World

A Movie and Its Maker

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Hatice Cengiz with her fiancé, Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered by the Saudi government (Courtesy of Briarcliff Entertainment)

Bryan Fogel is a fascinating filmmaker and person. I have done a Q&A with him, here. His latest film is called “The Dissident,” about Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered by Saudi agents in October 2018.

Fogel was born and raised in Denver. He went to the university in Boulder (such a beautiful place). He was a funny guy — is a funny guy — doing stand-up and the like. He co-wrote a play called “Jewtopia,” about the dating life, and other sensitive matters. He starred in it. This play ran in L.A. for a year and a half and in New York for more than three years — which is a helluva long time. In 2012, he turned the play into a movie, starring Jennifer Love Hewitt and others.

The movie flopped, as he tells me in our Q&A. Bryan was out of money. He seemed to be stuck. He thought of moving back home to Denver, to live with his parents for a while.

What a comeback. He details it in our podcast. In 2017, he won an Oscar — for his film Icarus, absolutely fascinating. Consequential, too. It is about the Russian government, sports, and doping. At the center of it is an amazing, and amazingly brave, whistleblower.

Now Fogel has made his movie about Khashoggi, and the murder of him. Before embarking on the project, he had heard things about Khashoggi. We all have. Muslim Brotherhood. ISIS. Friend of Osama bin Laden!

The Saudi lobby, and the Saudi propaganda machine, are well oiled.

Like Icarus, The Dissident was a great hit at the Sundance Festival. Obviously, companies were falling all over themselves to distribute the new film, right? A film by an Oscar winner, about a sensational murder that has intrigued the whole world.

No takers. You can read about this in a report from the New York Times. Netflix, which had distributed Icarus, was shy. So was everyone else. How come? In the entertainment world, there is big, big money to be made from the Saudi government. You don’t want to cross it.

Finally, The Dissident was taken up by Briarcliff Entertainment, an independent company.

Near the end of our podcast, I say to Bryan Fogel something like this: You’re a funny guy — a Jewtopia guy — who has now made films on very grave topics. You have crossed the Russian regime, and now you have crossed the Saudi regime. You’re a brave dude, among other things.

He answers me approximately like this:

I think we all have responsibilities as human beings to try to do our best to serve mankind. I don’t mean to be hifalutin about it, but it’s true.

I sat with Hatice Cengiz, Jamal’s fiancée, for weeks on end before we filmed, building trust. You can’t help feeling great compassion for somebody who has gone through such a loss. How does she pick up her life the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that?

Ultimately, she goes onto the world stage, after being unknown — just an academic. And now she’s speaking on behalf of someone she loves and thought she was going to marry and who was brutally murdered.

Then you go and sit in Montreal with Omar Abdulaziz (a Saudi dissident who served as an assistant to Khashoggi). He’s under the 24-hour protection of the Canadian government. As I’m filming with him, text messages are coming into his phone that are death threats, with Canadian area codes.

You also hear the audio of Saudis trying to rendition him back to Saudi Arabia.

And, as I’m filming with Omar, he gets word that his brothers have been tortured, and one of them — his teeth have been knocked out. Nineteen years old, in a Saudi prison.

I don’t care what side you lean on, politically, but not to have compassion and want to fight for people who are trying to get the freedoms the rest of us take for granted — that’s what drives me.

(Once more, the link to our Q&A is here. You’ll want to get to know Bryan Fogel a bit.)

Capital Matters

Hooray for the Middlemen

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I would like to direct your attention to an excellent column by Virginia I. Postrel about the crucial role of middlemen — market intermediaries — in making the world work.

By guaranteeing large purchases, the federal government gave manufacturers strong incentives to produce the vaccines. It was a smart move, and it worked. But now we’re experiencing the downside. Buying up the supplies and bestowing a vaccine monopoly on state governments blocked the normal distribution channels connecting producers with vaccinators.

Whether you’re laying fiber optic cable or delivering packages, that last mile is the tricky, labor-intensive, expensive part. To reach individuals, the system has to go from centralized operations to decentralized ones. That’s why we have retailers rather than ordering our toilet paper from Georgia-Pacific, and why they, in turn, often rely on distributors. “Cutting out the middleman” is a catchy slogan, but intermediaries make the system work.

A few years ago, Bernie Sanders inspired a good deal of laughter by insisting, in his exasperated-old-man way, that we have too many different kinds of deodorant for sale. (This is not obvious from the Vermont hippies who keep Senator Sanders in office.) But Sanders was making a very old progressive argument — a fallacious one.

The progressives who believe that a rational central plan can be imposed on society — that the nation can be organized as though it were one big factory — have long recoiled from the complexity, waste, redundancy, etc., that they see in market-driven business operations. But, very often, what seems like waste or inefficiency is the shortest route to a different end: A grocery store assumes that a certain amount of produce will go to waste, but the buyers don’t reduce their orders — the little bit extra is used as a hedge against unpredictable swings in demand, a way to avoid the real costs of running out of something and thereby irritating customers. You don’t buy your cars from Honda or GM, and you don’t buy your milk from a dairy producer. Those extra steps and layers are not inefficiency — they are efficiency that Bernie Sanders doesn’t understand.

We have some relatively well-governed states and some terribly misgoverned ones, but none of them is going to get Americans the COVID-19 vaccines as efficiently as Walmart can bring you a pair of socks from the other side of the planet. That’s because Walmart isn’t Walmart — it is a vast, complex ecosystem of production and distribution involving thousands of firms and millions of workers in dozens of countries.

There are very few simple solutions to complex problems. There are a lot of complex solutions to complex problems.

Chewing Over the Objections to Impeachment from Trump Critics

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President Donald Trump during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., November 13, 2020 (Carlos Barria/Retuers)

When keen minds like Andy McCarthy and Dan McLaughlin are wary of impeachment, proponents like myself ought to pause, consider their arguments, and contemplate whether their wariness is a warning to be heeded.

The concern about what precedent is being set is a legitimate one, although I’d note we’re already in uncharted territory. Just about every president who didn’t win reelection was upset about his loss, and Donald Trump isn’t the first candidate to wonder if the results were entirely legitimate and that the right man had won. But he is the first president to hold a rally and rile up

Elections

All Honor to Mike Pence

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We have an editorial up titled “Mitch McConnell’s Finest Hour” that also makes a nod to the admirable role which Mike Pence played in the proceedings on Wednesday. I want to underline that point because I thought Pence would recuse himself, and I was wrong. As soon as I heard that it was a possibility he’d recuse, I assumed that was what he’d do because the norm in the Trump era has been everyone ducking and covering when possible, and Pence would have more reason to duck and cover in this circumstance than most. Instead, despite getting privately and publicly lobbied and bullied by the president, he insisted on a proper understanding of his constitutional role and dutifully fulfilled it. It was actually moving as he stood and announced the final electoral count in Trump’s and his own defeat — a grace note and honorable act at a time sorely lacking them.

Education

A Professor Looks Back on His Career, Part II

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Last month, the Martin Center published the first part of English professor Thomas Bertonneau’s farewell to teaching and today we have the second and final part. (The link to the first is included, if you missed it.) Here, Bertonneau focuses on the faculty and is quite unhappy at what has become of the professoriate.

When he began his career, most of his faculty colleagues were leftists, but at least they were highly educated leftists, eager to discuss and debate. That has changed dramatically. Bertonneau writes:

As the Old Guard went into retirement, a cohort of new assistant professors filled the department’s tenure-track lines. The new phase of aggressive affirmative-action recruitment ensured that this replacement-generation of instructors, overwhelmingly female, differed starkly in character from its precursor-generation.

The new hires came to the institution from the politically radicalized graduate programs of the state universities. Whereas the Old Guard corresponded to a literary-generalist or dilettante model—terms that I use in a wholly positive way—the arrivistes brought with them only their narrow specialisms, as encrusted in their conformist political dogmas.

Conformist political dogmas — that’s just what drives most college professors these days. They don’t even bother with what used to be common courtesies. The New Guard is not well educated, but very narcissistic, Bertonneau observes.

With such teachers, higher education has become a scam, charging a load of money while delivering scant educational value.

Never one to pull his punches, Bertonneau concludes, “The state college and university system is more than ever a criminal shuffle and a savage trespass into the heart of civilization.”

National Review

Inside the January 25, 2021, Issue of National Review

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The January 25, 2021, issue of National Review appears precisely when America needs its fortnightly dose of conservative sanity and wisdom. For those who are NRPLUS members (not you? — do become a member, right here and now), the entire contents of the magazine are available immediately. As we stand at the cusp of a Biden administration, here are just some of the smart pieces you will find between the issue’s covers: Ramesh Ponnuru’s take on how best for conservatives to act in political opposition, John Yoo and John Bolton urging any change in Iran policy to be conditioned by treaty ratification, Andrew C. McCarthy makes the case for a repeal of the presidential power to pardon, Kevin Williamson considers Joe Biden’s obligation to his Subaru Voter supporters, Jay Nordlinger’s account of a Saudi Arabia political prisoner, the brave Loujain al-Hathloul, and Joel Kotkin’s essay on American optimism.

We’ll need plenty of that after the events of this week! And a flash of optimism is what you’ll find on the last page of the issue: An optimistic Heather Wilhelm is happy to say adios to 2020. A reminder: If you’re not an NRPLUS member, that no-free-articles-remain paywall will be upon you lickety split. Don’t let that happen: Sign up here.

Politics & Policy

Scammers: Living Life on Your Tax Dollars

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It’s been obvious for months that overly generous federally mandated unemployment benefits discourage workers from returning to their jobs and contribute to the loss of job skills.

 

Now it turns out they are also a focal point of corruption because state bureaucrats demand little in the way of verification or qualification requirements. 

 

“An astonishing $36 billion has been lost to fraud in pandemic unemployment benefits,” according to the Foundation for Economic Education, which cited Department of Labor reports. Even worse, that number is larger than what the entire unemployment system paid out in 2019 ($26 billion). The fraud amounts to an average of some $1,900 lost for every unemployment recipient. 

 

A Nigerian student named Mayowa spoke to USA Today and openly admitted to scamming $50,000 from the U.S. welfare system through an international fraud network that laundered the money.

 

All he had to do was make a list of real people and then search through available databases of hacked information for their Social Security numbers and birthdates. “Once we have that information, it’s over,” Mayowa told reporters. “It’s easy money.”

 

Even when scammers are caught, there is little accountability for the bureaucrats they’ve fooled.

 

Only a few state administrators have been fired throughout this entire national COVID-19 welfare-fraud scandal. As the Foundation for Economic Education reported, “it’s simply unthinkable that this level of scandal and waste could happen in private enterprise without wide-scale firings and other forms of accountability.”

Culture

Thirty Things That Caught My Eye: The Capitol Riot and the World Beyond

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Pro-Trump protesters storm the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Most of these aren’t about what everyone is talking about, save for the first few. That’s generally the point of this feature: to remember there is a lot going on — alarming and hopeful or helpful or cause for prayer. . . .

1. Ed Mechmann: An Appeal to the Better Angels of Our Nature

Among other things, he quotes Lincoln:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

2. Brian C. Anderson: Dark Days

Had the Covid-19 crisis not brought the American economy to its knees, and unleashed some of his worst tendencies to grab attention, Trump likely would have won reelection decisively. Yet today’s disturbing scenes serve as a reminder of why that reelection didn’t happen, and they may undermine further the many legitimate causes that Trump’s presidency pursued, especially if Trump and some of his supporters stay on their present course. The risks to the country are not just immediate—the peaceful transfer of power is one of the great historic achievements of democracies—but long-term. Any ongoing battle over the election will weaken conservatism, and with it, the hopes of millions of Americans looking for help against a rising radicalism that seeks to transform the country irrevocably.

3. Carl Olson: Who Are We, Really, as Americans?

 the current crisis in America is deeply spiritual and essentially theological. A robustly Christian nation would understand that we each, as individuals, will eventually have to answer to God, Creator and righteous Judge of all—and would seek to act accordingly.

4. Robert Draper in National Geographic: ‘Not even a single security guard was posted in the rotunda’

5. Ben Domenech: The Consequences of the Capitol Assault

The iconoclasm of the right is a real development, and it is here to stay. You’ll wish for the old man in the tricorn hat waving a Cato Constitution when you see the new right blasting statues with graffiti.

6. Toby Levy: The Holocaust Stole My Youth. Covid-19 Is Stealing My Last Years.

I don’t have that many years left. The way we have lived this year means I have lost many opportunities to lecture, to tell more people my story, to let them see me and know the Holocaust happened to a real person, who stands in front of them today. It’s important.

7. The New York Times: With Mass Arrests, Beijing Exerts an Increasingly Heavy Hand in Hong Kong

The mass arrests signaled that the central Chinese government, which once wielded its power over Hong Kong with a degree of discretion, is increasingly determined to openly impose its will on the city. In the months since the law took effect, Beijing and the Beijing-backed Hong Kong leadership have moved quickly to stamp out even the smallest hint of opposition in the Chinese territory, where the streets once surged with huge anti-government protests. And they have shattered any pretense of democracy in Hong Kong’s political system.

8. Paul Kengor: Biden and Abortion: His Devastating ‘D-Day’

. . . Think about what Joe Biden said — that is, the rationale offered for his flip, and to the roaring approval of his progressive crowd: He reversed his long-held position in support of the Hyde Amendment, which long banned forced taxpayer funding of abortion, allowing for religious-conscience exemptions, so that “women of color, poor women” can have their abortions publicly paid for. He was changing specifically because of women of color and poor women. He wants to make sure money isn’t an issue to them. He wants no obstacles for them in securing their desire to abort their children. This change is prompted wholly on their behalf: “women of color, poor women.” 

Of course, if Donald Trump had staked such a position with such a cold rationale, how long would it take before liberals screamed and denounced him as a racist at the top of their collective lungs? But when it comes to abortion, the most race-focused progressive will look the other way. Look at how they’ve long looked past Margaret Sanger’s racial transgressions, from her work for the Negro Project to her May 1926 speech to the women’s chapter of the KKK in Silverlake, New Jersey.

9. NPR: LA County Paramedics Told Not To Transport Some Patients With Low Chance Of Survival

The Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Agency issued a directive Monday that ambulance crews should administer supplemental oxygen only to patients whose oxygen saturation levels fall below 90%.

In a separate memo from the county’s EMS Agency, paramedic crews have been told not to transfer patients who experience cardiac arrest unless spontaneous circulation can be restored on the scene.

10.

11. Catholic News Agency: Births of babies with Down syndrome in Europe fall sharply amid increased prenatal testing

Right to Life UK, a pro-life group active in the country, has documented several instances of women being pressured to abort their children as a result of the prenatal test, with one mother reporting that she had been “offered about 15 terminations,” including when she was 38 weeks pregnant. By some estimates, nine out of ten women in the UK who receive a diagnosis of Down syndrome abort their child.

12.

13. Lahav Harkov: Media adopts canard Israel denies vaccine to Palestinians

A Guardian article lamented in its headline: “Palestinians excluded from Israeli Covid vaccine rollout as jabs go to settlers.”

“Human rights groups accuse Israel of dodging obligations to millions in occupied territories who may wait months for vaccination,” reads the subhead.

. . .

You have to get halfway through the Guardian story before you reach the following: “Despite the delay, the [Palestinian] Authority has not officially asked for help from Israel. Coordination between the two sides halted last year after the Palestinian president cut off security ties for several months.”

In other words, the Palestinian leadership refused to even talk to Israel when the latter was ordering vaccine doses, let alone coordinate a complex rollout operation.

14. Timothy Cardinal Dolan: The radicals who defaced St. Patrick’s Cathedral are pure bigots

Continue reading “Thirty Things That Caught My Eye: The Capitol Riot and the World Beyond”

White House

Peggy Noonan Urges the 25th Amendment

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From her new column:

As for the chief instigator, the president of the United States, he should be removed from office by the 25th Amendment or impeachment, whichever is faster. This, with only a week and a half to go, would be a most extraordinary action, but this has been an extraordinary time. Mike Pence is a normal American political figure; he will not have to mount a new government; he appears to be sane; he will in this brief, strange interlude do fine.

The president should be removed for reasons of justice—he urged a crowd to march on Congress, and, when it turned violent, had to be dragged into telling them, equivocally, to go home—and prudence. Mitt Romney had it exactly right: “What happened here . . . was an insurrection, incited by the president of the United States.” As for prudence, Mr. Trump is a sick, bad man and therefore, as president, a dangerous one. He has grown casually bloody-minded, nattering on about force and denouncing even his own vice president as a coward for not supporting unconstitutional measures. No one seems to be certain how Mr. Trump spends his days. He doesn’t bother to do his job. The White House is in meltdown. The only thing that captures his interest is the fact that he lost, which fills him with thoughts of vengeance.

Removing him would go some distance to restoring our reputation, reinforcing our standards, and clarifying constitutional boundaries for future presidents who might need it.

Culture

Fifteen Foster-Care/Adoption/Child-Welfare Things That Caught My Eye Today

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Adoptive mother Theresa Alden talks with her sons Gavin (center), 6, and Graem, 4, at their residence in Lancaster , Pennsylvania, June 10, 2008. (Tim Shaffer/Reuters)

1. Naomi Schaefer Riley: Test No Evil

No evidence exists that racial bias is informing decisions about whom to test, but some evidence is suggestive about the kinds of parents that medical professionals report to child-welfare authorities after a positive test. As reported in a 2016 Pediatrics study of California births, “After adjusting for sociodemographic and pregnancy factors, we found that substance-exposed black and Hispanic infants were reported at significantly lower or statistically comparable rates to substance-exposed white infants.” Perhaps hospitals tested only the severest cases of substance abuse in white children. Substance exposure in black or Hispanic infants might also raise fewer alarms, and in that case, perhaps we should worry about racial bias—not in the “targeting” way that Sangoi suggests, but in fact the opposite sense. Do we simply assume that substance abuse is normal in these families? Or do we have a lower standard for the safety of nonwhite infants than for white ones?

2. Yaakov Menken: In 2021, Watch What The Supreme Court Does With Philadelphia’s Ban On Christians Parenting Foster Children

The attorney for the city, Neal Katyal, claimed during oral arguments that a religious foster care agency, by following the prescriptions of the religion which it represents, would “stigmatize” LGBTQ individuals, especially children. Having asserted that traditional religious beliefs are bigoted and damaging, he thus argues that they must be prohibited in practice.

. . .

What is most troubling in all of this is that the city has lost sight of the ultimate goal: to serve children in need of foster care. There is a grave shortage of families willing to open their homes to foster children, and religious agencies, by working specifically within their faith communities, can expand that pool.

3. BBC News: Covid school closures ‘put children’s lives on hold’, says Ofsted chief

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman spoke out as ministers face growing pressure to keep all schools in England closed after the Christmas holidays.

. . .

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Ms Spielman said she welcomed the “real consensus that schools should be the last places to close and the first to reopen”.

“It is increasingly clear that children’s lives can’t just be put on hold while we wait for vaccination programmes to take effect, and for waves of infection to subside,” she said.

She added that long periods of remote learning had led younger children to regress in basic skills, with some forgetting how to hold a pencil or use a knife and fork.

4. New York Post: NYC DOE school ordered abuse probe, issued report cards for boy who wasn’t a student there

“On Nov. 5, I got a knock on my door at 5 p.m. from an ACS worker stating that my son has not been attending Cobble Hill High School,” John’s mom, Margaret Tomasi, told The Post. “It was very traumatizing and shocking.”

. . .

The ACS investigator asked John’s parents if they used drugs, were ever arrested, been on welfare, or had a history of domestic violence. The worker asked many personal questions, including what religion they practiced, and looked inside their kitchen cabinets, refrigerator and freezer to check for sufficient food.

The investigator asked John to lift his shirt, pull up his pant legs, and remove his socks to look for bruises or other injuries.

 

Continue reading “Fifteen Foster-Care/Adoption/Child-Welfare Things That Caught My Eye Today”

Law & the Courts

In the Midst of the Chaos, a Woman Is Still Set to Be Executed by the Federal Government on Tuesday

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As I’ve mentioned previously, Lisa Montgomery brutally murdered a pregnant Bobbie Jo Stinnett and stole her daughter (the baby amazingly survived and is 16). Lisa Montgomery was severely mentally ill and was abused her entire life in multiple diabolical ways. Her lawyers are asking for the president to commute her sentence to life in prison without parole. I urge pro-life leaders to join them. It’s terrifying to think that because of this chaos that the president’s delusions about the election are causing, showing mercy here will not be considered. Another death isn’t going to bring back Bobbie Jo’s life, and Lisa Montgomery was a vulnerable child who never had a chance. We need to work harder for them, which is a lesson of this miserable story. Let’s let there be good for once in her life.

There’s not a lot of time. And not a lot of attention span, either.

U.S.

Rallying behind Truth and Fidelity to the Constitution

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President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by Congress, in Washington, January 6, 2021. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Today, the Planned Parenthood in New York at Margaret Sanger Square had extra security. I try to pray outside it frequently, and it’s distressing how active it is. I bring this up because there is real evil in the world, and I know our challenges are going to grow greater with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the White House. From the early days, I am bracing for all kinds of ideological orders. Pleasing ideological consistencies in such a way are a bipartisan problem.

I could get mad at Planned Parenthood for acting as if they are under threat when there are babies dying inside and women who have no idea what they are really getting into. Or I could take a minute for an examination of conscience of our side. Who has been the leading voice against abortion in recent years? Well, the president of the United States. He largely stayed to script at the March for Life last year. But does anyone believe he thinks Nancy Pelosi is made in the image and likeness of God? Or even Mike Pence today?  

The reason I bring this up is because there are a lot of good people who supported Donald Trump’s campaign for president this time and/or last time. They did it in some cases out of a prudent calculation and no better choice. Some are new to voting, and they liked that he wasn’t a politician because government had failed them. Others were happy to vote for him because he had picked up some causes close to their hearts.

Then some went out of their way to say that he was a man of character, buying into his claims that he has been the greatest president for Christianity. And many pro-life activists have said he is the most pro-life president ever.

Yes, there are the Supreme Court justices. But we have Leonard Leo and a team of good Americans who worked with the president because the courts are important and someone needed to lead him in the right direction.

But what has happened to the pro-life movement long term? People who never knew there was a March for Life now associate it with Trump. And that is now an association with what happened at the Capitol yesterday. It’s not just the violence, however. The president of the United States has been contending the election has been stolen, but he can’t prove it. His own appointed justices couldn’t entertain the challenges. Aren’t those the very people the Left expected were going to flip the election for Trump if need be? Of course, they aren’t. Because they care about the Constitution. It is wrong to go along with his insistence that he won in a landslide because we don’t trust the Left. There are good people in the Democratic Party, people with whom we disagree, and we used to use a little thing called persuasion to try to convince people. These days, things become about personalities and not human connection and conviction, based on some shared values. There was a rallying around something yesterday on Capitol Hill: the Constitution. There’s still hope for this country, and it’s still worth fighting for.

Part of the reason I started this post with Planned Parenthood is because I know there is evil in the world. And when I focus on it day in and day out, it can be overwhelming. There is so much evil in the world. Yes, there is corruption and unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles and indifference and so much else, which is why we must be vigilant against lies and conspiracy theories and also the urge to look for a temporal savior.

Christians believe the Incarnation is real. We have a Savior and He is not of this world. We are supposed to show Him to others through how we live our lives.

The truth is that there are things that are more important than Donald Trump being president. He seems to not to know that. But people who supported him or worked with him need to make that clear. These next four years are going to be difficult, but could we all agree that things went further than any reasonable person intended? I know many pro-life people who endorsed Trump and worked with him and praised him for Supreme Court justices and other things. They didn’t want yesterday to happen.

I understand that some people I respect wonder if those were really Trump supporters. The woman who died in the Capitol building certainly seemed to be.

If the president of the United States has been telling you that the election has been stolen and to go to the Capitol filled with Congress and Mike Pence — the man who in one motion of fidelity to the Constitution over Donald Trump became an enemy — is it a shock that this could get out of control? People who traveled the country to be there?

I know it’s infuriating that while that violence was out in the open, the violence of abortion is hidden under shades of Planned Parenthood pink. Yes, there were rioters — in addition to legitimate protesters this summer — that seemed to be encouraged by many Democratic politicians. And people certainly had the right to be at Trump’s rally and listen. But we are people of life and truth and our victory is already won. That always needs to be clear.

Donald Trump is not worth losing our country or souls over. We have to be clear about that in the coming two weeks and beyond.

Regulatory Policy

Command and Control, Cuomo, and Vaccines — a Bad Combination

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a daily briefing following the outbreak of the coronavirus in New York City, July 13, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Command and control is no way to run an economy. And the more centralized it is, the worse it becomes. We will doubtless be getting a taste of just how bad a system it can be if too many of the promises/threats contained in the Green New Deal are implemented in the next few years, but in the meantime, New York’s COVID-19 vaccination program is showing signs of the damage that over-centralization and bureaucratic overreach can bring in their wake.

Times-Union:

ALBANY — County officials who have for years been planning for a mass vaccination said they are seeing that training and preparation — much of it funded by millions of dollars in federal grants — pushed aside as the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has retained control of the state’s coronavirus vaccination program, including having hospitals rather than local health departments administer the doses.

Interviews with multiple county officials over the past week confirm that many are unclear why the governor’s administration has not activated the county-by-county system, a plan that included recent practice sessions in which members of the public received regular flu vaccines at drive-thru sites.

In Albany County, officials have privately said they could vaccinate the population of the southern half of the county in a few days if they were given the coronavirus vaccines and allowed to mobilize their plan . . .

And then there are Cuomo’s fines. Reason’s Billy Binion sets out the New York governor’s latest cunning plan in all its bullying stupidity:

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has given hospitals a conundrum. Fail to use all of your COVID-19 vaccines within seven days of receipt? That’ll be a $100,000 fine. Vaccinate someone out of the state-designated order? That’ll be a $1 million fine.

Damned if you let your vaccines expire, damned if you don’t let your vaccines expire — by using them on anyone outside of the approved hierarchy. . . .

Veronique de Rugy, writing for us today about the situation nationwide:

[W]e shouldn’t have been surprised by the slow rollout. It isn’t the first time that top-down institutions have failed to roll out whatever products they were designed to get out. Remember the rollout of Obamacare’s website?

Veronique links to a Bloomberg article by Virginia Postrel:

For too many people, it’s a knee-jerk reaction: Blame the slow U.S. rollout of Covid-19 vaccines on too little central planning by the administration of President Donald Trump. Demand tighter control from the incoming administration of President Joe Biden. Limit the number of vaccination sites! Bring in the military! Put somebody in charge!

But the problem with the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines isn’t that no one is in charge. Far from the answer, tighter federal control would probably be a disaster. It would only amplify the problem.

By guaranteeing large purchases, the federal government gave manufacturers strong incentives to produce the vaccines. It was a smart move, and it worked. But now we’re experiencing the downside. Buying up the supplies and bestowing a vaccine monopoly on state governments blocked the normal distribution channels connecting producers with vaccinators.

Whether you’re laying fiber optic cable or delivering packages, that last mile is the tricky, labor-intensive, expensive part. To reach individuals, the system has to go from centralized operations to decentralized ones. That’s why we have retailers rather than ordering our toilet paper from Georgia-Pacific, and why they, in turn, often rely on distributors. “Cutting out the middleman” is a catchy slogan, but intermediaries make the system work…

The Reason Foundation’s Marc Joffe and Vittorio Nastasi have also weighed in:

The delays in vaccinating Americans have partially resulted from overly complicated prioritization schemes that come with uncomfortable tradeoffs. Health care workers and vulnerable populations, like the elderly and immuno-compromised, should clearly be given the highest priority, but hesitation among priority groups and a number of other issues could further delay distribution.

Ultimately, widespread vaccination is the best solution for containing the coronavirus pandemic. Rather than getting too caught up in prioritization, state and federal officials should focus on delivering vaccines as quickly as possible to those that want them. Here are a few proposals that could help achieve that goal.

Rely upon existing vaccine distribution mechanisms to the greatest extent possible.

Millions of Americans go to CVS, Walgreens, Rite-Aid, Walmart and many smaller pharmacies to get flu vaccines each year. These pharmacies have the infrastructure, staff, and logistical processes needed to rapidly immunize the general public—they just need doses of the vaccine.

Keep prioritization rules simple to reduce confusion over who is eligible.

Once health care workers and nursing home residents have been immunized, it would seemingly be easiest to base eligibility for vaccinations on age. States and counties simply have to inform distributors and the general public of the latest birth year eligible to receive shots. Pharmacies would just need to check the driver’s licenses for each customer’s birth year before administering the vaccine, as some do when selling alcoholic beverages and cigarettes. Individuals who are immuno-compromised or have other chronic vulnerabilities that would put them at increased risk of contracting a severe case COVID-19 could present a doctor’s prescription at the pharmacy to receive an early dose of the vaccines.

Avoid wasting doses of the vaccine.

Distributors in possession of doses that are within 24 hours of expiring should be free to administer the vaccines to anyone—regardless of eligibility since a wasted, expired dose of the vaccine is worse than vaccinating an individual with less need. States should not, for example, impose criminal penalties on health care providers or vaccine recipients who ignore prioritization schemes as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has….

Joffe and Nastasi also make this point:

Extend “right-to-try” laws to allow anyone to receive a vaccine approved in other countries.

Absolutely.

There are times (clearly) when governments can help with this process — and they have. But there are also times when governments would do better to get out of the way, a reality that, as in so many other instances, does not appear to be sinking in. The failure to accept that there are things which governments do not need to be controlling is something that we have seen repeatedly during this pandemic, and it’s a failure that has made things even worse than they were always going to be.

The quicker vaccines are distributed, the more rapidly (obviously) this nightmare comes to an end, as both deaths and new cases ought to decline at an exponential rate. That’s too big a prize to sacrifice on the altar of micromanagement, even if it leaves some bureaucrats and politicians feeling that they no longer have the degree of control that is their comfort zone.

Please read the articles I have linked to and see what you think. Meanwhile, I continue to enrich the manufacturers of Vitamin D, zinc tablets, and the like — and, yes, I wear a mask.

U.S.

Kamala Harris Says Police ‘Let Extremists Storm the United States Capitol’

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Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speaks as she and President-elect Joe Biden announce their Justice Department nominees at transition headquarters in Wilmington, Del., January 7, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Today the worst member of the incoming Biden administration, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, said of yesterday’s chaos on Capitol Hill, “we witnessed two systems of justice when we saw one that let extremists storm the United States Capitol, and another that released tear gas on peaceful protesters last summer. The American people have expressed rightly outrage. We know this is unacceptable. We know we should be better than this.”

Yesterday the U.S. Capitol Police used tear gas to dispel the angry mob, and you can see video of them doing so here, here, here, here, and here. You can see video of the police using flash bangs to disperse the crowd here, here, here, here, and here. You can see video of police using pepper spray here and here, and pushing protesters back with nightsticks here and here. Protesters shot pepper spray at the Capitol Police as well, as you can see here and here.

The police inside the capital also shot and killed a woman, which should dispel the notion that they were too hesitant to use force to protect lawmakers and deter the angry mob. The U.S. Capitol Police undoubtedly made mistakes yesterday, but it is an insult to the force and the 56 police officers who were injured to contend, as Harris does, that they “let extremists storm the United States Capitol.” The man who took the video that is being cited as evidence of police acquiescence says the police were backing up to a more secure position. “The rioters really did just completely outnumber the cops, there was not much anything they could do without manpower,” he told Newsweek.

In several circumstances, a dozen or so policemen faced a crowd of a thousand or more protesters-turned-rioters. The number of effective options in that circumstance are quite limited.

Our country got into this mess in part because of demagogic politicians who had no regard for the truth, and who were willing to lie in order to stir up fear and anger and divide people. We are heading into a new administration that apparently just wants to offer more of the same from the other side of the aisle.

Kamala Harris might have missed all of those videos from yesterday; if that is the case, she should avoid making sweeping conclusions about events until she has the full picture. If she did, then she has confirmed, once again, that she cares a lot more about political points and painting law enforcement as irredeemably racist than the truth. Either way, our country is in a bad enough situation as it is. We don’t need another rhetorical arsonist at work in Washington.

White House

Who Says A Must Say B

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President Donald Trump speaks about early results from the presidential election in the East Room of the White House, November 4, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

The president of the United States sent a mob to Congress because he didn’t like the way the states voted in the Electoral College, then sat in the White House for several hours watching its handiwork on television before (mildly) shushing it.

He should be impeached and removed from office. In his ignorance and his egomania, he fostered an attack on a coordinate branch of the federal government, and, indirectly, on the voters and governments of half a dozen states. What more would he have to do? The only argument against punishing him is that the haste with which it must be done would add to the Duck Soup atmosphere that made yesterday ludicrous as well as horrid. But in emergencies firemen have to act quickly. So here.

There should follow a long reckoning — on the right, with opportunists, cultists, and sophists; left and right, with mobs as go-to options. But first things first.