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A Defense of ‘Barstool’ Conservatives

Traditionalist conservatives could learn a thing or two from Dave Portnoy and his fans.

Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports (Wikimedia Commons)

At college football games across the country the past two weekends, student sections erupted in “F— Joe Biden” chants. Thousands of unruly fans expressing their discontent with the president packed Alabama, Tennessee, Indiana, and dozens of other football stadiums. Many conservatives I know found it impossibly crude. Others found it amusing. They all missed the point: The chanting did more to break the progressive narrative on campus than God and Man at Yale ever did.

Well-funded think tanks and decades of conservative activism failed to yield results. But two weekends of college football anarchy and a social media trend popularized by Barstool subsidiary “Old Row” has normalized conservatism on campus again. College administrators accustomed to threatening, brainwashing, and harassing their students finally met their match: ticked-off football fans. 

The scenes were perhaps the most visible iteration of a phenomenon identified by TAC contributing editor Matthew Walther as “Barstool conservatism.” Dismissed by progressives as neanderthals and bemoaned by conservatives as the harbinger of the end of traditionalism, Barstool conservatives’ introduction to the American political mind has been widely scorned. While progressives are right to fear the cultural power of these developments, conservatives should reconsider their concerns. Barstool conservatism isn’t just a crude retaliation against political correctness and certainly isn’t an attack on traditional values; it’s a reawakening of long-forgotten conservative impulses to preserve sport and to battle elite threats to little platoons. The broader movement would be wise to heed to lessons.

In addition to democracy, the Greeks gave us in the West a passion for sport. Socrates’ call for fitness, the battle of Marathon, and the first Olympic games created a bedrock of Western culture. Today, millions of Americans love and play sports. They coach little league; they play in company, city, and church leagues; and they gather with their families to watch their favorite teams. It’s a sacred tradition for much of this country.

But today, like so much of the West’s cultural inheritance, sport is under assault. Recess time, once a hallmark of elementary education, has been drastically reduced in recent decades. Schoolyards no longer feature contact and team sports. The Transgender movement threatens to eradicate women’s sports entirely, and the professional sports leagues have become laughably woke shills for progressive corporations. Contemptible figures like LeBron James and Steve Kerr spend their press conferences hawking Chinese communism while Rob Manfred systematically eliminates baseball tradition between issuing edicts on election fraud. Once a cherished prequel of every sporting event, the national anthem has been supplanted by the so-called black national anthem at NFL games.

The conservative response? Largely non-existent. Other than some typically hilarious Trump feuds with Colin Kaepernick, the left steamrolled a touchstone of American common life. Just before the left reached the endzone, however, Barstool Sports blitzed. They fought back against the wokeization of sports: with T-shirts, comedy, and an open mockery of the crony commercialization of sports. When all seemed lost, they reminded us of the value of sport—the ceremony, the community, and the pleasure. Their content refreshed, reminding fans of the days of natural grass and nickel beer at the ballpark. Long-held in contempt by the progressive sports media and the leagues, fans were placed at the forefront of coverage. Barstool’s success was unparalleled, quickly turning the site from a typical sports blog into a populist cultural force. Their influence even prompted ESPN to cut political programming and revert to sports coverage to stay competitive. While traditional conservatives neglected their cultural responsibilities and frittered, Barstool filled their role and set about winning the culture war. 

It wasn’t until the onset of Covid-19 that Barstool began to wade into cultural issues outside the sports arena. Founded by Dave Portnoy, a son of the hyper-local and fanatically traditional Boston sports scene, Barstool was a natural fit to speak out for small businesses crushed by Covid-19 lockdowns. A reviewer of local pizza shops and the proprietor of a website catering to dive bars, the threat of lockdowns to America’s middle was evident to him. He sprang into action, raising awareness and money to donate to small businesses forced to close their doors. The Barstool Fund culminated with over $41 million in donations to struggling businesses. The effort transformed Portnoy into the most prominent lockdown critic and small-business advocate in America. With Congressional Republicans busy wallowing in inaction, Barstool conservatism once again filled the void. The effort raised Portnoy’s profile on the right to the point of being invited to the White House by President Trump ahead of the 2020 election. His credibility established, Portnoy is now a frequent guest on Tucker Carlson Tonight and a consistent critic of the left’s cultural assault on the American middle. 

In the same year Barstool battled lockdowns, El Presidente continued his war on America’s elite with the retail investment app Robinhood. During the now-infamous Game-stock revolt by small retail stock traders, Robinhood froze trading to protect wealthy hedge funds that shorted “meme stocks.” The move was appalling and exposed heaps of corporate corruption. Still, most lawmakers met it with silence. Portnoy again stepped up to become Robinhood’s most prominent critic, defending small traders that frequent his website. He declared that Robinhood had “killed the little guy.” He was right—and his efforts helped fuel pressure that humiliated Robinhood’s CEO Vlad Tenev. Robinhood lost millions of dollars and apologized, though they escaped from the harsher consequences they deserved. Once again, Barstool had proven its ability to fill a void left by traditional conservatives who ought to have stepped up to defend the main street people they claim to represent. 

It’s highly unlikely conservatives will embrace Barstool to the degree they should. Like President Trump, Dave Portnoy’s brash approach blinds observers to obvious lessons. But also, like Trump, elite conservatives won’t have to embrace Barstool. Their voters and their constituents already have. Americans know that their congressmen won’t stand up to Roger Goodell, and they know Republicans are more interested in defending their hedge-fund donors than retail traders. So, they’ve found a new and better champion. Love Barstool conservatives or hate them, they’re standing up and saying what everyone is already thinking. 

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Republicans Let The Fox In The Henhouse

Republicans should remember how they enabled Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley's rise.

U.S. Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley participates in a news briefing at the Pentagon July 21, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump once again defended his phone call with Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky as “perfectly within the duties and responsibilities.” Oh, my apologies, those weren’t the words of Trump defending his decision to temporarily withhold military aid to Ukraine in exchange of aiding possible investigations. These words were uttered by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley to the Associated Press to justify telling a top Chinese general he’d tip China off in the event of an American attack.

In an upcoming book titled Peril, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa claim Milley called Gen. Li Zuocheng, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s top general, and said, “you and I have known each other for now five years. If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise.” Woodward, since his reporting on the Watergate scandal, has had a loose relationship with the truth. Shockingly, however, Milley was dumb enough to substantiate Woodward’s claims to the Associated Press. 

On second thought, maybe it wasn’t so moronic, given the uni-party praise he’s received for essentially laying the groundwork for a military junta by violating the chain of command, consulting with the then-president’s political enemies, and demanding allegiance from senior military officers one by one in a private meeting—much less his oath to “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies.”

As my colleague Declan Leary mockingly wrote Tuesday, “Listen. Sometimes, the only way to stop a coup is for the senior officer of the armed forces to usurp the powers of the constitutionally elected head of state.”

Trump, who, if memory serves me correct, was actually impeached by Democrats over the aforementioned phone call (which he did defend at the time as “perfect”), derided Milley in a statement Tuesday and claimed Milley could be guilty of “TREASON.”

“If the story of ‘Dumbass’ General Mark Milley, the same failed leader who engineered the worst withdrawal from a country, Afghanistan, in U.S. history, leaving behind many dead and wounded soldiers, many American citizens, and $85 Billion worth of the newest and most sophisticated Military equipment in the world, and our Country’s reputation, is true, then I assume he would be tried for TREASON in that he would have been dealing with his Chinese counterpart behind the President’s back and telling China that he would be giving them notification ‘of an attack.’ Can’t do that!”

Now, Republicans in Congress want answers, too.

On Thursday, the Daily Caller published a letter signed by nearly 30 Republicans addressed to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to launch a formal AR 15-6 investigation into Milley’s actions.

The effort, led by Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry, who formerly served as a brigadier general and has nearly four decades of U.S. Army service under his belt, seeks to hold Milley accountable for “disregard[ing] the concept of civilian control of the military, and g[iving] aid and comfort to America’s principal adversary, the Chinese Communist Party.”

Such an investigation is unlikely because President Joe Biden has publicly reaffirmed his “great confidence” in Milley.

However, Republicans do have other avenues of attempting to get to the bottom of this fiasco. Namely, the investigative powers delegated to Congress. Republicans from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee also wrote a letter to Austin, demanding the full transcripts of the phone calls, which allegedly took place on Oct. 30, 2020 and Jan. 8, 2021, between Milley and Li.

The letter, also obtained by the Daily Caller and published Friday, said, “These calls raise serious national security concerns implicating the ability of the U.S. to effectively counter threats posed by China. They also call into question Gen. Milley’s conduct with respect to the military chain of command and his respect for and compliance with the paramount principle of civilian control over the military.”

Beyond the transcripts of the calls, Republicans on the Oversight Committee want “a list of all participants in the telephone calls” and “any notes taken in preparation or contemporaneous” by Oct. 1 at the latest.

On account of the president’s word, Milley’s job seems secure for now, but, Milley and Austin are scheduled to testify together in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Sept. 28. Mark your calendars, because while the hearing is intended to get to the bottom of where the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan went awry, Milley will likely have to answer probing questions from Republicans as to the nature of these phone calls. Milley appears to be gearing up for this fight, telling the AP, “I’ll go into any level of detail Congress wants to go into in a couple of weeks.”

If Woodward and Costa’s account of these calls are proven true, then, yes, those of us on the right who have held the deep state, the military industrial complex, and the mainstream media in contempt will feel vindicated. But, let’s not forget how Milley got the power he so bashfully wields now. Trump nominated Milley as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2018, and was confirmed with overwhelming Republican (and Democratic) support in July of 2019.

Shortly after the 2020 election, Rachel Bovard, senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute, reminded us of Morton Blackwell’s 26th Law of the Public Policy Process, “personnel is policy,” in her must-read TAC piece, “Too Few Of The President’s Men.”

In it, she outlines where, and how, the Trump administration fell short on delivering some of its promises.

“A president can only accomplish his policy objectives if administration personnel are both capable and ideologically aligned, willing and able to engage the machinery of government and to bend it toward implementation of the president’s priorities. This was especially so for President Trump, whose policy priorities either upended his own party’s orthodoxy—from economics and trade to foreign policy—or forcefully engaged on social and cultural issues where Republicans had long emphasized rhetoric over policy substance…

The Trump administration suffered from an abundance of heavyweights, “experts,” and vipers, but a notable lack of loyalty to the president’s agenda. The result was an unwillingness to subordinate D.C. political machinations to a focus on accomplishing the president’s agenda, and long periods of infighting, drift, and internal gridlock that hamstrung the Trump policy agenda in key areas.”

The smoke surrounding Milley has turned to fire. From his opposition to ending the war in Afghanistan to his coziness with the Chinese Communist Party, Milley was clearly one of the “vipers” Bovard warned us about. Don’t let Republicans in office, or aspiring for greater office come 2024, forget that personnel is policy.

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The Internet Ethos Ruined California

Hollowing out isn't just happening in heartland America.

Voters in my home state of California headed to the polls today to decide whether Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom will remain the governor of the Golden State. To California’s dispossessed, Newsom embodies a cultural detachment pervasive among the state’s elite class that I’ll call the internet ethos.

In the fall of 2016, I moved from Orange County to Berkeley and started school at the University of California (yes, it was rather black-pilling, thanks for asking). One thing you learn quickly when you move to the Bay Area is that they’re a proud people—and not just in the month of June sense. Bay Area locals have a certain pride of place that runs deeper than the typical lefty lamentations about gentrification, and shouldn’t be too foreign for a locally oriented conservative to understand. Whether or not these eccentric, progressive practices and customs are good is one thing (I think you know where I’ll land on that debate). Nevertheless, they want to conserve their hippiedom, which has become increasingly difficult thanks to the internet ethos.

The forebears of the internet ethos were a strange band of techno-libertarians with streaks of non-conformist or alternative cultural appetites who committed themselves to creating a free internet. At the time, the digital space embodied the promise of unencumbered self expression, rather than the engine for radical social change it is now. (There’s definitely a relationship between these two, but they are not the same.)

As it turns out, it paid well, too. So, the purveyors of the internet ethos went on creating a digital world with its own hubs, fora, marketplaces, and communities where users could do as they pleased with few consequences. More frequent use of these digital alternatives created greater detachment from the physical. Worse yet, as we saw the physical begin to decay, we began applying techno-libertarian ethics beyond the internet to make it all seem fine. Live on the street? That’s your choice! Shoot up heroin next to a playground? Whatever floats your boat!

This lies at the heart of the broader California crisis, and it’s most evident in San Francisco.

Two weekends ago, I graduated college in a short ceremony thrown together at the last minute and about 15 months late; but beggars can’t be choosers, so I went mostly to reconnect with old friends I hadn’t seen since the beginning of 15-plus-however-many days to slow the spread.

A group of my college friends live together in a house in San Francisco’s Mission District. The residential areas of the district are beautiful, and uniquely San Francisco, with rows of vibrantly colored Victorian houses backed up against one another. After I arrived, I caught up with them briefly before they had to return to their well-paid virtual jobs in finance, consulting, or software engineering. All together, I’d say, their house makes at least a half a million a year. Millions of Americans could only dream of owning the house my friends currently divvy up the rent to live in.

As they returned to work, I walked two blocks down to the main commercial strip to grab myself something to eat. What I saw baffled me. Half-naked men and women gathered around their various encampments on the street shooting up, others completely collapsed on the sidewalk, baking in the hot sun. The street was covered in litter, excrement, and other stains that appeared to be other bodily fluids. It hadn’t even been a year and a half since I frequented the city, but it was so much worse than I remembered. And this isn’t even considered a bad part of town.

Hollowing out isn’t just happening in heartland America. It’s afflicting the coasts as well, especially where these monied interests, with the help of the Democratic party, have near-totalizing control.

Conservatives are no strangers to bemoaning the Democratic party’s mismanagement of California, the home of Republican icons like Reagan and Nixon. Their lamentations typically point the finger at progressive Democrats’ policy failures. They say exorbitant taxes and over-regulation has crippled small and large businesses alike, causing manufacturers to flee the state. Gutting both the ability to institutionalize citizens in need of mental help and the institutions themselves has paired with a housing shortage caused by rent control policies to create the largest homeless population in the country. Energy costs are among the highest in the nation, while public school performance ranks among the lowest. Democrats opt to build bullet trains to nowhere while much of the state’s infrastructure decomposes—particularly its power grid, which, together with poor forest management, virtually guarantees half the state will catch on fire every year and leave millions without power.

All of this is true, but those who chose to ingest politics simply through numbers and charts are prone to miss, if not disregard, profound cultural phenomena. My most recent visit to California reaffirmed that belief because data points highlighting California’s policy failures are not sufficient by themselves to explain how the internet ethos created California’s cultural calamity.

As I write, the odds of successfully recalling Newsom are slim, partially thanks to the millions of dollars the state’s oligarchs have poured into preventing it. But, much like the deplorables reminded us in 2016, California’s dispossessed still have a voice in the state’s democratic institutions. Let’s hope they make themselves heard.

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Top General Promised to Spy for CCP in Event of Conflict with US

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley promised to warn the Chinese if the duly elected commander-in-chief ordered military action against them.

U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley (L) stands alongside China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) General Li Zuocheng during a welcome ceremony at the Bayi Building in Beijing on August 16, 2016. (Mark Schiefelbein/AFP via Getty Images)

Feast your eyes on this headline from the venerable Washington Post: “Top general was so fearful Trump might spark war that he made secret calls to his Chinese counterpart, new book says.” 

In other news, “Top intelligence officials were so fearful Kennedy might [REDACTED] that they [REDACTED].”

WaPo, CNN, and a few other outlets reporting details from sometime deep-state mouthpiece Bob Woodward’s forthcoming novel, Peril, seem blissfully unaware of the spin they’re applying to the story. Let’s run through what actually happened.

Four days before the presidential election, Milley made a secret call to Gen. Li Zuocheng, head of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, assuring him that they were still friends. “General Li,” the highest-ranking officer in the most powerful military in the history of the world pleaded, “you and I have known each other for now five years. If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise.”

How very thoughtful.

The mental gymnastics required to spin this into the grand theory of “Orange Man Bad” are astonishing, but they’re right there for all to see: Trump was off the rails—we know this because, well, trust us—and the adult in the room stepped in to ensure peace and security for generations to come.

Speaking of peace—the CNN report notes that one reason Milley thought Trump was losing it is that…he wanted to bring American troops home from the twenty-year war in Afghanistan. Somebody killed the commander-in-chief’s plan, which (CNN informs us) was actually “Trump going rogue.”

Of course, “going rogue” might more aptly describe a military officer who, without informing his civilian bosses, promises our chief rivals to slip them vital information in the event hostilities break out, giving the CCP time to prepare or even preempt any American action.

[Apropos of nothing I’m, uh, just going to leave this here.]

Article III, Section 3, Clause 1: Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.

Nor does Milley’s misbehavior stop with a wink-wink nudge-nudge to an old Chi-com chum. In a Jan. 8 private phone call with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the octogenarian California pol—claiming that the president had gone crazy—asked the four-star general how they might edge him out of the military chain of command, at whose top he sits. Milley, who was eagerly investigating such avenues himself, responded simply, “I agree with you on everything.”

Though it never came to that, Milley does seem to have laid the groundwork for such a move. That same day, the chairman summoned senior military officials to his office in the Pentagon for a secret meeting. Despite the fact that the chairman of the joint chiefs is not legally vested with any command authority, and that the president is the sole legal commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces, “Milley instructed them not to take orders from anyone unless he was involved.”

Milley then went down the line, looking each man in the eye and demanding he confirm and assent. Woodward and coauthor Bob Costa write: “Milley considered it an oath.” (Presumably to him, not to the Constitution or anything silly like that.)

In all this, we are told, Mark Milley is the hero and a consummate patriot.

Listen. Sometimes, the only way to stop a coup is for the senior officer of the armed forces to usurp the powers of the constitutionally elected head of state. Who says democracy has to die in darkness?

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Howdy, Aren’t We Lucky to Have Ya, Dan

Dan Crenshaw is the greatest Texan since Sam Houston—or maybe ever!

(USDA/Wikimedia Commons)

A few years back, during a Turning Point USA Trump rally in Florida, I watched as Rep. Dan Crenshaw waved his red impeachment “no” vote card to a crowd of thousands while President Trump beamed and embraced him. I knew at that moment, seeing him wrapped in Trump’s adoring arms, I was looking at one of the great statesmen of our time. 

It was a typical performance from an extraordinary man. In today’s GOP, Crenshaw is a star—a Fox News darling who represents the party’s future. Good looking, well-spoken, and a war hero, he checks all the right boxes. There are very few congressmen with his talent and television appeal. In fact, he is the right’s AOC, the great conservative hope. 

Moreover, Crenshaw is totally unlike other politicians. Before he is a congressman, he is an intellectual. His speeches aren’t just mere stumps; they’re veritable symposiums. During that same rally, he pulled an enormous powerpoint up to educate the crowd. It read “CONSERVATISM = CLASSICAL LIBERALISM.” We were enlightened. We had never encountered a politician with such a grasp of intellectual history. His disquisition marched on for an hour longer. Inspiring. 

His Harvard-educated genius doesn’t stop there. He has since explained that tariffs are part of what he calls “the loser mentality.” He has stood firm for red-flag laws, unmoved by plebes who wonder about constitutionality. In defending mass immigration, he displays unflinching moral superiority to the xenophobic masses. He is a leader on conservative environmental solutions, endorsing the green GOP American Conservation Coalition and the Texas Oil & Gas Association in the same year. His clear-eyed foreign policy vision boldly stands against defeatism and proclaims “endless wars” to be a fallacy. In fact, he reminded us that critics of the war are to blame for the fall of Kabul—not the heroic Afghan Army. Most recently, he bravely belittled voters concerned by the possibility of election fraud, telling them “you’re kidding yourselves” and insisting “I’m not wrong” when faced with blowback from the uneducated crowd.

I don’t have enough room to fully endorse U.S. Representative Daniel Reed Crenshaw’s principled conservative brilliance. I can only suggest buying his magnum opus, Fortitude. It is even endorsed by the other great leader of our time, Condoleezza “Condi” Rice. 

In short, we should feel blessed that the foretold Republican Messiah is here. After three decades of searching, we have finally found our next Ronald Reagan. Actually, that’s an understatement. Surely, Dan Crenshaw is a much greater leader than Ronald Reagan—at least, according to Dan Crenshaw. And he should know; he’s never been wrong before. 

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New York Never Forgets

While the events of September 11 will fade from the national ethos, it won't in New York

I woke up early on Saturday and made the trek to New York City this weekend to catch a show and remember the Americans who lost their lives that September day 20 years ago.

I was just three years old on September 11, 2001. I do, shockingly, have vague memories from that day, mostly because my mother was panickedly calling my father as she was getting me ready for preschool. He was already at LAX preparing to board a flight that morning. I understood that something bad—no, something wicked—was happening to America, but I was mostly too young and, being from California, too far removed to understand the gravity of what was happening. That was gathered later in life as I learned more about the politically important events of the early aughts, examining their significance in the context of my own childhood and how our nation has arrived at this crucial juncture.

Now, I live in Washington, D.C., far from my hometown in southern California, but just a few hours down the road from the Big Apple. I’ve been to New York a few times prior and visited ground zero on two occasions; but never on 9/11. I felt a kind of obligation to be there for the 20th anniversary, and was more than willing to pay the series of pilgrimage taxes, mostly thanks to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, on my northward journey to better understand those who lived through, and are still living with, the effects of these attacks.

The hotel was less than a block away from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in midtown. The cathedral served as a place of refuge and prayer for community members—some of whom were still covered in dust and ash—in the immediate aftermath of the towers collapsing. Twenty years later, family and friends of more than 300 firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11 gathered to memorialize their loved ones whose names reverberated off of the city’s concrete from the loudspeakers. A procession of hundreds of New York Fire Department (FDNY) firefighters, each carrying a flag to represent a fallen comrade, marched in their blue uniforms in front of St. Patricks to the solemn sound of bagpipes.

Well into the night, firehouses kept their garage doors open, as families and friends of past and present firefighters greeted each other in tearful embraces, and placed wreaths, bouquets, and candles at the doors. As I peered inside one of these midtown firehouses, which lies at least 60 blocks northeast of where the World Trade Centers once stood, I saw a monolith with the names and faces of at least nine firefighters from that small firehouse who perished on 9/11. That was devastating on its own, but then I thought of the at least twenty other firehouses positioned between that one and ground zero, and extended the damage to those other firehouses, which likely intensified based on proximity. This realization made it feel like someone had reached into my chest and grabbed hold of my heart to stop it from beating.

My generation’s coming of age and the drawdown of the war in Afghanistan will all contribute to the events of September 11 likely fading in the national ethos in the next two decades to a certain degree—an inevitability of history. But, it won’t in New York, where the city’s servants have made a concerted effort to keep the memories and traditions of those who fell before them alive.

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Moral And Bio Hazards

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn't stop to think whether they should.”

I wanted to take a second and further expound upon the scientific nitty-gritty of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Grant Notice for EcoHealth Alliance made public by the Intercept Monday.

Over the span of five years, Fauci’s department within the National Institutes of Health, transferred more than $3 million to EcoHealth Alliance, including $600,000 for the Wuhan Institute of Virology, for research on bat-borne coronaviruses and other respiratory pathogens in China. While NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci and the NIH have maintained that the NIH was not funding controversial gain-of-function research, where viruses are genetically altered or tampered with in laboratory settings to make the virus more transmissible or dangerous to humans, some in the scientific community are pushing back against this claim, given the contents of the Intercept’s recently released documents.

I’ve already discussed how these new documents elucidate the incompetence of our technocratic elites—just the latest in a steady stream of events that suggest our alleged moral and intellectual betters haven’t the slightest idea of what they’re doing. But, I wanted to delve a little deeper into the science that was carried out using U.S. taxpayer dollars.

In the more than 900 pages obtained by the Intercept through Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) litigation, it shows that grant money was used to create novel chimeric SARS-related coronaviruses. EcoHealth Alliance combined a spike gene from one coronavirus with genetic information from another, which researchers found had the capacity to infect human cells. The research team also found three of these lab-concocted SARS-related coronaviruses had viral loads that were 10 to 10,000 times higher in humanized mice relative to that of the bat-borne viruses used to make them. At least one of these manufactured SARS-related coronaviruses, which had not been publicly disclosed prior to the release of these documents, demonstrated enhanced pathogenicity in humanized mice compared to the bat-borne virus used to create it.

As Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) told John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) in Jurassic Park, “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think whether they should.” (what can I say, as a kid, I wanted to be a paleontologist).

I’ve chuckled at the thought of that quote over the course of my review of these documents because, to me (a layman), what EcoHealth engages in seems like the very definition of gain-of-function research. But, I’m not alone. Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University told me that EcoHealth’s experiments fit the definition of gain-of-function research both during and after the three-year federal moratorium. “The documents released this week show–unequivocally–that the 2014 and 2019 NIH grants to EcoHealth with subcontracts to WIV funded gain-of-function research as defined in federal policies in effect in 2014-2017 and potential pandemic pathogen enhancement as defined in federal policies in effect in 2017-present,” Ebright said.

After the gain-of-function moratorium was lifted, the NIH and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) adopted the Potential Pandemic Pathogens Control and Oversight (P3CO) Framework to review any experimental activities that could be considered gain-of-function research.

But, this process is riddled with problems of its own. Ebright said, “The P3CO Framework relies on NIAID and NIH to identify research proposals that include potential pandemic pathogen enhancement and to forward the identified proposals for a HHS-Secretary-level risk-benefit assessment,” which is something an NIH spokesperson acknowledged themselves in a report published by the Daily Caller News Foundation. Furthermore, most of the P3CO deliberations take place behind closed doors, as previously pointed out by Harvard Professor of Epidemiology Marc Lipsitch.

“Anthony Fauci, and the NIH Director, Francis Collins, have failed, across the board, to identify and forward proposals for review, thereby effectively nullifying the P3CO Framework.”

The moral hazard apparent in these activities is strikingly obvious. The NIH and NIAID have a vested interest in making sure the United States is on the cutting-edge of medical and scientific advancement, and appropriate grant money—for better and for worse—to parties like EcoHealth to accomplish that goal. To delegate itself the authority to trigger a self-audit is lunacy to anyone who wants to see these unelected bureaucrats actually held accountable for engaging in risky research. The technocrats know this; they aren’t stupid (politically, at least). The whole point of preserving their authority to redefine terms and alter or create bureaucratic procedures to suit their own fancy is to eschew all responsibility, even if their actions created the preconditions for a global pandemic.

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Speaking for Trees

The trees we love stand as a symbol of strength, continuity, and memory.

Family dinners in my parents’ house are usually tame. Politics, controversy, and the happenings of the community generally don’t phase us. We’ve been through America’s wars, political turmoil, and crises. Life moves on. But once every few years, linemen from the utility companies come out to ruthlessly prune our oak tree back from phone and power lines. Heads explode, unfriendly calls are made to the offending company, and we collectively mourn the oak as it once was and never shall be again. We can only take solace that it wasn’t cut down like so many others. 

I’m writing about our oak only to make the case that everyone should have a tree. Trees are essential in a backyard, a park, a city sidewalk, or even in a pot. I’m not going to make the conservative case for tree-hugging. I’ll leave it to the “science” to convince you of the environmental merits of trees. The value of shade on a hot August day is self-evident. 

There’s not a recorded age for our tree. Rumor has it that it’s been around since before Rome. More reliable family sources ballpark it at a little over a century old. Regardless, the oak tree is sacred. It’s a symbol of strength, continuity, and memory. In a lot of ways, it is one of the last physical reminders of our past. My great-grandfather smoked a pipe in the shade of the oak. My grandparents and parents grew up in its shadow. My brother and I climbed it as kids. There’s enough sentimentalism about the oak to fill a book.

The case for trees is much more fundamental than mere sentiment, though. Trees define peoples and places in a way no other ubiquitous natural feature can. Four states take their nicknames from their trees. Toomer’s oaks are sacred to Auburn University, and General Sherman still reigns over the redwoods of Northern California. I don’t endorse it, but people have gone to jail for their trees. They understand that Maine would be detached from its sense of place and being without its famous fall foliage. California would be much reduced without the redwoods, and the quiet comfort of a shaded neighborhood block can be stolen by the ruthless drive for efficiency so typical in contemporary life. Another forest gone, another row of tract housing for sale. Little by little, America becomes unremarkable, undefinable, and placeless. 

So bid defiance to the bland and the soulless. Plant a tree, care for a tree, or take up the cause of my family and fight off the utility company. In the end, we’ll all keep a little bit more of what’s ours. I’m not asking you to become a local Lorax, but it’s time some of us start speaking for the trees. After all, they speak volumes for us. 

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On Copperhead Road

Texas's heartbeat abortion bill is as "wise as serpents."

It’s a good day for the unborn in Texas, as the state’s heartbeat abortion law passed in May goes into effect. The measure makes it illegal for doctors to abort a child for whom a heartbeat can detected—generally, after the sixth week of pregnancy.

Currently, the Supreme Court’s precedent allows doctors to abort unborn children up until they are viable outside the mother’s womb, when the child is already significantly more developed than at six weeks. Now, Texas joins Ohio, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Alabama, Kentucky, and South Carolina in putting such a law on the books, its second attempt since a similar 2016 law was overturned by the Supreme Court.

The Wall Street Journal reports that “the matter only arrived at the Supreme Court on Monday, centered on the preliminary question of what rules should apply in Texas while abortion providers continue to challenge the ban in lower courts.” The Journal notes a federal appeals court halted trial court proceedings in the case for now, and declined to block the ban from taking effect.

Significantly, however, the structure of Texas’s ban prevents the usual harangue of activists from suing government officials who would be responsible for enforcing such a decision, as they have done in every state that has passed such a bill.

The Journal explains:

Abortion-rights advocates typically challenge new restrictions before they go into effect by suing the government officials who would be in charge of enforcing the law. But Texas lawmakers devised a measure that shifts enforcement from the state to private parties. Under the terms of the six-week ban, private parties can file civil lawsuits against any person who allegedly performs or aids a banned abortion, or who intends to do so. Under the law, a successful suit entitles the plaintiff to collect at least $10,000 in damages per abortion challenged.

State officials emphasized this feature of the law in papers filed Tuesday afternoon with the Supreme Court, arguing it was among many reasons abortion providers weren’t entitled to an emergency order blocking the law.

“This court cannot expunge the law itself. Rather, it can enjoin only enforcement of the law. But the governmental defendants explicitly don’t enforce the law,” Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton and other state officials told the high court.

As The American Conservative senior editor Rod Dreher wrote last June, after the Supreme Court struck down Louisiana’s heartbeat law, the SCOTUS jurisprudence on abortion is mangled at best.

“Can anyone understand SCOTUS abortion jurisprudence? Can it ever be applied logically? I think it can, if you understand this principle: Pro-lifers must lose,” Dreher wrote.

Yet the Texas legislature, at least for now, has found a way to wrest a meaningful victory from the judicial mire—and power back from a legislating judiciary. It’s more than a victory for life; it’s a model for conservatives in state legislatures to follow, who have any real desire to protect the American way of life beyond what they can post on their campaign websites. If the Texas law succeeds in stymying abortion activists, it shows that conservatives actually can win battles, and when we aren’t winning, maybe it is due to a lack of cunning, not just a system rigged against defenders of innocent life at every turn.

The Gospel of Matthew has words to the wise, as true in politics as in any other aspect of life in exile: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” We can continue using the same timid approaches, and hope against hope we aren’t devoured, or we can learn to outsmart the wolves. Texas did just that.

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