Politics & Policy

Philadelphia Reimposes Mask Mandate After a Month — Will Other Liberal Areas Follow?

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People wait in line to receive free rapid at-home coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing kits at a vaccination clinic run by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health in Philadelphia, Pa., December, 21 2021. (Hannah Beier/Reuters)

Philadelphia announced on Monday that it would be reimposing its indoor-mask mandate just a month after it had finally been lifted, suggesting that they aren’t quite ready to let go of Covid restrictions. The question is whether the city remains an outlier, or whether other liberal areas will follow a similar pattern.

The city announced on March 2 that it was in the “all clear” and could commence removing mask restrictions, with the mandates on school masking having been dropped on March 9 — or just about a month ago.

Now, the city is claiming that a rise in cases necessitates reimposing the restrictions. The decision is based purely on looking at cases, even as the CDC has updated its guidance to take a more holistic approach that takes into account other factors, such as hospital capacity. According to the CDC, Philadelphia County is currently in the “low” zone.”

Even if one were to concentrate on looking at cases, it’s worth noting that the U.K. decided not to slow down its return to normalcy in the face of the Omicron subvariant, and after a few weeks of rising cases, transmission has started to fall again.

It’s worth noting that Philadelphia is operating under a system with a series of tiers for various levels of Covid risk, and the recent uptick moved the city from a “all clear” zone to “mask precautions.”

This shows the dangers of scaling back restrictions but leaving the overall Covid regime in place as we know there are always going to be future surges.

The CDC changed its guidance once it became clear that Covid restrictions on net were becoming politically unpopular. So it should be interesting to watch whether other cities with upticks also move to reimpose masking rules.

Politics & Policy

From Trump Party to Trump Faction?

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Former President Donald Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Fla., February 26, 2022. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

Former president Donald Trump looks likely to end up with a pretty mixed record of success for his endorsed 2022 candidates. His backing of Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania over this past weekend is only the latest example of Trump putting his weight behind an unserious candidate with a not-so-great chance of winning. His chosen candidate in the Georgia governor’s race faces tough odds too, and in the Alabama U.S. Senate race Trump had to withdraw an endorsement when it became clear that his candidate was hopeless.

The candidates he has endorsed may well yet win, of course. The next six weeks will tell us a lot. Michigan’s primary on April 23, Nebraska’s on May 10, Pennsylvania’s, Idaho’s, and North Carolina’s on May 17, and then Georgia’s and Alabama’s on May 24 all involve Trump-endorsed candidates in one way or another.

But however those go, it’s likely that Trump’s decision to endorse as widely as he did this year will alter his place in the Republican ecosystem and leave him diminished. To see why, it’s worth thinking about his strategy through the lens of the political science of party factions.

A good place to start is with the work of Daniel DiSalvo of the City College of New York, and especially his superb 2012 book Engines of Change: Party Factions in American Politics, 1868-2010. DiSalvo shows that factionalization allows groups within our two major parties to move the parties by consolidating distinct blocs of like-minded partisans and enabling them to flex their electoral muscles in ways that compel the larger party to take their priorities seriously. One of the ways that factions do this is by endorsing candidates, and so in essence identifying them as belonging to a bloc with some power in the party, both to help voters know whom to support and to help candidates benefit from the larger faction’s strengths.

In that way, endorsing candidates in party primaries around the country can be a sign of strength — helping lone-wolf politicians join together into a powerful intra-party force. But Trump is moving in something like the opposite direction. He does not begin as a weak, lone-wolf politician but as the most powerful figure in the GOP — a figure with whom almost every Republican candidate would like to identify to some degree. He could easily stand apart from the primaries in all these races and let essentially all the candidates claim him and thereby reinforce his dominance of the party. By choosing instead to endorse some candidates over others, he is choosing to narrow his reach and to constrain the meaning of Trumpism within the GOP. He is not going from lonely voice to factional leader but from party leader to factional leader.

This would be true even if all of Trump’s endorsed candidates won their primaries. The range of Republicans willing to say they support Trump is much broader than the victory that any of these endorsed candidates would win, so that in every one of these primaries Trump’s endorsements are creating Trump-friendly Republican voters who are choosing to reject Trump’s endorsed candidates and so to position themselves in some respects outside of Trump’s orbit in the party.

And of course, not all of his endorsed candidates will win. The fact that he is not only making endorsements but doing so (as he does most things) in a careless, narcissistic, and often foolish way means he will create even more distance between himself and Republicans focused on winning hard races.

You can see this even within Trump’s inner circle already. As Zachary Petrizzo at the Daily Beast reported this weekend, Trump’s endorsement of Dr. Oz led some prominent pro-Trump voices to break ranks publicly.

It’s even more evident in the broader circle of party operatives. As Salena Zito reports at the Washington Examiner, lots of prominent Pennsylvania Republicans openly expressed their dismay at Trump’s choice. This bit from her article gets at this point perfectly:

“President Trump was very out of sync in picking Oz,” said Dave Ball, chairman of the Washington County Republican Party. “I’d like to know who it is who lives in Pennsylvania that knows the voters well told Trump to pick Oz.”

“I think that President Trump very, very seldom does anything that’s not thought out and doesn’t have a very reasoned and logical basis, but, for whatever reason, in this particular instance, he chose to ignore all of that and endorse Oz,” he said.

Ball says he fielded calls all day from conservatives unhappy with the former president’s decision. They complained about the reasons Trump gave — noting his celebrity status, Harvard credentials, New York Times bestseller status, and praise Oz had for the former president’s health. “People have been calling me all day and asking, ‘What the hell was he thinking?’”

Of course, no one should have been surprised at Trump’s behavior. But the fact that people who are clearly reluctant to criticize him are openly doing so here is worth noticing.

Trump’s endorsements will tend to create more Republicans who aren’t anti-Trump and yet don’t feel like they are in his camp. And that includes not only voters and party officials but also politicians who will feel they don’t owe him anything. As a practical matter, there should already be many such politicians, since many Republican members of Congress ran ahead of Trump in their own states and districts. But a lot of them still feel like they have been working in his party over these past six years, and can’t afford to really get crosswise with him. Yet if Trump gets crosswise with them and they still win, they would feel much less compelled to keep chasing him.

Consider again the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race. David McCormick, the more establishment-type Republican in the race, has done everything he could to identify with Trumpist themes and priorities (including sometimes gesturing supportively toward Trump’s lies about the last election). Until this past weekend, he had the support of several Trump loyalists, including Stephen Miller and Hope Hicks. Had Trump stayed out of that race, he could have claimed that both leading candidates were Trump people and that whoever won was a victory for him. The same is true in most of the races in which he has endorsed candidates. But by choosing one office-seeker to endorse, let alone choosing a likely loser, Trump has made non-Trump Republicans out of the other candidates and their voters. This increases the number of non-Trump Republicans who aren’t in the explicitly anti-Trump wing of the party, creates a lot of politicians who no longer imagine he has some magical hold on their voters, and gets a lot more voters accustomed to thinking of themselves as outside of his ambit.

All of this could make a big difference to potential Republican presidential contenders in 2024 as well. A number of them are clearly trying to figure out if running would be feasible with Trump in the race. Could someone run against him and win? Could someone run while Trump is in the race but not explicitly run against him? Where are the boundaries?

That last question should remind Republican politicians of 2016, and of Trump’s own rise. Throughout the Obama era, a lot of Republican politicians acted like mimes trapped within invisible walls: They behaved as though there were strict ideological rules about what could be said to Republican voters about spending, taxes, entitlements, foreign policy, the role of government, and many other issues — as if the party’s base demanded strict orthodoxy to a kind of libertarian-infused caricature of Reaganism. Trump wasn’t even aware of these taboos, and so blasted right through them in 2016, and it turned out the party’s voters didn’t really care about them after all. Republican politicians were liberated from those constraints (though a fair number still don’t realize that), but they were so confused by it all that they just adopted a new set of constraints involving Trump himself. Now there were things you could never say to Republican voters about Donald Trump. Even the 2020 election didn’t really change that, so the working assumption in Republican politics is that the GOP primary electorate demands absolute, groveling fidelity to the guy who lost the party the last election. But what if it turns out that this is no more true than the last supposedly binding orthodoxy?

You would think that Donald Trump would want to avoid asking that question, and testing the strength of his hold on the party. Yet it is Trump who has launched this test, pursuing a strategy likely to weaken his position and standing in the GOP, almost regardless of how the primaries turn out.

None of that means that Trump is done for, needless to say. But it suggests that he remains his own worst enemy, and in ways that threaten to invite greater and more capable enemies still.

Politics & Policy

Rick Scott vs. Mitch McConnell

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In Bloomberg Opinion, I attempt to adjudicate their dispute.

Mitch McConnell knew this would happen.

For months, the Senate Republican leader had been telling anyone who would listen — other senators, party donors, even the occasional pundit — that the party should not run on a detailed agenda during the midterm campaign this fall. Republicans were already positioned to do well.

Why hand the Democrats a chance to launch attacks on a Republican agenda?

Senator Rick Scott, a Florida Republican, didn’t agree. . . .

Update: The column briefly discusses the most controversial Scott proposal, which is that everyone should pay income taxes in order to have “skin in the game.” I had a longer article about the idea in NR–and although it came out more than ten years ago, I think it holds up pretty well.

Media

How Elon Musk Could Improve Twitter

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Bradley Smith has some very good suggestions in this Wall Street Journal op-ed. For example: “For every 10 content moderators tasked with taking down content, hire a content defender, whose job is to advocate for keeping or putting content back up.”

World

Boris Johnson Visits Kyiv

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On Saturday, U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson traveled to Ukraine where he met with President Volodymyr Zelensky. In a joint press conference, Johnson spoke of “clarity about a vision for the future of Ukraine,” which included closer ties with the United Kingdom, as well as advancements in technology and intelligence “so that Ukraine will never be invaded again . . . never be bullied again, never be blackmailed again, never be threatened in the same way again.”

In addition to this show of solidarity, Johnson promised to provide 120 armored vehicles, anti-ship missile systems, and around $130 million in other military equipment. Britain has also guaranteed an additional $500 million in World Bank loans, bringing the total to $1 billion.

Johnson’s wartime posture is proving a useful distraction from Partygate and the prime minister’s other Covid failures. Still, his leadership in the face of the crisis has been impressive in its own right. Johnson is playing to the same strengths he displayed during the struggle to “get Brexit done” — charisma, oratory, and decisiveness. As I wrote earlier, this could help save his premiership. (Or, failing that, his legacy.)

No, Joe Manchin Is Not Why Dems Are Losing Voters

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Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) listens during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., January 11, 2022. (Sarah Silbiger/Reuters)

Now the Left is claiming that the end of Biden’s expanded child tax credit from the American Rescue Plan Act is the reason for plummeting poll numbers.

In a Morning Consult post by Eli Yokley, the Morning Consult and Politico published polls asserting that families that received expanded child tax credits are shifting their electoral favor to Republicans now that the “benefit has dried up”:

Among parents or guardians with at least one child under 18 in the household who received the expanded child tax credit payments, 46% said they are most likely to vote for a Republican congressional candidate this

Politics & Policy

Biden and Dems Ready Their ‘Ghost Gun’ Theater

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Guns displayed at Shore Shot Pistol Range gun shop in Lakewood Township, N.J., March 19, 2020. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

It ought to be hard to believe — but, alas, it’s not — that with the border disintegrating and with it our security and sovereignty, the Biden administration and Washington Democrats are prioritizing . . . yes . . . wait for it . . . ghost guns!

I had the chance to discuss this on Fox News this morning with Dana Perino and Bill Hemmer. “Ghost gun” is the term applied to a firearm that is DYI-assembled from components often sold in a kit. The anti-gun folk are alarmed about ghost guns because they don’t have serial numbers and thus can’t be traced. (Charlie Cooke and Robert verBruggen had insightful posts on this topic about a year ago.)

The administration’s ghost-gun push is anti-gun theater that will have utterly nothing to do with tamping down violent crime.

The problem with guns from a crime perspective is how they’re used by criminals, not how they’re registered by everybody else. Before there were ghost guns, it was typical in violent-crime investigations for police to seize firearms with obliterated serial numbers. Or, when cops found guns that had serial numbers and were properly registered, they had nevertheless been stolen or otherwise illegally procured by the criminal. That is to say, the record-keeping attendments of gun ownership in the United States neither prevented the violent crime nor much advanced many investigations in which guns were recovered.

You would think from the way the press cover guns and Washington Democrats wail about them that there were some great federal interest in them. Other than protecting the right of citizens to bear arms for their defense, however, the Constitution has nothing to say about them. Firearms regulation, like most law-enforcement matters, is supposed to be the bailiwick of the states. (See David’s excellent post on how Biden’s model state in this regard is, of course, California.)

By the familiar extravagant reading of the commerce clause, the feds invented a role for themselves not only to regulate the cross-border shipment of guns but also to regulate — and in some instances, criminalize — their use. Federal gun laws do not have much impact on violent crime, however, and as Kevin has pointed out a number of times, the feds’ determination to proliferate the number of gun laws is curious in light of their lack of interest in enforcing the laws already on the books.

Reporting says that when the Biden Justice Department finally finishes writing its long-in-the-making rules on ghost guns, the administration expects stiff resistance from Republicans and Second Amendment activists. I’d defer to Charlie on the prospects of litigation. My instinctive objection to this stuff is that Congress delegates way too much authority to the executive branch to enact regulations in lieu of legislation. Most of this regulation addles law-abiding citizens far more than it impedes criminals. If Democrats want it, they should take accountable votes in Congress, not slough it off on the bureaucracy.

That said, there’s plenty of law for the proposition that the federal government may impose manufacturing requirements, such as serial numbers, to make firearms easier to register and trace. I doubt the coming court challenges will come to much.

What I would say with confidence is that this will have zero impact on crime. Democrats want to pretend this theater, which they are hot to perform because it appeases progressive activists, is an anti-crime measure. Not in any realistic way. What would have an impact on crime would be pro-active policing, whereby cops are (a) deployed to the places that their intelligence databases and statistical surveys tell them crime is spiking, and (b) infiltrate and otherwise intensify enforcement against gangs, which is what drive violent crime in urban areas.

Democrats resist doing this because they are race-obsessed. African Americans are complicit in gang activity and violent crime in percentages that significantly outstrip their percentage of the population. Stepped-up anti-gang enforcement inevitably entails more arrests and prosecutions of black suspects. Progressives, relying on their disparate-impact voodoo, inevitably carp that such law-enforcement priorities show that police and the judicial process are systemically racist — rather than grappling with the hard truth that blacks are offending at disproportionately high rates. This does no one any favors because predominantly black communities are victimized by crime at disproportionately high rates.

As with the southern border, Washington does not want to do anything meaningful about that very real challenge to our security and the rule of law. And so . . . we get the big push on ghost guns. Feel safer now?

World

Barack Obama Rewrites History on Russia and Ukraine

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President Barack Obama chats with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin prior to a working session at the Group of 20 (G20) leaders summit in the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya, Turkey, November 16, 2015. (Kayhan Ozer/Pool/Reuters)

More than a few of us scoffed loudly when former president Barack Obama rewrote history and made himself sound like a lone, brave voice standing up against Vladimir Putin when he was in the Oval Office: “As somebody who grappled with the incursion into Crimea … I have been encouraged by the European reaction because in 2014 I often had to drag them kicking and screaming to respond in ways we would have wanted to see.”

The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal has a clearer and more accurate memory: “Start with Mr. Obama’s claim he was a champion of harsher measures against Russia after the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014. His Administration imposed only mild, targeted sanctions on Russia—and then joined with Moscow to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran. He refused to sell Javelin antitank weapons to Ukraine. Germany pushed ahead with its Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in this era with nary a peep from Washington until the Trump Administration.”

But it goes well beyond those examples. Back in June 2019, I reviewed Jim Sciutto’s book, The Shadow War: Inside Russia’s and China’s Secret Operations to Defeat America. Sciutto works for CNN now, but at the end of 2011, Jim Sciutto moved to Beijing to become chief of staff and senior policy adviser to U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, after spending a decade as ABC News senior foreign correspondent. Sciutto was surprisingly blunt about how the Obama administration kept shrugging off aggression and provocations from Beijing and Moscow.

Geoffrey Pyatt was U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2013 to 2016. Pyatt describes a meeting early in his time in that post with European Union official Stefan Rule during a conference in Yalta, Crimea: “It was the first time I had ever met him, and he came on very, very strongly and said basically, ‘Where the hell are the Americans? Don’t you realize that there is a great struggle that’s going on right now to define the future of the European periphery? We need an engaged America.’”

“Kerry was still talking in terms of ‘Russia must not overstep,’” said Pyatt. “And it was while they were already running the place.

Inside the Obama administration, discussions focused on providing Moscow with a diplomatic ‘off-ramp’ to defuse the crisis and eventually exit Crimea in a face-saving way. . .  “The Russian objective was not to win the argument,” Pyatt emphasized. “It was to win a war.”

Pyatt tells Sciutto in another passage, “When I arrived in Kiev, my instructions were, Europe is in the lead.”

In 2018, those noted crazed right-wingers at the… er, Brookings Institution offered a damning assessment of how Obama handled Russia during his eight years in the White House:

We should not slip into collective amnesia over the Obama administration’s weak and underwhelming response to Russian aggression. Throughout his presidency, Obama consistently underestimated the challenge posed by Putin’s regime. His foreign policy was firmly grounded in the premise that Russia was not a national security threat to the United States. In 2012, Obama disparaged Mitt Romney for exaggerating the Russian threat—“the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years,” Obama quipped. This breezy attitude prevailed even as Russia annexed Crimea, invaded eastern Ukraine, intervened in Syria, and hacked the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Obama’s response during these critical moments was cautious at best, and deeply misguided at worst. Even the imposition of sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine was accompanied by so much propitiation and restraint elsewhere that it didn’t deter Russia from subsequent aggression, including the risky 2016 influence operation in the United States. Obama, confident that history was on America’s side, for the duration of his time in office underestimated the damaging impact Russia could achieve through asymmetric means.

But in Obama’s mind, he was always the stalwart and farsighted hero of the story.

Politics & Policy

Free Money for Trans People Could Backfire

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From my colleague Brittany Bernstein’s report:

The city of Palm Springs, Calif. recently granted $200,000 to two nonprofit groups looking to design a pilot program to offer a universal basic income (UBI) of up to $900 per month to transgender and nonbinary Palm Springs residents who meet a poverty threshold.

As generous as it is to offer free money to people who identify as trans and non-binary, this scheme does not seem particularly well thought through. First, there is no objective test for a trans identity. It is simply something you declare. (So there is an obvious flaw in the program’s incentive structure.) Second, this proposal abandons any pretense of equality. The more the public sees the trans movement as receiving special treatment and privileges, the less easy it is for them to be sympathetic to its demands.

Politics & Policy

Rolling Stone Hides the Lede

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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (L) and Sen. Joe Machin (R) (Caitlin O’Hara, Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Rolling Stone has a big, angsty story today about how terrible Senator Joe Manchin is. The headline of the offering is “How Joe Manchin Knifed the Democrats — and Bailed on Saving Democracy,” the tweet promoting it reads, “How Joe Machin double-crossed Democrats — and torched plans to protect your vote” [sic], and the tone of the piece follows suit.

The substance, however, does not.

The report’s hinge graf concedes that:

Rolling Stone interviewed more than 30 key figures inside and outside of Congress to understand how the most ambitious voting-rights bill in generations and the Democratic Party’s main policy response to the Jan. 6 insurrection ended in failure. The blame for this defeat, sources say, lies with multiple parties: Manchin either strung along his party for months with no intention of actually supporting the reforms or gave indications to his colleagues that he was on board only to reverse his position on multiple occasions. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, miscalculated that if they could flip Manchin, another swing vote, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, would follow his lead. As for the White House, these sources say, President Biden — despite saying as a candidate that “one of the first things I’ll do as president” is restore the Voting Rights Act — never seemed fully committed to passing voting-rights legislation. When Biden, who had vowed to run an “FDR-sized presidency,” did inject himself into the negotiations late in the fight, his contributions did more harm than good.

And yet, as the rest of the piece shows, this isn’t quite right. Once one strips away the wishful thinking, ignores the indignant ass-covering, and takes into account the many iterations of “Manchin’s spokeswoman disputes this characterization” that are peppered around the essay in regretful parentheses, one comes to the conclusion that the Democrats’ core problem here was exactly what we suspected all along: That neither Joe Manchin nor Kyrsten Sinema were ever interested in abolishing or weakening the filibuster, and that both the president and the Senate Majority Leader decided to proceed as if that weren’t true. The rest is fluff and intrigue.

As a good example of the Democrats’ delusions, consider this:

While Manchin remained opposed to filibuster reform in public, he began making comments in private meetings that seemed to suggest he was moving closer to yes. In a late-August meeting with a small group of West Virginia faith leaders, Manchin said that he valued the filibuster but did not believe preserving the filibuster outweighed protecting voting rights, according to a person who was briefed on the meeting. (Manchin’s spokeswoman disputes this characterization.) This was seen as an encouraging sign — short of a hard commitment, but evidence that Manchin could be moved. Democrats and outside activists agreed that any talk of “abolishing” or “weakening” the filibuster would scare off Manchin, so they framed their lobbying blitz as an effort to “restore the Senate” and make it work better. 

In other words: Manchin remained opposed to filibuster reform in public; Manchin remained opposed to filibuster reform in private; and yet, for some reason, the Democrats believed that they would be able to change Manchin’s mind by adopting the sort of transparently duplicitous marketing-speak that even a child would be able to see through.

Why? Why did they think this? It is possible, I suppose, that one might be able to trick a low-information voter by refusing to use the word “weaken” to describe one’s weakening of the filibuster. But Joe Manchin? The guy whose aim is to defend it? In what universe could that possibly work?

As for Joe Biden? Well, he’s exactly as ineffective as we imagined:

When Manchin asked Biden a question about the history of the filibuster, Biden’s answer was so unconvincing that Schumer motioned to Sen. Jeff Merkley to intervene and give a more substantive response, according to multiple witnesses.

Ouch.

Astonishingly enough, the party’s approach to Sinema seems to have been even worse:

The attempts to win over Sinema had come in the final stages of the filibuster battle. John LaBombard, who was Sinema’s top spokesman at the time, says there was much less of an effort to persuade the Arizona senator to change her mind than there had been with Joe Manchin, even though Sinema’s vote was just as crucial as Manchin’s in the final count. LaBombard says he couldn’t escape the impression that Democratic leadership either took Sinema’s vote for granted or considered her long-standing opposition to changing the filibuster somehow less sincere or authentic than Manchin’s. “It would be a mistake on anyone’s part to engage in any wishful thinking that Sen. Sinema’s policy or tactical positions are somehow contingent on the positions of other colleagues and are not sincerely held,” LaBombard says.

Of course, this was exactly what the Democrats thought, which is why Sinema was eventually forced to make a speech from the floor of the Senate and make it clear that she wasn’t bluffing.

As it happens, “wishful thinking” has been a good description of the Democrats’ attitude from the start. It didn’t matter how many times Manchin and Sinema made their position plain. It didn’t matter how many times Manu Raju asked about the filibuster, and was told “no.” It didn’t matter how many unequivocal statements were issued. Still, the party asked, “so, you’re saying there’s a chance?” Rolling Stone‘s piece would be much, much more useful if it acknowledged that directly, instead of ham-fistedly directing blame at the two figures in the drama who were open about their stances all along. Had the magazine wanted a more accurate headline and lead graf, it could have done no better than to use this:

“I thought we were there a couple of times,” Kaine says. “But maybe that was just me.”

Yeah, Tim. It was.

Education

Woke Ideology Rapidly Spreading throughout Medical Schools

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If you thought that the medical profession could resist the kudzu-like growth of woke ideology, think again. It is rapidly spreading and will lead to poorer care for Americans of all races. The obsession over racial “equity” among academic leaders has serious consequences.

Recently, the National Association of Scholars hosted a panel discussion on this subject, and in today’s Martin Center article, Grace Hall reports on it.

One of the speakers was Dr. Sally Satel, a psychiatrist, who stated that, “Any kind of psychotherapy that takes place under such conditions, where patients are reflexively branded as oppressed and encouraged to see themselves as feeble victims, is doomed to fail.”

Satel also discussed the harmful impact of the group “White Coats for Black Lives,” which is evidently a front for pushing the whole leftist political agenda.

John Sailer, a researcher on the NAS staff who has written extensively on the politicization of medical education, pointed out that hiring and tenure decisions in medical schools are now often dependent on currying favor with DEI apparatchiks. Say something that isn’t in line with leftist ideology, and your career is in danger.

Also, Aaron Sibarium discussed the role of the American Medical Association, which has thrown in with the leftist agenda. The AMA uses its accrediting power to shoving schools down the “woke” path.

Hall concludes that, “The panel agreed that the only way to push the needle back and resist this pernicious ideology taking over medical schools is to use journalism to shine a light on the various woke policies and by speaking to policymakers. Healthcare is an important and vital aspect of society, and for it to be the best it can possibly be, it needs to leave woke ideology behind. ‘Wokeism’ does not help patients: intelligence, research, and care do.”

International

Building a Bleak New World

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Students take part in a climate change demonstration, Nice, France, March 15, 2019. (Eric Gaillard/Reuters)

Asceticism for asceticism’s sake has been a feature of many ideologies (whether religious or otherwise), so it has not been a great surprise that it also features so prominently in the current climate agenda.

Here is another example, via the Daily Telegraph:

Going green needs to become a “status symbol”, the UN has said, as it urged people to work from home more, drive less and go vegetarian to protect the planet from climate change.

Behavioural changes including working from home, eating less meat and driving less could cut emissions by up to 70 per cent by 2050, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found.

Up to 70 percent?

Seems high.

CNBC:

“Having the right policies, infrastructure and technology in place to enable changes to our lifestyles and behavior can result in a 40-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This offers significant untapped potential,” said IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Priyadarshi Shukla, in a written statement. “The evidence also shows that these lifestyle changes can improve our health and wellbeing.”

40-70 percent.

Hmmm . . .

Back to the Daily Telegraph:

Governments should “nudge” citizens into more sustainable choices, while “status consumption” should be discouraged, the report added.

“Judicious labelling, framing and communication of social norms can also increase the effect of mandates, subsidies, or taxes,” it said.

Note the phrasing, which says without (quite) saying that the “nudging” and “discouraging”  will be in addition to mandates, subsidies, “or” taxes.

Not that the phrasing about governments framing and communicating social norms is particularly reassuring.

There should, it is suggested, be:

“Discourses that frame comfortable public transport service to avoid stress from driving cars on busy, congested roads help avoid car driving as a status symbol and create a new social norm to shift to public transport,” the report said.

“Discourses that portray plant based protein as healthy and natural promote and stabilise particular diets.”

Discourses?

The word, I think, is propaganda.

Science & Tech

Our Flourishing Fears of Big Tech’s Power

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Mark Bowman (Eric Andre) and PAL Max Robots in The Mitchells vs. the Machines. (SPAI)

Two recent animated movies I watched with my sons over the break — Ron’s Gone Wrong and The Mitchells vs the Machines — deal with the themes of social media, modern tech giants, and the fears that all those hours of staring at our phones, tablets and computer screens is getting in the way of real human connection among family and friends. As far as animated children’s movies go, both movies are really good, but I think Ron’s Gone Wrong had more to say about kids being addicted to social media and their phones in unhealthy ways, featuring iPhone-in-a-rolling-robot devices called “B-Bots.”

But it’s not just in kids movies; you can find versions of “evil” new media and “Social Media Is Bad” tropes everywhere.

If a modern piece of pop culture fiction features a tech giant, there’s a good chance the CEO will be an openly sinister caricature of either Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg. And there’s about a 90 percent chance that the character will have a big product unveiling scene like Jobs used to do with new Apple products, unveiling the plot-driving product that will seem miraculous but have some hidden dark side. There’s a good chance the character will offer some darkly ironic slogan, like, “now, everything in our lives is in the palm of my hand.”

If a movie or tv show features everyone using a new kind of technology, there’s a 50-50 chance that technology will turn out to be a secret form of mind control, or force people to buy things, or be enormously dangerous in one form or another, or the artificial intelligence will turn “evil” and start attempting to enslave humanity. The hero of the story will almost always be someone who doesn’t use the technology, and who does things the old-fashioned way, finding it simpler, more honest and virtuous than all of this modern convenience – “a Timex watch in a digital age,” as the villain taunts in Live Free or Die Hard.

So, here’s the thing: If seemingly everyone is wary, suspicious, or worried about the influence of these products, companies, and corporate titans… why are so many people still using those devices and on those social media networks? If we fear social media and our ubiquitous smartphones are manipulating us, controlling us, corrupting us, or making us dumber . . . how is it that 85 percent of Americans own a smartphone? (TikTok is more or less an extension of Chinese intelligence, and yet everybody under age 25 seems to be using it.)

Is it simply a matter of convenience and laziness? Or is it that we realize that as demonic as these devices and networks may seem in fiction, in real life, they’re… just sort of there? Facebook lost a half-million daily active users in three months in early 2021 – — not exactly a mind-controlling hypnotic device, then. It may seem like everyone is on a particular social media network, but they aren’t;  Twitter has significantly fewer users than other sites and apps like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram – and in the U.S., just 10 percent of tweeters contributed 92 percent of tweets in 2020. We say we can’t live without our phones, and yet we are absent-minded enough to lose about 70 million smartphones per year.

In real life, these new technologies are not quite as pervasive, ubiquitous, and all-seeing and all-controlling as their fictional counterparts.

Our souring feelings towards big tech are complicated; some people are livid with social-media companies for suppressing voices and shutting down discussion of topics like Hunter Biden’s laptop; some worry that the tech companies are helping extremist views flourish and proliferate. Others worry about privacy, and those seemingly all-knowing algorithms after hearing stories like how Target learned that a teenage girl was pregnant from her shopping habits. We rightfully worry whether kids and teenagers can handle the open sewer that is some corners of the Internet; we don’t want kids and teenagers picking up bad and self-destructive ideas like cutting themselves and eating disorders. But most of us also know that simply banning kids from certain social networks until they’re 18, as Peggy Noonan recommended this weekend, is likely to work about as well as other efforts to keep adult materials from teenagers. Ban them from TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube and they’ll just move on to other online ways of communicating with each other.

In the end, most of our problems with social media and new technology are with the users, or how it is used. Our technology problems are, at heart, human being problems. Technology doesn’t change us, so much as it reveals us.

Then again, the consistent sinister portrayal of Big Tech in pop culture may reflect the mentality of screenwriters and directors who were familiar with one way of doing things in Hollywood a decade or two ago, and who now feel overwhelmed, trying to catch up with an entertainment environment dominated by streaming services. Are some of us inclined to believe that anyone who comes along and tries to get us to change the way we’ve always done things must have a sinister agenda? Lord knows that’s the way I feel every time our publishing system changes.

World

‘Freedom Does Not Have Time to Wait’

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British prime minister Boris Johnson and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky walk in Independence Square after a meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, April 9, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service / Handout via Reuters)

Volodymyr Zelensky, for one, thinks the war in Ukraine involves something bigger than Ukraine. The “entire European project is a target for Russia,” he said. Therefore, “it is not just the moral duty of all democracies” to assist Ukraine. It is “a strategy of defense for every civilized state.”

People may recognize this as true, not long from now.

Zelensky further said, “Freedom does not have time to wait. When tyranny begins its aggression against everything that keeps the peace in Europe, action must be taken immediately.”

I believe he is right.

• Boris Johnson traveled to Kyiv and walked the streets with President Zelensky. This was a show of solidarity. Merely showing up, being present, can help people who are under siege: who are being murdered, displaced, maimed, raped. People need to know they are not alone. That they have not been forgotten.

• The Kyiv Post reports,

Ukraine on Thursday accused its neighbour, Kremlin-ally Hungary, of appeasing Russian aggression and disrupting EU unity following a telephone call between the Hungarian and Russian leaders. . . .

Putin congratulated Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban after his party won a fourth term in general elections last week.

Yes.

The two leaders spoke again Wednesday and Orban told Putin that Hungary would be prepared to pay Russia in rubles for gas imports.

Yes.

In his Election Night speech, the Hungarian chief cited Zelensky, among the opponents he had overcome: “This victory will be remembered for the rest of our lives because so many people ganged up on us, including the Left at home, the international Left everywhere, the bureaucrats in Brussels, all the funds and organizations of the Soros empire, the foreign media, and, in the end, even the Ukrainian president.”

Hungary forbids the transfer of arms to Ukraine through Hungarian territory.

• On Thursday evening, the U.S. House voted on a non-binding resolution. “Resolved,” said the resolution, that “the House of Representatives” . . . does what?

(1) reaffirms its unequivocal support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as an alliance founded on democratic principles;

(2) urges NATO to continue to provide unwavering support to the people of Ukraine as they fight for their sovereignty, territorial integrity, and a democratic future;

(3) calls on the President to use the voice and vote of the United States to adopt a new Strategic Concept for NATO that is clear about its support for shared democratic values and committed to enhancing NATO’s capacity to strengthen democratic institutions within NATO member, partner, and aspirant countries; and

(4) calls on the President to use the voice and vote of the United States to establish a Center for Democratic Resilience within NATO headquarters.

As The Hill reported, “The resolution passed 362 to 63, with all 63 no votes coming from Republicans.”

Tweeted Daniel Hannan,

I was pretty sceptical of NATO myself 20 years ago. It seemed to me to have done its job in 1990, and to have been blundering around ever since in search of a role. But it is odd to see this mood among US Republicans just when NATO is proving its worth.

I myself observed,

If you had said to me, “One day, there will be a congressional resolution in support of NATO and the bolstering of democracy, and 63 members of the House, all of one party, will vote against it,” I would have bet every dime I could find on the Democrats. What a strange trip.

Someone with the handle “Populist Lobbyist” responded,

This is an interesting part of how the “old right” thinks. NATO doesn’t make any sense in the context of today’s world.

If Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and other NATO members weren’t in the alliance, do you think they would be vulnerable to what the Ukrainians are facing right now? Invasion? Brutalization? You might want to ask them.

• I hear that the Ukrainian government, along with Ukrainian society, is “woke.” I also hear they are “Nazi.” Interesting to be woke and Nazi at the same time. Any epithet will do, evidently.

Madison Cawthorn, the Republican congressman: “Zelensky is a thug. Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”

Marjorie Taylor Greene, another Republican House member, opposing aid to Ukraine: “You have to ask, is this money and is this United States military equipment falling into the hands of Nazis in Ukraine?”

Back to wokeness, from Matt Gaetz, another Republican, opposing the Magnitsky Act: “Empowering the Biden Administration to use ‘human rights’ as a weapon of global wokeness is a flawed strategy to defeat Russia or anyone else.”

Wokeness has become jokeness, in the mouths of many.

• Cawthorn said “incredibly corrupt,” along with “incredibly evil.” Ukraine indeed has had problems with corruption. They gained independence in 1991, after decades of Soviet Communism. Their growing pains have been obvious, and they have made great strides — also obvious, to those willing to see. In any event, is corruption not a strange topic of discussion when a country is trying to fight off invasion? Fighting for its very life? Its very right to exist?

At Politico, Jacob Heilbrunn published an article headed “Trumpian Conservatives Hold an ‘Emergency’ Meeting Over Russia.” “At a Washington Marriott,” said the subheading, “the nationalist wing of the Republican Party wrestles with what Putin’s war means for their movement.”

One of the participants said, “Ukraine is a corrupt country. Come and get me.”

If corruption is their concern — rather than, say, nationhood, independence, sovereignty, peace, freedom — wait until these guys hear about Russia, among other countries. There have been many books written on the subject. Vladimir Putin may well be the richest person in the world.

• How does a “biolabs” theory get into the mainstream of the U.S. media? The mainstream of American politics? How is it that the name “Victoria Nuland” is suddenly on the lips of many everyday Americans? This article, from the Anti-Defamation League, explains. Fascinating.

• In a conversation with me, Eliot A. Cohen said, “We’re seeing in about as stark a way as we’ve seen since World War II what it means for a free people to fight for their very existence and for freedom, and that should inspire us profoundly.”

But does it? It inspires some and not others, right?

Said Cohen, “If they fail or go under because we’re not willing to support them — I mean, help them defend themselves — it is a terrible blow to who we are and what we think we’re about in the world.”

And yet Americans don’t agree on who we are or what we’re about in the world — do we? I mean, not by a long shot.

“Conversely,” said Cohen, “if they’re successful — as I hope they will be, and tend to think they will be — it is a tremendous victory for the very principles on which this country was founded.”

I think so. And I once would have been confident that this was a majority view — a well-nigh universal view. Today, I don’t know.

• Scott Pelley of 60 Minutes went to Kyiv last week to interview Zelensky. Pelley asked what Zelensky had seen in Bucha. “Death,” said Zelensky. “Just death.”

“What must the world understand?” Pelley asked. Zelensky answered, “We are defending the right to live. I never thought this right was so costly. These are human values. So that Russia doesn’t choose what we should do and how I’m using my rights. That right was given to me by God and my parents.”

• A man named Kyro Maseh is a pharmacist and pharmacy owner in Toronto. He tweeted,

There’s a young Syrian man that came to Canada as a refugee in my neighborhood. I watched him struggle to get accustomed to living here, get an education & a job. Yesterday he dropped by the pharmacy
Him: still collecting donations for Ukrainian refugees?
Me: yes
Him: here’s $100

Humanity.

• A friend of mine, born in Ukraine, sent me this video. Pink Floyd. They have done a song, in support of Ukraine. I think people do what they can, many of them. They want to assert their humanity, somehow, and try to help people who are being ravaged by evil. One can feel helpless. In any event, I don’t know anything about Pink Floyd — I know they’re a big deal, and had an album called “The Wall” — but I salute them, and all others, doing whatever they can, not excluding the act of praying.

World

In, and Out of, a Fear Society

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A demonstrator sits inside a police vehicle after being detained during a rally in support of jailed Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny in St. Petersburg, Russia, April 21, 2021. (Anton Vaganov / Reuters)

Independent journalists in Russia are among the bravest people on earth — long have been. Same with anyone in Russia who wants to promote transparency, democracy — the truth. The last remaining independent journalists in Russia held out for as long as they could. Now it is impossible. Novaya Gazeta is trying to reestablish itself in exile.

Its editor is Dmitry Muratov. I wrote about him earlier this year. He won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Maria Ressa, the brave journalist from the Philippines. Six of Muratov’s colleagues at Novaya Gazeta have been murdered. I should name them, rather than leave them anonymous: Igor Domnikov. Yuri Shchekochikhin. Anna Politkovskaya. Anastasia Baburova. Stanislav Markelov. Natalia Estemirova.

Last week, Muratov was on a train from Moscow to Samara. Someone attacked him with a red liquid, which burned his eyes. The attacker shouted, “Muratov, here’s to you for our boys!” You can read about it from Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, here.

Muratov is still in Russia, apparently. Incredibly brave man. Even the Nobel Peace Prize can’t protect him from Putin’s guys, is my guess. Putin is feeling an impunity. And why not?

• A report in the Wall Street Journal is headed “‘We Will Kill You’: How Russia Silenced Its Antiwar Movement.” Uh-huh. The subheading: “Repressive laws and arrests discourage protests against the war in Ukraine and prompt dissenters to leave.” Oh, yes.

Evan Gershkovich writes,

Alexander Teplyakov wanted to speak out against the war in Ukraine but feared landing in prison if he took part in a public protest. So the Russian activist designed an antiwar sticker featuring Russian and Ukrainian flags and the phrase “NO TO WAR” and posted and distributed thousands of them around Moscow.

He got into trouble anyway.

Yes, indeed.

Gershkovich also writes,

A new Russian law prohibiting referrals to the military campaign in Ukraine as a war or an invasion and mass arrests of protesters have largely eliminated visible signs of dissent inside Russia against the war. Large numbers of Russians opposed to the war have chosen to be exiled.

The Kremlin has welcomed the departures of critics.

Oh, yes. Gershkovich quotes Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, who said, “Many people are showing themselves to be what we in Russia like to call ‘traitors.’ They disappear from our lives on their own. Some resign from their jobs, some withdraw from their professional lives, and some leave the country and move to other places. That’s how Russia is cleansed.”

Yes. Meaningful word, cleansed. Has been used many times, in history — in salutary ways and . . . not.

• “Spurred by Putin, Russians Turn on One Another Over the War.” That is the headline over a report in the New York Times. “Citizens are denouncing one another, illustrating how the war is feeding paranoia and polarization in Russian society.” In this report are strong 1984 vibes.

Anton Troianovski begins as follows:

Marina Dubrova, an English teacher on the Russian island of Sakhalin in the Pacific, showed an uplifting YouTube video to her eighth-grade class last month in which children, in Russian and Ukrainian, sing about a “world without war.”

After she played it, a group of girls stayed behind during recess and quizzed her on her views.

“Ukraine is a separate country, a separate one,” Ms. Dubrova, 57, told them.

“No longer,” one of the girls shot back.

A few days later, the police came to her school in the port town of Korsakov.

Oh, yes.

“With President Vladimir V. Putin’s direct encouragement,” writes Troianovski, “Russians who support the war against Ukraine are starting to turn on the enemy within.”

There is something in this report I find almost amusing:

In St. Petersburg, a local news outlet documented the furor over suspected pro-Western sympathies at the public library; it erupted after a library official mistook the image of a Soviet scholar on a poster for that of Mark Twain.

• Thanks to Vladimir Putin and his gang, Russians are leaving their country in droves, hoping for a better, freer, less fearful life. Natan Sharansky has popularized a useful phrase: “fear society.” Who wants to live in one?

For The Dispatch, Brent Orrell and Alex Nowrasteh wrote an article headed “Skilled Workers Are Fleeing Russia. Let’s Welcome Them.” Yeah, let’s. “Depriving Russia — and Belarus — of such workers would strike a blow against our adversaries and strengthen our economy.” Hear, hear.

World

Reality in Ukraine: Staring It in the Face

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Serhii Lahovskyi, 26, mourns over the body of his friend Ihor Lytvynenko, in Bucha, Ukraine, April 5, 2022. (Zohra Bensemra / Reuters)

Read it, if you can bear it. And if you can’t bear it, (1) I understand (fully) and (2) at least be aware of it. Deniers will deny. They are doing so even now. The fog machine never rests. “Horrors of Ukraine’s Bucha Laid Bare on Yablunska Street.”

• Bethan McKernan writes, “I am a parachute journalist in Ukraine. I’ve seen many awful things in the Middle East, but the scale of the violence here has left me stunned.” A report from her is headed “With bloodied gloves, forensic teams uncover gruesome secrets of Bucha in Ukraine.”

• “Satellite images show bodies lay in Bucha for weeks, despite Russian claims.”

• From Shaun Walker (one of the reporters whose work has been most eye-opening): “After Russians’ retreat, scarred Ukrainian village recounts month of terror.”

• Simon Shuster of Time writes,

We’ve all seen the images. But nothing prepared me for the hellscape on the highway into Kyiv today. Bus stops full of bullet holes. Piles of bricks where homes once stood. Commuter cars crushed under tanks. So many people’s lives.

Hanna Liubakova (invaluable) reports,

Almost 50 people were burned alive in the Mariupol hospital. The mayor Vadim Boychenko said that Russian troops destroyed more than 90% of the city’s infrastructure. At least 5000 people have been killed during the first month of the occupation.

• The headline of this article is “Execution of Village Mayor Becomes Symbol of Russian Brutality in Ukraine.” It begins,

Mayor Olha Sukhenko took care of her village like a family for more than a decade, locals say, sprucing up public buildings, organizing concerts and settling disputes.

When the Russian army withdrew last week after a monthlong occupation, her neighbors found Ms. Sukhenko’s lifeless body in a shallow grave, her hands bound. Her husband and son lay next to her, dead.

• Another article begins,

Russian forces in Ukraine appear to be using a new type of weapon as they step up attacks on civilian targets: an advanced land mine equipped with sensors that can detect when people walk nearby.

Charming.

• The Spectator is not screwing around. Its cover shows Putin, his face illustrated in human skulls. The piece by Fraser Nelson, the editor, is titled “Putin’s terror: the politics of war crimes.” He writes,

The story of the mass grave found in Bucha shocked the world because it represents how fast things have deteriorated and that we are now seeing the kind of barbarism Europe thought it had left behind. The pictures of dead children and the corpses with their hands and feet bound were proof that nothing has changed, and a reminder of our impotence: all of Ukraine’s allies have ruled out direct conflict with Russia.

Here is a piece from Foreign Policy: “Russia’s Ukraine Propaganda Has Turned Fully Genocidal: Egged on by the language of annihilation and extermination, Russian soldiers have become willing executioners.” What is contained in that piece is very important to know.

• This is very important too: “Russia’s genocide handbook: The evidence of atrocity and of intent mounts.” Timothy Snyder writes,

Russia has just issued a genocide handbook for its war on Ukraine. The Russian official press agency “RIA Novosti” published last Sunday an explicit program for the complete elimination of the Ukrainian nation as such. It is still available for viewing, and has now been translated several times into English.

More from Professor Snyder:

As I have been saying since the war began, “denazification” in official Russian usage just means the destruction of the Ukrainian state and nation. A “Nazi,” as the genocide manual explains, is simply a human being who self-identifies as Ukrainian.

Opposing U.S. aid to Ukraine, Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Republican congresswoman, said, “You have to ask, is this money and is this United States military equipment falling into the hands of Nazis in Ukraine?”

A few more sentences from Snyder:

The genocide handbook explains that the Russian policy of “denazification” is not directed against Nazis in the sense that the word is normally used. The handbook grants, with no hesitation, that there is no evidence that Nazism, as generally understood, is important in Ukraine. It operates within the special Russian definition of “Nazi”: a Nazi is a Ukrainian who refuses to admit being a Russian.

• “What’s happening in Ukraine is genocide. Period.” An op-ed by Eugene Finkel, author of Ordinary Jews: Choice and Survival during the Holocaust.

• Maybe get acquainted with one more victim. As Visegrád 24, a news aggregator, says,

The Lithuanian film director Mantas Kvedaravičius was taken prisoner by Russians and executed with a shot to the head and chest in Mariupol. His body was then tossed into the street. May he rest in peace.

• A phrase has been in my head: “Face the slaughter.” In 2014, Ethan Gutmann published his book The Slaughter, which is about organ harvesting and other horrors in China. My review was titled “Face The Slaughter.” Again, one must — we should — face it.

Coronavirus Update

China’s Covid-19 Catastrophe

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People pass food to residents over the barriers of an area under lockdown, amid the coronavirus outbreak in Shanghai, China, March 25, 2022. (Aly Song/Reuters)

I can remember when James Palmer, the deputy editor of Foreign Policy, jabbed at me for calling China’s official Covid-19 statistics “insanely implausible,” insisting, “China did, in fact, get the pandemic under control with draconian lockdowns. Pretending that didn’t happen just reinforces the belief of the Chinese public in Western bias and prevents them accepting *good* coverage. That you don’t like it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”

Whatever else you want to say about Palmer, he does keep a close eye on China, and he wrote up this update of how the lockdowns are going:

The entirety of Shanghai is now under lockdown after a previous experiment to shut the city down one half at a time failed to contain a growing COVID-19 outbreak. Some residents have now been under lockdown for over three weeks, with a succession of smaller lockdowns limited to particular districts or compounds. In China, lockdowns are stricter than in many other countries: It can entail a complete ban on leaving one’s home or being limited to one excursion every few days for food.

National coronavirus cases continue to climb steadily, with numbers doubling roughly every five days. Shanghai remains the epicenter of the outbreak, with over 83 percent of cases, although numbers are also growing in neighboring provinces. Mass testing in the city is uncovering a very high number of asymptomatic cases, suggesting that other regions with lower rates of testing probably have large numbers of undetected cases. (China also uses a very particular definition of “asymptomatic” cases, excluding many that would be considered symptomatic in other countries.) The number of deaths remains officially very low, though deaths in old age facilities are likely being underreported.

Conditions in Shanghai’s isolation wards are worsening, with reports of food and water shortages and fighting among residents. The authorities have just reversed policy on one of the worst decisions, the separation of children from uninfected parents, after a wave of online anger. The sporadic killing of dogs in coronavirus-hit households—not official policy, except briefly in one city—has also prompted rage. Lockdowns of hospitals and prioritization of COVID-19 testing have also caused serious health care problems, while an angry call from an official at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention complaining about government policies went viral before being censored.

And he wrote all of that before the reports of rioting over food shortages.

Hey, help me out here, does all of that living nightmare constitute the Chinese government having the pandemic “under control” as we were told, or did all of those “Covid zero” policies just delay the reckoning? Trying to stop the spread of this variant is like trying to stop the spread of the common cold. If other countries had tried to lock down entire cities during the usual cold and flu seasons, they would run into the same problems. A zero-Covid philosophy makes no sense in these circumstances, but Xi Jinping and the rest of the government cannot admit to themselves, their citizens, or the rest of the world that their approach isn’t working anymore.

Authoritarian regimes are more brittle than they look; they are sustained by fear and the ruled people’s sense that for all of his flaws, the autocrat knows what he is doing and can deliver something worthwhile – stability, order, safety, prosperity. Thus, autocrats need their publics to believe that “Dear Leader” has everything under control and has all the right answers. Admitting that the zero-Covid philosophy is destined to eventually fail would represent the Chinese government telling the Chinese people that their massive sacrifices in the past two years were a waste, and that China did not, in fact, get the pandemic under control with draconian lockdowns.

PHOTOS: Shanghai Lockdown

All the spin in the world can’t alter what those of us outside China can see: the leaders in Beijing are flailing right now. The Chinese-made vaccines either barely work or don’t work against Omicron. The virus offers a minor threat to most healthy people, but the number of elderly and immunocompromised in Shanghai and the rest of the country would likely overwhelm the Chinese medical system. (Shanghai’s convention center is being converted into a temporary hospital with more than 40,000 beds.) Remember that while the Chinese statistics are indeed implausible, there are still many, many Chinese whose immune systems have never encountered Covid-19 before, so they have no existing natural immunity. The city’s trade center, with the busiest port in the world, has ground to a halt, exacerbating the existing global supply chain problems.

And the richest city in China is facing overwhelming food supply problems and the risk of large-scale starvation. This is your country on autocracy, devastating self-deception, and obsessively stubborn Covid-19 policies.

That warning from a surveillance drone warning people to go back inside from their balconies– “control your soul’s desire for freedom” — makes a really succinct national motto.

Markets

ESG — A Mystery and a Shock Poll

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(Philippe Wojazer/Reuters)

From the Financial Times:

In January, the FT reported that activist investor Nelson Peltz had built a stake in Unilever. Despite positioning itself as a leader on corporate sustainability — especially under former chief executive Paul Polman — the company’s shares have underperformed, making it a juicy target for activists.

Despite?

Despite? 

I wrote something about Unilever back in January. I included a report from the Daily Telegraph in which Fundsmith’s Terry Smith, a well-known British portfolio manager, had something to say about Unilever’s corporate, uh, focus.

It’s too good not to reprint part of it:

One of Britain’s best known investors has attacked Unilever for its “ludicrous” focus on sustainability, in a sign of growing City frustration at blue chip companies championing fashionable causes.

Terry Smith, manager of the £29bn Fundsmith Equity fund, said that the consumer goods behemoth has become “obsessed” with its public image and mocked its efforts to imbue brands such as Hellman’s mayonnaise with a higher purpose.

He said this overzealous focus on environmental and social issues has proved a distraction at a time when the £101bn maker of products from Vaseline to Marmite is struggling with a falling share price.

In a letter to investors in his fund, Mr Smith said: “A company which feels it has to define the purpose of Hellmann’s mayonnaise has, in our view, clearly lost the plot.

“The Hellmann’s brand has existed since 1913 so we would guess that by now consumers have figured out its purpose (spoiler alert – salads and sandwiches).”

. . . Unilever in particular has long seen itself as a leader in the [ESG] field.

Which is rather like taking pride in being one of the first lemmings to leap off the cliff.

Meanwhile, the FT also reported on another disappointing development for the ESG/sustainability industry:

Climate-related financial risks are getting growing attention — but a new survey from BCG casts doubt on how seriously institutional investors are taking them. Just one in 20 investors polled by the consulting firm said that climate and ESG-related issues were among the three risks they took most seriously. And only 11 per cent of the 150 investors polled indicated that ESG is a primary consideration in day-to-day investment decisions.

Oh.

And yet we always seem to be hearing just how enthused investors are about ESG (a form of “socially responsible” investment which scores actual or potential portfolio companies against various environmental, social, and governance benchmarks).

I’d expect a new poll shortly from someone somewhere, showing more suitable results.

World

Ecuador’s Highest Court Grants Rights to Wild Animals

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(miroslav_1/Getty Images)

The “nature rights” movement is not a benign attempt to improve environmental practices. Rather, it seeks to upend human exceptionalism and elevate animals — and even geological features — to rights-bearing beings or entities.

Ecuador has instituted the rights of nature into its constitution. Now, the highest court there ruled that making a wild monkey a pet 18 years ago — before nature had rights in Ecuador — violated the monkey’s rights. From the Climate News story (my emphasis):

Wild animals, the court said, generally have the right “not to be hunted, fished, captured, collected, extracted, kept, retained, trafficked, marketed or exchanged” and the right to the “free development of their animal behavior, which includes the guarantee of not being domesticated and not forced to assimilate human characteristics or appearances.”

Those rights emanate from animals’ innate and individual value, and not because they are useful to human beings, the court said. That distinction is important because courts typically have interpreted rights of nature laws as applying to entire ecosystems, made up of many animals and inanimate aspects of the biosphere like rivers and forests.

In other words, nature rights apply to individual animals. And, one would assume, to be consistent, to individual plants, insects, water, and (what the hell) germs too. Why not? Viruses and bacteria are part of nature, after all.

By the way, Switzerland’s constitution already accepts the dignity of individual plants. The highest court in New York will soon rule whether an elephant is a non-human person entitled to a writ of habeas corpus.

If current trends continue, humankind will suffer self-inflicted, catastrophic harm. What if fish in the sea, for example, have a right not to be caught and consumed by us? (Seals will be free to continue to eat them.) What if deer have a right not to be hunted?

And what would keep those same rights from being extended to domesticated animals? The Ecuador court refused to go there. But why not, once one accepts the premise that animals and nature are people too.

We live in a topsy-turvy world. Anyone who says, “It can’t happen here,” is living in a dream. The time is now — not later — to stop rolling our eyes and impede this movement before it gains any more traction. For a start, Congress and each state should pass laws stating that no animals or elements of nature have any rights or legal standing in courts.

If we continue to refuse to take this movement as seriously as its adherents do, don’t say I didn’t warn you when the hammer falls.

Law & the Courts

‘Let’s Not Bicker and Argue Over Who Killed Who’

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U.S. Supreme Court Building (lucky-photographer/Getty Images)

In today’s Post, Ruth Marcus comes through with some strong “Let’s not bicker and argue about who killed who” energy:

We could endlessly debate how things degenerated to this point: Republicans point to the Bork hearings, the Thomas hearings, the Gorsuch filibuster and the Kavanaugh hearings; Democrats bemoan the Garland blockade and the hurried Barrett confirmation. Neither side has clean hands.

Ah, yes. On the one side we have the Bork hearing, the Thomas hearing, and the abomination that was the Kavanaugh hearing — all of which involved deliberate and egregious character assassinations. And on the other side, we have the . . . Senate exercising its powers under the Constitution. (I’d put the Gorsuch filibuster into this category, too. I personally favored Gorsuch’s appointment, but the Senate was not obliged to, and it was permitted to filibuster him if it so wished.)

Even the slightest inspection here would reveal that there is no similarity between these things whatsoever. One suspects that the reason Marcus would rather breezily say that “neither side has clean hands” than “endlessly debate” her own evidence is that, in her heart of hearts, she knows it.

Regulatory Policy

Biden’s Energy Strategery

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Then-presidential candidate Joe Biden walks past solar panels while touring the Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative in Plymouth, N.H., June 4, 2019. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

If you’re looking for a story that neatly encapsulates the mess that the Biden administration is making of energy policy, this Wall Street Journal story takes some beating:

The contradictions of White House energy policy keep piling up. In the latest example, President Biden on Thursday invoked the Defense Production Act to subsidize the mining of certain minerals in the U.S. that his own Administration is using regulation to block. Weird, right?

That opening paragraph ought to be enough, but read on:

[G]overnment climate policies are driving up demand for critical minerals. An electric car includes huge amounts of graphite (66.3 kg), copper (53.2), nickel (39.9), manganese (24.5), cobalt (13.3) and lithium (8.9). Conventional cars require far less—22.3 kg of copper and 11.2 of manganese. Solar and wind also require more of such minerals than do fossil-fuel plants.

Could it be that the environmentally friendly alternative is not quite so environmentally friendly as claimed?

And, geopolitically speaking, it may not be so great either:

Global production isn’t keeping pace with demand, and most mining is done in countries with low environmental and labor standards. Some of these countries aren’t friends of the U.S. and aim to leverage their resources for political advantage. China restricted exports of rare-earth minerals to Japan during a standoff over the Senkaku Islands in 2010.

Beijing has also encouraged investment in foreign mining projects as part of its Belt and Road initiative to lock up critical minerals. This has enabled China to dominate mineral processing and made the West dependent on Beijing for some green technologies.

But don’t we have quite a lot of these metals here in the U.S.?

We do, but as oil and gas producers could tell you, that’s not the end of the matter, and so:

[T]he green lobby in the U.S. wants to keep minerals in the ground, and Biden regulators are helping. Consider Ioneer Ltd.’s planned lithium mine in Nevada, which aims to supply 22,000 metric tons of lithium annually—enough for about 400,000 electric cars. The U.S. has only one operating lithium mine, which produces about 5,000 metric tons per year.

Green groups claim the mine threatens Tiehm’s buckwheat, a rare flowering plant, and accused Ioneer of destroying it. The Trump Interior Department concluded after an extensive analysis that the real wildflower culprit was hungry squirrels.

Then greens asked the Biden Administration to list the buckwheat as an endangered species. Biden regulators proposed a listing, and the lithium mine is now stuck in purgatory . . .

It gets worse, but read on some more and see for yourselves.

World

Ukrainian Official Details Three Rape Cases; One 14-Year-Old Victim Pregnant

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Pro-Russian troops inspect streets in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, April 7, 2022. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

A Ukrainian official alleged in a post on Telegram earlier today that Russian troops raped civilians, some as young as 11 and 14 years old, during their occupation of the Kyiv region in March.

“A 14-year-old girl was raped by 5 occupying men. She is pregnant now. Bucha,” wrote Lyudmyla Denisova, Ukraine’s ombudsperson for human rights, referring to the Kyiv suburb where Russian forces carried out horrific atrocities.

“An 11-year old boy was raped in front of his mother — she was tied to a chair to watch,” Denisova wrote, of another case in Bucha.

“A 20-year-old woman, raped by three occupiers in all possible ways at once. Irpen.”

Bucha and Irpin were both liberated by Ukrainian forces during a counteroffensive in late March.

According to eyewitness accounts, evidence collected by Ukrainian investigators, phone calls intercepted by German intelligence, and satellite imagery, Russian troops tortured and killed hundreds of civilians during their monthlong occupation of Bucha. Authorities and residents are still finding bodies across the city.

While that suburb has seized international attention, a number of nearby towns and cities were subjected to other acts of brutal, indiscriminate violence.

In Borodyanka, anther Kyiv-region city, Russian forces relentlessly shelled apartment complexes, from which bodies are still being extracted. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said today that even more people died in Borodyanka than in Bucha.

The discovery of the atrocities carried out in March suggest that similar acts are being inflicted on other regions of Ukraine currently under Russian occupation.

On April 3, Human Rights Watch released a report documenting the “repeated rape” of a 31-year-old woman in Kharkiv.

Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter that the rape allegations documented by Denisova suggest that Russian troops are doing the same elsewhere.

“They probably commit same unspeakable crimes in the occupied towns as you read this tweet,” he wrote. “European politicians can stop this madness by imposing oil and gas embargo on Russia. Do it now!”

Two U.N. officials, Pramila Patten and Sima Bahous, also said in a statement that “mounting allegations of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls” in Ukraine are shocking and “raise serious questions about possible war crimes.”

Culture

Is ‘Groomer’ the Right Word?

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In the latest episode of The Editors, Rich, Michael, and I discuss culture-war stories such as the D.C. abortion horror and whether conservatives should use the word “groomer” to describe LGBT activists who target little kids. . . . Listen here.

Woke Culture

How World Leaders Should Talk about Transgenderism

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“I don’t think that biological males should be competing in female sporting events. And maybe that’s a controversial thing … but it just seems to me to be sensible,” British prime minister Boris Johnson said in a recent interview.

“And I also happen to think that women should have spaces, whether it’s in hospitals or prisons or changing rooms or wherever, which are dedicated to women. That’s as far as my thinking has developed on this issue. If that puts me in conflict with some others, then we have got to work it all out.”

See how easy that was, Joe Biden?

Law & the Courts

What the Whitmer Case Acquittal Means

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Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks by video feed from Michigan on the first day of the virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention as participants from across the country are hosted over video links to the originally planned site of the convention in Milwaukee, Wis., August 17, 2020. (2020 Democratic National Convention/Pool via Reuters)

The acquittal of two of the four suspects in the Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping-plot case is one of those events that lends itself to unfortunate overinterpretation.

The acquittal does not mean that the men did not do anything wrong, or even that they did not do what they are accused of; still less does it mean that the entire episode was, as some sympathizers say, a case of federal entrapment; nor does this mean, as some other critics charge, that the government is soft on right-wing violence or on political violence perpetrated by white people.

All this means is that the prosecution failed to prove its case to the satisfaction of the jury. That’s it. This happens pretty often.

A jury trial is an act of republican faith — a faith that is not always and everywhere obviously justified. But it has, by and large, worked pretty well for a long time, and arguably it is the most direct exercise in self-government that we undertake. Self-government requires understanding and accepting that you won’t always get what you want — an understanding that appears to be in dangerous decline.

There is an unfortunate vogue for vilifying lawyers who represent unpopular clients, most recently demonstrated by Republican senators who should know better. But a trial without a vigorous defense isn’t a trial at all — it is a lynching. So is a trial without the possibility of acquittal.

Economics

Setting the Record Straight on Adam Smith

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Adam Smith (Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

George Mason University economics professor Daniel Klein has a new essay today at Law & Liberty setting the record straight on Adam Smith’s positions on trade and free markets. He is responding to Oren Cass of American Compass, who wrote in an essay that economists have been reading Smith wrong for years, and that the great proponent of free markets actually thought capitalism could only work well within national borders, not internationally.

As Stan Veuger replied, the modern economic arguments for the gains from international trade do not rest primarily upon Smith’s arguments anyway. The great foundational texts of economics, such as the Wealth of Nations, are used today as “sources of both inspiration (rarely) and rhetorical flourish (more frequently),” wrote Veuger.

Veuger is correct about that, but it is a shame that more economists don’t actually read Smith. His thought is very deep and rich with insights into human nature and sociality.

Fortunately, Klein has read Smith very closely, and he presents a bevy of evidence from Smith’s writing that gives a very different picture than the one Cass tried to draw.

Klein notes Smith’s attitude toward the relatively limited globalization that existed in the late 1700s:

The first chapter of Smith’s Wealth of Nations culminates in marvel and wonder: “How much commerce and navigation in particular, how many ship-builders, sailors, sail-makers, rope-makers, must have been employed in order to bring together the different drugs made use of by the dyer, which often come from the remotest corners of the world!”

That is one of three consecutive sentences ending with an exclamation point. Here, Smith imagines the worldwide activities flowing into the woolen coat enjoyed by “the most common artificer or day-labourer.” Beyond that chapter, there are only three exclamation points in Wealth of Nations. Smith, then, begins his work with a unique sense of marvel at how his theories do apply across national boundaries.

“[E]ach nation ought, not only to endeavour itself to excel, but from the love of mankind, to promote, instead of obstructing the excellence of its neighbours,” Smith wrote in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. His ethics are patterned after benevolent monotheism and a universalistic Imago Dei: “The all-wise Author of Nature,” he says, “has made man, if I may say so, the immediate judge of mankind; and has in this respect, as in many others, created him after his own image.” He calls the Chinese the “brethren” of Europeans.

It’s not just trade of physical items that Smith sees as beneficial between countries. He also recognized the benefit of foreign investment, though he was cautious about it at times. Smith’s thought is best understood as a series of presumptions, and presumptions have exceptions. Klein explains:

I do not mean to imply that Smith would not under any circumstances favor a restriction on foreign trade or investment. Smith considered arguments for making an exception to the principle of free trade, but, as Boudreaux explains, Smith himself tended to diminish those arguments.  We cannot rule out that Smith might favor certain restrictions under certain circumstances, for polity reasons, perhaps because they would support political stability or national security, or simply because they would play a part in the crafty art of liberal politics. Smith strove to make governments less dishonest and illiberal, but knew that foreign countries had governments too. Smith’s friend Edmund Burke exemplified the virtuous pursuit of circumstantial liberal politics.

If Cass’s only points were that Smith is not a fundamentalist, and people who make him out to be are wrong, then Cass would be correct. But as Klein demonstrates, it goes much too far to say that Smith would support Cass’s idea of a “bounded market.” Klein concludes, “Cass might help liberalize any of the 10,000 commandments now obstructing gainful employment and honest living. Then Cass could justly invoke Adam Smith.”

For Klein’s full analysis and his numerous direct quotations from Smith’s work, read his whole essay here.

Sports

The Boston Marathon Is Wrong to Ban Russian Athletes

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Runners race in a pack during the 2021 Boston Marathon in Boston, Mass., October 11, 2021. (Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)

In 2020, just weeks into the mass outbreak of Covid-19 in the United States, the Boston Marathon was canceled. (I had raced it the year before, notching a 2:35:48, 225th overall, out of some 30,000 entries.) The venerable race has since returned, but now it is canceling some of its participants.

In doing so, the Boston Athletic Association, which administers the race, has yielded to one unseemly Western consequence of Russia’s unjust war in Ukraine (a war which, of course, remains the primary and rightful target of outrage): namely, the bout of performative elite hysteria directed against anything even remotely connected to Russia. Previously aimed at such bizarre targets as musical performances of or by Russian artists and participants in cat contests, this passion has now driven the BAA to ban Russian and Belarussian athletes from the race. Per its announcement on Wednesday:

The Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) announced today that Russians and Belarusians, who were accepted into the 2022 Boston Marathon or 2022 B.A.A. 5K as part of the open registration process and are currently residing in either country, will no longer be allowed to compete in either event.

Russians and Belarussians not currently living in either country will be allowed to participate, and the BAA will attempt to refund athletes banned. Meanwhile, Ukrainians unable to participate in the race this year will receive a refund or a deferment, an excellent policy. Still, the treatment of others seems indecent to me. It is unlikely that the athletes set to participate in this race from the banned countries are directly implicated in Russia’s war on Ukraine. Nor will the BAA’s decision make the conflict any likelier to turn in Ukraine’s favor.

It is also a strange decision in light of how the BAA reacted to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The bombing, which killed three people and injured nearly 300 others, was perpetrated by two Chechen brothers. Despite poor U.S.–Russian relations over the past decade, the Russian government had warned the U.S. about the older of the pair (who largely drove the plot). The BAA did not react to an attack on its own event by banning all Chechnyans (or Russians) from participating. Its actions now seem pointless and spiteful.

Immigration

Ending Title 42 Is a Choice

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Josh Barro makes a good point here:

Like with the student loan pause, the use of Title 42 to limit asylum applications during the pandemic is an administrative action that has gotten more and more pretextual as the acute pandemic has waned. And as with lifting the student loan pause, rescinding the Title 42 order will be a real political mess. It will once again overwhelm our capacity to process asylum seekers and it will encourage an increased flow of unauthorized migrants seeking to enter the country for primarily economic reasons. This will be very unpopular.

But the administration seems intent on implementing the lifting of the Title 42 order, inviting an extremely visible mess at the border right before the midterm elections.

The administration can’t say that it has to lift the asylum restrictions because it’s what an honest reading of the law requires, and at the same time refuse to follow anything like an honest reading of the law on student loans. The administration is also sticking with steel protectionism on the entirely pretextual theory that it’s needed for national-security reasons. It’s making deliberate choices about which legal obligations it should follow. Republicans should not hesitate to hold it accountable for those choices.

Media

Reuters Whitewashes Terrorism — Again

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Israeli soldiers work near the scene of a fatal shooting attack near a bar in Tel Aviv, Israel April 7, 2022. (Moti Milrod /Reuters)

Here is how Reuters covers terror attacks in Israel:

Those incorrigible Israelis and Palestinian are at it again — “cycle of violence” and all that. Those who did not read past the headline may never find out that the dead Palestinian, one of two, had walked down Dizengoff Street, the city’s most crowded commercial district, indiscriminately shooting people. Two Israelis were murdered, and many others are in serious condition. The attack in Tel Aviv is part of string of deadly attacks, perhaps the beginning of a third Intifada, that includes the recent murder of five people in nearby Bnei Brak.

Reuters has a long history of anti-Israel activism. I can remember writing about an incident more than a decade ago in which a Palestinian terrorist planted a bomb near a bus stop in Jerusalem — or, as Reuters might say, the “Jewish district of Jerusalem.” The explosion killed a British woman and injured 30 others. The piece explained: “Police described the explosion as a ‘terrorist attack’ — Israel’s term for a Palestinian strike.”

On the bright side, at least Reuters, unlike our Secretary of State Antony Blinken — who has no problem decrying so-called “settler violence” — can identify the nationality of the attackers. Which seems noteworthy considering that the families of both dead terrorists are likely to be paid bounties by the Palestinian National Authority, which is, in turn, generously funded by U.S. taxpayers.

Media

The Washington Post’s Pathetic Hit Piece

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Maxine Joselow at the Washington Post has written one of silliest hit pieces I’ve read in a long time. “Advocate promotes fossil fuels for poor nations he once disparaged” targets Alex Epstein, a pundit who makes the moral and practical case for fossil fuels.

The piece is pathetic on two counts:

First: Joselow digs into Epstein’s college writings at Duke and finds that he — and maybe you should be sitting down for this one — argued in March 1999 that students should be required to take courses on Western civilization. “Without mentioning race or ethnicity, he claimed that Western culture’s achievements far surpass those of other cultures,” notes Joselow. So you’re telling me that a man named Epstein, attending a university founded by Methodists and Quakers, in a one-time colony founded by Sir Walter Raleigh, in a nation founded in the ideals of the Enlightenment and structures of the Classical World, believes that Western civilization is superior to other cultures? Chilling stuff.

Second: The piece doesn’t even make sense on its own terms. Joselow writes that Epstein’s dismissals of non-Western cultures “raise further questions” about whether his argument “is rooted in a ‘moral’ concern for developing nations or is a cynical attempt to promote the use of oil, coal and natural gas.” Now, it might be the case that progressive journalists don’t change their positions after college, but most intellectually self-aware adults refine, rethink, and augment their beliefs as they mature. Even if Epstein has not, though, it is in no way contradictory to contend that Western society is, in general, more advanced and moral, and also others would be better off adopting its ideas. In fact, it makes all the sense in the world.

Of course, even if Epstein is being cynical, his positions — with which, broadly speaking, I agree — are bolstered with arguments and data. Rather than debunking them, the Post tries to discredit Epstein by accusing him of harboring the wrong kinds of feelings.

World

Corgi Beaten to Death in Shanghai as Part of City-Wide Government-Imposed Lockdown

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Workers in protective suit spray disinfectant during a new lockdown in Shanghai, China, April 5, 2022. (Aly Song/Reuters)

Despite the fact that Covid-19 exists in the world because of the Chinese government, ever since that government released its plague upon the world, it has had a certain dubious esteem from many corners. Whether out of a credulous acceptance of the efficacy of the CCP’s totalitarian methods to suppress the domestic spread of the virus it created, or out of an excessive disdain for the supposedly ineffectual U.S. response to Covid, such voices have put themselves in a position of grudging (or not-so-grudging) admiration of the CCP’s methods.

The Chinese government has claimed for many months essentially to have wiped out Covid, a claim which should be taken with not a grain but at least a mine of salt. But in certain parts of the country, the spread of Covid (unmitigated by China’s inferior vaccines) has now outstripped the ability of the government to cover it up. As a result, it is resorting to the same March 2020 playbook it helped export around the world: i.e., totalitarian lockdowns. Much of life in Shanghai, a city of 26 million people, has been shut down, with residents barely able to leave their homes, frequent testing mandatory, and those found positive forced into Covid-quarantine facilities.

None of this is surprising for China. And we now know well the human cost of such measures. But a recent news story involving something not even human reinforces how truly barbaric these practices are. According to the South China Morning Post, a family whose members had tested positive for Covid in Shanghai was forced to leave a pet corgi behind as they were forcibly transferred to a Covid-quarantine facility. Unsure whether to leave the pet inside to starve or to let it out and hope it would survive on its own, the family chose the latter course. Heartbreakingly, the corgi ran after its owners as they were taken away. And then someone tasked with lockdown enforcement beat it to death:

The family was torn between letting the dog go outside in the hopes that it would survive or keeping it inside where it could starve if the family was stuck out of the home for too long.

The family decided to let the dog outside before they were quarantined. The video, which has gone viral in China, showed the corgi chasing the van for a short distance as it left.

Once the van had driven away, the worker, identified as a gate guard for the complex, hit the dog three times with a spade, killing it.

The dog’s pained cries could be heard in the video, taken by a resident from her high-rise residential building, who yelled, “it is too cruel”.

There has been an outcry over this in China. Here’s the response of the government, which initially claimed to have killed the dog out of concern it could further spread the virus:

“We did not fully consider the issue, and we have told the dog’s owner that we will discuss compensation with him later,” the official, whose name was not released, was quoted as saying.

Human life is obviously more important than animal life. But in this case, the uncivilized and brutal methods of the Chinese government presented a false choice. It is but a small example of that regime’s cruelty — something worth keeping in mind as its misguided admirers persist in their affection or obfuscation.

Politics & Policy

‘Hello, Can I Share the Good News about Joe Biden?’

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An Election Officer prepares “I Voted!” stickers at a polling place at Randolph Elementary School in Arlington, Va., November 2, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Politico reports:

A group of Democratic strategists is trying to spread a novel organizing tactic in this year’s election. Technically, it’s called “paid relational organizing,” but it boils down to this: paying people to talk to their friends about politics.

Democrats think it helped them win the Senate in 2020 — and are hoping the get-out-the-vote strategy will help limit the pain of a brutal 2022 election environment.

Granted, I am not an expert in voter turnout. But my instinct is that the Democrats should not do this. In my experience, the last thing any normal human being wants is to be talked at enthusiastically about progressive politics by the sort of people who like talking about progressive politics. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, if the Democrats want to do okay in 2022, they should probably be paying the sort of people who are likely to volunteer for this task to stay quiet between now and November 8 — or even to leave the country for a while.

The Democrats did not win the Senate in 2020 because they paid people to talk to their friends about politics. The Democrats won the Senate in 2020 because, despite underachieving across the board, Donald Trump lied stupidly about the election result and the GOP blew both runoffs in Georgia. (It doesn’t matter to the result or the legitimacy of the result — Georgia’s system is what it is, and everyone knew that going in — but Perdue actually got more votes across the two elections than Jon Ossoff did.) The problem the Democrats have ahead of 2022 is not that their message hasn’t been sufficiently amplified; the problem the Democrats have ahead of 2022 is that voters are not happy with how things are going. Hiring a bunch of political junkies to spread the good word to their reluctantly engaged acquaintances seems unlikely to change that.

Law & the Courts

‘Making History’

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Headline: “Ketanji Brown Jackson makes history as first Black woman Supreme Court Justice.”

As far as I know, nobody ever asked Thurgood Marshall about zirs pronoun preferences, so we’ll never know for sure.

Politics & Policy

On the Proliferation of Academic Programs

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In recent decades, we have seen a huge proliferation of academic programs. Is that a good thing?

In today’s Martin Center article, GMU grad student Steven Zhou ponders that question and thinks that the answer is largely “no.”

Zhou writes, “Especially in the humanities, there is an increasing number of PhDs but a decreasing number of tenure-track faculty positions available. The trend is even apparent in STEM, where there are likewise “too many PhDs, too few research positions.” It does no good to have a plethora of options for a student interested in graduate school if there’s little to no chance of that program landing them a job after graduation. The result of this imbalance in supply and demand is the recent trend of PhD graduates finding jobs outside of academia — which, to be clear, is a commendable and smart move given the lack of academic jobs. However, the reality is that one does not need a PhD for most jobs outside of academia (other than some research-intensive positions), and thus students often find themselves in situations where their formal education of four to six years did not prepare them for a non-academic job.”

Indeed so. As I have been arguing for years, we have oversold higher education, causing a great many people who don’t really want advanced study to pursue college and grad school simply because it seemed necessary to get some academic credentials.

Zhou observes that many grad programs lure students in with claims that their degrees will prepare them for the world of work. Often, however, they don’t. Colleges and universities take student money and then leave them on their own.

He concludes, “As a PhD student, I am far from being in a position where I can influence the creation and quality control of academic programs and journals. But I implore those who are to consider the potential negative impacts of creating endless new choices. For program directors and accreditors, ensure that students are not taken advantage of and are equipped with the necessary skills and experiences to succeed in their chosen career fields.”

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Dual Mandate

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Bryan Cutsinger and Alexander William Salter argue that the Fed’s dual mandate is redundant because there is no trade-off between inflation and unemployment:

Economists should be leading the charge on reforming the Fed’s mandate so that we can avoid situations like the one in which we currently find ourselves. Sadly, many have gotten lost in the woods because they ignored the map provided by the aggregate supply-aggregate demand model. Some made a fetish out of theory, creating ever-more mathematically sophisticated yet practically irrelevant models. Others abandoned theory for pure statistical analysis. Both approaches are a dead end. Economists have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to advise public officials on the best way to reorient the Fed. If they return to their roots and put their training to work, the economics profession and the public will be much better off.

Read the whole thing here.

International

Changing the Energy Equation in Europe

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Power lines near the Golfech nuclear plant on the border of the Garonne River between Agen and Toulouse, France, in 2018. (Regis Duvignau/Reuters)

Behind Japan, Germany and Russia are the two nations in the world best positioned to appreciate just exactly how the United States ended World War II in the Pacific.

When World War II began, there was no such thing as an atomic bomb. The concept of a nuclear chain reaction dated only to the 1930s, and the closest thing to nuclear power that had been produced was brief fission of uranium in a laboratory. The United States — with the help of some of the best scientific minds of Europe, chased away by Adolf Hitler — oversaw the conceptualization, development, production, and deployment of the first nuclear weapon, taking it from the physicists’ blackboards to the bomb bay of the Enola Gay, in a remarkably brief period of time: The Manhattan Project lasted about four years.

The United States did this while in the midst of a ruinous war that, among its many other horrors, severely disrupted industrial and economic activity in the United States and around the world — and was insanely expensive to boot.

The United States is not currently at war with Russia. Neither is Germany. Neither is the rest of the European Union. But we all have a Russia problem that needs solving.

Replacing Russian fuel in the European economy would be — or, rather, will be — a difficult and expensive proposition. Wildly so, in all likelihood. To replace Russian gas imported by European consumers would require a great deal of equipment and infrastructure that does not currently exist: The United States produces a great deal of gas and has the capacity to produce more, as do many other petroleum-producing nations, but we do not have the LNG-ready ships, the necessary terminals, or the regassification facilities in Europe to make that happen; nor do the Europeans have all the pipelines they would need to connect to other providers closer at hand. But we know how to build LNG-ready ships, terminals, and regassification facilities. We know how to build new pipelines. None of that requires groundbreaking work in physics or the invention of new technologies. It doesn’t need a team of Einsteins and Oppenheimers. All it needs is doing. That is not to say it will be easy — only that it relies on technologies and capacities that already exist and do not have to be invented.

This isn’t an immediately urgent issue for Washington. Thanks to all that hated fracking, the United States has abundant natural gas. But the question that Berlin and Brussels should be asking themselves right now is: Do they want to get started on this before the Russians cut them off, or do they want to wait until they are in an energy crisis after the Russians have cut them off? Which the Russians are very likely going to do, because the gas supply is the only real instrument of coercion they will have to use against Europe in their effort to get relief from the economic sanctions that are strangling their economy.

Right now, the Europeans are worried about Russia cutting them off. But we have the ability to turn that around and make the Russians worry about Europe cutting them off. The pipelines are where they are, and a pipeline without a paying customer at the end of it might as well not be there. The European Union has a diverse economy. Russia does not. And the Russians don’t want to spend the next 20 years selling their only real export at a steep discount to the Chinese and the Indians, taking a haircut on their energy and getting nothing but renminbi and rupees in exchange, without the prospect of a dollar, euro, or yen landing in their coffers for the foreseeable future.

The United States, the European Union, and Japan constitute the wealthiest and most technologically sophisticated societies the world has ever seen. Together, they account for about half of the economic output of the entire human race. And in spite of the infantilizing talk of our politicians, I do not think that Americans have suddenly become incompetent, that we are for some inexplicable reason incapable today of doing the kind of world-changing things we did way back in the first half of the 20th century and continued to do thereafter. I do not think that all we know how to do is invent social-media platforms and manage hedge funds.

Changing the energy equation in Europe would shift the geopolitical balance decidedly in favor of the free world. Of course, the transition costs will be enormous — but they are going to get even heavier the longer we all wait, and Europe is not likely to escape paying them at some point.

Gas is only part of the solution, of course, and maybe not the most important part: It very well may turn out to be the case that once the relevant parties sit down and run the numbers, the most effective and easily achievable thing to do would be renewing and expanding Europe’s capacity for generating electricity with nuclear power, which would make much of that natural-gas deficit moot. The Greens won’t love it, for ideological reasons, but from a climate point of view, nuclear power is by far the most desirable source of electricity that can be depended on to perform in a practical and consistent way.

It is very likely that there is never going to be a more politically advantageous moment to do this than right now, when the United States, the European Union, and much of the rest of the world are enjoying a rare moment of broad consensus in the face of Russia’s brutal campaign of slaughter and atrocity in Ukraine. I do not expect the Biden administration to take the lead on this (or on much of anything else), but there is more urgency for Olaf Scholz and his government — and the U.S. energy industry has an enormous quantity of capital, brainpower, and practical expertise to bring to the problem, and it needs no invitation from Washington to do so.

This isn’t the Manhattan Project or the moonshot — this is keeping the lights on and fueling vehicles, something that we have been doing since the 19th century. It is time for the richest and most powerful nations of the world to starting acting like it rather than allow themselves to be bullied by a tinpot dictator in a pissant country with an economy that wouldn’t make the top three if it were in a U.S. state.

If we can’t work up the necessary self-respect, we should at least act out of self-interest.

World

Sparks of Humanity and Crimes against Humanity

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Ukrainian soldiers walk next to destroyed Russian tanks and armored vehicles in Bucha, Kyiv Region, Ukraine, April 6, 2022. (Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters)

At the beginning of this week, news reports and satellite images showed what looked to be a Russian atrocities committed in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv. Our own Jay Nordlinger rightly called for a full investigation and documentation of these crimes. This is important not only for justice, but to properly establish guilt.

Last night the New York Times shared a video appearing to show Ukrainian soldiers executing bound and bleeding Russian soldiers. The immediate reactions I’ve seen are that this is understandable. The Russians are invading. Hadn’t Russian soldiers just previously raped and murdered Ukrainians? It’s important to think through these issues soberly.

Yes, the Russians are the invaders. But as of now we don’t know from the video alone that these executed prisoners had just committed the barbarities that would make a retaliatory war crime akin to a crime of passion.

My father-in-law’s father served in the Army’s 157th Infantry Regiment during World War II; the Third Battalion was led by Colonel Felix Sparks, later promoted to brigadier general. This was the unit that cut a bloody swath northward through Europe, from Anzio in Italy to Berlin. One of the soldiers’ final missions was the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp. What they found in Dachau was a horror unimaginable. Nothing about it had been tidied up or hidden ahead of the liberation. I have seen the photos that members of the 157th took; they are a portal into the depth of hell. Thousands of bodies, many women and starved children, mutilated, and stacked “like cordwood,”according to their accounts.

One of the most notable moments in the remarkable career of Sparks was his imposition of discipline on his soldiers as some of them were understandably losing control of their emotions and imposing rough justice on the hundreds of German guards and civilians near the camp.

Lieutenant William Walsh of the 42nd Battalion was one such man who lost control. He had expected to find a POW camp like ones he had seen in upstate New York. Instead he found railcars full of corpses. He separated German SS soldiers into a coal yard and called for a machine gun; his charges opened fire, killing a number of them. The gunfire attracted the attention of Colonel Sparks, who ran over. You can see a photograph of him firing his pistol while attempting to restore order here.

From his account:

As I watched, about fifty German troops were brought in from various directions. A machine gun squad from I company was guarding the prisoners. After watching for a few minutes, I started for the confinement area. After I had walked away for a short distance, I hear the machine gun guarding the prisoners open fire. I immediately ran back to the gun and kicked the gunner off the gun with my boot. I then grabbed him by the collar and said: “what the hell are you doing?” He was a young private about 19 years old and was crying hysterically. His reply to me was: “Colonel, they were trying to get away.” I doubt that they were, but in any event he killed about twelve of the prisoners and wounded several more. I placed a non-com on the gun, and headed toward the confinement area.

By Sparks’s own account it took about 30 minutes to quell the disorder breaking out in American ranks, a disorder inspired by the horror they saw and what Sparks called the “chilling roar” beginning to come from the camp’s prisoners as the fact of their forthcoming liberation dawned on them. In the months after the war, there were rumors that the Americans had indeed massacred hundreds of German soldiers that day. But, in the affray and in those first 30 minutes, the number of Germans killed in fighting, or while trying to escape imprisonment by the Americans, was much lower. Some German SS men were murdered by prisoners.

These moments were duly investigated by the U.S. military. American soldiers were variously charged for firing their weapons on prisoners and with dereliction of duty for refusing medical care to a dying German concentration camp guard. And yes, in the end, the charges were dismissed on grounds similar to those cited to defend a crime of passion. Colonel Charles Decker, acting as judge, concluded: “In the light of the conditions which greeted the eyes of the first combat troops, it is not believed that justice or equity demand that the difficult and perhaps impossible task of fixing individual responsibility now be undertaken.”

Sparks’s intervention to stop an American slaughter of the SS — however understandable such a reprisal would have been — was brave, wise, and noble. He first sought to reestablish order rather than the meting out of justice. Order meant meeting the immediate priority: getting food and medical assistance for the thousands of prisoners in the camp. He and the 157th also set their priority as burying the dead — the thousands of corpses in the camp itself. For this task, they drafted the residents of Dachau.

Sparks eventually moved to Colorado, the home state of most of his subordinates. And it was his bravery that very day that allowed him to serve time and again as a valuable eyewitness against those who tried to deny the horror of Shoah. He could not have done so with such credibility if he had allowed war crimes to be committed that day.

Media

Sloppy New York Times Reporting

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People line up for taxis across the street from the New York Times building in New York City. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt recently reported on GOPers who he alleges support Vladimir Putin. The piece is hard to take seriously because it includes the egregious insinuation that Charles Koch and Will Ruger, president of the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), support Russian tyranny, and in fact, are pro-Vladimir Putin.

There is so much wrong with this particular section of the Leonhardt piece that I can’t get to it all. So I will focus on the increasingly common habit of reporters and pundits recklessly inferring evil intent from what is often innocent and reasonable disagreement over policy.

For instance, according to Leonhardt, arguing against the imposition of broad sanctions on Russia — an honest argument that occurs each time sanctions are proposed as a means to change or punish some foreign government for its actions — makes someone a Putin supporter.

The reason to accuse Will Ruger of being a Putin supporter is as bad. Leaving aside the grotesque characterization of Ruger’s position for now (more on this later), it’s true that Ruger, in a podcast with Reason’s Nick Gillespie, argued against U.S. military intervention in Ukraine. It’s also true that Ruger said that because this conflict poses no real threat to America’s national security, the U.S. government would be unwise to risk sparking a potential World War III by putting boots on the ground or enforcing a no-fly zone or other such measures. Such positions, however, don’t make him pro-Putin. In fact, anyone who actually checks what Ruger’s position is will see how clearly he regards Putin’s actions as tragic and immoral.

I’m particularly sensitive to this form of attack because I’m frequently accused in the same manner. For example, my disapproval of federal subsidies to higher ed gets me labeled as “anti-education.” My opposition to any federal paid-leave program is portrayed as opposition to the benefit itself. The fact that I am against extended child tax credit or child tax credits in general is taken to mean that I’m against parents and children.

Such a manner of arguing is ridiculous and unhelpful. It avoids the relevant substance of the policy disagreements. And it wrongly implies that all reasonable people agree on which specific policies are best, including the issue of broad versus targeted sanctions (the latter of which is supported by Charles Koch’s Stand Together organization).

Leonhardt’s manner of arguing also suggests that all that’s necessary for America to have a strategic interest in the Ukraine war is moral revulsion against Putin’s invasion. But no sober person accepts this suggestion.

What is disappointing too is that this piece shows no signs of serious fact-gathering. It took me a grand total of two minutes to find multiple quotes from Stand Together revealing that this Koch organization endorses targeted sanctions against Russia. Also, it was easy to learn that Stand Together supports the Ukrainian people in their fight against the Russians and is repulsed by Putin’s invasion.

The same is true of Leonhardt’s totally misleading reporting of Ruger’s view. You can listen to Gillespie’s extensive interview of Ruger here. What you’ll hear is a policy argument about the national-security interest of the U.S. and a condemnation of Putin’s invasion. And so to read Leonhardt falsely describe Ruger’s position (or Stand Together’s, for that matter) as being that “a Ukraine victory is not in America’s interest” is shocking.

Ruger’s position, by the way, is consistent with the many policy positions taken by other well-respected defense analysts on both sides of the aisle who support a realistic and restrained U.S. foreign policy, defined as securing America’s vital national interests through a strong national defense but with prudence and caution about how we use force abroad, as well as about the commitments we make given the constraints of the world (such as the balance of power and interests, nationalism, and geography) and the relatively strong geostrategic position we find ourselves in.

Ruger is clear that his foreign-policy position is centered on advancing American national interests. And he has put his own skin — literally — in the game. Unlike many pundits who from the comfort of their couches bellow support for strong positions, Ruger volunteered to fight in Afghanistan.

Here’s the bottom line: David Leonhardt seems to have done no actual investigating whatsoever before accusing Charles Koch and Will Ruger of being pro-Putin. This is particularly sad in a piece that actually quotes some people praising Putin. It’s obvious that he has delegated to others (in this case a Democrat political operative writing for a subscription-based newsletter — funny for a guy who throws Koch-funded accusations around) whatever “investigation” is done for this section of the report. That alone is disappointing enough. But what is more disappointing is to equate disagreement over just what the U.S. should do regarding the Ukrainian invasion or disagreement about why we shouldn’t put boots on the ground in Ukraine (no national-security stakes, vs. Putin has the nuclear bomb) with support for Putin himself. These types of attacks, especially in the pages of the NYT, hinder debates and make us all stupider at a time when we need more debates and more ideas.

P.S. Also sloppy and laughable is calling AIER a Koch-funded organization. Can we please stop assuming that scholars on the right or on the left hold their policy positions because of who funds them? AIER received a small grant from the Koch Foundation in 2018 and 2019. If that makes them a Koch-funded organization, then the NYT should start referring to the ACLU as a Koch-funded organization, too.

Update: I saw this piece in Reason setting the record straight about the source for the NYT piece.

World

Fifteen Things that Caught My Eye Today (More Terror in Israel, Ukraine’s Churches & Parenting Fun

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A cross and the destroyed dome of a local church damaged by shelling in Hostomel outside Kyiv, Ukraine, April 6, 2022. (Vladyslav Musiienko/Reuters)

1.

2. U.S. nun, 83, kidnapped in Burkina Faso

3. Christopher Howse: Why the destruction of Ukraine’s churches matters

In the first month of the war, the Ukrainian ministry of culture listed 59 religious sites badly damaged, most of them Orthodox churches, but some evangelical churches, and synagogues too. At Mariupol, for example, the church of the Archangel Michael, overlooking the Sea of Azov, was reported to be ‘severely damaged’. And here we come to a difficulty.

Mariupol has been devastated, but it has been hard to get news or pictures out. One English charity worker with good contacts in Ukraine told me: ‘Having presented himself as the defender of Christians as part of his public persona in Russia, it would not be good PR for Putin if pictures of a church destroyed by Russian missiles went global.’

4. The unexpected way some people are helping Ukrainian refugees 

Continue reading “Fifteen Things that Caught My Eye Today (More Terror in Israel, Ukraine’s Churches & Parenting Fun”

World

Being Tough on Russia Means Being Tough on Iran

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Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, Iran, in 2015. (Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/Kremlin/File Photo via Reuters)

The list of reasons to ditch Biden’s Iran deal grows daily. Today is no exception.

Iran and Russia are working together to evade U.S. sanctions and create a mutually beneficial black market. This would undoubtedly help Putin withstand economic pressure as he continues to wage brutal war in Ukraine.

Yesterday, the Free Beacon reported that Iran and Russia conducted a trade conference in Moscow, hosting 70 Iranian businesses and 300 Russian businesses. An Iranian diplomat said the countries will “witness a leap in their bilateral relations.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. is still trying to wrap up a weak Iran deal, allowing Russia to play a major role in negotiations as Biden talks tough on Ukraine. As Andy McCarthy pointed out in March:

Even as President Biden has condemned Russia’s aggression, his administration has made Putin’s regime its most significant intermediary in the talks with Tehran, a client of Moscow. Not only has Putin’s envoy, Mikhail Ulyanov, been delegated a leading role — because Iran still will not deign to meet with Biden’s Iran-friendly envoy, Robert Malley; the new deal hinges on Russia’s agreement to house the uranium that Iran has been enriching to levels ever closer to weapons grade.

Since then, Russia has gotten a written guarantee from Biden negotiators that the State Department would not sanction any Russian “participation in nuclear projects” with Iran as set out in the deal.

The timing of this Moscow trade conference is no coincidence. As the Biden administration tries to finalize the Iran deal, a deeply sanctioned Russia would benefit from black-market trade with Tehran when and if its own economic sanctions are lifted. The Beacon noted:

Increased trade relations between the rogue nations come as the Biden administration moves to unwind sanctions on Iran as part of a new nuclear deal, which will enable Moscow to use Tehran as a vehicle for its own bid to skirt international pressure.

In an excellent op-ed from the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Mark Dubowitz and Matthew Zweib referenced a previous report on Iran’s multibillion-dollar illicit financial system used to withstand sanctions. They believe Iran could teach Russia how to do the same:

Tehran could teach Moscow how to replicate this illicit financial architecture, or the clerical regime could serve as the Kremlin’s broker, taking a cut of the covert trade it facilitates on Russia’s behalf. The combination of Russian and Iranian expertise in illicit financial activities could produce the world’s most sophisticated and expansive sanctions-evasion network. If Western sanctions lose their bite, the pressure on Moscow to end its invasion of Ukraine and other threats would diminish.

By publicly flaunting a growing economic relationship during ongoing nuclear conversations, both Iran and Russia are sending a clear message to Biden: We’re not afraid of you, AND we can still get what we want.

Biden can’t call Putin a “war criminal,” then turn around and give Iran billions that will not only sponsor terrorism, but help Russia endure sanctions.

Richard Goldberg, senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, tweeted earlier today: “If you oppose Putin, you need to oppose the Iran Deal.”