Home/The State of the Union

Reflections From Mexico

A few noteworthy experiences from my cruise to Mexico.

You may have noticed (maybe not) that I have not posted anything on The American Conservative website for a week now. The reason being is I went back to California and hopped on a cruise bound for Mexico over Thanksgiving. Admittedly, a cruise, with its 12 hour stops at heavily Americanized areas of Mexico deemed safe for tourists, isn’t the best way to see or experience our southern neighbor. Nonetheless, I had a few conversations during my trip that were worth noting.

Truth be told, this wasn’t the trip my family had initially planned. We had a big Alaskan cruise planned for a family reunion in the summer of 2020 until Covid put the kibosh on that. But, we needed to use the credits accumulated for the cancelation before the calendar year ran out, so turkey and stuffing at sea was the way to go.

As we drove over the bridges that traversed the Port of Long Beach prior to boarding the ship, dozens of cargo ships dotted the horizon. Each sat idly, likely loaded with gifts that will find their way under the tree this Christmas, as they long awaited their chance to unload their cargo and carry on. Some cargo freighters’ time to unload had come, as the gentle surf of the harbor caused the ships to bob ever so slightly while tied to the docks. However, the cranes that rose high above the freighters to unburden them from their intermodal containers laid dormant.

The port disappeared from view as we came off of the bridge and arrived at the berth where we would board the cruise ship. I got caught up with the excitement of boarding the newly refurbished cruise ship, and possibly the premium drink package that I’d have for the next week at sea, and thought nothing of what was happening off the ship in port. Later that night, I moseyed on up to the casino bar where I’d meet the rest of my family to enter the dining room just across the hall. I took a seat next to a man probably about 40 years my senior, wearing khaki cargo shorts, flip flops, and a robin’s egg blue “old guys rule” shirt.

After I ordered a drink, the man and I got to talking. At one point, he said, “son, what’s your name and what do you do for a living?” 

“My name is Bradley. I work in Washington D.C. as a reporter,” I said. He smiled a smile that only people who despise the media give you when you tell them you’re a journalist—a gesture I most certainly appreciate. “Yourself?” I asked.

“The name is Jay. I’ve been retired a while now, but a long time ago, I worked for a time with the United States Customs Service,” he replied.

Prior to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection that consolidated members of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Customs Service, the Customs Service was responsible for collecting tariffs, preventing smuggling, and other border security responsibilities.

“While I waited for my room to get made up and my bags get dropped off, I went up on one of the upper decks and watched the port,” Jay went on. “Worked down there for a time. I watched for nearly two hours, and didn’t see a single crane move.”

Jay took a long sip of the coke mixed with some dark liquor the bartender brought him. “In my day, this would have been completely unacceptable. Didn’t matter if it was H.W. or Clinton,” he told me. “People’s lives, and livelihoods, are out on those ships, and no one seems to give a damn.”

I couldn’t help thinking of my neighbors across the street who were renovating their house. They were forced to stay six weeks longer in a rented space because the windows they ordered were stuck somewhere in the port or on its outskirts. Not to mention the construction workers, who had to stay on the same job for more than a month longer than anticipated, with nothing much to do as they waited for the windows that prevented them for moving on to the next project and getting their company the pay that came with it.

 I wondered how many stories like that are out there.

“When do you think it’ll get fixed?” I asked Jay. He looked down and sighed. “Son, I don’t see it getting better.”

We continued talking about the impact Covid has had on our supply chains, and why America needs to start making things like it used to again, but eventually my family met me at the bar. I said my goodbye to Jay, and walked with my family across the hall to dinner.

Two days later, the ship arrived in Cabo San Lucas. It was a short eight hour stop, from noon to eight. Cabo, often the dream spring break destination for West coast college students, was rather dormant. It wasn’t just because it wasn’t the height of Cabo’s tourist season; coronavirus guidelines meant parties had to stay seated at far-spaced tables at bars like the Mango Deck, which normally is a drunken revelry with twenty-somethings sporting the latest bathing suit trends.

To get from the side of the boardwalk where our tender dropped us off to the other, we booked a water taxi. While on the water taxi, I saw one of Cabo’s famous bars where a college acquaintance of mine was rumored to go before waking up the next morning with an unfortunate tattoo. My family, and our driver Miguel, got a kick out of the story. “That’s what happens in Cabo, mi amigo,” Miguel said through a hoarse laugh. He smelled of sunscreen, seawater, and cigarettes.

“I have a tattoo of my mother,” he added as he pulled up the sleeve of his white, long sleeve shirt to reveal a tattoo of a woman that had faded on the brown, leathery skin of his forearm. The tattoo was of a pretty woman who appeared to be in her late twenties or early thirties.

“Who is she?” I asked.

“My mother, from a picture the year I was born,” Miguel replied. “I got it in Vegas,” he added.

“Were you on vacation, or did you live there?” I asked.

“I lived there for twenty years,” he said. I worked at the Venetian as a, how do you say…Gondola driver. But, one day, immigration men came to me at the Venetian and sent me back to Mexico.” Miguel chuckled and told me this as if it was a story from his childhood when his abuela tut-tutted him for doing something a little naughty. “So, I come here and work as a water taxi driver.”

After we left Miguel and Cabo San Lucas behind, I couldn’t help but think how foreign Miguel’s tone regarding his brush up with U.S. immigration authorities would sound to most Americans. On the left, as well as libertarian and right-liberal factions of the right, discussions of immigration are overwrought with emotion. Open borders journalists or lawyers at the ACLU seem to always be searching for a story they can spin or manipulate to pull at the public’s heartstrings. Sometimes, these stories can be quite unfortunate, though it does not excuse violating America’s sovereignty or laws. But for most people actually caught up in the cycle of illegal economic immigration, like Miguel, they understand the reality that underpins matters of immigration. Miguel had told me he gets paid very well as a water taxi driver in Cabo, but more money could be made across the border. So, he took the risk, got caught, got sent back, and found work with relative ease in his home country.

Ultimately, a large portion of illegal immigration across our souther border is still fueled by economic factors, and is thus transactional in nature. I sincerely wish Miguel the best working in his home country to provide for his family—just not ours. Maybe, if more Americans had his understanding of the motivating factors of immigration, our country would be more clear-eyed about the steps necessary to protect American workers by stemming the tide of low wage labor surging across our southern border.

leave a comment

‘Housing First’ Fails in San Francisco

The spike in mental illness, drug addiction, and street-dwelling among the city's homeless population demonstrates the limits of the strategy.

A homeless woman sits on the street in San Francisco. (JCruzTheTruth/Wikimedia Commons)

Progressives in San Francisco know what they want, and, borrowing from Mencken, new reporting suggests they’re getting it good and hard.

Michael Shellenberger, journalist and author of San Fransicko, published a Substack piece Monday summarizing a conversation he had with a social-services provider in San Francisco. The anonymous official said that San Francisco’s “Housing First” policy of providing permanent and unconditional housing to the homeless has failed to reduce the size of the city’s massive homeless population. He said:

“San Francisco has more permanent supportive housing units per capita than any other city, and we doubled spending on homelessness, but the homeless population rose 13%, even as it went down in the U.S. And so we doubled our spending and the problem got worse. But if you say that, you get attacked.”

According to Point-in-Time (PIT) counts from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), San Francisco’s homeless population ballooned from roughly 5,400 in 2005 to more than 8,100 in 2020–a 60 percent surge that occurred amid a nationwide decline in homelessness.

Proponents argue the surge in vagrancy is unrelated to the city’s embrace of Housing First policies. The changing composition of San Francisco’s homeless population testifies to the opposite conclusion. In 2005, HUD found that eight percent of San Francisco’s homeless population had a serious mental illness, and 13 percent had a chronic substance-abuse issue. All of the homeless people with serious mental illness and/or substance-abuse issues counted by HUD in 2005 were found in the city’s homeless shelters.

Compare that to the results of HUD’s 2020 PIT count. Of the 8124 homeless people HUD officials counted in the city, 23 percent had a serious mental illness, and 24 percent had chronic substance-abuse issues. More than 85 percent of the seriously mentally ill and substance abusers counted by HUD officials in 2020 were found unsheltered on the street.

The spike in mental illness, drug addiction, and street-dwelling among the city’s homeless population demonstrates the limits of Housing First policies. People with untreated psychotic disorders and those addicted to drugs are particularly likely to slip through the cracks of any system. When they do, Shellenberger writes, Housing First advocates have left them few shelters to fall back on.

The main reason San Francisco lacks sufficient homeless shelters is because [activist Jennifer] Friedenbach and other Housing First advocates have long opposed them. They have demanded that money go to providing people with their own apartment units. The reason, Friedenbach explained to me, is that “if you ask unhoused people, they’re not screaming for shelter. They’re screaming for housing.”

Proponents of Housing First wish to upend the delivery of all social services in the United States. As then-deputy director Richard Cho wrote in a post on the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness’s website in 2014, Housing First grew out of the deinstitutionalization movement and quickly became a “whole-system orientation and response” meant to “change mainstream systems” of care.

Housing First is, and always has been, about changing mainstream systems. The approach emerged as a reaction to traditional mental health treatment modality, which thought that the way to address the needs of people with psychiatric symptoms on the street was to get them into psychiatric treatment, typically at an inpatient facility…Housing First’s role in changing mainstream systems should not stop with the mental health system. Housing is just as foundational to addiction recovery and psychical well-being as it is to mental health. The new frontiers of systems change are to engage the substance abuse treatment system and the mainstream health care system around housing.

The feces, used heroin needles, and Dickensian scenes of human misery are a small price to pay for many wine-track radicals in San Francisco who relish the chance to change “mainstream systems.”

leave a comment

OSHA’s Big ‘Oops’

The bureaucracy's reversal on the vaccine mandate for businesses is a win for state sovereignty, not to mention the American people.

After delaying two months before producing a rule pursuant to the White House’s September announcement that businesses with 100 employees or more would have to require the Covid-19 vaccine, the Department of Labor has now suspended enforcement of the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for private businesses.

The rule was initially challenged by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, along with the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina, who filed a lawsuit requesting a preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to stop the mandate from being enforced. A total of 12 states are suing to block the federal vaccine mandate for employers. After the federal appeals court temporarily halted the order, the Department of Justice requested the halt to be lifted, but the appeals court upheld the stay.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said in its ruling that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) should “take no steps to implement or enforce the mandate until further court order,” writing that the administration’s vaccine and testing mandate was “fatally flawed.” The court ordered OSHA not to enforce the requirement “pending adequate judicial review” of a motion for a permanent injunction. The court’s decision prompted OSHA to suspend the rule.

The court’s shutdown confirms what many suspected when OSHA delayed for weeks before publishing the rule: The legal grounds for enforcing a federal vaccine mandate on private businesses seems to be shaky at best. And yet, does it matter? Plenty of private businesses have already required their employees to take the shot, and are unlikely to roll that back, even in the wake of OSHA’s reversal. The Biden administration, too, is still pushing ahead, urging businesses to continue to implement an employee mandate, even if the state lacks the power to enforce it. Besides, how many people, besides those who are paid to read the news, are paying close enough attention to know the difference?

Once again, what matters seems less and less to be the actual tenets of law, and more and more to be who holds the reigns of power. Like with the eviction moratorium extension, the Biden administration has effectively said “maybe it’s illegal, but we’re going to try anyway.” Except this time, a few states rattled the cage.

The key silver lining here, thus, is a glimmer of state sovereignty. The pressure of a handful of states saying no, thank you, we’ll decide if we want to mandate a vaccine in our state, is significant, whether it weighed directly or indirectly on the decision. This was a win for localism, and it can and should be the model for governors and state legislatures going forward. Appeals to constitutionalism may fall of deaf ears, but four states—or 12—can keep the bureaucratic arm of the federal government out of local affairs if they have the courage to take serious action.

leave a comment

Our Military Brass Has Learned Nothing

A former supreme allied commander of NATO suggested sending troops to Ethiopia. What could go wrong?

After twenty years and $2 trillion wasted in Afghanistan, a humiliating destabilization of Iraq that spread throughout the region, hubristic military intervention in Libya, and a failed humanitarian intervention in Somalia, among other failures, have we learned nothing?

For our ever powerful but never accountable elite military brass, the answer is a resounding no. Last Thursday, James Stavridis, a retired U.S. Navy admiral and former supreme allied commander of NATO who has gone on to become chairman of the board of the Rockefeller Foundation and vice chairman of Global Affairs at the Carlyle Group, wrote an opinion for Bloomberg in which he argued for U.S. intervention in Ethiopia’s burgeoning civil war. 

At the outset, Stavridis acknowledged that his mostly American audience probably doesn’t know much about Ethiopia. Thankfully, he’s here to educate us. Ethiopia, Stavridis says, matters to the United States because it’s big, “more than 1.5 times the size of Texas,” and populous, with a population of about 115 million. 

No, Ethiopia doesn’t have a major strategic port, or controls access to waterways vital to U.S. supply chains—it’s a completely landlocked country. Nor does it have vast reserves of rare earths, natural gas, or other precious metals, which some use to justify further U.S. involvement and investment in other African countries. Its importance, according to Stavridis, is political, as Addis Ababa is the seat of the African Union and home base for the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Because of its political import, destabilization in Ethiopia can have downstream destabilization effects in other countries. The solution, Stavridis claims, is to send U.S. and allied troops in to ensure Ethiopia’s growing civil conflict stays contained in the region of Tigray.

Yet again I ask: have we learned nothing?

To a certain extent, a stable North Africa is important to the United States because it borders the Red Sea, which leads to the Suez Canal that connects the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean. As we learned when a ship that got lodged in the Suez canal for about a week earlier this year, disruptions to shipping lanes in the region can have a profound impact on how Americans get some of their necessities. Of course, the United States should certainly be looking for creative policies to re-shore supply chains within our borders so our access to basic goods and other necessities aren’t susceptible to external shocks, whether its a wayward ship or political instability in the horn of Africa. This project will be long, but well worth it, especially since it’ll mean arguments like those forwarded by Stavridis will no longer be in vogue. 

The idea that U.S. troops will be able to successfully stabilize the conflict broiling in Ethiopia, a conflict born of ethnic divisions among the country’s three largest tribal groups, is ignorant of America’s previous experience in dealing with similar affairs in the MENA region. Take our intervention in Libya, which sought to oust Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi for human rights abuses perpetrated in the first Libyan Civil War, for example. American forces, along with its NATO partners, were successful in that mission. As then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton boasted, “We came, we saw, he died,” in her spin on Julius Caesar’s famous phrase.

However, has Libya been better off since Gaddafi’s gruesome death was basically televised for western audiences? No. Libya quickly fell into a second civil war. The country is widely recognized by scholars as a failed state, and remains a hotbed of terrorist and extremist activity where human rights abuses abound.

Stavridis attempts to pull at his audience’s heartstrings, invoking the West’s failure to intervene in the tragedy of Rwanda to justify U.S. intervention now in Ethiopia as some sort of reparations for historical misdeeds on the part of the United States. While Stavridis makes an emotional plea for America to get involved, the former supreme allied commander of NATO is relatively light on suggestions on how the United States should go about doing so. He seems encouraged by international efforts to negotiate a ceasefire between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the sitting government in Addis Ababa, but if the U.S. were to interject, would it be on the side of the government, led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a former Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has launched attacks on the TPLF and speaks of the conflict “in tones threatening ethnic cleansing,” according to TIME? Would we intervene on behalf of the rebels, and advocate for some kind of agreement in which the Tigray gets political autonomy—although it’s unlikely either side accepts such an agreement? In a report published earlier this month by the U.N. says both sides are guilty of brutal human rights abuses that could amount to war crimes, so which side are we on? Stavridis makes little attempt to clarify. Maybe he should do the bare minimum by figuring out which side we’re on before suggesting sending America’s sons and daughters into another country half-a-world away.

leave a comment

Kamala is a Gift Republicans Don’t Deserve

The second lady's petty tiff with the president, and her enduringly awkward demeanor, make her the perfect candidate for a Republican win in 2024.

She’s a heartbeat away from the presidency—literally. And while it started as a joke among right-of-center types (“Can’t wait for the Harris presidency to begin on January 21, 2021”), it has apparently planted serious fears in the hearts of Joe Biden’s team.

A recent report about internal discord in the White House by CNN journalist and Biden favorite Edward-Isaac Dovere gently paints Harris as a woman struggling to create purpose in a largely purposeless job, before switching to more cringe-worthy accounts, including Harris’s family members’ informal say within her office, her overly cautious tendencies, and her “staff problems, which have been a feature of every office she’s held, from San Francisco district attorney to U.S. Senate.” Above all, her office feels “sidelined” by the president, whom she blames in part for her lengthy saga of political gaffes.

Sensitive to Harris’s loyalties, the Biden team seems to want to make a clear statement about who is in charge in this his versus hers staff war. Meanwhile, all poor Harris wants is more power and more responsibility—except, not the border, and not diplomacy, and not any of the things the Biden administration has tasked her with. She wants the White House to run cover for her embarrassing moments, of which there have already been many, and for which she blames the West Wing for failing to prepare or “position” her adequately (gone are the days when politicians knew anything that didn’t come from hand-delivered, bullet-pointed talkers). In other words, it is the Biden team’s fault she doesn’t have responsibilities, and it’s the Biden team’s fault again when she blunders spectacularly in the ones it has given her. She’s a black, Asian woman, for crying out loud, is that not enough for you people? Where is her Nobel Peace Prize?

But the internal White House discord, and Harris’s overall underwhelming performance as vice president—a genuine feat, given her partner in crime—smell of a fresh political wind that bodes well for Republicans in the next presidential election. Painted by some as the real mastermind behind a puppet Biden presidency, it turns out she’s just another petty female politician, and painfully uncomfortable to boot. While politicos on the left and right seem ready to assume a Biden second term is not in the cards, a Harris presidency is—or at least, was supposed to be—the real goal of the next three years.

Except, the more the world sees of Harris, the less inclined it is to think of her. Her embarrassing attempts at relatability (apparently Middle America doesn’t know what an OfficeMax or a Kinkos is), her cringeworthy interview responses as she tried to cover her failure to visit the southern border, and her proud ownership of the U.S.’s Afghanistan withdrawal, despite its disastrous handling, are uncomfortable—but nothing compared to her garish, untimely laugh, which makes even Biden’s errors look good.

Four years of Harris, like four years of Hillary, might just be so unappetizing a prospect that even the promise of electing the United States’ first female president couldn’t chase that shot.

leave a comment

Going to Gender Jail

Large numbers of transgender inmates are looking to be transferred out of prisons to match their gender identity

Over the years, you’ve probably heard transgender activists and their allies argue in some form that their bodies are a prison preventing them from becoming their true self. Apparently, more and more governments seem to think that because transgender inmates are already imprisoned by their own flesh and blood, where they’re incarcerated doesn’t matter all too much.

A dozen transgender prisoners that have been convicted of sexual or violent crimes are being held in women’s prisons in Scotland, the Timesreported last week. Of the 12 biologically male inmates, only one had undergone surgery and other treatments to present as the opposite gender. The other 11 merely self identify as female.

The decision to send the biologically male inmates into women’s prisons was made without any attempt to assess the impact their presence may have on female inmates, many of whom are previous victims of sexual and physical abuse.

Some advocates and experts told the Times that the scholarship surrounding these issues shows that no matter how you slice it, placing biological males in women’s prisons adversely affects the female inmates. “The evidence clearly indicates that where prisoners of the male sex, no matter how they identify, are held in women’s prisons, women in prison are negatively impacted,” Dr. Kate Coleman, director of Keep Prisons Single Sex, told the Times.

“It is always an issue to have trans women in with female prisoners and you have to think beyond the obvious which is physical or sexual threat,” said Rhona Hotchkiss, the former governor of Cornton Vale women’s prison in Stirling, Scotland, according to the Times. “The very fact of the presence of male-bodied prisoners among vulnerable women causes them distress and consternation.”

I wish I could say that an ocean separates America from this sheer insanity, but it’s already here—and where else than in California. To ensure the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) was sufficiently woke, Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed S.B. 132 into law in January. The law requires the CDCR to ask each person entering CDCR custody what their pronouns are and what their gender identity is.

Depending on the future inmate’s answer, the CDCR is then required to place the inmate in a  “correctional facility designated for men or women based on the individual’s preference.” Because the placement is solely based on an individual’s preference, there is no requisite level of transition therapy needed for men to be placed in women’s prisons.

If, say, an inmate wakes up one morning and decides that thing hanging off their midsection doesn’t represent the true them, no problem. Because everything in S.B. 132 is predicated simply on preferences, an inmate can update their information at any time in the future. If inmate Samuel decides he is actually Samantha virtually overnight, prison staff are expected to keep their heads down and refer to the inmate with whatever pronouns they prefer.

Unsurprisingly, hundreds of inmates took the CDCR on their offer. Since the law was passed in January, at least 261 inmates have requested to be transferred to a facility that houses inmates that correspond to their chosen gender identity. 

“255 are from transgender women and non-binary incarcerated people who are requesting to be housed in a female institution and six are from transgender men and non-binary incarcerated people who are requesting to be housed in a male institution,” CDCR Deputy Press Secretary Terry Thornton told the Daily Caller News Foundation. The 261 requests represent nearly a quarter of the California prison system’s transgender inmate population.

At the time Thornton spoke to the Daily Caller News Foundation, the CDCR had approved 21 of the requests, and not denied a single one. 

Of the 21 approved, four were moved to the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. Two of the 21, the CDCR noted, changed their minds, although it remained unclear whether or not they changed their minds about their gender, or moving to a facility to match said gender.

The capricious androgyny at the heart of S.B. 132 was always the end goal of gender ideology. At the core of this prevailing gender ideology is the idea that gender is merely a social construct separate from sex, making it a natural fit in the umbrella of modern left-wing ideologies whose utopian ends presuppose complete social construction. As gender constructionists began to aggressively wield the institutional power they gained, the right attempted to counter the gender constructionists by arguing that gender was foremost a matter of science. Genitalia, chromosomes, hormone levels, bone density, and muscle mass is what separates male from female. No doubt, each of these are determinative or demonstrative of an individual’s sex, which is inextricably tied to gender. But by reducing gender to scientific conceptions of sex, those on the right forwarding these arguments were ignorant of the essential social constructions that demarcate masculinity and femininity. Like most human things, gender is a matter of both nature and nurture.

As my TAC colleague, Associate Editor Declan Leary, wrote in a recent column

Conservatives damage their own cause when they reduce the argument to mere biology… Gender is, in the words of one of the great reactionaries of our age, ‘the sociocultural role of sex,’ and the two ‘can be distinguished but not separated.’

Which is to say that what we call gender is real and actually, in a way, more dignified than sex. It is the way that sex—a fundamental feature of who we are as human animals—affects our higher lives as social and spiritual beings. It is an elevation of bodily facts into tradition, a carefully held and transmitted way to habituate our understanding of who and what we are.

Gender constructionists were quite happy that the right had eschewed considerations of gender’s social constructions, which is why they were willing to entertain these purely scientific arguments from the right. If the difference between male and female was just genitalia, then the proper surgeries would do the trick. If being a man or a woman was simply a matter of hormones, then various hormone therapies or treatments can transform someone’s biological chemistry to more closely resemble, scientifically, someone of the opposite sex. For gender constructionists, this was simply a waiting game. All they had to do was keep the right bogged down in the science long enough to amass the institutional power necessary to ignore or quash them as they saw fit. That time has now come.

As evidenced by California and Scotland, liberal justice systems are now squarely in line with the gender constructionists, and by freeing these transgender inmates from the prison of their worldly bodies, they have helped them circumvent the just punishment they deserve.

leave a comment

Where’s the Off Ramp?

Even with vaccine mandates, international travelers are still required to follow the most stringent Covid-19 procedures.

Foreign visitors can once again feed the tourism industry in the U.S. as of Monday, thanks to the Biden administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new allowances. The new State Department rule permits all international travelers for non-essential visits, so long as they are fully vaccinated with a World Health Organization-approved vaccine.

In addition to showing their Green Pass, according to rules from the CDC, international travelers are also required to produce a negative Covid-19 test within three days of boarding an airplane to enter the United States, and wear a mask over their nose and mouth at all times while within the airplane and airport. Moreover, all travelers entering the country from abroad—regardless of both vaccination status and citizenship status—will be required to provide their personal information (such as their name, email, and mailing address) to airlines to be contact traced in the case of an outbreak. The new rules require airlines to keep this information for at least 30 days.

We’re supposed to be popping corks and booking flights right now, because globalism is finally back in business. If the joys of reunification are somewhat stale, it may be because after 19 months, this feels more like a pittance than any kind of genuine win.

But really: What just happened here? Every rule we were told was temporary, every procedure which was initially “recommended,” every new measure which was supposed to restore to us the freedoms that Covid took away (not, of course, the healthcare bureaucracies) has been kept in place, mandated by law, and stacked on top of the others like a game of Jenga that is as ineffective as it is ridiculous. Many have asked, but it’s worth raising again the question, where does it end? If I still have to wear a mask if I’m vaccinated, why should I take the shot? If I’m required to be vaccinated, why do I also need to take a test at either end of my trip? If I’m vaccinated, masked, and take Covid tests before and after travel, why do I need to submit to airline-enforced contact tracing? (Better yet, why are private businesses being weaponized against American and international travelers?)

The underlying question, especially as the NBA mandates booster shots for certain athletes in order to be considered “fully vaccinated,” is bigger: Will I ever be considered “clean” for good, or does the idol of this virus require endless ritual sacrifices, as, to mix my metaphors, the goal posts keep on moving?

There is no off ramp while we’re taking our cues from an entity that still recommends U.S. citizens get tested for Covid-19 both before and after traveling domestically, and self-isolate for seven days following air travel, even if they do not show any symptoms of the flu-like illness.

But there is an off ramp, if we would take it, by following the science as Sweden has done. After remaining open throughout the pandemic and boasting death tolls and infection rates that were equal to, if not better than, the Western world in lockdown, Scandinavia no longer requires travelers to mask up on airplanes. (Also following science, Sweden and Denmark stopped using the Moderna vaccine in October for anyone younger than 30, after reports of severe side effects, including myocarditis and pericarditis.)

The mania over this virus is clearly not going to peter out on its own, but the American faith in the experts already is. With a wary eye toward Australia, we ought be saying “enough,” before we’re wearing so many masks that no one can hear it.

leave a comment

Turks Go Bananas

The battle over bananas in Turkey is indicative of the effects a protracted, large-scale refugee program can have on a country.

A bizarre story from Turkey about bananas last week offered some food for thought on the effects a protracted, large-scale refugee program can have on a country.

A group of Syrian nationals could now be deported from Turkey for “threatening public order and security” after posting videos of themselves eating bananas on social media. No, there’s no law in Turkey forbidding individuals from eating the potassium packed yellow fruit, or posting videos of them doing so on social media.

Videos like those posted by the seven Syrians started popping up on social media in mid October after an online news outlet published an argument between a young Syrian woman and a group of Turks.

During the argument, a middle-aged Turkish man said to the young Syrian woman, “You’re living comfortably. I can’t eat a banana, you’re buying kilos of bananas.” A Turkish woman also chimed in and criticized Syrians for returning to their home country to participate in religious festivals but not fight in the country’s civil war.

The sentiment expressed by the Turks in the video is becoming increasingly common among Turkey’s working poor. Some Turks complain that Syrians can afford to live comfortably in their new host nation while some Turks struggle to find work amidst an economic crisis and high inflation.

Turkey has the largest refugee population in the world, predominantly due to the more than 3.6 million Syrians that fled to Turkey because of the civil war that began a decade ago. Beyond the 3.6 million plus refugees living under temporary protected status, 100,000 have obtained legal residency and another 93,000 have been granted citizenship, according to 2019 figures from Turkey’s Directorate General of Migration. This means just under 5% of Turkey’s population is made up of Syrian nationals. Beyond legal Syrians residing in Turkey, there’s also a great number of unregistered Syrians still living in the country. In 2018, the Turkish government apprehended 34,000 unregistered Syrians, which likely puts the true number of unregistered Syrians, and thus Syrian nationals’ proportion of Turkey’s population, much higher.

What the Turks in the video are saying to the young woman isn’t completely unfounded, but certainly not 100% accurate either. Some Syrian refugees do have the means to live well in Syria, and do return home to observe religious holidays with family still living in Syria. Furthermore, because of their legal status in Turkey, Syrian refugees also have access to free healthcare and education—although about 40% of Syrian children do not attend due to poverty and language barriers. To encourage engagement with the Turkish healthcare and education system, the European Union established a cash transfer program for refugee children on the condition children go to school with increased incentives for young girls. Nearly half a million Syrian children take part in the program.

Despite some Turks’ perceptions, a majority of Syrian refugee households living in an urban setting take in incomes near or below the national poverty line. However, a survey conducted by the Turkish Red Crescent (TRC) and the World Food Program (WFP) found that 84% of Syrian refugee households have at least one person working, but only 3% had work permits. This is noteworthy because work permits available to Syrian refugees must be applied for by the refugee’s employer, who then must also pay taxes and social security as part of the refugee’s employment as well as pay the refugee a minimum wage. By not applying for workers permits, both employers and refugees circumvent the system established to create a fair labor market, creating labor-market distortions that adversely impact working Turks.

By no means does this inherently make Syrian refugees better off. The after-tax monthly minimum wage was 2,020 Turkish liras in 2019, whereas Syrians with a working contract that gave them regular working hours earned 1,313 Turkish liras per month on average, and irregular workers brought in 1,058 Turkish liras per month.

Nonetheless, while their perceptions are somewhat off, as can be said of the opinions and attitudes of America’s dispossessed from time to time, that doesn’t make them irrelevant. For one, just because their perceptions can be off base, doesn’t mean they can’t carry with them destabilizing effects—which is especially important in a country that has seen a general decline in stability that coincides with the outbreak of the Syrian civil war.

The second reason, much more applicable to a western audience, calls into question the broader strategy of refugee resettlement.

It wasn’t always the case that Turks called into question the presence of their new Syrian cohabitants. Shortly after the crisis in Syria began, Ankara created an open-door policy for Syrians hoping to flee from the escalating violence that remained until 2015. Even after the open-door closed in 2015, Turks felt a sense of pride in the service they were providing a temporary home for people who were watching their home country crumble before their very eyes. A 2016 poll found that 72% of Turks surveyed said they had no problems with the presence of millions of Syrian refugees.

Intervention from the United States and other powers only caused the Syrian civil war to linger on, even after it was clear Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would withstand western efforts to depose him. With the help of Russia and Iran, Assad recaptured large portions of Syrian territory. While Syria is far from a safe and stable place and fighting continues in certain hotspots along the borders of disputed territories, who’s in charge once the Syrian civil war ends is a foregone conclusion. Even though the Syrian civil war has subsided, the number of Syrian refugees attempting to enter Turkey prior to the Covid-19 pandemic that forced Turkey’s borders closed rose nearly 50% in 2019 compared to 2018.

But now that it’s clear Assad will retain his grip on power, the west is not only attempting to justify a longer stay for Syrian refugees, but is openly advocating for their permanent relocation in Turkey. As the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, one of Europe’s leading foreign policy think-tanks, wrote in a paper last year, “Turkey is likely to continue to host millions of refugees in the foreseeable future” and  “their successful integration into Turkish society should be a key concern for European deci­sion-makers.”

Humiliating defeats in the 2019 municipal elections for the Justice and Develop­ment Party over the Syrian refugee issue only served to make Turkey more aggressive in its attempts to close refugee camps and return Syrian nationals to their country of origin. I am not suggesting  that certain exceptions shouldn’t be made for Syrians who could face real persecution upon their return to Syria, nor is this an endorsement of Turkey’s military or resettlement tactics in Northern Syria. And of course, Syrians should be deported for posting videos of themselves eating bananas. 

What I am suggesting is that the ongoing refugee situation is not what the Turkish government in Ankara, nor the Turkish people, agreed to. 

For years, we heard the American, and especially the foreign policy establishment in Europe, stress the importance of regional settlement of Syrian refugees for a number of reasons, but above all else was making it easier for Syrians to return to their home country. Now, the western foreign policy establishment is turning its back on the very purpose of regional refugee resettlement because it was unable to achieve its desired result in Syria. With these constantly-shifting goal posts, it’s not illogical for some to suppose that the perfect conditions to return some Syrian refugees to their home country won’t exist for quite some time, and Syrian refugees ought to start preparing to return to their home country in spite of this.

leave a comment

The Covid War Is A Class War

Covid was merely a pretense for the elites to wage a war on the working class.

Last year, we were told the American economy had to completely shut down for the sake of public health. Workers were told they had to work from home if at all possible. Others weren’t so lucky, as millions applied for unemployment benefits seemingly overnight. Somehow, as the economy was shuttered, hundreds of new billionaires were minted, scattered throughout tech, Big Pharma, and other industries. The public health establishment also told us to empty our churches and schools out of fear of viral transmission, only to find out large-scale demonstrations and the destruction of our communities were considered safe. Local diners and bars were reduced to carry out or had to stay dormant, but politicians could dine in fancy restaurants or enjoy a maskless night on the town. It soon became clear that Covid was merely a pretense for the elites to wage a war on the working class.

The latest such example of the convergence between Covid and class came Thursday when the Biden administration’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued new rules that required workers at companies with 100 or more employees to get the Covid jab. The mandate is expected to cover over half of the United States’ working population, given that more than 80 million Americans work for companies that have 100 employees or more.

Workers have until Jan. 4 to get fully vaccinated, either by getting two shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. If a worker receives a medical or religious exemption, or fails to get vaccinated, they must continue to wear masks at work and submit a negative Covid-19 test every week. Because Covid-19 vaccines are free, OHSA determined that workers should foot the bill for their weekly negative test. Stricter rules will also apply to 17 million workers in nursing homes, hospitals and other health institutions that get Medicare and Medicaid dollars, as they will not have the option to submit weekly negative tests.

OSHA drafted the rule using emergency authority after Biden authorized the regulatory agency to craft a vaccine requirement for workers at companies of 100 or more on Sept. 9. How the regulatory agency plans to enforce the mandate remains unclear, but a senior administration official told the Associated Press that OSHA will target companies it receives complaints from. Breaking the new rule could result in fines of up to nearly $14,000 per violation.

If this senior administration official is to be believed, OSHA has effectively deputized Covid fanatics who put their vaccination status in their social media bios that have run around for the past two years shrieking at people to wear masks outside to do its bidding in the workplace. Quite an ingenious strategy. What could possibly go wrong?

Defenders of the Biden administration’s move argue that not only the mandate is legally justifiable, it’s what people want. They cite studies and surveys, such as the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Vaccine Monitor for October. The survey found about two-thirds of the respondents from the country’s working poor actually support vaccine or testing requirements for large businesses, even more so than workers with higher household income.

Furthermore, the Kaiser Family Foundation study found that a quarter of workers surveyed said their employers have required them to get vaccinated from Covid-19, more than 150% increased since June. That figure will likely go way up once the new OSHA rules kick in. Another 21% of workers said their employers have not instituted a vaccine mandate, but would like their employer to implement one.

However, as is often the problem with our efforts to reduce politics and political attitudes to pure scientific metrics, this data leaves out some crucial considerations.

For one, because the survey was conducted prior to OSHA releasing its new rules, we don’t know how the regressive nature of forcing workers to pay for their own tests would affect lower-class respondents’ attitudes towards these requirements.

More importantly, the survey does not specify how many of these workers are employed by large companies that would be covered under the mandate. Those who are not employed by a large company will likely approach the question from the perspective of a consumer, soliciting a much different answer than that of an employee. It’s sensible for someone to want to feel safe from Covid when shopping at a big retail chain or grocery store knowing that the employees stocking the shelves are vaccinated (although we already know Covid-19 rarely spreads on surfaces). From the perspective of purely a consumer, a vaccine mandate for large businesses has few drawbacks. In the case of the worker, the stakes are much higher. A vaccine mandate forces a medical decision upon you that you may not be comfortable with in order to maintain your livelihood, which likely already hovers just above subsistence. 

Understanding the difference between workers and consumers in relation to vaccine mandates is crucial in parsing out whether someone truly is in favor, because when the Kaiser Family Foundation survey asked workers whether or not their employer has already implemented a vaccine requirement, or would like them to do so, a majority of workers (51%) said their employer has not and would like it to stay that way. To no surprise, the percentage of workers who already have or would like a workplace vaccine requirement is positively correlated to the level of household income.

For decades, both Republicans and Democrats opted to battle for the good graces of Wall Street and capital to fund their campaigns or get a cushy lobbying job after leaving public service, and in the process largely forgot about the working class. With two parties of capital at the wheel, it’s no surprise that the Department of Labor and its OSHA subsidiary stopped representing the interests of blue-collar labor and embraced big business and big labor.

Despite the occasional Republican tax cut, Democrats have won the battle over capital and the institutional power that comes with it. Blame it on the university system, the digital age, the collapse of the family, or whatever you want—it doesn’t change the truth of the matter.

Though President Donald Trump was not reelected, one of the silver linings of the 2020 election was that some Republicans seemed to finally wake up to this reality. The inroads Trump made with middle and working class voters in the 2016 election continued in 2020 and were essential to Republican candidates for the House and Senate outperforming expectations. 

“We are a working-class party now. That’s the future,” Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley tweeted on election night. Hawley is one of the few Republicans who seems to understand that in order to maintain the Trump coalition that gave Republicans the presidency in 2016 and fell just short in 2020, Republican lawmakers actually have to deliver on their priorities—trade, immigration, smashing our tech oligarchy, and putting an end to the Covid caste system.

What Hawley recognizes is completely lost on other Republicans, such as Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. Both Hutchinson and Noem say they oppose federal vaccine mandates, but have refused to ban private businesses implementing their own vaccine mandates like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. They believe that a ban on vaccine mandates in the private sector amounts to big government socialism. Tyranny is fine, as long as it is enforced by human resources departments and not bureaucrats. Whether or not a vaccine mandate is enforced by the government or business, the outcome for the worker remains the same.

Others on the right are much too concerned with whether or not workers oppose vaccine mandates for the right reasons. For some reason, these people believe conservatives can divvy up workers into camps of righteous and unrighteous objectors to determining what workers are worthy of defending. They too, completely miss the point. It doesn’t matter whether their resistance to vaccine mandates is based in the belief that they already have natural immunity from previously contracting Covid-19 or downright conspiracy theories about the vaccine. What matters is that both conservatives and workers face institutions hellbent on destroying the American way of life.

Biden’s new vaccine mandate will face strong opposition in court, as more than two dozen Republican state attorneys general across the country likely have plans to sue the administration over the new rules. If they do so effectively, and the mandate is struck down, that’s a step in the right direction. However, fully transforming the Republican party into a working class party will be impossible if the future of the conservative movement is defined by Noem and others who are ignorant of the current class war. If Republicans don’t get serious about understanding how class in inextricably tied to Covid-19—not to mention immigration, trade, and a litany of other conservative priorities—the working class coalition Trump built will crumble, and the only route the right has left to institutional power strong enough to beat back its enemies will disappear.

leave a comment

Why Glenn Youngkin Won

Support for the family and opposition to racialism is a winning platform. Republicans, take note.

Glenn Youngkin speaks at a campaign rally in Alexandria, October 30, 2021. (Eli Wilson/Shutterstock)

As you’ve probably heard by now, Glenn Youngkin hand-delivered disaster to the Democratic Party on Tuesday night. His campaign was a masterclass of discipline and messaging, illuminating a path forward for Republicans in the Biden Era. 

Youngkin, at least on the campaign trail, was able to unite disparate voters in a way no other Republican has for quite some time. After a late dinner in Old Town Alexandria, I ran into a brigade of moms passing out pink “I voted for Youngkin” wristbands on King Street. Once, pulling over to a farmers market west of the Shenandoah, I bought fresh apples from a lady in a “Farmers for Youngkin” hat. Youngkin signs adorned yards, medians, businesses, and cars everywhere I went in Virginia over the past few months. Next to Beto O’ Rourke’s campaign for Texas Senate in 2018, it was the rawest grassroots energy I have ever seen. 

Youngkin’s election will be over-analyzed until rendered meaningless like some bizarre racialist poem a Virginia high school assigns to its students. The Republican establishment, never ones to let good deeds go unpunished, have already attempted to worm their way into credit. I’m sure Frank Luntz will have an incomprehensible assortment of data sent to the RNC by the end of the week. Before history is rewritten, however, I’d like to highlight a few encouraging factors for the conservatives who made Youngkin’s victory possible. 

Youngkin campaigned heavily on the rights of parents to have a say in their children’s education, a potent message in the aftermath of the drama in Loudoun County, Terry McAuliffe’s gaffes, and the rise of critical race theory. Education was a mobilizer and a winner. 

Democrats have concluded that education was a code for white supremacy. They’re a party that finds white supremacy in food products, children’s toys, and sporting events. Hysteria will blind them to the obvious lessons. Education, however, was indeed a code. In an era where Black Lives Matter has declared the nuclear family to be a white supremacist relic, Youngkin’s campaign addressed families as citizen stakeholders.

The principle at stake in the election was not Virginia’s K-12 curriculum but family as an institution itself. Terry McAuliffe doesn’t believe in family; he believes in the state. Placing education decisions in the hands of public-sector unions rather than parents is only an outgrowth of that fundamental belief. Typical Youngkin stumps mentioned CRT once or twice but addressed families and parents dozens of times. CRT was a potent message, but only when linked to the left’s broader war on the family unit. 

Due to the work of the aforementioned genius Frank Luntz and other consultants over the years, Republicans have long believed that capitulation on critical social issues is the only path to victory in blueing regions of the country. Youngkin’s campaign built on the seemingly counterintuitive gains of the Trump years and proved these narratives wrong. Youngkin stood firm on traditional social issues. He opposed same-sex marriage, supported the pro-life movement, and fought against gender ideology run amuck in Loudoun County.

He didn’t make same-sex marriage or abortion the focus of his campaign, but he also didn’t betray his conservative base in a desperate gambit for liberal votes. As a result, he was rewarded with sky-high turnout among evangelicals and overwhelming margins of support. Exit polls indicate that 88 percent of white evangelicals supported Youngkin, securing his tight victory. Rather than follow the disappointing model of other Republicans and depress this critical voting mass via compromise with progressive social narratives, Youngkin stood firm and turned them out to vote. In addition to family-first messaging, these same factors likely contributed to his consolidation of the rapidly realigning and socially conservative Hispanic vote as well. 

Finally, voters in Virginia soundly rejected the cultural implications of the progressive racialization of politics. It turns out that Americans support police and will not tolerate a party that actively degrades safety and quality of life. Youngkin leaned into the issue, boldly declaring his support for law enforcement and promising to sack the Virginia Parole Board on his first day in office. Amid a historic crime wave, the message struck a chord with voters. The election of Virginia’s first black woman to a statewide office, Lt. Governor-Elect Winsome Sears, further broke the absurd Black Lives Matter racial narrative.

More troubling for the Democrats, however, should be the polling on monument removal. 53 percent of voters in Virginia expressed opposition to the removal of Confederate statues on public grounds. Only 41 percent indicated support for removal. Just ahead of the election, Robert E. Lee’s towering figure was removed from Monument Avenue in Richmond without the consent of a majority of Virginia voters. Lee is controversial even among Republicans in Virginia, many of whom are not from or connected to the South.

But if a majority of voters opposed the removal of the ever controversial Robert E. Lee’s statue, how many supported the widespread attacks on the Founding Fathers of the United States? Christ Church in Alexandria, George Washington’s church, removed his plaque from church grounds and replaced it with Black Lives Matter symbolism. The University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson, battled endlessly with students who wanted his statue removed from campus. Contrast this with Youngkin’s appeals to the “spirit of Madison, Monroe, Jefferson, Washington, and Paine,” and it’s clear that the cultural revolution is unpopular, even in blue Virginia. Republicans should respond by supporting markers of our cultural inheritance and stop waffling in the face of iconoclasm. 

Youngkin’s campaign was broader than the issues I addressed, and it will take longer to forge his model into a national strategy. Committed conservatives, however, should delight in these immediate takeaways that prove the viability of our message in an increasingly hostile age. There is much work to be done, but Virginia demonstrated the left is beatable on the issues and terms most threatening to American life. Three cheers for the Commonwealth.

leave a comment