Great America

In Coronavirus Era, the Media Plays God

Americans are living in a “Twilight Zone” of their own at the moment, but even in all of the weirdness of this era there is nobody with the supernatural ability to tell what comes next. In this moment of vulnerability, there are some trying to convince us otherwise.

There’s a classic episode of “The Twilight Zone” starring William Shatner in one of his two roles in the series playing a young neurotic. In this one, he becomes obsessed with a fortune-teller machine in a Midwestern diner.

Marooned with his new wife over car trouble, Shatner’s character asks a series of questions—Will I get a promotion? When will the car get fixed?—that receive eerily accurate answers. Being a superstitious type, eventually he loses all sense of agency and assigns a godlike authority to the machine, called the “Mystic Seer,” which consists of a plastic devil’s head creepily affixed to the top of a napkin dispenser. Over the objections of his frustrated wife, who does not share his superstitious nature, he convinces himself that they are powerless even to leave the quiet Ohio town where they have stopped.

Eventually—and no spoiler alert, because this is a 60-year-old TV episode—he frees himself with his wife’s encouragement and they move on with their lives. Another couple is not so lucky. Of course, being the “Twilight Zone,” it’s never totally clear if Shatner’s character is crazy or in the grips of a very real, if evil, power. That’s beside the point. By allowing himself to give this silly toy control of his destiny, he loses his identity and his dignity. He is only himself again when he snaps out of it.

In the age of coronavirus, Americans feel similarly trapped. Isolated at home, many feel powerless, vulnerable, anxious, and fearful of the future. Like Shatner’s character, many are desperate for answers. When will this be over? When can we go outside? How many people will die?

Also, like Shatner’s character, Americans are in danger of losing their freedom, and not just in the legal sense. Outside of the car trouble, Shatner’s character is never actually constrained in any way, but he doesn’t need to be physically imprisoned to lose his freedom. He becomes, morally, a slave to his own fear.

For the most part, the media coverage of coronavirus has served one purpose, to feed the public on a steady diet of anxiety and misinformation. Consuming media endlessly is, in normal times, unhealthy. Only a fraction of what passes for “news” is worthwhile information. Much of it is propaganda. The coronavirus story proves no exception, with a majority of reporting consisting of speculation and innuendo, fairly meaningless tallies of cases, and contradictory advice from so-called “experts.”

In times like these, keeping up with the news can easily move beyond its ordinary realm of vulgar entertainment and into the world of vulgar metaphysics. The newscast becomes a form of wishcasting, either a reason for hope or a harbinger of doom. But checking the news all day for notices of the apocalypse is not living. Especially now, Americans need to stay dignified. It’s possible to take a deadly virus seriously without letting merchants of fear take control of our thoughts, our emotions, and our lives.

To the media, we’d all be better off if the public treated the experts and their anointed messengers in the media with a devotion owed to all-knowing, supernatural authorities. A world where Americans are living in terror, listening dutifully for instructions from distant bureaucrats on TV, is their dream scenario.

Of course, it’s worth listening to what scientists have to say, but nobody, not even the experts, can predict the future. With churches shuttered during Holy Week, as Americans are ordered to stay home and listen assiduously to people in lab coats, it’s worth asking where this scenario leads.

The media are the scribes of the powerful. A crisis like this is good for their ratings, obviously, but it also enables them to control and indoctrinate people. The media don’t use “experts” to keep the public informed but to tell the public what to think.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a very intelligent, qualified, and rational man, is starting to take on a suspicious Robert Mueller-esque quality, perhaps through no direct fault of his own. Americans should listen to what he says, but he isn’t God. Many in the media would like Americans to think that he is, and that he has a mission to drown out the “lies” of the orange devil in the White House.

The final object of the media is the enfeeblement of the minds and souls of Americans. They don’t target the citizen as a citizen, who is in need of useful information to help him live a free life, but as a slave whose appetites and private terrors are to be manipulated. Stoking fear while pretending to relieve it is their business model.

To paraphrase Christopher Lasch, the media perform a therapeutic function to a public weakened, deprived of its autonomy, and in desperate need of reassurance. They encourage the citizen to look to the news for a fleeting sense of psychological relief, to fulfill needs that they themselves fuel. They intensify negative emotions while purporting to soothe them with the only “authoritative” information available. By feeding these emotions, the media drive also a sense of powerlessness, a feeling that Americans are incapable of governing themselves and must hang on to every word of distant, secretive authorities.

There are reasons to be incredulous. Before this crisis emerged, these authorities were telling citizens to shut up and obey, to do whatever the so-called “experts” said to do, and nine times out of 10 they were wrong, even malicious. The “experts” recommended endless wars in the Middle East, sending our manufacturing to China, and opening our borders. They’ve already gotten it wrong this time. What would life look like if this class of people had unchallenged authority, if people gave them the kind of religious devotion they crave?

Americans are living in a “Twilight Zone” of their own at the moment, but even in all of the weirdness of this era there is nobody with the supernatural ability to tell what comes next. In this moment of vulnerability, there are some trying to convince us otherwise.

Great America

Coronavirus Provides an Opportunity for Prison Reform

In the current public health crisis, one false note is the objection from the president’s supporters that prisoners shouldn’t be released.

Now is the moment to take the president’s penal reform agenda forward. Prisons crowd people together assuring that a single instance of coronavirus is apt to infect many hundreds of people. As a matter of simple justice and to achieve some retroactive reduction of the almost unchallengeable tyranny of American prosecutors—who win over 95 percent of their cases, and more than 95 percent of those without a trial, so overwhelming is the prosecutor’s advantage—all nonviolent first-time offenders who have served at least half their sentences should be released at once.

Now that illegal immigration is being sharply reduced, there is an increased chance these prisoners may relaunch themselves in respectable employment when the economy returns to normal in a few months. But elderly or otherwise medically vulnerable people who are nonviolent first offenders should, as a matter of human decency, be released immediately—to save their lives, as well as to encourage them to make something useful of the rest of their lives that otherwise will probably be foreshortened.

Failure to act very soon in such cases would, in the phrase of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), but more accurately applied, leave blood on the hands of all those charged with responsibility for America’s ramshackle and almost merciless penal system, the catchment at the end of the conveyor-belt from America’s scandalously one-sided criminal justice process.

Prosecutors frequently prevail by suborning or extorting perjured incriminating testimony delivered by witnesses who are guaranteed they will not be prosecuted for perjury as they negotiate their evidence with prosecutors.

As I spent three years in U.S. federal prisons—unjustly, as was ultimately determined—I am familiar with aspects of the Bureau of Prisons regime, and in particular, its inefficiency and general indifference to even the most civilized and inoffensive of those consigned to it. Because of my successful appeals and my access to a large number of readers, I often receive appeals from inmates in the U.S. prison system and, if their concerns can be verified, I sometimes write about them, with some success, particularly where there has been an urgent need for medical attention they were not receiving.

Such a case has arisen in recent weeks. An inmate who has asked me not to identify him is fetched up in a facility suffering from an infestation of scabies contracted in his previous prison, and he was placed in an isolation unit, but not medicated, and has become dangerously immunocompromised.

There is no point in relitigating the man’s conviction; as a first-time nonviolent offender, he is a candidate qualified to apply for a compassionate release under the First Step Act. If his request were accepted, his sentence would be reduced to a total of 46 to 53 months, and he has served 52 months.

He has an impeccable record as a prisoner and was declared by the trial judge not to be a flight risk. His wife has a home in Nevada and is ready to receive him, and the company he built is being successfully managed by his son and will provide an income for him. The family’s pastor vouches for him.

This man entirely qualifies under what is called in Attorney General William Barr’s memorandum for the director of the Bureau of Prisons on March 26, 2020: “Home Confinement Where Appropriate to Decrease the Risks to Their Health.” The attorney general instructed the director to consider the age and vulnerability to COVID-19 in accordance with CDC guidelines, inmate conduct, the inmate’s re-entry plan, and the nature of the inmate’s original offense.

Under all these criteria, this inmate, whose family is too terrified to publicize the case, is an ideal candidate.

The detention center where he now resides has an assured policy of letters to the warden from inmates being responded to within three days. His letter of March 20 has had no reply. He has effectively served his sentence for a rather minor and, in any case, not sociopathic or violent offense, leaving out the question of whether he was justly convicted. He is in extreme danger because of immunological problems contracted while in the hands of the Bureau of Prisons, and every official, judicial, and humanitarian consideration militates for his release to home confinement and supervised release.

Again and again, while I was in prison myself (an interesting and not completely unpleasant experience, though it was an outrage that I was charged with any crime, much less convicted of any), I witnessed people who were urgent medical cases and were not treated, or sent to external medical facilities as required. They were simply left to wither and die to the unspeakable anguish of their families who came to visit them faithfully and saw their lives ebb away because of the lassitude of their jailers, despite the pious pretensions to wholesome correctional intent of the Bureau of Prisons.

This opens up the larger question of the political advisability of ameliorating prison conditions.

Given that the United States has six to 12 times as many incarcerated people per capita as its natural analogs (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom), and that there are more than 40 million ostensible one-time felons in the country, (including relatively inconsequential offenses such as failing a breathalyzer or being disorderly at a fraternity party many years before), this is a vast constituency.

Taken together with their families, more than 100 million Americans would be appreciative of some reasonable liberalization of the treatment of these people. President Obama reduced the disparity of sentences for crack as opposed to powder cocaine from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1, but it is still discriminatory against African-Americans.

Grandstanding congressmen like Danny Davis (D-Ill.), who represent many families with convicted felons in them, put up window-dressing bills that, if they passed at all, didn’t accomplish anything. This is another vast constituency that President Trump befriended with the First Step Act, but has not really courted.

While it may be too much to reform the scandalous plea-bargain system, and have the defense instead of the prosecution speak last to the jury, and make fewer judges who are ex-prosecutors, and reform the public defender status from its present lamentable state as essentially a Judas Goat for the prosecutors, it would be just and timely to clear out of the prison all the first-time nonviolent offenders who have served a substantial part of their sentences.

Prisons, I discovered, in the case of nonviolent people, make things worse, not better, and create an artificially Manichaean society, where anyone who has been convicted of a felony is demonized and stigmatized. Millions of American lives are needlessly destroyed.

In the current public health crisis, one false note is the objection from the president’s supporters that prisoners shouldn’t be released. About 20 percent, by my own reckoning, of nonviolent offenders are not, in fact, guilty. At least half of those who are guilty have been grossly over-sentenced, and incarceration achieves little that is useful for any of them. Community service combined with on-job training would be more effective.

Apart from questions of justice, this is the next giant voting bloc waiting to be mobilized. The Republicans should not become so enthused about law and order that they fail to temper justice with mercy, an “attribute of God” as Shakespeare reminded us (through Portia in the Merchant of Venice) while losing their sense of third-grade electoral arithmetic.

Great America

American Penitence in Our Time of Plague

For a person who “seldom or never” prays to be spiritually moved to pray can only be recognized as one of the few blessings we can glean from this crisis.

Lent—the high penitential season of the Christian liturgical calendar—ends this week. These final days that precede Easter are meant to be a time of reflection on our individual and collective moral inadequacies. These inadequacies are what underscore our need for a savior.

Penitence is a recognition that we can’t save ourselves: not through knowledge, or moral effort, or reason, or politics, or any other way. Holy Week is also a time for Christians to contemplate the unthinkable suffering that Jesus Christ underwent to save all sinners in an act of love on the cross.

The animating idea of Christian penitence—that the self is fundamentally flawed and inadequate—doesn’t sit well in the context of 21st-century American secularism. The dominant idea right now is that only through relentless self-affirmation and indulgence of personal desire can a person become self-actualized. In effect, the mainstream secular world calls each of us to a deification of the self: You Do You!

The marginalization of Christian religious practice in American life largely is due to the church’s explicit rejection of this self-deification.

For many of the faithful, Lent 2020 will endure in spiritual memory. During the COVID-19 pandemic, being distanced from friends and family approximates a kind of monasticism that allows for a richer, more profound contemplation of metaphysical questions.

Further, the hiatus from work and sports—two traditional spheres of individual glory and aspiration—remind us that our dignity can’t derive only from the successes of our daily striving. In short, quarantine and social distancing provide the ideal conditions for a prayerful, reflective Lenten season.

In the context of the spreading illness, the Pew Research Center published some polling data on how Americans say the virus has changed their lives. There is a lot of interesting information there, but Pew’s data on prayer was especially compelling: 55 percent of Americans polled say they have prayed regarding the virus.

In and of itself, this doesn’t mean much. But digging deeper reveals a curious phenomenon. Of people who report that they “seldom or never” pray, 15 percent report having prayed about the virus. Of those who identify as “unaffiliated,” 24 percent report the same. Of those who identify no religious identity “in particular” (a group often called the “nones,” who make up about 20 percent of the nation), a whopping 36 percent say they have prayed for a slow in the transmission of the virus. This figure is particularly interesting, given that about one-third of young Americans, a group that is more apathetic toward religion than any other in American history, identify themselves as having no particular religious faith. Finally, of those who are atheist or agnostic, 6 percent say they have prayed about the virus.

Many Christians may be tempted to scoff at these numbers; many have accumulated resentments of these groups as a result of the way that the faith is mocked or disparaged on late-night television, in elite magazines and newspapers, and via other secular media forums. But faithful people should rejoice at these numbers. For a person who “seldom or never” prays to be spiritually moved to pray can only be recognized as one of the few blessings we can glean from this crisis. The prayers these people are uttering likely are not the sort voiced by well-practiced Christians: they are more likely a tentative, cautious groping toward the divine.

What we’re seeing are expressions of hope—a hope that there is a God, a hope that a personal relationship with Him is possible, a hope that God hears us. As scripture tells us, God won’t break a bruised reed, nor will he extinguish a weak flame in the dark. Any Christians who are secretly or openly deriding the atheist-at-prayer should stop—encouragement should be the order of the day.

And yet, it is worth asking the newly prayerful (our atheist and agnostic friends and family, the nones, the unaffiliated): to what or to whom were you praying? And if this entity hears your prayers, and might be responsive to requests for intervention, what is the nature of your relationship to this personal God when you aren’t facing a crisis? Is the purpose of this God merely to assuage your fear, to abbreviate your suffering, to bolster your confidence? And if the purpose of this God isn’t simply to arrange your various gratifications, then what is it?

Of course, the time for these questions is not now. They must wait until their prayers are answered. But when that time comes, these questions must be posed in the right spirit—they must be expressions of genuine curiosity and not an implicit charge of hypocrisy or inauthenticity. When the time comes, broaching these considerations in bad faith will only validate whatever negative stereotypes of Christians already exist in our culture.

For now, it is a time to give thanks. I thank my atheist and agnostic friends for praying. I’m confident our prayers—yours and mine—will be answered.

And, as Sunday approaches, I invite you to come and celebrate Easter with us (even if only this once): the festival when we celebrate Jesus’s victory over death. The man who could heal the sick with a simple touch or a mere word loved us so much that he took the consequences of our sin on himself so that we might be free: free from our sins, free from vanity, free from fear, and free from our vainglorious confidence in our self-sufficiency.

Great America

Pandemic Waste in Higher Education

The coronavirus emergency makes clear the needlessness of so much wasteful college spending. That clarity allows us to see what parts of “the college experience” deserve to be quarantined—permanently.

Life has been very strange for millions of American college students this past month. Many packed their bags and moved back home to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. Universities scrambled to provide virtual classes to their students to help them comply with recommendations for social distancing. Our bustling campuses quickly turned into ghost towns, and university administrators redirected their full attention towards student instruction.

It seems we need a global pandemic to remind our university administrators that their first concern should be teaching students.

It shouldn’t take a pandemic. But far too many colleges spend enormous amounts of time and money on activities that have nothing to do with classroom instruction. Coronavirus cancellations catalog our colleges’ plethora of questionable on-campus events—programs for “understanding the lived experiences of DREAMers,” social justice workshops, body positivity workshops, and a staggering number more. Yet these canceled events are only the beginning of our higher education system’s bloat and waste—for which students’ exorbitant tuition foots the bill.

Why do American universities invest in so many ventures irrelevant to education? How do they benefit?

Colleges see students as cash cows, whom they need to corral so they can remain in business. Administrators must find ways to keep them on campus since schools lose tuition revenue when students drop out or transfer elsewhere. Above all, they work to retain first-year students.

They do so partly because schools with low graduation and retention rates do badly on college rankings, which, in turn, reduces the number of applicants. They also do so because accreditors demand that colleges work to retain students. Schools that lose accreditation status lose eligibility for federal student aid—and hence risk bankruptcy.

Colleges provide bizarre luxuries as part of their life-and-death struggle to retain first-year students. Administrators know that students frequently leave an institution if they don’t make friends, if the courses get too difficult, or if attendance becomes too expensive. Colleges, therefore, cater to students by offering country-club dorms, extra assistance for first-generation college students, mental health services, and easy access to federal student loans.

These amenities aren’t just wasteful. College “co-curriculum” administrators mix political propaganda and social justice activism with student programs, and thereby turn colleges into plush re-education camps. Social justice workshops double as bonding experiences for first-year students, advocacy that fulfills accreditors’ demands. Ideologue administrators tell their merely venal colleagues that such politicization is necessary for that vital sequence of retention, accreditation, and hard cash.

Colleges defend their decisions to spend on questionable amenities by saying that they are simply responding to student and family demands. And by now there may be some truth to this, since colleges, for a generation and more, have cultivated Americans to expect such amenities in their college “experience.” Colleges have successfully marketed themselves as a luxury good.

At a luxury cost—far beyond what most Americans can pay. But student loans provide the illusion that college remains affordable. So long as the government provides Americans easy access to student loans, colleges know they can continue to invest in superfluous activities and increase their prices with impunity.

America needs to realign regulatory and accreditation incentives so that universities return to their proper academic focus.

One college administrator I interviewed, as part of my research on student debt for the National Association of Scholars, pointed to the many regulations and accreditation standards that force colleges to emphasize priorities such as diversity and research above classroom instruction. We need to revisit these requirements, get rid of the red tape, and refocus accreditation on instructional quality.

Universities should also be held accountable for students who take out loans, but don’t graduate with a degree. Colleges should pay a portion of the loans and interest of every student who fails to graduate. This will force universities carefully to consider who they accept—and if they don’t accept underqualified students in the first place, they won’t need to worry nearly so much about retention. Colleges that only accept prepared students will be able to eliminate a vast amount of unnecessary services and amenities, justified now to forward “retention.”

The coronavirus crisis shows how far our higher education system has wandered from its academic roots. Our colleges focus on assuaging the superficial desires of as many students as possible, even if they are unprepared or not serious about their education. Activities dubbed as “educating the whole student” actually further propagandistic political agendas. These mistaken priorities only add to the financial burdens placed on students and families who are serious about attaining higher education.

The coronavirus emergency makes clear the needlessness of this mountain of wasteful college spending. That clarity allows us to see what parts of “the college experience” deserve to be quarantined—permanently.

Great America

Pope Francis and Mike Lindell: Two Men of Faith Confront the Pandemic

Perhaps we may wake from our present nightmare to a historic renewal of purpose that the messages of Passover and Easter bring.

The image was a striking one: Pope Francis in his papal whites delivering his Urbi et Orbi message in an empty Saint Peter’s Square on March 27. Urbi et Orbi blessings are solemn, and generally are communicated in conjunction with feasts like Christmas. Pope Francis had packed the square for his December address and prayer for world peace.

Earlier on this day, Francis had been photographed walking along Rome’s vacant streets. Vatican City, like most of Italy, should be bustling in preparation for Easter. Instead, the residents of Italy have been cloistered inside, trying to keep the Coronavirus from entering their homes, as the angel of death has passed over Italy these past few weeks.

Like many of Pope Francis’s exhortations, his blessing was lengthy. The transcript is over 1,600 words, and the video is about 15 minutes. He reminded the faithful of a fairly well-known Biblical image of Jesus seemingly asleep, while a boat carrying Jesus and the apostles was threatened by a raging storm.

Francis admonished the faithful to put their trust in Jesus, and strive to work together. “On this boat . . . are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying ‘we are perishing . . . ,’ so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together we can do this.” Pope Francis was careful to strike familiar thematic notes: that this crisis unites us in suffering, and we are called in that unity to the cross.

It was odd that he never characterized the present situation as more than a storm, and he never spoke the scourge’s name in any unambiguous form. He did, however, imply that the virus-that-shall-not-be-named was God’s punishment.

But punishment for what, exactly?

Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars of injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: Wake up, Lord!

At a time when the world needs Pope Francis to rise above secular politics and agendas and captain the boat that Jesus left in the hands of Peter’s successors, Francis clings to his secular-socialist mast, repeating outdated tropes found in ’70s-style liberation theology as if they were prayers. True, we need prayers—real prayers—as much as we need every man, woman and child—whether leader or layman—to do their part.

Mistaking Communism for Christianity

As Easter approaches, many Christians are watching Passion plays streamed or uploaded from video vaults, since there will be no public reenactments of Jesus’s journey to Calvary. In the liturgical reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday, Pope Francis, like all clergy, is expected to recite the words of Jesus. This pandemic, however, has unexpectedly changed the traditional casting: The role Francis has unwittingly chosen for himself is that of the ancient Pharisee. 

Pharisees were the leaders of a bygone (515 B.C.- 70 A.D.) Jewish theological school that placed an unwavering primacy on oral tradition. In the New Testament, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for their emphasis on the form of the law over the substance behind the law. In the present, Pope Francis clings to outdated rhetoric that portrays Communism as fully actualized Christianity. Why is the pope clinging to obsolete ideology, even as its spiritual and moral emptiness is increasingly revealed during the present pandemic?

It was only last year that Francis—against the advice of Chinese Cardinal Joseph Zen, along with many victims of Communist China’s notoriously repressive current regime—formally recognized that same government’s iteration of the Catholic Church as legitimate. Despite his appeasement of the regime, Christians, like other persecuted religious minorities including the Falun Gong and Muslim Uyghurs, continued to be forced into hiding. Bibles were hidden, crosses were toppled from the few remaining spires, and places of worship bulldozed.

Pope Francis is a well-schooled Jesuit who, along with other clergymen of his generation, continues to uphold Communism as a model for Christian society, along the lines of an earlier Jesuit thinker, theologian, poet and social activist Rev. Daniel Berrigan.

Berrigan, who died in 2016 at the age of 94, was the iconic radical priest of the late 1960s and ’70s. It was Father Berrigan who wrote the forward and contributed poems to, “Quotations from Chairman Jesus” (1969), a compilation by another radical clergyman of the time, Eastern Orthodox priest Rev. David Kirk. That book has been out of print for decades. The reason? It was discredited in the years that followed its publication when Chairman Mao and the fascination with his notorious Little Red Book could no longer be used as a selling point.

After knowledge of the atrocities Mao inflicted on his own people became public, it was painfully clear that the implicit endorsement of Chairman Mao Zedong in the book’s title was devoid of any semblance to long-established Christian values. The careful justice-themed headings over Old and New Testament quotations exposed Kirk’s and Berrigan’s faulty exegesis of scripture and of lesser-known Christian texts like the Didache.

Perhaps it could not be expected of Francis to acknowledge publicly such an error on his part, at the very time that he and other world leaders struggle to uphold their responsibilities to protect their citizens from the ravages of the Wuhan virus. Nor can we expect that he would publicly lambast the regime of China’s Xi Jinping, even as that nation struggles to bury and cremate its dead. Yet it would have been well in keeping with Christian tradition to ask China to completely cooperate with the rest of the world, as citizens of many nations continue to sicken and die. Such transparency would surely save lives.

As pope, Francis could legitimately make that minimal request. Indeed, his gaining the leverage that might enable him to do so would be the best justification of his having so grotesquely appeased that regime.

Yet he once again conspicuously refrained from using his voice, so generously and reliably amplified by the world media, to stand with the truly weak and helpless against the truly strong and powerful. It is not just the Pontiff’s credibility that was at stake. The souls of many Chinese people, Catholic and non-Catholic, might have been nourished by such a message.

A Different, Humble Call to Prayer

Meanwhile, in striking contrast to Pope Francis’s despondent, solemn, solitary procession in a deserted Saint Peter’s Square, doggedly maintaining his self-censorship, was the brief—and for reasons mysterious to all serious Christians—apparently incendiary March 30 appearance of Mike Lindell, CEO of MyPillow Company, at the White House coronavirus briefing.

Lindell’s humble four minutes at the Rose Garden podium set social media blazing with shock and indignation. Detractors emerged from every corner of the secular-leaning internet, simply because Lindell had the audacity to mention God and Trump in the same sentence during his brief “off the cuff” remarks.

God gave us grace on November 8, 2016, to change the course we were on. God had been taken out of our schools and lives. A nation had turned his back on God, and I encourage you to use this time at home to get back to the Word, read our bibles, and spend time with our families. Our president gave us so much hope, where just a few months ago, we had the best economy, the lowest unemployment, and wages going up. It was amazing. With our great president, vice president, and this administration and all the great people in this country praying daily, we will get through this and get back to a place that’s stronger and safer than ever.

Trump was quick to insist that Lindell’s impromptu praise and national call to prayer were not a planned segment of the briefing. This did not stop professional or lay pundits from mocking and condemning Lindell’s comments on every platform.

Yet Lindell’s actual words did not describe the president as a saint, any more than the admitted recovering addict sees himself as a saint. Lindell was chastised for two reasons: First, he unabashedly called his country to prayer. American culture has been celebrating secular ideals for several decades now, and many assume that the Constitution’s freedom of religion means freedom from religion. To those who maintain that mistaken belief, Lindell’s clarion call was offensive.

A second, more egregious, reason is this: So many in the media have taken on the role of “prophet” in their own eyes, that any public or private supporter of the president is to be condemned as being the equivalent of an idolator, worshiping the likes of a biblical Golden Calf.

Was this actually the case? No. Lidell’s impassioned declaration simply meant that Lindell views President Trump’s ascent to the White House as a potential blessing—disguised or otherwise. This compounded Lindell’s original sin of mentioning God in a public secular setting with the mortal sin of publicly praising the president.

If the Pontiff cannot even address the name of the virus or call on China’s regime to cooperate with the rest of the world by passing along its critical information about COVID-19, he surely cannot acknowledge his own role in empowering Beijing. His pontificate will have no chance to regain some modicum of credibility. It is conceivable that Saint Peter’s Basilica and Saint Peter’s square will remain empty—a harsh reminder of the empty platitudes and stunning hypocrisy of his papacy.

What of Mike Lindell and his impassioned plea to his country? His call to Bible study, family prayer, and mutual comfort may not be the blood of the lamb that tells the Angel of Death to pass over our homes in the coming days. But if his call to America to return to its authentic religious roots resonates in American hearts, we may wake from our present nightmare to a historic renewal of purpose that the messages of Passover and Easter bring.

Great America

CDC Battles Biology
Instead of Coronavirus

Why are the Centers for Disease Control prioritizing gender ideology over science, especially in the midst of a pandemic? 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) online tool for Coronavirus symptom assessment, the “Coronavirus Self-Checker,” asks about “gender,” with options of “female,” “male” and “other.” This is strange. The coronavirus attacks the human body. The coronavirus does not attack gender identity.

In protecting Americans from the coronavirus, sex matters. Humans, like other mammals, have two sexes: male and female. In disease research and treatment, accurate information about the sex of a person is important for researchers and health professionals to know. The novel coronavirus, for example, discriminates on the basis of sex.

A recent headline in the Los Angeles Times asks, “Why is the coronavirus so much more deadly for men than for women?” Italian authorities, the article explains, report: 

among 13,882 cases of COVID-19 and 803 deaths between Feb. 21 and Mar. 12, men accounted for 58% of all cases and 72% of deaths. Hospitalized men with COVID-19 were 75% more likely to die than were women hospitalized with the respiratory disease.

The story reports studies from China and Korea reflect similar results. Earlier studies of other coronaviruses in mice found that “At every age, male mice were more susceptible to infection than females.

Some may ask: but what about “intersex” persons? These individuals “do not constitute a third sex,” explains Ryan Anderson in his book When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment. “Disorders of Sexual Development (DSD),” Anderson writes, “are a pathology in the development and formation of the male or female body.” Anderson quotes pediatric endocrinologist Quentin L. Van Meter: “The exceedingly rare DSDs are all medically identifiable deviations from the sexual binary norm. The 2006 consensus statement of the Intersex Society of North America and the 2015 revision of the statement does not endorse DSD as a third sex.”

The CDC should ask individuals concerned about what may be coronavirus related symptoms about their sex, male or female. This is a matter of biology. In addition, the federal government is required by law to communicate using “plain” and “clear” English.

As the government website explains, the Plain Writing Act of 2010 “requires that federal agencies use clear government communication that the public can understand and use.” Several executive orders also require the use of plain English. Gender has become a vague, confusing, contested term with meanings multiplying even faster than the Chinese coronavirus spreads. When it comes to the human body, there is nothing “plain” or “clear” today about the word “gender.”

Overall, the federal government needs to standardize forms and online resources to use the biological term “sex,” with the two biological categories of male and female, not “gender.”

The CDC tries to obfuscate its responsibility for the “Coronavirus Self-Checker” with this disclaimer: 

This project was made possible through a partnership with the CDC Foundation and is enabled by Microsoft’s Azure platform. CDC’s collaboration with a non-federal organization does not imply an endorsement of any one particular service, product, or enterprise.

Regardless of who its partners may be, CDC’s responsibility is to communicate in “plain,” “clear,” English and to focus on the agency’s trademarked tagline is “24/7: Saving Lives. Protecting People.”—not muddle the mission with identity politics.

The question I would like to ask President Trump at one of his coronavirus briefings is: “Mr. President, why is the CDC prioritizing gender ideology over science, especially at a moment when Americans are suffering and many dying from the Coronavirus?” 

Great America

What Is the Coronavirus Endgame?

The “War on COVID-19” is shaping up to look a lot like the “War on Poverty,” the “War on Drugs,” and the “War on Terror”—in other words, another ill-defined crusade requiring massive expansion of government power with no realistic goals and no clear ending.

In the full course of human history, man has eradicated exactly two infectious diseases: smallpox and rinderpest. Smallpox was the continual scourge of mankind for millennia. Rinderpest, a disease of even-toed ungulates, devastated cattle herds in Europe, Asia, and Africa, with death rates nearing 100 percent among animals lacking acquired resistance. It is also believed to have been the origin of the measles virus in humans.

In each case, eradication required decades of coordinated international effort. Smallpox was the first disease to be prevented by inoculation, in the 18th century, but worldwide eradication was not achieved until 1979. The international campaign against rinderpest began in the mid-20th century; the last known case was in 2001, and the disease was not considered eradicated until 2011. We are working on several other maladies, and are relatively close to eradicating polio, though that has been in progress since the 1950s.

When infectious diseases would flare, it was common to quarantine individuals and families. My own mother remembers being quarantined when her sister contracted measles. Everyone else went about their business, and neighborhood kids knew that they could not play with the infected kids or their siblings for a while.

For everyone else, however, life continued. My grandmother recalls the fear of polio that gripped families every summer, as public swimming facilities were known breeding grounds for the virus. Yet people still went swimming, en masse, every summer.

By the standards of 2020, these people were insane, stupid, criminally negligent, or some combination of the above. Didn’t they understand the risks? Didn’t they understand how these diseases were transmitted? Yes, in fact, they did. They simply made the judgment that the risks were acceptable, and that they couldn’t live in perpetual fear.

Sometimes they were wrong. The risks weren’t acceptable: there was an outbreak, and people and communities took precautions until the risks returned to acceptable levels. But these times were the exception and not the rule.

Right now, we are in a situation that can only be described as unprecedented in modern history. Entire civilized nations are shutting down over the Wuhan coronavirus. Hundreds of millions of people are being ordered to stay at home. “Emergency” powers are being invoked at all levels. A thriving economy has been wrecked, and the full consequences of that may not be known for months or years.

All this for what is, comparatively speaking, minor. Stop comparing Wuhan coronavirus to influenza; it may or may not be worse than that. The death rate for the most common strain of smallpox, variola major, is 30 percent. That’s a better basis for comparison, and yet somehow society continued functioning.

How long are we willing to allow this shutdown to continue? Are you willing to shelter in place for decades until we eradicate this one? Assuming you’re a rational person, your answer is obviously “no.” In that case, at what point would you consider it safe enough to resume normal living? In other words, what would constitute an acceptable level of risk to get back to normal? This is the same calculation you make every day with regard to every other illness in the world. It’s the same calculation you make every time you get behind the wheel of a car, board a plane, or go for a walk.

We should expect no answers to these questions from our public health experts. We are regularly treated to dire predictions about infection rates and death tolls, and the danger keeps extending through the calendar.

Dr. Anthony Fauci (who once famously pooh-poohed the risk of Wuhan coronavirus) thinks it will require months of national and international disruption. He goes on TV and wonders aloud why more constraints haven’t been imposed. He swats away non-medical concerns like millions of lost jobs as “inconvenient.” Nothing in the training or experience of these experts qualifies them to provide answers to these questions. Their field is public health, and these are political questions.

The politicians, if anything, are worse. Long after the initial shock of pandemic has ended, they are still governing in panic mode.

California Governor Gavin Newsom is openly talking about canceling football season next fall. In my state, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has asked the legislature for a 70-day extension of her emergency powers (Michigan law caps those powers at 28 days from the time a state of emergency is declared), though mercifully the legislature has thus far been unwilling to grant that much.

In an atmosphere of fear, the shutdowns and quarantines stretch out before us, with no end in sight. And that’s the problem with “shelter in place,” “flattening the curve,” and shutdowns of every sort. What does victory look like, and how will we know when it is achieved? When will the risks be acceptable, knowing that “zero” is unrealistic? Our ruling class does not seem to have any answers to these questions, or even any interest in trying to find them.

We’ve been in this situation before, and the precedents are not promising.

In the 1960s, Lyndon Johnson declared “war on poverty,” arguing that we had the ability to transform the human condition. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan declared a “war on drugs.” In 2001, George W. Bush reacted to 9/11 with a “war on terror.” All of these “wars” are ongoing, none has yielded satisfactory results, each has eroded confidence in our government, and each has massively expanded the power of the state.

Right now, this is shaping up to look like one of these “wars”: an ill-defined crusade requiring massive expansion of government power with no realistic goals and no clear endgame.

Great America

Oh Say, Can UC?

Educrats in California are exploiting the pandemic to speed downside of vaunted University of California

The University of California, now with 10 campuses, long has been hailed as one of the world’s greatest research universities. Students, parents, and in particular distinguished UC alumni, might check out what is going now, as UC bosses “relax” admission requirements for fall 2020 “and future years as applicable,” as the office of the UC President recently announced.

“The COVID-19 outbreak is a disaster of historic proportions disrupting every aspect of our lives, including education for high school students, among others,” said University of California President Janet Napolitano.” Quick to copy was UC Board of Regents Chairman John Pérez.

“We want to help alleviate the tremendous disruption and anxiety that is already overwhelming prospective students due to COVID-19,” said Pérez. “By removing artificial barriers and decreasing stressors—including suspending the use of the SAT—for this unprecedented moment in time, we hope there will be less worry for our future students.”

The University of California serves the top tier of California’s high-school graduates. Many who scored well on the SAT, achieved a high GPA, and went on to professional careers might wonder how the SAT suddenly became an “artificial barrier.” To issue a proclamation like that, aspiring scholars might think, this regent chairman must be incredibly wise and highly qualified.

Notables from former U.S. labor secretary Hilda Solis and Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan to California Governor Gray Davis have hailed Pérez. He is, after all, a graduate of UC Berkeley, the most coveted campus in the UC system.

Except that turns out to be false.

As Lance Williams of California Watch reported in 2011, Pérez was admitted to Berkeley in 1987 and pursued a major in Chicano Studies, a non-discipline based on the racist tract La Raza Cosmica, by the late Mexican education minister Jose Vasconcelos. The raza is the Ibero-Indian race, which Vasconcelos contended would surpass those indolent blacks, stupid whites, and unmotivated “mongols,” and displace all those Yankee “anglos.” Scholars might wonder why a great university would harbor such racist junkthought.

Pérez pursued this major until 1990, when he left UC Berkeley without graduating and took a job with the painters’ union. Official biographies and newspaper articles continued to proclaim Pérez a UC Berkeley grad, and the Democrat won election to the state assembly in 2008, rising to the powerful position of speaker the following year. Pérez’s false claim was then exposed but it proved no obstacle to further advancement.

In 2014, years after the fraud was exposed, Governor Jerry Brown appointed Pérez to the UC Board of Regents, and in May 2019 the University of California elevated him to his current position. Just so prospective students and their parents know, the UC regents are now headed by a college dropout who was never an academic or educator in any meaningful sense. That’s a strange move for a supposedly great university, but on the other hand, UC President Janet Napolitano was never an academic, educator, or scholar, either.

Napolitano is a lawyer who got her start in the campaign to discredit Clarence Thomas and somehow became governor of Arizona and then secretary of Homeland Security. As Napolitano hiked tuition, California’s state auditor caught her hiding a slush fund of $175 million. Napolitano remained in office, setting up a  $25.2 million aid package for students who are not even supposed to be in the country.

That violates Proposition 209, the California Civil Rights Initiative, which voters approved in 1996. The measure eliminated race and gender preferences in state education, employment, and contracting. Assemblymembers Shirley Weber and Mike Gipson are now trying to overturn Prop. 209 through Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5, the “California Act for Economic Prosperity.” The push to nix the SAT and “relax” admission requirements dovetails nicely with that quest, and Napolitano approves.

Pérez and Napolitano would exploit a pandemic to turn back the clock to the days of state-sponsored racial and ethnic discrimination. Millennials and such may be unaware of how things went down.

The medical school at UC Davis twice rejected highly qualified Allan Bakke, a Vietnam veteran, in favor of lesser qualified minority candidates, for whom the school had reserved 16 percent of the entering class. This was supposedly to remedy past discrimination, but Bakke had not discriminated against anyone. This person of no-color only wanted admission based on his academic merits.

In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Bakke’s favor, but California’s state universities continued to employ a quota system of racial and ethnic preferences. UC bosses now seek to override the voice of the people and bring back that system of state-sponsored discrimination. If anyone thought that is strange behavior for a great university, it would be hard to blame them.

Great America

Republicans Cannot Betray Their Base in the Coming Economic Recovery

When Republicans forget Main Street for Wall Street, when they abandon the Fortune 5,000 for the Fortune 50, they are not just betraying their heritage and their base—they are aiding and abetting their political enemies.

As we contemplate a possible end to the ongoing pandemic shutdown, several questions lie ahead for us.

First—and foremost on everyone’s minds—is when will the lockdown end? And when it ends, what will be left of our economy?

One thing is certain now: The national lockdown is crushing small businesses.

Each of these businesses is part of an ecosystem of suppliers, vendors and, of course, customers—each of which is enmeshed in a wider financial web of bankers, mortgage lenders, bridge loans, accounts receivable special purpose entities, and insurance companies.

As we’re often told when considering ecosystems, knock out any part and the entire system may collapse. (Ostensibly, this is the reason the government requires detailed environmental impact statements, lest the inadvertent decimation of the snail darter sets off a cascade culminating with the end of all life on earth.)

Now that the entire ecosystem of business has been knocked out, the notion that it will be—or even can be—revived as it was before is questionable, at best.

While small retailers and mom-and-pop shops are getting crushed, the giants are hiring. And Walmart, at least, is giving out raises.

CNBC’s Jim Cramer wonders if America will be left with only three retailers—Amazon, Walmart, and Costco—after the shutdown.

We don’t know if Cramer’s nightmare will come true, but in the absence of deliberate countermeasures the pandemic shutdown could end up purging America of yet more small- and medium-sized enterprises and accelerate the corporate consolidation of our economy.

That would be a trifecta of disaster, hurting us on the economic, political, and geostrategic levels.

To understand the negative economic consequence, consider that startups and small enterprises traditionally have been America’s engine of innovation. They come up with new products and services and nimbly bring them to market.

Competition, as well as necessity, is the mother of invention and concentrating an industry in a few hands—a cartel—leads to stagnation not innovation. A few players can divide up the market and concoct schemes to drive up profit margins; they have no need to concoct new products.

Dominant players in an industry spend an inordinate amount of time trying to crush competitors, either by buying them out or selling their own product at severe discounts below the cost of production to drive them out. (China is using these tactics, especially the latter, against competitors on a global scale.)

Even in those instances where technological breakthroughs emerged from the research labs of large outfits such as Bell Labs, Western Electric, Xerox, or IBM, the relatively open patent system of times gone by allowed smaller players to license the technology and commercialize it.

Consolidation Undermines the National Interest

As for the negative geostrategic consequence, mainland China is an exemplar of consolidation on a global scale and it stands both to drive and benefit from further consolidation.

Note how big box stores—the end product of consolidation in the retail sector—drove American manufacturers to China.

Walmart had such a dominant position it would make vendors eager for shelf space an offer they couldn’t refuse. Walmart buyers would dictate the price it would pay, take it or leave it. And that was the “China Price,” what it cost to source the goods from China. The box on the shelf in aisle six bore a familiar name, but the Hamilton Beach coffeemaker inside was now made in China, not Wisconsin.

Further concentration of retail in fewer hands—particularly with Amazon—will only aggravate this trend unless retailers make a concerted effort (or are required) to buy American.

China has plans to exploit the pandemic-inspired economic chaos and further integrate itself into global supply chains through consolidation.

Smaller supply chain companies and startups with promising technology are vulnerable to buyouts in these hard times, and private equity sharks and Chinese investment funds are ready to swoop in. It’s possible some of the buyouts would not be blocked on national security grounds, though they should be. Allowing a hostile foreign power to expand its footprint in our economy is not in our national interest.

And corporate consolidation is definitely not in our political interest.

Small Is Beautiful

Contrary to the media’s misrepresentation of Trump’s base as an imaginary army of toothless, illiterate deplorables, it’s actually small businesses and independent tradesmen who make up the president’s base.

And that’s the same as it ever was.

Prosperous small and medium-sized regional businessmen financed the populist conservative uprising in 1964 that brought us Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.

These independent businessmen—in towns and cities across the United States—loathed the Eastern establishment. They saw the government-corporate cartel of large money center banks manipulating credit and commodity prices to benefit Wall Street players at the expense of the real economy. David Rockefeller and his brother Nelson were the incarnation of everything these voters opposed in the GOP.

Since the founding of the Republican Party prior to the Civil War, small producers, property owners, and independent proprietors were a huge part of the GOP’s DNA.

The party championed those who made things—wage earners, tradesmen, and farmers—as opposed to those who profited from the labor of others while producing nothing—traders and financiers.

The party envisioned a decentralized economy centered on the small town where artisans, farmers and factories, producers and consumers, would work side by side in a regional economy.

Their vision of localism contrasted with the Democrats’ globalist vision of slave labor and ideologically motivated free trade. The plantation, after all, was part of a global economy. Britain, then “the workshop of the world” as China bills itself today, bought the South’s cotton and sold the ploughs and harrows slaves used to till the soil.

The Big Business Agenda

And just as Democrats of yore made common cause with the plantation owners, the Left prefers to deal with big business.

Progressives slammed “unsanitary” mom and pop butchers and grocers and touted the efficiency of the large chain stores. A&P, the Walmart of its day, found an ally in organized labor.

Driven by progressive ideals of social uplift by technocratic government, mid-century New York City urban planning czar Robert Moses bulldozed traditional smallholding neighborhoods he considered filthy and replaced them with gargantuan public housing projects. The federal government and David Rockefeller’s Chase Manhattan bank financed Moses’ empire building.

Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers preferred corporate agriculture to family farms—it would be easier to negotiate a contract with one giant agribusiness than with a thousand small operators with personal relationships with the farm hands. In a brutal corollary, Stalin preferred collectivized agriculture to kulaks, the independent land-owning peasants.

Now we see the corporate giant lining up to sign on to the Left’s social justice agenda. They support the philanthropies, speech codes, and advertiser boycotts the Left’s commissars demand.

They call themselves global corporations rather than American ones and actively promote “global citizenship” through advertising and sponsorships. America First? No way—the global economy first, last, and always!

When Republicans forget Main Street for Wall Street, when they abandon the Fortune 5,000 for the Fortune 50, they are not just betraying their heritage and their base, they are aiding and abetting their political enemies.

If we let pandemic economic recovery plans accelerate the corporate takeover of the economy, we will be cutting our own throats as well as those of small businesses.

Great America

The Inspector Who Never Inspected Anything

Michael Atkinson used his post to protect himself and his allies while denying the American public a true watchdog over the intelligence community.

Here’s a simple question to ask anyone outraged over the recent firing of Michael Atkinson, the former inspector general for the intelligence community: Can you identify a single instance of a report or letter in which Atkinson exposed intelligence community misconduct to the public? After searching the inspector general’s website, I was unable to do so.

Atkinson was an inspector general in name only. After two years, there’s no evidence that he lifted a finger to root out misconduct within the U.S. intelligence community. He’s the inspector who never inspected anything.

Atkinson’s only public sponsorship of a whistleblower was the infamous Ukraine whistleblower who whinged over the president’s foreign policy choices. The Federalist’s Margot Cleveland made an excellent argument for why Atkinson deserved to be fired for the way he handled that complaint. In contrast to Atkinson’s passivity, the Justice Department’s inspector general, a real inspector general, files countless reports auditing the sprawling bureaucracy under his watch.

The intelligence community has a history of compromising its overseers. Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, hasn’t held a single hearing over the intelligence community’s rampant and illegal domestic spying. Instead, Schiff has used his position to coordinate political attacks on President Trump.

The intelligence community long ago disabled its inspector general. First, it gutted the inspector general position. Then it installed Atkinson, who is one of its own, a swamp creature, so he could use the office as a base of operations in the campaign to resist or unseat a duly elected president.

Some history is in order. As Julie Kelly has reported, “In July 2016 . . . Atkinson was named senior counsel to John Carlin, then head of the National Security Division. Carlin was Robert Mueller’s chief of staff when he ran the FBI and was appointed NSD chief by President Obama in 2013.” She further noted, “the National Security Division chiefly is responsible for the Justice Department’s oversight of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The NSD “closely coordinates with the FBI and other Intelligence Community agencies on . . . matters relating to FISA and other national security laws.”

That means, as Kelly points out, Atkinson likely had a hand in the now totally discredited Carter Page FISA warrant.

But even more troubling is that during Atkinson’s tenure with the NSD, it falsely certified that the National Security Agency was not abusing the powerful bulk data collection database. In so doing, the intelligence community concealed a January 7, 2016 inspector general’s report exposing vast abuses.

The NSA’s bulk data collection sweeps up private communications throughout the world. It requires a huge infrastructure just to store the massive data trove. The searchable database creates a formidable spying tool that can be abused to illegally collect online activity of American citizens. This is why the intelligence community is required to certify to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that it has not allowed prying bureaucrats to use the database for illicit spying on Americans. But with near god-like powers in this arena, bureaucrats (predictably) could not resist the urge to do just that.

The inspector general before Atkinson took a small sample of queries from the first three months of 2015 and discovered multiple (the number was redacted because it’s embarrassing) analysts made a much larger number (also redacted) of queries using names of their fellow Americans. Can you think of anything you might do while on the internet that a government official might use as leverage against you? We put some pretty intimate stuff in the Google search bar: symptoms of diseases, signs that your partner is cheating, divorce lawyer contact information, cyberstalking your former high school crush, etc.

Atkinson’s former section, the NSD, is charged with reviewing “all U.S.-person identifiers approved for use” as well as the justifications for each such query in bi-monthly compliance reviews.” The FISA court wrote that the government’s failure to disclose the January 2016 ICIG report was due to an institutional lack of candor. And the intelligence community almost got away with the deception. But then, in October 2016, a whistleblower notified the court that the government had been lying all along.

This whistleblower, NSA chief Admiral Michael S. Rogers, dashed to the FISA court to admit that the intelligence community had been hiding the abuse from the court. Rogers, but none of the other spymasters, amended his affidavit to correct the falsehoods of the earlier certification. Rogers later broke ranks to brief President-elect Donald Trump. Many believe that he is the one who tipped off Trump that various intelligence agencies had been spying on his campaign.

For the intelligence community, the best defense against exposure was a good offense. The subsequent operation to trap former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, the Mueller investigation, and the Ukraine farce all originated from one intelligence agency or another. And all kept the president off-balance to delay the revealing of the greatest domestic spying scandal in U.S. history.

Kelly sees Atkinson as a common thread connecting the now four-year campaign to undermine, resist, and overturn the 2016 election results. From within the NSD, he likely helped facilitate the Russia collusion hoax. Anyone filing a whistleblower complaint about the intelligence community’s role in the Russia collusion hoax would find himself complaining to one of the co-conspirators, Atkinson, the inspector general.

It comes as no surprise that Atkinson has revealed exactly no misconduct within the intelligence community during his tenure. His own dirty laundry is mixed in with the targets of any potential investigation. He used the post to protect himself and his allies while denying the American public a true watchdog over the nation’s intelligence agencies.

The purpose of the inspector general is to hold the people within his agency accountable for misconduct. Instead, Atkinson used his office as a launching pad to prosecute a blatantly political attack on the elected president. Nothing in the Ukrainegate “scandal” had anything to do with his area of responsibility. The get-Trump crowd saw him as a partisan brother-in-arms so they’re naturally upset to lose him. But his firing was a long-overdue act of justice.

(Julie Kelly contributed to this article.)

Great America

Coronavirus Claims New Victims: Places and Pasts

The economic and emotional change we typically see in this country is a slow erosion of a town, city or village. Now the coronavirus pandemic is accelerating that erosion up to warp speed.

BROTHERSVALLEY TOWNSHIP, Pennsylvania—Anyone who drives along the narrow, winding township road just off of U.S. Route 219 immediately finds themselves whisked back in time, if only for a moment, as their car enters the Burkholder Bridge.

The 150-year-old structure has cherry-red shingles; a charming sign bearing its name across the arc of the roof; and alabaster white sidewalls, which are distinctive because their openness allows much of the structure to be exposed. In theory, some would say this covered bridge has surpassed its usefulness in the modern world. Its 3-ton weight limit and 8-foot height limit restrict many vehicles from passing over Buffalo Creek.

Like some things in this country that are past their expiration date, it has been preserved. As times change with new industries, technologies, and opportunities, many other relics have been removed from our landscape and our memories. Or they’ve decayed in front of us as change and neglect forced them to rot back into the earth.

Change is like that. Tiny towns like this one in Somerset County, and larger towns such as Cumberland, Maryland, or the Ohio towns of Youngstown and East Liverpool, once had very different purposes. As the world changed and moved forward, it left them behind.

Cumberland was once the second-largest city in Maryland. It was the gateway to the West, the jewel of the American frontier, the center of the railroad industry.

East Liverpool was once the Pottery Capital of America, with over 300 pottery companies manufacturing the finest china in the world. Last week, in the midst of all the calamity that is the coronavirus pandemic, the Hall China Company, which has been there for over 100 years, was bought by a company that will produce the iconic dinnerware in England, Mexico and China.

Youngstown was the center of this country’s manufacturing universe for over 100 years. You can thank Youngstown and every town up and down the Steel Valley for supplying not just the materials but also the blood and sweat that built this country from the dawn of the Industrial Revolution to the post-World War II building boom.

These are the cities and towns and counties that for years have scrambled to hold on to the churches that anchored their neighborhoods; the barbershops that served their families for three generations; and the family restaurants where they had their weekly night on the town and their kids had their first part-time job.

They were the places where fathers and grandfathers staffed men’s guilds to support the local parish festivals, where the women’s guilds planted flowerbeds to beautify the towns and where the youth groups cleaned up litter dumped on roads by strangers passing through.

They held on dearly to the local institutions as long as they could or wept as they shuttered along with the manufacturing employers. All the while, they were made to feel backward or foolish for wanting to hold on to the past. The cosmopolitan class mocked them for not moving away from a dying town or adapting to change faster.

When we come out of this pandemic, no matter where we live, whether it’s New York City or Newville, Pennsylvania, our landscape and society will have changed forever.

That dry cleaner where you dropped your shirts off to be pressed every week may never open its doors again. The deli that makes your favorite tuna melt might not have one ready for you right you walk in the door every Friday at lunchtime. The waitress who knew you by name may have moved back home with her parents because she couldn’t afford that apartment anymore, even when she shared it with three other girls.

The economic and emotional change we typically see in this country is a slow erosion of a town, city or village. First comes the loss of major employment, and if there is nothing to replace it, then comes the collapse of the place. For people rooted in the Cumberlands, Youngstowns, and Brothersvalleys of this country, these places have value because that rootedness defines them.

Now the coronavirus pandemic is accelerating that erosion up to warp speed.

Maybe it will eliminate one aspect of that divide between the placed and the placeless, the latter of whom enjoy a mobile life and focus on lofty ideals and global policies. The placeless may find themselves understanding how the placed have felt all along, worrying about crumbling institutions all around them and the long-term damage to their community and city.


Great America

Rethinking University Dependence on Foreign Students

Once the coronavirus pandemic subsides, might it not be better if we tried to attract American students and their tuition dollars by competing to provide a rigorous, remunerative education?

Were all of the foreign students returning to America’s campuses in January vectors of infection for coronavirus? Especially the students from China? There’s no evidence yet to prove the point, although the odds are that at least some coronavirus infection came to the United States from foreign students.

If we’ve been spared a campus plague, it’s owing to the grace of God, and not to any actions by our colleges and universities.

To my knowledge, before the decision was taken out of their hands by the general lockdowns, no American college or university barred foreign students from returning to campus. No academic administration even suggested that foreign students should self-quarantine for two weeks before interacting with other students or professors.

The most active were institutions such as Princeton, which followed “a recommendation by the New Jersey Department of Health that students and faculty at K-12 schools and colleges who have recently returned from China ‘self-quarantine’ for two weeks if they’re at moderate or high risk of potentially contracting the illness.” Colleges and universities did nothing better than grudgingly acquiesce to ineffective directives from state health departments.

The fundamental reason was the colleges’ dependence on foreign students. As of the 2018-2019 school year, foreign students made up 5.5 percent of the total American undergraduate student body—nearly 1.1 million in total, of whom almost 370,000 came from China. Because foreign students pay full tuition, with no in-state discounts, colleges receive 28 percent of their tuition revenue from just that 5.5 percent.

Even setting aside the influence exerted by means such as China’s Confucius Institutes and petro-sheikh-funded Islamic Centers, colleges and universities’ financial dependence on foreign students gives them a strong incentive to do nothing to lower the number of foreign students coming to America.

Even at the risk of enabling the spread of a coronavirus pandemic.

I’ve suggested elsewhere that if there’s going to be a coronavirus bailout for higher education, the government should limit eligibility to colleges and universities that receive no more than 20 percent of their tuition revenues from international students, and no more than 5 percent of their tuition revenues from students from any one foreign country. But maybe that should be a permanent condition—a requirement, say, for eligibility to receive any Title IV student loans or grants.

That limitation should be accompanied by a limitation on the proportion of foreign students as part of an undergraduate student body, to no more than 5 percent. Colleges and universities should generally frame their policies to serve American students—why else, after all, do they have tax-free status, if not to serve the interests of the American people by educating their children? They cannot focus on that primary mission if they constantly compete to attract foreign student dollars.

The same limitation could also be applied to eligibility to receive federal research grants, which provide enormous amounts of money to American colleges and universities, especially the large research universities.

Doubtless, American universities will attempt to wiggle around such limitations. These should be framed explicitly to require American universities to focus on students who are American citizens—not green-card holders, not the beneficiaries of any of America’s labyrinth of visa entries, and certainly not illegal aliens, not even if beneficiaries of DACA or “Dreamers.”

Illegal aliens should not be American college students at all—but if that cannot be prevented outright, then their numbers should be counted among the foreign-student limit. If colleges must indulge in admitting illegal aliens, let that count against their quota of cash-cow foreign students.

When colleges and universities can no longer rely on foreign tuition subsidy, they might then try to attract American students and their tuition dollars by competing to provide a rigorous, remunerative education.

Great America

We Shouldn’t Celebrate the COVID-19-induced Move to Online Classes

Real education only takes place when people share a space in real time—just as we’d expect, given our nature as embodied persons.

There is much chatter, worry, and prognostication these days about how the “coronacrisis” will change the world—about how life as we know it will never be the same after we’ve brought COVID-19 to heel. Already, this so-called emergency situation has begun to feel somewhat normal, and as we settle into what now seems weirdly ordinary, we rightly wonder if our society will indeed “snap back” to normal—and whether, at least in some respects, such a return would even be desirable.

It seems likely that some key features of our pre-coronavirus world will change; for example, medical supply chains for pharmaceuticals, ventilators, and the like will probably return home, or at a minimum not remain housed in China, a country controlled by a hostile, truth-and-America-hating regime of Communist imperialists. In all likelihood, we will take pandemic preparedness more seriously.

On the other hand, and more worryingly, there is an inchoate, growing concern that government executives around the country—having drunk deeply from the well of prolonged, near-plenary authority essentially to rule by decree in an emergency—will seek to extend that sort of rule even after the global crisis has ended and things return to “normal.”

Importantly, how the world will look after we’ve synthesized a vaccine is largely up to us; we control our fate. And one of the areas we should think long and hard about is education. Though I share many of the concerns and much of the anger of certain higher-ed skeptics, I worry that we are drawing the wrong lessons from this pandemic.

At present, there is a weakly detectable ire directed at the higher-education establishment bubbling up in some corners of the political Right; this group sees in this current crisis a favorable moment to bring the hammer down on bloated, SJW-infested universities. They cite the reality that virtually all, if not all, universities have moved classes online for the remainder of the academic year as proof that it can be done—and for a fraction of the price. With respect to education they argue in the same way hoplophobic progressives will surely be tempted to argue for with respect to guns when the dust settles: Entrenching “emergency logic” as the new default position.

We should resist this.

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. So it’s strange to see people arguing for extending “emergency logic” beyond the life of this crisis, in “well-if-it’s-good-enough-for-an-emergency-then-it-should-be-good-enough-for-when-it’s-over” fashion.

Emergency measures are inherently time-limited, instituted to preserve the goods we held valuable before disaster struck because necessity is the mother of political action—Salus populi suprema lex esto. But they are rightly scaled back upon normalcy’s return, as they do more harm than good in the long run.

Even if this weren’t a general truth about constructing a political system vis-á-vis crises, extending indefinitely “emergency logic” specifically in the realm of higher education would have negative effects that would far outweigh whatever perceived benefits there are to delivering instructional content via Zoom.

This pandemic has plainly

reveal[ed] that all our technology . . . is insufficient, just a stopgap. . . . In this situation, we both depend more on our technology and more deeply know its limits. As useful as it is (email, live-streaming, posted videos, etc.), it cannot actually put us in touch with one another. It only tides us over until authentic human communication—unmediated, face-to-face, person-to-person—can be recovered.

We now viscerally grasp the limits of a video conference convened to discuss The Republic, or “flipped classrooms” to work through assigned organic chemistry problem sets, even as disengagement and distraction reign. Genuine interpersonal human connection is the best context in which to educate. Indeed, real education only takes place when people share a space in real-time—just as we’d expect, given our nature as embodied persons.

To reiterate: I share the frustrations many on the Right have with the college cartel. I, too, believe it to be hostile to truth, inimical to flourishing intellectual lives, and downright dangerous to the long-term health of America. Even so, it matters how we go about not wasting a good crisis.

The natural effect of the pandemic will be to cull the herd, closing the more sickly among our nation’s colleges. It will also shatter some of higher education’s unwarranted mystique, as parents see their adult children learning without all the country club-esque trappings of an Ivy League campus.

But even so, we cannot replace the real contact needed for a true education, generated semester after semester, in untold seminars, office-hours appointments, and discussion sections.

As for me, the move to online classes has made law school simply less productive and useful to myself and my peers; lecture-style classes—in which professors cold-call students Socratic-style to teach the material—have largely moved to asynchronous recordings. And discussion-based classes are clunkier and less illuminating when each person has to click “raise hand” in order to offer his or her perspective on the readings for the day.

My own hope is that this crisis will reveal the waste and ideological foolishness that are endemic to the university system as it’s currently constituted—in particular the law-school system. For a large chunk of Anglo-American history, lawyers were formed through apprenticeships; even today, any law student will tell you candidly that he has learned more about being a lawyer in each of his two, 10-week summer internships than in three years of law school—and it isn’t close, shamefully.

If it was good enough for Abraham Lincoln, it should be good enough for us.

What we should not do, however, is succumb to coronavirus-generated madness. We should keep our wits about us and not institute a “cure”—fully online universities—that winds up being worse than the disease. What we need is a way to reorder education to individuals’ flourishing and the common good.

Let’s not waste this moment; let’s plan to do just that.

Great America

How Not to Manage a Crisis: Lessons From COVID-19

We’ve witnessed two egregious failures: the inability to create a shared mission and the inability of leaders to show shared sacrifice.

Listening to experts is currently very fashionable. So as a management Ph.D., I guess that entitles me to comment on the ineffective crisis management response to COVID-19 in the United States.

While there seems to be agreement in the mainstream media with the temporary suspension of modern life, debates over the proper actions needed to “flatten the curve” are all over the internet. Common sense and the training to analyze statistical data that experts have provided to the public are not at issue here. Instead, I intend to look at the response to COVID-19 situation as a failed attempt at crisis management, and one from which we should draw some lessons.

It is not my intention to serve up more bombast, but I would suggest that the response to COVID-19 should be studied for years to come as a case study in how not to handle a crisis.

Let’s play along with the CDC and agree that COVID-19 needs to be contained as soon as possible. Let’s further agree that the appropriate response is to get everyone inside and quarantined as soon as possible to stop the spread of the virus. In order to do that, those in power need to convince the populace that, no matter the hardship endured by stopping life as we know it, for the time being, doing so is necessary to ensure everyone’s survival.

That is a task at which our political and business leaders have failed in two egregious respects. First, they’ve been unable to foster a shared sense of mission. Second, they’ve failed to show shared sacrifice.

Shared Mission

To effectively mobilize an organization to respond to a crisis, it is crucial to have everyone strongly identify with a shared vision of action and to mobilize everyone to go full speed ahead toward that end. Our leaders have done the opposite with COVID-19.

Americans are not convinced that COVID-19 is as deadly as the experts make it out to be. I’ve engaged numerous people in public (both younger and older) and the majority response is one of disdain towards the media for causing a panic, not fear of COVID-19 infection or transmission.

As more institutions close daily, thus causing anticipatory stress of what’s next, more people are coming together not to fight the virus, but to question why such drastic measures are necessary. Hence, our leaders effectively have mobilized people to do the opposite of what they want everyone to do.

If we were going to take the draconian actions of shutting down much of the economy for a period of time, leaders needed to communicate the necessity of such actions in an organized fashion where everyone can know the intended outcomes and with much more empathy than we’ve seen demonstrated in order to squelch mass hysteria.

Rather than press conferences and word of closures trickling out to the public like water from a leaky faucet, our leaders needed to speak to the people directly and often. Franklin Delano Roosevelt understood the importance of his fireside chats during the Great Depression. We’ve now gone from “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” to “the only thing we can do is fear because we don’t know what’s next.”

Shared Sacrifice

One of the worst actions a leader can take is to ask followers to sacrifice greatly while that leader does not participate in that sacrifice. This is why people tend to come together to condemn multi-million-dollar golden parachutes for executives that run companies into the ground. To mobilize what we are asked to do to combat COVID-19, there needed to be some sign of shared sacrifice from our elites.

Failure to bring us all together in shared sacrifice has caused further polarization, this time between young and old, and between knowledge workers versus service workers. It’s easy for CDC officials, news media, and academics to support mass quarantines of asymptomatic waitresses and hairdressers because those elites will still get their full paychecks throughout the quarantine. If the powers-that-be somehow enacted wage controls that capped incomes at $750 a week during the quarantine, you’d see more unified questioning from everyone about the temporary deprivation of their livelihoods.

Do not take that last point as advocacy of cutting off everyone’s incomes. As Abraham Maslow modeled in his hierarchy of needs, those secure with the current risks to their mortality will not be able to function optimally if they lack financial security. Communicating that “a stimulus package is coming in the future” is nowhere near as effective as proactively communicating a plan of shared sacrifice and of keeping everyone financially whole from the start.

I hope that once we begin to return to normal, people will question our leaders’ fitness to manage a crisis. If we can find silver linings from a crisis management perspective, there is a ready-made interview question that should be posed to any future prospective leader: If you were leading the country through the COVID-19 pandemic, what would be your plan of action? Anyone who cannot answer that question effectively should not be entrusted with people’s livelihoods nor with the power to declare a state of emergency.

As we learned from Spider-Man, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Great America

Are COVID-19 Deaths Being Overreported?

Playing loose with the number of fatalities or giving local officials the greenlight to inflate those figures is inimical to the public’s need to get a firm grasp on the danger of the disease.

According to some tracking sites, the U.S. death toll from the novel coronavirus reached 10,000 victims on Monday. Grim reapers on social media noted the “grim milestone” and forecast more grim days ahead for Americans now trapped by government-imposed house arrest as they helplessly watch their savings and livelihoods and freedom implode in real-time.

The U.S. surgeon general warned that this week’s catastrophic death toll will rival those not seen since the most horrific attacks on American soil. Jerome Adams said that the next several days will be “our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment. Only, it’s not going to be localized, it’s going to be happening all over the country.” President Trump and his closest medical advisors also have reiterated that terrifying scenario.

But there is little information available as to what qualifies as a coronavirus fatality for official counts. And there is good reason to approach such tallies with skepticism since reporting from states like New York is suspiciously vague.

If Americans are to believe that COVID-19 poses a mortal risk to the general population and therefore requires the most intrusive measures ever invoked to stop the spread of the deadly virus, then government officials must clarify the classification. Health officials have confirmed that older people and those with underlying medical issues such as heart disease or diabetes are most at-risk; the concern, however, is that fatalities in such cases are always attributed to coronavirus as the main cause of death instead of just noting it as a contributing factor.

Questionable Guidance

Guidelines recently released by the Centers for Disease Control bolster concerns that the death toll is being rigged to show a higher fatality rate.

“In cases where a definite diagnosis of COVID–19 cannot be made, but it is suspected or likely (e.g., the circumstances are compelling within a reasonable degree of certainty), it is acceptable to report COVID–19 on a death certificate as ‘probable’ or ‘presumed’,” the agency advises. “In these instances, certifiers should use their best clinical judgment in determining if a COVID–19 infection was likely.”

That clinical judgment, alarmingly, does not require administering a test to confirm the presence of the virus.

“Ideally, testing for COVID–19 should be conducted, but it is acceptable to report COVID–19 on a death certificate without this confirmation if the circumstances are compelling within a reasonable degree of certainty,” the guidelines state.

The CDC provided three examples to help officials determine how to properly document the cause of death. One scenario described an 86-year-old female nonambulatory stroke victim who developed a fever and cough days after being exposed to a sick family member later diagnosed with COVID-19. Even though the decedent wasn’t tested, the coroner nonetheless determined that the woman’s underlying cause of death was COVID–19, “given the patient’s symptoms and exposure to an infected individual.”

Let’s just say that kind of bureaucratic guesswork is unacceptable while the economy is in chaos, tens of millions are suddenly out of work, and power-hungry government tyrants arrest surfers and pastors for daring to violate “social distancing” decrees handed down to their local authorities by Beltway lifers.

But even with such leeway, the death toll tallied by the CDC isn’t close to the number of COVID-19 fatalities reported by sites such as the New York Times or Worldometers.

As of April 4, the CDC confirmed 1,889 deaths due to COVID-19; 1,073 fatalities have occurred in New York City alone. The provisional count, the agency explained, could lag other tracking sites because of a delay between “the time the death occurred and when the death certificate is completed, submitted to [CDC] and processed for reporting purposes. This delay can range from 1 week to 8 weeks or more.”

A separate post at the CDC claims 8,910 people have died from COVID-19 but doesn’t properly explain the discrepancy, except to say that “data reported by states should be considered the most up to date.”

Fudging the Numbers in New York?

Data from New York City, the epicenter of the nation’s outbreak, does little to assure Americans that the death count is legitimate. The city’s health department only started recording fatalities on March 22; it claimed 63 residents succumbed to the disease on that day. By April 6, that figure climbed to a total of 2,475 deaths. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has held daily press briefings to announce the day’s death toll to a fawning national press corps.

Despite Cuomo’s confidence in his information, there’s plenty of uncertainty in New York City’s reporting. “All data in this report are preliminary and subject to change as cases continue to be investigated,” reads the document’s disclaimer at the top.

What, precisely, does that mean? Does it mean that health officials instantly presume that anyone who exhibited COVID-like symptoms died of the disease without a test to verify the cause? Who and what will be “investigated?” And how could the city accurately report daily fatalities if the federal government needs weeks to confirm a COVID-19 death?

New York City’s death count does, however, reveal some useful information: Of the 2,475 deaths attributed to COVID-19, only 46 of the victims had no underlying conditions. In states with higher mortality rates such as New Jersey and Louisiana, most of the decedents had at least one other serious health issue.

More Missing Data

There’s another missing datapoint about fatalities: Whether the victim was a U.S. citizen or someone here from another country, particularly from an infected region. New York City calculates the deaths of “foreign residents” but does not separately categorize those victims.

If a plurality of the decedents traveled here from China or Italy, it would give researchers more insight as to the transmission of the virus and how to better prevent a future outbreak. For example, as I wrote last week, an area of Queens with a high concentration of Asian residents has been the country’s hotspot of coronavirus activity. Yet there is no generic data available about “foreign residents” who contracted or succumbed to the disease.

As is the case with this fast-moving crisis, there is a lot more in the category of what we don’t know than what we do know. Playing loose with the number of fatalities or giving local officials the green light to inflate those figures is inimical to the public’s need to get a firm grasp on the danger of the disease. It makes for frightening headlines and serves as potent political ammunition against the White House but gets us no closer to the truth.

Great America

Freedom in the Face of the Plague

Going outside, meeting with those we love, and gathering to worship God may come at a cost. The decision to shut down large swaths of our public life by fiat definitely does.

Live free or die!” So cries a noble people in the face of danger. Our forefathers, who prevailed in the War of Independence, were such men. They faced danger with courage and resolute firmness.

Our modern leaders do not.

Instead, they cower. Out of fear, state governors across America dictated draconian shutdowns in response to the spread of the Chinese coronavirus. These acts are contrary to our way of life; we must repeal them.

The preservation of life must include the preservation of liberty. The cure must not inflict more damage than the disease.

I do not deny that the coronavirus poses a serious public health threat. Many thousands have died, and there is much our regime could and should do to confront this scourge.

The federal government could ban the arrival of infected foreigners. State and local officials could provide food and medicine to those who choose to self-quarantine. They could also facilitate the production of medical and protective equipment on American soil.

Each of these measures would mitigate the spread of disease. None of them violates the right of citizens to work, assemble, and worship.

But we didn’t choose those solutions. Instead, state and local leaders turned our country into an open-air prison camp.

In Florida, police arrested a pastor for conducting Sunday services. In New Jersey, officials arrested a couple for hosting a wedding. In Rhode Island, the governor dispatched the police and National Guard to go door to door ordering out of state travelers—sick and healthy alike—into quarantine.

In an especially egregious act, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued a blanket order stating that, with little exception, “all public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring among persons not part of a single household are prohibited.”

Even the prisoners in Stalin’s gulags had the right to sit and converse in each others’ presence.

Even worse, these draconian mandates result not from legislation but from executive fiat. State governors cast aside the normal political process in the face of 8,000 deaths in one month. To put this in perspective, 7,600 Americans die from other causes . . . every day.

Hurricanes, tornados, heart disease, floods, suicide, cancer, drug overdoses, and car accidents together kill hundreds of thousands of Americans every year. As deadly as these things are, they are not potent enough to destroy our existence as a people. The Chinese coronavirus should not be different! As bad as the worst fearmongers make it out to be, it does not constitute an existential threat to our way of life by itself.

The same cannot be said of these totalitarian lockdowns.

How can we preserve our liberty when our rights disappear at the first sign of crisis?

Having tasted the power this state of emergency gives them, our leaders will invoke such excuses again. The precedent now exists that in times of trouble we must suspend all of our democratic and republican norms. Human activity itself—friendship, love, and worship—must also effectively cease.

Next Sunday is Easter, the holiest day on the Christian calendar. Tens of millions of Christians cannot attend services by law. Even the Soviet Union at the height of its power could not have stripped Americans of this right. And yet our own governments have done so without just cause.

A free people cannot accept this!

Mine is not an argument for government inaction, callous disregard for the elderly, or insipid worship of money-making. Instead, I embrace the right of the people to face this crisis on their own terms.

Going outside, meeting with those we love, and gathering to worship God may come at a cost. The decision to shut down large swaths of our public life by fiat definitely does.

As for myself, I will honor the spirit of my forefathers. I choose freedom—even in the face of coronavirus.

Great America

A Howard Zinn Pandemic

How the Zinn Education Project is exploiting this crisis and inserting their left-wing propaganda into the education and curricula of even more young American students.

In the midst of a global pandemic, left-wing pundits and politicians spin the blame to comport with the propaganda coming from Communist China, the regime responsible for the virus’s spread in the first place.

And as students are forced to take classes remotely, companies such as National Public Radio, Newsela, and the Zinn Education Project—with the assistance of U.S. taxpayers—are ensuring they get the left-wing version of current events along with their history lessons.

Consider a March 27 email from the Zinn Education Project, the propaganda arm for the late Howard Zinn and his Marxist A People’s History of the United States. It began: “It feels impossible to start any email during this strange and scary time without first acknowledging our shared circumstances: a pandemic, an inept, untrustworthy, racist demagogue in the White House; and the disruption to almost every tiny square of our personal and professional lives.” This, by the way, one day after a two-day campaign that offered free e-books of A Young People’s History of the United States.

The Zinn project’s Soviet-style rhetoric serves to introduce new products for teachers and parents educating children at home. Offered were two lessons on pandemics that made connections between the coronavirus and climate change, and another was “The 1918 Flu: How Information Policing and Nationalist Propaganda Worsened a Pandemic a Century Ago.”

The Zinn Education Project also announced online mini-classes led by “people’s historians.” The first one, “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks,” was conducted by Jeanne Theoharis, a Brooklyn College professor who specializes in “civil rights and Black Power movements and the politics of race and education,” and by Jesse Hagopian, who teaches ethnic studies at Garfield High School in Seattle, where he also serves as co-advisor to the Black Student Union and an editor for Rethinking Schools, the nonprofit that produces and distributes materials for the Zinn Education Project.

The Zinn project also recommends a number of podcasts as “teaching tools”: The 1619 Project, “Democracy Now!” (a show to the left of MSNBC), Code Switch (which “explores overlapping themes of race, ethnicity, and culture”), Justice in America (on mass incarceration), Reveal (“in-depth stories,” such as on the coronavirus and the environment), Scene on Radio (podcasts calling “into question the United States’ claim to democracy”), School Colors (about “Ocean-Brownsville in Brooklyn where Black and Puerto Rican parents tried to exercise power over their schools”), This Land (how a murder case “opened an investigation into half the land in Oklahoma and the treaty rights of five tribes. . . . the Trump administration’s involvement, the larger right-wing attack on tribal sovereignty. . . .”), and Uncivil (profiles of “everyday people whose current circumstances are inextricably tied to the Civil War and its memory” like “Pa Shed, who escaped slavery, joined the Union Army, [and] led a daring and successful raid with Harriet Tubman”). In the line-up were also two products from publicly funded National Public Radio: Story Corps and Throughline.

NPR is not Big Bird, as proponents for funding, even during a national emergency, claim. NPR, through these two programs, is partnering with the Zinn Education Project. It seems to be a well-suited match: StoryCorps “interviews highlight people’s memories of movements and events in U.S. history, like the Stonewall riot, voter suppression, Japanese American internment, racial profiling, immigration, and more.”

Thoroughline is a weekly series that “explores the history of stories in the headlines today,” with recent episodes covering “the history of vaccinations in the United States, the biography and legacy of [Iranian terrorist] Qasseim Soleimani, LGBTQ activism before Stonewall, Andrew Johnson’s impeachment and more.”

The Zinn Education Project is also one of 100 partners of Newsela, a news gathering source that adapts articles to grade level and offers teachers labor-saving “assignment planning,” “writing prompts,” and “built-in assessments”—with multiple choice quiz questions devised and graded by Newsela staff.

On March 13, Newsela, which is already reaching “90 percent of all schools in the U.S.” (more than “20 million students and 1.8 million teachers”), offered “complimentary access” to help teachers “embrace distance learning” during school closures. As one headline brags, this “content repository” is “replac[ing] traditional textbooks.” And that content, ostensibly created to be “relevant” and to inspire “empathy,” is produced with the help of a “partner,” the Southern Poverty Law Center, which groups discussions around “identity, diversity, justice, and action.” Recently, Newsela added social-emotional learning (SEL) to their list of products and in their March 31 newsletter advertised “SEL content,” along with Distance Learning Collections and Student Reading Clubs, “to help your students adapt, one day at a time, to at-home learning.”

Newsela was founded by Matthew Gross, who today is CEO. Gross, a former Teach for America music teacher, claims he was inspired to found the company when he tried to find content to engage students, and help his son, a struggling reader. But Gross also had some connections: he was “Executive Director of the Regents Research Fund, a privately funded affiliate of the New York State Board of Regents and Education Department that helped lead the implementation of Race to the Top-driven education reforms.”

Recall that Race to the Top was the Obama-era stimulus program that dangled prize money before states in 2009 and 2010 in exchange for accepting the yet-to-be-written Common Core standards. This young music teacher, amazingly, “played a leadership role in the development of the Regents Research Fellows, a team of nationally recognized thought leaders.” These “thought leaders” helped lead “the implementation of the Common Core,” and next-generation assessments. The name Newsela combines “news” and “ELA” (English Language Arts). Under Common Core, ELA standards replaced much of the literary reading with nonfiction, and emphasized listening and discussion skills.

Last year, Newsela raised $50 million, some of it from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Newsela has more than 100 employees, and the highest paid executive makes $490,000; average executive pay elsewhere is around $215,000.

Newsela recently adapted six of the Zinn Education Project’s high school-level lessons for four reading levels—between the third and ninth grades. These are “Columbus Discovered the Taino People, Then Tried to Erase Them,” “Explaining the Summer of 1919” (i.e., the race riots), “What We Don’t Learn About the Black Panther Party—but Should,” “The Other ’68: Black Power During Reconstruction,” “Life in an Internment Camp Drove Yuri Kochiyama’s Commitment to Social Justice,” and “Education Project Aims to Set the Record Straight on Historical Myths,” the last a Washington Post column from 2017 that repeats Zinn talking points (which I have debunked) and describes how local students have used Zinn Education Project lessons for activism.

As examples, SEED Public Charter School students “joined hundreds of other students from throughout the Washington area in a show of support” for a protest against the Dakota access pipeline (#NativeNationsRise march to the White House). They also began a campaign to change the name of the Washington Redskins football team.

At Capital City Charter, students began a petition drive to rename Columbus Day “Indigenous Peoples Day” and asked the Washington D.C. city council to hold hearings (as the Zinn Education Project “Abolish Columbus Day” campaign kit instructs). As it turned out, the council and mayor agreed to change the name to Indigenous Peoples Day for 2019 (a vote by Congress is needed to make it permanent). Thanks to Newsela, third-graders can learn about the wonderful things the Zinn Education Project does!

Other Newsela partners include the Smithsonian (which hosted two ZEP teacher “teach-in” workshops last fall), The Undefeated (“premier platform for exploring the intersections of race, sports and culture”), and news outlets (who no doubt are happy to provide content to future consumers), like the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Guardian, Aljazeera, WGBH (Boston public broadcasting), PRI (Public Radio International), The American Prospect, and various local news gathering organizations. Only two—the Council of Economic Education and the Bill of Rights Institute—present non-social justice materials, but their positions rarely find their way into classroom materials. There are no right-leaning news outlets among Newsela’s more than 100 “partners.”

Newsela is no doubt hoping teachers and administrators get so hooked on their product that once schools are back in session, they will keep their subscriptions (paid by tuition and taxpayers, of course). Newsela will offer yet one more means by which the leftist disinformation that is called “A People’s History” can spread, like a contagion, among America’s youth.

Great America

Church and State in Virusland

The guilt-tripping of the religious as not caring about public health is dishonest and dangerous. It is religious persecution in disguise and contrary to the American tradition.

As state governments all over America outlaw “social gatherings” except for “essential services” such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and liquor stores, the implications for religion become obvious. Last Sunday, a minister in Florida was arrested for holding a normal church service and thereby endangering public health.

But a church worship service is not just a public gathering; it is a holy assembly. Our Faith tells us that God blesses and honors the prayers of His people in His House and that may well give comfort, healing, and peace to millions. The current discussion over this virus is almost exclusively scientific and economic, ignoring the psychological and spiritual dimensions of the crisis.

Put simply, in the American tradition of religious freedom, the state is not supposed to close the church. That easily could be an excuse for persecuting Christians, under the devious logic of “saving lives.”

The Aristotelean “golden mean” approach to the issue, which most churches left to themselves would apply, is a moderate, balanced stance between the “blind faith” of taking no precautions and believing in God’s complete protection, and the “no faith” of shutting down all on-site church services, denying the divine direction, protection, and favor of God.

This would mean that churches would allow for social distancing, reduced contact, sanitation, and ventilation. It would leave to individuals and their consciences to choose whether to attend church. But the state dictating complete closure is contrary to American principles of separation of church and state and about 2,000 years of church teaching.

The First Amendment of the Constitution specifically forbids the denying of the right to “assemble”—which referred to congregational meetings as well as political gatherings. This derived not only from historical experience of suppression of worship services, but Christian political theology.

St. Augustine, the earliest Christian theologian on religion and politics defined it in terms of “The Two Cities”: “The City of Man,” or all earthly governments and the “City of God” or the heavenly kingdom. The Church resides, like Christ, “in, but not of,” the world—on earth in buildings, schools, clergy, believers, and so on, but referenced to the kingdom of God and infused with the Holy Spirit. The Church, in this sense, is “above” the State and the government is not to dictate to it. Most Catholic and Protestant churches hold to this part of Augustinian theology.

St. Thomas Aquinas adapted Aristotelean philosophy to Christianity resulting in a Church-State formulation of “The Three Laws: Divine, Natural and Human.” The first is “highest” and encompassing the “lower” laws. If the state presumptuously dictates to the church, it is “out of its place”—like a mouse dictating to a lion. If the government makes human laws that do not conform to natural law and divine law, they will not work and will actually make the problem worse.

In the largely reformed, Calvinist theology of early America, this was presented in terms of two authorities: ministry and magistrate; separate but working together for the common good. The state should seek the advice of the church for just, moral laws, but it must not interfere with the Church.

I understand that the mayor of New York City has banned the gathering in churches and synagogues, threatening Orthodox Jewish congregations with permanent closure if they continue to meet. I can hear the murmurings, “Hasn’t he ever heard about King Nebuchadnezzar or Pharoah?”

One of the saddest aspects of this situation is the anti-religious charge that holding worship services means you don’t care about killing people. It reminds me of the Title IX-driven political correctness in the universities that claimed if you defended due process of law and freedom of speech, you must be for rape. The guilt-tripping of the religious as not caring about public health is dishonest and dangerous. It is religious persecution in disguise and contrary to the American tradition.

Great America

Layoffs Anyway?!

In a time of national crisis, the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts begged the government for a $25 million handout before ungraciously kicking its staff to the curb. This is reflective of D.C.’s culture, certainly. But it does not at all mirror the rest of America.

The ink is barely dry on the $2.2 trillion congressional relief package and companies who received funding in the bill—which is designed to help keep people employed—have begun announcing layoffs, anyway.

On March 27, United Airlines announced that, despite taking some of the $58 billion in funding earmarked for the airlines, they’d be laying off staff as soon as the law allows.

And on Tuesday, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, recipient of $25 million in funds provided, among other things, to cover employee payroll, announced it would be furloughing 250 administrative staffers for five weeks, bringing the organization’s total layoffs to more than 1,100.

The Kennedy Center already announced it would be cutting the paychecks for musicians at the National Symphony Orchestra on Friday, and will kick them off their health insurance if concerts do not resume by May.

According to leaked emails, the Kennedy Center leadership actively lobbied Congress to be included in the $2.2 trillion bill, despite the obvious fact that the plight of the Kennedy Center, which is already federally supported in annual spending bills, didn’t seem to most Americans to be in the same league as struggling small businesses, families that suddenly lost their primary means of income, and hospitals short on life-saving ventilators and other supplies.

Still, the Kennedy Center ended up receiving $25 million from Congress. Admittedly, this is a pittance compared to the $500 billion in loans that mid-sized and big businesses will be able to access. But it’s become emblematic of Congress’ inability to focus on those truly in need.

As families struggled, small businesses shuttered, and hospital staff went without protective gear, congressional relief stalled for weeks, in part due to disagreement about how the relief loans to large corporations should be structured—but also so congressional appropriators could pick and choose their favorite projects to fund during a national emergency.

It’s why, in a bill with the stated purpose of helping families, small businesses, and health care providers, a water project in Utah got $500,000, sex-ed funding was extended by $48 million, the U.S. Forest Service got $3 million for “rangeland research,” and “innovative sunscreens” got special FDA review.

But there is something about that $25 million for the Kennedy Center, in particular, that highlights the divide between Congress and the rest of the country.

Though established to be “the nation’s cultural center,” the Kennedy Center is more often seen as the playground of D.C.’s bureaucratic elite. It’s most notable event, the Kennedy Center Honors, features celebrities giving awards to other celebrities while making overtly political statements against President Trump and anyone who supports him. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calf.) gets standing ovations, though, obviously. And celebrities use the platform to push their own woke causes that honestly have very little to do with anyone who is just trying to put food on the table.

The Center’s management says it’s all about the arts. But it’s really about elite celebrity culture. It’s not like they want the general public there. A seat to attend its 40th-anniversary production started at $6,000.

And that’s what makes the Kennedy Center’s treatment of its own employees—the administrative staff, the janitors, the parking assistants, and even its own orchestra—so revolting.

The Kennedy Center is not some small-town restaurant operating on a thin margin, where three weeks of government-mandated closure is the difference between mustering basic survival and losing everything.

According to their most recent annual report and publicly available tax filings, the Kennedy Center is sitting on $500 million worth of net assets, including over $140 million in expected donations. In 2017, they reported $150 million in revenues from programming. Their endowment is around $120 million.

This is an organization that can afford some generosity in a national crisis, particularly since they’ve just been given a $25 million cash infusion, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer, on top of the $41 million they’ve already received.

Yet, there is a striking difference between how the Kennedy Center, the “nation’s cultural center,” has responded versus the many other multimillion-dollar organizations that have chosen to put people over profits during a national pandemic.

Hanes has retrofitted its factory to produce surgical masks, which are in short supply. Starbucks is paying its workers for 30 days, regardless of whether they can come to work. The grocery chain Wegmans is giving its employees a raise through March and April. Distilleries are now making hand sanitizer.

In Texas, Houston millionaire Jim McIngvale is offering free meals to families in need in the parking lot of his furniture store. Mike Lindell, the CEO of My Pillow, is retrofitting his million-dollar company to make surgical masks. Walmart is paying cash bonuses to its hourly workers. McDonalds is extending paid sick leave to quarantined employees. Marc Benioff, the CEO of SalesForce, has made a 90-day no-layoffs pledge and is urging other CEOs to do the same.

True, the Kennedy Center isn’t a billion-dollar for-profit organization, but it’s sitting on a heck of a lot more assets, not to mention a $100 million endowment, than the ordinary not-for-profit.

But, as Kennedy Center board chairman David M. Rubenstein made clear, those assets aren’t for employees. The Kennedy Center intends to “preserve as much capital as we can,” he said this week.

In other words, the musicians, parking attendants, and cleaning staff may not be able to make rent, but too bad, because those self-congratulatory celebrity bashes aren’t going to pay for themselves.

In a time of national crisis, the so-called “national cultural center” begged the government for a $25 million handout before ungraciously kicking its staff to the curb. This is reflective of D.C.’s culture, certainly. But it does not at all mirror the rest of America.

One of this country’s most celebrated poets, Maya Angelou, said that when someone shows you who they are, believe him. The Kennedy Center has made its priorities clear. It’s a move we shouldn’t forget. And it’s the kind of thing Congress cannot continue to reward.

Great America

What a Year! The Coronavirus Crisis in Retrospect

The crisis led to a new appreciation of contingency—an appreciation of the fact that our world is beset not only by the fragility of normality but also the normality of fragility.

December 31, 2020. What a roller-coaster of a year it has been.

In January, congressional Democrats were busy trying to impeach the president of the United States. That same month, news of a new, highly contagious virus leaked out of China and began to circulate in the West. The stock market stumbled, then recovered and went on to new heights, flirting with the magic number 30,000. Unemployment was at historic lows.

Then more worrying news about the virus emerged from China. It was difficult to wrest the facts from the secretive Communist Party. At the end of January, President Trump suspended all flights from China, a decision for which he was roundly condemned as “racist” and “xenophobic.”

It was not until March that the narrative shifted. In January, Trump had overreacted. By mid-March, he was accused of under-reacting. For weeks on end, there was only one subject: coronavirus, the “Wuhan virus,” the CCP flu.

It seems long ago now, but the dual onslaught of the new coronavirus and the resulting economic meltdown turned the world upside down.

For a brief period, hysteria reigned. The stock market plunged by thousands of points, erasing trillions of dollars of wealth. Whole states went into virtual lockdown. People started parading about—to the extent that they went out at all—in latex gloves and medical masks. All businesses deemed “non-essential” were shuttered for weeks. Many schools and colleges closed, first for weeks, then for the rest of the semester.

Suddenly, millions were out of work. Unemployment claims soared, and people began asking who it was who determined what counted as “essential.” (Some wags even wondered why it was that the people assigned with making such determinations never seemed to lose their jobs. Why was that?)

President Trump began holding near-daily press briefings. It became clear that some government intervention would be necessary. Trump at first mentioned the figure of $2 billion. Congress said $8 billion. When all was said and done, the aid package exceeded a staggering $2 trillion.

You could practically see some Democratic politicians salivating at the prospect of so much money floating about. Representative James Clyburn (D-S.C.) spoke for many when he said so much federal money provided “a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.” Was this not an opportunity to fix “climate change,” support wind mills, solar panels, and all the other items of the menu of the Green New Deal?

But where was the House of Representatives? It was not in session at all from March 13 to March 22. From March 23 to March 26, it was in session for 10 minutes. The “rescue bill” was finally passed on March 28, a week late. Only a week, but see if landlords and grocery stores regard getting paid on time as “nonessential.”

A new, vaguely Orwellian argot cropped up as the phrase “social distancing” was everywhere employed to describe the anti-social practice of shunning friends and neighbors. Books like Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year and Albert Camus’ The Plague enjoyed a new vogue. Aspiring Jeremiahs predicted mass death and societal collapse. CNN commentators rubbed their hands in glee at the prospect. “The ratings, Darling, the ratings!”

Then, around Easter, things began to change, gradually at first, and then suddenly.

New cases of the virus peaked and then began to decline. People began taking a harder look at what became the epicenter of the epidemic, New York City. The demographics were illuminating. In early April, Julie Kelly noted something that the so-called mainstream media was reluctant to acknowledge. Queens was the hottest spot of the hotspot New York.

“[T]he borough of Queens,” she wrote, “now represents nearly 10 percent of the total number of coronavirus-related fatalities in the entire country. In most neighborhoods in Queens, at least 50 percent of COVID-19 tests came back positive; several ZIP codes in the borough have positive results upwards of 60 percent.”

Why? Well, the hardest-hit area, Elmhurst, includes one of New York’s three Chinatowns. Some of its residents had recently traveled back from Wuhan, China, where the virus originated. The area is densely populated and, as Kelly reported, quoting John Liu, a state senator for the district, many households include multiple generations or groups of single workers living “on top of each other” under one roof.

But that was a long time ago. As new cases plateaued in April, aggressive testing showed that many more people had been infected with the virus than was originally thought. Millions upon millions. But since many are infected without getting sick, or suffering only minor, flu-like symptoms, they did not know they had the virus.

One result of this new understanding was a sharp decline in the projected fatality rate. At one point in late March, it was predicted that without full-bore “mitigation” (keeping businesses closed and “sheltering in place”), there would be more than 2 million deaths from the virus in the United States. With full mitigation, the projected number of deaths was between 100,000 and 240,000.

But April came and went with a much lower number of fatalities. People began to reflect on the fact that, since the overwhelming majority of fatalities occur in elderly people with serious underlying health issues, the claim that someone died from the coronavirus had to be taken with a grain of salt. There was a big difference between dying from the virus and dying with the virus.

But, again, it all seems so long ago now. As soon as it became clear that this was not a modern-day reenactment of the bubonic plague, normality began to reassert itself.

People calmed down. They appeared in public without medical masks, then without latex gloves. They still were cautious. They washed their hands more often and more thoroughly than they had before. Some researchers noticed that the hand-soap industry was doing very well, and stock in those companies soared.

Soon, in fact, the market generally soared. Donald Trump was reelected handily in November, and that was another shot in the arm for the market. It will take a while, however, to repair the damage of this extraordinary assault on the economy, not to mention the wounds left behind on the national psyche. How long it will take to address the incontinent discharge of fantasy money into the nation’s lifeblood is an outstanding question.

There is no question, however, that the extraordinary events of the winter and spring 2020 had many lessons to teach.

One sobering lesson concerns the world’s relation to the Chinese Communist Party. As we got a handle on the disease and then the economy, it became clear that the CCP, to a large extent, was to blame for the world’s subjection to this epidemic. They blatantly lied about its extent and severity, and their decision to let millions of people travel from Wuhan to celebrate the lunar new year endangered populations around the world.

In a more general sense, the Wuhan virus caused many countries to reconsider their taken-for-granted assumptions about the risk-free beneficence of the new-world globalist order in which nations were to be subservient to the ideology of transnational progressivism (and all were meant ultimately to be subservient to the “inevitable” rise of Chinese hegemony). By the end of 2020, people were rediscovering the importance of nation-states, and therefore of borders.

I said that normality began to reassert itself. That happened in late May. But it was a new, more skeptical normal that asserted itself. For the crisis had led to a new appreciation of contingency—an appreciation, that is to say, of the fact that our world is beset not only by the fragility of normality but also the normality of fragility.