A philosophical defence of democracy: Our shared humanity is the grounding principle—and one we would do well to remember (Sasha Mudd, November 1, 2023, Prospect)

At the heart of the liberal political tradition—classically associated with Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill—is the radical claim that all human beings, just by virtue of being human, are of equal moral worth, no matter the circumstances of their birth or where they are situated in society.

The liberal tradition takes this basic moral equality to ground equal social and political rights, including the right to vote. It therefore opposes any political system—from autocracy to hereditary monarchy—that fails to show equal respect for persons by turning morally arbitrary social differences into sources of political hierarchy and oppression. People must not be dominated or treated as mere means to others’ ends, and by the same token people have a right to participate in shaping their own destiny, rather than having one imposed upon them. Importantly, this task of democratic self-rule is a collective one. It seeks to secure everyone’s equal rights and freedoms, by means of collective decision-making.

Except, of course, that the equality is derived from the Gospels and the republican liberty from Rome.


Poll: Gantz popularity increases, Religious Zionist Party falls below electoral threshold (MEMO, November 25, 2023)

A poll on Friday showed an increase in the popularity of the head of the National Camp bloc and member of the War Cabinet, Benny Gantz, highlighting that he has significantly surpassed the Likud Party led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However, the surprise in the poll was the fall under the threshold rate of the far-right and racist Religious Zionist Party, headed by the Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich.


We’ve been fighting poverty all wrong (Oshan Jarow, Nov 20, 2023, Vox)

Over the course of 2021, child poverty was cut nearly in half, and the long-running fear at the heart of the American welfare system — that unconditional aid would discourage work — never came to pass.

Then, to the dismay of advocates and recipients alike, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) blocked the Democratic Party’s effort to make the expansion permanent, fearing, among other familiar concerns like the cost, that recipients would just buy drugs (the data shows that recipients spent the money on food, clothes, utilities, rent, and education). Come 2022, phase-ins returned to the CTC, approximately 3.7 million children were immediately thrust back into poverty in January, and the rest of the year saw the sharpest rise in the history of recorded child poverty rates.

Phase-ins have long had critics across the political aisle, but their arguments have generally been grounded in small-scale pilot experiments, appeals to morality, or even philosophizing about human nature. Now that we have real-world evidence from a nationwide, year-long experiment, the expanded CTC’s success should ignite efforts to roll back phase-ins across the board. That also means cutting them from the CTC’s sister program, the earned income tax credit (EITC), which phases in as a supplement to wages for low-income Americans and helps about 31 million Americans.

The expanded CTC is estimated to have reduced child poverty rates anywhere from 29 percent to 43 percent, with the vast majority of that drop attributable to removing phase-ins. Extending that success to include the EITC would cut child poverty by an estimated 64 percent.


Offshore wind is at a crossroads. Here’s what you need to know. (Heather Richards, 11/13/2023, E&E News)

[B]oth analysts and developers remain confident that this period of instability could also reset the offshore wind sector and refocus policy priorities on building an industry and supply chain that’s sustainable.

“We need to slow down a little bit in our growth,” Jan Matthiesen, director of offshore wind for the research and consultancy group Carbon Trust, said at the Turn Forward press briefing. “Give the supply chain some room to actually breathe and catch up.”

With U.S. offshore wind at a crossroads, here’s four questions answered.

Why are only some projects in trouble?
While it’s clear the entire offshore wind industry is facing significant headwinds, the impacts haven’t been equally felt.

A slew of projects have broadcast their vulnerability. In addition to the now-canceled Ocean Wind project, New York’s Beacon Wind, Empire Wind 1 and 2, and Sunrise Wind are on the ropes. Two Massachusetts projects, SouthCoast Wind and Commonwealth Wind, are paying million-dollar penalties to break contracts with utilities with plans to rebid in future state solicitations.

“It’s largely an issue of timing,” explained Tim Fox, a research analyst with ClearView Energy Partners. “Projects that bid into solicitations before macroeconomic factors arrived, but then had to secure contracts amid high interest rates and inflation, face serious headwinds.”

Some projects are barreling forward — like Vineyard Wind, a joint project of Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners off the coast of Massachusetts. The first large project permitted in the U.S., Vineyard is under construction with full operations beginning by next year. South Fork Wind, an Ørsted project off the coast of Rhode Island that will power New York, may go live even sooner.

A similar spirit of confidence is occurring in Virginia, where the utility Dominion Energy said last week that its 176-turbine Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project is on schedule. Monopile foundations have already been delivered.

The troubles thrashing some offshore wind projects highlight some of the benefits that Virginia’s project uniquely enjoys.

It is the only project being developed in the U.S. solely by a regulated utility. Richmond-based Dominion is a monopoly in Virginia, though it also has customers across 14 other states.

That means its investments are paid for by electric consumers, with utility regulators approving a return on the investment as profit. Dominion has already fought, and won, for its right to proceed with a project that is costing roughly $2 billion more than it had planned.

“Dominion’s smart strategy has helped it avoid the same issues faced by its competitors. They are the off taker — they are able to pass on cost increases to consumers,” said Atin Jain, wind analyst at BloombergNEF.

He noted that Dominion secured supply deals with turbine manufacturers in 2021, before inflation drove up costs. The Coastal Virginia project will also be “huge,” with a capacity of 2.6 GW, enabling the company to benefit from economies of scale.

The project, which got final approval from the Interior Department last month, is also building its own ship, the Charybdis, to install its turbines.

Expected to be complete by early 2025, the $650 million vessel means the utility won’t have to fight with other developers over a limited number of installation vessels, said Søren Lassen, head of offshore wind research at Wood Mackenzie. Plus, Dominion will be able to pay off some of its investment in the ship by leasing the vessel out to other U.S. projects, he said.


Gentlemen and Chivalry in the Age of Steel (SCOTT HOWARD, NOV 18, 2023, Freemen News-Letter)

Of all the great works of the Western literary canon, one that too often goes unknown or undiscussed is the Enseignements of Louis IX, a letter to his son. The letter modeled for his son what it meant to be a good Christian king in his time. The letter speaks of virtue and sacrifice. It implores the next king to be just to all his subjects and to remember that they are all brothers of his in the eyes of Christ. In short, the letter preaches the virtues of a good Christian statesman.

Though we live in an era where Christian monarchs are few and far between, the lessons of Saint Louis’ letter remain relevant. It is not merely a portrait of a good statesman. The letter describes, in part at least, what it means to be a good gentleman in the Western tradition. The virtues of the gentleman—to be just and kind to those around you and to strive to be a good man in the face of all challenges—are principles present throughout the Western canon. […]

I will leave off with another quote to ponder, this time from James Russell Lowell, related to the crisis of modern man:

“It is man who is sacred: it is his duties and opportunities, not his rights, that nowadays need reinforcing. It is honor, justice, culture that make liberty invaluable, else worse worthless if it means freedom to be base and brutal.”

-James Russell Lowell, Letter to Joel Benton, 1876

Reminding men of their duties and opportunities—reminding them that their liberty requires tempering—is the first step towards resurrecting the gentleman.

Liberty is a social virtue; freedom an anti-social vice.


Pockets of price deflation might be around the corner — just ask Walmart (Neil Irwin & Courtenay Brown, 11/17/23, Axios)

The American Farm Bureau said in its annual tally that the average price of a Thanksgiving dinner meal with turkey and sides is down 4.5% from 2022’s record high.

The intrigue: For general merchandise — all items excluding groceries — Walmart is rolling back pricing, “which will help our customers during this holiday season,” McMillon said.


Trump’s Own Witness in Fraud Trial Admits He Knows Nothing About Finances (Tori Otten, November 17, 2023, New Republic)

Laposa said the attorney general’s approach to valuation was “flawed” because it relied on a market value analysis of Trump’s properties. He argued it should have been based on the investment value, which takes into account the owner’s investment requirements.

When Laposa returned to the stand Friday, a lawyer for the attorney general’s office asked him if he had any experience reviewing personal financial statements. Laposa said no.

The lawyer, Louis Solomon, then asked if Laposa is or has ever been a certified appraiser. Again, Laposa said no.

Solomon cited Laposa’s initial deposition from July, in which he said that when “disparate valuations exist, it is prudent and common practice to examine the underlying assumptions.” Laposa admitted he had not done so with Trump’s valuations.

Laposa also revealed he had never seen the financial statements for Trump’s property at 40 Wall Street, which might make it difficult to value the property accurately. (On the stand Thursday, Laposa said that 40 Wall Street in Manhattan was also undervalued.)

It’s unclear what Trump’s legal team sought to accomplish by bringing in Laposa as an expert witness. His disastrous testimony reflects how much of the trial has gone for Trump.

Pretty hilarious that Never Trumpers pretended this was a weak case to try to establish their bona fides.


All Classics Are Funny: If it isn’t hilarious, do you really think anyone is going to be reading it in ten thousand years? I didn’t think so. (JOEL CUTHBERTSON, NOV 10, 2023, The Bulwark)

ALL THE BEST JOKES, whether literary or otherwise, include some obscure and mysterious mix of expected and unexpected. If a punchline lands—if you get walloped, or even tapped upside the head—it’s because the writer used the quick hit of the expected to distract you from the oncoming haymaker of the unexpected. There’s no getting around metaphors here. Why is a joke funny? We will see the face of God before the truth is known. Possibly God will say, “What do you call a sea creature who keeps banging on the door?” And as the seventh seal is opened, we will glow with glory, murmuring, “O Lord, a knock-topus.”

But I don’t mean that all jokes are simply puns. Consider Norm Macdonald’s all-time late-night routine. “In the early part of the previous century, Germany decided to go to war. And, uh, who did they go to war with? The world.” This verbal gag turns on the way “World War” has been lodged into our brains as a stock phrase, one that has become abstracted and detached from the specific historical realities it’s meant to designate. Norm’s brilliant reifying swerve is the result of his attention to that curious slippage. (“It was actually close,” he says, keeping at it.)

The same deep attention that enables great jokes can be found in all the books that have earned the “classic” label. Without humor, without the heel-turn of wit, a book’s range shrinks. The re-readability of lasting works is based on the vivacity of the text’s continual swerves, the mix of expectations met, undermined, and overturned. Humor is a virtuosic form of the mind’s spontaneous engagement with the world: Take it away, and the text’s formal vitality, even in the best dramatic outings, withers.