I'm a retired Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Tennessee. My wife, Kathy, and I live on the Cumberland River, just north of Nashville. We have three children and eight grandchildren. I like to fish, make things out of wood, sing and play music (mandolin, uke, experimenting with a dobro), play chess (fair), read, play golf. I like to find out who people are and what they think. I am a follower of the Jesus Way, and I'm trying to love the Lord and love my neighbor.
4 Years After an Execution, a Different Man’s DNA Is Found on the Murder Weapon
Lawyers’ request to conduct additional DNA testing before Ledell Lee was executed had been denied.
May 7, 2021
For 22 years, Ledell Lee maintained that he had been wrongly convicted of murder.
“My dying words will always be, as it has been, ‘I am an innocent man,’” he told the BBC in an interview published on April 19, 2017 — the day before officials in Arkansas administered the lethal injection.
Four years later, lawyers affiliated with the Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union say DNA testing has revealed that genetic material on the murder weapon — which was never previously tested — in fact belongs to another man. In a highly unusual development for a case in which a person has already been convicted and executed, the new genetic profile has been uploaded to a national criminal database in an attempt to identify the mystery man.
Patricia Young, Mr. Lee’s sister, has been fighting for years to prove that it was not her brother who strangled and fatally bludgeoned the 26-year-old Debra Reese in Jacksonville, Ark., a suburb of Little Rock, in 1993.
“We are glad there is new evidence in the national DNA database and remain hopeful that there will be further information uncovered in the future,” Ms. Young said in a statement last week. In response to a lawsuit filed by Ms. Young in January, Jacksonville city officials released the bloody wooden club recovered from the victim’s bedroom, a bloody white shirt wrapped around the club and several other pieces of evidence for testing.
The Innocence Project and the A.C.L.U. have pushed for additional DNA testing at previous times, including the eve of Mr. Lee’s execution. The request was denied. A federal judge rejected Mr. Lee’s request for a stay of the execution, saying that he had “simply delayed too long,” according to a complaint filed by Ms. Young.
Mr. Lee’s execution, on April 20, 2017, was the first in Arkansas in more than a decade. Some accused the state of rushing Mr. Lee and several other prisoners to their deaths that month before the expiration of its supply of a lethal injection drug.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson defended Mr. Lee’s execution. “It’s my duty to carry out the law,” he said, adding that “the fact is that the jury found him guilty based upon the information that they had.” He called the new DNA evidence that has emerged “inconclusive.”
In a statement, lawyers from the A.C.L.U. and the Innocence Project were cautious about stating what, exactly, could be extrapolated from the newly tested DNA from the shirt and the murder weapon — beyond the facts that both samples appeared to belong to the same man and that that man was not Mr. Lee.
“While the results obtained 29 years after the evidence was collected proved to be incomplete and partial, it is notable that there are now new DNA profiles that were not available during the trial or post-conviction proceedings in Mr. Lee’s case,” Nina Morrison, senior litigation counsel at the Innocence Project, said in the statement, which The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
Uploading this newly generated profile to a national criminal database maintained by the F.B.I. has not yet provided a “hit,” she said. That means that the mystery man’s DNA does not match any of the DNA profiles that are already in the database, taken from people who were convicted or arrested on suspicion of violent crimes.
“However, the DNA profile will now remain in the database and will be automatically compared to all new profiles from convicted persons, arrestees or unsolved crimes that are entered in the future,” lawyers for the A.C.L.U., the Innocence Project and Ms. Young said in a joint statement.
According to the Innocence Project, no physical evidence was ever produced that connected Mr. Lee to Ms. Reese’s murder. In a summary of the case, the group also outlined obstacles that Mr. Lee had faced over the years, including a lawyer who was drunk and unprepared at court hearings, unreliable neighborhood eyewitnesses and conflicts of interest for key players.
Mr. Lee’s first trial resulted in a hung jury. His second murder trial began on Oct. 10, 1995, just seven days after O.J. Simpson had been acquitted of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
“Mr. Lee, a Black man charged with the vicious beating and murder of a white woman in her home, was tried under the shadow of the O.J. Simpson prosecution and trial,” Ms. Young argued in her January lawsuit. “The Simpson verdict shocked and angered many white Americans and polarized the nation along racial lines. It’s difficult to imagine that any jury could be truly objective in considering the evidence against Mr. Lee at that particular moment in time.”
Leslie Rutledge, the Arkansas attorney general, said on Thursday that she was not swayed by the new developments.
“The courts consistently rejected Ledell Lee’s frivolous claims because the evidence demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt that he murdered Debra Reese by beating her to death inside her home with a tire thumper,” she said in a statement, adding, “I am prayerful that Debra’s family has had closure following his lawful execution in 2017.”
Along with providing new DNA results, Ms. Young’s petition pushed the city of Jacksonville to compare fingerprints from the crime scene to a state and national fingerprint database for the first time. It has long been established that Mr. Lee’s fingerprints did not match any of those at the scene.
The resulting search against the national database did not provide a match, according to the Innocence Project and the A.C.L.U., but the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory has not yet searched the state database. If that search happens and a fingerprint match emerges, then the lawyers will push to compare that person’s DNA to the mystery man’s, they said.
Heather Murphy is a general assignment reporter who often writes about advances in DNA technology. @heathertal
Mr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C., on politics, demographics and inequality.
The deepening gender gap in American voting, with men favoring the Republican Party and women favoring the Democrats, is well known, if not well understood. So what explains the presence of millions of men in the Democratic Party and millions of women in the Republican Party? What distinguishes these two constituencies, whose partisanship runs against the grain?
I asked Heather L. Ondercin, a political scientist at Appalachian State University who has written extensively on gender issues, including in “Marching to the Ballot Box: Sex and Voting in the 2020 Election Cycle,” for her thoughts on these questions. She emailed back:
Regardless of identification as a man or a woman, more stereotypically “masculine” individuals (male and female) — aggressive, assertive, defends beliefs, dominant, forceful, leadership ability, independent, strong personality, willing to take a stand, and willing to take risks — tend to identify with the Republican Party. Individuals (men and women) who are more stereotypically “feminine” — affectionate, compassionate, eager to soothe hurt feelings, gentle, loves children, sensitive to the needs of others, sympathetic, tender, understanding, and warm — tend to identify with the Democratic Party.
In a case study of what Ondercin describes, Melissa Deckman, a political scientist at Washington College who is also chairman of the board of the Public Religion Research Institute, and Erin Cassese, a political scientist at the University of Delaware, published research into “gendered nationalism” in 2019 that sought to identify who is most “likely to believe that American society has grown ‘too soft and feminine.’”
Deckman and Cassese found a large gender gap: “56 percent of men agreed that the United States has grown too soft and feminine, compared to only 34 percent of women.”
But the overall gender gap paled in comparison with the gap between Democratic men and Republican men. Some 41 percent of Democratic men without college degrees agreed that American society had become too soft and feminine compared with 80 percent of Republican men without degrees, a 39-point difference. Among those with college degrees, the spread grew to 64 points: Democratic men at 9 percent, Republican men at 73 percent.
The gap between Democratic and Republican women was very large but less pronounced: 28 percent of Democratic women without degrees agreed that the country had become too soft and feminine compared with 57 percent of non-college Republican women, while 4 percent of Democratic women with degrees agreed, compared with 57 percent of college-educated Republican women.
The data described by Deckman and Cassese illuminate two key aspects of contemporary American politics. First, despite the enormous gaps between men and women in their voting behavior, partisanship is far more important than gender in determining how people vote; so too is the crucial role of psychological orientation — either empathic or authoritarian, for example — in shaping allegiance to the Democratic or Republican parties.
The Deckman-Cassese study is part of a large body of work that seeks to answer a basic question: Who are the men who align with the Democratic Party and who are the women who identify as Republicans?
“Gender and the Authoritarian Dynamic: An Analysis of Social Identity in the Partisanship of White Americans,” a 2021 doctoral dissertation by Bradley DiMariano at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, found patterns similar to those in the Deckman-Cassese study.
Among white Democratic men, an overwhelming majority, 70.7 percent, were classified in the DiMariano study as either non-authoritarian (50.71 percent) or “weak authoritarian” (19.96 percent), while less than a third, 29.3 percent, were either authoritarian (10.59 percent) or “somewhat authoritarian” (18.74 percent). In contrast, among white Republican men, less than half, 48.3 percent, were non-authoritarian or weak authoritarian, while 51.7 percent were authoritarian or somewhat authoritarian.
The partisan divisions among white women were almost identical: Democratic women, 68.3 percent non- or weak authoritarian and 31.7 percent authoritarian or somewhat authoritarian; Republican women, 45.6 percent non- or weak authoritarian and 54.4 percent authoritarian or weak authoritarian.
When researchers examine the stands people take on specific issues, things become more complex.
Brian Schaffner, a political scientist at Tufts and a co-director of the Cooperative Election Study, provided The Times with data on levels of support and opposition on a wide range of issues for Democratic men, Democratic women, Republican men and Republican women.
“One thing that strikes me is that Democratic men and women have very similar issue positions, but Republican women are consistently less conservative on the issues compared to Republican men,” Schaffner wrote by email. “Sometimes the gap between Republican men and women is actually quite large, for example on issues like equal pay, minimum wage, right to strike and prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity/sexual orientation.”
Take, for example, the question of whether workers should have the right to strike. Almost identical percentages of Democratic men (84) and women (85) agreed, but Republican men and women split 42-58. Similarly, 90 percent of Democratic men and 92 percent of Democratic women support reviving Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act — which was designed to prohibit discriminatory electoral practices —while 37 percent of Republican men supported that position and 56 percent of Republican women did. On legislation requiring equal pay for men and women, 93 percent of Democratic men and 97 percent of Democratic women were in support, compared with 70 percent of Republican men and 85 percent of Republican women.
Natalie Jackson, director of research at P.R.R.I., provided The Times with poll data posing similar questions. Asked if “America is in danger of losing its culture and identity,” the P.R.R.I. survey found that 80 percent of Republican women and 82 percent of Republican men agreed, while 65 percent of Democratic women and 66 percent of Democratic men disagreed. Seventy-six percent of Democratic women and 77 percent of Democratic men agreed that undocumented immigrants living in this country should be allowed “to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements,” while 46 percent of Republican women and 39 percent of Republican men agreed.
Conflicting attitudes toward risk also drive partisanship. In “Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition: Explaining the White Male Effect in Risk Perception,” a 2007 paper by Dan M. Kahan of Yale Law School, Donald Braman of George Washington University Law School, John Gastil of Penn State, Paul Slovic of the University of Oregon and C.K. Mertz of Decision Research, the researchers studied the attitudes toward risks posed by guns and by environmental dangers. Drawing on a survey of 1,844 Americans, their key finding was:
Individuals selectively credit and dismiss asserted dangers in a manner supportive of their preferred form of social organization. This dynamic, it is hypothesized, drives the “white male effect,” which reflects the risk skepticism that hierarchical and individualistic white males display when activities integral to their cultural identities are challenged as harmful.
The authors reported that conservative white Republican men (“persons who held relative hierarchical and individualistic outlooks — and particularly both simultaneously”) are the “least concerned about environmental risks and gun risks.” People “who held relatively egalitarian and communitarian views” — predominantly Democrats — “were most concerned.”
On environmental risk, the people who were most risk tolerant were white men, followed by white women, then minority-group men and, the most risk averse, minority-group women. The order was slightly different in the case of risk associated with guns: White men demonstrated the least risk aversion followed by minority-group men, then white women and finally minority-group women.
Kahan and his collaborators went on: “Increasing hierarchical and individualistic worldviews induce greater risk-skepticism in white males than in either white women or male or female nonwhites.”
In other words, those who rank high in communitarian and egalitarian values, including liberal white men, are high in risk aversion. Among those at the opposite end of the scale — low in communitarianism and egalitarianism but high in individualism and in support for hierarchy — conservative white men are markedly more willing to tolerate risk than other constituencies.
In the case of guns and gun control, the authors write:
Persons of hierarchical and individualistic orientations should be expected to worry more about being rendered defenseless because of the association of guns with hierarchical social roles (hunter, protector, father) and with hierarchical and individualistic virtues (courage, honor, chivalry, self-reliance, prowess). Relatively egalitarian and communitarian respondents should worry more about gun violence because of the association of guns with patriarchy and racism and with distrust of and indifference to the well-being of strangers.
The white male effect, they continued “seemed to be caused by about 30 percent of the white male sample” who were “better educated, had higher household incomes, and were politically more conservative. They also held very different attitudes, characterized by trust in institutions and authorities and by anti-egalitarianism” — in other words, they tended to be Republicans.
While opinions on egalitarianism and communitarianism help explain why a minority of white men are Democrats, the motivation of white women who support Republicans is less clear. Cassese and Tiffany D. Barnes, a political scientist at the University of Kentucky, address this question in their 2018 paper “Reconciling Sexism and Women’s Support for Republican Candidates: A Look at Gender, Class, and Whiteness in the 2012 and 2016 Presidential Races.”
Cassese and Barnes found that in the 2016 election, social class and education played a stronger role in the voting decisions of women than of men:
Among Trump voters, women were much more likely to be in the lower income category compared to men, a difference of 13 points in the full sample and 14 points for white respondents only. By contrast, the proportion of male, upper-income Trump supporters is greater than the proportion of female, upper-income Trump supporters by about 9 percentage points in the full sample and among white voters only. These findings challenge a dominant narrative surrounding the election — rather than attracting downwardly-mobile white men, Trump’s campaign disproportionately attracted and mobilized economically marginal white women.
Cassese and Barnes pose the question “Why were a majority of white women willing to tolerate Trump’s sexism?” To answer, the authors examined polling responses to three questions: “Do women demanding equality seek special favors?” “Do women complaining about discrimination cause more problems than they solve?” and “How much discrimination do women face in the United States?” Cassese and Barnes describe the first two questions as measures of “hostile sexism,” which they define as “negative views toward individuals who violate traditional gender roles.”
They found that “hostile sexism” and “denial of discrimination against women are strong predictors of white women’s vote choice in 2016,” but these factors were “not predictive of voting for Romney in 2012.” Put another way, “white women who display hostile sexist attitudes and who perceive low levels of gender discrimination in society are more likely to support Trump.”
In conclusion, Cassese and Barnes write:
Our results also address analysts’ incorrect expectations about women voters defecting from the G.O.P. in response to Trump’s campaign. We explain this discrepancy by illustrating that some white women — particularly those without a college education — endorse hostile sexism and have weaker perceptions of systemic gender discrimination. These beliefs are associated with an increased likelihood of voting for Trump — even when controlling for partisanship and ideology.
An additional variable predicting Republican partisanship is social dominance orientation, or having a preference for group-based hierarchy and inequality. Arnold Ho is a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and the lead author of the 2015 paper “The Nature of Social Dominance Orientation: Theorizing and Measuring Preferences for Intergroup Inequality Using the New SDO7 Scale.” He wrote that he and his colleagues found “consistent gender differences across all samples, with men having higher levels of social dominance orientation than women” and that there are “moderate to strong correlations between SDO and political conservatism across all samples, such that greater conservatism is associated with higher levels of SDO.”
Ho measured conservatism on the basis of political affiliation — Democratic liberal, Republican conservative and self-identification as a social and economic liberal or conservative.
in societies in which unequal groups are segregated into separate roles or living spaces, they may not compare their situations to those of other groups and may be relatively satisfied. In such cases, we would expect dominants and subordinates to be more similar in their attitude toward group-based hierarchy.
On the other hand, they continued:
in societies in which people purport to value equality, subordinates may come to expect and feel entitled to equality. The evidence and signs they observe of inequality would then mean that reality is falling short of their ideal standards. This condition may lead them to reassert their opposition to group-based hierarchy and to differentiate from dominants.
It may be, then, that the association of the Democratic Party with values linked more closely to women than men is a factor in the party’s loss of support among Hispanic and Black men. As my colleague Charles Blow wrote in “Democrats Continue to Struggle With Men of Color” in September: “For one thing, never underestimate the communion among men, regardless of race. Men have privileges in society, and some are drawn to policies that elevate their privileges.”
President Biden’s predicament with regard to all this is reflected in the contradictory findings of a March 17-21 AP/NORC poll of 1,082 Americans on views of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
On one hand, 56 percent of those polled described Biden’s response as “not been tough enough” compared with 36 percent “about right” and 6 percent “too tough.” There were sharp partisan divisions on this question: 68 percent of Republicans said Biden’s response to the invasion was not tough enough, and 20 percent said it was about right. Fifty-three percent of Democrats said it was about right, and 43 percent said not tough enough. Independents were closer to Republicans than to Democrats: 64 percent not tough enough, 25 percent just right.
Conversely, the AP/NORC survey found that 45 percent of respondents said they were very or extremely “concerned about Russia using nuclear weapons that target the United States,” 30 percent said they were “somewhat concerned,” and 25 percent said they were “not very or not at all concerned.”
The potential pitfalls in the American response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine range from provoking Vladimir Putin to further escalation to diminishing the United States in the eyes of Russia and the rest of the world. The specific dangers confronting policymakers stem from serious decisions taken in a crisis climate, but the pressures on those making the decisions are tied to the competing psychological dispositions of Republicans and Democrats described above, and they are tied as well to discrepancies between men and women in toleration of the use of force.
is to compare how men and women weigh the choice between backing down and conflict. Women are nearly indifferent between an unsuccessful use of force in which nothing is gained, and their country’s leader backs down after threatening force. Men, by contrast, would much rather see force used unsuccessfully than see the country’s reputation endangered through backing down. Approval among men is fully 36 percent higher for a use of force that achieves nothing and in which over 4,000 U.S. soldiers die than when the U.S. president backs down and the same objective outcome is achieved without loss of life.
The gender gap on the use of force has deep roots. A 2012 study, “Men and Women’s Support for War: Accounting for the gender gap in public opinion,” found consistently higher support among men than women for military intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, concluding that the evidence shows a “consistent ‘gender gap’ over time and across countries.” According to the study, “it would be rare to find scholarship in which gender differences on the question of using military force are not present.”
The author, Ben Clements, cites “psychological differences between women and men, with the former laying greater value on group relationships and the use of cooperation and compromise, rather than aggressive means, to resolve disputes.”
It should be self-evident that the last thing this country needs at a time when the world has drawn closer to the possibility of nuclear war than it has for decades is a leader like Donald Trump, the apotheosis of aggressive, intemperate white manhood, who at the same time unreservedly seeks the admiration of Vladimir Putin and other authoritarians.
The difficult task facing Biden is finding the correct balance between restraint and authority, between harm avoidance and belligerent opposition. The situation in Ukraine has the potential to damage Biden’s already weakened political stature or to provide him with an opportunity to regain some of the support he had when first elected.
American wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have been costly for incumbent American presidents, and Biden faces an uphill struggle reversing that trend, even as the United States faces the most dangerous set of circumstances in its recent history.
Thomas B. Edsall has been a contributor to the Times Opinion section since 2011. His column on strategic and demographic trends in American politics appears every Wednesday. He previously covered politics for The Washington Post. @edsall
American politics, inequality, campaign strategy and demographics.
This is viewer supported news. Please do your part today.DONATEWhat role did the United States play in creating conditions for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and what will it take to end the war? The U.S. invasion of Iraq, which saw no repercussions for the Bush administration despite breaching international humanitarian law, coupled with Cold War-era policies and NATO’s eastward expansion, incited Putin’s aggressions toward Ukraine, says retired Colonel Andrew Bacevich, president and co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. “American decision-makers acted impetuously, and indeed recklessly, and now we’re facing the consequences,” says Bacevich.TranscriptThis is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue to look at the Russian invasion of Ukraine.The U.S. Senate has passed a $1.5 trillion spending bill that includes $13.6 billion for military and economic aid for Ukraine — that, twice the original amount requested by the Biden administration. This comes as the U.S. and NATO are pouring weapons into Ukraine to help counter the Russian invasion. The New York Times recently reported the U.S. and its allies sent 17,000 anti-tank weapons to Ukraine over a recent six-day period. The Washington Postreported the U.S. is quietly preparing plans to back a Ukrainian insurgency and a government in exile if Russia succeeds in seizing Ukraine.We’re joined now by Andrew Bacevich, president and co-founder of the antiwar think tank Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, retired colonel, Vietnam War veteran, professor emeritus of international relations and history at Boston University, author of a number of books, including his most recent, just out, called After the Apocalypse: America’s Role in a World Transformed. His most recent pieces include one headlined “U.S. Can’t Absolve Itself of Responsibility for Putin’s Ukraine Invasion.”Professor Bacevich, let’s begin there. Talk about the U.S.-Putin connection and why you feel the U.S. is partially responsible for what’s taking place.ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I think I would describe it as a U.S.-Russia connection, because it’s not necessarily limited to Mr. Putin. And the key issue here, I think, is when the Cold War ended. When the Cold War ended, of course, Russia was in a position of great weakness and vulnerability, and the United States and its allies chose to exploit that weakness. The most vivid expression of that was the eastward expansion of NATO. Let’s remind ourselves, NATO was an anti-Soviet alliance when it was created in 1949. Expansion of NATO basically moved it up to the borders of post-Soviet Russia. At that time, there were many Americans — George Kennan, the diplomat, would be perhaps the most prominent — that warned against NATO expansion as likely to cause us troubles down the road. We ignored those warnings, and I think that we’re kind of in a chickens-coming-home-to-roost situation right here.Putin has — I am not a Putin apologist, and he’s the principal cause of this catastrophe that we’re experiencing. But Putin had been quite candid in warning that the eastward movement of NATO, and in particular the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO, constituted, from his perspective, a vital threat, a threat to vital Russian security interests. We ignored that. And I think, to some degree, this terrible, unnecessary war is a result of that.AMY GOODMAN: Well, you know, you’re not the only one who says this. One person who warned years ago about NATO expansion in Eastern Europe is William Burns, the current director of the CIA.ANDREW BACEVICH: Yes.AMY GOODMAN: He served as U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008. And in his memoir, The Back Channel, Burns wrote, quote, “Sitting at the embassy in Moscow in the mid-nineties, it seemed to me that NATO expansion was premature at best and needlessly provocative at worst.” And then, in 1995, Burns wrote a memo saying, quote, “Hostility to early NATO expansion is almost universally felt across the domestic political spectrum here.” He’s talking about Russia. In another memo, Burns wrote, “Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all redlines for the Russian elite (not just Putin). In more than two and a half years of conversations with key Russian players, from knuckle-draggers in the dark recesses of the Kremlin to Putin’s sharpest liberal critics, I have yet to find anyone who views Ukraine in NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests.” Again, those the words of the current director of the Central Intelligence Agency, William Burns. Andrew Bacevich?ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, so, one would say that given that kind of warning from a very senior official, highly respected senior official, why did we go ahead and do it anyway? And I think there are two answers to that question. One is because Europeans so desperately wanted to join NATO and to join the EU, seizing their chance to have democracy, to have liberalism, to have the possibility of prosperity. You know, my paternal grandparents came from Lithuania. Lithuania was in the vanguard of countries that wanted to join the EU and NATO. I don’t blame the Lithuanian people for that aspiration. And in many respects, joining NATO and the EU has paid dividends for Lithuania. That said, it was done in the face of objections by the Russians, and now we’re paying the consequences of those objections.And I think the other reason we did it, of course, apart from what I think is really kind of a deep-seated Russophobia that pervades many members of the American elite, was the belief at that time — that is to say, back in the 1990s — the belief that Russia couldn’t do anything about it. Russia was weak, Russia was disorganized, and therefore it seemed to be a low-risk proposition to exploit Russian weakness to advance our objectives and also to advance the objectives of other European countries, most of which had either been part of the Soviet Union or had been Soviet satellites and saw the end of the Cold War as their chance to achieve freedom and prosperity. I don’t blame the Lithuanians, I don’t blame the Poles, but I do think that American decision-makers acted impetuously, and indeed recklessly, and now we’re facing the consequences.AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about this brutal invasion by Putin of Ukraine and also what Putin is demanding. It hasn’t gotten as much attention in the United States as in other places, but the demands written in documents submitted to the U.S.: Ukraine cease military action, Ukraine change its constitution to enshrine neutrality, acknowledge Crimea as Russian territory, acknowledge Crimea — and if you can talk about these demands and also the brutality of what Putin is doing right now?ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, let’s start with the brutality. I must admit that, to me, the most striking thing about the war as it has evolved has been the crudeness of the Russian war machine. They had portrayed themselves as a modern army. Modern armies know how to use force, to use violence in a controlled and purposeful way. Yeah, people get killed, buildings get destroyed, but it’s not random violence. That, I think, summarizes the conception of modern war. And we believed, and I think the Russians themselves believed, that they had embraced the methods of modern war. It turns out that they did not. And so everything that has happened thus far over the first couple of weeks has demonstrated that they are incapable of using violence in a controlled and politically purposeful way, which brings us to the present moment, where it appears that what we are moving into is some form of siege warfare, where violence is used in a random way to punish, to terrorize, I guess, among the Russian commanders, with some vague hope that violence used in this way is going to lead to the Ukrainians giving up, collapsing.It remains to be seen if that’s going to happen, but that seems to be the current conception among the Russians of how they think they’re going to achieve their goals. Whether or not they succeed, what we see, I think, is levels of violence far greater than anybody expected, the probability of civilian deaths and destruction on an enormous scale, and, not insignificantly, at least from a Russian point of view, very high Russian casualties. The press reports that say that the Russians have already lost somewhere in the order of 3,000 to 4,000 Russian soldiers killed in action is actually, in my view, astonishing and is a powerful statement of how the Russians misread their own military capabilities, and therefore plunged into this morass, where I don’t think anybody on the Russian side, whether Putin or his generals, has a clear picture of how they’re going to get out of the mess that they created.AMY GOODMAN: So, they’re calling for Ukraine — talk about what it means to remain neutral, also recognition of Crimea and the independent states, the Donbas region. But I also wanted to quote Zelensky here for a minute, if we can see any movement in both of these parties when it will come to a ceasefire. He made this very important statement on ABC. He said, “Regarding NATO, I have cooled down regarding this question a long time ago, after we understood that NATO is not prepared to accept Ukraine.” Talk about what this means.ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, it’s too bad people couldn’t say that out loud before the war started. I mean, I think —AMY GOODMAN: That was Zelensky.ANDREW BACEVICH: — based on what I hear — pardon me?AMY GOODMAN: That was Zelensky himself, the president of Ukraine.ANDREW BACEVICH: Yeah, I mean, but had Zelensky said, had the Americans said, had NATO said, out loud, prior to the beginning of the war, that “We all collectively recognize that Ukraine is not going to be joining NATO anytime soon,” if we were willing to put that in writing, then I would argue that it would be — at least have been possible, not certain, it might have been possible to dissuade Putin from taking the course that he chose. Again, he chose the course. He’s the perpetrator. He’s the criminal. But nonetheless, I think a wiser handling of the NATO issue might have given Putin a way to avoid taking the terrible steps that he ended up taking.AMY GOODMAN: Zelensky also said, “I am talking about security guarantees,” he said. He went on to say, “I think that items regarding temporary occupied territories and unrecognized republics that have not been recognized by anyone but Russia, these pseudo-republics, but we can discuss and find a compromise on how these territories will live on.” And this was followed by Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Kuleba saying, “If we could reach an agreement where a similar system of guarantees as envisaged by the North Atlantic Charter could be granted to Ukraine by the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, including Russia, as well as by Ukraine’s neighbors, this is something we are ready to discuss.” I mean, we’re seeing the broad outline of a possible agreement or ceasefire here.ANDREW BACEVICH: I mean, it seems to me that what you just quoted is courageous, enlightened, especially given the fact that Ukraine has been the victim of this entire thing. And I guess the question is: On the Russian side, are there any signs of that willingness to compromise? And that’s where — not that I know anything about discussions going on behind the scenes, but it appears that Russia is not willing to seek a compromise. Quite frankly, if Putin listens to any advisers whatsoever, those advisers should be urging him to find a way to cut a deal, because the longer this war goes, the greater harm this war will inflict on Russia and the Russian people. Again, it’s not my job to worry about Russia, but it seems to me if Putin cares at all about the well-being of his nation, then he needs to be working real hard to find a way to back away from the cliff that he’s wandered onto.AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Andrew Bacevich, if you can explain the argument you make in your piece, headlined “The Ukraine invasion is nothing compared to Iraq”? I mean, you’re a retired colonel. You’re a Vietnam War veteran. You lost your son in Iraq. Explain your argument.ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I mean, I don’t — not for an instant would I want to minimize the horrors that are unfolding in Ukraine today and the deaths and the injuries inflicted on noncombatants. But let’s face it, the numbers are minuscule compared to the number of people that died, were displaced, were injured as a consequence of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The total number — according to the Brown University Costs of War Project, the total number is somewhere in the vicinity of 900,000 deaths resulted from our invasion of Afghanistan and our invasion of Iraq. Now, I understand that Americans don’t want to talk about that, don’t want to remember that. The political establishment wants to move on from that. But there is, I think, a moral dimension to the present war, to the Ukraine war, that should cause us to be a little bit humble, reticent about pointing our fingers at other people.AMY GOODMAN: Finally, we only have 30 seconds, but the response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been staggering. I mean, you’ve got not only the government response. Of course, Putin has strengthened NATO beyond any NATO activist’s wildest imaginings. The corporate response, all of these companies pulling out. The effect of all of this?ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I mean, it remains to be seen, but I think your point is basically correct. The negative response that Putin has elicited across — around the world, not everywhere but most places around the world, has been astonishing and heartening. But let’s see. I think it remains to be seen what the policy effects are going to be.AMY GOODMAN: We thank you so much for being with us, Andrew Bacevich, retired colonel, Vietnam War veteran, president and co-founder of the antiwar think tank Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. His latest book is After the Apocalypse.
Now, four years later, he was in a hospital intensive care room remembering their courtship as his wife lay unconscious, hooked up to a tangle of machines keeping her alive. Diana was 20 weeks pregnant, and he had a decision to make.
If doctors delivered the baby now, they told him, she would have the best shot at surviving. But the baby was so premature that it would almost certainly die. If Chris waited, he could lose them both.
As the pandemic enters its third year, untold numbers of Americans have agonized over such treatment questions that could mean life or death for their loved ones. Confronting the possible loss of a spouse or life partner is invariably painful, but with covid-19, the severity and suddenness of the illness and the isolation from friends and family have compounded the torment.
The choice in front of Chris was a deeply personal one that only he could make.Diana Crouch was 18 weeks pregnant when she tested positive for the coronavirus, ultimately spending 139 days in the ICU fighting for her and her baby’s lives. (Drea Cornejo/The Washington Post)
Diana was on a ventilator, but her condition was spiraling downward. The coronavirus had thrown her body wildly off balance, and doctors told Chris they needed to move her to a treatment of last resort, in which they would pump her blood through a machine outside her body to take pressure off her heart and lungs. The odds were scary to begin with — an estimated 40 to 50 percent of people going on that machine die — and the baby was putting an additional load on her body that she might not be able to handle.
Chris and Diana were married in the summer of 2019 in a small garden ceremony, and life had been pretty close to perfect since then.
They were opposites, but in ways that complemented each other. Born in Monterrey, Mexico, and raised in North Carolina, Diana was quiet and tended to choose her words carefully. He was a gregarious Texan with a quirky way of recalling dates, numbers and interesting facts about everything from football to legal statutes, a habit that sparked lively conversations with strangers wherever they went. They agreed on conservative values — he was raised Baptist and she was Catholic. And they shared a sharp sense of humor, enjoying shows like “The Office” together.
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They had a boy, Cain, and Chris was promoted to sergeant at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, a job that provided a steady enough income that Diana could stay home and take care of their blended family. He had two boys from his previous marriage; she had a girl from hers.
The family was young, healthy and happy, and when the pandemic hit, they were worried like everyone else. Before long, though, they started feeling that the dangers of the virus had been exaggerated and that they wanted to get back to their lives.
When the vaccines came along, Chris became outspoken against them, espousing views that were common in his workplace and much of Texas but that put him at odds with his mother, sister and the close friends he had grown up with in the Heights, a liberal bastion in Houston. Despite his family’s pleading, Chris and Diana were adamant they did not need to be vaccinated. They did wear masks, but only when required.
Chris felt that vaccine mandates infringed on personal liberties, a perspective promoted by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other prominent Republicans. And Chris and Diana alsoworried that the shots had been developed too quickly. As he liked to say, “God gave us our immune system and we can fight the viruses with our own immune system.” Diana, meanwhile, was leery of anything that might hurt the developing baby she carried. She knew that early stories linking the vaccines to miscarriage and infertility were false, but thought avoiding them was the prudent thing to do, like skipping wine, raw fish and unpasteurized cheese — especially given some of the medical community’s early hesitation. The World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommend that all pregnant people get vaccinated.
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In the summer of 2021, soon after President Biden declared the pandemic almost over, their two-year anniversary was approaching and the couple decided to go to Las Vegas to celebrate. They stayed at the Trump hotel, walked along the Strip and caught a showing of Cirque du Soleil. Diana had a headache, but it didn’t keep them from going out and having fun.
As soon as they returned, however, she developed a low-grade fever and exhaustion unlike anything she had experienced. Late on Aug. 6, she cried out that she was having trouble breathing. Chris called 911, reminding himself that in his line of work, he’d seen a lot of people go to the hospital for covid — with most recovering after a little oxygen.
Diana’s case would turn out to be far less simple.
The emergency doctors at the hospital immediately transferred her to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, which had created a special unit for pregnant people with covid. Chris remembers Diana screaming when doctors told them she needed a ventilator: “I have kids. I can’t die.” He held her and made a promise he wasn’t sure he could keep: “You are not going to die,” he vowed.
From the start, Diana’s case weighed on Cameron Dezfulian, a critical-care specialist supervising or consulting on dozens of pregnancies. “She was unusual,” he recalled.
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Most of his other patients had preexisting conditions such as obesity and were close to full term at 36 to 40 weeks. Diana had been healthy, about 110 pounds and at 18 weeks when she arrived at the hospital, still in the second trimester of her pregnancy. She had at least a month before the fetus would be considered viable — a situation that complicated treatment options.
Pregnancy doesextraordinary things to the body, and the interaction of those changes withcovid is something scientists are only beginning to understand. From the beginning of the pandemic until this month, 27,854 pregnant women with covid have been hospitalized out of 167,000 cases reported to the CDC. Many, like Diana, were young and unvaccinated. More than 267 of them have died, making covid-19 a top cause of maternal mortality.
A study of nearly 2,700 pregnant women funded by the National Institutes of Health and published Feb. 7 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that pregnant women with covid-19 are at greater risk of pregnancy complications — in addition to risks from the virus itself.
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Doctors are still baffled about why they get so sick. It could be that pregnancy causes a person’s immune system to be in a heightened state of alert to protect the baby and that when the system is exposed to a virus, it overreacts. Another theory suggests the opposite — that pregnant people are immunosuppressed so that their bodies don’t reject the developing fetus. Fetuses also pull oxygen and blood to the placenta. When combined with a virus like covid that can cause lung damage and blood clotting, the body’s balance may be upset.
Whatever the cause, Dezfulian said, “there is no doubt pregnancy and the coronavirus are a setup for more illness.”
For Chris, the next 10 days blurred together. He wasn’t allowed to leave the hospital room because he was also assumed to have the coronavirus. He’d joke to the doctors and nurses every morning, “I bet you’re tired of seeing me …”
Chris had never lost anyone close to him. And as he stared at his wife and saw her suffering, he couldn’t shake the question that kept popping into his head: “Was this my fault?”
During those long hours alone, he struggled with how strongly he had held to beliefs about the vaccines without really examining them. Increasingly, he felt a responsibility to warn others about his mistakes, so he began writing to friends, family and even strangers on Facebook, urging them to get the shots. Somewhere along the way, he got vaccinated himself.
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“When you sit there and you see your wife on life support because of covid, you throw out politics,” he said later. “None of that matters anymore.”
Dezfulian’s team had hoped that the oxygen they were pumping into Diana’s lungs through a ventilator would enable her to fight off the virus. Instead, things were going in the opposite direction. “Every day we were losing a little bit of ground,” the doctor said.
Fourteen days after she arrived at the hospital, the group concluded it was time to move Diana to anothermachinecalled ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, in which the blood is pumped outside the body to give the lungs and heart a chance to rest. The decision to put a patient on ECMO is not taken lightly. The therapy, developed in the 1970s, is lifesaving in the right circumstances. But it can also lead to bleeding, stroke, seizure, blood clots and infection. Moreover, the equipment isscarce, the staffing intensive, and the treatmentcan run uphospital bills in the millions.
At the beginning of the pandemic, many people were worried about rationing ventilators, but instead it’s been ECMO that has been in limited supply nationwide. “That is the tough part nobody wants to talk about,” Dezfulian said. “There are a limited number of pumps, and you make some decisions on the likelihood they will have a long life and a good life.”
On the day his team recommended ECMO for Diana, a somber trio of staff members appeared in her room to visit Chris. He doesn’t remember the exact words they used, but they seemed to speak in euphemisms. “They would ask how you were” and then throw in a question, like what would he want done if his wife’s heart stopped. “They were giving you hints,” he said.
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Chris didn’t fully understand it then, but the staff members were part of the medical center’s palliative care team trained to support very ill patients and their families, especially with end-of-life decisions and care. He said he came to dread seeing them in the hallways: “When you see those people, you pray they avoid your room.”
Chris was worriedabout putting Diana on the new machine. When he googled ECMO, he said, he found that “it’s a bad, bad deal.”
Using ECMO during pregnancy is extremely rare. One study from the University of North Carolina detailed what happened in nine cases from 2008 to 2017: Only three of the women lived and only five of the babies, for a survival rate of 33 percent and 55 percent, respectively.
Chris remembers asking a ton of “what if” questions that no one could answer. He kept coming back to something Diana had told him as they shared their childhood dreams. “All I ever wanted to do was be a mom. As a kid, that’s all I ever wanted,” she had said.
So he decided he had to try to save them both. “I didn’t know if one or the other was going to live, or both were going to die,” he said. “I didn’t know if I was going to go back home without anybody.”
Doctors had expected Diana to be on the machine for up to about 21 days. When that marker came and went, Chris told himself to be patient as he stared at the tubes of blood swirling around his wife’s body.
On day 30, it seemed as if their ordeal might be over. Diana woke up and was even able to get on her phone and text her family hello. Chris remembers the whole staff smiling and making plans for next steps.
The happy moment was all too brief. It wasn’t long before Diana started seeming confused. Soon, she could no longer see, even though she was still talking to Chris. An hour later, she slipped into a coma, and the somber group of three walked into the room again.
Diana was suffering from “an embolic shower,” in which blood clots burst and scatter, the doctors explained. Three had gone to her brain, causing strokes, and another had lodged in a wall of her heart,resulting in a heart attack.It was a known complication of ECMO, but they had not been able to put her on blood thinners because she had hadbleeding in her gastrointestinal tract and in her throat, where doctors had cut a hole for the ventilator.
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Now, the doctors told Chris that even if Diana woke up, she might “not be the same,” she might not remember him or the children. Chris crumpled into the chair next to her and wept. Dezfulian came by and prayed with him.
“That’s when I prayed the most,” Chris said, “because at that point, even the doctors were like, ‘We don’t really know what to do next.’ ”
Diana went back on ECMO, and as the days slowly passed, Chris could see her belly growing. Through everything, the baby’s heart rate held steady and he was growing nicely. On Nov. 10, when Diana had been in the hospital for more than three months and the baby was 31 weeks along, doctors delivered a baby boy by Caesarean section. He was 4 pounds and 12 ounces.
The infant was healthy. But Diana’s body seemed exhausted from the ordeal: She developed an infection, as well as an air leak in her lungs, and one eventually collapsed. Doctors began preparing for a lung transplant.
It was in this dark moment that things began to shift. Without the added stress of carrying the baby, Diana’s body began to repair itself, and by the end of November, doctors were able to wake her up. She was tremendously weak and, at first, didn’t know Chris. His heart felt like it was disintegrating. But then, when a nurse told Diana he was her husband, she pointed to a picture of them on the beach that Chris had posted on the wall and said, “No, that’s my husband.”
Slowly, against all odds, Diana’s memories came back and she began asking about her other children and wondering how it could be that she was no longer pregnant. She asked Chris, “Why didn’t anybody tell me I was going to have a C-section?”
Just before Christmas, on Dec. 23, Diana was able to return home. Chris rattled off the numbers to her: 139 days at the hospital, 101 on a ventilator, 51 of those also on ECMO. She was still attached to an oxygen tank and had three tubes in her lungs to keep them inflated that were pretty painful. But she couldn’t wait to be home.
As soon as they arrived, Chris scooped her up and put her in a bed Diana’s father had set up on the main floor, and Cain, 1, and daughter Miranda, 7, piled onto the blankets. Chris cradled their newborn baby, Cameron, plump and healthy, whom they had named after Dezfulian, Diana’s doctor. Cameron had been discharged several weeks before Diana.
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One day after they were safely home, Chris finally told her about the choice he had had to make.
She replied that even if things had not worked out the way they did, “I wouldn’t change anything.” He felt relief, but also sadness for all the others who had been in the same spot as he had — or would be in the future.
Doctors are optimistic that, physically, Diana will make a full recovery, but it will take time, and she’s still weak on her left side because of the strokes. Emotionally, she’s struggling. She has anxiety about seeing people and leaving her home for fear that she and loved ones will be infected with the virus.
“Things I used to do before, I can’t do anymore. … And so it’s hard for the kids and it’s hard for me, because you want to do so much more. And they want you to do so much more,” she said.
Most of their extended family who had resisted vaccines have now gotten them after learning of Diana’s ordeal, but a few remained reluctant. In January, they got word that Gilbert, one of Diana’s favorite relatives on Chris’s side who was also unvaccinated, had covid. He was one of the first people Chris had told about his feelings for Diana, and he was always joking to Chris that he had done well for himself in finding her.
Shortly before Gilbert was put on a ventilator, he sent a video to relatives describing his condition. Diana texted encouraging messages. “God is going to hug you very tight,” she typed into her phone, and sent a video of Miranda saying they were praying for him.
He died in late January, and Diana cried all night.
Johnson made this comment after he asserted that there have been “over 22,000 deaths reported in association with the [coronavirus] vaccines” — and then quickly adding “that doesn’t prove causation.”
We have explored before how Johnson routinely raises concerns about vaccines by citing data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a database co-managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. Anyone can submit a report to VAERS, and the reports are not verified. The numbers are basically meaningless.
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In this instance, we are more interested in his comment about “athletes dropping dead on the field.” His staff says, as with his references to VAERS, that Johnson is just asking questions, not making factual claims.
“Senator Johnson stated he has heard stories of athletes dying on the field and those should be investigated,” spokeswoman Alexa Henning said. “The Senator’s point in raising these issues has always been that our federal health agencies should be concerned about reports on adverse reactions related to covid-19 vaccines and they should fully investigate and make their findings available to the American people.”
She provided a link to a website called Good Sciencing, maintained by anonymous people, that has a blog post with the headline, as of Jan. 31: “577 Athlete Cardiac Arrests, Serious Issues, 352 Dead, After COVID Shot.”
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Here’s the rub: This claim has been debunked repeatedly. The story of athletes dropping dead from coronavirus vaccines has its roots in mysterious Austrian websites with ties to that country’s far-right populist party, the Freedom Party. Those stories were then recycled by right-wing media in the United States and then eventually came out of the mouth of a U.S. senator.
As is often the case, a kernel of truth — some people have reported an inflammation of the heart muscle known as myocarditis after taking mRNA-based vaccines — has been exploited by purveyors of falsehoods. Medical research shows the risk of getting myocarditis from the coronavirus itself is about 100 times higher than getting it from a vaccine.
Let’s follow the misinformation trail.
A Danish soccer player collapses
On June 12, during the Euro 2020 match between Denmark and Finland, 29-year-old Christian Eriksen suffered cardiac arrest shortly before halftime. Almost immediately, there was speculation online that the midfielder, who had seemed healthy, had a reaction to a coronavirus vaccine — even though his club football team, Inter Milan, said he had not been vaccinated.
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Lubos Motl, a blogger and physicist with a history of making false claims about coronavirus vaccines, tweeted that Eriksen had received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine 12 days earlier. He claimed his source was a radio interview with Inter Milan’s chief medic and cardiologist, an interview that never happened and was quickly denied by Inter Milan and Radio Sportiva.
Motl deleted his tweet, but it was amplified by other vaccine skeptics who did not delete their tweets, such as Alex Berenson, a former New York Timesreporter, and Brazilian journalist Allan dos Santos. (Their Twitter accounts were later suspended, as was Motl’s.) The false claim quickly spread to Facebook, in many languages.
One entity that jumped on the story was Report24, a German-language website based in Austria. A commentary by a staff member identified as “Willi Huber” cited another Berenson tweet to claim that Inter Milan actually had started vaccinating players in March. (In reality, the Italian team did not schedule vaccinations until July, according to Italian news reports, before the start of the new season.) “If Eriksen was vaccinated with the Pfizer/Biotech vaccine, a possible side effect would be myocarditis,” Huber wrote.
Austrian websites fan the flames
On Sept. 14, another Austrian website, Wochenblick, posted a story with a provocative headline: “Dead doctors, dead mothers: Why have so many people suddenly dropped dead?” The article included a list of unexplained deaths, claiming that many appeared to be vaccinated and asserting that heart damage was one possible side effect. “Is this just coincidence, or could there be something that connects all of these deaths?” the article asked. If it’s related to the coronavirus vaccines, “there could very well be many more of these ‘unexplained’ deaths very soon.”
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It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. A few weeks later, on Oct. 4, Wochenblick zeroed in on athletes: “Young people die after vaccination — athletes suddenly collapse!” Deaths were becoming a “Twitter trend,” the article said, promoting a Twitter hashtag to collect reports of sudden, unexpected deaths. “The number of cases of this heart disease is apparently literally shooting through the roof at the moment,” the article said.
Correctiv, a German fact-checking organization, in September exposed how Wochenblick and Report24 appear to operate in tandem to spread false information, including attempting to influence elections in Germany. Report24 was created in March apparently by a group of Wochenblick employees after an editorial dispute.
But Correctiv concluded that virtually all Report24 authors “seem to use pseudonyms or do not exist at all,” and the listed addresses for both organizations do not lead to an editorial office. The address is also associated with another online site, Info-Direkt, that also publishes false reports. Correctiv found numerous links between identified people working for these websites and the Freedom Party of Austria, a link that is “little disguised” given the editorial tone and subjects covered by the three websites.Myocarditis can be a side effect of coronavirus vaccines. But experts agree that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the rare and often mild risks. (John Farrell/The Washington Post)
After Wochenblick focused on dead athletes, Report24 picked up the ball. On Oct. 28, under Huber’s byline, the website published what it claimed was “a long list of ‘suddenly’ deceased or seriously ill athletes,” more than 75 in the previous five months. Buried in the story was this caveat: “We do not claim that all of these people became ill and died because of the vaccination, nor that there is a proven connection in the case of vaccination.”
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The long list of Report24 articles on the coronavirus appears to demonstrate a bias against coronavirus vaccination. But in an email exchange with The Fact Checker, a person who responded to emails addressed to Huber said, “Our editorial policy is not anti-vax, it is pro-truth.”
“If there are studies available, which prove government claims regarding vaccinations are wrong, we will report,” the emailer wrote. “If there is trustworthy, independent proof, that vaccinations work, we will report. If we can prove that people died close after their vaccination, we will report.”
After an exchange of questions about the Correctiv report — which indicated Huber was a pseudonym — the emailer wrote: “Analyzing your style of questions and topics, you are part of politically biased fake news media, so our communication ends here. Sadly, you are not interested in truth but in leftist prejudices.”
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Norbert Geroldinger, managing director of Wochenblick, did not respond to a request for comment.
The ‘news’ travels to the United States
Report24’s post caught the attention of vaccine skeptics in the United States.
On Nov. 4, the HighWire tweeted a translation of the Austrian article to its more than 100,000 followers. The HighWire is associated with the anti-vaccination group Informed Consent Action Network, which is headed by Del Bigtree, a major voice in the anti-vaccination movement.
Two days later, Granite Grok — run by what it calls “fire-breathing, right-wing, hard-charging, gun-toting, opinionated, outspoken, rabble-rousing, letter-writing, radio microphone stomping, Conservatives and Rational Libertarians” — also posted about the Report24 article.
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The report then spread across Facebook and on social media. On Nov. 10, it was fact-checked and labeled as false by PolitiFact as part of its partnership with Facebook. “The athletes listed in the German news story did not all die, nor did they all have heart attacks,” the fact check said, noting the caveat buried in the story.
But that same day, Wochenblick upped the ante: “At least 69 athletes collapsed in one month, many dead.” The article asserted that the mainstream media was ignoring the obvious connection to coronavirus vaccines.
By Nov. 16, the HighWire had produced a video titled “Why Are Healthy Athletes Collapsing?” that restated the debunked Report24 list. That led to another fact check by PolitiFact on Dec. 1 that flagged the video as false, limiting its circulation on the Facebook platform. A few weeks later, the HighWire reedited the video to remove names of players who had not been vaccinated.
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The headline was not changed, but a disclaimer was added: “To be clear, a causal link has not been established between the covid vaccine and the conditions of the athletes in this video. This video represents an ongoing investigation into the question ‘When have we ever seen this many athletes collapse on the field of play?’ ”
That same month, the website Good Sciencing jumped on the bandwagon, posting a list of nearly 200 athletes and almost 100 deaths — which quickly grew. On Dec. 6, the popular right-wing website Gateway Pundit reported on an updated Good Sciencing list that now claimed nearly 300 athletes had collapsed or suffered cardiac arrests after getting a coronavirus vaccine in 2021, with many dying. That list, apparently assembled in part with help from a closed “sudden injuries and deaths” Telegram messenger group, was fact-checked by FactCheck.org and found riddled with errors.
Nevertheless, the list circulated “like wildfire” among players in Europe’s top soccer league, according to the New York Times, hampering vaccination efforts among players. Reports also spread that 108 FIFA soccer players had died in a six-month period in 2021. That was fact-checked as false by Reuters.
For fact checkers, it’s like a game of whack-a-mole. By late January, Good Sciencing claimed its list had grown to 577 players, with 352 dead. (Any close scrutiny finds links of deaths to a vaccine to be highly tenuous.) On Jan. 21, the HighWire posted a new video, titled “Healthy athletes are still inexplicably collapsing.”
Johnson’s staff suggested we speak with Ken Ruettgers, a former Green Bay Packers offensive tackle who started a website that collects information on bad reactions to coronavirus vaccinations after his wife suffered what he called “a severe neurological reaction” after her first Moderna shot.
“People are observing what they believe to be an increase,” Ruettgers said in a phone interview after emailing links to his sources: the Good Sciencing list, the Granite Grok post and a report on Wochenblick’s estimate of 69 collapsed athletes in a month. “Based on what we have been seeing and what the CDC has said, it is a legitimate question,” he said, referring to a CDC advisory of rare reports of mild myocarditis after vaccination, especially adolescent males and men under the age of 30. “I think it is a good hypothesis. Maybe something is there or it’s just our bias.” As he put it in a later email, “Bias (confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, etc.) plays a role in human and public perceptions and opinions,” so “further research would be a good action.”
But respected medical experts say there is no question: Contracting the coronavirus is much more dangerous to an athlete than getting vaccinated.
“Those lists are total misinformation. Most of the cases are from other established causes of sudden cardiac arrest in athletes, and some cases even occurred before the pandemic began,” said Jonathan A. Drezner, editor in chief of the British Journal of Sports Medicine who conducts research with the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, which monitors all cases of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) and death in athletes across the United States.
“The risk of myocarditis from mRNA vaccines is about 1 in 20,000,” he said. “The risk of cardiac involvement in young athletes from [covid] infection is about 1 in 200.” The risk estimates come from peer-reviewed studies published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Drezner, director of the University of Washington Center for Sports Cardiology and a team physician for professional sports teams, added: “Importantly, myocarditis represented 4 to 9 percent of SCA in athletes before the pandemic began, so these numbers are well within what has been routinely captured for viral-related SCA.”
Dermot Phelan, director of sports cardiology at Atrium Health in Charlotte, says he constantly gets questions about these lists from players, coaches, teams and leagues.
“Sports Cardiology remains a small subspecialty, and I personally know most, if not all, of the main practitioners in this country. We discuss this regularly as we do not want to miss any issue that will put our athletes at risk,” he said. “None of us have seen a true confirmed on-field death related to vaccination. While there is clearly a very, very small risk of mild myocarditis with vaccinations, the benefits far outweigh the risks.”
This depressing saga shows how “just asking questions” is used as a get-out-of-jail card for those peddling falsehoods about the coronavirus vaccines. Any vaccine carries some risk, but these lists of athletes, often assembled by anonymous individuals with no apparent medical credentials, are sketchy and anecdotal; there is no baseline comparison that would put these figures in context. Caveats that would detract from the scare headlines are buried.
Meanwhile, these reports have had their intended effect: spreading fear among athletes about covid vaccinations. A responsible politician would determine the facts, not “ask questions” premised on unverified claims made by bottom feeders of the Internet.
Anyone who spreads this misinformation, in whatever form, earns Four Pinocchios.
Barbara F. Walter, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego, serves on a CIA advisory panel called the Political Instability Task Force that monitors countries around the world and predicts which of them are most at risk of deteriorating into violence. By law, the task force can’t assess what’s happening within the United States, but Walter, a longtime friend who has spent her career studying conflicts in Syria, Lebanon, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Rwanda, Angola, Nicaragua and elsewhere, applied the predictive techniques herself to this country.
Her bottom line: “We are closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe.” She lays out the argument in detail in her must-read book, “How Civil Wars Start,” out in January. “No one wants to believe that their beloved democracy is in decline, or headed toward war,” she writes. But, “if you were an analyst in a foreign country looking at events in America — the same way you’d look at events in Ukraine or the Ivory Coast or Venezuela — you would go down a checklist, assessing each of the conditions that make civil war likely. And what you would find is that the United States, a democracy founded more than two centuries ago, has entered very dangerous territory.”
Indeed, the United States has already gone through what the CIA identifies as the first two phases of insurgency — the “pre-insurgency” and “incipient conflict” phases — and only time will tell whether the final phase, “open insurgency,” began with the sacking of the Capitol by Donald Trump supporters on Jan. 6.
Things deteriorated so dramatically under Trump, in fact, that the United States no longer technically qualifies as a democracy. Citing the Center for Systemic Peace’s “Polity” data set — the one the CIA task force has found to be most helpful in predicting instability and violence — Walter writes that the United States is now an “anocracy,” somewhere between a democracy and an autocratic state.
U.S. democracy had received the Polity index’s top score of 10, or close to it, for much of its history. But in the five years of the Trump era, it tumbled precipitously into the anocracy zone; by the end of his presidency, the U.S. score had fallen to a 5, making the country a partial democracy for the first time since 1800. “We are no longer the world’s oldest continuous democracy,” Walter writes. “That honor is now held by Switzerland, followed by New Zealand, and then Canada. We are no longer a peer to nations like Canada, Costa Rica, and Japan, which are all rated a +10 on the Polity index.”
Dropping five points in five years greatly increases the risk of civil war (six points in three years would qualify as “high risk” of civil war). “A partial democracy is three times as likely to experience civil war as a full democracy,” Walter writes. “A country standing on this threshold — as America is now, at +5 — can easily be pushed toward conflict through a combination of bad governance and increasingly undemocratic measures that further weaken its institutions.”
Others have reached similar findings. The Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance put the United States on a list of “backsliding democracies” in a report last month. “The United States, the bastion of global democracy, fell victim to authoritarian tendencies itself,” the report said. And a new survey by the academic consortium Bright Line Watch found that 17 percent of those who identify strongly as Republicans support the use of violence to restore Trump to power, and 39 percent favor doing everything possible to prevent Democrats from governing effectively.
The question now is whether we can pull back from the abyss Trump’s Republicans have led us to. There is no more important issue; democracy is the foundation of everything else in America. Democrats, in a nod to this reality, are talking about abandoning President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda in favor of pro-democracy voting rights legislation. Republicans will fight it tooth and nail.
The enemies of democracy must not be allowed to prevail. We are on the doorstep of the “open insurgency” stage of civil conflict, and Walter writes that once countries cross that threshold, the CIA predicts, “sustained violence as increasingly active extremists launch attacks that involve terrorism and guerrilla warfare, including assassinations and ambushes.”
It is no exaggeration to say the survival of our country is at stake.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) lacked the nerve to convict the former president for instigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. But he made a nice speech following the impeachment hearings in February: “President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office, as an ordinary citizen,” McConnell said. He added, “We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being held accountable by either one.”
Fast forward to May: McConnell insists there is nothing more to learn. Odd, since it was he who had once declared:
“Whatever our ex-president claims he thought might happen that day, whatever reaction he says he meant to produce, by that afternoon, he was watching the same live television as the rest of the world.”
“A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags, and screaming their loyalty to him. It was obvious that only President Trump could end this.”
But the now-former president didn’t. Do we know why? Do we know what he was doing at the time of the attack? Do we know who funded the insurrectionists and who communicated with them? Do we know how to prevent this from happening again? There is plenty to learn, which is exactly why McConnell wants to shut it down.
Gladys Sicknick — the mother of Brian D. Sicknick, the Capitol Police officer who suffered two strokes and died of natural causes a day after he confronted rioters at the insurrection — visited Senate offices on Thursday seeking Republicans who would allow a cloture vote to set up an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the violence. That apparently unnerved McConnell, according to a CNN report. One Republican “told CNN that McConnell has even made the unusual move of asking wavering senators to support filibustering the bill as ‘a personal favor’ to him.” That Republican told CNN, “No one can understand why Mitch is going to this extreme of asking for a ‘personal favor’ to kill the commission.”
No one? Perhaps he fears enraging the disgraced former president. Perhaps he fears reminding voters of Republicans’ participation in spreading the “big lie” that the election was stolen and attempting to overturn electoral votes even after the mob rampaged through Capitol. Perhaps he fears possible discovery of some Republicans’ deeper involvement in the insurrection. Perhaps he fears that the commission would debunk the “big lie,” which is now the justification for voter-suppression efforts around the country. And perhaps he fears Americans will conclude that Republicans cannot be trusted with power. (If the GOP holds the House in January 2025, does anyone feel confident it will abide by the results of the electoral college?) In essence, McConnell likely thinks a “personal favor” to advance his career and to return him to majority-leader status should take precedence over Gladys Sicknick’s plea to see accountability for her son’s death.
Meanwhile, a key Democrat who has the power to carve out an exception for the filibuster to allow the commission engaged in double talk. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) declared Thursday, “There is no excuse for any Republican to vote against the commission since Democrats have agreed to everything they asked for.” He continued, “Mitch McConnell has made this his political position, thinking it will help his 2022 elections. They do not believe the truth will set you free, so they continue to live in fear.”
So Manchin will help put an end to this unjustified refusal to inquire into an assault on democracy? Not so fast. “I’m not ready to destroy our government,” he said, equating filibuster reform with the destruction of government. (Remember, the filibuster was not used until the late 19th century and became a vehicle for denying civil rights to Black Americans in the 20th century). Manchin added: “It’s time to come together. I think there’s 10 good people.”
Manchin is not dumb. His ploy is obvious: Make preserving the filibuster more important than any item (even voting rights or a commission to investigate insurrection) and insist, despite every bit of evidence to the contrary, that there are 10 Republican votes to break the impasse. But there isn’t. This was made clear on Thursday, when Republicans refused to allow the commission bill to go to the floor. Manchin’s excuse that the filibuster must remain in place to promote debate is incoherent. This was a vote to put a bill on the floor for debate. Rather, the filibuster is a convenient crutch for Manchin, who has avoided taking hard votes when 10 Republicans could not be found to achieve cloture. In that manner, he has ducked the wrath of more conservative voters back home and sidestepped the ire of the party’s progressive base.
Perhaps not now, but eventually, the pressure will intensify on Manchin. His political legacy will be determined: He either will be known as the man who defended democracy in its darkest hour, or the man who helped Republicans subvert our democracy
The source of the coronavirus that has left more than 3 million people dead around the world remains a mystery. But in recent months the idea that it emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) — once dismissed as a ridiculous conspiracy theory — has gained new credence.
How and why did this happen? For one, efforts to discover a natural source of the virus have failed. Second, early efforts to spotlight a lab leak often got mixed up with speculation that the virus was deliberately created as a bioweapon. That made it easier for many scientists to dismiss the lab scenario as tin-hat nonsense. But a lack of transparency by China and renewed attention to the activities of the Wuhan lab have led some scientists to say they were too quick to discount a possible link at first.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) from the start pointed to the lab’s location in Wuhan, pressing China for answers, so the history books will reward him if he turns out to be right. The Trump administration also sought to highlight the lab scenario but generally could only point to vague intelligence. The Trump administration’s messaging was often accompanied by anti-Chinese rhetoric that made it easier for skeptics to ignore its claims.
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As a reader service, here is a timeline of key events, including important articles, that have led to this reassessment. In some instances, important information was available from the start but was generally ignored. But in other cases, some experts fought against the conventional wisdom and began to build a credible case, rooted in science, that started to change people’s minds. This has led to renewed calls for a real investigation into the lab’s activities before the coronavirus emerged.In the absence of crucial evidence of how the new coronavirus began comes many theories — one is that the virus accidentally escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China. (Sarah Cahlan, Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)
Dec. 30, 2019: The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission issues an “urgent notice” to medical institutions in Wuhan, saying that cases of pneumonia of unknown cause have emerged from the city’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.
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Jan. 5, 2020:Earliest known tweet suggesting China created the virus. @GarboHK tweeted: “18 years ago, #China killed nearly 300 #HongKongers by unreporting #SARS cases, letting Chinese tourists travel around the world, to Asia specifically to spread the virus with bad intention. Today the evil regime strikes again with a new virus.”
Jan. 23: A Daily Mail article appears, headlined: “China built a lab to study SARS and Ebola in Wuhan — and U.S. biosafety experts warned in 2017 that a virus could ‘escape’ the facility that’s become key in fighting the outbreak.”
Jan. 26: The Washington Times publishes an article with the headline: “Coronavirus may have originated in lab linked to China’s biowarfare program.” An editor’s note is added March 25: “Since this story ran, scientists outside of China have had a chance to study the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They concluded it does not show signs of having been manufactured or purposefully manipulated in a lab.”
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Jan. 26: A study by Chinese researchers published in the Lancet of the first 41 hospitalized patients in Wuhan who had confirmed infections found that 13 of the 41 cases, including the first documented case, had no link to the seafood marketplace that originally was considered the origin of the outbreak.
Jan 30: Sen. Tom Cotton, speaking at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, says: “This coronavirus is a catastrophe on the scale of Chernobyl for China. But actually, it’s probably worse than Chernobyl, which was localized in its effect. The coronavirus could result in a global pandemic.” He adds: “I would note that Wuhan has China’s only biosafety level-four super laboratory that works with the world’s most deadly pathogens to include, yes, coronavirus.”
Feb. 3: WIV researchers report in the journal Nature that the novel coronavirus spreading around the world was a bat-derived coronavirus. The report said SARS-CoV-2 is 96.2 percent identical at the whole-genome level to a bat coronavirus named RaTG13.
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Feb. 6: Botao Xiao, a molecular biomechanics researcher at South China University of Technology, posts a paper stating that “the killer coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan.” He pointed to the previous safety mishaps and the kind of research undertaken at the lab. He withdrew the paper a few weeks later after Chinese authorities insisted no accident had taken place.
Feb. 9: In response to criticism from China’s ambassador that Cotton’s remarks are “absolutely crazy,” the senator tweets: “Here’s what’s not a conspiracy, not a theory: Fact: China lied about virus starting in Wuhan food market. Fact: super-lab is just a few miles from that market. Where did it start? We don’t know. But burden of proof is on you & fellow communists. Open up now to competent international scientists.”
Feb. 16: Cotton, in response to a Washington Post article critical of him, offers four scenarios on Twitter: “1. Natural (still the most likely, but almost certainly not from the Wuhan food market) 2. Good science, bad safety (e.g., they were researching things like diagnostic testing and vaccines, but an accidental breach occurred). 3. Bad science, bad safety (this is the engineered-bioweapon hypothesis, with an accidental breach). 4. Deliberate release (very unlikely, but shouldn’t rule out till the evidence is in). Again, none of these are ‘theories’ and certainly not ‘conspiracy theories.’ They are hypotheses that ought to be studied in light of the evidence.”
Feb. 19:A statement is published in Lancet by a group of 27 scientists: “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that covid-19 does not have a natural origin,” the statement says. Scientists “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife.” The statement was drafted and organized by Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, which funded research at WIV with U.S. government grants. (Three of the signers have since said a laboratory accident is plausible enough to merit consideration.)
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March 11: Scientific American publishes a profile of virologist Shi Zhengli, who heads a group that studies bat coronaviruses at WIV. “I had never expected this kind of thing to happen in Wuhan, in central China,” she said. If coronaviruses were the culprit, she remembers thinking, “Could they have come from our lab?” The article said that after the virus emerged, Shi frantically went through her own lab’s records from the past few years to check for any mishandling of experimental materials, but she “breathed a sigh of relief when the results came back: none of the sequences matched those of the viruses her team had sampled from bat caves.” She told the magazine: “That really took a load off my mind. I had not slept a wink for days.”
March 17: An analysis published in Nature Medicine by an influential group of scientists states: “Although the evidence shows that SARSCoV-2 is not a purposefully manipulated virus, it is currently impossible to prove or disprove the other theories of its origin described here. However, since we observed all notable SARS-CoV-2 features, including the optimized RBD [receptor- binding domain] and polybasic cleavage site, in related coronaviruses in nature, we do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.”
The intelligence community weighs in
March 27: A Defense Intelligence Agency assessment on the origin of the coronavirus is updated to include the possibility that the new coronavirus emerged “accidentally” due to “unsafe laboratory practices.”
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April 2: David Ignatius, writing in The Washington Post, notes: “The prime suspect is ‘natural’ transmission from bats to humans, perhaps through unsanitary markets. But scientists don’t rule out that an accident at a research laboratory in Wuhan might have spread a deadly bat virus that had been collected for scientific study.”
April 14: Josh Rogin, writing in The Post, reveals that in 2018, State Department officials visited the WIV and “sent two official warnings back to Washington about inadequate safety at the lab, which was conducting risky studies on coronaviruses from bats. The cables have fueled discussions inside the U.S. government about whether this or another Wuhan lab was the source of the virus — even though conclusive proof has yet to emerge.”
April 22: Yuri Deigin, a biotech entrepreneur, in a long and detailed post on Medium, reviews “gain-of-function” research undertaken at the lab and concludes that “from a technical standpoint, it would not be difficult for a modern virologist to create such a strain” as the new coronavirus. He adds: “The opposite point is worth repeating too: the inverse hypothesis about the exclusively natural origin of the virus does not yet have strong evidence either.”
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April 24: Under pressure from the White House, the National Institutes of Health terminates the grant to EcoHealth Alliance that funded study of bat coronaviruses at WIV.
April 30: President Donald Trump tells reporters: “You had the theory from the lab. … There’s a lot of theories. But, yeah, we have people looking at it very, very strongly.”
April 30: In a rare statement, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence says: “The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified….The IC will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”
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May 3: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says in an interview with ABC News: “There’s enormous evidence that that’s where this began. … Remember, China has a history of infecting the world, and they have a history of running substandard laboratories. These are not the first times that we have had the world exposed to viruses as a result of failures in a Chinese lab.”
May 18: The Seeker, an anonymous Twitter user, posts a medical thesis describing a mine in Mojiang, Yunnan, where miners fell ill with a viral-induced pneumonia in 2012.
June 4:Milton Leitenberg, writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, reviews the history of lab safety and the type of research conducted at WIV and argues that the lab-leak theory cannot be easily dismissed. “The pros and cons regarding the two alternative possibilities—first, that it arose in the field as a natural evolution, as many virologists maintain, or second, that it may have been the consequence of bat coronavirus research in one of the two virology research institutes located in Wuhan that led to the infection of a laboratory researcher and subsequent escape—are equally based on inference and conjecture,” he says.
July 4: The Times of London reports that a virus 96 percent identical to the coronavirus that causes covid-19 was found in an abandoned copper mine in China in 2012. The bat-infested copper mine in southwestern China was home to a coronavirus that left six men sick with pneumonia, with three eventually dying, after they had been tasked with shoveling bat guano out of the mine. This virus was collected in 2013 and then stored and studied at WIV.
July 28: Jamie Metzl, a former Clinton administration national security official, writes in The Wall Street Journal that “suggesting that an outbreak of a deadly bat coronavirus coincidentally occurred near the only level 4 virology institute in all of China—which happened to be studying the closest known relative of that exact virus—strains credulity.” He calls for a “comprehensive forensic investigation must include full access to all of the scientists, biological samples, laboratory records and other materials from the Wuhan virology institutes and other relevant Chinese organizations. Denying that access should be considered an admission of guilt by Beijing.”
July 31: Science magazine publishes an interview with Shi Zhengli of WIV. She said it was impossible for anyone at the institute to have been infected, saying “to date, there is ‘zero infection’ of all staff and students in our institute.” She added: “President Trump’s claim that SARS-CoV-2 was leaked from our institute totally contradicts the facts. It jeopardizes and affects our academic work and personal life. He owes us an apology.” In the interview, she admitted that some coronavirus research was conducted at biosafety level 2, not the more restrictive BSL-4.
Nov. 2: David A. Relman, a Stanford University microbiologist, writes in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: “The ‘origin story’ is missing many key details, including a plausible and suitably detailed recent evolutionary history of the virus, the identity and provenance of its most recent ancestors, and surprisingly, the place, time, and mechanism of transmission of the first human infection.”
Nov. 17: An influential paper written by Rossana Segreto and Yuri Deigin is published: “The genetic structure of SARS-CoV-2 does not rule out a laboratory origin.” The paper noted that “a natural host, either direct or intermediate, has not yet been identified.” It argues that certain features of the coronavirus “might be the result of lab manipulation techniques such as site-directed mutagenesis. The acquisition of both unique features by SARS-CoV-2 more or less simultaneously is less likely to be natural or caused only by cell/animal serial passage.” The paper concluded: “On the basis of our analysis, an artificial origin of SARS-CoV-2 is not a baseless conspiracy theory that is to be condemned,” referencing the Lancet statement in February.
Nov. 17: WIV researchers, including Shi, post an addendum to their Feb. 3 report in Nature, acknowledging that RaTG13, the bat coronavirus closely associated with the coronavirus, was found in a mine cave after several patients had fallen ill with “severe respiratory disease” in 2012 while cleaning the cave.
Jan. 4, 2021: New York magazine publishes a lengthy article by Nicholson Baker, who reviews the evidence and concludes the lab-leak scenario is more compelling than previously believed.
Jan. 15: Days before Trump leaves office, the State Department issues a “fact sheet” on WIV that states: “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. … The WIV has a published record of conducting ‘gain-of-function’ research to engineer chimeric viruses. But the WIV has not been transparent or consistent about its record of studying viruses most similar to the covid-19 virus, including ‘RaTG13,’ which it sampled from a cave in Yunnan Province in 2013 after several miners died of SARS-like illness.”
Jan. 20: Joe Biden becomes president.
Feb. 9: A joint report by the World Health Organization and China declares: “The findings suggest that the laboratory incident hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain introduction of the virus into the human population.”
Feb. 11: WHO Secretary General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus refuses to rule out the lab-leak scenario. “Some questions have been raised as to whether some hypotheses have been discarded,” he said. “I want to clarify that all hypotheses remain open and require further study.”
Feb. 19: National security adviser Jake Sullivan issues a statement about the WHO report: “We have deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the COVID19 investigation were communicated and questions about the process used to reach them. It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government. To better understand this pandemic and prepare for the next one, China must make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak.”
March 4: Prominent scientists from around the world, in an open letter to WHO, call for a new investigation into the origins of the virus, saying the previous investigation was flawed. The letter detailed the elements of a “full and unrestricted” investigation. (Additional letters are released April 7 and April 30.)
March 22: The Australian newspaper reports: “Wuhan Institute of Virology researchers working on coronaviruses were hospitalized with symptoms consistent with covid-19 in early November 2019 in what U.S. officials suspect could have been the first cluster.”
March 28: “60 Minutes” airs report on lingering questions about the origins of the coronavirus, featuring Metzl and former deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger. “There was a direct order from Beijing to destroy all viral samples — and they didn’t volunteer to share the genetic sequences,” Pottinger says, quoting from declassified intelligence information.
May 5: Former New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade, writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, reviews the evidence and makes a strong case for the lab-leak theory. He focuses in particular on the furin cleavage site, which increases viral infectivity for human cells. His analysis yields this quote from David Baltimore, a virologist and former president of the California Institute of Technology: “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. These features make a powerful challenge to the idea of a natural origin for SARS2.”
May 14: Eighteen prominent scientists publish a letter in the journal Science, saying a new investigation is needed because “theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable.” One signer is Ralph Baric, a virologist who worked closely with Shi.
May 17: Another former New York Times science reporter, Donald G. McNeil Jr., posts on Medium: “How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Lab-Leak Theory.” He quotes W. Ian Lipkin of Columbia University — who had signed the March 2020 letter in Nature Medicine — as saying his mind had changed in light of new information.
The Confederacy was a con job on whites. And still is.
March 06, 2017 05:57 PM,
By Frank Hyman
Reaction to removing the Confederate Flag
South Carolina residents respond on June 21 when Governor Nikki Haley began the process of removing the Confederate Flag from the statehouse grounds. Tracy Glantzemail@example.com By Tracy Glantz
I’ve lived 55 years in the South, and I grew up liking the Confederate flag. I haven’t flown one for many decades, but for a reason that might surprise you.
I know the South well. We lived wherever the Marine Corps stationed my father: Georgia, Virginia, the Carolinas. As a child, my favorite uncle wasn’t in the military, but he did pack a .45 caliber Thompson submachine gun in his trunk. He was a leader in the Ku Klux Klan. Despite my role models, as a kid I was an inept racist. I got in trouble once in the first grade for calling a classmate the N-word. But he was Hispanic.
As I grew up and acquired the strange sensation called empathy (strange for boys anyway), I learned that for black folks the flutter of that flag felt like a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. And for the most prideful flag waivers, clearly that response was the point. I mean, come on. It’s a battle fla
What the flag symbolizes for blacks is enough reason to take it down. But there’s another reason that white southerners shouldn’t fly it. Or sport it on our state-issued license plates as some do here in North Carolina. The Confederacy – and the slavery that spawned it – was also one big con job on the Southern, white, working class. A con job funded by some of the ante-bellum one-per-centers, that continues today in a similar form.
You don’t have to be an economist to see that forcing blacks – a third of the South’s laborers – to work without pay drove down wages for everyone else. And not just in agriculture. A quarter of enslaved blacks worked in the construction, manufacturing and lumbering trades; cutting wages even for skilled white workers.
Flag Protester Talks About White Role
Thanks to the profitability of this no-wage/low-wage combination, a majority of American one-per-centers were southerners. Slavery made southern states the richest in the country. The South was richer than any other country except England. But that vast wealth was invisible outside the plantation ballrooms. With low wages and few schools, southern whites suffered a much lower land ownership rate and a far lower literacy rate than northern whites.
My ancestor Canna Hyman and his two sons did own land and fought under that flag. A note from our family history says: “Someone came for them while they were plowing one day. They put their horses up and all three went away to the War and only one son, William, came back.”
Like Canna, most Southerners didn’t own slaves. But they were persuaded to risk their lives and limbs for the right of a few to get rich as Croesus from slavery. For their sacrifices and their votes, they earned two things before and after the Civil War. First, a very skinny slice of the immense Southern pie. And second, the thing that made those slim rations palatable then and now: the shallow satisfaction of knowing that blacks had no slice at all.
How did the plantation owners mislead so many Southern whites?
They managed this con job partly with a propaganda technique that will be familiar to modern Americans, but hasn’t received the coverage it deserves in our sesquicentennial celebrations. Starting in the 1840s wealthy Southerners supported more than 30 regional pro-slavery magazines, many pamphlets, newspapers and novels that falsely touted slave ownership as having benefits that would – in today’s lingo – trickle down to benefit non-slave owning whites and even blacks. The flip side of the coin of this old-is-new trickle-down propaganda is the mistaken notion that any gain by blacks in wages, schools or health care comes at the expense of the white working class.
Today’s version of this con job no longer supports slavery, but still works in the South and thrives in pro trickle-down think tanks, magazines, newspapers, talk radio and TV news shows such as the Cato Foundation, Reason magazine, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. These sources are underwritten by pro trickle-down one-per-centers like the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch.
For example, a map of states that didn’t expand Medicaid – which would actually be a boon mostly to poor whites – resembles a map of the old Confederacy with a few other poor, rural states thrown in. Another indication that this divisive propaganda works on Southern whites came in 2012. Romney and Obama evenly split the white working class in the West, Midwest and Northeast. But in the South we went 2-1 for Romney.
Lowering the flag because of the harm done to blacks is the right thing to do. We also need to lower it because it symbolizes material harm the ideology of the Confederacy did to Southern whites that lasts even to this day.
One can love the South without flying the battle flag. But it won’t help to get rid of an old symbol if we can’t also rid ourselves of the self-destructive beliefs that go with it. Only by shedding those too, will Southern whites finally catch up to the rest of the country in wages, health and education.
Frank Hyman lives in Durham,where he has held two local elected offices. He’s a carpenter and stonemason and policy analyst for Blue Collar Comeback. This essay originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and is reprinted with permission.