Health Care

The American Academy of Pediatrics Responds to Critics

(Sergey Tinyakov/Getty Images)

The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed by Julia Mason and Leor Sapir criticizing an American Academy of Pediatrics study containing the dubious claim that social contagion is not a factor in explaining the rise of trans-identifying youth. Yesterday, the president of the AAP, Moira Szilagyi, replied in the Journal’s letters section.

Rather surprisingly, Szilagyi stated that the AAP “doesn’t push medical treatments or surgery” but rather “for the vast majority of children, it recommends the opposite.” One can only presume that she means “the opposite” to be non-invasive talk therapies. If so, that is a major point of clarification since the AAP policy is often cited by transgender activists to justify the expansion of medicalized gender transitions for minors. Moreover, in its 2018 policy paper, the AAP dismissed “watchful waiting” as “outdated” and smeared evidence-based talk therapies as “conversion therapy.”

Szilagyi argues that the U.K. “isn’t moving away from gender-affirming care. It is moving toward a more regional, multidisciplinary approach, similar to what is practiced in the U.S.” While it is true that the U.K. has not banned medicalized gender transition for minors outright, such treatment has been disincentivized by the closure of its main gender youth clinic over safety concerns, in addition to high-profile malpractice lawsuits from the clinic’s former patients.

But it is misleading to suggest that the decentralized approach will mean the U.K.’s new approach will be “similar to what is practiced in the US.” Decentralization does not mean privatization, nor does it mean less regulation. The “regional, multidisciplinary approach” will still be under the purview of the National Health Service. Moreover, unlike in the U.S., the U.K.’s new model will focus on gender dysphoric patients’ comprehensive mental-health issues, not merely on their identity (as in the “gender-affirming” model) nor meeting patient expectations (as in the U.S., where “the customer is always right”).


Workers Strike at U.K.’s Largest Container Port

Strikers protest near an entrance to the container port in Felixstowe, U.K., August 22, 2022. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

Workers at the Port of Felixstowe, the busiest container port in the U.K., began a strike yesterday that will last a total of eight days. They’re striking over pay, and they’re joining workers from other parts of the transportation sector in the U.K. who have already gone on strike this year.

It’s the first strike at Felixstowe in 31 years, and the union is fully aware of the larger economic consequences. Union leader Robert Morton told Sky News:

The supply chain will be severely disrupted, I accept that. That’s one of the unfortunate parts of things like this. . . . If we don’t achieve what we’re trying to achieve, there will be more strikes.

The week of the strike could cost the U.K. economy about £700 million, or $824 million, in trade. Flexport economist Chris Rogers estimates it will take 24 days to recover from the eight-day strike.

Ocean carrier Maersk announced it would deliver cargo bound for Felixstowe to other ports this week, redirecting vessels to Le Havre in northern France, Antwerp in Belgium, and London Gateway (a smaller port in the U.K.). That will in turn add stress to the region’s rail and highway networks that will have to carry the extra cargo to its final destination. The stoppage is expected to affect Ireland as well.

Clerical, supervisory, and engineering staff accepted a new wage agreement and will not be striking. The dockworkers who make up the bulk of the port’s workforce will be the ones on strike.

The port offered a 7 percent raise, plus a £500 one-time payment. But with U.K. inflation currently at 10.1 percent, that nominal raise would be a slight pay cut in real terms. Morton has said workers want a raise at least as high as the rate of inflation. Workers were not given a chance to vote on the 7 percent plus £500 offer from the port. The union is basing its inflation number on the retail-price index, a different measure of inflation in the U.K., which is currently at 12.3 percent.

Port executive Paul Davey has said the 7 percent offer is up from the 5 percent offer earlier this year, and that port workers already make 40 percent above the national average wage in the U.K. He also noted this pay deal is only for this year, with a new deal to be negotiated in January, so future inflation can be considered then.

Citigroup forecasts U.K. inflation to reach 18.6 percent in January, due in large part to high energy costs in Europe. That’s the highest forecast so far, but the Bank of England has forecast 13 percent, Bank of America 14 percent, and Goldman Sachs 15 percent inflation for the U.K. by January.

Other strikes will occur this week in Britain. Sanitation workers in Edinburgh are on day five of a strike that is set to last twelve days, with residents being told to keep their trash inside rather than let it pile up at the curb. Workers at AQA, which administers and scores exams in the U.K., will begin a five-day strike on Wednesday, which will overlap with the release of some important exam results. They already struck for five days earlier this month. Postal workers will strike on Friday (as well as on August 31, September 8, and September 9), and no letters will be delivered on strike days.

Unions have no qualms making supply chains worse, and high inflation only strengthens their resolve to ask for higher raises than employers are willing to agree to.


China Announces New Live-Fire Military Exercises after PLA Ships Monitor Taiwan

The Chinese Navy destroyer Taiyuan takes part in a naval parade off the eastern port city of Qingdao to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy, April 23, 2019. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

China’s live-fire military drills are continuing. Regional authorities announced a set of new military drills in the South China Sea and the East China Sea this past weekend, the latest exercises in the wake of House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent trip to Taiwan. The new drills have come on the heels of some particularly brazen activities by the People’s Liberation Army.

The latest drills are taking place in two areas. The Maritime Safety Administration of Guangdong announced yesterday that there would be military exercises in China’s Pearl River Estuary, and the Zhejiang Maritime Safety Administration announced live-fire drills in the East China Sea for Monday, according to RFI Chinese.

It’s not clear exactly what the exercises will entail, as the two agencies only warned ships in the area that there would be military activity.

An initial round of Chinese live-fire military drills — which included the test of a missile that flew over Taiwanese territory — concluded in early August. However, the most recent announcement is indicative of what some experts have declared a new status quo in the Taiwan Strait, where a heightened level of Chinese military activity could mask preparations for an eventual invasion.

Last week, a Chinese warship reportedly monitored Taiwan’s own missile tests in the area around an island off Taiwan’s east coast, a Taiwanese military source told the country’s national news agency CNA. In addition to launching missiles into the waters east of Taiwan, China’s military sent three missile destroyers and a reconnaissance ship to the area after the end of China’s initial military drills following the Pelosi trip, CNA also reported.

PHOTOS: Chinese Navy

The U.S. and Taiwan have both described China’s reaction to Pelosi’s visit as an overreaction. In an interview with CNN last week, Washington’s envoy in Beijing, Nicholas Burns, called the Chinese reaction “a manufactured crisis by the government of Beijing,” adding that “it was an overreaction.”

A spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry fired back on Twitter: “Who’s overreacting? Who’s the agent of instability? Certainly NOT China.”


‘Anti-Racism’ and Common Sense

Parents and community members attend a Loudoun County School Board meeting which included a discussion about critical race theory, in Ashburn, Va., June 22, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

A  short time ago, the National Museum of African American History sported a poster that most normal adults would describe as moronic if not blatantly racist. The poster purported to list indicies of “Whiteness,” such as hard work, individualism, objectivity, nuclear family, respect for authority, and delayed gratification. These weren’t presented as universal qualities to strive for regardless of race. Rather, these were  tools of oppression,  contributors to unfairness, and characteristics of white supremacy.

CRT/anti-racism training tells little white kids that they’re privileged and/or oppressors by virtue of their race. Common sense counsels that such training will almost necessarily yield negative outcomes, some of them severe.

There was a time in the recent past when the vast majority of adults — regardless of race, educational attainment, or economic background — intuitively grasped that such instruction is galactically stupid, immoral, toxic, false, and destructive. A majority might still think so, even if they’re too cowed to say it.

But that doesn’t appear to include a majority of today’s so-called “elites,” many of whom support and promote such instruction. This portends ill for our society, which seems to be sprouting ruptures in social cohesion by the minute. Indeed, less than 20 years ago, before the germination of anti-racism  training, Gallup reported that 74 percent of white Americans and 68 percent of black Americans thought race relations were good. By July 2021, those numbers had cratered to 43 percent and 33 percent, respectively. Some of that decline may be attributable to discrete events such as the Michael Brown and George Floyd incidents and the media narratives surrounding them.  But the steady harangue of idiotic — and sometimes evil — CRT/anti-racism/DEI training surely contributes.

Woke Culture

My Dear Wormwood, on the Matter of ‘Intolerance’

Demonstrators yell at New York City Police officers at a protest to defund the police in an area they are calling the “City Hall Autonomous Zone” in New York, N.Y., June 26, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Congratulations on your continued efforts to educate the patient on the efficacy and flexibility of the term “intolerant.” He appears, quite clearly, to appreciate that describing his opponent as such instantly confers upon the patient the status of the aggrieved (and, thus, morally superior) in any debate. Indeed, where properly used, the term forecloses substantive debate on any issue altogether, for his opponent will fear “cancellation.” A most wonderful tool to advance radical or ridiculous propositions that otherwise could not survive even minimal scrutiny!

The patient, from time to time, may question the term’s efficacy and utility. He may even briefly consider engaging his opponent (or even the Enemy) in defense of patently absurd and incoherent notions.

Do not despair. Simply explain that unlike other overused pejoratives, the potency of the terms “intolerant” and “intolerance” is relatively undiminished by promiscuous use. On the contrary, once applied, its stain remains nearly indelible, thereby relieving the patient of any need to engage someone so plainly contemptible.

If necessary, gently remind the patient how effective shutting down debate has been throughout history. (Remember 1917? 1939? No, you are too young. Trust me, it was glorious.) In doing so, however, take care that he does not view his actions as similar to those of patients from past — shall we say, challenging — eras. This may produce in him a sense of shame or guilt, two utterly useless qualities. Assure him that debate is unnecessary because all right-thinking people (of which he is inarguably one) know that the particular issue of the day is settled, and he is, after all, on the side of progress, as were all of our most celebrated patients throughout history.

In my next letter, dear nephew, I shall endeavor to instruct on the proper use of the felicitous term “diversity.”

(Apologies to Mr. Lewis.)


Another Ohio Poll Shows Vance and DeWine Leading

Senate Republican candidate J.D. Vance applauds during an event hosted by former President Donald Trump at the county fairgrounds in Delaware, Ohio, April 23, 2022. (Gaelen Morse/Reuters)

Last week, an Emerson poll found Republican J. D. Vance leading Democrat Tim Ryan by three points in the U.S. Senate race and Republican governor Mike DeWine leading his Democratic opponent Nan Whaley by 16 points. A new poll released today by Trafalgar has similar results: Vance+4.6 and DeWine+15.9.

DeWine obviously has the advantage of incumbency, and his traditional GOP brand of politics has fared better among the general Ohio electorate since 2016 than Vance’s brand of Trumpian populism. In 2016, mainstream Republican Rob Portman defeated former Democratic governor Ted Strickland by 21 points in the U.S. Senate race, while Trump beat Hillary Clinton by eight points. (Before 2016, of course, Obama won Ohio twice and George W. Bush only carried the state twice by low single digits.) In the 2018 “blue wave,” DeWine won the governor’s race by 4.3 points, while Republican Jim Renacci lost the Senate race by 6.4 points.

The polls in the 2022 races for Senate and governor could converge. But, as I noted last week, perhaps the most interesting thing about the polling split between DeWine and Vance (as well as Kemp and Walker in Georgia) is that it very likely is not due to abortion politics:

Both DeWine and Vance are pro-life. DeWine is the governor who signed into law Ohio’s ban on abortion after a baby’s heartbeat is detectable about six weeks into pregnancy, with an exception for when the mother’s life or physical health is endangered but not when the pregnancy is the result of rape. If the abortion issue were a decisive factor for any given voter, it’s hard to see why that voter would cast a ballot against Vance and for DeWine.

Ever since the Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade at the end of June, political observers have been trying to detect how much the issue might help Democrats in November, and there have been a few data points suggesting that Republican prospects have been diminished over the last couple months. The congressional GOP’s 2.3-point lead over Democrats on the generic ballot has turned into a 0.5-point lead for Democrats according to FiveThirtyEight’s average of polls. Republicans have not met expectations in a couple of congressional special elections. And at the beginning of August, Kansas voters (by 59 percent to 41 percent) rejected a referendum that would have held a right to abortion is not protected by the state constitution.

A number of Senate GOP candidates have seen lackluster polling as well. But the strength of pro-life GOP governors in those same battleground states suggests that the Senate GOP’s diminished electoral prospects may have more to do with candidate quality than abortion politics. It’s not just Ohio. In Georgia, Republican governor Brian Kemp signed into law a heartbeat act that bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is endangered. But Kemp leads Democrat Stacey Abrams by 4.2 points in the RCP average of polls, while Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker (who has a lot of baggage) trails Democratic senator Raphael Warnock by 4.4 points.

Who’s Not Helping the 2022 GOP Senate Candidates?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) arrives at the U.S. Capitol after a Senate Republican caucus luncheon in Washington, D.C., January 12, 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

You can already see some preemptive blame-throwing about the 2022 GOP Senate class from President Trump and Sean Hannity.

Trump recently raged on Truth Social, “Why do Republicans Senators allow a broken down hack politician, Mitch McConnell, to openly disparage hard working Republican candidates for the United States Senate. This is such an affront to honor and to leadership. He should spend more time (and money!) helping them get elected, and less time helping his crazy wife and family get rich on China!”

(McConnell’s so-called “crazy wife” is Elaine Chao, who served as Trump’s Secretary of Transportation for four years.)

McConnell’s “open disparagement”


The Flourishing Society, Etc.

Gianni Schicchi, the Puccini opera, at the Salzburg Festival in August 2022 (Salzburg Festival/Monika Rittershaus)

My Impromptus column today begins with a very controversial subject: whether Governor Ron DeSantis should address the question of the 2020 presidential election. Did the Democrats steal it, as Donald Trump and a nation of Republicans claim? Did Joe Biden win fair and square? Is he a legitimate president?

These questions have roiled our country. And I think leaders — those worthy of the name — should deal with them, honestly and forthrightly.

What else is in my column? A variety of things, as usual. I mention Il trittico, by Puccini. I reviewed a performance of this opera at the Salzburg Festival last week. Actually, the “opera” is three operas in one — three one-acters. The last is Gianni Schicchi, a brilliant comedy.

(Well, Gianni Schicchi usually goes last. In Salzburg, they put it first, which is another issue.)

While I was watching, and listening to, Gianni Schicchi, I had a couple of thoughts, not related to opera, or theater. I thought I would say a few words about them here. One thought relates to the material progress of mankind. The other relates to societies, open and closed. What makes a society, or civilization, great? That sort of thing.

Gianni Schicchi is based on The Divine Comedy, and the story takes place in the Florentine republic, in the year 1299. Buoso Donati, a very rich man, has kicked the bucket. His relatives are in his bedroom, licking their chops, waiting to get their hands on the will.

When they get it, they are dismayed: Donati has left his entire fortune to an order of monks.

“They will grow fat!” say the relatives. “They will have to loosen their belts, while we will have to tighten ours! Their pantries will burst; ours will have little. They’ll chow down on thrushes, geese, quails! With their fat, rosy faces, they’ll laugh at our gaunt ones!”

I have paraphrased, but I have communicated the basic idea.

If people came into a fortune today, how would they spend it? What fancies would dance through their heads? Would they think about food? In “advanced” countries, that is? Would they not instead think about foreign vacations, houses, sports cars, jewelry? (The paying off of student loans!)

I am making a simple point, but one to ponder, I think. Our present age is one in which a major problem of the poor is obesity. This is a sharp departure from the long, miserable, hungry history of mankind.

We’ve come a long way, baby — certainly in material terms.

In Gianni Schicchi, Rinuccio wants to marry Lauretta, daughter of Schicchi. But Rinuccio’s aunt, Zita, is dead set against it. Schicchi is not a Florentine, you see — not a native. He has come from away. He’s a newcomer. And what a disgrace it would be, to have such a person linked to an established Florentine family!

Here is what Zita sings: “Someone come up to Florence from the country! Imagine being related to newcomers! I will not have him here! I won’t!”

Then it’s Rinuccio’s turn to sing. “He’s from the country? Well, so what? Enough of this petty, small-minded prejudice!”

His aria goes like this:

Florence is like a tree in flower,
whose trunk and branches are found in the
piazza dei Signori,
but its roots bring new strength in
from the fresh fruitful valleys.

Florence grows and solid palaces
and slim towers rise up to the stars!
Before the Arno runs to the sea,
singing, it kisses the piazza Santa Croce,
and its song is so sweet and resonant
that the streams chorus in to join it.

In this way artists and scientists have joined
to make Florence richer and more splendid.
And from the castles of Val d’Elsa
welcome Arnolfo, come down to build his beautiful
tower. And Giotto came from leafy Mugel,
and Medici, the valiant merchant.

Enough of narrow-minded malice and spite!
Long live the newcomers and Gianni Schicchi!

Them’s fightin’ words, at least where I live. I thought of Reagan’s final speech as president. Have you ever heard or read it?

Other countries may seek to compete with us, but in one vital area, as a beacon of freedom and opportunity that draws the people of the world, no country on earth comes close. This, I believe, is one of the most important sources of America’s greatness. We lead the world because, unique among nations, we draw our people, our strength, from every country and every corner of the world, and by doing so, we continuously renew and enrich our nation.

Reagan continued,

While other countries cling to the stale past, here in America we breathe life into dreams, we create the future, and the world follows us into tomorrow.

Just a little more, of this old-time religion:

Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we’re a nation forever young, forever bursting with energy and new ideas, and always on the cutting edge, always leading the world to the next frontier.

This quality is vital to our future as a nation. If we ever close the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.

That would be fine with some — with many, in fact. But it would not be fine with all.

Anyway, there is no new issue under the sun, is there? No new anything! Mankind has been wrestling with these things for eons, and will wrestle on . . .

P.S. Here is Rinuccio’s aria sung in English, by Jon Vickers. (Above, I linked to the aria in its original tongue, sung by Plácido Domingo.)


Administrative Bloat in Higher Education Is Not a Myth


For the last several decades, American colleges and universities have been adding administrative personnel much faster than faculty. As the money has poured in (mainly due to our ridiculous system of federal student aid), school officials have chosen to spend it largely on brigades of administrators to oversee dubious functions such as “diversity.”

In today’s Martin Center article, Ashlynn Warta takes a look at the growth of administrative spending in the UNC system. It increased from $2,217 per student in 2006 to $4,069 per student in 2017.

Clearly, more resources are going into administration than teaching, contributing to the increasing cost of a college degree.

But it’s more than that. As Warta observes, “Costs and budgets aside, administrators often have the power to be the ‘neck’ of their institutions, meaning they can decide which way to turn the head. Administrators take part in deciding what is and is not acceptable on college campuses, and, unfortunately for students, this can mean limiting free speech, encouraging censorship, and generally promoting ideals (such as ideological one-sidedness) that limit intellectual growth.”

That’s right, and the ranks of administrators are overwhelmingly filled with people who are college grads who have been steeped in the leftist worldview. They tend to be hostile to our traditions, eager to use their schools to bring about the great transformation of the country that they fervently believe in.

We have to pay for them (and often, they’re better paid than faculty members) and suffer their bad influence on our colleges and universities. A double whammy.


A Killing in Russia: Some Dietrologia

Alexander Dugin gestures as he addresses the “Battle for Donbas” rally in support of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, in Moscow, Russia, in 2014. (Moscow News Agency/Handout via Reuters)

There’s a great word in Italian, dietrologia, which, as a columnist for the Economist once explained, reflects the fact that “many Italians believe that the surface or official explanation for something can rarely be the real one. There’s always something behind, or dietro, that surface.” So dietrologia is the study of what that “real” truth might be. Conspiracists would understand.

I don’t know whether there is an equivalent word in Russian, but, given the way in which the country has long been run, there ought to be.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, “whether or not Ukrainian forces (or, for that matter, opponents of the war) were responsible for Dugina’s death, it is reasonable to assume the former will be blamed by the Kremlin, with consequences that will surely include some form of retaliation.”

It is, of course, entirely possible that the whole operation (which was almost certainly aimed at Dugina’s father, Alexander Dugin, a charlatan ultranationalist “philosopher” of uncertain sanity) was a false-flag operation aimed at using a supposed terrorist threat to boost support from ordinary Russians for the war against Ukraine. Putin, after all, owes his initial assumption of the presidency to a series of bombings in Russia, including, notoriously, of four apartment buildings. The bombings were blamed on Chechen terrorists and  were used as an additional justification for the onslaught on Chechnya that was already getting going (it was to evolve into the Second Chechen War). Russians rallied behind their government and, in particular, its new tough-talking prime minister, Vladimir Putin. Within months he was president. We are unlikely ever to know for sure, but there are good reasons to think that those bombings were the work of Russian intelligence services designed to whip up support for that war and to create a “patriotic” opportunity for Putin to exploit, which he duly did.

Then again, it may be that killing Dugin would have been aimed at silencing ultranationalists’ criticism of the way the Ukrainian war is going.

It will be no surprise if we never discover what really happened, but it will be no surprise either if something like this, as described by Mark Galeotti, writing in the Spectator, takes place:

We likely will see some hurried arrests. No doubt there will be video footage of Federal Security Service officers bursting into a flat artfully staged with some bomb-making equipment, a gun, a teach-yourself-Ukrainian handbook, some US dollars and, maybe, a volume of Shakespeare (seriously: one was used as ‘evidence’ of the presence of British mercenaries fighting for Ukraine, as we all know squaddies are mad for a little King Lear). But we, and more to the point, the Russians, have seen it all before.

Galeotti on Dugin:

Already, Russian commentators are blaming Kyiv, without explaining either why either Dugin would be their target of choice — there are much more rabid and influential commentators on Ukraine — or how they managed to pull off an attack in the very heart of the Russian security state. Likewise, others assume this was a Kremlin hit, either because they wanted to make Dugin a symbolic martyr or else because they feared ultra-nationalists like him would stir up protest were Russia to step back from its war in Ukraine. . . .

This murder will only add to the Dugin myth, one he himself has so assiduously developed. There are many in the West happy to take him at face value, as “Putin’s Brain” or “Putin’s Rasputin”. He is not, though, and never has been especially influential. He has no personal connection to Putin, but rather is just one of a whole breed of “political entrepreneurs” trying to pitch their plans and doctrines to the Kremlin. For a while, in 2014, he was in favour; his notions of Russia’s civilisational destiny and status as a Eurasian nation convenient to rationalise a land grab in Ukraine’s Donbas. Suddenly he was on every TV channel, his book Foundations of Geopolitics was on the syllabus at the Academy of the General Staff and he was offered a chair at MGU, Moscow State University, the country’s premier institute of higher learning.

But then the Kremlin decided against outright annexation of the Donetsk and Lugansk “People’s Republics” and Dugin was no longer useful. The invitations began to dry up, MGU rescinded its offer, and he was back in the marketplace, hawking his books to the public and his ideas to the leadership. In the process, he mastered the art of retrospective thought-leading. In other words, of picking up on hints about what the Kremlin was about to do and loudly advocating just this move — and then claiming the credit. Overall, though, he has been more effective in selling himself to western alt-right circles — which to be sure, gives him some value to Moscow as an agent of influence — than to the Kremlin.



400 Ukrainian Baptist Churches Lost

Worshippers leave Sunday service at Sukovska Baptist church in Druzhkivka, Ukraine, June 19, 2022. Services were held in a small tent in the back of the church because the building was heavily damaged by a recent missile strike. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

About 400 of Ukraine’s 2,300 Baptist churches have been lost during the war with Russia, according to Yaroslav Pyzh, president of the Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary.

Pyzh told Baptist Press that the displacement of Ukrainian people as a result of the ongoing war has led to entire congregations ceasing to exist:

“Our main challenge in the future, when the war will be over, is to bridge the gap in leadership that we lost,” Pyzh said. “And sadly, the longer the war goes, the more the gap’s going to be. The church is not buildings. It’s people leaving that place and relocating to the United States, and with people relocating to Germany, or people relocating to other places. And with those people, pastors left too.”

Pyzh also said that as Western attention has been less focused on Ukraine, “donations are dropping down big time, not like we had two or three months ago. People are just tired of the war, but I see a tremendous decrease in donations.”

Ukraine has long been a hub for Evangelical Christianity in Eastern Europe, and the country had the largest Baptist population in continental Europe before the war, with over 100,000 believers. As I wrote in February, Russia’s war poses a direct threat to their religious freedom. Baptists in the Russian-occupied portions of eastern Ukraine have faced persecution since 2014 when Russia first invaded, with the Baptist Hymnal banned and the Ukrainian Baptist Union declared a terrorist group. One older Baptist pastor in Luhansk said the persecution was worse than what he experienced under the Soviet Union.

Vladimir Putin’s idea of “spiritual security,” which involves using the Russian Orthodox Church as a vehicle for national and cultural unity, does not have room for Baptists. The Russian government has long used its anti-terrorism and anti-evangelism laws to target Evangelical Christians. Ukraine, on the other hand, has had much more religious freedom since the fall of communism, which has allowed its Baptist population (which has been around since the 1800s) to grow and flourish.

Putin would be happy if the hundreds of congregations lost due to the war never return. Pyzh is focused on rebuilding, with Nehemiah as his guide. He told Baptist Press, “It’s not only rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. It’s rebuilding the nation of Israel, of worshiping God. . . . That’s the same thing here in Ukraine.”


A Killing in Russia

Investigators work at the site of a suspected car bomb attack that killed Darya Dugina, daughter of ultra-nationalist Russian ideologue Alexander Dugin, in the Moscow region, Russia, August 21, 2022. (Investigative Committee of Russia/Handout via Reuters)


Darya Dugina, the daughter of influential Russian philosopher Alexander Dugin, was reportedly killed on Saturday when the car she was traveling in exploded in the Moscow region, the Russian state news agency TASS has reported.

Andrei Krasnov, head of the Russky Gorizont (Russian Horizon) social movement and a personal acquaintance of the woman’s family, told TASS on Sunday that Dugina had been killed when her car caught fire following an explosion . . .

Images from the aftermath of the explosion began circulating on Russian social media Saturday, appearing to show a vehicle on fire at the side of the road and smashed car parts strewn across the surrounding area. CNN is not able to independently verify the images.

Krasnov told TASS he knew Dugina personally and that the car she was traveling in belonged to her father. He believed Alexander was the true target of the blast, or possibly both of them.

“It’s her father’s car,” Krasnov told TASS. “Dasha (Darya) drives another car, but she drove his car today, and Alexander went separately.”

The senior Dugin is a far-right Russian author and ideologue, credited with being the architect or “spiritual guide” to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He is purported to have significant influence over Russian President Vladimir Putin and is frequently described as “Putin’s Brain.” . . .

In March 2022, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned Dugina for her contribution to an article on the United World International (UWI) website suggesting that Ukraine would “perish” if it is admitted to NATO. Dugina was UWI’s chief editor.

Although Dugina appeared to have shared many of her father’s views, it seems unlikely (if this was indeed a deliberate killing) that she would have been considered important enough to have been a target in her own right. As for whether Dugin can be described in any sense as “Putin’s brain,” I am in no position to know, but I doubt it, although he has had his uses.

Over time, Putin has developed a relatively coherent ideology — authoritarianism, pseudo-traditionalism, and aggressive nationalism both at home and abroad — which is rooted in a logic of sorts, however distasteful. By contrast, Dugin, who has been a very vocal supporter of the war in Ukraine, is a “philosopher” not known for his grasp of logic. He has spent years promoting and updating Eurasianism, a misty concoction first dreamt up, at least in something approaching its modern form, by Lev Gumilev, both inside the Gulag (he was the son of Anna Akhmatova, Russia’s greatest 20th century poet, no friend of the Soviet regime) and, later, outside it.

A good starting point for understanding Eurasianism is Black Wind, White Snow by Charles Clover (a former Moscow bureau chief for the Financial Times), which I reviewed for the Weekly Standard in 2016. In the course of the review, I wrote:

Much of modern Eurasianism is based on little more than the imagination of Lev Gumilev: “He invented people, he invented documents, or transported things magically through time so that they would fit his narrative” of a “super-ethnos,” no less, formed by the fusion of cultures between Russians and a series of surprising pals—the Mongols and other unlikely folk—from the steppe. With Gumilev as its leading, somewhat unhinged, spokesman, Eurasianism spread as a nationalist alternative or (within the ranks of the regime) supplement to the exhausted Marxism-Leninism of the Brezhnev years, a period in which ideological discourse was more complicated than the usual image of a Soviet monolith would suggest . . .

Eurasianism has proved to be a most useful ideology [in the more recent Putin years], a tool for Kremlin authoritarianism and a channel for mischief-making with the Western hard right. And its belligerent view of international politics, combining reconquest of the “near abroad” with paranoia about the eternal Atlantic adversary, makes for martial mood music, handy for drowning out domestic dissent . . .

So, what now?

Whether or not Ukrainian forces (or, for that matter, opponents of the war) were responsible for Dugina’s death, it is reasonable to assume the former will be blamed by the Kremlin, with consequences that will surely include some form of retaliation.

The Economy

Food Inflation News: Chicken Wings, Eggs, and (Japanese) Pizza

A person arranges groceries in El Progreso Market in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Washington, D.C., August 19, 2022. (Sarah Silbiger/Reuters)

We are becoming used to seeing the different ways used to camouflage the price increases that inflation makes necessary. Thus the revival in shrinkflation, a maneuver that, over the years, has taken many forms, from reducing portion sizes, to, in an infamous case from the 1970s, hollowing out gumballs. You can find more details of such devices in this Capital Letter from January.

Also back in January, I noticed this story from CNN:

Domino’s Pizza customers ordering chicken wings will soon get fewer of them for the same price.

The pizza chain said it’s cutting the number of wings in its $7.99 carry out offer from 10 pieces to just eight because of rising food and labor costs. Wings will also become an online exclusive, meaning customers can no longer order them via phone.

Domino’s CEO Richard Allison said the company expects to deal with “unprecedented increases” in food prices, explaining that the costs of its ingredients are increasing 8% to 10% compared to last year. That is substantially higher than the usual hike of 3% to 4% the chain normally forecasts.

Moving the deal online has “several benefits” for the company, he added, because the more customers order food online the higher the average receipt. There’s also a cost-cutting benefit because fewer workers are needed to answer the phones.

Many months later, here’s some good news.

NBC (my emphasis added):

The first regular-season game of the NFL season kicks off Sept. 8, and just in time: Chicken wings are at their lowest prices in years.

The Department of Agriculture’s price index for chicken wings is now at levels not seen since 2018, with the average wholesale price of a pound of wings falling to about $1.68 in July, and trending even lower for August.

It’s a startling reversal of a trend that saw a dramatic run-up in prices for chicken wings early in the pandemic, one that coincided with broader inflation in the economy, labor shortages and surging demand for poultry as fast-food chains began rolling out competing chicken sandwiches.

But last month, Wingstop president and CEO Michael Skipworth said the company would start to see deflation in prices for bone-in chicken wings. On July 28, the company said prices had fallen nearly 19% year-over-year in its fiscal second quarter

One reason for the rapid price decline, according to Fabio Sandri, CEO of the multinational poultry processing company Pilgrim’s Pride, is simply supply and demand. On the company’s most recent earnings call, Sandri explained that, earlier in the pandemic, demand for wings from home-bound eaters exploded. So to manage costs, restaurants began to replace bone-in wings with boneless wings.

That allowed supplies — and prices — for bone-in wings to return to more reasonable levels.

“We saw a very fast decline in the price of wings to the prices that we have today,” Sandri said.

But on his company’s fiscal second-quarter earnings call last month, he cautioned that the price declines are unlikely to last for long: As fall and winter sports ramp up, so, too, will demand — and with them, prices.

“We expect also the wings to start rising now coming the football and the basketball season,” Sandri said

Eager wings eaters should not expect the price they pay to fall to pre-pandemic levels. The cost of many other elements involved in getting this delicacy to their plates, most notably labor, won’t revert to what it was, although cooking-oil prices, which spiked alarmingly, have been coming down, too.

Paranoid greedflationists of the Elizabeth Warren school of conspiracist economics will be watching carefully. Will Big Chicken Wing take this opportunity to keep prices higher than they should otherwise be?

The chicken wing may come ahead of the egg (thus resolving the answer to the ancient question), but there is good news on the egg front, too (unless Big Egg starts playing games).


Egg prices that rocketed to record highs after one the worst bird flu outbreaks in US history are now falling — fast — as the industry replaces dead hens.

Midwest large eggs, the benchmark for commodity price, closed at $2.16 a dozen on Friday, down about 37% from late July’s record high, according to commodity researcher Urner Barry.  That’ll provide relief for consumers, who saw egg prices jump 47% at US grocery stores last month during the worst period of food inflation since 1979.

Retail rates generally follow commodity prices, so consumers should see a “significant” drop by more than a dollar per dozen in the next 30 days, said John Brunnquell, chief executive officer of Egg Innovations, one of the biggest US producers of free-range eggs…

This cannot come too soon. The increase in food prices was a notably dark spot in the most recent CPI report.

Bloomberg (August 9):

Inflation is wreaking havoc on breakfast, with egg prices at grocery stores soaring a whopping 47% in July over last year, according to retail analytics firm Information Resources Inc.

Although the Consumer Price Index came in lower than expected at 8.5% in July, inflation is continuing to hit grocery shopping. The food-at-home category soared to 13.1 % over the last year, the largest increase since the period ending March 1979, according to the US Labor Department on Wednesday.

Egg prices in particular have been driven higher by one of the worst bird flu outbreaks in US history, killing more than 30 million commercial and wild birds. The crisis hurt egg-laying hens and turkeys the most. Although the outbreak has eased in the US, growers are still repopulating their flocks, which is expected to bring prices down eventually.

Dominic Pino has more on food-price inflation here.

Meanwhile there’s (sort of) shrinkflation news from the economic hellscape that is low-birthrate Japan (year-on-year inflation in July accelerated to 2.4 percent, causing alarm).


Japan’s Pizza Hut is turning to rice to make its pizzas after wheat prices soared following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.

The fast-food chain will start offering a selection of mini-pizzas using rice as a base rather than wheat flour from Aug. 22, with toppings including Ibérico pork and teriyaki chicken. The new range will initially be available for about six weeks, but could become a regular menu item if demand is strong.

And note the nod to the importance of security of supply contained in the two paragraphs that follow:

Wheat skyrocketed after Russia’s war in Ukraine cut off supplies from one of the world’s major breadbaskets, driving some food producers to mix or switch to cheaper alternatives in their bread, pastries and pasta, although prices have fallen lately. The rice used by Pizza Hut Japan will be sourced domestically.

The price of rice has been more subdued due to ample production and existing stockpiles. In Japan, the crop provides the added benefit of not having to rely on overseas supply, a key factor for a country that only produces 38% of its food on a caloric basis and 66% on a value basis.

Expect much more focus on supply in the future, and not just in Japan, and not just when it comes to food.

Politics & Policy

What’s Going on in Our Education Schools?

Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison (Wikimedia Commons)

Until I read Rita Kramer’s book Ed School Follies in the early 90s, I knew nothing about the places where most of our K–12 teachers receive their training. That book showed that ed schools had been captured by educational “progressives” who were much more interested in instilling their attitudes about the world in the minds of up-and-coming teachers than in ensuring that they had solid content knowledge and familiarity with teaching techniques that succeed.

Over the last three decades, things have gotten worse. Ed school leaders aren’t content with gauzy fluff about “student-centered” education; now they make their students read aggressively leftist propaganda.

That’s the conclusion of a study dome by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. The authors read syllabi from the ed schools at the state’s public universities and found them loaded with books pushing “diversity, equity, and inclusion” themes. And keep in mind that education majors are, on the whole, among the weakest students on campus. They’re unlikely to see that they’re being brainwashed.

Wisconsin isn’t alone, of course.  You’d find the same thing in every other state.

If you wonder why students struggle with simple math and can’t write a coherent sentence, but are eager to hector you about all of the nation’s socio-economic ills, this is a big part of the explanation.


National Security & Defense

Is Biden Headed toward ‘Surrender’ on Iran Talks?

Flag in front of Iran’s Foreign Ministry building in Tehran (Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters)

Not for the first time since the Biden administration opened indirect discussions with Tehran about reentering the 2015 nuclear deal, it seems as though negotiators might be approaching a breakthrough. Several days after Politico EU initially reported that the European compromise plan has gained traction among Western officials, the U.S. and Iran might be moving past a previous impasse.

What would that mean in practice? “No less than surrender,” Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told NR over email. He was referring to a recent report by Iran International, based on a list of “concessions” that the U.S. team purportedly offered to Iranian negotiators. The two sides are reportedly going back and forth on the specifics, but the list obtained by Iran International is the basis for any compromise solution that may materialize in the coming weeks.

According to the outlet, that document is circulating among “conservative circles close to the Raisi” administration, presumably to drum up support for an eventual deal. The concessions would effectively gut Trump-era “maximum pressure” sanctions that targeted broad swaths of the Iranian economy. It would permit the sale of 50 million barrels of oil, currently prohibited under current sanctions, in about three months — which would also be the time frame for implementing the deal — and require that the Biden administration rescind certain executive orders.

The oil concessions, according to Iran International, would allow Iran to raise $4 billion during that initial period, and the deal would also immediately release $7 billion in Iranian funds currently tied up in South Korean banks. The concessions document boasts that the U.S. would remove sanctions on 150 entities, without specifying exactly what those entities are.

Not to mention that the EU compromise language that might have broken the logjam would result in an easing of U.S. sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, though it wouldn’t result in the group’s removal from Washington’s foreign-terrorist organization list outright. Nevertheless, that language would make it significantly easier for non-American entities to fill IRGC coffers.

Of course, these reports have come at a delicate time. Federal prosecutors recently unsealed an indictment targeting an IRGC operative who allegedly hired someone to surveil and plot the murder of former national-security adviser John Bolton; other reports indicate that several other current and former U.S. officials remain at risk. Tehran also had a relative success this month when a 24-year-old super-fan of the Iranian regime allegedly stabbed and critically wounded the novelist Salman Rushdie at a cultural festival in upstate New York.

Taleblu said that ought to have made such a deal a nonstarter. “Any agreement that rewards the regime’s terrorism apparatus after multiple threats against U.S. citizens, as in the aftermath of the attempted killing of Salman Rushdie, is not only detrimental to US national security, but also a fool’s errand, pure and simple,” he said.

All of this might well be teeing up an epic congressional clash ahead of the midterm elections. Republicans are in lockstep opposition to any potential agreement, with many crowing that a future GOP president would rip it to shreds on Day One; many hawkish Democrats, such as Representative Elaine Luria, have also expressed misgivings about the direction the talks are taking. While many of them specifically expressed horror at previous indications that the administration would remove the IRGC terror designation, it remains to be seen where they will land were the EU’s compromise workaround to take.

In a preview of what that will look like, Jim Risch, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s top Republican, tweeted last night that the Iranians are seeking guarantees that the Biden adminsitraiton would protect Western companies doing business in Iran and allow Tehran to “accelerate nuclear weapons work” as a penalty if the U.S. were to withdraw from a new agreement.

And, in turn, previewing a future White House rapid-response effort to counter the Iran hawks, the National Security Council’s account fired back: “Nothing here is true.” Then, it pivoted to bashing Donald Trump’s decision to exit the agreement in the first place.

The Economy

Food Prices Are Pulling Inflation Up

Breakfast cereals at a store in Queens, N.Y., February 7, 2022. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Democrats may be anxious to declare victory over inflation, and the July inflation report, which showed 0 percent inflation month-over-month, gave President Biden the opportunity to shout “zero inflation” for the world to hear.

But the consumer-price index is still up 8.5 percent from a year ago. The CPI reflects an average of prices across hundreds of categories, and some of the prices that have exploded most over the past twelve months are some of the products that Americans buy regularly.

The prices of basic food staples show some of the highest increases in the CPI report. At breakfast, the price of eggs is up 38 percent year-over-year, and the price of cereal is up 16.4 percent. Coffee is up 20.3 percent, and milk is up 15.6 percent.

For a sandwich at lunch, bread is up 13.7 percent, and lunch meat is up 18 percent. You could save a little by opting for a peanut-butter sandwich instead, but peanut butter is still up 13.1 percent over the past twelve months.

At dinner, chicken is up 17.6 percent, and potatoes are up 13.3 percent. Butter to make mashed potatoes will cost you 22.2 percent more than it did last July.

All of these basic food categories are pulling inflation up, not pushing it down. Much of the reason for the flattening of the CPI between June and July was declining gasoline prices compensating for a continued increase in food prices.

Americans are no doubt happy that gasoline has declined (although the nationwide average is still nearly 40 cents higher than it was the week Russia invaded Ukraine and nearly 80 cents higher than it was a year ago), and the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers are consistent in the way they weight different prices to calculate the average. But that doesn’t change those nasty numbers at the grocery store, and overall prices rising 8.5 percent in a year still means most people have seen a real-wage cut.

The U.S. still has a ways to go before inflation ceases being the top economic problem.

Woke Culture

My Dear Wormwood, on the Matter of ‘Equity’

Campus of Columbia University, 2009 (Mike Segar/Reuters)

I was unsurprised to learn of the patient’s struggles in comprehending the precise meaning of “equity.” The difficulty proceeds from his default to reason, presuming that the term is meant to have a commonly held meaning.

Kindly instruct the patient that equity is a remarkably elastic tool for the acquisition of power, distribution of benefits, assertion of moral superiority, and enforcement of ideological conformity. It means whatever he wants it to mean; but in any case it is always good and right. Thus, it renders him the sovereign arbiter of what is “good” and “equitable,” an irresistible flattery that suggests that no one — from Aristotle to Aquinas to the Founders — had properly considered the correct administration of equity. Accordingly, the patient will rationalize repudiating these stale figures, as well as eternal verities, in furtherance of his newly minted principles of “equity” and enlightenment.

Cultivate in the patient an image of himself as a protector and savior of the oppressed. He will quickly comprehend that most individuals and institutions will yield to nearly anything in the pursuit of “equity” (after all, it vaguely implies fairness and justice, but without any objective standards), for only the most deplorable would oppose equity. This will incline him toward deploying the term promiscuously. Do not restrain him, for the term is most effective when used confidently, even arrogantly, before the public can discern that it is a Trojan horse designed to promote — through shame and coercion — lowered standards, disparate treatment, and false and absurd propositions that could not otherwise gain purchase. After all, few have the confidence or temerity to question, let alone oppose, “equity,” even if they do not know precisely what “equity” is!

Be assured that, in the end, the patient will be convinced, as were all of our most celebrated patients throughout history, that anything is permissible in pursuit of equity — even tyranny. Broken eggs, omelets, and all that.

In my next letter, dear nephew, I shall address use of the delightfully insidious term, “tolerance.”

(Apologies to Mr. Lewis.)

Politics & Policy

Race Discrimination at Harvard: The Purported Educational Benefits of Diversity

On the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

Racial preferences in college admissions were upheld by the Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger because the Court accepted the University of Michigan’s assertion that certain educational benefits allegedly derive from having a diverse student body. The Court deemed such alleged educational benefits to be a “compelling state interest” justifying racial discrimination in college admissions. Indeed, Harvard justifies its racially discriminatory admissions policy, currently before the Court in SFFA v. Harvard, on that basis.

But as previously noted, a significant and growing number of colleges segregate — or promote and enable segregation. These efforts range from segregated dorm rooms to scholarships to recreational facilities to campus activities.

Ironically, these instances of racial separation profoundly undermine the legal rationale for racially discriminatory admissions. Obviously, the ostensible benefits derived from a diverse student body cannot be obtained if student interactions are limited or prevented by racial segregation.

Many, if not most, understood Grutter’s “compelling state interest” analysis to be a specious effort to justify racial discrimination in admissions. Twenty years later, the rampant segregation in which colleges are engaged confirms that understanding.

Politics & Policy

Woke Colleges Are Backing Segregation Now, Tomorrow, and Forever

Campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Scores of amicus briefs were recently filed with the Supreme Court in support of the challenge by Asian-American students to Harvard’s racially discriminatory admissions policy that holds Asian-American and white applicants to far higher standards than black and Hispanic applicants. The facts, the law, and the composition of the present Court render a fair probability that racial discrimination in college admissions will be curbed, if not eliminated.

Regardless of the outcome in SFFA v. Harvard, however, racial discrimination will continue to run rampant throughout academia. In fact, overt racial discrimination goes well beyond admissions policies and is expanding rapidly throughout college programs.

More than 75 colleges nationwide offer separate graduation ceremonies based on race, ethnicity, or sexual identity. Separate dormitories, “safe spaces,” orientations, trainings, recreational activities, and even scholarships continue to mushroom throughout higher education, especially since the death of George Floyd.

No, neither the 1964 Civil Rights Act nor the 14th Amendment was repealed while you were sleeping. State-sponsored segregation remains unlawful, and it’s just as odious and damaging as when George Wallace famously proclaimed, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Schools defend the practice by asserting that the events aren’t segregated in the traditional sense, i.e., the segregation isn’t rigorously enforced by school authorities. Indeed, there’s no need. On today’s “woke” campuses, segregation is self-policed — often ruthlessly — in accordance with the unyielding imperatives of “identity.”

Segregation and critical race training have become ubiquitous in colleges, big businesses, and government. We rightly ended segregation because it was bigoted, poisonous, and backward. It still is, even if disguised as racial progress.


China Picks Aggressive New Naval Commander for Taiwan Strait

A Navy Force destroyer under the Eastern Theatre Command of China’s People’s Liberation Army takes part in military exercises in the waters around Taiwan, at an undisclosed location, August 8, 2022. (Eastern Theatre Command/Handout via Reuters)

The Chinese military officer who oversaw the naval portion of Beijing’s military drills around Taiwan earlier this month is a former China coast guard leader who was recently appointed to his new role, Nikkei Asia reported, citing military sources.

The former coast guard chief, Wang Zhongcai, took over as the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) head of Eastern Theater Command at some point before late July, according to Chinese media outlets cited by Nikkei.

Wang’s work in his previous role hints at the aggressive approach with which he has commanded his forces. He ordered the China coast guard’s forays into waters surrounding islands administered by Japan, which calls them the Senkakus, but also claimed under the name Diaoyu by China.

Before heading the Chinese coast guard, Wang served in a senior post with a naval fleet that covered an area encompassing the Taiwan Strait and the East China Sea, according to a 2019 analysis published by the Diplomat. His appointment to that post, wrote Ying Yu Lin, an assistant professor at National Chung Cheng University, “also indicates that China will maintain a more active presence in the East China Sea and Taiwan Strait in the future.”

In addition to lobbing missiles into the waters surrounding Taiwan following House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan this month, China also sent aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone and ships across the Taiwan Strait median line.

Beyond those military drills, the appointment of Wang also comes at a particularly delicate time, considering Beijing’s increased effort to claim the Taiwan Strait as its own waters. In recent months, China has conveyed to U.S. officials that it considers the strait as its internal waters, since it claims Taiwan as part of its territory, per a Bloomberg report. The Biden administration reportedly views that assertion as a drastic change in Chinese policy and has rejected it.

The PLAN also appointed Mei Wen, a former political commissar on the Liaoning — China’s first aircraft carrier — as its Eastern Theater Command’s political commissar. The Nikkei report says that Mei’s post is equivalent to that of a commander’s. Yasuyuki Sugiura of Japan’s National Institute for Defense Studies told Nikkei: “They may be looking at operating an aircraft carrier around Taiwan.”


‘Pagan Rituals’

Republican candidate Representative Liz Cheney speaks during her primary election night party in Jackson, Wyo., August 16, 2022. (David Stubbs/Reuters)

Our editors tackle an unusual agenda on the podcast today, starting with a worrisome polling trend that spells concern for the GOP. Jack Butler, back on for his second episode, calls polling “pagan rituals.” “I always find it kind of funny in these periods of political campaigns and political seasons,” Jack said, “because we have a lot of people whose job it is to try to figure out and project what’s going to happen months from now. I’m sure they’re very good at their jobs, but to me, sometimes it seems almost like a kind of pagan ritual that they’re divining these granularities from Washington State special elections and whatnot.” The editors also discuss the races in various states, from Pennsylvania to Ohio, and weigh the merits of Liz Cheney’s unflinching stance that ended her career.

In some intra-media news, Brian Stelter got the boot from CNN. Our editors know not to kick a man when he’s down, but take the time to figure out why he fell from grace.

Finally, Rich asks Maddy to let loose on the abomination that is the transgender messaging coming out of the Boston Children’s Hospital, and she does not disappoint. “We do know that, across the country at gender clinics, these treatments are happening. . . .” Maddy said. “Puberty blockers happen to people who have not yet gone through puberty — so, by definition, under twelve. We know that cross-sex hormones are being given to people under 18, and we know that these radical, aggressive surgeries are also happening to children under the age of 18.”

She makes it clear that “this idea that they’re [Boston Children’s Hospital] the victim and that this is causing harassment of their staff — obviously there’s no excuse for people engaging in violence — but there’s not actually any evidence that that’s what people are doing. What people are doing is saying, ‘What on earth are you doing?’” 

Listen below for the full conversation.

Politics & Policy

Walmart Expands Employee Coverage to Cover Certain Kinds of Abortions

A Walmart logo on a store in Chicago, Ill., November 20, 2018. (Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters)

Walmart has announced that it is not just covering certain kinds of abortions, but also the travel expenses related to those abortions. CNBC reports:

Walmart on Friday told employees that it will expand abortion and related travel coverage, according to an internal memo. The change comes about two months after the Supreme Court struck down the federal right to access the procedure.

Effective immediately, Walmart’s health care plans will cover abortion “when there is a health risk to the mother, rape or incest, ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage or lack of fetal viability,” according to the memo to employees, which was reviewed by CNBC.

Employees and their family members who are insured through Walmart will also have travel costs covered, if they cannot access a legal abortion within 100 miles of their location, according to the email, which was sent by Walmart’s Chief People Officer Donna Morris.

Of course, these are relatively narrow categories. Rape and incest-related cases are an infinitesimally small portion of abortions in America — 2 percent or less, depending on the measurement. No abortion ban on the books applies to cases where the life of the mother is truly in danger. And as Alexandra DeSanctis aptly notes, “neither miscarriage care nor treatment for ectopic pregnancy has anything to do with an induced-abortion procedure, which intentionally kills an unborn child.” So this is a largely symbolic move by Walmart – only a very, very small percentage of abortions will actually meet the company’s stated criteria.

But symbolism matters nonetheless. The move is obviously an effort to curry favor with pro-choice activists and progressive interests — and to signal allegiance, albeit in a more muted and conditional way, to abortion advocates. What’s more, according to an internal company memo about the decision, Walmart is also launching a new center that “provides services. . . such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), intrauterine insemination (IUI) and egg cryopreservation.” IVF has its own host of moral concerns. So even with all the asterisks attached, Walmart has made a decision to wade into one of the most bitter culture-war debates of our time. The department-store chain has taken a side, and it’s not the pro-life one.


Don’t Overthrow the U.S. Constitution

(CastaldoStudio/iStock/Getty Images)

One of my general rules of thumb for describing the asymmetry between the American right and left is that, on the right, crazy and dangerous ideas typically bubble up from the grassroots until they are resisted or pandered to by elites, but on the left, crazy and dangerous ideas typically come from the elites and are spread from there to the grassroots. (You could claim Donald Trump as an exception, but aside from his stolen-election campaign, Trump was more often a symptom of grassroots agitation than an elite originator of ideas).

Today’s example is an op-ed in the New York Times by Harvard law professor Ryan Doerfler and Yale law professor

Struggling over the Constitution has proved a dead end. The real need is not to reclaim the Constitution, as many would have it, but instead to reclaim America from constitutionalism. The idea of constitutionalism is that there needs to be some higher law that is more difficult to change than the rest of the legal order. . . . But constitutions — especially the broken one we have now — inevitably orient us to the past and misdirect the present into a dispute over what people agreed on once upon a time, not on what the present and future demand for and from those who live now. This aids the right, which insists on sticking with what it claims to be the original meaning of the past. . . . It’s time for [liberals] to radically alter the basic rules of the game. . . .

Even when progressives concede that the Constitution is at the root of our situation, typically the call is for some new constitutionalism. . . . Our current Constitution is inadequate. . . . Why justify our politics by the Constitution or by calls for some renovated constitutional tradition? . . . It’s difficult to find a constitutional basis for abortion or labor unions in a document written by largely affluent men more than two centuries ago. It would be far better if liberal legislators could simply make a case for abortion and labor rights on their own merits without having to bother with the Constitution.

By leaving democracy hostage to constraints that are harder to change than the rest of the legal order, constitutionalism of any sort demands extraordinary consensus for meaningful progress. It conditions democracy in which majority rule always must matter most on surviving vetoes from powerful minorities that invoke the constitutional past to obstruct a new future. . . . The way to seek real freedom will be to use procedures consistent with popular rule. . . . Americans could learn simply to do politics through ordinary statute rather than staging constant wars over who controls the heavy weaponry of constitutional law from the past. If legislatures just passed rules and protected values majorities believe in, the distinction between “higher law” and everyday politics effectively disappears. [Emphasis added.]

Unsurprisingly, the methods proposed in order to overthrow the Constitution are also radical:

One way to get to this more democratic world is to pack the Union with new states. . . . More aggressively, Congress could simply pass a Congress Act, reorganizing our legislature in ways that are more fairly representative of where people actually live and vote, and perhaps even reducing the Senate to a mere “council of revision (a term Jamelle Bouie used to describe the Canadian Senate), without the power to obstruct laws.

In so doing, Congress would be pretty openly defying the Constitution to get to a more democratic order — and for that reason would need to insulate the law from judicial review…The basic structure of government, like whether to elect the president by majority vote or to limit judges to fixed terms, would be decided by present electorate as opposed to one from some foggy past. A politics of the American future like this would make clear our ability to engage in the constant reinvention of our society under our own power, without the illusion that the past stands in the way. [Emphasis added.]

This is an open call for the House of Representatives to seize power like some Third World junta; trash the Constitution; tear up all of the rules regarding the Senate, the president, and the courts that stand as obstacles to the will of Nancy Pelosi; and engage in “constant reinvention of our society” — ever the dream of the revolutionary. It is the sort of thing that one would expect to find in a pamphlet written by a crackpot, but because it aims at liberal-progressive policy ends, we find it instead co-authored by professors at the nation’s two leading law schools — instructors of future leaders of the bench and bar — and published in the nation’s most prominent newspaper.

No, thanks. Our Constitution gives us, as Ben Franklin, said, “a republic — if you can keep it.” I’d prefer to keep it.

Politics & Policy

Americans Want Reform of Government, but Parties Are Not Listening

U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. (tupungato/Getty Images)

Here are a few numbers (H/T Arnold Kling):

According to Pew, public trust in government is very low and declining:

Only two-in-ten Americans say they trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always” (2%) or “most of the time” (19%). Trust in the government has declined somewhat since last year, when 24% said they could trust the government at least most of the time.

This decline in trust is occurring among Republicans:

9% of Republicans and Republican-leaners [they trust government just about always or most of the time]

It’s also occurring among Democrats:

29% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they trust government just about always or most of the time

Will Marshall, founder and president of Progressive Policy Institute, notes that:

Paul Light of the Brookings Institution, a leading expert on public attitudes toward government, reports that demand for “very major” reform of government is at a 20-year high, rising from just 37 percent in 1997 to 60 percent today.

Light sorts voters into four groups with distinct perspectives on government. The largest (44 percent) is “dismantlers,” who favor smaller government and big changes in how it operates. “Rebuilders” (24 percent) want bigger government but share the dismantlers’ desire for major government reform.

“Expanders” (24 percent) are most enthusiastic about bigger government and less interested in reform. “Streamliners” (10 percent), want smaller government and only some reform.

These numbers indicate that a modest majority of U.S. voters now lean toward smaller government, while a more substantial majority favors big reforms of government.

Marshall further observes that:

Progressives are full of ideas for expanding government but have no plan for fixing government.

As Arnold Kling notes in this post over at In My Tribe, commenting on Marshall:

Marshall’s fear is that the “expanders” have outsized influence in the current Democratic Party.

The same is true for Republicans whose grand new ideas resemble the same big-government policies (expanded child tax credits, federal provision of paid leave, tariffs, no concern for spending and the debt) and cronyist interventions (industrial policy — think the CHIP Act and all the subsidies, tax credits, loan guarantees, and subsidies to favored industries they would like to deploy to “compete” with China) usually favored by the left.

Now, it’s not that Republicans in the past 30 years didn’t support all this stuff; they certainly did so, at least in action if not as much in word, especially when they were in power. But no Republicans weren’t vocally cheerleading for such policies as they are today. In addition, it was once the case that Republicans had lots of genuinely good reform ideas, such as pushing programs that were not federal in nature to the states or to the private sector, getting rid of pointless or destructive agencies, reforming entitlement programs, and improving the budget process to restore fiscal sanity. Yet these sensible sorts of ideas have now certainly taken a backseat to ideas for dirigiste interventions.

Contrary to what many of today’s alleged leading lights on the right are saying, the reform ideas that propelled the success of Ronald Reagan (which was far from perfect from my perspective as all politicians are) would do us well right now. And if they think these ideas to reform the government are outdated, at least they should propose ways to reform Uncle Sam (that are constitutional and not authoritarian in nature, please) rather than simply clamor for more interventions. More government interventions in the current system, with the same incentives and dysfunctions, will only result in bad outcomes.


U.S. Left over $7 Billion Worth of Weapons in Afghanistan: State Department

Taliban walk in front of a military airplane a day after the U.S. troops withdrawal from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 31, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

The Defense Department recently estimated that the U.S. left $7.12 billion worth of military equipment in Afghanistan at the time of the Taliban takeover last year, according to a new State Department Inspector General report. State’s independent auditor disclosed the latest Pentagon assessment, which was made earlier this year, in a document released on Tuesday.

“The DoD estimated that $7.12 billion worth of U.S.-funded aircraft, vehicles, weapons, munitions, and other equipment were still in Afghan government inventories at the time of the Taliban takeover,” the State Department IG report said.

The Office of the Inspector General, however, also said that the Pentagon’s office of the undersecretary for policy — which made the estimate — stressed that some of that equipment was either rendered inoperable by withdrawing U.S. forces or would be difficult for the Taliban to use without U.S. contractor support.

While the U.S. removed “nearly all major equipment” used by American troops, State’s IG said, referring to the Pentagon’s assessment, there were some notable exceptions.

Certain equipment the U.S. gave to the Afghan military was still in the country when the Taliban took over. Per the State Department report, the Pentagon said this included $923 million of military aircraft and an additional $295 million worth of aircraft munitions. Some of the aircraft were thought to have been “demilitarized and rendered inoperable” ahead of the U.S. departure.

House GOP lawmakers are investigating the equipment left behind, in addition to numerous other aspects of the calamitous withdrawal process. House Foreign Affairs Committee GOP lead Michael McFaul released a sweeping report this week, stating, “The Taliban has kept much of this ‘windfall’ of U.S.-supplied materiel, parading that equipment in multiple ceremonies.”

The McCaul report, citing the $7.12 billion Pentagon-provided figure, gave a brief accounting of the equipment said to have been left in Afghanistan, based on an assessment from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction:

More than 180,000 “air to ground munitions” remained in Taliban controlled Afghanistan, constituting some 18,000 precision and non-precision “gravity” bombs and 160,000 precision and non-precision aviation rockets.

More than 258,000 rifles, to include M-16/M-4 and AK-47 variants were left behind, in addition to 56,000 machine guns and 31,000 rocket propelled and handheld grenade launchers.

Heavier weapons likely now in Taliban’s hands include 1,845 D-30 60-82mm mortar systems along with over one million mortar rounds as well as 224 D-130 122mm howitzer artillery guns.

Other equipment still in Afghanistan included 17,400 night vision devices, 95 small drones, and other surveillance and communication gear.

Images have shown “Taliban fighters with captured U.S.-supplied weapons such as M4 carbines, machine guns, night-vision devices, body armor, Toyota trucks, and Humvees” in addition to “MRAPs, and even some aircraft such as UH-60 Blackhawks, Mi-17 helicopters, and ScanEagle unmanned aerial systems,” the watchdog said.

Politics & Policy

Why Former CIA Directors Shouldn’t Sound Like Partisan Pundits

Former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt event in Brooklyn, New York, May 11, 2016. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

As Caroline Downey reported, Michael Hayden, the former CIA director and former NSA director under the Bush administration, contended earlier this week that the modern GOP is the most treacherous political force he has encountered in his lifetime.

As I laid out in yesterday’s Three Martini Lunch podcast, comments like this one from Hayden are a lot of D-words – disappointing, deplorable, disturbing and dangerous. It reminded me of former FBI director Jim Comey reinventing himself as a #Resistance celebrity and yukking it up on Stephen Colbert’s couch, a turn that disturbed retired FBI agents who saw it as the former director embracing the perceived politicization of the Bureau, instead of pushing back against it.

I have no doubt that a lot of former CIA directors, FBI directors, high-ranking military officials, etc., have strong political views. They are free to have whatever opinions they like. But when you step into a role like theirs, you have to appear purer than Caesar’s wife, and that means keeping those strong opinions to yourself and minimizing your role in partisan politics.

For a long time, most former directors of key law enforcement or national security agencies faded into semi-obscurity in retirement; maybe they taught a class at a university, or wrote a memoir, or went into corporate consulting. Today, social media enables these former powerful officials to blurt out every political thought they have, and those off-the-cuff sneers and denunciations cumulatively burn away at public trust like acid.

Institutions like the FBI, CIA, NSA etc. have a lot of power, and the inherent secrecy of their work means that ensuring those agencies are held accountable is a constant challenge. These agencies cannot function effectively unless they are widely perceived as above partisan politics – institutions that are pro-America, not pro-Left or pro-Right. (Probably the closest analogue on the right would be former FBI director Louis Freeh, and he was much more subdued that Hayden’s tweets; I suppose if you count the Defense Intelligence Agency as an institution on that level, you could put Michael Flynn in there.)

A director’s duty to the institution he ran doesn’t end the day he retires. If you suddenly rip off the mask, Scooby-Doo-style, and sound like Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity, the public will conclude you were always a partisan hack, and regard your former institution with suspicion and mistrust.

The wise philosopher Ben Parker famously taught us, “with great power, comes great responsibility.” And even if you think Donald Trump is the greatest example of irresponsible power on earth, that doesn’t justify your choice to act irresponsibly.

Few positions in the U.S. government come with greater power than directing the CIA, NSA, FBI, or other key law enforcement, intelligence, and national security agencies. When you agree to accept that power, you are voluntarily relinquishing the future path of becoming an outspoken in-your-face political pundit. Otherwise, people really do start to buy into the idea of a “deep state.”




Singapore the Social Democracy


In case you missed it, please do check out Jacob Hjortsberg’s excellent essay on Singapore over at Capital Matters.

[L]ike other social democracies, Singapore is organized around a corporatist system of centralized wage bargaining. The state assumes the role of ensuring that industrial relations are characterized by labor peace, cooperation, and avoidance of strikes, and that capital and labor exchange class struggle for harmonious industrial relations, to bring about increases in prosperity over time.

Singapore is the favorite semi-authoritarian society of many Western libertarians. Hjortsberg very ably explains the ways in which the Singaporean way is at odds with classical liberalism and hints at why that is nonetheless so attractive to many inside and outside of the country.

Do read the whole thing.

Politics & Policy

Today in Capital Matters: Singapore


Jacob Hjortsberg writes about the example of Singapore:

The small Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore is often held up as a shining example of how free-market capitalism brings prosperity to all nations that embrace it. “If you compare the conditions of people in a place like Singapore with the conditions of people in a place like red China or for that matter Indonesia,” said Milton Friedman in his 1980s TV series Free to Choose, “you will see that the economic freedom is a very important component of total freedom.” Similarly, in its 2022 Economic Freedom Index, the Heritage Foundation observes that “Singapore’s highly developed free-market economy owes its success in large measure to its remarkably open and corruption-free business environment, prudent monetary and fiscal policies, and a transparent legal framework.”

For free-market advocates, Singapore may therefore appear to be worthy of emulation. But Singapore actually provides a vision — attractive or not — of what a pragmatic form of social democracy looks like in a globalized and interconnected world. There are three main elements of the Singaporean system that allow it to operate, and they demonstrate that the country is far from a free-market paradise.

Read the whole thing here.


An American Military, Etc.

Graduating senior Gurjiwan Singh Chahal (second from left) marches into Michie Stadium with his fellow senior classmates for graduation ceremonies at the United States Military Academy, West Point, N.Y., May 22, 2021. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Today on the homepage, I have a Salzburg journal, replete with “photos, points, and aperçus from Mozart’s hometown.” I have quoted the subheading. If you are interested, go here.

A little mail?

Earlier this week, I wrote about the ad that Dick Cheney made for his daughter Liz. I said,

There is something I dislike about the Cheney ad, strongly: the music. Any music at all. One video after another — in politics, sports, etc. — is spoiled by music. Dick Cheney’s ad does not need music. A soundtrack. A soundtrack can only detract. The man and his message are potent on their own.

A reader writes,

You know where I get most irritated with musical “background”? In church, while someone is praying. Certain churches have made the practice common — I think it’s designed to provoke a sentimental response to the prayer, but I have always found it distracting.

In a recent Impromptus, I cited an article headed “Fox Host Attacks Service Members in Spat With Former Marine, Says Vets Went ‘Across the World’ to ‘Murder Brown People.’” I wrote,

For many years, I have heard from the left that the U.S. military “murders brown people.” I guess everyone is getting into the act now, as lefties and righties blend, on all sorts of things.

You know, I have never heard anyone say that the Taliban, or Saddam Hussein, or al-Qaeda, or ISIS, or Bashar Assad murders brown people. Ever.

And how about the “brown people” fighting alongside U.S. forces? Do they count?

When I made a similar point, over the weekend, a reader responded, “No one ever says that the U.S. went to Europe to kill blue-eyed, blond-haired Germans.” No, they never do.

Another reader writes,


You said, “And how about the ‘brown people’ fighting alongside U.S. forces? Do they count?” I would add: How about all the “brown people” fighting in the U.S. forces? Do they count?

The best point of all.

I had a post headed “In These United States.” At the bottom of it, I explained,

The heading over this blogpost is an homage to Reader’s Digest, which had a feature called “Life in These United States.”

A reader writes to say,

Update for you: Reader’s Digest is still going, and it still has a feature called “Life in These United States.”

It’s still the first feature I turn to when I open my new issue. Just as it was back in the ’70s, when I would visit my grandparents’ lake house. They had bookshelves lining one wall with Reader’s Digest and National Geographic issues going well back into the ’60s. I always had plenty of reading material to occupy me, when I was avoiding loud family gatherings.


Finally, a reader says,

Mr. Nordlinger, were you a musician in the rock group Aorta circa 1969? Or maybe that’s a relative or no relation at all. Great music!

Ha! Well, I’ve looked it up. Aorta had two members named “Donlinger.”

Thanks a lot, everyone, and, again, my Impromptus today — a Salzburg journal — is here.


Student Mismatch: One of the Numerous Problems Caused by the Diversity Mania

(Caiaimage/Sam Edwards/Getty Images)

Nearly all American colleges and universities have succumbed to the diversity mania; namely, the belief that they simply must have enough student “representatives” of all major racial and ethnic groups. Thus, looking at the student’s ancestry becomes more important than his or her academic ability. Inevitably, many of those admitted due to group preferences are substantially weaker than the majority of their classmates.

In today’s Martin Center article, spurred by a recent Manhattan Institute study on the evidence for mismatch, I look at the mismatch issue. Robert VerBruggen, the author of that study, writes, “The research is mixed but generally consistent with a framework in which mismatch can be a problem but is not always, depending on such factors as how severely a student is out of step with his peers and how demanding his academic program is.”

He examines quite a few studies that looked at various aspects of the mismatch argument. Some, particularly Richard Sanders of UCLA, find that mismatch has a strong negative impact on minority students admitted to fill diversity slots. Others have downplayed it, but don’t find that it has no adverse effects at all. One notable paper found that preference students tend to avoid more demanding majors in STEM fields and prefer easier ones in the social sciences and “identity” studies.

I add some observations about mismatch from professors who have seen it first-hand. Professor John Ellis of UC-Santa Cruz, for example, has written about the way racial preferences caused a steady decline in standards at his university.

To me it is clear that, when higher-education leaders decided to go into the social-engineering business with racial preferences, they set on a course that has had bad consequences for everyone except the people who now have jobs as “diversity” administrators — jobs that need not exist.


Another Setback for John Kerry

John Kerry delivers remarks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 22, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Our climate Metternich does not seem to be proving as effective as he might have hoped. A couple of weeks ago, angered by Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the Chinese regime made it clear that it was not too interested in cooperating with the U.S. on climate issues. In reality, that won’t make much difference; Chinese energy policy has long been driven by other considerations (its investment in renewables owes more to Beijing’s pursuit of self-sufficiency — and export opportunities — than concerns about the climate), but it will make it even more difficult for Kerry to claim that the “world is with us” on our current climate-policy trajectory.

And so will this (via Bloomberg):

India’s government is studying a slower retirement of aging coal-fired power plants as it also adds newer sites, a move that would keep fossil fuel capacity higher for years and potentially stall efforts to hit climate goals.

Officials are considering a proposal to shutter less than 5 gigawatts of existing capacity by the end of the decade as the nation grapples with surging electricity demand and a global energy shortage, according to people familiar with the matter. That compares with plans drawn up in 2020 that proposed shuttering about 25 gigawatts by the same date…

The world’s third-largest emitter doesn’t envisage hitting net-zero until 2070, and is aiming only for half of its electricity generation capacity to use clean fuels by 2030, giving the nation scope to continue relying on coal for decades more. Together with China, India frustrated efforts to set a date to phase out the use of unabated coal power at last year’s Glasgow climate talks.

Never mind; there’s always the U.K., still wondering how to move forward with the war against meat.

The Guardian:

The only way to have sustainable land use in [Britain], and avoid ecological breakdown, is to vastly reduce consumption of meat and dairy, according to the UK government’s food tsar.

Henry Dimbleby told the Guardian that although asking the public to eat less meat — supported by a mix of incentives and penalties — would be politically toxic, it was the only way to meet the country’s climate and biodiversity targets.

“It’s an incredibly inefficient use of land to grow crops, feed them to a ruminant or pig or chicken which then over its lifecycle converts them into a very small amount of protein for us to eat,” he said.

Currently, 85% of agricultural land in England is used for pasture for grazing animals such as cows or to grow food which is then fed to livestock. Dimbleby, the Leon restaurant chain co-founder and a respected voice in Conservative circles, believes a 30% meat reduction over 10 years is required for land to be used sustainably in England. Others go much further: Greenpeace, for example, say we must reduce our meat intake by 70%.

“If we fail on this,” Dimbleby said, “we will fail to meet our biodiversity or climate goals in this country. We also have a huge opportunity to show thought leadership worldwide, and show them that this can be done, that we can farm sustainably and still feed people.”

“Thought leadership worldwide”: Delusional, of course, but, as a phrase that combines both megalomania and McKinseyspeak, it’s not unimpressive.

Dimbleby, I note, is described as “a respected voice in Conservative circles.”

Well . . .

Politics & Policy

The IRS Is Your Friend

Outside the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington, D.C. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The ridiculous ways in which liberals have been selling the Biden tax and spendapalooza bill are verging on comedy.

The latest whopper has Representative Katie Porter of California calling fears that the bill’s 87,000 new IRS employees will mean more middle-class audits “a load of malarkey.” She incredibly told MSNBC that “the number one agency that the American people would like to have (with) more agents, be more helpful, pick up the phone, build better technology, be more responsive — is the IRS. So, this is an investment in allowing the IRS to modernize. . . .”

Porter then pulled out a whiteboard on air and argued, “For every dollar that we invest in IRS enforcement, of the most wealthy Americans, . . . we can recover $5 in taxes that are owed to the rest of us.”

This isn’t even remotely close to the truth. Only about 4 percent of the money is for taxpayer “assistance.” Most of it is for audits and investigations.

William Henck, a former IRS lawyer who was forced to leave a 30-year-long career with the agency in 2017 after becoming a whistleblower, recently told Fox News: “The idea that they’re going to open things up and go after these big billionaires and large corporations is quite frankly bullsh**.

“The big corporations and the billionaires are probably sitting back laughing right now,” he said.

Politics & Policy

Sweet Victory!


I debated Yale professor David Blight the other day, over whether Trump should be prosecuted, in an Oxford-style debate put on by Intelligence Squared. I’m happy to report that I won.

Of course, there’s a vote beforehand and afterwards, and whoever has moved the most people wins. I started out with something like 81 percent against me and in favor of the pro-prosecution resolution and 5 percent with me. By the end it was roughly (I didn’t take notes) 71 percent in favor of the resolution and 15 percent against, so that was a win — and I’m sure if I had had another hour, I could have gotten the number down to 69 or 68 percent. Anyway, it was a lot of fun, and the audio of the debate will be on the Intelligence Squared podcast sometime soon.

Woke Culture

Why Are We Still Rushing toward the Abyss?


In response to Transitioning Three-Year-Olds

Maddy, we discussed this a little on the Editors podcast the other day, but I’ll ask the question here, too. It’s usually the case that the rest of the English-speaking world is at the vanguard of cultural insanity, with the U.S. only catching up later. So why is it that the U.K. is stepping back from the abyss on this issue while we are still rushing toward it?

Health Care

Fact-Checking a Clinical Activist


Caroline Downey had a great piece on the home page about Jack Turban, a controversial clinical activist described as “an advocate rather than a scientist” by Dr. Stephen Levine, a professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University.

Caroline discusses Turban’s most recent study on trans-identifying youth, the central claim of which — that social influence has nothing to do with it and should not be used to argue against medicalized gender transition — I have fact-checked for the Independent Women’s Forum.

As Leor Sapir wrote at City Journal: “That a study like this can pass the peer-review process unscathed, especially at a time when European countries are shutting down or putting severe restrictions on pediatric transition, is a sorry statement about the quality of knowledge gatekeeping in the medical research community.”

Politics & Policy

‘Don’t Run, Liz, Don’t Run’


Ron Brownstein is an incredibly shrewd political analyst, but this passage in his column about Liz Cheney’s political prospects strikes me as very fanciful:

In public polls, as many as one-fourth of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents reject Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen, or criticize his efforts to overturn the result and his role in the January 6 insurrection. The share of Trump critics is usually slightly higher among Republicans holding at least a four-year college degree—a group that was notably cooler toward him during his first run to the nomination in 2016 and that sharply moved away from the GOP in the 2018 and 2020 elections. Some of those voters have since soured on President Joe Biden and the Democrats, but Cheney could spend months reminding them why they rejected Trump in the first place. “Especially among college-educated and donor-class Republicans, I think she continues to just chip away at Trump,” Kristol said.

Whit Ayres, a longtime GOP pollster, believes that the core of Republican-leaning voters hostile to Trump is smaller—only about one in 10, rather than the roughly one in five suggested by some poll questions. But he believes a Cheney candidacy could reach beyond that circle to raise doubts among a much bigger group: Republicans who are neither hard-core Trump supporters or opponents, but are focused mostly on winning in 2024. Although Cheney might appeal solely to the thin sliver of die-hard Trump opponents “with a prophetic-moral case … about the importance of devotion to our democratic institutions and the U.S. Constitution,” Ayres said, that larger group might respond to “a very practical utilitarian case” that Trump has too much baggage to win a general election.

What this leaves out is that even voters hostile to Trump might not be enamored of a Republican politician who eagerly cooperated with Nancy Pelosi on the January 6 committee and whose political base is largely the mainstream media.

Cheney’s potential electoral audience is tiny, and as I argue in Politico today, it would make no sense for her to run for president.

The Economy

Kohl’s, Doctor Doom, and Inflation

A Kolh’s is seen in Broomfield, Colo., 2014 (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Yesterday, I noted that Walmart’s new outlook was less gloomy than only a few weeks ago. That was the good news. The bad news was that the company was benefiting, in part, from the way it was attracting more affluent customers (who are — presumably thanks to inflation — not feeling quite so affluent as before), another sign of the way in which spending patterns are shifting in the wake of inflation.

Meanwhile, the news from Kohl’s today is not so great.


Kohl’s Corp cut its full-year sales and profit forecasts on Thursday, squeezed by steeper discounts and higher costs amid dwindling demand for clothing and shoes in the face of high inflation, sending its shares down 5%.

The U.S. department store chain joined top retailers including Target Corp  and Best Buy Co to warn of a profit squeeze, as decades-high inflation has made Americans wary of opening their wallets for apparel and other discretionary goods.

The demand slump has left several retailers with bloated inventories, forcing them to offload excess stocks through steep discounts and clearance sales heading into the back-to-school season. Kohl’s is offering up to 80% discount on its website.

Kohl’s is taking a bigger hit as it caters to middle to low-income customers and leans toward more casual styles, which means it is unable to take advantage of resilient high-income consumers who have lifted sales of dressy clothing and high-end fashion.

Kohl’s has made its own missteps, but the broader message is interesting and may, of course, be a sign of a slowing economy.

The Fed, however, does not appear inclined to declare victory over inflation any time soon, nor should it.

The Financial Times:

Federal Reserve officials discussed the need to keep interest rates at levels that will restrict the US economy “for some time” in a bid to contain the highest inflation in roughly 40 years, according to an account of their most recent meeting.

Minutes from the meeting in July, when the US central bank raised its benchmark policy rate 0.75 percentage points for the second month in a row, signalled that policymakers were intent on pressing ahead with tightening monetary policy but aware of the risks of overdoing it.

Given the enormity of the inflation problem and “upside risks” to the outlook for price growth, officials supported raising interest rates to the point where they act as a drag on economic growth.

Raising rates to such a level would allow the Fed to increase them even “further, to appropriately restrictive levels, if inflation were to run higher than expected”, the minutes noted.

Some officials indicated that once rates had been raised to the point where they were cooling down the economy “sufficiently”, it would probably “be appropriate to maintain that level to ensure that inflation was firmly on a path back” to the Fed’s target of 2 per cent.

If I had to guess, that probably means that the central bank will opt another 75bp hike (rather than 50bp) as its next move, even, as was also noted (you can see more in the full piece), that the “bulk” of the effect of the current round of rate increases has yet to be felt. Thus the changes in demand being seen by some retailers owes more or less everything to the effect of higher prices, very little (IMO) to interest rates.

For a more interest-rate sensitive area, look to housing.


Sales of previously owned homes fell nearly 6% in July compared with June, according to a monthly report from the National Association of Realtors.

The sales count declined to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 4.81 million units, the group added. It is the slowest sales pace since November 2015, with the exception of a brief plunge at the beginning of the Covid pandemic.

Sales dropped about 20% from the same month a year ago.

I’ve written more on what appears to be a darkening housing market here, here, and here.

However, even if the full effect of current rate hikes has yet to be felt, there is something to be said for choosing a 75bp message simply to send a message. Expectations matter when fighting inflation.

And, right on cue, here’s Henry K — Henry Kaufman, that is, or “Doctor Doom,” for those of us with long-enough memories, chatting to the FT:

[Kaufman] fears that today’s Fed under Jay Powell is failing to combat inflation with the resolve displayed by Paul Volcker, who aggressively raised interest rates while leading the central bank in the 1970s and 1980s.

“I am still waiting for him to act boldly — ‘boldly’ means he has to shock the market,” Kaufman said of Powell. “If you want to change someone’s view, if you want to change someone’s action, you can’t slap them on the hand, you have to hit them in the face.”

You can take the man out of Salomon Brothers, but you can’t take Salomon Brothers out of the man.

The FT:

Kaufman said the Fed chair erred after he made his pivot on inflation last November. Months passed between the time Powell warned of “persistently higher inflation” and the start of Fed interest rate increases in March.

“His forecast was right, his inaction was wrong,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman has, uh, noticed that real interest rates are still negative.

“Today, the inflation rate is higher than interest rates. Back then [August 1982], interest rates were higher than inflation rates. It’s quite a juxtaposition,” he said. “We have a long way to go. Inflation has to come down or interest rates will go higher.”

For more on how a “tightening,” when rates remain negative in real terms, may struggle to deliver low inflation, check out John Cochrane here.

Health Care

CDC Admission of Dysfunction Misses the Big Problems

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky testifies during a Senate hearing on the federal response to the coronavirus on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., January 11, 2022. (Shawn Thew/Pool via Reuters)

CDC director Rochelle Walensky went all out in discussing her agency’s terrible handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting need to overhaul that bureaucracy. At least that’s what she thinks and what the media happily report. The problem is that, while there is a lot of truth in what Walensky said, she omitted the CDC’s most blatant failures and the role that she played in these disasters. These failures, to be specific, are the CDC’s excessive caution, its misguided use of studies to impose its excessive risk aversion on all Americans, and the influence it exercised to keep schools closed (and, when they opened, to keep the kids masked and scared).

The CDC’s oversized risk aversion manifested itself in many ways, but the most obvious one was its eagerness to continue to recommend mask wearing late into the pandemic, which was especially harmful for children. The CDC loves mask wearing so much that it even issued a guidance suggesting that mask-wearing by travelers can help protect against “many diseases, including monkeypox.” This particular recommendation was laughed out of the room so fast that after a mere 18 hours the CDC removed the guidance. This little fact matters, since politicians with a taste for mandates remain eager to use CDC guidelines to justify their intrusive actions.

The criticism that the CDC is overly cautious is levelled against it by many people. Overcaution is a real problem, and it would be hard to address in part because the agency was created to focus on disease prevention, thus causing it to discount, or even to ignore altogether, other consequences that likely arise from its single-minded efforts to mitigate disease.

The second problem with the CDC, yet to be mentioned by Walensky, is, in my opinion, even worse. The agency has proven itself to be incurably political, no matter who is in the White House. As all Americans now know, it’s heavily influenced by union representatives. At the extreme, the CDC is even corruptible. It has also been shown to misuse or misrepresent data, and it has turned to junk-science studies to bolster its case for an eviction moratorium, for mask mandates, and for fear in general.

But the greatest CDC blunder of them all was its awful guidance on school closures and masking schoolchildren. While many industrialized nations’ kids were back in school at the end of 2020 and for the start of the 2021–22 school year, here, many states kept kids learning — “learning” — next to nothing from home long after the economy was reopened and people, even teachers, were dining out and going on vacations. This was thanks to CDC guidance on school closures. Again, it is now well known that one part of the guidance was written by leaders of the largest teachers’ union. Adding insult to injury, the CDC ignored the many studies, dating back to the summer of 2020, showing that it is safe for kids, teachers, and community members for children to attend school in person. It also ignored the evidence that remote learning was a disaster.

When the CDC said that it was finally okay to go back to school, the kids were still advised to wear masks to protect teachers, even though most teachers were vaccinated. This guidance was followed scrupulously by many eager administrators (including by the ones at my vaccinated kids’ high school well into 2022).

As late as February 2022, I wrote the following:

More recently, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky was questioned by members of the House’s Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations about the agency’s guidance on continued mask wearing in school.

Members on both sides of the aisle seemed uneasy with school mask mandates, and some noted that the studies used by the agency to justify its continued requirements had been debunked. The guidance was at odds with available evidence and with what most other countries were doing without an apparent increase in health risks.

Did this line of questioning make a difference? No. Walensky acknowledged the “limitations” of the mask studies but refused to change a thing. And so, many kids as young as 2 will continue to be masked at school.

It’s infuriating, especially since the guidance will likely change when enough Democrat-led states have lifted their own mandates. So much for following science.

Which is exactly what happened.

So count me as one of those who are skeptical that Walensky, who is part of the problem, will change the agency in any way that improves its operation. What I believe is that she will be able to achieve what she is truly after: a bigger budget for the CDC and more power to force states to follow its often-unscientific dictates.


China’s Foreign Ministry Suggests 9/11 Was an Inside Job

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian attends a news conference in Beijing, China, April 8, 2020. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian recently shared a meme strongly implying that America was behind the 9/11 attacks:

This is hardly the first time that a CCP Wolf Warrior’s social-media foray has resulted in an international embarrassment for Beijing. Yet Zhao apparently considers his post so impressive that, as of this afternoon, it remains pinned to the top of his Twitter page.


John Fetterman Has Big Weaknesses

Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman stands on stage before speaking at a rally in Erie, Pa., August 12, 2022. (Quinn Glabicki/Reuters)

If you ask the typical online conservative who’s been following the Pennsylvania Senate race closely what stands out the most about Democrat John Fetterman, they’ll probably mention Fetterman pulling a gun on a black jogger back in 2013. It’s a particularly unflattering portrait of the Democratic nominee:

In 2013, when he was mayor, Mr. Fetterman used his shotgun to stop an unarmed Black jogger and detain him, telling the police that he had heard shots fired near his home and spotted the man running, according to the police report. “Fetterman continued to yell and state that he knows this male was shooting,” the police report says. Two other people told police they had heard several shots as well.An officer who patted down the man, Christopher Miyares, then 28, found no weapons. The officer noted that Mr. Miyares was wearing running clothes and headphones. Mr. Miyares was released.

Fetterman wasn’t a cop, didn’t have a badge, and didn’t have any legal authority to detain that man at gunpoint. In a television interview shortly afterwords, Fetterman said, “I believe I did the right thing, but I may have broken the law during the course of it.” (Ya think?) At the time, local reporters asked, fairly, whether Fetterman escaped any investigation, charges, or consequences because of his position as mayor.

Let’s face it, if Fetterman had an “R” after his name instead of a “D,” he would be as widely decried as George Zimmerman, painted as a bullying white aspiring vigilante who regarded every black man he saw as a likely criminal. But because Fetterman is the Democratic nominee in a key race, that incident is just an innocent misunderstanding, instead of an abuse of power and authority.

The commercials from the Oz campaign and NRSC are painting Fetterman as soft on crime, and I’m sure they’ve got a lot of focus group and research data indicating that will be an effective message. But you have to wonder how the race would have looked if, a few months ago as Fetterman began his stroke recovery, Oz or the NRSC ran a bunch of “giant racist thug John Fetterman pulls his gun on innocent black men” ads on media targeting African-Americans.

If nothing else, Oz talking about the incident would make Fetterman spend time insisting his gun-toting vigilante days were just long-forgotten mistakes.