Last Friday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases involving vaccine mandates issued by federal agencies—OSHA and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. Rulings in both cases will be issued soon because they involve the question of whether lower courts can issue “preliminary injunctions.” Such injunctions are temporary, remaining in place while the trial courts consider the merits of the challenges to the mandates. As a practical matter, by the time the lower courts hold trials on the merits of the mandates, the pandemics will be over. Thus, the preliminary injunctions, if granted, will effectively strip the Biden administration of power to issue vaccine mandates. Americans will die as a result.
While the question before the Court seemed narrow—the authority of federal agencies to issue vaccine mandates—the implications are sweeping. The Court seemed to signal that the “individual liberty” to refuse the vaccine outweighs the societal interest in preventing harm to others. The Court also seemed to be signaling its desire to strip federal agencies of vast swaths of regulatory authority—a long-term goal of the most conservative wing of the Republican Party. Finally, the Court is poised to claim for itself the right to decide which federal regulations can be issued under a congressional grant of authority to an agency. We may be witnessing a massive shift of rulemaking authority from the executive to the judicial branch—a radical seizure of federal power entirely at odds with the traditional conservative view of the federal judiciary’s role.
Before discussing details, let’s skip to the end: The reactionary majority of the Court is about to undo five decades of judicial deference to rulemaking by federal agencies. That revolution will occur because Mitch McConnell denied Barack Obama the right to appoint justices as provided in the Constitution and because Donald Trump appointed a justice a week before a presidential election. Two justices of the reactionary majority thus occupy seats that were obtained in violation of the Constitution or centuries-long norms relating to appointments of justices. The Court must be enlarged to prevent the illegitimate majority from taking a wrecking ball to decades of settled precedent.
On the issue of vaccines, Justice Gorsuch made a jaw-dropping statement, comparing Covid-19 to the flu. In the official transcript of the proceeding, Gorsuch allegedly said that the flu kills “hundreds of thousands of people a year”—a patent falsehood. (Official Sup. Ct. transcript here.) The audio of the hearing is ambiguous, suggesting that Gorsuch said that the flu kills “hundreds, thousands of people a year.” It does not matter which of the contested statements that Gorsuch made. It is an outrage either way. Comparing Covid-19 to the flu tracks the talking points of conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, and Fox News. Justice Alito joined in the anti-vaccine hysteria by saying that some vaccinated people “will suffer adverse consequences”—suggesting that vaccines are unsafe. (Before he made that point, Alito said three times, “I am not making that point.”) In short, anti-vaccination propaganda has made its way onto the reactionary majority, which appears ready to substitute their political views about the vaccine in place of the federal agencies charged with protecting the health and safety of workers.
An equally disturbing implication of the hearing is that the Court will abolish traditional judicial deference to federal rulemaking by agencies. The legal issues are complicated and beyond the scope of this newsletter. Interested readers should consult the excellent analyses by Ian Millhiser in Vox, “The Supreme Court appears more afraid of Joe Biden than it is of Covid-19,” and Kimberly Wehle in The Atlantic, “What the Supreme Court’s Vaccine-Mandate Case Is Really About, (“This could be the start of a major dismantling of the federal government.”) If the reactionary majority uses the vaccine mandate cases to strike down large swaths of federal workplace regulation, it will hurt workers, businesses, and the American economy. But the ideals of the Federalist Society will be protected from harm.
Democrats can stop this judicial carnage by enlarging the Court. Congress could do so tomorrow—if it abolished the filibuster. Dozens of other worthy suggestions for reforming the Court require a constitutional amendment and ratification by 38 states—which will neverhappen. We have a mechanism to rehabilitate the Court, and we should use that mechanism now.
Neal Katyal on Merrick Garland.
I have taken Merrick Garland at his word that the DOJ investigations of the January 6th insurrection will hold accountable those responsible “at every level” and “whether present or otherwise.” Former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal is dubious. Katyal also notes that even if Garland will eventually get around to investigating Trump, the delay in doing so is prejudicial to the integrity of any such investigation. See Neal Katyal in The Atlantic, “The Justice Department Needs to Investigate Trump and His Enablers.”
Please read this article in the NYTimes by Ezra Klein.
Early Sunday morning, readers started sending me links to Ezra Klein’s op-ed in the NYTimes, “Steve Bannon Is Onto Something.” I was put off by the title but read the op-ed anyway. Wow, am I glad I did! Klein makes essential points that every Democrat worried about 2022 should read. Klein starts with some tough love. He says that being involved in politics is notdoom-scrolling on Twitter and then complaining to family and friends about all the things you just read. Real political work isthe intentional, strategic accumulation of power in service of a defined end. It is action in service of change, not information in service of outrage.
That phrase worth remembering: Political work is “action in service of change.”
\Klein devotes much of his essay extolling the necessity and virtue of political action at the local level. He quotes Amanda Litman of Run for Something, who says,
We do not have one federal election. We have 50 state elections and then thousands of county elections. And each of those ladder up to give us results. While Congress can write, in some ways, rules or boundaries for how elections are administered, state legislatures are making decisions about who can and can’t vote. Counties and towns are making decisions about how much money they’re spending, what technology they’re using, the rules around which candidates can participate.
Whether Democrats “win” or “lose” in 2022 will be defined by tens of thousands of races up and down the ballot—not merely by who controls the House and Senate. As Amanda Litman notes, Congress controls some things, but state legislatures and city councils control other important aspects of political and civic life. So, as you practice the art of “action in the service of change,” don’t limit your field of vision to federal races only. Yes, they matter, but driving people to the ballot box for races at the bottom of the ticket can boost candidates in close races at the top of the ticket!Field Team 6 interview on Today’s Edition Podcast
On Saturday, I interviewed Jason Berlin, the founder and driving force behind Field Team 6. If you want a reason to feel hopeful about our prospects for 2022, listen to the Today’s Edition Podcast, “Interview with Jason Berlin of Field Team 6.” Volunteers with Field Team 6 do one of the hardest things possible in politics: They approach strangers and ask them if they want to register to vote! Field Team 6 trains volunteers to be fearless, organized, and effective. You can start your own voter registration drive by using the “Voter Drive in a Box” available on the Field Team 6 website. And if you run a local organization interested in partnering with Field Team 6, they will welcome you with open arms and great resources! And, of course, Field Team 6 welcomes donations to help fund its voter registration drives. (About 90% of Field Team 6’s budget goes directly to registration drives.)
It is easy to see why Jason has built such an effective organization. If you don’t have time to listen to the entire podcast, listen to this two-minute snippet from Jason’s conclding comments for your daily inspiration: Jason Berlin’s concluding comments.Contact information for corporations donating to Sedition Caucus members.
Last week, I mentioned articles in Popular Information and the New York Times highlighting corporations that pledged to suspend donations to Sedition Caucus members and subsequently violated that pledge. A couple of dozen readers asked for contact information for those companies. Reader Cathy Murphree put together this document that contains mailing addresses and electronic addresses for companies that appear to be supporting members of the Sedition Caucus. Thank you, Cathy!
In my interview with Jason Berlin, he said two things that gave me hope for 2022. In describing his journey from writer in the entertainment industry to leading political activist, he said that “You come for the cause, and stay for the people.” In that statement lies the essence of political activism: joining with like-minded people who lift you up and give you strength. You become part of a community that helps everyone in the community to endure tough times and push on to victory.
Second, Jason noted that we now have millions of Democrats who have five years of experience in political organizing and activism. Groups like Field Team Six, Swing Left, Indivisible, Sister District, PostCardsToVoters, Voter Riders, Voter Movement Project, Fair Fight, and many others have existing staff, dedicated volunteers, and databases. 2021 was adrift in the political doldrums, but people are re-engaging for 2022. I have heard that sentiment from many readers. If you took a hiatus in 2021, you deserved a break! But now is the moment to re-engage. Your friends and colleagues are waiting with open arms to welcome you back!
Talk to you tomorrow!LikeCommentShareYou’re on the free list for Today’s Edition Newsletter. This post is public, so feel free to share it. Share Today’s Edition NewsletterIf you are not a subscriber and would like to receive Today’s Edition Newsletter daily (Monday – Friday), click the “Subscribe” button below:Subscribe nowPlease consider becoming a paying subscriber to help support the work of Today’s Edition Newsletter. Paying subscribers can post in the Comments section for each newsletter.
As They Highlight the January 2022 Drawdown Festival
“Join the Regeneration” says acclaimed Australian filmmaker of 2040, keynote speaker and festival partner for the 2022 Drawdown Festival – Tools For Regeneration: Forums! Fun! Films! coming to the Southampton Arts Center, Friday–Sunday, January 21-23, 2022, with talks, workshops and films scheduled all weekend (virtual). Registration is free, hosted by Southampton Arts Center, who is also accepting donations to cover costs.
Damon Gameau will be joined by Paul Hawken, author of the New York Times bestseller Drawdown, which has grown into an international climate research organization, and the newly-released Regeneration: Solving the Climate Crisis in One Generation. Gameau’s award-winning film 2040 and accompanying book 2040 is based on the top Drawdown climate solutions. They will be co-hosting the opening event Friday January 21 from 6:44 – 830pm.
Join a Carbon CREW
In addition to Damon Gameau, SAC is co-partnering with the newly-formed Carbon CREW Project, cofounded by Dorothy Reilly of Southampton. The founders of CREW, which stands for Carbon Reduction for Earth Well-being, highlight a recent international study: Did you know the U.N. has found that 2/3 of all greenhouse gas emissions originate from decisions made at the household level? “The choices made by each of us make all the difference! Together our choices are powerful” said Ms. Reilly. Over the weekend there will be an option to enroll in a Carbon CREW program to guide you to a 50% carbon reduction lifestyle by 2030.
Climate Action = Climate Safety
“This is all about climate action, climate safety, climate hope. Learn about how you can begin now to cut emissions, address equity issues, protect and restore ecosystems and create a regenerating, thriving world,” said Mary Morgan, cofounder of Drawdown East End, also a festival partner, a group inspired by the science of Project Drawdown to guide local climate solutions to reverse global warming.
Join Friday’s Climate Youth Festival
The Festival promises an array of talks, workshops, and films — on soil and sea sequestration, climate cuisine, electrify-everything, the debut of Stories of Regeneration on ways that we can all participate in regenerating our earth and reversing climate devastation — and, on Friday evening, the opportunity to join the Climate Youth Festival from LIU.
Session curators include: League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, Shelter Island and the North Fork, Sean Barrett, founder, Montauk Seaweed Supply Co., journalist Alexandra Talty, Mark Haubner, VP, North Fork Environmental Council, Sheila Pfeiffer, co-founder of Carbon CREW Project, Scott Carlin, professor, Long Island University, author “Gratitude and Climate Change,” and more.
Schedule of Events*
All times are EST. We suggest that all registrants watch the uplifting climate solutions film 2040 before the Festival.
Friday, January 21, 2022
Evening – 6:45 PM to 8:30 PM – We welcome you with an opening Shinnecock Blessing and Co-Host filmmaker Damon Gameau (2040) with Drawdown’s Paul Hawken.
8:30 – 10:00 Climate Youth Festival from LIU.
Saturday, January 22, 2022
Morning – 9:30 AM to 12:30 PM – Welcome back ceremony, hear talks on Indigenous Wisdom, Electrify Everything and Soil Sequestration, with Drawdown and Carbon CREW explained.
Afternoon – 1:00 PM to 5:45 PM – panels on Sea Sequestration, Climate Cuisine, Women and Girls with talks on Climate Games, Instant Actions and the Environmental Voter Project, ending the afternoon with One Million Women singing.
Sunday, January 23, 2022
Morning – 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM – Panels on Model Towns and Regenerator Web Resources.
Afternoon – 1:00 PM to 5:30 PM – Panels on Communicating for Changing Times, Protect Nature Now, Consumption, Financial Impact for Regeneration, ending with our closing ceremony at 5:15 PM.
The redistricting maps in Suffolk county were voted upon and the legal hurdles were overcome. And this just hours before the county legislature was ceded to Republican control!
But (as per Newsday), despite Friday’s vote, the fate of the map remains uncertain. The court battle is expected to continue in the new year, and County Executive Steve Bellone, whose office did not respond to requests for comment, has not said whether he will sign the legislation.
On a national scale too, Dems did not fare too badly. It’s interesting that Republicans were playing defense in some places because of demographic shifts.
It is a pretty convincing (and depressing) opinion piece in The Guardian. I quote: “…The legal system grows less legitimate by the day. Trust in government at all levels is in freefall, or, like Congress, with approval ratings hovering around 20%, cannot fall any lower. Right now, elected sheriffs openly promote resistance to federal authority. Right now, militias train and arm themselves in preparation for the fall of the Republic. Right now, doctrines of a radical, unachievable, messianic freedom spread across the internet, on talk radio, on cable television, in the malls….”
I am vacationing in the Caribbean (on Turks and Caicos). This morning we encountered a turtle. It might have been a (a) leatherback (b) green (c) hawksbill or a (d) loggerhead according to local tourist websites. Some local Jet ski enthusiasts diagnosed the turtle with an injury and I contacted the local preservation society. But islanders retain a culture of turtle use, with the current regulated and legitimate harvest likely to be one of the largest among the Caribbean Islands. One of the presumed rescuers joked that he would catch the turtle and offer it to me for supper. I think the turtles probably have a more uncertain future than we do, civil war or not. And certainly, they don’t deserve their fate.
I understand it is the holiday season, but the fight for democracy does not rest! Right now the Suffolk County Legislature is considering adopting a fair map that doubles the minority-majority districts from two to four, and in areas where new minority districts could not be created, they were left whole so that their votes are not diluted. This map follows town lines and zip code boundaries as much as possible and politically is an even split.
IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT THIS MAP GETS VOTED ON AND SIGNED BY COUNTY EXECUTIVE STEVE BELLONE ON FRIDAY!! Come January the bill will automatically die if it is not voted for and the Republicans will hold control of the legislature next year.
The Republicans have held up the vote on this bill several times, we cannot let them run out the clock!
PLEASE TAKE ACTION NOW!
Please call & email Steve Bellone’s office and urge him to sign the bill! Here is an example script you can use.
Call/email script: Hello, my name is ____________ and I live in ______________. I am calling/emailing in support of IR 1964. This is a fair and equitable map that reflects the demographic changes in Suffolk County and creates representation that aligns with those changes. Signing these maps into law will be a step towards racial justice in our communities. I ask that County Executive Bellone sign IR 1964, and stand in solidarity with the communities that would benefit from increased representation.
There is also a petition on this matter you can sign!
Please share this information with your groups, committees, friends, and neighbors.
Leigh-Ann Barde and Vincent Vertuccio, Co-Founders of Mobilize Suffolk Blue
Shoshanna Hershkowitz, Founder of Suffolk Progressives
Skyler Johnson, Candidate for New York State Assembly
I’ve been meeting some Climatarians lately. It’s a lifestyle that is starting to trend, especially with millennials.
“What Is a Climatarian?” the NY Times headlined, describing this new climate-centered lifestyle. I think of it as “dining with the Earth in mind.” Wikipedia says the Climatarian diet has no strict rules so much as “mindfulness about food production, where food comes from, and where it goes.” I like that. A big part of being a Climatarian is being mindful of where your food goes — do you use it all? Give excess away or feed animals? Any leftover scraps — do they end up as compost, enriching soil, not in the landfill releasing the potent GHG methane?
Self-described Climatarians are giving Tedtalks. One of my favorites is Australian Mark Pershin’s Reclaim our Future with the Climatarian Diet whose dark eyes flash talking about his love of shashlik, a shish-kabob from his native Russia. He defines Climatarian as healthy for both humans and earth, eating more traditional cuisines, not the unhealthy “meat-heavy Western diet” pushed by industrialized “concentrated animal feedlot operations, CAFOs.” Then he smiles, suggesting we try kangaroo. With a 97% smaller footprint “they don’t burp methane, and you don’t need to cut down trees for them to graze.” Mark’s ending salvo: they are native, adapted to our dry climate, are lean and versatile and when he substitutes kangaroo for beef in dishes, friends say it’s delicious. (Think venison!)
Meet Amanda and Taylor
Amanda_the_climatarian I met earlier this summer. Living in western MA, 30-year-old wildlife biologist Amanda and her husband dine on mushrooms (they are members of a South Deerfield CSA) and frequent farmers markets for all the wonderfully-ripe in-season produce. Amanda says her cooking is richly plant-based. A favorite dish is mushroom pizza with truffle oil and homemade tofu “ricotta.” Other specialties a la mansion are mushroom tacos and “king oyster mushroom ‘scallops’ with pasta.” Do they compost? You bet. “I have an outdoor, dual compartment barrel composter. I love it!”
“Eating with a climatarian ethos” Amanda told me “means consuming intentionally with the planet in mind.” She puts locally grown food first, then considers how it’s grown — are resources being conserved, especially water. “Each meal we eat in a day is an opportunity to vote with our dollars for more regenerative food systems. I think anyone who does the best they can–within the limits of their own abilities, access, and resources–to choose more climate-friendly foods can be a Climatarian.”
Brooklynite Taylor loves oysters, so when she visits her parents in Orient, she has plenty of oyster stands to choose from. As for eating out “I always order the local Long Island options, to try more varieties.” Alot of her friends are “flexitarian” which she says is really a health choice. One friend likes to add seafood to her basically vegetable cuisine, another stays with vegetarian “unless they know the fish or meat is coming from a humane and sustainable source.”
“I’m absolutely drawn to the aspect of reducing food waste,” says newly-minted Climatarian Taylor.” There are so many points of the food consumption process that generate waste, and any waste we can reduce is important. We should consider the packaging and transport, how much we purchase at a time, how much we cook at a time, how we save leftovers, what we do with scraps, everything.”
In the backyard at her parent’s place Taylor is planning a compost. Meanwhile she puts eggshells and tea leaves in the garden and freezes veggie scraps to take to Deep Roots farm in Southold “for the chickens.” In Brooklyn Taylor took part in the municipal food scrap program which she explained paused during the pandemic but now “the city is starting composting pick up again this fall which I am very excited about.” It’s a wonderful resource, she says, “you can compost nearly anything–including bones, proteins, greasy food, and soiled paper.” For now she delivers her Brooklyn scraps to the nearby farmers market.
Meet More Climatarians at the January Drawdown Festival
“Join the Regeneration” says acclaimed Australian filmmaker ( 2040 ) keynote speaker and festival partner for the 2022 Drawdown Festival – Tools For Regeneration: Forums! Fun! Films! coming again to the Southampton Arts Center, Friday- Sunday, January 21-23, 2022, with talks, workshops and films, scheduled all weekend (in person and virtual). Registration is free, hosted by Southampton Arts Center, who is also accepting donations to cover costs.
Will the Climatarian trend make a difference?
Consider this. Today’s food system has become the single greatest cause of global warming (34% GHG emissions) and soil loss, chemical poisoning, rainforest destruction, dying oceans. Our current system of “Big Ag” chemical farming and food waste can be changed to a regenerative system. (Regeneration by Paul Hawken)
The #1 Solution for the US calculated in Project Drawdown’s Table of Solutions is to Reduce Food Waste. Here 40% of food grown is wasted with a whopping 70% generated at the household level. I calculate, based on Drawdown’s math, that if we can
1) bring our food waste down by 60% (think soups, pasta sauce, and, this is critical, no food to the landfill),
2) make a healthy habit of once-a-week-red meat (or source beef and chicken from regenerative farmers, not those cruel CAFOs), and
3) buy local first, we can shift our wasteful food system to use-everything regenerative, with compost enriching our soils and sequestering tons and tons of carbon.
Sounds do-able, dollar-saving, and delicious. Try it! Check out the #Climatarian trend happening @Climatarian.Cafe.
We have all seen the lines: people on the Upper Eastside are willing to wait over 1 hour to get tested and in the Lexington Ave. / 86th Street neighborhood I counted 5 free testing sites just this morning.
Here is a scary story I heard firsthand. You know all major offices and businesses are having Christmas parties. So this one happened about 7 days ago: 100 guests and some catering people. Everyone was tested for Covid the day of the party. Everyone was negative. Everyone was vaccinated x2 and most had had a booster shot. 2 days after the party one person had Covid (symptomatic cold-like illness). So they test all 100 guests again 3-7 days after the party. Now 25/100 are positive and some of them have symptoms.
25% of vaccinated people were apparently NOT protected? Wow!
Well, perhaps they were protected from having a severe disease requiring an ER visit or even hospitalization. It is a bit too early to tell.
Avoid office parties! Perhaps we need to lock down again?
A covid testing site in Washington: The mayor reinstated an indoor mask mandate on Monday.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
Anti-Vaxxer husband and wife long-time patients of mine were both hospitalized last week with COVID pneumonia. I had on numerous occasions tried to convince them to be vaccinated – to no avail. That said, the vast majority of my patients are vaccinated.
Data bottom lines locally: COVID-19 test positivity rate has increased to 5.98%, MA vaccination rates are significantly higher than national ones: All ages: 71% fully; 86% at least one dose 12 and older. For 65 and older: 92% fully; >99% at least one dose. Key points: Vaccine Breakthrough cases in MA are rare but do occur 1.6% of fully vaccinated individuals have been diagnosed with COVID-19 infection (I have one of those patients who Friday received monoclonal antibody as she has a risk factor – elderly like me) Since vaccines were introduced 3% of these vaccine breakthrough cases have been hospitalized less than 1% (0.77%) of vaccine breakthrough cases have died from COVID-19 (Colin Powell who had significant chronic illnesses is one example). Key points: Cases are >5-times higher and deaths are >13 times higher in the unvaccinated; most hospitalized COVID cases were not vaccinated. Unlike all other industrialized countries, we are unable as a country to come together on vaccine mandates.
Vaccine-induced immunity wanes over time; this is especially noteworthy in older people. This and omicron are driving the booster initiative nationally. At the same time, Republicans are not only decrying efforts to increase vaccination rates, but threaten people at the individual level. The result: people living in counties that went 60% or higher for Trump in November 2020 had 2.7 times the death rates of those that went for Biden. Counties with an even higher share of the vote for Trump saw higher COVID-19 mortality rates. In October, the reddest tenth of the country saw death rates that were six times higher than the bluest tenth. This is occurring in tandem with health care workers quitting. Omicron might change this. Dylan Scott this week highlighted key Omicron questions/points:
1) How transmissible is the omicron variant?
2) Does omicron cause more severe disease?
3) How well can omicron evade the Covid-19 vaccines?
4) How do the existing Covid-19 treatments hold up against omicron?
Bottom line for me: We have good treatment available; vaccines work very well but better to err on the side of caution and most importantly: get your booster, wear masks, avoid large crowds.
COVID is just one health challenge. Health insurance saves lives. Medicaid expansion saves lives but here are two stories of why communication matters if voters decide to expand Medicaid- Oklahoma and Missouri. The “Better Building Act” passed by the House of Representatives will pass permanent funding of children’s health insurance plans and make it harder for children to lose Medicaid benefits due to eligibility issues, thereby supporting children’s continued access to health insurance.
The political corollary of Republican resistance to vaccines is the benefit that Republicans accrue at last month’s electoral box. Vaccine mandates feed into the cultural narrative that Republicans are capitalizing on with misinformation. Challenging for me as the child of Holocaust survivors is comparisons of vaccine mandates to the Nazi regime. Apathy on the part of those favoring vaccines (and electoral reform) is still widespread. ‘Ask Nurses and Doctors’ will continue to work on vaccine hesitancy – trying to work with health professional societies to, in turn, encourage businesses on vaccine hesitancy and support, for example, the pharma price control provisions of the Better Building Act. We will switch over to electoral support in the next few months but are preparing now. In addition, we are trying to encourage universal vaccine access – without vaccines for all (need to address patents and not America First) we will continue our current path. AND is working with Justice is Global on this. Consider supporting their efforts. Engagement on any issue discussed here is welcome. The picture below, courtesy of my wife who took this picture in Northampton MA says it all.
It has been less than 9 months since Biden took office — so we are less than a year into a 4 year presidency.
What have Biden and the Democrats accomplished in that time? A lot.
The press likes to focus on the PANIC they can induce while we wait for Democrats to figure out their differences on major legislation. It gets clicks. What they are ignoring is a party that has gotten a heck of a lot done for the American people in less than a year.
Let’s share some good news about Democrats for a change!
Here are 50 of my favorites of their accomplishments:
1. Run a real and important investigation into January 6th
I am jumping the gun on this one a little bit because it is just starting, but everything I am seeing here makes me really hopeful. Mark my words, this committee will shine light onto a lot of dark corners. You betting against Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi? Good luck with that!
2. Got the US back in the UN Human Rights Council
Remember when we were such an embarrassment that we weren’t even allowed to weigh in on other country’s human rights? Who changed that? Democrats.
3. Wind Farms Are Seeing Huge Expansion
Biden has been working behind the scenes to make huge changes in energy production. This is one outcome.
The Biden administration is planning to aggressively expand offshore wind energy capacity in the United States, potentially holding as many as seven new offshore lease sales by 2025.
The move was announced Wednesday by US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and first reported by The New York Times.
Haaland said the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is exploring leasing sales along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, in the Gulf of Maine, the New York Bight, the central Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, as well as off the Carolinas, California and Oregon.
As part of that initiative, which spans multiple government agencies, the Departments of the Interior, Energy and Commerce committed to a shared goal of generating 30 gigawatts of offshore wind in the US by 2030. The Interior Department estimates that reaching that goal would create nearly 80,000 jobs.
4. The COVID plan is working
Biden took a potential hit and a lot of anger for his vaccine mandates. Guess what? They work and are getting us closer to ending this nightmare.
In the quest to get more Americans vaccinated, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: Vaccine mandates work.
Nowhere is that more apparent than at United Airlines. On Aug. 6, United became the first U.S. airline to tell its workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 if they wanted to keep their jobs.
The company says 99.5% of United employees have been vaccinated, not counting the roughly 2,000 who have applied for religious or medical exemptions. Elsewhere, other employers also report success with mandates. Tyson Foods, New York City schools, major hospital systems in Maine and the NBA are among those with vaccination rates topping 90%.
5. Biden’s smart actions saved us from a shipping disaster you might not have even known was coming
This is one of MANY things the Biden administration is doing behind the scenes to make our country work. This, my friends, is what a functional government looks like!
President Joe Biden announced Wednesday morning, Oct. 13, that the Port of Los Angeles will begin operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, continuing months-long efforts from the White House and trade officials to clear supply chain disruptions that threaten the holiday shopping season and the nation’s economic recovery from the pandemic.
The federal push stems from a record-breaking cargo surge that’s lasted since mid-2020, creating huge backups of ships off the Southern California coast and maxing out warehouses in the Inland Empire.
Biden on Wednesday also announced major shippers and retailers, including Walmart, FedEx, UPS, Samsung, Home Depot and Target, have agreed to speed up operations to clear cargo out of the ports and free more space on the docks.
“The supply chain is essentially in the hands of the private sector,” the White House official said, “so we need the private sector to step up to help solve these problems.”
6. Biden negotiated an international deal to end tax havens
This is HUGE and the result of MORE behind the scenes work of the Biden Harris team
The world’s most powerful nations agreed on Friday to a sweeping overhaul of international tax rules, with officials backing a 15 percent global minimum tax and other changes aimed at cracking down on tax havens that have drained countries of much-needed revenue.
The agreement is the culmination of years of fraught negotiations that were revived this year after President Biden took office and renewed the United States’ commitment to multilateralism.
7. Biden and the Democrats raised social security for 70 million people
Oh, just more of our party saving old people from poverty….
The Social Security Administration announced Wednesday that its beneficiaries will see a 5.9 percent increase in their benefit checks starting next year — the largest boost to benefits in close to four decades.
The adjustment will be made for 64 million Social Security beneficiaries as well as 8 million Supplemental Security Income recipients. Some Americans receive both benefits.
8. Biden and the Democrats protected people from foreclosure and eviction
So many of my favorites fit into one theme: making life better from the 99% of Americans that Republicans don’t care about.
Biden directed key agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the Department of Veterans Affairs; the Department of Agriculture; the Department of Housing and Urban Development; and the Federal Housing Finance Agency to extend the current pause on federal evictions and foreclosures
The White House and other federal agencies sprang into action amid growing concerns that state and local governments were not prepared to protect renters if the federal eviction ban expired next Wednesday. More than six million renter households are behind on rent, according to a recent survey by the Census Bureau.
9. Biden extended the US Russia nuclear deal
And here is Biden keeping us safe from nuclear war. No biggie 😉
The United States and Russia have extended a crucial nuclear arms control treaty until 2026, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday.
The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty or New START is the last nuclear treaty between the two countries and was set to expire Feb. 5. Renewing the agreement was one of the first national security challenges facing President Joe Biden’s administration.
“Especially during times of tension, verifiable limits on Russia’s intercontinental-range nuclear weapons are vitally important,” Blinken said in a statement, noting that Russia has remained in compliance since 2010 when the treaty was signed.
Extending the treaty made “the world safer,” he said, adding that “unconstrained nuclear competition would endanger us
10. Biden eliminated some student debt
Not one big dramatic action like we would like, but little by little, this is getting done. It is actually impressive how they are inching this in, bit by bit, without anyone noticing
As one of his first actions in office, Biden extended the pause on student-loan payments through September, coupled with zero growth in interest, to ensure borrowers suffering financially would not have to worry about paying off their loans. Since then, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has cancelled student debt for borrowers with disabilities and borrowers defrauded by for-profit schools. He’s also started conducting reviews of student loan forgiveness programs that don’t work as they should.
He has also asked the Justice and Education Departments to review his authority to cancel student debt
The U.S. Department of Education has canceled approximately $3 billion in student loans since President Joe Biden entered office in January 2021. The agency first forgave $1 billion in March for 72,000 borrowers with approved fraud claims against colleges, universities and career schools. Another $500 million was forgiven in June for 18,000 loan holders under the same borrower defense rule. And $1.3 billion was also canceled in March for 41,000 borrowers with total and permanent disabilities.
11. Biden rejoined the Paris Climate Accords!
What have Democrats done for us? Just put us back on path to protect the freakin’ planet.
Biden signed an order to rejoin the Paris climate accords that President Trump exited last year, sending the United Nations a document that will make the U.S. party to the agreement in 30 days. The international pact aims to push all countries to slash their greenhouse gas emissions
12. Biden strengthened protections for dreamers
Again, here are the Democrats taking real action to help actual people.
Biden directed the secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the attorney general, to take actions to shore up the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that shielded hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation. The Trump administration tried to abolish the program but was stopped by federal courts.
13. Biden cracked down on big tech monopolies
And the 1%? Biden and the Democrats are holding them accountable.
President Biden on Friday will encourage federal agencies to crack down on the way major tech companies grow through mergers and gain a competitive advantage by leveraging reams of consumer data, as part of a larger executive order aimed at dispersing corporate consolidation throughout the economy.
The executive order includes several measures specifically targeting big tech companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon, people with knowledge of its contents said.
Mr. Biden has already put some vocal critics of Big Tech in leadership positions. In the White House, he appointed Tim Wu, a Columbia University law professor and outspoken proponent of breaking up companies like Facebook, as a special adviser on competition. He named Lina Khan as chair of the Federal Trade Commission. Ms. Khan has also called for the breakup of big tech companies and worked on a House antitrust investigation into Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.
President Biden is set to unveil a new plan on Friday taking aim at powerful industries where a handful of players have so much market clout that they can drive up prices, depress wages and make it hard for small companies to break in.
His executive order on competition contains directives for a dozen government agencies to take 72 measures — some big, some small — to shake up key markets for consumers, workers, farmers and small businesses, White House officials told NPR. They spoke on the condition of anonymity ahead of Biden’s announcement.
Biden also will create a new competition council at the White House to track progress on the 72 ideas and come up with new measures to add to the list.
That systematic approach should pay dividends, Furman said. He explained that a series of small and medium measures can add up to big changes.
For example, he said, hearing aids — an expensive market dominated by a few players — is one area ripe for competition. The Obama administration tried to make it possible to buy more types of hearing aids at pharmacies, just like reading glasses, rather than treating them like expensive medical devices.
“That won’t transform our economy,” Furman said, “but for a lot of people, that’ll save them thousands of dollars. And that’s the type of action you want to do over and over again.”
14. Biden reinvested in cybersecurity
Another big behind the scenes move. This is just one example of all the Biden admin has done to increase cyber security
Biden is hiring a group of national security veterans with deep cyber expertise, drawing praise from former defense officials and investigators as the U.S. government works to recover from one of the biggest hacks of its agencies attributed to Russian spies.
“It is great to see the priority that the new administration is giving to cyber,” said Suzanne Spaulding, director of the Defending Democratic Institutions project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Cybersecurity was demoted as a policy field under the Trump administration. It discontinued the Cybersecurity Coordinator position at the White House, shrunk the State Department’s cyber diplomacy wing, and fired federal cybersecurity leader Chris Krebs in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s Nov. 3 election defeat.
It is focused on protecting federal workers and contractors, in part by restoring collective bargaining power and worker protections by revoking measures that President Donald Trump had signed. It also eliminates Schedule F, a class of worker that Trump had established that stripped many federal civil service employees of job protections.
It asks agencies to take a look at which federalemployees are earning less than $15 per hour and come up with recommendations to get them above that wage.
On Tuesday, Joe Biden demanded the resignations of all 10 of Donald Trump’s appointees to the Federal Service Impasses Panel, a powerful labor relations board, in a major victory for federal unions. Eight members resigned, and two were fired after refusing to step down. Trump’s appointees—a group of partisan anti-labor activists—had hobbled federal unions for years, sabotaging their ability to organize and bargain collectively. Biden’s clean sweep, which was first reported by Government Executive’s Erich Wagner, marks a crucial step toward ending his predecessor’s campaign of federal union busting.
President Joe Biden made a historic statement in favor of workers’ right to organize and against employer intimidation of workers in a video released Sunday evening. “I made it clear when I was running, that my administration’s policy would be to support unions organizing and the right to collectively bargain,” he said. “I’m keeping that promise. You should all remember the National Labor Relations Act didn’t just say that unions are allowed to exist, it said that we should encourage unions.
“So let me be really clear: It’s not up to me to decide whether anyone should join a union,” Biden continued. “But let me be even more clear: it’s not up to an employer to decide that either. The choice to join a union is up to the workers—full stop. Full stop.”
Biden’s video came days after a group of progressive organizations called on him to support the Amazon workers’ effort. Labor historians and worker advocates hailed the video as a major step beyond those Biden’s predecessors took.
“It’s almost unprecedented in American history,” Erik Loomis, a labor historian at the University of Rhode Island, told The Washington Post. “We have the sense that previous presidents in the mid-20th century were overtly pro-union, but that really wasn’t the case. Even FDR never really came out and told workers directly to support a union.”
”We haven’t had this aggressive and positive of a statement from a president of the United States on behalf of workers in decades,” said Faiz Shakir, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign manager and the founder of More Perfect Union. “It is monumental that you have a president sending a message to workers across the country that if you take the courageous step to start to unionize you will have allies in the administration, the NLRB, and the Labor Department. It means a lot.”
16. Biden got rid of burrowing
This is just one of many moves they made to get rid of corruption
Former President Donald Trump’s plan to create the “Schedule F” category had been decried by federal unions as an attack on people he called the “deep state” when it was announced in October. The Biden White House was quick to cancel the classification, saying it “undermines the foundations of the civil service.”finally…..
17. Biden ordered all federal contractors to pay their workers a $15 minimum wage and provide emergency paid leave.
In the wake of the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, President Joe Biden is directing the intelligence community to assess the threat of domestic violent extremism in the U.S. and explore new policies to counter extremist networks.
A three-pronged effort, unveiled Friday by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, includes tasking the Office of the Director of National Intelligence with leading a “comprehensive threat assessment” to help shape policies to address the rise of domestic violent extremism. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security will consult on the work.
The Biden administration is stepping up efforts to combat domestic extremism, increasing funding to prevent attacks, weighing strategies historically used against foreign terrorist groups and more openly warning the public about the threat.
The attempts to more assertively grapple with the potential for violence from white supremacists and militias are a shift from President Donald J. Trump’s pressure on federal agencies to divert resources to target the antifa movement and leftist groups despite the conclusion by law enforcement authorities that far-right and militia violence was a more serious threat.
The Biden administration on Tuesday unveiled a national strategy to combat domestic extremism, calling for aggressive steps such as hiring more intelligence analysts and screening government employees for ties to hate groups.
The 32-page plan highlights a shift in the government’s approach to counterterrorism, which for decades has prioritized fighting foreign terrorists. But violent attacks by American extremists are growing, a problem laid bare by the deadly Capitol riot on Jan. 6.
“We cannot ignore this threat or wish it away,” President Biden wrote in the strategy document. “Preventing domestic terrorism and reducing the factors that fuel it demand a multifaceted response across the federal government and beyond.”
Lawyers are still trying to locate the parents of 506 children who had been split from their families at the US-Mexico border by the Trump administration, according to a new court filing — down from a month ago, when attorneys were looking for the parents of 611 children.
Wednesday’s filing is the first under the Biden administration, which is now responsible for the reunification of families separated at the US-Mexico border as a result of former President Donald Trump’s controversial “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
The Biden administration’s task force for reuniting migrant families separated by the Trump administration will give separated families the option to be reunified in the U.S. or their countries of origin, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Monday.
Mayorkas said in a White House briefing that the separation of thousands of migrant families during the Trump administration was “the most powerful and heartbreaking example of the cruelty that preceded this administration.”
“We are hoping to reunite the families either here or in their country of origin. We hope to be in a position to give them the election, and if, in fact, they seek to reunite here in the United States, we will explore lawful pathways for them to remain in the United States and to address the family needs,” he said.
Nearly one million Americans have signed up for Affordable Care Act coverage during the first 10 weeks of a special open enrollment period the Biden administration began in February.
A total of 940,000 people enrolled in Obamacare coverage between Feb. 15 and April 30, new data released Thursday by Health and Human Services shows. Of those new enrollees, nearly half bought coverage last month, after Congress added billions in subsidies included in the most recent stimulus package.
With that additional funding, the average monthly premium that Healthcare.gov consumers paid fell to $86 for those signing up in April, down from $117 in February and March (before the new subsidies).
21. Democrats passed one of the largest industrial bills in US history
Making moves to protect our long term economic interests? ✅
22. Democrats got increased access to voting in a lot of places
We often hear about the flip side of this (which is really distressing). But Democrats have been working hard too.
As GOP-controlled state legislatures push through a wave of laws to restrict voting, a new report from the Voting Rights Lab suggests that Democratic state legislatures have enacted their own proposals to increase voting access at an even faster rate.
In the first six months of 2021, a “tidal wave” of voting rights legislation has resulted in the enactment of 153 new laws in 38 states—with over half increasing access to voting.
23. Biden and the Democrats ushered in a great covid relief bill
The history books will tell the story of how Democrats saved our economy from COVID/Trump damage. This was step one.
Many cynically expected (I expected!) Democrats to capitulate to Republican demands like they did while negotiating the 2009 health care bill when they eliminated the public option for no fucking reason. But they didn’t. Senator Chuck Schumer, emboldened by either the majority leader’s gavel or fear that he’s about to be primaried by somebody who New York voters find more appealing, has stood up to Mitch McConnell, stood up to bad faith negotiating by Republicans. What may have been an opportunity for Democrats to blame Republicans for watering down COVID relief became an opportunity for Democrats to show strength.
24. Biden and Democrats saved the pensions of over 1 million unionized workers
the $86 billion is a taxpayer bailout for about 185 union pension plans that are so close to collapse that without the rescue, more than a million retired truck drivers, retail clerks, builders and others could be forced to forgo retirement income.
The bailout targets multiemployer pension plans, which bring groups of companies together with a union to provide guaranteed benefits. All told, about 1,400 of the plans cover about 10.7 million active and retired workers, often in fields like construction or entertainment where the workers move from job to job. As the work force ages, an alarming number of the plans are running out of money. The trend predated the pandemic and is a result of fading unions, serial bankruptcies and the misplaced hope that investment income would foot most of the bill so that employers and workers wouldn’t have to.
25. Biden and Democrats invested more in Black farmers than any government act in history
A little-known element of President Biden’s massive stimulus relief package would pay billions of dollars to disadvantaged farmers — benefiting Black farmers in a way that some experts say no legislation has since the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Of the $10.4 billion in the American Rescue Plan that will support agriculture, approximately half would go to disadvantaged farmers, according to estimates from the Farm Bureau, an industry organization. About a quarter of disadvantaged farmers are Black. The money would provide debt relief as well as grants, training, education and other forms of assistanceaimed at acquiring land.
“This is the most significant piece of legislation with respect to the arc of Black land ownership in this country,” said Tracy Lloyd McCurty, executive director of the Black Belt Justice Center, which provides legal representation to Black farmers.
Black farmers in America have lost more than 12 million acres of farmland over the past century, mostly since the 1950s, a result of what agricultural experts and advocates for Black farmers say is a combination of systemic racism, biased government policy, and social and business practices that have denied African Americans equitable access to markets.
26. Biden and Democrats provided huge sums to victims of domestic abuse
The Biden administration has begun to distribute hundreds of millions of dollars in funds to support victims of domestic abuse, a group that faced greater hardships and more danger while sheltering at home during the pandemic.
The Department of Health and Human Services said Monday that it will award $200 million to help abuse victims get counseling, emergency and transitional housing and help with safety planning and other resources.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is preparing to issue new guidelines to agents this week that could sharply curb arrests and deportations, as the Biden administration attempts to assert more control over an agency afforded wide latitude under President Donald Trump, according to internal memos and emails obtained by The Washington Post.
Biden revoked a Trump executive order that massively expanded immigration officials’ interior enforcement work and broadened the categories of who they should try to detain and deport. His acting DHS secretary then issued a memo pausing deportations for 100 days beginning on Jan. 22.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will no longer detain most pregnant, nursing and postpartum women for deportation, reversing a Trump-era rule that permitted officials to jail thousands of immigrants in those circumstances, according to a new policy to be released Friday.
ICE’s new policy is even more expansive than it was during the Obama era, when President Biden was vice president. The Obama administration generally exempted pregnant women from immigration detention, but the Biden administration is also including women who gave birth within the prior year and those who are nursing, which could last longer than a year.
the president has said he wants a more humane approach to immigration, especially for parents and children arriving in increasing numbers from regions such as Central America.
The Biden administration on Friday will notify states it plans to revoke Medicaid work requirements, starting the process of dismantling one of the Trump administration’s signature health policies.
The move is one of several steps that Biden’s health department is expected to take this week to unravel the contentious work rules long criticized by Democrats, according to internal documents obtained by POLITICO.
President Biden on Friday pledged that the United States is “fully committed” to NATO after four years of President Donald Trump railing against the alliance. During a major address to the Munich Security Conference, Biden also warned that “democratic progress is under assault” in many parts of the world, including the United States and Europe.
President Biden on Tuesday announced a truce in a long-running trade war with the European Union, saying it was time to put aside the fight and focus together on the growing trade threats posed by China.
“I’ve been making the case that the U.S. and Europe — and democracies everywhere — are stronger when we work together to advance our shared values like fair competition and transparency. Today’s announcement demonstrates exactly how that can work in practice,” Biden said in a statement
On his first day in office, President Biden issued a sweeping executive order making it clear that gay and transgender people are protected against discrimination in schools, health care, the workplace and other realms of American life.
Biden’s order calls on agencies across the federal government to review existing regulations and policies that prohibit sex discrimination, and to revise them as necessary to clarify that “sex” includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports,” Biden’s executive order states. “Adults should be able to earn a living and pursue a vocation knowing that they will not be fired, demoted, or mistreated because of whom they go home to or because how they dress does not conform to sex-based stereotypes. People should be able to access healthcare and secure a roof over their heads without being subjected to sex discrimination.”
The Pentagon on Wednesday scrapped restrictions on transgender troops imposed by the Trump administration, and unveiled new rules designed to end discrimination and provide medical care for those service members.
A nightclub that was the site of a horrific shooting in Florida became a national memorial Friday.
President Joe Biden signed a law designating the Pulse nightclub in Orlando as a national memorial at a White House ceremony that included survivors of the 2016 attack.
“A place of acceptance and joy became a place of unspeakable pain and loss. We’ll never fully recover, but we’ll remember,” Biden said before signing the law designating the memorial. Pulse survivors stood around the president as pictures of the 49 killed displayed on video screens.
“May no president ever have to sign another monument like this,” Biden said.
President Joe Biden will name Jessica Stern as the US Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons Friday, according to a White House official.
Stern currently serves as Executive Director of OutRight Action International, an organization aimed at ensuring human rights for LGBTQ people both domestically and abroad and will join Biden at the White House Friday for remarks commemorating Pride Month, the official told CNN Thursday.
She’s the second person to be named to the role — her predecessor, Randy Berry, served in the then-new role from its inception in 2015 until 2017, at which point the position was left vacant by former President Donald Trump
President Biden on Friday commemorated LGBTQ+ Pride Month, signing legislation designating the National Pulse Memorial and urging passage of the Equality Act. “Pride Month represents so much,” Biden said at a White House gathering. “It stands for courage. … And above all, Pride month stands for love.”
31. Biden Recognized indigenous people’s day and made Juneteenth a holiday
“The contributions that Indigenous peoples have made throughout history — in public service, entrepreneurship, scholarship, the arts, and countless other fields — are integral to our Nation, our culture, and our society,” Biden wrote in the proclamation Friday. “Today, we acknowledge the significant sacrifices made by Native peoples to this country — and recognize their many ongoing contributions to our Nation.”
President Biden ordered a sweeping review on Thursday of American intelligence about Russia’s role in a highly sophisticated hacking of government and corporate computer networks, along with what his spokeswoman called Moscow’s “reckless and adversarial actions” globally and against dissidents inside the country.
Mr. Biden also instructed Ms. Haines on Thursday to provide him with an assessment of the Kremlin’s effort to use a chemical weapon against Russia’s leading opposition politician, Aleksei A. Navalny. Mr. Navalny, who survived the attack, was arrested this week when he returned to Russia.
Ms. Haines was also asked to review intelligence that produced evidence that Russia put a “bounty” on the lives of American troops in Afghanistan.
The U.S. is preparing to respond to Russia’s poisoning and jailing of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and is expected to coordinate a sanctions rollout with European allies in the coming weeks, according to people familiar with the matter.
The response would mark a break with the previous administration, which prepared a sanctions package following Navalny’s poisoning but never implemented it, the people said. It would also constitute the new administration’s first major step in holding Russia accountable for human rights abuses, which Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have listed as a key pillar of their foreign policy agenda.
The Biden administration has officially blamed and sanctioned Russia for its role in the massive SolarWinds hack that compromised computer systems in multiple government agencies as well as private companies.
In an executive order issued April 15, President Biden levied a variety of economic sanctions against several Russian financial institutions, technology companies, and individuals designated as having participated in “harmful foreign activities,” including but not limited to the hack.
Putin offered a few compliments to President Biden — some that were intentional (e.g., that Biden is experienced in diplomacy), and others that were not (e.g., that Biden’s views on human rights are different than Biden’s predecessor). He also provided a glimpse into his gloomy worldview: “There is no happiness in life. There’s only a mirage on the horizon.”
The contrast between Putin and Biden was on clear display during their individual news conferences. Even the settings of those events were remarkably distinct: Putin held his inside; Biden’s was outside, with bright sunshine and a picturesque background.
Biden emphasized his defense of human rights and democracy. “I pointed out to [Putin], that’s why we are going to raise our concerns about cases, like Alexei Navalny. I made it clear to President Putin, and will continue to raise issues of fundamental human rights, because that’s what we are. That’s who we are,” he recounted. “No president of the United States could keep faith with the American people if they did not speak out to defend our democratic values. . . . Human rights is going to always be on the table, I told him.” The president also warned that if Navalny died, the consequences for Russia would be devastating. When asked about Putin’s false equivalency between his jailing of a dissident and Jan. 6, Biden declared it a “ridiculous comparison.”
What a difference a presidential election makes. Here was a sober, serious U.S. president defending democracy and standing firm against a thuggish dictator.
At Helsinki in July 2018, then-President Trump simpered and cowered. In a low point of a presidency with more low points than Death Valley, Trump accepted at face value Putin’s “extremely strong and powerful” denials of complicity in the 2016 election attack. Putin emerged from that meeting smirking like the cat that swallowed the canary.
As the historian Michael Beschloss noted, there was no such grin on Putin’s lips when he did his solo press conference after meeting with Biden on Wednesday. While Putin engaged in his usual dishonesty and whataboutism — he compared his jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny with the prosecution of the Capitol rioters — his manner was subdued and far from triumphant. He attacked the United States but was careful not to insult Biden personally. He even compared the current president favorably to his predecessor: “President Biden is an experienced statesman. He is very different from President Trump.” (Ouch. That’s got to sting for Putin’s biggest fanboy in the United States.)
The Biden administration is preparing to convert its immigrant family detention centers in South Texas into Ellis Island-style rapid-processing hubs that will screen migrant parents and children with a goal of releasing them into the United States within 72 hours, according to Department of Homeland Security draft plans obtained by The Washington Post.
“We welcome the change, because the detention of families — we never thought that was a good system or a good policy at all,” said Edna Yang, co-executive director of American Gateways, an immigration legal aid organization in Texas. “They shouldn’t be detained, and they should be given the opportunity to go before the immigration judge and be released in the community and not held like prisoners.”
Transforming family detention amounts to a wholesale repudiation of not only Donald Trump’s policies but also Barack Obama’s and presents a significantly different vision of how to handle the fast-changing character of mass migration at the southern border.
The number of unaccompanied migrant children held in jail-like conditions by US Customs and Border Protection dropped nearly 84% in the span of a month, according to a White House official, underscoring the significant progress made by the administration after reaching record high custody figure
The Biden administration will grant a form of provisional residency known as temporary protected status to tens of thousands of Haitian migrants living in the United States without legal status, the Department of Homeland Security announced Saturday, citing worsening conditions in the Caribbean nation.
The Biden administration said Tuesday that it will expand the number of Central American children eligible to apply for asylum in the U.S. while still in their home countries.
The program, known as the Central American Minors Program, began in 2014, during the Obama administration, to allow children whose parents were legally in the U.S. to apply for admission, but the Trump administration stopped it. The Biden administration had been accepting applications only from children with cases that were pending when the program closed.
Now, the program will go beyond the Obama administration’s eligibility limits to consider children whose parents have asylum cases pending in the U.S., a State Department spokesperson said in a statement.
The statement said the new eligibility requirements will “greatly expand” the program.
President Biden on Thursday announced a series of executive actions to curb gun violence, and he pledged to push for sweeping change to the country’s firearms laws — his first substantive response to a pair of mass shootings last month that left 18 dead.
The president unveiled new rules on “ghost guns” — firearms that are assembled at home, which lack serial numbers and are harder to track — among other moves designed to make it harder for unqualified people to obtain dangerous weapons.
Biden said his moves Thursday do not relieve Congress of the responsibility to act. He urged lawmakers to take up gun-control legislation, including measures already passed by the House that would require more gun buyers to undergo background checks.
“They’ve offered plenty of thoughts and prayers, members of Congress, but they’ve passed not a single new federal law to reduce gun violence,” Biden said. “Enough prayers. Time for some action.”
35. Reduced the number of hungry Americans
Protect the 99%? ✅ This is an area where A TON has been done and it is all amazing.
Food stamp recipients will see their monthly payments go up in October thanks to a major update to the program, even though a special pandemic boost has now expired.
Benefits will jump 27% above pre-pandemic levels, on average — the largest increase in its history. The change stems from a revision of the Thrifty Food Plan, which determines the benefit amounts of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the formal name for food stamps.
With more than one in 10 households reporting that they lack enough to eat, the Biden administration is accelerating a vast campaign of hunger relief that will temporarily increase assistance by tens of billions of dollars and set the stage for what officials envision as lasting expansions of aid.
The effort to rush more food assistance to more people is notable both for the scale of its ambition and the variety of its legislative and administrative actions. The campaign has increased food stamps by more than $1 billion a month, provided needy children a dollar a day for snacks, expanded a produce allowance for pregnant women and children, and authorized the largest children’s summer feeding program in history.
“We haven’t seen an expansion of food assistance of this magnitude since the founding of the modern food stamp program in 1977,” said James P. Ziliak, an economist at the University of Kentucky who studies nutrition programs. “It’s a profound change.”
Biden is asking the Department of Agriculture to allow states to increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits — commonly known as food stamps — and to increase by 15 percent benefits awarded through a school meals program for low-income studentsstarted during the pandemic, according to Biden administration officials. That could give a family of three children more than $100 in extra benefits every two months, officials said.
Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, told reporters on a call Thursday night that the measures are meant as only partial solutions, as the administration kicks off negotiations with Congress on its $1.9 trillion relief economic proposal.
Biden’s order attempts in several ways to address the surge in hunger in America during the pandemic, with approximately 50 million people, including 17 million children, considered food insecure.
Perhaps the most significant change in this executive order is a reassessment of the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan, the basis for determining SNAP benefits. Lisa Davis, senior vice president of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, said the metrics are out of date with the economic realities most struggling households face. The president will ask the USDA to consider beginning the process of revising the Thrifty Food Plan to better reflect the modern cost of a healthy basic diet.
The Biden administration is quietly laying the groundwork for a long-term increase in food aid for tens of millions of Americans, without going through the ordeal of a fight with congressional Republicans.
The instrument is an obscure U.S. Department of Agriculture shopping list used to determine food stamp benefits, known as the market basket.
A review of the so-called Thrifty Food Plan, ordered by Biden two days after he took office, could trigger an automatic increase in benefits as soon as Oct. 1, a day after expiration of a temporary 15% boost in food stamp payments that Biden included in his $1.9 trillion Covid-relief package.
36. Strengthened the economy
Given the circumstances, it is amazing how well the economy is doing. Another thing the press is ignoring.
The percentage of American families with kids who report not having enough to eat fell dramatically after the first child tax credit payments were distributed last month, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The government’s finding shows that the monthly payments are having a major and immediate impact on millions of households, potentially bolstering President Joe Biden’s push to extend the tax credit past the end of this year, when it is set to expire.
The city’s effort to remove lead pipes shows what’s possible with funding and political will.
Now, this once-poisoned city is on the brink of a milestone. A lead water pipe removal program, established under a 2017 court order issued as part of a massive lawsuit on behalf of Flint residents, is inching toward a close. Block by block, house by house, the city and its contractors have excavated and checked more than 27,000 pipes to determine what hidden risks remain under the ground.
The effort has led the city to replace more than 10,000 lead pipes so far, officials say.
The Biden administration has revoked a Trump-era rule that had become a flash point in the abortion wars, saying Monday it would no longer bar clinics that receive federal family planning aid from advising people about ending their pregnancies.
The new rule for the half-century-old family planning program known as Title X will allow health centers to receive the federal funds even if they refer patients for abortions. It takes effect Nov. 8.
President Biden announced Wednesday that the United States will double the number of Pfizer coronavirus vaccine doses it is donating to other countries, a step toward the goal of immunizing 70 percent of the world’s 8 billion people within the next year.
41. Nominated leaders who will be tough on big banking
President Biden will nominate Saule Omarova, a Cornell University law professor, to head the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, selecting an outspoken critic of the banking and crypto sectors to oversee the biggest U.S. banks.
The White House announced the pick Thursday, noting that if confirmed, Omarova would be the first woman and the first person of color to lead the 158-year-old agency.
Liberal senators cheered the decision. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) pointed to Omarova’s background as an academic, Treasury Department official and corporate lawyer, saying her experience “will allow her to work with stakeholders across our financial system to ensure the economy works for everyone, and to protect our economic recovery from the risky activities of Wall Street and other bad actors.”
42. Quietly and carefully addressing unchecked Chinese military power
Biden and Harris are pulling off a shift in our foreign policy orientation that has been talked about for more than a decade — a “pivot” or “tilt” away from our traditional focus on Europe and the Middle East toward the region now called the Indo-Pacific, with an eye toward the rise of China as a competing superpower.
Biden secretly negotiated a new defense pact with Australia and Britain that will give the Australians nuclear-powered submarine technology as a check on China’s growing naval power. He hosted the first in-person summit of the Quad strategic alliance — the United States, Japan, Australia and India — in another initiative aimed at containing China’s regional ambitions. He sent Harris to Southeast Asia to shore up U.S. ties with Singapore and Vietnam.
The Obama administration talked for years about ending the war in Afghanistan and withdrawing American forces, but ended up agreeing to a troop surge instead. The Trump administration signed a bad deal, incompetently negotiated, to bring U.S. troops home but got booted out of office before being able to follow through. Biden could have tried to get out of the bargain. Instead, he went ahead and fulfilled it. This nation’s longest war is over — any way you look at it, that’s a historic milestone, and one Biden has used to reshape U.S. goals abroad.
The Biden administration Monday morning took steps to save the Obama-era DACA program that shields hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children from deportation.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has been the subject of ongoing litigation since it was established in 2012. President Donald Trump tried to terminate the program, an effort blocked by the Supreme Court.
For years, Congress has tried and failed to pass legislation to provide a pathway to citizenship or otherwise address the immigration system. In the absence of legislation, the Obama administration and now, the Biden administration has relied on DACA to ensure the group known as “Dreamers” — many of whom are now adults — can stay and work in the US.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday nominated a slate of nine people to serve as U.S. attorneys, including several who, if confirmed, would become the first Black women to serve as the top federal prosecutors in their districts.
Biden has in total nominated 25 people to run some of the 93 U.S. attorneys’ offices nationally. His latest picks would lead federal prosecutors’ offices in Colorado, Hawaii, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Ohio, Vermont and the U.S. Virgin Islands
Media coverage of the Trump administration often posited that he had transformed the judiciary by appointing 234 federal judges. While it is true his appointees to the Supreme Court have turned that body into an instrument of right-wing policy, the right-wing grip on lower courts is weaker than one might imagine, thanks to the number of Obama appointees (334) and the furious pace of nominees under the current president.
The White House on Thursday announced its eighth slate of nominees to federal courts, raising that total to 53. Of these, 14 have been confirmed. For comparison’s sake, by Sept. 1 of his first year, President Donald Trump had a grand total of six confirmed judges. By the end of the year, he had appointed just 19. Eventually, he was able to appoint 234 federal judges.
The vast majority of cases never reach the Supreme Court, so the composition of lower courts, especially appellate courts that set precedent for lower courts throughout their circuits, is critical in determining the legal landscape.
The Biden administration will provide government-funded legal representation to certain unaccompanied immigrant children in deportation proceedings in eight US cities as part of an effort to boost legal access in the immigration court system, according to agency officials.
The new effort, labeled the Counsel for Children Initiative, comes months after the Biden White House dealt with an increase in children arriving at the southern border, leading to overcrowded detention facilities and a scramble to find appropriate locations to hold them. Immigrants in deportation proceedings are generally not provided an attorney by the government if they cannot afford one.
Note: this is WAY better than the Obama administration did on this issue (I don’t even need to get into TFG’s record here, right?!)
48: Biden protected people from eviction
49. Biden and the Democrats made the largest investment ever made by the US govt in indigenous communities
President Biden has overseen the distribution of covid-19 vaccines faster than anyone could have anticipated, won approval of a massive $1.9 trillion pandemic relief program and rejoined the battle against the existential threat of climate change. But his biggest accomplishment has less to do with policy than psychology: After the insanity of the Donald Trump era, he has made almost everything less crazy.
For four long years, we were forced to live in a constant state of anxiety that rarely dipped below the where’s-my-Xanax level. We went through multiple news cycles every day, as the morning’s outrageous presidential tweet was followed by the afternoon’s off-the-wall presidential claim — and then overtaken by the evening’s presidential recap of whatever he’d just seen on Fox News.
It was brutalizing, and Biden ended the stream of lunacy pouring from the White House. There are days now when the administration is so radically normal that it’s actually kind of boring. Thank you, Mr. President, from a grateful nation
Is that enough? Heck no! But we have at least 3+ more years to get more done! Let’s keep pushing.
Does this mean our democracy is safe and good? Ummm, nope. But guess what? We can fix that too.
I’ve gotten lots of great news links sent to me about so many different subjects, but then the leaked IPCC report put all but the environment and climate change on the back burner.
When the ground temperature in the Arctic Circle on the summer solstice last week was 118 degrees, the report says
“Life on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems … humans cannot.”
“Tipping points are triggered when temperatures reach a certain level, whereby one impact rapidly leads to a series of cascading events with vast repercussions. For instance, as rising temperatures lead to the melting of Arctic permafrost, the unfreezing soilreleases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that in turn causes more heating.”
We’re reaching those tipping points faster than imagined, and the fear is that we may have already started a cascade we cannot stop. We are about to enter a mini-heat wave on Long Island (high 80’s). Nothing compared to the other side of the US:
“[T]his heat will be historic, dangerous, prolonged and unprecedented. ” “We can’t stress enough how impactful this heat will be to nearly every person and community in the Pacific and Inland Northwest region.” – Spokane Weather Service –
All Politics Is Local. All climate change is local too and we won’t meet the Paris Climate Accords (which are already too little too late), without local politics helping national politics helping global politics.
This is the 50th anniversary of Joni Mitchell’s Blue album. But her Big Yellow Taxi best describes what we have done:
They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique and swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone
They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot.
Took all the trees and put them in tree museum
And they charged the people a dollar and half to see them
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone…
The final conclusion of the IPCC report:
Climate change will fundamentally reshape life on Earth in the coming decades, even if humans can tame planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. Species extinction, more widespread disease, unliveable heat, ecosystem collapse, cities menaced by rising seas — these and other devastating climate impacts are accelerating and bound to become painfully obvious before a child born today turns 30.
While it has been dire reading, this, by Prof Waleed Abdalati of the Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, may say it best:
“The science does clearly point to a challenging future, one in which climate change places significant stresses on every aspect of our lives. Science, by its nature, avoids hyperbole and those who have spoken out most aggressively about the climate crisis have been derogatorily labeled as alarmists. But sometimes, when the outcomes and risks are so severe, alarm is warranted.
Alarm, however, should not necessarily equate to hopelessness. On the contrary, alarm can and should be a motivator for action, action that brings out — and takes advantage of — the best in our scientific, technological, policy, industrial and humanitarian capabilities to rise to the climate challenge and successfully overcome it.
The content of the upcoming IPCC Assessment Report will, like those before it, present us with an opportunity to take an honest and sober look at the future we may be in for and help us determine the trajectory of humanity in the face of that future. Just as science shines a light on the challenges, science can light the path to success.”
Will the world be willing to meet the challenge? Today’s article in the NY Times, “What If American Democracy Fails the Climate Crisis?”, has lots of intriguing ideas but doesn’t make it sound promising. Take this comment about the the original infrastructure jobs bill, not all of which dealt with climate:
In particular, the scale is simply too small; $900 billion on climate is not enough to catalyze the pace of decarbonization we will need in order to cut emissions by 50 percent by 2030, while providing millions of good jobs. That’s more like $10 trillion over 10 years.
The new bipartisan bill is only $1.2 trillion and most not for climate change. One project, linked below, hoping to get some of that federal funding, is for protecting the Houston coastline from rising sea levels. It has a projected cost of $26 million. That is only one city. Which cities do we save, which ones move inland, which ones die? That is a global question, not just an American one.
And it’s not just cities. What parts of Long Island do we save? Can we save?
Lots of reading, lots of thinking. Will you meet the challenge? Please try to read it during this moderate heat spell by challenging yourself and doing it without turning on the AC!
On March 18th Chris Paparo, the manager of Stony Brook University’s Marine Sciences Center reported a sighting of a mother right whale with her calf just 300 yards off an East Hampton ocean beach! #3720, as she is called, had travelled from waters near Wassaw Island, Georgia, where she and her calf were last seen on Jan. 19th 2021, their final destination perhaps Cape Cod bay, or as far north as the gulf of St. Lawrence.
We all know that the right whale is a critically endangered species with less than 400 individuals still alive and perhaps less than 100 reproducing females. Spotting calves with their mothers represents a glimmer of hope.
With plans to build an offshore South Fork Wind Farm 35 miles east of Montauk point and run a submarine cable coming ashore on a Wainscott beach, I could not help wonder how the developer (Ørsted) plans to safeguard these magnificent marine mammals.
Here is my lay person report.
Ørsted takes this very seriously. I spoke with Sophie Hartfield Lewis, Ørsted Head of U.S. Permitting. Safeguarding whales are clearly dear to her heart. Together with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution they are tackling issues like the correct distance between a source of submarine noise, such as pile driving, and a whale straying into the area. At what distance is there assured harm to the whale’s hearing (permanent or temporary)? At what distance do all drilling operations need to be halted? Currently that stands at 1 km depending on what marine species is involved and the type of noise emitted, including the noise frequency. F.ex. frequencies above 200 mHz are deemed safe because whales don’t hear them or because they don’t have adverse reactions to them.
I also learned about techniques used to dampen noise. (a) There is something called a ‘Big bubble curtain’ (BBC): it consists of a flexible tube fitted with special nozzle openings and installed on the seabed around the pile. Compressed air is forced through the nozzles producing a curtain of rising, expanding bubbles. These bubbles effectively attenuate noise by scattering sound on the air bubbles, absorbing sound, or reflecting sound off the air bubbles! (b) There is the Hydro-Sound Damper (HSD): it consists of a fisher net with different sized elements, laid out at various distances from each other, and encapsulating the pile. HSD elements can be foam plastic or gas-filled balloons. Noise is reduced as it crosses the HSD due to reflection and absorption. (c) There is the AdBm, Helmholz resonator: it consists of large arrays of Helmholtz resonators, or air filled containers with an opening on one side that can be set to vibrate at specific frequencies to absorb noise, deployed as a “fence” around pile driving activities. Sophie told me that if operations were to start tomorrow, they would use BBC.
I spoke with Catherine Bowes of the National Wildlife Foundation. Key recommendations include: seasonal & temporal restrictions on pile driving; real-time monitoring of science-based exclusion zones; underwater noise limits; vessel speed restrictions; and commitments to pre, during & post-construction monitoring to ensure we learn as we go, in launching this new clean energy industry. This last point is essential for informing impact mitigation strategies along the coast.
Sophie Hartfield Lewis directed me to an online pdf. Pages 100-166 directly concern mitigation strategies for the SFWF. It is titled “Protected Species Mitigation and Monitoring Plan South Fork Wind, LLC.“ I warn the reader: it gets pretty involved.
The world has seen an increasing and alarming number of extinctions in recent years. And that’s only the ones we know about. Ultimately, protecting threatened species protects us, the human species, because loss of biodiversity has health impacts among many other ill effects. Just google ’loss of biodiversity.’ Simultaneously, we are existentially threatened by climate change. Thus, we have no choice. We need to save species like the right whale and we need offshore wind energy.
Win With Wind held a virtual seminar on
Offshore Wind Farms & Protection of Endangered Species
Protesters outside Lee Zeldin’s Patchogue office in January. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)
As we have watched events unfold in the nation’s Capitol, and followed our congressman’s role in these events, we’ve been reminded of something Ronald Reagan said when he was governor of California in 1967: “Freedom is a fragile thing and it’s never more than one generation away from extinction.” Powerful words. What he meant is that a generation can come along, even two and a half centuries after the ratification of the Constitution, and throw it all away. Not all at once, but through small steps and then much bigger steps, until the most fundamental of constitutional principles — the rule of law — is thrown aside in favor of rule by authoritarian means. On Jan. 6, a ferocious mob, urged on by outgoing President Donald Trump, attacked the Capitol — destroying property, beating up police officers, hunting down representatives they hated, setting up a hangman’s noose outside and doing its best to disrupt the constitutional process of counting the electoral votes that gave the election to President Joe Biden. The House of Representatives impeached Trump for the incitement — his second impeachment in four years. One Republican who supported impeachment was Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming). She said Trump lit the fuse that started the riot; she also said he lied every time he told his followers he really won the election and that his victory had been stolen. Since then some of Trump’s more unhinged followers have downplayed the riot, saying it wasn’t all that bad. Some Republicans continued to insist that Trump really won the election. One particularly off-the-wall Republican described Jan. 6 as a typical tourist day. It’s hard to fathom that magnitude of lying by an elected official. Now the House is moving toward a bipartisan 9/11-style commission to investigate the events of that day. Ms. Cheney, who was voted out of her leadership position by her GOP colleagues, said she supports the commission, in particular its ability to subpoena witnesses. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Trump loyalist, is against it. On these two critical issues — the ousting of Ms. Cheney for her lack of support for Trump and the forming of the commission — Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has come down on the wrong side. As for Ms. Cheney’s demotion, Mr. Zeldin said in an email through his spokesman that he favored her replacement, upstate Republican congresswoman Elise Stefanik. “Unlike the false narrative being pushed about what this is all about, the biggest reason why a change needs to be made is that when you are the conference chair it’s especially never all about you. That is not the situation faced presently with Cheney in that role,” he wrote. On the formation of a commission to investigate events of Jan. 6, he said: “An overwhelming majority of Republicans have condemned the violence at the Capitol on January 6, bipartisan investigations are already underway in several committees, the Department of Justice has made more than 400 arrests connected to January 6, with more to come, and the Architect of the Capitol is reviewing ways to improve security and eliminate vulnerabilities within the Capitol complex. “The duties of the proposed commission are already being carried out, but Speaker Pelosi wants to politicize this issue and distract from her party’s disastrous policies that are depressing the workforce and slowing economic growth.” America needs to know exactly what happened that day, who supported it and which elected officials may have encouraged and supported this horrific attack on our democracy. A commission — if the House and Senate approve it — can provide the answers. It is also disturbing that Ms. Cheney, a conservative Republican, was tossed from her leadership post for calling out those who deny the Biden victory and for warning that a democracy cannot last long if its leaders lie. In Gov. Reagan’s 1967 speech, he went on to say this about freedom: “It is not ours by way of inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. And those in world history who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again.” Those who respect the Constitution and the rule of law must win this struggle.
This is the story of how our inability to confront our racist history is fueling a right-wing misinformation campaign against our schools, resulting in contentious, partisan school board elections in district after district around the country.
School board elections tend to be low turnout, non-partisan events. But for many districts, this year is different. On Long Island where I live, one of those races is taking place in the Smithtown Central School District. Three challengers are trying to unseat the incumbents who are up for reelection on May 18th in a campaign unlike any school board election Smithtown has ever seen.
This was before vaccines and when the CDC was still recommending six feet between desks. The only way to achieve that was to have half the usual number of children in the classroom at any given time. The schools had moved from all remote learning at the beginning of the lockdown to the hybrid model last fall, just like the vast majority of schools in Suffolk County, but these protesting parents claimed that the board wasn’t trying hard enough to bring their children back full time. They did not view the decision as being in good faith. They claimed it was a conspiracy between the board and the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) to favor teachers over students.
This past spring, all students came back full time, with almost all teachers and staff being vaccinated and new CDC guidelines. But that did not quiet the protests or the spread of misinformation. They evolved from COVID to the right’s newest boogeyman, critical race theory (CRT). If you are not a consumer of Fox News and other right-wing media, where it has been a major focus for years, you probably never heard of CRT until recently. I know I had not.
Last month, Newsweek focused on states, such as Idaho, passing laws banning CRT from their schools. Below is an excerpt from that article:
Kendall Thomas, a law professor at Columbia University and co-editor of Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement, told Newsweek: “CRT maps the nature and workings of ‘institutional racism.’ CRT challenges us to see that racial injustice in America is not, and has never been, just a problem of isolated instances of individual bias and private prejudice which we can solve by enacting ‘color-blind’ laws and policies.”
He added, “The right-wing weaponization of CRT aims to shut down a difficult but necessary conversation about race, racism and the future of democracy in America. The architects of these anti-CRT laws want Americans to stop talking about institutional racism, even if it means trafficking in the reckless politics of racial division they say they oppose.”
The Washington Post published a lengthy article this week about the CRT controversy under the headline, “As schools expand racial equity work, conservatives see a new threat in critical race theory.” It opens with the following sentence: “The nation’s reckoning over race has reached thousands of U.S. schools, and so, too, has a conservative backlash.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2021/05/03/critical-race-theory-backlash/
Michelle Goldberg, in a May 3rd column in The New York Times, entitled, “Why the Right Loves Public School Culture Wars,” wrote, “The Christian Coalition took off during Bill Clinton’s presidency, when the religious right engaged locally because it felt shut out of national power. Clearly some conservatives think that opposition to critical race theory could be the seed of something similar. Telling parents that liberals want to make their kids hate their country and feel guilty for being white might be absurd and cynical. It also looks like it might be effective.” https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/03/opinion/public-school-culture-wars.html
I read all the articles. I understood what the right hoped to gain from weaponizing the fears of their base. But I still did not understand why CRT, in and of itself, was controversial. The country was founded on protecting slavery, a Civil War was fought over it and Jim Crow was a Supreme Court sanctioned system of apartheid. Of course, we have systemic racism. Is it better than it was? No one is claiming it isn’t. But to deny that systemic racism still exists in our institutions seems, to me, to require a willful blindness.
As Charles Blow, columnist for The New York Times explained in a column this week, entitled,” Is America Racist?”, “Some will concede the historical point and insist on the progress point, arguing that was then and this is now, that racism simply doesn’t exist now as it did then. I would agree. American racism has evolved and become less blunt, but it has not become less effective. The knife has simply been sharpened. Now systems do the work that once required the overt actions of masses of individual racists.” https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/02/opinion/america-racism.html
One sign of just how charged this issue has become was my inability to convince anyone I spoke to about the Smithtown school board race to go on the record. People supporting the incumbent school board members only felt comfortable speaking to me on background. They were too afraid of being targeted if their names were used. People aligned with the challengers refused to speak to me at all.
When was the moment that the Smithtown parent protests morphed from focusing on COVID to the school board race and CRT? The earliest sign I found was a website called Save Our Schools that went online the end of last year. You might remember the Save Our Schools phrase from a movement a few years ago that supported higher pay for teachers and more equity in public education. This new SOS website had nothing to do with that movement, other than appropriating the name. It was filled with inflammatory rhetoric and accusations that sounded a lot like McCarthy-era fearmongering:
Critical Race Theory was polished in the 1950s and by the time the counterculture phenomena exploded in the 1960s with postmodernism’s entrance into the world’s philosophical framework in the 1970s, it had become a guiding manifesto for action by radical elements like the terrorists at the Black Panther Movement. Today, its contemporary offspring, Black Lives Matter (BLM) along with its symbiotic associate, Antifa, continue the “war of liberation”. https://saveourschools.me/knowledge-is-power/
I came across an earlier newsletter that was circulating on social media, but was no longer on the website. This one specifically tied the three school board challengers to the SOS website. One of the challengers, Stacy Murphy, is the parent who spoke during the 5 Days to Thrive protests. Below are screenshots of that three-page earlier newsletter.
The website and the newsletter were not the only sources online. Partisan groups started posting about it on social media, all of them spreading the same misinformation about CRT and the school district. They included: Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin, who represents Smithtown, and has announced he is running for governor of New York next year; a fringe group of the Smithtown Republican Party; and the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association (PBA), the police union.
It was highly unusual for any organization, other than NYSUT, to endorse school board candidates. It was particularly upsetting for some residents to see the police union get involved. One Suffolk PBA post went so far as to name a Smithtown teacher and labeled him anti-police because he had signed an online Black Lives Matter petition against having armed policemen, as opposed to security guards, in the school. The PBA used this one teacher as their example of the school’s war on police, which could be stopped only by voting for the three challengers.
I called up the Suffolk PBA and asked for the press office. I stated that I am a journalist with an online blog and I was working on an article about the Smithtown School Board election. I had two questions. Why was the police union getting involved and could you please take down the post that named the teacher? Given the climate, it felt dangerous to me. I was told that the teacher’s social media post was public and therefore fair game. He then said he had no comment for my article and hung up the phone.
I reached out to the three challengers’ campaign through their Facebook page and asked them for an interview. I posed the same question, asking why was the police union getting involved? They did not respond.
The Smithtown BOE tried to remain positive and stick with an upbeat campaign for the three incumbents running for reelection. I shared their virtual postcard on Facebook. The postcard features the incumbents’ accomplishments and the text that accompanied it reminded residents to vote on May 18th for a board that had shown their support for public education.
But by this time, the anti-CRT messages were going viral on social media. In public and private Facebook groups, heated discussions were taking place for and against CRT, even though there was no evidence that critical race theory was even taught in the Smithtown schools. At the recent school board meetings, the challengers’ supporters were loud and confrontative. It seemed to take the board, which had only just come back to in-person meetings, by surprise. Recordings of the meetings are on the BOE website. http://www.smithtown.k12.ny.us/boardofeducation/board_meeting_audio.
It became clear that the board needed to address the misinformation powering the challengers’ campaign head on. They released the following letter to all Smithtown residents, in both an email and on the district’s public Facebook page.
How astonishing that a school board needed to publicly explain what they were not doing. Will the letter be enough? There is one more school board meeting, on May 11th, for them to make their case to the public and for parents to ask more questions. The more people understand what is driving this challenge, the more they can make an informed decision. While Smithtown is a conservative-leaning community, a Republican stronghold, I highly doubt they want school board members influenced by misinformation and conspiracies making decisions about the welfare of the teachers and students in their school system.
And for the rest of us, we need to keep a close eye on this new right-wing dog whistle and how it is being employed. In 2009, the Tea Party ran a racially charged misinformation campaign against the first African American president and the passing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Then, their dog whistles were “birtherism” “death panels” and “socialism.” They successfully rode that campaign back to power, taking back the House in the 2010, the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016. I have no doubt that is the intent here.
In a recent letter to the editor, David Pappert, Andrew Sheridan, Rick Gagliardi and Kathy Malenick endorse Rep.Lee Zeldin for governor.
Let me remind readers that this is the same Lee Zeldin who joined with 125 other GOP members of the House to overturn the 2020 election. Even though there was no credible evidence of election fraud, even though 60 court cases on the issue were lost, even though AG Barr and the Supreme Court determined there was no election fraud, even though Trump’s own cybersecurity official claimed this was the safest election in history, Lee Zeldin parroted the Trump line and voted to overturn the will of the people.
Zeldin’s support of Trump’s Big Lie extends to the support he offered Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene when she was removed from committee assignments based on her hateful speech and her support of conspiracy theories. Zeldin’s defense was this: “I strongly disagree with Congresswoman Greene’s statements prior to her entry to Congress, which peddled bizarre conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic tropes, and perpetuated dangerous falsehoods about the September 11 attacks. They were indefensible, wacky, harmful, and wrong.”
Yet, he voted to support her.
In my view, any legislator who participates in the fabrication that Biden is not duly elected president of the United States is not fit to serve as Governor of New York. Any legislator who puts loyalty to a defeated and disgraced (twice impeached) former president above the rule of law is not fit to serve as governor. Zeldin is a Trump cult member, and as such, in my view, he does not even deserve to serve in Congress let alone become governor of New York.
I certainly hope the GOP comes up with a more worthy candidate.
Reprinted with permission. First appeared in medium.com here and in the bulletin.org here. Check out the comments at both of these sites.
Members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus arrive by car at the Wuhan Institute of Virology on February 3. (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives the world over for more than a year. Its death toll will soon reach three million people. Yet the origin of pandemic remains uncertain: The political agendas of governments and scientists have generated thick clouds of obfuscation, which the mainstream press seems helpless to dispel.
In what follows I will sort through the available scientific facts, which hold many clues as to what happened, and provide readers with the evidence to make their own judgments. I will then try to assess the complex issue of blame, which starts with, but extends far beyond, the government of China.
By the end of this article, you may have learned a lot about the molecular biology of viruses. I will try to keep this process as painless as possible. But the science cannot be avoided because for now, and probably for a long time hence, it offers the only sure thread through the maze.
The virus that caused the pandemic is known officially as SARS-CoV-2, but can be called SARS2 for short. As many people know, there are two main theories about its origin. One is that it jumped naturally from wildlife to people. The other is that the virus was under study in a lab, from which it escaped. It matters a great deal which is the case if we hope to prevent a second such occurrence.
I’ll describe the two theories, explain why each is plausible, and then ask which provides the better explanation of the available facts. It’s important to note that so far there is no direct evidence for either theory. Each depends on a set of reasonable conjectures but so far lacks proof. So I have only clues, not conclusions, to offer. But those clues point in a specific direction. And having inferred that direction, I’m going to delineate some of the strands in this tangled skein of disaster.
A tale of two theories. After the pandemic first broke out in December 2019, Chinese authorities reported that many cases had occurred in the wet market — a place selling wild animals for meat — in Wuhan. This reminded experts of the SARS1 epidemic of 2002, in which a bat virus had spread first to civets, an animal sold in wet markets, and from civets to people. A similar bat virus caused a second epidemic, known as MERS, in 2012. This time the intermediary host animal was camels.
The decoding of the virus’s genome showed it belonged a viral family known as beta-coronaviruses, to which the SARS1 and MERS viruses also belong. The relationship supported the idea that, like them, it was a natural virus that had managed to jump from bats, via another animal host, to people. The wet market connection, the major point of similarity with the SARS1 and MERS epidemics, was soon broken: Chinese researchers found earlier cases in Wuhan with no link to the wet market. But that seemed not to matter when so much further evidence in support of natural emergence was expected shortly.
Wuhan, however, is home of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a leading world center for research on coronaviruses. So the possibility that the SARS2 virus had escaped from the lab could not be ruled out. Two reasonable scenarios of origin were on the table.
From early on, public and media perceptions were shaped in favor of the natural emergence scenario by strong statements from two scientific groups. These statements were not at first examined as critically as they should have been.
“We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” a group of virologists and others wrote in the Lancet on February 19, 2020, when it was really far too soon for anyone to be sure what had happened. Scientists “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife,” they said, with a stirring rallying call for readers to stand with Chinese colleagues on the frontline of fighting the disease.
Contrary to the letter writers’ assertion, the idea that the virus might have escaped from a lab invoked accident, not conspiracy. It surely needed to be explored, not rejected out of hand. A defining mark of good scientists is that they go to great pains to distinguish between what they know and what they don’t know. By this criterion, the signatories of the Lancet letter were behaving as poor scientists: They were assuring the public of facts they could not know for sure were true.
It later turned out that the Lancet letter had been organized and drafted by Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance of New York. Daszak’s organization funded coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. If the SARS2 virus had indeed escaped from research he funded, Daszak would be potentially culpable. This acute conflict of interest was not declared to the Lancet’s readers. To the contrary, the letter concluded, “We declare no competing interests.”
Virologists like Daszak had much at stake in the assigning of blame for the pandemic. For 20 years, mostly beneath the public’s attention, they had been playing a dangerous game. In their laboratories they routinely created viruses more dangerous than those that exist in nature. They argued that they could do so safely, and that by getting ahead of nature they could predict and prevent natural “spillovers,” the cross-over of viruses from an animal host to people. If SARS2 had indeed escaped from such a laboratory experiment, a savage blowback could be expected, and the storm of public indignation would affect virologists everywhere, not just in China. “It would shatter the scientific edifice top to bottom,” an MIT Technology Review editor, Antonio Regalado, said in March 2020.
A second statement that had enormous influence in shaping public attitudes was a letter (in other words an opinion piece, not a scientific article) published on 17 March 2020 in the journal Nature Medicine. Its authors were a group of virologists led by Kristian G. Andersen of the Scripps Research Institute. “Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus,” the five virologists declared in the second paragraph of their letter.
Unfortunately, this was another case of poor science, in the sense defined above. True, some older methods of cutting and pasting viral genomes retain tell-tale signs of manipulation. But newer methods, called “no-see-um” or “seamless” approaches, leave no defining marks. Nor do other methods for manipulating viruses such as serial passage, the repeated transfer of viruses from one culture of cells to another. If a virus has been manipulated, whether with a seamless method or by serial passage, there is no way of knowing that this is the case. Andersen and his colleagues were assuring their readers of something they could not know.
The discussion part of their letter begins, “It is improbable that SARS-CoV-2 emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related SARS-CoV-like coronavirus.” But wait, didn’t the lead say the virus had clearly not been manipulated? The authors’ degree of certainty seemed to slip several notches when it came to laying out their reasoning.
The reason for the slippage is clear once the technical language has been penetrated. The two reasons the authors give for supposing manipulation to be improbable are decidedly inconclusive.
First, they say that the spike protein of SARS2 binds very well to its target, the human ACE2 receptor, but does so in a different way from that which physical calculations suggest would be the best fit. Therefore the virus must have arisen by natural selection, not manipulation.
If this argument seems hard to grasp, it’s because it’s so strained. The authors’ basic assumption, not spelt out, is that anyone trying to make a bat virus bind to human cells could do so in only one way. First they would calculate the strongest possible fit between the human ACE2 receptor and the spike protein with which the virus latches onto it. They would then design the spike protein accordingly (by selecting the right string of amino acid units that compose it). Since the SARS2 spike protein is not of this calculated best design, the Andersen paper says, therefore it can’t have been manipulated.
But this ignores the way that virologists do in fact get spike proteins to bind to chosen targets, which is not by calculation but by splicing in spike protein genes from other viruses or by serial passage. With serial passage, each time the virus’s progeny are transferred to new cell cultures or animals, the more successful are selected until one emerges that makes a really tight bind to human cells. Natural selection has done all the heavy lifting. The Andersen paper’s speculation about designing a viral spike protein through calculation has no bearing on whether or not the virus was manipulated by one of the other two methods.
The authors’ second argument against manipulation is even more contrived. Although most living things use DNA as their hereditary material, a number of viruses use RNA, DNA’s close chemical cousin. But RNA is difficult to manipulate, so researchers working on coronaviruses, which are RNA-based, will first convert the RNA genome to DNA. They manipulate the DNA version, whether by adding or altering genes, and then arrange for the manipulated DNA genome to be converted back into infectious RNA.
Only a certain number of these DNA backbones have been described in the scientific literature. Anyone manipulating the SARS2 virus “would probably” have used one of these known backbones, the Andersen group writes, and since SARS2 is not derived from any of them, therefore it was not manipulated. But the argument is conspicuously inconclusive. DNA backbones are quite easy to make, so it’s obviously possible that SARS2 was manipulated using an unpublished DNA backbone.
And that’s it. These are the two arguments made by the Andersen group in support of their declaration that the SARS2 virus was clearly not manipulated. And this conclusion, grounded in nothing but two inconclusive speculations, convinced the world’s press that SARS2 could not have escaped from a lab. A technical critique of the Andersen letter takes it down in harsher words.
Science is supposedly a self-correcting community of experts who constantly check each other’s work. So why didn’t other virologists point out that the Andersen group’s argument was full of absurdly large holes? Perhaps because in today’s universities speech can be very costly. Careers can be destroyed for stepping out of line. Any virologist who challenges the community’s declared view risks having his next grant application turned down by the panel of fellow virologists that advises the government grant distribution agency.
The Daszak and Andersen letters were really political, not scientific, statements, yet were amazingly effective. Articles in the mainstream press repeatedly stated that a consensus of experts had ruled lab escape out of the question or extremely unlikely. Their authors relied for the most part on the Daszak and Andersen letters, failing to understand the yawning gaps in their arguments. Mainstream newspapers all have science journalists on their staff, as do the major networks, and these specialist reporters are supposed to be able to question scientists and check their assertions. But the Daszak and Andersen assertions went largely unchallenged.
Doubts about natural emergence. Natural emergence was the media’s preferred theory until around February 2021 and the visit by a World Health Organization (WHO) commission to China. The commission’s composition and access were heavily controlled by the Chinese authorities. Its members, who included the ubiquitous Daszak, kept asserting before, during, and after their visit that lab escape was extremely unlikely. But this was not quite the propaganda victory the Chinese authorities may have been hoping for. What became clear was that the Chinese had no evidence to offer the commission in support of the natural emergence theory.
This was surprising because both the SARS1 and MERS viruses had left copious traces in the environment. The intermediary host species of SARS1 was identified within four months of the epidemic’s outbreak, and the host of MERS within nine months. Yet some 15 months after the SARS2 pandemic began, and after a presumably intensive search, Chinese researchers had failed to find either the original bat population, or the intermediate species to which SARS2 might have jumped, or any serological evidence that any Chinese population, including that of Wuhan, had ever been exposed to the virus prior to December 2019. Natural emergence remained a conjecture which, however plausible to begin with, had gained not a shred of supporting evidence in over a year.
And as long as that remains the case, it’s logical to pay serious attention to the alternative conjecture, that SARS2 escaped from a lab.
Why would anyone want to create a novel virus capable of causing a pandemic? Ever since virologists gained the tools for manipulating a virus’s genes, they have argued they could get ahead of a potential pandemic by exploring how close a given animal virus might be to making the jump to humans. And that justified lab experiments in enhancing the ability of dangerous animal viruses to infect people, virologists asserted.
With this rationale, they have recreated the 1918 flu virus, shown how the almost extinct polio virus can be synthesized from its published DNA sequence, and introduced a smallpox gene into a related virus.
These enhancements of viral capabilities are known blandly as gain-of-function experiments. With coronaviruses, there was particular interest in the spike proteins, which jut out all around the spherical surface of the virus and pretty much determine which species of animal it will target. In 2000 Dutch researchers, for instance, earned the gratitude of rodents everywhere by genetically engineering the spike protein of a mouse coronavirus so that it would attack only cats.
Virologists started studying bat coronaviruses in earnest after these turned out to be the source of both the SARS1 and MERS epidemics. In particular, researchers wanted to understand what changes needed to occur in a bat virus’s spike proteins before it could infect people.
Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, led by China’s leading expert on bat viruses, Shi Zheng-li or “Bat Lady,” mounted frequent expeditions to the bat-infested caves of Yunnan in southern China and collected around a hundred different bat coronaviruses.
Shi then teamed up with Ralph S. Baric, an eminent coronavirus researcher at the University of North Carolina. Their work focused on enhancing the ability of bat viruses to attack humans so as to “examine the emergence potential (that is, the potential to infect humans) of circulating bat CoVs [coronaviruses].” In pursuit of this aim, in November 2015 they created a novel virus by taking the backbone of the SARS1 virus and replacing its spike protein with one from a bat virus (known as SHC014-CoV). This manufactured virus was able to infect the cells of the human airway, at least when tested against a lab culture of such cells.
The SHC014-CoV/SARS1 virus is known as a chimera because its genome contains genetic material from two strains of virus. If the SARS2 virus were to have been cooked up in Shi’s lab, then its direct prototype would have been the SHC014-CoV/SARS1 chimera, the potential danger of which concerned many observers and prompted intense discussion.
“If the virus escaped, nobody could predict the trajectory,” said Simon Wain-Hobson, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris.
Baric and Shi referred to the obvious risks in their paper but argued they should be weighed against the benefit of foreshadowing future spillovers. Scientific review panels, they wrote, “may deem similar studies building chimeric viruses based on circulating strains too risky to pursue.” Given various restrictions being placed on gain-of function (GOF) research, matters had arrived in their view at “a crossroads of GOF research concerns; the potential to prepare for and mitigate future outbreaks must be weighed against the risk of creating more dangerous pathogens. In developing policies moving forward, it is important to consider the value of the data generated by these studies and whether these types of chimeric virus studies warrant further investigation versus the inherent risks involved.”
That statement was made in 2015. From the hindsight of 2021, one can say that the value of gain-of-function studies in preventing the SARS2 epidemic was zero. The risk was catastrophic, if indeed the SARS2 virus was generated in a gain-of-function experiment.
Inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Baric had developed, and taught Shi, a general method for engineering bat coronaviruses to attack other species. The specific targets were human cells grown in cultures and humanized mice. These laboratory mice, a cheap and ethical stand-in for human subjects, are genetically engineered to carry the human version of a protein called ACE2 that studs the surface of cells that line the airways.
Shi returned to her lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and resumed the work she had started on genetically engineering coronaviruses to attack human cells. How can we be so sure?
Because, by a strange twist in the story, her work was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a part of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). And grant proposals that funded her work, which are a matter of public record, specify exactly what she planned to do with the money.
The grants were assigned to the prime contractor, Daszak of the EcoHealth Alliance, who subcontracted them to Shi. Here are extracts from the grants for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. (“CoV” stands for coronavirus and “S protein” refers to the virus’s spike protein.)
“Test predictions of CoV inter-species transmission. Predictive models of host range (i.e. emergence potential) will be tested experimentally using reverse genetics, pseudovirus and receptor binding assays, and virus infection experiments across a range of cell cultures from different species and humanized mice.”
“We will use S protein sequence data, infectious clone technology, in vitro and in vivo infection experiments and analysis of receptor binding to test the hypothesis that % divergence thresholds in S protein sequences predict spillover potential.”
What this means, in non-technical language, is that Shi set out to create novel coronaviruses with the highest possible infectivity for human cells. Her plan was to take genes that coded for spike proteins possessing a variety of measured affinities for human cells, ranging from high to low. She would insert these spike genes one by one into the backbone of a number of viral genomes (“reverse genetics” and “infectious clone technology”), creating a series of chimeric viruses. These chimeric viruses would then be tested for their ability to attack human cell cultures (“in vitro”) and humanized mice (“in vivo”). And this information would help predict the likelihood of “spillover,” the jump of a coronavirus from bats to people.
The methodical approach was designed to find the best combination of coronavirus backbone and spike protein for infecting human cells. The approach could have generated SARS2-like viruses, and indeed may have created the SARS2 virus itself with the right combination of virus backbone and spike protein.
It cannot yet be stated that Shi did or did not generate SARS2 in her lab because her records have been sealed, but it seems she was certainly on the right track to have done so. “It is clear that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was systematically constructing novel chimeric coronaviruses and was assessing their ability to infect human cells and human-ACE2-expressing mice,” says Richard H. Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University and leading expert on biosafety.
“It is also clear,” Ebright said, “that, depending on the constant genomic contexts chosen for analysis, this work could have produced SARS-CoV-2 or a proximal progenitor of SARS-CoV-2.” “Genomic context” refers to the particular viral backbone used as the testbed for the spike protein.
The lab escape scenario for the origin of the SARS2 virus, as should by now be evident, is not mere hand-waving in the direction of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. It is a detailed proposal, based on the specific project being funded there by the NIAID.
Even if the grant required the work plan described above, how can we be sure that the plan was in fact carried out? For that we can rely on the word of Daszak, who has been much protesting for the last 15 months that lab escape was a ludicrous conspiracy theory invented by China-bashers.
On December 9, 2019, before the outbreak of the pandemic became generally known, Daszak gave an interview in which he talked in glowing terms of how researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology had been reprogramming the spike protein and generating chimeric coronaviruses capable of infecting humanized mice.
“And we have now found, you know, after 6 or 7 years of doing this, over 100 new SARS-related coronaviruses, very close to SARS,” Daszak says around minute 28 of the interview. “Some of them get into human cells in the lab, some of them can cause SARS disease in humanized mice models and are untreatable with therapeutic monoclonals and you can’t vaccinate against them with a vaccine. So, these are a clear and present danger….RELATED:Uncanceled: Banned from Facebook, Trump reaches millions on TV
“Interviewer: You say these are diverse coronaviruses and you can’t vaccinate against them, and no anti-virals — so what do we do?
“Daszak: Well I think…coronaviruses — you can manipulate them in the lab pretty easily. Spike protein drives a lot of what happen with coronavirus, in zoonotic risk. So you can get the sequence, you can build the protein, and we work a lot with Ralph Baric at UNC to do this. Insert into the backbone of another virus and do some work in the lab. So you can get more predictive when you find a sequence. You’ve got this diversity. Now the logical progression for vaccines is, if you are going to develop a vaccine for SARS, people are going to use pandemic SARS, but let’s insert some of these other things and get a better vaccine.” The insertions he referred to perhaps included an element called the furin cleavage site, discussed below, which greatly increases viral infectivity for human cells.
In disjointed style, Daszak is referring to the fact that once you have generated a novel coronavirus that can attack human cells, you can take the spike protein and make it the basis for a vaccine.
One can only imagine Daszak’s reaction when he heard of the outbreak of the epidemic in Wuhan a few days later. He would have known better than anyone the Wuhan Institute’s goal of making bat coronaviruses infectious to humans, as well as the weaknesses in the institute’s defense against their own researchers becoming infected.
But instead of providing public health authorities with the plentiful information at his disposal, he immediately launched a public relations campaign to persuade the world that the epidemic couldn’t possibly have been caused by one of the institute’s souped-up viruses. “The idea that this virus escaped from a lab is just pure baloney. It’s simply not true,” he declared in an April 2020 interview.
The safety arrangements at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Daszak was possibly unaware of, or perhaps he knew all too well, the long history of viruses escaping from even the best run laboratories. The smallpox virus escaped three times from labs in England in the 1960’s and 1970’s, causing 80 cases and 3 deaths. Dangerous viruses have leaked out of labs almost every year since. Coming to more recent times, the SARS1 virus has proved a true escape artist, leaking from laboratories in Singapore, Taiwan, and no less than four times from the Chinese National Institute of Virology in Beijing.
One reason for SARS1 being so hard to handle is that there were no vaccines available to protect laboratory workers. As Daszak mentioned in the December 19 interview quoted above, the Wuhan researchers too had been unable to develop vaccines against the coronaviruses they had designed to infect human cells. They would have been as defenseless against the SARS2 virus, if it were generated in their lab, as their Beijing colleagues were against SARS1.
A second reason for the severe danger of novel coronaviruses has to do with the required levels of lab safety. There are four degrees of safety, designated BSL1 to BSL4, with BSL4 being the most restrictive and designed for deadly pathogens like the Ebola virus.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology had a new BSL4 lab, but its state of readiness considerably alarmed the State Department inspectors who visited it from the Beijing embassy in 2018. “The new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” the inspectors wrote in a cable of January 19, 2018.
The real problem, however, was not the unsafe state of the Wuhan BSL4 lab but the fact that virologists worldwide don’t like working in BSL4 conditions. You have to wear a space suit, do operations in closed cabinets, and accept that everything will take twice as long. So the rules assigning each kind of virus to a given safety level were laxer than some might think was prudent.
Before 2020, the rules followed by virologists in China and elsewhere required that experiments with the SARS1 and MERS viruses be conducted in BSL3 conditions. But all other bat coronaviruses could be studied in BSL2, the next level down. BSL2 requires taking fairly minimal safety precautions, such as wearing lab coats and gloves, not sucking up liquids in a pipette, and putting up biohazard warning signs. Yet a gain-of-function experiment conducted in BSL2 might produce an agent more infectious than either SARS1 or MERS. And if it did, then lab workers would stand a high chance of infection, especially if unvaccinated.
Much of Shi’s work on gain-of-function in coronaviruses was performed at the BSL2 safety level, as is stated in her publications and other documents. She has said in an interview with Science magazine that “[t]he coronavirus research in our laboratory is conducted in BSL-2 or BSL-3 laboratories.”
“It is clear that some or all of this work was being performed using a biosafety standard — biosafety level 2, the biosafety level of a standard US dentist’s office — that would pose an unacceptably high risk of infection of laboratory staff upon contact with a virus having the transmission properties of SARS-CoV-2,” Ebright says.
“It also is clear,” he adds, “that this work never should have been funded and never should have been performed.”
This is a view he holds regardless of whether or not the SARS2 virus ever saw the inside of a lab.
Concern about safety conditions at the Wuhan lab was not, it seems, misplaced. According to a fact sheet issued by the State Department on January 21, 2021, “The U.S. government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.”
David Asher, a fellow of the Hudson Institute and former consultant to the State Department, provided more detail about the incident at a seminar. Knowledge of the incident came from a mix of public information and “some high end information collected by our intelligence community,” he said. Three people working at a BSL3 lab at the institute fell sick within a week of each other with severe symptoms that required hospitalization. This was “the first known cluster that we’re aware of, of victims of what we believe to be COVID-19.” Influenza could not completely be ruled out but seemed unlikely in the circumstances, he said.
Comparing the rival scenarios of SARS2 origin. The evidence above adds up to a serious case that the SARS2 virus could have been created in a lab, from which it then escaped. But the case, however substantial, falls short of proof. Proof would consist of evidence from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, or related labs in Wuhan, that SARS2 or a predecessor virus was under development there. For lack of access to such records, another approach is to take certain salient facts about the SARS2 virus and ask how well each is explained by the two rival scenarios of origin, those of natural emergence and lab escape. Here are four tests of the two hypotheses. A couple have some technical detail, but these are among the most persuasive for those who may care to follow the argument.
1)The place of origin. Start with geography. The two closest known relatives of the SARS2 virus were collected from bats living in caves in Yunnan, a province of southern China. If the SARS2 virus had first infected people living around the Yunnan caves, that would strongly support the idea that the virus had spilled over to people naturally. But this isn’t what happened. The pandemic broke out 1,500 kilometers away, in Wuhan.
Beta-coronaviruses, the family of bat viruses to which SARS2 belongs, infect the horseshoe bat Rhinolophus affinis, which ranges across southern China. The bats’ range is 50 kilometers, so it’s unlikely that any made it to Wuhan. In any case, the first cases of the COVID-19 pandemic probably occurred in September, when temperatures in Hubei province are already cold enough to send bats into hibernation.
What if the bat viruses infected some intermediate host first? You would need a longstanding population of bats in frequent proximity with an intermediate host, which in turn must often cross paths with people. All these exchanges of virus must take place somewhere outside Wuhan, a busy metropolis which so far as is known is not a natural habitat of Rhinolophus bat colonies. The infected person (or animal) carrying this highly transmissible virus must have traveled to Wuhan without infecting anyone else. No one in his or her family got sick. If the person jumped on a train to Wuhan, no fellow passengers fell ill.
It’s a stretch, in other words, to get the pandemic to break out naturally outside Wuhan and then, without leaving any trace, to make its first appearance there.
For the lab escape scenario, a Wuhan origin for the virus is a no-brainer. Wuhan is home to China’s leading center of coronavirus research where, as noted above, researchers were genetically engineering bat coronaviruses to attack human cells. They were doing so under the minimal safety conditions of a BSL2 lab. If a virus with the unexpected infectiousness of SARS2 had been generated there, its escape would be no surprise.
“When I first saw the furin cleavage site in the viral sequence, with its arginine codons, I said to my wife it was the smoking gun for the origin of the virus,” said David Baltimore, an eminent virologist and former president of the California Institute of Technology, often known as CalTech. “These features make a powerful challenge to the idea of a natural origin for SARS2,” he said. (1)
2)Natural history and evolution. The initial location of the pandemic is a small part of a larger problem, that of its natural history. Viruses don’t just make one time jumps from one species to another. The coronavirus spike protein, adapted to attack bat cells, needs repeated jumps to another species, most of which fail, before it gains a lucky mutation. Mutation — a change in one of its RNA units — causes a different amino acid unit to be incorporated into its spike protein and makes the spike protein better able to attack the cells of some other species.
Through several more such mutation-driven adjustments, the virus adapts to its new host, say some animal with which bats are in frequent contact. The whole process then resumes as the virus moves from this intermediate host to people.
In the case of SARS1, researchers have documented the successive changes in its spike protein as the virus evolved step by step into a dangerous pathogen. After it had gotten from bats into civets, there were six further changes in its spike protein before it became a mild pathogen in people. After a further 14 changes, the virus was much better adapted to humans, and with a further four, the epidemic took off.
But when you look for the fingerprints of a similar transition in SARS2, a strange surprise awaits. The virus has changed hardly at all, at least until recently. From its very first appearance, it was well adapted to human cells. Researchers led by Alina Chan of the Broad Institute compared SARS2 with late stage SARS1, which by then was well adapted to human cells, and found that the two viruses were similarly well adapted. “By the time SARS-CoV-2 was first detected in late 2019, it was already pre-adapted to human transmission to an extent similar to late epidemic SARS-CoV,” they wrote.
Even those who think lab origin unlikely agree that SARS2 genomes are remarkably uniform. Baric writes that “early strains identified in Wuhan, China, showed limited genetic diversity, which suggests that the virus may have been introduced from a single source.”
A single source would of course be compatible with lab escape, less so with the massive variation and selection which is evolution’s hallmark way of doing business.
The uniform structure of SARS2 genomes gives no hint of any passage through an intermediate animal host, and no such host has been identified in nature.
Proponents of natural emergence suggest that SARS2 incubated in a yet-to-be found human population before gaining its special properties. Or that it jumped to a host animal outside China.
All these conjectures are possible, but strained. Proponents of a lab leak have a simpler explanation. SARS2 was adapted to human cells from the start because it was grown in humanized mice or in lab cultures of human cells, just as described in Daszak’s grant proposal. Its genome shows little diversity because the hallmark of lab cultures is uniformity.
Proponents of laboratory escape joke that of course the SARS2 virus infected an intermediary host species before spreading to people, and that they have identified it — a humanized mouse from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
3)The furin cleavage site. The furin cleavage site is a minute part of the virus’s anatomy but one that exerts great influence on its infectivity. It sits in the middle of the SARS2 spike protein. It also lies at the heart of the puzzle of where the virus came from.
The spike protein has two sub-units with different roles. The first, called S1, recognizes the virus’s target, a protein called angiotensin converting enzyme-2 (or ACE2) which studs the surface of cells lining the human airways. The second, S2, helps the virus, once anchored to the cell, to fuse with the cell’s membrane. After the virus’s outer membrane has coalesced with that of the stricken cell, the viral genome is injected into the cell, hijacks its protein-making machinery and forces it to generate new viruses.
But this invasion cannot begin until the S1 and S2 subunits have been cut apart. And there, right at the S1/S2 junction, is the furin cleavage site that ensures the spike protein will be cleaved in exactly the right place.
The virus, a model of economic design, does not carry its own cleaver. It relies on the cell to do the cleaving for it. Human cells have a protein cutting tool on their surface known as furin. Furin will cut any protein chain that carries its signature target cutting site. This is the sequence of amino acid units proline-arginine-arginine-alanine, or PRRA in the code that refers to each amino acid by a letter of the alphabet. PRRA is the amino acid sequence at the core of SARS2’s furin cleavage site.
Viruses have all kinds of clever tricks, so why does the furin cleavage site stand out? Because of all known SARS-related beta-coronaviruses, only SARS2 possesses a furin cleavage site. All the other viruses have their S2 unit cleaved at a different site and by a different mechanism.
How then did SARS2 acquire its furin cleavage site? Either the site evolved naturally, or it was inserted by researchers at the S1/S2 junction in a gain-of-function experiment.
Consider natural origin first. Two ways viruses evolve are by mutation and by recombination. Mutation is the process of random change in DNA (or RNA for coronaviruses) that usually results in one amino acid in a protein chain being switched for another. Many of these changes harm the virus but natural selection retains the few that do something useful. Mutation is the process by which the SARS1 spike protein gradually switched its preferred target cells from those of bats to civets, and then to humans.
Mutation seems a less likely way for SARS2’s furin cleavage site to be generated, even though it can’t completely be ruled out. The site’s four amino acid units are all together, and all at just the right place in the S1/S2 junction. Mutation is a random process triggered by copying errors (when new viral genomes are being generated) or by chemical decay of genomic units. So it typically affects single amino acids at different spots in a protein chain. A string of amino acids like that of the furin cleavage site is much more likely to be acquired all together through a quite different process known as recombination.
Recombination is an inadvertent swapping of genomic material that occurs when two viruses happen to invade the same cell, and their progeny are assembled with bits and pieces of RNA belonging to the other. Beta-coronaviruses will only combine with other beta-coronaviruses but can acquire, by recombination, almost any genetic element present in the collective genomic pool. What they cannot acquire is an element the pool does not possess. And no known SARS-related beta-coronavirus, the class to which SARS2 belongs, possesses a furin cleavage site.
Proponents of natural emergence say SARS2 could have picked up the site from some as yet unknown beta-coronavirus. But bat SARS-related beta-coronaviruses evidently don’t need a furin cleavage site to infect bat cells, so there’s no great likelihood that any in fact possesses one, and indeed none has been found so far.
The proponents’ next argument is that SARS2 acquired its furin cleavage site from people. A predecessor of SARS2 could have been circulating in the human population for months or years until at some point it acquired a furin cleavage site from human cells. It would then have been ready to break out as a pandemic.
If this is what happened, there should be traces in hospital surveillance records of the people infected by the slowly evolving virus. But none has so far come to light. According to the WHO report on the origins of the virus, the sentinel hospitals in Hubei province, home of Wuhan, routinely monitor influenza-like illnesses and “no evidence to suggest substantial SARSCoV-2 transmission in the months preceding the outbreak in December was observed.”
So it’s hard to explain how the SARS2 virus picked up its furin cleavage site naturally, whether by mutation or recombination.
That leaves a gain-of-function experiment. For those who think SARS2 may have escaped from a lab, explaining the furin cleavage site is no problem at all. “Since 1992 the virology community has known that the one sure way to make a virus deadlier is to give it a furin cleavage site at the S1/S2 junction in the laboratory,” writes Steven Quay, a biotech entrepreneur interested in the origins of SARS2. “At least 11 gain-of-function experiments, adding a furin site to make a virus more infective, are published in the open literature, including [by] Dr. Zhengli Shi, head of coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
4)A question of codons. There’s another aspect of the furin cleavage site that narrows the path for a natural emergence origin even further.
As everyone knows (or may at least recall from high school), the genetic code uses three units of DNA to specify each amino acid unit of a protein chain. When read in groups of 3, the 4 different kinds of DNA can specify 4 x 4 x 4 or 64 different triplets, or codons as they are called. Since there are only 20 kinds of amino acid, there are more than enough codons to go around, allowing some amino acids to be specified by more than one codon. The amino acid arginine, for instance, can be designated by any of the six codons CGU, CGC, CGA, CGG, AGA or AGG, where A, U, G and C stand for the four different kinds of unit in RNA.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Different organisms have different codon preferences. Human cells like to designate arginine with the codons CGT, CGC or CGG. But CGG is coronavirus’s least popular codon for arginine. Keep that in mind when looking at how the amino acids in the furin cleavage site are encoded in the SARS2 genome.
Now the functional reason why SARS2 has a furin cleavage site, and its cousin viruses don’t, can be seen by lining up (in a computer) the string of nearly 30,000 nucleotides in its genome with those of its cousin coronaviruses, of which the closest so far known is one called RaTG13. Compared with RaTG13, SARS2 has a 12-nucleotide insert right at the S1/S2 junction. The insert is the sequence T-CCT-CGG-CGG-GC. The CCT codes for proline, the two CGG’s for two arginines, and the GC is the beginning of a GCA codon that codes for alanine.
There are several curious features about this insert but the oddest is that of the two side-by-side CGG codons. Only 5 percent of SARS2’s arginine codons are CGG, and the double codon CGG-CGG has not been found in any other beta-coronavirus. So how did SARS2 acquire a pair of arginine codons that are favored by human cells but not by coronaviruses?
Proponents of natural emergence have an up-hill task to explain all the features of SARS2’s furin cleavage site. They have to postulate a recombination event at a site on the virus’s genome where recombinations are rare, and the insertion of a 12-nucleotide sequence with a double arginine codon unknown in the beta-coronavirus repertoire, at the only site in the genome that would significantly expand the virus’s infectivity.RELATED:Why choose a career in art over nuclear policy? The money
“Yes, but your wording makes this sound unlikely — viruses are specialists at unusual events,” is the riposte of David L. Robertson, a virologist at the University of Glasgow who regards lab escape as a conspiracy theory. “Recombination is naturally very, very frequent in these viruses, there are recombination breakpoints in the spike protein and these codons appear unusual exactly because we’ve not sampled enough.”
Robertson is correct that evolution is always producing results that may seem unlikely but in fact are not. Viruses can generate untold numbers of variants but we see only the one-in-a-billion that natural selection picks for survival. But this argument could be pushed too far. For instance, any result of a gain-of-function experiment could be explained as one that evolution would have arrived at in time. And the numbers game can be played the other way. For the furin cleavage site to arise naturally in SARS2, a chain of events has to happen, each of which is quite unlikely for the reasons given above. A long chain with several improbable steps is unlikely to ever be completed.
For the lab escape scenario, the double CGG codon is no surprise. The human-preferred codon is routinely used in labs. So anyone who wanted to insert a furin cleavage site into the virus’s genome would synthesize the PRRA-making sequence in the lab and would be likely to use CGG codons to do so.
A third scenario of origin. There’s a variation on the natural emergence scenario that’s worth considering. This is the idea that SARS2 jumped directly from bats to humans, without going through an intermediate host as SARS1 and MERS did. A leading advocate is the virologist David Robertson who notes that SARS2 can attack several other species besides humans. He believes the virus evolved a generalist capability while still in bats. Because the bats it infects are widely distributed in southern and central China, the virus had ample opportunity to jump to people, even though it seems to have done so on only one known occasion. Robertson’s thesis explains why no one has so far found a trace of SARS2 in any intermediate host or in human populations surveilled before December 2019. It would also explain the puzzling fact that SARS2 has not changed since it first appeared in humans — it didn’t need to because it could already attack human cells efficiently.
One problem with this idea, though, is that if SARS2 jumped from bats to people in a single leap and hasn’t changed much since, it should still be good at infecting bats. And it seems it isn’t.
“Tested bat species are poorly infected by SARS-CoV-2 and they are therefore unlikely to be the direct source for human infection,” write a scientific group skeptical of natural emergence.
Still, Robertson may be onto something. The bat coronaviruses of the Yunnan caves can infect people directly. In April 2012 six miners clearing bat guano from the Mojiang mine contracted severe pneumonia with COVID-19-like symptoms and three eventually died. A virus isolated from the Mojiang mine, called RaTG13, is still the closest known relative of SARS2. Much mystery surrounds the origin, reporting and strangely low affinity of RaTG13 for bat cells, as well as the nature of 8 similar viruses that Shi reports she collected at the same time but has not yet published despite their great relevance to the ancestry of SARS2. But all that is a story for another time. The point here is that bat viruses can infect people directly, though only in special conditions.
So who else, besides miners excavating bat guano, comes into particularly close contact with bat coronaviruses? Well, coronavirus researchers do. Shi says she and her group collected more than 1,300 bat samples during some eight visits to the Mojiang cave between 2012 and 2015, and there were doubtless many expeditions to other Yunnan caves.
Imagine the researchers making frequent trips from Wuhan to Yunnan and back, stirring up bat guano in dark caves and mines, and now you begin to see a possible missing link between the two places. Researchers could have gotten infected during their collecting trips, or while working with the new viruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The virus that escaped from the lab would have been a natural virus, not one cooked up by gain of function.
The direct-from-bats thesis is a chimera between the natural emergence and lab escape scenarios. It’s a possibility that can’t be dismissed. But against it are the facts that 1) both SARS2 and RaTG13 seem to have only feeble affinity for bat cells, so one can’t be fully confident that either ever saw the inside of a bat; and 2) the theory is no better than the natural emergence scenario at explaining how SARS2 gained its furin cleavage site, or why the furin cleavage site is determined by human-preferred arginine codons instead of by the bat-preferred codons.
Where we are so far. Neither the natural emergence nor the lab escape hypothesis can yet be ruled out. There is still no direct evidence for either. So no definitive conclusion can be reached.
That said, the available evidence leans more strongly in one direction than the other. Readers will form their own opinion. But it seems to me that proponents of lab escape can explain all the available facts about SARS2 considerably more easily than can those who favor natural emergence.
It’s documented that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were doing gain-of-function experiments designed to make coronaviruses infect human cells and humanized mice. This is exactly the kind of experiment from which a SARS2-like virus could have emerged. The researchers were not vaccinated against the viruses under study, and they were working in the minimal safety conditions of a BSL2 laboratory. So escape of a virus would not be at all surprising. In all of China, the pandemic broke out on the doorstep of the Wuhan institute. The virus was already well adapted to humans, as expected for a virus grown in humanized mice. It possessed an unusual enhancement, a furin cleavage site, which is not possessed by any other known SARS-related beta-coronavirus, and this site included a double arginine codon also unknown among beta-coronaviruses. What more evidence could you want, aside from the presently unobtainable lab records documenting SARS2’s creation?
Proponents of natural emergence have a rather harder story to tell. The plausibility of their case rests on a single surmise, the expected parallel between the emergence of SARS2 and that of SARS1 and MERS. But none of the evidence expected in support of such a parallel history has yet emerged. No one has found the bat population that was the source of SARS2, if indeed it ever infected bats. No intermediate host has presented itself, despite an intensive search by Chinese authorities that included the testing of 80,000 animals. There is no evidence of the virus making multiple independent jumps from its intermediate host to people, as both the SARS1 and MERS viruses did. There is no evidence from hospital surveillance records of the epidemic gathering strength in the population as the virus evolved. There is no explanation of why a natural epidemic should break out in Wuhan and nowhere else. There is no good explanation of how the virus acquired its furin cleavage site, which no other SARS-related beta-coronavirus possesses, nor why the site is composed of human-preferred codons. The natural emergence theory battles a bristling array of implausibilities.
The records of the Wuhan Institute of Virology certainly hold much relevant information. But Chinese authorities seem unlikely to release them given the substantial chance that they incriminate the regime in the creation of the pandemic. Absent the efforts of some courageous Chinese whistle-blower, we may already have at hand just about all of the relevant information we are likely to get for a while.
So it’s worth trying to assess responsibility for the pandemic, at least in a provisional way, because the paramount goal remains to prevent another one. Even those who aren’t persuaded that lab escape is the more likely origin of the SARS2 virus may see reason for concern about the present state of regulation governing gain-of-function research. There are two obvious levels of responsibility: the first, for allowing virologists to perform gain-of-function experiments, offering minimal gain and vast risk; the second, if indeed SARS2 was generated in a lab, for allowing the virus to escape and unleash a world-wide pandemic. Here are the players who seem most likely to deserve blame.
Chinese virologists. First and foremost, Chinese virologists are to blame for performing gain-of-function experiments in mostly BSL2-level safety conditions which were far too lax to contain a virus of unexpected infectiousness like SARS2. If the virus did indeed escape from their lab, they deserve the world’s censure for a foreseeable accident that has already caused the deaths of three million people. True, Shi was trained by French virologists, worked closely with American virologists and was following international rules for the containment of coronaviruses. But she could and should have made her own assessment of the risks she was running. She and her colleagues bear the responsibility for their actions.
I have been using the Wuhan Institute of Virology as a shorthand for all virological activities in Wuhan. It’s possible that SARS2 was generated in some other Wuhan lab, perhaps in an attempt to make a vaccine that worked against all coronaviruses. But until the role of other Chinese virologists is clarified, Shi is the public face of Chinese work on coronaviruses, and provisionally she and her colleagues will stand first in line for opprobrium.
2. Chinese authorities. China’s central authorities did not generate SARS2, but they sure did their utmost to conceal the nature of the tragedy and China’s responsibility for it. They suppressed all records at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and closed down its virus databases. They released a trickle of information, much of which may have been outright false or designed to misdirect and mislead. They did their best to manipulate the WHO’s inquiry into the virus’s origins, and led the commission’s members on a fruitless run-around. So far they have proved far more interested in deflecting blame than in taking the steps necessary to prevent a second pandemic.
3. The worldwide community of virologists. Virologists around the world are a loose-knit professional community. They write articles in the same journals. They attend the same conferences. They have common interests in seeking funds from governments and in not being overburdened with safety regulations.
Virologists knew better than anyone the dangers of gain-of-function research. But the power to create new viruses, and the research funding obtainable by doing so, was too tempting. They pushed ahead with gain-of-function experiments. They lobbied against the moratorium imposed on Federal funding for gain-of-function research in 2014, and it was raised in 2017.
The benefits of the research in preventing future epidemics have so far been nil, the risks vast. If research on the SARS1 and MERS viruses could only be done at the BSL3 safety level, it was surely illogical to allow any work with novel coronaviruses at the lesser level of BSL2. Whether or not SARS2 escaped from a lab, virologists around the world have been playing with fire.
Their behavior has long alarmed other biologists. In 2014 scientists calling themselves the Cambridge Working Group urged caution on creating new viruses. In prescient words, they specified the risk of creating a SARS2-like virus. “Accident risks with newly created ‘potential pandemic pathogens’ raise grave new concerns,” they wrote. “Laboratory creation of highly transmissible, novel strains of dangerous viruses, especially but not limited to influenza, poses substantially increased risks. An accidental infection in such a setting could trigger outbreaks that would be difficult or impossible to control.”
When molecular biologists discovered a technique for moving genes from one organism to another, they held a public conference at Asilomar in 1975 to discuss the possible risks. Despite much internal opposition, they drew up a list of stringent safety measures that could be relaxed in future — and duly were — when the possible hazards had been better assessed.
When the CRISPR technique for editing genes was invented, biologists convened a joint report by the US, UK and Chinese national academies of science to urge restraint on making heritable changes to the human genome. Biologists who invented gene drives have also been open about the dangers of their work and have sought to involve the public.
You might think the SARS2 pandemic would spur virologists to re-evaluate the benefits of gain-of-function research, even to engage the public in their deliberations. But no. Many virologists deride lab escape as a conspiracy theory, and others say nothing. They have barricaded themselves behind a Chinese wall of silence which so far is working well to allay, or at least postpone, journalists’ curiosity and the public’s wrath. Professions that cannot regulate themselves deserve to get regulated by others, and this would seem to be the future that virologists are choosing for themselves.
4. The US role in funding the Wuhan Institute of Virology. From June 2014 to May 2019, Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance had a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, to do gain-of-function research with coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Whether or not SARS2 is the product of that research, it seems a questionable policy to farm out high-risk research to unsafe foreign labs using minimal safety precautions. And if the SARS2 virus did indeed escape from the Wuhan institute, then the NIH will find itself in the terrible position of having funded a disastrous experiment that led to death of more than 3 million worldwide, including more than half a million of its own citizens.
The responsibility of the NIAID and NIH is even more acute because for the first three years of the grant to EcoHealth Alliance, there was a moratorium on funding gain-of-function research. Why didn’t the two agencies therefore halt the federal funding, as apparently required to do so by law? Because someone wrote a loophole into the moratorium.
The moratorium specifically barred funding any gain-of-function research that increased the pathogenicity of the flu, MERS, or SARS viruses. But then a footnote on page 2 of the moratorium document states that “[a]n exception from the research pause may be obtained if the head of the USG funding agency determines that the research is urgently necessary to protect the public health or national security.”
This seems to mean that either the director of the NIAID, Anthony Fauci, or the director of the NIH, Francis Collins, or maybe both, would have invoked the footnote in order to keep the money flowing to Shi’s gain-of-function research.
“Unfortunately, the NIAID director and the NIH director exploited this loophole to issue exemptions to projects subject to the Pause—preposterously asserting the exempted research was ‘urgently necessary to protect public health or national security’ — thereby nullifying the Pause,” Ebright said in an interview with Independent Science News.
When the moratorium was ended in 2017, it didn’t just vanish but was replaced by a reporting system, the Potential Pandemic Pathogens Control and Oversight (P3CO) Framework, which required agencies to report for review any dangerous gain-of-function work they wished to fund.
According to Ebright, both Collins and Fauci “have declined to flag and forward proposals for risk-benefit review, thereby nullifying the P3CO Framework.”
In his view, the two officials, in dealing with the moratorium and the ensuing reporting system, “have systematically thwarted efforts by the White House, the Congress, scientists, and science policy specialists to regulate GoF [gain-of-function] research of concern.”
Possibly the two officials had to take into account matters not evident in the public record, such as issues of national security. Perhaps funding the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is believed to have ties with Chinese military virologists, provided a window into Chinese biowarfare research. But whatever other considerations may have been involved, the bottom line is that the National Institutes of Health was supporting gain-of-function research, of a kind that could have generated the SARS2 virus, in an unsupervised foreign lab that was doing work in BSL2 biosafety conditions. The prudence of this decision can be questioned, whether or not SARS2 and the death of 3 million people were the result of it, which emphasizes the need for some better system of control.
In conclusion. If the case that SARS2 originated in a lab is so substantial, why isn’t this more widely known? As may now be obvious, there are many people who have reason not to talk about it. The list is led, of course, by the Chinese authorities. But virologists in the United States and Europe have no great interest in igniting a public debate about the gain-of-function experiments that their community has been pursuing for years.
Nor have other scientists stepped forward to raise the issue. Government research funds are distributed on the advice of committees of scientific experts drawn from universities. Anyone who rocks the boat by raising awkward political issues runs the risk that their grant will not be renewed and their research career will be ended. Maybe good behavior is rewarded with the many perks that slosh around the distribution system. And if you thought that Andersen and Daszak might have blotted their reputation for scientific objectivity after their partisan attacks on the lab escape scenario, look at the second and third names on this list of recipients of an $82 million grant announced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in August 2020.
The US government shares a strange common interest with the Chinese authorities: Neither is keen on drawing attention to the fact that Shi’s coronavirus work was funded by the US National Institutes of Health. One can imagine the behind-the-scenes conversation in which the Chinese government says, “If this research was so dangerous, why did you fund it, and on our territory too?” To which the US side might reply, “Looks like it was you who let it escape. But do we really need to have this discussion in public?”
Fauci is a longtime public servant who served with integrity under President Trump and has resumed leadership in the Biden Administration in handling the COVID-19 epidemic. Congress, no doubt understandably, may have little appetite for hauling him over the coals for the apparent lapse of judgment in funding gain-of-function research in Wuhan.
To these serried walls of silence must be added that of the mainstream media. To my knowledge, no major newspaper or television network has yet provided readers with an in-depth news story of the lab escape scenario, such as the one you have just read, although some have run brief editorials or opinion pieces. One might think that any plausible origin of a virus that has killed three million people would merit a serious investigation. Or that the wisdom of continuing gain-of-function research, regardless of the virus’s origin, would be worth some probing. Or that the funding of gain-of-function research by the NIH and NIAID during a moratorium on such research would bear investigation. What accounts for the media’s apparent lack of curiosity?
The virologists’ omertà is one reason. Science reporters, unlike political reporters, have little innate skepticism of their sources’ motives; most see their role largely as purveying the wisdom of scientists to the unwashed masses. So when their sources won’t help, these journalists are at a loss.
Another reason, perhaps, is the migration of much of the media toward the left of the political spectrum. Because President Trump said the virus had escaped from a Wuhan lab, editors gave the idea little credence. They joined the virologists in regarding lab escape as a dismissible conspiracy theory. During the Trump administration, they had no trouble in rejecting the position of the intelligence services that lab escape could not be ruled out. But when Avril Haines, President Biden’s director of national intelligence, said the same thing, she too was largely ignored. This is not to argue that editors should have endorsed the lab escape scenario, merely that they should have explored the possibility fully and fairly.
People round the world who have been pretty much confined to their homes for the last year might like a better answer than their media are giving them. Perhaps one will emerge in time. After all, the more months pass without the natural emergence theory gaining a shred of supporting evidence, the less plausible it may seem. Perhaps the international community of virologists will come to be seen as a false and self-interested guide. The common sense perception that a pandemic breaking out in Wuhan might have something to do with a Wuhan lab cooking up novel viruses of maximal danger in unsafe conditions could eventually displace the ideological insistence that whatever Trump said can’t be true.
And then let the reckoning begin.
(1) This quotation was added to the article after initial publication.
The first person to take a serious look at the origins of the SARS2 virus was Yuri Deigin, a biotech entrepreneur in Russia and Canada. In a long and brilliant essay, he dissected the molecular biology of the SARS2 virus and raised, without endorsing, the possibility that it had been manipulated. The essay, published on April 22, 2020, provided a roadmap for anyone seeking to understand the virus’s origins. Deigin packed so much information and analysis into his essay that some have doubted it could be the work of a single individual and suggested some intelligence agency must have authored it. But the essay is written with greater lightness and humor than I suspect are ever found in CIA or KGB reports, and I see no reason to doubt that Deigin is its very capable sole author.
In Deigin’s wake have followed several other skeptics of the virologists’ orthodoxy. Nikolai Petrovsky calculated how tightly the SARS2 virus binds to the ACE2 receptors of various species and found to his surprise that it seemed optimized for the human receptor, leading him to infer the virus might have been generated in a laboratory. Alina Chan published a paper showing that SARS2 from its first appearance was very well adapted to human cells.
One of the very few establishment scientists to have questioned the virologists’ absolute rejection of lab escape is Richard Ebright, who has long warned against the dangers of gain-of-function research. Another is David A. Relman of Stanford University. “Even though strong opinions abound, none of these scenarios can be confidently ruled in or ruled out with currently available facts,” he wrote. Kudos too to Robert Redfield, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who told CNN on March 26, 2021 that the “most likely” cause of the epidemic was “from a laboratory,” because he doubted that a bat virus could become an extreme human pathogen overnight, without taking time to evolve, as seemed to be the case with SARS2.
Steven Quay, a physician-researcher, has applied statistical and bioinformatic tools to ingenious explorations of the virus’s origin, showing for instance how the hospitals receiving the early patients are clustered along the Wuhan №2 subway line which connects the Institute of Virology at one end with the international airport at the other, the perfect conveyor belt for distributing the virus from lab to globe.
In June 2020 Milton Leitenberg published an early survey of the evidence favoring lab escape from gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Many others have contributed significant pieces of the puzzle. “Truth is the daughter,” said Francis Bacon, “not of authority but time.” The efforts of people such as those named above are what makes it so.
Letters to the Editor: Finally, an end to a century of U.S. complicity in Armenian genocide denial published in the L.A. Times
People from the Armenian community celebrate President Biden’s decision to formally recognize the Armenian genocide in Beverly Hills on April 24.
(Los Angeles Times)
APRIL 26, 2021 1:03 PM PT
To the editor: The Turkish government’s denial of the Armenian genocide compounds the tragedy. This policy kills the victims twice — first the actual murders, then the murder of their memory. Adolf Hitler is reported to have justified his genocidal intent by asking just before World War II, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Biden has displayed courage by taking this moral stand. The Holocaust was the next genocide. Perhaps if the free world had spoken out against the Armenian genocide, millions of lives could have been saved.
Steven Ludsin, East Hampton, N.Y. The writer was a member of the first U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, which created the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
Soon-to-be voters say they’re disillusioned by what they’ve observed, but many are also motivated to political action.
I was a teenager in the sixties. I remember the passion I felt when witnessing on TV a Buddhist monk sit down on a Saigon street, dowse himself with gasoline, light a fire and burn to death. I remember the passion I felt when the 6-day war broke out with many Arabic neighboring states threaten to invade Israel: I immediately went to the Israeli embassy to sign up as a volunteer! The events of the day had to have had a lasting effect on my adult views and politics.
So I understand, that for today’s teenagers the presidency of Donald Trump, the BLM protests following the murder of George Floyd and others, the pandemic, and the insurrection culminating with the storming of the US Capitol, are events that must have shaped the political views of teenagers.
In the NYT, MIller writes: “Apparently, research shows that a voting generation is typically shaped for life by what happens politically in their teen years and early 20s. What have teenagers taken away from all this? We asked 604 of them, ages 13 to 17, from around the country, in a poll by Dynata for The New York Times. A little more than half the teenagers surveyed were girls. And nearly half were Black, Hispanic, Native American or Asian-American. (We talked to more of them because Generation Z will be the first in which nearly half of the electorate is nonwhite.)”
The survey revealed disillusion, hardened political lines, but also motivation to become involved.
“Simultaneously, we have this caustic, scorched-earth politics of the Trump administration, particularly for people of color, and at the same time we see young people exercising power and influence and organizing and showing up in the marches and the election,” said Valeria Sinclair-Chapman, a political scientist at Purdue. “This is their political socialization, so we have to see how it plays out.”
A future woman president? Eighty-seven percent of them said they hoped a woman would be elected president in their lifetime; 47 percent of Trump supporters hoped so.
Confidence in government? About half agreed that government had their interests in mind. But less than half of girls or respondents who were Black, Hispanic, Native or Asian-American agreed, and only one-third of Trump supporters did. White boys were most likely to believe the government represented them. Minority girls were 21 percentage points less likely to agree that the government had their interests in mind. White boys were 20 percentage points more likely to be interested in running for office than boys of color; white girls were eight points more likely than girls of color.
Effect of the Trump presidency: In regard to political ambition it made 1/3 of teenagers of both genders less interested in running (with a larger effect on those of color.) But it also made about 1/2 of survey respondents, and nearly 3/4 of Trump-supporting teenagers, more interested in running.
By comparison, the 2020 election made 2/3 of teenagers more interested in running.
Other research has also found that for some young people who were disappointed by the Trump presidency, it awakened their interest in political involvement, according to David Campbell and Christina Wolbrecht.
“What we found is that there was great disillusionment in democracy among adolescents, especially girls, especially those who think of themselves as Democrats,” Mr. Campbell said. “Then we found this upsurge in protest activity, so the disillusionment, rather than driving them out of politics, pushed them into political activity.”
Their research also suggests that the surge of women running has been encouraging to young people — among liberals and some conservatives as well.
Young people are not likely to forget the activism they’re learning now, said Ella Robinson, a 16-year-old in Silver Spring, Md. The Trump era has taught her and her fellow students political savvy, she said, as their spontaneous school walkouts have been replaced by organized protests, with permits and tailored messages around issues like gun control and climate change.
“People in my generation are very aware that walkouts can only go so far,” Ms. Robinson said. “Voting needs to happen.”
As reported in Newsday, on April 15 Assemblyman Steve Englebright and thirteen other members of the NYS Assembly and Senate sent a letter to Governor Cuomo urging that LIPA terminate its contract with PSEG LI and become a true public power company. You may be well aware of, and participating in, this issue as it has been the topic of much discussion in the public forum and in the media, including many articles and editorials in Newsday. If you are familiar with and support this position, and would like to follow up on last week’s letter sent by Assemblyman Englebright and other NYS representatives, attached is a simple letter that you may use. Feel free to amend it to reflect your personal thoughts. The LIPA Board meeting to discuss this topic is on April 28, 2021. Sending this letter is completely voluntary based on your knowledge and support of the position taken.
Contact the Governor: Mail: The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo Governor of New York State NYS State Capitol Building Albany, NY 12224 Electronic Address for Governor Cuomo:http://www.governor.ny.gov/contactTelephone: (518) 474-8390
You can cut and paste the letter printed below or click this link to open a PDF version of the letter for you to print and mail or insert into your email to Governor Cuomo.
April 18, 2021 The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo Governor of New York State Executive Chamber The Capitol Albany, NY 12224
Dear Governor Cuomo, I am writing to you in support of the letter you received dated April 15, 2021 from selected members of the New York State Assembly and Senate urging the termination of the contract between LIPA and PSEG LI and the creation of a true public power company. I agree that public utilities are more affordable and reliable for their customers and I agree that “it is the time to allow LIPA to meet the goals that it was created to achieve.” I want to make my voice heard as a part of the growing chorus of Long Islanders who support public power. Thank you for your time and attention to this important issue for Long Island. Sincerely,
I have learned a great deal about Lee Zeldin over the last few years. While my journey as an activist began in response to Hillary losing the presidential race in 2016, Indivisible taught me that protesting my own Republican member of Congress sends a powerful message. We had a lot to protest with Zeldin. In his first congressional race in 2014, he ran on a platform of lies, hate and fear; Trumpian before Trump was even a candidate. Under President Trump, Zeldin went from bad to worse.
Unfortunately, despite our protests and the attention we brought to his radical right-wing record, Zeldin kept winning. He squeaked by in 2018 despite it being a blue wave year and won again last year, this time by a comfortable 10% margin, even though Biden-Harris won New York with over 60% of the vote.
One of Zeldin’s winning strategies is outlined in my October 29th, 2020 blog post: Two Zeldins. He plays a shell game, hiding his true voting record from the electorate in a fog of fake bipartisanship. Analyzing last year’s loss, it is clear we need to do two things if we are going to defeat him in 2022. First, we need a stronger Democratic candidate, not weakened by a divisive primary, and second, we need a better strategy to expose the Real Zeldin.
After the election, Real Zeldin upped the ante with his embrace of Trump’s Big Lie. He was one of the most vocal GOP voices in the House supporting the conspiracy theory of rampant voter fraud that stole the election from Trump. His social media posts, always divisive, were virulent. Then came January 6th. In my first blog post of 2021, entitled Complicity, I wrote about the blood on Zeldin’s hands.
Zeldin’s shamelessness makes it even more important that we find a way to erase that fake moderate veneer and defeat him once and for all. This district deserves better than Lee Zeldin. Though we will be busy this year campaigning for our local candidates, both East End Action Network (EEAN) and the Southampton Town Democratic Committee (SHDems) have begun discussing initiatives that would keep the pressure on Zeldin. One idea from both is a letter-to-the-editor writing campaign.
Then, last week, Zeldin upended everything with an announcement that he is running for governor. Because of the scandals attached to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, a lot of politicians on both sides of the aisle are eyeing this race. Zeldin has started raising money and is conducting a tour of upstate New York. He does not have to withdraw from running for reelection here yet. Next year’s primary dates for the governor’s and congressional races have not yet been announced but when they are, he will then have to decide which ballot line to be on since you can’t be on two ballot lines at the same time. I have heard he has to decide by next April.
Over the coming weeks, I will be reaching out to many of my sources in the Democratic Party and the grassroots to ask them their thoughts about Zeldin running for governor. What do they think it means, for the governor’s race, for Zeldin and for our district? And just how worried should we be that this radical politician could now climb to higher, statewide office, despite his complicity in the COVID deaths in our district and the insurrection, not to mention his complete absence from any policies or legislation that would have helped us in our district?
To begin, I started with the EEAN leadership team. We held a Zoom meeting to discuss Zeldin, which I recorded. In attendance were Sharon Adams, Rebecca Dolber Ray, Patricia Callan, Cindy Salwen and new member Corinne Bernath. Absent leadership members Syma Gerard, Lisa Marrin and Wendy Turkington emailed me their reactions.
Syma: I can only hope that it’s a wonderful decision on Zeldin’s part. That he loses in the governor’s race and is gone from the House. If both primaries are the same day, I’ve read that he can’t do both.
Lisa: I hope that Cuomo doesn’t run. He is still very popular, but in my opinion, he has been governor long enough. Zeldin is a nightmare. I am hoping he faces a primary (against Guiliani’s son, perhaps) to split the party. At the end of the day, I think we need a strong, popular Democrat and then this whole Zeldin debacle goes away. Who? I don’t know. I am staying minimally involved right now but resting up for the fight.
Wendy: I feel hopeful that Zeldin’s decision to run for governor of New York will enable the Democratic Party to find a terrific candidate to run for CD#1 and we will finally have fair, intelligent, and impassioned representation in Congress. I don’t think the great state of New York will make the mistake of electing a failed, superficial, biased, and minimally informed former Republican representative such as Zeldin to its gubernatorial seat.
Below is a lightly edited and condensed transcript of our conversation. My first question to the group was about the wisdom of a right-wing Republican trying to win statewide in Democratic New York.
Right after Zeldin’s announcement, a grassroots activist posted on Facebook, “this may be the stupidest political decision of all time.” Voter registration in New York is two to one registered Democrats. I had the same reaction and wondered why he would want to lose a race for governor rather than probably win reelection to the House?
Sharon: I don’t think he cares about Long Island anymore. So, what does he have to lose?
Cindy: I think he thinks he can win.
Rebecca: I do, too. When I heard that he was running and I know the statistics and the numbers in New York and that everyone says a Republican can’t win statewide, but after 2016, I believe none of it anymore. I think anybody can win on any given day. This is intuition not based on any set of facts, but I feel that Lee Zeldin is the kind of man who does what he is told. So, if he was told to run for governor, Lee Zeldin is going to run for governor, and I think that he probably is going to have a lot of money behind him. I’ve been told that Republicans fall in line. So, I imagine if Lee Zeldin is running in the primary, it’s because they think Lee Zeldin is going to win. If he didn’t think he could win that primary, he seems like the kind of guy that would not do it.
Corinne: I agree. I come from a family of Republicans and I had six family members last week repost his announcement, and say, “Where do I sign up? What do we need to do to get Lee elected?”
Patricia: They love him.
Rebecca: This is his time. I feel it. I feel that he is the person that could unite enough of them to change the conventional wisdom of New York politics. I also don’t know what’s going on with all these voting machines in New York. Not to get too conspiracy-minded, but there’s a lot going on. I don’t think that we should ever say there’s no way he’s going to win which is what everybody said about Trump.
One thing that scares me is the press attention he has gotten so far, when he made his announcement and on this tour of upstate New York. They are buying into the fake Zeldin. Lazy reporters just took his press releases verbatim, never even mentioning Trump, January 6th and Zeldin’s vote to decertify the presidential election. The exception was the article in The New York Times.
Patricia: That’s why I think he has a shot because there are enough crazies still out there and because the upstate people don’t really know him. If their local press just takes everything he gives them, and we know he claims things that aren’t true, then they can be fooled.
Rebecca: Not to mention that Cuomo is weak right now. If he doesn’t resign and decides to seek out another term…
Patricia: Then Democrats might not vote and then we could be done.
Cindy: I’m even more cynical. I think he views the New York governorship as his stepping-stone to run for President.
Patricia: Yes. I think he has always had higher aspirations. He’s got an inflated ego and being aligned with Trump has only increased that. I could see him going first for governor then trying to go against Gillibrand or Schumer for the Senate, all in preparation for a run for the presidency.
All the more reason why we have to get the word out there about the Real Zeldin.
Rebecca: My first question is what changes for us now that he’s running for governor? Do we just wait? Do we put together a plan to attack him in the primary?
Cindy: I don’t think we should get involved in any way in the Republican primary, except for something like letters-to-the-editor to a newspaper that was so lazy that they didn’t say anything about who he actually is or fact-checked his bio. That might be worthwhile. But I don’t think we should consider trying to stop him getting the nomination.
Patricia: For the governorship or further out here?
Cindy: For the governorship. I don’t want him to be governor, but we vote in our primary, they vote in theirs and then we try to knock him out.
Rebecca: Let the primary play out because we’re not part of it and then if he wins it, then we take up the cause.
Patricia: I don’t feel comfortable just waiting. Maybe there are postcards we could write to people or let them know what Zeldin’s voting record really is, like how bad he’s been for the environment, for women. He’s such a total hypocrite. People need to know this statewide. Who better to tell them than the people he inflicted this pain on?
Rebecca: Well, I would agree with you there and I think that this might be the thing that brings all the grassroots groups together, especially if he wins the nomination. We are going to need a collaborative effort to let the state know how horrible he actually is.
Sharon: Well, going back to our list of original initiatives, we had letters-to-the-editor on our list. It might be a good time now, when we don’t have a lot of other things on our plate, to start writing those letters. We have the resources from groups that have been tracking his voting record. Also, I have a lot of back letters regarding Zeldin from The Southampton Press that I have cut out and saved. Now might be a good time for us to jump on that initiative and each take a turn to do a letter. That would be what Patty was mentioning, letting people know now about how he’s voted or hasn’t voted.
Patricia: Yes. People across the state don’t really know him just like we don’t know their Congress people.
Rebecca: I think people across the state who have been paying attention know Zeldin. But I agree, the average voter probably doesn’t. I think your idea is a good one, Sharon. In fact, what you’re saying is making me think that maybe, in addition to the letter writing, we can do something with video to tell our stories about our experiences with Zeldin. I always tell the story about how before Trump was elected, I moved back to Center Moriches from New York City and Lee Zeldin was running for his first term in Congress. He took up an office in the King Kullen shopping center and I remember thinking, “Oh, who is this guy?” So, I read about him and learned just how horrible he is on gay marriage. Having this person with his main office in my hometown, just made me feel sick and sad.
I wonder if we could do a video-based project where we all tell stories about how this congressman has affected us. Just little snippets that could be passed around on social media. It might even be easier than writing a letter. Even if you don’t have a personal story about Lee Zeldin, you can talk about how it felt to have your congressman give that disgraceful speech on the floor of the House on the same day that the Capital was attacked. We could do a whole campaign about it. “We are not actors. We are constituents of Lee Zeldin.”
I have read about the short, 30-second videos on TikTok and when they go viral, they reach a lot of people, particularly a lot of young people. This video story project would powerfully expose the fake Zeldin that he’s pushing. He is even trying to take credit for the federal funds that saved the Long Island Railroad from further cuts, even though he voted against Biden’s American Rescue Plan.
Patricia: Right. We live in his district; this is who he is.
Cindy: But wouldn’t this be more useful to the general election if he is the candidate?
Rebecca: I agree. It’s a lot to take on now.
Cindy: Besides, who knows how Republican primary voters think? They might think these are good reasons to vote for him! It would probably be like a badge of honor that he’s being attacked so much by these “radicals” or whatever he calls us these days.
Patricia: No, I disagree with that because that’s like saying he is right and we are those radicals when the truth is that he’s the radical. We’re just saying what his voting record is, what he’s done and how he’s made us feel as his constituents. That’s not radical, that’s pretty straightforward.
Rebecca: But you know what? I don’t care what they think, because I’m not trying to change their minds. I think these videos are for new voters. If I was a young person and I saw this it would make me energized to vote. We have been talking about new ways to reach out to younger voters. This may be another way to do that.
What do you think the impact is going to be on the congressional race here in our district if he isn’t running?
Rebecca: Well, my first thought was he leaves a huge hole for a Republican who could be worse than him to run, which could be a good or bad thing. That was my thought.
Cindy: I think it will be a free-for-all on both sides. But at least with a primary on both sides, then we are not as screwed as in the past when there was a contentious primary on our side and an incumbent on the other.
East Hampton, New York – March 18, 2021 — This morning the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) voted unanimously to grant South Fork Wind (“SFW”) a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need for a transmission cable needed to connect the South Fork Wind Farm to the electric grid. This is a critical step in authorizing construction and operation of 15 wind turbines in the ocean 35 miles east of Montauk. The PSC approved the landing site for the cable at Beach Lane in Wainscott. The cable will then be buried under the roads of Wainscott and ultimately be connected to the electric grid at the Cove Hollow Road substation in East Hampton.
SFW is scheduled to begin construction early in 2022 and the wind farm is projected to be operational by late 2023. The South Fork Wind Farm will generate enough clean renewable energy to the South Fork to power 70,000 typical homes, reducing carbon emissions, creating clean jobs, and assisting both East Hampton and New York State in meeting their commitment to combat climate change with 100% clean energy.
Wind With Wind (WWW), which was organized to produce fact-based information regarding the benefits of renewable offshore wind energy, has been actively advocating for the South Fork Wind Farm for years. As the first sizable offshore wind farm in the country, the project has faced opposition from very well-funded groups. WWW and its attorneys actively promoted the project, participating in the lengthy settlement discussions and public hearings, filing written comments with the PSC, participating in site visits, and keeping the public informed on the issues.
WWW commends the PSC for its historic vote since it puts New York State and East Hampton in a leadership role for offshore wind energy with SFW serving as the foundation of a more sustainable and resilient future. When the South Fork Wind Farm becomes operational it will be the largest offshore wind farm in the country, and the first in New York. SFW’s battle has been carefully observed by the offshore wind industry and is emerging as a template for a collaborative and community driven approach for clean energy development.
“Win With Wind has worked hard for this, and we are grateful for the help of our supporters and especially the law firm Arnold & Porter and the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. We are lucky to live in a town with such forward- looking political leadership,” said Judith Hope, President of WWW.
“Now it is time for all of us to come together and support SFW. Instead of worrying about the inconvenience of a cable being buried under the roads of Wainscott, let us focus on saving our seriously battered planet,” said Jeremiah Mulligan, a member of the WWW Steering Committee.
Contact: Judith Hope firstname.lastname@example.org East Hampton, NY