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This is just one, very limited perspective of the L.A. protests from a Lyft driver.

Everyone’s story deserves to be told. I want to share a few simple stories of people I met today. But let’s not forget whose story this really is: George Floyd‘s, Aubrey Ahmad, Breonna Taylor‘s, and the people and communities who are daily terrorized by a broken criminal justice system created by and allowed by those in power who turn a blind eye to the struggles of people they don’t identify with.

There are a lot of rideshare drivers who are currently (understandably) collecting unemployment instead of driving right now because of COVID-19 and risk to their health here in L.A. And there are a lot of rideshare drivers who are either rejecting pickups in certain protest “hotspots” or simply not driving at all because they don’t want to be out on the chaotic streets.

To make matters worse, Lyft is shutting down it’s app during curfew hours along with the Metro suspending services, so anyone who couldn’t get a last minute ride before curfew started gets stranded. Anyone who needs to get to or home from a job deemed “essential” during curfew hours needs a car or a friend with a car, otherwise they are out of luck.

Today, I gave rides to people through the Lyft app from noon to 6 p.m. Then my app got blocked because the Los Angeles County curfew went into effect.

These are just a few of the people I met and the things I saw today:

The Guard Rolls In

When I started my day, I was immediately shocked into reality by a caravan of tan trucks carrying National Guard troops rolling down the 101 towards downtown L.A. Throughout the day I saw hundreds of troops, sometimes in tight formation around full downtown city blocks, sometimes guarding street access to Hollywood Blvd. with armored humvees and trucks.

Narrow Escape From Pershing Square

I picked up a woman who lives across the street from Pershing Square in the heart of Downtown L.A. This is the epicenter of any protest movement that starts in L.A. and she told me she has seen all manner of horrors outside her window in the last 48 hours: Live rounds being fired, people being run over by cars, cars being set on fire… She just wanted to get out of downtown L.A. to stay with a friend away from the center of the protests.

Five drivers canceled on her before I pulled up to get her. As we were leaving, we drove past dozens of national guard troops in desert battle gear carrying rifles. And then we drove directly into the path of an oncoming crowd of hundreds of protesters. Organizers on bikes and skateboards were swarming intersections and directing traffic away from their path. As we turned off the main street, we passed within just a few yards of the front of the protest that stretched on beyond my line of sight.

Trapped on the Freeway Going to Venice

I picked up two young men in Hollywood who needed to get to Venice Beach. One was a rapper and the other was a cinematographer. They flew out here on Thursday from Boston to shoot a music video at the iconic location. I asked them why they chose this weekend to come to L.A. and shoot and they just said they got here before the protests started and couldn’t afford to cancel their flights or leave and come back another time. They just wanted to try and get all their shots and get out of here without running into any more trouble.

As we were eastbound on the 10 heading towards Santa Monica, a few miles away a group of looters broke off from a peaceful protest and started systematically burglarizing shops on the 3rd Street Promenade. Suddenly, a highway patrol car flew by me with his sirens blaring and I noticed traffic starting to build just ahead. I tried to get off the freeway, but the trooper positioned his cruiser to block the exit.

The freeway instantly became choked with cars who started creating extra lanes on the shoulder. Dozens of highway patrol cars came upon us, forcing people off the shoulder and blocking each exit into Santa Monica. We were originally just 12 minutes away from their destination, but driving the 10 all the way to the coast, we were forced to exit onto the Pacific Coast Highway, drive that north a couple miles and then double back to the 10. We made it there 45 minutes later without too much more trouble.

Just Get Me Home

Then, I picked up a woman in Venice who needed to get home to Hollywood and couldn’t get any rideshare drivers to pick her up. Before I showed up, she was worried that she would be stuck in Venice and would have nowhere to go. As we left her neighborhood I saw hundreds of protesters marching down the sidewalk at Venice Beach. I couldn’t help but wonder how the artists I dropped off earlier were fairing with their shoot.

We were able to get away from the crowds and I realized that the best way to get her home would be to make a big loop around and away from all the protest hotspots by going north of the Hollywood Hills then doubling back towards Hollywood, but this would add 13 miles to our journey. I asked her if this route was okay with her.

“I don’t care how you do it, just get me home,” she said.

She seemed pretty stressed out, so I asked her what kind of music she liked. We rocked out to some gospel music all the way home.

Chasing Their Dreams

I drove two girls from Beverly Hills to North Hollywood, sisters, both barely 20, who moved to L.A. from Indiana to “chase [their] dreams.” They were currently out of work because their employers were shut-down during the pandemic. They were picking up random odd jobs through anyone they knew to make ends meet and keep it together.

They said they were super scared to be out and about, but they didn’t have a choice – they were broke, behind on bills, and had to work every chance they could find a job to do. I had picked them up from walking some rich guy’s dogs. I hope he paid them well.

Almost Stranded

After I dropped the sisters off, I received a desperate call from my next rider, an elderly woman who had just found out the county moved curfew up from 8 p.m. to 6 p.m. She was just leaving work, desperate to get home, but couldn’t find an available driver. She begged me to not cancel on her. She had been in my que for 15 minutes already and was worried I wouldn’t make it to her on time. I picked her up at 5:58 p.m. – just two minutes before the Lyft app shut down ride requests – and was able to get her home without any problems.

Then I went home and called it a day.

Tomorrow, and the Next Day

I’m going out again tomorrow. I have to. There aren’t enough people providing rides and there are too many people without any real good choices – for one reason or another they have to get where they are going because they have a job to do and they need to go do it and get home.

And I have a job to do too. I need to earn a living. And I have to do what I’m good at: safely driving people where they need to go using my intimate knowledge of the city streets (after giving nearly 11,000 Lyft rides) to avoid potential dangers, and calmly assuring people that they are going to be okay while I listen to them get all their thoughts, worries, anger, & concerns off their chest.

I know I will be okay. I am protected. I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Whatever comes my way will come my way, and whatever won’t, won’t. I can handle it because I’ve spent my whole life preparing me for today. And today prepared me for tomorrow, and then I’ll be prepared for the day after that. If you pray, please pray for me (if you don’t please send me positive vibes), that wherever I go and whatever situation I encounter – that I can continue to serve others as a peacemaker like I have been called and prepared to be.

Let’s Get Real

But let’s keep it real here for a moment. I’m a clean cut, well-educated, white male. No threat to my safety, no danger that I drive into, and no fear that I summon on the streets of Los Angeles can ever come close to being comparable with the domestic terrorism and injustices that communities of color, indigenous Americans, and marginalized “others” deal with every day at the hands of the powers that are supposed to serve and protect them.

What I’ve written here, this is just a story. This is just what I saw through my eyes today. But this isn’t about my story.

This is about Ahmaud Arbery, Aiyana Jones, Alton Sterling, Amadou Diallo, Anthony Hill, Atatiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor, Botham Jean, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Clifford Glover, Corey Jones, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons, Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Emmett Till, Eric Garner, Ethel Lee Lance, Freddie Gray, George Floyd, John Crawford III, Jonathan Ferrell, Jordan Davis, Jordan Edwards, Keith Lamont Scott, Mike Brown, Myra Thompson, Oscar Grant, Philando Castile, Samuel Dubose, Sandra Bland, Sean Bell, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Stephon Clark, Susie Jackson, Tamir Rice, Terence Crutcher, Trayvon Martin, Tywanza Sanders, Walter Scott and the thousands of other individuals who have unnecessarily lost their lives. Because some people seem to think their lives don’t matter.

Read their names. Read their stories. You read my story. Now, do the right thing and read theirs. Don’t look away because it makes you uncomfortable. Don’t ignore them because you think you already have it figured out. You have power. You can do something. Now that you know, what are you going to do? There is plenty to be done.

UPDATE (6/4): Sadly, David McAtee has joined the list of people whose stories you need to know.

One Last Thing

Every one of the individual riders I picked up whose story I told above belongs to some kind of marginalized or oppressed group who are constantly “othered” and ignored. I didn’t mention those identifying details because I wanted you to know them for their simple, human experiences first, so that you could relate to them on that level without seeing them through the filter of their outward identity – which to you may be an “other” – and then miss your connection to them. Now you know.

Image credit: JP Designs Art
Featured photo by @goEastLos
Background photo by Axel Koester, contributing photographer for the Los Angeles Daily News
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The video is on YouTube and features an interview with Judy Mikovits conducted by America’s Voice News. It is incredibly convoluted and complicated, made worse by the fact that the average lay person is not going to have a clue about most of what she is talking about since it involves highly technical sounding science and medicine.

This reminds me of the legend of the Gordian Knot, much like the prominently featured picture of an endless Celtic knot that hung over Mikovits’ left shoulder as she gave her interview.

According to legend, there was an ancient prophecy concerning an elaborate knot that tethered an ox-cart to a poll in the palace of the former kings of Phrygia, a province of the Persian Empire. Whoever could untie the knot was destined to be the ruler of Asia.

As the story goes, Alexander the Great solved the puzzle one of two ways. The most popular version alleges that he sliced the knot in half with his sword in a single stroke. The other version of the myth alleges that he loosed the knot by pulling the linchpin from the yoke, exposing the ends of the cord.

To really make sense of all that Mikovits is saying, one is faced with the seemingly impossible task of untangling this Gordian knot and fact-checking nearly a hundred claims about virology and historical events. It is quite easy to get hopelessly tangled in the web. This is my attempt to make sense of this all and untangle the knot both ways.

First, I will take the most direct route, and cut the knot in half by taking an overall look at the two key players involved. Second, I will expose the “ends of the cord” – key claims by Mikovits that reveal the veracity and trustworthiness of everything else she is saying without having to get lost in the technical details of a hundred different medical claims.

Along the way, I will attempt to hyperlink every possible source I can to substantiate my arguments. This will be an ongoing effort, and I am open to questions about uncited claims and suggestions of helpful links and sources.

Part 1: The Perimeter of Ignorance

Neil deGrasse Tyson famously said:

“As areas of knowledge grow, so too do the perimeters of ignorance.”

This is a most dissatisfying paradigm. And a dangerous one. We look to the wise and learned for answers and when they can’t provide them, something deep inside us says, “That can’t be so! We know so much!” We convince ourselves that there MUST be a satisfying answer to the ever growing list of unknowns. We feel it in our bones. And thus, we open ourselves up and become vulnerable to the charlatans. The snake oil salesmen. The hucksters. The vampires.

The world is ripe for the charlatan, now more than ever. You’d think that as we learned more, we would somehow become increasingly inoculated to them. Au contraire. Our knowledge of the world has become so deep and sophisticated that things we deal with every day appear more and more as “black boxes” of mystery. The amount of knowledge and education we need just to peer into the black box and decipher the inner workings is staggering.

If you find yourself confused and bewildered, then you are not alone. Worst of all, our education system has not adequately prepared us to make sense of a world full of black boxes. In a world of standardized tests with multiple choice answers and the rote memorization of facts and information, we are asked now more than ever to “trust the experts” while being given little training or skills to think and discern truth for ourselves.

There are classes out there. For example, one of the best I’ve taken is Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking by Dr. Steven Novella on The Great Courses. But why must we pay a subscription fee to learn what should be standard curriculum during our primary education? It is frustrating. Side note: Pay the fee, though. You get 14-days free and the class is so worth it. This is not a paid promotion.

I cannot possibly distill all of the lessons and tricks that I have learned through the above course and many others in one blog post. But I can try to apply some of those skills as I analyze this piece of information.

So what was I saying about the charlatans? Ah yes, this is their time. The charlatans take advantage of that ever growing perimeter of ignorance and our deep need for answers (and determination that there MUST be answers out there somewhere) by providing us with answers where there are none. They hand wave the black box away and offer us simple solutions to life’s complex problems. They fabricate pseudo-knowledge all around humanity’s perimeter of ignorance and thus draw our attention and trust away from the real experts – the people we can truly trust, but who can’t always give us satisfying answers.

Part 2: The Wizard’s First Rule

In Terry Goodkind’s epic Sword of Truth fantasy series, he begins his first book by proposing The Wizard’s First Rule:

“People are stupid; given proper motivation, almost anyone will believe almost anything. Because people are stupid, they will believe a lie because they want to believe it’s true, or because they are afraid it might be true.”

Richard Rahl, the Seeker of Truth and primary protagonist of the series, must not only learn to apply this Rule empathetically to those around him, who are sometimes bewilderingly led astray by charlatans, but he must also learn, over the course of tens of thousands of pages of (sometimes exhaustingly pedantic) story, to apply this rule to himself. Because, we are all people. We are all stupid. We are all easily led astray.

Always interrogate your beliefs.

One of the first things I have to do when I encounter new information that I am prone to believe is to ask myself, “Does this confirm my worldview? Does this play upon my fears and insecurities?” If the answer to either question is yes, and, thanks to social media, computer algorithms, and our tendencies to self-select our friends and create our own information bubbles, the answer is almost always yes, then I immediately have to throw up some red flags and dial up my skeptical senses.

Part 3: The Sword

I am going to address the claims in this video by attacking the problem from two different angles.

Prong 1: Dr. Anthony Fauci

First, let’s be clear. This entire interview has one primary purpose: To discredit Dr. Anthony Fauci. Dr. Fauci has served in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) for 36 years. Prior to that he spent 16 years at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He is a lifelong public servant who has made tremendous contributions to science and medicine. His reputation has been untarnished and his integrity unquestioned all this time. Now, all of a sudden, after all this time, he has become a target. Why?

Anthony Fauci becomes a fringe MAGA target
Politico, 3/24/2020

Medical Expert Who Corrects Trump Is Now a Target of the Far Right
The New York Times, 3/28/2020

Dr. Anthony Fauci Has a Target on His Back
The Nation, 4/6/2020

How Anthony Fauci Became a Lightning Rod
The Atlantic, 4/14/2020

In a nutshell, Dr. Fauci, after 50 years of seemingly unbesmirched public service broke one of the cardinal rules: He contradicted The Leader.

Now, I am more than happy to get into a point-by-point discussion of each place President Trump and Dr. Fauci have diverged in the information they presented as facts. Hopefully, I don’t have to. Hopefully, it is clear to everyone reading this that President Trump has presented gobs upon gobs of contradictory, false, and misleading information over the past several months about COVID-19. Hopefully, it is clear to everyone reading this that Dr. Fauci has done little more than present simple facts backed by evidence, and he has not tried to oversell or fill in the unknowns, the perimeter of ignorance, with easy, satisfying answers. Remember that bit earlier about charlatans?

The Art of the Bullshit

I want to make it clear here that I truly sympathize with President Trump. He has spent his entire life working in a world and achieving success in industries dominated by bullshit. He is a truly gifted bullshit artist. He is the Da Vinci of spinning bullshit. And he has been rewarded for this skill.

So, this has become President Trump’s primary go-to tool for achieving success: Spin bullshit and keep selling it until it becomes true. It has helped him sell properties and ideas at subjectively high values while avoiding the appropriate taxes on them. It has helped him acquire lifeline loans totaling $2 billion from an international bank that had already tried to blackball him. It has helped him continue to hire contractors that swore off ever working for him again because he never paid them (well, that and the ability to set up multiple layers of shell companies to hide who was actually hiring them – I know some of these contractors personally and they still haven’t been paid). His genius for bullshit has afforded him a lavish lifestyle and arguably it helped him overcome seemingly impossible odds (they weren’t really so much in his disfavor, but that’s another story) to get elected president.

So, it should be no surprise that when we got hit with COVID-19 Trump reached for his favorite tool and sincerely thought it would solve this crisis. And you don’t have to take my word for this. Trump has said as much on multiple occasions. When truly pressed as to why he downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19, promising that it would go away “like a miracle” and has touted miracle cures that were not backed by proper research of evidence to know if they would be effective, President Trump has stated that he is trying to project optimism to help us get through this crisis. This was perfectly distilled in his final press conference in March when he said, “I’m a cheerleader for the country.”

While being a genius bullshit artist might help someone find success in the subjective world of real estate, reality television, and creating a lifestyle brand, the opposite is true in the field of science and medicine. Trying to be a bullshit artist in science and medicine will get you run out on a rail and end your career faster than you can say, “Wakefield!”

That is because the system is set up to weed out bullshit. Hundreds of years ago, if you had a wacky paradigm shifting idea, the central authorities that sat at the intersection of science, religion, and the state could do anything from mock you to throw you in jail and put you to death for your ideas. These days, our decentralized system of millions of scientists working independently worldwide will make but one simple request: “Show us the evidence.” And instead of rejecting you out of hand or throwing you in jail, they will try to replicate your work. The more extraordinary the claim, the more harsh the scrutiny and the more evidence will be required to overturn known science. And the greater your shame if you are exposed for fraud. But the greater the reward when you are vindicated. That is how the system works. It isn’t perfect, far from it, but after hundreds of years of refinement it is more perfect than it has ever been.

So, when you put a microphone in front of a respected scientist with integrity, you aren’t going to get an ounce of bullshit, no matter how much you want it or need it. You aren’t going to get unfounded optimism. And you certainly aren’t going to get a cheerleader. This is a problem. Fortunately, people like Neil deGrasse Tyson and the creators of Cosmos: Possible Worlds have learned that science needs to project optimism in order to maintain public interest and trust, but this is certainly a new trend. We are still, mostly stuck with a bunch of Mr. Spocks acting like wet blankets. Can I get a high-five for the Star Trek Original Series reference? Thanks!

So, when you have a president whose primary tool for solving problems is to project optimism and spin bullshit no matter what, and a medical expert whose primary tool for solving problems is realism and dispensing cautious, measured, evidence-based information, you are bound to get some conflicting messages.

And so, Dr. Fauci, on many an occasion committed that cardinal sin: He contradicted The Leader.

Why is this such a problem? Because Trumpism is a cult.

The Cult of Trump

As part of my journey studying critical thinking and proper skepticism, I have had to learn about cults and how they operate. There is a wealth of well-documented and fascinating information about cults out there. Again, it is frustrating that this kind of vital information is not part of the standard primary education curriculum, but what is a lonely skeptic to do? Learn how to be happy while being eternally frustrated, I guess. Here are some good reads if you want to familiarize yourself:

Watch out for the tell-tale signs
The Guardian, 5/27/2009 (Rick Ross, author)

The Seven Signs You’re in a Cult
The Atlantic, 6/18/2014

Warning Signs – Cult Education Institute
(Rick Ross, author)

What Do Cult Leaders Have in Common?
Live Science 4/6/2019

It is important to note that defining Trumpism as a cult does not invalidate his political platform. It does not make his policies and accomplishments “bad.” I am not here to pass judgement on the Trump Presidency or his supporters. Being a cult is not a moral judgement on the values of it’s members or what they would like to see accomplished. And cultism is not a unique feature of the right. Indeed, there is plenty to be said about cultish tendencies and cult-like thinking on the left as well. But, the purpose of this analysis is not to figure out who is worse or more dangerous. It is to analyze the veracity of the claims in the video I watched. So, let’s not get off track here.

Setting aside your affinity towards or admiration for the GOP and the Trump Presidency (and yes, I know that is really hard to do), if you look at Trumpism objectively, it is almost impossible to deny that it functions exactly like a cult. And just in case you need a little help connecting the dots, Steven Hassan, has written a book that does a pretty good job of it titled quite simply: The Cult of Trump.

Is Trumpism a cult? A new book from a former cult member makes the case
Vox, 1/26/2020

That is why I keep referring to Dr. Fauci’s cardinal sin: Criticism of The Leader. In a cult, if you go against the leader, you are automatically the enemy. The continued functioning and health of The System requires that you must be taken down at all costs. So, let’s put two and two together. Dr. Fauci contradicted President Trump (on multiple occasions). Now he has a target on his back. And one of the best tools for taking out an enemy, indeed it is one of President Trump’s favorite weapons, is to discredit through the insinuation of “corruption.”

Death by Insinuation

For me, one of the most frustratingly overlooked details of the whole Biden-Ukraine affair was the fact that President Trump was never really asking Ukraine to open an actual investigation into Biden. All he was ever really asking for, at a minimum, was for President Zelensky to announce an investigation. The documented evidence makes this clear. Right or wrong, impeachable offense or nothing-burger, this is a key detail. You see, President Trump’s favorite tool for vanquishing his foes is to insinuate impropriety. This is often done by engaging in a tactic known as JAQing (Just Asking Questions). It is also done by claiming to have seen damning evidence that can’t be made public (and never materializes).

He did it with Obama’s birth certificate which turned out to be a giant nothing-burger when the long-form birth certificate was made public on April 27, 2011:

“Why doesn’t he show his birth certificate? There’s something on that birth certificate that he doesn’t like.”


“He doesn’t have a birth certificate, or if he does, there’s something on that certificate that is very bad for him. Now, somebody told me — and I have no idea if this is bad for him or not, but perhaps it would be — that where it says ‘religion,’ it might have ‘Muslim.’ And if you’re a Muslim, you don’t change your religion, by the way.”


Side note: Birth certificates do not have a box to declare a baby’s religion, that’s just silly. Also, the world is full of former Muslims. Seriously?

“An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama’s birth certificate is a fraud.”


“Was it a birth certificate? You tell me. Some people say that was not his birth certificate. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. I’m saying I don’t know. Nobody knows.”


“Who knows about Obama? … Who knows, who knows? Who cares right now?… I have my own theory on Obama. Someday I will write a book, I will do another book, and it will do very successfully.”


“I’ll answer that question at the right time. I just don’t want to answer it yet … I don’t talk about it anymore. The reason I don’t is because then everyone is going to be talking about it as opposed to jobs, the military, the vets, security.”


In March 2011, Donald Trump claimed that he had sent private investigators to Hawaii and insinuated that they had uncovered something that would be damning for then President Obama. In an interview on the “Today Show” he said,

Donald Trump: “Well, I have people that actually have been studying it and they cannot believe what they’re finding.”

Meredith Vieira: “You have people now out there searching – I mean, in Hawaii?”

Trump: “Absolutely. And they cannot believe what they’re finding. And I’m serious.”

What did they find? Almost a decade later, no one knows. In fact, there is not even any evidence that Trump actually sent any investigators to Hawaii in the first place.

You see, President Trump knows what many a charlatan has known for centuries and social scientists are only just now beginning to document in study after study. The first thing people hear sticks in their heads as the truth, regardless of how many times and how thoroughly you debunk it later. In one study, researchers presented people with completely fabricated information that appealed to their political biases or belief systems to test how easily people could spot false information. Then, after telling research subjects that the information was completely false or fabricated, often the subjects would start to rationalize right there on the spot why the fabricated “facts” were probably actually true. And even those who accepted that the information was false, later, in follow-up interviews as soon as one month later, they misremembered the facts as true and completely forgot that they were told it was false.

Such is the power of misinformation. Retractions don’t matter. Debunkings don’t matter. Claims of evidence and proof that never materializes don’t matter. If you say you have the evidence, the way people’s memories work, they will somehow remember actually seeing the evidence that they never saw.

This is The Wizard’s First Rule being reinforced by The Wizard’s Third Rule:

“Passion rules reason, for better or for worse.”

So yes, President Trump did this with Obama’s birth certificate. And he is doing it right now with the Wuhan Institute of Virology and claims that COVID-19 escaped from a lab (contrary to the fact that numerous independent virology experts who have studied the virus are all stating unequivocally that this could not possibly have happened and there is clear evidence the virus naturally evolved in the wild and that this is unfortunately quite common, even in North America). To this day, many people still believe that George W. Bush had smoking gun evidence that proved Saddam Hussein was pursuing WMD’s. Even though it turns out that all of the evidence presented to the American people and the U.N. was exaggerated or flat out fabricated, and Colin Powell seems to have admitted as much, it doesn’t matter.

This tactic of insinuating impropriety without a lick of actual evidence is not unique to President Trump. Indeed, there is a case to be made that this is exactly what Tara Reid is doing right now with Joe Biden. President Trump was a victim of this when people started suggesting that he was pushing hydroxychloroquine with a profit motive (Fact Check: he wasn’t). And, it is entirely possible this is exactly what Judy Mikovits is doing with Dr. Fauci now. In fact, reason dictates that this is the most likely scenario. It isn’t a slam dunk, but Bayesian Reasoning and Occam’s Razor suggests it is overwhelmingly likely. In the absence of access to cut and dry answers, we must rely on probabilistic reasoning to determine the truth. This is unfortunate because we are naturally terrible at it. But I think you’ll see how one can quite rationally come to this conclusion once we explore the second angle.

Prong 2: Judy Mikovits

To unravel the hot mess that is Judy Mikovits we must start with addressing one of the areas where she has made a name for herself: Research on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). CFS is a horrible condition that exists right on our perimeter of ignorance. In fact, so little is known about CFS that it might not even be a single thing, but rather a nebulous set of symptoms that could have multiple different physical causes and may even be psychosomatic. Indeed, Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) has shown many promising signs of being an effective treatment for CFS as demonstrated by Dr. Simon Wessely, but it is not without its critics.

To further complicate things, some recent studies have shown evidence of physical abnormalities among CFS patients, however how those abnormalities contribute and what underlying physical conditions are actually causing CFS is still very much unknown. Therefore, we are still many steps away from developing an actual treatment that involves physical intervention.

However, because CFS has long existed on our perimeter of ignorance, many a charlatan has popped up offering miracle cures, tonics, snake oils, and magical “alternative medicine” therapies to treat CFS.

Side note: There is no such thing as “alternative” medicine. There is real medicine – treatments that have been demonstrated to be effective in multiple properly conducted and double-blind placebo controlled studies that have been subjected to replication and peer review by multiple independent researchers and years of clinical trials, and then there is fake-medicine – treatments that have not been demonstrated to be safe or effective by any legitimate or replicated study – aka “alternative” medicine, aka “complementary” medicine. If an “alternative” medicine can be demonstrated to be safe and effective, regardless of whether or not we understand how or why, then it is simply called “medicine.”

Charlatans who want to sell unproven treatments (snake oil) for conditions that exist on the perimeter of ignorance first need to make the false assertion that they actually know what the condition is and what is causing it so that they can offer a magic cure. Despite a lack of evidence, some people with questionable motivations have taken a hard-line stance that CFS is solely caused by purely physical mechanisms. They have gone out of their way to completely discredit the work of Dr. Wessely. He has been subject to harassment and even has to have his mail X-rayed under advice of police. Now, he could very well be wrong. Plenty of people make honest attempts to treat conditions that seem to be effective and turn out to be wrong. But the kind of crackpots we’re talking about here are so blinded in the Wizard’s Third Rule, that this is how they behave. You have to take that into account while evaluating this.

Going Full Crackpot

And so, it is in this environment that a hero emerged: Judy Mikovits. She published a study in Science (2009) linking CFS to a mouse retrovirus called XMRV. She became a hero of “the movement.” The study has been thoroughly discredited and was was fully retracted in 2011 (a detail Mikovits was evasive about). To be generous, Mikovits may have simply engaged in sloppy lab procedures that led to contamination of samples.

In fact, a follow up study thoroughly discredited the CFS/XMRV link. This is how science is done. You conduct a study and subject it to peer review. Other people try to replicate it, and if they cannot, then the original further study is scrutinized for errors. Then, additional studies are done to specifically test those possible errors.

This is what happened and Mikovits has been trying to salvage her reputation ever since. So, despite the fact that she only has one discredited study to back her up, in 2017, she resurrected her findings in a book she published, Plague: One Scientist’s Intrepid Search for the Truth about Human Retroviruses and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS), Autism, and Other Diseases in which she makes the astonishing (and completely false) claim that 30% of vaccines are contaminated with retroviruses.

The book is an embarassing litany of unsubstantiated claims based on debunked and retracted studies. Most alarmingly (and tellingly) it furthers the widely discredited myth that vaccines are linked to Autism, a myth that was based on a discredited and retracted 1998 study by Andrew Wakefield in the The Lancet. Not only was this study discredited, it turned out Wakefield took payouts to fabricate his results and he was stripped of his medical license as a result. And it would appear that Wakefield is serving as an advisor and mentor to Mikovits. For someone who seems to be so concerned about corruption in science, it is shocking indeed to learn that Mikovits is in cahoots with Andrew Wakefield, the poster boy for research corruption.

The shameful and fraudulent Wakefield study is sadly just another example of “the lie that never dies.” People to this day still cite it as the primary source of evidence falsely linking the MMR vaccine to Autism. Indeed, with the growing popularity of the anti-vax movement which, not surprisingly, runs in parallel with the breakdown of trust in established science, expertise, and institutions that has also given rise to the modern Flat Earther movement, Andrew Wakefield has somehow reemerged as a “persecuted hero” and doubled down his original lie, even going as far as to release a documentary in 2016 titled Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe. After being savagely debunked and discredited, eventually it’s distributor, Amazon, had to remove it from their library.

I could go on forever about the complete lack of merit of the arguments made by anti-vaxers. Spoiler alert: I am currently working on a script for a video doing just that is a response to a recently released anti-vax YouTube video foolishly titled A Shot In The Dark (A Shot In The Dark was the title of a 1985 book falsely claiming a link between pertussis vaccine and neurological damage that has been thoroughly discredited).

The TL/DR is simply this: Vaccines have proven to be the single greatest life-saving medical innovation short of public sanitation and are directly responsible for saving millions of lives. Not a single shred of credible evidence has ever been produced in a peer reviewed study successfully linking vaccines to the adverse health effects claimed by anti-vaxers. Indeed, the most prominent studies attempting to do so have been demonstrated to be seriously flawed or downright fraudulent. To the contrary, decades of research and countless studies have demonstrated the safety and efficacy of vaccines including providing irrefutable support for the safety of the advised vaccine schedule – the latest fallback position of anti-vaxers crying “too many too soon” for reasons not supported by any medical science.

Vaccine science is incredibly complicated. The confusion created by the anti-vax movement is extremely messy. I have spent years studying the subject and I still don’t have enough familiarity with it to speak intelligently about it without consulting my notes. Any lay person can be forgiven for believing the anti-vax propaganda or even becoming a fervent anti-vax advocate. However, it is completely inexcusable for a medical doctor, especially one trained in virology such as Judy Mikovits, to promote anti-vax propaganda. To put it plainly, she knows better. It reflects a complete and willful disregard for human life and could be easily considered an egregious violation of the Hippocratic Oath, were she an actual medical doctor.

The fact that that Judy Mikovits has fallen in with this movement, to the point of attempting to be one of it’s heroes, seriously calls into question her scruples. Sadly, this is perfectly in line with her doubling down on her discredited CFS/XMRV claims and only reinforces reason to doubt her moral fiber or (dare I say it?) even her sanity. In short, she is either a crackpot or a quack. Or both. Just so we’re clear, a “quack” is an actual official term used in the Skeptical / Science & Evidence-Based Medicine circles to label charlatan practitioners of medicine who knowingly make false claims for the purpose of profit and/or notoriety. A quick look at her activities over the last decade reveal that Judy Mikovits seems to have fully fallen into the dangerous group of anti-vaxers-for-profit who count Andrew Wakefield among their ranks.

What Really Happened

And Judy Mikovits did not fall from grace gracefully. Far from it. After the original CFS/XMRV paper was debunked and retracted, she was fired from the Wittemore Peterson Institute (WPI) when evidence emerged that she had intentionally manipulated the data in the retracted study. In what appears to be an attempted coverup, Judy Mikovits stole notebooks, a computer, and other materials from the lab and retreated to California. WPI was granted an injunction to prevent her from destroying evidence and she was arrested in California to be extradited back to Nevada.

In a surprising twist, the criminal charges against her were dropped without prejudice (meaning they could be refiled in the future). She claims, however, that she was a whistleblower (even though she never actually blew the whistle on anything) and was being persecuted. Indeed, Mikovits’ recounting of the whole ordeal is refuted by the mounts of reporting done at the time on what was really happening.

And somehow, Mikovits has conconcted this fantasy where Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is in no way connected to any of this, was somehow calling all the shots – confiscating her computers, extorting her family, and planting evidence. Seriously? Is there any evidence of this? No. Can anyone corroborate this? No. Is this beginning to sound like the paranoid ravings of a mad woman? Yes.

In my opinion, looking over the facts of the matter, this only further cements Mikovits’ “crackpot” status. If you would like to do a deep dive into Judy Mikovits and her discredited research (with a litany of links to independent sources detailing everything) these are going to be your best resources:

Why bad science won’t ever die
Quartz, 1/19/2016

Who is Judy Mikovits?
Vaxopedia, 12/8/2018

Who is Judy Mikovits? – Retraction Watch
(Seriously? Original titles, please!)

When evaluating the information provided by characters such as Judy Mikovits, the safest bet seems to be to take whatever she says and assume that the exact opposite is closest to the truth. At least, that is a reasonable starting point and will hopefully motivate one to really dig deep into the veracity of anything she claims.

Unfortunately, rather than own up to her mistakes, or worse yet, her possible fraud, Mikovits seems to have chosen to play the victim. She has concocted an elaborate fantasy in which the entire scientific and medical establishment is against her and working together in a vast conspiracy for the purposes of some kind of “corruption” (for which there is no evidence). She has fallen in with other disreputable characters, such as the disgraced Andrew Wakefield, and she has found a new sense of purpose and importance as a hero to the victims of deadly anti-science propaganda.

Knot: Destroyed

It should, therefore, be no surprise that the most prominent detractor and critic of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the mild-mannered doctor with an untarnished lifetime of public service who had the audacity to contradict The Leader, would turn out to be the wanna-be-leader of another cult, the Cult of Anti-science, which finds its interests and and its members perfectly aligned with the Cult of Trumpism. Birds of a feather tend to stick together, and charlatans are no exception.

Hopefully, this first slice of the sword can clear up some of the little smudges that lie just on the edges of the perimeter of ignorance. I have provided plenty of links for you to double check my work and come to your own conclusions. Just don’t forget The Wizard’s First Rule.

Now, let’s remove the linchpin from he yoke on some of Mikovits’ wild claims.

Part 4: Unraveled

In her 32-minute interview Mikovits makes a number of unverifiable claims and many others that are simply bogus. I want to focus on just a few of the interesting gems and demonstrate that most of the time Mikovits seems to have no idea what she is even talking about. She is tossing a giant word salad of scientific sounding information with tiny croutons of truth mixed in.

I must warn you. This is the Gordian Knot. It is going to get really complicated really fast. So stay with me. Let’s try to untangle this together, shall we?

Co-founded what!?

One of the little fibs that Judy Mikovits made in her litany of claims was that she “co-founded and developed from the ground up” a private institute for CFS research. She is most certainly referring to the Whittemore Peterson Institute. But, she didn’t co-found it. It was co-founded by Annette Whittemore, Harvey Whittemore, and Daniel Peterson in 2005. That’s why their names are on it and not hers. Judy Mikovits was hired in 2006 as the research director after meeting a friend of Annette Whittemore’s while she was tending bar at a yacht club. Yes, you heard that right. She left the NCI in 2001, moved to California and briefly worked for a drug development company that went belly up. And then, somehow she ended up as the director of research at WPI. We all know how that ended.

This is a small detail, but it is a telling one and it will shed light on the other claims Mikovits has made that I will deal with in the rest of this article. Judy Mikovits seems to have no problem with exaggerating the truth and fabricating lies in order to promote her sense of self-importance. This is an easily verifiable fact, but like so many others of Mikovits’ claims, she relies on people listening to her to gloss over the details and never check them out to expose her because they are mesmerized by her fantastical narrative that is preying upon their vulnerability to the Wizard’s First and Third Rules. I find this downright dispicable.

AIDS research, what!?

First, Mikovits begins her tale of persecution by inserting herself into one of the greatest AIDS scandals in history, of which there is zero evidence she ever played a part. This is a complicated scandal, but let me try to simplify it:

Robert Gallo, a groundbreaking researcher on retroviruses, falsely took credit for discovering the AIDS virus in 1984 when it turned out that it was actually discovered at the Pasteur Institute in Paris in 1983 and Gallo had simply received samples of their discovery. Apparently, Mikovits has confused herself with the Pasteur Institute and is trying to make herself the victim or the scandal that they were the victims of. What??

Now, it is true that Gallo did work with Bernard Poiesz and Frank Ruscetti at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and made some groundbreaking discoveries of the first retroviruses, HTLV-1 and HTLV-2 in 1980. But that was the same year that Mikovits was just receiving her B.S. in Chemistry at the University of Virginia. Are we to believe that somehow, fresh out of college, sometime between 1980 and 1983 she was at the forefront of groundbreaking work to isolate and confirm HIV, and that she actually discovered it, then Gallo stole the credit from her, but he also simultaneously stole the credit from the Pasteur Institute where he obtained his sample, that he didn’t actually have, because Mikovits had it. What the what??

Is she saying Gallo didn’t actually commit the fraud, she is the one who did?

And what does any of this have to do with Dr. Fauci? He was Chief of the Laboratory of Immunoregulation at the National Institute of Health from 1980-84, but in 1984, he was appointed as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a completely separate entity. This whole tale makes absolutely no sense and dragging Dr. Fauci into it seems to be something that was only recently fabricated just to support Mikovits’ larger narrative of victimhood and close ties to Dr. Fauci.

And none of this has anything to do with Mikovits’ larger claim that “millions died worldwide while they fought over who owned the patents.” Patents for what? Died why? The first known treatment for HIV using azidothymidine (AZT) was discovered at Burroughs Wellcome. They sent samples of the drug to Dr. Samuel Broder at the NCI and he helped pressure the FDA to fast track the approval process to get a treatment approved for Burroughs Wellcome in a record 20 months on March 19, 1987. What does any of this have to do with Mikovits’ and her wild claims of a patent dispute over the discovery of HIV? It does not make any sense.

Furthermore, to claim that “millions died worldwide” due to a delay in a treatment for HIV/AIDS (a delay for which there is zero evidence) is an astounding claim considering that by 1987, the number of total reported cases in the United States, where AZT was first made available, was 50,378 and worldwide there were 38,401 reported cases to date. Millions died? Talk about over exaggerating.

But this is just the beginning of Mikovits’ habit of casually turning “thousands” into “millions” to suit her narrative.

$3.7 million, what!?

Judy Mikovits also made an astoundingly false accusation that Dr. Anthony Fauci “circumvented U.S. law” to funnel $3.7 million to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to coordinate some kind of nefarious cooperative research between Harvard and Wuhan or something. It was honestly very hard to follow, because she was jumping all over the place.

Well, apparently Mikovits didn’t get the memo that this entire wild tale was already completely debunked when it was originally brought up to throw shade on President Obama back in April by the Daily Mail.

Here is what really happened. The U.S. National Institutes of Health has consistently funded the EcoHealth Alliance as far back as 2002. They were awarded a grant in 2014, a legal 5-year grant, to conduct research in “Understanding the Risks of Bat Coronavirus Emergence.” They received $666,442 (2014), $630,445 (2015), $611,090 (2016), $597,112 (2017), and $581,646 in (2018). Then, they applied to have the grant renewed and it was approved, so they continued to receive payments in 2018 and 2019, coming to a total of $3.7 million. This money was distributed to a large number of labs around the world because this kind of research is always a global cooperative effort. Wuhan only received a total of $133,000 from the first disbursement and $66,000 last year.

No laws were broken or circumvented. Wuhan Institute of Virology didn’t receive anywhere close to $3.7 million and did not receive any money directly from the NIH for that matter. And there is no evidence or reason to believe that Dr. Fauci was personally involved in this particular grant. That seems to be a “fact” that Mikovits just completely made up. And how would she know? She is on the outside looking in and has no more inside knowledge than we do. According to their website, The NIH distributes about $3.5 billion in research funding “through 50,000 competitive grants to more than 300,000 researchers at more than 2,500 universities, medical schools, and other research institutes.”

This entire falsehood that Mikovits’ is telling, as if she somehow has personal knowledge of it even though she couldn’t possibly, is nothing more than a recycled and repurposed lie designed to support the unsubstantiated insinuation that somehow Wuhan Institute of Virology is involved in some kind of vast conspiracy to manufacture and release SARS-CoV2 and that somehow the Obama Administration was involved. Apparently Mikovits heard about this third-hand, probably like she heard about the Gallo/ Pasteur Institute scandal, and somehow decided to insert herself into the narrative with little knowledge of the actual facts involved and for no other reason than to discredit Dr. Fauci.

Contageous cancer, what!?

Another sort of jaw-dropping claim that Judy Mikovits made in her trainwreck of an interview was that animal viruses are being injected into humans by way of a live viral vaccine that is causing cancer. And not just any cancer: contagious cancer!

Just take a moment and let that claim sink in.

Now, this opens up a whole can of worms that plays into pretty typical anti-vax propaganda, so I’m not going to dig into all of it here. For the average lay person who has no idea about all the science behind how vaccines are developed and cultured this can sound pretty scary. To quote the interviewer, Christina Aguayo, “This is incredible, explosive, and kind of scary!”

Exactly. The Wizard’s First and Third Rules are in full play here.

I’m only going to deal with one of her claims and that is of contagious cancer. I’ll let the American Cancer Society handle this one:

Is Cancer Contagious?

Cancer is NOT contagious.

A healthy person cannot “catch” cancer from someone who has it. There is no evidence that close contact or things like sex, kissing, touching, sharing meals, or breathing the same air can spread cancer from one person to another.

Cancer cells from one person are generally unable to live in the body of another healthy person. A healthy person’s immune system recognizes foreign cells and destroys them, including cancer cells from another person.

It is important to note that there is some brand new research that shows evidence of transmissible “parasitic” forms of cancer in a few animal species. However, this does not affect humans, and it has nothing to do with the outlandish and unsubstantiated claims that Mikovits was making. The only cases of cancer being transmitted from one human to another involve two dozen cases of mother to child transmission during pregnancy.

This is just a wildly irresponsible and easily refutable lie. But it is only the tip of the iceberg of Mikovits’ medical misinformation.

Coronavirus caused by what!?

Let’s get to the heart of the matter, and the reason that Judy Mikovits is drawing attention right now. She has made several incendiary claims about what “causes” the Coronavirus, somehow all involving Dr. Fauci, and wants us to believe that we are all being lied to in some kind of vast global conspiracy.

About 9 minutes into the interview, Mikovits said that coronavirus must be injected into the bloodstream because “coronaviruses can’t infect human cells without killing them or must go through another animal.” She said this to refute the idea that SARS-CoV-2 crossed over to humans because someone ate a bat.

This is a mixture of half-truths and bullshit. First, no one in the scientific community is claiming that SARS-CoV-2 crossed over to humans directly from a bat without an intermediary animal species. Currently, it is believed to have been a pangolin. But what does that have to do with injecting coronavirus into the bloodstream? It beats me. But it certainly sounds scary, doesn’t it?

Second, to make the general statement that “coronaviruses cannot infect human cells” is just utterly confusing nonsense. There are multiple strains of common human coronaviruses that have existed in the human population for years. Among them are the common cold.

I get it though. Terms can be used interchangeably and it can all get very confusing. Maybe she was just specifically referring to that specific strain of coronavirus that is endemic among bat populations. Okay, let’s dig a little deeper then.

Other claims that Mikovits’ tossed around was the claim that this particular coronavirus that we are currently dealing with has been in the human population for years and the influenza vaccine caused a 36% increase in coronavirus infections between 2013 and 2015. Hang on a minute, I thought she was earlier claiming that it was created in Wuhan from grants by the NIH that didn’t start until 2014 by injecting live virus into the bloodstream. Can she even get her conflicting conspiracy theories straight? I’ll circle back to this one, just hang tight.

She said you can get the influenza from the influenza vaccine (you can’t, that’s medically impossible), stating “In every case, in every study, the vaccine drives the death by literally exploding the fire of the overreaction of the immune system – if you are re-exposed it could lead to rapid death.” This is just a bunch of utter nonsense and not backed up by any evidence.

She also said, “Clearly all the data shows that Coronavirus is just a mild flu.” Actually, all the data shows that it is absolutely not just a mild flu. It is much worse. By now, even idiots living under rocks should know this comparison is completely false. Coronavirus and influenza aren’t even the same thing. A more convincing lie would at least have said, “some data” rather than “all the data” when that is easily debunked by doing a Google search.

To really wrap your head around all these claims, I need to draw your attention to another video featuring Mikovits that made the rounds before this one. I first came across it in a VICE News article. In their article, they state:

These campaigners frequently reject the idea that there’s anything society can do, collectively, to slow the spread of any disease. In the same video, Mikovits rejected the notion of wearing a mask, since, she claimed, the coronavirus is actually secretly caused by a bad strain of flu shot that was circulating between 2013 and 2015. Masks will help “activate” the virus and reinfect a mask-wearer over and over, she claimed.

“Wearing a mask will kill more people than—this virus is not coughed through the air from healthy people, who are almost certainly immune, as they’ve almost certainly been infected over the last four or five years,” Mikovits said.

I’m not even going to touch on this mask nonsense. How on earth does a piece of cloth “activate” a virus? That’s not how viruses work. Please don’t insult our intelligence, Mikovits.

The original video the VICE News article referenced was removed from YouTube for violating their terms of service (probably for making false and harmful medical claims), but I found an article on Maldita that provided some direct quotes:

“It is possible and likely that [the coronavirus] has been in all influenza vaccines from 2013 to 2015,” Mikovits says in this video. She argues that flu vaccines “are driving this infection [the coronavirus].”

Mikovits cites a scientific study by the US Army in which the “viral interference” of the flu vaccine increased the chances of contracting a coronavirus infection by 36%. In Maldita Science we have already spoken of this study, published in October 2019.

What is this study that Mikovits keeps bringing up and claiming infected people with COVID-19 years ago? Well, according to Maldita:

…the overall study results showed little or no evidence supporting the association of virus interference and influenza vaccination. Results for individual respiratory viruses were mixed, and some contested virus interference.”

Viral interference is when a one virus influences your risk of another virus, often called a “supervirus” or a separate virus in a family of viruses. So, for example, if you contract one specific version of the flu, your body can develop a resistance (interference) to other strains of the flu as well.

Now, this particular study, conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense on 6,120 individuals, was specifically to study if the flu vaccine caused virus interference. The study was designed to test a specific phenomenon, and it is incorrect to take the data out of context to draw other conclusions that the study was not designed to test. What’s more is that it disconfirmed their hypothesis.

The study did find that individuals who received the flu vaccine did have increased infection rates of human coronaviruses (i.e. the common cold, not the same thing as SARS-CoV-2 which came from bats and didn’t exist prior to 2019) and metapnemoviruses along with no increased rates for other respiratory viruses. However, this simply showed a lack of virus interference. It in no way shape or form can be implied that the vaccine caused those individuals to contract a coronavirus or metapneumovirus, it simply did not protect them from one.

And the authors of the study were very clear about this. Again, from Maldita:

Furthermore, the study itself assumes that a cause-effect relationship cannot be established between influenza vaccination and the increased risk of testing positive for other respiratory viruses, among other limitations.

So basically, they did a study to see if the flu vaccine could protect against other viruses and found that it does not. From that, Mikovits concluded that that the study showed the flu vaccine caused other viruses even though it very clearly said it did not. Furthermore, she went on to speculate, based on absolutely no evidence, that coronavirus was in all influenza vaccines between 2013 and 2015. Which is quite the ridiculous statement now that you see how she what she is basing it on, wouldn’t you agree?

What makes that statement even more ridiculous is that it betrays either a complete and utter wilful ignorance about the influenza vaccine or blatant dishonesty about it. A new influenza vaccine is redeveloped on an annual basis based on the three (trivalent) or four (quadrivalent) most common strains of the flu currently thriving in other parts of the world. This is a globally coordinated effort by more than 100 different countries.

So, to imply that somehow something tainted the influenza vaccine and it affected four years of completely different vaccines (2013-2015) (and again, without any evidence) with a virus that wasn’t discovered until late 2019 is ludicrous.

Also, there isn’t just one universal influenza vaccine. In the United States alone, there are two different trivalent vaccines and three different quadrivalent flu vaccines. Each has a different manufacturing process and are designed to treat different populations based on their age and medical conditions. Other parts of the world are developing their own completely different sets of influenza vaccines to release for their flu seasons, so in effect, there are actually two completely different sets of vaccines being developed and deployed annually based on bi-annual recommendations by the WHO in consultation with over 100 regulatory laboratories and the results of surveillance, laboratory, and clinical studies.

This makes Mikovits’ unfounded speculation on “coronavirus being in the influenza vaccine” even more ludicrous, nevermind the fact that she plucked the idea out of the white spaces of a study that in no way implied it.

The sad fact is, that this is completely unsurprising behavior on the part of Judy Mikovits. As I already demonstrated earlier, Mikovits does not seem to be playing with a full deck (at best) or her integrity is horrifically compromised (at worst). This, unfortunately, is what you will find to be the case for any medical professional who has signed onto the anti-vax movement.

So, what is COVID-19?

First, it is important to understand that “coronavirus” is not a single virus. It is a family of respiratory illnesses. SARS and MERS were coronaviruses. The “common cold” is a type of coronavirus. It is important to note that influenza is not a coronavirus nor is it related to coronaviruses. However, an immune system compromised by influenza (or anything else) can make one’s body more vulnerable to a coronavirus and the effects of it worse. Fun fact: measles can compromise a child’s immune system for up to three years, making them more vulnerable to other viruses and diseases. So, if the measles doesn’t get ’em, something else now has a better chance of finishing the job.

The official name for the novel coronavirus related to this pandemic is SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19 is the name of the resulting disease. The distinction is functional and a bit strange. A virus is a malicious DNA or RNA code that can only survive inside a host cell where it makes copies of itself, mutates, and spreads. Viruses are therefore not “alive” in the conventional sense like a bacteria is. A disease is a disorder of structure or function of a living organism. Therefore, to be technically pedantic, viruses cause diseases but aren’t actually diseases. Hence the naming distinction that is being used interchangeably and somewhat confusingly.

You can’t technically “catch” COVID-19. You can catch SARS-CoV-2 and the result of that means you have COVID-19. Confusing, right?

Viruses are constantly mutating and virologists and epidemiologists are constantly studying various strains of them in human and animal populations to understand them, track them and analyze risks. Through DNA based clues, scientists can very confidently track a virus’ family lineage and figure out where came from and whether it has changed into a novel strain for which humans have no immunity. This is how and why the influenza vaccine is constantly being reformulated – to keep up with the latest strains and versions of influenza making the rounds against which our bodies have no defense.

A strain is a genetic variation or subtype of a microorganism. There are various “strains” of viruses that we often give names to based on what animal they primarily infect such as “swine flu” or “bird flu.” Side note: This has nothing to do with mad cow disease – that is a prion (proteinaceous infectious particle), or misfolded protein, that can transmit it’s misfolded shape onto normal variants of the same protein causing transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), a rare progressive neurodegenerative disorder.

SARS-CoV-2 is a novel coronavirus that originated from a strain of coronavirus found in bats. Scientists have wisely been tracking that particular strain for years. Sometimes it mutates and jumps to another animal. In the case of SARS-CoV-2, DNA evidence indicates that it jumped to a pangolin before transmitting to humans. This most likely happened sometime in late 2019 just before the first cases were detected in Wuhan. Prior to this, SARS-CoV-2, and the resulting COVID-19 did not exist. Coronaviruses existed. Humans have been catching them and fighting them off forever. But COVID-19 did not exist. So, just like the influenza, even if you have been infected with a coronavirus in the past, you body has no immune defense to SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19.

How is she a virologist!?

For Judy Mikovits to somehow imply that the current pandemic we are dealing with right now could somehow possibly be related to or the same thing as a coronavirus that was around between 2013 and 2015 is beyond ridiculous. She has claimed (in the previously mentioned video), contrary to established medical knowledge, that somehow most of us have already had COVID-19 sometime in the last four to five years and therefore most of the population is already immune to it. This is not only impossible based on what we already know about how the virus mutated, it is contradicted quite simply by how rapidly the virus is currently spreading, demonstrating a lack of herd immunity.

Herd immunity is what happens when enough of a population is immune to a virus or infection that statistically speaking, it cannot successfully spread through a population because nearly every potential host it encounters immediately destroys it before it can jump to another host and by the time the infected host originally carrying it develops immunity and destroys it it was unable to spread to an average of 1 or more hosts (called an N factor of less than 1). An N factor of more than one, say 1.7, means the virus is growing in population and can potentially become an epidemic. An N factor of less than 1 means the virus is dying out and will fizzle out if it does not mutate again.

No doubt, many people have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 without knowing it – sometime in the last several months, but certainly not in the last four years. It currently has an N factor of somewhere around 2. That can’t happen if most of the population already developed immunity to it over the last few months or years.

There are a lot of things we do not know about this particular strain of the coronavirus. What we do know is that humans have not been exposed to it before 2019 and therefore we have no immunity. We don’t know if this strain will continue to mutate fast enough to become an endemic virus in the human population. Endemic means it never dies out and will continue to mutate and spread among the human population just like the influenza or other coronavirus strains such as the “common cold” do.

We know it is endemic among bats which is why we have been studying it for so long already, but we don’t know if it will be endemic among humans. We don’t know, if it becomes endemic, if it will have the same severe symptoms and mortality rate that it currently has. Perhaps it will behave like the influenza: Some years it is really bad, other years it is not.  We don’t even really know what the exact mortality rate is right now.

We do know that it has mutated within the human population already, possibly multiple times, but we don’t know if those mutations were severe enough to be able to reinfect people who already built an immunity to an earlier version (this involves whether or not the mutations changed the binding receptors that allow it to infect our bodies in the first place – like when it jumped from the bats to the pangolins to humans).

Why, Judy, why?

There are a lot of things we don’t know right now.

But one thing we do know with near certainty: Judy Mikovits is spreading a lot of dastardly misinformation that has severely confused a vulnerable and uneducated public, misinformation that is so insidiously false that it poses a very clear and present danger to public health. Which is probably why her first viral cell phone video was removed from YouTube; And why nothing she says can be ever be trusted. Why, oh why, has Mikovits suddenly popped up again? Why now?

Oh wait, didn’t she just release a new book in on April 14, 2020? How could I forget? She name dropped the title of the book about a dozen times in her interview and even the America’s Voice interviewer, Christina Aguayo, plugged it for her. That seems odd. What exactly is this book?

Well, it appears to be nothing more than an updated and repackaged version of her 2014 book. It is filled with the same anti-vax nonsense that has long ago been debunked, and it is nothing more than an attempt to resurrect her tarnished reputation by promoting all the wild claims that I have already debunked and discredited throughout this article.

This may just be speculation, but Mikovits seems to be taking advantage of this current pandemic and people’s fears by inserting herself into it and manufacturing a decades long relationship with Dr. Fauci, someone famously all over the news right now, that has him popping up as a central player in all of her life’s major disgraces. Is Judy Mikovits riding Dr. Fauci’s coat-tails to achieve notoriety and sell books? Say it ain’t so!

It never ceases to amaze me that anti-vaxers are willing to speculate without any evidence that millions of scientists and doctors are involved in a worldwide cover-up of “the truth” in order to line their pockets, yet they can’t seem see that their own heroes are busy quite blatantly lining their pockets through the movement and spreading of misinformation. Maximum Cognitive Dissonance Achievement: Unlocked.

Hopefully, that answers all the questions that you might have had about this viral video. Only a few questions remain:

Considering how little Judy Mikovits seems to know about actual virology how in God’s name is she a virologist? Has her entire life and career just been one long con? If not, how on globe Earth did she fall so far and so hard from grace?

It is truly a sad and cautionary tale.

Part 5: Who Tied This Knot?

I would be remiss if I did not address the role that the Fake News Media has played in all this. I think I can speak for everyone, when I say that all we want is accurate and thorough reporting of factual information. We want the media to not hide important facts from us, to give us the whole story and trust us just a little to be able to put two and two together and figure things out for ourselves.

That is why I have to call out America’s Voice News for doing an absolutely terrible job of covering this. With everything we now know about Judy Mikovits, it is absolutely shameful that AVN did not provide any context and did absolutely no fact checking of the claims she made in her interview. They even introduced her as:

“[A] brilliant researcher who has been studying viruses for 40 years, a former researcher who conducted groundbreaking research on HIV.”

What a joke. What an absolute disgrace.

The fact of the matter is AVN should not be considered a real news network. They are an advocacy group. They don’t do journalism. They do propaganda. They were founded by Paul Weyrich, who, back in 1998, Multichannel called “a man far enough to the right to make Newt Gingrich look moderate.”

With so many untrustworthy sources of information out there that, on the surface, appear to be perfectly reasonable and objective, it can be very confusing to know who to trust. It gets even more complicated when these sources are appealing to our prior beliefs or tendencies toward conspiratorial thinking. I think that Professor Dave said it best, when he said:

The notion of conspiracy has to be dealt with in a delicate manner, because we don’t want to lose our sentivity to skepticism in general. Sometimes, conspiratorial thought uncovers legitimate government misconduct.

We should be skeptical. We should seek the truth. But people have a tendency to get addicted to this mentality and project it onto everything they see which is why there are media outlets that manufacture content that appeals to these viewers, as they will consume this type of news voraciously, whether or not it is true.

There is a huge subset of the population that lives and breathes conspiratorial narratives and will exercise confirmation bias like crazy, which is a problem, because any reality you want to believe will be there somewhere on the internet for you to find it. Just because you saw a YouTube documentary or read a blog post that says something, it doesn’t necessarily make it true, no matter how professional the source seems.

There is a broader danger here. People who arbitrarily skew towards conspiracy are easy to control, because some power, whether political or corporate can feed them a narrative that appeals to this predisposition, and get them to act against their own best interest.

Easy to control and act against their own best interests, indeed.

Part 6: The Seedy Motel

I want to close by addressing some very legitimate concerns that friends of mine have raised about censorship. When YouTube takes down a video or Facebook removes your post sharing Mikovits’ stuff, it can feel like “the powers that be” are hiding something from us, like they are scared of us having access to information and sharing it with others.

This is a perfectly legitimate concern, and information being censored should be monitored and motives questioned. However, there is another way to look at it that is important to keep in mind.

Misinformation is dangerous. It can have a known, measurable, harmful effect. If this weren’t the case, then countries wouldn’t spend millions of dollars in their national defense budgets on disinformation campaigns. Medical misinformation can be deadly. It is important to not confuse “freedom of speech” with “freedom to lie.” If something is a known lie, and a dangerous lie, we have a moral responsibility to not spread that lie. Period.

Social media platforms also share in this moral responsibility. They are not exempt from standard ethics and morals.

A crude example of this is if I own a motel. Guests may think, “Hey I rented a room here, so I have a right to do whatever I want in my room.” But, if guests are engaging in child prostitution in my motel rooms and I am aware that this is happening, then I have a moral obligation to kick them out of the room and report them to law enforcement.

Wouldn’t it be rich if these criminals responded to me doing this by saying, “You’re just scared of us!”

Well, yeah, sort of. But not in the way you think. I’m scared of the harm you are causing and my own guilty conscience for facilitating it.

When someone is using your resources to do harm, then you have a moral obligation to deprive them of those resources. Whether it be using your property to commit crimes or using your social media platform to spread harmful lies, your moral obligation is equally clear. But the responsibility doesn’t just stop with social media platforms removing harmful misinformation. It is also on you.

Do your research and fact-checking before you share something you happened to see on social media or someone forwarded to you in an email. Don’t simply look for confirming evidence, this is folly and a trap, but rather seek out as much disconfirming evidence as possible. Don’t dismiss disconfirming evidence just because you don’t like the source or the disconfirmation. Evaluate the evidence on its merits.

The Wizard’s Sixth Rule states:

“The only sovereign you can allow to rule you is reason.”

Exercise your reason. Don’t be made the fool by your hopes, fears, and passions.

If you don’t have the time to check things out, then you really shouldn’t be sharing these things, should you? Don’t become the charlatans’ patsy. You very well could be causing serious harm.

 Background photo by kamila kawa on Unsplash 
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On the surface, the Trump-Ukraine-Biden scandal seems pretty simple. In a way it is. Because of this, partisans on both sides have aggressively made their case partisan case and the objective facts seem to be getting lost in the muck. That’s because it is actually more complicated than it seems. I’m going to try and break it down for you.

I am going to do this through the frame of responding to an OpEd I read in the Washington Post recently that makes a false equivalency between President Trump and Democrats titled, Democrats’ double standard on Ukraine by Marc A. Thiessen. If you don’t pay for the Washington Post, you can read the syndicated column on any one of a number of local newspapers. Here’s the Helena Independent Record or the Sioux City Journal. Take your pick.

It is important to note that this is an OpEd in the Washington Post, not a news piece. OpEd’s aren’t always very well sourced and fact checked – they are the author’s opinions, divorced of the newspaper’s actual legitimate journalism operations.

It is also important to note that Marc A. Thiessen is a former speech writer for U.S. President George W. Bush (2004–09) and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (2001-06). He started his career in D.C. working a lobbyist for Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly. Yes, that Manafort: convicted felon, Paul Manafort. Thiessen is hardly going to be a good source of objective, accurate information regarding the Trump-Ukraine-Biden scandal, especially considering Paul Manafort is involved.

Thiessen briefly introduces a report from CNN in May “that Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., wrote a letter to Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, expressing concern at the closing of four investigations they said were critical to the Mueller probe.” He goes on to state that “they implied that their support for U.S. assistance to Ukraine was at stake.” And eventually posits the following question:

“So, it’s okay for Democratic senators to encourage Ukraine to investigate Trump, but it’s not okay for the president to allegedly encourage Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden?”

To answer Thiessen’s question: Yes.

Let’s get the facts straight.

Real quick, before we begin, I must disclose my own “personal connections” to Ukraine. I have been fascinated with following Ukraine’s politics ever since I did an report on Ukraine (and Kyrgyzstan) for my International Political Economy class at UIC in 2008. I am also, not so secretly in love with Ukraine’s former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, leader of the Orange Revolution, and former unjustly jailed political prisoner.

Part 1: What The Senators Did

On May 4, 2018, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) wrote a letter to the Prosecutor General of Ukraine. They were seeking information on why, out of 3,000 active corruption investigations the four involving Paul Manafort had been singled out to have subpoenas and witness interviews blocked by the former Prosecutor General’s office. This was in direct response to a report in the New York Times on May 2, 2018 titled, Ukraine, Seeking US Missiles, Halted Cooperation With Mueller.

This is alarming. It seems rather suspicious and has serious national security implications. It appears that Ukraine is helping to obstruct an investigation – by subverting their own justice system – in order to curry favor with the Executive branch of the U.S. The implications that U.S. foreign relations are possibly being used for personal matters cannot be understated. If only there was a special committee in congress that provided oversight to U.S. foreign relations. Wouldn’t that he helpful?

As it turns out, there is. It is called the Foreign Relations Committee in the U.S. Senate. And Robert Menendez, Richard Durbin, and Patrick Leahy all sit on that committee. In fact, it as part of their constitutional mandate it is considered both necessary and proper (McGrain v. Daugherty, 273 U.S. 135, 177 (1927)) for the Senate to oversee the executive branch in the execution treaties, handling of relations and interactions with our allies. This is frequently done by communicating with our allies to ask questions about actions taken by the Executive branch. That is precisely why this committee exists. Hence the name.

See also:

In fact, the Foreign Relations Committee primarily oversees arms deals between the United States and our allies and strategic partners. Since this seemed to relate directly to an arms deal with Ukraine, it was urgently incumbent on them to follow up and find out what was going on.

So, following their constitutionally mandated duties as members of the Foreign Relations Committee, these Senators were asking Ukraine if the Executive branch of our government had encouraged, requested, or Ukraine to stall the Manafort investigation and block cooperation with the Mueller probe or if that action had simply happened independently. It is important to note that since then, Paul Manafort, has been convicted of several felonies in the U.S. and has openly admitted in his testimony that he is guilty of the crimes he was being investigated for in Ukraine which he did on behalf of the deeply corrupt Yanukovich.

Let’s be clear about what these Senators did not do. They did not request an investigation into President Trump. They did not ask for any kind of investigation to be opened or started. They were not trying to instigate or initiate anything. They were asking for a few specific facts that were already known and readily available.

Furthermore, these Senators did not threaten to withhold financial aid from Ukraine, as Thiessen suggested. The closest came to implying this is that they made multiple references to the corrupt Yanukovich administration which stole millions of taxpayer dollars from Ukraine and has been under investigation since leaving office. These corruption investigations, and rooting out the Yanukovich corruption from the Ukrainian government is something the eyes of the whole world are on and something, as we will soon find out, that not only the U.S. government, but also the European Union and the International Monetary Fund are watching closely and making financial aid contengent upon.

So, it isn’t unreasonable to for Thiessen to infer that financial aid is at stake even though the Senators never mentioned this. But it is a stretch. And it is also horribly misleading. There is a difference between extorting someone by saying, “If you don’t give me what I want, I’m going to withhold this money,” and advising someone by saying, “The money you receive from us and numerous other sources has always been contingent on the assurance that it won’t be used to line the pockets of corrupt politicians and if you keep sending signals that this is no longer the case, no one is going to want to give you money anymore.”

But, the Senators didn’t say that. Thiessen inferred it. So why must we waste our time discussing this further?

Now, since the Mueller probe was mentioned, it is important that we briefly review why U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller existed in the first place. I could write a series of blog posts debunking misinformation and outlandish conspiracy theories swirling around the Mueller probe, but here I will just stick to the basic facts.

Part 1.1: Why was there a Mueller probe?

It is important to understand that the Mueller Probe was not really about investigating President Trump. It was primarily about investigating illegal Russian activities that occurred within the United States.

In the summer of 2016, the FBI was investigating Russia and Russian entities for crimes they have since been indicted for based on numerous tips received from multiple foreign and domestic sources. When the investigation began, they also uncovered numerous connections and suspicious contacts between the Trump Campaign and Russia, many of which seemed to center around convicted felons Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn. On a side note, none of this originated from the now infamous Steele dossier which was not even known about at the time.

On February 13, 2017 Michael Flynn was forced to resign after he was caught lying to the F.B.I. regarding the Russian probe. The next day, President Trump asked F.B.I. Director James Comey to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn. President Trump had already previously asked Comey about the Russia probe and to swear personal loyalty to him, so this was becoming part of a disturbing pattern. However, the investigation was partially insulated from Presidential interference because the F.B.I. reported to the Attorney General of the United States, and the AG is supposed to be independent of Presidential influence.

This became a problem when newly appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions was caught lying providing incorrect information to congress about his contacts with Russians during his confirmation hearing and chose to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation on March 2, 2017. He was further probed for perjury for false statements he made about George Papadopoulos before congress.

Then, in May 2017, President Trump fired James Comey, lied about why he did it, and it became increasingly clear that Comey was fired in order to shut down the Russia probe.

This reasonably led to the belief that the FBI could not perform it’s duties and fully investigate illegal Russian activity in the U.S. because it appeared to involve members of the Trump campaign and Trump was repeatedly using his position as President of the United States to limit or end the investigation to protect himself and associates from being caught for criminal wrongdoing or suffering the political fallout of being investigated. This created the necessity for a Special Counsel to continue and complete the investigation and Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was now overseeing the FBI’s Russia probe, appointed Robert Mueller on May 17, 2017.

The Mueller probe was never an “investigation into Trump” as pundits and partisans would have you believe. It was an investigation into Russia that appeared to possibly have involved President Trump’s campaign and associates and therefore very clearly needed to be insulated from his influence because he appeared to be trying to shut it down.

Part 1.2 – Was what they did okay?

Back to Senators Menendez, Durbin, and Leahy. After receiving credible information that Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who was under investigation and in the process of being convicted for federal crimes in the U.S., was also under investigation in Ukraine for crimes he committed there and that Ukraine had taken the extraordinary steps of limiting the scope of their investigations they quite reasonably wondered why. It seemed reasonable to suspect that President Trump may have used his office to cause this (which would constitute an abuse of power – using the office of the Presidency to exploit foreign relations and interfere with law enforcement for personal matters). After all, we already had it on record that he had attempted to limit or end the investigation multiple times domestically. So, they basically asked Ukraine: “Yo, Ukraine. What happened there?”

As it turns out, what happened there is Ukraine acted on it’s own out of deference to President Trump. They intentionally stalled the Manafort investigation because they were aware of his close ties to Trump and wanted to curry favor with Trump. But, this was done of their own initiative, not at the request of Trump.

Volodymyr Ariev, a member of the Ukrainin Parliament said they put the Manafort investigations “in the long-term box,” stating,”In every possible way, we will avoid irritating the top American officials. We shouldn’t spoil relations with the administration.” This is problematic on it’s own for different reasons, but it is not illegal, and not an abuse of power at the behest of the President.

So, when the Senators received satisfactory answers to their questions, they dropped it and moved on. No investigation. No public insinuations. No nothing. Constitutional duty fulfilled. End of story. End of issue. Clearly, they weren’t doing this for personal reasons, to score political points, or to launch a smear campaign against President Trump.

So, to answer the first part of Marc Thiessen’s false equivalency question: Yes! What they did is very much okay. It is not just okay, it is their job, required by the highest law in the land, the United States Constitution.

Part 2: What President Trump Did

Now, what President Trump did was a tad bit different. President Trump asked the President of Ukraine to (re)open an investigation into Hunter Biden, a private citizen and the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, for the purpose of stirring up public confusion and turning voters off of his potential, assumed rival in 2020. He specifically said he was asking for a favor.

I hesitate to say reopen, because Joe and Hunter Biden were never officially under investigation in the first place. It was considered, but there was not even the appearance of wrongdoing, so it never happened. So, maybe we could say, President Trump was asking Ukraine to reconsider opening an investigation into Hunter and Joe Biden since they had already considered it before and decided there was no evidence of wrongdoing to justify it.

It is important to note, Hunter Biden and Joe Biden are not under investigation or suspected of any crimes in the United States. So, there is no reason to pursue them abroad in the first place. It is also important to note, that what President Trump is acting on to is not a credibly sourced and true report in the New York Times, but rather a internet conspiracy theory that Rudy Giuliani dug up and has foisted on President Trump. This was old information that the far-right cooked up a bunch of crazy conspiracy theories about back in 2015 and have not only been completely debunked in the intervening time, but President Trump was aware of this.

It is important to note that this conspiracy theory likely originated from the Russian state controlled media propaganda machine, Sputnik, which has been going after Biden on multiple occasions in it’s attempt to criticize and assert influence over Ukrainian politics.

Part 2.1 – The Biden-Ukraine conspiracy theory

Here is the conspiracy theory: Hunter Biden is corrupt and greedy. So corrupt and greedy that he decided to take a job in one of the most corrupt countries in the world, Ukraine, by joining the board of the corrupt oil and gas company, Burisma Holdings. Burisma Holdings was corrupt and Ukraine’s top cop, Viktor Shokin, was trying to investigate them. Vice President Joe Biden didn’t want this to happen because he was afraid it would expose his son’s corruption, so he contacted then President Petro Poroshenko and asked them to fire Shokin in order to shut down said investigation into Burisma. That would constitute an abuse of power – using the office of the Vice Presidency to exploit foreign relations and interfere with foreign law enforcement for personal matters. If it were true.

Sound like a familiar charge? Yep, that’s what President Trump has done and been accused of doing numerous times. So, under the time honored moral principal of “I’m rubber and you’re glue,” Donald Trump decided to pursue this conspiracy theory into Biden.

The only problem is it has already been pursued. And it turned up nothing.

Now, let’s get the facts straight. First, we have to acknowledge that Hunter Biden has benefited tremendously from nepotism. Real surprise there. His name might as well be Eric, Ivanka, or Don Jr. for all that is concerned. As such, he has been sought out and had doors opened for him simply due to who is father is and who he knows.

It is very likely that this is why Burisma Holdings hired Hunter Biden to serve on their board. In this case, Burisma was already under investigation for being part of money laundering scheme associated with it’s owner, Oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky, and they wanted to clean up their image. Having the Vice President’s son on their board could serve that purpose.

Let’s be clear here. This was an bad idea of epic proportions for Hunter Biden to do simply because it created the appearance of possible conflicts of interest domestically. It caused Christopher Heinz (John Kerry’s stepson) to sever business ties with Hunter Biden. Joe Biden’s staff pushed him to encourage Hunter to not take this job. It is also important to note that Hunter Biden is somewhat of the black sheep of the Biden family and isn’t exactly easily influenced by his father. He might even be characterized as a rebel.

That being said, Hunter Biden is a private citizen, not a government official, and it is not illegal for him to serve on Burisma’s board, so there was no legal reason for him not to. Burisma is a private company, not a government entity. Hunter Biden is free to make bad decisions that look bad for his father, and I guess, unfortunately, Joe Biden doesn’t have the authority or influence to control what Hunter Biden does.

Joe Biden, knowing he had very little influence to exert over his son anyway, and out of respect his son’s agency did not “put his foot down” and demand that his son not join Burisma’s board. He did, however, immediately take steps to insulate himself from communicating with Hunter about anything involving Burisma and Ukraine. Maybe Joe Biden should have forced his adult son to not take the job. That might have helped him avoid the bad optics for sure, but that probably wouldn’t be a realistic expectation.

Remember how I originally told you Burisma was under investigation? Well, that is only partially true. The investigation into Zlochevsky was stalled, along with numerous other corruption investigations. Central to this was Prosecutor Viktor Shokin. Sokin was accused of being corrupt and his investigations were accused of being “for show” and not legitimate. He had dumped numerous investigations into disgraced Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych (who, as political payback, had his opponent for the Presidency, Yulia Tymoshenko, one of the most courageous and amazing women in the world jailed after he came to power , but that’s another story for another time). These actions by Shokin caused great concern with several Western European countries, the European Union, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The IMF’s managing director, Christine Lagarde, was insisting that Ukraine was doing far too little to combat corruption. Sokin had come to power with a promise to combat this corruption, but seemed to be doing the opposite – covering it up and furthering it. The IMF had decided to pull investment from Ukraine out of concerns that their investment would not be properly used or be effective in such a corrupt country. This is still an ongoing concern. They gave Ukraine an ultimatum that Shokin be removed or investment would be curtailed.

Enter: Joe Biden. In March 2016, Vice President Biden was on a trip in Ukraine. He had been informed by Lagarde that the IMF’s loan guarantees were about to be cut off and Lagarde had asked him if he could do something about it. So, as Biden has stated, “I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.’”

Mind you, this money wasn’t Biden’s to give or not to give. This was the IMF’s money and he was just the messenger. The reason had nothing to do with Biden (Hunter or Joe), it had to do with the IMF’s concerns over investing in a corrupt country and their disdain for Shokin who had broken several promises.

We all know what happened next. Shokin was fired. But not really because of Joe Biden – even though he wants to take all the credit. This firing was a long time coming and the result of mounting pressure from the international community as well as within the Ukrainian government. He was not adequately investigating corruption in the previous administration he was previously associated with. Ironically, now President Trump is praising Shokin as being a good prosecutor despite overwhelming evidence and consensus to the contrary. I guess that whatever Joe Biden is against, President Trump thinks he has to be for.

Here is the truly ironic conspiracy-theory busting part of all this. Because Shokin was fired, and replaced by Yuri Lutsenko the investigations into Burisma actually moved forward. The case concluded in 2017 with no charges being filed against him – and then was reopened in 2018 by court order. He has been implicated in additional corruption charges. Keep in mind, this case against Burisma had nothing to do with Hunter Biden and was involving the period before he even worked there. So, there was no personal reason for Joe Biden to try to have it shut down.

So even if Joe Biden was trying to help Hunter and Burisma out by getting Shokin fired (he clearly was not), he did the exact wrong thing. By calling for Shukin to be fired, Joe Biden knowingly helped moved the Burisma investigation forward. That’s not corruption. That’s integrity.

Yuri Lutsenko did at one time expressed concern over Hunter Biden’s position on the Burisma board and his connection to Vice President Joe Biden and the possibility that there was a conflict of interests or abuse of power. After all, it certainly looked bad. Public comments made to this effect were quickly taken out of context and spun off into internet conspiracy theories by Russian propaganda and far-right nutjobs, and thus, the conspiracy theory Giuliani and Trump are pushing was born.

But, the problem is that Yuri Lutsenko already looked into Hunter Biden and the Biden-Ukraine connection for any possibly improprieties and came up with nothing. He cleared Biden of any wrongdoing and there was no reason to move forward with any further investigations into the Bidens.

Part 2.2 – Was what he did okay?

So, President Trump is following up on an old, debunked internet conspiracy theory that falsely alleges Joe Biden abused his power as Vice President. What does this have to do with the interests of the United States? And the answer is none. Is it part of President Trump’s job, constitutionally mandated, implied, or otherwise, to advocate for the opening of investigations into private U.S. citizens and political rivals in foreign countries? Certainly not. This quite simply isn’t what good Presidents do. So why do it?

The answer is simple: Joe Biden is considered the front-runner for the Democratic nomination to run against President Trump and polls currently reflect him beating Trump 50.5% to 42.8% – a difference of 7.7 points, more than any other Democratic candidate. The most recent poll to this call back in July, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released on July 14, showed Biden at +9. Emerson College showed Biden at +7 on July 9. ABC News/Washington Post showed Biden at +10 to +14 on July 7.

This is contrary to the unsubstantiated claim that President Trump and his advocates have made that “Democrats know they can’t win in 2020” and that all the polls show them losing which is why they are pursuing impeachment. Almost all the polls show him consistently losing to Biden, Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg, and even Yang and O’Rourke. Often by massive double-digit margins. The few occasional polls that show Trump winning are from notoriously bad pollsters that don’t have a track record of accuracy due to shoddy methods.

So actually it is President Trump who is shaking in his boots about likely losing in 2020, not the Democrats. According to the polls, Joe Biden appears to be his greatest threat. So, Trump is trying to discredit him by promoting misinformation and a false narrative to either prevent him from capturing the nomination or winning the general election.

And Trump is trying to do this by asking Ukraine to reopen an already closed investigation that found no wrongdoing into Biden’s son. Trump was withholding U.S. foreign aid intended to protect the U.S. national security interests in Ukraine against Russia as leverage to get Ukraine to open up a sham investigation into his political rival in order to help him win the 2020 election. The transcript of the call confirms most of these facts. Trump’s admissions confirm even more. Very few dots need to be connected here.

In fact, it gets even worse. According to the whistleblower’s complaint, agreeing to open an investigation into Biden was a condition of getting the call in the first place and he froze aid to Ukraine ahead of the phone call allegedly in order to achieve this. This has also been verified by sources within Ukrain.

The best comparison I can think of is if the President of Ukraine was facing a tough re-election campaign against a political rival with ties to the Trump organization (Trump has extensive business dealings in Ukraine) and he called our President and asked him to reopen the Mueller investigation and discontinued it’s cooperation with NATO ahead of the call and held that hostage as a condition of speaking with the U.S. until we agreed to reopen the Mueller investigation. That would be pretty nutso, wouldn’t it?

As you can see, the differences are stark.

U.S. Senators did not pressure Ukraine into investigating Trump. They did not extort Ukraine or unilaterally put U.S. national security interests at risk. They fulfilled their constitutionally mandated duties to inquire if the executive branch of our government had abused it’s power and our relationship with an ally to shut down investigations into convicted felon Paul Manafort. There was nothing to see, so they moved on.

President Trump, on the other hand, used the office of the Presidency to hold up foreign aid of vital national security interest in order to pressure Ukraine into reopening a pointless investigation into Hunter Biden, in which Biden had been cleared of any wrongdoing, in order to discredit his top domestic political rival, Hunter Biden’s father. This does not involve any current domestic criminal investigations or any national security interests and therefore falls completely out of the purview of the Presidency and constitutes a gross abuse of power.

He is also involving the U.S. Justice Department and his personal lawyer, a non-governmental employee, Rudy Giuliani in this effort, further complicating the abuse of power charges further showing this is for personal gain in addition to opening himself up to felony campaign violation charges. The DOJ’s initial decision to not pursue the later adds even more troubling broth into this already swampy stew.

So, to answer the second part of Marc Thiessen’s false equivalency question: No! What President Trump did was very much not okay. It is not just not okay, it is possibly in violation of multiple laws, and a gross abuse of power for personal gain.

Trying to stretch the facts to compare these two communications in a tortured false equivalency certainly gives Silly Putty a run for its money, both for it’s physical properties as well its name.

Letter from U.S. Senators to Ukraine Prosecutor General, May 4, 2018


Reconstructed transcript of July 25, 2019 Trump-Zelensky phone call


August 12, 2018 Whistleblower Complaint

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President Trump made a “go back to your country” tweet recently and arguments have broken out between the left and the right about whether or not it was racist. Several strange defenses have been made of his tweet. Let’s walk through some of them and see what we can all learn about ourselves and our attitudes toward race.

First, let’s look at exactly what the President said:

“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.

Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”

Based on the timing and the context, many people have concluded that this tweet is about “The Squad,” four non-white freshmen Democratic congresswomen who have been working closely together to shake up establishment politics in Washington. Pictures above from left to right, they are Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) (NY, 14th), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (MI, 13th), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (MA, 7th), and Rep. Ilhan Omar (MN, 5th).

Many people have pointed out how ludicrous this is since representatives AOC, Tlaib, and Pressley were all born in the U.S. and only Omar was born in another country. It has been pointed out that President Trump must be assuming that all of these women have foreign ties and roots because they are all women of color.

Now, one of the strangest defenses I have heard is that President Trump was only referring to one person in particular, and not all four of these women. His use of plurals is dismissed as being a generalization about anyone who fits the description, but only one person was on the President’s mind when he came up with that description.

Of course, that person is Rep. Omar, a U.S. citizen who was born in Somalia and immigrated to the U.S. when she was twelve. Even if President Trump was only referring to Rep. Omar, that doesn’t make him any less of a racist to tell her to “go back to their [her] country.”

I might be willing to buy the argument that he was using using the colloquial sarcasm trick of speaking in the plural but having one specific person in mind, except that he ended his tweed by saying, “I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!” If he had any one person in mind, then that would mean he was clearly Rep. AOC since it is her ongoing power struggle with Speaker Pelosi that President Trump has been trying to inject himself into and highlight in order to foment division within the Democratic Party.

Some have pointed out that Rep. AOC was born in the Bronx and is of Puerto Rican heritage so President Trump couldn’t possibly mean her since she is clearly from the U.S. The problem is that President Trump has demonstrated a history of being confused about world geography, so it would be no surprise if he makes no distinction between different Latin American countries. To many Americans, Latinos are all the same and since Rep. AOC is latina it wouldn’t be a stretch that he assumes she is foreign. He also has proven to be somewhat ignorant about Puerto Rico in particular, repeatedly referring to it as if it is a separate country from the U.S. so it wouldn’t surprise me if he knows Rep. AOC’s heritage but that doesn’t matter to him.

However, even if you assume that he was only referring to Rep. Omar, that would still make it the most disturbing feature of his tweet. To tell a Somali woman to “go back to their [her] country” is kind of like telling her you wish her to live a tortured life and to die young. And especially in the context of telling her to “help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they [she] came,” only reveals a callous ignorance about the human rights conditions for women in the country to which he is referring.

In 2005, UNICEF ranked Somalia the number one country for female genital mutilation because 97.9% of all women and girls there have undergone the procedure. In 2011 Somalia was ranked the fifth worst place in the world to live as a woman due to domestic violence, rape, FMG, infanticide, acid attacks, limited access to healthcare and education, high maternal mortality rates, and economic discrimination.

While it is true that one third of Somalia’s parliament is comprised of 30% women, this is merely to meet a token gender quota to give the appearance of women having political power when the reality is that they have little to no political power according to a 2017 study published by Social Development Direcct and Forcier Consulting. Somalia’s own women’s minister, Maryan Qasim, said of the country’s 2011 ranking, “I thought Somalia would be first on the list, not fifth.”

And speaking of Tokenism, President Trump seems to be a perfect case study in this practice. He has added token people of color into his administration to give the appearance that he is not racist, but it is all to obvious that this is his motive for doing so because he cannot help himself referring to their race every chance he gets, as if he is desperate to remind us. Thou doth protest too much.

In reality, President Trump’s cabinet is dominated by white men: 11 out of 15 plus four token members: Ben Carson, Alex Acosta, Elaine Chao, and Betsy DeVos. Even their positions reveal some not-so-subtle racism and misogyny: Putting the only black man in charge of Housing and Urban Development, and one of the only women in charge of the Department of Education (both of whom had no qualifications for either job prior to their nomination).

If there was any doubt that the women and people of color in President Trump’s cabinet are only there for the token defense against racism, you need look no further than Vice President Pence’s own chief of staff, Marc Short, who pointed out this weekend that President Trump couldn’t possibly be racist because he appointed Elaine Chao, who was born in Taiwan, to his cabinet. This sounds an awful lot like the tired old ‘black friend’ defense.

What Mr. Short is failing to realize is that you don’t have to be racist against ALL races to be a racist. In fact, approval of Asian Americans, America’s non-threatening “model minority,” is quite common among even the most virulent of racists who think other people of color are less-than human and often used as a wedge between Asians and blacks.

Why is the token defense so hideous? Because it is not only makes no logical sense, but it is also a common pre-planned defense by racists to justify their planned racist behavior in the same way that someone planning a major crime will try to set up an alabi for themselves ahead of time. And yes, the token defense makes as much logical sense as it would if Ted Bundy defended himself by saying, “I couldn’t possibly be a murderer, just look at all the friends I have who are alive!”

The bottom line is this: None of the defenses of President Trump’s tweet actually hold any water – in fact, they only serve to further pile on additional evidence of his bigotry, misogyny, ignorance, and callousness. If you heard any of these defenses and thought, “Oh, okay that makes sense. That clears him,” then you should take a serious look into your own biases and cultural influences. The thing about being in a moving car is it often feels like you are standing still and it is the rest of the world that is moving.

The thing about being a racist is that it is so normal and acceptable to you that you don’t even realize that you are. If an overwhelming number of people are pointing to an action or attitude and saying, “Hey, that’s totally racist!” the correct response is not to immediately assume they are all over-sensitive snowflakes looking for something to be mad about. The correct response is to assume that maybe there is something you are missing and it is worth investigating yourself and questioning your own beliefs and assumptions first rather than writing off your critics and surrounding yourself with other people who agree with you (they are probably just as racist are you are).

Racism isn’t an on or off switch. Racism is a spectrum. When someone’s defense of their racist action or attitude is to simply distinguish themselves from a worse action or attitude or to compare themselves to the worse racist they can think of, that is pretty good evidence that they actually are truly a racist and not simply misunderstood.

The lyrics to the Avenue Q song, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” are more than just a couple of clever jokes They speak to a truism that we all need to start embracing and learning from. The song not only points out that we can all stand to make improvements, it demonstrates degrees of racism, and destigmatizes it as a common human foible so that avoiding self-loathing won’t be a roadblock to truly being honest with ourselves about our racist attitudes.

We all need to constantly be examining our biases and beliefs, myself included, and listening closely to people who are critical of us and our politicians, because that is the only way we are ever going to catch our blind spots. I learn more about myself, my blind spots, biases, and inappropriate beliefs and actions every day, and the work is far from over. It is a humbling, but extremely necessary habit to form if we truly want to make this world a better place.

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Inspired by the writings of don Miguel Ruiz and Erwin McManus.

Protect your magic, yes.
I couldn’t agree more, it’s true.
But be on your guard
The magic you hold
Doesn’t need protection from you.

For magic comes in two forms:
There is the darkness and the light.
And in each of us
Both forms can be found
Tangled in an unending fight.

The darkness finds it’s roots
In fear, in hate and deceptions.
It never forgives,
And it’s worst sin is
Destroying human connections.

The light by contrast is
Selfless and filled with compassion.
It holds no grudges
And through it you’ll find
The fire that sparks your passion.

The darkness, trapped in the past,
Would have you believe that’s not so.
Seducing you with
Forgetting past pains,
It steals futures you’ll never know.

The light reveals the truth
That your choices are unconstrained.
It heals your trauma,
Your past is washed clean,
Leaving you and your world unstained.

The darkness is afraid
Of an external infection.
Its magic is weak
And limited so
It demands constant “protection.”

Light has the power to
Change an enemy to a friend.
It’s given for free
And needs no defense
Its strength and supply never end.

Confusing dark with light
Will certainly be your chagrin.
Threats to your magic
Aren’t always outside.
The worst threats come from within.