Sneaky Dem Mailer in the Virginia Gov Race

Republican Glenn Youngkin (left) and Democrat Terry McAuliffe (right) on the campaign trail for the Virginia governorship. (Evelyn Hockstein and Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Democrats really, really, really want former President Trump to come to Virginia in support of Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin.

As David Harsanyi writes on the homepage:

The president took a trip to Virginia to try and help salvage the gubernatorial prospects of fellow Washington lifer, Terry McAuliffe.

Biden used the appearance to liken the GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin to January 6 rioters, to lie about Republicans supporting “book bans,” and to attempt to goad former president Donald Trump into coming to Virginia.

Indeed, Trump gave Democrats hope by issuing a bizarre statement yesterday: “Chanting, ‘We love Trump!’ in Arlington, Va. Thank you, Arlington, see


Has the Youngkin-McAuliffe Race Proven Attacks on ‘Vulture Capitalism’ Don’t Work?


No, not really. The lesson Terry McAuliffe has taught political candidates is that if you want to accuse your opponent’s business of preying on the young and killing the elderly, be sure you didn’t invest millions in that company. If you did invest millions in that company, don’t start complaining that the business didn’t kill people in a profitable manner.

Politics & Policy

That’s What the Senate Is There For

Left: Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.V.) speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 27, 2021. Right: Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.) speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., December 4, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

“Will of the people” talk always creeps me out, because it is usually the prologue to despotism and demagoguery.

But the people who are complaining that Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema is “thwarting the will of the people” really need a civics lesson: Thwarting the will of the people is precisely what the Senate is there to do.

It is also what the Bill of Rights is there to do. It is what the separation of powers is there to do.

Keeping the “will of the people” in check is why we have written laws, unalienable rights, and legal procedure.

I know that people get tired of hearing conservatives tut-tut about how the United States is a constitutional republic rather than a democracy, but there is a point there worth understanding. Our constitutional order emphatically rejects the premise that 50 percent plus 1 makes wrong into right or tyranny into justice.

Sometimes — often! — the will of the people is immoral and destructive. In which case, the people can get stuffed.

Politics & Policy

Biden and Pelosi Push for Infrastructure Vote Today

President Joe Biden talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as they depart after the president met with Democratic lawmakers to promote his infrastructure bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C, October 1, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

On Thursday morning, the White House released a “framework” for a budget-reconciliation bill that would spend nearly $2 trillion on social programs and the environment.

Pelosi and Biden used the announcement of the framework to demand that the House pass — by the end of the day — the separate $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill that was passed by the Senate in August.

A crucial bloc of House progressives have been holding the infrastructure bill hostage, saying they won’t vote for infrastructure until there’s a final deal on the social-spending budget-reconciliation bill.

On Wednesday, House progressives demanded actual legislative text for the nearly $2 trillion bill — not merely the sketch of a “framework” — something that has not been delivered.* A small number of Republicans are expected to support the infrastructure, but even with their support Pelosi can only afford to lose anywhere from eight to 20 progressive Democrats.


*Update: I reported earlier that House Democrats would not be able to produce legislative text, but they have just released an updated version of the reconciliation bill. It’s 1,684 pages:


Andrew McCarthy Misses the Point on Public Schools

Opponents of Critical Race Theory attend a packed Loudoun County School board meeting in Ashburn, Va., June 22, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

It is flattering that a commentator as astute as Andrew McCarthy would respond to my Wall Street Journal article questioning the current public-school system. But it is dismaying that, in “The Wrong Way to Fight Progressive Indoctrination in Public Schools,” he misunderstands my argument.

According to McCarthy, my view is that “parents have a First Amendment right to control what is taught in public schools.” Actually, my point is nearly the opposite. It is that parents have a right not to be pressured into sending their kids to public school. Government cannot press them to substitute government educational speech for their own.

States require parents to educate their children, and simultaneously offer to assist them in this — on the condition that parents send their children to public schools. My argument is simply that public education is thus a speech condition: “Public education is a benefit tied to an unconstitutional condition. Parents get subsidized education on the condition that they accept government educational speech in lieu of home or private schooling.”

This condition, which impinges on their speech and substituting government speech, comes with more than enough pressure to be constitutionally significant. “For most parents, the economic pressure to accept this educational speech in place of their own is nearly irresistible.” Not for all parents, but certainly for most.

This is an argument about the pressures that come with government funding — pressures that constrain most parents to submit their children to government educational speech in place of their own.

McCarthy seems to be confusing my argument with current debates over contested curricula. He says that I “portray such curricula as a violation of the constitutional right to free speech,” and that by my logic, “if parents wanted their children to be taught that two plus two equals five, teachers would be expected to comply.” This is simply false. My essay makes no claim that public-school curricula violate freedom of speech, nor that parents should be able to “veto” such curricula. Instead, my point is about government economic pressures on parents to give up their speech.

McCarthy further complains that I can’t find support for my position in the key Supreme Court precedent, Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925). True enough: Pierce doesn’t support McCarthy’s bizarre misreading of my view.

Alas, McCarthy also leaves a misimpression about the nativist and theological prejudice that has long shaped public education. I have spent much of my life documenting that bigotry, including its manifestation in Oregon’s compulsory public-education law, which was overturned in Pierce.

McCarthy’s only recognition of the prejudice comes in a brief allusion to that law. He says: “Hamburger may be right that the Oregon law was motivated by anti-Catholic bigotry.” This light treatment of the bigoted origins of the law is curious. To say that I “may be right” about the bigotry is to raise doubts about what is indubitable.

The Oregon statute was part of a campaign for compulsory public schooling initiated in 1920 by the Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction. Many members of that Masonic group joined the Ku Klux Klan. And when the Klan lent its muscle to the compulsory-education campaign, it received ample support from the Oregon Democratic Party, including Governor Pierce. All of this was unadulterated bigotry. If McCarthy can only say that I “may be right” about this, I suggest that he read my book Separation of Church and State. There he will find the real history of the Oregon law and many other ugly things that “may be right.”

I have great respect for Andy McCarthy. But not for his account of my argument.

Politics & Policy

Republican Senators Demand Answers from Garland on Public-Schools Memo

Attorney general Merrick Garland attends a meeting in Chicago, Ill. July 23, 2021. (Samuel Corum/Reuters)

Several Republican senators have written to Attorney General Merrick Garland, demanding that he elucidate the sources for his October 4 memo, which condemned alleged harassment from parents in public schools and directed the FBI to address supposed threats.

Garland issued the memo earlier this month in response to a letter from the National School Board Association to the White House. The NSBA letter requested federal intervention and argued that parents protesting COVID restrictions and critical race theory in public schools “could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”

Since then, it has become public that the NSBA coordinated with the White House about the content of the letter while drafting it. Despite the fact that the NSBA has apologized for the letter and a number of state school-board groups have left the organization in response, Garland refuses to retract his memo or dissolve the task force.

“In recent months, there has been a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff who participate in the vital work of running our nation’s public schools,” Garland asserted in the October 4 memo.

Garland’s memo also directed the the FBI and U.S. attorneys to meet with “federal, state, local, Tribal, and territorial leaders in each federal judicial district” to develop strategies “for addressing threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.”

In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday, Republicans grilled Garland on the reasons behind his memo and task force, and Garland insisted that the NSBA letter was not the only predicate for DOJ action.

In this follow-up letter, eight Republicans on the Judiciary Committee demand that the attorney general deliver on his pledge to “providing the relevant data” behind his decision-making on the memo.

“Pursuant to this commitment,” the letter continues, “please provide all evidence you personally used or relied on between Wednesday, September 29, 2021, and Monday, October 4, 2021 — other than the content of the NSBA letter dated Wednesday, September 29 — that formed the basis for the memo issued by the DOJ dated Monday, October 4th.”

The letter gives Garland a deadline of November 1. “Because you were able to distill your evidence and craft a memo that fixed the gaze of the FBI directly on concerned parents across this country in just four days, you should be able to share that evidence with us in the same period of time,” the letter concludes.

The letter is signed by eight of the eleven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee: Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Lee of Utah, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, and John Kennedy of Louisiana.

Politics & Policy

The National Association of Scholars Creates the Lysenko Award


Trofim Lysenko was one of the ugly cast of characters who made the Soviet Union the hellhole it was. He was a pseudoscientist who had Stalin’s backing and used it to destroy anyone who dared to disagree with him. A perfect model for today’s “woke” academics who can’t tolerate dissent from their beliefs.

NAS has created an award in Lysenko’s name for the academic who has done the most to undermine freedom of speech and reasoned debate. In this post, we learn about the award and its first recipient.


This year’s winner is Professor Phoebe Cohen of Williams College.

Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Congressional Republicans Affirm That There Is No International Right to Abortion

President Joe Biden arrives to speak during the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, September 21, 2021. (Eduardo Munoz/Pool via Reuters)

Congressional Republicans today will introduce a concurrent resolution affirming that there is no international right to abortion. The resolution, obtained exclusively by National Review, celebrates the first anniversary of the Geneva Consensus Declaration, which was signed last year by a coalition of nearly three dozen countries. The declaration affirmed that both women and unborn children have inalienable rights deserving of protection and denied that there is an international right to abortion.

Almost immediately after taking office in January, President Joe Biden removed the U.S. as a signatory to the declaration, offering no explanation for that decision. Citing a number of previous United Nations documents, the Geneva Consensus Declaration restated several key principles, including:

  • “All are equal before the law,” and “human rights of women are an inalienable, integral, and indivisible part of all human rights and fundamental freedoms”
  • The inherent “dignity and worth of the human person,” that “every human being has the inherent right to life”
  • “In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning” and that “any measures or changes related to abortion within the health system can only be determined at the national or local level according to the national legislative process”
  • There is no international right to abortion, nor any international obligation on the part of States to finance or facilitate abortion, consistent with the long-standing international consensus that each nation has the sovereign right to implement programs and activities consistent with their laws and policies

The new resolution, sponsored by Republicans Steve Daines (Mont.) and James Lankford (Okla.) in the Senate, reaffirms several planks of the Geneva Consensus Declaration and repudiates Biden’s decision to remove the U.S. as a signatory.

Republican representative Jim Banks of Indiana, who is chair of the Republican Study Committee, has introduced a companion measure in the House with 29 cosponsors.

“Honoring the most basic right of an individual to live should not be controversial, but unfortunately President Biden is determined to be the most pro-abortion president in our nation’s history, as demonstrated by his decision to remove the United States from the declaration and promote abortion in other countries,” Lankford told National Review.

“Last year, under the leadership of President Trump, the U.S. led a global coalition to reaffirm that all life is sacred and there is no international right to abortion, to protect the family, and to defend the sovereign right of nations to enact laws that advance these core values, without external pressure,” Daines said in a statement to National Review. “Despite President Biden’s withdrawal, the Geneva Consensus Declaration coalition has continued to grow to now 36 signatory countries, which are committed to working together against the imposition of an anti-life, anti-family agenda.”

“This resolution celebrates the historic nature of the Geneva Consensus Declaration and affirms the commitments we made with our like-minded friends a year ago. Pro-life Americans will continue to defend the basic right to life for all individuals,” Lankford added.

The resolution has 14 cosponsors in the Senate: John Boozman of Arkansas, Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Roger Marshall and Jerry Moran of Kansas, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida, Mike Braun of Indiana, Rob Portman of Ohio, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Mike Lee of Utah, and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma.

Among other provisions, the resolution pledges to “conduct oversight of the United States executive branch to ensure that the United States 6does not conduct or fund abortions, abortion lobbying, or coercive family planning in foreign countries, consistent with longstanding Federal law.”

Politics & Policy

Colleges Teaching Students Not to Think but to Obey


In this Law & Liberty essay, Assumption University professor Geoffrey Vaughan contemplates the absurd COVID restrictions that many of our colleges and universities impose and what effect they have.

He writes that, “An older instructor I know, teaching part time at a university I shall not name, was having a very hard time hearing students through the mandatory mutual masks. He asked students to briefly pull down their masks when asking questions. For doing so he was anonymously reported to the administration by a student. The student was only following orders. Reporting infractions is university policy. Cancel culture has been extended to Covid rules, reducing even more of our interactions to crossing minefields.”

Only following orders. We’ve heard that before.

Vaughan drives the point home: “We have taught young people to fear power and worship it. On the one hand, they fear the power of a teacher so much that they do not object at the time to things they find life-threatening. On the other, they turn to anonymous tip lines, hoping that bureaucratic processes will save their lives. Never more true were Tocqueville’s words, ‘I do not fear that in their chiefs they will find tyrants, but rather schoolmasters.’”

Read the whole thing.

Economy & Business

With 2 Percent GDP Growth, Just How Far Away from a Recession Are We?

Shipping containers at the Port of Long Beach-Port of Los Angeles complex in Los Angeles, Calif., April 7, 2021. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Score one for Kevin Hassett. Last Friday at a National Review Institute event, Kevin warned that the third-quarter GDP number was likely to be disappointing and probably worse than the consensus expectation of 3 percent. I wrote about Kevin’s remarks on Monday . . .

. . . and this morning, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis unveiled the new numbers — 2 percent growth!

Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 2.0 percent in the third quarter of 2021, following an increase of 6.7 percent in the second quarter. The deceleration in real GDP in the third quarter was led by a slowdown in consumer spending. A resurgence of COVID-19 cases resulted in new restrictions and delays in the reopening of establishments in some parts of the country. In the third quarter, government assistance payments in the form of forgivable loans to businesses, grants to state and local governments, and social benefits to households all decreased.

But what should really be worrisome is that while no one has a perfect crystal ball, the numbers for this quarter are likely to be worse. The supply-chain crisis is definitely not alleviating and appears to be getting worse. Food prices continue to rise; this will be the most expensive Thanksgiving ever. The worker shortage doesn’t appear to go away anytime soon, with nearly half of all U.S. companies reporting a shortage of skilled workers.

Some folks are quick to emphasize that, “There’s hope for a pickup” in this quarter, and while anything’s possible, do you think the supply-chain issues, inflation, worker shortage, etc., will all be resolved in the next month or two? Do any of those factors seem like they’re going to be good for the GDP number? Does it seem all that unthinkable that from the beginning of October to the end of December, U.S. GDP will shrink, at least a little? And if the problems don’t get sorted out quickly, is it crazy to think that the numbers from January 2022 to March 2022 point to a reduction as well? Experts are warning that the supply-chain issues and cargo-shipping backlogs may not get sorted out until at least the middle of 2022. It’s pretty tough for a nation’s economy to grow when it’s so difficult for goods to get to consumers who want to buy them.

Once American GDP experiences two consecutive quarters of decline . . . isn’t the country in a recession?


Noem Puts SD Standards on a Dangerous Path

Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Fla., February 27, 2021. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

When it comes to education, South Dakota governor Kristi Noem alternately inspires and disappoints. In May, Noem became the first major office-holder to sign the “1776 Action” pledge, a promise to bar both action civics and critical race theory (CRT) from South Dakota’s schools. Noem’s move prompted Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin to sign the same pledge, which helped inject the K-12 curriculum issue into the Virginia race. Nicely done, Governor Noem.

Sadly, however, Noem’s follow-through on her South Dakota education pledge has been dreadful. I warned at the time that the leftists who dominated South Dakota’s Department of Education would defy the governor’s pledge and inject action civics and CRT into the new state history and civics standards. Noem’s secretary of education, Tiffany Sanderson, ignored those warnings and kept the same leftist claque of professors, bureaucrats, and consultants in place. Sure enough, when the new draft social-studies standards were delivered, they violated both the spirit and the letter of Noem’s “1776 Action” pledge. Shortly after I exposed the unsavory and manipulative process by which South Dakota’s Department of Education had undercut Noem’s publicly declared policies, Noem ditched the new draft standards and promised to design them again from scratch.

I wish I could say “problem solved,” but that is far from the case. Noem has decided to begin drafting new social-studies standards with Tiffany Sanderson still in charge of South Dakota’s Department of Education. Sanderson has been a fixture at the South Dakota DOE for nearly a decade. She is part and parcel of the regime of establishment Republicans who’ve allowed leftist bureaucrats, professors, and consultants to effectively take control the state’s education apparatus. Sanderson is hardly the person to fix the very same bureaucratic system she’s already broken.

After serving in South Dakota’s Education Department for eight years, Sanderson became Noem’s education policy adviser in 2019. Sanderson held that position when the state social-studies standards (which had been released in 2015) were “unpacked” in 2020. That “unpacking” of South Dakota social-studies standards generated a series of concrete examples showing teachers how to apply the standards in the classroom. In effect, “unpacking” converted broad and flexible state “standards” into something much closer to a detailed and directive classroom “curriculum.”

Technically, teachers aren’t obligated to follow the unpacked version of South Dakota’s social-studies standards. In practice, however, overworked teachers tend to grab onto any state guidance they can get when designing their lesson plans. Unfortunately, South Dakota’s 2020 unpacked standards were intensely biased. They incorporated plenty of exercises in action civics, where students were pushed to become leftist political activists on school time — exactly what Noem had pledged to prevent. The 2020 “unpacking” of the 2015 standards was billed as a foreshadowing of the forthcoming 2021 standards-revision process. That is why I warned Noem last May that, regardless of her pledge to fight CRT and action civics, her own Department of Education was on track to enshrine both practices in South Dakota’s revised standards.

Having been promoted to secretary of education in late 2020, Sanderson ignored these warnings and presided over the fiasco I wrote about last month. This means that Sanderson has now effectively managed two education fiascos, the leftist “unpacking” of 2020 and the politicized state standards mess that collapsed just last month. None of this is surprising, since Sanderson is a longtime colleague of the bureaucrats who’ve enabled the backdoor leftist takeover of South Dakota’s schools for years. In short, Tiffany Sanderson is the last person we can trust to get yet another social-studies standards drafting process right. After I exposed the latest standards debacle, I said that to fix it, Noem would need to “make a clean sweep of her Department of Education.” Keeping Tiffany Sanderson in charge is the very opposite of that.

Noem is adept at saying things conservatives want to hear. In practice, however, she surrounds herself with establishment Republicans who’d sooner bend to woke leftists than fight them. This is what happened when Noem botched the issue of transgender athletes in women’s sports. Sadly, the same pattern is evident in her treatment of education.

Perhaps under the pressure of public scrutiny, Sanderson will change her ways and get the social-studies standards right on her third try. That is at least possible — and if things go right, I’ll be the first to praise the results. After two curricular fiascos in two years, however, both Noem and Sanderson have lost the benefit of the doubt. It is only sensible to assume at this point that Noem’s handling of South Dakota’s social-studies standards has more to do with damage control than any real shift in the substance of governing.

Past failures are only part of the reason we should be skeptical of Noem’s decision to retain Sanderson. To grasp the depth of the problem in South Dakota — and in other red states as well — you’ve got to understand the tricks leftist educators, bureaucrats, and consultants deploy to hijack our schools.

The most striking thing about the recent South Dakota social-studies standards fiasco was the leading role of Beth Ratway, the consultant hired to “facilitate” the rewrite. Ratway specializes in using bland and ambiguous language to slip leftist politics into the curriculum. After I linked a video featuring Ratway coaching teachers on how to fight off parental objections to leftist indoctrination by using these language tricks, Ratway blocked public access to the video. Noem then ditched the standards Ratway had helped to create. Once the problem was exposed, Ratway’s blocking of access to her own video amounted to nothing more than a backhanded admission of guilt. Even so, the real lessons of this episode have not been learned.

Education “experts” like Ratway have plenty of tricks for injecting their politics into state education standards. First, they slip vague language into the standards themselves that can later be used to justify politicization. It’s tough for public officials, bureaucrats, and parents even to recognize the real upshot of that language, much less stop it. That’s what Ratway’s scandalous video was all about. But injecting under-the-radar politics directly into state standards is only one type of trick.

A second type is to take state-approved content standards and unofficially supplement them with a set of goals designed to develop “skills” like “critical thinking,” the ability to take “multiple perspectives,” or the ability to “think like a historian.” While these “skills” can be written directly into official state standards, they can also be used as unofficial or optional additions to state requirements. Teachers who invoke these additions can point to prestigious publications by groups like the National Council for the Social Studies as justification. State bureaucracies can also list such publications as approved tools to guide the implementation of state standards.

Ratway is a pioneer of this strategy. This 2008 article of hers seems like boring bureaucratic gibberish at first. Look closely, however, and you’ll see that Ratway is showing teachers how to politicize U.S. history, civics, geography, and world-cultures classes with training in so-called “skills.” Pointing to the supposed skill of “civic literacy,” for example, Ratway shows how to “focus” the varied content of a geography and world-cultures course on a question like, “How can world governments cooperate to make ethical decisions related to our global environment?” In effect, Ratway gives teachers a technique for converting a content-based course on world cultures into a course on globalist politics and environmental activism. Political bias is smuggled in under the seemingly innocent heading of “skills.”

In my piece on the recent South Dakota social-studies standards fiasco, I showed how a leftist professor-bureaucrat used the same technique to convert a straightforward U.S. history standard about post-Civil War federal policy toward Native Americans into an exercise in political advocacy. Instead of exploring the history, students were pushed to agitate for the renaming U.S. cities with indigenous terms. To accomplish this, the “expert” in question simply interpreted the official state standard using the “skills-based” supplement published by the National Council for the Social Studies.

A third set of tricks for turning bland social-studies standards to political ends is one we’ve already discussed: unpacking. Recall that South Dakota’s current social-studies standards were devised and approved in 2015. Gaining official approval for state standards takes some political heavy lifting. Public hearings are held, the press scrutinizes, constituencies weigh in, and the major governing players sign on. When the South Dakota social-studies standards officially approved in 2015 were “unpacked” in 2020, however, virtually no one noticed. The process is nowhere near as burdensome as getting state standards themselves approved.

Yet, that under-the-radar “unpacking” of 2020 converted South Dakota’s 2015 standards into a political document filled with exercises in left-biased action civics. The process was supervised by Melinda Johnson, the same “social-studies specialist” who hired Ratway and made a mess of the recent standards rewrite. The 2020 unpacking process took its cue from Ratway’s group, the National Council for the Social Studies, which as I showed last May, is deeply committed to both action civics and critical race theory.

Here is the problem, then. Even if South Dakota’s official social-studies standards turn out better this time, there are a myriad of ways in which they can be pushed in the very direction that Noem has pledged to resist. Once the new standards are officially approved and public attention wanes, the leftist bureaucrats, professors, and consultants will move in, and (presto!) even good standards will quickly go bad. The leftist education establishment has created a veritable industry dedicated to the hijacking of state education standards after the fact — even, or especially, in red states. Ratway is a specialist in this, but she is by no means alone.

The only real defense is to have a state education bureaucracy run by a savvy opponent of the latest academic orthodoxies. That person needs to have the knowledge, connections, and authority to appoint like-minded managers. Most often, however, Republican state education secretaries take the path of least resistance and work with the existing left-dominated academic and bureaucratic establishment. Few have the will or the knowledge to fight back. The result is that the leftist education establishment runs circles around Republican appointees, and nothing changes. This is what has been going on in South Dakota for years. Given that track record, no matter what the new social-studies standards-writing process produces, we can expect it to be coopted by the Left once the spotlight dies away. Sanderson and her crew are simply not equipped to fight back, even if they wanted to — which the record shows they do not.

Kristi Noem advertises herself as the antidote to all this. She holds herself out as a tough-minded conservative reformer willing and able to stand up to America’s cultural elites. It makes for an inspiring speech. Unfortunately, when it comes to actually governing, the go-along-to-get-along GOP establishment continues to have Noem’s ear.

It’s not too late for Noem to make a clean sweep of her Education Department and truly begin anew. Unless and until she does, however, conservatives have little reason to credit her promise to carry their banner.

Politics & Policy

Bernie Sanders Can’t Count to 52

Sen. Bernie Sanders during a Senate Budget Committee hearing to examine President Biden’s proposed budget request for fiscal year 2022 on Capitol Hill, June 8, 2021. (Shawn Thew/Pool via Reuters)

This argument seems to be growing in popularity among progressives:

Bernie Sanders repeated it this evening, too, saying: “The problem is not with the President, the problem is with members here who, although they are very few in number, they are a significant minority, think that they have a right to determine what the rest of the Congress should be doing.”

This is nonsense.

For a start, it is facile to think of the Senate — or the federal legislature in general — as some sort of national “democracy,” akin in nature to the British parliament. The federal government exists to do a handful of things, with the remainder of the decisions being deliberately left to the states. It is not “undemocratic” for the federal government to stay out of most areas; it is the way America is supposed to work. Obviously, there is nothing preventing any state from passing paid family leave, which means that what Berman and Sanders are really saying when they complain in this way is that they want the states with a temporary majority in Congress to force the policy on the others, and that they are angry that not everyone is on board with that.

But, even on its own terms, the argument is ridiculous. Joe Manchin didn’t “kill” paid family leave. A majority of 51 senators, composed of Joe Manchin plus the 50 Republicans, did. (It’s possible that there were more holdouts, too.) Likewise, when Bernie says that Manchin, Sinema, and others “think that they have a right to determine what the rest of the Congress should be doing,” what he is really complaining about is that his own party has only 50 votes in the Senate, and that the 50 people who wield those votes are are not on the same page. While I profoundly disagree, I can comprehend the arguments against the filibuster. What I can not understand, by contrast, is what sort of Senate we might have if bills could pass with just 48 votes out of 100 cast. Unless Bernie Sanders believes that, having won, the Democrats have formed some sort of purist politburo, whose only responsibility is to work out its internal differences, his argument make no sense at all.

National Security & Defense

Pentagon Official: Afghan ISIS Affiliate Could Attempt International Attacks within Six Months

A screen grab shows people carrying an injured person to a hospital after an attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 26, 2021. (ReutersTV/via Reuters)

Colin Kahl, the Defense Department’s undersecretary for policy, told a Senate committee yesterday that Afghanistan’s ISIS affiliate could have the capability to launch terrorist attacks on Western and allied targets within six months. Kahl also testified that it would take “a year or two” for al-Qaeda to once again be able to do the same and that the U.S. thinks the groups “have the intention” to carry out international attacks. The Wall Street Journal reported on Kahl’s remarks:

According to United Nations estimates, there are roughly 2,000 Islamic State fighters operating in Afghanistan and an estimated 70,000 Taliban forces.

Mr. Kahl said the U.S. couldn’t assess whether the Taliban, which reclaimed control of the country on Aug. 15, could counter the threat from Islamic State.

“It is our assessment that the Taliban and ISIS-K are mortal enemies. So the Taliban is highly motivated to go after ISIS-K. Their ability to do so, I think, is to be determined,” Mr. Kahl said.

The Taliban certainly have a lot of faith in their own capabilities, though. A spokesperson for the group told the Associated Press this month that “we are able to tackle [ISIS] independently.” Separately, Taliban officials have claimed that there are no militants from either group in Afghanistan.

One expert, Thomas Joscelyn of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Journal that Kahl’s testimony shows just how unreliable previous U.S. assessments have been:

“If the U.S. limited ISIS and AQ’s ability to reconstitute itself, why are they able to come back so quickly?” asked Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies who has tracked the Taliban and other militant groups in Afghanistan. “Such estimates are really just guesswork. Both al Qaeda and ISIS maintain cohesive global networks, and it’s really just a question of when they will attempt a big attack on the West.”

Throughout the withdrawal process, the Biden administration pointed to so-called “over-the horizon” capabilities with which U.S. forces would strike terrorist targets in Afghanistan. In a speech on August 31, President Biden touted that approach, “which means we can strike terrorists and targets without American boots on the ground—or very few, if needed.”

If it’s accurate, this latest assessment will put that approach to the test.

The Economy

Representative Kevin Brady: ‘I Am Losing Faith’ in Jay Powell

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies during a U.S. House Oversight and Reform Select Subcommittee hearing on the coronavirus crisis on Capitol, June 22, 2021. (Graeme Jennings/Pool via Reuters)

The Houston-area congressman, the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, spoke to me today in advance of tomorrow’s release of the preliminary estimate of GDP in the third quarter. His prediction was blunt: “It will prove President Biden is bungling the economic recovery. He’s a million jobs short of his promises, and we are stuck in a worsening labor shortage.” (See here for more on Brady’s point about jobs.) “Growth has already peaked for the president. It’s unfortunately downhill from here.”

The congressman blamed two policies, in particular, for labor-market problems: the administration’s expansion of Obamacare subsidies and its severing of the link between the child tax credit and work “for the first time since Republicans created it in 1997.” Brady also says that while “we all want higher vaccination rates,” he is hearing from employers in a range of sectors that they fear that a federal vaccine mandate will further reduce labor-force participation. He thinks it should at least be delayed until after the holidays.

Asked whether President Biden should appoint Jay Powell to another term as chairman of the Federal Reserve, Brady responded, “I am losing faith in his leadership. Not because of his qualifications. It appears to me the Fed has been, along with the White House, in denial about how serious inflation is and how long it will last. The Fed’s also for far too long downplayed the labor shortage. . . . I’ve felt that he has strong credentials and is sincerely trying to approach his leadership and job the right way, but I’ve been very disappointed, especially this year.”

It’s left-wing critics of Powell such as Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) who are most likely to influence the president’s choice, but Brady’s remarks indicate that Powell cannot count on support from either side of the aisle.

The Economy

U.S. Inflation an Outlier, New Report Says

(Bet_Noire/Getty Images)

Bloomberg reports that the Institute of International Finance (IIF), the trade group for the financial-services industry, has found that while all countries are dealing with post-pandemic inflation, the United States has it worse than most. In a new report to be released in full tomorrow, the IIF says there’s a supply-side reason and a demand-side reason for America’s outlier status.

On the supply side, shipping delays in the U.S. are worse than shipping delays elsewhere, the IIF says. This is consistent with the point that Scott Lincicome made back in September: American ports are near the bottom of the developed world in terms of efficiency, and that results in reduced capacity. This is not primarily because of COVID, but rather because of labor and trade policy that has been in place for decades. According to the most recent round of service announcements from DHL, ships are waiting eight to ten days for a berth at Los Angeles/Long Beach. They’re waiting one to two days at Shanghai and Ningbo. American West Coast congestion is so bad that it’s becoming worthwhile for some shippers to send their cargo through the Panama Canal to East Coast ports instead.

On the demand side, the IIF says that American consumers are spending much more than other countries. One reason for that may be that the U.S. had much more generous COVID relief than most other countries, including direct cash payments, which hardly any countries did. Many families received a total of nearly $70,000 in relief from April 2020 to September 2021. People used that money to pay down debt, and savings increased dramatically, but they also spent a lot of it. Unlike other areas, consumer spending actually did see a V-shaped recovery, and the U.S. was back at pre-pandemic levels of consumer spending in January of this year. People spent more than usual on goods relative to services, because many services are still not back to normal, and travel isn’t what it used to be. As Michael Brendan Dougherty pointed out recently, the present crisis is from an overflow of goods, not a dearth.

The IIF says these supply and demand factors have combined to allow U.S. companies to mark up prices higher than in other countries. If consumer demand is higher, you can charge more for products, and people will still buy them. That demand component, according to the IIF report’s authors, indicates that inflation is less transitory in the U.S. than in other countries they studied.

The Federal Reserve has so far been committed to the view that inflation is transitory. To a certain extent, the bed may already be made for the Fed on inflation. After months of holding steady, the U.S. bond markets have begun to show increased inflation expectations since the end of September. The five-year break-even rate currently sits at 2.99 percent, the highest mark since at least 2003. Add in the top-line conclusions from this IIF report, and it’s not an encouraging mix.

In other news, Nancy Pelosi announced today that Democrats are “in pretty good shape” to pass the reconciliation bill and the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which would flood the economy with trillions more dollars.

Politics & Policy

Will Democrats Sneak Taxpayer Funding of Abortion into Their Reconciliation Bill?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks while signing the continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 30, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Congressional Democrats have an abortion problem in their reconciliation bill: Almost all of them would vote for taxpayer-funded health-care programs to cover elective abortions, but West Virginia Democratic senator Joe Manchin supports the Hyde amendment — a measure that prohibits federal funding of abortion except in cases in which the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or endangers the mother’s life.

Manchin has called taxpayer funding of abortion a “red line” for him, going so far as to say the reconciliation package is “dead on arrival” if it lacks the Hyde amendment.

So congressional Democrats’ only hope to get taxpayer funding of abortion into the reconciliation bill is to sneak it past Manchin. 

At least one of those attempts appears to have failed. Throughout the summer, Democrats in the Senate and House pushed for a new “Medicaid-like” program that would benefit lower-income individuals in twelve states that did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The chief sponsor of the proposal in the Senate dodged repeatedly when asked if the new Medicaid-like program would fund abortion. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, insisted earlier this month that “none of the dollars” in the reconciliation bill would be spent on elective abortions. The Washington Post initially reported that Jayapal’s argument was plausible — until House Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee admitted what National Review reported all along: The “Medicaid-like” program would be funded outside of the appropriations bill that includes the Hyde amendment. Therefore, the new program would provide taxpayer funding of abortion.

Democrats now appear poised to drop the “Medicaid-like” program altogether and instead plan on making the low-income individuals who would qualify for that program eligible for Obamacare plans that the government would subsidize to the tune of 99 percent or 100 percent of all costs (up from 94 percent under current law).

This is where things get complicated: Obamacare plans in these twelve states do not currently cover taxpayer funding of abortion — the Affordable Care Act allowed states to prohibit elective-abortion coverage in their exchanges — but the House Democrats’ bill could override that provision for those twelve states.

The House reconciliation bill marked up in September would require funding for family-planning services “which are not otherwise provided” under the “essential health benefits” requirement in Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act already requires plans to cover FDA-approved contraceptives with no co-pay or cost-sharing, but as notes: “Plans aren’t required to cover drugs to induce abortions and services for male reproductive capacity, like vasectomies.” So family-planning services “not otherwise provided” would include abortion, unless explicitly prohibited.

“If they were just trying to do something related to contraception, it would make sense for them to just put the provision in the essential benefits section of the code,” Autumn Christensen of the Susan B. Anthony List tells National Review. That section of the Affordable Care Act says that abortion cannot be an essential health benefit. 

Instead the bill says that any “qualified health plan” must include these unidentified family-planning services “not otherwise provided.” That is the basis of concerns that the new reconciliation bill would override state laws prohibiting abortion coverage and require any “qualified health plan” to cover abortion in Obamacare plans offered to close the so-called Medicaid gap. “They could just put the [family-planning] provision under essential benefits and eliminate the concern altogether,” says Christensen.

National Review emailed a spokesman for the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee in September and again just yesterday to ask whether this section of their reconciliation bill would fund elective abortion, but the spokesman did not reply to either request for comment. 

Counsel to the Democratic majority on the Energy and Commerce Committee confirmed in September that the Hyde amendment does not apply to this provision.

“In Medicaid, the Hyde amendment applies to the language that you just read,” Congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers said at the Energy and Commerce Committee markup on September 14. “Does Hyde apply to family planning in the context of the proposed bill?”

“The restrictions and limitations included in the most recently enacted appropriations language would not apply to the provisions under this section,” the counsel to the Energy and Commerce Committee replied. (The relevant exchange begins at about the 9:35:00 mark and ends at the 9:38:00 mark in this video).

There remain other outstanding abortion problems in the House Democrats’ reconciliation bill. It also includes funding for “non-emergency medical transportation services,” which could mean that enrollees could be transported at taxpayer expense for an abortion at any point in pregnancy. And it includes “public health” funding that could be used to train doulas and others to assist or perform elective abortions.

Politics & Policy

Twelve States Sue Biden over Title X Abortion Funding

Xavier Becerra at his Senate Finance Committee nomination hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., February 24, 2021 (Greg Nash/Reuters)

A coalition of a dozen state attorneys general have sued the Biden administration over a new policy slated to take effect next month, which will allow abortion providers to obtain federal funding under the Title X family-planning program.

During the Trump administration, officials enacted the Protect Life rule, which required abortion providers to financially distinguish between their provision of abortion and other procedures in order to claim Title X funding. The aim of the policy was to protect pro-life Americans from indirectly underwriting elective abortion through their tax dollars.

Shortly after taking office, Biden announced that his Health and Human Services Department would begin working to undo the Protect Life rule, and that reversal is scheduled to take effect in early November. The move has drawn a lawsuit from twelve states, led by Ohio, arguing that funding abortion providers through Title X is a violation of federal law.

“You can’t ‘follow the money’ when all the money is dumped into one pot and mixed together,” Ohio attorney general Dave Yost said. “Federal law prohibits taxpayer funding of abortion — and that law means nothing if the federal money isn’t kept separate.”

Joining Ohio in challenging the new policy are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia. The suit, filed in the southern district of Ohio, alleges that allowing abortion providers to obtain Title X funding violates a prohibition on public funding of abortion in the Family Planning Services and Population Research Act of 1970.

Under the Trump-administration policy, Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, declined to make the required financial separation and forfeited about $60 million that it typically receives each year from Title X. Most of the group’s federal funding, which amounts to about half a billion dollars annually, comes in the form of Medicaid reimbursements.


The Latest Poll News from New Jersey

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy takes part in a regional cannabis and vaping summit in New York, October 17, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

As I discussed yesterday, the New Jersey governor’s race should be getting more attention, hasn’t been polled much lately, and contains some warning signs for Democrats looking down the road at 2022. It remains very much a long shot for Republican Jack Ciattarelli, however. The newest Monmouth poll confirms both the warnings for Democrats and the steep hill that faces Ciattarelli.

The good news for the Democratic incumbent, Phil Murphy, is that Monmouth has him up eleven points, 50 percent to 39 percent. (There are actually a range of turnout scenarios with Murphy up between eight and 14 points, but eleven is the pollster’s best estimate.) That is down from a 16-point lead in August and a 13-point lead in September in the same pollster’s surveys, but it is still a comfortable lead with under a week to go. Unlike the wide spread among independents for Ciattarelli in the Emerson poll, Monmouth’s crosstabs show Murphy trailing by only a point (41 percent to 40 percent) among independents, still a five-point swing from 2017. Murphy’s job approval of 52 percent to 39 percent suggests an incumbent likely to win. If Murphy wins by low double digits, that would be a reassuring outcome for Democrats in this environment.

The bad news for Democrats? Joe Biden. In a state Biden carried by 17 points just a year ago, the president’s approval rating is six points underwater, with 43 percent approving and 49 percent disapproving. He’s 16 points underwater with independents (37 percent to 53 percent). He’s 14 points underwater with voters under age 35, usually a Democratic stronghold (38 percent to 52 percent) — the geriatric president’s worst showing with any age group, although he is behind with all the other age brackets, too. Twenty-four percent of black voters and 33 percent of Hispanic, Asian, or other nonwhite voters in New Jersey disapprove.

Murphy’s huge edge in spending and his ability to keep invoking Donald Trump in a deep-blue state has kept Biden from dragging him down too far. Other Democrats a year from now may find that a harder act to pull off.

White House

‘Loudoun County Blues’


This week on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, Alexandra, and Michael discuss the uproar in VA, the White House’s ridiculous ‘gender strategy,’ and much more. Listen below, or follow this show on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

Politics & Policy

Lucy and the Football on Capitol Hill

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks about the House of Representatives vote to impeach President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill, December 19, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

As mentioned on today’s Three Martini Lunch podcast, the constant delays and pushed back deadlines from Democrats on Capitol Hill are somewhat amusing if you’re a conservative who doesn’t like the runaway spending of the Build Back Better bill, and prefers delay to the passage of any gargantuan liberal wish-list legislation. But progressives and Democrats must feel like Charlie Brown, with Lucy always yanking away the football, over and over again. Every week or so, Democratic leaders declare they’re close to unveiling a deal… and then the negotiations hit another snag.

This afternoon Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer declared, “an agreement is within arm’s length, and we are hopeful that we can come to a framework agreement by the end of today.” Over in the House, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says he thinks Democrats are “very close” to agreement on the reconciliation package.

And who knows, maybe this time their expressions of confidence will be true. But we’ve got several more steps in this process. The negotiators have to unveil their compromise – first the “framework,” then the actual legislative language. As Politico noted this afternoon, “Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, who is on the Finance Committee, laid out a detailed menu of revenue options that sounded like the kind of conversation legislators have at the beginning of the process, not the day it’s all supposed to be wrapped in a bow and presented as a final agreement.”

Then the various factions within the Democratic caucus have to decide whether they can live with it, or whether they think that if they threaten to withhold support, they can get one more round of concessions from the other side. Most notably, if the reports of the bill being $1.75 trillion over 10 years are accurate, the question is whether the House Progressive Caucus feels like they’ve given away the store. There are currently 220 Democrats in the House, and 212 Republicans, with three vacancies. Assuming the Republicans are unified and no one is absent, the Democrats can lose just four votes – otherwise the vote would be a 216 to 216 tie. And then there’s the question of whether any of the Senate Democrats have any cold feet.

The Democratic majorities are likely to pass something; the consequences of failure are so dire that the holdouts are likely to climb on board to some version eventually. But right now, it would be foolish to assume a deal will be worked out before President Biden heads to Europe for his big climate summit.

Capital Matters

Savings and Incentives


Yesterday, the New York Times had a piece that included this paragraph about why inflation should be cooling down soon:

They point to calculations by Mark Zandi, a Moody’s Analytics economist, that suggest Americans who have left the labor force will begin flocking back into the job market by December or January, because they will likely have exhausted their savings by then.

Isn’t that a round about way to admit that inflation was in part the product of COVID-relief packages? Another way to say this: Isn’t this a soft admission that the decrease in aggregate supply, which most blame for the current inflation, may also be partly caused by the policy responses to COVID? I will point to this post by Tyler Cowen that asked a question about the role played by the relief packages.

As an aside, it is an interesting statement coming the same Zandi who predicted last year that ending unemployment insurance would mean that “unemployment will remain in double-digits until well after the pandemic is over.” Now he talks about workers “flocking back into the labor market” when they have exhausted their savings, which are in part a product of those benefits.

Finally, considering the debate over more payments to families in order to reduce poverty, I will note that this statement by Zandi seems to mean we shouldn’t count on it. Hoover Institution’s John Cochrane sums it up well:

Economists bemoan “hand to mouth” consumers with little savings. Consumers get some savings, thanks to checks from feds. Do they start to “build intergenerational wealth?” No, promptly quit jobs until savings are gone again.

In the end, it’s always bad incentives that get you.


Blinken Wants to End Taiwan’s U.N. Exclusion

Lotus Lake, Kaohsiung, Taiwan (Eurasia / Robert Harding / Getty Images)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for other countries to support Taiwan’s participation in U.N. agencies, such as the International Civil Aviation Organization and the World Health Organization, in a statement yesterday. “Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the UN system is not a political issue, but a pragmatic one,” said Blinken, citing the country’s “world class” COVID response and other accomplishments.

The message marks what might be the highest level of public U.S. support for Taiwan’s inclusion in the U.N. in recent years, and it follows a bilateral meeting between U.S. and Taiwanese officials on the topic that took place last week.

“Never before have we seen the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the peaceful resolution of cross-strait disputes being highlighted” at major international gatherings, James Lee, Taiwan’s de facto U.N. ambassador, told National Review last month.

Taiwan was booted from the U.N. after the General Assembly voted in 1971 to hand the seat of “China,” which the Republic of China had occupied, to the mainland’s communist government instead. In the decades since, the Chinese Communist Party has succeeded in forcing the U.N. secretariat to interpret that resolution as accepting Beijing’s claims over Taiwan, despite the fact that nothing in the resolution actually prevented Taiwan from holding a seat under a different name.

China’s diplomatic pressure campaign intensified after the election of Tsai Ing-wen to Taiwan’s presidency in 2016. Tsai, a member of the Democratic Progressive Party, is perceived by Beijing as pro-independence. In the years since, China has blocked Taiwan from participating in WHO meetings as an observer, as it had done before, and likely pressured the U.N. to bar Taiwanese passport holders from entering U.N. grounds.

Lee contended that his country’s exclusion from the WHO resulted in millions of deaths during the COVID pandemic. Taiwanese officials attempted to warn the organization about reports coming from China at the outset of the pandemic, but their messages were not posted to its intranet system.

The Blinken statement echoes a speech that Kelly Craft, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., delivered on the final day of the Trump administration. “I believe the time is right for the nations of the world to stand as one in opposition to efforts to exclude and isolate Taiwan,” said Craft, citing China’s success in blocking the country from ICAO, WHO, Interpol, and the U.N. headquarters. However, the January 19 speech was largely overshadowed by the political chaos that followed the election and the January 6 Capitol riot.

Blinken’s statement doubles down on what Craft said about the country’s exclusion and goes a step further by explicitly encouraging “all UN Member States to join us in supporting Taiwan’s robust, meaningful participation throughout the UN system and in the international community.”

The Biden administration has taken a promising step here, and it should work vigorously to place Taiwan’s exclusion at the center of its engagement at the U.N. As the Biden administration considers implementing a strategy to confront China’s malign U.N. influence, promoting Taiwan’s participation should be a major component of its approach.


Teaching History in Texas, Ctd.

(gorodenkoff/Getty Images)

In previous writing about the controversy over a Texas law on the teaching of history, I have insisted on a distinction between a teacher’s telling white students that they should feel guilty about racial injustice because they are white and a teacher’s causing some white students to feel such guilt as a by-product of teaching them about racial injustice. The first seems to me worth avoiding and condemning, unlike the second. Moreover, I think the Texas law, while flawed, observes this distinction: It forbids teaching that “an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race” (emphasis added).

The chairman of the Texas House Committee on General Investigating, Rep. Matt Krause, sees things differently. Two days ago he sent a letter to the Texas Education Agency demanding, among other things, information from school districts about any “books or content” that may “contain material that might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex or convey that a student, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.” It’s an overreach. Teachers and school districts should not be pressured into making curricular decisions based on the fear that they might inspire the wrong feelings in some students, and students should be prepared for the possibility that knowledge and exposure to other points of view will make them uncomfortable.

It may be relevant that Krause is running to be the state’s attorney general.

(h/t Jane Coaston)


Enchantment, Disenchantment, and More

Hot-air balloon flying over the city of Albuquerque, N.M. ( Lauren Haslett / Getty Images)

Today on the homepage, I have a first, I think: an Impromptus that is all-photos (with captions and a speck of commentary, true). “Snapshots of America,” it’s called. See what you think: here.

Speaking of America: I had the following item in a column on Monday:

What is the most beautiful big city in America? (I know that “big” is subject to debate.) Recently, Riccardo Muti, the music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, called Chicago the most beautiful big city in America. I would put it No. 2, behind San Francisco. (You have to overlook the fact, for the moment, that San Francisco is a sty, owing to bad government. Think of the city in proper condition.)

I invited readers to answer the question for themselves: What’s the most beautiful big city in America? I have received many answers, and they are varied, as you can imagine.

Let me give you a quick blast:

San Francisco is No. 1, and has always been my favorite place to visit — though, the last time I was there, a few years ago, the place smelled like a urinal in a gas-station bathroom. It was quite overwhelming.

Yup. Anyway, thank you to all correspondents. I will publish a healthy number of responses later. For today, just one more, please: a hymn to Albuquerque. Santa Fe tends to get the attention — the glory, the praise — when it comes to New Mexican cities. But a correspondent of ours wants to sing of Albuquerque. (In 2014, I did a “New Mexico Journal,” touching on both cities.)

All right, here we go:

Hello, Jay,

I loved your ruminations on beautiful cities in the U.S. and agree wholeheartedly on your choice of San Francisco as No. 1. I haven’t been there since 1993, but I will never forget how breathtakingly beautiful I found it when visiting. Almost impossibly so. I hope the ship can be righted in local government there one of these days, because it’s too beautiful a place to be allowed to go to seed.


In response to your invitation for strong (or weak!) opinions on cities, I’d like to offer a very humble vote for the place where I was born and raised: Albuquerque, N.M. I haven’t lived there full-time since 1997, but most of my family is still there, and I get back often. And I’ll be the first to admit that crime is terrible, the public-school system is in need of dire help, and local government is dependably incompetent. . . .

But the city itself — and, more specifically, the land on which it is built — is as gorgeous as you can find, in my opinion. The downtown skyline is nothing much to speak of, but it doesn’t have to be. On the east, the city is bounded by mountains rising up to 10,600 feet, which tumble gracefully to the south as far as the eye can see.

The city, a high-desert tan, is bisected by the Rio Grande. The Bosque (woods) that accompanies the river is lush and beautiful, and provides a streak of green to break up the brown of the desert.

On the west, mesas rise up and culminate in a series of dormant (we hope!) volcanoes. The view from the peak of the mountain is unparalleled, especially looking west at sunset, and the view from the west is equally gorgeous, especially when the sun begins to set and the mountains turn a bright pink — “sandía,” as in “Sandia Mountains,” means “watermelon” in Spanish — before fading to a serene purple.

The sky is big and vast, and the sunsets are spectacular for their panoply of color and their duration. In the right conditions, you get a shifting palette of fiery golds and reds, and blue, pink, green, and yellow pastels, like something out of a Maxfield Parrish painting, for an hour or more.

I’ve lived in central Virginia for the last 24 years, and while it has its share of breathtaking beauty, I get homesick often, even after so many years away. Even when I hear my parents and friends lament all that’s been going wrong in Albuquerque, I still love the place with all my heart.

Land of Enchantment indeed. This letter is signed “Matt Freeman, a New Mexican in Charlottesville, Va.”

Wherever you happen to be — Tampa, Tipperary, or Timbuktu — have a great day. And, again, today’s Impromptus — that strange little photo gallery — is here.

The U.S. Effectively Surrenders in the Argument about the Origins of COVID-19

Outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China, February 3, 2021 (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

The World Health Organization has proposed 26 scientists for a new group to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as future outbreaks. Unfortunately, as a letter from U.S. Right to Know lays out, some of the 26 proposed scientists have glaring conflicts of interest. One scientist is a subcontractor on a 2020 multi-million-dollar NIH grant to EcoHealth Alliance.

A second scientist signed a letter in The Lancet, orchestrated by Dr. Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance, arguing that the SARS-CoV-2 lab-origin hypothesis is a conspiracy theory. A third claimed that a lab-leak origin of SARS-CoV-2 is a “typical conspiracy theory.”


Finally — Alumni Groups Enter the Battle against Higher Education’s Degradation


Alumni groups have been mostly quiet in the fight over higher education. They have been MIA as the “progressives” took over their institutions and turned them into training grounds for activists who want to transform America. Maybe, however, that is changing.

So reports Jay Schalin in today’s Martin Center article. He writes, “on Sunday, October 17, the formation of a new organization was announced in the Wall Street Journal. This organization is called the Alumni Free Speech Alliance (AFSA); its members are reform-minded alumni at five prestigious institutions: Princeton University, Davidson College, Washington and Lee University, Cornell University, and the University of Virginia.”

The will to fight shown by the formation of AFSA seems to be sparking similar moves among the alumni of other schools. Schalin continues, “At colleges and universities all around the country—more than just the five original members of the AFSA—dissident alumni groups are forming. If they can all find each other and join together, they may be a powerful new force in academia to fend off the predations of the woke and the statists. That is the great hope for AFSA, that they can become the source of pressure that puts the brakes on academia’s perpetual drive toward politicized dogma and tyranny.”

Let the counterattack begin.


Democrats Obscure Their Stand on Voter ID, with Help from the Press

An election worker checks a voter’s drivers license in Charlotte, N.C., March 15, 2016. (Chris Keane/Reuters)

Last week the Democrats pushed a bill they presented as a “voting-rights compromise” designed to get Republican votes. They got none. Twice in recent days the Washington Post has published op-eds arguing that the filibuster needs to be ended or weakened to overcome this unreasonable Republican opposition. What this coverage does not mention is that the supposedly moderate bill would wipe out state voting laws that have strong support from the public.

Those laws require that voters present photo identification. The law that Democrats are pushing would forbid states from requiring photo identification in federal elections. Instead, states would have to accept (for example) utility bills, fishing licenses, and sworn written statements with a witness.

This feature of the bill was the first item that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell mentioned to justify his rejection of it, saying it had the “same rotten core” as previous Democratic election bills.

Proponents of the legislation have, by contrast, drawn little attention to this provision. The Center for American Progress didn’t mention it in its write-up. The Brennan Center merely alluded to it.

News outlets didn’t shed much light on the identification issue, either. It came up only in vague form in ABC’s report: The bill included “sweeping election law changes, including voter ID requirements.” The New York Times misdescribed the bill, saying it would “mandate that voters provide some form of identification before casting a ballot.” Vanity Fair ran a rant about the Republican opposition to the bill that relied on that false Times account. (Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias, not surprisingly, had a better grasp of the bill, writing that it “permits states to decide whether to require voter identification, but broadens the list of acceptable IDs for states that choose to require them.” Vox also got it right.) The Washington Post didn’t mention it at all. All three of those last outlets quoted McConnell’s “rotten core” statement and so should have been at least aware that Republicans had objected to the voter-ID portion of the bill.

We may infer that Democrats remain dead-set against photo-identification requirements for voters, that they know it is not a winning political stand for them, and that much of the press will help minimize their vulnerability. It would have been exceedingly strange if Republicans had supported a bill that forbade states to adopt a policy that they think is wise and that is also popular. But a lot of consumers of political news wouldn’t have understood that point, either.

Politics & Policy

When Did Mark Zuckerberg Become Public Enemy No. 1?

Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., October 23, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

This week, Facebook is experiencing a media gang-tackle the likes of which we have rarely seen. The Associated Press sternly announces, “The Facebook Papers represents a unique collaboration between 17 American news organizations, including the AP. Journalists from a variety of newsrooms, large and small, worked together to gain access to thousands of pages of internal company documents obtained by Frances Haugen, the former Facebook product manager-turned-whistleblower.”

But the “four revelations from the Facebook Papers” that the Financial Times touts (link at Ars Technica) seem… fairly mundane, compared to the accusations that Facebook swung the 2016 election, idled as Russian propaganda brainwashed Americans, provided fertile ground for extremist movements, and so on.

The first revelation is “Facebook is often accused of failing to moderate hate-speech on its English-language sites but the problem is much worse in countries that speak other languages.” That’s not good news, but that’s not really why Americans who are angry at Facebook are so upset with the company. You would have to look far and wide to find Americans who are up in arms because the company isn’t doing a good enough job of rooting out hate speech in Burmese or Arabic dialects.

The second revelation is “news feed ranking is more influenced by people who share frequently than those who share and engage less often, which may correlate with race. That results in content from certain races being prioritized over others.” But if you build a system that prioritizes the posts shared by those who share the most often, you have no guarantee that each demographic will choose to share posts with equal frequency. The only way for Facebook to balance this out would be to prioritize posts shared by minority users, a sort of affirmative action for Facebook posts.

The third revelation is “according to a March 2021 note by a group of researchers, the company takes action on only as little as 3 to 5 percent of hate speech and 0.6 percent of violent content. Another memo suggests that it may never manage to get beyond 10 to 20 percent, because of it is ‘extraordinarily challenging’ for AI to understand the context in which language is used.”

It would be preferable to know just how these researchers define “hate speech.” As for the failure of artificial intelligence to understand context, this is again not good news, but not necessarily surprising. Back in 2018, Facebook set up a policy of blocking ads with nudity… and banned a tourism campaign for the Belgian city of Flanders, because it featured nude paintings from a Rubens museum. (I guess you could say the anti-nudity policy is… Baroque-en.)

The fourth revelation is “memos show that the company switched off certain emergency safeguards in the wake of the November 2020 election, only to scramble to turn some back on again as the violence flared. One internal assessment found that the swift implementation of measures was hindered by waiting for sign-off from the policy team.” It’s hard to begrudge Facebook “switching off certain emergency safeguards in the wake of the November 2020 election” because the election was over. And once again, one department at a company slowing down the decision-making of another department is not good, but it’s also not particularly surprising.

When you set up a system where any user can register an account for free and start posting to his heart’s content, catching offensive, objectionable, or harmful content is always going to be a game of whack-a-mole. When the system grows so large that the number of users are in the billions, no administrator is going to be able to review, evaluate, and judge the appropriateness of ever post of every user with any sense of speed.

An online social media network is a tool, just like a hammer, a computer, or a gun. What impact that tool has on the world is determined almost entirely by who uses it and for what purpose.

Because social media networks can be used by anyone, you’re going to find bad people using those networks. Social media companies undoubtedly bit off a lot more than they could chew when they initially declared that they were not media companies, and not responsible for what gets written on their sites – that they were no more responsible for the content of what is posted than bricklayers and bathroom stall makers were responsible for what graffiti is written on their work.

If you give the whole world a blank canvas, some people will create great art, some people will doodle, some will draw stick figures and some will write profanities and others will create horrible, hateful stuff. Sooner or later, these companies were going to censor somebody, because someone was going to come along who was so terrible, indefensible, unjustifiable and irredeemable that the companies would feel compelled to say, “no, we didn’t set up this network so something like that could find an audience.” Way back in 2008, Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations discussed online pro-anorexia groups. The world is full of nutjobs, weirdos, extremists, lunatics and people who hold all kinds of strange, abhorrent, repulsive and taboo beliefs. When your company puts out a welcome mat to the world, some of those weirdos are going to come in with the rest.

Robby Soave at Reason argues the Facebook papers represent “a Big Fat Nothingburger” and concludes, “The social media site is unsafe because there’s too much content that the mainstream media and the government would prefer users not see. They’re upset that the person in charge of deciding what belongs on Facebook is Mark Zuckerberg and not Joe Biden—and no amount of handwringing about addictive platforms or monopolistic practices can disguise the fact that the site is losing popularity with young people, and increasingly looks like a dying star.”

Spending a lot of time on social media may well have some unhealthy consequences. But it’s hard to believe that Facebook is some sort of unique societal menace, while Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and the rest are just fine and dandy. (A much fairer and consequential criticism of Facebook is the evidence that the company knows its subsidiary Instagram is a toxic influence in the lives of many teenage girls, and doesn’t seem to care.)

What does seem to be a factor is that Facebook is the most popular social media network among older people — and older people tend to skew conservative and vote for Republicans, which suggests some of the ire directed towards Facebook is really an ire at the types of people most likely to be using it.

Note the project’s title, “The Facebook Papers,” is no doubt attempting to evoke the “Pentagon Papers” and “Panama Papers.”

(Did you notice that in the multiple batches of “The Panama Papers” that were released, American news audiences largely yawned? As I noted at the time, there weren’t that many Americans named in the Panama Papers, and the ones that were mentioned had fraud indictments or other reasons to hide their assets from prying eyes of investigators. If the Icelandic Prime Minister is hiding his money, that’s really an issue for Icelandic law enforcement and Icelandic voters to address. Regarding the more recent release of the “Pandora Papers,” maybe it’s something of a scandal that former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair is using offshore accounts to shield assets from taxes. But is anybody surprised? And is anybody really surprised that Jordan’s King Abdullah II or associates of Vladimir Putin do the same? Did anybody think this crowd was an all-star team of financial and ethical rectitude?)

One other odd wrinkle: All of the news institutions that are participating in this massive expose of the alleged evils of Facebook… have Facebook pages.

Film & TV

Dune Sequel Confirmed for 2023

Timothée Chalamet in Dune. (Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures)

In my review of Denis Villeneueve’s excellent Dune, I noted that the film was billed as Dune: Part One even though it was not yet guaranteed that there would be a part two:

The true way to experience Dune, as Villeneuve has adapted it, would be to see both parts at once, Lawrence of Arabia–style, as I hope to do one day.

Alas, we must live in the present, unlike those with the spice. And it is no sure thing that there will be a Dune: Part Two. I certainly hope there will be, otherwise what Kyle Smith aptly described as “the longest prologue ever made” will have essentially been for naught. So, even though this Dune will leave you wanting more, do yourself a favor and experience it in the theater. You’ll enjoy it, even as a nonfan (not that I would know what that’s like) . . . and you’ll help ensure that we get to experience Villeneuve fully capture the greatness of Dune.

It’s true that Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff did say the following just before Dune‘s release:

“Will we have a sequel to Dune? If you watch the movie you see how it ends. I think you pretty much know the answer to that.”

But it has now been confirmed: Dune: Part Two has been greenlit by Warner Bros. and Legendary Studios. Per Deadline:

I[n] what comes as no surprise, the sequel for Dune finally has been greenlighted for a October 20, 2023 theatrical release with director, producer and co-screenwriter Denis Villeneuve returning.

The key word here is theatrical. We understand that a key point of negotiations between Legendary and Warner Bros was that Dune: Part Two would be given a pure theatrical window; no day-and-date HBO Max release plan is in the mix for this cinema spectacle.

The exclusive theatrical-release window is great news, as it will encourage more people to see it in a movie theater, where Villeneuve intended it to be seen, and where I found Dune: Part One so enthralling. And there’s a chance its box office will improve without the home-viewing option, at least at first, and with the added presence of home-viewers who eschewed the theater this time around. So let the countdown to October 20, 2023, begin.

Bless the Maker and His water.

NR Webathon

Corporate Media’s Silence on the Loudoun Bathroom-Assault Story Is Deafening

Loudoun county student walkout, October 26, 2021. (Scott Taylor 7 News I-Team/ Screenshot via Twitter)

If you cryogenically froze any news editor in America in 1996, when NRO launched, only to revive him in the year 2021 to ask his opinion of the newsworthiness of the horrible story of rape in a Loudoun County school bathroom, you would undoubtedly be told that the story should be pursued to the hilt.

Setting aside the question of public interest, it has all the ingredients that attract eyeballs: the rape of a minor who was in the care of the state at the time the attack occurred; the explicit connection to a heated political question (should biological boys be permitted to use girls’ bathrooms in schools?); and what looks to be a cover up by the local school board, which was at the time adjudicating that precise question.

The editor in question would be surprised to learn that the story was broken by the Daily Wire, a self-consciously ideological outlet with a fraction of the resources of the major papers, only to be ignored by the papers and cable outlets, with the exception of a few stories noting how the incident was being “weaponized” by one political faction.

The corporate media’s complete lack of interest in the details of the story itself and, even worse, their attempts to obfuscate those details, would appall our zombie editor. If he were interested in following the story, he would rely on the work of National Review’s news desk, which has reported on the fallout at every turn.

In the last few hours alone, our news team has detailed how a juvenile judge in Virginia found the teen guilty of sexual assault, reported on a walk-out at the high school where the teen allegedly committed a second sexual assault after being transferred rather than suspended, and noted that the victim’s father is demanding an apology from the National School Board Association after it cited him as a potential “domestic terrorist” in its letter to the Biden administration requesting federal intervention in local disputes.

Say what you will about the amoral “if it bleeds, it leads” posture of old school editors; I’m confident they would have run a story like this into the ground, regardless of their politics. That particular breed of editor has been rooted out of our major news-gathering institutions, so National Review is stepping up to fill the void. But we can’t do it without you.

Please consider donating to NR’s Fall Webathon so we can continue bringing you the news other outfits find inconvenient.


In 2019 the New York Times Did Extensively Cover China’s Brutal Treatment of the Uyghurs

Umer Jan, 12, takes part in a rally to encourage Canada and other countries as they consider labeling China’s treatment of its Uyghur population and Muslim minorities as genocide, outside the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., February 19, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, who covers China for Axios, vehemently objects to today’s Morning Jolt newsletter, specifically the contention that, “We know that if the New York Times ran a giant, above-the-fold, ten-part series about the genocide of the Uyghurs, that would kill off the company’s access to the Chinese market for a long time.”

Allen-Ebrahimian was the lead International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reporter for the China Cables, “a trove of highly classified Chinese government documents which revealed the inner workings of China’s detention camps in Xinjiang and the high-tech security state it has built there.”

Over the course of the year of 2019, the New York Times wrote seven front-page stories about Chinese abuses of the Uyghurs: a February 21 article on Chinese authorities turning to a Massachusetts company and a prominent Yale researcher for DNA tracking; an April 4 story on Chinese start-ups building algorithms that are used to track Uyghurs; a May 23 story on China’s “spying state”; a November 24 story on Chinese leaders’ struggling to manage Xinjiang sites swelling with Muslim detainees; a December 3 story about mass DNA collection efforts, a December 29 story on ethnic minority children being placed in boarding schools, and December 31 story on being forced into work programs.

While we can quibble with where the stories were placed on the front page and how much readership there is on a day like December 31, seven front-page stories about Chinese human-rights abuses of the Uyghurs over the course of a year — and three in a single month — is undoubtedly more than any other non-China-focused newspaper in America.

Other pieces were online “interactive experiences” such as this one on surveillance in April 4, 2019, and an expose of “400 pages of internal Chinese documents provide an unprecedented inside look at the crackdown on ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region” in November of 2019. (For what it is worth, that expose was not featured on the front page of the New York Times the day it was published.) On December 9, the New York Times podcast “The Daily” focused on China’s detention camps. On December 30, 2019, the paper offered a video presentation on Chinese labor programs. The Pulitzer committee named the Times reporting on China a finalist in 2020.

So it is wrong to contend that the New York Times turned a blind eye to the ongoing human-rights abuses in China, and if what I wrote today’s Morning Jolt created that impression in readers’ minds, I regret it. From where I sit there are plenty of legitimate criticisms of the New York Times, but “they’re afraid to cover the abuse of the Uighurs” is not one of them.

With all of that said . . . these news stories largely came and went without making much of a splash in the busy, often Trump-dominated news cycles of 2019, nor do I think they made much impact on American attitudes towards China. Perhaps I should have been clearer, but I don’t think this is quite the hypothetical “giant, above-the-fold, ten-part series about the genocide of the Uyghurs” that I described. Or perhaps these stories would have gotten more attention if they had been touted as a seven or ten-part series, one after another, day after day, rather than coming out roughly once a month or so. Each article’s revelations could or should have stirred public outrage at the regime in Beijing, but whatever outrage it did generate quickly dissipated, as opposed to a steadily building daily reminder that one of America’s largest trading partner is engaged in an ongoing genocide, and that much of the world — including, reportedly, President Trump — do not think that is worth our concern.

I do think there is a difference between the way the New York Times covers China’s appalling human rights abuses — in depth and with great deal of detail, but intermittently — and the much closer-to-home, much more predictable political fights of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, or Ron DeSantis — a relentless steady drumbeat, with fiery denunciations on the op-ed page almost every day. And considering the consequences of genocide, one might think that ought to be prioritized. But again, it is wrong to contend that the New York Times has been hesitant to cover the ongoing genocide of the Uyghurs.

My perception is that the New York Times’ coverage of China was likely shaped less by what the paper’s foreign news bureaus were doing and more by the paper’s op-ed page running columns like Hong Kong Executive council member Regina Ip’s “Hong Kong Is China, Like It or Not,” Peter Beinart’s May op-ed declaring deterring a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is impossible, and Thomas Friedman’s “if only we could be like China for a day” perspective. But news reporters should not pay the price for what the op-ed page runs.

By the way the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting did go to another team at the New York Times . . . “for a set of enthralling stories, reported at great risk, exposing the predations of Vladimir Putin’s regime.”

Politics & Policy

Manchin Rejects Democrats’ Proposal to Let the IRS Monitor Bank Accounts


Congressional Democrats have proposed requiring banks to report to the IRS the total inflows and outflows of all bank accounts with transactions of at least $10,000 (after initially proposing a $600 threshold).

But West Virginia senator Joe Manchin says he opposes the proposal at any amount:


McAuliffe’s Infamous ‘Parents’ Quip Wasn’t a Gaffe — It’s How Democrats Think

Candidate for Governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe speaks during his campaign rally in Dumfries, Va., October 21, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Terry McAuliffe made an extraordinary in-kind contribution to the campaign of his Republican opponent, Glenn Youngkin, when he declared during their debate that, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” In no small part due to that one comment, a governor’s race that looked like a sure thing for Democrats is effectively a toss-up with a week to go.

If Youngkin manages to pull off the upset, most political observers will look at this McAuliffe comment as a turning point in the race. But while many people have portrayed the statement as a gaffe, in reality, all McAuliffe was doing was expressing a view that is held by an overwhelming majority of Democrats. And this is backed up by a new poll from USA Today/Suffolk, which shows a tied race.

At one point the pollsters asked, “Should parents or school boards have more of an influence on a school’s curriculum?” Overall, 50 percent said parents and 39 percent said school boards. But the partisan breakdown is something to behold. While Republicans, 79 percent to 12 percent, said parents should have more influence, the numbers were reversed for Democrats, with 70 percent saying school boards should have more of a say and only 16 percent siding with parents. Among independents, it was 57-32 in favor of parents.

Whether or not Youngkin is able to overcome the huge built-in advantages Democrats have in Virginia and emerge victorious, the competitiveness of the race suggests that Republicans running next year should lean into the idea of giving parents more of a say over their children’s educations. The issue has become even more salient as a result of the teachers’ union-driven school closures that forced parents to become more involved in what their children were being taught in public schools.


Suffolk Poll Shows McAuliffe and Youngkin Dead Even


With one week to go until Election Day in Virginia, a new Suffolk poll of likely voters shows Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin tied at 45 percent.

Recent polls by Emerson and Monmouth have also shown the Virginia gubernatorial race dead even, but in the average of polls, McAuliffe still has a slim lead of less than two percentage points over Youngkin.

PC Culture

Bioethicist Claims Allowing Circumcision Is Sexist


Many bioethicists and progressive politicians want to outlaw infant circumcision — even though it is an essential aspect of Jewish faith and almost as important in Islam. In a few instances, the “intactivist” campaign has taken on explicitly anti-Semitic tropes.

There’s no logic to the campaign. Now, the Journal of Medical Ethics has published a piece decrying circumcision — and making the ridiculous comparison to female genital mutilation to claim that it is sexist to bar FGM while permitting circumcision. From “Male or Female Genital Cutting: Why ‘Health Benefits’ are Morally Irrelevant:”

Western societies cannot coherently continue to maintain that non-Western forms of female genital cutting are ‘categorically unacceptable while endorsing a balancing approach to male cutting’ (p532). Rather, he insists, medically unnecessary genital cutting is ‘intrinsically wrong because it violates the right to physical integrity of the child; thus, the conclusion that genital cutting is wrong as a matter of principle applies equally to boys and girls’ (ibid).

In light of such arguments, which are gaining steam among bioethicists and legal experts, it seems that individuals, groups and organisations—including the AAP and WHO—that categorically condemn all medically unnecessary genital cutting of non-consenting female minors, while simultaneously approving of such cutting of male minors, will need to make up their minds. If they see the former as violating a child’s right to bodily integrity, no matter how slight the cutting and irrespective of parental motivations, religious or otherwise, then they ought to extend this principle across the spectrum of sex and gender and stand up for the bodily integrity rights of children who have intersex traits, as well as those who have male-typical genitalia (including both cisgender boys and transgender girls). That is my own position and I have defended it at length in other publications.

If, on the other hand, they see it as permissible for parents to authorise medically unnecessary genital cutting for children who have a penis, regardless of the reason and whether or not meaningful health benefits are expected to accrue, then they ought to extend this principle back across the spectrum to children who have a vulva, while deciding on the precise type or extent of genital cutting they are willing to tolerate in this regard.

A little sanity please. FGM is not required by any religion of which I know, at least in the formal sense. It is more a cultural custom than an explicitly religious requirement. For example, it is my understanding that FGM appears nowhere in the Koran.

In contrast, infant circumcision — I won’t use the woke terms deployed by the author instead of “boys” and “girls” — is commanded explicitly in Jewish scripture.

Second, circumcision is inclusive; that is, it is a religiously essential act that ushers the baby boy into his faith and traditions of his forebears. FMG, even of the pin-prick type, is discriminatory, a means of demonstrating the inferiority of girls. In its more extreme manifestations, it is designed to stifle normal sexual response as a means of oppression.

Third, the best time to circumcise is in infancy before nerves connect and maturation makes the surgery far more complicated and risky. Moreover, boys don’t remember it. FGM usually takes place during girlhood, when it will be remembered, often imposed without anesthesia.

Barring circumcision would more stifle a Jewish boy’s autonomy rights by depriving him of an essential part of his becoming part of the Jewish community. The only choice for the boy wanting to be fully included into Judaism would be to do it in adulthood, when the surgery would be far more complicated and risky.

Finally, circumcision in infancy has mild health benefits for the future man — to the point that the American Academy of Pediatrics says the benefits “justify” leaving the choice with parents. And remember, the AAP is not exactly conservative, for example, supporting puberty blocking for children with gender dysphoria. There are zero health plusses for FGM.

Articles like this one are aimed, ultimately, at attacking religious freedom and imposing a utilitarian secularist cloak over all of society. Indeed, there are already attacks on Kosher and Halal meat — for example, it is barred in parts of Belgium and New Zealand because activists believe the means of slaughter is inhumane. The rite of circumcision is also in activists’ crosshairs. That is why we see the continuing effort to blur the crucial moral distinctions between it and FGM.


Fifteen Things That Caught My Eye Today: Sudan, Hong Kong, Dobbs, & More


1. BBC News: Sudan coup: Military dissolves civilian government and arrests leaders

Large numbers of protesters are on the streets of the capital demanding the return of civilian rule, BBC Arabic’s Mohamed Osman reports from Khartoum.

More protesters are expected to join the crowds after calls for action by political parties and professional unions, our correspondent says. Doctors have refused to work at hospitals and institutions under military rule, except in emergencies, he adds.

One demonstrator, Sawsan Bashir, told AFP news agency: “We will not leave the streets until the civilian government is back and the transition is back.”

2. Daily Wire: Amnesty International To Close Its Hong Kong Offices, Citing New National Security Law

The group pointed to the new national security law put in place by the Chinese government as the reason for the closure. The group noted that the law “was enacted on 30 June 2020. It targets alleged acts of ‘secession’, ‘subversion of state power’, ‘terrorist activities’ and ‘collusion with foreign or external forces to endanger national security’.”

3.  Bloomberg: Hong Kong Convicts Second Person Under National Security Law

Ma Chun-man, 31, a former food delivery worker, faces as many as seven years in prison after being found guilty on one count of incitement to secession by District Court Judge Stanley Chan. He had denied the charges.

The two national security trials held so far have both handed down convictions and focused heavily on the defendants’ use of political slogans, adding to fears that freedom of speech is being eroded in the former British colony despite being guaranteed in the security law and the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law. 

4. Sherif Girgis: There is no middle ground in the Mississippi abortion case. The court must overrule ‘Roe.’

5. New York Times: The Around-the-Clock Prayer Effort to Save the Haiti Hostages

Mrs. Petersheim, a mother of six, thought especially of the small children in the group, possibly hungry and definitely restless. So, each morning now she wakes up at 2:45 a.m. and prays for practical matters: that they will not experience hunger, that they will not be hurt or abused, for sleep and privacy and hygiene.

“We do believe God is in control,” she said. “When Daniel was put in the lions’ den, there was nothing logical about him coming out alive.”

As the hours tick by, and families wait for news, Mennonites across North America are seeking resolution in the way they know best: prayer. That is why some divided the day into 30-minute prayer slots, to ensure that no minute goes uncovered.

6.  DC assistant chief: I was told “have an abortion or be fired”

Dickerson, who is part of a $100 million lawsuit filed against the department by current and former female Black officers, said when she became pregnant as a young police cadet, she was told she had to have an abortion to keep her job.

“When I was 18-years-old as a police cadet, I was told I had to have an abortion or be fired from the MPD cadet program,” Dickerson said. “Wow. My choice to have a baby was personal and it should’ve been mine alone and not for an employer ultimatum.”

7. Kristan Hawkins: Pro-Abortion Students Hate Who They Think Pro-Lifers Are; I Spoke At Wellesley And We Found Common Ground

Universities were once bastions of diversity of thought, but Wellesley now signifies the total intolerance rampant on university campuses worldwide. Just weeks ago at Oxford University in England, vicious pro-abortion students destroyed an innocuous pro-life display and threatened peaceful pro-life students. Shortly before that, pro-life students at Exeter University in England allegedly received death threats as pro-abortion students lobbied to shut down their group.

But in speaking with Wellesley’s pro-abortion students during the question-and-answer period of my speech yesterday, it was clear that they hated their warped misconceptions of the Pro-Life Generation, not what we actually believe. For example, when I alerted pro-abortion students of their school’s record of failing to support pregnant and parenting students by forcing student mothers out of campus housing, they agreed with me that this was shameful behavior. And when I informed them that my organization founded the Standing With You initiative a decade ago to ensure that pregnant and parenting college students are protected and served, their preconceived notion that ‘pro-lifers don’t care about women’ was decimated. 

8. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan: Human Rights Begin in the Womb

When the law allows vulnerable life to be destroyed, forces health care workers to do it against their consciences, and demands that our tax money subsidize it, what message are we giving about the dignity of the human person and the sacredness of life?

When those potent forces pushing the abortion agenda will not allow any thoughtful consideration of any reasonable limit on a right to take the tiny life of a pre-born infant, even up to the moment of birth, where do we go?

9. Charles C. Camosy: Pro-life movement at a crossroads, facing new challenges

Richard M. Doerflinger: In my own family, my older brother Eugene was in a car accident in 1967, leaving him in what doctors called a “vegetative state” they said was permanent. One doctor even told my mother that she should forget she had a son, which was the wrong thing to tell this family. We figured out how to care for him at home, and my mom kept talking to him as though he could hear her – until one day he started answering. He lived another 40 years, residing later in a good nursing facility near us so we could have him over on weekends and take him to Mass on Sunday.

10. Madeleine Kearns: Baby doomers: why are couples putting the planet ahead of parenthood?

The tragedy of this position is that this anxious generation’s fears are largely unfounded. Children born today are likely to have longer and better lives than those in any other era. They’ll be better educated with fewer health worries, and have more rewarding work than previous generations could have dreamed of. Just a century ago, a third of children wouldn’t make it to their fifth birthday. Now the global child mortality rate is 4 percent. Parents today spend twice the amount of time with their children as they did 50 years ago. Air quality is better now than it has been at any time in living memory.

It’s easy to lose sight of this progress when the focus of the government is on the horrors that await us in the future. Just this week, the Environment Agency released its new message: ‘Adapt or die’, it’s in the same apocalyptic vein as Greta Thunberg’s approach — constant talk of worst-case scenarios, and demands that everyone ‘panic’. The obsession with doomsday might grab headlines, but it’s wasted energy that does nothing to solve the issues we might face from climate change.



13. Naomi Schaefer Riley: How this Oklahoma ranch is using nuclear families to upend the foster care system

Peppers Ranch tried something different. In 2009, after extensive studies, the leadership decided to move to a family model, offering couples who were already licensed to do foster care in Oklahoma the opportunity to move to Peppers Ranch. There they could live in one of the newly built houses, paying only a couple of hundred dollars in rent and receiving a small stipend in addition to what the state offered for foster care, if they were willing to open their home to at least five foster children. Today, there are 16 homes on the property (with plans to build a few more over the next few years), all more than 3,000 square feet. The typical home has four bedrooms, a large living area and an industrial-size kitchen and pantry. The more recent homes even have hookups for two washers and dryers as well as larger garages in which families can park their super-size vans. The entire community has an annual budget of about $1.5 million, all from private donations. In addition to money, locals also donate furniture, clothing and other necessities. Hundreds of volunteers help maintain the grounds and run programs for the kids.




Enes Kanter’s Criticism of Pro-China Companies

Enes Kanter in New York in 2017. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Boston Celtics player Enes Kanter has come out swinging against the Chinese Communist Party, in recent days making the most of his platform to skewer Beijing’s repression of Tibetans and Uyghurs and to question Xi Jinping’s rule. On Sunday, he wore shoes emblazoned with the message “Free China” to a game.

This afternoon he opened a new front in this campaign, targeting a prominent U.S. enabler of China’s mass atrocities, Nike, which has faced allegations of working with suppliers complicit in Uyghur forced labor:

In the video he posted, Kanter points to the disconnect between Nike’s professed commitment to social justice at home and its refusal to substantiate its denials of reports linking it to China’s industrial slave-labor system.

As others have noted, Kanter has long been an outspoken opponent of authoritarianism, and his criticism of the party is only surprising insofar as the NBA’s extreme deference to Chinese sensibilities — read: its bottom line — is concerned. But Kanter’s repeated statements suggest that there’s little chance of the league walking back his criticism of China in the way that it did when Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

Over the coming weeks, Kanter might see fit to pick up where Morey left off. Already, anti-CCP human-rights advocates of all stripes, including Hong Kong’s Nathan Law, have lauded, and amplified, his statements.

In addition to Nike, Kanter should consider focusing on party apologists closer to home. There’s plenty to be said about other American corporations that have toed Beijing’s line and otherwise have remained silent in the face of grave human-rights atrocities.

Then, there’s the matter of Joseph Tsai, the executive vice president of Alibaba and owner of the New York Nets. Tsai has unapologetically backed Beijing’s position on Hong Kong, most recently telling CNBC that Beijing’s enactment of the repressive national-security law in the city “stabilized” the situation.

All the while, Tsai, who obviously has his fortune on the line as he courts the Chinese government, has hidden behind his philanthropy work, including by standing up an outfit dedicated to supporting the Asian-American community. (Among other things, The Asian American Foundation, has provided funding to Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit group that has condemned certain anti–Chinese government policies as “anti-Asian.”)

So far, Tsai has faced minimal criticism for his obvious support of the Chinese regime. Kanter can shine a spotlight on the obvious inconsistency between Tsai’s posturing as an advocate of social justice and his role in justifying the authoritarian policies of a totalitarian regime.

Kanter has his work cut out for him. Although Washington’s turn against China is in full swing, mainstream corporate and cultural institutions are far behind, and they stand vulnerable to undue foreign influence. With any luck, Kanter’s advocacy can make a difference.


Interview with an American Exorcist — Join Me with Monsignor Stephen Rossetti


I don’t mean to interrupt your lighthearted celebration of Halloween, but when I see demons and other dark decorations, I do find myself in cautionary mode. There’s a new book by a priest in Washington, D.C. — Monsignor Stephen Rossetti — whose ministry involves dealing with the reality of evil. You can join our virtual discussion Tuesday at noon Eastern time. RSVP here.

Politics & Policy

In Virginia Rally, Obama Misleads on Culture War

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe fist bumps former former President Barack Obama during his campaign rally in Richmond, Va., October 23, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Glenn Youngkin’s last-minute surge is ruffling all the right feathers. The Virginia gubernatorial candidate’s beleaguered Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe — whose campaign has been pulling out all of the stops in a desperate bid to fend off the Republican insurgency — went so far as to bring Barack Obama to a Saturday rally. The former president wasted no time letting the audience know exactly what’s at stake in the November 2 election:

We don’t have time to be wasted on these phony trumped-up culture wars, this fake outrage, the right-wing media’s pedals to juice their ratings. And the fact that [Youngkin is] willing to go along with it instead of talking about serious problems that actually affect serious people? That’s a shame. That’s not what this election’s about. That’s not what you need, Virginia. Instead of forcing our communities to cut back at a time when we’re just starting to recover, we should be doing more to support people who are educating our kids, and keeping our communities safe.

Apparently, the very same things are also at stake in New Jersey. Here was Obama later that same day, at a campaign rally for Governor Phil Murphy’s reelection bid:

We don’t have time to waste on phony culture wars or fake outrage that the right-wing media is peddling just to juice up your ratings. We should be building on the progress we’ve made, not tearing it down. That’s not what this election is all about. That’s not what you need, Jersey. So instead of forcing schools to cut back, we should be doing more to support the people who are educating our kids.

As far as left-wing canards go, this is a two-fer. First, the idea that conservative cultural concerns — like, say, whether male students who are credibly accused of assaulting their female peers should continue to have access to girl’s bathrooms if they claim to be transgender — aren’t “serious problems that actually affect serious people.” Second, that the Right is always the aggressor in the culture war: In Obama’s framing, the culture warriors in Virginia are not the progressive educators who have pushed critical race theory–influenced curricula and transgender ideology in kids’ schools, but the parents and concerned citizens who are protesting these reforms. If progressivism is always on the “right side of history,” as the former president often liked to claim, then the steady march of cultural liberalism is inevitable; it is not until indignant right-wingers push back that such debates become the “culture war.”

Obama and McAuliffe know as well as anyone that new hot-button issues such as CRT and gender ideology in schools are a losing issue for Democrats — and, if the GOP plays its cards right, a winning one for Republicans. Education — a proxy for culture-war issues on everything from masks to CRT — is one of the top concerns in the Virginia race, and the latest polls show McAuliffe dangerously underwater on the question. Voters have traditionally viewed Democrats more favorably than Republicans on schools, but a new Cygnal poll out today shows McAuliffe trailing Youngkin by more than 16 points with parents of K–12 children.

Youngkin’s surge has coincided with his willingness to modify the old blue-state GOP campaign handbook on cultural debates, at least within the realm of education. When he kicked off his campaign with a more conventional culture war–averse approach — emphasizing jobs, taxes, and the other standard “kitchen table” issues that the GOP has long seen as the route to victory in Democratic-leaning constituencies — he was five points underwater. But as Virginia public schools have become a national battleground for cultural debates surrounding curricula and gender, Youngkin has leaned in to the fight. Now, the GOP is within spitting distance of the governorship for the first time in years. Whether or not Youngkin manages to pull it off, Republicans across the country could learn a thing or two from his strategy.


The Facebook PsyOp Continues

Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., October 5, 2021. (Jabin Botsford/Pool via Reuters)

A few weeks ago I wrote about the campaign against Facebook launched by Frances Haugen. I thought it was a liberal psychological operation aimed at getting Facebook to censor more conservatives and hire more American intel operatives.

This has been building, successively, ever the twin shocks of Brexit and Donald Trump. “Make no mistake, 2016 will never happen again,” wrote historian Niall Ferguson at the time.

And it didn’t! Social-media networks promoted false stories that made Donald Trump look bad relentlessly. And they outright censored true stories that made Joe Biden look bad. Zuckerberg gave millions to the cause of Democratic victories.

Now, of course, the phrase “liberal psyop” is the sort of thing that would cause me to walk away from anyone who uttered it. But what else could you call that dramatic rollout on 60 Minutes, in the Wall Street Journal, and immediately into Congress?

And that’s what it is. The Democrat-aligned Washington PR firm that is handling the “Facebook Whistleblower” is getting money for this campaign from liberal mega donor Pierre Omidyar. That’s the man who funds The Intercept, and a constellation of organizations associated with Never-Trump conservatives.

We’re currently on to phase No. 2, “The Facebook Papers,” which is leading Twitter’s trending topics as I write this. You can read through and all you’ll find is that many progressive Facebook employees and executives objected strongly to conservatives’ using Facebook during an election year, and argued for more censorship and intervention against them, only to be rebuffed by the CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. There’s no attempt to situate these in the broader problem of social-media radicalization, which played a role in the 2020 riots that swept the United States, or that plays a role in social contagions such as the transgender phenomenon.

There is also almost no attempt to understand or distinguish what people do and say that is merely made visible by Facebook, from what people do and say because of Facebook’s design and algorithms.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see whether people fall for this attempt to recreate an institutional liberal stranglehold over media.