All the Right Enemies, Part III

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.) speaks during CPAC in Orlando, Fla., February 26, 2021. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)

Ron DeSantis has all the right enemieswe’ve established that much. Lucky for the Florida governor, ever-more ridiculous people alleging ever-more ridiculous things continue to assail him, sending his stock soaring ever-higher.

This time it’s Joy Reid of MSNBC coming for DeSantis’s scalp, and incredibly, she’s found something worthy of even more mockery than manufacturing a tendentious COVID-related scandal. Instead, Reid attempted, with the aid of Glenn Kirschner, to drag DeSantis’s name through the mud by implying that he’s at risk of being exposed in the still-developing Matt Gaetz sex scandal:

JOY REID: So, the question for Gaetz, because, obviously, Greenberg has to give somebody bigger than him. That would be Gaetz. Here is, at least per the reporting, the people who were on that Bahamas trip. Notice if you see somebody’s name that rings a couple of times. You had at least five women, per Politico. You had Gaetz. You had a guy named Jason Pirozzolo, the hand surgeon and GOP fundraiser to Ron DeSantis, who, apparently, Gaetz wanted to turn into the attorney general of Florida. There’s Halsey Beshears, a former state legislator and former appointed official in the DeSantis administration. If you’re Ron DeSantis, does this feel like it’s creeping closer to you? Because these are your friends. These are your allies.

GLENN KIRSCHNER: Yes, just as Greenberg’s lawyer said about Matt Gaetz when he left the courthouse the other day, he said, you know what, if I were Matt Gaetz, I don’t think I’d be all that comfortable right about now, you have to believe that DeSantis — I mean, these are his boys. These are his guys, right?

REID: Yeah.

KIRSCHNER: We’ve seen the pictures. We’ve heard the stories. You have to believe that Ron DeSantis, if he has done anything wrong, feels like things are creeping closer and closer to him.

Curtis Houck of Newsbusters captured the clip for the masochistic among you:

The totality of the theory is that because a few Florida Republicans are being investigated, the state’s Republican governor must be guilty of some similarly heinous crimes — and perhaps can even be assumed to be the mastermind behind it all. That’s it, that’s all they’ve got. There once was a time when basic decency, as well as a capacity for embarrassment, would have precluded Reid and Kirschner from smearing someone on national television like this. It’s a boon to DeSantis’s 2022 reelection effort and prospective 2024 presidential run that that time has long since passed.

Politics & Policy

Poll Showing Americans Are ‘Overwhelmingly’ Pro–Transgender Ideology Is Misleading

Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives pose for a photograph holding LBGT+ and Transgender Pride flags on the steps of the U.S. Capitol ahead of a vote on the Equality Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C, February 25, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

PBS reports that “the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, says more than 30 state legislatures have proposed more than 115 bills that would limit transgender rights, from participation on sports teams to access to medical care.”

PBS does not scrutinize this claim. Which ought to be your first red flag. (The Human Rights Campaign is an extremely bloated and powerful lobby group whose monomaniacal focus these days is to enshrine gender-identity ideology into law and life by hijacking the legacy of Civil Rights.)

In the states the Human Rights Campaign refers to, transgender-identified persons would still be able to participate on sports teams (according to these mischaracterized bills), they would only have to do so in accordance with their biological sex or in a co-ed team. As for the claim that “medical care” is being denied — it obviously isn’t. If any transgender-identified person showed up at a hospital requiring medical assistance, they would have the same rights and access as anyone else. However, neither chemical nor surgical castration of children (which is what these bills would outlaw) is medical care, but rather reckless experimentation.

PBS then cites a PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll that purportedly demonstrates that most Americans support the transgender-activist agenda.

Participants were asked, “Do you support or oppose legislation that would prohibit gender transition-related medical care for minors?” Out of 1,066 participants, only 26 percent of Democrats and 26 percent of Republicans said that they would support such legislation. But I wonder how many it would have been if they had asked Do you support or oppose legislation that would prohibit the chemical castration of children as was recently outlawed in England?

Similarly, with “Do you support or oppose legislation that would prohibit transgender student-athletes from joining sports teams that match their gender identity?” Only 25 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of Republicans said they would support such legislation. But what if it had been worded as, Do you support or oppose legislation that would prohibit biological males from competing against females?

The whole thing is so shrouded in euphemism, and so lacking in factual context, that these polls tell us nothing about what Americans really think about the policy consequences of transgender ideology.

National Review

The May 3, 2021, Issue of National Review is Live!


Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battle station.

The new issue of NR is out — live on the Web, shooting through the pneumatic tubes toward your mailbox, accessible via the mobile device and/or tablet of your choice, and coming to a newsstand near you. I suppose you could even head over to your local public library and find it in the periodicals section.

What’s in this thing? Well, stand by for NR editor-in-chief Rich Lowry’s epic takedown of the Mistress of Propaganda, the Queen Bee of Agitprop, the Fount of Disinformation, a.k.a., Georgia’s Stacey Abrams.

“Abrams,” Rich writes, “is treated as an authority on all matters related to voting, when, in reality, the beginning of wisdom on such questions is realizing how utterly wrong she is.”

If you’ve ever stopped to ponder just how weird it is for the New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN to sanctify Abrams after she refused to concede Georgia’s 2020 gubernatorial election while — justly — criticizing a certain former president for doing the same thing, you’ll want to read this article.

It’s always, and I do mean always, Infrastructure Week to American politicians. They’re going to spend your money to build you stuff that you may or may not have asked for — but do any of these boondoggles make any sense? Roving correspondent Kevin Williamson tackles our national addiction to spending other people’s money on shovel-ready projects in “Infrastructure in Theory and Practice.”

As Joe Biden loads his federal money howitzer and touts his newer new New Deal, is he setting himself up to be the next LBJ or FDR? No, writes Ramesh Ponnurru, Biden isn’t even setting himself up to be the next Obama. Check out “Biden’s Stalled Revolution.”

Elsewhere in this issue, Ross Douthat looks at the strangely normal action hero in the new film Nobody, Joseph Epstein reviews a new book on Julius Caesar’s famous assassins, Michael Brendan Dougherty defends your front lawn from the eco-radicals, Perry Link indicts the Chinese Communist Party for its attempts to destroy the ancient traditions of Chinese culture and custom, Jay Nordlinger breaks down what makes a good TV theme song, and Oren Cass and Richard Oyeniran explain how the United States must retake the lead in the great 21st-century semiconductor race.

Of course, the only way to get all of this great content is to join NR’s all-powerful Death Star: NRPLUS.

You’ll get unlimited access to NR’s magazine and archives, as well as 90 percent fewer ads on NRO (including no pop-ups, auto-play videos, or ad galleries), and a wide-range of VIP community perks exclusive to members.

Become an NRPLUS member today.

Politics & Policy

Has Court-Packing Worked Before?


My Bloomberg Opinion column is about President Biden’s new “Supreme Court reform” commission. One of the topics I take up is whether FDR’s attempt to pack the Court succeeded in intimidating the justices.

The story goes that in 1937 Justice Owen Roberts stopped blocking New Deal legislation because he feared court-packing. He had voted to strike down minimum-wage laws, but joined a majority that upheld a minimum wage weeks after Roosevelt announced his plan to expand the court. It was “the switch in time that saved nine,” a paraphrase of a comment that columnist Cal Tinney made at the time.

There are, however, reasons to doubt this popular account. Most historians agree that the minimum-wage decision was reached before FDR’s announcement, and that opposition to the court-packing effort was unmistakably building before the decision came down.

I go on to address whether today’s justices are likely to be intimidated by the Court-packers.

Politics & Policy

Biden’s Corporate-Tax Disconnect


Jeff Stein reports for the Washington Post:

Faced with criticism over their proposed tax hikes, senior Biden administration officials have in recent days pointed to large American corporations that are paying no federal income taxes. . . .

But tax experts are not sure whether Biden’s plan would in fact substantially reduce the number of large corporations paying zero dollars in federal income taxes.

They’re also not sure, Stein notes, whether it is a big problem that some corporations pay nothing — especially since they are paying nothing because they are engaging in conduct that Congress specifically encouraged them to do by cutting their taxes in return for it. The good news, if you’re a left-winger, is that if Biden’s plan goes through, this talking point about big companies paying nothing will still be available to help sell the next round of tax hikes.

Politics & Policy

Why Is Joe Biden Blocking Joe Biden from Raising the Refugee Cap?

President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 12, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

President Joe Biden, speaking at the U.S. State Department, February 4:

Today, I’m approving an executive order to begin the hard work of restoring our refugee admissions program to help meet the unprecedented global need.  It’s going to take time to rebuild what has been so badly damaged, but that’s precisely what we’re going to do.

This executive order will position us to be able to raise the refugee admissions back up to 125,000 persons for the first full fiscal year of the Biden-Harris administration.  And I’m directing the State Department to consult with Congress about making a down payment on that commitment as soon as possible.

Oddly, 72 days after that announcement, Biden has not signed that executive order. This is not a situation where Biden needs Congress to pass legislation. He can change the refugee cap with the stroke of his pen. Biden simply hasn’t gotten around to it.

CNN cites unnamed sources who say Biden has resisted signing off on raising the Trump-era refugee cap because of political optics. That may be the case, but it doesn’t reflect well for Biden to publicly pledge to do something, and then renege on that pledge, because he thinks it will be unpopular – and it’s particularly bad to renege on the promise and then refuse to explain why.

Yesterday, Jen Psaki had an almost comical inability to explain why Biden hadn’t signed an executive order he had promised more than two months ago:

Q    You know, we hear a lot of concerns from your allies on Capitol Hill.  And I think the big concern is not necessarily, right now, when is the President going to sign the directive; it’s what are the issues that are holding it up.  And I feel like Democratic senators we’ve spoken to don’t have answers to that, even though they said they’ve reached out to you guys.  We don’t have answers that either.  Are there actual, tangible reasons why this has not been signed yet?
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I can assure you and I can assure anyone who has concerns that the President remains committed to this issue.  He is somebody who believes that refugees, that immigrants are the heart and soul of our country, and they have been for decades.

And that is why he has proposed, you know, a comprehensive immigration reform bill.  That is why he wants to improve the — the processing of those seeking asylum at the border.  And it certainly is an issue he remains committed to.  That’s why he — he stated that.  But I don’t have an update on the timeline of the signing.

Q    I didn’t ask about the timeline.  The reasons though — what is the holdup here?  Is it —
MS. PSAKI:  It remains — it remains an issue.  The President remains committed to raising the refugee cap, and I can assure anyone who has concerns that that remains the case.

Maybe it’s like Joe Biden’s promise to not hold children in detention centers, his promise to send out $2,000 stimulus checks, his promise to establish a national commission on policing, or to not raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000, or to punish the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, or his promise to end the use of standardized testing in schools…

Maybe Joe Biden just makes a lot of promises to a lot of people that he isn’t all that committed to keeping.

UPDATE: Around midday, the administration announced they would keep the refugee cap number at 15,000, and change the regional allocation of those refugees.

Politics & Policy

The Performative, Self-Serving Boehner-Cruz Spat

House Republican Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio) speaks during a news conference of newly-elected House GOP leaders in Washington, D.C., November 18, 2010. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Don’t let the headline fool you: the contempt John Boehner and Ted Cruz have for each other appears to be anything but manufactured. In fact, contempt seems to be all that the two Republican politicos have for one another. And yet, it’s hard to see their most recent spat — which comes nearly six years after Boehner’s retirement — as anything but performative kabuki theater.

Boehner’s much-anticipated memoir, On the House, has served as the catalyst for the revival of this old feud — his camp has spent months dropping hints that the book would be harshly critical of the Texas senator. More than anything else, Boehner’s inclusion of what Axios‘s Jonathan Swan called “random violent attacks” such as, “Oh, and Ted Cruz, go f*** yourself” in the audiobook version has ginned up interest in On the House.

While Boehner drew first blood, Cruz has proven ready, willing, and eager to engage, telling the Daily Caller that “I think he [Boehner] was probably recording at nine or ten in the morning so obviously he had too much wine that day already.” Better yet, Cruz was able to use Boehner’s broadsides to burnish his anti-establishment credentials, tweeting: “The Swamp is unhappy. I wear with pride his drunken, bloviated scorn.”

This is a perfect exemplar of the all-too-common win-win-lose imbroglio, a classic of our politics. For the individuals in this equation, the calculation is simple: Boehner gets to sell more books and parade around the morning shows as the newest in a long line of “good ‘ole Republicans” who detest the new, uncouth kind. Cruz, meanwhile, gets to remind GOP primary voters just how hard he fought the establishment and to continue to atone for his crime of being an early critic of Donald Trump.

For the more passive losing actor, conservative voters, it’s another reminder that many high-profile Republican officeholders — establishment and insurgent — are far less worried about pursuing policy outcomes than they are brand-building and ladder-climbing. If Boehner and Cruz were fighting over the soul of the party or major philosophical differences, perhaps their little spat would be more tolerable. But since it’s small differences and ambition animating this pseudo-event, it may be long past time we adopted both men’s impression of the other.

Monetary Policy

Inflation Week!

(Nerthuz/Getty Images)

Inflation data updates (like shark TV programming) come in weekly spurts. Last Friday (April 9), we received the updated data for the Producer Prices Index, which tracks inflation for the cost of inputs for businesses. Then this past Tuesday, April 13, we got the star of the show, the Consumer Price Index data. Monetary policy is looking like a Great White and dollar purchasing power like an unlucky baby seal.

In March alone, consumer prices rose 0.62 percent. If that rate continued, that translates into an annualized rate of 7.4 percent. Year-to-date CPI inflation is running just a tad short of 5 percent.

The Producer Price Index is even worse. The Producer Price Index for final demand was up a full 1 percent in March alone, as it had been in April. Those are monthly numbers, not annual. (Producer Price Index News Release summary []).

The PPI for All Commodities was up 3.7 percent in March; again, that’s a monthly, not annual, number.

To the degree that doves have argued against inflation concerns based on the assertion that inflation hasn’t spiked yet, to that degree recent data have turned against them.

Of course, these are backward-looking inflation data that we are looking at. The main focus should be forward-looking.

Let’s take a look at the much-debated five-year treasury TIPS spread. We see that it has been trending in the wrong direction (upwards) since the depths of the COVID shutdown, as well as year-to-date. Monthly inflation expectations as of last month are at the highest level since June 2008, and only two basis points below that high point.

Inflation is rising quickly. Inflation expectations as reflected in TIPS yields are rising quickly. Inflation expectations as expressed in other markets such as commodities and foreign exchange have also risen dramatically. Inflation risks are clearly to the upside, which is exactly what one would expect given massive expansion in circulating domestic money supply.

Health Care

The Public-Health Establishment Has Lost Credibility

Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci waits to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 23, 2020. (Kevin Dietsch/Reuters Pool)

Public-health leaders have sown distrust throughout the pandemic, and the suspension of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the latest example. On one hand, if dangerous clotting is merely the one-in-a-million risk that it is reported to be, then the logic of suspending J&J is difficult to grasp. On the other hand, if health authorities have reason to believe the risk is much greater than one in a million, then they have not been forthcoming with the evidence. Either way, they are not serving the public interest.

The reversal on masks last spring was a similar disservice. Authorities were either genuinely mistaken when they advised against masks, or they were lying to preserve supplies. Either way, they gave the public a reason to discount their advice going forward.

The trust issues continued into the spring and summer of 2020, with three major events standing out. First, the justification for lockdowns changed from avoiding overrun hospitals to minimizing transmission generally. The result has been an endless hodgepodge of restrictions that goes far beyond “15 days to flatten the curve.” That such restrictions often seem to lack an evidentiary basis has added to the public’s skepticism. In fact, it is often difficult to see any relationship at all between lockdowns and viral transmission, but the restrictions persist.

A second breach of trust occurred after Memorial Day. Public-health experts who had deemed lockdowns essential decided to look the other way when Black Lives Matter protesters packed the streets. Over 1,000 experts even signed a letter explaining that BLM protests are more important than containing COVID, but anti-lockdown protests are “rooted in white nationalism” and must be condemned.

Third, schools remained closed even as reasonable evidence in the spring and overwhelming evidence by the fall showed they could be open with minimal risk. In February of this year, reopenings were further delayed after the CDC recommended impractical six-foot distancing in schools. The recommendation was not supported by data, but it was supported by the teachers’ unions with whom the CDC had consulted. More than a month went by before the agency changed course.

Those are the three failures that I find most significant, but the list could be much longer — initial downplaying of the virus, outdoor mask mandates, misleading claims about herd immunity, overly conservative rules for vaccinated people, and so on.

As NR’s editors have argued, reform of the public-health agencies will need to start with removing the incompetents, the self-promoters, and the partisans. But a shift in our own expectations for these agencies is needed as well. Health experts should provide a transparent accounting of the data, but only the people, acting through their elected leaders, can use that data to weigh competing priorities. As long as we continue to allow “The Science” to dictate political decisions, it should not be surprising when scientists act like politicians.


Scientists Make Human-Monkey Hybrid Embryos

(Thomas Peter/Reuters)

They said they wouldn’t do it, but of course they did. Scientists working in China — where else? — have constructed embryos that are part human and part monkey. From the Nature story:

In the study, researchers fertilized eggs extracted from cynomolgus monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) and grew them in culture. Six days after fertilization, the team injected 132 embryos with human extended pluripotent stem cells, which can grow into a range of cell types inside and outside an embryo. The embryos each developed unique combinations of human and monkey cells and deteriorated at varying rates: 11 days after fertilization, 91 were alive; this dropped to 12 embryos at day 17 and 3 embryos at day 19.

This is getting well out of hand. First, U.S. and other Western scientists go to China to conduct experiments for which they could not get government funding — a rush to the lowest common denominator that Stanford bioethicist William Hurlbut calls “outsourcing ethics.”

Second, this work cuts across crucial moral boundaries. These human-monkey cells would not have just been bone or kidney tissue, but also brain neurons. Moreover, we are not talking mice or rats but monkeys, which have a much closer genetic affinity with humans. What might result from such a combining? I don’t think we should find out.

Third, even scientists are concerned about the ethical propriety of this work — but they resist binding international regulations. Indeed, the International Society of Stem Cell Research will be publishing new voluntary “guidelines” to steer such work:

Meanwhile, international guidelines are catching up to the field’s advances — next month, the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) is expected to publish revised guidelines for stem-cell research. These will address nonhuman-primate and human chimaeras, says Hyun, who is leading an ISSCR committee discussing chimaeras. That group’s guidelines currently prohibit researchers from letting human–animal chimaeras mate. Also, the group recommends additional oversight when human cells could integrate with an animal host’s developing central nervous system.

Do you see how lax those standards are?

But even these flacid guidelines are worthless if scientists are willing to risk social exclusion from peers to pursue experiments — as with the genetic engineering of born human babies which, not coincidentally, also happened in China.

The time is long past to create binding laws to govern and restrict biotechnology. The Trump administration abdicated its leadership role in this regard. I don’t remember Trump mentioning the issue even once.

I am certainly not confident in Biden’s willingness to effectively engage the issue or stand for rigorous ethical propriety. But somebody needs to. Otherwise scientists will simply slouch into Brave New World with both predictable and unknowable results.

If Afghanistan Breaks Badly after a U.S. Withdrawal, It’s All on Biden

President Biden speaks at the White House, Washington, D.C., April 14, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Reuters)

I concur with the house editorial on President Biden’s decision to fully withdraw from Afghanistan by September 11 that concludes, “This withdrawal will likely only swap the unsatisfactory status quo for what we have been trying to avoid coming to pass in Afghanistan the last two decades.”

While I’ve disagreed with Michael Brendan Dougherty on foreign intervention/overseas U.S. military presences/isolationism quite a bit in the past, I think MBD makes the most compelling and articulate case for leaving entirely. If our forces are going to leave the country entirely beyond the standard presence to protect an embassy, they should leave after

Politics & Policy

Are Georgia Republicans Winning the Fight?

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp speaks at runoff election-night event in Atlanta, Ga., January 5, 2021. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Typically when large businesses oppose a Republican initiative, especially one that has also been the subject of a lot of negative press, Republican politicians fold. Mike Pence had to amend a religious-liberty law soon after signing it as governor of Indiana. Soon afterward, Republican governors Asa Hutchinson and Nathan Deal vetoed religious-freedom bills in Arkansas and Georgia, respectively. (Hutchinson later signed a bill with only cosmetic changes.) The Republican governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, had vetoed a religious-freedom bill previously. South Dakota governor Kristi Noem recently, under similar pressure, vetoed a bill reserving girls’ sports in school for biological women.

Georgia’s new election law has been the center of a national controversy at least as heated as most of those. Major companies headquartered in the state have denounced the law. But the state’s Republicans aren’t in a panic, rushing to repeal or amend the law. They’re not budging at all.

Instead it’s the law’s opponents who have been divided and defensive. Both of the state’s Democratic senators broke with President Biden’s call for Major League Baseball to take the All-Star game out of the state, as did de facto state party leader Stacey Abrams. Afterward, the White House tried pretending that Biden hadn’t urged MLB to do what it did. Biden has subsequently discouraged efforts to boycott the state.

In the early rounds of the controversy, Republican governor Brian Kemp has seen his numbers rise among Republicans by more than enough to offset losses among other voters. MLB has seen its support from Republicans “plummet.” A recent corporate statement on voting rights carefully avoided condemning either the Georgia law or any of its provisions. Coca-Cola is on the defensive: “We believe the best way to make progress now is for everyone to come together to listen, respectfully share concerns and collaborate on a path forward. We remain open to productive conversations with advocacy groups and lawmakers who may have differing views.”

Ralph Reed, the Georgia-based Republican strategist, says that the Democrats’ decision to label the law “Jim Crow 2.0” backfired, especially as Republicans pounded home that it liberalizes election procedures in some respects and is more lenient than many blue states’ laws. Instead of just mobilizing opponents of the law, the controversy may mobilize Republican-leaning voters too. He sees the possibility of higher turnout on both sides — “on their side because of a backlash against the law, on our side because of a backlash against the lies.” We’ll see. But for the moment, Republicans appear to be holding their own.


Why Do College Presidents Always Fall for Claims of Racism?

Oberlin College (Wikimedia)

American college presidents seem unable to react with calm and deliberation when there’s an accusation of racism on campus. Any such claim, even if obviously a hoax, sends them into Full Crisis Mode instantly.

The most recent case is at Smith College, where one student’s complaint of being harassed because of her race caused the school’s president to tar and feather the two employees who were accused, plus strap the campus down for a blast of “training” to root out all of their latent racism and other insensitivities. In today’s Martin Center article, Professor Lee Trepanier of Samford University reflects on the case.

He writes, “This case should provoke outrage at the college administration’s lack of due process and respect for facts. President McCartney’s conduct reminds one of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland: ‘Verdict first and trial afterward!’”

It ought to have been her first response to find out what actually happened. Unfortunately, she was eager to leap to the conclusion that the two workers (a security guard and a janitor) were guilty of racism. Later, an investigation showed that the student’s version of events was not true. But would President McCartney issue an apology to the two? No.

Furthermore, the “training” that was imposed on everyone was so odious that one white woman who worked for the school felt compelled to quit. She intends to sue over the racially toxic environment that she experienced.

Trepanier points out that the 2019 Oberlin College case should remind college presidents that it’s dangerous to act in “woke” ways that are apt to create legal trouble for their institutions. “If President McCartney cannot see that her rush to judgment has put the college in legal danger, she is not a competent leader,” he concludes.

Instead of “anti-racism” training for everyone, college presidents ought to have to take some training in the elements of fairness and due process.


Nord Stream 2 Sanctions Are Not ‘Complicated’ for U.S. Allies

A crew works at the construction site of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline near the town of Kingisepp, Leningrad Region, Russia, June 5, 2019. (Anton Vaganov/Reuters)

Declaring that “now is the time to de-escalate,” President Biden announced a suite of sanctions and other reprisal measures as a response to the SolarWinds hack and Moscow’s interference in the 2020 election. It’s a formidable package that, among other things, targets Russian sovereign debt, demonstrating that Washington could well roll out some of the same tools that it has used to crush the Iranian economy.

But the conspicuous absence of measures responding to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline echoes the Biden administration’s failure to take such a step when it announced sanctions in March to punish Moscow for the attempted assassination of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny. It suggests that Biden, amid his push for de-escalation, isn’t interested in targeting a key vehicle for Moscow’s political ambitions in Europe.

When Biden moved to leave the lectern following his brief remarks, one reporter asked him about the Russian natural-gas project (which Poland, Ukraine, and other countries have urged Washington to kill because it would strengthen Moscow’s grip on Europe’s energy supply):

Question: Why didn’t you go with sanctions on Nord Stream 2?

Biden: Nord Stream 2 is a complicated issue affecting our allies in Europe. I’ve been opposed to Nord Stream 2 for a long time, from the beginning when I was out of office and even before I left office as vice president, but that still is an issue that is in play.

Lawmakers have criticized the State Department for neglecting to impose sanctions on the Russian pipeline, which are mandated by the National Defense Authorization Act. While the Biden administration designated a ship and its owner under its authority to sanction entities involved in the project, the Trump administration had already sanctioned them, meaning that the move had no practical effect.

So why does the administration seem so hesitant to go after the pipeline project that Biden and his top aides have criticized themselves? For one, it could complicate relations with Germany. The Merkel government has publicly criticized the Nord Stream 2 sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, which have targeted Russian, Swiss, and German firms.

While Reuters reported last month that the White House was considering further sanctions designations related to the project, nothing has come of that yet. Meanwhile, in Brussels last month to consult with U.S. allies, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked by a CNN host if the Biden administration could do anything to halt the project’s completion. He answered, “Ultimately, that’s up to those who are trying to build the pipeline and complete it.”

But Blinken has it wrong; it’s actually up to the United States, the only party capable of killing the pipeline, which is 95 percent complete.

Biden said the quiet part out loud today: For all the administration’s talk about confronting Russia and standing with U.S. partners, the White House is slow-walking implementation of Nord Stream 2 sanctions out of consideration for certain allies at the expense of others, such as Ukraine. The sanctions are only “complicated” for Berlin.

Politics & Policy

Apparently, Our Leaders Have Been Inoculated Against Good News

Dr. Anthony Fauci attends a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine the COVID-19 response on Capitol Hill, March 18, 2021. (Anna Moneymaker/Pool via Reuters)

There is, if you’re looking for it, an abundance of good news in our fight against COVID-19.

As John mentioned, 80 percent of people over the age of 65 who live in the United States have now received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, according to the CDC, and 64 percent of seniors are fully vaccinated.

As Phil mentioned, out of 66 million people who completed their vaccinations and waited at least two weeks, just 5,800 got COVID-19.

There’s been a slight increase in cases and hospitalizations in the past two weeks nationally, but the number of deaths has declined 19 percent in the past two weeks. Deaths should continue to decline; a majority of the most vulnerable among us are now protected.

As for that worry about blood clots, “a study by the University of Oxford found the risk of rare but sometimes-deadly blood clotting is roughly eight to 10 times greater in Covid-19 sufferers than among people who have received any of the first three Western-developed vaccines widely available.” Vaccinating people makes them less likely to suffer blood clots.

But you can tell within the ranks of public health experts, government officials, and a lot of media voices there is a widespread and surprisingly steadfast resistance against saying “we’re winning,” or “the crisis is ending,” or “the pandemic is winding down.” Yes, Michigan is still a mess. Yes, we’re probably going to need regular booster shots. Yes, we’re still not quite there in terms of herd immunity – although remember herd immunity isn’t binary; as more people get vaccinated, the virus has fewer opportunities to spread. With almost a quarter of Americans fully vaccinated, and 40 percent of Americans having at least one dose… we’re getting there.

The health expert class appears terrified of declaring good news, lest Americans throw all caution to the wind and start holding “let’s cough in each other’s faces” parties. Government officials are reluctant to declare good news, because this would mean giving up some of the far-reaching powers they’ve gained during the crisis – or it would mean acknowledging, as Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer said this week, “policy change alone won’t change the tide.” And some journalists don’t want to acknowledge good news because a sense of crisis is good for ratings, traffic, and readership.