Politics & Policy

The State of the NRA

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The George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas, site of the NRA annual convention, May 26, 2022. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

The National Rifle Association usually announces the total attendance at its three-day convention at the conclusion, and it seems like this year’s attendance will be short of the usual number of around 80,000. The aisles of the exhibition hall don’t seem as crowded as in past years. Houston First, the government corporation that oversees the convention center, said before the event began that it was expecting around 55,000 people.

After two years of annual meetings canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic, no doubt the NRA is just happy to see this year’s event occurring at all. But the lower attendance does seem like a sign that the organization is not back to full strength. The last time the NRA held its convention in Houston in 2013, it set an attendance record at 86,228. Houston still is the fourth-most populous city in the U.S., and the city’s metropolitan area houses more than 7.1 million people. So why did the region’s gun owners not turn out in the usual numbers?

Inflation and gas prices may have made some gun owners less interested in making the trip. Some of the usual attendees may have had other plans for the Memorial Day weekend. And perhaps some potential attendees just didn’t feel like going to a gun event so soon after the mass shooting in Uvalde.

But beyond those reasons, there’s no getting around the fact that the image of the NRA has taken some tough hits in recent years — and it’s not just the controversy over the group’s perspective on how to respond to mass shootings. Since the last annual meeting in Indianapolis in 2019, the organization has faced a cavalcade of credible allegations of self-dealing and egregious wastes of donor money — with some allegations coming from former leaders of the organization like Oliver North. LaPierre reportedly made suit purchases from the Zegna store in Beverly Hills between 2004 and 2017 that totaled $274,695.03, and sent the bills to the NRA’s former PR firm, Ackerman McQueen.

The NRA has admitted some benefits paid to top executives were excessive; in 2020, executive vice president Wayne LaPierre received $1.7 million in compensation, the filing said, including a $455,000 bonus. He was paid $1.9 million the year before. Legal fights with Ackerman McQueen and the state attorney general of New York generated gargantuan legal fees; from 2018 to 2020, the NRA paid its top lawyer, William A. Brewer III and his firm, more than $54 million. Whether or not the NRA itself is falling apart, its headquarters building in Fairfax started falling apart during the pandemic.

One other potential reason for smaller turnout this year is that there is a good chance there are fewer active NRA members than there were a few years ago.

The NRA usually only gives a broad figure of its membership numbers, currently saying it has five million members. But an internal document obtained by The Reload detailed that “membership appears to have fluctuated between roughly four and five million from 2012 to August 2021, breaching five million members only once, in 2018. As of August 2021, the group recorded north of 4.5 million members.”

Despite all this bad news, the 76-member NRA board of directors is not acting like a group that is eager to see changes. This weekend, an effort to replace LaPierre with former congressman and Texas GOP chairman Allen West is not expected to succeed, and likely won’t even come close. Most of the board members seem quite content with the way LaPierre is running the organization. This weekend, Janet Nyce, co-chair of the NRA Women’s Leadership Forum, said that critics of LaPierre should leave the organization.

The Washington Post noted that smaller, newer Second Amendment–focused organizations — which often present the NRA as an establishment sellout – are growing quickly. “The National Association for Gun Rights, has grown to 75 staff members and a $15 million budget, he said, up from about $6 million in 2019. Gun Owners of America grew from less than a dozen staff members in Springfield, Va., in 2018 to now having field directors in 25 states. The organization’s income surged to about $5.9 million in 2019, more than double what it raised two years earlier, according to tax filings.” Those groups are still a long ways away from rivaling the size, reach, and revenue of the NRA, but their growing membership and donor base indicates some gun owners are looking for other options in activist groups.

There’s one last factor to keep in mind. Gun manufacturers and companies that make sights, holsters, gun safes, targets, and every other imaginable piece of firearms-related paraphernalia spend money to set up and display their wares in the exhibition hall. (No one actually purchases guns at the NRA convention; everyone is window-shopping but will likely make purchases from federally-licensed firearms dealer back home. All models in the exhibition hall have their firing pin removed.) With gun sales off-the-charts for the past two years, some companies may not feel as much of a need to attend the event. The gun industry is as affected by supply-chain problems as any other industry, and with a surge in gun sales particularly after the riots of mid-2020, Ruger and other manufacturers had difficulty keeping their distributors supplied with inventory. If you’re having trouble keeping your distributors in stock, what’s the point of trying to attract more potential buyers?

This year the exhibition hall is missing at least one big-name gun manufacturer; Sig Sauer did not set up a display, and the company did not attend the SHOT Show, the firearms industry’s trade show, in Las Vegas earlier this year.

Markets

The Global Food Crunch: Will Rice Be Next?

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A scientist shows “Golden Rice” (R) and ordinary rice at the International Rice Research Institute in Los Banos, Laguna. (Erik De Castro/Reuters)

In the most recent Capital Letter I have written about how disruptions caused by the war in Ukraine were triggering export bans by some food-producing nations (and risked triggering more), something made more dangerous by the way that, in a era of global food markets, the aim of self-sufficiency had been replaced by specialization. That works very well until it doesn’t.

Bloomberg, May 26:

Rice may be India’s next food protectionism target after it restricted wheat and sugar exports, analysts say, a move that could have a devastating impact on global food security as it’s an important staple.

India’s curbs on wheat and sugar exports sent shock waves through global markets as it marked an escalation in food protectionism that’s seen countries choke off flows of locally-grown supplies to the world. A similar move on rice by the No. 1 exporter at a time when crops like wheat and corn are soaring would threaten to plunge millions more into hunger and boost inflation risks.

India is the world’s largest exporter of rice (accounting for about 40 percent of global trade).

An export ban still seems unlikely, at least for now  There’s plenty of rice in the country, but it seems that the government will also be watching carefully what happens to the rice price (inflation has risen sharply in India, and is running at an eight-year high). Price appears to have been a major factor in India’s decision to introduce export restrictions on wheat (where a heatwave is hitting output, adding domestic to international pressure).

If India does restrict exports, it will add to the growing global food crunch.

Bloomberg:

Rice has been the one staple grain that’s helping to keep the world food crisis from getting worse. Unlike wheat and corn, which have seen prices skyrocket as the war in Ukraine disrupts supplies from a major breadbasket, rice prices have remained subdued due to ample production and existing stockpiles.

That outlook can change if India decides to curb rice exports. It may spur other countries to follow a similar playbook, as it did during the 2008 food crisis, when Vietnam also restricted rice shipments.

Meanwhile, via Bloomberg, May 27:

Thailand and Vietnam should jointly raise rice prices to boost their bargaining power in the global market, according to Thai premier Prayuth Chan-Ocha, a move that threatens higher food costs for consumers worldwide.

Such a step will benefit millions of rice farmers in the two countries who have struggled with rising costs while prices of the grain have remained subdued, Prayuth’s spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana said in a statement. Vietnam’s Deputy Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Tran Thanh Nam met with Thai officials Thursday to discuss a framework for cooperation.

For now, there is enough rice in the market to suggest that, even if the two countries try to increase prices in a coordinated move, they are likely to struggle, but that, of course, would change if India changed its position.

The Economy

Living with Inflation

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(gesrey/Getty Images)

One sign that people’s habits are beginning to change as high inflation rates persist (yes, the latest PCE data were superficially more encouraging, but please see more on that below) appeared on Thursday with results from both Dollar General and Dollar Tree beating expectations.

CNBC (my emphasis added):

The two retailers said they see opportunity to grow as Americans weigh value more heavily in their purchasing decisions, whether buying groceries or seasonal decor.

“We’re already starting to see our core customers start to shop more intentionally,” Dollar General CEO Todd Vasos said on a call with analysts. “And we’re starting to see that next tier of customers start to shop with us a little bit more as well.”

Dollar Tree Executive Chair Rick Dreiling listed the many challenges that consumers are facing, from the highest levels of inflation since the early 1980s to record high gas prices and uncertainty from current events such as the Ukraine war and the pandemic. He added that many consumers “are living paycheck to paycheck.”

Contrast the story from Walmart and Target, which I discussed here and here.

Four other points from the CNBC report that caught my eye:

Dollar General has a few other cost-saving and profit-driving measures underway, too. It added self-checkout to more than 8,000 stores as of the end of the first quarter. It plans to turn about 200 stores into self-checkout only this year.

Tell me again how the labor shortage is going to endure . . .

The transportation problems that have dogged the business world for at least a year have clearly left a scar:

[Dollar General] is more than doubling its private fleet of trucks from 2021, so they account for about 40% of its outbound transportation fleet by the end of the year.

Meanwhile Dollar Tree has clearly not been hurt by its decision to break through the buck (I wrote about that last year):

 At Dollar Tree, a price hike has been a big boost for profitability. The retailer announced last year that it would raise the price of dollar items by a quarter. It is rolling out $3 and $5 items to more stores, too.

Finally, it’s worth paying attention to this:

Shoppers are still coming to stores, but are buying different items. Food is a bigger part of baskets and drove sales for Dollar General and Dollar Tree in the fiscal first quarter.

A year ago, consumers had extra dollars from stimulus checks and child tax credits. That meant some sprang for impulse items or discretionary purchases. Those dollars have disappeared and other budget items, such as groceries and gas, have become pricier.

Another sign that the ‘stag’ half of the nightmare stagflationary scenario may be coming closer to reality? Maybe. So far, despite the fact that real incomes have not been keeping pace with inflation, most Americans have been able to keep up their spending with the help of savings accumulated during the pandemic period. The evidence from the two ‘Dollar’ chains of pressure on those at lower income levels may be an early sign that that is changing.

And then there’s this, from the New York Times:

Record levels of government aid during the pandemic, combined with reduced spending on many leisure activities, allowed Americans to build up a substantial reserve of extra savings — $2.5 trillion or more by some estimates. That cushion could allow consumers to keep spending even as prices rise. A snapshot of Americans’ financial health conducted last fall and released by the Federal Reserve this week found that 78 percent of respondents felt they were “doing at least OK” — the highest rate in the survey’s nine-year history.

But relying on savings is unsustainable in the long run. Economists say many lower-income households have probably already exhausted their savings, or will in the months ahead, especially as high gas and food prices continue to take a toll. Balances of credit cards and similar types of debt rose at a 35.3 percent annual rate in March, the biggest one-month increase since 1998, according to data from the Federal Reserve.

On the inflation side, as mentioned above, there was some superficially encouraging data.

CNN:

The price index measuring Personal Consumption Expenditures rose by 6.3% year over year in April, the Commerce Department reported Friday. It was a decrease from March, when prices rose by 6.6%, and the first slowing of price hikes since November 2020.

President Joe Biden called the data a “sign of progress,” but noted that “inflation is still too high and Putin’s price hike continues to impact food and energy prices.

Ah yes, Putin’s price hike™.

Of course, the war in Ukraine (and sanctions) are contributing to higher prices, but it’s worth remembering that U.S. food and energy prices were moving up well before the Russian invasion.

Back to CNN:

Stripping out more volatile items like food and energy, core PCE inflation, which is the Federal Reserve’s preferred measure of consumer prices, rose by 4.9% over the same period, down from 5.2% recorded in March.

Sadly, no lasting relief on either the energy or food front can be expected for a while. There’s also the cost of ‘shelter’ to consider. That tends to lag behind increases in home prices,  and, after the recent surge, home prices continue to be at record levels, despite some early indications that the froth may be coming off the market.

One (not particularly scientific) sign that an inflationary mindset is establishing itself has been the surge of interest in the Treasury’s Series I savings bonds.

The Washington Post:

People searching for a respite from inflation have flooded the Treasury Department phone lines and website to try to buy Series I savings bonds, causing much longer waits than usual…

On May 2, the Treasury Department announced that the inflation-protected I bonds will earn 9.62 percent interest at least until the end of October. A day later, TreasuryDirect, the website that people have to use to purchase the bonds, crashed.

We don’t make investment recommendations here at Capital Matters, but the Post also featured a discussion on these bonds here, and the Treasury explains them here.

Another sign of inflationary times is the announcement of price changes by sticker, a memory for me of growing up in the 1970s, and something I have started seeing here in New York City lately. The time before — not an encouraging precedent — was in Argentina in 2019.

Then there was this story from Bloomberg:

To fathom just how rampant inflation now is in some corners of the US, duck into the Miami River Cafe, a Mexican place in the city’s East Little Havana district.

It’s not the prices on the menu so much that’ll shock you. They’re actually still very cheap (and the tacos really good). It’s the fact that the prices were scrawled in pen on stickers slapped on the menu. Those stickers are a tell-tale sign that prices are going up at such a rapid-fire clip that the staff is struggling to print new menus fast enough. Rewriting prices on old menus is easier and cheaper, too…

World

Unable to See Neurosurgeon, Disabled Canadian Woman Contemplates Euthanasia

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A hospital in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, November 2, 2020 (Shannon VanRaes/Reuters)

A Canadian woman with a serious neuromuscular condition has been unable to obtain an appointment to see a neurosurgeon for four years. From the CTV story:

Ashcraft has something called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, or EDS, a group of inherited disorders that affect connective tissue. “It’s bulldozed my life,” she said, adding that it took years to get an accurate diagnosis.

For her, it means wearing a brace to keep her neck stable. She also has constant joint pain and feels weak.“I’m in terrible chronic pain,” she said. “The pain is horrendous.”

On bad days, she said it “feels like an axe in the back of my head.” She can’t work, and spends most of her days in a medical bed at her home.

Despite pain medications, Ashcraft said her condition is getting worse. She wants surgery to stabilize her neck.“ Surgery, it can reduce my pain. It will also keep me much safer because it’s dangerous to have an unstable upper neck,” she explained.

She accepts that nothing will “cure” her EDS, but she believes surgery will make her more comfortable. But she said she’s been waiting almost four years to see a neurosurgeon, and still has not received an appointment.

She checked to see if she could be treated in the U.S. Yes, but at the cost of $100,000. She has asked the BC Provincial Government to pay for it. After all, free health care and all that. So far, she has not heard anything.

In desperation, she is now contemplating a lethal jab:

With nowhere to turn and little hope, a struggling Ashcraft has been contemplating MAiD. “I don’t want my family to watch me suffer like that for years on end,” she said. “Death still kind of scares me, but what fears me more is that I’m starting to lose my fear of death,” she added.

But, but, but euthanasia = Compassion! Ditto, single-payer health-care! Right?

National Review

Houellebecq, Mamet, Garner

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(NR Illustration)

If you had asked me a couple of years ago, I would have said that almost everybody I want to read is in National Review, with the obvious exceptions of Michel Houellebecq, David Mamet, and Bryan A. Garner. Now, I can read them in National Review, too. I have been a National Review reader for a lot longer than I have been a National Review writer, and while I do miss a couple of the big personalities (WFB, obviously, but also Florence King and many others) and the Trans-O-Gram, I really think that the magazine as a magazine is more interesting today than it ever has been. Nobody asked me to compose a marketing pitch today (though, really, subscribe if you haven’t), I’m just reading NR with my morning coffee and felt moved to write and to praise my colleagues for their good work.

History

Plagues, Lockdowns, and the Economy

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A view of the town of Dubrovnik, Croatia’s most popular Adriatic destination, May 28, 2003 (Nikola Solic/Reuters)

Lessons from medieval Dubrovnik, the “Hong Kong of the Mediterranean”:

Dubrovnik [was] known historically as Ragusa. The picturesque port city is nicknamed “the pearl of the Adriatic” for its beauty. But the city has also been called “the Hong Kong of the Mediterranean” for its historic embrace of personal and economic freedom and its maritime trade-based prosperity. Not only was the small city-state of the Republic of Ragusa at the forefront of freedom for its time, being one of the earliest countries to ban slavery, but the glittering merchant city on the sea was also the site of an early milestone in the history of public health: quarantine waiting periods, which were first implemented in 1377. In 1390, Dubrovnik also created the world’s first permanent public health office. Perhaps more than any other city, Dubrovnik can claim to have helped create the idea of public health.

More at Human Progress.

Politics & Policy

Death of a Stupid Talking Point

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A person holds a Sig Sauer handgun chosen for use by the U.S. Army during the National Rifle Association convention in Dallas, Texas, May 6, 2018. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

I’m at the NRA convention in Houston, and one of the many dumb criticisms leveled at the organization (Why? When there are so many real criticisms?) is that the NRA is hypocritical for banning firearms at its own convention.

Except — pay attention, now, Sunshine! — the NRA doesn’t ban firearms at its convention.

In fact, there are a few people walking around with guns on their hips, and I suspect that the number of concealed-carry weapons exceeds the number of open-carry weapons by at least ten to one. (I know for a fact there’s at least one concealed firearm in the venue.) There’s no metal detector, no airport-style security, nothing like that. The only real security for the venue are the police deployed to keep the screaming idiot rabble out.

That being said, the Secret Service prohibits weapons from being carried into public appearances by people under its protection, so you couldn’t carry a gun into the room where Donald Trump was giving his speech. I know that many of our Democratic friends believe that the NRA is somehow omnipotent, but I am pretty sure the Secret Service sets its own policies.

As usual when it comes to the gun debate, our progressive friends could do themselves a favor by learning something about their subject.

Politics & Policy

Donald Trump’s Same Old, Same Old

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Former President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual convention in Houston, Texas, May 27, 2022. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

The George R. Brown Convention Center’s general assembly theater hall seats about 3,600, one of the smaller venues for the portion of the NRA convention that features speeches from lawmakers and NRA officials in recent years. In 2019, President Trump’s speech was at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis; in 2018, President Trump’s speech was at the arena of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, which seats nearly 10,000 people.

And yet yesterday there were some empty seats for Trump’s address – perhaps it is a sign that attendees have already seen Trump speeches and don’t feel as much of a need to see him in person, or perhaps a sign that the long lines at the magnetometers made some people choose to browse the 14 acres of guns on display instead.

The former president’s speech was classic Trump, veering from topic to topic and changing tone quickly. Trump began by declaring, “unlike some, I didn’t disappoint you by not showing up,” a jab at Texas lawmakers like senator John Cornyn, congressman Dan Crenshaw, and lieutenant governor Dan Patrick. (Cornyn is in Washington, Crenshaw is still in Ukraine, and Patrick said he would not attend in order to “focus on the families” affected by the Uvalde school shooting. Governor Greg Abbott sent a pre-taped video message, and was in Uvalde Friday.)

Trump was appropriately somber while discussing the “heinous massacre,” “a savage and barbaric atrocity that shocks the conscience of every American,” and read off the names of the victims during a period of silence. A good portion of his speech focused on gun issues, laying out his preferred policies out in the signature Trumpian stream-of-consciousness style.

“Surely, we can all agree our schools should not be the softest target, our schools should be the single hardest target in our country,” Trump said. “And that’s why, as part of a comprehensive school safety plan, it is time to finally allow highly trained teachers to safely and discreetly concealed carry. Let them conceal carry. And again, they have to be able to handle it, they have to be highly trained, all of those things, but let them do that. It would be so much better, and so much more effective, even from a cost standpoint. Because there is no sign more inviting to a mass killer than a sign that declares a ‘gun free zone.’ Most dangerous place. I know it sounds good, and it really does. Doesn’t it sound wonderful? But it’s not. And statistically, it’s a total disaster. Gun-free zone, they look at that sign, and they say, ‘that’s where I’m going.’ We cannot have that, because if somebody goes into that building, all of those innocent people will be taken out, will be killed, will be tortured. Bad things will happen. Have to get rid of it.”

Trump also offered a full-throated tribute to the nation’s police forces, a message that felt at least a little off-key in the immediate aftermath of that morning’s shocking accounts of police inaction during the Uvalde school massacre.

But as his nearly hour-long remarks continued, the former president veered back to some of his favorite non-gun topics – border security, the Space Force, the Iran nuclear deal, and a brief reference to the “rigged election.” Trump veered into foreign policy, giving his interpretation of recent Eastern European history: “Georgia was given up by Bush, Crimea was given up by Obama and Biden, nothing was given up by Trump, and then all of Ukraine was given up by Biden.”

In 2015 and 2016, as Trump presidential campaign roared to GOP frontrunner status, the billionaire’s unique controversy-courting pugnacious style was bracing, shocking, and for many NRA members and Republicans, thrilling and exciting. Nearly seven years later, it is a different world – and Trump is offering more of the same, including the same old increasingly stale jokes about the media: “Face the Nation should be called Deface the Nation,” “MSDNC,” a reference to sleepy-eyed Chuck Todd. (It is likely that Donald Trump worries a lot more about what is said about him on Face the Nation, MSNBC, and by Chuck Todd a lot more than his audience does.)

Make no mistake, the audience in Houston warmly welcomed Trump, and if they had to vote for president today, almost all of the attendees would likely vote for him again – in almost every case, for a third time. And yet, some of the thrill is gone. What was new and exciting when the NRA endorsed Trump at its 2016 convention in Louisville is now very familiar, less a promise of unlimited victories to come and now a more complicated combination of accomplishments and disappointments, wrapped up in the same old grievances that the country has heard about, day after day, for the past six or seven years. The man who was once the most unpredictable force in American politics is starting to feel predictable.

Music

Rule, Britannia, Etc.

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Organist Simon Preston with the CBE he received from Queen Elizabeth II during an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace in London, October 15, 2009 (Stefan Rousseau / WPA Pool / Getty Images)

If I’m not careful, my music podcast could become a kind of obituary page. People are always dying. (Annoying of them.) You could spend all your time honoring them, remembering them, paying tribute to them. But, you know? That’s not so bad. And there’s plenty of time for the living as well.

My latest Music for a While is here. I begin with Simon Preston, and I end with him too. He was an English organist, one of the greatest organists in the world. As I say in my podcast, I have long had two sort of go-to organists for the standard repertory — Preston and another Englishman, Peter Hurford. (Hurford died in 2019, and Preston this month.) They set a standard in taste and ability. There is something about a British musician, as I have explored in many a piece, and as others have explored in countless pieces and books.

Alexander Toradze was an amazing personality. He was a Georgian, as his name tells you, born in the Soviet Union. But he spent most of his life as an American. In 1983, he was on tour in Spain, and he defected to the U.S. embassy. Have I said he was a pianist? He was. And a charismatic, free-wheeling figure. He died a couple of weeks ago.

He made a big, big splash at the Van Cliburn Competition in 1977. He did not win the competition — that’s why he made a splash, really. He finished second, receiving the silver medal. And many, many people — including a juror, the great Lili Kraus — thought he had gotten ripped off. His second-place finish made news worldwide. He was launched.

There would be a similar scandal three years later, at the Chopin Competition in Warsaw. Ivo Pogorelich, the Yugoslavian pianist (we used to say “Yugoslavian”), was eliminated before the final round. The great Argentinian, Martha Argerich, quit the jury in protest. Other jurors said, “No, he’s just a showboat.” In any event, Pogorelich was launched.

I doubt that these scandals would make international news today. Controversies at piano competitions? Are you serious? Everything is different now. High culture is ignored — even low goings-on in high culture. The drive is toward the demotic. But that is another post, or piece, or book, or 3,000 of them.

I was talking about a podcast. The other day, I had a post that touched on Mitch Miller, of Sing Along with Mitch (the popular TV show of the 1960s). He began his career, however, as an oboist — a distinguished one. In this podcast, I have him playing a movement of the Vaughan Williams concerto.

Introducing something else, I say, “Once in a while, you fall in love with a piece. You have an affair with it. You are just smitten by it. I’ve been listening to a little piece by Chopin — not very well-known.” True.

Anyway, if you’d like “a break away from the everyday” — that used to be a fast-food slogan — Music for a While may be for you. Give it a whirl — again, here.

World

New Bipartisan Warnings about Expected Federal Investment in Chinese Atrocities and Military Buildup

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(Sky_Blue/Getty Images)

With a federal agency enabling the likely investment of federal tax dollars in companies implicated in Beijing’s genocide of Uyghurs, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is calling for a reversal of that move.

Earlier this month, Republican lawmakers warned that the Thrift Savings Plan, which is a retirement investment fund available to millions of federal government employees, planned to allow investments in mutual funds linked to a leading Chinese Communist Party entity in Xinjiang.

National Review reported on a letter sent by five GOP representatives, the first public effort to dissuade the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board — the independent agency that oversees the TSP — from making that move. Representative Jim Banks, the Republican lawmaker who led the effort, pointed out that the TSP’s pending decision to allow its investors to select unvetted mutual funds could inadvertently use U.S. funds to boost companies involved in forced-labor abuses.

In a pair of identical letters sent this week, lawmakers from both houses, and on both sides of the aisle, have now joined the campaign against TSP’s decision to open a “mutual fund window.”

“Such a move could expose billions of dollars in retirement savings of U.S. federal employees and service-members to Chinese companies, including ones currently sanctioned by the U.S. government for human rights abuses or otherwise blacklisted for the threat they pose to U.S. national security,” wrote Senate and House lawmakers, in letters to FRTIB acting chairman David Jones.

That carries considerable risk, given that Chinese firms are currently exempted from U.S. audit standards.

Senators Marco Rubio, Rick Scott, Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, Roger Marshall, and Rob Portman signed on to the Senate letter. A House version earned bipartisan support from Representatives Gregory Murphy, Jimmy Panetta, Chris Stewart, and Chip Roy.

With the mutual-fund window expected to open at the start of next month, there’s limited time to block FRTIB from moving forward with its decision. However, the lawmakers this week cited a precedent: TSP has previously moved to, and been blocked from, investing the retirement savings of federal civil servants and U.S. service members, in Chinese surveillance companies.

In addition to the possibility of investing in companies linked to mass atrocities, the lawmakers warn that FRTIB’s move could result in U.S. investment in Chinese firms that pose a threat to Americans.

“Given the vast number of Chinese companies implicated in this decision and the FRTIB’s past efforts to include such companies in the TSP, it is unlikely that your Board would be able to ensure that the approximately 5,000 mutual funds are all free of Chinese firms that pose a direct threat to American national security, enterprises implicated in Chinese Communist Party (CCP) human rights abuses, or companies that otherwise lack the requisite financial transparency and fiduciary responsibility to qualify as prudent investment opportunities,” wrote the lawmakers in the two letters that went out this week.

Although FRTIB has said that its investors will be able to select from 5,000 mutual funds, it has not specified which funds those are, and it has said that vetting them would be too costly.

It is likely, however, that some of those funds include companies that have been blacklisted by the U.S. government.

The Coalition for a Prosperous America identified more than 30 Chinese firms listed on the top five market mutual funds that should raise alarm. Several of those firms are known to be implicated in forced-labor abuses or have been blacklisted by the U.S. for their role in China’s military-industrial complex.

If this bipartisan pressure campaign fails, a federal agency will direct U.S. tax dollars toward Beijing’s mass atrocities and military buildup.

Politics & Policy

Greg Abbott’s Wise Decision to Go to Uvalde Today

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Texas Governor Greg Abbott attends a vigil in Uvalde, Texas, May 25, 2022. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

The National Rifle Association’s leadership forum started about an hour late, likely because of the long lines of NRA members waiting to pass through the magnetometers.

After NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre began the event by calling for fully funding police and touting the NRA’s training for school security officers, the first address from an elected official was from Texas governor Greg Abbott. Abbott’s decision to send a video address and travel to Uvalde was a wise one. Abbott attempted to argue that a law against crimes committed with a firearm are not sufficient without enforcement.  “In Uvalde, the shooter committed a felony before he pulled the trigger. In Texas, it is a felony to possess a firearm on school premises, but that did not stop him.” (Before his school rampage, the shooter committed another felony when he shot his grandmother in the face; she is receiving care at a San Antonio area hospital.)

Shortly after his pre-taped remarks played in Houston, Abbott addressed reporters at a press conference in Uvalde. “I was misled. I am livid about what happened. I was on this very stage two days ago . . . telling the public information that had been told to me.” Abbott pledged that a law enforcement investigation will “get to the bottom of every fact with absolute certainty. There are people who deserve answers the most, and those are the families.”

Abbott was followed by South Dakota governor Kristi Noem, who offered a speech that did not appear to have been dramatically rewritten or altered after the school shooting in Uvalde. Noem offered appropriate remarks about the shooting, but then offered up a lot of red meat on conservative issues.

“George Mason warned, ‘to disarm the people is the most effectual way to enslave them.’ The pandemic showed us that freedom is just as fragile and our time as it was in 1775. Fortunately, more Americans are waking up to this. From 2020 to 2021, around 11 million people in this country purchased a firearm for the very first time . . . About half of them were women. Yeah. And almost sixty percent of them were over the age of 45. I believe the number one reason was because of fear of civil unrest and to protect themselves and their families. We have seen the same type of radical mob mentality taking place on the streets of American cities that swept Paris in the 1790s.”

The third elected official to address the convention, Texas senator Ted Cruz, seemed to recognize that Uvalde was front and center on the country’s mind, and that was the centerpiece of his remarks.

“We’re gathered today under crushing darkness,” Cruz began. He described visiting Uvalde: “The entire community was reeling. We prayed together and we cried together . . . There are no words to describe the monster who enters a school and murders little children — nineteen little kids, 19 families who lost their little boys and little girls, and two families of teachers who are not with us anymore . . . It is an evil that has happened too many damn times.”

Fuming about the Uvalde shooter, Cruz swore, “that son of a bitch passed a background check.”

Cruz argued that certain mass shootings, but not all, might have been prevented if Congress had passed legislation offered by Senators Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and himself — several times since 2013. That bill would have authorized $20 million per year for five years to ensure that information is rapidly entered into the National Instant Check System; increased the maximum sentences for straw purchases, firearms trafficking, and lying and buying offenses; and changed the operative definition related to mental health from “mental defective” and “committed to a mental institution” to “mentally incompetent” and “committed to a psychiatric hospital.”

The most notorious case of the NICS system not working correctly in recent years came in  the case of the Charleston church shooter in 2015. Local and FBI officials simply didn’t do their job correctly. The shooter should have been denied his firearm purchase because of a felony drug charge, but the FBI examiner called the wrong police department to verify it. No law can overcome human error.

Media

Social Media Can Be a Useful Tool for Journalists

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(Photo Illustration: Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Since Tuesday, I have been covering the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde for National Review. It’s a task that has led me to many corners of the Internet, looking for information to piece together events and inform readers about this tragedy. Early on, I discovered that social media was a better bet for getting information quickly than traditional newswire services were.

The names of children who died, for instance, were posted on Twitter hours before being reported in the press. I also discovered a video of the shooter, Salvador Ramos, entering the school’s western door, on Facebook — as well as another of parents pleading with cops to enter the school. I further learned that Ramos had crashed his pickup truck in a ditch close to the school from a tweet by a reporter on the ground, a material fact later added to the official account by investigators. Ramos’s social-media content, though deleted, was immediately reposted by other users, giving me valuable information.

These social-media posts carried the same information later reported by established outlets long before such outlets did. They helped me more than reports from the AP, AFP, Reuters, local outlets, or anybody else — even the eyewitnesses with whom I spoke — and probably helped those reporters as well. Instead of merely or even primarily consulting them, I plan to jump to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram the next time there’s a big event, hearing from eyewitnesses on the ground as they blast information off their mobile phones. Their hashtags are good primary sources for journalists to gain real-time unabridged information about an event. Gone are the days of Woodward and Bernstein meeting ‘Deep Throat’ in an underground parking garage to gather the latest gossip or bombshells on Watergate. Much reporting nowadays often begins with such social-media leads, which are then confirmed through official channels before being published. As I write, I am investigating several.

To be fair, social media has attracted some fair criticism, recently, and there is much garbage on the platforms — sweeping, inflammatory, half-baked, useless, and straight-up incorrect posts — that I had to navigate. The faux activism of keyboard warriors, some old enough to know better, is rather unfortunate, and is a sad commentary on the toxicity of a hyperconnectivity and its immediacy. I’d still prefer to read my news in articles rather than tweets. Nonetheless, it must be admitted: Social media has truly democratized information in a manner that can be helpful to people. We should not forget that in our critiques.

Politics & Policy

Here’s a Book the ‘Progressives’ Would Like to Cancel

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Robert Wright of AIER here reviews Black Liberation Through the Marketplace: Hope, Heartbreak, and the Promise of America.

In it, authors Rachel Ferguson and Marcus Witcher argue that blacks don’t need government favors and handouts, but instead freedom. Sounds like the philosophy of Frederick Douglass, not that of, oh, Ibram X. Kendi.

Here’s a slice:

The authors explain, for example, that purveyors of anti-racism want to concentrate on the gaps between whites and blacks, rather than improving absolute outcomes. So the anti-racists decry legal changes, like marijuana decriminalization, that would reduce the number of incarcerated black men if those reforms also reduced the number of incarcerated white men. Similarly, the anti-racists, many of whom have an affection for Marxism, would prefer it if everyone earned the same low real wage instead of everyone enjoying different degrees of affluence. By focusing on relative differences between groups instead of individual outcomes, the so-called anti-racists seem to want to hurt whites more than they want to help blacks.

Read the whole thing.

U.S.

What Were the Cops Thinking?

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There are a lot of useful insights from the security expert Ryan Mills talked to about the law-enforcement response (or lack thereof) in Uvalde.

Politics & Policy

LaPierre Cites School Safety Training and Calls for More Police Funding

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NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre speaks at the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum during the National Rifle Association annual convention in Houston, Texas, May 27, 2022. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

No doubt, the task before NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre today is an extremely difficult one. But in light of this morning’s revelations about the Uvalde police department, I am not sure talking up the NRA’s training of school security assessors is going to move the needle of public opinion.

On March 22, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department hosted an “active shooter training” session at the Uvalde High School. In a Facebook post, the department declared, “our overall goal is to train every Uvalde area law enforcement officer so that we can prepare as best as possible for any situation that may arise.” The problem in Uvalde was not a lack of training.

LaPierre also called on the country to ‘fully fund” its police departments. But at this point, there is no indication that a lack of funding impeded the police response to the shooting at the Robb Elementary School.

National Review

Sign Up for the National Review Cruise!

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Join me and other young writers for the National Review cruise this November. I’m looking forward to hearing from NR’s writers and other leading conservative thinkers about their work throughout the week.

My colleagues at National Review Institute have sent along the following details:

National Review Institute is continuing National Review’s 20-year tradition of memorable cruises. The November 2022 Eastern Caribbean cruise will be similar to past NR cruises but will also include exciting new programming, such as breakout sessions, book clubs, and exclusive events for NRI’s 1955 Society.

Cruisers are invited to join us for a special reception in Fort Lauderdale the evening of November 11. Our seven-day adventure on the Sky Princess begins at the port of Fort Lauderdale on November 12, and will include stops in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Turks & Caicos, before returning to Fort Lauderdale on November 19. Visit nricruise.com for more information and to register!

U.S.

A Strong Father

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Law enforcement officers guard the scene of a shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, May 24, 2022. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

The police response in the wake of the Uvalde atrocity is rightly under scrutiny. Was there a failure of competence? A failure of courage? Whether or not the police rose to the occasion, this father certainly did.

Jacob Albarado, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent, was off duty and at his barber’s when he got a text from his wife to alert him that she, a teacher, and their daughter, a student, at Robb Elementary School were under threat from an active shooter. Albarado borrowed a shotgun from his barber and raced to the scene.

The New York Times reports:

Once he got to the school, he learned that a tactical team was already forming to enter the wing where the gunman was holed up.

So Mr. Albarado quickly made a plan with other officers at the scene: evacuate as many children as possible. “I’m looking for my daughter, but I also know what wing she’s in,” he said, “so I start clearing all the classes in her wing.”

Two officers provided cover, guns drawn, he said, and two others guided the children out on the sidewalk. “They were just all hysterical, of course,” he said. When he finally saw his 8-year-old daughter, Jayda, he said, he hugged her, but then kept moving the other children along.

Education

Government Schools Getting Worse and Worse

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Larry Sand produces a lot of evidence on the continuing decline of public education here.

The schools absorb ever-increasing amounts of money and yet their results get worse. The solution? Inflate students’ grades!

And if the kids can’t write competently, stop grading them on writing. That’s the way to promote “equity.”

It’s about time for large numbers of parents to simply walk away.

Education

Mask Madness Is Back on College Campuses

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Students at Georgetown University protest the reinstatement of its mask mandate. (Anonymous)

After a short hiatus, some colleges and universities are reimplementing mask mandates. The University of Delaware has reimposed its mask mandate. So has the University of Hawaii, which is mandating masks indoors, excluding situations where one is studying alone or is able to socially distance from others. Brown University in Rhode Island announced on May 25 that it was reimplementing an indoor mask mandate, citing both Providence County’s designation as a higher-risk area and a recent increase in Covid cases among Brown students. In April, George Washington University reimposed its mask mandate for the spring semester. Howard University, also in D.C., even reverted many classes to remote learning in April.

This is likely in response to the daily average number of cases exceeding 100,000 for the first time since February of this year. Following a brief respite from the pandemic restrictions last winter, this presumably means that the “forever pandemic” mindset will continue in some places, and that many students may be starting school with their faces covered once again.

In April, the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) announced it would reimpose its mask mandate for public and shared spaces. This was to align with the move by the city of Philadelphia to re-impose its mask mandate in indoor areas, which the city repealed four days later. Despite the city’s reversal, UPenn has maintained its mask mandate. New York University is requiring masks to be worn in indoor places, “(1) where in-person attendance is obligatory; AND (2) that involve exposure to the same individuals over a prolonged period of time.” Similarly, Rochester University and Georgetown University have reinstated their mask mandates because of an increase in Covid cases. Syracuse University,  Johns Hopkins University, and Columbia University have also reimplemented their mask mandates, albeit only in classrooms. Columbia even announced that their classroom mask mandate would remain in place for summer sessions. Since the spring semester has already ended at many colleges, many students will not be back on campus until the fall. However, the reimposition of these mask mandates, which took effect at the end of the spring semester, does not bode well for a post-Covid fall semester. Given the fact that many of these colleges only allowed students about one month of freedom before reinstating their mask mandates, these restrictions may very well stay in place through the fall.

As of May 19, 2022, the CDC’s high-transmission areas appear to be in the Northeast, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and in some parts of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, and throughout Hawaii. Thus, one can see why schools in these areas want to take extra precautions. At the same time, one has to wonder when the restrictions will end. Most of the schools reimplementing restrictions have vaccine mandates, so their students are protected to a large extent. The vaccines are effective at preventing hospitalization and death. Yet even vaccinated people are getting Covid, and the vast majority of students are not at risk of getting seriously ill from the virus. University policies should reflect this reality.

The moves to reimpose mask mandates even run contrary to the counsel of Dr. Anthony Fauci, who said in late April that the U.S. is “out of the full-blown explosive pandemic phase.” If Covid is no longer a pandemic, why are our colleges and universities acting as though it is? This sets a precedent for universities’ public-health authorities to take decisive action that will restrict students’ freedoms any time they declare something a crisis. The question now is when this madness will end, if ever.

Law & the Courts

Judge Who Donates to Planned Parenthood Has Sided with . . . Planned Parenthood

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Abortion advocates assemble during a “Stop Abortion Bans Day of Action” rally hosted by the Tennessee chapter of Planned Parenthood in Memphis, May 21, 2019. (Karen Pulfer Focht/Reuters)

Last month, I covered a legal motion in the case Planned Parenthood of Michigan v. Attorney General of the State of Michigan, in which Michigan Right to Life and the Michigan Catholic Conference argued that the presiding judge ought to recuse herself due to conflicts of interest.

The judge in question, Elizabeth L. Gleicher, had disclosed that she donates annually to the Planned Parenthood’s Michigan affiliate and that, prior to becoming a judge, had represented Planned Parenthood in a lawsuit. Despite these obvious conflicts of interest, she declined to recuse herself. The pro-life groups calling for her recusal noted that she had also received a Planned Parenthood “advocate award,” which she did not disclose, and that she had represented Planned Parenthood in lawsuits other than the one she informed them about publicly.

Gleicher went on, unsurprisingly, to decide on behalf of Planned Parenthood in this case, ruling against a Michigan pro-life law that is slated to take effect if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade. It’s just the latest example of how thoroughly Roe and legal abortion have corrupted much of our judiciary and legal process, yet another reason why the Court must throw out its deeply flawed jurisprudence.

In Bench Memos, Ed Whelan has more detail on the series of events in this case, as well as a more recent update on a successful complaint filed against Gleicher after the ruling.

Politics & Policy

Democrats Aren’t Prepared to Defend Their Abortion Extremism

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Democratic candidate for New York City Mayor Eric Adams after voting at P.S. 81 in Brooklyn, N.Y., November 2, 2021. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

In USA Today column earlier this week, law professor Jonathan Turley observed that Democratic politicians are far outside the norm in their desire for unlimited abortion on demand — even as they call their pro-life opponents “extremists.” He cited in particular the recent example of New York City mayor Eric Adams:

Notably, after calling advocates for restricting abortions “extremists,” Adams was asked at an abortion rights rally whether he believed that there should be any limitations on abortion. He answered: “No, I do not.” And he added: “I think women should have the right to choose their bodies. Men should not have that right to choose how a woman should treat their body.”

Turley went on to point out that this position, adopted by nearly all Democratic politicians, especially at the national level, is out of step with the abortion views of most Americans:

Yet, a majority of Americans support limits on abortion after 15 weeks, according to a Wall Street Journal survey. (The United States is one of only 12 among the world’s 198 countries that allow abortions for any reason after 20 weeks.)

Polls show that most Americans reject extreme or absolute positions on either side of the abortion issue. A survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research also shows that 65% of Americans would make most abortions usually illegal in the second trimester, and that 80% would make most abortions illegal in the third trimester.

Democratic politicians support none of these limits. In fact, nearly every Democratic senator has voted twice so far this year for legislation that would create a supposed fundamental right to abortion, for any reason, throughout pregnancy, and that would nullify nearly all state pro-life laws.

As Turley observes, if Democrats intend to remain firm in this absolutism — which seems likely — they should be prepared to make the case for unlimited abortion to a public highly inclined to disagree with them. Thus far, they’ve given little indication that they’re either willing or able to do so.

Politics & Policy

The NRA Is Stumbling, but Gun Control Bills Still Aren’t Advancing

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NRA executive vp and CEO Wayne LaPierre speaks at the NRA annual meeting in Indianapolis, Ind., April 26, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

We are repeatedly told by gun control advocates and their like-minded media voices that the reason gun control legislation rarely passes because so many lawmakers accept contributions from the National Rifle Association’s affiliated PACs, and/or are supported by the group’s super PAC.

The irony is that this argument continues, even though the NRA is probably at its lowest point in at least a decade, and perhaps much longer. The organization’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, rarely if ever does interviews anymore, because he knows he’ll be asked about the NRA paying for expensive suits and other ujnjustifiable expenses for a nonprofit, and claims of self-dealing that include alleged acceptance of lavish gifts from contractors. Revenues are down and membership is down, while the legal bills are reaching exorbitant levels. New York state attorney general Letitia James is attempting to dissolve the organization, and a federal bankruptcy court rejected the NRA’s attempt to file for bankruptcy.

But all of this is happening while Americans are purchasing many more guns than ever before. at least 5.4 million people purchased a firearm for the first time in 2021, and in 2020, more than 21 million background checks were conducted for the sale of a firearm then, with an estimated 8.4 million buying a firearm for the first time. The NRA’s board of directors should ask why NRA membership is not growing if many more Americans are becoming gun owners — almost 14 million in two years!

If the only thing preventing the passage of gun control laws is the NRA, then the organization’s hampered status for the past few years should have provided a much better opportunity for gun control advocates at the federal level, and in not-so-red states.

And yet, gun control groups lament that they’re losing ground. Last year, Iowa enacted a law allowing people to buy and carry handguns without a permit, and Texas, Arkansas, Montana, Tennessee, and Utah. Earlier this year, Alabama and Ohio enacted permitless carry.

There have been a few minor expansions of restrictions — Virginia banned guns near polling places, Oregon passed a law banning guns from the state capitol grounds and now requires that firearms be secured with a trigger or cable lock, in a locked container or gun room, and Washington banned firearms from demonstrations or the state capitol. But by and large, at the state level, gun control advocates feel like it is one step forward, two steps back, and the numbers verify their sense of pessimism. UCLA professor Christopher Poliquin writes, “our research found that mass shootings do not regularly cause lawmakers to tighten gun restrictions. In fact, we found the opposite. Republican state legislatures pass significantly more gun laws that loosen restrictions on firearms after mass shootings.”

As a political organization, the NRA’s election-related expenditures just aren’t in the top tier anymore. Keep in mind, the NRA has two organizations it can use to support candidates. The first is the non-super PAC, the National Rifle Association of America Political Victory Fund -which is a membership committee, which means only NRA members can donate to it and they cannot donate more than $5,000; and donate only $5,000 to an individual candidate’s campaign.

The other is a superPAC, the similarly-named National Rifle Association Victory Fund, which can accept donations from anyone, cannot donate directly to campaigns or coordinate with them but can create its own independent messaging in support or opposition to a candidate.

Among the SuperPACs, the NRA Victory Fund is still midlevel at most. In the 2020 cycle, the Republican-backing Senate Leadership Fund spent the most of any SuperPAC, spending $293 million. The Democrat-backing Senate Majority PAC spent the second most, at $250 million. The National Rifle Association Victory Fund SuperPAC ranked 24th, and spent $29.3 million – less than Emily’s List ($38 million), the League of Conservation Voters ($42 million) the Lincoln Project ($49.6 million). Everytown for Gun Safety Victory Fund, an organization that specifically supports pro-gun-control candidates, spent a bit more than $21 million in the 2020 cycle.

So far in the 2022 cycle, Club for Growth Action is the SuperPAC with the highest level of outside expenditures, with 35.5 million. The National Rifle Association Victory Fund SuperPAC has raised $5.2 million and not spent anything on federal elections yet in this cycle.

The National Rifle Association Political Victory PAC spent about $22 million in the 2020 cycle. It did not rank in the top 20 PACs, whether you’re measuring by the total amount donated to candidates, total amount raised, or total amount spent.

So far in the 2022 cycle, National Rifle Association Political Victory PAC has raised $13.5 million and spent a bit more than $871,000.

Gun control advocates demonize and scapegoat the NRA’s donations because they represent a convenient target. (If money could guarantee an election victory, Mike Bloomberg would be president right now.) In the end, lawmakers do not really fear losing the NRA’s donations; they fear irking the NRA’s membership and getting voted out of office.

Sports

Why Are the Detroit Tigers Funding Gender-Transition Surgeries for Minors?

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Detroit Tigers shortstop Harold Castro celebrates his first solo home run of the day against the Minnesota Twins in the sixth inning at Target Field. May 25, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

On June 1, the Detroit Tigers will host a special “Pride Night” game dedicated to “celebrat[ing] our Pride community partners, friends, and families” at Comerica Park. It’s not the first time the team has hosted a Pride Night — it began hosting a “Pride Pack Day” in 2018, originally scheduled on June 26 to commemorate “the 4-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage and the 6-year anniversary of the decision declaring the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in the case of Windsor v. United States,” Outsports reported. But what’s noticeable about this year’s event is that the Tigers website offers “a chance to support a local Pride organization of your choice” when users purchase tickets at the checkout page for the event:

In an earlier era, “Pride Night” could feasibly be pitched as a basic gay-acceptance event, meant to celebrate the integration of same-sex couples into American public life. But LGBT activism has galloped to the left in recent years, and the groups that the Tigers are aligned with are no exception. Many of the groups that the Tigers are funneling ticket money to are actively promoting transgender identification — or even medical transitions — for children. A few examples:

PFLAG of Detroit’s “Policy Statements” page writes that “teaching there are only two genders may make youth of different identities, genders or orientations not feel included,” and sponsors a “Public Library Project” that “is dedicated to donating Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, and Transgender-positive books to public libraries for a greater understanding of the real lives of our children.”

The Ruth Ellis Center provides “transition care for transgender youth,” including “gender affirming surgery” — in other words, it performs irreversible gender-transition surgeries on children. The center has also launched a propaganda campaign attempting to make it easier for children to go through transition surgery: “There are a lot of pervasive myths about what it means to access gender-affirming medical care,” the group’s education and evaluation director told PrideSource in 2021. “There are a lot of barriers — especially for people under 18 — that still exist for accessing puberty blockers and gender-affirming hormones. This is a huge problem.”

The Trans Sistas of Color Project is run by the Trans Justice Funding Project, a “community-led funding initiative supporting grassroots, trans justice groups run by and for trans people” focused on “groups ​​centering the leadership of trans people organizing around their experiences with racism, economic injustice, transmisogyny, ableism, immigration, incarceration, and other intersecting oppressions.” Its funding recipients — indirect beneficiaries of ticket sales from the Detroit Tigers — perform “chest reconstruction and/or genital reassignment surgery,” “trans surgery and transition doulas who support and tend to physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of trans people undergoing gender-affirming surgeries,” and includes groups like “Trans Minors Rights,” which “advocates for empowering transgender youth to make their own decisions regarding puberty blockers.”

Fair Michigan is an advocacy group exclusively dedicated to writing sexual orientation and gender identity into Michigan civil-rights law — a move that would dismantle sex-based protections and severely restrict criticisms of gender ideology in publicly funded spaces.

Corktown Health is a “LGBTQ focused primary health care center” that provides “gender affirming care” in the form of hormone therapy for gender transitions. The clinic specifies that it “may . . . see patients as young as 16 years old.

These are, by any measure, radical initiatives. And they’re effectively experimental — that’s why countries like Sweden have halted hormonal interventions for minors with gender dysphoria. Are Tigers fans aware that this is where their money is going?

Elections

Is John Fetterman Okay?

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Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, Democratic Senate candidate, at a meet-and-greet at the Weyerbacher Brewing Company in Easton, Pa., May 1, 2022. (Hannah Beier/Reuters)

John Fetterman, the Democrats’ Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, suffered a stroke just days before the primary election, which he won running away by 32 points over Conor Lamb, 58.6 percent to 26.3 percent. We were assured that he’d be fine, it was not a big deal. He’s been recuperating, and is not back to the trail yet. But was the stroke more serious than his campaign let on? With control of the Senate potentially hinging on this race and many pundits enthusing about the towering (6’8″) Fetterman as a model for his party, Gina Kolata and Katie Glueck of the New York Times and Colby Itkowitz, Paul Kane, and Ariana Eunjung Cha of the Washington Post each have reports gingerly raising the question of exactly how bad Fetterman’s health issues are. Both reports noted a lack of cooperation from Fetterman’s campaign, and the Times also questioned the veracity of what the campaign and Fetterman’s wife were saying publicly. The Times, on Fetterman’s condition:

Specialists in stroke, heart disease and electrophysiology said that some of the campaign’s public statements do not offer a sufficient explanation for Mr. Fetterman’s described diagnosis or the treatment they say he has received. . . . Medical specialists asked questions about Mr. Fetterman’s treatment with a defibrillator. They say it would make sense only if he has a different condition that puts him at risk of sudden death, like cardiomyopathy — a weakened heart muscle. . . . Thrombectomy, the method likely used to remove the clot, also indicates that Mr. Fetterman experienced more than a tiny stroke, although prompt treatment may have averted damage and saved his brain…

Dr. Elaine Wan, an associate professor of medicine in cardiology and cardiac electrophysiology at Columbia University Medical Center…was less sanguine . . . about Mr. Fetterman. “He is at risk for sudden cardiac death,” she said. “For someone on the campaign trail that might raise concerns.”

A risk of sudden death would raise concerns for anyone. The Post, taking the political angle:

Privately, Democrats said that although they do not know how long Fetterman will be sidelined, they feel they are not yet at any disadvantage because the GOP primary has been left unresolved. . . . In Washington, Democrats have taken the official position that everything will be okay with John Fetterman’s health over the long haul. . . . Pennsylvania law gives party nominees until Aug. 15 to withdraw from a general election. In addition, should Fetterman’s health decline and he need to be replaced on the ballot, the executive committee of the state’s Democratic Party would meet to pick the backup nominee within 30 days of Fetterman’s withdrawal, according to party bylaws.

Presumably, Lamb would be the backup choice, should it come to that.

National Review

‘Stop the Presses!’: The New Issue of NR Magazine Is Out

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(NR Illustration)

As Americans watched inflation transform from an afterthought to our “dominant political issue” over the course of the last year, the contrast between the pain at the pump or the grocery store’s till and the politicians’ “flailing in response” has been a sight to behold. As Ramesh Ponnuru writes in the new cover story for the June 13, 2022, issue of the magazine — “Stop the Presses!” — the “search for scapegoats” was immediate, with the Left “blaming corporate greed and consolidation”:

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) is invoking a far-fetched conspiracy of grocery-store chains and, with seven colleagues, proposing “a federal ban against unconscionably excessive price increases” by large companies.

This sort of nonsense, which seeks to explain a variable (the inflation rate) by reference to a constant (the desire for profit), can only distract from what is truly necessary to restore price stability.

“As in the 1970s,” Ramesh writes, “as in almost all inflationary episodes — what is necessary is, above all, monetary restraint.”

But do Americans, American politicians (in an election year), and, above all, the Federal Reserve have the will to contain inflation — to restore “monetary restraint” — even if that slows the economy, even if that results in relatively higher levels of unemployment, and even if it causes the United States to slide into a recession?

In “Stop the Presses!” Ramesh argues that, well, the Fed better have the will to confront this problem, for all our sakes. “It took interest rates as high as 20 percent,” Ramesh writes, “to get spending and inflation under control in the early 1980s.” Things need not get that bad this time, as long as we get our monetary house in order. Read Ramesh’s cover story here.

Also in this issue, French novelist Michel Houellebecq — the author of such controversial novels as Submission (2015) and Anéantir (2022) — analyzes this spring’s French presidential election, in which the unpopular centrist Emmanuel Macron won against the even-more-unpopular Marine Le Pen of the National Front: “Voting has always been, more or less, a matter of class; but never before has it been a matter of class to such an extent”:

From a sociological perspective, this year’s elections teach us a lesson so simple and clear that it can be summarized in a single sentence: The rich vote for Macron, the poor vote for Le Pen, and those in the middle vote for Mélenchon. This interpretative framework is straightforward, if not brutal; but it works perfectly.

Houellebecq’s essay, “Nicht Versöhnt: A letter from France,” is deeply pessimistic. It’s clear that he doesn’t see a way out of France’s long, centrist-led decline short of a great shock that knocks the French out of their quiet decadence. “I can only promise you one thing: We will do better in 2027,” Houellebecq writes, ominously. “And let me add (on a less happy note) that reconciliation is not, in France, on the table for now.”

Douglas Murray takes up the theme of the continuous attacks on Western Civ: “Everything from art, mathematics, and music to gardening, sport, and food has been put through the same spin cycle. There are many curiosities in all this.” He continues:

Not the least of them is that while the West is assaulted for everything it has done wrong, it now gets no credit for having got anything right. In fact, these things — including the development of individual rights, religious liberty, and pluralism — are held against it.

The essay, “So Long, Civ?” is an adaptation of his new book The War on the West.

Murray doesn’t hold back, wondering why we “open everything in the West to assault”:

The culture that gave the world lifesaving advances in science and medicine, a free market that has raised billions of people around the world out of poverty, and the greatest flowering of thought anywhere in the world is interrogated from a perspective of deepest hostility and utter simplicity. The culture that produced Michelangelo, Leonardo, Bernini, Shakespeare, and Bach is portrayed as if it has nothing relevant to say.

Don’t miss the rest of this issue, including:

Jim Geraghty on the struggles of moderate Democrats in “Blue Dogs Swim Upstream.”

Rachel Lu on how we can approach pro-natalist policy over the long term in “Tipping the Stork.”

And Mike Watson’s hard look at the origins of the political philosophy and inconsistencies of the post-liberals in “Carl Schmitt’s Disappointing American Disciples.”

If you don’t have access to the magazine, subscribe today for 50 percent off a print only, digital only, or a print and digital NRPlus bundle.

As a subscriber, you’ll have access to essays from John Bolton, David Mamet, Ross Douthat, and Richard Brookhiser — and that’s all just in this issue!

Check it out here.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Price Controls and the Deficit

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Jordan McGillis of the Institute for Energy Research writes about how we must avoid repeating the mistakes of the 1970s on gasoline:

With gas prices at near-record highs and whispers of summer diesel shortages in the air, now is as good a time as ever to revisit the oil shocks of the 1970s. Almost half a century on, we’re tempted to chuckle at the photographs of supersized cars curled around the block waiting to fill up. Sometimes we can even spot a bell-bottomed man pushing a lawnmower or a stray child with a Dorothy Hamill haircut, gas can in hand. For the people in those lines, though, the wait wasn’t merely an inconvenience; it was frightening. A bedrock good that people took for granted was suddenly a whole lot harder to come by. Those of us who queued for toilet paper two years ago can certainly relate. But while we know what caused the Great TP Run of 2020, can we say the same for the ignominious images of consumer desperation in the 1970s?

Jon Miltimore and Brad Polumbo of the Foundation for Economic Education write about President Biden’s absurd deficit-reduction claims:

Surging inflation is hitting American families hard and is quickly becoming a top concern for voters ahead of the November midterms. So, it’s no surprise that President Biden is on the defensive — but his latest attempt at political spin is so absurd that even CNN had to call him out.

When asked at a recent press conference if he takes any responsibility for inflation, Biden said no, explaining that his spending policies are blameless.

“I think our policies have helped, not hurt,” Biden replied. “We brought down the deficit. The bottom line is, how much does America owe?”

There are several problems with this answer, but let’s begin with Biden’s claim that he “brought down the deficit,” a claim he has repeated on social media. . . .

Politics & Policy

‘Less Than 300 Miles’

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Law enforcement personnel work at the scene of a mass shooting in Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, May 25, 2022. (Nuri Vallbona/Reuters)

“The annual NRA convention gets underway in Houston today, less than 300 miles from Uvalde,” CBS News gravely warns.

Less than 300 miles!

Because the shooting and the convention are occuring in the same state, some news organizations want to make the location and timing of the convention appear to be a tragic irony, or to contend that it is insensitive to hold the convention so “close” to the site of the shooting.

The distance from from Houston to Uvalde is about 277 miles, which is a bit less than the distance between New York City and Richmond, Virginia. No one would ever describe an event that occurred in the Virginia capital as occurring in the shadow of Manhattan’s skyscrapers.

Credit the Detroit News columnist who at least had a sufficient grasp of geography and wrote that the NRA “will hold its annual convention this weekend 4 ½  hours east of Uvalde in Houston.”

 

World

A Daughter’s Love

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Jewher Ilham, daughter of Ilham Tohti, speaks during the award ceremony for his 2019 EU Sakharov Prize at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, December 18, 2019. (Vincent Kessler / Reuters)

Jewher Ilham is a remarkable young woman. She is a Uyghur activist, although she did not set out to be, of course. Life threw at her some terrible challenges, and she has met them. I sat down with her at the Oslo Freedom Forum earlier this week. For our Q&A podcast, go here.

Jewher was born and raised in Beijing. She speaks Chinese with a Beijing accent. Her parents were Uyghur, however. Her father is Ilham Tohti, an economist and professor. In 2013, he was invited by Indiana University to spend a year in Bloomington, on a fellowship. Jewher had just started her own university, in Beijing. She had had one semester. Now it was winter break. Her father wanted her to come with him to Indiana, for two weeks. She balked, however. She wanted to spend the break with her new university friends. But he kept asking, and she agreed.

Their flight was at 11 a.m. on February 2, 2013. They left for the airport at 3 a.m. — not because they wanted to be early. They had a better chance of not being followed by the police, at that hour. Professor Tohti was not only a professor of economics, he was also a spokesman for Uyghur rights.

They were not followed. Everything was smooth sailing. They checked their bags and got their boarding passes. Before they were able to board, however, agents approached Professor Tohti and took him to a small interrogation room. Jewher followed them. They were not going to let the professor board. He wanted Jewher to go on without him. She thought that was crazy. She had not wanted to go in the first place. And she certainly wasn’t going to go without him.

He signaled to her, however, that it was important. He wanted her to go. He insisted that she go. He embraced her, and took her by the shoulders, and sort of shoved her forward, gently. He asked that she not cry — that she not cry in front of others. They should not think that Uyghur girls were weak.

She boarded the plane, with great reluctance. For the 14 hours of the flight, she cried. She stared at the empty seat next to her. She was bewildered. She ate nothing, but did drink some water.

They landed in Chicago. This confused her. All she knew was the name “Indiana.” She spoke barely any English. Officials did not know what to do with her. They were going to send her back. But they asked whether she wanted to make a phone call. She took out her phone — a Nokia 8610. It didn’t work in the United States. Besides, the only numbers she had were those of her family and friends, back in Beijing. What could they do?

She noticed something. Next to her phone was a little piece of paper, wadded up. It had a name on it: “Elliott Sperling.” Jewher’s father must have put this paper into her pocket, when he was embracing her and sending her along. This was his contact at Indiana University: Elliott Sperling, the chairman of the Department of Eurasian Studies.

In due course, he became Jewher’s mentor.

Her father, Ilham Tohti, was “disappeared” into the gulag. His daughter — now 27 — is doing everything she can to help him, and other Uyghurs. The U.S. State Department has classified China’s persecution of the Uyghurs as a genocide. In 2019, the European Parliament awarded its Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Professor Tohti (in absentia, of course). Jewher is a spokesman for the Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region. She is a delightful young woman, and courageous. You will like getting to know her. Again, our podcast is here.

Education

The Deceptive College-Rankings Game

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Woodburn Hall at West Virginia University in Morgantown, W. Va. (BackyardProduction/Getty Images)

For many years, the conventional wisdom for college-bound students has been, “Go to the most prestigious school you can.” And how do you tell which ones are more prestigious? You look at college rankings, of course.

But are those rankings worth anything? In today’s Martin Center article, Walt Gardner of UCLA argues that college rankings are a game and students are being played.

Gardner writes that, “The rankings themselves are questionable because of the way they are determined. They are inordinately connected to the marketing efforts conducted by virtually all institutions of higher learning. Putting aside the scandal at Temple’s business school, whose dean received a 14-month sentence in federal court for sending bogus information to U.S. News & World Report, or USC’s withdrawing its education school after determining that it had provided inaccurate data for at least five years, two measures stand out: selectivity and yield. Although the two are closely related, they are not the same.”

Colleges want to look very selective (which supposedly shows that the education they offer is good; a badly mistaken assumption) so they try to lure in as many applicants as possible, only to reject most of them. Yield, Gardner explains, is the ratio of students who are accepted who decide to enroll and most schools would rather hide that, so they’ve come up with the trick of “early admission.” It works against students from poorer backgrounds, but the schools don’t care.

Another thing the rankings won’t tell you is how satisfied graduates are with their institutions. Do students find employment without having gone off the deep end in debt? That would be good to know.

Gardner concludes: “In the final analysis, a lesser-known college can be a better choice if it offers a major in line with a student’s individual interests. Harvard, for example, has no undergraduate business degree, but many second-tier colleges do. With employers demanding evidence of an applicant’s skills, majoring in accounting at, say, the University of Mississippi provides a leg up over majoring in gender studies at one of the Ivies. With the cost of a bachelor’s degree soaring, and with no signs of that abating, it’s time to get real about rankings.”

World

China’s Pacific Advance: A Pattern of Islands

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(Sky_Blue/Getty Images)

I’m not much of a fan of the current Chinese remake of South Pacific, but it appears to be going rather too well.

I wrote about the Beijing regime’s overtures to the Solomon Islands here.

How it all ended (via IISS, April):

 In April, China’s foreign ministry confirmed that Beijing had signed a minimum five-year security agreement with the Solomon Islands. The deal, which Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare described as a ‘treaty’ to the Solomon Islands Parliament, has not been made public. But it is thought to be close to a version leaked from within the Solomon Islands government in late March. The implications of the agreement are far-reaching, most importantly for China, the Solomon Islands, Australia and the United States….

Next, it seems, is Kiribati and one other (via the Financial Times, May 20):

China is intensifying its drive for influence in the Pacific by negotiating security deals with two additional island nations following a pact with the Solomon Islands, according to officials in the US and allied countries.

Beijing’s talks with Kiribati, a Pacific island nation 3,000km from Hawaii where US Indo-Pacific Command is based, are the most advanced, the officials said.

“They are in talks with Kiribati and at least one more Pacific island country over an agreement that would cover much of the same ground as that with Solomon Islands,” said an intelligence official from a US ally.

The warning that Beijing is trying to further increase its clout in the Pacific came as President Joe Biden begins a visit to Asia intended to reassure allies of US commitment to regional security amid China’s push for influence.

The negotiations with Kiribati follow the deal Beijing signed with the Solomon Islands, which some experts believe will allow China to build a naval base in the country located north-east of Australia…

And now (via the Daily Telegraph, May 25) :

Beijing has been accused of risking a new “Cold War” with the West after it emerged that China’s foreign minister is pursuing a regional deal with almost a dozen Pacific islands including heightened security cooperation.

The five-year plan signals Beijing’s intent to significantly expand its footprint in the Indo-Pacific region. It is set to be discussed by Wang Yi and his Pacific counterparts in Fiji on May 30, as China’s foreign minister embarks on a tour of the region starting on Thursday.

But in a letter sent to 21 Pacific leaders, David Panuelo, the president of the Federated States of Micronesia, said his nation would argue the “pre-determined joint communique” should be rejected because it could prompt a new “Cold War” between China and the West, according to Reuters.

The plan would shift Pacific Islands that hold diplomatic relations with China “very close into Beijing’s orbit, intrinsically tying the whole of our economies and societies to them”, he added…

Meanwhile (via Defense One):

The Navy Department’s new climate strategy offers some specific goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from its vehicles and buildings, but outlines no goals for reducing emissions from its largest source of energy usage: ships and aircraft.

Climate change is “one of the most destabilizing forces of our time,” Meredith Berger, the assistant Navy secretary for energy, installations, and environment, told reporters ahead of the release Monday of the Navy Department’s Climate Action 2030. “These increasingly harsh and extreme weather conditions and other impacts that we see mean that our forces need to operate in different, more complex environments while simultaneously impacting our capacity to respond.”

Last year, President Joe Biden ordered the federal government to “put the United States on a path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050.” The Defense Department responded in October with its own climate plan and five lines of effort that the Navy mirrored in its new strategy. Secretary [of the Navy Carlos] Del Toro listed climate change as one of the four “most pressing challenges” facing the department in his October 2021 strategic guidance, along with China, culture, and COVID…

Xi laughs.

Politics & Policy

House GOP Prospects Improve in Cook Political Report Ratings

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The Cook Political Report moves ratings for ten House races in the GOP’s direction and two races toward the Democrats. You can read David Wasserman’s full analysis here.

 

Elections

Three Cheers for Kemp, Et Al.

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I wrote about Georgia for Politico today:

It is not often that politicians do the right thing and infuriate the most influential figure in their party and the most committed element of their political base and live to tell the tale. Kemp and Raffensperger have. Together with former Vice President Mike Pence, whose separation from Trump is more and more obvious, they form a cadre that resisted intense pressure to turn their backs on their duty in 2020 — showing backbone and a moral and institutional integrity that will redound to their credit in the history books.

They also point to a future when the GOP has escaped the box canyon of Trump’s “Stop the Steal” obsessions. That day is not here, but Tuesday’s results show it might not be impossibly far away, either.

Trump has lost Georgia three times within two years, which makes General John Bell Hood’s record look impressive by comparison. He lost it first to President Joe Biden in November 2020; then to the Democrats in the Senate special elections in January 2021 when his fulminations about how he’d been robbed in the presidential election depressed Republican turnout; and, finally, in this week’s GOP primaries when his handpicked candidates crashed and burned and his planned revenge ended up only embarrassing him and his epigones.

Law & the Courts

Appeals Court Lets Postal Service Punish Sabbath-Observing Letter Carrier

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A United States Postal Service (USPS) worker unloads packages from his truck in New York City, N.Y., April 13, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Religious-liberty cases sometimes involve very tough choices. Yesterday, the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit faced one of those: between a rural letter carrier who couldn’t work on Sundays because of his religious Sabbath observance, and the United States Postal Service, which repeatedly disciplined him after more than 20 occasions when it couldn’t find anybody to cover his shifts. Eventually, he quit. A divided panel, in Groff v. DeJoy, sided with the Postal Service. The opinion was written by Judge Patty Shwartz, an Obama appointee, and joined by Judge Julio Fuentes, a Clinton appointee. Judge Thomas Hardiman, a George W. Bush appointee, dissented.

The question is not an easy one. Nobody should have to violate his religious principles to keep his job, and the court was unanimous in agreeing that the Postal Service discriminated against Gerald Groff on the basis of his faith under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. But that does not end the story: Title VII allows an employer to show that it “is unable to reasonably accommodate . . . an employee’s . . . religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” There is not an unlimited right to a job that you simply cannot do because of your religion: There’s no legal requirement that the Marines employ Quakers who won’t hold a gun, or that abortion clinics hire Catholics who won’t participate in abortions.

The majority quite reasonably noted that just finding substitutes for Groff every time his shift fell on a Sunday wasn’t working:

USPS attempted to facilitate shift swaps for Groff on each Sunday that he was scheduled to work. Between March 2017 and May 2018, Groff was scheduled to work on twenty-four Sundays. The Holtwood Postmaster testified that, for each week Groff was scheduled for Sunday work, he sent emails seeking volunteers from other offices. Despite these undisputed good-faith efforts, USPS was unsuccessful in finding someone to swap shifts on twenty-four Sundays over a sixty-week period. Because no coverage was secured and Groff failed to appear for work, he was disciplined. Thus, even though shift swapping can be a reasonable means of accommodating a conflicting religious practice, here it did not constitute an “accommodation” as contemplated by Title VII because it did not successfully eliminate the conflict.

Where the majority and the dissent disagreed was on whether it was reasonable for Groff to ask that the Postal Service instead just exempt him from Sunday work altogether. The majority thought not:

Groff’s proposed accommodation of being exempted from Sunday work would cause an undue hardship. Exempting Groff from working on Sundays caused more than a de minimis cost on USPS because it actually imposed on his coworkers, disrupted the workplace and workflow, and diminished employee morale at both the Holtwood Post Office and the Lancaster Annex hub. The Holtwood Post Office to which Groff was assigned had only a postmaster and three RCAs (including Groff) available for Sunday deliveries. Because Groff would not work on Sundays, only three individuals remained who could work on Sundays during the peak season…At the hub, Groff’s absences also had an impact on operations and morale. The hub supervisor testified that Groff’s absence made timely delivery more difficult, and carriers had to deliver more mail.

Judge Hardiman, however, argued that this got the legal standard wrong by confusing hardship on co-workers with hardship on the employer, and he concluded that the case should go back for more evidence:

In deciding Groff’s case, the District Court inferred an atextual rule from Title VII: “an accommodation that causes more than a de minimis impact on co-workers creates an undue hardship.” . . . The Majority gathers cases—all from other circuits—affirming that rule, but without an important correction to the District Court’s analysis. . . . Simply put, a burden on coworkers isn’t the same thing as a burden on the employer’s business. . . . Neither Supreme Court nor Third Circuit precedent establish a derivative rule that equates undue hardship on business with an impact—no matter how small—on coworkers. . . . Title VII requires USPS to show how Groff’s accommodation would harm its business, not merely how it would impact Groff’s coworkers. . . . The Majority renders any burden on employees sufficient to establish undue hardship, effectively subjecting Title VII religious accommodation to a heckler’s veto by disgruntled employees. (Citations omitted).

U.S.

Remember How ‘the Science’ Dictated Lockdowns?

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In early 2020, as the nation was starting to panic over Covid-19, we heard over and over from politicians that the way to combat the spread of the virus was to lock everything down as much as possible. We were told that the scientific consensus was that lockdowns would work, and if you suggested otherwise, you were anti-science.

In this Brownstone Institute article, Professor Edward Stringham points out that there never was any such scientific consensus. In fact, some 800 scientists signed a letter against the lockdown policy. Of course, they were ignored, as the likes of Anthony Fauci had their minds made up and couldn’t be bothered with counterarguments.

This is the way with statists — they are so eager to expand the scope of government power that they have no use for debate to clarify the issues and explore the trade-offs.

The Economy

Evidence of the Coming Freight Recession

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(WendellandCarolyn/iStock/Getty Images)

Rachel Premack of FreightWaves has a new piece about the prices of used semi-trucks. After a year and a half of soaring used-truck prices, the market is cooling off. That’s a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for a freight recession.

The cause for the soaring prices was a combination of increased demand and reduced supply. With freight rates going through the roof, many new entrants into the trucking market wanted to purchase trucks to capture the outsize profits. That process is exactly what we’d expect to see in a market with low barriers to entry, which trucking is. The largest single expense is buying a truck, and with low interest rates, financing was easy.

The increased demand coincided with a reduction in the supply of new trucks because of the computer-chip shortage and other Covid-related disruptions. Buyers who may have wanted new trucks had to go into the used-truck market instead, further increasing prices.

The way people purchased used trucks changed during the pandemic as well. Used trucks are usually purchased at a dealership or at auction. Premack writes:

Trucks are pricier at a dealership, but you’ll know what you’re buying has been repaired and has warranties. Usually, the only people at truck auctions are dealers who are trying to buy lots of trucks to sell to trucking companies.

That changed in 2021. Folks who own a trucking company decided to go to auctions themselves. Numbers from auctioneer Taylor & Martin lined up with that. [Taylor & Martin president Stacy] Tracy said Taylor & Martin’s weekly auctions attracted around 600 to 700 people before the pandemic, with a couple hundred of those folks attending virtually. But after that, the number attending shot up to 1,200 to 1,600. Most were virtual.

Skipping the dealership and going straight to auctions wasn’t all about saving money, [J.D. Power analyst Chris] Visser said. There was just so much demand for big rigs and so little supply. As a result of all of that interest, the price to buy a used truck at an auction now matches the price to buy one at a dealership.

All told, used trucks were selling for double, sometimes triple, the price they were selling for the year before.

That booming market is over. “Used trucks sold at auctions in the second quarter of 2022 are already 20% cheaper than those sold during auctions in this year’s first quarter,” Premack writes. A lot of those new market entrants who made big profits last year will go out of business this year. As shipper demand declines, freight rates decline, and operating costs — especially diesel — are much higher now than they were last year. The assumptions that made entering the trucking market last year a smart business move no longer hold.

Trucking could follow the same pattern that led to the last freight recession in 2019: softening demand for trucking rendering an oversupply of trucks and a crashing freight price that sends trucking companies into bankruptcy. One of the largest trucking companies in the country, Celadon, went out of business in 2019, along with about 800 others.

Trucking recessions can be leading indicators for the rest of the economy, but trucking is much more prone to booms and busts than the economy at large. While trucking recessions don’t always cause economy-wide recessions, four of the six most recent economy-wide recessions (before the pandemic recession) were preceded by trucking recessions.

Politics & Policy

More Public-Transit Failure in D.C.

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Commuters at a Metro subway system station in Washington, D.C., in 2016. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Sometimes government incompetence, while expected, still manages to astonish.

The WMATA, which attempts to operate the Washington, D.C., subway system (crediting it with actually operating the system would be too generous), is struggling to provide a sufficient number of train operators to drive a fleet that’s already missing 60 percent of its trains and serving only about 30 percent of the riders it served as recently as three years ago.

First came the revelation that nearly half of its train operators had lapsed safety certifications and were no longer allowed to operate trains. The WMATA thinks it will take two to three months to recertify the roughly 250 operators whose certifications have lapsed.

Now, we learn that the WMATA has been working operators up to 16 hours per day, possibly leading them to make major mistakes owing to fatigue. Jordan Pascale of DCist reports:

On Jan. 7, a train operator overran the Yellow Line platform at Fort Totten before opening the doors on the wrong side of the train for more than 90 seconds, according to a WMSC Commissioner brief. The operator didn’t report any of this to the Rail Operations Control Center and didn’t perform a mandated walk-around check after the incident. The operator was eventually removed from service at Gallery Place, the report states.

Seems pretty bad. Pascale continues:

Officials found the operator had been working long days: more than 15 hours on Jan. 3 and 16 hours on Jan. 6 — the day before the incident — putting them at increased risk for fatigue. The operator had just 6.5 hours before the next shift, which is less than WMATA’s policy of 7 to 9 hours of sleep between shifts. The operator reported feeling fully alert at the time of the incident and did not report experiencing any symptoms of fatigue.

Whether fatigue was a factor is beside the point. The larger issue is this: The WMATA has repeatedly, over decades now, demonstrated an inability to maintain its own safety standards, and its negligence puts riders at risk. This operator, by the WMATA’s own policies, should not have been operating that train.

On top of that, the train should not have an operator in it at all in the year of our Lord, 2022. The subway system was designed for fully automatic operation in the 1970s, and instead of progressing toward that technological goal (which is completely achievable, as other transit systems around the world demonstrate), the system has regressed to fully manual operation by unionized public-sector employees who can’t even maintain their safety certifications.

And all of this is happening to an agency that was bailed out with federal money three times over the past two years and still does not believe it will be anywhere near financially solvent without further infusions of taxpayer money going forward.

It should not be a mystery to anyone why more Americans don’t ride public transit. It’s run by incompetent government officials who are incapable of providing high-quality (or even adequate) service. Buying a car to avoid dependence on it is the reasonable thing to do.

U.S.

Exploiting the Tragedy

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Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke (at right) disrupts a press conference held by Governor Greg Abbott the day after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, May 25, 2022. (Veronica G. Cardenas/Reuters)

It takes an impressive level of narcissism to make something as tragic as a school shooting all about you.

As part of his duties as governor of Texas, Greg Abbott held a press conference immediately after the atrocity on Tuesday at Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. It was a solemn moment for the state and the nation — a moment to put aside political differences, clearly establish the facts, and spare a thought for the victims’ families.

“All Texans must come together and support the families who have been affected by this horrific tragedy,” Abbot said.

But Beto O’Rourke, Texas’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee, couldn’t pass up the chance to score a point against his Republican rival. He made his way to the front (of course) and instigated a loud confrontation with Abbott on gun control.

There was no reason, other than a self-serving publicity stunt, for O’Rourke to pick that moment to make that point. In doing so, he succeeded in making himself the story.

Meghan Markle also couldn’t resist the opportunity. Accompanied by her famous bodyguard (who used to work for Michael Jackson), she visited the memorial to the victims at Robb Elementary School, gazed at the crosses, laid a bouquet of white roses, and just happened to be caught doing so on camera.

Politics & Policy

Abbott, Noem, Cruz, Robinson and Trump Remain as NRA Speakers

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Then-President Donald Trump addresses the annual NRA convention in Indianapolis, Ind., U.S., April 26, 2019. (Bryan Woolston/Reuters)

As of this morning, the elected officials who are confirmed speakers for tomorrow’s National Rifle Association Leadership Forum include Texas governor Greg Abbott, South Dakota governor Kristi Noem, Texas senator Ted Cruz, and North Carolina lieutenant governor Mark Robinson. President Trump who is scheduled to speak last, for about an hour.

In addition, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, NRA Institute for Legislative Action executive director Jason Ouimet, and other NRA officials will address the attendees.

Politics & Policy

Virginia Looking Smarter Than New York on Stadium Subsidies

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RICHMOND, VA – FEBRUARY 20: Virginia state Senator Chap Petersen participates in legislative session at the statehouse, Richmond, Va., February, 20, 2019. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Virginia state senator Chap Petersen (D) has withdrawn his support for a bill that would have provided hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in subsidies for a new stadium for the NFL’s Washington Commanders.

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Petersen was one of the most important senators who supported the subsidies before he withdrew his support yesterday. His statement announcing his opposition was scathing. Petersen said:

I don’t have confidence in The Washington Commanders as a viable NFL franchise. . . . I grew up a Washington Redskins fan and was a season ticket holder for 22 years. That team defined our community for multiple generations. The Washington Commanders are not that team. They have no history, no tradition and no fan base. I do not consider them an appropriate economic partner for the Commonwealth of Virginia, because I don’t think they have the community support to survive.

Stadium subsidies are always tempting to politicians. Republican governor Glenn Youngkin supports subsidies to move the Commanders to Virginia (probably the biggest mistake of his tenure so far). Petersen is wise to oppose the subsidies, and his opposition could end up killing the proposal. The Times-Dispatch says, “If the project fails, or doesn’t come up for a vote, the team that was once expecting a bidding war between three localities (D.C., Maryland and Virginia) is instead looking at receiving no direct public support from any of the three in its quest for a new stadium.”

That would be great news because the Commanders are completely undeserving of taxpayer dollars. Petersen’s statement likely refers to the team’s numerous ongoing scandals. The Commanders franchise is currently under congressional investigation for claims of sexual harassment within the organization and financial improprieties. The NFL began an independent investigation into the franchise in February as well. The team hasn’t performed well on the field, either, having not won a playoff game since 2005.

The Commanders (formerly the Redskins) currently play at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. The team proposed a new stadium complex to be built in Woodbridge, Va., which is over 45 minutes away from Washington, D.C., on the highly congested I-95 corridor. The total project would cost $3 billion. The legislature had originally proposed $1 billion in public support for the project but narrowed it to $350 million in the most recent proposal.

That’s still $350 million too much. Stadium subsidies consistently fail to deliver the economic benefits they promise. If the Commanders want a new stadium, they can pay for it themselves. And it looks the the legislature may tell them exactly that.

The same can’t be said for New York, which is poised to give the Buffalo Bills the largest stadium subsidy in American history. As NR’s editorial pointed out last month, the subsidy is so bad that even Andrew Cuomo wrote in opposition to it.

Let’s hope Youngkin realizes his mistake. One of the reasons for his political success is rejecting the model of blue-state governance that has been perfected by New York. Blowing taxpayer money is something we expect from New York Democrats. Don’t follow their lead, Virginia.

Law & the Courts

Common Criticism

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As Ed Whelan notes, one of the dumbest lines of criticism of Justice Alito’s draft opinion in Dobbs is that he cites Sir Matthew Hale on the common law’s treatment of abortion even though Hale held various opinions now widely understood to be terrible. (Whelan further notes that Justices Breyer and Kagan have cited Hale too.) Relatedly, critics have asked why we should care what these ancient figures, with their unfamiliar diction, thought about abortion.

You know who else talked a lot about the common-law writers on abortion? Justice Harry Blackmun in Roe v. Wade, that’s who. Alito could not explain his vote to overturn Roe without explaining what Blackmun got wrong — which, on the common law, was a lot.

If you’d like to see someone thoughtfully and persuasively address the best criticisms of Alito’s opinion, on the other hand, check out this (long but very good) post by Sherif Girgis.