Economy & Business

Incentives Matter, McDonald’s Says

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A McDonald’s restaurant’s drive-thru sign is pictured in Los Angeles, Calif., April 4, 2011. (REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni)

From Fox Business: “McDonald’s says jobs coming back fastest in states that ended extra unemployment benefits.”

“Applications in states that have ended early, the federal stimulus, those have tended to do even better. So I do think that there’s evidence that as the federal stimulus rolls off, that you’ll see an improvement in the application rate,” said the CEO.

Most restaurants are small businesses, and we’ve seen and heard plenty about their struggles to find workers. The explanation seems obvious: If people are getting paid more in unemployment benefits than restaurants are able to pay them, they will stay unemployed.

The situation of McDonald’s allows for a more direct comparison between states than anecdotes from small businesses. McDonald’s has thousands of locations all across the country with employees doing the same type of work. For them to say it’s easier to hire in states that ended the expanded unemployment benefits is a solid indicator that the unemployment benefits were hindering hiring.

Fox Business also reported that “McDonald’s franchisees have been luring workers back by offering a number of incentives, including free childcare, sign-on bonuses and other incentives.” It’s a good reminder that there are infinite margins on which to compete, and wages are only one part of compensation. If companies can’t compete on wages, they’ll find other ways to lure workers.

When President Biden whispers, “Pay them more,” in response to businesses having a hard time hiring, he’s ignoring that they have been paying employees more by offering extra incentives and often higher wages, too. It’s just really hard to compete with a government who is paying people to not work by offering compensation packages that require, you know, work.

Law & the Courts

What Does Andrew Cuomo Represent?

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D., N.Y.) winks while speaking from the One World Trade Center Tower in New York, June 15, 2021. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

After insisting that any investigation of his actions would prove he did nothing wrong, New York governor Andrew Cuomo is now contending that the staffers of Attorney General Tish James who are investigating him cannot be trusted.

After giving Cuomo orgiastic overage for the first six months or so of the pandemic, national news coverage of the New York governor gradually and belatedly got tougher — with the notable exception of CNN’s prime time. But so far, it appears Cuomo has waited out the storm.

There are a lot of conservative complaints about how the national media covers politics, but one aspect that I think doesn’t enough discussion is how scandals involving Republican officials are often covered as if they are emblematic and symbolic of deep-rooted, widespread pathologies within the party and/or conservative movement. The theme of the coverage is not just “Republican official is caught doing something bad”; it is often “a GOP official is caught doing something bad, demonstrating why Republicans are bad.”

You probably remember that idiot Todd Akin declaring during a discussion of abortion restrictions, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” What you may not remember is that immediately, the mainstream media adopted the narrative that Akin’s ignorant comment, suggesting rape could not result in pregnancy, represented mainstream GOP thinking.

The very first question to Barack Obama during a White House press conference, August 20, 2012:

You’re no doubt aware of the comments that the Missouri Senate candidate, Republican Todd Akin, made on rape and abortion.  I wondered if you think those views represent the views of the Republican Party in general.  They’ve been denounced by your own rival and other Republicans.  Are they an outlier or are they representative?

Obama split the difference: “Although these particular comments have led Governor Romney and other Republicans to distance themselves, I think the underlying notion that we should be making decisions on behalf of women for their health care decisions — or qualifying forcible rape versus non-forcible rape — I think those are broader issues, and that is a significant difference in approach between me and the other party.”

A Republican sex scandal is not one guy being hypocritical; it reflects sexism, misogyny, the desire to control women’s bodies, repressed homosexuality, etc. A Republican official’s failure to pay owed taxes is an indicator of GOP greed and selfishness. Misuse of funds demonstrates that Republicans just don’t care about the public good and are always obsessed with getting what they want, etc. The misdeeds of a figure on the right are often treated as a symptom of the inherent maladies of the conservative approach to everything in life.

But when Democratic officials get caught in scandal… the tone of the coverage is that it’s just a random bad thing that happened. It doesn’t reflect any broader trend, or troubling pattern, or a lingering blind spot within the Democratic party.

Before he became governor, Andrew Cuomo was the state attorney general. Before Cuomo had that job, the state attorney general was Eliot Spitzer, who had sex with prostitutes while prosecuting other people on prostitution charges and who faced allegations of violent behavior during his trysts. Cuomo’s successor as state attorney general was Eric Schneiderman,  who ultimately did not face criminal charges — despite four women claiming he hit or choked them. Once charges were dropped Schneiderman issued a statement declaring that he “accept full responsibility for my conduct in my relationships with my accusers, and for the impact it had on them.” He’s now teaching meditation. (No, I am not making this up.)

Three consecutive New York state attorneys general faced charges of either getting sexually violent with women on multiple occasions or sexually harassing them. Some people might look at that and wonder if there’s a dangerously indulgent culture surrounding powerful Democratic men in New York state. Some might even wonder if being allegedly feminist, pro-choice, and self-described “pro-women” gives powerful Democratic men in office a sense that they are entitled to indulge their very worst impulses when behind closed doors with a woman.

But to many voices in the media, there’s nothing usual about three straight top law enforcement officials in one state being accused of groping or assaulting women. It’s just some bad things that randomly happened involving three Democratic officials in a row.

Put another way, if Ed Buck had been a big-time Republican donor, wouldn’t his trial have been nationwide news?

Education

Countering the Whitewash of Critical Race Theory

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Ibram X. Kendi speaks about one of his books at Unitarian Universalist Church in Montclair, N.J., August 14, 2019. (Montclair Film/Wikimedia Commons)

The statists who are promoting critical race theory (CRT) in our educational institutions would have us believe that it is merely teaching “accurate history.” But this history is warped and its proposed remedy — government-enforced discrimination against whites — would not bring about anything except endless group strife. And, of course, it would make jobs for lots of “diversity and inclusion” apparatchiks.

In this essay, attorney Hans Bader corrects a recent attempt by Reuters to whitewash CRT.

Bader writes that, “Reuters denied that critical race theory teaches that ‘discriminating against white people is the only way to achieve equality,’ saying that was a ‘misconception’ promoted by ‘conservative media outlets.’ It’s not a misconception. It’s the explicit position of the most famous exponent of critical race theory, Boston University’s Ibram X. Kendi. The ‘key concept’ in Kendi’s book How to Be an Antiracist is that discrimination against whites is the only way to achieve equality: ‘The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination,’ writes Kendi in that book, a New York Times bestseller touted by many progressive journalists.”

It’s a standard move by statists to use schools to push their divisive, authoritarian notions and then pretend that it’s all benign when they’re called out on it. Too bad that media outlets such as Reuters are now their accomplices.

Law & the Courts

House Democrats Pass Bill to Pay for Abortions around the Globe with U.S. Tax Dollars

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi takes part in an enrollment ceremony for the ‘VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021’ on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 21, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

On Wednesday night, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 217–212 to fund elective abortions in foreign countries with U.S. tax dollars.

For nearly five decades, regardless of partisan control of Congress, every appropriations bill funding the State Department and foreign aid programs has included the Helms amendment, which prevents international aid from directly paying for elective abortions. 

But pro-life Democrats have gone extinct in the House of Representatives. In 2020, House Democrats introduced the “first-ever bill to repeal the Helms Amendment.” All but three Democrats voted to pass the bill killing the Helms amendment on Wednesday night, and the three Democratic “no” votes — Cori Bush, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib — didn’t oppose the bill because it would fund abortion.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi may have endangered the Democratic majority by having her caucus vote for taxpayer-funding in foreign countries. Multiple studies have shown that taxpayer subsidies for abortion increases the number of human lives ended by abortion, and the policy is deeply unpopular.

Last year, a Marist Poll commissioned by the Knights of Columbus asked Americans if they supported or opposed “using tax dollars to support abortion in other countries.” The result: 76 percent of Americans said they oppose using tax dollars to support abortion in other countries, while 21 percent support it.

Appropriations bills are still subject to a 60-vote threshold in the Senate, which means that the Republican minority can (and certainly would) block final passage of any appropriations bill that lacks the Helms or the Hyde amendment, which prevents federal Medicaid funding of elective abortion. Every House Republican present voted against the bill killing the Helms amendment on Wednesday night.

Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma said earlier this month of the Hyde amendment and the Helms amendment: “Quite frankly, everyone in this room knows this bill will never pass the United States Senate without their inclusion.”

But the budget-reconciliation process allows Senate Democrats to pass a bill with a simple majority, and some Democrats are pushing for a new Medicaid-like program that would fund elective abortions in the United States. 

If Democrats push forward with that proposal, it could ultimately fall to West Virginia Democratic senator Joe Manchin to determine whether Democrats allow taxpayer-funding of elective abortions in the next reconciliation bill. Manchin said in June: “I’m going to support Hyde in every way possible.”

Politics & Policy

Fauci and the ‘Noble Lie’

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You should read this essay on trust and manipulation in public-health policy by Kerrington Powell and Vinay Prasad.

A key point is that expertise is non-transferable: Even if we accept that it is ethical for public figures to mislead the public for the public’s own good, being an expert in infectious diseases does not give you any special insight into other complex questions, such as public behavior. People who are high achievers in one field mistakenly believe that they possess a kind of generalized cleverness applicable to other areas of endeavor — call it Krugman’s Fallacy.

(I would say that I do not believe that it is ethical for public figures to mislead the public for the public’s own good — but isn’t that what I would say if I did?)

The authors conclude:

Noble lies—small untruths—yield unpredictable outcomes. Nietzsche once wrote, “Not that you lied to me, but that I no longer believe you, has shaken me.” Public health messaging is predicated on trust, which overcomes the enormous complexity of the scientific literature, creating an opportunity to communicate initiatives effectively. Still, violation of this trust renders the communication unreliable. When trust is shattered, messaging is no longer clear and straightforward, and instead results in the audience trying to reverse-engineer the statement based on their view of the speaker’s intent. Simply put, noble lies can rob confidence from the public, leading to confusion, a loss of credibility, conspiracy theories, and obfuscated policy.

Noble lies are a trap. We cannot predict the public’s behavior, and loss of trust is devastating.

Energy & Environment

Climate, Entomophagy, and a Moral Debate (for Some)

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Pasta made from the insect protein in the German retailer Metro AG supermarket in Duesseldorf, Germany, March 02, 2018. (Thilo Schmuelgen/Reuters)

Writing the other day about meat and its enemies, I suggested that the drive to persuade people to eat more insect-based food in order to help save the planet might run into objections from vegans (and some vegetarians):

To the extent that scientists and food technologists can develop nutritious, cost-competitive, and tasty plant-based or lab-grown alt-meat or, aided by creative cooks, conjure up treats out of another much talked-about option, protein-rich insect-based grub, good for them. It only widens consumer choice, for carnivores, flexitarians, vegetarians, or vegans. (Never mind that not many vegetarians and, in theory, no vegans will stoop to entomophagy.)

It was, let’s face it, no great feat of the imagination to think that vegans and vegetarians might have ethical qualms about eating our insect pals, but, judging by an article, “Don’t Farm Bugs,” written by Jeff Sebo and Jason Schukraft  for Aeon, I had underestimated the depth of the moral concerns that might be triggered (for some) by the prospect of mankind’s greedy eyes turning towards hexapod snacks.

An extract:

Interest in insect farming is booming. Insects have been heralded as a sustainable alternative to traditional animal agriculture, with a litany of articles touting the environmental benefits of insect protein. Socially minded investors have piled into the space, with recent funding rounds totalling more than $950 million.

Socially responsible investing is what it is.

Back to Sebo and Schukraft:

Lost in all the hype is an uncomfortable question: do we want to encourage a food system that farms animals by the trillion?

By number of animals killed annually, the most farmed insects are crickets, mealworm beetle larvae and black soldier fly larvae. The most common slaughter methods on these farms include baking, boiling, freezing and shredding. In most jurisdictions, there are no welfare regulations that govern insect slaughter. Operators are free to kill the insects in whatever manner is most efficient.

The core of Sebo and Schukraft’s argument is based on sentience, or even the possibility of sentience, a thesis that makes for some fascinating reading, both as an idea, but also for some of the examples included:

Researchers who treated a group of shaken flies with the human antidepressant lithium chloride found that the ‘treatment can suppress this depression-like state in flies’.

Well, I found that fascinating.

On the other hand:

While insects have many traits that suggest sentience, they have at least some traits that suggest non-sentience as well. For example, mantids are known to continue mating even as they are devoured by their partner. Injured honey bees do not show more of a preference towards morphine than non-injured honey bees. And even decapitated cockroaches are capable of relatively impressive feats of learning….

I respect the caution implicit in the inclusion of that “relatively.”

If there is a non-negligible chance that insects are sentient, then killing insects is like driving drunk; it imposes a non-negligible risk on others against their will. Granted, the nature of the risk is different. We are definitely killing individuals who are possibly sentient, rather than possibly killing individuals who are definitely sentient. But the result is the same in both cases. There is a non-negligible chance that we are killing sentient beings, and we have a moral responsibility to consider that possibility when deciding what to do.

This leads to the surprising conclusion that we should accept a moral presumption against harming insects. If an action would kill an insect unnecessarily, then we have moral reason not to perform that action, all else being equal. And if an action would kill trillions of insects unnecessarily, then we have trillions of reasons not to perform that action, all else being equal.

Well, that rather depends on who is deciding what is or is not “moral.” There is also the small question of hierarchy, a persistent presence within a natural world that is not known for its kindliness, “red in tooth and claw” and all that: Given the choice between saving a billion larvae, or one human (or, for that matter, one dog), I suspect that most (admittedly, human) moral systems would consign the grubs to the grim reaper.

But even if we remove the either/or (human  or bug) from the equation, how to decide whether an insect’s death is “necessary?” Some savages, of course, might think that this isn’t even worth considering.

Entertainingly, in the light of all the proselytizing in a wider and wider section of the media, Sebo and Schukraft appear not altogether convinced by those who argue that entomophagy will help save the planet:

[I]nsect farming is not the public health or environmental saviour that it claims to be. The reality is that insect farming and traditional animal farming are mutually reinforcing systems. Industry insiders know that selling insects for human consumption is not profitable at scale. (The ‘yuck’ factor will take a long time to overcome.) Thus, the new insect farms are selling their product primarily to huge aquaculture operations in which ground insect powder is added to fishmeal. The industry is also lobbying hard to allow chicken and pig factory farmers to use insects as feed. By reducing the cost of animal feed, insect farming might enable an expansion of factory farming systems.

The environmental benefits of insect farming are thus misleading. Farmed insects are not replacing other farmed animals; they are being fed to them. The emergence of insect farming thus reinforces another already inefficient supply chain. Plant-based supply chains – including for plant-based meats – are generally much more sustainable than the animal-based supply chains to which insect farms are contributing. And humans can produce plant-based proteins without bringing into existence trillions of possibly sentient beings each year, all so that we can then confine them, kill them and eat them either directly or, more likely, indirectly, via other farmed animals.

Problem solved?

Nope.

Unfortunately, plant-based agriculture also harms insects, through the use of agricultural insecticides….

Oh well.

Anyway, read the whole thing and draw your own conclusions. To me, it was an intriguing discussion in its own right, but also as an example of how far, as a species, we can take an argument.

Meanwhile, no larvae will, I hope, be harmed in my upcoming dinner – a street-bought hot dog.

Mind you . . .

Capital Matters

Web Welfare in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package

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(Philippe Wojazer / Reuters)

At long last, we have some details of the bipartisan infrastructure deal, courtesy of Politico. Congress will be expected to vote on a massive bill without reading it, and we know what that leads to: unintentionally creating new programs they didn’t know were there.

On July 15, I wrote about how Congress used a fake emergency to create web welfare. It allocated $3.2 billion in the second COVID-relief bill passed right after Christmas in 2020 to the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP). That program provides up to $50 per month to qualifying households for broadband service.

Well, now it looks like it’s just going to be a permanent welfare program.

The EBBP was premised on the “emergency” of people getting their Internet cut off because they were unemployed because of the pandemic and couldn’t pay their bills. That’s a legitimate concern, especially with many students forced into online schooling. But the FCC had already averted that emergency with existing broadband programs for low-income households, public–private partnerships, and extraordinary regulatory actions at the start of the pandemic in March 2020. From March 12 to May 1 of 2020, a time when unemployment peaked at around 23 million people, the FCC only received 498 complaints about Internet service being cut off. But in December 2020, well after the unemployment rate had fallen back to single digits and consumer spending had rebounded, Congress decided there was a broadband emergency and created the EBBP.

The EBBP only took effect in May of this year, well after the worst of the pandemic’s economic effects, because it took the FCC months to implement Congress’s wishes from December 2020. It was scheduled to last until the $3.2 billion was spent, which probably would have taken around a year.

But now it is being extended and renamed. From the broadband section of the bipartisan infrastructure deal details:

This provision would devote additional funds to the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program. . . . This program is being renamed the Low-Income Broadband Benefit and the subsidy will be provided at a lower rate (down to $30 from an original $50 per month), to extend its longevity across the 5-year budget window.

The reduction from $50 per month to $30 per month doesn’t mean much. Many low-income broadband plans cost less than $30 per month (AT&T, for example, advertises its own as $10 per month or less), so it amounts to the federal government paying millions of people’s Internet bills.

Nearly 4 million households were enrolled in the EBBP as of July 25. With the program no longer related to the pandemic, we can expect that number to continue to grow. And while the details don’t say how much money has been allocated to the program, if it’s going to last “across the 5-year budget window,” it will be politically impossible to take away from beneficiaries when funding expires and almost certainly will be renewed in perpetuity.

Hardly anyone noticed this program in the Christmas tree bill Congress passed in December 2020. Now it’s on track to become a permanent addition to the welfare state. This is how omnibus-based government works.

Health Care

‘Masking Madness from the CDC’

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President Joe Biden participates in a town hall-style interview in Cincinnati, Ohio, July 21, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

This week on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, and Jim discuss the absurd new masking guidance from the CDC, Biden’s lame CNN town hall, and a Senate committee’s appalling vote concerning women and the draft. Listen below, or subscribe to this show on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

Economics

Inflation: ‘Transitory’ Taking Longer to Transit

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Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testifies during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., December 1, 2020. (Susan Walsh/Reuters)

Full transcript of Fed chairman Powell’s statement here.

Some extracts (my emphasis added):

Inflation has increased notably and will likely remain elevated in coming months before moderating. As the economy continues to reopen and spending rebounds, we are seeing upward pressure on prices, particularly because supply bottlenecks in some sectors have limited how quickly production can respond in the near term. These bottleneck effects have been larger than anticipated, but as these transitory supply effects abate, inflation is expected to drop back toward our longer-run goal. Very low readings from early in the pandemic as well as the pass-through of past increases in oil prices to consumer energy prices also contribute to the increase, although these base effects and energy effects are receding.

The process of reopening the economy is unprecedented, as was the shutdown at the onset of the pandemic. As the reopening continues, bottlenecks, hiring difficulties, and other constraints could continue to limit how quickly supply can adjust, raising the possibility that inflation could turn out to be higher and more persistent than we expect.

Our new framework for monetary policy emphasizes the importance of having well-anchored inflation expectations, both to foster price stability and to enhance our ability to promote our broad-based and inclusive maximum-employment goal. Indicators of longer-term inflation expectations appear broadly consistent with our longer-run inflation goal of 2 percent. If we saw signs that the path of inflation or longer-term inflation expectations were moving materially and persistently beyond levels consistent with our goal, we’d be prepared to adjust the stance of policy.

. . . As the Committee reiterated in today’s policy statement, with inflation having run persistently below 2 percent, we will aim to achieve inflation moderately above 2 percent for some time so that inflation averages 2 percent over time and longer-term inflation expectations remain well anchored at 2 percent. We expect to maintain an accommodative stance of monetary policy until these employment and inflation outcomes are achieved. With regard to interest rates, we continue to expect that it will be appropriate to maintain the current 0 to ¼ percent target range for the federal funds rate until labor market conditions have reached levels consistent with the Committee’s assessment of maximum employment and inflation has risen to 2 percent and is on track to moderately exceed 2 percent for some time.

In addition, we are continuing to increase our holdings of Treasury securities by at least $80 billion per month and of agency MBS by at least $40 billion per month until substantial further progress has been made toward our maximum-employment and price-stability goals….

In coming meetings the Committee will again assess the economy’s progress toward our goals, and the timing of any change in the pace of our asset purchases will depend on the incoming data. As we have said, we will provide advance notice before making any changes to our purchases…

You can find commentary on the subsequent press conference here (via CNBC).

Statements by a Fed chairman can be read in many different ways, and usually are.

But it would seem to me that, although Powell recognizes transitory inflation is taking a little longer to transit than hoped, that, so far as he is concerned, the risk–reward calculation has not changed. That’s made easier by the fact that the reward of lower unemployment clearly weighs higher for him than the risk of “transitory” inflation lasting long enough to feed upon itself.  That’s just as well as that risk is evidently increasing. No taper yet, then, quite clearly, nor anytime soon.

As I mentioned the other day:

The longer this “transitory” period of higher inflation endures, the greater the risk that inflationary expectations will become embedded in the “real” world (bond yields may show no serious signs of any impending concern, but that owes a lot to the Fed’s machinations, and, in all likelihood, some four- dimensional chess by bond investors). Inflation has a nasty habit of feeding on upon itself. And it can, as Bloomberg’s John Authers has put it, be “habit-forming.

White House

Speaking (Economic) Truth to (Biden’s) Power

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President Joe Biden gestures as he departs for travel to Cincinnati, Ohio from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., July 21, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Joe Biden wants Americans to trust the federal government to keep them safe and prosperous. Remember when leftists used to counsel against trusting the feds? I do. Now that they have control, doubters should shut up.

One of those doubters is the indefatigable James Bovard, who has been blowing the whistle on government waste, folly, and sheer villainy for many decades. In this essay for the Future of Freedom Foundation, Bovard speaks truth to power. The government’s reckless spending is making us less prosperous and less free.

He writes:

Biden promised ‘fastidious oversight to make sure there’s no waste or fraud’ in the multi-trillion-dollar bonanza. But politicians define “waste” differently than taxpayers define the term. Any handout that produces political gratitude is a fruitful investment according to Washington scoring. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), promised, ‘We’re going to be watchdogging this every single step of the way.’ However, the attendance by senators at congressional oversight hearings is on par with attendance at baseball games during COVID lockdowns. Most members of Congress will pay little attention to the details of the law as long as their constituents get deluged with free money.

Free money. That’s all this is about. Government spending doesn’t produce anything other than demands for more. Meanwhile, it undermines the desire to work. We’re experiencing vast increases in the number of dollars at the same time our output of goods and services is falling. Prices must rise, but of course that will be blamed on anything except federal policy.

Bovard sums up this way: “Addicting citizens to government handouts could be the easiest way to breed mass docility and enable politicians to stretch their power. The bigger the government becomes, the more votes it can buy. At some point, soaring government spending and the taxation to finance handouts becomes a Damocles sword over the entire political system. As economist Warren Nutter warned, ‘The more that government takes, the less likely that democracy will survive.’”

Correct. But Biden & Co. aren’t much interested in democracy. They’re bent on total power.

Health Care

Pelosi Brings Hygiene Theater Back to the House

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) attends a meeting in Washington, D.C., July 28, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

On Tuesday night, the Capitol physician announced that a mask mandate would be reimposed for vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike in the U.S. House (but not in the Senate, which is part of the same Capitol building, because science).

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy said that the mask mandate for vaccinated people was “not based on science.” House speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to McCarthy’s comment by saying on Wednesday: “He’s such a moron.”

A couple hours later, Pelosi attended her weekly press conference, where she wore a mask up to the podium but then proceeded to speak for 20 minutes unmasked.

Mask mandates may indeed be foolish: Why should we care about COVID cases if the vaccines protect the vaccinated from death and serious illness? If we embrace mask mandates for vaccinated people now, will the mandates be here forever? 

But if wearing a mask still serves any purpose at all, isn’t the most important time to wear one when someone is speaking?

Health Care

No, Mr. President, We Can’t ‘Save the Unvaccinated From Themselves’

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An employee holds a sign reminding fans to wear their mask during a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Minnesota Twins at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minn., April 24, 2021. (David Berding-USA TODAY Sports)

Axios summarizes the recent White House moves as, “the Biden administration is essentially asking vaccinated Americans to help save the unvaccinated from themselves.”

The problem is, it is almost impossible to save someone who isn’t willing to save himself — and I suspect many of the unvaccinated would insist they’re fine just as they are. If unvaccinated people thought they were at significant risk of infection, serious health consequences, and death from COVID-19… then they would probably go out and get vaccinated. Many will refuse to believe they face significant risk of infection, serious health consequences, and death from COVID-19, right up until the moment they’re admitted to a hospital.

My guess is every American has some experience with some variation of that theme — loved ones living with addictions, friends who keep falling in love with someone who’s terrible for them, dealing with family members or friends who can’t control their spending, their drinking, their overeating. Human beings can be exceptionally stubborn creatures, and cling to a preferred narrative in the face of overwhelming counterevidence.

The lesson of this is not, “never help anyone.” The lesson is that we need to make sure the person being helped psychologically and spiritually “buys into” the effort as well. Otherwise, even the best-intentioned efforts are likely to leave problems exacerbated instead of solved.

Perhaps a better way of summarizing the situation is, “the Biden administration is asking vaccinated Americans who are at little to no risk of COVID-19 to accept additional inconveniences to minimize the risk of infections among people who refuse to get vaccinated, and in many cases, refuse wear masks themselves.” The philosophy is that the vaccinated owe the unvaccinated even more additional effort, with little or no discussion of what the unvaccinated owe the vaccinated in return. No one wants to help an ingrate.

What does the Biden team think is going to happen, besides angering lots of Americans?

 

 

Politics & Policy

Mitch McConnell, Kill the (Nonexistent) Bill

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 25, 2021. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer has indicated that the chamber could vote as soon as tonight to advance a bipartisan infrastructure deal. Among the many problems: The bill doesn’t exist yet.

To be clear, we have been critics of this expensive infrastructure boondoggle from Day One. David Harsanyi detailed that our infrastructure is not, in fact, crumbling and Charlie Cooke explained why there was no reason to spend trillions of dollars on this manufactured crisis. We editorialized on the charade of Republicans negotiating a “bipartisan” bill that Democrats view as in tandem with their massive social welfare bill cramming in a host of liberal priorities. I have written on how Democrats keep making Republicans look like idiots again and again by rolling them in negotiations. I noted the other day that Senator Joe Manchin blew up the rationale for cutting a smaller bill by explaining that passing the smaller bill was a key part of getting the entire massive Democrats-only package passed. This is a package that comes on top of the $6 trillion that was already spent in response to the pandemic and during a time when the White House’s own projections see debt as a share of economy surpassing World War II this year, making it the highest in American history. The larger package, which also hasn’t been released, promises to include a reckless expansion of Medicare even though the existing program is unsustainable.

If it weren’t preposterous enough that Republicans have gone on with this abomination for so long, chief Republican collaborator, Senator Rob Portman, now says that they are ready to vote to advance the bill which nobody has seen, because it hasn’t been written yet. “As of late last night, and really early this morning, we now have an agreement on the major issues,” Portman told reporters, according to Politico. “We are prepared to move forward.”

Any conservative should be enraged by what is happening now. Ten people have sat in a room behind closed doors for months with nothing to show the public and now all 100 senators are supposed to advance their work product despite the fact that they have not, in fact, produced anything tangible? What, exactly, is the rush? This isn’t even a situation in which there is a must-pass bill to keep the government open or to respond to an emergency. Senators are dealing with a totally artificial timeline. It seems that the only principle that any of these senators are operating under is that it’s of major urgency to authorize trillions of dollars in spending as soon as possible.

Enough is enough. In fact, enough was enough months ago. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell should use all his powers and skills to kill this nonexistent bill. Vote it down, walk away, and let Democrats attempt to pass trillions of dollars of spending without a single Republican vote and be prepared to run against them next year.  

Health Care

The Most Powerful Voice Within the CDC Assesses the New Mask Mandate

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CDC director Rochelle Walensky on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 11, 2021 (Greg Nash/Reuters)

Maybe these new CDC guidelines calling for mask-wearing again will be revised or clarified soon. This morning, CDC Director David Leonhardt wrote that the announcement of the new guidelines was “both vague and technical, making it hard for many nonexperts to understand. The agency did not make clear which parts of the country were affected or how that might change in coming days.”

Pardon me, that’s New York Times columnist David Leonhardt, but because Leonhardt’s columns often precede changes in CDC policy, his assessments seem to be the first draft of what the agency will soon declare. Back in April, Leonhardt published a column asking “Are Masks Necessary Outdoors?” and a few days later, the White House announced that new guidance on mask-wearing outdoors was coming soon from the CDC. Then in May, Leonhardt challenged the CDC’s statement that up to 10 percent of all COVID transmissions happen outdoors. Two days later, the CDC revised and loosened their guidelines for summer camps.

The pattern is pretty clear. When the rest of us express doubt or skepticism about a CDC recommendation, we’re just a bunch of knuckle-dragging, anti-“SCIENCE” morons with a death wish, but when David Leonhardt expresses the same doubts or skepticism about a CDC recommendation, folks at the highest level of the federal agency start wondering if they should take a second look.

As is, not-quite-director Leonhardt isn’t convinced that mask mandates will make much difference, concluding, “masks may make at least a small difference almost everywhere. But more frequent masking in heavily vaccinated communities will almost certainly not make a major difference.” And he alludes to the point that Americans’ willingness to go along with suddenly-changing guidance is likely to be lower in late summer 2021 than it was in March 2020.

Defend Simone Biles, but Don’t Glorify Quitting

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Simone Biles of the United States in action on the vault during the women’s team gymnastics final at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre in Tokyo, Japan, July 27, 2021. (Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)

As I explained last night, Simone Biles had an entirely defensible reason to pull out of the gymnastics competition, a withdrawal that has now extended to the individual all-around competition. CNN’s Elle Reeve adds to the picture of why her problem is such a big one for a gymnast:

[Biles] said in morning practice that she had a little bit of the twisties. The twisties are a mysterious phenomenon . . . Your body just won’t cooperate, your brain loses track of where you are in the air. You find out where the ground is when you slam into it .