Economy & Business

Weighing the Risks of Tighter Money

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Tightening money too much and too fast would unnecessarily boost unemployment and could even cause a recession. We’re now at a point where it’s a risk worth taking, I argue at Bloomberg Opinion:

The costs of a relatively quick restoration of monetary stability thus look low. Putting off that restoration, on the other hand, risks letting [inflation] expectations drift upward. We’re not in 1981, having to choose between continued high inflation and a severe recession. We’re in 1968, deciding whether to halt inflation in its early stages so that we never reach 1981.

Elections

Another Challenge for November: Getting Enough Paper for the Ballots

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Workers sort ballots at the Sacramento Registrar of Voters in Sacramento, Calif., as California goes to the polls in a gubernatorial recall election, September 14, 2021. (Fred Greaves/Reuters)

You’ve heard a lot of talk about threats to democracy and to our elections, and how this faction, or that rhetoric, or that refusal to accept the results or some other factor could well destroy the functioning of the U.S. election system.

But if you want to hear about a real threat to our elections . . . consider how lingering supply-chain problems could mean your local election officials can’t get enough paper to print up the ballots the way they usually do. This morning, the Bipartisan Policy Center released a new report, Preparing for Ballot Paper Shortages in 2022 and 2024, laying out the growing concerns:

With heightened demand at home and abroad, international trade wars, and costly and unreliable shipping, many of the countries the U.S. used to import paper materials from are now retaining materials for their own populations. This volatility has caused an unexpected uptick in the market size of domestic paper mills since 2020, but less overall availability of paper for industries outside of delivery and transportation.

When faced with shortages, private companies can pivot by taking a more aggressive approach to ordering and directing customers to alternative paper types. Election officials rarely have that luxury. While ballot envelopes and other nonballot collateral can be printed on alternative paper weights and types, ballots themselves need to meet certain specifications to be processed correctly by ballot tabulators.

The center warns, “election offices that have not already placed their orders for November should do so immediately. Those unable to place orders due to uncertainty about the size of paper needed (or other similar factors) should alert vendors to anticipated order sizes and timelines. Those that have placed orders already should contact their vendors to ensure that they are on track to fulfill the orders on time. Any election office without a contract in place for November should identify a vendor, secure a contract, and place their print orders as soon as possible.”

One of the potential colossal headaches is a vendor sending a different kind of paper that doesn’t work in a ballot tabulation machine, which is calibrated to process paper of a particular opacity, brightness, or weight. Once the tabulation machines fail, a locality would suddenly have a giant stack of ballots that all need to be tabulated by hand — and we all know how calmly and rationally both campaigns and the general public respond to sudden changes in the vote tabulation process and long delays in announcing an official winner.

Runaway inflation is also a threat, or at least a complication, to the operations of the upcoming elections. The BPC report warns, “in the printing industry, costs have soared 40 percent or more. Unable to cope with rising costs of raw materials, some paper mills are breaking price contracts with print vendors. This has resulted in print vendors breaking pre-existing price contracts with election offices, further driving up costs.” The report calls for state legislatures and/or the federal government to allocate additional funds to localities to mitigate costs that are significantly higher than expected.

As if all of this wasn’t complicated enough, some states like Ohio require all ballots to be printed within the state. Ordinarily, a law like that has little consequence — but during a paper and labor shortage, it is conceivable that in-state printers will be unable to handle last-minute changes in ballot requests. “While this is a particular concern for the 2022 midterm elections, recent supply disruptions are only continuations of long-term trends, and this issue is not going away in 2024. As such, rather than a temporary exception, state legislatures should permanently allow the procurement and printing of ballot materials from vendors nationwide.”

The report also warns “courts and state legislatures should resist last-minute changes to the voting process, particularly those impacting ballot design. . . . Given the months-long lead times for obtaining ballot orders, with each passing day, the available mitigation options will shift from those that prevent problems to those that respond to them. Time is of the essence, and we encourage state and federal lawmakers to act swiftly to promote a smooth and secure election in November.”

The good news is that many local election officials will keep an eye on these kinds of details, and will be prepared. Unfortunately, it is likely that at least a few won’t — and woe to the community where local election officials run out of ballots because they didn’t print enough beforehand. These kinds of troubles will likely lead to new anecdotes of election-night confusion, and set off another round of suspicion, accusations and counter-accusations, and claims of behind-the-scenes shenanigans.

Politics & Policy

BREAKING: Ilya Shapiro Resigns from Georgetown Law School

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Ilya Shapiro at the 2016 CPAC conference. (Gage Skidmore)

As I noted on Thursday, Ilya Shapiro’s reinstatement at Georgetown’s law school may have been a victory for outside pressure against the forces of cancel culture, but it also sent an unambiguous signal that Georgetown would have caved to the mob and fired Shapiro if it was at liberty to do so, and would lie in wait for the first instant that a student found it politically useful to claim offense at Shapiro in order to make that happen once his defenders had let down their vigilance. That makes an obvious mockery of the university’s supposed commitment to the sort of robust free speech we associate with academic freedom when the speaker is left-of-center.

Shapiro is not a fool, and rather than work under such conditions, he submitted his resignation this morning. National Review has obtained a copy of his letter of resignation, citing the “hostile work environment you . . . have created.” “You’ve made it impossible for me to fulfill the duties of my appointed post,” he writes; “you’ve painted a target on my back such that I could never do the job I was hired for.” By allowing any student to claim offense without proving that offense was intended or that comments were objectively offensive, “all sorts of comments that someone — anyone — could find offensive would subject me to disciplinary action. This would be a huge Sword of Damocles over my head as I try to engage in my educational mission.”

He also notes the absurdity of suspending him for four months simply to read a tweet and conclude that it was written before he started the job: “a sham investigation that apparently could’ve been resolved by looking at a calendar.” The problem is endemic: “The proliferation of IDEAA-style offices (more typically styled Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) enforce an orthodoxy that stifles intellectual diversity, undermines equal opportunity, and excludes dissenting voices. Even a stalwart T-14 law school dean bucks these bureaucrats at his peril.”

As Shapiro notes in his resignation letter, his original tweet was not offensive, it was merely poorly worded: “No reasonable person acting in good faith could construe what I tweeted to be ‘objectively offensive.’ It’s a complete miscomprehension to read what I said to suggest that ‘the best Supreme Court nominee could not be a Black woman,’ as you did in your very first statement back on January 27, or that I considered all black women to be ‘lesser than’ everyone else . . . its meaning that I considered one possible candidate to be best and thus all others to be less qualified is clear. Only those acting in bad faith to get me fired because of my political beliefs would misconstrue what I said to suggest otherwise.” Of course, bad faith is a hallmark of this sort of cancel-culture mob. Moreover, as he notes, “any harm done by my tweet was done by those seeking that Georgetown fire me” — mainly, Mark Joseph Stern of Slate, who labored to stoke the controversy. “I deleted my tweet well before any student was likely to learn of it. Screen captures of the tweet were then disseminated by others seeking to harm me because of my political views. It was they, not I, who intentionally and knowingly caused any harm to any student who later came to learn of and read their screen captures of the tweet. It is they, not I, who are morally culpable for any such resulting harm.”

Shapiro also notes the egregious double standard applied by Georgetown to belligerent, malicious, and bigoted tweets by faculty on the left side of the political spectrum:

• In 2018, Georgetown protected this tweet from Professor Carol Christine Fair during Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation process: “Look at this chorus of entitled white men justifying a serial rapist’s arrogated entitlement. All of them deserve miserable deaths while feminists laugh as they take their last gasps. Bonus: we castrate their corpses and feed them to swine? Yes.” When Prof. Fair advocated mass murder and castration based on race and gender, Georgetown did not initiate an investigation, but instead invoked Georgetown’s free-expression policy.

• In 2020, Georgetown took no action when law professor Heidi Feldman tweeted “law professors and law school deans” should “not support applications from our students to clerk for” judges appointed by President Donald Trump. “To work for such a judge,” Prof. Feldman continued, “indelibly marks a lawyer as lacking in the character and judgment necessary for the practice of law.” These comments have the potential to threaten the careers of all of our conservative and libertarian students, or indeed anyone who clerks for duly confirmed Article III judges.

• In April of this year—well after my own tweet—Prof. Feldman tweeted, “we have only one political party in this country, the Democrats. The other group is a combination of a cult and an insurrection-supporting crime syndicate.” She went on to reference Ron DeSantis, Ted Cruz, and Mitch McConnell and say, “The only ethically and politically responsible stance to take toward the Republican ‘party’ is to consistently point out that it is no longer a legitimate participant in U.S. constitutional democracy.” As you know, unlike me, Prof. Feldman teaches 1Ls in mandatory courses. On the IDEAA theory, this pattern of remarks certainly created a hostile educational environment for our Republican students, who are a protected class under D.C. antidiscrimination law. Yet no investigation of these tweets was instigated after they were brought to your attention, after the precedent of investigating my tweets had already been established. Instead, a month after they were first published, they were quietly deleted without apology.

• Just last month, law professor Josh Chafetz tweeted: “The ‘protest at the Supreme Court, not at the justices’ houses’ line would be more persuasive if the Court hadn’t this week erected fencing to prevent protesters from coming anywhere near it.” He added, “When the mob is right, some (but not all!) more aggressive tactics are justified.” Later, he tagged Georgetown Law in a tweet saying that the law school was “not going to fire me over a tweet you don’t like.”

Should these professors have been punished? Under a genuine regime of academic free speech, no, and Shapiro says as much. But under the standard applied to him, yes. And therein lies the problem. Calling out the double standard would shame the university, if it was capable of having principles to which fair-minded people could appeal. Because it plainly does not, Ilya Shapiro will not be teaching at Georgetown.

GULC Resignation

Regulatory Policy

The Biden Team Struggles as Gas Prices Set New Records

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Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg speaks during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, November 10, 2021. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

This morning, the national average price for a gallon of regular gas is $4.86 — which is almost 60 cents per gallon higher than it was a month ago, at $4.27. The price a year ago was $3.06.

For perspective, before this surge, the previous highest price in the Energy Information Administration records was $4.11, in July 2008. (Adjusted for inflation, that would be $5.52.)

This weekend, Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg tried to make two contradictory arguments simultaneously. The first was an obliteration of a straw man, declaring that “We know that the price of gasoline is not set by a dial in the Oval Office.”

The second was an insistence that President Biden’s energy policies had worked well:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Earlier this year the president tapped the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which hasn’t made any difference at all. Was that a failure?

BUTTIGEIG: Well, look, I don’t think it’s correct to say it hasn’t made any difference at all. This is an action that helped to stabilize global oil prices. The action the president took around ethanol, introducing additional flexibility there, that’s having an effect on prices in the Midwest.

Those “prices in the Midwest” are marginally better than the rest of the country, but those prices also largely reflect factors such as state gas taxes and proximity to refineries and gas pipelines.

Back in November, when President Biden announced the release of 50 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, his statement pledged the release would helps provide relief to Americans immediately:

The U.S. Department of Energy will make available releases of 50 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in two ways:

  • 32 million barrels will be an exchange over the next several months, releasing oil that will eventually return to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in the years ahead. The exchange is a tool matched to today’s specific economic environment, where markets expect future oil prices to be lower than they are today, and helps provide relief to Americans immediately and bridge to that period of expected lower oil prices. [Emphasis added.]

By December, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee offered a tweet praising President Joe Biden for lowering gas prices, sharing a graph that had no start date showing gas prices going down by two cents from November 22 to November 29, from $3.40 to $3.38. It was a laughable attempt to hype a miniscule and short-lived decline, one that most consumers probably never noticed.

A word that never came up in Buttigieg’s conversation with Stephanopolous: “Refinery.”

Education

Self-Identified ‘Compelling Interests’ Should Not Override the Law

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A gate to the Yard at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., March 10, 2020 (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The higher-education establishment has long said that it has a “compelling interest” in having a “diverse” student body and therefore uses racial preferences in admissions to make sure that schools have “enough” students from some groups and “not too many” from others. Such preferential- admissions schemes are under attack in the courts, and the Supreme Court has the opportunity to rule against them in cases involving Harvard and the University of North Carolina.

In today’s Martin Center article, Wenyuan Wu explains the crucial points in the amicus brief her organization (Californians for Equal Rights Foundation) has filed with the Court. She identifies the fatal flaw in the Court’s previous “affirmative action” rulings, which paid lip service to the concept of “strict scrutiny” but actually trashed it: “In reality, the paradigm of strict scrutiny has translated into an incoherent and illogical set of conflicting standards, chiefly because Supreme Court rulings in affirmative action cases (Grutter v. BollingerFisher I, and Fisher II) have consistently given universities the authority to justify racial discrimination. In other words, courts have deferred to universities and colleges to make academic judgments on whether race-based affirmative action is warranted.”

Instead of deferring to institutions like Harvard and UNC, the Court ought to defer to the great majority of Americans who believe that racial preferences are a bad policy.

Why not let the “diversity” bandwagon roll on? Wu writes:

Clearly, supporters of enforced racial diversity represent a factional passion in direct conflict with the rule of law. Instead of satisfying a compelling public interest, their version of diversity has legitimized a multi-billion-dollar, largely unregulated industry. Collectively, industry players channel both public funds and private money towards university bureaucrats, market consultants, non-profit associations, and accreditation agencies to perpetuate the inaccurate presumption that racial proportionality is a public good with key educational benefits. Ironically, just like the prolonged failings of race-based affirmative action, the insatiable desire for racial diversity does not guarantee intended results.

Racial preferences have proven to be one of our worst mistakes. Will the Court have the guts to undo them?

History

‘The Boys of Pointe du Hoc’

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On the beach at Pointe du Hoc. (National Archives)

June 6, 1944, was D-Day, “the largest amphibious invasion in history since King Xerxes’s 480 b.c. combined sea and land descent into Greece,” as Victor Davis Hanson has noted. The Allied effort to free Western Europe from Nazi subjugation began on the beaches of Normandy, stormed by thousands of brave soldiers, many of whom perished in the act. It was ultimately successful, though that success was no sure thing; not for nothing did Dwight Eisenhower, then Supreme Allied Commander, prepare a speech in the event of its failure.

Forty years later, Ronald Reagan became the first president to speak at Normandy. To honor the occasion more broadly, Reagan chose to focus on “the boys of Pointe du Hoc,” choosing the “lonely windswept point on the northern shores of France” as both the setting and the main subject of his address. This redoubt was of great significance to the day’s fighting. As Senator Tom Cotton has explained:

Visitors to the Pointe rarely fail to comment on its imposing terrain — a sheer white cliff that juts dagger-like into the sea. The German battery atop the Pointe was no less imposing. Pointe du Hoc was a stronghold of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, a series of fortifications and obstacles built by slave labor to repel an Allied invasion of Europe. Neutralizing Pointe du Hoc was a key American objective in the run-up to the invasion, both because it was the most powerful gun battery in Normandy and because of its critical placement directly between the American landing sites. If the six German guns had roared on D-Day they could have multiplied American casualties on Utah and Omaha beaches.

It fell to the 225 soldiers of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, 62 of whom were in the audience for the speech, to take the cliff — one of countless feats of heroism during the entirety of the campaign. “These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.” Reagan singled them out not to exclude these other feats but to represent them:

All of these men were part of a roll call of honor with names that spoke of a pride as bright as the colors they bore: the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Poland’s 24th Lancers, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Screaming Eagles, the Yeomen of England’s armored divisions, the forces of Free France, the Coast Guard’s “Matchbox Fleet” and you, the American Rangers.

Why did they fight? “It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.” And:

You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.

Reagan spoke as a contemporary of these men, involved in the war effort though he did not himself fight. World War II was a formative experience and memory for their generation. Now, that generation is dwindling; Reagan himself died 18 years ago. In another speech by a man who would be president, a young Abraham Lincoln spoke of how losing the memory of significant occasions presents a challenge to the perpetuation of American institutions:

I do not mean to say, that the scenes of the revolution are now or ever will be entirely forgotten; but that like every thing else, they must fade upon the memory of the world, and grow more and more dim by the lapse of time. In history, we hope, they will be read of, and recounted, so long as the bible shall be read; — but even granting that they will, their influence cannot be what it heretofore has been. Even then, they cannot be so universally known, nor so vividly felt, as they were by the generation just gone to rest. At the close of that struggle, nearly every adult male had been a participator in some of its scenes. The consequence was, that of those scenes, in the form of a husband, a father, a son or brother, a living history was to be found in every family — a history bearing the indubitable testimonies of its own authenticity, in the limbs mangled, in the scars of wounds received, in the midst of the very scenes related — a history, too, that could be read and understood alike by all, the wise and the ignorant, the learned and the unlearned. — But those histories are gone. They can be read no more forever. They were a fortress of strength; but, what invading foeman could never do, the silent artillery of time has done; the leveling of its walls. They are gone. — They were a forest of giant oaks; but the all-resistless hurricane has swept over them, and left only, here and there, a lonely trunk, despoiled of its verdure, shorn of its foliage; unshading and unshaded, to murmur in a few gentle breezes, and to combat with its mutilated limbs, a few more ruder storms, then to sink, and be no more.

Such is the position we are now in. So what can be done? We would do well to recall the sacrifices of our forebears, through tribute, memory, instruction, and perpetuation of what they fought for, as D-Day itself fades from living recollection.

Politics & Policy

The Culture War Now

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A man waves an American flag during the Independence Day parade in Barnstable, Mass., in 2016. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Nate, congratulations on your tremendously interesting New York Times piece on the new, secular Right. I agree with your fundamental premise that the axis of the culture war has shifted away from sexual morality per se to issues of national identity. I offer a few additional thoughts for discussion and perhaps clarity, though.

One is that it’s possible to draw overly sharp distinctions here. For instance, Phyllis Schlafly, whom you note as an exemplar of the old, more religiously oriented social conservatism, would presumably be largely comfortable with today’s less religiously social conservatism. She hated elites, free trade, open borders, and was always up for a fight over the direction of public schools. Indeed, in important respects, she can be seen as an old New Right forerunner of the new New Right.

Also, evangelicals remain absolutely essential to the conservative coalition. Donald Trump wouldn’t have gotten elected without them in 2016 (and he knew it), and he wouldn’t have come close without them in 2022. Glenn Youngkin benefited from record evangelical turnout.

Donald Trump blew up a lot of assumptions in winning the Republican nomination in 2016, but he confirmed the core importance of the single most important issue to social conservatives — abortion. He could stray on a lot of other issues, but if he had strayed on this one, there’s no way he would have won the nomination.

Another complication is that some of the architects of the main new post-Trump intellectual current, national conservatism, want to return to the old religiously oriented social-conservative issues and believe that they weren’t fought hard enough, or at all, the first time around.

Then there’s the question of winning. I think the fight against CRT has been extremely important — credit Christopher Rufo and Tucker Carlson with catalyzing it. And I’ve been heartened by the incredible grassroots ferment and organizing around this issue. But we shouldn’t exaggerate to what extent this is a fight that only the new New Right would have taken on — any conservative of any stripe would have been on the ramparts of this battle any time over the past 60 years. Bill Bennett and Lynne Cheney, among many others, did engage in the precursors to this fight, as did our own stalwart Stanley Kurtz (see his war on the biased AP history standards, for instance).

And we shouldn’t exaggerate what has been accomplished here. The fact that we are now in a position of fighting a battle over whether or not racialism will be taught in the public schools isn’t a sign of tremendous strength. In fact, it’s more a sign of how much the culture has continued to slip away from us.

An analogy might be if ten years from now conservatives organized to defeat an initiative to mandate that every public-school student in America be referred to by the pronoun “ze.”

One reaction might be, “Wow! We’re finally winning! Our forebears never thought to fight the battle against mandatory gender-neutral pronouns.” A more appropriate reaction from the perspective of 2022 would be, “Dear God. How is it possible that things got so bad that the conservatives of the future considered that a resounding victory?”

To use Phyllis Schlafly as an example again, the latter would surely be her attitude to our current victories against CRT and some of the transgender excesses. She, by the way, was in no way a loser. No, she didn’t reverse a massive cultural tide toward more permissiveness. But she won on the ERA, forced busing, creating space for homeschooling, unilateral disarmament, and common core.

Anyway, all of this to say is that there’s much to chew on in your very well done, thought-provoking piece.

Woke Culture

You’ll Never Think of a Chicken Crying the Same Way Ever Again

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I haven’t watched Matt Walsh’s highly praised “What is a woman?” documentary yet, but some of the clips are mesmerizing and extremely disturbing.

 

Here is the chicken lady:

And here is a long, telling exchange with a “social scientist” (forgive me, I saw the clip via a hostile tweet):  

 

World

Wrong of Africa

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Michela Wrong at the Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway, May 2022 (Oslo Freedom Forum / Jan Khür)

Some years ago, for reasons I could explain, I had need to know about Mobutu Sese Seko and his regime in Zaire (as he renamed the country). I was led to a book called “In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz,” by Michela Wrong, a British journalist (or, more specifically, an Italo-English journalist). I couldn’t put it down. Ms. Wrong is my latest guest on Q&A, here.

She has written four other books, all concerning Africa, the latest being Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad. (That would be the regime in Rwanda, led by the atrocious Paul Kagame.)

Ms. Wrong has reported from Africa for three decades, and is one of the most admired Africa correspondents in the world. People say to her, “Oh, you must have fallen in love with Africa.” Or, “I bet you come from colonial stock.” No: She got assigned. She had wanted to go to Israel, or to Romania, after the downfall of Ceausescu. But Reuters sent her to the Ivory Coast. And she had a slew of Africa assignments thereafter.

Before going to Africa, she reported on fashion from Paris. And on the scene at the Cannes Film Festival. And on Church affairs at the Vatican. Etc. She says, “I tend to insist that whatever you write about is fascinating. All realms of human endeavor are. It’s a question of how you write about it and the depth you go into and the human angles you draw out.”

I could not agree more. Also, I think that, at a certain level, a writer is a writer. I remember an essay that William F. Buckley Jr. wrote for Cigar Aficionado. There are few subjects I could care less about than cigars. WFB’s essay, of course, was delicious.

Michela Wrong grew up in London (and for a brief period in Scotland). Her mother was Italian (hence “Michela”). Her father, Oliver Murray Wrong, was an eminent doctor and educator. One of her great-grandfathers, George Wrong, wrote standard histories of Canada. Another great-grandfather, A. L. Smith, was the master of Balliol College, Oxford.

As for Michela, she went to the Camden School for Girls in London — the alma mater also of Emma Thompson — and then to Jesus College, Cambridge. She belonged to one of the first classes that admitted women. Jesus College is known for rowing, in addition to academics. Michela rowed. (“It was the fittest I’ve ever been.”) And studied.

Being a seasoned Africa correspondent, she must have a taste for adventure, right? “No. I’m a real scaredy-cat.” As a rule, she sees the effects of conflict and violence — not the conflict and violence themselves. For example, she went into Rwanda after the genocide. Photographers and cameramen — they have to be there when the bullets are flying, she says. Text journalists are something else.

Has she ever worried about reprisals for her reporting? Yes. Kagame, for example, is famous, or infamous, for reprisals. He hunts down dissidents, journalists, and human-rights activists, not just in Rwanda itself but also abroad (“transnational oppression”). “There are moments when you get a little bit antsy,” Ms. Wrong says (in a characteristically British way). The most worrisome time, perhaps, is when you’ve done all your interviewing and gathered all your material but have not yet gone to print — “because then it would be worth taking you out.” Once you’ve gone to print, “I think you’re safer, in a way.”

The late George Ayittey, the Ghanaian economist and champion of liberty, used to say, “Africa is poor because she is not free.” Ms. Wrong says that Africa suffers from bad leadership. The continent has many countries with mineral assets, oil, hydroelectric power, forestry, and other “wonderful blessings from nature.” They ought to be “steaming ahead,” but they are held back by rotten leadership. Everyone knows about corruption. But there is also capital flight, Ms. Wrong says. And this flight reflects a belief that it’s not worth investing in your own country, your own continent.

Westerners like to talk about foreign aid, she says — aid and its effects. But you know what? Aid has damn little to do with Africa’s condition and prospects. So says Michela Wrong, and she is a damn interesting interviewee. A true-blue foreign correspondent. Again, to hear our Q&A, go here.

Woke Culture

We’re Going to Need More Colors

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If you didn’t notice, it’s day 5 of pride month and a mere rainbow is no longer enough:

Politics & Policy

Is the ‘Deep State’ Impervious to Elections?

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A woman holds up a “Drain the Swamp” sign before President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a “Make America Great Again” rally in Washington, Mich., April 28, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Jeffrey A. Tucker argues it is in this Brownstone Institute essay.

The problem is that we are now to a great extent ruled by the administrative state — all of those governmental apparatchiks who work in the huge number of federal agencies. They all believe not in liberty or even democracy, but in government by experts like themselves. They are empowered to make many of the decisions that control us, from covid to communications to labor unions and on and on.

Tucker observes, “this machinery of coercion ruled in concert with a network of private-sector actors, including media and financial companies, that have outsized influence and routinely use these agencies as weapons in their own economic interests at the expense of everyone else.”

We are suffering from the “success” of the progressive vision — replacing freedom with administrative control. This isn’t how America was supposed to work, as Columbia law professor Philip Hamburger in his 2014 book Is Administrative Law Unlawful? Unfortunately, the Supreme Court decided to allow Congress to hand over its legislative responsibilities to administrative agencies and later to defer to those agencies (so-called Chevron deference) when it comes to the interpretation of the statutes that have delegated power to them.

The Deep State keeps growing in scope and power. Stopping that growth and then reversing it is the great challenge that liberals (using the word in its original meaning) now face.

Politics & Policy

Don’t Fall for the ‘Price Controls Worked Before’ Argument

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The Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece arguing that price controls might be worth trying now that inflation is clearly not going to be merely “transitory.” Supposedly, price controls worked during WWII because there was a “national will” that they work.

In response, GMU economics professor Don Boudreaux demolishes the argument. His conclusion: “The indispensable role that prices play in allocating economic resources combines with the indisputable role that politics play in allocating government restrictions to counsel us never again to allow government to control prices.”

Read the whole thing.

Using price controls to cure inflation is no better than putting the thermometer in ice to cure a fever, but it’s just the sort of showy gesture we should expect from politicians like Biden who want the people to believe that they’re “doing something.”

Politics & Policy

We’re Not Sending Our Best

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An agent of the National Immigration Institute talks to Cubans detained by the Mexican National Guard as they tried to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico June 21, 2019. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

The Washington Post recently ran an interesting story on law enforcement tracking and deporting criminal aliens. A Spanish-speaking Post reporter and photographer embedded with agents as they sought a criminal alien, one Damion Ariza Salinas, a murder suspect who’d fled across the border. He was just “another guy who thinks he can create a new life” by crossing the border, the lead agent said.

The agents spoke freely about their motivations and experiences. “We don’t want a bunch of criminals in our community,” said one, while another speculated on the source of the criminality: “Honestly, I think it’s all the drugs over there.”

Of the criminal aliens the team was tracking, “there were eight accused of drug trafficking, two of murder and one of pedophilia,” the story reported. One of the officers had pictures on his phone of all the criminal aliens he’d nabbed, “like a digital trophy gallery,” in the reporter’s words.

The agents work from tips received from other law-enforcement agencies, they track social media, and they interview potential witnesses and collaborators. Among the criminal aliens on their list is one Baldomero Barrientos Banuelos, wanted for stabbing his wife, who’s been at large in the country for 29 years.

When the team finally tracked down Salinas, he protested in his native tongue that “I came out here for a better life,” before one of the agents admonished him to learn the country’s language: “‘Everyone tells me that,’ Salinas responded, blushing a little.” He eventually acknowledged that he’d fled across the border to escape arrest, but “I knew they were looking for me.”

The sole woman on the team used to want to visit across the border but, as the reporter put it, “Is it possible to arrest a nonstop procession of [foreign] criminals without feeling a little less enthusiastic about their country?”

But wait, how can this be happening? Hasn’t the Biden administration drastically cut back on deportations, even of criminals, while de facto abolishing the immigration parts of ICE? Shouldn’t these agents be fired, as Biden has threatened, or at least disciplined?

Well, that would be difficult because these are Mexican officers arresting American criminal aliens in their country. They’re members of a Baja state police unit known informally as the Gringo Hunters, who track down and deport Americans who’ve fled across the border and are living illegally in Mexico. Neither the reporter nor any of the story’s subjects seem to think there’s anything wrong with deporting undesirable foreigners — from Mexico.

Would that our own law-enforcement officers were able to do the same here.

Film & TV

Downton Abbey Plays the Hits

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Highclere Castle, the filming location for Downton Abbey, in Hampshire, England, May 22, 2019. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Downton Abbey: A New Era is exactly what you would expect from the Downton Abbey franchise by this point in its extended encore. It is gorgeously shot, crisply acted, full of charm, and mostly careful in its re-creation of its time and place. It is also playing for low stakes, short on the sorts of conflict that drove the show’s plot in its heyday and long on fan-service that caters to the audience’s nostalgic embrace of now-familiar characters. The plot, such as it is, is predictable at every turn, with one of the major plot points lifted directly from an all-time classic Hollywood film, and a number of beats repeated from the last film. There are, of course, a few quibbles. When a British film crew sets up shop at Downton, characters equate the movie business with “Hollywood” in ways that seem a bit premature for the late 1920s. I remain skeptical that homosexuals in the 1920s were able to identify one another instantly on sight quite as easily as they do in the Downton universe. And Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham) and Jim Carter (Carson the butler) seemed caked in a bizarre excess of orangey makeup.

If you liked the last film in spite similar limitations, you will probably enjoy this one. It certainly marks the end of an era: by wrapping up even more of the remaining loose ends, providing definitive exits for some of the show’s most important characters, and leaving things off on the very eve of the Great Depression, creator Julian Fellowes has written himself into a corner from which he could extricate himself — if he ever decides on a third film — only by forcing the residents of Downton Abbey more painfully into the dismal 1930s, taking the show in a darker direction that it eschewed in its late seasons. He did that once before, taking us through the First World War, but it seems unlikely that anyone has an appetite to take that trip. The Downton audience is largely content with nostalgia by now (aside from our teenage daughter, my wife and I were by far the youngest people in the theater). Better, instead, to conclude with Fellowes’s decision to emphasize how tradition endures as each generation succeeds those who preceded it. That is a vision of the future that looked a lot brighter in the Britain of 1929 than what the future actually held.

Health Care

Now, an Embryo Is Mere ‘Pregnancy Tissue’

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A pro-life campaigner holds up a model of a 12-week-old embryo during a protest outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast, Northern Ireland, October 18, 2012. (Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)

Abortion politics has corrupted medical science. The establishment is so obsessed with promoting abortion that it is apparently willing to subvert scientifically accurate descriptions in the discussion.

For example, get this. Rather than call an embryo an embryo — which is a medical term — an article in JAMA Insights (published by the AMA) has coined a new depersonalizing term for unborn human life destroyed in the womb. From an article on so-called “medical” abortions (my emphasis):

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved a medication abortion regimen in 2000, which consisted of mifepristone (a progesterone antagonist that causes pregnancy tissue to detach from the endometrium) and misoprostol (a prostaglandin that induces cervical softening and uterine contractions)…

Although cramping and bleeding diminish after the pregnancy tissue passes, light cramping is normal for a few days and light bleeding is common for a few weeks…

Retained nonviable pregnancy tissue occurs in less than 3% of cases and can be managed expectantly with repeat misoprostol or with dilation and curettage based on patient preference…

Patients should be evaluated if they have unusually heavy bleeding (soaking >2 pads/h for >2 h in a row), fever more than 24 hours after using misoprostol, recurrence of severe abdominal pain after passage of pregnancy tissue, or persistence of pregnancy symptoms more than 1 week after medication abortion.

Good grief. “Mary, when is your pregnancy tissue due?” Progressive ideology corrupts everything.

Media

Corporate Wokeness Is the Last Refuge of Scoundrels

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Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 5, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

On Wednesday, Sheryl Sandberg — chief operating officer of Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, and author of the 2013 female-empowerment book Lean Intold Fortune that she was resigning because of the fierce urgency of the moment with the impending overturning of Roe v. Wade: “This is a really important moment for women. This is a really important moment for me to be able to do more with my philanthropy, with my foundation.”

This is what is known as getting ahead of the story. The very next day, the Wall Street Journal reported the real story:

In reality, it was the culmination of a yearslong process in which one of the world’s most powerful executives became increasingly burned out and disconnected from the mega-business that she was instrumental in building. More recently, there was a fresh irritation: Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal contacted Meta about two incidents from several years ago in which Ms. Sandberg, the chief operating officer, pressed a U.K. tabloid to shelve an article about her former boyfriend, Activision Blizzard Inc. Chief Executive Bobby Kotick, and a 2014 temporary restraining order against him. The episode dovetailed with a company investigation into Ms. Sandberg’s activities, which hasn’t been previously reported, including a review of her use of corporate resources to help plan her coming wedding to Tom Bernthal, a consultant, the people said. The couple has been engaged since 2020.

Remember in 2017, when Harvey Weinstein announced his own resignation? “I cannot be more remorseful about the people I hurt and I plan to do right by all of them. I am going to need a place to channel that anger so I’ve decided that I’m going to give the NRA my full attention. I hope Wayne LaPierre will enjoy his retirement party. I’m going to do it at the same place I had my Bar Mitzvah. I’m making a movie about our President, perhaps we can make it a joint retirement party.”

Once again, woke politics is how powerful people and institutions expect to buy themselves indulgences from the cultural powers-that-be for their own sins. It is less a demonstration of virtue than the last refuge of scoundrels. (This is not a new observation — see Victor Davis Hanson, Jim Geraghty, and Kyle Smith with further examples.) It is why it is easier to cater to woke Westerners than to do anything about slavery and genocide in Xinjiang. Amber Heard’s alliance with the ACLU while promoting Aquaman is of a piece with the same phenomenon. So is washed-up athletes coming out of the closet or taking a knee, or what Jussie Smollet did. It is the mask that vice wears in public to pretend to be virtue.

Media

Politico Flunks Abortion History

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Signs outside the Supreme Court building during the March for Life, January 27, 2017. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Leslie Reagan writes that Justice Alito has the history of abortion all wrong in his draft opinion in Dobbs, but she is an entirely unreliable guide to that history. I think she is comprehensively wrong — if you read my article on the longstanding effort to rewrite the history of abortion in a way that’s helpful for Roe v. Wade, you’ll get a sense of how her account is distorted — but in this post I’ll zero in on a misrepresentation that is easy to demonstrate.

She writes,

The first laws in the United States governing abortion, passed by states in the 1820s and 1830s, banned the furnishing of drugs — “poison” — intended to induce a miscarriage of a “woman, then quick with child.” The first such law in Connecticut aimed to punish men who seduced women then, instead of marrying them when pregnancy developed, coerced them into using abortifacients. These first laws were essentially poison control measures intended to protect women from both abusive men and the sometimes-deadly herbs and medicines marketed to bring on their menses.

These first laws also referred only to inducing miscarriage after quickening. It is essential to recognize that these laws did not criminalize drugs used before quickening. The nation’s earliest laws assumed the existing common law right of women to regulate their menses — and to abort early pregnancies.

You could make a case — a contestable case, but a case — for the accuracy of Reagan’s description of Connecticut’s 1821 law. (The chief flaw in that description is that refraining from criminalizing pre-quickening abortion is not equivalent to recognizing it as a right.) You can’t possibly make the case that she is giving an accurate description of New York’s 1828 law, which applied not only to poison but to the use of any “means whatever” of causing an intentional miscarriage, and imposed fines or imprisonment or both without regard to whether the offense took place before or after quickening. Or of Ohio’s 1834 law, which also applied to any means of abortion and imposed penalties on abortion at any stage of pregnancy. Or of Indiana’s 1835 law, which applied to all means of abortion and made no reference to quickening. Or of Maine’s 1840 law, which applied to all means of abortion and even specified that it applied whether the child “be quick or not.”

You can’t trust Professor Reagan even on easily checked matters pertaining to the history of abortion. Politico, like the New York Times last month, shouldn’t trust her on that subject at all.

Politics & Policy

Biden Can Act on Guns without Congress, and Should

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President Joe Biden speaks about gun violence during a primetime address from the White House in Washington, D.C., June 2, 2022. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Let me give you an example of exactly how dumb and dishonest our gun-control debate is.

In his dopey candlelight-vigil speech on the issue, President Joe Biden said a lot of dumb things, some of them intentionally and some of them hilariously unintentional. Leave it to Joe Biden of all people to worry about “gum control” — sic — something he has never quite mastered.

One of Biden’s complaints was about the fact that if the federal government fails to complete the background check on a would-be gun-buyer within three business days, then the sale may proceed. (May, not must: It is up to the seller.) That is true. In the overwhelming majority of cases, this is just the federal government being its predictably slow and ineffective self. I have had background checks time-out myself, more than once.

However, in a few cases, a sale that should not have been approved ends up getting greenlighted because the clock runs out. Biden proposes to change the law to forbid that. That probably is not going to happen and definitely should not happen: The deadline was put into the law in the first place to stop the federal government from using bureaucratic delays to create a shadow ban on firearms sales.

Here’s the thing: President Biden could do something about this problem — today — if he wanted to, and he doesn’t need Congress’s approval or any change in the law.

Right now, when the federal government finds out that a sale that should have been stopped has proceeded because of the time limit, it does — this part will not surprise you! — absolutely nothing. Somewhere in some subbasement somewhere in the bowels of Washington, some bureaucrat mutters to himself, “Well, that’s unfortunate.” And then nothing else happens.

These are sales for which people have filed the requisite paperwork at a licensed firearms dealer. That means that we not only have the name, address, Social Security number, and other information about the buyer, we also have the make, model, and serial number of the firearm that changed hands. All it would take would be for someone to go and get the gun.

You don’t need Batman to fight that crime — you need a guy with a car and a shoebox.

Sending somebody out to pick up those guns would be a real improvement for several reasons: For one, we’d be taking a gun out of the hand of a prohibited person, which is good in and of itself. Second, in almost every case, a prohibited person who buys from a licensed retailer does so by lying on his application — as Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, pretty obviously did when acquiring a handgun a few years ago. (Hunter Biden is a prohibited person because he is a drug addict, and if he had not lied about that fact on his application, then it would have been rejected.) That means that we not only have the opportunity to take the gun away, we also have the opportunity to arrest the offender for a serious gun crime. Often, there will be at least two charges that could be made: felon in possession (which by itself can bring as much as ten years in prison) and making a false statement to acquire a firearm — a fifth-degree federal felony.

If we wanted to, we could take those guns — and those criminals — off the streets.

President Biden does not need Congress to change the law to make that happen. He does not need Mitch McConnell’s permission. Nobody can filibuster him. All he has to do is pick up the phone or put his name on a memo and instruct the lazy, useless, complacent, feckless, self-serving, waiting-around-for-their-retirements bums who work for him to get off their asses and do the job we pay them to do. You don’t need a SWAT team for this — Skippy the Intern should be able to handle most of this work just fine.

But, of course, Biden will not do what is within his power — and not only because it would mean locking people up for a crime committed by his idiot crackhead son.

Likewise, Biden could instruct the U.S. attorneys — the federal prosecutors who serve at his pleasure — to start prosecuting straw-buyer cases and start putting real federal time on the table for the people who do so much to provide our nation’s career criminals with a steady supply of firearms. But he won’t do that, either.

It is not news that Joe Biden is a dishonest, lazy, conniving partisan coward. That has been clear since the last days of disco. But if there are any intellectually honest Democrats left out there — and if there are, please, stand up and be counted — they should be asking why Biden will not do the things that he can do, especially given the fact that doing these things would put the crosshairs on actual criminals, something we should all be able to get behind.

The numbers are what they are: More than 80 percent of our murderers are habitual criminals with a half-dozen prior arrests, while 0.8 percent of the criminals in custody who used firearms in the crimes that got them locked up got that firearm from one of those gun shows that Democrats are always going on about. If we were serious about gun crime, we would hunt where the ducks are.

But Democrats have no interest in that, because they have an enemies list that supersedes substantive considerations.

So, President Biden: How about we keep our constitutional rights, and you and the people who work for you start doing your goddamned jobs?

There’s your bipartisan solution.

Elections

Why a Leading Michigan Gubernatorial Contender Can’t Run for the Office

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Then-Chief of Detroit Police James Craig speaks with the press in Detroit, Mich., June 3, 2020. (Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images)

Former Detroit police chief and presumptive nominee James Craig was disqualified from Michigan’s Republican gubernatorial primary because of a massive number of fake signatures on his ballot petition.

Craig turned in 21,305 total signatures, over 11,000 of which the state’s Bureau of Elections determined to be fraudulent, putting him below the 15,000-signature threshold necessary for his name to appear on the ballot.

“Staff reviewed each petition sheet submitted by Mr. Craig. During that review, staff flagged each sheet which was signed by a fraudulent-petition circulator,” the bureau’s review of Craig’s petition reads.

On May 23, the same day the rejections were announced, the bureau released a 17-page report detailing the “unprecedented number of fraudulent petition sheets” it received from Craig and other candidates. The report identified 36 total petition circulators, all of whose signatures were fraudulent.

Eighteen of the 36 circulators turned in a total 9,879 signatures on Craig’s behalf. Another 1,234 signatures were received from law-abiding circulators, but the bureau threw them out because they were missing, incomplete, or did not match the voter’s signature on record.

Many of Craig’s petition sheets administered by fraudulent-petition circulators appeared to all have been filled out in the same handwriting. Others, the bureau said, were “roundtabled,” in which a few signers take turns signing a petition sheet to vary handwriting, giving off the impression that the signatures are legitimate.

Four other Republican gubernatorial candidates, Perry Johnson, Michael Markey, Donna Brandenburg, and Michael Brown, also submitted a large number of invalid signatures or petition sheets turned in by fraudulent circulators, failing to meet the necessary threshold, leading to their disqualification as well.

Craig, Johnson, and Markey filed suit in the Michigan Court of Appeals in the days following the release of the bureau’s report, asking the court to overturn the bureau’s decision. All of the efforts failed, leading the candidates to take the case to the state’s Supreme Court.

Many Michiganders believed Craig to be the candidate most likely to win the nomination and challenge Governor Gretchen Whitmer in November’s general elections. In the fall of 2021, Craig led Whitmer in the polls by six points, but his advantage faded months later, when a January poll saw him trailing the incumbent governor by five points.

Assuming Craig’s case has as much success in the Supreme Court as it did in the lower court, the new frontrunner for the Republican nomination wil be Tudor Dixon, who turned in nearly double the number of valid signatures necessary to appear on the ballot.

Two of the people who submitted petition sheets for Dixon were on the list of fraudulent-petition circulators released by the bureau, but they combined for only 77 signatures out of the over 29,000 supporting her appearance on the ballot.

A local woman, Maryanne Illman, filed a challenge that attempted to void all of Dixon’s signatures on the grounds that her petition sheets listed the gubernatorial term she sought as ending in 2026, when the term will actually end at noon on January 1, 2027.

Because of that discrepancy, the petitions are misleading to voters and, therefore, violative of Michigan’s election laws, Illman argued. The board held, however, that because the end date of the gubernatorial term is not required to appear on a petition, Dixon’s signatures were still valid.

Dick DeVos, husband of former president Donald Trump’s secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, announced his family’s endorsement of Dixon the day after the bureau disqualified Craig. On Thursday, Right to Life of Michigan also endorsed Dixon.

Michigan voters will decide whether Dixon should receive the Republican nomination in the state’s primary election, scheduled August 2.

Politics & Policy

There Are Better Ways for John Cornyn to ‘Do Something’

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As Charlie notes, Senator John Cornyn seems to be playing the Democrats’ game by the Democrats’ rules by negotiating for Congress to “do something” about school shootings without Cornyn’s actually proposing to do anything he would want Congress to do. Like Marco Rubio in the ill-fated immigration talks in 2013, he seems to believe that the important thing is to be able to go back to voters alarmed by the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting and say, “Here, we did something.”

But as I wrote at length the other day, there actually are things worth doing on school shootings; it’s just that virtually all of them ought to be done at the state or local level. And Greg Abbott, the governor of Cornyn’s own state, has called a special session of the Texas legislature. There is nothing stopping Cornyn from taking some time back home, publicly promoting or even lobbying for the Texas legislature to take action, and then pointing to that as the something he did and  commending other Senators to imitate it. In the process, he could promote not only good governance but good civics, by reminding Texas voters that their senator respects the American federalist system.

Politics & Policy

Joe Biden Lied about Gun-Manufacturer Immunity. He Wasn’t Close to the Truth.

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President Joe Biden speaks about gun violence during a primetime address from the White House in Washington, D.C., June 2, 2022. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

I know this will be hard to believe, but Joe Biden lied in last night’s speech to the nation. Here is one especially egregious example:

We should repeal the liability shield that often protects gun manufacturers from being sued for the death and destruction caused by their weapons. They’re the only industry in this country that has that kind of immunity. Imagine. Imagine if the tobacco industry had been immune from being sued, where we’d be today. The gun industry’s special protections are outrageous. It must end.

Biden has made this claim before, as did Hillary Clinton. Politifact rated it false in 2015. As Biden knows perfectly well, or should know unless his mind is completely shot, there are multiple industries that enjoy federal statutory immunity from lawsuits over the use of their products.

Biden refers to the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and signed by President George W. Bush in 2005. (Biden opposed it at the time.) Under the ordinary principles of tort law, product-liability lawsuits are for defective products that malfunction; the manufacturer of a legal product cannot be held responsible for the product working as designed, unless it has somehow failed to warn users of a risk of use. This is why Biden’s analogy to cigarettes is flawed: The theory of many product-liability lawsuits against cigarette manufacturers was either that cigarettes were marketed with false assurances of their safety or that the manufacturers concealed dangers of the product. That is obviously not true of guns: Everybody knows that guns are lethal weapons if used as designed.

The PLCAA serves two main purposes: It protects gunmakers from facing large numbers of legally frivolous lawsuits that are designed to drain their resources and find sympathetic local judges who will drag a case out just to force a settlement, and it prevents states hostile to guns from creating novel legal theories to drive gunmakers out of business. If you buy a defective gun, you can still sue the gunmaker. The PLCAA hasn’t always worked: After Sandy Hook, Remington settled a case for $73 million where the parents tried to evade the statute by attacking Remington’s marketing practices, the Connecticut courts let them, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to step in.

Biden can argue all he likes that the PLCAA is bad, but it is flatly false that no other manufacturer enjoys statutory immunity from lawsuits when its product is lawfully sold and used as designed. The most famous example, involving a product that has been much in the news during Biden’s presidency, is vaccine manufacturers: Federal law enacted during Biden’s tenure in the Senate provides that “no vaccine manufacturer shall be liable in a civil action for damages arising from a vaccine-related injury or death associated with the administration of a vaccine . . . if the injury or death resulted from side effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings.” (Federal law provides a separate compensation fund for those injuries, regardless of any fault by the manufacturer; the fund is financed by a tax on vaccines.) The Supreme Court ruled in Bruesewitz v. Wyeth LLC (2011) that this provided broad immunity from design-defect lawsuits.

Another well-known example has been widely debated in recent years: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, also enacted during Biden’s tenure in the Senate, provides federal statutory immunity for social-media publishers and platforms when they publish the defamatory speech of others or ban content from their platforms.

Biden cannot imagine federal law immunizing the tobacco industry from lawsuits. The Supreme Court can: In Cipollone v. Liggett Group (1992), it held that, while federal law does not preempt all state lawsuits against cigarette manufacturers, it does immunize them from claims that their “advertising or promotions should have included additional, or more clearly stated, warnings” in light of a federal statute passed in 1969 that read, “No requirement or prohibition based on smoking and health shall be imposed under State law with respect to the advertising or promotion of any cigarettes the packages of which are labeled in conformity with the provisions of this Act.”

In fact, there is an entire field of law governing federal preemption of state law on product-liability lawsuits. Some of the case law in this area is “conflict preemption” — courts finding that state tort law would interfere with the operation of federal law — but it also includes numerous instances where Congress has expressly preempted lawsuits against businesses, including manufacturers of various products. Medical-device manufacturers are immunized under the the Medical Device Amendments of 1976, enacted during Biden’s tenure in the Senate, from state-law product-liability lawsuits against devices that have received premarket approval from the FDA — as the Supreme Court held in Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc. (2008). The Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 empowers the secretary of transportation to preempt state-law liability against railroads for the warnings at railroad crossings when a state has used federal funds to install them — an immunity the Supreme Court upheld in Norfolk Southern R. Co. v. Shanklin (2000). The entire field of locomotive safety was preempted from state-law product-liability lawsuits in the Locomotive Inspection Act of 1915 — an immunity the Supreme Court applied in Kurns v. R.R. Friction Prods. Corp. (2012) to immunize a manufacturer from an asbestos-exposure lawsuit by a man who worked on building them.

That’s even before we get to other statutory immunities. The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, enacted during Biden’s tenure in the Senate, prohibited states from enacting laws “relating to a price, route, or service of an air carrier,” which the Supreme Court found in Morales v. Trans World Airlines, Inc. (1992) to preclude state-law deceptive advertising claims against airlines. Defense contractors are immune from product liability suits as an extension of the government’s sovereign immunity — as the Supreme Court held in Boyle v. United Technologies Corp. (1988).

President Biden didn’t tell the American people the truth; he didn’t tell them anything even close to the truth. And if he now thinks it’s the truth, that says something even worse about his mental condition.

Politics & Policy

The Weird Part about the White House Non-Answer on Keeping Schools Open

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Then-principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre holds a press briefing at the White House, in Washington, May 26, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

In response to The Administration’s Not-So-Reassuring Non-Answer on Keeping Schools Open

Jim Geraghty noted the bizarre exchange from yesterday’s White House briefing. For those who missed it, the administration’s Covid-⁠19 Response Coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha, was asked whether all schools “will and must” be open in the fall, and Karine Jean-Pierre jumped in to end the press conference before he could answer.

What makes things a bit weird is that Jha himself has long supported opening schools, a point he noted when firing back at the coverage:

I don’t get why the question was absurd. I’m glad to hear him reaffirm his support for in-person schooling, but from a public-communications perspective, it seems a bit odd to me that he didn’t just answer the question at the time, or that Jean-Pierre felt the need to nervously intervene. By my count, the statement, “I’ve been a huge advocate of keeping schools fully open to in person education since October of 2020[.] Still am[.]” is just 20 words. If that’s the case, and Biden agrees with this position, it seems like it would have been quick and easy to just say that in real time.

Regulatory Policy

Don’t Let Protectionism Hinder Humanitarian Food Aid

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Containers are stacked on the deck of the cargo ship in New York Harbor in New York City, November 7, 2021 (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Earlier today, I wrote about Sri Lanka’s default and what it could portend for the rest of the developing world. As global economic conditions worsen and some of the international ties that developing countries were counting on change or disappear, we could see many crises similar to Sri Lanka’s take place over the next year or two. In wealthy countries, worsening economic conditions mean higher prices and unemployment. In developing countries, they can mean lack of food, and lack of food often leads to protests, revolts, civil wars, and state failure.

That kind of global instability is not in the United States’ best interest, and that’s why the U.S. has various humanitarian programs to aid developing countries facing acute food shortages. Wise to the economic conditions that could speed those shortages (see last week’s Capital Letter for more on that topic), Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced $215 million in additional humanitarian funding for food security in mid May.

That’s a relatively small price for the federal government (equivalent to approximately two Joint Strike Fighters), and well worth the money (unlike the Joint Strike Fighter) if it can be used effectively to bridge the gap in food supplies that some poor countries will be facing in the near future. The humanitarian role of U.S. foreign policy is one of the things that sets America apart from its adversaries, and it’s a role that China is starting to take more seriously. The Chinese have already announced aid to Sri Lanka, for example.

Our shipping protectionism, which exacerbates our own energy and transportation problems, also hinders this vital aspect of our foreign policy. Colin Grabow of the Cato Institute explains in a blog post from yesterday:

Undermining [American] relief efforts, however, is an oft‐​overlooked form of shipping protectionism. Known as “cargo preference,” it mandates that at least 50 percent of government food aid be transported on costly U.S. ships instead of more affordable foreign vessels.

How much more costly? A 2015 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report calculated that this requirement increased food aid shipping costs by an average of 23 percent while a 2020 American Enterprise Institute (AEI) working paper found that food aid shipping costs over a six‐​year period would have been 34–38 percent cheaper in cargo preference’s absence.

That’s not surprising. A 2011 U.S. Maritime Administration study found that U.S.-flagged ships were 2.7 times costlier to operate than their foreign counterparts—a differential that has further increased according to a 2018 GAO report.

The price of cargo preference shipping is driven still higher by a lack of competition. The U.S. commercial fleet offers just four dry bulk ships to choose from, with three of the vessels owned by a single company. Over two‐​thirds (28 of 39) of containerships operating in foreign trade—the main pool of vessels that participate in cargo preference—are operated by just two companies.

These policies guarantee that the U.S. isn’t getting what it’s paying for in humanitarian aid. On top of that, it’s a form of corporate welfare for our inefficient shipping industry — taken out of funding that’s supposed to be used to feed the poor. Unlike retail or meatpacking, domestic shipping is an actual case where lack of competition contributes to higher prices than a competitive market would allow. That lack of competition is the direct result of protectionist policies. For the sake of the taxpayers and the people in need of humanitarian aid — of which there will likely be more in the near future — Congress should repeal these policies and allow U.S. aid to be delivered in the most efficient way possible.

Regulatory Policy

Energy Production at the Speed of Federal Court Proceedings

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Pump jacks in an oil field in Midland, Texas. (Nick Oxford/Reuters)

The Casper Star-Tribune reported yesterday:

The Biden administration will redo the environmental review of more than 2,000 Wyoming oil and gas leases sold between 2015 and 2020 — including virtually all of the leases issued under former president Donald Trump — in accordance with a trio of settlement agreements approved Wednesday by a federal judge.

 

None of the leases have been vacated, but their future is uncertain. The Department of the Interior now has to reevaluate and retroactively justify more than two dozen lease sales. If it decides it can’t, or its reasoning doesn’t satisfy the court, the sales could be reversed and any existing permits revoked.

This from the administration that claims it is doing nothing to discourage domestic energy production.

It is true that there are many factors outside Biden’s control that are currently presenting challenges to the energy industry. But as I warned in my magazine piece from March, if Biden gets his way, the next energy crisis will be self-inflicted. Tying up drilling in litigation and regulation is a great example of what that looks like in practice.

Permits on federal land matter a lot for Wyoming because, as of 2018, the federal government owns 47 percent of the land in the sparsely populated state. High percentages of federal land ownership are common in Western states, with Nevada’s federal share at 80 percent, Utah at 63 percent, and Idaho at 62 percent. Some of that land is for national parks and military bases, but the vast majority of it is not. The Department of Defense has actually sold over half the land it held in 1990 and owns less than 2 percent of federal lands today, and the National Park Service owns only 13 percent.

Since the federal government is the landowner, it gets to decide how the land is used. Since the government is not a private entity, market considerations do not always take priority in deciding land use. Under federal environmental laws, pressure groups have lots of power to use litigation to block energy exploration and extraction on federal lands.

Here’s how that process played out in this case:

WildEarth Guardians and several other environmental groups filed three lawsuits against the interior department, in 2016, 2020 and 2021, challenging the climate analysis for a total of nearly 4 million acres leased for oil and gas development across Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Utah.

 

Close to 2.5 million of those leased acres — more than 3,500 square miles — are located in Wyoming.

 

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras ordered the department in 2019 to reassess some of the Wyoming leases. A year and a half later, he declared the agency’s second attempt inadequate.

Energy production at the speed of federal court proceedings is not exactly what the U.S. needs.

In the cases before Contreras, the environmental groups argued, successfully, that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires the department to assess the “direct, indirect and cumulative effects” that new leasing would have on the environment and the climate. But the oil and gas industry thinks that’s an inaccurate interpretation of the landmark 1970 legislation, which doesn’t mention climate change.

Of course, it would be a bit strange for a law passed in 1970 to require analysis of climate change. Regardless, as Benjamin Zycher argued at length for Capital Matters last month, canceling or allowing leases would have a negligible effect on climate change, even using the government’s preferred measurements of climate impact. But activist judges are a fact of life, and on federal land you have to play by the federal government’s rules.

But that also means the federal government can change its own rules if it wants to. Congress could pass a better law. The president can make various changes in how existing laws are interpreted through executive action. The Biden administration is not a passive bystander in how federal lands are used. Or rather, if it is a passive bystander, it is so only by its own choosing.

Meanwhile, now that the settlement is finalized — surviving an attempt by the American Petroleum Institute to have the case dismissed over questions about jurisdiction — WildEarth Guardians sees this as the Biden administration’s chance to follow through on its climate commitments.

 

“I think, to the extent that they decide to uphold prior leasing decisions, they’re going to have their work cut out for them,” [WildEarth Guardians program director Jeremy] Nichols said. “They have a high bar, and we’re going to hold them to that high bar.”

Alternatively, it could be a chance for the Biden administration to stand up to the radical environmentalist movement and tell its members that they don’t get to hold back energy production for an entire country of 330 million people in a time when inflation is reducing their purchasing power and foreign dictators are wreaking havoc on global energy markets. But don’t hold your breath.

National Security & Defense

Sasse Calls for a ‘NATO for the Pacific’ to Deter Chinese Aggression

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Sen. Ben Sasse questions Xavier Becerra during the Senate Finance Committee hearing on Becerra’s nomination to be secretary of Health and Human Services on Capitol Hill, February 24, 2021. (Michael Reynolds/Pool via Reuters)

During a speech on foreign and domestic policy at the Reagan Library on Thursday night, Nebraska GOP senator Ben Sasse called for the creation of a “NATO for the Pacific” to counter the threat of Communist China. 

“The rise of this belligerent, confident, expansionistic, indeed imperialist Communist Party is the competitive challenge that will define much of the next half century,” Sasse said during his speech that was part of the library’s “Time for Choosing” series.

Sasse described the communist regime as more than a threat to the American military and economy: “Most fundamentally, 21st century Beijing is now a competitor on the field of ideas — with a different vision of humanity,” he said. “Beijing proposes a new way of life — an unprecedented digital totalitarianism that would govern and regulate the most intimate details of individual and family and communal life, turning every person and the devices they carry into the eyes and ears of the regime, that’s what we face.”

“China’s power-hungry leadership is coming for us, whether we reflect sufficiently on this reality or not.  No amount of pretending or ignoring or hiding is going to make it go away,” he added. “The defining national security question of the next two decades is whether we will have a second ‘American Century,’ or whether it will be a CCP-led order.”

Sasse later laid out a list of specific policies to counter China, including a trillion-dollar U.S. defense budget and a “NATO for the Pacific”: 

  • Let’s pass a trillion-dollar defense budget, but let’s radically cut the share that goes to legacy systems and platforms that employ an army of lobbyists. In a new era of cyber and asymmetric war, let’s make sure we’re getting maximum lethal capacity for every taxpayer dollar spent – by overhauling procurement policies that aren’t just too expensive but primarily way, way too slow.

  • Let’s build a “NATO for the Pacific.” We need allies to get back on the offensive against the CCP, and those allies need US leadership. NATO in Europe has been the greatest treaty organization in history. It held the line against the Soviets, and it’s now holding the line against bloody Putin. But as Chairman Xi looks to expand his sphere of influence, we need a new military alliance centered far out into the Pacific. This is our main foreign policy work.

  • Let’s streamline our intel agencies so we can win a shadow war with the Chinese Communist Party.

  • Let’s arm the Taiwanese military to the teeth. Let’s amend the Taiwan Relations Act directly to make our security guarantee explicit. No more strategic ambiguity.

  • Let’s pair military partnerships with economic partnerships and end the nonsense anti-trade policies of the last two administrations. Pacific NATO should be a free-trade zone, too. Trade is a win-win because when Americans compete, we win.

In the nearly hour-long speech, Sasse laid out a broad vision for how America’s lost self-confidence can be restored. He called for a series of domestic policy reforms in education, technology, health-care, and employment—reforms he said are necessary to maintain America’s status as the most powerful country in the world. He also broadly defended the American-led world order of the last 75 years as he spoke out against isolationists and authoritarians on the Left and the Right:

The last 75 years, with the U.S. as the globe’s unrivaled superpower, we have seen shocking peace and shockingly prosperity, by every historical measure. Too often, we pit idealism and realism against each other in ivory tower, philosophy-seminar kind of way that don’t really grapple with the world we’ve actually inherited.

For in flesh-and-blood lived experience, American idealism about human dignity helped create immense realist, geopolitical stability. And American military, our might, enabled the spread of human rights and broader representation, and private property rights and land reform, and unleashed entrepreneurial innovation on every continent, thereby uplifting millions of families and innumerable communities. That’s the reality of the last 75 years.

Stated more brass-tacks: American military and economic engagement wasn’t some charity. After the Second World War, our grandparents literally built the world.

We created a global infrastructure of trade organizations and military alliances that became dang-near beautiful, like the pictures of Ellis Island in the President’s office upstairs, Reagan leading us to avert World War 3 and win the Cold War, barely having to fire a shot.

But this creative process wasn’t born of altruism. Although it was indeed very good for the world, but we did it because it was good for America.

You can find the full transcript here and see the full speech below:

Education

The Administration’s Not-So-Reassuring Non-Answer on Keeping Schools Open

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Dr. Ashish Jha is ushered off the podium as a reporter shouts a question during White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre’s press briefing in Washington, D.C., June 2, 2022. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

For all of the far-reaching problems and pains of the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the bits of good news was that it always represented a small and, in almost all cases, manageable risk to children. As of May 26, almost 13.4 million American children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. Thankfully, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports, hospitalization of children for Covid-19 is exceptionally rare:

  • Among states reporting, children ranged from 1.3 percent to 4.6 percent of their total accumulated hospitalizations, and 0.1 percent to 1.5 percent of all their child COVID-19 cases resulted in hospitalization.
  • Among states reporting, children were 0 percent to 0.31 percent of all COVID-19 deaths, and three states reported zero child deaths. In states reporting, 0 percent to 0.02 percent of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in death.

Nonetheless, there is still one group of Americans who cannot get vaccinated against Covid-19, and that is kids under five — one year and seven months after then-candidate Biden pledged he would “shut down the virus, not the country.” (The U.S. averaged a bit more than 100,000 new cases per day through much of May.)

And now the Biden administration’s Covid-⁠19 Response Coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha, says vaccinations of kids under age five will begin later this month:

[The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee ] meets on June 14th and 15th.  We expect FDA to make its decision soon thereafter.  Once FDA has authorized — if they have authorized vaccines — we can begin shipping.  We expect some of the shipments to start arriving to — in their destination over that long weekend.

Remember, Monday is an important federal holiday, and many doctor’s offices may be closed.  And we can’t ship vaccines until FDA has authorized these vaccines.  And vaccinations can’t start until CDC has issued its recommendations.

So, we expect that vaccinations will begin in earnest as early as Tuesday, June 21st, and really roll on throughout that week.

There was one other less-than-reassuring exchange in yesterday’s press conference:

Q    Doctor, do you believe all schools will and must be open this coming fall?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  We got to go.

DR. JHA:  Yeah, I unfor- —

Q    Parents want to know that.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  He has to go.

DR. JHA:  I’m sorry.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  We’re over time.  We’re over time.

DR. JHA:  Thank you.  Sorry.

If Dr. Jha wanted to answer that question, he could have answered that question. The fact that Jha did not answer that question means the answer is not “yes.”

After one to two years of school closures resulted in devastating learning loss and far-reaching emotional problems, lack of social development and growth, and off-the-charts anxiety levels in kids and teenagers, anybody in any position of responsibility should be declaring that they’ll be doing everything possible to keep schools open, come hell or high water. This is not a hard question or a tough call.

Law & the Courts

Re: Cooke-Bait

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The Bill of Rights (Wikimedia Commons )

In response to Cooke-Bait

Agreed, Kevin. I would just add that, while it is true that no right is “absolute,” our presumption should be that the rights that were explicitly written down in the Bill of Rights will come pretty close. As you note, when Joe Biden says “this right isn’t absolute,” he really means “therefore, I can limit it in any way I want.” But this is an inversion of how we should reflexively see it. “Not absolute” should not mean “not actually a right”; it should mean “a right that can only be abridged at the bleeding edge.”

There is a reason that the language in the Bill of Rights is as harsh as it is: “shall make no law”; “shall not be infringed”; “No Soldier shall”; “shall not be violated”; “no Warrants shall issue”; “No person shall be held to answer”; “shall enjoy the right”; “shall be preserved”; “shall not be required,” etc. These are not the words of people who wanted to ensure just a little bit of legal protection; they’re the words of people who were playing for keeps.

Bill Gates
Los Angeles Ban on Gas Stoves Is an Assault on Good Cooking

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(FotoCuisinette/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles City Council has joined other liberal cities in voting to ban gas stoves in new buildings, citing climate change — an absolute assault on good cooking.

Anybody who has cooked anything more complicated than Kraft macaroni and cheese can tell you that electric stoves, even the fanciest ones, are no match for cooking over a flame. Gas stoves produce heat immediately, while electric takes time to reach the desired temperature. More importantly, gas allows the cook to easily increase or decrease the temperature, which is essential in foods such as soups and sauces, that often require bringing something to a boil, then transitioning to a low simmer. When forced to use electric appliances, I will often have to turn on multiple burners at the same time, at different temperatures, so I can more easily navigate a recipe.

Using an electric oven is one thing, as in that case the ability to maintain a consistent temperature is a bonus, especially in baking. But an electric stove is a non-starter for any serious cook, and as Judd noted a few months ago when San Francisco made this move, it is outright impossible for many ethnic foods.

The effort to ban gas stoves is indicative of a broader challenge to the environmental movement, which is that it’s difficult force people to accept an objectively worse lifestyle. Bill Gates can talk all he wants about how rich countries should shift 100 percent to fake beef — coerced by regulation if necessary — but nobody is fooled by the difference between a synthetic meat product and the real thing.

White House

Cooke-Bait

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This is a Charles point, but I think I’m ahead of him today.

Joe Biden’s shtick about the Second Amendment being “not absolute” is embarrassing, sophomore-debate-team-level stuff.

“Not absolute” does not really mean anything. Of course there are limits on the right to keep and bear arms — we don’t allow felons to buy guns, or allow children to carry them. That doesn’t mean that the president gets to do a bunch of patently unconstitutional stuff just because the right is “not absolute.” The law already recognizes certain appropriate limitations on the way that right is exercised. But the president does not get to break the law, and congressional Democrats do not get to overturn the Constitution.

The First Amendment is not absolute, either. You need a permit to stage a rally in many places, you can be sued for libel, etc. That doesn’t mean that in 2025 President Donald Trump gets to close down the New York Times and just say, “Well, you know, the First Amendment is not absolute.”

Another unserious chapter in an unserious story.

Culture

Why Republicanism Faded

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An illustration of the Declaration of Independence against the backdrop of an American flag (smartstock/Getty Images)

In Jonah Goldberg’s most recent Remnant podcast, he talks with AEI’s Tony Mills about the roles of liberalism and republicanism in the American traditionalism, and the two dwell for some time on the ascendance of liberalism and the relative decline of republicanism. This conversation was provoked by Mills’s recent article, “Liberalism Is Not Enough” in National Affairs. And if you will forgive the unsolicited nerdery, I have a thought about that.

Here is my theory: An organized political movement, such as the civil-rights movement in the United States, or a political tendency, such as republicanism, comes to its natural conclusion and begins to dissipate not when it has achieved its positive ends but when it has vanquished its main enemies — which are not the same thing.

Republicanism, as Mills notes, is a complex body of thought, but two of its great animating principles in the 17th and 18th centuries were anticlericalism and antimonarchism. The American Revolution and the Constitution made both of those nonissues in the United States, though this took some time to sink into practical politics. There was enough lively republican sentiment surviving the revolution that John Adams was famously pilloried for his desire to confer quasi-monarchical stylings on the presidency, while other offenses against republican sensibilities were met with similar derision and contempt. Republican disestablishmentarianism survived as long as the state churches did, with Massachusetts being the last to disestablish its church in 1833.

(The anticlericalism was often more intense and longer lived in the Catholic countries than in the Protestant Anglosphere, as evidenced not only in the French Revolution but also in the horrific repression of the Catholic Church in Mexico that lasted well into the 20th century.)

American republicans did not succeed in their long-term goal of establishing a durable model of republican citizenship and republican virtue in the United States (if you doubt this, look around you!) but they did succeed in vanquishing their most visible enemies. Patrick Henry’s political career was launched by a dispute with His Majesty’s clergy in Virginia, but by the end of his life there wasn’t even the shadow of a king to worry much about, while the First Amendment had prohibited an established church at the national level.

The same dynamic plays out in other movements:

The civil-rights movement led by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. did not succeed in its goal of establishing a society in which the systemic disadvantages of African Americans had been eradicated, or even in putting the nation on a path toward such a goal; but the kind of active and politically engaged racism that one commonly saw among Democratic Party politicians of King’s era is no longer socially acceptable, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 marked the climactic political defeat of those who were committed to white supremacy as a legal and political goal. The civil-rights movement declined after vanquishing those enemies, eventually degenerating into a series of money-making schemes.

The fusionist model of American political conservatism championed by National Review did not long outlive the Soviet Union. With Muscovite communism defeated and with the triumph of Ronald Reagan signaling the end of ambitious, Great Society–style welfare expansionism, there was a sense that the 20th-century model of conservatism had run its course, even though it had not only failed to achieve its principal goal — undoing the New Deal — but in fact had abandoned that goal and achieved the apex of its political power and cultural prestige under the leadership of a charismatic president who described himself as a New Deal Democrat alienated from the party of FDR by the radicalism of the 1960s and 1970s. The conservative movement that came into being in the middle of the 20th century in large part because Dwight Eisenhower did not want to undo Social Security eventually found its 21st-century hero in an East Coast welfare populist who vowed to not even consider reforming Social Security, much less abolishing it.

The National Rifle Association fell into decadence when it became clear that it had, at least for a time, beaten back its most visible foes in the political arena.

Etc.

To be sure, this is not the course followed by every movement. The labor movement has been fortunate in that the great mighty churn of capitalism throws up a new unifying enemy for it every few years — if you run out of robber barons, Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk will do. You can drive GM into the ground, but there’s Walmart and Amazon and other potential host organisms. The environmental movement enjoys enormous prestige and influence at the commanding heights of government, business, and culture, but until we decide to go back to living in mud huts and digging up grubs, there will be energy companies and manufacturers and farmers to provide it with enemies sufficient for its purposes.

I suppose the best way to resurrect the cause of republican virtue would be to provide the right kind of enemy to rouse the dormant republican sensibility, maybe by threatening the nation with an established church. (I’d recommend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or another of the many churches that can proudly label themselves “Made in the USA.” We’re all nationalists now, right?) That’s one idea.

But let’s not even toy with monarchy — I am afraid Americans in their current condition might be too easily seduced by the pomp.

Culture

The World Is Ending, Democracy Is Doomed, Why Are You Sad?

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Derek Thompson at the Atlantic asks why American teens are, as a group, more depressed than ever. To his credit, when discussing the drumbeat of catastrophism in the news, he mentions the elephant in the room:

This sense of doom doesn’t just come from teenagers. It comes from us, the news media, and from the social-media channels through which our work is distributed. News sources have never been more abundant, or more accessible. But journalism also has a famous bad-news bias, which flows from an unfortunate but accurate understanding that negativity generally gets more attention. When we plug our brain into a news feed, we are usually choosing to deluge ourselves with negative representations of reality. A well-known 2019 experiment randomly forced people to stop using Facebook for four weeks before a midterm election. The study found that those who logged off spent more time hanging out with family and friends, consistent with the idea that social-media use displaces pro-social behaviors. It also found that deactivating Facebook “reduced factual news knowledge” while “increasing subjective well-being.” We cannot rule out the possibility that teens are sad about the world, not only because the world contains sadness, but also because young people have 24/7 access to sites that are constantly telling them they should be depressed about it.

Of course, hardly any outlet has been more consistently gloomy and alarmist in this way than the Atlantic itself.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Broadband and Social Justice

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Ben Sperry of the International Center for Law and Economics argues that, contra the FCC, broadband access is not a social-justice issue:

Not content that market incentives would be sufficient to ensure that Internet service providers (ISPs) don’t leave money on the table by choosing not to invest in minority communities, and despite lacking any data or economic models that would suggest otherwise, the Federal Communications Commission is pushing new rules to guarantee “equal access to broadband internet” by “preventing digital discrimination of access based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin.”

This is, quite frankly, social-justice reasoning run amok at what is supposed to be a technocratic agency tasked with deploying scarce taxpayer dollars to expand broadband access nationwide.

Read the whole thing here.

Music

Down with Music

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Evening in Oslo, May 2022 (Jay Nordlinger)

Forget that pretty picture up there — this post is for the purpose of complaint. I’ll get to it in a minute. Today on the homepage, I have a travel journal, an Oslo journal, complete with photos and even a few videos. The videos are a first for me. I wanted readers — listeners? — to hear a few sounds. Needless to say, I could not embed the videos myself, but crack NRO staff could.

On the subject of sounds: I have a concert review that may interest you — of the Cleveland Orchestra in Carnegie Hall two nights ago. On the menu were Schubert, Szymanowski, and George Walker, the American (1922–2018) whom I profiled in National Review in 2017. Very interesting man.

In my journal today, I say the following:

. . . ladies and gentlemen, if you ever have a chance to breakfast at the Grand Hotel, in the heart of Oslo, please do. Treat yourself to it. This is one of the most civilized rooms in the world. The breakfast buffets (yes, plural, for sure) are bounteous, varied, and endless. The surroundings are elegant — Old World. The staff exudes professional refinement.

The only problem, as I see it, or hear it, is music. Recently, I believe, they have started piping music in. Why? It isn’t very loud, as these things go, but still: Why? What’s wrong with the sounds of breakfast and conversation? Or even the sound of silence? I don’t dislike music. But everything has its time and place. Can’t there be a restaurant, a store, a public place, anywhere in the world, without music piped in? For one thing, this stupid ubiquity — this wallpaper — cheapens music.

I do some other harrumphing in this column, but that’s the big one — the big harrumph. A reader writes,

Jay,

I just want to echo your harrumph. It seems that you cannot go to any public place today without being exposed to annoying piped-in music — restaurants, shopping malls, walking bridges, even some commercial office buildings.

I recently met a friend at a very nice restaurant. We were both looking forward to getting together and catching up with good conversation. The choices on the menu were excellent, and the food was delicious. We were seated, however, right under a speaker piping in very tinny-sounding “music” sufficiently loud so as to make us raise our voices above normal conversation levels in order to be heard. It ruined the entire occasion. We mentioned how annoying this “music” (“noise” is a better word) was to our waiter and again to the person who appeared to be the manager, but received only shoulder shrugs in return.

I wonder: Are there really people who enjoy this piped-in noise? Does it actually add to the ambience of the location? Would business suffer if it were eliminated?

There are people who seem to be scared — actually scared — of silence, or of an atmosphere without music. It makes them nervous. They feel that something is wrong, I think.

I have an idea (a very dangerous thing). Years ago, there were smoking and non-smoking sections in restaurants. The same was true on planes. Of course, if you were a non-smoker on the border of the smoking section, you were kind of screwed. But still. The partition — the separateness, the division — was helpful.

Maybe an enterprising restaurant could offer music and no-music sections? Or even a whole music-free restaurant? That might be a good gimmick, at a minimum. I bet such an establishment would draw a crowd.

Energy & Environment

Electric Vehicles and the Green New Dole

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Charging station for Buick’s electric vehicles at the Shanghai Auto Show in Shanghai, China, in 2019. (Aly Song/Reuters)

We’re always being told by the Joe Bidens and Boris Johnsons of this world about the tremendous employment opportunities that will be created by the new green economy, claims that normally focus on new jobs rather than (unsurprisingly) jobs lost. When I hear those claims, I often find myself wondering what the net picture will be.

Nevertheless, surely we can assume that electric vehicles will be central to the jobs bonanza that will be coming a greening West’s way.

Well, maybe not.

The Financial Times:

The opening of Tesla’s Shanghai factory in 2019 was a breakthrough for electric vehicles and for overseas carmakers: it was the first wholly foreign-owned plant in the world’s largest car market. But it also marked the start of an even bigger trend, which promises to upend the structure of global manufacturing, bring a new wave of deindustrialisation to Europe and trigger trade tensions of an intensity to match the 1980s. That trend is the emergence of China as a car exporter.

As Gregor Sebastian and François Chimits of the Mercator Institute for China Studies documented recently, China’s car exports are taking off, many of them are electric vehicles and most are going to Europe. From almost nothing a few years ago, China exported half a million electric vehicles in 2021, and its market share in Europe was second only to Germany’s. As the car market goes electric, Europe could quickly find itself running a trade deficit with China in automobiles…

If batteries replace combustion engines, and China dominates car production, the disruption will be immense. Automobile manufacture underpins the prosperity of Europe and Japan. Companies such as Toyota and Volkswagen, plus their supply chains, employ millions of people in stable, skilled manufacturing jobs. They underpin national current account surpluses. A shift in the location of car manufacturing would have an even greater impact than the past migrations of steel, electronics or shipbuilding…

For Japanese and European carmakers, the challenge is that while electric vehicles may be high-tech, they are not complex. Internal combustion engines were at the heart of 20th-century industrial prowess. A vehicle built around one is a complex assembly of crankshaft, pistons, fuel pumps, turbochargers and myriad other components, each of which must be mastered and integrated. Even after 150 years of development it is still a difficult task, calling for deep technical expertise and a vast network of suppliers, rather than access to the lowest possible labour costs.

The drive train of an electric vehicle, by comparison, is extraordinarily simple: a battery, a motor and not much else. Production of the crucial component, the battery, is a business of huge scale and thin margins; the economics are similar to another green technology, the solar panel. Assembly of electric vehicles needs some of the skills of traditional carmaking, but bears comparison as well to other electrical goods. Solar panels and consumer electronics are industries where Chinese manufacturing dominates on cost.

If things carry on as they seem to be, the EU faces the hollowing out of its automotive sector (a hollowing out that will also do serious damage to the sector’s suppliers), something that will not take place without major political, social, and economic consequences, including, perhaps most notably, in Germany. Angela Merkel’s legacy just keeps giving.

It’s perhaps symbolic of the shambles that the central planners running Western climate policy have created that the EU simultaneously subsidizes purchases by European consumers of Chinese-made EVS, while also imposing a 10 percent tariff on those same vehicles.

The U.S. tariff is higher (27.5 percent), but after reading Joel Kotkin’s latest for Capital Matters, it doesn’t seem that Americans should be too relaxed.

Here’s an extract:

As states such as California seek to ban gas-powered cars, something the Biden administration has also proposed, we could be undermining our own transport sector, ceding a large part of our economy into the hands of China.

The ever-quickening pace of mandates for electric cars, with little in the way of new electric capacity, seems likely to serve Chinese interests more than ours. Beijing maintains almost total domination of the solar-panel industry — its battery capacity is now roughly four times ours, a gap projected to expand by 2030. They also have effective control of the requisite rare-earth minerals and the technology for processing them.

Indeed, given China’s growing dominance in computer production (and its drive to control semiconductors as well), the future of American automobile production could very well consist of slapping a Chinese computer to a Chinese battery with some bent metal, arguably also sourced there, around it . . .

A green jobs bonanza, I tell you, a bonanza . . .

Politics & Policy

Biden on Guns

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As expected, not one word about the actual problem; i.e. the habitual criminals who carry out the overwhelming majority of shootings and murders in our country. Not one word about the fact that we keep letting violent criminals walk free after five, six, seven arrests, after multiple convictions, and don’t get serious about dealing with them until they murder somebody — and, sometimes, not even then: You’d be surprised to know how many crimes are committed by people out on bail awaiting trial on capital murder charges.

I’d love it if we would start enforcing a few of the gun laws we already have in place. For instance, we could follow through and prosecute people who commit fraud on the ATF forms needed to purchase a firearm. But, I suppose President Biden doesn’t want to send Hunter to the penitentiary. What he does want to do is set the stage for a gigantic wealth transfer from U.S.-based manufacturers to Democrat-aligned interest groups via dishonest litigation. At least the Democrats are consistent: It doesn’t matter how many Americans have to die, they’re going to make sure they get paid.

Shameful stuff.

Politics & Policy

The Weak Case for Student-Loan Forgiveness

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It now seems likely that Biden will ‘cancel’ (i.e., transfer to taxpayers) at least $10,000 of student-loan debt per borrower. It’s a classic political move, after all — concentrated benefits for some, greatly diffused costs for everyone else. Something for a disastrously failing regime to crow about.

But how about the arguments pro and con? In today’s Martin Center article, I examine them and find that the case for loan forgiveness is pathetically weak, legally, economically, and morally.

Immigration

The Immigrant Population Is Growing Rapidly

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Protesters call for comprehensive immigration reform at a rally in Washington, D.C., in 2013. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

The total foreign-born population reached a record 47 million in April, according to a new report by my colleagues Steven Camarota and Karen Ziegler.

While that’s the largest number ever recorded, and the total number of immigrants is important in itself, the simple fact of a record number is maybe the least interesting finding of the report; after all, a growing population of any kind sets a new record every year.

But the pace of that growth is remarkable. The report, based on the Census Bureau’s monthly Current Population Survey, noted that the 47 million number is half-again more than in 2000. Going back further, the total size of the foreign-born population has doubled since 1990, tripled since 1980, and quintupled since 1970. (The total U.S. population has grown only by about half since 1970.)

What’s more, the growth is accelerating. This total number of foreign-born (people living here who weren’t U.S. citizens at birth — legal and illegal, naturalized citizen, green-card, H-1B, whatever) has grown by 2 million just since Joe Biden was inaugurated in January of last year. And two-thirds of that increase under Biden are illegal aliens (1.35 million), which should be no surprise considering the ongoing dissolution of the border. (The Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics both state that illegal immigrants are included in their survey data, though some do get missed.)

In addition to the size of the foreign-born population, the percentage also matters. The foreign-born now account for one in seven U.S. residents (14.3 percent) — the highest percentage since 1910. As recently as 1990 they were about one in 13 (7.9 percent) U.S. residents. The numbers are growing so fast that if present trends continue, the foreign-born share of the population will reach about 15 percent by the end of next summer, higher than at any time in the nation’s 246-year history.

While even illegal immigration is a policy choice — what are we willing to do to enforce the law? — three-quarters of the immigrants are legal. That means this is a policy choice; immigration is just another federal program, like farm subsidies or the Air Force, not a fact of life we have to accommodate ourselves to, like the tides or the weather.

Considering this rapid growth in numbers, and the approaching record percentage, you’d think lawmakers would want to consider the impacts on schools, health-care systems, welfare programs, physical infrastructure, the job market, quality of life, etc.

Maybe even more important, where is the national leader who even asks how many people we can successfully assimilate? The last great wave of immigration, from the 1870s to the 1920s, was brought to an end when immigration was greatly curtailed by legislation, contributing hugely to the successful assimilation of those already here. This, even more than the disaster at the border, is the most pressing issue in immigration policy.

White House

‘There Are a Lot of People Very Close to the President Who Privately Understand That This Is a Complete Disaster’

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Activists demonstrate outside an entrance to the White House calling for the cancellation of student debt in Washington, D.C., April 27, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

So says the Washington Post’s James Hohmann, in a conversation with The Bulwark’s Charlie Sykes about the Biden administration’s inexplicable desire to force taxpayers to pay off rich people’s student loans. Here’s the segment:

Charlie Sykes: How did they not get this? James, I’m sorry… How do they not get this? You look at the states — like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio — what percentage of the population has college degrees? And yet you are asking all of those people who are experiencing high anxiety to pay for this transfer of wealth…. And then I’m sorry, I know that Twitter is not real life … but all of these folks saying, ‘This is a betrayal. Only $10,000? I have $50,000 in college debt. If the Democrats are only going to forgive $10,000, well, then I’m not going to vote for them.’ Suck it, Buttercup.

I mean, seriously, where does Joe Biden think this groundswell is going to come from, except for this small group of highly-entitled college graduates who dominate the staffing and the inner workings of the Democratic party?

James Hohmann: I’ve asked, I’ve repeatedly asked people. And I’ve asked a lot of people in the White House this question, and essentially the answer is that this is the fault of Stacey Abrams and Raphael Warnock.

Charlie Sykes: What?

James Hohmann: Stacey Abrams has been browbeating the White House on this, and says that this is the only way she could win — that this is going to be a base turnout election. This isn’t about persuading people in the middle, it’s about getting the base to turn out. And the base isn’t going to turn out if they don’t do this, and that they have all sorts of stats about how a lot of graduates from HBCUs have all this debt. And so there are a lot of people very close to the president who privately understand that this is a complete disaster for them. But the president is being pulled really hard by these woke leftists who … believe it’s all about the base. They just don’t get it because they haven’t spent time in the WOW counties or in Apple Valley, Minnesota.

If there are “a lot of people very close to the president who privately understand that this is a complete disaster for them,” then those people need to speak up now, before Biden commits a generational political mistake. The move is statutorily illegal, it is morally revolting, and it is disgracefully self-serving. If Biden does it, he will damage our system of government, tear the country further apart, and confirm forever that he is little more than a puppet. If, indeed, there are people on his staff who can see this too, then worrying “privately” ain’t gonna cut it.

Politics & Policy

New Democratic Party Motto: ‘Spare Me the Bullsh** about Constitutional Rights’

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A Democratic congressman representing Rhode Island’s first district says the quiet part out loud, as reported by Manu Raju of CNN: “‘Spare me the bullsh** about constitutional rights,’ David Cicilline says to Matt Gaetz during hour nine of House Judiciary Committee meeting on guns package — in debate over red flag laws. ‘You know who didn’t have due process? You know who didn’t have their constitutional right to life respected? The kids at Parkland, and Sandy Hook, and Uvalde and Buffalo, and the list goes on and on,’ Cicilline said”

Credit to Cicilline for being honest about his view, as a member of Congress, about the Constitution he took an oath to uphold and defend.

Woke Culture

Ilya Shapiro’s Reinstatement Is a Win for the Political Power of Free Speech, But a Loss for the Value of Academic Freedom

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Ilya Shapiro gives a talk on judicial abdication for the Acton Institute. ( Acton Institute/via YouTube)

There are two ways to look at Georgetown University Law Center’s decision to reinstate Ilya Shapiro after a five-month investigation into a tweet. On the upside, Shapiro was not fired, and he will begin teaching at the law school, a visible symbol of vindication over cancel culture. That is a win for the good guys in terms of raw power: Georgetown clearly signaled, in its statement (reprinted in full below), that the dean would have preferred to fire him — whether due to the dean’s own animus or terror of his woke students — but did not feel at liberty to do so given the extensive publicity and the forces rallying to Shapiro’s defense. Thus, he was grudgingly retained with some excuses about technicalities (his tweet preceded his start date) and allowed to return — only after students are off campus for the summer. The cowardly timing suggests that the dean is hoping the whole thing goes away by the fall.

That’s progress! The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is justly crowing at the win. The cry-bullies and rage-mobbers failed because they were resisted. They prefer to work in the darkness, and they fear the light.

The bad news: This was a win for outside pressure, not for internal reform. The law school’s statement validating the mob’s whining contains obvious warnings that political statements disliked by left-leaning students or administrators will be a firing offense. There is not a shred of acknowledgement that academic freedom is actually valued by the law school. The process — 122 days in limbo — was punishment in itself. The message here is clear: Stay in line, or you will go through the same thing — and if you’re not as prominent and respected as Ilya Shapiro, and supported with as much vigor by enough friends of free speech, you may not survive as he did.

Dear Members of the Georgetown Law Community,

I write to update you on the matter involving Ilya Shapiro and actions I have taken.

In late January, several days before Mr. Shapiro was due to join the Georgetown Law staff as Executive Director of the Center for the Constitution, he tweeted that, although President Biden should nominate Judge Srinivasan for the Supreme Court, the President would instead nominate a “lesser Black woman.” His tweets could be reasonably understood, and were in fact understood by many, to disparage any Black woman the President might nominate.

As I wrote at the time, Mr. Shapiro’s tweets are antithetical to the work that we do at Georgetown Law to build inclusion, belonging, and respect for diversity. They have been harmful to many in the Georgetown Law community and beyond.

In considering how to address the impact of Mr. Shapiro’s tweets, I was guided by two overarching principles. The first is the Law Center’s dedication to speech and expression. Georgetown University’s Speech and Expression Policy provides that the “University is committed to free and open inquiry, deliberation and debate in all matters, and the untrammeled verbal and nonverbal expression of ideas.” The second and equally important principle was our dedication to building a culture of equity and inclusion. As the Speech and Expression Policy notes, “The freedom to debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas does not mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish.” Speech that violates the University’s Policy Statement on Harassment is prohibited under the Speech and Expression Policy. Additionally, the Speech and Expression Policy does not supersede professional conduct policies or HR policies that apply to administrators.

I was concerned about the impact of the tweets on both the educational and employment environment at our Law Center, and in particular how they may have impacted our Black female students and employees. As a result, I asked the University’s Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action (IDEAA), which oversees the University’s policies on non-discrimination and harassment, to investigate whether Mr. Shapiro had violated the University’s policies on non-discrimination and on anti-harassment.

I was also concerned that Mr. Shapiro’s tweets could undermine his ability to be an effective administrator as Executive Director of the Center for the Constitution. I helped Professor Randy Barnett, the Center’s Faculty Director, launch the Center ten years ago in large part because I wanted to support ideological diversity and encourage rigorous discussion about constitutional originalism among people with a range of perspectives. The Center has been a great success. A diverse group of academics from a wide range of backgrounds across the political spectrum have participated in its programs. Mr. Shapiro’s tweets, however, have for some raised questions about the Center’s ability to continue its important work and to be a place welcoming to people regardless of their race, sex, or gender. As a result, I also asked the Office of Human Resources (HR), which oversees the University’s staff policies on professionalism, to investigate whether Mr. Shapiro’s tweets violated the University’s staff policies on professional conduct.

I placed Mr. Shapiro on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the IDEAA and HR investigations. He was notified of the issues being investigated and given an opportunity to participate in writing and in person, and he took advantage of that opportunity.

IDEAA and HR have now completed their investigations, and I received their reports this morning. As Mr. Shapiro posted the tweets on January 26, 2022, but his employment did not start until February 1, 2022, IDEAA and HR concluded that Mr. Shapiro was not a Georgetown employee at the time of his tweets. As such, he was not properly subject to discipline for them. As a result, he can begin his work as Executive Director and he will, subject to the Law Center’s normal Office of Academic Affairs processes, be able to teach upper-class elective courses as a senior lecturer. At the same time, IDEAA and HR found that Mr. Shapiro’s tweets had a significant negative impact on the Georgetown Law community, including current and prospective students, alumni, staff, and faculty, and they recommended that I put in place actions to address the negative impact that the tweets had on the law school community.

I share this concern about the impact of Mr. Shapiro’s tweets on our community and on our efforts to build a culture of equity and inclusion at Georgetown Law and am following up on the recommendations of IDEAA and HR. I have met with Mr. Shapiro to discuss the tweets, which he had already acknowledged were “recklessly framed” and “inartful” and for which he has apologized. I stressed to Mr. Shapiro that, although he has every right to express his views, I expect him, as a staff member at the Law Center, to communicate in a professional manner. I requested he consult with his faculty supervisor at the Center for the Constitution, Professor Barnett, on how to ensure that his future communications in his capacity as a Law Center staff member are professional and comply with our University policies. Mr. Shapiro will also participate in programming on implicit bias, cultural competence, and non-discrimination, which the Law Center is requiring senior staff to attend. Finally, I expressed my concern that his tweets would potentially have the effect of making some students feel unwelcome in any elective course he might teach. To that end, I have asked him to make himself available to meet with student leaders concerned about his ability to treat students fairly.

I am deeply aware of the pain this incident has given rise to in our campus community, particularly but not exclusively among our Black female students, faculty, staff, and alumni. I am thankful for the involvement and commitment of so many. I know that there will be a range of feelings and concerns about this resolution, and I am respectful of those differences.

In his offer letter, we invited Mr. Shapiro, as we do all staff, to “learn more about the rich traditions embodied in the Mission of the University: our belief that diversity promotes understanding, our intellectual openness, our international character and our commitment to the principles of lifelong self-reflective learning, responsible community membership, the common good and generous service to others.” These are principles we should all embrace, and it is my hope that Mr. Shapiro will embrace them as he joins our staff.

Georgetown Law is committed to preserving and protecting the right of free and open inquiry, deliberation, and debate. We have an equally compelling obligation to foster a campus community that is free from bias, and in which every member is treated with respect and courtesy. I am committed to continuing to strive toward both of these indispensable goals.

Sincerely,

William M. Treanor
Dean & Executive Vice President
Paul Regis Dean Leadership Chair