Economy & Business

The Dems’ Mess of a Child-Care Plan

Loading...

Yesterday at City Journal, I had a big-picture piece about the family policies the Democrats are wrangling over. As I explained, their debate isn’t just about how much to spend but also about how the government should shape the incentives parents face as they make important decisions about work and child care.

Here’s another point worth making: The day-care part of the existing plan is a complete and utter mess. Ultimately, it aims to cap day-care expenses at 7 percent of families’ income, which is tricky enough in itself to implement, but some technical aspects of the proposal would be disastrous.

As the lefty wonk Matt Bruenig explains today, the bill requires massive raises for child-care workers that could boost prices by $13,000 per year per kid, but the corresponding subsidies phase in over time:

In the first 3 years of the program, families with incomes that are just $1 over 100% of the median income (year one), 115% of the median income (year two), or 130% of the median income (year three) will be eligible for zero subsidies, meaning that they will be on the hook for the entire unsubsidized price, which as discussed above will now be at least $13,000 per year higher than before.

Angela Rachidi has also raised the alarm about the huge federal costs the plan will entail:

What is proposed is a new entitlement program, where every child in the US would have access to heavily regulated childcare, paid for by government-provided “certificates” with capped copayments at no more than 7 percent of family income. In high-cost markets like New York City, families earning $200,000 per year with one young child could receive government subsidies of $7,000 or more.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that the 7 percent cap on childcare costs alone would cost roughly $250 billion over 10 years, and that was before the House of Representatives’ markup process eliminated the income eligibility criteria from the original budget framework altogether. However, even $250 billion is vastly underestimated. It is impossible to know the actual costs of this entitlement program, let alone predict how expenditures will increase over time. And the federal government will bear the responsibility for almost all these new costs.

I’m not a fan of subsidizing day care at all, for reasons I laid out in CJ. But any policy to do so needs to be better-designed than this.

Politics & Policy

The No-Follow-Up Administration, Part Two

Loading...
President Joe Biden delivers remarks to members of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence nearby McLean, Va., July 27, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

On September 9 President Biden announced a vaccine-or-testing mandate for employers with more than 100 workers. Six weeks later, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is apparently still “weeks” away from issuing the specific regulations for the mandate, according to the Washington Post.

David Marcus observes that it has now been a month since President Biden and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas pledged an investigation and consequences for U.S. border-patrol officers who had allegedly whipped Haitian migrants; the person who took the infamous photo denied that the officers had whipped the migrants.

President Biden, September 24:

It was horrible what — to see, as you saw — to see people treated like they did: horses nearly running them over and people being strapped. It’s outrageous. I promise you, those people will pay. They will be — an investigation is underway now, and there will be consequences. There will be consequences. It’s an embarrassment. But beyond an embarrassment, it’s dangerous; it’s wrong. It sends the wrong message around the world.

On September 21 Mayorkas appeared on Joy Reid’s program on MSNBC and declared that, “We need this resolved swiftly. I anticipate that the results of the investigation will be available by the end of next week and I’ve committed to making the results public.”

Despite Mayorkas’s pledge, the investigation is not swift and the results are not public and Biden’s pledge “I promise you, those people will pay” is meaningless. (It is worth remembering Biden also pledged, “we will hunt you down and make you pay” to the terrorists who carried out the attack on Kabul International Airport. The only people killed by the U.S. military in the aftermath of that attack were aid workers, civilians, and children.)

Biden wanted to have a police reform bill passed by May and missed that deadline. At one point Biden wanted to have the infrastructure bill passed by September, and that deadline was missed as well. (Getting it passed by Halloween doesn’t look too likely, either.) After Kabul fell to the Taliban, Biden sat for an interview with George Stephanopoulos and declared that, “If there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay to get them all out.” That didn’t happen.

Those pledges are like Biden’s promise to not hold children in detention centers, his promise to send out $2,000 stimulus checks, his promise to establish a national commission on policing, his promise to not raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000, his promise to punish Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, or his promise to end the use of standardized testing in schools. . . .

In light of all this, Joe Biden’s campaign-trail promise to cure cancer doesn’t look likely to be kept either.

Maybe Joe Biden just makes a lot of promises to a lot of people that he isn’t all that committed to keeping.

Elections

The ‘Right to Choose’ What, Terry McAuliffe?

Loading...
Then-Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe speaks to volunteers at the Remote Area Medical Clinic in Wise, Va., July 21, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Driving home yesterday evening, I was listening to the country radio station and generally minding my own business, when I was accosted by an ad for Terry McAuliffe, who’s running for governor as a Democrat here in my home state of Virginia.

The ad touts McAuliffe’s supposed bonafides on education, its primary point being the false claim that Republican Glenn Youngkin wants to cut public-school funding and redirect the money to private schools. Among his many attacks on his Republican opponent, McAuliffe also asserts that Youngkin will take away “a woman’s right to choose.”

Naturally, hearing this prompted me to shout to my entirely empty car, “A woman’s right to choose what?”

In this ad, McAuliffe indulges in one of the laziest arguments for abortion, refusing to name abortion at all, and instead cloaking the issue in fear-mongering euphemism. Youngkin, like any other pro-life candidate or pro-life voter, has no problem with women choosing. The trouble in the case of abortion is the thing being chosen.

It’s far easier for defenders of legal abortion to pretend that pro-lifers are motivated by animosity toward women than it is to defend abortion on its own terms. It’s easier defend some nebulous “right to choose” and invoke female autonomy than it is to acknowledge the reality of abortion and promote it anyway. No one wants to admit that abortion is an act of violence against an innocent human being, an act that likewise harms the women who choose it, and continue advocating it.

Instead, McAuliffe and his fellow Democrats rely on silly euphemisms like this one and hope that voters, filled with unwarranted fear about a Handmaid’s Tale America, will respond accordingly.

Science & Tech

Pig Kidney to Human Transplant

Loading...
( dusanpetkovic/Getty Images)

Xenotransplantation — that is, animal to human — organ transplants offer distant hope for ethically ending the long wait for a transplant. That hope came a big step closer recently as scientists were able to successfully attach a genetically modified pig kidney to the outside of a person who was brain dead and observed it function properly. From the MIT Technology Review story:

The pig had been genetically-engineered so that its organ was less likely to be rejected. The feat is a potentially huge milestone in the quest to one day use animal organs for human transplants, and shorten waiting lists.

The person used in the experiment was deceased, but the body still functioned with the use of medical technology:

The surgical team, from NYU Langone Health, attached the pig kidney to blood vessels outside the body of a brain-dead recipient, then observed it for two days. The family agreed to the experiment before the woman was to be taken off life support, the AP reported. The kidney functioned normally — filtering waste and producing urine — and didn’t show signs of rejection during the short observation period.

Was this ethical? If one accepts that brain death is dead — as I do — then, yes. After all, the deceased person’s organs could have been removed for transplantation. Thus, attaching an organ to the circulatory system was not causing any harm. Moreover, proper consent had been obtained from the family.

But could this be done ethically with a living patient? Not unless the hope was to save his or her life, it seems to me, and after the procedure was approved for human trials — which is still way down the road.

Is it ethical to use pigs in this way? Only animal-rights believes would say no. Human lives are more important than those of pigs. But animal rightists don’t believe that, and indeed, deny our right to use animals in any way for human benefit.

But animal rightists aside, I don’t see the issue. Moreover, pig-heart valves are already used in human patients without any ethical problem.

This experiment also doesn’t provide answers to a most important xenotransplantation safety concern, that is, whether transplanting pig organs into people could also pass a porcine virus for which we would have no resistance. That will be a very difficult problem to overcome because it can only be determined over extended time.

Some bioethicists have urged that we use cognitively disabled patients for such experiments who don’t need transplants, but to just observe them. No! That would be immoral because it would offer the experimented-upon person no chance of benefit.

These are difficult issues. We have to avoid crass utilitarianism as we strive to bring great human benefit to the clinical setting. But this is a hopeful step forward.

Education

A Dissent on College Exit Exams

Loading...

Last week, the Martin Center published an article arguing in favor of having colleges (or anyone else) administer an exit exam to show the skills and knowledge of their graduates.

Today’s article by UCLA’s Walt Gardner dissents from that position.

Gardner acknowledges that many students coast through college without learning much, but argues that administering an exit exam won’t help. He writes, “Nothing can replace motivation and hard work, not even a test. That’s partly why college exit exams, including NCEE [National Collegiate Exit Examination], are not a promising solution. They will not change student behavior. There is no reason they will under the present system.”

I think there’s a problem with that argument. While it’s true that many students treat college like an extended party, many others don’t. The hard workers would look far better on the exam than the goof-offs. That alone makes the test valuable. Also, some of the party types would probably adjust their behavior once word got around that it was helpful to score well on the NCEE.

Gardner is quite right that colleges are reluctant to embrace the NCEE because it might make them look bad, but that doesn’t make the concept bad.

I’ll give Gardner the last word: “In the final analysis, it’s time to admit that college is merely the most convenient place to learn how to learn. It is not an absolute determinant in students’ ability to gain new skills or secure a good job. The NCEE will continue to find great support from disillusioned and frustrated stakeholders, but it promises far more than it can deliver in practical terms.”

U.S.

Quinnipiac Survey: 52 Percent of Americans Say the Country Is Worse Off Than a Year Ago

Loading...
President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 3, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

A long, long time ago… er, late August… we were assured that the only thing Americans would remember about Afghanistan is that President Biden brought U.S. troops home, once the debacle faded from the day’s headlines. Reuters wrote on August 20: “White House officials believe Americans’ horror over graphic images of the chaos in Kabul and pleas from Afghans who fear they will be killed by the Taliban will morph into support for the president’s decision to pull troops from the country by Aug. 31 after a 20-year war.”

I think it is time to declare that Biden’s-rebound-is-imminent narrative horsepucky, as the public perception of Biden dropped like a stone during the Afghanistan withdrawal, and has not recovered yet. In fact, Quinnipiac offered another horror show of a survey this afternoon:

A slight majority of Americans, 52 – 41 percent, say the country is worse off today than it was a year ago. There are sharp partisan divides. Democrats say 76 – 14 percent that the country is better off, while Republicans say 94 – 5 percent and independents say 56 – 38 percent that the country is worse off today than it was a year ago.

A year ago we didn’t have any COVID-19 vaccines! Then again, a year ago you probably had an easier time paying for gas and groceries. Heck, a year ago you could find almost anything you wanted on store shelves. And the border wasn’t a mess… and the Taliban wasn’t running Afghanistan…

Also in Quinnipiac’s latest survey:

Americans give Joe Biden a negative 37 – 52 percent job approval rating, while 12 percent did not offer an opinion. The number is essentially unchanged from the negative 38 – 53 percent job approval rating he received on October 6th.

A 37 percent approval rating? So much for last month’s 38 percent being an outlier.

Politics & Policy

Joe Biden Plays the ‘Inside Game’ Because He Doesn’t Have an Outside Game

Loading...
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the economy and the Labor Department’s September jobs report at the White House in Washington, D.C., October 8, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Over at Politico, Christopher Cadelago and Marianne Levine offer the latest excuse for Joe Biden going quiet in public, in this case on the reconciliation-bill fight on Capitol Hill: He’s busy playing the inside game!

As Democrats on Capitol Hill brace in anticipation of a brutal midterm, Biden is spending an extraordinary amount of time and political capital behind the scenes to convince them to rally around a common framework for social and climate spending. His congressional huddles have accelerated, from phone calls on the White House veranda to one-on-one and group meetings — including two high-stakes Tuesday sit downs with moderates and progressives. He’s dialing up old friends to take their temperature about how his presidency is really fairing far beyond the Beltway. White House aides, in their own recent conversations with nervous allies, have repeatedly cited the flurry of presidential calls as a sign itself of Biden’s commitment to getting the bills over the finish line, at times bristling at claims that he hasn’t been involved enough. But Biden’s hours and hours of meetings don’t just reflect the precarious moment in which his presidency finds itself. They underscore the heavy reliance his White House has placed on an inside game, rather than the bully pulpit, to dislodge recalcitrant holdouts and move their agenda.

Note, just as an aside, how “a brutal midterm” for congressional Democrats is already a baseline expectation the authors don’t need to explain or justify. Why is the White House at pains to stress how much Biden is doing privately? Because he’s not out there convincing the voters to put pressure on Congress:

As Biden has worked on lawmakers in private — sometimes not putting a hard stop on his schedule so as not to stifle progress — he’s largely, though not entirely, resisted riskier public pressure campaigns that could backfire and are viewed as against his nature. Often, Biden has had just a single public event each day. Occasionally, there’s been no public interfacing at all. Eight times since Labor Day, the daily guidance issued by the White House has included only private meetings with Biden. . . . While Biden has held public events around the agenda, he has not done a formal press interview on it since Labor Day.

This is, I suppose, the spin you need to cover over the problem: Public arguments by this president don’t help. They persuade nobody of anything. The bully pulpit has been reduced to a walker. Nine months into his tenure, Biden is already a spent force that nobody listens to. In terms of his influence, he went directly from honeymoon to lame duck. It is still likely that the Democrats will pass something this year — and whatever they pass, Biden will sign, and everybody knows it, so his actual leverage is zero. It would truly be a political catastrophe for Biden, having invested so much of his presidency in these spending packages and so much of his image in being a guy who can get deals done on the Hill, if he comes up completely empty. But regardless of what gets passed, it is already apparent that Biden talking to the voters or answering questions from reporters would only make things worse. About the only thing Biden accomplishes these days by appearing in public is convincing people he’s still alive.

And there are still 39 more months of his term to go.

Biden Says He Is Fixing Supply Chains, But His Regulatory Actions Say Otherwise

Loading...
President Joe Biden delivers remarks about global transportation supply chain bottlenecks at the White House in Washington, D.C., October 13, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Last Wednesday, the White House convened industry leaders — from the Teamsters and AFL-CIO labor unions to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other business groups — to try and convince the American public that it has a handle on the supply chain. Following the meeting, it announced that the nation’s largest port — one of the least efficient ports in world — will join the Port of Long Beach in expanding its operation to 24/7. Okay, great.

But honestly, that measure sounds like the equivalent of trying to rescue a sinking boat with a solo cup. In fact, as reported in

Politics & Policy

Spoiled Consumers, Etc.

Loading...

In response to Washington Post Columnist to American Consumers: You’re Spoiled!

You know, Jim, that column did not strike me at all the way it struck you. To my ear, Micheline Maynard’s “We didn’t know how good we had it” sounds not only true but positively conservative. She writes:

The other day I found myself carrying home a loaf of bread in my bare hands because the bakery had run out of bags. Back when we didn’t know how good we had it — circa 2019 — I might have been annoyed by the inconvenience. Now I was just glad the bakery was still in business.

I have at times felt much the same kind of gratitude. Haven’t you?

World

ARC-Plan-B Shares Fantastic News: 374 Vulnerable Afghans Evacuated Out of Kabul

Loading...
Afghan women and children, who are among displaced families fleeing the violence in their provinces, stand at a makeshift shelter at Shahr-e Naw Park, in Kabul, Afghanistan October 4, 2021. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

After a long stretch of little news, no news, or bad news from many of the groups trying to get Americans and Afghan allies out of Taliban territory, Jean Marie Thrower of ARC-Plan-B brings some much-needed good news.

“CNN said the largest group left Kabul with 350. We had 374 people on Sunday.” Thrower shares “a great picture of the reason we are fighting to save our brothers and sisters.”

“This little one made it out on Sunday!” Thrower reports. “Plan B Afghan Rescue Crew, along with other non-governmental organizations, teamed up to evacuate 374 people – many women, children and allied family members. This baby waited since August 15th! And he is the child of a family approved for Special Immigrant Visas.”

Thrower is quick to emphasize that her organization, and all of the other groups helping with evacuations, still have a lot of work to do.

In ordinary times, Thrower runs Supplier Development Systems, her Birmingham, Ala.–based automotive consulting firm. But since the fall of Kabul, and the Taliban’s conquest of Afghanistan, Thrower, who served in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division as a transportation officer with support of operations in Haiti and Bosnia, has put the rest of her life on hold, working with the Afghan Rescue Crew. The ARC describes itself as a private group of U.S. veterans and civilians volunteering to save as many vetted at-risk Americans and Afghan allies left behind in Afghanistan as possible.

ARC is one of several private groups attempting to get Americans, green-card holders, and Afghan allies out of the country; others include No One Left BehindDigital DunkirkAllied Airlift 21Hearts and Homes for RefugeesSamaritan’s Pursethe “Pineapple Express,” and more. All of them are welcoming donations and other forms of support.

 

Film & TV

What Is the Future of James Bond?

Loading...
Daniel Craig as James Bond in No Time to Die. (Nicola Dove/DANJAQ, LLC/MGM)

Our in-house critics have already capably reviewed No Time to Die, the latest James Bond movie, directed by Cary Fukunaga and the last to star Daniel Craig. I suppose I lean more toward Kyle Smith’s takeaway than to Armond White’s, but I don’t intend to review the movie here. Rather, I have some more-abstract assessments of the movie, now that I have seen it.

The first is that it’s an extremely Millennial movie. Craig is now in his 50s, and many of the actors he performs around are firmly in the Millennial age range. I noticed this from the opening scene, in which a young girl is watching Wallace and Gromit and playing with a Tamagotchi. This is the young version of Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), Bond’s love interest. She’s a thirtysomething in the movie, so it all makes sense, but as a proud “’90s kid,” it’s still kind of jarring to see someone depicted as having a ’90s childhood in a flashback.

Rami Malek, Billy Magnussen, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, and Ana de Armas are all also Millennials. As the new 007, Lynch deals with the uniquely modern problem of “imposter syndrome,” when the old 007 returns to the fold and makes her question her own place. I also choose to believe that mistakes made by her and by Magnussen’s character are not plotholes but rather youthful oversights. All of this gives Bond in the movie a kind of avuncular aura, like he’s the uncle (or the father . . . ) at a family gathering or something. And I mostly enjoyed seeing him surrounded by youth.

And speaking of youth, No Time to Die does a few things I’d never seen in a Bond movie before. Sometimes it works well. One of the most interesting of these was to stage an action sequence with a young, completely helpless child in peril, adding distinct stakes to the kind of scene that has been in these movies many times.

Sometimes, however, the novelty of the movie’s narrative raised questions I did not consider in the moment, but that have stuck with me. Without revealing too much, it is enough to say that there are major-character deaths, including familiar names who have never actually died in a Bond movie before. This seems like the logical conclusion of the Craig run on Bond, which has strongly emphasized continuity and tried to humanize Bond. But now, in emphasizing that continuity, No Time to Die has, in some senses, broken with it more definitively than any past Bond.

It’s enough to make me wonder about the future of the franchise and character. For the most part, despite Fukunaga’s contempt for some of the Bond character’s historic incarnations, it didn’t seem like No Time to Die succumbed to wokeness. The choices made in the movie, however, leave Bond at a difficult crossroads, and I am unsure what direction he will take. Creative decisions that livened up the latest movie may prove difficult to reconcile with something like the Bond we have come to know and love.

Economy & Business

Washington Post Columnist to American Consumers: You’re Spoiled!

Loading...
Shipping containers sit on the dock at a container terminal at the Port of Long Beach-Port in Los Angeles, Calif., April 7, 2021. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Micheline Maynard, a contributing columnist for the Washington Post, contends that the supply-chain problem isn’t really an issue of missed and delayed shipments, higher prices, and a lack of goods on the shelves. No, it’s primarily a problem of the excessively high expectations of American consumers:

“I understand people are getting frustrated, but it’s time for people to take a chill pill,” says Lisa McDonald, owner of TeaHaus, an Ann Arbor shop selling tea and gifts. “I’m just not going to have the things that I usually have. Maybe they aren’t going to get the purple mug, but the blue one is pretty, too.”

The other day I found myself carrying home a loaf of bread in my bare hands because the bakery had run out of bags. Back when we didn’t know how good we had it — circa 2019 — I might have been annoyed by the inconvenience. Now I was just glad the bakery was still in business.

But the problem is not just a question of what color mug is available in the stores. For a lot of these businesses, a delayed shipment means they don’t have goods on the shelves to sell, which means they don’t have any money coming in from customers.

Denver’s public-school system says they are struggling to get enough milk for breakfast and lunch. Vintners can’t find bottles or labels for their wine. Hardware stores in the Pacific Northwest have half the goods they normally carry. Toy stores are warning they’re already out of Hot Wheels, Mattel, and Lego before the big holiday rush. Specialty-food stores are wondering what they’ve got to sell, with shipments delayed by months.

We built our economy on international supply chains and rapid transport of goods from the source to the manufacturers to the consumers. This system got goods where they needed to arrive for decades. Everything in this process was working fine before the pandemic. The pandemic is largely behind us. So why are there now 200,000 shipping containers gridlocked off the coast of Los Angeles? How did we go from a well-oiled machine to so many goods being delayed and in short supply in so many places so quickly?

Maynard’s column concludes, “American consumers might have been spoiled, but generations of them have also dealt with shortages of some kind — gasoline in the 1970s, food rationing in the 1940s, housing in the 1920s when cities such as Detroit were booming. Now it’s our turn to make adjustments.”

I would note that the food rationing in the 1940s was part of the war effort!

Still, credit goes to Maynard for coming up with a thoroughly fitting message for the party in power, as they approach the midterms: Democrats in 2022: Try to Lower Your Expectations!

Culture

Harambe Returns

Loading...
A statue of the Harambe gorilla, commissioned by Sapien sits across from the Charging Bull statue at Bowling Green Park in New York, October 18, 2021. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Harambe, the gorilla shot by the Cincinnati Zoo after he began roughhousing with a child who fell into the gorilla’s enclosure, has returned . . . sort of:

Five years after his death, Harambe the gorilla has found a new place to be memorialized— New York City.

A seven-foot statue of the gorilla, who was killed in 2016 by an emergency response team protecting a 3-year-old boy who fell into his exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, has appeared in New York City’s Bowling Green Park on Wall Street, opposite the famous Charging Bull statue.

According to local news reports, the bananas surrounding the bull statue are part of a protest from Sapien.Network, meant to illustrate how “bananas” Wall Street and the wealth disparity in the country has become.

In the five-plus years since Harambe’s death, the gorilla has become a meme, and a sort of bizarre Internet touchstone. But it’s worth remembering that the Cincinnati Zoo did nothing wrong when it killed him to protect the human life that was at risk.

Culture

Hollywood Finally Grants a Day Off for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Loading...
The Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, Calif. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Hey, welcome to the 1980s, Hollywood! Buried in the coverage of the settlement of a dispute between the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), a largely blue-collar union to which grips and stagehands belong, and the studios, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), was that IATSE has finally won the right to take a paid holiday on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The national holiday was signed into law by President Reagan in 1983 and started being observed in 1986; Arizona famously held out from recognizing it until 1992. Yet in fiercely pro-union and ardently pro–Civil Rights Hollywood, a very large union wasn’t granted a civil-rights holiday until just now. (The new agreement between IATSE and AMPTP is still being ironed out, but both sides say they’re on board.)

Just in the past two years, various Hollywood personalities have threatened to boycott Georgia twice (over election reform and abortion restrictions) and Texas twice (same reasons). Maybe Hollywood should have been boycotting itself all these years for not honoring MLK, or for stiffing its unions, or both.

An example I love to cite about Hollywood’s blindness to its own history is George Clooney bragging about the moral supremacy of his fellow La-La-Land liberals when he won an (entirely undeserved) Oscar for Syriana simply because he got fat for the movie and got tortured and advanced a left-wing message. Clooney boasted in his acceptance speech that Hollywood had given an Oscar to Hattie McDaniel way back in 1939 “when blacks were still sitting the in backs of theaters” but didn’t mention, or simply didn’t know, that McDaniel had herself been forced to sit against a far wall of the room on the night she was awarded the Oscar, at the segregated Cocoanut Grove nightclub, apart from the white nominees for Gone with the Wind, who sat together at a table up front. When Gone with the Wind held its premiere in Atlanta, the event was segregated, and the black stars of the film weren’t allowed in nor even mentioned in the program given out at the event.

U.S.

Everything Wrong with American Infrastructure in One Tunnel

Loading...
Platform at Union Station in Washington, D.C., in 2015.

Today’s Wall Street Journal includes a story about the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel on the Northeast Corridor in Maryland between Baltimore Penn Station and Washington Union Station. The 1.4-mile-long tunnel was built from 1871 to 1873 and is in terrible shape, the Journal says:

It causes delays for more than 10% of weekday trains on the line, and modernizing it isn’t viable, railroad officials say. Persistent water leaks require regular track repairs, including $71 million in fixes last year. During winter, workers use poles to knock icicles off the tunnel ceiling so they don’t freeze up the electric lines that power trains.

A new replacement tunnel would be waterproof, ventilated, and have emergency escape walkways, all standard features on tunnels today, the Journal reports.

Trains can go only 30 miles per hour through the current tunnel, which greatly increases travel times for Maryland commuter trains going between Baltimore and Washington. A new, modern tunnel would allow trains to go up to 100 miles per hour. The Journal says that would allow commuter trains to go from Baltimore to Washington in under 30 minutes, a 15-minute improvement.

The tunnel’s biggest user is Amtrak, which runs about two-thirds of the 150 trains that use the tunnel every day. The tunnel slows rail traffic all the way up the East Coast, and Amtrak has wanted to replace it for years.

There’s a very strong case that the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel needs to be replaced. Since Amtrak is its biggest user, there’s even a very strong case that federal money should be used to replace it. It seems like something Maryland could work out with the federal government. Maryland transportation officials and Amtrak officials could outline the need for a new tunnel and give a ballpark estimate for cost and time frame to the legislature and the public. Maryland politicians, both in Annapolis and in Washington, could make the case to voters that the tunnel needs replacing. There could be a debate on how much the state should fund and how much the federal government should fund, how that money should be raised, and how much the project should cost in total — the sort of questions that elected legislatures are designed to answer.

Instead, Maryland and Amtrak have to hope that some crumbs from the bloated $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill end up in their hands.

Our infrastructure process is completely backward. Politicians start by specifying an amount of money to spend, then figure out which projects to spend it on. The process should start by specifying which projects are needed, then figuring out how much they cost. If we did things in the right order, we probably wouldn’t have a 148-year-old leaky tunnel clogging up traffic on the most-used rail corridor in the country.

If we made a nationwide list of tunnel projects in need of funding, the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel would be pretty high on the list. It’s the oldest tunnel on Amtrak’s network. Amtrak owns the tracks that run through it. It slows down trains on the highest-speed passenger-rail corridor in the Western Hemisphere. Transportation officials have known it to be a problem for years, and a replacement is decades overdue.

Instead, Congress started with the number it wanted to spend for the entire country, then split it up into a zillion categories (many of which have nothing to do with infrastructure at all), and then wants states to apply for funding. Amtrak and Maryland want $4 billion, only $2.7 billion of which would be used for the tunnel.

Which brings us to the other major problem with American infrastructure: cost, both in time and money. Amtrak thinks the project will take up to twelve years to complete. The current tunnel, which was built by a bunch of guys with pickaxes and dynamite in the 1870s, took two years to complete. And though it’s outdated now, it has lasted 148 years, so it’s not like they did a terrible job. Somehow, despite all the technological developments that have completely transformed our lives since the 1870s, it now takes six times longer to build its replacement.

And $2.7 billion for the new two-mile-long replacement tunnel comes out to $1.35 billion per mile. To put this in perspective, consider the Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland. It opened in 2016 and cost about $12 billion. That’s a lot more than $2.7 billion, but the Gotthard Base Tunnel is the deepest tunnel in the world, bored through the Alps, and it’s 35 miles long. That comes out to a cost of $343 million per mile. So, for roughly a quarter of the cost per mile that it takes the United States to replace an existing tunnel that’s only a few dozen feet underground, the Swiss can build a completely new marvel of engineering through a mountain range.

By going through the infrastructure package, politicians have effectively bundled funding for the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel replacement with funding for every other major project in the country, plus all the other non-infrastructure measures in the package, from green-energy subsidies to web welfare. A bill to fund a replacement for the tunnel would probably pass pretty easily. A giant bill linked to an even larger bill that represents one party’s entire agenda for a legislative session is going to be more politically dramatic.

American infrastructure is not crumbling, and there’s no nationwide crisis or emergency demanding a massive federal response. There is, however, a 148-year-old rail tunnel in Maryland that needs replacing. Funding that project should not require assent to a national political agenda, but our backward infrastructure funding process means it does. And our money-first, projects-later mentality means we end up spending lots of money on not a lot of projects.

NR Webathon

Update: The Five-Zeros Club

Loading...
(artisteer/Getty Images)

At National Review, we all work every day to remain worthy of your readership and support, for which we will always be grateful.

And every day, you give us new reasons to express gratitude.

Just a few hours ago, my colleague Judson Berger asked for your support in reaching $100,000 for our fall 2021 webathon, to which you can contribute here. Lo and behold, with your help, we have made it into the five-zeros club.

Every dollar counts, helping us to maintain this intricate system of pneumatic tubes by which we transmit our important message out into the world. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this mission. Let’s keep this going.

As we continue our fight against the Left — the socialists, the tax-and-spenders, the critical race theorists, the cancel-culture kings, and others who together happen to hold the keys to the kingdom right now — know that we cannot do any of it without you. In fact, we are doing it for you, for this great country, and for the principles for which it stands. We still hold these truths, and we know that you do, too.

If you feel we have earned your financial support, you can donate here.

Law & the Courts

Nobody Cared About Biden’s Commission on the Supreme Court Because It Was Pointless

Loading...
(renaschild/Getty Images)

Last week, President Biden’s Commission on the Supreme Court issued its report. And nobody really noticed.

Good. There was no reason for anyone to have noticed, because there was no reason for the Commission to exist, because there is nothing wrong with the Supreme Court.

That’s right: Nothing. There’s nothing wrong with the role the Supreme Court plays in our Constitution. There’s nothing wrong with the number of justices of the Supreme Court, which has been nine since 1869. There’s nothing wrong with the way that those justices are appointed or retire. There’s nothing wrong with the way the White House picks those justices, or with how the Senate confirms, rejects, or ignores those picks. There’s nothing wrong with the docket, or with the timetable, or with the way that opinions are published. It’s all fine. Sure, some members of the Court are good, and some are bad, just as some decisions of the Court are good, and some are bad. But ’twas ever thus.

The commission was ostensibly convened to present “an analysis of the principal arguments in the contemporary public debate for and against Supreme Court reform.” The commission was really convened because the Democratic Party simply can’t bear the idea that, for the first time in a long time, the Supreme Court is not in their pocket. This is not about institutional legitimacy. It is not about democracy. It’s not about stare decisis or the rule of law. American progressivism didn’t care about precedent when the Court was inventing all sorts of nonsense out of whole cloth, and it doesn’t care about it now. It cares about power, and it senses that with an originalist majority on the bench, it has lost one of its favorite political tools for a while. And so, as with every American institution that temporarily frustrates it, it has started talking about “reform” and “fixing” and “mending” and “correcting” it so that it ends up more likely to do what it wants it to do.

Thing is, though: Democrats being a little sad does not a crisis make. Hell, it does not even a problem make. A few years ago, Joe Biden understood this. Today, like the rest of his party, he does not. Happily, though, the total lack of response to the Commission suggests that a majority of Americans still do.

Education

Teaching History in Texas

Loading...
Texas State Capitol in Austin. (SusanRisdon/Getty Images)

Michael Gerson has a scathing column about the recently enacted Texas law on how public schools should teach history. If he is reading the law correctly, then his indictment holds up. But I don’t think he is reading it correctly.

Texas, he writes, “has forbidden the teaching of any ‘concept’ that causes an individual to ‘feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex.’” He adds,

White children — really the White parents of White children — have been given an open invitation to protest any teaching on U.S. racial history that triggers their “discomfort.” Which for some parents will mean any teaching on racism at all. This will inevitably lead to self-censorship by teachers who want to avoid trouble.

Gerson links (under “concept”) to an article that has a very similar gloss on the law but quotes operative language that does not, I think, back it up. Said language: “A teacher may not make part of a course the concept that an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race.”

It seems to me that language leaves open, as it should, the teaching of material that causes discomfort. What it precludes is the teacher’s saying that white students should feel guilt based on their race.

The trouble with the wording is that it could also be read to preclude saying that there have ever been schools of thought that believe white people should feel such guilt, distress, etc. But that’s a somewhat different problem than the one Gerson raises, and the sort of thing that could be fixed with an amendment that preserved the intent of the law.

NR Webathon

The Five-Zeros Club

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

NR’s fall webathon is about to touch, and hopefully surpass, a milestone, but we need your help to get there.

As of this writing, the tally shows somewhere north of $96,000. Can we get to five zeros, to a cool $100,000? We sure hope so.

Many of you already have opened your wallets, your purses, your man-bags, or however you carry your currency and have contributed generously to our cause.

Here is but a sampling of the words of encouragement to accompany the coin:

“My small contribution for the never ending battle against dangerous, utopian visions of what government should/can do,” writes Martha, kicking in a grand. Wowza, that is grand indeed.

Craig throws $300 in the kitty with some happy-warrior advice: “Keep up the Good work and do not be dismayed, we will prevail.”

And one anonymous donor sends along $500 to help this “already outrageously talented team.” We are blushing, and our mothers are kvelling.

We thank you.

No donation is too small, or too large, or too just-right. NR’s writers, as part of this buck-raising marathon, have provided ample examples of the work we do with these resources.

So if the spirit moves you, that link, again, is here.

International

Energy: Russia Uses Weapon Handed to It (Unexpectedly!)

Loading...
Tthe Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project logo on a pipe at the Chelyabinsk pipe rolling plant in Chelyabinsk, Russia, February 26, 2020. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

It cannot be said that this is a surprise (via the Financial Times):

Russia’s Gazprom has damped hopes for additional gas exports to Europe next month as the continent struggles with record prices, despite recent hints from President Vladimir Putin that more could be forthcoming.

UK and European gas prices surged as much as 18 per cent on Monday after a keenly awaited pipeline capacity auction showed no increase from Russia either through the Ukrainian pipeline system or lines passing via Poland to north-west Europe.

Traders and analysts say the auction’s result is the latest indication that Russia is in little rush to send additional gas to Europe, leaving supplies tight as winter begins and raising the prospect of shortages if the weather is marginally colder than normal.

While Putin and Kremlin officials have hinted at sending more gas, they have also alluded to Germany’s approval of the start-up of the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline — which bypasses Ukraine — as being key to boosting supplies, alongside companies being willing to sign more long-term contracts.

“Alluded to.”

Well that’s one way of putting it.

And keep an eye on that reference to “long-term contracts.” The Kremlin would like to see its European clients locked into longer-term contracts, rather than playing the spot markets. The latter strategy, of course (as Moscow has not been slow to point out), is not working very well at the moment.

The Financial Times:

[Natural gas] prices are more than five times higher than a year ago, posing a threat to the economic recovery from the pandemic, with energy-intensive businesses warning they may need to curtail production.

While gas supplies have tightened globally as demand rebounds from the pandemic, with Asian consumption soaring, the International Energy Agency said this month it believed Russia had the capacity to boost exports by about 15 per cent to Europe.

Putin last week denied playing politics with gas supplies but indicated additional sales would need to be on Russia’s terms. Gas industry executives and analysts have said that, while Moscow has fulfilled its long-term contracts, additional top-up sales have not been made available as they were in previous years.

Gazprom has also let its own storage facilities in Europe fall to very low levels.

Russian gas flows on the three main pipeline routes into western Europe had already declined in October to average 261m cubic metres a day compared with 302m cubic metres in September, according to Tom Marzec-Manser of consultancy ICIS.

“If all existing routes were fully maximised then western European flows would be closer to 360mcm [a] day,” he added.

But they are not.

With Ukraine still making a last ditch effort to stop the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and with two of the parties likely to form Germany’s new coalition government unenthusiastic about the project, Russia seems to be taking advantage of the current supply crunch (and the approach of winter) to send a clear message as to who is really in charge.

It was given this opportunity in the first place by the willingness of NATO “ally” Germany to participate in the Nord Stream 2 arrangement (something to remember as Angela Merkel sets off on her long overdue retirement). The dependency on Russia created by Germany’s decision has only been compounded by its phasing out of nuclear energy, something that Merkel reaccelerated — it’s complicated — and by the country’s headlong and poorly thought-through rush into (unreliable) renewables, an error, of course, that it is by far from alone in making.

The Paris model for decarbonizing energy supplies is unlikely to do much for the climate, but it will do a great deal for Putin, OPEC, and, one way or another, Xi.

Should the U.S. really be going down that path?

(That was a rhetorical question.)

More on the energy mess here.

Politics & Policy

President Biden: ‘I Think Senator Kerry Has a Little Hyperbole There’

Loading...
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on climate change prior to signing executive actions as White House climate envoy John Kerry and Vice President Kamala Harris listen in the State Dining Room at the White House, January 27, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Earlier this month, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry helpfully explained to a French television station that President Biden simply had no idea that the U.S.–U.K.–Australia deal on submarines would irk the French government, and “had not been aware of what had transpired.”

A few days ago, Kerry was again similarly helpful to his boss in an interview with the Associated Press:

Kerry also spoke of the impact if the U.S. Congress — under a slim Democratic majority — fails to pass legislation for significant action on climate by the United States itself, as the Biden administration aims to regain leadership on climate action. “It would be like President Trump pulling out of the Paris agreement, again,” Kerry said.

In a brief exchange with reporters Friday, Biden offered the first sense that he’s getting a little tired of Kerry going off-message:

Q    Secretary Kerry said the other day that if you come to Scotland without legislation passed by Congress — your climate bill — that would be as bad for credibility as when Trump pulled out of Paris.  What do you make of that?  That’s what Secretary Kerry said.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I — I think it’d be good to have an agreement on the climate piece, but we’re going to get the climate piece.  And I think Senator Kerry has a little hyperbole there. He pulled out.  And the question is whether or not I have enough Republicans who understand the plan that’s in jeopardy.  And that’s what we’re working on.

But hey, who could have possibly predicted that John Kerry would go rogue, add pressure to the administration instead of alleviating it, and make himself look good at Biden’s expense?

Culture

‘Truth, Justice, and . . . Whatever’

Loading...

I wrote about the latest on Superman today on the home page:

We don’t know yet whether Superman reads Ibram X. Kendi and dutifully attends diversity, equity, and inclusion workshops at the Justice League, but at this point, who would be surprised?

The latest on the straight-arrow, earnest do-gooder who used to help sell war bonds is that he is forswearing any further reference to “the American way.”

World

Are We Going to Act in Time for Those Persecuted by China?

Loading...

This afternoon, you are invited to join the Anglosphere Society, Knights of Columbus, the Hudson Institute, and National Review Institute in discussing religious liberty and free speech in China and those within its grip. I’m honored to be interviewing Gulchehra Hoja, who is a journalist with Radio Free Asia, and is an incredible witness to what is happening to the Uyghur Muslims (of which she is one) and other religious minorities in China. I’ll also be talking with Gordon Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China, and Jillian Kay Melchoir from the Wall Street Journal (and National Review alumna). The afternoon’s conference is really the work of Amanda Bowman, whose heart for religious liberty and the persecuted, has made this an annual event.

Act in Time II: Beijing’s Long Arm: China’s Threat to Religious Freedom and Options for the West. Amanda will be interviewing Robert Destro, human-rights lawyer. Sam Brownback, former U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom, and Cardinal Dolan will be in conversation this evening. And many more including Lord David Alton via video. One of my segments will be on Hong Kong, and while dire, it’s not lost yet, as our panel will discuss. We are the ones living through this time and have a responsibility to our fellow human beings living in the reach of China’s long arm. Listen in this afternoon here.

What If Colin Powell Ran for President in 1996?

Loading...
Colin Powell on December 9, 2001. (Sergei Karpukhin CVI/Reuters)

In Jim Geraghty’s excellent tribute to the life and career of Colin Powell, he teases one of the great counterfactuals in modern political history: What if Powell decided to run for president in 1996? I have some thoughts.

Powell formally announced he was not going to run in November 1995. Just that fall, polls showed Bill Clinton easily beating Bob Dole, but losing to Powell by 15 points. When Powell made his announcement, “At the West Wing of the White House, aides watched the news conference with smiles and sighs of relief,” according to a Baltimore Sun news report at the

Health Care

Colin Powell and COVID-19 Commentary

Loading...
A nurse fills syringes for patients as they receive their coronavirus booster vaccinations during a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination clinic in Southfield, Mich., September 29, 2021. (Emily Elconin/Reuters)

Some news websites are hyping the fact that Colin Powell died of COVID-19 even though he was fully vaccinated, and people are jumping on their hobbyhorses. Some are rushing in to shout about the ineffectiveness of the vaccine or the speed of waning immunity. Pro-vaccine voices are jumping in to say that actually it shows that one person’s vaccine isn’t enough, that everyone around a person needs to be vaccinated, and that if more people had taken the vaccine, Powell would still be alive. 

I think both responses, besides being unseemly, are probably wrong. We don’t know how he got it — it could have been from a vaccinated or unvaccinated person — and it’s not all that important. COVID-19 is going endemic. This means that 84-year-old men with Powell’s conditions — he suffered from multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that attacks the immune system — may die from the virus. This happens all the time with endemic diseases that have a mild expression in most healthy adults. Typically in these situations we would point to the cancer, not the cold or flu.

May he rest in peace.

Politics & Policy

Biden’s Department of Intimidation

Loading...
A.G. Merrick Garland speaks about the Derek Chauvin verdict, in Washington, D.C., April 21, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Reuters)

Joe Biden’s Justice Department has crossed a line in threatening to investigate and prosecute parents for protesting against school boards and teachers who insist on indoctrinating children with critical race theory.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, once nominated as a “moderate” pick for the Supreme Court by President Obama, claimed that free-speech principles yield not only to “threats of violence” but also to “efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views” (we assume he might think the harassment of Senators Manchin and Sinema may be fine).

Jim Sensenbrenner says the Garland move is an outrageous attempt to use federal laws to suppress political opponents. In a scathing Wall Street Journal op-ed he wrote: “As principal author of the Patriot Act and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee during its consideration, I find it necessary to remind the Biden administration that the Patriot Act doesn’t apply to parents’ behavior at school-board meetings.”

Almost equally as disturbing is the fact that Garland has a family financial conflict of interest as he directs the FBI to investigate parents who are protesting against the use of CRT in schools. His son-in-law, Alexander Tanner, is the president of Panorama Education, which distributes CRT indoctrination material to public schools.

The vast majority of incidents that teacher unions have cited as the basis for the DOJ action don’t involve threats of violence — which are issues for state and local law-enforcement agencies, not the FBI.

Garland’s memo is an attempt to intimidate opponents and silence opposition. It is exactly the opposite of what the Justice Department should be doing.

National Security & Defense

Zubaydah Update: DOJ Will Let Him Testify . . . but Then What?

Loading...
(renaschild/Getty Images)

Last week, I related that among the first cases up for oral argument in the Supreme Court’s new term was one brought by al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Zubaydah (whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn). Zubaydah is trying to force the government to permit testimony by two CIA contractors about his forcible interrogation (including waterboarding), and specifically about its alleged occurrence at a “black site” facility the agency used in Poland, assertedly in collaboration with Polish intelligence officials, circa 2002-03.

The narrow issue before the Court is the application of the state-secrets privilege, which allows the government to decline disclosures detrimental to national security, including the compromise of intelligence cooperation between nations, on which our defense often depends.

Following up on a 2014 ruling by a European human-rights court, which found that Zubaydah was subjected to torture, Polish authorities are investigating. Zubaydah’s lawsuit is an effort to force the U.S. to disclose classified information tying the interrogation tactics (about which much has already been publicly acknowledged) to Poland and its intelligence operatives in the relevant time frame. The Justice Department has made a strong case that it has properly invoked the state-secrets privilege to forfend the testimony of the CIA contractors.

As I recounted, during last week’s argument, a number of the justices pressed the Biden Justice Department’s acting solicitor general, Brian Fletcher, on whether the government had thought about allowing Zubaydah himself to testify. Justice Neil Gorsuch, in particular, seemed exasperated by indications that this had not been considered, seeing it as a potential “off-ramp” that would obviate the need for the Court to decide the state-secrets question.

Acting SG Fletcher committed that the Justice Department would huddle and get back to the Court. On Friday, Fletcher sent the Court a letter agreeing to permit Zubaydah to pen a declaration that could be transmitted from Guantanamo Bay, where he has been in custody since 2006, to Polish prosecutors. The Justice Department explained that, a decade ago, Polish authorities began seeking assistance from our government “to facilitate Abu Zubaydah’s testimony about his allegation” of forcible interrogation. In 2015, after years of inter-governmental discussions, our government finally denied the request under the terms of the bilateral Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. (The MLAT permits each country to decline to produce information on national-security grounds.)

The matter has apparently lain dormant until the Court raised it last week. Fletcher cautioned that, while the terrorist would now be permitted to “describe[e] his treatment while in CIA custody[,]”the government reserved the right to redact “information that could prejudice the security of the United States.” The acting SG did not speculate on what type of information that could be, but surely the Justice Department is not going to permit, through the Zubaydah backdoor, the dissemination of information the government would be entitled to withhold via the state-secrets privilege.

As I explained last week, I doubt there is much chance that Zubaydah has such information. The main objective of Zubaydah’s lawsuit is to help the Polish authorities establish when Zubaydah was in Poland (assuming that he was, as is highly likely) and who subjected him to “enhanced” interrogation tactics there 18 years ago. I continue to believe it is doubtful, to say the least, that he can give reliable testimony on those subjects. Such details would have been kept from him.

That is to say, the Court will have to decide the state-secrets issue in the case, regardless of whether Zubaydah provides a sworn declaration to Polish prosecutors.

Politics & Policy

Republicans Are Winning the Fight over Voting Laws

Loading...

Republicans themselves don’t all realize it, but they’re winning the political debate over voting laws.

It’s not just that Republicans are pushing through the laws they favor in multiple states while Democrats in Washington have not been able to enact anything. That difference is mostly a result of the Senate’s 50-50 tie and the filibuster. What’s worse for the Democrats, their attack on Republicans as “vote suppressors” who are instituting a “new Jim Crow” does not seem to be inflicting any political damage. . . .

My column today.

Politics & Policy

One Brave Professor Calls CRT Marxism

Loading...

University of Pittsburgh professor of pharmaceutical sciences, Michael Vanyukov, has spoken out against the infiltration of critical race theory into colleges. He says that it is just a rehashing of Marxism, designed to divide people and empower the government.

He might know what he’s talking about, having escaped from the Soviet Union more than 30 years ago.

Legal Insurrection has Vanyukov’s story here.

He states, “Like the Soviet communists, who used class-based hate and rhetoric to control the ‘masses’ and build the society of ideological slaves, the ‘Diversity’ departments use race. In a way, that is worse, because one can change one’s class, but race is forever.”

The “progressives” used to call this speaking truth to power.

How long before Professor Vanyukov is targeted for cancellation?

U.S.

Rest in Peace, Colin Powell

Loading...
President George H.W. Bush (second from right) meets with his military advisors at the Pentagon to discuss the Gulf crisis, August 15, 1990. From left: General Norman Schwarzkopf, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, Bush, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

On paper, it shouldn’t be shocking to hear that an 84-year-old man succumbed to complications from COVID-19. And yet, this morning’s announcement that former secretary of state and retired general Colin Powell passed away comes as a shock, another marker of the end of a better era in our politics.

Way back in 1995, I stood in a long line to get a copy of Powell’s autobiography, My American Journey, autographed. Maybe there was a little naivete in the seemingly widespread, and seemingly bipartisan belief that an African-American president would bring racial reconciliation and an era of good feelings. At that point, the only thing most Americans knew about Powell is what they had seen of him in the television briefings during the Persian Gulf War – professional, direct, the occasional dramatic flare from the simplicity of his statements, cutting through the usual Washington jargon: “Our strategy to go after this army is very, very simple. First we’re going to cut it off, and then we’re going to kill it.”

For a potential presidential candidate, it is near ideal to be associated with traits like directness, clarity, the sense of being a classic American success story and a key architect of a resounding U.S. military victory. It’s hard to overstate how much people in the early 1990s just expected Powell to be the first African American president someday. The sci-fi television show SeaQuest DSV, set in the, er, far future of the year 2018, worked in a reference to “former president Colin Powell.”

But by 1995, Powell had decided not to run for president – Bill Clinton was allegedly terrified of running against him. Powell told the public he lacked the passion and commitment for political life; his wife, Alma, reportedly threatened to leave him if he ran for president, fearing Powell would be targeted for assassination by a racist. We’re left to wonder how recent American history might have turned out differently if Alma Powell had less fear of her husband being assassinated.

Uninterested in the presidency, Powell moved into a position a few rungs lower on the ladder, becoming Secretary of State in 2001. In Washington, Powell was perceived as a voice of moderation in the administration in contrast to Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, but that was fueled in part by the fact that Secretaries of State always see diplomatic solutions and Secretaries of Defense always see military solutions.

But Powell had been reticent about military force before George W. Bush came to the presidency and was not a fan of Democratic interventions, clashing with his predecessor as Secretary of State, Madeline Albright.

Albright was an early opponent of the Powell doctrine that the United States should restrict its military interventions to situations in which its vital interests are threatened, and should always insist on using overwhelming force. In his memoirs, Powell recalled that he almost had “an aneurysm” when Albright challenged him to explain “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

Albright jabbed at Powell shortly before turning over the State Department to him.

“You know, Gen. Powell wrote a book and one of the problems with writing a book is that it takes a while to get it published,” Albright said. “It was, I think, probably ironic that just at the time that this [book] came out, in fact, the limited application of limited force in Bosnia was working.”

Powell entered the Bush administration with a sterling, heroic reputation and put considerable effort into maintaining it. David Frum described Powell as the “deadliest bureaucratic knife fighter in the whole Bush administration.” Powell was widely believed to be one of Bob Woodward’s top sources for years, going back to the 1991 book The Commanders; Powell was usually portrayed as the wise and careful figure in Woodward’s accounts of the Bush administration.

It’s hard to shake the sense that Powell was mortified for his role in making the case for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, particularly his presentation at the United Nations about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. He told NPR in 2006, “When people ask me, is this a blot on your record? Yeah, okay, fine. It’s a blot on my record. It’s there for everybody to see forever. But do you want me to walk around saying, I have a blot on my record every day?”

Powell never endorsed a Republican for president again, even though he donated to John McCain’s 2008 campaign during the primary.

Apparently Powell’s polite, buttoned-down public persona obscured a blunt, and sometimes funny assessment of other top figures in American politics. He endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016, but a leaked private e-mail revealed his true feelings: “I would rather not have to vote for her, although she is a friend I respect,” he wrote in the email dated July 26, 2014. “A 70-year-old person with a long track record, unbridled ambition, greedy, not transformational, with a husband still d***ing bimbos at home.”

In those leaked e-mails, Powell called Donald Trump a “national disgrace and an international pariah,” and showed scorn for his old Bush administration rivals:

The emails, some of which were first reported by BuzzFeed News, also show Mr. Powell venting about some members of Mr. Bush’s administration. In one reference to Donald H. Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, he accuses “the idiot Rummy” of being disloyal to both President Bushes. In another email, Mr. Powell calls Dick Cheney, the former vice president, and his daughter Liz Cheney “idiots and a spent force peddling a book that ain’t going nowhere.”

Powell had his flaws, but he cared deeply about his country, tackled its problems with great intellect, astute wisdom and relentless drive, and spent 35 years in uniform before another four years as Secretary of State. He wasn’t always right, and wasn’t always easy to agree with, but he was always easy to respect. He will be missed.

World

Leopoldo and Others

Loading...
Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López talks to the media at the residence of the Spanish ambassador in Caracas, Venezuela, May 2, 2019. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters)

I had always wanted to meet and talk with Leopoldo López. He is a symbol of Venezuelan democracy, and indeed a symbol of democracy worldwide. He was arrested and imprisoned in February 2014. In October 2020, he made a dramatic escape from Venezuela. He is now exiled in Spain. I talked with him earlier this month at the Oslo Freedom Forum. For our podcast, go here. And today I have a piece on him, on the homepage: here.

For years, I have repeated his slogan: “El que se cansa, pierde” — “He who tires, loses.” Leopoldo is not yet tired and I doubt ever will be. An extraordinary person, who has led an extraordinary life. Full of amazing choices.

I will publish some mail, here on the Corner. In my column on Friday, I spoke of people who crossed from East to West and marveled at the food they saw. (This was in Cold War times.) Forget buildings, monuments, and the like — they marveled at the food, in its abundance. Eye-popping.

A reader writes,

You have reminded me of the time that Boris Yeltsin visited my parents’ local supermarket in Houston. Yeltsin was then a member of the Supreme Soviet and was visiting the Johnson Space Center. He asked for a visit to the supermarket, too.

Here is a 2017 article about this event (which occurred in September 1989). I will quote:

He looked especially excited about frozen pudding pops.

“Even the Politburo doesn’t have this choice. Not even Mr. Gorbachev,” he said. When he was told through his interpreter that there were thousands of items in the store for sale, he didn’t believe it. He even thought that the store was staged, a show for him.

In a different column, I bemoaned “to advocate for,” which is an error that seems lodged in our language — undislodgeable. A professor writes,

I share your aversion to that usage, that misusage: “to advocate for.” I sometimes say “to be an advocate for,” as in, “Gonzalez decided to be an advocate for school choice.” Still not as good as “Gonzalez decided to advocate school choice” — but an option.

In that same column, I spoke of this common formulation: “There are two kinds of people in the world . . .” A reader writes with a joke: “There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary and those who don’t.”

Another reader writes,

Dear Mr. Nordlinger,

Please put me on the distribution list for Impromptus. I love your combination of erudition, wordplay, and curmudgeonhood.

My spell-checker rejected “curmudgeonhood,” and I couldn’t find it in any dictionary, but I did find it in several blogs. . . .

Keep up the good work!

Ha, thank you. (It’s not so much that I have become a curmudgeon as that I started out as one, way back.)

How about this next note? A reader writes,

Sign me up, please. Hopefully, my retirement will begin in a year or two, so I am trying to line up my Chestertons, Menckens, and Nordlingers.

Well, I never. Wasn’t there a children’s show that asked, “Which one of these is not like the others?” In any event, thank you to all readers and correspondents. If you would like to receive Impromptus by e-mail, write jnordlinger@nationalreview.com.

And if you don’t know Leopoldo López, you will want to get to know him: again, here.

Education

A Way to Help Students Figure Out if College Is Worth the Expense

Loading...
(zimmytws/Getty Images)

Not so long ago, the conventional wisdom in America was that college was worth it. Period. College grads earned way more than did people without such credentials, so it was a no-brainer. Enroll in college, borrow as much as needed, and later the rewards will roll in.

Within the last decade or so, Americans have begun to doubt the old conventional wisdom. It has become apparent that college credentials don’t magically lead to high-paying jobs. Lots of graduates wind up doing jobs they could have done while still in high school, weighed down by the money they borrowed for credentials that turned out to have little value. And sometimes the fault lies in the student himself, having coasted through college having fun and accumulating easy credits.

To help students decide whether college is worth it or not, a group called Third Way has recently released a “mapping tool” meant to assist students, and, in today’s Martin Center article, Chris West takes a look at it.

West writes, “The tool is equipped with an interactive map, clear explanations of the authors’ methodology, and a number of helpful comparative data dashboards. Their simple formula calculates a ‘price-to-earnings premium,’ i.e., how many years it takes the average student from a given institution to recoup their educational costs.”

He used it to see what it said about a range of colleges and universities in North Carolina, ranging from community colleges to prestige universities. Some of the best value is found in community colleges, although not all are. The state’s major universities appear to have reasonable paybacks.

Students shouldn’t treat this tool as proof of anything though. West notes its limitations. “Another important consideration to keep in mind is that this tool does not account for the opportunity costs of earning a degree. These institutions take anywhere from two to four years to earn a credential, a time during which students are generally either unemployed or significantly underemployed,” he notes.

I would add that averages can always be deceiving. Just because the average graduate of College X recoups his investment in Y years doesn’t mean that you will.

The Economy

East Coast Ports: You’re Next

Loading...
Container ships wait off the coast of the congested ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in Long Beach, Calif., October 1, 2021. (Alan Devall/Reuters)

With congestion at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach causing massive backups, shippers have started to send more freight to the East Coast instead, according to Supply Chain Dive. The major ports on the East Coast, such as New York/New Jersey, Virginia, Charleston, and Savannah, are reporting higher cargo volumes as other West Coast alternatives, such as Seattle and Vancouver, are becoming congested as well.

To get from East Asia to the East Coast of the United States, ships must pass through the Panama Canal. That adds about seven days to a ship’s journey and about $3,000 to the price of a container, but backups are so severe that those costs are becoming worthwhile.

Supply Chain Dive reports that East Coast ports are more confident they will be able to handle increased cargo loads. The Florida Ports Council is practically begging shippers to send their freight through Tampa or Miami instead of waiting in line off the coast of Southern California. In a rhetorical flourish, the council’s president and CEO said, “Our seaports are the solution to ensure the cargo shipping logjam doesn’t become the grinch that stole Christmas.” The Port of Charleston has invested about $2 billion in infrastructure improvements over the last few years. The Port of Savannah’s capacity will increase when a major construction project is completed in December. As Rich Lowry noted in his recent piece for Politico, the Port of Virginia is more automated than other American ports and is better equipped to handle increased volume.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) only represents workers at the major ports on the West Coast of the United States and Canada. The ILWU’s stranglehold on West Coast ports has caused labor prices to skyrocket and made technological development difficult since the union sees increased automation as a threat to its workers. East Coast workers are represented by the International Longshoremen’s Association, which has historically been less effective than the ILWU at restricting the labor supply and stifling automation.

People are forward-looking, and they find ways to improve outcomes when they see something is not working. Our West Coast ports are not working, so East Coast ports are becoming more attractive. That creates new challenges by increasing stress on East Coast infrastructure. Over the past 30 years, Pacific trade has become much more important than Atlantic trade, so West Coast ports have gotten most of the attention.

Problems in competitive systems are never static, which is one reason why government solutions often don’t work. It was only a few days ago that the Biden administration was patting itself on the back for supposedly cajoling Los Angeles and Long Beach into operating 24/7. That was a step in the right direction, but shippers were already looking at the East Coast at that point. Government is never going to be as fast in coming up with solutions as the people with money on the line and promises to keep. If the East Coast can step up and take some pressure off the West Coast, that would be a welcome development.

Politics & Policy

Biden Contradicts Pelosi on How to Shrink $3.5 Trillion Bill

Loading...
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and President Joe Biden at a signing ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C., June 30, 2021 (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

President Biden has taken the total opposite position of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when it comes to deciding how to shrink the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill.

Faced with the prospect of reducing the price tag of their social spending legislation into something Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema can swallow, Democrats have been debating two different approaches.

Let’s just say Sinema and Manchin would agree to spend $2 trillion. Under one approach, Democrats would take that money and focus on a smaller number of priorities, and permanently fund them. Under another approach, which has become popular in certain corners of the Left, Democrats wouldn’t sacrifice any of their priorities. Instead, they would take everything they want to do and fund it for a few years, in hopes that they as people become dependent on them, there would be pressure to renew them, even were Republicans to retake power.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter released on Monday, Pelosi appeared to settle this question, explaining, “Overwhelmingly, the guidance I am receiving from Members is to do fewer things well so that we can still have a transformative impact on families in the workplace and responsibly address the climate crisis: a Build Back Better agenda for jobs and the planet For The Children!”

Yet now Biden is saying the exact opposite. Speaking to reporters last night, he said, “it’s not going to be $3.5 trillion.  So, the question is: How much of what is important do we get into the legislation?  I’m of the view that it’s important to establish the principle on a whole range of issues without guaranteeing you get the whole 10 years.  It — it doesn’t — it matters to establish it.”

For all the talk about the division between moderates and progressives, it turns out that Biden and Pelosi aren’t even on the same page.

Politics & Policy

Bernie Sanders Torches the Idea That His $3.5 Trillion Bill Is ‘Popular’

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

Senator Bernie Sanders has taken to offering two talking points in favor of his preposterous $3.5 trillion spending bill. The first talking point holds that it is somehow outrageous that 52 Senators are able to prevent 48 Senators from passing the legislation he covets. The second talking point is that his bill is “popular.”

The first claim is so ridiculous that Joe Manchin has begun calling it out in his press releases. The second is so ridiculous that . . . well, Bernie Sanders has begun calling it out in his press releases.

Yesterday, Sanders issued a statement that began like this:

Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better legislation – and the need to lower prescription drug costs, expand Medicare to cover dental, hearing and vision, greatly improve home health care, make child care and housing affordable, establish Paid Family and Medical Leave and address the existential threat of climate change. And the polling numbers go astronomically high when people understand that this $3.5 trillion bill will be paid for by demanding that the wealthy and large corporations start paying their fair share of taxes.

Which sounds really promising for Sanders. Until we get to the second paragraph, in which he explains that:

polling also shows that despite President Biden having introduced this proposal five months ago, a majority of Americans have very little knowledge as to what is in this bill – one of the most consequential pieces of legislation for working people in the modern history of our country. Americans can be for the bill. They can be opposed to the bill. But it is absurd that so many of them don’t know what is in the bill.

In his conclusion, Bernie writes that “It is hard to ask people to have faith in their government when they have little understanding of what their government is trying to do.” Perhaps so. But it is also “hard” — read: impossible — to say that Americans exhibit “overwhelming support for the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better legislation” when when, per your own admission, “a majority of Americans have very little knowledge as to what is in this bill.”

U.S.

‘Chappelle Takes on the Woke Scolds’

Loading...

Today on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, Michael, and Phil discuss the supply-chain disruptions, Netflix pushing on the woke mob over the Dave Chappelle special, and more. Listen below, or follow this show on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

Culture

20 Things That Caught My Eye: The Life behind Abortion; Muslims & Religious Liberty; & More

Loading...

1. Meet Baby Olivia 

2.

3. Listening to the heartbeat of the pro-life movement: an interview with Maria McFadden of The Human Life Review 

4. Pope Francis:

All health care professionals have a right to conscientious objection, just as they have a right to denounce unjust harm inflicted on innocent and defenseless life, Pope Francis said.

When it comes to abortion, “I have been very clear — it is homicide and it is not licit to become complicit,” he told a group of pharmacists and other medical professionals.

5. Mustafa Akyol: Why, As a Muslim, I Defend Religious Liberty

Religious coercion does not lead to genuine piety. It only leads to hypocrisy. If people are forced to practice a religion, they don’t do it out of a sincere will to obey God. They do it out a disdained obligation to obey men.

Continue reading “20 Things That Caught My Eye: The Life behind Abortion; Muslims & Religious Liberty; & More”

Pete Buttigieg Should Not Be Taking Two Months off during a Supply-Chain Crisis

Loading...
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg takes a question during a press briefing about the administration’s response to the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack shut down at the White House in Washington, D.C., May 12, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

As America faces a mounting transportation crisis — the disruption of shipping supply chains — Jim Geraghty asked yesterday exactly what it is that Joe Biden’s “Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force” has been doing since Biden named it in June. We then got a partial answer that has people up in arms at Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, one of the leaders of the task force:

They didn’t previously announce it, but Buttigieg’s office told West Wing Playbook that the secretary has actually been on paid leave since mid-August to spend time with his husband, Chasten, and their two newborn babies. “For the

Culture

Another Nine Boxes: When ‘Medical Waste’ Is a Mirror on the Soul of a Nation

Loading...
Outside Planned Parenthood in lower Manhattan on October 15, 2021. (Kathryn Jean Lopez)

Around 1 p.m. today, I went to pray a Rosary across the street from Planned Parenthood in Manhattan. I try to do that daily when I am in New York. For a good while, I was praying — and sometimes sidewalk counseling — there in the mornings. I watched how on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, a truck would come with boxes to take away “regulated medical waste.” I am usually out there in the afternoons now. I see girls going in and leaving — there are morning and afternoon rounds of surgical abortions most days, as best I can tell. The afternoon is brutal, because you see girls after they’ve had their abortions. Some are beside themselves. Some of their boyfriends can’t even bother to open a car door for them. That’s all a long way of saying that I did not expect to see the truck and the boxes going in to be filled, and coming out to be driven away. What’s so shocking — besides the fact of it — is no one seems to notice. It’s like it could be another Amazon delivery happening. This is death — murder under euphemisms — before our eyes, and people just pass by and don’t notice.

Today I saw nine boxes of “medical waste.” As I mentioned, the last time I checked, this happens at least three times a week. Lord have mercy on us.

How many of our young people are walking wounded, never given a chance to do anything but be enslaved to a pornified culture of death? And not just our young people. Fifty years of the lie that abortion is a choice, health care, a good.

I went to Mass a block away earlier, and the visiting priest decried violence on the streets in Chicago. But we overlook the other violence on our streets. Every day, people walk past this clinic, thinking nothing of it. Even a pro-lifer outside seemed numb to the boxes passing by him.

Where are our tears? Where is our reparation for this evil? Where is our superabundance of love for moms who don’t know they are moms, for girls who don’t know what tremendous value their lives, hearts, minds, and souls are? We get into frenzies of outrage. Abortion is at the root of them all. We sever the relationship between a mother and her child. No wonder we are callous in so many other ways.

Thank you, everyone who does the work of being the arms and hands and hearts and ears of love in the pro-life movement. And if you’ve had an abortion or more or had a role to play in one, I am sorry. You deserved better than that. And there are people who will help you in your grieving, no matter how recent or long ago your abortion was. Those of us who oppose abortion don’t judge you; we love you and want better for you and your child than what this culture of death says is women’s empowerment. It’s a grave lie, and it has wrought misery on lives. And every one of us living in this country today has a duty to help mothers be mothers and expectant fathers to be fathers and to love them enough to equip them to be.

We’re living in his country today and let this be just another political issue all too often. It’s not just another political issue. It’s a human travesty. We can talk about things happening a world away — and should! But there’s a genocide happening here. (There are Black Lives Matters signs in the Noho neighborhood where Planned Parenthood is. Do the people with those signs know that in some zip codes in New York City, more black babies are aborted than are allowed to be born?) Do we care? It’s about more than a Supreme Court case. New York will still have abortions, just as abortions are still happening in Texas, even with the law prohibiting them. I doubt the law in New York will ever get it right. So how do we help girls and women?

Let nine boxes today be a challenge to us all. What more can we do to love girls and women and all who pressure them away from abortion?

For your consideration: Some links and things for those of you who want to do more, support alternatives to abortion, or want to seek help for yourself or someone you love.

www.abortionchangesyou.com

https://postabortionhelp.org

sistersoflife.org

Talking with the Human Coalition in Texas:

Talking with Ben and Kirsten Watson about their documentary, Divided Hearts of America:

Here’s Carter Snead talking about what it means to be human

What does it mean to be pro-life? with Erika Bachiochi and Sister Magdalene Teresa

 

 

Health Care

There Is Debate about Vaccine Mandates. Can We Actually Have the Debate?

Loading...
Syringes of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up community vaccination center in Valley Stream, N.Y., February 23, 2021. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

I just had my first experience of being banned by YouTube. I had recorded a short video talking about the case of Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, who the University of California has put on leave. He is a physician and director of the medical-ethics program at UC Irvine. He’s one of the people who not too long ago was relied upon and hailed as a hero, who has now chosen to challenge UC’s vaccine mandate. I know a number of people who are hesitant to get the vaccine — because of research on aborted babies, because they had COVID-19, and because of other health reasons, like having an autoimmune disorder. I am aware that there are other people who are on the so-called Interwebs watching conspiracy videos — an Uber driver recently showed me some. The danger in the case of Kheriaty, who I’ve interviewed over the years, is that he is not spreading misinformation: He’s making an informed choice for himself. His case concerns me because I know other doctors — Catholic family men in similar positions — who are also making informed decisions.

I was voicing an opinion: that in our fear of COVID-19, we are conflating informed opinions with misinformation. As someone who has some opinions that are opposed by people in power in our culture and politics, that’s concerning. And I’ll be honest, on a doctor’s recommendation, I hesitated to get a COVID vaccine. But it’s impossible to operate without it in New York — and because I travel and because I certainly don’t want to infect someone who is vulnerable, I decided to get the vaccine. But shouldn’t we defend conscience rights? And shouldn’t we not be afraid of opinions? Dr. Kheriaty has helped many people in his life — including combatting depression, which seems to be a pandemic. YouTube said my short video violates their “medical misinformation policy.” But let me assure you: I am not a doctor and do not play one on TV or radio or anywhere else. Whatever your vaccination status and opinions, would you perhaps pray for Aaron Kheriaty and his family and others who are in similar positions — really believing they are taking a necessary stand in this time of mandates?

This is based on a commentary that aired on The Catholic Channel on Sirius XM, Channel 129 on Thursday.