Providing the option of small-scale customization to families who are happy with their public schools may be exactly the reform strategy the school choice movement has needed for decades.
In Michigan, thousands of state residents have signed a petition that would establish education savings accounts for students. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed similar legislation last year but if the petition makes it to the state ballot and passes this fall (and it is looking like it will), it would create one of the largest school choice programs in the country by commanding as much as $500 million in annual funding to provide flexible spending accounts for low-income and special needs students. Under the proposal, students could access $7,830 each year to pay for private school tuition and other customizable services such as tutoring or transportation.
But Michigan’s program wouldn’t just serve students who decide to leave their public school to homeschool or attend a private school. It would also make $500 available annually to qualifying students who remain in public schools and provide $1,100 annually for public school students with disabilities. While those amounts are only a fraction of the funds that would be available to students who withdraw from public school, it would be the first time a school choice proposal puts education dollars directly in the hands of students who remain in public schools.
This would be a big deal because granting the option of small-scale customization to families who are happy with their public schools may be exactly the reform strategy the school choice movement has needed for decades.
Opting out of a public school system to transfer to a private school is a big change for most families. Even with access to a publicly-funded private school scholarship, a change of that degree might not be worth it for families who are only somewhat unhappy with their public school. This reality can help to explain why private school choice programs have grown at a slow pace over the last few decades and why the U.S. spends less than 0.4 percent of public education funds on private school choice programs.
It should also be noted that most families are generally happy with their public schools. A 2021 Gallup Poll found that “73% of parents of school-aged children say they are satisfied with the quality of education their oldest child is receiving.” There simply isn’t enough dissatisfaction with the current system at this time to catalyze a large-scale shift away from traditional public schools and toward a customized, private sector-led education system.
Because of this, school choice proponents need policy solutions that meet most families where they are, something Michigan may be on the cusp of accomplishing with its education savings account (ESA) for public school students.
Most families might not be ready to leave the public K-12 system, but they would be excited for a chance to customize on the margins. While many parents can’t imagine curating their child’s entire curriculum, they can certainly envision the benefits of having some funds to pay for an SAT tutor, enroll their student in a financial literacy course at a community college, or buy them a laptop.
This incremental step can introduce education choice to a large swath of previously unreached public-school families, whetting their appetites for more customization. And while there are already programs in other states that resemble something like a public school ESA, Michigan would build on these programs by providing public school students with even more flexibility over how they can use their funds.
For more than 20 years, the private school choice movement has focused on bringing a lot of choice to a relatively small contingent of families lucky enough to have access to vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and ESAs. Maybe it’s time for school choice proponents to consider Michigan’s approach of also giving a taste of choice to the majority of families who, understandably, aren’t ready to leave their traditional public schools.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has raised concerns about SpaceX’s plans to put more than 30,000 Starlink satellites into orbit to create its satellite internet system.
To put that into perspective, Sputnik was launched 65 years ago and there are less than 3,000 functioning satellites orbiting the Earth. NASA questions whether SpaceX’s automated collision avoidance system would be effective given the dramatic increase of satellites that would be in orbit.
While SpaceX claims there is “zero risk” of its Starlink satellites colliding with other satellites or spacecraft, NASA sees that calculation as dangerously misguided.
As proof that NASA is right, in 2019, there was a potential collision (the risk was 10 times higher than the threshold requiring a collision avoidance maneuver) involving a Starlink satellite. SpaceX did nothing to avoid the collision with a European Space Agency (“ESA”) satellite. So it was left to the ESA to avoid the collision.
SpaceX blamed its failure to take any action or even respond to the possible collision on an email snafu. That doesn’t instill confidence.
Elon Musk has made headlines with Tesla electric cars, SpaceX’s Falcon rockets and SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service. But there has been a consistent question about safety and taking short cuts.
Problems and collisions with Musk’s automated or driverless cars have been blamed on others with little recognition of the shortcomings of the vehicles’ safety systems. Likewise, SpaceX’s Falcon rockets have had a number of explosions that destroyed the rocket and cargo, yet SpaceX has been opaque about its failures and cavalier about safety concerns.
While the promise of expanding high-speed broadband internet all over the globe via satellite is promising, the issue of space junk and debris is a growing safety concern. And it has life and death consequences and could become an economic disaster as well.
Space debris, satellites, and spacecraft are carefully tracked so that potential collisions can be predicted and avoided. Transparency and communication are needed because when a satellite’s trajectory is changed to avoid a collision, new collisions become possible — like on a crowded freeway, swerving to miss a pothole could create other accidents.
Similarly, if two satellites have collision avoidance systems, it is helpful if they can predictably do their avoidance jobs so that they don’t accidentally both adjust themselves into the path of the other and thus fail to avoid the collision.
Government space agencies and space sustainability experts have noted that Starlink’s planned constellation of satellites is a threat to satellite safety, including the International Space Station (ISS). And NASA says that launch safety windows become much smaller when the number of objects flying around the earth at 18,000 miles per hour dramatically increases.
A study concludes that SpaceX’s satellites have been involved in about 1,600 close or highly risky collision encounters which turns out is about 50% of all possible collisions. Imagine what happens if SpaceX increases by more than 16 times the number of satellites it has in orbit.
These collisions are a problem not merely because the two satellites would be destroyed, but because the collision would create a dense field of space junk and debris which would continue to orbit around the planet at speeds of up to 18,000 miles per hour. Even a small chunk of metal (like a nut or a bolt) can do considerable damage traveling at that high speed.
A typical 9 mm handgun shoots a relatively small bullet at about 820 miles per hour. So imagine the energy and damage that could be done by an object traveling about 20 times faster. And imagine many thousands or even millions of pieces of space debris that can be created when two satellites collide and the dramatic increased risk of future collisions that would ensue.
Given Musk’s track record of being a bit cavalier about safety concerns and passing the buck when safety issues are raised, we should be careful about blindly jumping on board with his plans.
While there is a great deal of promise in expanded satellite systems that could revolutionize communications, we must make sure we don’t make satellite technology nearly impossible to maintain because of massive space debris fields that could have been avoided with responsible and transparent safety systems.
If the U.S.’s national security satellites or our communications satellites were at risk because of some Russian oligarch’s irresponsible space launches or because of the totalitarian Chinese regime’s provocative actions in space, it seems safe to say that we would not cheer them on. So perhaps we should expect more from Elon Musk, SpaceX, and Starlink.
As NASA points out, it isn’t asking too much that the project be “conducted prudently, in a manner that supports spaceflight safety and the long-term sustainability of the space environment.” And if we would expect this of Russia and China, we should expect this of American companies as well.
A Democrat looks at what his party can’t see
As a lifelong man of the Left who very much wants the Democratic Party to succeed, I regret to report this: The Democrats and the Democratic brand are in deep trouble. That should have been obvious when Democrats underperformed in the 2020 election, turning what they and most observers expected to be a blue wave into more of a ripple. They lost House seats and performed poorly in state legislative elections. And their support among non-white voters, especially Hispanics, declined substantially.
Still, they did win the presidency, which led many to miss the clear market signals this underperformance was sending. That tendency was strengthened by the Democrats’ improbable victories in the two Senate runoffs in Georgia, which gave them full control of the federal government, albeit by the very narrowest of margins.
At the same time, Trump’s refusal to concede the election — his bizarre behavior in that regard probably contributed to the GOP defeats in the Georgia runoffs — and his encouragement of rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6 led many Democrats to assume that the Republican brand would be so damaged by association that the Democratic brand would shine by comparison. And yet, two years later, the Democrats are in brutal shape.
Biden’s approval rating is in the low 40s, only a little above where Trump’s was at the same point in his presidential term, which of course was the precursor to the GOP’s drubbing in the 2018 election. Biden has been doing especially poorly among working-class and Hispanic voters. His approval ratings on specific issues tend to be lower, in the high 30s on the economy and in the low 30s on hot-button issues such as immigration and crime. Off-year and special elections since 2020 have indicated a strongly pro-Republican electoral environment, and Democrats currently trail Republicans in the generic congressional ballot for 2022. It now seems likely that Democrats will, at minimum, lose control of the House this November and quite possibly suffer a wave election up and down the ballot.
Most Democrats would prefer to believe that the current dismal situation merely reflects some bad luck. The Delta and Omicron variants of the coronavirus did undercut Biden’s plans for returning the country to normal, interacting with supply-chain difficulties to produce an inflation spike that angered consumers, but that is not the whole picture. Democrats have failed to develop a party brand capable of unifying a dominant majority of Americans behind their political project. Indeed, the current Democratic brand suffers from several deficiencies that make it somewhere between uncompelling and toxic to many American voters who might otherwise be the party’s allies. I locate these deficiencies in three key areas: culture, economics, and patriotism.
Culture. The cultural Left has managed to associate the Democratic Party with a series of views — on crime, immigration, policing, free speech, and, of course, race and gender — that are far from those of the median voter. That’s a success for the cultural Left but an electoral liability for the Democratic Party. From time to time, Democratic politicians, like Biden in his State of the Union address on March 1, try to dissociate themselves from unpopular ideas such as defunding the police, but the cultural Left within the party is still more deferred to than opposed or ignored. Their voices are amplified by Democratic-leaning media and nonprofits, as well as by party officials and activists. Increasingly, a party’s national brand defines state and even local electoral contests, and Democratic candidates across the ballot have a very hard time shaking the party’s cultural-Left associations.
To understand this state of affairs, we must understand the trajectory of the American Left in the 21st century. It is now out of touch with its working-class roots and dominated by college-educated professionals, typically younger people in big metropolitan areas and university towns. They fill the ranks of media, nonprofits, advocacy groups, and foundations and are overrepresented in the infrastructure of the Democratic Party. They speak their own language and highlight the issues that most animate their commitments to “social justice.”
Those commitments are increasingly driven by identity politics, which originated in the 1960s movements that sought to eliminate discrimination against, and establish equal treatment of, women and racial and sexual minorities. Gradually, the focus has mutated. Advocates now attempt to impose a narrow worldview, emphasizing the need to oppose multiple, intersecting levels of oppression (“intersectionality”) based on group identification. In place of promoting universal rights and principles — the traditional remit of the Left — advocates now police others on the left, including those within the Democratic Party, pressuring them to use an arcane vocabulary for speaking about purportedly oppressed groups and to prohibit logical, evidence-based discourse by which the assertions of those who claim to speak on behalf of minorities and other demographic groups could be evaluated.
Is America really a “white supremacist” society? What does “structural racism” mean, and does it explain all the socioeconomic problems of non-whites? Is anyone who raises questions about immigration levels a racist? Is constant specification of personal pronouns necessary and something the Left should seek to popularize? Are trans women the same as biological women? Are those who ask the question simply “haters” who should be expelled from the left coalition? This list could go on. Politically predetermined answers to the questions are simply to be embraced by Democratic progressives, in the interest of “social justice.”
The Democrats have paid a considerable price for their militant identity politics, which lends the impression that the party is distracted by, or even focused on, issues of little relevance to most voters’ lives. Worse, the focus has led many working-class voters to believe that, unless they subscribe to the progressive worldview and speak its language, they will be condemned as reactionary, intolerant, and racist by those who purport to represent their interests. To some extent these voters are right: They are looked down upon by substantial segments — typically younger, well educated, and metropolitan — of the Democratic Party. An emerging rupture in the Democratic Party’s coalition along lines of education and region is clear.
This rupture was made deeper by the election of Donald Trump in 2016. On the left, the dominant interpretation of white working-class support for Trump was that it reflected racism and xenophobia: As America became more multicultural and multiracial, working-class whites didn’t like their alleged loss of status and privilege. This interpretation was odd, since Democratic progressives had just spent many decades sternly denouncing the American neoliberal economic model, arguing that it was ruining the lives and communities of all working people.
The Trump years further deepened the influence of identity politics on the Democratic Party, particularly in the wake of the nationwide protest movement following the murder of George Floyd. That left its stamp on the 2020 edition of the Democratic Party, notwithstanding their old-school standard-bearer, Joe Biden.
It has also left its stamp on how Democrats have handled difficult cultural issues since the election. They have fallen prey to what I have termed the “Fox News fallacy” — the idea that, if Fox News and the like are criticizing the Democrats on an issue, the criticism must be unsound and the disputed policy should be defended at all costs. That reflex has not served the Democrats well as Biden’s term has evolved.
Start with crime. Initially dismissed as simply an artifact of the Covid shutdown and as vastly exaggerated by conservative media, the rise in violent crime is clear, and voters are highly concerned about it. They include black and Hispanic voters, as indicated by polling data and confirmed by Eric Adams’s base of support in the New York mayoral contest. No wonder more Democratic politicians are running as fast as they can away from any hint of “defund the police,” the slogan that, beloved of the activist Left, was put on the ballot in Minneapolis . . . and soundly defeated, especially by black voters. According to a recent poll from Pew Research, black and Hispanic Democrats are significantly more likely than white Democrats to favor more police funding in their area.
Despite Biden’s assertion in his recent State of the Union address that funding the police is a good idea (followed by his new budget proposal), Democrats still seem far from “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime,” the felicitous slogan of former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair. Fox News may exaggerate, but voters do want law and order — carried out fairly and humanely, but law and order just the same. Democrats — with some exceptions, including Eric Adams — are still reluctant to emphasize their commitment to cracking down on crime and criminals. It is no surprise, then, that Republicans, according to a recent Wall Street Journal poll, are favored over Democrats on the crime issue by 20 points.
Another example of the Fox News fallacy can be seen in the immigration issue. The Biden administration initially insisted that the surge at the border would subside as the hot-weather season arrived. Most Democrats echoed that line, invoking the idea that the issue was mostly a Fox News talking point.
Not so. It is now apparent that the perceived liberalization of the border regime under the Biden administration did encourage more migrants to try their luck at the border. An astonishing 1.7 million illegal crossings at the southern border were recorded in the 2021 fiscal year, the highest total since at least 1960, when the government first started keeping track. To stem the tide, the administration has scrambled to deploy whatever tools it has at its disposal, including some left over from the Trump administration. That upset immigration advocates, who staged a (virtual) walkout on top Biden officials in late 2021 to protest the policies.
These and other pressures, as well as the desire not to agree with Fox, have led most Democratic politicians to treat the topic of border security gingerly (though Biden in the State of the Union address did at least allude to the need to “secure the border”). As a result, there is no clear Democratic plan for an immigration system that would both permit reasonable levels of legal immigration and provide the border security necessary to stop illegal entry.
Voters have noticed. In the Wall Street Journal poll previously cited, Republicans are favored over Democrats by 26 points on border security. And Biden, as noted earlier, has abysmal approval ratings on the immigration issue, typically in the low 30s.
Democrats would do well to remember that public-opinion polling over the years has consistently shown overwhelming majorities in favor of more spending and emphasis on border security.
Finally, consider critical race theory, or CRT, a particularly flagrant example of the Fox News fallacy. Democrats refuse to admit that there might be a problem here. Originating in academic legal theory, “critical race theory” has been used as shorthand by the Right, who have made it a catch-all term for the intrusion of race essentialism into teacher training, school curricula, and the like. The standard Democratic comeback to criticism about CRT in the schools is to say that any voters, including parents, who worry about CRT are manipulated by right-wing media into opposing proper teaching about the history of slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, and so on.
Voters’ worries about CRT cannot be bludgeoned away so easily. Parents are far more worried that their child is taught — no matter the name of the theory — to see everything through a racial lens than they are concerned that she is learning about historical instances and practices of racism.
This issue has become caught up in general dissatisfaction with how Democrats have handled schooling issues during the pandemic. In Virginia, voters already upset about parental burdens and academic deficits from extended school closures became additionally concerned that an emerging focus on “social justice” pedagogy and policies was detracting from instruction in traditional academic subjects.
“Many swing voters knew, when pushed by more-liberal members of the group, that CRT wasn’t taught in Virginia schools,” according to the Democratic firm ALG Research, in a memo on focus groups with Biden–Youngkin voters in suburban Virginia:
But at the same time, they felt like racial and social justice issues were overtaking math, history, and other things. They absolutely want their kids to hear the good and the bad of American history, [but] at the same time they are worried that racial and cultural issues are taking over the state’s curricula. We should expect this backlash to continue, especially as it plays into another way where parents and communities feel like they are losing control over their schools in addition to the basics of even being able to decide if they’re open or not.
Again, these issues cannot be waved away simply by dismissing complaining parents as racists or dupes of Fox News. This is particularly the case for Asian parents. It would be difficult to overestimate how important education is to Asian voters, who see it as the key to upward mobility — a tool that even the poorest Asian parents can take advantage of. But Democrats are seen to be anti-meritocratic and opposed to standardized tests, test-in elite schools, and programs for the gifted and talented — areas where Asian children have excelled.
Because of its record on these and other cultural issues, the party’s — or, at least, Biden’s — attempt to rebrand Democrats as unifying, speaking for Americans across divisions of race and class, has so far failed. Voters are not sure Democrats can look beyond identity politics to ensure public safety, secure borders, high-quality nonideological education, and economic progress for all Americans.
The Democrats find themselves weighed down by those whose tendency is to emphasize the identity-politics angle of virtually every issue. Decisive action that might lead to a rebranding is immediately undercut by a torrent of criticism (Biden is getting some of this right now) or simply never proposed.
Nevertheless, Biden and the Democrats must persist in their efforts to rebrand. The alternative would be to cede to Republicans a culture-war advantage that would mean not just probable defeat in 2022 but the continued failure of Democratic efforts to forge a clear majority coalition for years to come.
One obvious issue on which to rebrand is crime. Democrats should build on Biden’s recent, tentative steps in this direction.
Consider that Democrats are associated with a wave of progressive public prosecutors who seem quite hesitant about keeping criminals off the street, even as major cities suffer a spike in murder, carjackings, and other violent crimes. This is twinned to a climate, of tolerance and non-prosecution for lesser crimes, that is degrading the quality of life in many cities under Democratic control.
This has got to stop. Weakness on crime not only damages the Democrats’ brand but harms some of their most vulnerable constituents.
“It’s time the reign of criminals who are destroying our city, it is time for it to come to an end,” London Breed, the Democratic mayor of San Francisco, said in December. “And it comes to an end when we take the steps to be more aggressive with law enforcement, more aggressive with the changes in our policies, and less tolerant of all the bullsh** that has destroyed our city.”
Strong words. But Breed — and Adams — are on to something. Normie voters hate crime and want something done about it. They’re not impressed by talk about the availability of guns when it fails to include talk about enforcing the law against criminals who use the guns.
Biden (or some other leading Democrat) could say something like this, as recommended by the excellent Charlie Sykes at The Bulwark: “We must continue the fight for social justice, but it should not come at the price of public safety. In some of our biggest cities we have folks who think that we shouldn’t put criminals in jail or downplay the dangers of violent crime. They are wrong. We have to protect our families and our neighborhoods.”
And then name some names. Maybe it’s not time for a “Sister Souljah moment.” But how about a Chesa Boudin moment? I bet London Breed would have your back.
Economics. Just what is the Democrats’ plan for the economy? Right now, it seems to boil down to their legislative accomplishments, past and future, which will result in a “better” economy. Voters, however, are foggy about what those legislative accomplishments consist of and are not sure the economy has landed in a better place yet.
Neither are they sure where the economy is supposed to be going under the Democrats’ watch. In that sense, voters may be on to something when they see Democrats as preoccupied with social issues. Parties face an opportunity cost when allocating their limited attention and resources; Democrats have not had an obvious and unifying laser-like focus on economic growth and the creation of good jobs.
To the extent that Democrats have an overarching economic story, it is that a dramatic expansion of the social safety net and a rapid move to a clean-energy economy will result in strong growth and an abundance of good jobs, someday. But the story is muddled. It’s not getting through.
A standard Democratic take on that problem is that their economic ideas and accomplishments are great but haven’t been properly communicated. I think the problem runs far deeper. Consider the debacle around the Build Back Better bill.
That was the multitrillion-dollar bill that Democrats were, until recently, trying to maneuver through Congress. Democrats talked about the care economy, a Green New Deal, and other big ideas associated with Build Back Better, but what they added up to was not clear. Would the bill have created a more dynamic American capitalism, one capable of lifting up broad segments of the country that had been left behind? Build Back Better appeared to be a means of funneling money to a wide variety of Democratic priorities. Some of the spending would have supported useful expansions of the notably stingy American welfare system, and some of it would have supported useful public investments not provided for in the infrastructure bill, particularly in clean energy.
None of that, though, would have led to more productivity, higher growth, and an American economy less unequal across regions.
It is a mistake to lose sight of the need for faster growth. Growth, particularly productivity growth, is what drives rising living standards over time, and Democrats presumably stand for the fastest possible rise in living standards. Faster growth also makes the achievement of Democrats’ other goals easier. Hard economic times typically generate pessimism about the future, not broad support for more democracy and social justice. In contrast, when the economy is expanding and living standards are steadily rising for most people, they see better opportunities for themselves and are more inclined toward generosity, tolerance, and collective advancement.
Yet much of the Democratic Left still regards with suspicion the goal of more and faster economic growth, preferring to focus on the unfairness of the current distribution of wealth. This reflects not just a laudable concern to reduce inequality but also a feeling that the fruits of growth are poisoned, encouraging unhealthy consumerist lifestyles and, worse, causing the climate crisis. The latter view has, on the left, led to the vogue for the idea of “degrowth.”
Given such views, it is not surprising that growth does not rank high on the Democratic Left’s list of economic objectives. We saw that in the endless debate around Build Back Better, which was driven by the House’s Progressive Caucus. Almost none of the debate was about how well the bill, at whatever level of funding and with whatever programmatic commitments, would promote growth. That was dismissed as something only conservatives would care about.
Closely related to Democrats’ relative indifference to economic growth is their lack of optimism that a rapid advance and application of technology can produce an abundant future. More common is fear that a dystopian future might await us thanks to AI and other technologies. This is odd, given that almost everything ordinary people like about the modern world, including relatively high living standards, is traceable to technological advances and the knowledge embedded in them. From smartphones, flat-screen TVs, and the Internet to air and auto travel to central heating and air-conditioning to the medical devices and drugs that cure disease and extend life to electric lights and the mundane flush toilet, technology has dramatically transformed people’s lives for the better. It is difficult to argue that the average person today is not far, far better off than her counterpart in the past. “The good old days were old but not good,” as the Northwestern University economic historian Joel Mokyr puts it.
Doesn’t the Left want to make people happy? One has to wonder. They show more interest in figuring out what people should stop doing and consuming than in figuring out how people can have more to do and consume. They rarely discuss the idea of abundance, except to disparage it.
These attitudes help explain why the Democratic Left does not tend to feature technological advance prominently in its policy portfolio. The Biden administration did manage to get the U.S. Competitiveness and Innovation Act through the Senate, and the closely related America COMPETES Act through the House (the two bills have yet to be reconciled into one), but they would provide far less funding and probably have far less impact on scientific innovation than the originally proposed bill, the Endless Frontier Act. Nobody on the left seems to be particularly exercised about this step down — or even to be in much of a hurry to reconcile the two current bills.
If there is to be an abundant clean-energy future, not a degrowth one, it will depend on our ability to develop energy technologies beyond wind and solar. The same could be said about a wide range of other technological challenges that could underpin a future of abundance: AI and machine learning, CRISPR and mRNA biotechnology, advanced robotics and the Internet of things.
That’s why it’s inadequate for Democrats to focus narrowly on a clean-energy, Green New Deal–type future. Make no mistake: What Americans want is an abundant future, not just a green one. For better or worse, combating climate change does not rank high on voters’ priority list (14th in a recent Pew Research poll). Investment in clean-energy technologies needs to be embedded in a broader “abundance agenda” (to use Derek Thompson’s phrase) that drives up the supply of innovation and can deliver not just the avoidance of disaster but a better life for all.
Patriotism. Today’s Democrats have difficulty embracing patriotism and weaving it into their political brand. “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America,” Bill Clinton said not so long ago. Even more recently, when Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, he said, “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our Founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”
For his part, Joe Biden does try to inject a little of that old-time patriotism into his remarks from time to time. It’s not really taking, though. A big part of his party is singing a different tune, loudly. “The version of ‘history’ that progressives want to teach young people,” the liberal commentator Noah Smith observes, is in general
a cartoonish story in which America is the villain — a nation formed from racism, founded the day the first slave stepped onto our shores, dedicated thereafter to the repression and brutalization of people of color. This “history” ignores America’s deep and powerful tradition of anti-racism, the universalistic egalitarian ideals of the Declaration of Independence, the abolitionist movement that was present from the very beginning, the Founders’ conception of the U.S. as a nation of immigrants, America’s role in the ending of European colonialism, its position at the forefront of liberal democratic reforms and experimentation, the promotion of global standards of human rights following WW2, and so on.
Consistent with that analysis, the think tank More in Common identified a group they termed “progressive activists,” who were 8 percent of the population (but punch far above their weight in the Democratic Party) and “deeply concerned with issues concerning equity, fairness, and America’s direction today.” On the whole, they were “more secular, cosmopolitan, and highly engaged with social media.”
These progressive activists’ attitude toward their own country departed not just from that of average Americans but from that of average non-white Americans. Black, Hispanic, and Asian Americans were highly likely to be proud to be Americans and highly likely to say they would still choose to live in America if they could choose to live anywhere in the world. Progressive activists were loath to express such sentiments.
This is a problem. One of the only effective ways to mobilize Americans behind big projects is to appeal to patriotism, to Americans as part of a nation. Indeed, much of what America accomplished in the 20th century was under the banner of liberal nationalism. Yet many in the Democratic Party blanch at any hint of nationalism — one reason so many are leery of patriotism — because of its association with darker impulses and political trends. Yet, as John Judis has pointed out, nationalism has its positive side as well, in that it allows citizens to identify on a collective level and support projects that serve the common good rather than only their immediate interests.
Given all that Democrats hope to accomplish, it makes no sense not to appeal to Americans’ patriotism and love of country. That too has to be part of Democrats’ rebranding. They must insist that their party is a patriotic party, and they should not shrink from emphasizing the competitive aspect of patriotism. America is indeed in competition with other nations, notably China, and it is not xenophobic to say that America is a great nation that can win that competition.
ADemocratic Party that does not rebrand in these three crucial areas dooms American politics to continued stalemate and polarization — an unpleasant prospect. Conversely, given the serious problems and weaknesses of Republicans, a Democratic Party that occupies the cultural center ground, promotes an abundance agenda, and is unabashedly patriotic has a real shot at a long future of political success.
The Biden administration is expanding the size of migrant processing facilities on the southern border, a sign it does not see the immigration crisis ending any time soon.
An internal document sent to senior Customs and Border Protection officials, obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, describes plans by the agency to construct three permanent processing facilities for up to 1,000 migrants at a time in Del Rio, Laredo, and El Paso, Texas. An existing temporary U.S. Border Patrol processing site in Yuma, Ariz., will double in size and also be made permanent.
CBP’s expansion of permanent processing facilities comes as the Biden administration has given no indication of how it plans to decrease the number of attempted crossings at the southern border. In January, immigration officials arrested more than 75,000 migrants at the southern border, an increase of 6 percent over the previous month, despite migration generally dropping during winter months due to colder temperatures.
CBP did not respond to a request for comment.
“Border Patrol working as processing dummies is the new normal,” one senior Department of Homeland Security official told the Free Beacon. “Enforcement and protecting the border is secondary now.”
The decision was made, according to the document, after analyzing surge patterns from migrants. The permanent facilities will replace temporary facilities in the same sectors. The sectors in the memo have faced some of the highest numbers of migrants in the entire country. Del Rio, for example, saw more than 259,000 migrants apprehended in the 2021 fiscal year.
CBP’s memo says the plan to replace temporary facilities was made out of cost concerns. The new sites, the memo says, will also help “sustainably meet operational needs.” The memo does not elaborate on how these new facilities will cut costs.https://c405c5a6fca1dd65a7f92d69bb1e0d81.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
President Joe Biden has largely avoided commenting on the border crisis, although members of his administration, such as Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Vice President Kamala Harris, have said they are focused on “root causes” rather than border security. DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has admitted to Border Patrol agents that there are few signs of a slowdown in attempted crossings. In leaked remarks last month, Mayorkas said, “The job has not gotten any easier over the last few months and it was very, very difficult throughout 2021.”
“I know apprehending families and kids is not what you signed up to do. And now we got a composition that is changing even more with Cubans, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, and the like, it just gets more difficult,” Mayorkas said.
Republican lawmakers and current and former DHS officials have criticized the Biden administration for redirecting Border Patrol agents, whose chief responsibility is securing the border, to processing facilities. Last June, Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) said that agents distracted by lengthy processing responsibilities present opportunities for cartels to “move large quantities of illicit narcotics, like fentanyl, into the United States.”
The 2021 fiscal year saw more migrant apprehensions than any other year on record, with law enforcement reporting more than 1.6 million arrests and more than two million migrant encounters.
Rampant false positives lead to tragic, unnecessary abortions
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 14, 2022
Contact: George Landrith, [email protected]
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, a coalition of leading pro-life groups sent a letter to Congress highlighting a disturbing report regarding prenatal genetic testing, and the rampant false positives that have caused many women to terminate their pregnancies based on wrong information.
The coalition urges Congress to stop any Medicaid funding of these prenatal tests, and to require informed consent to users of the prevalence of false positives.
“Prenatal genetic testing has become standard in American health care, now used by more than one-third of pregnant women,” said Frontiers of Freedom President George Landrith. “Accuracy is crucial because the stakes are so high: Some choose to terminate their pregnancies based on testing results. While any abortion is a tragedy, those based on false positives are especially awful. When the New York Times is reporting false positive rates as high as 85 percent, it is time for Congress to step up and do something about it.”
The letter, addressed to Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Steve Daines (R-MT), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health, and Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Health.
The coalition letter can be found in full HERE and below:
February 14, 2022
Honorable Debbie Stabenow, Chair
Honorable Steve Daines, Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Healthcare
U.S. Senate Committee on Finance
219 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-6200
Honorable Anna Eshoo, Chair
Honorable Brett Guthrie, Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Health
U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce
2125 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-6115
Dear Chair Stabenow, Ranking Member Daines, Chair Eshoo and Ranking Member Guthrie:
We write to you today on behalf of the millions of pro-life Americans we represent across the country to express our concern regarding the faulty science underpinning prenatal genetic testing. This situation requires immediate attention from Congress because these all too often inaccurate and flawed tests have tragically misled pregnant women into terminating otherwise healthy pregnancies. We therefore respectfully request that both the Senate Subcommittee on Healthcare and the House Subcommittee on Health investigate whether the Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) is properly regulating non-invasive prenatal tests (NIPTs).
These tests, which are marketed to expectant families as a way to determine whether their unborn child suffers from a rare genetic condition, are wrong a remarkable 85% of the time according to one recent report Considering the fact that these unreliable tests are now used by more than a third of pregnant women in America and that many families have tragically opted for an abortion when a potentially false positive is rendered instead of seeking another test to confirm the result, the lives of millions of unborn children are at risk.
While there are many companies involved in the rapidly expanding field of prenatal testing, none is more responsible for pushing these tests on unsuspecting, vulnerable, pregnant women and their unborn children than Natera. The company’s Chief Executive Officer Steve Chapman has described Natera as “by far the market leader, testing roughly 25% of all pregnancies in the U.S. and growing rapidly.” Shockingly, Natera and other NIPT makers are misleading pregnant women into believing these tests accurately detect extraordinarily rare chromosomal microdeletion disorders when, in fact, they are correct in only 15% of cases. Even with regards to Down Syndrome, the disorder the tests most accurately detect, only 33% of low-risk pregnant women who receive a positive test result are actually carrying unborn babies with the disorder.
Outrageously, a trade association for the companies that sell the tests, the American Clinical Laboratory Association issued a statement calling reporting from the New YorkTimes on this issue “misleading.” The statement went on to say that “These tests, like all screening tests, are optional and intended to provide a preliminary assessment of the potential risk for certain health issues and are not equivalent to, nor intended to be used as, diagnostic tests for specific fetal conditions.” Pregnant women, however, are frequently mislead, either intentionally or otherwise, into believing that the results of these tests are near certain. In fact, the New York Times further found that out of 17 patient brochures the paper reviewed, ten never even mentioned the possibility of a false positive.
In light of these concerning reports, we respectfully request that lawmakers on Capitol Hill take immediate action. First, Congress should ensure that anyone receiving an NIPT is warned that the tests are largely inaccurate. Second, the financial models of these testing companies are based on Medicaid covering the costs of these tests for average and low risk pregnancies. Just as the Hyde Amendment prevents the use of federal funds to cover the cost of abortion, under no circumstances should Medicaid be extended to cover tests that may mislead women into killing their unborn children.
Thank you for your immediate attention to this important matter. At a time when our health care system should be doing everything it can to encourage healthy pregnancies and to promote a culture of life, we look forward to you exercising your jurisdiction to protect Americans from companies that prey on the fears and anxieties of expectant parents and their families.
Vice President of Policy and Legislative Affairs
American Family Association
Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie
Faith and Freedom Coalition
Students for Life of America and Students for Life Action
Dr. Alveda King
Speak for Life
Frontiers of Freedom
Dr. Jeanne Mancini
March for Life Action
Phyllis Schlafly Eagles
Concerned Women for America
American Principles Project
Cc: Chiquita Brooks-LaSure
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
# # #
First school shooting in Montgomery County history follows vote to remove police from school buildings
Maryland’s Montgomery County became the latest Democrat-run jurisdiction to reverse its decision to remove police officers from schools after it suffered the first school shooting in the county’s history last week, in which a 15-year-old boy was shot last Friday by a classmate.
The district announced on Monday after the shooting that police would temporarily return to every high school in the county, a reversal of a March 2021 decision by county lawmakers to yank funding from its longstanding School Resource Officer program. The lawmakers voted to replace in-school law enforcement with mental health resources, including 50 new social workers and 40 restorative justice training sessions in the county. The shift was designed to keep students “safe, holistically,” according to Montgomery councilman Will Jawando.
But the mental health measures proved ineffective last Friday, when 17-year-old Steven Alston Jr. shot his classmate in a school bathroom at Magruder High School. Law enforcement wasn’t notified about the shooting until the victim was discovered between class periods and brought to the school nurse. When police arrived at the school, they found the shooter in a classroom with his gun, which he had disassembled, and a magazine holding nine rounds of ammunition. The shooter’s classmate remains in the hospital in critical condition.
“This was deeply felt across the entire system—and it was a wake up call on a number of different levels,” Montgomery councilman Gabe Albornoz, a Democrat, told the Washington Free Beacon. “This was the first time there had been a gun incident where a gun was fired within a school during the school day in the history of our school system.”
St. Mary’s County sheriff Tim Cameron told the Free Beacon that his county’s School Resource Officer program, virtually identical to the program Montgomery County scrapped, is an important component of safety and security in schools.
“The idea of the SRO is to prevent the event from ever happening—to stop the event before it actually occurs,” Cameron said. “I can’t say what would’ve happened, but I sure would have liked to have the opportunity for an SRO to have been in that school and perhaps prevented that.”
Following anti-police protests that swept the country in response to the murder of George Floyd, Montgomery County and more than 50 school districts nationwide dumped police programs. Montgomery is not the first to realize the decision put students at risk.
Last fall lawmakers in Alexandria, Va., held an emergency session after a string of violent incidents at the start of the school year. The public school system voted to reinstate armed officers after a student brought a loaded gun into Alexandria City High School. And Milwaukee Public Schools unanimously blocked officers from patrolling campuses in June 2020—but in the first eight weeks of the following school year, administrators called police more than 200 times.
Clyde Boatwright, the president of Maryland’s Fraternal Order of Police, told the Free Beacon that SROs are necessary to keep students safe. Without them, “gangs will be prevalent, assaults will be prevalent, and then there’s going to be a rush to try to insert officers back in the building to stabilize the building.”
“Just the mere presence of a police officer deters a lot of crime,” Boatwright said.
Albornoz said now there is growing support in his county for reinstating the SRO program.
“There’s no question that there’s an interest, especially in the short-term, in having more police presence,” Albornoz said. “And there are conversations going on right now in meetings being held between law enforcement, schools, health and human services, and key partners and stakeholders to determine whether or not there should be a police presence beyond just these two weeks as well.”
Boatwright said activists pushing to remove police from schools are acting against the interest of the majority.
“The loud minority should not have a say that directly affects the greater majority of people who actually want safe schools,” Boatwright said.
The Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee took another whack Thursday at a Biden Administration proposal to force banks to report to the IRS on their account holders’ private annual aggregate financial activity.
The administration has repeatedly pushed back against its critics who claim the initiative will lead to banks reporting individual transactions to the IRS. Opponents of the initiative say that no matter where the threshold for reporting is $600 as originally put forward or $10,000 as it is now, the reporting of aggregate data will still act as a trigger for more audits.
Experts in tax policy say that even at the $10,000 level, most Americans could still expect to have their private information turned over to the IRS. What the Biden Administration wants targets people who are not payroll wage earners, meaning tradesmen and women, independent contractors, farmers, and others who do not get paid a set wage every two weeks.
“Democrats’ IRS surveillance scheme is not about going after high earners and wealthy corporations, but instead is about going after working Americans and Main Street job creators — who Democrats assume are tax cheats,” the committee said in a release that also identified the top ten ways to get yourself surveilled by the IRS:
Despite the apparent levity of Thursday’s release, the issue remains serious. The government’s increasing desire to surveil private activity using the new technologies made available by Big Tech is worrisome. Privacy, as we have known it for most of our lives, may become outmoded yet there’s a practical side to this too.
The revenues needed to pay for Biden’s big government Socialist agenda aren’t there and the higher taxes included in the Bernie Biden budget resolution won’t generate them. under the current tax code. Remember, the latest analysis says the new spending and benefits included in their proposal is nearly twice as big as the $3.5 trillion over ten years is advertised as being. That’s a lot of money — and thinking you can find it by upping the number of audits is like saying it can be found between the couch cushions. The increased reporting to the IRS to trigger more audits exists primarily so the politicians who want to spend more money enlarging the welfare state can say it’s paid for. If instead, we fined politicians for telling lies, the budget would soon be balanced with plenty of money left over.
On March 16, 2016, former President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland – then the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit – for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America to succeed Antonin Scalia. The President and his Democrat allies in the Senate pitched him as an old-fashioned moderate lawyer who also won approval and praise from senior Republican figures. The Merrick Garland nomination failed spectacularly in the Senate. Five years later, President Biden nominated Merrick Garland to the post of Attorney General. In announcing his nomination, President Biden called him “a consensus building voice.” This time he was confirmed by a vote of 70-30 and sworn in on March 11, 2021.
Proving that not all gold that sparkles, Attorney General Merrick Garland has proven himself to be another political hack in the garb of a seemingly impartial arbiter of legal disputes on the top of the nation’s constitutional pyramid. Recently, penning a memo to the FBI and state attorneys general, Merrick Garland opined thus: “While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views.” Almost certainly, his memo was triggered by the National School Boards Association October 1st letter, in which they asked the Justice and Homeland Security Departments – as well as the FBI – to investigate “a form of domestic terrorism” directed against school board members, staff and students. To wit, parents’ objections to Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist indoctrination, instead of teaching and educating their children, will warrant political persecution by Merrick Garland’s DOJ as the new political wing of the Democrat Party.
This newest anti-American idiocy by the “moderate” Merrick Garland brings to mind the myth of Pavel/Pavlik Morozov from the early 1930s in Stalin’s “Workers’ Paradise.” The “heroic deed” of this thirteen-year-old Siberian boy was that he accused his father, the head of the local governing council or Soviet, to falsify safe conduct passes for formerly rich but by then dispossessed peasants, called Kulaks. His father was taken away and summarily shot. Some months later, Pavel/Pavlik and his younger brother Fedya were found murdered in the nearby forest. The OGPU, the forerunner of the KGB, arrested all of the boys’ relatives, charging them with murder and opposition to Stalin’s plan to form collective farms across the Soviet Union. Their crime of allegedly killing the boys was compounded by Article 58, Section 8 of the Soviet Criminal Code, which defined any opposition to Stalin as domestic terrorism against the state.
In addition to not a single fact turned out to be true, Stalin used this invented story to peddle a new hysteria of domestic terrorism against him and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. For starters, all of Pavel/Pavlik’s relatives were also shot. After all the relatives were exterminated, the myth about the child-saint and child-martyr to the Communist cause was made an object of almost religious adulation. His “heroism,” namely, informing falsely on his father was (mis)used to create a morbid Communist cult about loyalty to the state as opposed to loyalty to one’s family. “Be like Pavlik, children were told from the moment they took the oath as pioneers,” the newspaper Tribuna exhorted the young Communists on the anniversary of his death. Moreover, “Study hard, love your motherland, expose the enemies of Soviet power, and be merciless with traitors.” Almost half-a-century later, when the Soviet Union ceased to exist, Pavel/Pavlik’s father and all of his relatives were officially “rehabilitated.”
Parents are rightfully angry. At least, since the death of the hard criminal George Floyd who graduated to false sainthood, they are convinced that schools can get nothing into perspective. To add ill-educated insult to the burgeoning and seemingly unbreakable tyranny of an aggressive as well as arrogant minority educators, they feel being stuck between some teachers’ hatred of everything American and the overwhelming rage of Democrat politicians that make their job as parents increasingly impossible. In this tragically miserable situation, the entire Biden administration in general and Merrick Garland’s DOJ in particular, have become a morbidly hollow, moot dummies, the satirized form of a bunch of little Stalins. And as the original Joseb Besarionis Dzhugashvili who throughout his life wore the mask of Stalin, Merrick Garland put the mask of a ruler on his face that transforms him from an educated lawyer to a bureaucratic despot. Meanwhile, Americans over whom he pretends to rule slowly but surely begin to hate him. In the end, like Stalin’s Soviet Union, political hacks like President Biden, members of his administration, including Merrick Garland, will deservedly disappear without too much notice inside the huge pile of history’s garbage dump.
The professional conservative movement should be moving massive amounts of money to support parents' efforts and harden them as a target of this leftist onslaught.
By Joy Pullman•
For the first time in ages, the political right has had a massive boon dropped right into its lap. Democrats are shaking in their boots over the political implications of their institutional support for the state-sponsored racism known as critical race theory.
Their initial attempts to Jedi mind trick away people’s concern by insisting CRT isn’t real failed, and even Nancy Pelosi mouthpiece Politico is reporting how CRT in schools is deeply offending the independent and Democrat voters crucial to the Democrat Party’s competing grievance groups.
So what is the institutional right doing to capitalize on this amazing opportunity? A few states are banning it from classrooms — amid the usual friendly fire butt-covering for do-nothing Republican politicians — while Democrats prepare for total war to maintain their control of the national child-indoctrination apparatus known as public schooling.
If the conservative movement and Republican Party were serious like the left is serious, here’s what it would be doing to use the CRT uproar for tactical advantage instead of maxing out their energies on chest-thumping panel discussions and TV appearances while parents with kids and full-time jobs try to do all the groundwork without air cover.
The nation’s largest teachers union announced it’s filled a $5 million war chest to provide legal defenses for any teachers caught pushing CRT. The Biden administration has nominated to a key U.S. Department of Education legal post a leftist extremist who previously wielded federal power to institute racist policies that forced schools to discipline children according to their skin color instead of their actions: “Under her leadership, civil rights investigations became tools of harassment to coerce changes in school policies.”
These institutions are going to use the might of the federal government, an army of lawyers, and the nation’s largest teachers union to defend their territory. Who is helping parents go on the offensive against state-sponsored racism?
One-man journalist army Chris Rufo is recruiting lawyer volunteers via Twitter. That’s great, but he shouldn’t have to do this himself. The professional conservative movement should be moving massive amounts of money to support parents’ efforts and harden them as a target of this leftist legal onslaught. Stop platforming leftist propaganda outlets and start hiring effective marketing strategists, investigative journalists, and scads of lawyers.
Max Eden points out in City Journal that when racial extremist Catherine Lhamon underwent confirmation hearings as Joe Biden’s nominee for assistant secretary of USDOE’s Office of Civil Rights: “Republican senators… did not challenge Lhamon on her record on school discipline. Nor did they ask any questions on the issue at the forefront of so many voters’ minds: critical race theory.”
Later, one senator, Ranking Member Richard Burr, sent Lhamon written questions about racial extremism and Llamon dodged, claiming she could not answer any “hypothetical” questions. Eden notes:
While Burr deserves credit for forcing Lhamon to make her ambivalence about racial discrimination a matter of public record, it is a shame that no Senator was willing to ask her any of these questions directly during her hearing. The American people deserved to witness her reluctance to condemn racial discrimination. The exchange could have made national news and framed Lhamon’s nomination as what it likely is: a referendum on whether or not the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights should permit anti-white racial discrimination.
Republican senators are not elected by the people of their states to rubberstamp racial extremism. The least we ought to be able to expect them to do is probe and bring out nominees’ unfitness for office, then vote against those nominees as a consequence. Explaining that vote to constituents should be a no-brainer. Get better, Republicans. Kids being recruited by racists are counting on you.
It should also be a complete no-brainer to make effective opposition to critical race theory a litmus test for public office, including appointments and judges. Not just saying “I oppose CRT,” but displaying an effective track record of opposing it or things like it, or presenting a specific plan about how the candidate proposes to combat it with the power he wants voters to grant him.
We’re talking about an ideology that pushes eight-year-olds to rank themselves and their classmates according to their racial and sexual (?!) “privilege,” demonizes people according to their skin color, says babies can be racists, and encourages leading children in chants to an Aztec god. Opposing CRT should be like taking candy from a baby. If a candidate can’t or won’t do it, he’s worthless and better disposed of.
How does one dispose of weak public officials who won’t stop taxpayer dollars from funding racists? Pressure. The Republican Party and all its various local branches should make CRT opposition a requirement for getting their campaign dollars and other assistance.
If primary season is coming up, primary them. If it’s not, run ads pressuring them. Send journalists to look into the public money and institutions politicians oversee and whether it’s funding CRT, and ask them to comment on why this is allowed. Get allies to go on TV and ask why Politician A who oversees the education committee wouldn’t comment about evidence of tax dollars funding racism. This is politics 101, people. Lefties do this in their sleep.
Richard Hanania pointed out earlier this year that, months into the CRT explosion, National Review editor Ramesh Ponnuru and Republican Sen. Tom Cotton publicly stated that neither had any policy ideas about how to fight cancel culture. Hanania responded by noting that the cancel culture use of “racism” to tar and feather perfectly normal and nonbigoted ideas is backed by an entire legal apparatus that has accreted over the years under the “disparate impact” doctrine, sprouted from race-conscious “diversity” laws and jurisprudence.
“Disparate impact” is, of course, what critical theorists use to absurdly accuse the United States, babies, and white males of inherent and systemic racism. It is very much linked to policies that can and should be reformed. Hanania gives these suggestions for such anti-CRT reforms:
1) Eliminating disparate impact, making the law require evidence of intentional discrimination.
2) Getting rid of the concept of hostile work environment, or defining it in extremely narrow and explicit terms, making sure that it does not restrict political or religious speech.
3) Repealing the executive orders that created and expanded affirmative action among government contractors and the federal workforce.
This is a starting point for think tanks to delve into various laws and regulations to put out actually useful whitepapers. Give politicians and bureaucrats a map of exactly what policies the real antiracists want them to search out and destroy. That way we can better hold them to it.
Philanthropists should get together and stick a bunch of money into an endowment — or endowments! — that distributes “critical race theory escape scholarships” for families stuck in school systems that are trying to make their kids racists.
State lawmakers should sponsor bills to create “antiracism choice scholarships” that make state funds available to families in school districts that are found to be teaching racism. As Chris Bedford notes, this is the time to institute universal backpack funding so parents never have to negotiate with racial terrorists again. Churches should step up to their historic commitments to provide a Christian education to all Christian children, and to serve the poor, by starting schools or crowdfunding CRT escape scholarships.
State think tanks should help fundraise for any and all of these, or provide startup funding and assistance to groups of parents to start non-racist charter and private schools, education “pods,” and homeschool communities. The possibilities for direct action to give affected children immediate lifeboats out of desperate situations are myriad.
Parents need help using research skills such as filing open records requests to find out what their school systems are doing with their kids and tax dollars. They may also need lawyers to send threatening letters and even file lawsuits if school districts refuse to disclose this public information. This kind of discovery, and amplifying it, would be largely the work of journalists if the profession weren’t such a mess.
Again, Rufo is amazing, but he should be duplicated as much as possible. Get the guy a research assistant, and journalists and lawyers to extend his work to as many school districts as possible. How many parents really know what their children are being told in school? Very few.
Scared parents in my local district in a red state recently sent around an “I do not consent” form letter to bring to school this fall stating that they don’t want their children taught critical race theory. How is that enforceable? How would they know if the school went ahead and ignored them? Why is it even a thing that parents should feel the need to send letters like this to an institution they are funding and sending their children to? Who is backing them up?
I know who it should be: Those with the resources to make their concerns heard and enforced, through as many avenues as possible. The time to press this advantage — one of the few people on the political right have right now — is immediately, and as hard as possible. Don’t squander this moment. Who knows if and when another one like it will arise.
A comprehensive analysis of abortion laws in Europe released Tuesday found almost every country limits elective abortion to 15 weeks gestation, putting the policy in place on much of the continent in line with new restrictions adopted by the State of Mississippi.
“The European comparison is useful in highlighting how Roe v. Wade and the abortion industry are outdated and out of touch, but our goal isn’t achieving some international happy medium,” said Chuck Donovan, the president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute. The aim, he said, was to use science “to demonstrate the reality that human life exists in the womb and that the right to life is an inalienable human right
The Mississippi law, enacted in 2018, was immediately challenged by pro-abortion rights supporters as an unreasonable incumbrance on the reproductive rights of women as established by the United States Supreme Court. Current precedent allows for elective abortions to occur through the ninth month of pregnancy, subject to the ability of individual states to impose restrictions on abortion after the viability of the unborn child has been determined.
As a matter of law, viability is currently held as occurring at approximately 24 weeks gestation though many doctors and scientists say it can and does happen much earlier. That standard will be tested when the Mississippi law comes before the high court this fall in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which abortion opponents hope will result in the benchmark being cut by as much as half.
The Lozier Institute report found by comparing abortion restrictions in 47 of 50 European countries that 39 placed limits of elective abortions at 15 weeks gestation or earlier. The other eight prohibit it altogether.
“Mississippi’s law brings the United States a small step closer both to European and global norms,” said Lozier Institute associate scholar Angelina B. Nguyen, J.D., the study’s author. “No European nation allows elective abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, as is effectively permitted in several U.S. states, and America is one of only a small handful of nations, along with China and North Korea, to permit any sort of late-term elective abortion.”
The latest analysis builds on a previous Lozier Institute study regarding abortion laws worldwide released in 2014. It found the United States to be among a handful of countries, including North Korea and China – notorious for its policy limiting the number of children a couple may have – that allowed elective abortions for any reason more than halfway through a complete pregnancy or after 20 weeks.
Lozier Institute President Chuck Donovan said, “American elites often hold up Europe as an example. First, we demonstrated that more than two-thirds of the planet goes further than America in protecting life. Now, we’ve demonstrated that almost every European nation goes further than America in protecting life. Mississippi’s commonsense limits on late-term abortion are well within the mainstream of American popular opinion and clearly within the mainstream of European political opinion.”
Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act, which passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support in 2018, limits elective abortion to 15 weeks. The law was invalidated by lower courts (Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization) and will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in the fall of 2021.
In Biden's America, the action is outside the Beltway
It took a few days away from the nation’s capital for me to appreciate how boring the place has become. Recently I returned from a trip to California and discovered that I hadn’t missed anything—no presidential scandal, no legislative logrolling, no surprise vacancies on the Supreme Court. Yes, the pace of events slows down in Washington every summer. Congress goes on recess and metro residents travel for vacation. But 2021 is different. This year, D.C.’s irrelevance is neither seasonal nor exceptional. It’s the norm.
Since Bill Clinton’s impeachment, the city has been the site of momentous events and world-defining debates. The fallout from the 2000 election, 9/11, the war on terrorism, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the surge, the financial crisis, the election of Barack Obama, Obamacare, the Tea Party, the debt ceiling, the response to the Arab Spring, the 2013 government shutdown—they all testified to the centrality of Washington.
Donald Trump’s descent on the escalator in 2015 intensified press coverage. His victory in 2016 upped the political stakes. The Trump presidency unfolded in spectacular, captivating fashion. It was a live-broadcast, four-year, nonfictional telenovela, complete with a climactic twist and a tragic ending. On occasion, the cast traveled to Singapore, Hanoi, Helsinki, and Mar-a-Lago. But the main set was the Oval Office.
Well, the show is over and the thrill is gone. It used to be that the federal city—and its chief executive—drove the national conversation. But President Biden purposely limits his exposure to remain as uncontroversial as possible. “Boring news cycle deals blow to partisan media,” read the headline of an article in Axios on June 29. The piece tracked a fall in web traffic, app user sessions, and social media engagement since President Trump left office. Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, tweeted out the story. “Sorry not sorry,” he wrote.
After 12 years of highly visible celebrity presidents, the current occupant of the White House is a 78-year-old who eschews social media, rarely gives one-on-one interviews, limits himself to about one public event a day, calls on pre-selected reporters at press conferences, often refers to notes, and returns home to Delaware most weekends. Joe Biden’s spending plans may be gargantuan and foolish, his decisions on the border and on Afghanistan may be impetuous and disastrous, and his offhand remarks may be puzzling and odd, but no one gets worked up about him personally. Last month Doug Rivers of the Hoover Institution observed that voters don’t consider Biden an ideologue. It doesn’t matter that Biden’s goals are more ambitious than Obama’s: Far greater numbers of voters said that Obama was “very liberal” than say the same of Biden today.
This low-key presidency combines with tight margins in Congress to diminish Washington’s importance. Unlike his two most recent predecessors, Biden is not an omnipresent figure. The 50-50 Senate blocks the progressive wish list from becoming law. The result is a devolution of controversy to the state, municipal, and local levels of government. Not in two decades covering politics, for example, have I seen state legislatures receive as much attention as they have in recent months.
Meanwhile, the big political news is Democrat Eric Adams’s victory in the New York City mayoral primary. What’s unique about Adams is that he ran the first New York campaign in decades with national implications. His triumph underscored the electorate’s concern with rising crime rates. It demonstrated that even Democratic primary voters in a majority-minority city oppose defunding law enforcement.
“According to recent data from the Democratic-oriented Navigator Research,” writes Ruy Teixeira in a recent issue of the Liberal Patriot newsletter, “more Americans overall, including among independents and Hispanics, now believe violent crime is a ‘major crisis’ than believe that about the coronavirus pandemic or any other area of concern.” This alarm over rising crime manifested itself locally before becoming apparent to officials in Washington, including Biden, who scrambled to announce a crime reduction plan in late June.
The most glaring sign of the Beltway’s detachment from national life has been the movement against critical race theory (CRT) in public schools. Like the Tea Party, this movement is spontaneous, self-organizing, and uncontrolled. Unlike the Tea Party, however, it is focused on a hyperlocal (yet super-important) issue: K-12 instruction. As of this writing, the anti-CRT movement fields candidates for school boards. Congress is an afterthought.
The national politicians who amplify the movement’s rhetoric are piggybacking on a grassroots phenomenon. And while the fight against CRT has implications for federal policy, it is not as though the right’s answer to far-left school boards is national curricular standards. On the contrary: The parental revolt over “woke” education bypasses Washington, transcends party lines, and has clearly defined and limited goals.
What’s fascinating about the anti-CRT campaign is that its most prominent antagonists are not elected officials. The Tea Party pitted rebels such as Jim DeMint, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz against the Republican establishment and Barack Obama. But the participants in this most recent iteration of the culture war are different. The anti-CRT spokesman Christopher Rufo of the Manhattan Institute is a documentarian and activist, and Bari Weiss and Andrew Sullivan are journalists. The most famous advocates of so-called antiracist education are Nikole Hannah-Jones, lead writer of the New York Times‘s 1619 Project, and Ibram X. Kendi of Boston University. Fights over CRT don’t take place in the halls of Congress, but on Morning Joe.
Maybe political entrepreneurs in the coming months will appropriate and elevate the issues of voter ID, crime, and anti-American pedagogy into national campaigns. Maybe the anti-CRT movement will follow the Tea Party and use the 2022 election to springboard into the Beltway. Maybe the next president will impress himself or herself into the national consciousness in the manner of an Obama or a Trump. Or maybe the next president will be Trump.
For now, though, Joe Biden is president. Congress is deadlocked. Both the left and right are more interested in values than in entitlements. The media track the states, the cities, the schools. Why? Because the real action is happening in places like Atlanta, Tallahassee, Austin, Phoenix, New York City, and Loudoun County. Not in Washington, D.C.
President Joe Biden signed into law Thursday a bill making June 19 a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery but not everyone sees it as progress closing the racial divide keeping Americans apart. Members of the Project 21 black leadership network – which has used the anniversary as an opportunity to encourage other black Americans to celebrate their liberty and self-sufficiency in a nation that offers unlimited opportunities for two decades – said the effort may distract attention from the real problems the black community faces daily.
“Far too many Americans, regardless of their ethnic background, are unfamiliar with Juneteenth. The blessing of liberty was irrevocably granted on June 19, 1865, to those who remained enslaved in Texas, not knowing they had been freed more than two years earlier. For them, this was their declaration of freedom,” said Project 21 member Derryck Green. “While I am agnostic on a national holiday, I don’t want the commemoration hijacked by racial activists who would use it as another tool to demonize white Americans under the pretense of racial justice. As we’ve seen since last summer, this has been destructive to the American experiment.”
The bill, which was passed overwhelmingly by the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday after a unanimous vote in the Senate, commemorates the June 19, 1865, arrival of Union troops in Galveston, Texas who brought with them news the Civil War had ended, and that President Lincoln had abolished slavery throughout the Confederacy two-and-a-half years earlier through the Emancipation Proclamation.
Galveston’s former slave population began celebrating its freedom annually on the anniversary of this day. “Juneteenth” grew to become a motivating and stabilizing commemoration for black Texans experiencing the uncertainties associated with their newfound freedom and full integration into American society.
“Juneteenth is already everything but a national holiday since 47 states, local governments, and even private companies recognize it,” said Project 21 member Martin Baker. “Juneteenth was an acknowledgment of the Emancipation Proclamation, which history tells us only applied to the states in rebellion. If we want to celebrate an all-encompassing ‘Freedom Day,’ perhaps we should choose December 6 – the anniversary of when the 13th Amendment was ratified.”
During the debate over establishing the new holiday, some lawmakers raised concerns about its cost. Members of Project 21 however, said they were more concerned whether its creation would be politicized. For example, Senator Ed Markey said when introducing the Juneteenth holiday legislation: “Today we commemorate. Tomorrow, we fight.”
“It is surprising the number of black Americans – let alone all Americans – who are not yet aware” of Juneteenth’s significance, Project 21’s Marie Fischer said. “But to make this a federal holiday is not something I feel is in the best interests of the country, especially now,” she continued before going on to question whether it would help bring the nation together.
“I constantly hear everyone talking about unity, but would a federal holiday end up being a unifier? Or would it give fuel to those who support critical race theory by pointing out a day that marks one group as an oppressor and another as the oppressed? Such a holiday could be easily hijacked by those who insist that blacks only advance when it benefits white elites. Nothing seems to get pushed these days unless it fits a specific narrative,” Fischer said.
“Juneteenth should prompt us not just to take inventory of how far we’ve come, but also realize that – despite the racialized claims of ‘white supremacy’ or ‘systemic racism’ – blacks have the agency and ability to control our own lives,” Green added. “This includes becoming full participants in society.”
The law establishing “Juneteenth” as an officially recognized federal holiday comes roughly a year after the nation was rocked by violent protests following the murder of George Floyd, an African-American man, by a Minneapolis police officer. It will be the eleventh such day, joining a list that includes Christmas, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and Independence Day, explorer Christopher Columbus and slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Keep the STOP Act to halt the Opioid Epidemic
The Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention Act, more commonly known as the STOP Act is a bipartisan bill, that was signed into law in October 2018 in order to reduce the amount of illicit items traveling through the U.S. Postal Service in the United States. This law was specifically designed to help close an existing loophole that has allowed illicit drugs, which have contributed to the nation’s opioid crisis, to be transported into the United States via USPS.
Unfortunately, the forces in Washington, DC are considering measures that would effectively pause the progress in compliance, or adjust the compliance thresholds of this law, either of which would negatively affect the identification and prevention of the spread of illicit and illegal distributions.
The Postal Service Should Do What Other Shippers Do to Reduce Illegal Drug Shipments
The STOP Act requires the USPS to gather advance electronic data (AED) for inbound international packages. It requires foreign postal operators to include fields such as the item identifier, sender’s full name and address, recipient’s full name and address, stated content description, unit of measure and quantity, weight, declared value, and date of mailing. With the tightened security, it helps reduce the number of bad actors who use the USPS loophole to get drugs into the country. This reform was pushed for by both lawmakers and stakeholders for years. The STOP Act is a sensible, necessary, solution to deadly epidemic in the United.
The need for solutions like the STOP Act has been in the works since 2016 and regrettably the deadly opioid crisis has continue to spread and we still desperately need this precaution in 2021. Preliminary federal data found that 87,000 Americans died of drug overdoses over the 12-month period that ended in September. This marks the highest amount since the opioid epidemic began in the 1990s. The data shows that the coronavirus pandemic unquestionably exacerbated the trend as the largest increase in overdose deaths occurred in April and May of 2020.
It is disappointing that the Biden administration is passing up on an opportunity to keep Americans safe. While the USPS was able to increase the number of inbound international packages reporting AED to 67 percent in January of 2020, it failed to reach its goal of 100 percent of packages by the deadline imposed in the law, January 2021. Robert Cintron Vice President, Logistics United States Postal Service noted that the coronavirus pandemic impacted international mail shipments, affected their ability to do so, but as our country moves forward it is absolutely imperative that we refocus on this important issue.
The Biden Administration Should Keep America and Americans Safe by Enforcing and Upholding the Law
It is vital that we continue to advocate for these solutions as they have the potential to save lives across the country. Therefore, it is imperative for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to go back to the drawing board on its proposed rules for collection of advance electronic information for international mail shipments, and the frameworks for collaboration between the U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). American citizens depend heavily on these critical safeguards for protecting our mail system. And it isn’t asking too much for the USPS to live up to similar standards of professionalism as other carriers who have been protecting parcels shipped into America for years. Moreover, the USPS shouldn’t allow itself to be used as a mule — shipping illegal and deadly drugs into America — because of its unwillingness to live up to industry standards that protect all Americans.
While migrants from Central America stream to the U.S. border, any positive effects of Biden’s 'root-cause' strategy will be slow and incremental at best.
The journey of Central American migrants to the U.S. border — a perilous trip across thousands of miles of mountains and deserts — starts in places like the dry corridor in western Honduras.
Many of the region’s 1 million small farmers still live in adobe huts with no running water and suffer acts of humans and nature. Corrupt Honduran officials have invested too little in stabilizing or modernizing the region, allowing violent gangs to extort families. Recent droughts and hurricanes have created widespread hunger.
“It’s been one crisis after another,” says Conor Walsh, the Honduras representative for Catholic Relief Services in Tegucigalpa, the capital. “Many people have already migrated and others are evaluating whether they can stay on their farms.”
These longstanding problems throughout Central America are driving the current crisis on the southern U.S. border, where more than 170,000 migrants arrived in March in search of jobs and asylum. As the Biden administration grapples with this mounting surge, it’s also proposing a $4 billion long-term plan to attack the root causes of migration — corruption, violence, and poverty in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
The initiative is as ambitious as it is familiar. Presidents as far back as John F. Kennedy have pursued similar aims only to come up short. Joe Biden himself ran the troubled Central America initiative during the Obama administration. It encountered the same obstacles that have stymied past U.S. efforts — governmental leaders and business elites who resist good governance and anti-corruption reforms to protect their own interests, according to a study by the Wilson Center, a policy research group in Washington.
Consider Honduras, a showcase of government criminality. President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s election in 2017 was tainted by fraud. He is now under investigation by U.S. prosecutors who have brought a string of cocaine smuggling cases against prominent Hondurans. Members of the National Congress in Tegucigalpa have a habit of embezzlement, thereby robbing citizens of funding for health care, education, and jobs.
Nonetheless, U.S.-funded programs have struggled to make a difference in a nation in which government is a big part of the problem. Catholic Relief Services, for one, has helped boost the corn and bean yields and income of thousands of subsistence farmers in the Honduran dry corridor, offering a glimmer of hope. But a lack of roads, electricity, and credit for farmers means that only a sliver of them benefit from the technical aid. As a result, an unprecedented 47 percent of families in the dry corridor that stretches across Central America are moderately to severely food-deprived, according to an alarming 2017 United Nations study.United Nations World Food Program.
Now comes Biden’s crack at the region. He’s tweaking the U.S. aid playbook in hopes of a better outcome. The administration says fighting corruption is now the top priority since nothing will change until elected officials stop stealing and the governments become more accountable to citizens. Countries will have to meet stricter conditions, such as adopting governance reforms, before receiving aid, and officials face the threat of financial sanctions and revoked visas. The proposed $4 billion strategy, the biggest ever for the region, gives the administration some added leverage.
Vice President Kamala Harris heads the strategy team, which includes White House aide Juan Gonzalez and Ricardo Zuniga, the special envoy to the region. Zuniga was born in Honduras and both men worked on Western Hemispheric affairs in the Obama White House. In March, they traveled to the region and had “very frank discussions” with leaders about transparency, good governance, and anti-corruption, said one administration official.
The Treasury Department followed up those talks with sanctions in late April against Felipe Alejos Lorenzana, a Guatemalan Congressman, and Gustavo Adolfo Alejos Cambara, a former official. They reportedly facilitated payments to lawmakers and judges to try to interfere with the appointment of magistrates and protect against corruption prosecutions, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
“You have to create a system of accountability that goes after the very corrupt elements within these governments,” added Steven Dudley, co-founder of InSight Crime, which investigates organized crime in Latin America. “The people Biden put in place have the experience and ideas, but the bridge between that and actually doing something is long.”
The get-tough diplomacy is already hitting resistance. In early April, Zuniga visited El Salvador to press the case against corruption. But President Nayib Bukele, miffed over criticism from a State Department official about his commitment to the rule of law, refused to meet with the envoy.
The snub would be familiar to a long line of presidents who have stumbled in the region. Since 1960 administrations have strategically deployed about $24 billion in foreign aid to Central America and the Caribbean.
During the Cold War years, aid was meant to reduce poverty to build support against leftist movements in El Salvador and its neighbors. It didn’t work. When the decades-long civil wars in the region finally ended in the 1990s, peace did usher in a long stretch of economic growth and declining poverty rates. In the ensuing decade, as drug trafficking and gang violence soared, the George W. Bush administration took its turn in Central America. It sent assistance to combat crime. But the programs lacked coordination and had a limited impact, according to another Wilson Center report.
The Obama administration had bigger ambitions. It expanded on Bush’s security initiative by adding governance and economic programs. The $2.4 billion “strategy for engagement” for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras began in 2014 and included 370 projects to make local officials more accountable, reduce crime and create jobs. In an op-ed supporting the strategy, Vice President Biden praised the nations’ commitment to reform and even met with President Hernandez at the White House in 2015 — an endorsement that proved too bullish.
After five years, the Government Accounting Office was blunt in its assessment of the projects that were mostly run by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Those reviewed by GAO achieved only 40 percent to 70 percent of their own technical targets, such as the number of police officers trained. Officials didn’t even bother to evaluate most of the projects or whether they helped improve governance, security, and economic opportunity.
When the biggest wave of migrants in more than a decade hit the U.S. border in 2019, the Trump administration pulled the plug on the Obama root cause strategy. USAID, now run by Samantha Power, a former envoy to the U.N. under President Obama, didn’t provide a spokesperson to comment for this story despite several requests.
Biden, who now has a second chance to get it right, faces his biggest test in Honduras. Its economy, which was once dominated by exports of coffee and bananas to the United States, has produced a number of ultra-wealthy clans resistant to the idea of cleaning up corruption.
Miguel Facusse, whose nephew served as president of Honduras, became rich from palm oil production and consumer products. But his legacy is tainted by accusations from human rights investigations that his security forces were involved in deadly clashes with small farmers over their claim to land in the region where his plantations operate.
As the economy became more service-oriented, former Vice President Jaime Rosenthal made a family fortune estimated in 2015 at $690 million from banking, telecommunications, and other businesses. But before his death two years ago, Rosenthal was indicted by U.S. prosecutors for participating in a money-laundering scheme with Honduran drug traffickers.
Honduras emerged as a cocaine transshipment point between South America and the United States a few decades ago. The 2009 coup in Honduras that ousted President Manuel Zelaya opened the door to more trafficking. Zelaya, a Liberal Party politician, had raised the minimum wage by 60 percent and defended the land rights of small farmers. Even more worrisome to business leaders like Facusse was that Zelaya had become cozy with leftist despots in the region and pushed to amend the constitution in an apparent attempt to extend his own presidency.
Zelaya’s ouster by the military led to a period of internal tumult, forcing the National Police to focus on restoring order, often violently cracking down on protesters. By 2015, 90 percent of cocaine coming to the United States passed through Central America, with Honduras as the major hub. More recently Hondurans have developed labs to produce cocaine, extending its tentacles in the economy, according to a report by InSight Crime.
Today, President Hernandez tops a list of Honduran politicians, military, and police officers who are under investigation or have been convicted of operating what seems like a state-sponsored drug cartel, according to the U.S. prosecutors. They say in 2013 Hernandez, who was then in Congress and campaigning for the presidency, got access to millions of dollars in cocaine from a murderous trafficker. In return, the politician allegedly told the trafficker, who was convicted in a U.S. court in March, that the military and attorney general would protect his operation. The president has repeatedly denied any involvement in trafficking.
The president’s brother, former congressman Tony Hernandez, was involved in every aspect of the cocaine trade. The end game was political power. He funneled millions of dollars in profits into National Party campaigns for three presidential elections, including the two his brother won in 2013 and 2017, prosecutors say. Tony Hernandez was handed a life prison sentence in March.
The Biden administration points to the silver linings in the dark clouds of the region’s recent history. In the last five years, an effort to root out political corruption made remarkable progress before it was quashed. In 2016, large street demonstrations over the looting of at least $300 million from the public health care system — a small amount of which found its way into Hernandez’s first presidential campaign — forced the president to set up an anti-corruption commission in partnership with the Organization of American States. The United States embraced the move with funding and political support.
The commission’s quasi-independence — it was led by Peruvian prosecutor Ana Maria Calderon Boy and others from outside Honduras — keyed its initial success. The commission set up a new unit of vetted prosecutors within the national government. It went on to reveal an embezzlement scam that later allegedly implicated more than 350 politicians, including President Hernandez, according to the Wilson report. Amid the scandal, he essentially disbanded the commission last year — a decision that brought condemnation from a bipartisan group of U.S. House leaders.
The Biden administration now aims to set up a new anti-corruption group as its main weapon. This time even more independence will be crucial if it’s to work. Zuniga, the special envoy, had discussions with nonprofits in Central America that want to form a U.S.-backed civil society commission. It would draw on the expertise of these groups in exposing corruption and operate outside the reach of national governments to shut it down. But local prosecutors would still have to pursue the cases.
“Instead of creating another commission that the governments can kick out, the United States can support nonprofits that have years of experience doing this work,” says Kurt Ver Beek, co-founder of the Association for a More Just Society in Honduras, who joined the talks with Zuniga. “We will make the corruption cases public and, along with the United States, pressure the governments to bring charges.”
The U.S.-backed effort to reform the National Police also got off to a promising start five years ago. The police served as a tool for cocaine smugglers, who easily exploited lowly paid officers with payoffs for dirty work. “Officers hijacked cars from citizens, dealt drugs for gangs, and lent out their services as hitmen,” according to a 2016 report by Ver Beek’s ASJ, the Christian nonprofit, which received funding from the State Department.
The revelation in 2016 that top police officials organized the assassination of Honduran’s anti-drug czar finally forced President Hernandez and Congress to set up another commission. Two ASJ leaders joined the group, which moved quickly to purge a remarkable 5,000 tainted and inexperienced beat cops and top officials — including six generals — equaling a third of the entire force.
The purge was a watershed moment showing that Hondurans could topple a fortress of criminality. But four years later drug smugglers are beginning to penetrate the police again, forcing good officers to choose whether to take a bribe or a bullet. “Traffickers tell cops, ‘I’ll kill you if you don’t help me, or take a bunch of money,’” says Ver Beek, a Cornell University-trained sociologist. “So they take the money.”
American agencies funded other projects such as community policing to reduce crime in Honduras, which a decade ago had the highest murder rate in the world. In her congressional confirmation hearing, Power, Biden’s new USAID administrator, pointed to the agency’s record of crime-fighting in the country as a bright spot to build on. “In districts where USAID had programming aimed at curbing violence, there was a drop in homicide rates,” she told senators in March. “That is encouraging.”
However, extortion of businesses by criminal gangs — a major driver of migration — may be getting worse. Gang members approach small businesses, such as barbers, food merchants and taxi drivers, and demand a small monthly payment that keeps going up until the owner can no longer pay it and flees. Hondurans refer to extortion as a “war tax,” which victimizes as many as half of all small businesses, Ver Beek estimates.
While officials pilfer public funds and gangs drive businesses to close, it’s no wonder that half of the Honduran population remains almost locked in poverty. The high rate hasn’t improved much over the last decade and is twice the level of neighboring El Salvador. As the Obama administration learned, foreign aid alone can’t do much to help kids escape this poverty trap.
USAID’s Future Employment program had ambitions in 2016 to train 7,500 at-risk youth in Honduras and place half of them in jobs to lure them away from gangs. The program struggled to find enough recruits in tough neighborhoods and enough employers willing to take a chance and hire them. Then the Trump administration cut off funding for projects across the three countries. By the end of 2019, fewer than 1,000 participants had found some employment, mostly in retail, in the year following training, according to a USAID evaluation.
While they certainly benefited from a job in the short term, their prospects of upward mobility are dim without more support from the Honduran government. For instance, the country has a federal minimum wage law that’s set above the poverty line and could help close the inequality gap. But almost half of employers ignore it and the government does little to enforce it, academic studies show.
“We have not produced the same kind of results that I’ve pointed to when it comes to physical security and crime,” Power said of USAID’s economic programs. “Hopefully we can begin to make a dent.”
Power could start by changing the way her agency runs projects in places like Honduras, nonprofit veterans believe. Aid experts have criticized the agency for hiring U.S. and international contractors to administer most of the program funding. The setup marginalizes local organizations that better understand on-the-ground issues and misses an opportunity to develop local advocates to push for reforms, says Sarah Bermeo, who specializes in foreign aid in Central America at Duke University.
“U.S. contractors are certainly overused compared to their ability to deliver results,” Bermeo says. “There is certainly room to improve outcomes by increasing the involvement of local groups in the design and implementation of AID-financed efforts.”
Meanwhile, migrants from Central America are streaming to the U.S. border. The increase that began a year ago has accelerated under Biden, threatening to top 1 million this year, the highest total in more than a decade. Biden’s root-cause strategy won’t change anything at the border in the short run. Advocates say progress will be incremental at best and measured in decades, not years.
“It’s going to be difficult but not impossible for the administration,” says Ariel Ruiz Soto, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. “The U.S. investment has to occur over decades for there to be a real change.”