Knowing the Virus’ Origin Would Have Changed a Lot, Almost Immediately

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A man in a protective suit stands at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport after the lockdown was lifted in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, April 10, 2020. (Aly Song/Reuters)

Pointing out that the origin of the virus matters enormously, Rich wrote that knowing the virus escaped from a lab “wouldn’t have changed how we responded to the pandemic in real time.”

Actually, I’m pretty sure it would have changed the response considerably.

If the virus was accidentally released from a laboratory, that means it was being researched in a laboratory. Which means someone, and probably several researchers, within the Wuhan Institute of Virology already knew some things about this particular virus when Wuhan residents started showing up at hospitals with strange new viral infections throughout December. It means that when the

Politics & Policy

Feinstein: Nuking Filibuster Is a ‘Non-Issue’

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Senator Dianne Feinstein on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., May 8, 2017. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters )

On Thursday, Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein scoffed at the notion Democrats would nuke the filibuster:

Feinstein’s comment surprised some reporters because the California senator had released a written statement on the night of Friday, March 19 in which the senator said she was “open to changing the way the Senate filibuster rules are used.”

The March 19 Feinstein press release came hours after National Review had reported that Feinstein, when asked if she still supports the 60-vote threshold for legislation, said: “I do right now, yes.”

“The Senate is an institution, and this is part of that institution,” Feinstein said of the filibuster. Asked if there was anything Senate Republicans could do to get Feinstein to change the rule to 51 votes, she told me: “I haven’t gone that far in my thinking, because I just know that votes aren’t there to do it.”

As a matter of tone and emphasis, the difference between Feinstein’s own comments and the Feinstein statement released by her staff was striking, but there wasn’t much of a substantive difference. As I noted back in March, “the statement released Friday night by [Feinstein’s] staff seems more like an attempt to placate progressive activists than an outright abandonment of her position.”

World

Israel, Illuminated

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I have heard some good Israel-explainers in my life — few to match Haviv Rettig Gur. He is an analyst for the Times of Israel. He wrote about the latest Hamas war here. We have done a podcast together — a Q&Ahere.

Some questions: Was Israel right to pull out of Gaza, back in 2005? What did intra-Palestinian competition — Hamas vs. Fatah — have to do with the latest war? How about the role of Iran? Is President Biden culpable, as some American conservatives charge? How did the Israeli military perform? How about Mossad? Why can’t Israel finish off Hamas once and for all? Why does Hamas always live to fight another day? What is the state of the Israeli spirit? How high is morale? What errors has Israel made, vis-à-vis the Palestinians? What are the ingredients for Israeli survival — the very survival of the state?

Haviv Rettig Gur answers all these questions with authority. He is deeply informed, deeply thoughtful. At the end of our discussion, he takes up the interesting, perhaps disturbing question: What do American Jews get wrong about Israeli Jews?

A talk with HRG is a real education — even for those who know a lot about the subject already. Again, here.

Education

The China Problem for American Higher Ed

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U.S. and Chinese flags outside the building of an American company in Beijing, China, January 21, 2021. (Tingshu Wang/Reuters)

The Chinese regime is aggressive and domineering. It uses every tactic to increase its influence in the world.

And that poses challenges for our colleges and universities. So argues Nicholas Romanow in today’s Martin Center article. 

He writes, “The college campus has become a battleground between the United States and China. Donations, research funding, and international students give colleges a much-needed financial and enrollment boost, but the connection to the Chinese government can also threaten academic freedom and, on some occasions, national security.”

No doubt the best-known aspect of Chinese influence in American higher education are the Confucius Institutes, funded by the Chinese government and evidently meant as means for getting its spin on events into the minds of students. While they are of some value in the language training they provide, they are also inimical to academic freedom.

Romanow suggests a course of action of American universities. “When feasible, universities should develop their own Asian studies and languages programs and avoid relying on Confucius Institutes as their only resource for Chinese language and culture. Universities are platforms of open debate and should be able to accommodate a plurality of viewpoints. Ultimately, if universities decide to shutter Confucius Institutes, it should be based on the quality of their academic product, which China expert Mary Gallagher argues is substandard because of the rigid operating structure of these programs.”

When navigating the problems caused by malign Chinese influence, Romanow advises our higher-education leaders to remember that their main concern must be for their students and not the funds they might lose if they don’t go along with the goals of the Chinese state.

Romanow sums up: “Facing this China challenge, universities need to be nimble, creative, and principled. Cultivating long-term expertise in China is imperative for universities to train future leaders in diplomacy, business, and national security. Universities must maintain their openness while being cognizant of the unique challenge of Chinese influence.”

Religion

Thanks Be to God for 50 Years of Father Romanus Cessario

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Rather Romanus Cessario (Courtesty photo)

Today I crashed a priest’s 50th ordination Mass. (He made the mistake of telling me where he’d be, and I couldn’t resist.)

Father Romanus Cessario, O.P., was spending the day with his dear spiritual sisters and daughters, the Dominican nuns at St. Dominic’s in Linden, Va. Everything about it seemed just right. He had been giving conferences to the nuns over the course of Pentecost days and was living and breathing the contemplation that is the reason for the monastery. I don’t think I’d be putting words into Father Cessario’s mouth if I said priests can’t be priests without contemplation. And this is not just for priests. We can’t even be human without it. We certainly can’t know about God without spending time with Him, asking Him to bear fruit in us through supernatural grace.

That’s all to say: It is something to remain faithful to a priestly vocation in the world today. I know many priests who credit Father Romanus with introducing them to the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans) or otherwise inspiring, encouraging, and nourishing their vocations as priests.

It was something of the joy of heaven to be able to pray with him and two of his brothers who were part of the surprise. The priesthood has been the stuff of headlines, and Father Romanus does not pretend to be perfect, but my goodness, when you cooperate with grace, that’s the stuff of renewal!

I’m personally grateful for Father Romanus’s five decades as a priest in the Dominican Province of St. Joseph and look forward to seeing the fruits of projects he is working on down at Ave Maria University, just outside of Naples. He has stayed close to Mary and the Trinity, and there is wisdom yet to be downloaded. But most of all: Thanks be to God for his fidelity and perseverance in trials and cooperation with grace to bear fruit for the Church and the world. And if you are so inclined: Please pray for harvests of holy priests.

(To read some of Father Romanus’s books, I’d start with Compassionate Blood, on St. Catherine of Siena, but there are others, including The Seven Last Words of Jesus, The Seven Joys of Mary, The Seven Sorrows of Mary, The Grace to Be a Priest, and more.)

Science & Tech

Pro-Life Group Launches $2 Million Ad Campaign Defending Mississippi’s 15-Week Abortion Limit

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As the Supreme Court prepares to hear a case this fall on the constitutionality of Mississippi’s ban on most abortions late in pregnancy, the Susan B. Anthony List is launching a $2 million ad campaign.

“Science tells us that at 15 weeks, these babies have formed faces. They smile, they yawn, they feel pain,” says the ad’s narrator. “It’s why European countries ban late-term abortions. In five decades, we’ve learned they are just like us. Isn’t it time the law reflects the science?”

You can watch it here:

World

Jews Can’t Let the U.S. Turn into Europe

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Pro-Palestinian demonstrators near the Israeli consulate in New York City, May 18, 2021. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

A few days ago, New York governor Andrew Cuomo sent extra state patrols to Jewish neighborhoods after a rash of attacks, including the beating of a man by a mob in midtown, a brick flying through the windows of a kosher pizza store, and “protesters” spitting at and threatening restaurant patrons. I had initially missed the story. Since anti-Jewish attacks in Brooklyn aren’t primarily the work of white supremacists, the incidents don’t garner widespread attention.

No matter. I’d suggest Jews go out and arm themselves to deter these kinds of assaults, but, of course, New York makes that extraordinarily difficult. And we shouldn’t exaggerate the circumstances — hate crimes are still rare and the United States is perhaps the safest place for Jews.

That said, it would be a tragedy if we were on a European trajectory. There, the kinds of lies and smears now being normalized and spread by likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and other progressives on the floor of Congress have manifested in harassment and violence against Jews. Nearly a quarter of the French, for instance, believe in some Jewish conspiracy theories. Nearly half of the French say that Zionism is a plot for world domination. Much like American progressives, the European Union helps fuel this animosity by singling out the Jewish state for endless and nearly exclusive reprimand, while at the same time ignoring the atrocities around the world.

In Europe, few Jewish organizations are left to push back against these currents. Indeed, in the United States, Jewish organizations — the cowardly ADL and others — also largely exist to mollify leftist partisans and crusade for progressive causes. These places are populated by people who exhibit bravery by putting triple parentheses around their Twitter handles; the kind of people who work harder to cancel Tucker Carlson than expose the spread of blood libels by elected officials. These are the kind of people who propose American Jews take off your yarmulkes, as they must in Paris suburbs. “It pains me to say this,” Aaron Keyak, Joe Biden’s head of Jewish engagement during the campaign and transition, recently tweeted, “but if you fear for your life or physical safety take off your kippah and hide your magen david. (Obviously, if you can, ask your rabbi first.)” In 2020, Keyak blamed Trump for anti-Semitic attacks, saying, “We see how Trump has been remarkably weak on anti-Semitism and has endangered Jews by making us all less safe.” Today, he has no idea why it’s happening.

Like here, media coverage of Europe gives the impression that anti-Semitism is largely the handiwork of angry ethnonationalists. As one EU study found, among the most serious incidents of anti-Semitic harassment in European Union, 31 percent include someone the victim did not know, but 30 percent were perpetrated by someone with extremist Muslim views; 21 percent with someone who held left-wing political views; 16 by a colleague from work or school; 15 percent by an acquaintance or friend; and only 13 percent by someone with known right-wing views. This, of course, is inconvenient to talk about.

In 2015, France, the largest Jewish community in Europe (which, it should be noted, is now only at 500,000), the government sent ten-thousand troops across the country to guard hundreds of Jewish sites. French soldiers patrol streets in places like Sarcelles to protect Jews from “anti-Zionist” violence. Every year there are gruesome acts of violence and murder perpetrated against Jews. Hey, in France, you can throw an elderly Jewish woman off a balcony while yelling Allahu Akbar as long as you smoke-up first. In Germany, you can throw Molotov cocktails at a Jewish place of worship as long as you’re doing it to “bring attention to the Gaza conflict.” For the average Jew, the situation in Europe is worse now than perhaps any time since World War II. We are nowhere close to it. But we’re certainly headed in the wrong direction.

U.S.

50 Percent of All Americans Have Now Received at Least One Dose of a COVID Vaccine

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Jake Lawler receives his COVID-19 vaccine at the Bradfield Community Center through Health Partners of Western Ohio in Lima, Ohio, March 29, 2021. (Megan Jelinger/Reuters)

The United States is hitting a milestone: 50 percent of all Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, according to the CDC’s tally.

Where that number ultimately tops out remains to be seen: In an early May poll conducted for Kaiser Health News, 65 percent of all American adults said that they want the shot as soon as possible or have already gotten it, while 15 percent are taking a “wait and see” approach. According to the CDC, 62 percent of all American adults have now received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine (including nearly 86 percent of American senior citizens).

In terms of vaccinations, the United States is not that far behind the world leader, Israel, where COVID cases have all but disappeared and  63 percent of the entire population vaccinated. In the worldwide vaccination race, the United Kingdom is second with 56.5 percent of its population having received at least one shot.

Yes, ‘Big Lie’ Is a Nazi Reference

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Adolf Hitler stands beside Heinrich Himmler while observing a parade of troops in 1940. (Reuters)

As David Harsanyi notes, Democrats who profess to be shocked at the irresponsible Marjorie Taylor Greene being irresponsible with a Holocaust analogy are, themselves, chronically addicted to Nazi and Holocaust analogies. One of those is their use of the term “Big Lie”:

This very week you can read, for example, a Chris Cillizza piece headlined, “A majority of Republicans are living in a fantasy world built around the Big Lie.” The “Big Lie” — highly popular among Democrats (and Donald Trump) — is, of course, referring to a tactic the Nazis deployed against their political enemies. No one seemed upset when President-elect Joe Biden claimed Ted Cruz

Science & Tech

Re: Lab Leak and Censorship 

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In response to Lab Leak and Censorship

Further to MBD’s post below, we should pause and consider how crazy it was that until, I guess, yesterday, Facebook was censoring posts that supported what may be the accurate story of the origins of the virus. This is why social-media companies should not be attempting to censor discussion of hotly contested contemporary political and social issues — most of the time, these issues aren’t as settled as elite opinion believes, or not settled at all.

Law & the Courts

James Carville Almost Makes a Good Point on Democrats and Crime

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NYPD crime scene markers in the street near the scene of a shooting in Brooklyn, N.Y., July 13, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

James Carville has an op-ed in today’s print Wall Street Journal called “Democrats Are the Anticrime Party.” He may be 76 years old, but the “Ragin’ Cajun” is still cooking with gas.

Carville:

Crime is going to be an issue up and down the ballot in 2022, and many local politicians are already feeling the heat. Now that violent crime is on the rise, we Democrats can no longer afford to sit by passively while Republicans trumpet bellicose law-and-order talking points. If we don’t aggressively begin to own the crime issue and make Republicans respond to their own failures, we risk losing our slim majorities in Congress.

His first sentence is certainly right. Crime hasn’t been a major issue in electoral politics for quite some time since, as Carville correctly points out, it has been declining for quite some time. Voters cast ballots out of dissatisfaction more often than they do out of gratitude, so there hasn’t been much reason to make crime an issue at the ballot box until now.

Knowing that Republicans are already making it an issue, Carville crafts a Democratic response. Basically, make it about Trump:

The modern Democratic Party is flat-out better on crime than Republicans. Mr. Trump presided over the greatest crime rise in modern American history. Now it’s time for the Democratic consultant class to stop its bed-wetting on this issue and take this case to the American people: A lawless president created the perfect storm for the crime crisis America now faces.

From beginning to the end, Mr. Trump’s presidency was one long crime wave. He broke laws, obstructed justice and incited violence knowing he wouldn’t be held accountable while in office. Eight of his campaign associates were put in shackles. He pardoned five of them. Corruption became the administration’s oxygen, and Mr. Trump’s stunning display of lawlessness set an example for criminals to crawl out of the shadows and believe they would never be brought to justice. It was also no coincidence that Mr. Trump presided over an all-time low in white-collar crime enforcement.

This is, of course, not a great argument. The FBI’s most recent release of annual crime data was for 2019, and it began its press release triumphantly:

For the third consecutive year, the estimated number of violent crimes in the nation decreased when compared with the previous year’s statistics, according to FBI figures released today. In 2019, violent crime was down 0.5% from the 2018 number. Property crimes also dropped 4.1%, marking the 17th consecutive year the collective estimates for these offenses declined.

Republicans don’t have to muster much effort to say that everything was going swell until the “defund the police” crowd started gaining influence on the left. The actions of elected Democrats in big cities seem to agree with that assessment. The Wall Street Journal reported that despite last year’s promises to reduce police department funding, “In the nation’s 20 largest local law-enforcement agencies, city and county leaders want funding increases for nine of the 12 departments where next year’s budgets already have been proposed.”

Since urban crime is such a local government issue, blaming Republicans for it is a tough sell. Republicans have only slightly more influence in American urban government than they do in Canadian urban government (i.e., none), and it’s been that way for decades.

Still, Carville knows enough about winning elections to know that it’s not always about making an airtight logical argument. When something happens under a president, you pin it to that president, whether he was actually responsible for it or not. Joe Biden doesn’t have much control over the price of gas, but you better believe Republicans are going to attack Democrats over rising gas prices under his watch.

There’s also the reality that Trump arouses emotions in people that other political figures don’t. Much has been made of Republicans not moving on from Trump, but this is another case where Democrats don’t want to leave him behind either.

But all this disregards perhaps a more important issue: If Democrats were listening to Carville, his argument wouldn’t be on the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal.

Woke Culture

USA Today Finds the Word ‘Male’ to Be ‘Hurtful’

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(Pixabay)

USA Today has published an editor’s note on an op-ed by Chelsea Mitchell, a female high-school athlete, regretting the supposedly “hurtful language” Mitchell used. Several references to the word “male” were switched to “transgender.”

Mitchell’s lawyer, Christiana Holcomb, accurately described this “blatant censorship” as violating “the trust we place in media to be honest brokers of public debate.” You can read Mitchell’s original piece here.

World

Why We Might Want Diplomats Investigating the Origin of COVID-19

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(Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Just one point to add to Jimmy Quinn’s excellent reporting that former secretary of state Mike Pompeo says the Biden administration “haven’t lifted a finger” in investigating the origin of the virus, and in fact shut down an existing State Department inquiry that began when Pompeo was running the department.

In theory, a new administration could argue that the State Department investigation into the origin of the virus was duplicative of other efforts in the U.S. intelligence community. But there’s a catch. In these particular circumstances, the State Department might be able to find things that other agencies and departments of the federal government cannot.

It is pretty darn unlikely that any member of the U.S. military has ever stepped inside the walls of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. We’ll probably never know if any officer or agent of the Central Intelligence Agency has ever been able to snoop around in the WIV. (If they have, well done, guys.)

But we do know, for certain, that at least two U.S. State Department employees have indeed toured the facility and been given briefings by the institute’s staff. Jamison Fouss, the U.S. consul general in Wuhan, and Rick Switzer, the embassy’s counselor of environment, science, technology, and health, repeatedly visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology and in January 2018 wrote that memo to Washington warning about a lack of trained staff. Every once in a while, diplomats can get access to places that other professions cannot.

(Did you know that the U.S. State Department has its own intelligence organization? The Bureau of Intelligence and Research, which apparently finds, analyzes, and disseminates high-quality information despite a small staff.)

No one’s afraid of diplomats. They’re polite and respectful. They can’t arrest people. They don’t carry guns. Lots of people, at home and abroad, can get in trouble for talking to a spy. But nobody gets in trouble for meeting with a State Department employee! Certain scientists, both at home and abroad, may be more comfortable speaking to diplomats than to members of the armed services, the “spookier” branches of the intelligence community, or law enforcement.

Yes, I’m usually the guy complaining about duplicative efforts within the federal bureaucracy, but in the realm of intelligence-gathering, it makes sense.

White House

Biden Attacked Trump for Withdrawing from Open Skies Treaty, Now He Tells Russia U.S. Won’t Rejoin

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Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Vice President Joe Biden during their meeting in Moscow March 10, 2011. (Alexander Natruskin/Reuters)

Last May, when President Trump announced a decision to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, candidate Joe Biden blasted the decision, claiming Trump had, “doubled down on his short-sighted policy of going it alone and abandoning American leadership.” Yet ahead of a summit with Vladimir Putin next month, the Biden administration has informed Russia that it has no intention of rejoining the agreement.

The Trump administration withdrew from the agreement, which started in 2002 as a way for dozens of countries to freely conduct surveillance flights over each other’s territory. When Trump decided to withdraw, noting that Russia was not abiding by its commitments under the treaty, Democrats responded in high dungeon.

“The President’s withdrawal will senselessly blind America and our allies while emboldening our enemies,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi fumed. “This decision sends a clear signal to the Russians that they can continue their bad behavior unwatched and unchecked.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer joined with leading Democratic committee chairs in writing a letter declaring, “The Open Skies Treaty is an important, multilateral agreement that provides the United States and its allies critical information about Russian military forces via flights over Russian territory.”

Biden said that the treaty was necessary.

“I supported the Open Skies Treaty as a Senator, because I understood that the United States and our allies would benefit from being able to observe — on short notice — what Russia and other countries in Europe were doing with their military forces,” he wrote in a statement posted on Medium. “That has remained true for the nearly two decades the treaty has been in force. During the Obama Administration, the United States and our partners successfully used Open Skies flights and imagery to support Ukraine when Russia violated its territory, disprove Russian disinformation, and show the world what Russia was doing.”

As to Russian cheating, he said, ” Russian violations should be addressed not by withdrawing from the Treaty, but by seeking to resolve them through the Treaty’s implementation and dispute mechanism. That is exactly how other disputes over Russian implementation have been resolved, including altitude restrictions over Chechnya.”

He concluded, “Instead of tearing up treaties that make us and our allies more secure, President Trump should take common sense steps to keep Americans safe. He should remain in the Open Skies Treaty and work with allies to confront and resolve problems regarding Russia’s compliance.”

Yet for all that huffing and puffing, the Associated Press reports:

The Biden administration informed Russia on Thursday that it will not rejoin a key arms control pact, even as the two sides prepare for a summit next month between their leaders.

U.S. officials said Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told the Russians that the administration had decided not to reenter the Open Skies Treaty, which had allowed surveillance flights over military facilities in both countries but that former President Donald Trump had withdrawn from.

 

Politics & Policy

The Rushian Empire Divides Upon the Emperor’s Death

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Rush Limbaugh gives an introductory speech at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., December 21, 2019. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Like Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan, Rush Limbaugh created an empire too large to be left uncontested to a single heir upon his death. Today, we have news of how it will be divided. Rush’s distributor will replace him with a duo of younger hosts:

Clay Travis and Buck Sexton will take over his three-hour conservative talk radio show time slot, said distributor Premiere Networks [which] hopes the younger voices will bring something new to talk radio, while also continuing on in Mr. Limbaugh’s legacy. The program, slated to begin airing June 21, will be called “The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show.” It is expected to air around the country, from noon to 3 p.m. ET, on hundreds of stations. . . . Mr. Travis, 42 years old, is a sports journalist, lawyer, TV analyst and founder of sports website Outkick.com. Since 2016 he’s hosted “Outkick the Coverage With Clay Travis” on Fox Sports Radio. . . . Mr. Sexton, 39, is a radio host and political commentator who has served as an officer with the Central Intelligence Agency and a New York Police Department counterterrorism expert. His three-hour weekday evening talk show, “The Buck Sexton Show”—formerly “America Now”—is syndicated to over 180 stations by Premiere. . . . Mr. Sexton is a regular on Fox News as a national security analyst, and was previously national security editor for The Blaze. Mr. Sexton pointed to their different backgrounds and younger ages as a boon for the show. “The most dominant talk radio hosts have been from one generation; Clay and I represent the next phase. We’re going to bring the perspective of two guys who see a country they’re deeply worried about, and a massive audience that needs people who will speak for them,” he said.

Rush himself, of course, was 37 when he launched his show. But Travis & Sexton will not have the field to themselves. My old RedState colleague and friend Erick Erickson (who turns 46 in June) will be moving into the same 12–3 time slot as a nationally syndicated radio show three weeks before they launch:

Cox Media Group (“CMG”) and Erick Erickson today announced syndication of The Erick Erickson show, featuring the top-rated host on Atlanta’s 95.5 WSB Radio. Erickson’s nationally syndicated program will be available Monday-Friday, 12pm-3pm ET, beginning June 1, 2021. Erickson, who is also a nationally syndicated columnist, has been a mainstay on 95.5 WSB for a decade. He is consistently one of the most listened to local hosts in the country and has the ear of conservative leaders across the nation. “I’ve been working towards this for a very long time, and I appreciate my long relationship with CMG. We look forward to continued success at 95.5 WSB and many new affiliates across the country,” said Erickson.

Time will tell, as with ancient Rome, which half of the empire endures longer. In the meantime, there is always room in conservative media for competition among distinct voices. Congratulations to all involved, and let the games begin.

Science & Tech

Lab Leak and Censorship

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Security personnel outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Hubei Province, China, February 3, 2021 (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Rich Lowry points to Matt Yglesias’s tick-tock account of the development of the consensus that the lab-leak theory was a bonkers and unscientific conspiracy theory.

I remember it well, because last April, as I started adding up the circumstantial evidence, I ventured publicly that this was where my hunch was leading me.

If you click through, you’ll find that the responses often took the form of a joke that I meant the lab was in the basement of a pizza shop in D.C. Haha!

Yglesias gets many of the broad stokes correct, though I think the account lacks some texture. Even on April 1, 2020, saying that the virus “escaped from the virology” lab was often confused as a claim that the virus was intentionally designed in the lab, or intentionally released as a weapon. At the time, I still thought the simplest explanation didn’t involve gain-of-function research, but simply the study of bat coronaviruses in lab conditions that were not ideal.

Yglesias ends his account with asking, like Hillary Clinton, “What difference at this point does it make?” Because Yglesias already agreed with tighter restrictions of gain-of-function research, he doesn’t see how this could be a big deal. Most people didn’t know much about gain-of-function research, and if such research were responsible for the worst manmade disaster in history, you bet it makes a difference whether or not it escaped from a lab doing that research.

But here’s another policy difference that matters, but one that isn’t exactly related to the government of states: The major social media networks — Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter — have proven willing, over and over, to do the bidding of progressive Anglophone journalists who make a stink on Twitter. These journalists are formed by institutions that teach them deference to expertise, and a special deference to experts in fields that are socially coded as progressive. They expect that in a controversy, the experts are likely to agree upon the main points of contention and only argue about unimportant details. They expect that anyone coded as “conservative” who objects does so entirely for mercenary reasons, or out of bullheadedness. And since Brexit and Donald Trump, these journalists have demanded that the social-media companies act as powerful social censors. The lab-leak theory was deemed a conspiracy theory and misinformation, and the social-media companies treated it as such. This means that YouTube demonitized or deleted content that entertained the idea. Facebook took down posts, and penalized pages for publishing information bolstering this theory. And Twitter deleted tweets, or attached warnings to them redirecting users to government agencies. These institutions have incredible power to financially punish traditional- and digital-media institutions that spread “misinformation.”

In my view, these networks need to abandon this editorial function — or they need to be regulated like traditional media.

Politics & Policy

The Right That Dare Not Speak Its Name, Ctd.

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President Biden delivers remarks in Norfolk, Va., May 3, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Advocates of legal and subsidized abortion have for decades resorted to euphemism (“choice,” “reproductive rights,” etc.) to advance their agenda, a tactic that testified to the public’s ambivalence about their cause. Over the years, pro-abortion activists have grown more and more convinced that the tactic has been self-defeating because it has reinforced the idea that there is something other than glorious about abortion.

Hence today’s New York Times story about Joe Biden, who remains wedded to the old approach. A principal complaint of the activists Lisa Lerer quotes is that Biden avoids using the word “abortion.” What is darkly amusing is that the activists often work at organizations that have obviously made a point of not including the word “abortion” in their own names. (Lerer doesn’t quote anyone from the best example of this phenomenon: NARAL Pro-Choice America, which changed its name long ago to get rid of the word.)

They keep finding ways not to say the word themselves even as they accuse Biden of being coy:

“The level of the crisis calls for a stronger level of leadership,” said Kelley Robinson, the executive director of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “We’re looking for them to be explicit champions for sexual and reproductive health care and to use that bully pulpit to make sure that’s a priority that’s expressed from the highest office in the land.”

I have no doubt that Biden is going to go along with this and start saying the word abortion. But he is an old guy, and based on the evidence this particular habit is hard for a lot of people to break.

Politics & Policy

Biden’s Proposed Budget Is Likely to Remove the Hyde Amendment

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President Biden addresses a joint session of Congress in Washington, D.C., April 28, 2021. (Melina Mara/Reuters)

The Biden administration is slated to release its proposed budget for fiscal year 2022 tomorrow, and progressives are clamoring especially over the possibility that Biden will fail to include the pro-life Hyde amendment in his proposal.

Since the 1970s, Congress has attached the Hyde amendment to relevant spending bills to prevent federal funding from directly underwriting elective abortion procedures. As recently as the fight over the Affordable Care Act, about a quarter of Democrats insisted on including such an amendment in order to vote for the bill.

The Hyde amendment was once a bipartisan compromise to protect the consciences of pro-life Americans. During his several decades in the Senate, Joe Biden himself was a vocal proponent of Hyde, reiterating his own “personally pro-life” stance and insisting that Americans opposed to abortion should not be forced to direct their tax dollars toward abortion or toward groups that perform abortions.

But all of that changed over the last few years. In 2016, the Democratic Party’s official platform for the first time in history called for an end to Hyde, and left-wing politicians have become increasingly vocal in support of doing so as abortion-advocacy groups have turned up the pressure.

Biden was swift to reverse himself on the issue during the Democratic primary campaign to accommodate his party’s march leftward. Facing criticism over his previous support for Hyde, Biden came out in June 2019 against the amendment, and for the rest of the campaign he promised that, as president, he would back federally funded abortion on demand.

The time has come to put his money — or the American people’s money, in this case — where his mouth is. According to several reports, Biden is widely expected to use tomorrow’s proposed budget to formally endorse bringing an end to Hyde by leaving it out of his proposal, ushering in an era in which nearly the entire Democratic Party demands that spending bills fund abortion on the taxpayer dime.

Meanwhile, most Republican politicians appear prepared to resist such a sea change in federal abortion policy. Earlier this year, 200 GOP lawmakers in the House, led by Republican Study Committee chairman Jim Banks (R., Ind.), signed a letter pledging not to vote for any spending bill that fails to include pro-life protections such as Hyde. Nearly every GOP senator — excluding Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — signed on to a similar letter in the Senate, led by Montana Republican Steve Daines, who chairs the Senate Pro-Life Caucus.

Those lawmakers held to their promise in the spring when they refused to vote for the Democrats’ massive $1.9 trillion stimulus bill disguised as COVID-19 relief funding. The bill directed about $500 million to Planned Parenthood and included no Hyde-amendment protections to prevent various other funding streams from underwriting abortion.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect that the Clinton administration also proposed removing Hyde in 1993.

World

‘A Wave of Afghan Surrenders to the Taliban Picks Up Speed’

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The dynamic that so many feared with the U.S. pullout appears to be taking hold:

The Taliban have negotiated Afghan troop surrenders in the past, but never at the scale and pace of the base collapses this month in the four provinces extending east, north and west of Kabul. The tactic has removed hundreds of government forces from the battlefield, secured strategic territory and reaped weapons, ammunition and vehicles for the Taliban — often without firing a shot.

The base collapses are one measure of the rapidly deteriorating government war effort as one outpost after another falls, sometimes after battles, but often after wholesale surrenders.

The surrenders are part of a broader Taliban playbook of seizing and holding territory as security force morale plummets with the exit of international troops. Buyoffs of local police and militia.Local cease-fires that allow the Taliban to consolidate gains. A sustained military offensive despite pleas for peace talks and a nationwide cease-fire.

“The government is not able to save the security forces,” said Mohammed Jalal, a village elder in Baghlan Province. “If they fight, they will be killed, so they have to surrender.”

Economy & Business

Learning from the Great Inflation of the ’70s

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In Bloomberg Opinion, I go through some of the reasons we are unlikely to endure a repeat.

World

Yeah, It Matters

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One notion out there is that there are no policy implications one way or the other if the virus emerged naturally or escaped from a lab. This might be true in the sense that it wouldn’t have changed how we responded to the pandemic in real time, but it still matters a lot. If the virus came from the Wuhan lab, there’d obviously be even more debate about how and why we conduct the research that was involved, and, more fundamentally, it would implicate the Chinese government in a truly monstrous cover-up that would severely damage its reputation and its relationship with U.S. The Chinese government realizes this, which is why, if there was a lab leak, it has every incentive to keep us from ever knowing.

Politics & Policy

Biden and ‘Most American Catholics’

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Morgan Chalfant and Amie Parnes write in The Hill:

A majority — 55 percent — of U.S. adults who identify as Catholic say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in April, while 43 percent say it should be illegal in most cases.

“The fact of the matter is that Biden’s position reflects where most American Catholics are,” said David Campbell, a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame and author of the new book “Secular Surge: A New Fault Line in American Politics.”

Not really. Biden appears to believe abortion should be legal even late in pregnancy. He favors taxpayer funding of abortions for low-income women. Even in the Pew poll, it looks like only a minority of Catholics believe abortion should be legal in “all” cases, which is a better approximation of Biden’s position than “all or most.”

A Marist poll for the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic group, asked finer-grained questions and released more complete results in January. It found that 53 percent of Americans who consider themselves Catholic believe that abortion should be allowed only in cases of rape, incest, and threats to the mother’s life, or not allowed at all. Among those Americans who describe themselves as “practicing Catholics,” the number rose to 67.

Sixty-three percent of Catholics, and 69 percent of practicing Catholics, opposed taxpayer funding of abortion.

I wish these last four numbers were all 100 percent. But no, most Catholics are not where Biden is on abortion.

Science & Tech

We Can Send a Man to the Moon . . .

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I know there’s a touch of “Get off my lawn!” in these posts, but there is, I think, a radical disconnect at work in a world in which 1) the people in Washington cannot figure out how to fix roads and bridges and conduct ordinary business without sending the nation into unprecedented debt and 2) scientists are using algae protein and magic goggles to partially restore the sight of blind people.

One of these points to a model of the world that works, and the other points to one that doesn’t.

Impromptus

Reader Mail, Etc.

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Daffodils (Molly Powell)

That picture up there is snapped by our Molly Powell, of a New Hampshire spring. I’ll have more to say about those flowers after some reader mail.

And before the reader mail, a word about my column, Impromptus, today. It starts with January 6 and the GOP. And continues with China, Ethiopia, Mexico, Belarus, Andrew Yang, Elizabeth Taylor, Phil Mickelson, and more. Something for everyone, possibly. That column is here.

To an Impromptus last week, some responses. That column led with Mitch Daniels, and the recent graduation ceremony at Purdue University. Daniels is president of Purdue. He entered the stadium — the graduation venue — in unusual style, and delivered an unusual address. A reader writes,

My daughter was one of the graduates on Saturday and I was in Row 8 on about the 30-yard line for the grand entrance. It was incredible! And to mix sports metaphors, the speech was an absolute home run. . . .

Daniels never ran for president — a missed opportunity for the country, in my opinion.

That is a common sentiment (though not common enough, regrettably).

In the aforementioned column, I wrote, “In my lifetime, we saw the passing of the last World War I vet. Fairly soon, there will be no more World War II vets. Or Holocaust survivors. I’m glad we have so many — so many — on record.” A reader now writes,

My dad is 94. He’s one of that dwindling number of World War II veterans you referred to. He is a young veteran. He left home for training on his 18th birthday, but by the time he was trained and deployed, the war was over. Anyway, his grandmother lived to be 95. She told him about seeing the wounded men coming home at the end of the Civil War. (She would have been seven or eight in 1865.) He doesn’t have a lot of detail about those stories, but what struck me is, I’m hearing about men returning home from the Civil War, and I’m hearing about it second-hand. From my great-grandmother to my father, and from my father to me.

I don’t really know what this means, but it gives me pause.

In the course of that Impromptus, I spoke of the performing arts, and their return. A reader from Israel writes,

Apropos the subject of finally getting to see a live performance for the first time since the BC (Before Covid) epoch, tonight my wife and I will get to have that experience, viewing The Sound of Music, to be performed by the (amateur but very good) LOGON (Light Opera Group of the Negev) at the Jerusalem Theater.

The performance was supposed to have been a year or so ago, but was called off on account of plague.

I had forgotten all about it, when about six or seven weeks ago — before the theaters and concert halls had even reopened – I received a phone call from a very pleasant lady informing me that the performance would take place on May 19th and that my tickets were still valid. I teared up with joy. I told her, “You have no idea how happy you’ve just made me. We’ve been living in a cultural desert for over a year.”

I thought to myself that that lady on that day had the greatest job on the planet. She brought more happiness to more people in the space of a few hours than most people ever can.

Thanks to one and all for writing, and reading.

Let’s return to Molly Powell and the daffodils. Molly recalls a nursery rhyme (new to me):

Daffy-down-dilly
Has come to town
With a yellow petticoat
And a pretty green gown.

Also, a poem by A. A. Milne, called “Daffodowndilly”:

She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour:
“Winter is dead.”

Politics & Policy

If You Want to Move Past Trump, Please Stop Bringing Him Up

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From the Wall Street Journal:

Former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, in a speech Thursday evening at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, plans to argue that the future of the GOP needs to be about more than former President Donald Trump.

“Once again, we conservatives find ourselves at a crossroads,” Mr. Ryan will say, according to excerpts shared in advance. “Here’s one reality we have to face: if the conservative cause depends on the populist appeal of one personality, or on second-rate imitations, then we’re not going anywhere.”

The party’s 2012 vice-presidential nominee has had a tense relationship with Mr. Trump. In 2019, the then-president said the former speaker was a failure whose “record of achievement was atrocious.”

Mr. Ryan is also expected to praise some of the former president’s accomplishments. He plans to say that voters are seeking GOP leaders willing to show “independence and mettle.”

This is the same mistake Liz Cheney made. As Dan McLaughlin has pointed out, while we anti-Trumpers have no surefire way of pushing the orange man out of the picture, ignoring him for a while is definitely a better bet than continuing to have establishment Republicans go after him. This deepens the polarization within the party and keeps the former president in the news.

Regulatory Policy

The Costs of Net Zero — A Warning from Britain

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The Burbo Bank offshore wind farm near New Brighton, England, October 6, 2020. (Phil Noble/Reuters)

In a last desperate, if unnecessary, effort to ensure that she would be remembered as one of Britain’s worst prime ministers, Theresa May ensured that the U.K. would be obliged by law to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, a gesture that will make little or no difference to the climate, will be extraordinarily economically destructive, and will almost certainly end in miserable failure. The U.K. was the first G7 country to make such a commitment, and it has not been the last. Lemmings are like that. Here in the U.S., the Biden administration boasts of having “set a course for the United States to tackle the climate crisis at home and abroad, reaching net zero emissions economy-wide by no later than 2050.”  It will be worth Americans’ while to keep an eye on Britain’s trudge to the solar-powered uplands.

Here’s a small detail from a Guardian report from the time when May announced her initiative:

Last week No 10 [Downing Street]  dismissed claims from the chancellor [finance minister], Philip Hammond, that such a target would cost £1tn and could thus require spending cuts to public services.

If the economics of Britain’s net zero were hazy in 2019, they are not much clearer now. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is known neither for his command of detail nor for his willingness to confront unpleasant facts.

But unpleasant facts have a way of emerging.

And that brings me to gas boilers.

Bloomberg (from January):

The adoption of heat pumps by homeowners and landlords will play a pivotal role in the U.K. meeting its commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Progress on them can serve as a near-term benchmark for the nation as a whole. Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to install 600,000 heat pumps annually by 2028, a 20-fold increase from the current rate in a country where less than 1% of the homes use the technology. That means convincing millions of people to rip out their oil and gas boilers and adopt a technology most people haven’t heard of—and many can’t afford . . .

Heat pumps typically cost almost three times as much as a gas boiler, and they only work in well-insulated homes.

The U.K. is, of course, famous for its “well-insulated homes.”

The implications of this are sinking in.

Ben Pile, writing in Spiked:

Around 23.8million homes are connected to the gas grid, which they depend on for heating and hot water. A further one million homes depend on heating oil. Just 1.7million homes depend on electric heating – mainly flats and some rural properties. The reason gas is so prevalent is because it is abundant and cheap. This makes it a far more useful source of energy from the consumer’s perspective. Gas costs around a quarter of the price of electricity per kilowatt hour. And so, unsurprisingly, the total energy delivered by the gas grid is around four times that delivered by the electricity grid.

But the public’s need for cheap, reliable energy is not compatible with the Net Zero agenda. As part of the transition, some 25 million homes will have to be ‘upgraded’. This will require gas combi boilers – which are small enough to fit in a kitchen cabinet – to be replaced by an air-source heat-pump unit, including a large ‘buffer’ tank. These new units will take up roughly the space of a large cupboard. Due to the lower operating temperature of air-source central-heating systems, radiators will have to be replaced with units that are twice the size as well. Connections to the radiators will also have to be replaced with larger diameter pipework. All of these ‘upgrades’ will leave people with far less space in their homes.

That gives an idea of the scale of the problem, but not the timing, which may be more relaxed than Pile was anticipating.

Ross Clark, in The Spectator:

A government threat to ban gas boilers in existing homes by 2035, and to fine homeowners if they failed to meet the deadline, seems to have lasted less than a day. It was reported on Tuesday morning that ministers were considering including such a ban in a new heat and buildings strategy to be published next month – but by the afternoon the government appeared to have backtracked, and said there wouldn’t be any fines.

That would be just as well if the government is to have any hope of hanging on to its new heartlands in former red wall seats – and indeed elsewhere. While much of Britain’s housing stock may be old and energy inefficient, an awful lot of it is owned and lived in by voters who don’t necessarily have the means to spend £10,000 on a new heat pump and another £10,000 on insulating their homes (which is the minimum cost of insulating each of Britain’s eight million homes with solid walls [note that Pile has higher numbers]). To hit them with such a bill – even with 14 years’ notice – is not going to go down well.

The bill to insulate homes and decarbonise home heating, of course, will come on top of the extra costs people face if they wish to continue to own a car after 2030 when the sale of new diesel and electric cars will be banned. It isn’t just the cars themselves which are more expensive, there is the practical cost of recharging an electric car when you do not have off-street parking next to your home . . .

The ban, it now seems (but watch this space) will be on the sale of new gas boilers from 2035, but the fact that Britain’s Conservative (no comment) government would even consider the far more draconian approach tells you what you need to know about Johnson’s climate fundamentalism.

Fortunately, political reality seems to have sunk in.

Clark:

[I]t is steadily becoming apparent just how politically costly the net zero commitment could be. When environmental issues are expressed in general terms, people tend to fall on the side of taking action; when the consequences for them personally are explained to them, it tends to be a very different matter.

For some U.S. polling data on this question, go here.

An extract:

When asked about willingness to spend out-of-pocket to mitigate climate change, 35 percent of respondents said they would not spend a dollar. Fifteen percent said they would spend up to $10 of their own money on climate change policies.

In The Critic, Conservative MP Steve Baker adds a few more details on the expense that comes with the Tories’ climate plans:

Costs are already clocking up at an extraordinary rate, with consumers forced to pour about £11 billion into renewables through their energy bills. Large offshore windfarms can each receive three or four hundred million pounds in subsidy, every year. The largest, Hornsea 1, will take more than half a billion pounds a year. Larger ones are coming. It’s no wonder the drive for renewables has led to electricity prices nearly doubling, a rise that looks likely to continue for decades to come.

This is only the start . . .

Baker notes:

If ministers don’t obtain and maintain the consent of the public for Net Zero now with full and frank explanations of the costs and changes ahead — as they relentlessly have not during the panic of the pandemic — eventually there will be a terrible revolt. Fear will not be enough. Even the “nudging” government scientists currently engaging in it confess that, “using fear as a means of control is not ethical” and it “smacks of totalitarianism”. Is this really who we want to be?

Well, Joe?

Economics

Maverick: Jason Riley on the Life and Times of Thomas Sowell

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Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Riley has just published Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell, the definitive account of the life of Hoover senior fellow Thomas Sowell. In this wide-ranging interview, Peter Robinson and Riley discuss the events and people that helped Sowell become one of the most important American voices on cultural, economic, and racial matters of the last 50 years.

Recorded on May 13, 2021

The clips that appear in this show came from the following interviews of Thomas Sowell:

Thomas Sowell talks about his new book Economic Facts and Fallacies

Thomas Sowell: Common Sense in a Senseless World  (Jason Riley’s documentary on Thomas Sowell)

Around the World In 80 Ways: Affirmative Action around the World

An Economist Looks at 90: Tom Sowell on Charter Schools and Their Enemies

 

Health Care

Kids and COVID Risk

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The CDC is expected to make changes to their guidance about mask-wearing and children at summer camp; currently that expectation is that they will allow vaccinated children over twelve to take off masks outdoors. This would barely bring kids into line with guidance for adults who are vaccinated.

I’m glad however to see that mainstream publications are starting to push back. David Leonhardt has pointed out that CDC’s guidance relies on wild overestimations of the risks of COVID transmission among children.

The Washington Post today has a fantastic op-ed recommending a full return to normal for children in summer camps and schools, regardless of their vaccination status. Tracy Beth Høeg, Lucy McBride, Allison Krug, and Monica Ghandi sum up the evidence of the current risks to kids: 

This low risk for children nearly vanishes as cases plummet. As we saw in Israel and Britain, vaccinating adults indirectly protects children. The same trend is evident here in the United States: Adult vaccination has lowered covid-19 incidence among children by 50 percentin the past four weeks. On average, fewer than 0.01 percent of Americans are currently infected, and the chance of an asymptomatic person transmitting to a close contact is about 0.7 percent. That yields a scant 0.00007 percent chance that any close contact will transmit infection to a child. If the contact is outdoors, the risk appears to be more than 1,000 times lower.

In other words, there is no risk for maskless children outdoors at summer camp.

Politics & Policy

David Chipman, Anti-Gun Nut

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Gun-control advocate David Chipman, President Joe Biden’s nominee for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), was in front of a Senate Judiciary Committee today. Questions were limited to five minutes per senator, which was good call by Democrats.

Chipman has already walked back his position on District of Columbia v. Heller, conceding that the Second Amendment is an individual right (his employers at Giffords disagree). He’s walked back his claim that helicopters were shot down at Waco with “.50-caliber Barretts.” He’s walked back his mockery of first-time gun owners. He’s walked back his contention that the government should be arresting gun owners “before they commit crimes.” He now says it was a mistake. It was also a mistake, he says, to claim that only criminals and gun lobbyists supported deregulating suppressors.

What he didn’t change his mind on, however, was the banning and confiscation of AR-15s. Chipman, in fact, wants to extend the National Firearms Act (NFA) to cover “assault weapons” as it does fully automatic guns. After prevaricating about the definition of “assault weapon” — the type of firearms, remember, he is already willing to ban — Chipman finally offered an obscure ATF definition, which includes any semi-automatic rifle with a detachable magazine that holds ammunition above .22 caliber. That means a massive number of rifles, the vast majority of which would never be used in a crime.

It isn’t scaremongering to say that if Chipman’s ATF definition of “assault weapons” would fall under the NFA, there would be a ban on owning most semi-automatic rifles in the future, an effective retroactive ban, a national registry to keep track of it all, among many other restrictions and fees. Such a law would likely create tens of millions of criminals overnight. Chipman, of course, doesn’t have the power to implement any of these changes. Thank God.

Media

‘The Media’s Lab Leak Fiasco’

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We’ve written a lot about the fake consensus against the lab-leak theory for a long time now — before it was cool! But Matthew Yglesias has a good tick-tock in his newsletter today about how the bogus consensus was created in the media.

Politics & Policy

Republicans Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Oppose Wasteful Federal Infrastructure Spending

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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy listens to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speak to reporters following an infrastructure meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House in May 12, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Republicans seem to be running scared on infrastructure spending. On May 14, National Review’s editors advised no compromise when Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell suggested spending up to $800 billion on an infrastructure package negotiated with Democrats. Now, less than two weeks later, Republicans are rolling out a counterproposal of around $1 trillion.

Time flies when you’re spending other people’s money.

There was once a time when Republicans understood that voters do not always reward infrastructure spending. It was the last time they were going into the midterm elections during the first term of a Democratic administration.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, President Obama’s “shovel-ready jobs” Keynesian stimulus package aimed at recovery from the Great Recession, was passed without a single Republican vote in the House and only three Republican votes in the Senate (Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, and soon-to-be-Democrat Arlen Specter).

When that money got to the states, newly elected Republican governors in 2010 promised to turn away money for wasteful rail projects. And they did.

In Ohio, John Kasich defeated incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland while promising that a $400 million passenger-rail line from Cleveland to Cincinnati would be “dead” if voters cast their ballots for Kasich. As governor, Kasich kept to his word.

In Florida, Rick Scott won the governor’s mansion and rejected $2.4 billion in federal funding to build high-speed rail from Tampa to Orlando. “Government has become addicted to spending beyond its means and we cannot continue this flawed policy,” Scott said at the time.

In Wisconsin, $810 million in stimulus money to build a high-speed rail line from Milwaukee to Madison was one of the biggest issues in the gubernatorial campaign. Scott Walker opposed it the entire campaign and defeated Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, who promised to see the project through. Walker, too, killed the high-speed rail project.

After the projects in Ohio, Florida, and Wisconsin were canceled, the Department of Transportation insisted that the money had to be spent on rail projects. Kasich, Scott, and Walker had hoped to use the money on other transportation-related projects, but the Department of Transportation stuck to its position and the Republican governors let the money be redistributed to other states.

After the dust had cleared, Obama’s secretary of transportation, Ray La Hood, testified to Congress in December 2011 that despite Republican resistance, “Thirty-two states, the District of Columbia, and Amtrak are hard at work on over 150 projects, many of which are among the most substantial capital improvements to the nation’s rail network in decades.” He promised that “Americans will soon begin seeing significant travel time, frequency, and reliability improvements, in addition to upgraded stations and equipment.”

That was ten years ago. Have you seen any of those benefits?

With a few exceptions (such as the mournful 2019 podcast from Wisconsin Public Radio called Derailed) hardly anyone is missing Ohio, Florida, or Wisconsin’s canceled rail projects. Each of them would have run parallel to existing interstate highways for much of their routes. And states that got the money instead have been saddled with never-ending projects with ballooning costs.

California’s high-speed rail project seems like a nightmare that would jolt John Stossel awake in a cold sweat — but it’s real life. In 2008, California voters approved $9 billion in borrowing to build a high-speed rail line from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The 2020 Business Plan for the California High-Speed Rail Authority estimates that stretch will cost $69 billion to $100 billion to complete. Only 119 miles of the 494-mile proposed route is even under construction. California hasn’t completed environmental review for 295 miles of the route.

That hasn’t inhibited California progressive sanctimony, however. The letter from the CEO in California’s high-speed-rail business plan starts with a quote from Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it is done.” Inspirational, but Mandela was completing a multigenerational struggle to overturn apartheid, not building a train.

We know what blanket infrastructure spending looks like. When the federal government is just throwing money at the states for projects they don’t really need, there’s not going to be any urgency to spend the money in a way that benefits taxpayers.

Republicans shouldn’t be afraid to point this out. Kasich, Scott, and Walker all won reelection in 2014. Voters didn’t hold it against them that they rejected infrastructure spending.

The context matters too. At least in February 2009, when Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the economy was in the doldrums of recession. If you buy the logic of Keynesian stimulus spending, that was the right time to do it. Biden’s infrastructure proposal alone is over two times as expensive as Obama’s entire stimulus package, and the economy is growing already without it.

Republicans shouldn’t be playing around on this issue. If they fear backlash from voters, they should look back at 2010 and see that the conventional wisdom that opposition to infrastructure spending is an automatic vote loser is incorrect. And they should remember that federal infrastructure spending doesn’t live up to the hype.

Culture

Sinéad O’Connor and the Cult of Counterproductive Protest

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Irish singer Sinead O’Connor performs on stage during the Positivus music festival in Salacgriva, July 18, 2009. (Ints Kalnins/Reuters)

The New York Times recently published a profile of Sinéad O’Connor by Amanda Hess that tries to declare vindication for O’Connor’s notorious 1992 protest on Saturday Night Live in which she tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II on live television while declaring, “Fight the real enemy!” You can watch that here:

According to Hall:

Few cultural castaways have been more vindicated by the passage of time: child sexual abuse, and its cover-up within the Catholic Church, is no longer an open secret. John Paul II finally acknowledged the church’s role in 2001, nearly a decade after O’Connor’s act of defiance. But the overreaction to O’Connor was not just about whether she was right or wrong; it was about the kinds of provocations we accept from women in music.

Now, if you read the profile of O’Connor, it comes through clearly that she is a badly broken person — beaten by her mother throughout childhood, with serious substance-abuse problems (“I can’t remember many details because I was constantly stoned”) — who never wanted to be a pop star, and is happier away from the spotlight, where she has changed her name and converted to Islam. If you view her SNL stunt as an effort to self-destruct her pop-music stardom as a means of saving her sanity and refocusing her art away from the demands of radio, then it does appear to have been successful. It was not the last time she did something like this; in 2018 she tweeted, “I’m terribly sorry. What I’m about to say is something so racist I never thought my soul could ever feel it. But truly I never wanna spend time with white people again (if that’s what non-muslims are called). Not for one moment, for any reason. They are disgusting.” She later claimed that she was just trying to get herself kicked off of Twitter by being racist.

If we are measuring by any yardstick other than deliberate self-sabotage, however, the problem with declaring O’Connor’s protest “vindicated” is that it fails to grapple with the fact that her protest was not only spectacularly unsuccessful and counterproductive, it was essentially designed to be so. Onstage, O’Connor did not even bother to explain what she was protesting the Church about. She instead took on the hugely popular Pope — who had been one of the defining figures in the great, winning cultural struggle against the evil and dehumanizing brutality of Communism over the previous decade and a half — and declared him, personally, to be “evil” and “the real enemy.” It was commonly understood as an attack on the Catholic Church and its billion-plus believers. In that sense, it was very much like attacking the American flag and the National Anthem precisely for their symbolic power — a protest designed to inflame rather than persuade, and one that is sure to turn people away from the topic of the protest. There is a strange romance, among people on the left half of the political spectrum, with the idea that it is noble to stage a protest that alienates rather than engages the audience, as a way of demonstrating the moral superiority of the protester over the common people.

Was O’Connor penalized more harshly for being a woman? An ironic question, given that one of the people who criticized her was Madonna, who has regularly used provocations to accentuate her career. There is no question that O’Connor suffered more for this kind of protest as a pop singer than a rock star would have. A male pop star would likely have suffered many of the same slings and arrows. But it is certainly true that, the occasional Madonna or Lady Gaga aside, women in pop music tend to be treated as unserious and uncontroversial — or if they do stir controversy, they are encouraged to do so by being hypersexualized or by being blandly conformist Democratic partisans, rather than by the kind of things we expect from punk rockers. That was even truer in 1992.

Mr. President, ‘Contact With an Infected Animal’ and ‘Lab Accident’ Can Be the Same Thing

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Then-vice president Joe Biden shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, December 4, 2013. (Lintao Zhang/Reuters Pool)

Moments ago, the White House released this statement:

Statement by President Joe Biden on the Investigation into the Origins

of COVID-19

Back in early 2020, when COVID-19 emerged, I called for the CDC to get access to China to learn about the virus so we could fight it more effectively. The failure to get our inspectors on the ground in those early months will always hamper any investigation into the origin of COVID-19.

Nevertheless, shortly after I became President, in March, I had my National Security Advisor task the Intelligence Community to prepare a report on their most up-to-date analysis of the origins

World

In Canada, You Get $1,440 in Tickets Just for Shaking Hands

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The lockdowns in the U.S. are mostly in the rearview mirror, but across the border in Ontario (where almost 40 percent of Canadians live), they are handing out tickets to people for shaking hands in public:

Ontario had a surge in COVID-19 cases this spring, but the incidence has fallen back to February levels and is continuing to decline — no faster than its not-locked-down U.S. neighbors. No wonder our Canadian friends in Toronto say they are living in a “health dictatorship.”

Ironically, one Canadian cop said he wrote the ticket under the “Re-Opening Ontario Act.” How Orwellian.

National Review

Shh! Don’t Tell the Suits…

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(Martin Barraud/Getty Images)

Something odd is going on here at National Review. I try to keep my head down and nod and agree with “the suits,” and I don’t pretend to understand the business side of National Review. But they’re really baffling me now.

The suits are offering 60% off NRPLUS, which comes out to . . . $40 per year, less than a buck a week. That seems so low, it might be an error. If I were you, and hadn’t yet subscribed, I would grab it as quick as possible, before somebody does the math again and realizes how little we’re charging.

Now, you could try to just keep reading without a subscription and skipping over the good stuff that is behind the paywall. But man, you’re giving up a lot. That would mean you no longer have access to Charlie Cooke’s in-depth investigation of “Rebekah Jones, the Florida COVID Whistleblower Who Wasn’t” – an exposé so thorough, detailed, and irrefutable that even the hosts of Morning Joe concluded he destroyed Jones’s credibility. Or you missed David Harsanyi’s spitting-hot-fire denunciation of Ilhan Omar and other congressional Democrats who make excuses for violent anti-Semitism in the name of “anti-Zionism.” Or Michael Brendan Dougherty’s thoughtful exploration of the ramifications if it turns out the COVID-19 pandemic was a result of a lab accident. Or Madeleine Kearns on the plummeting birth rate and what it tells us about sex and marriage. Or . . . you get the idea. I could go on all day.

And without NRPLUS, you’re probably not reading the magazine, which means you’re missing the latest issue, featuring Kevin Williamson laying out how President Biden’s proposal to relieve U.S. pharmaceutical companies of their intellectual-property rights relating to COVID-19 vaccines will stifle future innovations, John Bolton on the Russia challenges facing the new administration, and Rachel Lu on the surprising science of motherhood.

This is all good stuff, and I’d hate for you to miss it. Sure, you could put off subscribing until another time, but I don’t know how much longer the suits will keep that under-a-buck-a-week, 60%-off plan. It’s your life, make your own decisions, but if I were you, I’d click here, plug in your credit-card information, and enjoy a year’s subscription for a what-the-heck-were-they-thinking price, and never look back.

Beyond that, I hope life finds you well. This past year has been an exceptionally tumultuous one, with all manner of hardships, isolation, setbacks, defeats, and eventually, little victories here and there. Whatever else is going on in our lives, you’re still here, I’m still here, and National Review is still here – in large part because of the support of readers like you. I thank you for your support and hope you will support us again.

Health Care

AMA Helps Normalize Organ Harvesting after Euthanasia

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(cyril martin/Getty Images)

In 1993, my first ever anti-euthanasia column warned in Newsweek that once euthanasia became accepted widely, it would be followed by organ harvesting “as a plum to society.”

By now, you know how that story goes. I was accused of alarmism, slippery-slope advocacy, conspiracy theories, etc., etc. And, as these kind of stories nearly always end, it came to be — in Canada, Netherlands, and Belgium, with more likely to follow over time.

Now, organ harvesting after euthanasia has become so normalized within the medical intellegentsia, that an American Medical Association publication, JAMA Surgery, had a letter debate — not about the propriety of killing and harvesting, but about whether the kill should begin at home or in a hospital.

Two doctors say that “organ donation after euthanasia starting at home” (ODEH) is the way to go:

The patient is only sedated at home, which marks the start of euthanasia in legal terms but is medically only intended to remove consciousness while vital functions are maintained and secured. Coma induction and the start of the agonal phase [killing] subsequently take place in the intensive care unit after farewells at home and transportation [to the hospital].

Their debaters says, no, start the homicides in the hospital:

A guideline for ODEH should be developed, including instructions for physicians on how to act if the condition of the patient deteriorates during transport. In the ODEH case presented by Mulder and Sonneveld, noradrena line was given to maintain adequate blood pressure during transport to the hospital.  This could be interpreted as violation of an important principle of organ donation after euthanasia, namely that the euthanasia and organ donationshould be at all times handled as 2 separate entities.

No one says — don’t do it!

But I will. Some of these patients (in Belgium and Netherlands) are not physically sick, but mentally ill. Believing that their deaths are more valuable than their lives — because of the lives potentially saved by their organs — could easily become the tipping point for some of these anguished patients to decide to be killed. Note: These are people who would otherwise live for years.

In other words, organ donation could be an inducement to euthanasia. That could also be true of disabled patients who are the other prime cadre of ODE targets because they have “good organs.”

Moreover, in Onatario, Canada, the organ donation society is told in advance by doctors of a planned euthanasia, and representatives call the patient/family to ask for their organs! It’s almost out of a Monty Python skit, “Hello, can we have your liver?”

No, of course suicide prevention is not offered! That might get in the way of suffering people agreeing to be transformed into so many natural resources.

Law & the Courts

‘Big Abortion v. David Daleiden’

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Pro-life activists protest in front of a Planned Parenthood, in Philadelphia, February 11, 2017. (Charles Mostoller/Reuters)

In the Spring 2021 issue of the Human Life Review, I have a long article chronicling the legal persecution that pro-life activists have faced for exposing the abortion industry’s involvement in illegal fetal-tissue trafficking.

As we’ve covered extensively here at National Review, pro-life whistleblower David Daleiden and his Center for Medical Progress in 2015 released video footage from an undercover investigation, revealing rampant wrongdoing among abortion providers who have profited from the body parts of aborted babies.

In Daleiden’s footage, abortion-industry workers, including executives at Planned Parenthood, admitted to selling organs and tissue from aborted babies for research — violating several federal and state laws in the process.

Even though subsequent congressional investigations turned up evidence confirming what Daleiden captured on video, he and his group have been the only ones to face any significant consequences. Since 2015, he has been embroiled in several costly lawsuits, including from the National Abortion Federation, Planned Parenthood, and the state of California, seeking to punish him and suppress his footage.

Here’s a bit more from my article:

Posing as a potential fetal-tissue buyer, Daleiden had captured video evidence suggesting that prominent abortionists, Planned Parenthood executives, and biotechnology companies were engaged in a systematic campaign to profit from the body parts of aborted babies, in violation of state and federal laws.

Nearly six years later, despite congressional investigations confirming much of what he had exposed, Daleiden and his team have been the only ones to face serious legal repercussions. Ever since Daleiden began to show the public what he had discovered, abortion organizations and their political allies have targeted him, bringing the force of law against him for having dared to expose the wrongdoing of malefactors in the abortion industry.

The explanations for that injustice rest primarily on the fact that abortion organizations possess immense financial resources, which they wield to obscure evidence of their unsavory practices and illegal activity. They rely heavily on assistance from legal and political actors who support abortion and who use their power to protect abortion providers from consequences. They have come to expect favorable, kid-glove coverage from legacy media outlets determined to demonize prolifers and ignore the truth about abortion and the grisly industry that sustains it.

As a result, Daleiden and his allies have spent years fighting in court to keep his videos available and to keep him out of jail, while the abortion purveyors whose corruption he revealed have skated by mostly unscathed. Due in large part to the gruesomeness of the footage, the release of the CMP videos in 2015 received a great deal of initial attention. But Planned Parenthood executives immediately rolled out a public-relations campaign to defend the group’s image, and media allies mounted an enormous effort to defend Planned Parenthood and discredit Daleiden.

By the time lengthy congressional investigations confirmed that Planned Parenthood and others involved in fetal-tissue trafficking appeared to have flouted numerous significant laws, the news cycle and the public had, for the most part, lost interest. Daleiden was left to face the wrath of those whose nefarious dealings and grave legal violations he had so graphically exposed—and his fight for justice continues to this day.

Consider, in contrast to this injustice, the way our legal system tends to reward other sorts of whistleblowers, such as animal-rights activists who go undercover to film mistreatment of animals at factory farms. Those undercover investigators rarely face significant legal repercussions but instead typically succeed in bringing about consequences for those whose illegal activity they exposed.

Had Daleiden gone undercover to expose any other kind of criminal wrongdoing, he would be celebrated as a national hero. Instead, because he dared to challenge the abortion industry, he has spent half a decade fighting to stay out of jail and avoid crushing legal fines for the crime of revealing to the public the evil of the abortion industry and the corruption of its political and media allies.

Education

Punishing Dissent in the Academic World

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It has long been evident that “progressives” have a huge streak of intolerance for disagreement. In recent years, they have become astoundingly open about that, particularly in the academic world. Students or faculty members who speak up to dissent from leftist orthodoxy are apt to find themselves facing the lash.

Here is a particularly revealing incident. As Robert Zimmerman writes on his blog, Professor Elisa Parrett of the Lake Washington Institute of Technology, has been excoriated by the school’s president because she dared to oppose segregated racial “training.” Academic freedom and open debate are evidently concepts unknown to the Institute’s president, Amy Morrison.

Zimmerman nails the truth: “Of course, freedom of speech is impossible under such circumstances. If according to the authorities your comments might offend someone somewhere and therefore must be silenced, the authorities have just given themselves the power to silence all opinions they don’t like, arbitrarily. And that is exactly what we have now on college campuses and corporate offices nationwide: an illiberal oppression based on mindless hate and the desire to control everything with the misuse of power.”

It’s time for a ferocious counterattack by the people responsible for running our educational institutions, and paying for them. Intolerant authoritarian officials like Morrison need to be shown the door and replaced by people who, whatever their politics might be, uphold the basic norms of the academia.

H/t: Sarah Hoyt

The Times Coos about Democrats’ ‘Quieter Approach to Migrant Children’

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Migrant children from Central America walk at the Leona Vicario temporary migrant shelter before being transferred to continue their asylum request in the United States, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on February 26, 2021. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

Two years ago, during an earlier phase of the ongoing border crisis, AOC said “The United States is running concentration camps on our southern border.”

And today? Crickets.

Congressional Democrats’ hypocrisy on the treatment of “unaccompanied” illegal-alien minors has become glaring enough that friendly media outlets feel they have to offer an explanation. The New York Times this week provided a platform for Democratic representatives to explain why they haven’t engaged in the kind of performative outrage at the living conditions of detained minors that greeted the exact same problem under Trump. Instead, the article notes, they are “voicing worries privately to

White House

Jen Psaki: See, Our Summits with Foreign Dictators Are Different

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Then-Vice President Joe Biden shakes hands with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during their meeting in Moscow in 2011. (Alexander Natruskin/Reuters)

President Joe Biden, discussing his predecessor Donald Trump’s summits with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un: “What I would not do is I would not do what had been done in the recent past.  I would not give him all that he’s looking for is: national — international recognition as legitimate and — and say — and give them what allowed him to move in the direction of appearing to be more — how can I say it? — more serious about what he wasn’t at all serious about.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, explaining why Biden will meet with Russia’s authoritarian leader Vladmir Putin in Geneva next month:

We may have forgotten over the last couple of years, but this is how diplomacy works.  We don’t work together — we don’t meet with people only when we agree.  It’s actually important to meet with leaders when we have a range of disagreements, as we do with Russian leaders.

So we don’t regard the meeting with the Russian President as a reward; we regard it as a vital part of defending America’s interests.

And President Biden is meeting with Vladimir Putin because of our country’s differences, not in spite of them.  It’s an opportunity to raise concerns where we have them and, again, to move toward a more stable and predictable relationship with the Russian government.

So in the Biden White House, the U.S. president holding a summit with Kim Jong Un is rewarding the North Korean leader, but the U.S. president holding a summit with Vladimir Putin is not rewarding the Russian leader. This is because Kim Jong Un was not as serious about negotiations as he appeared, but Vladimir Putin is as serious about negotiations as he appears.

Clear as mud!

Some may scoff that despite the record of duplicity that marks the past 22 years or so, the Biden White House believes Putin can deliver “a more stable and predictable relationship.” Then again, Putin’s duplicity and skullduggery is pretty stable and predictable.