Politics & Policy

A Biden-Appointed ‘Reality Czar’? Sure, No Way That Could Backfire

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Any time your defense of a particular proposal — say, the Biden administration creating a “Reality Czar” who would direct a “centralized task force could coordinate a single, strategic response” by the federal government to fight “disinformation” — requires you to write that the idea “sounds a little dystopian, I’ll grant. But let’s hear them out,” as Kevin Roose writes in the New York Times today . . . maybe that’s a good time to stop, take a deep breath, step away from the computer, and rethink whether that dystopian-sounding idea really is such a worthwhile proposal.

Because if you’re trying to fight paranoia, belief in conspiracy theories, and distrust of verifiable official sources, a presidentially appointed “Reality Czar” leading a government-wide effort to stamp out perspectives and arguments that a federal panel has determined is not part of reality is like pouring gasoline on to a fire. This is more or less announcing to people who believe that the government is out to get them that yes, the government is indeed out to get them.

Some of us can remember “Attack Watch,” the widely-mocked Obama-era effort to “help stop the attacks on the President before they start.”

Elections

It’s February, and New York’s 22nd District Still Doesn’t Have a Representative

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The U.S. House of Representatives has held 18 recorded votes so far this year. Three seats remain vacant. In Louisiana’s fifth district, Republican congressman-elect Luke Letlow died December 29, 2020, of COVID-19 before assuming office. In Louisiana’s second district, Representative Cedric Richmond resigned his office January 15 to become the director of the Biden administration’s Office of Public Engagement. Both Louisiana seats will be filled in a special election March 20; if no candidate wins a majority, the top two finishers will head to a runoff held April 24.

In Iowa, Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks won by six votes and was sworn in on January 3. Her Democratic opponent, Rita Hart, insists that 22 votes were not counted and that she won by nine votes. Hart filed a petition with the U.S. House to unseat Miller-Meeks and to seat herself instead.

And then there is New York’s 22nd district, where Republican Claudia Tenney has effectively won, but is still unable to be sworn in:

State Supreme Court Justice Scott DelConte on Monday decided to delay the results of the 22nd Congressional District race for about another week to allow debate on this question:

If the wrong person gets sent to Congress, what can be done about it?

DelConte, overseeing the last undecided congressional race in the country, made the decision to prolong the race even more after a last-minute challenge from Democrat Anthony Brindisi, who is fighting to keep the House seat from Republican Claudia Tenney.

At last count, Tenney led Brindisi by 122 votes of more than 316,000 cast for the two candidates. She appeared to pick up a handful more Monday morning during a court-ordered examination of several ballots that hadn’t yet been reviewed.

Right now, House Democrats enjoy a 221 to 211 majority. A Republican is extremely likely to win in Louisiana’s fifth district, and a Democrat is extremely likely to win in the second district. Thus, when Tenney is seated and the two Louisiana seats are resolved, the Democrats will have a 222 to 213 majority. Republicans will be aiming to win pick up at least five more seats in the 2022 midterms.

Politics & Policy

AOC’s Castigation of Capitol Police

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the floor of the House Chamber during the first session of the 117th House of Representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., January 3, 2021 (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez held an Instagram Live event on Monday during which she described her experience in the days leading up to and on January 6, when the Capitol building was attacked. It’s about an hour and a half long and includes some very moving parts: Ocasio-Cortez explains that she’s a survivor of sexual assault and details what was running through her head when she believed that her office had been breached by rioters and that she was going to die. These harrowing, traumatic ordeals are deserving of the utmost sympathy and understanding. The congresswoman has mine, as well as my prayers.

Her use of her experience on January 6 to smear law enforcement more generally, however, still must be pointed out for what it is: baseless and inappropriate.

A little after 1:00 P.M. on the day of the attack — this is as things were heating up outside the Capitol, but before it had been broken into — Ocasio-Cortez was apparently trying to decide what to order for lunch in her House office when she heard what she describes as “violent” banging on her door: “Boom, boom, boom!” At that point, she ran over to her legislative director who told her, “Hide, hide, run and hide.” She took the advice and hid in her private bathroom, where she continued to hear banging. A few moments later she heard a voice, coming from within her office, repeatedly yelling, “Where is she?” Then the bathroom door opened up, with the congresswoman hiding behind it. It is at this point that Ocasio-Cortez believed her life was coming to an end.

Thankfully, the man in her office was not a rioter, but a member of the Capitol Police who had, as the congresswoman put it, “just open[ed] the door of my personal office and come inside.” Her legislative director yelled from the other room that she should come out and Ocasio-Cortez obliged. She tells the story like this:

I come out and this man is a Capitol police officer. But the story doesn’t end. It’s a Capitol police officer, there was no partner, [he] was not yelling, you know ‘Capitol Police, etc., etc.’ But then it didn’t feel right, because he was looking at me with a tremendous amount of anger and hostility. And things weren’t adding up. Like there was no partner there and no one was yelling, he wasn’t yelling ‘this is Capitol Police, this is Capitol Police!’ And he was looking at me in all of this anger and hostility and at first, in my brain, and in my mind, I’m thinking ‘OK I just came from this super intense experience just now, maybe I’m reading into this. Maybe I’m projecting something onto him, maybe I’m just seeing anger but he’s not trying to be angry.’ But I talked to G, my legislative director, after the fact and he said ‘No, I didn’t know if he was there to help us or hurt us either’ and G was actually like this man came with so much hostility that G was sizing him up and didn’t know if he was going to have to fight him. Like that is how aggressive the situation was in that moment and we couldn’t even tell, we couldn’t read if this was a good situation or a bad situation. Like so many other communities in this country, just that presence doesn’t necessarily give you a clear signal if you’re safe or not. And so the situation did not feel okay.

The officer then gave her instructions on where to shelter.

It’s more than understandable that Ocasio-Cortez and her staffer were frightened by the situation, especially with the crowd amassing outside. Moreover, it’s possible and even probable that the officer could have handled the situation better. And yet, her frustration at the officer and description of his “anger and hostility” seem shoehorned in to fit a political narrative rather than appreciative of the actual situation he and she found themselves in. It was the officer’s duty to protect the congresswoman and her colleagues that day, and the situation outside was quickly devolving. He was presumably given orders to go to members’ offices and provide instructions. With who knows how much time until the building was breached, he used a tone that was probably urgent and perhaps even agitated. As for the question of why he didn’t have a partner, it seems likely that most of the Capitol Police were needed for crowd control at that moment.

Ocasio-Cortez’s description of the incident and her legislative director’s rather disturbing developing plan to confront him physically are more reflective of their own biases than they are of systemic failure on the part of law enforcement. Her fear and confusion can be excused, but her castigation of a man whose life was at risk that day (one officer died during the riot, two more have committed suicide since) cannot be so easily brushed aside.

Using tragedies as a political hammer is never a good look; it’s a particularly ugly one when the nails are its heroes.

Capital Matters

Where the Economy Is Headed

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The Congressional Budget Office has a new report on the topic, with the usual caveat that it involves a lot of guesswork.

Two key indicators: Inflation-adjusted gross domestic product dropped 3.5 percent in 2020, but it’s expected to grow 4.6 percent this year and 2.9 percent next year before settling in around 2 percent annual growth. The unemployment rate, which was below 4 percent before the pandemic hit but averaged 8.1 percent last year, should be around 5 percent this year and gradually fall to 4 percent over the next several. For reference, 5 percent is a pretty low rate historically; it’s where we were in late 2015 and mid-to-late 2005.

After all that’s happened, it’s a decent outlook. The predictions are based on current law as of January 12, so they don’t include any further stimulus.

Science & Tech

Push on to Allow Expanded Human-Embryo Research

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(gorodenkoff/Getty Images)

Back when embryonic-stem-cell and other types of experimentation on early embryos commenced, “the scientists” promised they would always limit their activities to embryos in Petri dishes to the maximum of 14 days in development. Just a collection of undifferentiated cells, they sophistically maintained. We’ll stop when the nervous system begins to develop.

It was all a ruse. The “14 day rule,” as it came to be known, only prevented that which could not be done. You see, the state of the science was such that embryos could not be maintained for longer. But it assuaged the peasants. Besides, the scientists knew that the boundary wasn’t intended to be permanent. It was just a way station until embryos could be maintained outside a woman’s body for more than two weeks.

That time is now arriving, and so, of course, the push is now on to expand the limit to 28 days.

How is that justified, based on past assurances? Well, first deploy relativism.

Scientifically, an embryo is an embryo, wherever it might be located. But we’ll pretend that what really matters regarding moral value is geography. From “The Time has Come to Extend the 14-Day Limit”:

Elsejin Kingma considers the idea that the ‘location of an embryo—whether it is in a pregnant woman or in a petri-dish—may affect its moral status and/or value’. She argues that it is not just the stage of the embryo that is relevant to its moral status or value, but whether it is, or will be, in an environment that promotes its further development. She concludes that this means there is (further) good reason for a moral distinction between ‘research’ embryos and ‘reproductive implanted embryos’.

Given that almost all — if not all — of these bioethicists believe in abortion on demand, this is a load of hooey. Yes, that is the logic, and the paper goes there:

Notwithstanding the importance of the scientific basis for human embryo research, there are ethical and philosophical reasons why this rule is now ready for amendment.

In the UK, in line with the Abortion Act 1967, an abortion is legally permitted up to the 24th week of pregnancy. Conventionally, a human embryo is termed a fetus from 9 weeks after fertilisation. It is legal to abort an embryo or fetus substantially ‘older’ than 14 days, and, with appropriate consent, to do research on its tissues, yet it is illegal to experiment on an embryo beyond 14 days that was never to be implanted.

Why stop at 28 days? What are the limiting principles? What is the permanent line with regard to unborn life beyond which science will never be allowed to go regardless of the potential knowledge to be attained — especially in the U.S., where some states have removed gestational limits on abortion and that is the goal of the national Democratic Party and Biden administration? I can’t see any.

How is this excused? Princeton’s Peter Singer — the New York Times’ favorite moral philosopher — and other bioethicists claim that human life, per se, is morally irrelevant. What matters are capacities — such as self-awareness — that earn that human being the label of “person.”

Embryos are not conscious. Neither are fetuses. They are, hence, human non-persons. So why not permit experimentation and body-part harvesting through the ninth month since, in essence, unborn life are mere things? Indeed, before that time arrives, why not pay women to gestate longer before obtaining an abortion so we could get the parts — an odious idea already proposed in the bioethics literature.

This isn’t just philosophical musing. We may soon have the ability to maintain fetuses in artificial wombs. Once that happens, what is to prevent scientists from creating embryos, implanting them in artificial wombs and treating fetuses as a mere natural resource to be exploited and harvested?

Live fetal experimentation was conducted in the late ’60s, after all, and was only stopped (pre-Roe) because people still believed in the sanctity of human life. That great moral principle no longer holds sway over great swaths of society. The important thing now is preventing suffering by almost any means necessary.

I could go on and on, and probably will. But the bottom line for this post is this: When scientists and bioethicists promise to draw ethical lines about experimenting on unborn life, they don’t really mean it. It’s all a big con. They will only agree to forbid that which they cannot — yet — do. And once they can “go there,” the lines will be redrawn to permit them to do whatever they want.

And then they wonder, “Where is the trust?”

Health Care

Pay Providers More to Administer Vaccines

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How can the U.S. get more vaccine shots off shelves and into arms? “By harnessing the power of simple economics,” say economists Jeffrey Clemens and Joshua Gottlieb.

In an op-ed in The Hill, they note:

For a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine course, Medicare now pays providers $45, too stingy for this crucial service. The crisis calls for more. Even at $200 per course – over four times current rates – it would cost only $66 billion to fully vaccinate every American. For perspective, $66 billion is just 3 percent of President Biden’s proposed relief bill and less than half of a percent of the estimated cost of the pandemic.

Their proposal is simple: Increase reimbursement rates for vaccinations.

Clemens and Gottlieb:

Current incentives are failing to get vaccines administered. When reimbursements barely cover costs, pharmacies, doctors and hospitals have little incentive to act quickly. Through mid-January, the data on vaccine distribution reveal a widespread disregard for the urgency of this effort. Only half of the doses distributed to states have been administered — an appalling record.

Increased payments would motivate providers to pull out all the stops. When it’s lucrative to administer vaccines, providers will compete to find eligible patients and encourage vaccination. Because they know their local populations, they are better positioned than the federal government to overcome vaccine hesitancy and improve equity. They can operate longer hours, make the process more convenient and improve public outreach. For normal medical services, reasonable people can disagree about whether medical reimbursements have gone too far, leading to excessive medical costs. But in the case of COVID-19 vaccines, it is clear we have not gone far enough.

The time to write a detailed distribution plan was last spring. New plans, however, cannot erase past failures or restore the lives we have lost. But President Biden can avoid compounding President Trump’s errors. A repeated cycle of logistically complicated, centralized planning would risk doing just that. Such a plan would take months to work out and, because of messes the Trump administration made, would risk sowing additional confusion. Further, a new wave of centralized logistics planning could introduce as many hurdles as it removes. Research has shown that complexity can, by itself, deter providers from participating.

Religion

Twenty Things that Caught My Eye Today: Pregnant Women & COVID, Hong Kong, & More

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1. The New Yorker: The Coronavirus Vaccine Presents a Dilemma for Pregnant Women

A few days before the procedure, Amanda received an e-mail from hospital administrators saying that the vaccine would be distributed that week. She felt she had been forced to make an impossible choice: taking a vaccine that has not been tested on pregnant women and risking harm to a potential pregnancy, or skipping the vaccine and the protection it offers. “What if I should have waited? What if I do get pregnant and I get covid?” she recalled wondering. “There are just so many unknowns.”

2. Thousands flee Hong Kong for UK, fearing China crackdown

Some are leaving because they fear punishment for supporting the pro-democracy protests that swept the former British colony in 2019. Others say China’s encroachment on their way of life and civil liberties has become unbearable, and they want to seek a better future for their children abroad. Most say they don’t plan to ever go back.

3. Matthew Soerens: 2020 May Finally Be Over, But the Plight of Refugees and Other Immigrants Is Not

Some of the most egregious situations of family separation are likely to change with a new administration: President-elect Biden has promised to dramatically increase refugee admissions and to reunify children and parents separated at the border by the current administration, and he will have the authority to do so by executive action. He could immediately resume overseas visa processing, as evangelical leaders have urged him to do. But other changes – such as reducing backlogs for family reunification visas or any process to allow undocumented immigrants to earn permanent legal status – will require bipartisan congressional action.

A growing number of evangelical Christians, who historically have championed “family values,” argue that the best way to achieve those policy changes – to keep families together and reunite families without eroding the rule of law – would be a restitution-based immigration reform.

4. 

5. New York Times: 9 N.Y. Health Officials Have Quit as Cuomo Scorns Expertise

Even as the pandemic continues to rage and New York struggles to vaccinate a large and anxious population, Mr. Cuomo has all but declared war on his own public health bureaucracy. The departures have underscored the extent to which pandemic policy has been set by the governor, who with his aides crafted a vaccination program beset by early delays.

Continue reading “Twenty Things that Caught My Eye Today: Pregnant Women & COVID, Hong Kong, & More”

U.S.

Lizard People Update

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I very much enjoyed Jim’s post on the anti-vaccine nut in Wisconsin who “believes the Earth is flat and that the sky is not real.” Because I am as poisoned by politics as anybody else, my first thought was, “I wonder who he voted for.”

I have followed the flat-earthers for a while, off and on. They bear out my observation that every conspiracy theory ultimately is every other conspiracy theory, too: flat-earthers, anti-vaccine kooks, Holocaust deniers, 9/11 truthers, Obama truthers, etc., all drinking from the same bottle.

One of the lunatics who was arrested for threatening to murder prominent Democrats was a Trump guy who had been an Occupy Wall Street guy, and also an “Audit the Fed!” moonbat who read dark meanings into the design of the dollar bill. “Talk about a one-eighty,” the New York Daily News said of him, but the angle describing the turn on the journey from Occupy kook to “New World Order” kook to QAnon kook who thinks there are secret mind-control microchips in COVID-19 vaccines is a lot less than 180 degrees — more like 12 degrees or 15 degrees.

By the way, the sky is real — the super-high-frequency microwave radio implanted in my back molar by Bill Gates Soros Rothschild told me so.

Politics & Policy

A Deal Worth Trying

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Senator Mitt Romney (R., Utah) speaks as bipartisan members of the Senate and House gather to announce a framework for fresh coronavirus relief legislation at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., December 1, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Signs of life in the legislative branch are always welcome, and the move by ten Republican senators to propose an alternative to the Democrats’ pandemic-relief bill is certainly such a sign.

The group — which includes Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and Todd Young of Indiana — has offered a set of proposals much more focused than the Democrats’ on the actual needs of the pandemic response. Both substantively and strategically, what they’ve proposed is a smart move.

Substantively, they would accept the core of the administration’s direct COVID response proposal, including money for vaccine distribution, a huge testing expansion fund, and disaster-relief funds — all at the levels President Biden has asked for. Food-stamp funding would also increase at the level Biden requested. The proposal would extend unemployment benefits at their current increased levels through the end of June (rather than at Biden’s even higher level through September), and would replace Biden’s regressive and misguided subsidy for commercial daycare with more funds for the Child Care and Development Block grant — which gives the states flexibility in providing support for low-income families who need child-care options.

The proposal includes less money for schools than the Democrats’ bill, but would direct it specifically to enabling schools to reopen and stay open. It does provide another round of direct payments to individuals, but rather than an additional $1,400 for everyone who received checks in the last round, it would provide an additional $1,000 and would have it start phasing out at $40,000 of income for individuals or $80,000 for couples. And the Republican proposal does not include an increase in the federal minimum wage (which the Democrats would raise to $15 an hour) or an expansion of the Child Tax Credit, along with a few smaller items in the Democrats’ bill.

Strategically, the move could call the Democrats’ bluff, as their emerging strategy for this relief bill has depended on the premise that Republicans are unwilling to make a deal. Rather than start the new president’s term with a bipartisan relief measure (like the five such measures enacted over the past year), and so maybe putting some substance behind President Biden’s talk of seeking compromise, congressional Democrats have decided over the past week to push their bill through the budget-reconciliation process — an element of the congressional budget process intended to enable the passage of measures that touch on spending, taxation, and entitlement reform without facing the risk of a Senate filibuster.

Just a few days into the new president’s term, Democrats began telling themselves that they had waited long enough for Republicans to compromise and had to move on. As the Washington Post put it on Friday (either sarcastically or just amusingly):

A week and a half into the Biden presidency, Democrats are adopting a more muscular approach to dealing with Republicans, essentially declaring they will work with them if they can but are prepared to move past them if they must.

Well, if they must. The trouble of course is that they made no attempt to work with Republicans at all. In fact, President Biden’s first ten days were mostly a blur of divisive partisan stunts, from yet another “comprehensive” immigration proposal (this time, even further to the left, how could it miss?) to executive actions on social issues and the environment to backing away from a commitment to help get schools reopened, and then this use of reconciliation.

Some observers in both parties say Biden is just giving the Left’s activists some scraps, and doing it early to get it over with, but that it amounts to little and will then let him deal with Republicans on more substantive issues. Maybe. But what he is up to is substantive, and some of it (especially the bizarre way he has started off on immigration) will surely get in the way of potential compromise later.

In any case, it isn’t easy to see the case for using reconciliation (which can only be used twice, or at a stretch possibly three times in a legislative year) for a COVID-relief measure that should be able to get through a normal vote. The elements that make the bill controversial — especially the big minimum-wage hike — may have serious trouble getting through the rules of reconciliation anyway. And it’s not at all clear that the Democrats have the 50 votes they’ll need to break or change those rules for this purpose, or indeed that they have the 50 votes for the substance of this bill either. A fair amount of it has caught centrist Democrats off guard, and the administration’s aggressive tactics (including trying to pressure Democratic senator Joe Manchin by putting the vice president on television in his home state without letting him know) aren’t likely to be very effective.

Republican senators showing a willingness to strike a deal will make those moderate Democrats even less likely to support a reconciliation strategy. And of course, that’s part of the point. In a closely divided legislative chamber (and both the House and Senate are very narrowly divided now) each party should want to divide the other, not unify it, while also pursuing a policy course that appeals to voters and is good for the country. And these goals are complementary — a strategy that can divide both parties but garner a majority is likely to strike for the center and to make progress possible. Obviously this has more appeal to the minority party, since it creates the possibility of outcomes far better than those that would result from the majority getting its way alone. But when majorities are so tight that getting their own way is unlikely anyhow, a deal can appeal to the majority too.

This is just the basic logic of legislative dealmaking. But it has been so long since either party pursued a strategy that made any sense that both are out of practice in thinking legislatively. The Democrats have fallen right back into their failed Obama-era strategies (only with far smaller majorities), and too many Republicans are instinctively inclined to fall back to a strategy that lets them complain on talk radio rather than take part in governing.

It’s too soon to say if the proposal of these ten Republicans will get anywhere. They’re meeting with the president Monday evening, and we can see what comes of that. And if their idea isn’t summarily rejected, it will lead to bargaining, not to the outcome they’ve proposed here. The Democrats won’t simply accept dropping all of their most ideologically ambitious proposals from the bill.

There is surely room to deal on some of those. If the Democrats insist on including some increase in the minimum wage, for instance, Republicans could propose indexing the wage to inflation. Such a measure could raise the federal minimum wage to where it would now be if it had been indexed the last time it was raised (so around $9 an hour), and then increase it every year by the rate of inflation, to keep its purchasing power undiminished. That would provide meaningful help to minimum-wage workers while limiting the potential harm of a very large increase in today’s labor market, and also taking the minimum wage off the table as a political issue going forward. A deal on the child tax-credit increase could be even more straightforward, negotiating on its size or reach — though personally I think Republicans should actually support the increase in the administration proposal.

Both parties need to get used to the fact that the Senate is essentially tied, which means that cross-partisan deals will be needed to move legislation. That should define the sorts of proposals they make and the ways they react to one another’s ideas.

The core obstacle to the Democrats getting anything done isn’t really the filibuster at this point. Generally speaking, especially on divisive issues, a bill that can’t get to 60 probably can’t get to 50 either. Senators Manchin and Sinema aren’t sticking to the filibuster because they believe it’s a hallowed institution but because they would rather say no once on what feels like a procedural issue than say no again and again on substantive issues on which they and their voters disagree with their party’s left-wing activists. Bills that pass will generally need to get the support of the ten Democrats and ten Republicans most inclined to deal with the other party, and that bloc of senators has a lot of power and sway now.

This is a good thing, even if you tend to think (as I do) that ideal policy outcomes are to the right of where that block will tend to be. A recovery of legislative muscles, some clarification of the factional lines within both parties, and a return to at least some policymaking by bargaining and accommodation, is absolutely essential to the recovery of our political culture and our institutions. Republicans should try to respond to Democratic proposals by offering alternatives, and Democrats should try to respond to those by bargaining in return. That won’t make for dramatic policy action on controversial issues, but it will make for meaningful legislative action, which will be swifter on those issues that aren’t so controversial (such as pandemic relief and response) and more durable on those that are.

It remains to be seen if President Biden is interested in any of this. He has suggested he would be, and his inaugural address said as much, but his actions since have implied the opposite. If he is, and if he can resist the pressure coming at him from the left wing of his party, it will be worth the while of Republicans to take up real legislative work rather than persist on a path of pointless posturing and lunatic conspiracism.

Whatever becomes of the ten Republican senators’ counterproposal on COVID relief, it should offer a test of everyone’s intentions on this front. It may not work, but it is the path worth trying.

Politics & Policy

South Carolina Prepares to Pass a Heartbeat Bill

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Governor Henry McMaster (R., S.C.) looks on at a rally in Columbia, S.C., June 25, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

South Carolina’s state senate has passed a heartbeat bill to prohibit most abortions after the point that a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which usually takes place around six weeks’ gestation. Over the next few weeks, the state house will consider the bill, and if it passes, it will head to the desk of Republican governor Henry McMaster.

Most observers expect that the heartbeat bill will make it into law this year, as the state house has passed similar measures in previous sessions and McMaster has affirmed that he would sign the legislation.

This latest pro-life effort makes South Carolina one of about a dozen states that have attempted to prohibit abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detectable. In 2019, these laws were enacted in several pro-life states including Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. It was one of the most aggressive state-level legislative efforts to protect unborn children that pro-life lawmakers have ever attempted.

Nearly all of those heartbeat bills, including iterations that a few additional states had attempted to pass several years earlier, have been struck down by judges, who have ruled that the laws are unconstitutional restrictions on the constitutional right to abortion as articulated in Roe v. Wade and subsequent Supreme Court cases.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers and advocacy groups already have promised to fight the heartbeat bill in South Carolina if it does take effect. Unfortunately, until the Supreme Court chooses to take a new case addressing the constitutionality of state regulations to protect unborn human beings, it’s likely that further attempts to block heartbeat bills will succeed.

World

One COVID Case Shuts Down a City of Two Million

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A nurse tests a patient for the coronavirus disease at Westmead Hospital in Sydney, Australia, May 12, 2020. (Loren Elliott/Reuters)

We have arguments in the U.S. over the scope and scale of lockdowns, but other democracies don’t even tolerate a debate on the suspension of civil liberties.

In Australia, brutal lockdowns have kept people essentially confined to their homes for weeks and banned travel from one state to another.

Now the city of Perth in Western Australia (population 2 million) has been completely locked down for five days after a single person tested positive for coronavirus.

The afflicted person is a security guard at a hotel for quarantined travelers, and the three people he lives with have all tested negative for the virus. But that was enough to ban people from leaving their homes unless it was to buy food, exercise briefly, or keep medical appointments.

Courts in Australia have looked the other way in a country that was once one of the most respectful of individual liberty in the world. Now, freedom is turned on and off on the most arbitrary set of facts and in total disregard to science.

Burma’s Coup: What to Watch For

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Myanmar’s military checkpoint is seen on the way to the congress compound in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, February 1, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

Myanmar’s military staged a coup on Monday, taking power in the capital of Naypyidaw, declaring a state of emergency, and detaining Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto leader. Since the landmark 2015 election in Burma that ended over half a century of military rule starting in 1962, and brought Suu Kyi to power, much of the world has assumed that democracy in the nation of 54 million people was fully established in the country. The reality has been far different. The military has never fully been brought under civilian control. Nor has it been excluded from sharing in

Lunatics, Idiots, and Bad Weather Are Destroying, Spoiling, and Wasting Vaccine Doses

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Pharmacist Danny Huynh fills a syringe with the Moderna coronavirus vaccine in Chula Vista, Calif., January 21, 2021. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

In today’s Morning Jolt, I explore the bewildering question of a report that 20 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been misplaced already. The shipments were tracked from the manufacturer to the states and then . . . no one is quite sure, possibly “boxed away in warehouses, sitting idle in freezers or floating elsewhere in the complex distribution pipeline that runs from the administration to individual states.” I laid out the states who had administered the fewest shots, and laid out some troubling examples of doses being rerouted to wealthy hospital donors, friends, and in one case, stolen.

There

A Halfway-Sane Stimulus Proposal

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Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) arrives for the hearing of Eugene Scalia to be secretary of Labor before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill, September 19, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Last month, I had a piece about Joe Biden’s stimulus plan, under which the federal government would fling $1.9 trillion at pretty much everyone in sight. Now ten moderate Republican senators have a $618 billion counteroffer and are meeting with Biden today. The number ten is significant because these senators could combine with the 50 Democrats to override a filibuster. (The 50 Democrats by themselves would have to rely on the filibuster-proof “reconciliation” process and a tie-breaking vote from the vice president.)

The proposal basically downgrades the Biden plan from “holy cow is that insane” to “I guess it wouldn’t be

Politics & Policy

Governor Cuomo Announces to New York That He Doesn’t Trust Experts Anymore

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a daily briefing in New York City, July 13, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

The Buffalo News, back in April 2020:

It’s not just the pundits and the public who came away impressed with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s handling of the coronavirus crisis in the early weeks of its spread across New York.

Pandemic experts – New York’s epidemiologists and infectious disease physicians – praised Cuomo, too.

“Gov. Cuomo has become an excellent leader on Covid-19, not just for New York, but the entire nation,” said Chloe A. Teasdale, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy. “He is using available data and expert scientific input to guide the New York State response and is communicating clearly and frequently with the public about what is happening and what they need to do.”

But it turns out the reassuring story that Cuomo trusted the experts and the experts trusted Cuomo was just another part of the misleading mythology around the New York governor.

And Cuomo isn’t really hiding it anymore. Friday, he said, “When I say ‘experts’ in air quotes, it sounds like I’m saying I don’t really trust the experts. Because I don’t. Because I don’t.”

The New York Times reports that the state’s deputy commissioner for public health, director of its bureau of communicable-disease control, medical director for epidemiology, and state epidemiologist all resigned in a matter of months, along with five other high-level state health officials, as senior health officials “expressed alarm to one another over being sidelined and treated disrespectfully by the governor.”

That the governor and his administration lied and covered up nursing-home deaths is no longer in dispute. The state ordered nursing homes to readmit recovering but still-contagious elderly patients; the state’s health department removed the order from its website, and earlier this month, Cuomo insisted the order to send patients back into nursing homes “never happened.” CNN, which employs Governor Cuomo’s brother Chris as a primetime anchor, concluded in its fact check that Cuomo’s assertion that “it never happened” is false.

And apparently everyone has decided to forget the time in October when Cuomo said he didn’t have confidence in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the coronavirus vaccines.

(You may recall similar stories about New York City mayor Bill de Blasio having similar disregard for experts: “arguments and shouting matches between the mayor and some of his advisers; some top health officials had even threatened to resign if he refused to accept the need to close schools and businesses, according to several people familiar with the internal discussions.” De Blasio spent much of February and March of 2020 insisting that New Yorkers could and should go about their lives normally, despite growing worries about the contagious virus.)

All the while, Cuomo’s been joking about his “Cuomosexual” fan base with Jimmy Fallon, doing wacky prop comedy with his brother on CNN, winning an Emmy, and writing a book taking a victory lap.

Apparently now that Donald Trump is out of office, it is safe to take a clear-eyed look at the performance of prominent Democratic officeholders and speak honestly about it. Some of us have been speaking honestly about Cuomo since the pandemic began. But all of us would have been better off if this honesty and criticism were far more widespread months ago.

Politics & Policy

Again: Where Does DeSantis Get His Apology?

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I wondered whether the media would turn on New York governor Andrew Cuomo, and they are. Today the New York Times has a brutal story on Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic, particularly its distribution of the vaccine.

Education

Are Fraternities to Blame for COVID on Campuses?

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They’re mostly politically incorrect and easy targets, so fraternities are getting blamed for COVID outbreaks on college campuses that are open. Should they be?

In today’s Martin Center article, NC State student Megan Zogby argues that Greek groups are getting a bum rap.

She writes:

Some less-than-responsible students in fraternities and sororities have caused outbreaks, but so have non-Greek students throwing and attending parties. University officials, sometimes reluctant to enforce COVID-19 guidelines, haven’t lived up to their responsibility of enforcing rules to keep students and staff safe. Administrators can’t point fingers at students without acknowledging their own failures to limit outbreaks.

Actually, housing for students in fraternities and sororities is less dense and therefore students there are somewhat less at risk than elsewhere, Zogby notes.

She concludes, “If university officials are serious about their commitment to public health and safety, they need to consistently enforce rules and provide accurate information. That includes making hard decisions, even when it could hurt their budget.”

Politics & Policy

Don’t Send Kamala Harris to Persuade Joe Manchin

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Vice President Kamala Harris during the 59th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C., January 20, 2021. (Greg Nash/Pool via Reuters)

The past four administrations have featured a president who was the charismatic outsider and big-picture face of the administration (Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump) and a vice president who was the more experienced Washington hand, with ties to Capitol Hill, handling the details behind the scenes (Gore, Cheney, Biden, Pence).

With Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the relationship is reversed. In fact, while Harris’s duties are likely to involve breaking a lot of ties in the coming months, there are some early indications that Harris may be a liability in negotiations with members of Congress, even with members of her own party.

After airing Thursday evening, WSAZ’s exclusive interview with Vice President Kamala Harris drew national attention.

Friday morning, the White House answered questions about the vice president’s appearance on two stations — one in Arizona, the other on WSAZ.

The interview even took U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., by surprise. Friday morning, Manchin visited one of West Virginia’s COVID-19 vaccination clinics. His visit comes just one day after the vice president spoke with WSAZ’s Amanda Barren about the proposed “American Rescue Plan” (ARP).

“I saw [the interview], I couldn’t believe it. No one called me [about it],” Manchin said. “We’re going to try to find a bipartisan pathway forward, but we need to work together. That’s not a way of working together, what was done.”

Yes, Harris was in the U.S. Senate for four years, but those years coincided with the Trump presidency, and all of the incentives for Democratic senators with presidential ambitions during those years focused on opposing the administration and its GOP Senate allies, not reaching across the aisle.

Culture

Social-Media Censors Emboldened

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When English-speaking journalists complain about something on social media, social-media giants act. In another case, one of the most popular Facebook groups in Ireland — Ireland’s Eye — was shut down for spreading misinformation on COVID, along with several other groups. From what I can gather, it certainly did spread misinformation and some truly batty ideas. But then, it also seems to be a clearing house for noting — correctly — that the Irish government has routinely gotten things wrong on COVID-19. Like cutting off Parler, this decision is a way of feeding conspiracy theorists when you think you are fighting them.

Politics & Policy

Burkean Populism

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Greg Weiner wrote an important contribution to the conservative reckoning at hand. He proposes republicanism as a philosophy well suited to cut through the clamor of elites and the condescension of populists.

He contrasts Edmund Burke’s famous passage, about how representatives don’t owe their constituents their vote but their best judgment, with James Madison’s view that the job of representative and republican institutions is “to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.”

That’s an important point. Though I have, in practice, seen something like that sentiment used to justify a dismissive, even self-interested kind of paternalism.

A friend recently passed me another Burke quotation that speaks to the heart of our dilemma. From “Thoughts on the Causes of the Present Discontents,” he writes:

I am not one of those who think that the people are never in the wrong. They have been so, frequently and outrageously, both in other countries and in this. But I do say that in all disputes between them and their rulers the presumption is at least upon a par in favour of the people.

So, yes, even an Anglo-Irish high Tory can recognize that when the people are intent upon making controversy with their rulers, we ought to take them seriously.

Politics & Policy

Trump’s Impeachment Lawyers Quit

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Donald Trump’s impeachment-trial defense lawyers have quit, CNN reports

Former President Donald Trump’s five impeachment defense attorneys have left a little more than a week before his trial is set to begin, according to people familiar with the case, amid a disagreement over his legal strategy. […]

A person familiar with the departures told CNN that Trump wanted the attorneys to argue there was mass election fraud and that the election was stolen from him rather than focus on the legality of convicting a president after he’s left office. Trump was not receptive to the discussions about how they should proceed in that regard.

If Trump wants his legal team to defend his claims of a stolen election, who else besides Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani, and Jenna Ellis would be up to the task?

Media

Brooke Astor Unavailable for Comment

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Priscilla Chan, wife of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Tex., March 8, 2019 (Sergio Flores/Reuters)

The New York Times has a big article on women in philanthropy highlighting Mrs. Gates, Mrs. Zuckerberg, the Widow Jobs, and the former Mrs. Bezos. “How Women Are Changing the Philanthropy Game,” reads the headline.

How, indeed? The Times can’t quite bring itself to say.

Rich women have been giving away the money their husbands made from time immemorial — some of them are just a little more insufferable about it now.

It’s not like there are not female philanthropists who made their own money — Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, etc. — but you wouldn’t know it from the Times report.

Markets

The ‘Roaring Kitty’ Rally

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The Chicago Tribune has a nice profile on the Reddit and YouTube user who launched the insane retail stock rallies that have roiled markets and hammered hedge funds.

World

Late-Deflating Reputations

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks to reporters during a news conference at a COVID-19 pop-up vaccination site at William Reid Apartments in Brooklyn, N.Y., January 23, 2021. (Mary Altaffer/Pool via Reuters)

I wonder if the public record will ever accurately reflect the performance of Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York during the pandemic. Like many, I initially found him surprisingly leaderly at the start of the crisis. And subsequently on “The Editors” podcast and elsewhere, I’ve urged charity in judging his decisions early in the pandemic. Last March, it was conventional wisdom that enormous temporary hospitals would have to be erected for the sick in major cities. London was building one. New York started one in the Javits Center. There were days when the number of dead was appalling and even caring for the dead was straining the system.

But, the latest report shows that once the state of New York figured out the disastrous results of their policy of returning sick COVID patients to nursing homes in order to free up hospital beds, there was a concerted government effort to deflect. And there’s Cuomo’s continued record of criticizing governors who in fact made decisions that turned out much better. Again, where does Ron DeSantis go to get his apology?

Similarly, we were told that Europe and Germany in particular had admirably competent responses to the pandemic. And indeed, the case numbers and deaths in Europe were much lower than in the United States. But, now Europe has clearly botched its provision of vaccines. And they are scrambling.

At this stage, the United States, the United Kingdom, and particularly Israel are surging ahead towards a COVID-19 endgame. Meanwhile, European governments are being told that their crisis is likely to last into next winter at the minimum.

I’m curious about the media’s investment in these storylines. Can the media turn on Cuomo after all their investment in his story? It seems easier to turn in regard to Europe and the United States because Trump is gone. The vaccine’s eventual success in America can be — and probably will be — attributed mostly to Joe Biden.

But I think the credit belongs to our character. Americans are too unruly to be locked down, and too inventive and rich not to come up with some kind of technological fix for our problems.

Politics & Policy

Marjorie Taylor Greene’s QAnon Rant: ‘I Definitely Would Believe’ the Rothschilds Are Funding ‘Global Evil’

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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R., Ga.) in Washington, D.C., January 3, 2021 (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene is drawing scrutiny for a 2018 post on Facebook in which she suggested that laser beams from outer space may have started California wildfires and that the vice chairman of “Rothschild Inc” may have been involved in order to profit from the disaster.

For many years, anti-Semitic conspiracies have often featured the Rothschilds as shadowy figures responsible for any number of evils. While Greene takes a just-asking-questions approach in her 2018 Facebook post on the insane space-laser conspiracy theory, in a 2017 video she said she “definitely” would believe the Rothschilds were involved in funding the “global evil” of child sex-trafficking.

In a YouTube video that appears to have been originally uploaded in November 2017, Greene discusses the deranged and elaborate QAanon conspiracy theory for 30 minutes. “Q is a patriot. We know that for sure, but we do not know who Q is,” Greene said. “Many of the things that he has given clues about and talked about on 4chan and other forums have really proven to be true.”

While Greene says she isn’t sure about some of the claims made by Q — such as whether Robert Mueller is really working with Trump — she does express certainty about several of the conspiratorial claims. “There’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles out, and I think we have the president to do it,” she says. At another point, Greene says that “Hillary Clinton is obviously involved” in Satan-worship.

About 15 minutes into the video, Greene notes that Q says that the Rothschilds, George Soros, and the Saudis are “the puppetmasters that fund this global evil,” and she adds: “I definitely would believe that.”

The 30-minute QAnon rant was deleted from YouTube, but a copy may be viewed here

Greene’s spokesman told the New York Times this week that Greene “doesn’t have anything to do with” the QAnon conspiracy theory and “thinks it’s disinformation.”

Greene’s extreme and conspiratorial comments go far beyond QAnon. In 2018, she said “there’s never any evidence shown” that an airplane crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11

She has also promoted conspiracy theories that school-shootings were staged, the Washington Post reports

One commenter called the Parkland shooting “fake,” adding that “none of the School shootings were real or done by the ones who were supposedly arrested for them.” The user spread other conspiracy theories and called the Sandy Hook massacre — in which 20 children and six staff members at an elementary school were fatally shot in 2012 — a “STAGGED [sic] SHOOTING.”

Greene liked the post and replied, “That’s all true.”

In a deleted Facebook video, Greene told a crowd: “It’s a crime punishable by death is what treason is. Nancy Pelosi is guilty of treason.” Earlier this week, CNN reported that in 2019 Greene’s Facebook account “liked” a “comment that said ‘a bullet to the head would be quicker’ to remove House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.” Greene responded to the CNN report by claiming that someone else operating her Facebook account liked the comment about killing Pelosi: “Over the years, I’ve had teams of people manage my pages. Many posts have been liked. Many posts have been shared. Some did not represent my views. Especially the ones that CNN is about to spread across the internet,” she wrote.

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy will reportedly meet with Greene this coming week. On Saturday, Greene tweeted that she talked to Donald Trump and that she has support from the former president: “I had a GREAT call with my all time favorite POTUS, President Trump!  I’m so grateful for his support.” After Greene defeated a Republican neurosurgeon in the primary runoff election in August, Trump hailed Greene on Twitter as a “future Republican Star.”

World

U.N. Secretary General: Russian Vaccine Plays ‘Important Role’ in Fighting COVID

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A medical worker fills a syringe with Sputnik V (Gam-COVID-Vac) coronavirus vaccine at a clinic in Moscow, Russia, December 5, 2020. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

The Reuters interview in which U.N. secretary general António Guterres neglected to come out against Chinese authoritarian influence on the global stage wasn’t the only interview on his schedule Thursday. He also spoke with TASS, a Russian state media agency.

There’s been much said about China’s heavy-handed diplomacy to use global vaccine distribution to its national advantage. There’s another important angle here. The U.N.’s top official is now putting his thumb on the scales for Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

An excerpt from the interview, which ran on Thursday:

– What’s your assessment of Russia’s contribution to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic?

– First of all, Russia is a founding member of the United Nations, a permanent member of the Security Council and these are central pillars of our multilateral system. It’s important to mention that.

Russia has developed a vaccine and has made this vaccine available. It made a very generous offer to the UN. The only condition that the UN has in relation to inoculations is that we can only use vaccines that are approved by the WHO. I know that there are contacts at the present moment between the Russian authorities and the WHO, I hope that those contacts will lead in the quickest possible way to an approval or recognition by the WHO.

We believe that the Russian vaccine can play a very important role in that battle that I’ve mentioned. We need to make sure that we have vaccines available and affordable to everybody everywhere.

– And if, or when, it is approved, can it be used by the United Nations?

– It can be used in many of the UN’s operations in some vulnerable areas of the world where we will need vaccines for our staff and for the population which we support in our peacekeeping operations in fragile countries. So, we hope that the Russian vaccine will play an important role in that regard.

The secretary general offered a respectable hedge with his comment on the requirement of WHO approval of the vaccine, but going on to state a belief in the “important role” of the Russian vaccine in any international response is highly questionable.

No doubt, Guterres, who has announced that he wants to keep his post, is trying to avoid an international incident in the lead up to the selection of the next secretary general in fall 2021, but he really ought to follow the science here.

Science magazine reported on the trials that led to the approval of Russia’s Sputnik vaccine in November. The approval process didn’t “pass the smell test” for two reasons, according to experts.

For one, the sample size of the trial was just too small, as it only included 20 coronavirus cases, which experts interviewed by Science noted is a cause for concern. The second problem that they noted has to do with one of the proteins that’s used in Sputnik, which has been linked to “catastrophe” in an HIV vaccine study 13 years ago. Participants in the study who received vaccinations with the protein in question were more susceptible to HIV than were members of the control group.

That said, Sputnik V has been administered to over a million people around the world, who have decided that the risk involved with the Russian vaccine is less than that of the disease itself. And an Indian drugmaker found it to be safe in mid-stage trials (though the study was conducted in partnership with Russia’s Direct Investment Fund).

The jury is nonetheless still out, and it’s certainly too early for someone like Guterres to lend his support to Moscow’s global public relations campaign to promote its unreliable, and potentially dangerous, vaccine.

Guterres and others shouldn’t listen to what Russian officials say — they should instead look at what they do. Business Insider today reported that a Russian diplomat posted in Estonia opted to receive the Pfizer shot (which has been maligned as unsafe and ineffective in Russia) over the Sputnik vaccine.

World

The Biden Administration Shouldn’t Back Down on Chinese Tech

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Huawei logo at a shopping mall in Shanghai, China (Aly Song/Reuters)

Asked Friday about the future of the China trade deal negotiated by the Trump administration, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that “everything the past administration has put in place is under review as it relates to our national security approach.”

This almost certainly also applies to the steps that the Trump administration took to deal with Chinese technology. There are many steps here worth preserving, but two stand out in light of the past week’s events.

The first is the Clean Network program, an extensive diplomatic push by the State Department that aimed to wean the rest of the world off of technology vulnerable to authoritarian regimes. By the end of the last administration, over 60 countries had signed onto agreements to curtail the use of equipment and carriers with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

This is exactly the kind of multilateral approach that national-security officials in Biden’s orbit have called for, yet the new State Department team neglected to commit to continuing it when asked by the Daily Caller:

Biden’s State Department told the Daily Caller News Foundation that it will pursue a more comprehensive approach towards combatting Chinese technology abuses, but did not address whether it intends to continue the Clean Network program or whether it was concerned that South Korea refused to join the initiative.

“Technology is at the center of U.S.-China competition. China has been willing to do whatever it takes to gain a technological advantage — stealing intellectual property, engaging in industrial espionage, and forcing technology transfer,” a State Department spokesperson told the DCNF.

“President Biden is firmly committed to making sure Chinese companies cannot misappropriate and misuse American data — and to ensuring that U.S. technology does not support China’s malign activities,” the spokesperson added. “We also have to play a much better offense, by investing in the sources of our technological strength — supercharging American research and development so that we maintain our innovation edge.”

There’s some unfinished business here. Although dozens of close U.S. partners have joined the Clean Network, some countries with major companies that use Huawei equipment, such as South Korea, have given the initiative a cold shoulder. The Biden team ought to continue this important work.

The other measure worth continuing is the Trump-era blacklisting of Huawei. It hardly needs stating that American entities should not be doing business with a telecoms giant that has extensive ties with the Chinese government. And yet, Gina Riamondo, the governor of Rhode Island, and Biden’s pick to run the Commerce Department didn’t commit to keeping Huawei on the entity list, Commerce’s blacklist, when asked during her confirmation hearing.

This didn’t go unnoticed. In a statement, Representative Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called on senators to put a hold on Raimondo’s nomination:

Huawei is not a normal telecommunications company – it is a CCP military company that threatens 5G security in our country, steals U.S. intellectual property, and supports the Chinese Communist Party’s genocide in Xinjiang and their human rights abuses across the country. We need a Commerce Department with strong national security credentials and a Secretary with a clear understanding of the CCP threat. Saying people should not use Huawei and actually keeping them on the Entity List are two very different things that result in very different outcomes. I again strongly urge the Biden Administration to reconsider this dangerous position. Until they make their intentions clear on whether they will keep Huawei on the Entity List, I urge my Senate colleagues to hold Ms. Raimondo’s confirmation.

Although Psaki attempted to clarify Raimondo’s comments by stressing the administration’s commitment to barring “untrusted vendors” from American networks, she also didn’t say anything about keeping Huawei on the entity list.

The Biden team has expressed a general willingness to maintain many Trump-era policies with respect to China, but the lack of commitment to these key parts of its tech strategy is cause for alarm.

Culture

Thirty Things That Caught My Eye Today: Ethiopia, Bioethics, Dante & More (January 29, 2021)

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An Ethiopian Orthodox Priest holds a cross during the Meskel Festival, to commemorate the discovery of the true cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified on, in Addis Ababa, in 2016. (Tiksa Negeri/Reuters)

Coming Monday from the Heritage Foundation and the National Review Institute: ON-DEMAND: Religion is Essential: COVID Lockdowns and Unjust Religious Discrimination

1. Kevin Clarke: Were Orthodox Christians massacred in Ethiopia?

2. Peggy Noonan:

On “Axios on HBO” Sunday we will hear from President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. He is playing a hard hand. Russia is breathing down his neck, Republicans don’t want to hear about him because they’re embarrassed by the Trump phone call that triggered the first impeachment, and Democrats are embarrassed by Hunter Biden and Burisma. Mr. Zelensky seems kind of on his own, sitting on top of one of the world’s flashpoints. China has been sweetly reaching out.

Reporter Jonathan Swan asked the president how he felt as he saw the Capitol stormed. “Shocked,” Mr. Zelensky said. “I could not even imagine something like this was possible in the United States of America. . . . We are used to thinking that the U.S. has ideal democratic institutions where power is passed calmly, without war, without revolutions.” Such things happen elsewhere; they’ve happened in Ukraine. “That it could happen in the United States, no one expected that. . . . After something like this, I believe it would be very difficult for the world to see the United States as a symbol of democracy in the world.”

For more than a century we have claimed the mantle of world power, basked in the warm glow of our exceptionalism, and put ourselves forward as an example. When you do that you have responsibilities; you owe something in return. What you owe is the kind of admirable behavior that gives the world something to aim for. On 1/6 they saw the storming and the siege and thought: Ah, no stability in that place. We can’t learn how to do it there and replicate it here.

This is a loss to rising democracies and also to us, to our standing and reputation. Senate conviction is the chance to show the world: No, we won’t have this; those who did it will pay the highest penalty.

It matters that all evidence be presented, that everyone sees we can come down like a hammer, ensuring that 1/6 was a regrettable incident, not a coming tendency.

It matters that the world see this. That we see it.

10. Inés San Martín: Syrian archbishop calls on the West to lift sanctions against his country

11. Keeping China accountable for Xinjiang

12. April Ponnuru:  Virginia fails to protect elderly: My parents caught COVID while vaccines languish unused

13. Nicholas Frankovich: We Can’t Let the Old Die, Just Because They’re Old and Expensive

14. The last thing New York needs: Advocates in N.Y. renew fight for ‘death with dignity’ bill 

15. Marlo Safi: ‘Untold Harm Has Been Done’: Twitter Sued For Allegedly Profiting From Spread Of Video Showing Sex Trafficked 13-Year-Old Boy

16. In Christianity Today: I Escaped. Now I’m Using My Voice for Victims Trafficked to the U.S.

Continue reading “Thirty Things That Caught My Eye Today: Ethiopia, Bioethics, Dante & More (January 29, 2021)”

World

A Rough START for Biden’s Supposed Hawkishness on Russia

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President Joe Biden speaks during a brief appearance at the White House in Washington, D.C., January 25, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

When Joe Biden called Vladimir Putin earlier this week to discuss the extension of New START, a nuclear arms limitation treaty, he went on to lecture the Russian president on the SolarWinds cyber-espionage operation, the attempted assassination of Putin critic Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election, and reports that Russia paid the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. soldiers.

This fed into a triumphant attitude from some Democrats and media figures that doesn’t quite accurately describe Biden’s approach to Russia. The Twitter account of the House Homeland Security Committee Democrats stated that erroneous view most succinctly. “Finally a President that will stand up to Russia and Putin,” said the post.

But after just a week on the job, Biden caved on New START, agreeing to a five-year extension without any other conditions. Once Biden telegraphed his support of the extension to Putin, the Russian political system leapt into action — and by the end of the next day, both houses of the Russian parliament had approved the deal. Putin signed the bill earlier today.

Even some of the officials tapped to serve in Biden’s State Department wanted to drive a harder bargain. Last summer, Victoria Nuland, Biden’s designate for undersecretary of state for political affairs, wrote an essay in Foreign Affairs detailing the terms under which the U.S. should renew New START:

Washington should use Putin’s sense of urgency to tie discussions over New START to wider negotiations on all aspects of military power—nuclear and conventional, space and cyberspace. To allow time for those talks, the treaty could be provisionally extended for a year or two, but Washington should not grant Moscow what it wants most: a free rollover of New START without any negotiations to address Russia’s recent investments in short- and medium-range nuclear weapons systems and new conventional weapons. Nor should it insist on including China in the talks right away, as the current administration advocates.

It’s worth noting that Nuland staked out her position somewhere between the Trump administration’s ultimately unfruitful demands that China join New START and Biden’s decision to bless a five-year extension without any additional conditions. In the end, the president picked the position most favored by the Russian side.

One hardly needs to run through the record of Donald Trump’s rhetorical failures with regard to Russia. A non-exhaustive list would include his decision not to decisively condemn the Russian acts that Biden brought up during his call with Putin, in addition to the disastrous Helsinki press conference in which Trump took Putin’s word over U.S. intelligence community assessments and his impeachment-triggering effort to hold up lethal defensive aid to Ukraine.

But where the former president’s rhetoric failed, his administration had a clear-eyed approach to countering Putin’s ambitions. Trump’s attorney general and secretary of state both publicly blamed Russia for the SolarWinds hack. The administration implemented aggressive sanctions in an attempt to kill a Russian pipeline that would’ve harmed Ukraine’s position in European energy markets. And it expelled Russian officials and closed a consulate in response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the U.K.

Biden deserves credit for denouncing Putin’s destabilizing actions, but his decision to unconditionally extend New START doesn’t send any promising signs about his administration’s ability to deal with Moscow.

Culture

Twenty-Five March for Life–Related Things That Caught My Eye Today (January 29, 2021)

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Pro-life markers walk near the U.S. Capitol as they take part in the 48th Annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., January 29, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

From elsewhere on NRO:

Editors: Joe Biden’s Abortion Extremism

Editors: Andrew Cuomo’s Shame

Benjamin Watson: Pro-Justice Means Pro-Life

1. Mary Hallan FioRito: Remembering the legacy of pro-life pioneer Joseph Scheidler

2. Jeanne Mancini: Reality Is Not Arbitrary

3.

4. Charlie Camosy: Open Letter to Pope Francis on Prenatal Justice

5. Mary Eberstadt: President Biden, Speak to the March for Life [He did the opposite and rescinded the Mexico City Policy]

6. Ed Mechmann: Abortion and the Corruption of Law

7. Helen Alvare: John Paul II’s ‘Evangelium Vitae’ Gave a Voice to Those Promoting Respect for Life

8. Biden says he’ll make Roe the ‘law of the land’; what would that mean?

9. G. Tracy Mehan III:

But it is in the human heart where the greatest conflicts over abortion arise, both within itself and in its relationship with others.

These conflicts create a void, an absence of love, which severs the moral, emotional, and psychological ties connecting human beings to one another including their unborn children. Alienation, estrangement, guilt, a sense of loss, and loneliness are the consequence. In this very personal, private realm, literature often provides greater illumination than polemics.

10. Naomi Schaefer Riley: What lessons can the child welfare system take from the COVID-19 pandemic?

11. Knights of Columbus: Latest Marist Poll on “Americans’ Opinions on Abortion” finds most Americans still agreeing that abortion in the United States should be limited and that tax dollars should not go to fund abortions.

12. National Right to Life Committee State of Abortion 2021 report

13. The Institute for Pro-Life Advancement: The Pro-Life Support & Nuanced Abortion Views of Millennials and Gen Z

14. Serena Sigillito: The Feminist Movement Before and After Abortion

15. In America: Joe Biden’s missed opportunity on abortion

16. Dignity before Accomplishment

17.

18. Anthony Fauci to WHO:

And it will be our policy to support women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in the United States, as well as globally.  To that end, President Biden will be revoking the Mexico City Policy in the coming days, as part of his broader commitment to protect women’s health and advance gender equality at home and around the world.

19. San Francisco archbishop responds to Pelosi: ‘No Catholic in good conscience can favor abortion’

20. Helen Alvare: Catholic Church Is Correct in Not Letting Abortion Issue Slide

21. Fr. Raymond de Souza: Archbishop Gomez Rock-Solid in His Inauguration Day Message

22. George Weigel: President Biden and a Catholic inflection point

23. French doctor who made Down discovery closer to sainthood

24.

25. Rereading John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae

Religion

The Year the March for Life Went Virtual — Both Strange and Oddly Helpful

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Pro-life marchers take part in the 48th Annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., January 29, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

If you’re not a regular to the March for Life every January, you might not fully understand just how out of sorts those of us who did not go to Washington, D.C., to march today are feeling. I’m not sure there’s anywhere where I run into so many people I know or who know me (many National Review readers). For a number of years, I’d run up to the Supreme Court ahead of most, to see what was happening there. There’s usually a rag-tag group of angry anarchists with crude signs declaring their love for abortion. (Which I know is not representative of most people who identify as pro-choice.) This would mean I would run into very many of the thousands heading up the Hill to the Court. I’ve normally been overwhelmed in the best of ways by all the friendly faces.

The March for Life is an annual civic and spiritual ritual — though I am encouraged by the secular pro-life and even atheist groups that show up, too. For Catholics, there’s a big Mass the night before. Young people who came on buses and their chaperones will sleep in the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception after the Vigil for Life before they march. (They had the Mass last night with representatives, like the March this year, of everyone who would normally be there.)

It’s all an encounter with hope. We’ve endured a near half-century of legal abortion because of Roe v. Wade. And yet, every year, thousands of young people and others spend hours traveling to D.C. to take a stand against this human-rights travesty in our backyard. There’s horror about the evil, but there is also joy about the gift of life and a confidence that there will be victory over this intimate violence.

I have no doubt that some of the violence we have seen stems back to this poison in our country. I remember being at the Supreme Court for an abortion-clinic buffer-zone case that Mark Rienzi from the Becket Fund and Catholic University argued. Eleanor McCullen was the lead plaintiff, she’s a grandmother who had dedicated years to being a sign of hope to women who do not want to have an abortion. Outside the Court, after the oral argument, Eleanor talked about what a generous people Americans are — giving to people in need throughout the world as both a nation and as individuals. Except when it comes to the unborn. She challenged America to rethink this. Sadly, that was 2013, and now we have what looks to be the most anti-life president when it comes to abortion — and even more tragically, he’s a Catholic who should know better.

I watched video of the smaller March this year — and got some photos and reports from friends who were among the representatives of us all. It was much quieter, much more prayerful. It’s always prayerful, but you have a beautiful, wild mix — of young people with pro-life chants, singing, friends in conversation, and more. Usually there are so many people, some never figure out where the banner is and just go for it. It looks like many marches, if you are watching from the side of the Senate buildings.

And this year, the smaller march seemed appropriate in more ways than the coronavirus pandemic and fear of violence, knowing how riled up some are in the worst ways. Last year was the first year there was near-universal coverage of the March for Life because Donald Trump decided to show up to it. It was the first time I saw so many candidate signs at a March for Life. That didn’t seem right — people are free, too, of course, but it gave the March a different feel, one that wasn’t representative of what it has been for four decades. I actually always appreciated that George W. Bush didn’t, but would send a message.

The president showing up changes the dynamic of a thing. And people didn’t like W. either. Trump, of course, was a whole different scene. And it was hard on our credibility with people meeting the March for the first time — he said that all people are made in the image and likeness of God. Even Nancy Pelosi? Yes, even Nancy Pelosi. And one of the fatal problems with politics today is that we see political opponents as evil. Their policies may be — abortion certainly is. I’m praying against all reason, perhaps, that there can be mass conversions on the issue. I think the slower, quieter march that left so many of us home praying and a quiet rose laying at the Court makes for a more contemplative marking of the January anniversary of Roe. How can we better show the face of love of the pro-life movement, a cause that is not associated with or contingent on any one person or politician? The cause is just and peaceful in the face of intimate violence shrouded by euphemisms that lie.

I was thinking today: When we hopefully see the day when we don’t have to march in protest of Roe (which I don’t think is imminent, contrary to the rhetoric around Trump Supreme Court picks), I think we will march anyway, in gratitude. But maybe the ruling restoring sanity to our law will come down in the spring, which would be fitting for new life for our country, instead of the appropriate bitter cold we march in now.

Politics & Policy

Jewish Space Lasers, Etc.

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Only today’s Republican party could pull off the public-relations coup of putting the dumbest person in Congress on the education committee.

Why Is Matt Gaetz Campaigning against Liz Cheney in Wyoming?

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Rep. Matt Gaetz (R., Fla.) speaks with the media in Washington, D.C., February 2, 2018. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

What is Matt Gaetz doing?

In case you missed it — and let’s remember, the Florida representative’s entire modus operandi is designed to ensure otherwise, thus I am somewhat loath to give him what he wants — Gaetz has flown to Wyoming to campaign against Liz Cheney. Cheney is the No. 3 Republican in the House of Representatives, and was one of ten Republican members to vote in favor of impeaching former president Donald Trump for his role in the January 6 chaos on Capitol Hill.

It’s worth conceding at the outset that one can consider that this is a complicated question

Politics & Policy

‘It Still Doesn’t Make Sense to Impeach and Convict Donald Trump’

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George Will has a column making the prudential case against impeachment, which I’ve always found pretty compelling and looks stronger all the time.

 

 

Politics & Policy

Will Nevada Senator Jacky Rosen Flip-Flop on the Filibuster?

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In 2019, Senator Jacky Rosen of Nevada said she supported keeping the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for most legislation. “I think we should keep the filibuster. It’s one of the few things that we have left in order to let all of the voices be heard here in the Senate,” Rosen told National Review. “What you might think today would be in your favor, might not be in your favor tomorrow,” she told the Huffington Post. But it’s not clear whether Rosen, a moderate who was the only Democrat to unseat a Senate Republican in 2018, still supports the filibuster. In the Capitol earlier this week, I asked Rosen twice if she still backs the filibuster, but she wouldn’t reply. Two moderate Senate Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, reaffirmed their support for the filibuster this week.

Politics & Policy

Poll: Strong Majority of Americans Back the Hyde Amendment

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A pro-life demonstrator holds up a mock human fetus, as groups chant over one another outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 4, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

A new Marist Poll sponsored by the Knights of Columbus asks Americans: “Please tell me if you strongly support, support, oppose, or strongly oppose using tax dollars to pay for a woman’s abortion.” Fifty-eight percent of Americans say they oppose taxpayer funding of abortion, while 38 percent support it. Those numbers are broadly consistent with polling on the Hyde amendment in recent years. In 2016, a Politico/Harvard poll found that likely voters oppose Medicaid funding of abortion by a 22-point margin — 58 percent to 36 percent.

President Biden this week rescinded the Mexico City Policy, so groups that perform or promote abortion overseas can once again receive funding for contraceptive programs from U.S. taxpayers. Pro-life Americans have long opposed the use of taxpayer dollars that subsidize abortionists, but keeping the Hyde amendment has been an even greater priority because direct funding of abortion procedures has greater impact on the number of lives lost to abortion

Protecting conscience rights is indeed a weighty reason to support the Hyde amendment, but there is an even better reason to do so. What makes it the most important pro-life public policy since the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision is this: When you subsidize something, you get more of it, and this basic fact of social science holds true when that something is abortion.

One study by the Guttmacher Institute, a Planned Parenthood offshoot, found that in states that use their own tax dollars to pay for abortions undergone by Medicaid recipients, the abortion rate among Medicaid recipients is 3.9 times the rate among nonrecipients, “while in states that do not permit Medicaid funding for abortions, Medicaid recipients are only 1.6 times as likely as nonrecipients to have abortions.”

The precise number of lives saved by the Hyde amendment is a matter of dispute, but according to a 2016 report by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an organization affiliated with the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, “the best research indicates that the Hyde Amendment has saved over two million unborn children” since the policy was first enacted in 1976.

That’s an average of 50,000 human lives saved from abortion each year.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg acknowledged in a 2009 interview that a major rationale for funding abortions for Medicaid recipients was that it would result in a culling of the poor, though she put it a bit more euphemistically. “Frankly, I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of,” she said. “So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding of abortion.” For that reason, the liberal Supreme Court justice said she was surprised that the Supreme Court did not strike down the Hyde amendment in the 1980 case Harris v. McRae.

While the House appropriations chair is pushing forward to scrap the Hyde amendment in 2021, one former pro-life Democratic congressman, Dan Lipinski of Illinois, is doubtful Speaker Pelosi has the votes in the narrowly divided House to kill the pro-life policy.

In the Senate, two Democrats have committed to keeping the 60-vote threshold for legislation, including spending bills that fund Medicaid. But it remains to be seen whether a simple majority of Senate Democrats, under complex budget reconciliation rules, will find a way to fund abortion. West Virginia Democratic senator Joe Manchin told National Review in December that killing “the Hyde amendment would be foolish and I’m strongly opposed to this push from some Members of Congress,” but Manchin hasn’t commented on whether he supports a “public option” for health insurance that would cover elective abortion.

Health Care

Worst of Both Worlds, Continued

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Earlier today, in the grocery store, a guy bumped into me. What was particularly odd was that he was wearing two masks on his face . . . but both were below his nose. Clearly, this guy was not an anti-masker. He’s worried enough to wear two masks. But he’s not careful enough to keep either one above his nose, and thus his chin was doubly protected. And somehow he managed to not look where he was going and walk into me.

He’s a walking reminder to public-health experts that all the public-service announcements and awareness campaigns in the world just aren’t going to reach some people.

Health Care

Should Teachers Have Vaccine Priority over the Elderly?

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That’s clearly the assumption behind this Axios article. I don’t think there is any case for such prioritization absent a strong commitment to return to in-person schooling. But I’m not sure such prioritization — or really any prioritization that creates complexity or administrative delay — is a good idea anyway. The closer we can get to “first-come, first-served, with the elderly allowed to cut in line,” the better.

Politics & Policy

Capitol Police Head Calls for ‘Permanent Fencing’ on Capitol Hill

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One of the quiet, underappreciated charms of Washington, D.C., — yes, believe it or not, it has some — is the relative accessibility of some of the physical locations most important to our system of government. It’s true that the White House and Capitol Hill have for years required security procedures actually to enter them. But getting pretty close to both hasn’t been that hard, as legions of tourists with cheesy photos could attest.

Well, you might want to turn that “is” into a “was.” Over the summer, after an unfortunate spectacle in the proximity of the White House, the entire area around the White House North Lawn, a span of several blocks, has been fenced off, and remains so (at least as of the last time I was there). And now, after the events of January 6, Capitol Hill has gotten similar treatment. Virtually the entire area, encompassing not just the Capitol itself but also congressional offices and buildings for the Library of Congress, is now behind a security fence, and staffed with a contingent of National Guard and other officers.

Some of this may be permanent on the Hill. Capitol Police acting chief Yogananda Pittman said in a statement Thursday that “in light of recent events, I can unequivocally say that vast improvements to the physical security infrastructure must be made to include permanent fencing, and the availability of ready, back-up forces in close proximity to the Capitol.”

Nothing is set in stone yet, and area politicians, including both Virginia senators and D.C.’s mayor, raised objections to permanent security measures of this nature. But fencing has already been up for nearly a month. And we’ve seen before how understandable security measures for an extraordinary situation can become a new normal. What that new normal may involve, and how it might affect not just the city but also the character of our government, remains to be seen.

Politics & Policy

State of Play

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Protesters storm into the U.S. Capitol during clashes with police in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Here as of today is the state of play in the Senate GOP.

The president of the United States peacefully and patriotically sent a mob to the Capitol which peacefully and patriotically broke down the doors, killed a cop, trampled one of their own, suffered two heart attacks and a casualty in the line of fire, and demanded to hang the president of the Senate. Forty-five Senate Republicans evidently think this is no big deal, which suggests that they have a low view of their own consequence. I share it.

The five who do think this was actionable are two liberal women, a man in his last term, a septuagenarian multimillionaire with a safe seat, and Ben Sasse, whose campaign to be Mr. Anti-Trump is eased by having so little competition.

Meanwhile on the House side, Kevin McCarthy has met with the former president who, he says, wants to help Republicans win in 2022. How will the former president do that? Bigger mobs?