URLs du Jour


  • What do you mean 'we', white woman? Sorry, couldn't resist updating the old joke. But Katherine Mangu-Ward asks a worthwhile question in the latest print Reason: Why Can't We Build Anything?

    "We're going to fix them all," President Joe Biden vowed, awkwardly showing up to give a speech promoting his $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill just hours after Pittsburgh's Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed in January. "We're sending the money."

    It is true that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $40 billion in funding to improve the nation's 43,000 bridges, though that's a relatively small amount compared to the $156 billion it includes for mass transit and rail (on top of the $70 billion that went to mass transit in pandemic relief), plus the hundreds of billions in additional spending on broadband, green energy, and other stuff that only looks like infrastructure if you squint.

    But it's not true that Washington is actually "sending the money." Because of Congress' longstanding inability to perform one of its most basic functions—pass a budget—significant swathes of transportation spending are stalled at 2020 levels. In November, the infrastructure bill did indeed authorize over a trillion in spending. But before all of that money can actually head out the door, there needs to be an appropriations bill in place as well.

    KMW goes on to describe additional problems: the shifting of payment responsibilities from actual infrastructure users to general taxpayers; misdirection of existing funds by politicians responding to special-interest demands; waste and corruption encouraged by rent-seeking lobbyists; a mess of expensive regulations; NIMBYism.

    And her bottom line: "infrastructure" is seen as one of the primary functions of government; if it can't do that right, how much hope can you hold out for its competence in tackling even more complex problems.

  • It's like an episode of the Twilight Zone when it's revealed that we are the monsters. At Law & Liberty, Mark Judge reviews a book about the bad old days of East Germany's Stasi and its willing informers and collaborators. And makes a more general point about The Allure of Totalitarianism.

    Looking back on the Stasi, there are obvious echoes in trends that we see in the “woke” West today. Twitter busybodies patrol the web searching for ideological infractions to punish, shaming and shunning the perpetrators. Book publishers, filmmakers, cartoonists, and even pop musicians are now preemptively spiking projects for not being sufficiently woke. Public figures can be destroyed when old missives or tweets are resurfaced by opposition researchers. In a way, those opposition researchers are our modern Stasi officers; they will meticulously pour through decades’ worth of material, even examining high school yearbooks in their search for evidence that might ensnare an enemy of the state.

    We see similar trends in the COVID pandemic. It’s difficult to imagine anything in the last several decades that has more effectively turned the Western world into a reflection of the postwar East Berlin. The virus has neighbors, family, and friends arguing, spying, and sometimes reporting each other to the medical and political authorities for violations.

    Much of this, certainly, is a display of political and academic jockeying for status. Everyone wants to look acceptably cool to the panjandrums of modern liberal culture. Yet there is a deeper picture here, and [the reviewed book] offers new and penetrating insight into the nature of totalitarian coercion. Though many social critics think we are in new territory with wokeness and cancel culture, Alison Lewis indicates that we are actually seeing something very ancient, with deep origins in human psychology.

    It's as if the woke looked back at the worst bits of the McCarthy era and said Hey, we could do that too!

  • Also overrated: Howard Zinn. But that's not important right now. At Discourse, Michael J. Ard takes a bold stand: QAnon Is Overrated, and So Are Most Conspiracy Theories.

    After last year’s Capitol riot, commentators focused on the role allegedly played in the attack by the strange QAnon conspiracy. Dozens of those arrested for disorderly and violent behavior at the Capitol said they were QAnon believers.

    Last year, the Brookings Institution declared that its “violent nature and [the] susceptibility of individuals to the conspiracy theory has made QAnon a significant threat to democracy.” In 2019 an FBI field office bulletin referred to QAnon as one of several conspiracy theories constituting a domestic terrorism threat. Political scientists Russell Muirhead and Nancy Rosenblum, in their 2019 study “A Lot of People Are Saying,” insisted that QAnon represents a “new conspiracism” in which bare assertions now replace theory and facts. The internet supercharges such assertions into even more outlandish and dangerous beliefs, they argued.

    Does QAnon, and the many conspiracies like it, represent a unique threat to American democracy? Or, more likely, are conspiracies representative of a long tradition of American paranoid thinking that we have managed to live with?

    Ard finds that QAnon is unusual in demanding even less "facts and logic" than preceding conspiracy theorizers, and it's not particularly violent. He follows with a (to me) amusing descriptions of past lunacies: Russiagate, Trutherism, the JFK assassination, Apollo fakery,…

    As Mark Twain probably didn't say: History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes.

  • Should people on secret government lists be able to buy guns? President Biden says no, most recently in Tuesday's State of the Union speech. Unfortunately, a common view. David Harsanyi offers a counterpoint: Yes, Mr. President, People on Secret Government Lists Should Be Able to Buy Guns

    In his State of the Union address yesterday, President Joe Biden wondered why American citizens who are placed on secret government lists by bureaucrats aren’t being denied their constitutional rights:

    I ask Congress to pass proven measures to reduce gun violence. Pass universal background checks. Why should anyone on the terrorist list be able to purchase a weapon? Why? Why?

    Well, I suppose we can start with the Second and Fifth Amendments of the United States Constitution. The terror watch list (last estimated to have almost 2 million names on it) and no-fly list (tens of thousands) are tools used by law enforcement to monitor potential threats, not to adjudicate guilt or innocence. The last time Senate Democrats tried to pass a bill weaponizing this monitoring tool, they proposed banning not only those currently on lists from owning guns, but anyone whose name was on a list in the “preceding five years.”

    It's a perennial favorite "do something" position of Democrats. A little scary that they're so eager to strip large numbers of people of their civil rights without due process.