Same Circus, Different Clowns

As roughly everybody knows, on January 6, 2021, then-President Donald J Trump stirred up a crowd by claiming that the most recent presidential election was stolen from him, implying that  Joe Biden’s ascension to the office was illegitimate.  Immediately thereafter a crowd of Trump supporters, some of whom were armed, attacked the Capitol and attempted to stop Congress from carrying out its lawful duty in counting the electoral votes of the several states. Counting those electoral votes was the last formal step in certifying the election, paving the way for Mr. Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021.  

In the aftermath, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell pinned responsibility for the attack on Trump. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the Senate minority leader Charles Schumer demanded that Trump ether step down or be forced from office immediately. As in right away, without delay. (See the You Tube video below dated January 12, 2021.)

In the event, Pelosi and Schumer demanded, naturally enough, that someone else take action. When that didn’t work, the House impeached Trump for the second time. The vote came on January 13, 2021, a day after Schumer’s speech. But then a funny thing happened. Speaker Pelosi didn’t get around to sending the article of impeachment to the Senate for 12 days, by which time Biden had been sworn in and Trump had become a private citizen. 

Not only that, the article of impeachment was for incitement. Trump could easily have been impeached for dereliction. He, as Commander-in-Chief, refused to respond to an attack on the seat of government. Moreover he rebuked his own Vice President for refusing to tamper with the states’ electoral votes. Not only are those surely impeachable offenses; the evidence is unassailable.  

As it now stands, after insisting on the immediacy of the situation, Speaker Pelosi took her time sending over a deeply flawed article of impeachment. The trial is not scheduled to begin until February 8, 2021. Moreover, the article she sent over contains two important constitutional issues. The first has to do with the definition of incitement—at what point does a political speech become incitement to violence? The second has to do with impeaching a former president. 

The balance of the evidence suggests that a former president may be impeached, paving the way for a majority vote that would prohibit him from holding office again. But there is sufficient ambiguity to make the case less than clear cut.  

The issue of incitement is more problematic. Did Trump incite his followers to violence? It is my opinion that he did. But having said that, we need to acknowledge several factors. First, restricting the political speech of a sitting politician sets a dangerous precedent when free speech is already under attack. Second, the incitement charge was totally unnecessary to achieve the desired goal, namely securing a conviction in the Senate. Third, because of (presumably) sloppy drafting and the constitutional issues involved, Republicans can dodge the underlying issue. In effect they are being given a low cost opportunity to vote for acquittal. 

An acquittal would allow Trump to argue that once again, he has been exonerated. That is surely not an outcome to be welcomed. But it sure looks like the path of least resistance, due in part to the handiwork of Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer. As always they have quashed the national interest in favor of their own narrow political interests.  

JFB

Malarkey Man

It is a mere 3 days since President Joe Biden took the oath of office and he is already furiously backtracking on his Covid campaign promises. Back on October 29, 2020 at a campaign rally in Coconut Creek FL, Biden tore into President Trump’s handling of the virus—a task that didn’t really require much effort. Anyway, candidate Biden pledged “I’m not going to shut down the economy, I’m not going to shut down the country, but I am going to shut down the virus.”

President Joe Biden

Sometime after January 20, Biden discovered that his desk in the Oval Office did not have a red button labeled “Virus Killer”. And so the reset began. At his Friday press conference Biden proceeded to announce “there’s nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months.” He went on to project that Coronavirus deaths would rise by another 50% to reach “well over 600,000.” 

In the meantime he did say that he is sticking to his target of 100 million vaccinations delivered in his first hundred days in office. Left unmentioned is that we are already vaccinating about 960,000 people daily. Which means that Biden means to raise the vaccination rate all of 4% over the next several months. Pretty impressive for a guy who promised to make the coronavirus his #1 priority. 

But he has been busy on other fronts. Like gender identity. The executive order he just signed reads as follows: “Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the rest room, the locker room, or school sports. . . . All persons should receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.” 

Note that the executive order references gender identity, not sex. Meaning that you don’t have to be a girl to play on a girl’s sports team; you merely have to self-identify as female. Which, among other things, means that girl’s sports are essentially over. They will be dominated by boys claiming to be girls. 

The Biden team is busy pretending that the President is merely enforcing the Supreme Court’s Bostock  v. Clayton County decision handed down in 2020. But in that 6-3 decision, the majority opinion for which was authored by Justice Gorsuch, the Justices took pains to say that it was limited to employment status  and had no bearing on “sex-segregated bathrooms, locker rooms, and dress codes”. 

The Court went further to note that their decision was limited to the language of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The majority specifically noted that under Title IX of the 1972 amendments “we do not purport to address bathrooms, locker rooms, or anything else of the kind.” (See Abigail Shrier in the Wall Street Journal here.)

As bad as this is, it’s actually even worse than it appears at first glance. On the matter of gender identity Mr Biden has gone so far as to say that “in prison, your sexual identity is defined by what you say, not what the prison says.” Which effectively means that sex (or gender) is simply a social construct; biology is not determinative.

This conceit denies the profound difference between men and women. Not only that, it is part of a much grander project; namely the utopian transformation of society into one without differences, and therefore without hierarchies. 

It is a vision of human beings as undifferentiated cogs in a machine, the equivalent of ants living in an ant colony. There is no room for individualism, for decency, for joy, for love; only for the dream which inevitably leads to marching orders. It is a vision as old as the hills and has always and everywhere led to authoritarianism and human misery. 

But of course there will always be hierarchies. There can be hierarchies of competence that are freely chosen and held to account. Or there can be unaccountable hierarchies that are aristocracies of power not subject to the rules designed for mere mortals. The difference is that one is beholden to the idea of truth; the other denies there is any such thing. For them all that matters  is power. 

Around 490 BC, it was Protagarus, who laid the foundation for today’s postmodernism by arguing that “Man is the measure of all things”.  Plato understood Protagurus to mean that there was no objective truth. Things are either true or not true based on how an individual perceives them. 

There is a great irony here. Joe Biden, who endlessly goes on about “following the science” apparently doesn’t realize that if there is no truth there is no science. And all his talk is nothing more than what he likes to call “Malarkey”. 

JFB

Joe Biden’s Choice

Within hours of President Biden’s call for civility, protesters went on a violent rampage in the Pacific Northwest, mostly in Portland Oregon. The protesters, according to the New York Times, marched through the streets, burned an American flag and smashed windows at Democratic Party Headquarters.  

Violence in Portland, The New York Times

The protesters were not supporters of the now departed Donald J Trump.  Nor were they from QAnon, the Proud Boys or other white supremacist groups.  They were self-identified antifascist and racial-justice warriors, which is to say, fascists who like to call themselves  antifascists. Their complaint was that Joe Biden’s promised reforms “won’t save us”. 

Of course they won’t, primarily because they are not interested in being “saved”.  They are simply nihilists who seek to smash and destroy. They could care less about the back and forth of democratic politics and the making of public policy. They seek to engender distrust and destroy democratic institutions, not to build on them. 

If he means what he says, Joe Biden has a golden opportunity to take a large step toward restoring civility to the Republic and strengthening our democratic institutions. He can condemn the violence in Oregon without reservation just as strongly as he rightly condemned the violence fomented by Donald Trump at the Capitol on January 6. And he can seek to have the perpetrators brought to justice for their crimes,  just as the perpetrators of the January 6 riots should be prosecuted for their crimes to the full extent of the law. 

The choice is clear. It is a choice between violence and liberal government. Tolerating violence based on what “side” it favors is no justice at all. It is a fundamental attack on equality before the law and our democratic institutions. Vigorous prosecution of those who use violence to achieve political ends is a defense of the rule of law and democratic institutions. 

President Joe Biden has a choice to make. He can defend the rule of law and democratic institutions. Or he can be just like Donald J. Trump and be politically selective about how the law is enforced. 

That choice will tell us a lot about what Joe Biden is really made of. 

JFB

Joe Biden’s “American Recovery Plan”

“Drink coffee and do stupid things even faster” — Sign in a coffee shop. 

Apropos the sign, an avalanche of stupidity is coming our way.  Just 5 days away from his inauguration, President-elect Joe Biden has outlined the first part of his “American Recovery Plan”. It is virtually indistinguishable from the progressive wish list Nancy Pelosi has been going on about for the last 20 years or so. The only difference is that now progressives actually have a shot of getting what they have always wished for. 

Consider just some of the proposals being put forward in the spectacularly misnamed American Recovery plan. To begin with, the price tag for this monstrosity is $1.9 trillion. That comes right after the $900 billion relief package Congress passed just last month. Not to mention the $2.2 trillion CARES act Congress passed in March of 2020. And this is only phase 1 of the Biden proposal. He promises more, fully backed by Bernie Sanders as the upcoming chair of the Senate Budget Committee. 

If Congress approves the Biden phase 1 package it would amount to $5 trillion in additional spending thus far for Covid and Covid marketed relief efforts. That spending is over and above the normal appropriations for running the government, all passed in a 10 month period. And it’s all done with borrowed money.

So let’s look at some specific proposals. Among other things that have absolutely nothing to do with Covid, Biden plans to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour. If enacted, this is guaranteed to make things worse for the people who are the supposed beneficiaries. 

The unemployment rate is highest for people with low incomes and relatively little formal training. Plenty of these people work in the hospitality industry, specifically restaurants, which are among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Recent survey data suggest that about 110,000 restaurants, about 17% of the total, have closed their doors permanently because of Covid. 

The Biden solution is to raise the cost of labor for an industry in free fall. Very clever. Not only that, the restaurants that survive will simply switch their compensation systems to a European style one in which customer costs associated with tipping are built into menu prices (service compris) and tips are eliminated. The effect will be lost jobs and reduced employee compensation for those who keep their jobs.  Oh, and the survivors’ tax bills will rise because, let’s face it, virtually nobody reports all their tips to the IRS. 

Other goodies in the package include checks for $1,400 to round it up to $2,000. Schumer and Pelosi  have indicated that they are enthusiastically on board.  What this is supposed to accomplish beyond the buying of votes is left unspecified. And of course, this is to be financed, by more borrowing, because we are assured “there is plenty of money available”.

Another $350 billion or so is slated for “emergency” relief for state and local government finances. Translated into English, this means that the states that manage their finances well will be required to bail out predominantly blue state public pension plans that are underfunded to the point where in some cases, like Illinois, they are approaching insolvency. And not to put too fine a point on it, the sorry state of pension finance has nothing whatsoever to do with Covid. Bailing them out will just put off the day of reckoning until it gets  worse. 

Another $170 billion will be forked out “so that schools can re-open”. But of course, the schools didn’t need to close and stay closed in the first place. This is just a gift to the politically powerful teachers unions who have argued for closing the schools and keeping them closed. 

Private schools have opened independent of the state. And not just the elite ones. The K- 12 Catholic schools in Massachusetts opened successfully and have had almost no Covid infections. In other places, relatively affluent parents (like here in Fairfax County) have hired private tutors to run learning pods for groups of children. 

Needless to say, the teachers unions have opposed these efforts while fighting to keep the schools shut down for in-person learning. This is in spite of the fact that already the data clearly show a catastrophic fall-off in the academic performance of disadvantaged children. Let’s face it, the public schools are run for the benefit of the staff, not the kids. That’s why the kids are being sacrificed.

As more details of the Biden plan seep out, it will become clear to all with eyes to see that the Biden trajectory is simply Obama redux on steroids (or perhaps coffee).  It will be all about centralization, command and control. The crushing hand of the state will weigh in on every decision. Fantasies aside; there is nothing moderate about it. 

JFB

The Moderate Mr. Biden and Other Fantasies

During the recent presidential primary and election campaigns the underlying question concerning Joe Biden was, given his druthers, how would a President Biden govern? One of the more interesting fantasies marketed by the Biden campaign was (and remains) that President-elect Joe Biden is a moderate whose election presages a return to normalcy. 

While it is true that Biden may be less radical than members of “The Squad”, that’s really not saying very much. 

The key to the Biden candidacy and likely governance strategy lies in the profound but under appreciated truth that politics lies downstream from culture. Today it is culture that dominates elective politics and in ways that are not obvious to most. That is not an accident. In campaigns, politicians speak in gauzy generalities and use cultural symbols to deliver emotionally satisfying messages designed to bring voters to the polls. But those symbols are typically anodyne and don’t really say much about how, if elected, a politician would govern. 

There is a big difference between what politicians say and what they do. Former Governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, used to say that “… you campaign in poetry, but govern in prose”. Which is where interest groups and party organization come into play. 

On the stump politicians routinely make utterly implausible promises that they inevitably fail to accomplish. But in the process the successful ones do manage to hold on to their base of support.  They do this by taking care of the interest groups that provided them with organizational and financial support.

These politicians go by the old adage “Don’t forget to dance with the girl who brung ya.” They take care of their interest groups–the girl who brung them. Those groups have specific policy goals that they would like to see accomplished, and they are not about to be satisfied with pie-in-the-sky rhetoric. They want results. 

In part, this is what accounts for the wide chasm between what politicians campaign on and how they actually govern.  The masses get the rhetoric; the interest groups get the policy. The mechanism that facilitates the process–the difference between campaigning and governance is the bureaucratic apparatus of the Administrative State. It is through Agency rule-making that interest groups can maximize their leverage and achieve their goals without necessarily having to petition Congress. 

The emasculation of Congress and neutering of democratic choice is the direct result of the progressive faith in rule by disinterested experts perched on bureaucratic rungs of power. The rising power of the bureaucracy over American life crucially depends on several factors. First, in its desire to escape accountability career politicians have continued to delegate massive amounts of decision making authority to Agency bureaucrats. Probably well above and beyond what is constitutionally permissible under the non-delegation doctrine. 

Second, generally under Chevron deference (1984), the courts are bound to accept an Agency’s interpretation of an ambiguous statute within its jurisdiction as long as the interpretation is not unreasonable. 

Third, the continuing politicization of language combined with deliberate use of ambiguity and the denial of the idea of fixed meaning effectively gives Agencies carte blanche to rewrite entire laws well outside their original intent. 

These developments have placed enormous and increasing power in the hands of the Executive Branch. Which brings us to the question of President-elect Biden’s allegedly moderate instincts.  

Let’s take a case in point. In the matter of transgender rights Biden has promised to use Executive power to “…restore transgender students’ access to sports, bathrooms, and locker rooms in accordance with their gender identity.” He further promises to commit to passing the Equality Act which according to CNN “…would protect against anti-LGBTQ discrimination in commercial and public life, with no religious exemptions.” 

Let’s take a look at the implications of this. The moderate Mr. Biden has clearly said that he believes that sex differentiation is simply a cultural construct; that your sex is not an objective reality, and that your sexual identity is simply what you declare it to be. 

Here Biden has clearly hitched his wagon to the trans activist train.  Rather than call gender dysphoria what it is, he has chosen to use the coercive power of government to re-shape society according to the world view of post-modern cultural de-constructionists. This, even though real world evidence shows that sex differences are embedded in our DNA. For instance, all else equal men have greater bone density and lung capacity. These differences matter, especially in sports. And women’s sports are being devastated by men competing as self-identified women, including those who have transitioned. 

For example, the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that trans women had a 12% advantage across various exercise metrics a full two years after hormone treatments to suppress testosterone. (Before treatment they had a 31% advantage). The academic journal Emerging Topics in Life Sciences says that “Accepted science regarding male and female physiology suggests that trans women have an advantage over their cisgendered counterparts.” 

Most important is that this debate is not about women’s sports at all. It is really about the re-ordering of society based on the idea that biological sex is unimportant. And that re-ordering would come from bureaucratic rule-making designed to alter the culture and the language we use to frame issues.

Anyone who doubts this should consider the implications of the H.R.5 —the Equality Act, enthusiastically supported by Joe Biden.  Basically the proposed Act amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or a sex stereotype. Further, “SEC.1107.CLAIMS” goes on to say “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq.) shall not provide a claim concerning, or a defense to a claim under, a covered title, or provide a basis for challenging the application or enforcement of a covered title.”.

Which is to say that in direct defiance of the First amendment, religious organizations would be have to change the practice of their religious beliefs in order to conform to the requirements of federal anti-discrimination law. Which law will be interpreted by the bureaucracy in the rule making process. And if there is any doubt as to the upcoming Biden Administration’s intentions here, keep this in mind. Biden has already nominated Xavier Becerra to be HHS Secretary. Becerra is an abortion rights fanatic who is currently suing the Little Sisters of the Poor over their continued refusal to finance employee purchases of contraception and abortafacients. 

It actually gets worse. Biden believes that your rights are the ones that are given to you by government. In his recent criticism of Judge Amy Coney Barrett he said, according to NBC News, “she didn’t lay out “much of a judicial philosophy, in terms of the basis upon which she thinks, (sic) are there unenumerated rights in the constitution.”

Not surprisingly, Biden, whom no one has accused of being exceptionally  bright, has it exactly backwards. The ninth amendment, which is the one in the Constitution that discusses enumerated rights, reads as follows. “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people” (emphasis added).  That of course means that the enumerated rights doctrine is meant to restrict the power of Government, not people, who retain all their inherent rights. 

So when you put it all together, the supposedly moderate Mr. Biden has promised a cultural revolution to upend civil society by using the power of government to impose a wholly artificial definition of sex on it. He promises to attack the First amendment guarantee of freedom of religious practice. And he is of the belief (to the extent he has any) that our rights are not inherent; they are the ones government deigns to bless us with. 

Quite the moderate. 

JFB

A Supposed Return to “Normalcy”

President-elect Joe Biden won the race by running a determined campaign that focused exclusively on an indisputable fact. Joe Biden is not Donald Trump. To which the voters responded by giving Trump the heave-ho while cutting into the Democratic majority in the House and (probably) leaving the Senate in Republican hands. 

The institutional Democratic response to all this thus far has been to continue to push their leftist agenda that was fairly decisively rejected at the polls. In return they ask for a return bipartisanship and comity. 

The plea for comity is coming from people who spent the last 4 years or so calling the Republicans racists, white supremacists, misogynists and Nazi sympathizers. It comes from people who routinely voted as a bloc against Trump’s judicial nominees and legislative initiatives. It comes from people who argued that the entire Trump presidency was illegitimate; that but for collusion with Russia, Trump would not have been elected and  that Trump was a Russian “asset”. 

Democrats and their friends in the media ludicrously argued that Supreme Court nominee Bret Kavanaugh was the leader of a high school gang-rape team; that in high school he unsuccessfully tried to assault Christine Blasey Ford. Mind you Blasey Ford never produced a shred of evidence supporting her claim; the witnesses she cited either refused to testify or flat out contradicted her, including her friend Leyland Keyser. And speaking of media friends, none of this prevented the Washington Post from describing Blasey Ford as a “prosecutor’s dream witness”.

Beyond the direct testimony of Blasey Ford, the party promoted wild and unsubstantiated claims of sexual assault brought forward by attorney Michael Avenatti. The legal career of Mr Avenatti has by now taken a turn for the worse. He is now a convicted felon, having been found guilty of committing fraud and extortion against Nike. 

And then there were the physical attacks on officials of the Trump Administration, encouraged by Maxine Waters (D-CA), among others. According to NBC News, on June 25, 2018, she said: 

“If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere,” Waters, who has called for President Donald Trump to be impeached, told supporters over the weekend. 

In the event, activists took up the call with zest, chasing scores of Trump officials and Republican office holders out of restaurants and physically threatening them, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his wife Elaine Chou. And that isn’t all. Representative Steve Scalise was shot by a Bernie Sanders supporter during a Congressional baseball game. (I hasten to add that the man was obviously mentally ill, and Senator Sanders quickly condemned the shooting). 

Nevertheless, the point remains. Democrats and progressives launched a scorched earth campaign of opposition, and not for the first time. Now that they have the White House, a bare majority in the House, and lack control of the Senate they have decided that they are in favor of bipartisanship and comity after all. Who is kidding whom?

The obvious question is: If Democrats are so interested in compromise, what grounds are they willing to concede in the search for consensus? The answer is: none. 

In that respect let us consider where the head of the party and its titular leader stands. To begin with, he has nominated California AG Xavier Becerra to lead HHS. Becerra, who has no experience in the field is quite simply a culture warrior.  In particular, he is an abortion rights fanatic. Operating as California’s Attorney General, he launched lawsuits seeking to overturn other states abortion restrictions. Those states include Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio. His justification for doing so? “No government” he said “state or federal, has the right” to interfere with abortion. Which, in another context, is essentially the argument Texas AG Ken Paxton recently made with respect to the election, an argument that rightfully got the back of the Supreme Court’s hand. 

Becerra defended California’s mandate (since overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in NIFLA v. Becerra) that required pro-life pregnancy centers to provide patients with information on how to obtain state funded abortions. In yet another attack on the first amendment, he sued the Little Sisters of the Poor seeking to require them to finance the purchase of contraception and abortifacients. 

Then there is the nomination of Neera Tanden to head the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In one sense she is a candidate that everyone can agree on: she has antagonized just about everyone in Washington, left, right and center. And not because she is a strong independent leader. She is simply a Hillary Clinton sycophant. In emails revealed by Wikileaks she wrote “I would do whatever Hillary needs always. I owe her a lot. And I’m a loyal soldier” and, “I don’t really think the issues matter”. The only explanations for her selection are these: either Biden picked a sacrificial lamb to appease the nomination Gods, or he is making selections essentially at random. No one thinks she is actually qualified to run OMB. 

I could go on, but there is only so much time in a day. It is becoming increasingly clear that the idea of a return to “normalcy” is nothing more than a liberal fantasy. Personnel is policy and Biden is in the process selecting personnel who are creatures of the left, most of whom served in the Obama Administration.  Not only have they presided over numerous policy disasters in the past, they are unchastened, and fully intend to repeat their failures.  Moreover, at the Administrative level it is clear that the supposedly moderate Biden means to govern by “pen and phone”, Obama style. 

Strap in because the best days of the Biden administration are already behind us, and he hasn’t even taken the oath of office yet. 

JFB

About Those Norms…

Players in the Democratic Party have spent the better part of the last 2 years piling on Attorney General William Barr, alleging that he is a political hack who can not be trusted to run the Department of Justice.  While speaking from the Senate floor, Charles Schumer (D-NY), said: “His confirmation occurred only a few months ago and yet in a short time Mr. Barr’s conduct has raised damning questions about his impartiality and about his fitness…”

AG Bill Barr

That’s the same Charles Schumer who directly threatened Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh when he addressed demonstrators on the steps of the Supreme Court:  “…I want to tell you, Gorsuch… I want to tell you, Kavanaugh… you have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.” 

Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)

For this outburst the senior Senator from New York earned a reprimand from Chief Justice Roberts as well as the American Bar Association and others. Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe, hardly a right wing extremist, agreed with Justice Roberts, characterized Schumer’s remarks as “inexcusable” and called on him to apologize. Schumer, of course, did no such thing. 

There is another apology that Schumer and Company ought to be make, namely to Attorney General Bill Barr. Note that AG Barr recently said that the Justice Department looked at claims of electoral fraud in the November elections and did not find evidence to conclude that fraud changed the outcome, thereby pulling the rug out from under Trump’s claim of victory, not to mention his legal strategy, such as it is. 

And then, just yesterday the story broke that Hunter Biden, son of President-elect Joe “Here’s the Deal” Biden, is under federal criminal investigation both in Delaware and in the Southern District of New York. Moreover the investigation has been going on for some time, at least since the spring of 2020. In keeping with Justice Department guidelines, the investigation was kept under wraps so as not to influence the upcoming election in November. 

Compare that with the behavior of Loretta Lynch in the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. Or with the gusher of leaks coming out of the FBI for the purpose of taking down the Trump presidency.  Or with the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS during the Obama years. Or with the grandstanding of Sally Yates. 

There has indeed been plenty of norm busting in the Justice Department in recent years. But it wasn’t the work of Bill Barr. He played it straight, and in so doing he enraged Democratic partisans whose idea of norms is whatever behavior advances progressive goals. 

Democrats owe Attorney General Bill Barr an apology, but it’s an apology that will never be offered. That would require a sense of honor. 

JFB

The Education Scam

The Wall Street Journal has published a story on student test performance in the wake of Covid inspired school shutdowns. According to the story, “American children started school this fall significantly behind expectations in math, and modestly behind in some grades in reading, according to one of the first reports on widely used tests since the coronavirus pandemic shut schools in March.”

It isn’t like student test scores were humming along just fine pre-pandemic. As the Journal reports “On an American test known as the Nation’s Report Card, only 34% of eighth-graders were proficient in math last year, meaning they showed competence in challenging subject matter, and 34% were proficient in reading.”

On the other hand, students in Catholic and other private schools had smaller average declines in math and exceeded expectations in reading. It is worth noting that many Catholic and otherwise private schools have remained open during the pandemic, and with minimal infection rates. 

At the same time Black, Hispanic and low-income household students fell further behind the averages, although the change was not statistically significant  given the already wide gap between those groups and the averages. 

These fall-offs in performance are likely to be devastating, especially in minority and low-income areas that depend on public school systems. Consider: The education process is cumulative. Students are presented with increasingly challenging material, based on previous learning, as they progress through the grades. Which means that failing to learn 3rd grade material makes it increasingly difficult to learn 4th grade material and so on. To say nothing of social development. 

Let’s confront the fact that only one-third of 8th grade students are proficient in reading or math to begin with. Add to that the knock-on effects of school closings (and distance learning) and it becomes obvious that in later years, the impact on students, especially minorities, is likely to be catastrophic. 

So why is it that progressives have been especially adamant about closing down the schools and resorting to distance learning? Let’s think about (1) what the incentive structure of the public school system actually is versus (2) what it should be.

The fact is that the nation’s public primary and secondary schools are run for the benefit of their adult employees. Not surprisingly, all the incentives point in that direction. The incentives ought to be structured to benefit the students. But students are the last concern of the public schools. The evidence for this is straightforward. If the schools were concerned with providing students with a decent education, two-thirds of 8th graders would not be less than proficient in reading and math. And it would be possible to fire incompetent teachers. But it isn’t.

The root of the problem is that the school system is funded by third party payers. That payer is government, mostly local, and those governments are heavily influenced by (the mostly progressive) Teachers Unions. Their mission is to protect the interests of their members. The interests of the students are very far down the list of priorities. 

The public schools system is a monopoly, and like any monopoly it acts ruthlessly to defend its monopoly position. That helps to explain why the Unions have been so intent on closing the schools, with the pandemic being a convenient excuse. This despite virtually no evidence that the pandemic presents more than a vanishingly small risk to either students or teachers. 

Note that the Unions have attempted to get governors to decree that all schools in their respective states close, not just public schools. Since public schools and their teachers are being funded anyway, an order to close all schools would financially squeeze private schools that depend on tuition for survival. That is the point of the exercise—to put competitors out of business. Mercifully, after some initial successes, universal closure orders have been batted down. 

Some, but not all, Catholic and private schools have opened for in-person instruction. Those schools have had minimal levels of Covid infections. Charlie Baker, Governor of Massachusetts pointed out in late October that  open parochial schools in the state with 28,000 students and 4,000 employees have been operating safely in-person since mid August. They have had “only a handful of cases”

You would think that the education establishment would be shamed by all this, but you would be wrong. They continue to press on, spouting all kinds of cant about Social Justice, while crushing opportunity for kids, especially the most vulnerable. And now to make matters worse, among those up for consideration for Education Secretary is none other than Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. 

The iron-fisted Weingarten, who has been a relentless advocate for the union monopoly she oversees, is a friend of the bureaucratic command-and-control model of governance that has served teachers so well and students so poorly. Then again, it is the model that President elect Biden has always been comfortable with. And like Biden, Weingarten has been caught plagiarizing material, so they also share that in common. 

Progressives routinely pat themselves on the back, claiming to represent the interest of minorities. One of the most important ways that the interests of minorities can be advanced is through educational opportunity—real, not faux educational opportunity. Don’t bet on it though, the command-and-control model looks to be firmly back in the saddle. 

JFB 

The Most Important Election…is a Victory for Gridlock

Every four years, right on schedule, we are told that “This election is the most important of your life.”  And of course, it isn’t. Just like the one we are in the process of finishing wasn’t. Not by a long shot. The probable result is best described as a much needed victory for gridlock. 

As of this writing it appears that the Republicans will keep their Senate majority, the Democrats will lose a few House seats and Vice President Biden may prevail with a small edge in the race for 270 Electoral College votes. But none of this is certain, and the final result will probably leave the losing side firmly convinced that “We wuz robbed.” 

Whether that sentiment is justified remains to be seen. But it is important to note that the distrust is both widespread and long standing. Part of the problem is extreme polarization. That polarization has been stoked by the major parties which increasingly resort to emotional appeals rather than facts or logic.  

Moreover, in addition to being an affront to the first amendment, campaign finance “reform” has left the major parties and their candidates  dependent on large outside donors who increasingly influence Party agendas. Think Tom Steyer, Michael Bloomberg and Sheldon Addison.  That hasn’t helped any either. 

More importantly, the problem of distrust can be laid squarely at the feet of progressives who have spent the last 50 years or so attacking our governing institutions. In this they have been aided and abetted by (1) the mainstream press which is increasingly populated by woke “reporters” and (2) the public education system which has produced indoctrination factories but little learning.

When we are told on a daily basis that the U.S. is “systemically racist”; that the U.S. is “structurally racist”; that the police are in the business of hunting down black men to shoot; that the real founding of the U.S. was 1619 when African slaves were first brought to Jamestown, and that school curricula are being introduced based on that lie,  why would anyone be surprised by public distrust of our governing and culture shaping institutions? 

Why would anyone take the NY Times, MSNBC or CNN seriously when  their reporters insist on discussing peaceful demonstrations while anyone can see the buildings behind them are on fire? Why would anyone trust the Washington Post with its slogan “Democracy Dies in Darkness” on its front page while it refuses to cover the Hunter Biden scandal, without doubt an important story. 

Why would anyone believe the rhetoric of big city mayors and civil rights organizations when it is clear that they are bought and paid for by the Teachers Unions. Those big city public schools have failed minority children for generations and yet big city Mayors and civil rights organizations like the NAACP have long fought school choice and charter schools even though the evidence is crystal clear that they produce superior outcomes. 

It is clear to anyone with eyes to see that what we have is a massive failure of government and governance. The failure is long standing and reaches into almost every area of American life. The affluent can afford this because it doesn’t affect them. But the average citizen can’t afford to pay $25,000 — to $50,000 a year to send their kids to private prep schools. Nor can the average citizen afford to pay for private security guards while activists insist on “defunding the police.” 

Elites can afford to move to their summer houses in the Hamptons while calling for lock-downs while they work from home and ride out the Covid-19 virus. But the people who work in grocery stores, drive trucks and deliver their packages can’t afford to be locked-down. Nor can minority children afford to fall further back by being forced to resort to Zoom classes for grammar school.  

When all is said and done, the election results represent a repudiation of the progressive elite. There will be no Green New Deal, Court Packing, defunding of police, elimination of the Senate’s legislative filibuster, Medicare for all, guaranteed outcomes, or dismantling of capitalism. That is all to the good. 

Now the two political parties will have a few years to re-think where they are and where they would like to go. If the Democrats get the joke (always a doubtful prospect) they will head back toward their roots, put identity politics to rest where it belongs and begin to develop a framework for policy based on equality of opportunity rather than outcome. Don’t hold your breath. 

The Republicans on the other hand are still going to be saddled with Trump partisans, with or without Trump. They are going to have to adapt conservatism (actually classical liberalism) to reform and strengthen, not eliminate, critical public institutions.  They could start by ending the bureaucratic command-and-control mentality of federal agencies. Voluntary action and devolution of power to local institutions should be the preferred route. Whether they will head in this direction is anybody’s guess. 

All in all the election results can be seen as gift allowing us to step back from the brink. If the two parties have any sense at all, they will develop sensible policy frameworks, engage in spirited substantive debate, defend free speech  against cancel culture, rein in the bureaucracy, go back to enacting laws and policies and stop the virtue signaling. 

That’s a tall order. We don’t have a lot of time to waste. 

JFB

Biden Inc

We are being treated to a new level of liberal hysteria, and that is truly impressive when you consider it has being boiling hot ever since the darkest day in American history, November 8, 2016. The proximate cause for the wail du jour has been set off by the NY Post, which had the effrontery to report on what it claims are e-mails that show that Biden Inc. used its influence for personal enrichment in the Burisma matter. 

Sure enough Facebook and Twitter went into suppression mode and tried to limit the reach of the story. (Note to Republican Congressman: these companies are private actors and have every right to publish or not publish pretty much whatever they want. So butt out). More to the point, lefty journalists have been very quiet about the subject hoping it will go away. And they have been working overtime trying to silence other journalists who would deign to cover the story. 

The usual routine, which is on full display here, is to refer to an inconvenient story as having been “debunked”. Which in no way means that the story has actually been shown to be false or inaccurate. That would require authentic reporting, as in asking who, what, when, where and why. We get precious little of that these days. 

But the whole business does raise a rather obvious question, namely why the effort to suppress the story? Surely if the story is demonstrably false it would redound to Mr. Biden’s benefit as well as to any reporter who could produce hard evidence showing it to be false.  That has not yet happened, despite the obvious incentives.

Perhaps that is because it is very likely that the story is true. That the Biden family’s financial good fortune is intertwined with Mr. Biden’s political career has been amply documented in the past. It is worth reading, for instance the Atlantic Magazine on the matter. Or this article in Politico. Biden rates an entire chapter in Peter Schweitzer’s “Profiles in Corruption”. 

That Biden has used his political positions to enrich his family is not really seriously in question. What he has done may have been legal, in which case we are just talking about legal corruption. What is instructive is the frantic effort to bury the story. 

Anything or anyone that threatens the power grab underway by the new authoritarians of the left will be met by whatever means necessary. And if that requires running over pesky constitutional rights, corrupting the courts, changing electoral processes on the fly, and using government power to suppress the opposition, so be it.  

There are no enemies to the left, and all that matters is acquiring political power. 

Anyone who doubts the Democrats’ all consuming lust for power had only to watch the performance of the allegedly moderate Senator Amy Klobuchar (D.MN) on the Senate Judiciary panel in the hearing for Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Here is what she said responding to Judge Barrett. 

[“ …I appreciate it, judge, that you said that you didn’t want to be a queen. I actually wouldn’t mind being a queen around here, truth be known. I wouldn’t mind doing yet. Kind of a benevolent queen in making decisions so we could get things done…”].  

That says it all. 

JFB