Weekend Read: How the Soft-on-Crime Sausage Gets Made

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

In October 2022, the Ronald Brownstein of The Atlantic wrote an impassioned defense of the left-wing progressive criminal justice reform movement, claiming there is no clear connection between rising crime rates and the polices of allegedly “soft-on-crime” district attorneys (DAs).

The article provides an . . . interesting . . . argument.

Brownstein concedes, among other things, that

  • National crime rates reversed their downward trend around 2014,
  • Left-wing progressive DAs first became popular in the “mid 2010s,”
  • 20 percent of the country now lives in the jurisdiction of a left-wing progressive DA compared to “essentially none 10 years ago” when crime rates were at an all-time low, and
  • There is “no clear alternative explanation” for rising crime rates besides the proliferation of left-wing progressive DAs.

The very frame of the story seems to undermine its central argument, but Brownstein claims that the anecdotal evidence of correlation is not to be trusted as proof of causation. To back up his claims, Brownstein presents two academic studies that serve as the basis of his entire argument.

Study 1: “The Red State Murder Problem”

One of the studies—conducted by the far-left Third Way, which Brownstein characterizes as a “centrist Democratic group”—claims that Republicans, not left-wing progressives, are responsible for rising crime because “per capita murder rates in 2020 were 40 percent higher in states that voted for Donald Trump.”

Was this study reputable? No, not really.

In fact, the Third Way study had been thoroughly debunked in the left-leaning Washington Post just the day before Brownstein’s article. The study was widely ridiculed because it ignored the obvious fact that almost all “red state murders” happened in Democrat-controlled districts within those states. Discrediting the study’s claims about Missouri, Marc Thiessen of the American Enterprise Institute wrote:

Take Missouri. Yes, it voted for Trump. But it is also home to two of the most dangerous U.S. cities—St. Louis and Kansas City—both of which are run by Democrats. Earlier this year, CBS News did an analysis of the “deadliest U.S. cities” using the latest FBI and other crime data. In 2019, it found, St. Louis had the highest murder rate in the nation, with 64.54 murders per 100,000 residents. Kansas City, meanwhile, had the eighth-highest murder rate, with 29.88 murders per 100,000. According to the FBI, the state had about 520 murders in major metropolitan areas that year, 20 in cities outside metropolitan areas, and 28 in nonmetropolitan counties. So, the vast majority of Missouri’s homicides took place in its Democrat-run cities.

The Third Way study was also mocked for trying to claim that high percentage increases in crime in Wyoming, South Dakota, and Nebraska were proof that rising crime rates were a Republican-caused problem. As Thiessen highlights, Third Way omitted the fact that these three states saw a combined 75 murders in 2019, fewer than some neighborhoods in Chicago or St. Louis.

Although some basic critical thinking might have told him that the Third Way study was bogus, Brownstein can be forgiven for using it since it had, after all, been debunked just one day before. On top of that, the Third Way study isn’t really the heart of his argument anyway. Perhaps the second study is more trustworthy?

Study 2: Violent Crime and Public Prosecution

The centerpiece of the article was “Violent Crime and Public Prosecution,” a new study by the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. The researchers behind the study, Brownstein claimed, had found that “homicides over recent years increased less rapidly in cities with left-wing progressive prosecutors than in those with more traditional district attorneys.”

Unlike the Third Way article, the Munk School article had not been thoroughly debunked when Brownstein’s article was published. In fact, nothing major had yet been written about the study at all because it had been published earlier that same day. Without any significant commentary available to review, a look at the summary of the study can help explain the bare bones of its claims.

For example, the summary aims to score political points by pointing out that “the greatest proportional increase in homicide in 2020 took place in Mesa, Arizona, a city served by a conservative prosecutor.” What it doesn’t mention is that Mesa, a city of over 500,000, saw just 24 total homicides during 2020, which is hardly an indictment of conservative prosecution.

The study’s central claim, as Brownstein writes, is that “from 2015 to 2019, for instance, the study found that murder rates increased in a smaller share of cities with progressive prosecutors (56 percent) than in those with traditional prosecutors (68 percent) or prosecutors who fell in the middle (62 percent).” The data are interesting but not terribly useful because, among other things, they exclude data for 202o, the banner-year for left-wing progressive criminal justice reform. It also doesn’t account for state and local legislation that might affect crime rates. Nor does it consider changes to policing or police budgets. It draws data from only 65 cities and counties in the nation. Additionally, a glance at the data and methodology from the full study reveals that cities like New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, and Austin were lumped into the “middle” category.

Later on, the summary presents data from the study that supposedly vindicate the left-wing progressive DAs of Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.

Kim Foxx, the summary claims, can’t be blamed for Chicago’s staggering 56 percent increase in homicides during 2020 and the continued increases in 2021 because homicides spiked just before she assumed office in 2017 and were decreasing for three years after that until the pandemic began in 2020. What the summary doesn’t mention is that Foxx only announced she would not prosecute most drug offenses in 2020, that she refused to seek charges against people accused of rioting during 2020, and that Illinois passed left-wing progressive criminal justice reform laws in 2021.

Similar excuses were made for Larry Krasner of Philadelphia where the summary claims a combined 57 percent increase in homicides somehow could not be his fault just because the murders were concentrated in August and December. And for George Gascon of Los Angeles County, a 12 percent increase in homicides during his first year was somehow not his fault because murders increased 12 percent at the Los Angeles city center but 41 percent in the outlying county neighborhoods (which were also in his jurisdiction).

The claims made in the summary seem weak or deeply flawed, but time and further examination by experts will tell whether the study holds merit.

Follow the Money

The questionable assertions of the summary and the untested data of the full study are not the only possible problems with Brownstein’s primary source. There is also a disturbing money trail behind the study that suggests potential biases.

As both the Munk School authors and Brownstein admit, the study was commissioned and funded by the Center for American Progress, one of America’s leading left-of-center think tanks and policy-advocacy organizations. This alone is cause for concern, but there’s more.

The lead author, Todd Foglesong, is working as a fellow at the Munk School “In cooperation with the Open Society Foundations” and has been working on “developing a peer-based system of support for government officials that seek to solve persistent problems in criminal justice.”

Open Society Foundations is the private charitable foundation and influence-buying network of the infamous left-wing billionaire George Soros, who is also the number one campaign donor to left-wing progressive DAs. Soros has spent well over $30 million on contributions to left-wing progressive DAs across the country since 2015, and over two-dozen DAs who have received his money are currently in office. It seems notable that at least part of the primary author’s salary is apparently being paid by the largest campaign donor of many of the DAs being studied, but neither Brownstein nor the Munk School study makes any mention of this fact.

In fact, the Open Society Foundations (OSF) website reports that the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy has received $144,265 in OSF grants while the University of Toronto, where the Munk School is housed, has received a combined $2.7 million. The largest of these grants was a $1.3 million grant in 2016 that established the very “peer support system” for criminal justice reform that Foglesong is working on.

Behind the Curtain

This is how the soft-on-crime sausage gets made.

Brownstein’s article, and countless others like it, instruct readers to ignore the evidence of their eyes and ears because “the experts” have arrived at different conclusions. A quick peek under the hood would reveal that “the experts” are either incredibly biased or completely debunked, but most people don’t have the time or patience to look deeper so “the experts” get accepted at face-value.

Meanwhile, on social media and on the streets, activists and protestors assure them that the experts are correct and that a good person would vote for such change. Then, out of nowhere arrive a candidate with heaps of cash (from the same mega-donor who funded the experts) and a platoon of activists to lead the city forward into a new era. When the left-wing progressive is elected and the destruction of their policies is felt, the same experts come forward again to explain that it’s not their fault, the media rushes to report the expert testimony as fact, and the whole process starts over again. Rinse and repeat.

American cities desperately need to break this cycle to escape the continued scourge of left-wing progressive utopian experiments.

*****

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

Ukraine

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

Americans barely knew nor thought about Ukraine until Vladimir Putin’s Russian forces invaded the country, which then erupted into the largest land war in Europe for at least 75 years. The vast majority of support for Ukraine has been supplied by Americans, led by folks who just 50 years ago were devotees of the anti-war movement. Let’s take a look.

We can pretty much agree that Russia’s actions are barbaric and something we thought we moved past in the civilized world. We can also pretty much agree that Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s elected leader, has been steadfast in his defense of his country. We can also agree that the Ukrainians have put forth a valiant effort to rid themselves of the Russian invaders without asking for America or its allies to supply troops. They have told the world: “give us arms and we will fight and win the war.” There is not much dispute on these points.

My concern is that anyone espousing something other than blind allegiance and support to Ukraine is branded as a malcontent and thus misguided. Many elected officials and some members of the press (on both sides) are pointing at these people as traitors to the cause. Let me remind you we have the guaranteed right of dissent in this country and let me also remind you this is not World War II where we were attacked.

There are two parts to question here – money and Zelenskyy.

We have already provided vast sums of money to Ukraine and more will be coming. The first question is where are our allies? Some have been there — mainly Poland and the three Baltic states. We have provided more military aid than all other countries combined. The rich countries of Europe like Germany and France have been verbally supportive but lacking in financial support. Once again it has fallen on our shoulders while the others watch from the sidelines.

Do not be fooled by the recent commitment by some countries to supply tanks. They cannot even come to an agreement to accomplish that.

At some point this war will end and who do you think will get stuck with the bill to rebuild Ukraine? French and German engineering firms will be anxious to provide services, to be paid with American dollars.

If Biden is pressuring other countries to do their appropriate share, then he is doing so very quietly and highly unsuccessfully.

Then there is the question of where our money is going and assuring it does not end up in Swiss bank accounts. I recently discussed this issue with someone who countered that our government rarely knows where vast sums of money we allocate lands. That certainly is a fair point. However, it is still important to make sure U.S. dollars sent to Ukraine are properly spent and on American goods where possible.

When Zelenskyy was recently in the U.S., one publication I read briefly mentioned a person was on the job who monitors expenditures for the military. If that is so, let us see a report. The military is big on reports. Ukraine was a notoriously corrupt country before the war. That alone dictates extra caution.

Then there is the problem of Zelensky himself. We are constantly told this is a fight between a Democracy versus an Autocracy. That may be so, but in multiple ways that is not true since the war started.

Zelenskyy has:

1. Outlawed long-standing recognized religions in the country.
2. He has outlawed opposing political parties.
3. He has put restrictions on free speech.
4. Signed a bill that would permit him to control all media, censor new online sites and shut down new sites.

If these matters were brought forward by Biden while Zelenskyy was here, then Biden’s people should have announced that loudly and clearly. When all those members of Congress were warning us about not supporting Ukraine and were providing greater funds, they should have been pressuring Zelenskyy to reverse these restrictions on basic freedoms.

People will argue that Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. They will argue during World War II we imprisoned Japanese Americans and did other things restricting communications. All those actions are now looked upon as tragic mistakes in our history. Why should we be condoning these actions in a country that knows without our funding they would have probably been crushed?

There have been reports that the allies have wanted to pursue peace talks and Ukraine has rejected them. Now the Ukrainian foreign minister has finally stated publicly they would be interested in having discussions starting in February. The United States has done little to pursue a peace track even while the war threatens to cost more lives and potentially expand beyond Ukraine’s borders.

It is not supportive of Putin and Russia to question these matters. In fact, it is errant on the part of our leaders not to question these concerns, and worse that they would attack anyone who does.

We want to make sure that all those countries are really with us and not just spewing platitudes. Europe is still not fully carrying its weight in NATO. This should be a test of their resolve and real commitment. We are not supporting this cause in Ukraine to end up with a country that is contrary to our democratic values.

It is right and just to bring up these points. When people want to close off debate on a subject that is when you should question the validity of their positions.

*****

This article was first published by FlashReport and is reproduced by permission of the author.

‘Ground Zero’ Arizona Republicans Sounding Alarm Over Fentanyl Flowing From Border

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes

Arizona Republican state legislators doubled down on their call to action on the border crisis, particularly on fentanyl, at a news conference on Thursday.

The legislators said that the rise in fentanyl deaths in the state is deeply concerning and called for more resources to support law enforcement and greater education on prevention techniques like the use of naloxone for accidental overdose deaths.

“We need to take swift action to deal with what is happening to combat it,” Rep. Steve Montenegro, who is the Chairman of the House Health & Human Services Committee, said.

Opioid overdoses, which commonly stem from fentanyl, result in over five deaths daily in Arizona, according to the state’s Department of Health Services.

Montenegro mentioned introducing a “placeholder bill” that will later be amended after talking with other government officials and experts.

“Now, Gov. Hobbs has stated that she agrees that this is a crisis. But her actions in gutting border-related funding to law enforcement says otherwise. That’s unacceptable,” he said.

Hobbs’s proposed budget cuts to the state’s Border Strike Force, The Center Square reported.

Later in the news conference, Republican House Majority Leader Leo Biasiucci also criticized the governor.

“She is not here to help the Arizonans with our border crisis. We are as Republicans,” Biasiucci said of the Democrat, who took office earlier this month.

Former interim director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Tom Homan spoke as well, and he referred to Arizona as “ground zero” for fentanyl.

When The Center Square asked if the legislation would crack down on social media platforms being used for trafficking activity, Montenegro said the current focus is raising awareness.

“The focus is making sure Arizona understands this is a public health crisis. This is a public safety crisis,” he said.

“It’s a porous border. Fentanyl is killing our – kids aren’t blue or red. Kids that are dying, they don’t understand politics, but they’re dying. And we need to do something about that,” Montenegro added.

*****
This article was published by The Center Square – Arizona and is reproduced with permission.

Take Your Foot off the Gas

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

In 1991, a year after his controversial firing as men’s basketball coach at North Carolina State University, Jim Valvano published a book titled They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead. It’s a great title.

The past few weeks’ convergence of energy and environmental news reminded me of the irony of that book title. Rolling blackouts, which the 2022 State of Reliability report by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) had previously warned about, affected several states on Christmas Eve. Days later, a White House announcement on December 29 hailed Pres. Joe Biden’s “goal that 50 percent of all new passenger cars and light trucks sold in 2030 be electric vehicles” and advertised new and revised tax credits for people buying electric vehicles (EVs). Then on January 9, a Biden appointee to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) openly talked about possibly banning gas stoves, which are used by an estimated 40 percent of households across the country.

So half of all new cars and trucks sold in the future would have to be electric? Nearly half of households (not to mention so many professional kitchens) in America would have to switch to electric stoves? We’d need to generate much, much more electricity to fill the void of all that power once produced by millions of gasoline-powered engines and gas-fired stoves.

If environmental zealots in the Biden administration were to get their way, then something would have to answer the call for such a huge increase in electricity demand. Do they have an answer for this challenge?

No. They declared natural gas the bridge fuel to renewables, and then they declared pipeline projects dead.

No new pipelines means no new supplies of “bridge fuel”

The “bridge fuel” conception of natural gas promotes it as a reliable baseload generator with significantly lower emissions than coal (a reliable baseload generator). From there, this view envisions natural gas serving as an emissions-lowering stopgap until sometime in the future when zero-emissions renewable resources and battery storage will be able to meet electricity demand reliably, to the extent that they can replace natural gas to scale. President Barack Obama talked about it in his 2014 State of the Union address, for example, and last year Biden’s “Special Envoy to the Climate” John Kerry talked about it (with some caveats) to the US Chamber of Commerce. Some environmental extremists dislike it on principle, of course, or they suspect that even when renewables and storage were finally ready for the big time, utilities would choose instead to continue favoring low-cost, efficient electricity from natural gas.

The natural-gas bridge is alluded to in the NERC report: “natural-gas-fired generators are now necessary, balancing resources for reliable integration of the growing fleet of variable renewable energy resources and can be expected to remain so until new storage technologies are fully developed and deployed at scale to provide balancing” (emphasis added). Furthermore, “With the continued retirement of coal and nuclear units and a growing reliance on natural-gas-fired generation, the interdependency of the electricity and natural gas industries has become more pronounced.”

In other words, the existing demand for electricity in this country is more dependent than ever on natural gas. NERC warned of an increasing risk of energy shortfalls as “the resource mix evolves” away from “flexible generation (i.e., fuel-assured, weatherized, and dispatchable resources)” such as natural gas and toward weather-dependent, fickle sources such as solar and wind.

Note that this risk is growing before an increased demand for electrification to power cars, trucks, and buses, and possibly also stoves. The Biden administration seems oblivious to the risk, however. Biden’s day-one cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline permits set the stage, cementing his campaign promise to stop pipeline infrastructure. By May of last year, the Biden administration and Congress had taken over 100 separate actions that make it harder to produce oil and gas in America.

On March 24, 2022, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) proposed changing its policies regarding pipeline approvals, no longer relying on precedent agreements and also adding “adverse impacts” (including such things as “environmental interests” and “environmental justice communities”) for which it could deny an application. FERC also proposed a new greenhouse gas policy that would require FERC’s oversight of natural gas pipeline projects’ “reasonably foreseeable” greenhouse gas emissions. Those, however, could include future emissions, construction and operation, and even upstream and downstream effects.

Both of those changes would increase the uncertainty surrounding the viability of pipeline projects, which would at best increase their expected costs and at worst prevent new natural gas pipelines from being built.

Federal efforts to delay and block pipeline projects compound the efforts of environmentalists filing expensive lawsuits and of state regulators withholding or slow-walking permits until the projects become too expensive to finish. The Institute for Energy Research described it as the “‘death by a thousand cuts’ approach to stopping pipelines.”

Leaving people worse off while getting in their own way

By stopping pipelines, however, federal overseers are also standing in the way of their own goal of seeing electricity generation transition to zero-emissions resources without dangerous power disruptions. (Of course, they could simply advocate for the only baseload zero-emissions resource out there, which also happens to be the most efficient, reliable generation resource: nuclear power. That they don’t is a great mystery.)

It should go without saying that government taking popular consumer choices away from people leaves them worse off, as consumers as well as makers and sellers. The drive to deprive people of gas stoves and conventional cars and trucks is fueled by the same environmental extremism that opposes gas-fired electricity. It betrays an impatience with people making choices that best address their own needs, and it also shows an inability to wait for entrepreneurs and innovators to solve the riddle of zero-emissions reliable electricity generation (other than nuclear, for whatever reason).

Instead, regulators would rather force changes through government that not only level serious harms against people, but even cripple their own long-term goals.

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This article was published by American Institute for Economic Research and is reproduced with permission.

Birth Rates Matter

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes

Lyman Stone’s essay offers a knowledgeable and well-reasoned, albeit idiosyncratic, perspective on demographic decline. I find much of what he says persuasive. Most prominently, I agree that the problems of demography should be viewed as problems faced by human beings, rather than abstract considerations of the state. I depart from Stone, however, in some matters of diagnosis and prescription.

I will focus here on reviewing a few main points and offering gentle rejoinders. Stone covers a great deal of ground, but the key takeaways, as I understand them, are as follows. First, and most centrally, we should understand the term “demographic decline” broadly, looking at individuals failing to achieve their desired demographic outcomes. Instead of worrying about the average number of births per American woman, we should worry about the number of people who would like to marry, have children, or live longer and more productive lives, but who are not achieving this for whatever reason. In particular, Stone would have us pay careful attention to rising mortality among the young, which seems to evidence a particularly bleak form of cultural decline.

As we attend to this central issue, Stone would have us remember three further things. First of all, we should recognize that fertility preferences are the key to understanding fertility outcomes. It is impossible to say offhand how many children a person needs to be happy, so instead of telling women how many children they ought to have, we should help them have the number they say they want. Second, fertility decline is mostly attributable to economic shocks. People have fewer children than they want mainly because they feel financially insecure, or because the social insecurity that follows financial shocks deters them from having children. Third, and finally, Stone believes that preoccupation with demographic decline per se is unhelpful; we should focus our efforts on enhancing social well-being in general, expecting that desirable demographic outcomes will naturally follow. If we instill a sense of security and well-being in adults of childbearing age, we should expect birth rates to rise.

Each of these points is defensible, but there are rejoinders and alternative perspectives worthy of mention.

Empty Cradles, Decaying Playgrounds

Stone regards the very question of “demographic decline” as perplexing, given that the term can be used to describe a wide array of disparate phenomena. Perhaps it reflects my shallower immersion in the topic, but this hasn’t been my experience. When people see the term “demographic decline” in a headline, they expect to read about “fewer babies.” It is widely recognized today that birth rates have fallen precipitously throughout the developed world.

I propose, therefore, to follow Stone’s recommendation by considering demographic decline as experienced by the people most immediately affected (rather than theorized by wonks and academics), while working with a definition that is narrower in one sense and broader in another. Of the various conceptions listed, I would emphasize one above the others, namely, “the social transformations attendant on rarer youth and more common elderhood.” That is: the population of our nation, and of most developed nations, is aging. Concerns over decline generally seem to hinge on this aspect in one way or another, particularly among non-experts. People that don’t know how to read a population pyramid or discuss a dependency ratio still have an intuitive understanding of the “beanpole family.” Unlike Stone, though, I would offer a more expansive view as to who is most immediately affected. What of the grandmother who had all the children she wanted, but sees her hopes of abundant grandchildren vanishing as her offspring reach midlife? The pastor who laments a graying congregation and emptying pews? The teachers, staff, and volunteers at schools facing closure due to too few enrollees? The population structure of the country has many stakeholders in between the level of the women having (or not having) children, and the future generations grappling with the prospect of Social Security insolvency.

From this perspective, demographic decline should be understood not merely in terms of people getting the outcomes they want (though that too), but also as a reflection of the kind of society we live in. Insofar as it is a problem, it is a social problem. To be sure, from a policy perspective, the individual focus may be fruitful. After all, policies are often geared toward a “carrot-and-stick” maximization of incentives and thus follow an implicitly individualistic logic. But as interesting as it might be to consider why a particular woman does or does not have as many babies as she claims to want, that focus is too narrow as a way of understanding what demographic decline is or why it matters.

Rising premature mortality is indeed an alarming development and even a kind of crisis. Still, Stone’s insistence that “we must begin our conversation” here, and not with the question of falling fertility is puzzling. Life expectancy in the United States rose rapidly and with little interruption from the late 19th century through 2014. Meanwhile, fertility has collapsed relative to its (admittedly aberrationally high) 1960 levels. Suicides and overdose deaths are tragic indeed, and we should certainly be anxious to help prevent them, but that trend simply has little bearing on the shifts in population structure in recent decades, which are what most people have in mind when they discuss demographic decline. These are both important conversations, but they are not the same conversation, nor need one to be a prerequisite for the other.

The Puzzle of Falling Birth Rates

Stone makes much of the fact that fertility preferences are highly predictive of fertility outcomes at the individual level; women who claim to want a large number of children are likelier to have them. He takes this as evidence that expressed fertility preferences really do reveal something deep and important and argues we should be concerned with helping women have the desired number of children. There is certainly nothing objectionable about that.

Yet, as David Goldman points out, preferences in themselves tell us little about what demographic decline is, if or why it matters, or what (if anything) we should do about it. Stone unintentionally highlights this point when he notes that fertility preferences have remained relatively stable since 1955 at 2.2 to 2.5 children per woman—a period during which the Total Fertility Rate has ranged from 3.6 to 1.8. Preferences may help us understand why a woman in 2010, who wants two children, will have fewer than one who wants three. However, that same woman will have fewer than one who wanted two children in 1970. Why is that? People worry about demographic decline, in part, because fertility trends across the developed world have changed so markedly in a short space of time, following the same broad pattern in almost every developed country. It only seems reasonable to try to understand these trends and to consider what they mean for the future of the human race. It will be hard to broach that question if we maintain a narrow focus on helping individuals achieve their desired fertility.

In fairness, Stone does make some effort to explain falling birth rates when he attributes declining fertility to economic shocks. This explanation is popular and defensible—but also fiercely contested, as are all general explanations of the fertility decline seen across the developed world. One of the most prominent theories of modern demographic trends, that of the Second Demographic Transition, highlights the role of changing values—declining religiousness and rising prioritization of personal fulfillment over traditional lifestyles and basic material needs—to explain why younger generations are choosing to have fewer children. I use the word “choosing” advisedly, recognizing many may not have such a choice. But among those who do, the question isn’t just when they want to get married or how many children they prefer, but what sacrifices they are willing to make for those things to happen. To understand demographic behaviors, it isn’t enough to know someone’s economic situation—we also need to know something about how they weigh trade-offs. Why does one prospective parent give up career ambitions in order to start a family while another doesn’t? This is where the frustratingly ambiguous yet indispensable factor of “culture” comes in. Goldman ably demonstrates this in his response essay.

Furthermore, in an increasingly globalized postindustrial world, it isn’t obvious why economic shocks would be widely shared, but cultural ones are not. Doesn’t it seem reasonable to expect that a theory that accounts for both will have the most explanatory power? Stone unintentionally alludes to the power of cultural shocks by invoking the effect of social media. If “screen time” has fundamentally altered the way we relate to ourselves, others, and the world around us, this affects younger generations more than older ones around the globe, and this change has meaningfully impacted demographic behaviors—does this not represent a shared cultural shift affecting dispositions toward childbearing?

The point here isn’t that Stone is wrong about the importance of economic factors. There can be good reasons to emphasize them, insofar as they are more amenable to such policy interventions as may be needed. But neglecting the cultural aspect may lead to an insufficient understanding of the causes of demographic decline, and indeed of the nature of the problem itself. For the aforementioned grandmother, pastor, or school staff (in addition to the prospective spouses or parents themselves), a world with fewer children will be felt as a loss of meaning, not only or even primarily of economic well-being. Many people clearly feel that a world with fewer children is a sadder and bleaker one, and that’s not just because they are concerned about their Social Security checks.

Setting Priorities

Stone dismisses preoccupation over demographic decline per se as “fruitless,” and any quest to achieve particular aggregate outcomes as “hubris.” (The latter point reflects a spirit of Hayekian humility with which I have some sympathy.) We should instead focus on improving human flourishing more generally, which will as a natural consequence allow people to attain the demographic outcomes they already want. Build a better society and the babies will come. But while channeling Hayek, Stone has neglected Sowell. Governments have limited means, whether political or economic, to pursue limited goals. Some goods must be prioritized over others. Trade-offs are in order.

If we make the reasonable assumption that some policies will do more to address the ills of prime-age mortality, later-than-desired marriage, or fewer-than-desired children than others, then it matters whether we view those problems as central or peripheral ones. Stone insists there are non-demographic reasons to support the policies addressing those problems. But there are also non-demographic reasons to oppose them, so why shouldn’t we add the demographic reasons to the ledger? Given the nature of current American political cleavages, an explicitly pro-family (as opposed to a pro-autonomous-individual) framing of issues like child allowances and family leave may be a winning strategy in an otherwise-uphill battle. It is certainly plausible, as Stone argues, that people are happier overall when their fertility preferences are achieved, but it probably will not be clear to everyone that fertility goals ought to be prioritized over other sorts of personal goals: educational and professional goals, lifestyle goals, or even the desire to learn a musical instrument or run a marathon. Why is childbearing more worthy of public support than these other personal preferences?

A responsible conversation about demographics need not replace concern about the human costs of unrealized fertility goals. Rather, it can bolster the argument for improved family policy, by helping policy-makers to appreciate why new citizens are more critically important to the health of society than new marathon-runners or PhD-holders. By proposing a novel, expansive, and person-centered view of what constitutes demographic decline, Stone encourages us to take a step back from the wonky abstractions of TFRs, dependency ratios, and population projections that often characterize demographic conversations. There is merit in this perspective. I agree wholeheartedly that demography is properly a concern of human society, not just the state. But Stone gives short shrift to arguments for why we should be concerned about demographic trends qua demographic trends, preferring instead to fold these concerns into a discussion of human flourishing more generally. If as a matter of policy and culture there is a tension between supporting families vs. autonomous individuals, this perspective seemingly defaults to privileging the latter at the expense of the former. We should consider that an adequate response to demographic decline, whether understood in conventional terms or in Stone’s unorthodox sense, may require a more intentional and targeted approach.

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

Evidence Says Offshore Wind Development is Killing Lots of Whales

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

The recent deaths of seven whales off New Jersey, mostly humpbacks, got a lot of attention. The federal NOAA Fisheries agency is responsible for whales. An outrageous statement by their spokesperson got me to do some research on humpback whale deaths.

The results are appalling. The evidence seems clear that offshore wind development is killing whales by the hundreds.

Here is the statement as reported in the press:

“NOAA said it has been studying what it calls “unusual mortality events” involving 174 humpback whales along the East Coast since January 2016. Agency spokesperson Lauren Gaches said that period pre-dates offshore wind preparation activities in the region.” Gaches is NOAA Fisheries press chief.

The “unusual mortality” data is astounding. Basically the humpback death rate roughly tripled starting in 2016 and continued high thereafter. You can see it here:

https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-life-distress/2016-2023-humpback-whale-unusual-mortality-event-along-atlantic-coast

But the claim that this huge jump in mortality predates offshore wind preparation activities is wildly false. In fact it coincides with the large scale onset of these activities. This strong correlation is strong evidence of causation, especially since no other possible cause has appeared.

To begin with, offshore lease sales really geared up 2015-16, with nine big sales off New Jersey, New York, Delaware and Massachusetts. These sales must have generated a lot of activity, likely including potentially damaging sonar.

In fact 2016 also saw the beginning of what are called geotechnical and site characterization surveys. These surveys are actually licensed by NOAA Fisheries, under what are called Incidental Harassment Authorizations or IHA’s.

There is some seriously misleading jargon here. IHA’s are incidental to some other activity, in this case offshore wind development. They are not incidental to the whales. In fact the term “harassment” specifically includes injuring the whales. That is called “level A harassment”.

To date NOAA has issued an astounding 46 one-year IHA’s for offshore wind sites. Site characterization typically includes the protracted use of what I call “machine gun sonar”. This shipboard device emits an incredibly loud noise several times a second, often for hours at a time, as the ship slowly maps the sea floor.

Mapping often takes many days to complete. A blaster can log hundreds of miles surveying a 10-by-10 mile site. Each IHA is typically for an entire year.

Here is a list of the IHA’s issued to date and those applied for:

https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/incidental-take-authorizations-other-energy-activities-renewable

There are lots of ways this sonar blasting might cause whales to die. Simply fleeing the incredible noise could cause ship strikes or fish gear entanglements, the two leading causes of whale deaths. Or the whales could be deafened, increasing their chances of being struck by a ship later on. Direct bleeding injury, like getting their ears damaged, is another known risk, possibly leading to death from infection. So there can be a big time difference between blasting and death.

Note also that these deaths need not be in the immediate vicinity of the sonar blasting, so spatial correlation is unlikely. Humpbacks in particular are prodigious travelers. One group was tracked traveling 3,000 miles in just 28 days, over 100 miles a day on average. Another group routinely migrates 5,000 miles. Both are winter-summer migrations which can happen twice a year.

Thus a sonar blasting, site characterization in one place could easily lead to multiple whale deaths hundreds of miles away. If one of these blasters suddenly goes off near a group of whales they might go off in different directions, then slowly die.

The point is that the huge 2016 jump in annual humpback mortality coincides with the huge jump in NOAA Incidental Harassment Authorizations. It is that simple and surely NOAA Fisheries knows this.

Nor is this just about humpbacks. Some of the dead whales off New Jersey are endangered sperm whales. And of course there are the severely endangered North Atlantic Right Whales, on the verge of extinction.

Even worse, the IHA’s are about to make a much bigger jump. There are eleven pending IHA applications and eight of these are for actually constructing 8 different monster wind “farms”.

Driving the hundreds of enormous monopiles that hold up the turbine towers and blades will be far louder than the sonic blasters approved to date, especially with eight sites going at once. These construction sites range from Virginia to Massachusetts, with a concentration off New Jersey and New York.

For more on this noise see my https://www.cfact.org/2022/07/26/threat-to-endangered-whales-gets-louder/

Clearly we need a moratorium on new Incidental Harassment Authorizations until the safety of the whales and other marine species can be assured. Hundreds of whales may have already been killed by offshore wind activities. The evidence is right there.

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

The Censorious Scott Gottlieb Was a Major Influence on Lockdowns

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

The latest of the Twitter Files is reported by Alex Berenson, who was granted access to messaging systems from the times before Elon Musk took over. His first round of reporting concerns the role of Scott Gottlieb, who is a perfect example of an influencer who is technically outside of government but might as well be a powerful official within it.

Gottlieb’s main gig now is as a senior fellow of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, but he also serves as a board member of Pfizer. Before joining AEI and Pfizer, he headed the Food and Drug Administration under Trump from 2017 to 2019. Before that, he was at Health and Human Services as a member of its Federal Health IT Policy Committee from 2013 to 2017.

You probably know him from TV because he has been a ubiquitous presence since the beginning of the pandemic lockdowns, defending the government’s actions and pushing the vaccines from the company whose board he serves.

In August 2021, he wrote Twitter to complain about a tweet from his successor at the FDA, Brett Giroir. Giroir wrote to report the results of a study in Israel that clearly demonstrated what most anyone could have known even without the study: natural immunity is superior to vaccinated immunity.

Gottlieb complained that the tweet is “corrosive” and might “go viral.” Twitter acted by slapping a “misleading” tag on the tweet, one that still remains to this day.

Now, one might observe that Gottlieb is merely a private person and that it was certainly his right to object to anyone’s opinions. Maybe that’s true, except that he served Pfizer at the time and his company enjoyed billions in subsidies to make its product which not only gained a patent but benefitted from product-liability protection that is conventional with such vaccines. In addition, the product was only distributed thanks to an Emergency Use Authorization that bypassed the usual federal standards.

That aside, he had been massively influential on lockdown policies from the very beginning, urging the Trump administration to be as extreme as possible in its attack on civil liberties and freedoms.

We know this because Jared Kushner’s book reports every detail. He led the effort to present the guidelines for lockdowns that occurred on March 16, 2020, and he did it with the help of two tech executives he tapped to hang around the White House. Kushner reports:

As we dealt with the shortage of cotton swabs and other supplies, we faced another problem: the need to develop public health guidelines. Given that people across the country were confused and concerned, Birx and Fauci had been discussing the need for a unified set of federal standards to help Americans understand what they should do to keep themselves safe and slow the spread of the virus. They insisted that these guidelines would help prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. Despite all the talk over the past week, no one had taken steps to produce a document. When Nat Turner flagged the issue, I asked him to coordinate with Derek Lyons to produce a draft and encouraged him to call Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the FDA and a renowned public health expert. I had been trying to persuade Gottlieb to come back into government for a short-term stint to help us better organize our response and support our effort to develop a vaccine.

When we called Gottlieb, he was grateful that we were preparing guidelines. “They should go a little bit further than you are comfortable with,” he said. “When you feel like you are doing more than you should, that is a sign that you are doing them right.”

So here we have a former government official now working as a board member for one of the companies chosen to produce and distribute vaccines who was directly involved and hugely influential in crafting a policy for the Trump administration that ended up not only dooming the Trump presidency but setting the entire country on the course to recession and a public health crisis. Still Pfizer benefited, obviously.

Sure enough, he got his way and the Trump administration issued the draconian guidance: “bars, restaurants, food courts, gyms, and other indoor and outdoor venues where groups of people congregate should be closed.”

And why call out Gottlieb alone when many thousands of serious scientists and medical professionals would have strongly advised against locking down?

This is why what Berenson reports here is so significant. Gottlieb was anxious not only to lock down the entire country but also to censor any report on what used to be common-sense observations about natural immunity, even when it comes from credentialed experts and cites peer-reviewed studies.

After his lockdown advocacy, and before his intervention to pull down a tweet celebrating natural immunity, but only after the vaccine came to market, he took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to say that the CDC had gone too far, especially with its enforcement of social distancing: “The reliance on a flu model caused public-health authorities to underestimate and overestimate Covid in important ways.”

The person and role of Gottlieb is a paradigmatic case of why and how unraveling the mysteries of the lockdowns and vaccine mandates is such a complicated undertaking. It’s not just about government intervention and it’s not just about private corruption. It’s about a complicated relationship between the two, involving a range of public and private actors in and out of government who seized control of the policy machinery to achieve private ends at enormous public expense.

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This article was published by Brownstone Institute and is reproduced with permission.

A Major Shift in the JFK Assassination

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes

President Biden’s recent decision to permit the CIA to continue keeping its 59-year-old records relating to the Kennedy assassination secret from the American people has brought about a public backlash that has not been seen since the enactment of the JFK Records Act in 1992. This major shift is a tremendously positive development in the JFK assassination.

You will recall that a couple of years ago, Biden used the Covid crisis as an excuse to give the CIA another extension of time for secrecy. Biden has now returned to the tried-and-true “national-security” excuse for, once again, letting the CIA get away with another secrecy extension. Apparently the idea is that if the CIA’s 59-year-old secret assassination-related records are released to the public, the United States will fall into the ocean or be taken over by the Reds.

The backlash to Biden’s decision has been substantial.

There is Tucker Carlson’s monologue on Fox News in which he expressly stated his belief that the CIA was involved in Kennedy’s assassination. Given that Carlson is the most popular commentator on Fox News, that monologue is obviously a huge breakthrough.

Robert Kennedy, Jr., is the son of Robert Kennedy, the president’s brother, who himself was assassinated. Kennedy, Jr., sent out a tweet that included a link to Carlson’s monologue. Kennedy’s tweet stated, “The most courageous newscast in 60 years. The CIA’s murder of my uncle was a successful coup d’état from which our democracy has never recovered.@Tucker Carlson.”

In his online show System Update, the noted political commentator Glenn Greenwald has also now weighed in on the JFK assassination. You can see his presentation here (go to 43:00). Greenwald doesn’t specifically state his conviction that the CIA helped carry out the JFK assassination but there is no doubt in my mind that, based on his presentation, that is what he believes. In his presentation, he features Carlson’s monologue and Robert Kennedy’s tweet. He also recommends David Talbot’s book The Devil’s Chessboard. For a written summary of Greenwald’s presentation, see here…..

Continue reading this article at The Future of Freedom Foundation.

The Stock Market Hesitates at Important Resistance Just Before FED Meeting

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

Various financial markets will be focused this week on the February 1st, meeting of the Federal Reserve Board. This comes on the heels of an unusual number of other central banks conducting meetings. The meeting itself and the commentary come at a critical inflection point for the stock market.

The markets since the turn of the year have been enthusiastic, even while the economy suffers and is widely expected to slide into recession. That seems a bit odd, but it continues to be the game of “bad news is good news” because bad news will supposedly cause the FED to pause and then start to lower interest rates once again. The stock market in particular seems betting on a “soft landing” and a pivot in interest rate policy.

Why the market has such faith that the 600 or so PhDs running the FED can engineer a soft landing after the same geniuses so badly misplayed inflation, is indeed a wonder. But the FED over the past 20 years has quickly injected liquidity and lowered interest rates when the economy and/or the markets stumble. So, a whole generation of traders has grown up to expect this behavior.

This creates a dilemma for the FED.  They have been trying to talk inflation down, including asset inflation, and soaring markets make their job more difficult. Maybe that is the ironic payback the FED gets for training the markets to jump around like puppies seeking a treat. How do they pivot without once again creating the asset bubble they are seeking to deflate?

There are additional hopes that China’s reopening after its extensive and brutal Covid lockdown, will also cause that economy to revive and help pull the world out of its stupor. Chinese stock indexes have been rising sharply.

In the US, just after the opening on Monday, the S&P index is up 5.3% so far in this very new year.  The more value-laden Dow Industrials are up 2.5%, and the more speculative and tech-rich NASDAQ Composite is up 9.3%.

The aggregate bond index AGG is up 3%, after last year’s brutal pounding. The Commodity Index is flat.

Gold is up 5.65%, beating the S&P by a slight margin while GDX, which represents gold mining stocks is up 12%. Silver is down 1.75%.

The general stock market is banging on the door of what technical types call overhead resistance. After making a series of declining peaks over the past year or so of decline, the tops can be joined to form a trendline. Many traders also watch the 200-day moving average. The S&P basically is right at the resistance of the bear market linear trendline and the 200-day moving average, so a good response to the mid-week FED meeting (and auxiliary FED statements) will come at a critical technical level for the market. Stocks will either break through or fail again at this resistance.

The market last week was slightly above the linear trend, above the 200-day moving average and the 50-day moving average is about to cross the 200-day moving average creating what is called a “golden cross.”

A number of indices also display golden crosses.  This is also regarded by technical mavens as a sign of market strength.

So regardless of what one’s preconceptions are about the economy, and your opinion about stocks should be doing, the stock market since the turn of the year has been strong and is now barking at the door of a decent breakout to the upside.

But, we will just have to see if that breakout occurs or if we fail again at resistance.

One negative related factor is that sentiment studies show the market is too enthusiastic. Without getting too deep into the technical weeds, when everyone gets enthusiastic, that attitude gets translated into action, and hence current prices already reflect that positive view. Various studies including the CNN Fear and Greed gauge now show the market view solidly in the greed range. The  CNN Fear and Greed reading is compiled using about a half dozen indicators measuring investor attitude.

The gauge has moved to 68 and was just 37 one month ago, which shows just how quickly opinions can change. Readings over 75 are considered extreme greed.

That does not necessarily negate completely the chance of a break out to the upside for the market, but history suggests that when sentiment is already this hot, breakouts don’t carry that much further upward because excessive optimism is already in the price structure.

Like most investors, we have been enjoying the recovery in prices. However, with sentiment already hot and a recession still the most likely outcome, investors should consider caution and temper their confidence. While objectively we have been getting a market advance, the question is: is it sustainable or is it just a bear market rally?

Buying more equities would work if it is the former, but would be disastrous if it turns out to be the latter.

This week will certainly provide us much needed additional information.

*** The graph included in this article is courtesy of stockcharts.com

Maricopa County’s Printer ‘Problems’ Behind the 2022 Election

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

Attorneys siding with embattled GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake are insisting that Maricopa County’s mass Election Day failures were purposeful.

Mark Sonnenklar, a roving attorney with the Republican National Committee (RNC), told AZ Free News that the county experienced few of the issues during the primary election that suddenly metastasized on Election Day: faulty printer settings and incorrect ballot paper size.

Sonnenklar said that out of the 11 vote centers he visited on the primary election day, only one had major problems with tabulation: the North Phoenix Baptist Church location.

“My theory is that the county was on a trial run for the general. I believe in my heart, my gut tells me, that they planned to create this chaos on general Election Day,” said Sonnenklar. “They were testing methods to create that kind of chaos during the primary. That’s when they were figuring out how to do that.”

None have produced evidence that the Election Day failures were intentional.

Although tabulators were the initial suspect for the mass Election Day failures across the county, it turned out to be administrative errors prior to tabulation. Sonnenklar pointed out that it wouldn’t make sense for these issues to multiply due to the sheer amount of in-person voters, since printer settings and paper size wouldn’t be affected.

On Election Day, Sonnenklar said he witnessed mass tabulator issues at six of the 10 vote centers. The widespread failures were so pervasive that Sonnenklar, alarmed, reached out to other roving attorneys across the county to gather their experiences while fresh. Many reported witnessing the same failures, which lasted around eight hours and forced thousands of affected voters to cast ballots into a “door 3” slot to be manually tabulated later.

Maricopa County largely dismissed voter concerns, assuring that door 3 ballots would be tabulated properly and opting to push off a review of the chaos for a post-certification investigation. An estimated 71 sites (44 percent) out of the 211 vote centers were impacted (Lake’s attorneys claim that 132 sites were impacted, or 59 percent).

“I was receiving calls from everyone I knew in the Valley,” said Sonnenklar. “I knew there was a massive problem.”

Poll worker testimonies of election machine issues leading up to Election Day, given during the election certification in late November, aligned with Sonnenklar’s evidence gathered. Similar testimonies were also given during the Maricopa County Superior Court hearing in Lake’s lawsuit challenging the 2022 election results.

Sonnenklar stated that there were at least three primary causes of the tabulator malfunctions: timing marks and small white specks, which were uncovered before Lake’s trial, and incorrect ballot paper size, which was revealed during the trial.

Sonnenklar claimed that he spoke with election officials at various vote centers about the tabulator issue. He cited one example from a Mountain View vote center inspector who reportedly showed him that the timing marks weren’t printing correctly. The inspector backed up her claim with nearly 200 ballots fed into box 3 with faulty timing marks.

“She was definitive. She said that the problem was the timing marks on the ballot not printing dark enough,” said Sonnenklar. “She had 175 ballots that she had taken out of box 3. She showed me every one of those ballots and they were gray, they weren’t black. They hadn’t printed dark enough. All 175 of the ballots rejected by the tabulators had gray timing marks instead of black timing marks.”

As for the white specks: Sonnenklar said that another poll worker noticed that the bubbles indicating the chosen candidates weren’t filled in completely. They appeared to have little white specks where the printer failed to fill them in.

“He asked the voter if they would be willing to color in the white spec with the felt-tipped Pentel pens,” said Sonnenklar. “Every single time that the voter did that, it went through the tabulator just fine.”

The third issue, the ballot paper size, was discussed by Lake’s witness Clay Parikh, an information security officer, during the trial. Parikh testified that ballots from six of the six vote centers he inspected the day before Election Day printed 20-inch ballots on 19-inch paper. Sonnenklar noted that these six vote centers were selected randomly, and expressed concern that this represented a rate of 100 percent of vote centers being problematic.

Maricopa County didn’t dispute the erroneous ballot paper size, noting that it was a recurring issue over the last few years. However, they did dispute the number of affected vote centers (three versus Parikh’s sworn six) and pressed Parikh to admit that these ballots could be duplicated and counted. Parikh noted that those reprinted ballots could be counted, if done correctly. Sonnenklar questioned why the county didn’t solve the problem completely.

“The county maintained that the 19-inch paper on 20-inch ballots only occurred at three vote centers and that they knew about that problem from three prior elections,” said Sonnenklar. “Bottom line is, we think there were multiple reasons why the tabulators failed. In one case it was printers not printed properly. And in another case it was 19-inch paper printing 20-inch ballots.”

Sonnenklar insisted that the court wrongly dismissed Lake’s case because the judge, Peter Thompson, failed to consider whether the affected voters could’ve changed the outcome of the election. He said the judge only considered one legal standard, whether fraud occurred, but didn’t address if there was enough misconduct to render the election outcome “uncertain.” Sonnenklar contended that the judge created a high legal standard inconsistent with legal precedent.

Lake lost by over 17,100 votes, around the same number of voters affected by mass Election Day failures. Though this margin may seem slim, another race was even closer. Hamadeh, also contesting his election, lost by just over 500 votes.

“We just had to prove that the number of votes in the election could have changed the outcome of the election. I don’t think the defendants ever countered that,” said Sonnenklar. “On the legal front, I think we have a very strong grounds for appeal here. I think we made a pretty good case for overturning the decision of the trial court.”

Sonnenklar will be filing a reply brief to the county and Hobbs’ responsive briefs.

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This article was published by AZ Free News and is reproduced with permission.