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Before yesterdayPolitics – The American Conservative

Biden’s Immigration Policies Are Killing People

The tragic suffocation deaths of 53 illegal border-crossers in a trailer truck in Texas are a horrific reminder that the Biden administration’s open-border immigration policies continue to act as an irresistible magnet, pulling hundreds of thousands of migrants from countries around the world to risk life and limb in a dangerous journey to reach our porous southern frontier. The supply of would-be migrants is inexhaustible: people who put themselves and family members, sometimes even unaccompanied children, in the hands of criminal smugglers in order to claw their way into the developed world.

While they may be desperate, these illegal migrants still calculate their decision to travel based on the message they receive from the authorities in the destination country. And that message from the Biden administration is wholly irresponsible. Even in acknowledging the mass suffocation deaths, DHS Secretary Mayorkas, one of the chief architects of Biden’s destructive immigration policies, still refuses to use his megaphone to tell people not to come because they will be turned back.

Unwilling to acknowledge any responsibility at all, Mayorkas tweeted: “I am heartbroken by the tragic loss of life today and am praying for those still fighting for their lives. Far too many lives have been lost as individuals – including families, women, and children – take this dangerous journey.” Mayorkas knows they take this “dangerous journey” because Biden’s policies hold out the promise of gaining entry into the U.S.

In another era, genuine humanitarian voices on the left might have called out Mayorkas’s hypocrisy, but for those who want to harness open-border policies to remake the world, immigration, legal or illegal, is always right—regardless of how much it undermines the rule of law or disrupts families and communities, or, indeed, who dies along the way.

Instead of acknowledging responsibility for stoking clandestine immigration and the resulting chaos and death it causes, the Biden administration has gone full speed ahead, blurring the distinction between legal and illegal entry. As if current U.S. legal quotas, welcoming approximately one million annual immigrants, were not generous enough, many in the Biden administration are hell-bent on luring and admitting hundreds of thousands of clandestine migrants who have traveled on a “dangerous journey” to our southern border.

Once these migrants reach the border, the Biden administration twists existing federal statutes, using such schemes as “catch and release” and distorting concepts like “public-interest parole,” to allow them to remain in the country. It is more than sobering to see a president callously undermine due process, in effect telling lawful immigrants and their families in the U.S., who may have waited years for legal admission, that the rule of law in our country really does not matter.

Beyond their impact on the United States, another result of these lawless immigration policies is the emergence of massive international criminal-smuggling networks, which move people as chattel. It is not yet documented, but it is likely that during the Biden administration human smuggling has become even more profitable a criminal enterprise than illicit narcotics trafficking into the U.S. Such smuggling networks are responsible for countless unrecorded cases of human trafficking, extortion, disappearances, and death. Clandestine migration is not a victimless crime, and Mayorkas cannot pretend he bears no responsibility for these tragedies.

One lie often repeated about our globalized world is the claim that unrestrained immigration is not only desirable, but inevitable. But even a superficial comparison between Trump and Biden’s border policies makes clear that a sustained and enforced message from the White House that the United States is not open to illegal migrants has far-reaching consequences.

Deaths and disappearances of clandestine migrants in the Americas rose from 798 in the final year of the Trump administration to 1,248 in Biden’s first year. These are non-partisan data compiled by the International Organization for Migration—no Trump ally—on migrants worldwide moving into and across the Americas, most if not all of whom intend to enter the U.S. This increase in fatalities directly reflects migrants’ decisions to travel based on open-border policies Biden announced to the world upon his arrival in the White House.

If a president uses his bully pulpit and backs up his word with consequential border-security policies, his message will spread everywhere, from teeming cities in Pakistan to isolated hamlets in Ecuador. A truly humanitarian immigration policy would not lure desperate migrants to our border, but would convince them there is a legal process or no process at all. Secretary Mayorkas should explain why his broken heart does not move him to advocate for a change to Biden’s anti-humanitarian immigration policies.

Phillip Linderman is a retired career diplomat whose work for the State Department often focused on U.S. border security, international travel, and migration policies.

The post Biden’s Immigration Policies Are Killing People appeared first on The American Conservative.

Is Glenn Youngkin Running for President?

WEST HOLLYWOOD—Here in California this past week, my city council voted to defund the sheriff’s department. But West Hollywood isn’t the only American neighborhood that’s given up on laying down the law. The sheriffs at Mar-A-Lago also appear to be off duty.

My late mentor Mark Perry called Harry Truman “more Democrat than American,” in reference to the revulsion by the 33rd president to his successor, Dwight Eisenhower, joining forces with the GOP. But Truman’s most notorious political observation extends properly to the party he hated: if you want a friend in Republican politics, get a dog.

Two months after former President Donald Trump looked to have the Midas touch, it’s open season on the American antipope.

We’ve been here before, with doubters galore of this Donald Trump guy. But, it should be said, it has not been quite like this in some six or seven years. Looking forward to 2024, the Republican Party seems poised for another open presidential primary.

The stark, sudden reality on this front reportedly has Forty-Five ginned up to declare his intention to become Forty-Seven—and right now, folks.

With late-millennial politicas denouncing the man in front of Congress, the Paladin of Palm Beach is not content to gut it out through what he sees as shaping up to be a low, dishonest summer. They’re calling it the summer of Trump,” the future president beamed in 2015.

Is 2022 about to be an encore? Now, as then, Trump’s rivals do not care. They were dead wrong seven years ago; who’s right this time?

For one, has anyone gotten smarter? Are the alternatives to Trump anything more than “Bush league”? The Readers were subjected to my treatment of Florida Governor Ron Desantis last week. The intriguing (if doomed) prospect of a President Mike Pence will have to be saved for another.

Let’s dive in now on what I’ll call the “Republican third circuit.”

Governor Glenn Youngkin, of my native Virginia, is licking his chops to move to a (slightly) better river than the James in Richmond. It was just as a Youngkin associate, wearing a Youngkin hat, told me in the snack shop at NatCon II last autumn: the Governor has Potomac fever.

Youngkin would be the first president born in the Commonwealth since Woodrow Wilson, and only the second since before the state served as the damned headquarters of the wrong side of what Johnny Cash called our bloody brother war. Virginia, with some reason, feels it’s paid its dues for another turn at the White House.

And the former Carlyle Group co-CEO feels like he knows how to spot an opportunity: maybe filming some sort of commercial geared at becoming commander-in-chief, definitely booming up to New York for donor confabs, and wading into nasty politics at the venerable Virginia Military Institute. Youngkin has put his posse on the board of the state military academy, sniffing a chance at a conservative comeback two years after our national Summer of Love.

It’s an interesting fight to pick—one Youngkin evidently relishes: the fight over the schools. As a former board member of a Virginia state university and product of the Commonwealth’s public schools, I can attest to this much of a Jeffersonian legacy in that land: don’t mess with education. Left-wing overreach in the learning domain got Youngkin elected. And he’s hoping it could get him promoted 100 miles up North. He’s no Trumpist, but Trumpists cheered his victory last autumn. Youngkin’s appeal is weirdly singular.  

Speaking of military academies, a bonafide product of a citadel of our national defense would like to be president more than just about anybody. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeooriginally of Orange County, but more notably of the famed West Point “class of ‘86”—is showing every indication of, at least officially, running against his former boss. He’s got ads out not in New York or California, but in Iowa and South Carolina. He’s tanned, rested, and less enormous. No one can outwork him.

And speaking of The Citadel, former Palmetto State governor and Turtle Bay grandee Nikki Haley says not to count her out. I’ll bet big money she’s not the Republican nominee, but that doesn’t mean she’s not personally working to ward off recession through purchases of plane tickets to Iowa. Thank you, Madam Ambassador.

What the hell is going on? Two main theories.

First: anyone not named Ron DeSantis is banking, contra 2016, that a consolidated opponent to Trump will emerge before the primaries (which are still a year and a half away) and that it won’t, for whatever reason, be the Florida governor. But, perhaps second: this tranche of players is betting, for all the bluster, that Trump is actually remarkably bad at being enduringly petty. 

Trump-Youngkin 2024? Trump-Pompeo? Trump-Haley? All more likely if they run.

The post Is Glenn Youngkin Running for President? appeared first on The American Conservative.

Out of Babylon

In the early years of the 6th century B.C., Judea was at war with Babylon. Twice the forces of the empire laid siege to the Jewish capital at Jerusalem, as the disobedient vassal refused to pay tribute to the encroaching pagan power. At the end of the second siege, Nebuchadnezzar’s armies burnt the temple to the ground and razed the city’s walls, dragging the starved and siege-wearied Jews in captivity back to Babylon.

The ensuing exile has held a key place in the historical consciousness of Jews and Christians for 26 centuries now. Perhaps its most famous episode saw three of the Jews—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—refuse to worship a golden idol set up by Nebuchadnezzar. When the king had the recusants cast into a blazing furnace, an angel of the Lord appeared to preserve them from the flames.

When Nebuchadnezzar died at the impressive age of 80, the Jews remained in exile in Babylon. Three kings followed him in quick succession before Nabonidus’s rise brought a modicum of stability in the year 556.

Off in the west, Nebuchadnezzar’s brother-in-law faced trouble in his own kingdom. Astyages, the aging sovereign of the Median Empire, was in arms against his grandson. By some accounts a cruel and unjust ruler, the Median king had foreseen in a dream decades before that his daughter’s son would one day take his throne. His general Harpagus mutinied; the Median soldiers switched allegiances en masse. After three years of war, Astyages lost his kingdom.

But the new king had not yet had his fill of conquest. Upon winning Media in 550 B.C., he turned his sights westward to Lydia, a small but very wealthy kingdom in western Asia Minor. The campaign there was particularly nasty; after the first phase of conquest, a Lydian ally to whom the country’s seized treasure was entrusted took the money and hired a mercenary army. The king of the Medes met the rebellion in kind. He had brought the land to heel by the year 542.

Just a year before that, Nabonidus had returned to Babylon from a self-imposed exile. (A zealous religious innovator, he may have come in conflict with the clerical elite.) The return would be short-lived. Babylon was the last power in the region that could rival the rising empire. Conquering armies pushed quickly south, and by 539, Nabonidus’ kingdom had fallen, a generation after Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem. The grandson of Astyages stood alone on the field of power in Western Asia—the greatest conqueror the world had seen so far.

The story of his rise is a bloody one, full of the death that comes along with war and the treachery that comes along with government. Yet he is remembered largely as a merciful ruler. Upon the completion of his final conquest, he sent God’s chosen people back to the land that had been promised them—allowing them, like all under his rule, to freely practice the religion of their fathers. In Jerusalem, the long work of rebuilding the temple began; in Babylon, the new emperor inscribed on a clay cylinder a decree announcing the return of captives to their homelands and the restoration of their national traditions. The magnanimous conqueror, of course, was Cyrus the Great.


The 2022 International Religious Freedom Summit convened in Washington this past week. At a kickoff event on Monday morning, summit co-chair Katrina Lantos Swett invoked the Persian king’s legacy. (Swett, the daughter of Holocaust survivor and U.S. congressman Tom Lantos, graduated from Yale at 18 and went on to earn a Ph.D. in history in Europe before embarking on a career devoted to the defense of human rights.) In an interpretation stretching back at least to the last century, she cast Cyrus’ declaration as a very early predecessor of the modern tradition of religious liberty and universal rights.

Meanwhile the summit’s other co-chair, Sam Brownback, described in his Monday morning remarks an innate hostility between government and religion. (Ambassador Brownback, genial and disarming, introduces himself as “Sam.” He represented Kansas in both the House and the Senate, then served as the state’s governor, before accepting President Trump’s appointment as ambassador-at-large for religious freedom.) Government is naturally opposed to religion, the ambassador said, because it gives people something to believe in that transcends and precedes the state. He reiterated the point in front of the full summit crowd on Tuesday, with the additional prophecy that, “Ultimately the kingdom of God will not be subdued by the kingdom of man.”

Does the history of free religious practice stretch back to the establishment of the world’s first imperial superpower, or is government by nature an enemy of religion? The former seems more plausible, not least of all because empire by design neutralizes (as best it can) the sectarian and ethnic conflicts that endure in the absence of a unifying force like Cyrus. In fact, it could be argued that a genuine liberty is only possible in the presence of a Cyrus figure, who dispels anarchy and furnishes the necessary conditions for freedom in practice. Though the language of religious freedom is intensely libertarian, the reality of religious freedom requires very high state capacity and a strong activist government.

This is just one among a number of tensions that religious-freedom activists, the summit’s conveners and speakers chief among them, are still trying to work out. Hand-in-hand with it is the tension between the abstract philosophy of rights and freedoms on the one hand, and the flesh-and-blood urgency of persecution on the other. Perhaps the most pressing case at present is Nigeria, where Islamic militants are committing horrific and persistent genocide against the Christian, especially Catholic, population.

Like the Jews in Babylon, it may be that oppressed religious minorities today can only be delivered by actual counterforce. Frank Wolf, the retired U.S. congressman from Virginia, understands this, calling for an empowered special envoy from the U.S. government to address the Nigerian crisis. At present, however, the U.S. Department of State does not even list Nigeria among the Countries of Particular Concern.

Though the human cost of genocide is more than enough to demand our attention, Nigeria is especially important in light of discussions of empire and religion, and of geopolitical realism. A conquest of the democratic and still-diverse country would provide radical Islam a bypass around the Sahara Desert, and thus a gateway into sub-Saharan Africa. The potential for such a passage to reshape balances of power and the global state of affairs can hardly be overstated.


Another key question is whether freedom of religion also entails freedom from religion. One speaker actually said so in as many words. Others were more subtle—including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who in video remarks celebrated the freedom “to follow whichever belief system we embrace, or to choose not to follow any belief system at all.” Beside the fact that “not to follow any belief system at all” is a nonsensical proposition, this comment raises substantive concerns. If a sound doctrine of religious freedom is rooted in man’s being ordered toward the Divine, would it not be contradictory to suggest an implicit right to non-religion?

In remarks heavy on foreign policy, Mike Pompeo quoted Alexis de Tocqueville: “Liberty regards religion as its companion in all its battles and its triumphs.” Swapping “irreligion” into the sentiment would render a rather shallow understanding of “liberty”—certainly not the one Tocqueville observed as foundational to the American character.

Other speakers were much more forceful in their defenses of public religion as a necessary aspect of true freedom. Yasonna Laoly, Indonesia’s minister of law and human rights, even seemed to offer a measured defense of his nation’s blasphemy law as “intended for maintaining harmony” in a pluralistic society.

Alejandro Giammattei Falla, president of Guatemala, likewise presented somewhat unorthodox remarks. Making use of a translator, the president spoke about his efforts to protect life from conception to natural death by means of law. For this protection of human life, Giammattei has been denounced as a violator of human rights (the supposed right to an abortion) by international organizations, on par with the leaders of nations like Cuba and North Korea.

Yet Giammattei is unshaken, insisting, “I will do what my conscience dictates, and what my faith dictates.” Under his vision of freedom, true religion must be allowed to work with full force out in the public square. What he seeks is both justice and social peace in a complex, potentially divided modern world, and “only principles and values based in God can guarantee that peace.”

He seems to understand, like Cyrus, that liberty requires a strong hand. “If I’m named a dictator for the sake of religious freedom,” Giammattei announces, “I’m okay with that title.”

The post Out of Babylon appeared first on The American Conservative.

Canada: An Introduction for American Conservatives

Canada, at that time often called the Dominion of Canada, was founded on July 1, 1867, 155 years ago, with the passage of the British North America Act in the British House of Commons in London. It was informally a union of two historic nations in the northern half of North America: the English Canadians and the French-Canadians (mostly centered in Quebec). The Aboriginal peoples were included, insofar as they were traditionally considered to be under the special protection of the Crown. 

In 1867, Canada was organized into four provinces—Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia—each with local legislatures and Premiers, and a countrywide federal legislature and prime minister based in Ottawa. Canada later expanded to the ten provinces and three northern territories that constitute it today. The prime minister is the head of the largest party, or a majority coalition of parties, in the Canadian House of Commons, where executive and legislative functions are conjoined. The members of legislatures are elected from geographic electoral districts of roughly equal population (though greatly varying territorial size) colloquially called ridings, based on “first-past-the-post” voting. That means that the candidate with the largest number of votes (even if that number is considerably less than 50 percent, given various “third parties” in contention) wins the riding. There is also a Senate that consists of appointed members, and is far weaker than the U.S. Senate. The appointed governor general and provincial lieutenant governors are representatives of the monarch (currently Queen Elizabeth II) and give royal assent to legislation. The various areas of federal and provincial jurisdiction have been carefully delineated in the British North America Act.

Until 1896, Canada was mostly dominated by the Conservatives/“Bleus,” led by the illustrious statesmen Sir John A. Macdonald (Canada’s first prime minister) and Sir George-Étienne Cartier. The Dominion of Canada, with its founding principles of “peace, order, and good government,” was profoundly anti-revolutionary. However, after 1896, Canada has tended to elect Liberal governments, based on the overwhelming support of Quebec voters in federal elections. In 1957, the staunch Tory, John G. Diefenbaker, won a minority government, and, a year later, one of the largest majorities in Canadian history (partially based on unusual support from Quebec voters). However, in 1962, Diefenbaker’s majority was reduced to a minority government.

The federal election of 1963 was one of the most crucial in Canadian history. Diefenbaker faced Liberal Lester B. Pearson. As aptly told by Canadian traditionalist philosopher George Grant, in his 1965 book, Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism, Diefenbaker was sand-bagged by the managerial and pollster expertise of the North American capitalist classes, who resented Diefenbaker’s resistance to accepting U.S. nuclear weapons in Canada. Pearson began a series of major reforms, the most symbolic of which was the replacement of the traditional Red Ensign with the maple-leaf design as the official flag of Canada. (The Red Ensign included the Union Jack in the upper left corner, as well as the shield of Canada’s traditional coat of arms, on a background of scarlet, royal red.) 

Although it was not extensively debated at the time, many political theorists see the change of a country’s flag as a marker of “regime change.” This eventually became the case in Canada, especially with the ascendancy of Liberal Pierre Elliott Trudeau after 1968, dubbed “Trudeaumania.” The term “Dominion of Canada” all but disappeared from official documents and was replaced by “Government of Canada.” Most countries identify themselves as a distinct realm (whether a kingdom or republic), separate from the government. The change in nomenclature foreshadowed the primacy of the federal government apparatus in Canada today.

Ever since this transformative period, the Canadian right has been fighting one losing battle after another. One of the central reasons for the Canadian right’s continuing failure since the 1960s has been the ongoing establishment of vast liberal-leaning media, juridical, academic, educational, bureaucratic, and corporate structures—a nexus of interests that certain American and European critics have called “the managerial-therapeutic regime”—which could be characterized as socially liberal and economically conservative. These multifarious structures and arrangements are also sometimes called the “Trudeaupia.” There is also the fact that “North American” pop-culture is the primary “lived cultural reality” for most people in Canada, which tends to reinforce socially liberal, consumerist/consumptionist, and antinomian attitudes, especially among the young. Unlike most other Western countries, where countervailing factors of various kinds exist to the hegemony of the managerial-therapeutic regime, current-day Canada probably is an example of such a managerial-therapeutic system in its “purest” form.

It could be argued that social, political, cultural, and economic life in Canada—lacking, in fact, either an authentic right or left—has therefore become less subject to popular will and democratic input. Indeed, it could be called “post-democratic.” The lack of robust democratic participation and input in Canada should be of concern to theorists across the political spectrum. Insofar as the system maintains itself through massive “prior constraint” against a very broad array of ideas, beliefs, and opinions, its pretense of upholding democracy is questionable. Such a profound lack of equilibrium is radically harmful to a more “ideal-typical” form and exercise of democracy.

Canada today may be seen as combining the most liberal aspects of America and Europe; indeed, Canada may be (apart from a few Scandinavian countries) the world’s most liberal society. Like some European countries such as the Netherlands, Canada is extremely socially liberal, as demonstrated by the Canadian federal government’s total acceptance of same-sex marriage. Although a vote on the issue took place in the federal House of Commons in 2005, it was with direct referral to the Canadian Supreme Court. What conservative critics call “judicial activism” is in Canada a comparatively late but now flourishing development, which only really got underway with the introduction of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) into the Canadian Constitution. 

The Charter, clearly a left-liberal rather than classical liberal document, essentially enshrined virtually the entire agenda of Pierre Elliott Trudeau as the highest law of the land. After Brian Mulroney’s huge Progressive Conservative (that was the official name of the party from 1942 to 2003) majorities in 1984 and 1988, whose record in regard to social and cultural conservatism was abysmal, Canada’s federal Liberal Party (headed by Jean Chrétien) comfortably won the elections of 1993, 1997, and 2000. Liberal Paul Martin Jr. was reduced to a minority government (a plurality of seats in the House of Commons) in 2004. 

Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party in power (2006-2015) tended towards centrism and moderation, despite the overheated rhetoric of his left-wing critics. This was partly due to the fact that Harper held only a minority government in 2006-2011, failing to win a majority in the 2006 and 2008 elections. His majority government in 2011-2015 was also a disappointment for “small-c conservatives” (the term by which more ideological conservatives in Canada are known—as opposed to the “big-C” Conservative Party, which has been less ideologically conservative) and social conservatives. In any case, he failed to break the pattern of the almost-inevitable return of the Liberals to power. And he did nothing to dismantle or convert liberal redoubts in the media, academia, and the judiciary. 

Justin Trudeau (Pierre’s son) won a strong Liberal majority in 2015. Although he was reduced to a minority government in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, he still comfortably governed, mainly with the support of the New Democratic Party (NDP), which is even further left. (There have been a fair number of “third parties” in Canadian history, of which the NDP is among the most prominent.)

Canada has now embraced some of the more negative aspects of American society—such as the excesses of pop-culture, political correctness, and growing litigiousness. However, Canada lacks many aspects of America that may temper the aforementioned trends. Some of these countervailing factors in the United States include such things as the far greater importance of the military, the far greater presence of organized religion (both in regard to fundamentalist Protestants and traditionalist Catholics), homeschooling as a major social trend, the existence of hundreds of traditional-leaning private colleges, and a large network of right-leaning think-tanks and publications. The United States also has a more robust tradition of independent-minded, left-wing, anti-corporate, ecological, or agrarian dissent, such as that typified by Ralph Nader, Christopher Lasch, Rachel Carson, Helen and Scott Nearing, and Wendell Berry. Nevertheless, despite the better position of the right in America, any realistic assessment must note the increasing prominence of progressive elites in America, who have captured one institution after another. America is the global center of “political correctness.”

The Canadian medical system is stringently socialized to an extent unheard of in the United States. While most medical services do not require payment, the trade-off is that most medical care is subject to severe rationing, which in practice amounts to long delays. Canadians are not permitted to buy extra medical services, so wealthier persons often end up going to the United States for medical treatment. There are now 1.3 million people in Ontario (of a total population of about 14.5 million people) without a family doctor. The Canadian medical system is often seen as a central feature of “Canadian values” that are alleged to make Canada definitively more compassionate, caring, and ethical, than the said-to-be morally indifferent United States. Many Canadians are willing to accede to virtually anything the government demands—if they can only be assured of quality medical care. 

Canada’s control of its borders is also very lackadaisical. Canada has been characterized by very high rates of immigration, and has wholeheartedly embraced multiculturalism, affirmative action (called “employment equity” in Canada), and diversity with startling intensity. Canada’s official immigration numbers were more than twice as large as those of the United States, per capita, for over three decades, and are now probably among the highest in the world. With a population now reaching about 38 million persons, Canada had been receiving about a quarter-million immigrants every year. (The Liberals recently raised the numbers to 300,000, and, in 2021 and coming years, to over 400,000 a year.) 

Unlike the United States, fundamentalist Christianity plays virtually no role in Canada. Relative to the United States, the debate about abortion and many other social issues is considered effectively closed. Moreover, Canada’s gun-control laws are also extremely strict (at least as far as legal gun ownership). While there are incredibly onerous restrictions on legal gun ownership, the penalties for violent crimes committed with guns have been loosened up by Justin Trudeau, in contrast to Harper’s mandatory-minimum sentencing. 

In another extreme contrast to the United States, in relation to its geographic size and NATO responsibilities, Canada has virtually no military (the entire armed forces, including army, navy, air force, and reserves, number about 92,600 men and women) and there is major disdain throughout much of Canadian society (and especially among elites) towards the military. In practice, this weakness in international security has resulted in decades of morally and politically debilitating dependency on the United States. 

Canadians appear to be characterized both today and in their earlier history by an unusual deference to governmental authority. Before 1965, Canada probably was a substantively more conservative society than the United States (in the better sense of conservatism), but now, when the paradigm at the top has been fundamentally altered—in the wake of the Pierre “Trudeau revolution”—most Canadians are manifestly willing to follow the new, politically correct line from Ottawa. There is virtually no heritage of independence, self-reliance, or belief in rambunctious free speech in Canada. Indeed, many Canadian officials and citizens point proudly to their aggressive and sweeping laws restricting freedom of expression under often too broadly defined “hate speech” laws as being highly necessary. They often say they do not have “the American hang-ups” about restricting freedom of speech.

What may be said in Canada’s favor is that it is still a comparatively law-abiding and peaceful society, with a far more pleasant quality of life in Canadian large cities than is so in America’s cities. The medical system, however imperfect, helps Canadians avoid the catastrophic personal medical costs frequently incurred in the U.S. However, Canada is changing in certain ways. For example, the laws are enforced in increasingly asymmetrical ways, especially as regards protests, based on the “victim status” of the perpetrators.

It could be concluded from the combination of points above that right-of-center positions are rarely seen or heard in Canada (except perhaps in the Western Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as in the ambiguous case of the now mostly secular, French-speaking, Quebec nationalism, which, after the 1960s, has been frequently characterized by a powerful separatist movement). Left-liberals predominate in the Canadian media (especially in the taxpayer-funded CBC—the “BBC of Canada”—yet better described as a TV and radio version of NPR/PBS with the reach of America’s mainstream news networks). Left-liberals also predominate in the education system (from daycare to universities), in the judiciary and justice system, in the government bureaucracies, in so-called high culture (typified by government-subsidized “CanLit”), in North American pop-culture and “youth culture,” in the big Canadian banks and corporations, and (on most issues) in the leaderships of the main churches in Canada. The result is that any existing remaining right-of-center tendencies are being continually ground down. There is also the panoply of special-interest groups, who receive extensive government and corporate funding. The social, political, and cultural situation of conservatives in Canada is desperate indeed.

Decades of “wearing down” has resulted in the ever-more-limited ability of a conservative—be he a social, political, or cultural conservative—to participate and influence the Canadian polity. And participation in those debates is, after all, essential to democracy itself.

Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based Canadian writer and historical researcher.


The post Canada: An Introduction for American Conservatives appeared first on The American Conservative.

Lessons from a Turkish Coup

The idea of the “Deep State” took root in the American mind in response to the “Resistance” against Donald Trump’s election as president in 2016. Proponents of the term use it casually, as an epithet against the political establishment, often without due regard to the concrete historical experiences that gave rise to it. Critics of the idea claim that it oversimplifies complex governmental dynamics and amounts to nothing more than political fabulism or conspiracy-mongering. 

But this issue is not just a food fight for cable TV. Considering it in polemical terms obscures the troubling reality of the problem and its deeply damaging impact on American governance.

Part of the difficulty with the Deep State discourse in America is that the concept is a foreign import, requiring some translation. It comes from Turkey, a country with a rich, ancient, and sophisticated non-Western civilizational heritage. Turkey also has a long, complex, and difficult experience with Westernized modernity and democratization, including at least four military coups d’etat since 1960—the most recent a failed bloody putsch in 2016. Nevertheless, with the rise of the administrative state in the United States, particularly in the wake of the Cold War and the first decades of the 21st century, the Deep State idea serves as a useful Turkish contribution to political discussion in a society once considered by many to be poor soil for such activities due to its liberal political culture, history, and legal and governmental traditions.

Deep State operations have been a fact of life in Turkey since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk established the secularist Turkish Republic on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire in 1923. The term itself, Derin Devlet in Turkish, emerged by the late 20th century to explain the actual workings of the ideologically rigid and authoritarian Kemalist regime, in contrast to its formal, Western-influenced constitutional arrangements. Among Turkish citizens of different political persuasions, raised in a political culture in which public military pressure campaigns, threats, and outright coups against nominal civilian rulers had become commonplace, the Deep State has long been understood as encompassing the informal, extrajudicial, or illegal networks among state bureaucracies and oligarchic interests. 

Of particular importance to the Kemalist Deep State were the military and security services, business interests including mainstream media establishments, academia, and organized crime operations. These networks operated behind the scenes of formal political life, with scant regard for, and even openly hostile to, the formal authority of elected civilians. They functioned as the formation and implementation nexus of any policy the Kemalist establishment deemed important to maintaining its ascendancy. 

The Kemalists portrayed every issue as a matter of vital national security. This made it easier for them to assert their prerogatives in a country that had long been vulnerable to instability at home and manipulation and meddling from abroad. Moreover, the Deep State thrived on the corruption inevitable in any bureaucratic environment lacking the transparency that, in theory, is a bedrock of republican government.


As an illustration of the principle, consider the following historical sketch of what is by now a universally accepted example of a Deep State at work:

The Deep State had long been accustomed to public deference to its dominance of state and society. Eventually, however, it faced a genuine challenge from an unconventional politician, animated largely by profound dissatisfaction with the status quo that, after simmering for decades, finally erupted into view first among more traditional, non-elite elements. Jealous of what it considered its rightful equities, the Deep State launched a coordinated and wide-ranging counterattack. The goal was to eliminate from public life not only the challenger himself but all manifestations of opposition to the dominant ideology that served as the basis of authority and power.

At the tip of the spear was the media, dominated by corrupt corporate oligarchs who entrenched their position by cultivating and maintaining close relations with the state. It was staffed by a journalistic elite deeply indoctrinated in the official ideology of the Deep State, submissive to the permanent bureaucracy. The media barons and their subordinates willfully operated under the direction of the state’s censorship proponents, dutifully inciting public fear of instability, and occasionally even lacking in self-awareness as to their role as establishment tools. “Mainstream” politicians, bureaucrats, the judiciary, military leaders, and academic experts made headlines on a daily basis by accusing the challenger and his supporters—directly or through purported leaks—of exhibiting anti-progressive attitudes, denying science, and plotting violent insurrection. 

Military leaders, claiming to represent the most revered institution in the country, appropriated the public’s respect for serving soldiers as an endorsement of the leadership’s political interests and post-retirement perks. Protecting their position in the state hierarchy, the generals issued veiled warnings and eventually directly confronted the challenger precisely at the moment it appeared he might succeed. They reiterated their commitment to the dominant ideology and conducted high-profile military maneuvers near the capital to show the world they meant business. They investigated and drew public attention to the alleged threat posed by the challenger and his supporters. Among the generals’ favorite targets were the adherents to ancient religious rites, demonized as enemies of the state. The military’s eager journalistic handmaidens underscored to anyone who didn’t get the message that the military was ready to act. 

Prominent members of the elite managerial and professorial class, ensconced in their stylish metropolitan bubbles and generally clueless about the wider society, called on the military to save the establishment, which they equated with democracy itself. They feared what they saw as the rising power of the political reactionaries in their cheap suits, their religious obscurantism, and their unwashed supporters from the hinterlands. 

Mass demonstrations were organized, castigating the traditional religious values important to the challenger’s voters as inherently theocratic and unacceptable. They underscored the message that when it came to political thought, no diversity was to be permitted. Conformity to elite delineation of what constituted acceptable discourse was rigidly enforced. Media organs that on rare occasions permitted deviation from the establishment view were silenced—sometimes their stay in the penalty box was short-lived, on other occasions it was permanent. 

The political leader was subjected to investigation and prosecution, hounded from office, and banned from the public square. Anti-establishment activists and critics, political moderates who simply questioned the wisdom of the established order, pious citizens, and others were threatened with exposure as closet reactionaries, shunned, and purged from public life. They were condemned by judges and bureaucrats relying on establishment media “reporting” as evidence of criminality. 

Education bureaucrats stepped up their efforts to indoctrinate school children in the dominant ideology and undercut religious instruction and values. Many students, particularly women, who did not affirmatively support the ideological line were denied access to universities. 

The enforcement of the dominant ideology and the establishment regime, one top general proclaimed, would continue for 1,000 years under the watchful eye of the security apparatus.


Perhaps some readers will see in the above a description of America in the Trump era. In fact, it is a general account of a seminal event in modern Turkish history, the Deep State operation par excellence: the “post-modern” coup launched on February 28, 1997, against the government of Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan and his Islam-rooted Refah (Welfare) Party.

This coup is often referred to in Turkey as “the February 28 Process,” an acknowledgment of its campaign-like nature and continuation in force even after the Erbakan government was brought down in June of that year. It stands as a testament to precisely the kind of surreptitious political engineering that has long been common in parts of the world thought by many in the West to be insufficiently evolved and enlightened. In this case, the coup orchestrators saw themselves as the vanguard of progress against the backwardness of religiosity and traditional social structures. That there are similarities between these events in Turkey and the current American political climate, including a strong polarization between a progressive elite cadre and a more traditional populace, suggests the model applies in the era of the administrative state even across distinct cultural environments.

Despite the judicial banning of Refah and the Turkish military’s insistence that the February 28 Process would endure, the political movement once nurtured by Erbakan came roaring back. The charismatic Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who as a young Erbakan associate and popular mayor of Istanbul was stripped of his office and jailed as part of the accompanying crackdown, returned to politics as the leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). He became prime minister shortly after the AKP won its first election in 2002. Erdogan’s AKP benefitted from the fervent commitment of its core supporters, the growing public sense of the secularist elite’s disconnectedness from the aspirations and interests of the electorate, and the generally catastrophic political performance of the secularist governments that followed Refah. All in all, the AKP’s emergence was a resounding rebuke to the February 28 Process and its pretensions.

Or so some might have thought. Rather than accept the AKP as a reflection of deeply rooted political realities, the Kemalist establishment, blinded by ideology and power interests, resumed what it perceived as its existential struggle against the forces of reaction—acting, in the words of an old Kemalist saying, “for the people, in spite of the people.” Erdogan and his party faced daily pressure from the generals, including open threats of intervention, military-orchestrated efforts by the Kemalist judiciary to destabilize the government through novel interpretations of Turkish election laws, and even a Constitutional Court case in 2008 to outlaw the AKP that was defeated by the slimmest margin amid elite concerns of a popular backlash.

The last chance for compromise on the rules of the game in Turkey ended on July 15, 2016, with an attempted military coup that left about 250 people dead and another 2,194 injured. For Erdogan, who in 2014 became Turkey’s first popularly elected president, the February 28 Process had been a politically formative experience. He and his associates had learned well the Kemalist regime’s harsh lessons. Their response to the failed 2016 coup—which ran aground after Erdogan called for his supporters to take to the streets in protest—was a broad purge of the state bureaucracy along the lines established by earlier military purges against their enemies. The targets included the followers of Fethullah Gulen, an erstwhile AKP ally, who under pressure from the Kemalists left Turkey for the U.S. shortly after the February 28 Process began. Gulen’s own movement, once influential in Turkish bureaucratic life, is widely believed in Turkey to have been behind the coup attempt. The other targets were the Kemalists themselves, in the military apparatus and elsewhere.

America is not Turkey. Nevertheless, the ease with which the Deep State narrative has planted itself in the American political consciousness owes a great deal to the increasingly evident factors America now indisputably shares with that particular Turkish experience. The consolidation of elite, oligarchic, managerial, bureaucratic, and ideological class interests at the apex of power, the casual equation of those “progressive” interests with the public good, the eagerness with which many ruling class representatives seek to manipulate and limit public discourse, and demonize non-progressive opponents as unenlightened, deplorable, traitorous, and unworthy of consideration—with scant regard to the consequences of such framing—suggest little willingness to accommodate. Indeed, among American elites, notions of prudence and tolerance have given way to a radical impulse to impose upon society—for the people, in spite of the people. 

Perhaps the congressional elections in November will provide an opportunity for America’s Kemalists to take stock and reassess their trajectory. But if the Turkish experience with the Deep State is any guide, don’t count on it.

Nicholas Spyridon Kass served with the U.S. Government for 31 years, retiring on January 20, 2021. Most recently he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Director for European Affairs (twice) and Director of Intelligence Programs at the White House/National Security Council, and Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Europe at the National Intelligence Council. A Turkish and Kurdish speaker, for many years he was at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey. He also served at the Central Intelligence Agency, including as Intelligence Briefer to the Director of Central Intelligence, and was awarded for unique contributions to the CIA HUMINT mission. Now in the private sector, he is responsible for international corporate affairs at the Alexandrion Group, headquartered near Bucharest, Romania. He can be found on LinkedIn.

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Insubstantial Due Process

The landmark decision released by the Supreme Court last week in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health corrects a moral and constitutional travesty. The Court concluded in its opinion: “Abortion presents a profound moral question. The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and Casey arrogated that authority. We now overrule those decisions and return that authority to the people and their elected representatives.” For decades, even prominent legal scholars on the left have admitted that Roe is bad law. The falsehood that abortion is a right enshrined in the Constitution has finally come to an end with Dobbs.

But this is not the end of the conversation about the legal reasoning in Dobbs. As Justice Thomas says in his concurring opinion, the Court has correctly applied the rules of its substantive due process jurisprudence to find there is no substantive due process right to abortion. He explains that the Court has long analyzed whether a substantive-due-process right exists under the Fourteenth Amendment by determining whether the right is “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition [or] implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.” The Dobbs Court, he says, is correct that there was no history or tradition in America at the time the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified that justifies a right to abortion. But, Justice Thomas goes on, the Court should not be using that substantive-due-process analysis at all.

For decades, the Court has been using the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to declare fundamental rights that are not explicitly written in the Constitution. The relevant clause requires that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Looking at the history of due-process rights, Justice Thomas points out that due process means simply that a certain process is due to citizens before their rights to life, liberty, or property can be taken away. For example, if the government intends to deprive a criminal of life or liberty, or intends to confiscate a person’s property under a certain law, the person is constitutionally entitled to due process. This usually means reasonable notice of the government’s intention, and a fair hearing on the merits of the government’s claim. The Courts have turned “due process” into something far beyond the process that a person is due.

Why does this matter? First of all, proponents of originalist legal theory want to interpret the text correctly, period. The goal is not simply to get “the right outcome,” but to make sure judges are doing their work properly and interpreting the law before them according to its meaning. By accepting the substantive-due-process framework created through many decades of precedent, the majority opinion in Dobbs is accepting an incorrect reading of the Fourteenth Amendment. As a matter of principle, judges should not do that. One can argue that precedent has its place and that it is not expedient to unwind a long-established and well-used precedent. But if one is committed to the idea that judges must be restrained to interpret the law as written without weighing the potential practical effects of their judgments, then Justice Thomas is correct and the concept of substantive due process should be eliminated from American law.

Besides the fact that it lacks a basis in the Constitution, Justice Thomas points to three reasons substantive due process is “particularly dangerous.” First, the doctrine exalts judges above the democratically elected branches of government by allowing judges to use the Due Process Clause to divine new rights rather than for the limited task of ensuring the people are given due process (notice and a fair hearing). Abortion is only one of many “rights” the Supreme Court has found hidden within the Due Process Clause. Second, the creation of new fundamental rights complicates and distorts other areas of constitutional law. For example, once a new fundamental right is found for one class of persons, the Court must determine under the Equal Protection Clause if other classes of persons are entitled to the right. Third, the creation of rights not found explicitly in the Constitution is dangerous ground with a tradition of frightful results. Justice Thomas explains that in the Dred Scott case, “the Court invoked a species of substantive due process to announce that Congress was powerless to emancipate slaves brought into the federal territories.” 

This is not to say that there is no such thing as an unenumerated right. Surely the people have rights that are not explicitly written in the Constitution. The Ninth Amendment says this explicitly: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” The point is not that there are no unenumerated rights, but that those rights clearly do not come from the Due Process Clause. As we celebrate the Dobbs ruling, conservatives ought to study and take seriously Justice Thomas’s concurring opinion. 

Thomas’s clear prose points out both the theoretical and practical problems of continuing to accept grave errors in constitutional interpretation. Precedent and an unwillingness to upset the tangled web the Court has woven should not overrule the duty of judges to interpret the law faithfully. As we look with hope on a Court finally willing to make bold, honest rulings regardless of the political consequences (see Dobbs, Carson v. Makin, Bruen, and Kennedy v. Bremerton School District), perhaps conservative originalists can even dare to hope that the Court will be bold enough to unwind doctrines such as substantive due process that have caused such abuses of judicial power.

Frank DeVito is an attorney and a current fellow in the Napa Legal Good Counselor Project. His work has previously been published in The American Conservative, the Quinnipiac Law Review, the Penn State Online Law Review, and the Federalist. He lives in eastern Pennsylvania with his wife and three young children.

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Pro-Lifers on Offense

The overturn of Roe is a matter of great rejoicing. It is also only a little cloud, the end of the beginning, which promises rains and storms to come. America has put the question of human and legal personhood to the people and their elected representatives before, and, a house divided, it did not go happily. 

We who have prayed and labored for life have had 49 years to consider what might come after Roe. But a people of little faith, too small an imagination, we still seem caught by surprise. Now is a moment when America can be a laboratory of democratic self-rule and each state an experiment, yet disappointingly Gov. Glenn Younkin in Virginia and Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida have only summoned forth the will and creativity to do the bare minimum expected by pro-life voters, a 15-week restriction, more liberal than France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland. Redder states, too, with courageous trigger laws in place that ban the murder of the unborn, might still have anticipated the response of the left. This was only ever to be a start; shouldn’t you have known where you were going? 

Reaction, yes. Reactive, no. It is time for the champions of life to go on the offense, and there ought to have been a play. The most emotive rhetoric of the apologists for slaughter and the actions of businesses and nonprofits in the last few days have both been entirely unsurprising. This is in no way to say that anyone must concede the language and claims of abortionists, but rather that, already knowing well their words and their tactics, red states might have largely preempted them. Foster systems and adoption processes and state medical systems could have been proactively reformed. Governors could beat Congress in creative promotion of marriage and family, whether it be through housing help, child tax credits, or policies that improve employment for men without college degrees. Corporations and organizations willing to fund abortion travel should be punished for helping kill a citizen of a state that protects life. You cannot cast down the high places of Moloch without resisting Mammon, too.   

All this assumes that pro-life politicians mean what they say. But we in fact know that many of them don’t, and that many are as confused about the relationship between international corporations and the businesses of their own states as they are about the imago Dei in the human creature. A telling quote appeared in a recent New Yorker feature, courtesy of Mac Stipanovich, the chief of staff for former Florida Governor Bob Martinez. 

There was always an element of the Republican Party that was batshit crazy. They had lots of different names—they were John Birchers, they were “movement conservatives,” they were the religious right. And we did what every other Republican candidate did: we exploited them. We got them to the polls. We talked about abortion. We promised—and we did nothing. They could grumble, but their choices were limited.

Well, we always suspected. 

Stipanovich helpfully continues. “So what happened? Trump opened Pandora’s box and let them out.” And so it was. We owe in large part the overturn of Roe to a president who didn’t know how things were supposed to work and didn’t care. While the Dobbs opinion was written by Justice Samuel Alito, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, and the most forceful concurrence came from Bush Sr.-appointed Justice Clarence Thomas—who once again is receiving the special opprobrium of a Joe Biden-figureheaded left—it could not have been decided without Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett. But as President Trump said in an interview with Fox News after the decision was announced Friday, “God made the decision.” 

The hardest political battles have only just begun in what is a long spiritual war. And it is the religious right, Christians, who should now let their imaginations grow and, in faith, step forward to meet the challenge. Yes, in love, the faithful church in America has long sought to meet the needs of families, mothers, orphans, and the unborn in generosity of time and money. All this must continue. But no longer is it enough to be a third leg to an unsteady coalition, letting financial interest and national security set the governing agenda. The time has come to lead. Let us demand that the election this November reflect the dream of a better land, and hold those officials who have made vain promises to account. Yet even as we are grateful for what has been won thus far, we remember that what the Court gives, and what presidents give, can be taken away. So put not your trust in princes, but nevertheless hope.  

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The Contempt of the World

Thomas à Kempis, author of the 15th-century classic The Imitation of Christ, wrote that for the Christian, “it is sweet to despise the world and to serve God.” Pro-abortion activists have made it clear that the hatred runs both ways.

In the run-up to and the immediate aftermath of the Court’s decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health, pro-abortion activists have defaced Catholic churches across the country. Rioters have stolen tabernacles and decapitated statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pro-abortion protestors vandalized a church in Virginia and left what appeared to be an accelerant-laced fire in a nearby mulch bed. St. Colman Catholic Church in Shady Spring, West Virginia, was burned to the ground in an apparent act of arson.

I do not wish to claim that Catholics are being “persecuted”; American Christians have an exaggerated sense of victimhood, and their persecution, such as it is, pales in comparison to that of Christians in the Islamic world or Christians in the Church’s early centuries. I do think, however, that the reaction to the Dobbs decision and the sense among both its supporters and opponents that Christianity lies at the heart of the abortion debate points to the intractable divide between Christianity and the world, which endures in spite of progressive Christians’ efforts to capitulate to the spirit of the age.

There is an old idea within the Catholic intellectual tradition called contemptus mundi—contempt of the world. It denotes the believer’s obligation to spurn the temporal world for higher things. Scripture makes clear that the “contempt” comes from the other direction, too. Christ warns the disciples that “the world” may hate them as it hated Him. The Pauline epistles are laced with warnings about the dangers and wickedness of “the world.” Even Christ’s call to be “in the world,” but not “of the world” presupposes an antagonism between the temporal world and authentic Christian faith.

Some Christians reject the notion that this antagonism persists in liberal modernity. They think the modern world is basically good and praiseworthy. They insist that if a tension exists between the Church and modernity, it is the Church that must change.

This view dominates segments of organized Christianity. You can hardly drive by a mainline Protestant church in the United States without seeing a gay pride flag. Even the Catholic Church, famously antipathetic to the world and its princes, softened its posture considerably after the Second Vatican Council. As the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano wrote in 1974, the modern Church has been eager to find “points of convergence between the Church’s thinking and the mentality characteristic of our time,” and administer, in the words of Pope John XXIII, “the medicine of mercy rather than severity.”

But the Catholic Church, however mealy-mouthed its prelates, has never wavered at the institutional level on the issue of abortion. And since abortion is the central sacrament of liberal modernity—representing as it does the complete freedom of the individual against unchosen obligations—the Church finds herself the natural and inevitable object of the world’s hatred. This antipathy between the Church and the world has endured across generations, because, as the Swiss-Italian theologian Romano Amerio observed, the Church insists upon those virtues most deficient in each era:

One can therefore conclude to a general rule that while Catholicism’s antagonism to the world is unchanging, the forms of the antagonism change when the state of the world requires a change in that opposition to be declared and maintained on particular points of belief or in particular historical circumstances. Thus the Church exalts poverty when the world (and the Church herself) worships riches, mortification of the flesh when the world follows the enticements of the three appetites, reason when the world turns to illogicality and sentimentalism, faith when the world is swollen with the pride of knowledge.

Amerio points to the thirteenth century, when the Church confronted “violence and greed” with the “spirit of meekness and poverty in the great Fransiscan movement,” and the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the Church responded to the modernism crisis by “condemning the principle of the independence of reason.” It is why the Church today is accused of being “obsessed” with sexuality; the world insists that the Church’s teaching is wrong, and the Church insists, with equal vigor, that she is right.

So as churches are defaced in response to the Court’s ruling in Dobbs, the proper response is not, as some progressive Christians have done, to insist that the overturn of Roe is a “bastardization” of Christianity, that Jesus Christ would have been fine with abortion, and that the Church must change to meet the demands of the times. Neither is the proper response to whine and whimper on social media about the “persecution” of Christians. The proper response is the one Kempis identified in the apostles: “they had their conversation in this world blameless, so humble and meek, without any malice or deceit, that they even rejoiced to suffer rebukes for Thy Name’s sake, and what things the world hateth, they embraced with great joy.”

Instead of complaining on television or adapting ourselves to the spirit of the age, Christians ought to consider that if the world doesn’t hate us, we might be doing it wrong.

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Biden at 500 Days

Joe Biden at about 500 days in office is testing the limits of those who claimed 501 days ago that “anybody” would be better than Donald Trump. With the threat of nuclear war now well alive, Biden presides over the highest gas prices, the worst inflation, and the saddest stock market in generations. It is not morning in America anymore. It’s late on Sunday afternoon, and it’s raining.

Start with his record-breaking vacation time. It became a meme during the Trump years to criticize him for weekends at Mar-a-Lago, and to point out how much the Secret Service paid him for their accommodations. Yet as he marks Day 500, Biden is preparing for another weekend scram, and is on track to take more vacation than any of his predecessors. Since taking office, Biden has spent 191 days away from the White House vacationing in either of his two Delaware properties, at Camp David, or on Nantucket. Trump spent 381 days away from the White House over four years.

And as for those Secret Service room bills, the Service pays them for every president. Members of the Service are prohibited from accepting “gifts,” even the free accommodations necessary to protect the president. At Biden’s home in Delaware he charged the Secret Service $2,200 a month in rent for a cottage on his property when he was vice president. He made $66,000 in total off of the Service in 2013, and while contemporary figures are not available, they are certainly tallying up as they did under Trump and the others. Hillary bought a second house in upstate New York just for the Secret Service, anticipating her victory in 2016.

But what of the time Joe Biden has spent actually in the White House? How have the 500 days gone so far? Biden succeeded primarily in engineering a new form of war in Ukraine—not quite cold and not quite hot. American special forces may soon be on the ground in Kiev and American ships in the Black Sea. The Ukrainians have boasted how American intelligence and targeting information have been used to kill Russian ships, tanks, and generals. With no regard for what leakage into the global black-arms market might mean, Biden is sending billions of top-notch weapons into the nation with the avowed aim of bleeding out Russia. When something like this was tried in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the U.S. had the common courtesy to do it through the CIA and keep at least some of it secret. No more.

Vladimir Putin in return has reminded the world several times that he has nuclear weapons he is not all that opposed to using. Joe Biden has succeeded where presidents since 1989 have failed: He sends Americans to bed at night worrying about nuclear holocaust. That is his greatest foreign-policy accomplishment absent the disastrous evacuation from Afghanistan and a soon-to-really-happen trip to forgive the Saudis for their sins and become the first president since the 1970s to overtly beg for more oil.

For the record, Trump was the only president in some 20 years who did not start a new war during his term and the only one in that same period who made an effort to seek peace with North Korea, a country Joe Biden continues to ignore as official policy. When asked in Seoul if he had a message for Kim Jong Un, Biden said, “Hello. Period.”

In other Leader of the Free World accomplishments, Biden has been snubbed by Mexico, which refused to attend the Summit of the Americas because Biden would not also invite Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, all Cold War hissy-fits Joe is keeping alive for a new millennium. “There cannot be a summit if all countries are not invited,” Mexico’s president said at a press conference. “Or there can be one but that is to continue with all politics of interventionism.” It really is 1980 again.

Additional leadership has been shown in Europe, where Germany and France agreed to U.S. demands to stop buying Russian energy—but just not for a couple more months, okay? They have stopped buying energy delivered by ship as a face-saving gesture, just as they keep lapping up the massive pipeline-delivered materials. But Biden did travel twice to Europe and declared “America is back,” so there’s that.

As for domestic achievements, everyone in America knows about Joe’s gas pains. Biden apparently sees no connection between his restrictions on domestic production and sanctions against Russian energy, cutting supply at a time when demand is rising, and inflationary prices. The good news is, we imposed sanctions on Russia—well, no, it’s not good news; Russia is still fighting away in Ukraine, which means the sanctions have failed in their primary function. Biden will give them more time, apparently, as the U.S. is not seeking negotiations to otherwise curtail or end the fight.

Of course, Joe did finally pass a $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending bill, which in no way could have contributed to inflation by dumping money into an economy still chasing goods scarce from supply-chain issues. He also signed that $1.9 trillion Covid-relief bill which also could not have contributed to inflation by dumping money into an economy still chasing goods scarce from supply-chain issues. At least wages are up, which pours more money into an already inflationary economy.

The media actually listed Joe’s Biggest Achievements for us in case they were hard to pick, including appointing a boatload of judges, 80 percent of whom are women and 53 percent are people of color (“judges that reflect our nation”).

Biden has also strategically secured America by overturning the Trump ban on transgender people serving in the military.

In fact, the White House brags it has the first majority non-white Cabinet in history, with the most women of any Cabinet, including the first woman Treasury Secretary, the first LGBTQ and Native American Cabinet officials, and the first woman Director of National Intelligence.

But it is always best to go to the source, and the White House has kept its own list of “record firsts” in Joe’s presidency. You can read them yourself, but you’ll run into the same problem everyone else does: it is all boasting with no links, sources, or details attached. So we hear, for instance, that Joe was the “most significant by economic impact of any first-year president,” but nothing more. Um, okay.

A lot of the rest of the stuff—e.g., unemployment and child poverty—really did get better by the numbers, but there is not a word about how anything Joe did caused those things to improve. It is kind of like taking credit for a comet that passed overhead on your watch, especially given how much “not our fault” garbage this administration tosses around when someone brings up a topic like inflation.

As for issues important to Democrats like gun control, abortion, and climate change, Biden rates a zero. The EPA continues to recommend Flint, Michigan, residents use filters in their homes to remove lead from public water. Joe has driven home the idea that unless a president has a super-majority in both houses and the Supreme Court, you better not expect much from him. Indeed, Biden can’t even wrangle his own party, with two key Democratic senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, stymieing much of his legislative agenda.

On the other side of the aisle, Biden predicted that Republicans would have an “epiphany” after Trump left office, but that has not yet materialized. The Democratic midterm loss scheduled for November 2022 will not help. And we haven’t even talked about Biden’s dead-man-walking lifestyle and walk-it-back gaffes.

So it has only been 500 days. There’s plenty of time still left.

Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent.

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George Soros Targets Hispanic Media

George Soros is a very smart man. He’s an expert in the art of slowly but steadily effecting policy changes in the U.S., because he understands that big change happens locally.

In the last decade, his goal was a “progressive” reform of criminal justice. How would you achieve that? By donating millions to members of the House and Senate who have hardly agreed on a single piece of significant legislation over that whole period? Of course not. George Soros quietly donated his way into dozens of district attorneys offices in some of the biggest cities in America.

What was the goal a few years later? Changing the education system. He again poured millions into NGOs and think tanks to “advise” local school boards with DEI programs and the like.

Now, George Soros seems to have a different target: Hispanic media.

Democrats are wise to be worried about the state of the Hispanic vote. A recent YouGov poll showed that in a hypothetical Trump vs. Biden election, 38 percent of Hispanics would vote for Trump while only 29 percent would vote for Biden. And according to a Quinnipiac poll, only a quarter of Hispanics approve of Biden’s performance as a president.

Enter Latino Media Network, a startup led by two Democratic party operatives, Jess Morales Rocketto and Stephanie Valencia, both of whom worked in the Obama administration, the Hillary Clinton campaign, and the DNC.

The group announced having raised $80 million to break into Latino media, which raised some eyebrows. And who is behind of a large chunk of the funding? Apparently, George Soros. Lakestar Finance, an investment entity affiliated with Soros Fund Management, is providing most of the funding for Latino Media Network.

They started with a splash, announcing a $60 million acquisition of 18 Spanish-speaking radio stations from Televisa-Univisión in the largest Hispanic centers in the U.S. such as Los Angeles, New York City, Miami, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, which would give them access to about a third of the country’s Hispanics.

The most significant acquisition is that of Radio Mambí, the landmark conservative Hispanic station in Miami, mostly funded and led by Cuban-Americans from South Florida, which had already received threats and calls for censorship by Democratic politicians such as Rep. Darren Soto.

A Radio Mambí insider told El American exclusively that Televisa-Univision had already agreed to sell the stations to Salem Media Group, a Christian media group, for $46 million, but Latino Media Network came with $60 million, and, of course, won the bid. The source told El American that the purchase is nothing but “a desperate move by the Democrats who, in an election year where they have everything to lose, could not afford to let a Christian-conservative broadcaster take a large part of the radio market with reach to the Latino community.”

Of course, Morales Rocketto and Valencia claim that their pursuit is not partisan, which is why they included noted Republican voices among their board of directors, such as Al Cárdenas. Cárdenas is a Republican lobbyist who served as the legal advisor of Derwick Associates, a Venezuelan company that made its founder, Alejandro Betancourt, rich thanks to 11 fraudulent contracts with the Venezuelan regime.

Despite such efforts to keep up appearances, however, the acquisition of Radio Mambí is a clear attempt to silence Hispanic conservative voices.

George Soros operates differently from most billionaire political donors. He largely focuses on local races and politics, trying to spark change at the grassroots level, which takes longer but has deeper, more lasting effects. After all, Americans generally trust that their local bureaucrats and public servants are not ideologues, but normal boring people doing normal boring jobs. Over a decade ago he started donating to local district-attorney races to elect progressive prosecutors who favored bail reform and other progressive policies. Between 2015 and 2019, Soros and his PACs spent over $17 million on district-attorney races, helping to elect some of the most controversial D.A.s in the country, such as George Gascon in Los Angeles, Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, Kim Foxx in Chicago, and now-recalled San Francisco D.A. Chesa Boudin.

And the results are plain for everyone to see. Most of these cities were epicenters of the Defund the Police movement, and crime has increased across the board. Walgreens locations are closing all over San Francisco due to constant shoplifting. There was a 30 percent increase in homicides in 2020 and a 24 percent decrease in arrests across the country. Philadelphia recorded 521 homicides, the most since 1990, and more than New York and L.A. About 75 Soros-funded D.A.s control crime prosecution for 72 million Americans all across the country.

When George Soros puts money into local change in America, two things necessarily follow: success, from Soros’s perspective, and disaster. This makes Soros’s moves on Hispanic media deeply concerning.

Conservative Hispanic media is already scarce. Aside from a few radio stations in South Texas and Miami, the only bilingual conservative Hispanic outlet in the U.S. is El American, a digital outlet that launched in 2020 (where I happen to work), which has also received threats. Evelyn Pérez-Verdia, an advisor of the Nikki Fried campaign, called upon the FBI to investigate El American, while former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell called the outlet a “national security threat.”

What makes the move an obvious attempt to silence conservative Hispanic outlets is the way Radio Mambí is funded. The outlet relies on donations and ads from anti-socialist and conservative Cuban Americans who will no longer contribute. What’s more, according to a source contacted by El American, the station relies heavily on three or four conservative presenters who produce tens of thousands of dollars in ads thanks to their high ratings. Some of them already are threatening to leave; if they do, Radio Mambí will go out of business.

Latino Media Network and Televisa-Univisión are trying to make a smooth transition by promising no changes in the programming and juicy bonuses for some of the station’s stars. If donors, sponsors, and presenters don’t take the bait, however, George Soros just spent $60 million to drive dozens of people out of business and silence alternative voices in the Hispanic communities.

Will this be one of the first times Soros’s money proves ineffective? It is hard to tell, but conservatives across the U.S. would be wise in supporting grassroots media for Hispanics. Only initiative, not inertia, can build a Hispanic conservative coalition.

Edgar Beltrán is a journalist from Venezuela and the deputy editor of El American.

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A Defense of Ron DeSantis, Professional Politician 

WASHINGTON– This is not an endorsement. 

I plan to write at length on the 2024 campaign, which promises to be the greatest show on Earth. When I was on the primary path earlier this spring, Senate and governor’s primaries had presidential energy, an inevitable byproduct, one supposes, of not having a campaign to speak of in 2020. Donald Trump’s protestations about the result that year clearly have political staying power in part because of a generally felt sense that that year was unconscionably off. This has damaged everyone. President Brandon’s—er, Biden’s time in the White House, it is plain now, lacks some real punch. 

Another rival to the 45th president appears to be emerging, whose name isn’t Joe Biden.

Two basically superb treatments of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis were published this week. They were written by liberal journalists and DeSantis himself did not comply with the coverage, but they’re pretty good. If interested, you can read the palatial  “Can Ron DeSantis Displace Donald Trump as the G.O.P.’s Combatant-in-Chief?” by Dexter Filkins, and Ronny & Nancy of Tallahassee from Tina Nguyen in Puck, which expands on prior coverage of the impossibly powerful presence of DeSantis’s wife, Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis. That relationship is compared there, of course, to Ronald and Nancy Reagan. The assertion is that their Floridian pairing has taken on the appearance of a true Sunshine State duumvirate. DeSantis’ old Yale, Harvard and military chums seem less important.

Close perhaps only with his wife, the 40th president and former California governor was shrouded, ultimately, in enigma, and that comparison is now being made to the current Florida governor. Such relationships in politics can be a double-edged sword: enviable stuff in good times (who wouldn’t want to be in love?), but the source of all evil in bad times. If DeSantis was less successful, this duo would be compared negatively to the likes of the unknowable leftist president Daniel Ortaga and his spouse Rosario Murillo of Nicaragua, and not to a legendary Republican predecessor. Indeed, what is probably most unusual about DeSantis, now a major contender in the presidential arena, is that he is a certified introvert. 

Now to assert some “street cred” and a disclosure: Your writer voted for Trump in the 2016 primaries, and presidential elections, and if needed, one can poll my friends, girlfriends, and family as I shocked and awed them with enthusiasm from July 2015 on. In fact, I took him seriously from about May that year on, when front-runner Jeb Bush was running on trade protection authority for President Obama, or whatever. Trump presented what I felt was a more accurate snapshot of the state of the union: “This country is a hellhole.”  I remain today much the kind of voter I was then: If history had played differently, I would have gladly voted for Bernie Sanders over Jeb Bush, or whatever version of Marco Rubio we were on back then. But that time changed it all: My generation would be defined by a miserable street fight between right and left, not anti-establishment versus establishment. Besides, today the left is the American establishment, par excellence.  

And yet, doubts about Trump’s ability to change this country for the better surfaced from the beginning: the endless personnel carousel, the insidious refusal to play the ultimate presidential Trump card, appearing above-the-fray. Then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon told the Weekly Standard upon his August 2017 ouster: “The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over. … It’ll be something else. … And there’ll be all kinds of fights, and there’ll be good days and bad days, but that presidency is over.” And true enough, it was something else, and the world since March 2020 has made 2017-2019 seem like a pleasant hallucination, surely the main fount of Trump’s enduring appeal. Times were pretty great, even if we didn’t know it. 

But back to the future. 

Times columnist Ross Douthat sees a 2016 redux. Citing a very positive single poll for DeSantis in New Hampshire, Douthat diagnoses, “I read this as evidence DeSantis is consolidating the ideological, high-information conservative voter — the ‘movement’ bloc that Cruz won in 2016. Trump still has more of the disaffected, less-political, populist bloc.” I could not disagree more, and would gently remind the very talented Mr. Douthat that he picked Marco Rubio as the winner of the 2016 primary. DeSantis’s appeal is far less “Bible-thumping” (putting aside how religious Cruz really is, and putting aside the crude hatred of the faithful in corners of this country) than was Cruz’s image. DeSantis’s culture-warring is far more suited for new American fault lines, if you buy the now-infamous “Hochman Thesis.” 

Now, to “steelman” the DeSantis case. 

Florida in the age of the coronavirus has become a true countermodel, known not only in the rest of the United States, but positively notorious as well in Europe, as a place to collectively escape Western hysteria and do some business. Every day brings news of a fresh relocation, the latest being Ken Griffin’s bad boy hedge fund, appropriately named for these purposes Citadel, which is packing up from Chicago and getting on I-24 full-speed to Miami. Even Trump now lives most of the year closer to the Gulf of Mexico than Manhattan. Covid-19, its still-unexplained origins, and the schizophrenic reaction to it from the American establishment have supplanted 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, and the 2016 election as the touchstone of most Americans’ political lives. Especially conservatives. Especially younger votes. I turned thirty in July 2020, certifiably marking the closure of my childhood.

And so, politically maxed out, DeSantis is not Ted Cruz circa 2016 (please) but rather a combination of Trump in 2016 (a proven fighter) and Glenn Youngkin in 2021. He won’t revolt suburbanites, at least not in the same way. Aesthetically, DeSantis’s classic smarts and non-boomerism, played correctly, could engender him broader respect, or at least a less catatonic response from people who do not vote for him. One imagines him a relatively more palliative choice, one that won’t up the ante still further on America’s increasingly egregious gender divide. 

The rap on DeSantis from the hardcore, though, is that you can’t trust him.

Indeed, as Douthat’s audience on Twitter correctly responded to a poll he put out, opposition to DeSantis may intellectually come most passionately from “early Trump adopters.” In the most extreme critique, they see a Bushie in a nationalist’s clothing. The most incendiary condemnation surfaced in the Filkins dispatch is that the Florida governor is standoffish, impersonal, cold, imperious. That has not been my limited experience. In my one interaction, he was social, drank Cabernet Sauvignon, answered all questions politely, even when he began to doubt the response out of Washington on the pandemic, a lockdown response one reminds that was originally led by President Donald Trump (‘”late March [2020],’ DeSantis answered quickly, on when his doubts surfaced”). Sure enough, news of that fissure broke months later, with DeSantis saying he only wished he doubted Trump sooner.

It is probably true enough that DeSantis would not have moved the “Overton window” on what is possible in American politics as Trump did in 2016, putting an end to the stale Obama-era paradigm, drearily Fukuyaman in its own way. But if my coverage and sporadic access to political VIP’s has taught me anything, it is respect for an open will to power. Politicians are not philosophers, and if they are, they cannot be philosophers first. Results matter. DeSantis may have not been the man for 2017-2019, but in the Covid-19 complex (and attendant cultural revolution), the Florida governor found his crisis. He did not shrink from it. Despite his elite background, he distrusted the elite when it mattered most. 

The knock on getting through Harvard and Yale is not that that you are naturally stupid or evil (of course not, if anything the opposite), it’s that to get through those institutions today you have to become stupid or evil. But at age 43, that DeSantis comes out of those places then is a testament to his work ethic and discipline, not his ideology. By all evidence, a DeSantis administration would not be trojan-horsed old medicine. Not the “realism” and “restraint” of former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Not the “nationalism” of Ted Cruz (that speech happened). 

If one had to close out this case, age would be the determining factor. Now 76, Trump remains hilariously energetic for a man in his eighth decade. But the difference between the two men’s ages is greater than this writer’s lifespan. Finally having a president young enough for the job would feel like a jump off the high-dive. In the end, competence matters, too. If it really is the “Flight 93” era, then it would seem incumbent to remorselessly pick the most-skilled pilot. 

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Roe Falls: The End of the Beginning

Though it seems anecdotally that the inverse is more common, I found my way into the world of politics by virtue of being pro-life. It was in middle school that I first learned that the people of an alien culture coexisting beside my own still sacrificed children to demons, and did so in temples that aped healthcare clinics with priests masquerading as medical doctors. My horror was instinctive and demanded some kind of action, and I spent much of my time in the years that followed praying at clinics and marching in protests and advocating for the unborn in what little ways I could.

My entire worldview formed around this one, simple belief: Murdering babies is bad, and it ought to be illegal. Yet even in pro-life circles, and even in the last decade, that outcome seemed far from guaranteed. Everyone wanted to see Roe overturned, and most held out hope that someday it would be. But it was usually viewed as something off on the horizon—as the end goal of a struggle that may, if we were fortunate, see resolution in our lifetime.

It happened yesterday. After nearly half a century of wholesale industrial slaughter, a Supreme Court majority—comprising Samuel Alito, the three justices appointed by Donald Trump, John Roberts along for the ride, and Clarence Thomas concurring with a flamethrower—has overturned Roe v. Wade. In the opinion of the Court, Justice Alito writes that “the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion. Roe and Casey must be overruled, and the authority to regulate abortion must be returned to the people and their elected representatives.”

But this is not victory. In Dobbs, the Court did not strike down the sacrifice of children; it just struck down the mandatory sacrifice of children. As the last clause there suggests, the Court managed yesterday to affirm nothing more than the claim that “the Nation’s historical understanding of ordered liberty does not prevent the people’s elected representatives from deciding how abortion should be regulated.” A brief overview is given of what that looked like before Roe:

Until the latter part of the 20th century, there was no support in American law for a constitutional right to obtain an abortion. No state constitutional provision had recognized such a right. Until a few years before Roe, no federal or state court had recognized such a right. Nor had any scholarly treatise. Indeed, abortion had long been a crime in every single State. At common law, abortion was criminal in at least some stages of pregnancy and was regarded as unlawful and could have very serious consequences at all stages. American law followed the common law until a wave of statutory restrictions in the 1800s expanded criminal liability for abortions. By the time the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, three-quarters of the States had made abortion a crime at any stage of pregnancy.

This summary has the double effect of reminding how little foundation Roe had in American history and law, and suggesting how much damage—beyond, of course, the 63 million human victims—the Burger Court’s decision has inflicted. Virtually the entire legal and moral landscape of pre-Roe America on the question of a child’s right to life has been demolished. After 50 years of brutal damage to the conscience and Constitution of a nation effectively possessed, there can be no quick or easy return to the historic American consensus that murdering babies is bad, and ought to be illegal.

Roe is dead. That means the first phase of a cultural and spiritual war has been settled in our favor. But the war will go on, and new campaigns will see the conflict spill over into more than the cultural and spiritual domains.

The most devoted partisans of legal infant-sacrifice have already made it abundantly clear that they will wage violent jihad in its defense. Pregnancy centers are burning from coast to coast, Justice Brett Kavanaugh nearly met an assassin’s bullet, and organized terrorists are warning of more to come. This was predictable, or at least it should have been. Only once before in our history has the country been so divided over the fundamental rights of a human person; that conflict was resolved on a battlefield.

Then, too, the division was one of states against states. We learned at the cost of 600,000 American lives—just 1 percent of those already lost to the war started by Roe—that a Union cannot endure whose members cannot agree on what constitutes a human person deserving the law’s protection. Yet that is exactly the situation Dobbs now sends us hurtling towards. Many states will now affirm the most basic right bestowed on all human beings by their creator. Many, such as much-discussed Virginia, will try to broker an impossible compromise between the camps of life and death. Most important of all will be those states that commit themselves fully to Moloch’s cause. Notably leading the charge is Massachusetts, whose progressive Republican governor effectively declared the state a haven for abortion in post-Roe America, explicitly setting up one state of the Union in life-or-death conflict against a number of the others. This is not a path to enduring peace. It is political brinkmanship—not to mention murder by proxy.

Robert P. George, a right-liberal professor of philosophy well known for his committed pro-life stance, took to Twitter yesterday to encourage magnanimity halfway to victory, instructing fellow pro-lifers: “Please read Lincoln’s Second Inaugural and be guided by its spirit. Let us not exult over those of our fellow citizens—good people who are sincerely concerned about women’s welfare—who see the demise of Roe as a disaster. Malice towards none; charity for all.”

Outside the window of my office, in full view of my desk, stands a ten-foot-tall statue of David G. Farragut, the Tennessean admiral who fought for the Union in the first civil war. So my mind drifts instead toward the Battle of Mobile Bay:

Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead.

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Rules for Right-Wing Radicals

Rules for Anti-Radicals: A Practical Handbook for Defeating Leftism, by F. Paul Valone, (Bacchus USA Publications: March 2022), 383 pages.

One organizing problem Righties have is that our institutional knowledge isn’t shared. Our major conferences tend to be more about saying how right we are rather than sharing effective methods, and our most effective organizers are siloed. The strongest grassroots groups we have are in the pro-life and gun-rights movements, and those activists don’t talk to each other. Most of our organizers don’t write about their experiences, and the books we do produce too often prefer polemic to procedure.

Despite his background as a state legislator, H.L. Richardson’s classic Confrontational Politics emphasizes attitude and angle-of-approach more than nuts-and-bolts details. The 2009 history Home School Heroes: The Struggle and Triumph of Home Schooling in America, by Christopher Klicka and Josh Harris, is quite an interesting book, but its authors’ tendency to ascribe all credit for key moments to God skates over the mechanics of how exactly God’s mortal agents worked for His will. Any number of books by pugnacious professional conservatives who make a living spreading their ideas through words emphasize the importance of…well, pugnacity and spreading one’s ideas through words.

Which means we should take note when somebody tries a different approach. Case in point: the recently released Rules for Anti-Radicals, by F. Paul Valone, founder of Gun Rights North Carolina, a no-compromise grassroots state-level rights group focused on legislation. (Disclosure: A former North Carolina resident, I was once a member of GRNC and found its newsletter useful; this is the extent of my experience with Valone, with whom I have had neither personal nor professional interaction.) A departure from most books from people on the right side of the aisle, it offers not just a rant on how terrible Lefties are, but practical advice on how to achieve political goals based on things Valone and his organization have actually done. It’s detailed, thorough, and organized, which one would expect considering that Valone spent a couple of decades as a commercial airline pilot, and he’s frank about his desire for his book to become The Organizing Manual for the right-of-center.

The book has some notable flaws that should be discussed up front. Some are familiar weak spots, particularly among naturally pugnacious Righties of Valone’s generation: an overemphasis on Saul Alinsky; cracks about leftists being the real fascists; a view of leftism as a top-down hierarchy with powerful puppet-masters; a historical myopia on the history of leftist movements, in which American leftism began in the 1960s; disdain for opponents leading to credulousness (notably, citing an obvious internet forgery as an example of an actual antifa text). Other flaws come hand-in-hand with the book’s strengths. Paul Valone is a guy who has achieved successes with an uncompromising grassroots group focused on making a difference via the legislative process. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he feels the solution to [your columnist waves his hands at everything] is establishing lots and lots of no-compromise grassroots groups focused on making a difference via the legislative process. The result is that the book is strongest on that front and weaker on activism outside that process.

Valone divides activist action into economic, political, legal, and non-legislative. He is comfortably at home in the political and legal: passing or scuttling laws, getting politicians elected or defeated, and issuing stern legal letters or filing lawsuits. These are the best and most thorough sections of the book. He is less comfortable and less detailed on corporate campaigns, boycotts, and the like, but still much better than the stuff Righties usually get. Valone’s analysis of what makes a target susceptible to a boycott (“Will your supporters boycott the target? Does the target make money from your supporters? Is the target vulnerable to negative media? Will other groups pile on? Is the company otherwise vulnerable?”) is less sophisticated than the methods used by leftist groups to consider such things, but it’s likely to be eye-opening to people who haven’t considered what, other than a desire for revenge, actually goes into making boycotts possible.

On non-legislative action, Valone is weaker, in part because—like a lot of people on the right—he finds the tactics and strategies leftists use to be viscerally repulsive or pointless. (The nastiest tactic Valone recommends is doxxing, which he used successfully against journalists who published a database of CCW holders.) A memorable flowchart traces the decision-making process: Is a situation suited for economic pressure? or legal pressure? or political pressure? And if all answers are no, the path leads to a cartoon figure of a man with a giant screw protruding from his chest. Leftists are much better at this, both in terms of identifying opportunities for pressure and in finding alternatives if one target proves too challenging.

Valone is on stronger footing when he provides words of caution in other areas. He is quite down on some things pugnacious grassroots conservatives tend to very much like the idea of, such as bold civil disobedience (which he notes invites risk, particularly in hostile political environments: “wouldn’t you rather not be a felon?”). He is also, interestingly, skeptical of rallies. When Virginia gun-rights activists held a large rally in 2019, allies across the nation found it tremendously heartening. Not Valone. Asked to hold a similar rally in North Carolina, he replied:

If I were in Virginia, I’d organize a rally too. Do you know why? Because they already lost the election. They don’t have any recourse. We, on the other hand, have elections coming up in a few months, and we are suffering all the court-ordered redistricting and out-of-state money here that caused them to lose. So I can either spend all of our time, money, and sweat holding a rally, after which nothing will have changed, or I can expend it winning the 2020 elections. I plan to do the latter.

While Valone is not averse to lawsuits, he also offers cautions on the subject of legal action. The last few generations of Americans, raised on heroic civil-rights-movement tales, tend to think about litigation being used to change policy, but doing so requires specialized knowledge, is expensive, and the outcome is uncertain. Also, it’s a lot of work for you to make sure your attorneys and any co-litigants are on the same page as you. With Valone’s painful experiences in litigation have also come gains, so he shares valuable insight on hiring attorneys, recruiting plaintiffs, overseeing the process, and using the media.

Valone hammers home repeatedly something he does have in common with leftist organizers: the cold fact that you don’t win by educating people; you win by building power. And on the legislative front, the way you build power is to provide or deny the things politicians crave: votes, money, influence, and public accolades. Mere personal pugnacity does not suffice; you must show politicians that you are serious, that you represent a sizable constituency, that you can hurt them come election time, and that you are utterly persistent.

As Valone puts it, “you will identify three simple things: 1. The problem; 2. Who has the capability to solve the problem; and 3. What will motivate the person (or persons) to solve it.”  To do so, you must “embrace conflict,” “avoid compromise,” and “never compromise principle.” Compromise, in Valone’s view, not only undercuts your position, but provides an opening for corruption, which is not necessarily pure graft so much as serving one’s own self-interest over that of the people whom activists and ostensibly allied politicians are supposed to be serving.

In terms of political action, Valone prefers gaining power indirectly over running for office as an activist candidate, on the grounds that “it’s generally a whole lot more fun beating up politicians than getting beaten up.” Educating politicians doesn’t work—and if they’re opposed to you, efforts to change their mind by educating them will just teach them how to hurt you better. You need to pressure them, not teach them; if they do what you want, it doesn’t matter what they think. The name of the game is power, not access, and Valone is frank about the challenges involved, especially when you’re a grassroots organizer doing it with all-too-human volunteers.

In terms of organizational structure, Valone recommends a 501(c)(4) and a PAC. He provides helpful information on their requirements and uses, including how to prioritize the work. Unquestionably, the best parts of the book deal with herding legislators and getting them to pass or defeat the laws you’d like. This requires knowing well how the legislative process actually works, and Valone provides a concise but detailed overview, including the importance of spotting local idiosyncrasies and having multiple people to read hostile bills and check referenced statutes in order to make sure nothing slips by you—and then using the issues you find one at a time, to make sure legislation you oppose faces a new obstacle every step of its way to passage, a technique Valone calls “layered defense.”

On the flip side, he offers practical advice on drafting bills and finding sponsors (you want somebody in the majority who’s ideologically solid, not a loose cannon with respect to his or her party, electorally secure with good credibility, and on the committee that will hear your bill) and caring for the sponsor, to maintain and build that relationship, as well as how to make sure the bill actually makes it through—and how to deal with the various ways politicians and other players react to the pressure you put on.

Rules for Anti-Radicals is not the be-all and end-all of right-of-center grassroots organizing books that Valone wants it to be, but it is a detailed and useful guide to parts of organizing that the right side of the aisle needs to be using a lot more. It’s also a fun look at one man’s experience organizing on the right. And we need more of those! If you know of any good conservative activist memoirs, the more war stories the better, drop me a line at I’d love to review some.

And if you happen to be an effective conservative activist who has had a long career and a lot of insights and war stories that should be passed on, I’ll tell you what Robert Caro, through an intermediary, told the aged brother of Lyndon Johnson’s long-dead moneyman Herman Brown in order to secure an interview: “No matter how many buildings he puts Herman Brown’s name on, in a few years no one is going to know who Herman Brown was if he’s not in a book.”

So if that’s you, go write one.

David Hines has a professional background in international human-rights work with a focus on recovery from forced disappearances and mass homicide. He lives in Los Angeles.

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The Push for Permanent Vote-by-Mail

Leftists fell in love with all-mail elections in 2020. Now they want to make vote-by-mail permanent.

Transforming our country’s elections into a mail-in fiasco is a big step toward handing power over elections from the states to the federal government, empowering professional activists, inviting fraud, and damaging America’s constitutional system. It places the integrity of the republic in the hands of the U.S. Postal Service, the government agency that routinely delivers your neighbor’s mail to your house. And it promises to undermine public trust in electoral outcomes from now until doomsday, which could make the problems of the 2020 election routine.

I’ve documented progressives’ relentless effort to federalize elections, from the $400-million flood of private cash Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg sent to elections officials in 2020 to the $80 million “dark money” campaign for permanent vote-by-mail ahead of the 2022 and 2024 elections. That reporting builds on Capital Research Center’s year-and-a-half long investigation into the role of “Zuck bucks” in battleground states and our discovery that they targeted areas rich with Democratic votes, like Philadelphia and Atlanta.

At the heart of that misadventure are the Center for Tech and Civic Life, Arabella Advisors’ $1.7 billion activist empire, and the National Vote at Home Institute. But Americans should be familiar with the true face of vote-by-mail: Amber McReynolds.

She’s often labeled a reform-minded “independent” and is listed on the website of the National Association of Nonpartisan Reformers and in Governing Magazine’s 2018 Top Public Officials of the Year. In interview after gushing interview with left-leaning outlets, she’s touted as a good-government advocate uninterested in petty partisan goals.

But make no mistake: Amber McReynolds is a product of Activism, Inc.

McReynolds started her career registering voters in Iowa—a key primary state—in the 2004 election with the New Voters Project, part of a multi-million-dollar activist nexus called the Public Interest Network, whose oldest elements—the Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs)—started in the 1970s under legendary community organizer Ralph Nader.

If you’ve ever been solicited on the street for a donation to the American Civil Liberties Union or Sierra Club by a “clipboard kid,” you’ve probably had a run-in with these guys, who are famous for generating new liberal activists—and a president. As Barack Obama put it in 2004, “I used to be a PIRG guy. You guys trained me well.”

Revealingly, the network lauds McReynolds alongside two other notable progressive alumni: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and eco-activist-turned-Colorado State Sen. Faith Winter.

In 2005, McReynolds was hired by the Denver Elections Commission. In 2011, she became the agency’s director. A year later, the city’s Democratic mayor awarded her with the “rising star” award for overseeing the creation of Denver’s ballot-tracking and electronic petition-gathering software (Ballot TRACE). A year after that, in 2013, McReynolds successfully pushed for Colorado’s adoption of all-mail voting and election-day registration, reportedly downplaying the threat of voter fraud in her testimony before the state legislature by claiming ignorance of the concept: “I’m not sure, to be honest, what is an illegal vote…. What does that mean?”

McReynolds was key to many of the last-minute voting-law changes in Pennsylvania ahead of the 2020 election, which conservatives criticized as unconstitutional and vulnerable to fraud. She’s cited extensively in an amicus briefing filed by the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Common Cause Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia-based Black Political Empowerment Project, and the Latino-focused Make the Road PA—all left-wing get-out-the-vote groups—supporting the Pennsylvania Democratic Party’s lawsuit against Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat, demanding the state adopt drop boxes and “alternatives to in-person voting.”

McReynolds’ sworn testimony (paid for at a rate of $225 per hour) notes that “ballot drop-boxes can be an important component of implementing expanded mail-in voting,” “do not create an increased opportunity for fraud,” and “are generally more secure than…post office boxes.” She also supports the adoption of “text-to-cure,” a system adopted in 2020 in Colorado wherein voters are invited to email, fax, or send a text message to “cure” mistakes in their ballots (e.g., a missing signature) instead of sending an affidavit.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ultimately ruled in the Democratic Party’s favor, determining that county elections boards may accept mail-in ballots in “unmanned drop-boxes” and extending the deadline for mail-in and absentee ballots by three days—even for ballots missing a postmark.

All of these controversial factors later featured prominently in the 2020 election in Pennsylvania and other battleground states, thanks to funding from Mark Zuckerberg and the Center for Tech and Civic Life.

Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled state Senate banned both private funding for elections and drop-boxes in April 2022; the bill is expected to be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, and drop boxes were still in place for the state’s June primary. In Wisconsin, the state supreme court ruled drop boxes were illegal in February 2022 after 570 were used in 66 of the state’s 72 counties between 2020 and early 2021.

Image credit: Electoral Assistance Commission (2015)

Interestingly, McReynolds also oversaw Denver’s adoption of the now-controversial Dominion Voting Systems in May 2015, lauding the system in a presentation before election officials (only a grainy image of her presentation exists). The liberal Brennan Center for Justice profiled Denver’s adoption of Dominion in a 2015 case study, noting that it was designed to promote vote-by-mail given that 95 percent of Denver voters cast their ballot by mail under the state’s all-mail system. McReynolds later defended Dominion against claims of ballot fraud days after the 2020 election, tweeting:

No, Dominion voting machines did not cause widespread voting problems. Don’t be fooled by conspiracies & disinformation. Instead rely on trusted sources of information like election officials.

In a Denver Post op-ed in 2017, McReynolds in her capacity as Denver’s director of elections accused President Donald Trump’s new Commission on Election Integrity of “frightening away Denver voters” and leading voters to withdraw their registration due to its supposed partisanship (it was bipartisan) and unclear mission. The commission was formed to investigate “improper voter registrations,” “voter suppression,” and fraud. In late 2017, the left-wing group United to Protect Democracy sued the commission for attempting to gather voter information from the states. McReynolds provided sworn testimony alleging that the commission had caused Denver voter registration withdrawals to surge.

Vote At Home in 2020

In 2018, McReynolds left Denver to lead the National Vote at Home Institute and Coalition, a pair of tiny nonprofits in Washington, D.C., formed the year prior to promote vote-by-mail everywhere.

Like all 501(c) nonprofits, both Vote at Home groups are officially nonpartisan, per IRS tax exempt rules. Yet they were created with start-up funding from the liberal National Association of Letter Carriers (the postal workers’ union), which hosted the group’s kick-off event at its union headquarters in Washington. The event was attended by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon (a Democrat elected in the country’s first-ever all-mail federal election), and Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling, who later joined the board of Vote at Home. At the event, Keisling illustrated his vision of voting, with my emphasis:

Imagine a state where voters never have to show a photo ID; wait in voting lines; leave home or work early to get to their designated polling place; or worry about bad weather, traffic jams, finding parking or public transportation, or arranging childcare.

AVR’s [automatic voter registration] underlying policy premise is identical to vote-at home’s; if the government knows you’re a citizen, you become a registered voter. [Emphasis added.]

Brian Renfroe, executive vice president of the postal workers’ union, leads Vote at Home’s board of directors. Also on the board is Emily Persaud-Zamora, director of the Nevada affiliate of the liberal get-out-the-vote group State Voices, and 2018 Democratic Maryland gubernatorial candidate and former NAACP president Ben Jealous, who now heads the far-left judicial activist group People for the American Way, infamous for the original “borking” of judge Robert Bork, and later their attempted “borkings” of President Trump’s Supreme Court appointees.

Also on Vote at Home’s board is Stephen Silberstein, one of the top 20 donors to the Hillary Clinton-aligned super PAC Priorities USA Action in 2016, a board member for the anti-electoral college group National Popular Vote, and a member of the Democracy Alliance, where the left’s most powerful donors regularly meet to discuss funding of political and get-out-the-vote groups. The Silberstein Foundation has donated at least $425,000 to the National Vote at Home Institute since 2018.

McReynolds herself spoke at the Democracy Alliance’s 2018 fall conference (on an unknown topic) alongside Black Lives Matter co-founder and “trained Marxist” Alicia Garza, then-Leadership Conference president Vanita Gupta (who’s now associate attorney general in the Biden Department of Justice), and the “civic-engagement” (read: voter-turnout) group For Freedoms.

The Vote at Home nonprofits have also received funding from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s Democracy Fund Voice, various AFL-CIO unions, and the Arabella-run dark-money groups Hopewell Fund and New Venture Fund.

Under McReynolds, Vote at Home released its first national vote-by-mail proposal in mid-2020, “catapulting” this tiny organization into the center of the left’s scheme to use Covid-19 to transform the 2020 election.

As the election loomed, Vote at Home supplied secretaries of state with drop box locations—many of them paid for by CTCL’s “Zuck bucks”—and pushed for hasty adoption of mail-in ballots in at least 37 states and D.C.

California hired McReynolds to consult on its massive vote-by-mail expansion plans in mid-2020. And in the Atlanta suburb of DeKalb County, Georgia, Vote at Home published a 60-page report to help the county “create a modern, lean vote-by-mail program.” DeKalb received $9.6 million in Zuck bucks—$12.59 for every person living there—and gave Joe Biden 300,000 votes.

Meddling in the States

In Wisconsin, the Vote by Mail operative Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein effectively ran Green Bay’s election as the city’s “de facto elections administrator,” according to a later investigation by Wisconsin Spotlight. Email chains exposed Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich “usurping” the city clerk’s authority over election administration and giving it to the Vote at Home crew—placing the state’s third-largest election in the hands of private, partisan actors. In the clerk’s words, Green Bay “went rogue” under Vote at Home and its Democratic allies.

Spitzer-Rubenstein reportedly controlled four of the five keys to the room where ballots were stored and counted, had access to absentee ballots days before the 2020 election, and asked the county clerk if he and his team could “cure” faulty absentee ballots as they’d done in Milwaukee.

Vote at Home launched a Wisconsin “communications toolkit” in August “to support outreach around absentee voting” in coordination with an allied left-wing group, the Center for Civic Design, which “share[d] research insights about how to engage people who might not trust the vote by mail process.” (It’s also worth noting that CTCL, which spent $10.1 million in Wisconsin, lists the National Vote at Home Institute as a partner in its schemes.)

But Vote at Home didn’t only target Wisconsin. A since-removed list of state leads on Vote at Home’s website reveals other operatives in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Texas, Michigan, Ohio, New York, and New Jersey.

Little is known about these operatives’ meddling in the 2020 election, and most of them don’t list (or perhaps have dropped) National Vote at Home Institute from their LinkedIn profiles. But in Ohio and Georgia, at least, Vote at Home operatives coordinated their efforts with the Leadership Now Project, formed by Obama administration alumni to trick conservative voters into supporting the Left’s gerrymandering and vote-by-mail schemes—a project it called “Fix the System.” Fix the System was run by Nilmini Rubin, who now runs public policy affairs for Facebook.

Your Opinion Is Disinformation

Since the 2020 election, McReynolds has pivoted to dismissing any claims of election irregularities, fraud, or mischief as “disinformation”—such as in one left-leaning podcast in which she’s described as a “progressive”:

In an election where one side isn’t happy with the outcome their immediate response is to blame the process, or blame the system, and so we’re going to have a lot of work to do to dispel the myths and the misinformation and disinformation because that’s just spreading like wildfire.

Elsewhere, she’s claimed that “the 2020 election was the most secure election that we’ve ever had” (CTCL makes the same extreme claim) and that “the biggest challenge in 2020 was the disinformation and misinformation that occurred.” Limits on mail-in voting, in her view, “are aimed at restricting election officials from doing their jobs,” not preventing illegal voting, while “partisan actors” (read: Republicans) are “play[ing] games and try[ing] to tip the scales in the election process.”

This is pundit language and a dead giveaway for partisan leanings. “I think on the policy front, part of the reason the disinformation spreads… is that there are not many federal standards,” she told the Associated Press in May 2021. “We need to think about some federal standards [for elections] because it’s easy for bad actors to spread the wrong information because the rules vary so much by state.”

“Federal standards” to combat “disinformation” means placing control over how the elections are run in the hands of Washington bureaucrats. It means ignoring the Constitution’s stipulation that the states alone may prescribe “the times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives” (Article 1, Sectiom 4) and instead instituting the sort of top-down election system the Founders tried to prevent.

Anyone familiar with how the left suddenly adopts a new phrase or buzzword to fit political needs won’t be surprised by the sudden popularity of a once-obscure word—“disinformation”—previously used by intelligence services to describe false-flag operations in espionage and wartime, which is now used to describe right-wing voter-suppression conspiracy theories. It’s designed to shut down debate.

Delivering the Votes

Shortly after Joe Biden was sworn in as the nation’s 46th president, McReynolds got her reward: an appointment to the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors, which oversees the agency.

There’s a catch. By law, a maximum of five members of either party may serve on the nine-person board. As of writing, the USPS Board of Governors has four Republicans and three Democrats, plus the “independent” McReynolds. If the Senate confirms Biden’s newest nominees—a Republican who’s served under both Trump and Obama, Derek Kan, and a Democrat, Derek Tangherlini, who heads Laurene Powell Jobs’ philanthropy Emerson Collective—it would bring the total to five Republicans, four Democrats, and McReynolds.

By presenting McReynolds as an “independent” during her 2021 confirmation process, the Biden administration quietly freed up a future Democratic seat, potentially gifting the party six seats and total control over the Postal Service in the near future.

But is McReynolds really an independent? For one thing, McReynolds was a registered Democrat in 2010, according to the conservative American Accountability Foundation.

She was also an advisor to the Election Validation Project, a campaign by Pierre Omidyar’s Democracy Fund to advise public officials on conducting election audits. The project is headed by Jennifer Morrell, an ex-Colorado elections official who also runs the Elections Group, a CTCL ally that provides “guidance” to officials on implementing mail-in ballots.

Just 10 days prior to McReynolds’ appointment to the Board of Governors in February 2021, the National Vote at Home Institute’s website showed a list of partners, almost all of them left-wing political groups.

By March, the list had been scrubbed from Vote at Home’s website.

Notables included the Democracy Fund, Rock the Vote, the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), Center for Civic Design, the far-left Represent.US, Arabella-run Center for Secure and Modern Elections, National Association of Letter Carriers, ACLU, Common Cause, and Democratic consultancy Uprising Strategies, whose co-founder, Nick Rathod, runs Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s Texas gubernatorial campaign.

McReynolds was confirmed to the USPS Board of Governors in May 2021 by a vote of 59 to 38 as an independent. Republican William D. Zollars’ term expires in December 2022. With the left pinning so many of its hopes on vote-by-mail in the future, skeptics might rightly wonder why Biden wouldn’t try to replace him with another Democrat in order to gain an illegal supermajority on the board.

This is hardly speculation. Senate Democrats started calling on Biden to remove Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump appointee, earlier this year. Why? DeJoy is a vote-by-mail skeptic. Democrats and activists have accused him of intentionally slowing down the delivery of mail—and mail-in ballots—ahead of the 2020 election, which DeJoy denies. (It is more likely that, as with everything else in 2020, Covid-19 was responsible for slow delivery times.)

A left-wing majority would have the power to replace DeJoy with a more pliable candidate. Common Cause, a liberal litigation group and Vote at Home partner, has an entire lobbying campaign for creating a Biden-appointed, “reform-minded majority” on the USPS Board of Governors to “fix Trump’s manufactured USPS crisis and fire DeJoy.”

Biden’s nominees uniformly count speedier delivery of mail-in ballots as central to their proposed “sweeping reforms” to the Postal Service. One can expect the other Democrats and McReynolds to support transforming the declining agency into a ballot-delivery service, since vote-by-mail is central to the Democrats’ future election strategy.

This risky strategy relies on propping up the Postal Service. USPS lost $4.6 billion in 2021 alone and has predicted it will run out of money by 2024. Trump proposed privatizing the agency in 2018. A bipartisan postal-reform bill, signed into law in April, promises to save $50 billion over the next decade, though critics see it as throwing good money after bad.

In March, Biden asked Congress for $10 billion to fund “election infrastructure”—half of which would be used to boost USPS’s capacity for mail-in voting “in underserved areas” (translation: rich with Democratic votes), including free postage for ballots for an agency that has lost money for the past 15 years.

But the strategy makes more sense when viewed in concert with other elements designed to give Democrats a permanent edge in future elections, like CTCL’s $80 million campaign to get Uncle Sam to pay for the things Mark Zuckerberg funded in 2020: more mail-in paper ballots, and taxpayer funding for drop boxes to bypass USPS should it fail to deliver the necessary votes.

They’re already making headway. In April the Postal Service, Democracy Fund, and Vote at Home invited election officials to a two-day retreat in Phoenix, Arizona, where they were schooled in best practices related to “voter-roll maintenance,” “envelope and application design,” and other vote-by-mail elements.

A Better Strategy for the Nation

What can conservatives and their allies do? Here are a few simple ideas.

First, make states the battlefield for election integrity, not the federal government. As of writing, 20 states have banned or restricted Zuck bucks, others are eliminating private drop boxes, and more have shored up voter ID laws. In Republican-controlled states, this is low-hanging fruit.

Second, election administration must be transparent and free from private influence. That means keeping government agencies honest and above partisanship. The Left’s entire election strategy after the 2020 election hinges on co-opting government offices and subordinating them to the interests of the Democratic Party. Show Americans how this is deeply unfair and they’ll oppose it every time.

Third, recognize that this opponent is a paper tiger, and chin up. The professional, entrenched left isn’t weak, but it isn’t as powerful as it pretends to be. Exposing this novel, partisan campaign for what it is—a blatant attempt to codify permanent control in Washington—is a winning issue for constitutionalists. After all, CTCL’s pivot from Zuckerberg funding in 2020 to federal funding in 2021–22 is as good as admitting that they don’t believe private funding for elections is sustainable or popular with the American people.

Clever conservatives will demand their opponents answer a simple question: Do you believe private, special interests ought to fund public elections agencies?

This is a fight we can win.

Hayden Ludwig is a senior investigative researcher at the Capital Research Center

The post The Push for Permanent Vote-by-Mail appeared first on The American Conservative.

Restoring the Founders’ Vision of Religion

While the nation waits for the Supreme Court to release its opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, which is expected to overturn Roe v. Wade, it is easy to lose track of the many other important decisions released this term. In Carson v. Makin, released on Tuesday, the Court in a 6-3 decision continued to roll back the anti-religion rulings of the last 75 years. Those who value the legitimate role of religion in our nation’s public life, as well as the need to adhere to the original meaning of the Constitution, should not overlook the importance of this decision.

The state legislature in Maine enacted a tuition-assistance system for families living in school districts without a high school. Under this program, families could select a public or private secondary school to send their child to, and the school district would make payments to the school to defray the tuition cost. The controversial provision of the statute held that, starting in 1981, the school to which parents elect to send their children must be nonsectarian in order to receive the funds. The Maine Department of Education defined a sectarian school as any school “associated with a particular faith or belief system and which, in addition to teaching academic subjects, promotes the faith or belief system with which it is associated and/or presents the material taught through the lens of this faith.” 

So, any accredited public school, secular private school, trade school, etc. would qualify to receive the government payment, but any Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, or Islamic school would not. One wonders why holding the Christian creed would qualify a school as being “sectarian,” but adhering to a woke creed and teaching critical race theory and gender studies would not.  It seems arbitrary to consider traditional religions as “particular faith or belief system[s]” while excluding modern philosophies like critical race and gender theory, and general liberalism from the label. But that is a reflection for another essay.

The question the Supreme Court decided was whether enacting a restriction against sectarian schools receiving funds violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The Court held that it did. Pointing to previous precedent, the Court pointed out that the Free Exercise Clause (citations omitted) “protects against ‘indirect coercion or penalties on the free exercise of religion, not just outright prohibitions.’… In particular, we have repeatedly held that a State violates the Free Exercise Clause when it excludes religious observers from otherwise available public benefits.” 

This is a welcome and crucial reminder to the secularists who insist on a “wall of separation” between church and state. The right to free exercise of religion does not merely mean that Christians may quietly worship at home and in church on Sundays. Free exercise of religion means religious people and institutions may not be coerced, penalized, or denied public benefits because of their religious faith. Religious people, congregations, and schools have a venerable tradition of being not only accepted but encouraged and supported in public life. 

Section II(B) of the Court’s opinion contains a fascinating discussion of the Establishment Clause. Remember, the religious portion of the First Amendment has two parts: Congress shall make no law 1) respecting an establishment of religion, or 2) prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Justice Sotomayor’s dissent in Carson v. Makin points out that a State may choose not to fund certain religious activity even if the Establishment Clause does not expressly prevent the funding. But the majority responds that it is not that simple, because the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause are in tension: if the government is not prevented from supporting a religious activity under the Establishment Clause, any attempt to separate church and state “more fiercely” than the Establishment Clause requires likely will encroach on the right to free exercise of religion. In this case, Maine was not simply deciding not to fund a religious activity. The state decided to fund a certain type of activity (education) but single out and exclude sectarian religious schools. The Court therefore held that the “nonsectarian” requirement in the Maine law was not required by the Establishment Clause and that the law violated the Free Exercise Clause. 

The dispute between the parties in Carson v. Makin raises a question that desperately needs to be discussed in the public square: What does the Establishment Clause mean? Conservatives need to understand the original meaning and limits of “an establishment of religion,” so that we do not cave when we are told there must be a wall of separation between church and state preventing any public recognition of or benefit for religious institutions. In fact, there ought to be no such wall. The Constitution says nothing of the sort, and the states in the early years of the republic simply did not function that way. So if the Establishment Clause does not erect a wall of separation between church and state, what does it do?

The original public meaning of the Establishment Clause is modest and limited: It prevents Congress from making a law respecting an establishment of religion. This means both that Congress is unable to establish a church at the national level and that it cannot interfere with individual states’ decisions to establish a religion (or not). 

There are two important takeaways often forgotten in modern discussion of the Establishment Clause. First, the Establishment Clause was uncontroversial at the time of the First Amendment’s ratification because it only applied to Congress and not the states. The states were extremely diverse in their establishments of religion. Some states avoided having an established church; others did not. Maryland directly aided the Church of England, while New England states favored the Congregational denomination. Massachusetts kept the Congregational Church as its established state church until 1833. The Founders would have been quite perplexed that in 21st-century Maine, the state government would claim giving tax dollars to sectarian schools violated the Establishment Clause, when the Founders thought it quite consistent to have both an Establishment Clause and established state churches. 

Second, we need to acknowledge the vast distinction between favoring one denomination at the expense of others, and favoring non-religion over religion. These are very different. For the sake of argument, let’s accept both that the Establishment Clause now applies to the states as well as Congress, and that the “spirit” of the Establishment Clause is not merely to prevent a state-established church, but to prohibit a state from favoring one denomination over others (the logic of both of these points is disputable and problematic, especially the application of the Establishment Clause to the states). Granting both of these points, there is still no reason that governments cannot subsidize religious education, encourage prayer and religious reading in schools, allow religious symbols in public places, etc. There is nothing in the text or history of the First Amendment, or the traditional practice of the states, that would lead us to believe it is unconstitutional to have Judeo-Christian prayers, readings, symbols, and customs as part of our public institutions. Far from trying to keep religion away from American public life, the Founders thought religion was necessary in our public life. John Adams proclaimed that “[o]ur Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” 

Conservatives need to embrace these founding realities of our nation. Yes, America was founded as a land of religious pluralism. There is no nationally established church or creed and the people are free to exercise religion, or not, as they see fit. But there is no legitimate tradition walling off religion from the public square. There is no basis for sectioning off religious people and institutions and insisting they have no place in American government. Religious Americans should not quietly ask for exceptions and hope that the government might benevolently include them in a school-subsidy program. America has a tradition of embracing religion as a good for society to be promoted and encouraged in public life. While respecting differences, religious Americans need to insist on our right to exist and thrive openly in our public institutions. The Court’s ruling in Carson v. Makin is a solid step to tearing down the wall separating religion from public life and restoring the meaning of the First Amendment. 

Frank DeVito is an attorney and a current fellow in the Napa Legal Good Counselor Project. His work has previously been published in the Quinnipiac Law Review and the Penn State Online Law Review. He lives in eastern Pennsylvania with his wife and three young children.

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The Democrats’ Misguided Gun-Control Bill

After the horrifying and tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, you would think lawmakers would be doing everything in their power to make schools safer. But, as evidenced by the House’s recently passed gun-reform package, Democrats are misdiagnosing the issue yet again.

There is, understandably, a sentiment among Americans that those in power must do something—anything—to prevent tragedies like Uvalde from occurring in the future. The House’s reform package is certainly an example of politicians “doing something.” But the legislation would blatantly violate Americans’ Second Amendment rights, and represents another dubious attempt to combat gun violence with stricter gun laws.

Democrats’ gun-control aspirations are wrong, first and foremost, because they violate Americans’ Second Amendment rights. An attempt to restrict our right to bear arms is an attempt to restrict our natural right to defend ourselves from government tyranny and against violence from others. The principles of self-defense underpinning the Second Amendment are not and can never be outdated.

History has taught us that George Mason was right when he asserted, “To disarm the people is the best and most effective way to enslave them.” Slaves were prohibited from owning firearms before the Civil War ended, and in the years following the war, states employed various unscrupulous tactics to bar black individuals from obtaining guns. German Jews were systemically disarmed in the 1930s before the Holocaust. And Armenians were stripped of their arms in the carrying out of the Armenian genocide.

The Second Amendment must be ardently defended, as we all have the right to defend ourselves against threats from the state and from others.

But, for the sake of conversation, let’s imagine for a moment, as many Democrats do, that the Second Amendment is out of date. Would the proposed reforms be a smart course of action then?

No, they wouldn’t. Because even if you set aside the constitutional argument for gun rights, the fact remains that gun control’s effectiveness is uncertain at best. Democrats would do well to start taking alternative proposals more seriously.

Despite the rhetoric dominating the gun-control debate, the evidence suggests gun-control measures do not effectively thwart gun violence. For example, take California and Illinois, which lead the United States in mass shootings despite their strict gun laws. And the Washington Post, when removing events like gang violence from mass-shooting data, found that 86 percent of mass public shootings between 2009 and 2016 occurred in gun-free zones like Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

The bill that just passed the House would, among other things, ban the sale of guns with magazines that can hold more than 15 rounds. But shooters can just use multiple magazines. For example, in 2007, the Virginia Tech shooter had 17 magazines for his handguns, most of which held 10 rounds. In 1999, one of the Columbine shooters brought 13 magazines into the school, each of which carried 10 rounds. In those tragedies, 32 and 13 people died, respectively.

The bill would also raise the age that one can purchase a rifle or shotgun from 18 to 21. Why this would be a priority is unclear, as the median age of school shooters is just 16, and 70 percent of school shooters are under the age of 18.

Furthermore, the amount of attention placed on rifles like the AR-15 is curious. Rifles were involved in just 3 percent of firearm homicides in 2020, according to Pew Research, and handguns are by far the most common weapons used in mass shootings.

The measures in this bill not only violate Second Amendment rights, but are unlikely to curtail the tragedies its proponents aim to avert.

Would a ban on all guns “work” better than this current bill? No, gun bans do not work. While they might disarm law-abiding citizens, placing all of our liberties at greater risk, they can’t stop determined bad actors from obtaining the goods they desire. As with alcohol in the Prohibition era and marijuana to this day, restricting access to goods doesn’t eliminate the goods. It merely leads to the creation of black markets. Australia, often heralded as an example of a nation with ideal gun-control policies, has had to deal with an extensive black market for firearms. It has been reported that Australian citizens may have been at greater risk from gun crime in recent years than ever before.

Stricter gun control may not be an effective solution, but there are other actions that can be taken to better ensure the safety of our schools.

What happened in Uvalde rocked our nation to its core. Instead of attempting to infringe on the rights of citizens and push ineffective gun-control policy, politicians should be working together to devise measures that could actually save lives in the future.

Benjamin Ayanian is a contributor for Young Voices, a PR firm and talent agency for young, pro-liberty commentators. His writings have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Star Tribune, Yahoo News, and more. His Twitter is @BenjaminAyanian.

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Dobbs as a Little Cloud 

And it came to pass after many days…” So starts the triumph of Elijah over the priests of Baal, and the return of rain to a desert land. Many days here is a matter of years, and the kingdom of Israel has suffered under a famine. 

In the nearly 50 years since Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973, more than 62 million human babies, each made in the image of God, have been slaughtered on the altar of convenience. 

I have not troubled Israel; but you, and your father’s house, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and have followed Baalim.” So answered Elijah when the king, Ahab husband of Jezebel, blamed the prophet of God for the dryness of the land. And he challenged Ahab, and the Baalimites, and the people of Israel, to come to Mount Carmel and see there what the Lord might do. 

Now the nation waits for a decision from the United States Supreme Court regarding Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, one that may overturn Roe. In doing so it would reveal a nation not only divided de facto but de jure over the very nature of the human being. 

How long halt you between two opinions?” So asked Elijah of the assembled people, whether they would choose to serve the Lord or Baal. And Baal’s prophets were 450, and Elijah was only one. The challenge was simple: The prophets made an altar, and the prophet made an altar; and the prophets took a bull, and the prophet took a bull; and the prophets sacrificed the bull but did not set it alight and they called on the name of their god to consume their offering. And nothing happened. 

We received a foretaste of all this last September, when Texas’s effective ban on the murder of babies after the sixth week of pregnancy provoked the shrieking anger and despair of votaries observing the desecration of their temple. 

Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or peradventure he sleeps, and must be awaked.” So mocked Elijah. And when the prophets of Baal failed to summon a response from their master, we read they cried aloud, and cut themselves with knives so that the blood gushed out. And though they were many and persisted until the evening, from Baal there was neither voice, nor answer, nor any regard.

Since the leak of the draft opinion regarding Dobbs, there has been an encore to the impotent tantrums of last fall. In a bizarre recent display outside Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s house, women affiliated with a group called “Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights” processed in pants made to appear soaked in blood while carrying baby dolls. Allegedly an illustration of the consequences of “forced births,” the performance looked more like a reminder of the essential violence of tearing babies apart in their mothers’ wombs. 

Come near unto me.” So said Elijah to the people of Israel, and he repaired the altar of the Lord that had broken down. And he prepared the sacrifice, and ordered that the assembly should douse it in water, that most precious thing in their dry land. And he prayed.

“Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that you are the Lord God, and that you have turned their heart back again.” Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, “The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God.”

Not every tantrum reserves its harm for the flailing child. We know now that, whatever the final ruling in Dobbs, no matter how limited, a national storm is coming. A pro-abortion domestic terrorist group called “Jane’s Revenge” already wages a firebomb campaign against crisis pregnancy centers across the country. Activists can and will be summoned into the streets to sow chaos and destruction in retribution for even the mildest protections of life. Even the long looked for, long prayed for full overturn of Roe will only be the beginning of a new chapter in a spiritual war. But let those who labor hope in every win.

Go up now, look toward the sea.” So said Elijah to his servant, for he had promised rain to Ahab and to the people of Israel. And as Elijah prayed, the servant went up and looked and, seeing nothing, returned, and Elijah sent him forth again, seven times. “And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, ‘Behold, there arises a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand.’

The post <em>Dobbs</em> as a Little Cloud  appeared first on The American Conservative.

A MAGA Lament and Hope For the Future

President-elect Donald Trump arrived in D.C. with an unambiguous mandate for his agenda: Build the wall, end the wars, put America first in economics, and drain the swamp.

In spite of nearly total and vicious opposition from mainstream media, Wall Street, Big Tech, the Pentagon, the intelligence agencies, FBI, Hollywood, institutions of higher education, and GOP leadership, Trump prevailed. His victory did not happen because he spent the most, but because the people agreed with his agenda and supported him. This was an amazing feat.

There is an old adage in the salons of Washington, D.C.: “Personnel is policy.” Just like in the business world, a government institution must have the right people in positions of authority to be able to successfully implement a plan of action. Unfortunately, Trump failed miserably at this. He repeatedly chose the wrong leaders for his administration, many of whom did not support his agenda.

Trump’s instincts to reach out to the establishment were correct, and Reince Priebus could have served as a supportive advisor to facilitate such outreach, but it was a serious mistake to make Priebus the chief of staff. Priebus flooded political appointments to federal agencies with his swampy comrades and blocked the appointments of true believers in Trump’s America First agenda. The early personnel choices made by Priebus and his allies weakened Trump’s ability to implement promises made during his successful campaign.

The upper echelon of Trump’s foreign policy team represented the starkest disconnect with his campaign promises to end the wars and put the well-being of Americans first. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was promoted and advised by Condoleezza Rice, a principal architect of the disastrous Bush-era foreign military adventures. John Bolton, whom Trump brought on as national security advisor, was an ardent advocate for American military intervention. Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis played key roles in the failed wars of both Iraq and Afghanistan. Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper worked in George W. Bush’s Defense Department before his lobbying stint at Raytheon, a weapons contractor that notoriously lobbies for increased American interventions.

If Trump had hired architects with his foreign policy team’s record of failures, his buildings would have collapsed. Unfortunately, the list goes on to hundreds of other appointees brought into each of the national security agencies—enough to publish a book.

Another fatal flaw in implementing Trump’s foreign policy agenda was his awe and respect for the generals. The armchair officers sporting their wide arrays of colorful campaign ribbons capitalized on Trump’s fascination with America’s military. Many of them had only led our military to failures, all at the tragic expense of our citizens and the unlucky peoples of the countries we invaded. Yet these generals do not view their disastrous records as failures, because catastrophe after catastrophe saw them rewarded with promotions and consistently expanding budgets. In no other industry can leaders remain in charge if every project for which they are responsible completely fails to achieve the promised outcomes.

Due to the chaos of his administration and constant attacks, President Trump often became isolated and leaned on his family for support. Trump did not fully understand, however, the risk of granting gatekeeping authority to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, someone who had no real connection to the MAGA base. Jared grew up a limousine liberal in a culture that had disdain for the concerns and interests of Americans in flyover country. Jared may have impeccable manners, but his political exposure did not extend beyond New York’s Upper East Side society.

A prime example of Jared’s disconnection from the Trump base was when he brought Brooke Rollins on to be a presidential advisor, and later moved her up to become chief domestic policy advisor. Rollins is a Bushie open borders advocate. Rollins now heads the America First Policy Institute, which has hired former appointees who failed to implement Trump’s agenda when he was in office.

During his tenure as chief strategist in the Trump White House, Steve Bannon was for a time able to bypass the anti-Trump cadre to implement the America First agenda. He was quickly pushed out, however, and replaced with Kushner acolytes like Rollins or swampers loyal to Vice President Mike Pence.

Often, when President Trump directly asked that certain people be hired, they were kept out by staff, who slow-walked and gamed the system. Many resumes of conservatives were not even considered. At times the administration appeared to have a policy of “MAGA Patriots Need Not Apply.” Even ignored was former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is a well-known crusader against voter fraud and predicted the problems of the 2020 election.

Some of the same people who assisted in the policy failures of the Trump administration still advise him. They may yet again subvert a future Trump administration’s ability to be successful. So what should we do? Go local.

Donald Trump courageously created a movement that has embraced his policies of protecting our borders, ending destructive foreign interventions, making decisions based on what is good for America, and making America internally strong. Ten years ago it was difficult to discuss any of these ideas, but now they are in the mainstream. There is much to do.

We should seek to identify and support good candidates for school boards, county and city commissions, county Republican precinct committee members, election poll workers, sheriffs, local and state district attorneys, state representatives, and state senators.

Why focus on the lower levels? Because a robust, aggressive lower tier in our federal system will make it far more difficult for the uniparty trolls to undercut the real work of reforming our country. And even more important than building a solid foundational base, all Americans who believe in MAGA need to be ready to denounce and remove the opponents of the America First agenda in 2024. Preparing to battle those enemies of freedom now will be the best defense against them when it counts.

George D. O’Neill, Jr. is an artist who lives in rural Florida.

The post A MAGA Lament and Hope For the Future appeared first on The American Conservative.

Fire the Lawless Attorneys

Attorneys who work in the public sector have the unique experience and responsibility of representing not a private client, but the people, the taxpayers, society itself. Along with the blessed privilege of not having to bill clients with high hourly rates—a privilege I thank God for every day as a county solicitor—public sector attorneys have a solemn duty not simply to provide zealous representation to their client and win their case, but to pursue what is proper under the law regardless of what that means for the outcome.

When public sector attorneys in general and prosecutors in particular fail to live up to their lofty calling, the results are truly dangerous. A politically motivated prosecutor can use his power to unevenly apply the law and prosecute political or ideological enemies. An unscrupulous prosecutor may decide his goal is to win criminal cases at any cost, covering up unfavorable evidence and trampling on the rights of defendants. An ideological left-wing prosecutor may choose to use his power not to uphold and enforce the criminal law, but to enact social reform.

This effort is prevalent today and conservatives need to coherently identify and defeat it wherever it rears its lawless head. As Justice Robert Jackson (then United States Attorney General Jackson) noted in his famous 1940 speech about the role of prosecutors, “while the prosecutor at his best is one of the most beneficent forces in our society, when he acts from malice or other base motives, he is one of the worst.” Any criminal prosecutor who is acting from base motives, from any motive other than impartially enforcing the criminal law as written to advance the common good, cannot be tolerated in civil society.

Between the recent recall of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, the impending recall of Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon, and the Pennsylvania legislature’s recent decision to introduce articles of impeachment against Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, there is potential for a movement here. As Katya Sedgwick recently wrote for The American Conservative, the recall of the San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin “has yet to morph into a full-fledged political movement with a coherent ideology capable of delivering true change.” But it can. And it needs to. There is the potential to unite a voting coalition that could create a real law-and-order reform movement and remove the dangerous progressives currently occupying many district attorney offices.

First, we should distinguish between two different types of bad prosecutors mentioned earlier. The type of prosecutor who enforces the law unevenly, using the law as a weapon against his personal or political enemies, is quite different from the left-wing activist prosecutor. The central issue in the current moment is that we have powerful prosecutors in major cities motivated by political ideologies that, in many cases, discourage the prosecution and imprisonment of criminals. The prevalent issue is not that officials use criminal prosecution as a personal weapon, but rather that for ideological reasons they are choosing not to wield the weapon at all. As a result, they offer shocking plea deals to dangerous criminals. Or they make public announcements that they will not prosecute certain types of crimes.

This is unacceptable. The prosecutor’s role is to enforce the criminal laws as they are written. The legislatures have passed criminal codes reflecting the will of the people as to which behaviors ought to be prosecuted as criminal. The prosecutor’s job is to enforce those decisions, not to make the decisions. Of course, district attorneys’ offices have limited resources and have to make case by case decisions about which prosecutions to focus on. But announcing that certain actions defined by law as criminal will never be prosecuted goes beyond prosecutorial discretion. It is an abuse of office.

An analogy between the role of judges and the role of prosecutors helps explain the abuse. Justice Antonin Scalia was convinced that the death penalty was legally permitted under the Eighth Amendment, but he seriously wrestled with the question of whether the death penalty was moral according to his conscience and religious beliefs. He concluded that it was. He remarked wisely that if he was ever convinced what the law required of him was immoral, his proper recourse would be “resignation rather than simply ignoring duly enacted constitutional laws.”

Left-wing district attorneys ought to take note. If they believe that the criminal laws passed by the legislature are immoral or ineffective, they should resign from their prosecutorial roles and run for the state legislature. These activists are occupying the wrong office.

Sadly, I am not optimistic that any left-wing prosecutors will heed the call to do some soul-searching, realize they are acting lawlessly and disregarding the core duties of their office, and resign. Therefore, the political efforts to recall and impeach wayward prosecutors are necessary to stop what is becoming a crisis.

This movement can succeed, even in cities that consistently vote Democrat. In the 1993 election for mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani managed to become the Republican mayor of an intensely Democratic city. Granted, Giuliani’s platform was rather liberal on many social issues, and he was endorsed by the Liberal Party. But the point remains: New York City was devastated by violent crime, as well as “a general sense of unrest…a feeling that the city was uncontrollable and that the general quality of life in the city had declined.” This feeling of unrest and a lack of control in a major Democrat-controlled city led the people to reject lawlessness and actually elect a Republican promising law and order.

The examples of New York City in 1993 and San Francisco in 2022 provide a valuable lesson. When violent crime invades a community, when a sense of unrest, chaos and decline envelops a society, the people act. They choose law and order; they opt for safe and stable communities. Conservatives need to seize these opportunities, come together with a message that will attract independent and Democrat voters, and take back control of the city streets from violent criminals and the progressives who enable them.

This is not mere partisan politics. This is common sense. Without the rule of law, no other issue matters and communities fall apart. This toxic atmosphere of lawlessness and crime, of chaos and unrest, is prevalent in major cities all across the nation. District attorneys that fail to zealously enforce the law are a major part of the problem. They need to do their job or by hook or by crook, by impeachment or recall, they need to go.

Frank DeVito is an attorney and a current fellow in the Napa Legal Good Counselor Project. His work has previously been published in The American Conservative, the Quinnipiac Law Review, the Federalist, and the Penn State Online Law Review. He lives in eastern Pennsylvania with his wife and three young children.

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Foreign Funding of Nonprofits Goes Unchecked

The University of Pennsylvania received more than $15 million in anonymous donations from China in 2018, the same year it announced the founding of its Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. This is just one high-profile example of a question that has been bubbling behind the scenes in think tanks and universities for several years: How has new, massive, unreported foreign funding flowing into America’s intellectual infrastructure shaped the country’s approach to governing, national security, and even cultural affairs?

Following on the heels of a 2020 Trump administration report excoriating universities—including Harvard and Stanford—for failing to report $6.5 billion in foreign funding, two new pieces of legislation have been introduced since Biden’s election that would address the influence of foreign spending in the academic, nonprofit, and think tank sectors.

Welcome to an age of heightened concerns over foreign money flowing into America’s institutions, both private and nonprofit. It has led to debates over donor transparency, intellectual and academic theft, lobbying and election integrity, and the proper role of charity in American civic and political life. 

Conservatives tend to like the idea of donor privacy, especially in this era of cancel culture. But the calculus changes a bit when you consider how foreign entities might be using U.S. nonprofits to influence public policy, notes Michael E. Hartmann, a senior fellow of the Capital Research Center and co-editor of The Giving Review.

“The legal structure of American tax-exempt nonprofitdom has always wrestled with how to manage what are often the competing desires for transparency and donor privacy,” Hartmann says. “Historically, there hasn’t seemed to have been as much tension between transparency and foreign funding of nonprofits—that is, non-American funding of American nonprofits—[but] the whole set of underlying considerations with which to wrestle…is just so appreciably different than the regular old domestic ones.” 

Republican legislators seem to agree that the question of transparency becomes a bit more fraught when foreign interests are involved and national security concerns are raised. Particularly if the disclosure rules are being outright flouted, as was the case with the 12 universities mentioned in the 2020 Trump administration report.

On the Senate side, one attempt to address the problem is to strengthen the Higher Education Act of 1965, specifically Section 117 dealing with disclosure requirements of foreign gifts and contracts. Republican Senators Tom Cotton, Bill Hagerty, Marsha Blackburn, and Tim Scott are all attached to the legislation they are calling the “Foreign Funding Accountability Act,” which, according to a joint release, will attempt to “combat malign foreign influence in American colleges and universities.” 

Senator Cotton, who in 2021 released a report on “decoupling” from China, said the reason for the legislation is simple: If China wants to win a new economic Cold War, they will need to harness the “traditionally open research” on U.S. college campuses to give them a “competitive advantage in all innovative fields,” including semiconductors, artificial intelligence, and quantum research.

“The CCP has patiently cultivated its de facto allies on college campuses across the country, offering prestigious fellowships, in-kind gifts, and donations to lure professors and universities into sharing information,” Cotton said.

“Just like every other member of the ‘China Lobby,’ from multinational corporations and Hollywood executives to NBA stars and large banks, colleges and universities have lined their pockets with Chinese cash for years and don’t want to stop any time soon,” he explained. “The China Lobby opposes anything that might hurt their bottom line. And they know that transparency about their Chinese cash binge will bring tough questions from Congress and a real effort to stop the inflow of Chinese money.”

Cotton said he doubts universities are in the dark about what these foreign gifts are intended to inspire.

“I find it hard to believe that they’re ignorant of what the CCP wants from them,” he said. “For example, MIT, Princeton, [and] Yale have all accepted millions from a Chinese tech billionaire, Ma Huateng, the founder of Tencent. His company actively censors the internet in China and is at the forefront of China’s efforts to dominate A.I. It doesn’t take a college education to suspect something is up.”

As a solution, Cotton’s legislation attempts to impose reporting requirements, which the Trump administration had established for a short period following their 2020 report. But, as Cotton noted, the American Council on Education wrote a letter to President Biden begging them to halt the reporting requirement on foreign gifts. 

“And of course, the Biden administration has caved to this,” Cotton said.

Over on the House side, Republicans are also proposing a disclosure system for nonprofit think tanks (often attached to academic institutions) similar to the ones universities had before Biden caved.

Rep. Lance Gooden of Texas introduced the “Think Tank and Nonprofit Foreign Influence Disclosure Act” in March, which he said is an important first step in getting a handle on the “undeniably rampant corruption in the non-profit sector that must be addressed.” 

“Americans and Congress deserve to know if the radical climate groups advocating to shut down the Keystone pipeline are funded by Russia or Russian-backed entities,” Gooden said. “Russia has clearly benefited from the Biden administration crippling the U.S. energy sector, and we must know if the climate groups pushing for this have been doing Russia’s bidding.”

“Foreign nations will no longer be able to hide their agenda behind the non-profits they fund,” Gooden continued. “Both our adversaries and our allies will have to be transparent about the groups they support and will have to explain why they support those groups’ agenda.” 

Gooden’s bill would require the U.S. Treasury Department to make “publicly available in a searchable database information relating to such gifts and contributions received from foreign governments and political parties.” This would mimic the database created in June 2020 by the Department of Education to record gifts of $250,000 or more (Cotton’s Senate bill would lower this threshold to $25,000 or more).

Gooden’s bill would also require disclosure of think tank or similar nonprofit funding of over $50,000 a year from “foreign governments, foreign political parties or foreign military entities.” Gooden is particularly concerned about the foreign funding alleged to be flowing into the environmental sector, which the Capital Research Center has calculated, based on a report from The Center for International Policy, is part of over $174 million in foreign funding to major U.S. think tanks.

More transparency of foreign funding in the energy and environmental sector might almost put some environmental activist groups out of business, Gooden predicts.

“If the flow of foreign funding is cut off to radical environmental groups, they will no longer have the resources to advocate for economy-crippling green energy and Green New Deal priorities,” Gooden said. 

The question of what to do about foreign funding of public policy is not reserved for the right side of the political aisle. While Republicans focus on the nonprofit sector and universities, Democrats have also begun to train a powerful eye on the corporate sector, with a focus on election interference rather than public policy.

In 2021, Democrats reintroduced a bill called “Get Foreign Money Out of U.S. Elections,” which would “block foreign-owned corporations from spending company funds to influence U.S. elections.”

The bill would “extend the federal ban on political donations from foreign nationals to multinational companies that are at least partially owned by foreign nationals,” the Hill reported in December.

While these legislative proposals are ongoing, conservatives have not forgotten the Foreign Agents Registration Act. 

In early 2020, the Department of Justice issued an advisory opinion that clarified the rules regarding when a U.S. nonprofit that receives foreign government funding must register as a foreign agent. This led more than a dozen of the nation’s most well-known advocacy groups to warn that FARA registration was a potential threat to free speech and could threaten their mission.

“Being labeled as a foreign agent under FARA would put our neutrality and independence in jeopardy,” the International Foundation for Electoral Systems said in comment.

Given the problem of potentially malign influence outlined above, and the obvious truth that both sides of the political aisle recognize the potential for foreign interests to be in conflict with domestic policy, FARA reform may be the easiest—and quickest—path to change.

“Congress could certainly try to clarify that which is necessary for a foreign-funded nonprofit to have to register under FARA, as I know some are strongly urging,” Hartmann said. “It’s hard to imagine that there’d be a serious objection from donor-privacy advocates to something like this, much less that any such objection would carry the day among policymakers.”

Sarah Lee is director of communications and external relations at the Capital Research Center.

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Where Gordon Gekko and Pat Buchanan Meet

HOLLYWOOD— Everyone knows the credo of Oliver Stone’s all-time villain. “Greed is good.”

The director’s unmatched portrayal of the 1980s’ man-on-the-make in Wall Street‘s Gordon Gecko is the stuff of legends. To political poindexters, Gekko’s sermon at the board meeting would seem the most famous and obvious homily to a kind of anarcho-capitalism. 

Stone’s archvillain (or is it antihero?) is Milton Friedmanism incarnate. In other words, the market is justice. 

Less often considered today is the full set-up to the fictional financier’s diatribe. 

Gekko: “Well, ladies and gentlemen, we’re not here to indulge in fantasy, but in political and economic reality. America, America has become a second-rate power. Its trade deficit and its fiscal deficit are at nightmare proportions.” 

Gekko then gets flirtatious with industrial policy: “Now, in the days of the free market, when our country was a top industrial power…” 

Gekko goes on to assail bureaucracy, in all its forms: “One thing I do know is that our paper company lost $110 million last year, and I’ll bet that half of that was spent in all the paperwork going back and forth between all these vice presidents.”

“The new law in corporate America seems to be: survival of the unfittest,” Gekko proclaims. “Well, in my book, you either do it right, or you get eliminated.”

And then he closes with his famous lines, the stuff frankly of modern Shakespeare (in terms at least of contemporary political relevance): 

The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed—for lack of a better word—is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms—greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge—has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed—you mark my words—will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.

Now to crib from perhaps the second-most famous film about Wall Street in the Eighties, I’ll invoke American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman: Is that Donald Trump’s car?

Admittedly, the concept of a paleoconservative Gordon Gekko is a novel one. The man is supposed to be the “libertarian” dream. Add in Gekko’s dubious ethnicity (the consensus seems to be probably atheistic Jewish from a working-class background). Mix in the fraught history between sectors of the “paleos” and some American Jews and the state of Israel, and the intellectual pairing may veer to some on the truly absurd.

But in this era of species-level existential crisis, cryptocurrency crashes, and political realignment, it is worth noting the coalitions of old are ultimately indecipherable to anyone who did not live through it (and this writer did not, the 1980s). The past is a foreign country. And more importantly, money isn’t real. With the first inflation shock since before Gekko’s heyday, that everyone seems to be in agreement on. 

As by now most seasoned readers know, “deregulation,” in the Fukuyaman sense, was supposed to create an implicitly center-right society: desultory narcotic use would be naturally discouraged because it would harder to show up to the office; large family formation was impressive and a way to get ahead in your career; power in the hands of private companies meant minimal bureaucracy; the “upward surge” of the society as Gekko put it, would be undisputedly felt, even by the haters and losers. The fact that involved a country, “a corporation” as Gekko called it, with an industrial capacity and rules of behavior, seemed self-evident to Gekko.

And what is Francis Fukuyama up to these days, anyway? Frank is predicting on his blog that Vladimir Putin is a sure goner, unbowed by the years, 1992-2022. Trust the process.  

Potshots aside, it is worth re-exploring the nature of 1980s right-wing criticism of what has come to be summarized as “Reaganism.” Gekko’s soliloquy occurs in 1987; while he probably voted for the man, and personally thrilled and benefited from Reagan’s optimism and successes at human liberation, Gekko hardly sounds like a totally happy supporter of the 40th president, his assessment of the country being then still quite dour.

Let’s cast aside the comparably unremarkable sequel film from 2010—what would Gekko say now? Well, shifting back to Bret Easton Ellis now, Bateman’s crony Timothy Bryce (in the film version) remarks of Reagan: “He makes himself out to be a harmless old codger.” Another right-wing critic of Reagan’s interpretation of laissez-faire? The 45th president

“But this…is the last chance for these ideas,” Pat Buchanan told Tim Alberta in the early Trump years in power. At bottom, Gekko Gordon is a political animal like “Pitchfork Pat,” who was of-course the co-founder of The American Conservative. The man of the film is drawn toward macro-philosophizing like Buchanan was drawn to the presidency. 

One does wonder what Buchanan thinks now. In the second-most famous monologue of the film, a more baleful Gekko comes to an end by saying: “Now you’re not naive enough to think we’re living in a democracy, are you buddy?” 

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January 6 Was Not a Coup

Was there a coup attempt on January 6? For the answer to be “yes,” there had to have been a realistic path by which some action on that day could have resulted in Donald Trump remaining president of the United States.

Watching the show trial on television, you could believe it might have been possible. The special committee’s TV show is dedicated to convincing a lay audience the Trump administration came “that close” to tossing away our democracy, with some mechanism almost clicking into place that would have left Trump in power.

It would be easier to take the Democrats seriously if they would coolly outline just how Trump could have stayed in office without the military, who were clearly not taking a partisan stance on January 6. Absent that, you had political theater and a riot, not a coup attempt. Think back to the 1960s and ask yourself if occupying the administration building on campus would have stopped the Vietnam War in its tracks. This is politically much ado about not much, except Democratic Party 2024 electioneering.

To stage a coup, you need tanks on the White House lawn. Instead, America transitioned peacefully from one administration to another. That hard reality is wholly missing from the Democrats’ January 6 committee hearings and all the frou-frou that accompanies them.

Could Trump have used the Capitol riot to declare martial law and stay in power? No. The president cannot use the military domestically in a way Congress does not agree with. The “web of laws” Congress enacted to govern the domestic activities of the armed forces—including the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the use of federal troops to execute the law without express congressional authorization—would stop Trump cold.

According to well-settled principles of constitutional practice, the president cannot act in a way Congress has forbidden unless the Constitution gives the president “conclusive and preclusive” power over the issue in dispute. Martial law has been declared nine times since World War II, five of which were to counter resistance to desegregation in the South. Although an uneasy climate of mutual aid has always existed between the military and civilian law enforcement, Department of Defense personnel are limited in what they can do to enforce civil law. They can’t extend a presidential term. That business of tanks on the White House lawn? Someone has already thought it through.

The Insurrection Act of 1807 is the one statutory exception to the Posse Comitatus Act that does allow the president to deploy the military domestically, but, by precedent, the armed forces can only be used to suppress armed insurrections or to execute the laws when local or state authorities are unable or unwilling to do so. The military’s role under this law is limited, and the existence of the Insurrection Act in no way puts the military “in charge” and does not suspend the normal functions and authorities of Congress, state legislatures, or the courts.

More importantly, troops in the streets have nothing to do with votes that are already in ballot boxes. Same for seizing voting machines or ballots, which were already counted by January 6.

Anything Trump might have tried to do on January 6 would have required the military to play along, which there is no evidence the military did. Just the opposite, in fact. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, took a number of steps to ensure any dramatic orders out of the White House would be confirmed, checked, and likely delayed, perhaps indefinitely. While some of Milley’s actions raise constitutional issues of their own, particularly his interference with the nuclear chain of command, clearly Milley was in no way priming his forces to participate in any sort of executive coup.

It is critical to point out how deeply the idea of civilian control of the military, and the separation of powers, is drummed into America’s officer corps. It’s like a religion. Unlike many countries in the developing world, America has a professional corps well-removed from politics, which sits atop an organization built from the ground up to respond to legal, civilian orders. If Trump had ordered the 82nd Airborne into the streets, their officers would have almost certainly said no.

With martial options well off the board, a coup would have had to rely on some sort of legalistic maneuver to exploit America’s complex electoral system. The biggest issue there is the 20th Amendment, which states unambiguously that a president’s term ends after four years. If Trump had somehow succeeded in preventing Joe Biden from being inaugurated, he still would have ceased to be president at noon on January 20, and Nancy Pelosi, as Speaker of the House, would have become president. There was no mechanism to stop that succession, ironic as it would have been.

The most quoted Trump plan ran something like this: “Somehow,” even though the Electoral College had met on December 14 and decided Biden was to be president, Republican-friendly legislatures in Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania would “ignore” the popular vote in their states and appoint their own pro-Trump electors. The law (the 19th-century Electoral Count Act) does allow legislatures to do this in the never-seen, highly unlikely event that a state fails to make a choice by the day the Electoral College meets, which, in this case, had passed before January 6.

Never mind the details; the idea, for Trump, was to introduce enough chaos into the system to force everyone in the United States to believe the only solution was to force the election, two months after voting, into Congress, where Vice President Pence himself would break the tie after every Republican agreed to play along with the scheme and choose Trump for another term.

In addition to every other problem with that scenario, Pence had no intention of doing any such thing. Trump maintained “The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors,” when in fact, Pence’s January 6 role was entirely ceremonial, presiding as electoral votes, conveyed by the states, were counted and certified, and then announcing the outcome.

The location of the riots did not matter. Although the riots slightly delayed the final announcement of the results, which still occurred at the Capitol, there is nothing in the Constitution that requires the receipt and certification to take place in the Capitol. Pence could have met with Congress at a truck stop outside Philadelphia and wrapped up business there. Pence, in a 2022 speech, said “I had no right to overturn the election. Frankly, there is almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president.”

To imagine a dystopian fiction where one state legislature blows past the vote to choose pro-Trump electors is difficult. To imagine several doing so simultaneously to gin up enough Trump electors, and then to imagine the Electoral College changing its mind, is impossible.

There was no indication Republicans in these important states considered going along with this anyway. Pennsylvania’s top state GOP official indicated his party would follow the law and award electors to the winner of the popular vote. He stated the state legislature “does not have and will not have a hand in choosing the state’s presidential electors or in deciding the outcome of the presidential election.” Besides, the borderline states all had Democratic governors who would have refused to approve after-the-fact Trump electors.

Such goofy schemes were also in the wind in 2016, when both Trump and many progressives looked to little-known electoral law for some sort of failsafe. They failed, too. Despite the many claims about how close we came to democracy failing, in reality, our complex system proved at least twice in recent years to be made of stiffer stuff.

What is missing most of all from the January 6 Democratic telethon is any acknowledgment that the system worked. The Constitution held. Officials from Vice President Pence on down did their jobs.

All the fear mongering, all the what-ifs Democrats now hope will distract Americans from their party’s failures of governance—war, inflation, gas prices, gun violence—miss the most important point of all. There was no attempted coup. That the committee does not plan to send a referral to the Justice Department is proof enough.

Democrats can’t win in 2024 on what they have to offer. With all the efforts to prosecute Donald Trump for something (including January 6) having failed, their sole strategy is to make people believe Trump tried to overturn the last election, and, upon failing to do so, chose t0 re-embrace the electoral process. This is little more than Trump’s third impeachment, televised.

If you are about preserving the rule of law, judgment for Trump’s actions must not come from a kangaroo court. The real message echoing from January 6? The system works. We were never even close to losing our democracy.

Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent.

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Mexico Helps Migrant Caravan Headed to U.S. Border

The largest migrant caravan to date this year has mostly dissipated, but that doesn’t mean that thousands more migrants are no longer headed to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Members of the migrant caravan initially gathered in the city of Tapachula on the Mexican side of the Mexico-Guatemala border, and set off on their march towards the United States in the second week of June. While the caravan formed in and departed from a Mexican town, the bulk of the caravan’s members were from Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. There were also Haitians, Salvadorans, Hondurans, and Guatemalans in the mix. Individuals from India, Bangladesh, and some African countries were also spotted in the caravan’s ranks.

The caravan topped out at around 11,000 members. The organizer of the caravan, Luís Villagrán of the Center for Human Dignification, claimed that nearly 70 percent of the caravan’s members were women and children, from newborns to elderly individuals in their seventies. But a quick Google search for images of the caravan before it dispersed seems to suggest that the composition of the caravan was not, in fact, 70 percent women and children. If the scores of photos of the caravan are representative of the whole, men—particularly younger, working-age men—made up more than 30 percent of the caravan’s members.

It’s no surprise that Villagrán might lie about the composition of his caravan, or at least feign ignorance and embellish the truth. Previously, Villagrán organized other caravans during the Trump administration’s tenure, as well as several others last year, though those caravans also dispersed on the trek north.

What is surprising, however, is Villagrán’s candor about the fact that these caravans are nothing more than a political stunt. “Immigration is used as a political tool. These women and children are like coins to be exchanged,” Villagrán told the Guardian.

Prior to the caravan’s departure, the Mexican National Migration Institute (INM), while not typically helpful towards such caravans, wrote a letter to Villagrán expressing sympathy for migrants and promising to protect them. “It’s very possible [Mexican President Andrés Manuel López] Obrador wants to use this caravan to look like a humanitarian before the Summit of the Americas,” the letter read, which is partly why Villagrán scheduled the caravan’s departure to line up with the summit.

Villagrán clearly doesn’t feel ashamed. But he should. Though there might be truth in the old saying “there’s safety in the herd,” joining these massive caravans still involves serious risk. As word spreads that these caravans are passing through certain Mexican communities, it attracts the worst of humanity. Migrants risk becoming victims of sexual assault or rape, or falling prey to human smugglers, coyotes, and cartels, not to mention the possibility of injury, disease, or death due to the physical toll of the journey. 

After traveling fewer than 25 miles over the course of about a week, the INM announced that Mexican authorities granted members of the caravan documentation providing these individuals legal status in Mexico as they make their way to the U.S.

Mexican law prevents migrants from traveling beyond Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas without this documentation, a provision put in place during the Trump-era migrant crisis from 2018 to 2019. Though the caravan was not close to leaving Chiapas—again, it only traveled about 25 miles—Mexican authorities decided to grant the caravan members legal status anyways. It is estimated that upwards of 9,000 individuals have received the legal status needed to continue north.

The INM said the documentation means “migrants are prevented from being victims of criminals who are dedicated to human trafficking or traffickers who expose the migrants to unsafe conditions.”

Typically, migrants attempting to get to the U.S. do not seek or request protection from the Mexican government out of fear of being turned away by INM personnel at the border, or being deported to their home countries if they approach the INM after making their way further into Mexico. But the INM’s open communication with the caravan, as well as its quick approval of legal status for America-bound migrants, could be a concerning sign of what is to come.

Make no mistake: The left wants to break America’s immigration system to make mass amnesty the only apparent solution to our migration problem, and gain millions of voters in the process. Bad actors like Villagrán do their bidding on the ground, and institutions like the INM play right into their hands. Their attempt to make one crisis go away quietly will only create more crises down the line. If this new precedent set by the INM becomes the norm, the result will be a vicious cycle of higher and higher levels of migration until someone with the political will comes along and says “Enough.”

It may be true that providing this documentation discourages some of the current migrants from seeking extreme measures to get to the U.S.-Mexico border, where they still may attempt to buy or smuggle their way across even with their legal Mexican status. A protracted stay in Mexico is not these migrants’ goal, even if Mexico would qualify as a first safe country for individuals claiming to be asylum seekers or refugees.

Nevertheless, providing this documentation only incentivizes further migration, as evidenced by the massive influx of migrants to the U.S. southern border over the course of President Joe Biden’s tenure after his promises to liberalize U.S. immigration laws. The members of the latest migrant caravan are scattered in the wind for now, but soon they’ll once again amass at the U.S.-Mexico border, where those waiting to gain entry into the United States reportedly number in the hundreds of thousands.

The post Mexico Helps Migrant Caravan Headed to U.S. Border appeared first on The American Conservative.

On Assassination Attempts

More masks have been coming off lately than just the KN95s (though one fears this is a reference whose significance will be soon forgotten, because of, not despite, its enormity). Of course, if you see a mask as a mask then you know something lies under it, and liberal proceduralism has always been a manufactured friendly face for the naked realities of politics. Indeed, that was liberalism’s point, to paint some lines and make a war a sport. But that artificiality has become a little more inescapable, and so I hope more people clinging naively to a consensus that no longer exists will wake up to the acrid burning smell. 

The Dobbs opinion leak was that recent alarm for some, a final realization that the fiction of judicial sacredness, an institution set apart from the partisanship of every other piece of American life, was just that: fiction atop faction. But if that was not alarming enough, last Wednesday saw a man arrested in an attempted assassination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. A media firestorm erupted—I kid, of course. The reality today is that we have entered a period of political history where the attempt on a Supreme Court justice’s life is largely considered a yawn. Major papers and cable news channels, with the exception of Fox, hardly touched the story, and the implicit of course we aren’t calling for anyone to actually die but he’d deserve it if he did from liberal pundits on Twitter was barely subtextual. There was a very brief reckoning of sorts when Congressman Steve Scalise and the Republican Congressional baseball team were almost killed by a lib in 2017. It was theatrical, and only happened at all because Scalise came so near to dying of his wounds. We barely remember it now. 

With the January 6 committee show trial, quite literally a professionally produced special television event, the contours of the moment become clearer. Even more clear, if we step back to actually look, are the most recent arrests related to the circus. Peter Navarro was arrested earlier this month, publicly and aggressively, after Democrats held him in contempt for refusing to testify before the committee. That arrest came a day after the former White House economic advisor promised to work to impeach President Joe Biden when the GOP takes control of Congress in the midterm elections this November. Meanwhile, last Thursday, Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley was arrested by the FBI on charges related to January 6, never mind it being a year and a half later. MSNBC acknowledged the arrest to be unprecedented, with Kelley the first candidate for major public office charged in connection to the riot.

But we are only getting started. On Sunday, since years of Russiagate and a “shadow campaign” to “fortify” the 2020 election have not been enough to banish MAGA, members of the January 6 committee announced they had enough evidence for the Justice Department to “consider an unprecedented criminal indictment against former President Donald Trump.” That would certainly be a boost for ratings, since the miniseries has been thus far, as far as infotainment goes, a snoozefest. The show’s historic interest is largely in the abstract, that it is happening at all, not the particulars. But rolling out the Watergate red carpet for an already dethroned emperor marks another step toward criminalizing losing national elections. That might be where heads already were in the Clinton and Biden family machines, Obama somewhere still present behind the scenes, but apparently it is time for the rest of us to see it: win, or it’s not just the election you might lose.

None of this is, in a long enough view, really unprecedented. It is hard for the popular consciousness to remember the chaos and violence of the 1960s and ’70s. Presidents and officials and public figures have been actually assassinated. And America fought a formal Civil War, of course, back when it was possible to fight one, the seceding states fielding regular armies against the federal troops. Today, however, after many successive administrative and judicial consolidations of our national government, that sort of professional Caesar vs. Pompey fight seems impossible. Unrest last century looked the way it did for not-yet-abrogated reasons, and so escalating future civil conflict would resemble far more the sort seen in Argentina, or Lebanon, or, God help us, Spain. And that means the line that divides rising inflation and homelessness and crime from political violence will be blurry, the point between declining standards of living and disintegrating order one we risk tripping on.

Grim, I know. But attempted assassinations should be taken seriously, and things like the apparent firebombing of a pregnancy resource center in Gresham, Oregon, now being investigated by the ATF and FBI, put one in a grim state of mind. Nevertheless, as the angels say, fear not. This too will pass, though we may not like its passage. Tend what is given to you to tend. As a mad farmer once said,

Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.

The post On Assassination Attempts appeared first on The American Conservative.

National Conservatism: A Statement of Principles

NOTE: The following statement was drafted by Will Chamberlain, Christopher DeMuth, Rod Dreher, Yoram Hazony, Daniel McCarthy, Joshua Mitchell, N.S. Lyons, John O’Sullivan, and R.R. Reno on behalf of the Edmund Burke Foundation. The statement reflects a distinctly Western point of view. However, we look forward to future discourse and collaboration with movements akin to our own in India, Japan, and other non-Western nations. Signatories’ institutional affiliations are included for identification purposes only, and do not imply an endorsement on the part of any institution other than the Edmund Burke Foundation.   

We are citizens of Western nations who have watched with alarm as the traditional beliefs, institutions, and liberties underpinning life in the countries we love have been progressively undermined and overthrown.

We see the tradition of independent, self-governed nations as the foundation for restoring a proper public orientation toward patriotism and courage, honor and loyalty, religion and wisdom, congregation and family, man and woman, the sabbath and the sacred, and reason and justice. We are conservatives because we see such virtues as essential to sustaining our civilization. We see such a restoration as the prerequisite for recovering and maintaining our freedom, security, and prosperity.

We emphasize the idea of the nation because we see a world of independent nations—each pursuing its own national interests and upholding national traditions that are its own—as the only genuine alternative to universalist ideologies now seeking to impose a homogenizing, locality-destroying imperium over the entire globe.

Drawing on this heritage, we therefore affirm the following principles:


1. National Independence. We wish to see a world of independent nations. Each nation capable of self-government should chart its own course in accordance with its own particular constitutional, linguistic, and religious inheritance. Each has a right to maintain its own borders and conduct policies that will benefit its own people. We endorse a policy of rearmament by independent self-governing nations and of defensive alliances whose purpose is to deter imperialist aggression.


2. Rejection of Imperialism and Globalism. We support a system of free cooperation and competition among nation-states, working together through trade treaties, defensive alliances, and other common projects that respect the independence of their members. But we oppose transferring the authority of elected governments to transnational or supranational bodies—a trend that pretends to high moral legitimacy even as it weakens representative government, sows public alienation and distrust, and strengthens the influence of autocratic regimes. Accordingly, we reject imperialism in its various contemporary forms: We condemn the imperialism of China, Russia, and other authoritarian powers. But we also oppose the liberal imperialism of the last generation, which sought to gain power, influence, and wealth by dominating other nations and trying to remake them in its own image.


3. National Government. The independent nation-state is instituted to establish a more perfect union among the diverse communities, parties, and regions of a given nation, to provide for their common defense and justice among them, and to secure the general welfare and the blessings of liberty for this time and for future generations. We believe in a strong but limited state, subject to constitutional restraints and a division of powers. We recommend a drastic reduction in the scope of the administrative state and the policy-making judiciary that displace legislatures representing the full range of a nation’s interests and values. We recommend the federalist principle, which prescribes a delegation of power to the respective states or subdivisions of the nation so as to allow greater variation, experimentation, and freedom. However, in those states or subdivisions in which law and justice have been manifestly corrupted, or in which lawlessness, immorality, and dissolution reign, national government must intervene energetically to restore order.


4. God and Public Religion. No nation can long endure without humility and gratitude before God and fear of his judgment that are found in authentic religious tradition. For millennia, the Bible has been our surest guide, nourishing a fitting orientation toward God, to the political traditions of the nation, to public morals, to the defense of the weak, and to the recognition of things rightly regarded as sacred. The Bible should be read as the first among the sources of a shared Western civilization in schools and universities, and as the rightful inheritance of believers and non-believers alike. Where a Christian majority exists, public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision, which should be honored by the state and other institutions both public and private. At the same time, Jews and other religious minorities are to be protected in the observance of their own traditions, in the free governance of their communal institutions, and in all matters pertaining to the rearing and education of their children. Adult individuals should be protected from religious or ideological coercion in their private lives and in their homes.


5. The Rule of Law. We believe in the rule of law. By this we mean that citizens and foreigners alike, and both the government and the people, must accept and abide by the laws of the nation. In America, this means accepting and living in accordance with the Constitution of 1787, the amendments to it, duly enacted statutory law, and the great common law inheritance. All agree that the repair and improvement of national legal traditions and institutions is at times necessary. But necessary change must take place through the law. This is how we preserve our national traditions and our nation itself. Rioting, looting, and other unacceptable public disorder should be swiftly put to an end.


6. Free Enterprise. We believe that an economy based on private property and free enterprise is best suited to promoting the prosperity of the nation and accords with traditions of individual liberty that are central to the Anglo-American political tradition. We reject the socialist principle, which supposes that the economic activity of the nation can be conducted in accordance with a rational plan dictated by the state. But the free market cannot be absolute. Economic policy must serve the general welfare of the nation. Today, globalized markets allow hostile foreign powers to despoil America and other countries of their manufacturing capacity, weakening them economically and dividing them internally. At the same time, trans-national corporations showing little loyalty to any nation damage public life by censoring political speech, flooding the country with dangerous and addictive substances and pornography, and promoting obsessive, destructive personal habits. A prudent national economic policy should promote free enterprise, but it must also mitigate threats to the national interest, aggressively pursue economic independence from hostile powers, nurture industries crucial for national defense, and restore and upgrade manufacturing capabilities critical to the public welfare. Crony capitalism, the selective promotion of corporate profit-making by organs of state power, should be energetically exposed and opposed.


7. Public Research. At a time when China is rapidly overtaking America and the Western nations in fields crucial for security and defense, a Cold War-type program modeled on DARPA, the “moon-shot,” and SDI is needed to focus large-scale public resources on scientific and technological research with military applications, on restoring and upgrading national manufacturing capacity, and on education in the physical sciences and engineering. On the other hand, we recognize that most universities are at this point partisan and globalist in orientation and vehemently opposed to nationalist and conservative ideas. Such institutions do not deserve taxpayer support unless they rededicate themselves to the national interest. Education policy should serve manifest national needs.


8. Family and Children. We believe the traditional family is the source of society’s virtues and deserves greater support from public policy. The traditional family, built around a lifelong bond between a man and a woman, and on a lifelong bond between parents and children, is the foundation of all other achievements of our civilization. The disintegration of the family, including a marked decline in marriage and childbirth, gravely threatens the wellbeing and sustainability of democratic nations. Among the causes are an unconstrained individualism that regards children as a burden, while encouraging ever more radical forms of sexual license and experimentation as an alternative to the responsibilities of family and congregational life. Economic and cultural conditions that foster stable family and congregational life and child-raising are priorities of the highest order.


9. Immigration. Immigration has made immense contributions to the strength and prosperity of Western nations. But today’s penchant for uncontrolled and unassimilated immigration has become a source of weakness and instability, not strength and dynamism, threatening internal dissension and ultimately dissolution of the political community. We note that Western nations have benefited from both liberal and restrictive immigration policies at various times. We call for much more restrictive policies until these countries summon the wit to establish more balanced, productive, and assimilationist policies. Restrictive policies may sometimes include a moratorium on immigration.


10. Race. We believe that all men are created in the image of God and that public policy should reflect that fact. No person’s worth or loyalties can be judged by the shape of his features, the color of his skin, or the results of a lab test. The history of racialist ideology and oppression and its ongoing consequences require us to emphasize this truth. We condemn the use of state and private institutions to discriminate and divide us against one another on the basis of race. The cultural sympathies encouraged by a decent nationalism offer a sound basis for conciliation and unity among diverse communities. The nationalism we espouse respects, and indeed combines, the unique needs of particular minority communities and the common good of the nation as a whole.



Michael Anton
Hillsdale College Kirby Center

Larry Arnn
Hillsdale College

Amber Athey

David Azerrad
Hillsdale College Van Andel Graduate School of Government

Stephen Bartulica
Center for the Renewal of Culture (Croatia)

Megan Basham
Daily Wire

Rachel Bovard
Conservative Partnership Institute

Michael Brendan Dougherty
National Review

David Brog
Edmund Burke Foundation

Will Chamberlain
Internet Accountability Project

Timon Cline
Modern Reformation

Edward Corrigan
Conservative Partnership Institute

Ken Cuccinelli
Election Transparency Initiative

Victor Davis Hanson
Hoover Institution

Sen. Jim DeMint
Conservative Partnership Institute

Christopher DeMuth
Hudson Institute

Miranda Devine
New York Post

Emile Doak
American Conservative

Rod Dreher
American Conservative

Ben Dunson
American Reformer

Alvino-Mario Fantini
European Conservative (Austria)

John Fonte
Hudson Institute

Henry George
Merion West (United Kingdom)

Francesco Giubilei
Nazione Futura (Italy)

David Goldman
Asia Times

Derryck Green
Project 21

Ofir Haivry
Edmund Burke Foundation (Israel)

Josh Hammer

Grant Havers
Trinity Western University (Canada)

Yoram Hazony
Edmund Burke Foundation (Israel)

Nate Hochman
National Review

Clifford Humphrey
Troy University

Emily Jashinsky

Julie Kelly
American Greatness

Fr. Benedict Kiely

Roger Kimball
New Criterion

Charlie Kirk
Turning Point USA

Tom Klingenstein
Claremont Institute

Michael Knowles
Daily Wire

Mark Krikorian
Center for Immigration Studies

Ryszard Legutko
Jagiellonian University (Poland)

Brad Littlejohn
Ethics and Public Policy Center

N.S. Lyons

Daniel McCarthy
Intercollegiate Studies Institute

Michael McKenna
Washington Times

Mark Meadows
Conservative Partnership Institute

Arthur Milikh
Claremont Institute Center for the American Way of Life

Amanda Milius
AMDC Films

Curt Mills

Joshua Mitchell
Georgetown University

Balázs Orban
Mathias Corvinus Collegium (Hungary)

John O’Sullivan, CBE
Danube Institute (United Kingdom)

Melissa O’Sullivan
Danube Institute

Matthew Peterson
New Founding

Nathan Pinkoski
Zephyr Institute

Jaime Nogueira Pinto
Futuro Presente (Portugal)

Tomasz Poręba
New Direction (Poland)

Grégor Puppinck
European Centre for Law and Justice (France)

David Reaboi
Claremont Institute

R.R. Reno
First Things

Julio Rosas

Christopher Rufo
Manhattan Institute

Austin Ruse
Center for Family and Human Rights

Saurabh Sharma
American Moment

Marion Smith
Common Sense Society

Nick Solheim
American Moment

Thomas Spence
Regnery Publishing

Daniel Strand
Air War College

Carol Swain
Be The People News

Peter Thiel
Founders Fund

Russ Vought
Center for Renewing America

Anna Wellisz
Edmund Burke Foundation

Liz Wheeler
Liz Wheeler Show

Ryan Williams
Claremont Institute

Scott Yenor
Boise State University

The post National Conservatism: A Statement of Principles appeared first on The American Conservative.

Wish List of a Swing Voter

Being raised in 1970s Ohio meant I was raised Democrat. In my northern industrial area, Republicans were old people, or those three good-natured guys from the Jaycees who always joked about “next year” at the get-out-the-vote rallies.

It’s true. I used to write for the Nation, even a couple of articles for the New York Times. I didn’t change much, but my party did, and one day a few years ago I woke up being yelled at by women in pink hats clamoring that I was a racist—if not an outright Nazi—for supporting the free expression they called “hate speech.”

I didn’t leave the Democratic Party as much as I was abandoned by it. With the midterm crushing of the party coming this autumn, as sure as the good guy wins in professional wrestling (big in Ohio), I can’t say I’m ready to go back. But if Democrats want to lure people like me home, here are some things they will need to do.

Dems, third-trimester abortions, really? And just because I personally support limited abortion rights, you say I also have to buy into a whole full-meal deal of unrelated-to-everyone-but-you LGBETC.? Didn’t you get the memo? Trying to bundle all these things with the Equal Rights Amendment and various other woke measures cost you support, not earned you it. 

Jettison the Blue-Anon rhetoric. I barely made it through four years under Trump, hearing every day that the sky was falling, the walls were closing in, and that damn clock would not stop tick-tocking. It turns out every tweet by Trump was not the end of democracy, fall of the Republic, or wrap party for the rule of law.

When the Supreme Court moves against your wishes, I don’t need to wake up to a headline like “The Supreme Court Is a Tool of Tyrants” or worse, “Time for Canada to Offer Gender Asylum to American Women.” Same for when the Electoral College or the Senate does not bounce your way. These institutions were crafted by the Founders to achieve a balance of power, and they do it fairly well.

Accept that “balance” means occasionally things will go the other way. The same court that rewrote society implementing Roe can do it again taking down Roe. So no more op-eds demanding a packed Court, or a change to equal representation in the Senate, or the end of the Electoral College, or more weight on the popular vote, or any of that. Shut down MSDNC and its hemorrhage of fake news. We’re tired of the media taping the chosen candidate’s latest statement on the national refrigerator door.

The Founders still matter as examples, despite their flaws. Many were only in their 20s as they wrote the code running beneath the United States, kids, who for the first time in history created a nation based on a synthesis of ideas. They risked “Our Lives, Our Fortunes And Our Sacred Honor” to do that, a dandy example for pols today who are unwilling to stand up and offer an opinion without polling advice.

They weren’t perfect, but they are deserving of our respect and admiration. Find something more important to fritter away political capital on. What we see in modern “wokeness” is the difference between a small mind and a great mind, between people who ignore their own flaws to pick at others’ out of time and context. Men like Jefferson were prime movers, men who set in place the thing that led to the next thing. That is worthy of a statue or two.

Parties should be big tents, and that does not mean we all have to give up our seats for the meme-of-the-day. Democrats pandering to one racial group (black lives do not matter more than any other lives, such as my own), or to gay folks—until they got boring and the party switched to the All Trans Network—is tiring.

Stop elevating shallow clowns like AOC and her Squad. They are hypocrites, demanding we not judge by color or gender while shoving white men to the back of the bus. Look back to the 1950s and ’60s Civil Rights movements, which stressed the inclusiveness of human dignity, not special treatment for every high-school kid wanting to annoy his parents by wearing dresses junior year.

Many of us currently outside your tent care as much about the First Amendment as any of the above-listed issues. Speech is the fundamental right, the base that supports and drives forward all the others. That beautiful haiku of the First Amendment certainly protects what you call “hate speech,” an idea that, if it started with good intentions, has gone on to suck dirt, and conveniently meaning anything that offends anyone, anytime.

The Supreme Court has found, over and again, that that nasty stuff is protected by the First Amendment. Let them sing, the rude and radical, and get back to fighting bad speech with better speech. Leave Elon alone. Twitter before him sold censorship, the promise to pretty-little-flower people that they would never encounter challenging ideas in their social-media stream, but that is anathema to a democracy that must thrive on the marketplace of ideas.

No more wars. Nobody, after two decades of failures and lies and body bags in the Middle East, voted for Joe Biden to restart the Cold War. The United States, I thought, had learned some sort of lesson in the pathetic finale in Kabul, until Old Joe reminded us it was 1980 again, by his watch. How in the hell did I end up worrying about nuclear war again? Trump (say what you will, I’ll wait) did not restart the Cold War. He did not go to war as you said he would with China, Venezuela, or Iran. He even tried to make peace with North Korea. I want more of that, not this.

Please, Dems, if you want anyone back, really retire Hillary. She represents little beyond corruption, with all those “contributions” to the Clinton Foundation—which dried up alongside her political chances, funny thing—and a near-endless appetite for power.

Spare us “but the other party…” Voters understand nobody is perfect, as is no party. Give it all some thought as you’re licking your wounds over the loss of Roe, and the very likely thumping in the midterms. You have two years to find a real candidate and avoid the easy outs of clones like Harris, Beto, or Buttigieg. It’s a hint that someone does not have what it takes if they’re available to run for the White House because they lost locally and were given a patronage job.

In 2016, Democrats asked for change, and instead watched the party drive Bernie out to the marshes. In 2020, we got the sad skeleton of Joe Biden. No more rigged primaries. No more Hillaries and “debates” with some shmuck playing the Washington Generals. Learn the lesson before 2024 if you would like people like me to be part of the party’s future. Otherwise, we’re going to vote Trump.

Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent.

The post Wish List of a Swing Voter appeared first on The American Conservative.

Ten Years of Boris Johnson?

Lost in the farrago of an economy careening toward recession, the ever-continuing war in Ukraine, and the flat-out boring spectacle of America’s oldest-ever president, a man who is never boring cashed in his seventh or eighth life last week. 

“Across the pond,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived a Conservative Party no-confidence vote. Seemingly the political version of Dick Cheney or Henry Kissinger, obituaries of Johnson’s premiership have been pre-written since the day he ascended to office in July 2019. Yet he never dies.

This practice of assuring the reader that it’s over for “Boris,” has picked up in earnest since the advent of “Partygate.” That is, the revelations (and photos) of Johnson and his staff repeatedly living it up during the lockdown days of 2020, even as Johnson’s government spearheaded a severe crackdown in the face of the Coronavirus. Indeed, the virus reportedly almost (literally) killed the man himself two springs back, and so no wonder by summer, he wanted to enjoy some Chablis with friends (note: even as he scolded others for doing so). 

Calls for Johnson’s head, so to speak, have abated somewhat since Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The British elite, ever in denial of the Empire’s end, has been pound for pound more bellicose on the peripherally important theater than their kin in Washington (though, it should be said, they’ve hardly matched the Americans Pound Sterling for Pound Sterling.) 

So, the vote this week had the feeling of old business. Ouster might have been more plausible if it had been held over the winter, before events once again intervened to save Boris Johnson. 

The result: Johnson—the former London mayor, foreign secretary, Spectator editor and Telegraph columnist—has hung around in the global headlines now for over twenty years, or about as long as the man in the Kremlin he now so bellicosely sets himself against. (That wasn’t enough to stop Johnson from reportedly demanding members of parliament show him their secret ballots in the no-confidence vote… democracy in action). 

Johnson’s European rival, French President Emmanuel Macron, is more commonly assailed for his Machiavellian mutability. But it is Boris Johnson who has pulled off the feat of first cheaply attacking Mitt Romney at the Olympics, then consulting with Steve Bannon and allowing himself to be portrayed as a “Trumpian natonalist,” then pledging with Joe Biden to “build back better,” all in the span of ten years. 

As the battle for Ukraine has shown, Johnson’s reflexive militarism is a clear enough core conviction. A perusal of the prime minister’s Telegraph archive tells the same story. Johnson has long agreed with his on-again, off-again friend, British M.P. Michael Gove (who had to be restrained in August 2013 when the British passed on a round of Middle East airstrikes) about the need to “do something” whether it be in Syria, or Iraq, or the Donbass. 

And it certainly fits the scribbler-statesman’s plain desire to be seen as a latter-day Churchill. At the very least, Johnson has a penchant for simultaneously living in luxury and poverty, as of course did Britain’s wartime leader. Although in Johnson’s case, it appears the hold on the bank account is more alimony than ascots, more indeterminate number of children than Pol Roger champagne.  

But this writer’s fusillade is mere set-up. 

Despite headlines to the contrary, one can see a more plausible path today for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s long term political survival than at any time since his smashing 2019 general election victory. On the eve of the vote, Freddy Gray laid out in the Spectator both what I think is the reality of the man, as well as the ludicrous paucity of available alternatives: 

I have a childhood memory of the hatred many people felt towards Thatcher. The mass loathing of Boris… is different. Thatcher didn’t mind being hated because she had fixed beliefs: an ideology, for better or worse. Boris’s political philosophy has always been far looser. And that’s why the popular rage against him is more like contempt: people hate him for not believing in anything. … They hate him now. They’d miss him soon after he’s gone. Jeremy Hunt? Liz Truss? Ben Wallace? Tom Tugendhat? Come on.

Johnson biographer Tom Bower has reported that Johnson, at his core, is a loner. 

Perhaps similar to Elon Musk in this way, with the basic exception of his paramour du jour, Johnson “doesn’t have friends,” says Bower. Johnson is a disloyal human being. It’s a marked contrast from other world leaders, who often ascend the ranks with almost mafioso omerta when it comes to friends and allies. It’s notably different from predecessors in “Number 10” like David Cameron. 

Another interesting morsel in the Bower reportage is that Johnson and his new wife, Conservative operator Carrie Symonds, desire ten years in power. That would put him, in the prime minister’s mind, in the ranks of Thatcher, Tony Blair, and yes, Churchill, in terms of executive longevity. Though there are murmurings of an early election, Johnson doesn’t have to call an election until December 2024 (what an autumn that’s shaping up to be), and after that, could serve straight through to 2029 uninterrupted. 

In addition to differing with Johnson over Ukraine, Henry Kissinger this month indicated that he doubted Johnson’s overall style of leadership. 

The old American wiseman credited Johnson with “altering the direction” of British society. And, surely, an arch-realist can admire a sheer will to power. But Kissinger gestured at the general unease with Johnson—that he might not be another Churchill, as much as the center-right answer to Blair. That is, like Blair, Johnson’s skills and penchant for survival are not in question. What is less clear is what anyone else on the planet has to show for his talent. 

The post Ten Years of Boris Johnson? appeared first on The American Conservative.

A Countdown for Joe Biden

For half a decade now, America’s media elite have been obsessed with former President Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s conversion to Trumpism.

Press and TV are daily consumed with his actions and prospects and the future of the party he captured in 2016.

Perhaps it is time to consider the prospects of President Joe Biden and the political future of his embattled presidency.

What are the odds that Biden, like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama before him, will run again in 2024, win reelection, serve out a second term and transfer his office to the 47th president on Jan. 20, 2029?

My guess: The odds of that happening are roughly the same as the odds that last-minute entry Rich Strike would win the Kentucky Derby, as he left the starting gate at Churchill Downs at 80-1.

Consider the first hurdle Biden faces on the way to renomination in 2024—the midterm elections five months off.

Since the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 reached record highs in January, both have seen eight weeks of wipeouts of trillions of dollars in value as we have approached bear-market territory.

Stock portfolios, pensions and retirement benefit plans have been gutted. These massive market losses are also a lead indicator pointing to a recession right ahead, just as voters pass judgment on a Democratic Party that controls the White House and both houses of Congress.

But even before we reach recession, Americans have already been living with a Biden inflation of 8 percent that has lasted for months and affected all the necessities of normal life, such as groceries and gasoline.

And the worst seems yet to come.

The Federal Reserve has reversed course from its easy money days and begun to raise interest rates to squeeze the Biden inflation out of the economy. What lies ahead may remind people who were around then of Jimmy Carter’s “stagflation,” where interest rates hit 21 percent to kill an inflation that reached 13 percent.

As for the crisis on the southern border, it is deeper than ever. Some 234,000 migrants were caught illegally entering the U.S. in April alone, with thousands of others evading any contact with U.S. authorities.

This is an invasion rate of some 3 million illegal migrants a year.

Shootings, killings, carjackings, criminal assaults, and smash-and-grab robberies in record numbers are the subject of our nightly news.

And the latest national polls suggest the country is holding Biden responsible. The president’s approval rating is down to 39 percent, and only 1 in 3 Americans think he is doing a good job handling the economy and that the nation is headed in the right direction.

Now the omicron variant of Covid-19 is making a comeback; infections are again over 100,000 a day.

Biden might find consolation from how his predecessors overcame midterm defeats. Clinton in 1994 lost 54 House seats and won reelection easily in 1996. Obama lost 63 House seats in 2010 to come back and win handily over Mitt Romney in 2012.

Why cannot Biden ride out the anticipated storm in this year’s midterms and come back to win election in 2024, as did Clinton and Obama?

Age has something to do with it. Clinton was 50 in his reelection year 1996. Obama was 51 in his reelection year 2012. And both were at the peak of their political powers.

Biden, on election day 2024, will be two weeks shy of his 82nd birthday. Should he serve out a second term, he would not leave the White House until he had turned 86. Biden has been America’s oldest president since the day he took office.

Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers wrote of “energy in the executive” as being an indispensable attribute of good government.

Does Biden, with his shuffling gait, regular gaffes, and physical and cognitive decline manifest that attribute of which Hamilton wrote?

The likely scenario for Biden?

His party sustains a crushing defeat in November comparable to what Clinton and Obama suffered. But the party does not immediately rally around Biden as present and future leader, as it did with Clinton and Obama. Critics inside the Democratic coalition begin to blame Biden for the loss.

Ambitious Democrats, sensing disaster if Biden tops the ticket in 2024, begin to call for him to stand down and give way to a younger candidate, a new face, in 2024.

One or two progressives declare for president, and the pressure builds on Biden to avoid a personal and political humiliation in the 2024 primaries by standing down, as Harry Truman did in 1952 and Lyndon Johnson did in 1968.

By early 2023, Biden will have adopted the line that dealing with the challenge of China and Russia and, at the same time, coping with recession and inflation require his full attention. And these preclude a national political campaign for reelection.

And then President Joe Biden announces he will not run again.

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Washington’s Failed Push for Anti-Russian Global Consensus

Biden administration officials treat Russia as an international pariah and push the global community to unite behind Washington’s leadership to compel the Kremlin to withdraw its forces from Ukraine. The administration’s strategy has been just partially successful. Criticisms of Russia’s actions are relatively easy to find among foreign leaders, but when it comes to outright condemnations—much less endorsements of NATO’s position that the war was unprovoked and entirely Moscow’s fault—governments around the world demur.

They are even less inclined to sign on to the U.S.-led campaign to impose extraordinarily severe sanctions on Russia. Indeed, outside of NATO and the string-of-pearls U.S. bilateral security alliances in East Asia, the support for sanctions is notable for its absence. That was true even during the first month of the war, and it has become even more pronounced since then.

Hudson Institute scholar Walter Russell Mead provides an apt summary of Washington’s lack of success in broadening the anti-Russia coalition beyond the network of traditional U.S. allies. “The West has never been more closely aligned. It has also rarely been more alone. Allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization plus Australia and Japan are united in revulsion against Vladimir Putin’s war and are cooperating with the most sweeping sanctions since World War II. The rest of the world, not so much.”

Signs of trouble surfaced almost immediately. On March 2, 2022, the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and calling for the immediate withdrawal of Russian military forces: 141 countries voted for the resolution, and as U.S. officials were fond of emphasizing, only five voted against.

However, a surprising 35 countries—including 17 African nations—opted to abstain, even though a favorable vote to placate the United States would have been the easy choice. The resolution was purely symbolic, since it did not obligate U.N. members to take any substantive action, yet a significant number of countries in Asia, the greater Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa, opted to snub Washington. More than 20 percent of the General Assembly’s membership refused to embrace a purely feel-good measure the Biden administration emphatically wanted passed. From the outset, the U.S.-sponsored global coalition against Russia looked fragile and unenthusiastic. It has become more so with the passage of time.

African countries especially fail to see any advantage for themselves in supporting the West’s policy. Although Washington insists that repelling Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is essential to preserve the “rules based, liberal international order,” governments and populations in Africa see matters differently. To them, the war looks more like a mundane power struggle between Russia and a Western client state. As one African scholar put it: “many in Africa and the rest of the Global South do not regard—and never have regarded—the liberal international order as particularly liberal or international. Nor do they consider it to be particularly orderly, considering how much their countries were turned into spheres of influence and arenas for geostrategic competition.”

More tangible economic interests also push Africa toward neutrality. A June 3 New York Times analysis concluded succinctly: “A meeting on Friday between the head of the African Union and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia highlighted the acute needs each one hopes the other can fill: Africa needs food, and the Kremlin needs allies.” Indeed, the head of the African Union, President Macky Sall of Senegal, has explicitly called for the lifting of sanctions on Russia.

Even portions of Latin America have balked at waging economic war against Russia. Most troubling for the U.S.-led anti-Russia strategy, both Brazil and Mexico—the region’s two most important political and economic players—continue to dissent. Indeed, the tensions have broadened to negatively impact Washington’s overall relations with those two governments. Mexico’s president even refused to attend the Biden administration’s much ballyhooed “Summit of the Americas” in June. It was an ostentatious snub.

It is especially ominous for U.S. objectives that both China and India have stayed on the sidelines with respect to the West’s showdown with Russia. True, Xi Jinping’s government has also resisted Moscow’s calls for greater solidarity and tangible support. PRC leaders have instead sought to remain on the tightrope of trying to pursue a generally neutral course with a slight tilt toward Russia’s position. But most important, both Beijing and New Delhi have remained firm in their refusal to impose economic sanctions on Russia.

The Biden administration has not reacted well to any country’s attempt to maintain a neutral posture. That annoyance even has been directed at major powers such as China and India. U.S. officials have exerted increasingly insistent pressure on both governments to embrace the West’s sanctions strategy. Some of Washington’s statements have amounted to outright threats. On multiple occasions, the administration warned India that there would be “consequences” for failing to impose sanctions on Russia. The unsubtle message was that India itself could become a target for sanctions from the United States and its allies, if New Delhi failed to cooperate.

Despite the much more extensive bilateral economic links to the PRC, Washington has even threatened Beijing with sanctions if it supported Moscow’s actions in Ukraine. Moreover, “supporting” increasingly became an implicit synonym for “failing to oppose.” Beijing did not respond passively to such pressure. Instead, the PRC warned that it would impose retaliatory sanctions against the United States and its allies.

Washington’s bullying behavior is not playing well internationally. For example, the Biden administration’s threats to sanction China over Beijing’s relations with Moscow immediately spooked Thailand, Indonesia, and other smaller powers in East Asia. However, the reaction was not one of capitulating to Washington’s demands. Instead, the abrasive U.S. approach seemed to harden the resolve of those nations to remain neutral with respect to the Russia-Ukraine war. South Africa and other countries in the Global South also complained loudly about heavy-handed U.S. pressure, and refused to alter their positions.

The Biden administration clearly overestimated the extent of international outrage at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Given the track record of multiple Western military actions against sovereign countries, including Serbia, Iraq, and Libya, it is hardly surprising that other governments might view the West’s stance regarding Moscow’s behavior as the epitome of self-serving hypocrisy. U.S. leaders also overestimated the extent of U.S. leverage to compel nations not in Washington’s geopolitical orbit to participate in a punitive policy toward Russia. It should be a sobering experience, but the administration and the members of the U.S. foreign policy blob that populates it show no signs of learning anything worthwhile. Instead, U.S. arrogance and the inflated sense of Washington’s power continues undiminished.

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow in defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at The American Conservative, is the author of 12 books and more than 1,100 articles on international affairs.

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Silver Screen, Red Scare

Red Carpet: Hollywood, China, and the Global Battle for Cultural Supremacy, by Erich Schwartzel (Penguin Press, 2022), 400 pages.

When Tom Cruise chases the bad guys through the streets of Shanghai in Mission Impossible III (2006), in the original cut, the city’s streets are topped by clotheslines hanging from apartment buildings. Paramount Pictures cut the clotheslines from the final version at the behest of Chinese officials, who thought it made Shanghai look backward. Erich Schwartzel makes the obvious pun in his fine new history of Hollywood in China, Red Carpet: “The censors made sure no one could see China’s dirty laundry.”

His other examples of censorship are not so droll. The zombie movie World War Z (2013) cut a scene where a character explains that the zombie outbreak originated in China. Men in Black 3 (2012) cut a scene where Will Smith uses his memory-erasing neuralyzer on a group of Chinese bystanders, presumably because it invited comparison to Chinese Internet censorship. The film bureau doesn’t explain its decisions, so the motivation behind its cuts is a matter of speculation.

Schwartzel’s story begins in 1994, when Beijing first allowed American films to be shown in China at a rate of ten movies per year. The relationship between Hollywood and Beijing blossomed, and China is now the largest film market in the world. Studios are wary of doing anything to jeopardize their access to a country where billion-dollar grosses are routine. If that means scrambling in post-production to change the invaders in the 2012 Red Dawn remake from Chinese to North Korean, so be it.

This is a story full of moral compromises, with innocent casualties along the way. Richard Gere adopted the Tibetan cause as his personal human rights crusade in the 1980s, and his reward was to be blacklisted by the major studios. He is still bearing the consequences today. “Several years ago, he was attached to star in an independently financed movie that was to be directed by a Chinese director who had no plans to show the film in China,” Schwartzel writes. “Two weeks before shooting began, the director called Gere on a secure line. ‘I can’t do it,’ he said. If he made a movie with Gere, the director and his family would never be permitted to leave China again.”

What do these American film executives tell themselves? According to Schwartzel, it varies. Some are purely amoral, people who don’t care about the politics as long as the money is good. Renny Harlin, the Die Hard 2 director who picked up and moved to China in 2014, seems to fall into that category. Others construct more elaborate alibis.

Gerry Lopez was CEO of AMC Entertainment Holdings when the theater chain was considering an acquisition offer from the Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda. Regulators at the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which had the power to block the sale, asked Lopez if he thought there was any danger in having a foreign company control America’s second-largest chain of movie theaters. Couldn’t they fill cineplexes with Chinese propaganda? Not unless they wanted to go out of business, Lopez retorted. 

Lopez defended the sale—which CFIUS approved in 2012—by downplaying its consequences. American audiences are too sophisticated to be taken in by Chinese propaganda, he implied, and the Chinese are smart enough not to try the heavy-handed tactics they use at home on American viewers. Even if that were true (and it is not), Lopez underestimates the power that China accrues from gaining control over various chokepoints in the movie industry, from investment to distribution. 

The tale of how Hollywood and Red China came together may be fascinating, but, Schwartzel explains, it is already out of date. This is a book about the fall of Hollywood in China. Recently, the Chinese government started rejecting more and more American titles without explanation, and the movies that do make it through aren’t bringing in nearly as much in ticket sales as they used to.

The big studios keep trying to guess what they are doing wrong. Should they cast more Chinese actors? Or stick with homegrown megastars? Millions of man hours have been devoted to figuring out why Kung Fu Panda was such a hit in China and why the live-action Mulan was such a flop.  

The answer is probably very simple. There is nothing Hollywood could have done one way or the other; China had just learned all they had to teach. China used to have quite a weak domestic film industry, plagued by low production quality and amateurish scripts. Actual dialogue from a Chinese movie quoted by Schwartzel: “We could increase the cooperation in archaeological research between China and India. That would be in line with the One Belt One Road policy.” “Very well said!”

They have improved. Schwartzel quotes one Chinese executive explaining the rise of his country’s domestic film industry: “For years, Chinese moviegoers have been eating French cuisine in the form of art-house films, hamburgers in the form of American blockbusters, or broccoli in the form of state-produced propaganda. ‘It turned out that all Chinese people wanted was a bowl of noodles,’ he said—cinematic comfort food from their own culture.”

In all likelihood, Hollywood is simply learning what so many other American industries have come to understand about China and technology transfer: Once the Chinese can replicate your product for themselves, your usefulness to them is at an end.

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The Right to a Javelin 

It was a youthful indiscretion. Papa had trained me well, put safety before fun, explained firing lines and pointing where you meant to. I still remember Nana warning him off about using high-velocity rounds on their ranch—the neighbors didn’t like the noise—and him ignoring her and explaining that we could shoot this particular direction because even if I went high the lead would still come down on family property. But this was not .22 Long Rifle on the ranch. It was the Crosman variable-pump BB and pellet air rifle, in the suburbs. 

I and the neighbor kid had shot every day that summer. Were we 12? He only had a little Daisy, but was still pretty good with it. We’d gotten bored with standard targets and moved to medicine cups and plastic army men, but still found ourselves itching for a challenge. I liked making paper airplanes, too. They could do tricks. If you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life; let’s shoot planes, I thought. A toss, a swoop, a staggering spin, two shots, and the back window of the minivan was on the ground, shattered. It was a mix between a miracle and height differentials that my younger siblings hadn’t been hit. I didn’t shoot much the rest of the summer. 

But my mother had been, till then, right to let us shoot unsupervised in the yard. We knew what we were supposed to do and the firearms were scaled appropriately to something you could mow in a couple hours. Ours were dangerous toys, others are dangerous tools, but either way there is little more American than knowing how to use one responsibly. My mother had grown up shooting with Papa. Dad had shot while briefly in ROTC. Hunting rifles in pickup trucks, and even lockers, in rural high schools were not uncommon even just a few decades ago. 

The issue today is not guns near schools, or even in them. The guns haven’t changed since the last century; the schools have, and the kids have. But along with many other obvious reforms of education and social media, here is something we can do about guns and schools: Firearms safety and use should be incorporated into our curricula. Grade kids on marksmanship. Not everyone has a Papa to teach them. 

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” was enshrined as an amendment to our Constitution for a reason—was, in the Bill of Rights, a part of ensuring the incorporation of those states wary of a stronger federal government. From the Second Amendment to Sergeant York, from Black Panthers to Roof Koreans, gun ownership is as American as apple pie. There are at least ten guns per American in America right now. Whether you like it or not, there cannot be a United States in any meaningful continuity with either the American Revolution or even the decrepit regime of today if the personal ownership of firearms were substantially changed. So with public shooting courses, let American gun use become well regulated, ruled by shared skill and custom.  

Laws must be enforced by arms. Civil War and Civil Rights, the story of American political development has been one of equality at the end of a gun. For much of that history those guns have been held by feds, but before then, and more fundamentally, political equality was built on the cooperation of armed fathers and armed sons, and, sometimes, armed mothers and armed daughters. Republican government as we know it traces itself through the rule of armed feudal lords back to the self-rule of citizen soldiers in classical democracy. It is a compact to hold arms not in common, but for the common good. Scripture being specific about murder and unspecific about weapons, it is to this tradition, and our own, that we must look as we consider what prudence suggests about the lawful ownership and use of firearms. 

The Constitution and Second Amendment have not been entirely abrogated as such yet, and I leave the minutiae of case law to the lawyers. But we can also look to our Declaration of Independence, by which our forefathers entered violent rebellion invoking the laws of nature and nature’s God, to see the causes for which Americans have kept and resorted to arms. We often read only the soaring promises of the second paragraph and skip the indictment of King George, but let us recall two here. 

First: “He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.” A professional army, an occupying external military force, turned against a citizenry, this the Founders associated with barbarism. And second: “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” To leave the persons and property of the citizens undefended, to make no distinctions between combatants and noncombatants, this was associated with savagery. But this barbarism and this savagery can reemerge at any time, indeed do reemerge in tyranny and lawlessness, and thus our Second Amendment. 

Much is made by proponents of stricter gun control of Europe and Japan; to which I say, America is a nation of pilgrims and pioneers, a frontier country, and not a defeated people long occupied by foreign powers. Much is also made of the military style of popular firearms; a recent political cartoon for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution depicts Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky saying, “We want America to provide Ukraine with powerful military weapons like the ones U.S. 18-year-olds can buy.” To this I say, never mind the inanity of the apparent point about AR-15s, let the right of the people to keep and bear Javelins not be infringed. Much is made of the vast inequality in fire power between the U.S. federal government and American citizens, to suggest that since the armed preservation of rights would be impracticable it need not be countenanced; to that I say look at Afghanistan and asymmetric warfare everywhere. But I also say look back to the hoplites, and the origin of self-government in the alliance of armed citizens, and back to the breaking of martial aristocratic orders on the equalizing barrels of the gun, and hope for some new instrument of leveling the battlefield. Power armor, perhaps.  

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Get Smart on Intelligence

The Heian period of Japanese history saw the slow shriveling of imperial rule. Overshadowed by powerful court families and hostage to palace intrigues and a generally effete highbrow culture (princes in those days cried a lot, and weren’t ashamed to write girly poems about their feelings), the Heian capital lost interest in, and then control of, the hinterlands.

The source of the trouble was a military detachment that Emperor Kanmu, who founded the Heian capital in 794, had sent to the Far North, which thereafter lingered on as a weaponized brigade. One suspects that Kanmu had played up the “Far North” bit and sent the toughs as far away from the center as possible just to keep them from meddling in government affairs. 

In any event, what began as an emperor-centered polity in Heian-kyō devolved into ruder rule by spear and bicep. As the imperial center waned, the semi-unemployed platoons whose forebears had once laid waste to the Northern barbarians began to tax the surrounding provinces for their own benefit. Because, honestly, why ride a thousand miles for conquest when there are fat, unarmed suckers right next door? It was becoming martial law without civilian control.

Over time, local strongmen, at first hired to guard farms and estates from these half-deputized, half-freelancing, quasi-ministerial marauders, got an idea.

“We have a lot of weapons,” the strongmen bethought themselves. “So why are we carrying on with the fiction of answering to the roving bands, who themselves have pretty much dropped the charade of answering to the schmucks in the capital in the flowing silk robes?”

Thus was born the samurai, the men who realized they were the real government. Flip that switch, dear reader, and it’s lights out. Power sorts itself out, and there is really no confusion, among those in the know, about who calls the shots.

The episode above unfolded between roughly the time of Charlamagne and the Third Crusade. But the same thing, mutatis mutandis, has played out in our own time. Only it’s not the military that runs the show any longer. It’s the spooks. 

It used to be that the gods were the keystones of rule. Then it was the generals. But as statecraft has become more and more the business of controlling and manipulating information—a process that has moved along slowly, at different paces and by different steps in different places—it has been, increasingly, the spies and secret police who have come to call the shots. A long time ago, court historians faked history to support sovereigns. Now, court historians write history in advance. It’s called a “daily intelligence briefing.” It’s a map of how the spymasters will the future to unfold.

Understanding this, getting smart on intelligence and how it is the real power behind what we euphemistically call our democratic republic, is indispensable for the modern American. Fail to know how our government really works, and we will forever be led around by the nose, from one bloody debacle and canceled civil liberty to the next.

The end of the American Heian period came when we started conquering Apaches and Filipinos instead of minding our business at home. American intelligence grew out of the United States’s shift from being an agrarian democratic republic to an urbanizing, progressive empire feeding on deficit spending for war.

A good book on the consequences of this intelligence capture of American government is James Bamford’s 1983 Puzzle Palace. The book’s “Prelude” section  tells the story of Herbert Osborne Yardley (1889-1958), the Indiana man who helped set the United States government onto the fateful course of, as Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson would later call it, the ungentlemanly practice of reading other people’s mail. During the First World War, Yardley and his MI-8 (“MI” standing for “Military Intelligence”) group helped Washington win the information battle both abroad and at home. The Bill of Rights was the real casualty of that useless conflict. Washington used its chokehold on information to maintain the most important monopoly that any government can and must hold: not that on violence, pace Weber, but on violence’s legitimator, information.

After that war, Washington kept on reading other people’s mail, especially that of the Japanese, imperial rivals with whom the D.C.-types would tangle in earnest in 1941. The same Henry Stimson who had chided Yardley for peeping on the enemy became a convert to the cause of espionage. As America went deeper and deeper into its century-long (and counting) imperial-war quagmire, intelligence burrowed deeper and deeper into the American governmental soul. After World War II the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) gave way to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). This was, in essence, the final coup of the intelligence clan. The military, and Washington in general, was now in the thrall of black ops.

The Cold War, Vietnam as an outpost within it, and all the wars since (can you say “slam dunk on WMD”?) have been the creatures of intelligence. Budgets and budgetary oversight are punchlines in that world. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Nobody, my friends. The money is inexhaustible when you are writing your own checks. The logic is bureaucratic to its core.

History is a motley art and the words “always” and “never” are pretty much off limits. But perhaps I can be permitted a sweeping generalization just this once: There are no great men in a bureaucracy. The career bureaucrat is a parasite, always, and never acts but for his own next paycheck, which is a compelling interest inseparable from the ever-expanding income of his department. This is the American intelligence “community” (in the same sense that pirates are “entrepreneurs”) in full monty. It is mercenary pencil-pushing, installing and assassinating tinhorn dictators until one makes retirement and can buy a Winnebago.

Once you know the secret, then secret service takes on a whole different cast. Those who have seen a James Bond movie will know that our hero works on “Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” But does he? Or does the queen do his bidding in the end? Bond’s interests and Buckingham Palace’s very nicely align, to be sure. But which is the tail and which is the dog? As with the samurai, perhaps it also occurred to Mr. Bond at some point that having a license to kill was a very convenient thing when killing was how one made a living anyway. Her Royal Highness is safe in her bed, protected by James Bond on his unpleasant errands abroad. So surely he must be servant, and she master.

Switch cultural registers a bit and wade around in the cesspool to test this theory. In 2016, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, exonerated, on no authority save his own ego, the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary R. Clinton, of wrongdoing in the to-do about her secret servers and the e-mails she deleted from when she was running guns and uranium as a side business while secretary of State. Well, many said (including me), it seems the FBI is in the tank for the Clintons. But then, in a wild October surprise, Comey reopened the investigation into Hillary’s crooked schemes after it came to light that a Hillary aide’s pervert husband had a mammoth trove of Hillary e-mails on his laptop. Ouch, that smarts. Hillary lost. 

So, did Comey throw the election to Trump? Or did he play it straight and just follow the evidence without fear or favor? The answer is neither. The answer is that it doesn’t matter, when you’re a spy, who wins or loses. You own them all. We now know that Comey’s FBI was already thick in its plans to run a coup against Trump should he get in the White House. That was their “insurance policy.” In fact, when Trump did get in, that is precisely what Comey’s FBI did.

But in October of 2016, Comey still unconsciously believed Hillary would win. Here’s Comey’s spin on that moment and those e-mails on the pervert’s laptop: “[Hillary is] going to be elected president and if I hide this from the American people, she’ll be illegitimate the moment she’s elected, the moment this comes out.” Here’s the translation: “If Hillary gets in, I own her. And if she doesn’t, then in four years I’ll own her still.”

Comey had nothing to worry about with Trump. He owned him already. Hillary had been feeding the FBI fake news about Trump in Russia with delegates from the Prostitutes for Putin club. Or something. But so brazen is the game that the FBI doesn’t even try to hide its corruption any longer. Prostitutes for Putin? Whether we believed that nonsense or not made no difference. The FBI owns us, too. Comey’s deputy’s wife had taken pallets of cash from Hillary’s top bundler, but nobody with political horse sense was going to say anything about it. Because the spooks run the show.

The one thing Comey didn’t factor in was anybody’s fighting back. Trump did, firing Comey in May of 2017. Trump fought hard. He tried to make Washington an American town again. But the latter-day samurai won in the end. The eavesdroppers rule the world. It was all too easy. One of the men who used to do Comey’s job parachuted in, issuing a “report” after conducting an “investigation” on the whole tawdry business, and then doddering off into the sunset while the Bureau waited for the Washington machinery to finish chewing up the first president in modern history who bucked the intelligence regime.  

All the loose ends have now been tied up from that little escapade, too. Just last week, a Democrat judge rigged a “trial” so that a D.C. jury would have no choice but to exonerate the bottom-feeding Democrat lawyer who fed the FBI the completely false fairy tales about Trump. The FBI has no need to drag this all out any further. The point was proven long ago. And, besides, after more than 40 years of FISA courts’ rubber-stamping intelligence ops against Americans, why would a bought-and-paid-for judge feel the need to demonstrate independence of thought? Who gives up a pension for a fool’s errand?

As Minamoto no Yoritomo might have said were he Christopher Wray, “Get smart. No matter what it looks like, the fact is I don’t work for the folks in the long black robes. The folks in the long black robes work for me.”

This is “intelligence” in the USA. The spooks own Washington. It has been a cliché since the days of J. Edgar Hoover that the people reading the mail are the ones who rule the world. Want to keep a useful idiot on the throne? “Hunter Biden’s laptop is Russian disinformation,” say the leading lights of the “intelligence community.” Want to make sure troublemakers stay out of power? January 6. 

On Friday, June 3, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the one that ran the coup against President Trump based on fake oppo research from Hillary Clinton, arrested Peter Navarro, an actual American patriot. What set the G-Men in motion? Why, they were “acting on a referral from the Democrat-run House that held [Navarro] in contempt for refusing to testify at the partisan January 6 Committee.”

Remember when James Clapper lied to Congress? But Clapper was the DNI, so arresting him would be like accusing the manorial lord of stealing his own silverware. But Navarro is guileless. Guileless, and frank. Therefore, he is a sitting duck. Guess what happened just one day before the arrest? “Navarro,” Breitbart reported, “appeared on left-wing MSNBC to promise that he would lead efforts to promote the impeachment of President Joe Biden if Republicans take Congress in the midterm elections, which they are expected to do.”

Funny how that works. Hunter Biden’s laptop is Russian disinformation. Now, Peter Navarro is facing jail. Freedom and democracy. Long live the republic. Get smart on intelligence, my fellow Americans. Until we end the spooks’ stranglehold on our government, we will all be like the medieval Japanese emperors, praying that we don’t offend the people who really run the show.

Jason Morgan is associate professor at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan.

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Revisiting America’s Debt

America’s unsustainable national debt has not gone away but instead has worsened considerably. This was recently made clear by Jeff Anderson’s important analysis published by the Claremont Review of Books. Anderson writes that “our national debt—which reached $4 trillion the year that [Ross] Perot ran—has hit $30 trillion.” He adds, “If our debt were to keep rising at that rate over the next 60 years, it would increase more than 50-fold and surpass $1.5 quadrillion (a quadrillion, which sounds like a made-up number, is a thousand trillions).”

I was the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee from 2011 to 2015, when the last serious budget debate occurred. Congressman Paul Ryan was chair of the House Budget Committee. He had carefully crafted an historic plan for America that would have put the nation on a sound fiscal path, and his program included policies that would have reformed and saved our runaway entitlement programs—Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security—that were and remain the primary systemic drivers of the debt. A secure financial future is not achievable without such reforms.

The effort was aided by strong support from many sources, including the report of the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, commonly called the Simpson-Bowles Commission. That report urged major bipartisan reforms, without which a grim financial future was predicted. There was truly a window of opportunity. But to get bipartisan support, the support of President Barrack Obama was essential. His refusal to join doomed the effort.

Anderson’s recent piece brought that debate back to mind. His study, based on official federal tallies, illustrates that things have not improved. Instead, the risk has steadily increased. Here are some of the facts Anderson highlights:

  • We “racked up more debt in the 12 months of 2020 than we did during the four years of the Second World War”—even “after adjusting for inflation.”
  • We “added as much debt held by the public in 2020 alone as we did from the end of World War II to the end of 2008” (a span of 62 years), even “after adjusting for inflation.”
  • “In 2021, the federal government collected more than three-and-a-half times as much money, in real dollars per capita—that is, above and beyond inflation and population growth—as it did at the start of the postwar period”—but “it spent nearly seven times as much.”
  • “It is…the Great Society that is bankrupting us”—from the “first year that Medicare spending visibly hit the books” (1967) “through 2020, Medicare and Medicaid cost a combined $17.8 trillion, while our combined federal deficits over that same span were $17.9 trillion”

During that previous debate there was strong support for the idea that since the nation can carry only so much debt before a default or crisis results, the debt-to-GDP ratio is a key evaluation tool. Historically, a ratio that rises close to 90 percent is evidence of an economy in the danger zone. Harvard Professors Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, in their important book This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, note that over half of governmental defaults have occurred when the ratio was below 60 percent. As Anderson notes, in 2020 our debt-to-GDP ratio hit 100 percent.

Clearly, it is time for our leaders to take notice. They must explain the danger and take action. Amazingly, in 2020 we spent $6.6 trillion after collecting $3.4 trillion in tax revenues—so, more than $19 went out for every $10 that came in. Over the last five years, the average has been $3.5 trillion collected, $5.2 trillion spent.

Such numbers are the very definition of unsustainable. A nation must have a reserve or else it has no ammunition during a crisis. Such annual and massive deficits can’t be accepted.

To be clear, all the trillions in “emergency” spending—every penny—has been borrowed. These deficits are funded by increasing the public debt through issuing Treasury bonds to lenders all over the globe, and by the Federal Reserve buying government debt instruments—a worrisome event in itself. When the Fed buys government bonds, it effectively prints money. This devalues the currency in circulation, inflates the cost of every product, and it devalues personal savings. After a single year of 8 percent inflation, a saver’s $10,000 is reduced to $9,259 in real value.

There is no doubt: Large debt is dangerous to the nation and to its responsible citizens. Anderson notes that in 2019, before manic federal spending during Covid sent deficits soaring to new heights, the government collected about $10,500 per capita in taxes. What did it spend it on? He writes, “The first $1,000 essentially just went into the trash—it was used to pay interest on the debt, not to buy anything.”

Any economic gain attained by injecting borrowed money will always be paid back in some fashion and at some point by someone, all to the detriment of the economy and the citizenry during payback. The reason is clear and was simply stated by that great economist, Julie Andrews, in The Sound of Music: “Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could.”

Jeff Sessions served as attorney general of the United States and a senator from the State of Alabama.

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The Big Apple’s Rotten Core

I went home to visit New York with that same curiosity that makes you slow down when passing a wreck on the highway. I had read of a city gone feral, zombie homeless armies in Midtown, the deserted office blocks, and crime stepping in for Darwin to take care of what was left. It was morbid, harsh, and cynical curiosity.

The overall feeling one gets in New York is that it is used up, a failed place that somehow is still around, like an abandoned industrial park. The irony; it was Wall Street dealers who helped turn the once-prosperous Midwest into the Rust Belt. Now the brokers are gone, too. 

Just as in Weirton or Gary you drive past empty mills, so you do in Wall Street. There are no trading houses; the last international, Deutsche Bank, left and is leasing space Uptown. I found myself largely alone on the old streets off Wall, the ones that went all the way back, Beaver, Pine, and Stone. Most of the old Gilded-era banks are being converted into condos for people who aren’t here yet and may never come. Recent Census numbers show a 300,000-person drop through last summer. Even now, more people are moving out than in.

At the same New York time-space that you see empty condos you see a fair number of homeless in the shadows. The city commandeered empty hotels in the area for them during the worst of the Covid winters.

And then there is the Stock Exchange, left out of the place it created. The building is still there, but near-zero trades occur in it. Most everything is remote now, a trend started after 9/11 and completed by Covid. On my next visit it wouldn’t surprise me to see the space converted into a Target.

Like some elaborate joke about canaries in the coal mine, the condition of New York’s subways points to the direction the rest of the city is headed. With parts of the system still in use that were built 118 years ago, the thing is a testament to just how far the least amount of maintenance will go. You expect it to be too cold in winter, too hot in summer, that rare mix of urine and street-gravy smell, and layers of filth that may be what is actually holding it all together.

But the purpose of the subway has changed. With fewer people working out of offices, and more of those that do driving private cars in the city (parking is a new thing to complain about, as car theft is up double-digit percent from pre-Covid) the subway is no longer common ground for New Yorkers.

Vast numbers of visibly mentally ill people inhabit the subway. It is their home, their kitchen, and their toilet. Is that liquid on the floor Gatorade, or…? Did it leak from the guy nearby, a silent poet of this apocalypse, or will it be what consumes him? The almost obscene level of noise from the tired machinery begs you to contemplate these things as a distraction.

The person in Union Square Station pushing a shopping cart and yelling racial slurs may not physically hurt anybody, but he is a symbol of a city that just gave up caring while lying to itself about being compassionate. There is no compassion in allowing thousands of sick people to live like rats inside public infrastructure.

The subway is an angry place; assaults are up 50 percent over last year. And last year, there were more assaults than at any time in the last 25 years, including a Covid-era trend of randomly pushing people into the path of an incoming train just to watch them die. I didn’t see that, but I saw its secondary effects: passengers bunched up like herbivores on the African savanna with their backs against a wall for protection. Fewer people looking at their phones so as to stay more alert. Unlike in any other city in the world, the five subway shootings during my stay were not remarkable, which itself is remarkable.

If you use the subway, you acknowledge that you must share it with the predators, under their rules. Like everywhere in this city, navigating around the mentally ill, the homeless, and the criminal element is just another part of life. People treat each other as threats, and just accept that. To an outsider, it seems a helluva way to live.

A couple of those “only-in-New York places” are holding on, but their ambience is grim, not scrappy. Passing the United Nations compound, you’re left with the memory that in the 1950s, this was once the most powerful city on the globe. Where’s the value now?

My favorite pizzeria, the original Patsy’s at First and 117th in Harlem, is still open and still one of the oldest, the last, and the best—somehow still staffed by old Italian men in an otherwise all-black neighborhood. Nearby Rao’s, an old-school red-sauce joint, is in much the same state, both places in some sort of time-vortex, or the DNA from which someone will someday genetically re-engineer New York for a future museum.

The NYPD has reoccupied Times Square military-style (I’m sure many of the cops are Iraq and Afghan vets). The problem is, Times Square shares a border with the rest of New York, and a block or two away, places like the Port Authority bus terminal are decaying, returning to their primordial state. There are no obvious hookers there like there were in the 1970s, but the girls’ space in the ecosystem is taken by the homeless and those who provide them services, usually quick, sharp black kids selling what the cops told me was fentanyl, N.Y.’s current favorite opioid.

Every measure of Covid was made worse by bad decision-making. Lockdowns decimated whole industries while still leaving New York one of America’s “red zones.” Defanging the police, coupled with no-bail policies, drove the mark of crime deeper into the fabric of neighborhoods. The tax base crumbled. Pre-Covid, the vacating top 1 percent in NYC paid nearly 50 percent of all personal income taxes. Property taxes add in more than a billion dollars a year in revenue, about half of that once generated by office space. Who’ll pay for any comeback? Disney? The Chinese? It won’t be the Russians this time.

Left in New York is the largest homeless population of any American metropolis, including 114,000 children. The number of people living below the poverty line is larger than the population of Philadelphia, and would be the country’s seventh-largest city. More than 400,000 reside in public housing. Another 235,000 take rent assistance. They live in the third world. You look at it and you cannot believe this is the same country in which you live. 

The relief only comes on an individual basis. Doormen keep the riff-raff out (you-betcha residents ponied up for the new contract to avert a strike), giving them money for Uber instead of the subway, money for exclusive clubs and restaurants, money for private security. After all, it is your building’s thugs against theirs.

Yes, I hear your sigh. Yes, I get it. Yes, every generation proclaims New York is dead or dying. Yes, it was better under Giuliani, or Bloomberg, or Bourdain. And sure, some of what you read today is exaggerated, composed by writers unfamiliar with “New York Normal,” the things we—they—take sadly for granted in a city that perpetually has seen better days.

Why do we live this way? While NYC is worse, “nice” places like Denver and Honolulu suffer from the same ailments, albeit in scaled-down form. Why do we accept that homeless drug users live on our subways, which should serve as the public transport our taxes paid for and our society needs? “Go Green” we’re told, but doing so means risking your life. It isn’t this way in Europe and it isn’t this way in Asia.

Like a last visit to a Covid patient’s bedside, I needed to see it. New York was a good place to live for a while, a kind of an adventure, but its time is over. I said goodbye like an old friend. I hadn’t felt like this in a departing plane since I left Baghdad.

Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent.


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Is the Red Wave Starting in California?

LOS ANGELES— California used to be as red as its pinot noir.

Which is to say: slightly, but decidedly and famously. The launchpad of Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, as well as latter-day projects such as “the Governator,” that all seem like yesterday’s news in 2022. Yes, large swaths of the Golden State outside of the major metros are quite conservative. And indeed, America seems poised to soon swap one Californian speaker of the House, a Democrat from San Francisco, for another, a Republican from Bakersfield. Also true, many of Donald Trump’s team in office (from Steve Bannon to National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien, Stephen Miller to Orange County’s own Mike Pompeo, to the wider media ecosystem) had bonafide California roots.

But Trump as a candidate, and as a president, hardly visited the place…and who could blame him? But large numbers and lands of wonky promise are weird things: Trump literally received more Californian votes for president in 2020 than any other Republican presidential candidate has. And despite its reputation as a leader of resistance, California saw “more pro-Trump crowds than any other state during the president’s term in office,” the Los Angeles Times grimly noted on the day Trump was booted from Washington in 2021. Still, Bannonism would seem an odd fit for Laguna Beach, or as the former White House chief strategist himself once said, on why he stopped residing in the area: “Bad vibes.”

But could California Republicans and independents be the ultimate beneficiaries of “the vibe shift”?

There has been cautious optimism from Democrat haters before, only for them to swiftly suffer humiliation. Case in point: the disastrous performance of California conservative eminence grise Larry Elder, “the Sage of South Central,” in last year’s gubernatorial recall. Still, that was before the full fallout from Afghanistan, the comeuppance to the White House on inflation, eight-dollar gas, and the astonishing sight of the parked-ships supply chain crunch I saw firsthand dotting the paradisiacal sunset in Huntington Beach last fall.

Agitants in a more conservative direction caution that any “return to form” may take election cycles, and not just this one. Still, the state’s demographics are striking: notably Hispanic and Asian at a time when the Democrats are plainly bleeding those votes. And the state-level and national mood is as sour as ever. As a contemporary in San Francisco once remarked, “California is still the future. The future just sucks.” Or as Republican candidate for Senate Jon Elist told me, “California is worth fighting for.”

Elist, 37, is potentially in poll position in Tuesday’s “jungle primary” to take on appointed incumbent Alex Padilla, a Democrat, in the general election in the fall. He told me he’s been somewhat frustrated by the apathy of conservative bigwigs in the state, loath to dispense with resources in a Blue Mecca, considering themselves exiles in their own land. He attributes Elder’s poor performance, yes, to a vibe shift so to speak, but also to a high number of Republican voters who stayed home in 2021, believing the election integrity frustrations out of Mar-A-Lago. It is a line I’ve not heard so much before in real life. It is, of course, always the anxiety of Mitch McConnell, or a Mitt Romney, and the voter fraud narrative did plausibly cost the GOP two Senate seats in Georgia. But Elist says he cares about the subject on two fronts: you’ve got to vote, and the establishment has to care about making election integrity a priority: “voter ID,” “poll observers,” the works, “this should not be partisan.”

As anecdotal as it gets: Most Americans seem unhappy, but what, exactly, does opposing the Democrats mean?

Conservative elites, such as they are, can’t even agree on the subject, the whole “vision thing” as George H.W. Bush once put it. Rising star Nate Hochman posited in the New York Times over the weekend that the Culture War is alive and well, but this time, it is far less religious. It’s a piece you should read.

Hochman himself in the piece denounces “the Republican porn star,” Brandi Love, who caused a minor brouhaha by both attending and then got booted from a right-leaning event last year. But he concedes his religious conservative side of things is but a coalition partner, and not necessarily the one calling the shots, in any effort to overthrow Democratic hegemony. And, indeed, the Culture War is different this go ’round, and potentially one the right can win: not gay marriage and national abortion bans, but should we teach transexuality in preschool?

Hochman the native Oregonian knows his neighboring California. Elist, a Princeton and Stanford graduate who was mentored by Condaleeza Rice, is now in an interesting niche of medical devices sales. As Elist told me: he is “going to have to sell a lot more penile implants” to make his mark.

For now, for many Californians, the order of the day is the first thing they see in the morning when they step outside their doorsteps (if they’re lucky to have one): a society in disrepair. Homelessness. Off-the-rails drug use. Anomie and alienation. Everyone knows it; it’s only a matter of if they deny it. Ever the cultural Machiavellian, comedic grandee Bill Maher’s guests over the weekend here in the City of Angels were Douglas Murray, the elegant author of the subtly-titled The War on the West and Michael Shellenberger, the independent gubernatorial aspirant and author of San Fransicko. If Republicans won’t seize this mantle, anyone willing to call themselves not-a-Democrat, or all but, will.

Elist says he could surprise against Padilla, who he notes has abysmal name recognition for a man who has been in politics for a quarter-century. Padilla, frankly, seems like sort of a non-entity. More prominently, ex-Republican billionaire Rick Caruso, a nominal Democrat, is the favorite to take the L.A. mayor’s mansion in downtown. His is a law-and-order message, backed by Kim Kardashian and Elon Musk—say what you will, the duo have an eye for winners.

The conservative Hoover Institution’s own Lanhee Chen is making a concerted effort for California controller and looks like the man to beat, winning even the L.A. Times’ endorsement. And in a development that would warm the late Andrew Breitbart’s heart, ten years after his stunning death in Beverly Hills, literal Weather Underground scion Chesa Boudin, the Sorosist D.A. of San Francisco, looks poised for downfall in the world’s most beautiful and benighted city.

There are, of course, other races here too. There is even another Nathan Hochman, who thinks he’s got a shot at being state attorney general. Once upon a time, in the last Republican midterm wave election, one Kamala Harris almost blew this race. And Southern California is a panoply of promised land for the GOP. For anyone who dreams of a “working class, multiethnic party,” there are conservative Asian American congresswomen and Hispanic veteran House members galore. And take Kevin Kiley, like Elist also 37, but from up north near Sacramento, who passed on running for governor again this year and instead is gunning for Congress. In my own view, he’d be a rare cogent voice in the nation’s lower chamber.

For a Republican Party toying with making “nationalism” its official credo, it might not be insane to include its most populous, most powerful, and politically disparate state. Certainly, Californication is never the boring move.

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Every Knee Shall Bend

Who could ever have guessed they’d have such a thing for compelled submission?

I’ve always been a devotee of the New World monarchies, not least among them the presidency of these United States. Yet even I was a bit perturbed this week when the nominally reigning Joseph I issued his royal decree in observance of the new liturgical season.

The president warns therein that “the rights of LGBTQI+ Americans are under relentless attack… especially people of color and trans people.” (“LGBTQI+ Americans…especially people of color”—does Biden just have crappy writers, or is it gay to be black now, too?) He bemoans that “an onslaught of dangerous anti-LGBTQI+ legislation has been introduced and passed in States across the country, targeting transgender children and their parents and interfering with their access to health care.”

If there was any question remaining as to this government’s support for the permanent surgical mutilation or chemical sterilization of children, it has now been put to rest.

The proclamation concludes:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2022 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to recognize the achievements of the LGBTQI+ community, to celebrate the great diversity of the American people, and to wave their flags of pride high.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty-first day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-two, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-sixth.

At the risk of stating the obvious, these words do not suggest the “live and let live” mentality once feigned by the drivers of the LGBT movement. A presidential proclamation is a pretty public thing, and a call from the Oval Office for “the people of the United States…to wave their pride flags high” does not exactly leave room for dissenters. This is symbolic, of course, but it does reinforce the administration’s professed interest in advancing “LGBTQI+” interests through actual policy.

Symbolic actions matter. When the highest official of the most powerful nation in the history of the world sets aside an entire month in honor of a deadly sin (not to mention the particular weirdness of that sin’s entanglement with deviant sexual habits), that matters.

Nor was the White House the only part of the government to honor the occasion. On June 1, Secretary Janet Yellen raised a rainbow flag just below the stars and stripes on the flagpole of the U.S. Treasury building. As the American economy limps toward the abyss, it is good to know the chief financial officer of the United States government has her priorities in order.

Even the military, in living memory (and properly by nature) one of the government’s last reservoirs of tradition, joined in celebration. In an apparent knockoff of the poster art for Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (not exactly a Marine-friendly movie), the Corps posted a picture of an old-school M1 helmet holding six rainbow bullets that look suspiciously like crayons in its band. The gaffe was mocked relentlessly on Twitter. The Air Force tweeted a similarly goofy rainbow-tinted picture. The Army, for what it’s worth, marked June’s beginning only as the month of its own founding in 1775.

In other uniformed services news: The U.S. Public Health Services Commissioned Corps simply tweeted a captioned picture of its four-star Admiral Rachel ( Richard) Levine, to a whopping 31 likes as of this writing.

“Pride” is even more pervasive outside the official confines of the regime. Every major corporate power, and a good share of the smaller ones, has taken the opportunity to announce its devotion. When the clock struck midnight on the first of June, every company logo suddenly turned rainbow, and massive corporations have issued newspeak statements about the infinite glories of queer folx. One hippie toiletry co. even tweeted an exhortation to “groom with pride” before thinking better of the word choice.

In a way, the corporate gayification is even more consuming than the government one: How could anyone who does not wish to involve himself in observances of Pride even participate in the economy—with all the social and material necessities it provides—for the thirty days of June?

Those who still bother remarking on hypocrisy have pointed out that no such corporate rainbow onslaught occurred in countries that have not abrogated laws criminalizing sodomy, which is a helpful reminder that culture and capital both remain (at least in part) downstream of politics. In the West though, the unspoken message of capital has been one with that of the state: Get on board or go hungry.

In fact, the state has decided to make that message explicit. Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that any public school that does not comply with the Biden administration’s LGBT agenda will risk being cut off from federal funding for vital programs like lunch for students from low-income families. If they can’t slice your kids, at least they can starve them.

Happy Pride to all who celebrate, and all the poor souls who will have to soon.

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The Left Wants to Repeal the Second Amendment

Every time there is a mass shooting, the same political scene unfolds. Voices on the left begin calling for “sensible public policy” on firearms. The hosts of The View lose their minds because evil Republicans won’t fix the problem. Democratic politicians haul in money while decrying Republicans’ failure to “prevent gun violence and save lives.” The president makes a speech insisting he respects lawful gun owners, before asking when the carnage will stop and demanding a host of “common sense” gun-control measures. Yes, the left wants background checks, red-flag laws, etc. But the reform they really seem to salivate over is banning supposed “assault weapons,” like the AR-15. The issue inevitably gets debated back and forth in the media. Nothing happens at the federal level. Then, after a few weeks, the issue fades.

Why this action-less cycle? Certain voices on the left claim that America suffers from a “disproportionate influence of small states,” caused by the equal representation in the Senate and the existence of the filibuster. This argument has been used in a variety of political situations over the years when the pesky middle of the country gets in the way of what the Blue Coasts want to impose. When liberals are honest, they know that this nation was never created to be a democracy. This “problem,” then, is not a problem at all; it is an intentional check on the majority’s ability to impose its will on the nation in all matters. Also, perhaps the constant failure to pass these elusive “sensible gun-control measures” is not simply a matter of unsuccessful, stymied legislative efforts. Perhaps the existence of the Second Amendment, and a United States Supreme Court willing to uphold it, are the real issues for the left.

While voices on the left push many false claims about the text and meaning of the Second Amendment, two in particular deserve mention. 

First, one cliche always seems to circulate after these tragedies. It goes something like: “The Second Amendment says it is necessary to have a well-regulated militia. So, the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms for militia members, not ordinary civilians.” It is always uttered as if it is an original thought that has never been considered. 

But it has been considered. And, as the majority opinion penned by Justice Scalia in D.C. v. Heller in 2008 observed, the claim suffers from both a grammatical error and a historical one.

In the text of the Second Amendment, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” constitutes the preface. It is not an operative legal clause at all. A prefatory clause may give you the reason a writer has in mind for the clause that follows, but it does not limit what comes next.

For example, if there were a rule that “Proper decorum being necessary in church, the right of the people to wear fine dresses and suits shall not be infringed,” this would in no way limit the right to wear fine clothes to church-goers or to Sunday. The right to wear fine clothes would be the operative part of the rule. The first part announces the purpose, but the purpose is not a limit. If the Second Amendment read “The right of the people to keep and bear arms so that they can form a well-regulated militia shall not be infringed,” the conversation would be different, since purpose (forming the militia) would be tied to the right itself. But the language of the actual Second Amendment simply does not allow such a reading.

Then there is the historical issue with the definition of a militia here. Crafty progressives or unwitting civilians may opine that the militia refers to some kind of military force, or, at least, a state or local quasi-military force—something like the national guard or local police department today. If we have organized police forces and standing armies protecting us, they ask, isn’t the whole “militia” thing obsolete? The answer ought to be a resounding “No!” Justice Scalia’s opinion in Heller takes a deep dive into the historical context. In short, the “militia” at the time included all males physically capable of acting for the common defense, and was decidedly not a standing military. In fact, the Antifederalists at the time of the American Founding wanted the Second Amendment in place because they feared that the government would disarm the people and allow a standing army or select government-run militia to displace an armed populace. The citizen militia identified in the Second Amendment is meant to ensure that the people, and not government forces alone, are armed.

We should also address the asinine idea that the Second Amendment protected only the muskets and flintlock pistols of the 18th century and would not have covered “weapons of war” then or supposed “assault rifles” today. President Biden has repeatedly and falsely stated that the Second Amendment initially limited who could own a gun and what type of weapon one could own. This is clearly not true; it appears there was no law preventing 18th-century American civilians from owning a cannon after all. The Second Amendment itself places no limits on gun ownership, and there was no federal legislation on the issue for decades after the Bill of Rights was passed. 

While the Second Amendment itself does not in any way limit firearm rights, most scholars concede, as did the majority opinion in Heller, that the right to bear arms is not absolute. If there is at least some room to regulate the details of when, where, and how the people may keep and bear arms, one key aspect of the discussion in Heller must be remembered. The Heller opinion restates a principle previously articulated in a Supreme Court case called United States v. Miller: the sorts of weapons protected by the Second Amendment are particularly those “in common use at the time.” Yes, in the 1790s, that was probably the musket and flintlock pistol. But what are the weapons “in common use” that warrant the particular protection of the Second Amendment today?

Handguns are the most commonly owned type of firearm; the most common caliber handgun is the 9mm. Among rifles, what is the most common? Bolt-action hunting rifles? The simple .22? Of course, the most commonly owned rifle in the United States is the AR-15. It is effective, easy to learn to use, and accurate, without requiring too much practice. And being fairly lightweight and with almost no kickback, it is an ideal home-defense firearm for women who are often uncomfortable with the kick of a shotgun. 

This is where the left’s agenda crashes into the reality of the Second Amendment: The AR-15, demonized as an assault weapon by the left, is actually an ordinary firearm in common use. The president apparently also wants to add 9mm handguns—literally the most popular self-defense weapon in the nation—to the list of “high-caliber” firearms that ought to be banned. These are exactly the types of firearms the Second Amendment gives the people the right to keep and bear.

It is rare and almost admirable when someone puts their true objective in writing, and for the left to accomplish what it wants, it must repeal and replace the Second Amendment. Only then will we get the “gun control” measures that the left desires. Short of that, you will not see Congress pass these “meaningful common-sense gun-control measures” in the wake of a mass shooting. Congress will not ban the 9mm handgun nor the AR-15 as an assault weapon. You will only see political posturing, virtue signaling, name-calling, and fundraising; then it’s back to business as usual. Despite the constant barrage of noise about banning assault weapons, the left knows they can’t do it. 

After much hyperbolic rhetoric about “common-sense gun control,” particularly banning assault weapons, the president has already essentially admitted defeat. He has already proposed an alternative: “[i]f we can’t ban assault weapons then we should raise the age to purchase them from 18 to 21.” Until we see a major movement on the left to amend the Constitution and repeal the Second Amendment, we should assume these political voices aren’t actually serious about the gun bans for which they advocate. And if the left does start an honest movement to repeal and replace the Second Amendment; well, this is still America. Good luck with that!

Frank DeVito is an attorney and a current fellow in the Napa Legal Good Counselor Project. His work has previously been published in The American Conservative, the Quinnipiac Law Review, and the Penn State Online Law Review. He lives in eastern Pennsylvania with his wife and three young children.


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Washington Should Use Border-Closing Leverage

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s recent actions to delay commercial trucks driving north demonstrated how such an approach can motivate Mexican authorities to do more to improve security on their side of the border.  

The need for Texas to act alone showed once again that official Washington has no effective policy for responding to any of the southern frontier’s security challenges, including the criminal cartels that cause rampant violence on both sides of the border. Americans should ask why Washington can borrow $40 billion for Ukraine aid overnight, or commit to 20 years of nation-building in Afghanistan, even while it is willing to lie down and accept our country’s vulnerable southern border as essentially lost.

The Biden administration’s current Mexico security plan, called the “Bicentennial Framework,” offers nothing new, includes no promise of real cooperation with Mexico, and completely ignores the ongoing border crisis that is the real center of activity in the bilateral relationship. 

A creative and proactive U.S. foreign policy, however, could leverage the border, à la Governor Abbott, to focus Mexico’s political leadership on our mutual security problems. In 1969, President Nixon’s Operation Intercept partially closed and delayed border crossings to win more counter-narcotics cooperation. In 1985, President Reagan acted similarly in response to the murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena. President Trump effectively used the threat of increasing tariffs to refocus Mexican President López Obrador (AMLO) on U.S. migration concerns.  

Now is the time for a flexible U.S. border-closing strategy to push our southern neighbor towards new cooperation: shutting down vital entry points, imposing tariffs, and restricting vehicles, pedestrians, and commerce in order to get Mexico City’s attention—only lifting restrictions to reward collaboration.  

Ensconced in their gargantuan metropolis far south of the border, leaders in Mexico City have no particular incentive to address pressing needs in their northern frontier as long as trade gets through. For them, breaking the border cartels is as equally low importance as capturing Pancho Villa was a century ago. When officials do speak about border issues, their emphasis is typically economic, seeking more opportunities for maquiladora industries or expanded trade infrastructure to transport more cargo north. 

Meanwhile, cartels and their agents act with impunity, spreading their corrupting cancer into all aspects of frontier life, including legitimate businesses, political parties, local governments, police, courts, and social institutions. Their reach is staggering: They censor local press and media; squeeze profits out of power, oil, and water companies; and even control human rights NGOs. This menace is loose across all Mexico, but cartels uniquely exploit the vulnerabilities of the border region to penetrate the U.S. homeland.

Mexico City could do much more, beginning by providing more security funding and ending the political favoritism that influences how resources are allocated. Besieged border-state governors are often forced to pay for federal responsibilities. On the Texas frontier, for example, the state of Coahuila is required to finance the bivouacking of the Mexican army along the Rio Bravo. The state of Nuevo Leon receives woefully inadequate federal assistance to secure the main highway between the major city of Monterrey and the U.S. border. The entire state of Tamaulipas, home to multiple strategic routes into Texas, is the classic example of a failed narco-state within Mexico: an unacceptable situation that Mexican federal authorities have tolerated for years, making only half-hearted efforts to reclaim the strategic trade city of Nuevo Laredo and protect its vital commercial roads leading directly to the Laredo, Texas, cargo bridges. 

Opponents may argue that a border-closing strategy would unfairly hurt American consumers and legitimate businesses, but they decline to grapple with the unsettling fact that Mexican cartels also profit from legal trade into the United States. The cartels are rightly branded “transnational criminal organizations” (TCOs) because they do much more than smuggle migrants and narcotics. Legitimate Mexican customs brokers and shippers, who transport around $1.7 billion in goods and products daily into the U.S. (40 percent of it on vehicles crossing bridges in Laredo, Texas), are forced to pay vast sums to TCOs for “protection and facilitation.” Nobody knows how much the TCOs extort out of lawful commerce, but it is surely comparable to what they earn by supplying Americans’ voracious illegal drug appetites.

When preparing your next batch of guacamole, ponder how those Mexican avocados actually arrived at your local market. If Americans rightly refuse goods assembled by slave labor, what should U.S. policy be in accepting products that are delivered to our markets only after paying off brutal TCOs?

When it comes to the region’s social and cultural life, cartel violence long ago effectively closed the border for Americans living on the frontier, including those with family on both sides, who simply stopped crossing into Mexico for fear of rampant crime. Indeed, the State Department officially urges all Americans to avoid Mexico’s frontier communities, from Matamoros to Ciudad Juarez to Tijuana. Americans now tend to fly directly to Mexico’s tourist attractions.

The 48 border crossing sites are overwhelmingly used only by Mexicans. No one seeks to impose undue hardship on the vast majority of our Mexican neighbors, who are simply trying to survive in a brutal region. However, their state and federal governments have abandoned them to border violence and lawlessness, as they must constantly navigate through cartels and corrupt officials. Pressure from Washington by way of strategic border closings would offer them the hope of future improvement.

Above all, we must convince Mexico to station significantly more military assets in vulnerable border areas. With over a quarter million military professionals, the Mexican army (SEDENA) and navy-marines (SEMAR), are the country’s best large-scale security force. The military is not a policing force, but it does provide critical internal security needed for officials to carry out their duties. 

No serious observer expects SEDENA and SEMAR to break the powerful cartels, but the military has been effective in putting TCO armed militants on the defensive. More Mexican military firepower is required to retake and hold numerous border transportation routes and strategic urban areas – to “take back the plaza” in Mexican parlance. 

Troop deployment, however, is inadequate for the mission. Currently, the vast majority of Mexico’s armed services, for political reasons, are garrisoned in the capital area, as Mexico’s elite leadership views the messy border as somewhere between a non-priority and dangerous backwater. Senior military officers seek to avoid a border tour of duty as not career-enhancing. A rigorous U.S. border-leverage policy could help establish a new political calculus in Mexico City.

Yes, Mexico struggles mightily with a dysfunctional criminal-law system and institutional corruption, significant weaknesses that undermine the country’s capacity to be a partner. But it can also deploy high-quality, well-trained government personnel. Mexico’s federal tax collection authority (SAT) and the national intelligence service (CNI, formerly CISEN) are top-notch professionals. The country’s diplomats are world class. When it comes to the frontier, however, Mexican state and local authorities are unreliable, and the federal border services need better leadership and training. All are vulnerable to cartel exploitation and intimidation. The military alone can best stabilize this operating environment.

A border-closing strategy should push for more U.S.-Mexican joint security operations along the frontier, which currently are very rare. Lack of mutual trust and corruption are of course impediments to overcome, but the Mexican military can be an effective partner. Washington needs to persuade a reluctant AMLO that such collaboration is fundamental for the region to reduce the dominance of criminality.  

Other underutilized assets are the five U.S. border consulates located in Tijuana, Nogales, Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, and Matamoros. These diplomatic facilities have been modernized and would provide excellent forward cooperation platforms; yet without sufficient Mexican military troops to secure these border cities, the operating environments are too dangerous. Instead of being effective platforms for law enforcement collaboration, the consulates serve mainly to process visas for travelers, a Mexican priority that does nothing to promote security. 

In developing an effective border-closing strategy, we must guard against its reduction by the State Department and DHS to the much-ballyhooed “21st Century Border” program, which focuses on high-tech tools to check, search, and clear commercial cargo and travelers. This technology has its place, but it should not distract from a policy of directly engaging the Mexican leadership to deploy reliable armed forces and security personnel. 

On the U.S. side, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has the daunting task of checking both cargo and travelers, and the agency does admirable work despite Washington’s weak leadership. A few years ago, State and DHS pulled back from a pilot U.S.-Mexican initiative to station armed CBP officers on the south side of the border to expedite cargo checks, because Mexico City refused to dedicate security forces to protect the pre-check zones from cartel interference. A U.S. border-leverage strategy would likely have turned around Mexico City’s short-sighted unwillingness to act in its own national interest.

Mexican officials constantly tell Washington that their biggest border-security request is to stop the flow of U.S.-made weapons moving south. It is the Mexican version of our complaint about narcotics and illegal migrants. Interdicting these weapons requires better border vigilance. Perhaps deft U.S. border-closing diplomacy might just be better received in Mexico City than its critics think. 

A flexible border-closing policy is more effective and less costly than building a wall. There are certainly frontier areas where physical barriers have been or would be needed impediments to clandestine crossings, but making the wall the heart of our Mexico security engagement is a Maginot Line strategy that surrenders the initiative to our enemies. 

U.S. national security deserves not a bunker mentality but an active forward defense, not nation-building, but a realpolitik that persuades our southern neighbor to better mobilize, commit resources, and field its best security personnel at the border. Yes, Mexico is a very difficult dance partner for Uncle Sam, but smart diplomacy can bring more out of her.

Phillip Linderman, a retired career diplomat, served as U.S. Consul General in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, from 2015-18.

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Biden’s Dishonest Tax Obsession

As high inflation persists, why does President Joe Biden continue to argue for raising taxes, especially on corporations and individuals? In Wall Street Journal, for example, Biden recently argued that if Americans want to stabilize prices, they should want to “end the outrageous unfairness in the tax code.”

Economists from his own party, including Clinton Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Obama Council of Economic Advisors chair Jason Furman, have failed to persuade the president that tax rates have little to do with inflation, which arises when too much money is chasing too few goods and services. If anything, these liberal experts have tried to explain, boosting marginal tax rates will only discourage the additional investment in goods and services needed to tame price increases.

To understand Biden’s stubborn preoccupation with raising taxes, one must understand the perspective of a Democrat who was elected president at a moment when the days of excessive federal money printing appeared to be numbered. Biden’s own contributions to the national-debt crisis—the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, subsequent attempts to pass an even larger Build Back Better bill, and his desire for student-loan forgiveness—have certainly aggravated that problem, but were not its only causes. For far too long, our leaders in Washington have gambled that the U.S. economic system could withstand an ever-widening disconnect between spending and revenues without experiencing persistent inflation.

Now, sadly for Biden, the gamble has proved a failure. From here on, both the president and Congress will be pressured to restore some fiscal balance. Beyond the public’s anger over inflation, the accompanying rise in interest rates on government debt, which threatens to dwarf every other federal expenditure, will only make their task more urgent.

Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio has outlined an approach to solving this problem in his exhaustive study of the history of sovereign debt crises, appropriately titled Principles for Navigating Big Debt Crises (2018). As Dalio emphasized, the first and most important of these principles is that no nation emerges from a severe overspending problem without its major political factions agreeing to sacrifice for the greater good. After a lot of initial yelling and blaming, politicians across the political spectrum must either share in the required pain or sink together into the chaos of an economic collapse.

For their part, Republicans and conservatives will almost certainly have to accept some form of means-testing for the country’s two biggest entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare. The right will also have to agree to a reduction in farm subsidies and policies that favor the affluent. While increasing taxes on the private sector would, in the end, only diminish what it can contribute to the federal treasury, reducing many of the benefits it currently gets from government would not have that effect.

Unfortunately for Democrats and progressives, their sacrifice will have to be as much structural as economic. The poor performance of so many progressive-favored government programs over the years has convinced voters that those employed to deliver public services are profiting far more from those programs’ operation than the supposed beneficiaries. As Larry Summers himself said of federal education policy in a recent Politico forum with Dalio, “Of course, there’s always the question: if you put more money into the school system, does it come out in the form of more education for more kids or more administrators (and) more comfortable lives for those in the existing system?”

As long as the bill for these perceived government inefficiencies seemed chargeable to a distant future, taxpayers tended to ignore the size of the bill. Even after 2014, when the Heritage Foundation put the total spent on President Lyndon Johnson’s failed War on Poverty at $22 trillion dollarsmore than two-thirds the current federal debt—there was little clamor to make social programs more effective.

But as it becomes clear that taxpayers themselves must pick up the tab for bureaucratic wastefulness, it will be impossible to resist the demand for a rigorous performance review of every federal agency and publicly subsidized service. Perhaps in anticipation of such demands, the U.S. Government Accountability Office has already prepared a continuously updated list of the 34 programs that most obviously “need broad reform.”

Which brings us back to Biden’s tax obsession.

For a president whose base contains many people employed by government, acceding to demands for programmatic efficiency that would have to be part of any bipartisan debt deal is not a happy prospect. Negotiating with Republicans will likely prove a cakewalk compared to wrangling his allies in public-sector unions and other left-wing interest groups.

Indeed, it is not a coincidence that Democrats have been seen as a party without a top-notch bench of presidential and congressional candidates. Conventional wisdom holds that progressive activists have outfoxed liberals for control of the party, but it may be more likely that potentially successful Democrat candidates don’t want to participate in the left’s coming internal convulsions.

Since Biden is unable or unwilling to persuade Democratic voters in the public sector to sacrifice their employment advantages for the sake of the nation’s economic future, his strategy has been to deflect blame for his and his party’s role in creating the debt crisis. By harping on “unfairly low tax rates,” he has identified a cause that can be easily demagogued.

Whether Biden himself is the author of this dishonest strategy or is being prompted by others in his administration is a legitimate question, given the widespread doubts about his mental competence. If Democrats like Larry Summers and Jason Furman have been able to understand the country’s financial problems, many of the president’s own advisors must certainly be aware of the need to manage the looming acrimony within their own party. Regardless of who is behind the calls for “tax fairness,” the more Biden is forced to negotiate spending cuts and reforms, the more we are all going to hear about an “urgent fairness problem”—one that smart policymakers on both sides of the aisle hope never gets solved.

Lewis M. Andrews was executive director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy from 1999 to 2009.  He is author of the new book Living Spiritually in the Material World (Fidelis Books).

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Putin’s Mirror Image

Whatever else is wrong with Vladimir Putin besides an evil heart—psychosis, incipient madness,  some unrevealed terminal illness—the man plainly suffers from a keen awareness of the fragility of his regime, which causes him to perceive dangers that do not exist and to magnify those that do. His enemies in the West have insisted for years that this constitutes “paranoia” on his part, proof of a psychologically ill person to whom political systems other than the one he has created appear as mortal threats to the Russian nation and his own imperial project. They are correct about that—but they fail to recognize that Putin’s neurotically suspicious mind is in this respect a reverse image of their own.

The United States is incomparably less fragile than Russia, but the regime that dominates the country in this third decade of the century is fragile indeed, a fact well understood by its leaders. Commentators have noted for the past year the suddenly ubiquitous term “our democracy,” now regularly resorted to by politicians and journalists, usually liberal ones. The two words always appear to suggest democracy in America is under threat from authoritarians on the right, who are attempting to destroy it and replace it with a reactionary, racist, post-constitutional system. “Our democracy” sounds natural, innocent, and unobjectionable, before one gets around to wondering whose democracy “our” connotes. 

The obvious answer is that “our” refers to the liberal regime that has been running America for many decades now. It is the regime of the Democratic Party, academia, the cultural establishment, the entertainment industry. It is definitely not the America of Republicans, the 74,223,369 Americans who voted for President Trump in 2020, rural dwellers, people without college degrees, or the red states that cover the larger part of every map of the United States, all of whom together comprise at least half of the total American population. The liberal regime, of course, is nervously cognizant of the fact a possible majority in the country opposes its rule. As it attempts to seize control of the entire nation and impose its progressive vision across all of the fifty states, it reasonably enough anticipates resistance from red America, stays alert to the slightest evidence of it, and is determined to set its heel upon such resistance the moment it shows itself. 

Uneasy lies the head, and all that. American liberals view conservatives, populists, the National Rifle Association, gun owners, country folk, enthusiasts for Donald Trump, and similar enemies of their Democracy in a way that is precisely analogous to how Putin views democratic nations and democratic societies, NATO, and the European Union. Where Putin imagines liberal-democratic imperialists the world over relentlessly and ceaselessly at work to sabotage and destroy his government and his country, the American liberal regime imagines “white supremacists”—identified by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security as the greatest existing threat to the peace and security of the United States—hiding under President Biden’s bed, placing bombs in Nancy Pelosi’s freezer chest, infiltrating local police departments for the purpose of murdering black citizens, and Republican politicians scheming with the Federal Security Service in the Kremlin to disenfranchise people of color and steal every election in America from now until Kingdom Come.

Hillary Clinton and her campaigning gang of anti-deplorables knew perfectly well Trump was not coordinating his campaign with the Russians. While the majority of Democrats and liberals just went along with the lie in order to get her elected, no doubt plenty of others actually believed it. Just as Putin is ready to suppose the entire world with the exception of China is eager to destroy him, so many American liberals are prepared to accept that all Republicans are either traitors or potential ones.

Unless he is indeed mentally unbalanced, it is likely that Putin is secretly aware the dream of recreating the tsarist empire is fatally unrealistic and will never be achieved. The same, I suspect, is true of the American liberal regime: It, and its left wing especially, recognizes that the dream of transforming the United States into a progressive utopia along the lines outlined by the theorists of Black Lives Matter is actually a crackpot one. 

Chilton Williamson Jr. is the author of The End of Liberalism and a novel, The Last Westerner, both forthcoming from St. Augustine Press.

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The Bush Statue Comes Down In Texas

It is a little tough to decide what anecdote to reach for.

Perhaps it is the one from seven springs ago, when I’m sitting in steerage in one of Washington’s sundry public affairs firms, and hearing a campaign man from Bush for President, 2016. The primary is a done deal, kid, we’re living as large as liege lords down in Miami, that is, Jeb H.Q. Come along, it’ll be a breezy summer and autumn as we prepare for conservative coronation, and onto battle against Camp Clinton. This is America, haven’t heard you? And the American people love little else more than a totally irrational dynasty. Don’t want to come on the campaign? The Political Action Committee is even more flush; it’s called “Right to Rise.” It should be called “Right to Rule.”

Three Christmases later, and the foremost rag of Jeb’s brother (“We Were Eight Years in Neoconservatism”), the Weekly Standard, is closing its doors. Posters of the coarse caricatures that once emblazoned zine sheets, pillorying any doubter of the “War on Terror,” came down as swiftly in Northwest Washington as the Saddam statue in central Baghdad. Unable to contain my cheerfulness, my editor at the time remarks, “They’re not exactly opening new magazines every day.”

So it is with this bittersweet mix of emotions that I greet the political demise of Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Jeb’s son. The younger Bush was positively blown out-of-the-water this week in a benighted bid against a Trumpist attorney general, Ken Paxton, himself hunted by Johnny Law. It wasn’t exactly a recount in Florida circa 2000. General Paxton won by some 36 points, lapping the last hope of Kennebunkport. Today, Miami is either the home of Trump for President 2024, or DeSantis 2024/8/, or whatever it is that Senator Marco Rubio does these days. Florida has long ceased to be “Bush Country,” as John Podhoretz appallingly once wrote of Red America all the way from Manhattan.

It would seem now that Texas, where “Poppy Bush” made a mean fortune in Midland and where “43” wandered around in an alcoholic haze until he turned 40 and then decided to become president (the coolest thing about him), is no country for the last of WASP dynasties either. George P. Bush, himself half-Mexican American, would appear the Romulus Augustulus—the last, anonymous emperor of “Rome”—of the Old Guard WASPs. Today, the most plausible future WASP president is probably a “Hillbilly” convert to Catholicism. And ironically enough, the Bush family name would probably be best fielded in Connecticut, where this woebegone American political tale all started, back when senators (or people) were named Prescott. Richard Nixon once, essentially, called Bohemian Grove the gayest thing he’d ever seen. And today Skull and Bones is “woke.”

Reporting on the sad state affairs of both the United States as it nears 250 and the careening power of the Bush line after extreme prominence for at least a third of that time has a purpose. Accepting the Republican nomination in 2000, future President George W. Bush told the gathered, “My friend, the artist Tom Lea of El Paso, Texas, captured the way I feel about our great land, a land I love,’ … He said, ‘Live on the east side of the mountain. It’s the sunrise side, not the sunset side. It is the side to see the day that is coming, not to see the day that has gone.’”

Bush, the born-again, would remark in similar fashion about his disinterest regarding history from the White House. He was “the decider.” On “history”? “We don’t know. We’ll all be dead.”

George P. Bush will not be Texas attorney general. Jeb is not president. President George W. Bush is retired in Dallas these days, horrifyingly confusing Iraq and Ukraine, a final insult to all who lived under his rule, or worse, beneath his sword, or still worse, the millenarian evil he empowered. As the families five hours south and west can attest, living on the sunrise side of the mountain is no refuge for a country dominated by repellent anomie.

Sitting in West Hollywood, I myself look back east, toward my country. But Americans could do worse than to live more on the sunset side of the mountain, and take honest stock of what has become of this country, not live in denial, or under the guarantee of a better day. They didn’t want to be, but I suspect the Bush family, as this week showed, already lives there.

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Biden DOJ Brings Back Obama-era Slush Funds

President Biden’s Department of Justice appears to be rebuilding a dubious money chain known as “settlement slush funds.” The Obama DOJ used these funds to channel cash from corporate settlements to bankroll private progressive organizations, circumventing the budget and oversight authority of Congress.

On May 5, Attorney General Merrick Garland revoked a Trump-era rule that specifically prohibited the DOJ from directing funds from corporate settlements to finance third-party organizations and causes. The use of these so-called settlement slush funds became so rampant under the Obama administration that the House passed the Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act in 2017 in an attempt to end it. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate but failed to pass.

Under the Obama Justice Department, corporate fines were directed to organizations including the Sierra Club, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, and the National Council of La Raza. Through arrangements known as Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) and third-party payments, corporations could have their fines reduced if they paid money to organizations that, although not victims in the DOJ suit, were nonetheless approved as beneficiaries.

In addition to reducing fines, these arrangements also gave penalized companies a tax deduction for their charitable contributions, which bought corporate support for the practice and prevented legal challenges. There were hundreds of such arrangements under the Obama administration.

The most notable cases include Volkswagen’s settlement of its emissions cheating scandal, which included a requirement that VW spend $2 billion to build electric filling stations. The Obama administration had twice requested these funds from Congress and been denied, so it used the VW settlement to fund the project instead. Of the $2 billion that VW paid, $800 million went to the state of California.

Settlements with Wall Street banks after the mortgage crisis also featured payments to progressive groups that were favored by Obama’s DOJ. A 2017 congressional hearing revealed internal DOJ memos regarding these settlements, one of which was addressed to then-Associate Attorney General Tony West, asking: “Can you explain to Tony the best way to allocate some money to an organization of our choosing?” Another DOJ email stated that the settlement with Citibank, which included third-party payments, should “not allow Citi to pick a statewide intermediary like the Pacific Legal Foundation,” which the official said “does conservative property-rights free legal services.”

A 2016 congressional report found that:

a year-long Committee investigation has revealed that the DOJ is pushing and even requiring settling defendants to donate money to non-victim third parties. Donations can earn up to double credits against defendants’ overall payment obligations.… Documents show that groups that stood to gain from these mandatory donations lobbied DOJ to include them in settlements.… What is worse, in some cases, DOJ-mandated donations restore funding that Congress specifically cut.

The report further noted that “federal grants come with a litany of rules and procedures designed to ensure that funds are used as intended.… Such controls are entirely absent in DOJ’s banking settlements.” Third-party settlement payments include no provision to track where the funds went, how they were being used, or if they achieved the goals the DOJ intended when arranging the payments.

The DOJ itself was not forthcoming with information regarding these payments. Although the congressional investigation began in November 2014, the report noted that “for over a year, DOJ provided none of the requested internal communications pertaining to the controversial settlement provisions.”

The House Judiciary Committee, however, obtained emails from the president of one of the organizations that received donations from settlement funds, the National Association of Interest On Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA) Programs, stating, “I would like to discuss ways we might want to recognize and show appreciation for the Department of Justice and specifically Associate Attorney General Tony West, who by all accounts was the one person most responsible for including the IOLTA provisions [in the settlement].”

In response, the executive director of the Hawaii Legal Aid Foundation, another recipient, wrote that he “would be willing to have us build a statue [of West] and then we could bow down to this statue each day after we get our $200,000.”

In order to stop this practice, in June 2017 then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions enacted what has become known as the “Sessions Rule,” prohibiting third-party settlements at the DOJ. Immediately upon assuming office in January 2021, however, President Biden directed his administration to review this rule, which his DOJ has now rescinded.

“The fact that they’re spending resources on getting rid of an anti-corruption regulation shows that they intend to engage in the corruption that the regulation was intended to prevent,” said Ted Frank, senior attorney at the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute. “It’s a good way to avoid voter accountability, and it gives power to the DOJ that Congress didn’t give them. They can direct hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars to pet causes.”

Not only do these settlements “disrespect the Constitutional process in a way that is anti-democratic,” said Michael Buschbacher, a former DOJ attorney who helped draft the regulation codifying the Sessions Rule, “it’s also bad environmental policy. The way Congress set things up with the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, the penalties for violating these statutes are enormous. The goal there is designed as this massive deterrent, and what SEPs do is radically undercut that deterrence because penalties get dramatically reduced to pay for these projects.”

Buschbacher also pointed out the potential for corruption in this practice. “It discredits the government and law enforcement as faithful agents in enforcing the law and doing what’s right, and turns government power to the illegitimate end of rewarding one’s friends and punishing one’s enemies.”

When Garland announced his decision to revoke the Sessions Rule, he also declared that his DOJ would prioritize the pursuit of “environmental justice.” This statement coincided with a new ruling by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that it would require all publicly traded companies to file extensive public reports on their carbon emissions and other climate-related data. Taken together, these and other actions by the Biden Administration signal that they plan to be more aggressive in bringing environmental suits against companies, with less restraint or oversight over where those proceeds go or how they are used.

“It creates an incentive to engage in prosecutions,” Frank said. “It’s one thing if the money is going to the Treasury through the democratic process. That’s a lot less exciting than if you prosecute somebody and the money is going to your favorite pet cause.”

“I don’t think it’s lost on anyone that in the same speech in which [Garland] announced the policy, he suggests that environmental justice is one of the things they’re going to be taking on,” said William Yeatman, a research fellow at the Cato Institute. “They’ve tipped their hand with respect to which groups can expect to benefit. The only limit, unless Congress gets involved, is restraint by the President or by the Justice Department, and that’s in short supply.”

Garland’s memo on third-party settlements stated that “when used appropriately, these agreements allow the government to more fully compensate victims, remedy harm and punish and deter future violations.” The Sessions Rule, the memo states, “is more restrictive and less tailored than necessary to address concerns that these agreements could be used to inappropriately fund projects unrelated to the harm involved in the matter.”

Garland’s new policy includes provisions that the DOJ “shall not propose the selection of any particular third party to receive payments…although the Department may specify the type of entity,” and the DOJ “may also disapprove of any third-party implementor or beneficiary.” In addition, a senior DOJ official must approve third-party settlements.

But these provisions may fail to reassure those who are skeptical about the legality and legitimacy of reviving the Obama-era settlement policies.

A spokesperson for Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, the Republican who introduced the Senate’s Stop Settlements Slush Funds Act, stated “AG Garland’s memo rightfully recognized the practice under the Obama administration was flawed, but failed to recognize that Congress alone has the ability to direct federal funds, including those obtained as a result of a settlement. AG Garland’s policy is still an example of executive overreach. Settlement funds should go first to the victims, and then the Treasury. Funds should not go to a third party and be used to advance a political agenda.”

“There needs to be Congressional oversight on this,” Frank said. “There needs to be [Freedom of Information Act] requests, there needs to be somebody figuring out where this money is going.”

“I think the scrutiny that’s on it will probably keep them from doing some of the ridiculous stuff they did last time,” Buschbacher said, “but on the main, this is likely to be a return to the approach under President Obama. One of his key DOJ attorneys involved in these kinds of settlements, Vanita Gupta, has returned for a second tour. Now she’s the number three attorney in the Department and will have final decision-making authority over many of these settlements.”

The Department of Justice was asked to comment on this article but did not respond.

Kevin Stocklin is a writer, film director, and founder of Second Act Films, an independent production house specializing in educational media and feature films. Previously, he worked in international banking for more than a decade.

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Hillary Was In on Russiagate

Hillary Clinton lied about Russiagate. Hillary paid experts to create two data sets, one purportedly showing Russian cellphones accessing Trump Wi-Fi networks, and another allegedly showing a Trump computer pinging an Alfa Bank server in Russia. We’ve seen the lipstick on the collar before, but how do we know this time she was in on it all?

Because former Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias, on May 18, 2022, during the trial of his former partner, Michael Sussmann, swore to it under oath. Special Counsel John Durham brought Sussmann to trial for allegedly lying to the FBI and committing perjury. Sussmann claimed he was not working for a client when he was, in fact, surreptitiously representing the Clinton campaign. Small world: Sussmann previously represented the DNC in litigation surrounding the server break-in.

Elias also admitted to briefing Clinton campaign officials, including Clinton herself, campaign chair John Podesta, spokesperson Jennifer Palmieri, and policy director Jake Sullivan, now Joe Biden’s national-security adviser. Elias also personally briefed campaign manager Robby Mook.

In a bombshell moment in the Sussmann trial, Mook testified that Hillary Clinton signed off on the plan to push out the information about the link between Trump and Alfa Bank despite concerns that the connection was dubious at best. Mook’s testimony is the first confirmation that Clinton was directly involved in the decision to feed the Trump-Alfa story. It explains some of her later actions.

Here’s the new timeline of events, revealing the “why” behind the timing of Russiagate:

On July 5, 2016, FBI Director James Comey issued a statement clearing Hillary Clinton of any wrong doing in connection with her private email server. That removed what was thought to be her last major hurdle to nomination.

Then, Wikileaks released information taken from the DNC servers which showed, inter alia, the Clinton campaign’s efforts to disparage Bernie Sanders. The leaks broke during the Democratic Convention (July 25 to 28) and threatened to split the party. It was crisis time for Democrats.

Concurrent with the Wikileaks disclosure and the sense of panic inside the campaign at the 2016 Democratic National Convention came Clinton’s sign-off to begin the Russiagate dirty tricks campaign (as Mook testified to, Smoking Gun One). That is the specific “why” behind the timing of the Russiagate narrative.

On July 28, 2016, CIA Director John Brennan briefed President Obama on Hillary Clinton’s plan to tie candidate Trump to Russia as a means of distracting the public (Smoking Gun Two). Why Brennan, from CIA, was briefing Obama on internal Democratic Party strategy is unclear. However, a highly redacted document states, “We’re getting additional insight into Russian activities from [REDACTED]. Cite alleged approved by Hillary Clinton on July 26 a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisers to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security service.”

The FBI then opened its omnibus investigation into all things Trump-Russia, Crossfire Hurricane, on July 31, 2016, a Sunday, coincidentally only days after Clinton initially approved the dirty-tricks campaign and just as the Democratic convention ended with Clinton’s nomination.

Crossfire Hurricane was opened on the ostensible basis of information about Trump campaign member George Papadopoulos relayed to investigators by an Australian diplomat. Many believe the timing of the investigation suggests it was actually based the Clinton campaign’s disclosures of the Steele dossier to the FBI, not diplomatic gossip about Papadopoulos. Steele himself ran the dossier data to the FBI and media the same way Sussmann ran the Alfa Bank data to the FBI and media, claiming no link to the Clinton campaign.

Brennan may have been personally tipped off by Jake Sullivan, now Joe Biden’s national-security advisor and the most likely “foreign-policy advisor” inside the Clinton campaign to have run the Russiagate caper. As CIA Director, Brennan briefed Obama on Clinton’s July 26 sign-off on the dirty-tricks campaign. His own agency would not come to the same conclusions until September 2016, when it forwarded to the FBI an investigative referral about Hillary Clinton. If not for a tip-off, then how did Brennan, always a public Hillary supporter, know before his agency did?

Aiming for an October surprise (a game-changing political event breaking in late October, early enough to influence the election but too late for the opposition to effectively rebut), Sussmann then met with FBI attorney James Baker (now working at Twitter) to lay out the Alfa Bank and smartphone story on September 18, 2016.

The FBI (via fraud) on October 21 obtained the first FISA warrant against a Trump team member. And following a press release by Jake Sullivan, Hillary tweeted on October 31, 2016, that Trump had a secret server communicating with Russia (Smoking Gun Three). She knew her campaign paid to create that information and push it into the public eye via Sussmann and a woman named Laura Seago.

Seago was an analyst at Fusion GPS, the organization that commissioned the infamous Steele dossier on behalf of Clinton. Seago testified at the Sussmann trial that she and others went to journalist Franklin Foer’s house to pitch the story, telling him it had been vetted by “highly credible computer scientists” who “seemed to think these allegations were credible.” Foer ran the story on October 31, 2016, timed with Sullivan’s statement and Hillary’s tweet suggesting the server connecting Trump with Alfa Bank was used as a clandestine-communications tool. The story stated “the knee was hit in Moscow, the leg kicked in New York.”

Clearer? Comey cleared Clinton of legal trouble over her emails. The last barrier to nomination was thought to have been breached. Then WikiLeaks disclosures threatened to derail the convention. Something else was needed. Hillary signed off on the Russiagate dirty-tricks campaign per Mook and Brennan. Just days later, the FBI opened Crossfire Hurricane based on either flimsy foreign gossip or the Clinton paid-for Steele dossier. Hillary and Sullivan timed their disclosures with the media making near-identical claims.

So does all this matter? Yes. “The trial is the vehicle Durham is using to help bring out the truth, to tell a story of a political campaign that in two instances pursued information that was totally fabricated… to mislead the American voter,” said Kevin Brock, the FBI’s former assistant director for intelligence. The Sussmann trial shows that if nothing else, Hillary Clinton herself was personally the start and the end of Russiagate’s false story. As dirty tricks go, this was a helluva tale to sell to a gullible public and a credulous media.

But so what? Politicians approve dirt being spread on their opponents all the time. The short answer? They don’t peddle outright, fabricated lies, which constitutes defamation. And Jake Sullivan, Biden’s active national-security advisor, played a still-hidden role in all of it.

And what kind of president would Hillary have made if she was willing to lie like this to get elected? She is all appetite, still active in her party, and still a dangerous animal. The spiteful Clinton still maintains that Trump has ties to Russia and, through surrogates, kept Russiagate alive to defang the Trump administration even after she lost the election.

The real insurrection—the fact that Russiagate did not end with Trump’s victory—is chilling. Comey and Brennan repurposed the false information from a campaign smear and turned it into bait, which they dangled in front of Robert Mueller for three years in hopes he would stumble on to something illegal once he exercised his powers as special prosecutor. This was a coup attempt against a sitting president.

Meanwhile, Twitter has still not removed the Clinton and Sullivan Russiagate tweets from 2016 nor marked them as “disinformation.” That silence allows the lie a second life, which is important, because Trump is almost certainly going to run for president again, and polls show almost half of Americans still think he colluded with Russia.

It is easy enough to still say “so what?” Most people who did not support Hillary Clinton long ago concluded that she is a liar and untrustworthy. Her supporters know she’ll never run for public office again, hence the sense of anti-climax.

What matters in the end is less the details of Hillary’s lie than that as someone close to being elected as her would lie about such a thing, treason, claiming her opponent was working for Russia against the interests of the United States to which he would soon swear an oath. This week’s revelations and the way they fill in “motive” in the timeline are bombshells, if you blow the smoke away.

No doubt that, in many minds, Clinton’s manipulations are measured alongside Trump’s transgressions, “whataboutism.” Those who think that way may have missed the day in kindergarten when everyone else was taught how two wrongs don’t make a right. Trump did not win to absolve Hillary of her sins.

And those who worry about the 2024 election being stolen over simple vote miscounts are thinking way too small. If you want to really worry, think like a Clinton.

Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent.


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Are All Men Really Created Equal?

Ideology is political religion, said the conservative sage Russell Kirk. And what is the defining dogma of the political religion, or ideology, of America in 2022? Is it not that, “All men are created equal”?

Yet, as with every religion, a basic question needs first to be asked and answered about this defining dogma of liberal ideology. Is it true? Are all men truly created equal? Are all races and ethnic groups equal? Are men and women equal? Are all religions equal? Or do we simply agree to accept that as true—and treat them all equally?

All Americans, we agree, have the same God-given rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” the same constitutional rights in the Bill of Rights, and the same civil rights, enshrined in federal law. But where is the historic, scientific or empirical proof of the defining dogma of American democracy that “all men are created equal”?

Thomas Jefferson, the statesman who immortalized the words, did not believe in equality, let alone equity. How he lived his life testifies to this disbelief. When he wrote the Declaration of Independence that contained the famous words, Jefferson was a slave owner. In that document, he speaks of the British as “brethren” connected to us by “ties of our common kindred,” ties of blood. But not all of those fighting against us were the equals of the British. There were, Jefferson wrote, those “merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

In an 1815 letter to John Adams, Jefferson celebrated “a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents … The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society.” Jefferson was an aristocrat, not a democrat.

Abraham Lincoln opposed slavery but did not believe in racial or social equality. Though he cited Jefferson’s “all men are created equal” at Gettysburg, he had conceded in an 1858 debate with Stephen Douglas that, “We cannot, then, make them equals,” adding that the white race in America should retain the superior position.

With the Brown v. Board of Education decision desegregating public schools in 1954, and the civil rights acts of 1964, 1965 and 1968, a national effort was undertaken to bring about the social and political equality that Jefferson’s words of 1776 seemed to promise but failed to deliver.

At Howard University in 1965, Lyndon Johnson took the next step, declaring: “Freedom is not enough…. We seek…not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result.” Yet, over half a century after the civil rights revolution, incomes and wealth are not equal. Nor is there equal representation in professions like law, medicine and higher education.

President Joe Biden’s people have pledged to black America that they will mandate and deliver that equality of results. If equity does not now exist, the Biden administration will impose it. And why not?

If all men (and women) are created equal, the most reasonable explanation for a consistent inequality of riches and rewards between men and women, and black and white, is that the game has been rigged. An inequality of riches and rewards exists because “systematic racism” coexists in American society alongside “white privilege.”

The remedy is also clear. As Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist, told the New York Times‘ Ezra Klein: “Racist policies are defined as any policy that leads to racial inequity … intent of the policymaker doesn’t matter. It’s all about the fundamental outcome.”

Thus, a policy that ensures an equal place at the starting line but consistently fails to deliver an equal place at the finish line is, de facto, racist. If Asian and black kids start kindergarten in the same class, and Asian kids in 12th grade are studying calculus while most black kids are still trying to master algebra, racism alone, by Kendi’s rule, can explain such a regular result.

The solution to persistent inequality? Mandate equity; mandate equality of results; mandate equal rewards for black and white. Compel the government to produce policies that deliver an equality of results.

But what if inequalities have another explanation? What if Asian Americans are naturally superior in mathematics? What if an inequity of rewards in society is predominantly a result of an inequality of talents and abilities? What if it is more true to say that, based on human experience, no two men were ever created equal, than to say all men are created equal?

As Kirk said, ideology is political religion. What we witness today is the refusal of true believers in egalitarian ideology to accept that their core doctrine may not only not be true, but may be demonstrably false. What we are witnessing in America is how true believers behave when they realize the church at which they worship has been erected on a bright shining lie and reality must inevitably bring it crashing down.

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Congress’s Role in a Post-Roe World

The leaked draft of the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization signals that Roe and Casey are likely to be overruled in the coming months. This leak has sparked a range of political debates, from the effect it will have on the midterm elections, to the implications of the leak itself, to the next steps for abortion law. On the latter point, many on the right are breathing a sigh of relief that the issue of abortion can finally go “back to the states.” 

Even pro-abortion advocates admit that Roe is bad law. Roe made abortion a constitutional right despite the following realities: Abortion is not a right mentioned or implied in the Constitution, there was no history in this nation of protecting abortion as a right, and the United States has a long history of laws prohibiting abortion. If the Supreme Court does in fact overrule Roe and Casey, it will be a good and healthy thing for the republic for moral, legal, and political reasons. The question, though, is who decides abortion policy if and when the Supreme Court overrules Roe and Casey? Does abortion policy simply return to the states? Or does Congress potentially have a role to play in abortion legislation in a post-Roe America?

Assuming the final decision in Dobbs does indeed overrule Roe and Casey, it is important to briefly summarize the facts and legal implications of the Dobbs case itself. In 2018, Mississippi passed a state law banning nearly all abortions after 15 weeks. An abortion facility in Mississippi filed a lawsuit claiming the state did not provide evidence that unborn children are viable at 15 weeks. Because current Supreme Court precedent prohibits states from banning abortion prior to fetal viability, the lawsuit claims that the state law conflicts with current Supreme Court precedent. Therefore, they argued, the Mississippi law is unconstitutional.

If the Court’s final decision in Dobbs overrules Roe and Casey, its reasoning will be that while the Mississippi statute is indeed in conflict with Supreme Court precedent, the statute can stand, because the previous Supreme Court precedent is erroneous and therefore must be overruled. It is crucial to understand that such a ruling would not necessarily “send the issue back to the states.” It would merely hold that the enshrining of abortion as a constitutional right was legally incorrect and is therefore overruled.

Conservatives must not conclude that abortion must inevitably become an issue for the states if Roe and Casey fall. While it is true that abortion would go back to the legislatures, there will be nothing in the Dobbs decision, and nothing in the United States Constitution, that precludes Congress from considering and passing pro-life legislation. If Congress is ready and willing to take up the abortion issue, there are at least two areas of the Constitution that give them grounds to try to do so: the 14th Amendment and the Commerce Clause.

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1868, was passed primarily to ensure that no state could deny a particular class of persons “equal protection of the laws” or “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the amendment were passed to attempt to protect emancipated African-American slaves from legal discrimination at the state level. But subsequent legal decisions as well as a common-sense reading of the amendment’s text make it clear that these sections of the 14th Amendment protect “any person,” not one particular class of persons. Importantly, the 14th Amendment is not merely the expression of an ideal; it has teeth. The final section of the 14th Amendment provides that “Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”

From here, the argument is simple. Any person is protected by the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the 14th Amendment. Modern science provides ample reasons to believe that the unborn child in its mother’s womb is a human being, a person. Therefore, no state can deny an unborn child in its mother’s womb the equal protection of the laws, or deny that child of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. If the Supreme Court ever rules that this language applies to unborn persons, then abortion becomes constitutionally prohibited. This argument was made to the Court in Roe and was acknowledged and dismissed by Justice Blackmun. 

In the absence of such a court ruling, however, the 14th Amendment still gives to Congress the express power to make laws to enforce these protections. A pro-life Congress could pass legislation invoking the 14th Amendment, declaring that at a certain point (be it conception, implantation, or detection of a heartbeat), an unborn child is a person, and therefore cannot be denied due process or equal protection of the laws. Such a law would certainly be subject to legal challenge in the courts, and there is no shortage of pro-abortion advocates who would be willing to take up such a cause. Still, a pro-life Congress would have the legitimate option to use its enforcement power under the 14th Amendment in this way if it wished.

Apart from 14th Amendment-enforcement legislation, Congress could enact abortion legislation via the Commerce Clause. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power “to regulate commerce… among the several states.” Putting past abuses of this clause aside, the commerce power is explicit in the Constitution. Congress has express authority to regulate any kind of commercial activity that crosses state lines.

If Roe is overruled and states begin to pass abortion legislation, inevitably there will be instances of abortion being restricted in one state and accessible in a neighboring state. Congress could pass legislation prohibiting someone from crossing state lines in order to have an abortion in certain circumstances. In particular, Congress could prohibit an adult from taking a minor across state lines to help the minor procure an abortion. Given concerns about sex traffickers regularly transporting their victims to receive abortions, the latter proposal ought at least to be considered.

There have already been attempts by conservative states to prevent their residents from procuring abortions in other states where the practice remains legal. Those state laws will be challenged under the Dormant Commerce Clause doctrine, which basically holds that the Commerce Clause implicitly prevents states from passing laws that affect interstate commerce. This tension will lead to an interesting legal question about American federalism: Does the Commerce Clause grant Congress the authority to regulate interstate access to abortion? Does the Dormant Commerce Clause preclude states from prohibiting their residents from crossing state lines to procure an abortion? These questions need to be discussed, debated, and, in all likelihood, addressed by the courts. 

The above arguments only suggest that Congress has the authority to regulate abortion, not the requirement to do so. There are prominent voices within the Republican Party who are willing to consider federal pro-life legislation. There are others who think it can or must be an issue for states to decide. But assuming the Dobbs decision does indeed overrule Roe and Casey, pro-life conservatives should know that there is a legitimate case for federal legislation against abortion. Republican federal lawmakers should have a real discussion on this issue and consider all the options at hand, rather than punt on the grounds that it is inherently “an issue for the states.” 

If Roe falls, many (if not all) states will likely consider and pass some kind of abortion legislation. But as Hadley Arkes convincingly points out, the movement against Roe and the abortion regime is, at its center, about the protection of innocent lives, not the inappropriate exercise of “raw judicial power.” So while overruling Roe would be a great achievement both for the rule of law and the pro-life movement, conservatives must remember that their overarching goal is to stop abortions, not simply to send the issue back to the states.

For years, Republicans have been elected to federal office claiming to be boldly pro-life. Once the Dobbs opinion is officially released, they will likely have a constitutional basis to put that pro-life position into practice if they choose to do so. It will be interesting to see how conservatives in Congress react. Some will push for aggressive pro-life legislation, while others will insist that this ought to be decided at the state level. The conversation must be allowed to play out. Conservatives must acknowledge that there is a constitutional basis for passing pro-life federal legislation. If they choose to let it be decided solely by state legislatures, it should be known that that it will have been a choice, not an inevitability.

Frank DeVito is an attorney and a current fellow in the Napa Legal Good Counselor Project. His work has previously been published in the Quinnipiac Law Review and the Penn State Online Law Review. He lives in eastern Pennsylvania with his wife and three young children.

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Social Conservatives After Roe

The potential overturn of Roe is likely to shake up political coalitions in this country. Many predict that either party’s decision to push unpopular policies will redound to the advantage of the other party, especially among moderate voters and in the suburbs. Maybe so. Taking unpopular positions is, after all, unpopular. But I think the more interesting controversy will take place within the Republican Party, between the pro-life voters who have long called the party home and some of the party’s more recent acquisitions in the Trump era.

Barstool Sports is hardly a Republican institution. I doubt its founder, Dave Portnoy, thinks of himself as a Republican. But I also doubt that a large number of people who have chanted “Let’s go Brandon” at football games and the like think of themselves as Republicans, either. As Matthew Walther said, Portnoy represents a tendency in American life, whose members Walther called “Barstool conservatives.” Those voters are not inherently political people but have become increasingly politicized, especially by the Covid-19 pandemic and government responses to it. Portnoy and those like him might not think of themselves as Republicans, but they pulled the lever for Donald Trump, and are now part of the GOP coalition. 

And what does Portnoy think about the potential overturn of Roe? “To go backwards, it shows how f—ed up politics are…if [abortion] is an issue, I vote Democrat.” He also said that Republicans should agree with him on this issue, since it’s just “some religious people” trying to impose their view on the “90 percent, anybody who’s normally thinking.” And, he added, abortion bans would increase the power of the government to regulate people’s lives and decisions, which the GOP claims to be against.  

Portnoy was one of President Trump’s first and loudest supporters in popular culture. I was in high school for the 2016 election and the campaign preceding it. There were a number of outspoken Trump fans at school, and if you had asked them why they supported Trump, especially in the primary, none would have said “because he will make sure to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who, given the chance, will overturn Roe.” They were not family-values Republicans, and had no desire to be. The cultural issues that moved them were not the ones that inspire the religious right.

They became Republicans anyway, because of Donald Trump. In the past, Portnoy and those like him viewed the Republicans as insufferable moralists, busybodies intent on condemning other people for their choices, and generally no fun. But because Trump was so clearly not those things, he allowed the Republican Party to escape this reputation among people who had no strong attachment either to Paul Ryan’s budgets or the tenets of social conservatism. And the Democrats’ becoming the party that tells you what to do and condemns you as immoral if you don’t has only sealed these Barstool voters’ attachment to the GOP—the party of the libertines, the party of live and let live, the party of telling censorious elites to shove it.

And now this strange alliance appears on the verge of breaking apart.

While the prospect of Roe‘s overturn has prompted Portnoy to express surprise that any normal person would support restrictions on abortion, Republicans, especially at the state level, talk about imposing more restrictions and even bans. Those moves might prove electorally unpopular. While polling on abortion is a mess, it shows pretty consistently that only about 15 to 20 percent of the population favors a total ban on abortion. Not even a majority of Republicans favor a total ban. It’s hardly a united base. 

But the split isn’t just about policy. It’s about an attitude. The appointment of the justice who would overturn Roe, and subsequently implementing whatever state-level abortion restrictions are possible, would be the first major win in a long time for the kind of social conservative more interested in policy related to moral issues than “owning the libs” about, say, content moderation on social media. The former group’s numbers have been declining, which is why the GOP has moved away from the moral issues to issues like content moderation on social media. Social conservatives have nevertheless preserved the pro-life cause; popular opinion hasn’t shifted on abortion the way it has on something like gay marriage, and, quite simply, abortion is the issue social conservatives care most about and have expended the most effort trying to fight.

Maybe Portnoy and late-arriving Republicans like him are ignorant of the history and influence of the pro-life movement. Trump made these Barstool voters political, so I wonder how much attention they were paying to politics before Trump came along. Even if Trump’s nomination seemed to promise liberation from religious cranks and moralizing scolds, on this issue, the old Republican Party isn’t dead. 

If you hated the religious attitudes and moralizing of the Republican Party, Trump allowed you to overlook those things. But the potential for the greatest social-conservative victory in a long time has brought those features back to the forefront. The pro-life movement is shot through with religious cranks and moralizing scolds, a fact responsible for many of its best tendencies and many of its worst. I say this (mostly) affectionately, since I myself am both a religious crank and a moralizing scold. 

Where will the GOP go from here? I suspect that, for social conservatives, the overturn of Roe could lead to a series of defeats. I don’t just mean that their pursuit of unpopular policies will probably be bad for them and the party at the ballot box. I mean that social conservatives could lose their grasp on the Republican Party.

Some of this can be attributed to the nature of coalition building. Most GOP voters who care strongly about abortion would still vote for the GOP even if the two major parties had identical stances on abortion. Those voters typically agree with the GOP’s policies on other issues. The idea that the abortion issue has resulted in some large number of pro-life leftists holding their noses and voting Republican is simply not true. There are about 50 of those people, half of whom I know personally. Most of them do not vote for either party. 

But if Portnoy and friends think abortion is a deal-breaker, whether out of sincere belief or a self-interested desire to maintain a certain sexual culture, they could easily leave to GOP. When a party can take voters for granted, they don’t have to offer them much. The GOP could get away with not doing much for pro-lifers, but not so for the “Barstool conservatives.”

The other issue, as their inaction makes clear, much of the GOP leadership simply doesn’t care that much about the life issue and would rather not talk about it. Addressing it is something they had to do to appease some of their voters, but now the bills are due. A friend who worked in the office of a high-ranking Republican in Congress told me that the office was not uniformly pro-life, and, of those staff who were, he was the only one who cared strongly about the abortion issue. For many Republican members, if they can get away with leaving the abortion issue aside and focusing on their true mission of being corporate shills, they will do so.

The national GOP might like the status quo. Not so for the state parties, where the true believers are. The wave of proposed abortion legislation produced by state Republican legislature reveals as much. And, of course, the institutional network social conservatives have spent 50 years building up isn’t going to simply disappear. But I worry they’ll be increasingly marginalized. There will be more Todd Akins and Richard Mourdocks to come; they will cost the GOP winnable elections and will be blamed for it. Defending new abortion restrictions will give legislators plenty of opportunities to put their feet in their mouths and leave themselves open to obvious attacks. 

The transformation of social conservatism after Obergefell from a movement focused on a few specific moral issues into a catch-all collection will make it easier for the GOP to get distracted. Are abortions, changing standards of who gets to be a fashion model, and whatever Elon Musk might do with ownership of Twitter all issues of equal importance and moral weight? No, obviously not. But a GOP media apparatus that yells about each of them in the same way and to the same effect creates that impression.

The pro-life movement is about to find itself in the position of the dog that caught the car. It was easy to keep everyone on board by pointing to Roe and saying, “We’re against that.” Coming up with positive ideas is harder, and it is not yet clear how far many people who call themselves pro-life will be willing to go. It is called the March for Life for a reason; the “March for a Ban at Six Weeks With Various Exceptions” doesn’t have the same ring to it. In addition to debating the merits of total abortion bans versus incremental restrictions, other divisive issues within the GOP—such as family-policy measures like paid family leave—won’t necessarily become less divisive just because one faction claims them necessary to create a better post-Roe world. The emergence of divisions in what has, up to now, been a surprisingly unified movement might just make it easier for GOP leaders with money and power and new Barstool conservative voters to ignore the abortion issue and get back to cutting taxes.

Steve Larkin is a writer from the state of Maine. His work has also appeared in the Week, the Catholic Herald, and other publications.

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The Medicine of Mercy

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordelione announced Friday that he has barred Speaker Nancy Pelosi from receiving the Eucharist in his diocese until she repudiates her support for permissive abortion laws. In a letter to Pelosi, the archbishop indicated that he reached out to her privately in the past year to warn that her public support for abortion could trigger canon 915 in the Code of Canon Law, which prevents those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin” from receiving Holy Communion. The archbishop announced the move weeks after Pelosi called the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade “an abomination.”

The archbishop’s statement drew predictable backlash. One progressive friar called it a “scandal.” The canon lawyers over at the San Francisco Examiner said the act constituted “open defiance of Pope Francis” and called on the pope to remove the archbishop from his post. The director of the Cardinal Bernardin Center argued that Pelosi’s support for abortion “just doesn’t matter” because she is acting “as the people’s agent” and the way she “represents the people she represents is not a religious or moral matter.” Would the professor would apply that theory to Herman Talmadge?

In any case, it is understandable that so many people, even those within the Church, are taken aback by the archbishop’s sacramental discipline. To partisans of a certain vision of post-conciliar reform in the Catholic Church, denying someone the Eucharist is a return to the days before the Second Vatican Council, and a rejection of the soft universalism that has reigned in corners of the Church’s human element since the middle of the 20th century. To deny a person the Eucharist suggests that it is possible for someone to place himself outside the boundaries of Catholic communion and, therefore, outside the bounds of Christ’s Church.

It’s not just Hans Küng disciples who bristle at the archbishop’s actions. Many Catholics, as a result of the intentional neglect of progressive priests and prelates, have no idea what the Church teaches on the worthy reception of the Eucharist and are therefore scandalized by his apparently “exclusionary” practice.

St. Paul says that anyone who consumes the Eucharistic species unworthily “eateth and drinketh judgment to himself.” The Church has historically interpreted this passage to mean that all Catholics in a state of mortal sin, with few exceptions, are to avoid receiving the Eucharist until they’ve made a valid sacramental confession, which requires the penitent to have a firm purpose of amendment to avoid the sin in the future.

Many Catholics are unfamiliar with the Church’s teaching. If you attend a Mass in the suburban United States, it shows. Most or all of the parishioners approach the priest for Communion after the Agnus Dei prayers. How many have gone to confession? It’s unknown, and not for me to speculate, but I do know that many well-to-do parishes hold confessions just once per week for about 30 minutes. It is not uncommon for the priests at those parishes to hear fewer than five confessions in their half-hour in the box. It is possible that the Catholics of Strathmere, New Jersey, are an extraordinarily holy bunch, but it’s more likely that something else—a lost sense of sin or poor catechesis—is at work.

Abstaining from the Eucharist is not, of itself, a virtue. The only reason one should do is if—speaking from some experience here—one is conscious of having committed a mortal sin. I only mean to say that taking the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist seriously involves regularly examining one’s conscience, which is uncomfortable, and militates against the therapeutic ethos of the age. At many parishes, suburban and otherwise, it seems like only sin is to believe that sin exists at all.

Some in the hierarchy refuse to exercise sacramental discipline. Their refusal is, in part, a response to perceived disciplinary excesses in the pre-conciliar Church. This, in effect, has lead some of the faithful to believe that the Church’s teaching on the reception of Holy Communion has changed. It has not. And the unwillingness of certain elements  within the Church to let their “yes” mean “yes” and their “no” mean “no” on the question of Eucharistic discipline has produced the absurdity of a Speaker of the House in one breath calling herself a “Catholic mother of five” and in the next endorsing the right to abort a child in defiance of the Fathers, the earliest writings of the apostles, and two millennia of magisterial teaching.

No Catholic ought to rejoice at Nancy Pelosi’s being denied Communion. The Eucharist is the source and summit of Catholic sacramental life. To be deprived of it for even one week is a terrible privation. I am an awful sinner and in no position to act as judge of the Speaker or anyone else. But before consuming the Eucharist, Nancy Pelosi, like all Catholics, must form her conscience and examine herself. If she refuses to do so, Archbishop Cordelione’s intervention in the matter is nothing less than an act of charity.

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The Deep Pockets of the ‘Green’ Left

New IRS disclosures expose just how well-funded green activism really is.

In 2020 alone, nearly 200 environmentalist nonprofits collectively raked in $3.2 billion from wealthy donors and foundations to push radical climate legislation, fund ideological lawsuits against the oil and gas industry, shut down coal-burning power plants, and train new activists. That figure represents an almost half-a-billion-dollar increase from 2019, when environmentalist groups reported close to $2.7 billion in total revenue.

The massive support for climate activism means that these 200 organizations represent a fraction of the groups pushing for Green New Deal-type policies. For clarity’s sake, my list only includes climate- or environment-focused nonprofits, but virtually every group on the left, from the Center for American Progress to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Planned Parenthood, supports the same “green” ideological platform.

The same goes for eco-activism’s biggest funders—just seven of whom brought in a staggering $1.8 billion in 2020 alone, largely for “green” causes. The ClimateWorks Foundation, for instance, paid out $68 million in 2020 to universities funding anti-oil research and lobbying groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council.

ProPublica reports that another major pass-through to environmental causes, the Energy Foundation, brought in $76 million in 2020. How much did it spend? When this writer attempted to find out, the group’s communications director, Omer Farooque, dragged his feet: “Please rest assured you will receive the 990s within the 30-day window outlined in section 6104(d)(1)(B)” of the Internal Revenue Code, he told me via email.

What is known is that the Energy Foundation bundles grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, Rockefeller Foundation, and other left-wing donors to fund “climate-crisis” action. The foundation has close ties to China via its Beijing arm, where it brags about its role in making the communist country the world leader in “carbon neutrality”—even as China rushes to build coal-fired plants at a faster clip than the rest of the world combined.

Many, if not most, of these groups spend heavily to elect Democrats each election cycle. The League of Conservation Voters gave $15 million to its super political-action committee (PAC) arm in the 2019-20 cycle, which spent a whopping $42 million hammering Republicans and boosting Democrats. At least $7 million of that sum came from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, part of a $1.7 billion progressive-funding network run by the consultancy Arabella Advisors.

The Sierra Club, which raised $255 million in 2020 through its various nonprofit and PAC arms, boasts that it helped “defeat nearly $30 billion in dirty fuel infrastructure projects, such as pipelines and export terminals, in just the first half of 2020.” The group’s Beyond Coal campaign has shut down at least 335 power plants, castigating America’s most common energy resource as an “outdated, backward, and dirty 19th-century technology.” It also aims to ban fracking nationwide and permanently block all development on at least 30 percent of the country’s land.

Then there’s the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a $200+ million advocacy machine whose former vice president, Michael Regan, currently heads President Joseph Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency. Since Biden took office, EDF has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying Democrats to support 100-percent-renewable-energy mandates, the Build Back Better agenda, and a Republican-introduced carbon tax (the deceptively named MARKET CHOICE Act).

Yet many on the left still cultivate the image that they’re plucky, grassroots activists committed to saving the planet from gas-guzzling polluters and their Big Oil-funded allies. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

In 2018, Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle published a misleading study that purportedly revealed a 10-to-1 disparity between funding for climate-conscious groups and the skeptics opposing them—producing the claim that skeptics spend $1 billion per year blocking action on global warming. Yet he manufactured that impressive figure by measuring the incomes of broadly right-leaning groups focused on everything from telecom regulation to agriculture and reporting it all as climate-skeptic spending.

A more honest study would demonstrate that global warming activists are some of the best-funded special interests in America.

Virtually every major left-wing foundation—including the Ford, Rockefeller, Hewlett, and George Soros’ Open Society Foundations—bankrolls climate activism. They also receive significant support from “clean-energy” champions like ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP, all of which tout their strong support for rapidly transitioning away from so-called fossil fuels and into a “lower-carbon future.”

Countless companies green-wash themselves with vague commitments to “sustainability,” “resilience,” and solving the “climate crisis” by taxing carbon dioxide into oblivion, a cheap public-relations ploy to avoid the wrath of professional climatistas and activist shareholders.

But do Big Oil & Gas companies really support policies that would phase their industry out of existence? ExxonMobil’s chief lobbyist doesn’t think so, revealing late last year to an undercover Greenpeace activist that a carbon tax is “an easy talking point” that “is not going to happen.”

Maybe, or maybe not. What is clear is that the climate machine in Washington, D.C., couldn’t be better-funded, and is dead set on destroying the American economy.

Hayden Ludwig is a senior investigative researcher at the Capital Research Center.

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Stumbling Toward War On Two Fronts

So much for strategic ambiguity. Speaking at a news conference in Tokyo on Monday, President Joe Biden committed the United States to militarily defend Taiwan in response to a potential Chinese invasion. A reporter asked Biden, “Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?” To which the president replied, flatly, “Yes.” The reporter followed up: “You are?” The president was adamant: “That’s the commitment we made.”

Pardon me if I sound unduly alarmed, but can we please not go down this road? For the love of God, can America avoid opening up a direct confrontation with the nuclear-armed People’s Republic while we are already engaged in an openly acknowledged proxy war with Russia, another nuclear power?

Biden’s words in Tokyo were so direct and unambiguous they left his aides in the room visibly surprised, according to the New York Times. And understandably so: The commander-in-chief erased what little remained of America’s longstanding policy of leaving it up to Beijing to decide whether it thinks Washington will come to Taiwan’s defense, the idea being that ambiguity and unpredictability can serve as deterrents. If the Chinese know that an attack will be met by a U.S. military response, the only question from their point of view becomes when best to mount it, given the political climate and balance of forces.

Biden’s “commitment,” moreover, would upend decades of American policy: Taiwan isn’t a treaty ally like, say, Japan or Poland, and hasn’t been seen as such by successive administrations. Under the Taiwan Relations Act, which has structured America’s ties to Taiwan since 1979, the U.S. government is obliged to help arm the Taiwanese, but not to directly defend the island.

The White House quickly went into damage-control mode, with a spokesperson telling Fox News, implausibly, that “our policy has not changed.” Rather, the president merely “reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”

This marks the second time in as many years that the Biden administration has had to clarify Biden’s remarks on Taiwan. Last year, CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked Biden a nearly identical question: “Are you saying the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defense if China were to attack?” Biden replied in the affirmative, adding ominously that the rest of the world “knows” that America fields the most powerful military force on earth. That time, too, the administration quickly clarified that Washington wasn’t departing from the parameters of the one-China policy and the Taiwan Relations Act.

“Doddering old fool making gaffes” is the easiest way to account for these alarming statements. The more likely and discomfiting explanation is that Biden is giving voice, if a little too enthusiastically, to a new consensus gathering inside the Washington uniparty. Other signs include recent delegations of current and former officials to Taipei, not least the ultra-hawkish former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Plus there are rumors of a planned visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as the growing drumbeat of pro-war propaganda.

Biden’s words are also of a piece with a broader mood of general Western belligerence on both sides of the Atlantic. Read the major international editorial pages, and voices calling for even a modicum of restraint or prudent reserve are an extreme minority, if allowed to be heard at all.

The liberal internationalists are leading the charge once more for “defending democracy” with bombs and drones, of course. But it isn’t just them. As I’ve noted at Compact, with the honorable exception of Hungary, the “new nationalists” across the West are increasingly playing second fiddle to the liberal hawks, and often outflanking them in tub-thumping for the expansion of the very transnational institutions (NATO, the E.U.) they were elected to limit. With Poland’s President Andrzej Duda calling for rapid E.U. absorption of Ukraine, who needs Anne Applebaum? With Chris DeMuth a leader in the “national-conservative” movement, tub-thumping for war with Russia and China, who needs the Atlantic Council?

The whole scene is perfectly surreal. America is struggling to deliver baby formula to its newborns. Inflation is skyrocketing. Gas costs $7 a gallon. Similar supply and energy crises grip Europe. And yet the trans-Atlantic political class is seriously comfortable with the prospect of a two-front war with Russia and China. The feebler the West becomes in hard material terms—the more its political economy shifts toward financial extraction and useless apps—the deeper its internal cultural rot, and the more aggressive and unhinged it becomes on the world stage.

Get ready for a turbulent century.

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Biden Admin Takes Steps Toward a Digital Dollar

“Give me control of a nation’s money,” an 18th-century banking oligarch once said, “and I care not who makes its laws.” That may have sounded like hubris at the time, but digital technology could soon make it an understatement.

Central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), currently in various stages of development around the world, are being created as a new form of money that, depending on how they are structured, could give government bureaucrats more control over citizens than any law ever could. In contrast to what most Americans today understand as money, commercial bank deposits denominated as dollars, a U.S. CBDC could be issued directly by our central bank to individuals in the form of a “digital wallet.” A digital dollar could also be programmable with controlling features.

On March 9, President Biden took a first step toward creating a U.S. CBDC, directing his administration to report to him by this fall on whether and how to implement a federal digital dollar. And in February, the Boston Fed completed the first phase of Project Hamilton, a CBDC simulation it has been developing together with MIT’s Digital Currency Initiative.

“My Administration places the highest urgency on research and development efforts into the potential design and deployment options of a United States CBDC,” Biden’s order stated. Among the goals he cited for a U.S. CBDC were faster and cheaper payments, financial stability, fighting financial crime, maintaining the preeminence and security of America’s currency, and “financial inclusion and equity.” Biden also ordered a report on “the potential for these technologies to impede or advance efforts to tackle climate change.”

Biden instructed Attorney General Merrick Garland to determine whether or not he will need congressional approval to implement a CBDC, and if so, to draft legislation by October, leading some observers to speculate that Democrats may try to introduce a bill before the midterms. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said in March 2021 that he would not move forward with establishing a U.S. CBDC “without support from Congress, and I think that would ideally come in the form of an authorizing law, rather than us trying to interpret our law to enable this.” But what the administration would do if it cannot get legislation passed is unclear.

Nine countries have established CBDCs thus far, and 15 others, including China, Russia, and Sweden, currently have pilot programs in place. Altogether, 87 countries that collectively represent 90 percent of global GDP are in some stage in the development of CBDCs. The European Central Bank (ECB) is also moving forward with the implementation of its own CBDC, the digital euro, and Deutsche Bank predicts that central banks collectively representing one-fifth of the world’s population will issue CBDCs by 2025.

Agustin Carstens, general manager of the Bank of International Settlements, explained one of the key motivations to create CBDCs at an October 2020 IMF seminar: “We don’t know who is using a $100 bill today, we don’t know who’s using a 1,000-peso bill today. The key difference with a CBDC is the central bank will have absolute control of the rules and regulations that will determine the use of that central bank liability, and also we will have the technology to enforce that.”

China has taken the lead on implementation among the world’s major economies, issuing its e-CNY, or digital yuan, in 2020. By the end of 2021, the digital yuan had 261 million users, representing about one-fifth of China’s population, according to the People’s Bank of China.

China issues the e-CNY directly from its central bank to consumers, who set up a digital-wallet app that allows them to buy from vendors by scanning their phone at the point of sale, thereby transferring digital yuan directly from the buyer’s government account to the vendor’s without transaction fees. For those who don’t have a smartphone, a British company called Walletmor now offers microchips that are implanted into a person’s palm. The buyer makes payments by placing his hand over a vendor’s card reader.

China touts the privacy of these transactions; users can set the app so that purchases are anonymous between buyer and seller, just as with cash. Unlike cash, however, the Chinese government can observe and track every transaction.

“They’re dealing with vast amounts of data, so it’s difficult even today with the computers we have to handle it all,” said former Fed official Chris Whalen, chairman of Whalen Global Advisors. “But over time, these networks are only going to get more efficient and more robust, and they’ll be able to chew on this data and follow everything you do, financially.

“A central bank digital currency is not a herald call for freedom,” Whalen said. “In an authoritarian society, it will be used as a means of control.”

“China’s reasons for doing this ought to horrify us all,” said former Fed Vice Chair Randal Quarles, now chairman of the Cynosure Group, “but there’s a concern that we’ll somehow fall behind them.”

“There is a concern that the ECB is doing this, Sweden is doing this, the Brits are looking at it, the world is moving forward, and we’ll be left behind,” Quarles said. “I just don’t think any of that is true. Anyone who has a teenager has heard this argument and pushed back against it. It can’t be just: everyone is doing it, so I need to.”

* * *

The big questions regarding the architecture of a digital dollar system include whether Americans’ CBDC accounts would be held at private banks or the Federal Reserve, and what form the CBDC should take, with proposals ranging from an anonymous digital token to one that is traceable and programmable. Many progressives want the Fed to set up personal CBDC accounts, claiming that such accounts would eliminate banking fees and allow Americans without bank accounts to access our financial system. But some Republicans reject this approach.

In January, Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota introduced a bill to ban the Fed from establishing retail CBDC accounts, stating that “not only would this CBDC model centralize Americans’ financial information, leaving it vulnerable to attack, but it could be used as a surveillance tool that Americans should never tolerate from their own government.”

Among American consumers, there does not appear to be significant demand for the government to replace private commercial banks. According to an FDIC report, 94.6 percent of U.S. households had at least one bank account as of 2019, and 97.3 percent of account holders were “very or somewhat satisfied with their bank.”

Private initiatives such as the nonprofit Cities For Financial Empowerment Fund’s Bank On project are working to connect underserved people with affordable banking services, which may prove a simpler and more effective way to achieve inclusion than turning the Fed into a retail bank. Furthermore, it is questionable whether the Fed, or any government agency, realistically could handle hundreds of millions of individual accounts, process trillions of transactions, respond to customer inquiries, and conduct the required anti-money laundering and “Know Your Customer” inquiries that private banks currently perform.

Whether or not private banks remain as intermediaries, however, the Fed’s ability to control the economy would be greatly enhanced if the CBDC were programmable.

“When the White House was asked about the CBDC, they talked about how the currency could be used to improve diversity and equity and inclusion and all these other things,” said Justin Haskins, a director at the Heartland Institute. “The only way that any of this works the way they’re promising is if it is a programmable currency, and that means it can be controlled.”

“This fits right in line with all the ideological justifications for having more regulations, for having the Federal Reserve print more money, for giant welfare programs, for diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Haskins said. “You could accomplish all of those goals with a CBDC that is programmable in a much more effective way, and in a way that gives you political cover because you don’t need to pass a law to do it. You could just do it all through the Federal Reserve.”

In order to make stimulus payments more effective, for example, CBDCs could include negative interest rates, which are a tax on savings, or even expiration dates. This would impel Americans to spend rather than save.

The Fed could also pose restrictions on what CBDCs can be used for. Environmental policy could be implemented through the Fed by, for example, limiting the amount of CBDC a person can spend on gasoline. If the federal government wanted to expand gun control, it could limit CBDC payments for firearms and ammunition. Americans’ ability to access their digital wallets could even be tied to something like vaccination status.

Another critical issue related to CBDCs is their effect on credit. Under our current system, banks leverage dollar deposits and lend them out, effectively creating money for our economy. According to the FDIC, the percentage of households that used credit cards or bank loans increased from 67.9 percent in 2015 to 72.5 percent in 2019. A CBDC system could reduce the availability of credit and lead to its politicization.

“We think of [Europe] as more instinctively socialist than the United States, but there’s not pressure from the left there to disintermediate the private banking system and have the [European Central Bank] become a retail bank,” Quarles explained. But even with private commercial banks still in place, “they estimate that [a digital euro] will still end up taking 12 to 20 percent of the deposits out of the banking system into the central bank, and they have to figure out some way to put that back in. That will come with strings.”

Banks would be unable to leverage CBDC into loans, and it would be left to government authorities to dole out these funds to those individuals whom it favors. Indeed, the ECB is already pursuing a policy of Green Quantitative Easing, in which the central bank provides financing to “non-polluting” companies. Some U.S. officials would like the Fed to also become more active in promoting climate and social justice policies.

Lael Brainard, the current Fed vice-chair, stated in October 2021 that the Fed should get in step with the ECB and other central banks and develop new ways to fight climate change. She pointed to the Fed’s recently established Stability Climate Committee and a Supervision Climate Committee. Regarding social issues, the San Francisco Fed stated that “achieving racial equity fits into the Federal Reserve’s mandate for maximum employment, which is central to our mission.”

The Biden administration has fervently pursued these political and social goals, but many believe this single-minded approach has come at the expense of Americans’ civil liberties. This perception could undermine public trust regarding a digital dollar.

“It will never be a priority of the Biden Administration to defend individual liberty or to ensure that the design of a central-bank digital currency is not going to prevent people from purchasing the products they want or doing things they want,” Haskins said.

Biden-administration agencies, including the CDC, OSHA, the SEC, and the DHS, have been accused, often with the concurrence of federal judges, of unlawfully exceeding the authority given to them by Congress. The administration’s actions have raised concerns about individual liberty, like its attempt to force Covid vaccines on American workers (which a federal judge overturned), its institution of an unpopular mask mandates (also overturned), its proposal that the IRS monitor bank transactions more than $600, its establishment of a Disinformation Board within the Department of Homeland Security (likely to be shut down after public backlash), and the Justice Department’s intimidation of parents who protested at school-board meetings.

But even under ideal leadership, many say the federal government is not the best vehicle to foster financial innovation. America’s private banking and payments system is generally efficient and affordable, and conservatives argue that whatever improvements and innovations Americans may want should come from the private sector, not the Fed.

“The reason the U.S. economy is so resilient and able to generate the growth that we do is because we have a private financial system,” Whalen said. “People who argue for efficiency and say, ‘Let’s have one big public bank,’ they don’t understand. There’s no leverage in a system like that. Then you essentially have China… an allocation system.”

“I’m 100 percent in favor of advances in digital technology,” Quarles said. “But if we want to lead the world in this, we will do that by allowing our private-sector companies to do that, as opposed to having the government come in and do that, with all of the attendant problems of politicization of credit and sacrifice of privacy that come with that.”

Actor Jeff Goldblum famously told dinosaur-engineering geneticists in the blockbuster movie Jurassic Park that their “scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they never stopped to think if they should.”  Likewise, much of the discussion from central bankers and tech consultants regarding CBDCs has focused on solving logistical problems, with less thought going toward what sort of society the technology would usher in.

“People come at this as just a technical discussion,” Whalen said, “but it is much more. A lot of the researchers I interact with are fascinated by the functionality, but they don’t consider the implications for our system of political economy.”

“It’s one thing to have the government recognize that individuals should be able to have an electronic version of their money, just like we are able to have cash, and not have to hold most of our money in a bank,” said former Assistant Treasury Secretary Greg Zerzan, now an attorney at Jordan Ramis. “But the danger is that well-meaning government officials decide: This is how you should use your money, or we want to take a look and see where your money is going, or we don’t like how you’re using your money so we’re just going to freeze your account.”

Requests sent to the Federal Reserve and MIT’s Digital Currency Initiative for comment for this article were declined.

Kevin Stocklin is a writer, film director, and founder of Second Act Films, an independent production house specializing in educational media and feature films. Previously, he worked in international banking for more than a decade.

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