Critical Race Theory and Other Political Wedge Issues

A well-devised or contrived political wedge issue is pure political gold. Anyone who has ever managed a political campaign knows that.

Political wedge issues often force voters to make political decisions, even when the issue does not represent an impending public policy decision. The undecided voter is often swayed by being for or against an issue that is imputed to be favored or opposed by one of the political parties or by one of the candidates for office.

Some wedge issues are entirely legitimate. Even before there was a United States of America or any American political parties, Thomas Paine, in 1775, created a world-changing political wedge issue when he published Common Sense. Common Sense made the case that the American colonists should be focusing on independence from rather than reconciliation with England. While they were not yet voters in national elections, the colonists were presented with a choice. Were they for allegiance to England or for self-determination. At the time, that was about as controversial as any wedge issue could be, but it was a legitimate issue. Independence rather than reconciliation was a wedge issue for the ages.

Critical Race Theory is not really an issue that school boards in America are pursuing. Some politicians, however, have erected it as a great American bugaboo, creating angst among voters way out of proportion to any existing reality. Critical Race Theory has become a raging wedge issue.

Political wedge issues are commonplace in American political discourse. For example, most Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, today, support universal access to quality healthcare, especially after our long COVID-19 ordeal. However, a dozen years ago, access to healthcare became a magnet for wedge issues. Republicans, led by Sarah Palin, created a compelling wedge issue in fighting the Affordable Care Act by raising the specter of “death panels.” There were no such provisions in the Affordable Care Act, but it dominated much of the debate a dozen years ago. Republican criticism of the Affordable Care Act isn’t heard much today, but wedge issues such as the death panel controversy fanned the flames of discord when the Affordable Care Act was being debated.

So, today, politicians and others are rallying citizens to fight against a rather non-existent public-school movement to teach Critical Race Theory. Political apoplexy over Critical Race Theory presupposes that teaching it is on public school board agendas all over the country. It isn’t.

Critical Race Theory is a forty-year-old movement that focuses on the root causes of racism, the pervasiveness of racism, the alleged centrality of racism, and the considerable lingering impact of systemic racism. Critical Race Theory has become a revisited topic in some academic circles, among various civil rights scholars and activists, and more recently, spurred on by Black Lives Matter activists.

However, few, if any, school boards are pushing to incorporate Critical Race Theory into public school curricula. Creating a controversy over the teaching of Critical Race Theory even though there is little to no teaching of Critical Race Theory in America is a textbook exercise in wedge-issue creation. It forces voters to decide for or against a happening that isn’t happening.

Does race, including racism, have any place in American education? Of course. It would be irresponsible (and impossible) to sidestep an integral part of our own history. Should we teach Americans, especially young white Americans, that they are, by definition, guilty of racism or guilty of the sins of their forbears? No, of course not. Should Americans be taught the lingering effects of racism? Why not? Ignorance is not bliss. It is the handmaiden of demagoguery. Is stigmatizing any cohort of Americans for the behavior of any other cohort of Americans ever justified? No, never. Should a more just society be an essential American ideal? Always. If America means anything, it means justice for all. Without justice for all, there is no justice at all.

And there you have a reasonable way to address the complexities of the generations-old and now rapidly evolving question of race in America. Teaching American history should not embrace an obsession with race or racism, but, at an appropriate grade level, an understanding of the role and toll of racism in the American experience. We should neither avoid it nor should we obsess over it. We should simply be determined to learn from it and to continue to pursue that more perfect union; that work in progress that was the promise of America.

To pretend that racism doesn’t exist in America is absurd. To pretend that we haven’t made substantial progress in confronting racism in America is equally absurd.

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Wuhan Lab’s Madam Shi (and others) Speak Out: And America Opines.

Opinions come quickly to us Americans. Already, nearly half of America believes Covid-19 leaked from a Chinese lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. And, it very well may have. Specifically, 46% of American adults are convinced the pandemic originated with a lab leak, according to a Morning Consult survey completed last week. More than a quarter of us believe the virus jumped from an animal to humans. And, it very well may have. Yet, just under 30% of our countrymen are reserving judgment and say they have no opinion yet. Good for them.

The only opinion that is 100% justified is that the nation, indeed the world, may have been given premature assurances that COVID-19 emerged from nature and that an escape from a laboratory, specifically a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology was “highly unlikely.” Actually, it may still be premature to suggest that a lab leak from Wuhan was highly unlikely. Nor, I might add, is there any proof that the virus did not originate and escape from a laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

American virologists, infectious disease researchers, and other public health authorities were prone to be defensive when politicians began embracing Chinese lab shenanigans as the culprit and when the President of the United States began calling COVID-19 the Kung-flu. They probably also feared that a lab failure causation could do to virology what Three Mile Island and Chernobyl did to nuclear energy.

 Nonetheless, having reviewed each day’s release of new reports from a variety of respected sources, it seems clear that the initial rush to judgment (that it was “highly unlikely” that there was a catastrophic leak of the virus from the Wuhan Institute of Virology) was, for the most part, unsupported. That is not to say that a lab leak has been demonstrated. It hasn’t been, but nor has a zoogenic jump from nature been established.

The lack of cooperation from the communist government in China is deplorable but par for the course for an autocratic régime that has no tolerance for criticism from the outside world. China will never acknowledge that the worst viral scourge in a century may have resulted from Chinese carelessness. Now, a year-and-a-half into the pandemic, any data or lab logs that the communist government might share would, justifiably, be highly suspect.

As I write this column, over 13,000 people have, this day, died of COVID-19. Worldwide, nearly four million have died so far, and in America, we have topped the 600,000 fatalities mark (about twice the number of Americans who died in combat during World War Two). Nearly 200 million people have been infected across the globe. These statistics do not account for the almost certain undercounting of COIVID-19 deaths in India, Brazil, and elsewhere in Asia and Africa. Many epidemiologists believe the actual death toll may be several orders of magnitude greater than that which has been reported to date. COVID-19 has been a historic disaster.

We Americans form our opinions along political party lines. For example, 70% of Republicans are convinced COVID-19 originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Forty-one percent of independents concur, and slightly under a third of Democrats feel the same way. Here’s what we know for sure; we just don’t know.

The Wuhan lab-leak theory has taken off, in great measure, because the Chinese communist government has been, characteristically, secretive and uncooperative in opening the records of the Wuhan Institute of Virology to scrutiny by the world’s community of virologists and infectious disease experts. More than a month ago, this column presented the case reported in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists that supported the lab-leak hypothesis. Since then, several top scientists have taken sharp issue with the Bulletin report written by former New York Times Science writer Nicholas Wade.

Concurrently, however, subsequent analyses have strongly suggested that the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Specifically, two reports just released; one by the American Institute for Economic Research authored by David R. Henderson and Charles I. Hooper, both of whom are or have been affiliated with the Hoover Institute at Stanford University, and a very detailed report in Vanity Fair, by investigative journalist Katherine Eban, earlier this month. Both reports make a pretty compelling case that the virus that causes COVID-19 was engineered at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Nonetheless, Dr. Kristian Andersen, a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California says, not so fast. Dr. Andersen was one of the very first scientists to sound an alarm about the possibility that Covid-19 was lab engineered. He has, perhaps, delved into that possibility more than anyone else. Dr. Andersen now contends that the features in SARS-CoV-2 that initially suggested possible engineering have now been identified in related coronaviruses, meaning that features that initially looked unusual to him no longer do. Specifically, Dr. Andersen says that studying data from coronaviruses found in other species, such as bats and pangolins, has convinced him that the features that first appeared unique to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) were in fact found in other, related viruses.

So, there is an abundance of reporting that makes the case either for or against the lab-leak explanation for Covid-19. As a writer, unqualified to pass judgment, I have found reports, both pro, and con, to be, in varying degrees, persuasive.

Dr. Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Institute of Virology is widely recognized as the world’s leading expert on bat-borne viruses. She is credited with establishing most of what we know about the potential of bats being probable culprits in first introducing Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-Cov-1) to an intermediary host, which in turn introduced SARS to humans.

Ten years ago, Dr. Shi discovered that bats in a cave in southwestern China carried coronaviruses similar to the virus that causes SARS.  She began studying bats after 700 people around the world died of SARS. Dr. Shi went into caves to collect samples from bats and guano, to learn how viruses jump from animals to humans. She is deservedly well respected in her field. In 2019, she was among 109 scientists elevated to the American Academy of Microbiology for her contributions to the profession. Dr. Robert C. Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland, described Dr. Shi as “a stellar scientist — extremely careful, with a rigorous work ethic,”

Nonetheless, some scientists say Dr. Shi conducted risky Gain of Function experiments with bat coronaviruses in which the genome of viruses was altered. Dr. Shi, however, vehemently denies that her labs conducted any risky gene altering experiments that would have made these coronaviruses more dangerous. Instead, Dr. Shi insists that her experiments were confined to understanding how these viruses jump across species. Finally, American intelligence sources claim, without citing any evidence, that workers in her lab contracted a viral illness just before the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, an allegation Dr. Shi absolutely denies.

I remain somewhat agnostic regarding the source of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lack of candor and cooperation from the Chinese communist government is deplorable. However, I confine my criticism to the Chinese communist government because Chinese public health officials contacted US public health officials on January 1st, last year, well before any cases had been diagnosed in America or anywhere outside of China, to advise that a potential contagious public health crisis had emerged in China.

Correction: Last week’s essay stated that Dr. Ralph Baric of the University of North Carolina received a grant from the National Institutes of Health that included a subcontract to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. While Dr. Baric and Dr. Shi Zhengli at the Wuhan Institute of Virology have collaborated on the study of bat-borne viruses, his work did not involve a subcontract to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Instead, an NIH contract with EcoHealthAlliance, which also studies viral diseases including SARS, subcontracted a portion of an NIH grant to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

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The GOP Savaging of Dr. Anthony Fauci

It has grown as tiresome as it is predictable; the Trump-led GOP savaging of Dr. Anthony Fauci. Tiresome, because character assassination is a tactic as old as politics itself, and predictable because former President Trump and his sycophants fling this sort of rot with comlpete abandon whenever they think it serves their interests.

Dr. Fauci has been the face and voice of America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He has long been internationally recognized and rightfully treasured as a world-class leader in the fight against deadly viral contagions.  His pronouncements regarding COVID-19 have generally been level-headed and wise, although in the early days of the public health emergency, he was cautious when, in retrospect, he might have been much more aggressive. Then again hindsight is invariably 20/20.

Public health authorities knew around January 1st, 2020 that we were facing a previously unknown viral pathogen, but it was not immediately clear just how virulent or dangerous the virus would be. The first confirmed case was diagnosed in the United States on January 21st, last year. The first confirmed coronavirus death outside of China was reported on February 2, 2020. While the United States declared a public health emergency on February 3rd last year, Dr. Fauci was hesitant to immediately urge the nationwide uniform wearing of masks or to urge closing down the country. At that point in time, no deaths had been reported in the United States and only one death outside of China. Dr. Fauci waited until additional data justified the more stringent measures that were ultimately mandated throughout much of the country.

He can, arguably, be faulted for not being more aggressive as soon as we knew that a previously unseen virus was loose and traveling. Dr. Fauci, instead, followed the science as the evolving evidence emerged, and the public health imperatives became clear. There is always a need to adjust and reassess response to a public health threat as the public health reality reveals itself, especially when the response could have a potentially draconian impact on the nation. And that is exactly what Dr. Fauci did.

His counsel and pronouncements became more severe as the severity of the pandemic began to emerge. He can be reasonably criticized for his early caution, but the venom with which Republican politicians and right-wing commentators are attacking him is shameful. They are desperate to turn attention away from the buffoonery of former President Trump’s Coronavirus briefings, as well as his “fight like hell” pep rally preceding the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Given that the former President now leads their party, the Republican urgency of shifting the Coronavirus political fallout to Dr. Fauci is as predictable as it is reprehensible. 

At no time has Dr. Fauci been a liar or a fraud, as his Republican detractors now shamefully allege. And let’s not pretend that former president Trump would have stood for anything more draconian when the deaths from COVID-19 were still being measured in the dozens. True, Dr. Fauci was not yet ready to counsel closing down the country in mid-march last year when we had under fifty confirmed deaths. Still, he wasn’t counseling, “I give it two weeks,” or that, “I want to be opened up and raring to go by Easter,” as former President Trump was absurdly jawboning to the nation.

Two major Republican talking points have emerged in the last couple of weeks. One is that a cache of 3,000 Fauci emails that have been made public provide the smoking gun the Republicans were counting on to defame Dr. Fauci. The emails turned out not to be a smoking gun; nor was there anything remotely nefarious in them.

The other Republican talking point is the possibility that COVID-19 leaked from a laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, and that Dr. Fauci may have approved NIH funding for dangerous Gain of Function (GOF) research at the Wuhan Institute. GOF pertains to the alteration of a virus’s genome in order to study the potential for the evolution of more dangerous future viral outbreaks, and how best to plan to fight such an eventuality.

Readers of this column will recall that I wrote rather extensively about the feasibility of a lab leak at the Wuhan Institute on May 15th. I credited a report written by Nicholas Wade in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which made a case that such a catastrophic blunder was both plausible and, perhaps, probable. Since then, many news articles have been published focusing on the possibility of a lab leak in Wuhan.

During the past month many leading scientists, including Dr. Fauci, have called for further investigation of a possible lab-leak origin. Dr. Robert Redfield, the former Director of the Center for Disease Control has long suspected a laboratory failure as the culprit. It is also true that most scientists, including Dr. Fauci, have in the past referred to the lab-leak possibility as “extremely unlikely.” That’s because the natural origin of viruses that effect humans are generally species-jumping pathogens. The “very likely” culprit of the COVID-19 pandemic, then, was of natural origin.

Nonetheless, as I wrote a month ago, ruling out a lab-leak origin without thoroughly researching that possibility is bad science, just as concluding that COVID-19 could have only originated from natural viral evolution is bad science. While Wade’s report in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists states that an examination of the genetic sequence of COVID-19 strongly suggests laboratory manipulation, other prominent scientists strongly disagree. Among them is prominent physicist Ethan Siegel who refers to the Wade report as “an error-filled, misleading piece  promoting this nonsense” and says “the science tells a different story.”

Other scientists who, at one time, were leaning toward a lab-leak origin have, after further investigation, determined that natural evolution from an animal source was more likely. Dr. Kristian Andersen, a professor at the Scripps Research Institute, has concluded, “no credible evidence has been presented to support the hypothesis that the virus was engineered in, or leaked from, a lab — such statements are based on pure speculation.”

Tulane University Virologist, Dr. Robert Garry, says, “there is no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) or an immediate progenitor virus existed in any laboratory before the pandemic. The only change since we wrote our manuscript on the Proximal Origins of SARS-CoV-2 is that I now consider any of the lab leak hypotheses to be extremely unlikely.”

However, Senator Rand Paul and other Republicans are now accusing Dr. Fauci of funding Gain of Function Research at Wuhan. That really isn’t true, although money is, of course, fungible. A grant funded by the National Institutes of Health, and reviewed by the Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which Dr. Fauci directs, was awarded to Dr. Ralph Baric, a prominent and well-respected American virologist at the University of North Carolina to study bat-borne coronaviruses. A portion of the work undertaken in that grant was subcontracted to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The Wuhan Institute is, in fact, the world’s leading research center studying such bat-borne viruses.

The accusation that Dr. Fauci is responsible for COVID-19 and the horrible toll it has taken, as the likes of Senators Rand Paul and Josh Hawley, and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, and others are making, is a cheap calumnious slur.

 Last October, former President Trump claimed that Dr. Fauci was a disaster and that Dr. Fauci and the nation’s public health officials were idiots. He claimed that if Dr. Fauci was in charge more than a half a million people would be dead in the United States. But Dr. Fauci was never in charge. President Trump was, and, sadly, we now have well over 600,000 people dead in the United States.

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Mass Media and Mass Shootings

One Feeds the Other.

Americans are murdering and maiming other Americans, generally strangers, with remarkable regularity. According to the Mass Shooting Tracker project, this year there have been 247 mass shootings (three or more shot), leaving 283 dead and 1005 wounded. This does not include those victims of shootings associated with gang violence or drug wars.

What to do? Politically, we can’t substantially regulate guns in America, at least not in any meaningful or logical way. Packing iron, or owning a small arsenal of firearms is, for tens of millions of our citizens, as American as apple pie. Perhaps, the best we can do is legislate Red-Flag laws that might deny guns to those would-be purchasers who evidence certain types of aberrant behavior.

There is, however, quite a bit that can be done that wouldn’t infringe on anyone’s constitutional rights and wouldn’t incur the wrath of the Smith-and-Wesson and Bushmaster corners of America. An impressive body of data suggests that a little common sense and restraint by mass media would go a long way toward reducing mass shooting carnage in America.

Think of it as the media-contagion effect as many public health and law enforcement authorities do. It’s real. Violent events that attract widespread coverage in news and social media inspire and, indeed, motivate some seriously troubled members of society to emulate these deadly antisocial atrocities by committing lookalike or copycat shootings.

We invariably see this with suicide (especially teen suicide), terrorist attacks, and mass shootings. Here’s the sad reality; people who crave attention imitate dramatic and often horrific actions of others when that action draws media attention. Aberrant behavior secures the notoriety they crave.

Think of it; shooting up a workplace or a school or shopping center secures front-page press and Breaking News coverage on broadcast and cable media. Flags are even lowered to half-staff at public buildings throughout the country, even the White House. Sadly, the news coverage is a bonanza for the crazed mind inclined to this type of violence. The American Psychological Association says that shooters yearn for this sort of fame and often try to secure it by killing more victims than the last shooter.

Because school shootings draw the most attention, schools, sadly, have become particularly vulnerable to this madness. For a decade and a half, beginning in 2000, we had a school shooting a month in this country. Then in 2018, that jumped to a school shooting every week.  News of these shootings, of course, spread like wildfire through mass and social media, with a constant focus on the perpetrator and the perpetrator’s motive—precisely what the prospective shooter craves.

The Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado, twenty-two years ago is illustrative. Two boys murdered 12 students and one teacher and wounded 23 others. Within a month, four hundred school-related incidents quickly followed across the country. Bomb threats were rampant, and a chorus of anonymous messages was phoned into the media praising the shooters. Some schools even closed temporarily.

Fourteen years ago, a student at Virginia Tech shot and killed 32 fellow students and faculty. The shooter had previously declared in writing that he wanted to repeat the Columbine massacre. Other shooters have, since then, praised the Virginia Tech shooter and referred to him as sort of a hero figure. Other would-be shooters have expressed a determination to outkill the Virginia Tech shooter. Indeed, Adam Lanza came close when he shot and killed 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

And then there was the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in which 49 people lost their lives and another 53 were wounded. Mass shootings, it seems, are simply in a class of their own when it comes to press coverage, while routine gun violence draws little more than a relative yawn from the fourth estate.

For example, the Orlando, shooting resulted in 14,747 news articles, during the 90 days following the massacre. During the same period of time, gun deaths in Chicago drew a mere 262 news articles even though the casualties resulting from gun violence in the Windy City had resulted in thousands wounded and hundreds dead.

It is now abundantly clear that the more media attention a shooter gets, the more likely it is that another deranged would-be shooter will attempt a similar atrocity. A 2015 study determined that following a mass shooting, there was a two-week window during which another mass shooting was likely to occur. Two years later, a follow-up study determined that media coverage of a mass shooting would increase the likelihood and the intensity of future shootings for much more extended periods. Within two weeks following the 2018 Valentine’s-Day Parkland school shooting, 638 copycat threats were phoned into schools across the country.

So, what should the media do?

Stop focusing on the attacker. Focus on the victims instead. These deranged shooters get more media coverage following a shooting than our most prominent athletes and other celebrities. Research shows that as the mass shooting casualty rate increases, the shooters receive more media attention. The shooter craves attention. The media should not accommodate that craving.

Shooters who are apprehended often admit they are pursuing fame. Many inform the media ahead of time just to be sure that their attack will get the media attention they crave. The media can and should deny the shooters the coverage they seek. Attention–that is their motivation. Why give it to them?

So, some common-sense suggestions for the media.

First, do not mention the shooter’s name or his or her motivation in the initial news coverage of a mass shooting. Do not make the shooter the news. Newspapers should limit the initial identification of the shooter to the shooter’s obituary in the obituary section of the local newspaper, and limit the font size to a size seven Serif, the almost-too-small-to-read obituary style used by the New York Times. The shooter warrants no more recognition than that.

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Another Day in Infamy: GOP Kills Bi-partisan January 6th Commission.

We’ve had other such awful days.

April 12, 1861, when Confederate artillery fired on Fort Sumpter igniting the US Civil War was one such day. So was December 7th, 1941, and so were those four terrible days on which US presidents were assassinated, and so was September 11, 2001, and January 6th, 2021, when a mob attacked the U.S. Capitol after being urged on by a defeated President of the United States to “fight like hell” to stop the peaceful transfer of power absolutely qualifies. And, yes, this weekend, May 28th, when Senate Republicans killed the House-approved, bi-partisan Commission (which would have included an equal number of Republicans and Democrats) to investigate the genesis of the January 6th insurrection against a presidential election (and against the Constitution of the United States) was yet another day in infamy.

My old party of nearly 50 years callously strangled a bi-partisan effort to establish an investigative commission (similar to the one established following the 9/11 attacks) to investigate the Jan. 6th assault on the U.S. Capitol. “It would be political,” the Republicans argued.

Well, “duh,” as they say; the entire January 6th attempt to destroy the 228-year-old tradition of peaceful transfer of power in the United States was an act of political treachery. So yes, patriotic Democrats and Republicans could and should have banded together to declare once and for all that this type of political treachery will not be tolerated. That’s what would have been political about the proposed January 6th Commission. It would have been a bi-partisan political act of patriotism. Dozens of Republicans in the House of Representatives and several in the Senate were willing to stand up for America, while an overwhelming number of Republicans in both chambers quaked in fear of the vituperative Maelstrom of Mar-a-Lago.

Some Republican Senators have been spinning yarn that even former Senator Joseph McCarthy might have found embarrassing. And speaking of the disgraced former Senator from Wisconsin, another McCarthy sound-alike, Wisconsin Senator, Ron Johnson, had this to say about January 6th, (it was) “really a peaceful protest, not an insurrection.”

Tell that to the federal prosecutors who reportedly have collected a mountain of evidence demonstrating that January 6th was a coordinated attack by the extremist Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. Tell that to the families of those who lost their lives that day.

A McCarthy-era retort that made the history books 71 years ago seems appropriate here. “Senator, have you no decency?”

Then there was the spectacle of Representative Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.) who downplayed the insurrection even though photographs that day show him panic-stricken, mouth twisted in fear, rushing toward the doors to the House gallery to help barricade them from the insurrectionists. Here’s what the brave congressman from Georgia, bowing to the former President, had to say today about the January 6th riot, “It was just a normal tourist visit.”

Just six of fifty GOP senators joined with Democrats, so the measure was well short of the 60 votes needed to advance the bill to the floor for a vote.

Like the 9/11 bi-partisan commission, the proposed commission would have consisted of 10 commissioners — five Democrats and five Republicans, who would have subpoena powers. A Democratic chair and Republican vice-chair would have had to approve all such subpoenas. The Republicans were not concerned about partisanship. Quite the contrary; they were concerned that a non-partisan investigation would have demonstrated that a rogue President was feverishly working on hanging onto a presidency he had lost. He would come after them if they allowed an investigation to proceed; that was their sole motivation. The thirty-five Republicans in the House and the six in the Senate who supported the bi-partisan Commission are the real heroes of the day.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer hit the nail squarely on the head, “Out of fear of — or fealty to — Donald Trump, the Republican minority just prevented the American people from getting the full truth about Jan. 6.” He added: “Shame on the Republican Party for trying to sweep the horrors of that day under the rug because they’re afraid of Donald Trump.”

Maine’s Republican Susan Collins tried to rally support among her fellow GOP caucus members “I want to see a commission,” she said. “We need a commission. There are a lot of unanswered questions.” And that’s the problem. Too many Republicans simply don’t want those questions answered.

The Republican strategy? Sell the public on the idea that 2020 was just a year of urban disorder. The ruckus at the Capitol was just another one of the many disorders. No more and no less. No big deal.

They are betting the electorate won’t care or won’t remember. That might be a very bad bet.

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Israel and the Palestinians

Israel is not going to go away…and neither are the Palestinians. Israel is unambiguously and rightfully committed to its own survival, and Hamas is unambiguously and wrongly committed to Israel’s destruction. Everything else is spin.

And speaking of spin, there is a lot to go around regarding the eleven days of bloodletting that ended as the just concluded sabbath descended on that remarkable but tortured land. The contention that the eleven-day war was caused by a real estate dispute in East Jerusalem or by Israeli brutish interference with the call to prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque isn’t entirely credible, although the basic facts do not seem to be in dispute. However, the 4,000 + rockets that were fired at Israeli population centers from Gaza by Hamas were at the ready and awaiting an excuse to launch. And let’s be unambiguous. Firing any rockets, let alone thousands of them, indiscriminately at civilian population centers as Hamas did to provoke the just-ended war is a crime; a war crime by any definition.

So, what might have been, for Hamas, the casus belli this time for their enormous and reckless rocket barrage against Israeli cities? Maybe the eviction case being heard in the Israeli courts, or perhaps, the silencing of the loudspeakers and the veritable brawl that ensued at the mosque. Or, perhaps equally compelling, the attempt by Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, Israeli opposition leaders from two different Israeli political parties, to form a coalition government with Mansour Abbas, Chairman of an Islamist party focused on bettering the lives of Israeli Arabs. Abbas’s United Arab List Party, also known as Raam, recognizes the State of Israel and actually won four seats in the Knesset in the most recent Israeli election. 

The prospect of an Israeli cabinet that included an Arab Islamist party is, of course, anathema to Hamas, which is dedicated to annihilating the Jewish state. Any cooperation between Islamist Israelis and Jewish Israelis is a call to arms for Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the European Union, the United States, Japan, and Canada, while Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom have designated the Hamas military wing, which launched this and other rocket attacks against Israeli population centers, as a terrorist organization.

Such a turn of events— an Israeli Islamist political party in coalition with two traditional Israeli political parties, would have signaled a dramatic and positive sea-change in the seemingly eternal Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially in light of the recent Abraham accords shepherded by the Trump Administration. That prospect, as much as any other, may well have been Hamas’s motivation to unleash such a senseless attack against Israeli population centers.

While an Arab serving in an Israeli cabinet would not have been unprecedented, it has in the past only happened at the invitation of the ruling Israeli party, as when the Labor Party in 1974 first appointed Raleb Majadele to serve as a Minister without Portfolio. Majadele served in three Labor cabinets, including as Minister of Science, Culture, and Sport between 2007 and 2009.

Aborting a potential Israeli coalition government that included an Islamist Party was, arguably, a top priority for Hamas, and the terrorist group certainly knew how to stop any such perceived treachery from taking place. Four thousand Hamas rockets and Israeli counterattacks later, and the prospect of an Israeli coalition government consisting of traditional Israeli parties and an Israeli Islamic party is now just another casualty of the senseless bloodletting. From Hamas’s point of view, however, —mission accomplished.

Ironically, that which may have served the interests of Hamas has probably made the next Israeli election, which never seems far away these days, a shoo-in for Prime Minister Netanyahu. As the French say, “the more things change, the more things remain the same.”

Violence for political ends, however, is not an exclusive Palestinian franchise. In September 2000, during another tense time, the late Ariel Sharon made a highly publicized, and gratuitous visit to the Temple Mount accompanied by about a thousand armed riot police. The site is perceived by many as the holiest place to Jews, and among the holiest places to Muslims. Israeli and Palestinian leaders urged Sharon not to make such a provocative trek to the Temple Mount. Sharon, however, was focused on unseating the then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and on challenging fellow Likud stalwart Benyamin Netanyahu for party leadership. As it turned out it was an effective strategy; six months later Ariel Sharon was Prime Minister of Israel.

The Sharon visit to the Temple Mount in 2000 was a calculated act of arrogance. The right of Israelis, or Jews in general, to visit the site has not been in dispute since the ’67 war when the old city of Jerusalem was secured by Israel. In fact, I went to the Temple Mount in 1989 while doing research for the three books of my Eden Trilogy. It was a tense time, given the intifada, but I went alone with my guide onto the Temple Mount and was not confronted or subjected to any overt hostility even though we were the only Jews on the grounds at the time.

Even then, during the Intifada, there were Jews and Muslims, as there are now, who simply wanted to live and work peacefully alongside one another. This was demonstrated repeatedly during the just concluded eleven-day war. Notwithstanding the rioting in some Israeli cities which captured newspaper headlines and television news coverage, Jewish and Muslim Israeli doctors, nurses, and other first responders worked together, side by side, in Israeli hospitals to treat and care for trauma victims of Hamas rockets.

Israeli Jews and Muslims working together is not uncommon in Israel as evidenced during Israel’s largely successful fight against COVID-19. I recall a news photograph featuring a team of two medics pausing to pray in front of their ambulance. One was Jewish — standing and praying in the direction of Jerusalem — and the other a Muslim, who laid out his prayer rug on the roadway and knelt facing Mecca. Whether such Jewish and Muslim relationships will be a casualty of the recent fighting remains to be seen. One thing is certain; nothing would please Hamas more.

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Origin of COVID-19: Bat or Lab?

It’s a legitimate question and an exceedingly important one.

Only science will enable us to anticipate, plan for, and defeat future viruses that are certain to antagonize and endanger mankind. Science and our trust in science are the requisites for survival in a world in which known microbes, and microbes yet to be discovered, will threaten human existence.

Because everyone is a potential victim of the next viral pandemic, everyone is entitled to know the feasible causes of the current pandemic and what steps have been taken or will be taken to vastly reduce the likelihood of similar public-health calamities.

Given that conspiracy theories, once concocted, spread about as fast as virulent viruses, solid unvarnished information is the only effective antidote to the mischievous and often dangerous spread of misinformation. For example, a study last July conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 66% of those who rely on certain politically oriented, narrative-driven media believe the Chinese government developed COVID-19 as a bioweapon. While reckless and unfounded, that conspiracy theory has a patina of plausibility because, in Wuhan, China, where COVID-19 first erupted, there is an internationally recognized Institute of Virology.

 This column will not dwell on the bioweapon conspiracy theory because it makes no sense and has no credible proponent. It deflects attention away from a critical issue that does raise a serious question that demands a serious answer. Is there reason to believe that safety protocols at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were lacking, given the risk of a highly contagious, deadly virus “escaping” into the general population?

Yes, it appears that safety protocols may have been lacking at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, according to a report recently published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The report was written by Nicholas Wade, who, for many years, wrote for the Science Times section of the New York Times and is the author of several books, some controversial, dealing with science and evolution.

While Wade’s report is far too expansive to cover in detail in this column, his bottom line conclusions are serious, and they seem, to me, to be credible and compelling. Any tendency by some to rush to dismiss his conclusions as a conspiracy theory is premature and possibly just plain defensive.

Wade notes that there are two theories regarding the genesis of COVID-19.

(1) an animal (a bat), from which it jumped indirectly after infecting other species to humans or —

(2) a research laboratory in which essential safety protocols were not followed, enabling a highly contagious virus to infect a technician who subsequently and unintentionally introduced the pathogen to the outside world.

While I found Wade’s report to be thorough and impressive, I am not a scientist. So, I forwarded Wade’s report to Dr. Michael Kaback, a well-known geneticist, physician, and academician I have known for many years. While he is not a virologist, he is a thoughtful medical scientist who found Wade’s report to be important and provocative, but concludes that the issue remains unresolved, and demands further investigation and analysis.

 If a consensus evolves among objective, recognized public health authorities, including virologists and infectious-disease experts, that a laboratory failure rather than a species-jumping virus may have been the probable cause of the COVID-19 pandemic, that information should be shared with the general public on a timely basis. The general public needs to be confident that public health authorities are being scrupulously candid if we are to achieve reasonably uniform compliance with the protocols they establish to protect the public.

A dangerous virus possibly “escaping” from a government-operated or funded laboratory makes for sensational news and great fodder for conspiracy theorists, especially when the government operating the laboratory is widely perceived by many to be an enemy of the United States. But here’s the thing; government research laboratories have a long history of relatively rare but serious and dangerous mishaps, and that includes research facilities that are operated or funded by our own government. It happens. It has happened many times in the past, and hopefully, it will happen far fewer times in the future.

These facilities are operated by dedicated men and women who may make mistakes from time to time. Virology research is vital and lifesaving, but it comes at the price of potential and sometimes dangerous human error. That is the price we pay for research that produces life-saving vaccines and treatments for diseases caused by deadly pathogens.

COVID-19 is from a viral family known as beta-coronaviruses. Initially, this suggested that the virus had managed to jump from bats via another animal host to people, as had the SARS 1 (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (middle east respiratory syndrome) outbreaks a few years ago.

At first blush, COVID-19 also seemed to share another connection with these earlier epidemics; a so-called wet market in which animals are sold to the public for human consumption. However, Chinese researchers soon identified and quickly revealed earlier cases of COVID-19 that had no connection to the Wuhan wet market. That discovery meant that all other credible explanations for the presence of COVID-19 in Wuhan were (and are) on the table. This raised interesting questions because nearly all other cases of COVID-19 were discovered in Wuhan or in other areas in China among people who had recently traveled from Wuhan. Wuhan was the thread that held them all together. So, what other location in Wuhan might a pathogen with the genetic sequence of this particular coronavirus be found?

Wuhan Institute of Virology

The Wuhan Institute of Virology is a respected internationally recognized research facility that works closely with leading medical research institutes worldwide, including top research facilities in the United States, such as our own National Institutes of Health and various universities. The Institute, like similar research facilities throughout the world, employs serious and dedicated professional workers.

Nonetheless, Wade makes a rather convincing case that safety protocols at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were, at least on occasion, lacking, and that reality was the probable culprit that introduced COVID-19 to the world. While the Wuhan Institute of Virology had a new BSL4 laboratory (the highest safety level), its state of readiness considerably alarmed the US State Department inspectors who visited it in 2018. “The new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” the inspectors wrote in a cable dated January 19, 2018, about a year before the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.

In BSL4 labs, researchers wear the equivalent of space suits, conduct operations in closed cabinets, and settle for every function taking twice as long. Before the pandemic, Wade writes, the rules followed by virologists in China and elsewhere required experiments with the SARS1 and MERS viruses to be conducted in BSL3 conditions, with all other bat coronaviruses studied in BSL2 labs, the next level down.

BSL2, according to Wade, requires taking fairly minimal safety precautions, such as wearing lab coats and gloves.

Another troubling aspect of research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology that Wade cites is that the Institute has used an investigative technique known as Gain-of-Function (GOF) research. GOF is an extraordinarily effective (but potentially risky) technique for studying the transmissibility or virulence potential of potential new pathogens. This is done by creating laboratory alterations of existing viruses that could, in nature, evolve into a serious threat to humans. The benefit of GOF research is that it can enable science to be better prepared to defend against previously unseen pathogens that are likely to evolve. In other words, to get ahead of a future viral outbreak in nature. The risk is that GOF research that is not subject to meticulous safety protocols could result in a new (novel) pathogen escaping from a laboratory and infecting the greater population.

Given the risks of conducting GOF research, the Obama Administration in 2014 halted direct funding (and other research involving US Government funding) of Gain-of-Function experiments involving several diseases, including SARS, a variation of which causes COVID-19.

Wade writes that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were doing Gain-of-Function experiments with coronaviruses whose RNA was specifically altered (designed) to evaluate the newly modified virus’s ability to infect human cells. These experiments were carried out in humanized mice in which human DNA has been introduced into the mouse genome and in cultures of human airway cells grown in lab dishes. Such research is conducted to, hopefully, provide valuable insight into the best way to defeat a new SARS-like outbreak.

This is, Wade alleges, precisely the kind of experiment from which a SARS2-like virus could have emerged. So, the escape of such a virus would not be at all surprising if the highest level of security demanded for this type of research wasn’t uniformly and scrupulously followed.

According to Wade, the researchers at Wuhan were not vaccinated, nor could they have been, against the newly created viruses under study. To compound the problem, Wade writes, although he provides no evidence, that they were working in the minimal safety conditions of a BSL2 laboratory. So, Wade conjectures, the escape of a virus would not be at all surprising. Wade notes that in all of China, the pandemic broke out on the doorstep of the Wuhan institute, and the new virus, having been grown in humanized mice, was already well adapted to humans.

“Proponents of natural emergence have a rather harder story to tell,” Wade writes. “The plausibility of their case rests on a single surmise, the expected parallel between the emergence of SARS2 (sort of a first cousin to COVID-19) 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 (elsewhere) 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 probably no one who could shed more light on the mystery of the origins of COVID-19 than Dr. Shi Zhengli, Director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Dr. Shi Zhengli led several expeditions to the bat-infested caves of Yunnan in southern China to collect bat coronaviruses.

Dr. Shi worked with coronavirus researcher Ralph S. Baric, at the University of North Carolina to study the ability of bat viruses to attack humans. In November 2015, according to Wade’s report, they created a novel virus that was able to infect the human airway cells, at least when tested against a lab culture of such cells. But Wade contends that no connection between bats and COVID-19 has been found, nor has Wade’s contention been refuted.

Dr. Shi, who probably has the most insight to share regarding the origin of COVID-19 has had relatively little to say publicly. However, Dr. Shi did pen an editorial in a recent issue of Infectious Diseases & Immunity in which she refers to various sources who opine that a laboratory lapse is a “highly unlikely” cause of COVID-19. That having been said, however, Dr. Shi acknowledges that “one year after the start of the pandemic, the origin of the virus remains unresolved.”

As might be expected, Nicholas Wade’s report has drawn heavy incoming fire from various sources, including some of the most notable and outspoken advocates of the type of research being pursued in Wuhan and other research facilities around the world. That anyone would be dismissive of a laboratory origin of COVID-19 without carefully investigating the possibility is, to this writer, rather curious.

However, a growing number of eminent authorities have begun to caution against prematurely ruling out any viable explanation of the possible origin of COVID-19. Specifically, 18 infectious disease experts, immunologists, and epidemiologists signed their names to a letter in the current issue of the journal Science stating that “there still isn’t enough known to determine whether the coronavirus jumped directly from animals to people or whether it was released from a research laboratory in China.”

“Public health agencies with information on those early cases and research laboratories studying similar viruses need to open their records to the public,” said Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University and one of the authors of the letter.

Lawrence Gostin, the faculty director of the O’Neill Institute for National & Global Health Law at Georgetown University, minced no words. “China has not allowed a full, independent, and rigorous examination of its territory…every single moment from the initial reporting of the pandemic, there has been catastrophic failure,” he said.

 Even WHO (World Health Organization) Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus acknowledged that the WHO team was unable to give sufficient consideration of a laboratory origin of COVID-19, and he even offered to provide additional resources to fully evaluate the possibility of a laboratory origin of the virus.

 “A proper investigation should be transparent, objective, data-driven, inclusive of broad expertise, subject to independent oversight, and responsibly managed to minimize the impact of conflicts of interest…” the open letter in Science declared.

“The lack of information,” the signers of the letter wrote, “feeds conspiracy theories and prevents scientists and policymakers from taking steps to prevent the next deadly pandemic.”

Jesse Bloom, who studies viral evolution at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, and is very skeptical of a laboratory origin, nonetheless, said there is not enough evidence yet to draw such a conclusion.  Bloom said he couldn’t rule out another possibility: that someone in a lab in Wuhan, China, was studying the virus and accidentally released it.

“Finally, in this time of unfortunate anti-Asian sentiment in some countries, we note that at the beginning of the pandemic, it was Chinese doctors, scientists, journalists, and citizens who shared with the world crucial information about the spread of the virus—often at great personal cost. We should show the same determination in promoting a dispassionate science-based discourse on this difficult but important issue,” the letter concludes.

I, of course, do not presume to know what caused COVID-19. Neither does anyone else. Therefore, every reasonable possibility must be thoroughly investigated. Declaring that any plausible causal event is either highly likely or highly unlikely is, at this point, poor science. What we do know as a certainty is that we don’t know.

 My point is not to cast stones at anyone working in glass research laboratories but simply to plead for thoroughness and candor by those who have a well-founded understanding of how this horror could, or could not, have occurred.

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RINO’s Set to Demote Republican Stalwart Liz Cheney

Yes, they are the real RINO’s (Republicans in name only); those spineless wonders who are furious because Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming) will not help them sweep January 6 under the rug.

Instead, Cheney opines that RINO’s who refused to recognize Biden’s victory at the polls and who, at Trump’s insistence, refused to acknowledge the tabulation of the results of the 2020 election, should be disqualified as future Republican Presidential candidates. She is forthright in stating that Trump’s lies and exhortations are simply a line that no self-respecting American should cross. Elizabeth Cheney sees the January 6th Trump-inspired attempted coup d’etat for precisely what it was, an attempt to overthrow the newly elected, but not yet inaugurated, President of the United States of America.

Understand this: America has suffered no greater insult to its very purpose than the January 6th vicious domestic attack on the US Capitol. Yes, there have been other attacks; the March 1, 1954 attack in the House chamber by Puerto Rican nationalists comes to mind, as does the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumpter on April 12, 1861, and, of course, the August 24, 1814, burning and sacking of the White House by the British. But the January 6th attack on American Democracy, largely encouraged and stridently cheered on by the President of the United States, has no parallel. It was among the ugliest days in American History.

So, Liz Cheney, as Republican a Republican as there has ever been, and a handful of other Republicans, a pitifully small handful, have put their political futures on the line to stand with, and for, America’s constitutional democracy. They are all profiles in courage because they are willing to stand up to the RINOs who are in control and who are about to savage Cheney, and in the process, savage their own party, if not their country. Shame on them all.

These Republican pretenders were, and are, nothing more than Trump sycophants. Huge deficits and unbalanced budgets? Who cares? These RINOs chalked up trillions of dollars worth of who cares deficits during the Trump Administration. Free trade? Who cares? According to the Federal Reserve, these RINOs went along with aggressive tariffs that accomplished nothing other than savaging many farmers and throwing 75,000 American Steelworkers (and others) out of work. In fact, the trade deficit of $4.8 trillion during Trump’s first three years (pre-pandemic) was greater than the trade deficit during Obama’s last three years. Who cares? Not the RINO’s who are about to strip Cheney of her leadership role. Fidelity to principle versus fealty to Trump? No contest; fealty to Trump, trumps fidelity to principle by a wide margin with these RINOs.

Ironically, the RINOs who are about to cashier Liz Cheney are about to line up in support of Elise Stefanik (R-NY), whose credentials for leadership, compared to Cheney’s, are laughable. Up until it served her interest to become a Trump supporter, she was a frequent Trump critic, and her voting record has, more often than not, irritated conservative Republicans. But they need a woman to replace Liz Cheney, and apparently, Marjorie Taylor Greene (R- GA.) is a farce too far.

Let a Republican; anyone will do, acknowledge that Trump lost the last election, or that there is simply no credible evidence of widespread election fraud, or that chronic lying to the American People is just plain unacceptable, or that it was seditious to encourage his supporters to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell” to stop the certification of a newly elected President, and the Maelstrom of Mar-a-Lago will turn on them with a vengeance.

Former Reagan speechwriter and longtime Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan brilliantly summed up, in her column yesterday, the current Republican contretemps. “It wasn’t to roam the halls and yell. It was something grave and dark: to disrupt and prevent the constitutionally mandated counting of the Electoral College votes in the 2020 presidential election. That (tabulation of elector ballots) was scheduled to occur in Congress that day. That act of tabulating is more than two centuries old, formalizes and validates the election outcome, physically represents the peaceful transfer of power, and has never been stopped or disrupted. What happened on 1/6 was an attempted assault on the constitutional order.”

Nonetheless, these RINOs know they will face a Trump-supported primary opponent or general election opponent if they don’t acquiesce to Trump. That’s all it takes to have nearly all of today’s House and Senate Republicans turn on fellow Republicans and American Democracy in the process. Embracing Trump’s Goebbelsian big lie about the 2020 election, or at least not questioning it, is the price nearly all of today’s House Republicans are willing to pay not to anger the Maelstrom of Mar-a-Lago. It’s tragic.

The Republican Party, my party for over 50 years, is at a turning point. It is clear to me it has decided to turn the wrong way.

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On Immigration: It’s Complicated.

Or is it?

It’s really not so complicated. Immigration has been and continues to be essential to the continued growth and prosperity of the United States. That isn’t just an opinion; that’s a fact. It is, unfortunately, also a fact that no issue has been demagogued by scurrilous politicians more than immigration.  

In all times and all places, immigration has always been or has always become a political hot button. Many people, it seems, really do not welcome the stranger, especially if the stranger looks different or sounds different to them. It has always been politically convenient to attribute all manner of economic and social problems to the presence of the immigrant.

Everyone understands that the situation at the border is unacceptable and untenable. The more we slash legal immigration, however, the more people will be drawn to immigrate illegally. Given the previous guy’s pronouncements that he intended to reduce legal immigration by 62%, and by election day last year, had even slashed the number of green-card entries and non-immigrant visas by nearly 12 million, is it any wonder masses began gathering at our border?

Yes, of course, we have to have an immigration process that stops or greatly reduces the inflow of criminals or those who intend to do us harm. And yes, there will be some bad actors among those who want to immigrate to the United States, just as some very bad actors are among our native born. Incidentally, our native-born produce more bad actors (criminals) than those who have immigrated to America.

Let’s stipulate, as the lawyers like to say, that the situation at our southern border is untenable and that we have to maintain and enforce an immigration policy based on our immigration laws. However, no one should delude themselves or allow self-serving politicians to deceive them into thinking that the less immigration we have, the better off we will be or that immigration is something we must, charitably, tolerate. Understand this; America needs a generous immigration policy. Immigration serves our country incredibly well, and it always has.

Immigrants fuel our economic growth. Without immigration the United States would have a seriously declining birthrate, and a seriously declining birthrate portends a seriously declining society. Immigrants do not cause a net decrease in jobs for native-born Americans. In fact, immigrants do a pretty good job of creating new jobs. They start new companies at twice the rate of native-born Americans. Immigrants also come to America to do work that Americans are happy to have them do because most Americans generally choose not to work in the fields, or in meat processing plants to bring food to American dinner tables, or in many other labor-intensive, often unpleasant, entry-level endeavors.

Immigrants add to American growth and productivity. According to the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, immigrants add more than $2 trillion to America’s Gross Domestic Product and, in 2018, forked out another half-trillion dollars in taxes. And after paying those taxes, those immigrants were left with an estimated $1.2 trillion in spending power with which they purchased various goods and services and fueled the American economy just like the rest of us.

Immigration is a resource. It is not a threat. In addition to those who come to do the work that Americans generally choose not to do, many immigrants come who are well-educated and can contribute handsomely to the nation’s productivity. Nearly half of recently-arrived family and diversity-based immigrants (immigrants from countries with relatively low immigration levels to the United States) are well educated, with roughly half having college degrees, compared to about 30% of native-born Americans.

Thirty percent of new entrepreneurs are immigrants, even though they make up only 13% of our population. Consider this, nearly half of the nation’s Fortune 500 Companies were founded by immigrants or their children, and they employ nearly 14 million men and women in America., a non-partisan group of business and high-tech leaders including Bill Gates (Microsoft founder), Drew Houston (co-founder and CEO of Dropbox), and other high-tech pioneers, claim that a cut of 50% in legal immigration (remember the previous guy proposed a 62% cut in legal immigration) would cost the Social Security Trust Fund about $1.5 trillion over the balance of this century.

Almost everything opponents to immigration infer or say is either misleading or simply untrue. Immigrants contribute an estimated half-trillion dollars to state, local, and federal taxes, and this includes undocumented immigrants who contribute an estimated $12 billion a year in state and local taxes, including about $7 billion in sales taxes, $3.6 billion in property taxes and over a billion in personal income taxes. These funds ultimately flow to schools, hospitals, emergency response services, highways, and various other essential services. And by the way, these revenues would, it is estimated, increase by another $2+ billion a year if undocumented immigrants were given legal status as part of an immigration reform package.

Ironically, many undocumented workers contribute substantially to the solvency of Social Security and Medicare, even though they will never draw benefits from those programs. While they are often working under assumed names, they have Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld, even though they are not eligible to ever claim benefits from those programs. The government holds these funds in what are known as Earnings Suspension Files which now provide about $15 billion to the solvency of Social Security.

Worried about Main Street? Then worry about politicians who want to demonize immigrants. Listen to Tom Jawetz, Deputy General Counsel U.S. Department of Homeland Security and formerly Vice President for Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress. “Immigrants own more than 1 in 5 small businesses and are more than 20 percent more likely to own such a business than a native-born person. Beyond the direct economic benefits of these businesses and the jobs they create, it’s important to talk about what it means to a community to have a thriving Main Street. Immigrants own more than 60 percent of all gas stations, 58 percent of all dry cleaners, 53 percent of all grocery stores, 45 percent of all nail salons, and 38 percent of all restaurants. These businesses represent the life and vitality of local communities.” And, of course, these gas stations, dry-cleaners, grocery stores, salons, and restaurants, all directly or indirectly, create jobs.

Oh, and by the way, while most of the nation was staying home to avoid the Coronavirus, the American Medical Association says that approximately 30,000 of those healthcare workers who were working to keep the rest of us safe were, you guessed it, Dreamers or DACA recipients (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

So, why in the world would we want to cut legal immigration at all, let alone 62%, as urged by the previous guy and his steadfast followers?

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We Need a January 6th Presidential Commission

Do it and Do it Right.

The nation needs an independent Presidential Commission, a board of inquiry, to determine the origins, the planning, and, of course, the ultimate objectives of the January 6th Capitol insurrection. Why a Presidential Commission? Simply because Congress is hopelessly partisan and polarized and not in a position to conduct such an inquiry with the credibility the task requires if it is to be constructive.

Sure, one could, and will, allege the same about a Commission empaneled by President Biden or any President. However, a credible presidential board of inquiry would consist of an exemplary panel of qualified, respected, and accomplished men and women. They should be above reproach and equally representative of both parties and who are not currently in elected office and, therefore, are not subject to the exigencies of election campaigns or other partisan political considerations. The Commission would consist of men and women who would be unimpressed, unafraid, and undeterred by the fulminations of House Speaker Pelosi, House Minority leader McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Schumer, Senate Minority leader McConnell and certainly not former President Trump.

This much seems clear; the insurrection was an attempt to stop (think overthrow) the results of the 2020 Presidential election, which is tantamount to overthrowing the government (elect) of the United States. The nation needs to identify those who planned it, what the objectives were (and probably continues to be), and the extent of the involvement, if any, of individuals affiliated in any way with the United States government. Finally, we need to ensure that such an outrageous lapse in security never happens again.

We must achieve unvarnished fact-finding, free of fear, free of political grandiosity, and free of preconceived conclusions. We need to establish the extent to which those who stormed the Capitol were motivated by organizations or movements representing either the far right or, as some still assert, the far left. We simply need to know. We need to pursue the truth as though the future of our democracy depends on it because it does.

So, how-to, and not-to, proceed.

Given the extreme polarization permeating Congress and the impending need for every member of the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate to campaign for reelection, this Commission must be as far removed from partisan politics as possible. It would be folly in the current political climate to have anyone running for office to be among the Commissioners serving on such a board of inquiry.

Violence aimed at the heart of the United States, whether domestic or foreign, is nothing new for our country. That’s why we had a Roberts Commission following Pearl Harbor, a Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President Kennedy, and a Kerner Commission to study the urban uprisings in the 1960s. The 1983 Beirut bombings and the horror of 9/11 also prompted the creation of special Commissions. None were flawless, but nor were they dominated by partisan maneuvering and manipulation that would be almost certain to hound and shame such an investigation conducted in today’s highly partisan House or Senate.  

The Republican leadership in both the House and Senate has already suggested that the January 6th insurrection was not much different from the widespread urban disorders of last summer. Therefore, they argue, any investigation should encompass all the turmoil of the 2020 season of turmoil. Nice try, but no cigar.

January 6th was a horror of its own, and it could have cost us everything. Concurrently, I hasten to add, the urban disorders of the past year and the response at the local and state level do indeed warrant a serious, non-partisan inquiry as well. Still, the efforts to conflate the two phenomena are wrong, politically calculated, and reckless.

A distinctive and serious presidential Commission will deserve and will assume a mantel of dignity as it works to provide an accurate historical record of the calamitous events of January 6th. Such dignity, sadly, has not lately, nor often, been ascribed to the deliberations of our Congress.

A January 6th, 2021 Commission, like the September 11th, 2001 Commission, would provide a detailed chronology of relevant events leading up to the calamity. The Commission would investigate the extent to which the January 6th storming of the Capitol was pre-planned, and orchestrated, and would examine the extent to which political turmoil was engendered and coordinated by those planning the insurrection. Such an inquiry would provide an account of the planning of the insurrection and of the events that unfolded in the hours before the crowd gathered, as well as the calamitous events that followed the so-called “Save America Rally,” aka “March to Save America,” aka the “Stop the Steal Rally,” featuring the former President, his son and the former President’s attorney, Rudi Guiliani, among others. The Commission would determine the extent to which the disorders at the Capitol were consistent with the objectives of those who planned the rally at the Ellipse on the national mall, just south of the White House.

I am not suggesting that a presidential Commission will heal the deep political divide in our country. Still, a well-planned and well organized and staffed presidential Commission can provide an understanding of how malicious misinformation can spin out of control in this age when so much of America is divided into easily manipulated thought silos. The country needs to know who the perpetrators were, the extent of their coordination of the events of January 6th, and, perhaps equally important, why help was so late in arriving.

America cannot afford another January 6th.

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