Weekend Jolt: The ‘Lifeline’ That Wasn’t

Dear Weekend Jolter,

The case for the American Rescue Plan Act was dubious from the start. ...

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WITH JUDSON BERGER May 28 2022
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WITH JUDSON BERGER May 28 2022
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The 'Lifeline' That Wasn't

Dear Weekend Jolter,

The case for the American Rescue Plan Act was dubious from the start. Why, when the economy was coming back to life, vaccinations were being distributed, and Covid cases were declining, was a nearly $2 trillion "relief" package necessary?

Early-stage government spending on this crisis was doubtless vital, given the obligation to tackle the pandemic and cover the lost income of workers forced to stay home. Rich Lowry warned at the time, however, that the March 2021 package was poorly (and politically) targeted:

Take public education, where Democratic-allied teacher unions dominate. It's not clear why any additional spending is necessary, given that tens of billions of education funding from prior COVID-relief bills still is unspent, even as many districts have already begun to reopen for in-person instruction.

Nonetheless, the bill spends roughly another $130 billion on K–12 education, which will be spread out over years.

Meanwhile, $350 billion in aid went to states and localities despite questionable need.

Fast-forward a year, and, sure enough, those districts have more than they required on any emergency basis, so the money either is going unspent or being directed to other purposes. Kyle Smith highlights the, um, creativity of Providence, R.I.:

The city of Providence, R.I., has hit on a seemingly new reason for spending the money: reparations for black and indigenous people. . . . Providence is spending a $124 million federal grant on housing, infrastructure, and other things that have nothing to do with the pandemic, plus $10 million on reparations, via a yet-to-be-determined method.

Providence is not the only city finding other uses for pandemic-relief cash. Meanwhile, those school districts that received funds are still "struggling" . . . wait for it . . . to spend the money they received. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that they have yet to spend 93 percent of it. They face a September 2024 deadline to use it or lose it. (Charles C. W. Cooke has an idea for what to do with the money.)

Looking at another tranche, the Washington Post examined an estimated $163 billion in improper unemployment-related payments from prior pandemic aid, finding most of it has not been recovered. "In many cases, the criminals stole the unemployment funds using real Americans' personal information," the paper reported.

Fraud and mistakes that add up to large sums are unavoidable when administering programs of this size, though $163 billion is hardly a rounding error. As Dan McLaughlin laments, "If you just start shoveling big gobs of money out the door in a hurry, a lot of it will go to people who are gaming the system or outright robbing it." Let's assume the need to pump aid into the economy outweighed the risk posed by predatory fraudsters early on. But when, a year later, the clear downsides of another surge overwhelmed the attenuating benefits, Democrats prioritized The Win. Any justification served. Upon Senate passage of the American Rescue Plan Act in March 2021, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten pretended metaphors don't exist and called it "quite literally a lifeline for an economy that desperately needs one," citing the need to make schools safe for in-person instruction. Well, schools are open, and most of that money wasn't spent during the crisis.

Plenty of ARP money, of course, did stream into the economy. Rather than a lifeline, it became an accelerant for inflation; even Vox acknowledges the connection. It compounded the debt crisis, also. These are among the reasons the Manhattan Institute's Brian Riedl, months ago, called the program a "textbook case" of economic malpractice. We're only beginning to find out how deep the dereliction went.

*   *   *

The Texas school shooting this week is a tragedy beyond words. The pain of the parents is unimaginable. We try not to imagine it, but every few years, an exhibition of evil raises the fear. This is an American problem, and one we should work to solve. The political debate to follow is a familiar one, but we should set one goal — policies that can reduce murders, and especially of children, as if it needs to be said. I don't have the answers but would recommend a couple of thoughtful pieces, linked at the bottom of this newsletter, by NR alumni Robert VerBruggen and David French. Some of their ideas involve gun laws, though not all; RVB mentions raising the purchase age for some long guns, as does NR’s editorial. We should explore these ideas, and beware magic fixes. But the solution, as Dan McLaughlin suggests, also involves something more fundamental, difficult, and sustained, which is to fix ourselves. A culture within which turning a weapon on a classroom is on the menu of options for the alienated is a culture that needs curing.

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

A closer look at what could make a difference in preventing school shootings, and what probably would not: There Is No Magic Fix for School Shootings

Cue Nelson Muntz laugh: A Bad Night for Lies

The shocking SBC report should not just sit on a shelf: Southern Baptist Report on Sexual Abuse Demands Action

The crackdown on a now-fired Princeton prof doesn't smell right: Academic Freedom under Threat at Princeton

ARTICLES

Rich Lowry: The Big Lie about Georgia Voting Has Been Shredded

Kevin Williamson: It's Time to Boot Turkey from NATO

Ryan Mills: Record Gas Prices Crush California Small Businesses

Caroline Downey: State Farm Abandons LGBTQ Children’s-Book Program after Whistleblower Email Leak

Nate Hochman: Princeton Rejected Professor Joshua Katz's Offer to Resign, Lawyer Confirms

Jim Talent: Why Ukraine Matters

Isaac Schorr: Top FBI Officials Hid Sussmann’s Identity from Agents Working Trump-Russia Case, Agent Testifies

Isaac Schorr: FBI Leadership Was ‘Fired Up’ over Trump-Russia Evidence, Demanded Investigation Despite Rank-and-File Agents’ Doubts

Michael Brendan Dougherty: Supervillains Gather in Davos

Dan McLaughlin: 2020 Is Over

Madeleine Kearns: The Increasing Importance of Trans-Skeptical Comedy

CAPITAL MATTERS

Kevin Hassett addresses an increasingly common question: Is the Housing Bubble About to Burst?

David L. Bahnsen finds a common thread — reflecting an important lesson for the business world — in three streaming series: The Well-Deserved Death of 'Stakeholder Capitalism'

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

A pop genius proves once more his intellectual and artistic independence. From Armond White: Van Morrison's Songs of the Free

Is Gervais losing his edge? Kyle Smith investigates: Ricky Gervais vs. the Trans Mob

ICYMI last weekend, Brian Allen's latest from Italy: An Unorthodox Take on the Venice Biennale's Milk of Dreams Show

FROM THE NEW, JUNE 13, 2022, ISSUE OF NR

Ramesh Ponnuru: The Fed's Half-Hearted War on Inflation

Rachel Lu: Can We Raise Birth Rates?

Jim Geraghty: Blue-Dog Democrat, Endangered Species

John Bolton: America's Exceptional Conservatism

THIS FLOOD OF FREE COPY INTO THE ECONOMY CAN'T BE HELPING THE INFLATION SITUATION, EITHER

More from NR’s editorial on Uvalde:

Certainly, it is more complicated than pointing to a particular sort of gun and shouting "ban!" As has now become customary in such attacks, the shooter in Uvalde used an AR-15, which he bought legally on his 18th birthday. It is true that, over the last decade, this particular model of rifle has become the weapon of choice for many deranged mass shooters, even as it has remained statistically insignificant within the broader landscape of crime. (Each year, more Americans are killed by hands and feet than by all rifles put together.) It is not true, by contrast, that to remove it from the shelves of America's gun stores would do anything useful at all. The worst mass shooting on a college campus in all of U.S. history — the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech — was carried out with a couple of handguns. The attack at Columbine High School in 1999 occurred while the Biden-written "assault weapons ban" was in place. Even today, handguns are more commonly used in massacres than are rifles. . . .

But there are a few avenues that seem promising as first steps toward addressing the mess.

We would encourage the careful consideration of "red flag" laws by states (but not at the federal level). Conversations held after mass shootings typically tend to focus on background checks, but, given that mass shooters almost always pass those checks, this represents a chronic misallocation of effort. Far too often, mass murderers convey obvious warning signs to those around them, even though they have neither the established criminal records nor diagnosed mental-health problems that would show up when trying to buy a gun from a stranger. We are sympathetic to fears that "red flag" provisions could be abused, but we would note that states such as Florida have shown that it is possible to balance effective interventions with the rigorous due-process protections to which all Americans are entitled.

Second, we would recommend that states bring their age-of-majority rules into harmony. There is no obvious reason why non-enlisted Americans should be able to buy a handgun at age 21 but to buy long guns at age 18, and if there is solid evidence that raising the age of the latter will help prevent mass murders, states should seriously consider doing so (as Florida did in 2018), or at least imposing more requirements — such as waiting periods and affirmative parental consent — in order for those under age 21 to purchase and carry firearms. Several perpetrators of recent massacres were 18-year-old males who purchased rifles at a store. Conservatives correctly complain that none of the proposals that gun-control activists tend to offer seem tailored to the problem they are hoping to address. This one would be, and it would pass constitutional muster.

Finally, we ought to make it tougher for madmen to gain access to our schools.

Dan McLaughlin looks for lessons in the primary elections of recent weeks:

For media obsessives, the big questions in the 2022 Republican primaries are all about Donald Trump, his claims that the 2020 election was stolen, and the January 6 riot. If you look at the results, however, it turns out that Republican voters have a lot else on their minds, and aren't particularly stuck in 2020.

At first glance, it would seem difficult to tease out a trend. If you want to make the case that this is still Donald Trump's party, marching to the beat of Trump's endorsements, and full of Stop the Steal obsessives and a menagerie of rough-edged candidates, you'll have plenty of evidence to point to. In Ohio, Trump-backed J. D. Vance won a five-way race for the party's Senate nomination over four other candidates, three of whom had vied for the MAGA label. In North Carolina, Trump-backed Ted Budd beat former governor Pat McCrory. In Georgia, Trump-backed Herschel Walker stampeded his primary opponents like they were so many broken tackles. Dr. Oz is still clinging to a tenuous lead in Pennsylvania in a race where an even-more-MAGA (but not Trump-endorsed) candidate finished third. Formerly Trump-endorsed Mo Brooks made the runoff in Alabama. In Arkansas, John Boozman, with Trump's backing, fended off a primary challenge from the right. . . .

If you want to make the case that Trump fever is broken, there is also plenty to work with. In Georgia, Trump invested heavily in defeating Governor Brian Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Attorney General Chris Carr, and Insurance Commissioner John King. Yet despite recruiting heavyweight challengers to Kemp (former senator David Perdue) and Raffensperger (Representative Jody Hice), Trump failed to unseat any of the four incumbents, who all trounced the field en route to victory. In North Carolina, Madison Cawthorn was defeated. In Pennsylvania, Oz may yet lose. In Alabama, incumbent governor Kay Ivey beat back primary challenges encouraged by Trump, although he did not formally endorse a candidate, and Brooks was left for dead until Trump publicly un-endorsed him, after which he surged again in the polls to ultimately finish in second, 15 points behind Katie Britt, whom he'll face in a runoff. A Trump-backed primary challenge to Idaho governor Brad Little failed, as did Trump's candidate (Charles Herbster) in the open race for Nebraska governor. Trump stayed out of Dan Crenshaw's House primary in Texas, which Crenshaw won easily.

What does it all mean? The most obvious conclusion to draw is that Republican primary voters are no longer so caught up in the Trump Show that other factors don't matter in competitive races.

On a related note, Rich Lowry has penned the definitive fact check on all those claims that Georgia's voting rules amounted to voter suppression:

The surge in the early vote in Georgia shows that all the smears about the state's new voting law, repeated by everyone from the president of the United States on down, were complete nonsense — a fevered fantasy that the credulous and fanatical believed because they didn't know better, and the cynical and opportunistic believed because it served their purposes.

On the Republican side, according to the secretary of state's office, there were 453,929 early votes and 29,220 absentee votes so far this primary season (the absentee votes will keep coming in through Election Day on Tuesday). This is compared with just 153,264 early votes and 14,795 absentee voters during the last, pre-pandemic midterm, in 2018.

The Democrats have seen a similar surge. In 2022, there were 337,245 early votes and 31,704 absentee votes so far, compared with only 134,542 early votes and 13,051 absentee votes in 2018.

As Jim Geraghty has pointed out, the early vote among minorities in particular is up markedly.

It never made sense that the Georgia law was going to stop anyone from voting. The provisions that the Left complained about were clearly innocuous.

The rule against third parties providing food and drink to voters standing in lines at the polls was merely meant to stop electioneering at polling places (and the law attempts to address long lines, typically a problem of large, Democratic-run jurisdictions). The law limited drop boxes, but they hadn't existed prior to 2020. It moved from signature match on mail-in ballots to the more reliable driver's license or state-ID number — not a sea change. And it expanded hours available for early voting.

Now that a tsunami of early voting has shown that, indeed, there's no voter suppression in Georgia, the disinformation scolds are nowhere to be seen; the fact-checkers aren't swinging into action; the major newspapers aren't preparing tick-tocks on how the president was led down the path of promoting misinformation about the legitimacy of our electoral system; the Sunday shows didn't do long segments devoted to the theme of how democracy in Georgia, once claimed to be hanging by a thread, has remarkably revived — praise God, and hallelujah.

Michael Brendan Dougherty's piece on Davos this week is peak MBD:

The World Economic Forum is a perennial subject for conspiracy theorists and QAnon people, having long since eclipsed the Trilateral Commission, the Bildeberg Group, and Bohemian Grove. The 2020 confab at Davos was billed as "The Great Reset" and promoted the ideas of German industrialist Klaus Schwab for rebuilding society and the economy after the Covid-19 pandemic. It's from the creepy WEF promotional videos making "8 Predictions For the World in 2030" that the menacing phrase, You'll own nothing. And you'll be happy, emerged.

The other predictions were that there would be new climate taxes, and you will get 3D printed organs rather than organ donations, migrants will be welcomed, and you probably won't be eating much meat. The word "reset" started making its way into speeches by Joe Biden, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, and New Zealand's prime minister Jacinda Ardern. You've seen resistance to the way of life depicted by the Great Reset whenever some young conservative says, "I will not live in a pod. I will not eat the bugs."

Davos is an invaluable networking opportunity for its participants. It allows CEOs a nice chance to lobby the U.S. government for help and warn the Irish prime minister about raising taxes all over the same lunch. But Schwab's obsessions with global political cooperation, environmentalism, and "the fourth industrial revolution" — his idea that the next great leap in capitalist productivity will come from integrating technology with the human person itself — guarantees that the presentations will be a mix of utopian globalism that somehow combine visions of global austerity (to reduce carbon) with nightmares about a handful of corporate and political leaders having direct access to your amygdala. . . .

One would think that a technology-powered future with 3D printing would finally increase the productivity of great artisans and craftsmen, which has remained stagnant for centuries and become so prohibitive that these arts and trades are being lost to the prefab altogether. Such a breakthrough would allow the physical environment to be rebuilt in the most glorious Georgian, Tudor, or Spanish Colonial styles, but available to the masses. Farms and pastures could practically run themselves, making food better, making it cheaply, and delivering it fresh. The greatest educators would run classes for all those who wanted to take them. And new technological breakthroughs would clean up the atmosphere.

But that's not what they imagine at all. For the Davoisie, the future is your guts wirelessly reporting you truant and then a text message buzzing on every device in the house, warning your pets to exit the room while it is flooded with gas to sedate you into compliance with Pfizer. Afterwards a Chinese multinational informs you that the gas-flooding and Pfizer SWAT-team incident have brought about serious penalties to your carbon score, thereby deferring your long-awaited meat ration by several more years. As a help in the future, Microsoft's cognitive copilot will be taking over even more duties and tasks previously assigned to you.

Shout-Outs

David French, at the Dispatch: Pass and Enforce Red Flag Laws. Now.

Robert VerBruggen, at City Journal: How to Respond to Uvalde?

Joshua Katz, at the Wall Street Journal: Princeton Fed Me to the Cancel Culture Mob

John Sudworth, at the BBC: The faces from China's Uyghur detention camps

Honorable Mention(s)

Isaac Schorr, a.k.a. NR's official Michael Sussmann trial correspondent, will be handling Joltian duties next weekend in my absence. How does he do it? Nobody is quite sure.

And another thing: a reminder on something oh-so-casually mentioned in last weekend's note, that National Review cruises are back. You can find details on how to join National Review Institute on the next one here: http://nricruise.com/

CODA

I put out the call last weekend for some uplifting — even jubilant — music and received a flood of responses.

Brooks Eason (who is an author) writes in with "12th of June" by Lyle Lovett, the title track off his new album. I will quote from his note, which elegantly sets the scene:

Lyle Lovett, a kind gentleman and wonderful singer/songwriter, had an experience five summers ago that is unusual for a man approaching his twilight years. At the age of 59, for the first time, he became a father. His wife April gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl, on June 12, 2017. Lyle's song, 12th of June, is the title track of his new album. Watch and listen to the video and be lifted up.

But wait, there's more: David Edwards sends in some Clash. Kevin Antonio, some Sinatra. Dave Morefield, some Wynton Marsalis. And Cathearine Jenkins-Hall, some Schubert, specifically his “Trout” Quintet.

Oh, and this from Alex Hollis in Carlisle, Pa., of a thousand musicians playing "Learn to Fly" to entice the Foo Fighters to visit their town in Italy, is remarkable.

Thanks for the lift, all.

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