Politics & Policy

A Filibuster Calculation

Loading...
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) conducts a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, December 1, 2020. (Tom Williams/Pool via Reuters)

Let’s say you’re a middle-of-the-road senator. Maybe you’re from a purple state, maybe you’re moderate in your views, maybe both. Your party has a small majority. Sometimes a piece of legislation that is very important to the most revved-up portion of your party is one that you dislike, or that doesn’t play well in your state. How to handle the political problem?

Enter the filibuster. You can give the bill its 52nd or 53rd vote secure in the knowledge that it’s not going anywhere. Supporters of the bill aren’t mad at you, because you sided with them. Opponents of the bill aren’t too mad at you, either, because they won. It won’t always work out that way, of course — sometimes the opponents will hold your vote against you even though they won — but it’s often a better political outcome for you than having to actually be responsible for passing or killing the bill. If you privately believe the bill is a bad idea, so much the better.

What happens, though, when the filibuster itself becomes an issue? The majority-party senator who values it as a means of seeing bills die without having to kill them himself, or who just thinks it’s a good institution, can perform the same maneuver: Say he’s against the filibuster and will vote to abolish it while secretly hoping that a majority votes to keep it. But this dodge might not work if he is the actual deciding vote.

Then the question he might ask himself is: Do I want to vote against my party’s hard-core activists on one procedural issue that very few voters care about, or do I want to face vote after vote on abortion, the minimum wage, environmental regulation, etc., where I may have to disappoint my party on issues that a lot of voters care about?

He might also think about how the filibuster will affect his status in the event his party narrowly loses the majority. If that happens, the other party will have to court him to get something done if there are filibusters. It will have less need of him if there aren’t any.

The backdrop to this hypothetical discussion is that Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has been blocking consideration of a resolution to organize the chamber until getting a commitment to preserve the filibuster. After he did that, Senators Sinema and Manchin reiterated that they favor keeping it and aren’t going to change their minds. McConnell has now declared victory and dropped his objection, so the Senate can proceed to organize.

McConnell ate up some of the new majority’s time — even more precious, its early time — and sowed some dissension in its ranks. Some people will say he lost the exchange because he dropped his objection without a formal commitment on the filibuster, but that’s not much of a cost, especially since there’s a credible counterargument that he won. And there are almost certainly more than two Democratic senators who are satisfied with this outcome.

Politics & Policy

Another Strong Contender for the Worst State Vaccination Program

Loading...

Back on October 7, Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo announced she was convening a special subcommittee of the state’s Vaccine Advisory Committee “with the sole focus of planning for the COVID-19 vaccine” and to advise the state “on prioritizing the distribution of the vaccines to make sure we give ourselves the best chance of protecting Rhode Islanders and speeding up our recovery.”

Despite the early start in planning, the Ocean State ranks near the bottom nationally in its use of allocated vaccine doses.

According to the CDC, Rhode Island has administered 70,419 of 149,225 allocated doses — or 47.1 percent. According to Bloomberg’s chart of data, Rhode Island has administered 73,994 of 149,225 allocated doses — or 49.6 percent. The Rhode Island Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard also shows 73,994 total doses administered. As of this writing, Rhode Island ranks 46th out of the 50 states in percentage of doses administered.

And those who are getting vaccinated are mostly on the younger side; only a quarter of those vaccinated are over age 60, infuriating the state chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons. AARP Rhode Island state director Kathleen Connell is circulating a petition demanding the state revise its vaccination plan to prioritize vaccinating those 50 and older.

“Now that the state has responded to AARP Rhode Island’s call to make the state’s COVID vaccination plan and its execution more transparent, I am alarmed and dismayed to find data only now available reveals that just 25 percent of vaccinations to date have been administered to Rhode Islanders age 60 and older,” Connell wrote. “The current disparity — which flies in the face of federal health recommendations and causes great concern for many older Rhode Islanders and their families — is inexplicable, life threatening and unacceptable.”

Rhode Island residents won’t have to worry about Raimondo for long; she is expected to be confirmed as President Joe Biden’s nominee to be Secretary of Commerce in the near future. Her replacement isn’t in a hurry to move on to senior citizens, either.

Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, who is set to become governor when Gov. Gina Raimondo steps down to join President Joe Biden’s Cabinet, says teachers, school support staff, members of the General Assembly and elected statewide officeholders should be moved up on the priority list.

Perhaps Rhode Island seniors should consider committing crimes and getting incarcerated, to move ahead in line. The state started vaccinating incarcerated persons over age 65 in January. Adults 75 and over are projected to start in February.

National Review

NR Is Hiring an Editor

Loading...
National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr.

National Review is hiring a full-time associate editor. Primary duties include editing articles, blogposts, and newsletters for NationalReview.com – as well as feature-length articles for the print magazine. Writing experience is a plus. Relocation to NR’s New York office is encouraged but not required. Applicants should be familiar with, and enthusiastic about, National Review, its history, and its mission.

The ideal applicant will have excellent writing and editing skills, experience with digital publishing, the ability to balance a wide range of tasks on short deadlines and work well with writers, editors, and Web producers, and a strong interest in and understanding of politics and policy.

Applicants should submit a résumé and a cover letter explaining their interest to editorial.applications (at) nationalreview.com.

Place “Associate Editor – YOUR NAME” in the subject line.

Politics & Policy

Houston Doctor Charged for Using His Common Sense on COVID Vaccine

Loading...
A dose of the BioNTech and Pfizer coronavirus vaccination is given in Mainz, Germany. (BioNTech SE 2020/Handout via Reuters)

An E.R. doctor supervising a vaccine-distribution site in the Houston area is left with an opened vial of Moderna vaccine doses at the end of the day. It’s 6.30 p.m. The doses will expire within six hours. So, the doctor offers the vaccine to health-care workers and police at the site. They don’t want it, or they’ve already gotten it. He asks the county health department supervisor if there are any patients waiting to take the doses; there do not seem to be. It’s then that he looks through his own contacts to find elderly people or those with medical conditions, and gives the vaccine to them. The doctor administers the last dose to his chronically ill wife after 11 p.m. As required, he enters all the names of the recipients into the state’s database the following day.

This is what Dr. Hasan Gokal says happened on December 29. On January 8, Gokal was fired by Harris County Public Health officials, who claimed he violated policy by stealing doses from a vaccination site. The Harris County district attorney charged Gokal with one count theft by a public servant. A judge dismissed the case for a lack of probable cause, but the district attorney says he will take it to a grand jury.

The Houston Chronicle story portrays Gokal as a hero, but other local pieces are a bit more critical. The DA claims six of the vaccine recipients were Gokal’s friends, and that he was only caught after he “told a fellow Harris County Public Health employee, who then reported him to supervisors.”

Who cares, really? It’s always prudent to wait for the evidence, but even if the charges are all true, as long as Gokal didn’t deny a patient a dose and made a good-faith effort to find patients, he did the right thing. Surely having Gokal’s wife and friends receiving Moderna vaccines is preferable to allowing those doses to expire? That seems to be the case the majority of the time. We’ve created a system that leaves thousands of doses wasted across the country, sometimes because of ineptitude, but mostly, it seems, because rigid state mandates fixated on “fairness” that incentivize waste. We don’t even know how many doses have been wasted, as one doctor told NBC News that “hospitals that do report this get pilloried in the press for wasting vaccines. . . . So, many hospitals are not reporting and this is happening across the country.”

Hospitals and health-care providers would rather throw out doses than lose funding or be punished by states. New York governor Andrew Cuomo threatened to levy $1 million fines and strip doctors and facilities of medical licenses for any COVID-vaccine fraud. The goal, one assumes, is to inoculate the population, not hinder medical professionals from using their discretion and maximizing every shipment. There is always going to be some level of fraud, but the goal should be to get as many doses out as quickly as possible.

Politics & Policy

BREAKING: Biden Exceeds Vaccination Goal!

Loading...

Joe Biden famously set a goal for 100 million vaccinations in 100 days, which sounded like a lot except, of course, we were already at about 1 million vaccinations-a-day. Now, according to the Bloomberg tracker, we’ve been averaging 1.25 million-a-day over the last week. Biden has had to adjust accordingly and now says he wants to get to 1.5 million-a-day. May we exceed that goal, too, and get as many shots in arms as soon as possible, but let’s not pretend that Biden didn’t inherit an initiative that, as the initial problems were worked out, was inevitably going to kick into a higher gear.

In that connection, definitely check out the piece by Ryan and Tobias today with Operation Warp Speed officials pushing back in detail on the claims that the Biden team was handed an almost non-existent vaccination effort.

NRI

What Does It Mean to Be Human? & Other March for Life-Related Conversations

Loading...
Pro-life activists carry a banner during the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., January 24, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

What Does It Mean to Be Human? That’s a question that is just about as foundational as it gets. And yet, our public bioethics gets is wrong in many places, O. Carter Snead, argues in his new book of that title. In the book, he proposes a new way to look at the human person, one rooted in acknowledgement that we are more than our wills. We are embodied and we are made for love and friendship. The timing of the book seems as if it couldn’t be better, as hasn’t the common experience of this pandemic been our universal vulnerability. As I recall it, Tom Hanks getting COVID-19 was the moment people realized this Coronavirus was going to change us. Snead helps guide the right lessons for law and public policy and really our individual lives.

I’ll be talking to Carter today at 3 PM Eastern time. It’s a joint virus-free program as we’ve been calling these virtual conversations, with the National Review Institute’s Center for Religion, Culture, and Civil Society and the Sheen Center for Ideas and Culture.

You can watch on the Sheen Center’s YouTube page live or anytime.


My chat with Carter is the first in a trio of March for Life-related events. The 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade was Friday and the virtual March will be this Friday (moved because of the inauguration, which is typical of recent years). On 6 PM Thursday, in conjunction with the Catholic Information Center, we will focus on how end-of-life care has been impacted by the pandemic with Charles Camosy from Fordham and Sr. Constance Veit from the Little Sisters of the Poor.

And next week – 2:00 on Feb. 3 — I’ll join my alma mater, the Catholic University of America’s Institute for Human Ecology asking the question “What Does It Mean to Be Pro-Life?,” with Erika Bachiochi and Sr. Magdalene Teresa of the Sisters of Life.

Economy & Business

Union Foreman to Biden: Take This Pink Slip and Shove It

Loading...

President Biden says he wants to put Americans back to work. But one of his first moves was to throw 11,000 mostly union workers out of their jobs building the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Environmentalists want the Canada-U.S. crude oil project killed, and Biden did their bidding, even after project managers promised it would be built with net-zero new carbon emissions.

Neal Crabtree, a 46-year-old welding foreman and a member of Pipeliners Local Union 798, posted on Facebook that he felt “a sick feeling in my stomach and an aching in my heart” when he heard Biden had canceled Keystone’s permits.

“We’ve got guys that haven’t worked in months, and in some cases years, and to have a project of this magnitude canceled, it’s going to hurt a lot of people, a lot of families, a lot of communities,” he told Fox News.

Pete Buttigieg, who’s been nominated for Transportation Secretary, says the Biden administration has broader plans that will boost overall employment in the country. “We are very eager to see those workers continue to be employed in good-paying union jobs, even if they might be different ones,” Buttigieg said.

Crabtree is having none of it: “I don’t consider this a job, I consider it a career,” he responded. “You spend a lifetime fine-tuning your skills and if you go start another job you’re starting at the bottom. I doubt that these politicians would like it if someone told them to go start over and find a different job.”

Politics & Policy

If You’re Gushing about Non-Answers, You’re Not Really a Journalist

Loading...
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks after the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States, January 20, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Large swaths of the national media are still thrilled that the Biden administration is not the Trump administration, gushing in news chyrons about “how refreshing” it is.

The Biden administration is reinstating and expanding travel bans in response to new variants of SARS-CoV-2, which is likely to be the right policy move. But it does cut against Biden’s campaign trail declaration that “banning all travel from Europe — or any other part of the world — will not stop it” or Biden labeling the previous administration’s restrictions on entries from China “xenophobic fear-mongering” and “hysterical xenophobia,” and White House press secretary Jen Psaki insists these new travel bans do not represent a contradiction of Biden’s rhetoric on the campaign trail.

Yesterday, Psaki gave a non-answer when asked about CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky’s bizarre claim, “I can’t tell you how much vaccine we have.”

Q: But just to button this up: [U.S. Army General and chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed] Gus Perna still works here, right?  And he’s in charge of the logistics.  So could he say how much vaccine there is, since they’re in charge of where it’s going? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, there is a new CDC Director in charge (inaudible) spoke to this.  And I think what we’re trying to do now is fully assess what we have access to, what the status of the vaccine supply looks like, and ensure that we’re communicating that accurately and effectively with the public.

It appears the Biden administration does not know whether it supports a free trade deal with the United Kingdom or not:

Q    And on the UK, we know, over the weekend, President Biden had a phone call with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Mr. Johnson said they talked about the free trade deal. However, from the White House readout, we don’t see that.  Does the President support the free trade deal with the UK?

MS. PSAKI:  I haven’t talked to him or Jake Sullivan about that.  I’ll venture to do that and see if I can get more for you on it.

(Also note that yesterday Psaki declared, “We’re starting from an approach of patience as it relates to our relationship with China.” When we examine the Chinese government’s decisions and actions over the past year or more, has Beijing really earned “patience” from the U.S. government? Is the problem really that we’ve been too impatient with China?)

So, yes, it is just swell that Jen Psaki is nicer than Kayleigh McEnany and that reporters find her easier to deal with than Stephanie Grisham or Sarah Huckabee Sanders. But on that widely touted pledge to share more accurate information, Psaki is getting graded on a generous curve.

Far too generous.

Politics & Policy

Catholics Are Bad, Catholics Are Good

Loading...
President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, attend a service at St. Matthew the Apostle Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., before his presidential inauguration on January 20, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

When President Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, we witnessed a media meltdown. Though Democratic senators largely managed to avoid their past mistakes and didn’t suggest that Barrett’s Catholic faith made her unfit for the bench, progressive critics and liberals in the media made it no secret that her religious beliefs troubled them.

Nearly every major outlet published a story scrutinizing the lay Christian group People of Praise, of which Barrett was once a member, falsely claiming that it was the basis for the misogynistic nation in The Handmaid’s Tale and asserting that Barrett’s membership meant she must sympathize with Christianity’s supposedly anti-woman tenets. One prominent feminist commentator suggested that Barrett’s religious views were disqualifying because Catholicism is inherently sexist. Another insisted that Barrett’s “personal faith” was fine but asserted that the judge should not be confirmed because she would attempt to impose her faith through her rulings.

In past hearings, too, nominees’ Catholic views have faced intense scrutiny from Democratic politicians and outside commentators, who have insinuated that Catholics can’t be competent public servants if they agree with the Church’s moral teaching on abortion and marriage.

And therein lies the issue, exposed all the more clearly by Joe Biden’s first week in the Oval Office. In her first press briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki hand-waved away questions about Biden’s abortion policy by reminding the press that the president is a “devout Catholic.” Ahead of his inauguration, Biden received fawning media coverage for attending morning mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in D.C.

On Saturday, the New York Times published a lengthy piece by a religion reporter entitled “In Biden’s Catholic Faith, an Ascendant Liberal Christianity,” calling Biden “perhaps the most religiously observant commander in chief in half a century.” In the piece, we are told that Biden’s “Catholic faith grounds his life and his policies” and exemplifies “a different, more liberal Christianity,” one “less focused on sexual politics and more on combating poverty, climate change and racial inequality.”

In other words, Catholic public figures who champion nearly unlimited legal abortion, Christians who use their faith to promote the progressive cause du jour, are perfectly acceptable. Not only that, but they will be lauded as exemplars of their creed, praised for allowing their deep, personal understanding of Christianity to guide and inform their progressive policy stances.

Christians who embrace sexual morality on the other hand, those who believe in the dignity and value of every human life, including the lives of the unborn, will be dismissed as backwards bigots who want to control women’s bodies and impose their outdated religious views on the rest of the country.

Sports

Happy Birthday, Great One

Loading...
New York Rangers Wayne Gretzky waves to the crowd as he skates a lap around the ice at Madison Square Gardens at the end of his last game as a hockey player, April 18, 1999. (Gary Hershorn/Reuters)

Wayne Gretzky turns 60 today. No player has ever dominated their sport quite the way he did. To simply say that Gretzky was the National Hockey League’s all-time leader in goals and assists is to minimize his accomplishments. In 1983, for example, Gretzky had more assists (125) than the second-leading scorer in the NHL, Peter Stastny, had points (124). That season, Gretzky added 71 goals to lead the league. He netted 153 of those points during a record-breaking 51-game point-scoring streak. Gretzky, always known more for his passing, scored a league-record 92 goals in 1982 — 27 more than Alexander Ovechkin’s best season — and 87 in 1984. In 1985, Gretzky had more points than 13 teams had goals last season in the NHL. He scored over 200 points four times in his career. No one else has done it once, and it’s doubtful anyone will ever do it again.

Gretzky is also the all-time leader in playoff points with 382. The closest contemporary player on that front is Sidney Crosby, who is 193 points behind him.

It’s true, the league is different. Bigger and faster. It’s true that Gretzky played on a team teeming with future Hall of Famers (though, perhaps, some of them would not be there without him.) Even as a kid, I’d watch Gretzky play on those great Edmonton teams, curling up at the blue line with his head up, and wonder why someone didn’t just knock him down or run him over. By professional sports standards, he was an unimpressive 6’0”, 185 pounds, without any discernible physical advantage over most players. He looked like a soft-spoken junior tax accountant. Also, he happened to be the smartest hockey player on the ice. Always.

Politics & Policy

News: 200 Republican Congressmen Promise to Oppose Legislation that Funds Abortion

Loading...
The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Molly Riley/Reuters)

In a letter to leaders of Congress this morning, 200 Republicans in the House of Representatives called for the protection of the Hyde amendment, a long-standing bipartisan compromise that prevents federal entitlement spending from covering elective abortions.

“We write to express our unified opposition to Congressional Democrats’ efforts to repeal the Hyde Amendment and other current-law, pro-life appropriations provisions,” the letter states. “As part of their pro-abortion crusade, Democrats have taken direct aim at these long-standing, bipartisan protections that generally prevent the federal government from using taxpayer dollars to support abortion procedures.”

Since 2016, the Democratic Party platform has explicitly called for taxpayer funding of abortion through Medicaid. During the last election cycle, nearly every politician competing for the Democratic presidential nomination promised to support getting rid of the Hyde amendment.

The amendment was first introduced in 1976, shortly after the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in Roe v. Wade in 1973. The amendment was a bipartisan compromise intended to protect the conscience rights of pro-life Americans, and it has been added every year as a rider to federal spending bills to ensure that government funding does not directly reimburse abortion providers for the cost of elective abortions.

The letter, spearheaded by the Republican Study Committee and its chairman, Representative Jim Banks of Indiana, points out that no president has ever vetoed a spending bill over its inclusion of Hyde and that President Barack Obama even included the provision in his proposed budgets.

In fact, as recently as 2019, Joe Biden himself supported Hyde. During his several decades as a politician, Biden always backed the amendment, calling himself “personally pro-life,” though he always supported keeping most forms of abortion legal. But during his most recent run for president, Biden reversed himself and has promised to back Democratic efforts to get rid of the amendment.

“Years of public polling indicates that repealing the Hyde Amendment is opposed by most of the American public,” the GOP letter continues. This is certainly true; in nearly every poll on the subject, a plurality or majority of Americans opposes publicly funded abortion.

“The letter accuses congressional Democrats of eroding public trust by ignoring Americans’ views on Hyde and notes reports showing that the amendment has saved the lives of more than 2 million unborn children.”All 200 lawmakers who signed the letter pledge “to vote against any government funding bill that eliminates or weakens the Hyde Amendment or other current-law, pro-life appropriations provisions.”

Politics & Policy

Now Hawaii Wants Non–Physician-Assisted Suicide

Loading...

Always remember that the first iteration of assisted-suicide legalization is not the last iteration. Over time — and once people get used to doctors prescribing for suicide or giving lethal jabs — the laws are loosened to make more people eligible to die, or to expand the cadre of medical professionals entitled to end patient’s lives.

Now, hot on the heels of Washington State, it’s Hawaii. A bill has been filed to allow nurse practitioners to lethally prescribe and shorten the waiting period between request to die and distribution of the poison. From SB 323:

The purpose of this Act is to amend the Our Care, Our Choice Act to:

     (1)  Authorize advanced practice registered nurses, in addition to physicians, to practice medical aid in dying in accordance with their scope of practice and prescribing authority;

     (2)  Authorize psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, in addition to psychiatrists, psychologists, and clinical social workers, to provide counseling to a qualified patient;

     (3)  Reduce the mandatory waiting period between oral requests from twenty days to fifteen days; and

     (4)  Provide an expedited pathway for those terminally ill individuals not expected to survive the mandatory waiting period.

This is always the way. When activists sell assisted suicide, they promise that strict guidelines will protect against abuse.

But once the law has passed and people get used to doctors causing death, the protections are redefined as obstacles or burdens, and the law is loosened to make more people eligible to get dead quicker.

The ultimate destination is death on demand, which has already come to Germany.

Of course, this is a one-way street. Assisted-suicide/euthanasia laws are never tightened or repealed.

Law & the Courts

Chief Justice Roberts a Back-Channel ‘No’ on Presiding over Trump Impeachment Reboot

Loading...
Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts departs the Trump impeachment trial in Washington, January 29, 2020. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Officially, neither Chief Justice John Roberts nor the Supreme Court has commented on the fact that the chief justice will not preside over former president Donald Trump’s second Senate impeachment trial, set to begin in two weeks. Roberts, of course, sat on Trump’s first impeachment trial a year ago, while the latter was president.

Senator Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat whose seniority has landed him in the position of the Senate’s president pro tempore, will preside. The senator made no allusion to the chief justice in a statement he issued about the trial. He observed (among other things) that “the president pro tempore has historically presided over Senate impeachment trials of non-presidents.”

Nevertheless, it appears that there was some outreach from the Senate to the chief justice, who demurred. According to the New York Times, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) “said Chief Justice Roberts was uninterested in reprising a time-consuming role that would insert him and the Supreme Court into the political fight over Mr. Trump.” How exactly Roberts made his uninterest known to Schumer is not explained.

As I’ve noted (here and here), the Constitution (Article I, Section 3) states: “When the President of the United States is tried [by the Senate for impeachment], the Chief Justice shall preside[.]” Trump is no longer president of the United States; ergo, under a narrow but commonsense construction of this provision, the mandate that the chief justice preside over presidential impeachment trials does not apply. Nothing more needed to be said, even though, as our Dan McLaughlin contended, it would certainly have been preferable for Chief Justice Roberts to explain his reasoning in a formal written opinion — particularly if he was in fact asked and, upon consideration, declined.

For now, we’ll have to content ourselves with a fleeting reference in the Times to some back-channel communication.

World

China’s Opposition to Surrogacy Is Not a Matter of Conscience

Loading...
Children wave Chinese national flags as they take part in a celebration marking the upcoming National Day, at a kindergarten in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, September 29, 2017. (Stringer/Reuters)

A Chinese celebrity actress, Zheng Shuang, recently split with her boyfriend who has accused her of abandoning their two babies carried by surrogates in the United States. Shuang is alleged to have asked that the babies either be aborted or given up for adoption. The New York Times reports:

Beyond the salacious details of the celebrity breakup, the scandal surrounding Ms. Zheng touches on sensitive topics for a country that has a troubled history with women’s reproductive rights and that remains largely wedded to traditional notions of family.

For evidence of the “troubled history with women’s reproductive rights,” the Times links to an article concerning the Chinese government’s abandonment of its one-child policy and discovery that, despite its best efforts to encourage women to have more children, they still aren’t doing so. For evidence that China is “largely wedded to traditional notions of family,” the Times leaves us guessing.

Clearly, the Chinese Communist Party is not opposed to surrogacy because it is all about “traditional” family values. (Just look at its treatment of traditionally minded minorities.) Rather, it is opposed to babies being born without its say-so, beyond its jurisdiction, and with strong ties to its biggest foreign competitor and rival.

Culture

A Philosophical Life

Loading...
Detail of Aristotle with a Bust of Homer, by Rembrandt (1653) (Public domain / Metropolitan Museum of Art)

No, Aristotle is not my latest guest on Q&A. Neither is Homer, whose bust Aristotle is looking at. But I have a friend of Aristotle, so to speak: John Hare. Professor Hare is an eminent moral philosopher — a professor at Yale — who has thought and written about Aristotle a lot.

For our Q&A, go here. Professor Hare is a genial, marvelous guest.

He quotes Aristotle at the very beginning of our conversation. I asked something like this: “You can carry on your work more or less normally during the pandemic, right?” The answer:

“Aristotle said, the chief benefit of friendship is that you can do philosophy together. Philosophy is not best done all by yourself, in the cave. It’s best done with other people. Though I can communicate on Zoom, or read an e-mail, I miss conversation — in-person conversation — with my philosophical colleagues.”

Professor Hare has been talking philosophy for a long time. “My father wasn’t really interested in us as children until we could talk philosophy with him. In his view, that was the age of six, the age of reason.”

I think of a Winnie-the-Pooh title: “Now We Are Six.”

The Hare children’s father was R. M. Hare, an important philosopher at Oxford.

John Hare is a modest fellow, but I tease him out about his education. “I’m part of the last generation to have had a classical education, in the old-fashioned way. I started Latin and Greek at six and by the age of twelve I was reading nothing except those languages. I had read a large part of classical literature by the time I went to college.”

He did not have sciences, he says — but he scrambled to acquire them.

From high school, he was graduated darn early. Then he went to India. Why? “Because the Beatles did.” But of course! “This was back in the ’60s, and I wanted to learn how to meditate. So I went to teach at a high school in Kashmir, and I apprenticed myself to a master who taught me how to meditate, although he wanted me to sit on the ground to do that.” This was uncomfortable for the young Englishman — “but I learned a lot.”

On returning to England, he went to Balliol College, Oxford, and then, for his doctorate, Princeton. Why America? In part, to make his own way, in his own setting — a setting apart from his father’s Oxonian one. And in part to study with Gregory Vlastos (born in Istanbul in 1907 to a Scottish mother and a Greek father). Vlastos had said that Plato’s basic failure was a failure in love. “I wanted to find out what he meant by that.”

But what would Plato say? How would he answer that charge? Wouldn’t Professor Hare like to talk to him? “I think I will,” he says. “I think we’ll meet in heaven.”

There are four philosophers who mean a lot — an extra lot — to Professor Hare. In chronological order, they are Aristotle; Duns Scotus; Kant; “and then my father, whose voice I hear all the time in my ear.”

John Duns — commonly known as Duns Scotus, or just Scotus (no, we’re not talking about the U.S. Supreme Court) — was a Scotsman who lived in the 13th century and just into the 14th. He meant a lot to Gerard Manley Hopkins, the poet (1844–89), who would mean a lot to young John Hare. At Balliol, Hare lived in the same room as Hopkins. He read every word of Hopkins. And this led him to Scotus.

Professor Hare has taught Americans for a long time — 45 years? I ask him a funny question (and a not-funny one): How are we doing? Are we doomed? He chuckles, of course.

“Students have changed in America since the ’70s. One great cause of this is the Internet. This has made it harder for students to concentrate for long periods of time.”

Oh, man, he’s speaking directly to me. I once read books. Then I read articles. Then blogposts. Now I’m down to tweets. What’s next?

“The accessibility of information is extraordinary now.” But “the best thoughts take time. Take reflection. Take concentration. And take books. So you can’t have those thoughts if you’re flitting from one little leaf to the next, one flower to the next, for the nectar. You don’t get the thoughts if you do that.”

Oh, there’s a lot more in this rich, though relatively brief, conversation. You’ll love John Hare. My Q&A with him was one of the most pleasant interludes I’ve had in months. Again, go here.

McKinsey: Corporate Social Responsibility, the Putin Way

Loading...
Russian President Vladimir Putin at his annual end-of-year news conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, December 17, 2020. (Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via Reuters)

McKinsey & Company (“our commitment to making a difference in society is embedded in everything we do”) is one of those firms that like to emphasize how much they support “stakeholder capitalism”:

Business leaders should embrace the apparent contradiction—of low trust and high expectations—and make the choice to demonstrate that they see their mission as serving not only shareholders but also customers, suppliers, workers, and communities. The common term for this is “stakeholder capitalism” and we think its time has come.

Many CEOs say they agree—at least theoretically. There are certainly examples of businesses just talking the talk and not following through.

Well, since

Economy & Business

The Evidence on Minimum Wages and Jobs

Loading...

One of the most striking features of the academic debate on minimum wages is that the scope of disagreement extends to characterizations of the literature itself.

Normally, in an active literature, one economist would believe the right answer to a question is X, and another would believe it is Y, but the two would agree on what the body of evidence as a whole has to say on the subject.

Not so with the minimum wage. Some economists believe that the totality of the evidence suggests it reduces employment, while others believe the opposite.

To the rescue ride economists David Neumark and Peter Shirley. From the abstract of their new paper, released Monday:

Summaries [of the research literature on the minimum wage’s effect on employment] range from “it is now well-established that higher minimum wages do not reduce employment,” to “the evidence is very mixed with effects centered on zero so there is no basis for a strong conclusion one way or the other,” to “most evidence points to adverse employment effects.” We explore the question of what conclusions can be drawn from the literature, focusing on the evidence using subnational minimum wage variation within the United States that has dominated the research landscape since the early 1990s. To accomplish this, we assembled the entire set of published studies in this literature and identified the core estimates that support the conclusions from each study, in most cases relying on responses from the researchers who wrote these papers.

Our key conclusions are: (i) there is a clear preponderance of negative estimates in the literature; (ii) this evidence is stronger for teens and young adults as well as the less-educated; (iii) the evidence from studies of directly-affected workers points even more strongly to negative employment effects; and (iv) the evidence from studies of low-wage industries is less one-sided.

(Emphasis mine.)

U.S.

Re: When Insurrection Was Okay

Loading...

Rich Lowry is of course correct in calling out the hypocrisy of the media when it (correctly) condemned this month’s Capitol riot but (incorrectly) failed to condemn this summer’s George Floyd riots.

But I’ll look on the bright side: It will be a good thing if the Left now sees that desiring law and order is not only not racist but actually quite understandable. And here’s another lesson that perhaps it is learning: It was the Left, it should be recalled, that until recently rejected the idea of objective truth. Now all of a sudden, it seems to be open to the idea that perhaps there actually is such a thing.

One other observation for today: Arthur Brooks, formerly the president of the American Enterprise Institute, this month had a New-Year’s-resolution article that argued, convincingly, that a good way to be happier is to embrace A) forgiveness and B) gratitude. Now, is there anything more foreign to the Left than these two qualities? No wonder there is so little smiling over there.

Markets

The GameStop Squeeze

Loading...
An attendee uses a Nintendo Switch game console at the Paris Games Week trade fair in Paris, France, October 29, 2019. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

Okay, I can’t stop laughing. GameStop is a brick-and-mortar retailer that sells video games, video-game consoles, and junk. These are low-margin items, and the category is dying. Until recently, GameStop’s stock price was $4 and big institutional investors were apparently shorting the stock like crazy.

Maybe too crazily. Now, add in the the web app Robinhood, which allows users to open an account and use it for commission-free trading, including more-complex options and calls. Combine that with a growing community of day-trading and hobby investors on Reddit/wallstreetbets and in various Discord chat rooms — and suddenly an army of people armed with $500 in their accounts decided to squeeze the shorts. Some of this was accompanied with somewhat-dummy advice about how GameStop posted a surprise profit in a recent quarter, and has new people on their board.

Call it revenge of the day traders. The short-squeezers are openly parodying how they think big institutional investors pump and dump stocks and how they advise investors.

Wall Street halted trading of GameStop after it shot through $100 and even touched $150. (Why? I presume big investors just put pressure on them). Reddit and YouTube are filling up with little videos and screenshots of people who turned their tiny Robin Hood accounts into windfall profits.

How can guys with small accounts do this? Because as they bought the stock and bought various options and option calls on the stock, the investment institutions that shorted the stock and used various options to make money on the collapse of the stock, are forced to buy more shares to cover and hedge. There is basically a chain reaction.

A lot of normal investors are horrified by this kind of thing, and think that some time after this there will be rules introduced to stop the pitchfork brigades from squeezing the shorts.

But I think the Reddit short squeeze play is a public service overall. If your institution is shorting a stock so moronically that a few dudes with tiny accounts can make you pay out millions to them in gains, you and your institution are the idiots, not them.  It’s your turn to go onto CNBC on cry, while they go to their YouTube channels and gloat!

Media

The Press and Twitter: A Collective-Action Problem

Loading...

Megan McArdle thinks that media institutions should put restrictions on how their employees can use Twitter. Those institutions “become hostage to the stupidest or most extreme thing any employees have said in their most thoughtless moments. They also suffer when angry employees turn internal fights over policy into ugly public spectacles.” She concludes that “the big media outlets and the major think tanks should tell their employees to read Twitter all they like, but not to post anything more controversial than baby pictures or recipes for cornbread.”

I think she is right, even though it goes against my interests as an individual. Which gets to a point I think she underplays: Twitter boosts the influence of individual journalists at the expense of their institutions. That’s part of the problem it poses for journalism.

Politics & Policy

Edmund Burke on Principled Partisanship

Loading...
Statue of Edmund Burke at Trinity College in Dublin. (MEImages/Getty Images)

My column on Saturday explored the loss of the British monarchy’s power between 1770 and 1809 and Edmund Burke’s role in that process. Burke argued for the “honourable connection” of principled partisan politics as a substitute for governance by personal dispensation of patronage and favoritism by the crown. I can’t leave behind Burke’s 1770 pamphlet “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents,” which laid out this argument, without sharing some of Burke’s further observations on what principled partisanship is, and is not — observations that remain very much relevant today, as conservatives debate what it means to be loyal to a political team.

To Burke, the pursuit of partisan power was an extension of having principles, rather than a contradiction of them:

Party is a body of men united for promoting by their joint endeavours the national interest, upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed. For my part, I find it impossible to conceive that any one believes in his own politics, or thinks them to be of any weight, who refuses to adopt the means of having them reduced into practice. It is the business of the speculative philosopher to mark the proper ends of Government. It is the business of the politician, who is the philosopher in action, to find out proper means towards those ends, and to employ them with effect. Therefore, every honourable connection will avow it as their first purpose to pursue every just method to put the men who hold their opinions into such a condition as may enable them to carry their common plans into execution, with all the power and authority of the State.

Burke understood why parties had their critics:

I do not wonder that the behaviour of many parties should have made persons of tender and scrupulous virtue somewhat out of humour with all sorts of connection in politics. I admit that people frequently acquire in such confederacies a narrow, bigoted, and proscriptive spirit; that they are apt to sink the idea of the general good in this circumscribed and partial interest.

Yet, Burke defended partisanship from the charge of its critics that a party man should follow his party blindly in all things, even when it violated his own conscience:

In order to throw an odium on political connection, these politicians suppose it a necessary incident to it that you are blindly to follow the opinions of your party when in direct opposition to your own clear ideas, a degree of servitude that no worthy man could bear the thought of submitting to . . . Men thinking freely will, in particular instances, think differently. But still, as the greater Part of the measures which arise in the course of public business are related to, or dependent on, some great leading general principles . . . a man must be peculiarly unfortunate in the choice of his political company if he does not agree with them at least nine times in ten. If he does not concur in these general principles upon which the party is founded, and which necessarily draw on a concurrence in their application, he ought from the beginning to have chosen some other, more conformable to his opinions . . . Thus the disagreement will naturally be rare . . .

There is room, in Burke’s view, for principled dissent without leaving a party; but there is also room for compromising on smaller differences to get along:

When the question is in its nature doubtful, or not very material, the modesty which becomes an individual, and . . . that partiality which becomes a well-chosen friendship, will frequently bring on an acquiescence in the general sentiment.

There is, by the same token, a time for leaving one’s party, when there is a true disagreement on principle across the board:

[W]hen a gentleman with great visible emoluments abandons the party in which he has long acted, and tells you it is because he proceeds upon his own judgment that he acts on the merits of the several measures as they arise, and that he is obliged to follow his own conscience, and not that of others, he gives reasons which it is impossible to controvert, and discovers a character which it is impossible to mistake. What shall we think of him who never differed from a certain set of men until the moment they lost their power, and who never agreed with them in a single instance afterwards?

Independence, however, was a simplistic path — an earnest one, but ultimately weak and ineffectual in disregarding the organizing strength of parties:

It is an advantage to all narrow wisdom and narrow morals that their maxims have a plausible air, and, on a cursory view, appear equal to first principles. They are light and portable. They are as current as copper coin, and about as valuable. They serve equally the first capacities and the lowest, and they are, at least, as useful to the worst men as the best. Of this stamp is the cant of Not men, but measures; a sort of charm, by which many people got loose from every honourable engagement. When I see a man acting this desultory and disconnected part…I am not persuaded that he is right, but I am ready to believe he is in earnest. I respect virtue in all its situations, even when it is found in the unsuitable company of weakness. I lament to see qualities, rare and valuable, squandered away without any public utility.

Burke had no use for those who saw the sidelines as the moral high ground, and considered themselves too pure or principled for party politics in the first place:

When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle. It is not enough . . . that a man means well to his country; it is not enough that in his single person he never did an evil act, but always voted according to his conscience, and even harangued against every design which he apprehended to be prejudicial to the interests of his country. This innoxious and ineffectual character, that seems formed upon a plan of apology and disculpation, falls miserably short of the mark of public duty. That duty demands and requires, that what is right should not only be made known, but made prevalent; that what is evil should not only be detected, but defeated. When the public man omits to put himself in a situation of doing his duty with effect, it is an omission that frustrates the purposes of his trust almost as much as if he had formally betrayed it. It is surely no very rational account of a man’s life that he has always acted right; but has taken special care to act in such a manner that his endeavours could not possibly be productive of any consequence.

Burke, by the way, never said the quote sometimes attributed to him that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” But the opening line of that passage is his formulation of the same concept. It is why, in spite of my many and well-documented issues with Donald Trump’s public character and fitness for office, it was genuinely painful to me not to able in good conscience to vote for him in the 2016 and 2020 general elections, and why I have never criticized the choices of those who did, or those who found some way of working with Trump in office. Disagreement with one man should not mean abandoning the broader ties of party, forged by common principle. To Burke, refusing ever to join a team made no sense:

How men can proceed without any connection at all is to me utterly incomprehensible. Of what sort of materials must that man be made, how must he be tempered and put together, who can sit whole years in Parliament, with five hundred and fifty of his fellow-citizens, amidst the storm of such tempestuous passions, in the sharp conflict of so many wits, and tempers, and characters, in the agitation of such mighty questions, in the discussion of such vast and ponderous interests, without seeing any one sort of men, whose character, conduct, or disposition would lead him to associate himself with them, to aid and be aided, in any one system of public utility?

Principle required men to join parties rather than remain aloof:

[W]here duty renders a critical situation a necessary one, it is our business to keep free from the evils attendant upon it, and not to fly from the situation itself. If a fortress is seated in an unwholesome air, an officer of the garrison is obliged to be attentive to his health, but he must not desert his station. Every profession, not excepting the glorious one of a soldier, or the sacred one of a priest, is liable to its own particular vices; which, however, form no argument against those ways of life; nor are the vices themselves inevitable to every individual in those professions. Of such a nature are connections in politics; essentially necessary for the full performance of our public duty…Commonwealths are made of families, free Commonwealths of parties also . . .

Burke ultimately reminded his audience that politics is a human calling, requiring engagement with the world in ways that meant compromising with the world:

I remember an old scholastic aphorism, which says that “the man who lives wholly detached from others must be either an angel or a devil.” When I see in any of these detached gentlemen of our times the angelic purity, power, and beneficence, I shall admit them to be angels. In the meantime, we are born only to be men. We shall do enough if we form ourselves to be good ones. It is therefore our business…[t]o cultivate friendships, and to incur enmities. To have both strong, but both selected: in the one, to be placable; in the other, immovable. To model our principles to our duties and our situation. To be fully persuaded that all virtue which is impracticable is spurious, and rather to run the risk of falling into faults in a course which leads us to act with effect and energy than to loiter out our days without blame and without use. Public life is a situation of power and energy; he trespasses against his duty who sleeps upon his watch, as well as he that goes over to the enemy.

Beware, as Burke would, the counsel of despair: the argument that conservatives in American politics should abandon the only party in which they could have any effect, simply because the work is hard, the company sometimes uncomfortable or even hostile, and the attainment of goals frustratingly elusive. That lesson should be heeded by conservatives of every stripe, from classical liberals to populists, from religious conservatives to libertarians, from constitutionalists to free-marketers. We can respect those who mostly stand with us, even when they stand apart on occasion on their principles, or against ours. We are not angels, and are not made for the work of a world of angels. That means, in the long run: Choose a side.

Immigration

Biden’s Immigration Theater

Loading...

My Bloomberg Opinion column.

President Joe Biden’s proposal to overhaul the immigration laws could hardly be worse as a means of creating bipartisan consensus in Congress. It works as a way to keep the Democratic coalition happy, but not to get anything done. . . .

The Brazenness of China’s Vaccine Diplomacy

Loading...
U.S. and Chinese flags are displayed at an American International Chamber of Commerce (AICC) booth in Beijing, China, May 28, 2019. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

The Chinese Communist Party for months pushed absurd lies about COVID’s origins, and its most recent disinformation campaign about Western vaccines is no less ridiculous. Nevertheless, top Chinese diplomats are using public health as an issue with which they hope to get a foot in the door with the Biden administration.

The Wall Street Journal reported on the Chinese diplomatic effort this weekend, which has featured backchannel attempts to gauge the new administration’s interest in high-level meetings. In addition to working together on climate change, Beijing will ask for cooperation on the pandemic:

The Chinese side plans to propose that both sides

Politics & Policy

We Will Miss Senator Rob Portman

Loading...
Senator Rob Portman (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Ohio Republican Rob Portman’s departure from the Senate is an ominous sign for the GOP hopes of winning a majority of the chamber in 2022. Another Republican could well win the seat next year — in fact, in the abstract and based upon recent history, the GOP nominee is more likely to win in the Buckeye State. But Portman running for another term would have made the race uncompetitive and allowed Republicans to focus their resources elsewhere. Portman won 58 percent of the vote in 2016 and almost 57 percent in 2010.

Portman is the definitive “work horse, not a show horse.” He’s spent his time in the Senate focusing on not particularly splashy but consequential issues such as opioid addiction, human trafficking, veterans’ mental health care, human rights, and the First Step Act. The Ohio senator noted today that 82 of his bills were signed into law by President Trump, and 68 were signed into law by President Obama. In his statement about his future today, he suggested lawmakers with his approach and philosophy faced a steeper and more difficult road ahead:

I don’t think any Senate office has been more successful in getting things done, but honestly, it has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy, and that has contributed to my decision.

“We live in an increasingly polarized country where members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left, and that means too few people who are actively looking to find common ground. This is not a new phenomenon, of course, but a problem that has gotten worse over the past few decades.

Portman doesn’t create a lot of controversy, no one’s asking him to run for president, and he doesn’t create excitement as a guest on cable-news prime time. He just goes to work and gets bills passed, which used to be an important aspect of being a senator, back in the days before the federal government became an endless series of giant omnibus spending bills and executive orders.

The end of the Trump presidency has not ended grassroots Republicans’ hunger for splashy symbolic culture-war fights, often at the expense of getting legislation passed. A Republican political culture where Texas senator Ted Cruz thinks that getting into a Twitter war with Seth Rogen is a good use of his time is a culture where somebody such as Rob Portman is going to find something better and more productive to do with his life than serve in the Senate.

 

 

Religion

Re: The Biden Administration Cloaks Itself in Catholicism

Loading...
Former vice president Joe Biden and his sister Valerie Biden Owens are greeted by Pope Francis in Saint Peter’s Basilica, 2013. (Osservatore Romano/Reuters)

In response to The Biden Administration Cloaks Itself in Catholicism

Alexandra’s post above expertly summarizes how Joe Biden is already leaning on his Catholic identity as a kind of political obfuscation concerning how he will act on abortion-related issues, and Ramesh explores some of the other contradictions of this outlook. But there is another kind of obfuscation in this area worth dwelling on: that of media outlets, who are already treating Biden’s faith quite differently from certain other presidents. See this tweet promoting a New York Times story about Biden’s religious identity:

The story itself  writes of the public image of Biden’s faith in a predictably adulatory tone:

There are myriad changes with the incoming Biden administration. One of the most significant: a president who has spent a lifetime steeped in Christian rituals and practices.

Mr. Biden, perhaps the most religiously observant commander in chief in half a century, regularly attends Mass and speaks of how his Catholic faith grounds his life and politics.

I may be young, but I am old enough to remember a president, in George W. Bush, who regularly invoked his Christian faith, who established a White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, and who even once told an audience of voters that his favorite philosopher was Jesus Christ. It’s also worth mentioning former president Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school teaching. As with much modern journalism, this analysis of Biden seems trapped in the present-tense.

If it weren’t, it may have included an account not merely of Bush’s religious identity, but of how the Left reacted to it then. The specter of theocracy was constantly lurking in the paranoid liberal imagination during Bush’s presidency. After the 2004 election, Democrats mockingly designated vast swaths of America “Jesusland.” You don’t even need to have a memories of 2004 to recall how the prospect of people of faith influencing public policy over the past four years inspired dark imaginings of a Handmaid’s Tale, or concerns about the “creeping autocracy” being advanced by conservative Catholics in concert with former president Trump.

This isn’t mere whataboutism. In a pluralistic, religious, and free society such as the United States, faith is a welcome factor in the lives of our elected leaders, including in Joe Biden. But it says something revealing that a particular kind of faith is anathema in the media, while another kind has its blessing.

World

U.K. Cop Charged for Sharing a Meme

Loading...
Police officers wearing protective masks stand in front of The National Gallery on the first day of a newly imposed coronavirus lockdown in London, England, November 5, 2020. (John Sibley/Reuters)

Roughly once a week, I am paralyzed by an all-encompassing wish to move to the U.S. Friends, colleagues, and other assorted Britons often react with repulsion when I detail this desire. “How could you!” — they cry — while listing off readymade soundbites on the epidemic of gun violence, the “latest coup attempt,” and the battalions of mobilized Boomers ready to blow themselves up over conspiracy theories they read on Facebook.

But I reassure them that all of these issues pale in comparison to the vast consumer surplus available over the Atlantic, the fact that everything I say over there is treated with additional respect simply due to my sounding like a low-rent Hugh Grant . . . and because I can’t be dragged to the courts for sharing a meme.

That last point is especially poignant this week, with a police sergeant from the Devon and Cornwall force in southwest England being charged with sharing a “grossly offensive” meme of George Floyd on May 30, five days after his death.

The policeman was suspended from duty and charged under Section 127 of the Communications Act (2003, which makes it an offense to send a message that “is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.”)

Floyd was one of the most influential figures in British politics in 2020. Some 250,000 people took to the streets to protest racism — during a pandemic, no less — following his death. Millions tune in every week to watch our soccer players kneel for a moment’s silence before the start of each fixture. Fans at Millwall, in South London, were slaughtered throughout the media when they booed kneeling at their ground. This was a legitimate political protest, but it prompted an investigation from the Football Association and total condemnation from the breadth of British society.

And now our modern obscenity laws will be used to ruin a man’s life over a meme.

Catrin Evans, of the Independent Office for Police Conduct, said: “It will be of considerable public concern that such an image was apparently shared among colleagues by a serving police officer.”

What is more concerning to me and many other members of the public is the existence of a law that can punish you for thinking and speaking according to conscience, no matter how crass, rude, or “grossly offensive” that may be.

There is a growing political orthodoxy on either edge of the Atlantic. But at least you will be spared the might of the justice system if you wish to challenge it or just make rude jokes about it on the Western side.

Religion

No Sexual Politics Please, We’re Liberals

Loading...

Elizabeth Dias’s New York Times article on President Biden’s faith calls him “perhaps the most religiously observant commander in chief in half a century.” I’d like to know the criteria that have him beat, for starters, Jimmy Carter, who taught Sunday school for forty years. I’ll let others address the main topic Dias takes up, the relationship between liberalism and Christianity, and instead note another feature of her article: a common but it seems to me obviously incorrect characterization of liberalism to which she repeatedly returns.

She writes that “with Mr. Biden, a different, more liberal Christianity is ascendant: less focused on sexual politics and more on combating poverty, climate change and racial inequality.” This characterization makes sense only if it is “sexual politics” to try to provide legal protections for unborn life but not “sexual politics” to try to provide taxpayer money for abortion. Biden didn’t pick Xavier Becerra to be his HHS secretary because he has a strong record on combating poverty. He has a strong record as a progressive culture warrior.

As for Dias’s suggestion that Biden is on the same page with Pope Francis on abortion, I’ll refer you to something the latter wrote on the subject just two months ago: “Is it fair to eliminate a human life to resolve a problem? Is it fair to hire a hitman to resolve a problem?” If Biden has said anything similar, I must have missed it.

Health Care

Why Such a Discrepancy between the State Vaccine Dose Figures and the CDC’s Numbers?

Loading...
Governor Andrew Cuomo adjusts his mask during an event in New York, October 12, 2020. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Following up today’s Morning Jolt, there is a bizarrely vast discrepancy between the number of doses that the CDC says New York State received and the number of doses that the state government says it received. Whenever you have two different authorities updating separate datasets and websites differently, they are likely to be updated at different times and have some modest difference in the figures. But New York’s reported shipments are a half million fewer doses than what the CDC recorded.

According to New York State’s vaccination-data website, the state received 1,304,050 first doses of the vaccine, and 564,600 second doses, for 1,868,650 total doses.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, the state received  2,395,950 doses.
The CDC says New York received almost 2.4 million vaccine doses.
That’s a gap of 527,300 doses! Yes, one dataset might be updated faster than the other, but a half a million doses is an awfully big update. And for what it’s worth, New York’s dashboard says it is “updated daily with data as of approximately 11 am the same day.” The CDC says its data are current as of January 24. There shouldn’t be a discrepancy of this magnitude.

Other states have much more understandable discrepancies. The state of New Jersey vaccination-data website does not track and update the number of doses received, but does track the number of doses administered — 565,401 as of shortly after 9 a.m. this morning. That’s not too far from the 535,625 on the CDC website, as of this morning.

The state of California’s vaccination-data website says that as of January 17, “a total of 3,226,775 vaccine doses, which includes the first and second dose, have been shipped to local health departments and health care systems that have facilities in multiple counties.” The CDC figures for the amount of doses distributed California are updated to yesterday afternoon, January 24, so we would expect the CDC numbers to be higher. But 1.67 million doses higher? The CDC says California received more than 4.9 million doses.

Maybe when the California state website updates its figures, those numbers will be closer together. The state website says it had administered 1,393,224 doses as of January 17, and as you can see above, the CDC says California has administered almost 2.2. million. (If the CDC’s figures are accurate, California is averaging 115,000 vaccinations per day.)

There’s no crime or malfeasance in a state’s set of numbers lagging behind that of the CDC. But these are some massive differences in the numbers, and that might explain certain state or local officials contending that they’re on the verge of running out, while the CDC’s figures suggest they have a significant number of doses waiting to be used. Then again, certain state or local officials might be looking for a scapegoat to distract from their own bad decisions.

Politics & Policy

The Biden Administration Cloaks Itself in Catholicism

Loading...
President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris attend mass before the inauguration at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., January 20, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Over at the Catholic Herald’s “Chapter House” blog, my latest column takes a look at how President Biden appears prepared to cloak his administration in Catholicism to avoid scrutiny for his pro-abortion policies. Here’s a bit of what I had to say:

We should never judge another man’s relationship with God, nor place limits on God’s mercy — but one need not scrutinize Joe Biden’s conscience to note that several of his highest public policy priorities directly contradict non-negotiable teachings of the faith he professes.

Out of one side of his mouth, President Biden says he finds in Catholic nuns his inspiration, while he vows out of the other to sue the Little Sisters of the Poor if they fail to provide abortion-inducing drugs to their employees.

Why did Jen Psaki, Biden’s press secretary, take the time during her very first press briefing to inform media members that President Biden is a devout Catholic?

Her comment came in an effort to dodge to a question about whether Biden will roll back the Mexico City policy, which prevents U.S. aid money from funding global abortions, and the Hyde amendment, which prevents federal entitlement programs from directly reimbursing for abortion procedures here in the U.S.

“I don’t have anything more for you on that,” Psaki told reporters. She offered merely the reminder that Biden is a “devout Catholic.”

In other words, this administration’s spokesperson appears prepared to invoke the president’s Catholic faith in order to escape scrutiny about his planned policy position on government-funded abortion. Reports on Thursday morning indicated that, his Catholicism notwithstanding, Biden is preparing to undo the Mexico City policy just as soon as he gets a chance.

It’s one thing to push for federally funded abortion and reinstitute U.S. funding of abortions around the globe despite the opposition of most Americans and most Democrats. But it’s quite another thing to do so while gesturing at Biden’s supposedly devout Catholic faith, as if his baptism is a “get out of jail free” card for any policy decision he makes in contradiction of the Church.

Culture

PGW, FYI

Loading...
At Chelsea Piers in Manhattan, New York City, December 18, 2020 (Jay Nordlinger)

There’s no snow on the range now, as there is above. I took that photo about a month ago. But yesterday, someone was saying there’s more snow coming soon.

On the homepage today, I have an essay: “Golf in a Time of Pandemic: Or, home on the range.” Have you ever been golf-mad? Or mad about anything? Then you’ll “relate,” as we used to say in the ’70s, I think.

I’d like to publish some mail, but before I do, I’d better publish a brief excerpt from my piece, so you know how Wodehouse enters into the whole deal:

Hearing I was back in the game, my National Review colleague Kevin Williamson sent me a dozen balls. You know the most famous line from NR’s mission statement (1955)? The one about standing athwart history, “yelling Stop”? Well, these balls are stamped, “Standing athwart history, yelling Fore!”

(I pause to recall one of my favorite opening lines in all of literature. P. G. Wodehouse begins a short story, “It was a morning when all nature shouted Fore.”)

That line comes from “The Heart of a Goof,” which is the titular story of a Wodehouse collection. You know who gave me that collection, about 20 years ago? Another NR colleague, Kathryn Jean Lopez.

So, a reader writes with “one of my favorite passages in the entire Wodehouse canon,” as he says. The passage comes from “The Coming of Gowf,” a story in the collection The Clicking of Cuthbert. (Bear “Gowf” in mind, because I will comment on pronunciation soon.)

The passage in question:

“Who,” he inquired, “is that?”

“He is one of your Majesty’s gardeners,” replied the Vizier.

“I don’t remember seeing him before. Who is he?”

The Vizier was a kind-hearted man, and he hesitated for a moment.

“It seems a hard thing to say of anyone, your Majesty,” he replied, “but he is a Scotsman.”

I shared this passage with NR’s resident Scotswoman, Madeleine Kearns — the kind of person with whom you can share such things, with serene safety.

Another reader writes,

Years ago, I picked up a book at the library, the dog chewed on it, so I ended up paying for it. I never minded that because it was not damaged enough to be unreadable, just too damaged to put back on library shelves. The book was The Golf Omnibus, and it contained every single one of Wodehouse’s golf stories, and I have loved it. It was a hardback book, about two or more inches thick. I’m not a golfer, but I love his golf stories.

Word.

Speaking of words: John Guaspari, a golf writer himself, writes,

During your recent podcast with Sally Jenkins et al., you seemed to be pronouncing the word “golf” without the L: “goff.” Or if the L was in there, it was kind of swallowed.

Was I hearing you right? If so, is that a Michigander thing? Or were you following the example of Arnold Palmer, who always pronounced it that way? (And if so, is it a Western Pennsylvania thing?)

For me, “golf” has no L. Neither does “wolf” or “folk.” Neither — hold on to your socks — does that Tennessee president, “Polk.” I would no sooner put an L in golf than I would in “yolk,” “talk,” or “half.”

The last name of two of my nieces and nephews is “Wolf,” and they live in New York. They think that my, and my mother’s, pronunciation of their last name is hilarious and mysterious.

When I responded to John Guaspari, he wrote,

Differences in the pronunciation of “golf” are mere quibbles. What is not a quibble, though, is using “golf” as a verb. Mortal sin.

Ha! I’m inclined to agree — I always “play golf,” rather than “golf” — but it must be acknowledged: We English-speakers can make a verb out of anything, and do.

At any rate, John cites a scene from the movie Spotlight (2015). The Mark Ruffalo character says, “Hey, shouldn’t you be golfing?” The Michael Keaton character answers, “Golfing’s not a verb. And I couldn’t get a tee time today.”

Dang. Anyway, my golf piece, for your enjoyment, is here.

World

Moderna: Our Vaccine Works against the B.1.1.7 Strain

Loading...
A nurse prepares a syringe with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for a worker of the New York City Fire Department Bureau of Emergency Medical Services in New York City, December 23, 2020. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

The week begins with some good news, as Moderna says its vaccine works against the U.K. strain and the South African strain:

Vaccination with the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine produced neutralizing titers against all key emerging variants tested, including B.1.1.7 and B.1.351, first identified in the UK and Republic of South Africa, respectively. The study showed no significant impact on neutralizing titers against the B.1.1.7 variant relative to prior variants. A six-fold reduction in neutralizing titers was observed with the B.1.351 variant relative to prior variants. Despite this reduction, neutralizing titer levels with B.1.351 remain above levels that are expected to be protective. This study was conducted in collaboration with the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. The manuscript has been submitted as a preprint to bioRxiv and will be submitted for peer-reviewed publication.

Last week, in his press briefing at the White House, Dr. Anthony Fauci pointed out that a new strain is unlikely to be completely resistant to the current vaccines.

What we likely will be seeing is a diminution — more South Africa than U.K. — U.K. — is that diminution in what would be the efficacy of the vaccine-induced antibodies.

Now, that does not mean that the vaccines will not be effective, and let me explain why. There’s a thing called a “cushion effect.” So, if you have a vaccine, like the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccine, that can suppress the virus at a dilution, let’s say, of 1 to 1,000, and the mutant influences it by bringing it down to maybe 1 to 800, or something like that, you’re still well above the line of not being effective.  So there’s that “cushion” that even though it’s diminished somewhat, it still is effective. That’s what we’re seeing, both certainly with the UK, which is very minimal effect. We’re following very carefully the one in South Africa, which is a little bit more concerning, but nonetheless, not something that we don’t think that we can handle.

What is the message?  Because someone can say, “Now, wait a minute — if you have the possibility that the vaccines are diminishing in their impact, why are we vaccinating people?” No. It is all the more reason why we should be vaccinating as many people as you possibly can.  Because as long as the virus is out there replicating — viruses don’t mutate unless they replicate. And if you can suppress that by a very good vaccine campaign, then you could actually avoid this deleterious effect that you might get from the mutations.

Bottom line: We’re paying very close attention to it. There are alternative plans if we ever have to modify the vaccine. That is not something that is a very onerous thing. We can do that given the platforms we have. But right now, from the reports we have — literally, as of today — it appears that the vaccines will still be effective against them, with the caveat in mind you want to pay close attention to it.

One less thing to worry about . . . for now.

Education

Students Are Taking on Loads of Debt. So Are Their Parents

Loading...

People talk about the growing level of student college debt, but that isn’t the whole problem. Parents are also borrowing more and more to finance college through Parent PLUS Loans.

In today’s Martin Center article, Anna Martina looks into the growth of such lending.

Parent Plus loans aren’t new, but have been increasing: back in 1990, only 4 percent of students were also getting such funding; today, it’s 20 percent. Of course, the default rate is rising too.

Martina writes, “Despite their higher interest rates, origination fees, and a growing default rate, parents are still taking out PLUS loans. Like the single mom in Alabama who wanted her daughter to attend college, most take on this debt with the hopes that their children will have successful futures. However, many parents are stuck with debt, and their children don’t earn a degree. Rather than acting as a leg up for families that are struggling, Parent PLUS loans add yet another burden to the young and the old.”

She also points out that some schools sugarcoat PLUS loans, telling parents that they’re “low interest” when in fact the interest on them is almost twice that for student loans.

The parents ensnared by these loans are more apt to have students at lower-ranked schools as well as at HBCUs.

Martina concludes, “The UNC Board of Governors doesn’t have the authority to limit how much students can borrow, but they can make more of an effort to educate students about the riskiness of debt. They could also provide more information about student outcomes and the problems with indebtedness that often accompany Parent PLUS loans. Potential students need to know the risks as well as the possible benefits of attending college. Chasing a college degree shouldn’t mean leaving parents trapped in debt.”

Politics & Policy

The Rushed, Delayed Impeachment

Loading...

The problem with impeachment was that it seemed inevitable that it would either be so rushed that it would dispense with every traditional process and therefore lack legitimacy or that it would stretch beyond Trump’s time in office with no chance to convict and therefore lack legitimacy. And Congress being what it is, it’s actually turning out to be both!

The House couldn’t be bothered to take more than an afternoon with it and didn’t even write a careful article of impeachment. And now, with Senate Democrats wanting to confirm Biden’s cabinet and take up other business, and with Senate Republicans wanting to give the Trump team time to muster a defense, the trial will start a couple of weeks after Trump has left for Mar-a-Lago. Because of the complications of a post-presidency trial, Kamala Harris or Patrick Leahy might preside, not Chief Justice John Roberts. And Senate Republicans who, as far I can tell, were skeptical of this undertaking from the beginning, are saying publicly that there’s no chance of convicting.

On the other hand, it seems likely that impeachment is going to create a political backlash among Republicans that empowers the Trump forces. The backlash is already brewing and will presumably gain force as the debate begins to focus on disqualifying Trump from future office — which is going to strike ordinary Republicans as vindictive and undemocratic, no matter how deserved.

There were no good options in terms of timing here, given that Trump’s most flagrant post-election offense came two weeks away from his scheduled exit from office. But it would have been prudent to recognize that fact and adjust accordingly by pocketing the House’s impeachment article after passage and moving to a censure vote that might have passed the Senate 80–20, in an expeditious manner.

 

World

Chatting with ‘C’

Loading...

Since the COVID-19 lockdown began, we at the Danube Institute in Budapest have been compensating for our inability to hold lectures, seminars, and conferences by launching a series of podcasts — originally titled “Lockdown Dialogues,” now renamed the “Danube Dialogues.” By and large, the podcasts have been a success, though perhaps a little ragged at the edges as we learn the ropes. Douglas Murray started the series, and Rich was interviewed about his book The Case for Nationalism. Both episodes proved popular. This week, however, our latest Dialogue broke out of the podcast ghetto and into Fleet Street.

Our guest was Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, as Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service is familiarly known, and the topic was his career and his views on the various issues and controversies that had erupted both during his time at SIS — in five years of which he was “C.” He was interviewed by myself and by my colleague, Mark Higgie, a former Australian Ambassador to NATO, the EU, and Hungary, now a senior fellow at the Danube Institute. And perhaps because the interview was not a hostile interrogation but a fairly relaxed conversation, Dearlove was very forthcoming in his accounts and criticisms on  topics as various as whether the European Union is heading for a smash-up and whether John le Carré had been any good as an MI6 agent.

But you can judge for yourself here.

My guess is that there were almost a dozen good “takeaways” from this interview and more than one scoop. The Sunday Telegraph was first out of the starting gate here, with a story that focused on Dearlove’s criticism of the civil servants who in 2003 had committed the UK to the participation of Huawei in the country’s infrastructure without informing ministers in the Blair government:

“I was chief when the original deal was signed with Huawei, and at the time we were not consulted,” Dearlove said during the podcast, continuing:

The government let this go through, and some of us, when we heard about it, were intensely shocked. We were becoming partially dependent on Chinese technology, and I think there’s no question now with 5G this is something we need to scale back and we need to be wary of.

He was accordingly “thrilled” that last year the Tory government had reduced Huawei’s access to the more sensitive parts of the UK’s communications network. That decision represented a change from dealing with China mainly as a trading partner to treating it as a security problem. But has that change gone far enough — either on China policy or in relation to Huawei and 5G?

That’s the biggest takeaway from the interview. But Americans would also be interested in Dearlove’s account of how the Brits and the U.S., especially the Defense Department, differed on how Iraq should be run after the defeat of Saddam Hussein — the Brits wanted to keep the Iraqi army in being so as to govern the country through a group of Baathist generals, but the Pentagon insisted on demobilizing the army and moving quickly to democratic elections.

Maybe too quickly? Watch the interview.

Sports

How Will Women’s Sports Work?

Loading...
The starting blocks at the USATF Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, N.M., February 15, 2020 (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports/Reuters)

The Wall Street Journal has an appropriately tough op-ed on the Biden executive order which will push all public schools to open up their girls’ facilities to transgender girls — young men who identify as young women.

I’m curious to see what this looks like in practice on a wide scale. The dominance of two transgender athletes in Connecticut’s track sports inspired a lawsuit asserting the state’s policy violated Title IX. The ruling that it indeed violated Title IX is probably unlikely to survive Justice Gorsuch’s bizarre Bostock decision. Nor the revised guidance coming from the Biden decision.

But in any case my guess is that there’s going to be a short period in which girls’ sports continue relatively normally in many schools — but that it may become routine for the best existing girls’ athletes to drop out after the entrance of trans athletes into their sport. Will the teams survive? Will there be a concerted effort to shame young girls into being polite and even enthusiastic losers in competitions they have no hope of winning?

In the longer term, I wonder if these decisions will divert more young women away from public school facilities and into private extracurriculars like dance. The pattern across the world is that as more choices open up, the sexes tend to diverge more in their choices of professions and hobbies. I wonder if the 2020s’ identity movement will, on the whole, tend to “gender” extra-curricular activities even more — pushing more women away from increasingly “male” athletics into something else.

Also, how will this work at higher levels? Surely we’re not far away from America lobbying the Olympic committee on these matters. Will “less enlightened” countries want to play by the new rules?

Politics & Policy

Student-Loan Forgiveness — Who Gains the Most?

Loading...
(Rattankun Thongbun/Getty Images)

The narrative we always hear is that college graduates are suffering under the terrible burden of their student loans and hence the big political push to generously bail them out.

In fact, relatively few grads have the onerous debt burdens we hear about. For most, the debts are quite manageable, especially if your credentials have gotten you into a lucrative profession. Bailing those people out of their student-loan debts transfers the cost from successful professionals to the taxpayers.

That’s the point that Richard Vedder, Thomas Lindsay, and Andrew Gillen make in this piece published in The Hill.

The authors write, “Progressives often portray themselves as fighting against attempts by the rich and powerful to hijack public policy to enrich themselves at taxpayers’ expense. So why, in the name of fighting for the oppressed, are they trying to send well-compensated dentists, doctors, and lawyers six-figure checks? While there are certainly dentists, medical doctors, and lawyers who are struggling with debt, many others are lavishly compensated and can afford to repay their loans.”

Vedder, Lindsay, and Gillen point out that there are existing policies that can assist students who are in over their heads with debt; there is no case whatsoever for the kind of sweeping loan forgiveness that many Democrats are talking about.

It was a colossal blunder for the federal government ever to have gotten into the business of financing postsecondary education, and the costs of that blunder keep mounting.  The more that taxpayers pick up the expense of putting students through college and grad school, the more wasteful the whole system becomes.

Culture

On the 48th Anniversary of Legal Abortion in America, We Must Use Love to End Abortion

Loading...
Signs outside the Supreme Court during the March for Life rally, January 27, 2017. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

On Wednesday, I was watching Joe Biden’s inauguration. I was appreciating George W. and Laura Bush, Dick Cheney, and others who probably weren’t the biggest Biden for President or Trump for President supporters being there. I was glad Mike Pence was there. It all seemed a sign of peace and unity. And then the new president talked about humility and tolerance and seemed to respect the people in the country who didn’t support him.

I noticed Kamala Harris was wearing purple, a penitential color, which seemed to be appropriate (even if she was wearing it for different reasons). Right and Left have been complicit in adding to the violence in our society with both words and politics. Recriminations on the Right are ongoing. Does the Democratic Party realize that if they let there be room in their party for pro-lifers, Donald Trump as president may have never happened?

Today is a grave day. The 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. Abortion was legalized at once during all three trimesters of pregnancy. A war was declared between mother and child. It was so dehumanizing and has forever made us a more violent culture. I do not believe, as some seem to, that we’re going to see the end of Roe because of Trump judges — as wonderful as that would be for humanity. Our law teaches something awful for a near half-century. But does anyone think that the country is ready for the reversal of Roe? On this day, and throughout next week on the march to the virtual March for Life, we should all recommit ourselves to being light on this issue, knowing and sharing resources and walking with women.

On January 22, I frequently reread an old Fr. Richard John Neuhaus National Right to Life convention speech, which includes:

We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until all the elderly who have run life’s course are protected against despair and abandonment, protected by the rule of law and the bonds of love. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every young woman is given the help she needs to recognize the problem of pregnancy as the gift of life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, as we stand guard at the entrance gates and the exit gates of life, and at every step along the way of life, bearing witness in word and deed to the dignity of the human person—of every human person.

Like John Paul II’s Evangelism Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”), it expresses great love for the mother and child. And we never stop loving the mother.

Making my own the words of the concluding message of the Second Vatican Council, I address to women this urgent appeal: “Reconcile people with life”. You are called to bear witness to the meaning of genuine love, of that gift of self and of that acceptance of others which are present in a special way in the relationship of husband and wife, but which ought also to be at the heart of every other interpersonal relationship. The experience of motherhood makes you acutely aware of the other person and, at the same time, confers on you a particular task: “Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman’s womb … This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings not only towards her own child, but every human being, which profoundly marks the woman’s personality”. A mother welcomes and carries in herself another human being, enabling it to grow inside her, giving it room, respecting it in its otherness. Women first learn and then teach others that human relations are authentic if they are open to accepting the other person: a person who is recognized and loved because of the dignity which comes from being a person and not from other considerations, such as usefulness, strength, intelligence, beauty or health. This is the fundamental contribution which the Church and humanity expect from women. And it is the indispensable prerequisite for an authentic cultural change.

I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.

You cannot be pro-life without loving the mother and the child. We must love an end to abortion, not just fight in law and public policy.

I had to stop listening to President Biden’s inaugural speech because I got a call from someone asking me to walk to a nearby abortion clinic to greet a woman who is pregnant with a 1:30 abortion appointment. The point of me going over was to say hello and offer her help once more — she had reached out for help, but seemed to be under some pressure. The good news is she never showed up and people are trying to help her. But many other women went in, and some of them seemed to have no idea that there was an alternative for them, shocked as they seemed when a young man said there is help and even free housing for them if they want to have their babies.

On this day, the president of the United States who quotes JPII when convenient reaffirmed, three days into his administration, his commitment to expanding abortion. Women deserve better. America is better.

Donald Trump had some life-affirming and protecting policies in a harsh package. That may have done tremendous damage to the work of changing hearts and minds.

Please join me in praying in penance and reparation for so much unnecessary violence and death — and for conversion miracles, now.

Politics & Policy

The Senate Impeachment Court of . . . Vice President Harris?

Loading...
Vice President Kamala Harris during the 59th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C., January 20, 2021. (Greg Nash/Pool via Reuters)

I am so grateful for Dan’s column today, which pores over questions about the imminent impeachment trial that have been bouncing around my head, too.

To borrow Dan’s terms for dividing the competing camps on the fundamental constitutional question, I have long adhered to the originalist argument that government officials, including the president, may properly be impeached after they have left office. In addition to colonial impeachment provisions, I recounted in Faithless Execution that the Framers were influenced by the British impeachment experience. Their contemporary example was Warren Hastings, whose impeachment by Parliament, led by Edmund Burke and based on high crimes and misdemeanors, occurred after Hastings was no longer Britain’s governor-general of Bengal.

That is part of why I argued in 2016 that congressional Republicans ought to impeach former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton based on the emails scandal, among disreputable conduct. I had no thought that they’d actually impeach her, but raising the subject in the context of the Constitution’s disqualification penalty for impeached officials would, to my mind, have underscored her unfitness to be president. (I also argued that, if the roles were reversed, Democrats would not hesitate to impeach a potential Republican presidential candidate just because that candidate was no longer in office.)

I’d note that the only reason for pushing forward with former President Trump’s impeachment is to underscore his unfitness to be president in the future. As with Mrs. Clinton, the chance of the penalty’s actually being applied to Trump is nil — the votes will not be there. But it may dawn on Republicans that two can play at this game. Democrats have a tendency to blaze new trails only to find, to their chagrin, that the blade cuts both ways.

In any event, I am not holding my breath for a written opinion from Chief Justice Roberts, even though I agree with Dan that it would be beneficial to have one regarding such fundamental questions as (1) whether the Senate has jurisdiction to hold an impeachment trial for a former president who is now a private citizen, and (2) whether, if he is asked by the Senate to preside over the trial, the chief justice has the authority to decline on the rationale that it is not a presidential impeachment trial. While these questions are clearly related, they are separate. Even if one concludes (as I do) that the Senate does have jurisdiction to try a former president, it does not necessarily follow that the trial would be a presidential impeachment of the kind that the Framers intended the Supreme Court’s chief justice to preside over. The latter, I believe, is reserved for the incumbent president.

As Dan notes in recounting the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s ruminations on the matter, the Framers considered but rejected the scenario of having the federal judiciary preside over impeachment trials. It was thought better to leave this essentially political proceeding to the judgment of the Senate.

In terms of the trial’s public legitimacy, however, leaving it to the Senate created an obvious problem: The presiding officer of the Senate, the vice president of the United States, would have a conflict of interest. If the president were impeached and removed, the vice president would accede to the presidency. Thus the vice president would have a motive to influence the trial in favor of conviction.

It is to avoid this specter that the Constitution provides for the chief justice’s participation. The role is more ceremonial than substantive. The Senate retains plenary authority over impeachment and may overrule the chief justice (just as in non-presidential impeachments, in which the chief justice has no role, the full Senate may overrule the presiding official).

Unlike an incumbent president’s impeachment trial, a Senate trial of former President Trump would present no conflict of interest for the current vice president. Trump is out of office. Were he convicted, it would have no effect on Vice President Kamala Harris. President Biden would remain president.

Consequently, I surmise that Chief Justice Roberts, who is characteristically risk-averse and whose top priority has been keeping the Supreme Court out of political frays, would be inclined to say no if asked to preside over the trial, unless the Senate can convince him otherwise by a compelling legal argument. To do that, the Senate would have to establish that the presidential impeachment referred to in Article I, Section 3, refers to the office the impeached official has held, not to the person presently holding the office. To the contrary, the plain text cuts against this proposition: “When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside” (emphasis added). Donald Trump is not the president of the United States.

So, back to the politics of this political process. If Chief Justice Roberts is not visibly managing the trial, giving it the patina of judicial detachment and rigor, what we’ll primarily be left with is this: democrats conducting a blatantly political trial of their archnemesis, President Trump, even though he’s no longer in office, over the objection of many if not most Republicans, without an overwhelming consensus in the country in support of impeachment. It would take place despite significant dissent from many scholars about whether the proceedings are constitutionally legitimate, and the reaction of many Republicans, particularly Trump’s base, would be fierce. And matters would be made worse if Democrats stay perched on their high horse over the insurrection at the Capitol while continuing to remain mum about the insurrection in America’s cities — the left-wing violence they ludicrously describe as “mostly peaceful” when not lionizing it as a quest for racial justice.

Democrats have made a calculation that the risk of blowback, and of exploding President Biden’s promises of unity, are worth running for the benefits of mollifying their base and getting every Republican senator on record saying “guilty” or “not guilty.” It still seems to me that they could get most of what they want from a censure without tying the country in knots for weeks in an exercise that, for Democrats, could go very wrong — a partisan brouhaha masquerading as a trial, at the end of which Trump gets acquitted and claims vindication.

I guess we’ll see.

Energy & Environment

Yes, Biden Wants to End Fracking

Loading...
President-elect Joe Biden announces his national security nominees and appointees at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Del., November 24, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

We know Joe Biden wants to end fracking not only because his campaign literature promised to achieve “a 100 percent clean energy economy and net-zero emissions” in a few decades but because he explicitly asserted as much on numerous occasions.

When CNN’s Dana Bash asked Biden during a Democratic primary debate: “Would there be any place for fossil fuels including coal and fracking in a Biden administration?” Biden responded, “No, we would we would work it out. We would make sure it’s eliminated.” When Bernie Sanders said, “I’m talking about stopping fracking, as soon as we possibly can,” Biden replied, “No more, no new fracking.”

In an exchange in New Hampshire during the primary, a voter asked the then-presidential candidate: “But like, what about, say, stopping fracking?” Biden answered: “Yes.”

Yet, when the Trump campaign ran an ad featuring a woman saying, “If Joe Biden’s elected, he’ll end fracking. . . . That would be the end of my job and thousands of others,” the Associated Press, Washington Post, Factcheck.org, and many other outlets, threw up a bunch of red herrings to mitigate the damage that this position would cause among independents in places such as Pennsylvania.

Anyway, on his very first day on the job, Biden did what he had promised, using executive power to limit fracking to the best of his ability, stopping construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, establishing a bunch of  new fracking regulations on public lands, and reinstating the pseudoscientific, anti-fracking “Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases.”

In a Forbes article, “Did Biden Break Campaign Promise On Fracking? No—And Here’s Why,” Rachel Sandler makes the acutely irrelevant observation that “the president does not even have the power to ban fracking nationally.” Biden, you see, is only banning the fracking he can ban. Which is tantamount to arguing that Donald Trump never supported a wall on the southern border because he didn’t have the power to unilaterally build it.

No serious person would buy it. Presidential candidates make promises all the time that can only be achieved through legislative means. Presidents don’t actually “cut taxes” themselves, they need the legislatures to write the bills. We still consider “tax cuts” to be the stated position of Republican candidates.

Fact-checkers were right, of course, that Biden wouldn’t end fracking in a single day with a single decree. Because he can’t. Fact-checkers were also right that Biden couldn’t retroactively ban fracking; he could only end “new” fracking.

It’s true, as well, that Biden lied about his position, and the unskeptical press filtered his falsehood through their coverage. Even today, the easiest way to clear up Biden’s position would be for a reporter to snap out of their sycophantic trance and ask the president if he would sign an energy bill that included a national fracking ban. I assume he would, as eliminating fossil fuels is the stated policy aim.

White House

Psakisms

Loading...
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., January 22, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

I’ve always enjoyed watching Jen Psaki work, because it seems like it is always her first day on the job.

Asked why Joe Biden was flouting his own mask mandate at a political event, Psaki said the president of the United States of America has “more important” things to worry about.

Really? What, exactly, is the more important issue than COVID-19, right now? The nation awaits the news with breath held.

She also protested that the event was “a historic day in our . . . , uh, history,” pronouncing the words with that great inane raised-in-Greenwich look on her face.

I hope nobody asks her who is buried in Grant’s Tomb.