Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
The Chinese Ministry of Defense said Wednesday the country will send troops to eastern Russia for joint military exercises scheduled for August 30 through September 5—and that India, Belarus, and other countries will also participate. China and Russia have drilled together before—including earlier this year—but this round seems intended to communicate that Russia still has military capacity outside Ukraine.
Officials in China’s Sichuan province ordered factories in 19 cities—including Apple, Toyota, and Volkswagen facilities—to close or reduce production this week to preserve electricity supply for homes. A heatwave and lack of rainfall in central and southwestern China have lowered the water level in the Yangtze River, threatening hydropower electricity production.
U.S. Africa Command announced Wednesday that—in coordination with the Somalian government—U.S. forces conducted an airstrike over the weekend against al-Shabaab terrorists attacking the Somalian military near Teedaan, a rural town in the middle of the country. It was the fourth such reported strike this summer, and the U.S. believes this one killed 13 al-Shabaab terrorists—and no civilians.
Israeli and Turkish leaders announced Wednesday the two countries had restored full diplomatic relations and will return their respective ambassadors to Tel Aviv and Ankara for the first time in four years. Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid championed the move as important for regional stability and economic growth. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu lauded the step as well, but told reporters Turkey is still “not giving up on the Palestinian cause.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced plans to revamp the agency on Wednesday in response to the CDC’s sluggish reactions to COVID-19. Among other changes, Walensky wants to clarify the CDC’s guidance documents, rework its promotion system to reward effective policy execution over publication in scientific journals, and ask Congress to let the CDC mandate state data reporting, offer more competitive salaries, and hire faster. “We are responsible for some pretty dramatic, pretty public mistakes, from testing to data to communications,” she told agency employees. “This is our watershed moment. We must pivot.”
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster on Wednesday ordered CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart to pay a combined $650 million over 15 years to two Ohio counties for contributing to the opioid epidemic by ignoring signs of drug abuse while dispensing opioid painkillers. The ruling—which the pharmacies plan to appeal—comes after a November jury verdict and will also require the companies to take steps to avoid feeding pill abuse through their pharmacies, including setting up hotlines.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates 9,560 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first quarter of 2022, the highest level since 2002 and the seventh straight quarterly increase in traffic deaths. Americans are returning to the roads after COVID-19 restrictions, but more driving isn’t the sole reason for the spike, as the increase in fatalities outpaced the increase in miles driven.
The United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics reported Wednesday that inflation in the U.K. topped 10 percent year-over-year in July, a new 40-year high driven primarily by rising food prices. The Bank of England raised interest rates by 50 basis points last month in a bid to curb inflation, but inflationary pressures will likely persist as cool weather increases demand for heating gas.
In a speech in New Hampshire, former Vice President Mike Pence implored his fellow Republicans to tone down their anti-FBI rhetoric, arguing that, while he has concerns about the search at Mar-a-Lago last week, “calls to defund the FBI are just as wrong as calls to defund the police.” Pence also expressed openness to testifying before the select committee investigating January 6, saying the American people “have a right to know” what happened that day. “In the months and years ahead, I’ll be telling my story even more frequently than I have,” Pence said.
After losing a thankless reelection bid in Wyoming on Tuesday by nearly 40 percentage points, Rep. Liz Cheney would be well within her rights to lay low for a couple days, vegging out on the couch with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and catching up on the series finale of Better Call Saul. Instead, she spent Wednesday filing to convert her campaign committee into a leadership PAC, telling the Today Show she is “thinking about” running for president, taking a phone call from the current president, and flying back to Washington, D.C. Somewhere in there, she also found 40 minutes to sit down with Steve—and we’ve got the transcript up on the site today.
Her relationships with fellow House Republicans remain strained.
Steve Hayes: How many of your Republican colleagues have called to talk to you since the race was called?
Liz Cheney: I’ve heard from all the impeachers—and that’s it.
Hayes: Any other notable people reach out?
Cheney: I’ve gotten lots of text messages, talked to a number of people. A wide range of people. And a lot of people are saying: “Sign me up. What’s next? We’re with you.” I mean, the people who are not with me are unlikely to be texting me (laughter). It’s a self-selected group.
Hayes: Fair. Well, let’s talk about those people. You’ve been pretty aggressive in calling out your colleagues who haven’t been as outspoken in their condemnation of Trump. Some of those people agree with you—and we’ve talked about this before—and are quietly cheering you on. You don’t seem to like their quiet support. The line you had at the end of the June [January 6 committee] opening statement, where you said, “Your dishonor will remain.” Do you risk alienating future would-be allies by being as critical as you are of them?
Cheney: I guess I look at it as laying out the facts. And I don’t view it as support or opposition for me—or against me. When people say “the political climate is what it is and you just have to accept that”—my view is that’s not actually what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to do what’s right and work to change the political climate. And there’s no way—I think the threat is so grave that there’s no middle ground. There’s no gray area here. And you can’t be sort of unclear about that. So, I think that everybody has to make their own decision about how they’re going to operate in this current environment and everybody’s going to have to explain that to their kids and live with themselves.
She’d be interested in Vice President Mike Pence testifying before the select committee investigating January 6.
Hayes: Former Vice President Pence said this morning that he’s open to talking to the January 6 committee if he’s invited. And there were some more [qualifications] around his answer but that’s more or less what he said. Are you going to invite him?
Cheney: I haven’t seen specifically what he’s said. We’ve had discussions with his attorneys previously and that was not his position, so I’m interested to see what he’s said now and see if there really has been some kind of change. Previously, his view has been that there were serious constitutional issues involved with having a vice president testify in front of Congress.
Hayes: (Reading Pence’s exact words) Pence said, “If there was an invitation to participate, I would consider it. Any invitation that would be directed to me, I would have to reflect on the unique role I was serving in as vice president. It would be unprecedented in history for the vice president to be summoned to testify on Capitol Hill. But as I said, I don’t want to pre-judge. So if any formal invitation was rendered to us, we’d give it due consideration.”
Cheney: We’ll continue our engagement with his counsel and make a determination going forward about any conditions under which he would come and testify. I would point out that in fact you have had situations where, for example, in the aftermath of 9/11, you’ve had the president and the vice president testify to the 9/11 commission. After he granted Nixon’s pardon, President Ford testified before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee. So there is actually precedent when you have a national crisis for presidents, vice presidents to testify. The 9/11 commission obviously was different—it wasn’t technically Congress. But certainly the subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee was.
Vice President Pence played a critical role on that day. His comments in the aftermath have varied in terms of his willingness to talk about the seriousness of the crisis the nation faced—or in terms of his description of the seriousness of the crisis.
Hayes: Some of the people on his staff, the people who were with him, have provided pretty compelling firsthand testimony about what happened that day.
So, why don’t you just tell me everything you want to ask him.
Cheney: (laughter) Let me just pull up my notes.
Look, we’ve had very clear testimony from a number of individuals including testimony, for example, from Ivanka Trump’s aides about the vehemence and the anger that Donald Trump expressed towards Mike Pence on that phone call from the Oval Office. We have heard—the nation has heard—the reports that the vice president’s security detail thought that they were going to have to call their families because when the Capitol was under assault they thought they might not make it. And we know that President Trump never once tried to call Mike Pence to say, “Are you okay?” I think there’s a lot that Vice President Pence knows. I think that this is a situation where you do have serious constitutional issues in terms of executive privilege, but executive privilege is not an absolute immunity. And when you have the kind of dereliction of duty and likely crimes that were committed here I think everybody who was involved has a responsibility to tell the truth.
We’re also in a situation now where we know that a number of Vice President Pence’s staff have been subpoenaed and have testified in front of a grand jury [in Georgia]. So I think there’s a lot more going on here than just the committee’s work.
She’s clearly thinking about running for president—but isn’t close to making a decision.
Hayes: You told Savannah Guthrie this morning that you’re thinking about running for president. I think you could make a pretty good argument that your defeat last night is more evidence that the Republican Party is a very Trumpy party—not that that was particularly surprising. And you specifically spoke this morning about putting together a coalition of Democrats, Republicans, and independents. Are you considering running as an independent?
Cheney: Right now, I’m not focused on that. I’m not focused on the kind of horse-race specifics of it in that way.
Hayes: The Republican Party doesn’t seem like a very friendly place for you these days.
Cheney: Ummm—true. But I guess I think about it more in terms of the substance of what has to be done. And if I Look at the next—obviously the time from now until January, and the work that’s got to be done on the select committee and my responsibilities as Wyoming’s representative until then. That sort of takes up how I’m thinking about the next several months. There’s also a lot of work that has to be done educating people around the country about why this matters so much. And so I’m not sitting here thinking about, okay, what does a run look like, am I going to run or not going to run? At some point you have to make that decision, but I look at it much more through the lens of preventing Donald Trump and I think that there’s—what we’ve seen in the last 18 months is a huge, not just the last 18 months, is a huge deficit in people’s real understanding of what it takes to make our system work. And so I want to do whatever I can do to help fix that.
But, obviously, you don’t have high approval ratings from Republicans. Given that your objective, restated again last night in your speech, is to keep Donald Trump from ever getting to the White House again, if you were to run and it became clear to you or was indicated in public polling that you were drawing more votes away from Democrats than you were from Trump, thereby making him more likely to win reelection if he were the Republican nominee, would you quit? Would you stop?
Cheney: I think that kind of analysis and assessment, it’s not the way that I think about a potential race. I think you run for president because you think you should be the president. And the determination that Donald Trump cannot be the president is something that a lot of us have to achieve through a lot of means. But thinking about whether I’m going to launch a campaign and how am I going to launch the campaign and what’s it going to look like—it’s not something that I’m prepared to talk about or that I have the information to make judgments about at this point.
‘The Threats to Americans Are Multiple, Pervasive, and Systematic’
The Justice Department made news last week when it unsealed a criminal complaint alleging an Iranian national attempted to arrange the assassination of former National Security Adviser John Bolton in the past year—likely in retaliation for the United States’ January 2020 killing of Qassem Suleimani, an Iranian military leader. Although he was not mentioned by name in the complaint, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was reportedly also informed by the Justice Department that he was a target in the plot.
But the threats emanating from Tehran don’t stop there, Charlotte reports in a piece for the site today: Individuals working on behalf of the Iranian government have targeted several prominent members of the think tank community through both in-person surveillance and cyber operations.
At the center of the regime’s campaign is United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a U.S.-based advocacy group promoting policy to prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Sources indicate that Iran’s targets within the organization’s ranks include UANI CEO and former George W. Bush administration official Mark Wallace, former Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, former National Security Adviser John Bolton, and Thomas Kaplan, an American billionaire and UANI’s original funder.
Kaplan has received “duty to warn” notices from the FBI, which alerts targets to threatening activity by hostile foreign powers. Sources say that suspected Iranian-directed operatives have conducted “pattern of life” analyses—tracking UANI affiliates’ movements and routines—in possible preparation for planned abductions or assassinations. In at least three instances, UANI affiliates were photographed by unknown individuals.
In cyberspace, suspected Iranian hackers have attempted to carry out various phishing operations on UANI members. Records obtained by The Dispatch show efforts by unknown actors to circumvent two-factor authentication, impersonate think tank leadership, and stage fake events with suspicious RSVP links. UANI believes these hacking campaigns to be the work of Charming Kitten, an Iranian government-linked cyberwarfare group.
“The threats to Americans are multiple, pervasive, and systematic,” Wallace said, asked by The Dispatch about Iran’s targeting of UANI. “It’s not a localized event. This is a strategic effort by the Iranians to intimidate, exert their strength—a show of force—because they feel like they can either manage, or deal with, or temper any response.”
Bolton was first alerted of the potential Iranian threat in early 2020, and the notices became more urgent and more specific.
In one meeting with more than a dozen FBI agents just before Thanksgiving of last year, Bolton asked that his security detail be reinstated—a request authorities eventually granted. “I said then, ‘look, if it’s this serious, why don’t you talk to the Secret Service to see if maybe they should come back into action here, having lost the Secret Service the day I resigned,” Bolton told The Dispatch. “Trump cut it off within hours, which is not the normal practice, but anyway, that’s Trump for you.”
Bolton and other prospective targets of Iranian operations in the U.S. are quick to praise the around-the clock-efforts by law enforcement to prevent prospective attacks from coming to fruition, but they also view the apparent prevalence of such plots as a major policy failure, particularly as the Biden administration pushes forward with indirect negotiations with Iran to resurrect parts of the Obama-era nuclear deal. Iranian negotiators sent their formal response to the European Union’s proposed agreement on Monday.
“The White House has a compartmented brain. It’s got the nuclear negotiations over here and the terrorism threat over there, whereas in the minds of the ayatollahs in Iran, there’s no compartmentalization at all,” Bolton said. “This is part and parcel of their arsenal.”
Worth Your Time
In Ukraine, American veterans are preparing recruits for combat. Yaroslav Trofimov reports for the Wall Street Journal about the ad hoc training camps turning Ukrainian farmers—some pause mid-maneuver to examine a sunflower harvest—into fighting units. “Clad in mismatched fatigues, Ukrainian Marine recruits sprawled on the grass, cocking their assault rifles and aiming at targets,” Trofimov writes. “Then, to the surprise of their American instructors, one by one they started squeezing the trigger. ‘Cease fire!’ yelled Steven Tomberlin, 62, a retired police officer from Colorado overseeing this part of the training. ‘Until I give the command. You. Do. Not. Do. Anything.’ When the firing resumed, bullets hit the dirt berm, often far off the mark. ‘Most of these people have just been mobilized. They were electricians or tractor drivers yesterday, and many have never held a weapon in their hands,’ said Sr. Lt. Anton Solohub, a deputy commander of this Ukrainian Marine battalion, as he watched the first day of a crash course provided by a group of mostly American veterans. ‘These instructors have promised that they will turn my men into some kind of special force in 10 days,’ Lt. Solohub mused. ‘Let’s see.’”
Instead of taking even the finest economists’ predictions as gospel, lawmakers should consider macroeconomics’ lousy track record and enact policy accordingly, Brian Riedl argues in National Review. “Often accused of having ‘physics envy,’ economists develop models whose mathematical complexity offers an air of scientific certainty, even as they fail to accurately capture and project the impossibly complicated reality of our economy,” he writes. “And then policymakers rely on their groupthink-driven certainty to enact policies that cannot survive collision with messy reality. The result is economists, markets, and politicians who are blindsided by market crashes, housing crashes, pandemics, inflation, and rising interest rates. … Prudence demands economic humility, and setting Washington’s finances on a course that can survive normally fluctuating economic variables. The role for policy-makers is to practice risk management, and enact modest public policies that can adequately survive recessions, inflation, rising interest rates, and the occasional market crash or tail event. A plan that cannot survive economic instability is no plan at all.”
Presented Without Comment
Also Presented Without Comment
Also Also Presented Without Comment
Toeing the Company Line
In this week’s Capitolism (🔒), Scott tackles the gravest problem facing the country: People use too many exclamation points. “There is indeed a proper time and place for expressing ‘strong or forceful emotion,’” he writes. “Like, say, when you’re on fire.”
And if that isn’t enough Scott Lincicome content for you, he’s also on today’s episode of The Dispatch Podcast, talking with Declan about the Inflation Reduction Act!!!!!
On today’s episode of Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah are joined by Bret Devereaux—an ancient and military historian at the University of North Carolina—to discuss military tactics of some of fiction’s biggest battles, from The Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones. Can David contain his excitement? Does Sarah understand anything being said?
On the site today, Gary Schmitt warns that the GOP could lose its opportunity to take the Senate in the midterms as Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Herschel Walker in Georgia are poised to lose winnable elections.
Let Us Know
In light of that Populace study on public opinion and social pressure featured in Presented Without Comment, what’s something that you privately believe but generally (Dispatch comment sections excluded) don’t feel comfortable sharing in public?