Readers Respond to Lab Leak #8

I don’t know who’s right or wrong. But I am as sure as I ever have been that this site’s greatest resource is its rich store of incredibly knowledgable readers. From TPM Reader PL

Now that the lab leak theory has been back in the news, the fact that one of the first identified clusters was at a Wuhan wholesale food market is being discussed again. This happens to be an area where I have some understanding, and I’ve been frustrated with the degree to which everyone is reading things into it without context. Lab leak enthusiasts suggest that because it popped up in the same city as a virus lab it is evidence for the leak, whereas other people just used it to focus on racist “Chinese people eating weird things” stories. But the more likely explanation strikes me as a lot less interesting.

When I was in grad school I spent two years doing field research on design and business strategy in Chinese businesses. As part of this I researched China’s wholesale market system, and, as fate would have it, did ethnographic research on consumer electronics wholesale markets in and around Wuhan as well as other sites across China.

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Just Pay for Everyone’s Vaccine

TPM Reader JL flags an interesting article in The Economist about the costs of a global vaccination program. The article is paywalled. But the key passage is tweeted here: “To get 70% of the planet’s population inoculated by April, the IMF calculates, would cost just $50 billion. The cumulative economic benefit by 2025, in terms of increased global output, would be $9 trillion, to say nothing of the many lives that would be saved.”

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Readers Respond on Lab Leak #7

From TPM Reader JF

As someone who has lived in Hong Kong for 15 years and what passes here for a passing familiarity with Chinese politics (but would probably be a more than passing familiarity for the average American), I agree with you about COVID and the PRC secrecy culture. It’s especially strong around things that make China look bad, and the instinct to censor and clamp down has only gotten stronger since Xi consolidated power. His shift from a term-limited supremo to a for-life supremo is underappreciated in the US, where I think most people just see a the same generic dictatorship, but it was a major change. The Chinese leaders Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin served two five-year terms, in and out, and then retired after a decade (both are still alive).

The last supremos to wield power until at or near death were Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. By the time of Deng’s departure, China had moved to a system where, power was negotiated among the party elite. There was rotation at the top, governed by the incumbent leader, other politburo members, aspiring leaders, etc, and there were constitutional term limits (of course the PRC constitution can be changed, and was to allow Xi to stay on). All this constrained Hu and Jiang. They made all the real decisions, but their decisions could be overridden by the next guy, who everyone understood would be in power eventually.

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On Secrecy, COVID and the PRC

I hope you’ve enjoyed or at least feel you’ve learned more about this lab leak controversy from the emails I’ve published over the last couple days. I very much have. I now see a lot more of the complexity of the topic. But at the end of the day I come away with the conclusion that we really don’t know because we don’t have a lot of data.

And that brings us back to a recurrent point: if the Chinese authorities wanted to they could clear a lot of this up by granting access to the records of the Wuhan laboratory, perhaps the medical records of the staff and interviews with the relevant scientists. To China skeptics this is an obvious sign of guilt, a sign of something to hide. Many people from the sciences have a reaction that is a mix of anger and puzzlement. Science is about transparency, so what’s the problem exactly? Many biologists and virologists have years of experience working collaboratively with Chinese scientists or even some of the very scientists in question. So seeing them all go silent just seems odd or inexplicable.

But of course it’s not the scientists. It’s the Chinese government.

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Readers Respond on Lab Leak #6

From TPM Reader MN

First of all, for credibility’s sake, I am a computational biology postdoc at [*******]. I’ve done some research on the SARS-CoV-2 genome but it hasn’t been my main focus the way it has for many people. Nonetheless, I’m acquainted with at least the discussion of genomic mutations and evolution, although the nitty gritty web lab virology is not my area.

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Remember, our 2nd annual drive for The TPM Journalism Fund starts next week. I’ll get into all the details and the pitch next week. But it’s really important for our operation. So please keep an eye out and if you can give a glance to our posts about it we would really appreciate it.

Readers Respond on Lab Leaks #5

From TPM Reader JB

For what it’s worth, I think most of the discussion in the US political world about the origins of COVID-19 has been about ephemera, driven by Republicans flopping around like fish in a boat as they try to devise a winning post-Trump (but Trump-friendly) political issue and media people fretting about whether media coverage is giving adequate weight to the things Republicans claim to be upset about today.

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Where Things Stand: Stark Contrasts At DOJ
Prime Membership Required

By now you’ve read the New York Times bombshell report: the Trump administration Justice Department seized records from Apple for metadata from Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, including Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), in 2017 and 2018.

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STOP and Read This

If you’re following the infrastructure negotiations, you’ll know the various bipartisan deals involve funding infrastructure with no new taxes. As Josh Kovensky explains here, when you look at the details, the demand is to get the money by cannibalizing the Covid relief bill Biden pushed through Congress in March.

Readers Respond on Lab Leaks #4
Prime Membership Required

From TPM Reader AJ

While in general I agree with your take on the Lab Leak hypothesis, I would point out that the evidence is not as balanced as you suggest.

There are strong empirical suggestions that this is a natural event – specifically to do with genetic structure and the distribution of initial cases.

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Apple notified former Trump White House counsel Don McGahn and his wife last month that the Justice Department secretly subpoenaed information about their accounts in February 2018, while McGahn served as White House counsel under the Trump administration, according to the New York Times on Sunday.

| Muckraker

Over the past two months of infrastructure talks, there’s been a constant refrain from Republican negotiators: why not just use all the unspent COVID aid money to pay for the bill?

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| News

Oregon State Rep. Mike Nearman (R) became the first person ever expelled from the Oregon House of Representatives on Thursday, with all 59 of his colleagues voting to vacate his seat over his decision to let a mob into the state Capitol last year. 

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| News

Today’s Big Scoop: Trump’s Justice Department secretly seized the Apple data records of House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) in the administration’s hunt for leaks, according to a bombshell report by the New York Times, later confirmed by other outlets.

  • The seizure included data of the members’ families, too, including a minor.
  • Schiff is calling on Attorney General Merrick Garland and the DOJ’s inspector general to investigate the jaw-dropping subpoenas.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) backed her colleague’s demand for an investigation into the “harrowing” reports. 


The Next Act In Infrastructure Theater: A bipartisan group of 10 senators, which includes Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), say they’ve reached a deal on infrastructure spending that wouldn’t include any tax increases.



| Muckraker

A 22-year old Pennsylvania man raked in thousands of dollars by impersonating various members of the Trump family, Manhattan federal prosecutors said on Tuesday.

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| News

In March last year, the anti-Semitic broadcaster Rick Wiles said the spread of COVID-19 in Israel’s synagogues was a sign from on-high.

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| Cafe

As a lifelong novel consumer who enjoys throwing myself into other worlds for hours on end, it probably won’t come as a surprise that I don’t read too many short stories.

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| News

Months before Manhattan district attorney Cy Vance announced that he would not seek reelection for a role in which he oversees a criminal investigation into Trump and his company, a public defender and former reality TV star who had already been angling to replace him was tweeting about the DA office’s investigation into Trump.

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| News

“First of All, James Ball III, you are full of poop,” wrote one Republican Party functionary to another in a bitter, paramilitary-tinged rift over the future of the GOP in Multnomah County, Oregon.

“That is a legal term used by bible believing Christians,” the email continued, “who want to say something much much stronger but err on the side of caution.”

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Ep. 176: So…What Now?
Ep. 176: So…What Now?
Josh and Kate discuss Senator Joe Manchin's opposition to S1 and newly reiterated refusal to touch the filibuster, analyzing the way forward for Democrats w...
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