The Hon. Richard Neal
U.S. House of Representatives
2309 Rayburn H.O.B.
Washington, DC. 20515
Dr. Mr. Chairman,
Your recent comments about the need to investigate criminal wrongdoing by public officials and the importance of transparency to American government have not gone unnoticed.
As you know, allegations of just such wrongdoing and the lack of transparency have arisen over the last two months based on emails found on a personal computer belonging to Hunter Biden — the son of Vice President Joseph Biden — a computer whose authenticity has been established by the FBI.
As you also know, public record has established beyond doubt that vice President Biden repeatedly took his son on official trips to foreign nations and that soon after such trips his son’s companies we’re receiving millions in contracts from government related entities in those nations. Additionally, it is also public record that when one of those companies came under investigation for corrupt practices by a foreign government vice president Biden intervened and forced that government to shut down the corruption probe and fire the prosecutor by threatening to deny the country and its people US foreign aid. This, as you know, is indisputable since Vice President Biden openly boasted on camera about his effectiveness in getting the corruption prosecutor fired.
Now, however, graver questions have arisen about the suspect activities of the vice president and his son. Disclosure of the emails from Hunter Biden’s computer show him speaking openly about paying out money to the rest of the family including his father who was apparently referred to — and these are just two examples— as “the big guy” or someone entitled to his ten percent.
Already, of course, Vice President Biden has a serious credibility problem on this issue, having said flatly that he never discussed such business matters with his son. Evidence from the computer emails as well as testimony from one of his son’s former business colleagues who attended meetings with Vice President Biden show his emphatic denial is now one of the boldest falsehoods ever told an American public life.
In any case, we hope that you would welcome the chance to assist Vice President Biden in laying to rest any allegations that he was using his office and official travel to influence foreign governments or entities to benefit his son’s businesses. And to answer this question: Was any of that income received by Vice President Biden or other family members?
Thus, we hope that in view of your strong demand for transparency and disclosure you will endorse our suggestion that your committee ask for vice President Biden’s bank records and those of the rest of his family over the period of his vice presidency and immediately thereafter. In this way he can put to rest any allegations including concerns about how he acquired his extensive personal wealth and his large estate.
If members of the committee from both sides as well as their legal counsel could be permitted to examine the records and then report to the Congress this would do much to clear the air. Moreover, if you took this initiative as a member of the Democratic House leadership this would do much to show that your interest in full disclosure and investigating corruption extends to members of your own party.
As you know, when these allegations arose during the presidential campaign, media organizations – some of whom still claim they are serious news organizations – rushed to protect Vice President Joe Biden who was their chosen candidate by imposing a news blackout on this information.
But that won’t last now – the public is going to want to know the truth. This is your chance to serve the cause of integrity and transparency in public office as you’ve talked so much about the past few years.
The American people have a right to this information and we are hopeful that you and the Vice President will see the advantage of the full disclosure suggested by our proposal before demands for a special counsel become deafening.
Frontiers of Freedom
Americans for Limited Government
Institute for Liberty
American Business Defense Council
cc: Rep. Kevin Brady
Rep. Lloyd Doggett
Rep. Devin Nunes
Rep. Bill Pascrell
Rep. Mike Kelly
Rep. Mike Thompson
Rep. Adrian Smith
Rep. John Larson
Rep. Tom Reed
Rep. Earl Blumenauer
Rep. Vern Buchanan
Rep. Danny Davis
Rep. Jackie Warlorski
President Trump is making a post-election push of his MAGA agenda.
An executive order of Nov. 12 cuts off American investments in Chinese “military-controlled” companies, banning them from American stock and investment markets, and from being held in pension fund portfolios, effective in January.
Americans have subsequently been told to divest themselves within a year of their holdings in those stocks and securities as well.
In the wake of this executive order and to little surprise, prices quickly plunged in China and Hong Kong’s stock market.
The ban is a follow-up to this summer’s Pentagon report that listed 31 major Chinese companies doing business in the United States while assisting the Chinese military — which controls those corporations. Congress ordered the list — which is heavy with companies involved in electronics, space and aviation, communications, construction and shipbuilding — to be compiled.
The Defense Department additionally determined that each company “supports the modernization goals of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) by ensuring its access to advanced technologies and expertise acquired and developed by even those PRC companies, universities, and research programs that appear to be civilian entities.”
Trump’s executive order is a blow to two major initiatives of China’s Communist Party:
1. Its “Made in China 2025” strategic plan to expand the manufacturing sector of the PRC (People’s Republic of China), and
2. Its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) plan to control global trade and transportation infrastructure
The Belt and Road Initiative, with a presence in over 100 countries, involves $1.3-trillion dollars spent by China to build or buy control of the transportation and logistics facilities that are critical to global trade.
That dollar figure comes from Australian conglomerate BHP, which says the BRI is seven times larger than the Marshall Plan funded by America to rebuild Europe after World War 2.
As Forbes puts it, China has been on a “seaport shopping spree” buying control of major port facilities worldwide. Furthermore, another Department of Defense report says the BRI is “leveraging civilian construction for military purposes; and . . . logistics . . . for military purposes.”
A new assessment by the Center for Strategic and International Studies notes that China’s state funding is building over a third of the world’s ocean-going merchant ships, producing 96 percent of the world’s shipping containers, and controlling the largest port and logistics company in the world, all to serve as “the maritime supply arm of the People’s Liberation Army.”
The result is that China builds about 1,200 merchant ships a year, while the United States only builds eight.
With regards to combat ships, an October report from the Congressional Research Service warns Congress that China’s fast-growing navy is now “a major challenge to the U.S. Navy . . . in the Western Pacific — the first such challenge the U.S. Navy has faced since the end of the Cold War.”
Since 90% of global trade travels by ship, China is developing a chokehold that it could apply to threaten the economies of every nation, including the United States, in order to enforce its Communist will.
Sadly, there are some who want to invite China to expand its grip on America by repealing the Jones Act a, law prevents any vessel from conducting internal trade within American waters unless it’s American-built, American-owned and American-crewed.
This applies to cargoes carried on our waterways, along the intercoastal canals, and between American ports.
It would require a major U.S. commitment to reverse the trend of Chinese dominance of global trade. But keeping the Jones Act prevents China from accelerating the trend by taking control over our internal waters. Homeland security would be at risk if any foreign power infiltrated into the American economy in that way.
Keeping the Jones Act by itself will not remedy the problem of China’s militant expansionism. Cutting off U.S. funds from China’s commercial/military complex may help.
However, to develop real solutions, a first step is that the American people must be better-informed about what China is doing.
How do you make a case against capitalism while appearing to defend consumers’ rights and values? You make a movie called The Social Dilemma.
The movie is cleverly done. It purports to oppose manipulation by Big Tech of social media users, calling out advertisers who manipulate people for profit. At the same time, the movie engages in its own manipulation. How does it do so? To quote Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “let me count the ways.”
State the credentials only of the people on your side
Throughout the ninety-four-minute movie, various commentators argue that social media have done great harm. In every case but one, the commentators criticize social media, warning us of its many harms. The movie states quite prominently, without exception, the credentials for all the negative commentators, and the credentials are impressive. The main commentator throughout is Tristan Harris, identified as a former design ethicist at Google and also as president of the Center for Humane Technology. Another commentator is Sandy Parakilas, identified as a former platform operations manager at Facebook and a former product manager at Uber. Yet another is Justin Rosenstein, whom the movie identifies as a major player at Google and then Facebook. A fourth is Shoshana Zuboff, an emeritus professor at Harvard Business School and author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. That’s not a complete list.
In the whole movie, only one person expresses skepticism about the idea that manipulation by social media is sui generis. He expresses this view at a panel in which he challenges the aforementioned Tristan Harris. This skeptic points out that newspapers and print media also played on people’s addictions and ability to be influenced. He notes that when television came along, it did so as well, but in different ways. This, according to the skeptic, is just the next thing.
Here’s what’s most interesting about this skeptic. Only because I’m an economist do I know who he is. “That’s Kevin Murphy,” I said to my wife, who was watching the movie with me. Who’s Kevin Murphy? You wouldn’t know from watching the movie. You had to pay close attention even to know it was Kevin Murphy. I had to pause and rewind and only then did I notice that he had a name card in front of him. Probably not one viewer in fifty notices that, and probably not one viewer in a thousand knows who he is. So let me tell you. Kevin M. Murphy is a star economist at the University of Chicago. He won the John Bates Clark Medal in 1997, given in those days only once every two years to the most outstanding American economist under age forty. He’s the only business school professor ever to win a MacArthur genius award. But the movie tells you none of that.
That’s how the movie deals with controversy: allow only one person to challenge the narrative and don’t even tell the viewer who he is. The basic narrative is that Facebook, Google, and other social media manipulate us. But when it comes to manipulation, those media have nothing on the makers of The Social Dilemma.
Hint at the problem without ever showing the problem
The bad actors in the movie’s narrative are advertisers and the wealthy social media firms. At one point in the movie, Parakilas states, “It’s not like they’re [the social media companies] trying to benefit us. Right? We’re just zombies and they want us to look at more ads so they can make more money.” What’s the problem with that? You might think in a standard-length movie, the critics would try to say why. Here’s the amazing thing: they don’t.
So let’s fill in the missing reasoning. Think about why companies would pay social media firms to advertise. It’s to get people to buy their products. If advertising on social media were seen as completely ineffective, companies would pay precisely zero for advertising. The fact that they keep paying and that social media companies get rich by selling advertising, month in, month out, means that advertising is effective.
Wouldn’t you want the critics in the movie to then point to how advertising manipulates our tastes for products, causing us to buy things we don’t “really” want? Amazingly, they don’t.
The closest the movie comes to making a case is near the end of the movie, when Rosenstein states:
Corporations are using powerful artificial intelligence to outsmart us and figure out how to pull our attention to what they want us to look at, rather than the things that are most consistent with our goals and our values and our lives.
But why would they do that? Isn’t it easier to sell us things that are consistent with our goals, our values, and our lives?
The critics point out numerous times that the companies are continuously refining their algorithms to learn more and more about you. They imply that that’s bad without ever saying why. There’s an old saying whose origin is unknown that goes as follows: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, and the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
I think we can all agree that waste is bad. So isn’t it good rather than bad that advertisers and social media are continually honing their tools to put in front of your eyes items that you really have a high probability of buying? They aren’t there yet. Sometimes when I Google an item I’m thinking of buying, within what seems to be minutes an ad for that item shows up on my Facebook page. It’s almost always mildly annoying, either because the advertised item is a brand I don’t want or because I was just exploring and have decided that I don’t want that item at all. Which means that not half, but perhaps 90 percent, of that advertising was wasted on me.
Some people find it creepy that advertisers know so much about us. I don’t, although I understand the feeling. But think back to how advertisers tried to reach us before social media existed. Imagine that you live in a Jewish household. Which kind of advertising by mail would you dislike more: mailers premised on the assumption that you’re Jewish or mailers premised on the assumption that your household is Muslim, Catholic, or Buddhist?
Make up history
In one segment of the movie, Harris contrasts social media with previous innovations, claiming that no one objected to bicycles on the grounds that those who used them would spend less time with their families. Neither he nor the movie presents any evidence for his claim. But here’s what I found with just a little search (on Google, by the way) about early attitudes toward the bicycle. In a 2001 book titled The Ride to Modernity: The Bicycle in Canada, 1869–1900, author Glen Norcliffe quotes an essay by Heather Watts on early cycling in Nova Scotia. Watts writes:
At a time when higher education, women’s suffrage, and the movement for dress reform were all topics of heated discussion, the bicycle became one more liberating influence on the restricted lifestyle of Victorian women. . . . This element of freedom and independence greatly appealed to women. They were no longer left at home, but could go on outings with their women friends or accompany their young man on an equal basis. Once tasted, the new freedom was hard to abandon.
If bicycling was a liberating force for women, and if women were able to ride with their women friends, is there much doubt about whether some critics at the time claimed that bicycling women would spend less time with their families?
Play up the downside of social media with little attention to the upside
I do think the movie scored a direct hit on a huge downside of social media: the purported effects on people between the ages of ten and nineteen. It presented some disturbing data about the effects on young girls, especially those ages ten to fourteen, of media such as Instagram that encourage them to compare their faces and bodies with what seem to be regarded as ideal body types. Here are two shocking statistics about what has happened since 2011, when Facebook and other social media had become widespread: the number of girls aged ten to fourteen per 100,000 who are admitted to hospitals for cutting themselves or harming themselves in other ways has risen 189 percent, and the number of girls aged ten to fourteen per 100,000 who have committed suicide has risen 151 percent.
One critic, Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, gives a straightforward solution: set an age below which your child is not allowed to use social media and limit your child’s use of such media. To say it’s straightforward is not to say it’s easy. It’s probably hard, but parenting is hard.
To their credit, the critics do mention some upsides to social media. Harris says you can get on your smartphone and have a car show up quickly. Critic Tim Kendall, identified as the former president of Pinterest, notes that social media have helped people find long-lost relatives and organ donors. That’s pretty big.
But there are many more upsides. I can find some half-forgotten poem from high school when I remember only one sentence. That happened just last month with this poem. We can check a fact, we can follow friends, not just family, with whom we had lost touch, and we can compare airfares and make airline reservations in minutes, without either the use of a travel agent or even a phone call. I’ve just scratched the surface.
Discuss the upside as if it’s the downside
Critic Bailey Richardson, an early team member of Instagram, says that when the Internet first started, it was a weird, wacky place with lots of creativity. She recognizes that creative things still happen on the Internet, but now, she says, it feels like a “giant mall.”
That’s bad? Some people whom I’m close to have restricted diets because of various ailments. For them, shopping online has been wonderful. One person in particular needs to keep gluten out of her diet. And she is able to find appealing, tasteful, gluten-free items online much more easily than if she had to shop in her semi-urban, semi-rural part of the country. Imagine if she lived in, say, rural Nevada. Shopping online could be a godsend.
Attack wealth when it’s not that of your allies
At many points in the movie, the critics point out disdainfully how wealthy the social media companies are. That raises two questions. First, is there some chance they got that way by making things we want more available? Answer: yes. Second, how wealthy are these critics? Answer: very. Critic and investor Roger McNamee, for example, is a billionaire. Justin Rosenstein’s net worth is $150 million. The other critics are multimillionaires. Honestly earned wealth is not a mark against the wealthy, whether the wealthy be social media critics or social media firms.
Lay out your real agenda, with no evidence, at the end
Near the end of the movie, probably many viewers are hooked. Then we get to what seems to be the agenda of the critics and the movie makers: to end, or highly regulate, free markets.
Zuboff states, “These markets undermine democracy and undermine freedom and they should be outlawed.” The movie director possibly forgot to insert a sentence or two telling us which markets Zuboff is referring to. Whatever markets she wants to end, that would be a major hit on capitalism.
Rosenstein complains that social media corporations go unregulated “as if somehow magically each corporation acting in its selfish interest is going to produce the best result.” One gets the idea that he’s never read Adam Smith, who indeed did arguein The Wealth of Nations that “it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest.”
Rosenstein also says mining the earth and pulling oil out of the ground are bad for humans. He claims as evidence of a warped, for-profit system that trees and whales are worth more dead than alive. And then he jumps the shark, or maybe I should say the whale, by saying “we’re the tree; we’re the whale.” How exactly social media companies kill us and how exactly they gain from dead consumers he leaves as an exercise for the viewer.
Various friends told me that The Social Dilemma would upset me. It did. As noted, I found the facts about young girls very disturbing. The biggest upset, though, is that a bunch of critics and a movie director manipulate viewers into not knowing that there is another side to this debate, understate the benefits of social media, and use the movie as a vehicle for a rant against capitalism. Other than that, the movie was great.
The Democrats included huge cash handouts for wealthy constituents in predominantly liberal areas in their emergency response package.
At some point, when the election chaos is finally settled, Congress will likely turn to passing another COVID-19 stimulus/relief bill. (Despite the last one being plagued by rampant fraud and dysfunction). One starting point for negotiations will be the “HEROES Act,” a $2.2 trillion bill the House passed in October on a party-line vote by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats.
One of the most significant aspects of the HEROES Act is that it allocates nearly $700 billion in federal money for state, local, and tribal governments.
Proponents say this gives localities the funds they need to pay emergency responders and fund programs necessary to protect their communities. Critics point out that much of this money is used to “bail out” blue states that were already mismanaging their budgets and running up large unfunded pension programs before the pandemic.
Indeed, the left-leaning Brookings Institution has projected that “state and local government revenues will decline $155 billion in 2020, $167 billion in 2021, and $145 billion in 2022.” Simple math shows us that the CARES Act gives states and localities hundreds of billions more in federal money than they are actually projected to lose due to pandemic-related decreases in revenue.
This alone should be a red flag. Yet a new analysis also reveals that Pelosi and her fellow “progressives” snuck millions of dollars in cash for some of the nation’s wealthiest zip codes into their emergency COVID-19 package.
Watchdogs from OpenTheBooks.com inspected the fine print of the HEROES Act and found that it allocates $350 million to the 50 richest communities in America. The average annual income in these areas ranged from $262,988 to $525,324.
“It’s unclear why such wealthy neighborhoods need so much money to weather the storm,” Adam Andrzejewski of OpenTheBooks.com wrote.“Should American taxpayers from lower-income areas be subsidizing the lifestyles of the rich and famous?
Some might reasonably look at a figure like $350 million and conclude that, in the context of a $2.2 trillion bill, it is a relatively small amount of money. But we mustn’t forget that this figure is only looking at a tiny sample size. It is not all the money this bill allocates to wealthy zip codes, just a snapshot.
We can extrapolate from this figure that the HEROES Act would dole out many hundreds of millions if not billions more to other wealthy towns and cities.
It’s not even the only provision of the bill that can be fairly characterized as a handout for the rich. The package also includes items such as student debt relief, which further burdens cash-strapped taxpayers yet only helps a relatively well-educated and well-off subset of society.
But wait: Aren’t Democrats supposed to be the progressive party fighting for the working class? That’s certainly what their rhetoric would suggest. Yet the Democrats included cash handouts for wealthy constituents in predominantly liberal areas such as Wellesley, Mass., Malibu, California, and Old Greenwich, Conn. in their emergency response package nonetheless.
This offers another painful reminder that government officials—no matter their professed partisan or ideological principles—will always and inevitably end up wielding their power in a manner prone to favoritism and clientelism.
“There is no such thing as a just and fair method of exercising the tremendous power that interventionism puts into the hands of the legislature and the executive,” Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises wrote. “In many fields of the administration of interventionist measures, favoritism simply cannot be avoided.”
Humans are fallible beings—and power corrupts. This is why, from tax loopholes to crony regulations to spending bills, sweeping government interventions will always end up skewing in favor of powerful constituencies. However, when power is left to the individual level rather than government, that decentralization helps limit abuses.
It’s not a matter of electing the right people. Fundamentally, progressive and conservative government officials alike face the same incentive structures.
The only way to really prevent the abuse of government power and expenditure of taxpayer resources in favor of the well-off and well-connected is to limit the scope of the government itself.
If news writers had any integrity, the headlines following the 2020 election would have read like the one on this column. Instead, the media gods who helped put Joe Biden over the top expound on why Donald Trump‘s protests are without merit and just another example of Republican sore-loserism.
The former vice president’s apparent margin of victory is not all that large. At the time this was written it was about 6 million votes out of about 150 million cast. That works out to about 4 percent and could, depending on recounts, slip lower.
In the states that appear to be making the difference—Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin—Biden’s lead is extremely narrow, much as Trump’s was when he defeated former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton to win the White House in the first place. It’s hard to argue the man most of the media anointed the new American chief executive before all the votes were cast has a mandate to do much of anything.
Nonetheless, if he eventually becomes president, the calls for him to act swiftly and decisively will be frequent, loud, and—from his point of view—problematic. In the Thursday, November 19 edition of The Wall Street Journal author and political cartoonist Ted Rall argues forcefully that, without the support of progressives who held their nose and voted for him anyway, Biden wouldn’t be going back to Washington and instead would be headed back to Delaware.
Progressives who would have preferred Vermont senator Bernie Sanders may have pushed Biden past Trump in the popular vote and in the states that will determine the outcome in the electoral college, but on almost every other measure they were defeated. By a small majority, the nation indicated it may not want four more years of Trump, but it’s clearly repudiated the progressive agenda.
The GOP may have lost seats in the U.S. Senate but it’s most likely maintained control. The outcome hangs on two runoffs in Georgia—both of which the Republicans are favored to win—unless an audit of the votes pushes incumbent GOP senator David Perdue back up over 50 percent of the vote, where he was for most of election night. Right now, he’s at 49.71 percent, and the 0.3 percent he needs to avoid a runoff might be overcome just by the uncounted votes being discovered across the state.
The Republicans were also projected to lose seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Instead, they won all the top targeted races, lost no incumbents seeking reelection, and gained enough seats not only to get above 200—a crucial barrier in the battle for the majority—but to put Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s ability to control events on the floor in doubt. Enough moderate Democrats are saying privately (and thanks to some propitious leaks, publicly) that they’re not willing to walk the plank for her and the “The Squad” is in for a rough going.
Looking around the country, the Republicans picked up one governorship in 2020 (Montana) and the New Hampshire state legislature. This gives the GOP the prized “trifecta” in each state which, when added to the dozens they already had, means that while Washington is gridlocked the GOP can use states to pass the reforms they’ll take national the next time they have the White House.
At the same time the Democrats, who enlisted the substantial fundraising support of former president Barack Obama and former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder in an attempt to flip legislative chambers to Democratic control, failed everywhere they tried. They may have spent tens of millions or more in pursuit of this goal with nothing to show for it. Contrary to late predictions, the GOP held on to state legislatures in Texas and Arizona comfortably when the battle for control was expected to be a close-run thing. And they held the legislatures in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia and enough other key states that predictions are already being made that, based solely on the upcoming reapportionment of U.S. House seats among the states, the Republicans are headed to a decade-long majority. No wonder Mrs. Pelosi is saying this is her last term as speaker.
Even at the lawmaking level, progressivism was crushed. Voters in California, who went for Biden over Trump by about two to one, rejected an effort to repeal the 1996 Proposition 209 that prohibits the state from considering race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in public employment, education and contracting. At the same, in progressive Colorado, voters said “Yes” to a cut in the state income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 4.55 percent. In Illinois, voters rejected a measure to establish a graduated income tax and in Montana voters limited the ability of local governments to interfere with issuing of “concealed carry” firearms permits.
If there’s one takeaway from the 2020 election, it’s that, despite the aggressive support it received from donors, elected officials, candidates for office and the mainstream media, progressivism is on the decline. Heck, Joe “I am the Democratic Party” Biden even rejected it while debating Donald Trump. The course is set and if the new president—whoever it is—is smart enough to follow it then the sailing should be smooth. If not, it’s stormy weather ahead.
Progressive Democrats have dominated San Francisco’s city government for the last 20 years, a time during which homelessness, drug abuse, the cost of living, and the city budget have skyrocketed. San Francisco is becoming an increasingly obvious problem for the national Democratic party, with vice president-elect Kamala Harris, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Senator Dianne Feinstein all from the Bay Area.
As a succession of city governments have tacitly tolerated drug abuse and the crimes that go with that, a de facto thriving drug-based economy tragically plays out in the open on city streets every day. The city spends a small fortune each year collecting millions of used hypodermic needles from city streets and pays city workers about $185,000 annually to clean up feces from the sidewalks.
This is why $8 million in campaign money was poured into local elections earlier this month to convince San Francisco voters to replace progressive Democrats with more moderate Democrats on the city’s Board of Supervisors, and to vote down a number of local tax initiatives that would make San Francisco even more expensive and less desirable as a business location than it presently is.
The party strongly backed more moderate candidates with the view that San Francisco could make progress if a moderate majority board was elected who would in turn work productively with San Francisco mayor London Breed, who has a much better understanding of the city’s problems than the current board.
The party’s investment in bringing about more responsible governance and policies didn’t work. It wasn’t even close. The most progressive Board of Supervisors candidates won, which means that the board’s majority remains highly progressive, and thus likely will continue to block many housing proposals. Why? Because most developments would gentrify neighborhoods by replacing very old, low-density housing with new, high-density housing. And for progressives, gentrification is not an option.
Blocking new development means constraining supply, which in turn means San Francisco housing costs remain ridiculously high. How high? How about $1.1 million for about 1,000 square feet in the city’s Mission District, San Francisco’s highest crime neighborhood? For comparison, a similarly sized home in in a low-crime Atlanta neighborhood is yours for $174,900. In rapidly growing Denver, a similar home costs about $250,000.
The blocked housing developments in San Francisco would be so valuable that those residents who might be displaced could be substantially compensated. The devil is always in the details, but the status quo of keeping the economic pie much smaller than it could be is never the solution.
For decades, San Francisco’s politicians have blocked new housing to prevent highly aid tech and finance workers from moving in and changing old-school neighborhoods. Yes, the 1950s-era Italian American diner serving spaghetti with red sauce and sausage, as delicious as it is, would be gone, and would be replaced by a higher-priced restaurant with a menu tailored to serve new residents. But times and people change, and so will neighborhoods.
It is grossly expensive to prevent new development, because new development helps everyone by expanding the city’s housing stock. Build it, no matter what it is, and supply expands. As more housing opportunities open, people move, freeing up existing homes for others to move into. California grew from about 7 million people in 1940 to about 20 million by 1970, but home prices, adjusted for inflation, did not skyrocket, because new construction kept up with demand. Prices did not enter the stratosphere until local government began to block development.
Local progressives have drawn a line in the sand: no new housing unless it is new housing that they personally find acceptable. Meanwhile, about 17,000 homeless people live in the streets, according to the National Homeless Information Project, roughly twice as many as the official count. And there are now more drug users within the city than there are high school students.
San Francisco’s failure to effectively govern is a growing problem for the national Democratic party, and for reasons that go beyond the human tragedies that unfold every day in plain view, and which remind everyone that the Democrats own this.
Former San Francisco mayor and old-school Democratic politician Willie Brown knows this as well as anyone. Brown recently was interviewed and argued very candidly that the Democratic party has lost its way, and that it provides little of interest to voters outside of Sunday morning political talk shows. He openly worries about the fate of San Francisco and his party, a political party that is increasingly being dominated by wealthy elites and one that is moving far from the ideas that he represented.
Brown knows that San Francisco and, more broadly, California have run the experiment of very liberal governance, and that experiment has clearly failed. He also knows that California voters made a right turn two weeks ago by voting down tax increases and the restoration of affirmative action, and by voting to restore the right of gig workers to work as independent contractors by passing Proposition 22. By passing this proposition, voters told elite Democratic lawmakers they didn’t approve of the legislature stealing economic freedom and making it illegal for many to work as independent contractors.
California’s failure to effectively govern is a teaching moment for the rest of the Democratic party. The progressive agenda failed in California, and it will fail nationally. Without the perfect foil of Trump to hide behind, Democrats must now deliver without the benefit of simply saying that they are working 24/7 to fight against everything Trump.
Willie Brown and other old-school Democrats know that if Biden and Harris are to succeed, the party must move against its progressive wing that includes Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar, all of whom favor policies that would sharply reduce economic freedom, economic growth, and our quality of life.
The national Democratic party has plenty of problems to address. The global pandemic remains. China is China. Iran is Iran. Russia is Russia. And 70 million voters remain skeptical that the party even knows they exist. What has happened in San Francisco scares the national party, because they understand San Francisco’s fate can happen anywhere if the old guard can’t find a way to take control of the party and implement moderate policies.
It is good that the national party is worried about what has happened in San Francisco. Sadly, San Francisco’s plight will continue for the time being. But we can hope that its lessons will help promote better national policies in the Biden-Harris administration.
It’s not enough to kick conservatives off of Twitter. Narrative control is the goal. Any alternative, any other avenue of ‘freer’ speech, must be shut down.
The dominant Big Tech companies’ power to control the access and availability of information was unmasked during the Donald Trump presidency. The full extent and intent of that power has been further exposed in the 2020 election.
From Facebook, to Google, to Twitter, it is now clear that these companies have every intention of using the unprecedented control they have amassed, not to facilitate a diversity of speech and viewpoints, but to shape national narratives in the direction they prefer. Users—even those who are elected—will comply, or be banned.
Twitter, in particular, has shed any pretense of being a platform interested in facilitating free expression. In 2011, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo characterized Twitter as “the free speech wing of the free speech party.” The sentiment was echoed a year later by Tony Wang, general manager at Twitter UK, who claimed the company’s founding principles compelled it to remain “neutral” about the content its users posted.
Nearly a decade later, those sentiments have flipped. Twitter has spent the Trump years aggressing against the president, placing his tweets behind filters, blocking his press secretary, and censoring his Senate-confirmed advisors.
The platform aggressively ran interference for the Joe Biden campaign, refusing to allow a New York Post story detailing corruption in the Biden family from circulating on its platform. Users were prohibited for weeks from sharing the story, and their accounts were locked if they did.
Even the use of direct messages—Twitter’s supposedly private communication tool—was screened and filtered for wrong-think. That practice has continued outside of sharing the Hunter Biden story, casting doubt on Twitter’s claim that the company doesn’t read your direct messages. It is clear that, at least in some capacity, they do.
All of this was under the guise of preventing “misinformation” from spreading on Twitter—that, presumably, could inform voter behavior. This made it all the more bizarre when Twitter’s deeply weird CEO, Jack Dorsey, claimed while under oath to the Senate Commerce Committee that the platform has no ability to influence election outcomes.
Sen. Ted Cruz, who had asked Dorsey the question, appeared almost caught off-guard by the absurdity of the claim. Cruz responded with the obvious follow-up. If you can’t influence election outcomes, he said, then why do you moderate political content at all?
But Twitter does moderate political content, and they very clearly do so in one direction. In the wake of the election, under the guise of moderating for “misinformation” and “fomenting violence,” the platform has banned the bombastic former Trump advisor Steve Bannon for stating that he’d like to see Dr. Anthony Fauci’s “head on a pike,” while happily allowing comedian Kathy Griffin to re-post her notorious photo of a beheaded Trump.
Richard Baris, one of the few pollsters who was right about the 2020 election results, had his account blocked for tweeting his findings about voter fraud. And not just his account, but that of his business, his newsletter, and his wife. There was “no reason given,” he said in a post on Parler, where he had just opened an account.
Parler, which has grown in popularity among conservatives as a Twitter alternative, is predictably being labeled as “a threat to democracy” by CNN. It’s not enough to kick conservatives off of Twitter. Narrative control is the goal. Any alternative, any other avenue of “freer” speech, must be shut down.
Defenders of the social media platforms often do so in a vacuum. They defend Twitter’s content moderation as a private company expressing its First Amendment rights. Not only does this argument ignore that Twitter, like Facebook and Google, exercises its First Amendment rights in a privileged manner, it intentionally sidesteps the consequences Twitter’s actions have on Americans’ ability to consume news, think for themselves, and express their views away from Twitter.
Social media platforms are no longer merely independent actors, facilitating information sharing and viewpoints. Increasingly, they inform the news. Although it has a far smaller market share than Facebook and Google, Twitter has the most news-focused users and a much broader share of continuous, minute-by-minute engagement by news outlets, media elites, elected officials, and public policy intellectuals. Their engagement with the platform drives, and very much determines, news coverage.
“Though Twitter may not be a huge overall source of traffic to news websites relative to Facebook and Google, it serves a unique place in the link economy,” said a report by Nieman Labs in 2016. “News really does ‘start’ on Twitter.”
Recall the absurd story in 2017 that Trump killed an entire pond of koi fish while on an official visit in Japan. Multiple news outlets breathlessly covered the story, speculating wildly about the fish and mocking Trump. That story, which was false, began with tweets—not filed stories—from news outlets and reporters. The tweets then directedcoverage on multiple outlets.
Tucker Carlson, who has the most-watched cable news show in the country, spent the summer covering the violent elements of the Black Lives Matter protests in ways that every other network refused to do. Much of the coverage he aired on his show came from videos posted to Twitter by reporters on the ground, outside of the mainstream networks.
Earlier this month, Axios reported that newsrooms are planning “to invest more heavily in coverage of social media and internet trends as a way to observe political sentiment from a wider group of people.”
Twitter does far less to facilitate the news than it does to make it. Thus its content moderation decisions have ramifications far beyond Twitter. They echo down the corridors of what makes news in America, and who is allowed to do it, and what ordinary Americans are allowed to say about it. This means Twitter plays an outsized role in creating, gatekeeping, and sustaining the national narrative.
Twitter’s offline consequences extend beyond its manipulation of the news narrative, as Twitter is increasingly the woke mob’s favorite venue of cancellation.
Late last week, a Twitter user with minimal followers complaint-tweeted at Target because it sold a book by Abigail Shrier questioning the wisdom of promoting irreversible transgender surgery and hormone therapy for children. Target subsequently banned the book, although it was later reinstated after public outcry.The platform’s role in the viral nature of cancel culture belies the notion that these are merely ‘private platforms’ with no larger effects.
The Lincoln Project tweeted the images of two attorneys working for the Trump campaign, their emails, phone numbers, and photos alongside the phrase “make them famous.” Twitter allowed the tweet to circulate on its platform for hours before it was finally removed.
Twitter does not drive these cancellation decisions as a matter of policy, but the platform’s role in the viral nature of cancel culture belies the notion that these are merely “private platforms” with no larger effects on free speech, free thought, and free behavior in America.
They also raise troubling questions about how that role will evolve. As the left continues to push for a social credit system—that is, say or suggest wrongthink, get banned from polite society—what role will social media play as the reporting Stasi arm of the woke mob?
Big Tech has grown from a handful of Silicon Valley startups to a handful of the most powerful companies in the world, exercising unprecedented control over minds, markets, behavior, and independent thought. They are changing how we live together.
How we choose to deal with them, politically, is less a binary question of “regulation” or “government interference in business” than it is, truly, a question of the social order; of who sets the terms of social engagement. Is it a free people, speaking through their rights and representative government, or a set of corporations weaponized by an illiberal woke agenda controlling our news narrative, information gathering, and social and cultural compliance?
On November 13th, the U.S. Postal Service reported its Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 results. This revealed many insights about the agency with the largest takeaway being a disappointing $9.2 billion net loss. USPS, like so many other operations, has been adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic; mail volume, for example, declined 13.8 billion pieces. However, it is important to note that the USPS financial troubles far predate the coronavirus pandemic.
Frontiers of Freedom president George Landrith states, “The USPS has been consistently losing money year after year and has requested up to $75 billion in taxpayer money to remain solvent, but until thoughtful postal reform is completed, this money will merely kick the problem down the road.” He continues, “If we give USPS the money they are requesting, but allow the agency to continue with failed policies, we will inevitably have to bail them out again in the future.”
The agency states in the report that losses within the management’s control was $3.8 billion this year. This is a $334 million increase from the controllable loss in 2019. The agency is trending in the wrong direction and without postal reform it will only continue to decline.
In fact, although operating revenue has actually increased by nearly $2 billion due to a surge in e-commerce and greater package demand, the USPS’ out-of-date pricing system means the agency is unable to afford package costs or make a profit on these deliveries. Further, USPS calls shipping and packages its most “labor-intensive” effort, which is especially true during Covid-19, but how and to what extent that translates to its costs and full accounting picture continues to be unclear.
Landrith concludes, “In order to effectively manage and reduce the agency’s $160 billion debt, the USPS must update its policies and work with the incoming Biden administration to create thoughtful reform that will help preserve and ensure the success of our most important public institutions.”
Heavy-handed bureaucracy is set for a comeback under Biden
Barack Obama had a nickname for the highly credentialed economists who surrounded him during his first term. He called them “propeller heads.” It was his way of joshing—and asserting superiority over—figures such as Larry Summers, Peter Orszag, Austan Goolsbee, Jason Furman, and other wonks with impeccable CVs and intimidating confidence in their own opinions. The label reduced these résumé gods to propeller-beanie geeks. Like most Obama statements, it was also a self-flattering way for the president to demonstrate the value he places on intellection, data, and expert knowledge. He and his fellow progressives love the idea that reason, logic, and science legitimize the power they wield through law and bureaucratic diktat.
The public wasn’t so enamored. The weaknesses of the propeller heads became evident over time. No doubt because of their glorious self-image, the propeller heads assumed that government could easily implement their ambitious theories and complicated schemes. They assumed that human beings could be “nudged” into desired behaviors. They placed one set of values—efficiency, equality, safety, carbon or gender neutrality—ahead of others, especially individual freedom and religious liberty. They neglected or waved away unanticipated consequences. They treated disagreement or disobedience as irrational or pathological—a manifestation of racism or sexism or greed. They often went ahead with their plans regardless of disapproval or rejection.
The propeller-head mentality is “we know best.” It dominated the administration. It produced a stimulus that did not stimulate, an unpopular health care plan, a contraceptive mandate that inspired lawsuits against nuns, a cap-and-trade bill that never became law, a financial reform that squeezed community banks, a GM bailout that stiffed non-union pensioners, a series of coal and water regulations that put miners and farmers out of business, an immigration amnesty by fiat that set off a rush for the border, and a nuclear deal that rewarded Iran for its malign behavior. Perhaps the most significant consequence of the imperious and heavy-handed manner in which experts ruled during the Obama years was the political reaction it inspired. The propeller heads like to believe they are the stewards of a healthier, cleaner, safer, saner world. But they are really the midwives of national populism, the doulas of Donald Trump.
And now they are set for a comeback. When you read the Biden-Sanders unity task force recommendations, go over Biden’s potential cabinet picks, or examine the membership of Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board, you see the outlines of an administration committed to the same technocratic principles and top-down, uniform, centralized style of governance as its Democratic precursor. In some cases—if Susan Rice becomes secretary of state, for example—the very same people will be in charge. In other cases, the personalities will be new, but the methods will be similar.
The center-left views of academic, media, and cultural and foreign-policy elites will be ratified as sacrosanct. Officials will attempt, not always successfully and with unpredictable effects, to turn these opinions into policy, through legislation if possible but through regulation mostly. Dissenting forces will be problematized as disingenuous, malevolent, or not entirely sane. The one place where the public will be able to register its opposition is the voting booth.
Many opinion leaders in Washington dispute the above scenario. They point to Biden’s reputation as a moderate, to his decades-long relationship with Mitch McConnell, to the constraints he will face with a narrow House majority and a potential Republican Senate. They hope that the establishment, restored to its former fading glory, will reassert its control and “turn down the temperature.” Biden, they add, will have a “caretaker presidency.” He and McConnell will work out some small-bore tax changes. Maybe an infrastructure plan will pass. Otherwise things will drift merrily along, with Trump tweeting furiously from the sidelines.
My pundit friends forget the nature of the propeller heads. The propeller heads know they are right—their degrees and titles and offices and accolades prove it. They know that government exists to perform the functions of social uplift and rational control. They are not about to sit back and let the Delaware gang and the apex predator of American politics run the show. There’s a virus to crush, a climate to save, a liberal international order to rebuild.
Two of Biden’s appointees to the COVID-19 transition advisory board, for instance, support another national lockdown. Will Biden overrule them as cases mount and the media call for something to be done?
Biden’s deputy campaign manager told Chuck Todd the other day that her boss “campaigned on an incredibly progressive and aggressive agenda” and that “he’s going to make good on those commitments,” including his “big, aggressive” climate plan. Will Biden stand aside as this agenda runs into the maw of Joe Manchin and the Senate Republicans? Or will he say that he, too, has “a pen and a phone” and instruct his EPA and Energy Departments to act accordingly?
It was recently disclosed that Iran has 12 times the nuclear material allowed under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and installed advanced centrifuges in its underground research facility. The theocratic government of Ayatollah Khamenei is isolated internationally. Its economy is under tremendous strain from American sanctions. And Biden and his team are ready to reenter the nuclear deal if Iran will have them, rewarding an authoritarian state sponsor of terrorism in order to demonstrate to Europe that “America is back.”
“There’s nothing more dangerous than a propeller head who doesn’t know his limitations,” David Brooks wrote in 2009. Today’s propeller heads are more ambitious than they were a decade ago. And far more moralistic. Come January, they will return to their old offices and resume their old games. Sure, a few of the names will be different. But the results will be the same.
Let the rule of law prevail
This is a difficult time for Trump supporters. The unofficial, unelected, arrogant news media took it upon themselves to declare Joe Biden the 46th president of the United States, thereby confusing a lot of people by giving them the impression that this election is over.
That is nor true. Nothing official has changed between noon and 6 pm on November 7, 2020. Until the recounts and investigations with their resulting lawsuits have been settled, THERE ARE NO WINNERS OF THE 2020 ELECTIONS. The nominal deadline for the official announcement of the winner is December 14, 2020, when all electors are due to cast their votes. But they will not do so if there are unresolved legal actions pending.
The current federal election procedures carry a whole sequence of delayable dates for the final determination of the election results, ending up on January 6, 2021 before a joint session of Congress. Even then there is a dispute process available. Everything does have to be solved by the Presidential Inauguration date of January 20, 2021.
So, don’t be fooled by the networks, who are trying to hijack the declaration of the victor, presumably to stir up the Biden supporters. The result will be that, when the Trump faction announces their actions — which will delay the official declaration of winner — they will be discredited, discounted, and despised. If the outcome ultimately favors Mr. Trump, the hate campaign of the past 5 years, will be off and running for another term.
Our role is to stand by and let the actions of Rudy Giuliani and his team play out, knowing two things: 1) that this will all take time – possibly as much or more than the 41 days Al Gore used in 2000 before conceding. And 2) there is a true American principle being observed in all this: namely, that the rule of law will prevail. It is the American way of settling disputes, the reason we have such a sophisticated judicial system; the adversaries each bring forth the evidence they have uncovered before the open court and the court ultimately declares the victor.
America does NOT settle its disputes by violence, street protests, rioting or civil war. Those who choose such methods of protest have to be stopped by law enforcement, whether by police or National Guard. As Americans, we have supported this approach throughout the most violent summer since the Civil War. We must respect the ultimate judgement of the courts this time also – no matter the outcome.
The preliminary reports of the Senate and House elections seem to afford some measure of reassurance that, even if the Biden/Harris ticket were ultimately to win, the line of defense against their extreme agenda will be tempered by a Republican Senate and a strengthened Republican presence in the House – with still a chance to take control, depending on the outcomes of some recounts.
All said, our role right now is to relax and let the wheels of justice grind in peace.
We might be in an Obi-Wan Kenobi moment, wherein striking Trump down will make his movement more powerful than anyone can possibly imagine.
If Joe Biden walks away with a presidential victory, conservatives will have many reasons to despair. This would portend some terrifying realities about propaganda and the manipulation of public opinion, the acceptance of potential fraud, and the willingness to accept the curtailment of basic liberties.
But it need not. In fact, conservatives have reason to be quite hopeful. We might be in an Obi-Wan Kenobi moment, wherein striking Trump down will make his movement more powerful than anyone can possibly imagine. Beyond the typical takes on the election that give conservatives hope — we appear to have kept the Senate, and socialism and critical race theory lost — we have five long-term reasons to be hopeful.
At some level, the left has to be jealous. For any chance of defeating Donald Trump, look what they had to settle for: a dementia-addled, 78-year-old fossil who’s spent 47 years in the Senate as a pandering politician straight out of Central Casting. But the Democrat establishment pushed him because he polled best against Trump and, as Democrats are so quick to remind us, “science and data.”
Ah, I remember those days. I remember hearing the smart set tell us how a Herman Cain would be an abject failure as a candidate or president, so we’d better go with a traditional politician, such as John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Jeb Bush.
Then came Trump, dismantling the entire paradigm. One of the most beloved politicians in our history, he showed us how a successful American with a love for his country can do great things, things politicians have been promising for years, such as lowering unemployment for minorities, increasing wages for the working class, sticking it to communist China, creating peace in the Middle East, giving us energy independence, restructuring bad trade deals, withdrawing from foreign entanglements, and revolutionizing the federal judiciary.
Meanwhile, the Democrats get to watch a doddering hack grapple with the wily Sen. Mitch McConnell for four years, while trying to pick up the pieces of an economy they tanked to get Biden elected president and nothing else. Or maybe they’re looking forward to a President Kamala Harris doing her “Excuse me! Excuse me!” routine like that vice principal you mocked in high school.
You almost have to laugh. While they’re locked into “establishment mode” for four years, pantomiming gravitas with their whole “adults in the room” schtick to impress the seven remaining people watching CNN, the right will be having a blast retaking the House, nurturing a new generation of Trump-like candidates, and choosing another unconventional leader for president in 2024 that we actually like and don’t have to hold our noses to select. We’re done with the establishment, and it feels so liberating.
Let’s get into that new generation of conservatives. Trump brought in a significant swath of working-class voters. The Blexit movement continues, with obvious results in the increased turnout of black voters for Trump. With Trump’s Hispanic gains, can we say the whole “demography is destiny” theory officially ran out of juice at, of all places, the Rio Grande and southern Florida?
The last these demographic groups tasted of genuine Trumpism — prior to the Wuhan virus — they were doing outstanding. Now they got Biden to build his case that destroying the energy sector and subsidizing green energy will really get things going again.
Who better than an old, pandering white guy to convince young minority Americans that maybe it’s time for a second exodus from the Democrat plantation? And who will be on the sidelines with a megaphone the whole time saying, “I told you so. Remember what you had under me?”
That of course leads to our third reason for long-term hope: Trump isn’t going anywhere. This is a man who did five to six rallies a day, speaking an hour and a half at each one, for two weeks after recuperating from COVID-19. He’s also a man who hates losing, and his family is completely invested in the movement he started.
Who knows how this will translate. There’s talk of him beginning a right-leaning media outfit to compete with Fox News. Will he continue doing rallies to inspire support for a transformed Republican Party? Will he do a Grover Cleveland number and run for president again?
Whatever it is he chooses to do, he remains the same person uniquely suited to the task at hand, of disrupting the status quo in Washington. He clearly has the support of half the country. Many love him like they’ve never loved any other politician because of how he spoke up for them. That doesn’t end.
The left displayed a real logic problem this year. I became alert to this problem when I heard Biden and others blame Trump for the COVID-19 deaths. Huh? Do people really fall this easily for the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy, the logic that “X is president during Y, therefore X caused Y”?
Of course they do. That defines the leftist mind, the hive mind, the belief that agency doesn’t reside in the individual but in collective systems. This is how they think. Consequently, they must run those systems. They must have power.
Their attraction to the swamp comes with an underlying presumption of incredible self-importance. They manage the economy. They keep peace in the world. They take care of us all, good people that they are.
So what do you suppose it means when precisely nothing happens 10 years from now, about the time the world is predicted to implode from climate change? If the left is in charge of things, you know exactly what that will mean: “Thanks to President Ocasio-Cortez’s extreme measures, we’ve saved the world from catastrophe.” We’ll get a preview of this propaganda when a President Biden announces the end of the pandemic due to his wise governance.
This is why they not only needed to win this year but win big, big enough to enact the Green New Deal. That, in turn, could only be sustained with court-packing and a few new states to ensure a friendly Senate for the foreseeable future. With each radical measure, they would use the COVID-19 response as a template. “We came together before to defeat coronavirus; let’s do the same to defeat climate change!”
Alas, this is not going to happen thanks to the GOP’s other 2020 election victories. Without new states and new senators, the midterms will remain seasons of GOP success. It’s difficult to imagine the next presidential election generating excitement for a second Harris or Biden term, at least enough to create coattails for a Democrat takeover of the Senate and House.
2030 will come with glorious weather, and the left will have had nothing to do with it. After a string of exposed lies — Russia, COVID-19 “science,” systemic racism, polls, climate change — how soon before the nation becomes wise to the fact that leftism is synonymous with lying?
The answer to that last question gets to the American DNA. Americans distrust power. The left does well appealing to that distrust, promoting a false narrative blaming the “powers that be” whenever they’re out of power. They milk that “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy for everything it’s worth. It comes more naturally to them than it does to the right.
How often, these past four years, did the leftist mind resort to “Orange Man Bad!” and a primal scream into the cosmos every time their car didn’t start, or they encountered a long line at McDonald’s, or they just felt blue? It’s their psychic makeup.
No more. The left is running their asylum now. They’re great at manufacturing fear about the bogeymen behind “the system,” but in actual governance, they do nothing but lose. Of course, the leftist answer to that conundrum is, “If we all just work together, nothing is impossible.” So they can continue to blame the Senate, disinformation, gridlock, those on “the wrong side of history,” and Trump.
The whole point of leftism is that it can’t succeed without total investment by everyone in its program. That’s why it’s “all hands on deck” from Big Tech, Big Media, Big Business, Hollywood, Wall Street, human resources departments, and the Washington swamp. That’s why cancel culture is integral to their success. Dissent, alternative information, and a muscular minority topples the whole house of cards.
We’re America. We left the tyrannies of the world to come here. We left our cultures and even families. We’re all just a few generations away from incredible risk-takers, fighters, and survivors. Rugged individualism is in our blood.
Add to that the brilliant system set up by the forefathers with its many checks and balances. The newly conservative federal courts, red state governments, and that troublesome right to free speech aren’t going anywhere for now. Meanwhile, the free market is begging for new social media platforms and a FBexit or Twexit movement.
The left tells Americans, “We’re all in this together,” but it won’t be too long before, well, 70 million people say, “Speak for yourself. We’ll speak for ourselves, thank you.” That 70 million isn’t going anywhere. It’s only growing.
The Supreme Court may strike down the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate but appears poised to uphold most of the law against a constitutional challenge from a coalition of red states backed by the Trump administration.
A majority of justices were skeptical that a 2017 Republican tax bill endangered the entire statute. While that law created doubts about the continued legality of the controversial mandate to buy health insurance, other popular provisions, such as coverage for preexisting conditions, do not appear to be in danger.
The High Court’s new composition seemed to have little effect on the fate of Tuesday’s challenge. Justice Brett Kavanaugh telegraphed that he thinks the bulk of the health care law should stand even if the individual mandate is struck down. Justice Amy Coney Barrett raised doubts that one set of plaintiffs even had a right to be in court. Those developments follow dire warnings from Senate Democrats that Barrett’s confirmation would endanger health care coverage for millions of Americans.
The Court’s apparent direction greatly simplifies the health care agenda for President-elect Joe Biden. A decision striking down the ACA would send the new administration back to the drawing board on health care, while it faces the likely prospect of a GOP-controlled Senate. Biden favors a plan that would make government-funded health care available alongside private plans.
The case arose in December 2017 when congressional Republicans passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The law effectively zeroed out the individual mandate, setting the financial penalty for failing to purchase health insurance at zero dollars. The Supreme Court said in 2012 that the ACA’s requirement to buy health insurance could be upheld as a tax. In turn, a group of red states and a few individuals brought a fresh legal challenge. They reasoned that because the mandate is no longer generating revenue, it cannot be legitimated on tax grounds.
In a highly unusual move, the Trump Justice Department declined to defend Obamacare in court, so a group of blue states led by California intervened to do so.
The biggest issue in Tuesday’s case is the question of what happens if the mandate is unconstitutional. The answer turns on a legal doctrine called “severability,” or a general preference for preserving as much of Congress’s work as possible when courts find particular parts of a statute unlawful. Two conservative members of the Court, Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts, plainly indicated that they think the mandate can be severed from the ACA if it has been rendered unconstitutional by the tax law.
“Looking at our severability precedents, it does seem fairly clear that the proper remedy would be to sever the mandate provision and leave the rest of the Act in place, the provisions regarding preexisting conditions and the rest,” Kavanaugh said in a key exchange.ADVERTISING
Roberts had even more pointed words for Texas solicitor general Kyle Hawkins, who argued for the red states. The chief justice said the Court shouldn’t step in to scuttle Obamacare when the Republican Congress itself did not repeal the law, even as it zeroed out the mandate.
“I think, frankly, that they wanted the Court to do that,” Roberts said. “But that’s not our job.”
“Congress left the rest of the law intact when it lowered the penalty to zero. That seems to be compelling evidence on the question,” he added.
Critically, however, the chief justice did not give away his thinking on the continued legality of the mandate. He asked only about severability and whether the plaintiffs had a basis for being in court.
Donald Verrilli, the former solicitor general who defended the ACA in court for the Obama administration, appeared before the justices again Tuesday, this time on behalf of congressional Democrats. He noted that millions of people are covered under the ACA and that the entire health insurance sector has operated for years in compliance with its requirements.
“To assume that Congress put all of that at risk when it amended the law in 2017 is to attribute to Congress a recklessness that is both without foundation in reality and jurisprudentially inappropriate,” Verrilli said.
As to the legality of the mandate itself, the red states say it cannot be sustained as a tax if it doesn’t raise money for the government.
“The mandate as it exists today is unconstitutional. It is a naked command to purchase health insurance, and, as such, it falls outside Congress’s enumerated powers,” said Hawkins.
The liberal justices sparred with Republican lawyers on this point. Justice Elena Kagan questioned how a toothless mandate could amount to unlawful strong-arming.
“How does it make sense to say that what was not an unconstitutional command before has become an unconstitutional command now, given the far lesser degree of coercive force?” Kagan asked.
Justice Samuel Alito later countered that there aren’t other examples of a zero-dollar tax penalty in federal law, making the mandate suspect in its current form.
“Are you aware of any provisions in the [U.S. Code] in which Congress has purported to use its taxing power to say you must do this, and we’re going to tax it and we’re going to set the tax at zero?” he asked acting solicitor general Jeff Wall, who argued for the Trump administration.
Another issue is whether the plaintiffs even had a legal basis, called standing, for getting to court. In court papers, the blue states said that harm is a necessary prerequisite for a lawsuit, but a mandate penalty of zero dollars isn’t harming anybody.
“It is legally clear that absolutely nothing will happen to them if they choose to go without coverage,” the blue states wrote of the individual plaintiffs in court papers. Even if the individual plaintiffs don’t have standing, the red states say they do because the mandate effectively requires them to spend more on health care.
A decision in the case, No. 19-840 California v. Texas, is expected in the spring or early summer.
This past week in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, the Supreme Court re-entered the dangerous minefield at the junction of religious liberty and anti-discrimination. The current dispute arose when Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services announced that it would no longer refer children to Catholic Social Services (CSS) for placement in foster care because CSS refused to consider same-sex couples as potential foster parents. CSS was, however, prepared to accept into its foster care all children regardless of their sexual orientation. After prolonged negotiations with the city failed, CSS sued. It seeks, in the words of the Third Circuit, “an order requiring the city to renew their contractual relationship while permitting it to turn away same-sex couples who wish to be foster parents.” The Third Circuit upheld the position of the city.
Resolving this delicate confrontation requires a return to first principles. Let’s start with the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion, as elaborated in Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion in Employment Division v. Smith. Alfred Leo Smith, a drug guidance counselor, was denied unemployment benefits after being terminated for consuming peyote, a controlled substance, as part of a religious rite. The court held that his religious beliefs do not “excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the state is free to regulate.” The First Amendment did not require Oregon to accommodate Smith’s religious practice. Any neutral law of general applicability was acceptable, notwithstanding its disparate impact.
Notably, the word exercise is broad enough to cover not only Smith’s use of peyote but also CSS’s adoption policies. Accordingly, under no circumstances should Philadelphia be allowed to pass an ordinance that requires the Catholic Church to ordain women as priests, or to offer family aid services paid from its own funds to same-sex couples. The question in Fulton is whether CSS’s free exercise rights are forfeited when the city supplies public funds and matching services to CSS and the children it puts up for foster care.
The point is contentious. During oral argument, Justice Elena Kagan insisted that Philadelphia has a compelling state interest to eliminate all forms of discrimination against same-sex couples. Stanford professor Jeffrey Fisher, who represented two-nonprofit organizations that sided with the city, made a similar point by insisting that if Philadelphia lost this case, city police officers would be able to refuse to enforce certain laws to protect those same-sex couples just by citing their religious convictions.
Both of these claims miss the central point. The real risk of government abuse arises when the state exercises its exclusive power to enforce the criminal laws. Given that state monopoly power, state actors have a correlative duty to treat all persons equally and therefore are disallowed from bringing personal religious convictions to bear on criminal law enforcement.
The situation, however, is quite different whenever the government grants public funds to organizations to discharge some public purpose. This contest raises tension between a state’s independent regulatory authority and its ability to impose conditions on such grants. It is often incorrectly asserted that the government has extensive freedom of choice when it puts “its” money behind a particular program, such that it can act in an “entrepreneurial” fashion even if it cannot regulate private church conduct. As one observer suggested, “[r]eligious groups typically have little leeway to shape government programs that they object to.”
These oversized claims for state control should be roundly rejected. The government does not have some private stash of cash to dole out on whatever terms and conditions it sees fit. Virtually all of its money comes from taxation, fines, and fees. Those monies are paid into the city by both supporters and opponents of the city’s ban on CSS. Just as it would be wholly inappropriate to exclude non-religious programs from participating in the city’s foster programs, so too is it wholly inappropriate to exclude the religious organizations solely because of their religious beliefs. Excluding either group from the class of recipients while forcing them to make contributions into the common fund creates an illegitimate cross-subsidy from groups without political power to groups with it.
That fundamental fiscal imbalance implicates the doctrine of unconstitutional conditions, which supplies the much-needed counterweight to inappropriate exercises of state monopoly power. The parallel common law rule holds that any public utility or common carrier has, by virtue of its monopoly power, the duty to offer services to all customers on fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory terms. The public law doctrine of unconstitutional conditions applies that principle to the strongly entrenched and indisputable state monopoly powers of regulation and taxation. But the state should have no power to regulate parties in competitive industries, where there are many alternative sources of supply. Accordingly, the state cannot license private Catholic hospitals only if they are willing to perform abortions at will, which can be done at many other facilities.
Similarly, whether the issue regards dispensing cash or using public facilities, the state cannot use its monopoly power to impose viewpoint conditions on public grants. Thus, no one thinks (I hope) that the city of Philadelphia can use its power to prevent CSS or its foster parents from using city streets to render their services unless they accept same-sex couples for foster care. The basic test is whether the condition that the city government wants to impose is designed to improve the overall efficiency of public services, or if the condition is instead intended to serve as a form of viewpoint discrimination. Thus, the city can require all vehicles that CSS uses on public roads to meet the uniform standards of vehicular inspection, but it cannot condition CSS’s use of vehicles on the alteration of its religious beliefs and practices.
It is painfully clear that the state cannot identify any efficiency justification for excluding CSS from its foster care program. The city operates a useful platform that brings together parents and other guardians with children in need of foster care through a wide array of organizations. The more choices on both sides of the platform, the better the system. We know that CSS increases the supply of foster care, which reduces the risk of shortages of foster placements. It also allows many parents or guardians seeking a Catholic family to obtain their first choice of foster parents. In oral argument, Justice Samuel Alito noted that CSS has never had to turn down an applicant for foster care who desired to place a child with a same-sex couple. Instead, CSS acted a liaison with other groups to secure those children with a satisfactory placement. Why should anyone oppose a system that leaves everyone better off, simply because one provider among many insists on adhering to its deeply held religious beliefs? There is no interest, let alone a compelling state interest, to undermine a matching program that has worked well for decades.
Fulton follows on the heels of the 2018 Supreme Court decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which threw out a set of penalties that the Colorado Commission imposed on Jack Phillips, a devout Christian who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple on religious grounds. In a most unsatisfactory opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy chastised the commission only for its boorish behavior, not its substantive actions. Thus in the present case, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit had an easy hook on which to uphold the city, which acted with proper professional candor in dealing with CSS, unlike its Coloradan counterpart. But the ultimate issue in both cases is not about manners. It is about the abuse of monopoly power (exercised with civility or otherwise).
Masterpiece offers the converse situation to Fulton. In Masterpiece, a competitive market eliminated the need for Colorado to force any merchant to take on any customer, given that a host of merchants were eager for the same-sex couple’s business. But in Fulton, the state’s monopoly position requires it to apply the nondiscrimination rule for the benefit of CSS. In their effort to counter this contention, both Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan argued that allowing for discrimination against same-sex couples might open the way to allowing discrimination on the grounds of race. In my 1992 book Forbidden Grounds,I argued that private parties have the right to engage in any form of discrimination in private competitive markets, including discrimination by race—in part because that principle provides a clean justification for private affirmative action programs. But even if that argument is rejected emphatically for public institutions, recall Justice William Brennan’s 1984 opinion in Roberts v. United States Jaycees, which upheld Minnesota’s antidiscrimination law as applied to a large public club, only to insist “that choices to enter into and maintain certain intimate human relationships must be secured against undue intrusion by the state.”
The foster care arrangements fall into just this category. This implies that CSS, like all other qualified agencies, may choose foster parents on whatever grounds it wants, race and religion included. The expectation is that the Supreme Court will reverse the Third Circuit. Hopefully, it will also overrule Smith.
Voters might not have had concerns about irregularities, if fundamental steps were taken, and problems fixed.
No wonder half the public is concerned about irregularities in the 2020 voting.
No wonder they would support Donald Trump’s skepticism, once a reputable legal team quickly, publicly, and transparently presents to the nation justified concerns about constitutional violations in changing state voting laws and documented accounts of computer glitches, inexplicable late arrivals of ballot troves, and systemic efforts to prevent transparency — all at a level that reasonably could question the authenticity of the final vote count or even serve a dire warning of things to come.
Voting sanctity was not just questioned by Trump. It became a recent issue in 2016. Then-Green Party candidate Jill Stein was used as a surrogate by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment — to the chagrin of her own supporters — to sue in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania to overturn the 2016 election. The charge was deliberate voting-machine irregularities, for which there was not even much anecdotal evidence.
When that failed, the Left went full Hollywood with a media blitz to convince the American people that the election was a fraud and the electors had to do their “patriotic” duty to overturn the mandates of their own state — and reject Donald Trump.
Within days of that failure, a Democratic narrative appeared that Donald Trump was an illegitimate president due to “Russian collusion.” Soon Hillary Clinton joined the “Resistance,” on the basis that Russians, not the American people, had chosen the president — a charge that eventually sabotaged Donald Trump’s first two years in office, as Robert Mueller’s 22-month, $40-million “Dream Team” failed to prove that a myth, born in efforts to delegitimize an election and a president, was after all a myth.
Indeed, within days of Trump’s inauguration, dozens of Democrats voted for impeachment, as activists wrote about the need to either impeach him, or declare him crazy — or whispered about the need for the military to become vigilant — in a manner later to be dubbed “coup porn.” Again the pretext was a false charge of Russian collusion that had delegitimized the voting.
After that, a new narrative took hold, eventually flagrantly so in the 2019 Democratic primaries, that the Electoral College was illegitimate and should be junked, and the present Supreme Court had to be packed to ensure correct decisions. So the idea that the future voting itself would be politicized started nearly as soon as, or even before, Donald Trump was elected.
Millions of voters now find it rich that suddenly the Democratic Party is vouching for a pristine voting count, after for four years warning in venues like the New Yorker or PBS that new questionable electronic voting machines and dubious state officials were toying with deliberate distortion, and that foreign interests would “again” be seeking to disrupt the election.
Activists spent much of 2019 and 2020 seeking to overturn constitutionally mandated laws of the state legislatures. Their efforts in key states often succeeded in ensuring that federal elections would be radically transformed into a long process of weeks on end, through both early and predominately mail-in voting, with allowances for troves of ballots arriving well after the polls closed.
The point is that after being lectured by Clintonites, by the media, and by big tech for years that voting was likely to be suspect, the Left did all it could by lawsuits and radical changes to voting statutes to ensure that the count would be, well, suspect by its own prior standards.
Still, half of the American people might not be so angry had just one state — as Florida in 2000 — failed to deliver a final, transparent, and timely tally.
But by 2020, we had 20 years to learn from Florida’s endless days of recounting and warped chad auditing. Although the suspicious circumstances were different — this time state executives and judges changed the state voter laws to enhance mail-in balloting in a way inconsistent with the Constitution’s directives — states were nonetheless courting the same disaster of delays, popular outrage, and inconsistent rules of counting and certification.
Now two decades later, Americans, in third-world fashion, suffered five Floridas — Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania — all of which for some reason could not produce a transparent result on Election Day or in the hours shortly after. All had been warned that in some cases new computer voting systems, or in other cases radical transformations to mail-in voting, or in all cases insufficient awareness to transparency might once again provoke popular distrust. And in addition, a deadlocked Supreme Court ignored clear warnings that state judges and executives were overruling constitutionally mandated legislative laws of voting.
So the public is mystified that the center of global high tech; the bastion of transparency and civil rights; the birthplace of the computer, the Internet, and automatic voting; home of the $4-trillion Silicon Valley masters of the universe; and the nation that vowed never again to suffer another 2000 has again failed.
A nation whose tech wizardry can ferret out a single improper tweet and block an individual account in a nation of 330 million surely can use such omnipresence to ensure a nearly instantaneous voting result in certified machines. Or is the opposite true? Precisely because of that scary omnipotence, we need to be ever more vigilant?
Mutatis mutandis, will the same Bush standard be extended to Trump, to go through the process of reexamination that the Bush team rightly demanded? It would not require much effort for the Supreme Court to determine whether particular states followed or ignored the Constitution in radically changing voting laws in 2020. Either they did so by votes of the Legislature or they did so by executive and bureaucratic mandates, which are not what the Constitution seems to direct.
It would not take much effort simply to reexamine voting machines and computer software, to determine whether hundreds of personal anecdotes of illegality are signs of either systematic failure or mere disgruntled partisans.
Still, the deplorables might have kept quiet had allegations of fraud occurred along bipartisan lines — that for every mysterious Wisconsin and Pennsylvania vote there was equal concern in hotly contested Texas and Florida. Both sides might have pointed to voting stoppages in the nocturnal hours, and the sudden appearance of new ballots and the record 90-percent turnout of registered voters in particular counties. All that weirdness would likely have been ignored had it occurred in bipartisan fashion regardless of the eventual vote.
So again half the country now worries that purple swing states in which it was anticipated the vote would be close were targeted by Democratic activist-bureaucrats, especially in big cities — whether by preelection radical changes in voting laws and regulations, or laxity in ensuring proper date cutoffs, or inattention to computer authenticity to ensure “glitches” would not unduly sour public confidence.
Still, voters are a forgiving lot. They might have sighed “move on” had the prior polls simply conditioned the country for a close race, predictions they trusted and thus could have prepared them for a long and acrimonious night.
Instead, the party that drumbeats “voter suppression” ad nauseam hectored the country about the “historic” reckoning to come on Election Day. The Left went full Bob Mueller “bombshells” and “walls are closing in” to condition the nation for a 1964-like Democratic landslide, the just sendoff for the hated Trump.
Red-state America for months was assured by pollsters and their partners in the media of the slaughter to come. On election eve, Trump was down 17 points in Wisconsin in the ABC/Washington Post poll. Trump was 12 points down in the CNN popular vote poll. Trump would suffer a 383-vote landslide loss in the Electoral College in the last YouGov poll.
These authoritative predictions, often framed to the decimal point and the result of thousands of “computer simulations,” were not just off, but so far off to be easily seen as laughable.
Had the presidential polls at the state levels, or polls of the Electoral College or those of Senate and House races, been close and thus approximated the actual vote that transpired on Election Day, voters would have shrugged that this time around at least the polls were in the margin of error in their wrong predictions.
But again, what the country got instead was assurance of a Democratic Krakatoa, contrary to what people saw in the contrast between Trump’s huge rallies and Biden’s pathetic assemblage of honking cars. The public witnessed a “sure-loser” president greeted ecstatically at huge gatherings while “sure-winner” Biden lost his train of thought before a few hundred car-bound onlookers.
Still, Americans might have shrugged even then and sighed, “polls will be polls” — had not there been the example of 2016. Then most of the state polls were wrong, but predictably wrong in their prediction of a Clinton landslide. After that collective embarrassment, voters were assured that pollsters were looking inward and that the media was venturing out to Red State America to discover “what makes these people tick.” That too was a hoax.
Perhaps voters still would have said, “2000 Florida 5.0 is weird, but I guess it can happen.” They might have added, “2016 polls, I guess, never fixed their methodology for 2000.”
But then there was the media.
The media itself funded joint polls and reveled in their investments on television as gospel. On Fox News, Arizona was called early on election eve by its analytics experts. That spark in nanoseconds was aired through the networks with editorialization along the following lines: “If conservative Fox now says Trump’s red-state base has repudiated him in the first hours of vote counting, and he’s already lost Arizona, imagine what is now to follow!”
Instead, what in reality followed were clear big Trump wins in Florida and Texas — much more likely results not called until much later. When asked to defend the Arizona decision, a few of the statisticians of Fox doubled down, ensuring that what we are now witnessing in Arizona was “impossible,” the insult to their additional injury of reassuring America that the Democrats would pick up seats in the House.
The public knows that when a candidate loses a base state early in the evening, then the entire media menu for the night is set. Long predictable wins are relabeled “comebacks” or examples of “surprising strength.” Close losses are thematized as “clear pattern of voter unease with the president.” Why question later reports of insecure polling or suspicious late arriving ballots when you lose Barry Goldwater’s state in a mere two hours after polls closed?
Still, the voters might have shrugged, “Well, who believes these premature media-ratings driven calls, anyway?”
But then again, for days before the election, the media not only censored stories of Hunter Biden, but was aided by the clout of Silicon Valley into outright blacking them out — quite in contrast to their earlier two-year-long megaphonic assertions that Donald Trump was soon to be indicted, as Robert Mueller and Christopher Steele had all but proved their cases.
In addition, for months the media assured the nation that a small group of money-grubby apostate Republicans were the voices of morality in the Republican Party. Indeed, Never Trumpers could prove a valuable fifth column to siphon off key support from the Republican ticket.
Flush with nearly $70 million in left-wing cash, the “Lincoln” Project kingpins were glamorized in their efforts to destroy Republican senatorial and House candidates, to flip Republican swing voters, and to pose as the saviors of the Republican Party.
Instead, Trump got more support from Republicans in 2020 than he had in 2016, reaching in so-called exit polls rates of 93 percent.
In the end, Never Trump, Inc. was just another media fiction, although a lucrative one for its concocters if AOC and the Squad don’t appropriate their post-campaign cash reserves.
So what angers half the country could be summed up as the likely mindset of the Trump voter:
We don’t care whether an irrelevant Twitter cancels us out. So what, when Facebook and Google warp their technologies? Screw the polls; we knew they were corrupt and unreliable. Who cares if partisan woke bureaucrats reinvent the rules of elections to favor their own and contravene the rules passed by their own legislatures? Not even rumors of computer glitches will matter. And even the most rapid transformations in American election history, from Election Day balloting into a decision by all sorts of bizarre early and mail-in balloting, will not matter. There is no way in America that huge Election Day leads will vanish by midnight in all the suspicious places. We are the people and all these efforts will come to nil. On Election Day, at least we will finally be heard. After all, we are not yet a third-world state.
But such trust proved one bridge too far. We are a third-world state now with malleable laws, an inert Constitution, voting that cannot be certified beyond a reasonable doubt within a reasonable time, with a media that massages rather than reports the news, and pollsters who seek to modulate rather than reflect likely voting.
And that realization that a transparent Election Day vote is a distant memory is what enrages Barack Obama’s clingers, Joe Biden’s dregs, chumps and ugly folk, and Hillary Clinton’s deplorables and irredeemables — the final injury after a host of insults.