Happy Thursday! Yesterday was National Hot Dog Day, which gave Sen. Mitt Romney more than enough reason to roam the halls of Congress wearing a hot dog hat and holding a hot dog while declaring that “hot dog is [his] favorite meat.”
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- In a memo issued Monday, the Biden administration moved to permanently bar the Wuhan Institute of Virology—the research institute at the center of the COVID-19 lab leak theory—from receiving federal research funding on the grounds the institute failed to comply with National Institutes of Health requests for documents to confirm its safety protocols. The facility—which now has 30 days to respond to the memo or face a longer-term ban—has not received new NIH funding since July 2020. Meanwhile, now-deleted data from a Chinese provincial government website showed cremations rose by 70 percent in the eastern Zhejiang province in the first quarter of this year—coinciding with a COVID-19 surge in the country. The roughly 171,000 cremations cast doubt on China’s official death toll for the entire country since the beginning of the pandemic, which stands at about 83,700.
- The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice proposed new guidelines Wednesday that would raise the level of scrutiny applied to mergers by antitrust officials. The measures, which will have a 60 day public comment period, focus specifically on anticompetitive practices in private equity and technology. They also reflect the aggressive approach taken by FTC Chair Lina Khan, who faced criticism from Republican lawmakers at a House hearing last week after losing several antitrust lawsuits in court recently.
- The global benchmark for wheat prices shot up by 9 percent yesterday after Russia announced that it would consider any commercial ships bound for Ukraine’s Black Sea ports to be legitimate military targets. The announcement followed waves of Russian missile and drone strikes on grain exports infrastructure and other targets in southern Ukrainian port cities on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Wheat prices already spiked Monday after Russia said it would not renew a wartime deal allowing Ukraine—one of the world’s largest exports of wheat—to continue exporting grain, and recent statements and attacks reflect the Kremlin’s possible willingness to impose a blockade in the Black Sea by force.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin has reportedly decided not to attend a summit of leaders of the BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—in Johannesburg next month. The International Criminal Court put out a warrant for Putin’s arrest in March, meaning South Africa—a party to the Rome statute establishing the ICC—would have been legally obliged to arrest him. A spokesman for the South African government said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would represent the Kremlin at the meeting.
- A poorly lit video posted to a Wagner Group-affiliated Telegram channel purports to show the group’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, welcoming his mercenaries to Belarus in what would be his first public appearance since his short-lived mutiny three weeks ago. In the video, Prigozhin seemed to confirm that Wagner had relocated to Belarus after an eleventh-hour deal brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to end the rebellion. The warlord suggested his troops will remain in Belarus—rather than fight in Ukraine—until they “set off on a new journey to Africa,” where the paramilitary group has long been active as an arm of Russia.
- Wesleyan University, a liberal arts college in Connecticut, announced Wednesday it would end legacy admissions, a policy that has come under fire since the Supreme Court struck down Harvard and the University of North Carolina’s race-based admissions policies. In a letter to the Wesleyan community, university President Michael Roth said “legacy status has played a negligible role in our admission process for many years,” but told the New York Times the policy was a “sign of unfairness to the outside world.”
- New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, announced Wednesday he will not run for a fifth term as governor. “Public service should never be a career, and the time is right for another Republican to lead our great state,” he wrote in an email to supporters. Following Sununu’s decision, Republican Chuck Morse—former state Senate president—launched his gubernatorial bid, with former U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte teasing a future run. Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and New Hampshire Executive Council member Cinde Warmington are already running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
(A)I Approve this Message
Earlier this week, a Ron DeSantis-aligned super PAC released a 30-second ad in Iowa detailing former President Donald Trump’s spat with the state’s popular Republican governor, Kim Reynolds. “I endorsed her, did big rallies, and when she won, now she wants to remain ‘neutral,’” Trump says before a narrator asks why he’s fighting with his fellow Republicans. It’s a fair hit—several GOP strategists in Iowa think it will cost Trump—but there’s just one problem with the ad. Trump never said those words—he Truthed them.
Harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI), the DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down was able to generate realistic-sounding audio of Trump reading his own written statement aloud. And it wasn’t the first time. Last month, the DeSantis campaign released a video going after Trump for his refusal to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci during the pandemic—and the spot included fake, AI-generated images of the former president hugging the famous immunologist. When President Joe Biden announced his reelection campaign in April, the Republican National Committee released an AI-generated video depicting several apocalyptic-looking scenes and warning another Biden term would make them a reality. And lest you think this is a purely Republican phenomenon, an audio deepfake released the day before the Chicago mayoral election earlier this year portrayed the less progressive Democratic candidate in the Chicago Mayoral election as condoning police brutality.
This is only the beginning. As the 2024 campaign ramps up, lawmakers and advocacy groups are pushing for the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to make clear that AI campaign ads falsely impersonating candidates violate election law, but some commissioners argue the agency can’t do so without more authority from Congress.