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Coronavirus vaccines for kids: What I tell parents to convince them the shots are safe - The Washington Post



What I say to persuade parents to vaccinate their kids — and what I hold back
My stories of young patients hospitalized with covid might do more harm than good

By Rachel M. Pearson
Rachel Pearson is a professor of bioethics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. She leads the humanities pillar at the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics and is a pediatric hospitalist. Her memoir "No Apparent Distress: A Doctor's Coming of Age on the Front Lines of American Medicine" was published in 2017.
September 17, 2021 at 6:00 a.m. EDT
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“Kids don’t get really sick from covid,” the father of a teenage patient tells me, “so I don’t think the vaccine is worth the risk.” My face remains composed — I hope — expressing nonjudgmental concern.
Currently, youth ages 12 and up are eligible to receive the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, and pediatricians hope for more children to become eligible soon. By some estimates, the Food and Drug Administration could authorize Pfizer’s vaccine for emergency use in kids age 5 to 11 by the end of October. As an academic pediatrician who cares for hospitalized children, I’ve met many parents who are excited to get their kids the vaccine. Many others have questions or fears. A minority are deeply opposed to vaccination.
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My colleagues and I are very worried about vaccine hesitancy. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that 40 percent of parents with kids under 12 plan to “wait and see” to vaccinate their young children, even after the shot is authorized for them. As of July 31, only 42 percent of Americans age 12 to 17 had received at least the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine. Though updated data has not officially been released, the White House announced Aug. 27 that half of American teens had gotten at least one shot. Half is still nowhere near enough to confer herd immunity against the highly contagious delta variant. Youth are suffering: The number of kids admitted to hospitals with severe covid-19 has increased by five times in the last few months. But even though children are getting sick, they are not the decision-makers when it comes to vaccination — parents are.
Parenting, in my experience, is both cognitive and visceral. I know that spitting up is not dangerous, for instance, but I leaped from my hospital bed to rescue my newborn son the first time I heard him do it. Parents’ gut responses can save kids’ lives: When we hear the particular scream that means pain, or the porcelain thump that means the toddler is trying to climb into the toilet bowl, we run before we think.
So when, as a doctor, I encounter parents who decline the coronavirus vaccine for their children, I try to remind myself that they are creatures much like me; they are trying to make rational judgments about their child’s best interests, but they’re also moved by fear, instinct and community mores. While it is tempting, in these conversations, to unload the weight of all I have seen — children stricken with severe covid, with mysterious clots and heart problems and respiratory failure — I generally hold these stories back. When parents need to feel heard and reassured, worst-case scenarios can do more harm than good.

Francesca Anacleto, 12, receives the first dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine last month in Miami Beach, Fla. The shot is currently authorized for children 12 and older. (Marta Lavandier/AP)
Pediatricians have been working on vaccine hesitancy for decades, and the only method that has been shown to increase pediatric vaccine intake is the “presumptive approach.” Accordingly, I’ve trained students and resident doctors to use sentences like, “Today, we will give the measles vaccine,” instead of beginning vaccine conversations with a question like, “How do you feel about vaccines?” or “Can we talk about the measles vaccine?”
The presumptive approach leverages physician power and authority to get vaccines into kids. But we don’t know if it builds physician-parent trust in the long run. In the coronavirus era, as much as we desperately need to get vaccines into people, doctors also need to play the longer game of earning and building trust with the communities we serve. So for hesitant parents, I draw on a method developed by my colleague Luz Garcini, a psychologist with vast expertise in providing health care across lines of culture and identity. Garcini advocates taking the patient’s perspective, practicing active listening, speaking in plain language and “bridging respectfully” from vaccine myths to vaccine facts.
With the father who believes that the vaccine is riskier for kids than covid would be, I might start by acknowledging his perspective: “I have also learned that most kids with covid don’t get very sick.” Then, I continue: “But some do, and a small number even die from covid. We know that the risks from infection are worse than the risk from the vaccine — even for kids.”
Having bridged from a vaccine myth to a plain-language fact, I stop.
This takes exquisite self-control, because as a hospital pediatrician, I see only the extreme cases: They are the reality I know. And I know that some children do get very sick. In the winter, I cared for a teenager who had been flown across the state for emergency brain surgery after a stroke caused by covid-19. The surgeons sawed off a piece of her skull to relieve pressure from the bleeding, our intensive care pediatricians gradually weaned her off the ventilator, and she survived. She’d been an athlete before the stroke; afterward, she had to learn to walk again.
That teenager was unlucky. About 1 in 3,164 children infected with the coronavirus will develop MIS-C, a life-threatening inflammatory condition. 3,163 will not. Hemorrhagic strokes in teenagers with covid are known to happen, but they are so rare that we can’t accurately say how often they occur. So I keep my answer to this father factual: Myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart, is the one potentially serious side effect we’ve seen from the vaccines. It is rare: An estimated 63 in every 1 million boys between ages 12 and 17 get myocarditis after vaccination; 999,937 do not. (It is so rare in girls that we can’t yet estimate the incidence.) Most kids who do get vaccine-induced myocarditis recover quickly with an anti-inflammatory medicine like ibuprofen, and no children have died because of it.

A part of me — a part that wants my experience to be heard and trusted — wishes to trot out the stroke story. Or to talk about a covid patient who survived with a damaged heart. But I don’t. I need to build a relationship, to inspire warmth and confidence, not the adrenaline overload that comes from a scary story.
To be fair to that father’s perspective, most young American patients will not be seriously harmed by covid infection, even if they do catch it. Nationwide, only 516 children are known to have died of covid since the pandemic began. The pandemic harms most kids by a thousand losses — play, school, relationships, grandparents, financial stability, housing, supervision, calm — rather than by a catastrophic infection in their own bodies. Parents weigh those known losses against unknown threats. “This coronavirus vaccine is too new,” one says to me. “We don’t know if there are long-term effects.”
In response, I acknowledge that many parents have this concern, then add, “What we know is this: We’ve vaccinated more than 5 billion people worldwide. When people do have side effects, those happen in the first days to weeks after the vaccine.” In fact, the mRNA vaccines are thrillingly safe. They contain no virus. They break down and are gone from the body within 72 hours, leaving only protective antibodies behind.
The delta variant arrived at just the right time to break our spirits
This is true of vaccines in general. No vaccines known to man have delayed negative effects; whether side effects are serious or mild, they occur in the first six weeks after vaccination. I expect this data to hold for mRNA vaccines too, because the vaccine’s remnants in the human body — antibodies against the coronavirus — are most abundant shortly after vaccination. Just as with other vaccines, it stands to reason that this is when side effects would occur.
Many vaccine-preventable diseases can have serious delayed effects, however: brain scarring from measles, strokes from chickenpox, long covid. Beneath the calm and straightforward facts I communicate to parents about vaccination, my own stories roil: a child who developed a dangerous bacterial superinfection on the open skin where she had chickenpox blisters, a boy with tetanus who spasmed so hard and long that he was intubated in the ICU for months, a baby with whooping cough who stopped breathing night after night, bringing us running to her hospital room.
It is difficult to avoid blaming parents when children contract vaccine-preventable infections — we who care for the sick children sense that parents have abdicated a responsibility to protect them from known dangers. That sense of blame is coming up again with covid, as we notice that many hospitalized children live in unvaccinated households. I am ashamed of that feeling, and I work hard to ensure that it doesn’t affect my care for the child or my demeanor toward the family. But it is there.

Because my vaccine chats are focused on parents’ specific concerns, the social benefits of vaccination — protecting others and ending the pandemic — rarely come up. Parents’ identities as the guardians of their children make public-health-based arguments less convincing. The sense of collective responsibility feels less relevant when responsibility for a particular child looms so large: “I would just be kicking myself forever if she got sick from the vaccine,” another mother tells me. “I would feel so guilty.” Many parents seem to perceive possible side effects as a harm they would have done to their child — as their fault, for choosing to accept the vaccine.
Conversations like these remind me of the “trolley problem,” in which a hypothetical runaway trolley is barreling toward five people on the tracks. Someone watching the trolley — you — could push a single other bystander onto the tracks and stop the trolley, saving five lives by sacrificing one. Most people would not push the bystander, because we are not diligent utilitarians at heart. We sense that to act makes us culpable, whereas simply watching can be forgiven. Some parents would feel at fault for acting to give the vaccine. They would blame themselves less for watching their child contract an infection they could have prevented.
For American parents, the stakes seem low. A trolley barrels toward a branch point with 3,200 tracks, and their child is tied to one of them; if they have that terrible luck, their child will get MIS-C when they are infected. I offer them a chance to pull a lever that will expand the number of tracks to 32,000, and make it so the outcome of being hit by the trolley is not MIS-C but heart inflammation that will go away on its own. But the overall risk to kids is small in any case, and it is unsurprising to me when parents do not pull the lever.
When parents believe that vaccination puts children at risk, they hesitate. Even if they are the kind of people who might jump in front of a trolley themselves to save others — or who would take a vaccine to protect their communities — they won’t push their own kid onto the tracks if they believe a trolley is coming.
I understand that hesitation. I could have enrolled my baby in a coronavirus vaccine trial, as many other physician moms did. Initially, however, I chose not to. I was three months’ pregnant when the pandemic began, and Sam rode uncomplainingly through the hospital in my womb for a long time before we knew whether coronavirus infection could harm pregnant women and their babies. (It can.) Somehow I felt that Sam had already risked enough in his little lifetime by being my quiet fetal companion while I worked to help other people’s children. Joining a trial seemed supererogatory: a good thing to do, but above and beyond what was morally required.
Recently, though, I shared our information with researchers in the hopes of joining a trial. With data so far showing that the vaccines are safe and effective in all age groups — and no scientific rationale for expecting that would be different for babies — I want to get my son protected as soon as possible. He’s too young to wear a mask, and this past week, my hospital ward has seen many children severely ill with covid. I signed up out of a sense not of duty but of desperation.

At the bedside of a teenager recovering from appendicitis, a parent looks at me skeptically. I am urging her to accept the vaccine, which has been shown to be effective and safe in adolescents. “It’s just so new,” she says. “I don’t know.”
To offer a measured and effective response to the concerns of unvaccinated parents is effortful, because of the emotions that all hit me at once: my frustration, my hurt pride over how my profession is being undermined by agents of misinformation, my secondary trauma from before and during this pandemic. My occasional anger with unvaccinated adults — how I imagine my son’s life could be different, more peopled and more ample, if only they would all get the shot.
But my feelings are unhelpful, and beside the point. The point is that kind, consistent, factual communication from physicians might help lift us from this nightmare. So instead of unloading my feelings or telling the stories of worst-case scenarios, I try to offer something useful: a conversation focused on this parent’s child. This specific child. Who will probably be fine either way, but who will enjoy a near 100 percent certainty of not being hospitalized with or dying of covid if she gets the vaccine. This child’s flourishing is our shared goal, always.
I take a breath, and I begin again: “Many parents feel that this is a hard choice. Knowing the science makes it easier . . .”

Coronavirus vaccines for kids: What I tell parents to convince them the shots are safe - The Washington Post

Afghan family ravaged by drone strike mistake asks U.S.: 'Take us out of here' - The Washington Post

Milley’s calls reflect a crisis. But it’s not a military crisis.

"Uniformed officers can only do so much when civilian leaders break norms

Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley listens during a briefing with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, about the end of the war in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley listens during a briefing with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, about the end of the war in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Commentators and politicians on both right and left have been quick to view Milley’s reported actions as evidence of a crisis in civil-military relations; some Republicans even see it as treason in the military’s highest ranks. But notwithstanding the overheated reaction, there’s little reason to conclude from this episode that Milley or other senior military officers are no longer committed to democratic principles of civilian control of the armed forces. Woodward and Costa’s new reporting does document a crisis — but it’s primarily a crisis of politics, not of civil-military relations. And as with so much else about the Trump era, that means the power and responsibility to fix it lie squarely with voters and elected officials, not with uniformed officers.

It’s dismaying to learn that the nation’s top general believed that an unstable president might initiate a devastating global conflict on a whim, but there’s no compelling evidence that Milley did anything wrong in laying down a warning about Trump’s possible future conduct. For one thing, while the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the president’s senior military adviser and also has a responsibility to make candid recommendations to Congress, he is not formally part of the chain of command. That makes many of Milley’s statements about what other officers should do more or less hortatory in nature. But more broadly, the legal framework governing military obedience to orders is far murkier than many Americans might assume.

Yes, military officers have a general duty to obey their civilian commander in chief, as well as an obligation to refrain from “contemptuous speech” against the president and behavior likely to bring the military into “disrepute,” among other things. But officers also swear an oath to uphold the Constitution and have a duty to disobey orders to engage in unlawful activity. Depending on the specific circumstances, a presidential nuclear strike order — or an order to launch a conventional attack on another state — might be lawful or unlawful. Trump being Trump, Milley’s concerns about the lawfulness of future presidential orders hardly seem unfounded.

A spokesman for Milley, Col. Dave Butler, said Wednesday that the general “continues to act and advise within his authority in the lawful tradition of civilian control of the military and his oath to the Constitution.” While some Republicans have suggested that Milley’s statements to his Chinese counterpart constituted a treasonous offer to ​reveal classified military plans to a foreign adversary, Butler has pushed back, noting that Milley’s calls to foreign leaders were coordinatedwith other national security agencies and were part of his “duties and responsibilities conveying reassurance in order to maintain strategic stability.” In English: They were smart military diplomacy, intended to discourage a jittery China from launching a preemptive strike during a U.S. political crisis. Milley was just doing his job.

The devil is always in the details when it comes to questions of law and ethics. Military leaders may think a presidential command is unwise, but no one would claim they have the legal right to disobey an order solely because of partisan or policy disagreements. At the same time, it’s not difficult to construct hypotheticals in which even the most stalwart defenders of civilian control of the military would urge disobedience.

Explicit presidential orders to commit war crimes would be one easy case. For another, imagine a president who — hypothetically — experienced a sudden and severe psychotic episode. Imagine that this president summoned his military commanders one morning, told them that singing leprechauns had informed him that Australia had been taken over by demons, and then ordered nuclear strikes targeting major Australian cities. It’s a silly example, but it’s hard to imagine anyone insisting that such an order should be blindly obeyed: The use of weapons of mass destruction against a civilian population based on nothing more than presidential delusion would surely violate the laws of war.

Most real-life situations fall into grayer areas, making it difficult to state categorically whether a hypothetical order to attack China — let alone use nuclear force — given by Trump would be lawful or unlawful. That makes it equally hard to say whether military disobedience to such an order would be lawful or unlawful.

In normal circumstances, the many gray areas rarely lead to open disobedience, as senior military officials generally assume that all presidential orders are presumptively lawful. If anything, military leaders tend to err on the side of excessive deference to presidential mandates: In the early post-9/11 years, for instance, when the George W. Bush administration refused to provide Geneva Conventions protections to “war on terror” detainees and developed an “enhanced interrogation” program most military lawyers saw as illegal torture, senior military officials raised powerful internal objections — but none of them disobeyed orders or even resigned in protest.

Under Trump, military leaders, including Milley, began to show significant public signs of discontent — but only after the president repeatedly made clear his blatant contempt for the rule of law and democratic norms. When Trump suggested he might target Iranian cultural sites and strike Iran “perhaps in a disproportionate manner,” for instance, military leaders and Trump’s own defense secretary stated publicly that such actions would be illegal and that the U.S. military would “follow the laws of armed conflict.” In June 2020, after peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square were tear-gassed by federal authorities and Trump pulled Milley into a surprise photo op, the general apologized for his presence, noting that it had inappropriately created “a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.” In the run-up to the November election, Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost the election, Milley made a public statement reminding the nation that the military had “no role” to play in domestic elections and would always “obey the lawful orders of our civilian leadership.” The pushback was polite but firm — and entirely appropriate.

Then, on Jan. 6, a violent mob of Trump supporters, inspired by Trump’s repeated false claims that the election had been stolen, and egged on by the president himself, stormed the U.S. Capitol in an effort to prevent Congress from certifying the results of the presidential election. Trump responded by praising the mob (“We love you”). This was the context within which Milley reportedly grew concerned that Trump might seek to launch a nuclear strike or start a war: The nation faced an existential political crisis, with a commander in chief who had repeatedly made manifest his willingness to trample on the Constitution and the norms that support it.

Against this backdrop, Milley’s efforts to ensure stability until the new and legitimately elected president could take office — and avoid an illegal or unethical military action — hardly constitute a refusal to accept civilian control. On the contrary: In an impossible and unprecedented situation, Milley did his best to remain scrupulously out of the realm of politics, and he repeatedly reiterated his loyalty to the nation, its law and its Constitution — all duties higher than that of mindless obedience to a president who had clearly indicated a willingness to ignore the law.

In a democratic society, the notion of civilian control of the military is predicated on the assumption that civilian leadership will be exercised in a lawful manner. If Milley and other military leaders sought to prevent potentially unlawful presidential actions, they weren’t breaking faith with democracy: Our democracy had already been badly broken by the highest civilian official in the land. And that’s a far different — and far bleaker — problem than a general walking the difficult line between obedience and conscience. Trump demonstrated how easily American norms and institutions could be subverted by a lawless president — and unlike Milley, millions of Americans, and scores of GOP elected officials, never even bothered to speak out."

Afghan family ravaged by drone strike mistake asks U.S.: 'Take us out of here' - The Washington Post

Opinion | Joe Manchin Got the Voting Bill He Wanted. Time to Pass It. - The New York Times

Joe Manchin Got the Voting Bill He Wanted. Time to Pass It.

John Francis Peters for The New York Times

By The Editorial Board

"The editorial board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values. It is separate from the newsroom.

Far too many Republicans are players in a cynical pantomime: They say that the new voting restrictions being passed across the nation are designed solely to thwart widespread voting fraud, when the reality is that widespread fraud does not exist and the new restrictions’ purpose is to frustrate and disadvantage voters who lean Democratic — especially minority, young and lower-income voters.

Are Democrats going to do a darn thing about it? We’ll soon find out.

Republicans in Congress have repeatedly rejected measures to make voting fairer, more accessible and more secure. In state after state, the party has spent this year pushing laws that tighten ballot access — at least for certain groups — and that make the system more vulnerable to partisan meddling.

This antidemocratic (and anti-Democratic) agenda began before President Donald Trump, but he supercharged it. Now, the former president and his supporters — who tried unsuccessfully to overturn the last election by lying about fraud and trying to strong-arm state officials and Congress into flipping electoral votes — have continued their crusade against democracy at the state and local levels. In the recall election against Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, Republicans began floating bogus claims of fraud long before the votes were tallied. “Does anybody really believe the California Recall Election isn’t rigged?” Mr. Trump charged Monday, on the eve of Election Day. Urging voters to mistrust the system and to reject the outcome if they dislike it has become standard operating procedure for the G.O.P.

On Tuesday, Senate Democrats rolled out a reform bill aimed at curbing the madness. The Freedom to Vote Act, introduced by Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, would address longstanding flaws in the electoral system along with some of the Republicans’ recent machinations. It is a compromise proposal of sorts, crafted by a coalition of moderates and progressives after a more sweeping reform bill, the For the People Act, was blocked in June by a Republican filibuster. This slimmed-down package jettisons some of the more controversial elements of the earlier plan. It would not, for instance, restructure the Federal Election Commission or mandate the use of nonpartisan commissions for congressional redistricting. It is nonetheless an ambitious, urgently needed corrective to Republicans’ ongoing assault on the franchise.

The package’s provisions range from making Election Day a public holiday to protecting local election officials from partisan interference. Partisan gerrymandering and voter caging, a sketchy method of purging voting rolls, would be banned. Same-day voter registration would be available in all states, as would automatic voter registration systems. A 30-minute wait-time limit would be imposed for in-person voting, and uniform, flexible ID requirements would be established in states that require voter IDs. The list goes on.

Federal voting protections wouldn’t just protect voters in red states. Blue and purple states with less liberal standards would have to up their game as well. For instance, neither Connecticut nor New Hampshire currently provides for early in-person voting, nor does New Hampshire have online voter registration. Wisconsin has a strict photo ID law. New York does not have same-day voter registration (though voters have the opportunity to move to change that in November). Federal standards would serve all voters in all states and of all electoral hues.

“Put simply, if the new bill is enacted, more citizens will be able to register to vote, vote in person and by mail and have their votes counted,” asserted Marc Elias, one of the Democrats’ top legal champions on voting rights. “And, those of us fighting suppression laws in court will have the tools necessary to achieve fast, consistent victories for voters when states fail to follow the law.”

Merits aside, the new bill’s prospects are shaky at best. To avoid death by filibuster, it needs the support of all 50 Democrats plus 10 Republicans. Absent that, Democrats will face a hard choice: Let this crucial legislation die or eliminate the legislative filibuster in order to pass the bill on a party-line vote.

This is a better dilemma, at least, than Democrats had to deal with over the summer, when they didn’t even have their entire caucus on board. While 49 Democratic senators supported the For the People Act, one, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, opposed it. As a conservative Democrat representing a deep-red state that Mr. Trump carried by close to 40 points last year, Mr. Manchin’s policy priorities often clash with those of his Democratic colleagues. But while there were some pieces of the For the People Act that made Mr. Manchin uneasy, his primary objection was that it lacked buy-in from Republicans.

“The right to vote is fundamental to our American democracy and protecting that right should not be about party or politics,” Mr. Manchin wrote in a June 6 opinion essay in the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy, and for that reason, I will vote against the For the People Act.”

He went on to denounce those who wanted him to help eliminate the filibuster to pass the bill. “The truth is there is a better way,” he insisted, “if we seek to find it together.”

Bipartisanship is a big issue for Mr. Manchin — unsurprising, since his job security depends on appealing to voters who typically support the other party. He is correct that, even in today’s Senate, there can be agreement in areas where both parties are committed to making progress. Take the bill to bolster U.S. competitiveness with China that passed in June with strong bipartisan support, or the $1 trillion infrastructure plan that passed with similar bipartisan backing last month.

But there are limits to bipartisanship, and the system comes up hard against those limits on the issue of voting rights. Yet Mr. Manchin has continued his search. In June, he put forward an alternative framework for reform that he felt had more bipartisan promise. Key Republicans promptly dismissed it.

Meanwhile, their colleagues in the states are seizing the moment. Republican-controlled legislatures already have passed laws restricting ballot access in at least 18 states. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas recently signed a raft of measures that the head of the Brennan Center for Justice, a think tank in New York, declared “the most extreme of the voting restrictions passed by legislatures this year.”

Undeterred, Mr. Manchin, at the behest of Senate leadership, huddled with colleagues to hammer out the revised plan that’s now on the table.

Having waited for Mr. Manchin to get behind a bill, the majority leader, Chuck Schumer, is now eager to move forward. He says a vote on the new package could take place within the week.

Mr. Schumer has also made clear that he considers this Mr. Manchin’s moment to try to drum up whatever bipartisan support he can. “He has always said that he wants to try and bring Republicans on, and now, with the support of Democrats and this compromise bill — which Senator Manchin had great input into — he can go forward in that regard,” Mr. Schumer said Tuesday.

No one expects Mr. Manchin’s gambit to succeed. But if his earnest outreach to Republicans fails, where does the senator go from there? Will he simply shrug and sacrifice voting rights on the altar of bipartisanship? Will he bow to a minority party pursuing antidemocratic measures to advance its partisan fortunes? “The senator continues to work with his bipartisan colleagues to protect the right to vote for every American while also restoring the American people’s faith in our democracy,” responded a spokesperson for Mr. Manchin.

Bipartisanship can be a means to an end. But when voting rights are being ratcheted backward by one party, bipartisanship can’t be an excuse for inaction.

President Biden is said to be ready to enter the fray. “Chuck, you tell me when you need me to start making phone calls,” he recently urged Mr. Schumer, according to Rolling Stone.

Now, Mr. President, is the time to act boldly. Make those calls. Set up those Oval Office chats with Mr. Manchin and any other Democrats who might still need persuading. Bring all the powers of persuasion and the weight of the office to bear on this issue before further damage is done.

Having lost the White House and the Senate last year, Republicans appear intent on rigging the game in their favor before the midterms. Protecting the integrity of America’s electoral system and the voting rights of its citizens should be priority No. 1 — not because it helps Democrats, but because it helps preserve democracy."

Opinion | Joe Manchin Got the Voting Bill He Wanted. Time to Pass It. - The New York Times

What to know about the FDA's decision on Pfizer booster shots

 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Media FINALLY Calls Out Joe Manchin's Obstruction

Afghans Somber but Not Surprised as U.S. Calls Drone Strike a ‘Tragic Mistake’ - The New York Times

Afghans Somber but Not Surprised as U.S. Calls Drone Strike a ‘Tragic Mistake’

Afghans expressed a familiar anger at the Pentagon’s admission that an attack killing 10 civilians was a mistake, one of many such errors during the 20-year war.

transcript

Pentagon Admits It Made a ‘Tragic Mistake’ in Kabul Drone Strike

Following a New York Times investigation, the Pentagon acknowledged that a U.S. drone strike in Kabul on Aug. 29 was a “tragic mistake” that killed 10 civilians, including an aid worker and seven children.

A comprehensive review of all the available footage and reporting on the matter led us to a final conclusion that as many as 10 civilians were killed in the strike, including up to seven children. At the time of the strike, based upon all the intelligence and what was being reported, I was confident that the strike had averted an imminent threat to our forces at the airport. Based upon that assessment, I and other leaders in the department repeatedly asserted the validity of this strike. I’m here today to set the record straight, and acknowledge our mistakes. I will end my remarks with the same note of sincere and profound condolences to the family and friends of those who died in this tragic strike. We are exploring the possibility of ex-gratia payments. And I’ll finish by saying that while the team conducted the strike did so in the honest belief that they were preventing an imminent attack on our forces and civilian evacuees, we now understand that to be incorrect.

Following a New York Times investigation, the Pentagon acknowledged that a U.S. drone strike in Kabul on Aug. 29 was a “tragic mistake” that killed 10 civilians, including an aid worker and seven children.Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The Pentagon’s public apology and admission of having made a “tragic mistake” in killing an Afghan aid worker and seven children from his extended family in a drone strike was broadcast Saturday on Afghan television, but appeared to bring little solace to the family members left behind.

Images on Afghan television and social media showed some relatives holding up photos of the lost children to reporters, including of a child as young as 2 who died in the blast. Another image showed several of the somber-faced relatives seated on the dusty, rocky hillside where the family members were buried. In total, 10 civilians were killed in the strike.

On social media, Afghans expressed anger and frustration, but little surprise, at the Pentagon’s mistake, although they demanded compensation for the family. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of U.S. Central Command, said the military was discussing the possibility of payments.

For more than two weeks, the United States military had insisted the attack on Aug. 29 was warranted and that the aid worker, Zemari Ahmadi, who helped provide basic food items to impoverished Afghans, was connected to the Islamic State. One general called the attack “righteous” and insisted there had been secondary explosions, implying that explosives had been in the vehicle.

After a deeper review by the Pentagon, which followed a New York Times investigation casting doubt on Mr. Ahmadi’s connection to ISIS and on any explosives being in his vehicle, the military concluded that there had been a series of mistakes.

“We now know that there was no connection between Mr. Ahmadi and ISIS-Khorasan, that his activities on that day were completely harmless and not at all related to the imminent threat we believed we faced, and that Mr. Ahmadi was just as innocent a victim as were the others tragically killed,” said Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III in a statement.

Far from being an enemy of the United States, Mr. Ahmadi was hoping to emigrate there.

The aid organization he worked for over the past 15 years, Nutrition and Education International, or NEI, was based in Pasadena, Calif. It was founded by a nutrition scientist who had observed firsthand the malnutrition in Afghanistan’s Balkh Province while lecturing there in 2003, according to the organization’s website, and he started the nonprofit to encourage Afghan farmers to grow soybeans.

A relative of Zemari Ahmadi near the car that was destroyed in the U.S. air strike last month.
Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The organization helped establish processing facilities — Mr. Ahmadi worked on setting up 11 of them — so that the beans could be made ready for cooking. Staff members then distributed the harvest to needy families.

On its website, the organization has a tribute to Mr. Ahmadi noting that “Zemari was well respected by his colleagues and compassionate towards the poor and needy.”

Updates on Afghanistan  Sign up for a daily email with the latest news on the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.

NEI had begun the process of filing refugee forms so that Mr. Ahmadi could emigrate with his family to the United States.

Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan


Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that came after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including floggings, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more on their origin story and their record as rulers.

While the drone strike has received considerable attention, in part because it came in the last 48 hours the United States was in Afghanistan, it was a familiar sequence for Afghans and those who track civilian casualties.

Over much of the last 20 years, the United States has repeatedly targeted the wrong people in its effort to go after terrorists. While it has killed many who were connected in one way or another to organizations that threatened the United States, there is a well-documented record of strikes that killed innocent people from almost the very first months of its presence in Afghanistan, starting in December 2001 and ending with the death of Mr. Ahmadi and members of his family.

In the years in between, the United States killed dozens of civilians at a weddingand more than 100 civilians, many of them children, in Farah Province in 2009. In 2016, the military mistakenly bombed a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz Province that killed 42 doctors, patients and medical staff.

“The U.S. military has admitted to hundreds and hundreds of ‘mistaken’ killings over nearly 20 years of airstrikes, typically only after initially denying problems and then only investigating after public exposure by media or other independent observers,” John Sifton, the Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, wrote in a Twitter post on Friday, shortly after the military took responsibility for the mistake.

“The U.S. has a terrible record in this regard, and after decades of failed accountability, in the context of the end of the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. should acknowledge that their processes have failed, and that vital reforms and more independent outside scrutiny is vital,” he said.

Sami Sahak, Wali Arian and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting."

Afghans Somber but Not Surprised as U.S. Calls Drone Strike a ‘Tragic Mistake’ - The New York Times

Pentagon acknowledges Aug. 29 drone strike in Afghanistan was a tragic mistake that killed 10 civilians.

Pentagon acknowledges Aug. 29 drone strike in Afghanistan was a tragic mistake that killed 10 civilians.


The US Pentagon finally admits it has been lying for a week about the fatal drone strike in Afghanistan which murdered 10 people including 7 children.  The government lied for a week calling it a legitimate attack.


transcript

“How a U.S. Drone Strike Killed the Wrong Person

A week after a New York Times visual investigation, the U.S. military admitted to a “tragic mistake” in a drone strike in Kabul last month that killed 10 civilians, including an aid worker and seven children.

[explosion] In one of the final acts of its 20-year war in Afghanistan, the United States fired a missile from a drone at a car in Kabul. It was parked in the courtyard of a home, and the explosion killed 10 people, including 43-year-old Zemari Ahmadi and seven children, according to his family. The Pentagon claimed that Ahmadi was a facilitator for the Islamic State, and that his car was packed with explosives, posing an imminent threat to U.S. troops guarding the evacuation at the Kabul airport. “The procedures were correctly followed, and it was a righteous strike.” What the military apparently didn’t know was that Ahmadi was a longtime aid worker, who colleagues and family members said spent the hours before he died running office errands, and ended his day by pulling up to his house. Soon after, his Toyota was hit with a 20-pound Hellfire missile. What was interpreted as the suspicious moves of a terrorist may have just been an average day in his life. And it’s possible that what the military saw Ahmadi loading into his car were water canisters he was bringing home to his family — not explosives. Using never-before seen security camera footage of Ahmadi, interviews with his family, co-workers and witnesses, we will piece together for the first time his movements in the hours before he was killed. Zemari Ahmadi was an electrical engineer by training. For 14 years, he had worked for the Kabul office of Nutrition and Education International. “NEI established a total of 11 soybean processing plants in Afghanistan.” It’s a California based NGO that fights malnutrition. On most days, he drove one of the company’s white Toyota corollas, taking his colleagues to and from work and distributing the NGO’s food to Afghans displaced by the war. Only three days before Ahmadi was killed, 13 U.S. troops and more than 170 Afghan civilians died in an Islamic State suicide attack at the airport. The military had given lower-level commanders the authority to order airstrikes earlier in the evacuation, and they were bracing for what they feared was another imminent attack. To reconstruct Ahmadi’s movements on Aug. 29, in the hours before he was killed, The Times pieced together the security camera footage from his office, with interviews with more than a dozen of Ahmadi’s colleagues and family members. Ahmadi appears to have left his home around 9 a.m. He then picked up a colleague and his boss’s laptop near his house. It’s around this time that the U.S. military claimed it observed a white sedan leaving an alleged Islamic State safehouse, around five kilometers northwest of the airport. That’s why the U.S. military said they tracked Ahmadi’s Corolla that day. They also said they intercepted communications from the safehouse, instructing the car to make several stops. But every colleague who rode with Ahmadi that day said what the military interpreted as a series of suspicious moves was just a typical day in his life. After Ahmadi picked up another colleague, the three stopped to get breakfast, and at 9:35 a.m., they arrived at the N.G.O.’s office. Later that morning, Ahmadi drove some of his co-workers to a Taliban-occupied police station to get permission for future food distribution at a new displacement camp. At around 2 p.m., Ahmadi and his colleagues returned to the office. The security camera footage we obtained from the office is crucial to understanding what happens next. The camera’s timestamp is off, but we went to the office and verified the time. We also matched an exact scene from the footage with a timestamp satellite image to confirm it was accurate. A 2:35 p.m., Ahmadi pulls out a hose, and then he and a co-worker fill empty containers with water. Earlier that morning, we saw Ahmadi bring these same empty plastic containers to the office. There was a water shortage in his neighborhood, his family said, so he regularly brought water home from the office. At around 3:38 p.m., a colleague moves Ahmadi’s car further into the driveway. A senior U.S. official told us that at roughly the same time, the military saw Ahmadi’s car pull into an unknown compound 8 to 12 kilometers southwest of the airport. That overlaps with the location of the NGO’s office, which we believe is what the military called an unknown compound. With the workday ending, an employee switched off the office generator and the feed from the camera ends. We don’t have footage of the moments that followed. But it’s at this time, the military said that its drone feed showed four men gingerly loading wrapped packages into the car. Officials said they couldn’t tell what was inside them. This footage from earlier in the day shows what the men said they were carrying — their laptops one in a plastic shopping bag. And the only things in the trunk, Ahmadi’s co-workers said, were the water containers. Ahmadi dropped each one of them off, then drove to his home in a dense neighborhood near the airport. He backed into the home’s small courtyard. Children surrounded the car, according to his brother. A U.S. official said the military feared the car would leave again, and go into an even more crowded street or to the airport itself. The drone operators, who hadn’t been watching Ahmadi’s home at all that day, quickly scanned the courtyard and said they saw only one adult male talking to the driver and no children. They decided this was the moment to strike. A U.S. official told us that the strike on Ahmadi’s car was conducted by an MQ-9 Reaper drone that fired a single Hellfire missile with a 20-pound warhead. We found remnants of the missile, which experts said matched a Hellfire at the scene of the attack. In the days after the attack, the Pentagon repeatedly claimed that the missile strike set off other explosions, and that these likely killed the civilians in the courtyard. “Significant secondary explosions from the targeted vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material.” “Because there were secondary explosions, there’s a reasonable conclusion to be made that there was explosives in that vehicle.” But a senior military official later told us that it was only possible to probable that explosives in the car caused another blast. We gathered photos and videos of the scene taken by journalists and visited the courtyard multiple times. We shared the evidence with three weapons experts who said the damage was consistent with the impact of a Hellfire missile. They pointed to the small crater beneath Ahmadi’s car and the damage from the metal fragments of the warhead. This plastic melted as a result of a car fire triggered by the missile strike. All three experts also pointed out what was missing: any evidence of the large secondary explosions described by the Pentagon. No collapsed or blown-out walls, including next to the trunk with the alleged explosives. No sign that a second car parked in the courtyard was overturned by a large blast. No destroyed vegetation. All of this matches what eyewitnesses told us, that a single missile exploded and triggered a large fire. There is one final detail visible in the wreckage: containers identical to the ones that Ahmadi and his colleague filled with water and loaded into his trunk before heading home. Even though the military said the drone team watched the car for eight hours that day, a senior official also said they weren’t aware of any water containers. The Pentagon has not provided The Times with evidence of explosives in Ahmadi’s vehicle or shared what they say is the intelligence that linked him to the Islamic State. But the morning after the U.S. killed Ahmadi, the Islamic State did launch rockets at the airport from a residential area Ahmadi had driven through the previous day. And the vehicle they used … … was a white Toyota. The U.S. military has so far acknowledged only three civilian deaths from its strike, and says there is an investigation underway. They have also admitted to knowing nothing about Ahmadi before killing him, leading them to interpret the work of an engineer at a U.S. NGO as that of an Islamic State terrorist. Four days before Ahmadi was killed, his employer had applied for his family to receive refugee resettlement in the United States. At the time of the strike, they were still awaiting approval. Looking to the U.S. for protection, they instead became some of the last victims in America’s longest war. “Hi, I’m Evan, one of the producers on this story. Our latest visual investigation began with word on social media of an explosion near Kabul airport. It turned out that this was a U.S. drone strike, one of the final acts in the 20-year war in Afghanistan. Our goal was to fill in the gaps in the Pentagon’s version of events. We analyzed exclusive security camera footage, and combined it with eyewitness accounts and expert analysis of the strike aftermath. You can see more of our investigations by signing up for our newsletter.”

A week after a New York Times visual investigation, the U.S. military admitted to a “tragic mistake” in a drone strike in Kabul last month that killed 10 civilians, including an aid worker and seven children.By The New York Times. Video frame: Nutrition & Education International.

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon acknowledged on Friday that the last U.S. drone strike before American troops withdrew from Afghanistan was a tragic mistake that killed 10 civilians, including seven children, after initially saying it had been necessary to prevent an attack on troops.

The extraordinary admission provided a horrific punctuation to the chaotic ending of the 20-year war in Afghanistan and will put President Biden and the Pentagon at the center of a growing number of investigations into how the administration and the military carried out Mr. Biden’s order to withdraw from the country. 

Almost everything senior defense officials asserted in the hours, and then days, and then weeks after the Aug. 29 drone strike turned out to be false. The explosives the military claimed were loaded in the trunk of a white Toyota sedan struck by the drone’s Hellfire missile were probably water bottles, and a secondary explosion in the courtyard in a densely populated Kabul neighborhood where the attack took place was probably a propane or gas tank, officials said. 

In short, the car posed no threat at all, investigators concluded.

transcript

Pentagon Admits It Made a ‘Tragic Mistake’ in Kabul Drone Strike

Following a New York Times investigation, the Pentagon acknowledged that a U.S. drone strike in Kabul on Aug. 29 was a “tragic mistake” that killed 10 civilians, including an aid worker and seven children.

A comprehensive review of all the available footage and reporting on the matter led us to a final conclusion that as many as 10 civilians were killed in the strike, including up to seven children. At the time of the strike, based upon all the intelligence and what was being reported, I was confident that the strike had averted an imminent threat to our forces at the airport. Based upon that assessment, I and other leaders in the department repeatedly asserted the validity of this strike. I’m here today to set the record straight, and acknowledge our mistakes. I will end my remarks with the same note of sincere and profound condolences to the family and friends of those who died in this tragic strike. We are exploring the possibility of ex-gratia payments. And I’ll finish by saying that while the team conducted the strike did so in the honest belief that they were preventing an imminent attack on our forces and civilian evacuees, we now understand that to be incorrect.

Following a New York Times investigation, the Pentagon acknowledged that a U.S. drone strike in Kabul on Aug. 29 was a “tragic mistake” that killed 10 civilians, including an aid worker and seven children.Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The acknowledgment of the mistake came a week after a New York Times investigation of video evidence challenged assertions by the military that it had struck a vehicle carrying explosives meant for Hamid Karzai International Airport. 

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III ordered a review of the military’s inquiry into the drone strike to determine, among other issues, who should be held accountable and “the degree to which strike authorities, procedures and processes need to be altered in the future.”

Congressional lawmakers, meanwhile, said they wanted their own accounting from the Pentagon. 

Senior Defense Department leaders conceded that the driver of the car, Zemari Ahmadi, a longtime worker for a U.S. aid group, had nothing to do with the Islamic State, contrary to what military officials had previously asserted. Mr. Ahmadi’s only connection to the terrorist group appeared to be a fleeting and innocuous interaction with people in what the military believed was an ISIS safe house in Kabul, an initial link that led military analysts to make one mistaken judgment after another while tracking Mr. Ahmadi’s movements in the sedan for the next eight hours.

“I offer my profound condolences to the family and friends of those who were killed,” Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of U.S. Central Command, told reporters at a Pentagon news conference on Friday.

The general said the strike was carried out “in the profound belief” that ISIS was about to attack Kabul’s airport, as the organization had done three days earlier, killing more than 140 people, including 13 American service members.

Seven children, including this boy’s sister, were killed in the drone attack.
Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The general said the Times investigation helped investigators determine that they had struck a wrong target. “As we in fact worked on our investigation, we used all available information,” General McKenzie told reporters. “Certainly that included some of the stuff The New York Times did.”

The findings of the inquiry by the military’s Central Command mirrored the Times investigation, which also included interviews with more than a dozen of the driver’s co-workers and family members in Kabul. The Times inquiry raised doubts about the U.S. version of events, including whether explosives were present in the vehicle. It also identified the driver and obtained security camera footage from Mr. Ahmadi’s employers that documented crucial moments during his day that challenged the military’s account. 

Mr.  Austin and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had said the missile was launched because the military had intelligence suggesting a credible, imminent threat to the airport, where U.S. and allied troops were frantically trying to evacuate people. General Milley later called the strike “righteous.”

On Friday, General Milley suggested that he spoke too soon. 

“In a dynamic high-threat environment, the commanders on the ground had appropriate authority and had reasonable certainty that the target was valid, but after deeper post-strike analysis, our conclusion is that innocent civilians were killed,” General Milley said in a statement. “This is a horrible tragedy of war and it’s heart-wrenching and we are committed to being fully transparent about this incident.”

General McKenzie said the conditions on the ground before the strike contributed to the errant strike. “We did not have the luxury to develop pattern of life,” he said. 

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The Pentagon will work with the families and other government officials on reparation payments, General McKenzie said. Without any American troops in Afghanistan, he said that the task may be difficult, but that “we recognize the obligation.” 

Military officials said they did not know the identity of the car’s driver when the drone fired, but they had deemed him suspicious because of his activities that day: He had visited a suspected Islamic State safe house in a white Toyota Corolla, the same model that other intelligence that day indicated was involved in an imminent plot, and at one point he loaded the vehicle with what they thought could be explosives.

Military officials on Friday defended their assessment that the safe house was a hub of ISIS planning, based on a combination of intercepted communications, information from informants and aerial imagery.  Rockets were fired at the airport 24 hours after the U.S. drone strike, General McKenzie said. 

But after reviewing additional aerial video and photographs, military investigators concluded that their initial judgment about the driver and his car were wrong, an error that prejudiced their views of every subsequent stop he made that day while driving around Kabul.

Times reporting had identified the driver as Mr. Ahmadi. The evidence suggests that his travels that day actually involved transporting colleagues to and from work. And an analysis of video feeds showed that what the military may have seen was Mr. Ahmadi and a colleague loading canisters of water into his trunk to bring home to his family.

“We now know that there was no connection between Mr. Ahmadi and ISIS-Khorasan, that his activities on that day were completely harmless and not at all related to the imminent threat we believed we faced, and that Mr. Ahmadi was just as innocent a victim as were the others tragically killed,” Mr. Austin said in a statement,  referring to an affiliate of the Islamic State.

Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan


Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that came after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including floggings, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more on their origin story and their record as rulers.

The officials said on Friday that a subsequent review concluded, as did the Times investigation, that the suspicious packages were nothing more than water, and possibly a package the size of a laptop computer.

Senior Pentagon leaders, who were already preparing to brief lawmakers on the chaotic end to the war in Afghanistan, will probably face tough questioning on the last drone strike of that engagement. 

“I’m devastated by the acknowledgment from the Department of Defense that the strike conducted on Aug. 29 was an utter failure that resulted in the deaths of at least 10 civilians,” Representative Ruben Gallego, Democrat of Arizona, said in a statement.  “I expect the department to brief us immediately on the operation, focusing on a full accounting of the targeting processes and procedures which led to the determination to carry out such a strike.”

Civilian deaths from drone strikes have been a recurring problem in more than two decades of fighting in places like Afghanistan and Iraq and are unlikely to go away as the Biden administration moves toward what officials call “over the horizon” operations in Afghanistan — strikes launched against terrorist targets in the country from great distances away. 

Since the Aug. 29 strike, U.S. military officials justified their actions by citing an even larger blast that took place afterward in the courtyard where Mr. Ahmadi, who worked as an electrical engineer for Nutrition and Education International, a California-based aid group, made his final stop.

But an examination of the scene of the strike, conducted by the Times visual investigations team and a Times reporter the morning afterward, and followed up with a second visit four days later, found no evidence of a second, more powerful explosion.

Experts who examined photos and videos pointed out that, although there was clear evidence of a missile strike and a subsequent vehicle fire, there were no collapsed or blown-out walls, no destroyed vegetation, and only one dent in the entrance gate, indicating a single shock wave.

Military officials said investigators now believed the second explosion was a flare-up from a propane tank in the courtyard, or possibly the gas tank of a second vehicle in the courtyard.

While the U.S. military initially said the drone strike might have killed three civilians, officials now say that 10 people, including seven children, were killed. The military reached that conclusion after watching aerial imagery that shows three children coming out to greet the sedan, one of them taking the wheel of the car after Mr. Ahmadi got out.

When Mr. Ahmadi pulled into the courtyard of his home, the tactical commander made the decision to strike his vehicle, launching a single Hellfire missile at 4:53 p.m.

Military officials defended the procedures the drone strike commander made in deciding to carry out the strike, with “reasonable certainty” there would be no civilian casualties, even as they described the badly flawed chain of events that led to that decision.

The commander overseeing the drone strike, an experienced operator whom the Pentagon did not identify, faced a difficult decision in his mind: Take the shot while the sedan was parked in a relatively isolated courtyard, or wait until the sedan drove even closer to the airport — and denser crowds — increasing the risk to civilians.

In the end, however, officials said on Friday, tragically, it was the wrong call.“