Politics & Policy

A Not-So-Stunning Night

Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D., Miss.) participates in the opening public hearing of the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 9, 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Of course, Thursday night’s hearing has been deemed stunning by all the people you’d expect to deem them stunning. The video that was the centerpiece of the night was indeed shocking, just because the events of that day were so shocking. But it didn’t add anything new, even if most of the footage hadn’t been seen before. Meanwhile, Chairman Bennie Thompson was a constant damper on what was supposed to be a pyrotechnic hearing — he’s not a compelling communicator, to put it mildly. On the other hand, Liz Cheney knows what she’s doing, and laid out a damning case against Trump. I thought the most useful portion of the presentation was the testimony from Trump insiders saying how the data indicated he had lost and there was no evidence of fraud — not that anyone is getting convinced one way or the other at this point. If this was the high point of the committee’s public work, it is, not surprisingly, not going to have much of an impact and certainly not going to change the trajectory of the midterms, as Democrats are hoping.

By the way, the most telling blow against Trump yesterday was landed by Trump himself, with this abysmal statement:

UPDATE: I made a change to reflect the briefing on the data came after the election, not before, as I thought.

National Security & Defense

‘Hammer’ Cain Can Be My Wingman Anytime

Actor Ed Harris attends the 30th annual Elton John AIDS Foundation Academy Awards Viewing Party in Los Angeles, Calif., March 27, 2022. (Aude Guerrucci/Reuters)

Alright, we’ve waited long enough for all of you to go see Top Gun: Maverick. If you haven’t, stop reading here (major spoiler alert!). The truth is, after watching the movie several times, I’ve found that the real hero of the film isn’t Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise), but the character portrayed by actor Ed Harris: Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain.

The Cain character appears early in the movie and attempts to shut down the top-secret spy plane program for which the movie’s ostensible hero, “Maverick,” is serving as the test pilot. “Hammer” tells “Maverick that he’s a dinosaur and that the days of manned aircraft are over. Mitchell says, “Maybe, but not today,” and heads off to train a topnotch team of Navy FA-18E/F Super Hornet attack pilots to launch from an aircraft carrier in a permissive environment to hit a nuclear-weapons development site located at the end of a long canyon and mountain valley. This target is guarded not only by advanced surface-to-air missiles but also by advanced fifth-generation fighters. The site is so difficult to reach that only the best of the best (or Luke Skywalker) can reach it, and then hit it with precision-guided weapons. The problem with that scenario, both in the movie and in real life, is that there was another, safer, more-effective option.

Rear Admiral “Hammer” Cain in the movie represents champions of the Navy’s Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV). In the early 2000s, two prototype UCAVs were funded and built. These aircraft, named the X-47Bs, were all-aspect stealth, penetrating strike bombers that could carry several-thousand pounds of bombs internally, fly 1,500 miles, hit targets, and then return to their carriers without being detected by enemy radars. They could have easily been programed to follow the dangerous route portrayed in the movie, using sensors to fly up the canyon, making speed, flight-path, and altitude adjustments in pico-second intervals — not the thousandth of a second required by man — while possessing the ability to meet and exceed the ten-G maneuvers that limited the pilots portrayed in the movie.

These aircraft were real. They landed and took off from the Navy aircraft carriers George H. W Bush and Theodore Roosevelt (the latter being the same carrier seen in the movie) in 2013 and 2014. The unmanned prototypes even conducted air-to-air refueling with a tanker aircraft in 2015, but then the Navy cancelled the UCAV program and proceeded first with a carrier based unmanned-intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance design before settling on an unmanned carrier-based tanker, the MQ-25 Stingray, which it is currently developing.

An X-47B pilot-less drone combat aircraft is launched for the first time off an aircraft carrier, the USS George H. W. Bush, in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Virginia, May 14, 2013.

The reasons that naval aviation chose to walk away from the X-47B, which could have easily evolved into a slightly enlarged AQ-47C (attack drone), possessing a 2,000-mile combat radius while carrying 4,000 lbs of ordnance internally, are not known. But the results of that decision are clear. Today, the nation’s eleven super carriers lack aircraft that can span the standoff distances imposed by Chinese and Russian investments in anti-access/area-denial weapons. The DF-21 “carrier killer” missile can target U.S. Navy flattops 900 miles away, while the carrier’s FA-18E/F Super Hornets and F-35C Lighting II aircraft have combat ranges of only 500 to 650 miles. Even with the new MQ-25 unmanned tanker extending their ranges, the carrier’s 65-aircraft air wing (down from the traditional 85-aircraft air wings of just thirty years ago) will be able to extend four to six aircraft to reach enemy targets, endangering the lives of the pilots and naval flight officers crewing them.

The Navy’s decision to not pursue the path proposed by the Hammer Cain unmanned proponents within the service has rendered the nation’s massive investments (~$13 billion for each new Ford-class super carrier) in its super carriers practically moot.

Top Gun: Maverick is a great movie about an aging pilot learning how to let go of the past and move on to his future. As a man who watched the original movie as a midshipman in college, and then enjoyed a long career as a naval-flight officer, albeit in land-based patrol aircraft, I can sympathize with its plot. I will go see it yet again and cheer for the hero. But the irony of the story in the face of the current strategic environment is simply nothing less than tragic. The Navy doesn’t need yet another investment in fighter pilots and the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter. It needs a long-range penetrating attack aircraft that is difficult to detect, able to make decisions in infinitesimal fractions of a second, and that can endure maneuvers humans simply cannot survive. Ed Harris’s character, Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain is the real hero of the movie, because he’s the only one who truly understands the future and is not caught up in service-nostalgia for the past. We need to let go of the past and move on. Hammer Cain can be my wingman anytime.

Politics & Policy

What’s Going On with Michigan’s Politics?

Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing (pabradyphoto/Getty Images)

The State of Michigan may be going a little crazy lately.

Today, Ryan Kelly, a Republican gubernatorial candidate in the state, was arrested at his home by FBI agents for his alleged role in the January 6 Capitol riot. He is believed to have climbed atop scaffolding near one of the Capitol entrances and summoned crowds to charge in. Earlier this week, Capitol Police arrested a man from Flint who allegedly brought a BB gun to the building and claimed to be part of the “Department of the INTERPOL,” for which he carried a fake badge.

There have been other controversies surrounding the state’s politics lately as well, though of a different — and less-worrying — character. A few weeks ago, for example, former Detroit police chief James Craig, the presumptive Republican nominee for governor, was disqualified from running because of a massive number of fraudulent signatures on his ballot petition. At this rate, could Michigan take the place of Florida as the state with the kookiest reputation? Instead of headlines like, “Florida man wrestles alligator,” will we soon see, “Michigan man catches red-breasted robin with bare hands”?

Maybe that’s an exaggeration. But there is still a great deal of tumult in and around the state’s politics. We can attribute this, to a considerable extent, to three elections: the 2016 and 2020 presidential and the 2018 gubernatorial. Michigan is serving as a microcosm of the political events in the country, unexpectedly electing Republicans, turning back to Democratic governance and experiencing the excesses of left-wing policies, and then perhaps turning back to Republicans.

Former president Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 was a surprise to most people who followed the election. Part of the surprise was his winning Michigan, becoming the first Republican to do so since George H. W. Bush in 1988. This victory was a shock, but it did not seem to represent an irreversible political realignment. After all, two years later, Gretchen Whitmer defeated the state’s Republican attorney general, Bill Schuette, in the race for governor.

But Whitmer’s victory, though decisive, was not an ironclad affirmation of her politics, either. Although she beat Schuette by ten points, Republicans retained control of the state’s house and senate. Although the GOP lost some seats, its majorities were not critically weakened. The election appeared to be more a rejection of Schuette than an embrace of Whitmer. In much the same way, two years later, voters rejected Trump, but did not embrace Joe Biden, given Biden’s victory and the simultaneous severe losses the Democrats endured in the House.

Michigan voters may have assumed that divided government would result in something of a stalemate. It might force the two parties to create a bipartisan plan to “Fix the Damn Roads,” as Whitmer said in her 2018 campaign slogan. Instead, they received tyrannical and ill-advised Covid-19 policies that locked them in their homes for months on end and killed the state’s economy, all of which Whitmer instituted by executive fiat. Now, the country sees, after electing Joe Biden, record-high gas prices and inflation.

There is one major difference between the responses to the failed policies in Michigan and those in the country at large, however. At the height of the pandemic, Whitmer’s approval rating soared to the high 50s. 2021 saw her approval dip a little, but it seldom went below 47 percent. Biden’s, on the other hand, seems to be hitting new lows every week.

Still, Michigan’s electoral history mimics the country’s pretty well. What Michigan sees in one election the country may see in another two years later. For this reason, the 2022 governor’s race should be one to watch closely. It could predict the outcome of the presidential election in 2024. That may be one reason why Michiganders seem so unsettled now. Being a bellwether state is difficult; our political turmoil could just reflect the country’s.

Predicting elections and looking like a state of weirdos: That’s Pure Michigan.


Pentecost Martyrdom: Is There Hope for Nigerian Christians? Join Us Monday at 2 Virtually


Last Sunday, for the feast of Pentecost, there was a bloodbath at Saint Francis Xavier Church in Owo, Nigeria. Christians are under intense persecution by Islamic militants. But many want to pretend there’s something else going on. Join me on Monday at 2 Eastern Time in conversation with Stephen Rasche. He’s an American just recently back from a Holy Week/Easter visit to Nigeria. He is a senior fellow at the Religious Freedom Institute and a visiting scholar at the Kukah Centre in Abuja, Nigeria. Rasche is also the author of The Disappearing People: The Tragic Fate of Christians in the Middle East and was a founding officer of the Catholic University in Erbil in 2014, where he presently sits on the board of directors.

Our National Review Institute‘s Center for Religion, Culture, and Civil Society virtual conversation Monday will be co-sponsored with the Religious Freedom Institute, where I am currently a media fellow.

RSVP to join us here.

Politics & Policy

Veteran Philadelphia Democratic Operative Pleads Guilty to Election-Fraud Conspiracy

Voters at a polling place in Philadelphia, Pa., November 8, 2016. (Charles Mostoller/Reuters)

Contrary to what Democrats and their media allies will tell you, voting and elections fraud is still alive in America, and still a reason why we have systems of voter registration and election security. No, really large-scale frauds aren’t common anymore, as they were until the FBI pioneered computer analysis to bust the notorious Chicago voter-fraud machine that produced 100,000 fraudulent votes in the 1982 Illinois governor’s race. No, the 2020 election wasn’t stolen, and there is no evidence that elections decided by many thousands of votes are rigged. But frauds can and do happen, they do affect the outcomes of elections, and the smaller-scale the fraud, the harder they are to detect. There are convictions every year for voting and election fraud, and periodic examples of elections thrown out in court. In March, 2021, a Mississippi Democratic primary election was invalidated for absentee ballot fraud.

Other recent examples:

June, 2022: “A southern Arizona woman was sentenced Monday to three years of supervised probation for illegally casting the early ballot of her deceased mother during the November 2020 general election…In another Arizona case, a Scottsdale woman was sentenced to probation in April for voting her deceased mother’s ballot in the November 2020 elections…Also this year, a 70-year-old Lake Havasu City woman was sentenced to one year of supervised probation for voting with her dead father’s name in the 2018 election.”

June 2022: “An upstate New York Republican is being forced out of her city council post after pleading guilty to three federal counts of voter fraud…Troy City Councilmember Kimberly McPherson…admitted to fraudulently casting an absentee ballot in last year’s primary election and two such ballots in the general election. McPherson’s name appeared on both ballots. She admitted to illegally filing absentee ballots in the names of two other voters.”

April, 2022: A Florida investigation charged ten felons for casting illegal votes in 2020, as a result of a voter-registration drive among felons.

April, 2022: Two Florida men in The Villages pleaded guilty to voting in multiple states in 2020.

February, 2022: Pamela Moses, a Black Lives Matter activist and onetime Democratic mayoral candidate in Memphis who had “an extensive record of felony convictions,” was convicted of voter fraud for voting while still on probation, and sentenced to six years in prison.

October, 2021: A Clark County, Nevada man was charged with voting in his dead wife’s name.

September, 2021: A Chester County, Pennsylvania man pleaded guilty to casting a ballot in his son’s name (the father is a registered Republican, his son a registered Democrat). The fraud was spotted by an alert poll worker who collected a reward offered by Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.

May, 2021: A Delaware County, Pennsylvania man pleaded guilty to casting an illegal vote for Donald Trump in the name of his dead mother.

Now, we have the latest: on Monday, Michael “Ozzie” Myers, a longtime machine Democrat in Philadelphia whose track record of corruption goes back so far he was expelled from Congress in 1980 over Abscam, pleaded guilty to federal charges of bribing election judges in South Philly “for specific Democratic candidates in the 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 Pennsylvania elections.” Each of the two election-fraud schemes to which he pleaded guilty involved a co-conspirator elections judge who had previously pleaded guilty. The first scheme:

Myers admitted in court to bribing the Judge of Elections for the 39th Ward, 36th Division in South Philadelphia, Domenick J. Demuro, in a fraudulent scheme over several years. Demuro, who was charged separately and pleaded guilty in May 2020, was responsible for overseeing the entire election process and all voter activities of his Division in accord with federal and state election laws. The voting machines at each polling station, including in the 39th Ward, 36th Division, generate records in the form of a printed receipt documenting the use of each voting machine. This printed receipt, also known as the “results receipt,” shows the vote totals, and the Judge of Elections and other Election Board Officials at each polling place attest to the accuracy of machine results.

Myers admitted to bribing Demuro to illegally add votes for certain candidates of their mutual political party in primary elections….Myers would solicit payments from his clients in the form of cash or checks as “consulting fees,” and then use portions of these funds to pay Demuro and others to tamper with election results. After receiving payments ranging from between $300 to $5,000 per election from Myers, Demuro would add fraudulent votes on the voting machine – also known as “ringing up” votes – for Myers’ clients and preferred candidates, thereby diluting the value of ballots cast by actual voters. At Myers’ direction, Demuro would add these fraudulent votes to the totals during Election Day, and then would later falsely certify that the voting machine results were accurate. Myers is also accused of directing Demuro to lie to investigators about the circumstances of the bribes and the ballot-stuffing scheme. (Emphasis added).

The second scheme, in a different ward with a different elections judge:

Myers also admitted to conspiring to commit election fraud with a former Judge of Elections for the 39th Ward, 2nd Division in South Philadelphia, Marie Beren. Beren, who was charged separately and pleaded guilty in October 2021, was the de facto Judge of Elections and effectively ran the polling places in her division by installing close associates to serve as members of the Board of Elections. Myers admitted that he gave Beren directions to add votes to candidates supported by him…Myers acknowledged in court that on almost every Election Day, Myers transported Beren to the polling station to open the polls. During the drive to the polling station, Myers would advise Beren which candidates he was supporting so that Beren knew which candidates should be receiving fraudulent votes. Inside the polling place and while the polls were open, Beren would advise actual in-person voters to support Myers’ candidates and also cast fraudulent votes in support of Myers’ preferred candidates on behalf of voters she knew would not or did not physically appear at the polls.

During Election Day itself, Myers conferred with Beren via cell phone while she was at the polling station about the number of votes cast for his preferred candidates. Beren would report to Myers how many “legit votes,” meaning actual voters, had appeared at the polls and cast ballots. If actual voter turnout was high, Beren would add fewer fraudulent votes in support of Myers’ preferred candidates. From time to time, Myers would instruct Beren to shift her efforts from one of his preferred candidates to another. Specifically, Myers would instruct Beren “to throw support” behind another candidate during Election Day if he concluded that his first choice was comfortably ahead.

Beren and her accomplices from the Board of Elections would then falsify the polling books and the List of Voters and Party Enrollment for the 39th Ward, 2nd Division, by recording the names, party affiliation, and order of appearances for voters who had not physically appeared at the polling station to cast his or her ballot in the election. Beren took pains to ensure that the number of ballots cast on the machines was a reflection of the number of voters signed into the polling books and the List of Voters. After the polls closed on Election Day, Beren and her associates would falsely certify the results. (Emphasis added).

This is real, old-timey urban-machine fraud, complete with electioneering by election officials and the conspiring of those officials to falsify vote tallies. It was done at the ward level, where the numbers could be small:

When announcing the initial charges in 2020, U.S. Attorney William McSwain did not say whether the alleged vote tampering changed the outcome of any election. In 2014, McSwain said, Demuro added 27 votes to the total. In 2015, he allegedly added 40, and in 2016, he allegedly added 46. Since a relatively small number of ballots were cast at Demuro’s polling place overall, those allegedly fraudulent ballots made up 22%, 15%, and 17% of the votes, respectively. (Emphasis added).

Note that, by initiating this investigation, McSwain did more to actually protect election integrity than did Doug Mastriano, the man who defeated him in Pennsylvania’s Republican gubernatorial primary this year.

Given that this scam was orchestrated by a five-decade veteran of Philadelphia Democratic politics and found two willing recipients, how much would you wager that this hasn’t happened in South Philadelphia in other elections?

National Review

‘Keep Them Offline’: Inside the New Issue of National Review

(National Review)

In the cover story for our new issue, Christine Rosen takes up a question we’ve neglected to ask: Why do we let children use social media?

Other countries have stricter rules. In Germany, Ireland, and Switzerland, for example, the age of digital consent is set at 16, with more legal requirements in place for age verification. Massachusetts senator Ed Markey, one of the original sponsors of COPPA [the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act], wanted to set the U.S. age at 16 but was thwarted by lobbying both from technology companies concerned about profits and from civil-liberties groups that, according to a Wall Street Journal story about COPPA, feared that “requiring teens to obtain parental permission might curtail their ability to access information about birth control and abortion.” Of the age-13 compromise, Markey said, “It was too young and I knew it was too young then. It was the best I could do.”

Parents are supposed to monitor and regulate their children’s social-media use. Parental responsibility is, of course, essential. But it’s not a substitute for a legal regime that supports parents. Rosen continues:

For many parents, even those who place limits on their children’s use of platforms and devices, the problem of social media is no longer a private one. Social media drive political and cultural and educational conversations to such a degree that a collective solution to the problem they pose for children is long overdue. We have enough evidence of the harms and dangers of social-media use by children, as well as plenty of examples of the lack of concern demonstrated by the companies profiting from children’s use of the platforms, to acknowledge that the “best we could do” 20 years ago at the dawn of the social-media era is no longer good enough.

She goes on to consider the possible objections to a ban on social media for minors, and offers answers to them. I suspect that this debate is just getting started.

Also in the issue, Andy McCarthy writes about what special counsel John Durham got wrong: The FBI wasn’t the Clinton campaign’s victim in Russiagate; it was its collaborator. Mario Loyola wonders what the U.S. endgame in the war over Ukraine is — if there is one. Marvin Olasky draws on his experiences as the longtime editor of World to look at whether “political passion is consuming American evangelicalism.” David Pryce-Jones writes about the new (!) Céline. Madeleine Kearns observes Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee. And Ross Douthat reviews Top Gun: Maverick.

We’ve also got Michael Brendan Dougherty, Allen Guelzo, A. M. Juster, Rob Long — and more.

You can read the June 27, 2022, issue of NR here.

Economy & Business

Union-Busting Goes Woke


Lee Fang has an excellent new feature piece in the Intercept that contributes to the discourse surrounding “woke capital.” Fang writes:

Across the country, particularly in highly educated workplaces, employee activism has centered on demands that go beyond the bread and butter of higher salaries and better retirement benefits. YouTube and Facebook employees have demanded that management take a greater role in censoring content viewed as sexist or racist. Amazon corporate headquarters workers this month staged a protest to demand that the company restrict the sales of books that are perceived by some activist groups as anti-trans. The union that represents workers at NPR has demanded that the media outlet develop demographic tools to track the race and gender of every source that appears in stories. . . . In the new environment, businesses facing worker uprisings are attempting to co-opt the language of social justice movements and embrace trends around self-growth and positive lifestyles to counter demands for unionization — a far cry from the old days of union prevention, a history that featured employers routinely threatening workers with private guards and violent clashes on the picket lines.

Fang goes on to catalog numerous examples of so-called “union avoidance” consultants adopting the language of diversity, equity, and inclusion to discourage workers from unionizing. This set of paragraphs, in particular, is jaw-dropping: 

When workers at vegan food company No Evil Foods, which makes imitation meat products sold at Whole Foods and other upscale groceries, held captive audience anti-union seminars, the company warned workers about the “old white guys” in union leadership and compared union dues to taxpayers funding President Donald Trump’s golf junkets.

In other records leaked out of the No Evil Foods seminars, workers were warned that unions were hotbeds of sexism and sexual harassment, and did not share the vegan food manufacturer’s progressive values. The union drive at the firm ultimately failed.

I think the entire “capital uses wokeness as a way to divide the working class” line of analysis is often overly simplistic, at best. There are plenty of woke workers too, particularly at progressive companies such as Starbucks. But this really is a textbook example of that phenomenon. It’s also probably a place where conservatives and intellectually honest leftists would agree that corporate America’s embrace of DEI rhetoric and ideology is shallow and hypocritical. 


God Save the Queen


I have a piece in the latest issue of the magazine commemorating Queen Elizabeth II’s 70 years on the throne.

White House

Speaking of Biden


I have a column up at Politico about the idea that the White House needs to “let Biden be Biden.”


White House

Breaking: Joe Biden Is an Old Man


His Jimmy Kimmel interview last night had this painful moment:

Otherwise, the overwhelming sense Biden gave was one of frailty and being completely out of touch.

Imagine saying this in 2022:

And now there’s word that Biden tripped again on the stairs of Air Force One.

Democrats are desperate for Biden to run again, given their seemingly very limited and unappealing alternatives, but he’s 79 years old and seemingly aging by the week.

Politics & Policy

No, a Heritage Foundation Witness Did Not Lie at a 2019 Hearing

Amy Swearer, legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, testifies during a House committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 8, 2022. (Andrew Harnik/Reuters)

At a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on gun violence yesterday, Representative Katie Porter (D., Calif.) went viral for her questioning of Heritage Foundation legal analyst Amy Swearer. The exchange became especially heated when Porter accused Swearer of lying under oath at a 2019 hearing on the same issue.

Three years ago, Representative Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) asked Swearer if “law-abiding people will be less safe to protect themselves” if Representative David Cicilline’s (D., R.I.) Assault Weapons Ban of 2019 were to become law.

“I think worse than that, sir. You will see millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens become felons overnight for nothing more than having scary-looking features on firearms,” Swearer responded.

The “scary features” Swearer mentioned that would be prohibited by the bill included barrel shrouds, which gun owners can use to prevent direct contact with a hot barrel, and collapsing or detachable stocks. If operators can attach these features to the gun, it qualifies as a semiautomatic firearm under the bill’s definition.

Yesterday, Porter asked Swearer if she had read the bill before coming to testify in 2019. When Swearer responded that she had, Porter pointed out that the bill “would allow the gun-owner to maintain possession of any semiautomatic assault weapon that was lawfully possessed before the bill becomes law.”

“I respect that we have different opinions on Rep. Cicilline’s assault weapons law,” Porter continued, “but we cannot have different facts.”

“Would you like the explanation of why I said that?” Swearer asked.

“No I will not. I have not yielded,” Porter answered.

Despite protests from Republican members of the committee, Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D., N.Y.) would not let Swearer address Porter’s accusations.

It is unhelpful for a congresswoman to accuse a witness of perjury, which is a rather serious crime, and not allow her to explain or defend herself.

Before Porter and Maloney cut her off, Swearer was just able to get in that, while the bill would have allowed a current owner to keep a semiautomatic gun, “any time that it’s transferred to anybody else, that now becomes an issue.”

Once the 2019 bill would go into effect, it would be “unlawful for any person who is not licensed under this chapter to transfer a grandfathered semiautomatic assault weapon to any other person who is not licensed under this chapter,” its text reads. The only people who would be authorized to transfer or accept a transfer of a semiautomatic weapon essentially amounted to the military, law enforcement, and others involved in the administration of justice.

That bill never received a vote in either chamber, but, if it had become law, manufacturers and dealers who possess the over 133,000 federal firearms licenses would not be able to sell semiautomatic weapons anymore, illegalizing a trade in which they partake.

Nor would any of their customers, who number many more, be able to buy from them. Similarly, any law-abiding gun owners who gave their guns to family members would have been committing a felony.

Porter could have reasonably argued that Swearer exaggerated in her testimony by saying that these people would all “become felons overnight” and that such exaggeration could mislead the public, but accusing her of telling a complete lie under oath and committing a felony was inappropriate.

More than that, refusing to give Swearer a chance to respond was inexcusable. These hearings should be avenues by which our elected officials can inform the public and receive guidance from experts on important issues.

Now, they have turned into public showcases in which members of Congress attempt to get exposure on social media. Porter is far from the only politician who does this, but the behavior she displayed yesterday feeds into it.

Gun Control
The Power to Tax Is the Power to Destroy


Question: If a 1,000 percent tax on rifles doesn’t violate the Second Amendment, then shouldn’t we similarly conclude that a 10,000 percent tax on newspaper subscriptions and broadcast equipment doesn’t violate the First? How about a 100,000 percent sales tax on online advertising? A 1 million percent sales tax on books?

Be careful of the precedents you set.

Politics & Policy

Yes, Democrats Are Blowing It

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gives a news conference at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., June 9, 2022. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

There is some truth in this David Brooks column (“The Jan. 6 Committee Has Already Blown It”) on the January 6 hearings, which are going to be — stupidly and wrongly — more focused on the Capitol riot than on the actual attempted coup d’état of which that riot was a minor but dramatic part.

Brooks argues that the Democrats should be using these hearings to ask bigger and more meaningful questions about the state of American democracy, regime instability, creeping authoritarianism, and more. But should implies can, and the Democrats really can’t do that.

The reason the Democrats can’t make something useful out of these hearings — besides the fact that they wish to use them only for campaign purposes — is that the Democrats preemptively legitimized January 6. They didn’t know they were doing it at the time, but Democrats spent the summer of 2020 legitimizing “mostly peaceful” riots, arson, and murder during the George Floyd riots.

Denounce whataboutism all you like, but as a political matter, whataboutism matters and always has. It is very difficult to argue that political violence is unacceptable when you have spent so many years accepting it.

And, of course, Democrats have attempted to delegitimize every presidential election they have lost from 2000 onward. The main organizing idea of Democratic politics from 2016 to 2020 was that the 2016 election was somehow stolen from Hillary Rodham Clinton, who insisted that Donald Trump was an “illegitimate” president. They didn’t know it at the time, but Democrats spent those years building the political defense of the 2020 attempt to overturn the election of Joe Biden.

What David Brooks does not seem to understand is that Democrats didn’t blow it this week — they have been blowing it since November 2016. This is an example of Williamson’s Second Law: “When Democrats are in power, they act like they’ll never be out of power, and when Republicans are out of power, they act like they’ll never be in.” One need not make the morally illiterate case that Democratic shenanigans somehow excuse January 6 — they don’t — to appreciate that it matters what kind of example you set. Democrats think that they’re never going to have a Supreme Court nominee who gets the kind of shameful treatment they gave Brett Kavanaugh, and they were surprised when Mitch McConnell used his parliamentary powers to do quietly to Merrick Garland what Democrats did with great fanfare to Robert Bork. Democrats spent 200 years gerrymandering the hell out of every legislative district they could, and started complaining only when Republicans got better at it.

Republicans do not learn quickly or easily, but they do eventually learn.

Politics & Policy

The Planned Attack on Justice Kavanaugh

Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Dec. 3, 2018 (Jabin Botsford/Reuters)

I just want to put it on the record that I think this is an exceptionally dangerous moment. We desperately need figures like President Biden not to say, as he did on broadcast television last night, that he expects a “mini-revolution” if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Yes, it is an ambiguous statement, and the most charitable interpretation is that he is merely overhyping anticipated electoral consequences. But we need leaders to reassure people that the constitutional system of self-government will continue to work, as ever.

Progressives currently see what they take to be a lack of accountability for major political figures who were involved in Trump’s attempt to pressure Mike Pence on January 6. Conservatives likewise see progressive prosecutors going easy on 2020 rioters, and a distinct lack of interest by media and national law enforcement in the campaign of violent intimidation aimed recently at pro-life crisis-pregnancy centers, churches, and even at the Supreme Court justices themselves.

Democratic peoples live and die on the principle of reciprocity. And we can slide quickly into the widening gyre of history as our partisans become convinced the other side can deploy violence strategically and without serious consequence.

Politics & Policy

FIRE Does What the ACLU No Longer Will: Defend Free Speech

President and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) Greg Lukianoff (Gage Skidmore)

On Monday, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education renamed itself the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and kickstarted a $75 million dollar campaign to increase litigation, education, and research to strengthen the culture of free speech in this country. Greg Lukianoff, the president of FIRE, says that advocating free speech outside of educational environments is a necessary step for protecting free speech on campuses. 

Speaking with National Review, Robert Shibley, executive director of FIRE, noted a distinct negative change in the national climate for free speech that precipitated the expansion of the organization. In particular, the increased demands for people to be silenced on social media and in the mainstream media in general have vitiated discourse in this country. He argues that FIRE saw an imminent need for “an organization that could, in a scrupulously non-partisan way, advance not just the law on free speech, but a culture of free speech in the United States where people actually feel comfortable to speak out regardless of their viewpoint.” He sees the expansion of FIRE as a step towards a much more extensive national organization that has the resources to litigate First Amendment cases ranging from corporate speech to qualified immunity. Many Americans, Shibley believes, yearn for an environment that invites open and honest dialogue. 

The expansion of the organization reflects a direct challenge to the American Civil Liberties Union. Historically, the ACLU had been the strongest and most fervent protector of free-speech and First Amendment rights in the United States. It was responsible for virtually every landmark First Amendment case in the 1920s, successfully opposed book bannings, and won the Supreme Court case that determined the Internet was a free- speech zone. The ACLU defended the free-speech rights of Nation of Islam members, the Ku Klux Klan, labor organizers, and civil-rights advocates. However, critics have argued that the ACLU national organization has, over the past decade, become increasingly partisan and has only fought for the free-speech rights of liberals and left-leaning individuals. For instance, renowned former ACLU lawyer David Goldberger has noted how lawyers of the ACLU believed that members of the far-right were not worthy of free-speech protections. Goldberger, who is Jewish and famously defended the free-speech rights of Nazis in the 1970s, is profoundly discouraged by the new direction the civil-rights organization is taking. Goldberger is not alone. Ira Glasser, the former director of the ACLU, has said that the organization sacrificed its original and laudable mission — to protect civil rights for everyone — in pursuit of progressive causes that ostensibly protect the rights of minorities. 

FIRE, on the other hand, has proven willing to protect free-speech rights for everyone – the true essence of freedom of expression. While progressive critics argue that FIRE is a veneer for conservatives, the organization routinely litigates against campuses that violate the First Amendment rights of both conservatives and liberals. For instance, this May, FIRE successfully defended the free-speech rights of the College Republicans at Eckerd College when the student government denied the organization recognition based on its president’s social-media posts. Just a day before, FIRE defended a professor of Soka University of America who was accused by the administration of teaching materials from black, brown, and queer authors that were “triggering.” FIRE has demonstrated in both rhetoric and action that it equally and fairly protects the free-speech rights of those with varying political ideologies — unlike the ACLU.

As a previous FIRE intern myself, I can personally attest to the impartiality and integrity of the FIRE organization. I witnessed conservative staff strongly defend the free-speech rights of progressive students and vice-versa. Despite the allegations that FIRE has a conservative bias, many of the lawyers and staff I interacted with during my internship expressed liberal and progressive views. Regardless, they strongly believed in protecting the free-speech rights of people with whom they vehemently disagreed. FIRE is the necessary alternative free-speech organization to the ACLU because it advocates for free speech completely, not selectively. The ACLU national organization fails to protect the free-speech rights of everyone, thereby failing to live up to the true principle of free speech. To truly improve national discourse, offensive speech from both sides of the political spectrum cannot be censored. The old adage, “the best response to bad speech is more speech” is the best path forward.

Law & the Courts

Dobbs Watch: Supreme Court Adds Two Opinion Days Next Week

People take photos through a protective fence outside of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., May 5, 2022. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

As we eagerly await the decision Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court has updated its calendar to set two new decision days — on Monday and Wednesday of next week.

While the Supreme Court typically waits until the very last day it’s in session to release its biggest decisions, there had been some speculation that the leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion in Dobbs might spur the Court to release its decision sooner rather than later. So far, however, Chief Justice John Roberts has sought to convey a business-as-usual approach, and with about 30 other cases still yet to be decided, justices have plenty they could release before getting to Dobbs. If they follow their habit, it would suggest we’ll have to wait until the week of June 27 for the decision.

The one other wild card in this is whether the foiled assassination attempt on Justice Brett Kavanaugh could convince Roberts that it’s time to get Dobbs out. Charlie made the case for it yesterday.


Economists Aren’t Doing Much Economics These Days

(anyaberkut/Getty Images Plus)

Arnold Kling notes in a blog post that the recent issue of the Journal of Economic Literature, a prominent peer-reviewed econ journal, is largely sociology.

He links to a different blog post by Florida State economics professor Randall Holcombe about the 115 papers published in the May issue of the American Economic Review. Holcombe writes:

Race and gender issues get the most coverage, and are the subjects of 44 of the 115 total articles. That’s 38% of the total. Migration and immigration are the subjects of 10 articles, or 9%. Much has been made lately about the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion movement in academics, and it is apparent in the research interests of economists.

Some pretty big economic issues were totally absent:

There were no articles on inflation, and no articles on supply chain issues, despite the frequent appearance of those issues in the popular press. While the general public looks at the economy and is concerned about rising inflation, the rapidly increasing national debt, and supply chain issues that disrupt markets, academic economists appear to have much more interest in issues surrounding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

There’s nothing inherently wrong about studying economics with sociological factors in mind. To a certain extent, those factors are unavoidable, and studying them can yield worthy insights. But to do so at the expense of the major economic issues of the day is a real problem.

It’s very difficult to get published in a major econ journal. It seems that many economists have calculated that the path of least resistance is to write about DEI. (It’s not purely calculated; many of them sincerely believe this stuff.) And based on what the major journals actually publish, that seems like a good bet.

It also has a chilling effect on the research that is conducted. Say you’re a young economics professor starting out, and you’re really interested in researching inflation. The signal is clear: To increase your odds of being published, you need to at least find a social-justice angle, even if you don’t really want to. At worst, you might abandon your interest in inflation altogether, putting it off until you’re more established and can afford to displease the journal editors, and pursue social-justice research instead. That deprives the world of valuable inflation research and adds to the flood of predictable social-justice papers that please leftist academics.

The sad state of the economics profession is a good argument for think tanks. If you want to read (or donate money to support) high-quality research about inflation, industrial policy, regulation, or the federal budget, there are any number of think tanks cranking out papers on those every single day. Instead of charging you an arm and a leg for a journal subscription, most of them just post entire papers on the Internet and let you read them for free. It’s a wonderful market solution to a problem that economists have created.

Politics & Policy

Against Matthew Miller’s False Charge of Hypocrisy

A man fires a handgun along a mountain range in Buckeye, Ariz., January 20, 2013. (Joshua Lott/Reuters)

Matthew Miller says:

This might sound good to the uninitiated, but it doesn’t actually make any sense. The guy who attempted to assassinate Justice Kavanaugh was stopped by an armed law-enforcement officer and a locked door. Republicans have come out in support of both of those measures as means by which to take “action” to harden America’s schools. President Biden has opposed them. If anyone here is for “increasing security” in one case but not the other, it’s Biden.

Which raises the question of what Miller means by “real action.” He can’t mean that Republicans are in favor of gun control when it comes to Justice Kavanaugh, but opposed to it when it comes to school children. They’re not. So what does he want? The guy who was caught outside Kavanaugh’s house had a handgun that he had bought in California. Does Miller believe that even California-compliant firearms — bought under the strictest purchase rules in the country — should be illegal? If so, that’s his prerogative, and should he say so clearly. But he’ll find Republicans consistent in their response to the idea: “No.”

White House

President Whiner, Continued


The Morning Jolt, June 7: “The President Needs to Stop Complaining.”

Politico, yesterday:

[Biden] doesn’t do many off-the-record chats with reporters. So the traveling White House press corps was surprised and intrigued when the president dropped by Air Force One’s press section for one such session with them during a recent trip to the West Coast.

But Biden wasn’t just there to field questions. He had his own message to deliver. According to multiple people familiar with the off-the-record session, he used much of his time with reporters to criticize the quality and tenor of press coverage of his administration.

There is growing frustration by the president and his family that he is not receiving the kind of generally more positive coverage they believe he deserves — that too often attention is focused on staff turnover and poor poll numbers and not a robust jobs market and America’s relatively strong economic recovery.

Whine, whine, whine. Complain, complain, complain. The economy is doing so great, as long as you don’t look at the inflation rate being the highest in four decades and gasoline is averaging $4.97 per gallon nationally. It’s all just so unfair, how Biden is doing such a gangbusters job, and that notoriously anti-Democratic, pro-Republican White House press corps just won’t give him a break.


Economy & Business

The True Economic Problem Isn’t Inflation — It’s the Federal Spending

(mj0007/Getty Images)

Right now, almost everyone is chattering about our inflation problem. To the “progressives,” we have to somehow control the terrible outbreak of business greed that is causing prices to rise. To conservatives, the problem is the rapidly growing federal deficit, which is causing the Fed to create enormous sums of new money to finance it.

In this RealClearMarkets article, John Tamny argues that both sides miss the true point. Our economic distress is rooted in the federal government’s gargantuan spending. He writes:

The horrors of government spending aren’t just the seen whereby the Pelosis and McCarthys of the world substitute themselves for actual investors. Consider the unseen; as in how many Microsoft, Amazon, and Grail (look it up) equivalents never achieved lift-off over the years because politicians were such size consumers of precious resources. Government spending is a cruel barrier to better living standards, enhanced health, wellness, and opportunity.

Yes. Government spending removes resources from the private sector, where people tend to think carefully about the costs and benefits of their investments, purchases, and donations and transfers them into the hands of politicians, who are concerned mainly about getting reelected. Resources are taken away from people who use them productively and are given to people who often use them anti-productively — on government rules and projects that get in the way of productivity.

Contrary to the Keynesian notion that government deficit spending stimulates the economy, it restricts economic growth.

Resources are limited. The more the government consumes — for wars, for bureaucrats, for giveaways to favored groups, etc. — the less is left for the people who actually have to earn their money.

The Economy

Intel: Remember That Chip Shortage?

(crstrbrt/iStock/Getty Images)

More signs of trouble ahead.

Do you remember chip shortages?

Well, via Bloomberg:

Intel Corp., the largest maker of computer processors, dragged down chip industry stocks after executives said a weaker economy will affect demand and hurt financial performance.

“I think on the macro side, clearly, it’s weaker,” Chief Financial Officer Dave Zinsner said Tuesday at a Bank of America conference. “That’s clearly going to impact us, as it will virtually everybody else in not only the semiconductor industry but globally in terms of corporations.”

Zinsner’s comments added to concern that booming demand for semiconductors and electronics in general is going to be slowed by inflation and weaker consumer and corporate spending. Zinsner declined to update the company’s projections for the second half of the year, forecasts that some analysts had already projected were too optimistic.

The Santa Clara, California-based company’s products are the heart of the majority of the world’s personal computers and are the key component in most of the servers that run data centers and corporate networks.

Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley has had some thoughts about cigarettes.

Yahoo! Finance:

Shares of tobacco company Altria Group took a dive Wednesday after Morgan Stanley downgraded the company to underweight and lowered its price target from $54 to $50.

Inflation concerns were cited as a primary reason for the downgrade, which sent the stock down more than 6% as of 10:45 a.m. ET.

“Smokers skew toward low-income consumers, who are disproportionately impacted by rising gas and food prices,” analyst Pamela Kaufman wrote in a note. “We anticipate greater pressures from rising gas prices and weaker consumer sentiment, which should weigh on cigarette volumes and enhance trade down risk.”

Morgan Stanley believes there is an inverse relationship between gas prices and cigarette sales—and gas prices on Wednesday were averaging $4.95 nationwide, according to AAA.

For some reason, this came to mind.

And then, via CNBC:

Total mortgage application volume fell 6.5% last week compared with the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally adjusted index. Demand hit the lowest level in 22 years.

That is partly a function of the fact that (as CNBC mentions) very few people are going to be refinancing existing mortgages at the moment (refinancings are down 75 percent from where they were a year ago), but still . . .

Politics & Policy

California May Soon Become ‘Gender Affirming Care’ Sanctuary State

(AlxeyPnferov/Getty Images)

California looks to be well on the way to passing a bill that would treat refusals to allow puberty blocking, transgender surgeries, or other forms of “gender affirming care” as akin to how the law now treats child abuse and abandonment of children brought from out of state. From S.B. 107 which was to be heard in the Judiciary Committee today (my emphasis):

A court of this state has temporary emergency jurisdiction if the child is present in this state and the child has been abandoned or it is necessary in an emergency to protect the child because the child, or a sibling or parent of the child, is subjected to, or threatened with, mistreatment or abuse, or because the child has been unable to obtain gender-affirming health care or gender-affirming mental health care

If California is an inconvenient forum involving custody fights and other domestic law matters, usually the state’s courts will refuse jurisdiction. But this general rule will not apply to cases involving “gender affirming care” disputes:

In a case where the provision of gender-affirming health care or gender-affirming mental health care to the child is at issue, a court of this state shall not determine that it is an inconvenient forum where the law or policy of the other state that may take jurisdiction limits the ability of a parent to obtain gender-affirming health care or gender-affirming mental health care for their child.

Usually, if a parent refuses to return a child to another state after visitation, California courts won’t take jurisdiction. But a specific exemption to this general rule is being fashioned when “gender affirming care” is at issue:

Except as otherwise provided in Section 3424 or by any other law of this state, if a court of this state has jurisdiction under this part because a person seeking to invoke its jurisdiction has engaged in unjustifiable conduct, the court shall decline to exercise its jurisdiction unless one of the following are true:…

In making a determination under this section, a court shall not consider as a factor weighing against the petitioner any taking of the child, or retention of the child after a visit or other temporary relinquishment of physical custody, from the person who has legal if there is evidence that the taking or retention of the child was a result of domestic violence against the petitioner…, or for the purposes of obtaining gender-affirming health care or gender-affirming mental health care for the child and the law or policy of the other state limits the ability of a parent to obtain gender-affirming health care or gender-affirming mental  health care for their child.

Out-of-state laws will not be enforced that go against transgender ideology:

A law of another state that authorizes a state agency to remove a child from their parent or guardian based on the parent or guardian allowing their child to receive gender-affirming health care shall not be enforced or applied in a case pending in a court in this state.

Nor will California cooperate with other states’ orders if it involves denial of “gender affirming care”:

(a) It is the public policy of the state that an out-of-state arrest warrant for an individual based on violating another state’s law against receiving or allowing their child to receive gender-affirming health care is the lowest law enforcement priority.

(b) California law enforcement agencies shall not make or intentionally participate in the arrest of an individual pursuant to an out-of-state arrest warrant for violation of another state’s law against receiving or allowing a child to receive gender-affirming health care.

(c) No state or local law enforcement agency shall cooperate with or provide information to any individual or out-of-state agency or department regarding the provision of lawful gender-affirming health care performed in this state.

(d) Nothing in this section shall prohibit the investigation of any criminal activity in this state which may involve the performance of gender-affirming health care provided that no information relating to any medical procedure performed on a specific individual may be shared with an out-of-state agency or any other individual.

One assumes that the last bit would include parents.

And no arrests or extraditions if it involves the provision of “gender affirming care,” nor extradition to a state with different laws on the issue than California’s:

(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of state law, no state or local law enforcement shall make or intentionally participate in the arrest or recognize any demand for extradition of an individual pursuant to a criminal action related to the law of another state that criminalizes allowing a person to receive or provide gender-affirming health care where that conduct would not be unlawful under the laws of this state to the fullest extent permitted by federal law.

Will this bill pass? Almost surely. What political constituency is powerful enough to stop it?

If so, California will become a transgender sanctuary state, with a law that encourages transgender children to be brought to California to escape court rulings and laws of other jurisdictions when they go against transgender ideology.

This moral panic is really getting out of hand and is tearing the country apart.


What are ‘Zuckerbucks’ and Why Are They Controversial?

Cardboard cut-outs of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at a protest outside of the U.S. Capitol, April 10, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

If a voter reads the campaign websites of candidates like Tudor Dixon, who is running for governor of Michigan, or Tim Michels, vying for the same position in Wisconsin, he will likely come across their stated position to ban “Zuckerbucks.”

The term has become a catch-all to describe private entities donating millions of dollars to fund the official government vote-counts in the 2020 elections. Chief among them was Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose non-profit, the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), gave $350 million to 2,500 election departments across 47 states.

Election officials mainly used the money to buy masks, plexiglass dividers, and other resources to mitigate risks related to the Covid-19 pandemic during the 2020 election.

Allowing private individuals and companies to fund official election practices may open the door to corruption because many of the CTCL operatives and advisers were highly ideological, some Republicans have argued.

Among them is Alabama governor Kay Ivey, whose state was the first to ban Zuckerbucks. “Big tech’s efforts to undermine the integrity of our elections has no place in our country, and I’m proud to have signed legislation that ensures Alabama’s election process remains air-tight,” she said in an April 13 press release.

Two weeks later, Florida governor Ron Desantis followed Ivey’s lead and signed a similar bill. “They effectively commandeered the machinery of the actual elections. That is wrong, that is not inspiring confidence in terms of having elections with integrity,” he said at a press conference on April 29.

A similar bill in Georgia passed the state’s house on March 15 and is awaiting a vote in the state senate.

Some have touted the trend of local election offices taking money from Zuckerberg as evidence of former president Donald Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen. While there were some suspicious practices by advisers from the CTCL, there is little proof of this assertion.

The largest grant, according to the center’s report, went to New York City, totaling just over $19 million. Spending exorbitant amounts of money to flip a locale that was already very Democratic would have been a serious waste, as the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board argues.

Additionally, the center gave relatively sizable grants to deep-red countries, such as DeSoto County in Mississippi, which received almost $348,000. A spokesman for the county called the money “a huge help,” according to the WSJ editors.

Still, there is reason to be concerned about the money. In Green Bay, Wis., one of the advisors dispatched by the center, Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein, offered help to local clerks with curing ballots and allegedly allowed unqualified people to conduct the election process, according to local clerk Kris Teske.

Another advisor the CTCL offered to Green Bay offices, according to the Journal’s editors, was from the Brennan Center for Justice, a left-wing think tank that supports the elimination of the Electoral College.

Republican outcry over Zuckerberg’s donations may have dissuaded him from doing the same thing in 2022. He will not be giving money to election offices this fall, he announced in early April.

Instead, the CTCL will create U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence, which will unite “bipartisan election officials to rally around a set of common values and standards, support each other, and keep their skills fresh,” according to a press release.

Democratic governors have refused to move against Zuckerbucks, and the issue may become a serious factor in the 2022 elections in Michigan, Wisconsin, and other purple states.

Politics & Policy

More Than ‘One Damn Thing,’ with Bill Barr


William P. Barr is one of only two people to have served as attorney general of the United States under two presidents and the only one to have done it in two different centuries (under George H. W. Bush from 1991 to 1993 and under Donald Trump from 2019 to 2020). In his new book, One Damn Thing after Another: Memoirs of an Attorney General, Barr goes into great detail about the chaos, the troubles, and the triumph that occurred during the time of his service under President Trump. This wide-ranging interview covers Russiagate, the Covid outbreak, civil unrest, the impeachment, and the 2020 election fallout. Barr is very candid and forthcoming in his opinions on those events and his thoughts on his former boss.

Recorded on May 17, 2022

Film & TV

The Hong Konger Documentary Is a Lesson on Freedom

Tycoon and Apple Daily Newspaper owner Jimmy Lai protests before he is taken away by a police officer outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong, December 11, 2014. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

The Acton Institute has released a new documentary called The Hong Konger: Jimmy Lai’s Extraordinary Struggle for Freedom. (National Review attended an exclusive screening of the film.) It sends an important message about the importance of preserving liberty and fighting tyranny.

The documentary tells the story of Hong Kong political activist Jimmy Lai. Lai left mainland China during the Maoist Revolution and fled to Hong Kong. There he founded Giordano, a clothing business that became hugely successful. A billionaire, Lai could have retired. However, fearing China’s predatory actions toward Hong Kong, he felt an obligation to engage in political activism on behalf of all Hong Kongers. Lai founded the pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily in 1995, which was shut down in 2021 by the Hong Kong government. In its heyday, Apple Daily was one of the most-read newspapers in Hong Kong. Today, Jimmy Lai is sitting in a Chinese prison.

Reverend Robert Sirico, president emeritus of the Acton Institute, said to the audience attending the screening, “Jimmy’s story is one that cannot and will not die in a prison cell. That is what we intend to demonstrate with this documentary.”

The documentary was deeply emotional and profoundly inspiring. It describes how Hong Kongers used to think of themselves as Chinese. However, after the Tiananmen Square Massacre, they began to see themselves as Hong Kongers. As the film explains, in 2014, Lai was arrested on charges of “illegal assembly” and then released. This was only a preview of what was to come. 

Everything changed in Hong Kong in 2019. That was when the government proposed the extradition law, which would allow China to extradite criminals from Hong Kong and prosecute them in Chinese courts. Two million people  – out of a population of 7.5 million – participated in massive demonstrations against the law. One sign displayed in the film read, “You can’t kill us all” in both Mandarin and English. Lai explained in the film that, as a result of the proposed law, “The younger generation and the older generation have never been so united.” In 2020, the Hong Kong government used Covid-19 as an excuse to deny people permits to protest. Eventually, the government rescinded the extradition bill. 

However, in June 2020, the Chinese government approved the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. It set up special courts and special police to arrest anyone who was committing crimes related to supporting secession from China. Lai spoke in the film about the law, saying, “If we just surrender, we will lose everything.” That August, Lai was arrested in his home and marched through Apple Daily headquarters as a way of shaming him. He was released on bail. Then, in December, Lai was arrested again and charged under the national-security law. The police detained three other writers at Apple Daily, including the CEO and editor-in-chief. One resident of Hong Kong featured in the documentary said, “It felt like the end.”

The documentary mentioned Wall Street’s complicity in human-rights violations committed by China. Wall Street is so focused on making profits, the documentary points out, that it ignores blatant human-rights violations committed by the Chinese government against the Uyghurs, Tibetans, and the Hong Kongers. Yet, Wall Street continues to invest in China. Lai’s reaction to this greed was predictable: “Any company that will bow down to China . . . that will hurt the dignity of the American people.”

As of March 2022, Lai was in a prison cell in China awaiting trial. He currently sits in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison. Every morning, he is put in 35-pound shackles.

Sunny Cheung, a political activist who was forced to flee Hong Kong and was featured in the film, told the audience in a panel after the screening what can be done to help Hong Kong. “When you have the opportunity to change your country’s policies, please talk to your representatives. . . . We have to try everything we can to deter the [Chinese Communist Party].”

Following the film, Mark Clifford, president of the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong, spread a message of hope, saying, “We strike fear into [the Chinese government’s] hearts because they know how hard it is to quench human freedom.”

At the end of the event, Clifford issued a warning about China’s imperialist actions: “It won’t stop in Taiwan. Totalitarianism is a cancer. It’s spreading.” 

Law & the Courts

Issue Dobbs Now

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts arrives for the swearing in ceremony of Judge Neil Gorsuch in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., April 10, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

In his magisterial dissent in 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Justice Scalia wrote that he was “distressed”

about the “political pressure” directed to the Court: the marches, the mail, the protests aimed at inducing us to change our opinions. How upsetting it is, that so many of our citizens (good people, not lawless ones, on both sides of this abortion issue, and on various sides of other issues as well) think that we Justices should properly take into account their views, as though we were engaged not in ascertaining an objective law but in determining some kind of social consensus.

That “political pressure” has now mutated into the attempted assassination of a Supreme Court Justice. If Chief Justice Roberts really wants to protect his Court, he will issue Dobbs immediately. Roe is extralegal nonsense, and it has turned the Supreme Court into something it is not. Overturn it — and do it straight away.

Politics & Policy

The Logical Endpoint of Lefty Activism

A man holds up a bag of what he says is fentanyl across the street from where San Francisco mayor London Breed just held a news conference introducing legislation to curb the rise of deadly overdoses in the city, in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, Calif., February 27, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Native San Franciscan Nellie Bowles has a dizzying piece at the Atlantic about the decline of a city she used to love unreservedly. Among many harrowing anecdotes, this one stands out:

A couple of years ago, one of my friends saw a man staggering down the street, bleeding. She recognized him as someone who regularly slept outside in the neighborhood, and called 911. Paramedics and police arrived and began treating him, but members of a homeless advocacy group noticed and intervened. They told the man that he didn’t have to get into the ambulance, that he had the right to refuse treatment. So that’s what he did. The paramedics left; the activists left. The man sat on the sidewalk alone, still bleeding. A few months later, he died about a block away.

Don’t let the authorities intervene, say the activists: You have the right to die. Bowles also discusses how Market Street used to be home to a public plaza that attracted a broad mix of productive people as well as a few on the edges of society. Today it’s all fringe characters.

I went to see the city’s new Tenderloin Center for drug addicts on Market Street. It’s downtown, an open-air chain-link enclosure in what used to be a public plaza. On the sidewalks all around it, people are lying on the ground, twitching. There’s a free mobile shower, laundry, and bathroom station emblazoned with the words DIGNITY ON WHEELS. A young man is lying next to it, stoned, his shirt riding up, his face puffy and sunburned. Inside the enclosure, services are doled out: food, medical care, clean syringes, referrals for housing. It’s basically a safe space to shoot up. The city government says it’s trying to help. But from the outside, what it looks like is young people being eased into death on the sidewalk, surrounded by half-eaten boxed lunches.

Progressivism, allowed to stretch to its logical endpoint, looks a lot like a death cult.

Politics & Policy

Hey, Remember the Norm of Not Wanting Your Political Foes Assassinated?

Protesters outside of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home in Chevy Chase, Md., May 7, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

For all the talk about lost norms and restoring norms over the past six years or so, I’d like to restore the norm of genuinely wishing your political foes well after they’ve been targeted for assassination, instead of passive-aggressively accusing them of alcoholism and abuse.

Am I asking too much? Am I setting the bar too high? Is this really an unreasonable bare minimum standard of behavior in public life?

I’d also wonder if this is really the right time for a “Voice Your Anger” protest in front of an elementary school.

Say, has anything happened lately that might make people particularly worried about someone angry and potentially unhinged hanging around an elementary school?

Film & TV

Two Reasons to Love Top Gun: Maverick

Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick. (Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures)

I saw Top Gun: Maverick the weekend it came out. It has stuck with me, for two main reasons.

The first is that it is just an amazing movie. The 1986 original, directed by Tony Scott, is a quintessentially ’80s product, an enjoyable if cheesy watch, undergirded by a fundamentally pro-American, pro-military aesthetic. Its action and flying scenes are exciting; what happens in between, less so. The young Tom Cruise is well-cast as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a cocky naval aviator squaring off against Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, his rival for best pilot at TOPGUN, played by Val Kilmer. There’s a bit of pathos sprinkled throughout, mostly in Maverick’s friendship with, and mourning of, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards), with whom he flies. But while it’s entertaining, and has justly earned pop-culture immortality, it’s really not that great of a movie. Some of the things it’s famous for are just testaments to its ridiculousness, such as, say, the volleyball scene.

Top Gun: Maverick director Joseph Kosinski, however, seems to have decided to make an actually, unabashedly good movie. The most-thrilling aspects of the original remain, and are, if anything, upgraded. The flight choreography, both in training and in the climax, is clearly and thrillingly depicted. There was a thoroughgoing emphasis, throughout the production, on verisimilitude: The actors went through a kind of boot camp, and actual planes were used as much as possible, with CGI, the bane of the modern blockbuster, employed not as a substitute for spectacle but as a sparing complement to it.

Crucially, in between such sequences, Top Gun: Maverick is actually interesting. The seemingly ageless Tom Cruise leans into the passage of time in the sequel, constantly trying to defy his reputation as a “fossil,” holding on to those he cares about (Kilmer returns as Iceman, and the story touchingly accommodates Kilmer’s own physical decline). He also deals with past trauma, most obviously lingering guilt about his role in the death of Goose. This trauma is embodied in the person of Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, Goose’s son (Miles Teller, in an unexpectedly impressive and uncanny performance), whom Cruise is forced to train as part of the high-stakes mission that gathers the nation’s best pilots back to the eponymous flight academy. In terms of both spectacle and emotional heft, Top Gun: Maverick exceeds its predecessor in every way, while lovingly building on it.

An emblematic example is its equivalent of the original’s volleyball scene: What was a spontaneous and pointless interlude of masculine posturing becomes, in Top Gun: Maverick, a quite-deliberate team-building exercise. By respecting what came before but also building on it, Top Gun: Maverick deftly avoids two traps into which long-delayed sequels often fall: excessively reverent nostalgia bordering on repetition, and a kind of deconstruction that forces us to question our affection for the original. The result is a classic, straightforward, crowd-pleasing blockbuster. (Yes, sometimes it is just that simple: A movie can give you what you want out of it. So spare me these pointless, baseless theories, best restricted to places like Reddit, that Maverick is dead the whole time or nonsense of that nature. Just accept that something can be simple and enjoyable!)

The quality of Top Gun: Maverick is a living rebuke to those who argue that late-stage American culture is too decadent to produce anything of value. And that it maintains the pro-American, pro-military message of the original likewise rebuffs both the anti-patriotic currents of our day and those who think our culture is incapable of producing them.

This brings to mind the second reason Top Gun: Maverick has stuck with me since I first saw it: Its production and release provide one of the best pieces of news about the relationship between Hollywood and China that we have gotten in some time. Eric Schwartzel, who covers this beat for the Wall Street Journal (and a few months ago published Red Carpet: Hollywood, China, and the Global Battle for Cultural Supremacy, an excellent book on the topic), has the story:

The Chinese tech firm Tencent Holdings Ltd. in 2019 signed on to co-finance the film, which the Shenzhen-based conglomerate hoped would yield a windfall at the box office. Yet when “Top Gun: Maverick” hits theaters this weekend, it will do so without any financing from Tencent, and without any mention of the Chinese firm that had once boasted of its involvement in the film.

The reason: Tencent executives backed out of the $170 million Paramount Pictures production after they grew concerned that Communist Party officials in Beijing would be angry about the company’s affiliation with a movie celebrating the American military, according to people familiar with the matter.

Association with a pro-American story grew radioactive as relations between the U.S. and China devolved, the people added. The about-face turned “Top Gun: Maverick” from a movie that once symbolized deepening ties between China and Hollywood into a fresh example of the broader tensions forming between the U.S. and China.

Schwartzel adds that, in the movie’s original trailer in 2019, Maverick’s jacket, which has, among other things, a Taiwanese flag stitched onto it, was altered to remove said flag. This was done at the advice of Tencent, which thought this would increase the likelihood of the film’s getting a China release. But after the falling out with Tencent, the flag was restored.

Top Gun: Maverick is unlikely to get released in China. But good riddance. I agree with Kyle Smith: China’s breakup with Hollywood is long overdue. Besotted with the possibility of accessing the Chinese market and its massive customer base, Hollywood studios have for decades now not only leaned toward easily translatable facile spectacle but also willingly altered or outright censored their products to sate Chinese political or cultural standards  in the hope of securing Chinese releases for them. We’ve already seen evidence that this relationship was fraying; last year’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, 2021’s biggest movie, never got an official Chinese release, either. (One of China’s demands was to edit the Statue of Liberty out of the film’s finale — an affrontery and a logistical impossibility, given its prominence in the movie’s finale.) And China is increasingly convinced that its domestic film industry — constructed with American help until the Chinese stole all of the necessary know-how in a familiar tale — is now capable of standing up on its own, and does not need American films to support it.

So, let the drifting apart continue. It is true that China can now make its own blockbusters; last year’s The Battle at Lake Changjin, a propaganda film about the Korean War from China’s perspective (in which Americans are portrayed as the villains), made nearly $1 billion in China alone. But China’s insular, aggressive nationalism does not entice global audiences. The confident, inspiring patriotism of Top Gun: Maverick, however, doesn’t merely appeal to Americans, who are flocking to the movie in record numbers. It also has great appeal worldwide.

If the movie’s artistic quality and domestic success rebuke those who think America finished at home, its international success ought to humble those who think the American way of doing things has lost its appeal abroad. May America, and Hollywood, heed these lessons.

Politics & Policy

Americans Still Don’t Want to Ban ‘Assault Weapons’

Aluminum 80% lower receivers for AR-15 rifles displayed for sale at Firearms Unknown, a gun store in Oceanside, Calif., April 12, 2021. (Bing Guan/Reuters)

Quinnipiac reports:

In today’s poll, 50 percent of registered voters support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons, while 45 percent oppose it. This is the lowest level of support among registered voters for a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons since February 2013 when the question was first asked by the Quinnipiac University Poll.

The highest? Just after the massacre at Parkland in 2018:

The highest level of support among registered voters for a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons was in a Quinnipiac poll on February 20, 2018 when 67 percent supported a ban and 29 percent opposed.

Some people will ignore this caveat and say “aha — a majority!” But this would be to miss the point. Once the details are debated, and voters understand what they’re actually talking about, the popularity of gun-control proposals always crash. If 50 percent is the high point, it’s destined to drop to 30 percent or so once the argument starts in earnest.

As the Times‘s Nate Cohn observed recently, the difference between what voters say they would support and what they actually support is profound:

When voters in four Democratic-leaning states got the opportunity to enact expanded gun or ammunition background checks into law, the overwhelming support suggested by national surveys was nowhere to be found.  Instead, the initiative and referendum results in Maine, Washington, Nevada and California were nearly identical to those of the 2016 presidential election, all the way down to the result of individual counties. (California’s referendum was over ammunition background checks.)

Cohn’s conclusion:

But the poor results for background checks suggest that public opinion may not be the unequivocal ally of gun control that the polling makes it seem.

A ban on the most commonly owned rifle in America is a much harder sell than extending background checks to private, intrastate transfers. Indeed, if Q’s number is to be believed, it’s a non-starter.


Politics & Policy

Joe Biden’s Approval Rating Hits Disastrous New Low: 39.7 Percent

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the monthly jobs report at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center in Rehoboth Beach, Del., June 3, 2022. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Joe Biden’s nationwide public-approval rating in the RealClearPolitics poll average has just hit a new low: 39.7 percent, the lowest of his presidency. This is only the second time (the first being in February) that Biden has dropped below 40 (Biden’s age hasn’t been below 40 since 1982). His 55 percent disapproval rating puts him 15.3 points under water, also the worst of his presidency.

This is largely due to the latest Quinnipiac poll, in which Biden’s approval rating is 35 percent, down three points from the last Q poll. His approval–disapproval rating is 33 percent to 55 percent among all adults, with 15 percent strongly approving and 45 percent strongly disapproving. Among adults — Q doesn’t offer breakdowns for registered voters — Biden’s approval only gets uglier by key groups:

  • Independents: 25 percent to 61 percent
  • Age 18–34: 22 percent to 54 percent
  • Men: 26 percent to 64 percent
  • Women: 39 percent to 47 percent
  • Hispanics: 24 percent to 58 percent
  • African Americans: 49 percent to 31 percent

On issues: 28 percent to 64 percent on the economy and 32 percent to 59 percent on gun violence, the top two priority issues polled. This is, if you are keeping score at home, not good news for Democrats.

The Economy

Domestic Solar-Energy Companies Upset by Biden’s Plan to Boost Domestic Solar Energy

President Joe Biden makes remarks to promote his infrastructure spending proposals, in Arvada, Colo., September 14, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

President Biden could be facing a legal challenge over his executive actions on green energy earlier this week. But not over the flagrant abuse of the Defense Production Act that I wrote about yesterday.

No, instead the government could be facing a lawsuit over a separate action Biden took to waive tariffs on solar-energy imports from Southeast Asia.

The White House announced on Monday that Biden had used emergency powers under the Tariff Act of 1930 to allow the secretary of commerce to remove tariffs on solar cells and modules exported by Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam for the next two years. And domestic solar companies are livid.

ABC News:

Some domestic producers, including a California company that filed a complaint with Commerce about unfair competition from Chinese imports, said Biden’s actions would help China’s state-subsidized solar companies at the expense of U.S. manufacturers.

“President Biden is significantly interfering in Commerce’s quasi-judicial process,” said Mamun Rashid, CEO of Auxin Solar, which filed the complain with Commerce earlier this year.

“By taking this unprecedented — and potentially illegal — action, (Biden) has opened the door wide for Chinese-funded special interests to defeat the fair application of U.S. trade law,” Rashid said in a statement.

Auxin was not consulted before the White House announcement, Rashid said, nor did the White House contact other U.S. producers. Auxin is currently “evaluating all of our legal options,” he said.

Timothy Brightbill, a lawyer who represents domestic solar manufacturers, said Tuesday that Biden was using the pretext of declaring a national emergency to negate an ongoing trade investigation.

“That is unprecedented, it is bad law and it is extremely bad, short-sighted policy, because it only makes us more dependent on Chinese-owned solar companies,” Brightbill said. The U.S. industry contends that China has essentially moved operations to four Southeast Asian countries — Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Cambodia — to skirt strict anti-dumping rules that limit imports from China.

“The White House’s failure to consult with any American solar manufacturing companies before taking this unprecedented action is telling and an embarrassment,” Brightbill said.

Let’s all throw a pity party for the domestic solar industry, which might temporarily have to actually compete without special government protections.

More seriously, though, consider what in this episode sparked outrage.

With the DPA actions, the president asserted unlimited authority under a wartime-powers statute to subsidize and purchase green-energy materials without any input from Congress, under the justification that he believes that insulation, among other things, is “essential to the national defense.” Aside from a comment from Senator Pat Toomey, we heard mostly crickets from Congress — nothing about lawsuits.

With the tariff actions, the president removed one type of government privilege from the industry that stands to benefit from the DPA actions. That, not the circumvention of Congress that the DPA actions represent, is what generates furious comments about “unprecedented — and potentially illegal — action” and spurs talk of lawsuits. Not a good sign for constitutional health.

Also, you might be wondering who the political geniuses were who managed to come up with a plan to subsidize and boost domestic solar production that ticked off the domestic solar industry. The aforementioned ABC News report answers that question: Along with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, “Biden’s decision was driven by White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy and” — drumroll, please — “climate envoy John Kerry.”

Politics & Policy

Raphael Warnock Wants the Majority of Georgians to Give $10,000 or More to a Privileged Minority

Then-Democratic Senate candidate Raphael Warnock speaks to labor organizers and the media in Atlanta, Ga., January 5, 2021. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)

Senator Raphael Warnock supports government bailouts for college graduates: “I support student debt relief. Our children shouldn’t have a mortgage before they get a mortgage.” Of course, if you don’t want a mortgage, don’t buy a house. He isn’t arguing that Georgia college grads should give back their diplomas, only that they should not have to pay for them. Whom does this benefit? According to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, as of 2019: “In Georgia, 31 percent of adults age 25 and over have a bachelor’s degree or above. Thirty-nine percent have an associate degree or above . . . About four in 10 Georgians older than 25 have an associate or bachelor’s degree. The share is closer to two in 10 for Latino Georgians and three in 10 for African-Americans.” College graduates in Georgia earn an average of $51,915 a year ($65,479 for graduate or professional degrees), compared with $29,437 for high-school grads and $21,993 for people without a high-school education. Of course, many of the people with degrees paid for their own education (often by working their way through school) or have already paid off their loans, so this is a minority of a minority, and a well-off one at that. Warnock is not asking for similar relief for people with mortgages or business loans for farmers, plumbers, barbers, bodegas, etc. They’ll just have to be the ones to foot the bill.

National Review

On Thursday, Ask Me Anything


Here’s your chance, NRPlus subscribers: I will be doing an Ask Me Anything on the NRPlus Facebook page tomorrow. (I will try to get through all questions tomorrow, but will do so by Friday if there is too much to handle at once.) If there is sufficient demand among non-Facebook users, I can field some questions in the comments here as well. If you are not an NRPlus subscriber, there is never a bad time to subscribe!

Fiscal Policy

Biden Wants the Highest Top Tax Rates in the Developed World

President Joe Biden makes a statement about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, at the White House in Washington, D.C., May 24, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

President Biden wants to raise federal revenues by $4.2 trillion over the next ten years by instituting “the highest top tax rates on individual and corporate income in the developed world.”

That’s according to a blog post from Erica York and Garrett Watson of the Tax Foundation that analyzes the president’s budget proposals.

The president’s budget assumes that Build Back Better becomes law, which makes the economist in a hole assuming a ladder seem reasonable by comparison. And nothing like the president’s budget will pass, either. The point here is to signal what Biden wants to happen, not what actually will happen.

And what Biden wants is borderline confiscatory taxation of corporations and wealthy individuals. York and Watson write:

The major tax proposals include:

  • higher top rates for individual income, corporate income, and capital gains income;
  • ending step-up in basis by making death a taxable event;
  • expanding the base of the Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) to apply to active pass-through income and making the active pass-through business loss limitation permanent;
  • major changes to international taxation; and,
  • a laundry list of new minimum taxes for individuals, businesses, and international corporations.

Another revenue raiser includes government-set pricing for certain prescription drugs, enforced by an excise tax of 1,900 percent on drug sales.

What would the effects of all that be? York and Watson estimate:

The tax increases in BBBA alone would reduce long-run GDP by 0.5 percent, and the tax increases in the budget, including a higher corporate tax rate of 28 percent (up from the current 21 percent) and international tax changes, would further discourage domestic investment and reduce the productive capacity of the United States. For example, raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent would reduce long-run GDP by 0.7 percent and eliminate 138,000 jobs.

These increases go way beyond what most other developed countries do to tax wealthy individuals and corporations:

  • Raising the top marginal tax rate on individual income to 39.6 percent and applying an 8 percent surtax on MAGI above $25 million would bring the combined top marginal tax rate on individual income to 57.3 percent, up from 42.9 percent under current law and above the OECD average of 42.6 percent.
  • Taxing capital gains at ordinary income tax rates would bring the combined top marginal rate in the U.S. to 48.9 percent, up from 29.2 percent under current law and well-above the OECD average of 18.9 percent. Further, Biden’s proposal for a complicated “Billionaire Minimum Tax” would bring unrealized gains into the tax base on an annual basis, which is also out of step with international norms.
  • Raising the corporate income tax rate to 28 percent would once again bring the U.S. near the top of the OECD at a combined rate of 32.3 percent, versus 25.8 percent under current law and an OECD average (excluding the U.S.) of 22.8 percent.

Again, none of this is likely to happen, and anything that actually does pass will be significantly toned down. But this is the tax system that President Biden wants: a much more complicated set of rates and rules that’s uncompetitive with the rest of the developed world.

Biden’s vision demonstrates an unwillingness to learn from other countries’ examples. France tried to soak the rich under socialist president François Hollande, elected in 2012. He taxed earnings above 1 million euros at 75 percent. It was a disaster. Then-adviser Emmanuel Macron warned against the move, saying France would become “Cuba, without the sun!” Some wealthy individuals moved to other countries rather than pay the tax. The international competitiveness of the French economy tanked. The government reversed course and eliminated the tax at the end of 2014.

And it didn’t even work to raise money. The Guardian reported in 2014:

Finance ministry studies showed that despite all the publicity, the sums obtained from the supertax were meagre, standing at €260m in 2013 and €160m in 2014, and affecting 1,000 staff in 470 companies. Over the same period, the budget deficit soared to €84.7bn.

That same article includes this tidbit:

Despite the backlash Hollande clung to the principle of the supertax even after it was dismissed by the country’s highest court, fearing a revolt by his leftwing allies.

That dynamic between a president and his far-left allies sounds slightly familiar, doesn’t it?


Chinese Communist Party Threatened by Ice Cream

Screenshot of Li Jiaqi during a livestream. (bigguguji/Image via Twitter)

Desserts are typically not weapons to fight authoritarianism, repression, and censorship. But last Friday, a layered ice cream with round cookies and a chocolate stick on top became a symbol for combating Chinese censorship and propaganda when a famous Chinese influencer, Li Jianqi, promoted this dessert on his show. When he was promoting the product, his live show went offline, as Chinese censors determined that the dessert closely resembled a tank, reminiscent of the infamous 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, when the Chinese military murdered pro-democracy protestors. The promotion also occurred on June 3 – the day before the Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 4.

However, many viewers of Li Jianqi’s 170 million followers were confused by the disruption, especially his younger followers born after the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Many fans of the show were unaware of the massacre because of the strong censorship apparatus in China. Chinese textbooks and the Internet were devoid of any mention of the abhorrent event. Some of his fans were able to learn more about the event through family members and obscure Chinese government documents and old newspapers. The fans shared their discoveries with other users via the platform Weibo. The censorship system was not sufficient to completely suppress information about the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

The older generations of Chinese citizens have not forgotten, either. Many human-rights activists and dissidents have been working for years to spread awareness about the Massacre and commemorate the protesters who died. For instance, Chen Yunfei, a dissident human-rights advocate, has spread awareness about the event through newspapers and by visiting the graves of students who were shot in the massacre. This week, six people were arrested in Hong Kong during a Tiananmen Square vigil where they mourned the victims. Although China continues to crack down on advocates who discuss the massacre, memory lives on.

In this case, the Chinese propaganda machine backfired: By attempting to censor information about the historic massacre, censors invigorated the curiosity of young generations of Chinese people to learn about their government’s history of oppression. The first step for freedom and democracy starts with the awareness and knowledge of the people, which is why authoritarian nations such as China use censorship to maintain power. The Tiananmen Square Massacre is a symbol to the people in China who struggle for freedom, justice, and democracy. By spreading awareness, authoritarianism in China is weakened — even from something as simple as a dessert.

Politics & Policy

McConnell to Pelosi: Stop Dragging Your Feet on Bill to Protect Supreme Court Justices’ Families


A man armed with a gun, a knife, and burglary tools was arrested near the home of Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh in the early morning hours of June 8, and sources tell the Washington Post that the man told police he wanted to assassinate Justice Kavanaugh.

After the news broke, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell immediately went to the Senate floor to demand that House Democrats vote today “before the sun sets” on a bill the Senate unanimously passed on May 9 to fund security for Supreme Court justices’ families.

“House Democrats must pass this bill and they need to do it today. No more fiddling around with this, they need to pass it today,” McConnell said. On May 20, Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said he was very concerned the House hadn’t yet voted on the bill. House Democrats have claimed they have not moved the legislation because they want to add funding for Supreme Court clerks and staff, but the notion that it would take more than a month to make such a minor change to the bill is preposterous.

The Economy

In Anticipation of Friday’s Inflation Report

Gasoline prices art a Chevron station in Garden Grove, Calif., March 29, 2022. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

In response to The Big National News Waiting to Drop on Friday Morning

Jim’s right to point to gas prices in anticipation of the release of the May inflation report on Friday.

April’s inflation report actually saw a 6.1 percent decline in gasoline prices from the previous month. The surge in gasoline prices we have all seen since then began in the last few days of April.

To collect the data needed for the consumer price index, the Bureau of Labor Statistics conducts surveys on the prices of about 80,000 items. It divides each month into three pricing periods, and “data collectors have discretion within pricing periods, so they can collect quotes at any time during the period,” according to the BLS website.

April was probably a wash for gas prices, with the sharp increase in the last few days of the month erasing a gradual decline over the preceding few weeks. That sharp increase might not have been reflected in the April CPI report if the data collectors surveyed gasoline prices in the beginning or middle of the third pricing period in April. That would simply be a result of the data-collection methods the BLS uses, and that sort of thing is inevitable when you’re in charge of looking after 80,000 prices.

The entire recent surge in gas prices will certainly show up on the May inflation report, though. As Jim notes, the national average price of gasoline, according to weekly Energy Information Administration data, went from $4.18 at the start of May to $4.62 at the end of May, an increase of almost 11 percent. That’s not the same data source the BLS uses to calculate gasoline inflation, but it gives a rough idea of what to expect.

Unlike April, when the gasoline-price index actually helped temper the headline inflation number, gasoline will be a significant driver of inflation for May. Expect the Biden administration to point that out if the headline number is higher than desired.

Because of the short-term volatility in energy prices and food prices, the BLS also releases the inflation number for all items less food and energy. That number, more than the headline rate, is worth keeping an eye on.

In April’s report, the index for all items less food and energy increased by 0.6 percent over March, an acceleration from the 0.3 percent increase in the previous month’s report. That increase came despite a significant decrease in the monthly growth rate of headline inflation, from 1.2 percent in March to 0.3 percent in April. Again, gas prices are a big part of the explanation for that contrary motion.

That’s what made the April report tricky: A measured decline in gas prices led to a slight decrease in the headline inflation rate, while the monthly growth rate of nearly all the non-energy prices either held steady or increased. This time around, gasoline will be up, too. We’ll see what the other prices do.

Law & the Courts

Democrats Need to Call Off Targeting Supreme Court Justices after Armed Assassin Arrested at Kavanaugh’s House

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) addresses reporters at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., June 7, 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

We have been warning for some time now that Democratic politicians and progressives were playing with fire in targeting the conservative Supreme Court justices. Overheated rhetoric is bad enough, but as always, I stand by my view that political violence is not the fault of political rhetoric, no matter how excessive.

Things have gone rather far beyond mere rhetoric with the Supreme Court, however. In the fall of 2018, protesters opposed to Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination disrupted the hearings and chased one senator into an elevator and another out of a restaurant. Some “protesters broke through Capitol Police barricades and rushed up the steps to the Capitol Rotunda.” Other protesters “pushed past a police line, storming up steps to pound on the doors of the U.S. Supreme Court.” All of this led to hundreds of arrests, which predictably were treated with lenience on the theory that political protesters breaching the Capitol was no big deal. In March 2020, standing on the steps of the Supreme Court, Chuck Schumer bellowed to a crowd of pro-abortion protesters:

I want to tell you, Gorsuch. I want to tell you, Kavanaugh. You have unleashed the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.

In September 2021, a mob of pro-abortion protesters from “ShutDownDC” descended upon Justice Kavanaugh’s home over the Texas abortion-law case. Then, we had the unprecedented leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion in Dobbs, which would overturn Roe v. Wade. In the aftermath, a pro-abortion group “RuthSentUs” publicly shared maps to the homes of the six Republican-appointed justices, and sent protests there to intimidate the justices. We learned that “law enforcement agencies are investigating social-media threats to burn down or storm the Supreme Court building and murder justices and their clerks,” yet Democrats such as Schumer and Anne Kuster dismissed the mob threat to the Court as no big deal. The Biden White House pointedly refused to condemn either the leak or the targeting of homes, with Jen Psaki saying that “the president’s view is that there’s a lot of passion, a lot of fear, a lot of sadness from many, many people across this country about what they saw in that leaked document” and that “I know that there’s an outrage right now, I guess, about protests that have been peaceful to date, and we certainly do continue to encourage that, outside judges’ homes, and that’s the president’s position.” As protests escalated, churches were vandalized, and a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a pro-life office, Psaki finally allowed that “that should never include violence, threats, or vandalism. Judges perform an incredibly important function in our society, and they must be able to do their jobs without concern for their personal safety.”

Protests at a judge’s home are already illegal under federal law, but the Biden administration made no move to prosecute the protesters, again on the theory that breaking federal law in a political protest in D.C. is no big deal. A bipartisan bill to beef up security for the justices unanimously passed the Senate, but Nancy Pelosi blocked it in the House. Meanwhile, violence by the group “Jane’s Revenge” has escalated, including just last night, firebombing a crisis pregnancy center in Buffalo.

Now comes the latest news: A California man in his 20s was arrested outside of Kavanaugh’s home at 1:50 a.m. this morning, allegedly armed with a gun, knife, and pepper spray and threatening to kill the justice. The man specifically cited abortion and the leaked Dobbs draft. This is intolerable. It is far outside the bounds of political protest, and it should make Democrats and progressives think twice about the whirlwind they are summoning with the campaign of intimidation against the justices. Pass the security bill. Arrest anyone who protests at justices’ houses. Cooperate with the leak investigation. And call off the dogs, before somebody really gets bit.


Marijuana and Mass Shooters


Allysia Finley has a good piece in the Journal on “Cannabis and the Violent Crime Surge”:

Alex Berenson, author of “Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence,” pointed out that the New York Times had curiously removed from an article about the Uvalde school shooter a former co-worker’s recollection that he complained about his grandmother not letting him smoke weed. The Times didn’t append a correction to the story as it might be expected to do when fixing a factual inaccuracy.

Assuming the elided detail was accurate, it would fit a pattern. Mass shooters at Rep. Gibby Giffords’s constituent meeting in Tucson, Ariz. (2011), a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. (2012), the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. (2016), the 1`1234.  First Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas (2017), and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (2018), were reported to be marijuana users. It could be a coincidence, but increasing evidence suggests a connection.