“More than most members of Congress, Sen. Ted Cruz (R–Texas) understands the desperation of individuals fleeing autocratic communist regimes.
Cruz’s father, Rafael, fled Cuba in 1957 with little more than a student visa and $100 sewn into his underwear—an oft-repeated detail that effectively conveys both the fear and hopefulness of the refugee experience. The other details in the story are familiar to anyone who has followed Cruz’s career, even in passing, given the prominence of those personal details in the senator’s speeches. Rafael bribed his way out of Cuba, reached the United States, enrolled in college, worked as a dishwasher, earned his degree, and eventually started a successful business. Importantly, he was granted political asylum when his student visa expired.
If not for that last detail, it’s highly unlikely that Rafael’s son would have ever had the chance to stand on the floor of the U.S. Senate and declare, as he did on Friday, that America ought to make it more difficult for individuals and families to flee other oppressive communist regimes. In blocking the passage of a bill that would have granted political asylum to anyone fleeing Hong Kong due to the Chinese government’s takeover of the formerly semi-autonomous city, Cruz not only dimmed America’s status as a bastion of freedom for the world’s oppressed people, but spat upon his own heritage as the son of a political refugee.”
“In remarks delivered on the Senate floor Friday, Cruz outlined two objections to the bill. Both are misleading, at best.
First, Cruz politicized the attempt to provide an exit strategy for Hongkongers, calling the bill a Democratic plot to “advance their long-standing goals on changing immigration laws.” But the bill has a bipartisan list of cosponsors and passed the House earlier this month by a voice vote—usually an indicator of such broad support that no roll call is demanded.
Second, Cruz maligned Hong Kong refugees as potential spies, arguing that China would use the special immigration status to slip its agents into the United States. Except, well, China doesn’t seem to have any trouble doing that already, and recipients of political asylum would have to undergo a background check before their status is granted. If anything, the bill’s passage would ensure that immigrants from Hong Kong to America are subject to more vetting than they might otherwise receive.
Again, Cruz’s father’s story stands in stark contrast. Prior to fleeing to America, Rafael Cruz had worked for the Castro government in Cuba. If Ted were a member of the U.S. Senate at the time, would he have viewed his own father as a potential spy who should not be trusted with political asylum?”
“Cruz’s biography aside, there is a more important and obvious point. Granting political asylum to Hongkongers looking to flee China is absolutely the right thing for the United States to do, politically and economically.
Politically, the image of tens of thousands of Hongkongers fleeing China’s takeover of the city by relocating to the United States would be an international humiliation for the regime in Beijing. That’s why China has tried to stop the United Kingdom from extending special immigration status to residents of Hong Kong—and the U.K. has responded, correctly, by turning its passport-making machines up to 11.
Economically, China’s loss would be America’s gain. An influx of people from Hong Kong—and the knowledge, skills, money, and entrepreneurship they would bring—would be an economic boon for the United States, particularly if they resettle in areas where the population is stagnant or declining.”
“A prominent takeaway is the massive amount of land it would take to reimagine energy production and distribution nationally, including figuring out where to site a multitude of new solar arrays and wind turbines and constructing thousands of miles of transmission lines. “The current power grid took 150 years to build,” one of the study researchers said. “Now, to get to net-zero emissions by 2050, we have to build that amount of transmission again in the next 15 years and then build that much more again in the 15 years after that. It’s a huge amount of change.””
“Every ideology produces its own brand of fanatics, but there’s something special about libertarianism.
I don’t mean that as an insult, either. I love libertarians! For the most part, they’re fun and interesting people. But they also tend to be cocksure about core principles in a way most people aren’t. If you’ve ever encountered a freshly minted Ayn Rand enthusiast, you know what I mean.
And yet one of the things that makes political philosophy so amusing is that it’s mostly abstract. You can’t really prove anything — it’s just a never-ending argument about values. Every now and again, though, reality intervenes in a way that illustrates the absurdity of particular ideas.
Something like this happened in the mid-2000s in a small New Hampshire town called Grafton. Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling, author of a new book titled A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear, says it’s the “boldest social experiment in modern American history.” I don’t know if it’s the “boldest,” but it’s definitely one of the strangest.
The experiment was called the “Free Town Project” (it later became the “Free State Project”), and the goal was simple: take over Grafton’s local government and turn it into a libertarian utopia. The movement was cooked up by a small group of ragtag libertarian activists who saw in Grafton a unique opportunity to realize their dreams of a perfectly logical and perfectly market-based community. Needless to say, utopia never arrived, but the bears did!”
“in 2004, a group of them decided that they wanted to take some action on this deficiency, and they decided to launch what they called the Free Town Project. They sent out a call to a bunch of loosely affiliated national libertarians and told everyone to move to this one spot and found this utopian community that would then serve as a shining jewel for the world to see that libertarian philosophies worked not only in theory but in practice. And they chose a town in rural New Hampshire called Grafton that already had fewer than 1,000 people in it. And they just showed up and started working to take over the town government and get rid of every rule and regulation and tax expense that they could.”
“As the people of Grafton soon found out, a nontraditional housing situation meant a camp in the woods or a bunch of shipping containers or whatever. They brought in yurts and mobile homes and formed little clusters of cabins and tents. There was one location called “Tent City,” where a bunch of people just lived in tents from day to day. They all united under this broad umbrella principle of “personal freedom,” but as you’d expect, there was a lot of variation in how they exercised it.”
“most of them just didn’t have those family situations or those 9-to-5 jobs, and that was really what characterized them more than anything else.”
“When they first showed up, they hadn’t told anyone that they were doing this, with the exception of a couple of sympathetic libertarians within the community. And so all of a sudden the people in Grafton woke up to the fact that their town was in the process of being invaded by a bunch of idealistic libertarians. And they were pissed. They had a big town meeting. It was a very shouty, very angry town meeting, during which they told the Free Towners who dared to come that they didn’t want them there and they didn’t appreciate being treated as if their community was an experimental playpen for libertarians to come in and try to prove something.
But the libertarians, even though they never outnumbered the existing Grafton residents, what they found was that they could come in, and they could find like-minded people, traditional conservatives or just very liberty-oriented individuals, who agreed with them on enough issues that, despite that angry opposition, they were able to start to work their will on the levers of government.
They couldn’t pass some of the initiatives they wanted. They tried unsuccessfully to withdraw from the school district and to completely discontinue paying for road repairs, or to declare Grafton a United Nations free zone, some of the outlandish things like that. But they did find that a lot of existing Grafton residents would be happy to cut town services to the bone. And so they successfully put a stranglehold on things like police services, things like road services and fire services and even the public library. All of these things were cut to the bone.”
“By pretty much any measure you can look at to gauge a town’s success, Grafton got worse. Recycling rates went down. Neighbor complaints went up. The town’s legal costs went up because they were constantly defending themselves from lawsuits from Free Towners. The number of sex offenders living in the town went up. The number of recorded crimes went up. The town had never had a murder in living memory, and it had its first two, a double homicide, over a roommate dispute.”
“the town only had one full-time police officer, a single police chief, and he had to stand up at town meeting and tell people that he couldn’t put his cruiser on the road for a period of weeks because he didn’t have money to repair it and make it a safe vehicle.
Basically, Grafton became a Wild West, frontier-type town.”
“It turns out that if you have a bunch of people living in the woods in nontraditional living situations, each of which is managing food in their own way and their waste streams in their own way, then you’re essentially teaching the bears in the region that every human habitation is like a puzzle that has to be solved in order to unlock its caloric payload. And so the bears in the area started to take notice of the fact that there were calories available in houses.
One thing that the Free Towners did that encouraged the bears was unintentional, in that they just threw their waste out how they wanted. They didn’t want the government to tell them how to manage their potential bear attractants. The other way was intentional, in that some people just started feeding the bears just for the joy and pleasure of watching them eat.
As you can imagine, things got messy and there was no way for the town to deal with it. Some people were shooting the bears. Some people were feeding the bears. Some people were setting booby traps on their properties in an effort to deter the bears through pain. Others were throwing firecrackers at them. Others were putting cayenne pepper on their garbage so that when the bears sniffed their garbage, they would get a snout full of pepper.
It was an absolute mess.”
“Bears are very smart problem-solving animals. They can really think their way through problems. And that was what made them aggressive in Grafton. In this case, a reasonable bear would understand that there was food to be had, that it was going to be rewarded for being bolder. So they started aggressively raiding food and became less likely to run away when a human showed up.
There are lots of great examples in the book of bears acting in bold, unusually aggressive manners, but it culminated in 2012, when there was a black bear attack in the town of Grafton. That might not seem that unusual, but, in fact, New Hampshire had not had a black bear attack for at least 100 years leading up to that. So the whole state had never seen a single bear attack, and now here in Grafton, a woman was attacked in her home by a black bear.
And then, a few years after that, a second woman was attacked, not in Grafton but in a neighboring town. And since the book was written and published, there’s actually been a third bear attack, also in the same little cluster and the same little region of New Hampshire. And I think it’s very clear that, unless something changes, more bear attacks will come.
Luckily, no one’s been killed, but people have been pretty badly injured.”
““libertarian” is such a weird umbrella term for a very diverse group of people. Some libertarians are built around the idea of white supremacy and racism. That was not the case with these libertarians. Most of the libertarians that I met were kind, decent people who would be generous with a neighbor in any given moment. But in the abstract, when they’re at a town meeting, they will vote to hurt that neighbor by cutting off, say, support for road plowing.”
“if you try to make the world fit neatly into an ideological box, you’ll have to distort or ignore reality to do it — usually with terrible consequences.”
“I think they bumped up against the follies of libertarianism. I really do think that there is a hard wall of reality that exists that’s going to foil any effort to implement libertarianism on a broad scale. And I think if you gave a libertarian the magic wand and allowed them to transform society the way that they wanted to, it wouldn’t work the way they imagined, and I think it would break down just as Grafton did.”
“Iranian journalist Ruhollah Zam, whose reporting helped spur large anti-government protests, was executed by Iran”
“Zam, 47, was found guilty of “corruption on earth” and sentenced to death”
“The vague charge of “corruption on earth” is often used “in cases involving espionage or attempts to overthrow Iran’s government,” Al Jazeera reported Saturday.
Zam ran the site Amad News and coordinated a Telegram channel, both of which helped spread information during a wave of anti-regime protests that shook Iran in 2017 and 2018. He was living abroad in Paris at the time, but returned to the Middle East in 2019 and was arrested in Iraq by members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”
“Dutch media reported that in October, a hacker got into Trump’s Twitter account by guessing his password. And, I kid you not, the password was “maga2020!” — because of course it was.
Despite insistence from the White House and Twitter that there was no evidence of a hack, public prosecutors in the Netherlands confirmed details of an intrusion..The hacker, 44-year-old Victor Gevers, was facing potential jail time for accessing the president’s infamous social media account. But prosecutors said Gevers had acted in an “ethical” way by immediately disclosing what he had done to Dutch authorities.”
“Regardless of what Trump does post-presidency, his impact on the conservative base has been profound. According to one poll, 70 percent of Republicans don’t believe the 2020 election was free and fair. That’s not all that surprising considering the leader of the party is telling his followers that the process was rigged and illegitimate. So whatever direction the GOP goes, they’re going with a Trumpian base and that might be the defining constraint for the party over the next four years.”
Global Climate Agreements: Successes and Failures Lindsay Maizland. 1 25 2021. Council on Foreign Relations. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/paris-global-climate-change-agreements The Climate Change Performance Index 2021 Jan Burck et al. 2021. New Climate Institute. The Climate Change Performance IndexResults 2016 Jan Burck et al. 2016. GermanWatch.
“Until recently, the Supreme Court’s precedents drew a distinction between religious discrimination cases, where religious plaintiffs typically prevailed, and cases where religious people or institutions were treated the same as comparable secular institutions or individuals.
Under the Supreme Court’s decision in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), state laws may be enforced against people who object to those laws on religious grounds so long as the challenged policy is a “neutral law of general applicability.” Thus, so long as a state law does not single people of faith out for inferior treatment, such people of faith must comply with the law. (A federal statute applies a stricter rule to federal laws that burden religious exercise, so religious objectors are much more likely to prevail in suits against the federal government.)
If a state or local government discriminates against a particular religion or against religious institutions generally, however, such discrimination will typically be struck down. The seminal Supreme Court case involving religious discrimination is Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah (1993), which answered the question of how courts should approach laws that appear to be neutral on their face, but were enacted with a discriminatory purpose.”
“Lukumi established that, when a law that appears neutral on its face contains an array of exemptions, those exemptions can provide evidence that the real purpose of the law is to discriminate on the basis of faith. Several justices, however, believe that Lukumi does not go far enough. They’ve claimed that the presence of exemptions in an otherwise neutral law isn’t just evidence that the purpose of the law is religious discrimination, but that it is often definitive proof of discrimination.
Thus, for example, in his dissent from the Court’s decision not to hear Stormans v. Wiesman (2016), Justice Samuel Alito claimed that a Washington state regulation that requires pharmacies to “deliver lawfully prescribed drugs or devices to patients” was constitutionally suspect because it included a number of secular exemptions — the regulation permitted a pharmacy to refuse to fill a prescription if it did not accept the patient’s insurance, for example — but no exemption for religious pharmacy owners who object to dispensing birth control.
Alito, in other words, sought to blur the line between religious discrimination cases and cases involving a “neutral law of general applicability” by defining the concept of religious discrimination so broadly that an enormous swath of state laws become suspect.
The Court’s decision in Roman Catholic Diocese, the case involving New York’s restrictions on attendance at worship services, largely embraced Alito’s vision. Although these restrictions were quite severe, they are actually less harsh than the restrictions imposed on secular businesses that are similar in character to places of worship. As a lower court that upheld New York’s restrictions explained, “public gatherings with scheduled starting and ending times such as public lectures, concerts or theatrical performances” must “remain closed entirely” in the parts of New York where strict limits on houses of worship were in place.
But Roman Catholic Diocese held that it does not matter whether businesses that are similar in character to houses of worship are subject to less restrictive rules. What matters is whether any secular business is subject to lighter restrictions. If the state only permits churches to admit 25 people, but it permits grocery stores to admit many more people, then the state’s actions are potentially suspect.
Roman Catholic Diocese, in other words, is a tremendous expansion of the Court’s holding in Lukumi. Lukumi called for a fact-specific inquiry into the real reason why a state or local government enacted a policy that burdens people of faith, and the purpose of that inquiry was to sniff out laws that “stem from animosity to religion or distrust of its practices.” Roman Catholic Diocese, by contrast, presumes that the state engaged in unconstitutional discrimination if a religious institution is treated differently from secular ones — regardless of why the institutions are treated differently.”
“Before Roman Catholic Diocese, it was clear that the Danville Christian plaintiffs should have lost their case. Gov. Beshear’s order closes all primary and secondary schools, regardless of whether those schools are religious or secular. Whatever the wisdom of that policy, it’s a neutral law of general applicability. It does not treat religious schools any differently than similar secular schools.
After Roman Catholic Diocese, however, it’s far from clear that the Danville Christian plaintiffs should lose. As Justice Neil Gorsuch points out in a dissenting opinion, Kentucky allows a wide array of secular institutions to remain open, including preschools, universities, movie theatres, and bowling allies.”
“In any event, because the Court’s decision in Danville Christian places such heavy emphasis on the fact that Beshear’s order is about to expire, that decision is unlikely to have very many doctrinal implications. Once the pandemic is over, the doctrinal shifts laid out in Roman Catholic Diocese will remain, while Danville Christian is unlikely to be cited very often by future courts.
But Danville Christian is a strange decision. And it suggests that, at least while Covid-19 is still raging, some key members of the Supreme Court may be uncomfortable with the full public health implications of their decision in Roman Catholic Diocese.”
“China has a new weapon in its global information warfare arsenal: “wolf warriors.”
Named after a popular Chinese nationalistic film franchise, “wolf warriors” are official government diplomats whose duties go beyond the traditional diplomatic functions of closed-door negotiating and hosting fancy embassy soirees — and into the cutthroat world of Twitter.
Armed with 280 characters and access to a platform that has millions of users worldwide but is blocked for most people in China, they fiercely defend China against its foreign critics, ruthlessly taunt countries and leaders who have displeased the Chinese government, and shamelessly spread misinformation that serves Beijing’s interests.
In other words, they’re professional diplomatic trolls.”