World

Life and Death in Ukraine

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A local boy stands with a Ukrainian serviceman near a military vehicle in the Donbas region, Ukraine, July 17, 2022. (Gleb Garanich / Reuters)

It’s important, I think, to acknowledge individuals, in what some find to be a “great-power struggle” or some kind of “game.” You can’t acknowledge all victims (though they deserve acknowledgement). But maybe a few?

Here is a caption from the New York Times:

Liza Dmytriyeva, a 4-year-old with Down syndrome, died when a flash of fire and metallic shrapnel erupted near her and her mother during a walk in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. Her mother, Iryna, lost a leg and remains unconscious.

(Article here.)

• Hanna Liubakova, the Belarusian journalist, circulates a video: “The moment when a missile hit the downtown of Vinnytsia, where civilians were simply strolling and cycling.” Yes, that’s how it happens: One moment, you’re just walking around, going about your business, much like everyone else in the world, and the next moment: Russian bombs, and you may well be dead or dismembered.

That is the reality for Ukrainians.

• Myroslava Petsa, a Ukrainian journalist, circulates a picture, and writes,

Victoria and her seven-year-old son Maksym had an appointment at medical centre in Vinnytsya when Russian missile hit it, destroying the building and killing Maksym and his mother. This is what Russia does when it says it hits military targets only. It targets everyone/everything

“Everyone/everything” — that’s a good way to put it. Is this war, as most people understand “war”? Or mass terrorism?

More from Myroslava Petsa:

It’s suddenly hit me: my kids will be telling their kids and grandkids stories about Russia’s war against Ukraine, just like my grandparents told me their memories of WWII horrors.

• Anna Myroniuk, another Ukrainian journalist, shows a picture of Kateryna Hula, and writes,

Russian rocket killed her.

Kateryna Hula went to the private clinic in Vinnytsia in the morning not knowing that the Russians would pick it as their target.

She was just 24. A sister of my colleague, a TV journalist Yura Hula.

This report by Cara Anna of the Associated Press is headed “‘Bang, bang’: Children live and play near Ukraine front line.” The report begins,

The children flicker like ghosts on the empty playgrounds in weedy courtyards deep in a city whose residents have been told to get out now.

Six-year-old Tania has no more playmates left on her street in the eastern Ukraine city of Kramatorsk. She sits on a bench only steps away from the city’s train station that was attacked by Russia in April, killing more than 50 people who had gathered there to evacuate. The remnants of a rocket from that attack bore the inscription in Russian: “For the children.”

• Human-rights lawyer Oleksandra Matviichuk wants to highlight the case of a particular soldier:

My friend Maksym Butkevych was captured by Russians. When he joined army he said: “I have been an anti-militarist all my conscious life and remain so by conviction. But at this time, I feel in my place. These are tragic times. Everyone is doing what they can in the place they are”

• From the Daily Mail: “Briton, 28, facing death by firing squad in Ukraine is forced to sing Russian anthem in prison cell.” The article tells us,

A Briton facing death by firing squad in eastern Ukraine has been filmed in his prison cell singing the Russian national anthem.

Unshaven and in shabby clothes, Aiden Aslin, 28, is seen standing and singing the State Anthem of the Russian Federation in a 140-second video posted on the internet by the Kremlin-backed RT news outlet.

As he sings, John Dougan, an American former police officer, stands beside him smirking. When he finishes, Dougan — a prominent Russian propagandist in Ukraine — says: ‘Amazing.’

• A Ukrainian journalist, Nataliya Gumenyuk, writes,

On a recent trip to a village near Ukraine’s border with Russia, . . . a teenage Ukrainian soldier told me of how he did not want to live under a leader like Vladimir Putin, someone “who believes he may tell others what they should do.” . . . In a neighboring area, a former appliance repairman recounted to me his disbelief that Russian soldiers would invade “and kill innocent people, as if they have no choice.” He would prefer to go to prison, he said.

Gumenyuk then says the following:

As a Kyiv-based journalist working for Ukrainian and international media, I am very much a representative of the professional class, what many may call my country’s “liberal elite.” My circle of friends and I discuss democracy, accountability, and the rule of law, but we long believed we were a minority in Ukraine, that the majority of our compatriots did not care about these abstract terms. Yet in reporting on Putin’s invasion, in traveling through my country, I have heard fellow Ukrainians, without any prompting, explain these enormous concepts better than many academics.

Yes.

A little more, for it is very interesting, and important:

I listened as those frontline fighters spoke of the freedom to choose who governed them and change course if need be, and the freedom to chart one’s own path in life. I heard a mayor say that his town near the Russian border was defending civilization and fighting on behalf of a world where laws mattered.

A lot of people, styling themselves “realists,” perhaps, hate this kind of talk. And yet that kind of talk . . . is true. And starkly realistic.

• From Jason Farago, an article headed “The War in Ukraine Is the True Culture War.” The author is an art-and-culture critic. He writes,

Why would a critic go into a war zone? Why should anyone care about a painting when cruise missiles are overhead? Because “this is a war about cultural identity,” said the curator Leonid Maruschak — one of so many writers, musicians and scholars I’ve met here who make no distinction between the survival of Ukraine’s people and land and the survival of its history and ideas.

Farago continues,

With Russia actively trying to erase Ukraine’s national identity, this country’s music, literature, movies and monuments are not recreations. They are battlefields. The true culture war of our age is the war for democracy, and Ukrainian culture, past and present, has become a vital line of defense for the whole liberal order.

• I would like to end these notes with a portion of a letter from a friend of mine:

Although I read everything you write, perhaps what I read most intensely are your writings about the horrors in Ukraine. When I do, I think sometimes about my grandmother, my aunt and my uncle, all of whom experienced in full the horrors of World War II and its aftermath in Hungary. The three of them all had a certain look on their face, a look that my father, who came to the United States a few months before Pearl Harbor, didn’t have, nor has anybody else that I ever known. I came to the conclusion some time ago that their look was the result of being forced to peer for far too long at the bottom of hell. I’m seeing that look now on the faces of so many Ukrainians. I can’t describe how sad I find this.

Elections

Beto O’Rourke’s Big Outburst Didn’t Change His Race Much

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Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke disrupts a press conference held by Governor Greg Abbott the day after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, May 25, 2022. (Veronica G. Cardenas/Reuters)

Back on May 25, Texas Democratic gubernatorial nominee Beto O’Rourke interrupted Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s press conference on the Uvalde school shooting, shouting, “This is on you!” The moment was something of a Rorschach test. Many Texas Democrats saw it as O’Rourke expressing the raw anger and anguish of Texas parents worried about their children’s safety, and contended that Texans would gravitate to O’Rourke and his support for gun control. Many Texas Republicans saw O’Rourke as a self-aggrandizing narcissist, turning a briefing on the shooting into a political stunt, and contended that Texans would gravitate to Abbott, recoiling from O’Rourke’s self-centered theatrics.

The last poll before the Uvalde shooting on May 24 was conducted by the Dallas Morning News in the first week of May, showing Abbott leading O’Rourke by seven points, 46 percent to 39 percent.

Since then, at least five separate surveys of Texans’ preferences in the gubernatorial race have been conducted.

In the second week of June, Blueprint polling offered the first and most surprising result, showing Abbott leading by an astounding 57 percent to 39 percent.

Quinnipiac University’s survey in mid-June put Abbott ahead by five points, 48 percent to 43 percent — a much closer than margin than Quinnipiac’s previous survey of the state in December, which put Abbott head by 15.

The mid-June University of Texas survey put Abbott ahead by six points, 45 percent to 39 percent.

The late June CBS News/YouGov survey put Abbott head by eight points, 49 percent to 41 percent.

The University of Houston survey, asking questions in late June to early July, gave O’Rourke his best poll so far, with Abbott leading by five points, 49 percent to 44 percent.

In other words, almost two months after O’Rourke’s big moment, not much has changed in the governor’s race. The incumbent was leading by mid to upper single-digit percentage points before the shooting, and the incumbent is leading by mid to upper single-digit percentage points before the shooting. Sometimes moments that seem like a big deal at the time turn out to be footnotes in the course of a campaign.

Science & Tech

Congress Votes to Improve UFO Disclosure

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People watch the skies during a UFO tour outside Sedona, Ariz., in 2013. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

I missed this last week: The House of Representatives voted unanimously to “create a secure government system for reporting UFOs and to compel current and former officials to reveal what they might know about the mysterious phenomena by promising to protect them from reprisal,” as Politico put it.

They say bipartisanship is impossible today. Well, this measure passed unanimously as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, and was co-sponsored by congressional UFO — excuse me, UAP — enthusiast Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.) and Ruben Gallego (D., Ariz.). D.C. may remain riven by partisan animosity, but some things rise above politics.

Indeed, Gallagher argues that there are national-security implications. He claims that his “primary interest . . . is to ensure that our military and intelligence community are armed with the best possible information, capital, and scientific resources to defeat our enemies and maintain military and technology superiority.” The hope is that easier mechanisms for reporting sightings of unexplained objects, as well as liberating former natsec personnel from non-disclosure agreements, will enhance the gathering of information about this abiding mystery.

Whatever the explanation for these sightings — even if it is, ultimately, mundane — it is worth finding such an explanation. If they’re enemy aircraft, then we should figure out how to counter them. If they’re aliens or our future selves, then we’ll have to figure out their intent. And if they’re entirely natural phenomena, well . . . that’s a little less exciting, but still worth knowing. Kudos to Gallagher and Gallego for taking this issue seriously.

Politics & Policy

The Word Michigan Abortion Proponents Won’t Say

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Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing (pabradyphoto/Getty Images)

My piece published yesterday detailed the coming fight over abortion in Michigan. Pro-life activists will attempt to point out the Pandora’s box that this referendum would be, especially its vague exceptions to any restrictions on late-term abortions, which could allow the procedure through all nine months of pregnancy.

But there is another level of radical progressivism inherent in the measure. The word “woman” is nowhere to be found in its text. Its authors appear to have gone out of their way not to use it, pandering to the lie of the transgender policy agenda that men can get pregnant.

Every proposed referendum requires a short description for voters to read when they go to the polls. In this one’s summary, it tells Michiganders that the new law would “allow [the] state to prohibit abortion after fetal viability unless needed to protect a patient’s life or physical or mental health.” It would also “prohibit prosecution of an individual, or a person helping a pregnant individual, for exercising rights established by this amendment.” (Italics here and throughout are all my own.)

The erasure of women from the amendment continues in its full text. “Every individual has a fundamental right to reproductive freedom, which entails the right to make and effectuate decisions about all matters relating to pregnancy, including but not limited to prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion care, miscarriage management, and infertility care,” its first section reads. Additionally, “an individual’s right to reproductive freedom shall not be denied, burdened, or infringed upon unless justified by a compelling state interest.”

An immensely charitable reading of this section might conclude that it is establishing a general right to “reproductive freedom” across both sexes. Although men do not need pregnancy care, they are at least physically able to use contraception and sterilization. If we go deeper into the text, however, we find that this reading, while generous, is incorrect.

Much like the description, the official text stipulates that all bans after fetal viability must except abortion for the sake of the health or life of the “pregnant individual.” Similarly, it forbids the state from taking “adverse action against an individual based on their actual potential, perceived, or alleged pregnancy outcomes.” Nor may the state penalize someone helping “a pregnant individual in exercising their right to reproductive freedom.”

The main sponsor of the amendment, an organization called Reproductive Freedom for All, has taken a similar approach to its public messaging. Although it has stayed away from patently ridiculous terms such as “pregnant individual,” “birthing person,” etc., it has not established itself as a campaign specifically for women’s rights.

Although it has shared quotations in which “woman” appears and repeated the name of the Senate’s “Women’s Health Protection Act,” it has not used the word “woman” or “women” in an original capacity since May 8, an advanced search of its Twitter account reveals.

By contrast, those opposed to the measure have shown no hesitation in affirming the fact that pregnancy is not an equal-opportunity condition. The pro-life coalition has called itself “Citizens to Support MI Women and Children” and has emphasized that the proposed amendment would “fundamentally change the relationships between parents and children, as well as women and their doctors.”

It would seem that the basic prerequisite for fighting for the rights of women should be to acknowledge that they exist as a specific class. Official sections of the Michigan constitution already acknowledge that women need special indemnities in certain circumstances. 

The part that protects wives’ prenuptial property reads, “The real and personal estate of every woman acquired before marriage . . . shall be and remain the estate and property of such woman.” The legislature that ratified the state’s updated constitution in 1963 recognized that women are different from men and sometimes in need of different protections, but Reproductive Freedom for All will not.

We already knew that the preferred policies of abortion proponents do not actually help women. Now, in erasing women from this abortion amendment, they have solidified that fact in Michigan.

Politics & Policy

Living Large: University Athletic Directors

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North Carolina Tar Heels forward Theo Pinson (1) with the ball in the second half at Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, February 12, 2018. (Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s nice work if you can get it — being a university athletic director, that is. They’re well paid, even at schools where sports are not a big part of campus life. And at those where sports rule, the compensation is amazing.

In today’s Martin Center article, Ashlynn Warta presents the data for athletic-director salaries in the UNC system. At tiny Elizabeth City State, the AD earns $120K per year. At sports powerhouse UNC–Chapel Hill, the AD makes a cool $814K.

How does salary for an athletic director compare with that of the dean of a school or department? It’s substantially higher, as you might guess. Warta writes:

When looking at the athletic director’s role as the manager of the athletics department, the most comparable position within colleges and universities is probably that of dean. Much like athletic directors, deans are sure to wear many hats in their departments. In general, deans are responsible for managing departmental hiring, maintaining faculty and staff, managing student affairs, and a myriad of other tasks specific to their schools.

The highest paid dean at Chapel Hill, e.g., makes $500,000 less than the AD.

Warta’s conclusion:

The UNC System should keep in mind the purpose of their institutions: providing a high-quality education. In keeping with that purpose, perhaps there is room to reassess the emphasis placed on athletics, as well as the (typically) large budgets allocated to athletics departments.

Politics & Policy

Blessed Are the Guys with Shaggy Biker Beards

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(Yakobchuk Olena/Getty Images)

I was born in 1998 and really only came of political age in the Trump era, so it’s always striking to read political punditry from the 1990s and early 2000s, if only because it gives a glimpse into a radically different America — and world — from the one we live in today. Occasionally, I come across something prescient. A 1999 David Brooks column in the Los Angeles Times that I read today fits that category, although the author’s foresight was largely unwitting.

The column, titled “Buchanan Feeds Class War in the Information Age,” focuses on Pat Buchanan’s campaign for the presidential nomination of the Reform Party (for which he had left the Republican Party despite having run for its nomination twice and having served in two Republican administrations). It’s hilariously dated at times — the objects of Pat Buchanan’s ire, Brooks writes, are “all the high-tech impresarios who go to work in jeans and hiking boots with their cell phones dangling from their belt loops on mountain-climbing carabiners” — but one paragraph in particular stands out:

Buchanan crowds don’t look like Republican crowds, they don’t clap like Republican crowds and they don’t eat like Republican crowds. There are none of those Chamber of Commerce officers in golf shirts and tasseled loafers. Instead, Buchanan draws the beefy, 300-pound guys with tattoos up their arms and sleeveless T-shirts. He draws the guys with shaggy biker beards, and the Teamsters who park their rigs in the lot and get hoarse chanting, “Go, Pat, go!” It may be hard to classify exactly which political category these people belong to, but they are certainly not Republicans.

Those Reform Party crowds look a lot like Republican crowds today. And at the same time, the Chamber of Commerce — while still filling the coffers of pro-business Republicans — is more estranged from the GOP than at any time in recent memory, both because of the GOP’s populist turn and because of corporate America’s lurch to the left on cultural issues. Perhaps Brooks was right that the “beefy, 300-pound guys with tattoos up their arms and sleeveless T-shirts” would have been out of place at a Republican rally in 1999. But Buchanan, in pushing the Right to reconnect with disaffected Middle-American voters — “​​these people are our people,” he declared in his famous “culture war speech” at the 1992 Republican National Convention; “they don’t read Adam Smith or Edmund Burke, but they come from the same schoolyards and the same playgrounds and towns as we come from. They share our beliefs and convictions, our hopes and our dreams. They are the conservatives of the heart” — might have been on to something.

Brooks, on the other hand, was too taken with the headiness and hubris of the 1990s to see anything of worth in Buchanan’s message — or in the crowd that it resonated with. “Some people who thrived in the machine age — the people who know how to fix engines — are not going to thrive in the new economy,” he acknowledged in the column. “So they are going to be in a bad mood. Us Palm Pilot types needn’t apologize for the glorious new world that is aborning — it really is glorious — but we shouldn’t dismiss the rump strength of the dissidents, whether they are voting for Buchanan or anyone else.” The overtures to the “glorious new world” may have been premature, but he was right about that last part: It was foolish to dismiss the political strength of what Buchanan called his “peasant army” — “the people,” Brooks sniffed, “who eat big breakfasts at Denny’s and like to go hunting and power-boating.” Blessed are the guys with shaggy biker beards, for they shall inherit the GOP. 

National Review

The Conservative Legal Movement’s Triumph: The New Issue of NR Magazine Is Out

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The August 1 cover of National Review (NR Illustration)

“After nearly 50 years of judicial usurpation,” Ed Whelan writes in the new issue of National Review, “Justice Samuel Alito’s masterly majority opinion restores abortion policy to the democratic processes. That achievement was decades in the making, and for most of that time seemed a pipe dream.”

After enduring decades of quasi-random judicial activism during the living-constitutionalism phase of the Warren Court, conservatives were stung by the defections of Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy, and David Souter — all appointed by Republican presidents — in 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed Roe. In the wake of that momentous defeat, many observers, on both the left and right, thought that, whatever one might think of the Roe/Casey framework, it was here to stay.

“But,” as Whelan writes in his new essay,” work begun during the Reagan administration was beginning to bear fruit.” 

The eye of the storm for the newly developing conservative legal movement was the Federalist Society — “a little-known organization of law students and lawyers founded in 1982.”

Edwin Meese, first as Ronald Reagan’s White House counsel and then as attorney general, boldly challenged conventional legal pieties and helped Reagan pick Scalia and Robert Bork first as appellate judges, then as Supreme Court nominees. 

The conservative legal movement and the Federalist Society came to espouse the “twin concepts of originalism and textualism.” 

And that changed the whole ball game. According to Whelan, “interpreting legal provisions — including, of course, constitutional amendments and statutory revisions — according to the meaning they bore when they were adopted,” was the key to unlocking Roe‘s door through Dobbs.

It just took 49 years of work. Read the whole thing here.

That’s not to say that Dobbs hasn’t come under tremendous attack from the left. Read “In Defense of Dobbs” to find out how Ramesh Ponnuru answers those critiques one by one. By taking a look at the history of abortion law in America, the status of women, other implicated “substantive due process” rights, and the arguments based on deference to precedent, Ramesh rebuts the most common rejoinders.

Roe was notorious for being poorly reasoned,” Ramesh writes. “Many supporters of unrestricted abortion ridiculed it. Nothing similar can be said of the decision that has finally, and rightly, excised it from our constitutional law.” Read Ramesh’s essay here.

Don’t miss the rest of this issue, including:

Mary Eberstadt on the meaning of Roe‘s end in “What the Nurses Knew.”

John O’Sullivan on the fall of Boris Johnson and the race to replace him in “Conservatives after Boris.”

Dan McLaughlin on “How the 2012 Election Deranged America.”

Andy McCarthy on Joe Biden’s verbal blunders in “The Confounder in Chief.”

And Jimmy Quinn‘s report on how the Chinese Communist Party is using TikTok to spy on Americans.

Finally, don’t miss Kyle Smith’s final Happy Warrior essay as NR’s critic at large: “Goodnight, Geniuses!

If you don’t have access to the magazine, subscribe today for 50 percent off a print-only, digital-only, or a print and digital NRPlus bundle!

Check it out here.

World

Europe’s Inflation Problem and Ours

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The headline numbers look similar, but the causes are different: European inflation is more supply-driven, while spending growth in the U.S. is more rapid. Who has it worse? Scott Sumner says that Eurozone inflation harms living standards more. The bad news for us: “In terms of bad monetary policy and future macroeconomic instability, the US has a much worse inflation problem.”

White House

Hey, Remember When Biden Pledged to ‘Continue to Support the Afghan People’?

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks about Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., August 26, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

President Biden, August 31:

Let me be clear: We will continue to support the Afghan people through diplomacy, international influence, and humanitarian aid.  We’ll continue to push for regional diplomacy and engagement to prevent violence and instability.  We’ll continue to speak out for basic rights of the Afghan people, especially women and girls, as we speak out for women and girls all around the globe.  And I’ve been clear that human rights will be the center of our foreign policy.

The Wall Street Journal, this morning:

The U.N. says over 90 percent of the Afghan population isn’t eating sufficiently and that nearly half of the population is facing acute hunger. Families have resorted to selling their children or their organs to survive. The worst drought in decades has compounded the crisis.

“The current humanitarian crisis could kill far more Afghans than the past 20 years of war,” warned the International Rescue Committee, a nongovernmental organization that has been providing assistance in Afghanistan for decades.

…The current inflationary crisis has put basic goods out of the reach of many Afghans. A basket of basic household goods cost 41.6% more in May than a year earlier, according to data from the World Food Program. Food prices continue to rise, partly because of the war in Ukraine and global supply-chain disruptions.

President Biden has barely mentioned Afghanistan since that August speech. Nothing this guy says matters. What he says is just pretty words that he reads off a teleprompter, it has no connection to what U.S. policies actually are.

In other news, the Washington Post‘s Perry Bacon criticizes the “media hysteria” around the withdrawal of Afghanistan. Mmm, yes, that’s the problem here.

Law & the Courts

On Abortion Law, Details Matter

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Texas police separate anti-abortion protestors from pro-choice protestors during a Women’s March in Austin, Texas, October 2, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Writing in Chron, the website of the Houston Chronicle, Dan Carson makes the following false claim:

In Texas, all abortions are now illegal following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe and pending enactment of state trigger laws on the practice.

That is not true.

Current Texas abortion law contains a narrowly tailored exception permitting abortion when the procedure is deemed medically necessary to save the life of the mother or to prevent “serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function.”

We can disagree about whether the law is a good one, but we should be clear and honest about what the law actually says.

Politics & Policy

The Iowa Poll Points to a Democratic Bloodbath in November

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Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds speaks during the largely virtual 2020 Republican National Convention broadcast from Washington, D.C., August 25, 2020. (Republican National Convention/Handout via Reuters)

It’s easy to forget that not that long ago, Iowa was perceived to be a pretty Democratic-leaning state. The state had Democratic governors from 1999 to 2011; Tom Harkin occupied one of the state’s two Senate seats from 1985 to 2015; and just one cycle ago, Democrats represented three of the state’s four seats in the House of Representatives. In 2018, a good year for Democrats, Republican Kim Reynolds won the governor’s race, 50.3 percent to 47.5 percent.

The Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa survey out this morning suggests that this November could be a wipeout for Iowa Democrats:

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds leads Democratic challenger Deidre DeJear by 17 percentage points with less than four months until November’s election.

A new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll finds 48 percent of likely midterm voters support Reynolds versus 31 percent who support DeJear. Five percent support Libertarian Rick Stewart.

The same poll showed GOP senator Chuck Grassley ahead of Democrat Mike Franken by 8 percentage points. Technically, that would be Grassley’s most competitive election since 1980; the Register notes that, “The margin is narrower than in any Iowa Poll matchup involving Grassley since he was first elected to the U.S. Senate. Grassley has not polled below 50 percent in a head-to-head contest since October 1980, before he went on to defeat incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. John Culver.”

It’s possible some Iowans are getting a little wary about another six-year term for the 88-year-old Grassley. But at 39 percent, Franken has a steep hill to climb.

Law & the Courts

In Indiana, Gun Controllers Miss the Point

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Emergency personnel gather after a shooting at Greenwood Park Mall in Greenwood, Indiana, July 17, 2022. (Kelly Wilkinson/USA Today Network via Reuters)

CNN reports that, for the second time in six weeks, a concealed carrier has halted a mass shooter in the act:

Three people are dead and two others injured after a shooter opened fire in the food court of a Greenwood, Indiana, shopping mall Sunday evening, police say.

Around 6:00 p.m. local time, multiple people called 911 to report an active shooter at the Greenwood Park Mall, Greenwood Police Department Chief Jim Ison told reporters.

Investigators believe the unidentified gunman, an adult man, was shot and killed by a lawfully armed 22-year-old man who “observed the shooting in progress,” Ison said.

The police seem pleased that that “lawfully armed 22-year-old man” was there:

Ison said the Greenwood Police Department has trained for a mass shooting scenario and has performed “multiple mall exercises” to prepare for active shooter situations.

“But I’m going to tell you, the real hero of the day is the citizen that was lawfully carrying a firearm in that food court and was able to stop this shooter almost as soon as he began,” Ison said.

Gun-control activists, by contrast, seem unimpressed:

In a follow-up tweet, Sarah Reese Jones writes that “anyone who replies good guys with a gun is missing the entire point.” But, at the risk of disappointing her, I’m going to do exactly that. Really, I’m not sure what the alternative is here. Yesterday evening, a man who hoped to commit mass murder walked into a mall and started shooting. What, in Sarah Reese Jones’s estimation, should ideally have happened next?

Reese Jones says that Republicans “think this country needs more guns.” Some do, yes. But our debate is not, at root, about that. Our debate is about whether, in a country that already has 450 million privately owned guns, law-abiding people should be able to own and carry them. I understand that some Americans wish that the United States had Japan’s gun laws. But the United States does not have Japan’s gun laws, the United States is almost certainly never going to have Japan’s gun laws, and, even if the United States were to pass Japan’s gun laws, the citizenry of the United States would still have 450 million guns in private hands.

So, I’ll ask again: Yesterday, a man who wanted to commit mass-murder walked into a mall and started shooting. What, in Sarah Reese Jones’s mind, should have happened next?

I do not think that this is an unfair question. Reese Jones notes that this incident happened just “days after Gov. Eric Holcomb’s new law that eliminates the license requirement to carry a handgun went into effect on July 1.” That law, and its effective date, were also pointed out by Shannon Watts of Moms Demand Action. But this, of course, is entirely irrelevant. Prior to July 1st, Indiana already had a “shall-issue” permitting system (meaning that anyone over 21 who could pass a background check could get a carry license with no further questions asked), and the abolition of those permits within the system has had no effect on the eligibility requirements that were previously used. If you were eligible to carry a gun before June 1, you are eligible to carry a gun now; if you were prohibited from carrying a gun before, you are prohibited from carrying a gun now. All the new law has done — as in America’s 24 other permitless carry states — is remove the need for eligible carriers to apply for a license before they start carrying. The police in Indiana noted that the man who took down the shooter was “lawfully armed.” This, by definition, means that he was eligible under the law. (The mall in question is a “gun-free zone,” but, in Indiana, gun-free zone signs do not have force of law, which means that it is not a crime to ignore them per se, but only to refuse to leave when asked by the owners.)

Likewise, the new law has had no effect on where and when it is legal for eligible residents to carry firearms, and it has had no effect on Indiana’s existing laws against brandishing rifles inside shopping malls or against murdering people. All it does — the whole purpose — is to cut out some of the paperwork. In how it relates to Indiana’s statute, this incident would have unfurled identically on June 30 and on July 2. Before, and after, the hero of the story would have been legally carrying, and the villain of the story would have broken every law under the sun.

So, I’ll ask once more: Yesterday, a man who wanted to commit mass-murder walked into a mall and started shooting. What, in Sarah Reese Jones’s mind, should have happened next?

One can only conclude that the complaint advanced by Reese Jones and Watts are a stand-in for a broader objection: That, by moving to permitless carry, Indiana is going in what they consider to be “the wrong direction.” If so, they should own that — and its consequences. Let’s assume that, instead of abolishing its permitting system, Indiana had moved from a “shall issue” permitting system to the type of constricted “may issue” system that the Supreme Court has just ruled unconstitutional. Clearly, such a change would have had no effect on the shooter, who was not affected by the carry laws in any direction, and for whom Indiana’s other laws were irrelevant. But it may well have had an effect on the hero of the story — who, if concealed carry had been heavily restricted, would likely not have had a firearm on him in the first place, and who would have therefore sat there waiting for the police while the criminal had free rein. Is that what Reese Jones and Watts wish had happened?

That so many of America’s gun-control activists remain so steadfastly opposed to legal concealed carry has always baffled me. This is in part because legal concealed carriers are not the problem, and it is in part because America’s carry laws do not intersect with America’s mass-shooting problem — except insofar as those laws occasionally allow someone with a gun to halt a mass shooting. To watch figures such as Sarah Reese Jones and Shannon Watts read a story about a man taking down a killer, and move immediately to blaming the laws that made his actions easier, is astonishing.

Law & the Courts

The Left Can’t Get What It Wants by Weakening the Courts

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The sun sets on the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., January 26, 2022. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Congressional action to limit the jurisdiction of the federal courts used to be a right-wing cause: I have written in favor it myself several times over the years, with extremely limited success in spurring action. Now, the idea is enjoying a vogue on the left.

Several left-wingers in the House are urging Congress to use its jurisdiction-limiting power to protect progressive legislation from judicial review. They want, for example, to pass a version of the Women’s Health Protection Act (supposedly codifying Roe v. Wade but actually going beyond it) that insulates it from Supreme Court review. They would have the D.C. Circuit be the last word about the bill.

The fear appears to be that the conservative majority on the Supreme Court may deny that the federal government has the power to dictate abortion policy to the states, while the D.C. Circuit will allow it.

Maybe there’s some long game where the congressional letter makes sense, but what’s strange about it is that the Senate does not appear to have the votes to pass the WHPA now. Adding a bold, arguably radical shift in the separation of powers seems unlikely to help gain it those votes. It’s not going to make Senators Collins and Murkowski budge in their opposition to the current version of the bill; if it were added to it, they would probably just see it as an additional reason to say no.

I think some on the Left may also be exaggerating how much can be done to defeat judicial review. Ryan Cooper, writing in The American Prospect, says that Biden or some future president should say that the Supreme Court got Marbury v. Madison wrong and then act accordingly. “From now on, if Congress, for example, directs the president to regulate air pollution, then they will do as instructed, rather than obeying the Court’s wishes.”

Cooper reads Marbury in the conventional way, as establishing a judicial power to strike down laws. It can, however, be read to establish merely that the courts have a duty not to exercise powers inconsistent with the Constitution. Marbury said that Congress had purported to give the Supreme Court a power the Constitution does not allow it to have, that deciding the case required it to choose between the law Congress passed and the Constitution, and that it was obliged to follow the Constitution.

I don’t see how jurisdiction-stripping, or presidential flouting of the Supreme Court, can defeat this type of judicial review (even if defeating it were a good idea). If regulations require air polluters to be tried and sentenced in federal courts, those polluters have to be able to raise the defense that the regulations do not conform to the Constitution. If the federal courts agree, how could a law, or a presidential statement, force them to cooperate in giving those regulations effect?

White House

The Democrats’ Problems Go Way Beyond Biden

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My new column:

Biden has always been close to the center of his party. Unsurprisingly, then, the basic political mistakes of his presidency have been party-wide ones. Expectations of liberal policy gains rose too high after January 2021, when Democrats gained control of the Senate by the narrowest possible margin. Biden and his team did too little to manage those expectations, but they didn’t produce them in the first place — and there were more Democrats urging boldness than realism. . . .

Politics & Policy

Speaking of Democratic Cluelessness on the Culture

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Here is Gavin Newsom continuing his national audition by falling into the trap that the AFT poll identifies, and doing it in a practiced, overly self-conscious manner:

Education

The Democrats Are Idiots, Cont.

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., February 24, 2022. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

The American Federation of Teachers has conducted a “shock poll” that shouldn’t be shocking to anyone who doesn’t live in the progressive bubble — the education positions set out by Ron DeSantis are widely popular.

From NBC News:

One poll question found that voters, by a 32 percentage-point margin, said they were more likely to vote for candidates who believe public schools should focus less on teaching race and more on core subjects. By 27 points, they said schools should be banned from teaching sexual orientation and gender identity to kids in kindergarten through third grade. By 28 points, they said transgender athletes should be banned from competing in girls’ sports.

The same poll suggests DeSantis has been smart about where to draw the line. Most voters said they would be less likely to back candidates who want to prosecute teachers for instructing students on critical race theory and gender identity. The same goes for candidates who want books removed from school libraries, although DeSantis on Friday bashed some books as being too sexualized, and some Florida schools are banning books.

The NBC News story quotes a Dem politico hitting on what would seem to be a common-sensical insight: If CRT supposedly isn’t being taught in the schools, why do Democrats bother defending it?

In Florida, former Democratic state House member and political organizer Sean Shaw marveled at DeSantis’ ability to “pick fights where he knows we have to respond and where it can be a problem for us,” specifically by highlighting alleged problems that don’t really exist in the classroom or exaggerating their prevalence.

“Look, I’m a Black man. All I want to do is talk critical race theory. But I can’t. It’s stupid. When you go to a Black barbershop, they’re not talking about CRT. They’re talking about the price of gas and rent,” Shaw said.

Maybe the AFT poll is the beginning of Democrats wising up in these issues, but it’s more likely that the party’s base is too drunk on contempt for cultural conservatives and fired up by a sense of woke righteousness to modulate on this stuff.

 

Health Care

John Boehner Sees Green

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Former Speaker of the House John Boehner (NR Illustration, Photo Credit: Erin Scott/Reuters)

I’m currently making my way through Can Legal Weed Win? The Blunt Realities of Cannabis Economics, an excellent new book by economists Daniel Sumner and Rubin Goldstein about the major unforeseen problems with the economic landscape of legalized recreational cannabis use. One particular tidbit stood out:

In the midst of the rubble, others claim to see a silver lining in the legal weed crisis: a new “buy-low opportunity,” which has arisen from the near collapse of the market for legal weed. These fearless optimists, whose ranks include former U.S. senator Tom Daschle, a keynote speaker at MJBizCon, double down on their positions and steer others to join them. Daschle, a Democrat from South Dakota who served as U.S. Senate majority leader, is an adviser to and shareholder in Northern Swan Holdings, a multinational weed cultivator with offices in New York, Toronto, Bogotá, and Frankfurt that raised about $100 million in venture capital.

Joining Daschle in the ranks of top U.S. government leaders-turned-cannabis entrepreneurs (or lobbyist cheerleaders, depending on how much of their own pensions you think they planted to weed) is John Boehner. Boehner, from the other side of the aisle, was a Republican congressman from Ohio who served as speaker of the House from 2011 to 2015. During his career in Congress, Boehner was a steadfast and outspoken opponent of legalizing weed. Today, Boehner is on the board of Acreage Holdings, which announced a $3.4 billion acquisition deal with Canopy Growth, the world’s most valuable weed company.

That’s right: John Boehner—who said in 2011 that he was “unalterably opposed to the legalization of marijuana”— is now all-in for Big Weed. Today, he’s pulling in as much as $20 million from the industry, a chunk of which comes from his newfound position as a cannabis legalization lobbyist in D.C. I did a quick Google search, and found this NPR story on Boehner’s transformation from back in 2019:

To be sure, Boehner says he has never tried marijuana. “I’ve never used the product. I really have no plans to use the product,” he told host Michel Martin in an interview for NPR’s All Things Considered. “But if other people use the product,” Boehner said, “who am I to say they shouldn’t?”

His embrace of marijuana legalization marks a sharp reversal for Boehner since his time in Congress. In 1999, in his one and only vote on the issue, he voted to prohibit medicinal marijuana in Washington, D.C. In 2011, he wrote a constituent to say he was “unalterably opposed to the legalization of marijuana.”

But since his retirement in 2015, Boehner’s position has evolved. Last April, he joined the board of Acreage Holdings, a publicly-traded cannabis company based in New York. And on Friday, he appeared at the South by Southwest festival for a keynote on legalization.

“I feel like I’m like your average American who over the years began to look at this a little differently and I think over the last five years my position, it has kind of softened up and softened up,” Boehner said.

His “position has evolved.” Huh. I wonder what softened him up?

 

Culture

Study: Marry Young, Marry Your First, Stay Married

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(FotografieLink/Getty Images)

The traditional model of marriage — not always honored in practice, but as the societal ideal — was to marry young without living together first, and with the aim of a lifetime commitment. The supposedly sophisticated critique of this model has argued that young people should do other things besides form families, that one should try on multiple relationships first, that 21-25-year-olds aren’t mature enough for lifetime commitments, and that living together first is a good test run of whether the relationship will endure. As sociology professor and National Marriage Project director W. Bradford Wilcox explains, however, his latest empirical study along with demographer Lyman Stone supports the traditional view, not that of its critics — at least among religious Americans, who may start off with the advantage of taking marriage more seriously in the first place:

Our analyses indicate that religious men and women who married in their twenties without cohabiting first . . . have the lowest odds of divorce in America today. We suspect one advantage that religious singles in their twenties have over their secular peers is that they are more likely to have access to a pool of men and women who are ready to tie the knot and share their vision of a family-focused life. Today, young singles like this are often difficult to find in the population at large . . . Shared faith is linked to more sexual fidelity, greater commitment and higher relationship quality. One Harvard study found that women who regularly attended church were about 40% less likely to divorce. The family-friendly norms and networks found in America’s churches, mosques and synagogues make religion one of the few pillars of strong and stable marriages in America today.

Many young adults today believe cohabitation is also a pillar of successful marriages, one reason why more than 70% of those who marry today live together before marriage. But the conventional wisdom here is wrong: Americans who cohabit before marriage are less likely to be happily married and more likely to break up.  Couples who cohabited were 15% more likely to get divorced than those who did not, according to our research. A Stanford study cited other research finding that the link between cohabitation and divorce was especially strong for women who cohabited with someone besides their future husband . . .

The psychologist Galena Rhoades, who studies young adult relationships, agrees this could be one reason multiple cohabitations are risky for marriage, but also has other theories on the demerits of multiple cohabitations for future marital success. “We generally think that having more experience is better” in life, she says. “But what we find for relationships is just the opposite.”  More experience with different partners is linked to worse marriages in her research. Having a history with other cohabiting partners may make you discount the value of your spouse. Sure, your husband, John, is dependable and a great father, but not nearly as charming as Luke or as ambitious as Charles, the two other men you lived with before marrying John. Making comparisons like these could undercut your marriage, in Rhoades’ estimation.

The conventional wisdom holds that spending your twenties focusing on education, work and fun, and then marrying around 30 is the best path to maximize your odds of forging a strong and stable family life. But the research tells a different story, at least for religious couples. Saving cohabitation for marriage, and endowing your relationship with sacred significance, seems to maximize your odds of being stably and happily married.

 

Energy & Environment

Biden’s Missed Opportunity in Saudi Arabia on Energy

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and President Biden speak during a photo shoot in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 16, 2022. (Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court via Reuters)

The man sitting to Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman’s right in his meeting with President Biden on Friday has gone largely unnoticed in the furor over the proceeding fist-bump. But the prominent placement of Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman was no accident in the Kingdom well-known for its attention to protocol.

Abdulaziz is the half-brother of MBS and was the first member of the royal family to be appointed as minister of energy to oversee the IPO of the Saudi national oil company, Aramco, in 2019. He is also the lead Saudi representative to OPEC, of which the Kingdom is the de facto head. In short, he is one of the most senior and powerful figures in global energy.

In the American delegation across the table, however, there was no equivalent official. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm didn’t even make the trip; she was traveling in Asia and tweeting about increasing subsidies for electric vehicles. Instead, President Biden had selected State Department Special Envoy for International Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein to represent energy issues.

Hochstein’s presence sent the Saudis the clear message that any discussion of energy would be in the diplomatic sphere, as had been the traditional posture of the United States as a consuming nation in which the Department of Energy dealt with domestic-energy issues and the Department of State covered international affairs, first and foremost ensuring an adequate supply of imports to the U.S.

There appears to be scant, if any, Biden administration interest in pursuing the more serious discussions of high-level coordination on energy policy between America and Saudi Arabia, two of the world’s energy superpowers, that took place during the Trump administration. Such coordination, among other things, took Iranian oil almost entirely off the market with barely a blip in prices. But this time, while Abdulaziz was front and center and ready to talk business, the Americans didn’t even bring anyone appropriate to the meeting.

President Biden has insisted on reverting to a consuming posture and refused to take substantive steps to maximize U.S. production while begging Saudi Arabia to turn on the taps and foraging as far afield as Venezuela and Iran for more supply. The Saudis can only interpret this behavior as a lack of seriousness in confronting the global energy crisis and an assumption that the Kingdom will unilaterally shoulder the burden of bringing down prices.

The Crown Prince’s announcement at yesterday’s Gulf Cooperation Committee meeting that there would be no significant increase in Saudi production should therefore come as no surprise. And anyone hoping that President Biden’s sunny prediction that his trip to Saudi Arabia would result in lower prices at the pump in a matter of weeks should not hold their breath.

World

Victoria Spartz Deserves a Real Argument on Ukraine

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Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), left, and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), right, talk with Ukrainian-American Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-IN) before President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., March 1, 2022. (J. Scott Applewhite/Pool via Reuters)

Yesterday, Politico reported that House Republican leadership was “coming to regret” giving Representative Victoria Spartz, a Ukrainian-born freshman from Indiana’s 5th congressional district, “a coveted platform to speak out against Russia’s war.” Spartz was initially all-in for the war, but in recent months, she has begun to raise concerns about corruption in the Ukrainian government and push for more oversight of U.S. aid. In response, Politico reports, Spartz’s senior counterparts have grown worried that her criticisms “could portend future cracks in U.S. support for Ukraine,” and “may damage cohesion among the Western coalition in defense of Kyiv”:

Inside the House GOP Conference, there’s a widespread fear that her posture is damaging U.S.-Ukraine relations at the worst possible time — and that she’s being played by forces that aim to weaken the Western alliance.

There’s no actual evidence offered for who those “forces” are, or how Sparks’ concerns about corruption and push for more aid oversight — the same position, notably, as that of the Heritage Foundation — are evidence that she’s being “played.” (In fact, Politico implicitly cedes that those concerns have a basis in reality, but waves them away as harmful to discuss: “Western nations’ longstanding concerns about corruption in Ukraine, an element of former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment, have also been shelved in the interest of fostering both domestic and international unity against Russia’s invasion”). Instead, unnamed House Republicans offer anonymous quotes trashing their freshman colleague for breaking with the party line:

“Her naiveness is hurting our own people,” said a GOP lawmaker who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, granted anonymity to speak candidly about a colleague. “It is not helpful to what we’re trying to do and I’m not sure her facts are accurate … We have vetted these guys.” The Republican warned that Spartz’s comments could “hurt” the war effort.

Asked for comment on Spartz’s remarks, one senior House Republican who was granted anonymity for the same reason offered a blunt reply: “What the fuck.” 

A third House Republican granted anonymity to speak candidly about Spartz said she has a reputation for elbowing her way into briefings and meetings for committees she doesn’t belong to, like the Foreign Affairs panel, where multiple members have tried to address her comments behind closed doors.

These top Republicans are too cowardly to make such arguments in public — as Politico notes, “none of them want to publicly rebuke a colleague over Ukraine . . . as the Russian attack itself becomes more politically thorny within the GOP.” But they’re willing to actively undermine her in the mainstream media, so long as it’s on the condition of anonymity. And the attacks themselves are completely devoid of content: There’s no explanation for why Spartz’s concerns are wrong, save for vague aspersions about being “not sure her facts are accurate.” Instead, the basis of the broadside is that Spartz — by asking what, precisely, the billions of American taxpayer dollars are actually funding in Ukraine — is not being “helpful to what we’re trying to do.” In other words: “Shut up,” they explained.

Truth is the first casualty of war. If Spartz is wrong, her colleagues should explain why — and preferably not via anonymous quotes used for smear pieces in the pages of the mainstream media. What, exactly, is so unreasonable about the congresswoman’s position? She’s obviously not operating from a place of ignorance — she has traveled to Ukraine six times since the outset of the war and, unlike her unnamed Republican critics, actually lived there for the first 22 years of her life. At the very least, the rationale she gave in her statement to Politico merits serious engagement: “Growing up in Ukraine and visiting six times since the war started, I have a comprehensive understanding of the situation on the ground. The stakes are too high to be reactive without deliberation — as intended for our institution.”

Why is she wrong? The anonymous House Republicans don’t appear to have a real answer. If they did, maybe they’d actually have the courage to say so publicly.

International

Sri Lanka: An ‘Organic’ Catastrophe

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Demonstrators celebrate after entering into the Presidential Secretariat after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled amid the country’s economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, July 9, 2022. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)

In the latest Capital Letter, I discussed Dutch farmers pushing back against rules designed to limit emissions of nitrogen oxide, rules so drastic and so rapidly imposed that they may push many out of business.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Matt Ridley observes that:

If the world abandoned nitrogen fertiliser that was fixed in factories, the impact on human living standards would be catastrophic, but so would the impact on nature. Given that about half the nitrogen atoms in the average person’s body were fixed in an ammonia factory rather than a plant, to feed eight billion people with organic methods we would need to put more than twice as much land under the plough and the cow. That would consign most of the world’s wetlands, nature reserves and forests to oblivion.

Ridley’s article contains a brief reference to what’s going in the Netherlands but is mainly about the trouble in which Sri Lanka now finds itself, something that has a number of causes. Writing for Capital Matters, Steve Hanke has highlighted monetary mismanagement, something he first warned about months ago.  Our Dominic Pino has also been looking at Sri Lanka, and amongst the topics he mentioned in a June piece was the country’s disastrous experiment with organic agriculture:

[O]n top of the fiscal troubles, in April of 2021, Sri Lanka announced that it would try to become the world’s first 100 percent organic country. President Rajapaksa banned chemical fertilizer, despite warnings from agricultural scientists and farmers that the country wouldn’t be able to produce as much food without it. A blend of protectionism and medical quackery influenced Rajapaksa’s decision, and it was pitched as a way to create a “Green Sri Lanka.” Some organic proponents still defend the policy, saying that the crisis began before the ban, and the ban wasn’t in effect long enough to matter — but that should only increase concern for how much worse things could get.

The proximate cause of the catastrophe that followed was, in no small part, the result of the speed of implementation, but the reality is that, however leisurely the pace, moving away from “synthetic” fertilizers and pesticides was always likely to lead to disaster.

Ridley:

Vandana Shiva, a feted environmentalist, said: “This decision will definitely help farmers become more prosperous.” She has been silent recently. Dr Shiva has led relentless criticism of the Green Revolution of the 1960s, which brought fertiliser and new crop varieties to south Asia, banishing famine for the first time in history even as population increased. Her (and others’) claims that traditional, organic farming could feed the world more healthily remain wildly popular among environmentalists. Sri Lanka has tested that proposition and found it wanting.

Turning to her Wikipedia entry, I read that Shiva is described, among other things, as an environmental activistfood-sovereignty advocate, ecofeminist, and anti-globalization author, often referred to as, oh dear, the “Gandhi of grain” for her anti-GMO activism.

The whole entry is worth reading, and so are some of the articles referred to in the footnotes. To find this in a 2014 piece in Discover magazine did not come as a surprise:

She is often heralded as a tireless “defender of the poor,” someone who “has courageously taken her stand among the peasant farmers of India.” Let it be noted, however, that this champion of the downtrodden doesn’t exactly live a peasant’s lifestyle. If you’d like to learn what qualifies Shiva for a typical $40,000 speaking fee, here is how her representatives package her . . .

“Social justice,” like “sustainability,” can be a profitable enterprise, even more so when, as is often the case with Shiva’s sermons, something vaguely spiritual is thrown in.

But back to Ridley:

Within months [of Sri Lanka going organic], the volume of tea exports had halved, cutting foreign exchange earnings. Rice yields plummeted leading to an unprecedented requirement to import rice. With the government unable to service its debt, the currency collapsed.

Speciality crop yields like cinnamon and cardamom tanked. Staple foods became infested with pests leading to widespread hunger. As Ted Nordhaus of the Breakthrough Institute put it in March: “The farrago of magical thinking, technocratic hubris, ideological delusion, self-dealing and sheer shortsightedness that produced the crisis in Sri Lanka implicates both the country’s political leadership and advocates of so-called sustainable agriculture.”

Commenting in the Wall Street Journal (do read the whole thing), Tunku Varadarajan has harsh words for Sri Lanka’s now departed President Rajapaksa (a “Sri Lankan Nero”) and his policies, but note the little detail at the end of this paragraph:

Ms. Shiva and other woke environmentalists . . . rejoiced at the epochal nature of Mr. Rajapaksa’s decision. “Let us all join hands with Sri Lanka,” Ms. Shiva tweeted on June 10, 2021, “taking steps towards a #PoisonFree #PoisonCartelFree world for our health & the health of the planet.” Lost in all the ideological ululation was another likely explanation for Mr. Rajapaksa’s action: So debt-ridden was Sri Lanka—to China, in particular—that he may have decided to forgo imported fertilizer and pesticide as a money-saving measure.

China. Oh.

Economy & Business

Editorial Help Wanted

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A friend of mine is hiring writers for a business and tech editorial operation. Here is where to check it out and apply.

Religion

15 Things That Caught My Eye Today: Paulie Walnuts Goes to Confession, Millennial Mom Help for the GOP, and More

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1. Fr. Robert Sirico’s powerful homily at the funeral Mass for his brother, Tony Sirico (“Paulie Walnuts” in The Sopranos). I cried. Just preparing you. (Start about 19:35 in and catch the Gospel, too.)

 

2.

3. Megan McArdle in the Washington Post: A Berkeley professor’s Senate testimony didn’t go how the left thinks it did

Then, when it was his turn to speak, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) returned to this exchange, saying, “You’ve referred to people with a capacity for pregnancy. Would that be … women?”

In even tones, Bridges replied that while many cisgender women have the capacity for pregnancy, many don’t, while some trans men and nonbinary people do. But after a little back-and-forth, she gave up. “So, I want to recognize that your line of questioning is transphobic,” she said with an exasperated laugh, “and it opens up trans people to violence.”

The whole thing quickly became a Rorschach test. Many progressives cheered to see Professor Bridges school a reactionary Republican. But conservatives also cheered, because they see a gift to Republican election campaigns.

Unlike a Rorschach test, however, this one has a right answer, and the progressives have it wrong. Moreover, the fact that they can’t see just how badly this exchange went for their side shows what a big mistake it was to let academia and media institutions turn into left-wing monocultures.

4. Daily Signal: Detransitioning Teen Pleads: ‘No Child Should Have to Experience What I Have’

5. AleteiaUkrainian mother in Italy chooses life with the help of Help for Life Center

Faced with an unexpected pregnancy and abandoned by her fiancé, Christina found help and support at a crisis pregnancy center.

6. Abby McCloskey: The GOP Failed Millennial Moms Like Me. But It Needs Us Now More Than Ever.

For whole life conservatives, it should be a fundamental birthright that every American is entitled to spend the first months of life with their mother and father without their parents’ risk of job loss or financial instability. The literature on childhood development overwhelmingly highlights the importance of parents being present and engaged early on, and yet the status quo makes it very difficult for mothers and fathers to spend this critical time healing, adjusting and bonding with their newborn. Republicans shouldn’t nervously offer benefit trades, like dipping into your Social Security if you want to have access to paid leave following birth — they should go all in and make America a global leader in our care for new mothers. I’ve argued for six weeks as a bare minimum of paid parental leave, but the research supports significantly longer durations. A federal paid parental leave program is not just a patch or a backup plan; it’s a cultural shift that this time of intensive caregiving and attachment is worth protecting for everyone, irrespective of their occupation or the state they live in. It’s a signal for our value of life and care.

….

I’d prefer not to grow the government either, but that doesn’t mean we have to continue to decrease the already shrinking share of the pie going to children. Spending for these priorities should come from a massive overhaul of our existing system. Our entitlement spending is disproportionately tilted to older people, including those with significant means. It makes little sense why we’d commit as a country to a safety net for the 20+ years at the end of life, but not at the beginning. (Unless, of course, you look at who is in political leadership and who votes.)

Yes, this would take hard work and compromise. That’s what government is for. Instead, I fear many in the GOP would rather call out companies who provide stipends to employees to travel for abortions, further stoking the new culture war that has broken out over abortion in the wake of Dobbs — instead of striving to make America the best place to be a mother and raise kids.

Continue reading “15 Things That Caught My Eye Today: Paulie Walnuts Goes to Confession, Millennial Mom Help for the GOP, and More”

The Economy

Biden Creates Presidential Emergency Board for Freight-Rail Labor Dispute

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A commercial freight train carries a load of shipping containers at the Port of Savannah, Ga., October 17, 2021. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

President Biden today signed an executive order to create a presidential emergency board (PEB) under the Railway Labor Act to help resolve the ongoing labor dispute in the freight-rail sector. The PEB will be established officially on Monday, and it will be composed of three members, appointed by the president.

Biden was expected to make this move, as about 125,000 rail workers would have been permitted to go on strike on Monday had he not done so. The announcement of the PEB comes amid numerous transportation-sector strikes around the world.

The Railway Labor Act gives the president power to appoint a PEB if the National Mediation Board, an independent federal agency, determines that the labor dispute “threatens substantially to interrupt interstate commerce to a degree such as to deprive any section of the country of essential transportation service.” Industry-wide labor action in freight rail certainly meets that standard.

Once the board is assembled on Monday, it will have 30 days to investigate the facts of the dispute and put together a report to the president. The report will contain non-binding recommendations on how to resolve the dispute. After the report is issued (which will almost certainly be on the 30th day), there will be a 30-day cooling-off period. During both the investigation phase and the cooling-off period, striking will not be permitted. If no agreement is reached after the cooling-off period, work stoppages are permitted. That puts the earliest possible strike/lockout date at September 16.

Unlike other industries, contracts under the Railway Labor Act do not expire on set dates. The negotiation process is open-ended by design. We got to this point with fixed deadlines because of the inability of labor and management to agree, combined with the actions of the Democratic majority on the National Mediation Board.

The NMB currently has two Democrats and one Republican. It has a long-established reputation for independence from the president and a cooperative approach to resolving labor disputes.

But in this year’s negotiations, in a two-to-one vote, it cut off mediation after only two months. “The NMB release from mediation is thus one of the shortest, if not the shortest, on record,” labor-relations expert Frank Wilner wrote in June when the decision was made.

Who are these Democratic NMB members? “One of the NMB’s two Democrats, Linda Puchala, is a former President of the Association of Flight Attendants, while the second Democrat, Deirdre Hamilton, is a former Teamsters Union attorney,” Wilner wrote. Two of the twelve unions covered under the labor agreement are affiliated with the Teamsters.

In an article for Railway Age, Wilner speculated that the Democratic members of the NMB were cozying up to organized labor with their decision to end mediation so soon. In the past, when a work stoppage occurs, Congress intervenes and resolves the dispute by legislation. By setting the date for a work stoppage at September 16, the logic goes, unions are guaranteed time before the midterm elections for the Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress to write them a favorable agreement. The unions put out a statement urging members to contact members of Congress and ask them for “labor-friendly legislation” to resolve the dispute.

That could mean entrenching inefficient and expensive practices in freight rail, such as mandating two-man crews and limiting automatic track inspection, that unions have wanted for years. All while being cheered on by Biden and his party in Congress, who claim to want to fix supply chains.

But this strategy has backfired for organized labor before, Wilner notes. In 1991, rail unions got their labor dispute before a Democratic-controlled Congress, but Ted Kennedy voted against labor in the Senate and the House passed a carrier-favorable bill by a vote of 400–5.

The difference then: a Republican at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. This time around, it’s the self-described “most pro-union president leading the most pro-union administration in American history.”

Politics & Policy

Secret Service Erases Message Data Pertinent to January 6

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An image of an email from the U.S. Secret Service intelligence division warning of potential violence on January 6, 2021 is displayed above the committee during a public hearing of the U.S. House Select Committee to investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 28, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Somebody at the Secret Service has some explaining to do. It ought to be done promptly and under oath.

The inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, of which the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) is a component, has told the House select January 6 committee that text messages sent by USSS agents around the time of the Capitol riot have been erased and are not retrievable. Inspector general Joseph V. Cuffari said he has learned that the erasure occurred “as part of a device replacement program.” Yet Cuffari maintains that the texts were erased after his office commenced an investigation into the USSS’s performance in connection with the riot and, more importantly, after he requested that the agency provide him with relevant electronic communications.

The USSS is pushing back against the IG. In a statement, as reported by the New York Times, the agency

disputed parts of the inspector general’s findings, saying that it “lost” data on “some phones” as part of a preplanned three-month “system migration” in January 2021, but maintaining that no texts pertinent to the inquiry “had been lost in the migration.” The agency said that the project was underway before it received notice from the inspector general to preserve its data, and that it did not “maliciously” delete text messages.

This statement obviously raises two questions: (1) How did the USSS know whether texts were pertinent to the inquiry unless the agency reviewed them prior to erasing them? (2) If the agency had the capacity to review them, why not just save everything for purposes of the IG inquiry, and then erase once the IG said he no longer needed them (at least as long as erasing did not violate any record-keeping requirements under federal law)?

To recap what we’ve been following, the January 6 committee elicited from former White House staffer Cassidy Hutchinson testimony that then-president Trump had gotten into a physical altercation with his security detail out of anger that the USSS was refusing to take him to the Capitol after his Ellipse speech (in which he told his followers he would be going there with them). Following this testimony, it was reported through unidentified sources that (a) the two USSS agents said to have been in the fracas, Agent Robert Engel, who headed Trump’s security detail, and the agent who was driving the SUV (the steering wheel of which Trump allegedly grabbed), were prepared to testify that no such skirmish occurred, and (b) Agent Tony Ornato, the former head of security at the White House, was prepared to go even further and deny that he had told Hutchinson about the skirmish, as she testified he did.

It has been reported that Engel and Ornato had been deposed by the committee before Hutchinson’s testimony. Although it is said that they made no mention of any physical altercation, the committee reportedly did not reinterview them before adducing Hutchinson’s second-hand account. Meantime, committee chairman Bennie Thompson told the Times that neither Engel nor Ornato had yet come in for another interview but that the panel was in discussions with them.

What is there to discuss? The committee has subpoena power, the USSS says it is cooperating with the probe, and the anonymous sources close to them indicated that the agents were eager to weigh in on Hutchinson’s version of events.

The USSS statement notwithstanding, the IG implies that agents were hostile to his inquiry. The Times says Cuffari claims that “Secret Service personnel were declining to provide records to his office without first having department [presumably DHS, not USSS] lawyers review them, a process that he said was causing ‘weekslong delays’ and ‘confusion.’”

This is not the first time we’ve heard this kind of story. Recall, to take one recent example, that lawyers and other staffers on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of alleged Trump–Russia collusion “accidentally” wiped their phones after the Justice Department IG discovered anti-Trump texts on since-fired FBI agent Peter Strzok’s government-issued phone.

In any event, given how easy it is to preserve such information, these tales of unintentional erasures and data “lost” during government “system migrations” are highly suspicious to say the least. And if federal prosecutors subpoenaed you for your text messages, good luck with telling them that you seem to have lost them in a “system migration.” You’d be indicted.

This needs to be explained, under oath — and preferably in public. The USSS has a well-known antipathy toward any discussion of interactions with protectees. That is understandable. Protection of this kind is intrusive and often awkward. The agents need the trust and cooperation of their charges if they are to provide good security, and they won’t get it if protectees believe their privacy is going to be invaded and their worst moments (and we all have them) are going to be publicized.

That’s why one wishes the committee had not opened this can of worms without making sure the story was both accurate and necessary to tell. I don’t see why it was necessary. No one seems to deny that President Trump wanted to go to the Capitol and became incensed when he was not taken there. Since it would have been egregious for about a million reasons for him to have gone there, the fact that he was determined to go and angry about being thwarted are plenty bad enough. A minor physical altercation adds little. In the cost–benefit analysis of things, the paltry value of the skirmish story (even if a congressional committee of Trump opponents is titillated by it) is easily outweighed by the harm done to the Secret Service’s mission.

But even so, it would not give the Secret Service the right to ignore the law, under which agents have the same duty as everyone else to comply with lawful demands for information. At the moment, we can’t say whether the erasure of data was accidental, nefarious, or material. We are owed answers.

Politics & Policy

House Democratic Abortion Bill Gets Three Republican Votes

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A pro-life campaigner holds up a model of a 12-week-old embryo during a protest outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast, Northern Ireland, October 18, 2012. (Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)

This afternoon, the House of Representatives voted on two Democratic abortion bills: the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) and the Ensuring Access to Abortion Act (EAAA). The WHPA, which would effectively codify legal abortion up until the point of birth, has been a major Democratic initiative for more than a year — it passed the House on a party-line vote last fall, with the support of every Democrat except for Henry Cuellar (D., Texas), but failed by a margin of 46–48 in the Senate. The EAAA, a newer bill introduced by Democrats in the wake of Dobbs, focuses on restricting states’ ability to regulate abortion in a variety of important ways — most notably, preventing states from blocking residents’ ability to receive abortions in other states, and banning state legislatures’ ability to outlaw abortion pills if those pills are approved by the Food and Drug Administration. (The Biden administration has already signaled its plans to weaponize FDA approval in the post-Dobbs abortion-pill fight.)

These two partisan, radically pro-abortion bills, then, aim to circumvent the Constitution — and state legislatures — in an effort to throw the Roe-era abortion regime a lifeline. As Rep. Dan Bishop (R., N.C.) aptly noted in his statement on the votes: “The former bill [WHPA] would allow abortion for all nine months of pregnancy with zero restrictions, and the latter [EAAA] would block states from banning abortifacients, including chemical abortion pills. Both bills would remove power from the people and their elected state representatives to set their own laws blocking abortion.” One would hope that every Republican would be smart enough to see that.

And yet, three Republican congressmen — Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Fred Upton (Mich.) — voted for the EAAA. All three are moderates, but have, at varying junctures, presented themselves as at least nominally pro-life. Fitzpatrick has backed efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and a 20-week abortion ban. As for Kinzinger and Upton, both of whom are retiring, the former has described himself as “pro-life” and was given an “A” rating from Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life for America, and the latter’s website declares that “we must . . . protect the sanctity of human life and prevent the misuse of federal taxpayer dollars for abortion.”

It’s unclear how ostensibly pro-life Republicans, with their previous rhetorical nods to “the sanctity of human life,” can justify their support for a bill that is not just pro-abortion on the merits, but an affront to the basic constitutional principle of federalism. If Fitzpatrick, Kinzinger, and Upton — whether in or outside of Congress — want to make nice with the abortion lobby, they’re free to do so. But after votes like today’s, they shouldn’t expect to be taken seriously by pro-lifers.

National Review

Re: Farewell

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In response to Farewell to <span style="font-variant:small-caps">National Review</span>

Personally, I will never forgive Kyle his lavish praise for the vulgar and over-rated (by Kyle) movie Ted, but I must admit his movie criticism is pretty great. In fact, he is nearly omnicompetent as a writer — exactly the sort of “writer’s writer” that WFB adored. I wish Bill had been here to enjoy Kyle’s great run with us. Of course, his most memorable work was his devastating, painstaking three-part series on Dr. Jill Biden’s dissertation. After that, every education grad student in the country must have been glad that Kyle found a calling other than professor of education. Thanks for everything, Kyle. We’ve been proud to be associated with you and Godspeed.

Politics & Policy

Congress Kills Last-Minute ‘Anti-War’ Art-Spending Bill: ‘Ridiculous’

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Outside the State Department Building in Washington, D.C. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

House lawmakers defeated a proposal that would have eliminated congressional oversight of State Department spending on artwork for U.S. embassies worldwide. The measure’s author, Representative Gerry Connolly (D., Va.), said it was necessary to push back on a cultural moment akin to the Red Scare and that stripping Congress of its ability to review expensive purchases of art was critical to fostering peace and alliances.

Ultimately, although 170 Democratic lawmakers backed the proposal to end Congress’s right to receive notifications on expensive art purchases, enough Democrats teamed up with Republican members to kill the proposal yesterday.

State is prohibited by law from spending more than 5 percent of the cost of a new embassy or other diplomatic building on artwork. In the recent past, the State Department has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on sculptures and paintings for certain outposts, including, in recent years, $200,000 on a mural for the new U.S. embassy in Guatemala, $250,000 for a “multi-media, multi-dimensional installation” in the Mexico embassy, and $420,000 for a “custom marble sculpture” of a cloud at the embassy in Montenegro.

To minimize potentially wasteful purchases, Congress last year passed a measure requiring the State Department to notify Congress of any planned art purchases over $37,500.

Connolly’s measure, which was proposed as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act this week, would have effectively repealed the congressional notification requirement, allowing State to make large art purchases without oversight.

He explained the rationale for this on the House floor Wednesday night: “These requirements require Congress to review all art that’s purchased for the Art in Embassies Program beyond that limit. That places a tedious and gratuitous strain on our ability to run the program at all,” Connolly said. “These attacks on cultural exchange programs are not new. Sadly, in the 1940s, in sort of a Red Scare moment in the United States, members of Congress attempted to defund and delegitimize the works of modern American artists across the board.”

Connolly’s comments sparked a sharp rejoinder from Representative Tim Burchett (R., Tenn.), who called the Connolly proposal “ridiculous” and speculated that Democratic lawmakers were embarrassed to even debate it: “I feel like the opposing party is probably a little embarrassed that it’s even being brought up, the fact that we’re doing it so late, but it would repeal a provision that Democrats approved last year that simply requires the State Department to notify Congress before it spends thousands of dollars on art for United States embassies.”

“Most of this art will never be seen except by the employees of the embassies. Now these same Democrats want to repeal this provision because they know there is absolutely no way they can justify spending millions of taxpayer dollars on art when inflation is at 9.1 percent, gas is nearly $5 a gallon, and our country is on the brink of a recession.”

The debate continued, with Connolly accusing Burchett of “intolerance”; he waxed poetic about the significance of his recent trip to Madrid, where he served a term as president of NATO’s parliamentary assembly, during the alliance’s recent summit.

“I visited the Prado,” he said, referring to the famed Spanish museum, “and I looked at one of the most powerful pictures I’ve ever seen, by Goya, about Napoleonic occupation of his homeland, Spain. He witnessed that harm, and he depicted it, and it drove him almost into madness what he witnessed.” Connolly seemed to be referring to The Third of May 1808, a painting that depicts the execution of Spanish resistance fighters by French forces, housed at the Prado.

“Maybe my friend thinks that art ought to be zero,” Connolly continued, “but I believe millions of Americans would disagree.”

But Representative Michael McCaul (R., Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee — who introduced the art-spending cap — told NR that the spending cap does not actually ban art purchases.

He also offered a dig at Connolly’s comments about Spanish art. “I hate to break it to Representative Connolly, but weapons win wars — not $400,000 cloud sculptures. And if he doesn’t believe me, he can ask the Ukrainians on the front lines who are begging for more HIMARS and Stingers — not Picassos.”

In his own statement to NR, responding to McCaul, Connolly kept the war of words surrounding his since-defeated amendment going, sticking with McCaul’s pivot from Goya to Picasso.

“I hate to break it to Mr. McCaul but Picasso’s Guernica has educated more people on the horrors of war than any other human expression,” Connolly said. “It’s a false choice to frame the issue as an either or. Our embassies are a representation of the United States. This amendment would simply cut bureaucratic red tape to allow us to share American artwork around the world.”

The Economy

Baby-Formula Shortage Continues

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Cans of baby formula sit on a shelf in a Target store amid continuing nationwide shortages in San Diego, Calif., May 25, 2022. (Bing Guan/Reuters)

Remember the baby-formula shortage that grabbed every headline not that long ago? The headlines may be gone, but the shortage remains.

The Wall Street Journal yesterday:

U.S. stores are still struggling to stock baby formula despite monthslong efforts by manufacturers and the Biden administration to boost supplies.

Availability of powdered formula products in U.S. stores earlier this month dropped to the lowest level so far this year, with about 30% of products out of stock for the week ended July 3, according to the market-research firm IRI. While availability improved slightly last week, out-of-stock levels remain higher than in recent months, and shortages remain acute in states including Alaska, Utah and Wyoming, IRI data showed.

At the same time, consumers are finding fewer choices of brands, sizes or formats of formula on grocery-store shelves as the variety of available products shrinks. U.S. supermarkets over the four weeks ended June 26 sold an average of 11 different formula products per store weekly, according to IRI, compared with a weekly average of 24 from 2018 to 2021.

One reason the shortage has persisted is that the Michigan formula plant that was shut down in February and reopened in early June was hit by severe thunderstorms on June 15 and closed down again. It reopened July 1, which means another two weeks of production were lost. (It’s worth noting that neither the FDA nor the CDC have been able to link the infections that spurred the February closure to the plant.)

The United States of America should not be at the mercy of Michigan weather to have a sufficient supply of baby formula. The fact is we’re over-reliant on a small handful of factories because the U.S. baby-formula market has been made unattractive by federal policy.

A Congressional Research Service report from May documents how the U.S. is almost 100 percent reliant on domestic companies to meet demand for baby formula. The U.S. produced an average of 524 million kilograms of infant formula per year between 2012 and 2021 and imported an average of only 3 million kilograms per year, the report says. Domestic production regularly exceeded demand, which seemed to be working well.

But when there are domestic supply problems, there’s nowhere else to go. Tariffs and duties range from 14.9 percent to 25.1 percent depending on the contents, amount, and the country of origin, the report says. More importantly, though, the oligopolistic market structure, dominated by two huge firms that work in concert with state governments through the WIC program, makes the whole market unattractive for foreign manufacturers. The report says, “As such, Congress might consider encouraging mutual recognition agreements on regulatory testing and certification, or other policy instruments to reduce these trade barriers, in addition to potentially lowering tariffs.”

Senator Mike Lee (R., Utah) introduced a bill that would eliminate all duties and quantitative limitations on baby-formula imports for 90 days, which passed the Senate unanimously on June 23. It was received in the House the next day. Since then, no action has been taken on it.

The last White House statement on baby formula was on July 6, announcing the 15th “Operation Fly Formula mission,” this one delivering baby formula made in England. Instead of chartering special military flights and putting out press releases about them, the president should call for allowing these imports all the time through ordinary means of trade. That means the FDA should approve any formula manufactured in friendly countries with high health standards for sale in the U.S. and relax its labeling standards to allow imports. It should make these moves permanent to encourage long-term investment in the U.S. market, rather than one-time, stopgap efforts. We don’t need the military to make this happen. There are countless commercial planes that fly countless “missions” to deliver products to the U.S. every single day, and baby formula should be on them.

As I wrote twice in May, the Biden administration’s response to the baby-formula shortage was calibrated to look like Doing Something instead of actually addressing the causes of the shortage. Nearly two months later, the shortage persists. Maybe it’s time to give markets a chance.

Culture

Farewell to National Review

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(Photo: Luther Abel)

Internal software tells me this is my 400th blog post, and since I like round numbers, I think it will be my last. As I wrote in “Happy Warrior” in the print edition this week, after five wonderful years, I am moving on from NR. 

I asked whiz kid/head archivist/overworked submissions editor Jack Butler what my first piece was for NR (long before I joined this pirate radio station in 2017, I contributed as a freelancer). It turns out it was about . . . Paul McCartney. On-brand, no? And it was almost exactly 15 years ago. I remember literally sweating out that piece, wanting it to be great, and not then understanding that the editing process here is light. Funny: I used to work at People magazine, where it was not uncommon to see 15 or 30 or 55 versions of a piece pile up in the software, and then after weeks of work see the whole thing rewritten from top to bottom in 90 minutes by a guy with a title like Assistant Managing Editor. Bet you didn’t know that People is heavily edited but NR is more like, “If that’s what you want to say, okay . . .”

Anyway, 15 years is enough. I quit! I’ve had enough of your bullying, Williamson!

Seriously, though, I leave with great sadness, and offer my thanks to Rich, Ramesh, Phil, Lindsay, and Charlie for hiring me and everyone else for being such great colleagues. I would have been happy to work here for another 20 years — 30! 40! — but the Wall Street Journal is taking me on as their film critic. The Journal is located roughly across Sixth Avenue from NR, so I’m not going far, in a geographic sense, but NR has certainly been an ideal home for me for the past five years. This has been the first and only time in my life when I was on the same page with everyone around me, all of us completely focused on the same mission. (You might be surprised to learn that the New York Post, where I worked for many years, employs only a handful of conservatives. It may be the most conservative-friendly paper in New York, but that’s saying very little. I think at one point I looked around the Features department and decided that we were outnumbered by a count of 17 to two. And the other guy didn’t advertise.)

Anyway, I wrote more than 950 pieces for NR, not all of which are accessible via the website. I won’t be able to write for NR at my new job, so that will have to do. Here are some I thought were pretty good. (You may disagree, but then, why are you reading this post?)

Politics:

Her Chelseaness

Weirdo O’Rourke

Old Man Yells at Cloud

Hunter Biden’s Crack-Fueled Misadventures

Jill Biden’s Doctorate Is Garbage Because Her Dissertation Is Garbage

Cackling Kamala

Relax, Conservatives, John Roberts Will Never Let You Down

Bernie Sanders, the Green-Mountain Red

Al Franken, Un-Funny Man of the Senate

Movies:

Apocalypse Now

Forrest Gump

Reds

Saturday Night Fever

The Big Chill

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Shawshank Redemption

The Breakfast Club vs. St. Elmo’s Fire   

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

1971 Cinema

Love, Actually

Why Al Pacino Matters

Goodfellas

Theater:

Macbeth

Sondheim

The Lehman Trilogy

Music:

Excellence, Existence, Tyranny, Death and Rock

The All-American Glory of Yacht Rock

Homeward Bound

Bob Dylan Refused to Be the Voice of a Generation    

The Beautiful Torture of Eric Clapton

Van Halen’s Sound of Sex

The Meaning of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’

‘I Made It All Up’: Bruce Springsteen vs. the Cult of Authenticity

Paul McCartney’s Gratitude

Books:

What P.J. O’Rourke Knew

The Great One

The Impossible Elegance of George Will

Larry McMurtry

Media:

Who’s Stoked for CNN+?

How the Media Destroyed the Reputation of a Great President

Amy Chozick Exposes Hillary’s Groveling Press Corps

No Mea Culpa from Jussie Smollett’s Media Enablers

Etc.:

Godzilla Sits Down With Kong

The Pathetic Journey of ‘Mattress Girl’ Emma Sulkowicz

The Four Childhoods of Modern Man.

Undoing the Enlightenment

There Is No Such Thing as Price Gouging

Sexual Revolution and Sexual Wreckage

Sigmund Fraud

The Economy

Just Say No to Price Controls

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Any time inflation begins to take a bite out of people’s wallets, you’re sure to hear politicians, pundits, and even some economists advocating price controls. Biden would like to command gas-station owners to lower their prices.

In this AIER essay, Don Boudreaux explains why price controls are always a bad policy. He writes:

No government intervention into a market economy is as certain to do damage as price controls. Market prices make possible the successful, productive coordination of the efforts of countless specialized workers and firms spread around the world. Market prices also coordinate the resulting massive flows of economic outputs with the demands of consumers.

Every government-imposed control on prices reduces the effectiveness of this coordination.

The people who complain about free markets just don’t comprehend how important the coordination function of prices is. Interfere with it and there will be a host of adverse consequences — as Boudreaux explains.

His conclusion: “The public often supports price ceilings — support that would surely disappear if the public understood the basic economics of this harmful government intervention.” So true, and that is why government should be denied any power to set price ceilings or price floors, or in any other way dictate the terms of transactions. The Constitution doesn’t actually give the federal government any such power, but the government has taken it on anyway, owing to “progressive” Court decisions in the 1930s.

World

Biden’s Disgraceful Smear of Israel Is No Laughing Matter

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks in Jerusalem, July 15, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

As tempting as it is to simply chuckle at President Biden’s bumbling and catalogue of inane statements, on Friday, in a ham-handed attempt to connect with a Palestinian audience, he launched a disgraceful smear of Israel.

“My background and the background of my family is Irish American and we have a long history of uh, not fundamentally unlike the Palestinian people, with Great Britain and their attitude over the years for 400 years,” Biden said.

Here’s the video:

In the framework that Biden has set up here, Israel is presumably the colonial power that is oppressing other people out of sheer religious bigotry. This is absolutely disgusting. There has been a Jewish presence in Israel for thousands of years. Modern Israel serves as a crucial ally for the United States and as a safe haven for the most persecuted religious group in world history. To indulge his stupid analogy a bit further, Irish Catholics seeking independent control over their homeland did not fight toward the goal of conquering England and driving the British from their own homeland and denying its right to exist altogether. Yet for decades, Arabs have sought to drive Jews out of the region through war and terrorist attacks. If the British lost control of Ireland, they still had England. What happens to Israeli Jews if they lose Israel?

Earlier this week, in remarks that got attention because the gaffe-machine Biden referred to the “honor of the Holocaust,” he also said, “Wherever we find it in the world, we make real on the promise of ‘never again’ by taking it on.”

After today’s insult, his words ring especially hollow.

 

Politics & Policy

People Really, Really Do Not Want to Work for Kamala Harris

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Domestic policy advisor to Vice President Harris, Rohini Kosoglu, in her office in Washington, D.C., on July 13, 2022. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The staff exodus from Kamala Harris never ends:

Vice President Harris is set to lose one of her closest and longest-serving aides in August with the departure of domestic policy adviser Rohini Kosoglu, whose planned exit follows a major shake-up of the office late last year and into the spring. . . . Kosoglu, 38, previously served as chief of staff in Harris’s Senate office and on her unsuccessful presidential campaign. . . . Kosoglu — who has three sons, ages 9, 6 and almost 3 — cited a desire to spend more time with her family. . . . Harris’s chief of staff, Tina Flournoy, deputy chief of staff Michael Fuchs and national security adviser Nancy McEldowney left in the spring. That followed the departure late last year of several top aides, including chief spokesperson Symone Sanders and communications chief Ashley Etienne. In all, at least 13 staffers have left Harris’s office since last summer.

Frankly, if you’ve watched Harris speak in public over the past year and a half, it is hard to believe she has speechwriters and advisers, or at least ones who do not hate her so much that they are deliberately sabotaging her. Harris as a senator was a demagogic attack dog, but she never seemed quite as hilariously vapid as she has in the vice presidency. I continue to think it was a mistake for Biden to pick Harris over Amy Klobuchar; while Klobuchar has her own hair-raising reputation for abusing her staff, at least she comes across as a professional who knows what she’s doing and talks like a traditional Democrat.

As I have noted previously (see here and here), there are two things suggested by the endless departures, and probably both are true. One is that the drumbeat of anonymously sourced stories is on target: Working for Harris is a nightmare, not just because she rides her staff hard, but also because she does so without the competence, decisiveness, and effectiveness that inspires people in politics to suffer under demanding bosses. The other is that her staff understands that Harris’s political future is grim. It shouldn’t be: She is vice president to the oldest man ever to hold the presidency, who might die or become incapacitated in office and might not run again. Combined with her political base in the nation’s largest state and her “historic” race-and-gender profile, that should make her an obvious heir apparent. Most staffers would kill to join a small team for someone so close to the ultimate prize. But with Biden visibly failing and Harris even more unpopular than her boss, the people closest to her can read the writing on the wall.

National Review

Back to Normality: An Update on the Paper Shortage

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(hxdyl/Getty Images)

In the March 21 issue, National Review informed subscribers that the combination of labor turmoil, the long-term trend of paper mills’ retooling for the production of corrugated-cardboard boxes, and supply-chain shocks had led to a worldwide paper shortage. The editors were advised to reduce the size of each issue in order to guarantee that publication of NR would continue uninterrupted. The paper crisis is not completely behind us, but we now believe that we can begin to expand the magazine back to pre-pandemic normality. We thank our readers for their patience and promise that, unlike Joe Biden’s administration, National Review will indeed build back better.

Woke Culture

Re: Ruy Teixeira

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(Illustration by Trifonenko/Getty Images)

In response to Author of ‘The Emerging Democratic Majority’ Quits CAP over Its Obsession with Identity Politics

You know whom I’m thinking about this morning, Charlie?

Nat Hentoff.

With the progressive writer and scholar Ruy Teixeira finding a new home at AEI — because the co-author of The Emerging Democratic Majority is not quite woke enough for the contemporary Left (no one ever is) — it is worth remembering that Nat Hentoff, one of the most interesting and humane left-wing writers of his time, finished up his career at the Cato Institute for similar reasons: Hentoff was a man of the Left in most things save his belief that unborn children and the state of Israel have a right not to be exterminated — and, for that dissent, became unemployable in the ever-more-exactingly conformist world of progressive institutions.

Institutions such as AEI and Cato were created as safe havens for heterodox right-leaning and libertarian thinkers at odds with progressive academic orthodoxy, but they are proving to be just as valuable to traditional liberals and even to progressives such as Teixeira who are not willing to knuckle under and toe the party line.

Conformism is a disease, a kind of mental illness.

Every now and then — regularly, in fact — National Review will publish some piece at odds with conservative orthodoxy or conservative sensibilities — a dissenting piece on animal welfare or gay marriage or something like that. Invariably, some of the Twitter-dwelling figures on the pissant Right will exclaim: “Look, here’s National Review endorsing x!” whatever x may be. They are, of course, indicting themselves and their organizations: National Review publishes a lot of different authors with a lot of different points of view and enforces no mandatory party line — but that is not true of every organization on the Right, some of which are very interested in enforcing their own version of political correctness. Tribalistic politics on the right ends up looking a lot like tribalistic politics on the left — narrow, stultified, boring, more an exercise in group therapy than an exercise in thought or inquiry.

Indeed, National Review recently published an interesting cover story by Ruy Teixeira.

With that in mind, I am glad that organizations such as AEI and Cato and National Review make room for thinkers and scholars who are not men of the party, partisan Republicans, orthodox conservatives and libertarians, etc. It is a sign of good political health and intellectual confidence. I’m sure Ruy Teixeira will do interesting and valuable work at AEI, that I’ll disagree with him politically about 92 percent of the time, and that the world will be better off for that arrangement.

World

Just How Stable Is China Right Now?

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China’s President Xi Jinping looks on as Hong Kong’s incoming Chief Executive John Lee is sworn in as the city’s new leader during a ceremony to inaugurate the city’s new government in Hong Kong, China July 1, 2022. (Selim Chtayti/Pool via Reuters)

This is more Jimmy Quinn’s territory, but I look at recent headlines like . . .

. . . and wonder just how stable the Chinese economy and Chinese government are these days. The Chinese government, like all authoritarian regimes, requires a narrative of universal competence and wisdom in its leaders, which means the regime can never openly admit a mistake. Everything is always going according to the five-year plan, the state is always right, the leaders are always all-knowing and all-seeing, and any corruption, failures or incompetence that gets exposed is always isolated incidents involving rogue low-level employees.

And lately those narratives are crashing into higher and higher piles of counterevidence.

Whatever is happening in China, it seems to be pointing to new levels of economic, social, and political turbulence. Maybe the Chinese economy is a “too big to fail” colossus, with too much built-up momentum to be derailed for long. Or maybe the whole thing is a house of cards; reliable and verifiable economic data have always been hard to find in China.

A few days ago, former Pentagon strategist Elbridge Colby shared an unnerving thread laying out why he is “more and more alarmed about a PRC invasion of Taiwan.” You should read the whole thing, but the short version is that Colby sees the motive, means, and opportunity aligning for China. But the window of opportunity may be closing in the long term, as U.S. defense upgrades come on line and an anti-China defensive alliance takes hold in the Pacific.

It is possible that economic and domestic instability make Xi Jinping less likely to pull the trigger on an invasion of Taiwan; Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is demonstrating that the conquest of a long-coveted neighbor can be more difficult — a lot bloodier and messier and more geopolitically isolating — than expected. If your country is facing a tall stack of worsening problems, a major war against a foe determined to resist is likely to just make everything worse.

But then again, a lot of autocrats can’t distinguish between their personal desires and the national interest. There’s always the chance that Xi Jinping looks at that tall stack of worsening problems and decides an unprovoked, world-altering war of aggression is just the right tool to jump-start Chinese nationalism and make everything all better.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Tech Innovation

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Picking up where Daniel Savickas left off yesterday, David McGarry argues against the American Innovation and Choice Online Act:

Besides being a disaster for consumers, the AICOA would also retard innovation. It forbids covered platforms from “materially” restricting the capacity of competitors’ products to “interoperate” with their own. This means that covered platforms would be banned from creating products that can only be fully utilized in conjunction with the platform’s other goods and services. For example, Apple may be required to re-code its app suite, which is designed to be used as a cohesive unit, to make each program more compatible with apps from other developers. This measure would drive product homogeneity and create compliance costs for existing players and new startups alike.

Such technocratic market asphyxiation is what has left Europe stagnant and outpaced, particularly in the tech sector. Continental regulators have widely stifled growth and innovation, most recently moving to make the USB-C the only legal charger for most electronic devices. This move and similar policies are antithetical to the climate of innovation that created the USB-C cable in the first place.

Read the whole thing here.

Media

Another Thought on Dumb Gun Journalism

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One last thought about that dopey Nicole Karlis piece in Salon.

Even if it were the case that the 5.56mm round fired by the most common AR-type rifles were some special super-duper dangerous round because of its unusually high velocity — which is not actually the case — the 5.56mm round will perform in more or less the same way when fired out of any of the many non-AR rifles that are chambered for that round (assuming comparable barrel length and such). So, in that sense, Karlis’s claims about the special super-duper dangerous AR-type rifle aren’t even specific to AR-type rifles to begin with. Because a 5.56mm round fired out of a rifle with a wooden stock is a lot like a 5.56mm round fired out of a rifle with a black plastic stock.

I.e., the whole thing is dumber than nine chickens.

Politics & Policy

Sheldon Whitehouse Calls for Presidential Lawmaking by ‘Executive Beast Mode’

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Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) attend a hearing in Washington, D.C., April 28, 2021. (Tom Williams/Reuters)

You or I might have read the United States Constitution, and thought, “Maybe the president doesn’t just have the unilateral power to write the laws. Maybe that’s why it says ‘all legislative powers’ are ‘vested in a Congress.'” You or I might have watched the just-ended Supreme Court term, and thought, “The Court is now taking this seriously, if we’re going to big propose new administrative rules, the last thing we should do is just say out loud that we’re having the executive make laws because he can’t get them through Congress.”

You and I, however, are not Sheldon Whitehouse. The conspiracy-obsessed Rhode Island senator tweeted last night a list of laws he wants Biden to enact through the agencies, on the theory that, “with legislative climate options now closed, it’s now time for executive Beast Mode”:

There’s a lot the Biden administration could be doing on climate change:
1. A robust social cost of carbon rule with broad reach.
2. Require carbon capture from all major emitters.
3. Stricter limits on co-pollutants from coal- and gas-fired power plants
4. Stronger emissions controls on cars/light trucks and heavy-duty vehicles.
5. Put lower emissions front and center in procurement (e.g. electrify USPS).
6. Hunt methane leaks with new satellite technology and enforce.
7. Tell DOJ to evaluate tobacco-style climate litigation (DOJ won big!).
8. Dozens of smaller regs across DOE, DOI, EPA, DOD, OMB (“thousand cuts”).
9. Call out corporations who block climate action in Congress (“good guys” too).
10. Use existing executive branch trade and tariff authority to establish a carbon border tariff for imports from countries with worse relative carbon emissions, based on industry carbon density.
Free at last. Let’s roll. Do it all and start it now.
With legislative climate options now closed, it’s now time for executive Beast Mode.

There is no “executive Beast Mode” clause in the Constitution. Some of the Whitehouse proposals would quite obviously be struck down on the same basis as the carbon-emissions rule in West Virginia v. EPA. But he has now made it easier to challenge even more modest rules in court, by framing them as part of a larger “thousand cuts” strategy. And nobody dislikes this stuff more than Chief Justice John Roberts. Expect these Whitehouse tweets to end up in a Roberts opinion sooner or later.

Politics & Policy

Author of ‘The Emerging Democratic Majority’ Quits CAP over Its Obsession with Identity Politics

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An anti-critical race theory sign is held at a Loudon County School board meeting in Ashburn, Va., June 22, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Here, via Politico, is an on-the-nose metaphor for our broader political moment:

Ruy Teixeira is one of Washington’s most prominent left-leaning think-tank scholars, a fixture at the Center for American Progress since the liberal organization’s founding in 2003. But as of August 1, he’ll have a new professional home: The American Enterprise Institute, the longtime conservative redoubt that over the years has employed the likes of Newt Gingrich, Dinesh D’Souza, and Robert Bork.

Why? Well, because,

to hear Teixeira tell it, CAP, and the rest of Washington’s institution-based left, stopped being a place where he could do the work he wanted. The reason, he says, is that the relentless focus on race, gender, and identity in historically liberal foundations and think tanks has made it hard to do work that looks at society through other prisms. It also makes people nervous about projects that could be accused of giving short shrift to anti-racism efforts.

More specifically:

Like a lot of older and whiter veterans of liberal think-tanks and foundations, he also says he’s exhausted by the internal agita. “It’s just cloud cuckoo land,” he says. “The fact that nobody is willing to call bullshit, it just freaks me out.”

And this is funny because there is

something particularly ironic about Teixeira, of all people, feeling driven to quit by identity politics. The Emerging Democratic Majority, his 2002 book with John Judis, is often cited as having predicted the coalition of college graduates and minority voters that brought Barack Obama to power. Whenever you hear someone on the left saying the path to victory involves expanding the electorate with young and diverse voters, they’re part of his lineage.

You couldn’t make it up.