, instead, to conclude with Fellowes’s decision to emphasize how tradition endures as each generation succeeds those who preceded it. That is a vision of the future that looked a lot brighter in the Britain of 1929 than what the future actually held.