Biden and America's Friends

February 17, 2022 at 8:02 am

A statement from President Biden's national security advisor that "America will have the backs of our friends in the region" is the topic of my latest column. Please check it out at Newsmax ("With Biden, America's Friends Need to Watch Their Backs") and at the New York Sun ("With Friends Like President Biden...").

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Ezra Klein and Janet Yellen on the Downside of Regulation

February 13, 2022 at 2:44 pm

Left-leaning New York Times columnist Ezra Klein concedes government is sometimes the problem, and calls for a "louder and more insistent" effort against counterproductive regulations. He has an interview with Treasury Secretary Yellen in which he describes her as agreeing. Klein writes:

But if Democrats don't always admit how much government can do to help, they also don't always admit how much it can do to hurt. The market would build more housing if local zoning czars would let them. Companies were clamoring to sell more rapid tests earlier, but the F.D.A. wouldn't let them. All across the country, nuclear and solar and wind projects are being tied up in red tape.

You can go too far with this, and Republicans often do. The frustrating truth of regulation is there's no one position you can have on it. Good regulations are good, bad regulations are bad. But bad regulations are hard to unwind, and they're often unseen.

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Durham's Latest

February 13, 2022 at 2:30 pm

John Durham, the special counsel investigating aspects of the 2016 election, made a court filing on Friday with the ho-hum title of "Government's motion to inquire into potential conflicts of interest." The Washington Examiner has some coverage, headlined "Durham says Democrat-allied tech executive spied on Trump's White House office," that gets at the key point in the case. The Examiner article also has embedded the pdf of the Durham filing.

The case is a prosecution against the general counsel to Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, Michael A. Sussman. The Examiner article explains:

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Prosecutors in Need of Reform

February 11, 2022 at 8:48 am

Criminal justice reform—particularly around prosecutors—is the topic of my most recent column. Please check out the full column at Newsmax ("Will Issue of Prosecutorial Reform Mean Resurgence for Trump?") and at the New York Sun ("While Decrying Misconduct, Let's Not Forget the Prosecutors").

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Preet Bharara's New Book Does America an Injustice

February 8, 2022 at 8:59 am

"Preet Bharara's New Children's Book Does America an Injustice" is the headline over an article I have up over at Education Next. Please check the article out over there.

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Juxtaposition of the Day

February 6, 2022 at 10:12 am

New York Times op-ed page column by Ross Douthat, today: "The powerful belief that only CNN — indeed, only Jeff Zucker — stood between democracy and authoritarianism encouraged the abandonment of normal journalistic standards, the sacrifice of sobriety and neutrality to what Armin Rosen, writing for UnHerd, dubs the 'centrist-branded panic industry.'"

Lead article on NYT.com, same day: "'Taking the Voters Out of the Equation': How the Parties Are Killing Competition. The number of competitive House districts is dropping, as both Republicans and Democrats use redistricting to draw themselves into safe congressional seats. The decline is the latest sign of dysfunction in the American political system, already grappling with misinformation and rising distrust in elections."

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Price Controls

January 30, 2022 at 10:58 am

"What time is it?" as James Taranto used to mockingly ask in his Best of the Web newsletter for the Wall Street Journal editorial page. "The time is now to begin destigmatizing greater democratic control over price levels," the director of governance studies at the Roosevelt Institute, Todd Tucker, writes in the Washington Post.

Tucker helpfully notes:

at the peak of price control efforts in World War II, the government employed 160,000 price regulators. While widespread use of digital payments could make enforcement easier, the economy has grown substantially, and it is likely many more officials would need to be hired. That capacity won't be developed overnight, so if we think future crises might merit price controls, expanding governments' abilities now to track prices throughout supply chains is a must.

It's not clear if Tucker means "many more" than there are now, or "many more" than the 160,000 supposedly employed during World War II.

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Breyer on Airline Deregulation

January 27, 2022 at 8:31 am

The announcement by Justice Breyer of his decision to retire from the Supreme Court sent me back into the archives for the post "Justice Breyer on Airline Deregulation." Before Breyer was a Supreme Court Justice, he was an aide to Senator Edward Kennedy at a time when even Democrats were able to see that reducing regulation could help consumers. See also, on this topic, "Trump, Deregulation, and the Boeing Crashes."

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Who Controls America's China Strategy?

January 27, 2022 at 8:09 am

The U.S.-China rivalry is the topic of my latest column. Please read it at Newsmax ("Xi Owns Policy Debates — For Now") or the New York Sun ("What Might Awaken Americans to the War With Communist China?").

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Women Mayors Bulldoze Homeless Encampments

January 20, 2022 at 8:43 am

Michelle Wu in Boston and Muriel Bowser in Washington, D.C. are among the Democratic women mayors deploying heavy equipment to clear the homeless encampments that have cropped up in American cities. Please check out my full column on the topic at Newsmax ("Heavy Equipment for Heavy Lifting of the Homeless") and at the New York Sun ("Women Mayors Are Showing Some Steel in Dealing With Homelessness").

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Executive Pay and Homelessness

January 16, 2022 at 9:09 pm

The New York Times business section has an article blaming Marc Benioff's compensation for homelessness in San Francisco. Really:

His individual compensation the next year would exceed $28 million, most of it in stock grants and stock options. These sorts of pay packages — typical for executives of technology companies — were a key driver for the astronomical housing prices of the Bay Area, a primary cause of the very homelessness that Mr. Benioff was intent on eliminating.

Seems like a stretch to me. If you think skyrocketing housing prices are "a primary cause" of homelessness, how about the land use and environmental restrictions—single family zoning, nothing near a ridgeline or a live oak or too close to the coastline—that have constrained housing supply. Reviewing Thomas Sowell's Intellectuals and Society here in 2010, I wrote:

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"Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth"

January 16, 2022 at 4:27 pm

It hasn't yet attracted much attention, but something to keep an eye on is the House Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth. From the "about" section of the committee's website:

The Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth will develop solutions to the key economic issue of our time: the yawning prosperity gap between wealthy Americans and everyone else. America is more unequal today than it has ever been, and far more unequal than other developed nations. Great wealth disparities slow our economy, poison our politics and offend our moral sensibilities.

It's not accurate that America is "far more unequal than other developed nations." Data from the OECD shows South Africa, Chile, Mexico, Costa Rica, Bulgaria, and Turkey all have more income inequality.

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Race and the Pandemic

January 16, 2022 at 3:55 pm

The crisis of trust will outlast the coronavirus pandemic, I write in my column this week. Please check out the full column at Newsmax (COVID-Borne Distrust of Doctors, Politicians Will Outlast Pandemic) and at the New York Sun ("To Explain the Ornery Reaction to Covid, Try Critical Race Theory.")

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"Wealthy Who Will Not Fight":

January 9, 2022 at 10:22 am

A letter to the editor in the New York Times Book Review contends, "Virtually all war is fought mostly by poor or at most middle-class folks enticed to join up by the economy and the mythical propaganda of the wealthy who will not fight." It's a letter about a review of a book mostly about World War II. In that war Joseph Kennedy Jr. was killed in action. John F. Kennedy narrowly escaped death while serving in the Navy. George H.W. Bush's plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Robert Morgenthau had his boats torpedoed and bombed. The Kennedys, Bush, and Morgenthau were all from wealthy families. Many wealthy families, far from propagandizing for American entry into World War II, were trying their best to keep America out of it, at least until Pearl Harbor. It may be true that war is fought "mostly" by poor or at most middle-class folks, but that is the nature of the income distribution in the general population. It's not true, at least in the World War II case, that the wealthy wouldn't fight. It's not clear what motivates the Times letter-writer (or the editors who selected the letter for publication), but the letter doesn't seem to be motivated by the historical evidence of the case in question. If I had to speculate, I'd be tempted to say they maybe have something against "the wealthy."

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Media Company Valuations

January 7, 2022 at 8:57 am

From the New York Times news article about the New York Times Company's acquisition of the Athletic, a sports news website that the Times says has 400 newsroom employees, "in an all cash deal valued at $550 million.":

The Athletic brought in about $65 million in revenue last year, with operating losses of roughly $55 million, Ms. Levien told analysts Thursday.

Plenty of companies lose money for years in growth mode and then eventually become profitable, though some also never do. In the meantime, though, if annual operating losses of $55 million on revenues of $65 million yield a valuation of $550 million...well, no wonder that a star Times employee like Ben Smith would leave to start his own new thing. Maybe sports are something different because fans are so passionate about it and there is a potential gambling tie in. Or maybe the Times is just overpaying for a money-losing startup to try to give the stock market the illusion that it is a digital growth company rather than a legacy news business.

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