Dear Weekend Jolter,
Honest Abe would have turned 212 today (Friday the 12th, the day this missive was rendered). That even a smidge of his talent — of articulating principle while guided by prudence, of mastering the art of shrewd balancing — would rub off on current political and pontificating classes, where instant demagoguery is the S.O.P.: One can dream.
We mark his natal day with the doo-wop tribute from Hair, Happy Birthday Abie Baby. It’s a departure from the more deserved and quasi-religious fare about Father Abraham. Still, it is a testament to the Rail Splitter’s enduring cultural relevance (defiled of late by the inanities of San Francisco school board members, and of the gross profiteering hacks at the “Lincoln Project”).
Now, aside from Mr. Lowry’s excellent book (the acclaimed Lincoln Unbound) Your Humble Correspondent would like to recommend you consider John Cribb’s new novel, Old Abe. This is a beautiful and vivid telling of our 16th president’s last five years, marked by unimaginable crises and desperate personal tragedies and spousal burdens, none of which, even en masse, were able to crush Lincoln’s wisdom, humor, and compassion. Or political successes. Cribb presents a Lincoln that many yearn for, the man pictured, unfinished, in our imaginations, more a concept, but one begging to be completed. Cribb provides the flesh and bone and attitude and dialogue. The book races. His portrayal in ink might surpass the cinematic depictions, much enjoyed, by Raymond Massey (Abe Lincoln in Illinois), Henry Fonda (Young Mr. Lincoln), and Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln). Well, that last one might be a coin toss. But do read the book.
Enough! With charity to all, let us get on with the Weekend Jolt!
NAME, RANK, AND LINK
Joel Zinberg: Scott Atlas, Mugged
Nikki Haley: We Must Protect Women’s Sports
Madeleine Kearns: Progressive Cracks Appear on the Trans Sports Issue
Rich Lowry: The Humiliating Art of Woke Confessions
Rory Cooper: Joe Biden Is Keeping Schools Closed
Robert Rector and Marie Fishpaw: Biden Child Tax Credit Plan Ignores Real Welfare Problems
John C. Goodman: Conservatism’s Identity Crisis
Andrew Micha: Collectivism Is Antithetical to a Free Society
Douglas Carswell: Reviving the Conservative Cause: States Play Pivotal Role
Dan McLaughlin: Alexis de Tocqueville’s Humbling Lesson in Office
David Harsanyi: Tom Friedman’s Warped Love Affair with Communist China
Josh Jones: Time to Show Some Backbone with Mexico
Cameron Hilditch: France’s Coronavirus Vaccine Failures
Jimmy Quinn: Joe Biden’s Iran Strategy Is Bound to Fail
A.J. Caschetta: Scientists Join Anti-Israel BDS Movement
Jim McKelvey: Silicon Valley’s Focus on ‘Disruption’ Is Misguided
Mario Loyola: Big Tech’s Deadly Challenge to Democracy
Michael Brendan Dougherty: European Union Elites Show their Authoritarian Side
John Constable: U.S. Offshore Wind Energy: Overblown Promises and Blown-Up Costs
Jordan McGillis hears the knock: Democrat States Are Blocking America’s Energy-Export Opportunity
Andy Pudzer and John Hartly see what’s hiding: Biden’s Minimum-Wage Increase Proposal Carries Budgetary Costs
Jessica Melugin says check the record: Antitrust Litigation Usually Causes More Harm Than Good — Big Tech Is No Different
Andrew Stuttaford has the 411 on NASDAQ: The Woke Exchange
Lights. Camera. Review.
Kyle Smith applauds the genial redux: In The Crew, Kevin James Brings Accessible Comedy to Netflix
Armond White smells baloney: Minari Fakes the Immigrant Issue
More Armond, who rewatches a prophetic film: The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque, Eric Rohmer’s Masterpiece
Isaac Schorr digs the documentary: A Picture of Thomas Sowell
John Fund anticipates a Gipper flick: Reagan The Movie — Finally
More Kyle, with more applauding: Judas and the Black Messiah Is a Potent Black Panther Movie
Sarah Schuette says neigh: Disney’s Disappointing Black Beauty Remake
YOU’RE GONNA NEED A BIG BOWL: LOTS OF LINKS, AND SOUPED-UP
Articles Galore, Indeed, a Score
1. Scott Atlas has checked off enough boxes on the Left’s bugaboo list. Joel Zinberg reports on his political mugging. From the essay:
From early on, some commentators, including Atlas, pointed out that COVID-19-mitigation measures such as lockdowns have economic and health costs that must be balanced against their benefits. These costs include massive unemployment, which can lead to increased mortality, decreased academic achievement, and excess deaths resulting from delayed or foregone medical care and increased mental-health and substance-abuse problems, often resulting in suicide. Four Stanford health-policy experts — none of whom signed the Stanford letter from September — found no evidence that the most restrictive COVID-19-mitigation measures, stay-at-home orders and business closures, had significantly reduced COVID-19-case growth. In fact, there was a statistically insignificant increase in the growth rate of cases, suggesting that these restrictive mitigation measures may have increased person-to-person contact and disease transmission. A less restrictive measure, school closures, had a small but insignificant negative impact on case growth in most countries studied.
One of these four Stanford authors was a co-author of the Great Barrington Declaration, signed by over 50,000 medical and public-health practitioners worldwide. Like Atlas (and others, including this author), the Declaration expresses concerns about the damaging physical- and mental-health impacts of COVID-19 policies. It suggests that the best way to minimize the risks of death and social harm on the way to reaching herd immunity is to allow those at minimal risk of death — the young and healthy — to resume normal life, which will lead to increased natural infection and immunity, while focusing protection on those most at risk, the elderly and infirm. The Declaration’s proposal is closer to the one condemned in the JAMA article than anything Atlas has said. The large number of Declaration signers gives the lie to the JAMA authors’ claim that “nearly all public health experts were concerned that [Atlas’s] recommendations could lead to tens of thousands (or more) of unnecessary deaths in the US alone.”
Not content to write articles, Dr. Spiegel asked an October Stanford Faculty Senate meeting to censure Atlas and questioned the university’s relationship with the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank at Stanford where Atlas is a fellow. A month later, the faculty Senate condemned Atlas for “promot[ing] a view of COVID-19 that contradicts medical science” but stopped short of recommending sanctions after concerns emerged that such steps would chill freedom of speech, academic freedom, and the willingness of academics to enter government service.
It is reassuring that Stanford faculty were willing to preserve whatever vestiges of academic freedom remain in our elite institutions. But their failure to critically examine the evidence against Dr. Atlas before censuring him suggests a mob mentality. It is doubtful that the Stanford Senate, which largely consists of non-medical faculty, reviewed the relevant scientific literature.
2. Nikki Haley contends America must defend women’s sports. From the article:
Generations of women fought hard to ensure that their daughters and granddaughters had a level playing field, because girls deserve the same chance as boys to play sports. Thanks to the efforts of countless feminists, the number of women’s teams in schools has taken off over the past 50 years. Before then, less than 4 percent of girls played a sport. Now 40 percent do.
My generation was one of the first to benefit from these victories. My daughter’s generation has reaped the rewards, too. But Biden’s actions will roll back those victories and put women at a disadvantage. Now, when a girl steps up to compete, she’ll have to ask herself: Who am I really competing against?
Transgender kids deserve support and respect. The fact remains, however, that biological boys and girls are built differently. The best male athletes have a natural advantage over the best female athletes. You have to ignore science not to see it. The world’s fastest female sprinter has nine Olympics medals, but nearly 300 high-school boys are still faster than her. In states where biological boys compete against girls, the girls almost always lose — not just the match, but also possible college scholarships and a lifetime of success in their favorite sport. Their chance to shine is being stolen.
I approach this issue as a woman and as a mom. When my daughter ran track, I’d go to the meets. I can’t imagine how hard it would’ve been to watch her lose to someone with an unfair advantage. And I hate to think how my daughter would have reacted. She ran because she always felt she had a shot. If she lost that feeling, would she have kept running? Why compete when your best can’t possibly be good enough? Girls across America could be asking themselves these very questions before too long. Some surely already are. On this critical issue, women’s rights are moving in the wrong direction.
3. More Trans Sports: Madeleine Kearns spots progressive cracks opening up. From the article:
Under Trump, the Education Department and Justice Department worked hard to clean up this mess. Initially, this was done by rescinding the Obama-era guidance. Later, after a lengthy investigation, they ruled in favor of female high-school athletes in Connecticut who, having been displaced by a policy allowing male athletes claiming transgender status to compete against them, had filed a Title IX complaint with the Office for Civil Rights.
Biden’s executive order, by contrast — which is predicated on an expanded interpretation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County — reverses this defense of women and girls’ rights with a snap of a finger.
Though it is convenient for transgender activists to pretend otherwise, the protection of women’s sports is not necessarily a conservative issue. This fact was most recently evidenced in the launching of the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group (WSPWG), composed of women’s sports leaders such as tennis legend Martina Navratilova, law professor and NCAA champion Doriane Coleman, and Olympic swimmers Donna de Varona and Nancy Hogshead-Makar. Their motto is “Preserving girls’ and women’s sport while accommodating transgender athletes.”
Hogshead-Makar, a Title IX attorney, told USA TODAY Sports that even by its own standards, Biden’s transgender sports policy “does the cause of transgender inclusion no favors,” as it engenders a “justifiable resentment.” She has explained that while the group members “fully support the Biden executive order, ending LGBT discrimination throughout society,” they also recognize that “competitive sports” is an area that requires a “science-based approach to trans inclusion.”
4. Rich Lowry analyses the woke apology. It’s become an art. From the piece:
It’s never a handful of people who are offended but entire institutions and categories of people, evidently always rocked to their cores.
Donald McNeil, whose work on the coronavirus has gained renown during the pandemic, made it sound as though science coverage at the Times, and perhaps the paper itself, would be hard-pressed to recover from his innocent use of the n-word:
“My lapse of judgment has hurt my colleagues in Science, the hundreds of people who trusted me to work with them closely during this pandemic, the team at ‘The Daily’ that turned to me during this frightening year, and the whole institution, which put its confidence in me and expected better.
“So for offending my colleagues — and for anything I’ve done to hurt The Times, which is an institution I love and whose mission I believe in and try to serve — I am sorry. I let you all down.”
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees criticized kneeling last year, then quickly buckled under the resulting criticism. “I would like to apologize to my friends, teammates, the City of New Orleans, the black community, NFL community and anyone I hurt with my comments yesterday,” he said, leaving no one out. “In speaking with some of you, it breaks my heart to know the pain I have caused.”
5. Here We Go, Joe: Biden’s union-kowtowing is why our schools have been kept closed. Rory Cooper explains. From the piece:
President Biden’s ambitious rhetoric around schools was always going to have a collision course with his teachers’-union benefactors, who simply do not want schools to fully reopen any time soon. Not even after teachers got priority in vaccinations, and K–12 schools received over $68 billion in 2020 to mitigate COVID issues. I just didn’t expect that he would be breaking a core campaign promise so early in his presidency.
So what’s holding Biden back from keeping his word? The White House would argue it’s funding, ventilation, and class sizes. Let’s look at each in turn.
As mentioned, Congress allocated over $68 billion in 2020 for COVID mitigation in K–12 schools. So far, most of this money has not been spent. That hasn’t stopped the Biden administration from demanding another $130 billion. But let’s ignore the currently unspent billions of dollars for a moment and ask the essential question: Will more funding help?
In fact, the schools that are currently open five days a week in America are parochial schools, which generally have less per-pupil funding than their public counterparts, and public schools that don’t compete with the per-pupil wealth of closed but well-funded districts such as Chicago, Fairfax County, San Francisco, and others. The issue is will, not resources.
6. More Joe: Biden’s child tax-credit plan is detached from reality, and would constitute a massive welfare-state expansion, report Robert Rector and Marie Fishpaw. From the analysis:
Biden would increase the refundable credit from $2,000 per child under 17 to $3,000 per child age six to 17, and $3,600 for children under six. Two-thirds of the new benefits provided ($79 billion per year) would be cash grants to families who owe no income tax. The proposal would also remove existing work requirements from the child cash grants, thereby providing extensive new welfare benefits primarily to non-working single parents.
While the administration suggests that these changes would be limited to a single year to help families suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, the plan itself is modeled after legislation that would create new, permanent entitlements. Indeed, according to off-the-record sources, establishing a permanent expansion of the welfare state appears to be the real goal.
Advocates claim that this proposal will reduce child poverty — an idea linked to the notion that the U.S. welfare system does not spend enough to protect children from poverty. Yet recall that in 2018, well before the COVID-19 recession, the U.S. spent nearly $500 billion on means-tested cash, food, housing, and medical care for poor and low-income families with children. This is seven times the amount needed to eliminate all child poverty in the U.S., according to Census figures.
How can Americans spend so much and still have a problem of deep and widespread child poverty? The answer is that the government counts almost none of the $500 billion in spending as personal income in its widely publicized measures of poverty and economic inequality.
7. Even More Biden: If you’re curious about the meaning of “sue and settle,” a tactic of the revolving door between leftist groups and Biden-filled bureaucracies, Zhonette Brown is here to explain. From the beginning of the piece:
President Biden early on is touting his insistence on “ethics” from cabinet nominees and professional staff, and who can argue with that? But it will take more than a signed piece of paper to guard against the conflicts of interest and invitations to collusion that arise when professional activists from the outside suddenly find themselves on the inside, with the levers of federal power within easy reach.
The risk that we could be returning to the “sue and settle” mischief of the Obama era becomes more glaring with each new political appointment, as Biden stacks his team with professional environmental activists who bring conflicts of interest with them when they pass through the revolving doors at key regulatory agencies.
For example, Biden’s pick to advise the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is leaving her post as an Earthjustice attorney. Just last year, Earthjustice initiated a lawsuit to halt offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico under the guise of the Endangered Species Act. Who did Earthjustice sue? The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, of course. If Earthjustice is at all successful in its lawsuit, it will likely be paid by the agency. Indeed, in 2020 alone, Earthjustice received over $5.8 million in court-awarded attorneys’ fees.
8. Yet Even More Joe: Erin Hawley sounds the alarm on the Biden Administration’s plan to supersize the regulatory power of the federal government. From the beginning of the analysis:
Tucked away in the avalanche of President Biden’s early executive actions is the little-noticed but momentous creation of a new regulatory super-agency. Under the guise of “Modernizing Regulatory Review,” the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has just been given, through executive fiat, the charge of using federal regulatory authority to achieve administration goals. OIRA’s transformation from a check on agency excess to a pro-regulatory arm of the federal bureaucracy has significant implications for the power of the administrative state, and ultimately, for how Americans are governed.
OIRA began as a check on agency authority and is best known for ensuring that agencies consider the costs of any proposed regulation. As part of the Paperwork Reduction Act, President Carter created OIRA within the Office of Management and Budget to review agency reporting requirements in order to reduce government-imposed paperwork. Later, in an attempt to rein in governance by agency rule, President Reagan assigned to OIRA the additional task of reviewing draft and final regulations to ensure that projected benefits exceeded projected costs.
The past few administrations have all affirmed OIRA’s mandate to ensure responsible regulation. The Clinton administration retained the net-benefit approach to regulation, requiring OIRA to review regulations to ensure that benefits exceed costs and that regulations are supported by a “compelling public need.” President Obama similarly required the office to minimize regulatory burdens and ensure that “benefits justify . . . costs.” President Trump went even further by invoking a two-for-one policy whereby any proposed regulation would be offset by two revoked regulations and a regulatory cost-ceiling policy whereby any proposed regulatory cost would be offset by deregulation.
9. John Goodman analyzes conservatism’s identity crisis, and calls for an activist agenda. From the reflection:
In every large city in the country, large numbers of low-income minority families are forced to live in substandard housing and send their children to failing schools. They benefit the least from almost every public service, from transportation to health care to public safety. They are also denied job opportunities by medieval-style occupational-licensing laws. These cities are almost always run by Democrats, usually liberal Democrats. A reformist conservative agenda would advocate school choice, the liberation of the housing and job markets, and private alternatives to essential city services.
Likewise, too many American seniors are trapped in antiquated social-insurance schemes that should be an embarrassment to a civilized society such as ours. They are misled on a daily basis by Social Security bureaucrats who encourage them to take early retirement, giving up benefits that are growing at a 3 percent, no-risk, real rate of return every year. Then when they do take a part-time job, they face the highest marginal-tax rates in the nation — as high as 95 percent in some cases. Seniors on Medicare are the only people in the country who cannot have a health-savings account or direct, 24/7 access to a primary-care physician as an alternative to the emergency room. As I argue in my book New Way to Care, we desperately need to reform Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the disability system, and other forms of social insurance that were designed in a different century to meet different needs.
These are only a few of the ways in which an activist conservative agenda could liberate people and markets, reform institutions, and make the world better for the most vulnerable among us. But for that to happen, the conservative movement will first have to decide whether it wants to embrace its Enlightenment roots or reject them.
10. Andrew Micha explains why progressive collectivism is antithetical to a free society. From the piece:
The oligarchization of American elites and the parallel pauperization of the citizenry is the real but uniformly suppressed story behind the country’s ongoing Balkanization, while the preferred narrative has been that alleged racial and gender injustice must be overcome by executive fiat. The relative impoverishment of the American middle class has degraded the power of the citizenry to self-govern and has emboldened an increasingly detached elite to indulge in group-based political experiments, with the reengineering of the nation in accordance with ever-shifting notions of “equity and social justice” the ultimate goal.
Just before the COVID pandemic hit, almost one third of all Americans lived in lower-class households, with the median income of just over $25,000 a year, less than two-thirds the national median. In 2015 the number of middle-class households dipped below 50 percent. With the lockdowns destroying small businesses, it continues to spiral downward. In contrast, in the 1950s, two thirds of American households were comfortably middle-class. Most importantly, while barely half of all households today belong to the middle class, according to Pew, already in 2014 the gap between the earnings of middle-income and upper-income families was the widest ever recorded in American history.
The fading of the middle class has been the predictable byproduct of the corporate off-shoring of our industry and has diminished its influence, a trend accelerated by the persistent disavowal of its values and lifestyles by our nation’s opinion-makers. In a nation where 80 percent of the population has seen its relative economic position decline and, with it, its ability to influence the country’s politics increasingly marginalized, the ruling oligarchy’s continued disregard for their concerns, values, and preferences is a prescription for deepening polarization, political instability, and further unrest.
11. Douglas Carswell reminds conservatives that the solutions for many of Americans problems are to be found in states, not Washington. From the article:
Rather than wait for the midterm elections in the hope that the political pendulum swings back automatically, conservatives ought to leverage the countless, practical policies that are burgeoning at the state level.
Utah, for example, has done something very smart regarding tech regulation, thanks to an idea from the Libertas Institute. Recognizing that technology can advance faster than policy-makers’ ability to understand its implications, Utah state law now allows residents to temporarily test an innovative product or service on a limited basis without otherwise needing an official license or authorization.
This gives Utah a competitive advantage and explains why the state is seeing a surge of interest from investors in innovation. Other states — including my own adopted state of Mississippi — need to follow.
Take another example in Texas. The Lone Star State boasts a competitive energy market that puts the customer, not the producer, first. The effect has been to significantly push down energy prices — just one of the reasons why businesses are moving there. If Texas can offer businesses and customers an energy advantage, why don’t conservatives give it a go in other states?
12. Dan McLaughlin investigates an unhappy chapter in the life of Alexis de Tocqueville. From the beginning of the piece:
Edmund Burke wrote that “the politician . . . is the philosopher in action.” A number of the great political philosophers, Burke among them, have had careers of their own in politics. Not all were as effective as Burke was. One who learned a painful lesson about principled men serving an unprincipled master was Alexis de Tocqueville.
The year was 1849. The revolutions that had convulsed Europe the previous year were entering their final, failed act. Tocqueville was 43, a decade into his career as a legislator, but making his first foray into practical political leadership when Louis-Napoléon named him the French foreign minister.
Tocqueville was a slender, inquisitive 25-year-old in 1831 when he wheedled the new French government into sending him across the ocean to study the American prison system. France in 1830 threw off the restored Bourbon monarchy for the last time, and the new king, Louis-Philippe, was initially eager to be perceived as liberal, tolerant, and forward-thinking. Louis-Philippe ruled with an elected legislature, albeit one of very limited powers elected through a very limited suffrage. Tocqueville returned with an enduring, magisterial two-volume portrait of the world’s first major liberal, republican, constitutional democracy in its adolescence. “Democracy in America” had no significant influence on the French system, but it established Tocqueville’s reputation as a liberal democrat. He entered the Assembly in 1839.
13. David Harsanyi tries to figure out why Tom Friedman gets all hot and bothered over Red China. From the piece:
Like many left-wingers fixated on the “climate crisis,” Friedman suffers from an acute case of authoritarian envy. Friedman’s focus of adoration is Xi Jinping and the People’s Republic of China, the world’s largest one-party state tyranny. On Chris Cuomo’s CNN show this week, the Pulitzer Prize–winner “was thinking, like, what are they doing in China today?”
Friedman imagines that 1.3 billion Chinese are contemplating serious environmental matters rather than wasting their time with a “knucklehead” like CNN fixation Marjorie Taylor Greene:
“They were probably thinking about some bad stuff with the Uyghurs and all of that, oh, for sure, but I guarantee you they weren’t wasting their time on this nonsense.”
I doubt the Chinese are “thinking about” the Uyghurs, since there’s no critical press allowed in China. But yes, Americans should be thankful that they don’t have to think about the sadistic state-sanctioned torture of women with electric batons, or the gang rape of 20-year-olds in front of hundreds of detainees, or genocide — at least, not in America.
14. Mexico’s brash behavior deserves a smackdown from the US, argues Josh Jones. From the article:
Safe to say that the saga of General Salvador Cienfuegos has not been a high-water mark in the counter-narcotics efforts of the U.S. government. A renowned figure in Mexican military circles and minister of defense from 2012 to 2018, Cienfuegos boarded a flight last October, accompanied by his family, from Mexico City to Los Angeles. When the plane landed, he was met by U.S. federal agents carrying an arrest warrant charging him with drug-trafficking conspiracy. The next day, Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, popularly known as AMLO, acknowledged that the U.S. had notified him of the Cienfuegos investigation prior to the arrest and lamented the systemic corruption of prior Mexican presidential administrations.
Then, as if suddenly realizing that his own rapidly failing security strategy relied on the same military that so revered Cienfuegos, AMLO did an about-face, remonstrating in his daily press briefings on the audacity of American drug agents in America investigating violations of American drug laws without first notifying the Mexican government. A month later, in a move that shocked the Cienfuegos prosecution team in New York, the U.S. government released the general, along with the wiretap evidence against him, to Mexico under the pretense that the Mexican government would conduct its own investigation. On January 14, after the shortest criminal investigation in Mexican history, the same government declared Cienfuegos innocent. The Mexican president characterized the U.S. evidence as “fabricated.”
In the midst of the Cienfuegos saga, the Mexican legislature, at AMLO’s urging, passed a law in December stripping DEA agents of diplomatic immunity and requiring that all evidence obtained by American agents in Mexico be turned over to the Mexican government. If followed, the new law would all but shut down DEA operations in Mexico. As each passing blow goes unanswered by the U.S., the Mexican political establishment grows bolder and the threat posed by Mexican organized crime grows more potent.
15. An envious Emmanuel Macron, flubbing the vaccine rollout, gives the USA the hairy eyeballs, reports Cameron Hilditch, who draws some conclusions. From the analysis:
Three conclusions should be drawn from France’s failures and from the subsequent reflections of her statesmen upon them.
Firstly, it would be insane for the United States to pursue a policy of immigration restrictionism. It may be a great source of sorrow for Mr. Bayrou that France’s “best researchers, the most brilliant of our researchers, are sucked up by the American system,” but it is fantastic for America. The best and brightest of planet Earth have been pressing their faces up against the windows of American life for centuries, yearning to be let in through the front door. Turning them away in a fit of nativist pique to appease the restrictionist sentiments of some voters would be a supreme act of national self-harm. Indeed, the work of Stéphane Bancel is case-in-point of what makes America great.
Secondly, European statesmen, especially Macron, ought to be careful about their pursuit of “strategic autonomy” — the burgeoning desire among European elites to further centralize European power through the institutions of the EU. The stated purpose of this centralization is to make Europe less dependent on the United States in areas such as health care and industry, and, more importantly, to eventually allow the EU to project military power in its own interests, independent of the United States. Macron reportedly underscored these themes in a recent call with President Biden.
16. Jimmy Quinn considers Joe Biden’s Iran policy, and finds folly. From the beginning of the article:
During an interview with CBS on Sunday morning, Biden said that Tehran would have to stop enriching uranium before the U.S. lifts Trump-era sanctions targeting Iranian entities. That same morning, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif told CNN that he’s sticking with his country’s demands that Washington lift sanctions first.
Although the dispute matters insofar as it is a test of Biden’s resolve, recent events show that the administration’s strategy misses the forest for the trees, giving short shrift to the need to constrain Iran’s missile program, which scored a major success with the launch of the Zuljanah rocket on February 1 and is continuing to progress.
“The launch of the Zuljanah SLV [satellite-launch vehicle] will complicate the new Biden administration’s efforts at incorporating missiles into nuclear talks,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Iran has a diverse missile arsenal that must be accounted for in any diplomatic effort.”
17. The Israel boycotters are making inroads in the science community. A.J. Cashetta says we should be concerned. From the analysis:
Humanities academics were the vanguard of the movement against Israel, led by Edward Said, the English professor whose book Orientalism (1978) inspired many followers and imitators. Another milestone came in 2001, when the United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, in Durban, South Africa, gave rise to the trope that Israel is like apartheid South Africa. This inapt analogy of Israel’s self-defense and South Africa’s apartheid regime has become the chief rhetorical weapon in the academic offensive against Israel. Nearly every other hyperbole levied against Israel also originated through the conference’s NGO–academic alliance, which eventually evolved into the BDS movement.
Enthusiasm for that movement spread like a contagion among social scientists, with support for academic boycotts of Israel coming from the Association for Asian American Studies, the American Studies Association, the American Anthropological Association, and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association.
In 1996, NYU physicist Alan Sokal proved that science is not immune to the excesses of postmodernism when he duped Duke University’s peer-reviewed journal Social Text into publishing an absurd deconstruction of reality, confirming that pseudo-scientific nonsense could be passed off as wisdom. But it was the humanities and social-science professors who popularized the anti-Israel boycott movement: Judith Butler, Gil Anidjar, Hatem Bazian, Joel Beinin, Lisa Duggan, Richard Falk, Stephen Walt, and others. Still, by the end of the 20th century, the STEM fields remained untouched by the politics that had colonized much of academia.
That changed in 2004 when physicist Peter Higgs (of Higgs boson fame) refused to travel to Israel to accept the prestigious Wolf Prize in physics. According to several reports, Higgs was angry that Israel had killed Hamas leader Ahmad Yassin, but he didn’t sign any BDS statements or lend his name to the cause. As Lazar Berman puts it, he “allegedly pushes BDS, but the evidence is nearly as elusive as the particle that bears his name.” Even Higgs’s harshest critics claim somewhat vaguely that he “effectively calls for academic boycott of Israel.”
18. Jim McKelvey argues that Silicon Valley’s “disruption” focus is misguided. From the analysis:
Disruption has become nearly as threadbare a concept as entrepreneurship. The two words could be roommates at rehab. When Clayton Christensen first popularized the disruption concept back in 1997, the idea was novel and interesting. But what Christensen originally called disruptive innovation has now been shortened to just disruption and the oversimplification is profound.
Two decades later, disruption has become the high-fructose corn syrup of business, an overused ingredient sprayed on pitches and injected into keynotes in the hope of disguising the familiar taste of conformity. Silicon Valley now has an annual conference called simply “Disrupt.” I hear pitches every month from start-ups wishing to destroy the economics of some existing industry. Hidden — frequently well hidden — inside these pitches is the implication that the invisible hand of the economy will reallocate resources so that we will all be better off and enjoy a more efficient world after the carnage. It doesn’t always happen that way.
Craigslist certainly disrupted classified advertising, one of the main revenue sources for newspapers. The papers responded by reducing their news-gathering operations — firing reporters who collectively watched all our backs. How many more scandals would have been exposed if those now-unemployed reporters were still on the beat? We can never know. Disruption is not always positive.
But a more dangerous aspect of disruption is its retrograde focus. Just as having the lowest price means focusing on competitors instead of customers, venerating disruption means focusing on old systems that somehow need to be dismantled or destroyed. Indeed, some existing systems deserve the wrecking ball, but making destruction of the incumbents the focus of entrepreneurship distracts attention from the creative potential of innovation. There is another path.
19. Mario Loyola finds that Big Tech presents a deadly challenge to democracy. From the article:
Big Tech has adjusted to its global market by developing a global business model. It has discovered how to operate — to the extent it is allowed — in both China and the United States simultaneously. And in both countries it has bought into what amounts to a protection racket.
To win the favor of Chinese authorities, Big Tech companies happily censor themselves — and the rest of us — even in the United States. They routinely remove or suppress content that the Chinese Communist Party deems offensive anywhere in the world.
Meanwhile, in the United States, the most likely and serious threat to Big Tech’s bottom line are the Democrats, the party of taxation, regulation, and routine spasms of anti-corporate outrage (directed only at American corporations). But Big Tech has managed to prove particularly useful to them, censoring damaging news and suppressing critical commentary (even by individuals sharing content only within their own families), such as the New York Post’s still-unrefuted Hunter Biden story. They do so on the basis that such content misinforms or incites, but they systematically allow and even amplify the most imbecilic conspiracy theories about Republicans (such as the Russia-Trump collusion hoax, or any Michael Moore theory picked at random) without regard to truth or the potential for violence.
Alas, here at home the similarities with Big Tech’s role in China run deeper still. The evolution of America’s political institutions toward a one-party state has been underway for a long time, particularly since the New Deal. Most progressives start with noble intentions — fighting inequality and racism, giving effect to the impulses of the democratic majority, protecting “rights” of every description. Alas, the progressive program necessarily entails government powers that are far beyond those that were actually enumerated in the original Constitution.
20. Michael Brendan Dougherty checks out the authoritarian M.O. of the EU, and concludes this is not going to end well for the continent. From the article:
Meanwhile the heart of the European Union is dying. The bloc has spent years moaning about democratic backsliding in Visegrad countries Poland and Hungary — namely what they disliked was that the two populist conservative governments of those nations were so assertive with their limited powers in the EU itself.
But now, for the second time in little over a decade, Italy, the third largest power of the Union, will be led by a prime minister that not a single Italian voted into any office. Mario Draghi, famous for his handling of the Euro crisis at the European Central Bank, has been “invited” to lead a unity government after the fragile coalition government started to break down. Draghi was not even a member of Parliament. The reason for this is that the Italian political establishment cannot come up with a functioning government, and the polls say that if they turned to the voters, Matteo Salvini’s Lega party would almost certainly have the whip hand.
There is not a word about this from the people who style themselves as defenders of democracy and the liberal world order. An unelected technocratic prime minister is fine, so long as he’s on the side of the status quo.
What we are seeing in Europe is the authoritarian populism of incumbent elites. It’s not going to end well for them, or for Europe.
1. We condemn President Biden’s decision to return the U.S. to the U.N.’s hypocritical Human Rights Council. From the editorial:
Which leads to another fallacy espoused by the Biden administration’s narrative — European diplomats and NGO staffers, rather than the 2018 withdrawal, have posed one of the most persistent obstacles to meaningful reform of the council.
When the Trump administration took office in 2017, a formal reform process was already slated to begin in 2021, but officials refused to accept four more years of the status quo. And thus the administration — hoping that it could succeed where the Obama administration failed — began an aggressive campaign to change the council spanning some 200 meetings with diplomats and human-rights advocates throughout 2017 and the start of 2018. Diplomats first sought fundamental changes to the council’s anti-Israel agenda and its lax membership criteria, but when it became clear that these were politically unfeasible, they expressed their willingness to accept less-ambitious measures that would have changed its day-to-day operations.
Still, at every turn, U.S. diplomats were blocked. The European delegations killed a modest package that would have streamlined the council’s agenda and diluted debate about its numerous anti-Israel resolutions. The NGOs fought off a reform proposal that would have transformed their annual Human Rights Council candidates’ forum into an event run directly by the U.N. (The groups objected, of course, out of a selfish desire to continue holding these events themselves.)
2. SCOTUS delivers California’s lockdown-mad Governor, Gavin Newsom, a legal blow. From the editorial:
We share Justice Neil Gorsuch’s concern that “it is too late . . . to defend extreme measures with claims of temporary exigency” where states have been “playing favorites” and “moving the goalposts on pandemic-related sacrifices for months, adopting new benchmarks that always seem to put restoration of liberty just around the corner.” Revisiting those measures as more of the public is vaccinated should mostly be the job of the political branches, but there is a role for the courts where the Constitution’s fundamental guarantees are at issue.
The Court may not be done protecting worshippers from Newsom. Justice Gorsuch, who would have overturned the singing ban as well, observed, “Even if a full congregation singing hymns is too risky, California does not explain why even a single masked cantor cannot lead worship behind a mask and a plexiglass shield. Or why even a lone muezzin may not sing the call to prayer from a remote location inside a mosque as worshippers file in.” Four other justices signaled interest in revisiting the singing ban, with Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh asking for more evidence of whether the ban discriminated against religious singing: “If a chorister can sing in a Hollywood studio but not in her church, California’s regulations cannot be viewed as neutral.”
It is heartening, in a climate of elite skepticism of religious liberty, to see the Court not only reach the right results but demonstrate a vigorous commitment to revisiting the question as many times as is necessary to get the point across. We hope Governor Newsom and other California policy-makers are paying attention.
3. The Democrats’ call for a $15 minimum wage, part of their COVID-relief plan, calls for a bad policy, at a bad time too. From the editorial:
The minimum wage is a simple policy with very complicated effects, some of which are hotly disputed and some of which have hardly been studied. But if one thing is clear, it’s that a government-mandated wage hike isn’t just free money for workers. More than doubling the minimum wage when the economy is barely pulling out of a year-long slump amounts to gambling with the livelihoods of millions of American workers, consumers, and business owners.
Lastly, a note on process. There are not 60 votes in the Senate for such a dramatic policy change at such an awful time, so Democrats are considering passing their bill through the filibuster-proof “reconciliation” process, which requires a more plausible 50 votes.
This process is reserved for matters that directly, and not merely incidentally, affect the federal budget. Republicans stuck to this rule even when it made their Obamacare-repeal efforts incredibly difficult. The minimum wage instructs businesses to pay their workers more; that is the main goal and the main effect, and any impact on federal coffers is incidental to it. (For instance, the federal government itself will have to pay workers more, more workers will take unemployment, etc.) It doesn’t qualify, and the Democrats will probably have to either override the Senate parliamentarian or disguise the wage hike in budgeting gimmicks to pull it off.
4. We remember the late George Shultz, sidekick to RWR in besting the USSR. From the editorial:
Thereafter, it was business. Shultz held executive positions at Bechtel, the engineering and construction firm. In the summer of 1982, President Reagan asked him to succeed Alexander Haig as secretary of state.
In that same year, Henry Kissinger came out with the second volume of his memoirs: “I met no one in public life for whom I developed greater respect and affection.” He was talking about Shultz. “Highly analytical, calm, and unselfish,” he continued, “Shultz made up in integrity and judgment for his lack of the flamboyance by which some of his more insecure colleagues attempted to make their mark.”
Finally, “if I could choose one American to whom I would entrust the nation’s fate in a crisis, it would be George Shultz.”
With steady competence, Shultz helped Reagan navigate the foreign-policy challenges of the 1980s — in particular, what turned out to be the final chapters of the Cold War. In a 2008 interview, Shultz put it this way:
“Détente said, ‘We’re here, you’re here, that’s life, the name of the game is peaceful coexistence.’ Reagan said, ‘No, they have a very unstable system, and it’s not going to last. It’s going to change.’”
Reagan and his team helped precipitate that change.
5. Democrats will regret their actions against Marjorie Taylor-Greene. Precedent has a funny way of sucker-punching. From the beginning of the editorial:
At least Marjorie Taylor Greene won’t have to spend time sitting at the end of the dais during long committee hearings.
House Democrats voted to boot her from her committee assignments in an act that they will surely come to regret, perhaps as soon as January 2023.
If the majority can keep members of the opposition party off of committees based on incendiary comments, it’s not clear why the GOP ever let, say, Maxine Waters serve on any committees when it had control of the chamber, or why it ever will again.
Kicking off Greene will come to be remembered as another inflection point in the steady unraveling of institutional norms on Capitol Hill.
1. John Constable finds the panacea claims of off-shore wind energy to be bogus, never mind costly. From the piece:
But what is the reality of renewable energy? In one of his first actions as president, Mr. Biden has expressed the wish to “double” offshore wind in the U.S. by 2030, an ambiguous phrase that probably means he and his advisers wish to see twice the current development portfolio of offshore wind capacity to be operational within a decade, or 18,000 MW rather than the present 9,000 MW in an advanced stage of preparation. The attraction is easily explained. The U.S. already has a great deal of onshore wind power, 112,000 MW, subsidized through Production Tax Credits and mostly located on and around a line running from North Dakota to Texas, a broad belt characterized by strong winds, cheapish land, and low construction costs. Unfortunately, it is also distant from the main corridors of demand on the East and West coasts. Offshore wind along the coasts therefore seems like a tempting option for expansion, but is it wise?
The U.S. has almost no experience with offshore wind, with only two small projects completed, totaling 42 MW, about 0.2 percent of Mr. Biden’s apparent aspirational 2030 target for this technology. However, this need not be a leap in the dark. In pursuit of relevant data, the U.S. can look to Europe, and particularly to the United Kingdom, which already has 10,000 MW of wind deployed in the British seas, some dating back to the early 2000s. Nearly everything the U.S. might wish to know is there. Extracting that information, however, will not be straightforward since the British government and the wind industry are colluding in an obfuscation of the truth. Both sides claim that costs are falling, the government because it is reluctant to admit failure after many tens of billions of dollars of subsidy, the industry because its participants hope to survive long enough to be rescued out by a future government so desperate that it provides new (and probably covert) subsidies.
Fortunately, one can obtain the economic facts of the offshore and indeed the onshore wind story, which is also discouraging, from the public filings of audited accounts. Professor Gordon Hughes of the Department of Economics at the University of Edinburgh has undertaken this analysis for over 350 companies that own and operate wind farms, covering a period of over 15 years. The work is published by the charity, Renewable Energy Foundation, which I direct, and is freely available from the REF website: Wind Power Economics: Rhetoric and Reality.
2. Jordan McGillis castigates the West Coast, Democrat-run, natural-gas-hating states that are blocking America’s energy-export opportunity. From the article:
What the opponents of Jordan Cove misunderstand is that LNG shipped to Asia would largely serve their cause. Shipping gas across the Pacific increases the likelihood that China and Japan will reduce their reliance on coal. China, despite its pledge to be carbon neutral by 2060, burns a quarter of all the coal used globally, despite making up less than 20 percent of the world’s population. Japan, wary of nuclear energy after the fiasco at Fukushima Daiichi, now uses more coal than it did 20 years ago. The U.S., on the other hand, has reduced coal consumption by 45 percent since 2008 thanks to domestic production of natural gas. But to Oregon’s activists and those taking control of U.S. policy this month, no analysis beyond “hydrocarbons bad” is admissible.
Even accepting the premises of climate activists, exporting natural gas to Asia is a positive. That’s why Canada — which has a carbon tax — is building 13 LNG terminals in British Columbia alone. Market conditions, such as they are, provide an opportunity for North Americans to export an in-demand commodity. Remove Pompeiian references to “molecules of freedom” and the economics remain.
But whereas the Canadian government has seized the opportunity, the blue wall of legislatures and governors that control California, Oregon, and Washington State have left North American infrastructure developers scrambling. The result is convoluted arrangements such as the deal between San Diego-based Sempra Energy and Mexico to export LNG from a terminal in Baja California. The terminal will be Mexico’s first for LNG export; it will receive American natural gas by pipeline and ship it to Asia from just 40 miles south of the U.S. border.
3. Andy Pudzer and John Hartly see the hard-hitting costs hidden in Joe Biden’s minimum-wage increase proposal: From the piece:
In his attempt to overcome the Byrd rule, Sanders has cited new studies from two sources with a history of highly partisan research in support of minimum-wage hikes. Authored by the Economic Policy Institute and Berkeley economist Michael Reich these studies claim that a $15 federal minimum wage would positively impact the federal budget by tens of billions of dollars per year through increased tax revenue and reduced costs for public-assistance programs. Reich claims hiking the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would positively impact the federal budget to the tune of $65.4 billion a year.
But would that really happen? Clearly not.
On Monday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued a report stating that, should Sanders’ $15 minimum-wage bill become law, “the cumulative budget deficit over the 2021–2031 period would increase by $54 billion.” That sure doesn’t sound like a budget windfall.
In addition, the CBO’s average estimate was that, in the year the minimum wage hit $15, “the effects on workers and their families would include” a reduction of 1.4 million jobs. That’s a lot of jobs for an administration that claims it will focus on “getting back to full employment, as quickly as possible” because it “will make a major difference in the lives of tens of millions of people, particularly those most at risk of being left behind,” according to a White House blog post by Council of Economic Advisers members Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey.
4. Jessica Melugin says we can expect more harm than good from antitrust litigation, and it will be no different as relates to Big Tech. From the analysis:
U.S. v. International Business Machines Corp holds a valuable lesson about the harmful, unintended consequences of antitrust action. The looming case against IBM inadvertently created incentives for the company to raise its prices to consumers. IBM worried about what market share and profits it would be allowed to enjoy in the future if it lost the case, so it raised prices in the short-term to reduce market share to a level that would not concern regulators. Ironically, in its efforts to protect consumers from higher prices, the Department of Justice created incentives for IBM to raise prices. The DOJ has taken a similar risk in its suit against Google, which targets the company’s agreements with smart-phone manufacturers to preinstall its search tools. Search-engine competitors don’t like these arrangements, but consumers benefit by paying less for phones. If the interests of competitors are put before those of consumers, the lower prices and innovations that the latter enjoy will be sacrificed to protect inferior firms.
Perhaps it is easiest to see the dangers of today’s antirust actions against Big Tech in U.S. v. Microsoft. Microsoft raised the ire of regulators by including its Explorer browser free of charge with its Windows operating system, which brought the cost of a browser from $39 for Netscape Navigator to zero, the same price consumers pay for many of the services of today’s tech leaders. That was bad news for Netscape, but good news for consumers.
Real-world market developments during the course of the Microsoft trial also called the wisdom of the case into question. The computing world was shifting online, but the browser’s relative importance was no longer what prosecutors had made it out to be. Data and advertising were quickly becoming far more important to profits than including a free browser with an operating system. The move to mobile devices, the rise of search, monetized advertising, the Internet of things, voice-controlled technology, social media, widespread wireless Internet access, and online commerce all make the desktop “browser wars” look antiquated. Market forces acted faster than litigation proceeded, and it’s hard to imagine how that won’t also be the case for antitrust litigation against firms such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.
5. At Capital Note, Andrew Stuttaford delves into the rhetoric of NASDAQ boss Adena Friedman: From the piece:
Friedman: The question for us is always, how do we preserve the best of capitalism and still recognize that we have a role to play in the communities around us, and not just a role to play for shareholders?
For someone heading a major stock exchange to use a phrase that includes a reference to preserving the “best” of capitalism, suggests that that she is, at best, playing defense. Yes, capitalism does a decent job, but . . .
In reality, most advocates of capitalism or, in particular, of free markets (the two are not the same), concede that capitalism may not be perfect, far from it (not least because trial and error lies at the heart of a market economy). However, the fact remains that, taken as a whole, capitalism has delivered more prosperity to more people, by a very long way, than any other system.
As for the seeming subordination (that “just”) of shareholders (again, a strange qualifier from someone heading a stock exchange), that is consistent with the view of those who have embraced the ideology of stakeholder capitalism, and with it, the view that shareholders, mere owners of the company, are just one stakeholder among many.
Lights. Camera. Review.
1. Kevin James comes to Netflix with a new series, and this has the approval of Kyle Smith. From the piece:
James is here to take care of that. His broad, middle-of-the-road style is on display in The Crew, in which he plays the canny chief of a NASCAR team built around a hotshot but brainless young driver (Freddie Stroma) amid squabbles with another team member, the James character’s daughter (Jillian Mueller). James is after comedy that “inspires and uplifts,” he says on a Zoom call with journalists to promote the series, which debuts Monday (on the racing calendar, that’s the first weekday after the Daytona 500).
In the new show, James is sticking to his brand of genial, harmless comedy (the first scene sets the pace when fighting crew members drop everything to participate in the one undertaking everybody can agree on — saluting the flag for the National Anthem). But he notes that The Crew is something of a change of pace for him because it’s a workplace comedy as opposed to a domestic one like his earlier efforts The King of Queens and Kevin Can Wait (whose showrunner was our National Review colleague Rob Long).
Under showrunner Jeff Lowell, The Crew is being made with the enthusiastic participation of NASCAR, and promises to be drenched with insider detail. James says he’s learned a lot of fascinating stuff about the racing game, which he has been following since he was a kid and his favorite driver was Richard Petty. As a kid, James even dressed up like Petty once for Halloween: “with the cowboy hat and the mustache and the glasses.” Still, other sports were more important to him growing up. A decade ago, however, he was asked to be grand marshal at a NASCAR event and was gobsmacked by the energy level, which can only be hinted at by the televised coverage: “It’s insane when you go there,” he says. “You don’t know how much goes into this sport. And I recommend it for anybody who hasn’t done it. A live event is . . . a whole different world, from the RVs that move in, it’s the tailgating in the center . . . the athletes, the sponsors, the pit crew, the teams, the competitiveness, the fans . . . it’s a crazy event.”
2. Armond White spikes Brad Pitt’s Minari. From the beginning of the review:
Most reviews of Minari, the Korean-American film about a family settling in 1980s Reagan-era Arkansas, describe the two-parent, two-child-plus-grandmother characters as “immigrants.” This is not accidental. Reviewers interpret the film as confirming their sentiments about the immigration crisis, even if it means overlooking that the characters actually are U.S. citizens. Fact is, Minari is a nostalgic, semi-autobiographical film, written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, a Yale graduate who was born in Denver, Colo.
When reviewers condescend to Minari’s ethnic exoticism, it illustrates how political fashion continues to warp contemporary film culture. Reviewers (they’re not really critics) refuse to acknowledge that Chung’s tale is about all-American striving. Because reviewers prefer to see ethnicity first, they don’t recognize Minari’s stock narrative, its derivativeness, and the predictability that make it dull.
In fact, Minari is not foreign but distinctly Hollywood. The disagreement among young parents Jacob and Monica (Steven Yeun, Yeri Han) about relocating from Los Angeles to Arkansas turns the husband–wife tension into city–country banality. Jacob buys a farm to specialize in selling Korean vegetables and escape the drudgery of a California ranch where they both worked at determining the usefulness of chickens by checking their sex — discarding unproductive males. (Elite reviewers are so distracted from the world of work, they see no significance — or humor — in Monica’s preferring this form of peonage.) Meanwhile, the children (Noel Cho, Alan S. Kim) are too cute; and, worst of all, Soonja (Youn Yuh-jung), the non-English-speaking grandmother, wins reviewers’ affection for her Old World strangeness, since she is the most foreign and unregenerate — which is to say, least assimilated — character. It’s Soonja who plants minari (Asian celery) in a nearby stream.
3. Isaac Schorr has high praise for the new documentary on Thomas Sowell. From the piece:
The documentary also explores Sowell’s work on late-talking children and the research he did on geography’s effects on societal development.
While the film gives viewers an accurate understanding of Sowell’s worldview and core principles, it may seem a superficial treatment to those who are familiar with his work. For example, in a clip of an interview with Dave Rubin, Rubin asks why Sowell turned away from Marxism, and Sowell responds with a laugh and a one-word answer: “Facts.” The documentary treats this as a revelation, and it makes a fine soundbite, but it doesn’t really do justice to Sowell’s core belief in rigorous empiricism. The documentary also suffers from a few moments of repetition, when an anecdote told by one person, for instance, is retold by another voice.
But these problems are far outweighed by its virtues, the first of which is its narrator, whose knowledge of Sowell’s work and admiration for the man jump through the screen. Clearly, Riley takes an interest in the subject, and his enthusiasm invites the same out of viewers. Another is the array of charming anecdotes about Sowell that showcase his wit, crankiness, and kindness — I won’t spoil any of them here. In sum, the documentary really does a wonderful job of ensuring that its viewers grasp the essence of Sowell — the most important parts of his personality, career, and philosophy. Riley hopes that the film will “whet the appetite” of those who might then delve deeper into Sowell’s work.
4. More Armond, who watches an old film, The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque, which gets him to pondering. From the piece:
More than a politicized sex farce, these characters actually talk — not the specious “conversation” urged by pundits, but honest, personal communication. Issues dissolve in the face of egoistic, often romantic, conflict and connection. Rohmer’s mastery (best known from My Night at Maud’s, Claire’s Knee, and Chloe in the Afternoon) reveals characters speaking in the language of their times, then honestly confronting their own moral imperatives. The revelation is beautiful, beyond Hollywood’s self-satisfied groupthink that passes for thoughtfulness.
Rohmer avoids the brainwashed pretenses of characters who parrot our current state-media; his dramatic, verbal strategy uses haphazard personal encounters. The film’s subtitle, “The Seven Chances,” nods to the social slapstick of Buster Keaton’s 1925 Seven Chances, while acknowledging the accident of political preferences and the reality of citizens making personal choices. (Seeing the mayor and the schoolteacher’s daughters’ playtime détente — an innocent ideal — is pure elation.) Hollywood–New York narcissistic filmmaking partisans simply don’t go there.
Right now, we’re suffocating under enforced political correctness in which moviemakers lecture on proper social stances — while denying their own political biases. Nomadland; The Trial of the Chicago 7; Promising Young Woman; Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always; Minari; and most other new releases — all tell us what to think rather than entertain us. Unmoved, bored? Then you must be a “domestic terrorist” wasting your Netflix privilege.
5. John Fund reports from California on the final tinkerings of a forthcoming movie on Ronald Reagan. From the article:
The movie will tell the story of Reagan’s life from age 11 to age 83, as seen through the eyes of Viktor Petrovich, a KGB agent who is assigned to observe Reagan’s career from the 1940s through the 1980s. Petrovich constantly warns Moscow that Reagan is “a Crusader” who could do grave damage to the Soviet Empire. But he is largely ignored — until it is too late.
“The story of Reagan is a fascinating one whatever one’s politics,” the film’s producer, Mark Joseph, told me. “We came at it from the angle of wondering what his enemies thought of him and how they followed him and ultimately lost to him. Nobody knew him like his enemies did — and it’s through that lens that we tell the story. It’s impossible to understand the last century without understanding who Ronald Reagan was.”
Joseph has been an executive on more than 45 films, including The Passion of the Christ, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the successful free-speech documentary No Safe Spaces (with Adam Carolla, Dennis Prager, and Jordan Peterson).
6. More Kyle, who digs Judas and the Black Messiah. From the review:
LaKeith Stanfield, a versatile young actor who never fails to impress (and also appeared in Get Out), turns in a brilliant performance as the rat, Bill, who in his meetings with the FBI looks haunted and guilt-torn, just as when he’s among Black Panthers he shifts between fright and bravado. We meet him in an expertly crafted scene at a barroom in which the director creates a long, fluid extended take to create breathless anticipation (which is the correct use of the tool, more often trotted out these days merely as a showy gimmick).
Plemons is nearly as good as Stanfield in playing nuance: His Roy Mitchell, Bill’s pudgy FBI handler, can’t quite be classified as either a careless racist or a decent man grappling with his conscience. Plemons plays the internal struggle of this man brilliantly when he learns the reality behind a story Bill brought him about a Black Panther who tortured and murdered an informant: The truth is that the Panther was himself an FBI mole, and the “informant” was a scapegoat. Roy asks for clarification from his boss: We have a murderer working for us, and we’re not going to arrest him? No, he is told, the man is much more useful when allowed to visit various Black Panther sites, where his status as a “fugitive” can be used to obtain search warrants. The twisted logic of the spy game here is like John Le Carré goes to Chicago. To Bill, Roy asserts that the Panthers are the equivalent of the KKK: “The Panthers and the Klan are one and the same. Their aim is to sow hatred and inspire terror. . . . You can’t cheat your way to equality and you certainly can’t shoot your way to it.”
7. Horses couldn’t drag a compliment out of Sarah Schuette when it comes to the Black Beauty remake. From the review:
Resetting the story in America, rather than the Victorian England of the novel, is an interesting twist, but the creativity ends there. In this film, Beauty is not the stallion of the original but a mare, voiced by Kate Winslet, an excellent actress who ought to have been offended by the poorly written lines she was given in the role. If the director had a discernible reason for making the horse female, that would be one thing. But to do so simply to fit in with the all-female-remakes trend is shallow and disingenuous. The original Black Beauty was a vehicle for promoting animal welfare and ending bad practices engaged in by upper-crust or ignorant owners. Avis seems aware of the serious problem of managing wild-horse populations in the American West and of the mistreatment of carriage horses in New York City, but the screenplay jumps around so much that these real issues are lost.
This leads to the main problem with Avis’s movie: its overabundance of plotlines. Viewers are led in too many directions to get a good grasp on any given thread. In the novel, Beauty does indeed end up in numerous locations, but it happens over the course of many years. Here, however, we are taken from Utah to upstate New York in the first nine minutes of the film, left upstate for an hour, then tossed back to the West for about twelve minutes, and then suddenly find ourselves with Beauty back in New York — this time in the Big Apple — for the last 18 minutes. As in the book, each move places Beauty with different masters and performing various jobs (racehorse, mountain rescue horse, carriage horse, etc.), but here the uneven spacing of events is awkward and choppy.
Beauty’s human counterpart is Jo Green, played by the lovely Mackenzie Foy, yet another female character who in the original story was male. In the book, Joe Green is a young groom who learns much by caring for Beauty and, after many years apart, eventually rediscovers him. Movie Jo is an angry teenager who has tragically lost her parents. Sent to live with her horse-trainer uncle (who rescued Beauty from Utah), she gradually comes out of her shell and forms a bond with the horse.
Elsewhere in the Conservative Solar System
1. Our friends at Law & Liberty publish a five-part essay series on “Vindicating a Prudent Politics within the GOP. We know that “prudence” is a curse word to some, but nevertheless we commend this series, and share copiously, starting with Charles C.W. Cooke’s piece, “The Character That Brings Change.” From the essay:
Were Trump’s two showings especially impressive? Not really, no. In 2016, Trump managed to beat Hillary Clinton, but he did not gain more votes than she did, and over the four years of his presidency his party bled support at all levels of government except for the U.S. Senate. In 2020, Trump expanded the number of votes he received, but still got seven million fewer than his opponent, the 78-year-old, barely coherent Joe Biden, and then, having lost, set about losing the party its control of the Senate. If one were looking for advice on how to win elections, wouldn’t one rather look to the much-reviled George W. Bush, who won both of his elections, rather than to Trump? Or, if not, wouldn’t one look to Ronald Reagan, who bestrode the scene like a colossus?
To ask these questions in earnest is to accept the premise that conservatives have a problem winning elections or advancing their ideas. But they don’t — not really. Conservatism will always be a harder sell than its alternatives because it involves telling people hard truths, because it does not pretend to have all the answers at hand, and because it is fundamentally anti-utopian. And yet its political vehicle, the Republican Party, often prevails at the polls. Since 1994, when it finally broke the Democrats’ long monopoly on legislative power, Republicans have controlled the House for all but six years and controlled the Senate for all but nine. Since 2006, meanwhile, only five states have failed to elect a Republican governor for at least one term. Texas and Florida, the second and third most populous states in the union, have not elected a Democratic governor or state legislature since the mid-1990s, while both California and New York — the first and fourth more populous states, respectively — have had a mixture. If there is something truly wrong with the Republican Party’s priorities, one might expect this to show up more clearly in the data.
So, yes, you can put me firmly in the dinosaur camp. Or, to borrow a fashionable pejorative, you can serve me the “dead consensus” until I’m full up. Why? Well, because I don’t think that it’s dead. In my estimation, the future of conservatism should not be too different than the past of the conservatism, because most of what conservatives have historically stood for is still true. It is true that the Constitution is the best government system we can expect to live under, that we should amend it carefully and explicitly, and that we should demand that our politicians and judges interpret it according to its original public meaning rather than whatever linguistic fads are currently being taught at the universities. It is true that a free and open market yields opportunity and prosperity and that while it may not be a good idea to cut taxes infinitely, it is most definitely a good idea to keep them low. It is true that we cannot spend what we do not have forever without going broke. It is true that government programs, however well-intentioned, tend to collapse into inefficiency, inertia, self-dealing, and dependency. It is true that the Bill of Rights contains timeless and unalienable liberties, rather than contingent preferences that can be whittled away at the whim of the state. It is true that war comes to the weak and unprepared, and that a robust national defense is the best way to avert disaster. It is true that one cannot limit religious liberty without limiting conscience, and that governments that limit conscience find it hard to turn back before it is too late. And it is true that character matters — yes, even if those of poor character are capable of bringing about positive change.
2. Then comes fan favorite Daniel J. Mahoney, whose piece “No Escape from Politics — Or Patriotism” is a must-read. From the essay:
In contrast, many ordinary people are still proud to be patriots, and some remain stalwart people of faith. But the culture of repudiation and the above-mentioned fashionable ideological “theories” are reshaping the culture, and the education of young people from kindergarten through graduate school. In response, populism needs to be informed by statesmanship and a more attentive regard to the constitution of 1787. As Aristotle, Burke, the Founders, Tocqueville, and Lincoln have all taught us in their different ways, the human will, whether of the one, the few, or the many, is an insufficient foundation for justice, the rule of law and self-government. A prudent, constitutional populism, defending the country against those who define democracy as the repudiation of our civic and civilizational inheritance, is the only way forward.
But that will demand not only thoughtful intellectual venues like Law and Liberty, the sponsor of this symposium, but new universities open to liberal learning and resistant to the destruction of what T.S. Eliot famously called the “Permanent Things.” Without cultural and spiritual renewal, there cannot be a revival of true statesmanship, constitutionalism, and the self-command central to the arts of republican self-government. But that renewal is also impossible without a decent and reasonably free political order. For example, there cannot be a reasonable chance for a “Benedict Option” to succeed unless our political order remains open to authentic religious liberty and non-relativistic understandings of human freedom. There is no escape from politics, and the imperatives of political reason. There is no running for the sacred hills.
The late Roger Scruton is extremely helpful in showing prudent and principled conservatives (and old-fashioned liberal constitutionalists) all the obstacles that we confront. We on the conservative-liberal side understand that every civic order is also a moral order, one that inculcates and defends “existing norms and customs.” In one of his last books, Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition, Scruton argued that on the Left “it is the negative that inspires.” Left-liberals no longer believe in discursive reason but reduce every argument and action to the unholy trinity of race, class, and gender (however, class is on the wane at the present moment, it seems). The Left has ready-made “isms” and “phobias” (racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, and now transphobia) to conveniently target conservatives — or people of good sense more broadly — and “to dismiss every aspect of our cultural capital.” The Left increasingly identifies freedom with permissive egalitarianism, and cultural and moral relativism. They are unforgiving and see oppression and domination in decent if imperfect traditions, institutions, and cultural practices.
Democratic patriotism is thus never reducible to an abstract attachment to rights or to some universalist liberal political philosophy. Men and women fight and die, or risk their lives for free countries, not for a universalism or cosmopolitanism that is far too abstract to be concrete or real.
3. Joseph Postell weighs in with “A More Perfect Conservatism.” From the essay:
Adjusting the policies of American conservatism to the new environment is a task less daunting than it may seem. While it would require setting aside ideologically rigid commitments on trade and debt, it is important to remember that Trump embraced most of what defined traditional American conservatism. The real challenges concern style and tactics, not substance.
Regarding style, Trump’s personality defined conservatism for the past four years, for better and for worse. His Twitter feed rallied millions to support him, and alienated millions who may have supported his policies but could not stomach his character. It’s hard to measure the cost and benefit of Trump’s personality with confidence. Trump won in 2016, of course, but he lost the popular vote, and he faced a historically poor opponent. He lost in 2020, of course, but he seemed a likely winner at the beginning of the year, before the bizarre events of 2020 turned the nation upside-down. Could a political party and its leaders connect to Trump’s base, integrating it into the coalition, without embracing his buffoonish style?
In addition to the concerns about style, conservatism must grapple with questions about tactics. Perhaps the central charge that Trump’s intellectual supporters levied against conservatism was that it was not sufficiently aggressive. Conservatives, in this view’s famous metaphor, are “the Washington Generals of American politics. [Their] job is to show up and lose.” They “self-handicap and self-censor to an absurd degree.” Instead of fighting, they cede ground voluntarily, just to get a seat at the table.
Like the claims about style, these criticisms about conservatism’s tactics are impossible to evaluate objectively. To illustrate: Left-wing faculty at my previous university routinely lamented that conservatives dominated national politics during the Obama presidency. (I once attended a faculty dinner party where the main topic was President Obama’s astonishing refusal to fight harder for progressive causes. Alas, they concluded, he was just another conservative in disguise.)
The complaint that American conservatism has been tactically ineffectual is, in my view, overblown. Conservatism has transformed American politics since it emerged in the middle of the 20th century. It has reshaped the federal courts, defeated the Soviet Union, and dramatically altered the nation’s fiscal policy. It has also resisted repeated attempts to transform the nation into a much more radically progressive regime. America is not Canada, France, or Spain, and American conservatism is at least partially responsible for that.
4. Carson Holloway’s symposium contribution, “In Search of Virtù,” brings Machiavelli into the conversation. From the essay:
The proper response to this challenge is that anyone who wants to understand politics — as well as anyone who wants to succeed in politics — has to be able to think like Machiavelli. His account of the often harsh realities of political life is too accurate to be safely ignored. This is not to say that conservatives should simply become Machiavellians — amoral seekers of political power for its own sake. It is to say that any effort to guide political life by sound moral principles will fail if it does not also take into account the reality of power politics.
Our greatest statesmen have understood this well. Contemporary conservatives tend to revere Abraham Lincoln. If they would attend closely to his career, they would see that he never made any important decision without considering both the principled basis for his actions as well as the implications for his own power, that of his party, and that of his country. Lincoln was not a political prophet (unlike, say Frederick Douglass) but a practical statesman who knew that he would need to succeed in winning and holding power if he were to do any good for his country as a politician.
What, then, are the Machiavellian virtues that permitted Trump to succeed to the extent that he did? Machiavelli teaches that humans are primarily self-interested beings. Where many conservative candidates had failed by offering appeals to abstract principles that are of little interest to ordinary voters, Trump succeeded by offering a straightforward and unashamed appeal to the self-interest of Americans. While Trump’s universally-known slogan issued a call to “Make America Great Again,” his build-up to that slogan in his stump speech always included a promise to “make America wealthy again.” Trump followed through on this pledge by cutting taxes, cutting regulations, and reconfiguring American trade policy with a view to promoting American manufacturing. The economic result: better GDP growth and rising wages for the working class. The political result: Trump won many millions more votes in 2020 than he had in 2016.
Trump also understood or intuited Machiavelli’s observation that in every political community human nature expresses itself in two “humors”: the people and the great. Trump the populist grasped that, as Machiavelli admonished, it is better to found one’s power on the people than on the great, because the former are more numerous and less demanding than the latter. The people mainly want to be left alone and have their essential interests respected, where the great cause trouble because they are ambitious to rule and want to impose their wills on the people. By understanding this Trump was able, with not much difficulty, to take over the Republican Party over the strenuous objections of its wealthy donors and their preferred leaders.
5. James Hankins’ contribution, “Prudence Demands We Resist Arbitrary Government,” considers the leftist enemy, now exposed for what it truly is. From the essay:
At the beginning of Men at Arms, Evelyn Waugh’s great novel of the Second World War, his protagonist Guy Crouchback sees a headline in the morning newspaper announcing the Hitler-Stalin Pact of August 1939. While news of the pact causes heartache to intellectuals on the left — how could the leader of world socialism agree to a non-aggression pact with that monster Hitler? — it “brought deep peace to one English heart.” Crouchback had been suffering an anguish of his own thanks to the estrangement between the country of his ancestors, England, and the country of his heart, Italy. Though he despised Nazis, he had not been able to regard the Fascist regime of Italy in quite the same black-and-white terms as his fellow Englishmen. “But now, splendidly, everything had become clear. The enemy was at last in plain view, huge and hateful, all disguise cast off. It was the Modern Age in arms. Whatever the outcome there was a place for him in that battle.” Now he could return and fight for his country with full commitment against the twin evils of Nazism and Communism.
Many conservatives over the last year have had, I think, a similar moment of clarification. Such moments are rare for us. The conservative temperament in politics ordinarily aims to make prudent choices between the least unsatisfactory alternatives. We conservatives expect politics to be morally murky, up to a point. It’s not our way to proclaim utopian futures or swear fealty to politicians urging ethical perfection upon the citizenry.
So as a conservative it was hard for me to muster much enthusiasm as we entered the election year. President Trump was not my cup of tea and I saw little to admire in his behavior, but the behavior of his opponents was no better. Both sides marked new lows in verbal incontinence and mendacity. I didn’t like all the president’s policies, either, but those of his opponents, where they could be discovered, seemed worse. In politics one also has to consider the kinds of people supporting either side, and the persons likely to hold office under a successful candidate. Though there were some competent, even admirable figures on both sides, the thought of having to join either tribe was painful.
But at a certain point this year the enemy came at last into plain view, huge and hateful. The disguises of history were cast off. It became clear that we were being governed by a corrupt oligarchy out of tune with traditional American political norms. All government, as Pareto noted, is in the end oligarchical; it’s in the nature of government for the few to rule over the many. But it matters what kind of oligarchy governs. And the new oligarchy that has revealed itself this year looks suddenly very different from any that has governed us before.
6. At Gatestone Institute, Guy Millière wonders if Trump’s Middle-East achievements will survive. From the article:
As anticipated by Trump in May 2017, the Abraham Accords have both an economic and a strategic dimension. They not only offer economic opportunities to all the signatories but also reinforce their military strength. As the plan includes the Palestinian Arabs, the Arab signatories can say that by signing the agreement, they did not forget the Palestinian population.
The Abraham Accords — between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain — will lead to billions of dollars of investment and trade between Israel and its partners in peace. The Accords will also allow the Emirates and Bahrain to benefit from Israeli technology, and see their defense strengthened against Iran.
The Abraham Accords have also led, more broadly, to a cultural and religious opening of the Emirates and Bahrain to Judaism: the Crossroads of Civilization Museum in Dubai is now the first museum accessible in the Hebrew language in the Arab world. The museum displays old maps of Jerusalem, a sword from the Yemenite Jewish community, a pre-Holocaust Jewish marriage contract and original letters by Theodor Herzl. Restaurants in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Manama are increasingly serving kosher food. A giant Hanukkah candelabra, a menorah, was lit up in front of Dubai’s Burj al-Khalifa, the word tallest skyscraper, to celebrate the Jewish holiday. Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, has been working for years to spread a non-political vision of Islam and has entrusted the management of the country’s religious issues to a Sufi scholar, Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, now in charge of disseminating this vision.
The Trump administration’s agreement with Sudan has an even more striking dimension. Sudan was on the list of terrorist states and, until its dictator, Omar al Bashir, fell in April 2019, it had contributed to the war against Israel. The current Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, shares a similar vision of Islam to that of Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah, and has appointed a Christian Coptic woman to the Sovereign Council, a body that will rule the country until late 2022 when free elections are planned. Israel now has peaceful relations with a country that had long been an enemy. Sudan, freshly removed from the list of terrorist states, now has help from Israel, one of the world-leaders in agricultural technologies, and will be able to improve its food production.
7. Clara Barton on Line One: At The College Fix, Matt Lamb reports on the race-lunacy at the University of Washington. From the beginning of the piece:
The University of Washington has launched a new “Center for Antiracism in Nursing.”
“Systemic racism has for generations undermined the health of individuals and communities across America, a public health crisis that has made the pandemic even more deadly and destructive for people of color,” the public university in Seattle said in a news release on February 5.
The nursing school dean said “nurses are in the ideal position” to combat racism. “There is much work to do to become antiracist, not just as a society, but as a school, a university, a profession and a community,” Azita Emami said in the media statement.
A nurse practitioner said she hopes the center will help confront “white privilege” and “anti-blackness.”
“I believe the process of creating the Center for Antiracism in Nursing will provide a way for the school to reconcile and find resolve within its own walls that have promoted anti-blackness and white privilege,” Joycelyn Thomas said in the news release.
The center, which plans to hold a series of listening sessions as it formulates the center, has a number of goals.
The goals include “Cultivating antiracist teaching practices, academic curriculum and professional development,” “Supporting students from underrepresented and historically excluded groups” and “Applying antiracist principles to clinical practice, organizational operations and health-related policy.”
University President Ana Marie Cauce said that the public university “recognize(s) the need to combat the systemic racism that results in poorer healthcare and worse outcomes for Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other communities of color.”
Saint Valentine — bishop, martyr and patron of beekeepers (in addition to love), whose feast we celebrate this Sunday — is, by tradition, the go-to intercessor for petitions elating to fainting, epilepsy, and the plague. Consult him if needed. Forty years ago on his feast day, Not-Yet-Mrs. Yours Truly and Yours Truly had their initial get-together. It was a lowfalutin dinner, which followed the watching of Fort Apache, The Bronx. Talk about a romantic date. Nevertheless, to the day, five years later, they wed. She deserves battlefield pay for the trials and tribulations she tolerated in the 35 ensuing years. That shared, please pray for those who are affianced, so their marriages may be happy and enduring.
May You Abide in God’s Love,
Jack Fowler, who remains at your service, and accepts all inquiries and requests sent via email@example.com.