Politics & Policy

Will You Change Your Mind about the Filibuster, Senator Sinema? Will You? Will You? Will You? Will You?

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Kyrsten Sinema speaks with supporters in Phoenix, Ariz., October 24, 2018. (Gage Skidmore)

Today, Garrett Haake, a Capitol Hill correspondent for NBC News, asked Arizona’s Senator Sinema a question — or more, the specifically, the question:

GH: Senator, what do you say to Democrats who are disappointed by your op-ed about the filibuster, and feeling like maybe they could still change your mind?

SINEMA: [chuckles]

What does she say? Only yesterday, the senator penned an op-ed in the Washington Post unequivocally staking out her position on the issue. I can’t think of any instance in the past 20 years of writing about politics in which elected officials took a stance — not only in an op-ed, but in interviews and statements — who was then hounded daily on whether they would reverse course. Sinema has never even intimated that she’s pondering a change of heart. Back in January, Sinema’s office released a statement declaring she was “against eliminating the filibuster, and she is not open to changing her mind.”

They’ll keep asking until they get the answer they want. Why won’t reporters ask Dick Durbin, who argued in 2018 that abolishing the filibuster “would be the end of the Senate,” if he is going to change his mind again? Ask him every day. Why not ask any one of the 31 senators who signed a letter defending the filibuster in 2018 if they are going to change their minds back? When Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski opposed Republican efforts to overturn Obamacare, they were treated as fearless mavericks. Not once, as far as I can tell, did any reporter ask them if they might be open to changing their minds. When Mitch McConnell rebuffed Donald Trump’s calls to eliminate the legislative filibuster, no one in the media asked the majority leader if he was going change his mind.

Why is this issue so special? The entire line of filibuster questioning — really, this badgering — is a proxy campaign waged for the Democratic Party. It’s not only a way to incessantly pester those who oppose blowing up Senate norms, it’s also meant to create the perception that filibuster “reform” is a vital issue and an inevitability. There’s no other way to interpret it.

Politics & Policy

Majority Again Says We’re on the Wrong Track

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President Joe Biden departs after delivering an update on his administration’s coronavirus response at the White House, June 2, 2021. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

The question pollsters keep asking about whether the country is heading in the right direction or on the wrong track has yielded mostly depressing numbers for most of this century, but this spring the “right direction” number reached its highest point in years. In several polls, pluralities or even majorities agreed that we were on the right track. In January, in the days immediately preceding Joe Biden’s inauguration, we saw horrible numbers of COVID casualties and there was widespread revulsion about the Capitol riot on January 6, so it isn’t surprising that the right-track number hit as low as 11 percent in one survey. The RealClearPolitics average of polls yielded a low of 22 percent for the right-track number on January 16, which is lower than the lowest point that figure reached even during last year’s summer of COVID and riots.

This spring, in early May, the right-track figure reached its highest mark (43.3 on average) since the early days of the Obama presidency in mid 2009. In several polls, as many as 53 percent of Americans agreed that we were finally on the right track again. That bounce has already faded, though, even as the COVID threat has nearly died out and we have entered a post-pandemic summer, suggesting that people aren’t even thinking about the virus when asked whether we’re on the right track.

A Politico/Morning Consult poll taken from June 11 to 13 puts the right-track number at a strong 47 percent, but that survey appears to be an outlier. The other recent polls put the right-track figure at 39, 38, 37, 35, and 37 percent. On average, the right-track/wrong-direction question is now underwater by 12 percent. As John Fund noted, Biden’s poll numbers are sagging a bit also. The new president’s popularity may already have peaked. Certainly Obama never saw anything close to a plurality thinking the country was on the right track for the rest of his presidency after early June of 2009, although he experienced a brief surge of support in the weeks surrounding his reelection.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Lesson in Invisibilization, Unlocking Doors with Keys, and Other Cardinal Sins

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Lin-Manuel Miranda from Hamilton performs during the Tony Awards in New York City in 2016. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Ninety-seven percent of Hispanics in the United States disfavor the term “Latinx.” How, I wonder, must they feel reading the rest of this remarkable Washington Post piece, which, taken in its entirety, may be the silliest thing ever published in a major newspaper.

The gist of the article is that the actor, composer, and director Lin-Manuel Miranda has committed a sin against dark-skinned Hispanics by making a movie, In the Heights, in which they are underrepresented. Or, at least, I think that’s the gist. It’s hard to tell when every sentence reads like this:

The deprioritization of lived and racialized experiences in favor

Monetary Policy

California Bailout Money Is Paying for Traffic Fines

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(Luis M/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Last year, there was a panic about whether states would go bankrupt without urgently needed bailouts from the federal government. It’s one of the reasons there was widespread bipartisan support for the initial COVID-relief bill. However, the federal government has not bothered to turn off the money spigot. This has led to a peculiar paradox: Despite falling tax revenues, state governments are running massive budget surpluses. How has California decided to spend its newfound printed wealth? If you guessed rent control, education, and parking fines, then congratulations, you got bingo.

While direct payments to individuals brought the most media attention, the vast majority of the relief was not earmarked for the public directly. Much of the expensive relief packages helped fund state governments, which were dealing with potential budget shortfalls. In many cases, the federal government doled out grants without stipulating how the money was to be distributed at the state level. 

More than a year later, after six COVID packages have been signed into law totaling over $5 trillion, states are now enjoying budget surpluses. This is why California has over $5 billion to spend on rent-control relief. Ironically, landlords only need the money because policy-makers in California have shut down businesses and frozen all evictions since the pandemic. California is now expected to extend its eviction moratorium, while simultaneously using borrowed government money to subsidize the landlords the policy is hurting. 

According to Russ Heimerich from the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, “The big question is can we spend it all.” One of the ingenious ways Governor Gavin Newsom wants to spend taxpayer money is on paying off traffic tickets

What is most frustrating is that there are real issues California should address. California has been engulfed in wildfires that have turned the Golden State red and brown. The California fire department has repeatedly asked for more money, and providing extra funding would be a genuinely worthwhile investment. Police departments in California, particularly the LAPD, are low on officers and are in need of better resources, too. The Left has constantly cried out for increased police training. However, it seems they will pass up the opportunity to pay for it. 

While Russ Heimerich may find it difficult to spend all of the excess money we have printed, it’s not actually that hard to find good ways of spending relief money. Unfortunately, critical pieces of California’s police, fire, and infrastructure systems will not benefit. California is not the only state that has extra coins in its coffers because of profligate congressional spending. Let’s hope other states make more sensible decisions. 

National Review

Re: A Little News

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I am of course grateful for the confidence that Rich and our colleagues are placing in me. It’s a great honor to be able to lead the magazine that made me a conservative in the first place. I promise to keep editorial bloodshed, and Latin puns, to a bare minimum.

Now back to helping finish up our next issue — it should be a scorcher.

Politics & Policy

Bill de Blasio: Why Does Everybody Hate Me?

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Mayor Bill De Blasio hugs his wife Chirlane McCray after dropping the ball on New Year’s Day in Times Square, New York City, January 1, 2021. (Gary Hershorn/Reuters Pool)

In his final hours before he becomes a lame-duck mayor, Bill de Blasio took a sympathetic Politico reporter along with him for an afternoon. In a piece entitled, “Bill de Blasio Has Some Regrets,” he does a little soul-searching whose subtext is pretty plain. De Blasio still doesn’t get why New Yorkers hate him.

De Blasio won election in 2013, and reelection in 2017, by huge margins, but he was essentially given an eight-year term by garnering 40 percent of the Democratic Party primary vote in 2013, which in turn he won because people liked his son Dante’s TV commercial. The four percent of New Yorkers who voted for him in that primary are the ones to blame for eight years in which the city visibly decayed, homelessness and street garbage became defining features of the landscape for the first time in a generation, crime continued falling for a while then suddenly spiked, and de Blasio seemed to think his job was to insult police, let criminals out of prison, stop prosecuting minor offenses, direct a billion dollars to a mental-health boondoggle to give his wife something to do, sleep late and concentrate on being a sort of philosopher-prince of leftism. Everyone already hated him before he departed the city to run an absurd presidential campaign during which he never had a prayer of even getting into the first tier of candidates.

It’s pretty easy to imagine this scenario, reported by Politico, happening to de Blasio virtually every time he appears in public. In Prospect Park, Brooklyn, in one of the most famously progressive neighborhoods in America, “de Blasio is barely in sight before the father stops, spots the mayor, and yells: ‘No one wants you! You’re the worst. You’re the WORST!’ His son watches in silence. ‘I CAN’T WAIT FOR YOU TO GET OUT.'” De Blasio’s response was to wave and say, “Have a nice day!”

De Blasio (who hasn’t endorsed anyone in the race to succeed him; the Democratic primary, which is tantamount to a general election here, is today), is telling himself that New Yorkers dislike him because he goes for walks rather than for his gross incompetence. “So if my sin is, I go for walks, I’m like, really? Think about that! The thing that makes people upset is [me] going for walks.” His political career is over at the end of the year. His last full day in office will be New Year’s Eve, and the image of him and his wife dancing with merry oblivion in an otherwise deserted Times Square last New Year’s will, for many, be the defining image of his failed mayoralty. Good riddance, jackass.

Culture

Media Misleads on Catholics’ Views about Politicians and Communion

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Pope Francis meets with with bishops, priests, seminarians, and catechists at the Syro-Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad, Iraq, March 5, 2021. (Vatican Media/­Handout via Reuters)

During last week’s General Assembly meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the bishops voted 168 to 55 to draft a “teaching document” on the meaning of communion. The forthcoming statement is likely to include language about whether Catholic elected officials who support legal abortion can present themselves for communion.

The doctrinal committee will draft the document for a vote at the November USCCB meeting, where it will need a two-thirds majority vote for approval. The vote last week capped off days of intense debate between the bishops about how to handle Catholic politicians, including President Joe Biden, who publicly champion legal abortion.

In covering the USCCB meeting, multiple media outlets, including the New York Times and National Public Radio cited a Pew Research poll from March that surveyed U.S. Catholics. The results indicated that 67 percent of Catholics think Catholic politicians who disagree with Church teaching on abortion should still be permitted to take communion. Similarly, according to the Pew poll, approximately two-thirds of Catholics said that Biden specifically should be allowed to receive communion if he presents himself.

However, it is essential to note that the Pew poll surveyed individuals who self-identify as Catholic, not practicing Catholics who attend Mass at least weekly. Scholars of public opinion are aware that frequency of church attendance tends to be a much stronger predictor of attitude than mere denominational affiliation. Indeed, when one considers the opinions of Catholics who attend Mass weekly, a different picture emerges.

According to the Pew poll from March, a plurality of Catholics who attend Mass on a weekly basis thought that politicians who publicly support legal abortion should be disqualified from receiving Holy Communion, and a plurality said the same specifically of Joe Biden.

Last week, the group CatholicVote released a poll of Catholics who attend Mass at least once a month. This poll, conducted by CRC Research, found that 74 percent of respondents believe that “Catholic public officials who disagree with their Church on serious or grave matters should avoid creating confusion and disunity by not presenting themselves for communion.” It also found that 83 percent of respondents said Catholic politicians who oppose Catholic teachings “create confusion and disunity.”

Interestingly, the CatholicVote poll surveyed an ideologically diverse group of Catholics. A majority of respondents reported having voted for Biden in the 2020 presidential election and said they approved of the way Biden is handling his responsibilities as president. But the poll results also indicate that Mass-attending Catholics tend to want leadership and direction from Catholic bishops on matters of faith and morals.

Contrary to what media accounts suggest, the Catholic Church does not operate as a political entity or a democracy. But it is clear that on plenty of issues, Catholic bishops are likely to be influenced by the opinions of congregants. As a result, it is little surprise that mainstream outlets have been eager to cite the recent Pew poll as evidence that Catholics would oppose a statement preventing Biden or other abortion-supporting Catholic politicians from receiving communion.

But as the bishops draft their teaching document, they should move forward with confidence in the truth and value of Church teaching on the Eucharist and on the sanctity of human life. The results from both the Pew poll and the CatholicVote poll suggest that Catholics who consistently attend Mass desire moral clarity from bishops on both Church teaching and on Catholic elected officials who present themselves for Communion.

National Review

A Little News

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Chair of the White House Counsel for Economic Advisors, Kevin Hassett, sits down for a conversation with National Review Institute fellow Ramesh Ponnuru at the 2019 National Review Institute Ideas Summit.

Ramesh still hasn’t gotten the SCOTUS appointment he deserves, but I hope it’s some consolation that, beginning in January, he will take over editing the print magazine. I will remain editor-in-chief superintending our overall editorial policy and our official editorial positions. I will focus some more on strategic matters that are hard to concentrate on when pulled in multiple directions, but I’m not in any way pulling back from NR, pursuing new endeavors, or spending more time with family, as they say. As our readers know, Ramesh is a brilliant and exacting writer and thinker. We can’t be more delighted that he will soon be (for those keeping count) only the fourth editor of our storied little magazine.

Politics & Policy

The Gas Tax Should Be Cut, Not Raised

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A couple of articles in these parts have looked favorably on an increase in the gas tax. I think it would be a mistake.

States should handle a much larger share of transportation funding than they do. The federal government should cut gas taxes to a level commensurate with its legitimate responsibilities in this area, and states can then levy their own to finance the improvements they need.

I also think that the entire push for a big federal infrastructure push is misbegotten, and it is therefore foolish to get into a detailed debate about how to finance it.

S. 1 Shows Why the Filibuster Is Needed

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Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R., KY) walks from the Senate Chamber after eliminating the filibuster rule against Supreme Court nominees in Washington, D.C., April 6, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

On Tuesday afternoon, Senate Democrats plan a motion-to-proceed vote on the so-called “For the People Act,” also known as H.R. 1 and S. 1. The legislation began as a kind of messaging bill a few years ago, but Democrats have talked themselves into treating its passage as utterly essential to the future of American democracy. Such claims are disconnected from the realities of our election system, and are dangerous to the very trust in that system that the bill’s champions claim to want to protect. A Republican filibuster now seems like the only way to avert its enactment, and Republicans

Politics & Policy

Senator Manchin Should Follow Senator Collins and Reject Biden’s ATF Pick

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) listens during a hearing on “Domestic Violent Extremism in America” before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill, May 12, 2021. (Alex Wong/Pool via Reuters)

Senator Collins will vote against Joe Biden’s nominee for ATF director. Per Fox News:

Sen. Susan Collins announced Monday that she will oppose the confirmation of David Chipman, President Biden’s nominee to run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), a blow to Chipman’s prospects for a potential bipartisan confirmation vote.

“After meeting with Mr. Chipman, listening to Mainers, and reviewing his record, I have decided to vote against Mr. Chipman’s nomination to serve as the ATF Director,” Collins, R-Maine, said in a statement. “In recent years, Mr. Chipman has been an outspoken critic of the firearms industry and has made statements that demean law-abiding gun owners.”

Collins added: “Although he has the right to express his views, I believe this history makes him an unusually divisive pick for this important position.  In particular, I am concerned that his confirmation would do significant damage to the collaborative working relationship that must exist between ATF, the firearms industry, sportsmen and women, and other law-abiding gun owners exercising their Second Amendment rights.”

Senator Manchin should follow suit, and kill the nomination dead.

As the recent debate over HR.8 showed, Manchin is in favor of an extremely limited “universal background check” bill — and nothing else besides. By contrast, David Chipman is an extremist who has never met a gun-control proposal he didn’t like. Chipman wants to ban the most commonly owned rifle in the country. He wants to impose draconian restrictions upon concealed carry (West Virginia is a permitless carry state). And he talks disparagingly about gun owners, whom he seems believes are uniformly stupid. If David Chipman is too radical for Susan Collins, then he is without doubt too radical for Joe Manchin — a man who, lest we forget, introduced himself to the broader political world by shooting a climate change bill with a rifle.

Fox News proposes that the focus will now “shift to moderates like Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who represents a deep-red state and has been willing to buck his party in recent months.” Manchin should do just that.

Culture

The Real Twist in Mare of Easttown: No Politics

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Over the last few days I tore through all seven episodes of HBO Max’s acclaimed series, Mare of Easttown, an acting showcase for Kate Winslet, who gets to play a scuffed-up, hard-nosed, small-town Pennsylvania cop with a serious attachment to Rolling Rock and the f-word. Winslet is going to win a shelf-full of acting trophies for the role, because we all knew she’s a delicate English rose, not an embittered detective who tears the plastic top off a can of Cheez Whiz with her mouth.

The series is a pretty standard twisty whodunnit that, typically, throws a lot of energy into building plausible cases why various not-guilty people might be the killer and wraps up with a few hairpin plot turns. Enjoyable, but nothing special.

Here’s what I liked best about the series, though: Despite it being set among Catholics in Pennsylvania, in what you can tell from a glance is obviously Trump country, there are no references to Trump and no suggestions that Trumpism is the real killer behind everything. A Catholic deacon features as a suspect, but there is no suggestion that it’s the depravity of the Catholic Church that is the true menace. Nobody even throws in a cheap shot at fracking. The white working class is depicted fairly, neither spitefully nor satirically. There is, in short, no Chetwyndian “real enemy” pulling strings behind the curtain, no groaner of a sociopolitical point being made. It’s just a potboiler. Refreshing!

World

Jen Psaki: ‘Language Barriers’ Delayed U.S. Shipments of COVID-19 Vaccine Overseas

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds the daily press briefing in Washington, D.C., May 4, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that “language barriers” are one of the reasons the Biden administration failed to start shipping doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to other countries by the end of May, and only determined where to ship 55 million doses this week, much later than President Biden promised earlier this year.

 Well, first, let me say we’ve — we’re committed to allo- — we’re committed allocating those doses; we’ve done exactly that.  What we found to be the biggest challenge is not actually the supply — we have plenty of doses to share with the world — but this is a herculean logistical challenge.  And we’ve seen that as we’ve begun to implement.

So, you know, as we work with countries, we need to ensure that there’s — safety and regulatory information is shared.  Some supply teams need needles, syringes, and alcohol pads.  Transportation needs — teams need to ensure that there are proper temperature storage, prevent breakage, and ensure the vaccine immediately clears Customs.

So, this has not, as you all know, been done before.  Sometimes it’s even language barriers that occur as we’re working to get these doses out to countries.

Now, I’m fairly certain the U.S. State Department has buildings full of people who speak just about every language on earth. The Foreign Service Institute has an entire school, the School of Language Studies, that does nothing but teach language and culture to U.S. diplomatic staff. And that’s not counting the multilingual employees of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Peace Corps, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, U.S. Commercial Service, Foreign Agricultural Service, U.S. Department of Defense, the and the intelligence community. It’s really hard to believe that the U.S. couldn’t ship extra vaccines overseas sooner because they couldn’t find someone to translate something important.

As for the claim that distributing the vaccines represents a herculean logistical challenge, somehow the U.S. managed to ship more than 12,000 tons of supplies per day to West Berlin in 1949. Within six days of the Japanese earthquake in 2011, the U.S. Seventh Fleet was responding with 19 ships, 140 aircraft, and more than 18,000 personnel.

Books

Thomas Sowell in One Volume

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Thomas Sowell in a Hoover Institution interview in 2018. (Hoover Institution/via YouTube)

Reviews are starting to come in for the intellectual life of Thomas Sowell, Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell by Jason L. Riley, the longtime Wall Street Journal writer and Manhattan Institute senior fellow. In the Washington Free Beacon, Tim Rice marvels at how Sowell, as a young Marxist delivering telegrams to rich people in Manhattan, became a disciple of market-based thinking after working for the Department of Labor. “It’s ultimately experience, not theory, that informed all of Sowell’s major intellectual turns and contributions,” Rice writes. Moreover, Sowell’s experience with campus radicalism in the 1970s made him want to leave academia for the relative distance of the think tank, the Hoover Institution at Stanford.

Being a father made Sowell want to conduct innovative research into late-talking children, and his dislike of how affirmative action works interested him in turning from economics to social theory. Riley clears the brush of notoriety in order to stoke interest in one of the 20th century’s great thinkers,” Rice says, noting that though Sowell’s work is “indispensable,” there is so much of it that it may intimidate curious readers. Maverick “is an excellent place to start” for an overview on Sowell’s thinking.

A longer review in The New Criterion by John Steele Gordon goes into more detail, quoting Milton Friedman in describing Sowell as a genius and observing that while Sowell worked for the government he noticed that “government agencies have their own self-interest to look after, regardless of those for whom a program has been set up.” Friedrich von Hayek’s essay “The Use of Knowledge in Society” gave Sowell the inspiration to write one of his most important books, Knowledge and Decisions (1980), about the decentralization of decision-making in a market economy. Sowell is devastating on the destruction wrought by affirmative action, as Gordon notes, recalling that Clarence Thomas was surprised to learn how little weight his degree from Yale Law School carried with potential employers. It turned out that employers understand how affirmative action works and discount prospective black employees as a group who appear to be its beneficiaries. This is Sowell way back in 1970:

The double standard of grades and degrees is an open secret on many college campuses, and it is only a matter of time before it is an open secret among employers as well..The market can be ruthless in devaluing degrees that do not mean what they say. It should be apparent to anyone not blinded by his own nobility that it also devalues the student in his own eyes.

Gordon says the book is short, readable, and amounts to “an enlightening tour of the thought and experiences of one of the most luminous minds this country has produced.”

NRI

A Call to Communication

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William F. Buckley Jr. (National Review)

For more than a year, we have Zoomed, and Zoomed like mad, but now it’s time for in-person gatherings once more — and National Review Institute will have one. This is the William F. Buckley Jr. Communicators Conference, to be held in mid July — on the 16th and 17th — in Arlington, Va., just outside D.C. For more information, go here.

Allow me to quote from the page I have just linked to:

Are you a student in the field of journalism, marketing & advertising, PR, or communications?

Want to build your network and have engaging and thought-provoking conversations with peers in your field?

Interested in learning from leading media professionals, National Review Institute fellows, and National Review writers?

Well, have we got a conference for you. Topics are “William F. Buckley Jr. and the Art of Civility”; “How to Build Your Brand and Market Yourself”; “Cancel Culture and the Media”; and “Strategy for Civil Discourse.” Speakers include Douglas Murray, Maria Giannopoulos, Brad Polumbo, and yours truly. I will speak about WFB and his extraordinary expressive powers. We might not be able to match them — but we can learn from WFB all the same, you know?

Anyway, that page again is here, and our live-and-in-the-flesh gathering may be just up your alley. It would be a pleasure to see you.

Politics & Policy

Senator Sinema: No, Seriously, I’m Not Getting Rid of the Filibuster

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Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema speaks to supporters after winning the U.S. Senate race in Scottsdale, Ariz., November 12, 2018. (Caitlin O'Hara/Reuters)

Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona has an op-ed in the Washington Post this evening in which she vows to protect the Senate filibuster. Confirming that she shares “the belief expressed in 2017 by 31 Senate Democrats opposing elimination of the filibuster,” Sinema writes:

It’s no secret that I oppose eliminating the Senate’s 60-vote threshold. I held the same view during three terms in the U.S. House, and said the same after I was elected to the Senate in 2018. If anyone expected me to reverse my position because my party now controls the Senate, they should know that my approach to legislating in Congress is the same whether in the minority or majority.

Once in a majority, it is tempting to believe you will stay in the majority. But a Democratic Senate minority used the 60-vote threshold just last year to filibuster a police reform proposal and a covid-relief bill that many Democrats viewed as inadequate. Those filibusters were mounted not as attempts to block progress, but to force continued negotiations toward better solutions.

More:

And to those who fear that Senate rules will change anyway as soon as the Senate majority changes: I will not support an action that damages our democracy because someone else did so previously or might do so in the future. I do not accept a new standard by which important legislation can only pass on party-line votes — and when my party is again in the Senate minority, I will work just as hard to preserve the right to shape legislation.

In April, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia made a similar argument in the Post. “I have said it before and will say it again to remove any shred of doubt,” Manchin vowed: “There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster.”

Today, NBC News reported that there are as many as seven Democratic senators who oppose abolishing the legislative filibuster.

Maybe — just maybe — it’s time to talk about something else?

World

An Inspiring Voice from Hong Kong

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Nathan Law, the Hong Kong pro-democracy politician in exile, at a rally in Berlin during a visit by Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, September 1, 2020 (Michele Tantussi/Reuters)

Let me offer a couple of links, to two podcasts: to Q&A, with Nathan Law; and to Music for a While, my latest episode. The music podcast is named after a famous Purcell song. The podcast is indeed intended to give you some music for a while — a break away from the tumult of politics and the rest of life (although music can be pretty tumultuous itself). In this latest episode, I have a pretty good variety: of the familiar, the unfamiliar, the once familiar, and so on. Give it a spin.

Nathan Law is a young democracy leader from Hong Kong. Born in 1993, he became the youngest person ever elected to the Legislative Council. He was 23 when he was voted into that body. His oathtaking was controversial, in that he stated his beliefs, which are pro-democracy and pro-freedom. He was kicked out of the council. Later, he was put in jail.

Last summer, the infamous “national-security law” was imposed on Hong Kong. Nathan Law went into exile, to England. He has not ceased working for Hong Kong, however.

We begin our discussion with some of the latest news out of his home city: the raid on the offices of Apple Daily, and the arrest of its editor in chief and other editors and directors. We continue with some personal questions: Does Law feel like a Chinese person or a Hong Kong person or what? What inspired him to be a student activist, and later a politician, when he could have had a quieter, and probably more prosperous, life? What was his jail term like? And so on.

Elsewhere in our discussion, we discuss Hong Kong’s past, its present, and its future.

Toward the end of our discussion, I recall the words of Sir Edward Grey, in August 1914: “The lights are going out all over Europe.” (Originally, he said “lamps,” but the statement has come down to us differently.) Have the lights gone out in Hong Kong? Or is there still a flicker for that city? I further ask what the rest of the world can do.

Mr. Law says that Hong Kong people are walking through a dark tunnel. And each person is a spark of light. They don’t know how long the tunnel is, or what they will find at its end. What the “international community” can do is “stand with us,” says Law, and “walk in that tunnel with us, and implement policies that could hold China accountable, and that make us feel that we are supported and encouraged to walk one more mile. I think that’s the least we can all do.”

He is an extraordinary person, with much to say about a critical situation. Again, to hear him, go here.

World

Axios’s Swan Dismantles Pakistan’s Endorsement of Uyghur Repression

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Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan talks to China’s President Xi Jinping during their meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, October 9, 2019. (Parker Song/Reuters)

Jonathan Swan of Axios has conducted another exceptional interview with a world leader, this one highlighting Pakistan’s abject capitulation to Beijing over the Uyghur genocide.

Swan posed a question to Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan asking if his outspoken advocacy for Western Muslims was undermined by his defenses of the Chinese government’s human-rights abuses against Uyghurs. “This is not the case according to them,” Khan said of his government’s conversations with Chinese Communist Party officials about the treatment of Uyghurs. Then, he pivoted, calling China one of “the greatest friends to us” during an economic downturn. “We respect the way they are and whatever issues we have we raise behind closed doors.”

“How come this is such a big issue in the Western world. Why are the people of Kashmir ignored?” he asked.

Khan’s comments are meant to downplay and deny the existence of the ongoing mass atrocities that the Chinese government is perpetrating against Uyghurs, many of whom identify with the Islamic faith. The Party authorities are carrying out a campaign to erase Islam from the Xinjiang region, such as by razing mosques and traditional cemeteries, as it carries out a simultaneous genocidal effort to suppress Uyghur birth rates by forced sterilization and the rape of female detainees.

Nevertheless, Pakistan, along with over 30 other authoritarian states, defended this conduct at the U.N. in a 2019 letter. And although last night’s interview was not the first time that Khan had trotted out these pro-China talking points (he made a similar argument at the World Economic Forum last year) it has put his government’s misconduct on full display.

The reasons for Pakistan’s cooperation with China on this are many. The obvious explanation — in fact, the one that Khan himself makes — of Pakistan’s abiding support for Beijing’s crimes against humanity stems from China’s patronage of the country. The longstanding bilateral relationship has paved the way to significant economic engagement, including, most recently, plans for a $62 billion Belt and Road Initiative economic corridor to connect China with Pakistan’s Gwadar port. Unsurprisingly, China is the largest source of foreign direct investment in Pakistan, even without counting funding related to the economic-corridor project.

And as Hussain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, explained to Politico earlier this year, Islamabad doesn’t have much of a choice:

The problem, Haqqani said, is that the various aspects of Pakistan’s relationship with China are intertwined. While European politicians can strike an investment deal with China while simultaneously criticizing its human rights record, Pakistan has a “one window operation.”

“If you don’t give them what they want in the economic realm, they push back in the military realm. To keep the military relationship going, they have to give up the economic realm,” he said. China is now Pakistan’s biggest arms supplier, and with Pakistan’s military playing an oversized role in its politics, the civilian government has to be wary it doesn’t upset its generals in addition to Beijing.

In addition to that, the countries that support China’s policies in Xinjiang explain them as necessary to prevent terrorist attacks in the region. “Faced with the grave challenge of terrorism and extremism, China has undertaken a series of counter-terrorism and deradicalization measures in Xinjiang, including setting up vocational education and training centers,” stated the 2019 letter, which was unveiled at the U.N. Human Rights Council. It stands to reason that regimes wary of encouraging domestic dissent see it necessary to support other countries in the process of quelling political resistance.

All of this has contributed to a dangerous trend that went unaddressed in the interview: Islamabad’s direct involvement in Uyghur repression in Pakistan. According to a recent report in the Asia Times, the 2,000 Uyghur immigrants who fled Xinjiang amid the stepped-up repression have been subjected to increasingly worrying repression.

The Times reported this month on Pakistan’s growing complicity in China’s severe human-rights abuses. According the article, Pakistan’s government has collected biometric data from Uyghurs, confiscated their passports, and subjected them to intrusive inspections at home and at work. With Pakistan creating a database of its Uyghur community to identify recent immigrants, the situation in the country is starting to resemble the environment in Xinjiang.

Although Swan didn’t raise that specific issue in the clip from his interview with Khan that circulated widely online, his deft questioning of the prime minister made mincemeat of the ridiculous denials of China’s human rights abuses.

Media

Thank You to the Washington Post

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School bus drivers lead a caravan through the downtown to demand that legislators provide more funding for COVID-19 re-opening procedures in Los Angeles, Calif., August 13, 2020. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Kudos to the Washington Post, which has finally managed to describe Florida’s recent curriculum changes accurately:

Uma Menon is a 17-year-old writer and student at Princeton University who attended public schools in Florida, where the state Board of Education just banned public schools from teaching that racism is “embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons.”

This is exactly what Florida has done, which matters a great deal, because it shows that:

(a) the reform outlaws the teaching neither of slavery nor of racism (and, indeed, that it does the polar opposite, mandating that students must be taught about the Holocaust, slavery, segregation, the Civil War, the Civil Rights movement, and about great non-white figures), and

(b) that what Florida has prohibited is not some chimera whipped up by the Koch Brothers, but is pretty close to the literal definition of critical race theory, as outlined by its progenitors.

Immigration

Immigration Cannot Solve the Challenges of an Aging Society

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Naturalization ceremony in Washington, D.C., November 13, 2015. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

We hear all the time that America is growing old, and there won’t be enough workers to pay for Social Security or support the economy unless we bring in millions of foreign workers. Putting aside our current employment problems caused by overly generous unemployment benefits, what would continued or even increased immigration’s impact be over the longer term?

Writing in National Affairs, my colleague Steven Camarota draws on his own research as well prior analyses to show that immigration is no fix for an aging society.  He writes: 

“Demographers have known for a long time that, absent truly gargantuan and ever-increasing rates of immigration, it isn’t actually possible for immigrants to undo or dramatically slow the overall aging of society. . . . The reason behind this truth is simple: Immigrants are human beings, not just the idealized workers or child-bearers that some commentators imagine. As humans, they immigrate at all ages, grow old over time, and are choosing to have smaller families. As a result, they add to the population across the age distribution and do not fundamentally change the nation’s age structure. . . .”

In other words, immigrants are people, too.

Part of the reason immigration has such a small effect on the working-age share of the population is that while it certainly adds new workers, it also adds to the number of retirees over time, as well as to the number of children. To be sure, these children eventually grow up and become workers. But by the time this happens, many of their immigrant parents will have reached retirement age. These two developments tend to cancel each other out over time. As a result, immigration does not have much of an impact on the share of the population that is of working age in the long run. . . .

That means we need to look elsewhere to address the 21st-century challenges posed by our 1930s-vintage retirement system. Besides raising the retirement age, Camarota highlights the huge potential benefit of raising the share of working-age Americans who are actually in the workforce (either working or looking for work) by a few percentage points:

. . . Another effective option for addressing population aging is to increase the number of Americans in the labor force. By historical standards, the number and share of working-age people outside the labor force was quite high in 2020, even before the pandemic hit. . . . If we assume the working age remains at 16 to 64, but the share of those working were raised to 75% from the pre-pandemic level of 71%, it would increase the worker share of the population by as much as would adding 75 million people to the population through immigration over the next four decades.”

In debating how to address the challenges posed by an aging society — which every developed country, and even most developing countries, are facing — we should at least make sure we’re considering options that have some possibility of success. Mass immigration, whatever other justifications there may be for it, offers no such possibility.

Politics & Policy

Joe Biden’s Absurd Abortion Cop-Out

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President Joe Biden speaks to the media before boarding Air Force One to leave Geneva after the U.S.-Russia summit in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

I’m not a Catholic, and so I don’t have much to say on the theological aspects of Joe Biden’s contortions on abortion policy. Yet, this justification has always struck me as especially preposterous.

For starters, modern progressivism is an imposition on personal freedoms that is predicated on a moral doctrine. The Left’s case for the expansion of the welfare state or Medicare-for-all, etc., are also propelled by moral arguments. No one asks what faith or belief system informs that morality. Democrats often refer to budgets as “moral documents.” Is a contemporary leftist offended by the theological arguments undergirding the abolitionist and civil rights movements? I’ve never heard a Democrat complain about Catholicism informing views on the death penalty or immigration. No, only on abortion do Catholic Democrats suddenly embrace the distinction between faith and policy position.

Second, Catholic Democrats such as Joe Biden and Dick Durbin don’t really have any compunction imposing “pro-choice” morality on others — whether it be forcing nuns to chip in for abortifacients under Obamacare or eliminating the Hyde Amendment and forcing pro-lifers to pay for abortions with tax dollars.

“Does the president believe that a 15-week-old, unborn baby is a human being?” a reporter asked Jen Psaki at today’s White House briefing. “Are you asking me if the president supports the right to choose? He does,” she responded. Well, if Biden believes that a 15-week-old, unborn baby is a human being — whether through his Catholicism or through science and reason — and supports “choice,” he is sustaining policies that impose violence on hundreds of thousands of defenseless people.

There is no logical reason, save cynical politics, for Biden to compartmentalize this single issue. Nothing says religion can’t color your political positions. We don’t pass laws banning blasphemy, because they conflict with the First Amendment. If Catholics wanted to compel tithe, that would be one thing. But if your faith tells you abortion is the taking of a life, the political arena is a perfectly legitimate place to try to affect change. The pro-life position, after all, doesn’t conflict with any tenet of American life.

Which isn’t something we can really say for most of progressivism’s doctrinal edicts.

Politics & Policy

Imagine If: Sheldon Whitehouse Edition

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Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) points at a poster board during the confirmation hearing for Judge Amy Coney Barrett on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., October 14, 2020. (Erin Schaff/Reuters)

Occasionally, it really can be instructive to play “imagine if . . .” So let’s do so with Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

Imagine if:

  1. There existed a grandstanding, lightning-rod Republican senator who had made a name for himself spreading conspiracy theories about the Supreme Court, and
  2. that senator not only belonged to an all-white country club, but
  3. that senator had previously promised to leave that all-white country club, and yet, despite that promise
  4. that senator not only declined to leave that all-white country club, but entrenched his position in it, and
  5. when asked about this by the press, that senator said simply that “it’s a long tradition in Rhode Island, and there are many of them.”

What do we think would happen next?

It’s good to be a Democrat sometimes.

Education

U.S. Public Schools Lost 1.3 Million Students During COVID-19 Pandemic

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(Stock photo: Getty Images)

The public school system in the United States lost nearly 1.3 million students over the 2020-21 school year, Education Week reports, based on its analysis of currently available state-level data.

That represents a drop of almost 3 percent, as unnecessary coronavirus-related shutdowns and destructive distance learning policies caused parents to flee in droves. The data show that the exodus from the system was most pronounced among younger grades and disproportionately hurt low-income students. As many of us have been saying all along, Zoom was no substitute for in person instruction.

“When you already have pre-existing issues like poverty and the digital divide, and then you shut down the one place that is positioned to help close those gaps, you probably see that most districts have experienced an enrollment drop,” Education Week quoted Sharlonda Buckman, the assistant superintendent of Detroit Public Schools, as saying. “Most of our children work best in a school building with their teachers with all of the assets that position them to do well in their schoolwork.”

Having kept children away from classrooms despite evidence showing that schools were not a source of widespread transmission, officials now want to spend more money to try to deal with the resulting damage:

Catching students up academically also won’t come cheap, according to administrators. Students will need smaller classes to catch up and a plethora of mental health services after being holed up inside their homes for months at a time with little healthy social interaction.

As schools plan for the summer, they are adding in mental health support for students to start this recovery process. In April, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced a plan to hire 500 new social workers to screen students for pandemic-related trauma.

It should also be noted that President Biden’s budget request included a proposal for more funding to deal with the mental health effects of school closures.

World

The Biden Team Unveils Their Plan to Help Vaccinate the World

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Lili Dinata, 72, from Sindanglaya village, is rewarded with a live chicken by Galih Apria, the district police chief, after receiving his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine during a door-to-door vaccination in Cianjur Regency, West Java Province, Indonesia, June 15, 2021. (Willy Kurniawan/Reuters)

After what felt like a really long time of debating where to send COVID-19 vaccine doses, the Biden administration unveiled its allocation plan for the first 55 million extra doses.

The allocation plan for these 55 million doses will be as follows:

Approximately 41 million will be shared through COVAX, with the following allocations:

  • Approximately 14 million for Latin America and the Caribbean to the following: Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, Bolivia, Uruguay, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti, and other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries, Dominican Republic, Panama, and Costa Rica.
  • Approximately 16 million for Asia to the following:  India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Maldives, Bhutan, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Papua New Guinea, Taiwan, Cambodia, and the Pacific Islands.
  • Approximately 10 million for Africa to be shared with countries that will be selected in coordination with the African Union.
  • Approximately 14 million – or 25% of these 55 million vaccines – will be shared with regional priorities and other recipients, such as: Colombia, Argentina, Haiti, other CARICOM countries, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Panama, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Cabo Verde, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, Tunisia, Oman, West Bank and Gaza, Ukraine, Kosovo, Georgia, Moldova, and Bosnia.

This list does not appear to include the 1 million doses the U.S. shipped to South Korea, prioritizing military personnel, nor the 1.35 million doses the U.S. shipped to Mexico earlier this month. As of this writing, Mexico has administered 39,623,088 doses, enough for 15 percent of its population. The country has witnessed more than 231,000 deaths, and currently has about 275,000 active cases.

The country with the most active cases that isn’t listed as receiving any doses on any of the above lists is Poland, which has suffered more than 74,000 deaths, and currently has 153,000 active cases. Thankfully, the number of new cases reported daily in Poland has dropped dramatically in recent weeks to a current average of about 185 per day. Poland has administered enough vaccine doses to cover about 35 percent of the country’s population.

Politics & Policy

The Tax Milton Friedman Supported and Bernie Sanders Won’t Raise

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Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, (I., Vt.) speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., February 25, 2021. (Susan Walsh/Reuters)

Bernie Sanders announced yesterday that he wouldn’t support any infrastructure bill that raises the federal gas tax, which currently sits at 18.4 cents per gallon.

By golly, we’ve done it. We’ve found a tax Senator Sanders isn’t interested in raising.

The gas tax has long created peculiar alliances and alignments in our politics. Plenty of economists we typically think of as libertarian or right-wing have expressed sympathy for the gas tax. Gary Becker and Bill Niskanen are among the gas tax’s cautious admirers. In 2006, Milton Friedman was asked if there were any taxes he liked. Here’s his response, from the San Jose Mercury News:

Yes, there are taxes I like. For example, the gasoline tax, which pays for highways. You have a user tax. The property tax is one of the least bad taxes, because it’s levied on something that cannot be produced — that part that is levied on the land. So some taxes are worse than others, but all taxes are bad.

(That last bit, “Some taxes are worse than others, but all taxes are bad,” is a pretty good approach to conservative tax policy.)

At the federal level, raising the gas tax has long been a bipartisan bugaboo. It hasn’t been raised since 1993. Democrats otherwise enthusiastic about raising the corporate tax or the income tax stop short of raising the gas tax.

Sanders’s argument is that the gas tax is regressive, which means that it affects low-income people more than high-income people. There’s a certain amount of sense to that. Someone making $100,000 per year isn’t going to feel the 18.4 cents per gallon as much as someone making $20,000 per year. Plus, in a country with low population density that has a car-based transportation system where many people don’t have non-car options, it’s good to keep the gas tax low. We don’t want to punish people for driving to work.

That being said, we also want to have enough money to fund highway maintenance. The federal Highway Trust Fund is on pace to run out of money next year. Keeping the gas tax the same since 1993 really means it has declined — inflation stinks that way. Eighteen cents went further in 1993 than it does today. The tax has also effectively declined as cars have become more fuel efficient. Using less gas means more value for drivers but less revenue for government.

A 2019 comparison from the Tax Foundation found that, adjusted for exchange rates, the U.S. has the lowest gas tax of any OECD country that has one. The OECD average was $2.24, which is much too high for the U.S. Many of OECD countries are in Europe. We don’t have a European-style transportation system, and we shouldn’t adopt European-style transportation taxes.

We have a transportation system similar to Australia and Canada. Those are also highly economically developed countries with low population density and transportation infrastructure centered around highways and airplanes. In the Tax Foundation comparison, Canada’s gas tax is next lowest above the U.S., and Australia’s is next lowest above Canada. We could afford to raise the federal gas tax by around 20 cents and be roughly on par with Canada and still be well below Australia.

But there’s another peculiar bipartisan alliance concerning the gas tax. Each state levies its own gas tax, and state-level Republicans and Democrats can often agree to raise it when they need the money. A sample of states that have raised their gas taxes in the past five years exhibits no discernable partisan pattern: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Indiana, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina (where the GOP-controlled state legislature overrode the GOP governor’s veto), Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia.

Our highways are one of the least offensive things the government spends our money on. The gas tax is one of the least offensive taxes. A simple CPI inflation calculation shows that 18 cents in 1993 has the same buying power as 34 cents today, so we could almost double the federal gas tax and it would be at roughly the same level, in real terms, as it was in 1993. There don’t seem to be any indications that the economy was crushed in 1993 under the weight of the gas tax, nor were segments of the population plunged into poverty over it. Even if the gas tax were 34 cents today, drivers would still be paying less, in real terms, than drivers in 1993 because cars are more fuel efficient today than they were then. Use less gas, pay less tax — the gas tax is fair that way.

Any time an economic policy has the approval of Milton Friedman and the disapproval of Bernie Sanders, you should, at the very least, strongly consider it. A moderate increase in the gas tax to fund highways is one of those policies.

Law & the Courts

The False Promise of Term Limits for the Supreme Court

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We might be better off if there were term limits for Supreme Court justices. But the idea is gaining support right now because progressives are unhappy with the current makeup of the Court. And term limits won’t give them what they want, because the Constitution won’t let them impose them on the current justices. At Bloomberg Opinion, I deliver the bad news for the Left.

Religion

Who Does Ted Lieu Think He Is?

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Ted Lieu (Campaign ad image via YouTube)

I’m not a Catholic, and, as a result, I have no dog in this fight, but I must admit that this jumped out at me from the pages of the New York Times:

In Fort Worth on Saturday, the Rev. Jim Gigliotti drafted a letter to Representative Ted Lieu, a Catholic Democrat from California, writing “your very soul is in jeopardy” and informing him that he would be refused Communion if he happened to attend Mass at Mr. Gigliotti’s parish.

“Confrontation is a ministry of caring,” Father Gigliotti said.

Mr. Lieu, in a series of tweets after the bishops’ vote, had called them “hypocrites” for not instructing former attorney general William P. Barr to abstain from the Eucharist because of his employment of the death penalty when he served under Mr. Trump. Mr. Lieu dared the bishops to deny him Communion, pointing out that he supports contraception, the right to same-sex marriage and “a woman’s right to choose,” which are all violations of Catholic teaching.

Who, exactly, does Ted Lieu think he is? The Catholic Church has rules. Ted Lieu is in violation of those rules. Where does the “I dare you” come in?

Does Lieu think that, because he was elected to Congress, he gets to set policy for the largest church in the world? Does he think that Catholics get to pick and choose the rules? Does he think that the catechism is set on Twitter? I’m baffled. If I walked into a Catholic Church and said, “I don’t believe in God, or in the divinity of Jesus, and I don’t obey any of your rules, I dare you to deny me Communion,” I’d be laughed out of the building. Why wouldn’t Ted Lieu receive the same treatment as me?

Politics & Policy

We’re Still Not Yet at Fauci’s Threshold for Easing Pandemic Restrictions

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The vast majority of America’s coronavirus restrictions have been withdrawn or repealed. Mask mandates are largely lifted. As of June 7, just one percent of the country’s schools were fully remote. Almost all businesses are open — at least, the ones that survived the pandemic — and capacity limits for businesses and buildings are either much higher or repealed entirely. In many corners of the country, the joys of summer are here, and the pandemic is in life’s rear view mirror.

It’s easy to forget that a few months ago, Dr. Anthony Fauci thought conditions like the ones we’re enjoying now wouldn’t quite be good enough to justify easing restrictions. Back in March, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the U.S. shouldn’t ease restrictions in place to prevent COVID-19 before the number of new coronavirus cases falls below 10,000 daily.

The U.S. is almost, but not quite, at Fauci’s preferred threshold.

The U.S. had 7,897 new cases reported on June 14, and 7,833 new cases on June 14. (The number of new cases usually dips after weekend days.) The seven-day daily average is now 11,432, just above Fauci’s threshold.

A bit more than 65 percent of all Americans age 18 and above have received at least one shot of the vaccine; 87 percent of America’s seniors have received at least one shot. The U.S. has administered more than 317 million shots so far.

Law & the Courts

Fourth Circuit Blocks Pro-Life Law in North Carolina

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The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down a North Carolina law prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a regulation based on research suggesting that unborn children can feel pain by that stage of gestation, if not earlier.

The three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit ruled unanimously on behalf of several abortionists and Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, who sued the state over the restriction in 2016.

Almost unbelievably, North Carolina’s sole argument in defense of its law was that the state had no history of prosecuting abortion providers under the statute and thus that, because they face no credible threat of prosecution, they do not have standing to challenge the law. In other words, the state’s legal defense of its pro-life policy was, in essence, “We don’t actually plan to enforce the law, so violators can’t complain.”

Against this argument, the judges noted in their opinion that the abortion providers “had established a credible threat of prosecution sufficient to confer standing,” arguing that the historic lack of prosecution was not enough of a sign that the state wouldn’t prosecute going forward.

Had North Carolina made a stronger argument about lack of standing, perhaps their policy would’ve fared better. In several recent cases defending pro-life laws, states have noted that in Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court found that a woman has a constitutional right to obtain an abortion, not that anyone has a right to perform abortions.

As a result of that fact, state officials argue, abortion providers and advocacy groups do not have standing to challenge pro-life laws and abortion regulations either on their own behalf or on behalf of women; women who claim to have been affected by pro-life policies must themselves challenge the statutes as having infringed on their right to abortion.

In last summer’s Supreme Court case June Medical Services v. Russo, lawyers arguing on behalf of Louisiana’s admitting-privileges law — eventually struck down by the Court — took this argument a step further. In their brief, they asked the Court to address the question of whether abortion providers have standing, observing that, in many cases, the interests of abortion providers and those of women are in fact in direct contention, such as when an abortionist flouts state safety regulations and puts a woman’s health at risk.

Politics & Policy

NBC: Five, Maybe Seven, Democratic Senators Currently Oppose Abolishing the Filibuster

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Senator Joe Manchin speaks with an aide during a break in the impeachment trial of President Trump in Washington, D.C., January 24, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

At NBC News, Julie Tsirkin and Sahil Kapur confirm what has been obvious for a while: That it’s not just Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema who oppose abolishing the legislative filibuster.

And it isn’t just Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who oppose rewriting the rules of the Senate. The two moderates have been the most vocal, but it’s the worst-kept secret in Washington that they are not alone.

Several other Democrats have indicated in interviews that they are reluctant to kill the filibuster or that they prefer to make “reforms” — Washington-speak for maintaining a supermajority to pass bills, even if changed a bit from the current filibuster rules.

It’s a harsh reality for progressives — both inside the Senate and outside — who had hoped their party might be provoked into nuking the filibuster and approving legislation with a simple majority.

Among the other Democrats who currently oppose abolition outright are Senator Kelly of Arizona, Senator Hassan of New Hampshire, and Senator Hickenlooper of Colorado. In addition, both Senator Feinstein of California and Senator Leahy of Vermont have stayed notably quiet.

Tsirkin and Kapur note that “progressives hope if they can convince Manchin and Sinema, the other skeptics won’t be a problem.” But this seems like wishful thinking to me. The bill that is supposed to prompt the final showdown, HR.1, doesn’t actually have 50 votes in the Senate. This being so, by what theory does Senator Manchin choose to go back on his longstanding word in order to facilitate a vote on a bill that he himself has confirmed he opposes?

Politics & Policy

Taxpayers Should Demand Their Airline Bailout Money Back

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American Airlines has had to cancel hundreds of flights over the weekend. The mass cancelation will continue over the next few weeks. One of the main reason: a lack of pilots.

You would think that $79 billion of bailout money to airlines — a good amount of it going to American Airlines — to not furlough its workers and stay ready to serve its customers once the pandemic was over would be enough.

Nope, because as we always knew, bailouts aren’t really for workers, and they are certainly not for customers who happened to be taxpayers, too. As we have known all along, they are mostly for the benefit of shareholders and creditors. In this case, that meant doing the bare minimum to keep its airline ready for when passengers return. While American Airlines didn’t have to use its own money to keep its pilots on the payroll, many of them were sent home during the pandemic. However, the airlines didn’t bother to keep its pilots “ready-to-fly” (as I assume it was expected to, since we were all collectively paying for these pilots to be active and qualified to fly).

Now that travel is ticking up, the airline is calling back the pilots, but they aren’t certified to fly. As a result, the airline had to cancel hundreds of flights. My colleague Gary Leff, writing at View From the Wing, broke the mass cancelation story over the weekend. He has this to say about the situation:

American announced two months ago that they’d need to hire pilots this fall but didn’t prioritize re-trainings. And while you might argue ‘they needed to save money’ even though the federal government gave them over $10 billion (annualized cost per job saved for the second and third payroll bailouts was over $1 million), they were still converting these Boeing 737s to cram in more seats throughout the pandemic (Project Oasis). Keeping pilots current so they wouldn’t have to cancel flights might have been given . . . higher priority.

I would like my money back, and so would Leff:

The primary argument for $79 billion in federal airline subsidies over the past 15 months was that this would keep airlines ‘ready’ for when passengers returned. American Airlines took its share of the money but did not keep its pilots current. And now that passengers are back, the airline is cancelling flights as a result. I want my money back.

World

Surprise, Surprise, the Taliban Is Retaking Control of Afghanistan

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Former Taliban turn in their weapons in Jalalabad, February 2015. (Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty)

The fact that the Taliban is retaking provincial capitals and “forc[ing] the surrender and capture of hundreds of government forces and their military equipment” indicates that predictions that a U.S. withdrawal would revert the country to its pre-9/11 status are likely to be accurate. The New York Times reports that in the past day, “around a dozen districts have fallen to the Taliban — mostly in the country’s north.”

However, the fact that a significant number of local Afghan leaders are surrendering to the Taliban without a fight further raises the question of whether it is worth it to have Americans remaining in place. Why should Americans be more determined to resist the restoration of Taliban’s brutal and cruel rule over women and children than Afghani men are?

Politics & Policy

Some Summer Reading

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Summer is here, and that means the summer issue of National Affairs is, too. This one is really packed with fantastic essays, including:

  • Jason Delisle and Preston Cooper on why the progressive narrative about higher ed is wrong
  • Steven Camarota on why immigration won’t make our workforce younger
  • Stephen Eide on why it makes sense to segment social services
  • Mike Watson on the history of industrial policy
  • Keith Rothfus on how to fix the House of Representatives
  • Mark Strand and Timothy Lang on the value and limits of nondelegation
  • Philip Wallach on why a divided society needs a functional legislature
  • Benjamin Zycher on the case for climate-change realism
  • James Patterson on wokeness as a religious establishment
  • Philip K. Howard on our vacuum of authority
  • Daniel Stid on what statesmanship would mean now
  • Tony Mills on why liberalism needs republicanism
  • Andy Smarick on how to rescue political rhetoric

If that’s not beach reading, I don’t know what is.

Here’s where you can find it all.

Politics & Policy

Muffle ’Em

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Andrew Yang, Democratic candidate for mayor of New York, speaks during a news conference in Times Square, March 17, 2021. (Eduardo Munoz / Reuters)

Impromptus today is a mixed bag, as the column is born to be, and it leads with Shaquille O’Neal. Asked for a prediction in the NBA playoffs, he said, “I don’t know.” Are you allowed to say that on television? Why not? I also discuss foreign policy, the New York mayoral race, the GOP, masks (and masklessness), and more.

I have a little update to something I wrote. First, here is the relevant “impromptu”:

Every night, where I live, there is an onslaught of unmuffled motorcycles — motorcycles and other vehicles, I believe. Roaring through, waking the dead, being a public nuisance, flexing their muscles, waving their . . . hands around. From what I hear on social media, this is a phenomenon throughout the country.

There oughtta be a law, say I (dammit) (plus a harrumph).

After writing that column, I read this tweet, from Erin Durkin of The New Yorker:

“I’m gonna ban that sh** when I’m mayor,” @AndrewYang says as a guy revs engine loudly as he kicks off campaign event.

Huh.

Care for some reader mail? In an Impromptus last Monday, I wrote about marijuana, the smell of which pervades, and chokes, New York City. A longtime and much-appreciated correspondent from Seattle writes,

Jay,

. . . I wrote you some time ago about the Washington state law legalizing pot (which I voted for and now regret). You are, of course, familiar with the “broken-window theory.” I think that the effect extends to previously illegal activity that is legalized. Legalize pot and you are sending a message about the acceptability of other drugs and are likely to get more use (and more public use, alas) of things that are still illegal. And then more petty crimes of other types as well.

In an Impromptus last Thursday, I touched on Denis Donoghue, the late Irish literary critic, whom Adam Kirsch hailed, expertly, in The New Criterion. Jeffrey A. Triggs of Rutgers University writes,

Denis Donoghue was one of my favorite professors, and I think I learned more about writing from being in his presence than from anyone else. To this day I remember sentences he used to toss off in class, e.g., “The problem is not that [T. S.] Eliot is obscure; it’s simply that the nature of his lucidity has not yet been made clear.” Or: “Clichés are the common currency of the realm. After all, we can’t all go about all the time sounding like Eliot on his very highest occasions.” Donoghue was an inspiration for those of us who wanted to resist the siren temptations of Derrida, de Man, et al., back in the ’80s.

One more thing: Donoghue “considered Eliot the most musical poet since Tennyson.”

One more one more thing: “I remember one time when Donoghue talked to me about appearing on Firing Line. . . . I asked what he thought of Buckley [William F. Buckley Jr.], and he replied, ‘He was very well prepared.’”

A reader writes, “Hi, Jay: I have been reading you since I was a young man starting off in college (~20 years) . . .” You know, I had to look up the use of that tilde. (I’m probably the last to know.) It’s not just for “mañana.”

Finally, a note from a dear lady in North Carolina, about a family — a family of musicians — in South Carolina. I wrote about them here. She says,

Thank you for this delightful story. I have sent it to my son, noting the similarity to his family. He, his wife, and their three children are all good multi-instrument people. The house is filled with music, solo and in different combinations. A joy to us grandparents!

I bet. Again, for today’s Impromptus, go here — and thanks to one and all.

Education

Is UNC a Welcoming Place for Conservative Students?

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Colleges and universities always tell us that they want diversity, but the wrong kind of diversity can make you an outcast.

In today’s Martin Center article, Patterson Sheehan shares her experience as a student at UNC -Chapel Hill. She writes, “It is alienating to be a conservative in Chapel Hill. In many of my classes, the word ‘Republican’ holds the same weight as the word ‘Duke’ at best or ‘racist’ at worst (as a classmate directly told me). In a bathroom stall in Lenoir (the main dining hall on campus), someone etched the words ‘It’s not okay to be a Republican because it harms people.’”

UNC has an intellectual monoculture that’s overwhelmingly leftist. That’s the case for the faculty, which has very few professors who aren’t Democrats or further out. But, Sheehan writes, the students are more aggressive in asserting their views: “The brunt of the intolerance I have felt has not been from my overwhelmingly left-leaning professors, but from other students. From my first day at Carolina, I recognized the liberal ideology that students were expected to conform to. The student culture demands assimilation while calling it openness and acceptance. I think that professors are generally wary of directly condemning a position, but students are not.”

Sheehan thinks that conservatives shouldn’t hide their views or pretend to believe ideas they don’t. “Resist the social pressure to conform to liberal ideology. Hostility too easily boils up in the classroom, so healing must develop in its place. That change starts with students who embrace opposition in opinions and professors who nurture those differences,” she concludes.

Culture

Celebrating Fatherhood

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(Lacheev/Getty Images)

I couldn’t have been older than seven when I came up with quite the one-liner. A real zinger. One day, I approached my parents and asked them something along the lines of “Why is there a Father’s Day and a Mother’s Day, but no Kid’s Day?” Straight-faced, my mom replied: “Every day is Kid’s Day.”

My mom’s dunking on my attempt at wit certainly was devastating — but, more important, it was true. It can be all too easy to take our parents for granted. They make countless and profound sacrifices for their children. And, as Clare Morell explained in a piece on the home page today, the sacrifices made by parents are entirely necessary for the flourishing of children.

Yet it feels as though we devote too much time to portraying fatherhood — and parenthood more broadly — as a duty or as if it’s simply a necessity. It certainly is necessary. But, as a son who hopes to eventually be a father, I’d like to think that it’s also wonderful.

If you ask any parent, they’ll tell you that raising children is incredibly difficult. Reduced free time, increased expenses, rebel teens, and so on. But that doesn’t mean they regret having children. Just because something can be daunting doesn’t mean that it’s bad. Careers are also stressful. Like parenting, work can be a major source of personal strife. Yet people still rank family and work as the two things that give them the most meaning.

This year, less than a week before Mother’s Day, the New York Times published a strange article from Mary Katharine Tramontana, portraying the increasing trend of men and women choosing to live childless as a victory for happiness and feminism. Tramontana pointed to various surveys, arguing that the burdens imposed by children limit adults’ freedom to pursue their desires. Yet in her piece, she omitted significant data. In a massive study covering 1.5 million Swedes, researchers discovered that the suicide rate was 58 percent lower among parents with one child and 70 percent lower in parents with two or more children compared to childless individuals, even after controlling for conflating variables.

This level of difference shouldn’t come as a surprise. Family, particularly children, helps to ground you. Through children, individuals combat their own finitude and become less temporal. Living for more than just ourselves offers a bit of insurance for when things bring us down. Even if you’re destroyed, you still have your kids.

The easiest way to bring people out of themselves is through family. Family members — particularly the young ones who can’t help themselves — give us something to devote ourselves to. This benefit can be reaped by all members of an extended family, but the main benefactors are those who steer their children through all the stepstones of life. Watching one’s child graduate high school or get married (or so I’ve been told) is one of the happiest moments in a parent’s life. Let’s be honest, generally speaking, these aren’t particularly rare achievements. Today, over 90 percent of Americans now have a high-school diploma, and getting married — which, of course, is different from staying married — only really takes a government document. 

Yet the pride parents feel during these moments is through the roof. And rightfully so. Who cares if almost everyone can do it or does it? As the old saying goes: It takes a village. Every child entering into “adulthood” upon graduation, or every young couple making a life-long commitment to one another, symbolizes the culmination of the efforts of grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and, most important, parents. That’s what actually makes the graduation and bridal gowns so special. Kids like to think that the achievement is their own. Of course, they played a significant role. But we ought to acknowledge and thank more than just ourselves. We wouldn’t be who we are today without our families, without our guardians.

Good job, all you dads. Happy Father’s Day.

Politics & Policy

The Shakespearean Father-Son Tragedy of the Biden Family

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Joe Biden with his son Hunter as they walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, January 20, 2009. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

It was announced Saturday that Joe Biden’s dog Champ has died at age 13. By all accounts, the family German Shepherd was – as we would say – a good boy. Dogs are with us too briefly, and saying goodbye to them is inevitable but never easy. That leaves the family with another German Shepherd: Major, who was kicked out of the White House for a month after reportedly biting a Secret Service agent and a National Park Service employee.

On the eve of Father’s Day, the contrast between the two dogs – one uncomplicatedly beloved, the other a constant source of trouble – put me in mind of the Shakespearean tragedy at the heart of the Biden family: Joe’s sons Beau and Hunter. We’ve seen many sides of Joe Biden over the past half a century, and there is no more sympathetic side than that of a wounded, grieving father. In 1972, Biden lost his wife and daughter in an auto accident just after he had been elected to the Senate. He was left to raise two sons alone. Beau was 3, Hunter was 2. Biden would remarry and have another daughter a few years later, but Beau and Hunter were the survivors of his original family of five, with an irreplaceable place in Joe’s heart.

Joe was a man of boundless ambition and self-regard, elected to the Senate in his twenties, full of quick-tongued Irish blarney, able to talk at any length without tiring, convinced that he could become president in his forties as the young voice of the Baby Boom generation (despite being four years their senior). He flew too high, and his wings melted. His campaign and national reputation were immolated by his serial fabulism and belligerence with the press, making him a laughingstock on late-night TV in the innocent days before Bill Clinton and Donald Trump redefined dishonesty. Biden returned to the Senate, where he had been since the Nixon Administration and was practically part of the furniture. Twenty years later, pushing seventy, he ran again and got steamrolled. He was visibly thrilled to be chosen for the vice presidency. He hadn’t made it, but gosh, he was close.

And he had an heir. Beau was the textbook “good son,” doing all the right things. He won statewide office. He served in Iraq. He had a wife and two kids. He was obviously being groomed to take his dad’s Senate seat before long, maybe after being governor of Delaware. Maybe he would make it that one last rung on the ladder that dad never quite reached.

Hunter, though, was another story: a drug addict, a repeat peddler of influence on his dad’s good name, a guy who used the N word. It is natural for a father, busy with his career, to be indulgent of sons who have lost the rest of the family as toddlers. It is not hard to picture Joe, seeing that the family was in good hands with Beau, being all the more indulgent of Hunter. Or maybe that’s all armchair hogwash; we have all known wise and upright parents who did everything right, and one or more of their kids just got away from them. Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do.

Then, the tragedy: the firstborn son died. Beau got a brain tumor, and as with the brain tumor that took my mother nineteen years ago, there was no good news along the way. He died in the spring of 2015. Burying a child is brutal; doing it twice is worse. My dad buried two sons – much like Biden, one of them in 1972, one in 2010. The second one broke him. My dad was in a home by the time he was the age Joe is now.

Joe, heartbroken and seeing the family legacy slip away, ran a half-hearted trial-balloon presidential candidacy, but withdrew after leaks (probably from Team Hillary) about his opposition to the Osama bin Laden raid. Hunter showed his respect by shacking up with Beau’s widow.

In some ways, the dynamic is reminiscent of the Kennedys. Joe junior was supposed to be the war hero and the presidential candidate, but the war claimed him. Jack and Bobby were more flawed figures, but they had star power, and each stepped up in turn, only to be gunned down. The family’s hopes landed on the one Kennedy nobody had expected to amount to anything: Ted, the fat kid in a family that valued looks and “vigah,” the one who was almost kicked out of Harvard for cheating, the one who destroyed his own White House hopes when he killed a girl and covered it up. Even that did not mend his boozy, womanizing ways for decades. Yet, Ted it was. For four decades after Bobby’s death, he was the Democratic party’s uncrowned king, even through the tenure of two Democratic presidents who came and went with little stamp on the party’s long-term direction. An entire generation (mine) grew up knowing the Kennedys through the family’s least reputable member.

With no “good son” to inherit the Biden legacy, the black sheep of the family assumed unexpected prominence that nobody had planned or wanted. Joe, unable to just step back and bask in the glow of Beau’s rise the way George H.W. Bush did after 1992, decided to run again himself in 2020, visibly well past his prime. Hunter embarrassed him at every possible turn, but Joe would never turn on the only remaining son, the last remnant of the family he brought with him in 1972, no matter what ethical compromises it demanded, no matter how many people warned him about what Hunter was doing.

We can blame Joe Biden for all the risks he is willing to run and things he is willing to overlook in order to let his son (and his brother, Jim) cash in with shady foreigners, and for an approach to nepotism that makes a mockery of Democratic crocodile tears about the Trumps. But that is all political fair game, as it always is. We can’t blame Joe Biden for an unshakeable devotion to his last remaining son, or for the independent misbehavior of a “kid” who is now 51 years old. The tragedy of Joe Biden, in the years when he ought to be enjoying his retirement, is that being a dad means the family doesn’t always work out the way you planned it, sometimes you can’t retire when you wanted to, and the things you would do for your kids sometimes go beyond the things you might ever have done just for yourself.

Law & the Courts

Douglas Laycock on the Fulton Decision

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If you want the glass-half-full view of the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in favor of Catholic Social Services in the case Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, read Justice Alito’s concurrence

Ed Whelan highlights the key lines:

Alito observes that the Chief’s ruling rests “on what appears to be a superfluous (and likely to be short-lived) feature of the City’s standard annual contract” and that, once the city eliminates that feature, “the parties will be back where they started.” Further, the Court’s ruling “provides no guidance regarding similar controversies in other jurisdictions” and “will be even less significant in all the other important religious liberty cases that are bubbling up.”

What Alito calls the “superfluous” and “likely to be short-lived” feature of the City of Philadelphia’s contract is the provision giving the city discretion to grant exceptions to its nondiscrimination policy. This discretionary authority runs afoul of the Supreme Court’s holding in the 1990 Smith decision that a neutral law may infringe on religious liberty only if it is generally applicable.

University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock, a leading scholar on religious liberty, argues the unanimous decision is significant in at least a couple respects. Asked to comment on Alito’s concurrence, Laycock tells National Review in an email: 

Probably the city would be happy to give up its discretionary power to grant exceptions, which it has apparently never used, in order to shut down Catholic Social Services. Every informed lawyer on the plaintiffs’ side has worried about that from the beginning. But the city may be deterred by the five votes that say Smith was wrongly decided. What’s the point in going right back up if you’re so likely to get an even bigger defeat?

Maybe no other city has a contract clause just like Philadelphia’s. But the Court’s opinion says some important things about the general applicability requirement. Even one exception can make a law less than generally applicable, and therefore subject to strict scrutiny, if it undermines the state’s asserted interest in regulating religion. That was implicit in Smith and Lukumi, but it is much more clearly stated here.

Discretion to grant exceptions makes a law less than generally applicable, even if no exception has ever been granted, because discretion creates the potential for discrimination. Some lower courts have said that, but this is the first time in the Supreme Court. The Court has long invalidated standardless discretion in free speech cases, and the same rule should apply to free exercise, but they had never said that before.

These two holdings do give guidance elsewhere. Of course there will be continued litigation, and attempts to distinguish or minimize these holdings. But these are holdings, and they are important. 

Update: This post has been emended and corrected since its initial publication. In the original version of his email, Laycock said the Court also held that “there is no compelling interest in protecting same-sex couples here, because they are fully served in Philadelphia. And the liberals joined that. This passage clearly implies that that fact that gays are angry and offended by the continued existence of CSS does not give rise to a compelling interest.” That was not a holding of the Court in Fulton, and that paragraph from Laycock’s email has been deleted.

Education

Shoveling Money into the Bottomless Pit of Student-Loan Debt

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(zimmytws/Getty Images)

To nobody’s surprise, Biden & Co. have decided to forgive $500 million in loan debt for students who had enrolled in the now-defunct ITT Technical Institute schools. They were all “misled” by pronouncements by ITT about their likely earnings. No doubt, but many nonprofit colleges make similar claims to lure in students.

Forgiving student debt is good politics. The Dems get to look compassionate, and lots of students will be grateful at not having to pay off their loans. As for the taxpayers, well, a tiny increase in the federal government’s budget deficit won’t be noticed. What did not happen and certainly will not happen is any move to solve this problem.

Reason‘s deputy editor Mike Riggs has a good article making that point.

Riggs writes, “While inducing low-income people to borrow money they can’t repay for an education they can’t use is likely the worst consequence of federal higher ed subsidies, we also know now that easy lending has inflated the cost of ‘good’ colleges and universities, which compete with each other by upping costs in order to suck up subsidies that they can invest in prestige points rather than workforce preparation: nicer buildings, fancier dining services, more extracurriculars, and an abundance of non-academic staff to make attendees—particularly those at nonprofit liberal arts colleges, which progressives seldom criticize for their ever-increasing sticker prices—feel like they’re staying at a resort with the occasional class.”

He’s correct. Federal student aid is at the root of the prodigious expansion of higher education and the vast inflation in its cost. There isn’t any constitutional warrant for federal largesse, but, sadly, the Constitution’s limits on federal spending were swept away long ago. We will keep wasting resources on needless college degrees at huge prices as long as we keep on subsidizing them.

Riggs continues, “There is so much else we should be doing differently. Many for-profit programs would likely not exist without occupational licensing requirements, such as those for the [cosmetology] industry; other for-profit programs, such as those that train students for administrative roles in medicine, are the result of the American health care system’s metastatic need for paper-pushers who can manage labyrinthine billing operations and regulatory compliance.”

Indeed. Let’s whittle away at the inflated demand for higher-ed credentials. That would help at the margin. Ultimately, though, we must strike at the root of the problem and get the feds out of the business of college finance.

Economy & Business

Airline Seats Are Getting Smaller — but Americans Aren’t

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(Motortion/Getty Images)

It is customary for frequent fliers to complain about the traveling process. Going through TSA, navigating the airport, airplane food — all are choice topics of hardship. Modern fliers’ most common lament is the lack of legroom, which has been slowly decreasing since the 2000s. However, new airline guidelines show that Americans are heavily contributing to their own discomfort. And yes, I mean “heavily” literally.

The airline industry is not in an enviable spot. Devastated by the coronavirus lockdowns, the industry is under pressure to keep ticket costs down as more travelers begin to venture out. But keeping prices low is difficult, in no small part because Americans’ weight keeps getting higher. Before the pandemic, USA Today reported that the average weight of an American woman was about 170 pounds, and the average American man weighed just under 200. That’s about a 30-pound increase from what men and women weighed in 1960.

The COVID lockdowns, which forced people to stay home, led to a new spike in obesity. As NR’s Jack Butler reported earlier this year, the average American has gained 29 pounds. This means that Americans gained just as much weight in one year as we did over the last 60 years.

In response, the airline industry has reevaluated its default weight estimates for passengers and their luggage. Airlines will now assume that Americans and their carry-ons weigh 12 pounds more than they used to, a conservative figure that may be adjusted later. Airlines are coy about what will change because of this reevaluation, but the answer is obvious. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in economics to see that airlines will have to raise prices to adjust for this weight increase. While passengers have been assured that they won’t be put on a scale when they enter the terminal, our wallets will be lightened. The only question is by how much.

The role of obesity in pandemic health outcomes was significant. We know that being overweight is a significant comorbidity with COVID-19. This is why COVID death rates were lower, on average, in countries with slimmer populations.

What other unforeseen problems will our high obesity rate create? The average American lifespan has decreased in recent years, an effect often attributed to the opioid epidemic. But the health problems associated with severe obesity can reduce a person’s lifespan by 20 years. This suggests increased weight may play a crucial factor in our nationwide downward trend in life expectancy.

The consequences of fatness are often missed, simply because the change is gradual. It’s not a sexy political talking point, either. For the airline industry, the effect of obesity is more pronounced, forcing them to respond to passenger weight changes. As more Americans wedge themselves into airplane seats that feel smaller while costing more than ever, this could be the wake-up call we need to live a healthier, and less expensive, life.