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Jimmy Lai laughing in his office in Hong Kong in 2020. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP) (Photo by ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images)

A Professor Quits MIT. China’s Bullying Goes Global. Haley Surges.

Plus: Why Michigan is the Donald Trump of college football.

Today from the Free Press. . . a modest proposal for top profs, a Chinese intimidation campaign, updates from the campaign trail, and The Guardian worries that war is bad for the environment.

But first, our lead story. . .   

Computer scientist Mauricio Karchmer was an MIT lecturer for four years. He loved his job—until Hamas’s attack on October 7. In the weeks that followed, Mauricio, who was born in Mexico to a Jewish family, encountered the “pervasive antisemitism on MIT’s campus.”

How pervasive?

“On November 14, one of the Israeli PhD students in my department confided to me that he was taking a few weeks off from the semester to return to Israel—an active war zone—because he needed to escape the toxicity of MIT’s campus. This week, he told me he is considering leaving MIT without completing his PhD.”

In his essay for The Free Press, Mauricio writes that he resigned because he cannot teach “those who lack the most basic critical thinking skills or emotional intelligence. Nor can I teach those who condemn my Jewish identity.” 

Read his piece here:

For professors like Mauricio who are fed up with the politics of their elite students, Free Press columnist Ben Kawaller has an idea: “Why not trade the anxious, rebellious spawn of Democrats for the sunny, docile children of Republicans?”

Ben himself is most definitely not docile. Nor is he a Republican. “I have nothing against Republicans on an individual level—some of my best Twitter followers are Republicans. But I don’t have the temperance for conservatism. I do not conserve; I spew. Liberally. But you know what’s nice about Republicans? They raise happy, obedient kids.”

“It’s a nice fantasy, no?” he writes. “The idea of Steven Pinker ditching Harvard and taking off for Brigham Young, that bastion of free speech? Look, at least when you’re dealing with Republicans, the fascism comes from above, the way God intended.”

Britain Bends the Knee to China

Jimmy Lai, the Hong Kong newspaper proprietor who has been in prison for more than 1,000 days and is currently on trial before a kangaroo court in Hong Kong, is one of the great examples of courage in our time.

As the Beijing-backed authorities tightened their grip on Lai’s pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, which they seized in 2020, Lai could have fled to the safety of one of his homes overseas. That is one of the luxuries of being a billionaire. Instead, he stayed to make a stand for free speech and shine a light on censorship in his once-liberal city-state. “I’m a troublemaker,” said Lai of his decision not to flee. “I came here with nothing, the freedom of this place has given me everything. Maybe it’s time I paid back for that freedom by fighting for it.” 

Lai’s trial has shown how far authorities in Hong Kong will go to clamp down on free expression in Hong Kong. They are now taking their intimidation global.

As part of their case that Lai is guilty of “collusion with foreign forces,” prosecutors last week named international “co-conspirators.” One is a Brit called Luke de Pulford, an activist who runs the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China. De Pulford has been dragged into the case because he once worked with Andy Li, who is expected to be a key witness for the prosecution. 

A pro-democracy campaigner, Li was arrested and tortured after trying to escape Hong Kong in 2020. “After his torture, Andy started to cooperate with authorities,” said de Pulford, who explained that Hong Kong prosecutors plan to use Li’s coerced testimony to tie Lai to the pro-democracy movement. 

“Andy never met Jimmy Lai, ever. So it is completely false. It is totally confected.” 

You might think that the intimidation of a British citizen would trigger instant condemnation from de Pulford’s own government. But there has barely been a peep out of London. 

I spoke to de Pulford shortly after he was named in the trial. He was frustrated but unsurprised by his government’s inaction. “Part of the reason that Beijing believes it can go after foreign nationals is because the pushback from democratic countries has been really weak,” he said. 

Under the agreement through which the UK returned the colony to China, Beijing promised to preserve freedoms and judicial independence until 2047. But Beijing has not kept its promise and, de Pulford says, “The UK has done nothing at all to hold Beijing to account for the complete destruction of the joint declaration.” 

On Tuesday, former British prime minister Liz Truss wrote a letter to foreign minister David Cameron calling for “robust action” after the naming of de Pulford and another British national, Bill Browder, as co-conspirators. Truss warned that the move marked “the first time foreign nationals have been named in this way and represents a clear escalation.” She called for an “urgent and unequivocal statement of support” of de Pulford and Browder. 

De Pulford has been advised by British authorities not to travel to countries with extradition treaties with China, such as Spain and France. He said he isn’t wearing the “co-conspirator” label as a badge of honor. Rather, he sees the whole affair as “unspeakably sad.”

“This is happening as a result of the torture of a very good friend of mine. I don’t want to be pulled into it, nor do I want to dwell on myself,” he explained. “I live in a free country, and my freedoms aren’t massively curtailed by this. It is not to be compared to people like Jimmy, who will die in jail. Or people like Andy, who was tortured to ensure that Jimmy would die in jail.” 

Stumbling toward the White House. . . 

→ Haley-mentum: A new CNN/UNH poll shows Nikki Haley trailing Trump only by single digits in New Hampshire. In the latest sign that the former UN ambassador has real momentum, the survey puts Haley at 32 percent to Trump’s 39 percent. (Chris Christie is in a distant third with 12 percent.)

Haley’s 12-point surge since the last CNN/UNH poll in November is the latest sign that she has real momentum and is the candidate best positioned to stop her old boss from securing the GOP nomination for a third time. 

Haley is absolutely loathed in MAGA world. They see her as nothing more than an establishment stooge (nevermind that the actual Republican establishment has skewed the rules of this primary to help Trump) and were terrified by recent reports Trump was considering her as a veep pick. In its own way, the mainstream media has chosen a similar framing, focusing on the donor class and the Haley-Trump psychodrama, or painting Haley as a throwback to a bygone era who just doesn’t get today’s politics. Missing from all of this: the actual voters for whom Haley is a compelling option. If the polls are right, there are a lot of them. 

→ Not that keen for Dean: I admit to having a soft spot for Dean Phillips. The Democrat taking on Biden in the primary seems like a nice guy (he’s from Minnesota, after all), and whether or not you agree with his milquetoast politics, the guy is giving it his best shot and refusing to toe the party line. Hard work, independence, and good hair: these are Free Press values, folks! 

And so I felt a pang of sadness yesterday when I saw a picture of a lonely-looking Phillips sitting in the freezing New Hampshire winter at a campaign event to which no one showed up. Per CBS’s Jake Rosen, Phillips said: “Sometimes if you build it, they don’t come.”

Keep your chin up, Dean. The night is always darkest just before the dawn and all that. After your inauguration next year, we’ll hang this image in the West Wing as a reminder of how far you’ve come; right next to the “Bartlet for America” napkin. 

→ It’s his party and he’ll bail if he wants to: In another example of the many petty humiliations of life as a presidential candidate, RFK Jr. had to bail on his own birthday fundraiser gala. A bunch of celebs were slated to attend, but then Martin Sheen, Dionne Warwick, Mike Tyson, and Andrea Bocelli all backed out. And so RFK decided it was his party and he’ll stay home if he wants to. The Camelot scion evidently knows that the only thing worse than no party is a party where no one shows up. 

→ Democracy for me but not for thee: Everything is going to be just fine come November. No need to worry about a bipartisan crisis of democratic legitimacy. No need to doubt that everyone is going to respect the process this year. No need to put too much stock in a new poll from YouGov, which finds that 81 percent of Democrats think states should take Trump’s name off the ballot. 

Also on our radar. . . 

→ Chabad lads: It was a war between black hats and blue badges at a synagogue in Crown Heights—perhaps the most famous one in the world, where the Lubavitcher Rebbe lived and worked until he died—when students tried to block an illegal tunnel that they had dug from being sealed off with cement trucks. Apparently, the young Jews jumped in the tunnel and started praying, and fighting with Chabad leadership, and the NYPD was called, and a mini riot broke out; the students could barely lift the long tables to throw them at the cops, so it was more of an attempted riot. 

TFP tips our hat to anyone who tries to cut through bureaucratic red tape and snag a few more square feet of real estate in the most expensive city on earth. But it’s probably best to leave the general contracting to the pros. And while the memes have been great, the far-right, Simon of Trent-style conspiracies about Jews running a subterranean child trafficking ring have not. 

→ Hipsters for Houthis: The Houthis are cool now. Here’s a crowd in London this weekend chanting in support of the Yemeni terrorists attacking civilian ships in the Red Sea: “Yemen, Yemen, make us proud! How many ships have you turned around?” 

→ But think of the emissions!: The human toll of the Israel-Hamas war is impossible to ignore. From the atrocities of October 7 to the suffering of the Palestinian people, it’s hard not to be moved by what is happening in Gaza. But one thing I am most definitely not worried about is the conflict’s carbon footprint. It’s a different story over at The Guardian, where the paper’s “climate justice” reporter brings readers an alarming exclusive: war is bad for the environment. Turns out that air strikes are quite carbon-intensive. We have not yet reached carbon neutrality when it comes to modern urban warfare. Who knew?

Whining Wolverines 

As you probably know by now, Michigan’s football team beat Washington on Monday to win their first national championship in 26 years. Free Press intern Evan Gardner rains on their parade. 

As the Michigan Wolverines were celebrating their championship win on Monday night, with blue and maize confetti raining down on the field, Coach Harbaugh told reporters, “There’s a story in every one of those pieces of confetti.” MVP running back Blake Corum struck a similar note: “When we faced adversity we just looked to our right, looked to our left, and knew we couldn’t let our brothers down, and that’s what we did.” 

For those of you who don’t follow college football, the “adversity” Michigan had faced was the revelation they had stolen opponents’ play-calling signals. The controversy led to a settlement and a three-game suspension for Harbaugh. 

It wasn’t enough for Michigan to win. They had to turn their victory into an inspirational battle against the odds. The cheating wasn’t awkwardly ignored. It became the team’s origin story. It was Michigan against the world, and they pulled it off. 

Nevermind that Michigan is a well-funded football powerhouse. Never mind that these underdogs are backed by the college sports equivalent of super PACs, called “collectives,” that pay their players, often under the guise of charity. 

Persecution complexes are everywhere in American public life today, from the football field to the campaign trail. A victimized odds-on favorite that inspires a cult-like following, bankrolled by super PACs and claiming to wage a righteous crusade against the powers that be. Sound familiar?

That’s right: Michigan is the Donald Trump of college football.

And now, a rebuttal from our resident Michigan alum, Suzy Weiss

Stolen signals, super PACs, a victimhood mindset—all I have to say, and all there’s really left to say, is Hail to the Victors and Go Blue forever! 

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

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