World

Yup, the Wuhan Institute of Virology Kept Live Bats within Its Walls

Loading...
People shop at a steamed food stall at a street market in Wuhan, China February 8, 2021. (Aly Song/Reuters)

On the menu today: New evidence shows that despite the contentions of Peter Daszak, the Wuhan Institute of Virology did indeed have live bats within its walls; a spectacularly inaccurate op-ed attempting to dispel the lab-leak theory; and why so many people want the term “leaked” to mean “engineered.”

Peter Daszak Is Wrong

Sky News Australia has uncovered an official Chinese Academy of Sciences video from May 2017, marking the launch of the new biosafety-level-4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Perhaps the most intriguing revelation in the video is the depiction of bats being held in a cage at the Institute, along with a scene of a scientist feeding a bat with a worm.

For much of 2020, Peter Daszak — president of EcoHealth Alliance, longtime partner of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and one of the most staunch and outspoken critics of the lab-leak theory — insisted that there were no live bats within the Institute. He tweeted in December that, “No BATS ‘were sent to Wuhan lab for genetic analyses of viruses collected in the field’ That’s not how this science works. We collect bat samples, send them to the lab. We RELEASE bats where we catch them!” At some point, Daszak deleted his tweets making that assertion, but if he ever publicly admitted he was wrong, he was awfully quiet about it.

The counterevidence for Daszak’s claim has been piling up for a while now, even before this video.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology reportedly filed patents for bat cages. Multiple accounts of WIV staff described bringing at least a handful of live bats back to the lab for further study. As one Chinese Academy of Science website described it, “Founded in 1956, Wuhan Institute of Virology is a comprehensive research institution specializing in basic virology research and related technological innovation. The institute currently has 3 sets of barrier facilities with a facility scale of 1,216 square meters. The facility has 126 cages for Japanese white rabbits, 340 cages for SD and Wistar rats, inbred strains, closed groups, mutant strains, and genetically engineered mice. There are 3,268 cages, 12 ferrets, 12 bats, and 2 species of cotton bollworm and beet armyworm, totaling 52 strains.”

If no live bats or other animals are collected and taken back to the lab, why would the laboratory need all those cages?

The WIV video featured on Sky News declares that the Institute collected “more than 15,000 samples from bats in China and many countries of Africa, searching for the origins of SARS, as well as isolating and characterizing many new viruses.” It is likely that the WIV had more samples of bat viruses within its walls than any other building on Earth. And the contention of the zoonotic-spillover theory is that the COVID-19 outbreak beginning so close to the WIV is simply coincidental.

The Sky News video also features a bat hanging off the hat of one researcher who is wearing a mask and glasses but no other protective head covering — the kind of cute and fun image that looks much more unnerving when you realize that one scratch from that bat could infect the researcher with a novel virus that the researcher’s immune system might be completely unprepared to face.

A lot of people want to cast Daszak as the villain of this story. At minimum, it appears Daszak got out over his skis by making assertions that he wasn’t 100 percent certain about — and about topics that one would think he would be in a position to know for certain.

Be aware that, in Daszak’s mind, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is something separate from the research on novel coronaviruses in bats that his organization conducts. He sees his organization’s mission as discovering new viruses, not necessarily assisting in government efforts to determine the origin of this one. In an interview with Nature last August, Daszak fumed about a list of requests from the National Institutes of Health — you know, the same NIH that had been funding his organization — and insisted that the research on SARS-CoV-2 and passing along NIH requests to the WIV were “is absolutely outside the remit of the work we do.”

Q: The NIH has asked you to obtain a vial of isolated SARS-CoV-2 from the WIV. Did you work on the novel coronavirus during your project?

A: The grant isn’t used to fund work on SARS-CoV-2. Our organization has not actually published any data on SARS-CoV-2. We work on bat coronaviruses that are out there in the wild and try to predict what the next one is. We don’t work on sequencing SARS-CoV-2. It’s absurd because it’s absolutely outside the remit of the work we do.

The Most Inaccurate Op-Ed Dismissing the Lab-Leak Theory Yet

Meanwhile, the public discussion about COVID-19’s origins continues to get garbled and obscured by allegedly knowledgeable people repeating flatly wrong information. Over on the Guardian, David Robert Grimes writes that:

Alternatively, there is hypothesis two: a lab leak. For this to be viable, we are obliged to add additional assumptions. We’d need to accept that the virus was engineered and subsequently released by accident or design. More damning for this narrative are the implicit temporal conditions it imposes: Wuhan, a city with a population of more than 11 million, with thriving wet markets, has millions of human-animal interactions each day, occasions when a virus could jump to humans. But the city has only a single virology lab where, accidentally or by design, everything would have to go wrong at once to yield the same result.

First, the city has two labs researching novel coronaviruses in bats, not one — the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Wuhan Centers for Disease Control. Second, an accidentally released virus is not necessarily an engineered one. Third, for “everything to go wrong at once” requires a scratch or bite from a bat, an improperly sealed mask, improperly disposed waste, or other biological material. Lab accidents happen with unnerving regularity — “needle sticks and other through the skin exposures from sharp objects; dropped containers or spills and splashes of liquids containing pathogens; bites or scratches from infected animals; pathogens manipulated outside of a biosafety cabinet or other equipment designed to protect exposures to infectious aerosols; failure to follow safety procedures; failure or problems with personal protective equipment; mechanical or equipment failure; and failure to properly inactivate pathogens before transferring them to a lower biosafety level lab for further research.”

We’re 18 months into this pandemic; how are op-eds in major publications still making these mistakes?

Why So Many People Prefer to Debate ‘Engineered’ Instead of Leaked

There’s nothing wrong with the intense debate about whether SARS-CoV-2 represents a purely natural virus, a virus whose natural evolution was artificially and deliberately accelerated through gain-of-function research, or a virus that was genetically altered.

Evidence of a deliberately human-altered genetic code in SARS-CoV-2 would confirm a lab leak, but the absence of evidence of a deliberately human-altered genetic code would not necessarily rule out a lab leak.

It is increasingly difficult to shake the feeling that the scientific community is circling the wagons, afraid that a major error attributed to one form of research will spur far-reaching restrictions on all kinds of research. If SARS-CoV-2 was indeed the result of gain-of-function research, many countries are likely to either ban such research entirely or enact new sweeping restrictions on when, how, and where that research can be done. Our Dan McLaughlin suggested that at minimum, all gain-of-function research on contagious viruses be done in remote locations as far away as possible from population centers.

But the engineered-vs.-zoonotic-origin debate isn’t really helping clarify the lab-leak/not-a-lab-leak distinction. Let’s presume SARS-CoV-2 originated in a bat. As discussed above, the Wuhan Institute of Virology and Wuhan Centers for Disease Control were both researching novel coronaviruses in bats, and both went into caves in southern China to collect samples from horseshoe bats. It is reasonable to assume that the sample collection documented before the pandemic continued into late 2019. When Chinese authorities insist that SARS-CoV-2 was not in the databases of their virus research, they may well be hiding the fact that information about SARS-CoV-2 had not yet been entered into their databases, and the key infection occurred as a new group of the virus samples were being initially transferred to either the Wuhan Institute of Virology or Wuhan CDC. In this scenario, nothing about the genetic code or structure of the virus would have been altered by any researchers, but the infection still traces back to a laboratory leak or accident.

But as for gain-of-function research, it does seem a little spooky that back in 2015 — not that long ago! — some virologists warned about this precise sequence of events, specifically spurred by work that was done, in part, at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

In 2015, Shi Zhengli — a.k.a. “Bat Woman” — and a group of other virologists announced that they had “generated and characterized a chimeric virus expressing the spike of bat coronavirus SHC014 in a mouse-adapted SARS-CoV backbone.” Other scientists in the field warned that this research, designed to help prevent another SARS pandemic, was setting up a higher risk of setting off another pandemic. Nature magazine, November 12, 2015:

But other virologists question whether the information gleaned from the experiment justifies the potential risk. Although the extent of any risk is difficult to assess, Simon Wain-Hobson, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, points out that the researchers have created a novel virus that “grows remarkably well” in human cells. “If the virus escaped, nobody could predict the trajectory ,” he says.

The only impact of this work is the creation, in a lab, of a new, non-natural risk,” agrees Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist and biodefence expert at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey. Both Ebright and Wain-Hobson are long-standing critics of gain-of-function research.

ADDENDUM: The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is . . . not quite over, but it’s getting there. Earlier this year, Dr. Anthony Fauci contended that the U.S. shouldn’t relax restrictions until the number of new cases per day was below 10,000. Saturday, the U.S. had 9,427 new cases reported; yesterday, the U.S. had 5,285. The current seven-day average is 13,304. The seven-day average for daily new deaths is down to 371 — which sounds high, until you remember that back on January 28, it was at 3,401.

Media

Why Did CNN Bring Back Jeffrey Toobin?

Loading...
Jeffrey Toobin, staff writer at The New Yorker, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 26, 2019. (Al Drago/Reuters)

On the menu today: contemplating the madness of CNN bringing back Jeffrey Toobin; wondering whether Europe is destined to drift toward China; and the shutdown of a massive port in southern China offers more evidence that the country’s COVID-infection statistics are distant cousins to reality at most.

What Is CNN Thinking?

Bringing back and re-featuring Jeffrey Toobin is the worst thing that CNN has done since . . . I would say Chris Cuomo helping his brother Andrew with the spin response to his sexual harassment accusations, but that was just late last month.

Why? We’re in this giant national argument, often furious and vicious, about what kind of behavior gets you “canceled” and in many cases fired from your job, expelled from your college or university, and dismissed from polite society. The standards seem more nebulous than ever. Idiots are demanding authors change what they wrote in past books, because they deem the passages offensive — oftentimes dialogue from characters that is meant to demonstrate those characters say offensive things. White novelists are being told they can’t write minority protagonists, because that amounts to cultural appropriation. Gina Carano can’t be in Star Wars anymore because she made a ham-fisted Holocaust comparison. J. K. Rowling is allegedly a menace because she insists women and those who are born men and choose to identify as women are not the same thing. Don McNeil Jr.’s award-winning career at the New York Times came to a crashing end because he had used the N-word while referring to someone else saying it.

The woke social-justice warriors permit no room for error, no room for dissent, no room for disagreement or pushback. There’s no nuance, no extenuating circumstances, no empathy or understanding, and certainly no mercy or sympathy. One strike, and you’re out. One deviation from their ideology, and you’re publicly branded an untouchable. Forgiveness is seen as morally equivalent to approval.

And yet Jeffrey Toobin gets a second chance? After doing that? And then, in his first interview back, Toobin has the nerve to complain that he thinks The New Yorker magazine’s decision to fire him was “an excessive punishment”?

Note: CNN never fired Toobin; he was merely “on leave.”

Who wanted Toobin back on air? No one was clamoring for it, calling for it, protesting his departure, or demanding his return. Toobin’s been with CNN since 2002, and his departure should have opened up opportunities for some other lawyer who can explain legal concepts in layman’s terms live on television. If anyone in the media world argued that Toobin had gotten a raw deal, they did so exceptionally quietly.

(I’d also note that Toobin is 61 and has enjoyed a long and successful career. It’s hard to believe he desperately needs the money.)

Jeffrey Toobin is back for one reason and one reason only: Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN, wants him back. Although we should note that CNN’s Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy wrote, “Some anchors and hosts at CNN also expressed a desire to have Toobin back on their shows, since he has been a leading legal voice on television for decades.” Please name those hosts, host of Reliable Sources. I really want to know which CNN program hosts deemed Jeffrey Toobin so sterling a legal analyst that his actions should be forgiven and quickly forgotten. Which CNN hosts felt Toobin could talk for a few minutes about law cases better than anyone else out there, including all of the women and minority options?

To paraphrase a Vice editor, “Jeffrey Toobin is sorry . . . and in related news my unemployed friends in journalism (who have never once done anything like that!) are still unemployed.”

Let me take you way back to the late 2000s, when then-CNN president Jonathan Klein hired the disgraced former New York governor Eliot Spitzer to anchor the network’s 8 p.m. hour:

Few things are quite as depressing as this little nugget in that New York magazine piece about the state of the television-news industry: “In June, he announced that he would hire the famously black-socked and disgraced former governor Eliot Spitzer. [CNN head Jonathan] Klein faced stiff internal resistance to hiring Spitzer. When one CNN executive expressed to Klein the concern that viewers risked being turned off by Spitzer’s hooker scandal, Klein had snapped, ‘I don’t give a [f-word].’”

They were warned. They were warned that it wasn’t merely diehard Republicans whose skin crawled at the thought of Spitzer; this is the guy whose fall from grace was so epic and so laced with Shakespearean comeuppance that it inspired Juliana Margulies’s new program. They were warned, and they didn’t care. Their job is to attract viewers; they’re told, directly, that their prospective new host is the most hated man this side of the guy who cheated on Sandra Bullock, and they didn’t care. What, the Salahis were booked?

I’m never going to understand the world of cable news, or perhaps television in general. But anecdotes such as that one, and stories of the notorious behavior of Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, suggest it’s somehow even worse than an “Old Boys’ Network” or standard-issue cronyism. This is an almost gleeful celebration of unaccountability, an in-your-face, spiking-the-football mentality that once you’ve reached a certain level of success in the world of television news, you’re untouchable in the other way — no one can ever get rid of you, no matter what you do.

One other observation reinforcing the suspicion that some people are rich, powerful, or well-connected enough to exempt themselves from the harsh scrutiny of the woke social-justice-warrior crowd: I don’t know if Hunter Biden genuinely used the N-word frequently. I do know that if he were almost any other public figure on American life, there would be enormous attention paid to whether he used the word as frequently and casually as has been alleged.

Trying to Overcome the Fundamental Nature of a European Diplomat

Yesterday in the Corner, I noted that the European Union’s calling for an independent and transparent investigation into the origins of COVID-19 was nice, but not all that meaningful without action to back it up. Over in Politico’s Playbook newsletter, there’s an interview with the former U.S. ambassador to the EU, Anthony Gardner, and his comments illuminate the same phenomenon on a different topic:

Gardner had some tough advice for Europe if they really want to avoid a Trump comeback: Give Biden a win on China. Not mushy assurances of cooperation or niceties about the change in tone from America — a tangible victory that he can use to neutralize Trump’s message.

“There’s always that risk, that’s what democracies are about,” Gardner told Playbook, referring to a Biden loss in 2024. “That’s exactly why you in Europe should think about how you can contribute to the success of the administration.”

. . .“We cannot afford to go through the motions,” Gardner said. “We need to make clear to our electorate and our voters that working multilaterally, with rules and institutions, yields better results, and that communiques are no substitute for results.”

I’d love to see some genuine U.S.–European cooperation against China, but I won’t be holding my breath. The core philosophy of European political and diplomatic leaders is that international conflict must be avoided at all costs — driven by memories of World War I, World War II, and the Cold War. Thus, a trend such as the rise of an aggressive China is something for Europe to accept and adapt to, not resist. There’s always another concession that can be made, always another summit, another strongly worded communiqué of disapproval that can be watered down.

Really? A Few Positive Tests Shut Down One of China’s Biggest Ports?

The Wall Street Journal, today: “At Yantian, a container port in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, an outbreak among dockworkers has brought traffic to a virtual standstill, putting more strain on an international shipping industry that has struggled with a persistent shortage of empty containers and a weeklong blockage in the Suez Canal earlier this year.”

And yet, China’s national health commission would have you believe that there are just a handful of cases strewn across the country of a billion people. Yesterday’s report: “31 provinces (autonomous regions, municipalities) and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps reported 22 new confirmed cases, including 13 imported cases (3 in Fujian, 2 in Shanghai, 2 in Guangdong, Sichuan 2 cases, 1 case in Beijing, 1 case in Jiangsu, 1 case in Zhejiang, 1 case in Yunnan), 9 local cases (all in Guangdong); no new deaths; 9 new suspected cases, all imported cases (both in Shanghai).”

A port bigger than Los Angeles is working at 30 percent capacity . . . because of a handful of COVID-19 cases?

ADDENDUM: An important warning from Kevin Williamson that will likely not be heeded:

Inflation is destructive in and of itself — but it also is a trigger that brings into play other economic forces that can bring with them unpredictable and at times destructive outcomes. The 2001 recession was an unintended consequence of policies meant to stabilize the economy. The financial crisis and the Great Recession were, at least in part, the unintended consequences of policies meant to make it easier to buy a house and to make mortgage-lending less risky for financial institutions.

Immigration

How Joe Biden Is Hanging Kamala Harris Out to Dry

Loading...
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a press conference at the Sofitel Mexico City Reforma hotel in Mexico City, Mexico, June 8, 2021. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

On the menu today: how Joe Biden gave Kamala Harris one of his thorniest issues and set her up to fail; the latest border numbers indicate that the Biden administration hasn’t made any progress in attempting to stem the waves of migrants trying to sneak into the country; the Consumer Price Index numbers are really bad, again; and a new media profile features an odd “Manchurian Candidate” moment.

Biden Sets Harris Up for Failure

On the latest Editors podcast, I floated the somewhat-tongue-in-cheek theory that Joe Biden has set Kamala Harris up to fail, a passive-aggressive form of revenge for her shivving him in that first Democratic presidential-primary debate.

Back in March, Biden announced Harris would “lead our efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle and the countries that help — are going to need help in stemming the movement of so many folks, stemming the migration to our southern border.” He said Harris was “the most qualified person to do it.” She’s actually probably among the least qualified people in the White House to do it, considering almost everyone on the National Security Council has more hands-on experience in international diplomacy and security, and Biden’s domestic team includes Susan Rice. Heck, even Health and Human Services secretary Xavier Becerra has more hands-on experience with border issues. A month into the administration, the spin was that her staff would coach her up fast, as “Harris comes to the vice president’s job as a neophyte on foreign policy.”

But Harris doesn’t have any tools to immediately “stem the migration to our southern border,” as Biden put it. Either by her choice or his order, she’s focused entirely upon the “root causes” of migration. But even in the best-case scenario, a successful plan to address the “root causes” of migration would take years to implement, maybe even a decade or more. It’s not going to do anything to address the here and now. Thus, Harris is stuck trying to implement changes that might bear fruit by late 2022 or 2023 at the earliest, while each month, new numbers indicate that the problem is getting worse. This would be a tough spot if Harris were a skilled communicator, and as we’ve seen, she’s really surprisingly bad at this.

Notice this strangely blunt assessment from CNN’s Maeve Reston:

The vice president has never been particularly adept when confronted with questions that she doesn’t like or doesn’t want to answer — as she demonstrated during 2020 primaries, when she repeatedly dodged and fumbled questions about her health care plan. In this case, she deflected a straightforward question from NBC’s Lester Holt about why she hasn’t visited the border by laughing it off and stating that she also hasn’t been to Europe, adding that she didn’t understand the point that Holt was making — even though everyone else did.

It was a clumsy answer that came off as tone-deaf given that the situation at the US-Mexico border is one of the most troubling issues facing the administration. Finding a solution for stemming migration from Central America is a problem that has eluded multiple administrations for decades, but even some White House officials — who want her to succeed in this difficult endeavor — were perplexed.

A Politico newsletter quotes “one aide who has been briefing Harris on the Northern Triangle countries put it this way: ‘The narrative and the substance of the work are not always the same thing. We may or may not be able to control the narrative, but we can control what we focus on.’”

What’s striking is that this unnamed Harris adviser has the spectacular combination of boastfulness and obliviousness to insist that the vice president is correct on “the substance of the work” on the day that the number of migrants caught at the border sets a new record again. This is like boasting of your economic performance on the day the stock market crashes, or your national-security record on the day of a terrible terrorist attack. If all Harris is offering in interviews is unconvincing spin, maybe that’s all she’s getting from her staff.

Yesterday brought the monthly update to the Customs and Border Protection numbers, and they were terrible — the third straight month of the highest levels in two decades. May’s update brings the total of encounters in this fiscal year to more than a million, with four more months to go, already the most since 2006. (If nothing else, the summer heat should reduce the rate, at least somewhat, in the coming months.)

Keep in mind, CBP pointed out that a million encounters at the border is not necessarily a million people: “The large number of expulsions during the pandemic has contributed to a larger-than-usual number of noncitizens making multiple border crossing attempts, and means total encounters somewhat overstate the number of unique individuals arriving at the border. Thirty-eight percent of encounters in May 2021 were individuals who had at least one prior encounter in the previous 12 months, compared to an average one-year re-encounter rate of 15 percent for Fiscal Years 2014-2019.”

The border-patrol agency also noted that it is being forced to conduct significantly more rescues, because smugglers are abandoning their clients in remote and dangerous areas: “In May 2021, CBP conducted 7,084 rescues nationwide, and CBP has rescued 35 percent more individuals in Fiscal Year 2021 than all of Fiscal Year 2020.” Unfortunately, CBP can’t always get there in time. The number of migrant deaths at the border — mostly from heat stroke and dehydration — have tripled compared to last year, and we haven’t even gotten to the hottest months yet.

Right now, the Biden administration looks like that little cartoon dog in the burning building, insisting “This is fine.”

More Bad Numbers for the Biden Administration

When June started, I reminded readers that the beginning of each month brings at least three updates to government data that can support or refute the Biden administration’s arguments that its early policy changes are working: the monthly unemployment update, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection update on encounters at the southwest border discussed above, and the Consumer Price Index (a key indicator of inflation).

The jobs report for May was middling to okay — like that 3.6 Roentgen reading in the HBO miniseries Chernobyl: “Not great, not terrible.” And this morning, we learned that the inflation numbers were even worse than economists expected. Economists had braced themselves for a 4.7 percent hike in May, which would be the highest since 2008.

This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that it was an even 5 percent. “The index for all items less food and energy rose 3.8 percent over the last 12-months, the largest 12-month increase since the period ending June 1992. The energy index rose 28.5 percent over the last 12-months, and the food index increased 2.2 percent.”

As Phil Klein warns, “in the face of growing signs of inflation, many people — including the ones who happen to run our nation’s fiscal and monetary policy — aren’t taking the current threat all that seriously.”

ADDENDUM: This might be the strangest section in that Los Angeles magazine profile of the man it describes as “Twitter Power Broker Yashar Ali”:

How Ali acquired so many powerful supporters is a bit of a mystery. Even his closest allies are a bit fuzzy about how they met. “I don’t remember how we became friends,” says New York Times Washington correspondent Maggie Haberman. Zucker has a hard time recalling, too. “That’s a really good question. How do I know Yashar?” So does CNN anchor Jake Tapper. “I couldn’t tell you how me met, but suddenly he was a presence in my life — a wonderful one,” he says. “It just feels like he’s always been in my life. But I don’t know that I’ve ever met him in person.”

Is anyone else waiting for all these people to robotically respond, “Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life”?

Politics & Policy

How Our Political Parties Stopped Accepting Each Other’s Victories

Loading...
A Trump supporter (right) argues with a protester during a rally against Trump administration immigration policies in Manhattan, February 7, 2017. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

On the menu today: A long, deep look at why so many Americans no longer believe that those who politically disagree have any “legitimacy.”

The Collapse of the Consensus Understanding of Legitimacy

At the root of a lot of our most intense political divisions is an irrational and stubborn refusal to recognize that the opposition ever legitimately wins a dispute.

Before we go any further, let’s make sure we’re all clear on the definition of “legitimate.” In this circumstance, we mean, “accordant with law or with established legal forms and requirements” or “conforming to recognized principles or accepted rules and standards” — not necessarily “good” or “popular.” Lots of actions can be legitimate and also a bad idea. Prohibition was legitimate, in the sense that it was enacted within the existing rules under the U.S. Constitution. As you may have heard, it did not turn out well.

Far too many people cannot distinguish between “this is legitimate” and “I like this.” The words “illegal” and “bad” are also frequently used interchangeably, even though they have distinct and different meanings. I spent too much time yesterday arguing with a guy who believed, in the context of the IRS leaks, that it was acceptable to commit a literal crime to expose or critique what he perceived as a metaphorical crime.

Democrats will point to Republican intransigence toward Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, birtherism and other fringe conspiracy theories, and denying Merrick Garland a confirmation hearing as Republican actions that undermined the consensus of legitimacy in American political life.

And that’s a fair enough accusation as far as it goes, but it is, at most, half the story, and probably considerably less than half. Maybe the average Democrat doesn’t think that every move the Republican Party has made since, oh, 1996 or so has been illegitimate. But quite a few of the diehard progressive activists do.

In 1998, some Democrats contended that the impeachment of Bill Clinton was not merely unjustified or foolhardy but illegitimate “political warfare,” because public polling did not support the move. Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, argued that the final Senate vote tally proved that “this was an illegitimate process from the start.” The fact that Clinton had lied under oath and encouraged others to do the same was not in dispute; the only question was whether those actions warranted impeachment and removal from office. Every part of that impeachment was within the constitutional rules. You can fairly argue that impeaching Bill Clinton was a bad idea, but you cannot fairly argue that the process was illegitimate.

Two years later, the country was subjected to a lot of Democrats arguing that President George W. Bush was “selected, not elected” because of the split in the popular- and electoral-vote winners or the Supreme Court decision regarding the Florida recount or both. This was despite the fact that the official count, recount, and unofficial post-inauguration attempts to recount any missed ballots. Ask CNN, no fan of Bush: “Recount studies show Bush would have most likely won the Florida statewide hand recount of all undervotes. The studies also show that Gore likely would have won a statewide recount of all undervotes and overvotes, which are ballots that included multiple votes for president and were thus not counted at all. However, his legal team never pursued this action.”

Representative John Lewis of Georgia refused to attend Bush’s inauguration, declaring that “he doesn’t believe Bush is the true elected president.” (Lewis would do the same for Donald Trump in January 2017, and erroneously claim it was the first time he had ever declined to attend an inauguration.)

In 2001, polling found that more than a third of Democrats and more than half of African Americans believed Bush had “stolen the election.” Hillary Clinton repeatedly said that Bush was “selected, not elected” or other variations of asserting that Bush was not a legitimately elected president. The new second-time Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Virginia said Democrats and Gore “won that election.” Terry McAuliffe is now attacking GOP gubernatorial nominee Mark Youngkin for “parroting Trump’s conspiracy theories about the 2020 election,” even though Youngkin has said Biden was “legitimately elected our president.”

Many Democrats saw Bush as even beyond illegitimate, an existential threat to the country who would bring about the end of democratic elections. It was not difficult to find grassroots Democrats referring to George W. Bush as “Bushitler.” Democrats kept comparing their political opponents to Nazis. Keith Ellison, (D., Minn.) referred to 9/11 as the “the Reichstag fire.” “George W. Bush has become the first true American dictator. And we’re all equally guilty for allowing it to happen right under our fat, apathetic noses,” wrote the Huffington Post.

More than a few Democrats contended that George W. Bush was not just someone they disagreed with, but a genuinely evil mass-murderer of American citizens, who either deliberately chose to not stop the 9/11 attacks, or who worked in league with the al-Qaeda terrorists. In 2003, presidential candidate Howard Dean declared in an NPR interview, “The most interesting theory that I have heard so far is that [Bush] was warned ahead of time by the Saudis.”

Back in 2006, Scripps-Howard asked in a survey, “How likely is it that people in the federal government either assisted in the 9/11 attacks or took no action to stop the attacks because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East?” More than half of the Democratic respondents said yes — 22.6 percent of Democrats said it was “very likely” and another 28.2 percent called it “somewhat likely.” A year later, a Rasmussen survey found that “Democrats in America are evenly divided on the question of whether George W. Bush knew about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in advance. Thirty-five percent of Democrats believe he did know, 39% say he did not know and 26% are not sure.”

Many people laugh and sneer at the absurd and unsupported claims of Trump supporters, contending that voting machines changed votes to reelect Trump into votes for Joe Biden. But that’s the same claim made by quite a few Democrats after the 2004 election, contending that they voted for John Kerry and the machine somehow changed their votes into ones for Bush. Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, wrote to the General Accounting Office, “The House Judiciary Committee Democratic staff has received numerous reports from Youngstown, Ohio that voters who attempted to cast a vote for John Kerry on electronic voting machines saw that their votes were instead recorded as votes for George W. Bush. In South Florida, Congressman Wexler’s staff received numerous reports from voters in Palm Beach, Broward and Dade Counties that they attempted to select John Kerry but George Bush appeared on the screen.”

(People, particularly senior citizens, hit the wrong spot on the touch screen, and become convinced they hit the right spot and that the machine changed their input.)

Even the subsequent Republican majorities in Congress were deemed illegitimate in the eyes of some of their foes. Gerrymandering, a longstanding bipartisan tradition of attempting to maximize political advantage, was deemed a menace by progressives once Republicans won the House. And more than a few Democrats who had enjoyed the advantages of gerrymandering suddenly decried it as fundamentally unfair and illegitimate once the other side started enjoying it.

The New Yorker, 2012: “A few years later, Illinois Democrats, after toiling in the minority in the Senate, gerrymandered the state to produce a Democratic majority. While drafting the new political map, Obama helped redraw his own district northward to include some of Chicago’s wealthiest citizens, making the district a powerful financial and political base that he used to win his U.S. Senate seat, a few years later.” [Emphasis added.]

Obama in an NPR interview in 2015: “I think that there are real problems with how we are electing our representatives. I think political gerrymandering has resulted in a situation in which — with 80 percent Democratic districts or 80 percent Republican districts and no competition, that that leads to more and more polarization in Congress, and it gets harder and harder to get things done.”

Because you can’t gerrymander a Senate seat, progressives needed another argument to undermine the perceived legitimacy of a Republican Senate majority. They concluded that the constitutionally decreed format of the Senate and the state lines themselves were illegitimate.

In 2018, Ian Milhiser of Think Progress contended that, “The U.S. Senate is facing a legitimacy crisis. . . . The United States Senate is an immoral, anti-democratic institution where a person from Wyoming counts as over 68 Californians.” Each state has had two senators since the founding of the country and was deliberately designed to ensure that less populous states could have the same say as more populous states. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

Many progressives demonstrated their ability to turn on a dime, suddenly denouncing long-accepted provisions and features of the American political system. All kinds of longstanding constitutional provisions, laws, rules, and standards that had always been part of a bipartisan consensus “rules of the road” were suddenly decried as fundamentally unjust and no longer legitimate. Of course, none of them were “illegitimate” in the sense of “not accordant with law or with established legal forms and requirements.” They meant “illegitimate” in the sense that progressives perceived them as a disadvantage and thus unfair.

Unsurprisingly, this full-spectrum, rapid-fire accusation of illegitimacy reached the Supreme Court as well. During the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, Vox warned that, “The Supreme Court’s legitimacy crisis is here.” In 2020, after President Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett, Senate Democrats warned of a “Dangerous And Illegitimate Supreme Court Hearing.” Nancy Pelosi called Barrett “an illegitimate Supreme Court Justice.” The Harvard Law Review remarked in 2019, “it is striking how many commentators — including prominent constitutional scholars, a former Attorney General, and current members of Congress — have recently questioned the legitimacy of the United States Supreme Court.”

In 2017, the website Daily Kos proposed impeaching Neil Gorsuch. In 2018, New York magazine called for the impeachment of Clarence Thomas; Salon did the same in 2020. In 2019, House Democrats introduced a resolution calling for the impeachment of Kavanaugh. In 2020, PBS host Alexander Heffner called for impeaching Barrett, while the magazine The Progressive merely lamented, “If [Justice Samuel] Alito were still sitting on a lower court, his unhinged commentary could be grounds for disqualification.”

Do I even need to get into the widespread belief among progressives that Donald Trump was not legitimately elected? By November 2018, 67 percent of Democrats believed it was “definitely true” or “probably true” that “Russia tampered with vote tallies in order to get Donald Trump elected.” There is no evidence that Russia altered any votes or vote totals in 2016. And yet, in 2019, Hillary Clinton asserted that Trump “knows he’s an illegitimate president.”

So yes, it is very bad that earlier this year, a Monmouth survey found 65 percent of Republicans believe that Biden’s win was solely the result of voter fraud. But that is just one more step on a very long road that is, at minimum, a quarter-century in the making.

ADDENDUM: The knee-jerk dismissal of any criticism as “hating” is another powerful force promoting unaccountability in American life.

Then again, maybe as a culture we prefer it this way.

The Weed Agency, page 227:

Every Middle East envoy Is told to go make peace out there, and they come back empty-handed. CEOs get golden parachutes, actors and directors turn out dreck, the press gets things wrong all the time, nothing works the way it’s supposed to, and that’s the way it’s always been!” shouted an inebriated Wilkins.

‘Unaccountability!’ the now-tipsy Humphrey roared. ‘It’s the American way!’

Immigration

Kamala Harris’s Useless Speech in Guatemala

Loading...
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a news conference with Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei in Guatemala City, Guatemala, June 7, 2021. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

On the menu today: Kamala Harris tells Guatemalan migrants, “If you come to our border, you will be turned back. Do not come”; in May 2020, the intelligence division of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory “made a strong case for further inquiry into the possibility the virus seeped out of the lab”; the DOJ scores a significant win against Russian hackers; and my thanks to generous readers.

Kamala Harris Begrudgingly Emphasizes Border Enforcement

Remember a few months ago, when the White House declared that it wouldn’t use the word “crisis” to describe the situation at the border, and then large institutions in the mainstream media knuckled under to pressure from pro-amnesty activists and declared they wouldn’t use the term “crisis” or “emergency,” either? And then President Biden screwed up and called it a crisis anyway?

Is there any doubt that the White House sees the situation as a crisis, when Vice President Kamala Harris travels to Guatemala, stands next to Guatemalan president Alejandro Giammattei, and declares, “If you come to our border, you will be turned back. . . . Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border”?

Boy, we’ve come a long way from her 2017 declaration, “An undocumented immigrant is not a criminal,” haven’t we?

And while Biden and Harris would contend that they never promised an end to U.S. immigration enforcement, that is not the perception which their campaign-trail rhetoric created over the past few years. Some Guatemalans are reacting as if they were invited by the new administration and now they’re having the door slammed shut in their faces. Courtney Subramanian, the White House correspondent for USA Today who was the pool reporter on Harris’s trip, reported that, “The route was mostly cleared except for security and military. Pool did spot one group along the boulevard in front of a public building that included signs that read: “Kamala, Trump won” and “Kamala, mind your own business!”

And while Harris’s meeting with President Giammattei went smoothly, a few days ago, Giammattei did an interview with CBS News where he pretty much blamed the Biden administration for the surge in migration:

The change of administrations in Washington was exploited by human traffickers, known as “coyotes,” who ferried thousands of children to the U.S.-Mexico border within days of President Biden formally rescinding the Trump-era family separation policy. Giammattei wants American lawmakers to toughen federal laws against traffickers and is ready to extradite them to face charges.

. . . “We are not on the same side of the coin. It is obvious,” he added, explaining later that “we are in agreement on the ‘what'” of the immigration crisis, “which is something. We are in not agreement on the ‘how.'”

During a bilingual interview with CBS News conducted Friday at the nation’s presidential house, he was asked if Guatemalans are leaving his country now that Mr. Biden is president and Donald Trump is out of office.

He said the change in government led to a change in message: “The message changed to, ‘We are going to reunite families and we are going to reunite children.'”

When that happened, “The very next day the coyotes here were organizing groups of children to take them to the United States.”

Given the uptick in migration, “We asked the United States government to send more of a clear message to prevent more people from leaving,” Giammattei said.

Biden, Harris, and the immigration- and foreign-policy team around them operated in denial on this issue throughout 2020 and into 2021, and it’s still not clear that they’re completely in touch with reality. When Candidate Biden and Candidate Harris promised to cease all border-wall construction, immediately end family separation, suspend all deportations for 100 days, “end prolonged detention,” “end workplace raids,” and create a path to citizenship for everyone currently living in the U.S. illegally, Central American migrants and the coyotes interpreted that as “The border is open.” It doesn’t matter if they never spoke those specific words; this was the conclusion that the migrants came to because Biden and Harris never wanted to talk about enforcing immigration laws on the campaign trail. In 2019, then-candidate Harris declared her intent to use executive orders to end deportations and create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

How angry can you be at Central American migrants for believing Harris meant what she said?

This morning, Axios reports that, “The number of migrants illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border this fiscal year is already the most since 2006 — with four months left to go, according to preliminary Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data.” This is indeed a crisis, it is a crisis that has not been alleviated even though the media show only intermittent interest in it, and it is a crisis that will continue until the summer heat makes the journey north unbearable.

‘The Wuhan Labs Are the Prime Suspects, As They Have Been from the Beginning’

Today, Senator Tom Cotton appears on the home page, concluding that, “Perhaps the world will never know conclusively where this virus originated; it has become a cliché to say so. But we already know a lot, and it all points toward a deadly combination of Chinese negligence and malevolence. The American people deserve our best answer, and for that we must go to the source: The Wuhan labs are the prime suspects, as they have been from the very beginning.”

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that in May 2020, a study on the origins of COVID-19 prepared in May 2020 by the intelligence division of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory “made a strong case for further inquiry into the possibility the virus seeped out of the lab.”

One more thought on the Chinese government’s otherworldly secrecy and intractable opposition to an independent, external review of what is known and recorded about the start of the pandemic: There’s a fairly wide consensus that the Chinese official statistics on the impact of COVID-19 in China are not accurate. According to the Chinese government, no variant of COVID-19 has touched the country in any significant way.

But even if you believe the official statistics, the pandemic in China grew from 571 cases on January 22, 2020, to more than 76,000 cases on February 22, 2020. (And then, in China’s telling, the virus more or less just stopped spreading.) In that span, the number of deaths grew from 17 to 2,442. (On April 17, China adjusted its death toll to 4,632, and it contend only four people in a country of over 1 billion people have died from COVID-19 since.) A virus that kills more than 4,000 people in a short span is a really big deal. Any government, even the most ruthless and draconian, would want to get to the bottom of how the pandemic started, if for no other reason than to protect the ruling class and to minimize disruption to the economy that creates the wealth the rulers enjoy.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken keeps emphasizing that a full and transparent investigation “is profoundly in China’s interest to do this, as well.”

Indeed, Mr. Secretary, why does the Chinese regime seem so adamantly opposed to doing something that is profoundly in its own interest?

Is Beijing acting like a regime that is hell-bent on finding out how this whole calamity started? Or is it acting like a regime that already knows how this whole calamity started and wants to make sure no one else finds out?

DOJ Gets Back Some of the Colonial Pipeline Ransom

We don’t often get to celebrate wins against Russian hackers, so heck of a job, Department of Justice!

The Department of Justice today announced that it has seized 63.7 bitcoins currently valued at approximately $2.3 million. These funds allegedly represent the proceeds of a May 8, ransom payment to individuals in a group known as DarkSide, which had targeted Colonial Pipeline, resulting in critical infrastructure being taken out of operation.

“Following the money remains one of the most basic, yet powerful tools we have,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco for the U.S. Department of Justice. “Ransom payments are the fuel that propels the digital extortion engine, and today’s announcement demonstrates that the United States will use all available tools to make these attacks more costly and less profitable for criminal enterprises. We will continue to target the entire ransomware ecosystem to disrupt and deter these attacks. Today’s announcements also demonstrate the value of early notification to law enforcement; we thank Colonial Pipeline for quickly notifying the FBI when they learned that they were targeted by DarkSide.”

Our Andy McCarthy observes:

While today’s development is to be cheered, it also highlights some of the challenges. Notice: U.S. authorities are announcing only the seizure of funds (in fact, of funds they did not want Colonial to pay in the first place); there is no announcement of arrests. In that sense, it is reminiscent of the Mueller investigation’s ballyhooed indictments of Russian hackers: The stark reality is that, even if our intel officials can identify members of DarkSide, the chance that any of them will ever see the inside of an American courtroom is remote, to say the least.

It is great that the Bureau had the capability, on this occasion, to track down proceeds of a crypto-currency arrangement of the kind that hackers orchestrate precisely because it is so hard to trace. But investigators have not been able to capture all of the funds involved in this ransom transaction, and the limited (but significant) success here will not necessarily translate into success in similar investigations.

ADDENDUM: Wow! More than $108,000 in generous donations in this past week! Thank you so much, to each and every generous reader who helped kick in to keep NR going and serving its mission. Yesterday’s late appeal offered readers a glimpse into the glamorous home office that generates the Morning Jolt each weekday. And if you missed it last week, you can always give, or subscribe. They’re still offering an entire year of both the print magazine and NRPlus for just a dollar a week.

World

Wait, Natural Bat-Virus Spillover to Humans ‘Is Relatively Rare’?

Loading...
A bat ecologist measures a bat at the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB) in Los Banos, Philippines, February 19, 2021. (Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)

On the menu today: A Wuhan Institute of Virology study from 2018 examined the villagers who lived closest to the coronavirus-carrying bats in Yunnan Province and concluded that natural “spillover” from bats directly to humans is “relatively rare”; a new article and book lay out how Chinese researchers inadvertently admitted they had a supply of mice with “humanized lungs” lying around before the COVID-19 pandemic started; and a think tank offers a list of options to rebuke China and prevent the next pandemic.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2018: Natural Bat-Virus Spillover ‘Is Relatively Rare’

In 2015, researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology traveled to southern Yunnan Province in China to get a sense of how much natural viral infection of human beings occurred among those living closest to the virus-shedding horseshoe bats in the province. The astounding part, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, is not what they found; it’s what they didn’t find.

The study, published three years later, described its methodology as “perform[ing] serological surveillance on people who live in close proximity to caves where bats that carry diverse SARSr-CoVs roost.”

Researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology had been collecting samples from bats in Yanzi and Shitou caves since 2011 and determined that the caves “are inhabited by large numbers of bats including Rhinolophus spp., a major reservoir of SARSr-CoVs.” These caves are a four-hour drive’s distance away from the copper mineshaft in Tongguan, Mojiang, Yunnan Province, China, where six miners grew sick with COVID-19-like symptoms in April 2012. This is a study of the same species of bat, within the same province, but a considerable distance away.

The researchers noted in their study that the region was unaffected by the 2002–2003 SARS outbreak, and none of the 218 test subjects had any signs of a viral infection during testing. Out of the 218 test subjects, the sample split 63 percent female, 37 percent male, and the median age was 48. Eighty-three percent of the test subjects were farmers, 8.7 percent were students, and the rest were not identified by profession. There was good reason to think some had been in close contact with bats or other animals that could have caught a virus from a bat: “Most (81.2 percent) kept or owned livestock or pets, and the majority (97.2 percent) had a history of exposure to or contact with livestock or wild animals. Importantly, 20 (9.1 percent) participants witnessed bats flying close to their houses, and one had handled a bat corpse.”

If any population on earth was going to have a lot of antibodies in its blood, as lingering evidence of past run-ins with bat coronaviruses, these villagers were probably the best bet.

And yet, out of 218 people, the WIV researchers found just six samples that indicated past exposure to the kind of coronavirus likely to have originated in a bat. The researchers concluded that, “The 2.7 percent seropositivity for the high-risk group of residents living in close proximity to bat colonies suggests that spillover is a relatively rare event, however this depends on how long antibodies persist in people, since other individuals may have been exposed and antibodies waned. During questioning, none of the 6 seropositive subjects could recall any clinical symptoms in the past 12 months, suggesting that their bat SARSr-CoV infection either occurred before the time of sampling, or that infections were subclinical or caused only mild symptoms.”

As part of the experiment, the WIV researchers also used a control group, collecting “240 serum samples from random blood donors in 2015 in Wuhan, Hubei Province more than 1000 km away from Jinning and where inhabitants have a much lower likelihood of contact with bats due to its urban setting. . . . None of the donors had knowledge of prior SARS infection or known contact with SARS patients.” The Wuhan residents didn’t test positive for the bat coronaviruses.

(Before we go any further, note that the Wuhan Institute of Virology itself is declaring that residents of the city of Wuhan have a much lower likelihood of contact with bats, and that the city is well beyond the natural habitat of the horseshoe bats.)

In other words, the Wuhan Institute of Virology studied the people living closest to the kinds of bats carrying coronaviruses — and in one case, someone who picked up a dead bat! — and either didn’t get infected at all, or they got infected with a virus that offered minimally dangerous health effects. It’s likely these villagers had been living near and coming in contact with bats for generations — and obviously, they had no memories of themselves or their parents or grandparents experiencing anything like COVID-19.

From this, the Wuhan Institute of Virology researchers determined “spillover is a relatively rare event.” And we shouldn’t be that surprised, as viruses that develop in the bodies of bats are optimized to infect bats, not human beings. While bats and human beings are both mammals, their lungs aren’t genetically identical.

So, What Made SARS-CoV-2 So Different?

In that spectacular Vanity Fair article by Katherine Eban, she lays out how a May 2020 Chinese research paper referring to mice who had been genetically altered to have lungs more similar to those of human beings may represent an inadvertent admission of secret research:

As the NSC tracked these disparate clues, U.S. government virologists advising them flagged one study first submitted in April 2020. Eleven of its 23 coauthors worked for the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, the Chinese army’s medical research institute. Using the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR, the researchers had engineered mice with humanized lungs, then studied their susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2. As the NSC officials worked backward from the date of publication to establish a timeline for the study, it became clear that the mice had been engineered sometime in the summer of 2019, before the pandemic even started. The NSC officials were left wondering: Had the Chinese military been running viruses through humanized mouse models, to see which might be infectious to humans?

You can find that study, published in the scientific journal Nature, here. Two key passages:

“Specific-pathogen-free male and female wild-type (n = 15) or hACE2 (n = 19) mice of 6–11 months of age were inoculated intranasally with SARS-CoV-2 strain HB-01 at a dosage of 105 50% tissue culture infectious dose (TCID50) per 50 μl inoculum volume per mouse, after the mice were intraperitoneally anaesthetized using 2.5% avertin; mock-treated hACE2 mice (n = 15) were used as control.”

. . . For the mouse experiments, specific-pathogen-free, 6–11-month-old male and female hACE2 mice were obtained from the Institute of Laboratory Animal Science, Peking Union Medical College. Transgenic mice were generated by microinjection of the mouse Ace2 promoter driving the human ACE2 coding sequence into the pronuclei of fertilized ova from ICR mice, and then human ACE2 integrated was identified by PCR as previous described; the human ACE2 mainly expressed in the lungs, heart, kidneys and intestines of transgenic mice.”

A study published in the first week of May 2020 indicates experiments conducted no later than April 2020. An eleven-month-old mouse used in a study conducted in April 2020, that had human a ACE2 coding sequence injected into the ova, meant that ova had been injected with the genetic sequences no later than May 2019 — months before anyone had ever heard of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. So, why did Chinese research scientists engineer a supply of mice with “humanized” lungs before the pandemic broke?

As Josh Rogin writes in Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi, and the Battle for the 21st Century:

After consultations with experts, some U.S. officials came to believe that this Beijing lab was likely conducting coronavirus experiments on mice fitted with ACE2 receptors well before the coronavirus outbreak — research they hadn’t disclosed and continued to not admit to. That, by itself, did not help to explain how SARS-CoV-2 originated. But it did make clear to U.S. officials that there was a lot of risky coronavirus experiments going on in Chinese labs that the rest of the world was simply not aware of. “This was just a peek under a curtain of an entire galaxy of activity, including labs in Beijing and Wuhan playing around with coronaviruses in ACE2 mice in unsafe labs,” the senior administration official said. “It suggests we’re getting a peek at a body of activity that isn’t understood in the West or even has precedent here.”

The Beijing study further reinforced the suspicions of many people inside the U.S. government that the pandemic resulted in part due to the actions of humans, specifically Chinese researchers. The virus itself may not have been engineered, but the animal hosts that were being used to test it were engineered, which could explain how the virus might have evolved over a short period of time from something found in nature to something so deadly to humans that it would cause the worst pandemic in modern history.

Advocates of the zoonotic-origin theory have emphasized that the virus likely needed an intermediary species to become so thoroughly effective at infecting human beings. If Chinese labs had a supply of mice with humanized lungs, that would be the kind of intermediary species that could take a virus optimized for infecting bats and help it transform itself into a virus better suited for infecting human beings.

Remember, we haven’t found SARS-CoV-2 in any animals in nature yet. If SARS-CoV-2 is a mutation of a naturally occurring virus that was altered within the system of a mouse that had been genetically altered to have lungs more similar to human beings . . . we’re not going to find SARS-CoV-2 in any animals in nature. Because, in that scenario, the virus only underwent that globally consequential transformation within a laboratory mouse whose lungs were genetically engineered to function like a human being’s.

How to Counter China for Unleashing the Pandemic

At the U.S. State Department, David Asher spearheaded a task force for the office of Secretary Mike Pompeo looking into the origins of COVID-19 and the role of the Chinese government in its development. Now, Asher and four of his colleagues at Hudson Institute have just published a four-step proposal on how to respond to Beijing’s consistent hostility to international cooperation and transparency:

  1. Cease funding for dangerous research: The Biden administration should completely reinstate the Obama administration’s ban on dangerous gain-of-function research, which was never sufficiently enforced in cases involving Chinese government labs.
  2. Enforce treaty compliance: The secretary of state should address China’s violations of the International Health Regulations, especially its failure to respond to consultations and to share data among treaty members — a fundamental requirement. Beijing’s military programs need to be verified as complying with the peaceful purposes clause of the Biological Weapons Convention.
  3. Sanctions: The secretary of the treasury and the secretary of state should begin investigating formal sanctions against the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and their networks of commercial entities for engaging in undeclared, classified biological weapons research and development for the Chinese military, in possible violation of US Presidential Executive Order 13382 on WMD proliferation.
  4. Responsible pandemic preparedness: Rather than continuing to fund EcoHealth Alliance’s failed programs to try to predict the next pandemic, the administration should adopt a better strategy, such as establishing a public-private partnership to develop and deploy a global network of bio-threat detection sensors, possibly centered around the Chan Zuckerberg BioHub and IDseq Initiative. China would be expected to be a founding plank holder for this international bio-sensing network, as this initiative’s purpose is to share data akin to weather prediction and seismology joint detection, prediction, and coordination. At least we would get the benefit of much earlier warnings of natural or manmade disease outbreaks from this epidemiological “open skies” initiative.

This past weekend, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Axios that China “has to” be more open about the origin of the virus and share more information. He was not overflowing with details about how that goal would be achieved, other than to emphasize that cooperating more “is in China’s interest, too.”

ADDENDUM: Our webathon continues, and Rich illuminates that your generous support helps us do groundbreaking journalism — such as Charlie Cooke’s irrefutable, comprehensive exposé of Rebekah Jones, the serial fabulist and peddler of preposterous conspiracy theories who was celebrated by a far-too-credulous national and Florida media as a whistleblower.

Media

China-Appeasing Column Insists Lab-Leak Theory Is ‘Garbage’

Loading...
Health workers wear protective gear inside a locked-down portion of the Jordan residential area to contain a new outbreak of the coronavirus in Hong Kong, China, January 23, 2021. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

On the menu today: A Los Angeles Times columnist decrees the lab-leak theory to be “garbage” and says the real lesson of the pandemic is that the United States needs to “cooperate with China” more; a “3.6 Roentgen reading” of a jobs report; a Chinese-government spokesman suffers a bitter defeat; and an appreciation for some kind words.

Even Now, the Usual Suspects Demand We ‘Cooperate with China’

Over in the Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik writes an entire column arguing that the lab-leak theory is “garbage,” and the first piece of evidence he cites is a research paper in Nature from February 2020.

Now, has anything happened since February 2020 that might alter one’s perspective on the probable cause of this pandemic? Anything at all?

Hiltzik writes:

There’s an argument for getting more accountability out of China about its handling of the viral outbreak in its earliest stages. But there’s also an argument against pointing fingers at the Chinese regime or its scientific establishment without evidence: China’s cooperation will be crucial for world health in the future, and it’s less likely to happen if China feels it has been unjustly blamed for COVID-19.

“The lab-leak hypothesis is taking the oxygen out of what’s really needing to be done, which is cooperating with China,” [Robert F. Garry of Tulane Medical School] told his colleagues on the recent webcast.

“Follow the animals,” he said. “That’s where we’re going to find the origin of COVID-19.”

First of all, looking at labs researching novel coronaviruses in bats, in some cases collected in the mine that housed the virus most genetically similar to SARS-CoV-2 identified in nature so far, IS “following the animals.” As noted yesterday, Chinese researchers have been attempting to “follow the animals” to a possible wet market or farm for nearly a year and a half, and they still haven’t found an infected animal. This is not how things shook out with SARS back in 2003.

Suspecting a lab leak is not cheerleading for wet markets. Wet markets are dangerously unsanitary, and a potential outbreak threat, and ought to be cleaned up or banned. But the existence of wet markets doesn’t rule out the possibility of a lab accident, and the potential of lab accidents doesn’t mean that there’s no risk of future infections at wet markets.

“Cooperate with China?” How? This perspective ignores the fact that the Chinese government refuses to cooperate in any significant way with any independent inquiry! The Washington Post summarizes today:

The WHO chief, the Biden administration, other governments and scientists around the world have rebuked China for not making this investigation any easier.

Chinese authorities weren’t much more receptive of the international team commissioned by the WHO. Negotiations over the arrangements delayed the team from getting to Wuhan until more than a year after doctors first raised concerns there. Once on the ground, the international experts were given limited access. They visited the market linked to early coronavirus cases — but it had been shut for a year and its contents long ago removed. Their visit to the Wuhan Institute of Virology lasted three hours. In general, they had to satisfy themselves with data that was in large part collected by Chinese scientists before the trip . . .

. . . Wuhan’s two rival teams of exotic bat disease specialists are now under renewed scrutiny. Tian’s team at the Wuhan CDC and Shi Zhengli’s at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) have both drawn criticism for a willingness to compromise safety, as they raced to make discoveries.

The Wuhan CDC and WIV did not reply to requests for comment, nor did Tian or Shi. An unnamed staffer who answered the phone Tuesday at the Wuhan CDC said the center did not accept interviews and directed questions to the National Health Commission. The NHC did not reply to a request for comment.

China’s Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Embassy in Washington declined to answer questions for this article.

Look who’s calling for greater transparency from the Chinese government in the pages of the Financial Times:

Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser has called on China to release the medical records of nine people whose illnesses might provide vital clues into whether Covid-19 first emerged as the result of a lab leak.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or NIAID, told the Financial Times that the records could help resolve the debate over the origins of a disease that has killed more than 3.5m people worldwide. The records in question concern three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology who reportedly became sick in November 2019, and six miners who fell ill after entering a bat cave in 2012. Scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology subsequently visited the cave to take samples from the bats. Three of the miners died.

“I would like to see the medical records of the three people who are reported to have got sick in 2019,” Fauci said. “Did they really get sick, and if so, what did they get sick with? “The same with the miners who got ill years ago  . . . What do the medical records of those people say? Was there [a] virus in those people? What was it? It is entirely conceivable that the origins of Sars-Cov-2 was in that cave and either started spreading naturally or went through the lab.”

Those are all good questions. In fact, those seem like good questions that should have been asked before the U.S. National Institutes of Health started sending grant money to EcoHealth Alliance to pass along to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for gain-of-function research on coronaviruses found in bats.

I’ll put it to you, dear reader: What do you think it means that China won’t share any of that information? Why did Chinese authorities refuse to share “raw patient data on 174 cases that China had identified from the early phase of the outbreak” when the WHO team visited? Why did the Wuhan Institute of Virology suddenly cease public access to its database of records of some 22,000 samples and some of their genetic sequences? Why did a second database of virus records, run by China’s National Virus Resource Center, also suddenly become restricted? Why do you think that in April 2020, the Chinese government decreed that any academic papers dealing with the origins of the virus be approved by China’s Ministry of Science and Technology before publication? Why did Xiaobo Tao, a scholar from South China University of Technology, publish a paper theorizing that COVID-19 originated from bats being used for research at either one of the two research laboratories in Wuhan on February 6, 2020, and then withdraw it days later, with a vague explanation that he no longer believed it?

What do some folks need to see before they conclude, “Yeah, this looks like Chinese government is trying to hide something”?

The argument in Hiltzik’s column amounts to, “We need to cooperate more with those people who are refusing to cooperate with the investigation in any way.”

The New Jobs Report Is Too Good to Be Bad, Too Bad to Be Good

After high hopes, the updated jobs report is kind of like that 3.6 Roentgen reading in the HBO miniseries Chernobyl: “Not great, not terrible.” Adding 559,000 jobs to the economy in a month is too good to be considered bad, and the overall unemployment rate declined to 5.8 percent. But with so many Americans vaccinated and with COVID restrictions ending, schools reopening, and so on, we had good reason to expect a nice big surge of hiring and a skyrocketing economy.

The April numbers were revised upward by 278,000, which is an improvement from colossally disappointing to merely “disappointing.” (Analysts had expected a million new jobs in a month.) But this month’s total was still about 100,000 fewer jobs than the markets expected, the labor-force-participation rate remained about the same.

The BLS report states that, “In May, employment in leisure and hospitality increased by 292,000, as pandemic-related restrictions continued to ease in some parts of the country. Nearly two-thirds of the increase was in food services and drinking places (+186,000).”

I noticed the other day that a bunch of restaurants in my neck of the woods have shut their doors — and several of them managed to survive a long stretch of the pandemic before finally succumbing to insurmountable financial pressures. I wonder if we’re in a painful window in between when the pandemic killed off a bunch of established small businesses, but the next generation of small businesses haven’t gotten started and opened their doors yet.

Take That, Beijing!

In a terrible setback for the Chinese government, their spokesman LeBron James and his team, the Los Angeles Lakers, were eliminated in the first round of the NBA playoffs last night, one season after winning the NBA championship.

ADDENDA: To everyone who has generously supported us during our current pledge drive — focusing on NR’s early, frequent, in-depth, and lasting coverage of the lab-leak theory — thank you.

. . . Thanks to Gary Robbins and the other Ricochet commenters in his thread for the kind words about the Dangerous Clique thriller novels. There are a lot of thrillers out there, and a lot of more experienced thriller writers who know the worlds of spies and the military much better than I do. But I think it is safe to say that between the quirky humor, deep research, unusual locations, obscure pop-culture references, and subtle political and social observations, there’s nothing quite like them out there.

I saw in the thread a few questions about the next book. It’s in the works. The dramatic development in the life of Katrina and Alec that emerged in the final pages of Hunting Four Horsemen will be affecting their lives very dramatically. At this point, the general plot is that the team is going to be dealing with a threat that is particularly personal, and ties back to the Dangerous Clique’s first mission, a seat-of-their-pants stumbling start in 2003 that the world barely noticed, with so much attention focusing upon the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

What readers really seemed to respond to in Between Two Scorpions and Hunting Four Horsemen was the portrait of our modern zeitgeist — the sense of foreign foes capitalizing on intensifying American social divisions and distrust of fellow citizens, and the fear that unscrupulous scientists, eager to cash in on their knowledge, could cheerfully pry open Pandora’s Box. So, in addition to trying to make the characters, plot, dialogue, and the rest solid, I’m currently thinking a lot about what real-world threats frighten us now and will frighten us in the years to come. Military applications of artificial intelligence? The world’s biggest tech companies amassing power that rivals that of governments? Russian hackers shutting down our vital services without warning? A sense of neo-anarchism and angry political movements focused on tearing down institutions with no desire to replace them with anything?

U.S.

Lab-Leak Bombshells Drop: Death Threats, ‘Cover-Up,’ and More

Loading...
Workers in protective suits examine specimens inside a laboratory following an outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, February 6, 2020. (China Daily/Reuters)

On the menu today: Two huge stories — Vanity Fair finds evidence that some figures within the U.S. State Department did not want a complete investigation into the virus’s origins in early 2020; and what you need to know about that other new virus discovered in China.

U.S. State Department: Don’t ‘Open a Can of Worms’ on the COVID-19 Origin

Credit where it’s due: Vanity Fair magazine appears to have found one of the smoking guns of this entire abominable story of the COVID-19 pandemic, suggesting that in early 2020, some corners of the federal government explicitly discouraged a full investigation into how the pandemic started:

A months long Vanity Fair investigation, interviews with more than 40 people, and a review of hundreds of pages of U.S. government documents, including internal memos, meeting minutes, and email correspondence, found that conflicts of interest, stemming in part from large government grants supporting controversial virology research, hampered the U.S. investigation into COVID-19’s origin at every step. In one State Department meeting, officials seeking to demand transparency from the Chinese government say they were explicitly told by colleagues not to explore the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s gain-of-function research, because it would bring unwelcome attention to U.S. government funding of it.

In an internal memo obtained by Vanity Fair, Thomas DiNanno, former acting assistant secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, wrote that staff from two bureaus, his own and the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, “warned” leaders within his bureau “not to pursue an investigation into the origin of COVID-19” because it would “‘open a can of worms’ if it continued.”

Are you kidding me? Whose side are they on?

As officials at the meeting discussed what they could share with the public, they were advised by Christopher Park, the director of the State Department’s Biological Policy Staff in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, not to say anything that would point to the U.S. government’s own role in gain-of-function research, according to documentation of the meeting obtained by Vanity Fair.

Some of the attendees were “absolutely floored,” said an official familiar with the proceedings. That someone in the U.S. government could “make an argument that is so nakedly against transparency, in light of the unfolding catastrophe, was…shocking and disturbing.”

Park, who in 2017 had been involved in lifting a U.S. government moratorium on funding for gain-of-function research, was not the only official to warn the State Department investigators against digging in sensitive places. As the group probed the lab-leak scenario, among other possibilities, its members were repeatedly advised not to open a “Pandora’s box,” said four former State Department officials interviewed by Vanity Fair. The admonitions “smelled like a cover-up,” said Thomas DiNanno, “and I wasn’t going to be part of it.”

This . . . is evidence that the seemingly hyperbolic conspiracy theories are true. High-level U.S. government officials recognized that gain-of-function research — which was controversial even among virologists — that they had indirectly funded, may well have been the cause of the worst global pandemic since 1918, killing millions. U.S. government laboratories hadn’t been doing the research of going into caves and mines in remote corners of China, collecting virus samples from bats, and figuring out how to make those viruses more dangerous and contagious, but the U.S. government had partially paid for it. And they feared the consequences of that disclosure so immensely, they concluded the public could not be informed about this.

The story gets even more shocking:

For most of the past year, the lab-leak scenario was treated not simply as unlikely or even inaccurate but as morally out-of-bounds. In late March, former Centers for Disease Control director Robert Redfield received death threats from fellow scientists after telling CNN that he believed COVID-19 had originated in a lab. “I was threatened and ostracized because I proposed another hypothesis,” Redfield told Vanity Fair. “I expected it from politicians. I didn’t expect it from science.”

Hypothesis: If someone is so upset about a theory you’ve offered that they threaten to kill you over it, your theory is probably right. Nobody makes death threats over contentions that the moon is made of green cheese.

Then there’s this simple, clear, illuminating point from a professor who’s been ahead of the curve on this from the start:

Dr. Richard Ebright, board of governors professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University, said that from the very first reports of a novel bat-related coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, it took him “a nanosecond or a picosecond” to consider a link to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Only two other labs in the world, in Galveston, Texas, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, were doing similar research. “It’s not a dozen cities,” he said. “It’s three places.”

Three places in the world are doing this kind of research on coronaviruses in bats, and a novel coronavirus most similar to those found in bats causes a global pandemic that started in one of those three places. What are the odds?

What to Know about That Other Scary New Virus Found in China

When this news first appeared, it sounded almost like a grim parody: Chinese medical authorities have discovered another new virus jumping from an animal to a human being, separate from the SARS-CoV-2 that set off the COVID-19 pandemic, but “the risk of large-scale spread is low, the government said.”

You can be forgiven for feeling like you’ve seen this movie before. Nobody ever listens to the scientist played by Jeff Goldblum until it’s too late.

This new virus, called H10N3, is a new form of bird flu, or “avian influenza” as the professionals call it, and most of the time bird-flu viruses do not infect human beings. The CDC summarizes, “The spread of avian influenza A viruses from one ill person to another has been reported very rarely, and when it has been reported it has been limited, inefficient and not sustained. However, because of the possibility that avian influenza A viruses could change and gain the ability to spread easily between people, monitoring for human infection and person-to-person spread is extremely important for public health.” The world has had several outbreaks of bird flu in recent years, and the reason you don’t remember much about them is because they were not particularly severe and barely touched North America.

The (rough) translation of the statement from the Chinese National Health Commission states that:

Jiangsu Province, for all close contacts were under medical observation, carried out at the local emergency monitoring, have found no abnormalities. . . . Experts assessed that the whole gene analysis of the virus showed that the H10N3 virus was of avian origin and did not have the ability to effectively infect humans. No human cases of H10N3 have been reported globally, and the H10N3 virus among poultry is low pathogenic to poultry. The once occasional outbreak of avian to human spread across species, large-scale spread of epidemic risk extremely low.

Then again, many of us can remember similarly worded assurances from the Chinese CDC that “the risk of sustained human-to-human transmission is low,” after the hospitals in Wuhan had filled to capacity and started turning away patients.

Here’s the tentative good news: If Chinese health authorities are telling the truth, the infected man has been in the hospital since late April and hasn’t died yet, and in fact, he may be discharged soon. It means he’s had the virus for more than a month, and there’s not yet any sign he spread it to anyone else, so maybe this virus really is unlikely to be spread from one person to another.

The Chinese government may lie a lot, but we can get a more accurate sense of what it’s dealing with by watching its actions, not its words. Jiangsu Province is on the Chinese coast, just north of Shanghai, home to roughly 24 million people. The patient lives in Zhenjiang, which is home to about 3 million people.

If Jiangsu Province was going into a quarantine or lockdown, it would be difficult to hide that from the eyes of the world. If the hospitals in Shanghai were filling up with feverish patients, that would be difficult to completely cover up, too. And compared to SARS-CoV-2, poultry-producer health inspectors and doctors are pretty familiar with bird-flu viruses and how to spot them. We’re still not entirely sure when the COVID-19 “Patient Zero” was infected in Wuhan, but by early-to-mid January, it was clear the city was dealing with something deadly serious and considerably contagious. About a month after the H10N3 “Patient Zero” got sick, we haven’t seen anything like that in Jiangsu.

Thankfully, not every new virus discovered in China turns into a worldwide crisis. In July of last year, U.S. officials started tracking a newly discovered strain of swine flu in China that they warned “has the characteristics of viruses with potential to cause a human pandemic.” The CDC issued a statement noting that the World Health Organization and Chinese CDC had developed a vaccine candidate for the “closely related EA avian-like H1N1 G5 swine flu virus” and that “if needed, CDC will work to create a new vaccine candidate virus made specifically against G4 viruses.” As of November, there were still no reports of that particular swine-flu virus spreading from person to person.

You probably remember that back in 2009, the world was hit by a pandemic of H1N1, which seemed serious and somewhat scary at the time but that now looks like child’s play.

With all of that said, just because the circumstantial evidence of a lab leak is piling up, and the scenario of the COVID-19 pandemic starting at a wet market seems less likely, it doesn’t mean that wet markets are safe, or that the original suspicion was unrealistic. Back in November 2017, Smithsonian magazine prophetically asked: “Is China Ground Zero for a Future Pandemic?

At least two flu pandemics in the past century — in 1957 and 1968 — originated in the Middle Kingdom and were triggered by avian viruses that evolved to become easily transmissible between humans. Although health authorities have increasingly tried to ban the practice, millions of live birds are still kept, sold, and slaughtered in crowded markets each year. In a study published in January, researchers in China concluded that these markets were a “main source of H7N9 transmission by way of human-poultry contact and avian-related environmental exposures.”

Yesterday, Charlie declared, tongue-in-cheek, that, “it will be important for us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that COVID-19 was not unleashed by something as intrinsically Sinocentric as a scientific accident involving poor protective-clothing management, but as the result of a more culturally neutral tradition such as the human consumption of wet-market bats.” And many have asked why the lab-leak theory is allegedly racist, but somehow there isn’t an uncomfortable cultural stereotype in the contention that the virus started in an unregulated, unsanitary, crowded street market where merchants are chopping up live exotic animals.

But it’s worth noting that the Chinese government isn’t all that eager to embrace the wet-market theory, either. Chinese authorities continue to contend that the COVID-19 pandemic likely started from seafood that was imported from some other country, a scenario virologists find particularly implausible. The World Health Organization states that, “There is currently no evidence that people can catch COVID-19 from food. . . . Coronaviruses need a live animal or human host to multiply and survive and cannot multiply on the surface of food packages. It is not necessary to disinfect food packaging materials.”

Alina Chan, who has done as much to uncover the truth about this pandemic as anyone on earth, recently observed that, “More and more journalists have asked me whether I think it’s plausible that China is covering up a natural origin just like it could be covering up a lab origin. My answer is yes. Any origin that starts inside of China is not an origin that China wants to provide evidence for.”

ADDENDUM: This week’s pledge drive is going well, but because my name is all over it, your generosity is particularly appreciated this time.

National Security & Defense

The Hackers Come for Our Beef

Loading...
Employees walk around at the JBS USA meat packing plant in Greeley, Colo., April 8, 2020. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

On the menu today: The hackers come for our beef; Joe Biden is disappointing the folks who thought he would be tough against Vladimir Putin; a look at what your support of NR enables; and the contrast between how progressives talk about China and how they talk about Israel.

We Should Be Concerned about Cyber-Ransom Attacks
As Andrew Stuttaford summarizes, “First Fuel, Now Beef.” With each passing cyberattack that temporarily cripples a portion of a key industry, it gets harder to shrug off cyber-ransom attacks as just another price of living in an Internet-wired, globalized world. Who the hell are these techno-malcontents in Russia, and why are they able to disrupt life in the United States with increasing regularity?

Hopefully, there’s something going on behind the scenes to impede and deter this growing threat; for now, the public line from the Biden administration is that we’re going to tell Vladimir Putin and the Russian government that they’re being irresponsible.

In a short briefing aboard Air Force One en route to Tulsa on Tuesday, White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that, “JBS notified the administration that the ransom demand came from a criminal organization likely based in Russia. The White House is engaging directly with the Russian government on this matter and delivering the message that responsible states do not harbor ransomware criminals.”

Yeah, that’ll work.

The good news is that it sounds as if the disruption to the meat-supply chain will be pretty quickly resolved:

Andre Nogueira, JBS USA CEO. “Our systems are coming back online and we are not sparing any resources to fight this threat. We have cybersecurity plans in place to address these types of issues and we are successfully executing those plans. Given the progress our IT professionals and plant teams have made in the last 24 hours, the vast majority of our beef, pork, poultry and prepared foods plants will be operational tomorrow.”

In the U.S. today, JBS USA and Pilgrim’s were able to ship product from nearly all of its facilities to supply customers. The company also continues to make progress in resuming plant operations in the U.S. and Australia. Several of the company’s pork, poultry and prepared foods plants were operational today and its Canada beef facility resumed production.

The bad news is . . . you don’t see anything along the lines of, “We didn’t pay the ransom” in that statement, now, do you?

If the Colonial Pipeline attack and this new JBS hack feel qualitatively different than previous breaches — the ones that got you a replacement credit card mailed to you every few months or so, it seemed — contemplate this assessment from Hitesh Sheth, CEO at Vectra AI, an AI cybersecurity company:

The JBS attack is one more signal of a disturbing shift in cyberwar strategy. On the surface it looks like another ransomware attack, but what’s really telling is the choice of targets. This is an important global supply chain moving essential goods to 100+ countries.

Such attacks on critical infrastructure create a higher form of chaos. Disrupting vital food and fuel supply chains is bigger than stealing credit card numbers or holding health records for ransom. Consider the JBS attackers’ intent; clearly, it’s more than just a pay day; clearly, they don’t care that much about meat.

On an almost weekly basis, we’re now confronting the real vulnerability of our essential systems. The motive now runs deeper than ransom – attackers want people, not just businesses, knocked back on their heels.

Over at Capital Matters, Cale Clingenpeel, formerly a special adviser to President Trump and his Council of Economic Advisers, notes that the CEA tried to calculate the cost of these ransom attacks back in 2018: “After taking into account firms’ underreporting of cyberattacks, spillover effects to other firms, and private costs incurred alongside the costs to publicly traded firms, the CEA estimated that the total cost posed by malicious cyberactivity to the U.S. economy in 2016 was as high as $109 billion (roughly 0.6 percent of 2016 GDP). These estimated costs are very likely to have increased since 2016.”

Also, did you notice that even with the Colonial Pipeline restored, gas prices are still really high?

Biden Wimps Out on Russia — Again
Speaking of Russia, I don’t want to put words in Garry Kasparov’s mouth, but as he criticizes President Biden’s early moves on Russia in the Wall Street Journal, do you get the sense he’s starting to feel like the victim of a bait-and-switch?

The day after the [Belarus] hijacking, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, met with his Russian peer, Nikolay Patrushev, to lay the ground for the summit. They talked about “normalizing,” a euphemism for appeasement. Normalizing relations with a dictatorship only normalizes dictatorship. Yes, as Biden supporters are quick to say, even Ronald Reagan met with the Soviets. But he did so with concrete national- and global-security demands and from a position of strength. So far there is no such agenda for a Biden-Putin meeting.

Ten years ago in Moscow, Mr. Biden had the nerve to talk tough to Putin, but he lacked authority. Now he commands the full power of the presidency and must prove he hasn’t lost his nerve.

I can’t remember who said it on Twitter, but Democrats are “reverting to factory settings on Russia.” Back in July 2020, Biden made this promise regarding Russia’s election meddling:

Today, I am putting the Kremlin and other foreign governments on notice . . . I will direct my administration to leverage all appropriate instruments of national power and make full use of my executive authority to impose substantial and lasting costs on state perpetrators. These costs could include financial-sector sanctions, asset freezes, cyber responses, and the exposure of corruption. A range of other actions could also be taken, depending on the nature of the attack. I will direct our response at a time and in a manner of our choosing . . . If any foreign power recklessly chooses to interfere in our democracy, I will not hesitate to respond as president to impose substantial and lasting costs.

Somehow Biden has shifted from “I will impose substantial and lasting costs” to trying to “normalize” our relationship with Moscow?

What Your Support of NR Enables
Yup, that’s me asking for your support on the home page today. Yesterday brought a good example of what I am able to do because National Review is supported by the generosity of readers like you.

Over the weekend, I started wondering about other laboratory accidents in China, not related to COVID-19, in the years before this particular pandemic. I knew about the two accidental releases of SARS from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, but how many other laboratories — not just virology labs, but university labs, chemistry labs, any labs — had significant accidents? I would contend that the notion that Wuhan Institute of Virology staff were too diligent or careful to ever make a mistake is already proven to be a laughably unrealistic assertion, but just how good, or bad, are laboratory-safety standards in China? (We’re supposed to tell the editors what we’re working on, but I don’t like to tell them, “I’ve got a story on X” until I’ve looked into X enough to know that I’ve got a story.)

The short answer is that China has had quite a few fatal accidents and explosions in laboratories in the last 17 years, and well into Monday’s digging through science journals and medical journals, I found this:

September 2019: Yuan Zhiming, deputy director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, offered an assessment of the state of biosafety in Chinese laboratories in general in the Journal of Biosafety and Biosecurity:

. . . biosafety measures and practices are vital in daily laboratory operations hence a highly qualified, motivated, and skilled biosafety supervisor is needed not only for overseeing solid containment but also in laboratory risk management. Currently, most laboratories lack specialized biosafety managers and engineers. In such facilities, some of the skilled staff is composed by part-time researchers. This makes it difficult to identify and mitigate potential safety hazards in facility and equipment operation early enough. Nonetheless, biosafety awareness, professional knowledge, and operational skill training still need to be improved among laboratory personnel.

Now, this is not a smoking gun. And Yuan Zhiming is not explicitly expressing concerns about the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Then again, he doesn’t explicitly state that the Wuhan Institute of Virology doesn’t have these problems, either. His language is reminiscent of the memo from Jamison Fouss, the U.S. consul general in Wuhan, and Rick Switzer, the embassy’s counselor of environment, science, technology, and health, who repeatedly visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology and in January 2018 wrote a memo to Washington articulating their concerns: “During interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, they noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory.”

Anyway, it’s another piece of the puzzle that suggests a lab accident in Wuhan in late 2019 was easily within the realm of possibility. After a 2015 explosion in a Beijing university chemistry lab, one professor decried the “systematic negligence of safety in our labs” while another lamented, “compared with labs in the U.S., Chinese labs generally have poor safety and less sophisticated safety equipment.”

All of this information was out there, just waiting for someone to find it. But for whatever reason, other media institutions either didn’t look that hard, or were apparently never that curious about previous laboratory accidents in China leading up to the outbreak of COVID-19.

ADDENDUM: Our Dan McLaughlin observes that the same people who object to criticizing the government of China because it could fuel racism against Asian Americans . . . don’t mind criticizing the government of Israel or fear that it could fuel anti-Semitism. “I suppose the theory of why it’s racist to criticize the People’s Republic of China but not Israel is that Communist China has a democratically elected government and Israel doesn’t.”

Politics & Policy

Governor Abbott Plays Hardball

Loading...
Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks at the annual National Rifle Association (NRA) convention in Dallas, Texas, May 4, 2018. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

On the menu today: Texas governor Greg Abbott threatens to cut off the salaries of Democratic state legislators who walked out of the chamber to prevent a quorum; the history of state legislators fleeing their state to prevent the passage of legislation; some signs that SARS-CoV-2 is not yet done with China; and NR once again asks for your support.

Democrats Suddenly Love Legislative-Minority Rights Again

“No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities,” threatened Texas governor Greg Abbott, after Texas state legislative Democrats walked out of the chamber to deny Texas Republicans the quorum necessary to pass their election-reform measure. Abbott threatened to veto Article 10 of the Texas state budget, which is the portion that funds legislators’ salaries.

That threat may not be quite the metaphorical nuclear strike that it initially seems, as being a Texas state legislator is not a full-time job. The salary is $600 per month, with a per diem of $221 per day for each day of a regular session or special session. With the election-reform bill unpassed in the regular session, Abbott pledged the state legislature would hold a special session to ensure its passage.

What’s in that bill? You can read the text here. The summary from the Fort Worth Star Telegram does not quite align with the apocalyptic “Jim Crow 2.0” rhetoric being tossed around by critics:

  • Prohibit temporary polling places in a tent or other movable structures that were designed for cars.

  • Set times dictating when polling places can be open.

  • Make it a Class B misdemeanor for an election officer to “knowingly refuse to accept a (poll) watcher for service.” Poll watchers would have to sign an oath attesting they won’t disrupt the voting process or harass voters.

  • Require a paper audit trail for votes.

  • Require those seeking an application to vote by mail because of a disability to provide the “specific grounds on which the voter is eligible for a ballot to be voted by mail on the ground of disability.”

  • Would make it a state jail felony for a public official to solicit “the submission of an application to vote by mail from a person who did not request an application.”

Perhaps the biggest objection is declaring that voting on Sunday may only begin after 1 p.m., which critics contend is an attempt to limit “souls to the polls” efforts by African-American churches. But the bill declares that polls may remain open until 9 p.m., and eight hours of early voting on a Sunday does not seem like a particularly draconian restriction. In fact, the legislation declares that polls must be open for at least six hours.

A legislative minority leaving the chamber, in order to deny the majority a quorum and prevent passage of legislation, is not a new trick. And like almost everything else in politics, almost no one has a consistent view on the legitimacy of walkouts independent of who is doing it.

Lawmakers almost always believe that it is valid and necessary when their side does it, and a dereliction of duty and a stunt when the other party does it.

In 2001, Democrats in the Oregon State House of Representatives left the chamber in an effort to derail the Republicans’ preferred redistricting plan. The Senate Democratic leader at the time, Kate Brown, supported the walkout, calling it “very appropriate under the circumstances. . . . Under certain circumstances, it’s fair to say we would use all tools available to us, and stage a similar boycott.”

Fast forward to 2019, 2020, and 2021, and the Republican legislators, now in the minority, staged walkouts in response to cap-and-trade bills and COVID-19 restrictions. Brown, who became governor in 2015, stopped believing that walkouts were appropriate and fair right around the time her party became the majority, and ordered Oregon State Police to hunt down the hiding Republican lawmakers and return them to the legislative chamber. “It is absolutely unacceptable that the Senate Republicans would turn their back on their constituents who they are honor-bound to represent here in this building. They need to return and do the jobs they were elected to do.” (Thankfully, as we all know, in recent years Oregon has had no real crime that the state police would need to investigate.) In recent months, Oregon legislators’ Democratic allies have introduced both bills and ballot measures to restrict walkouts or punish those who participate in them.

In 2003, Democratic Texas state senators and representatives fled the state rather than be present for passage of another redistricting plan. Governor Rick Perry ordered the Texas Rangers to find the lawmakers, and one of the Texas Democrats compared his colleagues’ efforts to those of the heroic Texans at the Alamo.

Back in 2011, Wisconsin Democratic state legislators fled the state, rather than allow the chamber to hold a vote on Act 10, a.k.a. the Budget Repair Bill that curbed collective bargaining for most unionized public employees. (An independent analysis by the Beacon Hill Institute for Public Policy Research, at Suffolk University in Boston the following year, calculated that Act 10 had saved taxpayers roughly $1 billion in the first year it was enacted.)

About a month later, Democratic state legislators in Indiana tried the same trick when the chamber considered right-to-work legislation.

If people want to cheer for Texas Democratic state legislators leaving the state capitol to prevent a vote on a bill they oppose, fine. But if they choose to do so, then let us do away, once and for all, with this nonsense that the filibuster represents an existential threat to democracy.

The U.S. Senate has a quorum, too, of 51 senators, written in the Constitution, and thus it is not easily undone. And if 50 Senate Democrats were to nuke the filibuster for legislation, there is an excellent chance that 50 Senate Republicans would start refusing to show up and provide Democrats a quorum.

Legislative chambers will always have minority parties, and the legislative minorities will almost always want to halt, or at least mitigate, what the majority is doing. The question before us is how we want those legislative minority parties to utilize their leverage. Crazed partisans always believe that the next election will demonstrate that they’ve been right all along, and that the stubborn, obstructionist opposition party will finally get its comeuppance and the electorate will relegate the opposition to inconsequential rump status. History teaches us that this almost never happens.

How do we want a legislative minority to exercise its leverage when push comes to shove? A filibuster, or leaving the legislature building, capital city, or state to prevent a quorum? To me, the choice is easy. I suspect most state troopers feel the same way.

Is COVID-19 Coming Back in China?

Back on May 7, I noted that, “to believe the Chinese official numbers, the entire country has seen four people die from COVID-19 since April 2020, and that they’ve never had more than 1,000 active cases on any given day over the past year. According to the Chinese government, no variant of COVID-19 has touched them in any significant way.” According to the official numbers, China has suffered an additional 360 cases since May 7, though no deaths from COVID-19 since January 26. China is not as closed a society as, say, North Korea, but it is not a particularly open one, either. We know that the pandemic is probably worse than official statistics suggest, and the big question is how much worse.

When we start to see a lockdown of neighborhoods in Guangzhou; public transportation shut down; closure of schools, stadiums, and markets; and more than 500 flight cancellations . . . maybe this latest burst of cases is much worse than the government is letting on?

The good news for China is that the government contends it has administered 638 million doses of vaccine against COVID-19, and the latest numbers from Brazil suggest the Chinese CoronaVac vaccine does reduce deaths by 95 percent.

ADDENDA: Over on the home page, you’ll see we’re asking for your support againand National Review is putting particular focus on the work that my colleagues and I have done on the lab-leak theory for more than a year. You can find a link to the 70+ articles, editorials, and Corner posts about the lab-leak theory that NR has published since April 3, 2020.

You know what’s a pretty easy way to support us? Subscribing, either to NRPlus, the print magazine, or both. That one-buck-a-week-for-a-year-of-both offer is still going, as of this writing.

Finally, it’s a pretty darn good Sunday when you turn to the op-ed page of the New York Times and read, “Jim Geraghty of National Review has been an essential and evenhanded voice on the subject” of the lab-leak theory. Thanks to Ross Douthat for the kind words.

World

The Case of the Missing COVID Bat

Loading...
A bat ecologist detangles a bat caught on a net set up in front of a building with a bat roost at the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB), in Los Banos, Philippines, February 19, 2021. (Eloisa Lopez/Reuters )

Memorial Day weekend is almost here — but before then, it’s “back to the lab again.” Chinese scientists’ efforts to find a bat infected with SARS-CoV-2 have been extensive . . . and fruitless. Apparently, the U.S. intelligence community has a whole lot of data relating to Wuhan that has yet to be analyzed. And finally, it’s fascinatingly difficult to nail down just when this pandemic started.

The Extensive, Fruitless Chinese Search for an Infected Bat

SARS-CoV-2 may be a naturally occurring virus. Genetically similar, but not quite identical, viruses have been found in horseshoe bats in Yunnan Province, China. Genetically identical viruses may be in bats in Yunnan Province or somewhere else, and researchers just haven’t found them yet.

Or SARS-CoV-2 may be a version of a naturally occurring virus that mutated while it was being researched at the Wuhan Institute of Virology or some other institution. Or it may be a virus that was altered through gain-of-function research in some lab.

If SARS-CoV-2 is a changed version of what is naturally found in horseshoe bats in Yunnan Province, it might explain why this particular virus has not yet been found in the wild. And until I ran across this article in MIT Technology Review, I hadn’t realized just how far-reaching and extensive the search for the host species in China has been. Liang Wannian, the Chinese head of the joint Chinese–WHO effort, is quoted as saying that Chinese authorities “tested 50,000 animal specimens, including 1,100 bats in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located. But no luck: a matching virus still hasn’t been found.”

Some may wonder whether an assessment performed by scientists, researchers, investigators, and health officials who answer to the Chinese government is trustworthy. But at least in this particular situation, the Chinese government’s inability to find the virus amounts to an admission against interest. If researchers found the virus in a bat out in nature somewhere, the case for the lab-leak theory would be seriously undermined — the bat out in nature could have spread the virus to people.

A persistent inability to find animals with the virus is not the way things progressed during the first SARS outbreak:

With SARS, researchers tested caged market animals and quickly found a nearly identical virus in Himalayan palm civet cats and raccoon dogs, which are also eaten locally.

This time, though, the intermediate-host hypothesis has one big problem. More than a year after covid-19 began, no food animal has been identified as a reservoir for the pandemic virus. That’s despite efforts by China to test tens of thousands of animals, including pigs, goats, and geese, according to Liang Wannian, who leads the Chinese side of the research team. No one has found a “direct progenitor” of the virus, he says, and therefore the pandemic “remains an unsolved mystery.”

The search for any cases outside of Wuhan before the outbreak became big news seems similarly exhaustive:

A first step was to double-check that the outbreak really did start in Wuhan, not elsewhere. China undertook a fairly vast effort to see if COVID-19 could have been spreading, unseen, any earlier than December 2019. Chinese researchers checked records of more than 200 hospitals around the country for suspicious pneumonias, tracked how much cough syrup pharmacies had sold, and tested 4,500 biospecimens stored before the outbreak, including blood samples that could be screened for antibodies. The WHO team says it even interviewed the office worker who, on December 8, 2019, became the first recognized covid-19 case in China.

So far, there is no evidence the outbreak went undetected elsewhere before the Wuhan cases. Genetic evidence also narrows the chance that the virus was spreading much earlier. Because of how the germ has accumulated mutations with time, it’s possible to estimate when it first started spreading between people. That data, too, points to a start date of late 2019.

It is . . . odd that the world hasn’t been able to find SARS-CoV-2 in an animal species yet. As the U.K. Bat Conservation Trust summarized:

The COVID-19 virus hasn’t been isolated from any of the world’s 1400+ species of bat. A coronavirus with 96 percent of its genome in common with SARS-CoV-2 has been found in a single species of bat (Rhinolophus affinis) in China. This may sound significant, but to put it in context, we share 96 percent of our genome with chimpanzees, but we are not the same species. It is important to stress that in this pandemic it is humans that transmit COVID-19 to other humans, not bats.

Scientists don’t yet know precisely what the “minimum infectious dose” is for COVID-19, but they think it’s around 100 virus particles, maybe 1,000. This virus spreads like wildfire among human beings, so why can’t we find it in any bats? If it’s a pangolin virus, why can’t we find it in any pangolins?

Unfortunately, that MIT Technology article also includes the sentence, “One problem with the lab leak theory is that it presumes the Chinese are lying or hiding facts, a position incompatible with a joint scientific effort.” Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance, is cited as an authority declaring Chinese-government dishonesty as an unthinkable scenario. As our Jimmy Quinn, among others, reported, “as president of the research nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance, Daszak partnered with the WIV in 2014 to study bat coronaviruses and, over the course of the next five years, provided $598,000 in NIH funding to the Chinese lab to support that research.”

Wait, We’re Only Now Looking at Databases of Chinese Communications?

Is the problem that our intelligence community collects way more data than it can ever sort through and analyze in a timely fashion? Because that’s the undertone from the big New York Times scoop of Thursday night:

President Biden’s call for a 90-day sprint to understand the origins of the coronavirus pandemic came after intelligence officials told the White House they had a raft of still-unexamined evidence that required additional computer analysis that might shed light on the mystery, according to senior administration officials.

The officials declined to describe the new evidence. But the revelation that they are hoping to apply an extraordinary amount of computer power to the question of whether the virus accidentally leaked from a Chinese laboratory suggests that the government may not have exhausted its databases of Chinese communications, the movement of lab workers and the pattern of the outbreak of the disease around the city of Wuhan.

“Databases of Chinese communications, the movement of lab workers and the pattern of the outbreak of the disease around the city of Wuhan”? Doesn’t that sound like the kind of stuff that would be first in line to get studied and analyzed? Please tell me that the answer to the origin of this pandemic hasn’t been sitting in some database for the past 18 months, waiting for somebody to look at it or listen to it.

The Difficulty of Nailing Down Exactly When the Pandemic Started

Yesterday’s extensive layout of the evidence pointing in the direction of a lab leak noted that in May 2020, NBC News reported that, “Private analysis of cellphone location data purports to show that a high-security Wuhan laboratory studying coronaviruses shut down in October, three sources briefed on the matter told NBC News.” I wrote that “since that report, there has been no subsequent elaboration, no further details, no ensuing leaks of new information of what, if anything, happened in that laboratory building in that autumn.”

University of Colorado environmental-studies professor Roger Pielke Jr. was kind enough to share the private-sector analysis that NBC News was referring to, and you can see it here. Back in May 2020, the Daily Beast wrote an article pooh-poohing the conclusions of the private analysis. They contend the analysis’s assessment of cell-phone activity in and near the lab is only using location data for seven phones — too small a sample to be useful, and that the sudden absence of certain phones can be explained by holidays, vacations, or users losing phones. They contend that the analysis’s description of roads being blocked off near the Wuhan Institute of Virology aligns with construction projects in the area. Perhaps most glaringly, the analysis contended that a November conference on biosafety lab management at the Wuhan lab scheduled for the first week of November was canceled. But the investigator hired by the Daily Beast found a Facebook post from a Pakistani scientist who had attended the event and taken selfies there, including at the BSL-3 laboratory. In the absence of further evidence, that analysis of cell-phone-location data probably should be put aside.

The thing that stuck out to me is that the analysis suggested some sort of incident occurred in the Wuhan Institute of Virology on October 6, 2019. That seems a little early, based upon what else we know about the timeline of the pandemic. One of the first comprehensive studies of the first COVID-19 patients concluded that the “symptom onset date of the first patient identified was December 1, 2019,” and the hospitals in Wuhan really started seeing waves of patients in mid to late December. Could a virus as contagious and virulent as this one really have floated around the city of Wuhan from October 6-ish into December before anyone felt the need to go to a hospital?

Then again, maybe October 6 isn’t that early. Last month, a study by researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues at the University of Arizona and Illumina ran “epidemiological simulations to determine how long SARS-CoV-2 could have circulated before the time of the most recent common ancestor of all sequenced SARS-CoV-2 genomes. Our results define the period between mid-October and mid-November 2019 as the plausible interval when the first case of SARS-CoV-2 emerged in Hubei province, China.”

Three other claims of events in the Wuhan area in November 2019, all brought to you with a heavy dose of “for what it’s worth”:

  • The South China Morning Post cited Chinese-government data declaring the first person who presented similar cases was a 55-year-old male patient from the province of Hubei on November 17.
  • In March 2020, George Gao, director-general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview that, “There is no solid evidence to say we already had clusters in November.”
  • The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that a U.S. intelligence-community report determined that three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough to require hospitalization in November 2019.

ADDENDA: Dan McLaughlin is right: We need public testimony, under oath, about what can be determined about this pandemic’s origins. And any day I can make Dana Perino’s day is a good one.

Politics & Policy

Why Washington’s Democrats Are Weaker Than They Look

Loading...
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) confers with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), and other members of Congress before President Joe Biden his speaks at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., April 28, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool via Reuters)

On the menu today: why Joe Biden and Senate Democrats have a lot less leverage in the current negotiations than progressives want to believe; an anti-Trump Republican has his radio show canceled; and laying out all the evidence pointing to a lab leak in Wuhan.

D.C. Democrats Don’t Quite Have the Power Progressives Think They Do

E. J. Dionne thinks that Republican opposition to forming a January 6 commission will spur senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to embrace “filibuster reform.”

Manchin and Sinema definitely want to see Republicans get on board with the idea. They released a statement Tuesday which read:

The events of January 6th were horrific. We could never have imagined an attack on Congress and our Capitol at the hands of our own citizens. In the hours and days following the attack, Republican and Democratic members of Congress condemned the violence and vowed to hold those responsible accountable so our Democracy will never experience an attack like this again. A bipartisan commission to investigate the events of that day has passed the House of Representatives with a bipartisan vote and is a critical step to ensuring our nation never has to endure an attack at the hands of our countrymen again. We implore our Senate Republican colleagues to work with us to find a path forward on a commission to examine the events of January 6th.

But if Manchin and Sinema had wanted to add, “And if they don’t, we’ll nuke or modify the filibuster,” they could have. A threat like that certainly would have gotten everyone’s attention, but the two senators didn’t say that.

In fact, Manchin just said again on Tuesday it wasn’t going to happen. “Manchin, whose vote would be needed for Democrats to do away with the filibuster, told Forbes ‘no’ when asked if he would support nuking it, quipping, ‘I can’t take the fallout.’”

Another problem is that Sinema has been pretty adamant about her stance on preserving the filibuster for much of this year. “When you have a place that’s broken and not working, and many would say that’s the Senate today, I don’t think the solution is to erode the rules,” she told the Wall Street Journal after two constituent events in Phoenix in April. “I think the solution is for senators to change their behavior and begin to work together, which is what the country wants us to do.” Could Sinema change her mind? Sure. But blowing up the filibuster would also blow up most of her “sensible centrist who wants to work with the opposition” street cred along with it. And Arizona’s other senator, Mark Kelly, is bragging about his title as the “most bipartisan Senate Democratic freshman.”

This isn’t even getting into Democratic senators such as Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, who in 2017 opposed “any effort to curtail the existing rights and prerogatives of Senators to engage in full, robust, and extended debate as we consider legislation before this body in the future” and who has been pretty quiet on this issue since Democrats retook control of the Senate. Don’t think that Hassan wouldn’t get endless grief about flip-flopping on this.

How many of the current Senate Democrats want to be known as the senators who offered the deciding votes to shut out the Senate minority from the legislative process forever?

Left-leaning columnists keep threatening that Senate Democrats will nuke the filibuster, while actual Senate Democrats keep publicly insisting, “No, we won’t!”

Dionne is also pretty clearly cheering for Biden and Senate Democrats to give the Republicans a take-it-or-leave-it offer on infrastructure, and, if the GOP won’t sign on, pass their own bill, and either eliminate the filibuster beforehand or use the process called reconciliation, which only requires a simple majority. (Because bills passed through reconciliation must be entirely focused upon the budget, and infrastructure bills are usually just big spending bills, the Senate Parliamentarian is likely to approve the maneuver.)

But the $1 trillion-at-minimum question is whether Democrats have 50 votes for one particular infrastructure bill. They’re likely to get there eventually. But for now, the kind of bill that would appeal to Manchin, Sinema, and Kelly is probably much less expensive and expansive than the kind of bill that would appeal to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Biden and his staff’s current situation of frustrating, drawn-out, slow-moving negotiations with Senate Republicans is saving the White House from managing frustrating, drawn-out, slow-moving negotiations among Senate Democrats. Liberal Democratic senators will see the choice to abandon bipartisan negotiations as a chance to get every spending proposal they’ve ever wanted in one bill. Democratic senators from red and purple states will be less enthusiastic. They can see the worries about inflation. If Democrats keep passing massive spending bills all by themselves, they’ll have no one else to blame if the economy isn’t thriving and creating jobs at a white-hot pace.

Also, in 18 months, a bunch of Democrats in those not-so-blue states have to face the voters again.

Does this look like a Senate Democratic caucus that is ready to give Mitch McConnell the middle finger and pass Biden’s original $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill?

In light of all this, is it any wonder Biden is okay with extending the deadline for bipartisan talks? The vulnerable red- and purple-state Democrats need some bipartisan cover if they’re going to vote for another massive spending bill. And Biden would prefer to have a unified Democratic Party blaming Republicans for the inability to come to a consensus than to have a divided Democratic Party with one side of the Senate caucus blaming the other side of the Senate caucus for the inability to come to a consensus.

Chuck Schumer is largely bluffing when he says the Senate will pass an infrastructure bill in July, with or without Republicans. Democrats can go down this path, but it’s a risk that at least a handful of their senators don’t want to take, and when the Senate is split 50–50, the Democrats can’t afford to lose anyone. Those with long memories can remember when Democrats were convinced all the legislation they passed in 2009 and 2010 would protect them in the midterms.

A Slightly Less Than Stunning Development in the World of Talk Radio

Joe Walsh, the outspoken Trump supporter turned outspoken Trump critic, announced yesterday that his radio program has been canceled. In 2019, Walsh declared, “I’m done with talk radio,” and chose to run for president. After raising $609,000 for his presidential campaign, Walsh received 348 votes out of 32,389 cast in the 2020 Iowa Republican caucus and dropped out of the race. In May 2020, less than a year after declaring he was done with talk radio, Walsh returned as a talk-radio host. Now, roughly a year after returning to the airwaves, Walsh is out of talk radio again.

Walsh contended that, “The network is run by a big Trumper, and he’s wanted to boot me for awhile. Looks like it finally happened.” It would seem a little odd that a “big Trumper” network manager would hire an outspoken Trump critic — a man who had run against him for the 2020 Republican nomination! — in the first place, be surprised that Walsh remained a Trump critic on air, and then wait a year before “booting” the anti-Trump voice he had hired. But stranger things have happened.

Some might suspect that Walsh’s cancellation reflects bad ratings. But before we embrace that conclusion, I’ll note that the method of calculating ratings for radio programs seems awfully inexact and arbitrary to me. In the world of the Internet, we know exactly how many page views and visitors each article gets and how long a particular reader stayed on that page. In the world of podcasts, we know exactly how many downloads and listeners we have, and how long they chose to listen. (Apparently the Three Martini Lunch has a fantastic completion rate, but it helps that the show is usually about 15 to 20 minutes. Even if you can’t stand us, we don’t take up much of your time.) On YouTube, you can see how many times a video has been viewed.

But radio, it’s the best guess based upon the data from the portable people meters. Before that, radio stations relied upon people keeping handwritten logs of the shows they heard.

Still, it is difficult to be shocked that an outspoken anti-Trump voice did not thrive in the talk-radio scene of 2021. Walsh touted himself as “the ONLY anti-Trumpism conservative voice in conservative talk radio.” I didn’t listen to Walsh’s radio show, so I won’t pretend that I can give any authoritative assessment of the show’s quality. But judging from Walsh’s Twitter feed and his podcast, his primary focus, day in, and day out, was former president Donald Trump.

(Walsh also contends that Fox News is “obsessed” with the origins of COVID-19. He declares on his most recent podcast that, “As an American citizen, whose world has been turned upside down by this thing over the past year, it doesn’t much matter to me where COVID came from, how COVID got here. It got here a year ago. And almost 600,000 Americans are dead. Fox News is obsessed with China, anything China, to take their attention off of Trump.” The origin point of a virus that turned the world upside down, infected 169 million people, and killed more than 3.5 million people around the globe . . . seems like a pretty justifiable topic to be obsessed with to me!)

I could be crazy, but I think people who are still really angry about Trump, five months after he left office, are probably going to tune in to a distinctly liberal radio voice.

If there’s an enormous audience demand for a self-identified conservative whose primary focus, midway through 2021, is how terrible Donald Trump is, then Walsh will probably get picked up pretty quickly by some other radio syndicate or station. If there isn’t much of an audience demand for that, maybe this isn’t a case of a “Big Trumper” network manager enacting a long-delayed political vendetta. I suppose the nice thing about believing that you’re the lone voice still bravely standing for truth, justice, and the American way while everyone else around you is an unprincipled sellout is that you never have to confront the possibility that maybe you’re just not as good as you think you are.

ADDENDUM: Speaking of the lab-leak theory, over on the home page, here’s an in-depth review of all the most compelling evidence. It is circumstantial evidence, but it is now a metaphorical Himalayan mountain range of circumstantial evidence.

World

Even Xavier Becerra Jumps on the Lab-Leak Bandwagon

Loading...
Xavier Becerra during his nomination hearing for HHS secretary, Washington, D.C., February 24, 2021 (Greg Nash/Reuters)

On the menu today: Sorry folks, I really tried, but I can’t contain my internal tsunami of “I told you so.” The crowd of prominent figures who are open to the lab-leak theory now includes Health and Human Services secretary Xavier Becerra! And on a lighter note, let’s contemplate if Marvel Studios is about to hit a wall.

No, Really, Last April, I Really Did Tell You So!

WHAT THE HECK: “Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told an annual ministerial meeting of the World Health Organization that international experts should be given ‘the independence to fully assess the source of the virus and the early days of the outbreak.’”

Oh, now the Biden administration is willing to openly state that this whole pandemic might trace back to someone not being careful in a Chinese state-run lab working on dangerous viruses.

Okay, I didn’t want today’s newsletter to be all about the lab-leak theory again, when I wrote about it Monday, and last Tuesday, and before that, I wrote that Corner post about the evidence of the Chinese government’s secret bioweapons-research programs, and the NR editorial board welcomed Dr. Fauci to those open to the theory, and Charlie wrote about how the skeptics have been guessing this whole time, and Michael wrote about the ramifications, and I’m sure I’m forgetting other recent pieces. Oh, and I’ve got another long examination of the evidence on the editor’s desk that will probably be before your eyes sometime this week. Maybe you’re sick of hearing about the lab-leak theory, and if so, skip down a little further to read about Marvel movies.

But it is so weird that it seems like every day, another allegedly respectable, even-tempered, non-lunatic government official or public-health expert or writer who had absolutely nothing to say about the lab-leak theory for almost any day of the past 17 months, now publicly states some version of, “Sure, this virus’s origin is still unknown, a lab leak can’t be ruled out, and a much more thorough investigation is needed.”

Jonathan Chait wrote a piece titled, “How the Liberal Media Dismissed the Lab-Leak Theory and Smeared Its Supporters.” Matt Yglesias’s most recent newsletter is titled, “The media’s lab leak fiasco.” The Washington Post’s chief fact-checker, Glenn Kessler, wrote that “the Wuhan lab-leak theory suddenly became credible.” (Suddenly!) CNN’s Zachary Wolf writes “scientists are suddenly more interested in the lab-leak theory of Covid’s origin.” (Suddenly, again!)

Where the hell were all of you guys last April?

Where the hell was all of this when The New Republic wrote that I was “peddling an outlandish theory,” that I was the “media personality who jumped farthest down this rabbit hole,” and “when mainstream news outlets reported that most experts considered the Wuhan facility to be secure”?

You morons. Idiots. Schmucks. You all sat there, so smug and confident that you guys were the smart ones, and that knuckle-dragging little old me, with my YouTube video from an expat, Google Translate versions of Chinese-state health agency websites, and old medical-research papers, had to be chasing Bigfoot and Elvis and UFOs. Set up the buffet table of crow, because I want to watch all of you eat a lot of it.

This gif, this gif, this gif.

All I did was take three incontrovertible forces in human life seriously: the capacity for human error in a laboratory, the universal temptation to try to cover up a consequential mistake once it’s made, and the far-reaching power of a totalitarian government when attempting to enact that cover-up.

The only reason the Soviet Union admitted what happened at Chernobyl to the world was because radiation detectors 700 miles away in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway were going off. For decades, the Soviets successfully covered up an anthrax spill from a biological-weapons facility that killed 64 people. Modern Chinese society is full of allegations of official screw-ups with deadly consequences and attempted cover-ups: the worst space-launch accident in history at Xichang in 1996, a high-speed train crash in 2011, the coverup of flood deaths in 2012.

Authoritarian governments, and those who work within them, are terrified of ever admitting a mistake. Authoritarian governments need to look all-powerful and always-competent, lest the citizenry get ideas about changing who’s in charge.

If I had a quarter for every time I was told I wasn’t a scientist, I could play Pac-Man at the arcade for the rest of my days. I never claimed to be a scientist, nor that I played one on TV. You know what I have spent a good chunk of my adult life studying? Government bureaucracies. This is a story of viruses, yes, but it’s also a story of what human beings do when they make a mistake.

The first time a person is given a complicated and detailed series of instructions for handing a dangerous and contagious virus, they’re going to be exceptionally careful and follow every step to the letter. They’re justifiably terrified of the consequences of failure. They’ll be really careful the first ten times. Maybe even the first hundred.

But the 500th time? Or the 1,000th time? Or the 2,000th time? Familiarity breeds complacency. People shift into mental autopilot. We see this phenomenon in fields far from laboratories handling dangerous pathogens: “Accidents on the job or in the home occur when people get too comfortable in doing their tasks and they no longer fear the hazards around them. This is why 52 percent of all car accidents are within five miles of the home — drivers are less focused and more lackadaisical as they get closer to their house and comfort zone area.”

The dumbest argument I encountered in the past year and a half was the insistence that the researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Wuhan Centers for Disease Control were too careful, too diligent, and simply too professional to ever have an accidental leak. A statement like that was a clear, flashing neon sign that I was dealing with someone who didn’t really know what they were talking about.

The best laboratories in the world, with the most respected scientists and researchers in the world, still have accidents. In June 2014, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that it had unintentionally exposed personnel to potentially viable anthrax. A month later the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found samples of smallpox, dengue, and spotted fever just sitting in a storage room. If our guys can make mistakes, their guys can make mistakes.

And as I laid out back on March 23, 2020, as this pandemic started, the Chinese government lied, and lied, and lied some more. It is less plausible to contend that the Chinese government would not try to cover something like this up than to contend it would.

I’ve got a theory about the sudden shift on thinking about the theory: A lot of these folks placed an early bet on skepticism, assuming that at some point, researchers would find bats in nature that had SARS-CoV-2. Or pangolins. Or a group of animal smugglers who suffered from intense respiratory infections in November 2019. Or some other evidence to support the theory that this virus came into the city of Wuhan through some path unconnected to the labs. That evidence hasn’t emerged, 18 months into the pandemic, suggesting that maybe it never will.

If the argument is, “President Trump floated the theory, thus it had to be false . . .” well, that’s stupid. Broken clocks are right twice a day.

If the argument is, “Discussion of the lab-leak theory seemed like an attempt to get the Trump administration off the hook for their mistakes and bad decisions during the early months of the pandemic,” here’s the beautiful thing about blame: It’s a renewable natural resource! We’re never going to run out of it. Being mad at the Chinese government over its decisions leading up to and during this pandemic is not an endorsement of every U.S. government decision!

For the First Time in a Long While, Marvel Faces Some Risks

Our Jack Butler had a good piece over the weekend, asking whether the Marvel Cinematic Universe had peaked, both financially and creatively. Sure, the movie studio that grew out of the beloved comic books has a slew of projects coming down the pike, including a backlog of ideas delayed by the pandemic. And the first two Marvel television series on Disney Plus, WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, generated plenty of buzz. (WandaVision might be the most spectacularly unpredictable, what-the-hell-is-happening, what-does-that-clue-mean mystery series since Twin Peaks.) It’s very hard to believe that every Marvel offering in the next year or two or three will strike out.

But a larger-than-life central personality like that of Robert Downey Jr. isn’t easily replaced, and Avengers: Endgame marked the end of some of the series’s most popular characters. We’re going to have to see how well Wakanda-based stories work without the magnetic charisma of Chadwick Boseman. And Marvel is transitioning to newer characters with less-established fanbases; I collected comics back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and I haven’t heard of some of the new characters. Then again, most of the general public hadn’t heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy before 2014, and audiences fell in love with a talking racoon and a giant, gentle, sentient tree even so.

First, that Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings trailer looks fun — very Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon — but the trailer doesn’t feel that much like a Marvel movie, at least not yet. It looks like a spectacular, large-scale kung-fu movie, not a movie about superheroes — but we’ll see.

As for that Eternals trailer . . . eh. It’s very odd for a Marvel movie’s first trailer to not show, mention, or make any reference to the film’s villain. As far as we can tell, the Eternals mostly stand and pose dramatically in slow motion. And the voice-over declaration, presumably from the team’s titular heroes: “We have watched, unguided; we have helped them progress and seen them accomplish wonders. Throughout the years we have never interfered . . . until now.” Really? Thanos didn’t warrant a little intervention? Y’all just watched when the Chitauri invaded New York City? What, is this the United Nations Human Rights Panel of Superheroes?

This is an all-star cast — Angelina Jolie, Gemma Chan, Salma Hayek, Kit Harrington — and a story about a bickering team or family of super-powered beings should be really hard to screw up.

But if Marvel does screw it up and really goes into a slump . . . they’ve still got the rights to the X-Men back from 20th Century Fox.

ADDENDUM: Our Jay Nordlinger has a spectacular story about the late senator John Warner, who passed away at 94 this week: “On one occasion, the Senate was pulling an all-night session. The guys were sleeping on cots. [Senator George] Mitchell was grumbling about this and feeling a little sorry for himself. Then he stepped over a sleeping John Warner and thought, ‘Well, ordinarily he’s sleeping with Elizabeth Taylor, so . . .’”

World

Biden’s Toothless Response to the State-Run Hijacking in Belarus

Loading...
A Ryanair aircraft, carrying Belarusian opposition blogger and activist Roman Protasevich and diverted to Belarus, lands at Vilnius Airport in Vilnius, Lithuania, May 23, 2021. (Andrius Sytas/Reuters)

On the menu today: President Biden issues a — sigh — “tough” statement against the Belarusian state-run hijacking of an Irish airliner, pledges to “develop appropriate options to hold accountable those responsible,” and follows the European lead. Meanwhile, the lab-leak-theory party gets larger.

Belarus and the Weak, Toothless, ‘International Order’

Americans don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Belarus. It’s been ruled by a Vladimir Putin and Russia-aligned dictatorship for more than a quarter century. As the Editors characterized it with appropriate scare quotes last summer, Alexander Lukashenko “won” his latest “election” on August 9 by “80 percent.” They summarized, “he quickly turned Belarus — which had enjoyed democracy for a scant three years — into a personal fief. He took control of the courts, the banks, the universities, and so on. The Belarusian intelligence agency works for him, strictly. Charmingly, it is the only such agency in the post–Soviet Union to retain the old name: ‘KGB.’”

As noted in yesterday’s newsletter, the Belarusian state-security agents effectively hijacked a flight that was legally flying over Belarusian airspace in order to arrest dissident journalist Roman Protasevich:

The flight took off from Athens, Greece and was initially scheduled to land in Vilnius, Lithuania. However, Ryanair said that the flight crew was informed of a potential threat of explosives on board while flying in Belarusian airspace, and the plane was diverted to Minsk.

Lukashenko gave an “unequivocal order” to “make the plane do a U-turn and land,” according to a press release from his office translated by the New York Times. Belarus’s Investigative Committee, the country’s top investigative body, said it had opened a probe into a false bomb threat after no explosives were found on the plane.

Oh, and a Belarussian MiG fighter jet “escorted” the airliner to Minsk. A fighter jet can’t really do much to stop a bomb on board. But it sure as hell can intimidate the pilot and crew to obey orders to divert to Minsk.

Over at The Atlantic, Anne Applebaum — a few years after demonizing John O’Sullivan as “a combination of boulevardier (jovial, witty, fond of champagne) and James Bond villain” notes that borders no longer matter to authoritarian regimes; they pursue whomever they want, the way they want, whenever and wherever they want, regardless of who gets hurt.

Applebaum writes that:

Authoritarian states in pursuit of their enemies no longer feel the need to respect passports, borders, diplomatic customs, or — now — the rules of air-traffic control. In this new world, dictators are ever more prepared to arrest or murder political dissidents anywhere, no matter what citizenship they might have or which foreign laws or bureaucratic procedures might theoretically protect them. Sometimes these regimes put pressure on other countries to help them. Other times they kidnap people unassisted. The price they have to pay as a result, in sanctions or in bad relations with the outside world, clearly no longer bothers them.

As examples, Applebaum lists “Russian use of radioactive poisons and nerve agents against enemies of the Kremlin in London and Salisbury, England; Saudi Arabia’s brutal murder of one of its citizens inside a consulate in Istanbul; Iranian assassinations of dissidents in the Netherlands and Turkey; and Beijing’s kidnapping and detention of Chinese nationals living abroad and foreign citizens of Chinese origin.”

I’d also throw in the time in May 2017 when the North Korean government assassinated Kim Jong-un’s half brother, Kim Jong-nam, using VX nerve agent in the middle of Kuala Lumpur International Airport, with the female assassin wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan “LOL.” It’s not just that these regimes are ruthless in their use of lethal force against enemies of the regime abroad; it’s that they choose to do so in what seems like the most recklessly dangerous way they can imagine. (VX, polonium, Novichok nerve agent . . . Doesn’t anybody just shoot anybody anymore?)

Applebaum is correct that the trend is worsening, but this era of extraterritorial lawlessness and intimidation did not arise alongside the Trump administration or Brexit or any of the political turning points that Applebaum vehemently opposes. Putin’s regime poisoned Alexander Litvinenko with radiation in 2006. and in the process left radiation trails on three British Airways jets. In 2011, agents of the Iranian regime plotted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States by blowing up Café Milano in Georgetown in Washington, D.C.; one plotter was recorded saying, “They want that guy [the Ambassador] done [killed], if the hundred go with him, f*** ‘em.”

Why do these authoritarian regimes not fear the consequences of their actions? Because in so many cases, there are no consequences to those actions, or at least not significant ones. The modern “international order” envisioned by the center-left doesn’t really offer any international order.

Donald Trump was generally soft on authoritarian regimes with human-rights abuses, but he replaced a presidency who, as Human Rights Watch described, “delivered more hope than change. . . . [Obama] often treated human rights as a secondary interest — nice to support when the cost was not too high, but nothing like a top priority he championed.”

Freedom House attempted to catalog all of the cases of extraterritorial intimidation and assassinations from 2014 to 2021, and concluded:

. . . the shifting international balance of power has encouraged states to take greater risks, as democracies and international bodies focused on human rights lose the political will to push back against egregious violations. The erosion of norms is reflected in the lack of accountability for transnational repression. Even when a case is as flagrant as it could possibly be—as with the horrifying and well-documented murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul— leading democracies have failed to enforce accountability. Economic sanctions and visa bans against Russian entities and individuals for a series of assassinations on European soil have not deterred the Russian regime from continuing to kill abroad. In effect, states can now threaten, kidnap, or murder exiles with little fear of punishment.

In some cases, the U.S. government inadvertently cooperates with the intimidation and harassment. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement arrested a Russian dissident living legally in the U.S. who had committed no crime because the Russian government issued an Interpol “Red Notice” — a request to law enforcement worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a person pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action. Did it ever cross the mind of Interpol or the U.S. government that a regime such as Putin’s might abuse the authority to issue Red Notices?

Despite a lot of talk on the campaign trail, President Biden chose to waive any punishment for Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Yesterday, Biden issued what reads like a tough statement against Lukashenko’s regime . . . but if you read carefully, the U.S. government is waiting for the Europeans to take the lead:

The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms both the diversion of the plane and the subsequent removal and arrest of Mr. Pratasevich. This outrageous incident and the video Mr. Pratasevich appears to have made under duress are shameful assaults on both political dissent and the freedom of the press. The United States joins countries around the world in calling for his release, as well as for the release of the hundreds of political prisoners who are being unjustly detained by the Lukashenka regime.

I join the many calls for an international investigation to ascertain the complete facts of the case. I welcome the news that the European Union has called for targeted economic sanctions and other measures, and have asked my team to develop appropriate options to hold accountable those responsible, in close coordination with the European Union, other allies and partners, and international organizations.

We’ll see if the sanctions make much of a difference. EU countries make up 18 percent of Belarus’s trade. Russia makes up almost half. Trade with the United States is a very small piece of the Belarusian economy, one to five percent of Belarusian exports.

The international order envisioned by President Biden and German chancellor Angela Merkel and most other Western leaders is ultimately toothless. It prioritizes the illusion of stability and order — and attempts to sweep outrageous and dangerous actions such as the Belarusian hijacking under the rug — over the short-term difficult actions that might create genuine stability and order in the long term. The center-left convinced itself that the “cowboy unilateralism” of the Bush administration was the worst possible option, and kept insisting that they alone could wield “smart power” or “soft power” or “lead from behind.” The whole “reset button” ceremony with Hillary Clinton and Russia’s Sergey Lavrov was a formal commemoration of the incoming administration’s naïveté. The “famously stormy” relationship between Condi Rice and Lavrov was not a matter of Rice’s not being diplomatic enough or nice enough or trying hard enough.

The world is full of bullies, who will continue bullying others until they learn a hard lesson about consequences. If someone — maybe the Pentagon’s Cyber Command, maybe the NSA — can shut down the Internet Research Agency in Saint Petersburg for two days in 2018, the U.S. could shut down the Internet for the entire Belarusian government for a day or two. In the run-up to the Iraq War, selected senior officials in Iraq’s army received calls on their private telephone lines, asking them to turn against Saddam Hussein and avoid war. (Unfortunately, the Arabic-speaking agents of the coalition making the request were so fluent, the Iraqi officials thought it was a trick to test their loyalty to Hussein.)

How would Alexander Lukashenko respond to a message of strong disapproval of his actions, arriving on a personal, private phone that he’d believed to be a closely guarded secret?

ADDENDA: The Editors welcome Dr. Anthony Fauci to the party of those open-minded about the possibility that a lab leak set off the COVID-19 pandemic.

Glenn Kessler writes that “the Wuhan lab-leak theory suddenly became credible.” Suddenly! I’ll bet you can guess whose coverage doesn’t appear in his timeline.

If you ever need to go on the run from the mob, become a conservative journalist, because then no one will ever see you.

World

The Circumstantial Evidence at Wuhan Lab Keeps Growing

Loading...
Volunteers from the Blue Sky Rescue team disinfect at the Qintai Grand Theaters in Wuhan, the epicentre of China’s coronavirus outbreak, April 2, 2020. (Aly Song/Reuters)

Today’s newsletter reads like a thriller novel: The Wall Street Journal gives us a slightly better look at what U.S. intelligence knows about researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology requiring hospitalization in November 2019; why you should never fly over Belarussian airspace; and summer beach-reading season is almost upon us.

Did COVID-19 Put Three Wuhan Lab Researchers in the Hospital? Or Just ‘Common Seasonal Illness’?

It would be preferable if this Sunday’s big Wall Street Journal scoop had a few more specifics attached to it:

Three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report: the researchers with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness.

That’s kind of a big distinction, now, isn’t it?

Let’s observe that most people who work in biosafety-level-four laboratories such as the Wuhan Institute of Virology are in their adult years and are in good health. While I suppose it is possible that a lab technician or virologist who handles dangerous pathogens could be immunocompromised or elderly, that seems like a significant and unusual risk for both the individual and the institution. If you go midway down the page on my April 3, 2020, examination of the evidence, you’ll see five photos of the staff from the website of the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s Lab of Diagnostic Microbiology available at the start of the pandemic; the staffers appear to be in their 20s, 30s, or 40s.

Perhaps “common seasonal illnesses” in central China are more likely to put a healthy adult in the hospital. Here in the United States, the two groups at the highest risk of developing serious complications from influenza during flu season are the elderly and the immunocompromised. While it’s not unheard of for a healthy adult to require hospitalization from the flu, it’s pretty rare. The CDC offers two sets of estimated figures for the 2017–2018 winter season. In the first, roughly one out of every 177 American adults between the ages of 18 and 49 years who was diagnosed with the flu required hospitalization. A second estimate calculates that 221 out of every 100,000 American adults between the ages of 18 and 49 years required hospitalization, which comes out to one out of every 452. Neither figure separates out immunocompromised adults; either way, it’s really rare for an American adult to require hospitalization for our “common seasonal illnesses.”

And yet, if this previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report is accurate, the Wuhan Institute of Virology had three hospitalizations either simultaneously or in rapid succession. This means that one of three things happened. Either three employees of the WIV caught a particularly virulent common seasonal illness, bad enough to put healthy adults in the hospital, right before the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2, and completely unrelated to that outbreak; their illness was connected to their work at the WIV, but what they caught was not SARS-CoV-2; or they caught SARS-CoV-2 and were the first cluster of COVID-19 cases.

Yes, this is circumstantial evidence, but the circumstantial evidence keeps piling up higher and higher.

You may recall that back in March of this year, virologist Marion Koopmans, who was part of that World Health Organization team that traveled to Wuhan earlier this year, told NBC News that “maybe one or two” scientists working on coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology did get sick with flu-like symptoms in autumn of 2019, shortly before the first cases of COVID-19 — but that she’s confident those illnesses are unrelated to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“There were occasional illnesses, because that’s normal,” Koopmans told NBC News. “There’s nothing that stood out. . . . It’s certainly not a big thing.”

She added that she knows these illnesses couldn’t be connected to the COVID-19 outbreak, because the Chinese government told the WHO that those researchers tested negative for COVID-19.

And as we all know, the Chinese government would never lie about this virus, except for all the times it did.

The Journal reports that “Shi Zhengli, the top bat coronavirus expert at WIV, has said the virus didn’t leak from her laboratories. She told the WHO-led team that traveled to Wuhan earlier this year to investigate the origins of the virus that all staff had tested negative for Covid-19 antibodies and there had been no turnover of staff on the coronavirus team.”

A little more than a year ago, Chinese social-media users and those watching China’s Internet kept hearing rumors that a Wuhan Institute of Virology researcher named Huang Yanling was “patient zero,” and a statement from the institute named her specifically, denying the rumor, and declaring she left the institution in 2015. A public appearance by Huang Yanling would dispel a lot of the public rumors and is the sort of thing the Chinese government could and would quickly arrange in normal circumstances, but that never happened. Huang Yanling has not been seen in more than a year, and her fate remains unknown:

A post purporting to be from Huang later appeared on social media platform WeChat.

“To my teachers and fellow students, how long no speak,” the message said. “I am Huang Yanling, still alive. If you receive any email (regarding the COVID-19 rumour), please say it’s not true.”

Her former boss made a separate post on social media claiming that she had left the institute in 2015, while a Chinese news agency claimed that it had spoken with her new employer but provided no other details.

Inexplicably, however, Huang has disappeared from social media and has not been heard from since being identified as Patient Zero, while her biography and research history have been scrubbed from the institute’s website.

Almost one year on, the only trace of the student researcher is a grainy picture of her salvaged from the institute’s website and circulated on the internet.

In the days after the initial reports, bloggers and internet users in China suspicious of officials’ denials pleaded with Huang to make a public appearance to prove she was alive. ‘To stop this rumour spreading, Huang should just come forward and do a blood test,’ said one. Another posted: ‘No matter where you live, Huang, you will be found.’

China’s internet censors quickly stamped out discussion of Huang, and extensive enquiries within the country by The Mail on Sunday, including messages to her former colleagues, have failed to turn up any trace of her.

Maybe Huang Yanling is indeed alive, well, and merely very afraid of making a public appearance. Maybe she’s being detained by the Chinese government. Or maybe she’s dead.

Remember, dear readers, you and I are lab-leak-theory hipsters. We were into it before it was cool. Now, no less a figure than Dr. Anthony Fauci is no longer willing to say it’s too farfetched to be plausible:

PolitiFact’s Katie Sanders noted that there is still “a lot of cloudiness around the origins of COVID-19” and asked Fauci if he is “still confident that it developed naturally,” according to footage of the event which was resurfaced by Fox News on Sunday.

“No actually,” Fauci said at the “United Facts of America: A Festival of Fact-Checking” event.

“I am not convinced about that,” he added. “I think we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we continue to find out to the best of our ability what happened.”

He continued: “Certainly, the people who investigated it say it likely was the emergence from an animal reservoir that then infected individuals, but it could have been something else, and we need to find that out. So, you know, that’s the reason why I said I’m perfectly in favor of any investigation that looks into the origin of the virus.”

On the home page today, Michael Brendan Dougherty declares that, “If COVID-19 is a man-made disaster, searching for the people, the institutions, and the governments that authored this disaster is not scapegoating, it’s necessary fact-finding before doing justice.”

From the beginning, there have been people in the West who were understandably deeply uncomfortable with the thought that this could be the result of the Chinese government’s recklessness, as opposed to just bad luck or those darned animal smugglers. Everybody hates animal smugglers. They’re the perfect villain. They don’t have lobbyists. They don’t have public-relations firms. There’s no International Association of Illegal Animal Smugglers, addressing international conferences about the joys of black-market pangolin scales. You know what animal smugglers have zero impact upon? Apple’s manufacturing; Disney’s revenues from movies, theme parks, and merchandise sales; America’s exports of soybeans, oil, natural gas, microchips, cotton, and corn — $124 billion in U.S. trade revenues.

You know what does have an impact on $124 billion in U.S. trade revenues? The Chinese government, which is why a whole lot of America’s business, political, cultural, and social elites don’t want to antagonize the Chinese government. For 30 years, most of America’s leaders have pushed all their chips to the middle of the table and bet that the U.S. and China “can continue to advance our mutual interests for the benefit not only of our two peoples, but for the benefit of the world.”

It’s increasingly clear that for 30 years, America’s leaders bet wrong on China — and they’ve been in denial of how wrong they were for ten to 15 years. And if Beijing was experimenting with dangerous viruses and accidentally set off a worldwide pandemic that, as of this morning, has 167 million cases and 3.4 million deaths worldwide, it means that the Chinese regime is far too reckless and irresponsible to be trusted with any kind of power — never mind nuclear weapons, one of the world’s largest militaries, biological-weapons research, DNA databases of American citizens, groundbreaking artificial intelligence, and God knows what other tools and weapons the People’s Liberation Army is developing.

Every Airline Should Avoid Belarusian Airspace Immediately

Get ready for another big test of what the Biden administration is willing to do when an autocratic Eastern European country metaphorically takes international law and blows its nose into it, as agents of the Belarusian government pretty much hijacked an Irish airliner yesterday:

A prominent opponent of Belarus’ authoritarian president was arrested Sunday after the airliner in which he was traveling was diverted to the country after a bomb threat, in what the opposition and Western officials denounced as a hijacking operation by the government.

Raman Pratasevich, who faces charges that could bring 15 years in prison, was aboard the Ryanair flight from Athens, Greece, to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius when it changed course to head for Minsk . . .

The press service of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said the president himself ordered that a MiG-29 fighter jet accompany the airliner after he was informed of the bomb threat. Deputy air force commander Andrei Gurtsevich said the plane’s crew made the decision to land in Minsk.

Oh, really? What’s a MiG going to do to help stop a bomb threat?

The statement from Secretary of State Anthony Blinken calls it a “forced diversion” of the flight, not a hijacking, which does not seem like a good start.

ADDENDUM: Thanks to Oliver Wiseman for the kind words in his column about the lab-leak theory in The Critic, a new publication over in the U.K.

Memorial Day is approaching, which means summer is almost here, and lots of folks will be looking for summer beach reading. My first thriller, Between Two Scorpions, is up to 281 ratings and reviews on Amazon and is just $3.99 on Kindle. The post-pandemic-focused sequel, Hunting Four Horsemen, is at 124 ratings and reviews, and is just $7.99 on Kindle. The Weed Agency, a comic satire of the federal bureaucracy that would have been useful reading for anyone coming to Washington and worried about a “deep state” undermining their efforts, is at 173 ratings, and is $11.99 on Kindle. (While they’re very different genres, there are a few clues that the thrillers and The Weed Agency are occurring in the same “universe.”)