Education

Step Up to Restore a Sound American Civics

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(Thinkstock)

Stanley Kurtz has replied to our call for conservatives to improve civics and history education with just another rallying call to man the barricades. He still can’t bring himself to give a fair account of the Educating for American Democracy report and the Roadmap it sketches for improved civics; he concedes he won’t even try, given his conviction that the report we helped to produce will be used to inflict leftist civics in classrooms across the country. We encourage conservatives to read the EAD documents for themselves and form their own judgment, but we owe a response to his preferred focus on political battles and his preferred strategy to “Just Say No” to any national reform efforts.

What happened after the United States Senate passed by 99–1 a resolution in 1995 repudiating the National History Standards that had been developed with grant money from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Department of Education? Conservatives won a victory in stopping federal endorsement of a document that mentioned George Washington only once and Joseph McCarthy or “McCarthyism” 19 times. But looking back from the perspective of a quarter century later, no one can claim that patriotic history and civics teaching was the outcome. Instead, these fields came to be seen as the source of toxic controversy, to be stripped of funding and avoided by serious students. Most teachers, principals, and district leaders have run for cover amid this culture-war approach to civics reform, avoiding genuine improvements and letting students receive a deficient preparation for informed and engaged citizenship.

In his rejection of our call for a shared American plan to restore serious education in history and civics to the top tier of the national curriculum, Kurtz seems intent on re-enacting the recent past without either a careful consideration of the documents he is attacking or a constructive suggestion for how public schools might be led to develop an alternative to the drumbeat of progressive critique. Unlike the 1994 Standards, the Educating for American Democracy Roadmap does not pretend to be a comprehensive curriculum; instead, it is a guide to curriculum development by local authorities and teachers. As we explained (and Kurtz ignores), it includes much that conservatives can point to as worthy of inclusion in any civics or history curriculum — from study of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the ideas that lay behind them, and recognition of America’s religious heritage, to appreciation of our technical and economic achievements — as well as endorsement of an honest reckoning of the wrongs committed in our past.

What Kurtz particularly objects to is the inclusion in an appendix of a mention of “action civics,” and the involvement of some of its proponents on the committee that wrote the report. We don’t think such a mention constitutes an endorsement, though we concede it is not a repudiation; how relegation of an idea to an appendix is somehow proof of its overwhelming importance in a comprehensive national report escapes us. Our thought was to recognize the importance of active learning in any practical field — we note that even the 1776 Commission Report allows (at p. 40) that some forms of participatory learning can deepen a sound civics education — and there is nothing in the report that green-lights such practices as giving credit for teacher-directed political activism, something we equally deplore. To borrow a phrase from James Madison, “a skillful individual in his closet” can invent a world entirely to his liking; but as anyone who has ever fashioned a compromise with political opponents can attest, one has to accept things one would rather not in order to gain what is worth achieving.

Kurtz thinks we miscalculate in working together with liberals and progressives to outline what American students ought to study and know; that is, what basic facts they ought to master and what kinds of questions they should learn to ask and begin to answer. He is convinced we are being snookered; thus, he once again expends many more words on an elaborate political plot by the Left than actually reviewing the EAD documents. Somehow he takes our agreement with his critique of action civics as our admission we’ve been duped as charged. So let us clarify again: We applaud the recent action of citizens and school boards to push back against so-called “antiracism” indoctrination, and, as teachers ourselves, we find such “training” to be demeaning and ill-advised. But we also reiterate that the real battle is for the hearts and minds of America’s teachers, who are, in our experience, sick and tired of being given minute-by-minute curricular plans on the one hand, but also find the readily available alternatives to be partisan and so inadequate to their responsibility to teach all the students in their classes. We think the Roadmap can appeal to them, sketching the topics they ought to touch upon in their classes and calling forth the development of curricular materials they can use to inform themselves and their charges. Kurtz instead ignores this predominant spirit in EAD while also overlooking the current round of damage he is provoking, revving up controversy in state legislatures in ways that push teachers into a defensive crouch and further stigmatize any serious civics education.

The genius of American constitutional democracy has been to provide a way — partly through formal institutions, partly through cultural practices — for citizens who deeply disagree about the most serious questions of justice and the common good to settle their differences well enough to be able to live together, leaving one another room to be free and diverse but able to act for a common purpose when that is needed. We think that restoration of constitutional knowledge and also of traditional civic virtues is such a purpose and that we ought to have the courage to work together to achieve it. The time has passed for simply saying “no.”

TCI Runs Out of Gas Thanks to Yankee Institute

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Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford (f11photo/Getty Images)

Herewith, a deserved shout-out to the liberty-loving think tank, Yankee Institute for Public Policy, overseen by the indefatigable Carol Platt Liebbau, for its diligent David role in stopping the Goliath of TCI during the Connecticut legislature’s just-ended 2021 session. (Warning: The nefarious undertaking might raise its ugly head in a forthcoming legislative special session.)

TCI is shorthand for the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a regional compact — the brainchild of climate-change foes — that describes itself as 13 “Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia that seeks to improve transportation, develop the clean energy economy and reduce carbon emissions from

Religion

Annual Meeting Shows Low Trust in the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee

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A Methodist church in Tennessee (Cindy Robinson/Getty Images)

Going into the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting, one of the biggest questions was how much the messengers assembled would trust the SBC Executive Committee.

If this morning’s business in Nashville was any indication, the messengers have answered, “Not much.”

On June 11, just four days before the start of the annual meeting, the Executive Committee announced that it was hiring an outside firm to investigate its handling of sexual-abuse allegations within the denomination. After weeks of hearsay back-and-forth and the release of recorded conversations, an independent investigation is the right move. The question is whether the convention believes that the Executive Committee–initiated investigation is sufficient or if a more-independent investigation is needed.

The Executive Committee exists to handle the affairs of the denomination between annual meetings. The SBC is ultimately run by the messengers assembled at the annual meeting. No hierarchical structure exists beyond the local church. The Executive Committee is beholden to the messengers, and all of its recommendations must be approved by full convention votes.

The Executive Committee, aware of that procedure, ordinarily only brings recommendations to the floor that it knows will pass. It brought nine recommendations to the floor this year. The first sign that something was up was on Recommendation 4. That recommendation included a revision of the Executive Committee’s mission statement that read, in part, “The SBC Executive Committee seeks to empower churches to prioritize, elevate, and accelerate the vision of reaching every person for Jesus Christ.” A messenger, Spence Shelton from Mercy Church in Charlotte, introduced an amendment to change the wording of that part of the proposed mission statement to say, “The SBC Executive Committee seeks to serve churches as they prioritize, elevate, and accelerate the vision of reaching every person for Jesus Christ.”

This may seem like word games, but the messengers took it very seriously. Shelton argued, “We are a bottom-up, not a top-down convention of churches. . . . The churches empower the Executive Committee to serve us, they do not empower local churches to do that mission.” Shelton was greeted with applause. The amendment was adopted without objection before the recommendation passed.

That was a slap on the wrist. The response to Recommendation 7 was a full rebuke. That recommendation included proposals to increase the Executive Committee’s oversight of the finances of SBC entities. The entities are given significant independence within SBC governance, and entity has its own board of trustees to oversee its operations.

Brian Sandifer, a messenger from Indian Head, Md., spoke first against the recommendation. He pointed to a provision of the recommendation that would give the Executive Committee power to escrow funds for an entity if the entity does not comply with the Executive Committee’s procedure. Sandifer argued that provision ultimately would transfer the “power of the purse” from the entity trustees to the Executive Committee. Vance Pitman, a messenger from Las Vegas, added that an organization subject to an investigation into mishandling sex abuse should not be given more power: “With so many questions that are unanswered right now, I think it seems obvious to me that it’s not the right time to allow expanded powers of the Executive Committee and allowing them the privilege to escrow funds.” Both Sandifer and Pitman were greeted with loud applause by the convention.

The SBC’s six seminaries are each entities. Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke on behalf of all six seminary presidents against the recommendation. He was greeted with the loudest applause yet. When it came time to vote and the chair asked for the votes in favor, there were audible laughs in the convention hall as hardly anyone raised their ballots in support of Recommendation 7.

The vote on Recommendation 8 was too close to be called from the chair. Messengers cast paper ballots, and the results will be announced at a later time. Having to resort to paper ballots on an Executive Committee recommendation would have been notable on its own had it not been overshadowed by the nearly unanimous rejection of Recommendation 7.

Messengers’ trust in the Executive Committee seems to be low. Pastor Grant Gaines introduced a motion that specified a very wide-ranging sexual-abuse investigation to be overseen by a task force appointed by the SBC president, which is constitutionally separate from the Executive Committee. Whether that motion will be approved by the convention is yet to be seen, but if the low trust in the Executive Committee that was demonstrated this morning is any indicator, the motion has a good shot.

Culture

‘Hanks, but No Hanks’

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Today on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, and Michael discuss Biden’s performance at the G-7 summit, the woke scolds coming for Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Ellie Kemper, and more. Listen below, or follow this show on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

Politics & Policy

Don’t Weaken the Filibuster

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The sun sets behind the Capitol dome in Washington, D.C., November 6, 2018. (James Lawler Duggan/Reuters)

Over the past week, some pundits have warmed to a 55-vote threshold for cloture in the U.S. Senate (compared with the current requirement of 60 votes). Writing for the Washington Post, Greg Sargent brought in a former Robert Byrd aide to outline the benefits of such a change, and, this past weekend, New York Times columnist (and longtime National Review contributor) Ross Douthat endorsed the proposal.

Douthat offers a succinct and thoughtful overview of the case for shifting to 55 votes for cloture:

Then more broadly, beyond just the Senate rules, the idea of 55 percent as a threshold for dramatic reforms sets a plausible target for both parties to hit, as they try to break out of gridlock and create more durable majorities.

Under polarized conditions the days of 60-percent landslides aren’t coming back, nor (save under emergency conditions) are the days of sweeping, 70-Senate-votes bipartisanship. But expecting our political parties to legislate like New Deal or Great Society Democrats with margins like John F. Kennedy in 1960 doesn’t seem like the wisest idea either.

Maybe there’s a middle ground. In a country so large, diverse and deeply divided, a system that encourages the two parties to aim for 55 percent instead of 51 percent, whether in the Senate or on the presidential hustings, might work against polarization and toward consensus without expecting our divisions to magically disappear.

Douthat sees a new 55-vote cloture requirement as a way of placing limits on the rule of 51 percent while also creating a narrower threshold for consensus so that ambitious pieces of legislation can be passed.

Whatever the merits of the case for lowering the threshold for cloture to 55 votes, an essential question for any proposal to reform the filibuster is how this change would happen: through the regular order of the Senate (which requires two-thirds of voting senators to support cloture on a rules change) or through the nuclear option (which ignores those rules).

From the perspective of institutional credibility, using the nuclear option to change the threshold for cloture — whether to 55 votes or a bare majority — is itself a destructive act. When Robert Byrd supported reducing cloture from two-thirds of senators voting to three-fifths of the whole Senate in the Seventies, he did so through regular order, not through the nuclear option.

Furthermore, using the nuclear option to reduce cloture to 55 votes almost certainly starts the clock for the elimination of the filibuster entirely. If 51 votes can unilaterally reduce the threshold for cloture, why, then, should a majority allow any limits on its power? No doubt aware of the institutional consequences of any use of the nuclear option, Joe Manchin has insisted that he will not use the nuclear option to change the Senate’s rules on the filibuster.

Whether Republicans should work with Democrats through regular order to support reducing cloture to 55 votes is another question, though there are reasons to be doubtful of that course of action, too. At the moment, it seems unlikely that 17 or so Republicans would sign on to an effort to weaken the filibuster.

The current threshold for cloture encourages the Senate to focus on areas in which there is broader consensus. As recent as George W. Bush’s time in office, presidents could regularly assemble bipartisan majorities to pass big-ticket items. The one-two punch of the Iraq War and the financial crisis arguably helped fracture American politics, and politicians post-2008 often leaned into polarization. Yet, even in a polarized time, the Senate remains capable of getting to 60+ majorities. With 68 votes, it passed a massive industrial-policy bill — the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act — just last week. The First Step Act passed the Senate with 87 votes in 2018, and a transformative revision of the nation’s education laws passed the Senate with 85 votes in 2015.

Tellingly, many of the significant bipartisan bills passed by the Senate in recent years have passed through regular order, which encourages buy-in from a range of stakeholders. Efforts to circumvent the normal give-and-take of the Senate — by the majority leader “filling the tree” to block amendments, for instance — and impose parliamentary discipline on the Senate have helped stiffen the institution. It remains unclear that the norms of parliamentary polarization fit the political infrastructure established by the U.S. Constitution. Especially in a time of narrow and quicksilver political majorities, recovering the Senate’s institutional muscle-memory grows even more important.

Elections

Nikki Fried Update

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Official Photo of Nikki Fried (State of Florida/Wikimedia Commons)

Since we last checked in with Nikki Fried’s conspiracy-theory heavy gubernatorial campaign, the candidate has delivered . . . well, pretty much exactly what one would expect. Per Florida Politics, Fried is not exactly setting the world on fire:

The $214,832 collected by the committee Florida Consumers First was significantly less than what was raised by political committees linked to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist.

The committee Friends of Ron DeSantis raised more than $7.5 million in May, while the committee Friends of Charlie Crist raised more than $1.2 million. Crist also raised $323,963 for his campaign account, reports filed Thursday show.

Meanwhile, Fried has been caught selling different messages to English-speaking voters than to Spanish-speaking voters:

Nikki Fried, Florida’s agriculture commissioner, a rising star among state Democrats who hopes to defeat Governor Ron DeSantis next year if she wins the primary, sounds like a tried and true progressive on her English-language website.

She touts being an advocate for criminal justice reform, taking on the NRA, and fighting to protect the environment.

But as of Friday, all of that was missing from her Spanish-language website.

Asked about the discrepancy by Newsweek, Fried’s team quickly added the language in Spanish and fleshed out her biography on the page within two hours of the initial request for comment.

At some point, it might be time for the press to retire the “rising star” language. She’s not. She’s fading — and fast.

Politics & Policy

DeSantis Should Veto SB 146

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Florida governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign rally at Pensacola International Airport in Pensacola, Fla., October 23, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Florida SB 146, a bill on “civic literacy education” taught via “civic engagement activities” has been passed by the Florida legislature and sent to Governor DeSantis’s desk. Unfortunately, SB 146 contains no protections against politicized “action civics” and will easily be used as a wedge to import protest civics into Florida. As if that weren’t enough, although the Florida Board of Education has just approved new academic standards barring critical race theory (CRT), SB 146 creates an opening for the insertion of CRT into Florida’s education system. DeSantis should veto SB 146 and return next year with a civics bill that contains the necessary protections against protest civics.

I wrote about the original version of SB 146 in March. At that time, the bill would have made a way for the importation of leftist protest civics into all of Florida’s schools. The good news is that the Florida House struck that language and substituted provisions less likely to politicize the entire Florida school system. The new version of SB 146 sets up two special programs for “civic engagement” and limits them to select participants instead. Nonetheless, those programs, especially the second one, are headed for politicization.

The first program established by the revised SB 146 is a “civic literacy practicum.” This “practicum” or extra-curricular “project” is quite similar to a politicized action-civics project in structure. Instead of extra-curricular political protests or lobbying, however, the “civic literacy practicum” described in the bill is apolitical. Here, the danger is that the listed activities might someday be supplemented by others that would allow for political protests and lobbying.

The second “civic engagement” program established by the revised version of SB 146 is far more dangerous. The bill sets up a “Civic Engagement Citizen Scholar Program” at the “Center for Civic Engagement at the University of South Florida.” The bill also instructs the University of Florida to contract with the YMCA’s “Youth in Government” program. In this case, everything depends on whether the University of South Florida and the YMCA’s Youth in Government program stay clear of politicized action civics.

While both entities may do some good work, there are huge danger signs as well. The national YMCA’s Youth in Government program has jumped on the CRT bandwagon. The main site, for example, contains a link to the YMCA’s “Unlearning Systemic Racism” program. (That link is broken, but here’s a link to the YMCA’s “Unlearning Systemic Racism” page.) True, the Florida Board of Education has barred CRT from classroom instruction. That ban would not apply, however, to extra-curricular “civic engagement” activities in a special program set up by legislation. In short, despite Florida’s recent bar on CRT, SB 146 clearly makes a way for CRT to enter civic education in Florida.

Consider also the Twitter feed of the Florida YMCA Youth in Government program. It touts the YMCA Changemakers Institute, which provides avenues for student political activism in areas such as “Climate Action & Sustainability,” “Gender Equity & LGBTQ Rights,” “Racial Equity & Justice,” etc., all displayed on a rainbow flag. I must have missed the sections on activism in defense of religious liberty, free speech, and Second Amendment. This is classic, left-biased action civics. Of course, the Florida YMCA Youth in Government twitter feed speaks with eager anticipation of SB 146, since it promises to fund such politicized activism under the guise of “civic engagement.” SB 146 would even allow participants in advocacy through the YMCA Youth in Government program to earn undergraduate credit for their political protests.

It’s also of note that the YMCA is a major supporter of the Civics Secures Democracy Act, and no doubt other similar bills whose priority criteria favor politicized action civics. If one of the four big federal bills providing grants for action civics should pass, the University of South Florida’s Center for Civic Engagement and the YMCA Youth in Government Program will likely be major beneficiaries. This would enable them to greatly expand their activities, and would almost certainly push both entities even further in the direction of politicized action civics (with a healthy dose of CRT in the mix). It’s hardly surprising that the Florida YMCA Youth in Government Program touts the largest of the federal bills on its Twitter feed.

To prevent this sort of politicization — precisely what Florida’s governor and Board of Education oppose — DeSantis needs to veto SB 146. Instead, he should consider supporting legislation along the lines of my model bill with the National Association of Scholars, which would prevent the takeover of civic education by ideologically partisan political activism. Texas has just passed such a bill, and another like it has just been introduced in Ohio. And if, in the future, Florida wants to set up special internships in government outside of ordinary classroom activities, any bill doing so should contain provisions that explicitly bar political protest and lobbying from state-sponsored civics programs.

In short, SB 146 presents a test for Governor DeSantis. Signing this bill would authorize and fund precisely the politicized and radical activism he has pledged to remove from Florida’s education system. I don’t doubt that few of Florida’s legislators realized this when they voted for SB 146. That is the problem. Politicized protest civics hides under soothing labels such as “civic engagement.” Now that the governor knows what’s at stake, he needs to veto this bill.

Health Care

End Organ-Transplant Discrimination against People with Developmental Disabilities

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(cyril martin/Getty Images)

An important and bipartisan bill has been filed in Congress to end organ-transplant discrimination against people developmental disabilities. Authored by Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler (R., Wash.) and Katie Porter (D., Calif.), the Charlotte Wood Organ Transplant Discrimination Prevention Act (H.R. 1235) would:

A covered entity may not, solely on the basis of a qualified individual’s mental or physical disability—

(1)deem such individual ineligible to receive an anatomical gift or organ transplant;
(2)deny such individual medical or related organ transplantation services, including evaluation, surgery, counseling, and postoperative treatment and care;
(3)refuse to refer the individual to a transplant center or other related specialist for the purpose of evaluation or receipt of an organ transplant;
(4)refuse to place an individual on an organ transplant waiting list, or placement of the individual at a lower-priority position on the list than the position at which the individual would have been placed if not for the disability of the individual; or
(5)decline insurance coverage for such individual for any procedure associated with the receipt of an anatomical gift, including post-transplantation care if such procedure would be covered under such coverage for such individual if not for the disability of the individual.

This is an important issue of human exceptionalism. Each and every one of us is equal and should be treated equally. Developmental disability in and of itself should never be a bar to receiving proper medical care based on invidious notions of “quality of life,” or other such excuses for abuse or medical neglect.

But what if the patient would be unable to properly perform post-transplant care requirements? I mean Wesley, we don’t want organ transplants that fail, right?

The bill makes a provision for that potential. But it also provides that if the patient would have the needed assistance to provide that care, the disability cannot be the basis for disapproving organ-transplant eligibility.

A father of a child with Down syndrome explains why this legislation is necessary in Slate:

If my daughter’s heart had not healed when she was a baby, she could have been refused an organ transplant based on her intellectual disability. Currently, only 26 states have laws in place that explicitly prohibit this discrimination. Despite federal protections such as the Americans With Disabilities Act, there remains an alarming rift between what the law requires and what medical professionals practice.

In a study from 2008, 85 percent of organ transplant centers surveyed considered disability when deciding if a patient should be on an organ transplant list. Forty-four percent of centers said they would deny an organ transplant to a child with some level of neurodevelopmental disability.

In our profoundly divided era, it seems to me that this bill is legislation that people from all ideological perspectives can support. Yet, the bill is given only an 18 percent chance of passage. If that is true, it is a telling indictment on our country. But I believe that once people learn of the bill’s existence, chances of passage will increase exponentially.

I hope you will join me in urging your Member of Congress to support H.R. 1235.

World

‘Trillions for Domestic Spending, Not a Cent More for Defense’

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I wrote today about the incoherence at the heart of Biden’s China policy:

Joe Biden isn’t known for his austerity, except when it comes to the nation’s defense.

As part of his welcome emphasis on competition with China, the president cajoled reluctant European countries at the G-7 summit into releasing a statement critical of China, on top of the announcement of an infrastructure program meant to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

That’s all fine as far as it goes, but a glaring omission from Biden’s campaign is a defense budget that reflects the growing challenge from Beijing.

Indeed, Biden justifies almost any increased domestic spending as designed to check China’s ambitions, at the same time he neglects what is most needful to keep China from dominating its region and waging war on our allies or perhaps the U.S. itself.

If we can deter China from taking Taiwan with subsidies for electric cars, Biden is inarguably the Churchill of his time.

If we can counter China’s defense buildup with more funding for affordable housing, Biden deserves to take his place beside Alfred Thayer Mahan or George Kennan as a great strategic thinker.

Law & the Courts

Subtraction by Addition

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Associate Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer arrives at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., April 10, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

At the Free Beacon, Kevin Daley makes the case that the retirement of Justice Breyer, and his replacement with a “young progressive stalwart,” might actually make the Supreme Court more conservative. The key point:

Breyer’s unique judicial approach makes him an effective emissary to his conservative colleagues, helping the left salvage victory from the brink of defeat in cases big and small. It’s unclear whether his eventual successor will be as effective at building consensus or turning broad questions into narrow ones.

It’s always hard to tell how these things will turn out. But one has to wonder whether, in her quieter moments, Justice Kagan would agree. She’s already somewhat isolated, and the addition of another Sotomayor-esque colleague would likely serve to make her more so.

The Economy

Infrastructure Strategery

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Politico has an update on the dealmaking process. There is an interesting dynamic at play.

Some Republicans hope that if they sign on to a deal, they can keep the price tag down. The deal would fund normal “hard” infrastructure such as highways, and would avoid raising taxes. This would leave only the trickier topics — things like clean energy and child care, funded by big tax hikes — for later. Democrats might have trouble cobbling together a unanimous vote in their caucus to pass what’s left of Biden’s plan.

Many Democrats, however, are expecting to pass a bipartisan bill and then pass a partisan one later (through the reconciliation process, which avoids a filibuster). For example, Bob Casey claims “we’re going to have to have an agreement among us that we do both.”

Obviously, Republican cooperation will be pointless if the Democrats proceed to enact through reconciliation everything the GOP rejected in the bipartisan deal. This will give the Democrats points for bipartisanship without forcing any actual compromise.

The man himself, by which of course I mean Joe Manchin, is being coy about where he sees things going after a bipartisan deal. The current bipartisan proposal is for roughly a trillion dollars in infrastructure spending, though only about half of that is new money. Much of the cash is repurposed from unused COVID-relief funds.

Culture

Standing Athwart Space

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I guess that last fund-raiser went pretty well.

World

Satire, But . . .

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From the Babylon Bee: “Dems shocked, disappointed to learn that new Israeli prime minister will still be a Jew.”

Trade

First, Assume Lots of Boats

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Ships and shipping containers at the port of Long Beach in Long Beach, Calif., January 30, 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

There’s an old joke about an economist and an engineer who fall into a deep hole together. As the engineer is devising ways to get out of the hole, the economist says, “Don’t worry, I’ll get us out. First, assume a ladder.”

Mocking economists for assumptions in their theories has been around as long as economics has been around. Many of the assumptions are unrealistic on purpose. The assumptions exist to demonstrate things in theory, not to perfectly describe the world around us. The theory of perfect price competition, for example, assumes there are no transactions costs. In the real world, of course, there are always transactions costs. But the point of the theory of perfect price competition is to demonstrate how the prices of goods would behave in a perfectly competitive market. Thinking about transactions costs would muck that up, so economists assume it away. There are other theories that deal with transactions costs, and they assume away other things that would muck up looking at transactions costs.

Economic theory demonstrates that there are gains from trade when countries specialize in producing goods for which they have a comparative advantage and trading for other goods. That’s impossible to object to in economic theory. But that doesn’t mean those benefits are automatic in the real world. On the contrary, it takes a lot of work.

The economics-textbook case for free trade, to paraphrase the joke, starts with, “First, assume lots of boats.” The economics-textbook case for free trade doesn’t say anything about how the trade will actually happen. It doesn’t say anything about free-trade agreements or shipping companies or port authorities or longshoremen. The purpose of the theory is to demonstrate that there are gains from trade when countries specialize in producing goods for which they have a comparative advantage and trading for other goods, assuming that trade is possible.

That’s not to sell the economics-textbook case short. It’s an extremely powerful and counterintuitive insight. It’s not obvious that there are gains from trade, and those gains are potentially enormous. We’d be foolish to dismiss the theory.

The theory, however, is only a starting point, not the end of the conversation. How well the real-world results approximate the theoretical results depends on lots of people doing lots of work.

Rachel Premack wrote an article for Business Insider yesterday titled “Why the world is in a shipping crisis.” How much of a crisis? The Drewry World Container Index, which measures the going price for a shipping container, is about 300 percent higher today than it was one year ago. The price increases are even higher on some important routes. Shanghai to Genoa is up 449 percent from last year, and Shanghai to Rotterdam is up 524 percent.

The global shipping industry is still behind from the pandemic and likely will be for quite some time. Premack writes that when the pandemic started, shipping companies started canceling sailings. The massive cargo ships are only profitable when they’re pretty much completely full, so it’s better for the shipping companies to have fewer full ships than have more partially full ships.

Canceling a sailing has huge ramifications because, basically, boats are really slow. It takes about three weeks for a cargo ship to go from Los Angeles to Shanghai. If you have a cargo ship sitting in Los Angeles that’s scheduled for Shanghai and the shipping line decides to cancel the sailing, that stinks for people trying to ship things out of Los Angeles and for people trying to receive things in Shanghai. But it also stinks for people trying to ship things out of Shanghai because the people running the Shanghai port were planning on that boat being in Shanghai in three weeks. Now that it won’t be there, three weeks’ worth of containers are going to pile up on the docks at Shanghai. It’s fine, they can wait for the next one, you might think. It’s not that easy, though, because every boat is scheduled to be full, and there already are containers waiting on the dock scheduled for the next boat. The people running the port in Shanghai can try to find another boat to put it on, but the closest available boat might be a week away, and then that boat won’t be somewhere else it was expected to be, creating a new problem for the people expecting that boat three weeks in the future, on and on and on. At the start of the pandemic, shipping lines were canceling about 20 percent of their scheduled sailings, and we’re still feeling the reverberations from that.

Now that the economy is recovering, people are buying more stuff again. The latest piece of evidence that the Biden administration is wrong to pursue more stimulus spending is that American ports are jammed with boats as Americans buy more stuff than ever. Premack writes that the Port of Los Angeles, the busiest port in America, set a new first-quarter cargo record this year, and the Port of Long Beach, the second-busiest port in America, set a new monthly record in May. There’s so much traffic that some boats are waiting longer to be unloaded at their destination ports than it took them to cross the Pacific, she writes.

But wait, there’s more. Two critical shortages make the problem even worse. Premack writes that there’s a shortage of longshoremen in the U.S. When boats do arrive, there aren’t enough workers to unload them. The second shortage is even more fundamental: containers. Premack writes, “Import volume from China via ocean shipping is up 54% year-over-year. Exports have only ticked up by 4.4%. That means lots of containers are leaving Asia, but not enough have been returning there.” Shipping companies need to send empty containers back to Asia to be filled, but remember, they can’t operate profitably unless the ships are nearly completely full, so they can’t send back many empty containers. Premack writes that the imbalance in containers could persist well into 2022.

Essentially, right now there are not enough ships and not enough containers to move more goods than ever before and not enough workers to load and unload them. That’ll send up shipping prices 300 percent, you better believe it.

Economic theory informs us of the gains of trade and specialization. But it’s much easier to see the lines move on a graph than it is to see a container of electronics move from Shanghai to Los Angeles. As we’re seeing right now, what’s elegant and simple in economic theory is chaotic and complex in the real world. Debates over free trade are usually concerned with economists or politicians. Those debates matter, but they usually assume lots of boats. It’s in the execution that we cash in on the theory.

Dissatisfaction with high prices provides opportunities for entrepreneurs. We’ve seen it before in the shipping industry. In the 1950s, Malcom McLean pioneered the modern system of shipping containers. According to historian Marc Levinson, the average price of shipping cargo was $5.83 per ton in 1956. On McLean’s first containerized ship, the price was $0.16 per ton. Containerization is the top unsung hero for making our current standard of living possible, and it happened because an entrepreneur saw a chance to undercut his higher-priced rivals through better organization.

Do we have another McLean out there?

History

Hanks and Tulsa

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Charlie, I am perfectly willing to believe that Tom Hanks had not heard about the Tulsa massacre until reading an essay about it last year in the New York Times, but — doesn’t the guy from Bosom Buddies still watch television, from time to time?

Because the most-watched new television series of 2019, Watchmen, was in no small part about those events. An average of more than 7 million people watched each episode. It made a huge star out of Regina King (who is putting her success to good use).

It would be better if Americans learned more of their history from sources other than sci-fi series about giant space squids or whatever, to be sure. But I’ll bet there are more Americans under 35 who could tell you what happened at Tulsa than who could tell you what happened at, say, the Battle of New Orleans.

(My apologies to Charlie if that last item brings up a sore memory.)

Once Again: Everyone Opposes Rank Majoritarianism

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(jaflippo/Getty Images)

Jonathan Chait tries once again to cast Rand Paul and Mike Lee’s entirely mainstream skepticism toward unchecked majoritarianism as something sinister and unusual. The ideas that Paul and Lee have expressed, Chait writes, are common on the Right, and, indeed, “are not identified solely with the most extreme or Trumpy conservatives,” but “have frequently been articulated by conservatives who express deep personal animosity toward Donald Trump and his cultists.”

Yeah, they have. And do you know who else is skeptical of unchecked majoritarianism?

Everyone.

Chait takes specific aim at Rand Paul’s claim that the Jim Crow era shows the need for counter-majoritarian elements within the system. “Absurd,” he writes,

is the notion that “Jim Crow laws came out of democracy.” Southern states attempted to establish democratic systems after the Civil War, but these governments were destroyed by violent insurrection. Jim Crow laws were not the product of democracy; they were the product of its violent overthrow.

It is narrowly true that, in the wake of the Civil War, violence was used to suppress black votes, which resulted in the election of white governments by a reduced electorate, which resulted in those governments imposing Jim Crow — although I presume that Chait does not really believe that if the Southern states in question had allowed everyone to vote we wouldn’t have needed the 14th and 15th Amendments, given that Jim Crow laws were passed in multiple states where white citizens significantly outnumbered black citizens while only three states had a black majority. But this is hardly a solid case against minority protections per se.

How, I wonder, does Chait account for the counter-majoritarian decisions that his own side strongly favors? The anti-abortion laws that Roe v. Wade overturned were not the product of state governments being “destroyed by violent insurrection.” They were the product of democracy. The laws that protected traditional marriage were not the product of state governments being “destroyed by violent insurrection.” They were the product of democracy — and, in several cases, popular referenda. The laws permitting school prayer were not the product of state governments being “destroyed by violent insurrection.” They were the product of democracy.

All of these laws were swept away despite that democracy. Why? Because they were held to be in violation of the Constitution’s protection of minority rights. (In my view, these cases were incorrectly decided, but my objection is to the specifics of those cases rather than to the existence of judicial review). If Jonathan Chait were to call up a Democratic senator at random this afternoon and ask whether he thinks that this was a good thing, that Democratic senator would likely end up sounding very much like Rand Paul. I wonder: Is that an indictment of the Democratic party, its voters, and the broader progressive movement? Or does it only work the other way around?

Economics

Center-Left Think Tank: Biden Budget Would Hike Taxes on More Than Half of Filers

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As I’ve pointed out before, Joe Biden’s promise not to raise taxes on “anyone” making less than $400,000 doesn’t square with his actual plans. For example, his big hike to corporate taxes would, in part, be borne by workers, as well as by investors whose earnings put them below the cutoff.

The center-left Tax Policy Foundation has some new estimates out today, based on Biden’s recent budget, that make this point well.

If you look only at individual income and payroll taxes in 2022, the hikes don’t start kicking in until roughly the promised income level (though the analysis groups together everyone making between $200,000 and $500,000). But when the estimates include the burden of other major taxes, particularly corporate taxes, an incredible 60.7 percent of all “tax units” see their taxes go up.

Don’t take this too far: The burden will be much higher on the rich than on the poor, and this doesn’t include the benefits of the resulting spending, which will be directed largely toward poorer Americans. Biden’s budget would certainly redistribute income downward.

But you can’t hike corporate taxes through the roof and pretend no one making less than $400,000 will pay more. And some argue that these taxes impose a bigger burden on workers than the Tax Policy Center assumes.

Hat tip to Donald Schneider. And see a more Biden-favorable take on the results from the center’s own Howard Gleckman here.

Economy & Business

Unintended Consequences of a Minimum-Wage Hike

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Sheets of $1 bills on a light table at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C., November 14, 2014. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

As I discussed in a piece earlier this year, hiking the minimum wage can cause a number of unintended consequences. The most obvious, and most studied, is that employers might buy less labor when labor is more expensive. Yet employers can respond in other ways too — such as cutting benefits or making jobs more demanding.

Today, Mark Perry points us to an interesting study of an anonymous “chain of fashion retail stores” with locations in Texas and California. The data run from 2015 through early 2018; the minimum wage was $7.25 for this entire period in Texas, but started at $9 and rose every year in California.

Interestingly, as the minimum wage crept up in California relative to Texas, stores in the Golden State did not measurably reduce the number of employee hours they paid for. What they did, instead, was to spread those hours around: hire more workers, but have each employee work fewer hours.

What’s the advantage of doing this? Well, as the authors note, “workers have to work at least 20 hours per week on average to be eligible for retirement benefits and work at least 30 hours per week for employer-sponsored health insurance based on the [Affordable Care Act].” They estimate that stores can save roughly a quarter of the cost of the higher wages simply by getting out of contributing to these benefits.

On top of that, workers’ hours became less consistent week-to-week, presumably because the stores wanted to be more careful paying for hours when work became more expensive.

As I put it before, a minimum-wage hike is a simple policy with extremely complicated consequences, and thus runs a far bigger risk of backfiring than most realize.

Health Care

Redefining Death

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A proposed change in the law would make organ procurement easier. That’s a bad reason to make it, I argue at Bloomberg Opinion.

Death can’t be denied but it can be edited.

In 1981, the Uniform Law Commission proposed a model law for the determination of death. It says that individuals have died when they have experienced an irreversible end to either their respiratory and circulatory functions or their brain functions. Most states have adopted this definition, and the rest adopted it in substance if not precise wording.

The commission is now considering whether the definition should be revised. One proposal has been gaining influence, but has dangers that ought to keep it from prevailing. . . .

Books

Were The ‘Dark Ages’ Dark?

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Here are two thoughtful essays, both worth your time, that question the viability of our conventional historical understanding of a Medieval “Dark Ages” followed by an Early Modern “Renaissance:”

The first, written for Aeon by Henrik Lagerlund, a professor of the history of philosophy at Stockholm University, is called “What Renaissance?” which you can read here.

The second is a book review by Brad S. Gregory for Law & Liberty of Seb Falk’s “The Light Ages,” a history of medieval science, which you can read here.

 

 

Politics & Policy

CRT Invades the Law Schools

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(utah778/Getty Images)

For many years, law schools have been moving away from teaching the nuts and bolts of our legal system and toward what Professor Charles Rounds of Suffolk Law School calls “bad sociology, not law.”  I have spoken with veteran lawyers who wring their hands over the fact that so many graduates have had their heads stuffed with dodgy theories but have difficulty with legal fundamentals.

Things are getting worse, as critical race theory invades the law schools. On her Dissident Prof blog, Mary Grabar has posted an excellent piece by Professor Matthew Andersson on the harm of CRT.

Andersson writes, “CRT, along with BLM, is a pleading tool: a position taken up by an organized — or more accurately by an incited — coalition of individuals and institutions opportunistically advancing a synthetic complaint in the public forum, especially through media, universities, and government organizations. These are needed to create the impression that their argument has an historical basis and  possesses moral weight. The sufficiently articulated demands can be seen as a path to both social and legal relief through remedies of financial damages and restitution, and through policy that codifies its demands and interests — despite any constitutional violations.”

This “pleading tool” is one that will do a great deal more damage to our concepts of equality under the law.

Read the whole thing.

Politics & Policy

Media Outlets Mislead on Gallup Abortion Survey

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Planned Parenthood employees look out from their building, St. Louis, Mo., June 4, 2019. (Lawrence Bryant/Reuters)

Last week, Gallup released new polling data on sanctity of life issues, and in their coverage, many mainstream media outlets have attempted to argue that there has been an increase in public support for legal abortion.

As Alexandra DeSanctis noted here at NRO last week, the new Gallup survey found that 47 percent of Americans think abortion is “morally acceptable,” a record high. A number of media outlets, including The Hill, the Independent, and Forbes have focused on this particular finding in their coverage of the poll.

However, it is worth noting that the percentage of Americans who find abortion “morally acceptable” increased by only three percentage points from the previous Gallup poll on abortion, conducted in May 2020. What’s more, this latest survey asked a number of questions about life issues, and considered as a whole, the data suggest a great deal of stability in public attitudes toward abortion. For instance, the same Gallup poll found that 47 percent of Americans identify as “pro-life,” which equals the average “pro-life” sentiment over the past five Gallup surveys.

Additionally, the survey found that since 2019, there has actually been a slight decrease in the percentage of Americans who want to see the Supreme Court uphold Roe v. Wade. Meanwhile, 52 percent of Americans report believing that abortion should either be “illegal” or “legal in only a few circumstances,” which is broadly consistent with previous Gallup polling.

It’s worth noting, too, that Gallup conducted this survey prior to the release of President Biden’s proposed budget, which did not include the Hyde amendment and thus would allow federal funds to directly underwrite elective abortion procedures. Since polls tend to find that taxpayer funding of abortion is unpopular, even among Democrats, it is possible that there has been a slight increase in pro-life sentiment since this was conducted.

As a result of the upcoming Supreme Court case considering a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi, life issues will be especially salient this year. As a result, media outlets and survey research firms are likely to conduct numerous polls on abortion, and shifts in public opinion can affect both legislation and court decisions. Given that reality, some journalists and commentators will continue to spin poll results to give the impression that public support for legal abortion has increased. But pro-lifers should not be misled. A substantial number of polls from a variety of research firms show that public attitudes toward abortion have been largely stable over the past few decades, and there tends to be strong support for both the Hyde amendment and a wide range of incremental pro-life laws.

Law & the Courts

Supreme Court Shows Interest in Harvard Anti-Asian Affirmative Action Case

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The Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., May 8, 2020 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

This was another uneventful morning at the Supreme Court, with two uncontroversial decisions (one unanimous, one split between 9–0 and 8–1 decisions in two related cases) involving the First Step Act and the felon-in-possession statute. But the big news came in case number 20-1199, Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College. The Court has yet to decide whether it wants to hear the case, but this morning, it asked the Biden administration to file an amicus brief setting forth its views of the case. Cases in which the Court asks the Solicitor General for such a brief are not always taken by the Court, but they are much more likely to end up on its docket.

While there is little doubt that the administration will side with Harvard, its position could be politically sticky, and the case could be explosive. The petition asks the Court to overrule its pro-“diversity” rationale for allowing universities to consider race in admissions:

 (1) Whether the Supreme Court should overrule Grutter v. Bollinger and hold that institutions of higher education cannot use race as a factor in admissions; and (2) whether Harvard College is violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by penalizing Asian-American applicants, engaging in racial balancing, overemphasizing race and rejecting workable race-neutral alternatives.

Roger Clegg has set forth the argument for why the Court should hear this case, and it now has the Court’s attention. The case involves blatant discrimination against a group of non-white, historically discriminated-against group (Asian Americans) who have been the subject of much recent attention over anti-Asian hate crimes. Democrats have been very touchy about being forced to admit that they support Harvard’s discrimination. The Biden administration dropped an investigation into anti-Asian discrimination at Yale. Democrats rejected, by a 49–48 vote in the Senate, a Ted Cruz amendment saying that no college “may receive any Federal funding if the institution has a policy in place or engages in a practice that discriminates against Asian Americans in recruitment, applicant review, or admissions.” Congressman Ted Lieu erupted in anger at a hearing in March when Peter Kirsanow raised the issue. Hardly anything is nearer and dearer to Asian-American parents than educational opportunity. Democrats are understandably hesitant to openly admit that they support discrimination against Asian Americans in that very area. But they do.

PC Culture

In Defense of Cancel Culture

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( wildpixel/Getty Images)

“Cancel culture” is really a tautology. All cultures involve the “cancellation” of certain behaviors and viewpoints, the public enactment or profession of which results in the social ostracization of the perpetrator. Without these taboos, there can be no social regulation of behavior and mores and hence no real culture at all. In the modern West, for instance, we cancel people who insist on being naked in public spaces. We also cancel racists and men who beat their wives, and our culture is all the better for it.

The recent public furor over cancel culture has not been about whether or not we will cancel people or ideas, but about which people or ideas we will cancel. The denouncement of “cancel culture” writ large is a characteristically small-“l” liberal way of trying to avoid this fact by drawing a curtain of false neutrality over social censure per se, as if the process or procedure of cancellation itself is what we really object to.

But if we’re honest with ourselves, this isn’t really true. We don’t object to “cancel culture,” we object to the cancellation of certain acts, ideas, and sensibilities that were recently uncontroversial. It’s the closing of the Overton window on certain positions we find reasonable that we so dislike. Once we accept this, we’re in the much more difficult — and yet, more honest — position of having to defend the ideas and practices under attack on their merits rather than simply ringing our hands over the procedural violation of an utterly fictional “viewpoint neutrality” that has never existed — at least in a cultural sense — at any time in human history.

The Right’s new rhetorical reflex to complain about cancel culture whenever social censure falls upon some public or semi-public figure or another is frustrating because it attempts to import the classically liberal notion of viewpoint neutrality from the legal world into the cultural world. This task is doomed to fail. A jurisprudence of viewpoint neutrality is only possible when there are enough important and shared cultural taboos and restrictions in a society to allow each person to tolerate the legality of viewpoints they hate, safe in the knowledge that said viewpoints are still subject to social censure, even if the avenue of legal censure is foreclosed. We tolerate the legal First Amendment rights of white-nationalist groups because we know we can crush them with overwhelming social stigma and geld them of all influence using cultural force. But no one in their right mind believes that because white-nationalist groups can avail legally of viewpoint-neutrality jurisprudence that we should therefore refrain from attempting to turn them into social pariahs as best we can.

It’s true that the Overton window among Western elites is contracting like the trash compactor in the Death Star not only upon morally acceptable positions, but also on morally edifying ones. But the response of conservatives cannot be to lament the existence of this cultural regulation, or to pretend that there was a time when it didn’t exist. Instead, they have to defend the moral merits of their positions and argue that others (like the reverse-racism of intersectional politics and the mutilation of children by transgender activists) should be cancelled with unapologetic fervor. Our civilization cannot hide behind procedural liberalism when it comes to first principles, and it’s folly to pretend we can. Genuinely moral and political conflicts are, in some cases, unavoidable. Cancellation is the price we pay for civilization.

Culture

Dante Men and Others

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Dante Della Terza in his office at Widener Library, Harvard, on February 21, 2018 (Jay Nordlinger)

For your reading pleasure — or at any rate for your reading — I have an Impromptus column today, with issues fair and foul. It begins with something foul, in a sense: the pervasiveness of marijuana, at least in New York City. And not the old kind of pot, but a new and skunky kind. Other items include Magdalen College, Oxford, and Cracker Barrel (two very different institutions).

Some reader mail?

In a column last Monday, I confessed to being an old fogey, as witness the fact that I persist in using “B.C.” and “A.D.,” instead of “B.C.E.” and “C.E.” (Note the periods, too — further proof of fogeyness.) A reader writes, “Jay, I too am an old fogey, but I use ‘B.C.E.’ and ‘C.E.,’ and have since I was a child, because I am Jewish.” Fair enough.

In a column last month, I had an item on George F. Will, who, astonishingly, has turned 80. A reader writes, “A consolation of living in a society with so many flaws is that I get to read George Will’s thoughts on them.” A higher tribute to a writer, I can hardly imagine.

But then there is Gilbert Ryle. Do you know this story? Someone said to the British philosopher — who lived from 1900 to 1976 — “You never read novels, do you?” Ryle answered, “Yes, I do: I read all six of them every year.” (He meant the novels of Jane Austen.)

Before leaving, I would like to mention Robert Hollander, the great dantista — Dante scholar — who died earlier this year. An obit appeared in the New York Times last week. It began,

Robert Hollander was the sort of literature professor to recommend “years of rereading” to understand a great book. To study his own favorite masterpiece, Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy,” Professor Hollander held himself to a yet higher standard. He mastered seven centuries of line-by-line commentary about the poem.

Such a body of writing more closely resembles Talmudic exegesis than literary criticism. Devotion to it is devotion to an extreme form of traditionalism. Yet the commentaries became, for Professor Hollander, the engine of his most innovative work.

Flipping around the Internet, I learned that Dante Della Terza, too, had died earlier this year (at 96). He was the great Dante scholar at Harvard. I went to see him three years ago. I’m so glad I did. Here is how my piece began:

“When I was a student, long ago, I heard about the famous Dante Della Terza,” I say. He says, “Dante Della Terza is me!” Yes, indeed. . . .

Dante Della Terza is one of the great dantisti, one of the great Dante scholars, of our time. They share a name, as you can see. It happened “innocently,” says the professor, with a smile. “That is what my mother named me.” He has another connection to Dante through his last name. The poet’s rhyme scheme, remember, is terza rima.

Some obits in Italy used the picture I took that day — a picture I am putting at the top of this post. What a spirit, Dante Della Terza. Indimenticabile (unforgettable).

Books

Peter Hitchens on the Marriage of Marxism and Consumerism

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From this review in The Lamp magazine of Helen Andrews’s book, Boomers: The Men and Women Who Promised Freedom and Delivered Disaster:

It was in the communist world that today’s socioeconomic hell — the hideous love-child of Deng Xiaoping and Margaret Thatcher — was pioneered. The Soviets had the compulsory two-earner household, with its children condemned to government nurture and raised to love the Party above their parents. They had its weak parents and state-dependent adults, and its incessant divorce, all leading to an eviscerated and futile caricature of marriage, to the point where marriage was drained of all meaning and power. They just did not have the post-1990 combination that almost nobody saw coming: the endless electronic consumerism, through which we may try to buy back our lost happiness and freedom in the form of pleasure and drugged stupor. If they had managed that, the U.S.S.R. would still be there, as Mao’s China is. Marxism really is not the enemy of consumerism. When it realized it needed to care more about the mind and morality than about money, it rejuvenated itself and made the future its own again. That was what the 1960s were really about. Capitalism, understanding this, has made its peace with the revolution. Having grasped that it can flourish in the absence of freedom and Christianity, it also now understands that it has no need or wish to keep its proletarians poor. On the contrary, they need to be affluent or indebted enough to purchase its products.

Politics & Policy

The Community College Alternative

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Harper College instructor Scott Nelson (left) shows students a welding technique on the community college campus in Palatine, Ill., in 2013. (John Gress/Reuters)

Not so long ago, most Americans thought that “real” college meant a four-year school. Those who earned their bachelor’s degrees had a mark of distinction, whereas anyone who attended a community college branded himself as a loser.

Things are changing. More and more people understand that a bachelor’s degree might represent four years of fun and academic nonsense, indicating little about the holder other than persistence. On the other hand, quite a few Americans avail themselves of useful training programs offered at community colleges. In fact, it’s not uncommon for BA holders to eventually enroll in a community college for some beneficial program.

In today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins interviews Thomas Stith, the president of North Carolina’s community college system.

One good development appears to be the improved alignment between the training and apprenticeship programs offered and the personnel needs of business in the state. Another interesting feature is dual enrollment, which allows high-school students to take community college classes, thus possibly enabling them to get into the workforce sooner.

Another point Stith mentions is that the NC system is not trying to emulate “real” colleges by going into four-year programs. Four-year degrees for the most part just mean more cost, not more learning.

I am always skeptical about anything government does, but it appears that the taxpayers of the state might be getting pretty good value for the money they spend on community colleges.

Education

To CRT or Not to CRT?

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Ibram X. Kendi on CBS This Morning in 2019. (CBS This Morning/via YouTube)

So are we doing the thing where we are pretending that curriculum, instruction, and materials can’t be determined by school boards and state legislatures and should be left to radical education consultants who are hired by bureaucrats?

What is popularly known as critical-race theory in education debates is, effectively, an omnibus term for a series of propagandistic approaches to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) that are common in the corporate business sector, along with certain contested ideas about the extent and nature of systemic racism, and the appropriate remedies that follow.

Presenting these ideas in propagandistic mode is more common in business and in private schools, but you can find public-school teacher training with insane ravings such as how “objectivity” is “white supremacy culture” and Portland-area public schools where elementary-school children “do the inner work to figure out a way to acknowledge how you participate in oppressive systems”.

Whether to include or exclude these materials and curricula is a political decision. If a school system or a state legislature wants to teach Ibram X. Kendi–style social revolution, or to treat it as they would white-supremacist propaganda, is a prudential matter.

The various proposed bills banning “CRT” in schools are a mixed bag, and a first draft of restricting the propagandizing of students in places where the school board and state legislatures do not want students taught that a “sense of urgency” is white-supremacy culture. The places where school boards and state legislatures do want such instruction will have it, but it should be made with the understanding of the public. So it goes.

Religion

A Much-Needed Investigation into Sexual Abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention

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(Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

On June 11, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee announced it would be hiring Guidepost Solutions to conduct an independent review of its handling of sexual-abuse allegations.

This move came after SBC Executive Committee President and CEO Ronnie Floyd announced on June 10 his support for an independent investigation of allegations that the SBC Executive Committee was complicit in covering for SBC pastors accused of sexual abuse. He joined Executive Committee Chairman Rolland Slade, who called for an independent investigation the day before.

The annual meeting of the SBC will be held in Nashville on June 15-16. Pastors Ronnie Parrott and Grant Gaines announced on June 5 they would introduce a motion at the annual meeting to have the new president elected June 15 appoint a task force to hire a third party to run an independent investigation. This would be different than the investigation the SBC Executive Committee announced. The SBC Executive Committee would be hiring Guidepost Solutions to investigate itself, and some voices in the SBC are skeptical that an investigative team appointed by the Executive Committee could be trusted to do unbiased work. The SBC presidency is constitutionally separate from the Executive Committee, so having the new president appoint a task force to hire a third party to investigate would avoid some possible conflicts of interest.

Albert Mohler, one of the leading candidates for SBC president, tweeted the Baptist Press article about Floyd supporting an independent investigation and said, “This is the right thing to do,” seeming to signal his support. Whether that support is for the Executive Committee–hired investigation or the pending motion from Parrott and Gaines is unclear.

A measure that wasn’t on most people’s radars a month ago now seems to have become mainstream opinion within the SBC. After weeks of hearsay back and forth, it makes sense to bring in a third party to investigate.

On May 18, Russell Moore announced his resignation as president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), the SBC’s public-policy arm. On June 2, a member of the ERLC board of trustees leaked a letter Moore had written in February 2020 that, among other things, recounted specific instances of racism and attempts to cover up sexual abuse by the SBC Executive Committee.

Another letter from Moore, this one dated May 31 of this year and addressed to current SBC President J.D. Greear, made many of the same allegations. Unlike the February 2020 letter, however, the May 31 letter specifically names Mike Stone as someone who “vigorously insisted on delaying the formation of a credentials committee to assess churches reported to be mishandling sexual abuse.”

Stone is another leading candidate for SBC president, and a leader within the Conservative Baptist Network, a group whose members believe the SBC is becoming too liberal. Stone released a statement in response to Moore’s February 2020 letter saying that the timing of the release was to influence the results in the upcoming SBC elections.

On June 5, Stone appeared in a video posted to the YouTube channel of Emmanuel Baptist Church of Blackshear, Ga., where he is pastor. This video was in response to the May 31 letter from Moore. Stone promises to be “relatively brief” at the start of what turns out to be a 14-minute clip—a little too on the nose coming from a Southern Baptist preacher—but his response to the allegations deserves to be heard in full.

In the video, Stone states that he himself was a victim of sexual abuse as a child. He first spoke about that publicly in 2019. As a victim himself, he finds it offensive that Moore would accuse him of stonewalling accountability for abusers. He repeatedly calls Moore’s letter “slanderous,” “outrageous,” and “ungodly.”

Stone objects to the method by which the public has found out about these allegations, through leaked letters, saying, “That is not the way that professionals deal with their information, and quite frankly even more importantly, that’s not how the people of God deal with it.” Later in the video, Stone says that Moore has never confronted him in any one-on-one communication on the issue.

Stone was elected SBC Executive Committee chairman in June 2018, and he says that the first thing he did in that role in summer 2018 was support a motion to give the ERLC $250,000 to fund work on sexual-abuse prevention. At that time, his status as a victim of child sexual abuse was not publicly known. He said that after he realized that approval by the full committee was assured, his emotions overwhelmed him and he went to the bathroom and vomited. “I was so grateful to be a part of addressing this horrific and heinous injustice committed against the most vulnerable members of our Southern Baptist churches,” Stone said.

Stone goes on to say that it’s “a bold-faced lie” that the working group he was a part of on the SBC Executive Committee tried to cover up sexual abuse or exonerate churches found to have sexual abusers working in them. He said that as a result of his experience as a victim, Emmanuel Baptist Church has very strict policies for its employees that work with children to prevent abuse, and church members only fully realized why after he spoke publicly in early 2019 about being abused as a child. “Nobody who knows me believes that I would ever be a part of trying to cover up sexual abuse or silence its victims. That, again, is an outrageous lie,” Stone said.

On the same day as Stone’s response was posted to YouTube, Ronnie Floyd released a short statement that said, “I do not have the same recollection of these occurrences as stated [in Moore’s May 31 letter].” He said he takes the allegations seriously, and some of them occurred before he was president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee.

By June 5, the public had read and heard these contrasting accounts of happened behind closed doors. Then, on June 10, we got some recordings.

Phillip Bethancourt, vice president of the ERLC under Moore, tweeted, “Southern Baptists deserve to know the truth by hearing leaders talk about sexual abuse in their own words.” The tweet contained a link to a Google Doc of what Bethancourt called a “whistleblower report.” Bethancourt was present in a lot of the same meetings as Moore, Floyd, and Stone, and he was recording parts of them. He stated that the recordings were done legally and in accordance with the SBC’s rules:

This audio was lawfully captured by me in the one-party consent states of Tennessee and Georgia. It was appopriately [sic] captured in a manner consistent with the practice of the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group during major meetings and strategy sessions; real time documentation was often captured to ensure both the accuracy of notes and the clarity of follow up actions. I did not anticipate this audio might ever become necessary in a moment like this.

Bethancourt said that the full recordings couldn’t be released because they contain names of abuse victims and he doesn’t have their consent to share them. He did say, however, that he would be willing to turn the full recordings over to an independent investigation team, should one be approved at the annual meeting next week.

The Google Doc contains five audio clips, totaling about seven minutes of conversations. Three are from an October 8, 2019 meeting in Nashville after the ERLC Caring Well Conference, which focused on sexual abuse. Two are from a May 9, 2019 meeting in Atlanta on sexual abuse held in preparation for the 2019 SBC annual meeting.

The recordings do not contain anything that validates the most explosive allegations in Moore’s letters, which included racist remarks made against author and speaker Trillia Newbell and former SBC president Fred Luter. Bethancourt told Religion News Service that Paige Patterson, a now disgraced former SBC leader, made those remarks. Patterson denied having done so. They also do not contain any speak of “bubbas and rednecks,” a phrase Moore claimed was used to describe the base of the denomination, or the statement, “This is psychological warfare,” which Moore claimed was directed at him.

They do, however, corroborate other parts of Moore’s account. On the Nashville recordings, Floyd expresses concern that participants in the Caring Well Conference were allowed to “say what they want to say” even if it reflected poorly on SBC leadership. Moore made a point of not putting restrictions on speakers at the conference. Floyd brings up that funding for the conference came from the SBC Executive Committee and asks Moore what he is supposed to say to people who ask him why people were allowed to “degrade” the SBC on the SBC Executive Committee’s dime. Moore answers, “Because we’re not in a criminal conspiracy to cover up what happened.” Floyd asks why the ERLC didn’t “put parameters on what they say.” Moore answers that the press would have attacked the SBC for appearing as though it was covering up for abusers.

In another recording from the Nashville meeting, Floyd says that he isn’t “scared by anything the survivors would say,” but instead just wants to “preserve the base.” Moore and Bethancourt each respond that they think the best long-term strategy for preserving the base of the denomination is by letting people tell the truth, even if it makes the denomination look bad in the short term. Floyd seems to signal agreement, at least in part, with Moore and Bethancourt at the end of that recording.

In the Atlanta recordings, Stone expresses concern that “good people were thrown under the bus” with respect to sexual abuse allegations. He objects to the “process” that Bethancourt supported to deal with sexual abuse, and considered it an “unseemly approach to trying to work together” within the denomination.

Moore’s interpretation of events as a veiled threat against ERLC funding is reasonable given the Nashville recordings. By bringing up the source of conference funding in the way Floyd does, one can see how Moore might think he wouldn’t be able to get such funding again. Conditioning Executive Committee funding on speakers being constrained in what they can say about the SBC would be an awful thing to do. Floyd did not propose that, but one can see why Moore would be concerned about the prospect.

The Atlanta recordings demonstrate that Stone was hesitant about some details regarding the denomination’s process to hold abusers accountable. But they do not demonstrate that he was trying to orchestrate a cover-up. People can disagree about process without disagreeing about purpose.

Seven minutes of recordings do not provide any conclusive answers. Another interpretation of these recordings is that they capture leaders of an organization with millions of members and massive financial obligations having frank conversations that they believed would remain private. Any organization of that size, religious or secular, is going to have leaders who disagree about strategy and long-term planning. Three of the recordings are edited such that Moore has the last word. Excerpted from longer conversations, it’s difficult to know how those conversations actually resolved.

Ultimately, the recordings provide enough evidence that there’s something worth investigating. SBC opinion seems to be coalescing around that conclusion. The behavior of leaders in religious organizations is held (and should be held) to a very high standard. Southern Baptists should want to know what happened, and leaking letters and recorded conversations on the Internet is not the best way to find that out. There’s enough that’s public knowledge now to make clear the nature of the controversy. An independent third party is going to be necessary to provide any satisfactory answers.

Whether the SBC Executive Committee’s hiring of Guidepost Solutions will be considered sufficiently independent is yet to be seen. Over 16,000 messengers are expected to attend the SBC annual meeting, and Parrott and Gaines will still be introducing a motion that the new president appoint a task force to hire an investigatory firm independent of the SBC Executive Committee. Power ultimately lies with the messengers. We’ll have to wait and see how much they trust the Executive Committee.

PC Culture

Yes, NPR, ‘CaPitAliSm bReEds InNovAtiOn’

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NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Wikimedia Commons)

Here is tax-subsidized National Public Radio:

 

Now, the piece itself is a benign story about stiletto-heeled Crocs, a collaboration between the Colorado company and Balenciaga. Many contemporary journalists like to blame capitalism for all the alleged frivolousness and wastefulness of society. Me, I prefer consumerism and materialism to the utilitarianism of collectivist-induced poverty, but to each his own.

In any event, there were four other caPitAliStic inNovAtiOns that jumped out me on social media the past couple of weeks, as well:

A few days ago the FDA approved the expanded use of a cocktail therapy called Trikafta to treat cystic fibrosis in children aged between 6 to 11.

Last week, the FDA approved a drug that helps patients lose an average of 17% of their body weight, with no dangerous side effects, and avoid diabetes and other weight-related maladies.

The week before, the FDA approved its first new medication for Alzheimer’s disease in nearly two decades, the controversial aducanumab, which may slow cognitive decline in people with mild memory problems.

Two weeks ago, the FDA approved an a drug called Lumakras, which helps shrink non-small cell lung cancer mutation known as KRAS in 36 percent of patients whose conditions continue to get getting worse after chemotherapy.

Granted, these aren’t rubber shoes, but they’re pretty good nonetheless.

World

Amazon’s Partnership with Chinese Genome-Sequencing Firm Raises Eyebrows

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Researchers work at the Beijing Genomics Institute in Shenzhen, China, April 23, 2012 (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Insider has a noteworthy report on Amazon’s use of COVID-testing kits from BGI Genomics, a Chinese genome-sequencing firm that U.S. intelligence officials have flagged as potentially sharing Americans’ genetic information with Beijing:

Amazon’s recent work with Chinese firm BGI Genomics contradicts warnings from a blue-ribbon US national security commission that includes Andy Jassy, the incoming CEO of the internet giant.

In late March, Amazon disclosed it’s using a “modification” of BGI’s test for an at-home Covid-19 test kit that would initially be used for its employee testing program, according to an authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration.

The disclosure came a few weeks after Jassy and about a dozen other tech executives voiced concerns over BGI’s ties to the Chinese government in a report to US President Joe Biden and Congress.

The company, which was formerly called Beijing Genomics Institute, is a massive conglomerate with several subsidiaries. The Trump administration added two of them — Xinjiang Silk Road BGI and Beijing Liuhe BGI — to the Commerce Department’s entity list in 2020 due to their involvement in the mass atrocities targeting ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.

BGI’s influence, however, extends far beyond China, as the company has a global reach. A recent update to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s initiative on Chinese technology companies shows a BGI presence across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia, encompassing all manner of agreements to boost different countries’ COVID-testing efforts. In July 2020, for example, it donated 2,000 of its COVID-testing kits to the Philippines.

As Insider notes, the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence warned that BGI might be a “global collection mechanism for Chinese government genetic databases.”

Earlier this year, William Evanina, the former national counterintelligence and security director, warned that BGI was offering testing kits to local U.S. officials at the height of the COVID crisis. A 60 Minutes segment described his concerns:

Evanina suspects these lab offers are modern-day Trojan horses. BGI comes to the U.S. bearing gifts, but harboring other motives. It’s unclear whether BGI, or any COVID tester, would get DNA from nasal swabs, he says, but the labs are a way to establish a foothold, to bring their equipment here, start mining your data, and set up shop in your neighborhood.

Insider quotes an expert saying that Amazon’s work with BGI “may be legitimate, with safeguards in place to prevent any leak of medical information on Americans to Beijing.” But BGI’s clear adherence to Beijing’s laws and its global reach are extremely worrying nonetheless.

Politics & Policy

A Bridge to Somewhere

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A view of the Interstate 81 freeway in Syracuse, N.Y., April 28, 2021. (Zoe Davis/Reuters)

Representative Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.) has some solid ideas about what an infrastructure bill should look like. A sampling:

On his second day in office, President Biden repealed the Trump-era “One Federal Decision” executive order designed to speed up the environmental review process in which departments would review permits in parallel with each other rather than in sequence. At a time when President Biden is advocating for a large expansion in federally funded infrastructure projects, it is all the more surprising that he took action not to increase, but to slow, regulatory approval. For years, nonpartisan groups like Common Good have advocated for approval in less than two years when it comes to the environmental review process. Common Good suggests creating a National Infrastructure Board charged with setting national infrastructure priorities and reasonable contracting policies. This independent entity would help take politics out of the equation while also increasing accountability through auditing project results.

Energy & Environment

Oat Milk and Environmentalism

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Environmentalists demonstration near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, during the 2015 World Climate Change Conference. (Mal Langsdon/Reuters)

It is hard to deny that certain forms of environmentalism, often (but certainly not exclusively) when climate change is involved, take on strong religious characteristics, frequently of a distinctly millenarian nature.

However hard it may be to deny that eminently self-evident fact, plenty do, which made it refreshing to read this in an article in the Financial Times by Judith Evans:

As the oat milk brand Oatly spread across the world last year, its chief executive, Toni Petersson, said his product — which boasts lower greenhouse gas emissions than conventional dairy — was not just another drink.

“For people today, sustainability is more of an ideology. It’s a structured belief system, almost like a religion . . . but it’s relied on what the science says,” Petersson said. “And I think we as a company have a licence to take a place in that ideology.”

The science.

Here’s one little detail about this saintly company, via the FT in April

Oatly, the Blackstone-backed vegan milk company which on Monday filed to float on Nasdaq, said it would consider adding a listing in Hong Kong within the next two years, citing its relationship with a Chinese state-owned conglomerate. China Resources owns about 30 per cent of the Swedish group through a 50/50 joint venture with the Belgian family investment group Verlinvest, which holds 60 per cent in Oatly.

Hmmm.

Oatly went public in late May at a valuation of around $10bn.  The IPO went well, and the stock has since risen to new heights.

But back to the FT’s Evans:

Petersson has also put his finger on something about consumers’ behaviour when it comes to sustainable products. What had been a niche pursuit has now become, for many, an article of faith.

Until recently, the conventional wisdom in consumer goods was that people would happily express their green preferences in surveys and largely discard them at the door of the supermarket, like parishioners who attend church only at Christmas.

But a surge in sales of green-marketed products like Oatly, whose revenues were around $400m last year, shows this assumption to be outdated. Petersson says that, in Oatly’s key markets, between 60 and 70 per cent of buyers only started buying plant milk in the past two years.

Market researchers are scrambling to keep pace with this trend and produce a more accurate portrait of the green consumer. Two consultancies, Brodie and Public First, surveyed thousands of people in the UK and US this year, dividing them up by attitudes. Almost all expressed some concern about climate change. About a fifth were “corporate optimists”, who have significant faith in business to solve environmental problems. They like to buy green and ethical products and are prepared to pay more for them. But they have a bias towards “easy wins” like recycling and smart energy meters. They are less likely to make drastic moves like vegetarianism or giving up flying.

Vegetarianism? Oh yes.

There is, to be sure, a moral case for vegetarianism unrelated to climate change, but the idea that people giving up meat in the West (which is really what is under discussion) will make a significant difference to the climate is unconvincing. Rather, this is just one environmentalist variant of the pointless asceticism common to a good number of ideologies, philosophies, and religions, and a telling one at that. As I noted in a recent article on climate change and meat-eating:

The fact that establishing rules governing what people eat is also a powerful instrument of psychological and social control is no coincidence.

But back to that survey:

Another group, “big power sceptics”, is smaller — 14 per cent in the UK, 9 per cent in the US. They are more despairing of the will of corporates and governments to tackle climate change, but are inclined to lifestyle changes such as giving up meat and buying second-hand. They tend to boycott, to protest and to pursue social media activism.

Other segments are less prepared to change. “Commercial realists” believe other factors, like the economy, must come first. “Pessimistic free-marketeers” think businesses are unlikely to change because they lack financial incentives to do so.

One of the largest groups is the “ethically disenfranchised”, who are too confused by sustainability jargon and dilemmas to act.

“Ethically disenfranchised.” I’ll just let that stand there.

Evans:

A majority of consumers have not so far fully embraced buying green. Reaching them is a challenge not just for commercial marketers but for governments seeking to push populations towards green energy, local holidays and electric vehicles.

“Push.”

Media

What Is a Fireable Offense at CNN?

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(Brian Snyder/Reuters)

What if one of your top stars helps his powerful brother cover up a botched COVID response by obsequiously kibbitzing around with him during the outbreak of the deadliest pandemic in a century rather than asking useful questions, as Chris Cuomo did with his brother, New York governor Andrew Cuomo? What if Andrew sends the New York Department of Health out to Chris’s posh Southampton home to give his family special treatment even as he refuses to cover the fact that New York is sending the elderly into death traps? Nope?

What if Chris stages a fake coronavirus quarantine-emergence video for his gullible audience — even after receiving special treatment from the New York Department of Health and ignoring the nursing home deaths? And what if he participates in a communications-strategy call to help his powerful brother deal with the litany of sexual-harassment claims made against him even as the story is being covered by your network?

While it’s certainly understandable that a man feels compelled to help his family, it is appalling that CNN allows that person to not only keep pretending to be an objective journalist but keep spreading falsehoods about other governors and politicians. But there’s been a lot of ethical malleability over at CNN; lots of bananas and few apples. Or is it the other way around? This is a network that feels comfortable hiring John Harwood, a reporter caught soliciting questions from the DNC to ask Republican candidates before a presidential debate, but fires commentator Jeffery Lord for making a bad joke. This is the network that elevated Michael Avenatti so he could smear Supreme Court justices as rapists without evidence, but fires Rick Santorum for making a crude historical observation. It is the network that not only ran a slew of unexplained botched scoops and features documented liars such as James Clapper and John Brennan as experts on decorum and democracy. If you want to hear Dan Rather’s thoughts on journalism, CNN is for you.

Being a morally flawed person, of course, doesn’t necessarily prohibit one from being an effective journalist, but no serious outlet would allow a man who reportedly pressured his pregnant mistress — the daughter of a one-time CNN colleague — into getting an abortion to take the role of zealous abortion advocate on their station. And yet, the mind-numbingly partisan banalities of Jeffrey Toobin were a regular feature of CNN long before his onanistic mishap. And, I guess, in that context, getting caught masturbating on a New Yorker staff Zoom meeting isn’t really that big of a deal.

Media

Politico Admits Colluding with ‘Rival Campaigns’ to Take Out Leading NYC Mayoral Candidate

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Eric Adams, Democratic candidate for New York City Mayor, speaks during a campaign appearance in Brooklyn, New York. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Eric Adams, the Brooklyn Borough president and ex-cop who has surpassed Andrew Yang to become the front-runner in the New York City mayoral race (whose Democratic Party primary takes place June 22), is looking like a victim of bad journalism by Politico this week. Politico New York‘s would-be hit piece questioning Adams’s residency status took a startling turn when it revealed that it was produced in collusion with Adams’s mayoral rivals. “POLITICO and sources on rival campaigns observed him arriving at the government building close to midnight four nights in a row last week and several nights the week prior,” the site’s story noted on Tuesday. (Emphasis mine.)

Huh? Is this normal procedure for Politico, to work with this or that political campaign in service of taking out a leading political figure? Political reporters take tips from oppo researchers all the time, but they then seek to verify the rumors independently. They don’t normally join forces with one campaign to destroy another.

I suspect that Yang’s team is behind this farcical last-minute oppo-research gambit attempting to suggest that Adams secretly lives in New Jersey. As Adams has previously stated, he owns a condo in Fort Lee, right across the river from upper Manhattan, and his girlfriend lives there. Adams owns several New York City properties, some of which he rents out for income, and has cited different addresses on different public records.

The Politico story suggests that its reporters and rival oppo researchers worked together to put a tail on Adams for two weeks but discovered only the following: that he often sleeps in his office, which is Brooklyn Borough Hall. That’s a little odd, but then again Adams said last March that he was effectively living there because he was working on COVID battle plans. Adams this week invited reporters to take a look around what he says is his main residence, an apartment in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Also in recent days he introduced reporters to his 26-year-old son, whose existence he said he had kept secret from fellow officers when he was a cop. That’s a little odd, too; Adams cited privacy concerns for the younger man.

So Adams is, like pretty much every other previous mayor, a bit of an odd duck. But here’s the thing: Nobody has produced any evidence that he actually lives in New Jersey. Yang squawked the other day that if Adams has nothing to hide, he should produce the records for the EZ Pass toll-registering gizmo on his city-owned car. Adams duly produced the records, which show that he has triggered New Jersey tolls eleven times in the last year. If he were actually living in New Jersey he could ring up that many hits in a week. The New York Times (which has endorsed another mayoral candidate, Kathryn Garcia), sent nine reporters out on the story, and also came up with nothing. It weakly reported “Mr. Adams has done at least seven web appearances from the Fort Lee apartment between April 2020 and February of this year, according to research by a rival campaign.” Again, huh? Political reporters are supposed to independently verify oppo research, not simply pass it along as fact. Anyway, Adams countered that he had done more than 100 such forums. He has never denied spending time in New Jersey. As Brooklyn Borough president, he obviously pays taxes as a New York City resident. New Yorkers, even mayoral candidates, are allowed to leave the state. It isn’t a prison.

Did Yang then shut up this ginned-up controversy? No, because at a debate last night the moderator reframed the “issue,” if you can call it that, as a question of belief: “Do you believe Eric Adams lives in New York City?” Yang said he didn’t. Who cares what Yang believes? If neither he nor anyone else can produce any evidence that Adams lives in New Jersey, he should stop talking about it, and the press should also.

Politico could go one better by admitting it had nothing on Adams and therefore shouldn’t have published its wild-goose chase report on Tuesday, but I won’t hold my breath for that. In the meantime, I await Politico‘s explanation of the circumstances under which it considers it appropriate to turn its reporters into allies of partisan political campaigns, and I await the New York Times‘s explanation of whether or not its reporters are required to independently verify rumors provided to it by political campaigners.

Politics & Policy

AOC: Senate Democrats Need to Tell Constituents Where They Stand on the Filibuster

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The Daily Beast reports:

Even staunch progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), desperate to see the filibuster go, understand that Manchin isn’t alone in his support for a 60-vote threshold.

“It’s something of a symbiotic relationship,” Ocasio-Cortez told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “There are certainly more senators with reservations about the filibuster that are giving Manchin steam to stay firm. But I have also heard from colleagues that none of those other senators want to play Manchin’s role.”

Ocasio-Cortez continued that, if Manchin or Sinema folded, she believed those other senators would come around to eliminating the filibuster as well. “That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be pressed for their position and offer clarity to their constituents, though,” she said of the senators letting Manchin do the talking. “People deserve to know with clarity where their elected representation stands on the filibuster.”

Ocasio-Cortez is right: Some Democrats in battleground states have been quite evasive on whether they support eliminating the filibuster. Here’s what Arizona senator Mark Kelly had to say earlier this year when National Review asked him if he supports keeping the 60-vote rule:

National Review: Senator Kelly, do you have any thoughts on the filibuster? Do you share Senator Sinema’s position that you’re in favor of keeping it under all circumstances?

Senator Kelly: Well, I’ve been, since I got here at the beginning of December, you know, working really hard to come up with bipartisan solutions. We’ve got this bipartisan group—Democrats and Republicans—I was on the call with the White House the other day. I think any organization is going to function better when people can work together and we can work across party lines to get things done.

NR: Specifically, on keeping the 60-vote threshold, is that something that you would like to do?

Kelly: Well, like I said, you know, bipartisanship is really important to me. I think it’s important to Arizonans too. We just want to make the place work.

Arizona’s other Democratic senator, Kyrsten Sinema, has been adamant in her support of the filibuster.

Politics & Policy

Millions of Workers on the Sidelines

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The results from a recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce poll of unemployed workers shed some additional light on the effects of pandemic unemployment benefits and other factors. Here are some of the poll’s key findings:

  • Half (49%) of Americans who became unemployed during the pandemic say they are not actively or not very actively looking for work; less than a third (32%) report that they are strongly active in their job search.
  • Six in 10 respondents (61%) say they are in no hurry to return to work. Three in 10 (30%) say they do not expect to return to work this year, with nearly half of those (13% of the total) saying they never plan to return to work.
  • One in eight (13%) who became unemployed during the pandemic and remain unemployed have turned down at least one job offer in the past year.
  • One in six not actively seeking work (16%) say the amount of money they are receiving from unemployment benefits and government programs makes it “not worth looking” for work.
  • Even more –28 percent of survey respondents–agree that “There are a lot of people who are not looking for work because they can do almost or just as well collecting unemployment benefits.”
  • Other common factors contributing to unemployed Americans not looking for work include childcare and other family care needs (24%), a lack of available jobs due in sectors that are still suffering (28%), and COVID-19 concerns (26%).

Check out the Chamber’s webpage for other results, analysis, and graphs.

Politics & Policy

Manchin Says He’ll Support the Hyde Amendment in ‘Every Way Possible’

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) speaks during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., April 20, 2021. (Oliver Contreras/Pool via Reuters)

President Biden has proposed a budget scrapping the Hyde amendment, an annual budget measure that prevents federal funding of elective abortions for Medicaid recipients and thus saves tens of thousands of lives from abortion each year. 

In an interview with Bloomberg Government on Thursday, West Virginia Democratic senator Joe Manchin said: “I’m going to support Hyde in every way possible.”

Manchin’s commitment to protecting the Hyde amendment and his commitment to keep the filibuster will likely prevent the Hyde amendment from being eliminated outright in 2021 or 2022.

But even if Manchin protects the Hyde amendment as it applies to Medicaid, there is still a real threat that Democrats could allow taxpayer-funding of elective abortions in other programs in the next budget-reconciliation bill, just as they did in the $1.9 trillion “COVID relief” bill that was enacted in March. 

Hours before a vote on final passage of that $1.9 trillion bill, the Senate voted to apply the Hyde amendment to it, and three Senate Democrats — Manchin, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, and Tim Kaine of Virginia — joined all 50 Republicans to support the Hyde amendment. But the Senate parliamentarian ruled that the amendment ran afoul of budget reconciliation rules and needed 60 votes to pass. Manchin, Casey, and Kaine decided to vote for final passage of the bill anyway. 

Manchin explained later that he voted for final passage because he “didn’t want to let “the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Manchin also said that he would like to retroactively apply the Hyde amendment to the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill during the appropriations process, but if he really had wanted to do everything he could to support the Hyde amendment he would have insisted back in March on removing the funding streams that could be used for abortion.

Of course, it remains to be seen if various slush funds in the COVID-relief bill that allow abortion funding are actually used to fund abortions, and a future reconciliation bill in which Medicaid or a “public option” funds elective abortions would be much worse. If Manchin really means that he’ll “support Hyde in every way possible,” that means drawing a red line and telling Chuck Schumer that any reconciliation bill that allows taxpayer funding of elective abortions won’t get his vote for final passage.

Science & Tech

What Jeff Bezos’s Planned Trip into Space Could Mean for Mankind’s Future

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Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos laughs during the grand opening of Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, Wash., January 29, 2018. (Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is taking a trip to space on Blue Origin’s first human voyage. Accompanying him on his three-minute tour beyond the atmosphere will be his brother Mark Bezos and a third paying guest.

This piece of news, if slightly bizarre in the manner of a Babylon Bee headline, is hardly surprising. After all, where else does one venture, having attained the pinnacle of earthly, monetary power, if not literally beyond the terrestrial realm? “Ever since I was five years old, I’ve dreamed of traveling to space,” Bezos wrote in the Instagram post in which he announced his plans for the pioneering voyage. Perhaps, having attained the title of the richest man on Earth, Bezos now sees fit to fulfil one of his few unfulfilled dreams.

The Internet may deride Bezos’s grandiose plan of a space expedition for its extravagance or resemblance to a child’s fantasy, but we should applaud his ambition. Indeed, the aspiration to explore space shares the same roots as the human desire for progress that has allowed mankind to prosper from modernization, advancement, and development. It also requires faith in humans’ capability to wield technology constructively and innovatively. The spirit of space expeditions may even resemble that of pioneers venturing across the American Plains, westward, in search of grander beauty.

Bezos’s trip to space would, if successful, prove to be a remarkable demonstration of the vitality of free enterprise and the successes achievable through the privatization of space exploration. NASA’s decision to outsource space-exploration projects has contributed to the expansion of the private space industry. The possibility of lucrative government contracts has incentivized corporations to invest resources and efforts, with considerable success, in the development of space technology to remain competitive. Such development is also prompted by the desire to spearhead the new and potentially enormously profitable industry of space travel.

Among the leading space companies, Bezos’s Blue Origin is not the only one taking long strides forward. Elon Musk’s Space X had announced plans to launch the first all-civilian mission to space in February. Virgin Galactic’s founder Richard Branson is allegedly attempting to reach space before Bezos does by securing himself a seat on a test flight scheduled to take off over the Fourth of July weekend. Another space race appears to be on the horizon — only this time, it is among corporations instead of nations. Consider this another reason to endorse the privatization of space exploration — a space race among nations could put polities at odds; a space race among corporations encourages innovation and progress.

Jeff Bezos may not be most conservatives’ favorite person, but Blue Origins’ pioneering success in space travel would prove that free enterprise is still the best way to organize most American industries, including the historically state-dominated space industry.