First Thing | US intelligence to intensify study of Covid origins

Good morning.

Joe Biden has ordered US intelligence agencies to “redouble” their efforts to identify how coronavirus was first transmitted in humans, including by continuing to press China to participate in a full investigation.

Biden asked for a report back with a “definitive conclusion” in 90 days.

  • Chinese lab origin theory promoted by Republicans Since the novel coronavirus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, Republicans have pushed a theory that the virus was developed in a laboratory and emerged by accident.

  • Increased momentum behind theory Biden’s request follows a Wall Street Journal story of a US intelligence report about three Wuhan researchers being hospitalized with coronavirus-like symptoms in November 2019.

  • Not enough information Biden said two of the 18 intelligence agencies lean toward the theory that the origin came naturally through human contact with an infected animal while “one leans more toward” the lab theory. At the moment, they “do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other”.

  • Previously minimized as a fringe theory The Biden administration had previously downplayed the lab theory, in part because the theory and the rhetoric around it, largely fuelled by former president Donald Trump, has inflamed anti-Asian hate nationwide.

  • Facebook to allow posts about manmade theory Though it hasn’t been proven definitively either way, Facebook updated its policy to say it will no longer remove posts that claim Covid-19 is manmade or manufactured.

Nine dead in mass shooting in San Jose, California

A light rail employee opened fire at a rail yard in San Jose, California yesterday, killing eight before taking his own life.

About 40 people were at the Valley Transportation Authority facility when the shooting began early on Wednesday. One victim is in critical condition at a local hospital.

Though authorities have not yet identified the shooter, multiple news sources identified him as an employee with a bad temper. An ex-wife told the Associated Press he would talk about how he wanted to kill people at work.

Report: Bill Gates’ money manager created ‘culture of fear’

Michael Larson, the man responsible for managing the vast majority of billionaire Bill Gates’ fortune, was alleged to have shown colleagues nude photos of women and tried to hurt the stock price of a company an employee left to work for, according to an explosive New York Times investigation.

Democrats’ efforts to pass voting reform bill hit wall

Joe Manchin. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

The For the People Act – legislation which would ensure automatic and same-day registration, limit severe partisan gerrymandering and mandate new transparency in political donations – has met a roadblock in the form of West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin.

In other news …

  • Karine Jean-Pierre makes history in White House press briefing Karine Jean-Pierre is the first openly gay person to address reporters on behalf of the US president, and the first Black woman to do so in 30 years.

  • Eric Carle, author and illustrator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, dies Many mourned the beloved children’s author, who was 91.

  • Ohio announces first $1m winner in vaccine incentive lottery In a push to boost lagging vaccination rates, the Ohio governor started a lottery system to entice people to get their shots.

Stat of the day: more than 700 people on average are dying each year nationwide from the increasing heat in the ‘silent killer’ of the climate crisis

Miami Beach coast, Florida.
Miami Beach coast, Florida. Photograph: Hoberman Collection/UIG via Getty Images

That stat is according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An independent study last year estimated that the death toll is much higher than that, at about 5,600 fatalities a year. The lethal threat has gotten so dire that Miami has appointed the first official in the country solely focused on heatwaves.

Don’t miss this: can spite be good?

In writing his book on spite, author Simon McCarthy-Jones found that while moving next door to your ex-wife and her new lover and erecting a 12-foot bronze statue of a middle finger may be the very definition of harming someone while also harming yourself, a “tendency to act spitefully, while often bad, can nevertheless have upsides.”

Last Thing: the damage of brain trauma in boxing

They used to call it “punch-drunk syndrome” and “dementia pugilistica”: a look into the devastation of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, through a book written by Tris Dixon, former editor of Boxing News, and some of his subjects.

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