Richard Lewis in 1989. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

Violent Rioters at Berkeley. In Defense of Self-Driving Cars. Richard Lewis, RIP

Plus: McConnell to step down.

Today from the Free Press. . . the self-sabotage of opposing self-driving cars, Texas A&M shutters its Qatar campus, an amicus brief from David Mamet, and more.

But first, our lead story. . . 

Few are more consistent in their commitment to free speech than Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE). Greg and his organization’s support for free speech—however fringe or controversial—is admirably unwavering. (That’s why we were proud to partner with FIRE on this debate we held a few months back in L.A.)

But, as Greg writes in The Free Press with his colleague, Angel Eduardo, extreme speech is not the same thing as violence. Free speech absolutism does not mean support for mob rule. 

The importance of that distinction was made clear at Berkeley this week. On Monday evening, an event that included an IDF reservist was targeted by anti-Israel protesters. A group called “Bears for Palestine” stated its determination to shut the event down. And that’s just what they did.

Protesters broke glass doors, allegedly spat on at least one student, and reportedly assaulted another. The school had to escort the students who had gathered to hear the Israeli speaker—who never got to speak. 

Greg and Angel argue that maintaining “the distinction between speech and violence” is “one of the greatest intellectual developments in the history of civil society.” Hence why Greg and Angel, unswerving supporters of free expression, have no problem concluding that Berkeley should throw the book at the violent rioters. 

This is an important piece. Read their argument in full here: 

Ten Stories We’re Reading

  1. Hamas raises the stakes in truce talks by calling for a Ramadan march on Jerusalem. (Reuters)

  2. The White House calls for sanctuary cities to cooperate with ICE amid furor over illegal migrant crimes. (Fox

  3. Two-thirds of Americans say they oppose treating frozen embryos as people. (Axios)

  4. McKinsey boasted about its advice for Chinese government ministries. (FT)

  5.  Americans aren’t paying close attention to the election. (The Liberal Patriot)

  6. Jordan’s queen downplays the role of October 7 as the cause of the Israel-Hamas war. (Jewish Insider)

  7. Electricity demand is surging for the first time since the 1990s—thanks to Joe Biden and AI. (HeatMap)

  8. Erik Hoel explains how generative AI murdered the internet. (The Intrinsic Perspective)

  9. Who killed VICE? (The Guardian)

  10. Christian influencers are talking about sex. (Air Mail)

We’re All Bad Drivers

Earlier this month in San Francisco’s Chinatown, a mob burnt a self-driving car to a crisp. One commentator welcomed this brave resistance against the tech plutocracy as the action of “people who did not ask for self-driving cars” merely “doing what they can to resist.” The Verge noted that vandalism is “a time-honored part of the human experience.” 

But self-driving cars are a self-defeating object of human rage. In fact, “nothing could be more anti-human” than rooting against them, writes Silicon Valley reporter Eric Newcomer in The Free Press today. 

Yes, the technology has been overhyped over the years—and Eric himself used to wonder if self-driving cars would ever deliver on the sales pitch. But now they’re out and about on the streets of San Francisco and. . . they work! They’re convenient, comfortable, and most importantly, a lot safer than cars driven by plain old human beings. 

All the fulminating about big tech and automated dystopias is meaningless noise when you consider the problem self-driving cars could solve: the 40,000 deaths on American roads every year.

Read Eric’s essay in full:

Texas A&M Shutters Qatar Campus After Free Press Investigation

Readers will remember Eli Lake’s recent Free Press reporting on Texas A&M’s presence in Qatar. His investigation detailed the major national security issues with the school’s lucrative deal to set up a campus in the Gulf state that hosts the leaders of Hamas. Here’s Eli with an update: 

Earlier this month, the Board of Regents for Texas A&M University voted to shut down its branch at Qatar’s Education City.

The vote, which was 7 to 1, came a month after my Free Press investigation into Texas A&M’s relationship with the Qatar Foundation, a charity controlled by the country’s ruling family. The school will not accept any new applications for the 2025 academic year and will close entirely by 2028.

The school hasn’t been especially forthcoming in explaining its decision. 

In a letter addressed to “members of the Aggie family,” the school’s president Mark Welsh wrote, “This decision was made after thoughtful discussion about the need to focus the university on its land-, sea- and space-grant mission.” A press release from the university said the decision to close the campus was due “to the heightened instability in the Middle East.”

The tone of the announcement is much different than the university’s initial response to my reporting. On January 7, Welsh issued a statement that he claimed was “correcting misinformation” about his university’s relationship with Qatar. Welsh accused critics of publishing inaccuracies but made no mention of the Free Press story and did not identify any mistakes in our reporting.

Based on documents obtained through a lawsuit against the university, we reported that all intellectual property generated on the Doha campus was owned by the Qatar Foundation—meaning technical research and patents would effectively belong to the kingdom’s royal family. This was troubling to national security experts because Texas A&M is one of the world’s premier research institutions for nuclear engineering. The Qataris also paid for the entire school in Doha, including faculty and staff salaries as well as travel allowances. And in 2022, the Doha campus signed an agreement to develop projects with a subsidiary of Qatar’s largest arms manufacturer.

If Qatar was a steady ally of America, these arrangements would be less concerning. But the Qataris host the senior leadership of Hamas, the terrorist organization responsible for the October 7 massacre in Israel, and also have strong economic and diplomatic ties with Hamas’s chief state sponsor: Iran.

The Free Press obtained the documents for its investigation from the Zachor Legal Institute, who waged a five-year legal battle with the Qatar Foundation and Texas A&M to obtain the contract and other material related to the Qatar campus through Texas public information laws. 

Marc Greendorfer, a lawyer for the Zachor Legal Institute, who waged a five-year legal battle to obtain the documents that made our investigation possible, told The Free Press, “For too long the secrecy related to the lack of oversight and accountability at the Doha Texas A&M campus has been a stain on Texas A&M as well as the federal government. The Free Press article functioned as a spotlight on these issues and it’s clear that Texas A&M realized that it had to take action on this important matter of national security.” 

Also on our radar. . . 

→ McConnell heads for the exit: Mitch McConnell announced Wednesday that he will step down as the Republican Senate leader in November. The move marks the end of the longest stint of any Senate leader in U.S. history and the departure from center stage of one of the most consequential political figures of our age. 

McConnell is old—he turned 82 earlier this month—but his decision appeared to be about the direction of his party as well as his age. “Believe me, I know the politics within my party at this particular moment in time,” he said in a floor speech explaining his decision. “I have many faults. Misunderstanding politics is not one of them.” 

McConnell plans to serve out his Senate term, which ends in January 2027, “albeit from a different seat in the chamber.”

Watch his full speech here: 

For more, read Politico’s guide to the McConnell succession race, a.k.a. the Battle of the Johns

→ Commitment issues: In Michigan’s Democratic primary on Tuesday, 13 percent of voters rejected Joe Biden and instead put a cross next to “uncommitted.” In recent weeks, campaigners have been pushing “uncommitted” as a protest vote against the Biden administration’s approach to the Middle East. Anti-Israel activists got the headlines they were looking for on Wednesday morning. “ ‘Uncommitted’ makes itself heard,” reported The New York Times. Woo-woo guru Marianne Williamson was so excited by the result that she “#unsuspended” her presidential campaign. 

But how big a deal is the Michigan result, really? The “Listen to Michigan” organization behind the push for uncommitted votes got a ton of publicity and it barely broke double digits. They secured only three points more than the “uncommitted” vote in 2012, when Barack Obama was seeking reelection and there was no equivalent effort to register a protest vote.

And to zoom out a little, the position of those hyping up the “uncommitted” story is what, exactly? That the president of the United States should upend his approach to America’s closest ally because of a group of disgruntled swing-state voters? So statesman-like! 

→ Free speech on trial: In a major battle over First Amendment rights in the social media age, the Supreme Court this week heard oral arguments on two state laws—from Texas and Florida—designed to limit the ability of tech giants like Meta and Google to moderate content on their platforms. 

It’s a thorny debate, involving competing claims to First Amendment freedoms. Amid all the legal argument, one thing stood out to us here at The Free Press, and that’s the amicus brief submitted by our very own cartoonist, David Mamet. He “worries about how Americans can navigate their world when firms that control information conduits, and are privileged and subsidized by the government, serve curated ‘information’ to users and the public which no longer maps onto the world that Americans personally observe.” And he took a novel approach to making that argument. His lawyer writes: “Amicus Curiae, a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, author, and filmmaker, has prepared a metaphorical short story that will provide the Court with needed perspective on the issues in this case.” 

That’s our kind of originalism. Go off, king! 

→ Richard Lewis, RIP: America lost one of its funniest men this week. Richard Lewis died of a heart attack Tuesday night at his home in Los Angeles, his publicist announced Wednesday. Richard Lewis built a career on his acerbic, insightful, and sometimes dark brand of comedy. A brilliant stand-up comic and actor, Lewis was one of the stars of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. He was one of the best things about what, in my entirely nonexpert opinion, is the best TV comedy ever made. Lewis revealed he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease last April. After the diagnosis, he returned for the final season of Curb, which is streaming now. Lewis gave his final interview to Vanity Fair only last week. Read it here

Of his friend’s death, David said: “Richard and I were born three days apart in the same hospital and for most of my life he’s been like a brother to me. He had that rare combination of being the funniest person and also the sweetest. But today he made me sob and for that, I’ll never forgive him.” 

And here are Lewis and David playing semi-fictionalized versions of themselves arguing over Lewis including David in his will in a Curb episode that aired earlier this month. Crotchety, hilarious, and perfect: 

Rest in peace. 

Oliver Wiseman is a writer and editor for The Free Press. Follow him on X @ollywiseman

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