What Happened To Our Civility?

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

We see an increased level of crime in our country. We see an increased level of negative political discourse. More importantly in our daily actions with the people around us, we see a degradation of human interaction and consideration for people in general. That has been on full display recently in one of my main hobbies – attending concerts.

During the pandemic, the principal thing I missed more than anything else was live musical performances. Most people I know think of me as a baseball person, but my main activity is music. Music is on at my home, my car, and my office as much as possible. There is nothing like a live performance though for me.

At concerts, I have seen the deterioration of people’s behavior over a period of years. It is especially fascinating because the price of concert tickets has soared – due in part because of people’s willingness to pay but also to compensate for the artists’ lost revenue on CD sales. Regardless, one must wonder why people act like they are in their own homes while surrounded by others trying to listen to a performance. Why are they loudly chatting about recent shopping trips instead of listening to the performer they paid so dearly to see.

This has been accelerating for years. I have had to “get in the face” of people during more than one Steely Dan concert to tell them in a not-so-nice manner to either close their traps or exit. With the return of shows in full force this summer, the bad behavior seems to have stepped up even further.

This all came to a head for me during a recent show at the world-famous Hollywood Bowl. As part of our Friday night series, we had a concert of Boys II Men and TLC. As TLC performed (and they are not a quiet act) you could hear the people in the boxes behind us chattering. As the level of sound increased from the stage, the chatter got even louder. I had been told by the young man in the box beside us that TLC was his favorite musical act of the 1990s. I felt so bad for him. When Boys II Men came on stage, they sang some traditional Philadelphia soul ballads. I could hear the people behind through each song. I said enough was enough.

The following week the Beautiful Wife and I headed to Lake Tahoe to see one of the few Rock ‘n’ Roll acts she is interested in – Train. Train had a series of hit songs in this century for those not aware and has an outstanding and engaging frontman/lead singer in Pat Monahan. Harvey’s Casino built an outdoor facility seating about 7,500. This concert was postponed a year ago when fires across Northern California spread too close to Tahoe making the concert impossible.

We had a picture-perfect evening after a very soggy day. The opening act was someone I was not aware of by the name of Thunderstorm Artis. He is an acoustical act, just him and his guitar. After a couple of songs, I was beginning to enjoy him. That is when a man and woman came in and sat in the row in front of us. The woman was very loud and got louder when she befriended the person next to her. I leaned over to her and said, “Excuse me, I would like to listen to this performer.” She turned around and instead of saying “I am sorry” and then quieting down she told me “F— Off.” She then proceeded to harangue me with four more versions of that very classless response while the man she was with tried to make peace. Instead of quieting down, she was now disrupting everyone around us.

I have become used to over-the-top reactions from young beer-induced males, but now this kind of behavior from grown women has become more common. I thought to myself – “this is why we fought for women’s liberation?” Susan B. Anthony would be so proud.

The Beautiful Wife went to see about relocating our seats as we saw no cure for this obnoxious woman who was bought another alcoholic drink. BW found someone to relocate us to a suitable alternative location. I then sought out the head of operations for the facility.

I gave him a little background on myself. I told him my first concert was The Four Seasons (with all four original members) in 1966. I told him I have been to roughly 1000 live performances. The Beautiful Wife queried me on that. I told her she was not around when I went every weekend to either the Troubadour, The Roxy, or the Whisky A Go-Go. She was not around when my friends and I went to see the Allman Brothers four nights in a row or Jethro Tull three nights in a row. I reminded her I toured with Electric Light Orchestra and saw thirty shows in less than two months. I went on from there.

I spoke to the operations manager about the crowd’s generally degrading behavior. I did not need to sell him from there. He was totally on board. He said “I don’t understand. They pay $100 for a ticket, and they behave like this. Why are they here?” This was “music to my ears” for two reasons. First that he totally got it, and then I was wishing I could pay “just” $100 for tickets for an L.A. show. We agreed that there must be someone who comes on stage and welcomes the crowds, and then states, “Out of respect for the performers and the people around you, please do not talk during the artists’ performance.”

I had the same discussion soon after with the young man who runs the floor of the Bowl every night. He told me of the daily challenges he has because of inconsiderate patrons. The Bowl asks people in their opening recorded statements to remain quiet during the performance, but most people are not paying attention. I suggested they need to have a live person on the stage welcoming the crowd and focusing them and asking them to remain quiet while the artists are performing. He thought it was a good idea and was going to run it up the flagpole and see what the bosses thought. Unfortunately, they did not adopt the new policy.

This was proven out when recently a couple behind me was chattering while Roger Daltrey was singing the lyrics of a Who song at a recent concert. I turned and just gave them a look and the next thing I knew they were knocking on my shoulder and asking what was wrong with me. Of course, they were asking me in the middle of a song.

It is sad we have gotten to this situation in our society. There is little sense of decorum. There is little respect for others. There is little self-awareness. It seems every time you call someone on their ill behavior, you get rude tongue-lashing. Or my favorite is when people are driving, and they flip you the bird after they almost crashed into your car or run you over while you’re in a crosswalk. So graceless. Do you wonder why the bigger issues of bad behavior are occurring?

The Broken Windows Theory is applied to crime, but it is applicable to our everyday lives. When apparent upstanding members of the community act like this, what would you expect from others?

Twitter Execs Didn’t Have a Good Explanation for Censoring Hunter Biden’s Laptop, New Emails Reveal

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

After Twitter CEO Elon Musk teased a massive reveal Friday afternoon, journalist Matt Taibbi released a Twitter thread revealing the confusion at the social media company after it censored the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election.

Taibbi’s Twitter thread, which Musk retweeted, revealed that Twitter’s top executives didn’t have a good explanation for censoring the story, but stuck with the decision, anyway. It also showed that Republican and Democratic congressional staff weighed in against the move.

Taibbi recounted that Twitter took “extraordinary steps” to suppress the Post’s Oct. 14, 2020, story reporting on emails from Hunter Biden’s laptop implicating Joe Biden in his son’s foreign business dealings. The social media company even went so far as “removing links and posting warnings that it may be ‘unsafe.’ They even blocked its transmission via direct message, a tool hitherto reserved for extreme cases, e.g. child pornography.”

Twitter locked then-White House press secretary Kaleigh McEnany out of her account for tweeting about the story. Taibbi shared an email from then-President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign staffer Mike Hahn, who noted that all McEnany did was “cite the story and firsthand reporting that has been reported by other outlets and not disputed by the Biden campaign.”

“I need an answer immediately on when/how she will be unlocked,” Hahn added. “At least pretend to care for the next 20 days,” he added, referencing the election.

Taibbi next shared a message from public policy executive Caroline Strom, who asked her coworkers, “Are you able to take a closer look here?”

An analyst responded that “the user was bounced by Site Integrity for violating our Hacked Materials Policy.”

Yet it remains unclear what sparked the initial decision to censor the story, according to Taibbi.

“Although several sources recalled hearing about a ‘general’ warning from federal law enforcement that summer about possible foreign hacks, there’s no evidence—that I’ve seen—of any government involvement in the laptop story,” he wrote. “The decision was made at the highest levels of the company, but without the knowledge of CEO Jack Dorsey, with former head of legal, policy and trust Vijaya Gadde playing a key role.”

Taibbi quoted one former employee, who said of the decision, “They just freelanced it.”

“Hacking was the excuse, but within a few hours, pretty much everyone realized that wasn’t going to hold. But no one had the guts to reverse it,” the employee reportedly added.

Taibbi shared a few messages illustrating the confusion. Communications staffer Trenton Kennedy wrote: “I’m struggling to understand the policy basis for marking this as unsafe, and I think the best explainability argument for this externally would be that we’re waiting to understand if this story is the result of hacked materials. We’ll face hard questions on this if we don’t have some kind of solid reasoning for marking the link unsafe.”

“By this point ‘everyone knew this was f—ed,’ said one former employee, but the response was essentially to err on the side of … continuing to err,” Taibbi added.

Yoel Roth, Twitter’s then-safety chief, cited “hacked materials” as the policy rationale, but noted that “this is an emerging situation where the facts remain unclear. Given the SEVERE risks here and lessons of 2016, we’re erring on the side of including a warning and preventing this content from being amplified.”

Brandon Borrman, then Twitter’s vice president of global communications, asked, “can we truthfully claim that this is part of the policy?”

Jim Baker, then-deputy counsel, wrote that “caution is warranted.” He suggested Twitter “assume” that the materials “may have been” hacked, even as he noted that “some facts” indicated “that the computer was either abandoned and/or the owner consented to allow the repair shop to access it for at least some purposes.”

Taibbi noted that some Twitter staffers seemed not to understand the basic tenets of the First Amendment and Supreme Court jurisprudence on it.

He cited an exchange between Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who alerted Twitter to the “huge backlash” this move had been generating among members of Congress on the issue of “speech,” as in free speech.

Gadde replied, noting that McEnany’s account “was not permanently suspended—we requested that she delete the tweet containing material that is in violation of our rules and her account is restricted until she complies.”

Gadde noted that Twitter “put out a clarifying threat of Tweets earlier this evening to explain our policy around the posting of private information and linking directly to hacked materials,” as if this policy would resolve any free speech concerns.

Khanna replied, “But this seems a violation of the 1st Amendment principles. If there is a hack of classified information or other information that could expose a serious war crime and the NYT [The New York Times] was to publish it, I think the NYT should have that right.”

“A journalist should not be held accountable for the illegal actions of the source unless they actively aided the hack,” the congressman added. “So to restrict the distribution of that material, especially regarding a Presidential [sic] candidate, seems not in the keeping of the principles of [the 1964 Supreme Court case] NYT v. Sullivan.”

Khanna continued, “I say this as a total Biden partisan and convinced he didn’t do anything wrong. But the story now has become more about censorship than relatively innocuous emails and it’s become a bigger deal than it would have been.”

Carl Szabo of the research firm NetChoice sent Twitter staffer Lauren Culbertson an email with the results of a quick poll involving congressional staffers. The survey suggested that a “blood bath” would await the company in congressional hearings, and that nine Republican staffers said, “this is a tipping point. It’s just too much.”

One staffer said the scandal represented “tech’s ‘Access Hollywood’ moment and it has no Hillary to hide behind.” Another said, “tech is screwed and rightfully so.”

Meanwhile, Democratic staffers suggested the censorship hadn’t gone far enough.

“In their mind, social media … doesn’t moderate enough harmful content so when it does, like it did yesterday, it becomes a story. If the companies moderate more, conservatives wouldn’t even think to use social media for disinformation, misinformation, or otherwise.”

Szabo added, “When pushed on how the government might insist on [more tech moderation], consistent with the First Amendment, [the Democratic staffers] demurred: ‘the First Amendment isn’t absolute.”

Taibbi noted that Twitter’s Hunter Biden move followed an increasing censorship trend. While “some of the first tools for designing speech were designed to combat the likes of spam and financial fraudsters,” outsiders started “petitioning the company to manipulate speech.”

He cited an exchange between Twitter executives, where one sent a list of items “to review from the Biden team,” and the other would reply, “handled these.” (Micah Lee, a blogger at The Intercept, noted that the tweets in the particular list Taibbi included contained revenge porn.)

Although Twitter received and honored requests from both team Trump and team Biden, “the system wasn’t balanced” but rather “based on contacts,” and Twitter’s staff leaned heavily Democratic. Indeed, Twitter staff long have leaned left, with 99% of their donations going to Democrats in the 2022 midterms, as they did in previous years.

“Today’s revelations demonstrate once again that Big Tech is an ideological monopoly policing Americans’ speech,” Kara Frederick, director of The Heritage Foundation’s Tech Policy Center, said in a prepared statement about Taibbi’s reporting. “Big Tech’s control of information and access to the digital space undermines free speech, interferes in our elections, and jeopardizes U.S. national security.” (The Daily Signal is The Heritage Foundation’s news outlet.)

“Musk has done what lawmakers should have already accomplished: exposing Big Tech companies as foot soldiers of the progressive Left,” Frederick added. “When Americans believe the 2020 presidential election outcome would have changed given information deliberately hidden by the Left with the help of Big Tech, apologies from former Silicon Valley executives will not cut it.”

Although it is impossible to know what would have happened had Twitter not suppressed the Post’s reporting on the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop, a Media Research Center poll conducted in the days after the 2020 election found that 36% of self-described Biden voters said they were not aware of the evidence behind claims that Joe Biden was personally involved in his son Hunter’s business deals with China, a claim bolstered by emails found on Hunter’s laptop. Thirteen percent of those voters (4.6% of all Biden voters in the sample) said that if they had known the facts, they would not have voted for Biden.

Such a shift away from Biden would have given Trump the election, according to the Media Research Center’s analysis of the election results. Had the Biden-China story seen the light of day, Trump would have won the election with 289 electoral votes, the analysis claimed.

Twitter also banned conservatives, including a Heritage Foundation expert, shortly before the 2022 midterms.

Frederick added that “Americans should not have to rely on billionaires to deliver this necessary transparency,” and that elected officials should “constrain Big Tech’s pernicious practices. It is past time for aggressive reforms and proper oversight to ensure that Big Tech is held accountable.”

*****

This article was published in The Daily Signal and is reproduced with permission.

Give The Gift Of True American History With These Wonderful Biographies For Children

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

Photo credit: Joy Pullman/The Federalist

Everyone was reading the Heroes of Liberty books in my home for Thanksgiving, from the early elementary kids to their twenty-something aunts and uncles to their grandpa.

 

After I opened a box containing the children’s history series Heroes of Liberty and set the books on the playroom table, I hardly saw five of my six kids for the next three days. (My sixth is 2 years old and never sits still.) They were all gobbling down the beautifully illustrated biographies of notables such as Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Harriet Tubman, and Alexander Hamilton, pitched at ages 7 to 12 — exactly the ages of my oldest four.

Even though my children are notorious readers because we don’t allow them screen time except for Monday movie night, this was still a slightly startling development. Usually, I have to carefully source books for my kids by interest and age. Even low-screen kids like mine turn up their noses at certain books, according to each one’s persnicketies. This series, however, captured the attention of every one of my readers. And not just them.

When several dozen people filled my home for the long Thanksgiving weekend, the phenomenon repeated among all ages. Everyone was reading the Heroes of Liberty books, from the early elementary kids to their twenty-something aunts and uncles to their grandpa. They sat in the living room passing the volumes around like a funny cat video. Except these held their attention far longer and gave them far more meaningful scope for thought.

Kid-Attractive and Sturdy

The series consists of well-bound, engaging, inspiring, and accurate biographies with child-attractive illustrations. They have a high-quality look and feel. As a mom of kids who read books to bits, I know that the strong hardcover binding will help these books last, hopefully all the way to my grandkids.

I prefer a slightly more elegant and detailed illustration style, but I’m unusual in my strong taste for the traditional. It makes sense for the illustrations in these books to meet at the intersection of quality comic book and animation. It is certainly several steps up in quality from the illustrations I like least in children’s books: those that imitate the artistic efforts of preschoolers, who have the excuse of undeveloped fine motor skills.

The poor bindings and illustrations of many good older books I regularly introduce to my kids often repel them before they even open the cover. This series cleverly attracts children even if its pictures don’t rise to Sistine Chapel-level artistic standards. If I had to choose between the two artistic possibilities, I’d make the same choice as the series editors, because there’s no point in putting out a book people don’t read.

Extremely High Production Quality

Also delightfully surprising was the amount of text these books contained, and how interesting the fact-driven storytelling was. I’ve read thousands of picture books with my children and hundreds of children’s books about American history. This series is competitive with the best I’m aware of, if not the best of their own category. It is delightful to see something at this level of quality from a smaller and conservative-marketed publisher, due to the cliché of religious and conservative materials often not being quality-competitive with big corporate.

There are indeed good history books for kids (try the Cornerstones of Freedom series; a few are politicized but most are solid), but I don’t know of any this good that provide a toe-for-toe counterpart to the heavily politicized junk biographies filling library shelves in the children’s history section. That is why I also set aside my reservations about writing biographies of living people such as Amy Coney Barrett — those already exist of leftist counterparts like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, so they ought also to exist of exemplary Americans such as Barrett. These biographies should truly be on every school library’s shelves.

If your public library doesn’t already have these and allows patrons to request titles as mine does, request that your local library purchase this set. Also, or alternatively, buy your own if you’re able — you won’t regret this investment in your family’s self-education. Since this series is sadly less likely to land on those shelves due to the library and teaching profession’s deep political bias, parents, grandparents, and others have an obligation to provide children good histories when our corrupted public institutions will not.

Honest about American History

Like me, the Heroes of Liberty editors are clearly not interested in replacing leftist propaganda in children’s history with conservative propaganda. The series does no propagandizing, as I (perhaps foolishly) worried given its affiliation with conservative personalities. The books instead simply state true and compelling facts in an easy-to-follow story form and let the truth speak for itself.

Here’s an example from the Harriet Tubman biography in the series: “…blacks were not only free in Philadelphia,” where Tubman escaped from slavery. “They were also active in public and religious life. The city was home to the Pennsylvania Society for the Promotion of the Abolition of Slavery, the oldest anti-slavery society in the country. Its first president was Benjamin Franklin.”

As mentioned, these are all simple and simply stated facts. Yet in themselves they undercut several false narratives about race and American history, including that black Americans lack agency, and that the American founders were wholesale slavers and the Constitution they produced a “pro-slavery document.”

It’s utterly refreshing. These books destroy false historical narratives without displaying bitterness or bias and without fulfilling the lies and smears always launched against such efforts, such as claims that conservatives “don’t want to talk about slavery or America’s sins.” When appropriate, these books absolutely do so. The Tubman biography, for example, is not at all shy about illustrating the horrors of slavery in age-appropriate detail. In fact, it does an exemplary job of educating about American chattel slavery.

Here’s another example of that from the Hamilton biography: “Then there were also the slave markets where human beings were bought and sold, like cattle, in plain sight. Young Alexander saw it all. And he never forgot what he saw. It all shaped who he would become.” On the same page as this text is an illustration of a slave auction.

Although the books do not shy away from tragedy in their subjects, both personal and national, they also are deeply hopeful because they show how these great Americans worked to rise above the inevitable tragedies of life. This is why biography is known as an inspirational genre, even when it necessarily treats of difficult subjects. At its best, biography reveals human nature and ideally human greatness amid life’s suffering and sometimes crippling constraints. Very little better reading material can be made available to all, but especially children, who like all of us need such examples to look toward as they grow.

Definitely Worth Buying

I’ll admit, I was skeptical of this series until I looked at them. Now I and my children are dedicated fans. My 7-year-old, whom I required to tell me what he had learned in exchange for giving him the next book in the set, summed up with this: “If you stop reading anywhere, it’s a cliffhanger.”

It’s refreshing as a parent to be able to trust the writers and publishers of a book so I don’t have to pre-read, scrutinize, and pre-emptively guard my children’s minds from those who seek to prey upon them with popular lies. It’s refreshing to learn facts about my beloved country and its wonderful people that celebrate the human spirit and especially its peculiar American expressions. It’s refreshing to let my guard down and just enjoy reading about American history with my children from a trustworthy source that isn’t trying to push us in any direction politically, but just to tell true human stories of our ancestors and their dreams, failures, and achievements.

The review copies the Heroes of Liberty team sent me will be donated to a K-12 school library to encourage, educate, and inspire as many children as possible. We will be buying the forthcoming books as they arrive and donating those, too — after we’ve all gobbled them up in our living room. For Christmas, birthdays, and beyond, the Heroes of Liberty team is offering Federalist readers an amazing 20 percent off with the special code FED22.

Quite frankly, I would go with the 12 books for $129 or all 14 currently published for $159 Christmas specials — that’s a ridiculous steal for brand-new hardbacks, and the series is worth it. It’d be a wonderful and enduring present for a special child or family in your life. The two-year book-of-the-month subscription offers a similar value with the bonus of your recipient getting to look forward to personalized mail each month — something my kids absolutely adore.

*****

This article was published at The Federalist and was reproduced with permission.

Joy Pullmann is executive editor of The Federalist, a happy wife, and the mother of six children. Here’s her printable household organizer for faith-centered holidays. Sign up here to get early access to her next ebook, “101 Strategies For Living Well Amid Inflation.” Her bestselling ebook is “Classic Books for Young Children.” Mrs. Pullmann identifies as native American and gender natural. She is the author of several books, including “The Education Invasion: How Common Core Fights Parents for Control of American Kids,” from Encounter Books. Joy is also a grateful graduate of the Hillsdale College honors and journalism programs.

A Slow Bloat to China

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

Since the US birthed the entrance of China into the World Trade Organization in 1998 under Bill Clinton, the two nations have formed an unstable alliance of sorts.  The thinking of Western elites has been that if China did well, they would become more like the West.  They would become integrated into the global economy, and start becoming more democratic and less of a military threat to the US.

In hindsight, the whole project looks like a tragic and dangerous mistake.

For the US, our industrial elites found a source of ultra-cheap labor and an environment of minimal regulation.  Factory after factory, and job after job, was shipped to China.  As a result, US shelves were filled with less expensive Chinese goods, which helped keep US inflation down.

Politicians have loved this relationship on several levels.  The increase in the supply of inexpensive goods helped masked the inflation caused by deficits and easy money policies pursued by the Federal Reserves.  We wound up with asset price inflation, which the elites love since most of their money is in tradable securities, but subdued goods inflation.

Secondly, many American political leaders forged a close association with China and the huge money to be made.  A good example is the Bush Family. Neil Bush, the lesser-known son of the Bush Family, runs a think tank exclusively based on Chinese relations.  But Mitch McConnell, and certainly the Biden Family, are also deeply involved.  Many US political leaders are known to be knee-deep in Chinese investment and are subject to Chinese influence.

Major corporations that own media assets such as Disney (ABC News) and Bloomberg are invested heavily in China.  From the NBA to Nike shoes, many of the most “woke” corporations made their economic bed with the Communist Party of China.

What China got was economic growth necessary to support its vast population and growing military power.  The deal basically with the Chinese people was this: give up all that talk about freedom and religious expression, and we will pull you out of poverty.  Just work hard and support the Communist Party and things will keep improving, the Chinese people were told.

We have covered previously for you the bear market in China, the real estate bust, and the related banking crises.

What happens in China will be felt here.  Not only is China a huge buyer of US Treasury Bonds (although they have been big sellers of late), they are an integral part of our supply chain in critical areas such as pharmaceuticals, auto parts, plumbing supplies, and semiconductors.

Without cheap Chinese manufacturing, US inflation will likely be higher than it has been, and without recirculating the Chinese surplus in the balance of trade back into Treasury bonds, our interest rate structure will likely be higher now for years to come.

Social and economic issues, coupled with draconian Covid lockdown policies, are destabilizing the country.  Chairman Xi is more infatuated with becoming the second coming of Mao, and is more intent on gaining and maintaining power than he is on reforming the dictatorship of the party. The bargain of “give up your freedom for economic security” may fall apart if China cannot deliver the standard of living expected.

We are not suggesting that China will topple anytime soon as the government there can and will use repression.  US elites have so much at stake they will avert their eyes until conditions cannot be ignored. No use talking about human rights when the NBA needs Chinese TV viewers, right?

Although Chinese economic statistics are notoriously unreliable, economic growth is slowing significantly in China and the financial crises keep re-surfacing.

Like the US, elites in China have built a bubble economy, which is a program of government “investment” fueled by cheap credit and debt.  Like here, when things slow down, the credit pyramid becomes unstable.  It is a top-down, centralized economic policy that only gives lip service to market forces. Central planning has never worked, and it won’t work in China as well.

With debt to GDP levels already at 300% of GDP, swilling the elixir of cheap money and debt, will likely not do the job now.  The patient is already in withdrawal from an over-indulgence in credit expansion.

However, it is clear though, that China is increasingly becoming unstable and that as a supplier, they are not reliable.  Further, they are rapidly becoming a military threat.

Below are two videos that will brief you on the demographic, economic, political, and social issues now gripping China.

To some of you, this may seem like a problem that is far away and of little consequence to the US.  If you think that, you are sadly mistaken.  We are far too deep in this relationship at almost every level and the same can be said for our allies in Asia.

Weekend Read: The Promise of Habit-Based Learning

Estimated Reading Time: 10 minutes

Subconscious, habitual learning is far more common, complex, and important than we’d realized. This type of learning has been making a comeback everywhere except where it’s needed most—education.

Education is a vital discipline, but something has gone awry. For example, over the past decades, the U.S. has dropped to the bottom of international rankings for developed countries in math. This decline has coincided with education reform, a shift that has emphasized understanding and downplayed practice. Could something that sounds so sensible have possibly been responsible for the drop? The science that underpins our understanding of teaching and learning can help us answer this question.

The brain has two major learning systems. One is based on practice, and leads to fast, automatic behavior. This system is not accessible by conscious thought and is the source of intuition. The second system is based on deliberate thought—it is slow but flexible. You are consciously aware and can verbalize what you have learned. These two systems are roughly analogous to Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s “thinking, fast and slow.”

Students need both fast and slow systems to learn well. Yet over the past fifty years, education, and math education in particular, has dismissed the importance of fast automaticity in learning—insisting instead that students can always look up whatever they need to know, and that drill equates to kill. But focusing primarily on slow, flexible thinking, appealing as it may be, is akin to asking a sprinter to run faster by hopping on only one leg.

As management consultant Peter Drucker has noted: “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The culture of modern, Western approaches to teaching has long held that chasing after fluency kills student interest and creativity. Thus, although achieving fluency has now been written into current standards for teaching math, these standards are often minimized or ignored in actual practice by teachers.  After all, for close to fifty years, fluency, especially in math, has been de-emphasized and even ridiculed by educational leaders.

Fast thinking often involves the procedural system, which deposits neural links in long-term memory primarily through the basal ganglia, a part of the brain with no conscious access. Slow thinking, on the other hand, uses the declarative system, which deposits links in long-term memory primarily through the hippocampus. This latter system allows you to “declare” what you’re learning—in other words, you’re conscious of it.

The Neuroscience of Fast and Slow Learning

An area toward the front of your brain, in the prefrontal cortex, monitors what you do and think.  When you repeat something enough times—as when you are learning a new language, practicing with the multiplication tables, or learning a new route for driving home—your prefrontal cortex gradually creates a new, accompanying set of procedural, habitual neural links. This is why you may at first have to think consciously (declaratively) about how to drive home from work if you move to a new city. But gradually, after you’ve driven to your new home enough times, you find that you can head home without even being aware of the decisions you are making about how you get there. Your procedural links take over, so you can find yourself driving while daydreaming about the night’s dinner or a birthday party you might be planning instead of consciously thinking about whether to turn right or left at the intersection. Incidentally, the procedural links you gradually lay are easy and fast to access, but also inflexible.  That’s why you may tell yourself to stop by the store on your way home, but find that you inadvertently drive right past the exit as you are thinking about other things.

These fast and slow neural links in memory are accessed and used differently, depending (naturally) on whether you are doing something habitually or deliberately. But the two systems often work together—as when you are reading these letters with the aid of your procedural system and simultaneously grasping the key ideas with your declarative system. The two ways of learning work together seamlessly like a hand in a glove, helping each other navigate the vicissitudes of the real world.

But what’s with the procedural system? Why is it such an essential part of learning and thinking in general? Why can’t we just use the declarative system and have done with it? Part of the issue is that declarative learning is flexible—but that very flexibility means it is also slow. After all, deliberation can cost precious time—from an evolutionary perspective, you could be dead before you figured out which hand to use to pick up a spear. By contrast, procedural learning involves activities you do a lot—so often, that you don’t even want to bother to think consciously about them. If you practice a lot with a spear, for example, throwing becomes speedy second nature. Practice a lot with writing, and eventually, you can write without worrying about punctuation. Practice a lot with arithmetic operations, and you can do them without conscious thought, allowing the brain to focus its deliberate, conscious thinking on more complex ideas.

Although the procedural system has been dismissed as the domain of undesirable “rote” learning, in reality, it is an extraordinarily powerful pattern-recognition system. This is the system that allows us to solve a Rubik’s cube, learn the intricate patterns of our native language, or feel, intuitively, why 2 × 6 = 13 must be wrong. (Our procedural systems gradually intuit that 2 multiplied by any number must be an even number.) Constructivists are right—children do construct their own knowledge. But they can’t construct that internal, neurally-based knowledge if we insist, as do some modern educators, that students can always just “look things up.”

When chess genius Magnus Carlsen’s company created the app Play Magnus, some chess players were surprised because the app emphasized mastering the fundamentals of chess through repetitive practice.

When animals or humans receive a reward, even though the reward was initially a motivation, the acquired habitual behavior survives long after that reward is gone. This has important implications for educators. It means that educational efforts to make learning more fun, in large part by avoiding any type of rote learning, are barking up precisely the wrong tree. Students must internalize key ideas if they are to develop intuition and expertise in a subject.

Properly varied rote learning, accomplished with modern insights such as spaced repetition and “interleaving” (that is, interweaving similar materials during study so that students swiftly and intuitively know the difference), means that students can carry out even complex activities without conscious thought. This, of course, is part of why learning to play a musical instrument well, speak a foreign language easily, smoothly perform a magic trick, or gracefully slalom down a steep ski trail, can bring such great intrinsic pleasure.

As modern mathematical genius Terrence Tao pointed out in an interview for the New York Times, he “believes that his younger self, the prodigy who wowed the math world, wasn’t truly doing math at all. ‘It’s as if your only experience with music were practicing scales or learning music theory… I didn’t learn the deeper meaning of the subject until much later.’’’ The reality is that Tao couldn’t be making his breakthrough accomplishments in mathematics—which bring him and human society so much practical insight as well as pleasure—unless he had first practiced with his mathematical equivalent of the scales.

It is well known that the more chess games you play, the better you get, and to become a grandmaster, you need to devote years of your life to chess. This same route was taken by DeepMind in training an AI program, AlphaGo, that beat the World Go Champion in 2017. The AI learning algorithm used was the same one we have in our brains for procedural learning. AlphaGo played itself millions of times (without complaint), and became better and better, eventually discovering brilliant moves and positions no human had ever seen before. Kie Jie, the Go champion, was not expecting such a strong player and said after the match “After humanity spent thousands of years improving our tactics, computers tell us that humans are completely wrong.” Creativity emerged out of practice! Not only does practice make you perfect, practice can also make you smarter.

As distinguished psychologist Robert Bjork of UCLA observes, “deliberate practice,” the difficult-to-master activities that most support our learning, takes work. It’s not all fun and games.  But the upshot can be the joy of acquiring deep expertise. It’s a little like riding a bicycle—at first, you fall off and it hurts. Only later do you experience the pleasure of riding easily along the breezy pathways. Perhaps this is why, when chess genius Magnus Carlsen’s company created the app Play Magnus, some chess players were surprised. Why? The app emphasized mastering the fundamentals of chess through repetitive practice.

The Paradox of Praise

Perhaps more surprisingly, with modern educational approaches, even simply giving a student right-or-wrong feedback—which is critical for learning—has been subverted. When students give a wrong answer, teachers are often taught not to state that a student’s answer is wrong (that might, after all, hurt their feelings), but rather, to sidestep direct feedback, so that only later does the class learn the correct answer. This time-consuming approach runs counter to how the brain’s reward system helps with learning, and can be outright frustrating for students, who can’t understand why the teacher is going around in circles.

The “praise wrap” approach makes matters even worse—this is the idea that three or even four layers of praise must be provided for every criticism. The never-ending, increasingly saccharine and artificial-sounding praise means that praise becomes expected. This expectation of reward, even when a student doesn’t deserve it, can in turn kill feelings of pleasure about successful learning. This is because the “aha!” of solving a problem or understanding a concept causes a spritz of dopamine—a fertilizer for neural connections—to cement in the new neural pathway that caused the unexpected, but successful, solution. But when a reward becomes expected whether a student has figured out a problem or not, the dopamine neurons stop their spritzing. Why bother to learn when a reward is received in any case? This is why these approaches are a significant waste of time and can turn frustrated students away from school. Worse yet, students can become cynical about their teachers, never certain about whether they are receiving praise or pablum.

Another problem involves the idea that students only understand a concept if they can explain it. Declarative explanations can be memorized and regurgitated with no real understanding of the concept at hand. By contrast, a student who has learned a concept well through their procedural system may find it well-nigh impossible to put their understanding into words even though they have developed a superb intuition and can perform an expected calculation in their head with ease. This can result in the strange outcome that a student with no understanding can receive a perfect grade as they “explain” a concept they are simply regurgitating from memory, while a student with well-developed intuitions and speedy and accurate problem-solving skills receives a failing grade. The cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all declarative-only approach can be a disaster when it comes to inclusive teaching in today’s diverse classrooms, causing talented students to become more frustrated with school and ultimately to tune out altogether.

Textbooks are needed that provide insight into balanced approaches that value traditional, rote methodologies even as they bring insight about the value of declarative learning.

If educators discourage procedural fluency with, for example, the times tables, they are undercutting students’ ability to grasp the relationships inherent in fractions instantly, which derails the long-term process of making math easier, and thus more fun for learners. The “drill to skill” part of habitual learning that ultimately makes learning easy and, yes, more enjoyable, has been banished. Modern educators’ discouragement of students’ efforts to gain easy, swift fluency with materials to reduce stress is precisely the opposite of what neuroscience suggests. In fact, research has shown that the modest amounts of stress students experience, such as during timed exercises and even during a typical end-of-marking-period test, help students learn better, faster, and more deeply, and also helps more generally to enhance cognition. And fluency developed through plenty of practice with the habitual system can, in the end, make learning more enjoyable. As researchers Szu-Han Wang and Richard Morris have observed: “we rapidly remember what interests us, but what interests us takes time to develop.”

The Jesuits had a maxim: “Give me a child until the age of seven, and I will give you the man.” There is some truth to the expression (at least if it’s modernized to gender-neutral form) because evidence suggests that the procedural system is strongest in the young. It is easier for children to learn to downhill ski, play the violin, or do math than it is for adults. Reading is another example of a skill that takes years of practice starting from an early age. But acquiring math and reading skills in particular is essential—they contribute to intelligence in ways that we are just beginning to understand.

K-12 teaching matters enormously in allowing students to gain the solid procedurally-based skills that they need to excel at the college level in much-desired-by-society subjects such as STEM. Procedural skills like language and math take time to develop. Indeed, it’s virtually impossible to develop strong ability in math—the foundation of most professional and STEM disciplines—using just a remedial course or two when a disadvantaged student, taught using only typical modern mathematics approaches, might arrive at college. In the final analysis, the way such students have been taught to learn, especially in STEM, can cripple their ability to learn in the very subjects they, and society—want them to excel at. Sadly, even relatively bright people and generally well-prepared students who were not given the procedural foundations in math can flounder when trying to master more advanced mathematically-based subjects. Private conversations with the many foreign-educated professors in mathematically-based US graduate programs, for example, reveal their feelings that wholly US-trained students often shy away from such programs, not because of other opportunities, but because they are just not comfortable with the math.

Course Correction

Perhaps the field of education finds it difficult to alter course precisely because of the highly intelligent leaders who excel in less flexible procedural-type learning. For example, it is troubling that reform leaders in mathematics diagnose ever-declining math scores as being due to the perseverance of so-called “drill and kill” approaches, when it is clear that most Western math educators do everything possible to avoid those approaches. It is hard not to see this as a case of their convictions, rooted in the unconscious but tremendously influential “value function” produced by their own procedural system, doing them a disservice. In fact, there is little evidence that insistence on “drill and kill” approaches to teaching is continuing in today’s math teachers—reform educators have taken over the entire system, including pedagogical instruction taught in schools of education; key thought leaders in major educational societies; and journal editors, reviewers, and panelists for appraising grant proposals.

Both schools of pedagogy and educational societies need to find a more scientifically balanced approach to learning. This new approach would take advantage of the flexibility of declarative learning and also take advantage of the habitual ease and enjoyable comfort that procedural learning can bring. Some visionary groups with more open-minded leaders are beginning to embrace these research-based approaches to learning. For example, Jacqueline El-Sayed, Chief Academic Officer at the American Society for Engineering Education, is leading the society into new initiatives, growing out of the information in workshops based on solid research based on neuroscience that include practice, and yes, even some balanced use of varied rote learning that includes interleaving and spaced repetition. And Singapore, acknowledged as a leader in education, is embracing neuroscientific approaches that promote creativity in part by including procedurally-based approaches to learning.

Textbooks are needed that provide insight into balanced approaches that value traditional, rote methodologies even as they bring insight into the value of declarative learning. Massive online courses can be developed that reach broad audiences of teachers with new, balanced approaches to good teaching. Professional development trainers and keynote speakers can bring out the additional value of “drill to skill” approaches. Journal editors and proposal reviewers can do their part to bring in fresh perspectives that value the benefits of habitual, rote-type learning instead of dismissing it out-of-hand. Much research needs to be done.

What is the best balance between procedural and declarative learning in different subjects, for different students, with different backgrounds? How do we find that balance point and turn it into methods and practices? Implementation of these new approaches and findings will give our children—and the world—the best possible educational tools to embrace the realities that science has unveiled.

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This article was published by Law and Liberty and is reproduced with permission.

It’s Not Kooky to Say Anti-Capitalists Are Using Climate Change as a Pretext for a Planned Economy When They Come Out and Say It

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

World leaders met in Egypt recently to discuss climate change. This time, the focus was on the demands of poor countries that want money from rich countries because of climate change. After more than 50 years of experience with development aid, one can already predict where this money will end up—with corrupt governments in countries in Africa and other poor countries.

Many so-called climate change activists are not really concerned about the climate and the environment. No, for them, these are merely instruments in the fight against capitalism.

For the last three years, Greta Thunberg has said that her life’s purpose was to save the world from climate change. Now she told an audience in London that climate activists must overthrow “the whole capitalist system,” which she says is responsible for “imperialism, oppression, genocide… racist, oppressive extractionism.” The “activists” of the doomsday cult “Last Generation” say quite openly that their goal is the abolition of capitalism.

Examine the standard work of anti-capitalist climate change activists, and you will quickly see what I mean. Naomi Klein, the popular critic of capitalism and globalization, admits she initially had no particular interest in the issues surrounding and related to climate change. Then, in 2014, she wrote a hefty 500-page tome called This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate.

Why did she suddenly become so interested in climate change? Well, prior to writing this 2014 book, Klein’s main interest was the fight against free trade and globalization.

She admits in her writing: “I was propelled into a deeper engagement with [the topic of climate change] partly because I realized it could be a catalyst for forms of social and economic justice in which I already believed.” And she hopes for “a new kind of climate movement to take up the fight against so-called free trade.” She strictly rejects highly efficient solutions, such as climate-friendly nuclear energy, because she is not at all interested in solutions within the framework of capitalism.

Klein writes that she recognizes that climate change presents a chance to “collectively use the crisis to leap somewhere that seems, frankly, better than where we are right now” and “that climate change could become a catalyzing force for positive change … it could be the best argument progressives have ever had … to reclaim our democracies from corrosive corporate influence; to block harmful new free trade deals … to open borders to migrants.” The climate crisis could “form the basis of a powerful mass movement,” and this movement should set itself the following objectives:

  • to “radically expand the commons” (i.e., state-owned property and resources)
  • to introduce a “carefully planned economy”
  • to “change pretty much everything about our economy”
  • to introduce “new taxes, new public works programs”
  • “reversals of privatizations”
  • “extinction for the richest and most powerful industry the world has ever known—the oil and gas industry”
  • government guidelines on “how often we drive, how often we fly, whether our food has to be flown to get to us, whether the goods we buy are built to last … how large our homes are”
  • “a fundamental reordering of the component parts of Gross Domestic Product”
  • “less private investment in producing for excessive consumption”
  • “increased government spending”
  • “a great deal more redistribution”

Klein embraces a suggestion that the well-off 20 percent in a population take the largest cuts in order to create a fairer society. She argues that “our economic system and our planetary system are now at war,” and the only suitable response is “revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony.”

I think these quotes, which are representative of many more such statements in Klein’s book, confirm that anti-capitalists such as Klein are only superficially concerned about the environment and climate change. Their real goal is to eliminate capitalism and establish a state-run, planned economy. That is why they consistently reject a whole range of measures that would protect the environment and mitigate the risks of climate change—because they would be compatible with the prevailing economic system: capitalism.

Every year, the Heritage Foundation ranks countries around the world on their economic freedom. It’s a kind of capitalism index. But analysis shows the most economically “free” countries also register the highest scores on Yale University’s EPI environmental index, averaging 76.1, while “mostly free” countries averaged 70.2. These two groups have a significant lead over the “moderately free” countries, which received much lower ratings (59.6 points) for their environmental performance. The countries rated by the Heritage Foundation as either “mostly unfree” or “repressed” received by far the worst Environmental Performance Index scores (46.7 and 50.3, respectively).

The thesis that many climate activists and supporters of a Green New Deal are less concerned with the environment than with exploiting this issue to abolish capitalism and introduce a planned economy is by no means a malicious insinuation.

Rather, the climate activists themselves admit it. You just have to read what they write and listen to what “activists” like Greta Thunberg are saying.

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This article was published by FEE and is reproduced with permission.

Goodbye Ms. Pelosi

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

As soon as the news broke, a cavalcade of plaudits started coming in from left-of-center politicians and journalists lauding the accomplishments of Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House and leader of her party.  Ms. Pelosi had two four-year stints as Speaker. Let’s look at her years as leader of the House and second in line to the Presidency.

Ms. Pelosi is being heralded by her cronies and the Left-wing press as the most consequential Speaker in history.  A large part of that is because of legislation passed during her terms. They seem to have forgotten Democrat Sam Rayburn who served for seventeen years between 1940 and 1961.  He was the Speaker during two major wars and engineered the first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction.  He worked with President Eisenhower with funding for and building the national highway system. Unlike Speaker Pelosi, he worked with the opposition party and President.  But Ms. Pelosi is the current darling. 

Probably her most significant act of recent was traveling to Taiwan in the face of relentless pressure from the Chinese overlords. It was truly a shining moment, but we all get some things right. Probably her greatest skill was managing to get Blue Dog Democrats who pretended to be moderate to vote against their constituencies and their own self-interests which led to their ousting in the 2010 Democrat midterm bloodbath.

She expanded the regulatory state by promulgating lengthy and nearly incomprehensible legislation.  As a person who spent almost her entire career in Congress, she did as much as anyone in history to debase the power of Congress, passing it off to the regulatory state.  You didn’t hear her complain when President Obama said, “I have a pen and a phone.”  She did nothing to stop President Biden from issuing 60 executive orders in his first 100 days.  It could easily be said she encouraged the Presidency and the Supreme Court to take power from Congress to write legislation despite the Constitution giving that power to Congress and particularly the House of Representatives.

Then there is corruption.  To their credit, some members of her caucus have wanted to put a stop to members of the House trading stocks.  I am often fascinated by this.  As a financial professional I have had a managed account for about 20 years.  I could not tell you specifically what is in my portfolio.  Yet members of Congress have the time to make multiple trades of specific stocks that they apparently have researched on their own, on their own time, and then invested in those stocks with no regulatory oversight of those transactions. It is blatant corruption, and she knows it.  Yet she stopped any reform because somehow her husband, Paul, has made many genius investments and sales without the benefit of any information flowing his way from his powerful wife.

Ms. Pelosi should be principally remembered for destroying the Congress she oversaw.  The committee system which had run the Congress throughout its history by generating bills through debate and discussion ended during her reign.  Pelosi generated massive “backroom” bills with her staff and cronies and then presented them to Congress as a fait accompli.  She told the members they had just two days to brush up on these behemoths because the vote was imminent.  Ms. Pelosi will also be remembered as the person to make “CR” a famous acronym (aka Continuing Resolution).  Before her and even in between her two reigns the budget went through various committees and was voted on by the members.  Continuing Resolution became the rule of the day, making our country look like a banana republic because we could not properly run our finances and were always on the brink of disaster. 

There is another unique aspect of her Speakership.  She was the first Speaker to ban members of the opposition party from participating on Congressional committees. Incoming Speaker McCarthy has vowed to respond in kind.  This was so utterly unnecessary and destroys the idea of elections as all these representatives were duly seated by people in their districts.

In my mind, Pelosi will be remembered for two acts as Speaker.  First, the most astounding statement by a leader in our history while speaking of the Affordable Care Act weighing in at stupefying 2,700 pages that promulgated 20,000 regulations.  She stated, “We have to pass the bill to find out what is in it.”  An amazingly stupid and dangerous comment coming from a backbencher, but it was delivered by the Speaker.  The second was the most graceless act in the history of our government.  In front of the entire nation after the president had delivered the State of the Union Address, she ripped up her printed copy in a petulant act.  Both are black marks on our democracy.

Ms. Pelosi will be touted by the Left as the first woman Speaker.  That is not a definition of what she did; that is a definition of how she was born.  What she did was very harmful and mean-spirited destruction of the People’s house.

Andy Biggs And the U.S. House Leadership

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

Andy Biggs, the conservative Republican from East Mesa/ Gilbert, has become the pivotal force in either confirming or denying the leadership of the Republican majority in the House. Either by becoming Speaker himself, or determining who will become speaker, no Arizona Congressman has held that kind of power since John Rhodes.

Kevin McCarthy certainly seems the odds-on favorite, but due to a very narrow victory in the recent congressional elections, he needs to get 218 votes by January 3rd.

In a recent interview with John Soloman of Just the News, Biggs suggested that McCarthy does not have the votes. Biggs would like the position as well as Majority Leader, and he also could deny the post to McCarthy because the Freedom Caucus that Biggs chairs may have the swing votes to confirm or deny the Majority Leader.

In the interview, Biggs said he was actively calling members for his own candidacy.

What does Mr. Biggs want? In short, he thinks Republicans should be more than just speed bumps for Democrats. About all Republican leadership has been able to do is slow down the aggressive agenda of the Democrats, but it has not been able to either block or reverse many of the trends Biggs finds quite negative.  Biggs finds this inability due to many structural flaws in the way House rules and procedures have changed over the years.

For example, committees have lost the power that they once exercised. Legislation is often bundled in a way that requires a Congressman to vote up or down on the budget in one bill, stuffed with special interest legislation that has to be swallowed without much ability to discriminate. Often this legislation is so huge and complex, no one even has reasonable time to even read the legislation. Huge omnibus bills are created by leadership and then foisted on the membership, who can’t exercise much judgment or discretion. This reduces substantially input from members and their ability to represent their district, as opposed to just representing their party affiliation.

Congress has not even had a budget for almost 20 years, floating the country each year by continuing resolutions.

Biggs thinks all tools in the parliamentary toolbox need to be re-activated. This would include devolving power away from the center of House leadership, giving greater power to committees, and getting back to single-issue legislation. He also thinks the impeachment process and budgetary threats will be necessary to bring “rogue” Federal agencies to follow the law.

In an article Biggs penned for American Greatness, he suggests the power to appropriate money, which lies solely in the House of Representatives, should be used as leverage against the Department of Defense, which under President Biden, has declared that members of the Armed Services are “white supremacists”, and launched a whole laundry list of Woke social causes that have degraded combat readiness. It is only through controlling the money that Congress can get such large departments to stay on mission and not become training camps for left-wing ideology.

Impeachment has to be considered. For example, the head of Homeland Security continues to blithely say “the border is under control”, all the while refusing to enforce existing law.

It will be interesting to see if Biggs can either get concessions from McCarthy or whether new candidates for House Speaker besides the two of them will emerge.

Right now it appears Andy Biggs has leverage and he intends to use it.

As long as a relatively small number of conservatives can hold together, and not cave under pressure, they have a chance to make a significant change in leadership and the way the House does its business.

To be sure, getting rule changes, and bucking the party establishment, are long shots without great odds of success. But the extremely narrow victory in the House has created an unusual circumstance.

One senses that Andy Biggs understands this is a rare political occasion that cannot be ignored.

Taking a long shot is not that unusual for Biggs, however. His very entry into politics was an extreme long shot in the first place. It was only after he won the Publishing Clearance House sweepstakes, which provided him a secure independent source of income, that Biggs got into politics and quit practicing law.

At The Prickly Pear, we think the key to getting control of extremist ideology and rouge agencies, is for the House to regain control of its rightful Constitutional power, the ability to control the purse strings.

We wish him well in his epic battle.

Book Review: The Myth of Voter Suppression

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

One of the most bizarre phenomena of recent American elections is seeing turnout swell to historic highs even as leftists scream “voter suppression.”

Conservatives are used to hearing that phrase trundled out to criticize any attempt at improving election integrity, but have they ever heard it defined? The League of Women Voters calls suppression “any attempt to prevent or discourage certain Americans”—invariably ethnic or religious minorities—“from registering to vote or casting their ballot.”

That seems clear enough, but how to measure it? Don’t look at turnout, explained Georgia gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams, the “voting rights” champion who told reporters in October that “turnout does not dispel voter suppression [because] suppression is about barriers to access.”

If it isn’t obvious what she means by “barriers to access,” get a copy of The Myth of Voter Suppression: The Left’s Assault on Clean Elections (Bombardier Books, 2022, 248 pages) by Fred Lucas.

Election Integrity

Lucas is a longtime investigative journalist for the Daily Signal, the news and reporting arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation. He’s written for dozens of outlets across the political spectrum on hundreds of issues, including election integrity—particularly since 2020.

“Voter suppression” is a meaningless but “politically loaded” term, Lucas explains, one that Democrats have engineered and retooled since at least 2006. That year the party set its sights on defeating Indiana’s voter ID law, only to see the Supreme Court uphold the law in a 6-3 ruling.

What is new is the attempt to take voter suppression alarmism national in what Lucas calls “a legal jihad” against America’s election system.

That hard-bitten campaign started with Stacey Abrams’s embarrassing refusal to admit defeat after losing the race for Georgia governor in 2018. But under President Joe Biden accusations of a nationwide conspiracy to enact racist “Jim Crow 2.0” under the guise of election integrity have become a plank in the Democratic Party platform. Their solution is a complete federal takeover of elections—a power grab that would mean bypassing the U.S. Constitution since it grants the states sole authority over elections.

Lucas pulls no punches, arguing that genuine voter suppression—and its cousin, voter fraud—date back to Aaron Burr, New York’s Tammany Hall, and the origins of the Democratic Party.

Voter Fraud

The Heritage Foundation’s Election Fraud database counts over 1,300 legally proven instances of voter fraud dating back to 1982, while evidence of voter fraud overturned the results of at least 27 elections since 1992—most recently in the May 2022 city council election in Compton, California.

“Vote denial,” which includes laws intended to prevent legally eligible voters from exercising his right to vote, has been illegal under federal law since the 1965 Voting Rights Act. So too fraud, which has been a feature of major city elections since the founding of the republic.

In one example, Democrats imported crates of fraudulent ballots into New York in a desperate bid to stop President Abraham Lincoln’s reelection campaign in 1864. Similarly, the total number of votes cast in New York City between 1868 and 1871 was 8 percent higher than its pool of eligible voters. Republican Sen. Matthew Quay curtailed the fraud only after conducting a thorough examination of the city’s voter rolls in 1888.

Soon Republican-led California and Massachusetts adopted the secret ballot, which further clamped down on electoral corruption. In both cases, Lucas writes, contemporary Democrats accused their opponents of suppressing votes.

In contrast, the legal-sounding term “voter suppression” is totally absent from United States lawbooks, which is why Lucas and other election experts call it a myth. But leftists at the William J. Brennan Center for Justice and other election “reform” groups rack up substantial political capital by labeling efforts to improve election security as “suppression,” while denying the threat of fraud.

Lucas recounts dozens of examples of the Left’s political machine in action. After the 2020 election, numerous (mostly Republican-led) states attempted to clamp down on unmonitored ballot drop boxes and strengthen ID requirements.

Georgia’s 2021 election overhaul legislation banned campaign operatives from offering food, bottled water, or other handouts within 150 feet of polls (something New York and Montana also prohibit). President Biden spun this restriction into the charge that Georgia Republicans made “it a crime to provide water to voters while they wait in line—lines Republican officials themselves have created by reducing the number of polling sites across the state, disproportionately in Black neighborhoods.”

In Texas, 2021 legislation granted autonomy to partisan poll watchers outside of the voting booth in an effort to improve transparency, something both parties have long supported. Biden accused Republicans of “allow[ing] partisan poll watchers to intimidate voters and imperil impartial poll workers.”

Yet Biden’s home state of Delaware offers fewer days of early voting than Georgia, while California and New Jersey require an ID for absentee ballot applications.

Throughout the book, Lucas systematically documents the decrepit condition of many states’ voter rolls, which are replete with ineligible, dead, and double voters. He tackles the politically charged issue of ballot harvesting and trafficking, in which individuals gather and submit other voters’ ballots. The concern is less about family members collecting their relatives’ ballots than large-scale, well-funded organizations using paid traffickers to canvass specific neighborhoods. “As a rule,” he writes, “the old school machine politics states embrace this practice, and clean election states either ban it or curb it.”

The epitome of voting-laws-gone-wrong was the 2020 election. Lucas tallies up the problems: last-minute changes to early voting laws, no-excuse mail-in voting, nearly 15 million unaccountable mail-in or absentee ballots, and illegal drop boxes—many of them paid for by liberal billionaire Mark Zuckerberg via the Center for Tech and Civic Life.

Threatening Elections

Since then, Democrats have only doubled down on “voting rights” legislation that threatens to gut America’s elections. The now-deceased For the People Act (H.R. 1) would have legalized ballot harvesting nationwide, mandated vote by mail, enacted automatic and same-day registration, and undermined photo ID laws by allowing voters to sign sworn affidavits in lieu of proper identification.

One of the Biden administration’s first actions in March 2021 ordered federal agencies to begin registering new voters whenever Americans make use of government services—think Medicaid, Indian Health Services, student loans, and Obamacare, among others. Demos, a far-left think tank that supports DC statehood and abolishing the Electoral College, quickly claimed credit for the executive order.

The goal is to transform the federal government into the nation’s biggest get-out-the-vote machine for the Democratic Party. Demos’s operatives also pushed Biden to sic the Justice Department on conservative states for “restrictive voting procedures” that run counter to the Left’s vision for the country.

A vast web of powerful donors and foundations is bankrolling this campaign for permanent Democratic control. Lucas extensively documents the six- and seven-figure grants flowing from major liberal foundations to advocacy groups responsible for the Democratic Party’s raft of election “reforms,” such as the $1.7 billion “dark money” network run by the DC consulting firm Arabella Advisors.

Solutions?

So what’s the solution? Lucas believes that states must reassert control over elections and pass legislation blocking the Left’s worst proposals. That means banning private funding for elections, clamping down on vote trafficking, and passing robust voter ID laws in all 50 states. Lucas admits he’s “leery of federal legislation,” but believes that a “carefully-tailored national ban on vote trafficking” could be extremely effective. Perhaps more controversially, Lucas also supports scrapping the 1887 Electoral Count Act giving Congress authority to count and challenge Electoral College votes, since it “grants too much power to Congress.”

Whether the incoming Republican members of Congress heed The Myth of Voter Suppression and push such legislation remains to be seen. But anyone who sees the country’s dire need for genuine election reform ought to pick up a copy straightaway.

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This article was published by Capital Research Center and is reproduced with permission.

ESG Is A Non-Starter That We Are Being Pushed Into

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

The world of finance is turning bullish on ESG, an investment strategy directing funds to corporations with woke environmental, social, and governance policies. Trillions of dollars have already flowed into ESG funds, projected to hit $50 trillion in two years.

ESG boosters claim the funds enable investors to do well by doing good. You can make good money while simultaneously bettering the world.

Wish it were so. In fact, ESG funds do neither.

Investing goals that compete with shareholder profitability have predictable results. A recent NYU study compared investment results created by firms with high versus low ESG scores, which are generated by professional rating agencies. Over the past five years, high ESG funds have returned 6.3% compared with 8.9% for others. Over time, that’s a chunk of change.

Thus, Kentucky AG Daniel Cameron warned his state’s pension fund managers to avoid funds that “put ancillary interests before investment returns” which would “violate statutory and contractual fiduciary duties” to the pensioners depending on them. Seniors deserve better than to have their retirements hijacked by an ideology they might not share.

The basic tenants of ESG are radical environmental policy, primarily the elimination of fossil fuels woke social policies promoted by the company, and corporate governance that replaces merit with preferences based on race or gender.

The driving forces behind the growth of ESG are three very powerful financial firms. BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street are among them the largest shareholders in 80% of the companies in the S&P 500. Their financial heft gives them the ability to force companies to implement ESG, making them in effect upstream controllers of these companies.

ESG is based on the foundational principle of progressivism – the notion that the most beneficial governance comes from giving experts, the best and the brightest, control over our lives. Personal freedoms and democratic processes must yield to a governing elite that knows best.

No goal is pursued more tenaciously than the elimination of carbon-based fuels.  Consumers must be pushed into using renewables, principally by regulating fossil fuels into being scarce and expensive.

Green New Dealers may be thrilled to have the backing of the ESG behemoths, but the problem is that Europe is already experiencing a full-blown energy crisis, with America not far behind. For a year now, a post-Covid demand surge, combined with nuclear plant closures worldwide, long-standing over-investment in impractical renewables, and a global drop of over 50% in oil and gas investment since 2014 have combined put serious pressure on economies worldwide.

Aluminum smelters, glass factories, and other EU manufacturers have had to shutter plants for lack of affordable energy. In the UK, the number of people behind on their energy bills ballooned from 3 million to 11 million earlier this year. Even in relatively secure Germany, there is deep concern over looming shortages of heating oil this winter after being shut off by Russia.

The hard fact is that, in our current state of technology, fossil fuels are the mainstay economic resource, whether we like it or not. We need more oil, natural gas, and nuclear energy, not less.

The hard-core environmental left, now join by ESG interests, has worked itself into a lather insisting we can only avoid global catastrophe by achieving zero carbon emissions by 2050. Environmental alarmists achieve about the same accuracy with their predictions as the apocalyptic preachers of yesteryear. But even in the early stages of the project, it’s becoming obvious that it’s simply can’t be done.

Even if eliminating all emissions of carbon would significantly reduce atmospheric temperatures, even if humans are the main villains of global warming and even if we could somehow convince China and India to not sabotage the effort, it doesn’t matter. It’s neither economically nor politically possible to deprive humankind of the benefits of carbon fuels.

The financial titans pushing ESG are blowing an opportunity to do some real good. We need respected leaders who can stand up to the hysteria and exaggerations to propose practical, feasible solutions that would protect humanity from the worst effects of atmospheric warming.

Instead, the self-appointed experts are using other peoples’ trillions to push us down the road to dystopian government and perpetual poverty.