Weekend Jolt: The Local Officials Who Have Had It with ‘Decay’

Dear Weekend Jolter,

It's been quite a week — another Trump-less GOP primary debate ...

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WITH JUDSON BERGER September 30 2023
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WITH JUDSON BERGER September 30 2023

The Local Officials Who Have Had It with 'Decay'

Dear Weekend Jolter,

It's been quite a week — another Trump-less GOP primary debate, the first Biden impeachment-inquiry hearing, the death of a long-serving senator, shutdown drama, something to do with Taylor Swift, and more brutal polling for the president.

So now that you're caught up: I'd like to set the mood for this newsletter's topic — which is not any of those things — with a brief digression about the book Modern Times (to which Jack Butler penned a tribute a few weeks back).

Historian Paul Johnson's narrative of the 20th century conveys many themes and truths about the modern age and the nature of civilizations. One is that societies do not function by accident — that a proper constitutional underpinning is critical — and that even during our modern times, relative order can too easily give way to political and ideological chaos. His account of Argentina pre- and post-Perón, among other national turning points, illustrates well this risk. By the 1930s and '40s, Johnson recounts, the Latin American country had achieved "economic take-off," with a "market economy, minimum government, a growing middle class, a free press and the rule of law." And then, Perón, and — poof. (Paul Johnson said it better, of course.)

America isn't Argentina. We don't suffer from the turbulence that torments other nations in part because of a sturdy constitutional structure. It withstood January 6. But there may be a new recognition dawning among state and local leaders here that certain ideologically driven policies are yielding poor and in some cases dangerous results, and are in urgent need of correction. Stability and prosperity aren't guaranteed, and America's cities, certainly, don't function by accident.

Last week's announcement by the mayor of Dallas, Eric Johnson (not to be confused with this Eric Johnson), that he's switching parties to become a Republican was one sign of this new vigilance. As Ari Blaff reports, the mayor cited the failure of progressive policies in dealing with crime, homelessness, and drugs:

Johnson has become increasingly vocal about declining public safety, particularly across urban areas, in recent months. In February, the Democratic mayor shared an article arguing that the mass retirement within the Austin, Texas, police force was driven by the "Defund the Police" movement.

In December 2021, as other American cities were wracked by violence and reeling from the global pandemic, Dallas managed a nearly 10 percent reduction in violent crime, which Johnson claimed resulted from "a budget that reflects public safety being your city's top priority," that was reinforced by "community buy-in."

John Fund writes about another sign — the Sacramento County DA's decision to sue the city (and state capital) over its failures on homelessness. Citing reports of residents assaulted at gunpoint, break-ins, hypodermic needles on a youth sports field, sexual assaults among the homeless population, and more, the complaint alleges: "In the midst of this spiraling descent into decay and this utter collapse into chaos, the City of Sacramento has failed to consistently enforce the law." Thien Ho is far from the only Californian to have reached his breaking point with misgovernance in the state. The resident-driven recall of San Francisco school-board members last year, and the myriad accounts of locals at a loss over drugs and crime in the city, point to pressure building from voters to change course. Elsewhere, local Democratic officials already are doing so — or trying to do so — on the issue of immigration, pleading with the state and federal governments for help as a migrant surge strains finite resources. New York mayor Eric Adams, in a press conference last month, warned that without a change, the city will be spending on this crisis the equivalent of the sanitation, parks, and fire departments' budgets combined.

Law-and-order issues, above all, could play the biggest role in causing local officials to turn back from doctrinaire policies of the kind popularized during 2020's "Defund the Police" summer. Dallas's Eric Johnson, in his party-switch reveal, stressed the importance of restoring both rule of law and fiscal discipline; he acknowledged that the number of major-city Republican mayors rising from zero to one is hardly a "red wave," but said cities have reached a "time for choosing." Target's announcement this week that it's closing nine more stores over crime concerns in cities you could probably guess is yet another warning — that, for all the talk of "infrastructure," basic foundations of ordered liberty have suffered neglect.

The other Johnson, the late historian, in documenting the destabilization of Argentina's economy and public life, lamented that "Perón's legacy proved more durable than his verbiage." It's a scary thought, that the wayward choices of a passing political movement can scar a nation or, worse, leave a festering wound. Thankfully, here, at least at the local level (TBD on the presidential, where "Launch me into space, please" still seems the most appealing option in '24), some officials are ready for a reset.



The administration should come clean: Team Biden's Iranian-Influence Scandal

Nikki Haley hits the right notes: Nikki Haley's Welcome Embrace of Economic Freedom


Noah Rothman: The Unmitigated Gall of the Biden Campaign

Noah Rothman: Lina Khan Is in Over Her Head

Rich Lowry: Joe Biden Made the Worst Vice-Presidential Pick of the Last 50 Years

Mailee Smith: The Revealing Hypocrisy of the Chicago Teachers Union President

Caroline Downey: Prosecutor Likely Intervened in Hunter Tax Probe to Shield President Biden, Impeachment Witness Testifies

Caroline Downey: Persecuted for Homeschooling in Germany, Christian Couple Sought Refuge in the U.S. — Now They're Being Deported

Kathryn Jean Lopez: Humor and Holiness, Even from Jersey City

Jack Butler: Why the Fading of the Southern Accent Is Bad News

Jeffrey Blehar: Senator Bob Menendez Takes Sordid Political Corruption to Hilarious New Depths

Jeffrey Blehar: Trump Genuinely Could Win Again, and I Hope You Understand What That Means

Jim Geraghty: What Trump's Big Lead in the Newest Poll Means

Charles C. W. Cooke: 'Goats up the Mountain': Nick Kristof's Journey through the Andes

Dan McLaughlin: We Shouldn't Assume There Will Be Trump–Biden Debates

Ryan Mills: GOP Field Trains Fire on Vivek in Second Primary Debate as Anti-Woke Entrepreneur Tries to Make Nice

Also, a two-parter from Andrew McCarthy on Trump's faulty document-retention defense, here and here.


Brian Allen cheers the transformation of a beloved U.K. museum: London's National Portrait Gallery Reborn After a Three-Year Overhaul

Armond White, on the dramatization of the GameStop frenzy: Dumb Money's Moral and Financial Clown Show

A counterpoint (to Abigail Anthony's piece), by Kayla Bartsch: Taylor Swift: Empress of the Zeitgeist


Down with shutdowns, says Dominic Pino: Shutdowns Need to Be Shut Down for Good

Johan Norberg has good news: We've Never Had It Better, and Capitalism Should Get the Credit


Andrew Stuttaford: The War on Growth

Dominic Pino: The Mother of All Fiscal Cliffs

Christine Rosen: The Incompetence of Local Government

Mario Loyola: Biden's Attack on Electricity


The new issue of NR is out. If you subscribe (doing so is a great idea!), you'll have access to all of it here. Here's a taste from Andrew Stuttaford's cover story, "The War on Growth":

For a time, it seemed as if disco-era apocalypticism might be eclipsed by the achievements of the ensuing decades, as the growing ascendancy of more-market-friendly policies lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty across the globe, an eventuality unforeseen by the prophets of doom who had little faith in individual human initiative. Meanwhile, human inventiveness and the market-price mechanism had, one way or another, averted the shortages forecast by some to have crippled us by now. What's more, the experience in many nations appeared to back, albeit imperfectly, the theory embedded in the environmental Kuznets curve, which is that after passing a certain threshold, the more prosperous a country, the higher priority it puts on the environmental protection it had once regarded as a luxury.

Climate change rescued the doomsayers. Promoted quickly from problem (which it is) to existential threat (which it is not), it was an answer to their prayers. Wonderful solutions to yesterday's crises — such as those provided by the green revolution — could now be blamed for their contribution to tomorrow's emergency. Moreover, the central role played by greenhouse-gas-emitting industries that make possible so much of what we do and so much of how we live opened up almost limitless areas in which our behavior had to be controlled, for the good of the planet, of course — for a long, long time, and perhaps forever.

Climate change was used to redefine "sustainable" growth, a concept that had emerged during the 1980s as a more politically palatable alternative to the "steady-state economy." Sustainability was a slippery notion that allowed the developing world to develop and, for the most part, required rich countries merely to show more mindfulness of growth's environmental downsides. Once sustainability came to include reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, however, the concept was transformed into a straitjacket — in the West, anyway, where skillfully marketed climate panic has, for now, revised the political calculus. Those shaping climate policy in both Europe and the U.S. can downplay cost-benefit analysis and rational trade-offs, an approach in line with the idea that fighting climate change is not only a necessity but also a penance. It is supposed to hurt.

Noah Rothman takes a deeper look at FTC boss Lina Khan's various losing court battles, and the agency's latest broadside against Amazon, and sees the possibility of a long game being played:

Her record suggests that throwing wild haymakers at her targets, which courts have so far found wholly unimpressive, is a strategy in itself. It is designed to remake the legal landscape so it might one day become friendlier to her vision of what should constitute competition in the marketplace.

Since Khan assumed her role, the FTC has prosecuted a number of high-stakes antitrust cases against large businesses. Much of the time, her agency has come up short. Overruling its in-house judge, Khan's agency sued the gene-sequencing firm Illumina with the aim of forcing it to divest its acquisition of the cancer blood-test producer Grail. The appellate court to which Illumina appealed the order on constitutional grounds stayed the FTC's hand and appears receptive to the firm's arguments. A district judge rejected the FTC's argument that United Health Group engaged in an effort to illegally suppress competition in health-insurance markets and dismissed a challenge to the group's efforts to purchase the health-technology provider Change Healthcare. Khan's agency slinked away from its attempt to break up Facebook's parent company Meta after a court allowed the firm to purchase the virtual-reality-content producer Within. Microsoft succeeded in its effort to purchase the software maker Blizzard after a judge ruled that the maker of the video-game system Xbox wasn't engaged in a monopolistic enterprise by seeking to corner the market for the first-person-shooter Call of Duty.

"I think chair Khan is ideologically motivated. She wants to change merger law in the U.S. fundamentally," said University of Washington law professor Douglas Ross. "The problem she has is that many of her ideas don't improve consumer welfare; some of her ideas would decrease consumer welfare." St. John's University law and business professor Anthony Sabino concurred. "She's trying to change a century's worth of antitrust law overnight, and that's not necessarily wise," he observed.

And yet, though the series of high-profile face-plants to which she has committed her agency may sap Khan of "her deterrent effect," Northwestern University law professor John McGinnis conceded, what the FTC commissioner ultimately wants is "to permanently change the law." By playing to lose — and doing so in spectacular fashion — she may still achieve her ultimate objective.

Rich Lowry pulls no punches here, in looking back at Biden's VP choice:

There are bad vice-presidential picks, and then there's Kamala Harris.

In different circumstances, she might have been a run-of-the-mill, underwhelming choice, but present circumstances have made Biden's choice much more momentous.

In fact, it ranks as the worst VP pick in half a century, and easily one of the worst picks in the last 100 years.

As Democrats begin to realize Biden's political weakness, with Donald Trump barreling down the pike toward a third presidential nomination, Harris is one of the factors — although not the main one — keeping them from doing anything about it.

What if someone did convince Biden to step aside for the good of the party? Well, that might just open the way for Harris herself to become the nominee. In other words, out of the pan and into the fire. . . .

In the new NBC News poll, the theme of which is that Biden and Trump are both abidingly unpopular, Kamala Harris is right there with them. At 31 percent, her positive rating is lower than both of theirs, and her negative rating, 51 percent, is higher than Biden's.

The bar Biden needed to clear in his vice-presidential pick wasn't high. He either needed a political nonentity or a popular entity, who ideally had some governing credibility; instead he went with the unpopular nonentity.

Mailee Smith at the Illinois Policy Institute flags what sure looks like hypocrisy in the world of Chicago schools:

Chicago Teachers Union president Stacy Davis Gates received tremendous backlash earlier this month after it became public she had taken her son out of Chicago Public Schools and placed him in private school. She said it was so he could "live out his dream" of playing soccer and have a curriculum that meets his needs.

Her action comes despite her earlier claim, "I can't advocate on behalf of public education and the children of this city and educators in this city without it taking root in my own household."

Clearly, that stance changed when faced with doing what was best for her own son.

Yet Davis Gates is still advocating an end to similar dreams of thousands of low-income students and their families.

There are currently at least 9,600 students in private schools thanks to the state's Invest in Kids scholarship tax-credit program, which uses donor funds to provide the means for low-income families to choose the schools that fit them best. . . . But those scholarships will end altogether — and dash students' dreams — if Illinois lawmakers fail to extend the program beyond 2023.

CTU and Davis Gates want to kill the program "for good."


Kat Rosenfield, at the Free Press: The Lies of Trauma Merchants

Alex Thompson, at Axios: Biden team’s don’t-let-him-trip mission

Brooke Singman, at Fox News: Hunter Biden received $250K wires originating in Beijing with beneficiary address listed as Joe Biden’s home


Howsabout some good old-fashioned American jazz to end the note? Why, sure. Here's Sonny Rollins (& Co.) playing a calypso-infused classic, with a hummable hook — "St. Thomas."

Have a great weekend, and thanks for reading.


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