Economy & Business

Lazy Thinking about the Cause of Inflation

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Among “progressives,” government can never be the cause of problems; it can only be the solution. Conversely, private-sector action must always be to blame. They seem incapable of examining their arguments for possible flaws in reasoning. So when it comes to inflation, we get the sort of lazy thinking that Professor Don Boudreaux dissects here.

A writer seeks to explain inflation by claiming that it’s due to increasing corporate greed for profits. Boudreaux patiently rips that explanation to shreds.

Enjoy it, but remember it — we’re going to be suffering inflation for a long time, and this and similar statist attempts to show that it’s due to bad behavior in the productive sector will no doubt be heard over and over.

Capital Matters

Always Charging the Same Car

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A Tesla Model S electric car at a dealership in Seoul, South Korea, July 6, 2017. (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

“Communism”, said Lenin, “is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country.”

It didn’t end well.

And nor, I suspect, will be the administration’s drive to electrify the U.S. auto sector at a pace that displays the same sorts of refusal to accept reality that was once the province of Soviet central planners.

The Wall Street Journal:

Auto makers also still face a significant risk that consumer demand won’t keep pace with supply. This is Detroit’s Big Three have been lobbying hard for President Biden’s Build Back Better plan. The bill would provide $12,500 tax credits for electric cars made at union auto plants in the U.S. and extend the current $7,500 credit through 2031 for nonunion plants.

Translation: People are unlikely to want electric cars in large enough quantities.

The reasons for that extend beyond EVs’ expense. To be sure, charging with electricity is cheaper than filling up a car with gas (low bar) at the moment, but it takes so long that it’s best to bring a book or two, or even start writing one. That should be fun for long family vacation trips. Some details here.

And when it comes to the expense of EVs, The Wall Street Journal has news:

[E]lectric cars are still on average 35% more expensive than gas-powered ones, and the price disparity is likely to increase as demand for critical minerals grows.

Many of those critical minerals come from our Chinese friends. That may not be too wise. Supply-chain security and all that.

But wait, surely we can mine many of those minerals ourselves.

Potentially, yes, but (via Energy Monitor from late February):

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden has rolled out an ambitious Build Back Better Act that includes the goal for half of new cars sold in the country in 2030 to be zero emissions. However, the same administration does not seem to be acting to secure a stable supply chain to achieve those goals.

Just last week, the government cancelled the leases of Twin Metals Minnesota to mine for cobalt, nickel and copper. Currently, there is only one operating mine in the US that produces nickel, and even though the country has large reserves of lithium, there is only one big operating lithium mining project, the Silver Peak Mine in Nevada.

The country is in the best of hands.

More from the WSJ:

Most EVs today can’t go more than 250 miles on a charge (and less in cold weather). Drivers worry for good reason that they’ll run out of juice on the road. President Biden hopes to alleviate this so-called range anxiety by subsidizing a nationwide network of charging stations. This won’t solve the problem. Public charging stations are nowhere more ubiquitous than in California’s Bay Area. But a recent study found that less than three-quarters of charging stations worked. In many cases the plugs, screens or payment systems were broken, or connector cables weren’t long enough to reach the car’s port. Imagine if 25% of the nation’s gasoline stations weren’t working and drivers didn’t know until they got out of the car whether they’d be able to fill up.

Much still needs to be worked out before widespread adoption of EVs is feasible. Yet the Biden administration and states like California plan to use fuel-economy and emissions mandates to force auto makers to phase out conventional vehicles. What happens if electric cars don’t sell? Perhaps auto makers would lobby politicians for higher gasoline taxes to boost EV sales, as they are doing in Europe. More likely they’d discount electric cars and raise prices on gasoline-powered ones to compensate. The alternative would be bankruptcy.

Central planning is, it seems, working as well as it always does.

There should be no mandatory phasing-in of EVs, under any circumstances, but to ‘encourage’ their adoption until problems of this type have been worked out is a blend of madness and arrogance all too typical of central planners on the rampage.

But at least we have a reliable electric grid, well-equipped to cope with the extra demand that EVs would put on it.

The Wall Street Journal (also from February):

The U.S. electrical system is becoming less dependable. The problem is likely to get worse before it gets better.

Large, sustained outages have occurred with increasing frequency in the U.S. over the past two decades, according to a Wall Street Journal review of federal data. In 2000, there were fewer than two dozen major disruptions, the data shows. In 2020, the number surpassed 180.

Utility customers on average experienced just over eight hours of power interruptions in 2020, more than double the amount in 2013, when the government began tracking outage lengths. The data doesn’t include 2021, but those numbers are certain to follow the trend after a freak freeze in Texas, a major hurricane in New Orleans, wildfires in California and a heat wave in the Pacific Northwest left millions in the dark for days.

The U.S. power system is faltering just as millions of Americans are becoming more dependent on it—not just to light their homes, but increasingly to work remotely, charge their phones and cars, and cook their food—as more modern conveniences become electrified….

All is well.

World

Covid-Crazed Australia Ousts Its PM

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a joint press conference held with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Admiralty House in Sydney, Australia, February 28, 2020. (REUTERS/Loren Elliott)

Australia’s general election on Saturday was, for them, a blockbuster political trial for Scott Morrison (or ‘Sco-Mo’), the prime minister and leader of the Liberal-National Coalition. After four years in office, his government was judged by a jury of, quite literally, all its citizens in a compulsory vote. The pandemic, economic crisis, and existential challenge from China gave them a full plate of issues on which to issue their verdict.

As of this writing, it has been decisive. Overwhelmingly, the Liberal-Nationals were defeated by the socialist Anthony Albanese, whose Labor Party will assume government, possibly with a majority. Sco-Mo’s concession wraps it up. Keep the name Albanese in mind; you’ll hear it more often, now. Sco-Mo, meanwhile, is headed for the political doghouse.

It didn’t always seem this way. Sco-Mo is a conservative and, all else being equal, there was quite a bit to like about his record. He was the poster child for an American ally, who defined what it meant to be a “hardliner” on China. Even as China’s shadow looms large over Australia – as its largest trading partner with military supremacy – Sco-Mo has refused to let his country be treated like, as one Wolf Warrior Chinese diplomat put it, “gum stuck to the bottom of China’s shoe.” Besides that, one saw in Sco-Mo a Burkean conservative – who stood up to the “climate change” policy craze, cancel culture, and illegal immigration in a rather impressive fashion.

And yet, despite all this, Australia under Morrison became associated with Covid tyranny. It became a draconian police state with his “Zero Covid” strategy: Nobody could enter or exit their homes, armed cops and surveillance drones whizzed around to monitor compliance, and protests of any kind were totally banned. Small-time dissenters were arrested by police and hauled away.

In a peacetime Western democracy, these curbs were in a league of their own. Sco-Mo and Australia’s state premiers had total authority over people’s lives. Individual rights were stripped away, and fear of the state took its place. Ironically, it was comparable to China’s “Zero Covid” dragnet policy, where some have been welded shut into their homes to ‘stop the spread.’ Even as he battled China abroad, Sco-Mo and regional officials turned Australia into Shanghai at home.

Now, although he promised no more lockdowns before the election, Sco-Mo has been kicked to the curb by voters — though a host of other issues beyond Covid factored into this decision. Still, I wrote last month that his loss would be deserved. So it is, even if the lefty Albanese may not be much better.

Politics & Policy

Governor Hochul’s Knee-Jerk Attack on the First and Second Amendments

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As sure as the sun rises in the east each morning, after the shooting in Buffalo, statist politicians pounced on it to declare that we need less freedom and more government “protection.”

A case in point: New York governor Hochul’s attack on the First and Second Amendments, as detailed here by Judge Andrew Napolitano in the Washington Times.

Authoritarians like Hochul never miss an opportunity to claim that we must give them more power. That has been working for them since the New Deal. Time for Americans to wise up and tune them out.

Politics & Policy

Too Bad We No Longer Live in a Serious Country

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I strongly suggest Professor Wilfred McClay’s remarks at the 2022 Bradley Prize Awards.

Video available here.

Much of our “leadership” acts like the emperors of the last centuries of the Roman Empire. They’re in it for themselves, enjoying power and pelf at the expense of the remaining productive people, oblivious to the future. Not serious.

Law & the Courts

Why Did Sussmann’s Attorneys Put Robby Mook on the Witness Stand?

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Robby Mook, then-campaign manager for presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, talks to reporters onboard the campaign plane enroute to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 2016. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

In 20 years as a prosecutor, it never ceased to amaze me how often a defense case at trial ends up helping the government far more than it helps the defense. Is that what happened today when, as Isaac Schorr reports, Michael Sussmann’s defense called Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager, Robby Mook?

Probably. That is to say, it looks like a harebrained move now.

Remember, prior to trial, the defense persuaded Judge Christopher Cooper to suppress tweets posted by Hillary Clinton on the eve of the election about the bogus claim that Donald Trump had a secret communications back channel to the Kremlin. This was a blow to special counsel John Durham, who has been trying to prove that Sussmann’s alleged false statement — claiming he was not representing a client, though he was actually representing the Clinton campaign, when he brought the FBI the now-discredited back-channel evidence — was part of a broader political dirty trick orchestrated by the campaign, and perhaps by Clinton herself.

Yet, putting Mook on the stand predictably opened the door to the introduction of the very Clinton tweet the defense had been trying to keep the jury from seeing. When Mook bracingly testified that Clinton herself approved the campaign proposal to leak the back-channel smear to the media, that enabled Durham to do exactly what he had hoped to do: place Sussmann’s alleged false statement in a larger context of a Clinton-driven conspiracy.

So why did Sussmann’s lawyers do it? I believe it was done in the service of the preposterous defense they are trying to sell the jury.

Sussmann would like to have been in a position to challenge the allegation that he represented the Clinton campaign at the relevant time. But he can’t. The evidence is overwhelming. He was billing his time to the Clinton campaign. He was strategizing with the campaign’s operatives on campaign initiatives. And the defense concedes that Sussmann was working on the campaign’s behalf when he tried to get the New York Times interested in the back-channel claim.

Consequently, since Sussmann can’t credibly deny that he was representing the Clinton campaign, he is trying to parse what the scope of that representation was. Under this theory, even if he is working for the campaign, and being paid by the campaign, he shouldn’t be seen as representing the campaign’s interests if he did things that the campaign supposedly opposed.

Consistent with this spin, Sussmann’s defense claims that the campaign did not want anyone to bring the FBI the back-channel information. Sussmann’s counsel theorizes that if the information were brought to the FBI, the bureau would then have leaned on the Times to delay publication of the Trump–Russia back-channel story to give agents time to investigate. That, we’re to believe, would disserve the campaign’s interests because the campaign wanted the Times to publish the story.

In this telling, Sussmann essentially betrayed the campaign, out of personal loyalty to the FBI and a personal, patriotic sense of duty developed in his years as a Justice Department national-security lawyer. Ergo, even though he may technically have been representing the campaign, Sussmann wasn’t really representing the campaign when he went to the bureau.

This is where Robby Mook comes in.

The defense called Mook to elicit his claim that there was no way that the campaign he was managing would agree to bring any evidence about Trump and Russia to the FBI. The Clinton campaign “did not trust” the FBI, Mook inveighed. Remember, the Clintonistas continue to claim that the bureau’s then-director, James Comey, hung Clinton out to dry with his damning public statements about her email scandal (though they conveniently omit that Comey also publicly decreed that she should not be indicted).

In putting Mook on the stand, the defense wanted an assertion from the highest official in the Clinton campaign that the campaign would not have approved Sussmann’s bringing the information to the FBI. Mook delivered, and further elaborated that Hillary Clinton herself approved the leak to the media. This supports the defense theme that the Clinton campaign wanted the Trump–Russia collusion narrative to be a media-driven story, not an FBI investigation.

Based on that, the defense hopes the jurors will say to themselves, “Gee, maybe Sussmann wasn’t representing the Clinton campaign after all.”

Again, it’s a ridiculous defense. Sussmann was representing the campaign, which has claimed attorney–client privilege in connection with documents Durham has sought for the trial, and which paid for Sussmann’s time for the visit to the FBI. Sussmann collaborated with the campaign in preparing to meet FBI general counsel James Baker. And quite obviously, as the campaign’s lawyer, Sussmann had a professional duty of fealty to his client; he would never have pursued a personal agenda to help the FBI if it were to the detriment of his client’s interests.

A lawyer either represents a client or he doesn’t. There is no Monday-morning quarterbacking, in which if something doesn’t go as planned, the client gets to say the lawyer wasn’t really representing him.

Moreover, the truth of the matter is that the Clinton campaign absolutely wanted to entice the FBI into investigating the Trump–Russia back-channel claim. That’s why you won’t hear a single campaign official assert, under oath, that he or she directed Sussmann not to go to the FBI.

It was not a matter of whether the campaign “trusted” the FBI; the campaign was trying to use the FBI. If the bureau could be persuaded to investigate, then the story would be more damaging to Trump, and more media outlets would spotlight it on the eve of the election. It would be the October surprise the Clinton campaign was banking on. That’s why, when Clinton posted her tweet, it referred to a statement by her then-adviser (and now Biden national-security adviser) Jake Sullivan, to wit: “We can only assume that federal authorities will now explore this direct connection between Trump and Russia.”

The defense that Sussmann was hoping Robby Mook would prop up is a frivolous defense. But it is the defense that Sussmann is running with, because it’s all he’s got. Calling Mook was not irrational. But on net, it was a mistake.

Woke Culture

Another Bit of Academic Foolishness

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Latino leaders and immigration reform supporters gather at the University of Colorado to launch “My Country, My Vote,” a 12-month voter registration campaign to mobilize Colorado’s Latino, immigrant and allied voters, October 28, 2015. (Evan Semon/Reuters)

The perceived need among academics to pander to “underrepresented” groups is insatiable. Consider the invented term “Latinx.”

In today’s Martin Center article, Garion Frankel does so and regards it as “failed academic activism.”

Frankel, himself of Hispanic origin, writes, “Every time I receive an email from Texas A&M asking me to take part in a ‘Latinx’ group or activity, it makes my blood boil. It’s another example of the paternalistic panderings of the academic elite. It’s humiliating. Latinx’s similarities to Orwell’s Newspeak (intentionally ambiguous language used to spread political propaganda) have been well-documented, as has academia’s general lack of cultural awareness. But universities’ commitment to the word goes deeper than merely pandering to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. If DEI were the only goal, universities would treat Latino college students as people rather than as potential assets.”

The purpose of this bit of linguistic nonsense is to try to create more students with a revolutionary spirit. That’s always foremost in the minds of “progressives.” Fortunately, it seems to be a flop.

Frankel explains, “The reason Latinx is failing where Chicano succeeded is simple. While the Chicano movement saw academics turning student activists towards the very real problems affecting millions of people with similar backgrounds and values, today’s academics are asking people to change the way they talk and how they see themselves in order to cater to the desires of an extremely small minority of Latinos.”

Religion

Scalia on Retreats

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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia delivers remarks at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C., March 14, 2005. Scalia spoke to guests at the Woodrow Wilson Center on “Constitutional Interpretation.” (Shaun Heasley/Reuters)

On the latest episode of the Editors podcast, I referenced some spiritual advice given by the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Here is the excerpt, taken from a 1998 speech he gave to a group of students from his alma mater, Georgetown University:

I somehow got out of the habit of making retreats. The world crept in — which is what those of us who do not enter the seminary or the convent (and perhaps many of those who do) have to worry about. I have gotten back into the habit in the last ten years, and I recommend it to you. If you don’t have a weekend to spare once a year to think exclusively about the things that really matter — well, you haven’t planned your life correctly.

Science & Tech

Wisconsin Representative Mike Gallager: UFOs Could Be ‘Us from the Future’

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Rep. Mike Gallagher (left) and John Hillen at the National Review Institute conference, “The Case for American Power,” May 9, 2022. (Isaac Schorr)

Following an open congressional hearing Tuesday on the subject of what we’re now supposed to call “unidentified aerial phenomena” but used to just call UFOs, Representative Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.) entertained the possibility that UAP could be “us from the future.”

Appearing on the Pat McAfee Show the day after the hearing, Gallagher suggested one possibility that hasn’t been considered for unresolved UAP sightings, in addition to foreign adversaries or extraterrestrials, is that they could be our own technology going back in time to our present.

“Go back 200 years, and you would say, ‘You guys don’t have cars, Internet, good machine guns; what’s going on?'” Gallagher said. “So go from our point in history, forward 200 years, and whoever’s left, at that point, if we can avoid nuking ourselves, is gonna say, ‘Wait, you guys can’t bend space and time? We figured that out like 50, 100 years ago.”

He added that there’s some scientific basis for this hypothesis, and that it is considered “more plausible” than other theories by “serious people” with credentialed backgrounds who have looked into the question. “We already, my understanding — and again, I’m not a technologist — there is technology, technically, that can do teleportation of something called neutrinos, and technology that proves subatomic particles can move faster than the speed of light. Einstein tells us that’s true. Theoretically, time travel is possible,” he said. “So, that is the third hypothesis: People in the future, us, have figured out how to bend space and time, and it’s our technology coming back from the future.”

Gallagher stressed that he was not “privileging” this theory “over another one,” but was merely emphasizing that “we’ve gotta go into this debate, not foreclosing anything just because we think it’s dumb to talk about aliens, and the Washington Post will call you a conspiracy theorist.”

His comments came after a hearing of a House intelligence subcommittee on Tuesday in which he participated, bringing up a still-unexplained 1967 incident at Malmstrom Air Force Base in which an unidentified object allegedly rendered nuclear weapons housed at the base inoperable, as well as a disputed memo from a past director of national intelligence, Thomas Wilson, which supposedly outlined a whole host of government programs dealing with and overseeing evidence of extraterrestrial encounters.

Gallagher was left dissatisfied by both the open and closed portions of the hearing, as two government officials representing the Pentagon’s Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group were unable to answer his questions adequately. “I’m still frustrated with the lack of answers,” Gallagher said. “Yesterday was just fundamentally unacceptable.”

The Wisconsin congressman believes a better approach for this important issue, which has critical national-security implications regardless of the ultimate explanation, would be to declassify as much as possible, involve the private sector, and try to get to the true bottom of the mystery. “Let’s follow the evidence wherever it leads. And I don’t yet know where it’s gonna lead. But let’s just follow it.” He believes, furthermore, that, when it comes to the UAP discussion, “the genie is out of the bottle,” and people are going to keep talking about it regardless.” The conversation has increased so much, and there’s a lot of serious people who are interested in it.”

Indeed there are, Representative Gallagher. Indeed there are.

White House

Ctrl+F: ‘Election Conspiracy Theorist’

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Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre holds a media briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 29, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Today’s New York Times features a profile of Karine Jean-Pierre, the new White House press secretary. Suffice it to say that, were Karine Jean-Pierre a Republican, the likelihood that the New York Times would have published 1,400 words about her without mentioning that she’s a serial election truther is nil.

Economy & Business

Diversity Signaling

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A Wells Fargo bank is pictured in Dallas, Texas October 9, 2008 (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

A few months ago, I wrote a hopeful piece about why, maybe, worries over woke capitalism were overblown. I noted that some companies talk woke but don’t change their behaviors. I also noted that some on the left do not actually like the concept precisely because it leads to lots of signaling and little concrete actions. Apparently, they have learned that lesson from trying to increase diversity in companies. Here is what I wrote then:

Other woke gestures are also likely to fall short of progressives’ political expectations. Corporate America’s en­thu­siasm for “diversity training,” for instance, will surely line the pockets of diversity consultants, but the training is unlikely to achieve its stated goal. On this front, the work of Iris Bohnet, a public-policy professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, on “diversity training” is telling. “Sadly enough,” she writes, “I did not find a single study that found that diversity training in fact leads to more diversity.”

Well, here is some more evidence coming from Wells Fargo’s pursuit of diversity through fake interviews. The New York Times reported yesterday that

Joe Bruno, a former executive in the wealth management division of Wells Fargo, had long been troubled by the way his unit handled certain job interviews.

For many open positions, employees would interview a “diverse” candidate — the bank’s term for a woman or person of color — in keeping with the bank’s yearslong informal policy. But Mr. Bruno noticed that often, the so-called diverse candidate would be interviewed for a job that had already been promised to someone else.

If you read the article, you learn that seven current and former Wells Fargo employees confirm that they were told to interview black and female candidates even though the position had already been filled.

The interviews, they said, seemed to be more about helping Wells Fargo record its diversity efforts on paper — partly in anticipation of possible regulatory audits — rather than hiring more women or people of color. All but three spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were afraid of losing their jobs at Wells Fargo or their new employers.

Wells Fargo’s spokesperson says that if it is happening, it’s not coming from the top. Well, that’s a relief!

On that note, here are two excellent Great Antidote podcasts on related issues (full disclosure, the host is my daughter). One is with NR’s Phil Klein on what he calls Fight Club Conservatives. The article that inspired the interview is this one. The second, which came out today, is with Brian Knight of the Mercatus Center on woke capitalism, what it is and what it is not. Hope you enjoy them.

Politics & Policy

The Washington Post Gives a Boost to Pelosi’s Cynical Baby-Formula Bill

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gestures as she speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., March 3, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

As Dominic Pino noted yesterday, GOP congressman Peter Meijer of Michigan offered a pithy explanation of why he voted against a bill purporting to address the baby-formula shortage: 

NR contributing editor Daniel Foster wonders why Speaker Pelosi thought she could get away with this stunt:

This headline in the news pages of the Washington Post provides an answer: “Nearly 200 Republicans vote against bill to ease baby formula shortage.

To repeat myself, this is the headline of a news story, not an opinion article. But not a single sentence in the Washington Post news story even attempts to explain how the $28 million boost to FDA salaries would actually help ease the formula shortage. Here are all of the quotations from Democratic officials in the article: 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that the 192 Republicans who opposed the bill are the latest example of the party’s unwillingness to address the issues that matter most to Americans.

“We see a baby formula as something that’s at the kitchen table,” she said in her weekly news conference. “So, we think from the standpoint of the kitchen table, that there is no comparison” between Democrats and Republicans.

“I mean, they don’t even vote for domestic terrorism,” Pelosi added in reference to Republicans’ overwhelming opposition to a bill Wednesday night aimed at curbing homegrown violent extremism. “It’s nuts.”

Other Democrats criticized the GOP after the vote.

“If Republicans had it their way the formula shortage would continue so they could cynically exploit recalls for political gain and racial divide,” said Chris Taylor, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Democrats worked to deliver solutions, but when given the opportunity to solve problems Republicans abandoned the American people.”

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) questioned the motivations and commitment to problem-solving of the GOP.

“Republicans aren’t interested in solutions. They’re interested in theater and chaos,” he tweeted Wednesday. “House Democrats offered a baby formula solution to help your family. Almost every House GOP member voted against it.”

Law & the Courts

Talking Dobbs and the Leak

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I was on Pete Turner’s Break It Down Show last week discussing Dobbs, the big leak, and the future of Roe. (I was wrong about having the common cold; I had tested negative for Covid, but a later test showed that I was, in fact, positive. It was not fun.)

Politics & Policy

UFO Hearings Are Good, Actually

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Ronald Moultrie, who oversees a newly formed Pentagon-based UAP (unidentified aerial phenomena) investigation team testifies before an intelligence subcommittee in Washington, D.C., May 17, 2022. (Joey Roulette/Reuters)

The Washington Post editorial board published a mostly reasonable piece yesterday titled “Congress has time for UFOs — but not for pandemic funding.” The board writes:

This is a good moment to appreciate the central lesson of this public health catastrophe: It will surprise, and surprise again. We must keep our eyes open for unexpected change. . . . That’s why it is inexplicable that Congress has yet to act on legislation funding the purchase of vaccines, tests and treatments for use in the autumn. No one knows how the pandemic will evolve, but failing to allocate funds is an abdication of responsibility. Other nations are already lining up to buy coronavirus shots. How is it that a House committee this week could hold a hearing on UFOs while legislators drag their feet on money for therapeutics and vaccines?

Okay, yes. Vaccines and therapeutics are good, and Congress should be acting to secure them for Americans in need.

But . . .

Congressional hearings on UFOs are pretty cool, too. As the Post details in a separate piece on the hearings: 

Congress held a rare public hearing Tuesday into the existence of what the government calls unidentified aerial phenomena, more commonly known as UFOs, a subject of scrutiny by the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies following an increase in sightings by military personnel and pilots in recent years.

By taking testimony from senior government officials, lawmakers intended to bring “out of the shadows” a Defense Department organization that has been tracking the sightings, said Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.), chairman of the House Intelligence subcommittee on counterterrorism, counterintelligence and counterproliferation.

I mean, c’mon. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater — we can walk and chew gum at the same time here. Secure funding for Covid treatments, yes. But there’s no need to kill the most interesting congressional hearings of the year while you’re at it. 

White House

Bloomberg: Joe Biden Is Being Pressured to ‘Cancel’ Student Loans by Corrupt, Self-Dealing Aides

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President Joe Biden takes questions as he delivers remarks on administration plans to fight inflation and lower costs at the White House in Washington, D.C., May 10, 2022. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

The rank self-dealing on display in the push for student loan “cancellation” is beyond grotesque. I have wondered for a while why Joe Biden is even considering such a ridiculous, suicidal, and downright illegal policy, and now I know: Because the people closest to him stand to benefit from it enormously, and they’re pushing their case whenever they can.

Per Bloomberg:

President Joe Biden’s decision on whether to forgive student debt will be personal for many of his aides, who are among the millions of Americans carrying loans for college and graduate school.

At least 30 senior White House staffers have student loan balances, according to 2021 financial disclosures Bloomberg News obtained from the Office of Government Ethics, including Biden’s new press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, and Bharat Ramamurti, deputy director of the National Economic Council.

Or, to put it another way: Many of Biden’s aides are using their position in the White House to lobby the head of the federal government to force other people to pay off their debts.

Those debts are considerable:

Collectively, they owe as much as $4.7 million, the documents show, including one legislative aide who reported owing between $500,000 and $1 million. Generally, only senior or well-paid White House staff have to file financial disclosures, and they don’t have to report debt less than $10,000, meaning the total number of Biden’s aides with loan balances is certainly higher.

The gall on display here is astonishing. A few weeks ago, we learned that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — who makes $174,000 per year and drives a Tesla — wants you to pay off the $17,000 she still owes in student debt. Now we learn that there are several AOCs within striking distance of the Oval Office. There’s a word for this sort of thing: Corruption.

Markets

The U.S. Is Entering a Severe Energy Crisis

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Current gas prices are shown as they continue to rise in Carlsbad, Calif., March 7, 2022. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

The U.S. is entering a severe energy crisis, and the Biden administration is whistling past the graveyard.

JPMorgan commodities analyst Natasha Kaneva predicts a “cruel summer” ahead.

“With expectations of strong driving demand — traditionally, the U.S. summer driving season starts on Memorial Day, which lands this year on May 30, and lasts until Labor Day in early September — U.S. retail price could surge another 37% by August to a $6.20/gallon national average,” she wrote in her May 17 research note.

This morning, the national average gas price is $4.59 per gallon — yet another all-time record. The average price in the state of California is $6.06 per gallon. Because prices in California are usually a dollar to $1.50 more than the national average, if Kaneva’s projection is accurate, Californians will be paying $7 to $7.50 per gallon by August.

If gas hits $6 per gallon, there are a lot of U.S. households who will struggle to afford the gas they need to commute to their jobs.

You can’t fix this by blaming “greedflation.” You can’t fix this by blaming Vladimir Putin. You can’t fix this by releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve – which, by the way, is at its lowest level since 1987. (The U.S. also ended the winter with the least natural gas in storage in three years.)

No, the only way you can get prices to come down is to increase the supply of refined gasoline getting to the gas stations, and the only way to do that is to increase refinery capacity. Oil producers are starting to increase capital expenditures – a 60 percent increase from the third quarter of 2021 to the fourth quarter. After a steep drop in early 2020 because of the pandemic, U.S. domestic oil production is increasing; the U.S produced 11.3 million barrels per day in February – the most recent month that Energy Information Administration figures are available –which is around the production levels of the first few months of 2019.

But none of that bigger supply of crude oil does anyone any good unless it runs through a refinery to get turned into gasoline or diesel fuel. A wise administration would be doing everything possible to expand capacity at existing refineries and to clear red tape obstructing the construction of new ones.

Alas, we do not have a wise administration.

Music

Vangelis, R.I.P.

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Photo of Vangelis ijn the 1970s. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Two pop-culture references seem to dog runners such as myself most. The more annoying one is when people shout, “Run, Forrest, Run!” at us as we trot along, alluding to the Tom Hanks Baby Boomer fantasia Forrest Gump. The other doesn’t even require words: Just some fake slow-mo combined with imitated piano and synth notes. It comes, of course, from 1981’s Chariots of Fire, which contains probably the most famous — and most-parodied — running scene in cinema history:

The man responsible for this gorgeous, inspiring, transcendent synth soundscape is the Greek musician and composer Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou, who died earlier this week at 79. In his professional career, he went simply by Vangelis. Starting out as a rock musician for such acts as Aphrodite’s Child, Vangelis hit his stride as a creator of film scores in the 1980s, in which he used an array of synthesizers to become a kind of orchestra unto himself.

Apart from Chariots of Fire, Vangelis’s best work was, I think, in Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner. Scott turned to Vangelis to create the moody sonic backdrop of the film’s neo-noir atmosphere. Blade Runner is a wholly immersive work from its opening scenes; it wouldn’t be complete without Vangelis’s score guiding you in:

Scott and Vangelis sustain this tone throughout. Just listen to this and try not to imagine yourself alone in a skyscraper of some futuristic city at night, looking out the window at the chaos below and wondering what it all means:

Vangelis was not asked to return for Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneueve’s worthy 2017 sequel. He claimed to be okay with that. “You can never repeat certain things,” Vangelis told NPR in 2016. “It’s only once in a lifetime. It’s like doing another Chariots Of Fire. It’s impossible.”

His work is, indeed, unrepeatable. I’d argue, moreover, that it has transcended its 1980s milieu to achieve timeless status. R.I.P. to a virtuoso.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Greedflation

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Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute argues against the “greedflation” narrative being pushed by Democrats:

After all, truly addressing inflation would require admitting that the American Rescue Plan dramatically worsened inflation, and then abandoning the Build Back Better proposal. It would mean repealing new tariffs, as well as canceling new Buy America rules, ethanol mandates, and expensive regulations on economic development. An anti-inflation agenda would include expanding capacity at our ports, repealing the Jones Act, a vintage piece of protectionist legislation that increases shipping costs, and suspending the Davis-Bacon Act’s prevailing-wage rules. A commonsense approach to inflation would also promote domestic oil and gas production and end the student-loan-payment moratorium.

Unfortunately, the White House is not interested in those policies that — combined with a tighter Federal Reserve policy — would aggressively bring down inflation. Too many Democratic interest groups would be offended.

Instead, Democrats have decided to simply shift blame by scapegoating and demagoguing “greedy corporations” that somehow decided in early 2021 to begin gouging consumers with steep price increases. . . .

Read the whole thing here.

Politics & Policy

Top Senate Dem ‘Very Much’ Concerned Pelosi Hasn’t Passed Bill to Protect Families of Supreme Court Justices

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Protesters outside of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home in Chevy Chase, Md., May 7, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

On May 9, less than a week after the publication of the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade and in the midst of angry protests outside the Court itself and justices’ homes, the U.S. Senate passed a bill by unanimous consent to provide security for the families of Supreme Court justices. 

“If the families of Supreme Court Justices have the same profile and exposure as the highest ranking officials in our government, they deserve the same level of protection,” Democratic senator Chris Coons of Delaware said at the time. “We must take threats that come from extremes on both sides of the political spectrum against Supreme Court Justices seriously, and that makes this bill an unfortunate necessity.”

But House speaker Nancy Pelosi still hasn’t brought the bill up for a vote, and the House isn’t scheduled to hold floor votes again until June 7.

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate who has called protests outside the justices’ homes “reprehensible,” told CNN on Thursday that he’s “very much” concerned that Pelosi has chosen not to hold a vote on the Senate-passed bill: 

The House Democrats’ stated reason for holding up the bill — that they want to add funding for clerks and staff — is preposterous. It doesn’t take long to write a few lines of legislative text, and Pelosi had plenty of time to hold meaningless show votes this week.

A much more plausible reason why House Democrats are dragging their feet is that they are responding to progressive activists who expressed frustration when the Senate unanimously passed the bill to protect the Supreme Court justices’ families on May 9.

International

China’s Twofer: Oil and Russia

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Vankorskoye oil field north of the Russian Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, March 25, 2015 (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

How Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will eventually turn out remains anyone’s guess, but one thing does seem clear, which is that Russia’s semi-detachment from much of the world’s economy is not only firming up the Russo–Chinese entente but clearly establishing Russia as the junior partner in that relationship, something that would have been seen by Putin’s predecessors, whether czarist or Soviet, as a humiliation, and one that has doubtless given rise to a few smiles in Beijing — and probably not just for economic reasons.

The latest on this (via Bloomberg):

China is seeking to replenish its strategic crude stockpiles with cheap Russian oil, a sign Beijing is strengthening its energy ties with Moscow just as Europe works toward banning imports due to the war in Ukraine.

Beijing is in discussions with Moscow to buy additional supplies, according to people with knowledge of the plan who asked not to be named as the matter is private. Crude would be used to fill China’s strategic petroleum reserves, and talks are being conducted at a government level with little direct involvement from oil companies, said one person.

Oil has rallied this year following Russia’s invasion of its smaller neighbor, but the price of its own crude has tumbled as buyers step away to avoid damaging their reputation or being swept up in financial sanctions. That’s provided an opportunity for China to cheaply replenish its vast strategic reserves, which are typically tapped during times of emergencies or sudden disruptions.

Refiners in China have been quietly buying Russian crude since the invasion, even as a Covid-19 resurgence dents consumption in the world’s biggest crude importer. Apparent oil demand last month slumped 6.7% year-on-year as strict lockdowns confined millions to their homes. The outbreak has capped further gains in oil prices, although Brent is still up more than 40% this year.

For China this is a win-win. It is gaining increased access to a rich semi-dependent source of raw materials to which, moreover, it is connected by land, and it is doing so when that supplier has lost or is losing many of its regular customers and is thus offering its resources at a favorable price. Thus the progress being made on various Chinese pipeline deals with Russia.

I’ll admit, however, to being surprised by one aspect of all these potential deals. We’re always being told that China is anxious, keen, even desperate to get to net zero, and yet . . .

Doubtless John Kerry, climate Metternich, will be able to sort it all out.

Politics & Policy

The California Church Shooter Has a Connection to China’s Influence Arm

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A police car is seen after a deadly shooting at an event held by the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church inside Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif., May 15, 2022. (David Swanson/Reuters)

The man who shot several people at a Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in California, killing one, has ties to the United Front Work Department, the Chinese Communist Party’s political-influence bureau, according to Radio Free Asia:

California church killer David Chou has close ties to a Taiwan ‘peaceful reunification’ group linked to the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, a body that has been designated a representative of a foreign government by the U.S. government, according to a report on its founding ceremony.

Chou, who opened fire on a Taiwanese lunch banquet at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Irvine, CA on May 15, killing one person and injuring five others before being restrained, was pictured at the setting up of the Las Vegas Association for China’s Peaceful Unification on April 2, 2019, holding up a banner calling for the “eradication of pro-independence demons,” according to an April 3, 2019 report on the Chinese LVNews website.

The group — whose president Gu Yawen warned the people of Taiwan that ‘peaceful unification is the only way to avoid war’ in his inaugural speech — is a local branch of the National Association for China’s Peaceful Unification (NACPU) under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s United Front Work Department.

As the RFA report also noted, the State Department in 2020 designated the NACPU as a foreign mission “to make clear that their messages come from Beijing.”

The UFWD is a tremendously important party bureau that plays a central role in exerting the party’s will over non-party members across China and abroad. It carries out acts of repression targeting minorities in the country, as well as political interference and disinformation efforts in Western democracies.

The issue of Chou’s identity is a complicated one — he’s reportedly from Taiwan but holds pro-Beijing views on China’s efforts to engulf the country. Whatever the circumstances of his background, his ties to a United Front group are significant and warrant more attention. The RFA report establishes a noteworthy link between the party’s foreign influence apparatus and a mass shooting on U.S. soil.

That scrutiny ought to be very discerning, however, as SpyTalk’s Matthew Brazil, an expert on Chinese espionage, cautioned yesterday: “It’s doubtful that the NACPU instigated Chou to perpetrate such a blatant, self-incriminating act. The CCP would likely see such an act as antithetical to its interests.”

In any case, this link, and not the progressive anti-AAPI hate narrative, ought to be the main focus of any discussion surrounding the incident, which has already fallen out of the national headlines.

Regulatory Policy

House Republicans Were Right to Vote against More FDA Funding

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Empty shelves show a shortage of baby formula at a Target store in San Antonio, Texas, May 10, 2022. (Kaylee Greenlee Beal/Reuters)

The House of Representatives passed a bill yesterday that purports to address the baby-formula shortage. Introduced by House Democrats, the “Infant Formula Supplemental Appropriations Act” simply gives the Food and Drug Administration $28 million and doesn’t address any actual problems with the baby-formula market or the current shortage.

The bill passed 231 to 192, and all 192 votes against it came from Republicans. In response to criticism for voting against the bill, Representative Peter Meijer (R., Mich.) tweeted, “This one-page bill is just a $28M increase for FDA salaries. That’s it. If baby formula shortage was caused by an underfunded FDA, this would help. But it wasn’t.”

Meijer is absolutely correct. Here’s the text of the bill:

For an additional amount for “Salaries and Expenses”, $28,000,000, to remain available until September 30, 2023, shall be available to address the current shortage of FDA-regulated infant formula and certain medical foods in the United States and to prevent future shortages, including such steps as may be necessary to prevent fraudulent products from entering the United States market: Provided, That the Commissioner of Food and Drugs shall report to the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate on a weekly basis on obligations of funding under this heading in this Act to address the shortage of infant formula and certain medical foods in the United States: Provided further, That such amount is designated by the Congress as being for an emergency requirement pursuant to section 4001(a)(1) and section 4001(b) of S. Con. Res. 14 (117th Congress), the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2022.

The FDA doesn’t need more money. As Meijer went on to say, the bill rewards “an agency that is performing its mission poorly with more money without connecting the funds requested to better achieving the mission. The moral hazard is self-evident.”

The FDA’s overly stringent regulation of baby formula — which mirrors its overly cautious approach to everything it regulates and costs American lives by denying safe treatments to patients who need them — is part of the reason the baby-formula market is so brittle in the first place. The other reasons involve the WIC program, which is administered by the Department of Agriculture and is unrelated to the FDA. Rewarding one of the agencies that contributed to the current crisis with more funding as a response to that same crisis is how you guarantee more crises in the future.

Republicans have a superior alternative available. Senator Mike Lee (R., Utah) has proposed the FORMULA Act, which (cheesy name aside) is a much better approach to the problem. It would waive baby-formula tariffs from friendly countries with high health standards (e.g., Australia, Japan, the U.K., and the European Union). It would also waive FDA regulations on labeling and facility approval that have made it nearly impossible to import safe baby formula from those friendly countries. It would make the newly available imported baby formula eligible for WIC beneficiaries to purchase. Those provisions are excellent. They would expire in six months under Lee’s proposal, but Congress should strongly consider making them permanent.

The 192 Republicans who voted against more FDA funding yesterday did the right thing and resisted the just-do-something urge that often overcomes politicians during crises. Democrats’ approach to this shortage does not sufficiently address the problems at hand. Lee’s approach is much stronger, and Republicans should support it instead.

National Security & Defense

What Is the Limiting Principle on Ukraine Aid?

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a joint news conference with IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi in Kyiv, Ukraine, April 26, 2022. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

On the main page, we have an editorial making the case for the $40 billion Ukraine aid package. But putting my spending hawk hat on, I am left with trepidation about authorizing another large expense at a time of historically high debt. The question I keep chewing over is: What is the limiting principle on Ukraine aid?

Shortly after the Russian invasion, I made the case that our general approach should be to make Ukraine as costly as possible to Vladimir Putin, with as small a cost as possible to ourselves. We have a strong interest in making life difficult for Putin in Ukraine, for many geopolitical reasons, but also due to the simple fact that invading other countries is a bad thing, and it should be seen as something costly rather than beneficial to the invading country. This is something to which those who are anti-war should also be sympathetic.

However, at some point the cost of making life difficult for Putin becomes too much to bear for us. There’s  always a danger of agreeing a certain category of spending is good (in this case, aid to Ukraine) and then becoming overly loose when it comes to authorizing subsequent spending in that category.

Adding the aid bill that passed the Senate today to monies already allocated, we will have spent nearly $54 billion on Ukraine in the past few months. In this era of trillion-dollar spending bills, it may not seem like a lot. But just to put it in context, that’s more than 2021 spending on the Department of Commerce ($13 billion); NASA ($22 billion); the Department of Energy ($34 billion); HUD ($35 billion); the State Department ($36 billion); and DOJ ($39 billion). In 2020, before a recent temporary expansion, the federal government spent $57 billion on subsidizing insurance through Obamacare’s exchanges. And how about the aid to Israel that is subject to so much controversy? In 2016, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding in which the U.S. committed to $38 billion in military aid — but that was over 10 years.

So, $54 billion is a lot of money. There is certainly an argument that providing help to Ukraine is a worthy cause. But there are a lot of causes that are worthy that need to be scaled back when federal debt is about the size of the nation’s annual economic output. There is also the argument that if we don’t spend this money, that it could prove costlier down the road. But that is the case for many government programs.

Thus, while I am sympathetic to the underlying arguments for aiding Ukraine, as somebody who is always warning about our unsustainable debt burden, I feel an obligation to provide scrutiny to new spending even when I believe the cause is just. Given that this won’t be the final request for money to Ukraine, I would suggest that my fellow conservatives think long and hard about what the limiting principle is here when it comes to government spending.

World

All Things Considered, the $40 Billion Is a Deal

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A Ukrainian serviceman fires with a mortar at a position at an unknown location in KharkivRegion, Ukraine, May 9, 2022. (Serhii Nuzhnenko/Reuters)

I don’t think there’s a very compelling case against the $40 billion Ukraine aid package, as I wrote in my Politico column today:

The root cause of the expense is that it costs money to support a country fighting a war in the 21st century against an advanced, if incompetent, military foe. By no reasonable standard did Ukraine provoke the war with Russia. It seeks only to regain its sovereign territory against an enemy that hates the West and wishes to create an international order, along with China, more to its liking.

We would have saved tens of billions of dollars, at least initially, if we had never aided Ukraine and contented ourselves with letting it get overrun. But a victorious Vladimir Putin would have posed a more direct threat to NATO, precipitating and necessitating an even bigger military buildup than we are seeing now, and one that we would have to participate in, unless we were to simply give up on our leadership of the world’s most important alliance.

If Putin were ever tempted into a direct confrontation with NATO, we would be faced with the dissolution of the alliance or the involvement of U.S. troops in an even more costly conflict. The Ukraine war might be expensive, but it is the Ukrainians who are doing the fighting. They are degrading the military of an adversary of the United States and trying to push it away from NATO’s borders without a single U.S. or Western soldier firing a shot or being put directly in harm’s way. All things considered, this is a deal.

Culture

‘He Was a World-Renowned Cancer Researcher. Now’s He’s Collecting Unemployment.’

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What a wrenching and disturbing story. It’s difficult to believe that such a thing could happen in a free country, but part of our civil society has been perverted and weaponized against common sense, due process, and basic decency.

 

 

 

Elections

Republicans Can Still Blow the 2022 Midterms

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Delaware Republican senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell speaks during a Tea Party Express rally in Wilmington, Del., October 31, 2010. (Tim Shaffer/Reuters)

The Doug Mastriano win should remind us that the Republican Party is still capable of blowing the coming midterms. Not completely, of course. President Biden and his party are far too unpopular and far too incompetent to allow for that. But Republicans can certainly fail to take full advantage of the opportunity with which they have been presented. A political “wave” will help to blunt any sharp edges, but even the largest waves cannot carry everyone who rides them to the shore. Sometimes, people drown.

2010 is instructive here. If the GOP had chosen someone other than Sharron Angle that year, it would have deposed Harry Reid in Nevada. Had it chosen someone other than Christine O’Donnell, it would have taken a Senate seat in Delaware. Had it chosen someone other than Ken Buck, it would have beaten Michael Bennet in Colorado. Could this pattern repeat itself this year? You’re damn straight it could. The mere existence of a Good Republican Year will not be enough to offset Bad Republican Choices, and, in Pennsylvania at least, Republicans seem to have made a series of bad choices.

These decisions may have profound effects on the future. I suspect that there is nothing that Republicans can do at this point to fail to win the House, and, because Joe Biden will be president until at least 2024, the size of their potential majority isn’t as important it might otherwise be. But the Senate? Those six-year-terms make every race crucial. Senate majorities are built over time, which makes it imperative for parties to build them up when the sun shines. Will the GOP? The jury is still out.

Elections

Dr. Oz Defies Trump, for Once

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Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz speaks during a rally held by former president Donald Trump in Greensburg, Pa., May 6, 2022. (Hannah Beier/Reuters)

Mehmet Oz might just be a good doctor after all.

I write not of his medical prowess, which is checkered with Ivy League practice alongside accusations of pseudoscience and quackery. Oz might just be “good” in a discrete moral sense. That is, he might have a conscience, or sense of principle in politics. The last 48 hours since the Pennsylvania Senate Republican primary, which has been too close to call, have been instructive in revealing Oz’s character and political acumen as he defies his endorser, Donald Trump.

As of this writing, Oz holds the lead by 1,420 votes or 0.1 percent. Yet he has not claimed victory. Neither should he, since the thin margins between him and David McCormick formally mean that one county’s votes or thousands of the remaining mail-in votes could swing the difference. Plus, a recount is legally required if the margin of victory falls below 0.5 percent, which will likely occur here and could alter the outcome in such a tight race. Oz knows he’s the front-runner by the skin of his teeth and may slip from first place at any time.

Yet Oz has been under pressure by Trump to “declare victory” in the contest now, to make it “much harder to cheat” for his opponents later. His comments are a gross offense to the state’s Republican Party and its voters, 70 percent of whom did not vote for Oz in the primary (he has 31.2 percent of the vote now) and all of whom should expect a free and fair election. It’s a copy of Trump’s maneuvering in 2020, where his premature declaration of victory was never rescinded and became the basis for his lie of a rigged election in the state.

Trump’s actions back then split the Pennsylvania GOP like a watermelon after the election — between loyalists and the rest. It has allowed insurgents like Doug Mastriano, now the nominee for governor, to gain the foothold they have. Trump’s appeal that Oz do so this time around, before the general election, would be even worse for the state party. It would divide the party over the Senate race — a critical midterm election to ensure a Senate GOP majority — as it faces a united state Democratic Party, which overwhelmingly supports Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman’s candidacy. David McCormick and Kathy Barnette might be bitter about potentially losing to the Trump-backed Oz but could be placated or, if they caused trouble, ignored if the process is deemed fair by all. If Oz were to jump the gun now at Trump’s behest, any pretext of fairness would be drowned out by the ruckus. McCormick and Barnette would rally supporters to push back against the results. All bets of unity would be off.

There’s a certain irony to Trump, progenitor of the “Stop the Steal” movement, trying to birth smaller “Stop the Steal” camps — for Oz, McCormick, and Barnette — who would accuse each other of stealing the election from their side. Right now, what stands between Pennsylvania and that mayhem is the good Dr. Oz, standing by until victory becomes clear. Any declaration of victory ought to come once the race is called by media, or when other candidates call to concede. Trump, for once, should be ignored. If Oz aspires to leadership within the state party this election cycle, and statesmanship as Pennsylvania’s next senator, this is a first test of his political chops. So far, he’s done well.

Trade

The Threats to Supply Chains That Won’t Be Going Away

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A general view of the Port of Los Angeles, Calif., November 29, 2012 (Lori Shepler/Reuters)

FreightWaves CEO Craig Fuller has a new article in which he argues that supply chains will continue to deal with a list of issues independent of the Covid pandemic over the long term. His list:

  • Supply chains will remain under constant threat of disruption for the next decade
  • Supply chains operate best when the world is peaceful and stable
  • A smoothly running supply chain requires “buffer stock,” which is challenging with declining population demographics
  • There is a conflict between environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals and supply chains optimized for cost and speed. If we prioritize ESG, we will need to contend with supply chain risks
  • Supply chain technology will become the big venture capital category winner as companies continue to make investments in technologies that can help them mitigate their supply chain challenges

The first two points are related: Peace and stability are necessary to avoid supply-chain disruptions. For ocean trade, the U.S. Navy is the guarantor of that peace and stability. Keeping ocean trade free and safe is one of the reasons that the U.S. must be a seapower, as Jerry Hendrix argued in a National Review cover story last year. Investing in the Navy will be a major expense in the defense budget, but the economic benefits of ocean trade far exceed the costs. Throughout human history, access to safe and secure waterways and cheap and efficient shipping vessels has been one of the reliable predictors of economic prosperity. The U.S. is the only country with both the means and the will to keep global ocean trade secure.

Fuller’s point about “buffer stock” is not primarily in America’s control. The demographic profiles of Asian countries have changed. They no longer have large, underemployed, young populations that are especially suitable for manufacturing. The one-child policy in China — which will likely go down as the worst central-planning failure in human history — has left the world’s most-populous country with an aging and soon-to-be-declining population. Businesses are already looking to leave China, with Vietnam, India, and Indonesia among the countries contending for more economic development. Those switches will be necessary, but the transition will be expensive.

The ESG component of Fuller’s argument is one of our top concerns at Capital Matters. Fuller writes:

Companies have instituted ESG requirements that require disclosures and monitoring of how and where products have been sourced. This pressure means that goods that are produced in factories that don’t match Western standards for environmental controls and human rights may not be available to Western consumers. The factories that do produce goods that match Western standards will often be more expensive and therefore there will be less buffer stock in the system.

The same ESG standards also create challenges for commodity producers, as the cost of adhering to environmental and social disclosures makes it more expensive and less productive. It also discourages investment in the production of environmentally sensitive commodities – most obviously in energy.

Environmental concerns and regulations that have prevented exploration and production and killed pipeline projects are largely the reason that the world currently lacks sufficient energy resources to buffer against the consequences of the Russia-Ukraine war.

Unlike Asian demographic trends, the ESG wounds are self-inflicted. The U.S. must stop letting environmentalists have a heckler’s veto on economic growth, and investors must stop letting green ideology obstruct prudent investment in energy and transportation. Access to cheap and abundant energy has been another reliable predictor of economic prosperity throughout human history. The U.S. has it and cannot squander it.

That’s especially true because the U.S. has the advantage in Fuller’s last bullet point: technology and capital. The demand for improved supply-chain technology has exploded, and systems that have been outdated for years are finally getting attention. Venture-capital investment in supply-chain technology began taking off last year. The U.S. has the right combination of technical know-how and wealth to make the supply-chain improvements the world needs, but those improvements aren’t inevitable. Actual people have to use actual money to actually make them happen. That will be America’s supply-chain challenge over the next decade.

Politics & Policy

The 2020 Census Screwed Republicans

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(Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

As Charlie noted, the latest mea culpa from the Census Bureau’s Post-Enumeration Survey (PES) on the screwed-up 2020 Census is not evenly politically distributed: States undercounted by at least 3 percentage points were Arkansas (5.04 percent), Tennessee (4.78 percent), Mississippi (4.11 percent), and Florida (3.48 percent), while the states overcounted by that much were Hawaii (6.79 percent), Delaware (5.45 percent), Rhode Island (5.05 percent), Minnesota (3.84 percent), and New York (3.44 percent). That is particularly important because Minnesota and New York were just barely at the line: Minnesota narrowly missed losing a House seat, and New York lost one by a margin of 89 votes. The report notes: “There are no plans to use PES results to produce adjusted population estimates for the purposes of apportionment or redistricting, and there will be no such recommendation.”

In an ideal world, given how the pandemic exacerbated problems with the 2020 count, we could have a recount, but as I have discussed at some length, there would be significant legal and political obstacles, and a new Census would be massively expensive and likely to face difficulties of its own in getting citizen compliance. The whole thing was an unforced error by the Trump administration and big-state Republican governors. With population continuing to shift from blue to red parts of the country since the spring of 2020, we are probably going to see a decade of the political system overvaluing the votes of blue states and undervaluing the votes of red states. The lesson for 2030: Get it right the first time.

Politics & Policy

Stop Trying to Make Fetch Happen

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President Joe Biden removes his face mask as he arrives to deliver remarks in honor of labor unions in the East Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., September 8, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The vast majority of Americans, across the political spectrum, have moved on from Covid. As I wrote back in March:

The chaotic news cycle in Ukraine has overshadowed a significant development domestically — the drastic shift in public opinion on Covid-19 precautions. “Two years after the start of the pandemic, the nation is ready to move on,” Axios reported last week. “64% of survey respondents now favor federal, state and local governments lifting all COVID-19 restrictions, up 20 percentage points since early February.” (Although “three in four say they’d go back to masking if infections increase again where they live,” it noted.) On top of that, “84% say their state of emotional well-being is good, the highest shares for both since May 2020.” And “75% said the country is moving toward a time when COVID won’t interrupt daily life, up from 66% last month.”

Notably, it’s Democrats who are reporting the largest shift in views toward the pandemic. According to recent numbers from Morning Consult, “the share of adults who say COVID-19 is a severe health risk in their local community fell to an all-time low of 17%, driven by a roughly 20-point decrease among Democrats in recent weeks. Just under a quarter of Democrats now say COVID-19 is a severe local risk, compared with 12% of Republicans, a level that has also fallen since late January.” From January 14 to March 13, the share of American adults who see Covid as a “severe” health risk fell 17 points, from 34 to 17 percent. Among Republicans, that number fell 11 points, from 23 to 12 percent. But among Democrats over that time period, it fell 23 points, from 46 to 23.

And yet, as I noted at the time, the one group that hasn’t — and won’t — move on from the pandemic is progressive elites, as reflected in the persistently hysterical headlines from mainstream news outlets and the dire warnings from their counterparts in the public-health bureaucracy. 

That still doesn’t appear to have changed. Covid doesn’t feature particularly prominently in the news cycle these days — most Americans are more concerned with kitchen-table issues such as inflation, crime, and so on. The last vestiges of mask mandates are mostly gone. But here’s the Associated Press earlier this week dwelling on voices insisting that we can’t go back to normal

Some of those left behind say they cannot return to normal. They replay their loved ones’ voicemail messages. Or watch old videos to see them dance. When other people say they are done with the virus, they bristle with anger or ache in silence.

Of course, Covid’s death toll is unspeakably tragic — no question. But to continue to inflict restrictions — which have their own harmful effects — on the population is its own kind of cruelty, particularly in the face of a pile of scientific evidence that they would do more harm than good. Still, public-health experts, and their sympathetic allies in the media, can’t seem to let it go. As Kristian Andersen, a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, told the New York Times earlier this week:

“Every single time we think we’re through this, every single time we think we have the upper hand, the virus pulls a trick on us,” Dr. Andersen said. “The way to get it under control is not, ‘Let’s all get infected a few times a year and then hope for the best.’”

The Times is still quoting numerous “experts” suggesting that it’s a good idea to mask up in many places and chiding New York City mayor Eric Adams for neglecting “to bring back mask mandates despite a citywide increase in newly confirmed cases driven by Omicron subvariants.” In the Atlantic yesterday, staff writer Ed Yong mourns the fact that “the CDC’s current guidelines effectively say that Americans can act as if COVID is not a crisis,” despite the fact that “the country still may be heading to that point.” In the same outlet, staff writer Katherine J. Wu writes:

Now that infection rates are trending up again from their early-spring low, it’s hard to put them in perspective. Sure, we’ve once again blown past the mark of 60,000 new documented cases a day (and that’s just the ones we know about), but that’s less than 10 percent of what the CDC was recording in mid-January, when the original version of Omicron, now called BA.1, was at the top of its game. Sure, hospitalizations are headed in the wrong direction, but deaths, so far, are still going down. If BA.1’s horrific blitzkrieg was a wave, what do we call this? A wavelet? A swell? A bump, a ripple, a Hobbit-size hillock? Euphemisms for the recent rise—sharp, but not the sharpest—have been trickling in for weeks. But maybe it’s time to just call a surge a surge.

Eventually, the people who run our institutions will have to learn to let Americans make their own decisions. Vaccines are widely available. Promising Covid treatments are advancing. There are a myriad of other issues that require attending to. It’s time to focus on them.

Elections

U.S. Census Bureau Report Shows Large GOP-Leaning States Were Undercounted in 2020

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(Brian Snyder/Reuters)

NPR has a piece today on a U.S. Census Bureau report that discovered that, in 2020, “all states were not counted equally well for population numbers used to allocate political representation and federal funding over the next decade.”

The states that were significantly undercounted — hurting them in the electoral college, the House of Representatives, and for federal funding purposes — were:

Arkansas (5.04%), Florida (3.48%), Illinois (1.97%), Mississippi (4.11%), Tennessee (4.78%) and Texas (1.92%).

The states that were overcounted — thereby gaining more funding and representation than they deserved — were:

Delaware (5.45%), Hawaii (6.79%), Massachusetts (2.24%), Minnesota (3.84%), New York (3.44%), Ohio (1.49%), Rhode Island (5.05%) and Utah (2.59%).

On balance, the mistakes made here have hurt Republicans far more than Democrats.

Per NPR, such profound mistakes are not normal:

the 2020 results stand in stark contrast to the findings from the bureau’s follow-up survey for the 2010 census, which had no statistically significant over- or undercounts for any state.

The full report is here.

Elections

Much Higher Minority Early Voting in Georgia’s Upcoming Primaries

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Voters cast their ballots at a Fulton County polling station in Atlanta, Ga., January 5, 2021. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)

A good follow-up to the news that the Georgia election law that Joe Biden compared to Jim Crow has been followed by record early voter turnout: Not only is the overall early voter turnout higher than ever before, but the early vote among minorities is higher than ever before.

According to figures released by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, as of yesterday, May 18,  102,056 more black voters have cast early votes in this year’s primary elections than in 2018 — this is more than three times the number of blacks casting early votes in 2018. (Georgia requests the race/ethnicity of voter registration applicants, and the secretary of state “maintains robust voter registration and turnout data by race/ethnicity.”)

Of the voting electorate, black voters make up 2.75 percent more of the total electorate than 2020. This is not the result that one would expect if the legislation was aimed at voter suppression, and “makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle,” as President Biden put it.

Georgia does not register voters by party, but the Georgia Secretary of State’s office knows which party primary these voters are casting ballots in, and the numbers so far show minority voters are growing more interested in the GOP primary. Five times as many Hispanic voters are casting Republican ballots in this year’s primary as they did in 2018, five times as many Asian voters are casting Republican ballots in 2022 as there were in 2018, and four times as many black voters are casting GOP ballots this year.

It is worth noting that Georgia did not have a U.S. Senate election in 2018, although it did have a fairly competitive GOP gubernatorial primary, and Stacey Abrams generated her own attention as she won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. The fact that this year’s GOP Senate primary features Herschel Walker, arguably the greatest college football player of all time who won a national championship with the University of Georgia, probably helps stir public interest in the race, as well as President Trump’s furious denunciations of incumbent GOP governor Brian Kemp, although Kemp is leading the polls by a wide margin.

So far, 565,000 people have early voted in Georgia—a 153 percent increase from the same point in the early voting period in the 2018 primary election, and a 189 percent increase in the same point in the early voting period in the 2020 primary election.

It is possible that this early vote turnout is just taking a bite out of the election day vote, and that turnout in this year’s Georgia primaries won’t be anything special. But right now, the early vote is about half of the total turnout in the 2018 primaries (not counting the GOP runoff). Legislation that Democrats insisted was a sinister plot to keep Georgians away from the polls has, so far, yielded a lot more Georgians coming out to vote.

Health Care

Mental Illness Is Not a Superpower

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The modern Left’s full-spectrum devotion to equality gives it a strange relationship to social norms and to health. Almost instinctively, the “normal family” is cast as the site of oppression, while alternatives to it are glorified. Healthy and athletic bodies are said to represent the spiritual disfigurement of fascism, while obese bodies are framed as a different kind of health, with a bonus of spiritually enlightened self-acceptance. Now, there is at least one author who is mainstreaming the fringe activism that seeks to normalize mental psychosis:

This article grows out of a book, and I have to agree with the assessment of the leftist writer Freddie deBoer that the article is journalistic malpractice, relying entirely on an unrepresentative group of activists and allowing no mainstream voices. DeBoer himself suffers from bipolar disorder and has had dangerous, frightening psychotic episodes that were only treatable with modern pharmaceuticals. His tearful video response to the author’s article and book is worth watching both for its true passion and its moral realism about psychosis:

 

Media

The ‘Anti-Taiwan’ Shooting Is More Complicated Than That

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A police car is seen after a deadly shooting at an event held by the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church inside Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif., May 15, 2022. (David Swanson/Reuters)

There was a mass shooting at the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif., on Saturday. One man was killed — John Cheng, a doctor who tackled the shooter and stopped the massacre — and five retirees were injured. The FBI then announced that it was investigating the incident as a “hate crime,” while local police said that the shooter was motivated by “a hate for Taiwanese people.”

You can guess what happened in the media, next. Outlets galore whipped up the frenzy of this being a hate-motivated incident, under the aegis of “anti-Asian racism.” Headlines in multiple outlets ran the phrase “anti-Taiwanese hate,” as if some new trend of bigoted events against Taiwanese people had existed — of which this one isolated incident was actually a part. Subheads in respectable publications such as NPR and PBS called the shooter a “Chinese immigrant” — a not-so-subtle attempt to suggest that Chinese geopolitics had something to do with it, where its heated rhetoric about Taiwan has raised fears of an invasion of the island. In the context of Asian American and Pacific Islander month, the incident was initially painted as another facet of “anti-Asian hate” supposedly prevalent across the United States.

Later disclosures — under-reported by these outlets — proved these assumptions faulty and provide some insight into how news outlets skew events to fit narratives. The shooting suspect, David Chou, 68 and a U.S. citizen, was actually born in Taiwan. Yes, not mainland China, but the island of Taiwan itself. The Taiwanese government even confirmed it. He wasn’t a “Chinese immigrant” but a “Taiwanese immigrant.” It’s a significant and quite conspicuous distinction that the media chose to ignore, especially given that the church itself was Taiwanese. Though Taiwan is formally named the Republic of China and has a Han-ethnic majority like the mainland, the notion that someone from Taiwan is generally Chinese is not really accurate, especially in this context.

Motives remain murky. Orange County sheriff Don Barnes has said the suspect was motivated by “tensions” between China and Taiwan and called the shooting “a politically motivated hate incident.” Though Chou had, per police, expressed a dislike for his native land, there’s no conclusive proof (yet) that he was motivated by geopolitics. Evidence may yet emerge, but the media should remember that, as with the Buffalo shooting, the motivations behind despicable acts of violence don’t always fit perfectly into preexisting political and racial narratives.

Energy & Environment

Today in Capital Matters: European Energy

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Pieter Cleppe writes about Europe’s energy struggles, and what will need to change:

The reality is that in order for either wind or solar power to be a key source of the EU’s power supplies, a reliable backup energy source is needed, until far better storage technology is developed. Until then, both solar and wind are going to be hobbled by the immutable facts that the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine.

The options to provide that backup essentially boil down to either nuclear, gas, or coal. Germany and the EU have been conducting hostile policies toward nuclear and coal, meaning that they thereby have been indirectly favoring gas — Russian gas. It should be noted that the EU is actually tasked to promote nuclear, as a result of the Euratom Treaty, but it has declined to do so with enthusiasm and is even discriminating against nuclear power when it comes to state aid. In practice, Germany has simply continued with burning coal.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with investing more into wind and solar energy (assuming that the backup problem is properly addressed) — even despite their significant environmental downsides — as long as this happens without government subsidies, and that is hardly the case at the moment. Energy markets everywhere have been heavily distorted by government interference, subsidies, and political uncertainty, but the continued importance of nuclear power for the energy mix of various European countries, despite it being the least subsidized energy source, suggests that if there were a truly free energy market, nuclear energy would probably be very successful. It could again be the fuel of the future.

Read the whole thing here.

Education

The Dumbest Generation Grows Up Is One Smart Book

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(gorodenkoff/iStock/Getty Images)

There is a sense abroad that generational change has placed the essentials of our constitutional system and its supporting culture at risk. Many Millennials — the generation now in their 20s and 30s — have soured, not only on fundamentals like freedom of speech, but on the American story as such. Various writers have tried to make sense of this disturbing cultural shift. Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt highlight a certain style of parenting. Mary Eberstadt explores the implications of family decline. Now, Mark Bauerlein, in his new book, The Dumbest Generation Grows Up, adds some crucial missing pieces to the puzzle. His focus — social media and education — may seem well-worn, but you’ve never seen them approached like this.

I’ll get to substance, but first I want to address the striking tone of the book. Although the work is well-documented and thoughtfully argued, the overall feel is singular and unconventional. There is something “prophetic” about this book. I don’t mean “prophetic” in the sense of “predicting the future,” although Bauerlein’s 2008 book, The Dumbest Generation, to which this is a follow-up, did in fact foresee, against the then-reigning idealization of the Millennials, many of the problems they’re experiencing today.

No, I mean that Bauerlein’s willingness to openly and uncompromisingly confront, and in a sense denounce face to face, America’s young — as well as the Boomer mentors who failed them — has the ring of the biblical prophets about it. After publishing The Dumbest Generation, Bauerlein was invited by many colleges and universities to address their students (and professors) in person. After taking his audiences to task for devoting more attention to selfies and “likes” than to serious history and art, Bauerlein would often find himself booed.

The teachers in those crowds denounced him for giving short shrift to the powers conferred on this new generation by their superior technological tools. The kids weren’t reading less, or spending less time on assignments, because they’d been seduced by the superficialities of the Web. No, they were simply smarter and more efficient than their Boomer elders, masters of thought-ways far beyond those offered by the pedestrian low-tech education of yore. That’s how Bauerlein’s many face-to-face confrontations went — until today, when ardor for social media has cooled and the social and psychological costs of technology have become more apparent.

Another point of style and tone: Bauerlein often conveys his argument in almost novelistic fashion. Instead of privately puzzling through an issue and then offering the reader a smooth and finished intellectual product, Bauerlein explains how he came to his conclusions in the first place. We’re introduced to the friends and colleagues with whom he’s hashed out his ideas, after which he recounts how his convictions grew out of various personal encounters with students, friends, and strangers. I’ve seen Bauerlein transfix a conference audience while explaining what turned him conservative, or by detailing what colleagues at faculty meetings said when he first confronted them with misgivings about the drift of his discipline (English Literature, one of the craziest). These personal themes, and the controlled passion they generate, add to that “prophetic” feel. (I consider Bauerlein a friend, by the way, having seen him in action at conferences though the years. Note also that his book cites my work on Western Civ.)

As I said, education is a core theme of The Dumbest Generation Grows Up, although not in the conventional sense. Bauerlein doesn’t focus on leftist indoctrination as a source of the new woke sensibility. In fact, he plays down the importance of intentional politicization, a bit more than he should, in my view. That hardly matters, however, because Bauerlein has got something new and more interesting to say.

Bauerlein explains the left-utopianism of young Americans more by what they are not learning than by what they’re actually taught. I don’t mean that he highlights the lack of traditional American history or civics — although that does concern him. Instead, he explains that it’s the loss of great literature — or even not-so-great literature and film that is nevertheless rich and serious about human motivation — that has made many Millennials shallow. Social media has drawn young people away from serious reading, and in general has dumbed down the culture. In the absence of the literature, religion, music, and art that once conveyed the range, depth, tragedy, and complexity of life, says Bauerlein, young people become susceptible to utopian illusions. What illusions? Well, the illusion that everyone can be happy, for example, or that people are either wholly innocent or guilty, or that the world can be made whole by casting the guilty out.

The great Victorian English poet and culture critic Matthew Arnold is famous for having advocated “a disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world.” Bauerlein certainly favors that “great books” approach. He is more interested, however, in a different passage from Arnold:

I know not how it is, but their commerce with the ancients appears to me to produce, in those who constantly practice it, a steadying and composing effect upon their judgment, not of literary works only, but of men and events in general.”

This is the central premise of Bauerlein’s argument. Notice, however, that Arnold begins, “I know not how it is.” Arnold never explains precisely how it is that the serious engagement with great writing lends depth and maturity to personal judgment. Bauerlein, in contrast, does try to show just how and why this is so. And he does so successfully, in my view.

My favorite chapter in the book is the one on “the psychological novel.” Using an Orson Wells film, novels by Graham Green and Sherwood Anderson, and other resources, Bauerlein explains in powerful and illuminating ways how cultural treasures at once deepen the soul and shatter utopian illusions. It’s a rich and fascinating way of understanding the link between literature and politics, and well worth your time.

Another entertaining technique is Bauerlein’s penchant for making his argument through the mouths of iconic leftists — reinforcing his point that today’s naïve utopianism has deeper sources than overt leftist indoctrination. Early on, The Dumbest Generation Grows Up presents the surprising case of Herbert Marcuse, the intellectual father of 1960s radicalism in general — and woke intolerance in particular — facing down an audience of leftist students outraged at his rejection of identity politics and his advocacy for the great books. The book ends in an encounter with Malcolm X, whose nearly miraculous self-education under the most desperate of circumstances was, Bauerlein shows, the ultimate antithesis of woke education today. In between, we learn that Steve Jobs and his fellow tech geniuses were wary from the start of their creations’ effects on the young.

There’s that prophetic theme again: Gray-haired Herbert Marcuse confronting an auditorium of students enraged at his refusal to ratify their woke presuppositions. (Regarding that 1969 audience, the word “woke” is no anachronism, by the way.)

When I first saw Bauerlein’s book title, I thought “editor in search of sales chooses simplistic title for serious book.” While there may be something to that, I don’t quite see it like that anymore. I think the title is Bauerlein’s refusal to go along with the fawning idealization of the Millennials that characterized almost all the early treatments of the topic. Bauerlein’s in-your-face title is his insistence that students systematically sheltered from their mentor’s criticisms must finally hear some. The title also reflects another of Bauerlein’s themes: the fear of Boomer teachers and mentors of being dismissed as grouches — or worse, conservatives — for any affirmation of the old standards, any insistence that something irreplaceable is being lost when the classics go out the window. “The Dumbest Generation Grows Up” signals Bauerlein’s refusal to play along. I’m glad he didn’t.

Politics & Policy

Siccing Mobs on the Supreme Court Justices

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Via Sophia Cai and Stef W. Kight at Axios:

The U.S. government is bracing for a potential surge in political violence once the Supreme Court hands down the ruling that’s expected to overturn Roe v. Wade, according to a Department of Homeland Security memo obtained by Axios. The big picture: Law enforcement agencies are investigating social-media threats to burn down or storm the Supreme Court building and murder justices and their clerks, as well as attacks targeting places of worship and abortion clinics.

The question is whether the people currently running the federal government are too invested in narratives about right-wingers being the violent ones to do anything about this. Chuck Schumer doesn’t seem concerned by protests at the justices’ homes, citing regular protests at his own house, but it is notable that anti-Schumer protests by immigrant activists, pro-Roe protestors, and anti-Trump demonstrators were also all from the Left. Schumer himself is far from innocent of inciting those mobs:

New Hampshire Democratic congresswoman Annie Kuster has likewise been dismissive, notwithstanding federal laws against such protests targeting judges in a pending case:

Kuster was asked if it is appropriate for pro-abortion protesters to target the private homes of Supreme Court justices as they consider a ruling that could overturn Roe v. Wade. She dismissed those concerns. “These people know they are in very high-profile positions. They have security.”

Politics & Policy

New and Notable, 5/18/22

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gestures as she speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., March 3, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Worthy of note:

• The news for House Democrats is ghastly:

During a Thursday luncheon last week with DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney, Frontline Democrats — the party’s most endangered lawmakers — were told that, in battleground districts, the generic Republican is beating the generic Democrat, 47-39, according to lawmakers, multiple party officials and the DCCC. This is a stunning margin and highlights the incredibly perilous position Democrats find themselves in. Given that Democrats generally have a three- or four-point built in advantage on the generic ballot, this is a particularly concerning development for Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s majority. An eight-point deficit on the generic ballot could be a sign of a wave for House Republicans.

Task and Purpose has an insightful and grimly hilarious look at how Russian soldiers keep getting themselves killed by using cellphones on the Ukrainian network that give away their position.

• Freddie de Boer takes a fantastically depressing look at the field of Writing Studies, also known as Rhetoric and Composition, as an exemplar of everything wrong with academia today: the belief in scholarship over service to student needs and demands, the victory of ideology and race-baiting as a substitute for scholarship, the utter inability of academics to understand that victory within the parameters of their discipline is pointless if the discipline itself cannot justify its existence to the people who pay the tuitions and fund the universities. A sample:

I would take grad classes in second language studies, some of them very generative and useful. But all of them would inevitably spend long hours agonizing over the “linguistic hegemony” of expecting second language writers to write like first language writers, insisting that we should honor linguistic diversity and never treat one as better than the other. And then I’d teach my freshman writing classes and my Chinese and Indian and Russian students would say, please, just fix my English so I can get my degree. . . . Obscure research is one thing; a failure to support teaching is another. A truly toxic dynamic for our university system is that the conferences and journals and organizations are run by the tenured, but the tenured don’t teach low-level classes. In some writing programs at research universities tenured faculty don’t teach undergraduate writing at all. . . . Instead, freshman writing is dominantly taught by adjuncts and, at schools with graduate programs, grad students. . . . More than once at conferences I met adjunct instructors and professors at teaching colleges who ruefully pointed out that the large conference programs contained not a single presentation that would be of use to people looking to teach actual writing.

• Apple has filed a patent application for a driverless car with no windows. In 2014, I previewed 17 things that could change with fully driverless cars. This was one of them:

Revolutionizing Car Design: To an enormous extent, the design of cars is built around the needs of the driver. Start with the windshield: the front of the passenger compartment, close to the first two people in the car, is a large and vulnerable piece of glass. No matter how many technological advancements have been made in windshield construction, shattered windshields and people being launched through them remains a major cause of injury and death. (I’ve experienced the hair-raising situation of having a large bird slam into my windshield hard enough to break it). And windshields are one of the hardest, yet most essential, parts of a car to keep clean, requiring among other things regular replacement of the wipers. But a driverless car does not need a windshield (it will have exterior cameras/sensors to watch the road, the way some sensors now watch the bumpers), nor does it need to situate seats facing forward near the front. The person in charge of getting the car to its destination can sit anywhere and check the directions and the road from a monitor. Once you move away from the need to have everything within arm’s reach of the driver’s console, other design changes follow. Air conditioning, GPS, stereo, and video systems can be controlled from anywhere within the car. And debates over things like stick shift versus automatic transmissions become pointless without the human driver.

• Laurence Tribe, given some rope by Isaac Chotiner of the New Yorker, hangs himself:

Recently, one of your colleagues called you an “important vector of misinformation and conspiracy theories.” The Atlantic has written about you tweeting misinformation, and I’ve definitely noticed that on Twitter you don’t sound like you do in this conversation. And I was just curious if—

Well, yes, I get it. I did make a mistake. A couple years ago, I think, I was somewhat new to Twitter and I didn’t know that the Palmer Report was as unreliable as it is, so I tweeted a couple things and then I deleted them when someone pointed out that I’d made a mistake. I don’t think I do that with any frequency, but what I do more frequently is talk in sound bites and not watch my language when I’m on Twitter, because it’s, frankly, a way of getting my ideas to a larger number of people.

You tweeted, “Donald Trump is an anagram for Damn Pol Turd.” I hear you.

Right. I mean, obviously that’s not an intellectually elevated thing to say…

More recently, you tweeted that “the GOP’s Trump wing appears to be throwing its weight behind Putin. If Putin opts to wage war on our ally, Ukraine, such ‘aid and comfort’ to an ‘enemy’ would appear to become ‘treason’ as defined by Article III of the U.S. Constitution.”

I don’t think I ever said they’d be committing treason. I’ve always been careful under Article III—

You said that it “would appear to become ’treason’ as defined by Article III.”

Well, it was a stupid thing to say. And I withdrew it almost immediately. I try to be careful about the word “treason.” I’m not as cautious, because I don’t want to spend a lot of time on Twitter. I just do that while I’m doing other things. I’m probably less cautious than I wish I were, and I sometimes use words that are not as carefully considered, and sometimes when it’s pointed out—certainly if it’s pointed out—I withdraw it.

Elections

In Pennsylvania, Will the 2022 Gubernatorial Election Just Be about the 2020 Presidential Election?

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Pennsylvania elector Clifford Levine shows his ballot during the 59th Pennsylvania Electoral College meeting in Harrisburg, Pa., December 14, 2020. (Commonwealth Media Services/Handout via Reuters)

Instead of real debates on current issues facing Pennsylvanians — about education and parental rights, energy and fracking, abortion and the future after Roe v. Wade — the 2022 election agenda is likely to be hijacked in the Keystone State by disputes about the 2020 election. Yesterday’s gubernatorial primary elections — won by Doug Mastriano for the GOP and Josh Shapiro for the Democrats — only made this clearer. The Pennsylvania governor’s race this election cycle will probably minimize genuine concerns as Mastriano and Shapiro relitigate whether Donald Trump really won the state in 2020 (he didn’t) and what “election integrity” measures should come next.

Just look at the candidates. Mastriano, a state senator, tried to overturn Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes in 2020. Not only did he claim the election was stolen, but he was also in the vanguard — organizing a meeting of the state party to legitimize the falsehood, leading delegations to Trump’s White House to strategize, and sponsoring a bill in the state legislature to replace lawful electors. He even sent a busload of supporters to the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and breached the perimeter as other Trump supporters stormed the building (he claims that he didn’t enter). Of all questionable aspects of Mastriano’s character — also including indulging the QAnon conspiracy theory and past anxieties about Muslims running for public office — his role in the 2020 election dispute is the most notable and egregious.

Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro did not indulge Trump’s lies. As Pennsylvania attorney general during the election dispute, Shapiro was the lead defendant in Texas v. Pennsylvania, the major Supreme Court case contesting the election in the state. After spending December of that year doing back-to-back TV talk-show appearances attacking Trump and Mastriano’s efforts, Shapiro gained a national profile for his advocacy, which has been the basis for his unopposed gubernatorial primary run and soaring fundraising. In 15 months, he’s raised nearly $20 million, more than all Republican candidates combined. And now, nearly two years later, he is still running on these achievements. Emblazoned on Shapiro’s website, in boldface text, is “JOSH DEFENDS PENNSYLVANIA VOTERS AND THE RESULTS OF THE 2020 ELECTION,” against “extremist Republicans.” Shapiro’s record is hardly comparable to Mastriano’s. But their weird symbiosis causes Shapiro to require and elevate Mastriano as a threat, hence his perversely strategic support of Mastriano’s primary campaign.

With candidates like these, whose claim to fame is the 2020 election, voters can expect less discussion on the future of the state, and more broadsides regarding that past. Already, the attack ads are rolling in; messaging about “election audits” and “vote by mail” is getting more airtime than anything else. Two years after that saga, as Pennsylvania’s voters wish to move on, both parties’ nominees for governor are looking backwards to whip up their bases. The future of the Commonwealth looks very bleak — unless Pennsylvania voters demand better.

Law & the Courts

Sussmann Is a Case about Privilege . . . Including the New ‘Vacation’ Exception to Subpoenas

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Hillary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook talks to reporters onboard the campaign plane, October 28, 2016. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

As our Isaac Schorr reported from the courtroom, prosecutors from special counsel John Durham’s office have described the trial of Democratic lawyer Michael Sussmann as a case about “privilege.” It is a clever play on words.

First, there’s the attorney–client privilege. Sussmann is accused of lying to the FBI to conceal the fact that he was working for the Hillary Clinton campaign when he urged the bureau to investigate what he claimed was a secret Trump–Russia communications back channel. Implausibly, Sussmann’s defense claims he was not really representing the campaign’s interests when he peddled the back-channel story, even though he billed the campaign for his time, and even though the campaign has stymied Durham’s attempts to gather relevant documents by asserting the attorney–client privilege to shield its communications.

Then there’s the insider privilege enjoyed by politically connected former government officials who become hotshot Washington lawyers.

If you, an ordinary citizen, contacted the FBI to report a crime, you’d have to speak to whoever the duty agent was that day, or you’d be told to go online and fill out a form. They’d then get to you . . . whenever they got to you. But when Michael Sussmann decided to report what turned out to be a noncrime (the Trump–Russia collusion information he brought the FBI was investigated and dismissed as nonsense), he of course used his high-level contacts. As a former Justice Department official, he had a long-standing relationship with the bureau’s then–general counsel, James Baker. So Sussmann just whipped out his cellphone, found his old buddy Jim in his contacts, texted him on a Sunday night, and the red carpet was rolled out for a meeting at FBI headquarters in Washington the next morning. Now that’s some privileged access right there.

And now, we have the vacation privilege.

Let’s say you, Joe Sixpack, were subpoenaed to be a witness in a criminal trial. You would have to show up when you were told and wait until it was your turn to testify. If you had other demands on your time — like working for a living or family obligations — well, that’d be too bad for you. A subpoena is a court order, and the law says the judicial process is entitled to every person’s testimony. If you are a witness at a criminal trial, you have to work your schedule around the demands of the trial, not the other way around.

But then again, you’re not Robby Mook, Beltway celeb and manager of the ill-fated Clinton campaign.

Naturally, Mook was in the middle of the campaign’s effort to promote the political smear that Trump had a corrupt relationship with Putin. He is thus under subpoena to testify at the Sussmann trial. The prosecutors have decided they don’t need him for their case, but it turns out the defense thinks he has testimony that might be helpful to Sussmann.

There’s a problem, though: Despite the facts that he’s a witness, and the trial has long been scheduled to start on May 16 (i.e., this past Monday), Mook has plans to go away on vacation to Spain this coming weekend.

For most of us, that would be our problem, not the trial’s. We would be told to put our vacation plans on hold until our duty to testify was fulfilled. Plus, Mook is a defense witness. Under due-process rules, the defense (which has no obligation to present any evidence) does not get to call any witnesses until the prosecution has rested its case. The prosecution is not expected to wrap up its presentation of evidence until next week.

But we’re not talking about just anyone here. We’re talking about the Robby Mook. And so we’re talking about privilege. The Sussmann defense has asked Judge Christopher Cooper to order that the government’s case be suspended on Friday, in the middle of the presentation that prosecutors have been planning for months. This would allow the defense to put Mook on the stand — i.e., to interrupt the flow of Durham’s case so that Mook, a very busy man who really needs a vacation, can catch his flight out of the country.

Many judges would not give such a request the time of day. In fact, one of the unpleasant parts of being a litigator is the not-unusual necessity of breaking to witnesses the bad news that they have to show up in court when needed, regardless of what else is going on in their lives, and that once a trial starts, the court doesn’t want to hear about anyone’s vacation plans.

But in Robby Mook’s case, he wants to go on vacation, the Sussmann defense made the request, and Judge Cooper is actually entertaining it. Cooper hadn’t decided as of yesterday’s court session whether he’d interrupt the government’s case to accommodate Mook’s holiday in Spain, but neither had he rejected doing so out of hand.

It’s Washington. And it’s a case about privilege.