Weekend Jolt: Passover’s Story of Escalation Dominance

Dear Weekend Jolter,

Moses was 80 years old when he and his brother Aaron, a few years ...

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WITH JUDSON BERGER April 16 2022
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WITH JUDSON BERGER April 16 2022
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Passover's Story of Escalation Dominance

Dear Weekend Jolter,

Moses was 80 years old when he and his brother Aaron, a few years older still, sought an audience with Pharaoh so they could perform God's work and free the Israelites from bondage. Never assume you've already peaked.

What followed was the first known maximum-pressure sanctions campaign in the Middle East.

The effort started small, with Aaron's serpent-rod eating the Egyptians' serpent-rods, but it quickly escalated. Blood in the Nile, frogs on the land, lice, locusts, darkness, hail, and all that. Pharaoh was given off-ramps but had a tendency to double back once he was on them; plus the Israelites' demand for total victory (they wanted to bring their livestock and their kids with them) proved a hindrance to compromise. Eventually, Team Moses took the notion of collective punishment to extremes, and prevailed.

One could be forgiven for doubting that the West's isolation campaign against Russia will be quite as effective toward the goal of saving the Ukrainians. Jim Geraghty notes how Russia is poised to make even more money than last year on energy exports, despite sanctions. If ever there were a need for righteous judgment from the heavens, this would be it.

In considering the West's options, concerns about the danger from escalation certainly are warranted, as the death toll from a nuclear-tipped World War III would be unfathomable. But let's still remember who, exactly, is doing the escalating in Ukraine — it's not Warsaw, and it's not Washington.

In the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, the mass graves and torture-scarred corpses Russian forces left behind are being well documented. NR's editorial on the horror includes this description from a witness who spoke with the Times of London: "They had been torturing people. Some of them had their ears cut off. Others had teeth pulled out. There were kids like 14, 16 years old, some adults."

A week ago, a Russian missile strike killed at least 50 civilians, some of them kids, at a train station packed with people trying to escape eastern Ukraine.

In Mariupol, the besieged city's mayor recently told the AP that more than 10,000 civilians have died so far, and that Russia's forces brought in "mobile crematoriums" to manage the corpses.

Even as Russia pulls back from Kyiv, Putin's army is preparing a new offensive in Ukraine's East (which includes Mariupol), led by a general notorious for directing his country's bloody campaign in Syria. Jay Nordlinger applies the phrase "face the slaughter" to the stories emerging from the war zone; he collects an array of evidence here making the reality clear, so we can.

Unlike the ancient Israelites, the Ukrainians would rather not leave. They're also better fighters. Can there be a Passover lesson here? One might be that, to face down an autocrat, it helps to have an indomitable force in your corner. Another, that escalation can be catastrophic, even if it achieves desired ends. Another still — that the one turning the screws is the one who can dictate that severity.

For now, that person, unfortunately, continues to be Vladimir Putin.

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

Nobody is fooled by "Putin's Price Hike," right? Biden's Inflation Problem Is Deeper Than Putin

China's latest disastrous attempt to control Covid-19 makes the definitive case against lockdowns: The Shanghai Lockdown

ARTICLES

Jimmy Quinn: Christian Detainee Who Escaped Xinjiang Camp Recalls Mysterious Injections: 'Everything Was Painful'

Ryan Mills: U.S. Embassy Staff Destroyed Passports as Taliban Took Over, Trapping American Allies in Afghanistan

Jay Nordlinger: Reality in Ukraine: Staring It in the Face

Jim Geraghty: Barack Obama Rewrites History on Russia and Ukraine

Yuval Levin: From Trump Party to Trump Faction?

John Fund: Lockdown States Pursued a Failed Policy, Study Finds

Michael Van Beek: What Not to Do in the Next Pandemic

Rich Lowry: The Russian Way of Brutality

Dan McLaughlin: A Serious Look at Justice Thomas's Unserious Critics on Recusals

Kevin Williamson: Biden Goes to War with . . . Charlie?

Charles C. W. Cooke: The CNN+ Catastrophe

Carine Hajjar: What Asylum-Seeking Migrants Say about Their Trek North

Caroline Downey: Ted Cruz Defends State Bans on Teaching CRT, Gender Ideology: 'Curriculum Is Not Censorship'

CAPITAL MATTERS

Grover Norquist pops into Cap Matters with an endorsement of Republicans' answer to the union-boosting PRO Act: The Employee Rights Act Puts American Workers, Not Union Bosses, in the Driver's Seat

And here’s Dom Pino, with a ruh-roh: Wait, a Freight Recession?

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

Kyle Smith reviews — quite favorably — a film on faith and one man's conversion, in time for Easter weekend: A Stunning Cinematic Tribute to Catholic Faith

A new show about education-system decay takes a cynical and disappointing tone. From Armond White: Abbott Elementary's Crisis Comedy

Brian Allen has high hopes — and some words of advice regarding priorities — for the newly named president at the Getty: The Getty Trust, the World's Richest Arts Organization, Gets a New Leader 

FROM THE NEW, MAY 2, 2022, ISSUE OF NR

Charles C. W. Cooke: The Parents' Revolt

John McCormack: Six Congressional Races to Watch

Allen C. Guelzo: Ulysses S. Grant, Forgotten Republican

Ben Sasse: Reminding the Right

OUR EXCERPTS ARE UNLEAVENED

China's Xinjiang prison-camp system is sick, twisted, grotesque . . . and it's going to take the testimony and evidence of those who endured it for the world to wake up to this evil. Jimmy Quinn has interviewed one such family, who arrived in the U.S. prepared to speak out just last week:

A former Xinjiang prison-camp detainee who escaped to America just days ago described his harrowing imprisonment in an extensive interview with National Review, including details of forced injections that he and others were given of an unknown substance that caused painful and debilitating reactions — as well as obedience.

The survivor, Ovalbek Turdakun, spoke with NR through a translator during a sit-down at a Washington hotel late Tuesday evening, following a busy day in the nation's capital. These are among the most extended comments he's made on the ten months he spent in the Xinjiang prison camp in 2018, since he arrived in Washington on Friday with his wife and their eleven-year-old son. Their escape followed a years-long ordeal that took them from Xinjiang, China, to Kyrgyzstan, and at last to the United States.

Turdakun is understood to be the first Christian detainee of the Xinjiang camp system to reach the U.S. and to speak publicly about the experience. He is expected to testify before Congress about his time in the prison, and his recounting of Chinese officials' continued harassment after his family's escape to Kyrgyzstan will likely bolster an ongoing effort to bring Beijing's atrocities in Xinjiang to the International Criminal Court. The family's arrival is also noteworthy because it may be the first time that an entire family was able to leave Xinjiang for the U.S. together, Ethan Gutmann, a scholar who researches China's atrocities in the region, told NR.

Specifically, Turdakun's testimony is expected to reveal new aspects of China's mass atrocities against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. Turdukan said he and other detainees had been beaten with batons and tortured in what's called a "tiger chair" — and shocked with an electric wand for falling asleep during that torture — on multiple occasions. He also detailed, at length, the practice of injecting prisoners with an unknown substance which, in his case, rendered him unable to walk for a period of time. . . .

The camp was located in Turdakun's home prefecture of Kizilsu, which borders Kyrgyzstan. He said the Chinese authorities took him there after a monthlong period during which they either knocked on their door or called their home every evening because his wife, Zhyldyz, is a Kyrgyz citizen, and their family regularly made trips to Kyrgyzstan.

Turdakun and his son hold Chinese passports, but they are all ethnically Kyrgyz Christians. While most international attention has focused on the plight of Xinjiang's ethnic Uyghurs, many of whom are Muslims, a number of other minority groups, including Kyrgyz, Kazakhs, and others, have been targeted by the Chinese government's campaign, suspected to be clearing the region for ethnic Han Chinese settlers.

In case there was any doubt left about the cruelty and counterproductivity of lockdowns, witness Shanghai. From NR’s editorial:

What we are witnessing in Shanghai is the final, total failure of lockdowns as a pandemic-control measure. The daytime images of Shanghai streets, emptied of all human life, are a vision of life on earth after a civilization-destroying cataclysm. The nighttime videos, featuring thousands or tens of thousands of people bellowing out from their apartment windows and balconies, crying in desperation for human contact, announcing their fear of running out of food, or simply crying in futile desperation at their inability to attend to their dependent relatives, constitute a horror movie. In some videos, state-controlled drones admonish the people not to sing, or let a cry for freedom dwell in their hearts. . . .

China failed to sufficiently vaccinate even its elderly population ahead of the Omicron spread. And so it has resorted again to a medieval approach to disease management, but backed by an omnipresent security apparatus that functions like the Eye of Sauron.

Let this travesty be the final blow to China's reputation of having an effective governmental response to Covid. China prevaricated with international health organizations to save its reputation early on, downplaying the severity and nature of the disease, arresting the reporters revealing it to the world, and slowing the global response to it. China has lied ever since about the death toll of the disease, falsely bolstering the reputation of Covid-Zero. China failed to provide basic cooperation with global authorities to a degree that even the World Health Organization's leader, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, refused to rule out the Wuhan lab as the source of the pandemic. And China's lies have now led to the prolonged house arrest of millions in its territory.

If there were any doubt, this latest episode should send an unmistakable message: The Chinese model is a failure.

On a related note, over at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Michael Van Beek recalls just how insane Michigan's lockdown policies were, in offering up some advice for how to respond more sensibly to the next public-health crisis:

No governor better illustrates this crazy period than Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer. Even after she'd closed a larger portion of businesses than any other governor, Whitmer kept the executive orders coming. At times, she was averaging a new edict every day, issuing so many confusing, complex rules that her administration had to create an online FAQ page in an attempt to answer more than 1,000 different questions.

On April 9, 2020, when Whitmer extended her stay-at-home order, she attempted to close certain sections of big-box stores such as Meijer, Kroger, and Walmart, prohibiting them from advertising or selling flooring materials, furniture, paint, and plants before she'd even required masks to be worn within their walls. She also, for some reason, outlawed motorized boating while allowing the non-motorized variety to continue.

Whitmer's most perplexing policies, though, related to golf. At the time of her initial lockdown order, the aforementioned FAQ page said golfing was illegal. Her attorney general subsequently clarified that it was nevertheless still legal to go for a walk on a golf course. A couple of weeks later, the Michigan Golf Association sent the governor's office a letter pointing out that most states still allowed golfing, and she reversed course to permit it again — but not with golf carts. It took another letter from golfing interests pointing out how important carts are to golfers for that ban to be reversed.

We would do well to heed the lessons of the slapdash, authoritarian approach Whitmer and other governors took to managing Covid-19. They ignored the existing plans experts created for responding to pandemics and relied on their emergency powers to issue unilateral decrees. Although they talked a lot about "following the science," they were essentially flying by the seats of their pants. Little deliberation took place; at best, a small group of state officials tried to regulate the behavior of millions of people. And those millions of people suffered as a result.

Ryan Mills provides more infuriating details about the consequences of America's botched Afghanistan withdrawal:

For months, Rabah has been in hiding, moving from place to place in Afghanistan, trying to stay one step ahead of the Taliban warriors he believes are out to kill him.

The 30-year-old former interpreter for U.S. special forces hasn't seen his wife and four kids in weeks. He has little food. He has repeatedly tried to escape to Pakistan and Iran, to no avail.

The problem, according to Rabah, is his lack of a passport, which was destroyed by U.S. Embassy staff as they evacuated Kabul last summer.

"There is no option for me," said Rabah, who spoke to National Review on the condition that his real name not be published. "They destroyed my passport means they destroyed my whole life. If I had a passport, everything was possible. Without a passport . . . I can do nothing."

Last summer, as the Taliban was overtaking Kabul, U.S. Embassy staffers destroyed the Afghan passports and sensitive documents in their possession to help protect the identities of American allies who remained in the country. Eight months later, it's not clear exactly how many passports were destroyed. In an email to National Review, the U.S. Department of State declined to provide a number. Shawn Van Diver, founder of the #AfghanEvac coalition, said fewer than 200 people filled out a form on his organization's website to report that their passports were destroyed. But several other leaders of civilian rescue organizations said the number of people whose documents were destroyed is surely more than that.

"There are absolutely thousands. There's no doubt about that," said Ben Owen, chief executive of Flanders Fields, a civilian group that has been part of the rescue efforts in Afghanistan.

Owen cited correspondence among various rescue organizations, as well as conversations with people who he said were on the ground at the time of the embassy evacuation for his estimate. And if the embassy really had only a few hundred passports, staffers could have easily boxed them up and flown out with them, rather than destroy them, he said, "so clearly it was a huge volume of documents they had to dispose of very quickly."

People like Rabah, who were at the last step of getting the go-ahead to come to the U.S., now are among the likely tens of thousands of American allies and their family members who remain trapped in Afghanistan after the Biden administration's bungled withdrawal.

Shout-Outs

Eric Boehm, at Reason: COVID Stimulus Checks Worsened Inflation

Bill McMorris, at RealClearInvestigations: Teachers' Unions Other Foes: Liberal Parents

Lee Smith, at Tablet: Was the Infiltration of the Secret Service Part of an Iranian Plot to Kill John Bolton?

Sarah Westwood, at the Washington Examiner: Stubborn Seattle shows what can happen when leaders defund the police

CODA

Last week, this note put out the call for unexpected covers. Readers responded with rare gems.

Kevin in St. Petersburg, Fla., sends in selections from a band, Steve 'n' Seagulls, whose bio reads like it was developed in a lab to appeal to me: a bluegrass group from Finland that does covers of metal and hard-rock songs. It pays to be cautious — was I being catfished? But no, their version of "Thunderstruck" has 140 million views on YouTube, so color me late to the party. The video deserves its virality. The Gulls' repertoire is impressive, their covers . . . unexpected, to say the least. Many are reinventions. Here's their take on Iron Maiden.

One more: Steve Shannon shoots over a commonly covered Gershwin song I had forgotten about when marveling at another in last week's note: "Summertime." This version by The Zombies is one I hadn't before heard. Gorgeous, in a word.

Have a restful weekend, whether you're observing a resurrection, an exodus, or just Cecil B. DeMille's masterpiece in full technicolor.

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