National Review

Less Than a Gallon of Gas

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Gasoline prices at a station in Washington,D.C., March 13, 2022. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

You might have noticed we’re doing something a bit different this week — an all-hands effort to persuade more of our regular readers to take the plunge and subscribe to NRPlus. (To those who have and are reading this anyway, thank you.)

There’s just cause for this, which I’ll get to momentarily.

But first, I want to briefly emphasize how much of a deal is on offer right now. Somebody should stop this steal: By clicking this link, you’ll be taken to our 60 percent off page. Math is hard, which is why we went into the communication arts. But the numbers guys tell me that discount means you can subscribe to NRPlus for 40 bucks, or just about $3 per month. To put that in perspective, well, it’s less than the cost of a gallon of gas these days, sad to say. And you’ll go farther with a subscription.

So, what do you get in return? Rich Lowry succinctly summarizes the very many benefits of membership, but, in short, you get access to all the paywalled stuff, commenting privileges for articles and blog posts, invites to members-only conference calls with writers and editors, and — this one’s important — something on the order of 90 percent fewer ads. Overall, life is much more pleasant as a member. Plus, no paywall means you can read the magazine online and Kevin Williamson’s weekly newsletter, which is for subscribers only as of this past Tuesday. Kevin explains here the thinking behind our inexorable march toward a subscriber-based model, as opposed to a strictly traffic-based one, which can warp editorial decision-making. It really boils down to two things: the desire to be independent and the desire to exist. Both are important, we think.

Plus, you’ll get insight into trends that, let’s face it, many other publications are missing, as Jim Geraghty explains.  

That discount-subscription link, one more time, is here, where you can also check out the deal for a print-digital bundle. All this said, enjoy the week’s highlights below, (mostly) gratis.

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

There’s a difference between protesting outside the Supreme Court and protesting outsides justices’ homes, and the president should recognize that: Biden Must Reject the Left’s Intimidation Game

Democrats want to avoid discussion of what their Women’s Health Protection Act does for a reason: Barbarism in the Senate

NR pays tribute to a legend, and a force: Midge Decter, R.I.P.

ARTICLES

Charles C. W. Cooke: Chuck Schumer Keeps Leading Senate Democrats to the Slaughter

Rich Lowry: The Shameful Pro-Abortion Protests Threaten the American Order

Rich Lowry: We Need to Take the Fentanyl Crisis More Seriously

Nina Shea: Cardinal Zen’s Arrest Is an Inflection Point

Jay Nordlinger: Coming to Grips with Abortion

John Fund: Chicago’s Decline Accelerates as Boeing Abandons It

Mario Loyola: When ‘Inclusivity’ Is Code for ‘Intolerance’

Madeleine Kearns: Britain Should Move On from ‘Partygate’ and ‘Beergate’

Kenin M. Spivak: Biden’s Racial Preferences Gone Wild

Julaine Appling: Leftist Attacks Won’t Intimidate the Pro-Life Movement

Michael Brendan Dougherty: Conservatives Don’t Oppose Biden’s Ukraine Policy; They Want More of It

Alexandra DeSanctis: The Truth about Democratic Abortion Extremism

Kyle Smith: Has Johnny Depp Changed the #MeToo Game?

Jim Geraghty: The Worst Possible Timing for an Infrastructure-Spending Spree

America’s Crisis of Self-Doubt

CAPITAL MATTERS

The metaphor in this headline makes sense once you read Joel Thayer’s piece about the Biden administration’s 5G problems: Biden’s 5G Camel

Dominic Pino breaks down the formula fiasco: How Government Made the Baby-Formula Shortage Worse

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

Of the latest morphing music video, Armond White rules that Michael did it better: Kendrick Lamar’s Deepfake

You’ll get no surprises in the new Top Gun, and that’s fine in Kyle Smith’s estimation: Mach-10 Nostalgia

Brian Allen is in Italy, soaking it all up and serving ocular delights for those of us stateside. He begins in Rome: A Meaty, Tasty Look at Baroque Genoa at Rome’s Scuderie del Quirinale

FROM THE NEW, MAY 30, 2022, ISSUE OF NR

Dan McLaughlin: In Dobbs, the Supreme Court Must Not Be Intimidated

Alexandra DeSanctis: Pro-Life, Post-Roe

Nate Hochman: Elon Musk’s Town Square

Andrew Stuttaford: On the Baltic Frontier

Kevin Williamson: The Three Pro-Life Movements

IF YOU SUBSCRIBE TO NRPLUS, YOU’LL GET MUCH MORE THAN THESE EXCERPTS

Andrew Stuttaford is back from the Baltics. He writes about the region’s Putin management in the latest issue of NR:

If Putin prevails in Ukraine, an emboldened Kremlin will be looking in the direction of the Baltic, nominally to help those supposedly oppressed “compatriots” living there, but with a broader objective in mind. If Moscow can somehow get away with subjugating Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, it will have demonstrated that, in their case, NATO’s much-vaunted collective defense cannot be relied upon — and if that’s true for them, who might be next? It would be a demonstration that could tear the alliance apart.

The Baltic leaderships know what might, one day, be at stake. For their size, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia have sent Ukraine a remarkable amount of matériel for reasons both moral and — as a method of forward defense — practical. Meanwhile, recruitment has surged for the Kaitseliit, the Estonian Defense League, a force roughly analogous to the U.S. National Guard and maintained in a high level of readiness. Latvia is mulling a form of conscription (the other two Baltic states already have mandatory military service — in Lithuania’s case reintroduced after the annexation of the Crimea — and the reserve capabilities that come with it). All three countries have surpassed the NATO defense-spending target of 2 percent of GDP, and all three now are aiming at approximately 2.5 percent.

Another change that has followed the invasion has been strong Baltic pressure (much of it from Estonia’s impressive prime minister, Kaja Kallas, who has found her voice in this crisis) to supplement the three countries’ NATO tripwire, which currently consists of multinational battle groups in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, totaling some 4,000 troops in all, and was set up after the earlier Russian aggression in Ukraine.

But if the Russians risked tearing through that tripwire, despite what would undoubtedly be a fierce defense, the Baltic states (with their combined population of only around 6 million) would swiftly be overrun, leaving them with little alternative, regardless of any insurgency (something not unknown in these parts) other than to await rescue. After the massacres in Bucha and other parts of Ukraine, there are no illusions about what even a brief Russian occupation would mean. Thus the suggestion made to me, echoing that made by the three Baltic premiers last month, that as much as a division of NATO forces (as well as added equipment) should be placed in each Baltic country. This, for both military and political reasons, would bolster NATO’s deterrence as well as underline the key message that the alliance has no second-tier members: Its governing principle continues to be all for one and one for all.

Earlier this week, NR published a statement of some significance on the “crisis of self-doubt” gripping the nation. Many prominent conservatives, representing different points on the political spectrum, signed it. It begins:

We live in an age of increasing national self-doubt.

The American project, as such, is under assault. Our history is the subject of a revisionist critique that is all-encompassing, unsparing, and very often flatly inaccurate. Our traditional heroes are under threat of being run out of the national pantheon. Our institutions, from elections to the job market to law enforcement, stand accused of perpetuating a systemic racism that is impossible to eradicate. Our educational system, from kindergarten through graduate school, is increasingly a forum for crude propagandizing. Our system of government is attacked as archaic, unfair, and racially biased. Our traditional values of fair play, free speech, and religious liberty are trampled by inflamed ideologues determined to impose their will by force and fear.

The national mood resembles those of the 1930s and 1970s, when radical critiques of America got considerable traction and our national self-confidence often seemed to hang by a thread.

It is in this context that we reclaim what once was a consensus view of America that has now become bitterly contested.

No matter the fashion of the moment, we believe that America is a fundamentally fair society with bountiful opportunity; that its Founding was a world-historical event of the utmost importance and established governing institutions of enduring value; that its original sins have been honorably, if belatedly, repudiated; that it came to be wealthy and powerful primarily through its own internal strengths, not via expropriation and conquest; that its model of ordered liberty is a boon to human flourishing; that its people are a marvel and its greatest resource; that its best days needn’t be behind it, and that it remains a beacon to mankind.

To the extent that these notions are falling out of favor, it is the responsibility of those who love America to revivify them.

From NR’s editorial on the escalating protests surrounding the Supreme Court and its members:

There are questions of law here, but also questions of democratic norms that are, in the long run, more important.

Some of the legal questions are obvious enough: Firebombing the offices of Wisconsin Family Action is against the law. So is vandalizing and desecrating churches. It is also against the law to attempt to bully the Supreme Court and its justices, to act “with the intent of interfering with, obstructing, or impeding the administration of justice, or with the intent of influencing any judge, juror, witness, or court officer, in the discharge of his duty.” The First Amendment protects political speech, but it does not protect speech that is part of an effort to commit a crime — and threatening a judge with violence in an attempt to force him to change his opinion is that. . . .

The personalization of politics — and of political protest — in our time is a lamentable development, whether it is bullying Supreme Court justices at their homes or terrorizing Tucker Carlson’s family at his. A society in which there is no private life, no separation between the public and private spheres, is a totalitarian society — and it is a society in which civic peace is ultimately impossible. Screaming in front of the Supreme Court building is rambunctious democracy, but screaming at a Supreme Court justice from the sidewalk in front of her house is unhinged fanaticism.

It escapes no one’s notice that the anti-abortion movement is not without a history of violence at its fringes. That violence has always been roundly and unequivocally denounced, from the halls of government to the pages of this magazine, and, especially, by pro-life organizations and committed pro-life activists.

The mob at Justice Alito’s house is there for one purpose — to try to intimidate the Supreme Court. Let us be honest about this and, if the president can be bothered, behave accordingly.

On a related note, Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, gives her account of the attack on that group’s Madison office:

Early Sunday morning on Mother’s Day, a leftist anarchist group attacked our office in Madison, Wis. They broke windows and threw two Molotov cocktails into the office, lighting a fire. Making their views abundantly clear, the arsonists graffitied the outside of the building with the message, “If abortions aren’t safe, then you aren’t either.”

God was watching over us that morning, because thankfully, no one was in the office at the time. But imagine if anyone had been. They would have been seriously injured. Additionally, one of the Molotov cocktails did not ignite — an error on the attacker’s part that saved our building. Otherwise, it likely would have burned to the ground.

This act of violence was intended to terrify us into silence, to make us afraid to go to work, to go home, to convene in public with like-minded family, friends, and colleagues. Even worse, to terrify us (all of us who share these opinions) enough to alter our core beliefs and values. Threats like this, right here at home in America. Because I have a different opinion from abortion activists and the violent Left. Because I proudly lead Wisconsin Family Action, an organization dedicated to promoting and protecting the values of marriage, family, life, and religious liberty. . . .

This is what happens when leadership is missing or when leadership implies that violence is an acceptable tactic to employ. In 2020, Wisconsin governor Tony Evers basically looked the other way when violence erupted in Kenosha and Madison. That kind of nonresponse fosters attacks like the one against Wisconsin Family Action, leaving Wisconsin citizens who disagree with his policies extremely vulnerable to similar violence.

In fact, Governor Evers’s initial response to the attack on Wisconsin Family Action said nothing about demanding a full investigation and criminal prosecution. Though he mentioned us, he condemned “violence and hatred in all its forms,” then told his supporters he’d keep supporting abortion.

But let me be clear: The violence needs to stop, and it needs to stop now.

What’s behind the baby-formula shortage? Dominic Pino finds a familiar, if not the obvious, culprit:

About 40 percent of major brands were sold out at the end of April, which is nearly four times the rate in November. Walmart, Target, Kroger, CVS, and Walgreens are all limiting formula purchases at their stores in an effort to discourage people from hoarding. At Amazon, many popular varieties are unavailable. . . .

The seemingly obvious culprits for the shortage are what everyone has blamed for everything over the past year: supply chains and labor shortages. But that can’t be the answer here. It is true that baby-formula manufacturers face the same shipping problems and hiring challenges that most other industries are dealing with — yet most other industries don’t have 40 percent of their products sold out nationwide. Something else must be at play.

The proximate cause of this shortage is a recall of baby formula made by Abbott Labs. . . . But one brand recalling some of its product lines should not cause shortages across the country. It’s not as though Abbott is the only major formula producer: Nestle and Reckitt Benckiser make multiple types of formula each.

In a free market, widespread shortages shouldn’t occur. The price should rise as supply gets low, which encourages more production. The increased production should prevent a prolonged shortage before it has a chance to get started, then bring the price back down as well.

The overarching problem is that price signals in the baby-formula market don’t work well to begin with. A 2010 study from the USDA’s Economic Research Service estimated that 57 to 68 percent of all baby formula sold in the U.S. was purchased through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

That means over half of the baby formula that’s consumed in the U.S. isn’t really bought and sold on a free market at all. . . .

With WIC expanded to cover the majority of baby-formula consumption, manufacturers have less incentive to meet demand. When a negative supply shock, such as the Abbott recall, happens, the normal market mechanisms that would thrust other manufacturers into overdrive fail to function as they should. Increased government involvement in the baby-formula market, while coming from the best of intentions, sets it up for shortages like the one families are currently experiencing.

Shout-Outs

Salena Zito, at the Washington Examiner: Who is Kathy Barnette?

John Murawski, at RealClearInvestigations: Taxpayers Funding 90+ ‘Equity’ Programs across Federal Government

Steven Malanga, at City Journal: A Summer of Blackouts?

Andrew Fink, at the Dispatch: The Legacy of Soviet Anti-Jewish Propaganda Rears Its Ugly Head

CODA

One of the cool things about this humble newsletter gig is that I get to discover new music I never would have stumbled across, thanks to the suggestions you, the readers, send in from time to time. William Johnson just came through with another, a band named Scythian, which is local to me. These guys have been around, carving out a groove in the Celtic/folk genre as well as launching Virginia’s Appaloosa Music Festival out near Front Royal. A smattering of their uplifting music can be found here, here, and here. Hope you like.

World

The Emperors Are Exposed

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Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, in 2018. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

In China, “Xi Jinping thought” is being infused into school curriculums, so determined is the general secretary/chairman/president to be a metonym for the country itself. In Russia, Vladimir Putin, you may recall, was “reelected” with nearly 77 percent of the vote in 2018 (after now-imprisoned Alexei Navalny was barred from the ballot). But popular support for these two autocrats might not be as monolithic as it appears.

While their stifling of dissent clouds any picture the rest of the world might get about the true level of internal opposition, the regimes’ respective bungling of Covid-19 and the Ukraine invasion has emboldened, even slightly, those voices.

In China, tolerance for the CCP’s brutal, counterproductive, illogical lockdowns in Shanghai and beyond is wearing thin. Lianchao Han and Jianli Yang, from the pro-democracy Citizen Power Initiatives for China, write for NR that flickers of civil disobedience can be seen among the city’s angry residents:

Some dismantle barbed-wire fences, others bang their cooking pots on the balconies. In the video Voice of April, Shanghainese residents depict the endless suffering of people under the zero-Covid policy. The video went viral despite the CCP’s watertight censorship. Shanghai-based rapper Astro released a song, “New Slave,” to criticize the government’s abuse of power and its neglect of human life. More and more people have come out to sing the national anthem — in particular the line “Arise! Ye who refuse to be bond slaves!” Ironically, this has led Chinese authorities to censor its own national anthem. Some local party chiefs resigned, and neighborhood committee members abandoned their posts. Shanghai residents have formed a self-assistance and self-governance commission, unequivocally demanding democracy and freedom, and urging mass civil disobedience until Beijing ends its inhumane zero-Covid policy. On the night of April 24, people in many districts of Shanghai took to the streets to protest.

The Economist recently documented how Chinese citizens are increasingly challenging the Party line in response to the crippling lockdown policies and false assurances, even if they must do so anonymously. “We don’t trust these policies any more,” one Shanghai resident said.

Not only is there concern that government policies are killing more people than they’re saving, but more evidence is emerging that governments including China’s have covered up previous deaths. Jim Geraghty draws attention to some additional Economist reporting estimating that the number of excess deaths there (above what would normally be expected pre-pandemic) is between 550,000 and 2 million, in contrast with the government’s Covid-19-death estimate of 5,000.

Whether those figures point to unreported coronavirus deaths, deaths from other causes that rose because of lockdowns and medical-access issues, or some combination of those and other factors, we’ll likely never know. But the myth of the CCP, all-powerful tamers of the pandemic, should be well on its way to shattered.

As for Russia, Kevin Williamson writes that Putin’s Ukraine disaster has revealed his military to be a paper tiger:

Every army worries about bullets and missiles, but the Russians have been undone by much less lethal challenges — rain, among others. Russian armored vehicles have fallen to Ukrainian agricultural implements because of cheap and defective Chinese tires. Teen-aged conscripts rounded up from the schoolyards of Vladivostok have been shipped off to war, ill-informed and ill-prepared, and told they are hunting Nazis, which surely is understood to be a tall tale even in the hinterlands. . . . A British estimate has the number of Russian dead in Ukraine already at 15,000 — more than were lost in the Russians’ decade-long war in Afghanistan.

That doesn’t make his misadventure any less devastating for the residents of Bucha, Mariupol, and every other place ravaged by Russia’s ill-prepared forces. Kevin notes how, in echoes of the Holodomor, one Russian region is moving to “expropriate” grain from parts of occupied Ukraine.

But Putin’s fearsome and competent image surely is dented not only from the perspective of the West but of the Russian people. Thousands have left Russia in the wake of the invasion, as the government cracks down on anti-war protests. This alone reflects how the chances of any viable opposition movement gaining traction in Russia remain slim, but it also speaks to Putin’s eroding support. If nothing else, Sergey Lavrov’s outrageous and ahistorical Hitler claim a week ago shows a regime reduced to routine violations of Godwin’s law.

The emperors still have their clothes — but the people can begin to see parts exposed.

In other news, well, there’s lots of it. Without further ado . . .

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

The bombshell leak out of the Supreme Court should not go unpunished: An Egregious Leak

ARTICLES

Rich Lowry: A Shocking Assault on the Supreme Court

Kevin Williamson: How to Regulate Abortion

Alexandra DeSanctis: What Americans Really Think about Abortion

Charles C. W. Cooke: Bret Stephens’s Fatally Flawed Case for Saving Roe

Dan McLaughlin: Chief Justice Roberts Must Find the Leaker

Andriy Yermak: Why the U.S. Has a Stake in Ukraine’s Victory

Marco Rubio: Defund President Biden’s Censorship Bureau

Ryan Mills: Unseen American Volunteers Work around the Clock to Rescue Ukrainian Civilians

Ryan Mills: American Citizens Finally Return Home from Afghanistan after Months in Prison-Like Refugee Camp

Jay Nordlinger: When Politics Invades Art

Madeleine Kearns: Rachel Levine’s Spectacular Mendacity (or Ignorance)

Michael Brendan Dougherty: Which Trumpism Won in Ohio?

John McCormack: Trump’s Decisive Ohio Senate Endorsement

Tom Cotton: Republicans Must Stop Biden’s Student-Debt Transfer

Frederick Hess & Hayley Sanon: On College Admissions, It’s the Woke Fringe vs. Everyone Else

CAPITAL MATTERS

The Fed made a big move this week — but it won’t be big enough, says William Luther: Fed Tightening Is Too Little, Too Late

There’s a risk in wildly pointing fingers on inflation, Russ Latino writes: Scapegoating Prevents a Return to Fiscal Sanity

Casey Mulligan calculates Hawaii’s Covid tradeoffs: Did Hawaii Beat the Virus?

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

Kyle Smith eye-rolls at the eye candy in Marvel’s latest, but finds a deeper significance in its madness: Doctor Strange Taps Into America’s Disturbing Fantasy Life

Armond White (who also offers his take on the Doctor Strange brew) notices a version of The Player playing out in last weekend’s D.C. media/celeb gathering: The White House Correspondents’ Dinner: Where’s Altman When We Need Him?

Brace yourself for an unequivocal rave from Brian Allen (and catch his follow-up this weekend): A Profile of Dartmouth’s Nearly Perfect Hood Museum

THE TL;DR EDITION

About that leak . . . Rich Lowry has some thoughts:

The leaker, whether a justice, a clerk, or a staffer, clearly intended to engender a huge reaction to try to intimidate a member of the majority into changing his or her mind.

This is how hardball politics works in Congress or in the executive branch, where strategic leaks are the norm and very often no one trusts anybody. It’s completely inimical to the spirit of the Supreme Court, which is supposed to decide its cases as a strict matter of law free of political influence.

Tellingly, almost no one on the left criticized the leak — instead, many praised it as an act of brave defiance that reflects the gravity of the moment.

This is yet another sign of the hypocrisy of all the Trump-era lectures from progressives about the importance of norms and neutrally applied rules. As soon as a Supreme Court decision might go against them, they abandon all pretense of believing any of that and attempt to bludgeon the Court into submission.

The leak, in its own way, brings home how one of the key assumptions in the Court’s abortion jurisprudence has been wrong all along. It imagined itself settling once and for all a highly contested social issue. In reality, by attempting to take the issue out of politics, it made the fight over abortion even more divisive, while making itself a political football. Now, the issue that it sought to settle has blown back on the Court, perhaps changing how it operates forever.

If, as the Alito draft previews, Roe is about to fall, Kevin Williamson examines what an assertive but humane effort to regulate abortion might look like:

Even though abortion has the elements of the most serious class of homicides (premeditation, etc.), we are not obligated to treat it that way. Even in this very serious matter, we should seek the least invasive means of achieving the outcome we desire.

If additional measures seem called for after some period of study and consideration, then these can be undertaken, gradually and carefully, as needed. There is no benefit — practical or political — in living down to the Left’s caricature of the pro-life position.

Contrary to what one hears from the familiar ghastly Malthusians among us, repealing Roe and imposing abortion restrictions won’t require us to build an archipelago of new orphanages, nor will it likely have much effect on publicly subsidized health-care costs. The number of U.S. families who wish to adopt a child exceeds by many multiples the number of children who are available for adoption (which is why so many Americans wishing to adopt go to the far corners of the world), and even if we assume that every single one of the abortions that happen in the United States in a typical year (estimates vary, but probably around 850,000) would otherwise result in a pregnancy subsidized by Medicaid or another government program, this would not add up to a great deal of money — probably less than half a day’s worth of Social Security spending. If additional support for vulnerable mothers is required, then that is a bearable cost. As with practically every other welfare initiative, our problem there is going to be program design and administration, not resources.

So, there will be no Handmaid’s Tale, no cinematic dystopia. The hysterics among us should be reminded that while the Mississippi law at issue in Dobbs prohibits abortion after 15 weeks, in France, the law prohibits it after 14 weeks. If your idea of a right-wing Christo-fascist hellhole is Paris, then you need a psychiatrist, not an abortionist.

We can be assertive and humane at the same time, provided that we keep our attention on the interests of the vulnerable parties involved in this issue rather than abandon ourselves to the tedious theater of pharisaical self-righteousness.

In a special guest essay from the head of the Presidential Office of Ukraine, Andriy Yermak explains why victory there is pivotal to the West and the cause of democracy:

Ukraine is grateful for all who have recognized the importance of this battle and who have outfitted Ukraine’s soldiers with the military-technical assistance that is allowing them to resist the Russian occupation forces.

But they cannot hold out without additional heavy weaponry. The defenders of freedom in Mariupol are paying with blood. Ukraine and its allies can still save those of them who remain alive by acting together through more unified diplomacy, strengthening Ukraine’s defense capabilities, and ratcheting up the sanctions regime against Russia.

Just like the Alamo became its epoch’s rally cry for freedom, this epoch needs the heroes of Mariupol to survive and prevail — for history to remember their sacrifices and as a clear lesson to future aggressors.

We thought the 20th century had delivered tyranny to the dustbin of history. But with the battle of Mariupol, the history of the Alamo and similar battles before it has returned. Ukrainians know that Mariupol must mark a turning point in this history.

That’s why Ukraine fights. Ukraine must stand. Mariupol must stand. It is here that the future of the world is being decided.

We cannot allow the sacrifice of Mariupol to be in vain. If Mariupol falls, if Ukraine loses, it will not only be a loss for Ukrainians. All the world’s democracies will lose. Despotism will triumph. And its triumph will not be confined to the countries of the former Soviet Union or Eastern Europe. Tyranny doesn’t have boundaries. This is why Ukraine’s victory in its fight for liberty will be the victory of democracies around the world.

And now, a word from Senator Marco Rubio on Biden’s “censorship bureau”:

Administration officials say their disinformation board is necessary to protect American democracy. However, federal censorship is no guarantee against real disinformation.

Washington bureaucrats’ track record at discerning fact from fiction is dismal, and Biden’s new censorship czar, Nina Jankowicz, is no exception. In 2020, she dismissed the Hunter Biden laptop story as a “Trump campaign product.” Now, President Biden’s son is under official investigation — even the New York Times acknowledges the story was true. Doesn’t this make Jankowicz guilty of spreading disinformation herself? She has yet to issue a full retraction of her claim, however, raising concerns that she is even more partisan than the legacy media.

Similarly, in the early days of the pandemic, liberals railed against those who suggested that Covid may have originated in a Wuhan laboratory. Social-media censors, left-wing reporters, and the government itself — in the person of Dr. Anthony Fauci — called the lab-leak hypothesis a racist conspiracy theory and banned the topic from public discussion. Today, our intelligence community considers it to be as likely as not that the lab-leak hypothesis is correct. . . .

A government disinformation board led by a person who “shudder[s]” at the thought of “free speech . . . absolutists” is a step toward tyranny. It must be stopped. It has to be defunded.

Shout-Outs

David French, at the Atlantic: What Alito Got Right

Lahav Harkov, at the Jerusalem Post: Bennett to Lavrov: Stop using Holocaust as political battering ram

Philip Wegmann, at RealClearPolitics: ‘Make Them Famous’: Virginia AG Tells GOP to Focus on Progressive Prosecutors

Aaron Sibarium, at the Washington Free Beacon: De Blasio’s Gas Stove Ban Was Intended to Help the Environment. Experts Say It’ll Backfire.

CODA  

Shifting gears from a coupla Codas that featured unreasonably long songs, here is a short one. “New Country,” by violin virtuoso for hire Jean-Luc Ponty, popped into my head this week for no apparent reason. It took a minute to place it, but only a minute. The theme, while a tad hokey, is unmistakable. Hope you enjoy.

As this newsletter often mentions, consider contributing to this here Weekend Jolt Playlist by shooting a song my way, for sharing: jberger@nationalreview.com. Thanks for reading.

U.S.

What the Mask Panic Is Really About

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Travelers wearing masks arrive at Logan International Airport after a federal judge in Florida struck down the CDC’s public transportation masking order, in Boston, Mass., April 19, 2022. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

A reporter asked President Biden last week, on the heels of the court-ordered rollback for public transit, if people should continue to wear masks absent a mandate.

“That’s up to them,” he replied.

Monster.

“It is their choice,” Jen Psaki explained.

Tyrant.

Anyway, such anodyne statements reflect the policy reality for now. Yet this policy either isn’t computing for some folks or really is viewed as malicious. Or, and stop me if this is a stretch, those in high dudgeon over the judge’s ruling understand that mask-optional transit was the logical — the inevitable — next phase in the long-delayed return to normalcy but pretend otherwise lest they forfeit an identity now fused to the championship of pandemic strictures.

The cultural symbolism of penetrable face armor was expounded by Kevin Williamson in these digital pages a year ago. He writes prettier than I do, so best to deploy the block quote:

In our current plague years, we have rediscovered the religious veil in the COVID-19 mask.

The people who say “listen to science” already are finding reasons not to. It isn’t a genuinely scientific question now — this sort of thing almost never is. The reason for the kashrut prohibition on eating pork wasn’t, as is sometimes suggested, trichinosis, which wasn’t even discovered until the 19th century — a more likely explanation (though by no means an absolutely certain one) is that Jews weren’t supposed to eat pork because Egyptian Osiris-worshippers did so at religious festivals, as reported by Herodotus. Pork-eating wasn’t a medical matter — it was a matter of cultural allegiance, of us and them.

The mask happens to be considerably cheaper than a Prius, so one can understand its appeal in this context. Last week’s ruling was as if a Trump judge had recalled all the Priuses in all the world, citing the Administrative Procedure Act.

Cue end times.

Nate Hochman has dutifully gathered the social-media meltdowns in one place. There’s too much to unpack here, but the best might be Valerie Jarrett throwing up a masked selfie with the caption: “Wearing my mask no matter what non-scientists tell me I can do.”

Uh-huh. As Lewis Black once remarked of why adults shouldn’t bother to dress up on Halloween, “You are an adult, and you can dress up whenever you want to.” Wear one, don’t wear one; there’s nobody to defy here. Nothing is wrong with wanting to don an extra layer of protection. But the science remains so unsettled that the argument that the maskless window-seat passenger is endangering all aboard is hard to take. On a flight this week, coincidentally to the city where Judge Mizelle issued her ruling, an American Airlines crew patiently asked that we “be respectful to each passenger’s decision” on whether to wear one. There were no incidents, perhaps a glimmer of the sober view prevailing. The post above links to this chart at City Journal showing how the trajectory of case numbers in states with mask mandates and without was virtually identical throughout the pandemic.

As for the transportation mask mandate’s future, the widespread expectation is that it’s gone for now. The Biden administration is appealing the decision as a “matter of principle” but is not seeking a stay, which is revealing. This, as Anthony Fauci laments that a court was able to overrule a “public-health judgment” at all (which Kevin reasonably takes to mean he wants no legal constraints on the CDC). Returning post-ruling to the issue of the mask’s cultural significance, Kevin writes that a certain cohort still views any restriction rollback as an “unearned victory for their cultural and political enemies rather than a salubrious sign of progress in the fight against the virus.” Which is a shame.

My personal expectation is that scattered mask-wearing, at least on a seasonal basis, will be commonplace in parts of America for years to come, borrowing a norm from some Asian societies. Again, no judgment here (I still wear one sometimes, though often for reasons unrelated to health). But if the righteous-scold mentality toward the unmasked should also persist, we can adapt Barack Obama’s most famous diagnosis for the reason: that bitterness at changing times has left those individuals clinging to face coverings or anti-normalcy sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

Good luck, Musk: Godspeed to Elon Musk

There are better, more democratic ways to remove MTG from office than the challenge that’s come before a Georgia judge: Don’t Kick Marjorie Taylor Greene Off the Ballot

ARTICLES

Michael Brendan Dougherty: Student-Debt Amnesty Is a Grotesque Gift to the Rich

Madeleine Kearns: Florida Is Following Europe’s Lead on Gender-Dysphoria Guidelines

Charles C. W. Cooke: How Elon Musk Can Improve Twitter

Nate Hochman: Georgetown Law Scheduled to Host Anti-Semite Who Claims Israelis ‘Harvest Organs of the Martyred’

Jimmy Quinn: Ukraine Using U.N. to Lay Groundwork for ‘De-Putinization’

Kevin Williamson: Marjorie Taylor Greene Should Go

Caroline Downey: Feminist Philosopher Disinvited from Speaking at Harvard over Trans Views

Isaac Schorr: White House Restricted Access to Covid-Spending Binder That Psaki Used as Briefing Prop

Kyle Smith: Less Trolling, More Governing, Please

Kyle Smith: The Democrats Have a Principal Skinner Problem

Brittany Bernstein: Garland Says ‘There Will Not Be Interference’ in DOJ’s Hunter Biden Investigation

Dan McLaughlin: Against Common-Good Conservatism

Ryan Mills: Wahid Nawabi Fled the Soviets as a Boy. Now He’s Sending Drones to Ukraine to Beat Back the Russian Invasion

Deroy Murdock: Orrin G. Hatch, R.I.P.

CAPITAL MATTERS

Joseph Sullivan sees the energy market splitting in the aftermath of Russia’s Ukraine invasion: The Global Oil Market Is Over

Dominic Pino says China’s people will pay the most for their government’s wretched lockdowns: China Will Bear the Burden of Its Brutal Covid Lockdowns

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

Armond White examines an overlooked film by a master director: Liberation of L.B. Jones — An Evolutionary Lesson Returns

ICYMI, Brian Allen follows up with another fine review of a fine D.C. museum: The National Portrait Gallery: Ways to Make a Good Museum Better

FROM THE NEW, MAY 16, 2022, ISSUE OF NR

Mike Gallagher: Woke Warriors

Rich Lowry: The New Nuclear Gap

Nat Brown: Witness at 70

Matthew Continetti: How the Right Misunderstands Its History

Carine Hajjar: Our Inhumane Southern Border

NOW THAT’S A WHOLE LOTTA EXCERPTS

Michael Brendan Dougherty takes a flamethrower to the entire system of college financing, as Washington considers a mass debt wipeout:

The plan being mulled by the Biden administration to cancel and forgive up to $1.6 trillion of federal student-loan debt is a brazen act of class warfare by the affluent against everyone else. It is a politically, and cosmically, unjustifiable robbery that offers yet more rope for the decadent and totally indefensible American college system to become even more decadent and indefensible.

The overwhelming majority of student debt is held by the affluent; less than 10 percent of it is held by the bottom third of earners. Nearly 40 percent of it is held by students who earned advanced degrees — many of them now doctors and lawyers. Unemployment for the college-educated is less than 2 percent.

At every level, the American college system is deranged by the government guarantees and preferment extended to student debt. At the lowest end, schools take advantage of government-guaranteed student loans to prey on service-sector workers. They market a college education as a path of upward mobility, while knowing that most of their students never graduate, or simply return to the service industry after graduation. All that these colleges do is load five-figure-earning students with debt, which is transformed into six-figure salaries for third-rate professors and administrators.

In the great middle tier, the oceans of student debt have inspired colleges to become luxury resorts for the youth. They build endless recreational and athletic facilities, they install baroque food courts in an appalling race to offer something first-rate. These schools are increasingly trying to insert themselves as gatekeepers into fields such as turf management and catering, which never required college education before.

If you view the top-tier colleges from their balance sheets alone, they look like enormous tax-advantaged hedge funds with minuscule vestigial educational institutions named Yale or Harvard attached to them. The student-loan fix has allowed them to raise tuition above $50,000 a year annually. These exorbitant prices, driven by the ocean of loan money guaranteed by the government, help fund the expansion of the administrator class. There are more social managers and commissars than professors at many schools now.

Forgiving student loan debt would be an act of absolution pronounced over this corruption of higher education. Paired with no reform, it does nothing to reduce the profligacy, cost, and predatory nature of these institutions. It only encourages it, and implicitly promises amnesties in the future.

Ryan Mills relays the remarkable story of Wahid Nawabi:

When he was a young teenager, Wahid Nawabi would go to the roof of his family’s home in Kabul and watch the Soviet helicopters flying in the distance.

For most of his childhood, Afghanistan had been peaceful and increasingly prosperous. But that all changed after the nation’s democratic government was overthrown by Marxist military officers in 1978 in the Saur Revolution. In December 1979, the Soviet troops invaded, plunging the country into what has become 40 years of war, violence, and instability.

In 1982, Nawabi and his family fled. Nawabi, then only 14, led his three younger sisters on a harrowing 48-day journey to escape the war-torn country to reunite with their parents in India.

Because of that experience, Nawabi said he feels a personal connection with the more than 5 million refugees who have fled Ukraine in the wake of this latest Russian invasion. Now as an American and as the chief executive of AeroVironment, a leading provider of military-grade fighter drones, Nawabi said he has a moral obligation to aid the Ukrainian defense effort.

“We need to help the Ukrainians get their freedom back,” Nawabi told National Review. “I’ve gone through that experience. It’s heart-wrenching for me.”

Last month, the U.S. government sent 100 of AeroVironment’s Switchblade drones to the Ukrainians, part of a massive weapons package.

Madeleine Kearns finds the latest example of how conservative positions being lambasted by the Left in America (see: voter ID) are mainstream in Europe:

Last week, Florida’s surgeon general released a memo on the “treatment of gender dysphoria for children and adolescents.” The document seeks to “clarify” assertions made in a Department of Health and Human Services “fact-sheet” about trans-identifying youth. Whereas the HHS document claimed that “early affirming care is crucial to overall health and well-being,” Florida’s one-page summary warns of “low-quality evidence, small sample sizes, and medium to high risk of bias.”

Insofar as the guidelines caution against gender-transitioning drugs and surgeries for minors, Florida is following Europe’s lead. The Florida memo does go further in its explicit caution against social transitions, however.

In 2021, gender-dysphoria experts in the Netherlands — where youth gender transitions were first pioneered — said that “more research is really necessary, and very much needed.” Thomas Steensma of the Center of Expertise on Gender Dysphoria at Amsterdam UMC admitted that “little research has been done so far on treatment with puberty blockers and hormones in young people. That is why it is also seen as experimental.”

In February, Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare (NBHW) issued an update on its service guidelines for children and youth with gender dysphoria, citing “uncertain science” and “no definite conclusions about the effect and safety of the treatments” as reasons to conclude that “the risks outweigh the benefits at present.” The Florida memo is accurate, then, in aligning itself with Europe’s increasingly cautious approach: “These guidelines are also in line with the guidance, reviews and recommendations from Sweden, Finland, the United Kingdom, and France.”

Of course, this is not the impression you would get from progressive culture warriors.

Kyle Smith identifies the Simpsons quote that explains everything about Democrats’ policy choices lately:

It’s pretty obvious what President Biden could do to boost his approval ratings and improve his party’s rapidly dissolving prospects in the midterms. He could reverse course on some, or many, or all of the bad policy choices that people hate. He could, for instance, go down to the border and outline a harsh new set of policies for cracking down on illegal immigration. He could give a speech blasting away at woke DAs such as Chesa Boudin (San Francisco), George Gascón (Los Angeles), Alvin Bragg (Manhattan), and Larry Krasner (Philadelphia) for being soft on crime and making minority communities much less safe. He could go up to Montana to say he’s restarting the Keystone Pipeline and announce that he’s opening the spigot on American oil and gas development. He could waive the Jones Act to goose the supply chain. To relieve inflationary pressures, he could tell people who have student debt, “The party’s over, pal. Pay up.” He could talk up an austerity budget and/or try to jawbone the Fed into sharply raising interest rates. If he switched sides on even one issue in the culture war, even by giving a speech, it would impress moderates. How about going to Virginia to back parental rights in education and lambast teachers who foist woke sexual politics on third-graders? . . .

Instead of slapping down the woketivist far Left, Joe Biden is channeling Principal Skinner and asking himself: “Am I so out of touch? No, it’s the children who are wrong.” To Democrats, voters are children: The wayward ones need to be taught and corrected instead of heeded.

Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, Barack Obama, and the Democratic Party’s media arm (colloquially known as “the media”) are all ignoring the Democratic Party’s policy problem and whining that something called “disinformation” is making their wise policies unpopular. The voters are preparing to punish Democrats because they have supposedly taken to believing stuff that isn’t actually true, so the Democrats feel they must lash out at the unfairness of the information ecosystem rather than looking in the mirror.

Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover should lead to a greater commitment to free and open speech on the platform. Charles C. W. Cooke offers some ideas for how to ensure this outcome:

First, he should replace Twitter’s vague guidelines with a long list of more specific rules. I know, I know — that sounds paradoxical. Usually, I am of the view that the fewer the rules, the better the outcome for liberty. But, in this case, I suspect that the opposite is true. “Don’t Be Evil” might be a good policy for a society that agrees upon the nature of “evil,” but, in one that does not, it is next to useless. As a result, Musk ought to insist on a larger set of narrower limits — “You may not threaten to kill another user” — and to assiduously avoid any of the broader concepts that have been captured and corrupted by the DEI-types that are ruining the American workplace. . . .

Having set these narrow and concrete rules, Musk’s second step ought to be to fire pretty much everyone who has ever been involved in Twitter’s content moderation. Over the past few years, Twitter has provided Americans with a perfect example of the old adage that “personnel is policy,” and, clearly, Twitter’s existing personnel cannot be trusted. One could put together the greatest guidelines that have ever existed on the Internet, but if the people who are charged with interpreting and executing them are biased lunatics, they’ll make no difference whatsoever. Going forward, every employee at Twitter must be asked, bluntly, “Are you in favor of free speech, even when you hate that speech?” If the answer is “No,” they should be asked to leave. There is no reason whatsoever for a “platform for free speech around the globe” to employ people who oppose free speech around the globe.

Finally, Musk ought to dramatically increase transparency. At present, Twitter is an infuriating black hole for everyone except the famous and well-connected.

Shout-Outs

Brad Polumbo, at the Washington Examiner: A free-market oasis in the desert

David Auerbach, at UnHerd: How the elites lost the Twitter war

Devin Gordon, at the Atlantic: What Happened to Jon Stewart?

Philip Wegmann, at RealClearPolitics: Showdown Looms Over Vacated Mask Mandate

CODA                                                                 

Last weekend, I boasted about having found the “longest song,” but I should know better. There’s always a longer song. Sure enough, Kevin Antonio writes in with “The Devil Glitch,” by Chris Butler, which at 69 minutes once held the record for longest pop song.

Meanwhile, in belated honor of the mask-mandate reversal: “Breathe (In the Air).”

Politics & Policy

Get Ready for a Border-Crisis Summer

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Migrants run northbound through the Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area after crossing the Rio Grande river into the United States from Mexico in La Joya, Texas, February 22, 2022. All eight men were detained by border patrol agents and taken into custody. Picture taken with a drone. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

Democrats already are watching with dread the polling that shows voters in a state of high anxiety over inflation and economic concerns generally. But another issue that for now ranks rather low on the priorities list threatens to explode just in time for midterm sweeps.

Beware the border.

With the Biden administration set to lift the Trump-era measure known as Title 42 one month from now, officers on the front lines and bipartisan lawmakers alike are expecting a surge of historic proportions. That policy, ostensibly implemented to combat Covid-19, allowed the government to turn back many asylum-seekers, and even that has had limited impact on the flow of migration. We just learned Customs and Border Protection recorded over 221,000 migrant encounters along the U.S.–Mexico border in March, the highest total since President Biden took office. You can see the trend lines here, and it’s an alarming picture. The administration is averaging about 7,100 daily encounters and, according to one report, is bracing for up to 18,000 after May 23. While officials apparently are planning for this, Axios reports that Biden aides are now discussing a possible delay on the repeal to buy time.

NR’s Carine Hajjar just returned from a reporting trip to the border, and it was eye-opening.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen it . . . this administration doesn’t care,” one 25-year Border Patrol agent told her.

Local ranchers in Texas described a daily battle to keep up with damage from migrant traffic, saying it’s much worse than in the past. One ranch owner said he’s seen “more property damage than if I were to add 30 years together.” In a reminder that lax border security invites tragic consequences, he’s also finding the bodies of migrants regularly, more last year “than I’ve ever had.”

As for what happens after May 23, Carine relays the following:

Already, due to Biden’s open-door messaging, the border is encountering record numbers of asylum-seekers, overwhelming and derailing Border Patrol operations. . . .

When Title 42 is lifted, opening the door for even more asylum claims, the crisis will only get worse.

Indeed, everyone I spoke to at the border — from law-enforcement officers, to landowners, to private citizens — had one word to describe a post–Title 42 border: disaster.

One Border Patrol agent, who was loading up a group of asylum-seekers to be processed, laughed when I asked if the Biden administration had a plan to deal with the impending crisis: “Not that they’ve told us,” he said.

As Charles C. W. Cooke has noted, the sustained use of Title 42 on public-health grounds was tenuous given that the underlying pandemic emergency has become less of one. The administration used it as a crutch but without it has few options that won’t enrage the base.

Heading into a midterm-election cycle that already is bad for the incumbent party, DHS could be looking at a surge that eclipses prior border-related political catastrophes: the unaccompanied children under Obama, the family separations under Trump, the Haitian migrants under Biden just last year . . .

Legal justification aside, moderate Democrats can smell the crisis coming this summer and are calling on the administration to keep Title 42 in place until an adequate plan is developed to deal with the influx sure to follow. Mark Krikorian assumes the administration will indeed kick the can on Title 42 but wants to see a reckoning on immigration policy.

As Phil Klein notes, you know things are bad when a Democratic senator from New Hampshire feels compelled to shoot a video at the border.

In other news — prepare to encounter raunchy, uncensored face nudity on your next flight. Catch up on the rest of the week, right here.

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

One of the last barriers to normalcy is toppled, for now: The Friendly Skies Return

ARTICLES

In memoriam CNN+

Jimmy Quinn: Over 500,000 Ukrainians Deported to Russian ‘Filtration Camps,’ Zelensky Says

Brittany Bernstein: Betty Ford Foundation Breaks 73-Year Admission Record Because of Pandemic Alcoholism Surge

Michael Brendan Dougherty: Obama’s Crusade against Fake News

Neal Freeman: Divorce, Florida-Style

Ryan Mills: Former Administrator Sues School Board, Claims Colleagues Harassed Her after She Spoke Out against CRT

Kevin Williamson: Fairy Tales Won’t Fix the Economy

Kristina Rasmussen: Washington Is Pushing Woke Health Care

Jack Butler: It’s the Grassroots vs. the Establishment in Ohio’s Pro-Life Movement

Isaac Schorr: Meet Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, the Judge Who Overturned the Transportation Mask Mandate

Andrew McCarthy: What’s Wrong and What’s Right about Judge Mizelle’s Mask-Mandate Decision

Charles C. W. Cooke: Joe Biden Blew It on Masks

And for some point/counterpoint on Florida’s Disney brawl . . .

Charles C. W. Cooke: Ron DeSantis’s Misguided Attack on Disney’s Legal Status

Ryan Ellis: Florida Republicans Are Right to Push Back against Disney

Philip Klein: Ron DeSantis and the Fight Club Conservatives

Jason Lee Steorts: Farewell to Free Speech, Say Florida Republicans

Rich Lowry: Let Disney Be an Example

CAPITAL MATTERS

Daniel Pilla examines a wealth tax by another name: Biden Proposes a New Wealth Tax

Samuel Gregg warns about the tough but necessary slog ahead to tame inflation: Fighting Inflation Is Hard, Messy, and There Will Be Casualties

Kevin Hassett believes much more than Elon Musk’s clout is at stake in his Twitter takeover bid: Musk Can Stop the Drift to Socialism

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

Armond White follows up on last week’s praise for Father Stu: Is Father Stu a ‘Religious Film’ or an ‘American Film’?

Brian Allen spotlights a couple of the lesser-known D.C. museums, starting with its American art collection. Factoids abound, including one I somehow didn’t know — that the National Gallery is not actually part of the Smithsonian; this is: The Smithsonian’s Splendid American Art Museum, with a Few Quibbles

ICYMI, this one by Kyle Smith went kinda viral last weekend: The World’s Biggest Rock Band Is a Christian Rock Band

THESE EXCERPTS ARE BROUGHT TO YOU BY DARK MONEY (DON’T TELL ANYONE)

Joe Biden played his hand on the transportation mask mandate about as shrewdly as the Earl of Grantham played his family fortune. Charles C. W. Cooke recalls the political errors that preceded this week’s court ruling:

The policy was remarkably stupid, and that President Biden decided to renew it not once, but twice, after it had clearly run its course, was a testament to his near total lack of political guile. Back in November, I asked, “If, tomorrow, you told a plane full of Americans that they no longer needed to wear their masks, how many do you think would still have them on by the time you’d hung the intercom back on its hook? Twenty? Ten? Three?” Last night, we got an answer to this question. So thrilled by the judge’s decision were America’s beleaguered airlines that most of them chose to broadcast the news mid-flight, where it was met by a supermajority of passengers with the sort of glee that has usually been reserved for the end of a war. Had he been smart, Joe Biden could have owned that glee. Instead, it came in spite of him, courtesy of a Republican-appointed judge, from — of all places — Florida.

Why? What did Biden get for his recalcitrance? An extra two or three weeks of a policy that everyone has known for a while was absurd? For months, it has been obvious that there is a big gap between what people are willing to tell pollsters about their attitude toward Covid and what people will actually do when given a free choice. Normal people have been able to sense this. Joe Biden has not — even as his approval ratings have dropped inexorably into the mire. He didn’t notice it when the Senate voted 57 to 40 to end the transit mandate. He didn’t notice it when vulnerable Democrats in the House began to tell journalists that they were in favor of “whatever gets rid of mask mandates as quickly as possible.” He didn’t notice it when SNL — yes, even SNL — started making fun of progressive hysteria over masks. Now, it is too late.

The headwinds against this administration are real. Indeed, they have now grown so strong that the Democrats will probably end up regretting that they won the last presidential election. And yet, irrespective of the challenges that were thrown before him, one simply cannot imagine, say, Bill Clinton making Joe Biden’s mistakes.

Kristina Rasmussen flags an alarming development in the field of health care:

There’s a new front in the woke campaign to control our national institutions: health care. . . .

Every American needs to know what Washington is doing. It’s using taxpayer money and unaccountable regulation to embed “critical race theory” and “anti-racism” into every level of health care. The secretary of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra, recently made this clear when he declared that “health equity pervades everything” his department does. In making this declaration, he was following the lead of the president he serves. It sounds nice. But ensuring health equity requires taking a divisive and discriminatory approach to treating patients and providing care.

Which is exactly what’s happening. Since the start of this year, Washington has effectively bribed physicians to embrace discrimination on a day-to-day basis by offering higher Medicare-reimbursement rates to physicians who “create and implement an anti-racism plan.” That’s code for recasting everything that happens at the doctor’s office in light of race, including patients’ access to care and specific treatments. Ninety-three percent of primary-care physicians accept Medicare.

And with many medical providers still dealing with Covid-induced financial struggles, they’ll probably find it hard to turn down the extra money.

Russia is sending Ukrainians to camps, deporting them from their own country. Jimmy Quinn reports on Zelensky’s description of those conditions:

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russian troops have deported at least 500,000 Ukrainian citizens from Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine to Russia.

“This is deportation. This is what the worst totalitarian regimes of the past did,” he said, in an address to Portugal’s parliament today. He told the Portuguese lawmakers to consider that the half-million figure is twice the population of Porto.

Zelensky claimed that deported Ukrainians are “deprived of means of communication” and that the Russian authorities seized their identification documents.

“They are distributed to the remote regions of Russia. The occupiers set up special filtration camps to distribute people. Some of those who get there are simply killed. Girls are raped,” he added.

Who can resist political tea leaves? Not me. And Neal Freeman reads them like a tarot-card dealer in the Vieux Carré backstreets as he envisions various scenarios that might play out to determine the future of the Trump-DeSantis relationship, or lack thereof:

Can this marriage be saved? The consensus seems to be: no, and it is more likely to end with a bang than a whimper.

I count four scenarios advanced with more or less conviction by the obsessed.

1. Health Troubles. Trump is 75. He is under constant stress, much of it self-generated. He has been categorized by an attending physician as “obese.” He routinely orders fries with the cheeseburger. And he takes regular exercise by driving around his course in an electric golf cart. In a recent Washington Post interview, Trump himself admitted that his health could be a factor in keeping from running. “You look like you’re in good health, but tomorrow, you get a letter from a doctor saying come see me again. That’s not good when they use the word again,” Trump said.

Probability: 15–20 percent.

2. Trump graciously steps aside. With DeSantis surging toward reelection in November, and his own crowds thinning, Trump makes the decent and apposite gesture and withdraws in favor of his promising young protégé.

Probability: 1–5 percent. Trump rarely does gracious.

3. DeSantis defers gratefully to his mentor. Acknowledging his enormous debt to the older man, DeSantis announces that, should Trump run himself, DeSantis will not run and, further, pledges that his formidable organization will deliver Florida for Trump in 2024.

Probability: 1–5 percent. DeSantis rarely does grateful.

4. Trump and DeSantis are involved in a high-speed collision on I-95. Failing to reach amicable settlement, Trump and DeSantis resolve their issues James Dean–style, with a game of highway chicken.

Probability: 70–80 percent.

Shout-Outs

Gordon Chang, at the Hill: In Shanghai, COVID-19 has become China’s political disease

Kevin Daley, at the Washington Free Beacon: Why Is the Supreme Court Still Closed to the Public?

Susan Crabtree, at RealClearPolitics: White House Mum on Details of Garcetti ‘Vetting’

Khaled Abu Toameh, at the Jerusalem Post: The new defenders of al-Aqsa

CODA

I’ve done it, I’ve found the longest song — by prog rocker turned born-again Christian rocker Neal Morse. Check out “World Without End,” at a cool 33 minutes and change. This marks two Codas this month to feature the work of drummer Mike Portnoy. If you like, you can pull this postscript back to less proggy territory by sending your song recommendations to jberger@nationalreview.com, for sharing with this list.

Have a fine weekend, and thanks for reading.

World

Passover’s Story of Escalation Dominance

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Seventh Plague of Egypt, 1823, by John Martin. (Public Domain/Wikimedia)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

Moses was 80 years old when he and his brother Aaron, a few years older still, sought an audience with Pharaoh so they could perform God’s work and free the Israelites from bondage. Never assume you’ve already peaked.

What followed was the first known maximum-pressure sanctions campaign in the Middle East.

The effort started small, with Aaron’s serpent-rod eating the Egyptians’ serpent-rods, but it quickly escalated. Blood in the Nile, frogs on the land, lice, locusts, darkness, hail, and all that. Pharaoh was given off-ramps but had a tendency to double back once he was on them; plus the Israelites’ demand for total victory (they wanted to bring their livestock and their kids with them) proved a hindrance to compromise. Eventually, Team Moses took the notion of collective punishment to extremes, and prevailed.

One could be forgiven for doubting that the West’s isolation campaign against Russia will be quite as effective toward the goal of saving the Ukrainians. Jim Geraghty notes how Russia is poised to make even more money than last year on energy exports, despite sanctions. If ever there were a need for righteous judgment from the heavens, this would be it.

In considering the West’s options, concerns about the danger from escalation certainly are warranted, as the death toll from a nuclear-tipped World War III would be unfathomable. But let’s still remember who, exactly, is doing the escalating in Ukraine — it’s not Warsaw, and it’s not Washington.

In the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, the mass graves and torture-scarred corpses Russian forces left behind are being well documented. NR’s editorial on the horror includes this description from a witness who spoke with the Times of London: “They had been torturing people. Some of them had their ears cut off. Others had teeth pulled out. There were kids like 14, 16 years old, some adults.”

A week ago, a Russian missile strike killed at least 50 civilians, some of them kids, at a train station packed with people trying to escape eastern Ukraine.

In Mariupol, the besieged city’s mayor recently told the AP that more than 10,000 civilians have died so far, and that Russia’s forces brought in “mobile crematoriums” to manage the corpses.

Even as Russia pulls back from Kyiv, Putin’s army is preparing a new offensive in Ukraine’s East (which includes Mariupol), led by a general notorious for directing his country’s bloody campaign in Syria. Jay Nordlinger applies the phrase “face the slaughter” to the stories emerging from the war zone; he collects an array of evidence here making the reality clear, so we can.

Unlike the ancient Israelites, the Ukrainians would rather not leave. They’re also better fighters. Can there be a Passover lesson here? One might be that, to face down an autocrat, it helps to have an indomitable force in your corner. Another, that escalation can be catastrophic, even if it achieves desired ends. Another still — that the one turning the screws is the one who can dictate that severity.

For now, that person, unfortunately, continues to be Vladimir Putin.

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

Nobody is fooled by “Putin’s Price Hike,” right? Biden’s Inflation Problem Is Deeper Than Putin

China’s latest disastrous attempt to control Covid-19 makes the definitive case against lockdowns: The Shanghai Lockdown

ARTICLES

Jimmy Quinn: Christian Detainee Who Escaped Xinjiang Camp Recalls Mysterious Injections: ‘Everything Was Painful’

Ryan Mills: U.S. Embassy Staff Destroyed Passports as Taliban Took Over, Trapping American Allies in Afghanistan

Jay Nordlinger: Reality in Ukraine: Staring It in the Face

Jim Geraghty: Barack Obama Rewrites History on Russia and Ukraine

Yuval Levin: From Trump Party to Trump Faction?

John Fund: Lockdown States Pursued a Failed Policy, Study Finds

Michael Van Beek: What Not to Do in the Next Pandemic

Rich Lowry: The Russian Way of Brutality

Dan McLaughlin: A Serious Look at Justice Thomas’s Unserious Critics on Recusals

Kevin Williamson: Biden Goes to War with . . . Charlie?

Charles C. W. Cooke: The CNN+ Catastrophe

Carine Hajjar: What Asylum-Seeking Migrants Say about Their Trek North

Caroline Downey: Ted Cruz Defends State Bans on Teaching CRT, Gender Ideology: ‘Curriculum Is Not Censorship’

CAPITAL MATTERS

Grover Norquist pops into Cap Matters with an endorsement of Republicans’ answer to the union-boosting PRO Act: The Employee Rights Act Puts American Workers, Not Union Bosses, in the Driver’s Seat

And here’s Dom Pino, with a ruh-roh: Wait, a Freight Recession?

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

Kyle Smith reviews — quite favorably — a film on faith and one man’s conversion, in time for Easter weekend: A Stunning Cinematic Tribute to Catholic Faith

A new show about education-system decay takes a cynical and disappointing tone. From Armond White: Abbott Elementary’s Crisis Comedy

Brian Allen has high hopes — and some words of advice regarding priorities — for the newly named president at the Getty: The Getty Trust, the World’s Richest Arts Organization, Gets a New Leader 

FROM THE NEW, MAY 2, 2022, ISSUE OF NR

Charles C. W. Cooke: The Parents’ Revolt

John McCormack: Six Congressional Races to Watch

Allen C. Guelzo: Ulysses S. Grant, Forgotten Republican

Ben Sasse: Reminding the Right

OUR EXCERPTS ARE UNLEAVENED

China’s Xinjiang prison-camp system is sick, twisted, grotesque . . . and it’s going to take the testimony and evidence of those who endured it for the world to wake up to this evil. Jimmy Quinn has interviewed one such family, who arrived in the U.S. prepared to speak out just last week:

A former Xinjiang prison-camp detainee who escaped to America just days ago described his harrowing imprisonment in an extensive interview with National Review, including details of forced injections that he and others were given of an unknown substance that caused painful and debilitating reactions — as well as obedience.

The survivor, Ovalbek Turdakun, spoke with NR through a translator during a sit-down at a Washington hotel late Tuesday evening, following a busy day in the nation’s capital. These are among the most extended comments he’s made on the ten months he spent in the Xinjiang prison camp in 2018, since he arrived in Washington on Friday with his wife and their eleven-year-old son. Their escape followed a years-long ordeal that took them from Xinjiang, China, to Kyrgyzstan, and at last to the United States.

Turdakun is understood to be the first Christian detainee of the Xinjiang camp system to reach the U.S. and to speak publicly about the experience. He is expected to testify before Congress about his time in the prison, and his recounting of Chinese officials’ continued harassment after his family’s escape to Kyrgyzstan will likely bolster an ongoing effort to bring Beijing’s atrocities in Xinjiang to the International Criminal Court. The family’s arrival is also noteworthy because it may be the first time that an entire family was able to leave Xinjiang for the U.S. together, Ethan Gutmann, a scholar who researches China’s atrocities in the region, told NR.

Specifically, Turdakun’s testimony is expected to reveal new aspects of China’s mass atrocities against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. Turdukan said he and other detainees had been beaten with batons and tortured in what’s called a “tiger chair” — and shocked with an electric wand for falling asleep during that torture — on multiple occasions. He also detailed, at length, the practice of injecting prisoners with an unknown substance which, in his case, rendered him unable to walk for a period of time. . . .

The camp was located in Turdakun’s home prefecture of Kizilsu, which borders Kyrgyzstan. He said the Chinese authorities took him there after a monthlong period during which they either knocked on their door or called their home every evening because his wife, Zhyldyz, is a Kyrgyz citizen, and their family regularly made trips to Kyrgyzstan.

Turdakun and his son hold Chinese passports, but they are all ethnically Kyrgyz Christians. While most international attention has focused on the plight of Xinjiang’s ethnic Uyghurs, many of whom are Muslims, a number of other minority groups, including Kyrgyz, Kazakhs, and others, have been targeted by the Chinese government’s campaign, suspected to be clearing the region for ethnic Han Chinese settlers.

In case there was any doubt left about the cruelty and counterproductivity of lockdowns, witness Shanghai. From NR’s editorial:

What we are witnessing in Shanghai is the final, total failure of lockdowns as a pandemic-control measure. The daytime images of Shanghai streets, emptied of all human life, are a vision of life on earth after a civilization-destroying cataclysm. The nighttime videos, featuring thousands or tens of thousands of people bellowing out from their apartment windows and balconies, crying in desperation for human contact, announcing their fear of running out of food, or simply crying in futile desperation at their inability to attend to their dependent relatives, constitute a horror movie. In some videos, state-controlled drones admonish the people not to sing, or let a cry for freedom dwell in their hearts. . . .

China failed to sufficiently vaccinate even its elderly population ahead of the Omicron spread. And so it has resorted again to a medieval approach to disease management, but backed by an omnipresent security apparatus that functions like the Eye of Sauron.

Let this travesty be the final blow to China’s reputation of having an effective governmental response to Covid. China prevaricated with international health organizations to save its reputation early on, downplaying the severity and nature of the disease, arresting the reporters revealing it to the world, and slowing the global response to it. China has lied ever since about the death toll of the disease, falsely bolstering the reputation of Covid-Zero. China failed to provide basic cooperation with global authorities to a degree that even the World Health Organization’s leader, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, refused to rule out the Wuhan lab as the source of the pandemic. And China’s lies have now led to the prolonged house arrest of millions in its territory.

If there were any doubt, this latest episode should send an unmistakable message: The Chinese model is a failure.

On a related note, over at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Michael Van Beek recalls just how insane Michigan’s lockdown policies were, in offering up some advice for how to respond more sensibly to the next public-health crisis:

No governor better illustrates this crazy period than Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer. Even after she’d closed a larger portion of businesses than any other governor, Whitmer kept the executive orders coming. At times, she was averaging a new edict every day, issuing so many confusing, complex rules that her administration had to create an online FAQ page in an attempt to answer more than 1,000 different questions.

On April 9, 2020, when Whitmer extended her stay-at-home order, she attempted to close certain sections of big-box stores such as Meijer, Kroger, and Walmart, prohibiting them from advertising or selling flooring materials, furniture, paint, and plants before she’d even required masks to be worn within their walls. She also, for some reason, outlawed motorized boating while allowing the non-motorized variety to continue.

Whitmer’s most perplexing policies, though, related to golf. At the time of her initial lockdown order, the aforementioned FAQ page said golfing was illegal. Her attorney general subsequently clarified that it was nevertheless still legal to go for a walk on a golf course. A couple of weeks later, the Michigan Golf Association sent the governor’s office a letter pointing out that most states still allowed golfing, and she reversed course to permit it again — but not with golf carts. It took another letter from golfing interests pointing out how important carts are to golfers for that ban to be reversed.

We would do well to heed the lessons of the slapdash, authoritarian approach Whitmer and other governors took to managing Covid-19. They ignored the existing plans experts created for responding to pandemics and relied on their emergency powers to issue unilateral decrees. Although they talked a lot about “following the science,” they were essentially flying by the seats of their pants. Little deliberation took place; at best, a small group of state officials tried to regulate the behavior of millions of people. And those millions of people suffered as a result.

Ryan Mills provides more infuriating details about the consequences of America’s botched Afghanistan withdrawal:

For months, Rabah has been in hiding, moving from place to place in Afghanistan, trying to stay one step ahead of the Taliban warriors he believes are out to kill him.

The 30-year-old former interpreter for U.S. special forces hasn’t seen his wife and four kids in weeks. He has little food. He has repeatedly tried to escape to Pakistan and Iran, to no avail.

The problem, according to Rabah, is his lack of a passport, which was destroyed by U.S. Embassy staff as they evacuated Kabul last summer.

“There is no option for me,” said Rabah, who spoke to National Review on the condition that his real name not be published. “They destroyed my passport means they destroyed my whole life. If I had a passport, everything was possible. Without a passport . . . I can do nothing.”

Last summer, as the Taliban was overtaking Kabul, U.S. Embassy staffers destroyed the Afghan passports and sensitive documents in their possession to help protect the identities of American allies who remained in the country. Eight months later, it’s not clear exactly how many passports were destroyed. In an email to National Review, the U.S. Department of State declined to provide a number. Shawn Van Diver, founder of the #AfghanEvac coalition, said fewer than 200 people filled out a form on his organization’s website to report that their passports were destroyed. But several other leaders of civilian rescue organizations said the number of people whose documents were destroyed is surely more than that.

“There are absolutely thousands. There’s no doubt about that,” said Ben Owen, chief executive of Flanders Fields, a civilian group that has been part of the rescue efforts in Afghanistan.

Owen cited correspondence among various rescue organizations, as well as conversations with people who he said were on the ground at the time of the embassy evacuation for his estimate. And if the embassy really had only a few hundred passports, staffers could have easily boxed them up and flown out with them, rather than destroy them, he said, “so clearly it was a huge volume of documents they had to dispose of very quickly.”

People like Rabah, who were at the last step of getting the go-ahead to come to the U.S., now are among the likely tens of thousands of American allies and their family members who remain trapped in Afghanistan after the Biden administration’s bungled withdrawal.

Shout-Outs

Eric Boehm, at Reason: COVID Stimulus Checks Worsened Inflation

Bill McMorris, at RealClearInvestigations: Teachers’ Unions Other Foes: Liberal Parents

Lee Smith, at Tablet: Was the Infiltration of the Secret Service Part of an Iranian Plot to Kill John Bolton?

Sarah Westwood, at the Washington Examiner: Stubborn Seattle shows what can happen when leaders defund the police

CODA

Last week, this note put out the call for unexpected covers. Readers responded with rare gems.

Kevin in St. Petersburg, Fla., sends in selections from a band, Steve ’n’ Seagulls, whose bio reads like it was developed in a lab to appeal to me: a bluegrass group from Finland that does covers of metal and hard-rock songs. It pays to be cautious — was I being catfished? But no, their version of “Thunderstruck” has 140 million views on YouTube, so color me late to the party. The video deserves its virality. The Gulls’ repertoire is impressive, their covers . . . unexpected, to say the least. Many are reinventions. Here’s their take on Iron Maiden.

One more: Steve Shannon shoots over a commonly covered Gershwin song I had forgotten about when marveling at another in last week’s note: “Summertime.” This version by The Zombies is one I hadn’t before heard. Gorgeous, in a word.

Have a restful weekend, whether you’re observing a resurrection, an exodus, or just Cecil B. DeMille’s masterpiece in full technicolor.

White House

The Hunter Biden Story Goes Mainstream

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Then—Democratic 2020 presidential nominee Joe Biden and his son Hunter celebrate onstage at his election rally in Wilmington, Del., November 7, 2020. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

By now, it is abundantly clear that American news outlets — and the social-media giants that determine their reach — not only missed but actively suppressed one of the biggest stories of the 2020 election.

Recall, for a moment, how the New York Post was treated after breaking the news on the trove of data recovered from a laptop left with a Delaware repair shop, showing details of Hunter Biden’s financial dealings in Ukraine and with Chinese energy company CEFC. Andrew McCarthy, in NR’s latest issue, gives the recap of that episode:

Twitter locked the account of the Post — the nation’s oldest con­tinuously published newspaper and its fourth largest by circulation — as well as accounts of Trump advocates who attempted to circulate reports on Hunter’s laptop. Other social-media platforms followed suit. Journalists speculatively questioned the provenance of the laptop data . . .

Former intel officials simultaneously pushed the claim that this might all be the work of Russian disinformation artists. That was enough to kill it. End of story.

Until now. The New York Times has authenticated key files from Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop. So has the Washington Post, while noting that this level of confidence extends to thousands of emails but not other chunks of data in its possession purportedly from Hunter’s laptop. (The Washington Post’s verification efforts in 2020 apparently were stymied in part by Trump allies’ refusal to cooperate.) The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, says a federal tax probe into Hunter is “gaining momentum,” and prosecutors are looking at his sources of foreign income. The Times says the tax inquiry has widened to include possible violations of “foreign lobbying and money laundering rules.”

So the story was a story after all. We’re getting lab-leak déjà vu over here. Andy says the president’s son is likely looking at indictment, one way or another, even if his back taxes are paid up now.

The latest reports are careful to note that evidence does not at this stage demonstrate wrongdoing or knowledge by the president concerning various transactions by his son. White House chief of staff Ron Klain has defended Hunter while also stressing that his dealings “don’t involve the president.”

But the focus is turning to President Biden, and it’s not hard to understand why.

This week, we learned that a grand-jury witness reportedly has been asked to ID the individual referred to as the “big guy” in an infamous email discussing equity distributions for those involved in a deal with CEFC China Energy Co. The email seemingly discussed the possibility of a 10 percent cut for said “big guy,” and one former partner has alleged that this referred to Joe Biden. Andy flags another emerging detail here, concerning a college recommendation letter, that raises suspicion about the elder Biden’s level of awareness of his son’s business pursuits.

As for what made this case newsworthy in the first place, the Washington Post’s multi-article treatment of Hunter’s name-trading reprises the cringey details: Nearly $5 million paid by the “Chinese energy conglomerate and its executives” to “entities controlled by” Hunter and his uncle. An agreement to represent a CEFC official later convicted in the U.S. in a bribery scheme. A getting-to-know-you diamond gift. Rich Lowry calls the particulars “jaw dropping”:

The company sought to extend Chinese influence as part of Beijing’s “Belt and Road” initiative. The founder of CEFC, Ye Jianming, roped in Hunter Biden, infamously giving him a 2.8-carat diamond after their first meeting. Everyone knew the score.

Everyone — except Joe Biden? Rich says Republicans should make this a focus of investigation if they take the House in the midterms. So challenged, the Biden White House is sure to keep calling this a private matter. By now, however, there should be no argument that this is a legitimate story, worthy of investigation and media attention, and always was.

Some holdouts remain. The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum asserted this week that the laptop reporting was “irrelevant” from the start. (So “why was it censored?” David Harsanyi counters.) Elsewhere in the media, however, there appears to be some tacit recognition that, in language familiar to husbands who’ve ever forgotten to secure the lid on the blender, mistakes were made. One WaPo editorial explaining the paper’s handling of the story acknowledges that a lesson from 2020 may be that, just as the need to treat salacious campaign-season allegations with caution was underscored in 2016, “there’s also a danger of suppressing accurate and relevant stories.”

Talk about timing: Elon Musk might soon be able to help Twitter, for one, see the light on that count.

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

Russia’s atrocities in Bucha only underscore the need to step up assistance, quickly, to Ukraine: The Horror of Bucha

Elon Musk has put his money where his tweets are on free speech: Musk’s Move on Twitter

ARTICLES

Jay Nordlinger: Ukraine and the Meaning of This War

Steven Camarota: The Illegal-Immigrant Population Increased Dramatically in Biden’s First Year

Aron Ravin: The Short-Sighted, Ignoble Lie of DEI

Caroline Downey: Schools Push Radical Ideology under Guise of ‘Social-Emotional Learning,’ Parents Warn

Isaac Schorr: Republicans Threaten to Let Disney’s Mickey Mouse Copyright Lapse over ‘Radical Political Activism’

Alexandra DeSanctis: House Republicans Unveil Post-Roe Messaging Strategy

David Harsanyi: The Most Radical Abortion Law in the Nation

David Harsanyi: The ‘Groomer’ Accusation Is Counterproductive

Nate Hochman: A Conservative Radio Station Bows to the Left-Wing Mob

Ryan Mills: A Mom’s Fight to Save Her Daughter from Trans Orthodoxy at School

John Fund: Let’s Learn from Orbán’s Landslide Instead of Denouncing It

Brittany Bernstein: Chicago Church ‘Fasting from Whiteness’ for Lent

Ben Domenech: Only Well-Armed Ukrainian Resistance against Russia Will Achieve Peace in Ukraine

Zachary Evans: ‘Control Your Soul’s Desire for Freedom’: Shocking Videos Emerge as Brutal Shanghai Covid Lockdown Drags On

Kevin Williamson: Is the Party Over?

Dan McLaughlin: The GOP Remains the Only Party for Conservatives

CAPITAL MATTERS

Paul Gessing has a timely question in this period of oil-and-gas uncertainty: Where’s Deb Haaland?

Andrew Stuttaford examines the case of a potential shareholder for free speech: Elon Musk’s Twitzkrieg?

Got questions on inflation? David L. Bahnsen’s got answers: A Comprehensive Primer on the Fed and Inflation

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

Kyle Smith has a two-parter on European deficiencies, using our own David Harsanyi’s latest book as a jumping-off point: Let’s Measure Western Europe against the U.S. & The Toxic Aspects of European Culture

Brian Allen serves up seconds on the Winter Show in New York, and it’s not too late to swing by if you’re in the neighborhood and looking to pick up a piece for the mantel. Brian even provides price tags: A Second Look Rewards, at the Winter Show

A film about a mass shooting in Australia pierces through the usual crime-story conventions. From Armond White: Nitram Is a Mass-Empathy Masterpiece

LOOK WHAT WE SMUGGLED OUT FROM BEHIND THE PAYWALL

David Bahnsen has a deep dive on inflation, its causes, and its cures. He concludes:

The challenges we face in our economy are made worse by current inflation. We are hearing pleas for the Fed to do something and for the government to do something. We would do well to remember that the same calls will come when a recession surfaces (which it inevitably will). Once we accept that monetary and fiscal policy caused this inflation, it will not be a big stretch to argue that monetary and fiscal policies ought to be the cure for contractionary times as well. We have been in this negative feedback loop for decades, and the result has been a continual boom–bust cycle that is the envy of no one. The Fed’s role as smoother of the business cycle is doing more harm than good. The Keynesian notion that excessive government spending can cure our cyclical problems has run its course. We have an economy in need of a detox.

I see two major economic agendas in front of conservatives: (1) ridding ourselves of the excessive fiscal and monetary interventions that have done so much harm to the economy, and (2) solving for the stagnant economic growth that is exacerbating social divides in our country and suppressing opportunities for today’s middle class, not to mention the generation ahead.

Inflation has been an undesirable and unwelcome entry to this conversation over the last year. Its damage is disproportionately felt by lower-income Americans. It punishes savers. It erodes purchasing power whether it happens quickly or slowly, over time.

Let us not allow the present inflation discussion to blind us to the two agenda items above. What we say now will be used against the cause of real reform in a different economic context. We have structural challenges that must be addressed. I fear too many on the right are so focused on finding the 1970s in present conditions that they may miss out on the chance to really move the needle on the 2020s. If the first couple of years of this decade are any indication, our ideas are going to be needed.

Caroline Downey reports on misplaced priorities in the American education system:

During the pandemic, Tracie Spiegel’s son and most of his Howard County, Md., classmates received virtually no mathematics instruction for five months.

What little ineffective virtual instruction he did receive didn’t prevent his grade from plummeting from an A to a C. So when he returned to the classroom as a high-school freshman, he became incredibly frustrated that he and his peers were asked to spend 40 minutes every Monday on so-called social-emotional learning (SEL).

Instead of spending as much time as possible making up the ground they had lost in math and other subjects, they were taught how to avoid committing microaggressions, how to use pronouns, and how to avoid offending gay people, according to Spiegel’s son.

Since conservatives at all levels of government embraced the fight against critical race theory, dissenting parents nationwide know how to recognize and counter racially divisive curricula. But a broader suite of radical ideas, couched in therapeutic language, is quietly being advanced under the banner of SEL, parents whose children have been exposed to such programming told National Review.

In a recent Washington Post article, SEL advocates argued that the conservative outcry is an unwarranted attack on crucial mental-health programming for kids.

A review of SEL materials obtained by the nonprofit Parents Defending Education (PDE) confirms parents’ concerns that mental-health language is being co-opted to advance radical ideas about race, gender, and sexuality. But even if some of the SEL material is innocuous, parents told NR they’d still be concerned because time spent on SEL is time not spent helping kids recover from the learning loss they suffered during two years of school closures.

As Spiegel put it: “Where is the algebra? Where is the biology? Where is the English?” . . . “My daughter’s asking me if she’s a racist and my son’s confused about why he has to take these,” Spiegel said.

The reports out of Bucha reflect nothing less than acts of human depravity, on a vast scale. From the editorial:

The Russian retreat from the Kyiv suburbs left behind mass graves and corpses strewn everywhere for the world to see. The most horrific of these scenes was discovered in the Kyiv oblast suburb of Bucha last week after Ukrainian troops reclaimed the city.

Early reports piece together a sickening mosaic of gratuitous violence inflicted on the city’s residents for weeks.

The Times of London, in a report with the headline “Bodies of mutilated children among horrors the Russians left behind,” interviewed a Ukrainian self-defense-force member who found 18 corpses in the basement of a dacha: “They had been torturing people. Some of them had their ears cut off. Others had teeth pulled out. There were kids like 14, 16 years old, some adults.”

A local coroner, the New York Times reported, had to get a backhoe operator to dig a mass grave in the backyard of a church to accommodate the bodies sent his way.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has said that over 300 people had been tortured and killed in Bucha. (Russian mouthpieces claim the bodies seen on the street were planted there for propaganda purposes, but satellite imagery obtained by the New York Times showed the corpses were there during the Russian occupation.) That town has garnered international media attention, but it’s only one city that Russian forces controlled in the area until the recent pullback. Ukraine’s prosecutor general said the atrocities in another Kyiv-region town, Borodyanka, are even worse. That’s to say nothing of territory still under Russian control in other parts of the country — in Mariupol, Russian troops are reported to have brought in portable crematoria to cover their tracks.

We should want more solid confirmation of all this, given the fog of war and the incentive Ukrainians naturally feel to generate as much international outrage in their behalf as possible. But even if only a fraction of it is true, it’d be horrifying enough, and certainly none of it is out of character for Putin’s Russia. 

Make of this what you will, but Brittany Bernstein relays the story of a church finding a peculiar way to observe Lent:

A church in the suburbs of Chicago says it is “fasting from whiteness” during Lent, the 40-day period leading up to Easter.

“For Lent this year, First United is doing a mix of ‘giving something up’ and ‘taking something on,’” the First United Church of Oak Park wrote on its website. “In our worship services throughout Lent, we will not be using any music or liturgy written or composed by white people. Our music will be drawn from the African American spirituals tradition, from South African freedom songs, from Native American traditions, and many, many more.”

Shout-Outs

Brooke Singman & Peter Hasson, at Fox News: Biden wrote college recommendation letter for son of Hunter’s Chinese business partner, emails reveal

Chuck Ross, at the Washington Free Beacon: Dems Tap Hunter Biden Laptop Conspiracy Theorist To Serve on Afghanistan War Commission

Suzy Weiss, at Common Sense: The Teen Girls Aren’t Going to Forget

Jessica Contrera, at the Washington Post: The remarkable brain of a carpet cleaner who speaks 24 languages

CODA

Some of the best covers are those tackled by musicians operating in the wilds of entirely different genres. The tributes that make you say, “Wait a minute, who’s doing that song?” That was the reaction I had the first time I heard Johnny Cash’s “Hurt,” before being floored by it.

I stumbled across one of this type recently, and, while it doesn’t possess that level of emotional resonance, it certainly made me say, “Wait a minute, who?” It’s not every day you hear a Gershwin “cover” outside of the orchestra hall, besides. Prog supergroup Liquid Tension Experiment has the requisite chutzpah to try it; their version of “Rhapsody in Blue” achieves lift-off around the 9:30 mark, if you can wait. Great fun.

Run into any unexpected covers lately? Shoot over a song link for sharing with this list to jberger@nationalreview.com. Thanks for reading, listening, or doing whatever it is you’ve been doing while this email was open.

U.S.

Armed Police Escorts and Gut Punches Are, in Fact, Signs of a Free-Speech Problem

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A protester is arrested by Alameda County sheriff during a demonstration at U.C. Berkeley during a speaking appearance from Ben Shapiro in Berkeley, Calif., September 14, 2017. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

Jay Nordlinger has aptly noted with regard to media-consumption habits, “We live on different planets.” Sad, and true. So for any kind of consensus to build, a cause requires a presence in the publications and feeds of Planet Blue, Planet Red, and their various subdivisions.

It’s no coincidence that Democrat-led states began rolling back mask mandates once allied outlets and pundits (even SNL) questioned their efficacy. Candace Owens could, if she wanted, reverse vaccine hesitancy with a tweet. The Hunter Biden laptop story might get a second life now that the Washington Post and the New York Times have acknowledged its legitimacy. And a carefully worded entrance by the latter into the free-speech fight is significant for these reasons: Despite the Twitter meltdown over the recent Times editorial declaring, “America Has a Free Speech Problem,” it could open up a broader and dare we say more constructive debate on cancel culture and the suppression of speech on (and off) campus.

Here’s hoping.

As it happens, National Review has been reporting on this issue for years, and especially so lately, inviting those with first-hand experience to weigh in. Indeed, the free-speech problem is real.

Writing this week for NR on a pattern of illiberalism at the University of Virginia, student Ian Schwartz discussed how the campus newspaper is fighting a planned — and supposedly “dangerous” and life-threatening — appearance by Mike Pence.

Kristen Waggoner, with Alliance Defending Freedom, recalled her experience being shouted down at Yale Law School during a — checks notes — free-speech event. In her words:

Rather than listen and engage in civil dialogue, the vitriolic mob shouted down their professor who was moderating, and then me. After they were asked to leave, they chanted, pounded on classroom walls, and reportedly disrupted nearby classes, exams, and meetings. Even members of the Federalist Society, the student group that organized the event, were harassed and physically threatened by their fellow law students. . . .

The situation was so volatile that we required an armed police escort to leave campus in a patrol car.

The point in bringing attention to such incidents is not to demand that protesters hush. But physical intimidation goes beyond legitimate protest and is hardly conducive to genuine debate on campuses designed for such things. Speech is not violence. Silence is not violence. Violence is violence. Ask Chris Rock.

Alexandra DeSanctis offers some thoughts here on the importance of open debate, especially on campus. Jay applies the term “fear society” to current conditions. And Dan McLaughlin writes about the specific challenge for the legal profession, given how often these incidents happen at law schools:

Systems of law are designed to resolve disputes by speech and evidence precisely so that disputes will not instead be resolved by resort to violence. Mobs are the antithesis of that: They bring the force of the crowd to bear to drown out reason. Left to run wild, they will destroy not just speech but law itself.

Nate Hochman has reported on how constitutional law scholar Ilya Shapiro continues to be hounded over a poorly worded tweet for which he has apologized. At the University of California, Hastings College of Law, he endured 45 minutes of screaming, pounding, and profanity-hurling by students who tried to block him from the lectern. Caroline Downey reported on an even more chaotic scene at the University of North Texas (UNT), where Jeffrey Younger, a Texas House candidate who lost a child-custody battle after contesting his young son’s transgender diagnosis, saw his lecture hijacked by activists:

As the situation at UNT deteriorated, police evacuated Younger, as well as the student event organizer Kelly Neidert, from the building. They exited outside to confront a swarm of about 500 black-clad activists screeching expletives like “F*** you, Kelly!” One individual punched Younger in the gut, he said and Neidert confirmed. When police escorted Younger to a car and drove him away, the activists chased the car down the street, trying to open the door and “pull me out of the car,” he said. . . .

Police officers hurried Neidert to a nearby building, where they hid in a locked janitor’s closet as protesters ran through the hallways, “shrieking like animals,” she noted.

Think that’s an overstatement? Watch the video. (The picture you see above, by the way, is from a 2017 Ben Shapiro appearance at Berkeley, where protests were largely peaceful — thanks to a $600,000 security effort, undertaken to avert the violence that plagued prior events.)

In this debate, the disconnect between word and deed is substantial. Waggoner noted that most universities voice support for free speech, without putting “support into practice.” Which brings us back to that Times editorial, and a line that contains a great deal of truth: “You can’t consider yourself a supporter of free speech and be policing and punishing speech more than protecting it.”

What to do? Stanley Kurtz argues that the Yale shout-down provides an opening to set an example. The Law School’s own rules allow any student or faculty member to file a complaint and trigger an investigation. “A few courageous Yale Law students now have an opportunity to change the national conversation on free speech,” he writes.

Here’s hoping.

*    *    *

One last thing (there’s always one last thing). We’re about to close out our latest webathon, focused on supporting the great work of NR’s Maddy Kearns on the transgender debate. You heard about it from me earlier, but here’s that donation link one last time, in case you’re feeling philanthropic this weekend. Choice picks from the week’s coverage follow presently.

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

Unpacking the problems with the “billionaire” tax: Biden’s Latest Tax Folly

The new defense budget is neither serious nor responsible: Biden’s Weak Defense Budget

“Gaffe” does not quite capture what happened last weekend in Warsaw: Biden’s ‘Regime Change’ Blunder

ARTICLES

Mike Pence: A Freedom Agenda Is the Conservative Path to Victory

Michael Brendan Dougherty: The Empty Chair

Isaac Schorr: Disney Was Silent on Parental-Rights Bill until Public Pressure Campaign Began, Florida House Speaker Says

Peter J. Travers: The Wild Beasts Are Real

Rich Lowry: It’s the Inflation, Stupid

Brittany Bernstein: MIT Admissions Reinstates Testing Requirement to Increase Low-Income Enrollment

Andrew McCarthy: The Smearing of Clarence Thomas

Dan McLaughlin: The Candidates Who Can’t Afford to Lose in 2022

Kevin Williamson: We Have Enough Taxes

Philip Klein: Biden’s Dishonest Budget

John McCormack: The Abortion Vote That Could Haunt Democrats in November

Charles C. W. Cooke: The Scottish Government Just Prosecuted a Man for Sending a Rude Tweet

CAPITAL MATTERS

Joel Kotkin warns about the “coming revenge of the disappointed”: The Most Dangerous Class

Shanghai is locking down for Covid. The city also is home to a major ocean port and a major airport for cargo planes. Dominic Pino dutifully discusses what it means for supply chains: What Shanghai Lockdowns Could Mean for Supply Chains

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

It fell to Armond White and Kyle Smith to make sense of this crazy, mixed-up world after Sunday’s Oscars.

Brian Allen stands athwart the Oscars insanity and turns to New York’s Whitney Museum, kicking off a series on its Covid-delayed Biennial: A First Look at the Whitney Biennial

FROM THE NEW, APRIL 18, 2022, ISSUE OF NR

Andrew McCarthy: Does Hunter Biden Face Indictment?

Ruy Teixeira: Eyes Wide Shut

Jay Nordlinger: Ukraine and the End of Illusions

Alexandra DeSanctis: A Bite of Italy

Jessica Hornik: Still Life

SIDE TWO

Ruy Teixeira’s cover story in the latest issue is a flashing red warning sign to Democrats, from one:

As a lifelong man of the Left who very much wants the Democratic Party to succeed, I regret to report this: The Democrats and the Democratic brand are in deep trouble. That should have been obvious when Democrats underperformed in the 2020 election, turning what they and most observers expected to be a blue wave into more of a ripple. They lost House seats and performed poorly in state legislative elections. And their support among non-white voters, especially Hispanics, declined substan­tially.

Still, they did win the presidency, which led many to miss the clear market signals this underperformance was sending. That tendency was strengthened by the Democrats’ improbable victories in the two Senate runoffs in Georgia, which gave them full control of the federal government, albeit by the very narrowest of margins.

At the same time, Trump’s refusal to concede the election — his bizarre behavior in that regard probably contributed to the GOP defeats in the Georgia runoffs — and his encouragement of rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6 led many Democrats to assume that the Republican brand would be so damaged by association that the Democratic brand would shine by comparison. And yet, two years later, the Democrats are in brutal shape.

Biden’s approval rating is in the low 40s, only a little above where Trump’s was at the same point in his presidential term, which of course was the precursor to the GOP’s drubbing in the 2018 election. Biden has been doing especially poorly among working-class and Hispanic voters. His approval ratings on specific issues tend to be lower, in the high 30s on the economy and in the low 30s on hot-button issues such as immigration and crime. Off-year and special elections since 2020 have indicated a strongly pro-Republican electoral environment, and Democrats currently trail Republicans in the generic congressional ballot for 2022. It now seems likely that Democrats will, at minimum, lose control of the House this November and quite possibly suffer a wave election up and down the ballot.

Most Democrats would prefer to believe that the current dismal situation merely reflects some bad luck. The Delta and Omicron variants of the coronavirus did undercut Biden’s plans for returning the country to normal, interacting with supply-chain difficulties to produce an inflation spike that angered consumers, but that is not the whole picture. Democrats have failed to develop a party brand capable of unifying a dominant majority of Americans behind their political project. Indeed, the current Democratic brand suffers from several deficiencies that make it somewhere between uncompelling and toxic to many American voters who might otherwise be the party’s allies.

For another flashing red warning sign, see Joel Kotkin’s analysis for NR’s Capital Matters on the glut of grads with no place to go:

Twenty-first-century America may be dominated by oligarchic elites, but arguably the biggest threat to our economic and political system might be located further down the food chain. This most dangerous class comes from the growing number of underemployed, overeducated people. They’re what has been described in Britain as the lumpenintelligentsia: alienated, angry, and potentially agents of our social and political deconstruction.

This is far more than an angry mob shouting in keystrokes, but the proto-proletariat of a feudalizing post-industrial society. Overall, notes one recent study, over the past 20 years we have created twice as many bachelor’s degrees as jobs to employ them. Instead of finding riches in the “new economy,” many end up in lower-paying, noncredentialed jobs. They then compete with working-class kids, often products of similarly dysfunctional high schools; an estimated one-third of American working-age males are now outside the labor force, suffering high rates of incarceration, as well as drug, alcohol, and other health issues.

Although they are not subject to the same pressures of the working class, the fate of those attending college and even graduating is far from bright. This is the most-anxious generation in recent history, and for good reason. Today more than 40 percent are working in jobs that don’t require their degree, according to a recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Another study notes that most may never ascend to the kinds of jobs that graduates have historically enjoyed. . . .

This is a generation in which entrance to the middle class is increasingly blocked. Over 90 percent of people born in the 1940s and 80 percent in the 1950s did overwhelmingly better than their parents. Among those born in the 1980s, almost half do worse. The decline, note Richard Reeves and Katherine Guyot in a study for the Brookings Institution, is most evident among the upper-middle class, the very group that has long prioritized education.

NR’s editorial shoots down Biden’s latest tax proposal — and specifically the irrational plan to tax unrealized gains:

Biden has had some very, very stupid ideas in his 50 years in public life. We won’t say that his latest “billionaire” tax proposal is the dumbest of them, but it’s on the top-ten list.

Biden’s proposed “Billionaire Minimum Income Tax” — which, of course, is not actually limited to billionaires — is an economically illiterate and very likely unconstitutional proposal that purports to make the very wealthy pay their “fair share,” in the conventional language of Democratic demagoguery. It would do so in part by taxing some high-income people on money they haven’t made yet, combining the worst features of the IRS with the worst features of Minority Report. . . .

You may have heard the rumor that sometimes stock prices go down as well as up. If you buy a share at $1 and it goes up to $2, then you’ve made $1 — if you sell the share and collect the gain. But that $1 share bought on Monday that goes to $2 on Tuesday may very well be $1.40 on Wednesday and $0.65 on Friday. The Biden proposal would tax “unrealized gains” assessed at an arbitrary point — irrespective of whether the investment actually makes that much money, or any money at all, or loses money. So-called mark-to-market rules are a useful tool in some contexts, such as assessing the financial health of a bank for deposit-insurance purposes, but mark-to-market is a capricious and destructive way to calculate an individual’s income tax. It is capricious and destructive when it is the county tax-assessor giving your house a notional market value for tax purposes — imagine the federal government trying to do that for something as fluid and complex as whatever it is that Andreessen Horowitz is up to this week.

The proposal is economically absurd, and probably illegal. The 16th Amendment empowers Congress to “lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived,” but unrealized investment gains are not income — they are, at best, potential income. Investments are also potential losses. That’s how investment works.

Brittany Bernstein flags a significant development in the standardized-testing debate, over at MIT:

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology will reinstate its standardized testing requirement for admission after finding that not having access to SAT or ACT scores “tends to raise socioeconomic barriers to demonstrating readiness for our education,” the university announced Monday.

“After careful consideration, we have decided to reinstate our SAT/ACT requirement for future admissions cycles,” dean of admissions and student financial services Stu Schmill said in a statement. “Our research shows standardized tests help us better assess the academic preparedness of all applicants, and also help us identify socioeconomically disadvantaged students who lack access to advanced coursework or other enrichment opportunities that would otherwise demonstrate their readiness for MIT.”

Schmill said the school believes a testing requirement is “more equitable and transparent than a test-optional policy,” breaking with many other elite universities who have dropped testing requirements amid criticism that wealthier students who can afford expensive preparation classes have an advantage in standardized testing. 

In a hurricane of hot takes, Armond White’s exposition on the Smith–Rock Oscars fracas is a must-read:

No one should feel superior to what has been called Smith’s “lack of self-control” when he walked on stage and slapped comic Chris Rock, or to Smith’s teary-eyed conflation of shame and ego when he later accepted an Oscar as Best Actor. Both moments ripped the lid off the Oscar charade in which mainstream media pretend to uphold values they have abandoned long ago.

Smith’s outbursts also revealed the unhealthy standards that have overtaken our culture, confounding ideas about race, gender, and art. . . .

Former Oscar host Chris Rock appeared secure in his status as Hollywood jester, but his attempt at celeb bonhomie hit the roadblock of unpredictable hip-hop egotism. And so the personal drive and private motivation behind the world’s favorite swaggering verbal invention — knowable only through aggressive performance and creativity — resulted in what’s commonly known as a “bitch-slap.”

It happened on stage, but it resembled a behind-the-scenes, at-the-club rap battle. If America failed to heed Eminem’s 8 Mile and Joseph Kahn’s remarkable Bodied, about hip-hop ethos, all America knows that ethos now. Smith showed his superiority to Eminem after the slap, when he returned to his seat and shouted twice to Rock the lesson that the slap was intended to teach: “Keep my wife’s name out your f***ing mouth!” This was hip-hop — with a “Yes!” linking the two declarations. Smith, glib talent and untrained street actor, has never been more convincing than when announcing the shocking terms of the arrival of New Black Hollywood. Throughout Hollywood’s fabled lore (such as the infamous Jennings Lang–Walter Wanger castration dispute), only studio bosses talked like that. Rappers call such language “boss.” The drag world calls it “realness.” We are hypocrites to pretend otherwise. . . .

Ambivalence is the best way to feel about this. Instead of the Academy’s punishing Will Smith (who simply wasn’t mature enough to just walk out on the circus as Eddie Murphy did in 2007), some screenwriter should be inspired to help him in his search for art and for moral equilibrium. Will Smith has embarrassingly exposed himself. But he exposes the Oscars’ race-baiting hypocrisy, too.

Speaking of free speech, remember that it is a quite literally foreign concept in many parts of the world. Charles C. W. Cooke highlights this astonishing case from Scotland. It’s easier to just read the whole thing, so this one is link only, folks.

Shout-Outs

Joel Kotkin, at UnHerd: The exodus continues from America’s biggest cities

Salena Zito, at the Washington Examiner: Don’t underestimate John Fetterman

Bradford Betz, at Fox Business: Chris Rock comedy tour ticket prices spike after Will Smith Oscar slap

Alex Gutentag, at Tablet: The New Authoritarians

CODA

Did you hear this newsletter postscript won an Oscar? What a country. In the spirit of that particularly pugilistic presentation of prizes, a Pat Benatar ending is difficult to sidestep.

Yet that is a shade too predictable. “The Boxer,” then? Still . . . not quite on the nose, or the cheek. Ah, A Fistful of Dollars (theme). Yes, that’ll do quite nicely.

Have a great weekend, and thanks for reading.

NR Webathon

Covering the Trans Debate Takes Grit

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Swimmer Lia Thomas holds a trophy after finishing fifth in the 200 free at the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships as Kentucky Wildcats swimmer Riley Gaines looks on at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Ga., March 18, 2022. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

Writing about the transgender-athlete debate is not a validating experience. Those who dare speak the reality that allowing biological males to compete against females is unfair risk being labeled bigots and worse.

Most of us wouldn’t have the mettle to cover the trans issue every week. Heck, I wrote a single post remarking on transgender swimmer Lia Thomas’s recent victories and, in scanning my Twitter mentions, found myself wondering if witness protection might be nice.

But let me tell you who doesn’t give a flying flip about that kind of heat.

NR’s Maddy Kearns has been unflinchingly focused on the trans debate, and in fact has been at the vanguard of coverage — whether it be about the implications for free speech, for children, for the medical field, or for college sports. Her on-site reporting on the NCAA swimming championships, which captured the true contention on the ground over Lia Thomas’s admission, was invaluable in demonstrating that, no, this is not a settled issue.

So we’re running a flash webathon at NR to help replenish the coffers (that Maddy is known to run up Hunter Thompson–level hotel bills, you see — kidding!) and ensure we can provide more of this kind of coverage. On-location reporting costs the green stuff, and we suspect this is a debate that will play out in many locations. If you can, please consider pitching in; we’ve seen donations of all sizes, and no amount is too small (or too much . . . ).

As Rich Lowry says, “There’s only one Maddy Kearns.”

Maddy also wrote about her experience at the NCAA championships, and about the kind of reasoning she’s up against:

At the NCAA swim championships in Atlanta last week, I got into an argument with a woman about biological sex. “I’m a physician,” she said. “And I can tell you this is very subtle. You might be a man. How do you know you’re not if you’ve never been tested?”

Fortunately, I do not rely on this woman, or anyone else, to “affirm” what sex I am. Unlike Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, I don’t need a “biologist” to tell me what a woman is. Sex is not “subtle.” It is obvious, objective, and binary.

While she was in Atlanta, aside from gathering the perspective of fellow swimmers and their parents, Maddy shot footage showcasing these debates that has since racked up millions of views.

If that sounds like a strong return on investment, well, here’s that donation link again.

That written, the rest of this newsletter will cost you nothing. Bon appétit.

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

The KBJ hearings are over. So what should Republicans do next? No on Ketanji Brown Jackson

The NCAA rule-makers have abdicated responsibility and hurt female athletes in the process: The NCAA Swimming Championship Was a National Scandal

ARTICLES

Dan McLaughlin: Justice Scalia Won

Jim Geraghty: Why the Russian Oligarchs Won’t Defy Putin

Kristen Waggoner: Do Universities Have the Courage to Solve Their Free-Speech Problem?

Kevin Williamson: Autocracy’s Fatal Flaws

Kevin Williamson: Make Putin Pay

Caroline Downey: Babylon Bee Refuses to Back Down after Twitter Suspends Account over ‘Man of the Year’ Post

Rich Lowry: Vladimir Putin and the Fragility of Order

Nate Hochman: Most Americans Are Moving On from Covid. Progressive Elites Aren’t

Philip Klein: Government Handouts Do Not Reduce Inflation

John Fund: Veering from the Smog of War TV to Humanitarian Clarity

Brittany Bernstein: More Americans 65 and Under Died from Alcohol-Related Causes Than Covid-19 in 2020, Study Finds

Andrew McCarthy: Republicans’ Missed Opportunity in the Judge Jackson Hearings

Lewis Libby: How Russia and China May View the War in Ukraine

Ryan Mills: Parents Describe How Covid-Masking Caused ‘Heartbreaking’ Learning Loss in Speech-Delayed Children

Jenna Stocker: The Absurd Attempt to Defend Lia Thomas’s Competing as a Woman

CAPITAL MATTERS

The IRS and taxpayers alike are getting slammed by a tax code that’s becoming more complex. Daniel Pilla makes the case for simplicity: Is the IRS Collapsing?

Andrew Stuttaford will not be trading his lamb kebabs for legumes, thank you very much: Let Them Eat Lentils

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

Armond White looks askance at the meme that became a show: Ava DuVernay’s One Perfect Shot at Propaganda

A documentary about King Crimson is as cerebral and challenging (in a good way) as the band itself. From Kyle Smith: Excellence, Existence, Tyranny, Death, and Rock

Brian Allen dings the Morgan Library’s exhibition on Hans Holbein the Younger, but that takes nothing away from an artist whose work, in Brian’s spot-on description, is “early HD.” Have a look: Holbein Gets the Damp-Squib Treatment at the Morgan Library

INTERMISSION

Kristen Waggoner, with Alliance Defending Freedom, recalls her experience being shouted down at Yale during a . . . wait for it . . . free-speech event:

I recently spoke at Yale Law School on the topic of remedies for First Amendment violations. The subject is not controversial; in fact, it is one on which members from both sides of the political spectrum agree. I am a conservative Christian, and I was joined on a panel by another lawyer — a progressive atheist, from the American Humanist Association. While we disagree on some very important issues, we wanted to demonstrate that we can still engage in civil discourse and find common ground when protecting civil rights. One issue we agree upon is a free-speech case I argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that united both sides of the political spectrum.

Sadly, 120 or so law students showed up to hurl insults and disrupt our discussion. Rather than listen and engage in civil dialogue, the vitriolic mob shouted down their professor who was moderating, and then me. After they were asked to leave, they chanted, pounded on classroom walls, and reportedly disrupted nearby classes, exams, and meetings. Even members of the Federalist Society, the student group that organized the event, were harassed and physically threatened by their fellow law students.

Think about that for a moment. At what is supposed to be one of the most prestigious law schools in the country, a room full of future lawyers, legislators, jurists, and corporate executives chose to bang on walls, use obscene gestures, and engage in name-calling and physical intimidation rather than act like adults.

One would think that an institution that is “committed to fostering an environment that values the free expression of ideas” would actually enforce its free-expression policy. At a minimum, it would strongly condemn these students who sought to silence ideas and people they disliked through bullying and intimidation. Unfortunately, Yale did neither.

Instead, Yale issued a weak statement that defended the student protesters and grossly downplayed their disruptive and petulant actions. Even more disturbing, Yale falsely claimed that the students did not interfere with the speakers’ ability to be heard. I, for one, was not able to speak without disruption. Have a listen to multiple audio clips of the event, and judge for yourself. Finally, the university said that a police presence was not needed. Again, that’s not true. The situation was so volatile that we required an armed police escort to leave campus in a patrol car.

Madeleine Kearns’s on-location coverage of the NCAA swim championships is essential reading, as noted. Now that it’s over, NR’s editorial recaps and appeals to common sense in the transgender-athlete debate:

At this year’s NCAA swimming championships, organizers allowed a biological male, Lia Thomas, to compete against female athletes on the basis of transgender status. And so, what should have been a moment of sporting pride — a celebration of some of the best female swimmers in the country — became a scandal.

Thomas, a fifth-year senior at the University of Pennsylvania, went by his given name of Will and swam for the men’s team until 2019 without issue. When competing against men, Thomas was a top-tier swimmer, though far from a national champion. But since Thomas underwent hormone-replacement therapy during the pandemic and was allowed to join the women’s team in the 2021–2022 season, the swimmer has dominated the female competition. At the NCAA swim championships last week, Thomas reached the podium in every event the swimmer competed in, an honor bestowed on the top eight finishers in the nation. Thomas finished first in the 500-yard freestyle (beating two Olympic medalists), fifth in the 200-yard freestyle, and eighth in the 100-yard freestyle.

The NCAA’s reasoning is that Thomas, having taken testosterone suppressants, is now biologically equivalent to the championship’s female athletes. It requires nothing short of magical thinking to come to such a conclusion. Menopausal women do not cease to be women after their estrogen levels drop. And neither do biological men cease to be biological men after their testosterone levels have been chemically manipulated. The sex-based advantages conferred on Thomas during puberty are as irreversible as they are obvious. It is literally impossible to change sex.

Thomas’s defenders emphasize that no rules have been broken. But the rule-makers have abdicated responsibility. . . .

Parents report that their daughters have been instructed by their coaches to smile, stay silent, and step aside. So much for Title IX, which was supposed to protect women from this kind of discrimination.

Instead of allowing, indeed actively encouraging, this fiasco, adults should have taken a hand from the beginning and politely but firmly said “no” to a biological male competing in a women’s sport.

Ryan Mills reports on the real-world impact of school masking policies on children’s speech development:

Parents of children with documented speech-development issues told National Review that pandemic-related restrictions — masks, virtual school, teletherapy — along with less access to speech-language services generally, have clearly set their kids back.

Many professional speech pathologists worry there could be lasting ramifications for kids who have fallen behind and never catch up academically or socially.

“I have some major concerns about the long-term impact of all of this, most definitely. Especially with the babies, early intervention is so important,” said Jaclyn Theeck, a speech pathologist and owner of the Speech and Learning Institute in Palm Beach, Fla. “Children have not received the therapy they’ve needed, because they’ve been afraid of the pandemic. ‘Let’s just wait.’ Well, they’ve lost valuable time when the brain is developing the most.” . . .

Theeck . . . said that since the beginning of the pandemic she’s seen a “very significant” increase in the number of parents with referrals from their pediatricians bringing in young children with speech and language delays.

She said the surge in demand has made getting services at her clinic more difficult. Theeck told a local TV station last year that the percentage of her clients who are babies and toddlers increased from about 5 percent pre-pandemic to about 20 percent. She told National Review that has only increased over the last half year.

John Fund provides a dispatch from a refugee center on the Hungary–Ukraine border, while detailing the staggering depravity of Russian propaganda:

Last Sunday, I felt as if I were being bounced from one reality to the next on my trip to the Ukrainian border.

I began my day in Budapest, Hungary, slack-jawed as I watched Rossiya 24, the Kremlin-owned news channel that provides Russians with Vladimir Putin’s worldview.

With the help of a Russian-speaking friend, I learned things that I just couldn’t find on other channels. Reports that Russian forces were taking heavy losses were false, designed to “mislead inexperienced viewers.” The threat to civilians in Ukraine comes not from Russian forces, but from “Ukrainian nationalists” and their accompanying “wolf commandos,” who are American mercenaries fighting for the Kyiv regime.

All the presenters make constant reference to the “historical parallels” between Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine and the Soviet Union’s struggle against Nazi Germany. A surreal documentary highlights the long-standing “fraternal” ties between Ukraine and Russia. Archive footage of tractors harvesting Ukrainian wheat are shown without any sense of the bitter irony — it was Joseph Stalin’s forced famine that led to the deaths of some 4 million Ukrainians in 1932 and 1933.

Then I sit bolt upright as the documentary depicts the liberation of Mariupol, a Ukrainian port city, from the Nazis in September 1943. German signs are smashed in the footage as happy civilians then dance with grinning Soviet soldiers. But no footage is shown of Mariupol today.

The reason is that conditions there are akin to a medieval siege.

Shout-Outs

William Deresiewicz, at UnHerd: American education’s new dark age

Joseph Simonson and Matthew Foldi, at the Washington Free Beacon: Dem Offices on Cap Hill Remain Closed After Biden’s Call for Return to Normalcy

Elle Reynolds, at the Federalist: 7 Times The Babylon Bee Reported History Before It Happened

Secunder Kermani, at the BBC: Afghanistan girls’ tears over chaotic Taliban schools U-turn

CODA

I’m old enough to no longer quite know what’s mainstream and what’s not anymore. My assumption was that the Scottish instrumental-rock band Mogwai was decidedly not . . . until the bandmates showed up as part of the promotional campaign for a new, ultra-aged Macallan whiskey (don’t even bother looking up how much it costs, trust me).

Anyway, it was a reminder of how much the band’s song “Glasgow Mega-Snake” annihilates everything in its path. Seek shelter if you click.

Sling a song my way at jberger@nationalreview.com, if you’d like to share one with this list. It can even have lyrics.

World

Sergey Lavrov’s Lies

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a news conference in Moscow, Russia, February 18, 2022. (Maxim Shemetov/Pool via Reuters)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

For the better part of two decades, Russia’s top diplomat has done whatever the opposite of ingratiating is to seat himself at the most exclusive tables of global affairs. Sergey Lavrov, by dint of sickle-sharp messaging, forged a reputation as a rival worthy of grudging respect. Here he is with Rice, with Clinton, with Kerry, with Pompeo, with Blinken . . . the constant counterpart across four U.S. administrations.

Profiles of the formidable diplomatic figure painted a complex portrait, discussing his fondness for poetry, his proficiency in multiple languages, and the intellectual heft he brought to bear as foreign minister.

The Washington Post wrote in 2014:

Personally, his dominating physical appearance — he’s known for his height and his athletic ability — is tempered by reports of his softer side that focuses on his apparent love of writing poetry (though he has also been reported to be a big fan of more macho pursuits such as buying Italian suits, Scotch whisky and smoking).

People respect him, even if they don’t like him.

Today, Sergey Lavrov draws inspiration not from Jonathan Goldsmith but some combination of the RMVP, Ri Chun-hee, and Baghdad Bob. His stature as a respected adversary is or should be, in all the aftermath of the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, irrevocably shattered.

You may have seen this quote from Mr. Lavrov: “We are not planning to attack other countries. We didn’t attack Ukraine in the first place.”

Okay. Then there was his response to the maternity-hospital bombing in Mariupol that produced a horrible image of a bleeding pregnant woman on a stretcher (her baby died, the mother is reported to have told the medics to “kill me now,” and then she died). Lavrov’s line was that Ukrainian radicals were using the hospital as a base and that patients had been moved out of the building before the strike, while a Russian embassy asserted the images were simply faked and echoed Lavrov’s claims. The foreign minister also has referred to components of the Ukrainian army as “Nazi battalions” and said the country’s Jewish president is being manipulated by “neo-Nazis.”

Lavrov is not merely bending the truth in his defense of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. He has no relation to it. The two have never met. His performance should ensure he never again wins an audience with an American official.

This amoral poetic polyglot is only the most prolific liar in the Kremlin’s operation. But the West must not forget the inhumanity of his falsehoods. The mendacity matters more immediately as U.S. policy-makers worry whether their own actions could be used by Vladimir Putin as justification to escalate. As Jim Geraghty writes, Putin does not need justification. He can create his own and often does:

Putin contends that Ukraine is not a real country, that it is run by drug-addicted neo-Nazis, that he’s liberating the Ukrainians by indiscriminately bombing their cities, that the Ukrainians are committing “genocide,” and that the West “forced” him to invade in what is not a “war,” but a “special military action.” . . . Putin doesn’t really need a good reason to take any particular action; if he doesn’t have one, he will just make one up.

As fighting drags on, Western journalists now count among the casualties of war. Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski was killed, and reporter Benjamin Hall was injured, in an attack on Monday; Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova, working with Fox as a consultant on the ground, was also killed.

Jay Nordlinger relays the following:

War — mass murder — is not an abstraction. Elie Kedourie, the great Baghdad-born historian, had some words of advice for the young David Pryce-Jones. P-J passed them down to me, and I will never forget them: “Keep your eye on the corpses.”

They are piling up, as Kevin Williamson documents here, even if Russia’s long-standing foreign minister should claim otherwise. Exasperation toward him has turned to outrage; the U.S. personally sanctioned Lavrov, along with Putin, after Russia’s invasion.

Early this week, U.N. secretary-general António Guterres warned that the prospect of nuclear conflict is “back within the realm of possibility.” Lavrov confidently dismissed that concern a few days prior. If we weren’t before, should we be worried now?

NAME. RANK. LINK.

ARTICLES

Rich Lowry: Ron DeSantis and the New Republican Party

Bing West: Ukraine’s Tragedy Should Refocus the U.S. Marine Corps

Kevin Williamson: A Problem Like Putin

John McCormack: After Zelensky’s Speech, No Surge in Support for U.S.-Enforced ‘No-Fly Zone’ Over Ukraine

Ryan Mills: Wisconsin Teachers Instructed to Hide Students’ Gender Identities from Parents

Matthew Mashburn: January 6 Committee’s Latest Court Filing Should Scare Stacey Abrams

Lahav Harkov: The False Narrative of Israeli Neutrality in Russia’s Ukraine Invasion

Philip Klein: The Benefits of Donald Trump Running Again

Charles C. W. Cooke: No to Trump in 2024

Charles C. W. Cooke: The Extraordinary Vapidity of Kamala Harris

Madeleine Kearns: Transgender and Women’s-Rights Activists Clash as Lia Thomas Dominates Opening of NCAA Championships

Caroline Downey: Biden Administration Handicapped Domestic Energy Production on First Day in Office, Memos Reveal

Dan McLaughlin: The Hater’s Guide to Woodrow Wilson

Jim Geraghty: A Hard Look at the Risk of a Putin-Ordered Tactical Nuke

Inez Stepman: Virginia School Covered Up Sexual Assault That Left Victim Hospitalized

Andrew McCarthy: Biden Considers Dropping Death Penalty to Entice Guilty Pleas from 9/11 Plotters

CAPITAL MATTERS

Jack Salmon charts a Federal Reserve failure: The Fed Has Failed in Its Inflation Mandate

Jonathan Lesser rides in with a reality check: Wind and Solar Proponents’ Arithmetic Problem

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

Kyle Smith plays to the crickets when he asks: Who’s Stoked for CNN+?

Brian Allen sounds off on museum mask mandates, and then pans across the pond to a controversy involving the depiction of slaves in a mural at the Tate’s restaurant: The Great Unmasking — of Patrons and Fake Altruists Alike

Armond White assesses the legacy and the significance of an American classic: The Godfather at 50

FROM THE NEW, APRIL 4, 2022, ISSUE OF NR

Kevin Williamson: Population Bomb Scare

Dominic Pino: Biden’s Low-Energy Policy

Jerry Hendrix: The Defense Budget We Need

Daniel Foster: Standing Our Ground

THE PRICE OF BEEF IS GOING UP, BUT THESE EXCERPTS ARE INFLATION-PROOF

In the latest issue of NR, Dominic Pino looks down the road at what Biden’s energy policies would mean for the country:

The problem with Joe Biden’s energy policy is not that it caused the high gas prices we currently see. The problem with Joe Biden’s energy policy is that, if it were adopted, the present situation would be liable to happen again down the road — and the wound would be self-inflicted.

The Germans are experts in self-inflicted energy wounds. They made themselves dependent on Russian oil and natural gas as a result of a years-long campaign against nuclear energy in favor of renewables that don’t work well enough to power a large country yet. But the solution to Germany’s problems now is to make better decisions ten to 20 years ago. Nixing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline helps to prevent further energy dependence, but it doesn’t undo over a decade of bad energy policy. Chancellor Olaf Scholz doesn’t have a time machine. His predecessor Angela Merkel made his bed, and he has to lie in it.

Biden’s energy policy, if implemented in full, would leave an American president one to two decades hence in a situation similar to the one Scholz finds himself in today. Anyone who thinks John Kerry’s views of energy are worth promoting should not be trusted to run a gas station, let alone make energy policy for the world’s most powerful country. Biden’s energy policy prioritizes the tran­sition away from fossil fuels, whether through billions in subsidies for renewable energy or appointing Federal Reserve officials who want to use financial regulation to punish oil companies. The radical progressive environmental movement that’s part of Biden’s coalition uses environmental laws to drown energy expansion in a sea of litigation.

Since it’s much easier to shut things down than to invent new technology, foreign fossil-fuel production would have to make up for the lost American production. Biden’s energy policy en­courages that in two ways. First, by going abroad and simply begging other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and even Venezuela and Iran, to produce more oil. And second, more crucially, by making it difficult to transport oil by opposing pipeline construction.

It’s not just Keystone XL that pro­gressives oppose; they want to make it harder to build pipelines within Amer­ica as well (and they’ve successfully stonewalled multiple projects in New York). If oil can’t move through pipe­lines from where it’s produced to where it’s refined — and from where it’s refined to where it’s consumed — foreign al­ternatives become more attractive. American West Coast refineries are built for light, sweet crude, but lacking pipe­line capacity to get it from Texas, they import it from elsewhere. New England lacks sufficient pipeline capacity to get refined products such as heating oil, so those states often import them too.

Not everyone here agrees, but Philip Klein makes the case for another Trump presidential run, with a pretty big caveat:

It’s worth considering some of the benefits of his running — and losing the primary. . . .

Suddenly, somebody else will have shown that it’s possible for a Republican to go up against Trump, and not only survive, but win. Or, to put it in the immortal words of pro wrestler Ric Flair, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.”

A primary would also provide a built-in opportunity for the eventual nominee to create some distance from Trump in the general election. Any attempts to link the nominee to Trump will fail, because the nominee will have just come off a bitter primary against Trump. When asked to respond to anything Trump says or does, the candidate could simply wave away the question by pointing out that differences with Trump were spelled out during the primary and emphasize that it’s now time to focus on his or her own vision for leading the country. . . .

Also, despite the likelihood that Trump would claim any election he loses was rigged, it will be much harder to pull off in a primary. It’s much easier to convince Republican voters that there were shenanigans going on in Milwaukee, Philadelphia, or Atlanta than it would be to argue that Republican-controlled primaries in states such as Iowa and South Carolina were somehow fixed to steal the election from him. Having chosen another candidate, the base would likely have much less patience for attempts by Trump to sabotage the nominee and help the Democrats keep the White House.

But there is a more fundamental reason that it would be good for Trump to lose a primary. If the rise of Trump has taught us anything, it’s that the direction of the GOP will not be driven by party bosses, prominent media figures, or any other elites. It will be ultimately determined by the people. Until Trump is defeated among a Republican electorate, he will still command an enormous amount of influence within the party. Trump’s losing to another Republican at the ballot box is the only way for Republicans to truly move on.

Dan McLaughlin reminds America that there are so many reasons to hate Woodrow Wilson beyond daylight saving time. Do take the time to read his definitive takedown, which begins like so:

If you were dragging getting out of bed to start this week, thank Woodrow Wilson. Daylight saving time is just one of a battery of ways that Wilson and his presidency changed America, most of them for the worse.

I come now not to explain Wilson, but to hate him. A national consensus on hating Wilson is long overdue. It is the patriotic duty of every decent American. While conservatives have particular reasons to detest Wilson, and all his works, and all his empty promises, there is more than enough in his record for moderates, liberals, progressives, libertarians, and socialists to join us in this great and unifying cause. . . .

He was lionized by liberals and progressives in academia and the media for most of the century after he left office in 1921. In my youth, and perhaps yours, Wilson was presented in history books as a tragic hero whom the unthinking American people didn’t deserve. He was often placed highly on academics’ rankings of the presidents. Princeton University named its school of international relations for him. Even in rescinding that honor in June 2020, the university’s press release declared: “Though scholars disagree about how to assess Wilson’s tenure as president of the United States, many rank him among the nation’s greatest leaders and credit him with visionary ideas that shaped the world for the better.”

Nah. Wilson was a human pile of flaming trash. He was a bad man who made the country and the world worse. His name should be an obscenity, his image an effigy. Hating him is a wholesome obligation of citizenship. . . .

Probably the broadest ground for modern agreement on the awfulness of Wilson is in his disgracefully racist treatment of African Americans. The only president to grow up in the Confederacy, the Virginian Wilson ordered the resegregation of the entire federal government. He required photographs on job applications to screen out black people. The Army under Wilson was so segregated that some black units fought under French command in the largest battle of the First World War. (Naturally, black men who were banned from being hired for peacetime federal jobs were still subjected to the draft.) When you read about Harry Truman’s courageous desegregation of the Army, remember whose work he was undoing. Wilson screened the pro–Ku Klux Klan film Birth of a Nation at the White House; the film quoted pro-Klan passages from one of Wilson’s books. He backed legislation making interracial marriage a felony in the District of Columbia.

ICYMI, Kevin Williamson examined the question a lot of us have in making sense of Russia’s Ukraine invasion: How is it that one man is able — is allowed — to cause such destruction on such a vast scale?

The danger . . . is not men such as Vladimir Putin. The danger is totalitarian states per se. Every society has men such as Putin, and healthy liberal societies often find useful work for them to do. In totalitarian societies, such men end up commanding armies — and, in Putin’s case, a vast nuclear arsenal.

It is not as though these tendencies do not exist in liberal societies. American politics often attracts the worst sort of men and women our country can cough up, and they achieve power through the same dynamic [F. A.] Hayek described in the totalitarian states, welding together effective factions of the low-minded but like-minded. We have the testimony of no less a totalitarian than Adolf Hitler that the greatest strength of the totalitarian states is that they force those who fear them to imitate them, a principle that can be seen at work in the distinctly autocratic and centralizing tendency of the Franklin Roosevelt administration or in the desire of the Trump administration to become Beijing’s mirror image. What liberal societies have is not better men — it is independent courts, a free press, the rule of law, checks and balances, democratic accountability, competitive elections, powerful private institutions, and vibrant civic life. There have been some men of remarkably low character elected to the American presidency, but the American system has limited the damage they could do.

The Russian system does not limit the damage a man such as Putin can do. It amplifies the evil he can do.

Shout-Outs

Christine Rosen, at Commentary: The Privilege of Being Judgmental

Steve Miller, at RealClearInvestigations: How Schools’ Covid-Aid Joy Ride Could Send New Hires Off a Fiscal Cliff — Again

Tyler O’Neil, at Fox News: Ukraine war upended China’s plan to invade Taiwan, alleged FSB whistleblower says

Adam Kredo, at the Washington Free Beacon: New Iran Agreement Would Let Russia Cash In on $10B Contract to Build Nuclear Sites

CODA

Last weekend, this newsletter put out the (last) call for a tune about tipple. Kevin Antonio answered, writing in with an old-timey, fun, spoofy number by Spike Jones and His City Slickers, “Clink! Clink! Another Drink.”

It could be argued that the bandleader, active in the ’40s and ’50s, carved out a predecessor genre to what would eventually be called comedy rock. His heyday was before my time, so Kevin’s recommendation compelled me to do a bit of research. That research led to an Internet rabbit hole, which led to Spike Jones’s comic renditions of classical music, such as “The Blue Danube” and “Dance of the Hours,” which probably would have been a hoot to see live.

Meantime, send your song recs in a Jolt-ward direction — perhaps more in the comedy-rock genre, if something comes to mind. Serious times require a sense of humor, as the Ukrainians have shown. Email me here: jberger@nationalreview.com. Thanks for reading.

Energy & Environment

Oil from a Democracy Is Better Than Oil from a Dictatorship

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Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro speaks during a ceremony in Caracas, January 22, 2021. (Manaure Quintero/Reuters)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

So who’s going to tell the Biden administration that oil extracted from Venezuela is just as bad for the environment as oil extracted from Texas?

This week’s scramble to convince mustachioed socialists and dismemberment-prone princes to boost petroleum production certainly served to expose the folly of our energy approach. That is, limits on U.S. oil and gas production (and their transportation) don’t achieve much in the name of climate if we need to ratchet up output elsewhere to keep prices stable. And they lead to clear geopolitical downsides when the “elsewhere” is places such as Caracas.

Kevin Williamson discusses what some foresight could have yielded, had we favored “democratic energy” over that produced under the auspices of maniacs:

The basic geopolitical question is: Should the United States throw a lifeline to the worst tyrant in the Western hemisphere in order to undermine an even worse tyrant in Europe? . . .

Right about now, President Biden must be wishing he had an extra pipeline to Canada. The thought has occurred to Alberta premier Jason Kenney, who observes about Keystone XL: “If President Biden had not vetoed that project, it would be done later this year — 840,000 barrels of democratic energy that could have displaced the 600,000 plus barrels of Russian conflict oil that’s filled with the blood of Ukrainians.”

Oops.

The Biden administration took a bold step this week in shutting down Russian energy imports over Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and it should be commended for this — even if it happened under duress. But the U.S. could have been better positioned for soaring energy prices resulting from global conflict and other factors, reducing the need to solicit the Maduro regime, MBS, and possibly the mullahs for help. While a renewed all-of-the-above energy strategy is not going to solve the immediate crisis, Kevin speculates that, given domestic political pressures, the administration prefers turning to Venezuela rather than pursuing such a strategy even in the long-term.

Charles C. W. Cooke posits the following:

It is true that refusing to purchase Russian oil is the right short-term policy. It is also true that a better long-term policy would have lessened the upward pressure on domestic prices that short-term events such as the war in Ukraine can exert. For a neat illustration of how these two ideas can intersect, one need only to look at Germany.

The U.S. remains the world’s leading oil producer, a fact that gives the White House space to push back on criticism of its “drill, maybe, drill” mantra, but Nate Hochman details here how the administration is still hindering production. This Drew Holden thread has more. The fallout from Russia’s invasion, expectedly, has generated a groundswell of calls, from Joe Manchin, from Republicans, even from Elon Musk, to boost the U.S. energy sector going forward.

American energy security very much includes the continuing pursuit of renewables, which, as the name implies, will vastly expand the power supply once fully developed. But we are not at the point where those renewables (which account for just 20 percent of current electricity generation in the U.S.) can sustain us. Jim Geraghty writes that production of oil and gas — and food, for that matter — is going to need to increase, “unless we want to see what kind of chaos gets unleashed in a world where energy and food prices are skyrocketing all around the globe.”

For the latest inflation figures, see here.

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

A no-fly zone over Ukraine would be “limited” in name only: Say No to a No-Fly Zone

Empowering parents should be the aim of lawmakers wading into the transgender debate: Florida and Texas Are Right to Fight Back in the Transgender Debate

The Senate should have returned to sender: The Postal Service Reform Act Is a Bad Deal

ARTICLES

Rich Lowry: What Putin Knew

Will Swaim: A Very California Coup

John Fund: Stalin’s ‘Winter War’ of 1939–40 Offers Hope to Ukrainians

Ryan Mills: Ukrainian Single Mother Recounts Terrifying Escape from Kyiv

Dominic Pino: How Amtrak Expansion Threatens Supply Chains

Kevin Williamson: The Cable-News Bubble

Charles C. W. Cooke: Yes, If America Is Ever Invaded, You Must Take Up Arms and Fight

David Harsanyi: Find Someone Who Looks at You Like Rob Malley Looks at Iran

Asra Q. Nomani: An Anti-Woke Education Activist Goes to Washington

Jim Geraghty: Questioning Vladimir Putin’s Health and Past Unexplained Disappearances

Alexandra DeSanctis: Exclusive: GOP Senator Introduces Bill Requiring Pre-Abortion Ultrasound

Bing West: The Botched Handling of Poland’s MiG-29s

Dan McLaughlin: Is Mike Pence Preparing a Kamikaze Campaign?

Zachary Evans: Young Children Suffer Steep Drop in Literacy following Pandemic Closures

Nate Hochman: Biden HHS Instructing Employees to Watch Their Pronouns, Leaked Documents Show

Philip Klein: The Trans Movement Is Failing Where the Gay-Rights Movement Succeeded

Jay Nordlinger: One Afghan’s Life

CAPITAL MATTERS

Edwin Burton suggests we identify the inflation culprit in order to identify the solution: Inflation: You Can’t Fix It If You Don’t Know Why It Broke

Daniel Pilla delivers a much-deserved fact check on Biden’s tax-rate claims: Fact-Checking the President’s Remarks on Tax Policy

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

With Turning Red, it is clear that Pixar is on a roll, especially compared with its big brother at Disney. From Kyle Smith: A Big, Hairy Pixar Delight

Armond White sticks his neck out for Sam Elliott over his criticism of The Power of the Dog. Get this man a sarsaparilla: Sam Elliott Abides

Brian Allen gives a tour through the Gustave Moreau Museum and Nissim de Camondo Museum in Paris. If nothing else, you must feast your eyes on this staircase: A Tale of Two House Museums in Paris

CHOOSE YOUR OWN EXCERPTS (UP TO 40 POSSIBLE ENDINGS)

Calls for a “limited” no-fly zone over Ukraine intensified this past week. NR’s editorial, while strongly advising against one, examines what this undertaking actually would entail:

It is hard to imagine that a “U.S.-NATO enforced” no-fly zone could avoid direct confrontation with Russian forces. Allied warplanes would, by necessity, be forced to intercept and engage Russian aircraft. And, in a contested battlespace, American pilots would likely be shot at by anti-air batteries on the ground. Unless the Russians unilaterally surrendered — which, again, is highly improbable — we would need to conduct a coordinated, high-intensity Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses campaign to protect our pilots. We would be bombing, shooting at, and launching cruise missiles at Russian radar operators, gun crews, and missile batteries on the ground. Russians would die. Americans would die.

Make no mistake, the imposition of a no-fly zone over Ukraine could well result in the most intense combat to control the skies since the Korean War.

Regardless, the Russians are not winning this war due to air power, and we shouldn’t assume that a no-fly zone would meaningfully change the operational situation. Indeed, with the Ukrainian air force still fighting, the Russians have not even established total air superiority after two weeks of combat.

Moreover, once a nation declares a no-fly zone in a conflict, it owns the war. Assuming we succeeded in establishing a no-fly zone, the Russians would turn to their vast superiority in ground-based artillery and rockets to continue their devastating attacks on Ukrainian civilians. The calls to widen our intervention would begin immediately, and the pressure to act would be intense.

Dan McLaughlin has a 2024 theory, and it’s worth considering:

Republicans in 2024 are likely to once again face a Donald Trump problem — and Mike Pence just might be the solution. . . .

While many Republicans seem to be eying a 2024 bid, thus far, the dynamic seems fairly straightforward: If Trump doesn’t run, Ron DeSantis looks like the heavy favorite; if Trump runs and DeSantis doesn’t, it will be extremely hard to take him down, because there won’t be anyone else in the field with the stature and the goodwill among his voters to supplant him.

So, one challenge will be getting DeSantis to risk the open confrontation with Trump that running against him would involve. And even if DeSantis does get in the race, there will still be the collective-action problem we saw in 2016: DeSantis’s need to inherit Trump’s voters should he win the nomination will tempt him to try Ted Cruz’s 2016 strategy of embracing Trump for as long as possible in the hopes that someone or something else takes the former president down.

Meanwhile, the rest of the field will consist of people who are either too afraid to take on Trump or not influential enough with Republican voters to make their attacks on Trump stick. Chris Christie, who declined to attack Trump in 2016, has given indications that he may run an anti-Trump campaign in 2024; Christie has the personality for it and can point to the years in which he stuck loyally by Trump, but he’s also not a particularly well-respected figure among rank-and-file conservative voters these days. Somebody such as Larry Hogan or Liz Cheney might enter the race and face the same problem. Even former Trump officials such as Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley seem to have little stomach for waging open war on their old boss.

But there is still one man who might not be so reticent: Mike Pence.

Of all the disgruntled senior members of the Trump administration who have fallen out with Trump — which is nearly the lot of them at this point — Pence is the most senior and the most credible. . . .

If Pence runs, his main role will likely be that of a spoiler. A Pence campaign that shies away from confrontation with Trump would be pointless and mostly hopeless. But Pence is the one potential candidate who could mount a successful kamikaze attack on Trump in the Republican primaries, a campaign that denies both men the nomination.

Asra Nomani gives a detailed account of her recent experience testifying before Congress about critical race theory–infused materials in the schools:

Towards the end of the hearing, Representative Jackson Lee took over as chair. She then got her five minutes. To my shock, she began with a dig at Devon [Westhill] and me. She then went on to try to school us about issues of racial discrimination against blacks in America, as if somehow I, as a brown immigrant from India, didn’t care about or were woefully ignorant of this. In fact, two of my political heroes are the Reverend Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. And it was my ancestors who took the example of the colonials in the U.S. to rid my ancestral land of white supremacy and British rule. It was my father who climbed a banyan tree as a boy to support Mahatma Gandhi in his march of nonviolence — a concept that Dr. King embraced to bring civil rights to America. My grandfather was a defense attorney for the Indian citizens who dared to challenge the British, most often losing before British judges, as young men were sentenced to their deaths.

So, I know about historical, systemic racism. I know discrimination. And I know the violence that can happen not only to the body but the soul when discrimination and racism get free rein. I also know what this looks like today. I have witnessed the effect of these prejudices on the many young children, left confused, dismissed, and caricatured by woke teachers, administrators, and school boards. They are told that, because of their skin color, they are inherently evil; that, because of their skin color, they are inherently privileged and must atone for that “sin.” Worse, the same people who peddle these woke lies also tell black children that, rather than having a seat at the American table, they are eternally oppressed — victims purely at the whim of their white oppressors.

Jackson Lee then began a tiresome, ignorant, ill-informed, out-of-touch, and theoretical lecture about critical race theory. It proved that she lives in a bubble. . . .

I knew that I wouldn’t get any more time to speak. So, I stood up a book called Not My Idea, with the pages facing her that showed one of the most ridiculous and cruel ideas of critical race theory: “Whiteness is a bad deal,” with a picture of a contract and the image of the devil beside it. This book is being taught as young as kindergarten in dozens of U.S. public schools.

I filmed the pages as Jackson Lee insisted that critical race theory is harmless. I filmed a copy of the “Oppression Matrix,” an educational reference tool that divides people into “oppressed” and “oppressors” and is used in schools across the country. I filmed a copy of the “Privilege Bingo” card given to children in Fairfax County, Va., schools. In that lesson, all white kids — and even the “Military Kid” — are “privileged” and can only assuage that privilege by obeisance to woke-racist dogma.

One promising takeaway from this past week is that most people are not political weirdos. Axios reports that 75 percent “never tweet.” How about that. Kevin Williamson notes how partisan prime-time cable shows also reach a relatively small audience and considers what to make of that:

I can’t help thinking that there is a lost political opportunity in all of this. I recently had a conversation with an elected official who is a frequent target of cable-news and talk-radio ire, and that media attention was pretty low on his list of things to worry about — he rarely if ever hears anything about that kind of stuff from any of the people who elect him. . . .

In the most recent Gallup poll of issues that Americans care most about, only 1 percent said taxes were their top concern, 1 percent said wages, 1 percent said foreign policy, 1 percent said education. If we set aside the vague (“the government”) and the unusual (Covid), the leading issue, far and away, was inflation — and that concern led the list for only 8 percent of those polled. Joe Biden was elected president by only 24.6 percent of all Americans, and he won the Democratic nomination on an even smaller number of votes — 19 million, or about 5.8 percent of all Americans.

Small, highly motivated groups of people can wield tremendous power at certain democratic bottlenecks, such as primary elections, and broadcast activism of the cable-news and talk-radio variety may have an outsized influence for that reason. But that influence should not be exaggerated: Even the most energetic partisan media is not reliably all that good at selling crazy, even in Texas — ask Don Huffines, the talk-radio hero who got massacred in the Texas GOP gubernatorial primary, or Representative Louie Gohmert, a gadfly on the nut circuit who finished fourth in the AG primary with only 17 percent of the vote.

I don’t know anybody who does a good Greg Abbott impersonation, on Saturday Night Live or anywhere else. But he sure gets a lot of votes.

As a practical matter, what Tucker Carlson thinks about U.S.–Russia relations and the situation in Ukraine has not mattered very much, except maybe to Jon Stewart and SNL and other media figures and media obsessives. And maybe it should matter even less.

Shout-Outs

Andrew Fink, at the Dispatch: Is Belarus Blinking?

Oliver Wiseman, at City Journal: “The Least Woke City in America”

Kate Walters, at KUOW: Kids to continue masking in Seattle Public Schools — possibly for two more months

Margaret Peppiatt, at the College Fix: Obama Homeland chief, accused of ‘violence on marginalized peoples,’ withdraws as grad speaker

CODA

Songs about whiskey tend to be uniquely inspired. The reason is no mystery. “Old Number 7,” by The Devil Makes Three, stands out as something special even among the greats. It goes down easy, unlike the subject of this tribute.

Care to share a song, libationary or otherwise, with this list? Shoot it over my way: jberger@nationalreview.com. Thanks for reading.

World

What Putin’s Future Holds

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Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the construction site of the National Space Agency at the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Centre in Moscow, Russia, February 27, 2022. (Sputnik/Sergey Guneev/Kremlin via Reuters)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

The irony of Vladimir Putin’s invasion is that his bid for immortality has potentially shortened his lifespan in power.

“Potentially” is doing a lot of work in that sentence. With that caveat, and setting aside speculation over the Russian leader’s health and mental state — an issue that I touched on last weekend and that Senator Marco Rubio repeatedly has hinted is a factor — it is difficult to see how a Russia with Putin on top can ever resume something like normal relations with the world around it.

Allies in Central Europe have turned on Moscow. As Michael Brendan Dougherty notes with astonishment, and some concern, historically neutral nations such as Switzerland are off the fence. Germany is strengthening its defenses, at last. The U.N. General Assembly condemned the invasion, and its Human Rights Council — notoriously tolerant of abuses by any and all nations that don’t close stores on Friday evenings — saw a mass walkout during the contemptible Sergei Lavrov’s remarks. The International Criminal Court is launching a war-crimes investigation. This, on top of sanctions that are crippling the Russian economy.

Russia’s president might not care. Also unclear is what version of the truth is being piped to his desk by way of sycophantic advisers. But the state of play does raise the question of how long Russia’s elites can abide a man whose kleptocracy no longer pays. “So far, Russia’s elite have never had to choose between the life they wanted and Putin,” a piece in Foreign Affairs points out.

NR’s editorial attempts the long view:

At least so far, the reaction to Putin’s invasion has been one that has unified a free West against a brutal authoritarian regime. . . .

But the ultimate solution to our Vladimir Putin problem is a Russian one.

There are early and tentative signs that Putin’s aggression could be the spark that destabilizes his hold on power.

Charles C. W. Cooke provides an important note of caution here, especially as the realities of this war get filtered through the social-media prism. If Putin is endangered, it only makes him more dangerous — and as much as we want to see this all end in decisive humiliation for Vladimir, the immediate future, barring a sudden Russian reversal, is likely to pile horror upon horror for the Ukrainian people :

There will be fighting in and around major population centers. Volunteers will be wiped out. Children will be maimed. War crimes will be committed. The result of this — even if the ploy ultimately fails — will probably not be the good guys rushing in to save the day, but thousands upon thousands of painful deaths. And then what?

A skillfully executed anti-Putin putsch to end the war is likely the stuff of fantasy right now. As Jim Geraghty notes, his advisers “can barely get close enough to throw something at him, much less assassinate him.” Further, whenever he does exit, there is little guarantee his successor will be a kinder, gentler soul. But hairline cracks in the oligarchy are beginning to appear. One former State Department official told the Washington Post that these statements amount to the most significant voicing of dissent by the nation’s elites “since the Soviet period.” Beyond the elites, the Russian people are protesting — or attempting to protest — in cities across the country. Michael McFaul, the Obama administration’s ambassador to Russia, has advanced the idea that mass demonstrations can play a role here. Anecdotally, there is discontent and disgust in the rank-and-file of the Russian military.

Jim observes that Putin’s goal of controlling Ukraine is ultimately unsustainable, given the unified resistance there to Moscow rule — meaning the long-term path to end this war runs through, or over, the head of the Russian Federation.

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

This is not going as planned for Vladimir: Putin Gets More Than He Bargained For

The U.S. is on the cusp of striking an even weaker nuclear deal with Tehran: Biden’s Dangerous Iran Deal

The State of the Union contained no course correction from a presidency in need of one: Biden Fails to Reboot His Presidency

ARTICLES

Rich Lowry: Nationalism’s Finest Hour

Tim Kelleher: The Scandalous Silence of Moscow’s Patriarch

Hollie McKay: Ukrainian Church Leaders Join Fight against Putin’s Invasion: ‘He Is the Antichrist’

Dan McLaughlin: Ukraine’s Historic Propaganda War

Andrew McCarthy: Missing the Point on SWIFT Sanctions

John McCormack: Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Justification for Appearing at a White-Nationalist Conference Is Preposterous

Daniel R. DePetris: A No-Fly Zone over Ukraine Is a Bad Idea

Jimmy Quinn: Sasse Warns ‘Overly Lawyered Process’ Preventing Ukrainians from Obtaining Real-Time Intel

Charles C. W. Cooke: All the President’s Incoherence

Ryan Mills: Afghan CIA Interpreter, Anti-Drug Leader Pleads with U.S. to Save Family from Taliban: ‘So Helpless’

Daniel Buck: Why We Must Teach Our Students to Believe in America

Jay Nordlinger: Wrestling with Hell

Nate Hochman: Full Video Shows Law Students Heckling, Shouting Down Ilya Shapiro for 45 Minutes

Caroline Downey: Activists Riot during Campus Speech, Assault Father Who Was Denied Custody of Son after Contesting Transgender Diagnosis

Erica Smith Ewing & Daryl James: Zoning Police Target the Babysitter Next Door

CAPITAL MATTERS

Kevin Hassett advises we open the Trump playbook for Iran in developing a tougher approach to Russia: How to Bring Russia (and Belarus) to Its Knees with Sanctions

Joel Zinberg looks back at the Covid-testing debacle: Testing Our Patience

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

The latest Batman movie is more horror-thriller than action-adventure. From Kyle Smith: The Darkest Knight Yet

Armond White lauds Ruth Negga’s performance in Passing, if not the movie itself: Ruth Negga Redeems Black History Month

Brian Allen delivers the third installment on the Morozov Collection exhibition in Paris: Plumbing Van Gogh’s Prison Courtyard

FROM THE NEW, MARCH 21, 2022, ISSUE OF NR

Elliott Abrams: The New Cold War

Dan McLaughlin: Judging Judge Jackson

Richard Brookhiser: The Masks Come Off

Fred O’Brien: Catching the Windbag

SOMEBODY LEFT THE BARN DOOR OPEN, AND LOOK WHAT GOT OUT

A new, very Russia-focused issue of National Review is out. In it, Elliott Abrams puts this confrontation in historical context and shows what is at stake:

We are not ready — militarily, politically, or psychologically — for the prolonged crisis ahead of us. Vast American productivity, wealth, and power overwhelmed Germany in both the First and the Second World War, and Japan in the latter. We were certain of victory, and our allies knew that once we entered the war, the outcome was not in doubt.

In the Cold War, Russia rivaled us in military power but — though many analysts vastly overstated the size of the Soviet economy — its communist system meant that it could never keep up. The gap in wealth and technological pro­gress grew by the decade. Still, Russia and Soviet communism posed a great challenge, and the “Cold” War saw tens of thousands of American deaths in Korea and Vietnam. Russia seemed to be steadily gaining ground geopolitically by the end of the 1970s, but Ronald Reagan led a resurgence of American military and economic power and determination, and a decade later the Soviet Union fell. For 30 years now, Americans have been able to fight the dangerous but not existential threat from terrorism without much worry about the shape of the world our children will live in.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is not an attack on the United States, and in that sense is perhaps more like the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 than like Pearl Harbor: a sharp announcement that all bets are off. Like 9/11, it tells us that the world is far more dangerous than we have wanted to believe. Even many Americans who saw China as the great challenge of the 21st century often thought we could simply draw back from Europe and the Middle East and turn to the Pacific again. A look at U.S. defense spending confirms our relaxed view of the threats we faced: Spending was 9 per­cent of GDP in 1960 and then fell to under 5 percent in the late 1970s. The Reagan buildup raised it to 6.6 percent by 1986, but then it fell again: under 6 percent, then under 5, then down to 4, then under 4 percent from 2014 to 2020.

Today we face challenges to U.S. interests that are growing each year and may actually be greater than those of the 20th century. Neither Germany nor Japan nor the combination of the two constituted a peer rival to the United States. But what if Nazi Germany and Japan had maintained an alliance with the USSR? That is the risk presented when a fully rearmed, aggressive Russia and a rich, aggressive, and technologically advanced China tell us that the inter­national order that has lasted since 1945 must end, and American predominance with it. . . .

In fact, the invasion of Ukraine is step four for Putin, after Georgia, Crimea, and Donbas, invasions done under U.S. administrations of both parties over a decade and a half. Had we reacted more strongly in those cases, had we imposed severe costs, the Ukraine invasion would likely not have occurred. Putin learned a lesson; so should we.

Daniel Buck provides some perspective, amid the Ukraine crisis, on why it’s important to offer students a vision of America worth defending:

This conflict may not lead to our military involvement, but it reminds us that the international order is fragile. We might become entangled in a war again and currently do face countless non-military challenges; do we trust our public schools to produce citizens who are ready for that?

Our populace must have something worth defending if it is to defend itself. It is in our institutions of public education that our nation learns of its history and civics. It is here that our students will or will not develop the necessary national resolve. What story will we teach our children about ourselves? . . .

Again, this mythos-building doesn’t necessitate that we lie to our students. We can teach our students of America’s many failings while showcasing that our reformation has come about because of, not in spite of, our founding vision — that, for example, Confederate leaders rebuffed our founding documents while Frederick Douglass embraced them.

While the current crisis is unlikely to escalate into war involving our forces, at some point, America will again face a threat to its existence. Will we meet the challenge? I worry we won’t. No one will storm a beach to defend whatever our DEI consultants think America is.

After the SOTU, Charles C. W. Cooke examines Biden’s rhetorical methods, and finds none:

The singer David Bowie liked to write lyrics by cutting scribbled notes into pieces, throwing them wildly up into the air, and then reassembling them at random. Joe Biden’s speech last night had the same tone. Indeed, with the exception of his nod to Ukraine, Biden’s address wasn’t an address, so much as it was a series of “and one more thing . . .” exclamations of the sort one might suffer through from a lazy drunk at a bar. Biden empathized mawkishly with the victims of inflation, but then lauded the binge that helped it spiral. He used “Built in America” as a slogan, but then outlined an agenda that would ensure it never happens. He lied about the things he always lies about — the protections that are supposedly enjoyed by firearms companies, the distribution of the 2017 tax cuts, that as president he has “created” millions of jobs; he shouted about the things that excite him; and he ignored the things that do not. The Afghanistan withdrawal, which he still maintains was an “extraordinary success,” was not mentioned at all.

And then there was his delivery. As a rule, I am a dove when it comes to politicians’ rhetorical mistakes. Presidents are busy and tired and constantly in motion, and from time to time they are bound to forget which city they are in or to mispronounce a foreign word. But with Biden, it is relentless. Because they must, the president’s apologists like pretend that his shortcomings are the product of a persistent childhood “stutter.” But this, of course, is nonsense, as anyone who remembers him ten years ago can attest. Simply put, Joe Biden can no longer speak properly. He slurs and mangles his words; he struggles mightily to distinguish between concepts — and contexts; his memory cannot keep up with his folksy off-script digressions, which now end with a trail-off or a pivot or an involuntary Kerouacian riff. Unable to read or process the contents of the Teleprompter, Biden talked last night about “a pound of Ukrainian people,” confused “Ukrainian” with “Iranian” (provoking a mouthed correction from Kamala Harris), referenced “other freedee loving nations,” and praised the Ukrainian “mall of strength.” And those were just the highlights.

From the Institute for Justice, Erica Smith Ewing and Daryl James relay yet another story of how needless government meddling has worsened Covid-related hardships:

Single mother Bianca King rebounded quickly when she lost her job as a program manager in the aerospace industry as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Turning the situation into an opportunity, she opened a state-approved babysitting service at her home near Austin, Texas.

Enterprising individuals — especially women — have operated similar businesses for centuries; home-based child care is an ordinary activity that fills an important societal need. Unfortunately, not everyone celebrated King’s new venture. Her home in Lakeway, Texas, is adjacent to the eighth hole of the Live Oak Golf Course, and three golfers complained to the city about the hardship of teeing off within earshot of children.

One of the golfers, a former Lakeway mayor, described seeing playthings behind a fence in King’s enclosed backyard. “There were huge blowup toys and things that were outside in the backyard that were fully visible to the golf course,” he told the city’s Zoning and Planning Commission during a public hearing. The only inflatable toy that King owns is a five-foot-tall rainbow sprinkler — nothing out of the ordinary in a family-friendly community.

The golfers’ only other complaint was about parents’ picking up and dropping off their kids. But again, the outrage was exaggerated. King watches only two to four children at a time — in addition to her own son and daughter — and all of her clients live nearby. They drive in their own neighborhood during daylight hours, and some of them walk with strollers. The business generates no outside traffic.

Despite the lack of any legitimate gripe, Lakeway sided with the golfers. Relying on onerous zoning rules that make home-based businesses nearly impossible to start, local officials rejected King’s application for a city permit in November and denied her appeal in February. The one-two punch has put King’s sole source of income in jeopardy, while creating uncertainty for her clients.

Shout-Outs

Mary Anastasia O’Grady, at the Wall Street Journal: Putin’s Victims in Guatemala

Andrew Michta, at City Journal: Europe’s Wakeup Call

Samuel Bendett, at Defense One: Where Are Russia’s Drones?

Vladislav Davidzon, at UnHerd: A Putin puppet government will fail

CODA

Jay Nordlinger highlighted this piece last weekend, but it deserves an encore. “The Great Gate of Kiev” (or Kyiv, as Jay allows) is the final triumphant installment of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and timely.

Have time for one more? On the lighter side, even? Wonderful.

Given the Canada-focused news cycle that churned right up until Putin opted for war, a Rush song is also — heck, always — apt. Any excuse, really, for Rush. So, from the titans of Toronto, here is a particularly vivacious live version, recorded in 1997 at a Chicago-area show and featured on Different Stages, of “Closer to the Heart.” Listen for Geddy at the midpoint.

World

The 1980s Are Calling to Say We Might Need Their Foreign Policy

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Servicemen ride on an armored vehicle with the letter ‘Z’ on it in Armyansk, Crimea, after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a military operation in eastern Ukraine, February 24, 2022. (Stringer/Reuters)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

Twosday’s gone, and so is the post–Cold War order.

Perhaps that assumption will prove premature, but the horrifying conflagration across Ukraine combined with other autocratic advances gives the unmistakable impression that we are living through a transition of lasting consequence — how lasting is likely to be determined at a later date by the way China reads the situation. “The Cold War’s been over for 20 years,” Barack Obama famously reminded Mitt Romney in 2012 in response to his Russia concerns, snarking that “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.” That was half true. For America, the war was over. Not, evidently, for Vladimir Putin.

His unhinged pre-invasion speech was a grievance-airing like few others. Before releasing Part Two, coinciding with a nationwide military assault, Putin lamented the “disintegration of our united country” and the “injustices, lies, and outright pillage” he claims Russia has endured. Kyiv now hangs in the balance, along with Ukraine’s democratically elected government, as Russia attempts to drive into the capital — all because of the grandiose paranoia and territorial rapacity of one man.

It appears we could use some of that 1980s foreign policy about now (hold the support for blood-stained actors in Latin America, please) — in the sense of replacing for good the Russian “reset” with hard-nosed realism and a posture that reflects it. Romney could not resist noting that “the ‘80s called’ and we didn’t answer.” America’s options now are limited, but available.

Mark Wright offers nine steps to counter Russia’s aggression, not the least of which is to sideline the nation from the international organizations it has helped turn farcical. NR’s editorials propose the following:

The White House should implement all of the measures it has prepared in recent months right now. It needs to make public all the lists of Putin-aligned oligarchs it has and take measures to cripple Russia’s military-industrial base through sanctions on high-tech imports. And it needs to accelerate the effort to arm the Ukrainians to the teeth, increasing the military price that Russia will pay for its invasion.

More broadly, it should ask Congress for massive increases in defense spending, continue to shore up frontline NATO members, and unleash the American oil and gas industry so we aren’t in the position of begging OPEC+, including Russia, to increase production.

Biden on Thursday announced a new round of sanctions, stopping short of cutting off Russia from the SWIFT global financial system. America and Western allies must go further; in the near term, hope rests on Ukrainians’ ability and will to fight back, which they are doing, and the strategy of making this evil war too costly for the despot who chose it.

The Hudson Institute’s Arthur Herman writes also of a missed opportunity in Munich, where he says the program should have involved a recommitment to NATO nations’ defense-budget targets, plans for NATO expansion, plans for pursuing the missile-defense system in Eastern Europe that Obama scrapped, a strategy for reversing Europe’s reliance on Russian energy, and more. On NATO, Michael Brendan Dougherty counters that the West is now reaping the consequences of past expansion, leaving a “Russian foreign policy moving in a direction decidedly not to our liking.” Whether “more NATO” is the answer is a debate that will divide the West in the years to come.

Either way, what Western civilization has little use for is the kind of meme ops that the State Department seems to regard, without much reason, as tactically devastating. As Robert Zubrin notes, the spin war and the real war are very different things. Or, as Mark Wright says more bluntly, “sh** posting memes while Russian tanks are massing for a major invasion of a European country and while Russian troops are currently engaged in a deadly serious occupation of several parts of eastern Ukraine is, frankly, embarrassing.”

What the moment calls for is seriousness, and recognition that even as the U.S. has no plans for direct military intervention, the physical distance between unrest abroad and America, as the past 20 years have demonstrated, can be illusory. Jerry Hendrix argues that the post–USSR hopes for “Perpetual Peace” have passed and observes that Putin is on a path to permanent pariah-ship. Whether this leads him toward even more reckless behavior will be clear soon enough.

We should heed the words of those who know this regime. In his book Red Notice, investor-turned-activist Bill Browder recalled the counsel that Ukrainian-born tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who exposed sprawling corruption and died in prison for it, gave as their saga started: “Russian stories never have happy endings.”  

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

Putin may well win this battle, but that does not mean the war won’t ruin him: Vladimir Putin’s Gamble

The West, meanwhile, should make his military pursuits as painful as possible: The Ukraine Catastrophe

ARTICLES

Michael Brendan Dougherty: Vlad’s War of Choice

Kevin Williamson: How the Imperial Presidency Hurts American Foreign Policy

Mark Antonio Wright: What to Expect Next in Ukraine

Ryan Mills: Civilian Effort to Rescue Americans from Ukraine Underway

Charles C. W. Cooke: Foreign-Policy Dissent Is Not Treason

Charles C. W. Cooke: Biden’s Dismal State of the Union

Nate Hochman: Trudeau Government Moves to Make Expanded Surveillance Powers over Financial Transactions ‘Permanent’

Sally Pipes: Stalled in D.C., the Single-Payer Fantasy Makes Its Way to Blue States

Madeleine Kearns: Lia Thomas Is No Jackie Robinson

Rich Lowry: BLM is a Moral, Political, and Policy Disaster

Kyle Smith: Trump’s Ukrainian Outrage

Isaac Schorr: Senate Democrats Rail against Corporate Influence While Accepting Piles of Tainted Cash

Dan McLaughlin: How Republicans Should Respond to Ketanji Brown Jackson

Caroline Downey: Teachers’ Union Heavyweight Mocks Parental Calls for Transparency, Demands Report on What Kids Learn at Home

Ryan Ellis: The ‘Skin in the Game’ Fallacy

Andrew McCarthy: Manhattan DA’s Trump Investigation Appears to Have Cratered

CAPITAL MATTERS

Tom Hebert notices a lesson for antitrust warriors in the Meta stock turbulence: Stock Plunge Shows the Folly of Legislating By Market Cap

Stephen Moore follows up on this topic: Antitrust Legislation Would Hurt the U.S. and Aid China

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

Armond White flags the “first amazing movie of 2022”: Jeunet’s Amazing, Insightful Big Bug

In a peculiar bit of timing, a spectacular Russian collection of art is on display in Paris, with a nod from Putin. Brian Allen explains: Cézannes, Van Goghs, Gauguins Galore, from Russia to Paris

A joint memoir from the Howard brothers (Ron and Clint, that is) is full of touching anecdotes and insights. From Kyle Smith: Hollywood’s Most Fortunate Sons

SAMIZDAT, CONT’D

What happens now? Nobody can know for sure, but Mark Wright is providing valuable military analysis — and argues that hope is not lost for the Ukrainians:

The Russians have, so far, acted in a somewhat restrained manner. They have, compared to the Russian army’s operations in Syria, for example, appeared to be trying to avoid civilian casualties. To that end, they have avoided a direct assault on Kharkiv, a city of more than a million people that lies close to the Russian border. And they largely bypassed the southern town of Kherson in an effort to leapfrog forward towards the city of Mykolaiv. If they want to try to end the war quickly, however, Russian troops will have to storm a city center — likely Kyiv, a city of more than 3 million souls. How will the ground troops handle this? There are already rumors of low morale in the Russian ranks. Indeed, there are reports that Russian POWs have told their Ukrainian captors that they didn’t even know they would be sent into combat to kill Ukrainians!

As armies throughout the bloody 20th century discovered, urban combat is hell. If faced with an opponent willing to dig in and fight it out, mechanized units and infantry can get chewed up, and fast. Faced with high casualties, would Russian troops be willing to turn to sheer fire power to blast their Ukrainian cousins out of the rubble like they did the Chechen rebels in Grozny? Would they be willing to fight block by bloody block? Would they be willing to turn rocket artillery barrages and white-phosphorus shells on a people that Putin calls essentially Russian?

War is not a game of Risk. This isn’t chess. A Ukrainian “victory” in the streets of Kyiv would be a horror and a bloodbath. But victory — defined as forcing the Russian army to call it quits, perhaps aided by a growing anti-war protest movement in Russia — is not utterly impossible if the Ukrainians are willing to pay its terrible price.

Michael Brendan Dougherty sets aside the questions over whether the West could have quelled Putin’s rage and examines the implications of one inarguable fact:

A thousand flimsy orthodoxies and assertions die after the action begins. But we have so far one certainty: Russia’s attack on Ukraine is an aggressive war of choice.

In fact, Russian president Vladimir Putin did not even attempt to disguise that he was engaged in a war of choice. Despite months of U.S. intelligence reports warning that Russia would use false-flag attacks — faked outrages in Ukraine’s contested territories, meant to gin up Russian support for an invasion — nothing of the sort happened.

On Monday, Putin gave an address that made it sound like his military buildup and the forthcoming war were meant as a way of teaching Ukrainians and the rest of the world that Ukrainian identity and its national tradition are faked — the product of the policy of a handful of people who “distort the mentality and historical memory” of entire generations. It was followed by outlandish accusations of various plots for Ukraine to attack Moscow. . . .

For all these reasons, this appears to be Putin’s war and Putin’s choice. It comes after Putin’s failures to get Ukraine to implement the Minsk agreements, and his failure to deter Ukraine from collaborating more with NATO members such as the United Kingdom and Turkey. Which means Putin’s entire legacy and prestige is wrapped up in this campaign. That certainly makes him dangerous. But if it goes poorly, or if the costs for Russians are too high, Putin himself will be a juicy scapegoat for the regime and the society that has lived under and endured his leadership. The exact same brotherly ties between Ukraine and Russia that Putin wrote about in an essay on their historical unity may cause a significant number of Russians to recoil if the war becomes long, or particularly bloody.

Wars of choice are risky things — even for dictators.

In “other news,” Biden announced his Supreme Court pick. Dan McLaughlin provides a roadmap for Republicans:

Here are three ways Senate Republicans should approach the nomination.

First, be realistic. Democrats have 50 votes, and they have Kamala Harris to break a tie. That means that Republicans cannot stop Jackson’s confirmation unless they can peel off at least one Democrat who voted to put her on the D.C. Circuit. Even Democratic mavericks such as Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have been reliable votes for progressive judges. . . .

Being realistic means three things. It means that Republicans should aim to use the nomination to impose political costs on Biden and on senators voting for Jackson. It means that Republicans don’t need to try desperate stunts to win. And it means that their audience, if there is a chance of sinking Jackson, is Democratic senators, and their argument in that regard must be specific to Jackson rather than generally about constitutional philosophy. By contrast, the more remote the odds of stopping her, the more Republicans should talk to the voters about that philosophy in order to highlight the stakes in Senate races. . . .

Second, don’t play for revenge. It may feel good, emotionally, to play the “you made these rules” game and try for scorched-earth personal destruction of the type deployed against Kavanaugh. But that backfired on Democrats. In a Democratic wave year, multiple Senate races swung toward Republicans down the stretch. A lot of people were horrified by the Democrats’ antics. It is highly likely that some far-right figure will try to gin up a fake sexual-misconduct charge against Jackson, just for the revenge factor. For reasons of both politics and principle, we should urge the Senate to evaluate any personal charges of scandal of any kind against Jackson by the same standards of fairness and rigor we urged for Kavanaugh and for Joe Biden.

Third, don’t obsess over race and gender. Voters who know that Biden excluded everyone but black women from his search already disapprove of that. Of course, some voters are just tuning in now, so Republicans may remind them. But beyond that, voters do not need more convincing, and harping on the “affirmative-action pick” language is more likely to make people sympathize with Jackson. Focus instead on her deficiencies as a judge, her judicial philosophy and worldview, or her service on the board of a racially discriminatory college. Democrats want the conversation to be about “conservatives disrespecting a black woman,” not about Jackson in particular as a jurist. Don’t give them that.

ICYMI, this update from Nate Hochman on Canada’s financial-surveillance measures tore through the Internet earlier this week:

As all eyes were trained on the aggressive police sweep of the Ottawa trucker convoy this week, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s administration was quietly moving to implement a sweeping expansion of surveillance power at the federal level.

The Trudeau government’s financial war against the truckers has been covered at length. But one underreported aspect of this broader assault on Canadian civil liberties is the effort to bring crowdfunding and payment service providers — two of the most prominent routes for financial transactions on the Internet — under the permanent control of a centralized government authority.

In a February 14 news conference, Canadian finance minister Chrystia Freeland said that the government was using the Emergencies Act to broaden “the scope of Canada’s anti-money-laundering and terrorist financing rules so that they cover crowdfunding platforms and the payment service providers they use.” That broadened power requires all forms of digital transactions, including cryptocurrencies, to be reported to the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Center of Canada. (I.e., “Fintrac”). “As of today, all crowdfunding platforms and the payment service providers they use must register with Fintrac, and they must report large and suspicious transactions to Fintrac,” Freeland said. . . .

Freeland said the trucker convoy, which had assembled to protest coronavirus restrictions, had “highlighted the fact” that digital assets and funding mechanisms “weren’t captured” by the Canadian government’s pre-existing surveillance powers. As a result, she said, “the government will also bring forward legislation to provide these authorities to FinTrac on a permanent basis.” . . .

All this, of course, flies in the face of Trudeau’s promise that the Emergencies Act powers would be temporary. When he announced his invocation of the order, he promised the Canadian people that his expanded authorities would “be time-limited, geographically targeted, as well as reasonable and proportionate to the threats they are meant to address.” Not a single part of that sentence has proved to be true.

Shout-Outs

Liana Fix and Michael Kimmage, at Foreign Affairs: What if Russia Wins?

Alex Janin, at the Wall Street Journal: Many in Gen Z May Never Work in an Office

Philip Wegmann, at RealClearPolitics: For Decades Biden Promised He Could Handle Putin

Joseph Ruttle, at the Vancouver Sun: B.C. MP alleges single mom had account frozen over truck convoy donation

CODA 

It was always burning.

Elections

The Left’s Culture-War Mission Creep

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Stephen Lewis and other protestors hold signs in support of the San Francisco School Board recall along 19th Avenue in the Sunset District of San Francisco, Calif., Feb. 12, 2022. (Stephen Lam/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

Somewhere in the jungles of San Francisco or Montgomery County, Md., or . . . pick any place in Virginia, a platoon of progressive culture warriors must be hacking through the bush wondering how their objectives changed so drastically over the years.

They enlisted to fight for gay marriage, abortion rights, and the strict separation of church and state. So what’s this business about racist math, wrong pronouns, mismatched swim meets, and the erasure of George Washington’s name from buildings?

This drift — that is, the swinging shift in priorities that has placed the progressive Left so out of step with the non-politically-obsessed American middle — helps explain the popular rebukes we’re seeing in polls and polling places. San Francisco provided a potent example this week as overwhelming majorities in a not-very-Republican city voted to recall three progressive school-board members, a campaign initiated amid complaints the board was pursuing divisive social-justice fights instead of working to reopen schools and deal with pressing financial problems.

Ryan Mills gives the backstory here:

Instead of focusing its efforts on developing a reopening plan, the board has been preoccupied with woke culture war issues, expending energy on changing the admissions process at the highly-selective Lowell High School to boost the number of black and Hispanic students and reduce the number of white and Asian students; rechristening 44 schools named after prominent Americans, including presidents Abraham Lincoln and George Washington; and a proposal to spend close to $1 million to paint over a historic, 80-year-old mural at a local school that depicts the life of Washington, but also includes outdated stereotypes.

The board became the focus of national ridicule last February after a two-hour debate over whether a gay white dad was diverse enough to join an all-female volunteer parent committee. All the while, the district’s budget deficit ballooned to about $125 million last year, leading California education officials to threaten a state takeover.

Of course, some local leaders aren’t learning any lessons, blaming a cabal of “closet Republicans” (who knew there were so many in San Francisco?) for the defeats. But as NR’s editorial states, the verdict from voters is clear that “far-left progressivism has not worked and is not working.”

For her part, Democratic mayor London Breed cheered the result and called it “a clear message that the school board must focus on the essentials of delivering a well-run school system above all else.” Breed seems to recognize the danger of pursuits that please only zealots. She has previously warned about what the collapse in law enforcement is doing to her city; this week, Seattle’s mayor had a similar awakening.

Other elected Dems are starting to notice that the opinions of overactive blue-checks do not reflect the opinions of a majority, as seen in the wave of decisions to lift mask mandates and other coronavirus restrictions. Perhaps quietly, they are coming to realize that Glenn Youngkin’s victory in Virginia was not driven by Charlottesville tiki-torchers, but by the normal people whose bemusement at the causes of the Left is turning to annoyance and ultimately sound rejection. Add in the inflation that the Biden administration insists is unrelated to the nation’s historic levels of spending, and the polls start to make sense.

And boy, oh boy, those polls. Charles C. W. Cooke flags one outfit, whose surveys tend to favor Democrats, showing President Biden short of 50 percent approval in every state, and underwater in all but four. A separate Morning Consult/Politico poll should be sending Ron Klain in search of scuba gear. Rich Lowry highlights this report from Politico:

Democrats’ own research shows that some battleground voters think the party is “preachy,” “judgmental” and “focused on culture wars,” according to documents obtained by POLITICO.

Unclear is whether the response will be to change course — or to simply accuse Republicans of something worse, like pouncing. But the culture-war mission creep is undeniable, as is the insurgency rising up against it.

Peggy Noonan recently had some characteristically sage advice, noting that in this time of excess on the left, it is the job of the Republican Party “to be sane,” to be “the party of the big center, to stand for normal, regular people in all their human variety — all races, ethnicities, faiths — against the forces of ideology currently assailing them.”

If you’ve had a chance to catch a showing lately of the Republican Party, you know this will be harder than it sounds. But the opportunity is there, bigly.

In a semi-related bit of news, the cancel-culture wars are no less heated these days. The voices calling for a more thoughtful approach, though, do appear to be getting louder. Nate Hochman reported exclusively on a federal judge who surprised a Georgetown Law audience with a speech defending Ilya Shapiro, the legal scholar who was sidelined from the school’s Center for the Constitution over, in essence, a bad tweet. Judge James Ho’s remarks are filled with wisdom and common sense, so consider yourself warned.

Last, check out Nate’s coverage this past week from Ottawa, which we are reliably informed is very, very cold. (Nate, with his itinerant reporting schedule, is truly the Roy Kent of this operation.)

Onward . . .

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

Another election, another resounding message from voters that radicalism is not working: The Trouncing of the San Francisco School Board

Even if they’re getting the “conspiracy theory” treatment, the allegations in John Durham’s latest court filing are serious: Durham’s Jaw-Dropping Revelation

ARTICLES

Michael Brendan Dougherty: Maskless Super Bowl Marks Our Return to Normalcy

Michael Brendan Dougherty: Against Meta

Charles C. W. Cooke: What in the Hell Is Kamala Harris Doing?

Charles C. W. Cooke: Justin Trudeau Has Disgraced His Office

Kevin Williamson: Trudeau Follows the Money

Kevin Williamson: Why Progressives Can’t Quit Their Masks

Stefani E. Buhajla: The Human Costs of Covid-Related Medicaid Expansion

Alexandra DeSanctis: The Real Science of Fetal Heartbeats

Jimmy Quinn: McKinsey Website Contradicts Denials of Chinese-Government Work; Rubio Claims ‘Cover-Up’

David Harsanyi: Kamala, Blink Twice If You’ve Been Kidnapped by the Ayatollahs

John Fund: Thirty House Democrats Now Retiring — the GOP Needs Only Five Seats for Majority

Don’t miss Andrew McCarthy’s three-part series on the January 6 Committee: Mitch McConnell’s Good Start; The Irony of the January 6 Committee; Fix the January 6 Committee

. . . or the first two installments of Dan McLaughlin’s series on gerrymandering: The Selective Gerrymandering Panic; Why Democrats’ Gerrymandering ‘Fix’ Would Fail

. . . or the many tributes to P. J. O’Rourke

CAPITAL MATTERS

Daniel J. Pilla doesn’t buy the IRS’s claim that they’ll really “transition away” from a plan for facial-recognition technology: The IRS Wants Your Picture

Andy Puzder explains why supply-chain and demand issues aren’t the only things driving inflation — and why inflation in the U.S. is so much higher than elsewhere: Building Back Stagflation

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

A video-game-based movie ends up being an inane hodgepodge of disconnected action sequences? Weird. From Kyle Smith: Tom Holland vs. Tom Cruise

Armond White finds the movie for our time, way back in 1978: Peckinpah’s Convoy Honors the Lost Art of Dissent

Brian Allen writes about the triumphant return of a cherished painting to the U.K.: Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, Back in London

FROM THE NEW, MARCH 7, 2022, ISSUE OF NR

John Miller: The New Politics of School Choice

Madeleine Kearns: Reefer Madness

John McCormack: What Reforming the Electoral Count Act Can Do

Jay Nordlinger: Daughter of Ukraine

FREE SAMPLES, FOLKS — EXCERPTS ARE ON US

Faced with an increasingly disruptive trucker-convoy protest, Canada has opted for an illiberal and heavy-handed intervention that we can’t help but notice was not employed in 2020. Kevin Williamson explains:

In this so-called emergency, Trudeau is not sending in the troops. He is cutting off the money.

Trudeau, sounding a little like the old southern segregationists who complained about “outside agitators,” insists that the protests have been driven by “social media and illicit funding” rather than by genuine disapproval of his government’s policies. And so he is using the Emergency Measures Act to invest himself with the unilateral power to freeze bank accounts and cancel insurance policies, without so much as a court order and with essentially no recourse for those he targets. Canadian banks and financial-services companies will be ordered to disable clients suspected of being involved in the protests.

Trudeau says the protests are illegal. That is not quite right. The protests are not illegal per se, though some of the protesters certainly are breaking the law, for instance by blocking public roads and the like. The obvious parallel is the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests in Canada, which also included some law-breaking. Trudeau did not invoke Emergency Measures Act powers to suppress those protests, even though they brought together large crowds during a particularly dangerous phase of the Covid-19 epidemic contrary to the advice of Trudeau’s government — and the advice out of his own mouth, for that matter. Far from shutting down those protests, Trudeau actually participated in them, making a pious spectacle out of himself. . . .

I myself do not particularly sympathize with the aims or the tactics of the protesters in Canada. I don’t care much for unruly mobs of any persuasion. But even so, it is impossible not to see the plain fact that these protesters are being targeted not for their practical effect or their tactics but for their beliefs and for the sort of people they are, that an obvious double standard is at play, and that this is deeply illiberal.

Not to be an alarmist, but . . . can pot make you crazy? Madeleine Kearns, for the latest issue of NR, interviews husband-and-wife psychiatrists looking into the link:

In 2004, [Dr. Robin MacGregor Murray and Dr. Marta Di Forti] launched the Genetics and Psychotic Disorder study, examining the genetic and environmental causes of psychosis. Since 2019, Di Forti has been running the National Health Service’s first clinic for cannabis-induced psychosis. The initial pilot scheme had 20 patients. Demand for the service is only growing, with 30 or more patients participating by Zoom each week. . . .

Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, the idea that cannabis might be contributing to mental-health problems never occurred to Murray and his colleagues. In 1996 the Lancet — Britain’s top medical journal — editorialized that cannabis was a safe drug. When psychotic patients’ families would ask whether there was any link, since their loved one “smoked marijuana morning, noon, and night,” Murray would answer no.

By the 1990s, however, the question had been raised so many times that he began to wonder. First, Murray and his researchers found that people who kept smoking cannabis after developing psychosis did much worse than people who stopped. “After establishing that it was bad for you once you were psychotic, then we began looking at whether it actually provoked the psychosis in the first place,” Murray says. By 2003, they were convinced that cannabis was a “component cause” of psychosis. In other words, while a person may already have a genetic vulnerability, or other risk factors, heavy cannabis use can also trigger and exacerbate psychosis in those without an obvious predisposition. . . .

Most of the patients at the clinic smoke every day and have done so for several years. Yet their psychosis can come on quite suddenly: “Just like cigarettes and lung cancer. You could be smoking for 20 years before you get lung cancer,” Murray says. Likewise, you could be smoking cannabis for five or even ten years before you go psychotic.

Catch up on the latest revelations from John Durham’s investigation, from NR’s editorial:

In a court submission last week, Durham alleged that a tech executive, who was supposed to be helping the government combat cyber threats, used his privileged access to Internet data — specifically, domain name system (DNS) traffic between servers — to mine contacts between Russia and facilities connected to Donald Trump. The information, Durham says, was taken out of context and distorted to suggest that Trump might be a clandestine agent of Vladimir Putin’s regime. . . .

Joffe was a Clinton supporter who was hoping to land a big national-security post if Hillary Clinton were elected president in 2016. Joffe and the Clinton campaign got their lawyer, Michael Sussmann, to communicate this “intelligence” about a corrupt Trump–Russia relationship to government intelligence agencies in the hopes that they would take action against Trump. Sussmann, a former Justice Department cyber-security prosecutor, was then a partner at Perkins Coie, the politically connected law firm that represented the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign. . . .

All indications are that Durham’s final report will be damning — and, if the pattern holds, ignored by all the same people in the media who promoted Russiagate for years. Even if few people ever face legal jeopardy for this, there ought to be political repercussions as well as serious thought given to preventing similar abuses in the future.

Michael Brendan Dougherty identifies a cultural turning point in the pandemic endgame:

The Super Bowl was our unofficial return to normality for the United States. A relatively normal game, with a halftime show geared toward people in their 40s. But the “normal” part was the crowd. It was the general atmosphere. The Chinese Olympics that nobody is watching feature athletes getting served by people in hazmat suits. Meanwhile, SoFi stadium gathered over 70,000 fans for the big game, and the cameras panning the vast crowd showed the spectators to be almost entirely maskless.

This was the end of the pandemic in the United States — or at least the primary signal that, as a culture, we are ready for the end. . . .

That a football game could “end” a pandemic may seem absurd — what does it have to do with the spread, with the facts of the disease and the latest variants, or with the rate of vaccine uptake? But cultures never make sense as pure calculations about inputs and outputs. Ultimately, we make a collective cultural decision about whether we are in a state of emergency or not. A big, raucous crowd of unmasked fans at a football game in America is normal. Broadcasting that game — and studiously refusing to reference or mention the pandemic — is a giant flashing sign. You probably have moved on or are about to move on. We’re moving on, too.

Shout-Outs

Soledad Ursúa, at City Journal: San Francisco’s Heart of Darkness

Tony Badran, at Tablet: Biden Pays Army Salaries to Iranian Ally

Hannah Sparks, at the New York Post: Priest who botched thousands of baptisms steps down after 25 years

Christian Schneider, at the College Fix: U. Michigan on track to hire 20 new ‘anti-racism’ faculty (Recall this story from NR earlier this month.)

CODA

This is the song that would have made last weekend’s back-to-the-Nineties halftime show whole.

U.S.

Covid Politics Are Awful

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Scenes from Covid-19-related protests, alongside a mask-mandate sign at the Phoenix airport. (Getty/Reuters — National Review Illustration by Cristi Name)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

One of the most shocking scenes in the Netflix drama The Crown depicts the real-life Aberfan disaster of 1966, in which a mass of coal waste slid down a mountain and smothered 144 people, most of them children. 

In the aftermath, the series shows Prime Minister Harold Wilson remarking on how delicate the situation would become. An aide scoffs at the notion that the tragic accident would turn political. (It would.)

“Everything is political,” the PM replies.

So it was true then, so it remains true now with the coronavirus disaster of 2020 onward. But the politics of the pandemic have become as virulent as Covid-19 itself, to a degree that might even have startled Wilson’s dramatized character.

The suddenly shifting debate over masking in schools is one illustration. As Jim Geraghty observes, the chair of the Virginia Democratic Party, among others, blasted Governor Glenn Youngkin just a few weeks ago for his mask-optional order — calling the face-coverings “essential” for student safety and accusing the Republican of catering to the “far-right fringes.” This week, Democratic governors moved to roll back school mask requirements all over the map. Even Democrats in Virginia are now having a change of heart. Are they all “far right”? Even considering falling cases, did circumstances so radically change between the time of Youngkin’s order and today to justify the loosening now, but not previously?

Of course not. Everything is political, and the politics of Covid-19 are awful.

Kyle Smith explains here why the argument that the science has changed, or that cases have fallen to an acceptable level (that is, still above what they were a couple months ago when masks were still insisted on), is flimsy. The pivot is now being justified by some as a Solomonic compromise between extremes — the problem with this, as Charles C. W. Cooke says, is that this third way, which acknowledges that restrictions were once necessary but now can go, is not a sudden consensus but has been the position of a huge number of Americans for a long time. It is a position that was relentlessly vilified as anti-science until this week.

Everything is political.

This toxicity has consequences. Caroline Downey reports here on how the masking debate has affected Connecticut students all along, as described by an elementary-school teacher who had to remain anonymous in order to speak freely:

“Kids are being taught to call out their peers. I constantly see kids bullying their classmates, yelling things like ‘Johnny, put your mask above your nose!’,” she said.

While the teacher encourages her children to take “mask breaks” outside to get some air, she says she’s noticed that some are afraid to ask for one because they’re worried that they’ll be ridiculed. . . .

“I had a kid throw up in my room. The mask was covered in vomit, and then the student felt like they had to cover their mouth with their hands.”

None of this is to say the masks can’t offer any protection, or that parents must shun them. But the effort to put that decision in the hands of families, as with so much else during this pandemic, never should have become so politicized. The official guidance has changed often enough, and varies enough from country to country, to justify reasoned debate on the departure from it. Instead, we saw hysterical accusations of running a death cult for kids, of promoting the virus for a “warped idea of personal liberty,” and of being “anti public health.”

Lockdowns were the subject of a similar partisan battle royal — a new study has now emerged saying that they “had little or no effect on COVID-19 mortality” and concluding that “lockdowns should be rejected out of hand as a pandemic policy instrument.” Mario Loyola writes:

One of the study’s more depressing findings is that lockdowns appear to have been heavily driven by intergovernmental peer pressure. “In short,” the authors note, “it is not the severity of the pandemic that drives the adoption of lockdowns, but rather the propensity to copy policies initiated by neighboring countries.”

Lockdowns were contagious; in some cases, they weren’t adopted out of necessity but conformity. Yet at the time, skeptics were lambasted as the “Fox News-Nazi-Confederate death-cult rump of the Republican Party.”

The hyperbolic, attention-grabbing accusations run in the other direction, too, as Michael Brendan Dougherty documented in his memorable account of a recent school-board meeting, where officials were castigated as criminals, with “plentiful references to Nazi Germany.”

If ever there were a cause to make apolitical — a time to detach ourselves from tribe for the common good — the task of extracting the nation from this crippling pandemic in a way that balances public health with everything else is it. As NR’s editorial points out, America has a lot to be proud of, having played a pivotal role in creating effective vaccines, and should take the “W.”

In other news, the Olympic Games in Beijing are shaping up to be a total flop. Good.

In other, other news, bravo, Mitch.

In other, other, other news, our webathon remains up and running on the home page. If you haven’t already, please consider tossing some coins in the column dispenser. Our gratitude is yours, as always.

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

On your mark, get set . . . Pivot! The De-Masking of America

Spotify missed the chance to say “No” this past week: Spotify’s Craven Response to Joe Rogan

ARTICLES

Kyle Smith: Stacey Abrams’s Epic Face (Mask) Plant

Dan McLaughlin: Nikole Hannah-Jones Responds to Our 1619 and Slavery Issue

Kathryn Jean Lopez: Know the Name of Jimmy Lai

John Fund: Who Gets to Join the Black Caucus in Virginia?

Ryan Mills & Isaac Schorr: How Michigan’s Ballooning DEI Bureaucracy Stifled Speech and Divided the Campus

Ryan Mills: ‘Ridiculous’ Masking Rules for Student Athletes Must End, Coaches and Parents Say

Charles C. W. Cooke: Trevor Noah Is a Moral Disgrace

Brittany Bernstein: Chinese Artist Calls GWU President ‘So Ignorant’ for Censoring Anti-CCP Art: ‘Huge Scandal and a Shame’

Caroline Downey: Connecticut Moms Use Social Media to Ignite Nationwide Opposition to School Mask Mandates

David Harsanyi: The Afghanistan Debacle Looks Worse and Worse

Jim Talent: China’s Uyghur Persecution Is All Part of Its Grand Economic Scheme

Kevin Williamson: Uncle Sam Is a Predatory Lender

Nate Hochman: Elise Stefanik Drops Support for Fairness for All Act

Madeleine Kearns: Yellow Emojis Deny White Privilege, Apparently

Michael Brendan Dougherty: The Workers’ Revolution Is Here, and the Left Hates It

CAPITAL MATTERS

Edwin Burton sees economic clouds gathering: The Perfect Storm Is Coming

David L. Bahnsen warns of another looming disaster, concerning a little-noticed proposed SEC rule change: ‘Nothing Systemic Here’

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

Armond White bemoans the Millennial archetype: The Worst Person in the World — The Worst Role Model in the Movies

Brian Allen spotlights an old medium treated with precision, creativity, and flair, reviewing a show of marvelous woodcuts on display in London: Helen Frankenthaler Captivates at the Dulwich Picture Gallery

Today in compartmentalizing . . . Kyle Smith examines a new musical’s treatment of Michael Jackson: The Whitewashing of Michael Jackson’s Sins

WE REALLY SHOULD PUT A TRIGGER WARNING ON THESE EXCERPTS — OH, WELL

Kneejerk censorship in response to flagrantly false accusations of racism is always the wrong move. George Washington University seems to have realized this after removing posters calling out CCP human-rights abuses. Brittany Bernstein interviewed the artist behind them:

Chinese political cartoonist and activist Badiucao called it a “huge scandal and a shame” that George Washington University’s president is “so ignorant” that he could be “personally offended” by the artist’s cartoons portraying Chinese Communist Party atrocities.

Badiucao’s comments came in an interview with National Review on Monday after GWU president Mark S. Wrighton vowed to remove posters of Badiucao’s cartoons that called out China’s human-rights abuses, including the Uyghur genocide and oppression in Tibet and Hong Kong. Before backtracking on Monday, Wrighton said he was “personally offended” by the posters and would work to determine who was responsible for hanging them.

“I think it’s a huge scandal and shame that a president of well-known University is so ignorant and not informed to understanding my art,” he said. “We’re not talking about someone who is not aware of the international situation or the human rights issues around the Olympic Games. This is really just public common sense.”

Staying on this topic, former senator Jim Talent explains the economic motivations behind China’s repression of the Uyghurs:

No one knows for sure, but it’s likely that 1 million to 1.5 million people have been interned in approximately 180 camps in Xinjiang. . . .

Do not think that this repression is simply an expression of savagery. Plenty of savage things happen in Xinjiang, but as far as the CCP is concerned, the repression there is a practical response to a practical problem.

In 2016, the CCP’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was beginning to gain steam. BRI is a program of Chinese investment in infrastructure projects in countries around the world. The investments are typically in the form of loans for projects the local government desperately wants but cannot afford. The terms of the loans are usually favorable to China, and the projects themselves are typically performed by Chinese companies with Chinese employees.

BRI is of immense importance to the CCP. It’s Xi Jinping’s flagship project for capturing foreign markets, extracting the resources and co-opting the elites of other countries, controlling key foreign ports and foreign technological infrastructure, and exerting economic leverage on the countries to whom China has extended credit.

One important objective of the BRI is to solidify China’s economic and political links to Central Asia, and through Central Asia, to Europe. And to get to Central Asia from Eastern China, the BRI must go through China’s westernmost territory, which, unfortunately for the Uyghurs, is Xinjiang Province.

Beijing was not going to take any risks with the infrastructure it was building through Xinjiang. The CCP has always mistrusted the loyalty of the Uyghurs because (a) they are not ethnic Chinese, (b) they are Muslim, and therefore (c) they have cultural and religious traditions not dictated or controlled by Beijing.

In short, the Uyghurs were in the way. And since they were of little value to the Chinese state to begin with, they are now being gotten out of the way, using the methods deemed most efficient by a regime that has contempt for human dignity and possesses an apparatus of high-tech oppression that empowers its agents, almost literally, to spy on and suppress everyone at once.

Nate Hochman delivers some serious scoopage on the Fairness for All Act:

House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik has dropped her support for the Fairness for All Act (FFAA), National Review has learned. As the third-ranking House Republican, the New York lawmaker was likely the most prominent cosponsor for FFAA, an all-Republican bill that would write sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) into U.S. civil-rights law. Her withdrawal of support, which occurred during last night’s procedural vote, deals another heavy blow to the proposed legislation’s already-beleaguered cause.

FFAA was initially pitched by its backers as a “compromise” between LGBT rights and religious liberty, pairing government protections for gay and transgender citizens with modest “right to discriminate” carve-outs for certain religious institutions. Until recently, that proposed arrangement seemed to be gaining momentum. When it was first introduced by Representative Chris Stewart of Utah at the end of 2019, FFAA had eight cosponsors. By November 2021, it had 22.

Today, however, that momentum seems to have reversed. As of this writing, Stefanik is the third and highest-ranking cosponsor to have withdrawn support for FFAA. She joins Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, who quietly withdrew his support on November 30, and Claudia Tenney of New York, who dropped off the bill on February 2.

Ryan Mills & Isaac Schorr shine a light on the swelling DEI bureaucracy at the University of Michigan, and how it has stifled campus life:

Students and faculty who spoke to National Review described a campus culture where people fear that committing even a minor slipup deemed insensitive by someone, somewhere, could put them in the crosshairs of DEI bureaucrats, whom activists are more than happy to weaponize.

Few institutions have seen their DEI infrastructure grow faster or larger than U-M’s. The Heritage Foundation’s Diversity University report released last summer found that U-M had by far the largest number of staff members whose jobs are based on propagating and promoting DEI of any of the 65 universities in the five “power” athletic conferences the researchers reviewed.

To better understand how U-M’s DEI bureaucracy has grown over the years, National Review obtained annual university staff lists going back to 2002 and used them to identify staff members with DEI-related job titles, or employees of the various diversity centers, units, and programs listed on the school’s website under the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion umbrella. The analysis focused on U-M’s main Ann Arbor campus and tried to include only university staff whose primary role is propagating DEI, not faculty who are ostensibly dedicated to teaching and research.

The analysis found that U-M had at least 167 staff members dedicated to DEI and other multicultural initiatives in 2021, more than four times the approximately 40 DEI staffers working on campus in 2002. . . .

​​Rather than make U-M a more tolerant place, there’s evidence that its DEI push has instead created a more culturally rigid campus, the kind of place where woke students and staff are forever on the lookout for offenses against the politically correct orthodoxy.

In 2016, for example, a campus housing official reported a phallic-shaped snow sculpture as a “bias incident.” In 2020, the university’s Information and Technology Services department released a draft list of problematic words and phrases, including “picnic,” “sweetheart,” “brown bag,” and “hi guys!”

And don’t miss Dan McLaughlin’s response to Nikole Hannah-Jones’s response to NR’s 1619 Project response. Got all that?

Those familiar with how she typically responds to engagement with her work — engagement that typically appears only on Twitter, and not in any edited publication — will be unsurprised to see that she reacted with a lot of sneering and ad hominem argumentation and nothing of substance.

Naturally, her opening bid was to complain that we “couldn’t find any women, apparently, and only one Black person, apparently, to write about a slavery project created by a Black woman.” This sort of racial essentialism — in which the race and gender of the writer is more important than the writer’s facts or evidence — has been endemic to efforts by Hannah-Jones to dismiss critiques by the nation’s leading historians in areas of their own, but not her, expertise. . . .

My own contribution to the issue, on how American slavery fits within the global history of slavery, runs nearly 6,000 words and covers seven pages of the print magazine. Hannah-Jones could find nothing to say except to screenshot a single paragraph and grouse that it was “straight out of 1910.”

Nowhere does she attempt to argue that a single thing in that paragraph is wrong, and she — like you, dear reader — is free to peruse my list of sources.

Shout-Outs

David French, at the Dispatch: Our Nation Cannot Censor Its Way Back to Cultural Health

Dorian Lynskey, at UnHerd: Why comedians stopped being funny

Doug Badger, at the Daily Signal: Unmasking CDC’s Latest Mask Study: How Government Gets It Wrong Again

Yascha Mounk, at the Atlantic: Open Everything

CODA

Sometimes, the best songs are the interludes, the packets of music without any real beginning, middle, or end. “The Wild Healer,” by French metal band Gojira, is one of those. (And yes, plugging an aimless interlude from a “French metal band” sounds like something Stefon would do, guilty.) The soothing, circular music creates an instant atmosphere, developed in layers, and it’s one you don’t want to dissipate. Thankfully, this extended version exists. The Internet just keeps giving.

Got a tune? Want to share? Send a link to jberger@nationalreview.com. Thanks for reading.

World

What China’s Olympics Opening Ceremony Left Out

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Zhao Dan of China and Gao Tingyu of China lead their contingent during the athletes’ parade at the opening ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Olympics in Beijing, China, February 4, 2022. (Marko Djurica/Reuters)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

That these Olympic Games are even proceeding is a testament to the impunity with which the Chinese Communist Party operates on the world stage — let alone within China’s own borders.

We here at National Review think it’s important to provide counterprogramming during these Games, to broadcast the ugly truth about the CCP even more prominently and frequently than we normally do. If you find this work valuable, we do hope you’ll consider a donation as part of our webathon, lasting now through the end of Beijing’s propaganda Olympics.

Jimmy Quinn provides a roadmap here to the appalling conduct you probably won’t hear much about (beyond obligatory and equivocal mentions) on the broadcasts of Friday’s opening ceremony and beyond:

Starting in 2020, Beijing has all but eliminated Hong Kong’s autonomy and democracy with its imposition of a new national-security law. Effectively, the party criminalized any speech it deems to be dangerous — and claimed the ability to prosecute offenders anywhere in the world.

Key pro-democracy figures were imprisoned or forced into exile, and the city’s authorities shuttered independent sources of news, most prominently Apple Daily.

Campaigns against ChristiansFalun Gong adherents, and other religious minorities in China continued apace, and in 2020, the party initiated a new effort in Inner Mongolia to assimilate ethnic Mongolians into Han nationalist identity, prohibiting schools there from using the Mongolian language.

But the proximate cause of Western outrage over the Games is the genocide of Uyghurs.

A wealth of evidence amassed by researchers, journalists, and victims has over the past five years revealed that the Chinese government, in a campaign ordered by Xi, is working to eliminate that ethnic minority group.

Jim Geraghty, meanwhile, pulls absolutely no punches in explaining the pervasive conflicts of interest that make space for Chinese abuses:

Everyone with a role in these Olympic Games wants to avert their eyes, pretend everything is normal, and act like China is just another host country. Beijing thinks it is about to enjoy the benefits of a two-week propaganda festival broadcast to television screens and web browsers all around the world. And you’re unlikely to see or hear too much lambasting of the crimes and scandals of the Chinese regime in a lot of other mainstream news institutions. ABC is owned by Disney, NBC is owned by Comcast, CBS is part of Viacom, the Washington Post is owned by Amazon, Bloomberg is owned by . . . Bloomberg. All of these giant companies want continued access to the Chinese market, and the overwhelming majority of the leaders of these giant companies want to avoid antagonizing the Chinese government.

The internment of hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs is perhaps the most blatant of China’s crimes. The list hardly ends there. As Nina Shea details here, China for years has been persecuting the group Falun Gong, targeting them “for involuntary organ harvesting, in addition to mass internment, disappearance, and torture.”

Involuntary organ harvesting. This is our Olympics host and an elevated member of countless international organizations. How? And for how much longer will the civilized world abide it?

This all raises the question of how we, as Americans, should approach these Olympics, if we engage with them at all. Jimmy Quinn writes here on how Beijing will revisit its 2008 Olympics playbook to distract the world from its crimes. Wesley J. Smith implores would-be viewers to simply not watch: “Make these Games the lowest rated in television history.” Jay Nordlinger writes here about the road to these Games, and about what makes China so undeserving of them. To boycott, or not? Here’s how Jay comes down:

I don’t think I’ll watch. . . .

It is my personal belief that the Olympic Games should not be held in a police state. Any of them. Lots of countries are not police states. Pick one of them.

The link for our webathon, once more, is here. Donations go toward supporting more of this kind of reporting and analysis, which is more important than ever. Have a look through NR’s China archives, and especially last year’s special issue of the magazine, for more of our work on this ever-growing threat. And see here — a U.S. senator introducing a sanctions bill while citing a recent issue of NR on display beside him — for just one example of the impact that work has.

Either way, we appreciate your readership and hope you will continue to stand with us to call out one of the great menaces to human freedom, truth, and democratic values known to the world. And the world does know it.

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

The border breakdown is getting worse, which is why the Biden administration is trying to keep a lid on it: Biden’s Border Mess

The Fed should join the fight against inflation: The Fed Should Tap the Brake

ARTICLES

A. J. Caschetta: Media Attack Investigative Reporter for Investigating and Reporting on CAIR

Mark Milke: The Cultural Revolution Up North

Peter J. Wallison: Congress Is Changing — for the Worse

Philip Klein: Trump’s Continuing Disgrace

John McCormack: Trump Admits He Wanted Pence to Overturn the Election

Dan McLaughlin: What Qualifies a Supreme Court Justice

Carrie Campbell Severino: Breyer Retirement a Triumph for Dark-Money Intimidation

Charles C. W. Cooke: The Power of ‘No’

Kyle Smith: Move On from Covid Panic

Nate Hochman: Georgetown Law Students Stage Sit-In, Demand Dean Fire Ilya Shapiro

Nate Hochman: Inside Georgetown Law’s Campaign to Cancel Ilya Shapiro: ‘This Is Melting Down’

Caroline Downey: U.S. National Debt Hits $30 Trillion for First Time

Wesley J. Smith: Johns Hopkins Analysis: ‘Lockdowns Should Be Rejected Out of Hand’

Elliott Abrams: Amnesty International Joins the Anti-Israel Jackals

Abigail Anthony: Princeton University Ballet Is Not Guilty of ‘White Supremacy’

Ben Sasse: Delete China’s Spy App

Marco Rubio: American Big Business Must Stop Colluding with China

CAPITAL MATTERS

Kevin Hassett pinpoints MMT as an underlying driver of our inflation mess: Inflation: A Modern Fiscal and Monetary ‘Mess’

Ryan Bourne follows up on the same topic, this time with a neat analogy about scissors: Why Economists Disagree on Whether Inflation Was a Supply or Demand Problem

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

A comprehensive new documentary claims Bill Cosby supplied signals all along about his predatory behavior. From Kyle Smith: The Cosby Horror Show

Armond White highlights a more uplifting doc on the singer of British punk band X-Ray Spex: The Poly Styrene Story Is a Lesson for Us All

Yet more uplift, from Brian Allen, on a great British museum, its dazzling collection, and its founding family: A Look at the Wallace Collection, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

FROM THE NEW FEBRUARY 21, 2022, ISSUE OF NR

Jim Geraghty: Made in China: On the Lab-Leak Origin of Covid

Kevin Williamson: The Inflation Beef

Douglas Murray: The European Dream

Ross Douthat: The Limits of Encanto’s Family Love Story

WELCOME THESE GOLD-MEDAL EXCERPTS TO THE PODIUM, PLEASE

Speaking of China . . . Jim Geraghty’s cover story in the forthcoming NR issue is more essential reading on the Covid lab-leak theory. There’s lots here, but for purposes of this newsletter, consider just the Chinese government’s suspicious behavior since cases were first reported:

In late January and early February [2020], the Chinese government ordered all labs processing samples of the strange new virus to destroy them. On January 3, China’s National Health Commission ordered institutions not to publish any information related to the unknown disease and ordered labs to transfer any samples they had to designated testing institutions, or to destroy them. The justification for this order was public safety, although it is hard to see the public-safety benefit in suppressing information about the disease.

It took a year to get a World Health Organization investigative team into Wuhan, and when that team arrived, it encountered angry refusals to turn over raw data about the earliest cases. According to the New York Times, “disagreements over patient records and other issues were so tense that they sometimes erupted into shouts among the typically mild-mannered scientists on both sides.” The Chinese government has refused to allow another team of investigators to enter Wuhan or the labs in the city. The Chinese government does not care if it looks guilty. . . .

In theory, the pandemic could have started with some random Chinese person who didn’t have any connection to the bat coronavirus research conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology or the Wuhan CDC. This person would have a spectacularly unlucky run-in with a bat or other animal, and that random Chinese person caught the exceptionally rare naturally occurring animal virus that infects, sickens, and spreads among human beings like wildfire. This same hyper-contagious bat virus would have the exceptionally unusual trait of being ex­tremely difficult to find in bats.

This extraordinarily unlucky person would then travel to the metaphorical doorstep of one of the three labs in the world doing gain-of-function research on novel coronaviruses found in bats and start infecting other people in the city of Wuhan. Under the natural-origin theory, the Wuhan laboratories just happen to be mind-bogglingly unlucky that events played out in a way that so closely mimics the consequences of a lab accident.

That would be a remarkable series of coincidences.

Or, within the walls of an institution that we know was doing gain-of-function research on coronaviruses found in bats, aiming to make them more contagious and virulent, at an institution that we know was insufficiently staffed to operate safely, a single employee may have not worn his personal protective equipment correctly one day in late 2019. A single employee may have been scratched or bitten by a bat, or inhaled a virus shed by a bat undergoing the stress of an anal swab, or just carelessly wiped his eyes or nose or mouth. After that employee left the lab and returned home for the evening, he would have been shedding viruses once the infection took hold — in his home, through the public-transportation system and streets and sidewalks, and perhaps he or a family member visited a seafood market.

If you haven’t watched The Chair, may this newsletter slinger recommend it, if only to properly prepare you for the scene Nate Hochman relays here of this week’s Georgetown Law “sit-in” to demand the ouster of Ilya Shapiro. As in the show, it is clear that the student inmates run the university asylum:

A chastened-looking [Dean] Treanor spent more than an hour answering questions from what appeared to be the [Black Law Student Association] leadership team in a closed auditorium. The dean, striking an apologetic tone, echoed the language of the activists in the crowd, assuring the assembled students that he was “appalled” by the “painful” nature of Shapiro’s tweets and promising to “listen,” “learn” and ultimately “do better.” But he also seemed to be attempting to appease the students without committing to any definitive disciplinary action for Shapiro. “Since we’re a private institution, the First Amendment doesn’t apply to us,” he said. “It’s not the First Amendment that’s the university’s guideline.” But “on the other hand, the university does have a free speech and expression policy which binds us.”

The crowd was skeptical, directly criticizing Treanor’s messaging as “dishonest” and pushing for more aggressive action against Shapiro. One student floated the idea of defunding the Center for the Constitution “if, worst-case scenario,” Shapiro “were allowed to remain,” suggesting that Shapiro’s tweets can’t “be divorced” from the Center: “If Shapiro is there, then his ideas and his rhetoric will be the Center,” she insisted. . . .

At another juncture, a student demanded that the dean cover for the classes that the activists had missed as a result of the sit-in, suggesting that the move should be part of a “reparations” package for black students. She followed up by insisting that students be given a designated place on campus to cry. “Is there an office they can go to?” she asked. “I don’t know what it would look like, but if they want to cry, if they need to break down, where can they go? Because we’re at a point where students are coming out of class to go to the bathroom to cry.”

“And this is not in the future,” she added. “This is today.”

The administrators took the law student’s query seriously. “It is really, really hard to walk out of class or a meeting in tears, and you should always have a place on campus where you can go,” Dean Bailin told her. “And if you’re finding that you’re not getting the person that you want to talk to or not getting the space that you need, reach out to me anytime — anytime — and we will find you space.”

Yet another student pressed the deans to send out an email attacking BLSA’s critics. “Something that’s important is to remind our classmates that are attacking us that they are only here because our ancestors were sold for them to be here,” she said.

In keeping with this theme, Abigail Anthony has a dispatch from Princeton, where ballet has been declared a tool of white supremacy:

As a freshman, I joined Princeton University Ballet, the student-run club for recreational ballet. Auditions are required for membership, and we perform a show each semester. We have the luxury of practicing in multi-million dollar studios with Steinway pianos. But recently, the club has gained a new feature by adopting a trendy moral initiative: combating systemic racism.

In 2020, Princeton University Ballet released a statement on the Black Lives Matter movement, claiming that “ballet exists within and benefits from systemic racism and structures of white supremacy” and announcing the club’s “responsibility to stand clearly against racism and anti-black injustices.” The club updated its mission statement to emphasize a commitment “to the pursuit of a more inclusive environment” and raised $7,010 to donate between Black Table Arts and HomeWorks Trenton.

Now, leaders of the ballet club have released an “action plan” detailing new efforts to promote anti-racism. Evidently, the enlightened mission requires a delicate fusion of narcissism and self-abnegation. The document asserts that “ballet is rooted in white supremacy and perfectionism. We are all entering this space with a mindset that what we see as perfect is a white standard.” Of course, there is an admission of guilt: “we want to acknowledge that our leadership and those who composed this plan are all white.”

The authors declare that they “aim to decolonize our practice of ballet, even as ballet remains an imperialist, colonialist, and white supremacist art form.”

Kyle Smith reclaims the phrase “move on” for a righteous cause — ending the Covid state of hysteria:

The Danes today ended nearly all coronavirus restrictions and announced frankly that “Denmark is open.” Denmark has moved on. England, which already had looser standards than the rest of the U.K., ended nearly all restrictions two weeks ago, with minor exceptions such as a requirement to wear masks while using public transportation in London. England has moved on. Within the United States, even Democrat-run Colorado has moved on. Many other states have eliminated virtually all restrictions.

Yet instead of moving on himself, President Biden continues to embrace restrictions as if they’re a ten-year-old girl with delicious-smelling hair. “We got a way to go on that,” he proclaimed on Monday, when asked when some semblance of normalcy might return. He went on to hint that he might be unable to stop America from backsliding toward the disaster of more school closures. But even as he promised to “try like the devil to keep schools open,” schools were already ignoring his supposedly demonic efforts: Flint, Mich.’s schools remained closed, guaranteeing yet more learning loss for its poverty-stricken, majority-minority student body, despite the district’s having received $114 million in federal funding on top of its usual funding, a we-just-won-the-lottery windfall that amounted to more than $27,000 per student.

Announcing a move-on strategy would boost Biden with everyone but the hardcore neurotics who, we now know, form the base of the Democratic Party. Since these folks would eat a bowl of thumbtack cereal before they’d ever vote Republican, they’re unlikely to desert Biden when told masks are optional. They’re stuck with the president and the rest of Team Blue, but Biden does not have to be stuck coddling them. Covid panic could be his Sister Souljah, given a smart verbal swatting as the center cheers; instead it’s his Iraq War, an endless slog with little prospect of a clearly favorable outcome. . . .

The country has had enough. The proper response will continue to be the one that should have been national policy for the entire Biden era: This virus is never going away, but if you’re vaccinated you have very little to fear.

Last, a few words about Trump and his statements last weekend, from Philip Klein:

He spent this past weekend making one reckless statement after another — consequences be damned.

During a Saturday rally in Texas, Trump said of prosecutors investigating him and his business practices that, “If these radical, vicious, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or illegal, I hope we are going to have in this country the biggest protest we have ever had in Washington D.C., in New York, in Atlanta and elsewhere because our country and our elections are corrupt.”

His defenders would no doubt argue that Trump specified “demonstrations” and only if something done was “wrong or illegal.” But we know that Trump has a low threshold for “wrong and illegal” when it comes to prosecutors targeting him, and we saw on January 6 what happens when he summons a mob to demonstrate after convincing them of rampant corruption in the country and in the elections. . . .

Trump topped things off with a statement issued on Sunday night once again falsely claiming that Mike Pence, as vice president, had the ability to change the outcome of the election. The statement ends, “Unfortunately, he didn’t exercise that power, he could have overturned the Election!” . . .

No matter how much damage he causes to the country, Trump will never learn anything from the consequences of his actions. The only way to start to change things is for Republican voters to pick somebody else in 2024 who does not behave like Trump.

Shout-Outs

Alex Gutentag, at Tablet: COVID Affects Your Memory

Alexa Schwerha, at Campus Reform: Have you or a loved one been ‘affected’ by ‘free speech?’ Colorado State University has resources to help.

Patrick Hauf, at the Washington Free Beacon: Labor Unions Collected $37 Million in COVID Relief They Were Ineligible To Receive

Marc Thiessen, at the Washington Post: Biden blocked the first Black woman from the Supreme Court

CODA

There’s a rich tradition of string quartets and ensembles of other denominations covering pop and rock music (see Apocalyptica’s Metallica covers). But one can really go down the rabbit hole with Vitamin String Quartet’s seemingly endless library of tributes. This one, of the ever-changing quartet playing Radiohead’s “Motion Picture Soundtrack,” is particularly gorgeous. Ironically, the arrangement served several years ago as the background music not for a film but an episode of Westworld.

Got a tune? Want to share? Send a link to jberger@nationalreview.com. Thanks for reading.

National Security & Defense

Waiting for Vladimir

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Russia’s President Vladimir Putin oversees the Kavkaz-2020 multinational military exercises at the Kapustin Yar training ground in Astrakhan Region, Russia, September 25, 2020. (Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via Reuters)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

This game of Will He or Won’t He? is nothing if not grim.

Vladimir Putin’s weeks-long buildup is estimated to have placed 127,000 troops along the Russia–Ukraine border, based on the latest assessments from Kyiv. Thousands of U.S. troops are on alert for possible deployment to the region. The State Department is urging Americans to leave Ukraine, which as Jim Geraghty notes comes with a frightening sense of déjà vu.

One of the true things President Biden said at his press conference was that only Vladimir Putin will make the decision on whether to invade Ukraine. As Elliott Abrams wrote in these pages last weekend, Washington is in “slumber,” waiting for Putin to make his move or not, and “likely on the verge of being awakened by a major world crisis.”

What to do about it?

This has been a vigorous debate not only in the greater foreign-policy world but here at National Review.

Michael Brendan Dougherty has been making the most robust case for keeping our distance:

Our interest is to avoid a conflict with Russia over matters that it defines as in its core interest, a territory that its own people consider significant to their security interests, and which ours overwhelming do not.

We should also hope to avoid further Russian military action against Ukraine at all. Even if Putin opts for Joe Biden’s “small incursion” — the consequences can be quite serious. The imposition of sanctions, and the subsequent rise of energy prices, could immediately hurt Europe and put to a suddenly perilous test whether Paris and Berlin are as committed to NATO as we are. There is also the fog of war, which took down a Malaysian airliner in the first act of this conflict.

He follows up here:

The worst-case scenario for Ukraine is that Russia and Western Europe enact all their mutual rivalries on Ukrainian territory, trying to help one side of the country utterly dominate and humiliate the other. . . .

The only useful response from NATO and the Western powers would be to clearly signal precisely what they are willing to do and what they are not willing to do for Ukraine in the near term and medium term. Without this, Ukraine cannot sensibly conduct a diplomatic effort to avoid catastrophe.

Jim Geraghty appreciates the argument but maintains he’s “not convinced that the U.S. shouldn’t take a relatively hawkish stance on this potential conflict.” Or as he puts it, in relatable terms: “Authoritarian powers tend to see territorial conquests the way most of us see potato chips: it’s very hard to eat just one.” Jim argues that there’s considerable policy space between full-blown war and nonintervention, offering several courses of action for dealing with Putin (though he notes that the Afghanistan debacle is not helping America’s ability to deter anyone).

NR’s editorial makes the case specifically for supplying more equipment, “including Javelin anti-tank missiles and air-defense systems,” and pursuing tough sanctions now, not as a threatened response after the fact of an invasion:

The GUARD Act proposal put forward by congressional Republicans is a good alternative. That bill would immediately boost funding for transferring lethal weaponry to Ukraine, increase annual U.S. funding of Ukraine’s military forces, and impose sanctions to kill the Kremlin-backed Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Lawmakers should also revive another sanctions proposal that the administration successfully blocked from the annual defense bill — legislation targeting 35 oligarchs named by Putin antagonist Alexei Navalny.

The Hudson Institute’s Arthur Herman has an interesting take, which is to offer full NATO membership to Finland and Sweden. That still leaves the problem of NATO’s weak link, which Rich Lowry talks about here.

And so we wait. In the meantime, Supreme Court replacement speculation will keep us occupied.

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

The president’s press-conference blunder on Ukraine revealed a fundamental issue with the administration’s approach to Eastern Europe: Biden’s Ukraine Problem

Let the fight over the Supreme Court begin: Replacing Justice Breyer

ARTICLES

Charles C. W. Cooke: Justice Kamala Harris Will Never Happen

Charles C. W. Cooke: #DontBrowbeatMyPete 😡

Robert M. Berg: The Pentagon Has Turned into a Covid Panic Room

Elyssa Koren: Freedom of Religion and Speech Is on Trial in Finland

Ryan Mills: American Citizen’s Family Stuck in Immigration Limbo in UAE after Fleeing Afghanistan

Rich Lowry: What Wyatt Earp Knew

Michael Brendan Dougherty: What I Saw at the School-Board Meeting

Dan McLaughlin: The DeSantis–Trump Tensions Will Lead to a Test of Strength

Brad Raffensperger: America’s Leaders Should Be Chosen by American Citizens

Jimmy Quinn: Propaganda Victory? NBC and TikTok Team Up to Promote Beijing Olympics

David Harsanyi: The ADL Has Chosen a Side. And It’s Not the Jewish One

Brittany Bernstein: Biden’s Poor Approval Ratings Could Drag Down State-Level Dems in Midterms, New Poll Shows

Jay Nordlinger: Friends, and Enemies, of the People

James Piereson & Naomi Schaefer Riley: Will Covid Collapse the College Cartel?

Philip Klein: Mitt Romney Paved the Way for Obamacare — Be Wary of His Latest Welfare Scheme

Jim Geraghty: Hooray for Those Who Resist the Insufferable Habit of ‘Flopping’ in Politics

CAPITAL MATTERS

Joseph Sullivan comes armed with a chart, to put the Covid risk for Washington residents in perspective: Without a Mask Mandate, D.C. Had More Murders than Deaths from Covid

Hey, look. Dominic Pino has found another Covid precaution with an evident downside and no upside: Vaccine Mandates for Cross-Border Truckers Have No Upside

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

Kyle Smith highlights some trenchant social commentary coming from unexpected places. Here: An Insider Mocks the Endless Progressive Guilt Trip, and here: Lena Dunham’s Conservative Take on Sex and Porn

Also from Kyle, an account of the Alexei Navalny documentary: The Man Who Stood Up to Putin

Armond White finds in the French film Petite Maman a spark of childhood wonder: Is Céline Sciamma the New Spielberg?

Need to get your fix of absolutely eye-watering auction bids? Brian Allen’s got you covered: Americana and Folk Art Prompt Bidding Wars at Sotheby’s and Christie’s

LET’S SCROLL ON OUTTA HERE

Justice Stephen Breyer is retiring, giving President Biden his first chance to shape the Court. From NR’s editorial on what comes next:

The first choice will be Joe Biden’s. With a 50–50 Senate and an impending fall election, he will have to choose carefully to ensure that his selection can be confirmed. Nothing in Biden’s presidency so far suggests that he will bother to interpret correctly what pivotal members of his Senate caucus are thinking before he makes his choice.

Biden has unwisely limited his options by preemptively declaring during the 2020 campaign that his first Supreme Court nominee would be a black woman. In a stroke, he disqualified dozens of liberal and progressive jurists for no reason other than their race and gender. This is not a great start in selecting someone sworn to provide equal justice under the law.

Unlike Donald Trump, Biden did not run on a named list of potential candidates, so he will then have to sell his nominee to the public. That nominee is almost certain to be a progressive who treats the written Constitution with contempt. Even if Democrats remain united enough to provide the votes to confirm such a nominee, Republicans should extract a political cost in the midterm Senate races for doing so. The last three cycles of Senate elections have shown that fidelity to the Constitution is a winning political issue for Senate Republicans.

With a difficult midterm looming and a Biden nominee needing to navigate a closely divided Senate, we hope we have heard the last for some time of talk about Court-packing. Biden’s own commission punted on the issue, and while that was partly to keep the president’s options open, progressives have been itching to use threats to the Court to influence its decisions on abortion and racial preferences. That would become a more politically dangerous game now.

In terms of how they will rule on the bench, it may not matter much whom Biden nominates. Conventional, institutionalist liberals tend to be every bit as results-oriented and lockstep-loyal on the bench as hair-on-fire progressives.

Michael Brendan Dougherty’s first-hand account of his experience trying to talk about masking policies before his local school board is one for the ages:

First thing through the door, I realized that the mask policy wasn’t even the topic of the meeting, as I had heard rumored through social media. Instead, my fellow anti-maskers in the audience stood and listened to a 40-minute presentation of possible renovations to the high school. When asked by a board member what the pedagogical value of all these transparent walls and “collaborative spaces” was, the superintendent gave a bunch of slogans.

We were told public comment would be open to two- or three-minute comments from the public. Another father from the same dance school my daughter and her friend attend got up and began his soliloquy with the U.S. Constitution. He demanded full attention, presenting himself well as the very image of an indomitable man. He then proceeded to make an argument about the illegality of the actions of the board and school administrators. They had enforced “fictitious laws” and “illegal orders.” He cited law codes. And told them that legal action would be taken, and damages sought — that these monetary damages would be so great that the liability insurers who give coverage to administrators and public servants would drop them. They’d be out of a job. “You’ve already woken up Mama Bear,” he said, referring to his wife. “Now you have to deal with Papa Bear. It ends here.” The board was silent. Basically every person from the public who had come to the meeting applauded and lustily stamped their feet.

Then it was my turn. I croaked out roughly 30 percent of what I had planned to say. I caught a few eyes on the board, and I thought they had listened sympathetically. When I was finished, the crowd roared again.

And soon I realized, this was a Tea Party movement in miniature. Others got up to speak, and made versions of the same argument the indomitable man had made. The board members were criminals awaiting the day of judgment and justice. They were violating the Bill of Rights. There were plentiful references to Nazi Germany, the perfidy of pharmaceutical companies, which had bought all the politicians. One of the speakers wasn’t even from this town.

This was not a discussion at all. It was a kind of confrontation. And it’s impossible to ignore that it was a class confrontation. The board, phlegmatic in tone, or silent. The people, choleric, voluble. Professionals versus workers, on the whole. . . .

What I saw at the school board was the compact drama of institutional impotence and populist chaos.

Ryan Mills highlights another case of an American citizen’s family stuck in the UAE after fleeing Afghanistan (however, he also spotlights the case of a family rescued from the UAE refugee camp following an earlier NR report, so let’s hope this is the start of a trend):

Bilal Ahmad already lost his job, and he’s pretty sure he’s lost his New York City apartment, too, after spending more than three months with his family in a United Arab Emirate refugee camp.

Ahmad, 28, is an American citizen who traveled into Afghanistan in August to rescue his wife and five-year-old son from the chaos surrounding the Taliban takeover of the country and the Biden administration’s bungled evacuation after nearly 20 years of war.

He and his family eventually flew out of Afghanistan in early October. But they’ve been stuck in the International Humanitarian City refugee compound ever since, even though records indicate he started the immigration process for his wife and son back in 2017.

“The only thing which we were waiting for was the visas to be issued. That’s all,” Ahmad said.

National Review learned about Ahmad’s case after publishing a story last week about another American citizen who also has been stuck in the Humanitarian City refugee compound since October after traveling into Afghanistan to rescue his wife. Ahmad’s case was featured on Fox News last month, and he’s also received support from members of Congress, including Democratic New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Grace Meng (D., Queens).

ICYMI, Robert M. Berg (a pen name) wrote extensively last weekend about why the Pentagon’s strict Covid policies, and particularly its shift to remote work, are just illogical:

As just one example, let’s consider the effect of remote work on handling classified material. Most people have never worked in a “classified setting” or on “classified systems.” It’s worth clarifying that you cannot just casually access classified material at home. While some do have limited access to it in home settings, it is heavily restricted. And the majority of the workforce at the Pentagon do not have ready access at home anyway.

While home work might suffice for Google or other tech-centered businesses, we’re talking about the Pentagon here. Breaking my workload out, I spend about 20 percent of my time on a “Secret” level system, about 75 percent on a “Top Secret” level system, and maybe 5 percent of my time on an “unclassified” system. That is, only about 5 percent of my work can actually be done remotely.

While my personal example is an anecdote, I am in a good position to tell you that a large portion of my peers are in similar circumstances. Our “telework” days are nothing more than sitting and staring at our unclassified emails, wondering and thinking about all the work we actually have to do when we get a chance to physically go into the office. I cannot even write those thoughts down to ensure I actually get to them all when I am in the office because I cannot store classified information at home or transport it to and from work.

It is worth pointing out that even at the Pentagon, the vast majority of the military are 49 and younger. Also, as part of continued military service, we are routinely screened for risk factors that make Covid more potentially dangerous. Hence we in the military largely do not possess these factors. Even excluding the fact that military members lack additional risk factors, simply by age alone our risk of dying from or having a serious reaction to Covid is exceptionally low.

Shout-Outs

Nicholas Wade, at CityJournal: A Covid Origin Conspiracy?

Daniel Halperin, at the Wall Street Journal: Omicron Is Spreading. Resistance Is Futile

Josh Kraushaar, at National Journal: Red wave alert for Senate Democrats

Chloe Ezzo, at the College Fix: Dartmouth shut down my campus event featuring Andy Ngo — then blamed me for it

Tevi Troy, at the Washington Examiner: Barking at the press

CODA

What with all the attention lately on California’s rail robberies, let’s close with some train tracks (get it?). “Downtown Train” has been covered ad nauseam — by Seger, by Stewart, and others — but nothing beats the original by Waits, off Rain Dogs. Enjoy.

Got a tune? Want to share? Send a link to jberger@nationalreview.com. Thanks for reading.

White House

How to Lose a Paper-Thin Majority

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President Joe Biden leaves after holding a news conference in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, D.C., January 19, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

President Biden keeps forgetting, or ignoring, that he was picked — twice — to be the normal, boring, moderating force in an environment where the chaotic and the crazy were threatening to reign. First against Bernie Sanders and then against Donald Trump, the guy whose entire campaign was built around his purported empathy and “come on, man” plea for normalcy convinced voters of his bland-pol appeal.

How’s that going? Well, not great, Bob!

As Jim Geraghty has exhaustively catalogued, the sweeping aims of the progressive Left and the kitchen-table needs of everyday voters couldn’t be farther apart. And yet the Biden White House has pursued an agenda centered on those transformative initiatives (Build Back Better, election overhauls, filibuster elimination) while often denying that the kitchen-table problems (inflation, CRT-in-the-schools concerns, supply-chain issues) are even problems.

Setting aside for a moment the president’s Mariana Trench–level approval ratings, a Gallup report released this past week should be ample confirmation that the approach is not working. Gallup finds a staggering 14-point shift in party identification over the course of 2021, “from a nine-percentage-point Democratic advantage in the first quarter to a rare five-point Republican edge in the fourth quarter.”

Such an extreme swing shows just how badly Biden and his allies have squandered this moment. It’s been written in these pages dozens of times, but the Democrats treated a narrow majority as a once-in-a-generation electoral mandate to enact everything they’ve ever wanted. Peggy Noonan nailed it when she wrote that the president’s voting-rights speech made him look “like a man operating apart from the American conversation, not at its center.” Or, as Rich Lowry put it, the “I don’t care what you care about” president. This CBS poll, reflecting broad frustration over Biden’s lack of focus on economic issues, illustrates the point. Gallup also shows he’s losing significant support among independents.

And just in case we needed more evidence that the administration’s agenda has gone pear-shaped, guess who’s back? (This latest installment in the Clinton franchise simply must have a killer title: Revenge of the Forsaken, The Family Returns, Comey Better Run, To Russia with Loathing, etcetera.) The ghost of Clintons past only arrives when a chamber of Congress is lost, the legend goes. This is now widely expected: Dan McLaughlin flags one recent model showing “virtually no chance” of Democrats holding the Senate.

All this comes, of course, with the caveat: Who the hell knows what will happen in November and whether Hillary Clinton, Pete Buttigieg, Michelle Obama, Andrew Cuomo with a fake mustache, or Susan Rice’s second cousin will try to muscle Biden–Harris out of a 2024 run. Biden, at his uncharacteristically freewheeling press conference on Wednesday, sought at times to refocus on the economy and education and project once more the image of a normal American president. “I’m not Bernie Sanders. I’m not a socialist. I’m a mainstream Democrat,” he averred. But it was difficult to discern any sign that the president’s presentation indicated a course correction. Rather, he sought to frame the policies he’s already pursuing as prudent and in voters’ best interests. He refused to acknowledge any problem with his comparison of senators who oppose voting changes to segregationists — getting hung up on the empty defense that he didn’t literally call them segregationists. Meanwhile, the president who cares so deeply about the sanctity of the vote preemptively cast doubt on the legitimacy of the next election, and Ukraine’s president is now scrambling to ensure that Biden’s ill-phrased comments about a possible Putin invasion do not precipitate an actual Putin invasion.

How’s it going? Once again, here’s Pete Campbell.

Charles C. W. Cooke sums up the situation in his piece for NR marking one year of President Biden.

I will grant that being a “caretaker” president is not the most exciting of prospects, even for a man as dull as Joe Biden. And yet that — and not indulging absurd, FDR-esque fantasies — is what the voters requested of both him and the closely balanced Congress that they returned to D.C. Competence, moderation, humility, experience, mindfulness — these were the qualities Biden promised the country. In his first year, he has exhibited none of them. Under President Biden, America has not returned to normal but become stranger than ever before.

Surely, the president’s brand is suffering from his party’s association with unpopular causes, notably school closures — which progressives increasingly are being urged to recognize have been a disaster. Even Biden seems to recognize this; on Wednesday, he faulted some school districts for wasting Covid-relief money that could have gone toward keeping doors open.

Soon, he might be able to blame a much more comfortable target for his political woes: the Republicans who control Congress.

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

Question for Biden and Schumer: What was it all for? The Democrats’ Election-Law Circus

The nation’s point person on Covid-19 has played a valuable role but today stands in the way of shifting public-health policy toward treating this as an endemic disease: Fauci Must Go

The feds must restore the rule of law to the rails: Stop the Train Robberies

How dare Glenn Youngkin do precisely what he said he would do? The nerve of this guy: Youngkin Starts Strong and Keeps His Promises

ARTICLES

Kyle Smith: We Are Betraying Our Children

Ryan Mills: American Citizen Stranded in UAE with Pregnant Wife after Botched Afghanistan Evacuation

Charles C. W. Cooke: Nikki Fried Is So, So Bad at This

Charles C. W. Cooke: Biden’s Year of Failure

Rich Lowry: The Dumbest Voting-Rights Canard

Kathryn Jean Lopez: Will This Week Be the Last March for Life?

John Fund: The Democrats’ Long-Term Strategy to Pack the Supreme Court

Brittany Bernstein: Former Clinton Adviser Says There’s ‘Good Chance’ of Clinton-Trump Race in 2024

Andrew McCarthy: Why Was Texas-Synagogue Jihadist Akram Allowed to Enter U.S.?

Dan McLaughlin: Why We Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.

Nate Hochman: A Win for Parents, a Loss for Aztec Worship in Schools

Jay Nordlinger: Free Press as Weapon against Tyranny

Jim Geraghty: Investor’s Uyghur Comments Are Even Worse Than You’ve Heard

Jerry Hendrix: Is the U.S. Ready for a Russian Invasion of Eastern Europe?

Jack Crowe: Fauci’s Manufactured Public-Health Consensus

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

Kyle Smith picks up, and can’t put down, John McWhorter’s new book Woke Racism: The Church Ladies of the New Woke Religion

Armond White worries that a great satirist has gone astray trying to make a social-justice movie: Almodóvar Loses His Sense of Humor

Want to gaze upon the largest Roman sculpture in the States (among other delights of ancient culture)? Brian Allen has the coordinates: Greek and Roman Gods Get Fresh Treatment at Boston’s MFA

A Coen brother tackles Macbeth, and the result is no tragedy. From Madeleine Kearns: Macbeth, Stripped to Its Elements

CAPITAL MATTERS

Paige Lambermont cautions against Germany’s “Energiewende” plan: Germany’s Nuclear Phaseout Ignores Energy Realities

We keep banging this drum, and Dominic Pino picks up the beat: Inflation Isn’t about Antitrust

FROM THE NEW FEBRUARY 7, 2022, ISSUE OF NR

Michael Brendan Dougherty: The New White Flight

Kevin Williamson: The Well-Armed Troll

Barry Latzer: Alvin Bragg, the Prosecutor Who Won’t Prosecute

John Bolton: A World without Rules

DOCTORS RECOMMEND DOUBLE-EXCERPTING, YOU KNOW

From NR’s oust-Fauci editorial:

President Joe Biden should relieve Dr. Anthony Fauci of his duties at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as chief medical adviser to the White House, and as the public face of the American government’s response to Covid-19.

It is past time for public-health policy to shift to acknowledging that Covid-19 is an endemic disease and, for the most part, a risk for individuals to manage. Fauci stands in the way of executing that shift and communicating it to the public. . . .

Fauci has peremptorily dismissed criticism of his work as criticism of science itself. The effect has been to bring science into disrepute. Fauci participated in and amplified the smoke-and-mirrors public-relations campaign launched by EcoHealth Alliance’s Dr. Peter Daszak to rule out the lab-leak theory of Covid-19 as a conspiracy theory. Subsequent email leaks and FOIA requests have shown Fauci acting more like the head of a cartel of scientific experts.

A post-pandemic investigation should determine whether the American and global-health response to the pandemic was stymied and slowed because of the prejudices and hobbyhorses of a handful of bureaucrats in Washington, including Dr. Fauci, who control the distribution of $32 billion annually.

The cover story for the latest issue of NR, by Barry Latzer, exposes the flawed thinking behind the new Manhattan DA’s approach to (non)prosecution:

[Alvin] Bragg buys the woke thinking that disparate racial impact is the same as race bias. In other words, if the criteria for bail or jail, even if totally race-neutral, put a disproportionate number of African Americans in jail, then the criteria must be faulty. This reasoning is profoundly flawed. It ignores the realities that the proportion of criminal activity involving blacks is significantly higher than the proportions involving whites or Hispanics, while blacks compose a lower share of the population. For instance, just before the pandemic, in 2019, African Americans accounted for 55 percent of felony arrests in Manhattan, where they were only 12 percent of the population. Whites, who were 47 percent of the population, accounted for only 10 percent of the felony arrests; Latinos, 26 percent of the population, were 35 percent of felony arrestees. Consequently, race-neutral criteria are bound to impact blacks more often — unless Bragg finds a way to establish racial quotas for prosecution.

If Bragg’s office encourages the release of dangerous defendants because they are black, then it will add to the crime and disorder in communities of color, which is where such defendants are most likely to reoffend. Instead of obsessing over the racial makeup of dangerous defendants, DA Bragg should ask himself whether minority communities deserve the full protection of the law-enforcement system.

Manhattan’s new DA goes beyond even New York’s flawed new bail law, promising to establish a presumption of release: “My office will recommend non-incarceration for every case except those with charges of homicide or the death of a victim, [or] a class B violent felony in which a deadly weapon causes serious physical injury, or [certain] felony sex offenses.”

Note that Bragg will recommend against incarceration in every single pretrial case, with a limited list of exceptions. His list is totally inadequate. There are numerous violent crimes that do not involve death, or a serious injury from a deadly weapon, or a felony sex offense, but, for the sake of public safety, warrant incarceration. There should be no presumption of release in such cases. Here are just a few examples: robbery second degree, which involves several robbers working together, or physical injury to the victim, or the display of a gun; assault on a police officer, firefighter, or judge; gang assault second degree, which involves an attack by two or more people and results in serious physical injury, such as that caused by a shooting or stabbing; aggravated vehicular assault, caused by reckless driving either when drunk or with a suspended license; reckless endangerment first degree, which creates a grave risk of death; stalking first degree, which causes physical injury to the victim; and menacing second degree, which places a person in fear of physical injury by displaying a deadly weapon or repeatedly following the victim or repeatedly putting the victim in fear.

How does releasing people arrested for crimes like these help black communities — or any community, for that matter — especially given the high likelihood of repeated crimes?

Ryan Mills relays the infuriating story of an American trapped overseas with his wife, caught in the Afghanistan-evacuation bureaucracy:

For the last three months, daily life for Ace has been plodding and repetitive: Wake up, shower, exercise, read, maybe play some volleyball. And wait.

He tries to keep up with his bills back home in Riverside, Calif., but he lost his job as an auto-finance manager months ago. His wife is pregnant. With a baby on the way, Ace gets anxious watching his bank account dwindle as he passes the days in what he calls “jail.”

But Ace isn’t actually in a jail. He hasn’t committed any crime. Rather, he’s one of the thousands of people who fled Afghanistan last year who are being held in International Humanitarian City, a compound or aid hub in the United Arab Emirates. While evacuations from Afghanistan slowed to a crawl late last year, thousands of previous evacuees are still in Humanitarian City, waiting to be processed so they can be relocated to another country.

Ace, 33, and his wife, 24, flew out of Afghanistan on October 17, and they have been stuck ever since.

Ace was born and raised in Kabul, but unlike most of the other people in the compound, he is an American citizen. National Review agreed to identify him only by his nickname out of concern for family members who remain in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Technically, Ace could have left the compound weeks ago, but that would have required leaving behind his wife, whose immigration status is still in limbo three years after their marriage.

“They offered me that,” Ace said of an opportunity to leave alone. “I was like, ‘No.’ How could I leave my wife there?” Instead, he and his wife are waiting for an opportunity to leave together.

Ace said he is “frustrated and pissed off sometimes” by the treatment. American advocates who have worked to get the couple on a flight into the U.S. said it is “disgusting” and “criminal” that, nearly five months after the Biden administration’s bungled evacuation from Afghanistan, an American citizen and his wife, along with others who should have been on the fast track to the U.S., are still trapped overseas.

Rich Lowry fact-checks the claims that long voting lines are the work of racist voter suppression by Republicans:

Long lines have gotten a lot of attention in Georgia, ground zero for the voting debate, but what Clyburn and his allies will never mention is that localities administer elections in Georgia, and the ones that have been most associated with out-of-control lines are run by Democrats.

So, here is an elder statesman of the Democratic Party — who cares deeply about voting issues and repeatedly insists that “history” will judge opponents of the Democratic bills — and apparently the most compelling fact he can offer in support of his argument is a complete canard, either because he’s poorly informed or dishonest or a little of both.

What he is in effect saying is that the Senate filibuster must be eliminated and elections rules nationalized in an unprecedented way because local-level Democrats can’t get their act together and maintain enough precincts to keep voting lines in predominantly black neighborhoods at a manageable level. . . .

As it happens, Republican secretary of state Brad Raffensperger has indeed been focused on long lines. He proposed legislation to address the problem in 2020, but Democrats objected. The election law that passed last year takes on the issue by forcing counties with chronically long lines to reduce the size of the relevant precincts, or add new equipment or workers.

Yes, the law that is portrayed as hateful voter suppression makes a good-faith effort to alleviate the lines that Clyburn and others so often cite as evidence of all that is wrong with our electoral system.

Shout-Outs

Philip Wegmann, at RealClearPolitics: Defiant, Unapologetic: Biden’s Marathon Presser

Salena Zito, at the Washington Examiner: The moment Joe Biden finally lost his credibility

Kyle Smith, at the New Criterion: Terry Teachout, 1956–2022

Kate Clanchy, at UnHerd: What lockdown took from my parents

CODA

With acknowledgment that paeans to Russian triumph aren’t exactly what we need right now, this particular tribute pertained to tsarist Russia — and it’s just a fantastic piece of music — so qualms be gone.

Marche Slave was Tchaikovsky’s celebration of his country’s intervention on behalf of Serbia in the latter’s war with the Ottoman Empire. The enemy-flattening motif is invigorating stuff, capturing a “Ride of the Valkyries” energy and maybe even presaging the kinds of riffs that generations to come would bang their heads to. Enjoy.

Got a tune? Want to share? Send a link to jberger@nationalreview.com. Thanks for reading.

World

The Harm in Abiding Small Tyrannies

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An image of Chinese President Xi Jinping displayed at the Museum of the Communist Party of China in Beijing, China, November 11, 2021. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

The Olympics are drawing closer, and China is preparing for the occasion by doing what meticulous and well-adjusted hosts of global gatherings are wont to do — spraying penalties every which way in retaliation for the slightest offense to its international gaslighting project.

There’s Lithuania (a tiny nation that is punching way above its weight in the human-rights and democracy department), which as Andrew Stuttaford reports invited China’s ire by allowing a de facto Taiwanese embassy to open under the name “Taiwan.” China downgraded diplomatic relations, started blocking Lithuanian imports, and even reportedly pressured a German car-parts company, among others, to stop using material from the Baltic state.

Let’s see, who else hath offended? There’s that known provocateur, that sinister disrupter of the global order, whose machinations are cleverly masked by the whir of Slurpee machines, 7-Eleven, which had the audacity to list Taiwan as a country on its website, among other purported offenses. Beijing’s local government fined the company in response.

Then there’s Intel.

Jimmy Quinn, who is diligently documenting China’s grip on entities that should know (and act) better, this week detailed the case of the California tech company, which had issued the following letter after President Biden signed a law barring the import of goods from Xinjiang: “Multiple governments have imposed restrictions on products sourced from the Xinjiang region. Therefore, Intel is required to ensure our supply chain does not use any labor or source goods or services from the Xinjiang region.”

The statement — a legal one as much as it was a moral one — did not stand for long:

That sparked an uproar in China, including an editorial by the Global Times, a party tabloid, criticizing the move as “arrogant and vicious.” So Intel posted an apology to Chinese social-media platforms on December 23. “We apologize for the trouble caused to our respected Chinese customers, partners, and the public,” the statement read.

The company also reportedly removed the offending paragraph online. CEO Pat Gelsinger this week defended the backtrack, using this mealy-mouthed explanation: “We found that there was no reason for us to call out one region in particular anywhere in the world because there’s many regions in the world that are having issues of such a matter.”

It seems China considers no act of truth too small to rebuke and crush.

Why don’t we consider China’s small acts of tyranny — such as its corporate intimidation — to be similarly threatening? After all, they make space for the very large acts of tyranny, for instance the system of sterilization, internment, and forced labor inflicted on an entire culture in Xinjiang.

When Robert Noyce co-founded Intel in the late ’60s, he was known for insisting on a moral culture.

“At Intel there was good and there was evil,” Tom Wolfe wrote in “Two Young Men Who Went West,” his account of Silicon Valley’s early days. Noyce created an “ethical universe,” leading it all from a position of absolutely-no-nonsense strength. “He somehow created the impression that if pushed one more inch, he would fight,” Wolfe explained. And so, nobody dared find out.

Where’s that Intel?

Gelsinger says that Intel does not source materials from Xinjiang. Still, it is a corporate sponsor of the Beijing Winter Olympics — and recently was accused of working behind the scenes to kill legislation meant to punish sponsors. China’s theatrics aim to keep these enablers in line.  

Jim Geraghty writes:

The Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee want us to act like everything is normal and that this is just another winter games taking place in some far-off foreign capital. But nothing about the Chinese government is normal right now — from the ongoing genocide of the Uyghurs to the crackdown in Hong Kong to the military aggression toward Taiwan to the refusal to cooperate with the WHO on the investigation into the origins of Covid-19 to the sudden disappearance and subsequently odd, seemingly coerced statements from tennis star Peng Shuai, who accused former vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her.

Mitch Daniels, over at Purdue University, provides a much better model for how to deal with small tyrannies from a known perpetrator of big ones. From Jay Nordlinger:

A Boilermaker named Zhihao Kong posted something in praise of the martyred students in Tiananmen Square. Other Chinese students harassed and threatened him over this. Also — prepare to be surprised — the authorities back in China paid a visit to his parents.

In a totalitarian state, this is how it goes.

The president of Purdue University is Mitch Daniels, the Reaganite who was once governor of Indiana (and budget director under President George W. Bush, etc.). In a letter to Purdue students, faculty, and staff, Daniels wrote the following about the treatment of Zhihao Kong: “Any such intimidation is unacceptable and unwelcome on our campus.”

Daniels is the exception, as Jimmy notes, lamenting that most college administrators do not speak out about such intimidation, just as the most powerful corporate voices in the West tend to soft-pedal China’s crimes.

Anyone who does speak out, of course, can expect to be labeled a racist by the uncreative defenders of the China gaslighting project. (See this incoherent petition, which hundreds have signed, posted in response to Daniels.) But it’s a small price to pay for being clear about one’s tolerance for small tyrannies.

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

The president’s Georgia speech was a trifecta of terribleness: Biden’s Disgraceful Voting Speech

Congressional hearings should pursue this question: How Deep Was Cardona’s Role in ‘Domestic Terror’ School-Board Letter?

Thursday’s split decision at the Court represents a victory for the separation of powers: Supreme Court’s Welcome Rejection of Biden’s Covid-Vaccine Mandate

ARTICLES

David Harsanyi: Biden’s Big Elections Lie

Charles C. W. Cooke: There Can Be No Filibuster ‘Carve Out’

John McCormack: What Is Biden Thinking?

Kyle Smith: The Graveyard of False Covid Claims

Seth Cropsey: Is the U.S. Military Actually Ready for a War?

Kevin Williamson: Toward a Politics of Charity

Kevin Williamson: The Rent-Policy Debate Is Too Damn Stupid

Rich Lowry: The Idiocy of Covid-Vaccine Mandates for Kids

Will Swaim: California Is a Menace II Society

Mailee Smith: Chicago Students Suffer When the Chicago Teachers Union Flexes Its Muscles

Jim Geraghty: Empty Shelves Disprove Biden’s Supply-Chain Boasts

Dan McLaughlin: The 1619 Project Book Puts George Washington in a Time Machine

Caroline Downey: Fauci and Collins Dismissed Prominent Scientists Who Endorsed Lab-Leak Theory, Emails Show

Alexandra DeSanctis: New Jersey Is Set to ‘Codify’ Unlimited Abortion

Philip Klein: Biden Shouldn’t Get Any More Covid Money

Michael Brendan Dougherty: Trump without Trumpism

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

Kyle Smith is here with the fact check we’ve all been waiting for: Did Soylent Green Get It Right?

Armond White answers the question: ‘What Is the Worst Film of 2021?’

Brian Allen finds the bright spot on a campus that’s in love with lockdowns — and adds “sprezzatura” to our collective vocabulary builder: Yale Women Artists Star in a New Exhibition

CAPITAL MATTERS

Gabriella Hoffman warns about the potential return of an Obama administration alum: Imperiling Worker Freedom at the Department of Labor

Dominic Pino responds to one CEO’s call for government intervention in the supply-chain crisis: Port Congestion Is Not a Market Failure

CONFIRMED: THERE’S MORE WHERE THAT CAME FROM

It’s been a helluva week for Joe Biden. First he allowed himself to deliver a speech that invented domestic enemies and existential crises that didn’t exist the day before and still don’t; then he watched his plan, which ironically would have caused an existential crisis, fall apart within hours; then he was dealt a rebuke from the Supreme Court over his administration’s expansive vaccine mandate (one of them, anyway). From the editorial:

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court acted swiftly to block the enforcement of President Biden’s attempt to impose a sweeping Covid-vaccine mandate on large employers that would have impacted 84 million Americans. This is welcome news.

Biden, in an effort to coerce holdouts into getting vaccinated, tried to claim OSHA emergency powers to require all businesses with 100 or more employees to force workers to take the Covid vaccines or submit to weekly testing. The rule would have applied to two-thirds of private employers, making it unprecedented in scope. . . .

Citing this standard, the majority concluded that Congress had not given OSHA such broad authority to enact a de facto vaccine mandate. While OSHA has the authority to regulate workplace safety, justices reasoned, in this case, it was attempting to use that authority to issue a sweeping rule to address a public-health issue in which the threat is not limited to the workplace.

“Although COVID–19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard in most,” the majority wrote. “COVID–19 can and does spread at home, in schools, during sporting events, and everywhere else that people gather.”

The justices went on to write that, “Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life—simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while on the clock—would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization.” . . .

The Court’s decision to block the vaccine mandate on large private employers should be considered a victory for the separation of powers and another defeat for Biden’s clumsy attempt to subvert the rule of law.

Charles C. W. Cooke convincingly explains why Biden’s call for a filibuster “carve out” is no such thing and would be exercised for all manner of “must-pass” legislation by both parties:

Biden can characterize the move however he likes, but he cannot hide the uncomfortable fact that, in practical terms, he is endorsing the wholesale abolition of the filibuster, for all legislation, in all circumstances, and under majorities held by either party. Simply put, there is no such thing as a “narrow exception” to this rule. If the Democrats proceed, they will alter the Senate forever. . . .

Pick your poison. I daresay that the Democratic Party has genuinely convinced itself that there is a meaningful threat to the right to vote in the United States, but it must understand that there is no good reason that the Republican Party cannot do the same thing on another deeply felt matter. Maybe it would be reforming federal entitlements, so as to fix the existential threat posed by a debt crisis. Maybe it would be nationalizing concealed carry, so as to ensure that the Second Amendment is incorporated in the manner anticipated by the privileges-or-immunities guarantee within the 14th Amendment. Maybe it would be protecting the sanctity of the franchise by demanding voter-ID requirements and eliminating same-day registration. Who knows? The point is that no party has a monopoly on use of the it’s-too-important clause, which is why our system does not tend to feature it’s-too-important clauses, and why, on the rare occasions that they are invoked, they have a bad habit of destroying the institutions to which they have been attached and backfiring on those who wielded them.

Caroline Downey reports on new evidence about the concerns scientists had early on that the Covid pandemic started with a lab leak:

Early in the pandemic, multiple scientists urged NIAID director Anthony Fauci and NIH director Francis Collins to seriously consider the theory that Covid escaped from a Chinese laboratory, arguing that the lab-leak theory, which Fauci and Collins have downplayed since the pandemic began, was more plausible than the natural origin explanation.

Mike Farzan, an immunology researcher and the discoverer of the SARS receptor, Bob Garry, a virology expert, and Dr. Andrew Rambaut, a British evolutionary biologist, all observed that a particular feature of the virus, the “furin cleavage site,” was peculiar and suggested gain-of-function engineering. Their comments were made during a February 2020 conference call of experts, the notes of which were presented to Fauci and Collins and obtained by congressional Republicans.

One month later, in March 2020, Collins said the lab-leak hypothesis was “outrageous.” Similarly, in May 2020, Fauci told National Geographic that Covid “could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated.”

In his summary, Farzan stated that SARS-CoV-2 had the marking of laboratory experimentation that resulted in a virus that immediately proved highly infectious to humans. . . .

“I really can’t think of a plausible natural scenario where you get from the bat virus or one very similar to it to nCoV where you insert exactly 4 amino acids 12 nucleotides that all have to be added at the exact same time to gain this function – that and you don’t change any other amino acid in S2? I just can’t figure out how this gets accomplished in nature,” [Garry] said.

Here’s something of a sequel to the Joel Kotkin story on California we ran last week, courtesy of the always incisive and often entertaining Will Swaim. He traces the fallout from a series of state policies. This, from his section on Xavier Becerra’s pursuits:

Becerra learned about “harm-reduction policies” while climbing California’s political ladder. Designed to address the problem of drug addiction, these initiatives have turned San Francisco, to take the most obvious example, into an open-air drug market and transformed significant numbers of its citizens into zombies — if they’re lucky enough to survive an overdose. “San Francisco is engaged in an unethical refusal to mandate proven medical treatment to drug addicts that is no different from the denial of medical treatment to syphilis sufferers by U.S. government researchers in Tuskegee, Ala., between 1932 and 1972,” writes San Fransicko author Michael Shellenberger. “Of the approximately 600 men enrolled in the Tuskegee experiment, 128 died of syphilis, over a 40-year period. Six times more people died of drug overdoses and poisonings in San Francisco last year alone; 178 of them were black.” Immune to science, Becerra declared the Biden administration ready to implement San Francisco’s failed policies nationwide: “We are willing to go places where our opinions and our tendencies have not allowed us to go before,” he told NPR — except, of course, we have been there before, in California.

Shout-Outs

Jonathan Kay, at Quillette: We’re All Going to Get Omicron

Peggy Noonan, at the Wall Street Journal: Biden’s Georgia Speech Is a Break Point

Chuck Ross & Matthew Foldi, at the Washington Free Beacon: What the Puck? Chinese Gov’t Propagandists Promote Olympics at Washington Capitals Game

Daniel Beekman, at the Seattle Times: Seattle police faked radio chatter about Proud Boys as CHOP formed in 2020, investigation finds

CODA

And now for something completely different. The quirky, catchy, sometimes silly but rarely boring British rap project The Streets — which is the work of a guy named Mike Skinner — shows little loyalty to any particular sound or style. His first album, Original Pirate Material, at times bears faint resemblance to his second, A Grand Don’t Come for Free, a concept album of sorts about a girl and about losing a thousand quid, then (spoiler) finding it behind the TV. Even within the latter album, each track makes its own stylistic statement, while veering from juvenile to profound in a kind of reverse-bathos trick that only Skinner can execute.

Consider these closing lyrics, set against a suddenly sublime chord progression, which follows the story moments earlier of a slapstick fight scene. Childish no more, he finds clarity:

No one’s really there fighting for you in the last garrison 
No one except yourself that is, no one except you
You are the one who’s got your back ’til the last deed’s done.

But it’s this song, “Blinded by the Lights,” which is not the same as this song, that remains my favorite. The way the chorus gently washes in, the unsettling placement of the pulse . . . they combine to simulate the sensation of what the song is about, which is clubbing and drugging. Not my scene. But it’s funny the way a song that is very much somebody else’s experience can project itself onto your own. This song always takes me back to a night in Bombay, killing time drinking at a club in 2006 with my then-fiancée and her friends — the soundtrack fits, even if our vices were different.

That’s all TMI, most likely. Got a tune to share with this list, maybe a story about that tune, probably one that’s more interesting than mine? Shoot an anecdote to jberger@nationalreview.com. Have a great weekend.

U.S.

Burn the Covid Playbook

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A sign hangs outside of Pulaski International School after Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district, said it would cancel classes since the teachers’ union voted in favor of a return to remote learning, in Chicago, Ill., January 5, 2022. (Jim Vondruska/Reuters)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

To pick up where this newsletter left off before the holidays — we are fast approaching a point where policy-makers must decide whether the Covid playbook becomes a permanent fixture. That is, will the farrago of masking and lockdowns and vaccine passports and remote learning and testing regimes and contactless everything become the standard response to every new Covid variant, possibly to new viruses of all kinds?

That debate is playing out now — at the start of Year Three, against the highly contagious but relatively mild Omicron variant — and nowhere are the stakes higher than in the schools.

In New York City, newly sworn-in mayor Eric Adams is doing his damnedest to resist closing classrooms, but the unions are fighting just as hard to suspend in-person learning. Not all executives are holding their ground, and plenty of other school systems once again are going remote, affecting over 450,000 students by one count. In Chicago, a very ugly fight is playing out as the teachers’ union opposes in-person schooling, leading to a standoff with the city.

The pivotal factor here is the bipartisan skepticism — and outright opposition — over these steps, with leaders from Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot to U.S. education secretary Miguel Cardona recognizing that the damage to students from prolonged isolation far outweighs the risk from Covid-19. They should shut this debate down, for good.

NR’s editorial explains precisely and concisely why:

Children are at extremely low risk for Covid. In 2020–21, 678 people aged 0–17 died from Covid. To put that in perspective, 1,161 people in that age cohort died from influenza in 2012–13, and 803 died in 2014–15. Covid is more severe than the flu for adults, but it is not significantly different from the flu for children. The adults have multiple safe and effective vaccines, and now antiviral pills as well to treat Covid. We don’t close schools for influenza, and we shouldn’t close schools for Covid.

The reflexive return to the Covid playbook by the teachers’ unions and their allies is as disheartening as it is predictable, considering what we now know, especially about this variant. Study after study is showing Omicron to be less dangerous, less deadly, less likely to attack the lungs.

Ironically, the soaring infections make the case for easing restrictions, as the CDC’s latest guidance implicitly recognized: Omicron is becoming unavoidable, making the elaborate avoidance schemes too disruptive for too little benefit. Know someone who’s caught it in the past couple weeks? Yourself? A colleague? A close family member? And more every day? This keyboard jockey sure does. If we’re all getting it, and if the indications are that this is a milder version, what good is making schoolkids continue to suffer? Especially when experts suggest the latest variant could help “quell the pandemic” by boosting immunity.

Universities are behaving even more irrationally than the K–12 schools, subjecting vaxxed students to nonstop testing and even quarantines, while ignoring that the risk posed to this cohort is low anyway. Cornell University senior Matthew Samilow writes for NR about an Omicron outbreak at the school in December that effectively shuttered campus, but notes: “Buried within the frenzy over the number of student cases, however, was the reality that all of them were mild.”

Meanwhile, and we know we’re a broken record on this, THERE IS A VACCINE. It is remarkably effective at preventing severe infection and death; breakthrough cases are numerous but manageable. This analysis from the Peterson Center on Healthcare and Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that the overwhelming majority of deaths in the latter half of 2021 would have been prevented with vaccination. Yet the Covid playbook undermines the vaccine’s value, by treating this miracle as just one of many coequal mitigation measures.

None of this is to say there’s no place for some of these measures, especially in the face of a future and more virulent variant. But it’s time for those intellectually capable of conducting a cost–benefit analysis to do so. Michael Brendan Dougherty notes here that Omicron has made once-taboo notions about this pandemic painfully obvious and increasingly mainstream:

Things such as “your masks are useless.” And “the hospitalization figures for Covid in children are overcounted.” And “we need to stop focusing on cases and start focusing on hospitalizations.” And even that public-health regulations had to retreat to the point at which they would be tolerated by the public.

It’s important to note that none of these insights became true with the onset of Omicron, which is extremely contagious but less severe and infects vaccinated people easily. This isn’t guidance changing with the latest science. No, Omicron only made these facts more undeniable.

Michael advises that in the new year, “the only thing between us and a recognition of endemic Covid is our own tolerance for [officials’] disruptions and guidance.”

A smart start to 2022 would be to tear up this played-out playbook and respond to the unique challenge in front of us, not to the crisis we left behind.

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

There is no defense for what the mob did at the Capitol one year ago, or for what Donald Trump did to summon it: Anniversary of a Disgrace

New York State is urging doctors to prioritize Covid-19 patients for treatment based on race: Race-Rationing in a Pandemic

Let’s say it one more time: Keep the Schools Open

ARTICLES

Dan McLaughlin: How Republicans Can Outflank Chuck Schumer

Andrew McCarthy: Examining Trump’s Role in the Capitol Riot

Andrew McCarthy: SCOTUS Should Nix Biden’s Vaccine Mandates

Kevin Williamson: What Happened on January 6

Kathryn Jean Lopez: Let’s Make 2022 the Year of a Foster-Care Revolution

Kyle Smith: Patton Oswalt Turns Rat against Dave Chappelle

Daniel Tenreiro: GM Loses Spot as No. 1 U.S. Automaker for the First Time since 1931

Daniel Tenreiro: Chicago Drivers Get Speeding Tickets Every Eleven Seconds

Nate Hochman: Texas Democrats Have a Problem

Dominic Pino: California Wants to Double Its Taxes

Rich Lowry: Chuck Schumer’s January 6 Cynicism

Madeleine Kearns: The Myth of No-Fault Divorce

Philip Klein: The Covid-Vaccine Mandates Are Unprecedented

Michael Brendan Dougherty: No to Vaccine Passports

Ryan Mills: Arizona State Directs Wrestlers to Mask While Competing

Preston Cooper: Harvard’s Stance against Standardized Testing Will Worsen Inequality

CAPITAL MATTERS

Joel Kotkin authors a deep dive on what ails California: Trouble in Paradise: The Crumbling California Model

Aaron Hedlund finds the one area where Biden’s economy has exceeded expectations: Building Back Badly: Biden’s Supply-Side Counterrevolution

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

Kyle Smith’s tribute to Peter Bogdanovich: An Exasperating, Brilliant Filmmaker Who Changed His Art Form

French filmmaker Bruno Dumont has produced a masterpiece of modern-media criticism. Armond White reviews: France — Inside Media Sainthood

Brian Allen visits the Jewish Museum’s exhibition on Edmund de Waal’s book documenting his family’s unique story of wealth, loss, survival, and Nazi theft: New York’s Jewish Museum Makes an Exhibition of The Hare with Amber Eyes

And look what just arrived in the mail today: Armond’s The Better-Than List for 2021

FROM THE NEW JANUARY 24, 2022, ISSUE OF NR

Dan McLaughlin: American Slavery in the Global Context

Wilfred Reilly: The 1619 False-History Project

Jack Butler: George Bailey’s America

Spencer Case: Miles Davis, Someday and Always

THE EXCERPTS WILL SEE YOU NOW

January 6, 2021, was not, as some opportunists like to argue, comparable to 9/11 or the Civil War. But the Capitol riot has its own special place in American infamy. From the editorial:

This will, and should, be remembered as a stain on the nation’s history. . . .

What happened at the Capitol that day is best understood as a riot that was particularly dangerous because of its setting and context. It was not a purely peaceful protest, or a cartoonish costume party with a little bit of trespassing. The Secret Service had to rush Pence to safety. Members of Congress emptied the chamber and fled for cover. The vote-counting process was interrupted for five and a half hours. The Capitol itself was wreathed in smoke. This is the stuff of a banana republic.

January 6 was a day shrouded in tragedy. Four of the protesters died, including one woman who was shot by Capitol Police while she was breaking through a door at the head of a screaming mob, and a 42-year-old Capitol Police officer who was pepper-sprayed had a pair of fatal strokes just eight hours later. Even if not all these deaths are directly attributable to the riot, the mayhem that day has been documented on video — people being stomped on, one officer being beaten with an American flagpole, rioters crushing one police officer in a door. The violence is why, of the more than 700 people who have been arrested, over 200 have been charged with assault or resisting arrest, including scores charged with assaulting police with dangerous weapons (mainly toxic sprays). Police officials report that 140 officers suffered injuries including bad cuts and bruises, burns, and broken bones. There was also damage to the Capitol that was estimated to exceed $1 million.

Defenders of Trump and apologists for the riot argue that the events of January 6 did not emerge out of nowhere. It is true that past Democratic misconduct helped to set the stage for the riot, but that does not exonerate Trump or the rioters.

A new issue of NR — the very first of the new year — is out, and it’s dedicated to countering the falsehoods and misinterpretations of the 1619 Project. At its center is Dan McLaughlin’s magisterial essay, which explores the awful history of slavery, frankly and factually, in the global context:

No topic in American history is more enduringly controversial than slavery. It sits at the heart of every indictment of America and our founding principles. It is central to battles over critical race theory, the removal of monuments, and the renaming of places and institutions. It is invoked in debates over policing and welfare.

For the New York Times’ 1619 Project, slavery is foundational to American identity. Its beginning is our “true founding.” We should “reframe our understanding of U.S. history by considering 1619 as our country’s origin point.” Slavery is “the seed of so much of what has made us unique” and should sit at “the center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.” Yet this claim lacks the global perspective we need to examine what is actually uniquely American. Where did American slavery come from? How did it differ from other systems of bondage and forced labor?

Slavery was a human crime of which Americans were one part. It proliferated for millennia before slaves are first known to have been sold in Virginia, in 1619. It persisted long after it was abolished in the United States in 1865. It was practiced by people far from our shores without American influence. People were enslaved in virtually every society from which American slaves were descended. Few of the world’s major civilizations have been innocent of it.

In the story of world slavery, Americans loom much larger in the history of abolition than in the history of enslavement. . . .

Ironically, the early death of slavery in northwestern Europe would make it harder on the slaves in North America. Slave systems elsewhere were somewhat mitigated by custom. In some African societies, slavery ended after three generations. Islamic slaves could work on their own time for wages to buy their freedom (this was encouraged by the Koran). Sales of household slaves were discouraged. But northwestern Europe had neither law nor custom of its own regarding slavery. Then, in the twelfth century, Italian scholars rediscovered Roman law, helping shape the law of medieval Europe. When confronted anew with slaves, classically edu­cated Western Europeans reached for the harsh, ancient law of Rome. So, eventually, did the American South.

The comedy world’s treatment of Dave Chappelle is endlessly fascinating. Kyle Smith savages a fellow comic for bowing to the mob this week for the crime of acknowledging his own friendship with Dave:

Patton Oswalt once famously played a rat in a movie, but he has never crept so low, nor squeaked so annoyingly, as he did in the apology he issued on Instagram for the crime of appearing in public with an old friend. Oswalt has been pals with Chappelle for 34 years, and after getting a text from him while the two were performing next door to one another on New Year’s Eve, joined him at the (only-in-Seattle) Climate Pledge Arena for a guest set and a backstage picture.

Oswalt described Chappelle in an Instagram post as “a genius” who “works an arena like he’s talking to one person and charming their skin off.” Oswalt then made the rookie mistake of reading the comments under his post. His post apparently inspired a session of cranial explosiveness to rival David Cronenberg’s Scanners. (Oswalt deleted hostile comments, so they’re not there anymore.)

Having tasted the people’s wrath, Oswalt rat-scurried back onto Instagram for a follow-up post. The comedy world is a close-knit family in which it is understood that everyone has everyone else’s back. Comics feel that, no matter their sensibilities or what they find funny, they have far more in common with one another than they do with those who have never known the sensation of standing utterly exposed on a stage trying to entertain with nothing but one’s words. And so it is rare for comics to take potshots at one another.

Which is why Oswalt’s revolting, embarrassing, disloyal, and incoherent follow-up post was so rodential. Oswalt betrayed a friend of, as he put it, “Thirty FOUR years” because he was scared by the antics of a handful of crap-flinging baboons on the Internet.

Joel Kotkin is not giving up hope on California, but he offers a must-read diagnosis of the state’s problems that its policy-makers would be wise to heed:

For most, the reality on the ground is increasingly challenging. The state is now the second-most unaffordable state for home-buyers, a particular challenge for Millennials, and it suffers the highest rate of “doubling up” — only our friend Hawaii does worse. California has the largest gap between middle and upper wage quartiles in the nation, and it has a level of inequality greater than that of Mexico and closer to that of Central American countries such as Guatemala and Honduras than to such “progressive” developed counties as Canada and Norway. According to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, 20 percent of state wealth is held within 30 zip codes that account for just 2 percent of the population. . . .

California’s media and academic establishment tend to dismiss the idea of an “exodus,” blaming the narrative in large part on conservative propagandists. We can debate the significance of this outbound movement, but it’s not exactly chopped liver. Since 2000, more than 2.4 million net domestic migrants, a population larger than that of the Sacramento metropolitan area, have moved to other parts of the nation from California. This process is now accelerating, driven as much by people not moving in as those moving out. Between 2014 and 2020, net domestic out-migration from California grew from an annual rate of 46,000 to 242,000, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

This decline does not reflect the movement of disgruntled oldsters and the unemployable, but from a rapid decline in people who traditionally came here to make their fortunes. California now has the worst attraction rate in the country, which is driving the demographic decline. Some 85 percent of those leaving, according to an analysis of IRS data from 2012 to 2019, are in their prime earning years of 25 to 64. In 2019, the largest number of net domestic migrants was in the 35–44 age category, at 27 percent, while 21 percent were age 55–64.

Particularly ironic, given the state’s racialized politics, has been the declining growth of California’s minority populations, who now represent nearly two-thirds of the residents. Some may see California as a multicultural exemplar, but a recent University of California, Berkeley, poll showed that 58 percent of African Americans express interest in leaving the state, more than any other ethnic group. So too do 45 percent of Asians and Latinos.

Shout-Outs

Tevi Troy, at City Journal: The de Blasio Debacle

Marty Makary, at Common Sense: Universities’ Covid Policies Defy Science and Reason

Mike Brest, at the Washington Examiner: Marine officer discharged after criticizing Afghanistan withdrawal bemoans ‘systemic’ problems at Defense Department

Kat Rosenfield, at UnHerd: The curse of the Girlboss

CODA

This constitutes two consecutive Codas with a Clapton connection, but don’t construe that as any hidden message pertaining to vaccines. This is the politics-free zone. Speaking of which, a holiday trip home to the folks’ place yielded some new appreciation for guitarist Derek Trucks and his various ensembles, a staple of the OG Berger household. One recording in particular (shared by my dad) showcases Tedeschi Trucks Band covering another famous “Derek” — Derek and the Dominos’ entire Layla album, live. The title song, of course, is heartbreaking, though it’s hard to suppress the conjured images of mobsters in meat lockers whenever it comes on, no matter who is covering. Better than the original? It’s a contest, but in the standing “Who’s better than Clapton?” games, Trucks is most assuredly up there. Here’s a bonus track off one of Trucks’s early albums, too, an exotic instrumental that, like most of his work, really builds.

Got a tune? Want to share? Send a link to jberger@nationalreview.com. Thanks for reading.

White House

NR’s Biggest Stories of the Year

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(Reuters/YouTube)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

This is a risky endeavor, to compile a listicle of colleagues’ best, most influential, and/or most widely read work. Many excellent articles inevitably get omitted, feelings are bruised, professional relationships are frayed, debts are called in for spotted bar tabs, threats are issued by letter, mysterious accidents befall relatives of the website’s managing editor, and no police reports are filed for fear of reprisal.

Still, this is a risk I’ll have to assume. The high-school yearbook editor’s burden of deciding the Senior Superlatives is not for the faint-hearted, and neither is this.

Without further prattle from me, the Weekend Jolt will ditch the customary format at year’s end to present this incomplete, but still impressive (we think), list of the biggest NR stories of 2021. It makes for great reading while nursing the repercussions of three too many French 75s:

The Rebekah Jones Affair

That’s “affair” as in controversy. The former Florida official courted it, with her wild fabrications about a Covid-data conspiracy, and Charles C. W. Cooke exposed it, with his epic exposé for the magazine back in May. But a taste:

Jones’s central claim is nothing less dramatic than that she has uncovered a massive conspiracy in the third most populous state in the nation, and that, having done so, she has been ruthlessly persecuted by the governor and his “Gestapo.” Specifically, Jones claims that, while she was working at the FDOH last year, she was instructed by her superiors to alter the “raw” data so that Florida’s COVID response would look better, and that, having refused, she was fired. Were this charge true, it would reflect one of the most breathtaking political scandals in all of American history.

But it’s not true. Indeed, it’s nonsense from start to finish. Jones isn’t a martyr; she’s a myth-peddler. She isn’t a scientist; she’s a fabulist. She’s not a whistleblower; she’s a good old-fashioned confidence trickster. And, like any confidence trickster, she understands her marks better than they understand themselves.

Eastman vs. Eastman

John McCormack conducted two phone interviews with Trump legal adviser John Eastman, discussing his memos outlining dubious strategies to boost Trump during the electoral-vote tally (turned riot) at the Capitol nearly one year ago. Significantly, in these interviews Eastman cast doubt on memo passages suggesting that Mike Pence had the ultimate authority to determine the validity of electoral votes:

The two-page memo written by Eastman proposed that Pence reject certified Electoral College votes and then either declare Trump the winner or invalidate enough votes to send the election to the House of Representatives, where Republicans controlled a majority of delegations. That memo was first published in September in Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s book Peril.

The issue here is that Eastman says the Eastman memo does not accurately represent Eastman’s own views or legal advice to Pence or Trump, claiming that the two-page version published in Peril was preliminary and a final version presented various scenarios intended for internal discussion. . . .

The two-page memo published in Peril was drafted on Christmas Eve, and a final six-page memo was drafted on January 3, says Eastman. “They were internal discussion memos for the legal team. I had been asked to put together a memo of all the available scenarios that had been floated,” Eastman says. “I was asked to kind of outline how each of those scenarios would work and then orally present my views on whether I thought they were valid or not, so that’s what those memos did.” . . .

Eastman says he disagrees with some major points in the two-page memo. That version says that Trump would be reelected if Pence invalidated enough electoral votes to send the election to the House of Representatives: “Republicans currently control 26 of the state delegations, the bare majority needed to win that vote. President Trump is reelected there as well.”

Eastman’s final six-page memo says Trump would be reelected by the House “IF the Republicans in the State Delegations stand firm.” But Eastman says he told Trump at the January 4 meeting in the White House: “Look, I don’t think they would hold firm on this.” . . .

“So anybody who thinks that that’s a viable strategy is crazy,” Eastman tells National Review.

When it comes to the legal argument that the vice president is the only person with authority to count the electoral votes, Eastman says: “This is where I disagree. I don’t think that’s true.”

So Long, California

Something about David Bahnsen’s examination of “The Great California Exodus” — of why so many people are leaving the Golden State — struck a nerve. It was one of NR’s most widely read stories of the year. Insights like this likely helped explain the misgivings former and soon-to-be-former residents were having:

There is no one factor that has provoked the exodus. In fact, nearly every person I have ever talked to who has left the state was willing to swallow one of the major disadvantages of life there. Perhaps they didn’t like the heavy tax burden but were willing to bear it in exchange for the various advantages that life there gave them. The inexorable increase in cost of living was a bear but acceptable up to a point. The regulatory burdens were unwarranted but tolerable if one could just manage to do whatever it was one aspired to do.

No, what caused and continues to cause the exodus out of California is not tax burden, or regulation, or cost of living, or housing prices. Rather, it is the burden, and regulation, and cost of living, and housing prices, and more.

Moratorium Madness

Sometimes the “bad guys” aren’t actually the bad guys. Ryan Mills did a great job illustrating this in the context of the pandemic-prompted eviction moratorium here and here, interviewing small-time landlords getting crushed by the edict. An excerpt from one of the pieces:

One of Raj Sookram’s tenants stopped paying rent in December. Another man hasn’t paid him a cent in 20 months. He now owes Sookram over $20,000.

One woman stopped paying this spring, Sookram said, then demanded that he fix her hot water heater when it blew. That ended with city officials threatening Sookram with daily fines.

In all, Sookram said, about half of the tenants living in his 13 Rochester, N.Y., rental properties are behind on rent. Sookram said he’s struggling to pay his bills and taxes. He’s had to take out loans and work side handyman gigs to provide for his wife and three kids.

As the coronavirus pandemic drags on — and as the federal government continues to extend its legally dubious eviction moratorium — more and more people are “jumping on the bandwagon, like, ‘Oh, I don’t have to pay you,’” Sookram said.

Biden Exposed

There have been many “told ya so” moments in the Biden presidency, but Dan McLaughlin attempted to capture many of them in a single piece, “Joe Biden Is Who We Said He Was”:

What is slowly dawning on people is that Biden’s critics were right about him all along. . . .

Biden’s handling of Afghanistan has exposed all of that. Presidents can remain aloof from Capitol Hill. They can send out underlings to handle public-health guidance, lawsuits, or new regulations. But foreign crises demand active, personal leadership. That has gone badly. Everyone who said for decades that Biden was a lightweight ill-equipped to handle a major crisis has been vindicated.

The country has fallen rapidly into chaos, ruining the work of two decades of American soldiers in ways that cannot easily be repaired. Bagram Airfield was inexplicably abandoned to the Taliban without even informing the Afghan army commander. More than 10,000 Americans were caught behind the lines, and Biden’s national-security team had no plan to get them out. Biden had even eliminated a State Department program for evacuating Americans in danger overseas. Billions of dollars in weaponry we provided to the Afghan army fell into Taliban hands, to use or to barter to other enemies who can better deploy it. At a Pentagon briefing on Monday, General Hank Taylor admitted that he could not answer whether the United States was “taking any other sort of steps to prevent aircraft or other military equipment from falling into the hands of the Taliban.” . . .

It is long past time for people to notice who Joe Biden always was, and who he has become in his dotage. He is a hollow man, incapable of managing a picnic, let alone a war. His credibility, always unearned, is shot. His only real skill is his quick tongue, and it has deserted him. Even his onetime virtues — his old-timey patriotism, his faith in institutions, his empathy for others — are easily discarded as the old man reverts to his base instincts when cornered. Biden must hobble through the remainder of his presidency, if only because the alternative is Kamala Harris, his imprudent choice — or threat — of an heir. But nobody should, any longer, pretend that Joe Biden is fit to lead this nation.

Garland’s Messed-Up Memo

One of the big political stories of the year was the battle over critical race theory in the schools. Amid this heated debate, Attorney General Merrick Garland’s memo directing the FBI to collaborate with other agencies to probe violent threats against school officials aroused suspicion. So Caroline Downey dug into it. She found that the school-board association letter that had sought such an investigation cited a number of parent incidents that do not actually qualify as threats of physical violence:

Out of 24 incidents cited by the NSBA, 16 consisted of tense verbal exchanges between parents and school-board members that did not escalate to threats of physical violence. In many of these cases, the aggravated parents disrupted school-board meetings by angrily objecting to their districts’ mandatory masking policies and/or embrace of critical-race-theory curricula.

In other cases, parents picketed outside school-board meetings, wielding signs and chanting politically charged slogans. In some instances, the angry parents shouted over school-board members or exceeded their allotted speaking time during the meeting’s public-comment period. In some of these incidents, the police intervened to eject parents who refused to wear masks or were being otherwise unruly. In none of these cases was a threat of physical violence issued.

What ‘Equity’ Means, Really

Christopher Caldwell’s cover story, “The Inequality of ‘Equity,’” was and is a must-read on the flaws inherent in what is becoming the guiding policy principle of our day:

If you wanted to be blunt about it, you might call equity a no-excuses imperative to eliminate all collective racial inequalities. There are many such inequalities in our system, and blacks are on the unenviable side of most of them. They possess the fewest financial assets, fare the worst in school, have the hardest time finding work, live the shortest lives, commit the most violent crime, and spend the most time in jail. Equity’s proponents, most of them progressive Democrats, say their aim is to ensure that all races share equally in economic growth and get a fair shake in the justice system. Republicans say that Democrats are abandoning equality of opportunity for equality of result.

Put that way, “equity” sounds like a new name for something that Americans have been arguing about for two or three generations now. Affirmative action, after all, tips the playing field of opportunity in minorities’ favor. “Diversity” is all about managing results. Feminists’ equal-pay-for-equal-work campaigns might be considered a harbinger of these equity debates.

But in two ways the equity movement is radically new.

First is in the categorical simplicity of its diagnosis. It views all inequality across groups as illegitimate on its face — as evidence of white racism, in fact.

Second is in its tools. Equity doesn’t concern itself with more-traditional understandings of inequality — differences, say, between bosses and laborers. It is about equality for blacks, as laid out in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and for the various groups, from immigrants to transgender people, that have come under the act’s protection in the decades since. The power of civil-rights law to punish employers and schools, to investigate those suspected of noncompliance, and even to silence detractors has been steadily strengthened by bureaucratic fiat and litigation. Race-conscious rather than race-blind, open to almost any kind of remedial discrimination, equity has brought us to a crossroads. Either our civil-rights laws are being overstretched to the point where they are growing intolerable to much of the country (though people remain frightened of saying so) or they are in the process of becoming the supreme law of the land, overriding even the Constitution. . . .

Perhaps equity is best thought of as diversity or affirmative action taken to its logical conclusion. We can expect it to function in ways similar to affirmative action, steadily entrenching itself as those who administer it forget the goals they began with. At that point, a temporary program turns into a permanent one, and a new goal enters: no longer to undo racism but to duck the arduous work that would have to be done if the problem turns out to be more complicated than that.

How Border Security Happened

Even before the migrant surge along the U.S.–Mexico border really intensified, Rich Lowry was out there warning about the damage that would be done by Biden’s unwinding of Trump’s border policies. He authored a deep dive on the matter all the way back in March:

Counter to the image of the administration taking a blunderbuss approach to everything related to immigration, the push at the border was a thoughtful, creative, and well-coordinated effort across government agencies and between sovereign countries.

It is worth revisiting because understanding how it came about and the reasons that it made such a difference underlines the mistakes that Biden is making now, no matter how much his officials and allies want to deny it and shift blame. . . .

The administration watched the border, which Trump had insisted he would secure, dissolve into a crisis with seemingly no end in sight. That’s when everyone serious about the border realized, if they hadn’t already, that “there were fundamental changes that had to be made in thinking, even within certain parts of the administration, about how to do things at the border,” in the words of the former DOJ official.

There was a belief that DHS under Kirstjen Nielsen, even though it had done some good work, lacked the requisite urgency and creativity in dealing with the new surge. Nielsen was pushed out, and a change in leadership began at DHS that coincided with a new approach.

Every practice was examined and every legal authority reviewed to see how to put the system on a more rational basis. An official familiar with the issue says that the administration was “looking at all of the various laws that are on the books and saying, ‘Look, we’ve only been giving out the sort of benefits and not using all aspects of the law. Why don’t we just fully utilize all of the law, and it will get us what we need?’”

Changes large and small added up to a new, multi-pronged approach that made a difference.

A Terrifying Covid Truth

One more from Charles. Back in August, he penned a piece whose thesis has held up given the Covid surge lately in northern states. With the stats to back it up, he argued that the spread of coronavirus strongly indicates that our myriad and complex Covid policies have little impact on Covid death rates:

It is much easier to believe that, if we put the people you like in charge of everything and make them say the right words on TV, the worst pandemic in a century will bend to their will than it is to accept that human beings are alarmingly susceptible to chaos.

The uncomfortable truth is that, beyond developing, encouraging, and providing inoculation, there’s not much that any government can do to guarantee success — and, even when it does what it can, a lot of people are going to resist for reasons bad and good.

Of course, there’s much, much more. But it’s time to truncate before this newsletter becomes far too unwieldy. More links of the year’s highlights follow — and, for those feeling nostalgic, the site has been featuring plenty of look-backs and best-ofs all week, from Brian Allen and Kyle Smith and others. Peruse freely:

Bing West: Who Will Trust Us after Afghanistan?

Manyin Li: What China Really Wants: A New World Order

Ramesh Ponnur