Target Is the Latest Proof—Going Woke Means Going Broke

Newsweek – “I think those are just good business decisions, and it’s the right thing for society, and it’s the great thing for our brand.” That’s how Target CEO Brian Cornell described his company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in mid-May, when conservatives objecting to flamboyantly pro-LGBTQ+ merchandise declared a boycott of the low-end retailer. Within just 10 days of Cornell’s statement, Target lost $10 billion, watched its stock price fall daily, and proved yet again that going woke means going broke.

Suffering an unmitigated sales and public relations disaster, Target removed some of the offensive merchandise—which included “tuck-friendly” swimwear—and moved other items to more discreet parts of its stores, walking back the supposed wisdom of marketing to a marginal fringe that advocates a radical gender ideology most Americans reject.

Target, of course, is not alone. Just before its debacle, Anheuser-Busch’s beer brand Bud Light cost its parent company more than $15 billion and over 23 percent of its stock valuation in just six weeks after it employed transgender social media personality Dylan Mulvaney to promote its product. Nike and Maybelline, companies for which Mulvaney also recently did promotions, were likewise targeted for boycotts—by feminists who objected to a biological male modeling women’s sports bras and cosmetics. Anheuser-Busch could not even give away Bud Light for free, and suffered the indignity of musician Kid Rock machine-gunning a case of it, declaring “F**k Bud Light and f**k Anheuser Busch” and removing the company’s products from his music tours. Anheuser-Busch’s marketing vice president, Alissa Heinerscheid, who spearheaded the campaign, was placed on leave, as was vice president for mainstream brands Daniel Blake.

Apparel manufacturer North Face removed controversial products from sale after critics objected to its “Summer of Pride” campaign launched by a drag queen.

As of this writing, the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team faces a $1 million boycott campaign funded by CatholicVote, the nation’s largest Catholic advocacy organization, which objects to the team’s invitation of a drag group that mocks Christianity. Chick-fil-A, a fast food chain once boycotted by the Left because its management opposed gay marriage, now faces a right-wing boycott after announcing that it will be “embedding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in everything we do.”

Last year, Disney tried to use its social and economic clout to defeat a Florida state law restricting sexual content in public education for children under the age of eight. The law passed anyway. For its trouble, Disney lost previously unquestioned tax and administrative concessions first granted by the state in 1967. It now faces a lengthy, expensive, and uncertain legal battle to preserve some of them; its opponent, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, was reelected in a landslide last November and is now a leading candidate for the U.S. presidency. Since August 2022, Disney‘s stock price has fallen by one-third with no sign of recovery. This month, it reported the loss of four million subscribers to its Disney+ online streaming service. It also announced 7,000 layoffs and a $1 billion reduction in planned capital investment.

When Netflix introduced politicized content on a large scale in 2021, it watched its stock price fall about two-thirds by September 2022 and saw more than $50 billion in market capitalization disappear. Also facing a disastrous decline in subscribers, Netflix laid off hundreds of employees who had been hired to produce woke content and sent a memo informing the rest that “you may need to work on titles you perceive to be harmful,” and that if they objected “Netflix may not be the best place for you.” Nine months later, content has improved, millions of subscribers have returned, and Netflix’s stock price has recovered nearly half of its losses.

In the final quarter of 2022, BlackRock, the behemoth asset management firm, reported losing $4 billion in invested assets after its management committed to ESG (environmental, social, and governance) investing, which underperforms strictly profit-driven investment strategies. Lost funds included assets belonging to eight U.S. states, and a larger number of states since opted to prohibit or limit ESG investing of public funds and have sought judicial intervention to block a Biden administration rule allowing it in public-sector retirement funds. In February 2023, the CEO of Vanguard, one of BlackRock’s major competitors, publicly announced that his firm would abandon certain ESG investments and focus on its fiduciary duties to clients.

Across the corporate world, the lesson is clear. Messaging support for radical ideologies antagonizes far more Americans than it attracts. Those who are offended readily spend their dollars elsewhere while woke executives shake their heads, lose their jobs, and watch profits flow to competitors smart enough to stay out of politics. Meanwhile, the progressive Left plots new strategies to bully and blackmail businesses into broadcasting their loathsome ideology. Contrary to their expectations, the consumer has the power to reject it.

Oppressed New Yorkers Have a Right to Self-Defense

Newsweek – This is a wonderful opportunity to turn things around, and we’re glad to give it to you,” New York County (Manhattan) Assistant District Attorney Mary Weisgerber naively told the late Jordan Neely in court on February 9, 2023. On that date, Neely, a 30-year-old homeless man suffering from severe mental illness and reported drug abuse, learned that he would not be sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to his brutal November 2021 assault of a 67-year-old woman on a Lower East Side street. Neely had punched the woman so hard that he inflicted severe facial damage, including a broken nose. Instead, despite more than 40 prior arrests, including at least three for assault, he was ordered to spend 15 months in a public mental health facility, take prescribed medication, and avoid use of narcotics.

Neely agreed with the presiding judge, Ellen N. Biben, that his “goal” was to make it through this non-punitive program. Just 13 days later, however, he fled the facility, causing Judge Biben to issue an arrest warrant. Over the subsequent weeks, New York City outreach officials and police officers publicly encountered Neely three times but did not return him to any form of custody. On one of these occasions, Neely dropped his pants and urinated in front of them.

On the afternoon of May 1, while riding the subway through a fashionable part of Lower Manhattan, Neely informed his fellow passengers that he would kill any of them, throw them out of the subway car, and do so without regard for his own life. According to witnesses, a decorated 24-year-old former U.S. Marine Corps sergeant called Daniel J. Penny restrained Neely in a chokehold, a technique regularly taught in Marine Corps basic training, until law enforcement arrived. Neely resisted so strongly that two other passengers had to assist Penny in detaining Neely, while others recorded the altercation. Although Penny has, through legal counsel, disclaimed any intent to cause harm and released Neely upon the arrival of first responders, Neely later died at a hospital.

Under New York criminal law, Neely’s threats appear to have constituted menacing, an arrestable offense for threats of bodily harm made in the absence of physical contact. The intervention of Penny and the other passengers, however tragic the results, appear to be justified under Article 35 of New York State Penal Law, which allows for the use of force if there is a reasonable belief that physical harm to oneself or others may be imminent—if, for example, an individual threatens to kill you, and others, in a public place. Accordingly, the police released Penny after questioning. He has not yet been arrested or charged with any crime.

The crucial factor, however, is that Neely was black and Penny is white. Even before the facts were established, social justice warriors went to work. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) almost immediately took to Twitter to declare Penny’s actions “murder.” Democratic New York Governor Kathy Hochul has called for “consequences,” “justice,” and $1 billion in state budget funds set aside for mental health spending. Manhattan Borough President Mark D. Levine claimed Neely “always made people smile” and moralized that “our broken mental health system failed him,” rather than the dozens of poor choices that resulted in Neely’s 40-plus arrests and ultimate predicament in a fatal chokehold administered by a man he physically threatened. Many others have demanded Penny’s arrest and blamed Neely’s death on “systemic racism,” “lynching,” and “white vigilantism”—progressive straw men that curiously never seem to disappear no matter how many Democrats are elected and re-elected to public office, no matter how much money is cut from urban police budgets, and no matter how leniently blue-state criminal justice systems prosecute crimes committed by people of color (when they prosecute them at all).

On Saturday, protestors shut down a Manhattan subway station, “occupied” its tracks, physically prevented passengers from leaving an arriving train, and assaulted police officers while chanting, “no justice, no peace.” Black Lives Matter demonstrators threatened to “tear the city down” unless Penny is arrested. Two days later, a candlelight vigil for Neely turned violent. New York City leaders who have pleaded for calm and due process, including Mayor Eric Adams—a former police captain who has criticized attempts to label Penny a murderer—have been denounced by the protestors, who marched through the streets of Manhattan chanting, “F*** Eric Adams.”

According to ABC‘s New York City affiliate, New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg is soon expected to call a grand jury to evaluate criminal charges against Penny. This is consistent with Bragg’s decision in July 2022 to charge New York City bodega worker Jose Alba with second-degree murder after he used a knife to defend himself against an assailant in his workplace—a charge Bragg’s office dropped only under significant political pressure. Notably, this is the same Alvin Bragg who just last month brought dubious felony charges against former President Donald J. Trump in a case that a large majority of Americans believe is politically motivated.

Pursuing charges against Penny would also complement Adams’ recent attempts to frustrate a 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring New York to permit the carrying of concealed weapons—a policy that has been correlated with reduced crime in other jurisdictions. Those jurisdictions include Florida, where crime rates are at a 50-year low, where hundreds of thousands of crime-weary New Yorkers have relocated in arguably the largest outmigration in their former state’s history, and where recently signed legislation now allows permitless carry of concealed handguns.

From the progressive Left, however, the message is clear: If you are a New Yorker, particularly a white New Yorker, you have virtually no right to self-defense. In addition to Gotham’s many other shortcomings, the only lesson its terrorized denizens can draw from Daniel Penny’s likely fate is that they must consent to their own victimization or feel the full brunt of the law. Racial justice will have it no other way.

Higher Education Free Speech Commitments Are Empty Platitudes

Newsweek – Last month, in a rare moment of good news in higher education, the administration of Cornell University rejected a unanimous student government resolution to mandate “trigger warnings” for a wide range of sensitive classroom materials and to permit students to “opt out” of controversial course content without penalty. In a brief but incisive statement, Cornell President Martha Pollack and Provost Michael Kotlikoff wrote, “We cannot accept this resolution, as the actions it recommends would infringe on” and “unacceptably restrict the academic freedom of our community.”

Perhaps more significantly, Cornell’s leaders reasoned, “learning to engage with difficult and challenging ideas is a core part of a university education.” To permit otherwise “would have a deleterious impact both on the education of the individual student and on the academic distinction of a Cornell degree.”

Reading between the lines, one might imagine that colleges and universities are starting to see the light. As speech codes, safe spaces, and de-platforming have proliferated across American campuses, public reaction has been palpably negative. College enrollments have dropped 18% since 2010, and that trend has only accelerated as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes. According to Gallup, over the last decade public confidence in higher education has fallen faster than it has for any other institution. History, English, and other disciplines that once commanded massive undergraduate interest have registered enrollment declines of 50% or more. Fewer than half of Americans now believe a college education is essential for success—down from 95% in 1980. Aggrieved students, faculty members, and private citizens have taken to the media, the courts, government regulators, and civil society to protest violations of their rights, often successfully and at great cost to institutions of higher education.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the administrators left behind—many of whom already claim to be “victims” of some nebulous form of injustice—suffer depression, burnout, ostracism, mental illness, and other consequences for which woke progressivism failed to prepare them. As Cornell now fearfully admits, the value of even a prestigious institution’s degree is now under threat in a society that increasingly rejects the dubious, un-American values that have permeated academia. It is not difficult to imagine that an Ivy League degree will soon do little more than identify its holder as an incompetent and emotionally fragile member of an aggrieved group who should best go untrusted and unhired. Indeed, this is already happening: In the last year, a number of federal judges have refused to hire graduates from law schools with questionable track records on constitutional rights and legal professionalism.

Are the university administrators who are now parroting a pro-free speech line sincere? Don’t bet on it—or at least judge them by their actions, rather than their words.

At Stanford Law School last month, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Judge Kyle Duncan was prevented from delivering prepared remarks at the invitation of a student group. The protestors were supported by “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” Dean Tirien Steinbach, who questioned the value of Duncan’s remarks and moralized that he had caused “harm” in judicial rulings to which the protestors objected. Stanford’s president and law school dean subsequently apologized to Duncan and said that Steinbach’s actions were “inconsistent” with Stanford’s values. But Steinbach, who is on leave, curiously remains employed and is using her time off to position herself as the free speech advocate high-tuition-paying parents would like to see rather than the free speech opponent she is clearly documented on tape as being. Stanford Law School also declined to discipline any students, comically claiming that they could not be identified even though they, too, appear on tape.

Earlier this month, Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber congratulated himself in a weekly alumni newsletter for hosting a controversial speaker. “We have civil discourse on this campus,” he lectured Princeton graduates, “I believe we have it on most American college campuses. …We should be proud of that, and we should push back hard against the distorted accounts of those who say otherwise.” Eisgruber has yet to “push back” in any way against massive criticism leveled at his illiberal decision less than a year ago to fire longtime Princeton classics professor Joshua Katz, who is widely believed to have been dismissed because he publicly objected to racialist demands of other Princeton faculty members shortly after George Floyd‘s killing in 2020.

So much for civil discourse—but pretending to care about it presumably keeps enough Princeton alumni dollars rolling in to pay Eisgruber’s $1 million annual salary. Few are convinced. “Complete crap and hypocrisy and alums suck it up,” laments Paul S. Levy, a private equity executive who resigned from the University of Pennsylvania’s board of trustees over its censorious treatment of law professor Amy Wax, who faces “major sanctions” over disfavored statements of opinion. “Too bad people like Joshua Katz get fired in Star Chamber proceedings for speaking their minds.”

Perhaps the most revealing case occurred this earlier month at San Francisco State University, where women’s rights advocate Riley Gaines was mobbed and, she claims, physically assaulted and trapped in a classroom by student protestors after participating in an invited event. SFSU President Lynn Mahoney offered no apology, did not mention Gaines by name, and stated only that “her departure from campus was unnecessarily delayed by protestors.” Mahoney then sanctimoniously claimed that she “support(s) freedom of expression to protect us all,” while also expressing the fear that “denying any speaker the right to speak based on the content of their speech would quickly ensure a period of long and expensive litigation.” When all is said and done, it is that fear that may save the day for campus free speech.

Indicted, Defiant Trump Rallies the Republican Party: A Report from Palm Beach

The European Conservative – “The only crime I have committed,” declared former U.S. President Donald J. Trump on Tuesday, “is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it.” He spoke those words at the beginning of a rousing 25-minute speech in the elegant marble ballroom of his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, where he presides over a de facto court-in-exile. His invited supporters were crowded into rows of chairs, but none remained seated as he entered to the strains of Lee Greenwood’s fiercely patriotic song “God Bless The USA.” In the euphoria, many of the guests – some wearing red MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) hats – broke into a spontaneous chant of “U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A.”

Earlier in the day, Trump made history by becoming the first U.S. president to be arraigned on criminal charges, for which he was indicted last week. The charges stem from a $130,000 payoff in 2016 to porn actress Stormy Daniels, who has alleged that she and Trump had an affair ten years earlier, as well as payoffs to another woman with similar claims and to a New York City doorman who claims to have witnessed untoward activities. The payoffs, which are not in dispute, were made by Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen, a convicted felon who reportedly negotiated with prosecutors to reduce his prison sentence by agreeing to testify against his former client. Over the course of 2016-2017, Cohen was reimbursed by Trump through legal fees invoiced in amounts that covered the payoffs as well as income taxes for which Cohen was liable.

The New York judicial authorities have long investigated the matter along with other controversies involving Trump. New York State’s attorney general Letitia James and New York County’s district attorney Alvin L. Bragg both campaigned for office promising to “get Trump” for unspecified crimes. James won a civil suit against Trump’s companies but has never filed charges against Trump. Bragg’s predecessor Cyrus Vance Jr. retired without bringing any charges against the former president. About a year ago, Bragg himself also dropped any prosecution of Trump, citing lack of evidence necessary to secure a conviction. Now, however, he has charged the former president with 34 counts of falsifying business records, one for each installment of the payments to Cohen. Under New York law, this offense rises to a misdemeanor usually punishable by a fine, if it is prosecuted at all. Bragg, however, has magnified all 34 counts to felony charges, which is legal in New York if the records were falsified to cover up another crime. In what is arguably the day’s most striking revelation, Bragg did not identify what that additional crime might be, either in his official statement of facts or in response to direct media inquiries at a press conference he held just after Trump’s arraignment. Legally, he is not required to do so, but virtually the entire American legal commentariat believes that his failure to identify an accelerating crime is a major weakness in his case.

Bragg’s apparent theory is that Trump’s payments violated campaign finance laws, which limit the amount that may be donated to a political campaign and require public disclosures. In order to win a conviction, however, he would have to prove that Trump falsified records for that purpose, and not for any other reason. Cohen, his tarnished and discredited star witness, has already testified under oath in another case that Trump made the payments to protect his family from distress and embarrassment and not to skirt campaign finance laws. Bragg’s only other significant witness is Daniels, who in addition to her less than upstanding profession has lost multiple court rulings relating to a defamation lawsuit she unsuccessfully filed against Trump over his denial of her allegations. Prior to Trump’s indictment, courts had ordered her to reimburse the former president some $500,000 in legal fees relating to that failed lawsuit. In a revealing coincidence, on Tuesday a federal appeals court ordered her to pay him an additional $122,000 in restitution even as Trump was arraigned.

Bragg will also have to overcome statutes of limitations on Trump’s alleged crimes. In New York, falsification of business records is time-barred from prosecution after two years. Campaign finance violations are time-barred after five years. According to his own statement of facts, the final payment – the last relevant action that could have be legitimately prosecuted – was made on December 5, 2017, more than five years ago. And even if Bragg could get around the statute of limitations, as a county district attorney he only has legitimate jurisdiction over New York laws, and not over federal laws. In any event, the Biden administration’s Justice Department also declined to prosecute Trump on the suspected campaign finance violation.

The court of public opinion also militates against Bragg. Prior to Trump’s arraignment, more than 60 percent of Americans already believed his prosecution is political. That figure rose to a staggering 70 percent of independents, whose votes tend to decide American presidential elections. It also includes 30 percent of Democrats, perhaps even including President Biden, who has not officially commented on the question but offered a wry smile when asked. Given the weakness of his case and other factors, those figures are likely to rise in the months and years it will likely take to decide it.

Much of the leftist press believes prosecuting Trump on this basis is a poor strategy that could backfire on the Democrats. The New York Times has called it “unwise” and “untested and therefore risky,” while the Washington Post has pronounced it “a dangerous leap” and suggested that it is “not worth continuing.” Bragg worsened that impression on Tuesday, when he called for the case to come to trial in January 2024, unusually soon by New York court procedural standards and, suspiciously, just before the first Republican state primary votes are scheduled to take place in early February. And hardly any honest observer of American life has failed to note that under Bragg’s watch New York City’s crime rate rose 22 percent in 2022 even as he downgraded 52 percent of felony cases to misdemeanors.

The mood at Mar-a-Lago was festive, and indeed Trump has much to steel him with confidence, if not celebrate. Every supporter who ventured an opinion to me believes that the indictment has made him a stronger candidate for the 2024 Republican nomination and for a return to the presidency. This opinion is shared by Republican critics of Trump, including major party donors based in Florida who had publicly declared support for Governor Ron DeSantis but have told me in recent weeks that they now have doubts about his candidacy and believe Trump has a better chance of both winning the nomination and defeating Biden in a hypothetical rematch. Recent polling gives Trump a two-to-one edge over DeSantis in the Republican primary vote nationally, should the Florida governor run. In some polls, that translates into a 30-point lead, whereas in February the average polling margin of Trump’s hypothetical edge was 17 points. In a hypothetical rematch against Biden, moreover, Trump registers a five-point lead.

Early signs already suggest that Trump’s indictment will only solidify his advantage. Over 90 percent of Republicans believe Bragg’s prosecution is political, a majority that unites the party on this issue more strongly than almost any other. In his impeachments, moreover, his approval ratings rose substantially, a fact not lost on Democrats who remember former president Bill Clinton’s ten-point popularity bounce when he was impeached in 1998. Since Trump’s indictment, a number of his past, present, and potential future opponents have come out against his prosecution, effectively putting them on his side in a way they would have resisted only weeks ago. They include DeSantis, New York’s former Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, Trump’s 2016 Republican adversary Jeb Bush, several Republican Congressmen who voted for Trump’s impeachments, and Republican Senator Mitt Romney, who twice voted to remove Trump from office. Trump’s base within the party is energized, believing that his prosecution is, as he said at Mar-a-Lago, “a persecution, not an investigation … right out the old Soviet Union.” They further believe that Trump is challenging a corrupt elite that cannot rule effectively unless he is out of the way. It is a compelling narrative, especially when combined with a list of all the previous scandals for which Trump was investigated, but which turned out to be bogus.

As the campaign season picks up steam, Trump’s legal woes are only likely to propel him to greater heights. His supporters are energized rather than dissuaded by his transparently political prosecution. No matter the truth of the allegations against him, many believe the unprecedented indictment is a tragedy for American political life and yet another powerful blow to the fading legitimacy of our institutions. Skeptical independents favored Trump by a large margin before the indictment and seem to be breaking in favor of those who disapprove of him less than they hate the administrative state that has made their lives hell for the past three years. Fewer and fewer are inclined to believe the much more serious allegations Trump faces elsewhere. It is they who cheered Trump’s declaration that he has “no doubt that we will make American great again.”

Alvin Bragg Might Have Just Re-Elected Donald Trump

Newsweek – Patriotism was in the air at the 62nd International Red Cross Ball in Palm Beach on March 18, the same day former President Donald J. Trump announced that he expected to be indicted and arrested the following week. Among the high society guests at the island town’s storied event, which Trump hosted at Mar-a-Lago from 2005 to 2017, were a number of heavy-hitting Republican donors who predicted to me that such an event—a first in American history—would only help Trump’s campaign for their party’s nomination and subsequent return to the White House in 2024.

The day Trump predicted he would be arrested came and went, as pundits examined the case brought against him by New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg, with virtually all informed legal minds concluding that it was weakly constructed, based on testimony from unreliable witnesses, time-barred under both New York state and federal law, and, since the indictment hinges on an alleged federal campaign finance violation, outside Bragg’s legitimate jurisdiction as a mere county DA.

It took another 12 days for Bragg to convince a New York grand jury to indict the former president. The move has widely been received as indicative of banana republic politics, with a highly partisan government official effectively arresting the head of the opposition party on what appear to be unsustainable charges in advance of a presidential election that polling suggests the opposition leader will win. It does not help Bragg’s credibility that he explicitly campaigned for office on a promise to “get Trump.” And it is hard to ignore the sordid fact that under his watch, New York City’s crime rate skyrocketed by 22% last year, even as Bragg’s office downplayed prosecution of violent crimes.

Bragg’s case against Trump is facially absurd. Trump, who denies any wrongdoing, is alleged to have paid $130,000 in “hush money” to porn actress Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 presidential election. This is not illegal conduct, but Bragg claims the former president processed the payment through his former attorney Michael Cohen and then improperly recorded the transaction as a payment of legal fees. His principal witnesses are apparently Cohen, a convicted felon whose plea bargain for a lesser prison sentence appears to have involved an agreement to testify against his former client, and Daniels, who was ordered to reimburse Trump’s legal fees in a defamation case she brought against him and subsequently lost. Even if the charge is accurate, under New York state law it is at most a misdemeanor falsification of business records, the prosecution for which is subject to a two-year statute of limitations that expired years ago.

The state law misdemeanor, if valid, could become a felony if the records falsification covered up another crime. Bragg has argued that Trump’s action violated federal campaign finance law, on the theory that the payment was intended to benefit his 2016 presidential campaign. Bragg, as a county district attorney, has no jurisdiction whatsoever over federal law—but even if he did, the operative law is itself still subject to a five-year statute of limitations, which has also expired. Even if this charge were not also time-barred, Bragg would still have to affirmatively disprove that Trump acted from any other motive, such as protecting his family from embarrassment. Inconveniently for the prosecution, Cohen, Bragg’s purported star witness, has testified under oath that this was precisely why Trump made the payment in such an opaque manner.

If this sounds politically motivated to you, you are not alone. Even The New York Times, which has not merely opposed Trump but also falsely labeled him a traitor, a foreign agent, a sexual predator, and an insurrectionist, among other dubious claims of criminality, has described Bragg’s approach as “untested and therefore risky” and published articles casting serious doubt on the case’s viability. The vociferously anti-Trump Washington Post‘s editorial board described the charges as “the least compelling,” adding that there is “cause for concern” and that his prosecution may be “not worth continuing.” More than 60% of Americans agree that the charges are politically motivated—a figure that rises to 70% among independents. Bragg himself apparently has doubts. A year ago, he abandoned the case altogether and only revived it after being publicly shamed by two of his underlings, who had resigned over the decision. His predecessor Cyrus Vance Jr. also abandoned the case and promptly retired, while the Biden administration’s Justice Department took a pass on prosecuting Trump on the federal campaign finance charge—over which it, and not the New York County DA’s office, had proper jurisdiction (before it was time-barred).

Surely this is not the end for Trump, who has reportedly been fantasizing about a very public arrest in which he is handcuffed and led away in a New York-style perp walk. He clearly expects that such a spectacle will make him a martyr to his followers, who have been re-energized of late, and even to non-supporters who fear the politicization of American criminal justice more than they dislike him.

Trump’s alleged excitement may well be justified. During his first impeachment, his approval ratings rose six points before he was acquitted by the Senate. During his second impeachment, he left office with the highest approval ratings of his presidency before he was again acquitted and returned to private life as the de facto exiled leader of the Republican Party. Since talk of Trump’s indictment began earlier this month, he has registered increasing leads in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination across a wide range of polls, besting DeSantis, who has not declared his formal candidacy but is the next-most popular in a hypothetical race, by as much as 30 points. In New York state, where the legal proceedings will unfold, he leads DeSantis by 25 points in a hypothetical GOP primary. Multiple national polls testing the question of a hypothetical Trump-Biden general election rematch give the former president a five-point edge, beyond the statistical margin of error. According to the chatter in Palm Beach, many of the Republican donors who had declared decisively for DeSantis after the disappointing 2022 midterm elections are now having second thoughts, openly musing that ousting Biden is a higher priority than passing the torch to a new generation, and that Trump could be the man to do it after all.

The 2024 election is still a long way off, but if Trump wins, it will be in no small part thanks to Alvin Bragg and his dangerous politicization of justice and weaponization of the rule of law.

Silicon Valley Bank Bailout Is a Disgraceful Political Payoff

Newsweek – After months of questionable Biden administration assurances that the U.S. economy is robust, the financial world was stunned to learn last week that Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), the nation’s 16th largest, sustained $1.8 billion in losses. This prompted a run on deposits that wiped out SVB’s assets within 48 hours. Experts have reckoned the bank’s failure to be the second largest in U.S. history, unmatched since the 2008 financial crisis.

According to reports, imprudent investments, heavy lending to risky startups, high Biden-era interest rates, and general mismanagement undermined SVB amid the tech sector’s downturn over the past year. The bank’s U.S. division employed no chief risk officer from April 2022 to January 2023. Worse, an astonishing 89% of SVB’s capital holdings are in accounts exceeding the federally insured deposit limit of $250,000, with some running into tens or hundreds of millions of dollars.

Over the weekend, the federal regulatory process snapped into action. Despite protests from prominent business figures, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen initially announced that SVB would receive no federal bailout. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) moved with lightning speed to organize an auction to unload the bank, which it reportedly hoped to settle by late Sunday so that the markets would open this week with minimal disruption.

By Sunday evening, however, the entire federal banking apparatus had abruptly reversed course. A joint statement issued by Treasury, the FDIC, and the Federal Reserve announced that all SVB depositors would be fully covered as of Monday morning, in what they described as a “systemic risk exception.” This euphemistic “resolution” was also extended to New York’s troubled Signature Bank, which regulators closed earlier on Sunday after it had lost big by financing both crypto and New York City’s floundering commercial real estate sector. The institutions’ joint statement further announced that further emergency funds would be made available to any other bank currently facing insolvency.

Yellen has insisted that this is not a bailout—but if you believe that, I have a bank in California to sell you. The feds have also insisted that the announced rescue efforts will not involve taxpayer dollars. That strains credulity, coming from federal agencies whose very operations depend upon our renderings to Caesar. Not even Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who chairs the U.S. Senate subcommittees on banking policy and fiscal responsibility, believes it, as she admitted in a New York Times op-ed on Monday.

What makes SVB so special and its clients so deserving? Media loyalists have cried wolf after the fact, claiming the bank’s travails were the tip of an iceberg ready to sink the entire U.S. banking industry—a danger none of them appears to have noticed until after the feds flip-flopped, and one that virtually every professional economist discounts. Biden was quick to claim credit, tweeting that the principals who devised the bailout did so “at my direction” and that he was “pleased they reached a solution that protects workers, small businesses, taxpayers, and our financial system.”

The notion that our whole banking system was teetering on the edge of a cliff sharply contradicts the Biden administration’s narrative that our economic fundamentals are strong. But temporizing on that doubtful claim was clearly preferable to admitting the truth that the SVB bailout is a poorly disguised political payoff.

Silicon Valley, where SVB is the “go-to” bank for the tech industry, is the Democratic Party‘s richest fiefdom. In 2020 alone, Federal Election Commission data recorded some $200 million flowing into Democratic coffers from the California counties comprising the region. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in that same year Democrats received 98% of all political contributions from internet companies, whose financing is SVB’s bread and butter. Personal contributions to Democrats from individuals employed in the tech industry are nearly as high.

SVB cannot legally donate to individual candidates or political parties. According to the Open Secrets website, however, it operates a political action committee (PAC) that has donated predominantly to Democrats for the last 20 years. In 2020, Democrats received 100% of its PAC donations. Last year, the PAC sent hefty contributions to Democratic legislators Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), and Rep. Josh Harder (D-CA), all of whom quickly praised the bailout. SVB’s CEO Greg Becker, who cashed in $3.6 million of company stock a week before the bank’s collapse, has been one of the PAC’s leading contributors.

In addition to massive financial support for the Democrats, SVB also offers unquestioning ideological fealty the modern Left. The bank slavishly toes the line on DEI and ESG initiatives favored by the Biden administration, but widely believed to be divisive, demoralizing, and financially underperforming. According to the bank’s website, “SVB is committed to creating a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible environment…within the innovation ecosystem, and in our communities…helping to advance solutions that create a more just and sustainable world [and] contribute to a healthier planet.”

This is not empty rhetoric spouted to console guilty millennial employees. Even as insolvency loomed, SVB still pledged “at least $5 billion in loans, investments, and other financing to support sustainability efforts.” According to Bernie Marcus, the billionaire cofounder of Home Depot, “these banks are badly run because everybody is focused on diversity and all of the woke issues and not concentrating on the one thing they should, which is shareholder returns.” He might have been thinking of Jay Ersapah, chief risk officer of SVB’s U.K. branch, who seems less interested in managing financial liability than fetishizing her identity as a “queer person of color” and promoting hackneyed diversity initiatives, such as SVB’s first “pride month,” employee “safe zones,” and other activities of no fiscal benefit.

SVB might not have fallen into its predicament if it cared as much about profit as it does about woke ideology. But progressives who review SVB’s website can rest assured that its entire workforce receives DEI training, and they will doubtlessly be pleased by recent increases in the ranks of its female and minority employees, who are possibly hired for reasons other than sheer merit. The message for Joe Biden‘s America is clear, however. As long as you flash the “empathy” and “diverse perspectives” SVB touts in its promotional materials—and fork over enough cash to the Big Guy in election season—your business can also be saved at taxpayer expense no matter how badly you go broke by getting woke.

Domingo Sings Again

City Journal – In Florida, the opera star makes his first appearance on an American stage since sexual harassment allegations effectively banished him from working in the United States.

“When I knew that I had Covid,” the Spanish opera singer Plácido Domingo told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica in August 2020, “I promised myself that if I came out alive, I would fight to clear my name.” In response to sexual harassment allegations that had emerged the previous year, he had said, “I never abused anyone. I will repeat that as long as I live.”

Domingo, who turned 82 in January, was one of the most prominent targets of the #MeToo movement in the performing arts. After multiple accusers leveled allegations against him in 2019, he was effectively banished from professional work in the United States. His stage engagements were canceled. He resigned as director of the Los Angeles Opera after 19 years with the company. The Washington National Opera, which Domingo led to great acclaim from 1996 to 2011, removed his name from the young artists program he founded.

In Europe, however, Domingo’s career has continued more or less intact. Only in Britain and his native Spain did he encounter some opposition to performing. In most operatic capitals, he has soldiered on, mainly in the baritone roles he began to perform after decades as a tenor. Milan’s La Scala theater and the Verona Festival, among other venues, have accorded him solo recitals. He regularly appears in stage productions elsewhere on the continent, and still introduces new parts and projects into his work. As of 2020, he had accumulated an unequaled 151 roles across the repertoire. In February 2020, he made his then-last appearance in the United States, a private concert for high-level supporters of the Palm Beach Symphony, hosted at the town’s storied Everglades Club.

Three years later, with the pandemic receding in America and #MeToo less prominent, Palm Beach’s Society of the Four Arts, a multifaceted arts organization with a devoted local membership that welcomes the general public when tickets do not sell out to members, has broken ranks in the U.S. and welcomed Domingo back. This is not Four Arts’s first bold move against an establishment consensus. In December 2020, it was probably the first American arts organization to resume live performances.

The sold-out audience reacted with thunderous applause and multiple standing ovations. Originally billed as a discussion of Domingo’s life and career, the event was instead a recital shaped around fond memories and new horizons. No mention was made of Domingo’s troubles, though it is hard to imagine that anyone present was unaware of them. He was accompanied at the piano by the conductor Eugene Kohn, with whom he has worked for some 25 years, and by the soprano Jennifer Rowley, who has appeared in recent Palm Beach Opera productions as well as at the Met. Rowley seemed delighted to collaborate closely with Domingo, though her publicly accessible social media accounts avoided any mention of it. When Domingo addressed the audience to offer greetings or tell an anecdote, he was his old charming self, though perhaps moving more slowly with age. The voice, however, retains its breathtaking technique and still resounds with the distinctive timbre that has thrilled generations of audiences.

He began the evening with the aria “Nemico della patria” (“Enemy of the Fatherland”) from Umberto Giordano’s opera Andrea Chénier. Performed by the baritone villain Gérard, a former servant who has become an agent of the French Revolution, the piece reflects on the hollowness of revolutionary ideals and the naïveté of ideologues. Domingo continued by introducing his new project, a curatorial exercise to identify and perform art songs that composers wrote in their youth and later developed into great opera arias. To demonstrate, he gave a fine reading of Vincenzo Bellini’s “La ricordanza,” which Rowley followed with a reasonable rendition of its revision, “Qui la voce,” from the composer’s bel canto masterpiece I Puritani. After a diversion into more recent musical theater with a rousing performance of “Some Enchanted Evening” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, the duo returned to the exercise. Domingo performed Verdi’s “In solitaria stanza,” whose rhythms made their way into the soprano aria “Tacea la notte placida” from the composer’s middle period masterpiece Il Trovatore. Rowley lacked the bloom to pull the aria’s soaring heights, but the connection was made.

The rest of the recital was devoted to lighter works. Rowley returned for an enjoyable jaunt through “I Could Have Danced All Night,” from Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady. She and Domingo then performed beguilingly in the famous Waltz Duet from Franz Lehár’s operetta The Merry Widow. Rowley followed up with a perky “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” before Domingo returned solo for the Mexican songwriter Agustín Lara’s stirring “Granada,” a 1932 homage to the Spanish city that he performed to great acclaim in the blockbuster Three Tenors concerts alongside Luciano Pavarotti and José Carreras. For encores, he revisited his early career in Mexico, singing “On the Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady in Spanish, the only language in which he learned it. The program concluded with an homage to his family roots, in the tradition of zarzuela, Spanish light opera. Joined by Rowley, he sang the love duet from Manuel Penella’s El Gato Montés, a work in the genre that Domingo championed in the 1990s.

“If I rest, I rust,” is Domingo’s personal motto. Three years after the apparent end of his North American stage career, he is not resting. If other arts administrators in the U.S. choose to bring him back, his enduring appeal, combined with the controversy, will surely sell out any box office that offers tickets to his performances.

Julliard Cancelation Case Has a Soviet Twist

Newsmax – In December, a German music magazine called VAN published claims that Robert Beaser, a professor at Juilliard since 1993 and chair of its composition department from 1994 to 2018, committed non-tactile sexual harassment against female students and offered assistance with professional advancement in a quid pro quo for possible romantic relations.

Beaser’s late colleague Christopher Rouse, who died in 2019, was posthumously accused of similar conduct, and his living colleague, the composer John Corigliano, is alleged to have adopted a discriminatory policy of not working with female students.

Four days after the report appeared, a group of classical music professionals tied to an account styling itself “Composers Collective” published an open letter on Medium demanding Juilliard remove Beaser from active employment.

Despite claiming to “recognize and appreciate the need for due process,” the letter’s authors insisted that “the volume of allegations, testimony, and supporting evidence of Beaser’s misconduct are undeniably unsettling” and that “Beaser’s presence in the Juilliard composition department could jeopardize the emotional well-being of students.”

To the sensitive souls behind the letter, “allowing the alleged perpetrator to remain in a position of power and authority risks not only a daily affront to survivors of abuse, harassment, and discrimination; it is also a potential endorsement of immoral, unethical, and bigoted behavior.”

It would appear their understanding of “due process” does not encompass a principle as basic as presumption of innocence, a bedrock of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence that reformed Title IX rules issued in 2020 explicitly require.

Nevertheless, within hours 120 people described as “composers, musicians, educators, leaders, and allies” signed the letter. By the end of the day, Beaser was gone, having voluntarily agreed to go on administrative leave while Juilliard completes its own investigation of the allegations presented by VAN.

Within three days, the number of signatories swelled to over 500. Regardless of what Juilliard’s inquisitors determine, his institutional career is probably over.

Beaser’s disgrace is similar to thousands of other #MeToo-era cases in which male educators and students have lost jobs, careers, and reputations as a result of accusations that are rarely proved.

Hundreds of respondents in Title IX cases have sued, most successfully.

University bureaucrats charged with enforcing the rules now report stress, ostracism, loneliness, burnout, and serious emotional or psychological problems. Many harbor demonstrable biases that expose them to litigation.

Beaser’s case, however, offers an ugly new twist: a deliberate attempt to dragoon mass participation to condemn the offender publicly as an enemy of the people.

Beaser’s accusers may have made their case to a low-end German music magazine, but it was his rapid public condemnation by hundreds of colleagues outside the situation that sealed his likely fate.

Significantly, many of those who signed the letter demanding Beaser’s removal were men. This factored into the thinking of composer Sarah Kirkland Snider, one of the letter’s authors and organizers, who reached out to male colleagues to solicit support specifically because of their gender.

“It’s one of the very first times — maybe the first time in the history of our composition community,” Snider crowed to The Washington Post, “that men and women and people of all genders [sic] have come together to stand up and protect one another.”

Including men in the ritual denunciation of another man, in other words, adds weight to destroying the accused while also safeguarding the female signatories from allegations of gender bias and attendant hysteria.

A man put on the spot in this way may well sign whatever he is told to sign just to avoid the perception that he is unenlightened by woke ideology. He may also reason that denouncing a fellow man as a gesture of “allyship” with women may win enough woke brownie points to protect him from being similarly accused or punished at a later time.

Doing so in the absence of evidence or due process, moreover, serves to prove that he privileges zeal and ideology over fairness and logic, making him look even more committed to a cause whose ultimate goal is to control him and everyone else.

Like the communists of the last century, their ideological heirs know all too well that mass complicity disguises and absolves their guilt.

Snider did not study at Juilliard and has no other connection to the school. Until she helped organize Beaser’s professional ruin, she was an obscure middle-aged composer with a mediocre career.

Within a week of posting the letter, however, she became an arbiter of professional standards of conduct for her entire industry, with authority enshrined for ideological reasons rather than talent, merit, or vision.

If there is a silver lining to Snider’s arrogation of authority over her more accomplished male colleagues, it may well be that she will stand out as someone conformist nobodies flock to while truly free and creative artists keep their distance and preserve their independence.

As Soviet dissidents once looked to Pasternak and Vysotsky, we can valorize the free thinkers, secure in the knowledge that art will continue outside of oppressive, politically-correct officialdom. The party, however, is still in power.

See You Soon, Alligator

City Journal – Even as their state lost more residents last year than ever before—thousands of them moving to Florida—New York policymakers seem to have no answers.

“Listen up, New York—Florida sucks, and you’ll all be back in five years.” So proclaimed New York Post reporter Steve Cuozzo last June, after the flight south of hundreds of thousands of his fellow citizens from the Empire State. Many have found refuge in Florida, which prides itself on generous tax laws, low crime, a pro-business environment, unobtrusive pandemic policies, an anti-woke ethos, and general ease of life.

“You’ll all be sorry,” Cuozzo predicted. What are his complaints about the “Sunshine State?” On a visit to Miami Beach, he had waited too long for coffee. A friend’s ocean view was blocked by new construction. Sometimes it rains. He had heard bad things about alligators. Cuozzo’s article “wasn’t offensive,” retorted his Boca Raton-based Post colleague and recovering New York chauvinist Karol Markowicz. “It was hilarious.”

The temptation to leave New York was hard to resist at the height of the pandemic. Even Cuozzo’s social media accounts showed him lounging with a happy alligator grin at Palm Beach’s Colony Hotel and other Florida locales on what he would have credulous New Yorkers believe were miserable visits. Indeed, the 2020 census showed so many New Yorkers leaving that New York State lost a congressional seat, while Florida gained one.

In 2021, even as New York lifted many—but not all—of its Covid restrictions, a record-breaking 61,728 of its citizens exchanged their driver’s licenses for Florida licenses, a figure that excludes tens of thousands of minors or other non-driving migrants. New York officials predicted that the pandemic’s waning would entice transplants to return and stanch its hemorrhaging of people and money. In 2021, they were confident enough to raise income taxes to the highest level in America—a combined state and local top rate of 14.778 percent, compared with Florida’s 0 percent—even as high-income earners filled the streets of Manhattan with southbound moving vans.

“Big hitters have had it because they get nothing for the high state and city taxes,” says Paul S. Levy, who founded JLL Partners, a New York private equity firm, and is now a Florida resident. “Florida cities now offer safety, no taxes, ease of life and movement, business with unobtrusive regulations, and all the vaunted cultural opportunities of New York City can be had in varying degrees elsewhere, from fun food, youth culture, museums, and music at a fraction of the cost.”

The summer of 2021 in the city was heralded as a “summer of love,” but that proved a bust. Covid restrictions continued, crime rose, and people kept leaving. Later that year, many hoped that the departure of the city’s unpopular mayor Bill De Blasio would usher in change at the hands of Eric Adams, a former New York City police captain who might at least take fighting crime seriously. “It can only get better,” many assured us. In the first year of Adams’s mayoralty, however, major crimes increased by 22 percent over the previous year’s awful numbers. The only silver lining was a slight decline in homicides in late 2022.

When challenged on crime in her October 2022 gubernatorial debate against Republican challenger Lee Zeldin, who was stabbed during a campaign speech and whose children were at home when two other teenagers were shot outside his house, New York Governor Kathy Hochul stated, “I don’t know why that’s so important to you.” More gun control was the answer, she asserted. Florida, by contrast, which permits concealed weapons, just recorded its lowest crime rate in 50 years. When confronted with this massive disparity in public safety, New York boosters who shudder at the thought that citizens might be permitted to defend themselves apparently ignore cases like that of the unfortunate Jose Alba, a 61-year-old New York City bodega employee. Alba was charged with second-degree murder last July for using a knife to defend himself against an assailant who attacked him on camera.

In April 2022, trying to entice New Yorkers to return, Adams unveiled a billboard campaign in five Florida cities proclaiming New York a place “where you can say and be whoever you want.” The ads not only failed to bring back transplants but were also quickly exposed as free speech hypocrisy—a city attorney at the launch event was fired for asking when the mayor would remove mask requirements at New York City schools.

Last year, the outflow from New York not only continued but accelerated. According to official figures in January 2023, the state lost more people in the first post-pandemic year than in any other year. Some 64,577 New Yorkers traded in their driver’s licenses for Florida licenses in 2022—a 4.6 percent increase over 2021. The numbers fleeing New York remained steady as the year progressed, moreover, with about 25 percent of the departures occurring in the final quarter of the year, and more than 5,000 leaving in December 2022.

The scores of thousands of New Yorkers who left are not alone. There were similar jumps in license-exchanges by former residents of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, California, and several other blue states. They apparently disagreed with Governor Hochul’s claim at a ceremony to commemorate the Holocaust that “Florida is overrated.” Instead, many complied with her suggestion that New Yorkers fed up with crime, high taxes, and government regulations “just jump on a bus and head down to Florida where you belong.”

Many of New York’s leaders seem unperturbed by the exodus. In December 2022, a coalition of activists and Democratic politicians called Invest in Our New York advocated another $40 billion tax hike on the state’s already-declining high-income population. Members of the Democratic-controlled state legislature took advantage of the holiday season by voting themselves a 29 percent salary increase, making them the nation’s highest paid state representatives.

Other problems are piling up. Polio, virtually eradicated in the 1950s, has been detected in all five boroughs of New York City. According to New York City’s Department of Homeless Services, 67,321 people—including more than 22,000 children—slept in homeless shelters in the first week of 2023, only slightly more than the number of New Yorkers who got Florida driver’s licenses last year. Such suffering might be only the beginning. With no solution to his city’s out-of-control homelessness, Adams has declared that newly arrived illegal immigrants from overwhelmed border jurisdictions could drive New York into bankruptcy. Instead of housing tourists, many Manhattan hotels are now home to the displaced. And even by this measure, New York is struggling. Last month, the New York Times reported that large numbers of new migrants to the city were moving to Canada in search of cheaper housing and greater opportunity. In 2022 alone, more than 39,000 migrants reportedly crossed the state’s northern border. New York City has been buying their bus tickets.

Might New York’s leaders have finally started to grasp the city’s plight? Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a Democrat, told Bloomberg News in December 2022 that the flight of high-income New Yorkers—and their tax dollars—“should be a concern for everybody.” He might have made that observation in 2020, when 11 percent of New Yorkers earning between $1 and $5 million per year departed. He added, “we might be getting near that tipping point where we do make it economically unsustainable for enough of those folks to stay here.” Even Hochul apparently agrees, saying after her closer-than-expected election in November, “I don’t believe that raising taxes . . . makes sense.” In her inaugural address in January 2023, she warned that New York must “reverse the trend of people leaving our state.”

How she intends to do that remains unclear. She might well prefer building a wall to lowering taxes. But even Adams recently lamented: “To continually attack high-income earners when 51 percent of our taxes are paid by 2 percent of New Yorkers—it blows my mind. . . . I want my high income earners right here in this city!” For now, though, the taxpayers who sustain New York still seem more inclined to get out of town. And many continue to prefer Florida, alligators and all.

  • Judith Miller, Paul du Quenoy

Judith Miller is a City Journal contributing editor and the author of The Story: A Reporter’s Journey. Paul du Quenoy is president of the Palm Beach Freedom Institute.

Biden’s Balloon Fiasco Augurs Ill for American Hegemony

Newsweek – On May 28, 1987, a barely trained 18-year-old West German pilot named Mathias Rust flew a small Cessna F172P aircraft across northern Europe. After reaching Helsinki, Finland, he headed southeast, across the Iron Curtain and into Soviet airspace. Soviet authorities immediately identified his aircraft but did nothing to stop his flight. Monitored at every turn by military radar, surface-to-air missile batteries, interceptor fighter jets, and civilian air traffic control, Rust flew more than 500 miles to Moscow, which was surrounded by concentric lines of air defense fit for the capital of a mighty empire.

Originally intending to land within the walls of the Kremlin, Rust reasoned that he would be apprehended quickly and that all trace of his exploit would be suppressed. Instead, he circled the capital in plain view of its millions of inhabitants and approached neighboring Red Square. Red Square was filled with people, however, so he again circled Moscow before landing on nearby Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge, which was closed for repairs and free of traffic. Upon touchdown, Rust started chatting with the curious local citizenry, who were astonished that a Western pilot could accomplish such a stunt in the face of Soviet military might. The Moscow police did not arrive to arrest him for two hours, eventually charging Rust with violations of Soviet immigration and aviation law, as well as “hooliganism,” a peculiar Soviet category that roughly approximated disturbing the peace.

Rust was sentenced to four years in a labor camp—of which he served 14 months in the Moscow’s maximum-security Lefortovo prison—but his flight caused shockwaves that shook the Soviet military establishment. Soviet defense minister Sergei Sokolov and air defense commander Aleksandr Koldunov were fired, despite stellar service records going back to World War II. Hundreds of lower-ranking officers were also cashiered, in the greatest turnover of Soviet military personnel since Josef Stalin’s purges in the 1930s. General William Odom, a top U.S. Army Soviet expert and Reagan administration National Security Agency director, identified the incident in his award-winning 1998 book The Collapse of the Soviet Military as an irreparable blight on the reputation of the USSR’s foundering war machine. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev pointed to it to justify accelerating his program of reforms, which became radically more ambitious thereafter.

Fast forward 36 years, and another sclerotic empire’s air defense systems stood powerless at the sight of an airborne foreign intruder. This time the flight—a high-altitude Chinese balloon—was unmanned, but its purposes appear to have been decidedly military. It appeared over Alaska on January 28 and over the next six days crossed Western Canada and most of the contiguous United States on a six-day tour that U.S. air defense systems likewise monitored powerlessly. Debate rages about the significance of the balloon, which China insists—less than convincingly—was meteorological. Some especially slavish Washington analysts have endorsed the Chinese view, but most American observers agree it is at least possible that the balloon could have detected features of North American defense systems that would elude orbital satellites.

We may never know what the balloon transmitted back to China. Indeed, we would likely never have known about it at all had local newspapers in Montana and Kansas not reported sightings of the balloon by worried citizens. The only official reaction was for U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a planned trip to Beijing. Even this weak response elicited jeers from those happy to accommodate China’s rise. Others tried to cover up President Joe Biden‘s clear ineptitude by suggesting that the U.S. military had no safe or effective way to shoot down an inflatable device over land.

Facing massive criticism, Biden only ordered the balloon’s elimination after it had finished its historic journey. On February 4, an F-22 Raptor fighter jet shot it down with a single AIM-9 Sidewinder missile—a class of weapon in service since 1956—in U.S. territorial waters off the South Carolina coast. Navy divers have recovered some debris, though local authorities have urged coastal residents to turn in anything that may wash up on their shores.

Unlike their Soviet counterparts in 1987, no U.S. officials have lost or are likely to lose their jobs over this massive oversight. After the catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, this is only to be expected from self-regarding elites protected from virtually any form of accountability, who can enjoy their role of polite and orderly caretakers of American decline as long as they embrace progressive ideology. Mikhail Gorbachev believed his country deserved better. Joe Biden does not. Indeed, he is part of the problem.