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Hunter Biden Has It Coming
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Hunter Biden Has It Coming

On America’s gun laws, housing prices, the country between Pakistan and Bangladesh, attorneys general, Texas, and 9/11.

President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden arrives for a court appearance at the J. Caleb Boggs Federal Building on Wednesday, July 26, 2023, in Wilmington, DE. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Before the month of September is out, the federal government will indict Hunter Biden on federal firearms charges. 

Apparently, the guys in charge of U.S. law enforcement have decided to enforce U.S. law—well, raise my rent!

When you buy a firearm, you fill out a form provided by the ATF, Form 4473. You are required to answer—truthfully!—certain questions about whether you are disqualified from buying a firearm: Are you a convicted felon or under felony indictment? Under a domestic abuse protective order? An illegal alien? One of those questions reads:

“Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?”

If Hunter Biden had answered “yes” to that question, then he would not have been allowed to purchase a firearm; if he answered “no”—which he presumably did—then he lied on a federal firearms application, which is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. In addition, the crime of being an unlawful user of drugs in possession of a firearm is another separate felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

(I do not think this ruling, which might bring the latter charge into question, is likely to stand.)

When Julius Caesar was serving as chief priest (pontifex maximus) of the Roman state religion, a young schemer named Clodius managed to sneak into Caesar’s home while Caesar’s wife, Pompeia, was hosting a religious ceremony that men were forbidden to attend. Apparently, his plan was to seduce Mrs. Caesar. Caesar had the young man tried on criminal sacrilege charges (here one imagines Sohrab Ahmari nodding in approval), and the defendant was acquitted—but Caesar divorced his wife anyway, declaring, as legend has it, “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.” People close to those in possession of awesome power are naturally held to a higher standard. 

Caesar’s wife, sure—and Caesar’s idiot dope-fiend son, too. 

People who do not wish to see Joe Biden’s reelection prospects damaged by the shenanigans of his son with the freebase-and-hookers habit will complain—and are complaining—that people are rarely charged with a crime for lying on the ATF form, and almost never charged with the five-year felony simply for being illegal drug users in possession of a firearm. If it were up to me, I’d legalize all the drugs in Hunter Biden’s secret stash and the prostitution too—and I’d probably disband the ATF and have the sale of firearms regulated by state and local business regulators as an ordinary retail-regulation matter. I definitely would not have a law on the books making it a five-year felony for a pot-smoker in Idaho to have a gun in his refrigerator like everybody else in Idaho does. 

But we have those laws on the books. And those laws should be enforced. They should be enforced with especial vigor when it comes to those who wield the power of the state and those who make their livings—a very nice living in Hunter Biden’s case—from their remora-like parasitic access to the political power held by their daddies.

As president, Joe Biden has signed laws that make it more difficult for law-abiding people to exercise their Second Amendment rights (albeit in mostly trivial ways), and as a senator, Joe Biden preened endlessly about what a tough-on-crime guy he was. 

Well, genius—these are your laws, and this is your idiot son. The chances that the latter was going to get tangled up in the former were always pretty high. The people who write these laws never think it will be them or their families in the crosshairs—or in the pokey. But these are the rules we live under, and the very legitimacy of our government rests on the foundational, creedal commitment to the fact that we all live under them.

Is that equality under the law? No, not exactly. There never is equality under the law for someone like Hunter Biden. It’s just that the inequality usually runs in their favor. 

Making an example of Hunter Biden would be an excellent exercise in civic hygiene. It also might be understood as—the times being what they are!—a good start. 

If Hunter Biden and Donald Trump end up sewing mattresses next to each other in the same UNICOR workshop, nobody will be more pleased than I.

Hunter Biden has had a pretty good run. I’m sure it’s been a heck of a party. Time to settle up. 

Economics for English Majors

The thing about markets is: They work. 

Housing prices have been declining for months. That’s inconvenient for me, personally, because I have a house for sale, but it’s probably a good thing, overall. I don’t see how in the long term we can sustain a situation in which the median price of a house is six times the median household income. The usual guidance holds that a family can afford a house about 2.5 times its income. Maybe some families can finesse that a little bit, but six times your income is a big number.

(Don’t buy a house that costs six times your income unless you are paying cash and will have a whole lot of cash left over.)

Housing prices have been declining because fewer people want to buy houses—and those who are buying are more careful about prices than they were a few years ago. That is because of inflation—or, more precisely, because of the necessary anti-inflation measures that have been enacted following the plague of price increases from which we have recently suffered.

In the United States, we fight inflation by raising interest rates, and higher interest rates overall mean higher interest rates on mortgages. That math is pretty straightforward: If you buy a $500,000 house with 20 percent down and a 3-percent mortgage, then you are, according to my English-major math, going to pay about $12,000 a year in interest (3 percent of the $400,000 mortgage), meaning that about $1,000 of your monthly house payment will go to interest. (I know, it’s actually more complicated than that. But, for our purposes here, this is close enough.) But with mortgage rates pushing 8 percent, then you are accruing $32,000 a year in interest alone, or nearly $2,700 a month. In a lot of places, that $2,700 a month in interest plus the cost of insurance—money that does not add to your equity—would cover a pretty nice rental. So, why buy?

You’d think that this would be a great time to buy a house if you have cash in hand and don’t need a mortgage, but that isn’t necessarily the case, either. Most of the people who are selling houses are also buying houses, and if you have a 30-year mortgage locked in at 2.8 percent, then you probably don’t want to trade that for a mortgage (likely a bigger one—who are we kidding?) at 8 percent or so. So the higher interest rates put downward pressure on the prices of houses, which made people less eager to sell, and put upward pressure on the price of borrowing for a new house, which also made some people less likely to sell, because they’d have to borrow to buy. 

So prices went down, and the inventory of houses available to buy went down, too. With supply low and demand more or less steady, that situation put upward pressure on the prices of houses, which we saw in July, when the seven-month decline in U.S. house prices turned around. That will bring more houses into the marketplace, which will put a little more downward pressure on house prices, though maybe not enough to send overall prices back into negative territory. 

Supply and demand—it works, when we let it work.

Words About Words

India is a place with a lot of names. There’s “India,” of course, and “Hindustan” survives in common usage, as in the Hindustan Times. And then there is the ancient and evocative name “Bharat,” which is known in the West mainly from the name of India’s main right-wing political party, the BJP, Bharatiya Janata Party or Indian People’s Party. 

(Janata, which has a resonance something like “We the People” does in the United States, shows up in several Indian political party names: Janata Dal or People’s Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal or National People’s Party, etc.)

The parallel isn’t exact, of course, but for Anglophone Americans, the easiest thing is to think of “India” as “the United States” and “Bharat” as “America.” “The United States” is a political entity, of course, and the common formal name of our country, whereas “America” is something more deeply felt. “The United States” has a claim on our civic duty, whereas “America” has a claim on that deeper kind of patriotism. Canadians complain about this, of course: “We’re Americans, too!” But everybody knows who Americans are and what Americans mean by America. That’s why you never hear the Mexicans complain about it—they’re Americans in the geographic sense, and North Americans at that. But everybody knows what Americans means. 

Recently, the president of India sent out an invitation identifying herself as the president of Bharat, and the prime minister, Narendra Modi of the BJP, has now weighed in on the issue.* An opposition group has taken up the acronym INDIA, for Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (ye gods, these acronym-loving politicians are really all the same everywhere in the world), and Modi, who has all of the subtlety of a grand piano crashing on the sidewalk after having been dropped from the top of the Empire State Building, observed that “India” appears in the names of the East India Company (the hated colonizers), the Indian Mujahideen (Muslim terrorists), and the Popular Front of India, a radical Muslim political group. “Chehre par chehre laga lete hai log” (“these people are wearing disguises”), Modi added about the opposition group.

India is, of course, an English word, and, in that sense, a reminder of India’s humiliation by foreign occupiers. But English is also one of India’s two national languages, and the only one of those two languages (the other is Hindi) that is spoken throughout the country. When I lived in India in the 1990s, anti-Hindi sentiment was so strong in the south of India that the locals would tear down signs in Hindi. The prime minister at the time did not even speak Hindi and delivered most of his speeches in English. (Until he didn’t. “Don’t force English on Hindi-speaking people!” went the complaint, until the PM tried giving a speech in Hindi, and it was a fiasco. The next day, my newspaper carried a cartoon of an angry nationalist bearing the placard: “Don’t force Hindi on Hindi-speaking people!”) English in our time is—in an important sense by no means limited to its widespread use in India—an Asian language. 

Countries do play with their names, of course. There are people in the Czech Republic who want the country to be known as Czechia. The Czech branch of our family tends to simply say Czech when referring to the country while speaking in English. This appears to be something countries do when they are suffering from a crisis in confidence: Nobody seems to be much confused about what to call France. (You know what I like about the French? Their government may be dysfunctional and their civil society deeply troubled, but the French never apologize for being French, for preferring the French language, French culture, and the French way of life.)

Among conservative activists, one hears a constant refrain that we should call ourselves this instead of that: nationalists and not conservatives, or classical liberals and not libertarians. Some say we shouldn’t call capitalism capitalism, but economic liberty or free markets or something else. People talk about nomenclature mainly when they don’t have anything useful or creative to say about the real issues. Conservatives in the United States have a lot of problems (mainly other “conservatives”), few of which really have to do with what we call ourselves. People who say they hate capitalism know what they are talking about, and they aren’t going to stop hating business and free markets and international exchange and the rest of it if we call it something else. People who don’t want pro-life laws aren’t going to start liking them if we don’t call them “pro-life.”

Similarly, the people in that very interesting country between Pakistan and Bangladesh—names that have interesting histories of their own!—can call themselves whatever they think best. But I don’t think a rebranding is going to solve any of that country’s very real problems, either—assuming that solving those problems is still something on Mr. Modi’s agenda. 

In Other Wordiness …

For the love of all that is good and holy, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is not “General Paxton,” or “General” anything, other than, you know, a general putz. “General” is a military rank; “attorney general” is not a rank of any kind. The “general” in “attorney general” is an adjective modifying the noun “attorney”—the attorney general is the attorney in charge of legal work that is general to the state. The military rank “general” has a similar origin—it is a shortening of “general officer” (from the French capitaine general). “General,” in that sense, means “overall,” or “having authority or position over a wide enterprise.” In some countries at some times, a business could give itself a name like General Motors, General Steel, General Electric, or General Mills without the government’s permission—such firms were expected to be quasi-state, corporatist enterprises. (Something General Electric has been at points in its corporate history.) But the CEO of General Mills is not General Harmening—he’s just “Jeff,” at least to his friends. (Presumably; I don’t know anything about the guy.) “General” was made into a military rank and title over the years; “attorney general” is just a job description. 

The general inflation of political titles (people calling Cocaine Mitch “Leader McConnell” in general conversation, people calling one-term state executives from 30 years ago Governor Smith, etc.) is a contemptible feature of our current political life—dominated as it is by a ruling class with too much self-importance and too little self-respect—but calling state attorneys “General Paxton” and such is just gross, stupid, silly, ugly, stupid, illiterate, unrepublican, stupid, sycophantic, and stupid. 

Knock it off. 

More Texas Stuff

Because I have been writing about High Texan Weirdness in the “General” Paxton impeachment matter, a few other Texas-related issues have come up in the comments. One of these involves the supposed legal right Texas has to divide itself into a total of five states. Along with Texas’ supposed (in fact, fictitious) constitutional right to secede from the Union, the “Texas tots” issue, as the division question is locally known, is mostly (mostly!) myth. 

(I would call it “urban legend,” but Texas wasn’t a very urban place until fairly recently in its history; today, Texas is slightly more urban than is the United States at large in terms of its population distribution. The more you know!) 

But before I get into that, here’s a little bit of chum for the conspiracy kooks: I am not entirely convinced that the process by which Texas was brought into the Union was 100 percent constitutionally kosher. I am not a secessionist (or “Texas nationalist”) and don’t have any interest in reconfiguring the Union (the right side won that war, glory hallelujah), but, as a matter of historical interest, there’s some fun stuff in there. But, for the record, the state of Texas “has a long-standing tradition of existence to its members and to the community at large,” and I prefer to keep it that way.

For the most part, states have entered the Union after being legally organized as federal territories. That did not happen with Texas, because Texas was a sovereign republic. (Texans will tell you that ours is the only state that was a sovereign country of its own, but that is not true: California was a republic, Vermont was a republic, Hawaii was a republic, etc. Florida was kinda-sorta two republics, for a minute.) The process by which Texas was going to be brought into the Union began, appropriately enough, with a treaty. That treaty not only failed to win ratification, it was positively rejected by the Senate, which feared that it would cause a war with Mexico. The failed treaty was followed by a joint resolution, which simply put the treaty into the form of a bill to avoid the need for ratification by a Senate supermajority. Many members of Congress at the time believed that to be constitutionally questionable, as do I. The joint resolution went through a few amendments and eventually was passed and signed by the president. But it should be noted that this joint resolution did not bring Texas into the Union—it authorized the U.S. government to make Texas an offer for annexation. 

There was a lot of slavery-related politics at work in Texas annexation, and that was driving the division issue. Anti-slavery forces in Congress were told—wrongly, as it turns out—that the annexation of Texas would mean the admission of one new slave state carved out of the east of Texas while the rest of the state would be left as unorganized territory, giving slavery no beachhead there.

The U.S. government dispatched an offer to the congress in Texas, which eventually was accepted. But the statute by which Texas was actually brought into the Union is pretty vague. For example, it does not even define the boundaries of the state/territory or declare which part of the territory is actually in the new state. Sticky questions of sovereign debt and property—including slaves—were simply ignored. The law simply says that the new state will be … at some point in the future … mapped out “subject to the adjustment by this government” which will … at some point in the future … address “all questions of boundary that may arise with other governments.” One of those “other governments” was that of Mexico, which still claimed land that may or may not have been understood as “rightfully belonging to the Republic of Texas,” which is what the federal statute purports to annex without ever specifying where such territory begins or ends. 

The questions brought up by the annexation of Texas are still with us in many ways. For example, the Paris climate agreement is a treaty that never was ratified by the Senate—and that would be rejected by the Senate if put to a ratification vote today—but it has been given the force of law (notionally) by means of executive order, with President Barack Obama (and, later, President Joe Biden) usurping a power rightfully belonging to the Senate. Pretending that a treaty isn’t a treaty because you don’t want to bother getting two-thirds support in the Senate doesn’t mean that the treaty stops being a treaty.

I don’t think there’s anything to be done about it. (Texas annexation, I mean.) I can’t imagine what the current crop of miscreants, fools, and grifters who dominate politics in Washington and in Austin would do if asked to revisit the question today. But at the same time, I think those constitutional formalities are very important. We should not play fast and loose with them.

That being said: No, Texas does not have a constitutional right to secede. And it doesn’t really have a right to divide itself into several new states, either, at least not unilaterally: The Constitution pretty clearly requires congressional action to redraw the lines of existing states. 

If you want some place that is a lot like Texas but that is independent of Washington—a place that even enjoys the protection of the U.S. military while paying no taxes for the support of that military—then I suggest Costa Rica. And the beaches at Tamarindo are, forgive my saying so, a lot nicer than the Gulf Coast beaches we have in Texas. 

And Furthermore …

Danielle Outlaw may have one of the best names in law enforcement, but she also has one of the worst records. The outgoing Philadelphia police superintendent leaves behind a city mired in violence and disorder—and genuinely shocking conditions in its poorest neighborhoods. Naturally, she has failed upward (or at least laterally) to a job at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which already has a superabundant supply of mediocrity. 

Recommended …

The abandoned downtowns of the Texas Panhandle are something to see.

Also: You might be interested in the entertaining and useful personal-finance podcast “Two Black Guys with Good Credit.”


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In Closing

Today is the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Those of you who do not remember what the United States was like before that simply do not know the country I grew up in. Looking at the way the country has been deformed—morally, spiritually, and most obviously politically—in the years after that event, overwhelmed by the gusher of paranoia, fear, and resentment that the trauma of those attacks unleashed, it is difficult for me to resist the pessimistic little voice in my head insisting that, in some meaningful way, the bad guys won.

I sometimes think of a man I knew who, at an unhappy juncture in his life, set about programmatically drinking himself to death. He had a family and people who cared about him, enough money to live without even working, resources that most people don’t have access to, a degree from a good school, above-average intelligence, etc. He could have done better—he just didn’t want to. If you want your addled and doomed mascot for early 21st-century America, there it is. 

September 11 also is the memorial day for, among others, José María Segura Panadés, who died an untimely death, too—martyred during the Spanish Civil War for the crime of being a Christian priest.

The point isn’t to avoid an early death, to live a long and comfortable life, though it is good to enjoy these if it is possible. But the real thing, the necessary thing, is to live—and, if necessary, to die—for something that matters, something that is more significant than the next 15 minutes or 15 years of superficial pleasure or transient pain. To love your enemies and to pray for those who would do you harm is not a reasonable thing or a practical thing. It is a heroic thing. As Charles Krauthammer famously said, “Decline is a choice.” So is mediocrity. And I do not think Americans were made for mediocrity. They may, however, choose mediocrity. Or they may choose to be heroes.

Correction, September 11, 2023: This article originally misidentified Indian President Droupadi Murmu as a man.

Kevin D. Williamson is national correspondent at The Dispatch and is based in Virginia. Prior to joining the company in 2022, he spent 15 years as a writer and editor at National Review, worked as the theater critic at the New Criterion, and had a long career in local newspapers. He is also a writer in residence at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. When Kevin is not reporting on the world outside Washington for his Wanderland newsletter, you can find him at the rifle range or reading a book about literally almost anything other than politics.