Article 43

 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

NWO - Origin of Covid

Following the Clues
Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan?

By Nicholas Wade
May 2, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted lives the world over for more than a year. Its death toll will soon reach three million people. Yet the origin of pandemic remains uncertain: the political agendas of governments and scientists have generated thick clouds of obfuscation, which the mainstream press seems helpless to dispel.

In what follows I will sort through the available scientific facts, which hold many clues as to what happened, and provide readers with the evidence to make their own judgments. I will then try to assess the complex issue of blame, which starts with, but extends far beyond, the government of China.

By the end of this article, you may have learned a lot about the molecular biology of viruses. I will try to keep this process as painless as possible. But the science cannot be avoided because for now, and probably for a long time hence, it offers the only sure thread through the maze.

The virus that caused the pandemic is known officially as SARS-CoV-2, but can be called SARS2 for short. As many people know, there are two main theories about its origin. One is that it jumped naturally from wildlife to people. The other is that the virus was under study in a lab, from which it escaped. It matters a great deal which is the case if we hope to prevent a second such occurrence.

I’ll describe the two theories, explain why each is plausible, and then ask which provides the better explanation of the available facts. It’s important to note that so far there is no direct evidence for either theory. Each depends on a set of reasonable conjectures but so far lacks proof. So I have only clues, not conclusions, to offer. But those clues point in a specific direction. And having inferred that direction, I’m going to delineate some of the strands in this tangled skein of disaster.

A Tale of Two Theories

After the pandemic first broke out in December 2019, Chinese authorities reported that many cases had occurred in the wet market - a place selling wild animals for meat in Wuhan. This reminded experts of the SARS1 epidemic of 2002 in which a bat virus had spread first to civets, an animal sold in wet markets, and from civets to people. A similar bat virus caused a second epidemic, known as MERS, in 2012. This time the intermediary host animal was camels.

The decoding of the virus’s genome showed it belonged a viral family known as beta-coronaviruses, to which the SARS1 and MERS viruses also belong. The relationship supported the idea that, like them, it was a natural virus that had managed to jump from bats, via another animal host, to people. The wet market connection, the only other point of similarity with the SARS1 and MERS epidemics, was soon broken: Chinese researchers found earlier cases in Wuhan with no link to the wet market. But that seemed not to matter when so much further evidence in support of natural emergence was expected shortly.

Wuhan, however, is home of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a leading world center for research on coronaviruses. So the possibility that the SARS2 virus had escaped from the lab could not be ruled out. Two reasonable scenarios of origin were on the table.

From early on, public and media perceptions were shaped in favor of the natural emergence scenario by strong statements from two scientific groups. These statements were not at first examined as critically as they should have been.

“We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” a group of virologists and others wrote in the Lancet on February 19, 2020, when it was really far too soon for anyone to be sure what had happened. “Scientists overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife,” they said, with a stirring rallying call for readers to stand with Chinese colleagues on the frontline of fighting the disease.

Contrary to the letter writers assertion, the idea that the virus might have escaped from a lab invoked accident, not conspiracy. It surely needed to be explored, not rejected out of hand. A defining mark of good scientists is that they go to great pains to distinguish between what they know and what they don’t know. By this criterion, the signatories of the Lancet letter were behaving as poor scientists: they were assuring the public of facts they could not know for sure were true.

It later turned out that the Lancet letter had been organized and drafted by Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance of New York. Dr. Daszaks organization funded coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. If the SARS2 virus had indeed escaped from research he funded, Dr. Daszak would be potentially culpable. This acute conflict of interest was not declared to the LancetҒs readers. To the contrary, the letter concluded, We declare no competing interests.Ӕ
Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance

Virologists like Dr. Daszak had much at stake in the assigning of blame for the pandemic. For 20 years, mostly beneath the public’s attention, they had been playing a dangerous game. In their laboratories they routinely created viruses more dangerous than those that exist in nature. They argued they could do so safely, and that by getting ahead of nature they could predict and prevent natural “spillovers,” the cross-over of viruses from an animal host to people. If SARS2 had indeed escaped from such a laboratory experiment, a savage blowback could be expected, and the storm of public indignation would affect virologists everywhere, not just in China. “It would shatter the scientific edifice top to bottom,” an MIT Technology Review editor, Antonio Regalado, said in March 2020.

A second statement which had enormous influence in shaping public attitudes was a letter (in other words an opinion piece, not a scientific article) published on 17 March 2020 in the journal Nature Medicine. Its authors were a group of virologists led by Kristian G. Andersen of the Scripps Research Institute. ԓOur analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus, the five virologists declared in the second paragraph of their letter.
Kristian G. Andersen, Scripps Research

Unfortunately this was another case of poor science, in the sense defined above. True, some older methods of cutting and pasting viral genomes retain tell-tale signs of manipulation. But newer methods, called ԓno-see-um or ԓseamless approaches, leave no defining marks. Nor do other methods for manipulating viruses such as serial passage, the repeated transfer of viruses from one culture of cells to another. If a virus has been manipulated, whether with a seamless method or by serial passage, there is no way of knowing that this is the case. Dr. Andersen and his colleagues were assuring their readers of something they could not know.

The discussion part their letter begins, ԓIt is improbable that SARS-CoV-2 emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related SARS-CoV-like coronavirus. But wait, didnԒt the lead say the virus had clearly not been manipulated? The authors degree of certainty seemed to slip several notches when it came to laying out their reasoning.

The reason for the slippage is clear once the technical language has been penetrated. The two reasons the authors give for supposing manipulation to be improbable are decidedly inconclusive.

First, they say that the spike protein of SARS2 binds very well to its target, the human ACE2 receptor, but does so in a different way from that which physical calculations suggest would be the best fit. Therefore the virus must have arisen by natural selection, not manipulation.

If this argument seems hard to grasp, itҒs because its so strained. The authorsҒ basic assumption, not spelt out, is that anyone trying to make a bat virus bind to human cells could do so in only one way. First they would calculate the strongest possible fit between the human ACE2 receptor and the spike protein with which the virus latches onto it. They would then design the spike protein accordingly (by selecting the right string of amino acid units that compose it). But since the SARS2 spike protein is not of this calculated best design, the Andersen paper says, therefore it cant have been manipulated.

But this ignores the way that virologists do in fact get spike proteins to bind to chosen targets, which is not by calculation but by splicing in spike protein genes from other viruses or by serial passage. With serial passage, each time the virusҒs progeny are transferred to new cell cultures or animals, the more successful are selected until one emerges that makes a really tight bind to human cells. Natural selection has done all the heavy lifting. The Andersen papers speculation about designing a viral spike protein through calculation has no bearing on whether or not the virus was manipulated by one of the other two methods.

The authorsҒ second argument against manipulation is even more contrived. Although most living things use DNA as their hereditary material, a number of viruses use RNA, DNAs close chemical cousin. But RNA is difficult to manipulate, so researchers working on coronaviruses, which are RNA-based, will first convert the RNA genome to DNA. They manipulate the DNA version, whether by adding or altering genes, and then arrange for the manipulated DNA genome to be converted back into infectious RNA.

Only a certain number of these DNA backbones have been described in the scientific literature. Anyone manipulating the SARS2 virus ғwould probably have used one of these known backbones, the Andersen group writes, and since SARS2 is not derived from any of them, therefore it was not manipulated. But the argument is conspicuously inconclusive. DNA backbones are quite easy to make, so itԒs obviously possible that SARS2 was manipulated using an unpublished DNA backbone.

And thats it. These are the two arguments made by the Andersen group in support of their declaration that the SARS2 virus was clearly not manipulated. And this conclusion, grounded in nothing but two inconclusive speculations, convinced the worldҒs press that SARS2 could not have escaped from a lab. A technical critique of the Andersen letter takes it down in harsher words.

Science is supposedly a self-correcting community of experts who constantly check each others work. So why didnҒt other virologists point out that the Andersen groups argument was full of absurdly large holes? Perhaps because in todayҒs universities speech can be very costly. Careers can be destroyed for stepping out of line. Any virologist who challenges the communitys declared view risks having his next grant application turned down by the panel of fellow virologists that advises the government grant distribution agency.

The Daszak and Andersen letters were really political, not scientific statements, yet were amazingly effective. Articles in the mainstream press repeatedly stated that a consensus of experts had ruled lab escape out of the question or extremely unlikely. Their authors relied for the most part on the Daszak and Andersen letters, failing to understand the yawning gaps in their arguments. Mainstream newspapers all have science journalists on their staff, as do the major networks, and these specialist reporters are supposed to be able to question scientists and check their assertions. But the Daszak and Andersen assertions went largely unchallenged.

Doubts about natural emergence

Natural emergence was the medias preferred theory until around February 2021 and the visit by a World Health Organization commission to China. The commission’s composition and access were heavily controlled by the Chinese authorities. Its members, who included the ubiquitous Dr. Daszak, kept asserting before, during and after their visit that lab escape was extremely unlikely. But this was not quite the propaganda victory the Chinese authorities may have been hoping for. What became clear was that the Chinese had no evidence to offer the commission in support of the natural emergence theory.

This was surprising because both the SARS1 and MERS viruses had left copious traces in the environment. The intermediary host species of SARS1 was identified within four months of the epidemics outbreak, and the host of MERS within nine months. Yet some 15 months after the SARS2 pandemic began, and a presumably intensive search, Chinese researchers had failed to find either the original bat population, or the intermediate species to which SARS2 might have jumped, or any serological evidence that any Chinese population, including that of Wuhan, had ever been exposed to the virus prior to December 2019. Natural emergence remained a conjecture which, however plausible to begin with, had gained not a shred of supporting evidence in over a year.

And as long as that remains the case, it’s logical to pay serious attention to the alternative conjecture, that SARS2 escaped from a lab.

Why would anyone want to create a novel virus capable of causing a pandemic? Ever since virologists gained the tools for manipulating a viruss genes, they have argued they could get ahead of a potential pandemic by exploring how close a given animal virus might be to making the jump to humans. And that justified lab experiments in enhancing the ability of dangerous animal viruses to infect people, virologists asserted.

With this rationale, they have recreated the 1918 flu virus, shown how the almost extinct polio virus can be synthesized from its published DNA sequence, and introduced a smallpox gene into a related virus.

These enhancements of viral capabilities are known blandly as gain-of-function experiments. With coronaviruses, there was particular interest in the spike proteins, which jut out all around the spherical surface of the virus and pretty much determine which species of animal it will target. In 2000 Dutch researchers, for instance, earned the gratitude of rodents everywhere by genetically engineering the spike protein of a mouse coronavirus so that it would attack only cats.
The spike proteins on the coronavirusҒs surface determine which animal it can infect. CDC.gov

Virologists started studying bat coronaviruses in earnest after these turned out to be the source of both the SARS1 and MERS epidemics. In particular, researchers wanted to understand what changes needed to occur in a bat viruss spike proteins before it could infect people.

Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, led by ChinaҒs leading expert on bat viruses, Dr. Shi Zheng-li or Bat LadyӔ, mounted frequent expeditions to the bat-infested caves of Yunnan in southern China and collected around a hundred different bat coronaviruses.

Dr. Shi then teamed up with Ralph S. Baric, an eminent coronavirus researcher at the University of North Carolina. Their work focused on enhancing the ability of bat viruses to attack humans so as to examine the emergence potential (that is, the potential to infect humans) of circulating bat CoVs [coronaviruses].Ӕ In pursuit of this aim, in November 2015 they created a novel virus by taking the backbone of the SARS1 virus and replacing its spike protein with one from a bat virus (known as SHC014-CoV). This manufactured virus was able to infect the cells of the human airway, at least when tested against a lab culture of such cells.

The SHC014-CoV/SARS1 virus is known as a chimera because its genome contains genetic material from two strains of virus. If the SARS2 virus were to have been cooked up in Dr. Shis lab, then its direct prototype would have been the SHC014-CoV/SARS1 chimera, the potential danger of which concerned many observers and prompted intense discussion.

ғIf the virus escaped, nobody could predict the trajectory, said Simon Wain-Hobson, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris.

Dr. Baric and Dr. Shi referred to the obvious risks in their paper but argued they should be weighed against the benefit of foreshadowing future spillovers. Scientific review panels, they wrote, ԓmay deem similar studies building chimeric viruses based on circulating strains too risky to pursue. Given various restrictions being placed on gain-of function (GOF) research, matters had arrived in their view at ԓa crossroads of GOF research concerns; the potential to prepare for and mitigate future outbreaks must be weighed against the risk of creating more dangerous pathogens. In developing policies moving forward, it is important to consider the value of the data generated by these studies and whether these types of chimeric virus studies warrant further investigation versus the inherent risks involved.

That statement was made in 2015. From the hindsight of 2021, one can say that the value of gain-of-function studies in preventing the SARS2 epidemic was zero. The risk was catastrophic, if indeed the SARS2 virus was generated in a gain-of-function experiment.

Inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology

Dr. Baric had developed, and taught Dr. Shi, a general method for engineering bat coronaviruses to attack other species. The specific targets were human cells grown in cultures and humanized mice. These laboratory mice, a cheap and ethical stand-in for human subjects, are genetically engineered to carry the human version of a protein called ACE2 that studs the surface of cells that line the airways.

Dr. Shi returned to her lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and resumed the work she had started on genetically engineering coronaviruses to attack human cells.

How can we be so sure?

Because, by a strange twist in the story, her work was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). And grant proposals that funded her work, which are a matter of public record, specify exactly what she planned to do with the money.

The grants were assigned to the prime contractor, Dr. Daszak of the EcoHealth Alliance, who subcontracted them to Dr. Shi. Here are extracts from the grants for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. “CoV” stands for coronavirus and “S” protein refers to the virus’s spike protein.

Test predictions of CoV inter-species transmission. Predictive models of host range (i.e. emergence potential) will be tested experimentally using reverse genetics, pseudovirus and receptor binding assays, and virus infection experiments across a range of cell cultures from different species and humanized mice.Ӕ

We will use S protein sequence data, infectious clone technology, in vitro and in vivo infection experiments and analysis of receptor binding to test the hypothesis that % divergence thresholds in S protein sequences predict spillover potential.Ӕ

What this means, in non-technical language, is that Dr. Shi set out to create novel coronaviruses with the highest possible infectivity for human cells. Her plan was to take genes that coded for spike proteins possessing a variety of measured affinities for human cells, ranging from high to low. She would insert these spike genes one by one into the backbone of a number of viral genomes (reverse geneticsӔ and infectious clone technologyӔwink, creating a series of chimeric viruses. These chimeric viruses would then be tested for their ability to attack human cell cultures (in vitroӔwink and humanized mice (in vivoӔwink. And this information would help predict the likelihood of spillover,Ӕ the jump of a coronavirus from bats to people.

The methodical approach was designed to find the best combination of coronavirus backbone and spike protein for infecting human cells. The approach could have generated SARS2-like viruses, and indeed may have created the SARS2 virus itself with the right combination of virus backbone and spike protein.

It cannot yet be stated that Dr. Shi did or did not generate SARS2 in her lab because her records have been sealed, but it seems she was certainly on the right track to have done so. It is clear that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was systematically constructing novel chimeric coronaviruses and was assessing their ability to infect human cells and human-ACE2-expressing mice,Ӕ says Richard H. Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University and leading expert on biosafety.

It is also clear,Ӕ Dr. Ebright said, that, depending on the constant genomic contexts chosen for analysis, this work could have produced SARS-CoV-2 or a proximal progenitor of SARS-CoV-2.Ӕ Genomic contextӔ refers to the particular viral backbone used as the testbed for the spike protein.

The lab escape scenario for the origin of the SARS2 virus, as should by now be evident, is not mere hand-waving in the direction of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. It is a detailed proposal, based on the specific project being funded there by the NIAID.

Even if the grant required the work plan described above, how can we be sure that the plan was in fact carried out? For that we can rely on the word of Dr. Daszak, who has been much protesting for the last 15 months that lab escape was a ludicrous conspiracy theory invented by China-bashers.

On 9 December 2019, before the outbreak of the pandemic became generally known, Dr. Daszak gave an interview in which he talked in glowing terms of how researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology had been reprogramming the spike protein and generating chimeric coronaviruses capable of infecting humanized mice.

And we have now found, you know, after 6 or 7 years of doing this, over 100 new sars-related coronaviruses, very close to SARS,Ӕ Dr. Daszak says around minute 28 of the interview. Some of them get into human cells in the lab, some of them can cause SARS disease in humanized mice models and are untreatable with therapeutic monoclonals and you canӒt vaccinate against them with a vaccine. So, these are a clear and present danger.

œInterviewer: You say these are diverse coronaviruses and you cant vaccinate against them, and no anti-virals җ so what do we do?

Daszak: Well I thinkӅcoronaviruses you can manipulate them in the lab pretty easily. Spike protein drives a lot of what happen with coronavirus, in zoonotic risk. So you can get the sequence, you can build the protein, and we work a lot with Ralph Baric at UNC to do this. Insert into the backbone of another virus and do some work in the lab. So you can get more predictive when you find a sequence. Youגve got this diversity. Now the logical progression for vaccines is, if you are going to develop a vaccine for SARS, people are going to use pandemic SARS, but lets insert some of these other things and get a better vaccine.Ҕ The insertions he referred to perhaps included an element called the furin cleavage site, discussed below, which greatly increases viral infectivity for human cells.

In disjointed style, Dr. Daszak is referring to the fact that once you have generated a novel coronavirus that can attack human cells, you can take the spike protein and make it the basis for a vaccine.

One can only imagine Dr. Daszaks reaction when he heard of the outbreak of the epidemic in Wuhan a few days later. He would have known better than anyone the Wuhan InstituteҒs goal of making bat coronaviruses infectious to humans, as well as the weaknesses in the institutes defense against their own researchers becoming infected.

But instead of providing public health authorities with the plentiful information at his disposal, he immediately launched a public relations campaign to persuade the world that the epidemic couldnҒt possibly have been caused by one of the institutes souped-up viruses. ғThe idea that this virus escaped from a lab is just pure baloney. Its simply not true,Ҕ he declared in an April 2020 interview.

The Safety Arrangements at the Wuhan Institute of Virology

Dr. Daszak was possibly unaware of, or perhaps he knew all too well, the long history of viruses escaping from even the best run laboratories. The smallpox virus escaped three times from labs in England in the 1960s and 1970Ғs, causing 80 cases and 3 deaths. Dangerous viruses have leaked out of labs almost every year since. Coming to more recent times, the SARS1 virus has proved a true escape artist, leaking from laboratories in Singapore, Taiwan, and no less than four times from the Chinese National Institute of Virology in Beijing.

One reason for SARS1 being so hard to handle is that there were no vaccines available to protect laboratory workers. As Dr. Daszak mentioned in his December 19 interview quoted above, the Wuhan researchers too had been unable to develop vaccines against the coronaviruses they had designed to infect human cells. They would have been as defenseless against the SARS2 virus, if it were generated in their lab, as their Beijing colleagues were against SARS1.

A second reason for the severe danger of novel coronaviruses has to do with the required levels of lab safety. There are four degrees of safety, designated BSL1 to BSL4, with BSL4 being the most restrictive and designed for deadly pathogens like the Ebola virus.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology had a new BSL4 lab, but its state of readiness considerably alarmed the State Department inspectors who visited it from the Beijing embassy in 2018. The new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,Ӕ the inspectors wrote in a cable of 19 January 2018.

The real problem, however, was not the unsafe state of the Wuhan BSL4 lab but the fact that virologists worldwide dont like working in BSL4 conditions. You have to wear a space suit, do operations in closed cabinets and accept that everything will take twice as long. So the rules assigning each kind of virus to a given safety level were laxer than some might think was prudent.

Before 2020, the rules followed by virologists in China and elsewhere required that experiments with the SARS1 and MERS viruses be conducted in BSL3 conditions. But all other bat coronaviruses could be studied in BSL2, the next level down. BSL2 requires taking fairly minimal safety precautions, such as wearing lab coats and gloves, not sucking up liquids in a pipette, and putting up biohazard warning signs. Yet a gain-of-function experiment conducted in BSL2 might produce an agent more infectious than either SARS1 or MERS. And if it did, then lab workers would stand a high chance of infection, especially if unvaccinated.

Much of Dr. ShiҒs work on gain-of-function in coronaviruses was performed at the BSL2 safety level, as is stated in her publications and other documents. She has said in an interview with Science magazine that The coronavirus research in our laboratory is conducted in BSL-2 or BSL-3 laboratories.Ӕ

It is clear that some or all of this work was being performed using a biosafety standard ӗ biosafety level 2, the biosafety level of a standard US dentists office җ that would pose an unacceptably high risk of infection of laboratory staff upon contact with a virus having the transmission properties of SARS-CoV-2, says Dr. Ebright.

ԓIt also is clear, he adds, ԓthat this work never should have been funded and never should have been performed.

This is a view he holds regardless of whether or not the SARS2 virus ever saw the inside of a lab.

Concern about safety conditions at the Wuhan lab was not, it seems, misplaced. According to a fact sheet issued by the State Department on January 15,2021, ԓ The U.S. government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.

David Asher, a fellow of the Hudson Institute and former consultant to the State Department, provided more detail about the incident at a seminar. Knowledge of the incident came from a mix of public information and ԓsome high end information collected by our intelligence community, he said. Three people working at a BSL3 lab at the institute fell sick within a week of each other with severe symptoms that required hospitalization. This was ԓthe first known cluster that were aware of, of victims of what we believe to be COVID-19.Ҕ Influenza could not completely be ruled out but seemed unlikely in the circumstances, he said.

Comparing the Rival Scenarios of SARS2 Origin

The evidence above adds up to a serious case that the SARS2 virus could have been created in a lab, from which it then escaped. But the case, however substantial, falls short of proof. Proof would consist of evidence from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, or related labs in Wuhan, that SARS2 or a predecessor virus was under development there. For lack of access to such records, another approach is to take certain salient facts about the SARS2 virus and ask how well each is explained by the two rival scenarios of origin, those of natural emergence and lab escape. Here are four tests of the two hypotheses. A couple have some technical detail, but these are among the most persuasive for those who may care to follow the argument.

1) The place of origin.

Start with geography. The two closest known relatives of the SARS2 virus were collected from bats living in caves in Yunnan, a province of southern China. If the SARS2 virus had first infected people living around the Yunnan caves, that would strongly support the idea that the virus had spilled over to people naturally. But this isnt what happened. The pandemic broke out 1,500 kilometers away, in Wuhan.

Beta-coronaviruses, the family of bat viruses to which SARS2 belongs, infect the horseshoe bat Rhinolophus affinis, which ranges across southern China. The batsҒ range is 50 kilometers, so its unlikely that any made it to Wuhan. In any case, the first cases of the Covid-19 pandemic probably occurred in September, when temperatures in Hubei province are already cold enough to send bats into hibernation.

What if the bat viruses infected some intermediate host first? You would need a longstanding population of bats in frequent proximity with an intermediate host, which in turn must often cross paths with people. All these exchanges of virus must take place somewhere outside Wuhan, a busy metropolis which so far as is known is not a natural habitat of Rhinolophus bat colonies. The infected person (or animal) carrying this highly transmissible virus must have traveled to Wuhan without infecting anyone else. No one in his or her family got sick. If the person jumped on a train to Wuhan, no fellow passengers fell ill.

ItҒs a stretch, in other words, to get the pandemic to break out naturally outside Wuhan and then, without leaving any trace, to make its first appearance there.

For the lab escape scenario, a Wuhan origin for the virus is a no-brainer. Wuhan is home to Chinas leading center of coronavirus research where, as noted above, researchers were genetically engineering bat coronaviruses to attack human cells. They were doing so under the minimal safety conditions of a BSL2 lab. If a virus with the unexpected infectiousness of SARS2 had been generated there, its escape would be no surprise.

2) Natural history and evolution

The initial location of the pandemic is a small part of a larger problem, that of its natural history. Viruses donҒt just make one time jumps from one species to another. The coronavirus spike protein, adapted to attack bat cells, needs repeated jumps to another species, most of which fail, before it gains a lucky mutation. Mutation a change in one of its RNA units ח causes a different amino acid unit to be incorporated into its spike protein and makes the spike protein better able to attack the cells of some other species.

Through several more such mutation-driven adjustments, the virus adapts to its new host, say some animal with which bats are in frequent contact. The whole process then resumes as the virus moves from this intermediate host to people.

In the case of SARS1, researchers have documented the successive changes in its spike protein as the virus evolved step by step into a dangerous pathogen. After it had gotten from bats into civets, there were six further changes in its spike protein before it became a mild pathogen in people. After a further 14 changes, the virus was much better adapted to humans, and with a further 4 the epidemic took off.

But when you look for the fingerprints of a similar transition in SARS2, a strange surprise awaits. The virus has changed hardly at all, at least until recently. From its very first appearance, it was well adapted to human cells. Researchers led by Alina Chan of the Broad Institute compared SARS2 with late stage SARS1, which by then was well adapted to human cells, and found that the two viruses were similarly well adapted. By the time SARS-CoV-2 was first detected in late 2019, it was already pre-adapted to human transmission to an extent similar to late epidemic SARS-CoV,Ӕ they wrote.

Even those who think lab origin unlikely agree that SARS2 genomes are remarkably uniform. Dr. Baric writes that early strains identified in Wuhan, China, showed limited genetic diversity, which suggests that the virus may have been introduced from a single source.Ӕ

A single source would of course be compatible with lab escape, less so with the massive variation and selection which is evolutions hallmark way of doing business.

The uniform structure of SARS2 genomes gives no hint of any passage through an intermediate animal host, and no such host has been identified in nature.

Proponents of natural emergence suggest that SARS2 incubated in a yet-to-be found human population before gaining its special properties. Or that it jumped to a host animal outside China.

All these conjectures are possible, but strained. Proponents of LAB LEAK have a simpler explanation. SARS2 was adapted to human cells from the start because it was grown in humanized mice or in lab cultures of human cells, just as described in Dr. Daszak’s grant proposal. Its genome shows little diversity because the hallmark of lab cultures is uniformity.

Proponents of laboratory escape joke that of course the SARS2 virus infected an intermediary host species before spreading to people, and that they have identified it a humanized mouse from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

3) The furin cleavage site.

The furin cleavage site is a minute part of the virusגs anatomy but one that exerts great influence on its infectivity. It sits in the middle of the SARS2 spike protein. It also lies at the heart of the puzzle of where the virus came from.

The spike protein has two sub-units with different roles. The first, called S1, recognizes the viruss target, a protein called angiotensin converting enzyme-2 (or ACE2) which studs the surface of cells lining the human airways. The second, S2, helps the virus, once anchored to the cell, to fuse with the cellҒs membrane. After the viruss outer membrane has coalesced with that of the stricken cell, the viral genome is injected into the cell, hijacks its protein-making machinery and forces it to generate new viruses.

But this invasion cannot begin until the S1 and S2 subunits have been cut apart. And there, right at the S1/S2 junction, is the furin cleavage site that ensures the spike protein will be cleaved in exactly the right place.

The virus, a model of economic design, does not carry its own cleaver. It relies on the cell to do the cleaving for it. Human cells have a protein cutting tool on their surface known as furin. Furin will cut any protein chain that carries its signature target cutting site. This is the sequence of amino acid units proline-arginine-arginine-alanine, or PRRA in the code that refers to each amino acid by a letter of the alphabet. PRRA is the amino acid sequence at the core of SARS2Ғs furin cleavage site.

Viruses have all kinds of clever tricks, so why does the furin cleavage site stand out? Because of all known SARS-related beta-coronaviruses, only SARS2 possesses a furin cleavage site. All the other viruses have their S2 unit cleaved at a different site and by a different mechanism.

How then did SARS2 acquire its furin cleavage site? Either the site evolved naturally, or it was inserted by researchers at the S1/S2 junction in a gain-of-function experiment.

Consider natural origin first. Two ways viruses evolve are by mutation and by recombination. Mutation is the process of random change in DNA (or RNA for coronaviruses) that usually results in one amino acid in a protein chain being switched for another. Many of these changes harm the virus but natural selection retains the few that do something useful. Mutation is the process by which the SARS1 spike protein gradually switched its preferred target cells from those of bats to civets, and then to humans.

Mutation seems a less likely way for SARS2s furin cleavage site to be generated, even though it canҒt completely be ruled out. The sites four amino acid units are all together, and all at just the right place in the S1/S2 junction. Mutation is a random process triggered by copying errors (when new viral genomes are being generated) or by chemical decay of genomic units. So it typically affects single amino acids at different spots in a protein chain. A string of amino acids like that of the furin cleavage site is much more likely to be acquired all together through a quite different process known as recombination.

Recombination is an inadvertent swapping of genomic material that occurs when two viruses happen to invade the same cell, and their progeny are assembled with bits and pieces of RNA belonging to the other. Beta-coronaviruses will only combine with other beta-coronaviruses but can acquire, by recombination, almost any genetic element present in the collective genomic pool. What they cannot acquire is an element the pool does not possess. And no known SARS-related beta-coronavirus, the class to which SARS2 belongs, possesses a furin cleavage site.

Proponents of natural emergence say SARS2 could have picked up the site from some as yet unknown beta-coronavirus. But bat SARS-related beta-coronaviruses evidently donҒt need a furin cleavage site to infect bat cells, so theres no great likelihood that any in fact possesses one, and indeed none has been found so far.

The proponentsҒ next argument is that SARS2 acquired its furin cleavage site from people. A predecessor of SARS2 could have been circulating in the human population for months or years until at some point it acquired a furin cleavage site from human cells. It would then have been ready to break out as a pandemic.

If this is what happened, there should be traces in hospital surveillance records of the people infected by the slowly evolving virus. But none has so far come to light. According to the WHO report on the origins of the virus, the sentinel hospitals in Hubei province, home of Wuhan, routinely monitor influenza-like illnesses and no evidence to suggest substantial SARSCoV-2 transmission in the months preceding the outbreak in December was observed.Ӕ

So its hard to explain how the SARS2 virus picked up its furin cleavage site naturally, whether by mutation or recombination.

That leaves a gain-of-function experiment. For those who think SARS2 may have escaped from a lab, explaining the furin cleavage site is no problem at all. ғSince 1992 the virology community has known that the one sure way to make a virus deadlier is to give it a furin cleavage site at the S1/S2 junction in the laboratory, writes Dr. Steven Quay, a biotech entrepreneur interested in the origins of SARS2. ԓAt least eleven gain-of-function experiments, adding a furin site to make a virus more infective, are published in the open literature, including [by] Dr. Zhengli Shi, head of coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

4) A Question of Codons

ThereԒs another aspect of the furin cleavage site that narrows the path for a natural emergence origin even further.

As everyone knows (or may at least recall from high school), the genetic code uses three units of DNA to specify each amino acid unit of a protein chain. When read in groups of 3, the 4 different kinds of DNA unit can specify 4 x 4 x 4 or 64 different triplets, or codons as they are called. Since there are only 20 kinds of amino acid, there are more than enough codons to go around, allowing some amino acids to be specified by more than one codon. The amino acid arginine, for instance, can be designated by any of the six codons CGU, CGC, CGA, CGG, AGA or AGG, where A, U, G and C stand for the four different kinds of unit in RNA.

Heres where it gets interesting. Different organisms have different codon preferences. Human cells like to designate arginine with the codons CGT, CGC or CGG. But CGG is coronavirusҒs least popular codon for arginine. Keep that in mind when looking at how the amino acids in the furin cleavage site are encoded in the SARS2 genome.

Now the functional reason why SARS2 has a furin cleavage site, and its cousin viruses dont, can be seen by lining up (in a computer) the string of nearly 30,000 nucleotides in its genome with those of its cousin coronaviruses, of which the closest so far known is one called RaTG13. Compared with RaTG13, SARS2 has a 12-nucleotide insert right at the S1/S2 junction. The insert is the sequence T-CCT-CGG-CGG-GC. The CCT codes for proline, the two CGGҒs for two arginines, and the GC is the beginning of a GCA codon that codes for alanine.

There are several curious features about this insert but the oddest is that of the two side-by-side CGG codons. Only 5% of SARS2s arginine codons are CGG, and the double codon CGG-CGG has not been found in any other beta-coronavirus. So how did SARS2 acquire a pair of arginine codons that are favored by human cells but not by coronaviruses?

Proponents of natural emergence have an up-hill task to explain all the features of SARS2Ғs furin cleavage site. They have to postulate a recombination event at a site on the viruss genome where recombinations are rare, and the insertion of a 12-nucleotide sequence with a double arginine codon unknown in the beta-coronavirus repertoire, at the only site in the genome that would significantly expand the virusҒs infectivity.

Yes, but your wording makes this sound unlikely ӗ viruses are specialists at unusual events, is the riposte of David L. Robertson, a virologist at the University of Glasgow who regards lab escape as a conspiracy theory. ԓRecombination is naturally very, very frequent in these viruses, there are recombination breakpoints in the spike protein and these codons appear unusual exactly because weve not sampled enough.Ҕ

Dr. Robertson is correct that evolution is always producing results that may seem unlikely but in fact are not. Viruses can generate untold numbers of variants but we see only the one-in-a-billion that natural selection picks for survival. But this argument could be pushed too far. For instance any result of a gain-of-function experiment could be explained as one that evolution would have arrived at in time. And the numbers game can be played the other way. For the furin cleavage site to arise naturally in SARS2, a chain of events has to happen, each of which is quite unlikely for the reasons given above. A long chain with several improbable steps is unlikely to ever be completed.

For the lab escape scenario, the double CGG codon is no surprise. The human-preferred codon is routinely used in labs. So anyone who wanted to insert a furin cleavage site into the viruss genome would synthesize the PRRA-making sequence in the lab and would be likely to use CGG codons to do so.

ғWhen I first saw the furin cleavage site in the viral sequence, with its arginine codons, I said to my wife it was the smoking gun for the origin of the virus, said David Baltimore, an eminent virologist and former president of CalTech. ԓThese features make a powerful challenge to the idea of a natural origin for SARS2, he said.

A Third Scenario of Origin

ThereԒs a variation on the natural emergence scenario thats worth considering. This is the idea that SARS2 jumped directly from bats to humans, without going through an intermediate host as SARS1 and MERS did. A leading advocate is the virologist David Robertson who notes that SARS2 can attack several other species besides humans. He believes the virus evolved a generalist capability while still in bats. Because the bats it infects are widely distributed in southern and central China, the virus had ample opportunity to jump to people, even though it seems to have done so on only one known occasion. Dr. RobertsonҒs thesis explains why no one has so far found a trace of SARS2 in any intermediate host or in human populations surveilled before December 2019. It would also explain the puzzling fact that SARS2 has not changed since it first appeared in humans it didnגt need to because it could already attack human cells efficiently.

One problem with this idea, though, is that if SARS2 jumped from bats to people in a single leap and hasnt changed much since, it should still be good at infecting bats. And it seems it isnҒt.

Tested bat species are poorly infected by SARS-CoV-2 and they are therefore unlikely to be the direct source for human infection,Ӕ writea scientific group skeptical of natural emergence.

Still, Dr. Robertson may be onto something. The bat coronaviruses of the Yunnan caves can infect people directly. In April 2012 six miners clearing bat guano from the Mojiang mine contracted severe pneumonia with Covid-19-like symptoms and three eventually died. A virus isolated from the Mojiang mine, called RaTG13, is still the closest known relative of SARS2. Much mystery surrounds the origin, reporting and strangely low affinity of RaTG13 for bat cells, as well as the nature of 8 similar viruses that Dr. Shi reports she collected at the same time but has not yet published despite their great relevance to the ancestry of SARS2. But all that is a story for another time. The point here is that bat viruses can infect people directly, though only in special conditions.

So who else, besides miners excavating bat guano, comes into particularly close contact with bat coronaviruses? Well, coronavirus researchers do. Dr. Shi says she and her group collected more than 1,300 bat samples during some 8 visits to the Mojiang cave between 2012 and 2015, and there were doubtless many expeditions to other Yunnan caves.

Imagine the researchers making frequent trips from Wuhan to Yunnan and back, stirring up bat guano in dark caves and mines, and now you begin to see a possible missing link between the two places. Researchers could have gotten infected during their collecting trips, or while working with the new viruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The virus that escaped from the lab would have been a natural virus, not one cooked up by gain of function.

The direct-from-bats thesis is a chimera between the natural emergence and lab escape scenarios. Its a possibility that canҒt be dismissed. But against it are the facts that 1) both SARS2 and RaTG13 seem to have only feeble affinity for bat cells, so one cant be fully confident that either ever saw the inside of a bat; and 2) the theory is no better than the natural emergence scenario at explaining how SARS2 gained its furin cleavage site, or why the furin cleavage site is determined by human-preferred arginine codons instead of by the bat-preferred codons.

Where We Are So Far

Neither the natural emergence nor the lab escape hypothesis can yet be ruled out. There is still no direct evidence for either. So no definitive conclusion can be reached.

That said, the available evidence leans more strongly in one direction than the other. Readers will form their own opinion. But it seems to me that proponents of lab escape can explain all the available facts about SARS2 considerably more easily than can those who favor natural emergence.

ItҒs documented that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were doing gain-of-function experiments designed to make coronaviruses infect human cells and humanized mice. This is exactly the kind of experiment from which a SARS2-like virus could have emerged. The researchers were not vaccinated against the viruses under study, and they were working in the minimal safety conditions of a BSL2 laboratory. So escape of a virus would not be at all surprising. In all of China, the pandemic broke out on the doorstep of the Wuhan institute. The virus was already well adapted to humans, as expected for a virus grown in humanized mice. It possessed an unusual enhancement, a furin cleavage site, which is not possessed by any other known SARS-related beta-coronavirus, and this site included a double arginine codon also unknown among beta-coronaviruses. What more evidence could you want, aside from the presently unobtainable lab records documenting SARS2s creation?

Proponents of natural emergence have a rather harder story to tell. The plausibility of their case rests on a single surmise, the expected parallel between the emergence of SARS2 and that of SARS1 and MERS. But none of the evidence expected in support of such a parallel history has yet emerged. No one has found the bat population that was the source of SARS2, if indeed it ever infected bats. No intermediate host has presented itself, despite an intensive search by Chinese authorities that included the testing of 80,000 animals. There is no evidence of the virus making multiple independent jumps from its intermediate host to people, as both the SARS1 and MERS viruses did. There is no evidence from hospital surveillance records of the epidemic gathering strength in the population as the virus evolved. There is no explanation of why a natural epidemic should break out in Wuhan and nowhere else. There is no good explanation of how the virus acquired its furin cleavage site, which no other SARS-related beta-coronavirus possesses, nor why the site is composed of human-preferred codons. The natural emergence theory battles a bristling array of implausibilities.

The records of the Wuhan Institute of Virology certainly hold much relevant information. But Chinese authorities seem unlikely to release them given the substantial chance that they incriminate the regime in the creation of the pandemic. Absent the efforts of some courageous Chinese whistle-blower, we may already have at hand just about all of the relevant information we are likely to get for a while.

So itҒs worth trying to assess responsibility for the pandemic, at least in a provisional way, because the paramount goal remains to prevent another one. Even those who arent persuaded that lab escape is the more likely origin of the SARS2 virus may see reason for concern about the present state of regulation governing gain-of-function research. There are two obvious levels of responsibility: the first, for allowing virologists to perform gain-of-function experiments, offering minimal gain and vast risk; the second, if indeed SARS2 was generated in a lab, for allowing the virus to escape and unleash a world-wide pandemic. Here are the players who seem most likely to deserve blame.

1. Chinese virologists

First and foremost, Chinese virologists are to blame for performing gain-of-function experiments in mostly BSL2-level safety conditions which were far too lax to contain a virus of unexpected infectiousness like SARS2. If the virus did indeed escape from their lab, they deserve the world’s censure for a foreseeable accident that has already caused the deaths of 3 million people.

True, Dr. Shi was trained by French virologists, worked closely with American virologists and was following international rules for the containment of coronaviruses. But she could and should have made her own assessment of the risks she was running. She and her colleagues bear the responsibility for their actions.

I have been using the Wuhan Institute of Virology as a shorthand for all virological activities in Wuhan. Its possible that SARS2 was generated in some other Wuhan lab, perhaps in an attempt to make a vaccine that worked against all coronaviruses. But until the role of other Chinese virologists is clarified, Dr. Shi is the public face of Chinese work on coronaviruses, and provisionally she and her colleagues will stand first in line for opprobrium.

2. Chinese authorities

China’s central authorities did not generate SARS2 but they sure did their utmost to conceal the nature of the tragedy and China’s responsibility for it. They suppressed all records at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and closed down its virus databases. They released a trickle of information, much of which may have been outright false or designed to misdirect and mislead. They did their best to manipulate the WHO’s inquiry into the virus’s origins, and led the commission’s members on a fruitless run-around. So far they have proved far more interested in deflecting blame than in taking the steps necessary to prevent a second pandemic.

3. The worldwide community of virologists

Virologists around the world are a loose-knit professional community. They writearticles in the same journals. They attend the same conferences. They have common interests in seeking funds from governments and in not being overburdened with safety regulations.

Virologists knew better than anyone the dangers of gain-of-function research. But the power to create new viruses, and the research funding obtainable by doing so, was too tempting. They pushed ahead with gain-of-function experiments. They lobbied against the moratorium imposed on Federal funding for gain-of-function research in 2014 and it was raised in 2017.

The benefits of the research in preventing future epidemics have so far been nil, the risks vast. If research on the SARS1 and MERS viruses could only be done at the BSL3 safety level, it was surely illogical to allow any work with novel coronaviruses at the lesser level of BSL2. Whether or not SARS2 escaped from a lab, virologists around the world have been playing with fire.

Their behavior has long alarmed other biologists. In 2014 scientists calling themselves the Cambridge Working Group urged caution on creating new viruses. In prescient words, they specified the risk of creating a SARS2-like virus. Accident risks with newly created ӑpotential pandemic pathogens raise grave new concerns,Ҕ they wrote. Laboratory creation of highly transmissible, novel strains of dangerous viruses, especially but not limited to influenza, poses substantially increased risks. An accidental infection in such a setting could trigger outbreaks that would be difficult or impossible to control.Ӕ

When molecular biologists discovered a technique for moving genes from one organism to another, they held a public conference at Asilomar in 1975 to discuss the possible risks. Despite much internal opposition, they drew up a list of stringent safety measures that could be relaxed in future and duly were ח when the possible hazards had been better assessed.

When the CRISPR technique for editing genes was invented, biologists convened a joint report by the U.S., UK and Chinese national academies of science to urge restraint on making heritable changes to the human genome. Biologists who invented gene drives have also been open about the dangers of their work and have sought to involve the public.

You might think the SARS2 pandemic would spur virologists to re-evaluate the benefits of gain-of-function research, even to engage the public in their deliberations. But no. Many virologists deride lab escape as a conspiracy theory and others say nothing. They have barricaded themselves behind a Chinese wall of silence which so far is working well to allay, or at least postpone, journalists curiosity and the publicҒs wrath. Professions that cannot regulate themselves deserve to get regulated by others, and this would seem to be the future that virologists are choosing for themselves.

4. The US Role in Funding the Wuhan Institute of Virology

From June 2014 to May 2019 Dr. Daszaks EcoHealth Alliance had a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, to do gain-of-function research with coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Whether or not SARS2 is the product of that research, it seems a questionable policy to farm out high-risk research to unsafe foreign labs using minimal safety precautions. And if the SARS2 virus did indeed escape from the Wuhan institute, then the NIH will find itself in the terrible position of having funded a disastrous experiment that led to death of more than 3 million worldwide, including more than half a million of its own citizens.

The responsibility of the NIAID and NIH is even more acute because for the first three years of the grant to EcoHealth Alliance there was a moratorium on funding gain-of-function research. Why didnҒt the two agencies therefore halt the Federal funding as apparently required to do so by law? Because someone wrote a loophole into the moratorium.

The moratorium specifically barred funding any gain-of-function research that increased the pathogenicity of the flu, MERS or SARS viruses. But then a footnote on p.2 of the moratorium documentstates that An exception from the research pause may be obtained if the head of the USG funding agency determines that the research is urgently necessary to protect the public health or national security.Ӕ

This seems to mean that either the director of the NIAID, Dr. Anthony Fauci, or the director of the NIH, Dr. Francis Collins, or maybe both, would have invoked the footnote in order to keep the money flowing to Dr. Shis gain-of-function research.

ғUnfortunately, the NIAID Director and the NIH Director exploited this loophole to issue exemptions to projects subject to the Pause preposterously asserting the exempted research was ֑urgently necessary to protect public health or national security җ thereby nullifying the Pause, Dr. Richard Ebright said in an interview with Independent Science News.

When the moratorium was ended in 2017 it didnԒt just vanish but was replaced by a reporting system, the Potential Pandemic Pathogens Control and Oversight (P3CO) Framework, which required agencies to report for review any dangerous gain-of-function work they wished to fund.

According to Dr. Ebright, both Dr. Collins and Dr. Fauci have declined to flag and forward proposals for risk-benefit review, thereby nullifying the P3CO Framework.Ӕ

In his view, the two officials, in dealing with the moratorium and the ensuing reporting system, have systematically thwarted efforts by the White House, the Congress, scientists, and science policy specialists to regulate GoF [gain-of-function] research of concern.Ӕ

Possibly the two officials had to take into account matters not evident in the public record, such as issues of national security. Perhaps funding the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is believed to have ties with Chinese military virologists, provided a windowinto Chinese biowarfare research. But whatever other considerations may have been involved, the bottom line is that the National Institutes of Health was supporting gain-of-function research, of a kind that could have generated the SARS2 virus, in an unsupervised foreign lab that was doing work in BSL2 biosafety conditions. The prudence of this decision can be questioned, whether or not SARS2 and the death of 3 million people was the result of it.

In Conclusion

If the case that SARS2 originated in a lab is so substantial, why isn’t this more widely known? As may now be obvious, there are many people who have reason not to talk about it. The list is led, of course, by the Chinese authorities. But virologists in the United States and Europe have no great interest in igniting a public debate about the gain-of-function experiments that their community has been pursuing for years.

Nor have other scientists stepped forward to raise the issue. Government research funds are distributed on the advice of committees of scientific experts drawn from universities. Anyone who rocks the boat by raising awkward political issues runs the risk that their grant will not be renewed and their research career will be ended. Maybe good behavior is rewarded with the many perks that slosh around the distribution system. And if you thought that Dr. Andersen and Dr. Daszak might have blotted their reputation for scientific objectivity after their partisan attacks on the lab escape scenario, look at the 2nd and 3rd names on this list of recipients of an $82 million grant announced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in August 2020.

The US government shares a strange common interest with the Chinese authorities: neither is keen on drawing attention to the fact that Dr. ShiҒs coronavirus work was funded by the US National Institutes of Health. One can imagine the behind-the-scenes conversation in which the Chinese government says If this research was so dangerous, why did you fund it, and on our territory too?Ӕ To which the US side might reply, Looks like it was you who let it escape. But do we really need to have this discussion in public?Ӕ

Dr. Fauci is a longtime public servant who served with integrity under President Trump and has resumed leadership in the Biden Administration in handling the Covid epidemic. Congress, no doubt understandably, may have little appetite for hauling him over the coals for the apparent lapse of judgment in funding gain-of-function research in Wuhan.

To these serried walls of silence must be added that of the mainstream media. To my knowledge, no major newspaper or television network has yet provided readers with an in-depth news story of the lab escape scenario, such as the one you have just read, although some have run brief editorials or opinion pieces. One might think that any plausible origin of a virus that has killed three million people would merit a serious investigation. Or that the wisdom of continuing gain-of-function research, regardless of the viruss origin, would be worth some probing. Or that the funding of gain-of-function research by the NIH and NIAID during a moratorium on such funding would bear investigation. What accounts for the mediaҒs apparent lack of curiosity?

The virologists omertҠ is one reason. Science reporters, unlike political reporters, have little innate skepticism of their sources motives; most see their role largely as purveying the wisdom of scientists to the unwashed masses. So when their sources wonҒt help, these journalists are at a loss.

Another reason, perhaps, is the migration of much of the media toward the left of the political spectrum. Because President Trump said the virus had escaped from a Wuhan lab, editors gave the idea little credence. They joined the virologists in regarding lab escape as a dismissible conspiracy theory. During the Trump Administration, they had no trouble in rejecting the position of the intelligence services that lab escape could not be ruled out. But when Avril Haines, President Bidens director of National Intelligence, said the same thing, she too was largely ignored. This is not to argue that editors should have endorsed the lab escape scenario, merely that they should have explored the possibility fully and fairly.

People round the world who have been pretty much confined to their homes for the last year might like a better answer than their media are giving them. Perhaps one will emerge in time. After all, the more months pass without the natural emergence theory gaining a shred of supporting evidence, the less plausible it may seem. Perhaps the international community of virologists will come to be seen as a false and self-interested guide. The common sense perception that a pandemic breaking out in Wuhan might have something to do with a Wuhan lab cooking up novel viruses of maximal danger in unsafe conditions could eventually displace the ideological insistence that whatever Trump said canҒt be true.

And then let the reckoning begin.

Nicholas Wade

April 30,2021

Acknowledgements

The first person to take a serious look at the origins of the SARS2 virus was Yuri Deigin, a biotech entrepreneur in Russia and Canada. In a long and brilliant essay, he dissected the molecular biology of the SARS2 virus and raised, without endorsing, the possibility that it had been manipulated. The essay, published on April 22, 2020, provided a roadmap for anyone seeking to understand the viruss origins. Deigin packed so much information and analysis into his essay that some have doubted it could be the work of a single individual and suggested some intelligence agency must have authored it. But the essay is written with greater lightness and humor than I suspect are ever found in CIA or KGB reports, and I see no reason to doubt that Dr. Deigin is its very capable sole author.

In DeiginҒs wake have followed several other skeptics of the virologists orthodoxy. Nikolai Petrovsky calculated how tightly the SARS2 virus binds to the ACE2 receptors of various species and found to his surprise that it seemed optimized for the human receptor, leading him to infer the virus might have been generated in a laboratory. Alina Chan published a paper showing that SARS2 from its first appearance was very well adapted to human cells.

One of the very few establishment scientists to have questioned the virologistsҒ absolute rejection of lab escape is Richard Ebright, who has long warned against the dangers of gain-of-function research. Another is David A. Relman of Stanford University. Even though strong opinions abound, none of these scenarios can be confidently ruled in or ruled out with currently available facts,Ӕ he wrote. Kudos too to Robert Redfield, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who told CNN on March 26, 2021 that the most likelyӔ cause of the epidemic was from a laboratory,Ӕ because he doubted that a bat virus could become an extreme human pathogen overnight, without taking time to evolve, as seemed to be the case with SARS2.

Steven Quay, a physician-researcher, has applied statistical and bioinformatic tools to ingenious explorations of the viruss origin, showing for instance how the hospitals receiving the early patients are clustered along the Wuhan №2 subway line which connects the Institute of Virology at one end with the international airport at the other, the perfect conveyor belt for distributing the virus from lab to globe.

In June 2020 Milton Leitenberg published an early survey of the evidence favoring lab escape from gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Many others have contributed significant pieces of the puzzle. “Truth is the daughter,” said Francis Bacon, “not of authority but time.” The efforts of people such as those named above are what makes it so.

More from Nicholas Wade

I’m a science writer and have worked on the staff of Nature, Science and, for many years, on the New York Times.

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Friday, May 07, 2021

Biden’s First Hundred Days

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The First 100 Days: Obama Delivered Trump. Biden Will Deliver Something Much Worse

-
The People’s Party
May 7, 2021

We are breaking with conventional press release format in writing a longer version than normal. Following is our response to President Biden’s first 100 days in office and his address to Congress.

Detroit, May 5, 2021 The first 100 days of a president’s term are historically their best chance to enact their agenda. In 1933, as he took office at the height of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Democrats convened a special session of Congress and ran the legislature like a New Deal printing press.

Pushed by widespread and fierce labor strikes, popular movements, and independent parties, FDR and Congress passed 76 new laws in their first 100 days including the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Tennessee Valley Authority - programs that employed, housed, and fed tens of millions of people. Roosevelt reshaped the role of government in providing for the people.

Eighty years later, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris entered the White House in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and the worst public health crisis since the Spanish Flu. They arrived backed by Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, giving their party the power to pass anything. Last Friday marked the end of Biden and Harris first 100 days in office, and the scale and substance of their response is the antithesis of their Depression-Era predecessors.

The Democrats are repeating history in a different way though.

In 2009, Obama and Biden entered the White House in the middle of the Great Recession, which was the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression at the time. Instead of using the crisis to enact structural change, they chose to preserve the economic and social status quo that had produced the crisis. Their actions pushed the country deeper into an increasingly authoritarian oligarchy.

TWELVE YEARS LATER, Biden returned to the White House, during the new-worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Once again, he was backed by Democratic majorities in Congress. And just like Obama, Biden has chosen to preserve the economic and social status quo. The result will be to push this country still further into authoritarian oligarchy. Biden’s first eight years produced Trump. His next four will produce something far worse.

***

It is a myth that the pandemic devastated America. Other rich countries faced the same virus without mass unemployment, mile-long breadlines, and a soaring death toll. Those governments gave their citizens a basic income or subsidized payroll at the companies that employed them, on top of the universal single-payer health care they already provided. Our government passed a multi-trillion dollar Wall Street bailout and left working people to fend for themselves. Both parties were in on it, and the vote was nearly unanimous. The Democrats and Republicans exploited the greatest national crisis in generations to enrich their corporate donors.

A defining pattern has emerged in Biden’s governance. He promises popular progressive policies to much media fanfare, then quietly reneges while the corporate press turns a blind eye and falls silent. The result is an avalanche of revisionist propaganda and confusion that shields a reactionary administration and party.

For instance, the media discussion around Biden’s administration has largely ignored his enormous ability to enact progressive policies through executive action, which he refuses to do. It discounts the Democrats ability to repeal the Senate filibuster and pass legislation with a simple majority at any time, removing the Senate reconciliation process and parliamentarians as obstacles. And scarcely mentions the White House’s refusal to use its great influence to pressure the most corporate Congressional Democrats, like Sen. Manchin, into enacting progressive policies. The administration hides behind self-imposed barriers to justify its failure to enact progressive policies, a sleight of hand that the media conceals.

***

Then there are Bidens policy choices. The following is an issue-by-issue analysis of his first 100 days.

Health Care - This country needs to guarantee health care to every man, woman, and child with a national improved Medicare for All, single-payer system. The president could declare a health emergency and use Section 1881A of the Social Security Act, passed as part of the ACA, to expand Medicare to every American through executive action, bypassing Congress entirely.

Instead, Biden and Harris promised to implement a public option and lower the age of Medicare to 60, policies that fail to cover the 92 million Americans who are uninsured or underinsured and save the 68,000 who die every year from a lack of insurance. But Biden and the Democrats didnt even live up to these moderate pledges. Instead, they expanded COBRA subsidies, funneling tens of billions of dollars to health insurance corporations that are already making record profits as they jack up premiums and increasingly deny claims during a pandemic.

Minimum Wage - Wages have stagnated for decades despite huge increases in national productivity and wealth. The real value of the minimum wage has declined since 1968, when it was more than $10 an hour. If it had kept up with productivity since 1968 it would be $24 an hour today. Full-time minimum wage workers cannot afford rent in any state in the country. They would have to work 97 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom rental and 79 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom rental. The last time working people got a raise in the minimum wage was in 2007, under George Bush. No one should be too poor to live in the richest country on Earth. A $15 minimum wage would raise wages for more than 40 million Americans. Working people need a $15 minimum wage indexed to inflation today.

Biden and the Democrats pledged that they would increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, and it has been in the partys platform since 2016. But when they got their chance to pass it, the White House blamed a parliamentarian that the Democrats could overrule and refused to apply political pressure to keep it in the Covid relief bill, revealing their support as purely rhetorical.

Student Loans - We need full student loan forgiveness to erase the $1.7 trillion in student debt held by more than 42 million Americans. STUDENT DEBT PREVENTS people from purchasing homes and cars and even getting married. Defaults on student debt are higher than for just about any other kind of debt. Forgiving all student debt would reduce the racial wealth gap between Black and White households from 12:1 to 5:1. No one should be burdened by decades of crushing debt to get an education in America. The federal government holds 92 percent of student loans and the president could wipe it away with executive action.

Instead, Biden promised to cancel $10,000 in student debt per person during his campaign. A moderate pledge that he wont even use his executive authority to follow through on.

Survival Checks - Millions lost their jobs and incomes during the pandemic recession. We need a $2,000 per month basic income retroactive to the beginning of the pandemic.

Instead, Biden and Harris promised that a one-time $2,000 stimulus check would go out the door “immediately” if voters delivered the Senate to Democrats in Georgia. Once the votes were cast, Democrats retreated to $1,400 checks, delayed them to March, and means-tested them so that 17 million fewer Americans would see a boost. As Rep. Ilhan Omar pointed out, in the end, Trump sent stimulus checks to more people than the Democrats. The Democrats also reduced federal unemployment benefits from $400 per week to $300 per week per Sen. Manchins demand.

Housing Crisis - More than half a million people are unhoused in America. Millions more are on the edge of homelessness, unable to afford their rent or mortgage and facing eviction once the eviction moratoriums expire. Housing is a human right. It is morally right and cheaper to house the unhoused than for society to care for them on the street. The government must guarantee housing for all.

Biden and the Democratic Party oppose housing as a human right. They kicked the can down the road by extending the eviction moratoriums without addressing the fact that millions cant pay their rent or mortgage.

The Climate Crisis - Stronger and more frequent hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires, all fueled by global heating, have cost the U. S. over $2 trillion since 1980. Biden’s goal for net-zero carbon emissions is 2050, 20 years too late according to the world’s leading scientists who issued an alarming report through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2019. The world is on track for a catastrophic temperature rise beyond 3C this century. Hundreds of millions of people could lose their homes and become refugees. Intensifying desertification and droughts threaten the crops that feed billions of people. We need a strong Green New Deal that creates millions of good-paying jobs and repairs and modernizes our crumbling infrastructure. We must leave our children a liveable world.

Instead, Biden has rejoined the Paris Accords, a small step that does not put the U.S. on track to avert catastrophic warming. His climate advisor is former Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond, who was the 19th highest recipient of oil and gas money in the House, reflecting an administration dominated by lobbyists and advisors with corporate backgrounds. The Democrats canВt claim to be serious about zeroing out emissions by even mid-century when they pump billions of dollars into the most polluting oil, gas and coal projects around the world and changed their party rules to accept money from fossil fuel corporations at the DNC. Biden canגt say hes serious about climate when he supports fracking but not the Green New Deal, and when he hasnҒt backed the National Climate Emergency bill. We have no time to waste and the public agrees. Polls show majority support for the Green New Deal and young people across the political spectrum rank climate as among their chief concerns.

Halting Deportations and Child Detention As a nation of immigrants, we need a pathway to citizenship for the millions of hardworking undocumented immigrants in our country. We must pass the Dream Act and naturalize all undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. We must shut down inhumane border detention centers and cancel Trumpגs wall. And we must end job-killing trade deals that prompt a global race to the bottom, and push desperate Latin Americans to leave their homes and migrate north.

The Biden Administration promised to end for-profit detention centers and the humanitarian crisis at the border, a legacy from the Obama years that expanded under Trump. Instead, a record 18,000 children are being held in Border Control facilities, more than Trump detained. Carrizo Springs in Texas, which came under fire under Trump for its deplorable conditions and lack of childcare licensing, has been re-opened and pandemic requirements removed. Biden promised zero deportations in his first 100 days. Instead, United We Dream reported that he has deported more than 300,000 people. This aligns with the Obama-Biden administration, which deported far more people than Trump. Biden pledged to cancel Trumps border wall. Instead, he’s finishing it. The administration has also expelled over 1,300 Haitian migrants including children, infants, and pregnant women - during a violent political crisis, even while DHS admits that they may “face harm” if they are forced back home.

Mass Incarceration - President Bill Clinton presided over the biggest buildup of the for-profit prison industry in U.S. history. As a senator in the 1980s and ‘90s, Biden spearheaded many of the racist laws that escalated the war on drugs and put thousands of largely Black and Brown people in those prisons, many of whom still languish there on trumped-up charges. Our country needs to end the drug war, end the militarization of police, legalize marijuana, and expunge the records of nonviolent marijuana offenders. We also need to restore felons voting rights.

Biden promised to use his vast pardon powers to reduce the current petition backlog of 14,000 prisoners and to take major steps toward reforming clemency. He has done neither. Instead, hes arming local police with more military weaponry than Trump did. He is also refusing to legalize marijuana and end the drug war.

Endless War - The war budget consumes more than half of our national discretionary spending. We must end the wars, dismantle the global network of military bases, slash the military budget, and deploy those funds to defend the American people against the lethal and merciless enemies that have invaded our shores: poverty, hunger, and ill-health.

Instead, Biden bombed Syria and has kept the U.S. from reentering the Iran Nuclear Deal. He doubled down on Trumps regime change campaign in Venezuela. He is propping up dictatorships in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. He claimed that he would end the wars in Yemen but has continued to support it. He pledged to leave Afghanistan and then refused, delayed, and is increasingly privatizing the war with 18,000 Pentagon contractors in the country. Biden and the Democrats are maintaining America’s empire of hundreds of military bases worldwide and expanding its massive $700 billion military budget. He is pursuing the extradition of journalist and political prisoner Julian Assange and claiming the authority to arrest the publisher in any country regardless of jurisdiction.

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In response to the most profound economic and health crises in generations, Biden and Harris have entrenched the status quo that made it so devastating. The Democrats have full control of government and are making cosmetic and temporary changes while millions are SUFFERING to an unprecedented degree.

Biden is continuing his public relations presidency by announcing infrastructure and education bills that he knows won’t pass, especially while the Democrats preserve the filibuster with his approval. The administration pretends to stand with labor while refusing to investigate Amazon for unsafe working conditions during the pandemic. It is normalizing half of Trump’s corporate tax cuts, as Obama normalized the Bush tax cuts.

Biden will spend the rest of his term proposing progressive legislation while ensuring that it wont pass, allowing him to shift the blame to Congress. He will continue to refuse to use his executive authority. Then, like Obama, Biden and the Democrats will lose their House majority in the midterms, or his Senate majority even earlier, and resume their favorite game of pretending that Republican obstructionism is the barrier to progress. Then they will decisively lose the presidency in 2024.

Sen. BERNIE SANDERS and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have said that without a fundamental transformation of the Democratic Party into a party for working people, a worse and more effective Trump will be elected in 2024. THAT IS OUR FUTUREin three and a half years without a major new party to break the duopoly’s fall into authoritarian oligarchy - a major new party to challenge the corrupt establishment and bring in the record two out of every three Americans who want it.

In his first 100 days, Biden and the Democrats have shown that political parties funded by Wall Street can only deepen the crisis, as they have done for generations. It will take a new kind of party to enact the transformative new social contract that Americans are demanding. A party that refuses to accept authoritarian oligarchy as our fate. That refuses to accept that our children will grow up never knowing the freedoms that we did. A party that is fiercely independent of corporate money. Where representatives are accountable to the people instead of billionaires and corporate politicians. A party that guarantees every American a good-paying job, Medicare, housing, food, college, strong unions, expanded Social Security, a basic income, and a liveable climate. A party that guarantees freedom from war, militarized police, mass incarceration, and monopolies and trusts.

The People’s Party.

A new force is rising in America driven by working people across every state who refuse to be told that their future has been decided for them - and it will transform this country.

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Posted by Elvis on 05/07/21 •
Section Dying America
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Democracy Hollowed Out Part 39 - The Day The Internet Died Redux

image: i support net neutrality

Net Neutrality keeps the internet free and open enabling anyone to share and access information of their choosing without interference.

But on Dec. 14, 2017, the FCC voted along party lines to pass Chairman Pais plan to dismantle the Net Neutrality rules.

Without these rules, companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon will be able to block or slow down any online content including political speech they disagree with. This will disproportionately harm people of color and other marginalized communities who use the internet to fight systemic discrimination and share their stories.

Net Neutrality is essential to education, economic opportunity, innovation, social movements and dissent. Without Net Neutrality thereҒs no way to organize for justice or power the resistance.
- Save The Internet, December 14,2017

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Attorney General James Issues Report Detailing Millions of Fake Comments, Revealing Secret Campaign to Influence FCCs 2017 Repeal of Net Neutrality Rules

Multi-Year Investigation Into 2017 Net Neutrality Rulemaking Finds 18 MillionFake Comments Filed with FCC, Half a Million Fake Letters Sent to Congress

Broadband Industry Funded Six Companies That Engaged in Illegal Activity and Impersonated Millions of Americans

AG James Announces Three Agreements Ending Fraudulent Practices by Perpetrators of Fake Comments

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NEW YORK New York Attorney General Letitia James today released a REPORT detailing the results of her office’s wide-ranging investigation into fake, public comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in a 2017 proceeding to repeal net neutrality rules. Net neutrality prohibits broadband providers from blocking, slowing down, or charging companies to prioritize certain content on the internet. Attorney General James investigation uncovered widespread fraud, as well as abusive practices used to sway government policy - using masses of comments and messages to create the false impression of popular support. Additionally, Attorney General James today resolved investigations into three companies that contributed to the millions of fake comments submitted in the 2017 net neutrality proceeding.

“Americans voices are being drowned out by masses of fake comments and messages being submitted to the government to sway decision-making,” said Attorney General James. Instead of actually looking for real responses from the American people, marketing companies are luring vulnerable individuals to their websites with freebies, co-opting their identities, and fabricating responses that giant corporations are then using to influence the polices and laws that govern our lives. But, today, we are taking action to root out this fraud and the impersonation that has been corrupting the process for far too long. From net neutrality rules to laws affecting criminal justice reform, health care, and more, these fake comments have simply been generated to influence too many government policies, which is why we are cracking down on this illegal and deceptive behavior. My office will continue to shine a spotlight on abuses and disinformation and ensure those who break the law are held accountable.”

Through its investigation, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) found that, in 2017, the nations largest broadband companies funded a secret campaign to generate millions of comments to the FCC. Many of these comments provided “cover” for the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules. This practice disguising an orchestrated, paid campaign as a grassroots effort, to create a false appearance of genuine, unpaid public support - is often referred to as astroturfing. To help generate these comments, the broadband industry engaged commercial lead generators that used prizes like gift cards and sweepstakes entries - to lure consumers to their websites and join the campaign. However, nearly every lead generator that was hired to enroll consumers in the campaign, instead, simply fabricated consumers responses. As a result, more than 8.5 million fake comments that impersonated real people were submitted to the FCC, and more than half a million fake letters were sent to Congress.

The OAG also found that the FCC received another 9.3 million fake comments supporting net neutrality that used fictitious identities. Most of these comments were submitted by a single person җ a 19-year old college student using automated software. In all, the OAG confirmed that nearly 18 million of the more than 22 million comments the FCC received in its 2017 proceeding to repeal net neutrality rules were fake.

Additionally, the OAG’s investigation revealed that the fraud perpetrated by the various lead generators infected other government proceedings as well. Three of the lead generation firms involved in the broadband industry’s net neutrality comment campaigns had also worked on more than 100 other, unrelated campaigns to influence regulatory agencies and public officials. In nearly all of these advocacy campaigns, the lead generation firms engaged in fraud. As a result, more than 1 million fake comments were generated for other rulemaking proceedings, and more than 3.5 million fake digital signatures for letters and petitions were generated for federal and state legislators and government officials across the nation.

Attorney General James report recommends several reforms to root out the deception and fraud that have infected public policymaking by agencies and legislatures, including encouraging:

Advocacy groups to take steps to ensure they have obtained valid consent from an individual before submitting a comment or message to the government on their behalf,

Agencies and legislatures that manage electronic systems that receive comments and messages to hold advocacy groups and their vendors more accountable for the comments they submit on behalf of individuals,

Lawmakers to strengthen laws to deter the submission of deceptive and unauthorized comments to the government, and

Agencies to adopt technical safeguards to protect against unauthorized bulk submissions using automation.

Attorney General James also, today, announced agreements with three of the lead generators that were responsible for millions of the fake comments submitted in the net neutrality proceeding: FLUENT, INC, responsible for approximately 4.8 million fraudulent comments; OPT-INTELLIGENCE, INC, responsible for more than 250,000 fraudulent comments; and REACT2MEDIA, INC, responsible for approximately 329,000 comments in the net neutrality proceeding (all or nearly all of which were fraudulent). Fluent and React2Media were also responsible, collectively, for millions of fake comments and messages submitted in dozens of other advocacy campaigns. The agreements with the OAG require the companies to adopt comprehensive reforms in future advocacy campaigns and pay more than $4.4 million in penalties and disgorgement.

The OAG wishes to thank the offices of the attorneys general of Colorado, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia, as well as the San Diego district attorney’s office for their assistance in this matter.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Noah Stein and Special Enforcement Counsel Jordan Adler, with assistance from Assistant Attorneys General Ezra Sternstein and Hanna Baek, Internet Technology Analyst Joe Graham, and Legal Assistants Richard Borgia and Shirly Huang all of the Bureau of Internet and Technology, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Clark Russell and Bureau Chief Kim Berger; as well as Data Scientist Kenneth Morales, under the supervision of Deputy Director Megan Thorsfeldt and Director Jonathan Werberg of the Research and Analytics Department. The Bureau of Internet and Technology is a part of the Division for Economic Justice, which is overseen by Chief Deputy Attorney General Chris DגAngelo and First Deputy Jennifer Levy.

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Posted by Elvis on 05/07/21 •
Section Privacy And Rights • Section Broadband Privacy
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Thursday, May 06, 2021

Can You Feel Fascism’s Rise

image: fuehrer

With use of propaganda and speeches Hitler soon became portrayed as the “Hand to lift the people of germany out of the great depression.”
- Fascism - Causes And Effect

Arnold Toynbee, the influential world historian, interviewed the Fuhrer in 1936 and reported being convinced of his sincerity in desiring peace in Europe.
- The folly of the intellectuals

The hallmark of “fascist collectivism” in international history is totalizing loyalty to The Leader, which, in a foreign but familiar turn-of-phrase, would be translated to Der Fuhrer. That fuhrer, when it comes to the Republican Party, is Donald Trump. The former president insists he defeated Joe Biden. He insists everyone in the GOP believe and repeat the same lie. Anyone who does not believe and repeat the same lie is quickly identified as insufficiently loyal. This is how “fascist collectivism” works. The sky isn’t green because the fuhrer says it is. It’s green after everyone agrees. If that sounds like mass delusion is the heart of fascism collectivism, that’s because it is.
- The GOP is Falling Into Mass Delusion

Americans who experience IDENTITY FUSION - a psychological phenomena that occurs when people have a “visceral feeling of oneness” with another person or group with U.S. President Donald Trump are more likely to commit political violence.... [P]eople who have “fused” with Donald Trump were more willing to violently challenge election results, to personally protect the border from an immigrant caravan and to perpetuate violence against Iranians, Muslims and immigrants.
- Identity Fusion May Fuel Followers To Engage In Political Violence, Yale News 2019

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A Capitol Offense: Selling Out the People

By
Information Clearinghouse
February 10, 2021

Responding to the attack on the US capitol building in January, Stephen Schneck, the Franciscan Action Network Executive Director, wrote “Today was one of the most shameful days that I can remember in the history of our country.” He added, “what we have witnessed is an insurrection against the laws, the Constitution, and the democracy that is the United States… I call on President Trump to cease abetting such behavior, and to respect our laws and Constitution, to accept the peaceful transition of power, and to support the norms and processes of our sacred democracy.”

While it’s clear that the violence, which led to the deaths of five people, was tragic and shameful, I believe Mr. Schneck, like many Americans, is overlooking the underlying cause of the violence. Unless we recognize the cause, the violence will surely continue.

It’s critical to understand the mindset of the Trump loyalists in general and their outrage that day. Trump followers, who are predominantly white working class, have had their communities and lives decimated by 50 years of neoliberal policy. NAFTA has deindustrialized the country and sent factory jobs overseas. Labor unions have been crushed, causing lower pay and longer working hours - for those who can find work. Social welfare programs have been cut, while home foreclosures and evictions have increased, due in part by predatory practices stemming from banking deregulation. Real wages have fallen, while trillions of dollars have been diverted to the high-tech war industry to fight fruitless foreign wars. Working class communities, once thriving, are now boarded up wastelands. The legacies of their fathers and grandfathers are now in tatters while they scramble to pick up the pieces of their broken American Dream.

The destruction is bipartisan. Both the Democrats and Republicans are to blame, and Trump - a supposed outsider - promised to drain the swamp. They voted for Trump because they didn’t know any better. Many argued, looking at Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020, that there wasn’t anyone better to vote for. Those of us who think we “know better” did what we always seem to do at election time: choose the “lesser of two evils,” which we interpret as the candidate with a long, sordid, and corrupt history of representing Wall Street at the expense of the working class. These politicians, we rationalize, are at least “stable.” We hold our noses to avoid the stench while we choose the lesser evil. Naturally, the president we get every time is evil. Knowing that the system had sold them out, the Trump voters took a chance on someone who seemed to embody the “American Dream,” yet who would upend the entire rotten system on their behalf.

How could they be so ill-informed? Why can’t anyone get through to them or reason with them? To understand their mindset, you must also look at how we get our news. Due to deregulation of the FCC, the major media outlets are consolidated into the hands of a half-dozen billionaires whose primary objective is making money rather than delivering factual news. News is a consumer product, and sowing division is the marketing strategy, according to Matt Taibi’s latest book, “Hate, Inc.: Why Today’s Media Make Us Despise One Another.” Until the 1990s, the traditional business model of corporate news outlets was to target the widest demographic possible, which garnered the maximum profit. As demographics began to splinter and atomize, due in part to the internet, news media began targeting a specific political demographic as a business model. Examples are Fox News - which targets conservative Republicans, and MSNBC - which targets liberal Democrats. To maximize profits, each demographic is fed stories that validate and reinforce the opinions already held by their audience. They constantly frighten, agitate or enrage their viewers by stories about such things as immigrants, crimes, minorities, etc, while then reassuring them that all would be well as long as the viewers sided with a particular politician or policy. The 24 hour news cycle leaves little time for effective fact-checking.

Corporate media outlets also discovered they could make more money if they chose stories that upset their viewers and sow division. Division, they discovered, is what sells best. The citizenry, now completely polarized, no longer receive the same accepted facts within their demographic, meaning they can no longer debate the other side or even engage in civil discussion. Through constant updates throughout the day, viewers remain stressed, addicted, and divided from their neighbors. When Trump came onto the political scene in 2015, he became the corporate media’s ideal consumer product, the ultimate divider. The corporate strategy on both sides was to air Trump news day and night. Anything Trump related would do, even if it was a stretch to tie Trump to the story somehow. Five years of sowing perpetual upset, stress, division, and addiction to newsӔ led to record profits for corporate news outlets.

The real culprit here is a corrupt system that puts profit over people as its inherent principle. Politicians in both parties represent corporate interests almost exclusively, in exchange for enormous amounts of cash and power. They merely pay lip service to the people Hillary Clinton referred to as the “Deplorables.” The corporate media have also cashed in on their suffering. The American people are now left teetering on the brink in this time of Covid, ill-informed of ways to create viable solutions. The violence committed at the capitol building may be all they have left to give after years of physical and mental neglect and abuse.

Blaming Trump or his followers, or “supporting our norms and processes misses the mark entirely.” Our system of predatory capitalism is reaching its torturous conclusion, and we would be wise to begin embracing compassion and empathy as our core principles.

SOURCE

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Movie at the Ellipse: A Study in Fascist Propaganda

By Jason Stanley
Just Security
February 4, 2021

On January 6, Trump supporters gathered at a rally at Washington DC’s Ellipse Park, regaled by various figures from Trump world, including Donald Trump Jr. and Rudy Giuliani. Directly following Giuliani’s speech, the organizers played a video. To a scholar of fascist propaganda, well-versed in the history of the National Socialists pioneering use of videos in political propaganda, it was clear, watching it, what dangers it portended. In it, we see themes and tactics that history warns pose a violent threat to liberal democracy. Given the aims of fascist propaganda - to incite and mobilize - the events that followed were predictable.

Before decoding what the video presents, it is important to take a step back and discuss the structure of fascist ideology and how it can mobilize its most strident supporters to take violent actions.

capitol hill march 2021 01 06

I. The Fascist Framework

Increasingly central to Trumpism is the QAnon conspiracy theory, which, as MANY COMMENTATORS HAVE POINTED OUT, closely resembles Nazi anti-Semitic myths. QAnon is just the most obvious manifestation of the increasing parallels between Trumpism and Hitler’s framework itself. Indeed, several contemporary fascist and white supremacist movements find similar roots in the framework Hitler developed, even if they did not culminate in such extreme actions as the Nazis.

Fascist thought

Chapter 2 of Mein Kampf, Hitler’s first and most famous book, is entitled “Years of Study and Suffering in Vienna.” In it, he documents what he describes as his gradual realization that behind the various institutions of power were the Jews. His enlightenment supposedly begins with the entertainment industry, where he remarks that ԓ[t]he fact that nine tenths of all literary filth, artistic trash, and theatrical idiocy can be set to the account of a people, constituting hardly one hundredth of all the countrys inhabitants, could simply not be talked away; it was plain truth.Ҕ But it was, Hitler writes, when he recognized the Jew as the leader of the Social DemocracyӔ that the scales fell from [his] eyes.Ӕ Hitler describes a growing sense, foundational to the ideology the book delineates, the ideology of Nazism, that Jews were controlling the apparatus of the state, both as important party politicians in the Social Democratic Party, and as operators behind the scenes of the press and other institutions.

In Nazi ideology, Jews are represented by an unholy alliance between Jewish capitalists and Jewish communists. The goal of the Jewish plot is to destroy national states, replacing them by a world government run by Jews. This diabolical Jewish plot involves destroying the character of individual nations, by flooding them with immigrants, and empowering minority populations. Hitler describes the German loss in World War I as part of this plan, a STAB IN THE BACK of the German people by Jewish traitors seeking the ruin of the nation. In Nazi ideology, liberal democracy is represented as a corruption, a mask for this takeover by a global elite. Hitler reveals his true attitude toward liberalism in Mein Kampf, when he writes (in the characteristically sexist terms of Nazi ideology):

Like the woman, whose psychic state is determined less by grounds of abstract reason than by an identifiable emotional longing for a force which will complement her nature, and who, consequently, would rather bow to a strong man than dominate a weakling, likewise the masses love a commander more than a petitioner

Fascism is a patriarchal cult of the leader, who promises national restoration in the face of supposed humiliation by a treacherous and power-hungry global elite, who have encouraged minorities to destabilize the social order as part of their plan to dominate the “true nation,” and fold them into a global world government. The fascist leader is the father of his nation, in a very real sense like the father in a traditional patriarchal family. He mobilizes the masses by reminding them of what they supposedly have lost, and who it is that is responsible for that loss - the figures who control democracy itself, the elite; Nazi ideology is a species of fascism in which this global elite are Jews.

The future promised by the fascist leader is one in which there are plentiful blue collar jobs, reflecting the manly ideals of hard work and strength. In Nazi propaganda, many white collar jobs, the domain of Jews running department stores, banking - were for the idle. And the fascist nations heart and soul is the military 0 as Hitler writes, [w]hat the German people owes to the army can be briefly summed up in a single word, to wit: “everything.” The fascist future is a kind of restoration of a glorious past, but a modern version replete with awesome technology that glorifies the nation to the world. The German V-2 rocket was a characteristic representation of Nazi might. The fascist future is, in the famous description of Jeffrey Herf, a kind of REACTIONARY MODERNISM.

Fascist propaganda

Fascism uses propaganda as a way of mobilizing a population behind the leader. Fascist propaganda creates an awesome sense of loss, and a desire for revenge against those who are responsible. In the face of the supposed betrayal of the nation during World War I by Jewish “vipers,” Hitler describes the proper response to have been to place the “leaders of the whole movement behind bars.” Hitler writes, [a]ll the implements of military power should have been ruthlessly used for the extermination of this pestilence. The parties should have been dissolved, the Reichstag brought to its senses, with bayonets if necessary, but, best of all, dissolved at once.Ӕ The goal of fascist propaganda is to mobilize a population to violently overthrew multi-party democracy and replace it with the leader.

Fascism is not an ideology consigned to Europe. Black American intellectuals from W.E.B. Du Bois to Toni Morrison have spoken of American fascism. America has a long history of anti-Semitism similar to Nazi anti-Semitism, central to the ideology not just of the Ku Klux Klan, but to Henry Fords “The International Jew.” In its American version, communist Jews supposedly use Black liberation movements, control of Hollywood, and labor unions to destroy the nation in the service of a global elite. We should not be surprised at all by the rise of a fascist movement in the United States. And if it does arise, it would be no surprise if it did so in the party that keeps alive the “lost cause myths of the American South.”

II. The Movie Shown at the Ellipse

This history, both European and American, illuminates the dangers we face today, laid bare in the video. In it, Trump is repeatedly represented as the nation’s father figure. It is laced through with images of masculinity, and mournful loss at the hands of traitors, clearly justifying a violent restoration of recent glory.

The video begins with Trump’s eyes in the shadow, and its second frame focuses the audience on the Capitol building - America’s Reichstag, where the decisions being denounced by the rally’s organizers were being made that day. The third frame of the video is the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles. This image immediately directs the attention of an audience attuned to an American fascist ideology to the supposedly elite class of Jews who, according to this ideology, control Hollywood. The appearance of the Hollywood sign makes no other sense in the context of a short video about an election. The next two images, of the UN General Assembly and the EU Parliament floor, connect supposed Jewish control of Hollywood to the goal of world government. As we have seen, according to Nazi ideology, Jews seek to use their control of the press and the entertainment industry to destroy individual nations. The beginning of the video focuses our attention on this supposedly globalist,Ӕ but really Jewish, threat.

The next clip lingers on Joe Biden, with a vacant stare in his eyes and the video footage slowed, while Trumps inauguration speech plays, ғFor too long, a small group in our nations capital has reaped the rewards of government, while the people have borne the cost.Ҕ It is clear from the image of Biden that he is not making the decisions. The video shifts to an image of Senator Charles Schumer, reminding the viewer of prominent Jewish leaders of the Democratic party. Schumer is wearing a Kente cloth, an image evocative of Ku Klux Klan ideology that Jews support Black liberation movements as a way to undermine white rule and destroy the nation. The next frame shows the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, flanked by two Jewish Congressman, Representatives Nadler and Schiff. Pelosi, too, is controlled by Jews.

Who, then, are this דsmall group in our nations capitalҔ? The video suggests it is a group that controls Hollywood and the Democratic Party, and seeks to use Black liberation movements to undermine the nation, and bring about world government. In Nazi ideology, as well as its US counterpart, this group is the Jews. And what are the costs? As the inauguration speech continues, The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of this our country;Ӕ gunshots are fired and we are shown images of these citizens betrayed by a duplicitous establishment mournful pictures of coffins of veterans, homeless encampments, and a series of slides varying between nostalgic images of white American families over dinner with rural destitution ֖ a worn down home flying a large American flag with an old pickup truck in front. At the end of these grim scenes of the results of elite betrayal, Trump declares, This all ends right here, right now.Ӕ

As the music surges, what follows is a series of photos taken during Trumps first term. This phase of the video begins with images of enormous naval ships on the ocean, and moves to images of Trump striding in front of a military guard at a football game, the iconic sport of American masculinity (hence the very particular danger of the Black quarterback Colin KaepernickҒs challenge to white supremacy). It is followed by rally after rally with adoring masses cheering Trump. The images of women overcome with emotion at the sight of the nations father figure, and violent anger at his political enemies, are interspersed with heavy machinery in factories, churning out huge new pick-up trucks, fighter jets streaking across the sky, and Trump striding across the screen framed by the powerful American imagery of the Lincoln Memorial. A Black man and a white man are shown in brotherhood at a Trump rally. Trump is shown observing powerful rockets launch, images evocative, for those schooled in history, of the NaziҒs own obsession with this particular technology.

After these scenes of Trumps glorious leadership, the restoration of American rocket technology dominance, the mood shifts, as we are shown former Attorney General Bill Barr swearing in at what appears to be a deposition, followed by a smirking Joe Biden. Treachery has entered in, stage left.

What follows is scene after scene of immense loss. Empty streets of great American cities, a forlorn white woman peering out of a window, trapped at home. Scrabble pieces spelling “FEAR” appear and disappear within less than a second, empty chairs at a school, a sign reading ԓclosed. We see an image of the Supreme Court, followed by what appears to be a Black Lives Matter rally on a street emblazoned with ԓDEFUND THE POLICE. Joe Biden appears in a forlorn photo in a gym, speaking to a lone man in a chair - Biden is here a petitioner, not a commander. The video switches back to a representation of glorious Trump years a rising stock market, more fighter planes, a Black man and a white man with a ֓Jesus Saves shirt embracing in brotherhood - a reference to the power of a shared Christian identity to bond Americans across racial lines. It ends with the screen filling with a powerful image of Trumps face, showing steely resolve.

The message of the video is clear. America’s glory has been betrayed by treachery and division sown by politicians seeking to undermine and destroy the nation. To save the nation, one must restore Trump’s rule.

Each of us can decide what moral responsibility Trump personally has for a video to rouse his supporters at the rally. How much of a role the White House or Trump himself may have played in deciding to show the video and sequencing it immediately after Giuliani’s speech, we don’t know. But it is worth noting that the New York Times recently reported that by early January, “the rally” would now effectively become a White House production and, with his eye ever on media production, Trump micromanaged the details. “The president discussed the speaking lineup, as well as the music to be played, according to a person with direct knowledge of the conversations. For Mr. Trump, the rally was to be the percussion line in the symphony of subversion he was composing from the Oval Office, the Times reported.

* * *

Worldwide, there have been many fascist movements. Not all fascist movements focus on a global Jewish conspiracy as the enemy, and not all of them were genocidal. Early on, Italian fascism was not anti-Semitic in its core, though it later turned that way. British fascism was not genocidal (though it also was never given the opportunity to be). The most influential fascist movement that takes a shadowy Jewish conspiracy as its central target is German fascism, Nazism. Nazism did not start out in genocide. It began with militias and violent troops disrupting democracy. In its early years in power, in the 1930s, it was socialists and communists who were targeted for the Concentration Camps, torture, and murder. But it must never be forgotten where Nazism culminated.

Thanks to Justin Hendrix (@justinhendrix) for work with Just Security editors on this project.

SOURCE

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Americas Final Descent Into a Failed State
A Radicalized GOP is Committed to Destroying American Democracy. Will It Succeed?

By Umair Haque
Eudaimonia
May 23, 2021

By now, the contours of what look like a strategy are emerging. A strategy to take revenge on American democracy - this time, successfully. The five elements of this strategy - IT’S THE GOP’S OF COURSE - go something like this.

One, put in place as party leaders those who’ve basically sworn allegiance to Trump, his movement, and his aims, which seem to be the violent overthrow of American democracy. Two, have them propound the Big Lie that the election was stolen. Three, at the state level, restrict voting rights as severely as possible. Four, elevate a new generation of fanatics and radicals - who openly bask in violence, like Marjorie Taylor Greene - to prominence. And five, of course, block any attempt to investigate the coup on Jan 6th.

All of that adds up to a nightmare scenario, come the next election. This fivefold strategy gives the GOP options. Options of the kind it shouldn’t have. To overthrow American democracy in any number of ways.

Lets consider a few.

One: the Republicans take the house, and refuse to certify the President, if he or sheҒs a Democrat. What happens then? Constitutional crisis of the most severe kind. It ends up at the Supreme Court ח which, of course, leans heavily, heavily Republican.

Two: the Republicans lose the election and attempt another coup. Only this time, they’re successful—remember, last time, America got lucky, and it was a minor miracle political leaders weren’t assassinated, which was the explicit goal of the coup. But this time, Republicans do manage to block vote certification through outright violence. What happens then? Chaos does. The GOP claims they’re the true winners - and America’s left in a twilight zone.

Three: the many, many ways the Republicans are attacking voting at the state level pay off. Through a combination of gerrymandering, sympathetic officials who are fanatics, restrictions, and ғfraudits, the Republicans manage to swing the election their way ԗ by simply hacking away at the most basic mechanisms of democracy.

I could go on, but the point is this. Trump may seem goneӔ for now ח but American democracy is in grave danger. It may be in more danger now than during the Trump years, in fact. Why is that?

Because what all the above means is that the GOP has radicalized. They have made three significant choices, in the last few months, as an institution, as a set of people, as a social group. One, they have doubled down on the idea that if democracy doesnt serve their ascendance to power, then itҒs OK to do away with democracy. Two, theyve doubled down on the idea that violence is a perfectly acceptable means to take power. Three, theyҒve decided that the next election will be one where democracy itself is something to attack and beat not the opponent, really ח in whatever way is necessary to finally take power.

Theyve made those three choices in the service of a fourth. TheyҒve decided that the aim of taking in power is to force society to drink a weird cocktail of all the different flavours of fascism: the creation of a fanatical, religious, regressive ethno-state, where women and minorities and anyone different is violently repressed, while old hierarchies of race and money and pedigree are what define a persons level of humanity. In short, the Republicans want America to be like Russia, politically, Iran, socially, and North Korea, culturally җ not just a failed state, but to combine the worst aspects of all the kinds of failed states.

Those four choices are incredibly significant. For a very good reason. It didnt have to be this way. The GOP could have backed down, instead of doubling down, on violence, fanaticism, religion, hate, and cruelty. The GOP could have walked bath to a path of relative sanity instead of tumbling further down the abyss of fascism. Each of the four decisions above җ authoritarianism, violence, lies, and hate are choices.

Whatגs guiding those choices? Driving them is a better word. The GOP chose to double down instead of back down for a very good reason, too. One that, more often than not, is the prime mover of politics. Because its base wanted it.

The GOP made the four choices above because its base was angrily crying out for authoritarianism over democracy, violence over consent, intimidation over comity, lies over truth, and hate over common decency.

It could have resisted, sure - but it would have been risking its own political future as a party. And so it radicalised, at the bidding of an already radicalised Trumpist base.

How radicalised is the Trumpist base? You should know the statistics by now, because they’re truly chilling. 70% of Republicans believe the election was stolen. A majority agree with the idea that “force” may be necessary to save the American way of life.

Where does all this leave America? Walking a tightrope, teetering in the wind. Below lies the abyss of fascism. And one tiny, minor misstep - and all is lost. This is made all the more dangerous, of course, by the false sense of security liberals are feeling now that Biden is in power.

Is this America’s final descent into a failed state? I ask that for a very simple reason. If you think carefully about the dynamics, an inevitable conclusion emerges. If the Republicans are successful at overthrowing American democracy, there won’t be a next time. That’s it, game over. For a very, very long - possibly for good.

And make no mistake overthrowing American democracy is no hyperbole. What else do you call it when a party is systemically paring away voting rights, refusing to condemn and even investigate a violent coup attempt, and propounding a Big Lie, with no basis, that disregards the outcome of a democratic election?

America now faces the prospect of a final meltdown. What do I mean by that? Think of historic moments of social implosion - like the Irani Revolution, or the end of the Soviet Union, or the accession of dictators in countries from Iraq to North Korea.

What a final meltdown means is just such a moment - a turning point at which democracy is shattered, autocracy sets in, and a generation or more finds out the hard way whatגs it like to live without freedom, under an iron fist and a boot.

So what I mean by American democracy faces a final meltdown is something like this. When Trump was President, fascism had risen to power. But it hadn’t fully seized power yet - corroding every value, capturing every institution. There was a way back - and America got very, very lucky. The coup failed - partly thanks to a handful of brave officers, partly out of sheer dumb luck. Biden became President precisely because the coup whose purpose was to vote certification - failed. But if it had succeeded where would America be today? Nobody can say - but Trump would surely have tried to annul the election and probably declared martial law. Last time wasn’t a final meltdown - America got lucky.

This time is different. The GOP wants revenge. It is thinking through the seizure of power not in a temporary, fleeting way, but in a lasting, permanent one. It is very obviously planning to take power by force if necessary, subvert any remaining semblance of democracy ח and make that transformation into authoritarianism more or less permanent. Thats itҒs explicit goal and the vast, vast majority of its base wants that from it.

The GOP wants America to experience something like an Irani Revolution or a Soviet collapse or a Gaddafi-like ascendance of authoritarianism - not some time in the distant future, but in the next few years, in this election cycle. That is why its strategy is now so obvious and explicit - elevate the fanatics, purge the moderates, pledge allegiance to Trump, and if we take the House, well, then we block election certification, and if that fails, we resort to violence all over again. This is our country! Were the real Americans!

If you’ve lived all this before, or studied it - how societies experience a final collapse into authoritarianism - you’re shuddering right about now, looking at America. This is exactly how it happens. A nation gets lucky - and a coup attempt fails. But that only hardens the commitment of the radicalised base - and the fanatical side - to make it succeed next time, while the silent majority rests on their laurels. To plan carefully, so that the seizure of power doesnt fail again. To put all the mechanisms in place so that when the time is right - bang!! - the plan goes off without a hitch, and democracy is left a smoking, wrecked ruin.

It couldn’t be more obvious what the GOP wants: the collapse of American democracy. I guess that only leaves one question: why don’t sane Americans see it yet?

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 05/06/21 •
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Monday, May 03, 2021

No There Isn’t A Worker Shortage

image long-tern unemployment March 2021

The Biden administration - and Biden - was one of the principal architects of the policies that fleeced the working class and made war on the poor - is nothing more than a brief coda in the decline and fall, set against which is China’s rising global economic and military clout.
- Imagining A Real American Rescue, March 2021

More Americans than ever (39%) now think that if people cant find work for an extended period of time, the government should do nothing at all to help them.
- Real Help, Real Indifference, and Real Disdain For The Long-Term Unemployed, 2012

As someone who is active in this industry I should say it was Tourism industry long term plan to use pandemic as an excuse to TERMINATE OLDER, unionized workers and once the pandemic is over hire younger workers with no benefits and lower wages. Many of our members lost their jobs permanently as hotels terminated them and will never be called back.  And hotels are already talking about more cuts in wages, pension etc…
- Anonymous

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With five million long-term unemployed from the pandemic, Pinocchio’s nose couldn’t grow any longer if he tried to convince me employers can’t find workers.

A easier pill to swallow is employers love desperate workers.

A desperate worker won’t ask for a raise, won’t care about the boss not taking COVID precautions, willl be afraid to join a union, will come to work sick, etc.

Claiming specifically that workers don’t want to come back to work - tells me the days of STIMULUS CHECKS and enhanced unemployment may be over soon. Not because that’s the right thing to do - but because we live in a corporate controlled oligarchy, and the oligarchs want us go back to work - cheap - and shut up.

A few years ago I battled with the inner conflict of supporting a union strike, or scabbing to replace a striking worker - I CHOSE TO SCAB because being sodamn poor, and needed work so bad - does that you.

Other excuses for business owners crying about workers are maybe they used up their VISA QUOTAS for the year, or trying to GET THE GOVERNMENT TO FOOT THE BILL FOR TRAINING workers - things we’ve seen in the past like THIS and THIS.

They want cheap labor.  Why they’re not doing the usual of outsourcing and offshoring our jobs is the big question.  It’s not they lost any of their [power.

If the heavens are looking down fondly working America - now is the time for a general strike for a liveable minimum wage, affordable health care, and all the other things we’ve lost the past few decades.

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By Laura Clawson
Daily Kos
April 30, 2021

Employers are outraged that workers won’t come crawling to work for peanuts in a pandemic

The big push is on to blame the American Rescue Plan for businesses not being able to find enough workers to fill their jobs. Business owners - restaurant owners in particular - are lining up to tell reporters how those darn lazy workers would rather stay home and collect unemployment than go back to work. Rarely do these stories of employer pain ask questions like, say, how much pay they’re offering or how careful they’re being with their workers health in the midst of the pandemic. Stories asking people why they’re hesitating to go back to work are mysteriously not so common.

"People felt abused in the beginning stages of opening back up,” a Washington, D.C., server and bartender TOLD WASHINGTON CITY PAPER in one of the few stories that did consider the workers side. It shook people enough to say, “I don’t think I want to get back into this. If you’re not going to follow protocols and you’re not going to have my back if guests get out of line, what’s the point?

A woman who bartends as second job in Florida EXPLAINED TO THE SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL that she’d seen ‘a lot of people leaving the restaurant industry for other careers partially due to COVID and the hours changing and not making consistent money.” The people she was talking about had gone into fields like nursing and accounting - but business owners looking for applicants aren’t talking about the people who went elsewhere, they’re talking like everyone is just sitting home.

And about that. People still have kids at home they’re responsible for taking care of, as even THIS SERIES OF EMPLOYER SOB STORIES from The Wall Street Journal acknowledges. They’re still afraid of contracting COVID-19, because, again, many have experienced bosses who will put their health at risk.

Some of those bosses are the very same ones who are featured in articles wailing about how difficult it is to hire people, as Anne Helen Petersen found: “In Waterville, Ohio, for instance, there’s this sad, sad song about the difficulties finding workers at Dale’s Bar & Grillwhich somehow fails to mention that the owner is a Covid hoaxer (he believes that doctors have been falsely labeling deaths as covid-related) and has brazenly violated masking rules, and did not require employees to wear masks.”

FOX NEWS BUSINESS interviewed a California restaurant owner who feels aggrieved that his former employees don’t want to come back after “He told them he would only allow them to come back and work full time or the same shift they had before.” That restaurateur was PREVIOUSLY SEEN explaining to the Los Angeles Times why he was defying a shutdown order. Now, with his workers, he’s all” It’s my way or the highway,” and when they choose the highway, he whines about it. I dunno, maybe give people a little flexibility and respect to accommodate their changed lives after 13 months of historic pandemic.

And, yes, there’s a money issue. “Even for unskilled positions” one of the employers who talked to The Wall Street Journal “is offering several dollars over minimum wage.” What largesse! Except hes not getting many takers so, you know, maybe offer more. Even with the current $300 a week federal supplement to unemployment insurance, 58% of people would earn as much or more at their previous jobs, and frankly, that says more about the jobs than about the people.

FLORIDA provides another dispatch from the “struggling employers” genre, and a high-profile politician - Sen. Marco Rubio - tweeting “Florida small business owners are all telling me the same thing, they can’t find people to fill available jobs. You can come up with all kinds of reasons & wave around all the Ivy League studies you want, but what does common sense tell you is the reason?”

What does common sense tell me is the reason, Marco? Well, the NOTORIOUS for DELAYS IN UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS. Most people are probably getting significantly less, and a LIVING WAGE for a single person with no children is $14.82 an hour in Florida. So I’m thinking that Florida employers need to offer higher pay.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned about American capitalism,” Anne Helen Petersen writes, “it’s the skill and swiftness with which it translates resistance into personal, moral failure - which is precisely what so many of these business owners and politicians have done. Exactly. Workers are saying “enough.” If bosses won’t pay a living wage and respect their workers health and safety, people who’ve gutted it out through a year of terror and watching their loved ones get sick and die may not be so willing to come crawling. Thats not a personal failing, and talking like it is shows how bad your values are. Not that it was in any doubt when it came to, say, Marco Rubio.

SOURCE

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U.S. Labor Shortage? Unlikely. Here’s Why

By Heidi Shierholz
The Commons
May 4, 2021

There are lots of anecdotal reports swirling around about employers who can’t find workers. Just search “worker shortages” online and a seemingly endless list of stories pops up, so it’s easy to assume there’s an alarming lack of people to fill jobs. But a closer look reveals there may be a lot less to this than meets the eye.

First, the backdrop. In good times and bad, there is always a chorus of employers who claim they can’t find the employees they need. Sometimes that chorus is louder, sometimes softer, but its always there. One reason is that in a system as large and complex as the U.S. labor market there will always be pockets of bona fide labor shortages at any given time. But a more common reason is employers simply don’t want to raise wages high enough to attract workers. Employers post their too-low wages, can’t find workers to fill jobs at that pay level, and claim they’re facing a labor shortage. Given the ubiquity of this dynamic, I often suggest that whenever anyone says, I can’t find the workers I need, she should really add, “at the wages I want to pay.”

Furthermore, a job opening when the labor market is weak often does not mean the same thing as a job opening when the labor market is strong. There is a wide range of “recruitment intensity” that an employer can apply to an open position. For example, if employers are trying hard to fill an opening, they will increase the compensation package and perhaps scale back the required qualifications. Conversely, if employers are not trying very hard, they may offer a meager compensation package and hike up the required qualifications. Perhaps unsurprisingly, RESEARCH SHOWS that recruitment intensity is cyclical. It tends to be stronger when the labor market is strong, and weaker when the labor market is weak. This means that when a job opening goes unfilled when the labor market is weak, as it is today, employers are even more likely than in normal times to be holding out for an overly qualified candidate at a very cheap price.

This points to the fact that the footprint of a bona fide labor shortage is rising wages. Employers who truly face shortages of suitable, interested workers will respond by bidding up wages to attract those workers, and employers whose workers are being poached will raise wages to retain their workers, and so on. When you don’t see wages growing to reflect that dynamic, you can be fairly certain that labor shortages, though possibly happening in some places, are not a driving feature of the labor market.

And right now, wages are not growing at a rapid pace. While there are issues with measuring wage growth due to the unprecedented job losses of the pandemic, wage series that account for these issues are NOT SHOWING an increase in wage growth. Unsurprisingly, at a RECENT PRESS CONFERENCE, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell dismissed anecdotal claims of labor market shortages, saying, We don’t see wages moving up yet. And presumably we would see that in a really tight labor market.

Further, when restaurant owners can’t find workers to fill openings at wages that aren’t meaningfully higher than they were before the pandemic - even though the jobs are inherently more stressful and potentially dangerous because workers now have to deal with anti-maskers and ongoing health concerns - that’s not a labor shortage, that’s the market functioning. The wages for a harder, riskier job should be higher.

Another piece of evidence against widespread labor shortages is the fact that the labor market added more than 900,000 JOBS in March, the seventh highest percent increase in jobs in the last half century. It is difficult to imagine that labor shortages were creating a large impediment to hiring when hiring was happening at such a scale. Further, despite many anecdotes of restaurants in particular not being able to find workers, the labor market added 280,000 jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector in March, the sixth highest percent increase in the last half century, even though AVERAGE WEEKLY EARNINGS for nonsupervisory workers in that sector equate to annual earnings of just $19,651. With these kinds of numbers it is difficult to take the claims of widespread shortages very seriously.

And there are far more unemployed people than available jobs in the current labor market. In the latest data on job openings, there were nearly 40% more unemployed workers than job openings overall, and more than 80% more unemployed workers than job openings in the leisure and hospitality sector.

While there are certainly fewer people looking for jobs now than there would be if Covid weren’t a factor, many people are out of the labor market because of Covid-related care responsibilities or health concerns - without enough job openings to even come close to providing work for all job seekers, it again stretches the imagination to suggest that labor shortages are a core dynamic in the labor market.

One question people raise is whether the expanded pandemic unemployment benefits keep workers from taking jobs. Right now, for example, unemployed workers who receive unemployment insurance benefits get not just the (very meager) level of benefits they would get under normal benefits formulas, but an additional $300 a week. That means that some very low-wage workers - like many restaurant workers - may receive more in unemployment benefits than they would at a job. Is this making jobs hard to fill? There was a lot of fuss about this same question a year ago, when workers were getting a $600 additional benefit a week. There were SEVERAL RIGEROUS PAPERS that looked at this question, and they all found extremely limited labor supply effects of that additional weekly benefit. If the $600 a week wasn’t keeping people from taking jobs then, it’s hard to imagine that a benefit half that large is having that effect now.

I cut my labor-market-monitoring teeth during the Great Recession, and it was a formative experience. In the aftermath of that recession, there were nearly constant tales of employers who couldn’t find workers. The stories at that time about LABOR SHORTAGES IN CONSTRUCTION, when the unemployment rate in construction was still close to 13%, have a similar feel as claims today of labor shortages in restaurants, considering that the unemployment rate in leisure and hospitality is CURRENTLY 13%. The Great Recession was caused by the bursting of a giant housing bubble that threw many construction workers out of work, and the Covid recession was caused by a public health crisis that shuttered many restaurants.

In both cases, counterintuitive reports about employers not able to find the workers they need really captured the public’s imagination. But a look under the hood reveals that beyond the anecdotes there is little evidence of a real shortage.

SOURCE

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We Regret to Inform You That Workers Are Not Suddenly Winning
Wages and job openings are up. Heres why they won’t stay that way.

By Timothy Noah
The New Republic
June 11, 2021

How do you like the Great American Labor Shortage so far? Wages are rising faster than they have in nearly 40 years, REPORTS BUSINESS INSIDER, excluding a freakish momentary spike last year when Covid-19 lockdowns began. The number of JOB OPENNGS (9.3 million) and the number of people quitting their jobs (4 million, or 2.7 percent) are higher than weve seen in 20 years. Prices, meanwhile, are UP 5 PERCENT over May 2020, the fastest rise in the Consumer Price Index in 13 years. When you exclude volatile food and energy prices, The New York Times REPORTS, prices are rising faster than they have in almost 30 years.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page, from which I have borrowed the phrase GREAT AMERICAN LABOR SHORTAGE, is practically suicidal, while The New York Times is heralding an imminent dictatorship of the proletariat. WORKERS ARE GAINING LEVERAGE OVER EMPLOYERS RIGHT BEFORE OUR EYES was the headline last week on the Times’ front page. The papers Neil Irwin conceded that the jump in wages and job vacancies “reflects a strange moment” in which the economy is reopening faster than workers are returning to work. But “the shift builds on changes already underway in the tight labor market preceding the pandemic,” as demographic trends shrank the pool of available workers. Karen Fichuk, chief executive of the staffing company Randstad North America, told Irwin that “we’re witnessing a historic moment for the American labor force.”

We are not witnessing a historic moment for the American labor force. We aren’t even witnessing a genuine labor shortage like the one we saw at the peak of the tech boom during the late 1990s. WeҒre seeing a momentary respite from the ghastly long-term shift of national income from labor to capital that - ACCORING to those Bolsheviks at McKinsey and Co. has been increasing especially fast since 2000.

Nothing that happens during a nationwide pandemic, even as its winding down, follows normal rules. Economic recovery from the Covid lockdown will taper off next year as it becomes a distant memory. (I don’t intend to remember very much about this pandemic; do you?) The current mismatch between job openings and available workers will likely end sooner than that. Indeed, if enhanced unemployment insurance benefits are finally doing what Republicans claimed, incorrectly, they were doing all along - keeping unemployed workers from returning to work - then come fall, when they expire, you may be reading Page One stories about a labor surplus killing off wage growth.

The evidence throughout the pandemic has shown that enhanced unemployment benefits - a $600 add-on to weekly benefits, followed by six months of no add-on, followed by a $300 add-on that expires in early September - did not depress employment to any significant degree. A much-cited UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO STUDY concluded that the small disincentive created by the U.I. benefit expansion was outweighed by the economic stimulus created by the spending of that benefit, creating a net increase in employment. AS RECENTLY AS MAY 29, a paper by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco said the disincentive effect of the $600 and $300 add-ons was “small.”

There’s still no empirical evidence that these circumstances have changed. But increasingly, economists think the $300 work disincentive has lately become significant. Too many employers are going begging right now, and alternative explanations are in short supply.

For a long time it seemed likely that remote or hybrid schooling for young children was keeping mothers from returning to work, but a persuasive May study by Harvard’s Jason Furman and Wilson Powell III, and the University of Maryland’s Melissa Kearney, SAID that wasnt the case. Rather, they found that during the pandemic, parents of young children left the workforce at about the same rate as other groups. Georgetown economist Harry Holzer points out that the study didn’t look at workers caring for elderly parents; still, that would be a much smaller group.

It’s very likely that some significant proportion of the unemployed aren’t returning to work because it still doesn’t feel safe. A May survey sponsored by the National Retail Federation FOUND 35 percent of respondents said they wouldn’t feel comfortable returning to work unless they knew their co-workers were vaccinated. A CENSUS SURVEY TAKEN IN MARCH showed that the number of people not working for fear of contracting Covid-19, though declining, was a still significant 4.2 million.

Yet the Biden administration announced this week that, with the exception of hospitals, clinics, and doctors offices, workplaces will not have to follow the emergency temporary Covid standard that then-candidate Joe Biden excoriated Donald Trump for not imposing. It’ll be up to employers to compel returning workers to get vaccinated and/or wear masks. And although an APRIL SURVEY by the Rockefeller Foundation found that 60 percent of employers planned to require returning workers to show proof of vaccination, that means 40 percent of employers will not. The employers that don’t will likely be mostly in low-wage industries, where the perceived labor shortage is concentrated.

Josh Bivens of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute has floated an INTERESTING HYPOTHESIS that wages might not be accelerating as quickly as we think. May’s wage growth was driven by the leisure and hospitality sector, which consists mostly of workers at restaurants that customers are only just starting to patronize again. What if that wage surge, Bivens posits, is really a tip surge? This sector reported a huge decline in wages in March and April 2020 as restaurants were shutting down, even as other sectors were experiencing that freakish momentary wage spike at the start of the pandemic.

What’s different about restaurants? Well, Bivens observes, restaurant workers get tips, and when customers disappear, tips disappear. Now customers are coming back, along with tips.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what explanation you favor for the sudden mismatch between available jobs and willing workers, or for the recent spike in wages. The conditions that created these things are temporary. Writing in The New York Times, Dan Alpert, managing partner at Westwood Capital and adjunct professor at Cornell Law School, EXPRESSES WORRY not about a labor shortage but about an imminent labor surplus, particularly in low-wage jobs. As unemployment benefits dry up, Alpert said, there’s a decent chance “there won’t be enough jobs for the people eventually looking for work because so many businesses closed during the pandemic” (especially the SMALL ONES where low-wage workers typically work).

As for wages, yes, the aging of America is shrinking the pool of available workers. It remains to be seen whether Trumpian opposition to immigration will continue to dominate the GOP. But I have a hard time imagining Republican legislators will keep the spigot closed if wage pressures cause employers to howl in pain.

I doubt wage pressures will rise even that high. That’s because of a largely overlooked factor: the rise of the CRAP JOB. Even as the U.S. worker pool shrinks, the quality of available jobs will likely diminish, as it has now for decades. Alpert helped create a very useful economic indicator called the JOB QUALITY INDEX to trace the displacement over time of good jobs by crap jobs (as measured by pay). In effect, Alpert argues, crap jobs are becoming the norm. Policymakers and corporations (over whom banks hold the whip hand far more than during most of the twentieth century) prefer it that way.

Why have wages stagnated during the past four decades? The EPIs Bivens and Lawrence Mishel argued last month that the blame rests with high interest rates, proliferating trade deals, ever-more-brazen wage theft (i.e., employers failure to pay minimum wage or overtime), an eroding legal minimum wage, diminishing legal overtime eligibility, judicial decisions restricting the ability of workers to sue their employers, deregulation, privatization, economic concentration, a fissuring workforce (meaning a trend toward outsourcing labor within the U.S. to smaller, less scrupulous companies), and declining union power. These were policies consciously pursued by government at all levels at the behest of the business lobby.

I’m inclined to believe that the decline of union power - that is, the shrinking proportion of private-sector workers who belong to unions, amid steep government barriers to union organizing - is the linchpin. Ultimately, it all comes down to the exercise of power, and workers just don’t have any. That won’t change until the labor movement is rebuilt. The House-passed Protecting the Right to Organize Act would be a good start, but nobody expects it to pass anytime soon. It is therefore a childish fantasy to presume the American worker is gaining any real leverage over employers. Management has little to fear.

Timothy Noah is the author of The Great Divergence: Americas Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It.

SOURCE

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Job searches haven’t jumped in states canceling unemployment benefits early

By Denitsa Tsekova
Yahoo Money
June 22, 2021

Job seekers in the 10 states that canceled federal unemployment programs early haven’t accelerated their online searches for new jobs, DATA from Indeed found.

In fact, job searches in those states are below late April levels and lower than the volume in states that aren’t opting out of the programs.

“We aren’t seeing a jump in search activity right around the time that those benefits ended,” Jed Kolko, Indeed’s chief economist, told Yahoo Money. “That search activity in those states that have already opted out the enhanced federal UI benefits is a little bit below the national trend.”

Twenty-six states - all but one with GOP governors - eliminated or plan to eliminate the unemployment programs this month or in early July, including the popular $300 weekly bonus.

Alaska, Iowa, Mississippi, and Missouri canceled the programs on June 12, the earliest states to do so. Job search activity ticked higher after the cancellation, but is down 4% from the baseline national job search level in late April.

Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Wyoming ended the programs on June 19. Similarly, job search activity there also edged higher before the expiration, but remains 1% lower than the baseline national job search level in late April.

Only 19.6% of unemployed workers were on temporary layoff unlike early in the pandemic - meaning fewer workers are being recalled and more are looking for new jobs instead.

Other factors that are probably holding people back from searching’

Twenty of the 26 states have halted or intend to halt the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs. PUA provides benefits to workers like contractors who dont otherwise qualify for regular unemployment insurance. PEUC provides additional weeks of benefits.

In those 26 states, more than 4 million workers will see their benefits slashed by at least $1,200 a month in June or early July, losing a total of $22.1 billion in benefits, according to estimates by the Century Foundation.

Several studies have found that the extra pandemic-era unemployment benefits largely don’t keep workers from accepting new jobs - most recently a PAPER by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. If seven out of 28 unemployed workers received job offers they would normally accept, only one declined because of the extra $300 in weekly unemployment benefits, the paper found.

“There are other factors that are probably holding people back from searching like continued concern about the virus,” Kolko said. “Some people might be waiting until later in the summer when schools are closer to opening and when people get a chance to take some time off.”

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 05/03/21 •
Section Revelations • Section NWO • Section Dying America • Section Next Recession, Next Depression
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