Economy & Business

Economic Wisdom Is Only Days Away

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David Bahnsen (The Bahnsen Group/YouTube)

Our pal David Bahnsen, host of the exceptional NR podcast, Capital Record, and creator of so much more, commences an important new video-course series, Bahnsen Economics 101, that will rock America starting August 8. Here’s a glimpse:

Remember, August 8. Mark your calendars.

World

Americans Are Moving to Mexico City, to Mexicans’ Chagrin

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Protesters carry American and Mexican flags at an immigration-reform march in Los Angeles, Calif., in 2013. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Many Americans are leaving the states for Mexico City, which is angering some of the Mexican population there, the Los Angeles Times reports. Americans are capitalizing on the lower rents available, the cheaper standard of living, and the ability to stay in Mexico for six months without a visa. Locals are complaining that the areas where the Americans have settled have been gentrified, and traditional Mexican businesses have been turned into different ones that cater to Americans. The influx of Americans has contributed to an increase in rent and a change to English-speaking in some areas. According to the L.A. Times, writer and university professor Fernando Bustos Gorozpe said, “‘We’re the only brown people. We’re the only people speaking Spanish except the waiters.” There are 1.6 million Americans living in Mexico, according to the State Department, but it is unknown how many of those 1.6 million reside in Mexico City. Many of these Americans went south of the border because Mexico eased Covid restrictions prior to many states doing so. Alexandra Demou, head of Welcome Home Mexico, said she receives 50 calls a week from Americans looking to move to Mexico, according to the L.A. Times

Many of the Americans moving to Mexico are California residents — a state that has seen its population growth decline for about the past 30 years. California is so expensive that the state’s residents are moving out and making parts of Mexico City too expensive for the Mexicans. Inflation will only drive out more Californians. The median price of a home in California is $797,470. CNBC notes that in the fourth quarter of 2021, only 25 percent of California households could afford that price for a home. Woke Californians apathetically driving up the rent for Mexicans in their own homeland is the ultimate representation of the ugly American. 

Education

Why Student–Faculty Ratios Are Often Misleading

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When students are looking for colleges they might apply to, one consideration can be the student-to-faculty ratio. Lower numbers would seem to indicate that students will have more access to professors and not get lost in great masses of students.

The problem is that schools often manipulate the data to make their ratios look better. So argues Robert Thornett in today’s Martin Center article.

He writes:

Like average class size, student-faculty ratio also has the appearance of a rough gauge of personal attention. But it can be even more misleading than average class size, for several reasons. First, the most obvious problem with student-faculty ratio is that the process of reporting it is based on an honor system. While there is a standard formula provided by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which schools are supposed to use, colleges do not have to report any of the specific details of their calculations, only the outcome. Given that, numerous times over the past decade, U.S. News & World Report has removed schools from its annual “Best Colleges” ranking for misreporting data, and that, this past March, the dean of Temple’s business school was sentenced to 14 months in prison for sending false information to the magazine, there is reason to doubt whether the honor system produces trustworthy results.

There are a number of ways for schools to fudge the numbers and they often do. Moreover, it’s usually the more prestigious institutions that manipulate the data so as to look better.

So, what should students do? Here is Thornett’s advice: “If statistics like student-faculty ratio and average class size are not reliable indicators of personal attention and access to professors, what is? The truth is that a large part of the answer to this question lies within students. Few students take full advantage of office hours, the opportunity to engage one-on-one with professors outside of class.”

That’s absolutely correct.

Sports

The Dominican Republic of Baseball

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Dominican boys practice baseball at a park in Guerra, Dominican Republic, August 10, 2013. (Ricardo Rojas/Reuters)

Why do some societies have a harder time prospering than others? There are many reasons. Noah Smith and Craig Palsson examine a natural experiment: Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Both share the same island. Both derive from a common heritage as sugar-and-coffee-producing slave colonies, although Haiti’s European cultural inheritance is French, and the Dominican’s is Spanish. Yet, while the Dominican is hardly a rich country, Haiti is much poorer. One can list a number of reasons why Haiti is poor: unstable government and misrule, the legacy of slavery, natural disasters, and meddling by the United States and international institutions such as the United Nations. But while it can be argued that Haiti has had the worse of these things, several of them have affected the Dominican as well. Yet, a popular graph illustrates how the two societies have diverged in GDP growth since about 1960, and especially since 1990:

The Haitian economics Substack, Vodou Economics, argues that the graph is misleading and that the divergence has earlier roots, but nobody seems to dispute the general trend and timeline, only the extent to which the imprecise data underlying the graph make it seem so stark and dramatic. For what it’s worth, Vodou Economics also quibbles significantly (as does Palsson) with the recent New York Times argument that Haiti has been uniquely crippled by French indemnities imposed on the island to pay off its former slaveholders, a symptom of how badly the white worlds of Europe and America treated the Western Hemisphere’s second republic in the decades after it threw off slavery.

At any rate, you can read the explanations proffered by Smith and Palsson for the divergence and judge for yourself. I would add one factor that is hardly a full explanation, but might well be a marginal contributor that Smith and Palsson are overlooking. The two nations’ fate diverges at the precise moment when Felipe Alou and Juan Marichal arrived in Major League Baseball in 1958 and 1960, beginning their careers with the San Francisco Giants (Marichal ended up in the Hall of Fame; Alou managed in the majors until 2006, and saw two brothers, two sons, a cousin, and a nephew play and/or manage in the majors). One player from the Dominican (the elder Ozzie Virgil) had preceded them, as well as seven Dominicans who played in the Negro Leagues. But from 1960 on, counting Marichal, 847 Dominicans have played in the majors. Many became major stars and earned tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, including Albert Pujols, Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero, Adrian Beltre, Sammy Sosa, and Manny Ramirez, just to name a few.

It wasn’t just the talent pipeline. The Dominican Professional Baseball League, played in the winter, has brought major league players and managers to the Dominican since the 1960s. All 30 MLB teams maintain baseball academies in the Dominican, some of them dating back to the 1950s. In 2013, Alicia Jessop of Forbes argued that the deep ties between American baseball and the Dominican were a factor in the economy: “The country’s 2012 exports of  $9.467 billion ranked it as 97th worldwide for export totals. However, chances are that if baseball players’ salaries were factored into that export total, the Dominican Republic would see a steady rise in its export value. 20 current MLB players were featured on the Dominican Republic’s World Baseball Classic roster. Their combined 2013 salaries amount to $104,590,000.”

Is baseball alone enough to explain why the Dominican is not as poor and dysfunctional as Haiti? Surely not. But it has to be counted in the visible differences between the economies of the two halves of the island.

The Economy

Recession: Are We There Yet?

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A person pushes purchases in a shopping cart in a supermarket in Brooklyn, N.Y., March 29, 2022. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

NPR:

The U.S. economy shrank in the last three months by 0.9%.

This is the second consecutive quarter where the economy has contracted. In the first quarter, GDP, or gross domestic product, decreased at an annual rate of 1.6%.

While two consecutive quarters of negative growth is often considered a recession, it’s not an official definition. A nonprofit, non-partisan organization called the National Bureau of Economic Research determines when the U.S. economy is in a recession. An NBER committee made up of eight economists makes that determination and many factors go into that calculation.

The White House has pushed back against calling the current economy a recession. It is no doubt aware of the role the economy is going to play in the midterm elections.

President Biden cited record job growth and foreign business investment as signs of strength in the economy. “That doesn’t sound like a recession to me,” Biden concluded.

Can the NBER, which is considered to be the “official” judge of when a recession begins, save the day, at least as NPR would doubtless likely see it?

In any event, while it is certainly true that two consecutive quarters of falling GDP would generally be viewed as satisfying the definition of a recession (just as a 20 percent sell-off in share prices is the popular definition of a bear market), that is not a hard and fast rule. Instead, the NBER prefer another rule, which is neither hard nor, in both senses of the word, fast (the NBER can take its time to come up with a determination).

From the NBER report in June 2020:

The usual definition of a recession involves a decline in economic activity that lasts more than a few months.

“A few”.

The number of quarters is not fixed.

According to the NBER, “a recession begins when the economy reaches a peak of economic activity and ends when the economy reaches its trough. Between trough and peak, the economy is in an expansion.”

NBER:

In determining the monthly peak, the committee considers a number of indicators of employment and production. The committee normally views the payroll employment measure, which is based on a large survey of employers, as the most reliable comprehensive estimate of employment.

That employment number is still moving up.

Brian Wesbury looks at a chart of the data used by the NBER to determine whether we are in a recession, noting (correctly) that they do not just include GDP.

Of the six indicators, only one is negative -“real retail sales,” which are coming off a sugar high of unsustainable pandemic checks. Compare these data to the previous five recessions! Best Recession Ever.

He does expect a recession within “the next 18-24 months.” My own guess is that it will be sooner than that.

Also note that Wesbury adds that he “[doesn’t] agree with a single policy of this administration.  Bad policy = Bad Outcomes.  However, we are not in a recession, yet.”

However, it’s worth taking a look at this post of his too.

An extract:

The big drag in the second quarter was a slowdown in the pace of inventory accumulation, which, all by itself, reduced real GDP growth by two percentage points; excluding inventories, real GDP would have grown in Q2.  However, inventories were not the only soft part of the economy.  On an inflation-adjusted basis, home building dropped at a 14% annual rate while commercial construction fell at an 11.8% rate.  Business investment in equipment also declined, as did consumer spending on goods.  Meanwhile, consumer spending on services rose as did net exports, and business investment in intellectual property.  Although we do not believe the economy entered a recession in the first half of 2022, we are certainly not saying the GDP report was good news.  “Core” GDP, which includes consumer spending, business investment, and home building, was unchanged in Q2, the softest showing since the COVID shutdowns.  And the economy is also being ravaged by inflation, with the GDP deflator up at an 8.7% annual rate in Q2, the fastest pace for any quarter since 1981 . . .

Meanwhile, Albert Edwards, an analyst, who, to borrow part of a line from P. G. Wodehouse, “is never difficult to distinguish from a ray of sunshine,” tweets:

The strong payrolls report is often cited as evidence that the US economy can’t possibly in recession. It depends though which ‘jobs report’ you look at. The Household Survey measure, which is more sensitive to turning points, is certainly ALREADY consistent with recession.

So there’s that.

The Manhattan Institute’s Brian Riedl, a regular contributor to Capital Matters, has a good take:

I think the left is correct that this is a rare instance where we are not technically in a recession despite the GDP data.

But the right is correct to be frustrated because there is no way a GOP administration would be given this nuance by the usual suspects.

That, as people, say, is the tweet.

Riedl continues:

Whether we’re in a technical recession is less interesting to me than the following 3 questions:

1) Are jobs plentiful? (Yes – good)

2) Are real wages rising? (Falling fast – bad)

3) Is inflation hitting fixed income fams? (Yes – bad)

Fair enough, on all three counts, although I don’t think that jobs will remain plentiful for much longer. It continues to be worth noting that only now has the (seasonally adjusted) number of employed (excluding farmworkers) reached its pre-pandemic peak. That’s despite the fact that the working-age population has increased by around 2 million over the same period.

Other clouds on the horizon include growing signs of shakiness in the housing market, falling consumer confidence, certain areas of commodity-price decline, the “wealth effect” of a weaker stock market (despite a recent, partial rally), although, on a longer view, it still continues to be at a high level. Then throw in higher interest rates (although note that they are still still negative in real terms) and inflation, both of which have already had their effect on the preceding (incomplete) list of woes, as well as the effects of the Ukraine war. It is hard to be optimistic.

It’s even harder to be so when it seems that increased taxes and increased spending, much of it wasteful, seems to be on the way. No time would be a good time for the unconvincingly named Inflation Reduction Act, but the current moment seems worse than most.

Film & TV

Better Call Carol

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Better Call Saul, which for my money is the best show still on television, is just a few episodes from its conclusion. In this week’s episode, the series introduced a character played by Carol Burnett. Without spoiling anything of consequence, it proved a skillful use of stunt casting, which Vince Gilligan has used sparingly in the run of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, and it tells us something about his artistry, as well as being a small reminder of Burnett’s enduring talents.

This kind of stunt casting — filling a supporting role with an instantly recognizable figure (and Carol Burnett remains instantly recognizable at 89) — could be perilous for a series that is bringing to a climactic boil all the accumulated dramatic tensions of six seasons, plus the five seasons of Breaking Bad. But it works, for two main reasons. The first is patience. Gilligan is the absolute master of patience, at bringing the audience along gradually to where he wants them to end up, and trusting that they will not lose interest along the way. Better Call Saul has been a slow show; its early seasons featured lots of small-stakes law-office scenes that were much beloved by people (such as myself) who worked in large law firms, but could be tedious for others. It often took well into episodes for anything much to happen. That has accelerated with a series of payoffs as the show has run through its final two seasons, rewarding those who remained committed. In the case of Burnett’s character, we get a leisurely introductory scene in the grocery store that gives the viewer ample time to process “hey, that’s Carol Burnett!” and then get on with the plot. The other reason it works is that Burnett still has the gift to make her character sympathetic and three-dimensional before we get into the business of finding out what will come of her encounter with Saul’s latest alias.

Economy & Business

It Depends What the Definition of ‘Recession’ Is

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Then-President Bill Clinton in an August 17, 1998, videotape as he testifies before a grand jury regarding the White House sex scandal. The tapes were aired September 21 on nationwide television. (Reuters)

In my latest New York Post column, I take on the Biden team trying to redefine “recession”:

The traditional rule of thumb for when an economy is in a recession is a decline in gross domestic product for two consecutive quarters — a shrinking economy for half a year. Under previous presidents, that was not a controversial definition. In 2008, Joe Biden’s National Economic Council director, Brian Deese, wrote, “Economists have a technical definition of recession, which is two consecutive quarters of negative growth.”

But here’s Deese Wednesday: “Two negative quarters of GDP growth is not the technical definition of recession.” He’s not the only one. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen Sunday: “we are not in a recession now” even if GDP declines for a second straight quarter. “That’s not the technical definition.”

You can guess the reason for the spin: When the second-quarter GDP number came out Thursday — surprise! — it was negative for the second straight quarter. Just don’t say the R-word. President Biden’s response: “That doesn’t sound like recession to me.” It’s like a three-card-monte dealer looking you in the eye and saying, “That’s not the queen.”

Yeah, and speech is violence while riot is mostly peaceful protest. Some of the fact checks applied to Trump when he brushed off recession fears in 2019 are hilarious in retrospect. CNN’s Daniel Dale:

During a question and answer session with reporters on Sunday, Washington Post White House bureau chief Philip Rucker told President Donald Trump that “a lot of economists say that you should be preparing for a recession.” Trump responded that he is “prepared for everything,” but that “I don’t think we’re having a recession.” Speaking to reporters before he boarded Air Force One in New Jersey, Trump pointed to Walmart’s strong second-quarter earnings as a sign that consumer spending is healthy. Then he said, “And most economists actually say, Phil, that we’re not going to have a recession. Most of them are saying we’re not going to have a recession.”

Facts First: We don’t have data on what every economist thinks. But prominent bank economists have warned this month of a significant risk of a coming recession, and a survey of business economists, mostly conducted in July, found that 74% thought there would be a recession by 2021.

The US is still in its longest uninterrupted economic expansion ever; nobody knows for sure if or when a recession might hit. And since we don’t have comprehensive data on economists’ views, we can’t declare Trump’s claim about “most” of them false. But multiple economists have said this month that the possibility of a recession is real and growing.

The Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler:

[Trump]: “Your statement about, ‘Oh, will we fall into a recession for two months,’ Okay? The fact is, somebody had to take China on. My life would be a lot easier if I didn’t take China on. But I like doing it because I have to do it.”

[Kessler fact-check]: A recession is two quarters of negative economic growth. That’s six months, not two months.

Woke Culture

The Solution to Campus Wokeism? Enlightenment Principles

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A student walks across the campus of Columbia University in New York, October 5, 2009. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

James Lindsay, who has worked to expose the lunacy of leftist ideologies such as critical race theory, spoke to young conservatives at Young America’s Foundation’s National Conservative Student Conference on Thursday.

He outlined to students the connections between identity politics and Marxism, explaining that the view of one group as an inherent oppressor and the other as inherently oppressed is an intrinsically collectivist and authoritarian one.

While the subject of his talk was interesting, there was a point in the question-and-answer portion of his lecture that was especially important. It gave students an idea of how they can fight back against indoctrination without necessarily calling it out publicly and risking cancellation.

A student told Lindsay about his experience in his math class, recounting that he felt the lectures he was supposed to attend were useless, given that the professor was just repeating the material in the textbook without challenging students to think critically about it. He said this phenomenon was also likely happening in the liberal arts and asked Lindsay how students can learn about the world despite their dogmatically leftist professors.

“You actually pointed at [the solution], which is that you have to do the study yourself. You have to be autodidactic,” Lindsay answered.

“You are going to have to step outside of the frame of your professors,” he added, “and you’re going to have to start coming together as students who are interested to learn, interested to find the truth.” He advised conference attendees to simply read the texts for themselves, maybe forming little book clubs where they discuss their ideas freely outside of the classroom.

This advice may seem like common sense now, but it was once a revolutionary idea, especially during the advent of the classical liberalism of the Enlightenment. One of the first people to articulate it as political theory was Immanuel Kant. In his 1784 essay, “What is Enlightenment,” he defined the concept as “man’s leaving his self-caused immaturity.”

That immaturity, he said, comes about when people allow others to think for them, abdicating their responsibilities to gain knowledge. If a man wants to become enlightened, Kant argued, he must “dare to know,” not accepting the dogma of a church or a state without question.

Now, some in our contemporary culture need a reminder of Kant’s ideas. There are people in our world who have taken up the mantle almost as a magisterial authority in their advocacy for social justice.

Ibram X. Kendi has said that “the very heartbeat of racism is denial,” arguing that people who push back on allegations of racism against them are illustrating their own bigotry. In this view of the world, people must accept critical race theory unquestioningly, which flies in the face of the ideas Kant expressed.

In Kant’s time, achieving personal enlightenment was much more difficult to do. Though the printing press was centuries old by the time he wrote his essay, books were still expensive, and people had far less leisure time and disposable income. Now, we have access to the mass production of books both old and new, as well as libraries at our universities that are filled with them.

Additionally, governments in Kant’s era were wont to ban books that challenged their authority. Though we have seen publishing companies and retailers engage in soft bans, these controversial books are still ultimately available, at least, far more than books that were prohibited in the 18th century.

Conservative college students have the resources at their fingertips to achieve Kantian enlightenment, and Lindsay’s advice allows them to do so without necessarily facing too much pushback. Having the fortitude to speak unpopular truths is courageous, but not all people are willing or equipped to do that.

But the least everyone can do is read materials themselves and come up with their own opinions. Brave people in Kant’s time did it amidst harder barriers than there are today. What excuse do we have?

Health Care

Britain’s Gender Youth Clinic Shuts Down

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Britain’s National Health Service is closing its gender-identity youth clinic after a review revealed its care of gender-confused children and adolescents was substandard. Referrals at the clinic have skyrocketed in recent years, especially among teenage girls and those on the autism spectrum. Hilary Cass, the pediatrician leading the review, found that the clinic was “not a safe or viable long-term option.” Instead, new regional centers will be set up to “ensure the holistic needs” of patients are met.

In a face-saving statement, the trans activist group Stonewall said it welcomed the opportunity to decrease “unacceptable” wait times for “young trans people.” Really, though, this comes as a major blow to their efforts. And it is all thanks to the dogged journalism of the Times of London, the whistleblower clinicians who spoke out, and the battle in the British courts brought by Keira Bella, the young woman and former patient harmed by a hasty transition.

Business

VW’s Futurism Meets Reality

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Volkswagen employees stand next to Volkswagen electric cars during a ceremony at the company’s first battery cell production plant “SalzGiga” in Salzgitter, Germany, July 7, 2022. (Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters)

The Germans may be returning to pragmatism. Volkswagen AG has seen the light, or at least slowed in its delusion that all cars will be entirely electric in the next decade. The world’s third-largest automotive group by market cap (after Tesla and Toyota), the manufacturer has announced that CEO Herbert Diess is out, and the head of its Porsche division, Oliver Blume, is in command. While there appear to be at least a few reasons why VW prematurely ended Diess’s lease (labor disputes, slow EV rollout, and impolitic revelations), it may be the prudent incrementalism of his replacement that will make the change particularly consequential. “Electrofuel” is Blume’s pet term, one we’ll no doubt hear more of in the coming years. 

As the Wall Street Journal explains:

Electrofuels are a type of synthetic fuel that produce energy the same way gasoline and diesel do. They combust as part of a conventional power drive. But they are manufactured by mixing water and carbon dioxide to create a low-carbon replacement fuel for diesel or gasoline engines. Right now, they are too expensive to make economically. Some experts believe they will never be as cheap as battery electric cars.

For the industry, though, e-fuels carry one big advantage over battery-powered vehicles: Because they burn the same way as gasoline, they can run in the internal-combustion engines that most of the industry still pumps out. That would allow car makers to continue to make traditional engines, saving them the billions of dollars many have already committed to in their pivot to making electric cars.

Governments and manufacturers have long dreamt of a world without fossil fuels, with visions of sleek, environmentally-inoffensive electric vehicles taking their place. Critics of this vision have rightly scoffed at it, both for the onerous regulations to effect such a dramatic shift in transportation and the obvious scaling issues of producing these millions of cars. Not to mention that the electric-vehicle class is burdened with new technologies that do not necessarily improve upon their internal-combustion engine (ICE) counterparts meaningfully. 

Toyota is the best example of a hybrid philosophy, rewarded by consumers with the most car sales of any company in the world. They incorporate passive batteries into their lineup — making for efficient and robust vehicles — while accepting that the internal-combustion engines are familiar, inexpensively produced, and near-perfected. The driver can treat his hybrid like any other gas-powered vehicle, never having to deal with chargers, but the batteries within allow for 50+ mpg and regenerative braking. If only we could expect the same realism from legislators regarding transportation. 

VW’s new boss, Blume, adopted a similar hybridized stance at Porsche, leading it to become the most profitable section of VW. He understands, and rightly so, that producing a superior electric sports car and continuing to develop a brilliant ICE sports car lineup would only redound to his company’s benefit. While Porsche buyers aren’t keen on fuel efficiency per se, they do desire the crackling feedback and power curve that ICE innately offers. 

Whether Blume can shift Volkwagen into the same philosophically prudent gear will be worth watching. If he can, we may see VW finally pull itself from the doldrums that the combination of their emissions scandals and weak electric offerings the company has foolishly steered into.

Culture

Republicans’ Same-Sex-Marriage Dilemma

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I have a piece in the upcoming print issue explaining why social conservatives oppose the Respect for Marriage Act.

Education

Education Becomes a Winning Issue for Republicans

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Shelley Slebrch and other parents and community members protest after a Loudoun County School Board meeting was halted by the school board because the crowd refused to quiet down, in Ashburn, Va., June 22, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Parents — especially minority parents — are clearly revolting against governors, school boards, and their teachers’-union overlords.

A new poll by Morning Consult of battleground states shows that for the first time in anyone’s memory, Democrats have lost the trust advantage they had with voters on education. Democrats had a 15-point edge on that question as recently as 2020. Now the GOP has a four-point advantage.

With parents, the margin is nine percentage points, and with voters of color, the gap is ten points as minority parents revolt against lockdown, mask mandates, and “woke” classroom learning.

The pandemic revealed the anti-student agenda of progressive leaders. Voters are ready to render a verdict on it this November.

Politics & Policy

The Grab Bag of Green Corporate Giveaways and a Tax Hike Act

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So Democrats got some kind of illegible agreement from Senator Joe Manchin to support a very skinny version of the Build Back Better bill that is now called the Inflation Reduction Act. And the press is calling it a “surprise climate deal.”

I just remain endlessly fascinated by Democratic attempts at legislation and how they are communicating their priorities to the public. Most voters don’t even know that an infrastructure bill was passed because the headlines kept saying that a bill named “Build Back Better” didn’t pass.

I suppose “Inflation Reduction Act” is better branding than “Grab Bag of Green Corporate Giveaways and a Tax Hike.”

Education

Chapel Hill’s Trustees Pass Two Strong Resolutions

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University trustees seldom do much good, but the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill Board of Trustees has just passed two strong resolutions, available here.

One states that funds collected from mandatory student fees are to be distributed in a viewpoint-neutral fashion. That is to say, without favoritism for “progressive” organizations or hostility toward conservative and libertarian ones. University administrators have often played favorites and it’s a good thing that school policy now forbids it.

The second resolution affirms the university’s commitment to the Chicago Principles and UNC’s 1967 Kalven Committee Report. Both uphold academic freedom and the role of the university as a place for debate and scholarship rather than activism.

I particularly like this paragraph from the Kalven Committee Report:

The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. It is, to go back once again to the classic phrase, a community of scholars. To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures. A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community. It is a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.

Too many of today’s academic leaders fail to appreciate that wisdom.

 

Culture

In Support of Loch Ness Monster Clickbait

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In response to Against Loch Ness Monster Clickbait

My friend Jack Butler, a self-described “general connoisseur of the strange,” objects to recent headlines overselling the evidence of Scotland’s Loch Ness monster. He takes the mythical monster seriously and wants others to do the same. While I respect Jack’s enthusiasm for “real news” on the subject, clearly the sensationalized version is a greater boon to the imagination — not to mention Scotland’s tourism industry!

Culture

The Correct Term for ‘Egg Donor’ Is Mother

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On TikTok, a gay couple posted a video explaining how they chose their “beautiful egg donor.” Stuart explains, “I wanted her to have lovely big eyes, I wanted her to have really thick hair because I’ve had two hair transplants.” He laughs. “I wanted her to have a really wide, nice smile. And just look like a kind person.”

After flicking through an online catalogue, Francis details how they had “a few Zoom calls” with their favorite donors. Two let them down. “Fuming!” Stuart exclaims. “Luckily,” though, a third agreed.

A couple of quick points:

  1. Children aren’t commodities. Deliberately engineering a situation in which a child is deprived of his mother (or father) is wrong.
  2. Women’s bodies aren’t commodities. Harvesting and selling women’s eggs or renting out their wombs is demeaning. The correct term for this “egg donor” is mother. 

 

World

U.K. Transgender Clinic to Close after Damning Report: ‘Not Safe’ for Children

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Protesters attend the London Trans Pride 2020 march, in London, Britain, September 12, 2020. (Simon Dawson/Reuters)

As the Biden administration continues to try to use its regulatory powers to force a “gender-affirming” approach to children who question their sex, in other countries the rubber-stamping of a gender-dysphoric child’s belief and the prescribing of puberty-blocking drugs are under serious reconsideration. The U.K., Sweden, Finland, and France — not exactly Bible Belt countries — are all pulling back from the rush to transition children.

Now, in the U.K., the Tavistock Gender Clinic — run by the National Health Service — is being shut down because it is not safe for children. From the Daily Mail story:

The NHS‘s controversial child transgender clinic will shut its doors after a damning report found it was ‘not safe’ for children.

The gender identity service at Tavistock & Portman NHS Foundation Trust will be replaced by regional centres at existing children’s hospitals, which will provide more holistic care with ‘strong links to mental health services’.

It comes in response to an ongoing review led by senior paediatrician Dr Hilary Cass, who warned the gender clinic was ‘not a safe or viable long-term option’. She found other mental health issues were ‘overshadowed’ in favour of gender identity issues when children were referred to Tavistock’s Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS).

In other words, children will not be pushed toward transitioning — as the Biden administration wants done here — but their mental and emotional issues will be more thoroughly explored.

Part of the issue — also acknowledged in France — has been the exponential increase in cases, brought on I believe by a moral panic and a form of social contagion spread by social media:

There have also been concerns about the sharp rise in referrals to GIDS. There were more than 5,000 referrals being made in the last year, compared to just a few hundred 10 years ago.

The closure of the service for young people at Tavistock is likely to be seen as a victory by campaigners who have previously accused GIDS of rushing children onto puberty blocking drugs.

Former patient Keira Bell took the clinic to the High Court, claiming that she had not been challenged enough when she was prescribed the drugs at age 16.

It is also worth noting that transition ideologues were accused of pushing autistic children to transition in the U.K.

The report that led to the clinic’s closure also worried that there is a lack of knowledge about the impact that puberty blocking has on maturing bodies. In other words, whereas the Biden administration claims these interventions are uncontroversial, the report makes clear that they are entirely experimental:

In a letter to NHS England, Dr Cass also called for more research into the effects of puberty blockers on a young person’s brain development.

[The report’s author] wrote:  ‘A further concern is that adolescent sex hormone surges may trigger the opening of a critical period for experience-dependent rewiring of neural circuits underlying executive function (i.e. maturation of the part of the brain concerned with planning, decision making and judgement).

‘If this is the case, brain maturation may be temporarily or permanently disrupted by puberty blockers, which could have significant impact on the ability to make complex risk-laden decisions, as well as possible longer-term neuropsychological consequences.

‘To date, there has been very limited research on the short-, medium- or longer-term impact of puberty blockers on neurocognitive development.’

Meanwhile California is set to become a gender-affirming care sanctuary state, to the potential profound detriment of children.

It’s time to hit the brakes on all of this. Our children’s futures are too important to allow trans ideology to drive our public-health policies.

Science & Tech

Against Loch Ness Monster Clickbait

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(Max2611/Getty Images)

Over the past few days, you may have seen article headlines such as “Scientists say new fossils point to existence of Loch Ness monster,” or “Loch Ness Monster Existence Plausible, Scientists Say,” or “New discovery makes Loch Ness Monster ‘plausible.’” Though I prefer America’s weirdness, I am a general connoisseur of the strange. And the Loch Ness monster of Scotland has long held a special place in my heart. So when I became aware of this “story” via Twitter trending, which presented it similarly, I got excited: Had a fossil of Nessie been found in the “dark Scottish lake” in which she allegedly resides? Was some other proof unearthed? A tunnel to the ocean, perhaps?

In truth, it was nothing of the sort. Actually clicking on one of the stories revealed the somewhat boring truth behind the sensational headlines. Let’s pick on the New York Post, whose headline “The Loch Ness monster may be real, scientists now say” was probably — unsurprisingly — the most lurid of all. Here’s what has actually been “revealed”:

According to a new joint study, released Wednesday by the University of Bath and University of Portsmouth in the UK and Université Hassan II in Morocco, fossils of plesiosaurs were found in the Morocco portion of the Sahara Desert, reported Newsweek.

The study — published in Cretaceous Research — suggests that 100 million years ago, the desert was once a body of freshwater where hundreds of carnivores lived together.

Several fossils including teeth from adult plesiosaurs that measured 9 feet in length and baby plesiosaurs — measuring 5 feet long — were found at the dig site.

So we don’t have new evidence of a plesiosaur — the extinct creature long put forward as a possibility for what Nessie might actually be — currently existing in Loch Ness. We don’t even have evidence that such a creature might once have inhabited the loch. Instead, we have evidence that, at one point, this type of animal may have lived in freshwater thousands of miles away. And so it could, theoretically, have lived in Loch Ness — or it could be there currently, I guess?

Nonsense. What we have here is a classic case of Loch Ness monster clickbait. I am firmly against such things. Let the settlements around the loch profit from tourism; let a thousand History Channel shows about Nessie bloom; and, by all means, let there be legitimate scientific investigations into the lake and into the possibility of Nessie’s former, or current, existence there. But spare me this cryptid sensationalism. Goodness knows there are worse problems with the media, but this is still an example. When there’s real news about stuff like this, I want to be the first to know. But don’t try to get me to click on something that doesn’t directly bear on the reality (or not) of Nessie.

It sure is a relief that we never get this kind of thing when it comes to UFOs . . .

Now It’s a Recession, Now It’s Not: Media Parrot White House Talking Points on Economy

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White House economic adviser Brian Deese speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., March 31, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

On Tuesday, Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, took the podium in the White House briefing room to perform the magnificent feat of bending reality to his will.

Echoing Treasury secretary Janet Yellen, Deese explained that “two negative quarters of GDP growth is not the technical definition of recession. It’s not the definition that economists have traditionally relied on.”

“There is an organization called the National Bureau of Economic Research and what they do is they look at a broad range of data in deciding whether or not a recession has occurred,” he continued serenely. But that doesn’t free the

Politics & Policy

New Report: State Pro-Life Laws Protect Pregnant Mothers

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Pro-abortion rights activists protest outside the Supreme Court building, ahead of arguments in the Mississippi abortion rights case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, in Washington, D.C., December 1, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

A new report from the Charlotte Lozier Institute confirms what I reported here at NR earlier this week: Every pro-life state law in the country contains explicit protections ensuring that pregnant women can receive necessary medical care in cases of a health emergency.

The report is rigorously researched and cited, and it includes the relevant text of each law in question, including the sections defining abortion and outlining exceptions for medical emergencies. In addition to this much-needed information about state laws, the report’s summary contains these key explanations, including an explanation of why direct abortion — or a procedure that intentionally kills the unborn child — is never medically necessary to save the life of a mother:

Each of these states permits abortion in those rare and heartbreaking circumstances when it is necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman. Physicians can make this determination based on their “reasonable medical judgment,” a standard very common in the medical profession and used for any case involving medical malpractice litigation. Physicians are trained to use their best judgment to care for patients; however, it would be prudent for state medical boards, state medical societies, state boards of pharmacy, hospital quality committees, and hospital attorneys to provide more detailed guidance to doctors on how to reach a determination that abortion is necessary. Tragically, this type of guidance appears slow in coming. Meanwhile, abortion advocates are spreading the dangerous lie that life-saving care is not or may not be permitted in these states, leading to provider confusion and poor outcomes for women.

To assist healthcare providers and dispel the myths being spread by those more concerned with promoting abortion than women’s health, this document discusses miscarriage management, treatment for ectopic pregnancy, and medical conditions that could qualify as life-threatening, permitting abortion under pro-life laws. . . .

While some laws contain definitions and exceptions that more explicitly speak to certain situations, each law reviewed does not prevent mothers from receiving the medical care necessary. A plain reading of any of these statutes easily refutes the false and dangerous misinformation being spread by pro-abortion activists. Further, none of the laws reviewed prohibit a medical professional from acting as necessary when facing a life-threatening medical emergency; therefore, under these laws medical professionals can exercise reasonable medical judgement and as outlined by the ACOG guidance, are not required to delay necessary care and treatment to a mother.

Because the terminology can be confusing, it is important to be aware that a “spontaneous abortion” describes a “miscarriage,” a pregnancy where the fetus dies naturally.  An “induced abortion” is sometimes shortened to the layman’s term “abortion,” indicating that the pregnancy was intentionally ended in order to cause the death of the fetus.  Additionally, “termination of pregnancy” and “medically indicated separation” indicate that the mother will be separated from her fetus but does not indicate the method used. This can be done by labor induction or c-section, potentially resulting in a live baby if he has reached an appropriate gestational age. “Induced abortion” indicates that a dead baby will be the outcome of the intervention (such as after a dilation and evacuation “dismemberment” abortion). While the law allows induced abortion if needed in order to protect the mother’s life, compassionate care and respect for fetal life would dictate that the fetus should be delivered intact and alive if possible.

The report is a great service to those following the debate over abortion policy, and it performs the essential task of dispelling falsehoods spread by those who defend unlimited abortion, hiding behind the dangerous lie that women will die as the result of pro-life laws.

Politics & Policy

Chip Roy Introduces Bill That Would Allow the President to Fire Executive-Branch Employees

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U.S. Congressman Chip Roy speaking with attendees at the 2019 Young Americans for Liberty Convention (Gage Skidmore/WikiMedia )

Today, Representative Chip Roy (R., Texas) introduced the Public Service Reform Act (PSRA), a long-overdue, good-government reform aimed at reining in the runaway power of the administrative state. According to a summary of the bill exclusively obtained by National Review, the PSRA would “make all executive branch employees at-will, meaning they can face any adverse action, including removal, provided it is not a prohibited personnel practice, such as racial discrimination.” The bill’s description continues:

It establishes an efficient termination process. Under this framework:

  • An employee shall be notified of his/her removal and the reasons for it;
  • The employee shall have 14 days to provide a written response;
  • An agency deciding official shall decide to proceed with the termination or not;
  • The agency head has discretion to hold a hearing over the termination if needed;
  • The deciding official’s decision shall be the agency’s final decision, unless the agency head or POTUS reverses the termination within 7 days;
  • Provides post-facto whistleblower protections that penalizes frivolous claims and protects legitimate whistleblowers with reinstatement and backpay;
  • Allows a federal employee to bring a discrimination claim to the EEOC, however, the claim would be treated as if it came from the private sector.

The bill covers all non-political executive branch employees and removes any avenues for outside appeals after termination, which are abused by poor-performing or politically- motivated bureaucrats.

Further, the bill would eliminate the Merit Systems Protection Board and other pathways for adverse action appeal.

The PSRA already enjoys the endorsement of conservative groups such as Heritage Action, FreedomWorks, and America First Works. “We applaud Rep. Chip Roy’s legislation as it brings much-needed reform, helping fight government corruption by draining the swamp,” Ashley Hayek, Executive Director of America First Works, wrote in a statement. “Federal agencies need the ability to remove career bureaucrats who underperform or subvert the will of the American people.” Indeed, this should be a priority for anyone who cares about the health of the American constitutional order. An administrative state that is unaccountable to the president is at odds with the Founders’ Constitution — and the fundamental principle of self-government: As Jonathan Turley wrote back in 2013, “The fourth branch now has a larger practical impact on the lives of citizens than all the other branches combined . . . the vast majority of ‘laws’ governing the United States are not passed by Congress but are issued as regulations, crafted largely by thousands of unnamed, unreachable bureaucrats. One study found that in 2007, Congress enacted 138 public laws, while federal agencies finalized 2,926 rules, including 61 major regulations.” And it’s incredibly difficult for the one member of the executive branch who’s actually accountable to voters — i.e., the president — to actually change the composition of this bureaucracy. As Roy notes:

To fire employees, federal supervisors must navigate an unjustifiably complex and time-consuming process, conducting a formal investigation and giving employees 30 days advance notice. During this time, they are prohibited from hiring a replacement.

  • Disgruntled employees often intentionally impeded policies they personally disliked, delaying important work, hiding information from political appointees, and in some cases outright refusing to do their jobs.

  • Career employees have misrepresented federal regulations and legal precedent, withheld records they were required by law to turn over, and left political employees scrambling to make up work they not only would not do, but actively obstructed.

The stark nature of this issue was brought into sharp relief during the Trump administration, when, as Roy said, “Non-political executive branch employees consistently hindered political employees’ work and undermined the executive branch’s agenda, with few repercussions.” The logical response, as I myself have argued in the past, is to allow the president to actually exercise control over who serves in the branch of government he ostensibly oversees. As I wrote in March:

The idea that administrators in the executive branch should just get to decide that a president’s decisions are unacceptable, over and above the expressed electoral wishes of the people, is fundamentally un-American. In our republican form of government, the administrative state doesn’t get to unilaterally determine which policies are worth pursuing. Within the parameters set by the Constitution, the people do.

It’s encouraging to see conservatives like Roy actually take proactive measures to remedy this issue and restore sovereignty to where it should lie — in the hands of the people’s elected representatives. This should be a no-brainer for Republicans. 

Law & the Courts

The Dobbs Leak Whodunit May Not Yield a Who for Many Years

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A person walks past the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

As Jack Wolfsohn detailed yesterday, the latest reporting from the Supreme Court does not paint an optimistic picture of the Dobbs leak investigation and its odds of smoking out the culprit. The window of opportunity for Chief Justice John Roberts to pressure the leaker with a swift, dramatic internal investigation within the first 48 hours has long since closed, yet it does not appear that the more powerful law-enforcement tools outside the Court have been deployed, either. David Lat parses out what the latest CNN report by Joan Biskupic suggests:

First, Biskupic reports that Colonel Curley asked clerks to sign affidavits and to turn over cellphone data, but Biskupic does not discuss whether clerks complied with these requests. It’s possible that some clerks complied and some did not, or some clerks complied but not completely — e.g., they signed affidavits but refused to turn over cellphone data. As Biskupic previously reported, the requests, especially the ones for cellphone data, raised concerns among certain clerks.

Second, Biskupic reports that some permanent employees, i.e., not one-year Term clerks, turned over not just cellphone records, but electronic devices themselves. In my view, this information makes it less likely that the leaker was a permanent employee, like a judicial assistant or chambers aide, and more likely that the leaker was a law clerk. Why? The permanent employees were more cooperative with the investigation because they had less to hide.

I still agree with Lat that a law clerk is the most likely suspect, but it remains enraging that we are left to speculate and not know the answer nearly three months later, when the clerks have all left the Court. Lat’s essay is worth reading for his full explanation of how he thinks the leak could have gone down in true cloak-and-dagger fashion, such that it is possible that even the Politico reporters do not, to this day, know the identity of the leaker. But as Mark Sherman of the Associated Press notes, while the leaker has left a cloud of suspicion over everyone who worked at the Court this past term, there is still one way in which the truth may surface decades from now if it was a clerk:

The public might never know. Then again, Supreme Court clerks often go on to prominent legal jobs. Six of the nine justices once served as law clerks. Sometime in the next few decades, one or more of them might appear for a confirmation hearing for a judgeship or some other high-ranking government job where they might be asked if they leaked the document or know who did.

If I was involved with the Senate Judiciary Committee or other Senate committees holding hearings, I’d make a note to put this in the written questionnaire for any nominee who clerked for the Court in 2021–22.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: ESG and Inflation Indexing

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David Bahnsen writes about today’s episode of the Capital Record, about ESG:

I encourage you to listen to the podcast with Professor Damodoran. The ESG movement is beginning to falter, and that is not merely because of a bull market in energy and bear market in Silicon Valley. An intellectually and morally bankrupt movement is finally being exposed, and the entire economy will soon be better off for it.

You can listen to that episode right here.

Daniel Pilla writes about provisions of the tax code that aren’t indexed to inflation:

The calculation of basis in capital assets (stocks, bonds, savings accounts, real estate) is not indexed to inflation. The only thing that is measured is the nominal gain or loss. As far as the IRS is concerned, if you sell an asset for more than you paid for it, you have a taxable gain, period. And this is true regardless of the fact that all gains may be purely attributable to inflation over the holding period.

There are dozens of provisions of the tax code that are indexed to inflation, including the income-tax brackets themselves. The idea is that one’s income-tax rate should not necessarily increase simply because inflation pushed his income up. But capital gains do not benefit from the same treatment.

Media

The Coordination Was Explicit

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The ability of progressives to coordinate their efforts spontaneously across organizations has always seemed to me to be their chief strength. But it turns out that public-private censorship during the pandemic was partly due to explicit coordination between the CDC and the social-media networks.

Joseph Simonson reports at the Washington Free Beacon:

Over the course of at least six months, starting in December 2020, CDC officials regularly communicated with personnel at Twitter, Facebook, and Google over “vaccine misinformation.” At various times, CDC officials would flag specific posts by users on social media platforms such as Twitter as “example posts.”

One funny detail is that once the CDC’s recommendations came in, they had the side effect of occasionally censoring guidelines and information released by individual state health departments.

The lesson that should be taken here — if it isn’t a dramatic diminishment of the CDC’s role in public life — is that the government should not try to help private censors, or encourage censorship at all across the media. But of course, the real lesson that progressives will take is that the CDC needs an entire department to centralize talking points and impose them on all public-health officials, and perhaps all doctors before beginning its campaign of censorship.

Politics & Policy

Thanks for the ‘Memory’

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Former president Donald Trump speaks during the Turning Point USA’s Student Action Summit in Tampa, Fla., July 23, 2022. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

The thing you have to understand about Donald Trump, says Claremont Institute chairman Tom Klingenstein, is that “Trump is a manly man,” an exemplar of “traditional manhood.”

Well.

There is, I think, a contrary point of view.

Donald Trump is a whiny Palm Beach pasha whose put-upon servants soothe him by playing showtunes — specifically, the sad songs from Cats — when he’s feeling a little verklempt. He has your Aunt Jeanie’s social-media addiction and wears more makeup than the hog-tied hooker I predict somebody will find in the trunk of Anthony Weiner’s rental car one of these days. His Manhattan apartment is the sort of gilded and frescoed mess that would have made Liberace say, “Tone it down, Nancy.”

Donald Trump isn’t a warrior-prince — he’s a character who got cut from Glee for being too campy.

But I suppose I don’t see this issue precisely the same way they do over at Claremont. When it comes to pegging a man for the virile type, they know whereof they speak.

The Economy

Who Saw This Recession Coming? Lots of People

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Chair of the White House Counsel for Economic Advisors, Kevin Hassett, sits down for a conversation with National Review Institute fellow Ramesh Ponnuru at the 2019 National Review Institute Ideas Summit.

Back in October 2021, at the National Review Institute gathering in Dallas, Kevin Hassett, who was the former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Trump and a senior adviser to him, offered a fascinating contrast between his usually cheerful and amiable personality and an economic assessment that I described as “darker than Rembrandt’s Night Watch viewed through sunglasses at midnight during a power outage.” Hassett suggested that GDP numbers were going to decline and that a recession was on the way. In autumn 2021, people knew that inflation was a little higher than we wanted it to be, businesses were having a hard time finding workers, and the supply-chain issues were becoming major headaches, but at that time, predicting a recession was still a surprisingly grim assessment. The U.S. was supposed to be enjoying a post-Covid economic boom!

And in the fourth quarter 0f 2021, the GDP number did boom, all the way up to 7 percent. So for a little while, Hassett’s prediction of a recession seemed too pessimistic . . .

. . . but six months later, we’ve now experienced two consecutive quarters of declining GDP, which has been the traditional, rule-of-thumb definition of recession for a long time — just ask Joe Biden’s advisers before this past week.

Once the U.S. experienced one quarter of declining GDP, there was always a good chance that the next quarter would be lousy as well. Inflation continued to rage out of control. Gas prices have declined since mid June, but they’re still high by historical standards. The labor shortage hasn’t changed, and the effort to mitigate supply chain problems is two steps forward, one step back. The Fed hiked interest rates to fight inflation, making it tougher to get loans and purchase homes. Today’s GDP number indicating a decline of nine-tenths of 1 percent isn’t the worst possible news, but it indicates we’re not out of the tough times yet.

I’ve returned to Hassett’s remarks (in April) and warned that the administration was whistling past the graveyard (in June and at the beginning of this month). Yes, the national unemployment rate is low and many businesses are still hiring. But we are still beset by economic problems that usually take long periods of time to resolve. Inflation is paramount, but lots of companies can’t find enough workers, hurting productivity. Many businesses expect the supply-chain issues to last well into 2023 or even longer. And while we thought Covid-19 was in the rear-view mirror, this summer businesses are seeing staffing problems, with some staffers taking vacation while others are calling in sick with mild cases of Covid. None of these factors help increase the national GDP.

The third quarter GDP numbers will be released October 27. If that one is negative, will the administration stop whining about people using the term “recession”?

Film & TV

Rewriting What’s Gone Before (Streaming Edition)

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(Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

I’m dating myself (again), this time, I suppose, by admitting that I still buy DVDs. That’s my Generation Jones fondness for ownership, and my own hoarding instinct, but there’s something else at play. Rely on a streaming service and things can, in our age of cancellation, either disappear, never to be seen again, or they can be tinkered with, perhaps to remove a scene now deemed offensive or, less malignly, for artistic reasons.

GQ:

Given the relative permanence of TV and film, you’d think the screen industries will remain unscathed — but you’ll be so, so very wrong, if Stranger Things creators the Duffers get their way.

In an interview with Variety in early June, the sibling directorial duo confirmed plans to “George Lucas” — ie. retrospectively edit, as has been the Star Wars progenitor’s unpopular bent with later editions of the original franchise trilogy — a moment in Stranger Things season two, owing to a fan-identified plot hole. It’s a simple mistake of an expansive series costing $30 million an episode, really: the creative team set an episode of Stranger Things 4 on March 22, forgetting that it had been established as Will Byers’ (Noah Schnapp) birthday in the earlier season.

To be fair, March 22 is a day that needs to be respected. Not only is it (it appears: I haven’t watched the show) Will Byers’s birthday, but it’s also mine, K-Lo’s, and William Shatner’s (Captain Kirk’s too).

GQ:

The error is mostly anodyne, singularly offensive to the most hand-wringing of pedants (it’s giving Genius At Work), and certainly not something that needs to be fixed after the fact. The given reason for the tweak? They didn’t want the fans to feel sad, or to be mad at them for their negligence.

Confirmation was given to Variety later that month. “We have George Lucas’d things also that people don’t know about,” Matt Duffer said, declining to touch upon the specific alterations made to previous seasons…Editing a continuity error after the fact would be fairly innocuous if not for the implied slippery slope. No one can ever convince me, a rational person, that anyone aside from a subset of weirdos online would actually care — but hey, said tweaks bode no dramatic change, and if this wasn’t a news story, the vast majority of viewers simply wouldn’t notice. Season one came out six years ago, after all: it’s not as though most watchers are tracing back character beats like an archivist for Ancestry.com, as much as I’m sure the Duffers would like to think the Kool-Aid has been more widely sampled.

A show like Stranger Things, the most highly watched series on Netflix in the English language, boasts huge cultural cachet: if the Duffers are doing it, who’s to say that other creators won’t? One day patches might become as commonplace in screen media as they are in video games, and that is a truly worrying precedent for consumers and the integrity of art alike.

In principle, retrospective tinkering (or more) is fine (if “censors” are not involved), but ideally the viewer should, if he or she wants (and their psychiatric nurses are okay with it), be able to compare different iterations of the same product. If we’re talking relatively small changes (repackaged films such as the various editions of Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner — I have the DVDs, each version, perfectly normal thing to have done — are a different matter), that is unlikely to be possible with streamed content. DVDs, of course, can also be messed around with, but not remotely. The answer, therefore, for strict originalists, unwilling to try their luck and the law by recording content streamed on, say, Netflix, is not to hesitate too long before buying the DVD version of any movie or show they wish to preserve in all its original glory.

Now I think of it, maybe it’s time for me to invest in the complete Breaking Bad (the greatest TV series ever made, in case you wondered). There’s a show that could fall foul of someone someday . . .

There is a wider, more serious point to be made about how new technologies are changing our ability to rewrite history. The Internet may indeed be the greatest store of information that any society has ever had, but I’m not sure we fully understand how effectively it can be used to mess with the past as well as the present. Conventional wisdom has it that, once something is on the Internet, it’s forever. Maybe, maybe not. That people can just make things up online is hardly a revelation, but smaller, subtler changes can be made, with little or no chance of discovery, obscuring the original item, which will be lost, probably, beyond recall.

Politics & Policy

I Remember the ACLU

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Headline from The Nation:

The Arizona Prison System Is Censoring The Nation. We’re Doing Something About It.

Arizona prison authorities are stopping incarcerated people from reading The Nation. We’re working with the ACLU’s National Prison Project to assert their First Amendment rights.

At times like this, it would be a very fine thing to have an ACLU that was a civil-liberties-and-free-speech organization rather than an ACLU that is a free-speech-sometimesexcept-if-we-don’t-like-it-in-which-case-you’re-on-your-own organization. Having real principles makes coalition-building easier. The ACLU may still make the occasional political stretch, but the organization seems to have lost its way.

We’ve seen this kind of thing before: When Amnesty International stuck to its mission — prisoners of conscience — William F. Buckley Jr. was on the board, and it had cross-ideological support for its core program. When it became just another left-wing advocacy organization, it lost its vitality. Roughly the same thing happened to the NAACP. On the right, the NRA lost its way when it took its eye off the Second Amendment ball and became in effect a subsidiary of the Republican Party and an unfocused right-wing culture-war committee.

We could use an organization that does what the ACLU used to do. But I fear that Americans, particularly American liberals, have long ago stopped believing their own dogma.

 

Elections

Mike Pence Endorses Rebecca Kleefisch for Wisconsin Governor

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Then-Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch in 2018. (Nick Oxford/Reuters)

Mike Pence endorsed Rebecca Kleefisch in the Wisconsin gubernatorial primary today, adding to the massive list of conservative individuals and organizations that have endorsed her over Trump-backed Tim Michels. The primary election will be held on August 9.

Kleefisch was lieutenant governor from 2011 to 2019, for both of Scott Walker’s terms as governor. She helped stand up to public-sector unions, who sent thousands of protesters to the state capitol in opposition to the state’s budget in 2011. That led to her recall, along with Walker’s, and they each won their recall election with larger margins than they won in their first election.

The GOP leadership in both houses of the Wisconsin legislature endorsed her, as have numerous other state legislators. She’s also been endorsed by Iowa governor Kim Reynolds, Senator Ted Cruz, former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, and, naturally, Scott Walker.

With the Supreme Court returning the issue of abortion to the states (where it belongs), it’s all the more important that Wisconsin Right to Life has endorsed Kleefisch. Crime is becoming more of an issue to voters, and Kleefisch is endorsed by the sheriffs of 40 of the state’s 72 counties. She’s rock-solid on gun rights as well, with the Wisconsin Firearms Owners Association supporting her.

Tim Michels, on the other hand, is endorsed by former governor Tommy Thompson and Donald Trump. And that’s pretty much it. Not one member of the state legislature and not one sheriff has endorsed him yet. One campaign mailer claimed he has been endorsed by the NRA — but he has not been endorsed by the NRA (source: the NRA). He has an “AQ” rating from the NRA, which is one grade below Kleefisch’s “A” rating. Wisconsin Right to Life endorsed him as well as Kleefisch, but unlike Kleefisch, who supported multiple cuts to Planned Parenthood funding during the Walker years, we don’t really know anything about Michels’s record on abortion. In fact, we don’t really know anything about his record on anything.

Michels ran for Senate in 2004 against Democrat Russ Feingold, losing by eleven points. Then, he essentially disappeared from any visible role in Wisconsin politics. He apparently spent a fair amount of time in New York and Connecticut, where his kids went to school and he purchased multiple multimillion-dollar homes.

Then, with the campaign already well underway, he parachuted into the gubernatorial election at the end of April and got Trump’s endorsement. He’s been self-funding his campaign and pledged not to take individual donations — which is a creative way to turn having no in-state conservative connections into an “outsider” campaign posture.

Given that nearly everyone else has supported Kleefisch, Trump’s endorsement is a bit puzzling. It may have had something to do with Trump’s pettiness and grievances over the 2020 election. Trump lost Wisconsin in 2020, but he continues to believe that he actually won it. One person he believes harmed him was Wisconsin Supreme Court justice Brian Hagedorn, who joined the court’s left-leaning members in declining to hear one of Trump’s legal challenges to the election. (Like all the legal challenges the Trump campaign brought in Wisconsin, it was baseless anyway.)

What does Hagedorn have to do with Michels and Kleefisch? Well, in 2019 Hagedorn’s son went to high-school homecoming with Kleefisch’s daughter, which apparently came up in conversation when Michels visited Trump’s home in Mar-a-Lago before announcing his campaign. Even though Michels donated $5,000 to Hagedorn’s campaign in 2018 (Wisconsin Supreme Court justices are elected), Trump was reportedly “bothered” by the homecoming photo and subsequently announced his endorsement of Michels.

Trump had reportedly nicknamed Kleefisch “48 Percent Becky,” referring to the 48.5 percent of the vote she and Walker won in 2018, narrowly losing the election. Again, the unreasoning pettiness is something to behold: Trump is making fun of Kleefisch, who has won three of four statewide races in which she has run, while endorsing Michels, who is 0–1 in statewide races in his career and earned only 44 percent of the vote in that one and only election in 2004. And Trump himself earned a lower percentage of the vote in Wisconsin when he won the state in 2016 than Walker and Kleefisch earned when they lost in 2018. Walker and Kleefisch won with comfortable outright majorities in each of their three victories.

One of the only polls of this year’s race shows Kleefisch and Michels basically tied at around 25 percent, with many voters still undecided. The general election promises to be close, with incumbent Democrat Tony Evers raising plenty of money and the state being one of the most competitive in the country. It’s one of the top flip opportunities for the Republican Governor’s Association. Mike Pence is wise to endorse the only consistent and experienced conservative in the race, Rebecca Kleefisch.

Media

TPUSA Says The View ‘Smeared’ Its Students, Threatens Lawsuit over Nazi Comments

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Founder and president of Turning Point USA Charlie Kirk speaks at CPAC in Oxon Hill, Md., February 28, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

On Tuesday, Turning Point USA (TPUSA) founder and president Charlie Kirk announced that his organization would consider legal action against ABC’s The View after co-host Whoopi Goldberg falsely claimed that the student-focused conservative organization “embrace[d]” neo-Nazis at the group’s eighth annual Student Action Summit and mingled with neo-Nazis at the event.

Co-host Joy Behar said on The View:

Neo-Nazis were out there in the front of the conference with antisemitic slurs and, you know, the Nazi swastika and a picture of a so-called Jewish person with exaggerated features, just like [Joseph] Goebbels did during the Third Reich. It’s the same thing, right out of that same playbook.

Later on the show, The View’s legal team had co-host Sara Haines announce that TPUSA condemned the neo-Nazis and that they were not connected to the organization. Co-host Joy Behar then butted in, saying, “Yeah, but where was DeSantis is what I want to know.” Goldberg quipped, “But you [TPUSA] let them [neo-Nazis] in. You let them in, and you knew what they were. So, you are complicit.”

Following a commercial break, Goldberg made a “clarification” about what occurred, informing the audience that the neo-Nazis were outside protesters and were actually not in the building. Goldberg tried to defend her previous remarks, explaining that her “point was more metaphorical that you embraced them [neo-Nazis] at your thing, I felt.” 

At one point, #SueTheView was the 12th highest trending topic on Twitter. TPUSA’s profile picture on Twitter now is a black screen displaying #SueTheView. 

In a statement to the press regarding the neo-Nazi protesters, TPUSA said the organization “100% condemns these ideologies in the strongest terms.” The group stated that its security team tried to remove the protesters but could not because they were on public property. TPUSA said, “We have no idea who they are or why they were at the convention center. They had nothing to do with TPUSA, our event, or our students.” TPUSA representatives claimed their students initially confronted the protesters but eventually “took the mature route” and left the area.

TPUSA released video reportedly showing students from the convention arguing with the neo-Nazis. TPUSA put quotation marks around “Nazis,” demonstrating their skepticism of the identities of the protesters. The organization implied that the alleged neo-Nazis might have been connected to the left-wing protesters who showed up to condemn the event.

TPUSA sent The View a “cease-and-desist” letter, giving the show until Wednesday to retract statements tying the group to the neo-Nazi protesters before the conservative organization pursues legal action. The letter read:

The false statements of fact intentionally made during The View’s July 25th segment were unquestionably harmful to TPUSA’s reputation and brought the organization and its student affiliates into disrepute with the public, potential donors, and current and future business partners, posing a significant financial loss to the organization.

Today, co-host Sara Haines apologized for the statements made on the show. TPUSA noted that Goldberg still has not retracted her comments lumping the conservative group in with neo-Nazis:

A TPUSA spokesperson seemed unsatisfied with the apology, telling Fox News Digital, Whoopi is the one who said it. She should be the one to offer the apology.” 

Goldberg’s attempt to tie TPUSA to neo-Nazis is interesting, given that she was in hot water earlier this year for saying the Holocaust was not about race. She said in January, “The Holocaust isn’t about race . . . it’s about man’s inhumanity to man . . . these are two white groups of people.” Goldberg was suspended for two weeks following her false and antisemitic remarks.

The View, a show that conservatives love to hate, is known for its liberal co-hosts’ disdain for all things conservative. Unfortunately, given its large viewership, we have to keep an eye on it. The amount of misinformation that the hosts feed their audience daily is shocking and irresponsible. This latest slip is yet another embarrassing moment for the talk show. 

Economy & Business

Inflation Will Be above 10 Percent by November, Reaganomics Architect Says

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Arthur Laffer speaks at the Young America’s Foundation’s National Conservative Student Conference in Washington, D.C., July 27, 2022. (Young America's Foundation/YouTube)

The expert who designed the tax cuts and other economic policies of President Ronald Reagan gave a grim prediction for the country’s current inflation situation on Wednesday.

Economist Arthur Laffer spoke at Young America’s Foundation’s National Conservative Student Conference in Washington, D.C., where he told attendees that predictions from many Democrats that inflation numbers are on the cusp of improving were “nonsense.”

“There is no chance from here to Sunday, frankly, in my view of the world, that we aren’t going to see inflation pop up to above 10 percent by the time we get into the election,” he said.

With fiscal 2022’s Q2 GDP statistics set to be released on Thursday, Laffer also took issue with the Biden administration’s denial that a recession is characterized by two or more consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth.

“We are already in the middle of a recession here in the U.S.,” he said. There are 500,000 fewer people employed today than there were in February of 2020, right before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Laffer, who told students that Americans are living in “one of the worst-performing economies I have ever seen.”

While he was giving his remarks, the Federal Reserve raised rates once again, this time by 0.75 percent, but, Laffer said, its efforts will be fruitless.

“There is no way that the Fed can do anything in the near term that would, in any way, shape, or form, tamp down that inflation in the system. It’s just not going to happen,” he said.

Although the administration has boasted of a recent mild drop in gas prices, the falling cost of gasoline and raw materials can be a harbinger of a recession, Laffer argued.

“One of the real problems of gas prices,” he said, “is that, when you’re going into a recession, copper, lumber, gas, and a lot of other products will fall going into that. That is exactly what you’re seeing now. We have one hell of a bad economy.”

He articulated to the students two theoretical ways of bringing high prices down. The first, which he called the Keynesian approach, relies on reducing demand. As some economists such as Lawrence Summers have suggested, the economy must first go into this type of recession before it can move into prosperity.

But there is also another way of curbing inflation, Laffer said, one that relies on increasing supply rather than decreasing demand. To illustrate it to the students, he drew inspiration from his experience in the Reagan administration, where he attempted to institute the “Five Pillars of Prosperity.”

Those pillars are low taxes, responsible spending, strong currency, minimal regulation, free trade, and generally getting the government out of the way and allowing the economy to solve itself.

After describing his ideal economic platform, Laffer drew parallels to the years just before the 1980 election, in which Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter, who was unpopular due to the combination of low economic growth and high prices, which we call stagflation.

Though there was a dramatic blue wave in the 1976 election after Reagan lost the Republican primary to Gerald Ford, voters saw the unfortunate effects of big-government policy, and they voted accordingly in the next election, allowing conservative economic policy to shine forth, and the same can happen now. 

“I think today is 1978 all over again. I was very depressed six months ago, but now I’ve, all of a sudden, seen the coming of the light. I have not been this optimistic in ages,” he said.

Politics & Policy

In This Term of the Court, the Constitution Made Quite a Comeback

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The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., March 20, 2019. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

The Founders had lived through a lot of high-handed rule by unelected, unaccountable minions of the British crown and sought to eliminate the possibility of a return to such arrangements. Thus, the Constitution put limits on governmental authority, divided it, and sought to ensure that those who made the laws could be removed from office if the people were not happy.

Over time, however, their vision was eroded by the administrative state, Congress’s relinquishing of spending control, and accretions of executive power. If James Madison could look at the way Americans are ruled today, he’d be aghast.

Perhaps, though, the pendulum is swinging back, as Ivan Eland explains in this Independent Institute article.

He writes, “The nation’s founders believed that Congress would and should be the preeminent branch of the new government and created a semi-independent executive and judiciary to push back so that Congress would not become too dominant. Yet in the 234 years since the Constitution was ratified, Congress’s abdication of its duties and powers in important areas has led to a marked diminution of its vital role in the constitutional checks and balances system.”

Indeed, Congress has abdicated its duties, choosing to pass vague laws and turning the actual business of legislating and enforcing over to administrative agencies. The appointed administrators don’t have to weigh the pros and cons of their decisions as would elected representatives, and often they act with incredible arrogance. Just think about the way federal bureaucrats responded to Covid.

Eland nails the truth here: “Regrettably, Congress, no matter which party has control, has become nothing more than a platform for its members to showboat in the media, rather than instead legislating and take the heat or accolades for its actions.”

If the Court continues to decide cases in a way that re-establishes the constitutional framework, that’s certain to cause wailing from “progressives” who put their faith in governmental control (especially federal) over society. Too bad. Bloated, unaccountable government is every bit as undesirable for most people today as it was at the time of the Revolution.

NRI

30 Cabins Left on the NRI Cruise!

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Sky Princess (Courtesy photo)

They’re telling me the ship is now sold out for the NRI cruise, but there are 30 cabins remaining in our allotment until August 1. You can secure your spot today at nricruise.com.

The cruise will go around the Eastern Caribbean from November 12–19, with several NR writers and esteemed conservative-movement leaders. Join us for seven days of leisurely activities, fascinating lectures, and quality conversation. The cruise will be similar to past NR cruises, but will also include exciting new programming, such as breakout sessions, book clubs, and exclusive 1955 Society events.

We’ll be on the Sky Princess, and I’m told by people who know about cruises that she’s one of the best ships out there. Launched in 2019, she was built in Italy and is flagged in Bermuda. The Jones Act doesn’t apply to passenger vessels, but such a ship would be illegal if used to transport cargo within the U.S. — come see what the feds are keeping from us. We’ll set sail from Fort Lauderdale and will include stops at Princess Cays, Bahamas; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Amber Cove, Dominican Republic; and Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos, before returning to Fort Lauderdale.

One of NRI’s primary missions is to preserve and promote Bill Buckley’s legacy. NRI president Lindsay Craig and several trustees will be onboard to discuss ambitious plans to celebrate that legacy leading up to the 100th anniversary of his birth in 2025. As a former Buckley Fellow, that cause is near and dear to my heart.

Confirmed speakers include: Professor William B. Allen, Charles C. W. Cooke, Veronique de Rugy, Kevin Hassett, John Hillen, Rich Lowry, Professor Daniel J. Mahoney, Andrew C. McCarthy, John O’Sullivan, Ramesh Ponnuru, Jimmy Quinn, and, somehow, me.

I’ve never been on a cruise of any sort before, let alone one where I can talk about free markets with a bunch of other people who want to talk about such things. I’m grateful to NRI for letting me tag along and hope to see you there.

If you’re considering joining us and have any questions, please contact Jason Wise (jason@nrinstitute.org or 203-273-3628).

Health Care

Asserted Without Evidence

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Rachel (formerly Richard) Levine, Biden’s assistant health secretary, says: “Gender affirming care is lifesaving, medically necessary, age-appropriate, and a critical tool for healthcare providers.” Every single one of these assertions is false. To invoke Hitchens’s razor: “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”

Film & TV

The Gray Man Is Excellent Entertainment for Action Enthusiasts

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Ryan Gosling in The Gray Man. (Netflix)

If you are like me, you have probably watched countless action movies and rewatched scenes with unique fight choreography and creative firearm use. Netflix’s The Gray Man, directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, is the type of action movie that has fight scenes that you will watch over and over.

The fight scenes in this $200 million film — one of Netflix’s highest-budget films — are creative and engaging. While the characters and plot are relatively surface-level and unoriginal, the action scenes, the acting, visual effects, and revolutionary direction are truly entertaining.

The plot is typical for a blockbuster action film. The movie is about a former prisoner, played by Ryan Gosling, who is given a chance for freedom by participating in a government-sponsored kill squadron. Given the codename Six, he retrieves kompromat on high-ranking government officials, who spend the movie chasing and trying to kill him. 

The fight scenes are astounding and ingenious. One of the first takes place in a cargo aircraft between Six and a group of henchmen who have been directed by his mentor (Billy Bob Thornton) to kill him. The fight features complex mixed martial arts, and the protagonist displays something often overlooked in action films: situational awareness and ingenuity. The protagonist, Six, lights a flare and carries it while he fights off the goons, which allows him to hide his movements during the fight. Later, when Six is trapped in a hole by an enemy, he breaks a nearby water pipe, which allows him to escape the trap (and his imminent death).

Gosling is not the only actor with excellent moves. Famous South Indian actor Dhanush and former Marvel actor Chris Evans play compelling and captivating antagonists in the film. In particular, Dhanush displays incredible prowess as an action star and entertains the audience with fascinating moves. Perhaps Netflix’s goal was to broaden the audience for its high-budget film by employing him, and his inclusion makes the film much more interesting and engaging.

As mentioned before, the plot and characters are the movie’s weakest components. The plot has little originality, and most of the characters, namely Ana de Armas’s role, are barely fleshed out enough for the audience to care about them. Even the protagonist, with his rugged and indifferent personality, barely evokes sympathy with a disjointed and confusing abusive-father subplot. It is clear the Russo brothers wanted to emphasize the amazing action sequences, at the expense of plot and character development. 

Overall, the movie succeeds in its mission to be entertainment for action-movie fanatics. No complex plot, deep characters, or profound life lessons. But it delivers on its promise for incredible and unprecedented action sequences. Too often, we expect life-changing artistic movies, but it is important to remember that film is also entertainment. In that respect, The Gray Man surpasses expectations.

World

Who Is Our Ukraine Policy For?

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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky visits positions of Ukrainian service members in Dnipropetrovsk Region, Ukraine, July 8, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters)

Seven in ten Americans say inflation is “a very big problem for the country,” according to a May public opinion poll from the Pew Research Center. That makes the issue far and away the most pressing concern in the minds of the public — some 15 points above “the affordability of health care,” which 55 percent of Americans ranked as “a very big problem” in the survey.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky might not be reading American public-opinion polls, but he’s certainly aware inflation is a problem around the world. So it was odd for him to dismiss inflation as “nothing” in his interview yesterday with Piers Morgan. When asked about the “growing number of Americans who don’t think the country should be spending so much money on a war in Europe when there are so many problems domestically,” Zelensky responded that Ukrainians were “fighting for absolutely communal values” and that “therefore, inflation is nothing, COVID is nothing. Ask those people who lost their children, their peace, their property at the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion. Who is thinking about masks and COVID? Who is thinking about inflation? These things are secondary.”

It should go without saying, of course, that for the Ukrainians fighting for their lives, the financial concerns of Americans struggling to make ends meet here at home would seem trivial. High gas prices 4,000 miles away don’t mean much when you’re in a war for the survival of your nation. But Zelensky was talking about U.S. foreign policy. He wasn’t only arguing that inflation and Covid didn’t matter to Ukrainians in the face of Russia’s invasion. He was arguing that, relatively speaking, it shouldn’t matter to Americans; their domestic concerns should not affect their willingness to support the “communal values” for which Ukraine fights, values he believes “are professed in the United States and in Europe.” Zelensky adds that the “integrity” of the United States is at stake in the conflict.

With respect to Zelensky, he is not the one who gets to determine American foreign policy. Call me old-school, but I tend to think American foreign policy should be oriented toward serving the interests of the American people. We can unite in solidarity with the Ukrainian people’s struggle against Putin’s aggression, providing aid to help with their war effort, but our assistance should be dictated by — and directed toward — the American interest. As Ukraine’s leader, Zelensky is obviously going to want us to subordinate our domestic concerns to those of the country he leads. But America should think of its own interests first. Appealing to financially insecure Americans by downplaying their problems is, to put it mildly, not a recipe for winning over hearts and minds in the nation that has been Ukraine’s most generous backer during the war. (This, alongside a Vogue photo shoot, doesn’t strike me as prudent optics either.)

If Zelensky wants to make a case for continued American support, he should be able to explain why such policies are in the American interest. And he should explain it in concrete, material terms, without abstract appeals to vaguely-defined “communal values” or side-swipes at struggling working- and middle-class Americans who are already predisposed to wonder how sending billions of their tax dollars to a conflict in a far-away country is serving their communities.

Zelensky and the Ukrainian people have been courageous in their fight to resist Putin’s advances, and the moral case for their cause is unambiguous. But he should not be so dismissive of America’s own problems as he makes the case for continued American support. We are an exceptionally generous country, but not infinitely so. To Americans, inflation is not “nothing”; it matters a great deal. Zelensky should be able to convey that he understands this. If he fails to do so, he might find his cause suffering in America as a result.

Politics & Policy

Can the Republic Be Saved? We Should Bet That It Can

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(spukkato/iStock/Getty Images)

I am catching up to the spring issue of the Claremont Review of Books in extremely dilatory fashion. One of the highlights of this issue is, unsurprisingly, William Voegeli, CRB senior editor. Voegeli is always worth reading, capable of distilling complex issues and multiple works into a trenchant analysis, at once erudite and digestible.

This time, his subject is a modest one: er, conservatism. Surveying several recent books as well as current political developments, Voegeli charts a course between the Scylla of Lincoln Project–style anti-Trump monomania and the Charybdis of apocalyptic Trump adulation and late-republic political desperation. The whole thing is worth reading, but this part of his conclusion, addressed to many of his compatriots, is especially worthwhile:

How, then, do conservatives navigate the foggy question of whether or not a republic is too far gone to be conserved? The least bad approach, I submit, is a variant of Pascal’s Wager: faced with a quandary in which we do not, and fear that we cannot, know the answer to an important question, we should select the answer that will have the least damaging consequences if we turn out to be wrong. So, which would be the bigger mistake—to keep fighting to preserve a republic that turns out to be beyond resuscitation, or to give up defending one whose vigor might yet be restored?

The question answers itself, especially in the American context. Those who abandon conservatism for counter-revolution are either fighting to reestablish America’s founding principles, or for a new founding based on new principles that will prove more resilient than those of 1776 and 1787. In the former case, there’s no functional difference between conservation and counter-revolution. Both are interchangeable terms describing the effort to make principles proclaimed in the 18th century work as well as they can in the 21st. In the latter case, the counter-revolutionaries need to explain why their principles are superior to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison’s. The failure to provide such an explanation would not only show an indecent disrespect for the opinions of mankind but vindicate fears that the counter-revolutionaries are no less enthused about chaos and averse to clarity about ultimate objectives than the revolutionaries they war against.

The central conservative impulse is that because valuable things are easy to break but hard to replace, every effort should be made to conserve them while they can be conserved. Conservatives, opposed to assisted suicide as a medical procedure, should be equally reluctant to perform it as a political procedure on a republic that, however debilitated, has time and again proven resilient, confounding those prepared to write its autopsies and deliver its eulogies.

Wise words from a wise man.

White House

Biden One Year Ago: I Always Want to Hear the Truth, Even If the News Is Bad

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks during a visit to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in McLean, Va., July 27, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

President Biden, one year ago today, speaking to members of the intelligence community at the National Counterterrorism Center on the Liberty Crossing Intelligence Campus in McLean, Va.:

Give me your best judgment of what you think is — your best judgment is better than almost anybody else’s judgment in the whole world — even if the news is hard, even if the news is bad.

I can’t make the decisions I need to make if I’m not getting the best unvarnished, unbiased judgments you can give me.  I’m not looking to hear nice things.  I’m looking to hear what you think to be the truth.

By the end of the summer, we knew the president did not want to hear what the intelligence community believed about the situation in Afghanistan, and the risks involved with the withdrawal from that country:

Classified assessments by American spy agencies over the summer painted an increasingly grim picture of the prospect of a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and warned of the rapid collapse of the Afghan military, even as President Biden and his advisers said publicly that was unlikely to happen as quickly, according to current and former American government officials.

By July, many intelligence reports grew more pessimistic, questioning whether any Afghan security forces would muster serious resistance and whether the government could hold on in Kabul, the capital. President Biden said on July 8 that the Afghan government was unlikely to fall and that there would be no chaotic evacuations of Americans similar to the end of the Vietnam War.

The drumbeat of warnings over the summer raise questions about why Biden administration officials, and military planners in Afghanistan, seemed ill-prepared to deal with the Taliban’s final push into Kabul, including a failure to ensure security at the main airport and rushing thousands more troops back to the country to protect the United States’ final exit.

A few months later, Biden insisted no one had told him about the risk of the Afghan government collapsing, or the risks of withdrawal at that time.

LESTER HOLT: On the subject of American citizens, I have to draw your attention to that Army report, an investigative report that’s come out about the lead-up to the withdrawal from Afghanistan. It interviewed many military officials and officers who said the administration ignored the handwriting on the wall. Another described trying to get folks in the embassy ready to evacuate and countering, you know, people who are in essentially in denial of this situation. Does any of that ring true to you?

BIDEN:  No. No. That’s not what I was told.

 HOLT: You were told that the U.S. administration officials were prepared, they knew it was time to get out–

BIDEN: No.  When I was told, no one told me that. Look, there was no good time to get out. But if we had not gotten out, they acknowledged we would have had to put a hell of a lot more troops back in.

Biden went on to contend that withdrawal at any time included risks, which was not the question he was asked. Holt returned to the question of whether Biden was warned, or whether the administration ignored the handwriting on the wall.

HOLT: I just want to clarify, are you rejecting the conclusions or the the accounts that are in this Army report?

BIDEN: Yes, I am. 

HOLT: So they’re not— not true?

BIDEN: I’m rejecting them.

In fact, throughout Biden’s presidency, he often demonstrates the opposite of welcoming the truth, even if the news is bad. On inflation, on the border, on Covid testing, on the supply-chain crisis, on the baby-formula shortage, Biden often rejects bad news or ominous projections and insists that his approach is working.

Energy & Environment

Stifling Food Production in the Name of Saving the Planet

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Arulappan Ideijody, 42, plucks tea leaves at an estate, amid the country’s economic crisis, in Bogawantalawa, Sri Lanka, April 29, 2022. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)

Global warming hysteria now has some governments forcing cuts in the use of nitrogen fertilizers to “save the planet.” But that will mean less food for hungry people and collapsing farm economies.

Witness: After Sri Lanka’s government restricted non-organic fertilizer use, the economy and government collapsed. From the Vox story:

Sri Lanka’s economy is in free fall. Runaway inflation reached 54.6 percent last month, and the South Asian country is now headed toward bankruptcy. Nine in ten Sri Lankan families are skipping meals, and many are standing in line for days in the hope of acquiring fuel.

Several causes led to this debacle — including restricting artificial fertilizers:

The agrochemical ban caused rice production to drop 20 percent in the six months after it was implemented, causing a country that had been self-sufficient in rice production to spend $450 million on rice imports — much more than the $400 million that would’ve been saved by banning fertilizer imports.

The production of tea, Sri Lanka’s literal cash crop — it’s the country’s biggest export — fell by 18 percent. The government has had to spend hundreds of millions on subsidies and compensation to farmers in an effort to make up for the loss of productivity.

Witness: The Netherlands is doing the same thing to its ag sector, sparking angry protests by farmers. From the Reuters story:

At the heart of the protest are targets introduced last month to reduce harmful nitrogen compounds by 2030, the latest attempt to tackle a problem that has plagued the country for years. read more

Reductions are necessary in emissions of nitrogen oxides from farm animal manure and from the use of ammonia in fertilizer, the government says, estimating a 30% reduction in the number of livestock is needed.

Witness: Not to be outdone, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans to stomp on Canada’s food production capabilities too. From the Toronto Sun story:

Provincial agriculture ministers are expressing frustration with the Trudeau government over plans to effectively reduce fertilizer use by Canada’s farmers in the name of fighting climate change.

A meeting of federal and provincial ministers wrapped up in Saskatoon on Friday with several provinces saying they are disappointed.

The federal government is looking to impose a requirement to reduce nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizers saying it is a greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. While the Trudeau government says they want a 30% reduction in emissions, not fertilizer, farm producer groups say that at this point, reducing nitrous oxide emissions can’t be done without reducing fertilizer use.

These restrictions are being imposed just as the cost of fertilizer is soaring because of sanctions on Russia. From the Reuters story:

Combined, Russia and Belarus accounted for more than 40% of global exports of potash last year, one of three critical nutrients used to boost crop yields, Dutch lender Rabobank said this month. Additionally, Russia accounted for about 22% of global exports of ammonia, 14% of the world’s urea exports and about 14% of monoammonium phosphate (MAP) – all key kinds of fertilizers.

Sanctions have disrupted sales of fertilizer and crops from Russia. Many Western banks and traders are steering clear of Russian supplies for fear of running afoul of the rapidly changing rules, while shipping firms are avoiding the Black Sea region due to safety concerns.

It all amounts to a double whammy for the global food supply.

Add it all up: bankrupt farmers, empty market shelves, less food on the table, and dramatically inflated prices. Only the technocratic class could be this stupid.

Before the election, some enterprising journalists should ask President Biden and the Secretary of Agriculture if our government plans to similarly stifle food production by restricting the use of some fertilizers. This could be an important issue in the midterms.

Health Care

‘Father’s Milk’

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The most disturbing creep of trans activist language is in medicine. We’ve come to expect euphemisms in describing controversial treatments for gender dysphoria (e.g., “gender-affirming care”), but the use of activist jargon to describe women’s health issues is something else.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has released new guidance on inclusive language for those who do not “conform to a binary man/woman dichotomy.” The Times of London reports:

The document also says that trans women should be put on female wards despite controversy over the issue as some patients self-identifying as women retain male sex organs. It details best practice for pregnancies in transgender men — those who identify as male but can carry a baby as they were born with female reproductive organs.

The royal college urges staff to ask men whether they want to “chestfeed” their baby, adding: “For trans men who choose to chestfeed, offer chestfeeding support in the same manner as for cis women [women whose gender identity matches their sex].” This section on “infant feeding” contains seven references to chestfeeding, which is seen as a gender-neutral term, mentioning breasts or breast milk twice.

Similarly, a position statement from the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine suggests “father’s milk” as a “gender inclusive” term.