Media

Mark Zuckerberg’s On the Right Track

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Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, U.S., October 23, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

In comments earlier this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg argued that social-media companies should strive to avoid regulating the views of users.

“I don’t think Facebook or internet platforms in general should be arbiters of truth,” Zuckerberg said in an interview with CNBC. “I think that’s kind of a dangerous line to get to in terms of deciding what is true and what isn’t.”

His comments came on the heels of the recent back-and-forth between Donald Trump and Twitter, after the social-media platform began appending fact-check–style disclaimers to some of the president’s tweets, and Trump shot back with an executive order taking ineffectual aim at Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Twitter’s move to censure the president was a response to pressure from progressives incensed by Trump’s repeated tweets pushing conspiracy theories alleging that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough was involved in a murder and coverup.

Facebook aims not to fact-check speech by politicians, but it does employ third-party fact-checkers in an effort to flag news articles that are inaccurate. This policy has drawn the ire of conservatives in the past, for instance when pro-life group Live Action had its content flagged by two biased fact-checkers, one of whom is an abortionist and both of whom work with aggressively pro-abortion groups.

As Zuckerberg puts it, Facebook aims to remove information it deems “harmful,” for instance when the company took down a recent post by Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro arguing that hydroxychloroquine is an effective COVID-19 treatment. There is certainly room to quibble with a policy that puts social-media fact-checkers in charge of deciding what information is harmful and what constitutes acceptable expression.

Nevertheless, the fact that Zuckerberg has reiterated Facebook’s commitment to avoid blocking political speech is admirable, especially compared with Twitter’s recent decision to begin monitoring the president, which places the company in the impossible position of somehow successfully arbitrating every political dispute.

“In general, you want to give as wide of a voice as possible, and I think you want to have a special deference to political speech,” Zuckerberg added. His willingness to, at the very least, pay lip service to free expression has drawn the vigorous condemnation of Democratic politicians.

“As far as the platforms are concerned, they want two things from the federal government: no regulation and no taxes. And so they cater to the Trump administration all the time. I think that Mark Zuckerberg’s statement was a disgrace,” House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said in an interview on MSNBC yesterday.

Massachusetts senator and failed presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren, meanwhile, was even harsher, sounding more than a bit like Trump in her zeal: “Zuckerberg went on Fox News—a hate-for-profit machine that gives a megaphone to racists and conspiracy theorists—to talk about how social media platforms should essentially allow politicians to lie without consequences. This is eroding our democracy.”

Science & Tech

Twitter and the Libel Exemption

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(Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

A few thoughts about our current debate on Twitter, a vast sewer that I am not naturally inclined to defend.

  1. The value that Congress tried to protect by giving technology companies limited protection from libel suits isn’t a product of those platforms’ being politically neutral, which they aren’t. It is a product of the fact that they do not generally exercise prior restraint on speech. Which is to say, Twitter doesn’t generally stop you beforehand tweeting whatever you like, although it may remove tweets after the fact or ban you after the fact for what it believes to be abuse. If Twitter itself can be sued for libel every time some jackass libels somebody on Twitter, then Twitter can’t operate. Neither can Facebook. Neither can the comments section at National Review.
  2. Parties who are libeled on Twitter or other social media do have recourse — the can sue the party that actually libeled them rather than the platform, although Facebook would be a lot more attractive target than most actual slanderers, because it has a lot of money, and you always want to sue the party that has the most money.
  3. Twitter and Facebook do exercise editorial discretion and maintain what amount to editorial policies, despite their nonsensical insistence that these are “community safety” rules. That shouldn’t matter to the question of whether we want them to be able to provide a generally unmediated voice to ordinary people, which they cannot do without the libel immunity. I don’t think there is actually a lot of real value in that unmediated voice, but millions of Americans and Congress disagree.
  4. The fact that Twitter and Facebook exercise some after-the-fact judgment makes them less like a newspaper publisher and more like a rental venue. Think of it this way: If a guy who owns an event space rents it to x, y, and z, discovers that x is a Soviet-apologist group, decides that he doesn’t want to rent to x thereafter — that does not make him legally responsible for what y and z say, even though he is providing them with a (literal) platform. He isn’t politically neutral, and he is exercising editorial power. And a healthy free-speech culture should be perfectly satisfied with that.
  5. It would be better if Twitter and Facebook went about their business is a politically evenhanded way. It would be better if the New York Times did, too. But the relevant question for the libel immunity is not really which editorial decisions are made but when they are made. If you value the ability that Twitter and Facebook give people to reach the general public without having to go through an editor and a publisher, then you should understand that this will evaporate without the exemption.
  6. And that means that the effect of taking that exemption away from social-media companies will not be to empower conservatives online — it will be to empower the New York Times and the Washington Post and CNN, to which there would be fewer alternatives without social media.
World

Uighurs Need All the Help They Can Get

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A Uighur man sits at a street market in Kashgar, Xinjiang Province, 2011. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

China is the most effectively tyrannical country on earth and one of the most despotic in history. As if the COVID debacle and Hong Kong suppression weren’t enough, these days it is energetically suppressing religious belief — because to the Communist Party leaders, there can only be one source of truth and one locus of loyalty, and that is the State.

Hence, since the ’90s, Falun Gong have been rounded up and subjected to tissue typing and organ harvesting to supply the country’s black market in human livers and kidneys for transplantation.

China’s tech prowess is being harnessed to construct a “social credit system,” that deploys AI and facial recognition technologies to target Christians (among all others) merely for going to church and practicing their faith. Score too low, and you not only lose your job and abode, but the right to ride on public transportation. Most insidiously, so do your children.

At the same time, the Muslim Uighurs, who mostly live in the Xinjiang Province of northwestern China, are being subjected to an old-fashioned pogrom. More than one million Uighurs have been forced into concentration camps, where they are treated with brutal disregard for their rights as human beings.

How bad is it? Congress has finally stirred to do something about it and passed a bill that starts the admittedly weak effort to do something about it. From SB 3744:

Those detained in internment camps in Xinjiang Uyghur [sic] Autonomous Region have described forced political indoctrination, torture, beatings, food deprivation, and denial of religious, cultural, and linguistic freedoms. These victims have confirmed that they were told by guards that the only way to secure their release was to demonstrate sufficient political loyalty. Poor conditions and lack of medical treatment at such facilities appear to have contributed to the deaths of some detainees, including the elderly and infirm.

The bill urges the president to “condemn abuses against Uyghurs” and to “call on such authorities to immediately close internment camps; lift all restrictions on, and ensure respect for human rights, and allow people inside the People’s Republic of China to reestablish contact with their loved ones, friends, and associates outside the People’s Republic of China.”

As a remedy, the bill calls on the Secretary of State to “consider strategically employing sanctions and other tools under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998” against those engaged in the abuse of the Uighur community and issue a report to Congress within six months.

Considering the extent of the evil, it’s weak soup. But it’s a start, and the president should engage this issue forcefully once it becomes law.

Meanwhile, the private sector should begin to pull back their operations from China so that they do not find themselves complicit in such unadulterated evil. Frankly, I believe that the threat of losing commerce and manufacturing would have a greater chance of mitigating the suffering of faithful people in China than government protests and bureaucratically imposed sanctions.

Education

The Damage That Academic Theorizing Has Done

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Almost a quarter century ago, Alan Sokal famously poked fun at academic theorists with his brilliant spoof: an article contending that gravity was merely a social construct. It was written in trendy jargon and the editors were taken in. When Sokal later admitted his scheme, the academics denounced him, of course.

The trouble is that silly theorizing has bad effects in the real world. That’s the point of a new book by two of the “guilty” parties in the recent hoax papers scandal, Cynical Theories by James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose. Sumantra Maitra reviews it today for the Martin Center.

He summarizes the book’s core argument:

Our institutions of higher education are under attack from the virus of post-modernism, along with its various sub-fields of post-colonialism, queer theory, gender studies, intersectional feminism, and so forth. They are all revolutionary theories and subversive in nature. They share some common themes, such as a blurring of boundaries, an excessive focus on the power of languages and words, ahistorical cultural relativism, and a penchant for collectivism at the cost of both the individual and the universal.

In short, the theorists have launched “a war against normal.” The post-modernists, queer theorists, multiculturalists, and so on wish to destroy the foundations of our civilization. They have unleashed “plagues of the mind,” as my friend Bruce Thornton says.

Lindsay and Pluckrose provide abundant evidence to support their thesis. Sadly, they don’t have much of a plan for a counterattack. But just their diagnosis makes the book, Maitra concludes, “essential reading for anyone looking to reform or preserve the classical Western academy.”

Politics & Policy

Mike Lee: Keep Government Far Away from Social-Media Regulation

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In an interview with Guy Benson, Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee weighs in on President Trump’s new executive order: “[K]eep government as far away from it as you possibly can. Look, this may be attractive from a distance to some at any given moment, but it’s a very dangerous, slippery slope to start opening the door to having the government regulate these platforms.”

“Governments have force as their only real weapon,” Lee adds. “You don’t want force deciding the art of persuasion or deciding the art of communication with social media.”

Elections

Nevada Senator Withdraws from the Biden Veepstakes

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Nevada Democratic senator Catherine Cortez-Masto, a darkhorse to be Joe Biden’s running-mate, says she doesn’t want to be considered for the job:

U.S.

Minnesota Governor Calls in National Guard to Control Riots

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The looting and rioting, which began in Minneapolis in response to the police killing of George Floyd, has spread to St. Paul, and the state’s Democratic governor Tim Walz has mobilized the National Guard:

George Floyd’s death should lead to justice and systemic change, not more death and destruction. As George Floyd’s family has said, ‘Floyd would not want people to get hurt. He lived his life protecting people.’ Let’s come together to rebuild, remember, and seek justice for George Floyd,” Walz said in a statement.

Economy & Business

Sabotaging Aid for Businesses

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In Bloomberg Opinion, I write about some red tape that is making it even harder for small businesses to survive this economy:

Congress established the Paycheck Protection Program in late March to provide forgivable loans to businesses to help them through the Covid-19 crisis. The Small Business Administration is insisting that 75% of any amount forgiven has to be spent on payroll, as opposed to rent, utilities and other overhead costs. That requirement is not in the law, as the agency’s inspector general has pointed out in a report. The agency explained that it had consulted Mnuchin and determined this limit fit the law’s “overarching focus on keeping workers paid and employed.”

But the rule subverts the purpose of the program . . . .

Economy & Business

The SEC, ESG, and Unbundling

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A trader wears a mask on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as the building prepares to close due to the coronavirus, March 20, 2020. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Increasingly, those looking for “socially responsible” investments (to use the usual dishonest and self-congratulatory term) are checking to see how companies measure up to various (ill-defined) environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) criteria.

But bundling these three criteria together makes little sense. A company can be, say, transparent (an element in the ‘G’) without being too concerned about the effect that its activities may have on the climate (part of the ‘E’).

And the SEC is now onto this.

The Financial Times reports:

Jay Clayton, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, said any analysis that combined separate environmental, social and governance metrics into a single ESG rating would be “imprecise”.

“I have not seen circumstances where combining an analysis of E, S and G together, across a broad range of companies, for example with a ‘rating’ or ‘score’, particularly a single rating or score, would facilitate meaningful investment analysis that was not significantly over-inclusive and imprecise,” said Mr Clayton.

The SEC has asked for feedback from asset managers about ESG ratings as concerns rise about the spread of so-called greenwashing by companies that make misleading claims about their environmental credentials to appeal to unsuspecting investors.

I agree that the SEC is right to worry, even if I see things from a different perspective. If I was looking at a company in which I might invest, the ‘G’ would matter to me, whether the company was carbon-neutral (part of the ‘E’), not at all. In fact, if it were a company where management spent time and money worrying about whether the business was carbon-neutral, that would (to me) be a very good reason to want to invest elsewhere.

Equally, if I did want to invest in a company dedicated to doing its bit to save the planet from a fiery finale, I wouldn’t want to find myself investing in a company where the high ESG score came from protecting shareholders (‘G’) rather than from its efforts to rein in the climate (‘E’).

The Financial Times:

The concerns expressed by Mr Clayton over combining E, S and G scores have previously been described as “aggregate confusion” by academics. One example of this is the electric car maker Tesla. The business, which scores highly on environmental metrics, has often been criticised for its record on workers’ rights. As a result, different ratings providers give it wildly different scores.

And the problems may go deeper that. In the course of a recent piece for Bloomberg on ESG John Authers noted this:

It is possible that ESG is undermining itself — or at least that the E and the S are in conflict with each other. Vincent Deluard, of INTL FCStone Inc., suggests that ESG funds are people-unfriendly. Tech and pharma companies tend to look good by ESG criteria, but they tend to be virtual as well as virtuous. These are the kind of companies that need relatively few workers and which churn out hefty profit margins. When Deluard looked at how the big ETFs’ portfolios varied from the Russell 3000, the results were spectacular. They are full of very profitable companies with very few employees . . . A further look at companies’ market cap per employee showed that investing in the current stock market darlings who are making their shareholders rich is a very inefficient way to invest in boosting employment. They include hot names like Netflix Inc., Nvidia Corp., MasterCard Inc. and Facebook Inc. . . .

The problem, Deluard suggests, is that ESG investing, intentionally or otherwise, rewards exactly the corporate behavior that is creating alarm. Companies with few buildings, few formal employees and a light carbon footprint tend to show up well on ESG screens. But allocating capital to them leads to a deepening of inequality, and intensifying the problem of under-unemployment. On the face of it, they aren’t the companies that should be receiving capital if employment is to recover swiftly. If investors want to behave with the interests of “stakeholders” rather than “shareholders” in mind, and that is surely central to the ESG philosophy, then their current approach is directly counter-productive. No good turn goes unpunished.

Another consequence of unbundling E, S, and G might be to give a clearer idea of what they meant for shareholder returns.

Writing for the IFC Review a month ago, Julian Morris:

A 2016 paper from group of researchers from the European Parliament and Bournemouth Business School sought to look more deeply at the relationship, using disaggregated data from Bloomberg’s ESG Disclosure form for the S&P 500 for the period 2007 to 2011. The researchers found that the relationship between ESG and financial performance in general was indeed U-shaped. However, they found that the environmental and social components were linearly negatively related to performance. It was only the governance component that drove the U-shape relationship. This governance-dominated U-shape relationship between ESG and financial performance has since been confirmed in other studies.

In other words, if it’s financial performance you are after, focus on the ‘E’.

Unbundling E, S, and G seems like an excellent idea.

Politics & Policy

Preventable Violence in California

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(Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

A homeless man named Peter Rocha is in San Francisco police custody after allegedly beating 94-year-old Leo Hainzl to death with a stick.

Hainzl, a refugee who fled Nazi-era persecution in Austria, was walking his dog near Glen Canyon Park when Rocha allegedly carried out the assault and killed the elderly man.

City supervisor Rafael Mandelman told a San Francisco news affiliate that Rocha “was clearly an unwell individual” who was previously the subject of several complaints:

We’ve been hearing from neighbors, he’s been out on the street threatening folks. They have called the police many, many times. Older folks felt very threatened in particular — older folks, kids — he had been a challenge in the neighborhood for some time, and the police had been out to talk to him, and, of course, offered him services on many occasions, and people knew he was suffering from mental illness. He was not taking his medication, but the police were not able to get him services, and nobody else was either.

Some advocates will say that this tragedy represents a failure to adequately fund “community mental-health programs,” but this sort of outcome is the natural conclusion of their aversion to involuntary commitment. Rocha was not, to our knowledge, denied “community-based services” due to a “lack of funding,” or turned away from “counseling” for his obvious mental illness. He instead refused treatment when offered by the police, and perhaps Rocha was unaware that he was sick at all.

Once he refused treatment, local authorities were effectively left without recourse to inpatient commitment, and Rocha was allowed to deteriorate to the point of violence.

Nearly 75 percent of California’s public psychiatric beds are filled by forensic patients, who have committed a crime and have been adjudicated not responsible by reason of insanity or mental defect. The state has neither the inpatient capacity nor the political will to involuntarily commit the seriously ill to state hospitals, and their revealed preference is to wait for the commission of a crime before taking such action. That preference can prove fatal, as it did for Leo Hainzl and countless others like him.

World

The EU: Alexander Hamilton or George III?

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European Union’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier gives a news conference following the third round of Brexit talks with Britain, in Brussels, Belgium, May 15, 2020. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board takes a look at the way that the EU is trying to combine tackling the effects of the pandemic with a broader agenda:

Whatever else you might say about them, European Union mandarins aren’t short of ambition. They have long wanted to knit the EU into a true federal union, and they’re seizing the coronavirus as a €1.9 trillion opening.

That’s the combined size of the €750 billion one-time virus recovery package European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen proposed Wednesday, and the €1.1 trillion seven-year budget the Commission also is proposing that includes a heavy dose of virus relief. This is on top of €540 billion in Covid-19 relief the Commission unveiled last month, and however many trillions the European Central Bank deploys in the crisis.

Brussels wants Europeans to focus on how the mandarins will spend the money. Much of it will go in grants to states, apportioned on such factors as youth unemployment . . .

Far more consequential is how Brussels would pay for this. The money from the seven-year budget would be provided in the normal way, as block grants from the EU’s 27 member states to the Commission. But Brussels also wants to borrow a large portion of the €750 billion emergency program — and then impose new, EU-wide taxes on everything from plastic waste to digital commerce to repay the bonds.

This new borrow-and-tax authority is the main point. The alleged inspiration is Alexander Hamilton, America’s first Treasury Secretary. His plan for the new federal government to assume Revolutionary War debt from the states, and then repay that debt from the federal government’s revenues, put the U.S. on track to become what it is today.

Some European leaders have hoped for decades that issuing eurobonds mutually backed by all members would knit the bloc together, or that new digital taxes might do the trick. Now they think the only way to keep the EU from splintering is to forge a new borrowing capacity that can transfer resources from richer nations to poorer.

This misunderstands American history. Before Hamilton wrote his First Report on Public Credit, he coauthored the Federalist Papers to persuade his fellow New Yorkers to ratify a new Constitution. He understood that a political union providing democratic accountability for the federal government was a precondition for fiscal union . . .

And there’s the rub. There is still no evidence that voters in the EU’s member states want to enter into a political union on anything approaching the American model. For fairly obvious historical reasons, the nascent American Republic was a nation, or proto-nation, in a way that the EU’s ungainly confederation is not. This is understood very well, if not widely admitted, in Brussels, but those steering the European project have always appreciated the value of, to use that entertainingly cynical phrase, a ‘beneficial crisis.’ The euro was built on a foundation of sand. To launch a currency union without the backing of at least a partial fiscal union was asking for trouble, but the necessary political support within the member states for a fiscal union simply was not there. No matter: The single currency was launched anyway. The thinking of at least some of those responsible was that, if trouble came, it would set off a crisis that would create the conditions in which some sort of fiscal union would become politically palatable, if only because the alternative was an economic catastrophe.

Trouble duly came calling, but, in the end, it turned out that the first euro-zone crisis was not enough (quite) to do the trick. The question now is whether the impact of COVID-19, particularly on the already weakened economies of the euro-zone’s south, will scare the currency union’s members into a fiscal union. Probably not (or not exactly) but the greater the taxing power that the EU assumes, the louder will be the demands for greater democratic accountability — no taxation without representation and all that. And logically, ‘representation’ would have to be at the EU, rather than the national, level, and it would be achieved by giving more power to the EU parliament at the expense of national parliaments.

The poorly designed currency will thus have led to an economic crisis that forced the pace of fiscal integration, and the crisis of legitimacy that could well ensue from forced fiscal integration will force the pace of political integration. See how this works?

The Wall Street Journal:

Perhaps the EU needs closer fiscal and political integration to survive this crisis. But then someone should tell voters, and persuade them to assent. They’re entitled to change their minds after 2005 [when a proposed EU constitution was rejected], especially if a new political organization for the EU gave voters more direct control over Brussels.

The problem with that is that the EU Parliament cannot, as things currently stand, in any true sense of the word, be democratic, for the simple reason that there is still no EU ‘demos’. One day there might be, but it doesn’t exist now, and it’s not going to be created overnight by transferring more powers to a parliament that represents everybody, but nobody. ‘Control’ will not in any real sense lie with the voters, but with a technocracy that will use the illusion of increased democracy to produce exactly the opposite result.

And there are a good many reasons to think that, in the end, the technocrats will get away with it.

U.S.

Lindsey Graham Encourages Originalist Judges to Take Senior Status

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In an interview with Hugh Hewitt, Senate judiciary committee chairman Lindsey Graham encourages originalist judges eligible for senior status to take it now so their successors may be confirmed before the November elections: 

Graham: This is an historic opportunity. We’ve put over 200 federal judges on the bench. I think one in five federal judges are Trump appointees. If you can get four more years, I mean, it would change the judiciary for several generations. So if you’re a Circuit judge in your mid-60s, late 60s, you can take senior status, now would be a good time to do that if you want to make sure the judiciary is right of center. This is a good time to do it.

Hewitt: If they are an originalist eligible right now and they are listening to Lindsey Graham, chairman, can you assure them that their successor will indeed be confirmed before the election?

Graham: Well, if you wait, you know, November the 1st, no. So do it now.

Hewitt: Do it now. Loud and clear.

Politics & Policy

Spinning Some Golden Oldies

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Vice President Spiro T. Agnew shakes hands with President Richard M. Nixon as the president begins his trip to China, February 17, 1972. (National Archives)

My Impromptus today begins with those characters you see above: Richard Nixon and his vice president, Spiro T. Agnew. Nixon’s first vice president, I should say. We wound up with Ford, a nice winding up.

Can I tell you something kind of interesting about Nixon’s ’68 choice? Agnew had been governor (of Maryland) for only a year and a half. The same would be true of Sarah Palin, in ’08.

Gerald R. Ford was a seasoned fellow, who had served in Congress since 1949 and was House minority leader.

Anyway, I continue my column with “Karens.” Do you know that the name “Karen” has been appropriated as an epithet? I have known many wonderful girls and women named “Karen” in my life. I object to this appropriation and abuse of their name.

(Yeah, I know: Tell it to the Dicks.)

I take up the subject of masks — recalling a book that was a huge bestseller when I was in high school: Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche. Is that true of masks? Do real men not wear masks?

I also have an item on social-media initials, or texting initials: “idk” for “I don’t know”; “jk” for “Just kidding”; etc. I received a note this morning from a reader, who says that he hates those initials: “I always pretend I don’t know what they mean as a disincentive to my daughter.”

lol

Finally, I write about college basketball in the 1940s and the NBA in the 1950s. Some interesting stories and personalities.

Let me go back to Agnew for a minute. A few years ago, a reader sent me an LP, still wrapped. It had sold for 39 cents, according to the sticker on the cover. The album is called “Spiro T. Agnew: The Speeches that Stirred America.” It was published sometime during Nixon’s first term.

Is “published” the right word, for an LP? Anyway, the record was made by Podium Records, located at 43 W. 61st St. in Manhattan, not far from where I am sitting right now.

The back cover calls Agnew “America’s Most Outspoken Political Personality.” There is also a bio of him, which ends,

Mr. Agnew, 6’2”, under 200 lbs. and a natty dresser, enjoys playing golf, ping-pong, and the piano.

When he has time, he likes watching the Baltimore Colts on television, and listening to standards and show tunes, especially when performed by Lawrence Welk and Mantovani.

The front cover lists the topics that Agnew addresses in these speeches: “Vietnam,” “Student Unrest,” “The Economy,” “The ‘Silent Majority,’” “Cambodia,” “School Bussing” (I would have said ‘Busing,” reserving “bussing” for kissing), “The Media,” “Pornography,” “Integration,” and “Campus Disorders” (apparently different from “Student Unrest”).

The back cover has a little glossary, listing “Famous Agnew Alliterations, Catch-phrases and Definitions.” All in all, this is an amazing political and oratorical artifact.

Wanna see a picture?

Science & Tech

Why Does the CDC Think the COVID-19 Fatality Rate Is So Low, and Why Won’t It Tell Anyone?

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President Trump and CDC Director Robert Redfield answer questions during a White House press briefing in Washington, D.C., April 22, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Last week I was searching the Internet for some COVID-19 statistic or other, and I came across a new CDC website. The site featured some numbers the federal government is using to model the spread of the epidemic. One in particular caught my eye: 0.4 percent, the “current best estimate” of the disease’s “case fatality rate.” The document also said that 35 percent of infections are asymptomatic, which suggests the infection fatality rate is just 0.26 percent.

These numbers struck me as low for several reasons. For one thing, the virus has already killed 0.2 percent of all New Yorkers, and obviously a much higher percentage of those who’ve actually been infected in the city. For another, if we’ve had 100,000 deaths nationwide and a CFR of 0.4 percent, that means we’ve had 25 million symptomatic cases; including cases without symptoms, more than 10 percent of the entire country has been infected, which seems out of sync with what we’re hearing from serology tests. Individual studies and reviews of the evidence tend to put the infection fatality rate somewhere around 0.5 to 1 percent, though there’s at least one dissenting review that puts it lower (while managing not to include any studies finding a fatality rate above 0.5 percent, of which there are plenty).

I put out a tweet expressing my confusion, and things spiraled quickly, as they often do on social media. A follower alerted the prominent biologist Carl Bergstrom, who wrote a thread criticizing the CDC’s numbers. The next morning he was featured in a CNN story about the issue. There have been many media reports since, with the narrative predictably varying from “Heroic Scientific Experts Hammer Corrupt CDC for Fake Low Fatality Rate” to “CDC Finally Admits COVID Is Basically Harmless.” (I exaggerate, but only a little.)

I don’t have a scorching hot take on the number. But I do want to know where it comes from, which is not clear from the site itself. It says the information is based on data about a month old and names the source “Preliminary COVID-19 estimates, CDC,” which I have not been able to locate (if indeed it refers to a specific document at all).

I have contacted the CDC several times in the past week to no avail. Both the Center for Public Integrity and BuzzFeed similarly report that they sought comment and received no reply.

If the fatality rate of this thing is 0.26 percent, that is fantastic news. If the CDC has evidence this is the case, it should share it with the rest of us.

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Why do they keep doing it? Decade after decade, generation after generation, progressives keep making the same, elemental mistake: They downplay, excuse, and in extreme cases even encourage urban rioters. We’ve been down this road before, and it’s a straight stretch of highway with no twists whatsoever. It ... Read More

This Is Easy: Don’t Excuse, Defend, or Encourage Rioters

Why do they keep doing it? Decade after decade, generation after generation, progressives keep making the same, elemental mistake: They downplay, excuse, and in extreme cases even encourage urban rioters. We’ve been down this road before, and it’s a straight stretch of highway with no twists whatsoever. It ... Read More

Protesting Works. Rioting Doesn’t.

The tragic death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis has set off massive protests in the city and elsewhere. The protesters point to a video in which a police officer uses his knee to restrain Floyd, applying pressure to his neck for several minutes, as Floyd protests that he can’t breathe. This will ... Read More

Protesting Works. Rioting Doesn’t.

The tragic death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis has set off massive protests in the city and elsewhere. The protesters point to a video in which a police officer uses his knee to restrain Floyd, applying pressure to his neck for several minutes, as Floyd protests that he can’t breathe. This will ... Read More

Amy Klobuchar Takes a Big Hit

As Minneapolis burned this week, so too did Amy Klobuchar’s prospects of becoming Joe Biden’s running mate. Just six weeks ago, Klobuchar looked like the frontrunner in the 2020 Democratic veepstakes, but the Minnesota senator happens to be the former top prosecutor in Hennepin County, home to Minneapolis, ... Read More

Amy Klobuchar Takes a Big Hit

As Minneapolis burned this week, so too did Amy Klobuchar’s prospects of becoming Joe Biden’s running mate. Just six weeks ago, Klobuchar looked like the frontrunner in the 2020 Democratic veepstakes, but the Minnesota senator happens to be the former top prosecutor in Hennepin County, home to Minneapolis, ... Read More