Business

Never Change, BlackRock

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BlackRock CEO Larry Fink in New York in 2018 (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

BlackRock, as anyone who has been following the way that it has been throwing its considerable weight around over climate change knows, is managed by a team that believes that it knows what’s best for us all.

But it’s always useful to be handed a hint of what at least some of its senior management probably thinks of (most of) us, too — although it has never been hard to guess. Part of the charm of the “socially responsible” investment approach so heavily promoted by BlackRock is that it is a way of advancing a political agenda while bypassing the democratic process.

Nevertheless, this (via Bloomberg):

BlackRock Inc. President Rob Kapito warned that inflation is having dramatic effects on the economy, with an entire generation now learning what it means to suffer from shortages.

“For the first time, this generation is going to go into a store and not be able to get what they want,” Kapito said at conference held in Austin by the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association. “And we have a very entitled generation that has never had to sacrifice.”

The Daily Mail adds an additional detail:

The 65-year-old Kapito . . . has an estimated net worth of more than $400 million and made $24.6 million in total compensation in 2020.

Such numbers always have to be treated with care, but even so.

Capital Matters

Inflation Polling Poorly in Weimar

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

Yes, yes, a shameful clickbait headline (and no, we’re not Weimar), but I couldn’t help noting this tweet from MSNBC:

President Biden’s approval rating has fallen to lowest level of his presidency despite booming economy, according to new NBC News poll.

There are quite a few reasons why the president’s approval rating might have fallen, but if MSNBC is relying on the strength of the economy to bail him out, inflation is standing in the way. Inflation is, for the most part, a strongly regressive tax. It hits less affluent Americans hardest, and it is something that they (which is, in reality, most people) notice every day, particularly (obviously) when shopping.  Sticker shock at the supermarket is a continuous reminder that your dollar is not going as far as it used to.

Over on the home page, Brittany Bernstein:

 More Americans believe inflation is the nation’s most important problem now than at any point since 1985, according to a Gallup poll released on Tuesday.

Seventeen percent of Americans said rising prices are the country’s most important problem, the survey found. The figure is up from 10 percent in February and 8 percent in January.

With inflation running at its highest level in 40 years, that percentage should not come as much of a surprise, but perhaps it does, to some anyway.

Rich Lowry looks at a different poll, but the message is the same:

Inflation, which increased 7.9 percent from February 2021 to February 2022, is top of mind for voters. In the survey, 35 percent of people said cost of living is the first- or second-most important issue to the country. Climate change, in contrast, is at 17 percent and the pandemic at 8. Given the choice, 68 percent would rather see Biden make reducing inflation and improving the economy his top priority, not the war in Ukraine.

It will be interesting to see whether the opinions of those who put climate change in at No. 1 will be changed by the fact that that greenflation is going to be pushing prices even higher our the next few years (and check out Kevin Hassett on the gas price here).

Lowry:

A common question in the media a while ago was, Why do people felt badly about a good economy? Paul Krugman wrote a column last year headlined “The Making of a Feel-Bad Boom.” The question, though, was miscast. An economy in which wages are effectively falling is not a good economy, at least it isn’t going to be felt as positive by most people as such.

Even though wages grew by a robust 5.1 percent year-over-year this February, that wasn’t enough to keep up with rising prices. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, real average hourly earnings declined 2.6 percent from February 2021 to February 2022. During that twelve-month period, the month-to-month change in real hourly wages was positive in only two months.

This is presumably why the NBC poll found that 62 percent say that their family income is falling behind, 31 percent say that it is staying about even, and just 6 percent believe it is going up.

Sports

‘A Woman Is Not a Disadvantaged Man,’ Write Parents of Female College Athletes

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In case you missed it, the New York Post published an open letter by “a large group of parents” from across five Ivy League schools, complaining about the inclusion of a biological male in this year’s NCAA women’s-swim championships. It’s excellent:

Athletic associations are cautiously asking: How do we balance fairness and inclusion? And they ask scientists to tell them the precise level to which a male body needs to be impaired to compete fairly against women.

But they are asking the wrong questions. These questions are misogynistic, degrading, and dehumanizing for women. There is no balance of fairness to assess. Women deserve fairness without caveat, and they should not be asked to shoulder the mental health of others at their own expense. A male body cannot become a female body. A woman is not a disadvantaged man.

White House

Head of U.S. European Command: Actually, We’re Not Training the Ukrainians Like Biden Said

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President Joe Biden speaks during an event at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland, March 26, 2022. (Aleksandra Szmigiel/Reuters)

The White House continues to assert that President Biden exclaiming, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power!” does not mean that Biden believes that Vladimir Putin cannot remain in power.

Q: And, Kate, on the subject of the President’s remarks in Poland about President Putin: Obviously, yesterday, he tried to suggest that there was a distinction between his personal views of what he thought was a moral outrage versus an official policy position on the part of the United States.

But you know full well something that candidate Joe Biden said virtually every day on the campaign trail, which is that the words of a president matter; that they can, as he often put it, lead a country into war.

Is he not living up to the standard that he set himself during the campaign?

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Absolutely not.  I think the words of the President here were incredibly powerful.  He spoke personally about the moral outrage that he felt, which is shared by people all across the world.  It does not mean he’s articulating a change in policy.  It does not mean he’s laying out a change in U.S. policy.

In other words, the position of the U.S. government is that Vladimir Putin can stay in power, even though the president declared, with the whole world watching, that “this man cannot remain in power!”

The White House line is not only that Biden didn’t say what we all heard him say, he has no regrets about saying what he allegedly didn’t say:

Q: And you’ve spent some time with the President — last question, Kate — is he frustrated or does he regret that those words at the very end of the speech overshadowed a larger message, which obviously he put a lot of thought into in the days leading —

MS. BEDINGFIELD:  Absolutely not.  He spoke from the heart.  He, as he always does — as you know very well from having covered him for a long time, as many of you do, and as the American people know — he speaks from the heart.  He says what he feels.  And, no, he absolutely does not regret that in any way.

As for Biden’s statement yesterday that “We’re talking about helping train the Ukrainian troops that are in Poland,” the White House explanation is now that the U.S. is not training Ukrainian troops in Poland, but that U.S. troops and Ukrainian troops in Poland are simply having “regular interaction.”

Q: Jen did say clearly, last week, there are no U.S. training programs for Ukrainians outside of Ukraine — obviously not in Ukraine, but nowhere else either. I actually asked the question; that’s what she said — “no.” So the President, yesterday — and I’ve got his quote; he was very clear. He said when he was — when he had this chat with the U.S. troops, he said it was all about them “helping [to] train” Ukrainian troops that are in Poland. So are they training them in Poland or are they not training them in Poland?

MS. BEDINGFIELD: Well, as I said, there is regular interaction between Ukrainian soldiers in Poland and the U.S. troops that the President saw on the trip. There’s nothing — no further detail that I can add on that, except to say that there is regular interaction. As you saw, we were there near the border. And there’s regular interaction between those troops that he saw and Ukrainians.

For what it is worth, General Tod Wolters, the head of U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Commander Europe, testified on Capitol Hill yesterday, “I do not believe that we are in the process of currently training military forces from Ukraine in Poland . . . There are liaisons that are there that are being given advice, and that’s different than [what] I think you’re referring to with respect [to] training.”

If Wolters is telling the truth, Biden wasn’t revealing a secret; he just has no idea what is going on, and what U.S. military forces are and aren’t doing. How reassuring!

Cleaning up after Joe Biden’s runaway mouth is a difficult and never-ending job.

Politics & Policy

Time to End Legacy Preferences?

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Around a century ago, top American colleges began giving the children of graduates of the school a preference in admissions. Harvard, e.g., didn’t want too many “lower class” students (recent immigrants, Jewish) so it favored applicants who had family connections. The practice continues to this day.

In today’s Martin Center article, Walt Gardner argues that it is time to end legacy preferences.

Writes Gardner, “There was a time when the number of ‘legacy admits’ at colleges was low enough overall that the practice was tolerated. But with elite schools now under immense pressure to diversify their student bodies, enrolling underachieving applicants largely because they are family of alumni is criticized by some as an unfair practice that perpetuates inequity in admissions.”

He notes that some prominent schools, such as Amherst and Johns Hopkins have dropped legacy preferences. Colorado passed legislation to prohibit it in its state universities. Some members of Congress want to use the leverage of federal student aid to force all schools that want to accept federal funds to stop giving legacy preferences.

There is some opposition to that, naturally. Gardner notes that, “Push back is likely to intensify in the months ahead as admission to elite colleges is increasingly seen as a distinct leg up in finding well-paying jobs after graduation.”

Actually, it isn’t such a “leg up.” Having gone to a prestigious school is becoming less of an advantage as employers increasingly look for actual evidence of ability. Parents who scammed their clueless kids into top schools might enjoy bragging about where they’re going, but a degree from a top university won’t ensure success for the kids.

I agree with Gardner’s conclusion: “In the final analysis, legacy preferences are nothing more than affirmative action for the rich and well-connected. For too long both have played an inordinate role in admissions. It’s time to replace them with pure merit.”

Regulatory Policy

If You Really Want Broad-Based Prosperity, Dismantle the Regulatory State

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Remember all the blather from Hillary Clinton and other statist politicians on how they will create “an economy that works for everyone” if put in power? Actually, that is a worthy goal, but the way to go about it is not through ever-increasing government control, but by doing the exact opposite.

So argues Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute in this Law & Liberty essay.

The vast regulatory state needs to be dismantled. Murray writes that, “We can think about this in terms of what it takes to build a successful enterprise. The basic building blocks are finance to get it off the ground, energy to power it, and labor to staff it. All three of these factors are highly regulated, and regulations restrict access to entry into the market. Worse, while many such restrictions are often the result of unintended consequences, too often they are by design. Where the free market is providing solutions, regulators seem determined to close them off.”

In America before the New Deal stuck us with the huge burden of federal regulation, the economy teemed with opportunities for everyone. Poor immigrants founded businesses. They didn’t have to ask permission to try innovations. They could hire and fire workers without fear of lawsuits. Capital was available for ideas that seemed promising.

Today, the regulatory behemoth gets in the way at every step.

Read the whole thing.

Politics & Policy

Debating Abortion at Notre Dame, Pt. 2

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A pro-abortion rights activist holds a placard during a protest outside the Supreme Court building, ahead of arguments in the Mississippi abortion rights case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, in Washington, D.C., December 1, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

As I noted on the Corner on Monday, I participated in a debate on abortion at Notre Dame yesterday evening with CNN opinion writer Jill Filipovic. We debated the resolution “Legal Access to Abortion is Necessary for the Freedom and Equality of Women,” and, in my view, we had a really substantive and thoughtful back-and-forth, followed by more than a dozen great questions from undergrads here at Notre Dame. I’ll have a longer piece at some point explaining why I think it’s important — essential, even — to debate abortion, especially at a Catholic university, even though we as Catholics believe the debate should be “settled” by now.

If you’re interested in watching some or all of the event, here’s the full video:

World

Senators Want to Boot Russia from Human Rights Council

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U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield holds a news conference to mark the start of the U.S. presidency of the U.N. Security Council for March, at U.N. headquarters in New York City, March 1, 2021. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

A bipartisan group of senators urged U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield to introduce a U.N. resolution expelling Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council. They asked her to do so on Monday, in a letter led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez and ranking member Jim Risch.

“According to the membership rules of the UNHRC, states engaging in a pattern of gross and systemic abuses can be removed by a two-thirds vote of the UN General Assembly,” wrote the senators. “We implore you to introduce a resolution in the UN General Assembly to call for the removal of the Russian Federation from the UNHRC immediately.”

The Biden administration brought the U.S. back to the council for a term that began this year, following a 2018 Trump administration decision to withdraw from the body over the continued involvement of brutal dictatorships in its activities. In 2020, U.N. members elected China, Russia, Cuba, and other countries with unsavory human-rights records to the body, which is based in Geneva.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a statement earlier this month saying that the U.S. has assessed that Russia has carried out war crimes during its invasion of Ukraine. From indiscriminate bombings of civilians centers to disturbing new reports about rape, Russia has carried out egregious human-rights abuses.

U.S. officials have spoken out forcefully at the U.N about the Russian invasion. They’ve also convinced other members to support resolutions condemning Moscow’s military campaign and establishing a special commission to investigate human-rights abuses perpetrated by Russian forces. Earlier this month, Blinken even questioned how Russia could be allowed to remain on the council.

As the senators noted in their letter, however, the administration has so far declined to publicly endorse a resolution booting Russia from the Human Rights Council.

“Russia should not have an opportunity to continue to block, stifle, and otherwise distract from important conversations on the situation of human rights in Ukraine. Swift action must be taken to show the world the United States and our allies will not stand for indiscriminate and unprovoked attacks on civilians and democracies,” wrote the senators. “The time has come for Russia to no longer have a seat on the Council.”

Media

CNN+ Is Here — Will Anyone Watch?

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Brian Stelter of CNN mingles at the annual White House Correspondents Association Dinner in Washington, D.C., April 27, 2019. (James Lawler Duggan/Reuters)

The story of how CNN managed to transform its brand from “generic, safe place where Bernard Shaw soberly read the headlines” to “nonstop partisan hysterical attack machine” has yet to be written, and there are signs that the incoming chief of WarnerMedia — soon to be renamed Warner Bros. Discover — wants to steer the ship back on the right course. For now, though, the brand is in a transitional phase, and is trying to get into the streaming thing with CNN+, which just launched. It is a total disaster in the making, as I wrote here. I find it amusing that one of the marquee offerings of this streamer is . . . a six-part show about the man whose rival news channel left them in the dust years ago, Rupert Murdoch. One of the things I suspect David Zaslav might want to do when he takes over the company is to tell CNN to cool it on their Fox News obsession.

World

Pestiferous Questions

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I know most people find it extremely annoying to deal with questions when they are confronting totalitarianism in the name of democracy. But why isn’t there even one English-language source estimating Ukrainian casualties in this war? We have extensive contacts with the Ukrainian government, and many outlets pass on what the Ukrainian ministry of defense says. At the beginning of the war, the total size of the Ukrainian military (not all battle-ready) was well over 400,000 men. How many are engaged? How many are wounded? How many are operating in the Eastern theater or around Kyiv?

I’m just an American citizen whose government has been supplying Ukraine with weapons for years. Our Congress continues to consider massive amounts of military and financial aid. Are we allowed to get an idea of how well our investment is holding up? Or are such questions supposed to be buried by the moral facts?

I find this utter silence infantilizing. For years, I’ve argued that our involvement with Ukraine tended to make our politics more like those in the Duma. Now we are subjected to their total lack of transparency.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Bad Pandemic Forecasts

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Steve Hanke and Kevin Dowd write about Imperial College’s long record of bad pandemic forecasts, and why we should be skeptical of worst-case death estimates:

The model’s major flaw is its assumption that people would be unresponsive to the dangers that accompany a pandemic. That behavioral assumption is unrealistic. If people are told they are in danger of catching a potentially lethal disease, most will take action to reduce their exposure. The Imperial team turned the world on its head with fantasy numbers about a scenario that could never materialize.

Before hurrying into panicked policy decisions, U.K. policy-makers should have been aware that Neil Ferguson’s Imperial College team had a history of defective modeling. With minimal effort, policy-makers would have quickly discovered that that team had a track record that makes astrology look respectable. . . .
Politics & Policy

‘DeSantis Was Right and Other Governors Were Wrong’

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at CPAC in Orlando, Fla., February 24, 2022. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

Not least among the reasons I hope Ron DeSantis is the next Republican nominee for president is this one: The nation deserves a clear, honest reckoning with how we faced up to the Covid crisis, unclouded with any distractions such as the personality defects of Donald Trump. DeSantis is the one potential candidate who can vigorously represent what has become the conservative position: that non-pharmaceutical interventions such as masks were generally useless in stopping the spread of a highly contagious airborne disease, and even if they did have some small benefit, it was certainly not worth the immense psychological and developmental cost imposed cruelly and mindlessly on the children of this country. Florida children went back to school unmasked in August of 2020 and got on with their lives. I wish I could say the same of New York children, who have been beaten into submission and in many cases are still wearing masks, though they are no longer mandated.

Karol Markowicz, who was driven out of New York City and moved to Florida with her family when she decided her three children could not absorb any more punishment from the state in the name of “protecting” them, has a strong column up along these lines at RealClearPolitics. As Karol notes, the Democratic Party-aligned media is furiously trying to argue that DeSantis is “just like Trump” or “much worse than Trump.” I do not think that the voters will swallow this argument, as they have eyes and ears. DeSantis’s ability to calmly and convincingly explain his positions in complete sentences instead of word bursts is a refreshing change from Trump’s style, as is his ability to correct Democratic Party toadies posing as nonpartisan reporters without getting distracted by various feuds, grievances, and lies about who won the last election.

DeSantis is like Trump in that he utterly rejects false media narratives. He is simply much more effective at this than Trump. So he poses a colossal threat to the media’s ability to dictate terms of the conversation, and if he seems to have a shot at the White House, they will come after him at least as hard as they went after Trump.

Culture

At Random

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A Wisconsin lake (Jen Tepp / Getty Images)

Because you have not heard enough about Will Smith, Chris Rock, and the Oscars, I lead with that subject in my Impromptus today. I also discuss Raif Badawi, the Saudi former political prisoner (what a relief to say “former”), and Madeleine K. Albright, the late secretary of state. (I discuss them separately, I should point out.) There are the usual mixings-in of music, language, photos, etc.

Mail now? Recently, I was discussing Tucson, that funnily spelled town. I published a little mail on the subject. Here now is a note from National Review’s Dominic Pino:

A reader talked to you about the names of Polish towns, with hard-to-fathom pronunciations. I feel this way about names of towns around New York City that East Coast people pronounce with ease: “Ronkonkoma,” “Metuchen,” “Massapequa,” “Chappaqua” . . . But then I remember that I have no problem whatsoever with names in my native Wisconsin: “Oconomowoc,” “Ashwaubenon,” “Manitowoc,” “Mukwonago” . . . It really just comes down to what you’re familiar with.

I had a funny incident when driving with some friends past the town of Random Lake, Wis. I had never thought much of the name, but my out-of-state friends burst out laughing when they saw it on a highway sign. “It’s like it’s just some random lake!” they said. Never thought of that, but it actually is a pretty funny name.

I heard from Andrew Johnson, a.k.a. A.J., an erstwhile colleague of ours. The Subject line of his e-mail read, “NBA player pulls a Kevin Williamson.” Glance at the story:

Following the loss to the Indiana Pacers on Sunday, Jusuf Nurkic of the Portland Trail Blazers confronted a fan, which resulted in Nurkic tossing the fan’s phone into the stands. Subsequently, the NBA has levied a $40,000 fine against Nurkic for the interaction . . .

Whoa, $40K is a lot — though maybe not for an NBA player. When Kevin Williamson was a theater critic in New York, he relieved the woman seating next to him of her cellphone, so as to afford her a better night at the theater. For his account, go here.

A reader writes,

Dear Mr. Nordlinger,

For no good reason last evening I was searching YouTube for an old clip of Charles Trenet singing his cute and funny hit, “Boum.” I happened on this video of the Susie Parr Trio (never heard of Susie Parr, or the trio, before yesterday). Apparently, they are from Kalamazoo, or somewhere close in West Michigan. Anyway, I thought you could use 2½ minutes of joie de vivre about now.

What a thoughtful correspondent. And, yes, Susie Parr is delicious. For the original Trenet — go here.

And thank you to one and all. Again, today’s Impromptus is here.

Health Care

Where Is the Bio-Fascist State Headed?

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So asks Dr. Aaron Kheriaty in this piece on the Brownstone Institute’s website.

He looks specifically at California, which has gone further than any other state (and may go further still) in “protecting” everyone from Covid.

Nothing better illustrates the difference between true liberals (i.e., people who believe in allowing individuals to act without coercion) and the statists who want to exert the maximum of control over society, which satisfies their authoritarian urges and also gives them access to lots of tax dollars, than the reaction to Covid. The latter have used it as the excuse for an astounding grab for power while declaring that everything they wanted was based on science.

Politics & Policy

Suicide: Oregon Becomes America’s Switzerland

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And another “strict guideline to prevent abuse” bites the proverbial dust. Oregon has just eradicated the requirement — always weak, as Brittany Maynard proved by just moving there — that a patient accessing assisted suicide be a resident of the state. From the AP story:

Oregon will no longer require people to be residents of the state to use its law allowing terminally ill people to receive lethal medication, after a lawsuit challenged the requirement as unconstitutional.

In a settlement filed in U.S. District Court in Portland on Monday, the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Medical Board agreed to stop enforcing the residency requirement and to ask the Legislature to remove it from the law.

Advocates said they would use the settlement to press the eight other states and Washington, D.C., with medically assisted suicide laws to drop their residency requirements as well.

We know this drill, right? A lawsuit is filed in which supposedly adverse legal sides really aren’t “adverse.” Soon the friendlies in government agree to the terms requested by the plaintiffs as a settlement. Easy, peasy. And no real way to prevent it.

So now, just like happens with “suicide tourism” in Switzerland, suicidal people from all over the country and the world can flock to Oregon to be made dead. Sure, they supposedly have to be terminally ill, but that is a loosely enforced requirement already. And assisted-suicide appointments can be held virtually. At some point the terminal illness guideline will fall, too — as soon as the euthanasia movement deems it politically expedient.

Politics & Policy

Manchin Says No to Biden’s ‘Billionaire’ Tax

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) leads a group of legislators to introduce a bill to ban Russian energy imports at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., March 3, 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Well, it was fun while it lasted.

Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) told the Hill that he won’t be supporting President Biden’s plan, announced yesterday, to tax unrealized capital gains on people whose net worth is over $100 million. His reasoning is straightforward and spot-on: “You can’t tax something that’s not earned,” he said.

That this wasn’t obvious to all Democrats from the start is still concerning, but at least there’s one Democrat willing to say it. In a 50-50 Senate, one Democrat is all it takes to kill the proposal.

As NR’s editorial from this morning said, “The so-called billionaires’ tax deserves to be laughed out of Congress.” The day after Biden proposed it, it has been.

Fauci: China’s Secrecy in Wuhan Investigation a ‘Natural Reflex’

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Outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology, February 2021 (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Anthony Fauci — remember him? — was back on TV this Sunday, making a desperate bid for relevance on BBC’s Sunday Morning. You probably didn’t see it, given that the vast majority of the country has all but forgotten the Good Doctor. But Fauci isn’t going down without a fight: Citing the increase of Covid cases in Europe and the U.K. — which “has not yet hit the United States,” he said — Fauci told the BBC that Americans “need to be prepared” for the possibility of more Covid restrictions in the future. 

“I don’t want to use the word lockdowns;

Media

Identity Politics Makes You Stupid

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(Brian Snyder/Reuters)

At CNN, Peniel E. Joseph complains about Ben Sasse’s “jaw-dropping” use of the word “winsome” to describe Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson:

This lack of grace and empathy was evident in some of the jaw-dropping language used by members of the committee to describe Jackson — for instance, Sasse told Jackson she was “incredibly likable and winsome.” It seems impossible to imagine the Senator – or others of his colleagues, who praised Jackson’s performance in a similarly gendered terms – speaking these words to a White, male nominee. It sounded for all the world like she was being congratulated for not being an Angry Black Woman.

Does it seem “impossible,” though? Because, in 2018, Sasse used exactly that “gendered” term to describe “White, male nominee” Brett Kavanaugh, whom he was presumably not “congratulating” for not “being an Angry Black Woman”:

Last night, I heard from people on both the right and left ends of the policy spectrum, but legal experts said to me quotes that were remarkably eerie in their echo: Brett Kavanaugh is always the smartest person in every room he is in, yet when you are in the room, you would never know that he knows it because of his humble manner and his winsome ways.

Film & TV

Today in Absolute Drivel

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Will Smith hits Chris Rock at the 94th Academy Awards in Hollywood, Los Angeles, Calif., March 27, 2022. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

There’s some world-class nonsense writing in today’s Hollywood Reporter, where Eisa Nefertari Ulen manages to make an altercation between two black celebrities about . . . well, about every single thing that progressives make things about:

The fact that the slap took place on an international stage does not enlarge the foolishness — at least, not for me. I do not fear the white gaze as I drop, viscerally, into a well of Black pain: In Will’s initial laugh, the weight of always needing to be affable, especially in white spaces, even when the joke’s on him. In his sudden decision to rise and approach Chris, the patriarchy’s compulsory performance of strong manhood. In the slap, a hyper-masculine response consistent with America’s punitive justice system. In “take my wife’s name out your f***ing mouth,” the release of suppressed anger in the form of toxic masculinity. And, in the tears that fell during his acceptance speech, genuine hurt.

Terrific stuff.

Politics & Policy

Will Florida Be the Next Constitutional Carry State?

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A gun owner wears a handgun as members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League hold a gun-rights rally in Richmond, Va., July 9, 2019. (Michael A. McCoy/Reuters)

Despite its reputation as the “Gunshine State,” Florida has come rather late to the “constitutional carry” trend that has swept the United States during the last decade. In 2002, there was only one American state that did not require residents to obtain a permit before they carried a gun: Vermont. In 2003, Vermont was joined by Alaska. In 2010, Vermont and Alaska were joined by Arizona. And, after that, the floodgates opened. Today, there are 24 permitless carry states. If Florida  added itself to the roster, it would make it a neat 25, sending the number from one state to one half of all the states in just twenty years.

Will it? It’s certainly looking more possible than it has before. In late March, Governor DeSantis endorsed the idea of abolishing Florida’s permitting requirements, telling journalists, “Put it on my desk I’ll sign it.” But the legislature didn’t put it on his desk, and when the legislative session expired without any action having been taken, the proposal looked as if it had died for yet another year.

Until today. Having vetoed the legislature’s redistricting map, DeSantis has called for a special session of the legislature (Florida’s legislature meets for just sixty days per year), at which he and lawmakers can hammer out a deal on congressional maps. Asked if there was anything else he wanted to achieve, DeSantis specifically mentioned permitless carry. “I would love to have property insurance, I would love to have data privacy, I would love to have constitutional carry,” he told reporters today.

Naturally, DeSantis cannot force the legislature to take up any of those issues. But he can turn them into bargaining chips. And I’d bet he’d love to have that on his resume going into 2022 — and beyond.

World

With Every Murder, Palestinians Destroy Their Future

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Israeli mourners attend a funeral of Menachem Yehezkel, who died during a car ramming and stabbing attack in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, March 23, 2022. (Nir Elias/Reuters)

Israel has now faced three terrorist attacks over the past week. There have been at least eleven murders. Today’s attacks happened in the suburbs of Ramat Gan and B’nei Brak, both well inside the ’67 boundaries. This isn’t about “occupied territories.” This isn’t some ginned-up Fatah claim regarding the Temple Mount. It’s old-fashioned random terror, meant, I guess, to scare Jews out of the Middle East. It’s the same as it was in 1950s, when fedayeen would sneak into Israel and murder civilians (before any “occupied territories” existed); same as it when Arafat formed the PLO (also before 1967) and started terrorizing the air; same as it was when Fatah refused to make peace in 2001 and launched the bloody Intifada; and same as it was when Arab nationalist violence evolved into Islamist violence and missiles began raining down missiles on southern Israel.

Even as Sunni Arab nations make peace, open trade, and enter security arrangements with Israel, Palestinians refuse to lift themselves from the destitution of their own creation. The government of Gaza, given autonomy by Israel in 2005, will extol the killers. If the murderer, brainwashed by a lifetime of state-sponsored hate, hails from the West Bank, the PA will pay his family a bounty (using, in part, American tax dollars). Many Palestinians will hand out candy and celebrate the murders. They always do. And later today, some Brookings type will take to Twitter, condemn the murders, and then stress the importance of a two-state solution. But no rational people would hand a new country — or share a city or bestow a “right to return” — to those who might randomly murder them or launch missiles at their schools. And yet, Palestinians continue, for more than a century now, to engage in this self-destructive strategy.

Fiscal Policy

States Ignore the History of Tax Rebates and Holidays

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(Michael Burrell/Getty Images)

On Friday, I wrote about the delusional policies many states are pursuing in response to high gas prices. Among those are one-time tax rebates and short-term tax holidays. I argued that states are missing a huge opportunity to make meaningful, long-lasting reforms to their tax codes and fix other budgetary problems.

Today, Jared Walczak of the Tax Foundation has a blog post about how tax rebates and holidays don’t work. It’s not a theoretical question; these policies have been tried before. He writes:

Sending one-time checks to taxpayers is not new. The federal government sent multiple rounds of checks since the pandemic began, of course. During the Great Recession, most taxpayers received a refundable tax credit in 2008 and certain SSI recipients received a $250 payment in 2009. Before that, the 2001 Bush tax cuts included $300/$600 tax credits, and 1975 legislation provided a rebate of 10 percent of taxes paid the previous year, up to a maximum of $200.

In surveys, 25-30 percent of recipients tend to indicate that they will spend the additional money, compared to saving it or using it to pay off debt. Economic studies tend to support moderately higher levels of additional consumption than is self-reported in these surveys.

In the past, however, most one-time spending through the tax code was in response to an economic downturn, and thus typically came at a time when consumer spending was below average, and when the money was intended to help people keep up with ongoing expenses.

The year of the 2001 tax cuts, consumer spending increased a modest 1.6 percent. It declined about 1 percent per year in 2008 and 2009, when further payments were made. In 1975, it simply recovered to what it had been before a dip in 1974. Last year, by contrast, consumer expenditures soared more than 7 percent, and are about 4 percent higher in real terms than they were before the pandemic. Personal income, meanwhile, is up 8 percent (inflation-adjusted) since 2019, boosted by both direct and indirect federal assistance.

Walczak’s entire post is worth your time, and it includes better ideas for states to pursue instead. Check it out here.

States are using their budget surpluses to double down on policies we know don’t work. They aren’t addressing the actual problems with energy prices, most of which are not their fault, but some of which are — take New York’s refusal to approve new pipelines, for example. Instead, they are all too willing to pander to voters with one-time handouts that won’t help that much in the short run and completely ignore the long run.

Culture

Get Your Tocqueville on Next Week

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The Center for Civil Society is hosting an important conference next Wednesday, April 6, in Winter Park, Fla., (at the lovely Alfond Inn) to hash out that often-troubled relationship of Democracy and Philanthropy in America — how they mix, mingle, interact, squabble, and whether it’s all to the benefit, or detriment, of civil society. Senator Ben Sasse, Heather Higgins, Les Lenkowski, David Bahnsen, and many more will be on hand to keynote and to take on questions (such as is philanthropy too political? and can policy reforms make philanthropy work better for America?) and to offer wisdom on how to give wisely. There is still time to sign up. If you are a giver, a doer, or a thinker, you’re welcome to attend. Find the agenda here, and should it float your boat, then do register (before Friday, April 1) right here.

Culture

Twenty-Five Things That Caught My Eye Today: Nigerian Christians Kidnapped, the Cruelty of the Commodification of Babies & More

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Christian worshippers leave St. Gabriel Catholic church in Abuja, Nigeria, March 22, 2020. (Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters)

1. Catholic priest abducted after Sunday Mass in Nigeria

A Catholic priest of the Diocese of Minna in Nigeria was among 45 people kidnapped after Mass on Sunday.

The Nigeria Catholic Network reported that on the morning of March 27, assailants abducted villagers along with Father Leo Raphael Ozigi, a priest of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in the town of Sarkin Pawa.

Father Emeka Amanchukwu, the diocesan chancellor, confirmed to ACI Africa, CNA’s partner agency, that Ozigi had been kidnapped.

Amanchukwu said in a letter to the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria that “the unfortunate incident occurred when the priest was returning to his place of residence in Christ the King Parish, Gwada, after the celebration of the Holy Mass in his parish, St. Mary’s Parish, Sarkin Pawa.”

2.

3. Naomi Schaefer Riley: How the pandemic slowdown in court devastated NYC kids’ lives

How bad was the pandemic for the most vulnerable children in this city? A new report on the extreme dysfunction in the city’s family court system should horrify our leaders and provoke public outrage.

According to the study done by the New York City Bar Association and The Fund for Modern Courts, thousands of families had to wait extra months, if not years, for decisions about findings of child maltreatment, visitation, adoption, domestic violence, foster care and termination of parental rights. Women with domestic violence complaints determined they couldn’t leave their abusive boyfriends because there was no court available to ask for child support. A child’s adoption took 15 months instead of three. A custodial father was prevented from seeing his two-year-old son for eight months after the mother refused to return the boy following a visit. 

As the report concludes, “At a time of crisis, when the vulnerable populations who routinely appear in Family Court needed help the most, the courthouse doors were largely closed.” Like the folks running our schools and our child welfare agencies, it seems clear that the family court system put the comfort of adults ahead of the needs of kids.

4. Charles Camosy: Attacks on religious health-care providers keep on coming

After being admitted to an Ohio intensive care unit in April of 2017, a physician named William Husel gave Hayes 1,000 micrograms of fentanyl, a synthetic opiate that is lethal in even small doses. The dose Hayes got, said Dr. Wesley Ely, an expert witness in Husel’s trial last month, was enough “to take out an elephant.”

Husel stands accused of hastening the death of 14 people, including Hayes. Ely described the amount Husel was prescribing as “astounding” and “mind-boggling” and likened it to “driving 250 mph through a school zone while people are crossing the street.”

There’s nothing in the medical literature that addresses this kind of practice. “There’s no literature at all,” Ely testified, “because nobody does that.”

Patients like Ryan Hayes may come into Husel’s care very sick, but their illness isn’t what killed them. Husel killed them, Ely testified.

When the lawyer for the defense got the chance to cross-examine Ely, she didn’t go over his claims about the science and medicine. Instead, she went after his Catholicism.

She accused him essentially of being a publicly religious health care provider as if this were disqualifying in itself. She pointed out that — horror of horrors — he received an award from the pro-life Catholic Medical Association.

Continue reading “Twenty-Five Things That Caught My Eye Today: Nigerian Christians Kidnapped, the Cruelty of the Commodification of Babies & More”

Religion

I’ve Almost Gotten My Birthday Ask in Support of the Sisters of Life

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Sisters of Life praying on the Feast of the Presentation at their Motherhouse in Suffern, N.Y., in early February 2020. (Kathryn Jean Lopez)

A week ago today was my birthday and I asked for you to consider supporting the Sisters of Life, who are our pro-life credibility. They are women who lay down their lives to practically build a culture of life, conversation by conversation, gaze by gaze. They walk with women and families and they show them what amazing things God has made them for. They receive them and love them and accompany them. Theirs is a ministry anyone could support because they are all about love — the self-giving, sacrificial, joyful kind. The true kind.

I learned this morning that we are almost to our $30,000 goal — we’ve raised just over $25,262. I didn’t know if we would do it, but let’s go all the way — and maybe give them a little extra to show how much we are dedicated to ensuring that women know they are not alone and that we are about more than overturning Roe but making abortion unthinkable, because women are embraced by love and resources for life and flourishing. The Sisters are about helping women to heal from the pain of abortion. Always love in truth. Always radiate the truth in love. The Sisters of Life show us in many ways how we need to have a culture of life and a civilization of love.

Thank you, if you have given. Thank you, if you might consider.

Here’s the full pitch. Donate here.

For snail mail:

Sisters of Life

Annunciation Motherhouse

38 Montebello Rd

Suffern, NY 10901

Put something like “K-Lo’s birthday” on the memo line.

Thank you!

God bless you!

Law Professors Should Be Alarmed by the Arguments from the January 6 Committee

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Attorney John Eastman (left) speaks next to Then-President Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Judge David Carter’s decision on the January 6 committee’s efforts to subpoena John Eastman’s communications is attracting a lot of buzz for accepting the committee’s arguments about the crime-fraud exception to the attorney-client and work-product privileges; more on that later. We should not, however, pass over some of the alarming arguments made by the committee, which troubled Judge Carter in their sweeping implications. Law professors who counsel clients and make court appearances should pay particular note.

Eastman was, Judge Carter found, acting as an attorney for Trump and his campaign when he communicated with Trump and with representatives of the campaign.

Politics & Policy

For the Love of God, Joe, Use the Cheat Sheet

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President Joe Biden responds to a question about Ukraine during an event to announce his budget proposal for fiscal year 2023, in Washington, March 28, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In and of itself, President Joe Biden’s crib sheet isn’t a big deal. Politicians often need written cues to remind them to stress certain angles, especially when it comes to statistics or achievements. What makes Biden’s cue-card kerfuffle a bit scary is that the text reads as if was written for a recently graduated communications major on his first day at the State Department. We’re talking about the most perilous world event in a while, and Biden, who has “more foreign policy experience than any president who has ever held this office,” needs a paper to remind him to say things like, “No. NATO has never been more united.” This is literally the talking point that every Democrat has been repeating unceasingly since Russia invaded Ukraine — as if keeping Western Europe united in the face of a Putin invasion is a major accomplishment.

“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” was the spontaneous conclusion of the president’s speech in Poland last week. “I was expressing the moral outrage I felt toward the actions of this man. I was not advocating a change in policy,” read the cue card. This is the walk back. Presidents, it must be stressed, should not make major impromptu foreign-policy announcements simply because their ire is up — in this case, also because no such policy is in place, and, even if it were, a Putin successor might well be worse. Nor should the president of the United States need crib notes to spell out the nation’s most basic position on Russia.

Indeed, when Fox News’ Peter Doocy asked the president about his recent “gaffes” regarding American troops headed to Ukraine (he also talked about training Ukrainian forces in Poland), the use of chemical weapons against Russia, or regime change, Biden responded: “None of the three occurred.” It’s one thing to pretend Build Back Better costs “zero dollars,” and another to spout off during a war. Biden is not campaigning on Twitter anymore. The White House has spent more than a week publicly contradicting the president, creating the perception that Biden isn’t running foreign policy (and maybe that would be for the best).

You can whatabout this incompetence all you like. The president — and there is only one of them at a time — has a history of substituting emotional outbursts for arguments when he’s frustrated. His foreign-policy instincts have been unswervingly terrible for 50 years. Add to it his degenerating cognitive abilities, and it’s getting dangerous.

All he had to do was read a cue card.

Elections

Missouri Democrats Follow the Cash

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The Missouri Senate race presents, as I’ve discussed here and here, two paths diverging: Either Republicans nominate Eric Greitens, in which case the race becomes immediately competitive, or they nominate Eric Schmitt or Vicky Hartzler, in which case the one-two punch of Missouri’s Republican tilt and the national environment make this a relatively sleepy race that the Republicans can safely take to the bank unless their candidate self-destructs in some as-yet-unforeseen way. For Democrats, that presents a bit of a strategic conundrum. They don’t want to pour a lot of resources into a race against Schmitt or Hartzler that will be needed elsewhere, because they will be wasted. But they want to be ready to pounce in case they are facing Greitens.

They have found their solution: a self-funding candidate, beer heiress Trudy Busch Valentine, who entered the race on Monday. Her father, August Anheuser Busch Jr., better known as “Gussie” Busch, owned the St. Louis Cardinals and was the man most responsible for building Anheuser-Busch into the world’s largest beer company (he took over the brewing division in 1934 at the end of Prohibition, and ran the whole company from 1946–75). You can see Valentine’s power as a longtime Democratic donor in the fact that former state senator Scott Sifton, once the presumptive Democratic nominee, immediately dropped out of the race and endorsed her.

We shall see if Valentine is any sort of viable candidate on the stump, but if nothing else, a self-funder saves the DSCC cash it will badly need elsewhere, while preserving the possibility of a spending blitz in case a Greitens nomination puts this seat on the board.

Politics & Policy

A Different Sort of Free-Speech Problem on Campus

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Students walk between classes on the Locust Walk on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pa., September 25, 2017. (Charles Mostoller/Reuters)

We hear frequently about the hostility to freedom of speech on our campuses these days — people being prevented from speaking because an academic mob has decided that their ideas are “offensive.”

But there is another sort of free-speech problem, namely that of compelled speech.  That is, people (particularly faculty members) being required to say certain things.

In this Law & Liberty essay, Professor George LaNoue examines compelled speech. He writes, “Free speech controversies are often focused on acts of censorship such as speech cancellations, speech codes, safe spaces, and bias response teams. There is another type of free speech issue, however, that receives much less attention: speech that is not censored but compelled.”

One example is the “land acquisition statement” that some schools insist that faculty members include. The statement informs students that the land upon which the institution sits was “stolen” from its true owners, the Native Americans. The language is silly since the school isn’t going to do anything to rectify the alleged injustice, but professors ought to be free not to put the words on their syllabi.

Another, of course, revolves around “diversity,” with more and more schools requiring what amounts to a pledge of allegiance to the DEI creed.

LaNoue writes, “A far more common problem can be found in required Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) statements. Some dimensions of DEI just offer a counter interpretation of the more traditional American narrative and deserve a place in the campus dialogue, but other versions are much more coercive and require individual adherence to a set of beliefs which may not only be factually incorrect but trample individual conscience.”

I agree with LaNoue that it is time to challenge compelled speech in the courts. Public institutions cannot force people to say things without violating the First Amendment.

NR Webathon

Wow

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

Here at National Review, we like to think of ourselves as well-trained in the bon mot and the mot juste. William F. Buckley Jr., this publication’s founder, was certainly skilled in this area, and we do our best to measure up to him – in this and in every other respect we can manage. But sometimes you don’t need a thesaurus to select the most appropriate word for the moment. Such is the case in this instance. The results of our latest webathon (you can donate here), in which we have declared yet again our collective intention to stand athwart the inanities and insanities of the present and ask for your support in ensuring that we can continue to do so, have induced in us a gratitude best expressed by one simple word: wow.

After all these years, we really shouldn’t be surprised by the generosity of our supporters, even as we would not think for a moment to take it for granted. Indeed, as time goes on, those keen on helping us continue our mission keep finding new ways to surprise us with the depth of their affection and the kindness of their support.

Pitching in $250, Doug writes, “Thanks for the continued sanity in a world gone mad.” It is to you we owe thanks, Doug. The lunatics may have taken over the asylum, but they’re not gonna get anywhere near National Review, thanks in large part to the support of readers like you.

Handing over $50, Brandon cheers Madeleine Kearns, our warrior on the transgender issue. “Thank you Maddy! Keep up the great work and know that you are supported by the majority even if the loudest voices seem to be full of hate. And thank you NR for employing such an influential voice with such a timely message. Please continue to fight. Please continue to stand athwart this insanity.” She will and we will, Brandon – with your help. Thank you.

Contributing $20, Sasha implores: “Keep fighting the good fight, NR!” Without the support of readers like you, we could not, but with them, we can, and we will. Thank you, Sasha.

Anthony throws a C-note in the basket, simply stating: “I stand with William F. Buckley and National Review.” Much appreciated, Anthony. If people like you stand with us, who would dare stand against us?

These are but a few of the generous souls who have opened their wallets to us of late. We are grateful for all of them, and for every single contribution, of whatever size. No gift is too small to go without our gratitude. And know that we will use every dollar in support of the mission that has earned us the rapport with National Review readers since this publication began in 1955: i.e., to provide a voice of sanity in a world that seems far too inclined to shut such voices up. We’re here to speak for the sane, and not to bow to whatever the latest craziness happens to be. Seeing the extent of those willing to support us in this mission, we must, once again, say: wow. If you wish to join their ranks, you can do so here.

 

Politics & Policy

Biden’s New Budget Omits Hyde Amendment

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President Joe Biden speaks at the White House in Washington, D.C., March 8, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

President Biden’s new budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, like his budget proposal last year, omits the Hyde amendment, which prohibits federal money from directly reimbursing abortion businesses for the cost of abortion procedures.

“Today President Biden talked about how his budget reflects his values. Apparently one of his values is forcing taxpayers to fund big abortion businesses,” said Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) in a statement following the release of the president’s proposal. “For the second straight year, President Biden has tried to kill the same Hyde Amendment he supported when he was in the Senate. Biden’s values may be flexible, but this issue is clear cut — the Hyde Amendment saves lives. The president doesn’t have the votes for this nonsense.”

Even though the Hyde amendment was added to the appropriations bill for the current fiscal year, the Biden administration insisted on removing it for next year. According to some assessments, because of the way that public funding tends to correlate with an increased abortion rate, the Hyde amendment has saved the lives of more than 2.4 million unborn children. A majority of Americans support Hyde.

The RNC’s director of faith communications condemned the move and called the administration “the most radical, pro-abortion administration in history.”

Media

Jonathan Chait Thinks Donald Trump Invented Italians Talking with Their Hands

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Former president Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., February 28, 2021. (Joe Skipper / Reuters)

Jonathan Chait is nothing if not a consistent barometer and leading public indicator of which Republican partisan Democrats fear the most. In 2016, it wasn’t Trump, which is why he wrote a now-infamous column on the eve of the New Hampshire primary — at the very point when both a Trump nomination and a Trump loss to Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio seemed possible — entitled “Why Liberals Should Support a Trump Republican Nomination.” In 2021, he was pushing back against anyone who wanted Republicans to move on from Trump. In recent months, he has been refocusing to attack Ron DeSantis, making the inevitable and much-predicted turn to arguing that DeSantis is worse than Trump. Chait even dedicated the launch of his newsletter to this theme.

His latest profile is full of now-familiar Chait hobbyhorses, but the most unintentionally funny part is the (to him) ominous opening, describing a DeSantis press conference in February, which he illustrates with a photo array:

As DeSantis spoke, he looked like a man who had been mimicking Donald Trump’s speeches in front of the mirror. He performed a series of hand thrusts, in which he drew his thumbs together until they were almost touching, then jerked them apart in quick horizontal motions, as if he were playing an invisible accordion. After five such accordion pulls, he swung his right hand, thumb pointing up, in a semi-circular motion back inward to the center. DeSantis tweeted out the clip, and any MAGA fan watching, even without the sound on, would have grasped the gist just through the eerie physical impersonation.

I would submit to the reader that Donald Trump did not actually invent Italian-Americans talking with their hands. A writer for New York should know that.

Film & TV

How the Story Ends

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Far be it from me to criticize somebody very harshly for dishing out a little rough justice in a theater full of people.

Of course Chris Rock had it coming. That seems clear enough to me. But it also is clear to me that if I always gave others what they had coming, I’d probably be in jail.

(And if I myself always got what I had coming, I’d definitely be in jail.)

I do worry a little about Will Smith, though, who seems to be having a drawn-out public breakdown of the sort that almost always ends badly. There is some reason to believe that there are significant family problems in play. And Will Smith has been in enough action movies to appreciate just how much Hollywood loves watching a fall from a great height.

Smith should take care that the scene at the Oscars is the end of the shenanigans rather than a middle chapter in an increasingly sad story.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: China and Sanctions

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Desmond Lachman of the American Enterprise Institute writes about China’s economic struggles:

The Chinese government recognizes that, among many economic demands, it must wean itself from its currently unsustainable property and credit-led economic-growth model. That model has resulted in the Chinese property sector’s having grown to some 30 percent of the Chinese economy or almost double the corresponding U.S. ratio. It has also led to a situation in which housing prices in relation to income in key Chinese cities is considerably higher than those in London and New York.

It is against this backdrop that the Chinese economy can ill afford to have any further slowing in economic growth if it is to have any hope of growing itself out from under its property and credit-market bubble. Yet that is precisely what would happen if there were to be a U.S.-led intensification of trade sanctions against China. This is not least because China is a relatively open economy whose exports amount to close to 20 percent of total GDP.

Read the whole thing here.

World

Tracking the Horror

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Women clear debris from a school that was shelled by Russian forces in Kharkiv, Ukraine, March 27, 2022. (Thomas Peter / Reuters)

You may have “reached out” to people in a war zone. Tried to contact them. When you hear back — there is hardly a better feeling, true?

• A cellist from Kharkiv, Denys Karachevtsev, plays amid the ruins: here.

• A little girl sings “Let It Go” in a bomb shelter — here.

• Inna Sovsun, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, noted something. A woman from Mariupol arrived in Hungary with four children. One was her own. Another was her sister’s child. (The sister had gone to find water and disappeared.) Another was the child of her neighbors, who had been killed. The fourth? As the woman was running for an evacuation bus, she saw a boy, sitting on the street next to his dead parents. “She took him too,” as Sovsun said.

• Russian forces “are kidnapping the mayors of our cities,” Zelensky told The Economist. “Some of them we have already found, and they are dead.”

• A Ukrainian police general, Vyacheslav Abroskin, is a man. According to the journalist Olga Tokariuk (writing here), Abroskin “offered to surrender himself to Russians if they allow him to enter Mariupol and evacuate children who are stuck there under the bombs.” He said, “I will surrender to captivity at the last checkpoint at the city exit if kids are allowed to pass.”

• Listen to this:

For a month now, Russian forces have repeatedly attacked Ukrainian medical facilities, striking at hospitals, ambulances, medics, patients and even newborns — with at least 34 assaults independently documented by The Associated Press.

Have some more:

AP journalists in Ukraine have seen the deadly results of Russian strikes on civilian targets first hand: the final moments of children whose tiny bodies were shredded by shrapnel or had limbs blown off; dozens of corpses, including those of children, heaped into mass graves.

(For the rest of the article, go here.)

Putin supporters and apologists, we will always have with us. Every day, every hour, they grow more abhorrent.

• Here is the journalist Shaun Walker, of the Guardian:

The few people who didn’t leave Irpin were mostly those too old and too frail to walk. For them, the last month has been hell. Death, illness and frayed nerves, a few miles from Kyiv. I found it difficult to listen to these stories & keep it together.

I have quoted a tweet from him. And here is his article: “Escape from Irpin.”

• Hanna Liubakova — the journalist with whom I podcasted last week, here — circulated a video of a woman lying in a hospital bed, talking. Liubakova commented, “This is absolutely painful to watch and listen to. Two shells hit the house where this woman was. With the first shell, her fingers were blown off. With the second one, her leg was blown off.”

Who is responsible for this? Biden? The CIA? NATO? Davos? Fauci? No. That would be the man at the top of Russia’s dictatorship. He is slaughtering people in a war of conquest.

• From Reporters Without Borders: “Chilling account of Radio France fixer who was kidnapped and tortured by Russian soldiers in Ukraine.” (For the article, go here.)

One more, from the same source: “Russians use abduction, hostage-taking to threaten Ukrainian journalists in occupied zones.” (Article here.)

• Illia Ponomarkenko, of the Kyiv Independent, writes,

The streets of Mariupol [are] just one giant cemetery among ruins now. Just over a month ago, this was one of Ukraine’s fastest-developing cities. I was very impressed by the progress achieved in the last 6 years. Now Russia has come.

• A report from New Lines magazine is headed “Russia Backs Europe’s Far Right.” Oh, yes. This has been going on for many years. The report is subheaded “Emails and documents show just how closely Italian, French, German and Austrian politicians coordinate with Moscow.”

I always thought that the posture of the nationalist-populist Right toward Putin was summed up by photos of Karin Kneissl, who at the time was Austria’s foreign minister. In the summer of 2018, she danced with Putin at her wedding. At the end of the dance, she curtsied to him, in her dirndl, looking up at him adoringly.

Later, she landed a board position at Rosneft, the Russian oil giant, and started blogging for Russia Today.

Of course.

• In videotaped remarks, the Ukrainian president, Zelensky, spoke directly to Viktor Orbán, who is one of the Putin-friendliest leaders in Europe. “Listen, Viktor,” said Zelensky, “do you know what is happening in Mariupol? I want to be open once and for all — you should decide for yourself, who you are for.”

• Yaroslav Trofimov, the chief foreign-affairs correspondent of the Wall Street Journal, tweeted, “Flight path twice as long as it should be because Hungary refuses to allow weapons for Ukraine to cross its airspace, let alone offer any help to Ukraine of its own.”

• The vice foreign minister of China, Le Yucheng, said, “NATO should have been consigned to history alongside the Warsaw Pact.” NATO and Communist rule in China were born the same year: 1949. Some of us are hoping that NATO outlives the Communist rule.

• Biden gave a speech in Poland, whose closing comments included, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power!” (Biden was referring to Putin.) This comment is widely judged to have been a great error. Indeed, the White House “walked it back,” or tried to. Then Biden himself walked back the walk-back.

In my view, the controversial comment was, among other things, a gift to Biden’s Putin-friendly opponents and his other opponents — because it allows them to ignore the speech as a whole, which was a ringing call to freedom over tyranny, light over darkness. An American speech.

A pity that the comment has overshadowed it.

• Biden called Putin a “butcher” — which is as obvious as saying that Putin’s first name is “Vladimir.” In France, President Macron objected, calling the characterization imprudent, basically.

Okay — but the butcher’s still a butcher.

• Sometimes we like it when a leader “tells it like it is.” Sometimes we don’t. A lot of tribalism is involved, frankly. “All is vanity,” we read in Ecclesiastes. In recent years, I have been tempted to say, “All is tribal.” Some celebrators of “telling it like it is” are now fierce and scolding advocates of rhetorical discretion.

Go figure.

• Putin tried to taunt the West by invoking the cancel culture, and sticking up for J. K. Rowling, in particular. JKR rejoined, “Critiques of Western cancel culture are possibly not best made by those currently slaughtering civilians for the crime of resistance, or who jail and poison their critics.”

• Alexei Navalny, of course, is Putin’s most prominent jailed and poisoned critic. He is the Russian opposition leader. The state has just added nine years to his sentence. I’m told how popular Putin is in Russia. And what a big strong macho man he is. But he seems awfully scared of Navalny, doesn’t he?

• Stephen Peter Rosen, the national-security professor at Harvard, wrote an article headed “If Putin Were to Use Nuclear Weapons, What Would Follow?” I thought of a once-famous Time magazine cover, from 1982: “Thinking the Unthinkable.”

• If you listen to the warmongers, neocons, and Russophobes, America is a free country while Russia is an unfree one. But this is nonsense: In America, you can publish Putinist propaganda. And in Russia, you are free to do just the same.

(Reagan liked to tell a joke: An American and a Soviet are arguing over which is the better country. The American says, “My country has freedom of speech. I can walk in front of the White House shouting, ‘Down with Reagan!’” The Soviet responds, “Big deal. I myself can walking in front of the Kremlin shouting, ‘Down with Reagan!’”)

Culture

Oscar Officials Considered Ejecting Will Smith: NYT

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Will Smith wins the Oscar for Best Actor for King Richard at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles, Calif., March 27, 2022. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

After Will Smith went up on stage and slapped Chris Rock for joking about his wife, “Behind the scenes at the Oscars, there were serious discussions about removing Mr. Smith from the theater,” two “industry officials with knowledge of the situation” told the New York Times. But Smith’s expected Best Actor win for King Richard, which indeed came to pass within an hour, left officials uncertain how to proceed. This would have been like ejecting the star quarterback from the Super Bowl for bad behavior just before the final drive. And nothing like it had ever happened before.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences apparently had no code of conduct until after the series of allegations against Harvey Weinstein led to his ejection from that body in 2017. At the time, Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski were still members. After the code of conduct went into effect, Cosby and Polanski were expelled also, even though Polanski had won an Oscar just 15 years earlier, long after the sexual attack that led to his permanently fleeing California justice and moving to Europe, and received a standing ovation from most of the audience at the 2003 Oscars.

The Academy has launched an investigation into the Smith slap, and could suspend or eject the actor, but the interesting thing about the code of conduct is that it was evidently written with sexual harassment in mind and it doesn’t obviously apply to nonsexual violence. The code warns against “physical contact that is uninvited and, in the situation, inappropriate and unwelcome, or coercive sexual attention.” Also, “intimidation, stalking, abusive or threatening behavior, or bullying” are forbidden. Rock has, according to police, declined to press charges against Smith, although he has time to change his mind, and could also conceivably file a civil claim. Sean Combs told the New York Post that Smith and Rock had put the matter behind them after the ceremony. Smith was spotted gleefully dancing the night away at a party. My guess is nothing happens to him, though I’m surprised that he has yet to publicly apologize to Rock.

International

What Shanghai Lockdowns Could Mean for Supply Chains

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Shipping containers are seen at the Yangshan Deep Water Port, part of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone, in Shanghai, China. (Aly Song/Reuters)

Shanghai is locking down as Covid cases rise. The measures are expected to be the most extensive lockdown in China since the Wuhan lockdowns over two years ago. Chinese authorities have ordered nonessential businesses and transportation to shut down at least until next week.

As one of the world’s largest urban areas in the world’s most populous country, what happens in Shanghai matters to the rest of the world. Shanghai is home to the busiest ocean port in the world for containerized cargo and one of the busiest airports for cargo planes.

In a service announcement today, DHL said the airport will be maintaining normal operations through the lockdowns. “The staff have been on standby at the airport since March 28 and will be there on duty until the lockdown period ends,” the announcement says. The restrictions on Pudong, the eastern part of Shanghai where the airport is located, are set to expire on April 1.

Shanghai’s port authority also said the seaport would maintain normal operations. With proper documentation and a negative Covid test, some truck drivers are still allowed to enter and exit the airport and the seaport.

Just because the ports will remain open does not mean they will be able to operate normally, however. Factories in Shanghai are shutting down, and without that production, there’s nothing to ship. As cases spread, the pool of truck drivers with a negative test will shrink as well.

Shenzhen, another global trade hub, has experienced similar shutdowns. The fallout from those was not as bad as initially feared, but that doesn’t mean there were no consequences. Eamon Barrett of Fortune explains:

The shutdown in Shanghai mirrors another citywide lockdown that took place in Shenzhen, China’s southern production hub and major port city, two weeks ago. The local lockdown stoked fears of major supply chain disruption. Apple supplier Foxconn was among the major manufacturers forced to close productions sites for several days in Shenzhen.

Curtailed operations at docks in Shenzhen slowed port procedures, too, which logistics operators warn could lead to higher shipping costs this summer as ports gradually work through the congestion.

He goes on to note that stock markets have hardly taken notice of the lockdowns. The S&P 500 and the Shanghai stock market have barely budged today. Fears of a production slowdown have driven crude-oil prices down a little today as well.

The brunt of the policies will be borne by Shanghai’s residents, of course. They began hoarding food last week in anticipation of the lockdowns. Financial-sector workers have been sleeping in their offices to avoid being denied re-entry when lockdowns start.

There are some signs that China’s zero-Covid policies won’t be sustainable with the Chinese public. Lily Kuo wrote on March 16 in the Washington Post:

Complaints from regular citizens have appeared with more regularity on the country’s heavily policed social media platforms. One user wrote Monday on the microblog Weibo that because of the sudden new lockdown measures, their family was trapped on a highway for 14 hours trying to reach the town of Wuxi in eastern China.

News that a 4-year-old girl in Changchun, one of the cities under strict lockdown, had died of acute laryngitis while waiting for a negative coronavirus test to go to the hospital prompted further anger online.

“Three years. I don’t dare get sick, and don’t even talk about having children. You don’t know what they might face,” one Internet user wrote under a hashtag for the issue that had been viewed more than 40 million times in two hours.

Others complained about losses to their businesses. “I really broke down tonight and have never wanted to leave Shenzhen as much as I do tonight. Since I opened my shop on March 1, I haven’t made a single penny,” read one widely viewed comment in response to a post on WeChat by the Shenzhen Health Commission.

Xi Jinping has promised to minimize the impact of Covid restrictions on the Chinese economy. Going back to citywide lockdowns is not a step in the right direction, and it was one China was signaling it would not take as recently as a few days ago. Xi may be able to paper over foreigners’ concerns by keeping ports open and the stock market happy. But he may find his own people starting to cause problems soon if he sticks with zero-tolerance policies for Covid.

National Security & Defense

Biden’s Defense-Spending Proposal

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From left: The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell, Royal Australian Navy landing helicopter dock HMAS Canberra, and the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan sail in formation during Talisman Sabre 2019 exercises in the Pacific Ocean, July 11, 2019. (Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Markus Castaneda/US Navy)

President Biden’s budget request, released this morning, asks Congress for a combined $813 billion in defense spending for the next fiscal year—which, as the Wall Street Journal notes, is 4 percent larger than the defense budget approved by Congress for this year.

The latest proposal, however, is likely the floor for the amount that Congress will end up appropriating.

Above all else, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and China’s continued threats to Taiwan have boosted the political viability of a larger defense-spending proposal. With all eyes on U.S. efforts to support Ukraine and to shore up the security of frontline NATO allies, the president just doesn’t need to attempt to placate progressives, as he did last year, with an initial lowball proposal that Congress ignored.

Key members of Congress are already out the gate with pledges to approve more for the military than what Biden proposed this morning.

Representative Mike Rogers, the GOP ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, called the budget proposal “wholly inadequate.” He pointed to an argument that is sure to gain traction in the coming debate around defense spending: “Most importantly, this budget fails to account for the record high inflation that is wreaking havoc on our nation. My colleagues and I were clear with President Biden: our warfighters need a defense budget that is 5% above the rate of inflation.”

Rogers’s demand for an increase in defense spending that is 5 percent above inflation leaves a large gap with Biden’s current budget proposal: The rate of inflation rose to 7.9 percent in February.

More Republicans are certain to take up this point as a line of attack against Biden’s handling of national security. That doesn’t mean Democrats won’t work with them to buck the White House’s proposal — last year, Congress opted for $782 billion in defense spending, significantly more than what the White House initially proposed.

Still, the defense budget is unlikely to reach $1.5 trillion this year, the figure that former deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger recently advocated as necessary to win the new cold war, or even $1 trillion, the number at the center of an ongoing debate at National Review.

But the political winds are shifting here, as the Ukraine crisis has reminded Americans of the growing threats posed by its great-power adversaries. We’re not far from the point at which a $1 trillion military budget could be politically feasible — but we’ve almost certainly passed the point at which we need such a level of defense spending to win this new cold war.

World

What If the U.S. Really Did Want Regime Change in Russia?

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Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden arrive for the U.S.-Russia summit at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021. (Saul Loeb/Pool via Reuters)

Imagine, for a moment, that President Biden meant what he said when he blurted out, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power!”

(Today Biden insisted he wasn’t walking back anything he said, and then walked it back further: “I’m not walking anything back. The fact of the matter is, I was expressing the moral outrage I felt towards the way Putin is dealing, the actions of this man, just, just brutality… But I want to make it clear, I wasn’t then, nor am I now, articulating a policy change. I was expressing the moral outrage I feel, and I make no apologies for it.”)

If the U.S. did make a policy change, and wanted to remove Vladimir Putin from power, what would we do? What could we do?

Assassination? We’ve seen in history how often that goes terribly wrong. Putin has been paranoid about assassination attempts for years, using food tasters since at least 2012. Trying to assassinate Putin would have a low chance of success, and any exposure of the plot would be disastrous for the United States; the Russian government could and likely would interpret the assassination or its attempt as an act of war.

Speaking of war, could the U.S. give Vladimir Putin the Saddam Hussein treatment? No, that’s logistically impossible; not even all of NATO combined has enough manpower to invade and subdue all of Russia.

The most promising path would be to stir up the Russian public’s discontent with Putin and hope that an popular uprising topples him from power. You could argue that the sweeping economic sanctions imposed on Russia are a backdoor attempt at this outcome; the hope is that the economic pain becomes so severe that the Russian people decide they’ve had enough of Putin’s invasion and all-around belligerence and figure out some way to remove him from power.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen some courageous and surprisingly widespread Russian protests against the invasion of Ukraine. No doubt, plenty of Russians can see the invasion is having catastrophic effects on their country, and want nothing to do with Putin’s aggressive agenda. But so far, those protests do not appear to be anything that Putin’s far-reaching, iron-fisted security state cannot handle. In the past decades, fairly sizable protests against Putin have come and gone, and Putin’s grip on power remained as strong as ever.

Secretly funding opposition groups? More efforts to puncture Putin’s wall of propaganda? Attempts to widen divisions in Russian society, and encourage the formations of splinter factions? Any of those options could theoretically someday become a tipping point that spurred Russians to rise up against Putin, but they’re not particularly likely to work, and they certainly aren’t likely to work fast. Brutal dictators rarely come down without a fight. Sometimes the people rise up in discontent and you get an outcome like the fall of the Berlin Wall or the Romanian revolution of 1989. And sometimes the people rise up in discontent and you get Tiananmen Square or the protests against the Iranian mullahs in recent years.

There are not a lot of good options – and we have particularly good reasons to be a little more cautious or less provocative in how we treat a regime that has nuclear weapons. Yes, many Americans wish someone else was ruling Russia. We wish someone nicer than Xi Jinping was ruling China, and someone nicer than Kim Jong Un was ruling North Korea, and someone nicer than the mullahs was ruling Iran. But they’re not, which means we have to figure out how to advance our interests in a world where those thugs are running the show in foreign capitals. Opposing a regime – and exposing how it rules against the will of the people – is not the same as actively taking actions to overthrow that regime. Perhaps we can give any of those regimes a secret shove when they start to look wobbly.

Even if the U.S. wanted to depose Vladimir Putin, it doesn’t have any realistic plans on how to do that. And presidents should probably not blurt out longshot ideas because they’re angry.

Economy & Business

Playing Politics with Other People’s Retirements (Chicago Edition)

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Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks during a science initiative event at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Ill., July 23, 2020. (Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters)

Chicago, playing politics with pension funds.

Bloomberg:

The Chicago City Council on Wednesday voted to ban city investments in coal, oil and gas companies in an effort to combat climate change.

The measure was supported by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin, who manages investments for the city as well as its pension funds and oversees $9 billion in assets. The city plans to create a list of companies that are coal, oil, and gas-reserve owners, ranked by potential carbon emissions. The treasurer won’t invest any city funds and will divest securities or other obligations of the companies on the list, according to the ordinance.

The ordinance will not impact the current portfolio, according to an emailed statement from the treasurer’s office. Conyears-Ervin divested all holdings through maturities and sales related to fossil fuels over the last 18 months anticipating that the measure would pass, which added up to about $70 million. The ordinance intends to prevent future reinvestment, according to the statement…

Sectors move up and sectors move down, but that timing may not have been . . . ideal.

The Financial Times (Dec 30, 2021):

Oil and gas shares — knocked early in the pandemic and increasingly shunned by eco-conscious investors — have this year eclipsed the stock markets’ in-vogue environmental, social and governance-focused companies.

As of December 29, US giants Exxon and Chevron had added 48 per cent and 40 per cent respectively in 2021. The duo have helped power global energy equity funds past many of the hundreds of US and European sustainable funds as defined by Morningstar, a data provider.

The iShares MSCI global energy producers exchange-traded fund is up 37 per cent to December 29, outperforming the largest US ESG fund — the $31.8bn Parnassus Core Equity fund – which is up 28 per cent. The largest iShares ESG fund run by giant fund manager BlackRock has also trailed, up 30 per cent.

Meanwhile, I’ll just repeat one line from a newspaper report from which I quoted this morning.

The Financial Times:

Volodymyr Zelensky has called on energy producing countries to step up their output in order to prevent Russia from using its oil and gas to “blackmail” European nations.

Chicago is a “sister city” of Kyiv, I see.

Not so much, I reckon.