The Economy

Dimon’s Storm Warning

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Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase & Co., arrives to testify before a House Financial Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., April 10, 2019. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon may be one of those who pushed ‘stakeholder capitalism’ to the forefront of the C-suite agenda (and he still is doing what he can to advance it), but he does have a way of occasionally letting his understanding of finance and economics override his more usual corporatist game.

The Daily Telegraph:

The world is facing an economic “hurricane” as the war in Ukraine combines with surging inflation and rising interest rates, top US banker Jamie Dimon has warned.

Oil prices are in danger of rising to $175 per barrel in the years ahead, the chairman and chief executive of JP Morgan predicted, with a potential recession on the way in the US.

He upgraded his warning from previous predictions of a “storm”, saying that unprecedented risks are combining with unpredictable consequences.

Speaking at a conference hosted by Alliance Bernstein, Mr Dimon said: “I said they’re storm clouds, they’re big storm clouds here. It’s a hurricane. Right now, it’s kind of sunny, things are doing fine. Everyone thinks the Fed can handle this.

They do? I guess he has to be diplomatic.

I’m not convinced how “sunny” large numbers of Americans feel when they leave the gas station or grocery store, but I get Dimon’s broader point, both on conditions now, and what may lie ahead.

The Daily Telegraph:

“That hurricane is right out there down the road coming our way. We just don’t know if it’s a minor one or Superstorm Sandy. And you got to brace yourself.”

Again, I think he is being diplomatic. My guess: Dimon’s real expectations are, shall we say, at the Sandier end of the spectrum.

The Daily Telegraph:

The scale of the unpredictability of the war and the wider economy mean the bank is battening down the hatches.

Mr Dimon, the longest serving bank chief on Wall Street and the only one in post during the financial crisis, said: “JP Morgan is bracing ourselves, we are going to be very conservative on our balance sheet.”

Translation: less lending and more-expensive lending. That’s not going to be great news for companies that have taken advantage of ultra-low interest rates to gear up on the basis of anything other than long maturities.

Beyond what JP Morgan (and, I assume, other banks) may be doing (or will be doing) to cut back, is the reality that ultra-low rates have been an invitation to malinvestment, an invitation that has been all too frequently accepted. Not only have people and businesses borrowed more than they should, they have also been bidding up the price of anything remotely investable. That generally doesn’t end well.

On a slightly brighter note, Dimon does still see consumers as having some six to nine months of spending power left.

The Wall Street Journal:

The head of the nation’s biggest bank said the recent drop in Americans’ savings rate hadn’t altered his view that the government’s pandemic stimulus is still padding consumers’ wallets. He estimated that some $2 trillion in extra funds are still waiting to be spent.

That offers some padding, but I wonder how long consumers will continue with discretionary spending if they see trouble ahead. Meanwhile, clear signs that some (mainly those already beginning to feel squeezed by inflation) are already altering spending patterns can be seen in a number of company results, including those from Target, Walmart, and, in a different way, Dollar Tree and Dollar General.

And speaking of trouble, back to the Daily Telegraph:

Central banks, which have in recent crisis stepped in with low interest rates and a flood of liquidity in the form of quantitative easing (QE) are now being forced to raise interest rates and embark on quantitative tightening (QT) in the face of a wave of inflation.

But this is an unprecedented situation with uncertain economic effects.

“The Fed has to meet this now with raising rates and QT. And the new part of this isn’t the raising rates, it’s the QT,” he said.

“They do not have a choice because there’s so much liquidity in the system. They have to move some of the liquidity to stop the speculation to reduce home prices and stuff like that. And you’ve never been through QT.”

The scale of the challenges is such that he admitted enormous uncertainty as to the outcome: “I think it is OK to hope it will end up OK. I hope it. That is my goldilocks. Who the hell knows.”

Comforting!

Meanwhile, over in Europe . . .

Law & the Courts

Lessons from the Johnny Depp–Amber Heard Verdict

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Johnny Depp gestures as he leaves the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse following his defamation trial against Amber Heard in Fairfax, Va., May 27, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

A Virginia jury today ruled mostly in favor of Johnny Depp in a defamation lawsuit that dragged on for more than six weeks, awarding Depp $15 million against his ex-wife, Amber Heard, for a Washington Post op-ed under her byline (ghostwritten for her by the ACLU) that effectively branded him a wife-beater. There was evidence enough to support the accusation that it wrecked Depp’s film career, already balanced on a precipice between his always-compelling screen presence and the hot mess of his life off camera, which has apparently made him increasingly difficult to tolerate on-set. Heard was awarded $2 million of the claimed $100 million in her countersuit, reflecting that the jury generally sided with Depp but did not dismiss entirely Heard’s view of events. Once Virginia law is applied to reduce some of the punitive damages awarded by the jury and the two verdicts are offset against each other, Heard should owe Depp $10 million.

A lawsuit that our own Kyle Smith quite reasonably saw as an imprudent self-inflicted injury for Depp turned into a victory in court, a compelling TV spectacle, a black eye for the #MeToo movement, and a vindication for Depp in the court of public opinion, where fans rallied to his side and most regular viewers saw Heard as a liar who cried on cue and was the guiltier of two guilty parties in how she physically and emotionally abused Depp. What can we learn from all this?

First, of course, there is always a potential upside for fighting to clear your own good name even if you (like Johnny Depp) have a ton of dirty laundry. Depp has all manner of troubles with drink, drugs, and money. He has run through a lot of women. He is, at 58, no longer matinee-idol handsome, but visibly carries a lot of the same sorts of darkness and eccentricity he has brought to his characters on film. He is, in some ways, kind of pathetic. But he insisted that he was not what Heard painted him to be, and fighting back has done a lot to convince the public that there is more to his story. It might even get him back on film. Maybe he can work with Mel Gibson or Woody Allen.

Second, slogans are no substitute for facts. “Hear all women” is a pledge we should all make. “Believe all women,” however, is asking people to shut their brains off at the approach of a slogan and forget the fact that women are people, too. Sometimes they shade the truth or lie, sometimes they are the more abusive party, and sometimes they are cynical, show-business shams. The evidence at trial changed a lot of minds, all the more so the more people watched it. Just as in the Michael Sussmann trial, the verdict may dissatisfy some, but it reflects that the jury spent time with the facts and did its best to do truth and justice.

Third, it is hard to fight fame in court or in public. Heard is a modestly famous actress, whose name most people only know, if at all, from her marriage to Depp and the ensuing controversies. Depp has been an A-list Hollywood star for decades, first bursting into view with Platoon, 21 Jump Street, and Edward Scissorhands back in the 1980s and starring as the hero in a Disney franchise and the villain in a Harry Potter franchise. His public image started with a lot of people in his corner. He was much more famous than Heard, and he was much more successful in court.

Our systems of law, celebrity, true-crime television, and public moral judgment are not perfect, but they reflect the sensibilities of the American people. The people thought Johnny Depp may be a bad boy, but Amber Heard was worse — and they would not let her seize the role of victim simply because it fit a script.

Education

On Student Loans, Joe Biden Is in Thrall to the Most Radical, Most Selfish Voices in America

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Occupy Wall Street protesters nap in Zuccotti Park during the morning commute, New York City, September 26, 2011. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Mother Jones confirms that President Biden’s apparent determination to break the law and transfer hundreds of billions of dollars of student loan debt to taxpayers is the result of relentless agitation by some of the most selfish and outlandish people in these United States. In a piece lauding “Debt Collective,” America’s first “debtors’ union,” the magazine notes that, “over the last decade,” the group

has laid crucial organizing and legal groundwork that has helped shift the terms of debate around the idea of canceling student loans. They’ve helped to transform the concept from a fringe pipe dream into a near political inevitability.

This is wrong, of course. President Biden may, indeed, be considering doing what Debt Collective has asked. But that does not mean that what they have asked is not “fringe,” and it most certainly does not change the fact that it is flatly illegal.

Seriously, just listen to these people:

“The idea that these debts aren’t carved in stone, which is what they feel like—changing that as a norm has to start somewhere, and they started it,” says Eileen Connor, a Debt Collective collaborator who directs litigation at Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending.

What absolute nonsense. This really isn’t that difficult to grasp: If you take out loans to pay for a service you want, you must pay those loans back in full per the schedule you agree to when you took out those loans. Americans with student-loan debt have borrowed that money from taxpayers. If they don’t pay it back, those taxpayers will have to eat the cost. Not only is that unjust, it’s entirely self-serving. Amazingly enough, taxpayers don’t seem to be covered by the “not carved in stone” standard that Debt Collective has invented out of whole cloth. That builder who didn’t go to college, but who is now saddled with someone else’s debt? He still has to pay his taxes. As far as the IRS is concerned, those taxes are “carved in stone.”

Of course, to the college students who wish to freeload off everyone else, such people simply don’t matter:

The two-year payment freeze has created relief for debtors and, collective members say, proved that the federal government can get along fine without student loan revenue.

What? What? Where do these people think money comes from? Every dollar that isn’t paid back has to come from somewhere else — either in the form of taxes on everyone else, or in the form of yet more federal debt. It gets boring pointing this out, but the case for student-loan transference is no more noble than that some people would like other people to give them lots of money. That’s it. That’s the whole policy. They borrowed money to pay for a service. They got — and benefited from — that service. And now they’d like someone else to write them a big check so that they don’t have to keep their side of the bargain. It’s utterly revolting.

If this were actually to happen, the Republican Party must scorch the earth in response. Massive structural reform would be inevitable — if we can no longer expect student debt to be paid back, we must stop issuing it — as would the recouping of whatever money President Biden illegally spends. You know what else could be “uncarved” in pursuit of that end? Harvard’s $53.2 billion endowment, that’s what. If this is the game we’re playing now, the next Republican Congress should “start somewhere” and take it all. You know, to “change norms” — or whatever.

National Security & Defense

Iran Plotted Cyberattack on Boston Children’s Hospital during Nuclear Talks

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Flag in front of Iran’s Foreign Ministry building in Tehran (Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters)

FBI director Christopher Wray revealed that Iran plotted a cyberattack against the Boston Children’s Hospital last summer, as the Biden administration negotiated a return to the nuclear agreement with Tehran.

Wray, speaking to a Boston College cybersecurity conference today, called the attempted attack “one of the most despicable cyberattacks I’ve seen.”

He said the FBI worked to thwart the plot after receiving a tip from an intelligence partner, and that the agency notified the hospital.

“And quick actions by everyone involved, especially at the hospital, protected both the network and the sick kids who depend on it,” he said.

Wray didn’t specify whether the attack, which was planned by “hackers sponsored by the Iranian government,” would have been a ransomware attack. He did, however, elaborate on the threat posed by such schemes.

“Unfortunately, hospitals these days — and many other providers of critical infrastructure — have even more to worry about than Iranian government hackers. If malicious cyber actors are going to purposefully cause destruction or are going to hold data and systems for ransom, they tend to hit us somewhere that’s going to hurt,” he said.

In early 2021, the Biden administration entered talks to bring the U.S. back into the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, from which President Trump withdrew.

Top officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, acknowledged that the negotiations would yield an agreement only focused on Iranian enrichment practices, and not Tehran’s terrorist activities. They instead promised to seek a “longer and stronger” deal built on top of an initial agreement to return to the nuclear accord, one that would address other malign Iranian behavior.

The administration continued the talks with Iran even amid the Boston Children’s Hospital plot and an Iranian assassination campaign targeting a former U.S. secretary of state. Blinken suggested during congressional testimony in April that Iran’s assassination efforts also target current U.S. officials.

Wray’s disclosure of the plot on the hospital comes amid new doubts about whether Washington will end up reentering the deal. Iran demanded that the U.S. lift its designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, something that the administration has so far declined to do.

The fact that Iranian government-backed hackers plotted to attack a U.S. children’s hospital isn’t likely to lead the Biden administration to suspend its participation in the talks, but that would be the proper response.

Politics & Policy

Another Reminder That Abortion Policy in the U.S. Is Very Pro-Choice

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Pro-abortion rights activists protest outside the Supreme Court building, ahead of arguments in the Mississippi abortion rights case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, in Washington, D.C., December 1, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Japan will legalize the use of the abortion pill, but a woman will need to obtain her husband’s consent to use it, the government announced Tuesday.

The government’s policy toward the pill is similar to that of surgical abortions, which Japanese women can also obtain with spousal consent, according to the Guardian.

In principle, it is an immoral policy. Unborn babies have a right to life even if both spouses consent to an abortion. This development in Japan illustrates, however, that the debate surrounding abortion skews more pro-choice in the United States than it does in much of the rest of the world.

In the United States, the abortion law causing the greatest uproar in recent months has been Mississippi’s 15-week ban, the subject of the pending ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

The gestational limit of the Mississippi law is commonplace among most European countries, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights (certainly not a pro-life organization).

In France, abortions are illegal after the 16th week of pregnancy. The limit is 14 weeks in Germany and Spain, 90 days (just under 13 weeks) in Italy and Austria, 12 weeks in Switzerland and the Czech Republic, and 10 weeks in Portugal. Only the Netherlands sets its limit at fetal viability, which the government determines to be at 24 weeks.

The same is true in the antipodes, where Australia bans abortions after 12 weeks, though New Zealand’s limit is 20 weeks.

Pro-lifers in America should not be reticent about their preferred policy outcomes. Many of us want a full ban on abortion from conception to birth. It is true that if we reach this goal, we would in turn be harsher on abortion than much of the rest of the world and subject to a version of the same critiques we levy against pro-choicers now.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, as being like other nations does not always mean being right. The unique nature of the abortion debate in America does illustrate, however, that any allegations of radicalism pro-choicers throw at the pro-life movement bounce off the target and stick to the source.

Elections

A Democratic Circus Is Shaping up in the New York Tenth Congressional District Primary

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Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks in New York, August 3, 2021. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Now that New York’s highest court surprised everyone by tossing out the state’s blatant Democratic gerrymander of its congressional districts, voters can look forward to real competitive races in many of the districts.

A new congressional district that includes Lower Manhattan and the “woke” Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn won’t be competitive in November, but the wide-open Democratic primary will provide a fascinating look at every crazy form of leftism ever catalogued.

The most well-known candidate is former NYC mayor Bill DeBlasio, who left office loathed by even most Democrats, but who’s banking on some people forgetting his two failed terms.

Yuh-Line Niou represents Manhattan’s Chinatown in the state assembly, but is best known for embracing the Black Lives Matter campaign, as when she liked a tweet that contained a photo comparing the attendees at a recent police funeral to Nazi storm troopers.

Attorney Daniel Goldman was chief Democratic counsel for Donald Trump’s first impeachment. That’s the one centered on the fake Steele dossier that was the basis of the anti-Trump Russia hoax of the last few years.

Former representative Elizabeth Holtzman is another candidate obsessed with Trump. She was a major player in the impeachment of Richard Nixon in 1974 as a 32-year-old freshman representative from Brooklyn. Now 80 years old, she says, “Why am I running? I took on Richard Nixon, and I can take on Donald Trump.”

Should Holtzman succeed in her comeback,, her 42-year gap between periods of service in Congress would be the longest in history.

Representative Mondaire Jones, an AOC ally whose Hudson Valley district is 39 miles north of the tenth, will have one of the shortest tenures if he fails to win the primary since he was only elected in 2020. He claims he’s running in the new district because it’s been a beacon of hope for gay refugees for decades. In reality, he was pushed out of his old district by Representative Sean Maloney, who runs the House-election effort this year for the Democrats and wanted Jones’s seat as his own after the new lines were drawn.

The primary field tilts so far to the left that it’s just possible the primary could be won by state senator Simcha Felder, the son of a conservative rabbi who spent many years in the senate caucusing with its Republican members — even though he was a Democrat.

As depressing as politics is, we need to look for any entertainment available. It looks like the Democratic primary in New York’s tenth congressional district will provide as many laughs, groans, pratfalls and surprises as a world-class circus when it comes to town.

Markets

Democrats’ Garbage Gas-Price-Gouging Bill

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Gas prices over the $8.00 mark are advertised at a Chevron Station in Los Angeles, Calif., May 30, 2022. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

The latest in “Useless Bills We Give a Fun Title to Use as a Club against Our Political Opponents When They Vote against It” is the Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act.

Yesterday, Bill Pascrell Jr., a New Jersey Democrat, tweeted his dismay at the May 19 vote total for the bill in the House. He supported the bill, and it passed, but Pascrell laid into Republican members of Congress, none of whom voted in favor of it.

“If you just paid a fortune at the pump this weekend, we recently voted to crack down on gas price gouging and every single republican voted no,” he tweeted. The tweet, of course, went viral, garnering over 20,000 retweets and 55,000 likes.

Republicans were right to vote against the bill, as it will not lower gas prices for consumers.

If passed by the Senate and signed by President Joe Biden, the law would give the executive the authority to designate an area of the country as being in an “energy emergency.” Any gas station within the area that is charging “unconscionably excessive” prices or “exploiting the circumstances related to an energy emergency to increase prices unreasonably” is subject to penalties from the Federal Trade Commission.

A seller is engaging in price gouging if a commission the bill establishes within the FTC determines that the price during the emergency “grossly exceeds” the seller’s average price before the energy emergency or “grossly exceeds the price at which the same or a similar consumer fuel was readily obtainable in the same area from other sellers during the energy emergency period.”

On its face, the metric of “grossly exceeding” the seller’s prior prices is subjective and vague. If demand is high and supply low in an energy emergency, the price during the emergency will surely be higher than it was previously.

But it is in comparing the seller’s price to other prices in the area that the law would showcase its uselessness. If one gas station is charging $6 per gallon, and another gas station down the street is charging $4 per gallon, the market will punish the gouger before the government can. Consumers will choose to patronize the gas station selling gas for the lower price, incentivizing the gouger to lower his prices.

It is not the job of the government to police the market. Consumers can do it just fine on their own. This bill is simply a way for politicians to pretend that they are doing something to stop rising gas prices, while refusing to address its root causes. It should meet its demise in the Senate.

Education

Colleges Are Creating Adult Children

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Campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn. (Michelle McLoughlin/Reuters)

College students are increasingly childish, unable to think for themselves, and follow the crowd rather than pursue their own interests, according to William Deresiewicz, a former professor at Yale University who discusses this in a recent guest post on Bari Weiss’s Substack Common Sense. They are ultimately unable to grow up. Students immediately turn to their professors for direction rather than confront issues themselves, he writes.

Deresiewicz borrows a term from one of his former students — “excellent sheep” — to describe the majority of the students he taught and those who populate elite college campuses today. He points out that despite the rise of campus wokeness, with its “radical-sounding sloganeering,” students are not becoming more creative and independent-minded. Deresiewicz stresses that excellent sheephood is really about acquiring more — more money, power, status, and connections — while claiming, to make oneself feel better, that one is doing it for altruistic reasons. This, he says, explains things like the alarming lack of protests against out-of-control tuition, strangulating pandemic policies, and many universities’ investments in China. 

While the campus protests of the 1960s challenged the authority of professors and campus administrators, Deresiewicz observes, protesters today do not demand more power from their higher-ups. In fact, they just put what they have been taught into action. Social-justice warriors lobby those in power to do their bidding for them. They are much more comfortable acting as the children rather than as the adults in the room. And those in authority accede to their demands rather than assert their dominance. They’re all on the same side, after all. Deresewicz states the reality bluntly: “College is now regarded as the last stage of childhood, not the first of adulthood. . . . Society has not given them any way to grow up — not financially, not psychologically, not morally.” 

College should not simply be an extension of high school. It is important for it to be a separate stage of life, one that prepares young adults to enter the real world. Students must think for themselves, develop original thoughts, and find solutions to problems independently. Colleges and universities should stop encouraging childishness and immaturity and start focusing on providing students with an environment and education that will help them become independent, resilient, and responsible adults. Fostering the creation of adult children will do far more harm than good.

Economics

The Domestic-Market Myth

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People walk at a crowded market in the old quarters of Delhi, India, April 6, 2021. (Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters)

India has long believed in the goal of economic self-sufficiency. Its constitution describes India as a socialist country, and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, in office from independence in 1947 until his death in 1964, saw economic independence as connected with political independence. “He held that depending on imports for railways, airplanes and guns amounted to being slaves of foreign countries,” wrote economics professor Arvind Panagariya in the Times of India last year.

Nehru and, after him, his party, the Indian National Congress, ran the country for the first 30 years after independence. They made Soviet-style five-year plans and implemented the “License Raj” of government involvement in every aspect of commerce. They did so in pursuit of the goal of economic self-sufficiency.

India’s economic advantage should be in supply of labor, given its massive population. But the License Raj undermined India’s foremost economic strength. Panagariya wrote that, “under this system, India became uncompetitive against foreign products even in labour-intensive manufactures.” To correct for that, the government restricted imports to allow domestic manufacturers security in the domestic market. Then, “inefficiency from a lack of competition was thus piled on top of the inefficiency of scale,” Panagariya wrote. To correct for that, the government implemented price controls.

In 1991, under the government of Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao, India began a series of economic reforms to undo the License Raj. It was only then and in the early 2000s that India’s GDP per capita began to soar.

But the legacy of the post-independence self-sufficiency mindset still lives on in Indian economic policy. One of the ideas seems straightforward: India has a huge domestic market because it has so many people. Focusing on the domestic market should generate growth.

A recent piece in The Print by Rahul Ahluwalia argues against that idea. “We must realise that a country’s market size is not being targeted by any one business or economic activity, but by all businesses and all economic activities,” he writes. “The simplest way to see this is to move the population into the denominator and think of the market on a per capita basis.”

Ahluwalia points out that India still fails to excel in labor-intensive manufacturing because of the remnants of the post-independence control economy. (One is reminded of Milton Friedman’s line about how if the government were put in charge of the Sahara Desert, there would be a sand shortage.) Much of India’s growth was in the IT services industry, which was “successful because our socialist legacy of laws and institutions did not anticipate it,” he writes.

Comparing India to other Asian countries is also illuminating. Ahluwalia points out that Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and even China were able to grow for sustained periods of time, in many cases escaping widespread poverty, by focusing on foreign markets. If economic self-sufficiency was the path to prosperity, we’d expect India to be wealthier than all those countries today.

The example of India should serve as a reminder to America’s own trade restrictionists that self-sufficiency is not a smart economic goal. Of course, India’s case as a developing economy is different from America’s as a developed one. The U.S. domestic market is much larger than India’s on a per capita basis, but our economic output is much larger as well, and the same basic logic of Ahluwalia’s case holds for any country. We’d be foolish to limit our massive economic output to domestic customers only.

Our all-domestic baby-formula market is a clear example of the weakness of self-sufficiency. Sole-source government contracts through WIC eliminate competition. Secular price increases result. Calls for government assistance to consumers follow. It’s the same pattern as in India: One government “fix” leads to a pile-on of government intervention that ends up making everyone worse off. Now we’re in a situation where one factory closes down and there are widespread shortages.

The allure of focusing on the domestic market trapped India in decades of economic stagnation. The U.S. is far wealthier than India, but we shouldn’t be buying into the same logic behind the domestic-market myth in pursuit of the same wrongheaded economic goal.

Art

An Additional Reason Not to Vandalize the Mona Lisa (Other Than the Obvious One)

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Visitors take pictures and video of the painting “Mona Lisa” after cake was smeared on the protective glass at the Lourve Museum in Paris, France May 29, 2022. (Twitter/@klevisl007/via Reuters)

You can’t eat your cake and save the planet too.

The Mona Lisa was the victim of an apparent environmentalist attack on May 29, when a man disguised in a wig and lipstick smeared cake on the famous painting after jumping the guardrails in front of it and trying to break the bulletproof glass that protects it, according to a tweet from a witness on the scene.

As the police dragged the man away, he yelled in French his rationale for the attack.

“Think of the Earth! There are people who are destroying the Earth! Think about it. Artists tell you: think of the Earth. That’s why I did this,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

Needless to say, there are very few causes, if any, that would warrant the desecration of an important artistic and historical artifact. Even if the attacker were justified in his actions, however, the Mona Lisa is the wrong target.

Its creator, Leonardo da Vinci, had a strong appreciation for the environment, and his written and painted works brought that love of nature into the mainstream.

Leonardo was “a man who has surely been overlooked by our modern environmental [non-governmental organizations] as their possible patron,” writes Polish scholar Nina Witoszek.

“Though human ingenuity may make various inventions, . . . it will never devise any inventions more beautiful, nor more simple, nor more to the purpose than nature does; because in her inventions nothing is superfluous,” Witoszek quotes Leonardo as writing in his notebooks.

He practiced this appreciation for the environment in his daily life, eating a vegetarian diet, which, some researchers believe, may have contributed to the stroke that killed him.

On another level, he nourished a change in artistic beliefs about nature. Painters of the Middle Ages saw the environment simply as a backdrop for the human events that they depicted, but the artists of the Renaissance transformed it, Witoszek writes, into “an exuberant, mutable pattern: sometimes representing reason that holds the community together.”

Leonardo participated in this shift of attitudes through such works as the Madonna of the Rocks, which stages the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary in a grotto, and the Virgin and Child with St. Anne, in which Jesus’s Mother and grandmother try to stop him from hurting a lamb.

He also humanized nature through his written works, writing that “the earth has a spirit of growth, and its flesh is the soil; its bones are the successive strata of the rocks which form the mountains; its cartilage is the tifa stone; its blood the spring and the rivers.”

For Witoszek, his paintings and metaphors that anthropomorphize the natural world reveal Leonardo’s identity as “an individual for whom partnership with, and care for human and natural environment, was the foundation of wisdom and the art of survival.”

Leonardo’s wisdom should guide any conservationist movement. He established throughout his life a belief that man and nature are not only alike, but also that their fates are inextricably linked, a credo for lovers of the environment.

This is a legacy that modern-day environmentalists should honor, not smear cake over.

Politics & Policy

Today in Capital Matters: Antitrust

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Brian Albrecht writes about how the DOJ and FTC are using the antitrust rulemaking process to get outcomes progressives want:

Since 1968, the DOJ and later the FTC have tried to make more explicit the types of mergers that they would challenge by issuing guidelines. As our knowledge of the economics of mergers changes, the FTC and DOJ periodically update their guidelines.

To get input on updating these guidelines, the agencies ask for comments from the public. Unfortunately, these agencies’ most recent request betrays their ultimate political agenda for the update. Khan and Kanter declared at the outset of this process that they have “launched a joint public inquiry aimed at strengthening enforcement against illegal mergers.” Right from the start, they show their preference for simply stronger — not necessarily better — enforcement, leading to (in the words of Stanford’s Doug Melamed) a “very tendentious” effort to produce new merger guidelines now.

Throughout the public-inquiry process, the agencies have asked leading questions of the public such as, “What changes in standards or approaches would appropriately strengthen enforcement against mergers?” Again, instead of following the law and economics, which may or may not require stronger enforcement, the agencies assume the answer they want. An agency that biases the information it collects leaves itself vulnerable to groupthink.

Read the whole thing here.

Education

More Silly Virtue-Signaling in Higher Ed — Russia

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American higher ed is loaded with silly virtue-signaling, such as the ubiquitous DEI offices, dropping the SAT, and numerous “identity studies” programs. And now that Vladimir Putin has chosen to attack Ukraine, it’s trying to get back by canceling everything Russian.

In today’s Martin Center article, Anthony Hennen writes about this trend. He states:

Due to the imperialistic actions of Russia against Ukraine, colleges have drawn a hard line against Russia in ways they’ve avoided doing for other countries committing human rights abuses, such as China and Saudi Arabia. By doing so, they are failing in their duty to guide students to a better understanding of the world in which they live.

Among the examples Hennen points to are the University of Colorado’s decision to stop funding any research tied to Russian entities and Middlebury College’s cancellation of its Russian study-abroad program. Take that, Putin!

Hennen also notes that there has been no similar reaction to Chinese human-rights abuses extending over many years. China is a significant source of money and students, however and that seems to keep our higher-ed leaders quiet.

He correctly concludes:

To keep American students in the dark about Russia leaves them poorer and less prepared to understand international politics as well as their own. Russian history is filled with moments of societal breakdown, of reform and attempts at freedom, of tension between religion and the state, and of external and internal threats.

Politics & Policy

What the Hell Has Happened to the FBI? Chapter 342,872…

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The crest for the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigations at the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington, D.C. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

The senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee is demanding that the Justice Department and the FBI investigate the bureau’s top agent in Washington, D.C., over his social-media posts, which are highly partisan — I know, I know, you’ll never guess for which side!

Tim Thibault runs the FBI’s Washington field office which, naturally, handles many of federal law enforcement’s most politically charged investigations. He’s been at the FBI for a quarter-century, is a longtime supervisory agent, and also held top counterterrorism posts.

Turns out, agent Thibault has a very active, highly political presence on LinkedIn, among other platforms. And no, to scrutinize that presence is not to deny that police officials are American citizens who, like everyone else, are entitled to have and to express political views. To attract people to his social-media accounts, Thibault appears to be brandishing his FBI credentials, with the implication that his status and experience give him special insight into the subjects of his dingbattery.

There are about a million regulations that prohibit FBI agents from engaging in political commentary that could undermine public confidence that the FBI is a non-partisan, apolitical investigative agency. Agents are strictly forbidden from exploiting their status as FBI officials to promote their political, commercial, and other private-sphere activities. And unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past seven years, you may have heard that the bureau has been laboring under the weight of an enormous scandal, stemming from the political biases of FBI leadership and investigators, and the manner in which those biases influenced the conduct and public perception of the agency’s most consequential investigations.

As the Washington Examiner’s Jerry Dunleavy reports, Thibault’s public commentary takes aim at Republicans, the Trump administration, the Justice Department under then-attorney general Bill Barr, the American South, and the Catholic Church, among others. And upon perusing the trenchant observations in his oeuvre — e.g., “Can we give Kentucky to the Russian Federation?” — you can’t help but come away asking, “Who better to supervise and train junior investigators?”

Senator Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) has written to Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI director Chris Wray, demanding both an inquiry and production of information about cases that Thibault has investigated and supervised. Senator Grassley is also asking the DOJ inspector-general Michael Horowitz to look into the matter. Recall that IG Horowitz has conducted several recent investigations into the FBI’s political bias, mishandling of politically charged cases, and abuse of its FISA surveillance authorities (see, e.g., here, here, here, here, and here).

As echoed by our editorial today on the Michael Sussmann acquittal, it is disheartening to watch, day after day, how infection by partisan politics has degraded a great American institution.

Law & the Courts

‘A Good and Faithful Judge’

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Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia speaks at an event sponsored by the Federalist Society at the New York Athletic Club in New York City, October 13, 2014. (Darren Ornitz/Reuters)

Today and tomorrow, I will have notes concerning the Oslo Freedom Forum, which took place last week. This is the annual human-rights gathering in the Norwegian capital. Today’s installment is here. I discuss varying participants and what they have to say — concerning Russia, Ukraine, China, Syria, Cuba, and other places, most of them unfortunate.

I’d like to publish some reader mail. In a recent column, I discussed the role of judges in our system and said, “For heaven’s sake, give me a justice who will judge the constitutionality of a law regardless of what he thinks of the law. Judicial functions and legislative functions are different.” A reader writes,

You reminded me of what Justice Antonin Scalia once said: “If you are going to be a good and faithful judge, you have to resign yourself to the fact that you’re not always going to like the conclusions you reach. If you like them all the time, you’re probably doing something wrong.”

One of my recent Q&A podcasts is with Akhil Reed Amar, the law professor. (The podcast is here and I wrote about it here.) A reader writes,

Hey, Jay,

I am in the midst of your podcast with Professor Amar and you mentioned Scalia’s wish for a stamp that said “Stupid but constitutional.” You wondered whether it was apocryphal — whether Scalia really did wish for such a stamp. I just wanted to let you know that I heard him say so in person.

My wife and I heard him speak at Lewis & Clark Law School, in Portland, Ore. This was a very liberal school, so there were some protests of Scalia’s appearance. He was charming and entertaining throughout. I remember his comment about “stupid but constitutional” and have used it for years when teaching the Constitution and our legal system.

Scalia was also quite moving — and utterly convincing — in explaining why he voted to overturn laws against flag burning. The day after the decision was announced, his wife greeted him at breakfast by humming “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”

I was writing about Mitch Daniels, the president of Purdue University, and the commencement address he gave last month — on the subject of individuality. A reader writes,

Your column this morning was quite a coincidence. Just last night, I re-read Daniels’s address from last year, which is about risk-taking. [I wrote about that one too, here.] I have frequently cited this speech to my sons as great early-career advice. Well, I was recently approached about moving for a new job. As it turns out, the speech is pretty good advice for middle and early-late careers as well.

My thanks to all readers and correspondents.

World

Chinese Organ-Harvesting Death Toll ‘Large, Hidden’: Researchers

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A guard watchtower along the perimeter fence of what is officially known as a “vocational skills education center” in Dabancheng, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, September 4, 2018. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

The authors of a recent academic article proving that Chinese surgeons executed prisoners by removing their organs suggested that the abuses are ongoing — and that they’re taking place at a much larger scale than researchers can document.

In an article published in April, the researchers found 71 instances in which official reports document execution by organ harvesting in China. The authors, Jacob Laveee, the director of heart transplantation at Tel Aviv’s Sheba Medical Center, and Matthew Robertson, a fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, used an analysis of close to 125,000 Chinese medical-research papers to come to that conclusion.

The 71 instances of execution by organ harvesting they found are likely “a tiny portion of a large, hidden population,” they wrote today in a piece for the Wall Street Journal, adding that, “Thousands of papers have been published in China about heart and lung transplantation, but most say nothing about how the donor was handled.”

In addition, they argued that organ harvesting executions likely continue to take place today, even though the period they studied ended in 2015.

“Medical papers like those we studied were first unearthed by Chinese grass-roots investigators in late 2014, and it would have been simple to command journals to stop publishing the incriminating details after that,” they added, citing other research.

Lavee and Robertson believe that international outrage about these gruesome practices is restrained in part by China’s partnership with the World Health Organization.

WHO experts, they wrote, “took advice from Chinese transplant surgeons” to establish a task force on organ trafficking — then installed them on the committee. The WHO also attacked their previous research on forced organ harvesting.

They also argued that it’s difficult to shock people nowadays: “Comparisons to the medical atrocities of the Nazis haven’t galvanized a response, perhaps having lost all potency due to overuse.”

But the nature and extent of these practices, as already documented by researchers, are shocking.

Earlier this month, another expert, Ethan Gutmann, told a congressional panel that his research indicates that there is widespread organ harvesting within the Chinese government’s Xinjiang prison camps.

The Chinese authorities, Gutmann said, carry out forced organ harvesting surgeries on tens of thousands of victims. He added that one of the facilities where those operations take place is located close to a crematorium.

World

China Threatens to ‘Downgrade’ Israeli Ties over Taiwan Article

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Fighter pilot Yen Hsiang-sheng gets out of an F-16V fighter jet during an annual New Year’s drill in Chiayi, Taiwan, January 5, 2022. (Ann Wang/Reuters)

The Chinese embassy in Israel reportedly threatened to downgrade its diplomatic relationship with the country — over an interview in which Taiwan’s top diplomat warned that China would use its sway to exercise undue influence against Israeli interests.

During an interview with the Jerusalem Post this week, Taiwanese minister of foreign affairs Joseph Wu warned Israelis that deeper ties with China would make their country more susceptible to Beijing’s notorious bullying campaigns.

“Sometimes they use trade as a weapon, and we have seen them practicing their weaponized trade relations with many other countries,” he said. “They did it to Lithuania, they did it to the Czech Republic and they also did it to Australia. Sometimes they try to do that to Taiwan as well. So, when we do business with an authoritarian country, we need to be very careful.”

Chinese diplomats swiftly proved Wu’s warnings to be prescient, as they attempted to intimidate the Israel’s free press.

Soon after the interview went live on the outlet’s website on Sunday, the article’s author, Yaakov Katz, wrote on Twitter that the Chinese embassy in Israel called him and demanded that he take down the story or that China would “sever ties” with his outlet and “downgrade relations” with Israel.

“Needless to say, story ain’t going anywhere,” Katz wrote.

Israel has welcomed Chinese investment in recent years, raising concerns in Washington that the trend could endanger the country. The Biden administration has reportedly raised the issue in closed door meetings with their Israeli counterparts. Earlier this year, two Chinese firms lost out on a bid to participate in an expansion of Tel Aviv’s train system amid the U.S. diplomatic effort.

Taiwan, meanwhile, has lost ground across the world, as China has successfully convinced a number of countries to abandon their ties with the democracy.

Wu’s comments to the Jersualem Post were part of a bid to convince Israel to seek a closer relationship with Taiwan. The two countries don’t have an official diplomatic relationship, and, as Katz’s piece noted, Wu is barred from visiting Israel in his official capacity. The article also cited reports that Israeli diplomats were barred earlier this month from interacting with their Taiwanese counterparts around the world.

Wu urged Israel’s leaders to pursue closer cooperation with Taiwan, which he said is striving to emulate Jerusalem’s approach to security.

He also urged them not to fear China’s anger: “A very prominent American diplomat told me that you must be doing something right when China gets upset. So don’t worry about China getting upset at you. When they get upset at you, that means you are doing something right.”

As Wu told the Jersualem Post, Beijing has also tried to retaliate against Australia and Lithuania, for failing to fall in line with its demands. One threat to a newspaper might not sound all that significant, but it’s one tool among others that include economic-warfare measures.

Already, Wu’s advice, offered to the backdrop of Chinese threats against yet another proud democracy where journalists can report freely, is showing its worth.

Sports

Lia Thomas Is Calling the Liberal Bluff

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Swimmer Lia Thomas finishes eighth in the 100 free at the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships at Georgia Tech. in Atlanta, Ga., Mar 19, 2022 (Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

In an exclusive interview with ABC News’s Juju Chang, Lia Thomas – the male swimmer who wants to be recognized as female ­— was asked about his female teammate’s objections.

CHANG: The women who signed the letter anonymously said they absolutely supported your right to transition but they think it’s unfair for you to compete against cisgendered women.

THOMAS: You can’t go halfway and be like, ‘I support trans women and trans people but only to a certain point.’ Where if you support trans women as women, and they’ve met all the NCAA requirements, I don’t know you can really say something like that.

This is the same point made by Mr. McKinnon, whose first name was Rhys until age 29 (though he has twice picked different feminine names). McKinnon was permitted to compete at the women’s UCI Masters World Track Cycling Championship and finished first (naturally). He then behaved monstrously towards any woman who dared point out the blatant injustice of this.

Like Thomas, McKinnon told Sky News: “If you want to say, ‘I believe you’re a woman for all of society except this massive central part of sport’ then that’s not fair.”

Alrighty then.

You timid people who know full well that trans women are men but are too frightened to say so, Lia Thomas is calling your bluff. If you care about women, it’s time to drop the act, to stand up and say: I was only trying to be polite but fine, you got me: I don’t actually support this. I think it’s nonsense. Do what you like, call yourself what you like, but as a man, you don’t belong in the women’s team.

Politics & Policy

Beto O’Rourke’s Flip-Flop-Flip on Confiscating AR-15s

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While running for president in 2019, former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke said: “Hell yes, we are going to take your AR-15.” But when asked about that comment while running for governor in February of 2022, O’Rourke said: “I’m not interested in taking anything from anyone. What I want to make sure that we do is defend the Second Amendment.”

Fox News reports that O’Rourke actually flipped back to be in favor of confiscating AR-15s at an event on May 21 (just before the school massacre in Uvalde, Texas). “I don’t think that the people who have them right now in civilian use should be able to keep them,” O’Rourke told veterans at a town-hall meeting.

Elections

The Dumbest Election Conspiracy Theory

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Governor Brian Kemp addresses supporters after winning the Republican primary during his primary-election watch party in Atlanta, Ga., May 24, 2022. (Dustin Chambers/Reuters)

For nearly two years, we’ve heard election conspiracy theories spouted by Donald Trump and his allies that are obviously false and truly insane, but you at least have to give points for creativity to whomever came up with the idea that Venezuelan voting machines were changing tens of thousands of votes.

Today, Trump promoted what might be the dumbest and laziest election conspiracy theory yet. “Something Stinks In Georgia,” reads the headline of a Substack post written by former Newsmax personality Emerald Robinson and promoted by Trump’s Save America PAC. “The GOP primary numbers are funny because the votes were rigged.” 

The crux of Robinson’s post:  

On Primary Day in Georgia, Kemp gets 74% and Perdue gets 22%. Nobody in any election in America gets 74% of the votes. Ever. It doesn’t happen.

Obvious fraud.

But the thing that Robinson claims never happens actually happens with regularity. Aaron Blake points to a 2009 study that “found that about 1 in 10 Senate incumbents took less than 75 percent of the vote in their primaries. Many faced token or no opposition, but it does happen — very regularly.”

Just to take a few examples: In 2020, GOP senator Ben Sasse won 75 percent in Nebraska’s Republican primary. In the March 2022 Texas primaries, more than a dozen House races saw one candidate win at least 70 percent of the vote, including some Republicans, such as Chip Roy and Dan Crenshaw, who had drawn the wrath of Donald Trump over the 2020 election. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick carried close to 77 percent of the vote, while Governor Abbott carried nearly 67 percent in his race against Allen West.

Marjorie Taylor Greene carried 70 percent of her district at the same time Brian Kemp was re-nominated statewide with 74 percent of the vote. A conspiracy theory about Georgia that tried to account for Greene’s victory would at least have the virtue of being entertaining.

The boring truth is that Trump’s endorsement carries some weight and was likely enough to account for J. D. Vance’s eight-point win in Ohio’s five-way Senate race. Trump’s endorsement is certainly responsible for Mehmet Oz’s 920-vote lead in the Pennsylvania GOP primary where more than 1,300,000 people voted. But a Trump endorsement isn’t magic: Just look at Roy Moore’s 2017 victory in Alabama; or at Madison Cawthorn’s 2022 loss with Trump’s endorsement and Cawthorn’s 2020 victory without Trump’s endorsement; or the Trump candidates who lost gubernatorial primaries in Nebraska and Idaho this year. Trump himself likely understands the limits of his own power: If he thought his endorsement was worth 20 points in Ohio’s gubernatorial primary, he would have endorsed one of incumbent governor Mike DeWine’s two GOP opponents.

Politics & Policy

Gallup: American Views of Economy Grow Even More Pessimistic

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As Jim noted this morning, Politico reports that President Biden intends to spend June trying to convince “skeptical voters that, despite their current misgivings, the economy is actually doing quite well.”

Biden will certainly have his work cut out for him: A new Gallup poll released today finds that Americans’ views of the economy worsened yet again in the month of May, dropping to a level not seen since the Great Recession.

Education

Move Over DEI, Here Comes the J for ‘Justice’ in Race-Based Grading Policy

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(maroke/Getty Images)

A new letter — “J,” for “justice” — has apparently been added to the “DEI” — “diversity, equity, and inclusion” — mantra. And, as with most progressive ideas, it will lead to the exact opposite of what it claims to promote.

In the name of DEIJ, the administrators of Oak Park and River Forest High School, near Chicago, are preventing teachers from taking important aspects of an education into account — such as showing up for class, comportment, and turning in assignments — when grading their students. From the West Cook News story:

Oak Park and River Forest High School administrators will require teachers next school year to adjust their classroom grading scales to account for the skin color or ethnicity of its students.

School board members discussed the plan called “Transformative Education Professional Development & Grading” at a meeting on May 26, presented by Assistant Superintendent for Student Learning Laurie Fiorenza.

In an effort to equalize test scores among racial groups, OPRF will order its teachers to exclude from their grading assessments variables it says disproportionally hurt the grades of black students. They can no longer be docked for missing class, misbehaving in school or failing to turn in their assignments, according to the plan.

I can’t think of a more effective way to hurt students of color and impede their success as adults than to relieve them of the responsibility to comply with the requirements and efficiencies basic to receiving a good education. Talk about the bigotry of low expectations.

But “equity,” don’t you know!

Advocates for so-called “equity based” grading practices, which seek to raise the grade point averages of black students and lower scores of higher-achieving Asian, white and Hispanic ones, say new grading criteria are necessary to further school districts’ mission of DEIJ, or “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice.”

“By training teachers to remove the non-academic factors from their grading practices and recognize when personal biases manifest, districts can proactively signal a clear commitment toward DEIJ,” said Margaret Sullivan, associate director at the Education Advisory Board, which sells consulting services to colleges and universities.

If black students are accepted into colleges because they have benefited from unwarranted grade inflation — but are not prepared to succeed because they never developed the discipline and life skills needed for diligent scholarship — they are being set up for failure. How does that help them either in school or in life?

I predict that the DEIJ criteria will transform all affected high-schoolers into “C” students — which stands for “chaos.”

Update: In the wake of the national media firestorm generated by the West Cook News story quoted above that grading standards would be changed to help African American students, the OPRF High School issued a statement denying that a final decision to implement the described grading policy has been made. It is worth noting that the School’s statement does not deny that the changes in policy reported by West Cook News are under active consideration. Nor does the statement deny that they were discussed in the May 26 meeting. Rather, that changes in current grading policy would require a public meeting before implementing and that has not happened.

Let us hope that the national fury this story generated dissuades the OPRF High School — and other educational institutions contemplating such advocated “equity” policies — from taking the kind of actions described as they would hurt the very students the proposed changes are supposed to help.

Politics & Policy

Connecticut Taxpayers to Fund $150,000 Job Getting Speech Removed from the Internet

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(Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Who wants a job with the Ministry of Truth?

Concerned about a . . . deluge of unfounded rumors and lies around this year’s midterm elections, [Connecticut] plans to spend nearly $2 million on marketing to share factual information about voting, and to create its first-ever position for an expert in combating misinformation. With a salary of $150,000, the person is expected to comb fringe sites like 4chan, far-right social networks like Gettr and Rumble and mainstream social media sites to root out early misinformation narratives about voting before they go viral, and then urge the companies to remove or flag the posts that contain false information . . . Colorado has hired three cybersecurity experts to monitor sites for misinformation. California’s office of the secretary of state is searching for misinformation and working with the Department of Homeland Security and academics to look for patterns of misinformation across the internet.

The First Amendment protects private companies in deciding when to suppress speech on their own platforms, and they do not act as agents of the government simply because they censor things that the government publicly dislikes. But things get into much murkier territory legally, and should set off major warning bells, when the government employs full-time agents whose job is to cause the suppression of political speech.

And what we’re talking about here — even flagrant lies — is political speech. The New York Times account cites things such as made-up stories about missing ballots or voter fraud. How is this different from false stories about any other political issue? There is an entirely reasonable argument for government countering false speech with the truth, and it has a compelling interest in narrowly targeted efforts to quash misinformation aimed at depriving people of the right to vote — the textbook examples being falsehoods about when an election will be held, where the polls are, or who will be eligible to vote. But for the government to set up permanent, well-paid, most likely unionized positions as censors is an Orwellian step that ought to be resisted.

Law & the Courts

Supreme Court Clerks Face Investigation of Cellphone Data

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U.S. Supreme Court Building (lucky-photographer/Getty Images)

The Dobbs leak investigation seems to be getting serious, or, at any rate, its seriousness is now piercing the security of the leak probe — at least if you believe the latest report from CNN’s Joan Biskupic:

Supreme Court officials are escalating their search for the source of the leaked draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, taking steps to require law clerks to provide cell phone records and sign affidavits, three sources with knowledge of the efforts have told CNN. Some clerks are apparently so alarmed over the moves, particularly the sudden requests for private cell data, that they have begun exploring whether to hire outside counsel . . . Sources familiar with efforts underway say the exact language of the affidavits or the intended scope of that cell phone search — content or time period covered — is not yet clear.

The report is anonymously sourced. CNN frames it as coming from lawyers but is ambiguous as to whether those are lawyers for clerks or just lawyers around the Court (there are a lot of those): “Lawyers outside the court who have become aware of the new inquiries related to cell phone details warn of potential intrusiveness on clerks’ personal activities, irrespective of any disclosure to the news media, and say they may feel the need to obtain independent counsel.”

As usual, you can tell who the commentariat actually believes to be the likely leaker by how they behave. Conservative commentators and Republican politicians are out demanding heads. Jonathan Turley is talking about criminal liability for people who file false affidavits. Meanwhile, progressive writers are warning people to lawyer up and not hand over their phones. Maybe the leaker is a right-wing clerk or a conservative justice or spouse, but that scenario has never been as likely as the leaker being someone opposed to overturning Roe, most probably a progressive law clerk.

Should the clerks lawyer up and not cooperate? Talking to a lawyer is never a bad idea in an investigation (so long as you can afford it or have a friend willing to counsel you gratis), and if I were a clerk in that position or advising someone who was, I might well demand some sort of written assurance that the information collected won’t be used for any other investigative purpose than hunting the leak. But one piece of wisdom you need to acquire over time in counseling clients, especially in the private practice of law, is that the best legal advice is not always the best advice for the client’s overall interests. The clerks are employees at will, and could absolutely be fired for not cooperating (if the justices who employ them are willing to do so — it would be a lot dicier if Chief Justice John Roberts tried to pull rank and fire another justice’s clerk). The clerks’ career interests may be at war here with their strictly legal interests.

Should the Court be heavy-handed in pressuring its employees to cooperate in ways that they would not be legally required to do without a warrant? Yes, if it takes the leak seriously enough as a threat to the institution and intends to deter a repetition. Is the Court actually united behind that step? As Andy McCarthy notes, the liberal justices have been conspicuously quiet about the leak and the protests targeting their colleagues. That cannot be good for the Court’s collegiality. And there is much work ahead: With 32 cases still on the docket and pro-Roe protesters apparently planning to blockade the building, the next month should be one of the most difficult in the Court’s history. Yet the Court has not even publicly scheduled the next day for opinions to be released.

Law & the Courts

The Sussmann Verdict Is an Indictment of Durham, Not a Vindication of the Ex-Clinton Lawyer

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Special Counsel John Durham departs the U.S. Federal Courthouse after opening arguments in the trial of Attorney Michael Sussmann in Washington, D.C., May 17, 2022. (Julia Nikhinson/Reuters)

Michael Sussmann did exactly what he was accused of by Special Counsel John Durham. But the latter charged the former with lying to former FBI general counsel James Baker on the wrong day.

Durham’s team alleged that Sussmann told Baker that he wasn’t representing any client during a meeting at FBI headquarters on September 19, 2016, during which Sussmann handed over flimsy evidence of a secret communications channel between Russia’s Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization. In fact, the prosecution argued, Sussmann was acting on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and tech executive Rodney Joffe, whose firm dug up the evidence.

Sussmann very well might have lied during the meeting, but Durham had no smoking gun evidence. His star witness, Baker, was an unreliable narrator.

However, Durham did have smoking gun evidence that Sussmann told that exact lie the day before while setting up the meeting with Baker. On September 18, 2016, he sent the following message to Baker:

Jim — it’s Michael Sussmann. I have something time-sensitive (and sensitive) I need to discuss. Do you have availability for a short meeting tomorrow? I’m coming on my own — not on behalf of a client or company — want to help the Bureau.Thanks.

Unfortunately for Durham, he didn’t discover the message until this spring, a half-year after the indictment came down. Consequently, the text could be used as evidence of an intention to lie on the 19th, but Sussmann could not be found guilty for lying on the 18th.

The Durham probe has been in progress since April of 2019. Baker was the only eyewitness to Sussmann’s alleged crime. The special counsel’s office has met him upwards of ten times. How is it possible that in all the time preparing for the indictment, they did not ask Baker to scroll through his text messages with the target of their investigation?

Today’s not guilty verdict is a legal victory for Michael Sussmann, but it’s far from a vindication of his actions, or a testament to his integrity.

Law & the Courts

The Supreme Court’s Bit Part in Gun Politics

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(crbellette/iStock/Getty Images)

Kate Shaw and John Bash — who clerked for Justices John Paul Stevens and Antonin Scalia, respectively, when the two wrote the majority opinion and the lead dissent in D.C. v. Heller — make some sound points in the New York Times but overstate their importance. They write that the Court’s decision in that case did not rule out many gun regulations; that the political branches, rather than the courts, have been the chief obstacle to new regulations; and that many people exaggerate the justices’ impact on gun policy. Those are the sound points (also made by me here).

All of that suggests that gun-controllers spend too much time denouncing the justices, advocating repeal of the Second Amendment, and so forth. But Shaw and Bash want to go further than that, arguing that an exaggeration of Heller has affected the outcome of political debates over gun policy. They cite proposals to expand background checks. “The most common reason offered by opponents of that legislation? That it would violate the Second Amendment. But that’s just not supported by the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the amendment in Heller.”

I see two problems here. The first is that people are not bound to make constitutional arguments that track the Supreme Court’s. Opponents of gun regulations heavily featured arguments about the Second Amendment well before the Court endorsed the individual-rights reading of it in Heller. That was fine. It’s fine now, too, if gun-rights advocates have a more expansive reading of the amendment than the Court has. (To be more precise, it’s fine if they’ve got a good argument for that expansive reading. The mere fact that it goes further than the Court’s is not a reason to reject it.)

The second, related problem is that it’s not at all clear that the legislative outcomes would have been different if the Court hadn’t issued Heller at all. Gun-rights groups had been pretty successful at staving off federal regulations before Heller, after all. In the years prior to Heller, they had kept a ban on assault weapons from being reinstated and blocked expanded background checks. Their success owes a lot to their caring much more about gun issues, and making them a bigger political priority, than supporters of gun regulations do. It also has to do with their strong belief that they are acting in the name of the Constitution — a belief that is not especially tied to the Supreme Court’s case law. (It’s the kind of thing that some liberal academics call “popular constitutionalism,” at least in non-gun contexts.)

Shaw and Bash are right that many people have exaggerated the importance of the Supreme Court’s past decisions in determining our gun policies. They’ve fallen prey to that tendency themselves.

Politics & Policy

The Vandalism Goes On

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(Abubaker Lubowa/Reuters)

Last week, someone graffitied a pregnancy-resource center outside Seattle and smashed in several of its windows for good measure. Security footage captured a woman dressed in black who used red paint to write, “If abortion isn’t safe, you aren’t either” and “Jane’s revenge” on the outer walls. She also broke at least five of the center’s windows.

Next Step Pregnancy Services in Lynwood, Wash., like most pregnancy-resource centers, offers women pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, counseling, adoption assistance, and support after miscarriage or an abortion.

Earlier this month, there was a similar vandalism — though without the broken windows — at a pregnancy-resource center near where I live in Northern Virginia. Just before that, abortion supporters in Madison, Wis., allegedly threw Molotov cocktails into the office of a state pro-life group and graffitied a message identical to the one left at Next Step: “If abortion isn’t safe, you aren’t either.”

All of these incidents have been in response to the imminent possibility that the Court might overturn Roe v. Wade and allow states to protect unborn human beings from abortion.

Over the weekend, thieves stole the golden tabernacle from St. Augustine Roman Catholic church in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, decapitating at least two angel statues near the altar in the process. According to one report, the Eucharist from the tabernacle was left scattered over the church’s altar. Three weeks ago, the tabernacle was stolen from St. Bartholomew the Apostle Catholic church in Katy, Texas. It was later found abandoned, with the Eucharist missing.

There have always been vandals and there always will be, but the timing of these particular incidents isn’t coincidental, coming just as our regime of abortion on demand appears to be crumbling.

Politics & Policy

After Letter from Rubio, U.S. Air Force Base Cancels ‘Drag Queen Story Time’

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Senator Marco Rubio speaks at a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing Jan. 9, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Last week, Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) sent a letter to the Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany objecting to the Air Force Library’s plan to host a “Drag Queen Story Time” event for young children of service members this Thursday. “I urge you to immediately cancel this politically divisive event, and take appropriate disciplinary action against all involved in allowing this gross abuse of taxpayer funding to place children in a sexualized environment,” Rubio wrote, arguing that it was “completely insane for Ramstein AFB to use on-installation resources” for the initiative. “These inappropriate events are extremely divisive at home for good reason; in all cases, they place young children in close proximity with adults who are intentionally and explicitly sexualized.”

A day later, the Air Force canceled the event and deleted any mention of it from the Ramstein & Vogelweh Air Force Library’s Facebook page, where it had previously been advertised with flyers like the one below:

“An advertisement was posted to the base library social media page before the event had completed Ramstein’s established processes for special observance coordination and approval,” a public-affairs spokesperson for the 86th Airlift Wing told the Post Millennial. “The advertisement has been removed and the event will not take place.”

It wasn’t the first time that the base had hosted the event. As the Post Millennial reported, “the base, on which 54,000 American service members are stationed, accompanied by more than 5,400 US civilian employees, had held a Drag Story Hour in 2021.” Other bases, such as the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, hosted similar events last year. In a statement, the Nellis base defended hosting a drag-queen show on the grounds that “ensuring our ranks reflect and are inclusive of the American people is essential to the morale, cohesion, and readiness of the military”:

But after Rubio called attention to the taxpayer-funded “Drag Queen Story Time” affair in Germany, officials were quick to relent. It’s a small victory, in the grand scheme of things, but it’s yet another powerful testament to how conservatives can win on culture-war issues if they’re courageous enough to engage. Republicans should seek to emulate successes like these.

Politics & Policy

Joe Biden’s $10,000 Student-Loan Handout Would Be Inflationary

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on administration plans to fight inflation and lower costs during a speech in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building’s South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, D.C., May 10, 2022. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

President Biden is out with an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal in which he declares, “fighting inflation is our top economic challenge right now.” If he believed that, he would not actually be considering the plan to give $10,000 worth of student-loan forgiveness to college graduates with household incomes of up to $300,000.

Putting aside the fact that loan forgiveness is bad policy that raises serious constitutional questions; it is also inflationary. The plan Biden is reportedly considering would eliminate $380 billion of federal student loan debt, and cost taxpayers $250 billion, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.  Even though that money won’t be directly injected into the economy all at once, it would still affect spending, because it would dramatically increase people’s income expectations.

As an example, let’s say that after forgiveness, somebody expects to pay $200 less per month in debt payments. That person could now decide to spend the money on a new phone, or car lease, or any number of goods and services. In fact, it is for this very reason that for years, proponents of student loan forgiveness touted it as economic stimulus.

Here was Senator Elizabeth Warren making that case just before Democrats took power:

Democrats cannot have it both ways. They cannot claim on one hand that a given policy is going to boost the economy, and then on the other hand, ignore the fact that in doing so, it would drive up inflation.

Sports

The New York Times Considers Both Sides in Trans-Sports Debate

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The New York Times ran a lengthy piece over the weekend about the transgender-sports debate. One section on Lia Thomas, the male NCAA swimmer, makes a bold concession (at least by the Times’ standards):

When Ms. Thomas entered women’s meets, she rose substantially in national rankings. Among men, she had ranked 32nd in the 1,650-yard freestyle; among women, she ranked eighth and won a race this season by a margin of 38 seconds.

She had ranked 554th in the men’s 200-yard freestyle; she tied for fifth place in this race in the women’s 2022 N.C.A.A championship.

And she ranked 65th in the men’s 500-yard freestyle but won the title as a female.

“Lia Thomas is the manifestation of the scientific evidence,” said Dr. Ross Tucker, a sports physiologist who consults on world athletics. “The reduction in testosterone did not remove her biological advantage.”

The report also notes: “The records for elite adult male swimmers are on average 10 percent to 12 percent faster than the records of elite female swimmers, an advantage that has held for decades.”

Law & the Courts

The Shameful Silence of Progressive Justices

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Pro-life activists protest outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., December 1, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

It has been nearly four weeks since the leak of a draft opinion in the Supreme Court’s Dobbs abortion case.

In that time, the Court’s progressive justices have not said a word publicly to condemn this profound betrayal of trust that undermines the Court’s appellate process, nor have they spoken out against the illegal demonstrations at the homes of their fellow justices.

The only public commentary from Court progressives has come from Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who has been confirmed to succeed Justice Stephen Breyer when the Court’s term ends in a few weeks. She declined to condemn the leak and the illegal demonstrations.

It is difficult to see how the Supreme Court endures as a judicial institution if its own members do not defend it as such. No one would expect them to agree with a ruling along the lines of the leaked draft opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, that would overrule Roe and Casey. But one would think that they would rally to the defense of the Court itself — i.e., to defend the proposition that justices must be able to decide cases consistent with their good-faith application of the law, not based on the passions and intimidation tactics of the mob.

If Supreme Court justices do not defend the rule of law, what is the point? If it is to be expected that, in order to influence their rulings, justices will be subjected to political pressure, including intrusions on their personal residences and the frightening of their families, as well as corrupt obstruction of the Court’s capacity to convene, then how is the Court in any real sense a judicial tribunal?

A body that makes decisions based on political pressure rather than objective legal principles is a legislature, not a court. We need the judiciary as a check on the political process. If it is part of the political process, that would be worse than pointless; it would be politics masquerading as justice.

If the justices won’t defend their institution, that is shameful.

Education

A Personal Note on Pandemic Homeschooling

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Books stacked on an open desk. (utah778/GettyImages)

Christian Barnard observes that rates of homeschooling in the U.S. still exceed pre-pandemic levels, even as most public schools have finally returned to normal operations. He suggests that new homeschoolers are persisting because they have discovered how satisfactory the practice can be. If my own family’s experience is any indication, then he is correct.

Just to be clear, fear of the virus did not influence my family’s decision to homeschool; rather, it was the public schools’ dereliction of their duty that forced our hand. We were not willing to participate in boondoggles such as virtual days, phased re-openings, and mask-and-test regimens. It was only after withdrawing that we discovered the remarkable amount of learning that can be packed into a few hours per day at home, leaving more free time for kids to be kids.

Some of the efficiency gains flow directly from one-on-one instruction. A homeschool parent can provide feedback on a student’s work every day. Errors are identified and corrected within an hour — not days later when the classroom teacher finishes grading a stack of papers. Other efficiency gains come from focusing on the three Rs, leaving art projects and other non-academic activities as options during free time.

The results have been excellent. Our elementary-age children have made such strides that to detail them would invite accusations that I’m just here to brag. But the progress shouldn’t be all that surprising. How many public-school students do an hour of original writing every day with feedback? How many public-school students do an hour of math problems every day, completely at their own pace, at whatever level they’re ready for? All of this happens in my household before lunch, so the entire afternoon is available for free play. By contrast, public-school students are confined to a classroom for most of the day — and then they have homework!

Taking charge of the curriculum is no small responsibility. Homeschool parents need to carefully select materials and be ready to make adjustments as needed. They also need to ensure that at least one of them is home on any given day. Nevertheless, the daily time I spend on direct instruction (mostly feedback on writing and math) is only 20 to 30 minutes, and it’s usually enjoyable.

I don’t presume to tell any family what will work best for them. After all, the central insight of the school-choice movement is that parents have heterogeneous preferences that no single education model can accommodate. What I can say, however, is that homeschooling is a more viable and effective option than many families initially assume. If you’re on the fence, consider this a nudge to give it a try.

World

Today in Capital Matters: Taxing the Rich and Regulating Tech

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Tomas Philipson writes about Biden’s claim that taxing the wealthy will reduce inflation and the response from Jeff Bezos:

Just as the White House lacks an understanding of the causes of inflation, it does not understand that the rich, such as Jeff Bezos, are already paying their fair share. Our country’s roughly 700 billionaires and the 1 percent they are part of are helping others more than the rest of us are, even if they paid nothing in taxes.

While the rich are often portrayed as not helping out, the argument is completely divorced from economic logic and assumes that sending taxes to Washington is the only way to help. Indeed, a large literature in economics finds that nearly all of the benefits of technological change, often spearheaded by entrepreneurs such as Bezos who wind up personally wealthy, are passed on to consumers through lower prices and access to new goods and services. In addition, the super-wealthy often give away much of what they earn as charitable donations — a more efficient way to help the poor than paying taxes.

Jessica Melugin of the Competitive Enterprise Institute writes against Europe’s Digital Services Act:

Like past European tech regulation, the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA) will bring harmful unintended consequences for consumers and businesses. American politicians should reject this approach and keep to the regulatory regime that’s helped make the U.S. a global tech leader.

The DSA mainly focuses on content-moderation issues and digital advertising practices. While the final text of the legislation has yet to be released, it’s known that the regulations demand transparency for how algorithms operate, outlaw certain targeted advertising and impose new obligations around content moderation.

Media

Rape, Ideology, and Accurate Reporting

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The Times of London reports how “the BBC changed the testimony of a rape victim after a debate over the pronouns of her transgender attacker.”

BBC staff debated whether to alter the source’s quotes, but eventually, the diversity contingent won, and every reference to “he” or “him” was replaced with “they” or “them” for fear of “misgendering” the alleged rapist.

Two thoughts on this. First, it is obviously unethical journalistic practice to substantively alter a source’s quotes without the person’s permission. Second, it is deranged to prioritize the feelings of an alleged rapist over accurate reporting. But then, despite claims to the contrary, this isn’t about individuals as much as ideological conformity.

I am reminded here of Ricky Gervais’s controversial trans segment in his SuperNature Netflix special. Mocking the unreasonable objection to single-sex spaces, Gervais acts out a confrontation between a woman and a trans activist. “What if he rapes me?” “What if she rapes you, you f***ing TERF whore?”

World

China’s Pacific Advance Runs Into Some Problems

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China’s remake of South Pacific (which I discussed here) has run into some problems.

The Financial Times:

China has suffered its first setback in an escalating tug of war with western powers for dominance in the Pacific after it failed to win support from island countries in the region for a comprehensive partnership centred on security.

At a virtual meeting with Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, on Monday, leaders from eight Pacific Island nations agreed to co-operate in five areas including health, disaster management and agriculture. But Wang said that more discussion was needed on the China-Pacific Island Countries Common Development Vision that Beijing had proposed.

The blow to China came after the US and Australia strongly pushed back against Beijing’s efforts to entice more of the small, mostly impoverished Pacific Island nations into its embrace.

Penny Wong, the Australian foreign secretary, rushed to Fiji on Thursday, just days after taking office, for talks with Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama. The US announced on Friday, the eve of the Chinese foreign minister’s arrival in Fiji, that Suva would join the Indo-Pacific Economic Forum, Washington’s plan to counter Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.

China’s success in signing a security agreement with the Solomon Islands last month, which allows Beijing to deploy both police and military forces to the South Pacific nation, triggered alarm in the US, Australia, Japan and New Zealand, the region’s traditional security partners and main aid donors.

Beijing’s negotiations with Kiribati over a similar deal, reported by the Financial Times last week, and China’s regional proposal fanned that anxiety. . . .

The draft deal mentioned co-operation on Pacific Island nations’ concerns such as climate change and fisheries, but security and political priorities, such as co-ordinating positions in the UN and regional bodies, proved trickier.

Security priorities?

South China Morning Post:

South Pacific nations hold off endorsing Beijing’s plans that would have seen closer cooperation in fighting crime and ‘traditional and non-traditional’ security

Hmmm . . .

The FT again:

“The Pacific needs genuine partners, not superpowers that are super-focused on power,” Bainimarama wrote on Twitter after the session with Wang. . . .

China signalled it would campaign for more influence in the region. “Don’t be too anxious and don’t be too nervous, because the common development and prosperity of China and all the other developing countries would only mean great harmony, greater justice and greater progress of the whole world,” Wang said, according to Reuters.

The Chinese embassy in Fiji said Beijing would lay out its plans for the region in a “position paper” in response to the questions Pacific leaders had raised at the meeting. They had agreed to discuss the draft communique prepared by Beijing “until we have an agreement”, said Qian Bo, China’s ambassador to Fiji.

Anxiety and nervousness seem to me to be an entirely appropriate response.

World

Russian Honor

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Evgenia Kara-Murza reading a message from her husband, Vladimir, a Russian political prisoner, at the Oslo Freedom Forum on May 23, 2022 (Oslo Freedom Forum/Jan Khür)

For years, Vladimir Kara-Murza, the Russian democracy leader, campaigned for the release of political prisoners. Now he needs help, for he himself is a political prisoner, arrested in Moscow on April 11. I have a piece about him on the homepage, here. An extraordinary person, one of the most extraordinary I have known. (This is a very common sentiment about Vladimir.)

For years, he attended the Oslo Freedom Forum. He could not be there last week, however, for obvious reasons. Evgenia Kara-Murza appeared in his stead. She is Vladimir’s wife, a private person. She does not like being in the public eye. But she will do it when her husband is unavailable — when he has been subject to a poison attack (as he has been twice) or when he has been throw into prison (as now).

I podcasted with Evgenia Kara-Murza on May 20, here.

In Oslo last week, she read a message from Vladimir. In it, he spoke of Russian dissidence, Russian dissent. And he focused on the year 1968 — August, in particular. The Soviet Union had invaded Czechoslovakia, to put down the Prague Spring. The Kremlin was saying that everyone across the vast USSR supported the invasion. Trade unions, workers’ collectives, academic institutes — they all passed resolutions, supporting the invasion.

But seven people held a protest in Red Square. Let me call the roll — the roll of honor: Konstantin Babitsky, Larisa Bogoraz, Vadim Delaunay, Vladimir Dremliuga, Viktor Fainberg, Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Pavel Litvinov. They held a small Czech flag and also some placards: “Shame to the occupiers!” for example. “Long live free and independent Czechoslovakia!” “For your freedom and ours!”

Within five minutes, the KGB pounced on them, and led them to their terrible fates. (Viktor Fainberg had his teeth knocked out on the spot.) But the protesters had proven something: Support for the invasion of Czechoslovakia was not unanimous in the USSR.

Years later, Natalya Gorbanevskaya, a poet, reflected, “A nation minus me is not an entire nation. A nation minus ten, a hundred, a thousand people is not an entire nation.” So, thanks to the Red Square protest, the government “could no longer say that there was nationwide approval for the invasion of Czechoslovakia.”

In his message to the Oslo Freedom Forum, Vladimir Kara-Murza quoted a Prague newspaper in ’68: “Now there are at least seven reasons for which we will never be able to hate the Russian people.”

Today, said Vladimir, the Kremlin has invaded yet another sovereign state. This time, not seven but many thousands of Russians have protested. Some 15,000 have been detained. Each one of the protesters, said Vladimir, “makes me proud of my country.”

In detention, he was asked by a fellow prisoner whether he wished he had remained silent — about the Ukraine war and other abuses and crimes of Putin’s government. The answer was no. And he had never given an easier answer, Vladimir told the Freedom Forum, through Evgenia.

He quoted Boris Nemtsov, his mentor and friend: “The cost of freedom is high.” (Nemtsov was the Russian opposition leader, murdered in February 2015 about 200 yards from the Kremlin wall.) Kara-Murza added, “The cost of silence and complicity is unacceptable.”

People such as Vladimir Kara-Murza remind me of a statement by José Martí, the Cuban independence hero: “When there are many men who lack honor, there are always others who have within themselves the honor of many men.”

Again, for my piece on the political prisoner Kara-Murza, go here.

Economy & Business

New Biden Message: The Economy Is Doing Great, You Just Aren’t Noticing It

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President Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Md., May 19, 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In Politico’s Playbook newsletter this morning: President Biden will spend June pivoting to a focus on economic issues, “to convince skeptical voters that, despite their current misgivings, the economy is actually doing quite well.”

Attempting to convince people that they’re doing better than they think they are is always a risky political strategy, but it seems particularly unlikely to work when gas prices keep setting new records every day. This morning, the national average price of a gallon of regular gasoline is $4.62, according to AAA. A year ago, it was $3.04.

But it isn’t just gas prices:

There is something classically Biden about looking at the state of the U.S. economy at this moment and concluding the problem is that he isn’t getting enough credit for all the good news. As Politico notes, “Telling [Americans] that their day-to-day worries are not supported by macroeconomic data — or, as Biden writes, that ‘the U.S. is in a better economic position than almost any other country’ — is risky and could come across as tone-deaf, something frontline Democrats in swing districts have been concerned about.” No kidding!

UPDATE: A good example of Biden’s unpersuasive spin arrives in his Wall Street Journal op-ed this morning, where he declares, “a recent Federal Reserve report found that a higher percentage of Americans reported feeling financially comfortable at the end of 2021 than at any time since the survey began in 2013.”

But if you look in the fine print of the report, at the bottom of page 13, it states, “the survey was fielded in October and November 2021 and results reflect financial situations at that time. References to “in 2021” refer to the 12-month period before the survey rather than the precise calendar year.”

Since those survey questions were asked, the U.S. has seen inflation rates of 7.03 percent (December), 7.48 percent (January), 7.87 percent (February), 8.54 percent (March), and 8.25 percent (April). If you asked today, would 78 percent of adults were doing at least okay financially, meaning they reported either “doing okay” financially (39 percent) or “living comfortably” (39 percent)? I doubt it.

Regulatory Policy

The Energy ‘Transition’ — a Leap into the Dark

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Wind-turbine generators in Desert Hot Springs, Calif., 2011. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Not for the first time, it strikes me that the transition away from fossil fuels may be moving rather more quickly than the technology upon which it is supposed to rely.

The Wall Street Journal:

Summer is around the corner, and we suggest you prepare by buying an emergency generator, if you can find one in stock. Last week the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) warned that two-thirds of the U.S. could experience blackouts this summer. Welcome to the “green energy transition.”

We’ve been warning for years that climate policies would make the grid more vulnerable to vacillations in supply and demand. And here we are. Some of the mainstream press are belatedly catching on that blackouts are coming, but they still don’t grasp the real problem: The forced transition to green energy is distorting energy markets and destabilizing the grid.

Progressives blame the grid problems on climate change. There’s no doubt that drought in the western U.S. is a contributing factor. NERC’s report notes that hydropower generators in the western U.S. are running at lower levels, and output from thermal (i.e., nuclear and fossil fuel) generators that use the Missouri River for cooling may be affected this summer.

But the U.S. has experienced bad droughts in the past. The problem now is the loss of baseload generators that can provide reliable power 24/7. Solar and wind are rapidly increasing, but they’re as erratic as the weather and can’t be commanded to ramp up when electricity demand surges.

One of the markers of human progress has been the way that we have been able to break away from the constraints put upon us by the natural environment. For example, we have developed better and better methods of lighting — from candles and oil lamps onward. We have beaten, so to speak, the night. Equally, in more and more parts of the world we have managed to break away from the constraints imposed by weather or climate, another sign of progress.

And yet now, the climate warriors are telling us to put our faith in an electricity grid that may well find itself vulnerable to being crippled as a result of the inescapable reality that the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. In all probability, storage technologies will, in due course, be developed that get around those problems, and nuclear energy will — if the political will can be found to turn to it — be able to help out. But the latter will also take time.

Meanwhile, the WSJ adds:

Natural-gas-fired plants can help pick up the slack, but there aren’t enough of them to back up all of the renewables coming onto the grid.

California last August scrambled to install five emergency gas-fired generators to avert blackouts, but its grid overseer recently warned of power outages this summer. The Golden State in past summers has relied on power imports from neighboring states. But coal plants across the West have been shutting down as renewables grow.

And, despite some encouraging signs of an emerging belief to the contrary in unexpected places such as the EU Commission, many climate warriors insist that natural gas is a climate crime, even when used as a “bridge” fuel.

Even Bloomberg, a news source that generally can be relied upon to reflect the climate obsessions of its owner, seems prepared to admit that climate change alone is not to blame for what might lie ahead, noting that

a historic drought is covering the western US, limiting supplies of hydroelectric power, and forecasts call for a hotter-than-average summer. But the fight against global warming poses its own risks as older coal-fired plants close faster than wind farms, solar facilities and batteries can replace them.

“The pace of our grid transformation is out of sync” with the physical realities of the existing power network, Moura said.

Moura? That would be John Moura, director of reliability assessment and performance analysis for the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, a regulatory body that oversees grid stability.

Oh.

Perhaps now would not be the moment to overload the grid further by “nudging” (or more) drivers into electric vehicles.

And then there are moves like this (via the LA Times):

Citing the climate crisis, the Los Angeles City Council voted Friday to ban most gas appliances in new construction, a policy that’s expected to result in new homes and businesses coming equipped with electric stoves, clothes dryers, water heaters and furnaces.

More than 50 California cities and counties have adopted similar rules banning or discouraging gas hookups in new homes and other buildings. The nation’s second-largest city was late to the game, said Councilmember Nithya Raman, the policy’s lead author — but no longer.

Friday’s vote “puts us in line with climate leaders across the country,” she said in an interview.

To the extent that rules such as these affect “only” new construction, for now they will make a difference only at the margin, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to suspect that they are a foretaste of what will be coming. And that’s not going to be good news for an overstretched grid either. Not only that, it raises some, uh, interesting questions about the wisdom of eliminating diversity from the sources of energy used in many homes, for heating, say, or cooking.

Then again, the combination of central planning and millenarianism is not often associated with wisdom.

Politics & Policy

The AAUP Cries about ‘Political Interference’ at UNC

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The American Association of University Professors recently released a study complaining about “political interference” by the state legislature and the University of North Carolina Board of Governors with the UNC system. Could it be that the AAUP is griping only now that the leftists aren’t getting their way?

Yes, argues Jenna Robinson in today’s Martin Center article. 

Writes Robinson, “As the Martin Center predicted in October, the report is a clear hit job on people and policies that its authors don’t like. In its zeal to criticize Republicans, it misses something fundamental: Governance of public universities has always been political. The only thing that has changed is the party that’s in charge.”

In North Carolina, as in many other states, the selection of people who will run the public universities is political. The Democrats used to be in control and the AAUP was silent about their choices. Now that the Republicans have control and the deep-blue factions don’t always get their way, it’s unhappy. Too bad — that’s how politics works.

Robinson continues, “Despite criticisms and disagreements, the Republican General Assembly and Board of Governors have actually appointed members with relatively diverse viewpoints. They are arguably more diverse in viewpoint than university faculty (and certainly more diverse than the most outspoken members of the AAUP).”

The claim of “political interference” boils down to nothing more than that those who are actually accountable for the taxpayers’ money have chosen some different paths than desired by the leftists who want control over those dollars.

U.S.

What to Watch or Read to Commemorate Memorial Day

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Soldiers from the U.S. Army 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), along with service members from the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Coast Guard, place U.S. flags at every gravesite as part of Flags-In at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., May 26, 2022. (Elizabeth Fraser/U.S. Army/Arlington National Cemetery)

Editor’s note: A version of this post originally ran on Memorial Day 2021. 

Google is not a good friend if you put in a search string about what you might want to watch or read to commemorate or even educate yourself or others about Memorial Day and what it represents. You get a lot of peripheral . . . um . . . rubbish.

Now it’s been a human instinct since Homer to use the setting of war and wartime sacrifice to make political points, settle scores, promote agendas, or just tell a tale loosely connected to the wartime event. Think movies (some great ones!) such as Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, M*A*S*H, Inglorious Bastards, GI Jane, or (on the other side of the cultural ledger) Top Gun. Or stirring books of war and sacrifice (some of our best fiction and nonfiction) such as A Bright Shining Lie, Hiroshima, Catch-22, The Naked and the Dead, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Leaves of Grass, or Cold Mountain.

But this weekend, instead of all that, I encourage Americans digging for the meaning of Memorial Day to read or watch something that brings one closer to the raw point of the commemoration in the first place — giving the ultimate sacrifice in war. To bring home the point of Memorial Day, for me the book or movie should be viscerally close to the combat or war experience — but without undue varnish, political angles, tortured analogies, or surrealism. Something that is less ornate and more real, in understanding the act and the action that led to the individual sacrifice we honor this weekend.

My suggestions are below. A few words of explanation. Memorial Day is an American commemoration, although many other countries have similar tributes (Remembrance Day in the U.K., Anzac Day in Australia, Armistice Day in France). So, save The Bridge Over the River Kwai, Das Boot, or All Quiet on the Western Front for another day perhaps. My list is from the American wars.

Overall, I prize those histories, memoirs, movies, and novels that capture the unique physical, psychological, and communal nature of combat, war, and sacrifice, but do so in the larger setting of the cause, the purpose, and the mission — presented without cynicism and despair. At the same time, they expose us to the full range of emotion elicited by war and sacrifice, from triumph, heroism, and unparalleled camaraderie to futility, angst, and horror.

My short list of suggestions for this weekend is below, but to give one example I would point to author Rick Atkinson’s lyrical histories of World War II (The Liberation Trilogy) or his Revolution Trilogy, currently being published and written. An Army brat and former reporter whom I first met when he came out to report on our tank battles in Desert Storm, he has mastered the art of weaving the grit and visceral detail of the individual combatant story into the bigger picture, while doing agenda-less justice to both. He has also managed to capture an important facet of war and sacrifice — the randomness and caprice of death and war — but without indulging in the idea it might be senseless because of folly, incompetence, or cruel chance.

Atkinson captures this in a way that allows us to appreciate the real nature of the heroism we salute this weekend, which is the heroism of surrendering oneself to the cause, the effort, the machine in some cases — and with no guarantee about how it could end, including in inexcusable mishap and disaster.

So we commemorate not only the Boys of Pointe du Hoc but also the highly trained Ranger platoon who confidently leaped over the side of their grounded landing craft in the invasion of Sicily into an unknown runnel and promptly drowned. We recognize as heroes not just the Band of Brothers who made it from Normandy to the Eagle’s Nest but also their assistant division commander in the 101st Airborne who after three years of readying his division for combat unwisely sat in his jeep in the belly of a Waco Glider on D-Day and snapped his neck on the landing. We think of the nurses, doctors, and bed-ridden patients randomly killed by stray bombs at Anzio. All of these and so many others throughout American wars died cruelly in unheroic circumstances in a way, but as part of the most heroic and sacrificial act of mankind — surrendering oneself to the greater cause or group and without limit. This we commemorate this weekend.

I love the picnics and the pool openings too, nothing wrong with that. But here is a short list of some suggestions for Memorial Day if you take a chance to read, watch, reflect, discuss, remember, and pray. Some of the books are available on Kindle Unlimited or online, so even a chapter or two snatched off the Internet is a nice tribute to the day. Some wars provide rich literature or movies, others less so. I made no attempt to balance the list in any way but rather to range across various episodes of sacrifice and honor.

Narrative Histories

  • The Winter Soldiers, Saratoga, or Victory at Yorktown, by Richard Ketchum (American Revolution)
  • Six Frigates, by Ian Toll (Post Revolution to 1812)
  • Any descriptions of battle from the Civil War histories of Shelby Foote, Stephen Sears, or Bruce Catton
  • The Rick Atkinson trilogies of the American Revolution or World War II, or his book The Long Gray Line (Vietnam)
  • The Pacific War Trilogy, by Ian Toll (WWII)
  • Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, by James D. Hornfischer (WWII Navy)
  • Band of Brothers and The Wild Blue, by Stephen Ambrose
  • The Korean War, by Max Hastings
  • This Kind of War, by T. R. Fehrenbach (Korea)
  • We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young, by Hal Moore and Joe Galloway (Vietnam)
  • Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam, by Mark Bowden
  • Bloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War: An Oral History, by Wallace Terry
  • Black Hawk Down, by Mark Bowden (Somalia)
  • War, by Sebastian Junger (modern)

Memoirs

  • A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier, by Joseph Plumb Martin (American Revolution)
  • The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, by Ulysses S. Grant
  • Company Aytch or a Side Show of the Big Show: A Memoir of the Civil War, by Sam R. Watkins
  • Military Memoirs of a Confederate, by Edward Porter Alexander
  • Inside the Army of the Potomac: The Civil War Experience of Captain Francis Adams Donaldson, edited by J. Gregory Acken
  • The Fall of Fortresses, by Elmer Bendiner (WWII bomber campaign)
  • With the Old Breed, by E. B. Sledge (WWII Pacific Theater)
  • Ernie Pyle’s War: America’s Eyewitness to World War II, by James Tobin (kinda, sorta a memoir)
  • If You Survive: From Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge to the End of World War II, by George Wilson
  • A Rumor of War, by Phil Caputo (Vietnam)
  • Chickenhawk, by Robert Mason (Vietnam)
  • Home Before Morning: The Story of an Army Nurse in Vietnam, by Lynda Van Devanter
  • One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer, by Nate Fick (Iraq)
  • Run to the Sound of the Guns: The True Story of an American Ranger at War in Afghanistan and Iraq, by Nicholas Moore
  • Places and Names: On War, Revolution, and Returning, by Elliot Ackerman (modern)

Novels

  • The Spy, by James Fenimore Cooper (American Revolution)
  • The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara and Shiloh by Shelby Foote (Civil War historical fiction)
  • The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane (anti-war Civil War classic)
  • Once an Eagle, by Anton Myrer (multiple American wars)
  • Run Silent, Run Deep, by Ned Beach (submarine warfare)
  • The Caine Mutiny, by Herman Wouk (WWII Navy)
  • The Good Shepherd, by C. S. Forester (WWII Navy)
  • W. E. B. Griffin’s The Corps Series (WWII)
  • A Walk in the Sun, by Harry Brown (WWII)
  • The Thin Red Line, by James Jones (WWII)
  • The Marines of Autumn, by James Brady (Korea)
  • The Thirteenth Valle , by John Del Vecchio (Vietnam)
  • Fields of Fire, by Jim Webb (Vietnam)
  • The Lionheads, by Josiah Bunting (Vietnam)

Movies

  • The Crossing
  • The Patriot
  • Gettysburg
  • Glory
  • Sergeant York
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • Band of Brothers
  • The Longest Day
  • A Bridge Too Far
  • Greyhound
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo
  • The Tuskegee Airmen
  • Memphis Belle
  • 12 O’Clock High
  • Letters from Iwo Jima
  • Flags of Our Fathers
  • The Bridges at Toko-Ri
  • Run Silent, Run Deep
  • Hamburger Hill
  • We Were Soldiers
  • Black Hawk Down
  • The Hurt Locker
  • American Sniper
  • Restrepo
  • Lone Survivor

John Hillen is a decorated combat veteran and author of numerous books and articles on military affairs. He was the military adviser to the Call of Duty video-game series.

World

A Lack of Morality and Courage

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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley (Amanda Voisard/Reuters)

With shock and dismay, I read this statement that General Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs, made on May 23:

Many countries in the world depend on Ukrainian grain. As for what we’re doing about it, we don’t have any naval assets on the Black Sea. We don’t intend to. . . . It’s a no-go for commercial shipping.

Note the use of the pronoun “we.” Milley is the top military adviser to the president. So it is reasonable to assume that the “we” refers to both General Milley and President Biden.

There is a moral component to Milley’s words. Both the president and the chairman profess to be devout in their religion. Tens of thousands of the world’s poor will starve to death because, as Milley put it, “we don’t intend to place naval assets in the Black Sea.” Thus were morality and compassion dismissed.

More important, the president and the chairman are charged with defending our beloved nation. Putting morality aside, we expect courage from those whose job is to protect us. By fleeing from the Black Sea when Putin sailed in, they jointly abandoned the bedrock principle of freedom of the seas. No commercial shipping, General Milley declared, not with Putin glowering. And so they have established the precedent for Xi to push us out of the South China Sea or the Taiwan Straits.

Both morality (feeding the poor) and courage (standing up for the principles of our nation) have been abandoned in the Black Sea. President Biden and General Milley’s peremptory decision to give up is discouraging. The least they could have done was organize a humanitarian convoy, including the United States and many other nations, to escort out the grain ships.

Why haven’t they done it? Do they believe that Putin would go to war against dozens of countries in order to starve the poor? Sadly, our president and the chairman of the joint chiefs took counsel of their fears. It is past time to put aside fear and do the right thing.