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Trump’s ‘Photo Op’ at Lafayette Square is Another Media Flop

A year later, the media narrative has entirely collapsed in light of a new Inspector General report.

US President Donald Trump holds a Bible while visiting St. John's Church across from the White House after the area was cleared of people protesting the death of George Floyd June 1, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

As protests over the death of George Floyd consumed the nation last June, then-President Donald Trump was widely criticized by media, elected officials, and even former military leaders for a photo op at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square, where he had gone to observe damage done to the church by the ongoing protests. The condemnation was based on Trump’s allegedly ordering law enforcement to clear the area using pepper spray, tear gas, and explosives while arresting protesters who refused to vacate the premises.

The Atlantic called the order a “grotesque violation of the First Amendment” while the New York Times blamed the president for causing a “burst of violence unlike any seen in the shadow of the White House in generations.” The day was hailed as one of the defining moments of Trump’s presidency, polarizing the country further as civil unrest was unfolding.

But none of that was true.

A Department of the Interior Inspector General report released Wednesday revealed that Lafayette Square was cleared not for a Trump photo op, but for a planned installation of security fencing. The U.S. Park Police and Secret Service concluded that the area needed to be cleared for the fencing to be safely installed. The Inspector General report notes:

The evidence we obtained did not support a finding that the USPP cleared the park to allow the President to survey the damage and walk to St. John’s Church. Instead, the evidence we reviewed showed that the USPP cleared the park to allow the contractor to safely install the antiscale fencing in response to destruction of property and injury to officers occurring on May 30 and 31. Further, the evidence showed that the USPP did not know about the President’s potential movement until mid- to late afternoon on June 1—hours after it had begun developing its operational plan and the fencing contractor had arrived in the park.

In the media’s desperation to frame President Trump as the man responsible for violently suppressing [mostly] peaceful protests, investigation and fact-checking were replaced with a narrative. The optics made Trump look bad, which meant that there was an opportunity to magnify the incident. Subsequent lawsuits fueled the fire, as the media contrasted peaceful protests and civil liberties organizations against the aggressive and unapologetic Trump administration.

The Interior’s I.G. report comes over a year after the incident, but shines light on how determined media actors were to castigate Trump given the slightest opening. NBC News correspondent Ken Dilanian reflected on the revelation, saying “a narrative we thought we knew is not the reality.” If Dilanian and others were to apply that understanding to various other narratives they hold near and dear, they may be surprised by how much reality conflicts with today’s journalism.

Michael Huling is a graduate student at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy and an editorial intern for The American Conservative.

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When ‘Trust the Science’ Collides With ‘I <3 Beijing'

Have the West's major scientific journals been corrupted by Chinese influence? One writer thinks it's possible.

Credit: Anton_Medvedev/Shutterstock

Ian Birrell has an excellent piece up at UnHerd that chronicles how the scientific establishment effectively covered up and bungled the lab-leak theory. Only now is it becoming acceptable to even suggest that a Wuhan research facility was the source of the novel coronavirus. Yet as Birrell notes, some scientists have been trying to say as much since the pandemic began:

Just over a year ago, I stumbled across an intriguing scientific paper. It suggested the pandemic that was ripping around the world was “uniquely adapted to infect humans”; it was “not typical of a normal zoonotic infection” since it first appeared with “exceptional” ability to enter human cells. The author of the paper, Nikolai Petrovsky, was frank about the disease when we spoke back then, saying its adaptability was either “a remarkable coincidence or a sign of human intervention”. He even broke the scientific omertà by daring to admit that “no one can say a laboratory leak is not a possibility”.

But even though Petrovsky has excellent credentials — professor of medicine at a prominent Australian university, author of more than 200 papers in scientific journals and founder of a company funded by the US government to develop new vaccine technologies — I was still anxious when my story went global. His original document had been posted on a pre-print site, so had not been peer reviewed, unlike if it had been published in a medical or scientific journal. These sorts of sites allow researchers to get findings out quickly. Petrovsky told me his first attempt to place these seismic findings was on BioRxiv, run by prominent New York laboratory. But it was rejected; eventually he succeeded on ArXiv, a rival server run by Cornell University. Last week, however, he told me this important origins modelling paper had finally been accepted by Nature Scientific Reports after “a harrowing 12 months of repeated reviews, rejections, appeals, re-reviews and finally now acceptance”.

That delay had little to do with scientific rigor. As Birrell makes clear, the major medical and scientific journals look to have suppressed papers supporting the lab-leak theory in favor of ones that backed zoonosis. Specifically, as one expert put it, “Nature and The Lancet played important roles in enabling, encouraging, and enforcing the false narrative that science evidence indicates Sars-CoV-2 had a natural-spillover origin points and the false narrative that this was the scientific consensus.”

This will come as no surprise to readers of TAC contributor Lew Andrews, who has been documenting for years the more general corruption of peer-reviewed research. Andrews quotes Lancet editor Richard Horton as saying that perhaps half of all scientific literature “may be simply untrue.” Yet the question remains as to why it may have been untrue in this case. Groupthink? Politics? Birrell sees a more portentous motive:

Allegations swirl that it was not down to editorial misjudgement, but something more sinister: a desire to appease China for commercial reasons. The Financial Times revealed four years ago that debt-laden Springer Nature, the German group that publishes Nature, was blocking access in China to hundreds of academic articles mentioning subjects deemed sensitive by Beijing such as Hong Kong, Taiwan or Tibet. China is also spending lavishly around the world to win supremacy in science — which includes becoming the biggest national sponsor of open access journals published by both Springer Nature and Elsevier, owner ofThe Lancet.

Give his entire piece a read. And then click over to a Pew Research Center survey from last year, which found that, even as faith in institutions has cratered across the West, trust in the scientific community has remained broad and consistent. How much longer will that last? And why did it take a year and a half for the dam to finally break?

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Feeling a Bit Like Boris

The U.K.'s prime minister illustrates the tension at the heart of defending the local in a global age.

It is probably always telling on yourself to make any self comparisons to a political figure, but I found myself remarkably sympathetic to U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently, as I read a profile from the latest issue of the Atlantic. The piece highlights what from the outside looks like a sort of contradiction at the heart of the living literary character that is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson: How can this congenital cosmopolitan, this brazen elitist, this incorrigible philanderer, be the champion of that blessed plot, the captain of a national-populist Brexit, the preserver of even an earthy Anglican conservatism? I’m fairly conventionally American (if we’re allowed to acknowledge such a convention anymore), not some Turkish-Swiss-Anglo scion of global finance, and I’m stuffy in my attitudes about chastity and infidelity, but nevertheless, there’s something familiar to the apparent tension in Johnson’s existence. 

At one point, discussing the proposed then squashed European soccer Super League (written about for TAC here by Jake Meador) with Johnson, Atlantic staff writer Tom McTague writes:

I was struck by his use of the word deracinated to describe the peculiar dynamics of English soccer partisanship. To be deracinated is to be uprooted from your customs, your culture, your home—in this instance, from England. Here, Johnson was offering himself as the people’s tribune, defender of the national game from the threat of alien imposition. He was channeling a cry of anger and turning it against globalization.

It is a fact that some people can make modern uprootedness work for them, and do. There are digital nomads who work from anywhere and everywhere, urban socialites who are as comfortable in Mumbai or Nairobi as New York, and plenty of Americans who went out of state for college and then changed cities for work and then did it again, and might do it again in the future.

But the fact is that most people care about and need a sense of place. I may be a D.C. yuppie from somewhere else, making deracination “work,” but I am from somewhere else, and that is important to me, still. My peers speak often of “putting down roots,” whether around here or “back home” or another place. Boris Johnson understands, despite being from everywhere and comfortable anywhere, that the people of Great Britain need to feel they belong to the British Isles and the British Isles belong to them. McTague writes of Johnson’s own deracinated efforts to conserve rootedness:

Johnson has stood apart from any clique, whether the modernizers who have sought to remake the Conservative Party or the Thatcherite resistance against them. Johnson has, in fact, tended to avoid the formal ties of obligation that come with being part of any group. In many ways he himself is the definition of deracinated. … The one group he is associated with are the Brexiteers. Johnson largely avoids the nativist rhetoric of the group’s more extreme elements, but he does believe that Britain’s discomfort with its power and its history has gone too far. (George Orwell once observed that Britain is “the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality.”) On England’s national day last summer, Johnson released a video message urging the country to raise a glass “without embarrassment, without shame.”

That’s the same dynamic that ought to be at the heart of any conservative activism, operation, or politicking happening in D.C. Work here should be for America as a whole, grateful for our country and unembarrassed by the realities of history, and that is a goal that can only be achieved by working for America in its constituent parts, and loving those, unashamed of where we’ve come from. As TAC’s About page says, despite our location in the cosmopolis, “We believe that strong families, local communities, and voluntary associations are the foundation of a free and virtuous society and that public policy should serve these ends.”

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World Oceans Day and Reducing Marine Litter

Preserving our marine environment can unite communities and generations in a shared endeavor.

Growing up in San Diego, the feel of soft sand, the blissful sound of waves, and the deep blue of the ocean has always offered comfort and a sense of gratitude. Home has always been near the ocean, which has consequently always been close to my heart.

For those who have spent most of their lives in other environments—whether it’s the desert, mountains, or plains—the ocean may not be quite as special, and I wouldn’t expect it to be. We should have particular affinity for what’s around us, shaping our cultural customs, habits, and experiences in complex ways. The mountain lovers can celebrate their day later; today World Oceans Day warrants the attention of all of us.

The oceans cover 71 percent of Earth’s surface, featuring incredible biodiversity that eclipses anywhere else on the planet. Over half of the oxygen we breathe comes from marine life, with oceans also capturing one-quarter of carbon dioxide, serving as a natural filter for terrestrial life. Our survival and prosperity are contingent on the health of our oceans—something that should bind all people regardless of where exactly they live.

On this World Oceans Day, we should consider a policy proposal like the Federal Strategy for Addressing Global Issues of Marine Litter promoted by former EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler under the Trump administration. The plan was coordinated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with the goal of reducing marine litter, such as plastic and other debris, by both improving waste management and removing existing litter from our oceans. This initiative would allow the U.S. to take leadership in saving our seas, while effectively collaborating with international partners.

Instead of implementing policies of sound stewardship like the Marine Litter plan, we dump billions of pounds of trash annually into the ocean, much of it plastic that takes hundreds of years to naturally degrade. Ocean acidification destroys ecosystems and creates hypoxic zones that are effectively marine graveyards. The typical responses to ocean destruction are uninspiring, to say the least.

One side features indifferent spectators, who push the blame and corresponding responsibility onto corporations and leading polluters like China and India. Others call for dramatic transformations in human activity—ranging from immediately ending the use of fossil fuels to dismantling capitalism—that would condemn hundreds of millions of people into abject poverty and misery.

Of course, there are numerous ways to incentivize good behavior and penalize bad behavior with regard to ocean pollution besides an international EPA initiative. Large scale efforts may be worthwhile, but should not come at the cost of small scale initiatives. Several recent inventions appear promising in reducing ocean pollution, as researchers and entrepreneurs alike search for innovative ways to restore the health of our oceans. Local measures ranging from sustainable fishing practices and reducing plastic use to beach cleanups and planting trees (yes, seriously) can and do make a positive difference. Community-based efforts also feature a twofold benefit: They contribute to ocean conservation while bringing families and neighbors together in a common cause.

Roger Scruton understood the immense value of such conservation, which is about much more than the natural environment:

“There is no political cause for amenable to the conservative vision than that of the environment. For it touches on the three foundational ideas of our movement: trans-generational loyalty, the priority of the local and the search for home. Conservatives resonate to Burke’s view of society, as a partnership between the living, the unborn and the dead; they believe in civil association between neighbors rather than intervention by the state; and they accept that the most important thing the living can do is to settle down, to make a home for themselves, and to pass that home to their children.”

A commitment to conservation recognizes our duty to preserve and protect the beautiful planet we have inherited, as we prepare to leave it to our posterity. World Oceans Day is a reminder to embrace the responsibility that comes with attending to our environment, understanding that it is a privilege rather than a burden, one which our descendants are relying on us to pass down.

Michael Huling is a graduate student at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy and an editorial intern for The American Conservative.

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How Political Correctness Enabled the Pandemic

A new blockbuster report in Vanity Fair makes clear that it was wrong to dismiss the lab leak theory as xenophobia.

Peter Daszak (R), Thea Fischer (L) and other members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus, arrive at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on February 3, 2021. (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)

More than the Fauci emails, more than the Wall Street Journal report last month, this morning’s Vanity Fair piece by Katherine Eban blows open the federal government’s secrecy over COVID. Incorporating months of research, Eban’s exposé doesn’t outright confirm the lab leak theory (that would be impossible even with the information she’s gathered). But it does establish a devastating narrative: the Chinese government covered up data pertaining to its Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) lab, scientists fell prey to groupthink, the American bureaucracy tried to stamp out an investigation into COVID-19’s origins “because it would bring unwelcome attention to U.S. government funding of” WIV gain-of-function research.

The truth, whatever it is, was suppressed.

The one flaw of Eban’s piece is its periodic throat-clearing over “right-wing conspiracy theorists”—even as her own reporting validates some of those theories. But she also makes clear how left-wing politics stifled critical thought. This began within the scientific community:

On February 19, 2020, The Lancet, among the most respected and influential medical journals in the world, published a statement that roundly rejected the lab-leak hypothesis, effectively casting it as a xenophobic cousin to climate change denialism and anti-vaxxism. Signed by 27 scientists, the statement expressed “solidarity with all scientists and health professionals in China” and asserted: “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.”

The Lancet statement effectively ended the debate over COVID-19’s origins before it began. To Gilles Demaneuf, following along from the sidelines, it was as if it had been “nailed to the church doors,” establishing the natural origin theory as orthodoxy. “Everyone had to follow it. Everyone was intimidated. That set the tone.”

It continued after then-president Trump spouted off last year about a possible lab leak:

Trump’s premature statement poisoned the waters for anyone seeking an honest answer to the question of where COVID-19 came from. According to Pottinger, there was an “antibody response” within the government, in which any discussion of a possible lab origin was linked to destructive nativist posturing.

The revulsion extended to the international science community, whose “maddening silence” frustrated Miles Yu. He recalled, “Anyone who dares speak out would be ostracized.”

It even affected Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the CDC and a respected virologist:

In a CNN interview on March 26, Dr. Redfield, the former CDC director under Trump, made a candid admission: “I am of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, you know, escaped.” Redfield added that he believed the release was an accident, not an intentional act. In his view, nothing that happened since his first calls with Dr. Gao changed a simple fact: The WIV needed to be ruled out as a source, and it hadn’t been.

After the interview aired, death threats flooded his inbox. The vitriol came not just from strangers who thought he was being racially insensitive but also from prominent scientists, some of whom used to be his friends. One said he should just “wither and die.”

There’s plenty more where that came from and I’d highly encourage you to read the entire piece. It’s worth noting that many scientists still think it’s far more likely the coronavirus was transmitted from an animal, given how frequently this occurs. But the lab leak theory was always more than just an Infowars fetish. That it was treated as such for over a year is a disgrace to journalism and the scientific method.

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Anthony Fauci’s Most Revealing Emails From FOIA Request

America's designated pandemic leader may be watching his reputation fall apart in real time.

Earlier this week, thousands of pages of email exchanges involving Chief Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci were released in accordance with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from BuzzFeed reporter Jason Leopold. The timing is uncanny, as Fauci’s forthcoming book was announced and subsequently rescinded by Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Beyond that, the Wuhan “lab-leak theory” dismissed by Fauci and the media as conspiratorial last year has suddenly resurfaced as plausible, with the Biden administration looking to further investigate the origins of SARS-Cov-2. In May, a group of 19 epidemiologists and virologists published a letter in Science expressing that the lab leak hypothesis is still on the table as the virus’s origins remain unclear.

Fauci’s reputation has been increasingly scrutinized over inconsistency on everything from masks and vaccines to lockdowns and gain-of-function research funding. Several of his emails validate the criticism he has received, piling on the evidence that Fauci is not the patron saint he holds himself to be. One of Fauci’s harshest critics is Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who has sparred with Fauci over various COVID-19 issues. Paul has said that the released emails vindicate the accusations he has directed toward Fauci, asserting that they prove that Fauci has lied repeatedly under oath. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) has backed Paul, calling for a “credible investigation” and tweeting that “Fauci has some questions to answer.”

Below are some of the most important and revealing emails unveiled following the FOIA request, which illustrate what Dr. Fauci was doing behind the scenes at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fauci Admits Masks are Unnecessary

On February 5, 2020, Fauci said that masks are only necessary for infected individuals to limit their spread of the virus. He emphasized that standard surgical masks are ineffective since the virus is “small enough to pass through the material.”

Fauci Warned About Possible Wuhan Lab Leak

On February 21, Weill Cornell Medical College associate professor Michael Jabobs warned Fauci that there was a possibility that the virus was released from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Fauci forwarded the message to a colleague, asking her to handle it.

Fauci Dismisses Surgical Masks and Says Vaccine is Nowhere Near

On March 1, Fauci suggested that N95 masks may be useful, adding that a vaccine would not be ready for over 18 months.

Fauci Asserts He Was Not Censored by Trump

The following day, Fauci dismissed media speculation that the Trump administration was censoring him. Fauci added that he is “free to speak out,” which raises the question why much of the information contained in his emails was kept from the public for over a year.

Fauci and Zuckerberg Collaborate on Facebook Coronavirus Response

On March 15, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reached out to Fauci about coordinating on Facebook’s Coronavirus Hub. Interestingly, the redacted section features a (b)(4) exemption, which refers to “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person [that is] privileged or confidential.” American Commitment President Phil Kerpen pointed out that this redaction may be related to Facebook’s efforts to censor COVID-19 posts that it deems inaccurate.

Two days later, Fauci expressed excitement about Zuckerberg’s pitch, particularly the redacted portion mentioned above.

Fauci Coordinates Documentary About Himself with Film Producers

The same day, Fauci discussed the production of a film on his life, with the proposed message of “men serving men.” The mid-March context is notable as that’s when virtually the entire country shut down overnight, all while Fauci was coordinating a documentary celebrating himself.

Fauci Dismisses Potential COVID Treatments

On March 18, a Detroit-based dermatologist contacted Fauci about the potential of Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine to treat severe coronavirus cases. Fauci appeared to dismiss the treatment options, saying only “thank you for your note.”

Fauci Backtracks, Pushes for Universal Masking

On March 30, Fauci was contacted by a former colleague concerned about aerosol transmission of SARS-Cov-2. After repudiating the efficacy of masks for months, Fauci reversed course and advocated for “universal wearing of masks.”

Daszak Thanks Fauci for Discrediting Lab Leak Theory

On April 18, EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak thanked Fauci for shutting down lab leak theories and asserting that COVID-19 had a natural origin.

Between 2014 and 2019, Daszak’s organization funneled $3.4 million in funding to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to study bat coronaviruses. This relationship has warranted attention in recent weeks, with the email showing Daszak’s desire for the lab leak hypothesis to be discredited. Again, the origins of the virus are still uncertain, but it’s clear that Daszak was deeply invested in the accepted explanation of a natural emergence, which was defended vociferously by Fauci.

Skeptics of this conclusion, such as Sen. Tom Cotton, were smeared as conspiracy theorists by media elites, who have since been forced to temper their attacks to save face. Throughout the pandemic, we have been commanded to “Trust the Experts” and “Listen to the Science!” Any skepticism or criticism has been treated as conspiratorial and even treasonous. The revelation of Fauci’s emails shows that our anointed experts may not be trustworthy—and should also be paying closer attention to the science.

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At Last: The Military-Industrial Complex is Atoning for Its White Privilege

As bombs rain down on Yemen, Lockheed Martin has finally realized it has a problem: a lack of woke consultants.

Credit: DCStockPhotography/Shutterstock

Don’t ever say there isn’t healing in America today. From Christopher Rufo at City Journal:

Last year, Lockheed Martin Corporation, the nation’s largest defense contractor, sent white male executives to a three-day diversity-training program aimed at deconstructing their “white male culture” and encouraging them to atone for their “white male privilege,” according to documents I have obtained.

The program, hosted on Zoom for a cohort of 13 Lockheed employees, was led by the diversity-consulting firm White Men As Full Diversity Partners, which specializes in helping white males “awaken together.”

At this point, the argot-shrouded details of what Lockheed executives were made to do are so familiar as to be boring. Employees participated in a “free association” exercise, listing terms like “KKK” and “can’t jump” in conjunction with “white men.” They went over the “devastating” traits of white male culture, such as “rugged individualism” and “a can-do attitude.” And, of course, they were brainwashed against wrongthink:

The trainers provided the participants with a list of 156 “white privilege statements,” “male privilege statements,” and “heterosexual privilege statements” to read and discuss, including: “My culture teaches me to minimize the perspectives and powers of people of other races”; “I can commit acts of terrorism, violence or crime and not have it attributed to my race”; “My earning potential is 15-33% higher than a woman’s”; “My reproductive organs are not seen as the property of other men, the government, and/or even strangers because of my gender”; “I am not asked to think about why I am straight”; “I can have friendships with or work around children without being accused of recruiting or molesting them.”

And blah and blah and blah.

Still, I think I may be able to help here. If Lockheed Martin would like to stamp out racism, perhaps it could start by raising a hue and cry the next time one of its bombs is used to slaughter brown children in Yemen. Maybe it could stop striking deals with the Saudi government over warplanes that are regularly deployed to vaporize Arab civilians. Perchance it might even reconsider pocketing taxpayer money paid in part by Latinos and African Americans for a stealth fighter that even the Air Force admits is a flopping failure.

The idea that what these merchants of death really need is another Ibram Kendi-inspired seminar should underscore yet again the reality here: critical race theory is post-Christian religious absolution for elites.

Ultimately, though, we do need a military and we do need weapons contractors. And right now, those institutions are dysfunctional, overpriced, bureaucratic, unaccountable, and saddled in inefficiencies. Does anyone seriously think a little wokeness is going to make that better? The entire point of CRT is to diminish excellence and personal responsibility in the name of “equity” by way of useless consultants. That’s about the last thing our military-industrial complex needs right now.

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No More Funding Chinese Gain-of-Function Research

Sen. Paul's moratorium on taxpayer dollars going to dangerous experiments in Chinese labs is a good start, regardless of COVID's origins.

Yesterday the Senate passed an amendment put forward by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) that would ban funding of gain-of-function research in China. The amendment is co-sponsored by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS), Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN), and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC). 

This targeted moratorium on funding in Paul’s amendment comes as the lab-leak hypothesis concerning the origins of COVID-19 finally receives mainstream attention and acceptance. 

“We don’t know whether the pandemic started in a lab in Wuhan or evolved naturally,” Paul said in a statement. “While many still deny funding gain-of-function research in Wuhan, experts believe otherwise. The passage of my amendment ensures that this never happens in the future. No taxpayer money should have ever been used to fund gain-of-function research in Wuhan, and now we permanently have put it to a stop.”

In committee hearings, Paul engaged in a number of heated exchanges with Anthony Fauci regarding the National Institutes of Health’s support for gain-of-function research in general and in China in particular. Fauci denied such funding had occurred, despite the well-documented funding by the NIH of virologist Ralph Baric, who partnered with Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Institute of Virology to perform gain-of-function experiments.

The scientific and public health establishment—more than aided by establishment media figures biased against outspoken proponents of the theory such as President Donald Trump and Sen. Tom Cotton—closed ranks last year to consign any hypotheses about a non-zoonotic origin for COVID to the realm of the tinfoil-hats. There were always dissenters to this consensus within respected institutions of science, however, and sufficient time has passed for them to voice their concerns and desire for further investigation of COVID’s origins in public; now that the election is safely out of the way, establishment media are willing to comply. 

As I wrote in a column earlier this month, of the origin question and gain-of-function research in general,

“The science” on this is decidedly not settled. That was the point 18 virologists, epidemiologists, and the like made in a letter in Science journal Thursday, writing, “Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable. Knowing how COVID-19 emerged is critical for informing global strategies to mitigate the risk of future outbreaks.” That was the point former NYT science writer Nicholas Wade made in a must-read survey of what we do know about the origins of this pandemic for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Moreover, as suggested by my conversation in that column with Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch, a longtime opponent of gain-of-function experiments, from a policy perspective it doesn’t really matter if COVID-19 originated in the Wuhan virology lab. The risks gain-of-function research represents are clear and can be assessed on their own benefit and cost terms separate from historical reality:

Lipsitch’s primary point is one of protest, and he hopes everyone will join him; the gain-of-function research of the kind temporarily defunded from 2014 to 2017 is just not worth it. “The risks are substantial and the benefits to public health are small to nonexistent,” he said. His concern is that public health authorities and scientists are simply not asking the very basic relevant risk-benefit question when considering this sort of research, which is: Will the knowledge derived from such experiments be “worth the risk of releasing a pathogen that’s more dangerous than what we already have”? It doesn’t really matter how improbable that release is; it’s too catastrophic to allow.

Sen. Paul’s amendment is a good start, but just a start. If it makes sense not to fund such research in China, then perhaps American citizens shouldn’t fund it anywhere else either.

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The Time to Roll Back Their Powers is Now

As Gretchen Whitmer is once again caught violating her own lockdown rules, the imperative for voters and legislatures should be clear.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer waves to the crowd before Democratic U.S. Vice Presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) during a voter mobilization event on September 22, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Elaine Cromie/Getty Images)

I’m just in awe at this point:

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) hit the bar this weekend and violated her own coronavirus orders, according to a photo Breitbart News has exclusively obtained.

Whitmer and a large group of friends, including her appointed chief operations officer, Tricia Foster, visited the Landshark in East Lansing, violating her restaurant orders in the process, according to a photo one of the attendees posted on Facebook.

The photo, posted Saturday, was part of a montage. Shortly after, Whitmer’s friend deleted the collage and reposted it sans the governor and one of her top aides.

So to review, Whitmer instituted one of the harshest and most capricious lockdowns in the country, usurped power from the legislature after they tried to intervene, her glorious husband got caught trying to leverage his position to get his boat put out on the water in violation of COVID rules, she then violated the rules herself by marching socially undistanced at a Black Lives Matter rally, she trampled her own travel advisories by taking a trip to Florida to see her sick father, her top aide was revealed to have also gone to Florida, her health director found time to venture to Alabama, it came out that Whitmer had fishily dipped into her transition fund to pay for multiple flights on private planes…and now, just for good measure, she’s gone and pulled a Gavin Newsom.

I’m from a northeastern state responsible for plenty of corruption and I’ve never seen anything like this. The woman is putting on a clinic in how power corrupts and the ruling class can’t be trusted. She’s like a supervillain in some libertarian graphic novel.

Now across the map to Pennsylvania:

Pennsylvania voters have approved two ballot questions that would curtail the governor’s emergency powers, a victory for Republican lawmakers in what was widely seen as a referendum on the Wolf administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Unofficial results show 54% of voters backed amending the state constitution to allow a simple majority of lawmakers to terminate a disaster declaration at any time. Currently, such a declaration can only be ended with the governor’s consent or with support from two-thirds of the General Assembly.

Much has been made recently about “learning the lessons of COVID.” One of those lessons is surely: don’t give governors untrammeled and unexpiring emergency powers. As the pandemic finally comes to a close, it’s time for more democratic and legislative pushback like this.

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Sally Quinn and the Death of the Washington Establishment

The stuffy old D.C. power structures are gone, replaced by big money and social media. Are we really better off?

Ben Bradlee, left, and Sally Quinn are pictured at the event. On Saturday, November 9, 2013, more than 50 years after John F. Kennedy was sworn in as President in 1960, those who was there in Washington during the JFK Era (1960-1963) gathered to remember and celebrate. (Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Sally Quinn is not someone likely to garner sympathy at a populist magazine. A former style reporter at the Washington Post and wife of legendary Post editor Ben Bradlee, Quinn for decades presided over Washington’s elite social life. To be invited to her house on N Street in Georgetown was to make it into the city’s most exclusive inner sanctum, the territory of senators, ambassadors, evening news anchors.

Quinn is the establishment of the establishment, which is to say every smarmy upstart writer in this town has mocked her at some point, present company included. And reading her latest essay at the Post, it’s hard not to do it again (“A little lightbulb went off in my head one day when I was reading an article about my late husband, Ben Bradlee, and me…”). Yet the piece is also something else: a perceptive commentary on how Washington has changed. Quinn’s gentry used to wield real power, all those martinis and black ties, back when people knew what the Alfalfa Club was and a Georgetown cocktail party was more than just a pejorative.

Now:

In the beginning of March 2020, our world shut down. Within days people were holed up in their houses or apartments. Nobody went anywhere, and if they did, they were masked and furtive. Now, 14 months later, even as the city begins to reopen, I am convinced that the social lives of Washington players will never go back to what they were before the double blow of Trump and covid. And despite — or perhaps because of — my decades immersed in the social life of this city, I won’t be unhappy to see it radically transformed.

The center of the old social scene was always the president, and its decline began not under Trump but Obama, who could be coldly reclusive. And this transformation hasn’t just affected the upper echelons. Lowlife Washington, with which I’m far more familiar, has followed a similar track. Most of my favorite downtown dives were massacred in the COVID recession. Happy hours have been nonexistent for a year. People have moved away, into the burbs and beyond. The three-martini lunch, once a D.C. institution, has been dead for decades. The Post recently surveyed that damage in a postmortem for a bar called Post Pub that used to be near its headquarters:

Back in the era of hard-drinking lunches, bartenders at the Post Pub used to stir up three-gallon batches of gin and vodka martinis and a two-gallon batch of Manhattans to prepare for the daily crush. And that was just for Mondays.

“I don’t know if we’d go through all of it in one day. It might go into Tuesday,” says owner Bob Beaulieu. “We were selling two or three hundred martinis a day.” …

The change in American drinking culture hurt the Post Pub’s bottom line, Beaulieu says. He went from serving hundreds of martinis a day in the 1970s to about a dozen a day when the 1990s rolled around.

What happened? Washingtonians got healthier and more idealistic, as the Post notes, and then we started staring at our smartphones and binge-watching Netflix at home on our Apple TVs. Power, both high and low, has thus become less about sociality and more about D.C.’s new currencies: big money and media visibility. Both have served to make us more ascetic. Once Senator Everett Dirksen hung a clock in his office on which every number was a five and legislative roadblocks were washed away with aged whiskey. Now congressmen spend their evenings begging for money from donors one minute and dashing for the cable news cameras to denounce the elites the next.

Not that we should romanticize Quinn’s Washington. The old set could be petty, snobbish, exclusive, catty, and aristocratic. Yet I wonder whether we’re really so much better off now. Has there been some recent smashing policy success I’m not aware of? Is it really more productive to war with the other side on our smartphones rather than sitting down at white-clothed tables with them? We don’t yet know how much COVID, with its concomitant work-from-home revolution, will permanently change Washington. But my guess is, to quote Michel Houellebecq on the world more generally, that the city “will be the same, just a bit worse.”

Quinn is more optimistic. She thinks the Biden administration will help further necessary change:

These days there is a sense of revulsion at the grift, indecency and cruelty that has emanated from Washington. More important, too many people have suffered and died. There is also a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots, and an increased awareness of racial injustice. So many groups in town now have their own hierarchies; in fact, what used to be called the A-list by some is not even in another person’s alphabet. For one thing, the old A-list was almost completely White, which makes no sense with the new diverse power structure in the Biden administration. Anything that smacks of elitism and privilege will not have much appeal. Those who really might be considered elite would recoil at the word, the notion. It is, well, elitist.

But they are elites, no matter how many “Black Lives Matter” bumper stickers they slap onto their Chevy Volts. In which case, maybe the question to be asked about the hip, new, egalitarian, Twitter-addled A-list is this: which is worse, elites who behave like elites or elites who pretend they aren’t elites?

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