White House

Biden, One Year Ago: ‘We Have a Pandemic for Those Who Haven’t Gotten a Vaccination’

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President Joe Biden participates in a town hall-style interview in Cincinnati, Ohio, July 21, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

This morning, White House Covid-19 response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said that he had spoken to President Biden and his doctors and said the president is “doing just fine . . . as of about 10 p.m. last night he’s doing well. . . . No fevers, no change in symptoms, the dry cough, the runny nose, those were the two main things that he was feeling yesterday.”

That’s good to hear; hopefully the president’s infection comes and goes like a summer cold.

Last summer, the effort to vaccinate as many Americans as possible was in full swing, and it’s clear the president oversold the protective powers of the vaccine. President Biden, during a CNN town hall, one year ago today:

DON LEMON: So, you said last month that this — that the virus is in retreat.  Do you still feel that way?  Is that still the case?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, the virus — look, here’s the — it’s real simple: We have a pandemic for those who haven’t gotten a vaccination.  It’s that basic, that simple.

A little later, Biden added:

And so, what I say to people who are worried about a new pandemic is: Get vaccinated.  If you’re vaccinated, even if you do catch the “virus,” quote, unquote — like people talk about it in normal terms — you’re in overwhelm- — not many people do.  If you do, you’re not likely to get sick.  You’re probably going to be symptomless.  You’re not going to be in a position where you — where your life is in danger.

As many Americans learned throughout 2021, and in particular during the Omicron wave in late 2021 and early 2022, vaccination and booster shots do not prevent you from catching the virus or having symptoms. Thankfully, the vaccines and boosters dramatically reduce the likelihood of severe infections and serious outcomes like hospitalization or death.

Also during that press conference, Biden said, “Those over the age of twelve who are able to get vaccinated — if you’re vaccinated, you shouldn’t wear a mask.” By November, Biden was urging Americans to wear masks indoors again.

Health Care

Covid Medical Study: Natural Immunity as Effective as Vaccines

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Bottles of COVID-19 vaccine before the opening of a mass vaccination site in Queens, N.Y., in 2021. (Seth Wenig/Pool via Reuters)

Well, what do you know: A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine from data “based on the total population of Qatar” has concluded that natural immunity is as effective as vaccines at protecting against serious Covid infection, and that a combination of the two (with boosters) provides the most protection. From “Effects of Previous Infection and Vaccination on Symptomatic Omicron Infections” (my emphasis):

No notable differences were observed in the effectiveness against BA.1 and BA.2 of previous infection, vaccination, and hybrid immunity. Protection from previous infection with variants other than omicron against reinfection was moderate and durable, but protection of primary-series vaccination against infection was negligible by 6 months after the second dose.

Recent booster vaccination had moderate effectiveness, whereas hybrid immunity from previous infection and recent booster vaccination conferred the strongest protection against infection, at approximately 80%. All five forms of immunity were associated with strong and durable protection against Covid-19–related hospitalization and death.

It seems as if natural immunity provides as good protection as the two-vaccination regimen:

The protection conferred by hybrid immunity of previous infection and two-dose vaccination was similar to that of previous infection alone, at approximately 50%, which suggests that this protection originated from the previous infection and not from vaccination. This finding is also explained by the short-lived protection of primary-series vaccination against omicron infections

But booster inoculations did help:

However, the highest effectiveness was seen with hybrid immunity from previous infection and recent booster vaccination (approximately 80%). This finding provides evidence for the benefit of vaccination, even for persons with a previous infection. Strikingly, this protection is what one would expect if previous infection and booster vaccination each acted independently. Because previous infection reduced the risk of infection by 50% and booster vaccination reduced it by 60%, the reduction in the risk of infection for both combined, if they acted fully independently, would be 1−(1−0.5)×(1−0.6)=0.8, which is an 80% reduction, just as observed.

What should we take from this? The time has come to put the vaccine-mandate controversy to bed. So, while vaccines and boosters certainly seem to be worth taking:

Even though the five forms of immunity investigated showed large differences in protection against symptomatic infection that ranged from 0 to 80%, they all showed strong protection against Covid-19–related hospitalization and death, at an effectiveness of more than 70%. This suggests that any form of previous immunity, whether induced by previous infection or vaccination, is associated with strong and durable protection against Covid-19–related hospitalization and death.

Meaning: Natural immunity should count as much as vaccinated status in determining risk of serious illness. More broadly, coercion to force vaccination is not defensible as a matter of policy. The mandates should be repealed. Military members who refused vaccination should not be discharged. People in the private sector who lost their jobs because of the vaccine hysteria should be reinstated. Anyone adversely impacted by their personal decision to remain un-vaxxed should be made whole.

U.S.

Good Fights

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Senator Daniel Inouye takes a moment to look at the National Japanese-American Memorial to Patriotism during World War II in the course of the opening ceremony in Washington, D.C., June 29, 2001. (WP/Reuters)

My Impromptus column has a host of issues today, as is its wont, starting with ballet and ending with golf. One of the issues in between is an old one: What does it mean to be an American? Last week, I was in Washington, and passed the Japanese-American memorial, near the Capitol. I saw these words:

Japanese by blood
Hearts and minds American
With honor unbowed
Bore the sting of injustice
For future generations

In my column, I reflect on this a little bit, and quote Peter Schramm, the late political scientist. He was a friend of NR, a friend of many of us. Wonderful and invaluable guy. With his family, he got out of Hungary, when he was ten. Before they left, his father told him, “We were born Americans, but in the wrong place.”

I have known others who feel just the same way. Some of them have been able to gain citizenship in our country, some have not.

Anyway, after I wrote my column, I thought of Francis Fukuyama, another political scientist. I podcasted with him earlier this year, talking about his life and work. Some of his family was interned during the war, in Colorado.

When Frank was growing up in New York, he didn’t know a single other Japanese American. School could be pretty rough (smart as Frank was), with kids calling him a “Chinaman” and so on. They demanded to know, “What are you?”

Frank consulted his father about this. And his father said, “Tell them you’re an American.” That was the fact. Said Francis Fukuyama to me, “If America doesn’t have a creedal identity, then I’m not an American, and I believe I am an American — so I have a big personal stake in this.”

And by “this,” he meant the question of what it means to be an American.

Before I leave, let me publish one letter on a subject that I have been thinking about, and writing about, a lot lately: the effect of wokeness — the scourge of wokeness — on the arts, and on music in particular. A reader writes,

Hi, Mr. Nordlinger,

I’m reading your article from today on wokeness (having listened with enjoyment to your appearance on the Remnant podcast), and one statement hits close to home. You mention music departments and their downgrading of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, et al.

This fall, I will be starting a DMA [in a particular branch of music at a particular university]. I’m incredibly excited for the program, but during the interview process I was lightly castigated by a faculty member for mentioning that I hope to spread a love for Western classical music. I don’t think this was her actual opinion, but the opinion she thought we need to have to succeed in these times. She said that the music program had recently held off a push to dissolve all orchestras and most of the choirs because they are too “Western-centric.”

As I felt during my master’s studies, I just hope I can get in and out without breaking some unwritten code and before someone decides that my program should not exist. I believe my professors feel as I do, but have no idea about administration.

Anyway, I appreciate your writing on music and politics both. Keep fighting the good fight.

Thank you. And you too. You too.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Flat Tax

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Jonathan Williams and Nick Stark of ALEC write about states adopting flat taxes:

The drive for a flat tax, started by the great Steve Forbes many years ago, may have stalled at the federal level, but the idea is finding new life in the 50 “laboratories of democracy.” As 46 states just kicked off their new fiscal year on July 1, and we reflect on some of the major policy changes that have transpired, it is evident that a flat-tax revolution is already underway.

In 2022, a new record of four states — Iowa, Mississippi, Georgia, and Arizona — have made the leap from a progressive tax on personal income to a flat tax.

Read the whole thing here.

Education

When an Accrediting Agency Becomes a Menace

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College-accrediting agencies supposedly ensure educational quality. They seldom actually do that, but increasingly they use their muscle to compel schools to go along with their ideological visions.

In today’s Martin Center article, Todd J. Williams explains what happened at Cairn University, where he serves as president. The trouble centers around the university’s long-standing Social Work program. That program was accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Several years ago, the CSWE began to make life miserable for Cairn’s program.

Writes Williams, “These issues concerned both CSWE’s specific requirements, standards, and criteria, and its trajectory on social and cultural issues. The university considered these measures to be an example of accreditation overreach and deemed CSWE’s requirements incompatible with the school’s religious and theological commitments.”

For one thing, CSWE demanded faculty-to-student ratios that were inflexible and quite burdensome for the small school. It’s impossible for a graduate to get into the field of social work without a degree from a CSWE-accredited institution, and that gives the accreditor tremendous leverage.

Then came the ideological demands. Williams continues, “In 2021, CSWE released a draft of highly politicized accreditation standards and criteria that delineated its expectations for curricula, student outcomes, and program ethos. This move further represented a degree of outside control that Cairn viewed as overreaching and untenable.”

When Cairn reached the decision to close its Social Work program, CSWE felt the need to denounce the university.

Williams concludes, “What is clear is that CSWE was not satisfied in this case with the education of students and the good things that thoughtful accreditation bodies can do. Instead, it demonstrated an unacceptable level of overreach and a disregard for any notion of institutional sovereignty. This is, as Cairn decided, untenable. Institutional missions and distinctives will never be protected if private colleges do not draw a line and say, ‘This far, and no farther.’”

Elections

Democrats Are Making a Mistake by Redefining ‘MAGA’

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Then-President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Kenosha Regional Airport in Kenosha, Wis., November 2, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

An illustrative item:

Democrats . . . have developed a party-wide strategy aimed at tagging Republican candidates in close elections as “MAGA Republicans,” a phrase they have poll-tested as off-putting for swing voters. In recent weeks, they have argued that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the nationwide right to abortion, the continued GOP resistance to some gun regulations despite mass shootings and the ongoing investigation into the Capitol riot all show a broader extremism across the Republican Party.

Here’s the problem: to the extent that you want to isolate “MAGA” and make the identification with Donald Trump as politically toxic now as it was in 2018, you really should focus on the things that are uniquely Trumpy: January 6, “Stop the Steal,” support for Trump 2024, Trump’s general personal outrageousness and transgressiveness, the worst flavors of Trumpism.

Democrats being Democrats, however, they cannot resist instead defining “MAGA” (or, in Joe Biden’s beloved phrase, “ultra MAGA”) as people who stand for the stuff Republicans always promised on policy, such as firm opposition to abortion and strong protection for gun rights. Identifying those things with MAGA only strengthens Trump and his MAGA brand within the Republican Party while diluting the Trump-specific turnoffs that helped Democrats take the House and several governorships in the last midterm cycle. Is that what Democratic strategists want?

International

A Bank, Climate, and the Chinese Communist Party

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HSBC logo is seen on a branch bank in the financial district in New York, August 7, 2019 (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

When Stuart Kirk, global head of “responsible investing” (think for a moment about the inanity of that title: What institution is going to admit to irresponsible investing?) at HSBC, a large bank, unwisely told the truth about the financial risk posed by climate change (in terms of typical investing and lending time horizons, it’s inconsequential) he was suspended, and senior executives took pains to distance themselves from the heretic. Kirk has now resigned.

At the end of an article that I wrote shortly after Kirk made his comments, I argued that his suspension was:

a perverse compliment of sorts. HSBC, which does a lot of business in China (that land of net-zero enthusiastsis the bank that, in 2020, gave its backing to Beijing’s new security laws in Hong Kong and, more recently, has been asked by U.S. lawmakers why it has been freezing the accounts of activists working for democracy in Hong Kong, as well as those of independent media organizations and other groups.

Well, now for some more HSBC news.

The Financial Times (my emphasis added):

HSBC has become the first foreign lender to install a Chinese Communist party committee in its investment banking subsidiary in the country…

A CCP committee, which can be made up of several branches, is required by Chinese companies law but not yet widely enforced among foreign finance groups. It is typically formed of three or more employees who are also members of the Chinese Communist party. The committees serve a dual purpose as a workers’ union and the means by which a party representative is installed within a company’s top ranks, sometimes in a director or management role.

HSBC’s move will pressure other foreign banks to follow suit. Some have been examining whether they are required to do so after taking full ownership of their mainland securities and brokerage operations in the past two years, said several senior people at those institutions.

“It is significant in the sense of where [HSBC] is allocating its future,” said one of the people. “It is increasing its ties with an autocracy that clearly has views on how far it wants to reach into private companies. It is another brick in that wall.”

HSBC does, as I noted above, a lot of business in China, and has done for a long time (it was founded in Hong Kong in the 19th century) and, for so long as it has a presence there, it will have to comply with what passes for law in China.

Let’s turn to HSBC’s website and its section on ESG:

We are committed to building a business for the long term, developing relationships that last. We maintain high standards of governance and meet our responsibilities to society.

I, for one, am not entirely convinced that accepting the installation of one of these committees, the representatives, effectively, of a genocidal authoritarian regime, is entirely compatible with good governance. I’m not sure how it fits in with the “S” (social) of ESG, either.

HSBC denies there’s a problem (via the FT):

HSBC said in a statement that “[e]mployees of private firms in China are able to form a Party branch. These branches are common and can be set up by as few as three employees. It is important to note that management has no role in establishing such groups, they do not influence the direction of the business, and have no formal role in the day to day activities of the business.”

Normally, I’d believe that about as much as I once believed China’s promises to preserve Hong Kong’s (relative) freedoms, which, for the avoidance of doubt, was not all. However, maybe HSBC’s bosses are sufficiently trusted that in this case it’s true. Not all puppets need strings.

Meanwhile, back to the FT:

Seven global banks control investment banking operations in mainland China — HSBC, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, UBS and Deutsche Bank — however, only HSBC has so far set up a CCP committee, according to multiple people familiar with the matter. The other banks declined to comment.

“There was an internal email that said we might need to do something, but for the time being . . . it is not yet compulsory,” said the Asia head of one international lender.

Executives of US banks are particularly worried about the optics of potentially exposing strategic decisions and client data to the CCP, several told the Financial Times.

Ah yes, the optics.

The FT:

A senior regional executive for a Wall Street bank said there had been a “longstanding understanding” with the China Securities and Regulatory Commission that most foreign securities or brokerage companies do not require CCP committees. Little behind-the-scenes pressure has been exerted so far, the person added.

However, China’s companies’ act states that “Communist party organisations shall . . . be set up to carry out activities of the party” within businesses, which “shall provide the necessary conditions for the party organisations to carry out their activities”.

“HSBC is on the right side of this one,” said another person with knowledge of its decision. “You don’t second guess the authorities in China. If they catch up they put you in the sin bin. Any American bank who isn’t doing the same is playing a dangerous game.”

Those banks are already playing a dangerous game by being in China. They should get out.

But in the meantime, when they, their investment management arms, or their affiliates, start talking up ESG, dismiss it for the hypocrisy that it is.

ESG, China: Choose one (or better, choose, neither).

White House

It’s a Low Bar for Grandpa Joe

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on climate change and renewable energy at the site of the former Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Mass., July 20, 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Yesterday, Biden said that he has cancer. While giving a speech about the effects of emissions from oil refineries near his childhood home in Claymont, Del., Biden commented, “That’s why I and so damn many other people I grew up with have cancer”:

The White House rushed to do the cleanup job for the president. Andrew Bates, White House deputy press secretary, pointed to a tweet by Glenn Kessler that described how Biden had non-melanoma skin cancers removed before taking office. 

Still, the reaction to the comment — or rather the non-reaction — is telling. Greg Price, senior digital strategist at X Strategies, makes a great point:

It’s somewhat amazing that when our POTUS speaks, we don’t necessarily believe what he says. Biden declared that he has a potentially deadly disease, and many of us just assumed it was a gaffe. 

This also makes me wonder what happened to the Washington Post Fact Checker team. During the Trump presidency, the Post tracked all of Trump’s alleged “false or misleading statements” — 30,573 of them. Yet, when the candidate they supported took office, they stopped keeping track. Given Biden’s myriad lies, misleading statements, and gaffes, I think they should probably get that team up and running again.

Politics & Policy

Rubio Introduces Bill to Start Child-Support Payments at Conception

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Senator Marco Rubio listens during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., May 26, 2021. (Stefani Reynolds/Reuters)

On Wednesday, Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) filed the “Unborn Child Support Act,” which would amend the Social Security Act to enable women to demand child support from their babies’ biological fathers starting from conception.

The proposed law appears to be in direct response to abortion proponents who demand that pro-lifers allow these payments to occur prenatally, if the unborn child truly does carry as much value as one who is born.

It seems that any time the pro-life movement achieves a major victory on abortion, there is a cacophony of voices that repeat something to the effect of: “If life begins at conception, so does child support.”

As it turns out, pro-lifers agree, as Rubio’s efforts illustrate. Each time progressives attempt to make fun of the movement by advocating such policies, they are met with resounding approval from their political opponents.

We saw a similar situation in Texas recently, when a pregnant woman was pulled over for driving in the HOV lane, which legally counted as driving alone. She told the officers who gave her a ticket that she should be allowed to drive in the lane, because Texas homicide law counts unborn babies as people.

I believe National Review’s Kevin Williamson spoke for many pro-life people when he wrote that her case “seems obvious enough” and that unborn children should be counted as legal persons in laws regarding both murder and traffic.

None of these policies are the “gotchas” that abortion proponents think they are. Unlike the straw men the progressives usually attack in the debate, pro-lifers truly believe that the unborn child is just that, a child who is entitled to the same rights and privileges as a born one.

That is why we oppose their murder, and that is also why we are receptive to proposals that would give them other protections enjoyed by people who who live outside their mother’s wombs. For that reason, let’s put all these great suggestions from abortion proponents into action. Child support, HOV utilization, you name it!

Pro-lifers are obviously game for these, but are abortion proponents? Of course not. Ja’han Jones of MSNBC has already published a column calling Rubio’s bill “nothing but a gimmick” meant to cover up Republicans’ “refusal to back social welfare policies that help pregnant people.”

After the story of the pregnant driver in Texas gained national attention, Jill Filipovic published a lengthy piece for CNN, arguing that proponents of abortion should not be trying to let pregnant women drive in the HOV lane.

Doing so, she said, would help the pro-life movement pass laws guaranteeing fetal personhood, taking America to “farcical ends.” Under that precedent, pro-lifers would do such things as ban abortion, in vitro fertilization, and abortifacient birth control, she argued.

The efforts of Jones, Filipovic, and other progressives to discredit these types of protections for the unborn reveal that counterarguments hiding behind child support and the rest are not serious.

Nevertheless, we should still listen to them. We agree with the scientific truth that says life begins at conception and with the philosophical one that affirms the dignity of the unborn. We may, however, not always act consistently with this belief, so it is sometimes good to let the other side hold us accountable.

In the end, we know that we will protect the unborn in more contentious issues such as abortion, as well as in more lighthearted ones such as HOV controversies. The challenge is getting progressives to work with us to do the same.

Law & the Courts

It Isn’t Contradictory to Support Something, While Believing It Won’t Happen

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U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Will Dunham/Reuters)

Today, we published an editorial making the case for Republicans to reject the same-sex marriage bill. Gay marriage is one of those issues on which I happen to disagree with most of my colleagues on the underlying issue. That is, while I agree that Obergefell was bad constitutional law, on the substance of the issue, I have long supported allowing same-sex couples to get married. Had it ever come up for a vote where I lived prior to Obergefell, I would have voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, and nothing that has happened in the post-Obergefell world has caused me to change my mind. That having been said, one of the reactions to the editorial that I find odd is the idea that there is some sort of inherent contradiction in being opposed to same-sex marriage on the one hand, and dismissing concerns that Obergefell would ever be overturned. 

I support plans to transition Social Security to a system of personal accounts and would not shy away from defending that unpopular view. But I do not think Republicans are about to privatize Social Security. There is no contradiction here. In one case I am stating my ideological preferences, and in the other case I am simply stating reality. 

Even a judge who believes that Obergefell was wrongly decided at the time could still oppose overturning it. That’s because overturning it would raise issues that striking down Roe did not. As the Supreme Court acknowledged in decisions in both Casey and Dobbs, “reproductive planning could take virtually immediate account of any sudden restoration of state authority to ban abortions.” In contrast, the reliance interests arguments are much stronger when it comes to Obergefell given that same-sex couples have already been making lifetime commitments for years based on the outcome of the decision. Unraveling the ruling is simply not tenable.  

The reality is that there is currently one vote on the Supreme Court to revisit Obergefell, which we know because Justice Clarence Thomas was the only one on the Court who signed on to the idea of revisiting it. Simply put, there isn’t any tension between opposing Obergefell on the one hand, and acknowledging the obvious political and legal state of play on the other.

International

The Double-Edged Sword of Corporatism

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(Fabian Bimmer/Reuters)

CMA CGM is a French ocean carrier, one of the largest in the world. Like all ocean carriers, it has made extraordinary profits in the past year due to skyrocketing shipping prices. The French government would now like some of those profits.

Bloomberg:

A group of French lawmakers is calling for a temporary tax of as much as 25% on what it calls the “superprofits” of energy and transport giants including CMA CGM, TotalEnergies SE and Engie SA. The money is meant to help fund measures aimed at protecting consumers’ purchasing power. While the plan doesn’t have government backing, it has shone a spotlight on the closely held Marseille-based shipping firm whose net income more than tripled to $7.2 billion in the first quarter.

CEO Rodolphe Saade defended CMA CGM in a hearing before the French senate, saying the money is being invested in the future of the company and going to benefit the French economy. This portion of his remarks is worth highlighting:

“When my freight rates were at $350, where were you?” Saade asked senators during the hearing. “We weren’t sure at one point if we would get through the week. No one came to speak with us or say something. We had to figure it out.”

For context, the Freightos Baltic Index currently puts East Asia-to-Mediterranean rates at around $12,000.

Now, nobody should shed a tear for CMA CGM here. They’re doing very well. But the French government’s attitude toward the carrier is worth considering.

In ordinary times, ocean carriers make very small profits. They are often propped up by their native governments. Back in 2013, the French government invested $150 million in CMA CGM, and a representative of the sovereign wealth fund got a seat on the board of directors.

In May 2020, CMA CGM got a $1.1 billion loan, 70 percent guaranteed by the French government. The initial government stance on Covid was that transportation companies would need to be bailed out because they were vital to the economy and would go under without government help.

That turned out to be wrong, as ocean shipping became more important than ever before, and carriers were operating at maximum capacity month after month. Excessive demand drove prices up all around the world, and carriers, for basically the first time, made huge profits. These profits were not due to lack of competition, and carriers are investing in new ships and better technology. CMA CGM made a profit in the first quarter of 2020, before it got the $1.1 billion loan, and it hasn’t looked back.

Now, after propping up the company for years, the French government wants to portray CMA CGM as a robber baron.

In their own bit of Bidenistic economic theorizing, French government officials have begun asking CMA CGM to lower its prices to fight inflation. Finance minister Bruno Le Maire said, “A small number of companies have during the crisis made profits in sectors such energy or transport. . . . I want them to give me strong proposals so that they give back a part of their profits to the French people.”

This is no different from Biden asking gas-station owners to lower their prices. CMA CGM competes on a world market and doesn’t just set its prices willy-nilly. And shipping prices have been, slowly but noticeably, declining for more than a month.

But CMA CGM complied, probably imagining it could head off future criticism by throwing the government a bone. It announced a €500 discount per container for consumer goods imported into France. When the price of a container is $12,000, that’s not much, but the company framed it as doing its part to fight inflation.

Of course, that wasn’t enough in the eyes of politicians, leading to calls for the profit tax. Just like the demands to lower prices, French politicians have framed the tax as a way to help consumers against inflation, as the revenues would go to programs designed to increase purchasing power. But that rests on the same flawed logic of California’s proposals to send people checks from its budget surplus. You can’t solve inflation by sending people money.

CMA CGM is experiencing the double-edged sword of corporatism. When times are good, huge government-supported companies are patriotically serving the people. When times are bad, though, they become targets immediately. The French government is basically saying, “We didn’t give you all that money and support for nothing; pay up!”

The answer to Saade’s question — “When my freight rates were at $350, where were you?” — is this: They were nowhere to be found because it wasn’t politically advantageous to notice. Consumers (i.e., voters) were getting goods at low prices, and inflation was low and stable. “People who buy things” is a pretty sizable voting bloc, though, and when they get upset, politicians are going to come knocking. And it’s hard to cry, “Laissez faire!” in the present when you were happily taking government support in the past.

Health Care

Biden’s Purpose?

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Have we found a new purpose for the Biden presidency?

I’m hopeful but not that hopeful. Pelosi, who is also ancient of days, contracted Covid and did not struggle with it, but it made little impression on those determined to continue to live in fear.

World

Reflections on the Tory Leadership Race

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Then-British Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, British Home Secretary Priti Patel, and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss attend a session at the House of Commons in London, England, April 19, 2022. (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via Reuters)

Yesterday, the Tory Party dodged a nuclear missile when it chose former chancellor Rishi Sunak and foreign secretary Liz Truss to be the final two candidates for the party leadership. They now go on a series of debates around the country in front of ordinary party members who then choose between them by September 5. I’ll discuss the choice between them lower down, but know straight off that they’re both decent, able, and essentially conservative people. The nuclear missile was the third — and mercifully rejected — candidate, Penny Mordaunt. And that she got as far as the final three (with almost a third of Tory MPs supporting her) is itself a strong criticism of rampant ideological confusion within the Tory Party.

In government, Penny Mordaunt was a firm, even an extreme, advocate of gender ideology. As a junior minister she had told the Commons, in terms meant to end the argument, that “trans men are men and trans women are women.” She also fought hard (fortunately, unsuccessfully) to keep non-gendered language that would have replaced “women” in legislation. And she cooperated closely with the gender-activist pressure group, Stonewall, even as it was losing respectability. As this gradually became a factor in the campaign, Mordaunt, a lively, attractive, and buoyant personality, denied it. Others responded with evidence for these and other charges. Worse, she had published a book outlining her plans for Britain. Last weekend was a race: Would she make it into the final two candidates before people read the book? The book won. Potential Tory voters read the full Woke agenda via the media — praise for China, more laws against “hate speech,” politically correct criticism of a 1970s UK sitcom It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum on grounds of its racism, homophobia, sexism, etc. — plus breezy thoughts on British identity, this, that, and the other. That would probably have ended Mordaunt’s chances with the Tory-activist voters anyway. Among MPs, it probably lost her just enough votes to leave her on 105 — 8 behind Truss on 113.

But how had a junior minister with woke opinions radically at odds with any rational conservatism done well enough to get almost a third of Tory MPs anyway? The answer is that the Tory Party is in a sad state of galloping ideological confusion, and it has been since the pandemic upended government policies across the board and undermined the party’s traditional beliefs. It retains two Tory fundamentals — Brexit and tax cuts — both of which really date from the Thatcher era (yes, Brexit too). Otherwise, individual MPs feel increasingly free to follow their own paths in very different directions, forming mutually hostile pressure groups and eroding the common sense of conservatism. That explains why almost 30 of them tried to run for the leadership.

Boris Johnson himself must accept a good deal of responsibility — not all — for this confusion. He yielded too much power to the scientific and medical technocrats in government, accepted the lockdown, draconian restrictions on personal freedom, and government spending they demanded, and thus oversaw a vast increase in state power and spending. He then had to pay the bills. Boris had not wanted these policies, but he shrank from fighting the technocrats, who were supported by both the media and an authoritarian, risk-averse public opinion. Most of those who now condemn him for this policy and its consequences were strongly urging it at the time. Unfortunately, his casual discarding of conservative ideas didn’t stop at Covid-19. He embraced an extreme version of green politics and Net Zero, which will also add vastly to government spending. He also avoided cultural battles against Wokeness. In particular, he quietly dropped the sober, hopeful, and scrupulously documented Sewell Report on racial disparities (commissioned incidentally by another ethnic Tory woman, Munira Mirza in the Downing Street policy unit) — because it had been denounced by the Left’s captive race-relations industry. And refusing to fight on those kind of issues — gender theory, erosion of historical truth, the weakening of national identity, racial consciousness-raising in academic and business life — destroys a much more important capital than finance capital.

That was the Tory confusion in which Mordaunt’s embrace of gender theory and radical wokeness in general passed largely unnoticed even though it caused quite a number of disputes within government. And it’s a pretty bloody important problem, because it signifies that conservatives have forgotten what conservatism means — at least among Tory MPs.

Despite this central problem within the party, I ended my recent National Review article on an optimistic note. The first few rounds of the leadership election had shown an unexpected vitality in Toryism in the form of ethnic-minority candidates from unconventional Tory backgrounds with bold and well-argued conservative views. Most of the leadership candidates on the day before nominations closed were from ethnic minorities. Not only was the race’s front-runner, former chancellor Rishi Sunak, one of three cabinet-level candidates from Asian backgrounds, but also three women candidates, two from ethnic-minority families, had broken through from lower ministerial levels to electrify the race by their articulate rejection of the Left’s racial politics, their embrace of patriotic language, and their general competence and self-confidence. One of them, Attorney General Suella Braverman, whose parents had migrated from Commonwealth countries to Britain, even described herself as “a child of empire.” Their emergence drove the Left both mad and nervous that their ability to deliver such arguments in unembarrassed terms would make them formidable opponents and shift a key debate in U.K. politics.

If that nervousness now itself eroded, it would indeed signal a political shift — indeed two political shifts. The first is that, as in the United States, the newer BAME generations (that’s the blanket U.K. term to describe Black, Asian, and Minority-Ethnic people in official bureaucratic language) are increasingly active in right-wing politics, rising to the top in its councils, and doing so not via minority quotas and preferences but by, well, ability and excellence. The second is that they seem likely — to judge from their performances in the leadership debates — to strengthen the conservative rather than the liberal wing of Toryism. All this generated excitement among Tory activists in the country and among right-wing commentators in conservative media from the Daily Telegraph to the television news channel, GBNews.

But that excitement was more evident outside Parliament than among Tory MPs.

It was almost as if the leadership election was running in two different countries. Within Parliament, it was an election of factions and calculations, minor shifts in votes that nonetheless doomed one candidate and preserved another, one candidate’s faction “lending” votes to another to ensure the defeat of a third, and all the black arts of retail politics as seen in the 18th century and in the elections of the Oxford University Conservative Association in my (non-Oxford) days.

The running-order of candidates in the parliamentary battle scarcely ever wavered. Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss were at or near the top of the list throughout the campaign, and though Penny Mordaunt threatened to defeat Truss just along the way, the final two were Sunak and Truss at the end. Polls outside showed candidates — including senior cabinet ministers — rising, falling and even disappearing in popular opinion. Inside, they had no impact. Other events were none of them dramatic and serious enough to influence the parliamentary votes that loyalty, bargaining, and the hope of advancement had dictated.

Outside Parliament, opinion polls in the country showed that Tories and voters increasingly preferred the insurgent candidates from the lower ranks, in particular the junior minister, Kemi Badenoch, a young woman engineer by training who had been born in England but brought up partly in Nigeria from where her parents had originally emigrated. She proved an eloquent, witty, and formidable candidate. In one-on-one match-ups of all the different candidates, she defeated every other one. The same match-ups showed that Rishi Sunak would lose to most of the other five or six.

None of that mattered. This was a parliamentary election, and the MPs have used their power to ensure that the two final candidates from whom the Tory activists will select the next leader are acceptable to them. But, of course, it does and will matter in national politics, and matter greatly, from now on. Of the outside candidates, I would guess that Kemi Badenoch, the establishment insurgent Tom Tugendhat (of whom more another time), and Suella Braverman will now be major cabinet ministers and future contenders for the Tory leadership in three years (if the Tories lose the next election) and in eight or nine (if they win it.)

And, of course, there’s another contender we shouldn’t forget. No, not Penny Mordaunt. She has her supporters and apparently the will to persist — she turned up today in the Commons to show her critics that rumors of her desultory work performance had been greatly exaggerated. That was a brave (and eloquent) rebuke to her critics, including me. But I think her ship has sailed. My reference above was to Boris Johnson.

Boris is out, but not down. He put on a bravura display of flamboyant leadership in the days since he resigned under pressure. Several Tory donors are abandoning the party and funding a campaign to force it to put his name on the ballot paper alongside those of Sunak and Truss. It probably won’t succeed, but it’s not the only example of popular disquiet at his removal. A demonstration of Tories angry at his defenestration took place outside Downing Street last week. (When did you last hear of a demo by angry Tories?) His record in government, though mixed, had some remarkable achievements, above all Brexit. He remains an international figure — not only in Ukraine — who represents cheerful resistance to oppressive technocracy at a time of popular restiveness. There was an odd note of regret and shame from the Tories in the parliamentary send-off he received yesterday. There will shortly be a revisionist history of the media-cum-establishment campaign to oust him — how many lies did he tell compared to those of his media critics? And he’s quite simply a remarkable public figure who, in the words of Arnold Bennett: “He has contributed to the great cause of cheering us all up.”

Don’t count him out yet.

And Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss. Good and decent Thatcherites, they both tell me.

I’ll get back to them tomorrow.

Politics & Policy

The Radicals Won

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Just wanted to add one more thing to today’s editorial. One of the arguments made by proponents of same-sex marriage was that making the institutions of marriage inclusive of same-sex couples would “strengthen” marriage in the culture generally. It’s not hard to find voices like Jonathan Rauch saying that same-sex marriage was a “socially conservative” movement about protecting children.

Andrew Sullivan often reminds us that when he started arguing for legal recognition of gay marriage, he was opposed by the majority of the gay community who wanted no part of a patriarchal institution. Even as late as 2000, the argument that homosexuals should be in the radical vanguard of disrupting and dismantling marriage could be published in the Nation.

Proponents of same-sex marriage like Sullivan and Rauch won in the courts, and in a thin slice of the elite. But it looks more like the anti-marriage radicals won the future in the culture.

Marriage is in steady and steep decline, as the rise in unmarried and never-married adults and in the share of out-of-wedlock births continues. Some facts drawn from an article on “the end of marriage in America” in the Hill:

  • “70 years ago a large majority of U.S. households, approximately 80 percent, were made up of married couples. In 2020, the proportion of households consisting of married couples fell to 49 percent.”
  • “America is also experiencing growing numbers of women and men living alone as well as increasing unmarried cohabitation. In addition to the 15 percent of U.S. adults living alone, no less than one-quarter of those aged 25 to 34 years are living with an unmarried partner.”
  • “Whereas in 2006 about half of U.S. adults said it was very important for couples having children together to legally marry, by 2020 that proportion had fallen to 29 percent. Today, the proportion of U.S. births to unmarried mothers is about 40 percent, double the percentage in 1980.”

The decline is so notable and the prospects of reversing it seem so hopeless that New York Times columnist Charles Blow could ask a few years ago, “whether it is fair and right to continue to reward and encourage marriage through taxation and policy when fewer people — disproportionately Black ones — are choosing marriage or finding acceptable partnerships.”

America is retreating from marriage. Of course the radicals imagined that what would replace marriage would be better. But by and large, Americans are replacing it with nothing. Resigning the married life and having fewer children means more people will live without dense networks of kin. They will live atomized lives marked by more and longer periods of intense loneliness and despair.

Politics & Policy

Biden at a Catastrophic 27 Percent Approval in Iowa

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Another astonishingly abysmal poll for Biden, this time in Iowa, where he is at 27 approve and 67 disapprove, and only 23 percent of people say they want him to run again.

It’s not clear how long he can maintain his contention to fellow Democrats that he’s the best candidate to run against Trump with these kinds of numbers.

 

 

Culture

Fierce Mercy with Abby Johnson

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This post-Roe time is one for tremendously fierce mercy, which requires radical, courageous humility. This Friday, in the National Review Institute’s latest Fridays for Life series, I’ll talk with Abby Johnson about her recent book on the topic. If you don’t know Johnson, she is the former Planned Parenthood director in Texas who had a conversion and has become a pro-life activist, who, among other things, runs a ministry that helps people leave the abortion industry.

You can join us live at 2 p.m. Eastern tomorrow by RSVPing here.

 

 

 

Woke Culture

Dave Chappelle Persists

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Dave Chappelle presents the ICON award during the Canadian Screen Awards in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, March 12, 2017. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

My colleague Caroline Downey reports that, “Dave Chappelle’s scheduled stand-up performance at a famous Minneapolis venue was canceled Wednesday after social-media criticism of the comic’s transgender jokes.” The cancellation occurred just hours before Chappelle was set to take the stage, which he did instead at Varsity Theater.

The First Avenue management team explained their thinking in an Instagram post: “We believe in diverse voices and the freedom of artistic expression,” the post read, “but in honoring that, we lost sight of the impact this would have.” In other words, we believe in the freedom of artistic expression except when it upsets the wrong people. In this case, transgender activists.

This explanation is risible. The organizers knew perfectly well who Dave Chappelle was and the kind of jokes he makes. They did not have a sudden epiphany — only a failure of courage. Some people expressed outrage on social media, and they buckled, it’s as simple as that. To keep things in perspective, consider how Chappelle has been physically attacked on stage for his comments and doesn’t let that stop him.

Chappelle has made clear that, to him, this isn’t about transgenderism, much less about him. That’s why, instead of giving his name to a theater school he attended — which also flirted with the idea of canceling him — he chose instead to name the Duke Ellington School of the Arts theater, the “Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression.”

The whole point of comedy is that nothing is off limits. As I wrote earlier, the value of trans-skeptical comedy is that it helps puncture overinflated sacred cows. The more of these antics we see from business owners, organizers, and administrators, the more justified Chappelle is in mocking transgenderism.

White House

Get Well Soon, Mr. President.

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President Joe Biden receives his coronavirus booster vaccination at the White House in Washington, D.C., September 27, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Yes, President Biden is almost 80, but he’s vaxxed, double boosted, on Paxlovid, and he’s surrounded by the best doctors. Based on what we know so far, he’s probably going to recover just fine from his Covid-19 infection after a week or two. Studies indicate that senior citizens who have two boosters have dramatically better rates of survival and avoiding hospitalization.

The White House’s coronavirus coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha told CNN that Biden had a runny nose and dry cough and is experiencing some fatigue.

I am curious about when Biden caught the virus. His most recent negative test was Tuesday, but tests can be mistaken; if it is early in the infection, the patient’s nasal passages may not have enough of the virus to generate a positive result. Biden came back from his Middle East trip at 1 a.m. Sunday, and had no public events for three days. As noted yesterday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre somewhat implausibly claimed Tuesday, “he’s just been very busy dealing with the issues of the American people and meeting with his staff, and senior staff, the last two days.”

It always seemed more likely that the elderly president was out of the public eye because he was exhausted from a five-day overseas trip. But what if the president’s post-trip fatigue was the onset of his Covid-19 infection?

It’s also worth noting that throughout 2020 and in particular in 2021, some of us argued, again and again, that catching Covid-19 did not represent a moral failing or a sign that someone was being reckless. It’s an extremely contagious virus, and most of us are not antisocial shut-ins. Sooner or later, you’re going to interact with someone who’s carrying it. A lot of people saw their infection-free status as a sign of their moral superiority and wise judgment; as one woman who found herself infected after a trip to Disneyland described to NPR, “I did start crying, because it was like, we did everything right.”

When one of the most protected human beings on earth catches Covid, it’s a reminder that just about anyone can catch Covid, and sooner or later, just about everyone will catch Covid. As a virologist tells David Wallace-Wells writes in a well-timed op-ed in the New York Times today, “I think it’s better to acknowledge that we’re at 98 percent of the population having immunity of some form — certainly over 95 percent. There’s not much more that could change in that regard.” Our imperfect official figures put the U.S. at more than 91 million cases of Covid. It was never wise or accurate to characterize a Covid infection as a moral failing or consequence of bad judgment. Now that characterization looks absurd.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Jerome Powell and Richard Glick

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Desmond Lachman writes about the Fed chairman:

Jerome Powell risks going down in history as the Federal Reserve’s worst chairman since Arthur Burns, who brought us runaway inflation in the 1970s.

He risks doing so by first having kept monetary policy too loose for too long as he waited for clear signs of inflation to actually show up in the data. He thereby lost control over inflation and added to an asset-price bubble. He now risks allowing the same data-driven approach to cause him to slam on the monetary-policy brakes too hard to regain control over inflation even at the likely cost of a deep recession.

Stephen Moore writes about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman:

With gas prices running at nearly $4.50 a gallon — almost $2 a gallon higher than when President Trump left office — soaring electric-utility costs for homeowners and businesses, and the threat of blackouts and brownouts in as many as a dozen states, the last thing America needs is a green zealot running the federal agency overseeing American energy policy. But in tapping Richard Glick for a second term to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), President Biden has doubled down on his crusade to eliminate oil, gas, and coal from America’s energy supply.

Glick’s first 18 months at the head of FERC have been catastrophically bad. He has presided over the biggest increase in energy costs in 40 years; his regulatory assault has led to scuttling pipelines and other urgently needed energy-security infrastructure; and his green-policy directives against coal and natural gas and in favor of expensive and unreliable renewable energy have put the nation at risk of energy shortages and power-grid vulnerability.

Renominating Glick (originally a Trump appointee) is tantamount to rehiring an NFL coach to a four-year contract extension after the football team went 2–15.

On this week’s episode of the Capital Record, David interviews Sachin Khajuria, author of a new book on private-equity markets. Listen here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Health Care

Georgia Heartbeat Bill Allowed to Take Effect

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A pro-life demonstrator holds a sign outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., June 25, 2022. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

A federal appeals court has allowed Georgia’s heartbeat bill to take effect, overturning a lower-court ruling that had blocked the law on the rationale that it violated the supposed constitutional right to abortion invented in Roe v. Wade.

The law, like heartbeat bills passed in about a dozen states over the past three years, prohibits abortion after an unborn child’s heartbeat can be detected, which usually takes place around six weeks into pregnancy. This latest decision is a signal of what’s to come: a series of court decisions overturning previous injunctions and blocks on pro-life laws that were deemed unconstitutional under the Roe regime.

Evidently, some reporters remain as opposed as ever to the logic of heartbeat bills. To give just one example, here’s how the Associated Press described Georgia’s law, which the report deemed “restrictive”:

The law, which had been barred from taking effect, bans most abortions once a “detectable human heartbeat” is present. Cardiac activity can be detected by ultrasound in cells within an embryo that will eventually become the heart as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many pregnancies are detected.

This is just one instance of a common phenomenon, which I’ve written about here at NR in the past, compiling examples of major publications using absurd phrases to delegitimize the notion that the unborn child has a heartbeat. Reporters have dedicated full pieces to attempting to debunk the science of the fetal heartbeat, and they regularly place the word “heartbeat” in scare quotes. Others have opted for unnecessarily sterile replacement phrases such as “cardiac rhythm,” “fetal cardiac activity,” and, my personal favorite, “a cluster of pulsing cells.” Articles have cited abortionists, billed as medical experts, who describe the fetal heartbeat as “a group of cells with electrical activity” and “fetal pole cardiac activity.”

The Guardian even updated its style guide on this issue, taking the advice of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — a powerful abortion lobby disguised as a medical group — citing the group’s statement that “ACOG does not use the term ‘heartbeat’ to describe these legislative bans on abortion because it is misleading language, out of step with the anatomical and clinical realities of that stage of pregnancy.”

It is easy to see through these sorts of silly efforts to disprove basic science or construct linguistic devices to obscure reality. As I pointed out yesterday in a post about Merriam-Webster dictionary redefining the word “woman” to include men who identify as women, efforts to redefine terms to obscure truth is a signal of a position too weak to defend itself any other way.

Health Care

Health Clinics and Pregnancy Centers Outnumber Planned Parenthood Facilities 14 to 1

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Trust Women, an abortion clinic, stands in Wichita, Kan., July 10, 2022. (Gabriella Borter/Reuters)

According to the most recent data from the Charlotte Lozier Institute, pregnancy resource centers and federally funded health clinics now outnumber Planned Parenthood locations 14 to 1.

As of this month, there are more than 5,300 clinics that offer comprehensive health care along with specific health-care services for women. There are also more than 2,700 pregnancy-resource centers across the country. By contrast, there are a mere 545 Planned Parenthood facilities in the U.S., even though the abortion business bills itself as an essential health-care provider.

As the Lozier Institute report points out, though health clinics and pregnancy centers offer a much greater variety of actual health-care services to a much higher number of people, the funding they receive pales in comparison to the government money funneled to Planned Parenthood:

Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) receive funds from the HRSA Health Center Program to provide primary care services to vulnerable and underserved populations on a sliding scale. Pregnancy centers are typically privately funded and focused on supporting pregnant women facing difficult circumstances with medical care and referrals, education, mentoring, and material support at virtually no cost to the client. Planned Parenthood meanwhile received over $600 million in government funding in 2019 and focuses on abortion, reaching its highest-ever number of over 350,000 U.S. abortions in 2019 – 96.4% of its pregnancy resolution services reported in its latest service data.

The full report is well worth a look, especially for its detailed maps of both the whole country and each state, with the layout of health centers, pregnancy-resource centers, and Planned Parenthood facilities. Especially in a post-Roe world, we need more support than ever for those who actually offer health care to women, assist them in choosing life for their unborn children, and help them care for those children after birth; Planned Parenthood, by design, serves none of those goals.

Culture

I Don’t Think I’ve Ever . . .

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. . .  thought for 30 seconds about Kylie Jenner, but I’m starting to like her.

Economy & Business

The Misguided Notion That the Fed Must ‘Fight Inflation’

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Right now, we’re hearing lots of chatter from the commentariat about how the Federal Reserve is now going to charge in and fight inflation.

As John Tamny explains in this column, we should scoff at the idea.

He writes, “The notion implies that without the Fed’s responsible ways, the alleged inflation crisis would spiral out of control. Such a view is obnoxious, and that’s being gracious. Governments cause inflation. Always. In the market-driven world of lending, the response to actual inflation is always going to be swift, and for obvious reasons. No one wants to lend out more than they get back, from which in a natural free market rates of interest would naturally rise as compensation for any devaluation. It’s a long or short way of saying that Fed fiddling with short-term rates to slay inflation is the ultimate non sequitur.”

And no, fiddling with interest rates won’t accomplish much.

Read the whole thing.

Politics & Policy

A Promising New Electoral Count Act Reform Proposal

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Vice President Mike Pence takes part in a joint session of Congress to certify the 2020 election results at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. (Saul Loeb/Pool via Reuters)

A couple of weeks ago, I noted around here that time was short for the effort to reform the Electoral Count Act, and that getting that effort moving would require a concrete proposal from the bipartisan group of senators that has been working on the issue for months. On Wednesday, that group produced just such a proposal, and it strikes me as constructive, balanced, and very promising.

The proposal takes the form of two bills. The first is sponsored by nine Republican senators (Susan Collins, Shelley Moore Capito, Lindsey Graham, Lisa Murkowski, Rob Portman, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Thom Tillis, and Todd Young) and seven Democratic senators (Joe Manchin, Ben Cardin, Chris Coons, Chris Murphy, Jeanne Shaheen, Kyrsten Sinema, and Mark Warner) and is focused on the Electoral Count Act itself.

This bill clarifies that states must appoint presidential electors in accordance with the laws they each pass before election day and does away with the dangerously vague concept of a “failed election” in the original ECA. It requires that the governor of each state (or else another particular official specifically assigned this role by state law) be the person to certify the state’s slate of electors, to avoid the possibility of different officials sending different slates to Congress. It clarifies that the vice president’s role in counting electoral votes in Congress is purely ministerial and does not involve any sole decision-making authority. It raises the threshold for raising objections to a state’s electoral votes in Congress from one member of each house to one-fifth of the members of each house and narrows and clarifies the grounds for filing objections. And it allows for expedited federal judicial review of any challenges raised by a presidential candidate under already existing federal law to a state’s certification of its elections, but does not create any new right of action in federal court regarding state officials’ enforcement of state laws.

This is a very good set of reforms. The bulk of them are directed to avoiding a repeat of the sorts of problems we saw in 2020 — a situation in which the states all did their jobs but members of Congress, at the behest of the defeated incumbent president, moved to sow doubt about the outcome by capitalizing on the vagueness and looseness of the ECA. Because the bad actors in that case were in Congress, there is a fair amount of room for Congress to address the problems revealed in the process. Most of the provisions of the ECA function in effect as a set of House and Senate rules, and indeed are adopted as such by both houses every four years, and so revising them is well within the purview of the Congress.

Concerns about the potential for misbehavior in the states — driven by the fact that some people who insist the last election was stolen are now running for positions with authority over election administration in a number of states — are harder to address through federal law, and this proposed legislation accepts that reality. It would take some limited actions that are clearly within Congress’s power, like assigning the job of certifying electors to the governor in the absence of a clear state law assigning that power to someone else. This could help reduce the opportunities for misbehavior by state officials (unless, of course, the governor is the person who misbehaves), and could also make it easier for state and federal courts to quickly resolve uncertainties and disputes in the wake of an election.

Some Democrats wanted to go further, and give the federal courts more jurisdiction over the ways in which state officials enforce state election laws. This was a disastrously misguided idea, and it is very good that this proposal avoids any such path. This is a significant success for a number of Republicans who fought hard against that approach — particularly Ben Sasse and Mitt Romney. And it is the reason why I think this bill could get enough Republican votes to pass the Senate. The restraint shown in this proposal suggests this bipartisan group really wants to get these reforms enacted.

The second bill, sponsored by most of the same senators as the first (with the exception of Republican senators Capito, Young, Sasse, and Graham) takes up some issues beyond the scope of the Electoral Count Act. It would increase the penalties for threatening election officials, improve the postal service’s procedures for handling mail-in ballots where those are allowed under state law, reauthorize the Election Assistance Commission, and increase the penalties for tampering with election records. These are modest reforms directed to modest problems, and the result is a bill that doesn’t do anything particularly important. If it’s necessary to get more Democrats to accept the restrained approach to ECA reform in the first bill, then I see no problem with it, and certainly some of what it proposes is worthwhile.

While these proposed reforms have come from the sort of bipartisan “gang” that has produced legislation on infrastructure and guns in this Congress, they are not going to circumvent the committee system in the way that those earlier efforts did. Rather, they are going to be referred to the Senate Rules Committee, which has jurisdiction over the ECA. The committee will hold a hearing, and will see if it can vote this proposal out and get it considered on the floor. This is surely in part to show some respect for Senator Amy Klobuchar, who chairs the Rules Committee, and who had been working with other Democrats on a separate approach to ECA reform. That effort will hopefully be put aside now for the sake of this one — or at least we should hope that it is. Klobuchar’s more ambitious approach was never likely to gain much Republican support, and this new proposal makes it even less likely that it could. If she wants to see some meaningful reforms of the law in this Congress, she will almost certainly need to let her committee take up the Collins-Manchin approach, more or less as it stands.

As proposed, the bipartisan ECA-reform bill has nine Republican sponsors, and so one less Republican supporter than would be necessary to overcome a filibuster (if it has the support of all the Senate Democrats). I gather from Republican leadership staffers, however, that Mitch McConnell is positively disposed toward both bills, and that if they make it through committee without significant changes, they should be able to get the votes they need.

It remains to be seen if that’s true, and whether Democrats in both houses will be satisfied with an approach to election reform that does not nationalize election administration or create new paths to federal judicial intervention in state election-law enforcement. But this is a good proposal, with a real chance of becoming law, and that is very good to see.

The Economy

More Housing Woes

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Homes for sale in the northwest area of Portland, Ore., in 2014. (Steve Dipaola/Reuters)

I began a post yesterday with the comment:

The signs of a slowdown in the housing market are beginning to pile up.

I ended it with the following bold statement:

It’s going to be worth watching some of the data in the next few months.

And so here we are today.

CNBC (my emphasis added):

Sales of previously owned homes in June fell 5.4% from May [the fifth consecutive month], according to a monthly report from the National Association of Realtors. . . .

The median price of an existing home sold in June set yet another record at $416,000, an increase of 13.4% year over year. . . . Sales were 14.2% lower compared with June 2021.

This is the slowest sales pace since the same month in 2020, when sales dropped very briefly at the start of the Covid pandemic. Outside of that, it is the slowest pace since January 2019, and below the annual 2019 total, pre-pandemic.

These numbers are based on home closings, so the contracts were likely signed in April and May, before the average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage shot above 6%. . . .

There were 1.26 million homes for sales at the end of June. That is an increase of 2.4% from the previous June, and the first year-over-year gain in three years. At the current sales pace, inventory now stands at a three-month supply. That is still considered low, but improving. Supply is increasing both because more sellers are trying to take advantage of perhaps the last of the red-hot, pandemic-induced housing boom, and because homes are now sitting on the market longer. . . .

While sales are falling, the market is still incredibly fast. The average time a home spent on the market was 14 days, a record low.

“This is a head-scratching number, given slower sales,” said Yun. “People are trying to take advantage of their interest rate lock. That may explain why the days on the market are so swift.” . . .

One interesting sign of disquiet:

Almost 15% of home-purchase agreements that were pending in June fell through, the highest level since April 2020, when the pandemic disrupted the market, according to real-estate brokerage Redfin Corp.

“We have a lot of people that are just sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what happens with interest rates and the overall economy,” said Phil Mount, a real-estate agent in Boise, Idaho. “People aren’t buying right now because they’re nervous.”

Also worth noting (via the Wall Street Journal):

In a separate report Wednesday, the Mortgage Bankers Association said mortgage applications fell a seasonally adjusted 6.3% in the week ended July 15 from the prior week, the third straight drop.

Mortgage applications are now at their lowest level in 22 years.

Put all these things together, and they reinforce the impression that home prices look fairly likely to ease, rather than merely remain stagnant. Whether “ease” turns out to be a euphemism remains to be seen, but the combination of a record (median) home price and falling sales does not seem to be one that can endure for long.

The housing market does not, as we were most painfully reminded during the financial crisis, operate in isolation from the broader economy.

The WSJ:

Following Wednesday’s home sales data, Goldman Sachs economists lowered their forecast for second-quarter economic growth by 0.1 percentage point to a 0.5% rate.

And if house prices start falling, the (negative) wealth effect will add to the one that we ought to be seeing from the weaker stock market.

Those second-quarter GDP numbers (due July 28) are going to be interesting. If we take the traditional definition (two consecutive quarterly GDP declines), are we already in a recession or not (see the numbers coming out of Atlanta)?

Regulatory Policy

Truckers Protesting California’s AB5 Block Port of Oakland

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Independent truck drivers gather to delay the entry of trucks at a container terminal at the Port of Oakland in Oakland, Calif., July 18, 2022. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Beginning yesterday and continuing into today, truckers protesting against California’s AB5 have essentially blockaded the Port of Oakland. They have used their trucks to block entrances to the port’s terminals. The protests are gaining momentum, with the growing crowd of truckers now saying, “Cargo won’t flow until AB5 goes.”

AB5 is a law that seeks to classify more workers as employees rather than independent contractors. It established a three-prong test to determine whether a worker is an independent contractor, and it’s generally believed that truckers who are currently independent owner-operators would not pass that test and would be required to be classified as employees. It was passed in 2019, but court challenges have meant it is taking effect only now for truckers.

Oakland is one of the busiest major U.S. West Coast ports, along with Los Angeles/Long Beach and Seattle/Tacoma. The protests are expected to continue tomorrow.

With very few containers moving in and out of the port, the terminals are mostly full, which means the waiting ships cannot be unloaded. Even if space weren’t a concern, the dockworkers are refusing to cross the picket line the truckers have effectively set up. Some dockworkers expressed solidarity with the truckers and said they wouldn’t work as long as the truckers are protesting.

Not all drivers are participating in the protest, even among drivers who oppose AB5. Trucks have been lined up waiting to get into one of Oakland’s container terminals, blocked by the protesters. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Hedayatullah Ibrahimi, a 43-year-old owner-operator, slept in his truck at the port on Monday night in hopes of getting into the terminal at 6 a.m. Tuesday to pick up a load.

Mr. Ibrahimi said three trucks in front of him made it through the gate but the protesters stopped him and said that if he went in they would smash his windows. So he gave up and left the port.

He said the lost day’s work cost him about $800. “I’m not blaming the protesters,” he said. “They are doing a good job because I am against the law. But I have to pay my bills.”

The best way to help Ibrahimi and all California truckers is to repeal AB5, or at least exempt the trucking industry from its requirements. The independent owner-operator business structure is preferred by many truckers, especially the drayage truckers who work near the ports.

That even some of the unionized dockworkers are signaling their solidarity with truckers in opposition to AB5 should tell California lawmakers something. The law is seen as a boon to unions, which cannot organize independent owner-operators under labor-relations law. The Teamsters have been among its most enthusiastic supporters, as they seek to recruit newly reclassified employees as members.

On the truckers’ side of things, their ability to protest the law as they have the past two days makes clear that they don’t need a union to make their voices heard.

Since the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to AB5, it’s up to the California state government to rectify the situation. California has already exempted numerous professions from the requirements of AB5 because of the economic damage the requirements would cause. At the very least, trucking should be included in the exemption list, and California lawmakers should make that clear as soon as possible.

These protests and the resulting economic damage are an unforced error by California’s progressive, Democratic state government. Seeking to please organized labor, lawmakers have managed to create a situation in which nonunion truckers are pursuing effective labor action and workers from one of the state’s most powerful unions are siding with those nonunion truckers against the law.

Gavin Newsom should stop trying to be governor of MSNBC and remember his duties as governor of California. Some protesters are directing their ire at him by name. If these protests continue and cargo doesn’t start flowing again soon, more criticism will start coming his way.

Education

A Dearth of Conservative Faculty at Harvard

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Widener Library on the campus of Harvard University (jorgeantonio/Getty Images)

The Harvard Crimson published its annual survey on Monday of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). The survey, conducted in April, found that 80 percent of the faculty members say they are liberal. The poll asked the question to 1,182 faculty members; 476 faculty members responded to the survey. Among the findings, 45.03 percent of the faculty identified as “liberal” while 37.43 percent identified as “very liberal,” an eight percentage point increase from the year before for the “very liberal” category. With that jump, it is clear that Harvard is making no attempt to hire more ideologically diverse faculty members. A mere 16.8 percent identified as “moderate.” Perhaps not so surprisingly, a minuscule 1.46 percent of the faculty identified as “conservative,” while none identified as “very conservative.” This kind of imbalance may result in conservatism being an alien ideology in the Department of Arts & Sciences and the SEAS at Harvard. Liberal professors’ domination of  the classrooms almost certainly guarantees that views held by half of the country are not given adequate attention. 

When questioned whether they would favor employing more conservative-leaning professors in order to increase intellectual diversity among the faculty, only a quarter of professors said they would. A full 31 percent opposed hiring more conservative professors, while 44 percent said they neither supported nor opposed such a move.

Harvard is a member of the Ivy League, which does tend to skew far to the left. However, this isn’t just a survey of social-science and art professors, many of whom one would reasonably assume to be members of the far Left. This survey includes professors of engineering and the hard sciences. Conservatives assumed for years that this contingent was more moderate and that wokeness would not infiltrate the hard sciences. They were wrong. There has been an abundance of evidence in the past couple of years about wokeness permeating the sciences. 

The political perspectives of professors can and do seep into classes of every subject on a daily basis. The fact that the Faculty of Arts & Sciences and the professors at the SEAS at Harvard are so heavily weighted in one direction, and there is an unwillingness among the professors to want to change that, speaks volumes about how students are most likely being influenced by their professors’ political leanings. This is another example of a university sorely lacking in viewpoint diversity and refusing to fulfill its role of serving as a marketplace of ideas.

White House

Whose Idea Was It to Have Biden Speak in This Spot?

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on climate change and renewable energy at the site of the former Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Mass., July 20, 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

One of the points I’ve made on The Editors and other podcasts is that for all of President Biden’s flaws, the staff surrounding him is just not that good; a lot of Joe Biden’s “A Team” was Barack Obama’s “E Team.”

At the beginning of last month, Zeke Miller of the Associated Press offered an unusual report that the White House was facing its own version of the “Great Resignation,” and trying to cope with a lot of staff turnover:

The administration is undergoing a period of unusually high staff turnover as President Joe Biden nears 18 months in office. Long hours, low morale and relatively low pay are taking a toll on both the ranks of the senior staff and the more numerous junior aides who keep the White House functioning.

It’s not unusual for staff to turn over at this point in a presidency, but the swiftness of the change has been stark at times: Two-thirds of the White House press shop, much of the COVID-19 response team, two of the deputy counsels to the president, even the staffer who manages the White House Twitter account are all leaving within a few weeks of each other. . . .

Veterans of previous West Wings who serve in or are in contact with Biden administration officials say there is a notable lack of joy across the White House complex. The pandemic has diminished some of the benefits of the job that typically make the demands of the work more bearable, they said.

Has Biden’s advance team had a lot of turnover lately? Are any untrained rookies making big decisions, like where the president should give his speeches?

The image at the top of this post is from President Biden’s speech today at the site of the former Brayton Point power plant in Somerset, Mass. The president could have announced his climate-change initiatives anywhere, but for some reason, the White House staff chose to fly to Massachusetts and use a rubble-strewn empty lot that looks like it was cut out of the opening credits of The Sopranos because it was too depressing.

Why? Who thought this was a good idea? Which White House staffer chose to have Biden discussing how much he cares about the environment from an empty lot that looks like it’s where the mob dumps bodies?

A lot of people on social media will focus on Biden’s eye-popping misstatement “that’s why I have cancer” — he meant he had cancer, in the form of several localized, non-melanoma skin cancers removed with Mohs surgery before he started his presidency. But we’re used to Biden misstating things and not speaking clearly. Yet the White House advance team is now either phoning it in and not caring about the visuals of the president’s statements, or they do care and they just have terrible judgment.

Either way, Biden’s team . . . is just not that good.

Law & the Courts

Colbert Staffers Won’t Be Prosecuted — Funny How That Happens

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A U.S. Capitol Police officer keeps watch on Capitol Hill. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

The U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia announced Monday that staff members of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert will not be prosecuted for twice unlawfully entering a Capitol office building in June and recording video after hours without permission. The staff will no longer need to show up at a hearing today at the D.C. superior court. The U.S. attorney’s office indicated that it does not believe it can “prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these invited guests were guilty of the crime of unlawful entry” — a misdemeanor — “because their escort chose to leave them unattended.”

Although the U.S. Capitol Police say they respect the decision reached by the attorney’s office, on Tuesday, Chief Thomas Manger sent a letter to Representatives Rodney Davis (R., Ill.,) and Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) in which he wrote, “It is unfortunate that despite all of the evidence the Department presented, including that the group or its leader had been told several times that they could not be in the buildings without an escort, that the U.S. Attorney’s office declined to prosecute any members of the group for Unlawful Entry.​​”

The Capitol Police arrested the group on June 16.  The talk-show staff members were invited by congressional staffers to enter the Longworth House Office Building. Nine people entered the building — seven were members of Colbert’s staff, and the two others were there to provide security. According to police, the staffers also allegedly behaved in a “disruptive, loud,” and “theatrical” way close to the office of Representative Lauren Boebert (R., Colo.). They were there to film a segment for the show with “Triumph the Insult Comic Dog,” a hand-puppet character created by comedian Robert Smigel. The staff were also allegedly pretending to hide notes under the congressmen’s doors, inviting them to a cocaine orgy. According to the Capitol Police chief, the staffers lied to authorities, telling them they were “credentialed staff.” 

Compare the treatment of Colbert’s team to that of some of the Trump supporters who entered the Capitol on January 6 and simply walked around and took pictures, many of whom were charged with misdemeanors such as unlawful entry. Some walked calmly into the Capitol while police let them in and held the door for them. The Justice Department has arrested more than 855 people for various crimes on January 6, from trespassing on restricted grounds to seditious conspiracy. One of them, Matthew Martin of New Mexico, was charged with unlawful entry and engaging in disorderly conduct despite the fact that he simply walked around the Capitol building; he was acquitted by a judge in April. The same judge acquitted Couy Griffin on one of two charges for entering restricted Capitol grounds and staying there for hours. But the vast majority of the 325 defendants who have pleaded guilty to crimes were charged with misdemeanors — the same category of crime that Colbert’s staffers were charged with. 

Colbert says the fact that his staffers were invited into the Longworth House Office Building by congressional staffers and did not attempt to disrupt the workings of Congress differentiates them from those who entered the Capitol on January 6, 2021. But Colbert’s staffers did not obey the rules they were given once inside, and their antics could have disrupted the congressmen working in their offices. For Colbert’s staffers not to be charged with unlawful entry, when Trump supporters who merely walked into the Capitol and took pictures were so charged, raises questions. Does holding certain political views insulate some people, while holding others does not? I don’t know, but it’s reasonable to wonder.

Culture

Why the Dictionary Is Trying to Redefine ‘Woman’

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People protest Trump administration’s reported transgender proposal to narrow the definition of gender to male or female outside City Hall in New York City, October 24, 2018. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

In response to Merriam-Webster Changes the Definition of ‘Female’

One of our summer interns, Jack Wolfsohn, noted in a great post yesterday that Merriam-Webster has added a second definition of the word “woman,” with the descriptor “having a gender identity that is the opposite of male.”

Jack did a good job exposing this for the lunacy that it is, and in his conclusion he pointed to a further idea on which I want to elaborate: the question of why this sort of lunacy has become so common so quickly. There is an objective reality to what it means to be embodied as a human being. We all know which bodily characteristics indicate maleness or femaleness; these are realities that go all the way down to each cell in our body, indeed, to our very chromosomes. Some of the ways in which we live as men and women might change across cultures, but the fact of being either a man or a woman doesn’t. Embodied sex is not a social construct or a manufactured structure of oppression.

The objective certainty of the body is precisely why the Left is fighting this particular culture war on the grounds of language, radical redefinition of terms, and, ultimately, censorship. They can’t alter reality, try as they might, so instead they have turned to flexing their power — which explains why we’re witnessing a dictionary attempt to redefine reality with just a few clicks.

Through sheer intimidation, and by controlling the right institutions, they have managed to begin overhauling the very way we speak, enforcing that overhaul by punishing and silencing nonconformists. It is a risky business to say on social media that men can’t get pregnant. Teachers and students across the country are being forced to use the preferred pronouns and names of those who identify as the opposite sex. When you can’t control reality, all you can do is attempt to control the way we speak about it.

National Review

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National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. (National Review)

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Thank you in advance for your time and valuable feedback.

Politics & Policy

Why Hasn’t President Biden Read Dobbs?

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House in Washington, D.C., June 24, 2022. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

President Biden has been criticized by progressive activists for his lack of focus on the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, and pro-lifers rejoicing over said ineffectuality would have to agree.

First, there was his “angry shout of surrender” of an executive order. Now, evidence is emerging that Biden never deigned to so much as skim the opinion of the Court.

Did the Supreme Court make it clear that “the right to marry” is at risk? Here’s what Justice Alito, writing for the majority, says about the dissent’s identification of Obergefell v. Hodges — the 2015 decision that established the right to same-sex marriage — among others, as a precedent threatened by Dobbs.

Perhaps this is designed to stoke unfounded fear that our decision will imperil those other rights, but the dissent’s analogy is objectionable for a more important reason: what it reveals about the dissent’s views on the protection of what Roe called “potential life.” The exercise of the rights at issue in Griswold, Eisenstadt, Lawrence, and Obergefell does not destroy a “potential life,” but an abortion has that effect.

Later, the majority opinion reiterates this point:

Finally, the dissent suggests that our decision calls into question Griswold, Eisenstadt, Lawrence, and Obergefell. Post, at 4–5, 26–27, n. 8. But we have stated unequivocally that “[n]othing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”

“It is hard to see how we could be clearer” is tacked on to emphasize the point. One justice, Clarence Thomas, wrote in his concurrence that the Court should “reconsider” the holding of Obergefell, but he is one of nine justices.

For same-sex marriage supporters still not feeling sanguine, consider that Justice Kavanaugh — who would necessarily have to be a part of any majority to overturn Obergefell — wrote to “emphasize what the Court today states: Overruling Roe does not mean the overruling of those precedents [Obergefell, Griswold, etc.], and does not threaten or cast doubt on those precedents.”

If I were a Democrat, I’d be upset too; this is a president who hasn’t so much as read the most devastating legal setback for progressivism in generations nearly a month after its issuance.

Business

Gen Z Turning to TikTok instead of Google Search

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TikTok’s parent company has an extensive, well-documented history of cooperation with China’s security state, including the bureaus responsible for the Uyghur genocide. TikTok, as it happens, is also rapidly displacing Google as the premier option for Internet searches among Gen Z.

A senior Google executive, Prabhakar Raghavan, explained the search trend during an appearance at a Fortune magazine conference earlier this month. “In our studies, something like almost 40 percent of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search. They go to TikTok or Instagram,” he said.

TikTok’s growing popularity suggests that there’s a good chance this number could grow. What could go wrong?

Politics & Policy

House Democrats Are Fixated on Abortion in Yet Another Hearing

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(Jasper Chamber/Getty Images)

In the House yesterday, the Committee on Energy & Commerce held a hearing on abortion policy, the fifth such hearing that House Democrats have held over the past week.

The deck was stacked in favor of the pro-abortion perspective, with five witnesses testifying on behalf of legalizing abortion on demand and just a single pro-life witness, Dr. Christina Francis.

Some highlights of the hearing:

Pro-abortion activist Renee Bracey Sherman made the Democratic position quite clear with this statement: “Give us back our abortions at any time and for any reason, anywhere in this country.”

Leah Litman, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan Law School, said that Dobbs allows states to treat women as second-class citizens who are unequal to men.

Meanwhile, Bracey Sherman characterized Francis’s testimony on behalf of pro-life laws and pro-life medicine as being “racist” and “anti-black,” and she accused Francis of antisemitism for having noted that prominent abortion advocate Dr. Daniel Grossman has financial and institutional ties to the abortion industry.

Another of the pro-abortion witnesses accused Francis of spreading “misinformation” about abortion, echoing the assertion of congresswoman Diana DeGette (D., Colo.), who said before the hearing began that she expected to hear inflammatory language and intentional distortions of the truth.

Despite the stiff opposition, Francis was able to clarify several key points. She noted that there isn’t a single pro-life law in the country that would prevent women from obtaining care for an ectopic pregnancy or care after suffering a miscarriage. To the extent that there is confusion about this treatment, the problem is not with the law, it is with the implementation of laws in the medical context: “It is the fault of the hospital systems or state departments of health. It’s their responsibility to educate their physicians on what the law says and what it means.”

Francis was also able to testify to the medical risks to women of allowing for telemedicine chemical abortions, or abortion pills obtained without an in-person doctor’s appointment. She pointed out that in some cases, such as with an ectopic pregnancy or a pregnancy further along than a woman realizes, there are significant health risks to women of taking these abortion drugs at home without having seen a physician ahead of time.

New Veterans Group Takes Aim at the Military’s ‘Woke Revolution’

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The U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds (top) and the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, fly in formation together over the Eastern Seaboard, April 28, 2020. The Thunderbirds and Blue Angels performed a flyover together that was part of “America Strong,” a collaborative salute from the Air Force and Navy to recognize healthcare workers, first responders, military, and other essential personnel while standing in solidarity with all Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. (Staff Sergeant Cory W. Bush/USAF)

A new veteran-led national-security advocacy group is taking aim at “woke” cultural trends within the military and urging a tougher U.S. defense posture toward America’s adversaries.

That group, Veterans on Duty, plans to brief political candidates on defense issues and to serve a watchdog function regarding bureaucratic bloat within the Pentagon.

“America’s military is still the best in the world,” said Jason Church, the group’s chairman, in a statement. “But if we want to ensure that remains the case, drastic institutional reforms are needed. Nowadays it seems senior military leaders are too distracted, too bureaucratic, and too online.”

“Politics have taken precedence over

Health Care

Lo and Behold, You Can’t Just ‘Shut Down a Virus’

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(Dado Ruvic/Illustration via Reuters)

As of yesterday, the U.S. has 2,108 confirmed cases of monkeypox in 45 states. On Sunday, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb offered a grim assessment on Face the Nation:

I think, at this point, we’ve failed to contain this. We’re now at the cusp of this becoming an endemic virus, where this now becomes something that’s persistent that we need to continue to deal with. I think the window for getting control of this and containing it probably has closed. And, if it hasn’t closed, it’s certainly starting to close, 11,000 cases across the world right now, 1,800 cases, as you said, in the U.S.

We’re probably detecting just a fraction of the actual cases, because we have a very — we had for a long time a very narrow case definition on who got tested. And, by and large, we’re looking in the community of men who have sex with men and at STD clinics.

So we’re looking there, we’re finding cases there. But it’s a fact that there’s cases outside that community right now. We’re not picking them up because we’re not looking there. This has spread more broadly in the community. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s thousands of cases right now.

As ominous as that sounds, you’ve probably not thought much about monkeypox that much over the past two months, and your risk of contracting monkeypox is significantly smaller than the risk of catching Covid; later in the interview, Gottleib adds, “this isn’t going to explode like COVID. This is a slower-moving virus, which is why we could have gotten control of this if we had been more aggressive up front.”

Back in May, I wrote, “rest assured that this monkeypox outbreak is not likely to shake out like the Covid-19 pandemic.” The first case of monkeypox in the U.S. was hospitalized May 12, meaning we’re a bit more than two months after the first case.

And a little more than two months after the first case of Covid-19 in the U.S. was announced January 20, the U.S. had more than 159,000 cases. Covid-19 was and is much, much more contagious than monkeypox.

But the sight of federal health officials struggling to slow the monkeypox spread is a useful corrective for the narrative that took hold during the hellacious first year of Covid-19. A lot of the coverage of the Covid pandemic in 2020 and into 2021 treated the health crisis as primarily a matter of Trump administration bumbling, and callous, ignorant and reckless Republicans being in charge. Recall The Atlantic magazine’s panicked response to Georgia allowing barbershops and stores to reopen: “Georgia’s Experiment in Human Sacrifice.”

In fall 2020, when the U.S. had recorded 220,000 Covid deaths, Joe Biden declared, “anyone who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America.”

About 437,000 Americans died with Covid during the Trump presidency; about 612,000 have died with Covid since Joe Biden took the oath of office. The monkeybox outbreak is occurring entirely on Biden’s watch, and we’re seeing the same mistakes and problems: a slow-footed, faltering response with insufficient testing, insufficient vaccinations, software glitches, and poor communication with the public. The virus moves at the speed of human interaction; the U.S. response moves at the speed of the federal bureaucracy.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health asked the federal government for 35,000 doses of the Jynneos vaccine; they received just 4,000 doses. Some members of the San Francisco gay and lesbian community accuse the Department of Health and Human Services of dragging their feet on their response to monkeypox.

Notice the response to monkeypox does not require sudden society-wide changes in behavior; no one needs everyone to stay inside their homes, or shut down businesses, or wear a mask everywhere they go. No, we just needed to get an existing smallpox vaccine, which the government already had in significant quantities, into the populations most at risk of encountering monkeybox. And we couldn’t do it. The only silver lining is that so far, the monkeypox infections aren’t fatal.

As Allahpundit put it a few days ago, “that makes Biden 0 for 2 on his 2020 campaign pledge to shut down the virus.”

The lesson is that containing a communicable disease in a free society is difficult, and our public health bureaucracy is not particularly agile, speedy, or adaptable. If there is a president who is capable of turning the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and other branches of the federal public health bureaucracy into an effective, quick-moving, fast-responding unified team, we have yet to elect that president. No doubt many people found it cathartic to blame President Trump for all the troubles of Covid-19, but the world was and is much more complicated than that.

World

China Wants U.N. to Shelve Xinjiang Report

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Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights attends the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, June 13, 2022. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

Reuters has a scoop on China’s efforts to prevent the U.N. from publishing its report on the Chinese Communist Party’s human-rights violations in Xinjiang:

China is asking the United Nations human rights chief to bury a highly-anticipated report on human rights violations in Xinjiang, according to a Chinese letter seen by Reuters and confirmed by diplomats from three countries who received it.

United Nations High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet has faced severe criticism from civil society for being too soft on China during a May visit and has since said she will refrain from seeking a second term for personal reasons.

But before she leaves at the end of August, she has pledged to publish a report into the western Chinese region of Xinjiang. Rights groups accuse Beijing of abuses against Xinjiang’s Uyghur inhabitants, including the mass use of forced labour in internment camps. China has vigorously denied the allegations.

Human Rights Watch’s Sophie Richardson posted an image of the reported letter, which Chinese diplomats are asking other countries’ envoys to sign, on Twitter. According to that screencapture, the letter says that the Chinese government hopes that Bachelet’s office continues “constructive exchanges and cooperation with China,” adding that, “Xinjiang-related issues are China’s internal affairs.”

That’s pretty standard language, as far as Beijing’s mass-atrocity denialism goes. What’s more interesting is the attempt to directly lobby Bachelet. Reuters said that two diplomats characterized such direct lobbying as “rare.”

Given Bachelet’s obsequious compliance with Beijing’s terms for her trip to Xinjiang in May, and her subsequent decision to announce that she will step down at the end of her term, she might not be willing to further tarnish her already severely compromised legacy by so blatantly caving to this lobbying effort. On the other hand, she has already demonstrated a willingness to placate Beijing and suffer the ensuing reputational damage, and a China-authored letter signed by numerous other countries might give her the diplomatic cover that she needs.

Whatever Bachelet ultimately decides to do about the report, however, there will be widespread public knowledge of China’s efforts to influence that decision. Either way, there’s little doubt about who’s calling the shots at the U.N. offices in Geneva, considering that Bachelet has withheld the report for so long.

Regulatory Policy

Congress Moves to Extend Jones Act-Style Requirements to Offshore Energy

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The BP Eastern Trough Area Project oil platform in the North Sea, 2014. (Andy Buchanan/Pool via Reuters)

At a time when more people are recognizing the detrimental effects of the Jones Act on the American economy, Congress is moving to extend requirements found in the law to new areas.

The Jones Act requires that all coastwise shipping within the United States be conducted with ships that are built and flagged in the U.S., owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed by U.S. citizens or residents. It’s one of the strictest protectionist laws on the books, and it has led to an aging and shrinking U.S. fleet, making much of domestic shipping cost-prohibitive.

The law has caused problems in the energy industry by making it difficult to transport oil and gas from the places where they’re produced to the places where they’re consumed. It often has the effect of enriching Russia, as it can be cheaper for places such as New England to import Russian natural gas than it is to ship American natural gas from Gulf ports to New England ports.

Not content with the Jones Act only harming our fossil-fuel industry, Congress now wants it to harm our renewable-energy industry as well. The House passed a crew-mandate bill that would apply to the ships used for offshore energy projects, including wind farms.

The new mandate was included in a defense authorization bill, and it would require the crews that work on offshore wind and oil projects to be citizens or permanent residents of the U.S., or be from the same country as the vessel’s flag. Foreign-flagged vessels are rarely crewed solely by people from the same country, so the bill has the effect of extending the Jones Act’s provisions to offshore energy projects.

The head of the American Clean Power Association described the mandate as a “gut punch to offshore wind projects.” The effects will be similar for offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

The mandate was proposed earlier this year by Senator Bill Cassidy (R., La.) as the American Offshore Worker Fairness Act. It was supported by Representative John Garamendi (D., Calif.), who said it “closes an egregious Jones Act loophole.” Garamendi sponsored the amendment to the defense authorization bill that passed the House.

The energy industry is not a jobs program, and the bipartisan effort to treat it as one will only continue to make energy production more difficult. By putting the interests of the water-transportation lobby (a very influential one) ahead of the interests of American energy consumers, Congress is proving it has learned nothing from our ongoing energy woes.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Book Review and Congressional Waste

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David Bahnsen reviews Father Robert Sirico’s latest book, The Economics of the Parables:

Sirico preemptively addresses the one criticism sure to be thrown at this effort by careless critics — he never claims that the primary message of the parables he cites is intended to be economic. He explains that the parables offer moral and spiritual lessons that are primary, yet they offer “fundamental truths about the economic dimension of life that remain unchanged.” He is up front about the fact that “economics as a scientific or intellectual discipline did not even exist in Jesus’ time.” And yet, because the parables teach us “how we can derive transcendent lessons from the context of our everyday lives,” they inevitably provide an economic message that is relevant to our modern mission. This work speaks to those who have been yearning for a more Burkean synthesis of market reality and the prioritization of character; it aims to bring the very teachings of Jesus to the forefront, incorporating economic context into what we know of human endeavor. Sirico wisely reminds us that “facts alone do not satisfy human longing; rather, it is the meaning behind those facts that people seek.”

Dan Lips of the Lincoln Network writes in favor of a new proposal to help reduce wasteful government spending:

In its report accompanying the FY2023 funding bill for the legislative branch, the House Appropriations Committee included reporting requirements that will identify opportunities to trim hundreds of billions of dollars of waste from the budget.

The first requirement directs the GAO to report how much federal agencies could save if they acted on the GAO’s more than 4,600 open recommendations for improving government operations. Based on GAO’s track record, it is likely that the comptroller general will identify tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars in potential savings. The congressional watchdog has estimated that its recommendations have saved the federal government $1.3 trillion since 2002.

There is growing bipartisan interest in requiring GAO to provide this reform roadmap to Congress. The House Oversight and Reform Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee recently approved bipartisan legislation sponsored by Representative Derek Kilmer (D., Wash.) and Representative William Timmons (R., S.C.), the Improving Government for America’s Taxpayers Act, that would require a similar GAO report with streamlined recommendations and estimates of potential cost savings. The House passed the bill by voice vote last week.

National Security & Defense

Senate Committee Advances Anti-Dictator Rewards Bill

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Rep. Joe Wilson (R., S.C.) speaks before the House Committee On Foreign Affairs, in Washington, D.C., March 10, 2021. (Ting Shen/Getty Images)

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday approved the Bassam Barabandi Rewards for Justice Act, a bill that would help dismantle foreign dictators’ efforts to evade U.S. sanctions.

The measure would establish a rewards program for people close to authoritarian regimes to provide the U.S. government with information about sanctions-evasion efforts. Dictators and their cronies often attempt to evade U.S. sanctions by renaming companies held in their names or putting assets in the name of other family members. The idea behind the measure is that lower-level officials and servants of those regimes would know where to direct U.S. officials, and that they may be more likely to do so if provided enough of a financial incentive.

There’s some reason to believe that such people could be turned against authoritarian regimes. The bill’s namesake, Bassam Barabandi, is a former Syrian diplomat who defected from the Assad regime while posted in Washington at the start of the Syrian civil war.

He then “lobbied the U.S. government with information on Syrian oligarchs close to Assad and their sanctions evasion practices,” according to Representative Joe Wilson, the bill’s author.

Barabandi told National Review last year: “You incentivize hundreds of people around the sanctioned people: their driver, their secretary, their personal assistant, their bank manager, their partners. There’s a lot of people around that circle, who are really poor people or they don’t have that good income.”

The House passed the bill last July, so if the Senate does the same, it will go to the president’s desk. Wilson said on Twitter yesterday that he hopes the Senate will act quickly.