Immigration

New England Journal of Medicine Pushes Open Borders

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An asylum seeker holds a child while they are detained by U.S. Border Patrol near Yuma, Ariz., April 19, 2021. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

I always say that if you want to see what will go terribly wrong in the country, read the professional journals. Radicalism. Woke perspectives. Transgender ideology. Critical Race Theory in health care. Socialized medicine. “Nature rights” advocacy. It’s all there in the world’s foremost professional publications, along with advocacy for policies reflecting those views.

That matters because the people who write for and publish these journals are part of the ruling elite who exert tremendous influence on legislation, executive decision making at federal and state levels, court rulings, business practices, etc..

The radicalization of the intellegentsia is a major factor in the hard-left shift we see in political advocacy and policy. In the latest example, the New England Journal of Medicine offers an article advocating for open borders for illegal alien children and their families. Literally. From, “When Undoing is Not Enough,” (the “undoing” refers to Trump border polices–which the authors claim was legal “torture,” and the goal is to reduce “trauma.”):

First, under the Biden administration’s leadership, the United States could minimize the amount of time that migrants spend in Mexico and in detention. We believe that unaccompanied children, pregnant women, and families should never have to wait to cross the border.

That would sure slow the flow, wouldn’t it? But not just “children:”

Second, the Biden administration could carefully consider the unintended consequences of allowing children, but not entire families, to enter the United States. This policy forces parents to choose between prolonging their children’s exposure to life-threatening trauma in Mexico and sending them into the United States unaccompanied.

And to sweeten the pot, free health care for all!

Third, it could provide access to high-quality and timely health, mental health, and dental care — on par with the care provided to U.S. citizens — for all immigrant children and families.

And, after opening the door, inviting them in, paying for their medical care, let them have every benefit of citizenship short of voting:

Finally, we believe that asylum seekers (people who seek protection at the border or when already in the United States) and refugees (people who are granted protection from outside the United States before arrival) should be treated equally when it comes to social benefits, work authorization, and economic-development opportunities.

These polices would create a stampede from around the world to get here and walk on in –exponentially higher than the current crisis. And the cost! It would cause our own systems to crumble.

It is also worth mentioning that the authors never get around to discussing the tremendous danger that would be faced by children and families from around the world in their desperate attempts to make it into the U.S.A. Human trafficking would become a growth industry, with associated predation and exploitation of the weak. Somehow, the authors never get around to worrying about that.

The best explanation for such advocacy is that elites no longer believe in national sovereignty. “We are the world,” and all that. What better way to accomplish the deconstruction of a nation and promote equity — which means equal outcomes for all, i.e., a rush to the lowest common denominator — than by erasing our borders?

World

Confronting an Outlaw State with Superpower Status

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Chinese president Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, March 10, 2021 (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters )

A follow-on thought or two to Friday’s Morning Jolt…

The Chinese space program is launching rockets and not caring whether the falling debris lands on populated areas.

The regime in Beijing spent the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic contradicting doctors on the ground in Wuhan and insisting the virus could not spread from one person to another. Then Chinese companies shipped faulty personal protective equipment all around the world. Their vaccine that they shipped abroad barely works, charging some countries $36 per dose. China’s regime said they would allow investigators unfettered access to investigate the origin of the virus, and then broke that promise. And they made the nonsensical accusation that COVID-19 originated at the U.S. biological defense program at Fort Detrick, Maryland.

And that’s just China’s actions relating to the pandemic!

That’s not getting into the genocide of the Uyghurs, the near-obliteration of democratic reformers in Hong Kong, military aggression towards Taiwan, the hacking of the Office of Personnel Management, helping other countries evade U.S. sanctions, large-scale theft of intellectual property, police harassment of U.S. students studying abroad, censorship of foreign journalists, co-opting of U.S. universities, corporations, and think-tanks… oh, and did we mention the large-scale harvesting of human organs from political prisoners?

They are an outlaw authoritarian state with superpower or near-superpower status. They represent a colossally failed gamble, going back at least three decades and arguably half a century, that greater American and Western interaction with China would soften the regime. President Bill Clinton declared in 2000, “the more China liberalizes its economy, the more it will liberate the potential of its people to work without restraint, to live without fear.” We now know that belief represented an epic misjudgment.

Very few Americans like the thought that we’re entering an era of growing and worsening conflict with China. They’re a nuclear power with 1.4 billion people, one of our biggest trading partners if not the biggest trading partner, the second-largest economy in the world, the largest army in the world, and soon the largest navy in the Pacific Ocean. Wargame simulations of a U.S.-China battle over Taiwan end in either a Chinese victory or a pyrrhic victory for the Americans. A lot of American institutions have become used to the benefits of Chinese “investment,” and a lot of American corporations have become near-dependent upon access to the Chinese market. Heck, even the Biden administration’s ambitious plans for electric vehicles, wind turbines and other green-energy infrastructure will require a lot more rare earth metals, and the biggest producer of those is… China.

Even if a nascent Cold War with Beijing never turns hot, it’s still going to be a long and arduous effort.

But if we make like an ostrich and bury our heads in the sand, it’s only going to get worse. None of our past conflicts with powerful ideological, military, or geopolitical rivals is quite parallel to this one. It took a while, but Communism’s internal contradictions eventually caught up with the Soviet Union. China’s “Xi Jinping Thought” – just enough capitalism to keep the system going, along with an extremely powerful state, massive propaganda and surveillance systems and the social credit system – represents a whole new kind of threat to Western democracy, values, and nations. The Beijing regime believes its system consistently offers stability, prosperity, and order, with an acceptable sacrifice of liberty, while Western systems, which seem to offer freedom, keep delivering chaos, paralysis from internal divisions, moral depravity, and decadence.

The challenge before us is pretty colossal. But you know what could really derail China’s global ambitions and completely wipe out the regime’s “soft power” of influence for a generation?

Being held accountable before the world for its role the origin of a pandemic that has killed millions of people!

Politics & Policy

Why the Federal Borrowing and Spending Binge Matters

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(Michael Burrell/Getty Images)

Leftist economists and pundits tell us that the current federal binge is nothing to worry about. It’s necessary to “build back” the economy and those right-wingers who talk about inflation are just glomy “market fundamentalists” who can be ignored.

Wrong, argues Veronique de Rugy in this Law & Liberty essay from a recent symposium. There must be costs. The dollar’s value will decline and economic growth will be stifled as the federal government absorbs resources that would otherwise have gone into productive investments. (The so-called “investments” in education and infrastructure are just transfers to interest groups.)

Here is her key paragraph:

Milton Friedman was correct: The true measure of government’s size is found in what it spends and not in what it takes in in taxes. Because borrowing allows politicians and citizen-taxpayers to push the bill for today’s spending onto future generations, borrowing encourages too much spending today—thus irresponsibly enlarging the size of government.

Right. The real problem is the enlargement of the federal leviathan. The bigger the government, the more potentially productive resources are squandered on things that politicians like (more IRS agents, more diversity bureaucrats) and the less is left for growth. People will see their government checks but will never see the increased output and innovation that was crowded out.

Read the whole thing.

Politics & Policy

AOC, Planned-Parenthood Baby

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Sign outside Planned Parenthood on Bleecker Street in lower Manhattan.

I couldn’t do it this morning — go stand outside Planned Parenthood, that is. There is no pro-life coverage currently on Fridays at the Manhattan Planned Parenthood. And Planned Parenthood has what amounts to a bouncer outside, ushering girls in. It’s hard enough to communicate some hope to a young woman who is scared of her pregnancy and what it’s going to mean for her life when you’re standing on a street corner and she’s headed for an appointment. Even more so when there’s a hostile element, assuming you mean ill. In truth, as people walk by yelling at you that abortion is a woman’s choice, an actual choice is what you are trying to provide scared 17-year-old black girls, in some of the situations I’ve encountered.

Wednesday, my heart sunk again as I saw the medical-waste boxes be taken away. I couldn’t face new ones again today. I know why we look away from abortion, it’s too ugly to see.

I get lots of emails chastising me for supposedly thinking women are stupid when I say something like that. No, I don’t think women are stupid. I know girls are being inundated with all kinds of pressure to act like men have the luxury to have sex without consequences. But there are consequences. And they are lied to when they are put on birth control by doctors who assume they are going to have sex anyway. Girls are treated as if they are animals by the medical establishment and the education system and the culture. They have no idea of their beauty and resilience. They have no idea God will give them the grace to be the mothers they are.

And yet, the infamous Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says that Planned Parenthood is a place for pre-natal care. A few weeks ago, I saw a mayoral candidate talk about maternity care outside Planned Parenthood’s Bleecker Street location in Manhattan. Yes, some do provide some of that. But not by much. And they kill babies. Not maliciously. They are blinded to — or choose to be in denial about — the truth. With the best of intentions, for the most part, I have no doubt. But that is what happens at Planned Parenthood. Just so we’re clear. That seems like something a humane society should care about — and at least be uncomfortable if not outraged immediately about, after almost a half century of the law lying to people about what’s worthy of protection. Perhaps we should all take turns praying outside abortion clinics so we don’t fall into ignorance about what we’re really talking about. Hurt girls being hurt all the more by “women’s health care.”

Culture

Dana, Christa, Et Al.

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Dana Perino (left), in her role as presidential press secretary, speaks at the White House in 2007; the late, great mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig (right) sits for an interview in 2018. (Larry Downing / Reuters; Tonkunstler Orchestra via YouTube)

I would like to offer a couple of podcasts to you — a Q&A and a Music for a While. The Q&A, here, is with Dana Perino, star of Fox News and onetime press secretary to George W. Bush. (She was the second female presidential press secretary, as she reminded me in our podcast. The first was Dee Dee Meyers, in the Clinton White House.)

Dana has written three books, full of warmth, experience, and smarts. Books tend to reflect their authors. The latest is Everything Will Be Okay: Life Lessons for Young Women (from a Former Young Woman). The book also has a great deal to say to men — and to people of all ages. Dana is a very good “life coach.”

In our Q&A, we talk about social media, “body issues,” and other big subjects. One of those others is time management — big indeed. Toward the end, we talk about three of the men in Dana’s life: George W. Bush; Jasper, her dog; and Peter, her husband. (I have not listed them in order of importance.) You will enjoy Dana Perino a lot. Again, here.

For Music for a While, go here. This episode has a range of performers and composers. There’s a teenage pianist, Maxim Lando, playing Sibelius. (Also his own arrangement of “Stairway to Heaven.” Seriously.) There’s a Kentucky violinist playing a John Corigliano piece, Stomp (which involves some actually stomping, not just fiddling). At the end, there’s a little tribute to Christa Ludwig, the late mezzo-soprano. I interviewed her in 2014, when she was in her mid 80s. As I think I mentioned the other day, she is one of the very few people I have ever been starstruck by. Utterly starstruck. I could not believe I was sitting across from her.

Anyway, that Music for a While, again, is here. I have Christa singing Brahms. Have a great weekend, y’all.

Religion

The Sexual Revolution Wasn’t about Freedom

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I’ll be talking with Fr. Gerry Murray tonight in Manhattan and unpacking a little bit about a powerful quote.

From Bernanos: An Ecclesial Existence by Hans Urs von Balthasar:

Impurity and unchasteness are not merely an external obstacle to pure knowledge untroubled by the senses: they are, in fact, the internal destruction of the light that shines only in God. Unchasteness is secretly the same thing as unbelief, for faith is the evidence and knowledge of things in God, not in man himself, while unchasteness is one and the same as the curiosity to know oneself and all things only in oneself. Unchasteness is also one with madness, because reason remains intact only when it transcends itself in the direction of God. Why don’t we realize more often that the mask of pleasure, stripped of all hypocrisy, is precisely the mask of anguish?

We are so cruel to young people when we don’t invite them to live differently than Planned Parenthood profits from.

Politics & Policy

Twitter Covers for Joe Biden and Jimmy Carter

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(pressureUA/Getty Images)

Whatever one thinks of the conservative complaints about Big Tech’s bias, it is hard to deny certain concrete examples of it — particularly of the most blatant variety. Case in point, the “helpful” explainer Twitter provided when a tweet by Donald Trump Jr. comparing Joe Biden to Jimmy Carter began trending:

You don’t have to be Donald Trump Jr. to be aware that the historical record of Jimmy Carter’s presidency included a period of overlapping high inflation and high unemployment (“stagflation”), something many at the time thought was impossible. As today’s jobs report revealed persisting unemployment, and some indicators suggesting imminent inflation (following a massive federal spending spree), this comparison may ultimately prove apt.

So the only thing people should be “confused” about is why Twitter felt it necessary to play defense for Biden (and Carter, by extension) by creating an impossible-to-prove consensus of confusion over this comparison, one it then employed unrelated — and highly dubious — claims about Carter’s post-presidential activities to purportedly resolve — in the favor of the two Democratic presidents. (Forget for a moment the backhanded compliment implied by having to go to a president’s post-presidential activities to find something good to say about him.) When conservatives complain about bias in Big Tech, this is the kind of thing they mean. And here, it is impossible to dispute. So please share this Corner post widely; perhaps, if it becomes popular enough, Twitter will be forced to explain it as well. 

Politics & Policy

Will New York Democrats Try to Redistrict Elise Stefanik Out of a Seat?

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U.S. Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY) listens during a House Intelligence Committee impeachment inquiry hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., November 21, 2019. (Andrew Harrer/Reuters)

With news that Republican congresswoman Elise Stefanik is very likely to replace Liz Cheney as GOP conference chair next week, will New York Democrats be tempted to use redistricting as a tool to try to end Stefanik’s congressional career?

On one hand, taking out a member of Republican leadership could be awfully tempting to Democrats. On the other hand, New York could benefit from having bipartisan representation in congressional leadership, and Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report makes the case that Democrats would maximize their advantage in New York by packing as many Republicans as they can into one Upstate New York congressional district:

Stefanik was first elected in 2014 and dubbed “a new Republican star” by Donald Trump during his first impeachment in 2019. If redistricting forced Stefanik to compete in a primary with freshman Republican Claudia Tenney, Stefanik would be a shoo-in.

Economy & Business

The Pandemic Has Left Us at Least 10 Million Jobs Short

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Jason Furman and Wilson Powell III (for the Petersen Institute) and Michael Strain (for Bloomberg Opinion) have written informative analyses of the new unemployment report. There are some differences of emphases, but also a rough convergence.

Here’s Strain: “Friday’s numbers add to the case that the demand side of the labor market is in much better shape than the supply side. The excessively generous unemployment benefits that are in place until September will keep workers on the sidelines, restricting employment gains and keeping wages artificially high. The longer schools and day-care centers are closed, the harder it will be for women with children to go back to work.” Furman and Powell make the same points, while also noting that some people may be staying away from work because of continuing concerns about the virus.

Strain also calculates that we are 10.8 million jobs below where the pre-pandemic trend would have taken us. Furman and Powell say we’re 10 million short.

World

Blinken at China-Led Meeting: Trump Admin ‘Undermined’ Rules-Based Order

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during the release of the “2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” at the State Department in Washington, D.C., March 30, 2021. (Mandel Ngan/Pool via Reuters)

China is making the most of its month-long U.N. Security Council presidency, using the mostly ceremonial role to advance the Chinese Communist Party’s version of multilateralism. During a high-level meeting this morning chaired by Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, these efforts got a slight boost from the Biden administration.

This was no gathering that a U.S. secretary of state should have legitimized with his presence — and yet, Antony Blinken joined the livestream to represent Washington. Where Blinken could have sent a lower ranking official to poke holes in Beijing’s efforts to reshape international order and justify the Party’s abuses at home, he did this himself, though far more subtly than was warranted, and he said that the Trump administration had “undermined” the rules-based order.

First, though, he failed to clearly distinguish between Beijing’s preferred version of multilateralism — which traffics in Party-approved slogans but still sounds familiar to an American ear, with its emphasis on multilateralism and collective action to confront threats to climate change. The difference, of course, is stark: Chinese officials are only really offering up empty rhetoric to advance the party-state’s worldview, to justify human-rights abuses and excuse blunt exercises of political power.

The Party’s pronouncements, of course, amount to rank hypocrisy. “Splitting the world along ideological conflict line conflicts with a spirit of multilateralism, and is a regression of history,” Wang said, subtly rebuking Washington for working with its allies in non-U.N. arrangements, such as the Quad grouping, even though China pursues its own such pacts.

America’s top diplomat could have taken the occasion to point that out: When Chinese officials speak about multilateralism, they do so with false promises of peace and cooperation, when their intent is just to divert attention from severe human-rights abuses at home and coercive diplomacy abroad.

Blinken instead pledged to engage multilateral organizations on fighting the COVID pandemic and climate change: “We’ll also work with any country on these issues — including those with whom we have serious differences. The stakes are too high to let differences stand in the way of our cooperation.”

More promisingly, he went on to urge countries to meet their international commitment, and defend the rule-based order and human dignity, and speak out against countries’ political coercion.

Blinken’s defense of the equality of the U.N.’s members sounded like a rebuke of the gathering’s Chinese host, as well as of the Russian government (Blinken had just returned from a trip to Ukraine, where he emphasized U.S. support amidst the growing Russian military threat). “A state does not respect that principle when it purports to redraw the borders of another; or seeks to resolve territorial disputes by using or threatening force; or when a state claims it’s entitled to a sphere of influence to dictate or coerce the choices and decisions of another country,” he said.

He also took aim at another event that China is hosting during it Security Council presidency on the role of “emerging technology” in peace and security. Though this is likely Beijing’s attempt to make its case for its invasive use of surveillance and to justify other political priorities, Blinken appeared to flip the theme on its head, gently chastising the Party for its use of technology: “We must ensure that this new order is equipped to address new problems — like national security and human rights concerns raised by new technologies, from cyber attacks to surveillance to discriminatory algorithms.” This seems to be an effective way to turn Beijing’s diplomatic games into an opportunity to highlight its most egregious actions.

But these oblique references to unspecified instances of bad behavior were the extent of Blinken’s comments on China’s behavior on the international stage. If possible, he was more directly critical of the president’s domestic-political opponents, when describing why every country must be accountable for its violations of international law. “That includes the United States.”

“I know that some of our actions in recent years have undermined the rules-based order and led others to question whether we are still committed to it. Rather than take our word for it, we ask the world to judge our commitment by our actions,” Blinken said, seemingly referring to the Trump administration’s withdrawal from certain international bodies. He went on to list what he called the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to “re-engage vigorously” with a number of U.N. bodies and multilateral treaties.

“We’re also taking steps, with great humility, to address the inequities and injustices in our own democracy,”  he continued. “We do so openly and transparently for people around the world to see, even when it’s ugly, even when it’s painful. And we will emerge stronger and better for doing so.”

During his opening remarks, Wang did not offer a similarly conciliatory statement about his country’s failing; in fact, quite the opposite, he explained why China is triumphant at this point in time, the 100th anniversary of the Party’s founding and the 50th anniversary of the People’s Republic’s replacement of Taiwan at the U.N. “China will remain a builder of world peace, a contributor to global development, a defender of international order, and a provider of public goods,” said Wang.

There’s a place for a public reckoning with America’s historical injustices, and a place to reassure American allies about U.S. commitments to international engagement. That place is not, however, an international meeting hosted by a brutal authoritarian regime.

World

Biden: On Second Thought, Yes, China Is Indeed Eating Our Lunch

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Then-vice president Joe Biden shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, December 4, 2013. (Lintao Zhang/Reuters Pool)

Joe Biden’s assessment of China, May 1, 2019:

China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man. They can’t even figure out how to deal with the fact that they have this great division between the China Sea and the mountains in the east, I mean in the west. They can’t figure out how they are going to deal with the corruption that exists within the system. I mean, you know,they’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what, they’re not competition for us.”

Joe Biden’s assessment of China, May 6, 2021:

The Chinese are eating our lunch.  They’re eating our lunch, economically.  They’re investing hundreds of billions of dollars in research and development.

That’s why, right now, if it keeps their way, they’re going to own the electric car market in the world.  They’re going to own a whole range — we got to compete.

Come on man, indeed.

Law & the Courts

New Pew Poll Shows Slight Gain in Pro-Life Sentiment

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Abortion supporters and pro-life advocates demonstrate on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Washington, D.C., January 24, 2011. (Jim Young/Reuters)

On Thursday, the Pew Research Center released the first nationwide poll on sanctity-of-life issues since Joe Biden’s inauguration. Like the Knights of Columbus/Marist poll that was released this past January and the CBS News and Gallup polls which each came out in 2020, it shows that public attitudes on the issue of abortion have remained relatively stable during the pandemic. Overall, the poll shows that 39 percent of Americans think that abortion should be illegal in “all or most cases.” This is a one percentage point gain from a survey that Pew conducted during January and February 2020.

The main takeaway from pro-lifers from this poll is that those who identify with the Democratic Party are becoming increasingly more supportive of legal abortion. The Pew survey finds that 80 percent of those who either identify as Democrats or lean Democrat think abortion should be legal in “all or most cases.” As recently as 2014, only 67 percent of Democrats held this view. As such, political polarization on sanctity-of-life issues continues. Self-identified Democrats and those who lean Democrat are 45 percentage points more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to say abortion should be legal “in all or most cases.” Seven years ago, this gap in abortion attitudes was only 30 points.

This shift explains why many Democratic elected officials have become more aggressive in their support for legal abortion in a relatively short period of time. An older generation of Democrats who were largely moderate on social issues is passing away and being replaced with a younger generation that is considerably more liberal and secular. This explains why the Hyde amendment, which used to pass with bipartisan support, is now strongly opposed by many Democratic congressmen and senators. Indeed, every major candidate who sought the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination publicly opposed the Hyde amendment.

This shift also explains why in many blue states, there are efforts make abortion policy more permissive. During the past few years, both Illinois and Maine have required that their state Medicaid programs cover elective abortions. Earlier this year, the ROE Act in Massachusetts weakened pro-life parental-involvement law in that state. This year, pro-lifers in Illinois have done admirable work defending their state’s pro-life parental-involvement law. Similarly, the Reproductive Health Act remains stalled in the New Jersey state legislature. However, pro-lifers in blue states need to continue to mobilize Republicans and independents to protect the existing pro-life laws in their states.

Former Xinjiang Detainee Warns of China’s ‘Threat to the World’

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A Chinese Uyghur Muslim participates in an anti-China protest during the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan June 28, 2019. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

The people who have personally faced the Chinese Communist Party’s abuses say that the regime’s actions within its borders are an international threat. That’s the message that you’ll hear from leaders in the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, and it’s the same as the one that you’ll hear from Uyghurs.

Tursunay Ziawudun, the woman who underwent a horrific ordeal in the Xinjiang concentration camp system then bravely shared her story with the world, appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday. Her testimony about the Party’s conduct should be enough to disabuse anyone of the notion that what’s taking place in the

Education

Yes, Grade Inflation Is the Explanation

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(Nicola Patterson/Getty Images)

Writing at Forbes, my good friend Rich Vedder gives me a hat tip for bringing a new paper to his attention, then he proceeds to discuss its findings. The paper is about the appearance that American college students are learning more because graduation rates have been rising. But are they really learning more?

The authors conclude that the appearance is misleading. American students are more likely to finish college because college is much easier than it used to be. High grades are easy to get, and it’s easy for students to avoid tough courses where they’ll earn a low grade if they don’t learn difficult material. On the whole, they spend considerably less time studying than in the past but receive much higher grades.

Professors who insist on grading strictly rather than rewarding students just for showing up on occasion find themselves in hot water with administrators, who care mainly about keeping students happy, enrolled, and most important of all, paying. Colleges pay lip service to “academic excellence,” but few really mean it.

Therefore, we get more and more students graduating even though many have learned little of value since their first day on campus. The glut of people holding college credentials has led to employers deciding that those without them aren’t worth considering, which in turn lures still more into college in a quest not for learning, but for a piece of paper.

Higher education’s cheerleaders say that the U.S. is so wealthy because we “invest” so much in college education. The truth is the other way around. Only a very wealthy country could afford to have an education system that costs so much and delivers so little.

Politics & Policy

Ohio GOP Censures and Calls for the Resignation of Representative Anthony Gonzalez

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The governing board of the Ohio Republican Party censured and called for the resignation of Representative Anthony Gonzalez on Friday morning. The rebuke of Gonzalez, one of the ten GOP congressmen to vote to impeach Donald Trump after the January 6 Capitol riot, comes as efforts to oust House GOP conference chair Liz Cheney from her position heated up again this week. Of Cheney, Gonzalez has said:

If a prerequisite for leading our conference is continuing to lie to our voters, then Liz is not the best fit. Liz isn’t going to lie to people. Liz is going to say what she believes. She’s going to stand on principle. And if that’s going to be distracting for folks, she’s not the best fit. I wish that weren’t the case.

Josh Mandel, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Ohio has called for Gonzalez’s “eradication” from the party and said in a statement: “From day one, I have strongly supported efforts to censure and expel traitor Congressmen like Anthony Gonzalez who voted to impeach President Trump.”

I think that those arguing that the attempt to remove Cheney from leadership is chiefly about Cheney’s emphasis rather than her position on Trump and the events of January 6 will need to reckon with the Ohio GOP’s meritless attacks on Gonzalez. Moreover, they’ll have to explain why Cheney is wrong about her intuition about the party’s need to be honest about and move on from the former president given the way Mandel is running for office as a shameless personality-cult adherent.

Economy & Business

Sasse Blames Jobs Miss on Congress ‘Paying More for Unemployment Than for Work’

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Sen. Ben Sasse on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 27, 2018 (Andrew Harnik/Reuters)

Last month, the United States economy added 266,000 jobs—falling far short of economists’ expectation of one million jobs. Axios reports this is “the biggest miss, relative to expectations, in decades.”

What explains the shortfall? Nebraska senator Ben Sasse is laying the blame on the decision by Congress and President Biden to continue to enhance unemployment benefits by $300 per week.

“We should be clear about the policy failure at work here: There are 7,400,000 jobs open in the US – but fewer than 300,000 people found new work last month,” Sasse says in a statement. “Why? This tragedy is what happens when Washington know-it-alls decide to pretend they’re generous by paying more for unemployment than for work. This obviously hurts our economy, but more precisely this hurts people on every Main Street in the nation.”

Sasse was one of a handful of Republican senators who sounded the alarm when the first COVID relief bill passed in March 2020 that making jobless benefits worth more than a job would have a negative impact on employment.

The first COVID relief bill, passed at the start of the pandemic, enhanced unemployment benefits by $600 per week. The COVID relief bill passed on a party-line vote by congressional Democrats in March 2021 included a $300-per-week bonus for unemployment benefits. The bonus is set to expire September 6.

American Travelers Must Beware of England’s COVID Stasi

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Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a daily news conference at 10 Downing Street in London, England, to update on the coronavirus outbreak. (Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Handout via Reuters)

The complete and total dearth of any appetite for civil liberty here in the United Kingdom (whence I write) is a sorry sight to behold. The government’s unilateral abridgment of the freedom of association, which was understandable at the outset of the pandemic over a year ago, has still yet to relent in spite of the fact that over half of the British population has now been fully vaccinated. Included in this half of the citizenry are, naturally enough, those most vulnerable to serious illness and/or death at the hands of the virus. There is really no reason for there

Politics & Policy

Politico Swings and Misses at DeSantis in Today’s Playbook

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at CPAC in Orlando, Fla., February 26, 2021. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)

Today’s Politico Playbook breathlessly reports in the subject line: “Scarred DeSantis staffers form a support group.”

Here we go again.

Promising “a look at the leader of the People’s Republic of Florida as a boss” — one might think the comparison to North Korea and China would be a little heavy-handed for Politico’s editors, but one would evidently be wrong — the guardians of our democracy paint an unflattering portrait of Governor Ron DeSantis:

RON DESANTIS is looking ahead to reelection next year and quite possibly a 2024 bid for president — but he’s left behind a trail of former disgruntled staffers and has no long-standing political machine to mount a national campaign, DeSantis vets say.

We talked to a dozen or so onetime aides and consultants to the Florida governor, and they all said the same thing: DeSantis treats staff like expendable widgets. He largely relies on a brain trust of two: himself and his wife, CASEY DESANTIS, a former local TV journalist. Beyond that there are few, if any, “DeSantis people,” as far as political pros are concerned.

Yes, DeSantis recently hired highly regarded operative PHIL COX. But there’s no savant that he’s been through the trenches with, like a KARL ROVE or DAVID AXELROD — let alone an army of loyalists. That’s probably not fatal to his White House prospects, but it can’t help.

DeSantis, who’s yet to complete his first term as governor, does not yet have a strategist with the fame or track record of a Karl Rove or David Axelrod on his team. The horror! It’s easy to see why Playbook chose to make this, and not the disappointing job numbers released this morning or their relationship with Biden administration policy, the focus of today’s newsletter. Playbook goes on to detail a litany of grievances, including that “aides would lure DeSantis to staff meetings with cupcakes.”

Politico relied exclusively on anonymous sources described as “onetime” staffers in its reporting. GOP operative Patrick Hynes suggests that this appears to have been not-so-friendly fire from a fellow Republican, and there are a few breadcrumbs in the story suggesting that it may be attributable to a certain prominent Republican who calls Florida home, although that’s admittedly speculative.

In any case, it’s doubtful that Republican voters will be especially disturbed by a politician showing some ambivalence and even disdain for the political-consultant class. This is yet another swing-and-a-miss at the Florida governor and 2024 frontrunner.

Sports

The NHL’s Fighting Problem 

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I don’t agree with everything in this Slate piece on how the NHL handled Tom Wilson of my beloved Caps sucker-punching a Rangers player, but it’s broadly correct — hockey is an incredibly compelling game without fights (witness the Olympics, or high-stakes NHL games when neither team wants to risk unnecessary penalties), and the NHL could easily stamp them out if it wanted to.

World

Catholic Laity Take Up Global Prayer Campaign for the ‘Church and Peoples of China’

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Today, prominent Christian lay persons from around the world are launching a campaign for the explicit purpose of fostering international communal prayer focusing on China between May 23–30. This initiative was sparked after a call for prayer for the “Church and Peoples of China” was issued by Burma’s Cardinal Charles Bo, as president of the Federation of Catholic Asian Bishops Conferences.

The Cardinal is the highest-ranking Catholic Church official to dedicate a specific period of prayer for China’s Church since Pope Benedict XVI did so in 2007, though Pope Francis spoke generally of the duty to pray for China’s Christians, in 2018. The prayer campaign is at this stage being carried forward by the laity.

American Congressman Chris Smith, the U.K.’s Lord David Alton, Canadian parliamentarian Garnett Genuis, Australian parliamentarian Kevin Andrews, Irish entrepreneur Declan Ganley, Canada’s former religious-freedom envoy Andrew Bennett, CSW’s expert Ben Rogers, Ave Maria law professor Jane Adolphe, as well as myself, are part of the informal coalition supporting the campaign. What resonates with us is Cardinal Bo’s explanation that prayer is needed as China rises in power that it may “become a force for good and a protector of the rights of the most vulnerable and marginalized in the world.” He writes that his underlying concern is the “inviolable dignity of the human person.”

China’s human-rights situation is indeed desperately in need of prayer. Defense lawyers, citizen journalists, and dissidents are arrested, jailed, or disappeared. Religious believers constitute the largest group of those most aggrieved.

In recent months, mass atrocities against the Uyghur Muslims have been recognized as ethno-religious genocide by the United States. Over a million Uighurs have been detained in concentration camps and/or subjected to torture, sexual violence, forced sterilizations and abortions, slave labor, and other atrocities. Decades-long repression against Tibet’s large Buddhist population is intensifying. Credible reports continue to surface of forced organ harvesting, particularly victimizing members of the Falun Gong spiritual group. These are some of the “peoples” referred to in the Cardinal’s call for prayer.

Across China, both government-registered or “Patriotic” churches and underground churches are severely repressed and may be existentially threatened. Since 2018, the Chinese Communist Party regime has ratcheted up measures to stop the spread of the faith and distort Christian teachings. Undoubtedly to protect its Western trade, China reins in the Church mostly through onerous regulations and not the graphic coercion seen against the other religious minorities. It is employing four major strategies to do this.

First, it systematically bans youth from going to church, attending Bible studies, and being exposed to religion in any way. This will be devastating for the future of China’s Church. Its vaunted growth over the last 50 years, now estimated at 60–100 million Christians, will predictably reverse as a result.

Second, it is energetically dismantling the vast Christian underground, which accounts for most Protestants and half of the Catholics. Operating openly for decades though unregistered, these churches are now being crushed. Among the thousands shut down are five Catholic parishes in Fujian, and the internationally renowned Protestant Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, and the Guangzhou church founded in the 1970s by the late Pastor Samuel Lamb.

Their leadership is being arrested and put on trial or, more frequently, simply made to disappear into secret detention centers. Some are subject to brainwashing sessions and torture or forced to quit their ministries.

Under the new rules, the state’s social-credit-score system applies to all Christian leaders. Former Mindong Bishop Guo lost running water, heat, and electricity as punishment for refusing to register. Zion Church Pastor Ezra Jin Mingri, who shut his Beijing church rather than allow state surveillance in it, has been barred from flights out of China for three years. So has his daughter, who planned to attend an American law school.

Third, on May 1, new rules were applied to ensure Christian “Sinicization,” President Xi Jinping’s term for aligning the Patriotic churches with CCP. The CCP has total oversight over their religious leadership, doctrine, appearance, and sermons — as starkly symbolized inside some churches with Xi and Mao’s images replacing those of Jesus and Mary.

As I previously reported in these pages, the new rules on selecting China’s bishops make no mention of any papal role in the process, despite the 2018 Sino-Vatican agreement. Over these past two years, Beijing has permitted only three new episcopal appointments for some 40 vacant diocesan seats, accounting for 30 percent of the Patriotic dioceses.

Finally, the CCP is restricting Bibles. The Bible is now difficult to buy in book stores and has been recently dropped from the App store and censored from the Chinese Internet. Ironically, while the Holy Book becomes scarce in China, China’s Amity Printing Press continues to be relied on by American Bible publishers for the vast majority of the millions of Bibles sold annually at home.

China is at war with all religions. The global Church’s silence about this is coming to an end. The campaign now underway will facilitate a prayer effort for all those persecuted, by those with the freedom to gather in prayer.

To find out more, see www.GlobalPrayerforChina.org.

Education

How the Diversity Mania Threatens Freedom of Speech

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I’m old enough to remember when leftists held freedom of speech sacred. That’s before their long march through our institutions put them in power. Now they insist on controlled speech.

On Thursday, May 13, starting at 2:30 PM, the James G. Martin Center is hosting an online event to discuss the ways “diversity” efforts imperil freedom of speech. The three panelists will be Jeanette Doran, president of North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law, Stanley Kurtz, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights.

Anyone who is interested can go to this link to register.

 

World

Doom: Niall Ferguson on the Politics and Policies of the Pandemic

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Niall Ferguson is the Milbank Family senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author of Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe, his new book on the decisions made by governments and public-health officials around the world during the COVID pandemic. In this wide-ranging discussion, Ferguson describes what governments and leaders got right and got wrong — very wrong — over the 15 months since the coronavirus spread from China. Were the lockdowns instituted around the world prudent and life-saving, or did they cause more damage by crippling economies and creating massive unemployment and enormous government debt across the globe? How can vaccines be created and distributed faster and more efficiently than this one? Finally, what lessons can we learn from this pandemic that can be applied to or even prevent the next one? Yes, Niall is certain there will be another one.

Recorded on April 28, 2021

Politics & Policy

How Long Do Impassioned Fanbases Stick Around?

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Then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) thanks the crowd after receiving Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s endorsement at a rally at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, January 19, 2016. (Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters )

In yesterday’s Morning Jolt, I wrote, “While it is inconceivable that Trump would lose a fight over control of the party now, it is conceivable that the air may slowly leak out of the Trump balloon, month by month, year by year.”

I think Peter Hamby’s comparison of post-presidency Trump to Sarah Palin is a useful one to keep in mind. In 2009, it looked like a safe bet that Sarah Palin was going to be one of the biggest movers and shakers in Republican politics — if not the biggest — for the rest of the decade. But she chose not to run in 2012 and gradually faded from the GOP consciousness. By 2015, Fox News chose not to renew her contract, and I had completely forgotten she tried to launch her own subscriber-based online video channel in Obama’s second term. And by January 2016, she was something of an afterthought, endorsing the man who had stepped into her old role, Trump. Few of her fans stopped liking her, but they found other political figures who excited them more. As the 2016 election cycle approached, Palin seemed . . . stale. Her stream-of-consciousness speeches were more and more about herself, and less and less about the issues and problems on the mind of her audience.

A passionate and loyal political fanbase is tough to keep for more than a decade, particularly in today’s media environment. People get bored and move on to fresher faces. Tucker Carlson is the biggest controversy and outrage-generating figure on Fox News Channel’s prime time these days, Josh Hawley is the guy leading the charge against Big Tech on Capitol Hill, and Ron DeSantis is now signing bills live on Fox News. MediaMatters – usually a reliable barometer of who on the Right is irking the Left the most – is spending time denouncing Tucker Carlson for his vaccine skepticism and Rick Santorum for not sufficiently respecting Native-American culture, and TikTok influencers for “pushing dangerous far-right conspiracy theories to their young audience.” The political world moves on to other figures and other issues.

Donald Trump spent five and a half years at the center of American life. By the time Republicans are thinking seriously about their choice for presidential nominee in mid-2023, Trump will be 77 years old, and his last election victory will have been six and a half years ago.

Trump is still the safer bet than the rest of the field. But just as his rise was just about impossible to envision in May 2013, the rise of the next big figure in Republican politics may be just about impossible to envision right now.

Cori Bush’s ‘Black Birthing People’ Testimony Was Powerfully Pro-Life

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Rep. Cori Bush (D.,-Mo.) testifies during a hearing for the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 6, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

“Every day, Black birthing people and our babies die because our doctors don’t believe our pain,” Democratic Missouri representative Cori Bush tweeted in summary of her testimony yesterday. “My children almost became a statistic. I almost became a statistic.”

Bush received plenty of well-earned derision for using the phrase “Black birthing people,” which is not only preposterously unscientific but sounds like something a misogynistic, white Identitarian might call black women.

The Moloch cultists at NARAL came to Bush’s defense:

When we talk about birthing people, we’re being inclusive. It’s that simple. We use gender neutral language when talking about pregnancy, because it’s not just

Law & the Courts

A Christian College Stands Up to Biden

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Campus of College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Mo. (College of the Ozarks/via Facebook)

The Bidenistas came into power full of ideological swagger, eager to expand federal power in all directions. Among their moves was a directive by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (two areas of life where the federal government has no constitutional business) that under the Fair Housing Act, the illegality of discrimination against buyers or renters based on “sex” now includes “sexual orientation.” That means trouble with a capital T from Washington if you’re an institution that wants to maintain traditional distinctions in housing between biological males and biological females.

One such institution is College of the Ozarks, which has always sought to preserve Christian values on campus. But its housing policy is certain to attract notice from aggressive federal officials, many of whom would take delight in forcing a school to choose between its religious convictions and costly battles with the federal government.

In an effort at heading off the application of the directive to it, the college is suing in federal district court to block its enforcement. In today’s Martin Center article, I write about the case.

College of the Ozarks is represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which has successfully fought against many governmental incursions against the liberties of schools that don’t care to operate as vassals of the government. ADF’s complaint offers a number of strong reasons for the court to enjoin the feds from applying HUD’s directive.

One is that the feds rushed this through without bothering with the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires federal agencies to give notice of proposed rule changes and allow public comment on them. That would be enough to enjoin enforcement. The court might also decide that the change in meaning from “sex” to “gender orientation” is one that only Congress can legislate, not something an agency can decree.

There are also First  Amendment problems — freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Both justify setting this federal bludgeon aside.

Finally, ADF argues that under the Tenth Amendment, the feds have no authority to tell colleges how they must operate. The Tenth Amendment was included in the Bill of Rights to protect federalism — to keep the domain of the federal government within its written sphere and reserve everything else to the states or the people. Does Washington have the power to tell every college in the country how it must operate? The Tenth Amendment says no. I think it unlikely that a federal district court would rely on it to strike down egregious federal overreach like this, but I’m glad ADF made the argument.

The case is set for argument on May 19, I understand.

Media

Toy Stories

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Eric Felten notices something about how the Washington Post covers police shootings.

Politics & Policy

Caitlyn Jenner Is Right about Two of California’s Most Pressing Problems

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FOX News Channel’s Sean Hannity conducts interviews with Caitlyn Jenner near Malibu, Calif., May 5, 2021. (FOX News Channel/Handout via Reuters )

Caitlyn Jenner sat down for an Oprah-style interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity last night in which the athlete turned reality star turned transgender activist turned Republican candidate for governor of California pondered what St. Peter would say when Jenner arrived at the “pearly gates.” What a world.

Jenner has received some criticism for the following portion of the interview:

Now, if I were a highly paid political consultant for Jenner, I might recommend that private airplane hangars be omitted from the stump-speech anecdote bank. But there’s nothing wrong with a candidate for governor acknowledging two of the most pressing problems the Golden State faces: a homelessness epidemic and flight.

With more than 160,000 homeless, California paces the nation, and it’s not particularly close. Worse, that number is on an upward trajectory. That has implications on public safety, on economic development, and on the desirability of living in the state. It may for some reason or another be considered uncouth in certain circles to acknowledge that people don’t wish to live where the streets are flooded with the destitute, but it’s nevertheless true. To note this aloud is not to dismiss the plight of the homeless, but rather to recognize it. Who wants to live somewhere where so many people are allowed to suffer, and suffer so publicly?

Moreover, Jenner is right that it’s a problem for a state to be losing people, as California did in 2020. This is particularly problematic if the well-off — people like Jenner’s friend — are doing so, since they both stimulate the economy and make up a hefty portion of the tax base. The trouble is compounded even further if more people — including the homeless — are relying on government programs.

Take issue with Jenner’s method of explaining them if you’d like, but the candidate correctly identifies two monumental challenges facing the state. It speaks ill of progressives — and perhaps helps to explain California’s decline — that they have chosen to mock Jenner instead of grappling with the issues at hand.

Politics & Policy

‘Stay-at-Home Moms’ and the Government

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(Pixabay)

Robert VerBruggen makes a strong case against Biden’s child-care proposal, and I agree with all of it except for one aside. While the proposal stacks the deck against families with “stay-at-home” parents (who are mostly mothers), he writes that other existing policies are unfair in the opposite direction: “In some ways the status quo is quite favorable to stay-at-home parents, who, for example, get an especially good deal from Social Security and Medicare.”

Policies that transfer money to these one-earner married couples are dwarfed in size, though, by policies that strongly tend to transfer money away from them, making them subsidizers rather than subsidized on net. And there are also policies that, while not transfering resources among households, have a bigger negative economic effect on large households (e.g., modern child-safety seat requirements).

Social Security and Medicare are the main issue with respect to transfers. They partly socialize the return to making the financial sacrifices entailed by raising children. (See here, here, and here for more developed versions of this argument.) They are large, though hidden, wealth transfers from adults with children to those without, and from families with several children to families with few.

Households with stay-at-home mothers raise more children, on average, than households with two full-time earners. So a transfer from larger families to smaller ones works, in practice, as a transfer from households with stay-at-home mothers to other types of household. The stay-at-home mom with one child is an exception to the rule: That kind of household will tend to come out ahead from both the features of the entitlements that VerBruggen has in mind and from the implicit subsidy I’m talking about. The two-earner couple with four children is another exception: It will tend to lose both ways.

But the general pattern of transfers from larger families with stay-at-home parents to smaller families without them should be kept in mind. It suggests, first, that the features of the programs that benefit stay-at-homers are not as unfair as they may seem: In many cases, they merely offset part of a transfer that’s going in the other direction.

The pattern also puts in perspective other existing and proposed government policies. Economists sometimes argue, for example, that tax breaks for commercial day care are a way of being neutral among different familial arrangements rather than the departure from neutrality they appear to be to the untrained eye. In the absence of such tax breaks, they say, taxes on labor income would bias parents’ choices away from paid work and in favor of staying at home to care for one’s own children. Whatever merit this argument has in isolation, it too overlooks the severe bias against large families — which, again, often have stay-at-home mothers — that is embedded in the structure of our entitlement programs.

The federal government’s thumb is already on the scale in favor of a familial arrangement including a small number of children and the use of commercial child care. There’s no good reason to put more weight there.

Media

Ad Hockery by Hacks?

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Facebook’s independent oversight board ruled on Wednesday that the company was justified in banning Donald Trump from its platform in January, but didn’t appropriately explain if or why he should be permanently locked out.

But even Facebook’s own board sidestepped taking a position on whether political favoritism played a role in the decision to ban Trump. In a conference call after the decision was announced, board co-chairman Michael McConnel, a former federal appeals court judge, admitted the possibility of bias is a legitimate concern.

When you do not have clarity, consistency and transparency, there’s no way to know,” said McConnell. “This is not the only case in which Facebook has engaged in ad hockery.”

Politics & Policy

It Takes an American Vaccine to Clean Up a Communist Disease

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A nurse draws from a vial of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine in Los Angeles, Calif., March 25, 2021. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

It is in fashion on the left — and in many quarters of the right — to be myopically concentrated on all that is wrong with this country.

It’s an odd time to be down on the old Stars and Stripes, though. Over the last year, the United States has done more than any other nation to bring an end to the coronavirus pandemic. And when it does end, it will in fact be American ingenuity that does it.

The American coronavirus vaccines are not the only ones to have been created and mass-produced in less than a year, but they are by far the most effective products doing by far the most good around the world.

In China, the bumblingly mendacious Communist Party (CCP) lied about the novel coronavirus, allowing this disease to spread outside its borders and kill millions. Since committing its original sin, the CCP has been engaged in a cynical and incompetent campaign of coronavirus diplomacy. Recall that as early as last March, the Chinese were touting their ability to provide coronavirus tests; they turned out to be defective. Spain, which received 640,000 of them, demanded a full refund.

Then, the CCP developed and began distributing a pair of, if not outright defective, then at least notably less safe and less effective vaccines as compared with the American ones that have left the countries depending on them reeling.

In Chile:

This South American nation of 19 million, which secured enough potential coronavirus vaccine doses to inoculate its population twice over, leads the Western Hemisphere in vaccinations per capita. More than 7.5 million Chileans have received at least one dose, and 5 million are now fully vaccinated. Only Israel and Britain have performed better.

At the same time, new cases of COVID-19 are surging. The country has reported more than 7,000 daily cases nine times this month, outstripping its first-wave peak of 6,938 last July, and sounding an alarm for the United States and other countries that have raced out ahead on the vaccination curve.

Why? Because Chile has relied primarily upon the Chinese SinoVac vaccine, which is only 16 percent effective after a first dose and according to the Brazillian government, 50 percent effective after a second. Compare these figures to those for the United States’ Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson vaccines. The first two, which are two-dose programs, both provide better protection after one dose than SinoVac does after one, and ramp up to over 90 percent effective after a second. Johnson and Johnson, which is designed as a one-and-done solution, is also substantially more protective than SinoVac.

The other Chinese vaccine, Sinopharm, is falling short of the high standards set by the American ones as well. It has been the most-used vaccine in Seychelles, a small African archipelago that also happens to be the most-vaccinated nation in the world. And yet, Seychelles has reinstated social-distancing restrictions as its caseload has skyrocketed in recent days. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has raised questions about Sinopharm’s safety:

“We have very low confidence in the quality of evidence that the risk of serious adverse events following one or two doses of BBIBP-CorV in older adults (≥60 years) is low,” it [a WHO report on Sinopharm’s safety data] said.

“We have very low confidence in the quality of evidence that the risk of serious adverse events in individuals with comorbidities or health states that increase risk for severe COVID-19 following one or two doses of BBIBP-CorV is low,” it added.

Not great.

The day-to-day melodrama of partisan politics keeps us from enjoying too many ra-ra, “U-S-A!” patriotic moments these days, but we would be remiss not to take note of America’s singularly important role in ending a crisis caused by our chief geopolitical rival.

Law & the Courts

Firing Squads Are Honest, At Least

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1890: Convicted axe murderer William Kemmler becomes the first person to be executed in the electric chair. Following the passage of the Electrical Execution Law the previous year, an electrician at Auburn State Prison in New York was commissioned to design a device to carry out the sentence, which it was thought would be more humane than hanging, then still the most common form of capital punishment. Kemmler was strapped in and two charges were administered, the first having failed to end his life. Reporters described in gory detail the “Horrible Scene at His Execution,” and electricity pioneer George Westinghouse reportedly quipped: “They would have done better with an axe.” But electrocution would soon become a common means of capital punishment in half the states.

The Hill reports:

The South Carolina House voted on Wednesday to add firing squads as an execution method for prisoners.

The bill passed in a 66-43 vote, with one Democrat voting in favor and seven Republicans voting against it, The Associated Press reported.

The South Carolina Senate passed a similar bill in a 32-11 vote in March.

I’ve seen a good deal of outrage about this, but I don’t really understand why — at least, I don’t understand why such outrage would exist separately from outrage about the death penalty per se. If the state is going to kill people who are convicted of terrible crimes — which I don’t think it should — it should be honest about what it is doing. Lethal injection is a sanitized, medicalized process that effectively euphemizes what is being done. Firing squads, by contrast, are violent and make it obvious. If we are happy to kill people, we should be happy to acknowledge fully what we’re doing. If we’re not willing to acknowledge fully what we’re doing, we shouldn’t be killing people.

Wade on the Lab-Leak Theory of COVID

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Members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus arrive at Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China, February 3, 2021. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Nicholas Wade is not an alarmist, and not a conspiracy theorist. He is one of the most eminent science journalists in the country, having done stints at Science and the New York Times, and he has released a very long, technical, and (if you’re into that sort of thing) riveting article on Medium weighing the evidence on the origin of COVID-19. Did it emerge naturally from an animal species to infect people in Wuhan, possibly at a wet market? Or did it leak out from the Wuhan Institute of Virology?

Where I think it is most convincing is in describing the lack

Politics & Policy

Writers Make Unintentional Case against Nuking the Filibuster

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(xxcheng/Getty Images)

This week, a group calling itself “Scholars for Reform” issued an open letter calling for “reform” of the filibuster. Hundreds of intellectual luminaries have signed this letter, including Pulitzer Prize winners, famous writers, and celebrated scholars. While this letter is eloquent in its call for reforming the filibuster, it perhaps makes a far more compelling case against going nuclear to eliminate or change the filibuster.

The letter claims that the U.S. is undergoing a democratic crisis. In part because of the proliferation of “veto points” in the American constitutional order, government is paralyzed, and this undermines Americans’ faith in democratic institutions. According to this narrative, one of the causes of this paralysis is the filibuster, which has “aggrandized executive power, worsened partisan polarization, and decreased policymaking continuity.” Thus, to preserve democracy, the filibuster must be reformed. Crucially, though, the letter does not lay out what this reform should be or how it should take place (whether through the standing rules of the Senate or via the nuclear option).

One could quarrel with some of the premises of this letter. As two political scientists recently argued in The Atlantic, “recent Congresses have been considerably more productive and bipartisan than is generally appreciated,” so it’s not clear that the legislative branch is quite so paralyzed. The sweeping coronavirus relief efforts of 2020 indicate that Congress can act quickly when there is a broad consensus.

Nor might federal deadlock on certain issues always be an existential problem. Yes, the United States does have more veto points in the federal government than many other industrialized democracies do, but it also has a very decentralized regime. Paralysis at the federal level does not mean paralysis at the state levels. Indeed, difficulty of legislating at the federal level probably encourages more state-level policy-making. At the core of the American system is the productive exchange between state and federal governments; that very heterogeneity has helped the American republic respond to successive challenges for over 200 years.

However, in asserting the dysfunction of American democracy, the “Scholars for Reform” letter itself offers a grave warning against going nuclear on the filibuster. This letter laments “aggrandized executive power, worsened partisan polarization, and decreased policymaking continuity.” Nuking the filibuster feeds into dynamics that the signatories claim to oppose.

As defenders of the filibuster (including the 2005 model of Joe Biden) have long noted, the institutional rules of the Senate play an essential role in keeping that body independent from the executive branch. Because those rules frustrate top-down partisan control in the Senate, they also lessen the power of the chief partisan (the president) in that body.

In using 51 votes to ignore the Senate rules on a whim, the nuclear option attacks the institutional character of the Senate. Over the long term, the institutional disruption of the Senate by partisan passions threatens the independence of other institutions, too. Making explicit the inner logic of the destruction of constitutional guardrails, many proponents of nuking the filibuster have also endorsed Court-packing.

There are good reasons to doubt that removing the filibuster even through the standing rules of the Senate would be guaranteed to lessen partisan polarization or encourage bipartisanship. The reconciliation process evades the filibuster, but recent reconciliation bills — such as the 2017 tax cuts and the American Rescue Plan — have been passed on party-line votes. Nuking the filibuster would both represent escalating polarization and worsen that polarization.

Thus, it’s not surprising that this open letter did not endorse the nuclear option. If you’re worried about polarization and executive overreach, nuking the filibuster is like trying to douse a fire with gasoline.

Impromptus

The Man in the Brown Suit, Etc.

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Reagan and Thatcher at the White House, September 29, 1983 (White House Photographic Office / PD / Wikimedia)

In Impromptus today, I address the topic du jour, and the topic of many jours: the state of the Republican Party. Is there room for Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney in it? Or does the country need a third party — a significant third party, even if it starts out small? America is like the Big Ten of old. That conference was called, for many years, the Big Two (the two being Michigan and Ohio State). Then, everyone started to get in on the act — even Northwestern!

I also address North Korea — specifically, a nephew of the current dictator, Kim Jong-un — and some lighter topics as well: Do you remember Ronald Reagan’s brown suit? It was the subject of many news articles. At the end of my column, I provide a brief travelogue of South Bend, Ind., which I have visited for the first time. Very pleasant.

A little mail. I’m going to publish an exchange I had with Peter Wood, the president of the National Association of Scholars — who is also an anthropologist. Said I,

I’ve been doing a brief study of Ethiopia — brief and shallow. About 80 ethnicities; about 80 languages. Layer upon layer. Really, anthropology — the study of man — is just about the most beautiful and interesting study there is. I don’t care what practitioners have done to the field. It just is, right?

Answered Professor Wood,

The real diversity of humanity is a wonder, and encountering it unsettles all the taken-for-granted assumptions we rely on. No wonder some anthropologists go crazy, but if you avoid the craziness, it is a beautiful way to look at the world.

Yes. (For my 2015 piece “Majoring in Anthro,” go here.)

A friend of mine writes,

Hi, Jay,

Based on your recommendation a few weeks ago, I went and got a copy of Vargas Llosa’s Feast of the Goat. I usually don’t enjoy translations, I know nothing about DomRep history, and I’m fairly ignorant of Hispanic culture and politics. So when I say, it was a powerful book, you know this means something.

I originally wanted to write “a good book,” but “good” doesn’t fit a novel about dictatorship, corruption, torture, and a failed coup.

I thought of these things when I read your piece on Gulchehra Hoja, and how the Chinese government punishes her family for her actions. That was an undercurrent to The Feast of the Goat: Defy Trujillo and your family suffers.

It made me realize the incredible sacrifice made by anyone who resists totalitarians. It’s hard enough to get to the point of risking one’s own life — but to know the hell you’ll be bringing on others makes the decision more horrible. Sure, one can intellectually tell oneself that any guilt is on the heads of the oppressors only, but there’s always going to be some personal guilt.

Oh, yes. For my piece on Gulchehra Hoja — one of the Uyghur-American journalists who work for Radio Free Asia — go here.

In the North Korean diplomatic corps, there have been very few defections — because the regime takes it out on your family, if you defect. Two years ago, I wrote a piece called “The Incredible Guts of Thae Yong-ho.” A brief passage:

The Kim regime is a firm believer in guilt by association. If one person steps out of line, his family and even his friends and colleagues pay for it. This keeps North Koreans in line.

Okay, let’s lighten up — way up — by talking about high-school nicknames: specifically, the nickname of my high school in Ann Arbor, Mich.: We are the Huron High School River Rats. I had occasion to mention this in a recent column. Some readers asked, “What’s the deal with that name?”

My father was present at the creation (teacher, coach, athletic director, etc.). There used to be one high school in Ann Arbor: Ann Arbor High, naturally. When the population got bigger, there was a need for two: The old high school was called “Ann Arbor Pioneer,” and the new was called “Ann Arbor Huron” (for its placement near the Huron River). According to my dad,

“River rats” was a derogatory name for students at the new school, made up by the students of the old school: the Pioneers. But Huron students liked it. They kept voting for it in polls. Years after I left Huron, I continued to get letters and calls from around the country, inquiring about the nickname.

The original principal, Paul Meyers, opposed the name. He insisted that current students wouldn’t like it in future years: Would they want to tell their children and grandchildren that they had been “River Rats”? But the name stuck!

You bet it did. The split between the high schools, by the way, occurred in 1969.

A reader writes,

Your Impromptus today reminded me that, at least when I was in high school, the Ann Arbor Huron girls volleyball team was quite good, both at the varsity and the junior-varsity levels. My high school often played them in tournaments, and our mantra was “Drown the River Rats.” I have never forgotten the Huron team because of the unique mascot — similar to the UC–Santa Cruz Banana Slugs.

And no, the mantra didn’t work most of the time — we still often lost.

Okay, we have some mail in, concerning the aforementioned brown suit — Reagan’s. In my column today, I link to one of the many, many articles about that garment. This is from UPI on August 20, 1985 (what were you doing that day?): “Reagan Makes Brown Suit a Success Mark.”

This morning, a friend of mine writes,

I bought one just before the Plague and then it went unrequited, so to speak, in my closet for 15 months. It’s now regularly deployed, as I’m back in circulation, and I never wear it without thinking of RR and the days when adults ran the country.

Another friend writes,

Back in my very short-lived haberdasher days, I had a brown suit made of really good material, because of Reagan. He wore one, so it was cool. I wore it once. So, if you wear a 44 long, I’ll donate it to your closet — and pay the shipping!

Ha, I wish I were tall enough to merit the “long.” Again, for today’s Impromptus, go here.

Sports

Olympics to Allow a Male Weightlifter in the Female Category

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Giant Olympic Rings are installed at the waterfront area six months before the opening of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Japan January 17, 2020. (Issei Kato/Reuters)

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has changed its rules, permitting a biological male to compete against women in weightlifting. Before transitioning in 2013, Laurel Hubbard competed in the men’s category.

The IOC’s guidelines require males to demonstrate that their testosterone levels have been chemically lowered. But messing around with testosterone levels does next to nothing to remove the innate male advantage.

Male puberty confers irreversible advantages. Adrogenization increases bone density and muscle mass. Moreover, the performance gap between males and females at the elite level is as much as 30 percent. As has been explained:

The 69kg male weightlifter hammers the 69kg female weightlifter on strength. Where are the females who are stronger than [the males]? How tall and heavy are they? The answer is, in Olympic weightlifting, they don’t exist. . . . The male 69kg Olympic weightlifting world record holder is 30% stronger than his female counterpart and lifts heavier than the female world record holder in the top weight category…

Males are stronger. The performance gap between male and female athletes is utterly astounding; it’s not a “gap”, it’s the Grand Canyon. Without sex-segregated sporting categories, the most wonderful 10.49s that female athletics has ever seen would be a footnote in history. We owe it to the female sports stars of today and to the girls who aspire to be tomorrow’s sporting heroes to fight for their right to take home gold.

Politics & Policy

We’re Hitting a Vaccination Wall, So Open Everything

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A healthcare worker draws a coronavirus vaccine from a vial at the Mission Commons assisted living community in Redlands, Calif., January 15, 2021. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Walking around New York City, one of the hardest-hit places on earth, the other day, I observed mobile vaccination stations ready for customers. But I saw no customers. Meanwhile, nationwide vaccination demand has collapsed; on May 4, not even one million people received vaccinations in America. Less than a month ago, roughly 3.4 million Americans a day were getting a coronavirus vaccine. Now the seven-day average is down to 2.1 million shots a day, a level unseen since the first half of March.

What does this tell us? Although not yet half the country is vaccinated, just about everyone over 16 who really wants the vaccine has gotten it. CVS is now offering the vaccine to walk-ins nationwide. Looking at the numbers from the U.K. and Israel, where the virus seems to have been defeated as vaccination rates have surpassed 50 percent, the U.S. slowdown is dispiriting. A lot of people just don’t want the vaccine.

But why should that limit what the rest of us can do, or indeed what the unvaccinated can do? New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday that ballparks will have two sections: one for vaccinated people and one for unvaccinated people. People will be free to pack together tightly in the vaccinated section, but the other section will require social distancing. It strikes me that Cuomo is halfway to figuring this out: if you’re vaccinated, you have very little cause for fear. But if you’re unvaccinated, you’re living at your own risk. So why not pack together people as normal? Moreover, why would you separate out the at-risk people and put them together? Doesn’t that simply increase the chances of transmission? Every vaccinated person is a roadblock to the virus. If an unvaccinated person should be carrying the virus, but is surrounded by vaccinated people, they won’t get sick, and he also won’t be able to pass it on.

It may be some time before COVID-19 deaths approach zero in this country, but after a vaccine is widely available, allowing yourself to be vulnerable is a matter of individual choice. Once we have hit the point where the only reason not to have been vaccinated is that you refuse the vaccine, it’s time to reopen everything fully. The unvaccinated population is, to me, acting unwisely, but that’s their problem. As long as I’m vaccinated, I don’t really care what they do. Nor am I averse to sitting next to them in a theater, arena or stadium. I have no reason to fear them, and they have no reason to fear me.

The Nonsense Claim from NBC News That Biden Has Met His School Goal

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President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden visit Yorktown Elementary School in Yorktown, Va., May 3, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In a headline that would make Pravda, North Korean state television, and the DNC blush, NBC News declares, “Biden hits schools goal even as many students still learn remotely.”

This is horsepuckey, although I suppose the first question is just what Biden’s school goal was. Biden originally promised, “A majority of our schools can be opened by the end of my first 100 days.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki later circled back to emphasize that a school being open for classes one day a week would qualify as “opened.” And then Biden said in a subsequent interview he meant five

Health Care

Major Swedish Hospital Bans Puberty Blocking for Gender Dysphoria

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(Sergey Tinyakov/Getty Images)

The actual science is beginning to overcome transgender ideology. First, the U.K.’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence — basically the NHS’s decision-maker for what to cover — determined that there was “very low” evidence of benefit to allow children with gender dysphoria to have their natural puberty blocked — which is an “off label” use of those drugs, by the way.

Now, Karolinska Hospital, a major health institution in Sweden, is stopping their use. First, there is little scientific to support such interventions. From the hospital’s official statement:

In December 2019, the SBU (Swedish Agency for Health Technology Assessment and Assessment of Social Services) published an overview of the knowledge base which showed a lack of evidence for both the long-term consequences of the treatments, and the reasons for the large influx of patients in recent years.

Even more importantly, the potential for harming the patient physically is very real:

These treatments are potentially fraught with extensive and irreversible adverse consequences such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, infertility, increased cancer risk, and thrombosis. This makes it challenging to assess the risk/benefit for the individual patient, and even more challenging for the minors and their guardians to be in a position of an informed stance regarding these treatments.

Yikes!

As a consequence the hospital wisely enacted the following policy:

In light of the above, and based on the precautionary principle, which should always be applied, it has been decided that hormonal treatments (i.e., puberty blocking and cross-sex hormones) will not be initiated in gender dysphoric patients under the age of 16.

For patients between ages 16 and 18, it has been decided that treatment may only occur within the clinical trial settings approved by the EPM (Ethical Review Agency/Swedish Institutional Review Board). The patient must receive comprehensive information about potential risks of the treatment, and a careful assessment of the patient’s maturity level must be conducted to determine if the patient is capable of evaluating, and consenting to, the treatment.

Maybe the American Academy of Pediatrics will also come to its senses and reconsider that organization’s misguided policy supporting puberty blocking. Alas, I am not holding my breath. Transgender ideology sparked an acute moral panic that — more than in-depth scientific research — led to allowing puberty blocking of gender-dysphoric children.

Now — will the usual woke major corporations organize a boycott of Sweden for being “transphobic?” Or is such bullying reserved exclusively for the U.S.?

National Security & Defense

Where Are Republicans on Afghanistan Anyway?

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A U.S. Marine walks near Afghan National Army soldiers during training in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, July 5, 2017. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

As Isaac Schorr noted earlier, one sideshow of the debate over Liz Cheney’s position in the House leadership has been the claim that she should go because her foreign-policy views are no longer in sync with the party’s, an argument made with varying degrees of sincerity.

The biggest recent divide between Republican hawks and doves has concerned the pending withdrawal from Afghanistan. If Republican voters want out of the country and it’s important for the party’s leadership to reflect their sentiment, then there’s a bigger problem than Cheney: The top Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee have both expressed support for keeping troops in Afghanistan. So have the top Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. So has the Senate’s Republican leader.

There’s surprisingly little public polling on what Republican voters think about it. In an October 2019 poll, 46 percent of Republicans wanted a decrease in troop levels or a full and rapid withdrawal while 34 percent wanted to keep current troop levels. In another poll a few weeks ago, 52 percent of Republicans backed President Biden’s planned withdrawal while 33 percent disagreed. Unsurprisingly, Democrats were more supportive of Biden’s policy. Both of these polls are notable for the large fraction of undecideds.

A few conclusions from those polls: 1) Republican voters have diverse opinions on Afghanistan but lean against staying. 2) Republicans in leadership positions in Congress tend to be more hawkish than their voters on Afghanistan. 3) You can favor or oppose Biden’s withdrawal while being within the mainstream of the opinion of Republican voters.