The head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control admitted Wednesday that her agency’s problems, magnified during its mishandling of the COVID pandemic, can only be remediated by what she called an ‘ambitious’ overhaul.- Sponsored –
Dr. Gail Walensky, former professor at Harvard Medical School and the one-time chief of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital said Wednesday that missteps during the most recent pandemic and the slow response to the spread of the disease known as “Monkeypox” have persuaded her significant changes are necessary.
CDC critics have long argued its COVID recommendations were often useless or counterproductive to stopping the virus from spreading. Sometimes both. One oft-cited example is its development of a test to detect the disease that failed to work after it was made available, potentially providing an inaccurate picture of the novel coronavirus’s spread.
The agency’s new focus, she wrote in an agency-wide email, would be on becoming “more nimble and responsive to needs that arise in health emergencies,” Statnews.com reported, while making it a priority to gather data “that can be used to rapidly dispense public health guidance, rather than craft scientific papers.”
Yet it is the issuance of exactly that kind of public health guidance, agency critics say, that led to confusion during the COVID pandemic, potentially making the situation worse by creating a false sense of security that left people feeling they were protecting themselves by utilizing measures that were ineffective in stopping the spread or preventing exposure to the virus. One of those, the social distancing guideline setting out the need for people to remain at least six feet apart from one another is now known to have been issued based on no scientific testing whatsoever. It was, people now feel comfortable acknowledging, a made-up number that did not come from, as it was popular to say at the time, “following the science.”
In her email, Walensky told the agency’s 11,000 employees, “For 75 years, CDC and public health have been preparing for Covid-19, and in our big moment, our performance did not reliably meet expectations.” Her new goal, she wrote, is to create “a new, public health action-oriented culture at CDC that emphasizes accountability, collaboration, communication, and timeliness.”
She has a long way to go. Jason Schwartz, a health policy researcher at the Yale School of Public Health told CBS News “We saw during COVID that CDC’s structures, frankly, weren’t designed to take in information, digest it and disseminate it to the public at the speed necessary.”
What the agency did do was assist in the politicization of the disease, confuse the public, and fight all efforts to be held accountable for its mistakes on Capitol Hill. Writing in the Washington Examiner, Zachary Faria – who acknowledged Walensky was not at the CDC when the pandemic began – nonetheless added to the confusion by misstating the president’s intentions regarding vaccine mandates.
“She confused the public repeatedly, saying that President Joe Biden was considering a vaccination mandate before backtracking to say that there ‘Will be no federal mandate.’ Not even two months later, Biden did indeed put a vaccine mandate in place,” Faria wrote.
The CDC director also helped inflame the public’s anxiety by appearing at congressional hearings wearing two masks despite having received several doses of the vaccine. Such displays of caution on her part conflicted with the messages public health experts were sending to the American people who, seeing things with their own eyes, saw that even they were not sure what they were telling everyone was correct.
“Worst of all was how Walensky and the CDC justified restrictions on children, who have never been at serious risk from COVID,” Faria wrote, explaining her repeated change in position about social distancing in schools and the need to vaccinate teachers and students helped keep schools closed for an unacceptable period.
“If your culture is not aligned entirely with what your mission is, it doesn’t matter how good the strategy is. It doesn’t matter what your org charts are. It is all about the workforce culture,” Jay Varma, who spent 20 years at CDC before becoming director of the Cornell Center for Pandemic Prevention and Response at Weill Cornell Medicine told Statnews.com.
“It’s an agency run by geeks. It’s run by doctors and Ph.D.’s,” Varma said. “What are doctors and scientists notoriously bad at? Managing. They’re really good at hypothesis-driven research and analyzing information and making predictions about what might happen. What they’re really bad at is managing people in an effective way.”
Walensky will need time to make the changes – but it is time the country may now have. The CDC has been slow to respond to the emergence of Monkeypox, an infectious viral disease occurring in humans and other animals marked by fever, swollen lymph nodes and a rash that forms blisters that eventually crust over. The fact that is spreading disproportionately “among men who have sex with men and their sexual networks,” as CNN recently put it, has heightened concerns that political sensitivities are being allowed to interfere with the steps needed to prevent it from spreading into the at-large population.
“Not wanting to reproduce the kind of anti-gay stigma seen during the early AIDS crisis, some argue that articulating which group is at highest risk for monkeypox infection might be dangerous,” CNN said, probably unaware that this was an almost exact description of how the CDC and other public health agencies failed in their reaction to COVID even before it reached the pandemic level.
Against the advice of many who suggested the primary objective should be the isolation of those at high risk for fatal outcomes following exposure to COVID, the CDC and others attempted to isolate and immunize the nation. This led to economic and social lockdowns from which it will take years, perhaps decades before America can recover. It can be said the CDC’s bad advice, politicization and lack of readiness cost the nation hundreds of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars.
For nearly two years the CDC and other public health agencies and administrators made pronouncements that infected the American way of life at every level, often without debate or examination. Efforts to call their dictates into question were ridiculed, even suppressed, at great cost to the nation. It’s helpful that Walensky wants to reform her agency, but the best reforms come only after we know what happened to cause the problems.
Somehow, Walensky and other public health policymakers want to skip over that critical phase. No one wants to acknowledge their mistakes in public, especially if people died because of them. Nonetheless, they should not be allowed to hide behind the banner of reform now without being held accountable. America deserves an explanation, post-COVID, of how things were allowed to get as bad as they did. Not just an explanation of where the disease came from and whether it was produced in some far-off biological research facility and somehow got away but why the response to the infection was met with so much inconsistent advice coming from the government agencies employing the well-paid, well-funded experts who were supposed to know it all.
They didn’t, and we deserve to know why.
In the wake of a virus that killed millions, these Senate witnesses say it’s time to start treating pandemic research as a national security issue.
Three scientists who testified at the first Senate hearing on gain-of-function research on Wednesday said that stronger oversight is needed to make sure research that’s supposed to prevent pandemics isn’t causing them.
The hearing, held by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Spending Oversight and led by ranking member Rand Paul of Kentucky, was agreed to by both parties, but only Republican members chose to participate.
Richard Ebright, laboratory director at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology and hearing witness, said gain-of-function research involves changing pathogens to make them more dangerous. “Gain-of-function research of concern is defined as research activities reasonably anticipated to increase a potential pandemic pathogen’s transmissibility, pathogenicity, ability to overcome immune response, or ability to overcome a vaccine or drug,” Ebright said.
This research has multiple risks, Ebright added, and limited benefits. It results in new health threats because it creates “new potential pandemic pathogens.” He said that “if the new potential pandemic pathogen is released into humans, either accidentally or deliberately, this can cause a pandemic.”
Another risk, according to Ebright, is that once this gain-of-function research is published, people can use it to construct pandemic pathogens from synthetic DNA for well under $10,000. “Publication of the research provides instructions — step-by-step recipes — that can enable a rogue nation, organization, or individual to construct a new pathogen and cause a pandemic,” Ebright said.
Kevin Esvelt, another witness who is a biologist and director of the Sculpting Evolution group at MIT Media Lab, said this is a risk whether scientists are creating potential pandemic viruses through gain-of-function experiments or simply researching naturally occurring ones. He estimated that once the genome of a potential pandemic virus is published, there are 30,000 people with doctorates in the United States alone who would be able to create the virus in a lab.
Trying to identify potential pandemic virus is supposed to help prevent natural pandemics, Esvelt added, but he calculated the research is likely to kill a hundred times as many people as it saves because the likelihood of the research being used maliciously far outweighs the likelihood of it helping prevent a pandemic.
“In the hope of preventing natural pandemics,” Esvalt said, agencies including the National Institutes of Health “seek to identify viruses that could kill as many people as a nuclear weapon, to alert the entire world to what they find, and to publicly share[e] the complete genome sequences of those viruses so that skilled scientists everywhere will be able to make infectious samples.”
Esvelt said that “in the wake of a pandemic that has killed more people than could any thermonuclear explosion,” we need to start addressing pandemics in terms of national security. “We are so used to thinking of pandemics as a health and safety issue that we’ve missed the national security implications of identifying viruses that could be deliberately unleashed to kill millions of people.”
Steven Quay, the CEO of Atossa Therapeutics, said the SARS2 virus that causes Covid-19 “has features consistent with synthetic biology gain-of-function research.” He added that “two features involve acceptable academic gain-of-function research” while one region of the virus “has features of forbidden gain of function research: asymptomatic transmission and immune system evasion.” According to Quay, the permissible gain-of-function features were aspects of research that the United States and Wuhan Institute of Virology had proposed in 2018, while the forbidden features were aspects of research that was already going on at the lab.
Paul said he hopes the scientists’ suggestions can be incorporated into a bipartisan bill for better oversight of research that could lead to pandemics. “I don’t think the people doing the research are able to adequately and objectively regulate themselves,” Paul said. “And I think having a million people die, there should be bipartisan curiosity in this, that we should be able to move forward.”
In response to a question from The Federalist, Paul said that if the GOP wins the Senate and he becomes chairman of the committee, he’ll pursue investigations to hold people accountable for funding this research.
The Biden administration is under attack over its continuing support for animal experimentation worldwide. Outrageously, given the current global political climate, that support includes funding for experiments on cats being conducted in Russian laboratories.
In a story first reported by The Washington Times, it was revealed that the U.S. National Institutes of Health – described on its website as the world’s largest biomedical research agency – is still underwriting medical experiments on cats at four facilities located in Russia despite global economic sanctions imposed following the unprovoked attack on Ukraine nearly a month ago.
As is often the case with research conducted on animals, the funding is being used ostensibly for scientific purposes. Nevertheless, say some Capitol Hill Republicans, the idea that any U.S. government dollars are going to Russia for any reason makes a mockery of the sanctions and raises real questions about how serious the White House is about forcing the Russian invaders back behind their borders.
“Our tax dollars should never be going to our foreign adversaries, especially as the U.S. puts crippling sanctions on the Kremlin,” Michigan GOP Rep. Lisa C. McClain told the paper.
McClain was one of a group of members of Congress who wrote the White House recently saying that cutting off the NIH grants should be “a bipartisan, common-sense position” and that the administration should take “swift and decisive action to block and further tax dollars from going to Russian research labs.”
This is not the first time the Biden administration has found itself being criticized for its refusal to end funding for experiments on animals. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine — a group that claims more than 17,000 doctors as members – held a protest at the White House in December 2021 during which its leaders called for the appointment of a new NIH director “who prioritizes human-relevant, nonanimal experimentation.”
“President Joe Biden has a momentous opportunity to positively transform health research,” Catharine E. Krebs, Ph.D., medical research specialist with the doctors’ group said in Lafayette Park. “The importance of this decision cannot be overstated; the lives of all Americans, and many, many animals, will be impacted.”
The NIH, which is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is currently without a full-time leader. Its acting director, Lawrence Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D., took over after Dr. Francis Collins, a key policymaker during the COVID pandemic stepped down in December. President Biden has yet to nominate a successor to Collins – whom he recently tapped as his acting science advisor and acting co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology – and Tabak is believed to not have the clout or the desire to make the change in policy members of Congress like McClain are calling for without specific orders from the White House.
U.S. government funding of research on animals is often controversial. During the Trump administration, it was the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that came under fire over its use of beagles in experiments critics said were of dubious value. A study recently published by the White Coat Waste Project, a self-described “animal rights group,” placed the value of the funding sent to Russia’s state-run Pavlov Institute of Physiology at more than half a million dollars. The money was used, it said, to fund spinal cord research on cats, most of whom “did not survive long after the experiment was finished,” the paper said. In 2018, NIH is reported to have provided a similar grant to the Russian lab of more than $220,000 to fund a similar project.
In its materials, the physicians’ group maintains there is “increasing recognition among scientists that animal experiments do not produce the health solutions needed to prevent and protect against disease.” It also insists such experiments have a “dismal success rate” predicting whether the treatments being tested will be successful.
“Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay white coats in the Russian government to torture and kill cats in wasteful treadmill experiments,” Mackie Burr, vice president of the White Coat Waste Project said in a release, adding that the “four Kremlin-run animal testing labs that NIH has authorized to receive our money” should be defunded as part of the sanctions imposed over Ukraine.
Whoever Biden appoints as the next NIH director will likely face congressional investigations looking into these and other agency activities. It is believed by many, for example, that NIH grants to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology may somehow have been involved in the development of the virus commonly known as COVID-19. The connection has not been proven to a certainty but at least one prominent member of Congress, Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul, has promised to hold hearings investigating what the Wuhan lab did with the money it received from the U.S. should the Republicans regain control of the U.S. Senate after the November 2022 elections.
The pandemic has revealed Americans to be tacit Social Darwinists, while trapping the Chinese in a vast Panopticon.
Authoritarian regimes tend to boast about themselves and denigrate their rivals. President Xi Jinping’s China is no exception. “As the Covid-19 epidemic takes away hundreds of lives every day in the U.S.,” wrote Hu Xijin, the former editor-in-chief of the Global Times, on Jan. 14, “that country’s propaganda machinery is engaging in vicious smears against China’s dynamic zero-case policy of epidemic prevention … Think about it. More than 800,000 Americans died from Covid-19 in the U.S. Behind these numbers, how many sad and desperate stories are there?”
“The experience and facts of the past two years,” wrote Guo Yan in the Economic Daily five days later, “have shown that China’s general strategy of ‘foreign defense against imported [cases] and domestic defense against breakouts’ and the general policy of ‘dynamic clearing’ are the Covid prevention policies best suited to China’s own national conditions on top of being beneficial to the world … It is the inaction and chaotic actions of some policy makers that have caused the American people to fall into the epidemic crisis time and time again.”
Might the Chinese be right? As we reach the second anniversary of the Covid pandemic, perhaps the most surprising thing is how many Americans have lost their lives compared to how few have perished in China. How are we to explain this astonishing divergence?
The simple answer is that, despite being the source of the virus that caused the pandemic, the Chinese managed containment very successfully, while the U.S. bungled everything from testing to mask-wearing to quarantining.
Some people go even further, arguing (as does Chinese Communist Party propaganda) that the difference in death tolls illustrates the superiority of China’s political system over America’s corrupt and self-indulgent democracy. However, I have never bought this second argument. And I am no longer satisfied with the first.
We now have a U.S. death toll of between (depending on your source) 860,000 and 883,000 deaths due to Covid, the 20th-highest mortality relative to population globally. Actual mortality is running at 19% above the expected figure (compared with 5% in Canada). We are heading for a million deaths by May. According to the Economist, we may already be there.
True, in relative terms — deaths per million — U.S. mortality is not the worst in the world (it ranks 19th). In terms of excess mortality, too, the U.S. has fared better than a number of Latin American and Eastern European countries. The puzzle remains that on paper — according to the Global Health Index published in 2019 — the U.S. was better prepared for a pandemic than any other country.
Even more remarkable is how few Chinese the new coronavirus has killed: Fewer than 5,000, meaning a death rate three orders of magnitude smaller than the U.S. rate. Considering that the pandemic originated in Wuhan, this is an astonishing achievement. Of course, skepticism is always warranted where Chinese statistics are concerned. But even the Economist’s estimates, which suggest that there may have been significantly higher excess mortality in China, point to a far lower relative death toll than in the U.S.
Two things explain the remarkably high mortality the U.S. has suffered in this pandemic. First, the American public health bureaucracy failed utterly. Initially, when we knew very little except that it was contagious and dangerous, the relevant agencies were staggeringly complacent when they should have been frantically testing, tracing and isolating.Sponsored ContentWhy Decisions Made Now Will Steer the Net Zero TrajectoryUBS
Then, in March 2020, the official mind flipped from complacency to panic, partly on the basis of a paper by the British epidemiologist Neil Ferguson (no relation), who argued that we had to lock people in their homes until vaccines were available or 2.2 million Americans would die.
As it became clear that this approach would wreck the global economy, the public health officials resorted to improvisation, alternately tightening and loosening restrictions on economic and social life in a reactive and mostly ineffective way. Masks were at first dismissed as unnecessary, then became mandatory even in some outdoor locations, where they served no purpose.
When some skeptical scientists challenged the wisdom of lockdowns, the public health establishment was dismissive. The Great Barrington Declaration, published in October 2020 by Harvard’s Martin Kulldorff, Oxford’s Sunetra Gupta and Stanford’s Jay Bhattacharya, offered a persuasive critique of blanket pandemic lockdowns, arguing instead for “focused protection” of vulnerable groups such as the elderly or those with medical conditions.
“This proposal from the three fringe epidemiologists … seems to be getting a lot of attention,” Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health, emailed Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases. “There needs to be a quick and devastating published take down of its premises … Is it underway?”
Now that we have vaccines with high efficacy and a variant that causes mild flu-like symptoms in most vaccinated people, the official mind remains wedded to its playbook — in the parts of the U.S. where most people are vaccinated, such as northern California, where I live. Educational institutions have reverted to remote learning (an oxymoron, as everyone knows); masks are ubiquitous, even outdoors; a host of petty regulations persist.
Meanwhile, in the states with significant numbers of unvaccinated and vulnerable people, almost no precautions are taken. Consequently, the intensive care units are filling up once again. I make this the fifth wave of Covid in the U.S., and already mortality relative to population is higher than in South Africa, Denmark and the U.K., where the omicron variant struck sooner.
Yet there is a second reason for the relatively high American mortality during the pandemic, which has to do with public attitudes and behavior. I have come to the conclusion, after observing my fellow Americans for two years that — whatever our public health officials may tell us, and whatever some of us may say — in practice and in aggregate we are a nation of Social Darwinists.
Social Darwinism is a contentious term, I know, but its history is illuminating. A century ago, the ideas that came to be summed up as Social Darwinism by historians such as Richard Hofstadter were not limited to a far-right lunatic fringe. They derived from the writings of some of the era’s pre-eminent proponents of social progress.
Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) was the English philosopher who did most to import ideas derived from Charles Darwin and other evolutionary theorists (notably Jean-Baptiste Lamarck) into the study of contemporary human societies. In works such as “First Principles” (1862), “Principles of Biology” (1864) and “The Man Versus the State” (1884), Spencer sought to discern universal laws of evolution.
One of his key contentions was that most social interventions by government were harmful, no matter how well-intentioned, because they interfered with the natural laws of evolution, which were the main driver of progress.
Some Social Darwinists went even further, arguing that infectious disease had a role to play in promoting the survival of the fittest. Franz Ignaz Pruner, a German physician, anthropologist and racial theorist, wrote “The Global Cholera Pandemic and Nature’s Police” (1851), based partly on his observations in Egypt. Wherever Europeans and Americans established colonies in the tropics, officials would periodically muse that the terrifyingly high mortality rates arising from disease — and of course from poor sanitation and malnutrition — must, like famines in India, be part of some providential design.
It was a relatively short step from Social Darwinism to eugenics — the theory popularized by Francis Galton, Karl Pearson and others that government should actively promote the reproduction of the “fit” and limit the reproduction of the “unfit.”
It is easy to forget today how influential such notions were a century ago, when they appealed almost as much to progressives as to proto-fascists. Chicago sociologist and reformer Charles Henderson opposed immigration of the “unfit,” proposed that the “feebleminded and degenerate” be banished to rural labor colonies and sterilized to “prevent their propagation of defects and thus the perpetuation of their misery in their offspring.”
As Spencer had made clear, it was a guiding principle of Social Darwinism that public-health legislation “defeats its own end” and “favours the multiplication of those worst fitted for existence, and, by consequence, hinders the multiplication of those best fitted for existence.”
In “Social Statics,” he used language echoed today by American libertarians:
If … it is the duty of the state to protect the health of its subjects, it is its duty to see that all the conditions of health are fulfilled by them. Shall this duty be consistently discharged? If so, the legislature must enact a national dietary: prescribe so many meals a day for each individual; fix the quantities and qualities of food, both for men and women; state the proportion of fluids, when to be taken, and of what kind; specify the amount of exercise, and define its character; describe the clothing to be employed … and to enforce these regulations it must employ a sufficiency of duly-qualified officials, empowered to direct every one’s domestic arrangements.
Like many of today’s critics of the public-health agencies, Spencer argued that the medical profession and bureaucrats were actuated by self-interest rather than altruism and had an “unmistakable wish to establish an organized, tax-supported class, charged with the health of men’s bodies, as the clergy are charged with the health of their souls.”
Reading “Social Statics” today, you see how completely Spencer lost the argument. As we enter the third year of the Covid pandemic, the public-health clergy have established themselves in precisely the kind of well-paid positions of power that Spencer foresaw, leaving a motley array of lockdown skeptics and anti-vaxxers to rehash his old arguments.
I have tended to steer clear of the lockdown skeptics and to heap opprobrium on the anti-vaxxers. But what we really see in both cases is a kind of revival of Social Darwinism that extends beyond the militant opponents of lockdowns and vaccines to include the many millions of Americans who over the past two years have simply flouted the pandemic rules. Ignoring the prescriptions of an intrusive nanny state, or complying with them so carelessly as to render them ineffective, they have tacitly given free rein to the principle of the survival of the fittest.
Compared with Western Europeans and especially with East Asians, Americans have a remarkably high tolerance of excess mortality, especially when it is heavily concentrated in politically underrepresented social groups. The same is true with respect to the relatively high death toll from firearms that Americans tolerate, not forgetting the staggering mortality caused by opioid overdoses in the past decade, which has no parallel in any developed country.
Now contrast the American experience of the pandemic with the Chinese. If Americans resemble modern-day Social Darwinists, the People’s Republic is a utilitarian Panopticon worthy of the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s idealized penitentiary of the late-18th century, which relied on prisoners’ uncertainty about whether they were under observation to incentivize good behavior.
No country has more effectively used non-pharmaceutical restrictions on social and economic life to control the spread of SARS-CoV-2 than China. True, these restrictions were widely imitated, as in New Zealand. But the reason they were more effective in China than elsewhere is precisely that the Communist Party’s system of surveillance creates what Bentham called “the sentiment of a sort of invisible omnipresence.”
And yet there turns out to be a catch, in the form of a new and much more infectious variant of the virus. In omicron, Xi Jinping’s Panopticon faces a new and ghastly challenge. Not only does the Chinese population have essentially no natural immunity from previous infections, thanks to the Zero-Covid strategy; the inferior Chinese-made vaccines also offer little protection against omicron. As a consequence, China must impose tighter restrictions than ever before.
Currently, over 20 million people are under some form of lockdown in half a dozen cities, notably Xian and Tianjin, because small numbers of people tested positive. Traditional Lunar New Year celebrations are being restricted. The Beijing Winter Olympics will take place with almost no foreign spectators. The volume of international flights to China has been reduced by more than 90%.
In some ways, China’s reversion to being a closed society is of a piece with Xi’s attempt to revive other aspects of Maoism: his reassertion of the Communist Party’s dominance over the private sector, his call for more egalitarian social outcomes, his intolerance of domestic dissent and ethnic minorities, his readiness to threaten war. But it is not at all clear how any of this helps the Chinese economy grow sufficiently fast to overtake that of the U.S.
By contrast, the American propensity to ignore (or at least honor mainly in the breach) the bureaucracy’s rules and regulations — combined with the opening of the fiscal and monetary floodgates — has meant that paradoxically, the public health disaster of the pandemic has been accompanied by an economic recovery so red-hot that U.S. inflation has jumped to a rate not seen since 1982.
In the eyes of today’s Western public health experts, none of this makes sense. Neil Ferguson gave an interview last year in which he described how he and his fellow scientific advisors to the British government realized that they might be able to copy the Chinese strategy for containing Covid. “People’s sense of what is possible in terms of control changed quite dramatically between January and March ,” he recalled. “They [i.e., the Chinese] claimed to have flattened the curve. I was sceptical at first. … But as the data accrued it became clear it was an effective policy.”
The question was: Could the West copy China’s lockdown? “It’s a communist one-party state, we said. We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought,” said Ferguson. “And then Italy did it. And we realized we could.”
It continues to puzzle me that so many smart people were convinced that the People’s Republic of China should be the role model for a free society faced with a pandemic (as opposed to the East Asian democracies like South Korea and Taiwan that have contained the virus with minimal lockdowns). But that was the road we attempted to go down, inflicting immense economic disruption until we realized that it was unsustainable — that not even Ferguson (or, it turns out, the government he was advising) could adhere to a system of universal house arrest, much less don’t-tread-on-me Americans.
In the U.S. today, Covid has become as much a bureaucratic as a medical condition. Having had omicron in December, I and my family remain subject to a plethora of rules that make absolutely no sense, as we can neither catch nor transmit the virus again so soon after having been infected. I pointlessly wear a mask at meetings and on planes. I pointlessly submit to regular Covid tests. I pointlessly fill out online forms attesting to my children’s health.
Perhaps at some point this year a new variant — Pi, Rho, Sigma, take your pick — will emerge that I can catch and that will give me and others something more than a mild cold. But until that time comes, I shall feel a sense of individualist resentment — that I now realize is very American — about the whole dysfunctional edifice of rules and regulations. When (if?) they are finally swept away, I shall rejoice.
And, if the Chinese Panopticon finally loses control of Chinese virus in this, the third plague year, I’ll recall that, in the history of struggles between rival empires, the fitness that determines survival is seldom correlated with a state’s power over the individual — or its propensity to boast.
The 10-page plan, which Vanity Fair has obtained, would enable the U.S. to finally do what many other countries had already done: Put rapid at-home COVID-19 testing into the hands of average citizens, allowing them to screen themselves in real time and thereby help reduce transmission. The plan called for an estimated 732 million tests per month, a number that would require a major ramp-up of manufacturing capacity. It also recommended, right on the first page, a nationwide “Testing Surge to Prevent Holiday COVID Surge.”
The antigen tests at the center of the plan can detect the virus when patients are at their most contagious.
Three days after the meeting, on October 25, the COVID-19 testing experts—who hailed from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Rockefeller Foundation, the COVID Collaborative, and several other organizations—received a back channel communication from a White House official. Their big, bold idea for free home tests for all Americans to avoid a holiday surge, they were told, was dead. That day, the administration instead announced an initiative to move rapid home tests more swiftly through the FDA’s regulatory approval process.
The rapid-test push, in particular, seems to have bumped up against the peculiar challenges of fighting COVID-19 in the 21st-century United States. Difficulties include a regulatory gauntlet intent on vetting devices for exquisite sensitivity, rather than public-health utility; a medical fiefdom in which doctors tend to view patient test results as theirs alone to convey; and a policy suspicion, however inchoate, that too many rapid tests might somehow signal to wary Americans that they could test their way through the pandemic and skip vaccinations altogether. “It’s undeniable that [the administration] took a vaccine-only approach,” said Dr. Michael Mina, a vocal advocate for rapid testing who attended the October White House meeting. The U.S. government “didn’t support the notion of testing as a proper mitigation tool.”
President Biden, before departing on Marine Force One, Monday:
Q President Biden, why did your administration reject the holiday testing surge in October? Does the buck stop with you there — rejecting the surge?
THE PRESIDENT: We didn’t reject it.
We’re left with the same feeling after President Biden insisted no military adviser recommended to him to keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, after U.S. Central Command General Frank McKenzie and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley told Congress under oath they had recommended that action. Or Biden’s claim that he himself had predicted that the Afghan government would collapse by the end of the year. Or Biden’s claim that his late son Beau served in the U.S. Navy in landlocked Afghanistan, or his claim to have been opposed to the war in Afghanistan from the beginning. Or the number of times Biden stated that vaccinated individuals cannot spread Covid-19, or that “you’re not going to get COVID if you have these vaccinations.”
Sure, maybe Biden is just lying when he says his administration didn’t reject a holiday testing surge. But what if the president genuinely doesn’t remember what he’s been told in briefings, conversations, and decisions?
Or in the case of the rejection of the massive expansion of testing, was this decision made without Joe Biden’s involvement?
Twitter blue checks across the Northeast are utterly divorced from the reality of pandemic life in the rest of the country.
Omicron is here, and with it comes death and destruction — unless, that is, you cancel Christmas, hide in your homes, get all the boosters, double mask, and demand to see negative Covid tests and proof of vaccination for anyone who darkens your doorstep. Any precautions, no matter how seemingly outlandish, are seen as justifiable to protect yourself from this new and terrifying variant.
So it is, anyway, with a disturbingly large number of reporters and commentators in the corporate press, whose coverage and individual responses to Covid have become increasingly divorced from that of the rest of America. To watch CNN or read The New York Times, you’d think omicron was the most deadly strain of the virus to date, poised to overwhelm hospitals and leave a trail of death behind it.
The reality, which most Americans have readily grasped, is just the opposite: omicron appears to be the least dangerous strain of the virus yet. After five weeks of omicron’s spread in South Africa, where the variant first appeared, the news is encouraging: mild to nonexistent symptoms, hospitalization rates nine times lower than previous surges, and extremely low rates of severe illness and death even though only about a quarter of the population is vaccinated. Here in the United States, only one person has died from the omicron variant thus far, even though omicron cases accounted for nearly three-quarters of new infections nationwide last week.
Rather than return to lockdowns and school closures — to say nothing of canceling holiday gatherings — there’s every reason to believe we’ll be able to weather this surge with minimal disruption.
Unless you’re a member of legacy media. In that case, you’re probably going to cancel your own birthday party like The Atlantic’s Ed Yong did, even though all his birthday guests were vaccinated and boosted, and probably would have been tested before showing up at his house. But no, it was just too great a risk.
Yong, you see, covers science. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of Covid. He’s written too many stories about the pandemic to be dissuaded by mere data about omicron. For him, isolation, masking indoors, and eating outside are normal and necessary, and really what everyone should be doing.
He’s not alone. Former GOP communications director and CNN contributor Tara Setmayer blurted out on Twitter last week that she hadn’t been on a plane or gone to a movie since March 2020, and has only eaten indoors twice this entire time, even though her family is vaccinated and boosted.
This isn’t a healthy or sane response to the pandemic, especially not after nearly two years of Covid. Judging by how busy airports and movie theaters and restaurants are across the country, it’s also not normal. It’s borderline psychotic. Only people who have convinced themselves that the worst thing that could happen to them is get Covid would go to these absurd lengths.
Yet that’s exactly what many Twitter blue checks have done. CNN’s Chris Cillizza confessed on Twitter last week that the omicron surge has really hit him hard because it made him realize, for the first time, that “the vaccines don’t, really, prevent you from getting the virus,” and that they “can never do what I had hoped: Ensure no one I loved will become infected.”
Imagine being so impervious to reality — to say nothing of science and data, or even just stories about Covid in the news — that you’d still think, in December 2021, that the Covid vaccines could prevent all your loved ones from getting infected. I know we all joke about how bad Cillizza’s takes are, but come on.
It would be one thing if this insanity were confined to the Acela corridor, but it’s not. Thanks to the hysterics of our media elite, a certain segment of the American people have lost their minds over Covid and essentially become some version of the mask-sealed-with-surgical-tape, “Shitton of Xanax” lady.
Now, where would this poor woman get the idea that all this is necessary to protect her from the omicron variant? Maybe she read Washington Post health reporter Dan Diamond’s latest column, in which he warns his readers not to expect a mild case of Covid from the omicron variant, to “brace yourself” for a positive test even if you’re vaccinated, to “expect hospitals to be pushed to their limits,” and to “upgrade your mask and think twice about taking risks.”
Understand that none of this advice has much to do with the science or data we have so far on omicron. Indeed, the South African doctor who first reported the omicron variant wrote earlier this month that she was “astonished by the extraordinary worldwide reaction” to the new strain of Covid, which she says is “out of all proportion to the risks posed by this variant.”
That reaction is being pushed by a small cohort of elite journalists and talking heads who live in large cities in the northeast, and whose entire approach to Covid and the pandemic are way out of step with the rest of the country. What’s more, their fear-driven approach hasn’t yielded better outcomes. Places that have imposed draconian lockdowns and school closures have fared no better (and sometimes worse) than places that have remained mostly open.
It’s time — long past time — to stop listening to these people.
It is hard to believe that Spring 2020 was almost two years ago. The empty grocery store shelves and panic buying of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and canned foods feels like both a lifetime ago and also just yesterday. Many actions of that season have had reverberating effects – namely, the panic buying and unparalleled demand for those products.
Hand sanitizer, something that we were told we needed to stay safe and healthy, flew off the shelves faster than major manufacturers could produce it. This led the Trump administration to relax certain regulations and issue emergency guidance to allow producers to ramp up production and help meet the record demand. This was a reasonable approach at the time, as we had severe shortages of hand sanitizer and many stores had none to sell; however, it also led to lax practices in refilling, distributing and labeling hand sanitizers, and even dangerous and harmful products ending up in the hands of Americans. Now that we are almost on the other side of the pandemic, and businesses have their doors back open, the FDA needs to issue guidance on bulk distribution of hand sanitizer, to protect American citizens who are still relying on hand sanitizer for some measure of safety. 0:00 / 48:556 seconds…
Just this month, hand sanitizer manufacturer ArtNaturals had to recall hand sanitizer due to high amounts of “benzene, acetaldehyde and acetal contaminants,” and these are products that are being used on college campuses and in businesses.
Terrifyingly, benzene is linked to blood cancers, including leukemia, and is considered a high-risk carcinogen, and it is being given to Americans, unbeknownst to them. Many businesses purchased hand sanitizer in bulk — in gallon jugs — and then used it to refill existing branded hand sanitizer dispensers. The branded hand sanitizer was effective and safe, but in many instances the bulk sanitizer used to refill the branded dispensers was neither safe, nor effective.
The businesses who did this were not guilty of bad intent. But the effect was nonetheless harmful to the public, as they thought they were protecting themselves and reducing risk to themselves and others when, in fact, they were doing nothing to combat the virus, and even making themselves more at risk for other, more dangerous diseases like cancer.
As Americans are back out in the world and our economy begins to ramp back up, both students and consumers need to know that the hand sanitizer they are using at businesses they visit is effective and won’t put them at risk for other diseases. Ads by
Hopefully, we are overcoming the pandemic, and the crisis will soon be in our past. But hand sanitizer isn’t merely useful in combatting COVID-19. The common cold and the flu can be combatted with effective hand hygiene that includes reliable hand sanitizer. The flu season is coming and having access to safe and effective hand sanitizer is important, even if the risk of COVID-19 is decreasing.
Studies have shown that to effectively kill germs and viruses, the alcohol content needs to be at least 60 percent. Generally, more is better. Some have said that it shouldn’t be less than 70 percent. But there can be no doubt or disagreement that hand sanitizer should not contain known carcinogens at such high levels that their use is actually harmful and exposes people to an increased risk of cancer.
So, the FDA was correct to withdraw the emergency guidance and return to the previous and well-established standards, but the FDA now also must make sure that schools, retailers, restaurants, healthcare facilities, and other frontline businesses are providing safe and effective products, that includes advising against the practice of topping off refillable dispensers with dangerous, mislabeled and ineffective products.
Current science suggests that COVID-19, like the flu, will not be completely eradicated. Thus, we will have to mitigate their impact and harm. U.S. business owners have been through so much, and they fought to stay open, with the hope that they will have the necessary tools to keep their patrons safe. One effective way is through proper hand hygiene, which clearly includes having access to effective and safe hand sanitizer.
It’s time to be honest. Despite all the scientific chatter, nobody yet has a handle on the COVID-19 crisis. No one can pinpoint for certain where or how it started. No one knows when it will end.
The possibility COVID may be with us for some time (despite predictions by Dr. Anthony Fauci and others that we can expect positive news sometime in 2023) is real. By then, if Fauci and others are right, we’ll have learned to live with it, managing the inevitable outbreaks similar to how we handle the flu. That, however, will require planning, making changes to the health care device and pharmaceutical approval process, and a reliance on technology.
Operation Warp Speed, the Trump Administration’s initiative to cut federal red tape and get the pharmaceutical industry to work finding a coronavirus vaccine, was a game-changer. It gave every American hope that a solution was on the horizon. The vaccines it produced have largely been effective, however, there’s still uncertainty about their efficacy long-term.
The current thinking is that at least one booster shot will be needed. The emergence of the Delta variant has been a setback, triggering calls for mandates including masks, vaccines and special travel passports. Uncertainty lingers, making it incumbent on leaders in the political, scientific, and media arenas to stay focused on innovative ways to address Americans’ concerns.
The Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization both say now that COVID is transmitted through tiny droplets and aerosols spread through indoor spaces. Fighting that means thinking differently. To accomplish this, we should rely on private industry initiatives to develop ways to eliminate airborne pathogens and limit the possibility of surface transmissions. When one comes along, we should talk about it and celebrate it because, like the vaccines produced through Operation Warp Speed, it provides hope as well as an added layer of protection.
One technology showing great promise is an air purification system known as ActivePure, originally developed by NASA. The technology seeks out pathogens through a process known as advanced photocatalysis, which sends out submicroscopic particles in real time to deactivate pathogens, including COVID-19 and other viruses.
ActivePure’s proactive air defense system is already being used in high-risk indoor environments including the Cleveland Clinic, The Texas State Capitol, and Philadelphia’s public schools. Additionally, groups like ThermoFisher Scientific are in the process of rolling out new aerosol sensor monitoring technology, potentially allowing hospitals, nursing homes, and schools to track for the presence of the virus, providing critical knowledge to inform mitigation strategies.
Innovators are hard at work creating solutions for retailers as well. Intel’s RealSense TCS is a touchless control software that converts kiosks into touchless interfaces without radically modifying the intuitive user experience. These changes are helping get brick and mortar establishments back in business safely.
No one can predict the future. America’s leadership in the health sciences is a vital part of the process of exploration that will produce novel approaches to block the spread of the pathogens leading to outbreaks of COVID-19 and other viruses.
The lockdowns throughout 2020 did not work as intended – and severely hurt a booming economy. A different strategy is required for the next outbreak. This will require the government to expedite the regulatory approval process in key areas, and partner with forward-thinking start-ups, while embracing new innovations to prepare for the next national health emergency.
Just when we thought it was safe, COVID is back. The delta variant is sweeping through the unvaccinated portion of the population, sending people to the hospital at an alarming rate. Government experts are once again talking openly about the need for masking protocols and the possibility of additional lockdowns just as the U.S. economy is starting to get back on its feet.
It’s clear America never really understood the disease, how it moved through the population, and why so many people died from it. It’s true the government’s response through two administrations have been uneven, sometimes swinging widely from one extreme to the other on important questions but the real blame for the public’s lack of comprehension of the dangers we face lies those to whom we look to explain what is going and why.
The surge in the number of people testing possible for the delta variant is once again dominating the national conversation as is the number of those people who end up hospitalized. Left out of the conversation is how this same variant appears to be considerably less lethal than the iteration of the disease believed by many to have originated in Wuhan, China.
You might think “More People Infected Yet Far Fewer Are Dying” would be a welcome headline. Most of us have yet to see it or anything like it. Whether that’s by design or another clue that the reporters and the experts who they interview about COVID aren’t as up to speed on what’s going on as they appear to be is something that itself probably needs to be investigated. Misinformation has been a problem throughout America’s COVID crisis and has led people to make all sorts of unwise decisions – the worst of which is probably the decision not to take the vaccine when there’s no valid medical or religious reason for abstaining.
As bad as that is, the push to have everyone take the vaccine regardless of the possible consequences does a near equal disservice to the American public. The failure of the “talking heads” to address various concerns people may have about the various vaccines while cheerleading for everyone to get vaccinated doesn’t help get people over their fears, real or imagined.
The root cause for all this is the public’s distrust of the media, which has been growing by leaps and bounds on both sides of the ideological aisle for more than a decade. Reporters promoting an agenda inside their reporting have shaken the average news consumer’s confidence they can be trusted to a significant degree. And when the coverage turns to “life and death” issues like the pandemic, that mistrust can produce fatal results.
A poll released Monday by Rasmussen Reports suggests it is the media rather than policymakers who are responsible for the COVID confusion. “Only 42 percent of Americans rate the media’s coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic excellent or good, and many have concerns about the accuracy of reporting on vaccine safety,” the pollster said. In a time of true crisis, a number that low should have news executives and network heads hanging their heads in shame.
Polls are not definitive but the trends they reflect tell us a great deal. According to Rasmussen Reports, the latest numbers are down from where they were in December 2020, when fully half the country said the coverage of the pandemic was “excellent or good.”
At the same time, the lack of confidence in COVID reporting may also be responsible for the spread of misinformation about the vaccine and the virus. “The number of Americans who think the media are exaggerating the COVID-19 threat has increased since December,” the polling firm reported, with the numbers now “dead even – 44 percent believe the media are exaggerating the coronavirus threat and the same percentage don’t think so.”
The poll found the distrust of the media to be generalized. “Among those who think the media are exaggerating the COVID-19 threat,” the polling firm found, “59 percent also don’t believe the media are accurately reporting about vaccine safety. By comparison, among those who don’t believe the media have exaggerated the coronavirus threat, 67 percent think the media are reporting accurately about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.”
The fact younger Americans are choosing to reject the vaccine, something policymakers say is a significant factor in the way the number of confirmed cases of COVID-Delta has spiked over recent weeks, also appears correlated to attitudes about the media. In the poll, 48 percent of those under age 40 said they believed “the COVID-19 threat is exaggerated by the media,” while just 34 percent of those aged 65 and older said it was. Additionally, 38 percent of those participating in the survey said they thought “the media aren’t reporting accurately about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines,” which probably explains a lot about why so many Americans have chosen not to be vaccinated.
The survey of 1,000 U.S. American Adults was conducted on July 21-22, 2021, by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence.
Engage Taiwan, boycott the 2022 Olympics, and impose a carbon tariff
The debate over the origins of the coronavirus—did it come from a wet market in Wuhan or from the virology lab nearby—has exposed the bias of media and technology companies and the potential danger of so-called gain of function research. But it also has led to something of an intellectual cul-de-sac. Barring a high-level defection from the Chinese Communist Party, we are unlikely ever to learn the answer. And even if we did have conclusive evidence one way or another, we still would have to decide what to do about it. The real question isn’t whether the pandemic is China’s fault. It’s whether China will pay a price for the catastrophic damage it caused the world.
Wherever the virus came from, we know that the Chinese government lied about it for weeks. Dr. Ai Fen shared information about a novel coronavirus with her colleagues on December 30, 2019. The next day, as Lawrence Wright recounts in The Plague Year, China removed social media posts that mentioned “unknown Wuhan pneumonia” or “Wuhan Seafood Market.” Dr. Li Wenliang, who warned the public that the virus could be transmitted from human to human, was arrested and forced to deliver a televised confession. He died of COVID-19 on February 6, 2020.
Beijing prevaricated for a month while the deadly pandemic spread. China did not allow the World Health Organization to visit Wuhan until January 20, 2020. The same day, one of China’s top doctors finally admitted the obvious: COVID-19 is a communicable disease. By the time the Communist leadership took action, it was too late. On January 21, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control confirmed the first case of coronavirus in America. China did not quarantine Wuhan until January 22. “By that time,” according to Wright, “nearly half the population of Wuhan had already left the city for Chinese New Year.”
The dishonesty and incompetence of the Chinese Communist Party turned a national crisis into a global one. A March 2020 study estimated that cases might have been reduced by anywhere from 66 percent to 95 percent if Chinese authorities had acted earlier. Why was Beijing slow to move? Because bureaucratic collectivist societies such as Communist China are especially prone to delays and coverups as underlings attempt to avoid punishment from above. The same powers of draconian coercion that China used to lock down its population inspired fear among the midlevel and regional officials who allowed the virus to leave China in the first place. The problem wasn’t scientific. It was political. And punishment is deserved.
What to do? Writing in the Washington Post, Mike Pompeo and Scooter Libby call on the “leading democracies” to “act together,” leveraging “their great economic power” to “persuade China to curb its dangerous viral research activities, cooperate with the investigation of the coronavirus’s origins, and, over time, pay some measure of the pandemic’s damages to other nations.” It’s a worthy strategy with a potentially fatal flaw: The other democracies might put economics ahead of accountability.
Another proposal in Congress would strip China of its sovereign immunity and make it liable for damages in U.S. courts. That plan would also leave American foreign policy dependent on outside actors—in this case, judges. And millions of potential claimants attempting to seize Chinese assets in the United States could make for a mess.
China never will volunteer to open its labs. Nor will it compensate either nations or individuals for the havoc it unleashed. Costs must be imposed that Beijing cannot avoid.
I have three suggestions. Each is more controversial than the last. But all of them would ensure that China paid some price for its lax hygiene and sanitation standards, loosey-goosey research protocols, and reckless attitude toward human freedom and human life.
Engage Taiwan. To its credit, the Biden administration has continued the stepped-up engagement with Taiwan that began under President Trump. In April, Biden sent an unofficial delegation to the island that included his close friend Chris Dodd. Most recently, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai raised the prospect of new trade talks in a conversation with her Taiwanese counterpart. This pattern of contacts bothers mainland China to no end.
Keep it up. But also do more to train and equip Taiwanese military forces, as my American Enterprise Institute colleagues Gary Schmitt and Michael Mazza suggested last year in The Dispatch. Taiwan is a reminder that Chinese people can be free and that open societies can deal effectively with pandemics. The very existence of Chinese democracy in Taiwan is a threat to the legitimacy of Communist rule in the mainland. It’s an obstacle to Beijing’s ambitions in the Pacific. Taiwan’s defense is imperative.
Boycott the Olympics. One day before he left office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the Chinese Communist Party “has committed genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.” Here, too, the Biden administration has not deviated from its predecessor’s course. The United States openly accuses its arch-rival of crimes against humanity. This is a pretty big deal, is it not?
Well, start acting like it. Why the participation of U.S. officials in the Beijing Olympics next year is even up for debate is a mystery. The White House has said that it is not exploring a boycott. That needs to change. On June 7 a bipartisan resolution was introduced in Congress demanding that the International Olympic Committee explore other venues. A declaration that no U.S. government personnel will participate because of China’s actions at home and abroad would embarrass Beijing. It would encourage other democracies to do the same. China deserves neither the honor of nor the revenue from the participation of U.S. officials. Let the athletes compete. But cheer them on from home.
Impose a carbon tariff. President Biden has also maintained the tariffs that President Trump levied against Chinese goods. Economist Irwin Stelzer of the Hudson Institute has a better plan. He would replace these tariffs with a border tax on the carbon content of Chinese exports. The strategy has appeal for environmentalists and China hawks alike. Everyone knows that China is the world’s largest emitter. Everyone knows that China’s promise of greenhouse gas reduction is worthless. Beijing won’t do anything that jeopardizes the economic growth on which it bases its claim to rule.
“In effect,” writes Stelzer, “by selling us ‘dirty’ products, China is adding to the competitive advantage it has from selling us stuff made by slave and other laborers paid wages with which we cannot decently compete, around $2 per hour in Beijing.” The EU already is at work on what it calls a “Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism” on Chinese exports. By pushing for a carbon tariff of its own, the Biden administration would please not only hawks and greens, but also the European allies whose opinion it values so highly.
The problem with a “carbon border adjustment mechanism,” of course, is that the process of calculating a good’s carbon content might turn out to be overly complicated, bureaucratic, and subject to politicization. I’m not in the habit of taking economic advice from Brussels. But these problems must be weighed against the justice and potential benefits of such a tax. And the additional cost could be rebated to low-income U.S. consumers along the lines that Senator Tom Cotton proposed in a slightly different context in 2019.
In the end, whether or not the United States adopts a tax on Chinese carbon is less important than moving the debate from the pandemic’s origins to the pandemic’s endgame. The despotic regime whose malign indifference killed so many and cost so much cannot be allowed to pretend that nothing happened. We can hold China responsible. And we can make China pay.
The United States won the Cold War. The world was benefited by the fact that a pro-liberty, pro-human rights nation became the world’s sole superpower. Had that superpower been the former Soviet Union or current China, the world would be a much less free, happy and prosperous place.
Thanos, in the Marvel movies, was the ultimate supervillain. His goal was to kill half of all human life. Of course, Thanos is a make-believe villain. But there are real-life villains who have no problem brutally repressing and killing those they see as their subjects. When evil regimes have power, the people suffer — often horrifically. History proves that.
It is not inconsequential or coincidental that the U.S. also won the race to the moon. Being able to defend yourself from hostile powers has always been easier when you have the high ground and the superior technology. While no battles were fought on the surface of the moon, the technological advances that we obtained by making the trip helped our nation win the Cold War and benefited the entire free world.
This is one of the reasons that space exploration isn’t simply a fun hobby or a matter of national pride. Looking back at history, when Thomas Jefferson was president, it is clear that the Lewis and Clark exploration of America’s vast western frontier (1803-1806) was about a lot more than just mapping the frontier or learning about it. Part of the mission that Jefferson gave them was establishing our national presence in the west so that European powers didn’t claim it as their own and use it as a launch point to attack our young nation. Jefferson wasn’t imagining the risk. Only a few years later, the British did attack America — but not from the western frontier.
In today’s world, space exploration serves many vital national interests. China very much wants to overtake us in space exploration and its motives are not about advancing the cause of mankind. If you don’t believe me, ask one of the critics of China’s repressive and violent domination of Hong Kong.
The good news is that the United States is making important strides to reestablish its leadership role in space and space exploration. We just witnessed a very important test of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). It was a successful test and shows that America is once again Earth’s most capable nation in space exploration. We cannot afford to lose the momentum. We need for national leaders to fully support our efforts in space.
One thing that most Americans don’t understand is that as interesting as it has been to watch the development of SpaceX’s Vulcan Heavy and Falcon Heavy, they are limited in their capabilities. In fact, using lift capability as the measure, SpaceX’s options are less than 1/2 as capable as the current SLS and they will be only about 1/3 as capable as the next generation SLS. While it is true that SpaceX has lowered the cost of a generic space launch, the truth is that SLS can get us to the moon and Mars and beyond. Neither the Vulcan nor Falcon have the lift capability to do that.
Moreover, if we were to build the International Space Station (ISS) now, using SLS to send the parts and equipment into space, we could do it with only three launches. Even though each individual launch would be more expensive, SLS’s vastly superior lift capability would make the entire mission far, far less expensive. It took more than 30 launches to build the ISS with less capable space vehicles.
To state that differently, if you were moving across the country, a single trip in a small commuter car would be the cheapest option to make the 2,500 mile drive. But if you were hoping to move more than a few people, you’d quickly find that a larger, more capable vehicle would actually be cheaper to accomplish the mission of getting your belongings and furniture across the country. We all understand this point and would never seriously consider moving a house full of furniture and household belongings across the country in a Honda Civic.
The bottom line is that America needs SLS if we hope to maintain our advantage in space and continue to be the world’s high technology leader. The new Biden Administration and Congress must continue to support America’s leadership in space. It isn’t merely a matter of national pride or a geeky hobby. We, of course, learn so much in science, health, medicine,and technology when we explore. And history has proven over and over that we must always lead in technology and have the high ground if we hope to keep the world’s despots and totalitarians at bay.
The combustible politics of a coronavirus ‘dark winter’
For the past half decade, Europe has acted as a preview of coming attractions in American politics. The reaction to the confluence of immigration and terrorism on the continent foreshadowed the direction the Republican Party would take under Donald Trump. The surprise victory of “Leave” in the Brexit referendum hinted at Trump’s unexpected elevation to the presidency. The terrible images from coronavirus-stricken Italy last March offered a glimpse into New York City’s future. This week, when Italian authorities reimposed curfews, restrictions on business, and bans on communal gatherings, violent protests broke out in Turin, Milan, and Naples. Consider it a taste of the next populist revolt.
Lockdowns remain the preferred tool of governments whose public health authorities decide the coronavirus is out of control. In September, Israel shut down for a month during the Jewish holidays to reduce its coronavirus infection rate. In October, New York City targeted certain neighborhoods. In recent days, Newark ordered “nonessential” businesses to close at 8 p.m., a county judge imposed a curfew on El Paso, and Massachusetts has gone back-and-forth on whether schools should be open or closed.
This response has placed the public under extraordinary strain. When officials tell businesses to close, they not only deny individuals who can’t work from home the opportunity to earn a living. They also impose social costs that much of the public is increasingly unwilling to bear. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation increased during the spring. Extended families limited contact. Religious practice was curtailed. Having canceled spring holidays, Americans are now informed that Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas need to be reconsidered as well. When individuals inevitably question, disregard, or disobey the commands of science, they are censored, stigmatized, condescended to, or punished.
Nor is expert authority the only form of power at work. In spite of evidence that schools are not sites of widespread transmission and remote education harms children in incalculable ways, only 39 of the 50 largest school districts have reopened for at least some in-person instruction. In Fairfax County, Va., the teachers’ union has called for schools to remain closed at least until September 2021. Amidst the many Biden-Harris lawn signs are a few for #OpenFCPS, a parent-driven campaign to resume in-person instruction. The parents are circulating a petition to recall members of the school board who oppose bringing the students back.
Governments resort to shutdowns to impose discipline on an unruly population. But shutdowns do not solve the problem. They turn public health crises into economic and social ones. After a while, the price of shutdowns grows too high. The government reopens the economy. The virus returns. Before long, the cycle repeats.
There are plenty of ways to think about the politics of the Trump era. You can analyze the parties according to the traditional left-right axis. You can study public debate through the prism of liberal democracy versus authoritarianism. You can understand recent elections as pitting establishment insiders against populist outsiders. You can see the ideological contest as a three-way grudge match between common-good conservatives, neoliberals in both parties, and woke progressives. Coronavirus has spawned yet another interpretive framework. In this frame, politics is the struggle between the faction that wants to keep the economy and society relatively open during the pandemic and the faction that is ready and willing to shut them down.
Joe Biden has been able to straddle these two poles. He says you can have a (relatively) open society as well as a public health system that reduces infection to a negligible level. He says he will “shut down the virus, not the country.” What he hasn’t explained is how that can happen in the absence of a widely administered vaccine. Only Taiwan and South Korea contained outbreaks without nationwide lockdowns. It is hard to see the United States replicating their success. Taiwan benefited from its rapid response at the outset of the crisis. South Korean authorities rapidly approved tests while enjoying access to cell phone data. None of that happened here.
If Biden takes office during the “dark winter” he prophesied at the final presidential debate, he will have to decide, in addition to his national mask mandate, whether to put the country through another “30 days to slow the spread.” The bureaucratic pressure to shut down will be immense. The media, entertainment, and technology sectors will be sure to support and promote his decision. Polarization between “red” states and the nation’s capital will intensify. The commanding heights of culture and business will consign the Republican Party to the ash heap of history. And opposition to the restoration of progressive rule will manifest itself as a populist revolt whose character, magnitude, disposition, and endgame can only be imagined.
We have been witnessing unprecedented innovations in medical treatments. In the coming years new drug therapies promise to provide solutions for some of the most pressing diseases — diabetes, cancer, heart disease, strokes, Alzheimer’s, retinal diseases — to name only a few. But if People for the “Ethical” Treatment of Animals (PETA) gets their way, most of the research that feeds the amazing future cures that we read about will be shut down or severely curtailed.
For the past few years PETA has undertaken a pressure campaign designed to intimidate airlines from transporting medical research animals. Even though it is illegal for the airlines to refuse to perform service, the campaign is proving successful in certain cases and a widespread adoption of this policy would likely stymie medical innovation.
PETA opposes all forms of animal testing despite the fact that the National Institutes of Health views such research as required by ethics and essential to finding cures. Scientists and researchers do as much research as possible with computer modeling and peer reviewed science, but at some point they must test the most promising medicines on living organisms. For example, pigs were used to develop both the ability to transplant a heart and the drugs that stop the body from rejecting the new heart. It was done ethically, with rigorous standards and oversight, and with anesthetics so as to eliminate pain for the animals involved. But PETA ignores all of this and labels these critical experiments the same as torture.
There are places were there is no animal testing. For example, in China, they test procedures and new products on humans who are prisoners of the state. So effectively, humans become the lab rats. That isn’t an improvement in ethics.
PETA’s real agenda is profoundly anti-human. PETA president and co-founder, Ingrid Newkirk admitted as much stating that: “Even if animal research resulted in a cure for AIDS [or cancer or other horrible diseases], we’d be against it.”
When Hamas terrorists used flaming falcons and exploding donkeys to kill Israeli civilians, PETA under political pressure denounced Hamas — but only for harming and killing the animals — not for endangering or harming the school children in the way of these living weapons. This lack of concern for people is truly disturbing.
PETA’s supporters have filed comments with the Department of Transportation hoping to shut down any medical research with animals. One comment simply said: “Stop experimenting on animals. Experiment on your children and mothers instead.” Then with absolutely no sense of irony, this commenter also accused those who reject the idea of using children and mothers in medical research of being “a bunch of barbarians.” Let that sink in.
But PETA’s track record on animals isn’t so great either. For example, in Virginia, PETA activists were charged for criminal animal abuse. Then there is the PETA animal shelter kill rate from 2007-2017 — a full decade — which averaged 95.3 percent. Simply stated animals that were intended for adoptions were abused and then killed in 95% of the cases by an organization supposedly promoting the ethical treatment of animals. A PETA spokesperson quipped, “there are fates worse than euthanasia.”
The ends to which this organization will go to supposedly defend the interests of animals knows no bounds. PETA led the move to change the packaging of animal crackers that used to show cartoon circus animals in carton railcar cages. Thanks to PETA, the carton animals now roam free on the African Savannah. I’m sure we can all feel better than cartoon lions and elephants now roam a cartoon grassland.
Sadly, as silly as that effort was, far more serious is the mounting public relations campaign PETA is waging to pressure airlines to refuse to transport animals (below deck in climate controlled areas of the plane) that will be used in medical research. To date, United Airlines has caved to PETA’s pressure campaign. What’s so strange is that United’s CEO, Carlos Munoz, is alive today because he had a heart transplant that was made possible because of medical animal research.
Here’s some context — airlines often allow passengers to bring comfort pets to travel by their side — dogs, cats, rabbits, pigs, peacocks, ducks, roosters, turkeys, and even kangaroos and miniature horses. This inconveniences other passengers and in some cases causes severe health problems for other passengers. On the other hand airlines are caving to PETA’s pressure campaign and refusing to transport animals used in ethical, humane & government mandated testing of new cures. These animals will not inconvenience or endanger any passengers. But this is the weird world you get when the lunatics run the asylum.
Airlines win kudos for donating flights to children in need of cancer treatment at specialized medical centers far from their home. At the same time, some airlines refuse to transport research animals and make it more difficult to develop the very cures and medicines needed to cure these sick children.
It is illegal for the airlines to discriminate against transportation of animals for research purposes. Public carriers have long been prohibited from discriminating when it comes to transportation. Non-discrimination laws for airlines do not simply prevent racial discrimination. The law also prevents an airline from transporting animals for zoos, or vacationing passengers, or as comfort animals, and then refusing to transport similar animals to be used in lawful and ethical medical research.
The law is clear — if the airline is willing to ship one woman’s dog or cat, it must also ship other similar animals being transported even if for different purposes — including medical research. Airlines have no real basis for objecting because they are paid to transport them, and these animals actually have no impact on their passengers as they would be shipped below the passenger compartment.
But because they are fearful of the bad press of PETA’s false claims of animal torture, Airlines give in. We all love pets and animals. But who wants to be slimmed by PETA as the equivalent of a war criminal for trying develop heart translate procedures and medicines or for curing cancer?
We need the Department of Transportation to enforce the law. We wouldn’t tolerate an airline discriminating against a racial or ethnic group and we shouldn’t tolerate this form of discrimination either. The lives of countless millions depend on the cures and medicines that are being developed in careful, thoughtful and ethical ways.
Antarctica continues to defy the global warming script, with a report from Meteo France, that June this year was the coldest Antarctic June ever recorded, at the French Antarctic Dumont d’Urville Station.
According to the press release, during June this year, the average temperature was -22.4c (-8.3F), 6.6c (11.9F) lower than normal. This is the coldest June ever recorded at the station, and almost the coldest monthly average ever – only September 1953 was colder, with a recorded average temperature of -23.5c (-10.3F). Continue reading
The rigid tone, blind appeal to authority and constant use of the terms “denier” and “settled debate” do not reflect true scientific thought or serve the public well.
President Barack Obama recently warned the country about climate change, referencing the recently released National Climate Assessment, mandated by Congress and published every four years as a guide to policymakers. In doing so, he called out skeptics: “Unfortunately, inside of Washington, we’ve still got some climate deniers who shout loud, but they’re wasting everybody’s time on a settled debate. … Climate change is a fact. … Rising sea levels, drought, more wildfires, more severe storms — those are bad for the economy. … Climate change is not some far-off problem in the future. It’s happening now.”
Global warming and its dire consequences may very well come to pass. But with due respect to the president, his experts and everyone complaining about wasted time: The rigid tone, blind appeal to authority and constant use of the terms “denier” and “settled debate” do not reflect true scientific thought or serve the public well.
Science is about explaining nature. The scientist’s role is not to tell the public what to believe. It is to clarify ideas, as efficiently as possible, so the public can understand the questions at hand. Continue reading