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Covid, demonstrations and the claim for rights

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 28/07/2021 - 4:57am in

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Like many others, I was angered by the anti-lockdown protests last weekend. I was surprised at the enthusiasm with which I cheered on the police and wanted people to dob in anyone they recognised in the mobs gathered in Sydney and Melbourne streets.

In the past most cases when protestors have clashed with police my instincts have been to side with the demonstrators. I’ve cheered on environmental and refugee advocates as they’ve blocked city streets and clamoured for changes in policy.

The growth of an anti-lockdown movement across the world is a reminder that not all direct action is to be encouraged, nor that the gut reaction of the left to oppose the police is always helpful. In the case of the riots at the U.S. Capitol in January the problem was not the presence of police but rather the absence.

Our political leaders are united in calling the protestors selfish and dangerous, and they are correct. But to denounce people for acting out of self-interest with little concern for the broader community would be more persuasive if they were not following the dominant theme of mainstream political rhetoric.

Election campaigns are increasingly pitched to appeal directly to immediate self-interest, not to wider social and communal goods. Scott Morrison reckoned there were more votes in arguing to keep negative gearing than in raising the scandalously low Newstart payments, and he was probably right.

In his Inaugural address John Kennedy famously asked: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Those words should remind us that politics should be about addressing the greater good, not merely the welfare of particular individuals.

The most egregious example of this attitude is Barnaby Joyce’s demands to know how much a reduction of emission would cost, ignoring the greater costs of increasing global warming. His emphasis on the immediate costs is matched across the Parliamentary aisle by Labor’s schizophrenia on continuing coal and gas production.

But while the demonstrators appealed to self-interest they also invoked the language of rights, not traditionally central in Australian political discourse. Unlike the United States, we have no overall protection of rights written into our constitution, although some states have legislated for them. It is instructive that in Victoria there is a “charter of human rights and responsibilities”, although none of the placards on display last weekend included the second term.

There is no doubt that governments have used the covid emergency to limit what would be normally thought of as our “rights”, in the Australian case most obviously in limiting the possibility for citizens to enter and exit the country. Declaring a state of emergency is one of the classic devices of authoritarian governments to clamp down on criticism and free movement.

But most societies recognise that there is not an unlimited right to endanger others, and there are a slew of public health requirements that enforce this rule. We accept that seat belts should be compulsory, that we do not have the right to drive under the influence of alcohol and that gun ownership is dependent on various safeguards.

A growing concern for rights is welcome, but it demands more than just asserting that any restrictions by government are illegitimate. What is required is that governments can justify these restrictions as socially desirable, as John Howard did when he introduced limits on the “right” to bear arms. All our state governments have used public health as a reason to impose restrictions that go beyond anything we have experienced in Australia.

At the same time governments have an obligation to treat everyone equally and to compensate people who might suffer because of restrictions imposed as a result of public health measures. I suspect there would have been far less anger in Sydney if the state government had been as fast to shutdown the beachside eastern suburbs as it has been to shut down the southwest.

The Human Rights Law Centre has a campaign to introduce an Australian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Maybe police could direct demonstrators to read this, after charging them for breaking the law.

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John Barilaro is privatising Kosciuszko National Park

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 28/07/2021 - 4:56am in

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John Barilaro’s Snowy Mountains Special Activation Zone Precinct effectively wrests the control of developments in Kosciuszko National Park from the Minister for the Environment into the hands of the Minister for Regional NSW, John Barilaro. The plan is to heavily develop Jindabyne and surrounding areas for tourism, with little thought for the environment.

In 2017, John Menadue wrote about the increasing takeover of national parks by commercial interests. Today the squatters of the tourism industry are becoming landed gentry and proposing to put up more of their pavilions inside national parks. The Snowy Mountains Special Activation Zone Precinct (SMSAP) 40-year Master Plan is an overly ambitious plan put out by the NSW Department of Regional NSW and the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment that effectively wrests control of developments In Kosciuszko National Park from the Minister for the Environment, currently Matt Kean, into the hands of the Minister for Regional NSW, John Barilaro.

In 2018 the NSW Government suddenly became flush with $4.154 billion following the sale of the NSW 58% share in Snowy Hydro to the Commonwealth. The proceeds of the sale primarily went to the Department of Regional NSW, which set up the Regional Growth NSW Development Corporation, to plan, coordinate and deliver successful “activation” precincts under NSW Deputy Premier and leader of the National Party, John Barilaro.

The Snowy Mountains Special Activation Precinct proposal (public comments close 23 August 2021) centres on making Jindabyne a hub for “tourism” and hospitality and “sport and recreation”.

The SMSAP plans to turn Jindabyne into a boomtown for tourism. The promotional video shows a crowded shopping precinct and lots of snow-based activities. The narration drags up every word from the environment/sustainability lexicon.

Commercial interests in Jindabyne certainly experience a two-phase economy – high in winter, low in summer. It is stated that the drive behind the SMSAP is to make the economy for the region viable and robust all year round. No doubt a noble aim. But at the centre of the plan is the development and expansion of commercial interests within Kosciuszko National Park, which has been added to the Special Activation Precinct.

However to activate the SMSAP Master Plan also requires unprecedented amendments to the Kosciuszko National Park Plan of Management (KPOM). The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service website explains

Plans of management are legal documents we develop and maintain to guide how a park will be sustainably managed.

Plans of Management (PoMs) contain information about the natural environment, Aboriginal heritage, history, and recreational opportunities in a park. They are a requirement under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.

Plans of management help guide the conservation of biodiversity, rehabilitation of landscapes and the protection of natural and cultural heritage, including protection of world heritage values and management of world heritage properties in a park. They also include management principles for use of a park by Aboriginal people for cultural purposes, sustainable visitor or tourist use, natural resource management and land management practices.

So it would be reasonable to expect that any proposed amendments to the PoM for Kosciuszko National Park would reflect the above statutory obligations.

Well, think again. In the case of the SMSAP it is the tail wagging the dog. Through changes to the Kosciuszko National Park PoM via a series of SEPPs (State Environment Planning Policies), especially the Alpine SEPP commercial interests will be dictating developments within the park with scant attention to nature conservation, landscape, and heritage values for which the park was dedicated.

State Environmental Planning Policy (Kosciuszko National Park – Alpine Resorts) 2007 (Alpine SEPP) – zoning and development controls will amend this SEPP to enable streamlined planning pathways to apply to the Alpine Precinct.

We have yet to see the details of the proposed amendments to the Alpine SEPP.

The impact of expanded accommodation in high-end facilities (aka expanded ski villages of Thredbo, Perisher and Charlottes Pass and other places), within the national park will have significant environmental impacts. NPWS struggles to cope with traffic and visitor numbers in winter as it is. The concentration of large numbers of people into narrow mountain valleys is not only fraught with risks to the surrounding natural environments: water supply, waste disposal and sewerage disposal come to mind but also risks to the tourists who will be accommodated there. If the fires in 2019-20210 taught planners anything it is that the risks of landscape-wide wildfires are real and only likely to increase in frequency.

NPWS has always been starved of funds. The management demands on Kosciuszko National Park are enormous. The Park has serious problems with feral animals. Feral horses number over 14,000 and there are problems with deer, pigs, and rabbits. Thanks to John Barilaro’s Wild Horse Heritage Act 2018 efforts to control the number of feral horses has been stymied.

The Australian alpine habitats are 0.15% of the continent. The unique habitats and beautiful wild mountain landscapes should be enjoyed by as many people as possible who want to get out into the open air and enjoy them. A national park experiences supposed to be about understanding and enjoying nature; quiet places with dark, star-filled skies are becoming rare except in national parks. Researchers call this a “transformational experience”. This is often simply expressed as “being in nature”, increasingly so to younger generations.

Kosciuszko National Park certainly needs a better range of low-key facilities to cater for people who may not be prepared or able to camp or caravan – cabins, glamping etc are acceptable options in the right places. But sitting in a 4-star hotel and stepping out into “a night and day economy. With bars, cafes and restaurants” …as described in the SMSAP for Perisher is hardly the relevant experience expected inside a national park.

Of course there can be little objection, from a planning perspective to high end resorts catering for those who can afford them, but the appropriate location is outside the national park where infrastructure and servicing can be delivered efficiently and effectively with all the controls that are afforded by local government and other agencies. Resorts belong close to or in nearby service towns such as Jindabyne where they can deliver maximum economic benefit.

Both sides of politics want national parks to help pay their way through revenues generated by tourism. Visitation to national parks is soaring.

Nevertheless, there is ample evidence from USA national parks and elsewhere that parks can be ‘loved to death’. There must be a balance. The fulcrum for that balance is why a national park has been dedicated in the first place and that is embedded in the legislation. In NSW, the primary legislated goal is nature conservation, and visitor and tourism policy, and commercial considerations are subordinate to this. The creeping privatisation of public assets which incorporating KNP into the Snowy Mountains Special Activation Precinct will bring is alarming. The NSW Government should regard the benefits that derive from setting aside national parks and other protected areas as financial investments for a whole range of future benefits and not simply as current resources to be exploited

Ultimately it is the Minister for Energy and Environment Matt Kean who must sign off on changes to the Kosciuszko National Park Plan of Management, and the question is will he have the insights and understanding of the legislated purpose of national parks, and the political support to stand up to modify and resist this take-over of the park by the Department of Regional NSW and its Minister and local MP, Deputy Premier John Barilaro.

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To Counter "Critical Race Theory" Attacks, Advocacy Groups Dodge the Term

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 28/07/2021 - 4:14am in

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“Trust students to talk about what’s happening in the world around them,” instructs the Partnership for the Future of Learning, a national coalition of left-leaning think tanks, unions, foundations, and advocacy groups. The coalition is one of many that hopes to combat conservative outcry over “critical race theory” by promoting the idea of “teaching honesty” in education as a strategy to support teachers, school administrators, and school board members who find themselves under new attack for equity and anti-racism work. As its top message, the coalition recommends: “Truth in our classrooms propels young people toward a more united, inclusive and just future.”

In recent months, liberal and left-leaning groups have promoted similar messages, like the Zinn Education Project’s “Pledge to Teach the Truth.” Launched in late June, the pledge garnered thousands of signatures from educators endorsing Martin Luther King Jr.’s declaration that one has “a moral responsibility” to disobey unjust laws and promising to “refuse to lie to young people about U.S. history and current events.” Deborah Menkart, executive director of the national social justice group Teaching for Change, told The Intercept that the Zinn Education Project is also developing a #TeachTruthSyllabus “to shine a light on the kind[s] of lessons that the GOP is trying to ban.” The African American Policy Forum is leading a related #TruthBeTold campaign.

These iterations of teaching “truth” and “honesty” in education are responses in part to threats of censorship embedded in new anti-critical race theory bills, and they reflect liberal groups’ views that conservatives want to teach students a sanitized, false version of American history. Critical race theory, an academic framework developed decades ago by Kimberlé Crenshaw and other legal scholars, teaches how racism is systemically embedded in policies and systems.

The pressure to respond to attacks on critical race theory has grown more acute over the last three months, as eight states have passed laws restricting critical race theory instruction. Nearly 20 more are considering similar bills, and Republicans have made clear that they see attacking critical race theory as one of their best strategies for base mobilization ahead of the upcoming midterm elections.

But while there is growing consensus among left-wing groups around the idea of teaching “truth” and “accurate history,” there’s far less unity over what that actually means, let alone what students are capable of handling. To avoid having to parse out detailed curricula, most groups have landed on language that suggests leaving politicians out of the decision-making and trusting educators to figure it out. Some historians, meanwhile, worry that the new emphasis on “honesty” threatens to replace one dogmatic narrative with another.

Whether respondents understand the concept or not, the phrase “critical race theory” has polled poorly with the public. Rather than trying to burnish its reputation, some liberal groups have turned to messages that downplay the theoretical framework and redirect from the phrase itself. The Future of Learning’s guide encourages allies to remind people that “CRT is not an official part of the curriculum of most schools. However, if the actual issue is whether or not we should talk about racial equity in schools, the answer is yes.”

A separate messaging guidance developed jointly by the progressive public relations groups ASO Communications and We Make the Future tells allies, “Don’t volunteer the term ‘critical race theory,’ an academic concept the right has co-opted as an all-purpose dog whistle.” If confronted with the phrase, the groups suggest defining it “on our terms as the honest, up-to-date education students deserve,” and emphasizing that critical race theory is “taught in law school and graduate school to adults” and not age-appropriate for grade school kids.

In place of the term critical race theory, the two messaging guides promote the softer-sounding idea of “culturally responsive education,” which they define as “rigorous, student-centered learning that connects curriculum and teaching to students’ experiences, perspectives, histories & cultures.”

“Say what you’re for, say what you’re for, say what you’re for,” Tinselyn Simms, co-director of We Make the Future, told The Intercept. “This is a lesson the left has a lot of trouble with.” In Simms’s view, the left should then emphasize that conservatives are trying to distract from their efforts to defund education and “block every single thing that parents and kids need.”

A third messaging guide reviewed by The Intercept, developed by a progressive nonprofit known as the Swell Collective, emphasizes that “equity and truth in education are non-negotiable” and avoids what the group describes as an “adversarial” approach. 

“We thread the needle by talking about power and talking about this shift globally that’s happening around expectations of how the human species engage[s] power,” said Executive Director Emily Gonzalez in an interview. “We do ourselves a disservice if we take an adversarial stance in defense of critical race theory. If they’re against CRT, and we say we’re for it, well, I don’t think we need to waste our energy on that.”

The Swell Collective recently announced its intent to raise money for state-specific guides and host “a series of virtual convenings” for teachers, school administrators, school board members, parents, and students ages 11 and up. They aim to hire staff and initiate an 18-month program, beginning now and running until December 2022, to provide peer support, combat new anti-critical race theory legislation, and mobilize civic engagement headed into the midterms.

Both of the two national teachers unions are also attempting to walk a line between encouraging teaching about systemic racism while distancing themselves from critical race theory.

According to American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, the movement against critical race theory is a culture-war campaign led by Republicans and Fox News to muzzle truth, “limit learning, and stoke fears about our public schools.” While Weingarten pledged to defend educators from attacks — in July, the union added $2.5 million to its existing $10 million legal defense fund — she also insisted that critical race theory is not even taught in public schools. “It’s a method of examination taught in law school and college that helps analyze whether systemic racism exists,” Weingarten said at the AFT conference earlier this month. “But culture warriors are labeling any discussion of race, racism, or discrimination as CRT to try to make it toxic.”

“Culture warriors are labeling any discussion of race, racism, or discrimination as CRT to try to make it toxic.”

At the National Education Association’s recent annual conference, delegates approved a resolution opposing efforts to “ban critical race theory and/or The 1619 Project” and committing to promote clarifying information on what critical race theory is and how to combat rhetoric against it. But the union’s leadership, meanwhile, has sought space from the polarizing phrase. In a lengthy op-ed published in USA Today in late June, NEA President Becky Pringle wrote that children deserve “honesty and truth” and need to be taught about race and racism, but she avoided any mention of critical race theory.

Information about the recently approved resolution was also scrapped from the NEA’s website, a fact critiqued by right-wing media outlets. A representative for the union told The Intercept that was a routine action taken after every annual conference and that while the union plans to “use every legal advocacy tool” available to defend educators from specious attacks, critical race theory is not being taught in K-12 schools because it’s not “age-appropriate and certain types of analytical thinking are too advanced.”

Speaking on background, the representative insisted that this position does not conflict with the union’s other stated positions on trusting students and teaching them about systemic racism. “I don’t think there’s tension at all,” they said. “We should make sure that educators are trusted in their own expertise in how to design lesson plans that are age-appropriate, honest, and reflect the truth.”

Other advocates warn that there has been too much prioritization of talking points and not enough attention to on-the-ground action.

“All these education groups are talking about listening and developing messaging guides and doing polling to counter the CRT attacks, but we feel like there needs to be a more visible response,” said Menkart. The Zinn Education Project, coordinated by Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change, held the #TeachTruth Day of Action on June 12, mobilizing educators and allies across the country to protest the new laws restricting discussions of racism. The event “has sadly been to date one of the only public, organized national responses against these laws,” she told The Intercept, adding that they’re currently organizing additional public actions for August 27-29.

“Partly what we found after June 12 is that for weeks after, media organizations reached out to us asking for another photo they could use because all they can find to illustrate their articles [on the critical race theory debate] are these snapshots of white parents at school board meetings,” Menkart said. “And if that’s the only image they have, that’s what sticks with people.”

US-EDUCATION-RACISM-POLITICS

Signs are seen on a bench during a rally against “critical race theory” being taught in schools at the Loudoun County Government center in Leesburg, Va., on June 12, 2021.

Photo: Andrew Caballero/AFP via Getty Images

Not all liberal advocates are dodging critical race theory language.

The African American Policy Forum, a social justice-oriented think tank founded by Crenshaw, encourages a stronger defense of the concept when mobilizing responses to right-wing attacks. In August, the group will facilitate a five-day “summer school” workshop titled “‘Forbidden Knowledge’ Fights Back: Unleashing the Transformative Power of Critical Race Theory.”

Another messaging guide being developed by Kevin Kumashiro, an education policy expert and former dean of the University of San Francisco School of Education, aims to provide talking points that situate teaching within a democratic society while addressing systemic injustice. That means not shying away from “CRT in particular, which some other messaging guides either explicitly or implicitly recommend,” Kumashiro told The Intercept. His guide is set to be released publicly in the next few days, at which point some 100-plus groups that have endorsed it will help push the framework out with teach-ins, toolkits, and other actions.

Legal organizations — including the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law — are also exploring lawsuits to challenge anti-critical race theory bills. “We think that there are first amendment claims, potential vagueness claims, and potential equal protection claims – basically, racial discrimination claims – in some of these cases,” Emerson Sykes, an ACLU staff attorney, told The Guardian earlier this month. Sykes noted that there is precedent that K-12 students have First Amendment rights in receiving information through curricula.

“We should have the courage to let kids in on that little secret that we don’t all agree on what the correct historical narrative is.”

Lambda Legal successfully challenged former President Donald Trump’s executive order, issued in September 2020, that made federal funding contingent on avoiding so-called divisive concepts including critical race theory, systemic racism, and intersectionality. President Joe Biden rescinded the order in January, but this past spring and summer, states introduced new bills embracing some of the Trump order’s language. Parallel legislation restricting curricula about LGBTQ+ people also cropped up this past spring, with Tennessee passing the first law in May, followed days later by Montana.

Stefan Lallinger, a fellow at the left-leaning Century Foundation think tank, told The Intercept that while he “applauds” the “teach truth” approach for its resistance to the attempted repression of education, he hopes that response efforts recognize history’s complexity. “Folks who are historians spend a lot of time thinking about the ways the stories of the past are told and know that many parts can actually be fairly subjective,” Lallinger said.

Jonathan Zimmerman, an education historian at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Intercept that while U.S. history curriculum has always been contested, from both the left and the right, historically most of the changes sought in textbooks and curricula were “efforts to include formerly excluded groups into this broader patriotic story.” When Zimmerman published “Whose America?: Culture Wars in the Public Schools” in 2005, he lamented that advocates were eliding tough questions about how including more groups in the traditional American melting pot story may challenge the story itself.

To Zimmerman, this moment feels different, like a real historical “inflection point.” His worry, though, is that rather than teach students competing narratives — say, the 1619 Project alongside a more traditional version of U.S. history — he fears that “we’re just going to replace one narrative with another. And we’ll just have fights over which narrative is correct.”

While Zimmerman is inherently suspicious of slogans like “teaching truth,” he does think that the way forward involves trusting students and teachers to form their own opinions. “We should have the courage to let kids in on that little secret that we don’t all agree on what the correct historical narrative is,” he said. “It’s depressing but not surprising that we don’t trust our teachers and students to make up their own minds about this.”

The post To Counter “Critical Race Theory” Attacks, Advocacy Groups Dodge the Term appeared first on The Intercept.

U.S. Vaccine Diplomat Cajoles Producers to Support Low-Cost Off-Shore Vaccine Hubs

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 28/07/2021 - 1:55am in

The Biden administration should push the WTO to waive COVID vaccine patents before heading off for vacation and encourage U.S. producers to ramp up low-cost vaccine production worldwide.

Rand Paul's Attack on Anthony Fauci Chills Scientific Debate Over Gain-of-Function Research

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 28/07/2021 - 12:14am in

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A decadelong debate over pandemic preparedness that has divided some of the world’s leading biologists into opposing camps, for and against so-called gain-of-function research — in which deadly pathogens that could cause pandemics are artificially enhanced for study in the lab — has all but ground to a halt in the past week, thanks to Sen. Rand Paul.

That’s because the Republican senator from Kentucky politicized the argument last week, by cherry-picking expert opinions from critics of the research who call it too risky to pursue, to publicly accuse Dr. Anthony Fauci of lying to Congress, when he said that his National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases had never funded gain-of-function studies at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China.

Paul’s made-for-television broadside against Fauci thrilled Fox News hosts and colleagues like Rep. Jim Jordan, the Ohio Republican who has also pushed the debunked conspiracy theory that research financed by Fauci’s agency, which some experts describe as gain-of-function, could have led to the development of SARS-CoV-2, the deadly coronavirus that causes the disease Covid-19, in the Wuhan lab. Fauci rejected Paul’s claim that research carried out in Wuhan before 2017 with some support from the NIAID met the definition of gain-of-function and pointedly explained that it was impossible to make SARS-CoV-2 from the coronavirus used in that study.

Almost as soon as the heated exchange concluded, the senator’s staff uploaded a truncated version of the video on his YouTube channel under the headline, “Dr. Fauci Caught Lying about NIH Funding in Wuhan.”

That video was edited by Paul’s staff so that it ends before Fauci responded to the senator’s harangue by saying, “I totally resent the lie that you are now propagating, senator, because if you look at the viruses that were used in the experiments … it is molecularly impossible … to result in SARS-CoV-2.”

On social networks, Republican operatives unconcerned with the facts — like Richard Grenell, the Twitter troll who served as Donald Trump’s director of national intelligence for three months — cheered on Paul’s attack.

But Paul’s false claim that Fauci’s supposed support for gain-of-function studies gave him “responsibility for 4 million people dying around the world from a pandemic,” and the ensuing frenzy in the conservative media, also caused some previously outspoken biologists who have made the case against such experiments to fall silent.

In the wake of Paul’s attack on Fauci, several prominent scientists who question the wisdom and safety of gain-of-function experiments — in which biologists deliberately create pandemic-causing pathogens in the lab in order to better prepare to combat them should they evolve in nature — refused to speak to me on the record. One after another, they said Paul’s patently false claim that Fauci was to blame for the pandemic, and his selective outrage at gain-of-function research only when conducted in China, made it all but impossible for them to say anything about the pre-pandemic experiments in Wuhan without being vilified by partisans.

One biologist who supports such research told me that he would have liked the opportunity to correct what he called misinformation about the experiments, but had been worn down by death threats.

To recap, at a hearing in May, Paul first accused Fauci of having supported gain-of-function research in Wuhan, which the senator, who is also a doctor, misleadingly defined as “experimenting to enhance the coronavirus’s ability to infect humans.” In fact, the coronavirus that researchers experimented on between 2014 and 2017 at the Wuhan Institute, with some financial support from the NIAID, was from a strain found in bats that is not closely enough related to SARS-CoV-2 to have been used to fabricate the virus that causes Covid-19 in a lab.

Fauci also insisted that his agency, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, had never funded gain-of-function research in Wuhan.

When Fauci returned to the senate committee last week, Paul confronted him with the words of Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University and a longtime critic of gain-of-function studies, who told the conservative magazine National Review that Fauci’s testimony in May was “demonstrably false,” since, in Ebright’s opinion, the experiments at the Wuhan Institute, indirectly funded by the NIAID as part of a project to head off a pandemic, were “unequivocally” gain-of-function in nature.

 A sign is displayed behind Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) as he speaks at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on July 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. The committee will hear testimony about the Biden administration's ongoing plans to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and Delta variant. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, used a visual aid to accuse Dr. Anthony Fauci of lying to Congress during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on July 20, 2021.

Photo: Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

Fauci insisted that the biologist Paul cited was simply wrong, saying experts at the National Institutes of Health had evaluated the Wuhan project and concluded that the experiments there did not meet the criteria for gain-of-function research used by the United States government.

The exchange between Paul and Fauci got even more heated when the senator seemed to imply that this research funded by Fauci’s agency could have led to the development of SARS-CoV-2, the deadly coronavirus that causes Covid-19, in the Wuhan lab.

As Fauci correctly noted, that speculation was wildly misleading, since it was “molecularly impossible” for the type of coronavirus used in the pre-2017 experiments to have been manipulated in the lab to create SARS-CoV-2.

On that point, even some of the most outspoken critics of gain-of-function research on potential pandemic pathogens agree with Fauci. Kevin Esvelt, an MIT biologist who told PolitiFact in May that the experiments conducted in the Wuhan study should be considered gain-of-function also emphasized that those experiments “definitely did NOT lead to the creation of SARS-CoV-2.”

(Esvelt, who worries that viruses developed through gain-of-function experiments in a lab could one day be used as weapons, told “The Open Mind” on PBS in March that whether the virus that caused the Covid-19 pandemic came from an animal or came from a lab, “it was not designed to be a weapon — because anyone good enough to make this thing could make a more devastating weapon.”)

Paul was also rebuked in May by Marc Lipsitch, a microbiologist and professor of epidemiology at Harvard University who brought together hundreds of scientists and experts in law and ethics in 2014 to call for a moratorium on gain-of-function experiments that could create highly transmissible, novel strains of dangerous viruses in laboratories.

Lipsitch wrote in a Twitter thread that in his attack on Fauci in May, Paul had “FALSELY” claimed that the working group Lipsitch assembled had “characterized work at the Wuhan Institute of Virology as gain-of-function.” While he and many members of the working group “support proper investigation of SARS-CoV-2 origins including the lab leak hypothesis and continue to oppose many forms of GOF research,” he added, “it is just fabrication to say we have made any statement as a group about work in Wuhan.”

Fauci did not get a chance to explain during the hearing what the scientific basis was for the determination by NIAID biologists that the experiments conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, described in a paper published in 2017, were not subject to a temporary pause on the funding of gain-of-function research imposed during the Obama administration in 2014, which was lifted in 2017 after Trump became president.

But in a statement provided to The Intercept on Monday, NIAID explained the reasoning behind its review of the experiments conducted at the Wuhan Institute on behalf of EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit in New York that works with researchers in China to study viruses that have the potential to jump from bats to humans. The agency wrote that its scientists had concluded the pre-2017 experiments in Wuhan were not barred by the temporary pause on gain-of-function research, “because they were not reasonably expected to increase transmissibility or virulence of these viruses in humans.”

“Under the grant, EcoHealth Alliance proposed research to create chimeric viruses by placing a small portion of newly identified, evolutionarily distant, bat coronaviruses into another well characterized bat coronavirus that has never been demonstrated to infect humans called WIV1,” NIAID wrote. “The purpose of this work was to examine whether the newly discovered viruses were able to use the human ACE2 receptor like WIV1 and other SARS-related coronaviruses already do. In the context of these experiments, this well-characterized bat coronavirus would be considered the parental strain against which the function of the new chimeric viruses would be assessed. With this comparison, the newly created chimeric viruses did not gain any function relative to the parental strain; the chimeric viruses did not replicate in cell culture any better than the parental WIV1. In addition, research that had been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals demonstrated that viruses similar to those proposed under the grant had reduced pathogenicity as compared to the parental viruses. For these reasons, it was not reasonably anticipated that the viruses involved in research under the grant would have enhanced pathogenicity and/or transmissibility in mammals via the respiratory route, and therefore did not meet the criteria for gain-of-function research described in the research funding pause.”

The post Rand Paul’s Attack on Anthony Fauci Chills Scientific Debate Over Gain-of-Function Research appeared first on The Intercept.

A Race Between Revolution And Robotics: Notes From The Edge Of The Narrative Matrix

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 27/07/2021 - 10:02pm in

Listen to a reading of this article:

https://medium.com/media/07715fd359c5498e560f86c925cf1b0e/href

Basically we’re looking at a race to see if the deterioration of material conditions inherent in capitalism leads to mass-scale revolution before the plutocrats have the technological and legal ability to roll out robot and drone security forces.

We’re fed non-stop messaging that we’re inadequate unless we buy certain products, that mass military slaughter is normal, that madness is sanity, and that you’re the problem if you can’t keep your head above water in a system that’s designed to drown you, and people wonder why there’s a mental health crisis.

The problem is that while not many people really benefit from the status quo, those who do are in a position of influence over everyone else. So you get a non-stop barrage of media pundits, movies and TV shows acting like everything’s fine, and this shapes our entire culture.

What we need first and foremost, more than socialism or anarchism or any other ism, is real transparency. We need people’s vision of what’s going on in the world to be unobscured by government/corporate/financial secrecy and propaganda. Once we can see, we can figure things out from there.

How can we navigate toward a healthy world when we can’t even see what’s happening? Militaries understand that you need intelligence before you can act efficaciously; you need to be able to look before you leap, to see and know what you’re dealing with so you can take action which accords with reality. Truth is hidden and obscured from us precisely for this reason: because knowledge is power, and they want all the power.

That’s what Assange was going for when he founded WikiLeaks: a tool to help the people see and know what’s going on in the world so we can act in an informed way.

That’s also why he’s in prison.

The amount of power one is given should have a directly inverse relationship with the amount of secrecy they are allowed to have. Power with secrecy is illegitimate. If you’ve got power over people you don’t get to keep secrets from them.

Whenever I say the US is the most destructive government in our world today, the only people who argue with me are those who simply haven’t thought very hard about how many people have been killed by America’s current wars and sanctions regimes.

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Hi I’d like two trillion dollars over the next twenty years to build a giant brick mountain in the middle of the desert.

“What? No, piss off.”

Okay well can I have two trillion dollars over the next twenty years to murder people in Afghanistan for no legitimate reason?

“Sure, why not.”

Most of the time you hear someone crying about people being oppressed by a tyrannical authoritarian foreign government they’re really just crying because they want those people to be oppressed by the tyrannical authoritarians in the United States government.

“Capitalism is responsible for the historically unprecedented level of human thriving we have today. Also, anything you say in criticism of capitalism regarding our current system is invalid because this system isn’t real capitalism. Both of these things are true for me somehow.”

If you ever get lonely just whisper “I do not care for Elon Musk” to yourself and his fans will come crashing through your wall to defend his honor.

“I don’t like the US ruling the world with nonstop violence either, but if it wasn’t us it’d be China!”

No unipolar global hegemon ever once existed in human history until three decades ago. Stop thinking of it as some unbreakable law of nature that there must always be one.

Saying you can’t end the US empire because China will replace it is the same as saying you can’t stop raping someone because then someone else would rape them.

Westerners act like the desire to conquer a planet is some kind of inescapable inherent trait in human DNA because it’s more comfortable than considering the possibility that it’s a mind virus that is unique to our society. The idea that China wants to become the next unipolar dominator assumes (A) China has the same values and interests as western imperialists, and (B) that Beijing is looking at the US empire eating itself alive and thinking “Yeah, that looks awesome! That could be us someday!”

Many people say China openly wants to replace the US as the unipolar hegemon, but if you actually examine the sources of their claim it’s always just China saying it wants a multipolar world and western propagandists falsely spinning that as evidence that China wants to become the next unipolar dominator.

Not even Hitler wanted to take over the entire world, he just wanted to expand Germany’s borders and dominate Europe; that’s why he was fine with the prospect of a Japanese empire throughout Asia. Acting like taking over the planet is an inherent drive within us all is a total propaganda fabrication.

An adept manipulator doesn’t always need to feed you lies; they prefer to get you inventing your own lies and gaslighting yourself.

An adept empire doesn’t always need to topple governments by military force; they prefer to manipulate the nation’s people into doing it for them.

The saying “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism” rings true not because it’s inherently hard to imagine the end of capitalism, but because vast fortunes are poured into propaganda campaigns to keep us from imagining a better world.

The lion’s share of the propaganda machine’s energy goes not into manufacturing consent for new toxic agendas but into manufacturing consent for the systems that are already in place. Into keeping everyone thinking this bat shit insane paradigm is normal and the only way things can possibly be.

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Devolving money creation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 27/07/2021 - 9:18pm in

There is an interesting programme from Renegade Inc (27 minutes) with the South African, Brett Scott who is ‘an author and financial activist’. I suggest that he has various insights: First that the cashless society is definitely not for the benefit of individuals but rather for corporations and banks. Second the ‘war on cash’ is... Read more

Why Are UK Covid Cases Declining?

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Doubts about the suddenly improved UK Covid case figures.

Andreas Malm Versus Property: ‘Because Nothing Else Has Worked’

Is going after property the only viable option for containing climate damage? Andreas Malm thinks so.

Tax justice and tax spillovers – a priority for 2021

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 27/07/2021 - 4:12pm in

This is the fourth in a series of videos on where I think tax justice should be going in 2021 to both build on and move on from the successes it has already enjoyed.

In a previous video I stressed the importance of the tax justice movement both understanding and using tax gap analyses to highlight the priorities it should tackle. In this video I look at tax spillover analyses and how they both explain tax gaps and indicate required actions for campaigning.

We need to ensure that we have effective tax systems that deliver progressive solutions to the problems that we face as a society. Tax spillover analysis can help identify how to do this.

There is more on tax gaps here.

Previous videos in this series are here, here and here.

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