Economy & Business

Lessons from Lysol on Recessions and Recovery

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(Maranie Staab/Reuters)

The Wall Street Journal reports that not everyone is looking forward to the post-pandemic economy:

The maker of Lysol has ridden a wave demand for its cleaning products since Covid-19 hit. Now Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC is grappling with a pandemic-recovery double whammy: slowing sales of disinfectants and rising cost inflation.

Reckitt posted record sales last year, boosted by demand for its products like Dettol soap and wipes that strained its ability to keep stores stocked. But with Covid-19 vaccines being rolled out across the world and restrictions easing, the company says those trends have started to moderate in recent months.

Recessions are weird things: They aren’t bad for everyone. The corollary is also true: Recoveries aren’t good for everyone.

One of the best economics articles of the pandemic was Arnold Kling’s contribution to the Summer 2020 edition of National Affairs, “Economics after the Virus.” In it, he argues that the pandemic recession is best understood as a disruption of patterns. “The economic shutdown is not simply a supply shock or a demand downturn; it is a disruption of patterns of specialization and trade. People have changed their behavior — in some ways for just a few weeks, in others likely for a few years,” Kling wrote.

Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of Lysol, all of a sudden had to reorganize its production processes to meet a huge surge in demand when the pandemic started. That took time, and most of us have been to a store that was totally out of Lysol. Now, Reckitt has to reorganize again. The Journal says it is “contending with rising prices of things like plastics and paper, and higher freight costs.” It’s facing a textbook case of cost-push inflation, being forced to raise prices because of rising input costs.

Using Kling’s paradigm, it’s much easier to see how recessions aren’t bad for everyone and recoveries aren’t good for everyone. There’s nothing inherently good or bad about a disruption. If you’re having an interesting conversation with someone, a disruption is annoying. If you’re having a boring conversation, a disruption is welcome.

The recovery is a disruption for Reckitt just as much as the recession was. It was able to gain from the first disruption and is currently losing from the second disruption, in both cases largely from factors outside its control. People who were upset about companies “profiting off the pandemic” didn’t consider that now many of those very same companies will be losing money because of the recovery.

There’s another interesting fact in the Journal story: Reckitt’s CEO said that “sales of its hygiene products had dropped more than a third in the U.S. since early March.” Other Reckitt brands have rebounded. “Sales of Mucinex, Lemsip and Strepsils have all shown signs of life up after large falls last year because of a historically weak flu season. Brands such as Durex condoms and Nurofen painkillers have also returned to growth as the world gets back to socializing,” the Journal reports.

U.S. consumers are getting over the pandemic, no matter what the government or the noisy Twitter crowd says.

Law & the Courts

Stupid, but Legal: Nikki Fried Suspends Concealed Carry Permits of Accused Capitol Rioters

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The Bill of Rights (Wikimedia Commons )

Nikki Fried, Florida’s agriculture commissioner and the only statewide-elected Democrat in the state, announced this afternoon that she has suspended the concealed-carry permits held by 22 Floridians (Fried’s office has regulatory authority in this area):

My first reaction to this was: Doesn’t Fried mean “allegedly involved”? As far as I can tell, not a single one of those 22 people has been convicted of anything. Irrespective of whether one thinks that the events of January 6th were the worst thing that has happened in America since the Civil War or a complete non-event, we should be able to agree that it is a bad idea to bypass the presumption of innocence as Fried does here. “Insurrectionist” is a pretty serious charge for a public official to throw out at the best of times — especially without reference to a jury.

My second, related, reaction was: Given that the 22 people in question have not yet been convicted of anything, how on earth can Florida’s government be empowered to suspend their concealed carry permits?

Unfortunately, it turns out that it is. Florida’s state constitution explicitly protects the right to keep and bear arms. But it also explicitly permits the state to regulate the bearing part. Here’s the relevant section:

(a) The right of the people to keep and bear arms in defense of themselves and of the lawful authority of the state shall not be infringed, except that the manner of bearing arms may be regulated by law.

And, as it turns out, the law in question, 790.06, allows the state to revoke a carry license on the mere presentation of charges (bolding mine):

(3) The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services shall deny a license if the applicant has been found guilty of, had adjudication of guilt withheld for, or had imposition of sentence suspended for one or more crimes of violence constituting a misdemeanor, unless 3 years have elapsed since probation or any other conditions set by the court have been fulfilled or the record has been sealed or expunged. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services shall revoke a license if the licensee has been found guilty of, had adjudication of guilt withheld for, or had imposition of sentence suspended for one or more crimes of violence within the preceding 3 years. The department shall, upon notification by a law enforcement agency, a court, or the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and subsequent written verification, suspend a license or the processing of an application for a license if the licensee or applicant is arrested or formally charged with a crime that would disqualify such person from having a license under this section, until final disposition of the case. The department shall suspend a license or the processing of an application for a license if the licensee or applicant is issued an injunction that restrains the licensee or applicant from committing acts of domestic violence or acts of repeat violence.

What is “a crime that would disqualify such person from having a license under this section”? Here’s the list:

(1) It is unlawful for any person to own or to have in his or her care, custody, possession, or control any firearm, ammunition, or electric weapon or device, or to carry a concealed weapon, including a tear gas gun or chemical weapon or device, if that person has been:(a) Convicted of a felony in the courts of this state;
(b) Found, in the courts of this state, to have committed a delinquent act that would be a felony if committed by an adult and such person is under 24 years of age;
(c) Convicted of or found to have committed a crime against the United States which is designated as a felony;
(d) Found to have committed a delinquent act in another state, territory, or country that would be a felony if committed by an adult and which was punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding 1 year and such person is under 24 years of age; or
(e) Found guilty of an offense that is a felony in another state, territory, or country and which was punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding 1 year.

Which means that, providing that the 22 people in question were “arrested or formally charged with a crime” and that their crimes were either “against the United States which is designated as a felony” or “an offense that is a felony in another state, territory, or country and which was punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding 1 year,” Fried is acting within her powers.

Naturally, these provisions are not the only ones in play. Like the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Florida’s state constitution also holds that “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” In order for a successful challenge to be brought on those grounds, however, the plaintiffs would have to establish (a) that a constitutional right is being denied without due process, and (b) that concealed carrying is a constitutional right.

As it stands, that second element would be pretty tough to demonstrate, given that Florida’s constitution carves out an exception for regulation, and that neither the Eleventh Circuit (which covers Florida) nor the Supreme Court have ruled on the question of concealed carry either way (it will soon in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen). If the material question here were whether the state can restrict gun ownership per se on the basis of mere criminal charges, a plaintiff challenging Fried’s decision might have a fair shot at overturning the rule. (Notably, in her Kanter v. Barr dissent, Amy Coney Barrett concluded that, historically, only “those who pose a threat of violence to the community” could be disarmed by the government — yes, even if they had been convicted of a crime.) For now, however, carry tends to be treated differently by the courts than is simple possession.

None of this justifies Florida’s statute, which could easily have been written differently, and which should make everybody who cherishes the presumption of innocence feel a little uncomfortable. As a matter of basic political hygiene, it is a bad idea to condition constitutional rights upon the absence of a mere accusation, and the fact that we are dealing here with two things (guns and the alleged Capitol rioters) that the establishment press tends to loathe makes the case against such provisions stronger still.

Film & TV

Can Ghostbusters: Afterlife Recapture the Franchise’s Magic?

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Paul Rudd and Carrie Coon in Ghostbusters: Afterlife. (Sony Pictures/@Ghostbusters/via Twitter)

A few weeks before the 2016 Ghostbusters all-female reboot was released, its cast joined Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The Paul Feig project was an object of controversy from its announcement. This promotional decision presaged the final product’s decision to lean into gender politics without actually providing a requisite amount of originality or crowd-pleasing comedy. (It was also one of the first things that made me think Donald Trump might win against Hillary.) The 2016 Ghostbusters performed poorly enough that its requisite post-credits sequel tease will remain forever that, much like the end of Mac and Me, Paul Rudd’s favorite film.

So instead of continuing along this path, Ghostbusters will be handed “back to the fans,” to use director Jason Reitman‘s also-controversial phrase. In his case, there’s something almost literal about that: Reitman is the son of Ivan Reitman, director of the first two Ghostbusters films. But this has also meant bringing back surviving members of the original cast (Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Dan Akroyd), Paul Rudd, and Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things. Today, we got our first full-length trailer for Ghostbusters: Afterlife, due out this November:

With a rural setting, hints of the mysterious and unexplained, a friendly allied high-school teacher (played by Paul Rudd), and even Finn Wolfhard, it’s clear that Ghostbusters: Afterlife is going for a Stranger Things aesthetic here. But with the implication that the story of the first two Ghostbusters movies has fallen into the status of forgotten myth even as events proceed to reveal it as true, I also got from this trailer something of a Force Awakens vibe from the proceedings — something clinched by the hint of the grudging return to proceedings of Peter Venkman (Bill Murray’s character), in older, crankier, and perhaps reluctant-mentor mode, à la Harrison Ford’s aged Han Solo.

That aspect of The Force Awakens was both a bit duplicative (we had already witnessed the descent into obscurity of the Jedi order in A New Hope) and somewhat-implausible: In the span of a few decades, could something like that really be lost? Perhaps we can allow such storytelling license in a galaxy depicted as so vast, and so . . . illiterate. But Ghostbusters: Afterlife appears to be premised on the notion that an explosion of paranormal activity, witnessed by millions of people in America’s most populated city . . . becomes merely an urban legend within the span of a few decades? That might be too much.

Or maybe not. I’m willing to wait and see whether the comedic framing of Ghostbusters can support the kind of dramatic gravitas and themes of family inheritance, memory, and whatnot that Ghostbusters: Afterlife appears to be striving for. At any rate, I think it has a better shot of success than the misbegotten 2016 reboot.

Elections

Texas Voters Should Ignore Trump’s Endorsement of Corrupt AG Ken Paxton

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Former president Donald Trump addresses a member of the news media after attending a border security briefing with Texas Governor Greg Abbott in Weslaco, Texas, June 30, 2021. (Brandon Bell/Reuters)

The feud between the Trump family and the Bush family continues, this time in a local Texas race for attorney general. The Texas attorney general is the highest legal position in the state, and the primary race for the seat has been hotly contested, with current Texas land commissioner George P. Bush challenging incumbent AG Ken Paxton. Trump recently endorsed Paxton, who has been dogged by legal trouble over the last few years. Trump’s endorsement of Paxton is a surefire example of how ethical concerns aren’t important to many politicians. That doesn’t mean voters should think the same way. 

Americans generally distrust lawyers, and Ken Paxton has done little to assuage ethical concerns surrounding his behavior. In 2015, a Collin County grand jury indicted Paxton for three legal violations just six months into his job as attorney general. Two counts of securities-fraud charges were levied against Paxton and another count of failing to register as an investment adviser. For reasons both financial and political, these charges are still outstanding. 

Despite the indictment, Paxton was reelected three years ago. However, allegations of unethical behavior have continued.  The FBI recently launched an investigation into Paxton, who is now also under suspicion for using his position to benefit a political donor. The Associated Press reported last November that: 

Federal agents are looking into claims by former members of Paxton’s staff that the high-profile Republican committed bribery, abuse of office, and other crimes to help Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, the people told The Associated Press. They insisted on anonymity to discuss the investigation because it is ongoing.

George P. Bush has been considered a strong Republican candidate for AG ever since he was able to make inroads with the Texan Hispanic community. Despite allegations that the Bushes are too lukewarm on conservative issues, George P. Bush has not been a RINO thus far in his political career. Bush even aligned himself with the former president on many occasions to shore up Republican support.

Nevertheless, Trump endorsed Paxton, who undoubtedly helped his cause by aggressively pursuing frivolous “election integrity” lawsuits. Trump’s endorsement cited Paxton’s willingness to be “strong” on “election integrity.” While Trump has made his decision, voters still hold the power. Paxton’s history of ethical problems should turn off voters. 

It is true that Paxton has denied the claims that have been lobbied against him, and that Americans should abide by the maxim “innocent until proven guilty.” However, Paxton has been dogged by allegations of misconduct for almost a full decade, and even former aides have decried his unethical practices. Donald Trump ran on “draining the swamp.” If a persistent record of allegations of using one’s elected position for personal gain isn’t “swampy,” then what is?

Electing good, decent, people to hold the reins of power is a lost art in American politics. Washington himself believed “that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.” However, here in my home state of Texas, we need not lose that art entirely. Luckily, voters need not “hold their nose” and vote for Paxton when a perfectly acceptable indeed, good conservative candidate waits in the wings. Trump endorsement aside, Texas can do better than Ken Paxton.

Sports

What Just Happened with Simone Biles?

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Gymnast Simone Biles of the United States on the uneven bars during training for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre in Tokyo, Japan, July 22, 2021. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Simone Biles withdrew from the women’s team gymnastics finals at the Tokyo Olympics. With the best gymnast of all time not participating, Team USA won silver, with the Russian team (that’s not really the Russian team) winning gold.

The circumstances of Biles’s withdrawal were unusual. She was not injured. From Zachary Evans’s news story:

“We had a workout this morning and it went OK and then just that five-and-a-half hour wait or something, I was just shaking, could barely nap, I just never felt like this going into a competition before and tried to go out there and have fun,” Biles explained on Tuesday.  “Once I came out here I was like, ‘No, mental is not there so I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself.’”

If you’re a fan of USA Gymnastics, as pretty much every American is when the Summer Olympics roll around, this result is disappointing. No matter what sport it is, it’s disappointing when a team doesn’t win a contest it was expected to win. It’s natural to want some answers, especially in this case. It’s not that the team was outmatched by its opponents. The team couldn’t perform to the level it should have because its best member did not compete.

There might be a gut instinct to be upset with Biles. Why didn’t she toughen up and compete? That’s not the right question to ask, however. Mental preparedness is primarily a question of coaching. It’s on the athlete to perform, but it’s on coaches to make sure the athletes are prepared to perform. So it’s worth wondering whether this was primarily a failure of coaching.

Athletes need coaches, even the most successful athletes, because the perspective of a coach is different than that of a player. The coach is supposed to see the bigger picture. Coaches have seen situations that athletes have not seen yet and know what successful and unsuccessful responses to those situations look like.

Part of that is making sure the team is in the right mindset before competition begins. This is especially true of elite athletes. Phil Jackson had nothing to teach Michael Jordan about dribbling or shooting. Jordan was better at that than Jackson was. Jordan told ESPN Magazine in 1998 what he learned from Jackson:

Calming the body. No matter how much pressure there is in a game, I think to myself: It’s still just a game. I don’t meditate, but I know what he’s getting at. He’s teaching about peacefulness and living in the moment, but not losing the aggressive attitude. Not being reckless, but strategic.

Elsewhere in the same piece, Jordan talks about Jackson and his college coach, Dean Smith:

The main reason we do so well is Phil. I like him because of the atmosphere he creates. Sometimes he can say one word, one sentence, and shake you up, make you think. Like Dean Smith did. Instead of yelling at you, criticizing you, Dean would say something like, “Would you make that play if you were in high school?” It’s not a curse, but you get the point. At a crucial point in a game Phil might call a timeout after one of us took a bad 3-pointer, and he’ll say, “You must be really hot, aren’t you?” Or “Toni, he’s on a roll.” Instead of saying, “That was a dumb shot.” It makes you think. And we all need to be checked and criticized to some degree.

That’s all mental. Athletes can lose their way in the heat of the moment. It’s the job of coaches to make sure that they don’t.

There’s no doubt that Simone Biles is physically capable of performing. She says she is, and we know from her past accomplishments that she is. She’s still the greatest gymnast ever. There was some failure of mental preparation, however, that led her to believe she was unable to perform in the team finals. If it was a failure of coaching that took her out, let’s hope that the coaches are able to figure out what they did wrong and get her back on the mat.

Media

‘Crisis Actor’?

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If you’d like a reminder of the childishness, unseriousness, and irresponsibility of American Greatness and the people associated with it, consider that Julie Kelly is claiming that D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone, who was assaulted during the Capitol riot, is a “crisis actor.”

Health Care

Rochelle Walensky’s Woeful Performance

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Rochelle Walensky, Director of the CDC, testifies before a Senate committee hearing at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., May 11, 2021. (Jim Lo Scalzo/Reuters)

Rochelle Walenksy is the director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). She is also seemingly on the verge of tears every time we hear from her.

Walensky is fond of letting us in on how she’s feeling. On March 29, for example, she announced during a White House pandemic-response-team briefing that she was “going to pause” during a presentation focused on informing the American people of the state of play using relevant facts and figures.

“I’m going to lose the script and I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom,” she continued. On a human level, it’s difficult to watch the clip of Walensky and not feel for her. The feeling was plainly not affected — it was written all over her face. But when one takes a step back, it’s also quite frustrating; it’s not the American people’s job to process and respond to Walensky’s fears. It is her job to respond rationally to the challenges of the pandemic so that even if all Americans don’t fully agree with her agency’s recommendations, they can trust the process by which they were reached.

By that measure, she’s been a disaster.

The CDC says that fewer than 10 percent of COVID cases are the result of outdoor spread. A closer look at the data suggests it’s below 1 percent, potentially even below .1 percent.

Under Walensky’s leadership, the CDC has been corrupted and co-opted by teachers’ unions with an interest in keeping kids out of school.

In May, she confided during a Senate hearing that she had told her son that he would not be attending summer camp this year despite the wide availability of vaccines, lack of outdoor spread, and minimal danger that the disease poses to children.

For those kids whose parents will allow them to attend camp, CDC guidance requires masks for the unvaccinated, including outdoors. It also says that “camps may also choose to continue to require masks for vaccinated and not fully vaccinated campers and staff in order to adhere to prevention strategies when it is difficult to tell who has been vaccinated or to set an example for not fully vaccinated campers.” Vaccinated campers are still supposed to adhere to social-distancing guidelines.

Two months after Walensky’s not-so-Churchillian admission of personal crisis, the seven-day average of new cases had plummeted from 65,174 to 21,048.

Now, with case rates rising once again — but, importantly, having largely been decoupled from deaths thanks to the vaccines — the CDC is gearing up to reverse its previous stance that vaccinated Americans need not wear masks indoors, and once again try to compel them to be worn in certain “high” risk areas. It’s also expected to recommend that everyone in K–12 schools will be required to mask up regardless of vaccination status — sacrificing children’s social development and mental health for no demonstrable health benefit.

With Walensky at the wheel, the CDC has been everything it shouldn’t and cannot afford to be: indecisive, irrational, untrustworthy, and unbalanced. It’s difficult not to see its performance as a spitting image of its leader.

Politics & Policy

CDC’s Renewal of Mask Guidance Will Be Used to Push for Vaccine Passports and Mandates

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A healthcare worker prepares the Moderna coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination center in El Paso, Texas, May 6, 2021. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

The CDC is set to reissue guidance that vaccinated individuals wear masks in certain indoor settings. This is a completely unnecessary step that cuts against efforts to persuade people that vaccines are worth taking. But it also could lead to an eventual shift away from vaccine persuasion and toward coercion.

Politico’s writeup of the news includes a noteworthy quote from Leena Wen, the former head of Planned Parenthood:

“I’m glad the CDC headed the overwhelming consensus of public health officials across the country,” said Leana Wen, a doctor at Georgetown University. “I wish that they went further and finally called for a system of proof for vaccination otherwise the vaccinated are being punished for the actions of the unvaccinated.”

The argument at this point is clear. Communicate that everybody will now be forced back to wearing masks indoors because of irresponsible people, and it will build up public sentiment in favor of mandating vaccination or of creating a system of vaccine passports. It’s similar to the way that government health-care spending means that unhealthy people impose costs on all taxpayers. This has been used as the pretext for policies such as indoor smoking and trans-fat bans.

To be clear, COVID-19 vaccines are safe and highly effective, and people who are eligible should get vaccinated. But that doesn’t mean we should require them. Government mandates are a blunt tool, and the threshold for deploying them should be high. In this case, the COVID-19 vaccines have not been around as long as other vaccines that are required for school entrance, such as MMR. An overwhelming majority of the vulnerable have been vaccinated already, and, among the younger population, COVID-19 does not pose the same threat as measles.

Health Care

CDC: Put the Masks Back On, Fully Vaccinated People!

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Yamiche Alcindor talks about living in St. Louis, Mo. (Nine PBS/via YouTube)

Whether or not the CDC and the Biden administration intend this new guidance to be perceived as declaring “vaccinations don’t do any good,” telling vaccinated people they have to wear masks again will be perceived as declaring “vaccinations don’t do any good.”

And then there’s the curious aspect to how this dramatic development leaked out:

If you’re a White House official, and you’re hoping the American people will warmly receive this unpopular recommendation, particularly those who weren’t fans of masking the first time around… does it make a lot of sense to leak this to Yamiche Alcindor? The same PBS, NBC News and MSNBC contributor who probably ranks among the White House reporters least trusted by the right side of the political divide? What, was Brian Stelter busy?

National Security & Defense

China: The World Health Organization Should Investigate Fort Detrick in Maryland

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Chinese President Xi Jinping waves next to Premier Li Keqiang and former president Hu Jintao at the end of the event marking the 100th founding anniversary of the Communist Party of China, on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, July 1, 2021. (Carlos Garcia/Reuters)

I suppose that Washington and Beijing should keep open lines of communication, and there’s no particular harm in U.S. deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman meeting with Chinese foreign ministry officials in Tianjin, China this week.

But after a while, conversations with a pathologically, shamelessly, absurdly dishonest regime start to become pointless. It’s bad enough that China refuses to cooperate with any further steps of any independent or international investigation into the origins of COVID-19. But the Chinese Foreign Ministry, day after day, contends that the investigation into the origins of COVID-19 should refocus on the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, speaking Monday:

 For some time, the voice of reason has been growing in the international community, criticizing the US politicization of origins tracing and calling for a probe into the Fort Detrick lab.

Sergei Latyshev, a Russian journalist and historian, wrote in his article that the US is trying to “pin” COVID-19 on China and that coronavirus is used for international blackmail. Abbey Makoe, former political editor at the South African Broadcasting Corporation, stressed in his opinion piece that it is morally incorrect for the US politicize science-based collaborative work under the auspices of the WHO. Hamdhan Shakeel, senior editor of Maldives News Network, pointed out that some western states, instead of tracing the origins of the virus in a scientific manner but out of racism, are attempting to shift the blame to China by distorting facts and spreading disinformation surrounding the COVID-19 virus.

These examples fully show that origins tracing is a scientific matter and should not be politicized. Some in the US are obsessed with using origins tracing for political manipulation in order to deflect attention and shift blames. Their malicious motive has long been exposed to the world. The US has the largest number of confirmed cases; the timeline of early cases in the US has been constantly dialed forward; and the mysteries around Fort Detrick and EVALI remain unsolved. If labs are to be investigated, then the WHO experts should go to Fort Detrick. The US should act in a transparent and responsible way as soon as possible and invite WHO experts to the US for an inquiry into the Fort Detrick lab so that truth can be revealed to the world…

Global Times: According to the latest statistics, over 13 million Chinese netizens have signed the joint open letter calling on the WHO to investigate the biological laboratory at Fort Detrick. So far, we have not seen a positive response from the US. What is particularly regrettable is that the server of the endorsement has come under attacks from US-based IP addresses. Do you have any comment?

Zhao Lijian: First, a huge thumbs-up for the Global Times open letter. On this issue, the US owes the Chinese netizens two explanations.

First, the US should offer a responsible explanation on all the suspicion surrounding the biological laboratory at Fort Detrick. Why is it still playing dumb when over 13 million Chinese netizens have called for justice? Why did it keep obfuscating and stonewalling on this issue? Where is the transparency it claims?

Before Sherman’s trip, an unnamed Biden administration official declared in a briefing, “we’ve said we are prepared to engage Chinese officials when we believe those engagements will be substantive and constructive… As Secretary Blinken has said, the U.S. relationship with China will be collaborative where it can be, competitive where it should be, and adversarial where it must be.”

And when pressed about where the U.S. and China could collaborate, this official pointed to climate change.

 I think when we’re talking about timing here, we’re going to take advantage of opportunities if there are areas that are constructive. I just mentioned a little bit earlier these very, very dangerous floods that are going on in Henan. I think that if you read what the Chinese are saying about these floods, it’s very apparent to them – they know that there are climate issues out there, there are these causes out there that they have to fix themselves if they’re going to – if they’re going to resolve some of these problems that affect all of their citizens, they’re going to have to join global movements.  And I think that there are opportunities for us to take advantage of what’s happening there where the Chinese people agree with the international community.  So I mean, that’s an example of how we can be constructive.

How much can our government “collaborate” with a regime that not only won’t let WHO investigate the city where the pandemic began, but that keeps insisting our government started the whole calamitous pandemic? Just what do Americans get out of our government continuing these dialogues with a foreign regime that keeps spreading the most appalling lies and false accusations?

 

Religion

On the Religious and Racial Divide

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(DanHenson1/Getty Images)

Lots of people are piling on to David French for his most recent piece on structural racism. I don’t want to get into that directly, but just to reflect, as I sometimes do, on the divide between conservative Catholics and Evangelicals. Previously, I ventured that the last five decades of history in Evangelicalism and Catholicism were shaping the evolving politics of these two groups. But, I wonder if this religious divide accounts for certain divergent attitudes on racial issues.

I spent a little time as a teenager around Evangelical circles, but quickly ended up back in the Catholic Church I was raised in. The more I reflect on it, the one thing that feels “foreign” to me about the American experience is the racial segregation of America’s Protestant churches. The Catholic Church in America has, occasionally, had rivalrous ethnic divisions — ask old Italian-American priests about the Irish leadership in New York if you want to hear what old-world anger sounds like. But, in general, in Northeastern parishes Sunday morning was always the least segregated hour in our America.

African Americans are a tiny portion of the American Catholic Church. Barely one in 20 African Americans are Catholic. And yet, despite de facto segregation by neighborhood, there have always been African-American families in my parishes. Several African Americans are part of my traditionalist Catholic parish today. African Americans have been counted among our Catholic bishops going back decades before I was born. A Catholic bishop of New Orleans once deployed the most severe canonical measure to confront racism: He excommunicated three segregationists. This is a tool Catholic bishops are, even now, reluctant to use on advocates for legal abortion.

Until a few years ago, I could almost certainly say that the majority of the priests I had experience with at my childhood Catholic school, our local parish after we moved as a teenager, and in college were non-white: Filipino, Indian, Haitian, Jamaican, or Ghanaian. These men taught me to serve at the altar. They taught me catechism. They absolved me of my sins in the confessional. If anyone can be considered a leader of the Traditionalist movement within the Church, it would be Cardinal Robert Sarah from Guinea.

I should add one important caveat, which is that many Catholic parishes in America, including my own, have a language divide running through them: English and Spanish. In my own parish, this is partly overcome by a strong adherence to the traditions of the Church, including the use of a common liturgical language: Latin. And the practice of the most traditional devotions — particularly our processions — tends to bring together the English- and Spanish-speaking communities as one. My own parish used to hold an International Potluck. Perhaps five European nations would be represented, then an equal number from Asia, but we were dwarfed by those representing nearly every nation of Central and South America.

Although I think this experience reflects the honest catholicity of the Catholic Church, I don’t cite all this to brag that we have it all figured out. I’m sure my fellow Catholics experience racism even in the Church. But, it seems obvious that the relative integration of the Catholic Church may habituate white American Catholics to a view of American racial relations that doesn’t match the reality for the Protestant (or Protestant-descended) majority. And the scandal of segregation of many Protestant churches will shape the way conscientious men such as David French think about their nation.

Politics & Policy

Joe Manchin Just Blew Up Rationale for Republicans to Cut an Infrastructure Deal

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Senator Joe Manchin (D-WVA) removes his mask to speak on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 1, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

I’ve repeatedly written about how ridiculous and counterproductive it is for a group of Republicans to be negotiating a bipartisan deal on infrastructure with a Democratic Party that is racing to spend $4.1 trillion. But one argument that defenders of the negotiations have been making to conservatives is that if Republicans agree on a bipartisan deal, moderates such as Senator Joe Manchin will be more likely to oppose the larger Democrats-only $3.5 trillion bill crammed with liberal priorities. But now even that flimsy argument has blown up.

CNN’s Manu Raju reports the following on Manchin pushing for bipartisan talks to continue:

Get that? “If the bipartisan infrastructure bill falls apart, everything falls apart.”

Far from supporting the theory that a bipartisan deal would dissuade Manchin from supporting the bigger bill, Manchin is making it clear that he thinks agreeing to a bipartisan deal is a critical part of passing the combined spending package. Were it to fall apart, instead of breaking the massive agenda into several smaller parts that may be digestible, moderates will have to consider swallowing a massive $4.1 trillion bill. Additionally, the process would no longer have any bipartisan cover.

So make no mistake. Any Republican that votes for the bipartisan charade is greasing the wheels for Democrats to ram through their entire agenda — on climate; expanding Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare; subsidizing college and childcare; and a host of other liberal priorities.

(Note: The $1.2 trillion includes existing spending on infrastructure plus an additional $600 billion in new spending. My $4.1 trillion figure only includes the new spending).

Law & the Courts

Expect State and Federal Employee Vaccine Mandates to Stand

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Walmart pharmacist Carmine Pascarella administers a Moderna coronavirus vaccine to Jeff Stone inside a Walmart department store in West Haven, Conn., February 17, 2021. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Our Brittany Bernstein reports on the beginning of what is sure to become a trend as the more infectious Delta variant of COVID-19 spreads: state and federal mandates requiring public employees to get vaccinated. It is inevitable that these mandates will be challenged in court.

Expect them to be upheld. To understand why, consider a decision I wrote about last week — a federal district court’s sustaining of Indiana University’s vaccination mandate for students.

Judge Damon Leichty, a Trump appointee, reasoned that the university, which is public, is thereby an arm of the state. This is significant because it puts the university, vis-à-vis its students, in a position analogous to a public agency (whether federal or state) vis-à-vis its employees. If Judge Leichty is correct that the university has the discretion to impose a vaccine mandate, notwithstanding the students’ recognized interests in bodily integrity and medical privacy, it follows that government agencies would have it as well.

Here’s how I summarized Leichty’s reasoning:

In finding that the university had a wide berth to require vaccinations, Judge Leichty relied heavily on the Supreme Court’s 1905 decision in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, which upheld a smallpox-vaccine mandate (under which those who refused to comply were fined $5 — about $140 in today’s dollars), finding that states have a critical interest in protecting the public from potentially deadly infectious diseases. . . . In the ensuing decades, Jacobson has been relied on several times by higher courts, including the Supreme Court, to justify vaccine requirements and other public-health mandates.

Leichty conceded that a number of prominent jurists, including Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, have suggested that too much weight has been given to Jacobson and cautioned that it should not be considered the last word on state power to infringe on individual rights. As if to prove this very point, the Supreme Court late last year ruled, in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, that New York’s severe coronavirus restrictions on attendance at religious services violated the First Amendment’s free-exercise clause. The state had rationalized its restrictions as necessary to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Nevertheless, Judge Leichty distinguished Cuomo from Jacobson because, as the Court explained in the former, free exercise is unquestionably a fundamental right, and therefore New York had a higher burden (which it failed to meet) to justify restrictions and, importantly, to refrain from discriminating against religious institutions by imposing burdens more onerous than it imposes on commercial and other activities.

In deciding Cuomo, the Court did not overrule Jacobson. Leichty thus reasoned that the two precedents can coexist because they apply to different situations, implicating different rights. Given that Jacobson is still the law with respect to the narrow situation it addresses — namely, a vaccination requirement to halt the spread of an infectious disease (albeit one considerably more deadly than COVID-19) — Leichty, as a lower-court judge, was bound to follow it.

This is persuasive. One needn’t be a fan of mandates to grasp that lower-court judges are required to apply Supreme Court precedents, regardless of whether they agree with those precedents. Significantly, Leichty observed that the university’s mandate included exemptions for students who objected based on religious or medical reasons. If the vaccine mandates for state and federal employees include similar exemptions, they should be sustained by the courts. If they don’t, the government agencies would be inviting the more exacting scrutiny of the Supreme Court’s Cuomo ruling, and all bets are off.

Unless the Supreme Court reconsiders Jacobson, vaccine mandates are going to be upheld. I wouldn’t hold my breath on such a reconsideration. Our history with crises is that the Court gives the political branches, especially the executive, wide latitude to deal with them while the crisis is happening. When the pendulum swings in favor of individual rights, that tends to happen when the crisis is over — setting norms for future crises.

To be clear, I am not arguing against vaccine mandates. I have doubts about them so long as the government has given the vaccines only emergency authorization, but I am predisposed to accept the discretion of elected governments and private employers to require them (with appropriate exemptions). My point here is to assess what the courts are likely to do, irrespective of whether I agree or disagree.

Politics & Policy

Governor Cuomo: I’ve Told the Truth on COVID ‘From Day One.’ Really?

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Andrew Cuomo is somehow still governor of New York. He is also still in possession of a degree of brazenness that is nearly unparalleled in public life. The first bit of evidence of that is how Cuomo is, in fact, still governor, despite ongoing investigations into his efforts to alter or hide outright information about his state’s COVID numbers (as he was writing and then promoting a book about his pandemic-era leadership), and into numerous sexual-harassment allegations against him.

To the extent Cuomo ever endeared national attention and affection, it was in large part due to the perception that he was competently handling the coronavirus crisis, something that he owes largely to his mysteriously award-winning briefings on the topic. So it is not a surprise that he has continued these briefings, thinking that a “More Cowbell” approach may bring him out of his current troubles. But when he says things like what he did at today’s, you have to wonder if he’ll just end up shooting himself in the foot again:

I am telling you as I sit here — I have told you the facts on covid from day one. Whether they were easy, whether they were hard, I told you the truth. While a lot of people were talking politics and a lot of people were talking theory and a lot of people were trying to deny because they didn’t want to deliver bad news, I told you the truth. You know why? Because I believe in you. I believe in New Yorkers. I believe if they get the truth and they get the facts, they will do the right thing. I’m a lifelong New Yorker. I know New Yorkers. Give them the facts. ‘Yeah but the facts are ugly.’ Doesn’t matter. Give them the facts and they will do the right thing.

It’s worth asking what Cuomo defines as “Day One.” It certainly couldn’t have been the day he began covering up the disastrous consequences of his order forcing nursing homes in the state to readmit patients infected with coronavirus. As Brittany Bernstein reported for us earlier this year:

A top aide to Governor Cuomo admitted last month that the administration covered up the true data on nursing home deaths from the coronavirus in New York state in order to hide the magnitude of the issue from federal authorities.

Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa apologized to state Democratic lawmakers during a recent video conference call, saying “we froze” out of fear that the real nursing home death numbers would “be used against us” by federal prosecutors, the New York Post reported.

However, the New York Times reports the coverup efforts were underway before federal authorities requested the data, and just as Cuomo began writing a book touting his pandemic leadership achievements. The rewritten report, which concealed the number of deaths and found that Cuomo’s policies were not at fault for the nursing home death toll, was released just four days before the governor announced he was working on a book.

Cuomo finally released the complete data on nursing homes earlier this year, only after the state attorney general found that thousands of deaths of nursing home residents have been undercounted. The governor said then he had withheld it to avoid a “politically motivated” inquiry from the Trump administration into the state’s handling of the virus in nursing homes.

What’s amazing is that Cuomo not only lied about this, but is now lying about having lied. So when he now claims that he tells the truth to New Yorkers because he believes in them, one can justly wonder whether he is lying about that as well.

Law & the Courts

The ACLU Promotes an Absurd Conspiracy Theory about the Second Amendment

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A man inspects a Browning shotgun during the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting in Indianapolis, Ind., April 28, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

The ACLU has bought into the preposterous lie that the Second Amendment is intrinsically racist:

This, of course, is surreal nonsense from start to finish — so surreal, in fact, that I have to wonder whether Carol Anderson truly believes a word of what she’s arguing. As even a cursory glance at the record shows, it is not gun rights that have been historically associated with racism, but gun control — and to the extent that, up until about 1970, the two ideas were utterly inextricable in American life. To look back through this country’s history and conclude that it was the advocates of the right to bear arms who were the problem is . . . well, it’s chutzpah on a level I didn’t know possible. Somehow, the people advancing this case have managed to take a position that was advanced by figures such as Justice Roger Taney and outfits such as the Ku Klux Klan, and to pin it onto their opponents — many of whom, like the men who drafted the 14th Amendment, were explicitly fighting against the widespread attempts to disarm free blacks. This is intellectual vandalism, and the ACLU should have no part of it.

That instead it has embraced the claim makes me wonder once again what exactly the ACLU is for. Last week, two amicus curiae briefs were filed in a pending Supreme Court case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, the material question in which is “Whether the State’s denial of petitioners’ applications for concealed-carry licenses for self-defense violated the Second Amendment.” The first brief was filed by the National African American Gun Association, and it’s an absolute tour de force. It starts with this accurate description of the relevant history . . .

During the colonial, founding, and early republic periods, slaves and even free blacks, particularly in the southern states, were either barred from carrying a firearm at all or were required to obtain a license to do so, which was subject to the discretion of a government official. African Americans were not considered as among “the people” with the “right” to “bear arms.”

Exclusion of African Americans from the rights of “the people” in the Second Amendment and other Bill of Rights guarantees was in conflict with the explicit text. The argument has been made that the Second Amendment was adopted to protect slavery. But the defect was not in recognizing the rights of white Americans, but was in not recognizing the rights of black Americans. The impetus for recognition of the right to bear arms came from the Northern states, which had abolished or were in the process of abolishing slavery.

. . . and it proceeds to run through pretty much every way in which the right has been denied to black Americans since the Founding. I have spent a good deal of time studying the history of the Second Amendment, and parts of it still shocked me.

The second brief was filed by a group of progressive public defenders who, while presumably not personally thrilled by the scope of the Second Amendment, are nevertheless alarmed by what they describe as “the real-life consequences of New York’s firearm licensing requirements on ordinary people.” “Our clients’ conduct,” the group writes, “would not be a crime in states that already properly recognize the Second Amendment.” As it is, New York’s regime has led to “devastation”:

The consequences for our clients are brutal. New York police have stopped, questioned, and frisked our clients on the streets. They have invaded our clients’ homes with guns drawn, terrifying them, their families, and their children. They have forcibly removed our clients from their homes and communities and abandoned them in dirty and violent jails and prisons for days, weeks, months, and years. They have deprived our clients of their jobs, children, livelihoods, and ability to live in this country. And they have branded our clients as “criminals” and “violent felons” for life. They have done all of this only because our clients exercised a constitutional right.

It speaks volumes that, at the same time as these two groups were working on these briefs, the American Civil Liberties Union was busy lending its brand to what is little more than a cynical propaganda exercise. The ultimate aim of frauds such as Carol Anderson is to discredit and weaken a key part of the Bill of Rights. Once upon a time, the ACLU stood against that sort of thing. Today, that role falls to other people. Americans who hope to preserve their civil liberties should take that into account.