Health Care

Public Health vs. Trusting the Public

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In the latest NR, I go through Dr. Fauci’s shifting stances on masks and herd immunity — and his shifting explanation for them: “The question Fauci’s record raises is not just whether he is a truth-teller or a liar. It is whether something in the field of public health militates against blunt honesty: whether, that is, it conditions its experts to think of most people as objects of manipulation rather than fellow adults.”

Capital Matters

CBO on the Minimum Wage

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The agency has a new analysis of the Democrats’ $15 plan. The key conclusions:

  • The proposal would reduce employment by 0.9 percent, or 1.4 million workers, in 2025, the first year the full $15 wage would be in effect. As I’ve discussed recently, the employment effects of the minimum wage are hotly contested, but most research does suggest there will be some damage.
  • However, affected workers would make more, on net: Folks who got raises would make $509 billion more between 2021 and 2031, and only $175 billion would be lost through the employment effects. The number of people in poverty would decline on net too, by 0.9 million.
  • The budget deficit would increase by $54 billion over ten years, though there are effects of the minimum wage that cut both ways. People thrown out of jobs would collect unemployment and Medicaid, for instance, while folks who got raises would pay more in taxes and rely on the safety net less. The federal government would also have to pay the $15 wage itself, as well as pay higher prices for various products it buys, because minimum-wage hikes are often passed through to consumers rather than borne by business owners. Social Security would also get more expensive, because benefits are indexed to prices. And to the extent business owners do pay for the wage hike, their own taxable income will decline.

Obviously, the CBO is hardly infallible, and the agency itself admits there’s a lot of uncertainty. But the big employment impact and the hit to the budget are not great for the policy’s proponents.

If the Senate Trial Is Rushed, Don’t Blame Republicans

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) speaks during a news conference in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 26, 2021. (Al Drago/Reuters)

A few news writers are noticing that if Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate is abbreviated and doesn’t cover every detail of every aspect of the president’s actions, it will be because Senate Democrats want it that way.

Politico’s Playbook newsletter reports, “Several of the House impeachment managers wanted firsthand testimony to help prove their case that Trump incited the Jan. 6 riot, our sources tell us. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Biden administration officials have been eager for the process to move quickly, we’re told.”

Tim O’Brien, writing over at Bloomberg Opinion: “It would be a

Culture

Toyota’s Pro-Life, Pro-Adoption Super Bowl Commercial

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A man walks past a Toyota logo at a motor show in Tokyo, Japan, October 24, 2019. (Edgar Su/Reuters)

The most touching ad during the Super Bowl last night came from Toyota, an homage both to the beauty of adoption and the dignity of every life.

The commercial shows footage of a young girl swimming in an Olympics-style pool, while a voice-over features a woman speaking with a couple about the little girl they hope to adopt.

“We found a baby girl for your adoption, but there are some things you need to know,” the woman says, before telling the parents that the baby, born in Siberia, has a rare condition that will require double amputation of her legs.

“I know this is difficult to hear, but her life, it won’t be easy,” the woman continues.

The ad then cuts to the same young girl in the pool, swimming competitively in front of a large crowd despite having lost her lower legs. She arrives at the finish line and smiles at her mother.

“It might not be easy,” the adoptive mother replies on the phone with the adoption agent, with tears in her voice. “But it’ll be amazing. I can’t wait to meet her.”

Perhaps without knowing it, Toyota has made a deeply pro-life commercial, one that affirms the irreplaceable value of each one of us, born or unborn, sick or healthy, no matter our circumstances, our challenges, our suffering.

Economy & Business

How Much More Should We Pay for Costco’s Chickens?

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An aerial view of a Costco in Upper Merion Township, Penn., May 21, 2020 (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

New York Times columnist Nick Kristof wrote one of his periodic columns decrying industrial methods of animal husbandry. This time, he focused on chickens and the raising methods that permit Costco to sell a whole rotisserie chicken for only $4.99. From, “The Ugly Secrets Behind the Costco Chicken:”

Rotisserie chickens selling for just $4.99 each are a Costco hallmark, both delicious and cheap. They are so popular they have their own Facebook page, and the company sells almost 100 million of them a year. But an animal rights group called Mercy for Animals recently sent an investigator under cover to work on a farm in Nebraska that produces millions of these chickens for Costco, and customers might lose their appetite if they saw inside a chicken barn.

“It’s dimly lit, with chicken poop all over,” said the worker, who also secretly shot video there. “It’s like a hot humid cloud of ammonia and poop mixed together.”

I have seen so many lies issued by animal-rights activists about real and supposed abuses, including doctored videos, that I take anything they say with a chunk of salt. But there is no question that with 330 million Americans to feed, industrial methods of raising chickens are not Old McDonald’s Farm.

Kristof does not make an argument based in “animal rights.” That’s good. Animal rights is an ideology that attributes equal moral value between animals and human beings based on the capacity to suffer. As Ingrid Newkirk, PETA’s alpha wolf, once infamously put it, “a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” Animal-rights activists believe that humans should not be allowed legally to own any animal.

Animal welfare is a wholly different concept. Animal-welfare advocacy flows directly from human exceptionalism. In this view, we certainly are morally entitled to benefit from the instrumental use of animals; i.e., eat meat, conduct essential medical experiments, ride horses, own pets, etc. But because we are human, we have the duty to treat animals humanely, a concept that will vary from animal to animal and hopefully will improve over time as we gain more knowledge about methods to minimize animal suffering.

In his piece, Kristof focuses on the treatment of the birds. That’s important. But so is the human benefit received from industrial animal agriculture. Because of industrial chicken breeding, a family of 4 can be fed nutritiously for five bucks. That’s a big deal that should not be minimized in the discussion.

So, how much would a Costco chicken cost if industrial methods were outlawed? I don’t know, and Kristof apparently didn’t care enough to do the research required to find out. Indeed, he doesn’t seem much c0ncerned with the question at all.

But we need to think about it. If eliminating industrial methods would not lead to a shortage of chickens for consumption and only raised the price to, say $5.25, most people would probably say go for it. If an incremental improvement led to that price, few would object. I know I wouldn’t.

But what if severe shortages resulted and the price doubled to $9.99? I could afford that, but millions of our fellow Americans could not.

Ditto eggs. I always buy eggs that are labeled as coming from cage-free hens. That costs about $4.99–$5.99 a dozen. But there are also unlabeled eggs in my local store at $1.19 a dozen, which I assume come from hens kept in crates.

It would be easy for me to support a law requiring that all egg-laying hens be kept out of crates. But I can afford the increased price. There are a lot of people who could not.

Follow this pattern over the scope and breadth of bringing meat and dairy products into our homes, and the impact of too-onerous animal-welfare laws on the diets of people of limited means becomes clear.

My point definitely isn’t that we should be indifferent to the treatment of food animals (although I have been accused mendaciously of having that view). To the contrary, I think that animal welfare is an important moral concern.

But there are two sides to that question, both of which must be addressed if we are to find the right balance between requiring improved methods and our ability to feed the multitudes. It seems to me that those who advocate outlawing industrial methods have the burden of not only decrying the treatment of animals, but also of demonstrating that the impact on people would not be unduly severe. Kristof failed that test in his most recent column.

World

Some Very English Chaos

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From Brexit to impeachment, scenes of political chaos, incompetence, and inflated self-importance tend to evoke more anger than amusement. There are consequences, after all. But a recent online meeting of a parish council in Cheshire, England — which has now been watched millions of times across the world — is something else.

The planning and environment committee of the town parish council called a Zoom meeting “following the refusal of the council chairman to call such a meeting.” Watch and enjoy:

 

PC Culture

No Surprise — College Essays Are Becoming Politicized

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For a long time, students who wanted to get into a college or university had to write an essay to accompany their application. The essay gave students an opportunity to shine, to explain more about themselves than their grades and SAT scores showed.

Things are changing. As Anthony Hennen reports in today’s Martin Center article, quite a few schools no longer require any essay, and among those that do, the essays are becoming politicized.

For example, at NC State, students have to answer this question:

NC State University is committed to building a just and inclusive community, one that does not tolerate unjust or inhumane treatment, and that denounces it, clearly and loudly. Please describe what those words mean to you and how you will contribute to a more diverse and inclusive NC State environment.

Those who don’t give an appropriately “woke” answer will probably be screened out.

Such questions are strong indications to students about the intellectual environment of the campus. Hennen writes, “By demanding incoming students reflect on their identity as part of a group or asking them how they will promote ‘diversity and inclusion,’ students may be reluctant to share a criticism of officially promoted dogma.”

Why, you’d almost think that college was more about indoctrination than education.

Sports

The Real Problem with the Bruce Springsteen Super Bowl Ad

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Bruce Springsteen arrives for the world premiere of Western Stars at the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, Canada, September 12, 2019. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

There was a fair amount of buzz last night and this morning about Bruce Springsteen’s Jeep commercial during the Super Bowl, which traveled to a deep-red small town in Kansas to call for unity:

Some of the response was the usual complaint from Bruce’s usual critics: He’s a millionaire rock star from New Jersey posing as a heartland guy, etc. But that’s not really the problem with the ad. Bruce did, after all, grow up in a working-class household in a working class town, however long ago that was now. And performers have their own identity they develop in their art. Despite living most of his life in Jersey and the rest in a brief interlude in California, Bruce has put a lot of his artistic energy over the years into the American heartland, starting with his long drives out West that led him to write “Badlands” and “The Promised Land” in the late 1970s, and culminating in the Western Stars album released in 2019. The Jeep ad continued the visual imagery of Western Stars, even using the same filmmaker who did the Western Stars film.

The real problem is this: Bruce is, by now, well-known as a Democratic partisan. He hit the campaign trail for John Kerry, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden. He performed for Biden’s inauguration. For a celebrity so identified with one party to go to the other side’s turf after his side has won the election and call for unity is not really an effective tactic. People see it for what it is: We won, now get together behind us. I don’t doubt that Bruce is disturbed by where the descent into mad tribalism has taken us in the past twelve months — who isn’t? — but you can spend your credibility on partisanship, or you can spend it on unity. Either is an honorable choice. But nobody can do both.

PC Culture

‘The Humiliating Art of the Woke Apology’

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Charlie wrote over the weekend about the extraordinary apology by Donald McNeil of the New York Times on his way out the door for an innocent exchange with students. (Lesson to anyone trying to make a career in an elite institutions: Have as little to do with students as possible and, when it’s unavoidable, assume that everything you say can and will be used against you.)

I wrote today about these kinds of woke apologies as a general matter.

The takeaway:

There is one factor that undergirds every aspect of these apologies — it is fear, fear of the cultural power of the accusers, of their ability to ruin careers, reputations, and lives. These kinds of confessions aren’t wrung from the accused under threat of torture or exile. But they are in some real sense coerced, which is why they ring so false and are so alarming in a free society.

World

Continuing to Undersell the Vaccine

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One of the recurring arguments about the coronavirus vaccines is that they’re being “undersold” — that public discussion of them is emphasizing caution too much and inadvertently fueling vaccine skepticism. As the New York Times wrote a few weeks ago:

 . . . the 95 percent number understates the effectiveness, because it counts anyone who came down with a mild case of Covid-19 as a failure. But turning Covid into a typical flu — as the vaccines evidently did for most of the remaining 5 percent — is actually a success. Of the 32,000 people who received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine in a research trial, do you want to guess how many contracted a severe Covid case? One.

The decision by the South African government to halt the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine because of its perceived ineffectiveness against the local variant appears to continue this trend. Yes, it would be preferable if the AstraZeneca vaccine, which doesn’t have the refrigeration issues that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have, worked as effectively.

In the aftermath of the South African government’s decision, you’re seeing headlines like, “shots fail against new variant.” Except the study didn’t prove that the vaccine fails against the South African variant. The study showed that the vaccine didn’t do much to stop mild and moderate infections in a small sample of mostly young people . . . which is not really the biggest problem facing the world from this pandemic:

The number of cases evaluated as part of the studies outlined by South African scientists on Sunday were low, making it difficult to pinpoint just how effective or not the vaccine might be against the variant.

And because the clinical trial participants who were evaluated were relatively young and unlikely to become severely ill, it was impossible for the scientists to determine if the variant interfered with the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine’s ability to protect against severe Covid-19, hospitalizations or deaths.

The scientists said, however, that they believed the vaccine might protect against more severe cases, based on the immune responses detected in blood samples from people who were given it. If further studies show that to be the case, South African health officials will consider resuming use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, they said.

You know what we laymen would call a novel virus that only caused flu-like symptoms? The flu. If we could wave a magic wand and turn SARS-CoV-2 into a virus that could only cause mild or moderate infection, we would be dancing in the streets. We can deal with mild or moderate infection that doesn’t require hospitalization. Every year, lots of people catch the flu, miss some days of work or school, drink lots of fluids, run a fever, and fully recover. (A lot fewer this year.) What we really want to avoid are mass hospitalizations and elderly and immunocompromised people dying from the virus.

Now, if the AstraZeneca vaccine doesn’t work at all to stop hospitalization and death among older and immunocompromised people, then the decision to halt its use makes perfect sense. It would be a bit surprising, though, as previous trials — including one in South Africa —  found it prevented hospitalization and death.

Politics & Policy

Will We End Up with a ‘Reality Czar’?

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Writing for the Foundation for Economic Education, Professor Gary Galles argues against the idea that has been put forward by sundry left-wing zealots for the appointment of a “reality czar,” with powers to suppress what he or she finds to be lies and misinformation. That would be done, of course, only in the interests of national unity.

If we manage to escape from this shockingly authoritarian idea, it won’t be because the leaders of the Democratic Party think there is anything intrinsically wrong with the use of government power to silence their critics. They don’t. Unlike older Democrats such as, oh, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, they have no qualms about “winning” in politics through the use of coercion.

National Security & Defense

At Least Susan Rice Doesn’t Have to Explain This

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The U.S. Capitol seen through a fence in Washington, D.C., January 17, 2021. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Ironic probably is not the word. It would imply some level of smug amusement from the rhetorical debate unfolding one month later over the origins of the January 6 attack on the Capitol. For no observer with a lick of conscience is that the case.

But it is . . . well, familiar. Eerily so. A central question — for the defense mounted by rioters, and for the narrative reconstructed by lawmakers — is whether this attack was spontaneous or planned.

From The Hill, on a brief filed by a defense attorney for one accused rioter arguing he was inspired by Donald Trump:

The raid on the Capitol, she said, “appears to have been spontaneous and sparked by the statements made during the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally” held by Trump and his supporters earlier on Jan. 6.

As Andrew McCarthy explained on the home page yesterday, this distinction matters. For one, prosecutors weighing the tricky option of a RICO prosecution would have to prove “planning, collaboration, and continuous, concrete criminal activity” in order to proceed on that path.

More from Andrew:

The Capitol siege was a one-day affair that, for many participants, was spontaneous. Nevertheless, it appears that for at least some groups, there is evidence of planning, training, and coordination. That would make for worthy insurrection prosecutions.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) falls decidedly into the “planned” camp. In her widely watched account of the violence, AOC said she started receiving text messages a week prior “that I needed to be careful.”

She explained, “Those text messages came from other members of Congress. They were not threats, but they were other members, saying that they knew and that they were hearing, even from Trump people and Republicans . . . that there was violence expected on Wednesday.”

The federal investigations and court proceedings will try to sort this out. But the conflicting claims sure do recall that ugly debate eight-plus years ago over Benghazi — Susan Rice claiming that savage and overwhelming attack was a “spontaneous reaction” to a protest in Cairo over a video, as opposed to something “premeditated.”

The story never made sense, but only because it wasn’t true. “What difference, at this point, does it make?” Hillary Clinton would eventually fume, at a hearing in month four of a saga that focused on talking points and spin, as opposed to far more consequential matters of missed warnings, security failures, and the timeline of the military response.

Let’s pray the debate over the Electoral College incursion does not become similarly polluted, even if the question bears on the culpability of individual rioters. Of course, it also bears on Donald Trump’s. Those asserting the January 6 riot was a conspiracy, planned in advance, might inadvertently help his impeachment defense, as such a narrative would suggest the rioters had “insurrection” marked on their daybooks with or without the president’s goading that day.

I suspect the reality of “how it happened” will be a murky, complicated picture involving different factions with different motives and yielding an assessment replete with equivocation and exception and uncertainty. Sound familiar?

Politics & Policy

On Economic Stimulus, How Big Is Big?

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President Joe Biden speaks about administration plans to strengthen American manufacturing as Vice President Kamala Harris listens at the White House in Washington, D.C., January 25, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

President Biden is trying to defend his $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal from the charge that it is too big. Last week, the president said: “The biggest risk is not going too big, it’s if we go too small.” Biden also said: “We can’t do too much here. We can do too little.”

But of course Congress could pass a stimulus that is too big. And while I agree with the president that the risks to the economy from the next round of stimulus being too small are greater than the risks from it being too large, that statement in and of itself doesn’t mean much. Sure, let’s err on the side of a larger package. But larger than what?

In congressional testimony last week, I argued:

According to my calculations based on CBO forecasts, the 2021 output gap will be around $420 billion. From a macroeconomic, top-down perspective, the President’s proposal would fill the 2021 output gap several times.

It is commonly argued that the risk from spending too little is larger than the risk from spending too much. I agree. But this is not the same as arguing that the size of an additional stimulus package should be untethered to estimates of the underlying economic need. Any assessment of the right size for another stimulus should start with a good estimate of the output gap — and given the uncertainty associated with calculating that gap and the balance of risks, it’s prudent to err on the side of a slightly larger package.

The future paths of gross domestic product (GDP), the output gap, and prices are very uncertain. Congress should recognize the many risks both from spending too much and from spending too little. From this macroeconomic perspective, the President’s $1.9 trillion proposal is clearly too large.

And:

While the proposal contains several important components that Congress should enact, from a bottom-up, microeconomic perspective, many major components of the plan are either unnecessary or would hold the recovery back.

For example, direct checks to households earning six-figure incomes that have not experienced employment loss are an unnecessary and imprudent use of government spending. The proposed $400 federal supplement to standard, state-provided Unemployment Insurance benefits would [prolong] the period of labor market weakness by incentivizing unemployed workers to remain unemployed. Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour would be devastating to low-wage workers in many states.

As a moral proposition, a bill that would destroy jobs for low-wage workers while handing out checks to employed, upper-middle-class households is problematic.

A bill that was more focused and that did not contain these harmful or unnecessary provisions would also be more aligned with the overall macroeconomic need and would better address our specific economic challenges. A bill that provided adequate funding for vaccine distribution, expanded testing capability, helped to reopen schools, strengthened the social safety net, and provided relief to state and local governments would be reasonable and advisable. It would cost under $750 billion, would be focused on current economic and social needs, and would be better scaled to the size of the output gap.

My testimony contains my full argument.

Politics & Policy

The Romney Plan

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Sen. Mitt Romney walks through the subway system at the U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C., December 17, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

I’ve been meaning to briefly lay out why I think Mitt Romney’s new Family Security Act is a good idea and the right direction for family policy. But between them, Ramesh Ponnuru and Ross Douthat have made the case I’d make, and made it better and more fully than I could. Read what they’ve written — they’re right.

I would only add that I think it is going to be important for those who have raised objections to the plan out of a concern about its effects on the incentive to work to really lay out their case in some detail. That objection deserves to be heard, and may call for changes to the proposal. But from what I’ve seen of it so far, it seems to me that it underplays the way in which the design of the proposal’s phaseout of benefits avoids creating a familiar set of work disincentives and the way the proposal’s reforms of the EITC do as well.

As far as I can see, Romney’s proposal does a better job of fixing some (unintentional but meaningful) disincentives to marriage in the existing welfare and work-support system than any prior attempt to do so, and it manages that with relatively little disincentive to work. That could be wrong. It’s impossible to quite know without seeing this kind of proposal in action in the real world, of course, but it would be possible to have a better sense of it with some further attempts to model its effects. The proposal’s champions and critics should do that work and see where they land.

That kind of effort should inform how this idea evolves and develops. But this idea should evolve and develop, and it should become the foundation for the next phase of debates about welfare and family policy. Its ends and its means, as well as the way in which it pays for the important support it offers to parents, offer a promising path for the post-Trump right and also for some cross-partisan agreement and bargaining.

Developing and debating ideas like this is how the right should draw meaningful political and policy lessons from the past several years while putting behind it the debased circus and ugly cult of personality that made it impossible to do anything constructive with such lessons. We should hope for more of this kind of translation of the constructive side of populism into policy.

Science & Tech

Should Leaders Who Didn’t Obey COVID Experts Go to Prison?

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U.S. President Donald Trump and NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci listen during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 29, 2020. (Al Drago/Reuters)

The “expert” class wants to be obeyed — that is, to establish a technocracy — and is using the COVID catastrophe to promote the idea that they should be in charge.

Toward this end, an article authored by Kamran Abbasi, executive editor of the British Medical Journal, argues that government leaders — by whom he clearly means Donald Trump — be tried in the International Criminal Court for “social murder” for all the COVID deaths over the last year. From, “Covid-19: Social Murder, They Wrote—Elected, Unaccountable, and Unrepentant“:

When politicians and experts say that they are willing to allow tens of thousands of premature deaths for the sake of population immunity or in the hope of propping up the economy, is that not premeditated and reckless indifference to human life? If policy failures lead to recurrent and mistimed lockdowns, who is responsible for the resulting non-covid excess deaths? When politicians willfully neglect scientific advice, international and historical experience, and their own alarming statistics and modelling because to act goes against their political strategy or ideology, is that lawful?

Is inaction, action? How big an omission is not acting immediately after the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January 2020?

At the very least, covid-19 might be classified as “social murder.”

How would these reprobates be held to account?

A pandemic has implications both for the residents of a country and for the international community, so sovereign governments should arguably be held accountable to the international community for their actions and omissions on covid-19. Crimes against humanity, as adjudicated by the International Criminal Court, do not include public health. But David Scheffer, a former US ambassador for war crimes, suggests that we could broaden the application of public health malpractice “to account for the administration of public health during pandemics.”

The article identifies the villains:

From the United States to India, from the United Kingdom to Brazil, people feel vulnerable and betrayed by the failure of their leaders. The over 400 000 deaths from covid-19 in the US, 250 000 in Brazil, 150 000 each in India and Mexico, and 100 000 in the UK comprise half of the world’s covid death toll—on the hands of only five nations.

Guess which country rates one measly sentence? China, with no calling out of Xi Jinping:

The prospect of accountability in autocracies such as China and Russia is more distant still and relies on strong international institutions and the bravery of citizens.

But China is the one country responsible for releasing this scourge on the world — not Trump, not Johnson, nor the leaders of India and Brazil. China did not let international public health experts into the country early on, jailed whistle-blowing doctors who tried to warn the world, and only now — a year later –finally allowed its Wuhan lab to be inspected.  Indeed, if it turns out the virus escaped from a lab as some suspect, China will earn historical infamy.

Here’s the real point of the article:

More than a few countries have failed in their response to the virus; the global missteps are many and well documented by the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response. Its report calls for comprehensive use of non-pharmaceutical interventions—the means, they say, by which these interventions curb a pandemic are “well known”—and for governments to support equity, reinvent and modernise the global pandemic alert system, take pandemic threats seriously, and cooperate better with other nations and WHO. Acting urgently and collaboratively in these areas will allow the world to be best prepared for any future pandemic.

Make no mistake: “The experts” intend to use the fear of future pandemics as an excuse to increase their own naked power, under the aegis of global governance removed from democratic influence.

Lest you doubt me, none other than Anthony Fauci has written that the UN and WHO should be strengthened toward the end of “rebuilding the infrastructures of human existence.” That gargantuan task will require “reducing crowding at home, work, and in public places as well as minimizing environmental perturbations such as deforestation, intense urbanization, and intensive animal farming.”

To which Fauci and his co-author quickly add, “Equally important are ending global poverty, improving sanitation and hygiene, and reducing unsafe exposure to animals, so that humans and potential human pathogens have limited opportunities for contact.”

Oh, is that all? Imagine the extent of international control and intrusive bureaucracy such a project would require.

Have leaders failed in this crisis? Yes, some more than others. But making criminals of officials who are accused in 20-20 hindsight of not following the (right) scientists is just a backdoor way of advocating that we cede ultimate control of society to “the experts.”

The New York Times’ Internal Mob Takes Down Another of Its Own

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Activists from the group Extinction Rebellion block traffic on 8th Avenue in front of the New York Times building and the Port Authority Bus Terminal near Times Square in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., June 22, 2019. (Jefferson Siegel/Reuters)

Earlier this week, I wrote at length about the growing tide of illiberalism in the United States. This morning, I was forwarded an email sent out by the management team at the New York Times that illustrates precisely what I was talking about. For sake of clarity, I will quote the whole thing, starting with the preface:

———- Forwarded message ———
From: NYT Mail <*@nytimes.com>
Date: Fri, Feb 5, 2021 at 4:31 PM
Subject: A Note From Dean and Joe
To: All Company Employees <*@nytimes.com>

Colleagues,

We are writing to let you know that Donald McNeil Jr. will be leaving the company. Donald joined The Times in

Law & the Courts

The Supreme Court Just Ordered California to Reopen Churches

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The entrance to a Catholic church in Long Beach, Calif., is chained off during the outbreak of the COVID pandemic, April 12, 2020. (Dan Whitcomb/Reuters)

Late Friday evening, the Supreme Court, in South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, issued emergency relief suspending California’s broad ban on indoor religious services. The Court ruled that California was “enjoined from enforcing the . . . prohibition on indoor worship services . . . pending disposition of the petition for a writ of certiorari.” The order is limited: Relief was “denied with respect to the [25%] percentage capacity limitations” and denied with respect to the prohibition on singing and chanting during indoor services,” although the Court left the door open to hear any “new evidence . . . that the State is not applying the percentage capacity limitations or the prohibition on singing and chanting in a generally applicable manner.” This lifts some of the most stringent restrictions on religious services in the country. Justices Thomas, Gorsuch, and Alito wanted to grant broader relief on these fronts; Justices Barrett and Kavanaugh thought the evidentiary record was too unclear.

The Court was yet again divided on these issues, but not entirely along the same lines as in prior cases. Chief Justice Roberts, who dissented when the Court ruled against Andrew Cuomo’s restrictions in November, reiterated his view that courts should defer to elected officials and public-health experts, but thought that California had gone too far this time: “The State’s present determination — that the maximum number of adherents who can safely worship in the most cavernous cathedral is zero — appears to reflect not expertise or discretion, but instead insufficient appreciation or consideration of the interests at stake.” Justice Gorsuch argued that California was overgeneralizing the risks of religious services:

California . . . insists that religious worship is so different that it demands especially onerous regulation. The State offers essentially four reasons why: It says that religious exercises involve (1) large numbers of people mixing from different households; (2) in close physical proximity; (3) for extended periods; (4) with singing . . . California errs to the extent it suggests its four factors are always present in worship, or always absent from the other secular activities its regulations allow. Nor has California sought to explain why it cannot address its legitimate concerns with rules short of a total ban . . .

On further inspection, the singing ban may not be what it first appears. It seems California’s powerful entertainment industry has won an exemption. So, once more, we appear to have a State playing favorites during a pandemic, expending considerable effort to protect lucrative industries (casinos in Nevada; movie studios in California) while denying similar largesse to its faithful. . . . Even if a full congregation singing hymns is too risky, California does not explain why even a single masked cantor cannot lead worship behind a mask and a plexiglass shield. Or why even a lone muezzin may not sing the call to prayer from a remote location inside a mosque as worshippers file in.

Gorsuch concluded:

[California’s] “temporary” ban on indoor worship has been in place since August 2020, and applied routinely since March. California no longer asks its movie studios, malls, and manicurists to wait. And one could be forgiven for doubting its asserted timeline. Government actors have been moving the goalposts on pandemic-related sacrifices for months, adopting new benchmarks that always seem to put restoration of liberty just around the corner. As this crisis enters its second year — and hovers over a second Lent, a second Passover, and a second Ramadan — it is too late for the State to defend extreme measures with claims of temporary exigency, if it ever could. Drafting narrowly tailored regulations can be difficult. But if Hollywood may host a studio audience or film a singing competition while not a single soul may enter California’s churches, synagogues, and mosques, something has gone seriously awry.

Justice Kagan, leading the three liberals in dissent, argued once again that the Court should defer to scientists rather than focus closely on the unequal treatment of religion, and warned of dire public-health consequences:

I fervently hope that the Court’s intervention will not worsen the Nation’s COVID crisis. But if this decision causes suffering, we will not pay. Our marble halls are now closed to the public, and our life tenure forever insulates us from responsibility for our errors. That would seem good reason to avoid disrupting a State’s pandemic response. But the Court forges ahead regardless, insisting that science-based policy yield to judicial edict.

This will likely not be the last of these cases to come to the Court. But for now, the churches, synagogues, and mosques of California may open their doors again, at least a little.

U.S.

A Textual Argument for Late Impeachment Trials (Only)

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Michael W. McConnell and Ken Gormley argue in the Washington Post that “the constitutionality of a Senate trial on Trump’s impeachment is not seriously in doubt.” They think that the House may not impeach an official who has left office but that the Senate may try a former official who was impeached while still in office.

A lot of the arguments I’ve read for late impeachments and trials are based on the function that the impeachment process was evidently meant to serve, one aspect of which is to disqualify an official from holding office again if the Senate so votes. On that logic, one would have to conclude that both late impeachments and late trials are permissible, since otherwise officials facing imminent impeachment could always avoid disqualification by resigning before they were impeached. I find this line of reasoning persuasive, as I’ve noted elsewhere, but its plausibility does seem to diminish the longer an official has been out of office. If the House, let’s say, waits three years to impeach a former official, with control of the chamber switching parties in the meantime, the impeachment will look more like a new political vicissitude, perhaps vengeful or self-interested, and less like a response to clear wrongdoing.

What’s noteworthy about the M&G argument is that it’s purely textual, rooting the constitutionality of a late trial for Trump in the Senate’s power to try “all” impeachments. The whole op-ed is worth a read, but here’s an excerpt:

Trump’s impeachment by the House of Representatives, seven days before he left office, was unquestionably valid. The only question is whether, now that he is back in private life, he may be tried by the Senate. The Constitution provides a clear answer, giving the Senate “sole Power to try all Impeachments.” The key word is “all.” The Senate’s authority explicitly extends to every constitutionally proper impeachment.

Concerns that trying Trump would set a dangerous precedent for launching impeachments of past officers, even going back many years, confuse impeachment with the trial of an impeachment. The Constitution gives the House authority to impeach the “President, Vice President, and all civil Officers of the United States.” It doesn’t expressly say they are the only persons subject to impeachment, but the best reading, under established principles of legal interpretation, is that the list is exclusive, and that the House therefore cannot initiate impeachment proceedings against former officers.

Education

New Study on Costs of Racial Preferences as DOJ Drops Yale Suit

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The campus of Yale University in 2012. (Michelle McLoughlin/Reuters)

In an unfortunate but expected move on February 3, the U.S. Department of Justice dismissed its lawsuit against Yale University. The lawsuit, filed on October 8, 2020, accused Yale of illegally discriminating against undergraduate applicants to the university based on race and national origin. The two-sentence court filing by the DOJ does nothing to counter the case it made last year that the school unlawfully discriminates in favor of black and Hispanic applicants and against white and Asian applicants. The Biden Justice Department’s move this week is especially ironic given, just a few days prior, the issuance of the presidential “Memorandum Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.”

As readers of this blog are likely aware, the use of racial preferences has been condemned for many reasons and for many years. One devastating reason that is getting renewed attention via a new study released by the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO), for which I serve as president and general counsel, is that this practice ultimately harms most those whom the practice is intended to help.

CEO senior research fellow, Althea Nagai, lays out in the study troubling findings about how otherwise bright and energetic applicants, especially in the STEM fields, who become academically mismatched “disproportionately drop out of STEM, change to non-STEM majors, transfer to other schools, and take longer to graduate.” Because some minority applicants with weaker academic credentials are given massive preference based on their race — some as much as 19.77 to 1 for black applicants over white at the College of William and Mary — they struggle to keep pace academically and to cope psychologically after matriculation. Nagai goes into great detail about how the costs of promoting diversity through racial preferences also flow to “non-minority students and faculty” as well because of their “unhappiness with students’ preparedness” and “the [diminished] quality of the education provided,” among other factors. With yet more evidence of this kind, here’s hoping that the Biden DOJ, and the Supreme Court, finally seriously consider not just the purported benefits of racial preferences but also the undeniable and severe costs.

Politics & Policy

‘No Relief for the Weary’

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Today on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, and Michael discuss Liz Cheney’s staying power, Marjorie Taylor Greene’s tenuous footing in the GOP, and the hole Democrats are digging for themselves by trying to pass the new COVID relief bill. Listen below, or subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

Politics & Policy

Marjorie Taylor Greene Still Hasn’t Apologized for Saying Pelosi Deserves Execution

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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) addresses a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., February 5, 2021. (Sarah Silbiger/Reuters)

Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene held a press conference on Friday, the day after she was was stripped of her committee assignments by a House resolution on Thursday because of her past remarks that endorsed bigotry, wild conspiracies, and calls to violence against political opponents. One reporter on Friday asked Greene if she still “stands by” her public remark in 2019 that “it’s a crime punishable by death is what treason is. Nancy Pelosi is guilty of treason.”

“I think you heard my speech yesterday,” Greene replied before telling the CNN reporter who asked the question that her network lied about collusion between Russia and Donald Trump. “You owe the people an apology. You lied about President Trump.”

But in Greene’s ten-minute House floor speech on Thursday, she didn’t say anything about her 2019 comment that Pelosi deserves to be executed for treason.

In her remarks on Thursday, Greene did express regret for promoting the QAnon conspiracy, and she seemed to blame tech companies for being misled. Greene, who had written on Facebook she believed the 2018 school-shooting in Parkland, Fla., was staged, also said she said she sympathized with David Hogg, a gun-control activist who survived the Parkland massacre. Greene, who had previously suggested an airplane never crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11, said on Thursday that 9/11 “absolutely happened.” Neither comment about 9/11 or Parkland was an outright disavowal of the conspiracy theories Greene had actually promoted.

On Friday, when asked what she was sorry for, Greene said she was “sorry for saying all those things that are wrong and offensive.” 

But she has not specifically apologized for her comments about Pelosi. When Greene was asked on Friday about liking a Facebook comment saying a “bullet to the head” would be a quicker way to get rid of Pelosi, Greene indicated she had apologized for that yesterday — something she had not actually done — and then ended the press conference. 

World

The Biden Administration Also Opposes ICC Overreach

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The International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. (Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters)

The International Criminal Court cleared the way for potentially prosecuting Israeli officials for war crimes in a pre-trial decision today. Despite its push to increase U.S. involvement in international organizations, even the Biden administration is pushing back on the ICC, faintly echoing some of the Trump administration’s objections to its actions.

The ICC is charged with prosecuting some of the world’s worst human-rights violations, though the 123 parties to the Rome Statute, its founding treaty, do not include the U.S., Israel, China, Russia, and a number of other global heavyweights. The Palestinians, however, have joined the international agreement — which is the cause of this dispute.

The decision today recognizes that Palestine qualifies as a party to the Rome Statute, “regardless of its status under general international law,” and that it has standing to bring a case before the ICC. Washington has for two decades vociferously rejected the idea that the ICC might someday claim jurisdiction over Americans and officials from countries that have not joined the Rome Statute — but today’s move potentially opens Israelis to ICC prosecution.

Disagreements over the Court’s efforts to investigate U.S. actions in Afghanistan and Israel’s conduct in Gaza and the West Bank came to a head last year, when then-secretary of state Mike Pompeo imposed a series of sanctions targeting the head prosecutor and other officials with visa bans and asset freezes. “This is yet another reminder of what happens when multilateral bodies lack oversight and responsible leadership, and become instead a vehicle for political vendettas,” Pompeo said in a statement following the ICC’s decision in March to open the Afghan war inquiry.

That’s also the line that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took today, alleging that the decision “proves once again the court is a political body and not a legal institution.” But though Israeli officials might be worried that they find themselves at odds with the new administration on the Iran deal, they might have less reason to worry about continued U.S. support in the face of the ICC’s threats.

The Biden administration has “serious concerns” over this ICC effort to exercise jurisdiction over Israeli personnel, a State Department official said today.

“We share the goals of the ICC and promoting accountability for the worst crimes known to humanity,” said Ned Price, the State Department spokesperson on a call with reporters today, but “we’ve always taken the position that the Court’s jurisdiction should be reserved for countries that can consent to it or that are referred to by the U.N. Security Council.”

To be sure, this is quite a bit different from the Trump administration’s blistering responses to decisions taken by the ICC and head prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, and Price also declined to indicate whether the Biden administration would keep the Trump administration’s sanctions.

But even if it eventually rolls back the ICC sanctions, and even though it uses more conciliatory language, the Biden administration seems unlikely to challenge the longstanding bipartisan consensus that opposes the Court’s overreach.

Religion

Re: ‘Ryan Anderson’s Flawed Appraisal of Religious Liberty’

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People pray at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, March 16, 2020. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

In response to Ryan Anderson’s Flawed Appraisal of Religious Liberty

Having read both my colleague Cameron Hilditch’s post and Ryan Anderson’s Wall Street Journal op-ed to which Cameron has responded, I have a few quick thoughts to add.

Of course, Cameron is right to note that it would be difficult to find a Christian “who, when asked why they believe in Jesus Christ, respond by saying, ‘Well, I believe in Jesus Christ because I’m permitted to do so by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.’”

But the point Ryan raises, in my view, has less to do with how individual Christians explain their beliefs and more with how conservatives engage in public debate on controversial social issues. In that arena, I think Ryan is correct to note that too many of us are reluctant to defend our socially conservative views on their merits. Far too often, we retreat to the easy bulwark of the First Amendment as the ultimate guarantor of our right to free exercise.

That right is essential, to be sure. But arguing merely for the right to practice one’s faith is a far weaker strategy than defending religious liberty while also making a substantive case for the way one wishes to practice. Doing so is especially important considering that progressives increasingly attempt to paint religious conservatives as bigots, arguing that religious freedom is merely a “license to discriminate.” Consider two examples.

In the case of the baker Jack Phillips, it is a perfectly legitimate argument that he, as a Christian, should not be compelled by the government to celebrate a same-sex wedding ceremony in contradiction to his religious beliefs. But is it not a far stronger argument, especially in an increasingly secular culture, to explain why it’s perfectly legitimate, and not discriminatory, to decline to serve such a wedding ceremony?

In other words, though Phillips found legal success defending his First Amendment rights, social conservatives in the public sphere would have been far better served by defending marriage as being, by its nature, between one man and one woman. Explaining the substantive case for natural marriage, and explaining why Phillips did not discriminate against anyone on the basis of their orientation, would’ve been a better public-relations strategy than relying merely on religious-freedom rights.

A second example, which I wrote about in this context last year. The Health & Human Services contraception mandate has for a decade now required all employers, regardless of religion or conscience objections, to subsidize birth control and emergency contraceptives that can induce abortion.

Conservatives have opposed this mandate mightily both in court and in the media, arguing primarily that religious employers — most notably the Little Sisters of the Poor — have a First Amendment right not to be forced to subsidize products that violate their religious beliefs. Thus far, those efforts have found modest success.

But it isn’t hard to imagine that those efforts, especially outside the courtroom, would’ve been far more successful if social conservatives had explained why religious employers believe they shouldn’t have to subsidize birth control, for more reasons than the Free Exercise clause. A far stronger argument would not only reference the First Amendment but would also refute two false notions: that contraception is health care and that the government has any business forcing employers, of any religion or no religion, to subsidize it.

None of this is to deny the importance of religious-freedom arguments, nor does it require believing that most Christians explain their views primarily in the context of the First Amendment. Rather, it’s a call to those of us involved in public debates to strengthen our case for religious freedom by offering powerful substantive arguments alongside it.

Culture

You’re a Good Man, Encyclopedia Brown

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(Ammar Awad/Reuters)

If only the town of Idaville were real, then Charlie Cooke would be completely correct about the superiority of the state of Florida.

I’m sure there are many delightful towns in Florida complete with three movie theaters, two delicatessens, rich and poor families, lovely beaches, churches, a synagogue, and a Little League. But alas, none of them have Encyclopedia Brown, also known as “America’s Sherlock Holmes in sneakers.”

Encyclopedia’s creator, Donald J. Sobol, had trouble finding a publisher for the first book about the boy detective, but once it was finally released in 1963, the stories have never been out of print and have been translated into twelve languages.

While Leroy Brown (cue the 1973 Jim Croce hit) is our hero’s given name, only the adults in his life call him that. His peers just call it like they see it, and the boy who has read more books than the town librarian can’t shake his nickname. For him, there is no such thing as a trivial fact.

Sobol’s light, jovial style is quick to capture the imagination, but his mysteries are not to be underestimated. Hidden in plain sight, surrounded by alibis, bullies, and clever wisecracks are all the clues needed — but can you get to the answer before Encyclopedia?

His police-chief father often relies on his son’s quick eye and keen intellect to solve crimes around town, but he never spills the secret about Encyclopedia’s skills. Encyclopedia doesn’t say anything either, but in the summer, he uses his abilities to help the kids of the neighborhood.

It’s a fine thing for Encyclopedia to solve grown-up problems, but what we’re really there for is the amusing cast of neighborhood characters Sobol pits against the ten-year-old genius. Sobol wrote nearly 30 books starring Encyclopedia, each of which hold around ten different self-contained mysteries. Many of the characters are recurring, but their hilarious antics ensure they never become boring.

Bugs Meany, leader of the self-titled gang the Tigers (“They should have called themselves the weathermen. They never stole anything till the coast was clear.”) and an expert in the art of shaking down little kids, is continually outwitted by Encyclopedia. Bugs wants nothing less than sweet revenge on Encyclopedia, but how can he get it when the boy’s junior partner is Sally Kimball? The best athlete in the fifth grade, Sally took Bugs down a few pegs for bullying a little kid. In fact, she left him in the dust. Sally has a quick arm but a kind heart, and she’s always ready to help Encyclopedia solve a case. Besides Sally, other recurring characters include Wilford Wiggins, high-school dropout and con artist extraordinaire (“He was so lazy he got dizzy spells thinking about getting out of bed in the morning.”), and the lovable but snoring-prone Benny Breslin.

Though the books all follow a similar story pattern, this is part of their enduring charm. The reliability and flow of the books gives young readers a chance to match wits with the criminals, as well as to learn interesting facts about the world in which they live. These largely timeless books encourage critical thinking and attention to detail even in the midst of hilarious banter and swaggering bullies. Most importantly, though: Encyclopedia Brown is a friend no child should grow up without.

So if you have a moment, introduce yourself to the boy detective. I’m sure he’d love to have you along on his next case.

Politics & Policy

Ryan Anderson’s Flawed Appraisal of Religious Liberty

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Last weekend, Ryan Anderson of the Ethics and Public Policy Center published a piece in the Wall Street Journal called “Religious Liberty Isn’t Enough.” He wants religious conservatives to shirk the defensive political posture he feels they’ve been trapped in. Instead of simply arguing that they have the legal right to practice their faiths in all their fulness, Anderson wants religious conservatives to argue for the merits of these practices. In short, religious people should make fewer appeals to the forms of religious freedom in America and more appeals to content of their faiths itself and the inherent justice thereof. They also need to make content-based, rather than procedural, criticisms of left-wing social ideology.  

Referencing issues such as abortion and gender ideology, Anderson writes: 

Even when it makes sense to argue these issues as matters of religious liberty, conservatives shouldn’t pretend to be agnostic about the truth of our perspective. We’ll have the best shot at winning fights over abortion restrictions or child sex-change procedures when conservatives are willing to assert that their beliefs are true, not merely protected in law.

This is true, of course, but it’s also redundant. Who are these religious conservatives Anderson writes about, who are not “willing to assert that their beliefs are true,” but instead “merely protected in law”? 

I’ve never met any Christians who, when asked why they believe in Jesus Christ, respond by saying, “Well, I believe in Jesus Christ because I’m permitted to do so by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.” Nor have I ever heard a priest or a pastor argue for the historicity of the Resurrection by opening Locke’s Second Treatise and demonstrating conclusively from the text that we are permitted to believe that such an event once occurred. Perhaps Mr. Anderson has met the acquaintance of these people and he writes from experience. If he has, I would love to be introduced to even one of them. 

A vanishingly small number of religious conservatives (if any at all) are “agnostic about the truth of [their] perspective.” Ask a pro-life Orthodox Jew why abortion is wrong. She won’t shrug or start asserting her right to believe such a thing under the American constitutional order. That would be a rather baffling non-sequitur. No, she’s much more likely to speak about the anthropology of the Book of Genesis or the Psalms. 

Similarly, does Mr. Anderson really believe that he if asked any conservative evangelicals in America why they opposed transgender orthodoxy, that such people would completely avoid discussing the theology of gender and simply pivot to First Amendment jurisprudence? Maybe I’m overstating my case, but I seriously doubt that the type of religious conservative Mr. Anderson pretends to address in his column actually exists.   

World

More on Beijing’s Gray-Zone Threat to Taiwan

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Reuters this morning published another piece adding color to Beijing’s gray-zone warfare against Taiwan, featuring a deep dive into the mainland’s use of sand-dredging vessels.

For months, Reuters reports, Chinese dredgers have entered the waters surrounding Taiwan’s Matsu Islands, forcing the country’s severely strained coast guard to mobilize its own ships in response. The Taiwanese chased out about 4,000 such vessels last year, according to the report:

The dredging is a “gray-zone strategy with Chinese characteristics,” said Su Tzu-yun, an associate research fellow at Taiwan’s top military think tank, the Institute for National Defense and Security Research. “You dredge for sand on the one hand, but if you can also put pressure on Taiwan, then that’s great, too.”

Sand is just part of the gray-zone campaign. China, which claims democratically-governed Taiwan as its own territory, has been using other irregular tactics to wear down the island of 23 million. The most dramatic: In recent months, the People’s Liberation Army, China’s military, has been dispatching warplanes in menacing forays toward the island. Taiwan has been scrambling military aircraft on an almost daily basis to head off the threat, placing an onerous burden on its air force.

Taiwanese military officials and Western analysts say China’s gray-zone tactics are meant to drain the resources and erode the will of the island’s armed forces — and make such harassment so routine that the world grows inured to it. China’s sand dredging, said one Taiwanese security official investigating the matter, is “part of their psychological warfare against Taiwan, similar to what they are doing in Taiwan’s southwestern airspace,” where the Chinese jets are intruding.

These irregular tactics, which go hand in hand with the People’s Liberation Army incursions into Taiwan’s air-defense identification zone, won’t provoke the same international action that an outright assault might, but in the long term they could prove just as dangerous to the survival of the world’s sole Chinese democracy.

Religion

The AP’s Sleight of Hand on Religion

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J. D. Flynn does a nice job knocking down the Associated Press story trying to make it into a scandal that groups affiliated with the Catholic Church used the PPP for its intended purpose of avoiding layoffs. I’d add that this passage from Reese Dunklin and Michael Rezendes is really shameful:

Catholic entities amassed at least $3 billion — roughly the same as the combined total of recipients from the other faiths that rounded out the top five, AP found. Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Jewish faith-based recipients also totaled at least $3 billion. Catholics account for about a fifth of the U.S. religious population while members of Protestant and Jewish denominations are nearly half, according to the Pew Research Center.

This is artfully misleading.

Take a good look at the Pew data on our country’s religious demographics that Dunkle and Rezendes mention. Catholics make up 20.8 percent of the population. Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, and Jews make up a combined 25.5 percent.

So all the second sentence is really telling us is that Catholic groups got “roughly the same” amount that groups from religious traditions that add up to roughly the same proportion of the population got. But sentence number three, by suddenly adding every other flavor of Protestantism into the mix, and not noting that we’re now talking about a different group of religious traditions, makes it look like Catholic groups got a disproportionate share.

Politics & Policy

Odds of This Being Censored on Internet: Zero

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The Associated Press reports: “Hunter Biden, son of President Joe Biden and an ongoing target for conservatives, has a memoir coming out April 6. . . . Acquired in the fall of 2019, ‘Beautiful Things’ was kept under wraps even as Biden’s business dealings became a fixation of then-President Donald Trump and others during the election and his finances a matter of investigation by the Justice Department.”

Education

Tracking Critical Race Theory

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Critical Race Theory (CRT), once regarded as a lunatic doctrine propounded by obscure leftists at overpriced northeastern colleges, has proliferated into K–12 classrooms, federal, state, and local government, businesses, and even pre-schools. As such, it’s no longer merely lunatic, but dangerous.

The Legal Insurrection Foundation has established a website documenting Critical Race Training at more than 200 colleges and universities across the country. The site provides information to parents and students about the nature and extent of CRT at these institutions.

CRT/1619 Project indoctrination is advancing with blinding speed and little resistance throughout American institutions. Legal Insurrection’s compendium provides valuable information to challenge the advance.

Politics & Policy

Rubio, Lee, and the Child Allowance

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In response to Everyone Should Support Mitt Romney’s Child-Poverty Plan

Senators Rubio and Lee put out a statement opposing Senator Romney’s child-allowance plan (which I wrote about this morning). The duo has been promoting tax relief for parents for years, but think that Romney’s plan goes too far by providing benefits beyond what households pay in federal taxes.

You may agree with their view; you may find it a niggling or mistaken criticism of Romney’s plan. But there’s nothing dishonest about their statement, let alone “incredibly dishonest,” as my colleague Cameron Hilditch puts it. All Hilditch actually establishes is that the duo’s short statement does not comment on some features of the Romney plan he thinks they should have. Which is all fine fodder for a debate about the plan, which I suspect the senators themselves will conduct with sobriety.

National Review

Inside the February 22, 2021, Issue of National Review

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The presses, still hot to the touch, have printed the latest issue of NR, heading towards those who enjoy their conservatism in ink and paper. But the February 22, 2021, issue is also immediately available — this very moment — to NRPLUS members (more on that below). Right now, if you were to ask — would you recommend four or five pieces in the new edition? — we’d answer of course. And since all the content is great, we’d recommend randomly. Well, not so at random, because it’s only fair to highlight the cover essay, written by Charles C. W. Cooke, on America’s “Illiberal Moment,” which argues that the necessary virtues of humility, tolerance, and forbearance are declining. Elsewhere in the issue, Ryan Streeter investigates the rise of anti-progressivism within certain urban communities, Ramesh Ponnuru examines the zig-zag utterances of Anthony Fauci (and how much slack he may need to be cut), Shawn Regan assesses the harm that will result from Joe Biden’s oil- and gas-leasing ban, and Joseph Epstein offers an exceptional essay on the death of humor (it’s no laughing matter). We’d recommend more, but there are limits to the content one can access . . .

Okay, one more: David Harsanyi knocks New York governor Andrew Cuomo (and his colossal ego) off his pedestal.

And now, to keep our promise about NRPLUS: If you’re not a member, you should be. Membership entitles you to many benefits, the key ones being instant access to all magazine content (including the archives), no paywall obstructing you from primo articles, and a heck of a lot fewer ads clogging up your screen. Get complete information, and become a paywall-avoiding member, right here.

Politics & Policy

Romney’s Child-Allowance Plan and the Republican Future

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Today’s Bloomberg Opinion column concerns Senator Romney’s plan to make the welfare state more parent-friendly. While the details are important and deserve further scrutiny, I close with a general thought about how policy proposals like this one could help the intra-Republican debate break out of a rut:

There are some Republicans who want to go back to a pre-Trump conservative orthodoxy that shortchanged families in its obsession with lowering marginal tax rates and other free-market goals. There are other Republicans who in practice reduce the idea of a conservatism that works for lower-income Americans to fealty to Trump’s policies or, worse, to the man himself.

Romney is the least Trumpy Republican imaginable, but he is not pushing all and only the same ideas he did when he ran for president in 2012. Maybe, just maybe, the party can find a productive way forward on social policy that isn’t defined either by Trump or what came right before him.

Politics & Policy

The Great American Gun-Buying Binge Continues

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Handguns on display at the annual SHOT Show in Las Vegas, Nev., in 2013. (Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun/via Reuters)

Americans purchased over 2 million firearms in January, 2021, a 79 percent spike over January 2020. It’s the third-highest one-month total since the FBI began running NICS background checks. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, three of the top ten weeks and ten of the top single-day historic highs in gun purchases occurred this January.

CNN attempts to tie the spike in gun ownership to the Capitol riots: “Gun sales in January set a new record after Capitol Hill insurrection.” But the binge has been ongoing for nearly a year. As one gun-shop owner in Chicago put it last week: “It’s the busiest you could ever imagine. It’s been lines around the block, out the door, around my store every day since March.” March is when the coronavirus pandemic hit, and when Americans likely began feeling like they were losing control of their lives. A bigger spree came during summer, as left-wing riots erupted around the country, and national Democrats began to entertain the idea of defunding the police.

Anti-gun activists often argue that ownership numbers are artificially inflated by knuckle-draggers who hoard firearms. In 2007, Gallup reported that 44 percent of Americans lived in a gun-owning household. In 2019, that number remained at 44 percent. Most gun owners are not exactly what you’d call “sharers,” so the number is likely higher. We do know that in 2020 there were 8.4 million first-time gun buyers in 2020. Among them: an unprecedented number of African Americans and women, who accounted for somewhere around 40 percent of all first-time buyers. The numbers would likely be even higher if demand weren’t causing shortages.

We’re in the midst of the greatest expansion of gun ownership in American history. There have been other surges — in the 1950s, for example, interest in hunting and sports shooting led to a resurgence in gun ownership — but the contemporary gun owner isn’t buying rifles for deer hunting; the majority are buying semi-auto handguns for personal protection.

Democrats have already begun floating attacks on the Second Amendment. There’s a House bill introduced by Texas representative Sheila Jackson Lee that would publicly list the names of all gun owners and require every gun owner in America to undergo a psychological examination. Though it’s unlikely to pass, Joe Biden has embraced, and surrounded himself with, gun restrictionists. So expect this surge to continue into the year.

Politics & Policy

Everyone Should Support Mitt Romney’s Child-Poverty Plan

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Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks to the media after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump in Bedminster, N.J., November 19, 2016. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Stripped of all euphemism, government is nothing more than organized violence. That’s why we should all want less of it in our lives. But contrary to what Thomas Paine once said (and what President Reagan was fond of repeating, to the great consternation of George Will), we don’t in fact have it in our power to make the world over again. We’ve inherited a Leviathan in the form of our vast federal government, and we can’t pull the plug on it all at once. Americans should be content to see bad spending replaced by good spending in the meantime, so long as the former really is replaced, rather than simply added to.  

Mitt Romney’s Family Security Act would accomplish just that. It would fuse “overlapping and often duplicative” federal programs into a single monthly payment administered by the Social Security Agency. By repealing more-numerous and complex federal aid programs, Romney’s plan would also be deficit-neutral. It’s more like an efficient reform of federal funds that are currently being spent unwisely than a new spending proposal. By simplifying the means of access, the plan would also relieve the often-byzantine administrative burden on poor families trying to take advantage of the welfare assistance that taxpayers provide.

In concrete terms, Romney’s reform would provide monthly benefits of $350 to young children, beginning a few months before birth, and $250 a month to school-aged kids. Senators Rubio and Lee recently came out against the bill. In a joint statement, they wrote that they “do not support turning the Child Tax Credit into what has been called a ‘child allowance,’ paid out as a universal basic income to all parents. That is not tax relief for working parents; it is welfare assistance.” 

Rubio and Lee’s criticism is incredibly dishonest. In their statement, they try to neatly juxtapose their own preference for tax relief with Senator Romney’s supposed enthusiasm for welfare spending. But they completely ignore the reforms to the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit that are proposed in the Family Security Act. 

At present, for instance, the Earned Income Tax Credit is designed surgically to assist single parents. Targeting this particular demographic, it also places a heavy tax burden on working-class marriages. Romney’s reforms would simplify the EITC into a generalized incentive to work, which would be great for married families who are less well-off. As Lyman Stone summarizes in this excellent thread, Rubio and Lee seem oblivious to the fact that Romney’s EITC reforms actually fix a worrying welfare cliff that already exists: the strain that the EITC in its current form puts upon millions of working-class marriages. Stone also points out the fact that under Romney’s proposals, the point of annual income at which marriage becomes a clear and obvious economic boon is lowered from around $28,000 to around $12,000. 

In sum, the Family Security Act alleviates child poverty, is deficit-neutral, incentivizes marriage among working-class Americans, and either abolishes or reforms various ill-thought-out and profligate welfare programs. So long as none of these things are taken off the table during negotiations, there’s no good reason for any lawmaker in Washington to oppose this legislation. 

Any Vaccine Tracking System Is Only as Good as the Data That’s Put in It

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Vial of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at Queens Police Academy in the Queens borough of New York, January 11, 2021. (Jeenah Moon/Pool via Reuters)

Over in The Atlantic, Anne Applebaum compares the current system of getting a vaccine to waiting in a long line for cabbage in the Soviet Union.

You all might be living in 21st-century America, but those of us who reside in this new version of Moscow, circa 1975, have to scoff at quasi-optimism. Beat COVID-19? With a bunch of dysfunctional Safeway websites? With dozens of different institutions, each one requiring different forms and a different registration?

Signs that we live in a dying superpower are all around us. Officials seem to make illogical, chaotic decisions; and everything is much more complicated than

U.S.

San Francisco, Cont.

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San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

My Impromptus column today is headed “How populists talk, &c.” The Louisiana senator John Kennedy delivered a spectacular example of populist rhetoric. It would have made Huey Long, the Kingfish, blush (or beam). My column also touches on Tom Brady, Dolly Parton, Shirley Jones, and other greats.

Among them, William F. Buckley Jr.

Speaking of NR past, a reader writes,

Remember the late, great William A. Rusher? Of course you do. [WAR was for many years the publisher of this magazine.] He retired to San Francisco, which was a major surprise to many of us conservatives, for some of the reasons you identify. I can’t exactly remember his response, but it was something like: It’s a great city, and if you don’t like where I live, that’s too bad for you.

The reader was responding to my Impromptus of Wednesday, which leads with California, and with San Francisco, in particular. I was penning a lament, really. It was half ode, half cry of despair.

I’d like to publish a long letter, very informative, very interesting. Thanks to all who have written, and read.

Dear Jay,

I appreciated your article today. I don’t know how many readers you have in San Francisco, or the last time you visited, so I thought you might be interested in some on-the-ground perspective.

My wife and I have lived in the City for 21 years (we are originally from the East Coast). One peculiarity of being here is the fascination that the rest of the country has with the conditions of the place — I have for years regularly received inquiries from family members and friends about reports in the media that the City is falling apart. As you might expect, the reality is more complex.

I have always regarded San Francisco as reasonably well run: The services I expect to get from a municipal government are generally effective; the people who run big operations like the airport and the Public Utilities Commission are professional and competent; the infrastructure (with a few glaring exceptions) is in good shape. The Presidio, the Marin Headlands, Golden Gate Park — all likely as you remember them, if not better (and absolutely vital during the lockdowns).

The current mayor, London Breed, is unquestionably liberal, but like her predecessors, including Gavin Newsom, she is quite practical about what it takes to run the City (and consequently is regarded with suspicion by progressives). Day-to-day existence is not a struggle against dystopia. I rarely encounter homeless people, and I don’t have to step over hypodermics or human excrement, nor do I fear for my safety. I am generally unconcerned that my daughter, a senior at a Catholic high school, frequently moves around the City on her own. Of course, there are neighborhoods where conditions are far worse — whole blocks where the sidewalks are lined with tents. I don’t mean to imply that we don’t have some appalling problems. The urban ills seem more pronounced, I think, because of the city’s compact geography.

But: 25 years of economic prosperity and an influx of new, often affluent residents have allowed San Francisco to indulge itself, and now the cracks are showing. Progressives have long dominated the Board of Supervisors, various commissions, and the school board; and now the DA’s office and the criminal-justice infrastructure. Correlation is not causation, and it is not clear how many of the things that grab the headlines — the rising rates of theft, or the number of people living on the streets — directly result from progressive policy prescriptions. But it is evident that these people are fantastically unsuited to the task of governing.

My observation is that they respond to two things — the loudest progressive voices, regardless of the degree of irrationality; and the wants of the public employees’ unions that help get them elected. Consequently, we get initiatives that are often as incoherent as they are ineffective, and virtue signaling rather than genuine efforts to solve problems. We cannot address the shortage of housing, or the persistence of homelessness, or the fact that in 2020 the number of people in the City who died of drug overdoses was over three times the number who died of COVID. But the Board of Supervisors recently found time to condemn Mark Zuckerberg’s 2015 donation of $75 million to the City’s general hospital (without offering to return the donation), to approve a ban on natural-gas hookups in future home construction (a climate indulgence), and to vote to dip into the City’s reserves to award raises to City employees (despite a massive looming budget deficit).

Let me interrupt the letter in order to ask, “What about that Zuckerberg thing?” Here is a news article, for those interested: “San Francisco board rebukes naming hospital for Facebook CEO.”

Anyway, our reader continues,

As you noted in your article, the school board is wallowing in wokeness even as schools remain closed with no plan for opening — a reminder of why San Francisco has long had a rate of private-school attendance that is among the highest in the nation. Meanwhile, during each election cycle we’re asked to vote on additional taxes — which we keep approving, even with no apparent enhancement in the services for which we are paying.

If there is a limit, it may be determined by the fact that the goose that has laid the golden eggs may have finally had enough. Much has been made of the exodus of tech companies that no longer see the need to put up with the taxes, the challenging business environment, and progressive contempt; and the flight of middle-class and even moderately affluent families is an old story. How much of this is just hype won’t be known for some time, at least until after the pandemic ends. Perhaps it is overly optimistic to believe that these trends (and the accompanying drop in tax revenues) may finally get the attention of the political class.

Thanks for your work!

And for yours.

National Review

The Deadline Is at Hand: Sign Up by February 10

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National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr.

We alerted conservatives and Buckley Lovers in the NYC and Philadelphia areas about the call for applications for National Review Institute’s popular Burke to Buckley Program. There’s been a good response, so we provide this encore, if only to alert you to the fact that the deadline (February 10) is upon us.

About the program: It’s designed for mid-career professionals (typically ages 35–50) who want to develop a deeper understanding of the foundations of conservative thought. “B-to-B” applicants come from a wide variety of careers. There is a preference for law, finance, health care, education, business, the arts, and the nonprofit section. (It’s not intended for recent graduates, or those working in public policy or politics.)

This spring’s program will run from March to May in New York City and Philadelphia. (If you’re geographically challenged, maybe you know someone, like a son or niece or friend, who is more local and who might benefit from B-to-B.) Accepted participants will gather during eight sessions (over Zoom, and in-person/socially distanced over dinner as well, as local conditions allow) to discuss foundational conservative texts. Each week, an expert (often an NR writer or fellow) will guide the discussion, (be warned: this is not a lecture series), providing a unique opportunity for participants to engage with, and to learn from, one another (and likely form new and worthwhile personal and professional relationships). Program topics include:

  • William F. Buckley Jr. and American Conservatism
  • The Founders’ Constitution
  • Economic Freedom and Political Freedom
  • Burke, Prudence, and the Spirit of Conservatism
  • Conservatism, Libertarianism, and Fusionism
  • Mediating Structures between the State and the Individual
  • Conservatism, Democracy, and Foreign Policy
  • The Conservative Spirit and Civic Gratitude

Does this sound like something that might interest you, or someone you know? How couldn’t it?! So apply – now. Do that here. One more time: Applications will close on February 10. The program cost for participants is $500 (which covers a mere third of the actual per-participant cost).

In addition to the rewarding program, B-to-B participants join a nationwide alumni network, and will be invited to various National Review Institute events. Program applications for both cities are found here. Those with questions should contact the great Lynn Gibson, who runs B-to-B with grace and style, at lynn@nrinstitute.org. Remember: The deadline is February 10. (Is there an echo in here?)

Education

Colleges Would Do Students (and Themselves) a Favor by Adding Certificate Programs

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Many college graduates have trouble finding a job that pays well enough for them to cover their student-loan payments. Often, they find out that their bachelor’s degrees have left them poorly equipped to deal with the realities of the labor market — generic degrees don’t get you very far these days.

What they need, embedded in their degrees, are certificate programs focused on particular skills. So argues Lawrence Peterson, dean emeritus at Kennesaw State in Georgia in today’s Martin Center article. 

Peterson asks, “So why aren’t colleges offering courses that teach students the skills employers want? The answers lie with university faculty who make course and curriculum decisions. Without industry experience, faculty cannot teach workplace skills.”

He’s right. Most academics have no experience in the business world.  In fact, many of them are rather hostile to it. Business smacks of profit-seeking, competition, and other deplorable traits.

What does Peterson have in mind? He explains:

Certificate programs are packages of four or more courses focused on specific employers’ needs that teach students in-demand skills. Colleges could also mandate an industry internship as part of a certificate program, so students gain relevant working experience. Many of those courses will require adjunct faculty who actively work in the business world. Academics seldom have the experience or the industry perspective needed to teach those more practical courses, as they connect theory with real-world application.

At Kennesaw State, one successful certificate program was set up for biology students: Regulatory Affairs and Clinical Trials. Peterson gives other instances as well.

He concludes:

Many previous examples focus on STEM disciplines, but certificates can enhance other degree programs. By embedding such programs within arts, humanities, and business degrees, universities become more relevant, and college degrees can be more valuable to graduates and employers.

World

How the U.K.’s Coronavirus Management Went from Worst to Best

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Katy Balls has written a fascinating report for The Spectator on Britain’s “Vaccine Taskforce,” explaining how it is that the U.K. coronavirus management went from being one of the worst to one of the best countries in the world:

Rolling out the vaccines needed military precision — and the military. Soldiers from 101 Logistic Brigade, under the command of Brigadier Phil Prosser, had been embedded in the NHS since the PPE debacle. ‘They used the same principles of logistics that they did in Afghanistan or Iraq,’ says one official. ‘To them, there is no such thing as “Can’t do it”.’

Health Care

No, Jen Psaki, the CDC Director Doesn’t Make ‘Personal’ Health Policy Assessments

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky speaking at the White House, Wednesday: “There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated in order to reopen safely . . . while we are implementing the criteria of the Advisory Committee and of the state and local guidances to get vaccination across these eligible communities, I would also say that safe reopening of schools is not — that vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools.”

Notice no ifs, ands, buts, caveats, or uncertainty in Walensky’s statement.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, yesterday: “Dr. Walensky spoke to this in her personal capacity. Obviously, she’s the head of the CDC, but we’re going to wait for the final guidance to come out so we can use that as a guide for schools around the country.”

What absolute nonsense. The director of the CDC does not issue personal opinions about public health that contradict her agency’s official views. (If she did, that would be quite a story, and call into question whether she should remain as director of the CDC.) Walensky’s assessment is her assessment. There is no other secret different assessment lurking in the back somewhere.

We were told a million times that Joe Biden and his administration would listen to the experts and “SCIENCE!” and not allow political pressure to sway public-health policy. And the first time the CDC’s assessment contradicts a political ally of the Biden administration, Jen Psaki stands up there and tells people not to listen or heed the conclusion delivered at the exact same podium the day before.

No, Brian Stelter, this is not “refreshing.”