Category: US politics

Sinking as fast as the Titanic after the iceberg

National Review:

President Biden’s sweeping domestic agenda is floundering as Democrats struggle to hold competing factions of their party together. House Republicans should not come to the rescue.

Democrats are in a bind because they have grand ambitions of transforming the United States by dramatically expanding the social safety net, but the American people only gave them slim majorities. They are attempting to forge a path forward by more or less simultaneously passing two pieces of legislation — a $550 billion infrastructure bill that passed with Republican support in the Senate, and a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill (into which they are trying to cram Biden’s entire domestic agenda). More moderate Democrats are becoming increasingly alarmed at the price tag of the massive social-welfare bill, while progressives have been insistent that they would not support the smaller infrastructure bill if the larger one doesn’t also pass. This conflict, which has been building for months, is about to reach an inflection point.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi promised moderate House Democrats that the chamber would consider the smaller bipartisan bill by next Monday, September 27. Progressives claim they have the votes to block it, absent agreement on the massive $3.5 trillion package, which does not appear to be close to final. But now moderates are flexing their muscles, too — arguing that if Pelosi reneges on holding the vote, they will bail on the bigger bill. Meanwhile, according to Politico, Senator Kyrsten Sinema privately told Biden that “if the House delays its scheduled Sept. 27 vote on the bipartisan infrastructure plan — or if the vote fails — she won’t be backing a reconciliation bill.”

In a 50–50 Senate, Sinema has the ability to tank any piece of legislation. And Pelosi can lose no more than three votes, which means less than a handful of moderates or progressives could tank any legislation. But there is one group of people that could make it much easier for Pelosi to get out of this jam — and that is House Republicans. If a critical mass of House Republicans end up voting for the smaller infrastructure bill, then it would allow Pelosi to pass the bill even while losing progressives, and it would pave the way for Democrats to strike a bargain among themselves on the larger reconciliation bill.

We repeatedly warned Senate Republicans that it was a bad idea to negotiate with Democrats on an infrastructure bill, which was not only reckless at a time of historic debt, but obviously tied to the even-worse $3.5 trillion bill. Yet 19 of them voted for it anyway, and a number of House Republicans have indicated a desire to do the same. But the argument for Republicans to vote for the bill has become even weaker. Beyond the policy considerations, for House Republicans to save Pelosi from navigating the difficult dynamics of a divided caucus by providing her the votes she needs would be political malpractice. The back and forth between progressives and moderate Democrats over the past few weeks has underscored the fact that the two bills are inextricably linked. Any Republican who votes for the smaller infrastructure bill is making the passage of the larger reconciliation bill more likely.

In the reconciliation bill, Democrats want the government to pay for child care, universal pre-K, and community college. At a time when the current system is going broke, they want to add dental and vision coverage to Medicare. And they want to use it as a vehicle to advance their destructive Green New Deal environmental policies. They have proposed more than $2 trillion in taxes, but even that won’t cover all their spending, likely meaning more debt.

With Biden’s approval ratings tumbling and the nation reeling from his botched handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal, the border crisis, and the vaccine-booster rollout, on top of his daily miscues, it is understandable why he is desperate for a win. But there is no reason for House Republicans to help him get it.

Pandemic logic

Michael Smith:

Perhaps I am unique in this, but I find the arguments around the pandemic panic induced vaccine hysteria quite interesting, not for what they appear to be, but what the arguments really are about.

The arguments, as popularly stated, are allegedly based on the selfishness and ignorance of the people who choose not to be vaccinated. They begin from the premise that the unvaccinated present not only a serious risk to the vaccinated, but a potentially deadly risk.

“Do the right thing for your community”, the self-righteous vaccinated say. “Get your poke and put on your mask, go back to social distancing, and stay at home or we are all gonna die!”

It never dawns on them that making this argument is the very reason people see the vaccinations as a sham. The new “Paper of Record” in America, the Babylon Bee, summed this up in a headline a few weeks ago, writing “To Defeat Delta Variant, Experts Recommend Doing All The Things That Didn’t Work The First Time”.

A little application of basic reasoning would lead a rational person to say, “Whachu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?”

We get the shots, but are still vulnerable to the virus, plus we are going to be required to do the same things we did before we got the shot? What’s the damn point?

Those questions have nothing to do with the efficacy of the vaccine or anything else other than trying to resolve the contradictions in the statements of the government and those of the vaccinated scolds.

Given these unresolvable contradictions, one must consider that there are other motivations at work here. Some I have deduced are, but not limited to, the following:

  • A desire to be socially validated by other vaccinated cool kids
  • A desire to be validated by the authorities
  • An irrational fear of risk and how to manage risk
  • A fundamental lack of understanding data
  • A fear that the vaccines don’t really work
  • A fear that if the vaccines don’t really work and the vaccinated person gets sick, there will not be a hospital resources available for them
  • A desire to be seen as superior to others – smarter, more moral, more fit for participating in “modern” society

Every one of the preceding motivations does indicate a state of selfishness, but not on the part of the unvaccinated – it is the vaccinated who are the selfish.

There was a particular letter to the editor in our local paper, the Park Record, that included the statement, and I quote: “Personal freedom ends when it puts another at risk.”

Dear God. This person took the time to write this down and email it to the editors. Too bad they didn’t think about what it really means before they did.

Imagine this applied to the flu or even to driving a car.

Brain dead morons. They walk among us – and they are hangry.

Biden’s upcoming middle class tax increase

Eric Boehm:

Central to President Joe Biden’s plan to hike federal spending by $3.5 trillion is a promise that middle-class Americans won’t face a tax increase.

That’s a claim that is looking less and less true with each passing day. The bill Congress is drafting to pay for all that new spending includes tax hikes on tobacco products, electronic cigarettes, and cryptocurrencies—taxes that will apply to the rich and poor alike. And while the bill does not raise income taxes on anyone earning less than $200,000 annually in the immediate future, Americans earning as little as $30,000 could face a tax hike by 2027 under Biden’s plan, according to an analysis published Tuesday by the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), a nonpartisan number-crunching agency housed inside Congress.

The culprit for that future tax increase is the expanded child tax credit, which the House tax plan would extend through 2025 (the JCT’s report only provides estimates for every other year, so 2027 is the first child tax credit–less year included in its analysis). More accurately, the culprit is Congress’ unwillingness to address the full cost of that tax credit in this bill. By promising to raise taxes later, Democrats are able to manufacture about $700 billion in “savings” that will likely never materialize.

Let’s back up a little. The new JCT report shows that taxpayers earning less than $200,000 annually would see a net tax cut in 2023 under the changes that the House Ways and Means Committee unveiled earlier this week. The House Democrats’ plan would shift the tax burden toward wealthier Americans next year, largely because of how Biden’s proposal relies on hiking income tax rates for high earners and raising the capital gains tax rate, which is applied to investment earnings.

Skip ahead to 2027, however, and things look quite a bit different. By then, the changes House Democrats are now proposing would result in higher taxes for nearly all taxpayers—even those making as little as $30,000 per year. Middle-class Americans earning between $50,000 and $100,000 would owe, on average, several hundred dollars in additional taxes, according to the National Taxpayers Union Foundation’s breakdown of the JCT’s analysis.

That sudden shift in the tax burden is caused by the expiration of the newly expanded child tax credit. As part of the COVID-19 relief bill passed in March, Congress approved a one-year increase in the child tax credit from $2,000 per child annually to $3,600 per child under the age of 6 and $3,000 for those ages 6 to 17—delivered as monthly payments of $300 per child under age 6 and $250 for older kids. In the reconciliation bill, Democrats are proposing to maintain the expanded tax credit through 2025.

Why 2025? Because the tax credit—which isn’t really a tax credit at all, but rather a direct subsidy since it is paid out even if recipients have no income and owe no federal taxes—is expensive. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that the child tax credit will cost about $110 billion annually, and extending the tax credit through 2025 will cost $450 billion. Making it permanent would cost $1.1 trillion over the next 10 years.

Those amounts could make a big difference in the ultimate fate of Biden’s plan. Democrats need to use the reconciliation process to bypass the filibuster in the Senate, but the rules governing the reconciliation process forbid legislation that expands the federal budget deficit over the next decade. That means every dollar of new spending has to be offset somehow. And $1.1 trillion is a lot more than $450 billion.

Most Democrats would probably love to extend the expanded child tax creditpermanently. At least a few Republicans would probably agree to that too. But by setting the expanded tax credit to expire four years from now, Democrats are able to ignore roughly $700 billion in future costs that have to be offset in order to use the reconciliation process.

“Democrats have no intention of taking away the child credit expansion after 2025—it is both popular and central to their poverty-reduction strategy,” says Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, and former Senate Republican staffer. “But sunsetting the policy after 2025 in this bill provides $700 billion in fake savings over the decade, as future Congresses will surely extend the policy.”

In other words, it’s a gimmick. A gimmick that, yes, Republicans have also used when trying to route major tax policy changes through the reconciliation system, but a gimmick nonetheless.

As a result of that gimmick, the JCT’s estimates for fiscal year 2027 do not include the child tax credit. And that’s why it looks like taxes will go up for a lot of middle-income families a few years from now.

This sets up a clever game. Democrats will be able to wave away objections about those future tax increases because of course Congress will extend the child tax credit beyond 2025…eventually. But they don’t have to account for the future cost of that inevitable extension in the bill they want to pass within the next few weeks.

Compared to what experts say are the other likely long-term consequences of passing this $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill—including slower economic growth, more debt, and lower wages—the gimmickry involved in gaming the reconciliation process over the child tax credit is relatively small potatoes. But make no mistake: The child tax credit is adding to the future size of government, even if that amount doesn’t show up on a balance sheet past 2025 yet.

These cynical maneuvers are one of the main reasons why it is so hard for Congress to get its hands around America’s long-term debt problem. Lawmakers are quite literally crafting legislation not in pursuit of the best policy, but in order to avoid the very barriers that have been put in place, within the reconciliation process, to limit deficit spending.

Gaming the system is no way to produce the best outcomes—and that’s especially true for today’s kids, ostensibly the beneficiaries of this policy, who are going to have to pay for it in the long run.

Who’s a threat?

James Freeman:

Pundits have widely interpreted former President George W. Bush’s Saturday remarks to be a condemnation of participants in last January’s Capitol Riot. But recent news brings other possibilities. Last weekend Mr. Bush said at a 9/11 memorial service for the heroes of Flight 93:

And we have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within. There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them.

Monday’s column noted that Byron York is among those interpreting the remarks as an endorsement of the idea “that an equivalence exists between the plane-hijacking, murderous terrorists of Sept. 11, 2001, and the Capitol rioters of Jan. 6, 2021 — a comparison that has no basis in fact but has done much to sour the national debate.”

Reader Paul Goldbeck responds:

It struck me that those Bush noted as destroying things in his speech could have included Antifa and others as well as the Capitol rioters. What did I miss?

This column asked Bush spokesman Freddy Ford to whom President Bush was referring when he talked about “violent extremists at home” on Saturday. Mr. Ford responds via email:

9/11 and COVID-19

J.D. Tuccille:

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 cast a long shadow over American life. Twenty years later the world is more chaotic and less free because the U.S. government exploited fear to erode liberty and launch two disastrous wars. Now, yet another crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, creates new opportunities to restrict freedom in the name of protecting us from a threat. President Joe Biden’s new vaccine mandate is just the latest round of pandemic restrictions and government by executive fiat that started in early 2020. The pandemic, too, threatens to leave an authoritarian legacy.

The best-known policy result of the 9/11 attacks is pervasive surveillance. Edward Snowden showed how the National Security Agency (NSA) used powers acquired after 9/11 to collect communications data from innocent people at home and abroad. But the government didn’t act on its own; it also conscripted communications companies into monitoring customers and installed NSA equipment in AT&T facilities.

In a disturbing parallel, early in the pandemic, then-President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to compel businesses to produce ventilators and other supplies for combatting the virus on his preferred terms. Once again, government officials turned to force to bend private parties to their will.

After 9/11, Congress created the Department of Homeland Security and nationalized airport security under the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Since then, the TSA has become known for groping fliers, delaying transit, and for failing to actually make anybody safer despite the ordeal.

“Undercover investigators were able to smuggle mock explosives or banned weapons through checkpoints in 95 percent of trials,” ABC News reported in 2015.

Panic-fueled pandemic policy has also brought us restrictions on movement. Early on that included overtly unconstitutional limits on traveling between states and cities.

“Freedom of movement within and between states is constitutionally protected” but “the constitutional model is losing right now,” Meryl Justin Chertoff, executive director of the Georgetown Project on State and Local Government Policy and Law, wrote last year.

Perhaps more permanently, we’ve also seen the proliferation of vaccine passports as yet another document requirement for travel, and as a means for turning once-routine activities into conditional privileges.

“The Key to NYC Pass will be a first-in-the-nation approach,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio boasted last month. “It will require vaccination for workers and customers in indoor dining, in indoor fitness facilities, indoor entertainment facilities.”

Politicians seem to instinctively understand that a crisis is an opening to push freedom-eroding policies. For then-Senator Biden, the 9/11 attacks provided an opening for touting a bill he had drafted years earlier but couldn’t get passed. It became the Patriot Act.

“I drafted a terrorism bill after the Oklahoma City bombing,” Biden told The New Republic in 2001. “And the bill John Ashcroft sent up was my bill.”

That bill “turns regular citizens into suspects,” in the words of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Twenty years later, even while admitting that “the bulk of the constitutional scholarship says that it’s not likely to pass constitutional muster” and correctly predicting that the Supreme Court would overturn the order, now-President Biden extended an emergency federal eviction moratorium that violated the property rights of millions of landlords.

The fear-fueled post-9/11 culture also gave politicians free rein to spend vast amounts of money on initiatives that had little to do with keeping Americans safe. A 2005 60 Minutes report found “counterterrorism” funding being used to supply small police departments with ATVs and defibrillators.

“A substantial portion of new homeland security spending is being used for politically motivated items—outlays that are unlikely to have any impact on terrorism,” an AEI paper found the next year.

The spending did make many local law-enforcement agencies dependent on federal funds and aligned with the federal government’s priorities at the expense of their communities’ more mundane concerns.

Today’s public health crisis has led to trillions in passed or proposed spending for so-called “recovery” and “infrastructure.” Somehow, that’s been defined to includeinternet access, child tax credits, electric-vehicle charging stations, corporate subsidies, and “buy American” mandates.

“Paid leave is infrastructure. Child care is infrastructure. Caregiving is infrastructure,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) insisted in a revealingly opportunistic tweet.

Opportunity also knocked in 2001 when it came to invading Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11. Regime change was on the Bush administration wish list, and the terrorist attack created an opening.

“I am often asked why we are in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks,” President George W. Bush commented in 2006. “The answer is that the regime of Saddam Hussein was a clear threat.”

Afghanistan’s Taliban regime was implicated in harboring Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. But, after 20 years of war, an estimated 157,000 lives lost, and a puppet regime that couldn’t survive the withdrawal of western forces, the Taliban is back in control.

Fortunately, the reaction to COVID-19 hasn’t resulted in warfare. But it has further divided the world, disrupted trade, and encouraged conflict—to the benefit of government officials, as after 9/11.

“The rich nations of Europe and North America are liberal democracies, but their governments are also ferociously efficient repression machines. The surveillance tools at their disposal have never been more powerful,” Thomas Hegghammer, a senior research fellow at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, writes in the current issue of Foreign Affairs about the aftermath of the War on Terror.

“As recorded in the Democracy Index in recent years, democracy has not been in robust health for some time,” The Economist‘s Democracy Index 2020 observed earlier this year. “In 2020 its strength was further tested by the outbreak of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic… Across the world in 2020, citizens experienced the biggest rollback of individual freedoms ever undertaken by governments during peacetime (and perhaps even in wartime).”

The 20-year anniversary of September 11, 2001 is a day for mourning the loss of the nearly 3,000 people who perished—and to reflect on how political leaders used fear to steal our liberties. Because history is already repeating itself in ways that we, and our kids, will live to regret.

9/11

Sept. 11, 2001 started out as a beautiful day, in Wisconsin, New York City and Washington, D.C.

I remember almost everything about the entire day. Sept. 11, 2001 is to my generation what Nov. 22, 1963 was to my parents and Dec. 7, 1941 was to my grandparents.

I had dropped off our oldest son at Ripon Children’s Learning Center. As I was coming out, the mother of one of his group told me to find a good radio station; she had heard as she was getting out with her son that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

I got in my car and turned it on in time to hear, seemingly live, a plane hit the WTC. But it wasn’t the first plane, it was the second plane hitting the other tower.

As you can imagine, my drive to Fond du Lac took unusually long that day. I tried to call Mrs. Presteblog, who was working at Ripon College, but she didn’t answer because she was in a meeting. I had been at Marian University as their PR director for just a couple months, so I didn’t know for sure who the media might want to talk to, but once I got there I found a couple professors and called KFIZ and WFDL in Fond du Lac and set up live interviews.

The entire day was like reading a novel, except that there was no novel to put down and no nightmare from which to wake up. A third plane hit the Pentagon? A fourth plane crashed somewhere else? The government was grounding every plane in the country and closing every airport?

I had a TV in my office, and later that morning I heard that one of the towers had collapsed. So as I was talking to my wife on the phone, NBC showed a tower collapsing, and I assumed that was video of the first tower collapse. But it wasn’t; it was the second tower collapse, and that was the second time that replay-but-it’s-not thing had happened that day.

Marian’s president and my boss (a native of a Queens neighborhood who grew up with many firefighter and police officer families, and who by the way had a personality similar to Rudy Giuliani) had a brief discussion about whether or not to cancel afternoon or evening classes, but they decided (correctly) to hold classes as scheduled. The obvious reasons were (1) that we had more than 1,000 students on campus, and what were they going to do if they didn’t have classes, and (2) it was certainly more appropriate to have our professors leading a discussion over what had happened than anything else that could have been done.

I was at Marian until after 7 p.m. I’m sure Marian had a memorial service, but I don’t remember it. While I was in Fond du Lac, our church was having a memorial service with our new rector (who hadn’t officially started yet) and our interim priest. I was in a long line at a gas station, getting gas because the yellow low fuel light on my car was on, not because of panic over gas prices, although I recall that one Fond du Lac gas station had increased their prices that day to the ridiculous $2.299 per gallon. (I think my gas was around $1.50 a gallon that day.)

Two things I remember about that specific day: It was an absolutely spectacular day. But when the sun set, it seemed really, really dark, as if there was no light at all outside, from stars, streetlights or anything else.

For the next few days, since our son was at the TV-watching age, we would watch the ongoing 9/11 coverage in our kitchen while Michael was watching the 1-year-old-appropriate stuff or videos in our living room. That Sunday, one of the people who was at church was Adrian Karsten of ESPN. He was supposed to be at a football game working for ESPN, of course, but there was no college football Saturday (though high school football was played that Friday night), and there was no NFL football Sunday. Our organist played “God Bless America” after Mass, and I recall Adrian clapping with tears down his face; I believe he knew some people who had died or been injured.

Later that day was Marian’s Heritage Festival of the Arts. We had record attendance since there was nothing going on, it was another beautiful day, and I’m guessing after five consecutive days of nonstop 9/11 coverage, people wanted to get out of their houses.

In the 20 years since then, a comment of New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has stuck in my head. He was asked a year or so later whether the U.S. was more or less safe since 9/11, and I believe his answer was that we were more safe because we knew more than on Sept. 10, 2001. That and the fact that we haven’t been subject to another major terrorist attack since then is the good news.

Osama bin Laden (who I hope is enjoying Na’ar, Islam’s hell) and others in Al Qaeda apparently thought that the U.S. (despite the fact that citizens from more than 90 countries died on 9/11) would be intimidated by the 9/11 attacks and cower on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, allowing Al Qaeda to operate with impunity in the Middle East and elsewhere. (Bin Laden is no longer available for comment.) If you asked an American who paid even the slightest attention to world affairs where a terrorist attack would be most likely before 9/11, that American would have replied either “New York,” the world’s financial capital, or “Washington,” the center of the government that dominates the free world. A terrorist attack farther into the U.S., even in a much smaller area than New York or Washington, would have delivered a more chilling message, that nowhere in the U.S. was safe. Al Qaeda didn’t think  to do that, or couldn’t do that. The rest of the Middle East also did not turn on the U.S. or on Israel (more so than already is the case with Israel), as bin Laden apparently expected.

The bad news is all of the other changes that have taken place that are not for the better. Bloomberg Businessweek asks:

So was it worth it? Has the money spent by the U.S. to protect itself from terrorism been a sound investment? If the benchmark is the absence of another attack on the American homeland, then the answer is indisputably yes. For the first few years after Sept. 11, there was political near-unanimity that this was all that mattered. In 2005, after the bombings of the London subway system, President Bush sought to reassure Americans by declaring that “we’re spending unprecedented resources to protect our nation.” Any expenditure in the name of fighting terrorism was justified.

A decade later, though, it’s clear this approach is no longer sustainable. Even if the U.S. is a safer nation than it was on Sept. 11, it’s a stretch to say that it’s a stronger one. And in retrospect, the threat posed by terrorism may have been significantly less daunting than Western publics and policymakers imagined it to be. …

Politicians and pundits frequently said that al Qaeda posed an “existential threat” to the U.S. But governments can’t defend against existential threats—they can only overspend against them. And national intelligence was very late in understanding al Qaeda’s true capabilities. At its peak, al Qaeda’s ranks of hardened operatives numbered in the low hundreds—and that was before the U.S. and its allies launched a global military campaign to dismantle the network. “We made some bad assumptions right after Sept. 11 that shaped how we approached the war on terror,” says Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism research fellow at the New America Foundation. “We thought al Qaeda would run over the Middle East—they were going to take over governments and control armies. In hindsight, it’s clear that was never going to be the case. Al Qaeda was not as good as we gave them credit for.”

Yet for a decade, the government’s approach to counterterrorism has been premised in part on the idea that not only would al Qaeda attack inside the U.S. again, but its next strike would be even bigger—possibly involving unconventional weapons or even a nuclear bomb. Washington has appropriated tens of billions trying to protect against every conceivable kind of attack, no matter the scale or likelihood. To cite one example, the U.S. spends $1 billion a year to defend against domestic attacks involving improvised-explosive devices, the makeshift bombs favored by insurgents in Afghanistan. “In hindsight, the idea that post-Sept. 11 terrorism was different from pre-9/11 terrorism was wrong,” says Brian A. Jackson, a senior physical scientist at RAND. “If you honestly believed the followup to 9/11 would be a nuclear weapon, then for intellectual consistency you had to say, ‘We’ve got to prevent everything.’ We pushed for perfection, and in counterterrorism, that runs up the tab pretty fast.”

Nowhere has that profligacy been more evident than in the area of homeland security. “Things done in haste are not done particularly well,” says Jackson. As Daveed Gartenstein-Ross writes in his new book, Bin Laden’s Legacy, the creation of a homeland security apparatus has been marked by waste, bureaucracy, and cost overruns. Gartenstein-Ross cites the Transportation Security Agency’s rush to hire 60,000 airport screeners after Sept. 11, which was originally budgeted at $104 million; in the end it cost the government $867 million. The homeland security budget has also proved to be a pork barrel bonanza: In perhaps the most egregious example, the Kentucky Charitable Gaming Dept. received $36,000 to prevent terrorists from raising money at bingo halls. “If you look at the past decade and what it’s cost us, I’d say the rate of return on investment has been poor,” Gartenstein-Ross says.

Of course, much of that analysis has the 20/20 vision of hindsight. It is interesting to note as well that, for all the campaign rhetoric from candidate Barack Obama that we needed to change our foreign policy approach, president Obama changed almost nothing, including our Afghanistan and Iraq involvements. It is also interesting to note that the supposed change away from President George W. Bush’s us-or-them foreign policy approach hasn’t changed the world’s view, including particularly the Middle East’s view, of the U.S. Someone years from now will have to determine whether homeland security, military and intelligence improvements prevented Al Qaeda from another 9/11 attack, or if Al Qaeda wasn’t capable of more than just one 9/11-style U.S. attack.

Hindsight makes one realize how much of the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented or at least their worst effects lessened. One year after 9/11, the New York Times book 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers points out that eight years after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, New York City firefighters and police officers still could not communicate with each other, which led to most of the police and fire deaths in the WTC collapses. Even worse, the book revealed that the buildings did not meet New York City fire codes when they were designed because they didn’t have to, since they were under the jurisdiction of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. And more than one account shows that, had certain people at the FBI and elsewhere been listened to by their bosses, the 9/11 attacks wouldn’t have caught our intelligence community dumbfounded. (It does not speak well of our government to note that no one appears to have paid any kind of political price for the 9/11 attacks.)

I think, as Bloomberg BusinessWeek argued, our approach to homeland security (a term I loathe) has overdone much and missed other threats. Our approach to airline security — which really seems like the old error of generals’ fighting the previous war — has made air travel worse but not safer. (Unless you truly believe that 84-year-old women and babies are terrorist threats.) The incontrovertible fact is that every 9/11 hijacker fit into one gender, one ethnic group and a similar age range. Only two reasons exist to not profile airline travelers — political correctness and the assumption that anyone is capable of hijacking an airplane, killing the pilots and flying it into a skyscraper or important national building. Meanwhile, while the U.S. spends about $1 billion each year trying to prevent Improvised Explosive Device attacks, what is this country doing about something that would be even more disruptive, yet potentially easier to do — an Electromagnetic Pulse attack, which would fry every computer within the range of the device?

We have at least started to take steps like drilling our own continent’s oil and developing every potential source of electric power, ecofriendly or not, to make us less dependent on Middle East oil. (The Middle East, by the way, supplies only one-fourth of our imported oil. We can become less dependent on Middle East oil; we cannot become less dependent on energy.) But the government’s response to 9/11 has followed like B follows A the approach our culture has taken to risk of any sort, as if covering ourselves in bubblewrap, or even better cowering in our homes, will make the bogeyman go away. Are we really safer because of the Patriot Act?

American politics was quite nasty in the 1990s. For a brief while after 9/11, we had impossible-to-imagine moments like this:

And then within the following year, the political beatings resumed. Bush’s statement, “I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy,” was deliberately misconstrued as Bush saying that Americans should go out and shop. Americans were exhorted to sacrifice for a war unlike any war we’ve ever faced by those who wouldn’t have to deal with the sacrifices of, for instance, gas prices far beyond $5 per gallon, or mandatory national service (a bad idea that rears its ugly head in times of anything approaching national crisis), or substantially higher taxes.

Then again, none of this should be a surprise. Other parts of the world hate Americans because we are more economically and politically free than most of the world. We have graduated from using those of different skin color from the majority as slaves, and we have progressed beyond assigning different societal rights to each gender. We tolerate different political views and religions. To the extent the 9/11 masterminds could be considered Muslims at all, they supported — and radical Muslims support — none of the values that are based on our certain inalienable rights. The war between our world, flawed though it is, and a world based on sharia law is a war we had better win.

And winning that war does not include withdrawal. Whether or not Donald Trump was right about leaving Afghanistan, Joe Biden screwed up the withdrawal so badly that everyone with memory compared it to our withdrawing from South Vietnam. The obviously incomplete vetting of Afghan refugees, who are now at Fort McCoy, and our leaving billions of dollars of our military equipment in Afghanistan, guarantees will be back, and more American soldiers, and perhaps non-soldiers, will die.

In one important sense, 9/11 changed us less than it revealed us. America can be both deeply flawed and a special place, because human beings are both deeply flawed and nonetheless special in God’s eyes. Jesus Christ is quoted in Luke 12:48 as saying that “to whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” As much as Americans don’t want to be the policeman of the world, or the nation most responsible for protecting freedom worldwide, there it is.

FOreverVID

Philip Klein:

Most people have at some point in their lives been asked to entertain a version of the cheesy question, “If you knew you had one day to live, what would you do?” It’s often posed as a playful game or essay topic or used by self-help gurus to prod people into trying to get a deeper sense of their priorities. But it’s time for everybody to start asking themselves a different question: If COVID-19 will be here forever, is this what you want the rest of your life to look like? In this case, it’s not an idle or theoretical exercise. It will be central to how we choose to live and function as a society for years or even decades to come.

Ever since the onset of COVID-19, we have more or less been living under an illusion. That illusion was that it would reach some sort of natural endpoint — a point at which the pandemic would be declared “over,” and we could all more or less go back to normal. The original promise of taking “15 days to slow the spread” or six weeks to “flatten the curve” has long since been reduced to a punchline.

In March of 2020, the outside estimates were that this coronavirus period would come to an end when safe and effective vaccines became widely available. Even the infamous Imperial College London report, viewed as draconian at the time for its estimate of up to 2.2 million deaths in the U.S. absent sustained intervention, predicted that its mitigation strategies “will need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available.” Yet vaccines have been available for anybody who wants one for nearly six months, and our leaders have ignored the obvious off-ramp. The CDC backtracked on guidance and said that vaccinated people must wear masks in public, and many people and jurisdictions have listened. For example, Montgomery County, Md., has an extraordinarily high vaccination rate — with 96 percent of the eligible over-twelve population having received at least one dose and 87 percent of them being fully vaccinated. By its own metrics, the county has “low utilization” of hospital beds. Yet the county requires masks indoors — including in schools. In Oregon, vaccinated people are required to wear masks even outdoors. And it isn’t just liberal enclaves. A new Economist/YouGov poll found that eight in ten Americans report having worn a mask in the past week at least “some of the time” when outside their homes, with 58 percent masking “always” or “most of the time.” If masking has remained so widespread among adults months after vaccines became widely available, why will it end in schools after vaccines become available for children?

When operating under the assumption that there is a time limit on interventions, it’s much easier to accept various disruptions and inconveniences. While there have been ferocious debates over whether various mitigation strategies have ever been necessary, we should at least be able to agree that the debate changes the longer such restrictions are required. People making sacrifices for a few weeks, or even a year, under the argument that doing so saves lives is one thing. But if those sacrifices are indefinitely extended, it’s a much different debate.

There are many Americans who willingly locked themselves down and who still favor some restrictions. But what if this were to drag on for five years? Ten years? Twenty years? Do you want your children to be forced to wear masks throughout their childhoods? Do you want to bail on weddings if some guests may be unvaccinated? Skip future funerals? Ditch Thanksgiving when there’s a winter surge? Keep grandparents away from their grandkids whenever there’s a new variant spreading? Are you never going to see a movie in a theater again?

These are not wild scenarios. The Delta variant has led to surges throughout the world months after vaccines became widely available. Despite being a model of mass vaccination, Israel has been dealing with a significant Delta spike. To be clear, vaccines still appear to be quite effective at significantly reducing the risk of hospitalization and death. But if the virus continues to adapt and people need to get booster shots every six months or so, it seems there’s a good chance that the coronavirus will continue to spread for a very long time. So the question is how we, as individuals, and society as a whole, should adapt to this reality. Instead of thinking in terms of policies that may be tolerable for a very short period of time, it’s time to consider what would happen if such policies had to continue forever.

Whatever arguments were made to justify interventions early on in the pandemic, post-vaccine, we are in a much different universe. There is a negligible statistical difference in the likelihood of severe health consequences between vaccinated people who go about their business without taking extra precautions, and those who take additional precautions. Yet having to observe various protocols in perpetuity translates into a reduced quality of life. Put another way, the sort of question we need to start asking ourselves is not whether we can tolerate masking for one trip to the grocery store, but whether we want to live in a society in which we can never again go shopping without a mask.

People may ultimately come to different conclusions about the amount of restrictions they want to accept, regardless of the time frame. But at a minimum, we need to dispense with the framework that assumes the end of COVID-19 is just around the corner and instead recognize that it’s likely here to stay.

Worshiping Gaia instead of God

Ryan M. Yonk and Jessica Rood:

Dramatic headlines and images showing a deteriorating environment exist to demand swift, decisive, and large-scale action. We saw this approach in the 1960s when the first made-for-TV environmental crises showed oil-drenched seabirds on the California Coast and more recently in depressing videos depicting starving polar bears. Dramatic imagery has become the norm when discussing environmental issues.

We also see trends in editorial writing, discussions among political groups, changing business practices, and increasingly scholarly claims that also use dramatic imagery. At face value, these trends could indicate that the public demands dramatic governmental action on environmental issues. Some scholars, however, see this as more than mere increased public demand for government intervention, and they highlight similarities between environmentalism and religious movements. For example, Laurence Siegal states:

In the decades since modern environmentalism began, the movement has taken on some of the characteristics of a religion: claims not backed by evidence, self-denying behavior to assert goodness, (and a) focus on the supposed end of times.

Scholars have tuned into the general public’s zealous interest in the environment and more importantly, emphasis on government action, to push forward their own ideological goals under the guise of scholarship. Whereas the ultimate goal of scholarship is to mitigate climate change and improve sustainability, the reality is instead corrupted by thinly veiled ideology masquerading as scholarship, which is sure to distort any useful policy recommendations.

This phenomenon is illustrated by a recent study making the rounds in Science Daily and The Climate News Network. The authors, Vogel et al., claim that the world must decrease energy use to 27 gigajoules (GJ) per person in order to keep average global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a recommendation included in the Paris Agreement. Our current reality illustrates the outlandish nature of this suggestion. We are a far cry from this goal both in 2012, the year chosen for this study, as well as in 2019, the most recent year for available data. …

Using these data, the authors pair what they view to be excessive energy use with a failure to meet basic human needs worldwide. In their own argument, they acknowledge that among the 108 countries studied, only 29 reach sufficient need satisfaction levels. In each case where need satisfaction is met, the country uses at least double the 27 GJ/cap of sustainable energy use, thereby creating a conundrum both for those concerned about the environment and human well-being.

The authors, however, provide a solution arguing that their research shows a complete overhaul of “the current political-economic regime,” would allow countries to meet needs at sustainable energy levels. Some of their recommendations include: universal basic services, minimum and maximum income thresholds, and higher taxes on wealth and inheritance.

These policy recommendations are not supported by the research and directly contradict a body of literature that argues economic growth, not government redistribution, is our way forward. Vogel et al. argue against the necessity for economic growth and even go as far as to support degrowth policies on the grounds that their model finds no link between economic growth and maximizing human need satisfaction and minimizing energy use.

In short, their proposed solution would punish affluent countries and favor a collective misery in which any market driven environmental improvements are crushed under the promise of equality and sustainable energy use.

Conversely, Laurence Siegel in Fewer, Richer, Greener: Prospects for Humanity in an Age of Abundance and the 2020 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) argue that economic prosperity allows countries to invest in new technologies and policies that improve not only environmental health but also the well-being of the people. Thus, if we want to continue to improve our relationship with the environment and human progress, we should be more supportive of economic growth and the entrepreneurship that drives it.

If the above relationship between economic prosperity, environmental health, and human well-being is the case, how can these authors claim the opposite? The most likely conclusion is that the authors allow an ideological bias to drive their research, a claim that is supported by their normative descriptions of affluent countries as examples of planned obsolescence, overproduction, and overconsumption as well as the authors’ obvious demonization of profit-making.

As Vogel et al. demonstrates, environmental issues can be exploited by the drama and religious nature of the movement. Unfortunately, academics, such as Vogel et al., have learned to use these tools to stretch their limited findings into a full-blown rallying cry for their own preferred policies; in this case, socialism on a global scale.

The return of Blame America First

Charles C.W. Cooke:

You can tell a Democrat is president, because we’re starting to see pieces blaming “us” for his mistakes. In The Atlantic a couple of weeks ago, Tom Nichols wrote that “Afghanistan Is Your Fault.” “American citizens,” Nichols suggested, “will separate into their usual camps and identify all of the obvious causes and culprits except for one: themselves.” Today, Max Boot makes the same argument in the Post. “Who’s to blame for the deaths of 13 service members in Kabul?” he asks. Answer: “We all are.”

This is of a piece with the tendency of journalists and historians to start muttering about how the presidency is “too big for one man” when the bad president in question is a Democrat. Under these terms, Republicans just aren’t up to the job, while Democrats are the victims of design or modernity or of the public being feckless. Last year, coronavirus was Trump’s fault. Now, it’s the fault of Republican governors and the unvaccinated (well, only some of the unvaccinated).

Still, this has happened pretty quickly with Joe Biden. Usually, it takes a couple of years before the press starts to sound like a bunch of hippies sitting around a fire saying, “you know, in a sense, you’re me and I’m you, and all of us are we — and so when the president makes a mistake, it’s really, like, the universe making a mistake, isn’t it? And, y’know, we’re in the universe, so we are the presidency. That’s democracy, man.”

Something Biden knows nothing about

Rich Lowry:

Honor has always had an enormous influence on human affairs and the conduct of governments — until, evidently, the advent of President Joe Biden in the year 2021.

There’s no perspective from which his exit from Afghanistan looks good. But abstracting it from any considerations of honor at least takes some of the sting out of a deeply humiliating episode that would have been considered intolerable throughout most of our nation’s history.

It is dishonorable — even if you believe we had to get out — to throw away what we had sacrificed for in Afghanistan in this grotesquely reckless manner.

It is dishonorable to criticize our erstwhile Afghan friends, especially after we pulled the rug out from under them, and kowtow to our current Afghan enemies.

It is dishonorable to do things we told people repeatedly that we wouldn’t.

It is dishonorable to abandon Afghan allies who put it all on the line for us and believed that, if the worst came, we would get them out.

It is especially dishonorable, unfathomably so, to leave Americans behind enemy lines, a potentiality that the administration has been trying to prepare the American public for in recent days (and hopefully somehow won’t come to pass).

A counterexample that reflects a more traditional American approach is President Teddy Roosevelt’s famous handling of the Perdicaris Affair in 1904, which involved the massive deployment of naval firepower over the kidnapping of one American in a faraway land of which we knew nothing.

Roosevelt’s reflexive bellicosity can seem atavistic at a time when national honor has lost a lot of its purchase.

James Bowman, who wrote a book years ago called Honor: A History, argued that the declining influence of honor in our time is a function of the enormous destructiveness of modern warfare and the feminist and psychotherapeutic reactions to it.

But it hasn’t disappeared, and never will. “Honor is the name of one category of concerns and motives that has dominated relations among peoples and states since antiquity,” the great historian and classicist Donald Kagan once noted. “Although concepts of what is honorable and dishonorable can vary over time and place, sometimes superficially and sometimes deeply, and although other people’s ideas of honor, especially those of an earlier time, can seem silly or outmoded, such surface variations often conceal a fundamental similarity or even identity.”

As for TR, his response to the Perdicaris kidnapping combined a sense of outraged honor at the mistreatment of one American with a prudent view of what military force really could achieve. It added up to a successful foray in coercive diplomacy.

Both Jerry Hendrix in his book Theodore Roosevelt’s Naval Diplomacy and Edmund Morris in his biography of TR have good accounts of the episode. Ion Perdicaris was a 64-year-old expat who lived in Tangier. He was a prominent figure in the English-speaking community in the Moroccan town.

The sultan of Morocco had limited control over the country, with bandits running loose in outlying areas, especially the charismatic Moulay Ahmed el Raisuli.

Raisuli had been jailed for several years and emerged from imprisonment bent on revenge against his personal and political enemies. He also ran a robust business in kidnapping Westerners.

The brigand showed up at the villa of Perdicaris on an evening in May 1904, and made off with him and his son-in-law, who was a British subject.

Samuel Rene Gummeré, our consul general in Tangier, learned of the kidnapping immediately and wired Washington about what he believed was the “immense importance to have a war vessel here” to show that the U.S. understood the “gravity” of the situation.

TR didn’t need persuading — he sent a squadron as fast as it could arrive, and then more firepower on top of that. The ships began to show up at Tangier about two weeks later, firing salutes in the harbor as they arrived.

The idea was to pressure the sultan to give Raisuli what he wanted to cough up Perdicaris. A rescue attempt was thought too likely to result in the murder of the captives. Raisuli had killed before and in fact the bandits slit the throat of one messenger from the sultan bearing an unwelcome message during the course of negotiations.

Raisuli welcomed the arrival of the American ships. He told Perdicaris that he thought they would put pressure on the sultan to play ball: “The presence of these vessels may result in his acceding to my demands, and then you will be able to return to your friends.”

Secretary of State John Hay cabled Gummeré: “President wishes everything possible done to secure the release of Perdicaris. He wishes it clearly understood that if Perdicaris is murdered, this government will demand the life of the murderer….You are to avoid in all your official action anything which may be regarded as an encouragement to brigandage or blackmail.”

Raisuli made extravagant demands of the government, including $70,000 for himself, control of the territory where he was operating, and a prisoner release.

He got most of what he wanted, and then increased his demands.

Gummeré fumed that the hot-and-cold negotiations were putting the U.S. in an “undignified and humiliating” position. He wanted to give the Moroccans an ultimatum demanding an indemnity for every day the negotiations dragged and to threaten to send Marines ashore to seize the customs house in Tangier.