1-31-21 Donald Trump 'parts with lawyers' before impeachment trial
Former US President Donald Trump has parted ways with lawyers representing him in his impeachment trial in the Senate, US media report. The departure of Butch Bowers and Deborah Barbier was reportedly a mutual decision. Mr Trump's trial for incitement to insurrection starts on 8 February. Senators will be asked whether to convict him on a charge he incited insurrection at the US Capitol on 6 January, when five people died. Greg Harris and Johnny Gasser, two former federal prosecutors from South Carolina, have also left the team, the Associated Press reports. They were reportedly unwilling to defend Mr Trump on the basis of alleged election fraud. Josh Howard, a North Carolina attorney who was recently added to the team, has also left, CNN reports. It is now unclear who will represent Mr Trump during the trial. "We have done much work, but have not made a final decision on our legal team, which will be made shortly," tweeted Trump advisor Jason Miller in response to the reports. Mr Trump is the first president in history to be impeached twice. He was impeached by the House in 2019 over his dealings with Ukraine, but acquitted by the Senate. Now he is accused of inciting a mob that stormed Congress after he repeated false claims of election fraud. But it is likely he will be acquitted again. A total of 45 out of 50 Senate Republicans voted this week to consider stopping the trial before it even started on the grounds that presidents cannot face impeachment trials once they have left office. It would take 17 Republican senators breaking ranks and voting alongside the 50 Democrats to convict the president, potentially preventing him from ever running for federal office again.
1-31-21 Covid: Australian city of Perth goes into snap lockdown after guard tests positive
The Australian city of Perth has begun a snap five-day lockdown after a security guard working at a quarantine hotel tested positive for coronavirus. Western Australia - the state of which Perth is the capital - had not had a case of locally acquired coronavirus for 10 months. The lockdown began at 18:00 (10:00 GMT) and runs until Friday night. Schools, restaurants, bars, cinemas and gyms have been ordered to close. Only essential travel is allowed and masks must be worn. People in the city of two million - along with people living in the nearby Peel and South West regions - must stay at home, except for essential work, healthcare, food shopping or exercise, said Western Australia state Premier Mark McGowan. A scheduled return of schools on Monday has also been delayed by a week. "I know for many Western Australians this is going to come as a shock," Mr McGowan said at a news conference. "We cannot forget how quickly this virus can spread, nor the devastation it can cause. "Our model is to deal with it very, very quickly and harshly... so that we can bring it under control and not have community spread of the virus as you have seen in other countries around the world," he added. Mr McGowan said the guard may have the UK variant of the virus: "We are told the guard was working on the same floor as a positive UK variant case." The guard and his family have been placed into quarantine at a state-run facility, he added. Leaders of other states and territories have also been contacted and advised not to allow people to travel into the state. Australia has recorded nearly 29,000 cases and 909 deaths since the pandemic began, for a populations of about 25 million - far fewer than many other countries. In recent months in particular, the nation has taken swift and aggressive actions to contain outbreaks at their source, and it currently has a travel ban in place preventing residents from overseas travel.
1-31-21 Covid: Israel to transfer 5,000 vaccine doses to Palestinians
Israel says it is transferring 5,000 doses of Covid vaccine to immunise frontline Palestinian health workers. Israel has one of the most advanced vaccination programmes in the world but Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza have yet to see one. UN experts say Israel has a responsibility for vaccinations there. Israel says that is not part of agreed protocols and it has not received any requests from the Palestinians. This is its first such transfer. Israel has recorded some 640,000 Covid cases since the pandemic began, and just over 4,700 deaths, Johns Hopkins University research shows. There have been almost 160,000 cases in the West Bank and Gaza, with 1,833 deaths, the research shows. Israel's special deal with vaccine supplier Pfizer - Israel is providing vital medical data in return for a quick rollout - has helped it to become the country that has inoculated more people per head of population than any other. Some 1.7 million people, almost 20% of the population, have already received both doses. More than three million people have received the first. However, the country remains under lockdown. The office of Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz confirmed on Sunday that Israel would make the transfer to the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinians have not yet commented. Neither the West Bank, whose limited self-rule is run by the Palestinian Authority, nor Gaza, controlled by militant Islamist movement Hamas, has started vaccination programmes. Palestinian health officials say deals are being negotiated for vaccine supplies but it is unclear when they will start. The territories also hope to benefit from the World Health Organization-backed Covax scheme, to supply vaccines to poorer states and nations, but again timings are unknown. A few thousand Russian-made vaccines have arrived but is unclear who they have gone to. About 2.7 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, and another 1.8 million in Gaza.
1-31-21 Lebanon ambulance driver: 'Hospitals can't take our Covid patients'
First it was an economic collapse, then the Beirut blast, and now coronavirus. Lebanon has seen a record number of infections and deaths in recent weeks after the authorities relaxed restrictions over the festive period. Now they’re enforcing one of the world’s strictest curfews as the country’s hospitals reach breaking point.
1-31-21 'They're coming for us' - right-wing media on Biden's week
President Biden may have called for unity but he's also trying to quickly dismantle Trump's legacy. How has his busy first full week gone down with conservative media? "They are coming for us," Newsmax's Greg Kelly warned his viewers this week. Joe Biden and the other liberals in Washington were trying "to cancel us and what we stand for", Kelly explained, just like Donald Trump said they would. For those unfamiliar with the conservative media landscape, his warning might have sounded melodramatic. But Kelly knows his audience - and how to tap into their deep unease about where Biden will take America, economically and culturally. People in places like Kansas, Oklahoma and other Republican-leaning states worry openly about the government trying to control their lives, and to take away their livelihoods. And in Biden's flurry of executive orders - he's signed more than three dozen already including ones on LGBT rights, racial justice, immigration and the environment - the president has provided his critics on the right with plenty of ammunition. Biden is trying to "radically change the nature of the country", said conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. He warned listeners about a coming "dictatorship", one that could be orchestrated through his presidential orders. Shapiro took aim at the president's push for racial equity, and a decision to revoke an order, signed by Trump, that prohibited federal funding for workplace training that urges employees to acknowledge concepts like white supremacy and white privilege. Shapiro described the workshops as "pathetic struggle sessions in which you are called before some sort of human resources, quote, unquote, expert", and then told you have to learn how not to use offensive language. The actions from the new administration in the White House come at a moment when conservatives feel attacked from all sides. The former president has been silenced on Twitter and they allege that the social media companies are censoring conservative voices on their platforms.
1-30-21 Coronavirus vaccine guide: Everything you need to know so far
Pfizer and Moderna might be the biggest names in the vaccine game so far, but with more than 50 vaccine candidates in trials around the world, several other shots are on the verge of being approved in the United States. From mRNA to adenoviruses, to how efficient each vaccine appears to be against the extra contagious South African mutant strain, here's what you need to know about the five biggest players.
- The Pfizer vaccine: Pfizer and the German company BioNTech not only created the first vaccine to be authorized for emergency use in the United States, but one with a whopping 95 percent efficiency rate (for perspective, the FDA said a vaccine needed to be just 50 percent effective to get authorized). However, its use of the hyper-fragile mRNA requires that it be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, which is "colder than winter in Antarctica," and makes it difficult to transport and store, especially in rural regions.
- The Moderna vaccine: Because of the difference between the lipid delivery systems, Moderna's vaccine is slightly more stable and flexible than Pfizer's, requiring storage of minus-20 degrees Celsius, or about the temperature of your refrigerator. That makes the vaccine easier to distribute, particularly to places that don't have the special freezers required to store the Pfizer vaccine.
- The Johnson & Johnson vaccine: Don't let what looks like a drop in effectiveness scare you off: according to The Washington Post, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 85 percent effective overall "at preventing severe disease" and 100 percent effective in clinical trials at preventing COVID-related hospitalizations and death. That's huge. Additionally, reducing the required dosage to a single shot would make it far easier and quicker to vaccinate the population, speeding up our chances of achieving herd immunity.
- The Novavax vaccine: Novavax is nearly as effective as the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and the Maryland-based company previously said they'd be ready to deliver 100 million doses by early 2021 once they're given the greenlight. Though Novavax wasn't as effective against the South African strain, the company is already exploring a modified version that would better protect against the mutants. "We now have a vaccine, the first vaccine that's shown efficacy not only in the prototype COVID-19 original strain, but in two variant strains, one in the U.K. one in South Africa," Novavax Chief Executive Stanley Erck told The Wall Street Journal. "It's the only data that shows we can get efficacy against all three."
- The AstraZeneca vaccine: The AstraZeneca vaccine is incredibly inexpensive and easy to mass produce: it only costs a few dollars per dose, and the company believes it could produce three million doses in 2021, or enough to vaccinate one-fifth of the world's population. It can be stored in normal refrigerator temperatures, making it easy to distribute. The U.S. has already ordered 300 million doses of the vaccine, although it will not be available to the public before being approved by the FDA, likely in the late spring.
1-30-21 Covid vaccines: Those that work - and the others to come
Mass vaccination campaigns are under way in the fight back against the coronavirus. A range of vaccines, designed in completely different ways, are being used to reduce people's chances of getting sick, needing hospital treatment or dying. And two new vaccines have just been shown to work in large scale clinical trials. It is more than a year since the virus first emerged, yet the vast majority of people are still vulnerable to the virus. The restrictions on our lives are the only thing holding the virus in check as they reduce opportunities for the virus to spread. Vaccines teach our bodies to fight the infection and are "the" exit strategy from the pandemic. The three vaccine frontrunners are those developed by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford/AstraZeneca. Pfizer and Moderna have both developed RNA vaccines - a new approach that is incredibly quick to design. They inject a tiny fragment of the virus's genetic code into the body, this starts producing part of the coronavirus and the body to mounts a defence. These have been approved for use in the UK, Europe and the US. The Oxford vaccine is subtly different as it uses a harmless virus to carry the same genetic material into the body. This has been approved in the UK and Europe. It is the easiest of the of the three to use as it can be stored in a fridge rather than needing very cold temperatures. All are supposed to be given as two doses, but the UK is prioritising giving as many people as possible the first dose and delaying the second. Data from large-scale trials on two new vaccines have also been presented recently. The work by Janssen and Novavax will now be reviewed by drugs regulators before they can be join the vaccination effort. Janssen's vaccine uses the same technique as Oxford, but crucially is given as a single injection, rather than the usual two. This combined with it needing only a fridge to store and a billion doses planned this year means it could make a significant impact around the world. Novavax are using a different, old-school, approach to vaccines - proteins from the virus and a chemical to prime the immune system are injected into the body.
1-30-21 Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot COVID-19 vaccine is effective against severe disease
The shot doesn’t work as well at preventing people from getting moderately sick. A single-shot coronavirus vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson is 85 percent effective at preventing severe disease and death, even against new variants of the virus, the company announced in its interim analysis January 29. The vaccine didn’t fare as well at preventing more moderate cases of COVID-19, particularly in Latin America and South Africa, where variants that spread more easily have arisen. Depending on location, the shot was only 72 percent to 57 percent effective against moderate to severe bouts of the illness. Other vaccines, particularly the two mRNA vaccines that have emergency use authorization in the United States, have reported levels of overall efficiency of up to 95 percent against the coronavirus (SN: 12/18/20). That discrepancy could make people reluctant to accept a less effective vaccine, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a Jan. 29 conference call about the results. It shouldn’t, he added. “If you walk up and say, ‘Well, go to the door on the left and you get 94 to 95 percent [effective vaccine]. Go to the door on the right and get 72 percent.’ What door do you want to go to?’” But what people need to understand, he said, is that real importance of the vaccine is keeping people out of the hospital and preventing the most severe complications of the disease. That’s what the new vaccine does, Mathai Mammen, global head of research and development for Janssen, Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical division, said during the news conference. “We can prevent COVID, in many cases,” he said. “We can prevent hospitalization. In those that that contract COVID and have moderate disease, [they] have a milder course of disease. Nobody doesn’t benefit from this vaccine.”
1-30-21 Don't look now, but vaccines might just end the pandemic
The latest news gives Americans good reason for optimism. he United States has turned in arguably the worst pandemic containment performance of any rich country in the world. A few others have higher death rates, but the higher density and older populations of Belgium and Italy made them more inherently vulnerable — and even extremely poor performers like the U.K. are at least trying to maintain some kind of lockdown while the vaccine is being rolled out. Nothing like that is on the agenda here. Indeed, America never actually locked down at all by any reasonable standard. But to my considerable surprise, the actual delivery of vaccines is going rather well in the U.S. At time of writing, about 7 percent of the population had gotten at least one shot, and the rate of inoculation has been steadily accelerating for weeks. Among larger nations, only the U.K. is doing better. Then this week new data was published from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax showing their vaccines are quite effective — not as good as the previously approved Moderna or BioNTech/Pfizer varieties, but able to be stored in a normal refrigerator (instead of the ultra-cold freezers needed for the other two). The companies are expected to apply for emergency use authorization soon, and should get approval from the FDA a few weeks after that. If the U.S. can keep on this current path, by around this summer most of us might just be able to get back to something like normal life. It's important to be clear that even though these new vaccines are not as great as the near-magical mRNA vaccines, which were found to be 95 percent effective at preventing illness (though this data came before new variants were discovered), their trial results are still quite strong. As Ed Cara writes at Gizmodo, the Johnson & Johnson shot was 72 percent effective at preventing moderate to severe cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., but only 57 percent effective in South Africa where the B.1.351 variant predominates. Meanwhile, the Novavax shot was 89 percent effective in the U.K., where the B.1.1.7 variant is now common, but just 60 percent effective in South Africa. For a vaccine, these are not bad numbers. But better still, the Johnson & Johnson shot is only one dose, and was found to be 100 percent effective at reducing hospitalization and death over 28 days, even in South Africa. As someone who does not want to be hospitalized and die, I say that's good! To be fair, the Trump administration deserves some credit for the batch of positive news. As part of Operation Warp Speed, they spent billions in contracts to buy hundreds of millions of doses, and set up a rudimentary system to get vaccines to states. Parts of this are not working well at all — the Trump crew set up a partnership scheme with CVS and Walgreens to vaccinate nursing homes that has been plagued with delays, and previous HHS chief Alex Azar bizarrely lied to states about having a reserve of doses that he had already given out, causing chaos in states that had been counting on those extra shots. Many states have also jammed up the process, either through incompetence or apathy (Kansas and Alabama), meddling politicians micromanaging everything (New York), or over-complicated distribution rules (California).
1-30-21 What do COVID-19 vaccines mean for daily life in the months ahead?
Vaccination is a step toward normal, but we still need other public health measures too. As more COVID-19 vaccines show signs of being able to protect people from getting really sick, they’re fueling hopes that some sense of normalcy is within reach. Two vaccines have been authorized for emergency use in the United States and are slowly getting into arms across the country. And two more vaccine makers have just reported fairly positive results — a crucial step on the path toward adding tools to quell the pandemic. As a result, people are looking forward to finally being able to safely hug loved ones, travel and go to work, school or the store without fear of falling ill. But the rocky vaccine rollout across the country — plus ensuring enough people are vaccinated to reach herd immunity and slow the virus’ spread — means it’s likely going to take time for such hope to become reality (SN: 10/19/20). Exactly how much time is unclear, though public health experts have said it may take until late summer or fall. Still, every shot means that the person who received it is less likely to get sick. And every vaccinated person, along with continued public health measures like wearing masks, brings us one step closer to the end of the pandemic and a breath of relief. Amidst the whirlwind of information about the peril and promise of COVID-19 vaccines, here are answers to some commonly asked questions about the shots. Two mRNA vaccines — developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna — are making it into arms across the United States. And the shots could soon be joined by at least one or two others. Novavax announced January 28 that its vaccine has 89.3 percent efficacy against COVID-19, according to a Phase III clinical trial in the United Kingdom. However, that vaccine is less effective against a coronavirus variant that has emerged in South Africa (SN:1/28/21).
1-30-21 Coronavirus: WHO criticises EU over vaccine export controls
The World Health Organization (WHO) has criticised the EU's announcement of export controls on vaccines produced within the bloc, saying such measures risked prolonging the pandemic. The EU introduced the measure amid a row with vaccine manufacturers over delivery shortfalls. But WHO vice-head Mariangela Simao said it was a "very worrying trend". Earlier WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said "vaccine nationalism" could lead to a "protracted recovery". Speaking at the Davos Agenda - a virtual version of the global summit - he said vaccine hoarding would "keep the pandemic burning and... slow global economic recovery", in addition to being a "catastrophic moral failure" that could further widen global inequality. The European Union is introducing export controls on coronavirus vaccines made in the bloc, amid a row about delivery shortfalls. The so-called transparency mechanism gives EU countries powers to deny authorisation for vaccine exports if the company making them has not honoured existing contracts with the EU. "The protection and safety of our citizens is a priority and the challenges we now face left us with no choice but to act," the European Commission said. The controls will affect some 100 countries worldwide - including the UK, the US, Canada and Australia - but many others, including poorer nations, are exempt. However, the EU has been forced to backtrack on plans to impose restrictions on the export of vaccines across the border on the island of Ireland after outcry from Dublin and London. The EU insists its controls are a temporary scheme, not an export ban. The news comes with the EU in a very public dispute with drug-maker AstraZeneca over supplies, and under growing pressure over the slow pace of vaccine distribution. Earlier on Friday the Commission made public a confidential contract with AstraZeneca, the UK-Swedish company behind the Oxford vaccine, to bolster its argument that the firm has been failing to fulfil its promises to deliver to the bloc.
1-30-21 Revisiting Wuhan a year after the coronavirus hit the city
A year ago, I passed through Wuhan just before the city went into lockdown for 76 days. More than 3,000 people died of the coronavirus here, but there hasn't been a single new case in Wuhan since last spring. I wanted to return to see how the city has recovered. First stop, a sprawling exhibition hall. It used to be a temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients. Today, it's a museum documenting the city's fight against the virus. It's strange to walk through a museum that explores a threat that is still very real for so many people — even here. Outside, large banners feature the faces of front-line workers. And giant Chinese characters read, "The people and life above all else." Inside, a massive screen displays China's leader Xi Jinping larger than life, praising the response to the pandemic. There's a timeline of what the government did and when, and photos and videos showing the actions of top leaders. The heart of the exhibition is a re-creation of the hospital ward that stood at this very spot. A 3D hologram shows hospital workers in full protective gear fighting to save their patients' lives. Hospital cots are set up as if still in use. Tour guides lead visitors through the hall filled with drawings made by patients, even an ambulance. Visitors can lay virtual flowers in front of small black-and-white photos of COVID-19 martyrs, including Li Wenliang, one of the doctors who warned about the virus early on and was punished for doing so. Of course, that part was left out. College student Zhao Xin Yu says he traveled from Beijing to see for himself how Wuhan has recovered. "I feel like they gave so much," he said. "So many people from the top government leaders down to each volunteer really pitched in to help out." One of the videos shows Wuhan residents saying farewell to the medical teams who came from all over China to help out, with a song playing in the background called, "Let Me Thank You." Then the mood of the exhibit lifts, and one last display shows Wuhan's vibrant street life, everything back to normal. The message is clear: The government led the city out of the crisis. Not everyone feels that way though. I talked to a few people here who feel their lives can never go back to normal.
1-30-21 Marjorie Taylor Greene: Democrat to move to get away from controversial Republican
A Democratic congresswoman says she is moving her office on Capitol Hill for safety reasons after being "berated" by a controversial Republican colleague. Democrat Cori Bush said Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene targeted her in a Congressional office building. Ms Bush accused Ms Greene, who has dismissed school shootings as "false flags", of coming up from behind her, "loud and unmasked". Ms Greene has accused her Democratic colleague of lying. The Republican said Ms Bush, who is black, was the leader of a Black Lives Matter "terrorist mob". In a separate tweet, Ms Bush said: "I didn't move my office out of fear. I moved my office because I'm here to do a job for the people of St Louis [Missouri]. "What I cannot do is continue to look over my shoulder wondering if a white supremacist in Congress is conspiring against me and my team." Ms Greene is a controversial figure and staunch supporter of former US president Donald Trump. She has suggested that Hillary Clinton was involved in a child mutilation and paedophilia ring, and claimed that several high-profile school shootings were staged. Her social media accounts have "liked" comments calling for the murder of Democratic politicians. She once said black people "are held slaves to the Democratic Party", and white males are the most repressed group in the US. In a recently unearthed video recorded a few weeks after the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Greene followed gun-control activist David Hogg, a survivor of the attack, as he visited senators at the US Capitol, peppering him with questions about why he wanted to confiscate her firearms. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy has been under pressure to take action against Ms Greene and has said he would have a "conversation" with her.
1-30-21 Black Lives Matter foundation wins Swedish human rights prize
The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation has won Sweden's Olof Palme human rights prize for 2020. Organisers said the movement was honoured for promoting "peaceful civil disobedience against police brutality and racial violence" across the globe. They noted that about 20 million people had taken part in Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in the US alone, along with millions more around the world. An online prize-giving ceremony is due to take place in Stockholm on Saturday. The $100,000 (£73,000) annual prize commemorates Olof Palme, the Swedish prime minister and prominent human rights advocate who was assassinated in Stockholm in 1986. Founded in the US in 2013, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement became an international slogan last year following several high-profile cases of police brutality against African-Americans. Protests that followed the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others saw chapters of Black Lives Matter spread across the US and around the world. "This illustrates that racism and racist violence is not just a problem in American society, but a global problem," prize organisers said. They said the foundation had "in a unique way exposed the hardship, pain, and wrath of the African-American minority at not being valued equal to people of a different colour". A Norwegian MP, Petter Eide, has nominated the BLM foundation for this year's Nobel Peace Prize. In his nomination papers, Mr Eide said the movement had become an "important worldwide movement to fight racial injustice".
1-29-21 Covid-19 news: Two new vaccines found effective in clinical trials
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax report positive trial results A coronavirus vaccine developed by the US firm Novavax has been shown to be 89 per cent effective in preventing covid-19 in clinical trials. The trials included participants in the UK and South Africa, and found the vaccine to be 86 per cent effective against the UK variant of the virus, but only 60 per cent effective against the variant in South Africa. Novavax said it will immediately begin development on a vaccine specifically targeted to the South African variant. Janssen, a subsidiary of US firm Johnson & Johnson, announced that its covid-19 vaccine showed 66 per cent efficacy in an international trial. These results are based on a single dose of the vaccine, which makes it easier to administer than the two-shot vaccines that have already been approved. The company has said it will sell its vaccine on a not-for-profit basis. The UK has already ordered 30 million doses of the Janssen vaccine and the European Union has ordered 400 million. The UK has also ordered 60 million doses of the Novavax jab. The coronavirus variant from South Africa – which is more infectiousness than the original variant – has been detected in the US for the first time, with two cases confirmed in South Carolina. The New York state government has released new figures showing that it undercounted deaths from covid-19 in nursing home residents by more than 3800. The state’s overall death toll has not increased, but the higher tally in nursing homes has fuelled criticism that governor Andrew Cuomo did not do enough to protect those residents.
1-29-21 Novavax coronavirus vaccine found 89 per cent effective in trials
A coronavirus vaccine developed by the US firm Novavax has been shown to be 89 per cent effective in preventing covid-19 in phase III clinical trials. The vaccine is made from nanoparticles containing spike proteins from the virus, which are produced by genetically modified insect cells. The nanoparticles cannot replicate or cause covid-19, but they enable the body’s immune system to recognise the viral proteins and make antibodies against them. The vaccine is given as two doses, but unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, it is stable for up to three months in a normal fridge. The UK has secured 60 million doses of the vaccine, which will be manufactured in Teesside, UK, and should be available in the second half of this year if it is approved by regulators. More than 15,000 people in the UK took part in the clinical trial, which was supported by the UK National Institute for Health Research. Some 27 per cent of those that took part were over the age of 65. The study assessed how effective the vaccine was when transmission of covid-19 was high in the UK, and with the coronavirus variant identified in the UK circulating widely. The analysis, based on the first 62 cases of covid-19 identified in the trial, reported 56 cases in people given a placebo while six cases were in those given the vaccine. More than 50 per cent of the reported cases were related to the UK variant of the virus, with the vaccine offering 86 per cent protection against it. Against the original variant that has circulated since the start of the pandemic, the vaccine was 96 per cent effective. “This is positive news and, if approved by the medicines regulator, the Novavax vaccine will be a significant boost to our vaccination programme and another weapon in our arsenal to beat this awful virus,” said UK health secretary Matt Hancock. The trial also included an arm in South Africa, where most cases were caused by another new, more transmissible, variant first identified in the country.
1-29-21 How effective are coronavirus vaccines at stopping transmission?
People who have been vaccinated against covid-19 can still catch and transmit the virus, but are significantly less likely to do so than unvaccinated people, the latest data suggests. The question of whether vaccines halt transmission is one of the biggest and most important unknowns of the pandemic. If they do, vaccine-induced herd immunity may be possible. If not, the virus will still be able to circulate even in a fully vaccinated population and continue to pose a deadly threat to people who cannot be vaccinated or do not mount an immune response after receiving a vaccine. Circulating virus could also mutate and escape our defences, reigniting the pandemic. The latest news is mixed. “There have been several bits of data just in the last couple of week that suggest that vaccines do not block transmission but are very likely to significantly reduce transmission,” immunologist Eleanor Riley at the University of Edinburgh said on a Royal Society of Medicine webinar on 28 January. One bit of data is from a phase 3 clinical trial carried out by vaccine manufacturer Moderna. It found that people given the vaccine were a third as likely to test positive for the virus when they returned for their second jab, compared with people who got the placebo. In other words, the first shot cuts infection rates and hence transmission by about 66 per cent. The second jab is given 28 days after the first; its effect on transmission is still unknown, because trials generally monitored people after their second shot only if they felt ill, not whether they were asymptomatically infected. AstraZeneca has reported similar figures from one of its clinical trials. Volunteers who received the half dose/full dose regime – which the company discovered by accident – were 60 per cent less likely to be asymptomatically infected than people who got the placebo. However, there was a much smaller difference in people given the planned full doses, just 4 per cent.
1-29-21 Novavax coronavirus vaccine found 89 per cent effective in trials
A coronavirus vaccine developed by the US firm Novavax has been shown to be 89 per cent effective in preventing covid-19 in clinical trials. The vaccine is made from nanoparticles containing spike proteins from the virus, which are produced by genetically modified insect cells. The nanoparticles cannot replicate or cause covid-19, but they enable the body’s immune system to recognise the viral proteins and make antibodies against them. The vaccine is given as two doses, but unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, it is stable for up to three months in a normal fridge. The UK has secured 60 million doses of the vaccine, which is being manufactured in Teesside, UK, and should be available in the second half of this year if it is approved by regulators. More than 15,000 people in the UK took part in the clinical trial, which was supported by the UK National Institute for Health Research. Some 27 per cent of those in the UK were over the age of 65. The study assessed how effective the vaccine was when transmission of covid-19 was high in the UK, and with the variant strain identified in the UK circulating widely. The analysis, based on the first 62 cases of covid-19 identified in the trial, reported 56 cases in people given a placebo while six cases were in those given the vaccine. More than 50 per cent of cases related to the UK variant of the virus, with the vaccine offering 86 per cent protection against this variant. Against the original variant that has circulated since the start of the pandemic, the vaccine was 96 per cent effective. “This is positive news and, if approved by the medicines regulator, the Novavax vaccine will be a significant boost to our vaccination programme and another weapon in our arsenal to beat this awful virus,” said UK health secretary Matt Hancock. The trial also included an arm in South Africa, where most cases were caused by another new, more transmissible variant.
1-29-21 EU drugs regulator approves AstraZeneca vaccine
European Medicines Agency approves use of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine for people aged over 18 across the bloc.
1-29-21 Coronavirus: EU confirms export controls on vaccines
The European Union has confirmed it is introducing export controls on coronavirus vaccines made in the bloc, amid a row about delivery shortfalls. "The protection and safety of our citizens is a priority and the challenges we now face left us with no choice but to act," the European Commission said. The EU is in a very public dispute with drug-maker AstraZeneca over supplies. The bloc is under growing pressure over the slow pace of vaccine distribution. The Commission earlier made public a disputed contract with the company to bolster its argument that AstraZeneca is failing to fulfil its promises. Announcing the export controls, EU Health Commissioner, Stella Kyriakides said the measures were being introduced to ensure that all EU citizens had access to vaccines, and make sure all parties played by the rules. "This approach is built on trust, transparency and responsibility," she said. "Commitments need to be kept, and agreements are binding. Advance purchase agreements need to be respected. "Today, we have developed a system which will allow us to know whether vaccines are being exported from the EU. This increased transparency will also come with a responsibility for the EU to authorise, with our members states, these vaccine exports."
1-29-21 Portugal tightens lockdown as Covid deaths surge
Portugal has tightened its coronavirus lockdown, banning all non-essential travel abroad and hiring foreign medics, as hospitals struggle and deaths reach record highs. The country's pandemic death rate is now the highest in the EU. "We really have to stop the surge under way. Now," said newly re-elected President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa in a TV address to the nation. Portugal reported a record 303 deaths and 16,432 new cases on Thursday. Ambulances carrying Covid patients are queuing up at Portugal's hospitals. The president, re-elected last Sunday, decreed that the state of emergency would be extended for two more weeks, until 14 February. Schools were due to reopen on 5 February, but that will not happen - instead students will have to continue studying at home, and online classes will begin on 8 February. Portugal has the highest Covid-related death rate in the EU for the past 14 days: 247.5 per million inhabitants, the EU's European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reports. The next highest are Slovenia (208.5) and the Czech Republic (205). The figure for neighbouring Spain is 84. In order to tackle medical staff shortages, Portugal's health service will hire medics with foreign qualifications on one-year contracts. More than 23,000 Portuguese medics have been infected with Covid-19, of whom about half have recovered, Spain's Efe news agency reports. Flights are already very limited, but now Portugal has suspended flights to and from its former colony Brazil, with which it has especially close ties. A new coronavirus variant emerged in Brazil last July. The UK has banned arrivals from Portugal since 15 January. Spain and Portugal are also tightening checks along their land border. The vaccine shortages affecting much of Europe are also hitting Portugal: it now expects its first phase of vaccinations to take up to two months longer than planned.
1-29-21 NY undercounted nursing home coronavirus deaths by thousands
New York may have undercounted Covid-19 deaths among its nursing home residents by thousands, according to a report by the state attorney general. Letitia James says her inquiry revealed a dramatic discrepancy between reported deaths and the official tally. It directly undercuts Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has boasted about his pandemic response. If the findings hold true, it would mean over 13,000 nursing home deaths - the highest in the US. The official tally - logged by the state's health department - currently stands at 8,711. Mr Cuomo, a Democrat, has repeatedly defended his handling of nursing homes and argued that other states were doing far worse. New York is one of the few states in the country that only counts nursing home deaths if they took place on nursing home property, leaving out residents who later died in hospitals. In her report, Ms James, also a Democrat, found that "many nursing home residents died from Covid-19 in hospitals after being transferred from their nursing homes", which was not reflected in the health department's published numbers. The 76-page report builds on nearly 1,000 complaints submitted by nursing home residents and their families since April. The findings are based on a survey of 62 nursing homes - about 10% of total such facilities in the state. The attorney general's report also singled out Mr Cuomo's order in March last year as the virus peaked in his state that nursing homes should readmit residents who had tested positive for the coronavirus, in order to free up hospital space. Ms James' report said further investigation would be needed to prove a link between that policy and the 4,000 or so nursing home residents who died after the guidance was issued. But she said those admissions "may have contributed to increased risk of nursing home resident infection and subsequent fatalities".
1-29-21 A Republican grandee pays court to Donald Trump
What - you thought Donald Trump would go off to Mar-a-Lago and only concern himself with his golf swing? That was never going to happen. And though we may not be getting the hourly glimpse into whatever is on his mind, thanks to the Twitter ban, this first substantive statement from the former president, following his meeting with the House of Representatives minority Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, is reassuringly familiar. But let me spool back very quickly. This is going to be the quick one-minute recap that you get on later episodes of a TV box set. McCarthy had been a cheerleader for Trump. Always supportive; always riding to his side. But then, after the storming of the Capitol on 6 January, the most senior Republican congressman went his own way and said this: "The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding." So far, so brave. But then McCarthy feels the icy blowback from the Trump base, and from the former president himself who was enraged. McCarthy then says Donald Trump can't be blamed, and his fast-changing analysis settles on the slightly ludicrous take - all Americans were responsible for the riot that left five dead. Which is pretty much the same, if you think about it, as saying no-one was responsible. All of which brings us to today. It looks like congressman McCarthy went to kiss the king's ring, seeking forgiveness and absolution for the momentary lapse. But more importantly, if you read the statement put out by Trump it shows that the former president still believes he is the Republican party's kingmaker; the powerhouse that ambitious GOP wannabes need to bend the knee to. The first par of the statement issued by Trump's office says this: "The meeting between President Donald J Trump and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, was a very good and cordial one. They discussed many topics, number one of which was taking back the House in 2022. President Trump's popularity has never been stronger than it is today, and his endorsement means more than perhaps any endorsement at any time." Do you see what I mean about the tone being reassuringly familiar? I mean, close your eyes and you could almost imagine it was written by Mr Trump himself - even though it is in the third person singular. And leave aside the claim that his popularity has never been stronger - can anyone point me to the polling evidence that substantiates that?
1-29-21 The Capitol insurrection isn't moderating the GOP. It's making them more extreme.
Probably the most wrong thing I have ever written was an article speculating about whether a reform movement would take hold in the Republican Party after they badly lost the 2012 election. Just thinking about it makes me cringe. On first blush, one might think that right now would a much riper time for conservative reformers than eight years ago. After all, Donald Trump lost a clearly winnable election, and now has saddled the entire party with responsibility for an attempt to overthrow the government — and getting five people killed in the process. If ever there was a time for soul-searching among Republicans, now is that time. But that is so obviously not happening that nobody, not even the most willfully blind American exceptionalists, is speculating about the possibility. Republicans are going to double down on Trump, culture war grievance politics, violent insurrection, and conspiratorial insanity for the indefinite future. Perhaps the clearest evidence comes in the form of freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), best known as a believer in the lunatic QAnon conspiracy theory. It turns out that before she ran for office, she posted likes and comments on Facebook indicating support for murdering several Democratic politicians, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. She also endorsed yet more conspiracy theories: one that Clinton had cut off the face of a baby, worn it, and drank its blood as part of a Satanic ritual, another that the 2018 California wildfires were started by a space laser, and another that the Parkland mass shooting was a false flag hoax. Video emerged of her chasing down one of the survivors of the attack, David Hogg, on Capitol Hill in 2019, yelling at him that she was carrying a gun and pelting him with crackpot accusations as he walks away. At least for the moment, this is as deranged as it gets in American conspiracy land. Older stories about Area 51 and lizard people seem like quaintly charming fables by comparison. If I were a member of Congress in either party I would be quite worried she would harm me or my colleagues (and many reportedly are). A gun fanatic who is completely out of her gourd should not be allowed in the Capitol building. Yet so far Greene has received no sanction whatsoever from the Republican House leadership, save for an apparent talking-to from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Nor has Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), another conspiracy theorist who was recently found to be very friendly with members of the Three Percenters, an extremist anti-government militia, and insists on carrying a pistol with her at all times. Both were involved in whipping up the insurrectionist mob before January 6. There is a similar story going on with Trump's hold over the GOP. After a brief moment when it seemed like Republican elites might turn on him for almost getting them killed, almost all the Senate GOP has found an excuse to vote to acquit him on the impeachment charge passed in the House. The Republican base is returning to his side as well. And while Greene is probably going to skate on all her unhinged Facebook posts, there is a growing Republican movement to censure Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.) and kick her out of the leadership for voting to impeach Trump. A key reason for this is just how far Republicans have already gone. The level of extremism they've accepted, like believing that Barack Obama is a secret Kenyan Muslim, or that Democrats and shadowy voting machine companies stole the 2020 election, creates a huge incentive to produce and believe still more extreme stances, so the party faithful does not have to reckon with steadily more-uncomfortable truths — that a majority of Americans do not agree with them, that their party dogma is deranged, and it is conservatives who have tried to overturn the 2020 election. The moral-political framework espoused by the conservative movement is basically similar to liberals' — that democracy and the Constitution are good, elections should be decided by the voters, and so on — but their actual agenda, imposing their will on the country by whatever means necessary, amounts to violent authoritarianism. Thus they must camouflage these intentions with crackpot justifications, and ideally come to actually believe them. Unlike the Nazis, who were openly against democracy, the Capitol putschists claimed that they were trying to stop Biden and the Democrats from stealing the election.
1-29-21 'Profound relief and joy' as 'Muslim ban' lifted
After four years, President Joe Biden has overturned a travel ban that separated families and kept immigrants from Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. Immigrant rights activists have celebrated the move but stress that their work is just beginning.
1-29-21 Facebook is unfixable
The platforms problems are a feature, not a bug. Lately I've taken to joking to friends that the only terrorism I could support is blowing up Facebook's physical data centers, provided you could somehow do it without hurting anyone. I know, I know — casualties aren't the only way this destruction could harm people. Jobs would be lost, there would be unintended consequences I wouldn't like, and so on. I don't actually want these facilities to explode. But I do want Facebook to go away forever. I have come to believe it is unfixable. Consider the tweak Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Wednesday: The site will permanently stop suggesting political groups to users, and the Facebook team is looking for other ways to reduce political content in users' feeds as well. "We will still let people engage in political groups and discussion if they want to," Zuckerberg said. But "[w]hat we are hearing is that people don't want politics and fighting to take over their experience on our service." Facebook "can potentially do a better job," he added, of which this change is only one step in a plan the network will gradually globalize. It's better than nothing, I suppose. But I question how much this sort of thing can accomplish. The most extreme political groups, like those linked to the QAnon conspiracy theory, will constantly adapt their terminology to get around automated filters. More seriously, there's no bright line between the political and nonpolitical. There was a brief hullabaloo last year when Goodyear, the tire maker, banned employee campaigning and other political advocacy at work but carved out an exception for "equity issues." An internal presentation indicated this means MAGA hats and pro-police shirts are out but Black Lives Matter and LGBT pride gear are in. Is that a distinction between two different political perspectives, as conservatives argued, or, as Goodyear said, between politics and equity? Facebook will have to decide. Or see the controversy that occasioned (and followed) Vox's report this week on progressive parents' horror that a baby sleep expert who saved their sanity also donated to the campaign of former President Donald Trump. "A lot of criticism in mom groups, when someone posts something political, is like, 'We're here to talk about breastfeeding, not politics,'" one of the parents told Vox. "But motherhood is political. You're building a path for children to have a future." Like many, I would have taken baby sleep tips from Trump himself in those first few months of infancy if his advice worked. Still, this comment is correct about political creep, including on social media. Lots of mom groups are probably getting quite political right now by discussing this story. Will Facebook stop recommending them? Yet even supposing Facebook has the ethics and tech to answer all these questions to universal satisfaction, I remain unimpressed by the scope of this approach. Drastic measures — say, doing away with sharing, or making links unclickable (like Instagram does), or limiting users to a single post per day — could accomplish more. But those measures won't happen, precisely because they begin to get at the root of the matter, which is not any one feature but Facebook itself. The incentives are all wrong. Facebook runs on human emotion, and its single most efficient fuel is not the friendly connections it ostensibly exists to foster. It is political rage, the one sort of spleen for which our society consistently sanctions public venting. Like all ad-funded social networks, Facebook makes money not by the mere fact of user accounts existing but by actual use. It is therefore engineered to produce frequent, active use — not merely passive browsing, but clicks and comments and shares. The experience is gamified. It trains our brains. We are simple beings who sincerely enjoy those accumulating likes. We enjoy even more the rush that inflammatory political content brings, and because a lot of politics, even now, is quite boring, disinformation and half-truths are best equipped to consistently provide the excitement we crave. Facebook wants clicks, and lies get clicks. Bad faith gets clicks. Anything that sets our lizard brains aflame gets clicks.
1-28-21 Covid-19 news: Germany won’t approve Oxford vaccine for people over 65
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Germany’s public health body says there is “insufficient” data to judge AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine for people over 65. Germany has recommended against using the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine in people older than 65. The move is because there were few elderly people in the vaccine’s trials, not because of any evidence it is harmful in that age group. In the UK, which was the first country to approve the vaccine, it is being given to all age groups, with older people being prioritised. Germany’s decision came from the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, the country’s main public health body. The institute said in a statement today: “There is insufficient data to judge how effective the vaccination is above 65 years.” UK member of parliament Desmond Swayne has refused to apologise after a video emerged where he said NHS figures were being “manipulated” and that intensive care beds were no busier than usual for the time of year. The video was from an interview he gave to the covid-sceptic “Save Our Rights” group in November. A Welsh Health Board has had to ask people not to try queue-jumping for the coronavirus vaccine, after a phone line for health and social care workers was swamped by people not in priority groups. The phone number had been shared on social media.
1-28-21 US issues 'heightened threat' alert after transition
US security chiefs have warned of a heightened threat of domestic terrorism from people unhappy with the outcome of the November election. The Department of Homeland Security said the 6 January attack on the US Capitol by Trump supporters may have emboldened some extremists. In an advisory it warned of a threat from "individuals frustrated with the exercise of governmental authority". But it added that there was no information on a specific plot. The attack on the US Capitol building came as Congress was meeting to confirm Joe Biden's election victory. Outgoing President Donald Trump had earlier addressed thousands of his supporters outside the White House and repeated unfounded claims that the election had been stolen from him. He told them: "If you don't fight like hell you're not going to have a country any more." A crowd then made its way to the Capitol, overwhelming security and storming the building. Five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died in the riot. Mr Trump has now been impeached by the House of Representatives for incitement and his trial in the Senate is due to start next month. The advisory issued on Wednesday said that the department believed a heightened threat would persist in "the weeks following the successful presidential inauguration". "Information suggests that some ideologically-motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fuelled by false narratives, could continue to mobilise to incite or commit violence," it said. The advisory added that some "domestic violent extremists... may be emboldened" by the breach of the Capitol building "to target elected officials and government facilities". It is the first such public alert that the department has issued in about a year. The attack on the Capitol sent shockwaves around the country and US authorities moved quickly to identify and arrest those responsible. Prosecutors say they have so far identified 400 suspects and arrested 135 in connection with the violence.
1-28-21 Want to vaccinate America? Learn from the DMV.
Why one of the most loathed agencies in the country might actually be key to solving our disastrous vaccine rollout. Colloquially, about the only thing worse than going to the Department of Motor Vehicles is getting a root canal. Even that, though, may be up for debate: "At the end of the day, a root canal procedure is shorter, and in some cases, less painful," the auto site MotorBiscuit.com quips. But DMVs and root canals have nothing on the excruciating process of getting an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine — much less figuring out when you're eligible — in the United States. Conflicting information, dose shortages, and overloaded scheduling websites are holding up what is arguably the most crucial stage yet in our fight against the pandemic. Every delay, mishap, and hiccup means more people will die. But while the DMV long ago became shorthand for bureaucratic red tape, long waits, and government inefficiency, the lessons America can learn about vaccine distribution from the department might, ironically, be our best chance at saving lives. At the current rate of vaccination, it will take "six, seven, eight years for this country to get vaccinated," Starbucks' CEO Kevin Johnson warned NBC News in an eye-grabbing headline last week. So far, Pfizer and Moderna have delivered a mere 44 million vaccines, while only about 6 percent of the country has received a first dose. Supply issues mean there have been thousands of appointments canceled and postponed from coast to coast. But those people are the lucky ones; at least they briefly had an appointment at all. Questions of eligibility, shifting priority lists, and a lack of clarity over how to schedule an appointment bog down people who are desperate for vaccines — particularly the elderly. "There were literally 85-year-old, 90-year-old people standing there in tears, with printed appointment confirmations, saying: 'I don't understand why I can't get vaccinated. I'm 85,'" one witness at an especially egregious vaccination site in Philadelphia told WHYY. Getting a pair of shots into the 200-million-plus arms required to establish herd immunity in the United States was never going to be an easy job, it didn't have to be this hard. Israel, the global standard-bearer, predicted earlier this month that by March or April, it will have vaccinated everyone who is eligible and willing in the nation of 9 million. Israel's speed doesn't just come from it being a small country; its "socialist-minded" health-care infrastructure, which is already in place and extends coverage to all citizens, is a huge reason for the nation's swift success. The Atlantic recounted one Israeli citizen's experience with getting a vaccine through his health-maintenance organization, or HMO: He logged into his account on his HMO site when he learned it was his turn, chose a vaccination center based on his location, and scheduled an appointment. "Thirty seconds after confirming, I got a text on my cell with all the info, including date, time, place, and already a second appointment for [the] next shot, exactly three weeks apart," he told me. It all took "less than two minutes." [The Atlantic] Sounds positively blissful. But of course, the United States has nothing close to Israel's universal health-care system — which is bad news when "nations faring well against the virus" are the ones that are "drawing on pre-existing strengths, not flexing muscles suddenly conjured amid the crisis or, say, a change in administrations," The Atlantic continues.
1-28-21 Coronavirus: Germany to limit AstraZeneca jab to under-65s
Germany's vaccine committee has said AstraZeneca's Covid jab should only be given to people aged under 65. The committee cited "insufficient data" for the effectiveness of the vaccine in those over 65. Efficacy studies for the AstraZeneca vaccine have so far been carried out on a small sample of the elderly population, EU regulators have said. The European Medicines Agency is decide on Friday whether to approve the vaccine for use across the EU. The UK has been using the AstraZeneca vaccine in its mass immunisation programme for weeks now, and public health officials say the vaccine is safe and provides "high levels of protection" against Covid-19. The news comes with the EU in dispute with leading manufacturers over a shortage of vaccines on the continent. UK-based AstraZeneca has said production issues at its Europe-based plants mean it will be unable to deliver the promised number of doses to the bloc. But the EU says the firm must honour its commitments and deliver the jabs by diverting stock from the UK. Pfizer-BioNTech has also cut the number of dozes it is delivering to the 27-member bloc. The independent vaccine commission advising the German government said on Thursday that there were "currently insufficient data available to assess the vaccine efficacy from 65 years of age" and recommended "the AstraZeneca vaccine... should only be offered to people aged 18-64 years at each stage". However, Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisations at Public Health England, said both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are "safe and provide high levels of protection against Covid-19, particularly against severe disease. "There were too few cases in older people in the AstraZeneca trials to observe precise levels of protection in this group, but data on immune responses were very reassuring."
1-28-21 Facebook to stop recommending civic and political groups
Facebook will stop recommending users join "civic and political" groups, as it tries to reduce the number of political posts in people's feeds. It follows weeks of suppressing such content around the US election but will now become permanent policy around the world. Mark Zuckerberg announced the change in a phone call with investors. "People don't want politics and fighting to take over," the Facebook boss told those on the call. It remains unclear what "civic groups" covers, and how the change could affect grassroots campaigning. A Facebook spokesperson said the company was "still fine tuning" the policy and how it would work in the UK. The decision follows months of pressure over the spread of misinformation on Facebook. And Mr Zuckerberg said it wanted "to make sure the communities people connect with are healthy and positive". "There are also a lot of groups that we may not want to encourage people to join, even if they don't violate our policies," he said. "Now, we plan to keep civic and political groups out of recommendations for the long term." This was "a continuation of work we've been doing for a while to turn down the temperature and discourage divisive conversations and communities", Mr Zuckerberg said. Facebook groups are often used for legitimate community organising and grassroots campaigns, however, something Mr Zuckerberg "want[s] to be able to keep happening". "But one of the top pieces of feedback we're hearing from our community right now is that people don't want politics and fighting to take over their experience on our services," he added. Facebook banned more than one million groups in 2020. Sometimes, groups set up for one purpose can be hijacked for another - as during the 2019 UK general election, when groups designed to discuss local issues in a particular town turned into political battlegrounds. And earlier this month, the Guardian reported how a UK page for land sales, with 40,000 members, was taken over by "supporters of free speech against big-tech fascism". Facebook has not responded to a request for clarification about what kind of civic groups could be affected in the UK.
1-27-21 Covid-19 news: England lockdown to be extended by at least three weeks
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. UK prime minister Boris Johnson says it is too early to lift restrictions in England. England’s coronavirus lockdown is set to be extended for at least three more weeks, with schools not expected to reopen until 8 March at the earliest, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday. Johnson told parliament there is “not enough data” currently available to announce easing of restrictions in England but said the government would publish a review on restrictions on 22 February, by which point a decision will also be made about reopening schools. “By then we will know much more about the effects of vaccines in preventing hospitalisations and deaths, using data from the UK but also other nations such as Israel. We will know how successful the current restrictions have been in driving down infections,” said Johnson. Travellers arriving in the UK from 30 countries will be placed in mandatory quarantine in government-provided accommodation including hotels, for 10 days. The countries include South Africa, Portugal and Brazil, and travellers will have to pay for the accommodation. Boris Johnson told MPs that the new measures are aimed at preventing new variants of the coronavirus from reaching the UK. People leaving the UK will also be turned away from airports if they do not have a legal reason to leave the country, such as travel for work. European Union officials are demanding that pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca supply the bloc with covid-19 vaccine doses from UK factories, amid an on-going disagreement with the company over supply delays. “UK factories are part of our advanced purchase agreement and that is why they have to deliver,” EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said on Wednesday. Representatives from the EU and AstraZeneca are set to meet for talks later on Wednesday. French pharmaceutical company Sanofi will help to mass produce the covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech to help meet demand.
1-27-21 Biden: 'Systemic racism is corrosive, destructive and costly'
US President Joe Biden said eliminating racism wouldn't happen overnight, but the country was "less prosperous, less successful and less secure" because of it.
1-27-21 How much does one coronavirus vaccine dose protect you and others?
ABOUT 70 million doses of vaccines against covid-19 have now been administered worldwide, including in excess of 20 million in the US. In the UK, where more than 7 million people have received a first dose, most people will be required to wait for about three months before they receive the second dose. This has left many wondering how protected they are, and what measures they still need to take for their safety and that of others. Here’s what you need to know. Am I safe once I have had one dose of a coronavirus vaccine? The short answer is no. “Don’t for a moment imagine you are safe. That would be a horrific thing to do,” says Danny Altmann at Imperial College London. “You absolutely can’t remotely modify your behaviour until well after your second dose.” The first thing you need to know is that it takes at least two to three weeks for any protection to kick in after the first dose, so during this time you are just as vulnerable. The second is that it isn’t clear how much protection a single dose of any vaccine provides (more on this later), because the trials weren’t designed to tell us this. What is certain is that no vaccine provides complete protection even after two doses. With the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech, about 1 in 20 people may still get symptomatic infections. With the vaccine made by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, as many as 1 in 3 people might still be vulnerable. Third, your risk of catching the virus depends on how likely you are to be exposed to it. In countries such as the UK, Ireland and the US, levels of infection are currently very high. “Individuals, even though they have been vaccinated, will be at more of a risk now than they were in the summer,” says Matt Keeling at the University of Warwick, UK. By contrast, countries such as Australia and New Zealand aren’t rushing to vaccinate people. With the virus almost entirely eliminated there, people have near zero risk of infection. If you get covid-19 despite being vaccinated, you can still become seriously ill and die. Some 10 to 20 per cent of infected people also get long covid – lasting symptoms such as fatigue and headaches. We don’t yet know if these symptoms will last months, years or even a lifetime, says Altmann. “This is really scary stuff.”
1-27-21 NHS England criticised over missing ethnicity data for covid-19 jabs
NHS England is facing growing criticism from public health leaders over its failure to publish data on the ethnicity of people who have been vaccinated against covid-19. Leaders at the British Medical Association, the Association of Directors of Public Health and the independent NHS Race and Health Observatory are among those calling for this data to be released in real-time in England and across the UK as a whole. The swift release of data is vital, says Chaand Nagpaul of the British Medical Association. “It gives you a snapshot understanding of the level of vaccination coverage amongst ethnic minority health care workers and the community so that you can then target your effort to try and address lower uptake of the vaccine,” he says. Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in the UK have been disproportionately affected by covid-19, and some in these groups also seem more hesitant about receiving a vaccine. A recent UK survey conducted by Elaine Robertson at the University of Glasgow and colleagues shows high enthusiasm for vaccination overall, but the team found significant differences between ethnic groups. The highest levels of vaccine hesitancy were among Black ethnic groups, followed by Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups. “It will be vitally important to know to what degree vaccine hesitancy is affecting uptake of the vaccine and you will only know if you have the figures,” says Nagpaul. “Live, real-time data on vaccination uptake by ethnicity should be made available and published so that we can better meet the needs of our diverse communities,” says Habib Naqvi, director of the NHS Race and Health Observatory. On 26 January – seven weeks after the UK’s covid-19 vaccination programme began – UK vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said ethnicity data is being recorded and will be published “very soon”. But, when asked by New Scientist, NHS England didn’t answer questions about when the recording of ethnicity data for covid-19 vaccinations began, nor about when the data would be published.
1-27-21 Coronavirus: EU demands UK-made AstraZeneca vaccine doses
The EU has urged pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca to supply it with more doses of its Covid-19 vaccine from UK plants, amid a row over shortages. Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the company was wrong to say its agreement with the EU was non-binding. She said UK factories, which have not experienced production problems, were part of the deal and had to deliver. AstraZeneca reportedly said last week the EU would get 60% fewer doses than promised in the first quarter of 2021. It cited production issues at a Belgian plant. In an interview on Tuesday with Italian newspaper La Repubblica, CEO Pascal Soriot said the contract compelled it to make its "best effort", rather than obliging it to meet a set deadline. Ms Kyriakides said this characterisation of the deal was "not correct or acceptable", and called on the company to be "open and transparent" about its production of vaccines. A confidentiality clause binds AstraZeneca from releasing the details of its deal with the bloc. The two sides are set to meet later for talks. Earlier on Wednesday, an EU official said that AstraZeneca had pulled out of the meeting, but the company has since insisted it will attend. Pfizer/BioNTech, which has an even bigger vaccine-production deal with the EU, is also experiencing delays. French drug maker Sanofi has announced that it will help produce 125 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab by the end of the year. The company will allow Germany-based BioNTech to use its facilities in Frankfurt from July, Sanofi said in a statement, having delayed the development of its own vaccine. Pfizer says its agreement with Sanofi is just one of several efforts it is making to increase supply by expanding manufacturing facilities, and adding suppliers and contract manufacturers to its supply chain.
1-27-21 Why vaccinated teachers should mean open schools
Kids can't wait till 2022. Here are some things we know to be true a year into this pandemic: One, remote learning is awful for most students, and outcomes are worst for the youngest students and those already disadvantaged. ("An estimated three million children nationwide — many impoverished or homeless — are going without any form of school," New York magazine reports.) Two, children are a very low-risk demographic for serious cases of COVID-19, and repeated studies have shown they are not a significant vector of viral transmission. Kids are more likely to receive COVID-19 from an adult than vice versa. And three, open schools are not doomed to be super-spreader locations. Economist Emily Oster made a data-based case for schools' remarkable safety (with reasonable precautions, of course) in The Atlantic in October. In the months since, though some school-centered outbreaks have been documented, her thesis has held, including in high-risk communities. More than nine in 10 private schools maintained some or all face-to-face learning, and they've generally proved capable of operating safely, even when enrollment grows as families with the resources to do so flee public distance learning. Some public school districts are successfully educating in person, too. For the more cautious districts and those in areas with the worst outbreaks, the endgame is vaccinating teachers and staff, the adults in school settings who are at risk of catching or transmitting serious bouts of COVID-19. Once the teachers are vaccinated, schools can reopen. Or rather, that's what's supposed to happen. But in Fairfax County, Virginia, the teacher's union has other ideas — ideas that will do real damage if they spread. About 90 percent of the district's staff have received or are on the list to receive their vaccines, meaning a vaccination-conditioned reopening is a near-term possibility. But the Fairfax Education Association is opposed to fulltime, in-person classes this spring even if all its teachers have had their shots. The union also wants every student vaccinated plus 14 days of zero community spread. That latter condition likely guarantees no normal education in 2021. Even after vaccination is widespread, we may see some limited community transmission of COVID-19 for a long time to come, maybe forever. Predictions that outbreaks could run like an annual flu season are plausible, and a place like Fairfax County — just outside Washington, D.C., with three international airports in the region — is probably very far from zero community transmission. The first condition may be even more ridiculous, however. Though testing is underway, there is currently no COVID-19 vaccine approved for children under 16. The union has asked for something it literally cannot have. (Reason's Robby Soave, thinking perhaps union boss Kimberly Adams had been misquoted, reached out to her for confirmation that complete student vaccination was really what she'd stipulated. It was. Soave followed up to note the present impossibility of that goal. She did not reply.)
1-27-21 Joe Biden: The team he hopes can fix the US economy
President Joe Biden has vowed to heal America's economy from the pandemic with a large dose of economic stimulus - including immediate relief and investments in green jobs, infrastructure and more. He's called on a team of Ivy League trained economists and lawyers, well-versed in the ways of Washington, to turn his vision into reality. Many worked under former President Barack Obama on the response to the 2007-8 financial crisis, a hit from which it took the US a decade to emerge. The task facing them now is even more dire, with more than 10 million Americans out of work and a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more people than World War II. Meet the people he thinks can help. 1. Janet Yellen - Treasury Secretary, 2. Brian Deese - National Economic Council, 3. Neera Tanden - Office of Management and Budget, 4. Cecilia Rouse - Council of Economic Advisors, 5. Katherine Tai - United States Trade Representative.
1-27-21 Biden kicks off inclusive LGBT agenda
President Joe Biden has had an energetic first few days setting out his wide-ranging agenda on LGBT rights. Many advocates commended the decision to include pronoun choices in the White House contact form. The new president has also addressed workplace discrimination and transgender rights in the military. This focus on LGBT rights is being seen as a marked shift from the Trump administration. Only a matter of days into his presidency, Mr Biden has set the tone for his administration's culture when it comes to gender inclusivity. On Thursday, 24 hours after his inauguration, the White House released its new contact form, which includes the option for users to select their pronouns of choice, first reported by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). The revamped website allows users to select from a dropdown list of pronouns which include "he/him", "she/her", the gender-neutral "they/them" or "prefer not to share". The contact form has also been updated to include the gender-neutral prefix Mx, alongside the more traditional Mr, Mrs and Ms. A gender-neutral pronoun refers to a person who is non-binary - meaning they do not identify as only male or female, or may identify as both. As the English language doesn't have a defined gender-neutral pronoun, a common choice is "they/them/theirs", which is used singularly in this case. It is an alternative to "he/him/his" or "she/her/hers". In recent years, there has been a growing urge for people to share their preferred pronouns upon meeting and through correspondence - particularly in email signatures. A number of companies have also made inroads on gender inclusivity in the workplace. In 2019, The Chicago Tribune reported that IBM had published a white paper on gender transition. Similarly, Quartz reported that financial services firm TIAA issued new guidelines for employees to share their preferred pronouns with clients. The LGBTQ+ Resource Center at the University of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, adds that asking someone their preferred pronoun, as opposed to assuming from how they present, is a sign of respect for their gender identity.
1-27-21 Biden administration to restore aid to Palestinians
US President Joe Biden's administration will restore aid to the Palestinians that was cut by his predecessor Donald Trump and reopen diplomatic missions. The acting US envoy to the UN, Richard Mills, told the Security Council that Mr Biden supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To help advance one, he said, the US would "restore credible engagement". Palestinians broke off contacts with Mr Trump's administration and rejected his peace plan as biased towards Israel. The plan, unveiled a year ago, envisaged recognising Israeli sovereignty over Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and Jordan Valley, and Jerusalem remaining Israel's "undivided capital". It also proposed the creation of a Palestinian state in about 70% of the West Bank, all of Gaza, and with its capital on the fringes of East Jerusalem. Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this. At a Security Council debate, Mr Mills said the Biden administration would "urge Israel's government and the Palestinian Authority to avoid unilateral steps that make a two-state solution more difficult, such as annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, incitement to violence, and providing compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism". It also intended to renew US relations with the Palestinian leadership and Palestinian people, which had "atrophied over the last four years", restore US assistance programmes and humanitarian aid, and take steps to reopen diplomatic missions that were closed, he added. "We do not view these steps as a favour to the Palestinian leadership," Mr Mills stressed. "US assistance benefits millions of ordinary Palestinians and helps to preserve a stable environment that benefits both Palestinians and Israelis." "At the same time, I must be clear, the US will maintain its steadfast support for Israel," he added.
1-27-21 Trump impeachment: Why convicting him just got a lot harder
Donald Trump left Washington DC almost a week ago, but he continues to cast a long shadow over the Republican Party in Congress. In the first on-the-record test of support for conviction on impeachment charges that Trump incited his supporters to mount an insurrection at the US Capitol, 45 out of 50 Senate Republicans voted to consider stopping the trial before it even starts. After the vote Rand Paul, who pushed for the dismissal, crowed that the impeachment article delivered by the House on Monday was "dead on arrival". He's probably right. It would take 17 Republican senators breaking ranks and voting alongside the 50 Democrats to convict the president and, with a subsequent up-or-down vote, prevent him from ever running for federal office again. Tuesday's vote shows there are definitely only five who even want to consider the evidence - Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Ben Sasse and Pat Toomey. The rest contend that presidents can't face impeachment trials once they've left office. "My vote today to dismiss the article of impeachment is based on the fact that impeachment was designed to remove an officeholder from public office," Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said in a statement released after the vote. "The Constitution does not give Congress the power to impeach a private citizen." Democrats will surely find that a very convenient way of not having to pass judgement on the president's behaviour. They'll also point out that while there is no historical precedent for such proceedings on the presidential level, a cabinet secretary in the 19th Century faced a Senate impeachment trial on corruption charges even after he resigned from office. Regardless of the explanations and justifications, the procedural vote is just the latest, clearest sign of fading Republican support for finding Trump responsible for the Capitol riot three weeks ago. Shortly after the incident, Lindsey Graham - one of the president's closest allies in the Senate - said the president's actions "were the problem" and that his legacy was "tarnished".
1-26-21 Covid-19 news: UK coronavirus death toll passes 100,000
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. UK coronavirus death toll “a story of sorrow and grief”, says NHS leader. The UK has recorded more than 100,000 deaths from covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, after 1631 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were reported on Tuesday. Earlier, data from the Office for National Statistics showed that there had been almost 104,000 deaths with covid-19 mentioned on the death certificate as of 15 January. The true number will be higher due to the delay in reporting and publishing the numbers. “It’s hard to compute the sorrow contained in that grim statistic,” UK prime minister Boris Johnson said during a televised briefing on Tuesday evening. “Behind each death will be a story of sorrow and grief,” said Chris Hopson of NHS Providers, which represents health service managers. “As well as the high death rate, it’s particularly concerning that this virus has widened health inequalities and affected Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities disproportionately.” In the week ending 15 January alone there were 7245 deaths registered in England and Wales with covid-19 mentioned on the death certificate, according to ONS figures. That is an increase from 6057 deaths the previous week and is the highest weekly figure since 24 April last year. The European Commission will soon require pharmaceutical companies to register their vaccine exports from the European Union, but says it has no plans to impose an export ban. Last week, EU countries learned that their supply of the covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca in partnership with the University of Oxford would be 60 per cent lower than expected. This came after deliveries of the covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech to the EU were also reduced. UK health minister Matt Hancock said he is “confident” the supply of vaccine doses into the UK won’t be disrupted. “I’m sure that we can work with the EU to ensure that, whilst transparency is welcome, that no blockers are put in place,” he said at an event hosted by Chatham House, an independent policy institute. The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to receive approval from the European Medicines Agency on Friday. The UK will share its genomic expertise internationally to help other countries identify new coronavirus variants, UK health minister Matt Hancock announced today. A new platform will allow other countries to make use of UK laboratory capacity and advice to analyse new variants of the virus. The New Variant Assessment Platform will be led by Public Health England in collaboration with NHS Test and Trace and a team from the World Health Organization.
1-26-21 EU begins to clamp down on vaccine exports as supplies fall short
The European Union has taken a first step towards clamping down on the export of coronavirus vaccines after pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca told the bloc it would deliver far fewer doses than expected in the next months. The EU hasn’t stopped manufacturers from selling to outside nations, including the UK, but has taken a step towards this by requiring vaccine manufacturers to give notice before exporting. “In the future, all companies producing vaccines against covid-19 in the EU will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries,” said Stella Kyriakides, the EU commissioner for health, on 25 January. “Humanitarian deliveries are, of course, not affected by this. The European Union will take any action required to protect its citizens and rights.” Even before it was clear whether any vaccine would work, many countries signed deals with vaccine-makers to provide set numbers of doses by certain dates. As part of these, countries paid in advance for the preparation of manufacturing facilities. AstraZeneca was meant to deliver 80 million doses of its vaccine to the EU by the end of March. The EU hasn’t yet approved this vaccine, but is expected to do so soon. Last week, AstraZeneca told the EU that it would only be able to deliver 31 million doses. According to Reuters, this is because the EU doses are being made at a vaccine factory in Belgium run by a company called Novasep that has faced production problems. “This new schedule is not acceptable,” said Kyriakides. She sent AstraZeneca a letter in response, asking questions such as how many doses have been made where and to whom they have been sent. “The answers of the company have not been satisfactory so far,” said Kyriakides. According to Robert Peston, political editor for ITV News, part of the problem is that although AstraZeneca reached initial agreements with several EU countries in June, the European Commission then took over the negotiations and didn’t finalise the contract until August. That left little time to sort out supply issues.
1-26-21 Biden raises vaccination goal to 1.5m a day after criticism
After criticism that his original goal was not bold enough, US President Joe Biden has said he expects the US will soon be able to vaccinate 1.5 million people a day. He had announced last week that 1m vaccines would be administered daily in the first 100 days of his presidency. But some media noted the US had already nearly reached that target under the Trump administration. Mr Biden also renewed Trump-era Covid bans on Monday, adding South Africa. In the first time formally taking reporters' questions during his presidency, Mr Biden said on Monday that he hoped they would be able to get to 1.5 million vaccinations administered daily. "I think with the grace of God... we'll be able to get that to 1.5 million a day," the Democrat said. He added: "I hope we'll be able to increase as we go along so we'll get to 1.5 million. That's my hope." Some media had questioned whether the new president's target of one million shots per day was ambitious enough. Last week, at the tail-end of the Trump administration, the US had already reached an average of around 980,000 vaccine doses administered daily. When an Associated Press news agency reporter asked last Thursday why Mr Biden had not aimed higher, he shot back: "You all said it's not possible. Come on, give me a break man." But CNN rated the president's claim about the media as false. During Monday's press conference, a reporter suggested to Mr Biden that he had changed his tone on defeating the public health crisis, pointing out that as a candidate he had vowed to "shut down" Covid-19, only to say last week: "There's nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months." Mr Biden replied: "What I meant was it took a long time to get here and it's going to take a long time to beat it." "I'm confident we will beat this virus," he added, "but we're still going to be talking about it in the summer and dealing with it in the fall."
1-26-21 Covid-19: Was US vaccine rollout a 'dismal failure' under Trump?
President Joe Biden has pledged to boost the rollout of Covid vaccines in the US, and has criticised the speed of the operation under the previous administration. It's been "a dismal failure thus far," the president said after taking office. He's committed to overseeing 100 million vaccine doses administered in his first 100 days, and has since said: "I think we may be able to get that to 1.5 million a day, rather than one million a day." So how slow was the rollout under the Trump administration? As of 20 January, the day Mr Biden became president, about 16.5 million vaccines had been administered in the US, according to official statistics. When you look at the countries doing the most vaccinations by population, the US is fourth after Israel, the UAE and the UK in terms of doses per 100 people. However, the US fell far short of the target set by the Trump administration to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of 2020. By 31 December, fewer than three million had received one. Moncef Slaoui, who had been leading the government's vaccine rollout plan, said at the time: "We know that it should be better, and we're working hard to make it better." Mr Slaoui has since submitted his resignation at the request of President Biden. Vaccinations have sped up considerably since the start of the year, more than doubling in Mr Trump's last week in office compared to the first week of January. The US did achieve more than one million doses a day on a few occasions during the Trump administration. The daily average for the week before Mr Trump left office was less than 900,000, according to Our World in Data, although there could be a slight lag in recording daily vaccination figures. That figure has since risen above one million doses, and President Biden has said he's hopeful of achieving 1.5 million doses a day, but "we have to meet that goal of a million a day".
1-26-21 Covid-19: Five days that shaped the outbreak
A year ago, the Chinese government locked down the city of Wuhan. For weeks beforehand officials had maintained that the outbreak was under control - just a few dozen cases linked to a live animal market. But in fact the virus had been spreading throughout the city and around China. This is the story of five critical days early in the outbreak. By 30 December, several people had been admitted to hospitals in the central city of Wuhan, having fallen ill with high fever and pneumonia. The first known case was a man in his 70s who had fallen ill on 1 December. Many of those were connected to a sprawling live animal market, Huanan Seafood Market, and doctors had begun to suspect this wasn't regular pneumonia. Samples from infected lungs had been sent to genetic sequencing companies to identify the cause of the disease, and preliminary results had indicated a novel coronavirus similar to Sars. The local health authorities and the country's Center for Disease Control (CDC) had already been notified, but nothing had been said to the public. Although no-one knew it at the time, between 2,300 and 4,000 people were by now likely infected, according to a recent model by MOBS Lab at Northeastern University in Boston. The outbreak was also thought to be doubling in size every few days. Epidemiologists say that at this early part of an outbreak, each day and even each hour is critical. At around 16:00 on 30 December, the head of the Emergency Department at Wuhan Central Hospital was handed the results of a test carried out by sequencing lab Capital Bio Medicals in Beijing. She went into a cold sweat as she read the report, according to an interview given later to Chinese state media. At the top were the alarming words: "SARS CORONAVIRUS". She circled them in bright red, and passed it on to colleagues over the Chinese messaging site WeChat. Within an hour and a half, the grainy image with its large red circle reached a doctor in the hospital's ophthalmology department, Li Wenliang. He shared it with his hundreds-strong university class group, adding the warning, "Don't circulate the message outside this group. Get your family and loved ones to take precautions."
1-26-21 Coronavirus: Vaccine supply fears grow amid EU export threat
The EU has warned Covid vaccine producers they must deliver agreed supplies, amid fears reductions could seriously hamper its inoculation drive. AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech have both said production problems mean they cannot supply the expected numbers. The EU warned it could restrict exports of vaccines made in the bloc, with Germany's health minister demanding "fair distribution". The UK's vaccine minister warned of "the dead end of vaccine nationalism". AstraZeneca is mainly produced in the UK, while the UK's supplies of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine come from the company's Belgian plant. Vaccine supply has become a critical issue as nations seek to stem high infection rates. Separately, the German health ministry joined AstraZeneca in strongly denying some reports in German media of a lower efficacy rate for its vaccine among older people. Last week, AstraZeneca told the EU it was falling behind on its supply target because of production problems and Pfizer-BioNTech has also said supplies of its vaccine will be lower. In response, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides has now said companies making Covid vaccines in the bloc will have to "provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries". She said the 27-member EU bloc would "take any action required to protect its citizens". German Health Minister Jens Spahn backed her call, saying: "This is not about EU first, this is about Europe's fair share." Chancellor Angela Merkel told the virtual version of the annual World Economic Forum, usually held in Davos, there should be a "fair distribution" across the world. European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen earlier told forum: "Europe invested billions to help develop the world's first Covid-19 vaccines. And now, the companies must deliver. They must honour their obligations."
1-26-21 Covid: Curfew stays despite 'scum' riots in Dutch cities
The Dutch government says it will not lift a curfew, after a third night of violent protests against increased Covid curbs across the Netherlands. Shops in Rotterdam and other cities were looted and Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra said: "It's scum doing this". More than 180 arrests have been made. The Dutch chief of police said the riots no longer had "anything to do with the basic right to demonstrate". The criminal violence had to stop, said Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Shop-owners in Rotterdam, Den Bosch and other cities spent Tuesday morning cleaning up the debris from Monday night's violence. Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb sent a passionate message to "shameless thieves" who had caused the damage: "Does it make you feel good that you've helped ruin your city? To wake up with a bag full of stolen stuff beside you?" A night-time curfew from 21:00 (20:00 GMT) to 04:30 was imposed last Saturday to halt the spread of the virus. Anyone caught violating it faces a €95 (£84) fine. Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhuis said they would not "capitulate to a few idiots". The Netherlands has had nearly a million confirmed Covid cases since the start of the outbreak, with more than 13,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University in the US, which is tracking the pandemic. Riot police clashed with protesters in Rotterdam and Amsterdam, as well as Amersfoort, Den Bosch, Alphen and Helmond. Some of the worst disturbances were in the south of Rotterdam where police said 10 officers were hurt. Amsterdam's mayor appealed to parents to keep young people indoors. Fires were lit on the streets of The Hague, where police on bicycles attempted to move small clusters of men who threw stones and fireworks. In Den Bosch in the south, rioters set off fireworks, broke windows, looted a supermarket and overturned cars. A local woman told Dutch radio that masked youths had left a trail of destruction in the city centre. "I saw windows smashed and fireworks going off. Really crazy, just like a war zone," she said. Roads into Den Bosch were closed to stop people joining the rioters and Mayor Jack Mikkers imposed an emergency order banning gatherings on Tuesday.
1-26-21 Covid-19: Why are Palestinians not getting vaccines?
Israel has the highest rate of Covid-19 vaccination per person in the world while the Palestinian territories have barely started to roll out vaccines. So what is the situation in the West Bank and Gaza - regarded as occupied territories by the international community - and why are they not vaccinating people against coronavirus? More than a quarter of Israel's population of nine million have received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine since 19 December, its health ministry says. The programme started with elderly people and others considered at high risk, but people aged 40 and over can also now get the jab. Israel leads the world in terms of the number of doses per head of population. However, with the exception of those in East Jerusalem, no-one in the Palestinian areas has started receiving Covid vaccines. All Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem are entitled to be vaccinated against Covid by Israel, as are medics working at the six Palestinian hospitals there - many of whom come from other parts of the West Bank and Gaza. This is because Palestinians in East Jerusalem have Israeli residency status - so those living there pay Israeli taxes and have access to Israeli health insurance. According to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) data, there have been nearly 175,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than than 1,960 deaths among Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. The case fatality rate for these areas is 1.1% - that's the proportion of reported infections which result in a person dying. In Israel, it is 0.7%, according to WHO data. The Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Gaza are planning to get vaccines from a few sources. The Palestinian Ministry of Health - which operates in the West Bank - said in a statement that they are doing deals with four companies that will provide enough vaccine for 70% of its people, although it's not clear when they will arrive.
1-26-21 Covid vaccines: Why some countries will have to wait until 2022
How are Covid-19 vaccines being distributed across the world? As some countries start vaccinating their populations, others are being left behind. Millions of people in developing countries will have to wait until at least 2022 for the jab. The World Health Organisation has warned that the world faces a ‘catastrophic moral failure’, adding the race to buy vaccines will only prolong the pandemic.
1-26-21 Biden overturns Trump transgender military ban
President Joe Biden has repealed Donald Trump's ban on transgender Americans joining the military. The ban was announced by Mr Trump during his first year in office. "Transgender servicemembers will no longer be subject to the possibility of discharge or separation on the basis of gender identity," the White House said. There were 8,980 active duty transgender troops in 2019, according to Department of Defence data analysed by the Palm Center, a non-profit group. "President Biden believes that gender identity should not be a bar to military service, and that America's strength is found in its diversity," the White House statement added. New Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, a retired army general, said in a statement: "The Department will immediately take appropriate policy action to ensure individuals who identify as transgender are eligible to enter and serve in their self-identified gender." "The United States Armed Forces are in the business of defending our fellow citizens from our enemies, foreign and domestic. I believe we accomplish that mission more effectively when we represent all our fellow citizens," he added. Mr Trump announced on Twitter in 2017 that the country would no longer "accept or allow" transgender Americans to serve in the military, citing "tremendous medical costs and disruption". The ban took effect in April 2019. Trans personnel who were already serving were allowed to continue, but new recruits were locked out. Jim Mattis, the then defence secretary, refined the policy to limit it to individuals with a history of gender dysphoria, or when a person's biological sex and identity do not match. President Biden repeatedly said he planned to overturn the ban. Prior to the inauguration, a memo from Ron Klain, now the White House Chief of Staff, said Mr Biden planned to use his first full week as president "to advance equity and support communities of colour and other underserved communities".
1-26-21 Harriet Tubman: Biden moves to put anti-slavery activist on $20 bill
The Biden administration has said it will seek to push forward a plan to make anti-slavery activist Harriet Tubman the face of a new $20 bill. A note featuring Ms Tubman, who was born a slave in about 1822, was originally due to be unveiled in 2020. The US Treasury said she would replace former President Andrew Jackson, a slave owner. But the effort was delayed under former President Donald Trump, who branded it "pure political correctness". Now President Joe Biden has revived the project, with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki telling reporters the Treasury was "exploring ways to speed up" the process. The move would make Ms Tubman the first African American to appear on a US banknote, and the first woman for more than 100 years. "It's important that our notes, our money - if people don't know what a note is - reflect the history and diversity of our country, and Harriet Tubman's image gracing the new $20 note would certainly reflect that," Ms Psaki said on Monday. The women last depicted on US notes were former First Lady Martha Washington, on the $1 silver certificate from 1891 to 1896, and Native American Pocahontas, in a group image on the $20 bill from 1865 to 1869. However, given the complexities of redesigning and producing US banknotes, the bill is not expected to be released any time soon. In 2019, Mr Trump's Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, said the redesign would be delayed until at least 2026. At the time, he said he was focused on redesigning bills to address counterfeiting issues, not making changes to their imagery. Mr Trump, an admirer of his populist predecessor Andrew Jackson - whose portrait hung in his office - expressed opposition to the redesign. While campaigning in 2016, Mr Trump suggested that Ms Tubman be put on the $2 bill instead.
1-25-21 Covid-19 news: Moderna vaccine appears to work against new variants
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Moderna says its existing vaccine appears to work against new coronavirus variants. The covid-19 vaccine developed by US company Moderna appears to work against new, highly infectious variants of the coronavirus, according to preliminary research by the company. In laboratory tests, antibodies from eight vaccinated individuals were still able to neutralise the highly transmissible coronavirus variants first identified in the UK and South Africa. One point of concern raised by the study is that the antibodies were six times less efficient at neutralising the South Africa variant compared to the original strain. People arriving in the UK by plane may soon face mandatory hotel quarantine, UK prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday. The quarantine is expected to apply at least to people arriving in the UK from Brazil and South Africa, where new coronavirus variants have recently been identified. However, ministers have not ruled out extending the plan to all passengers. “We have to realise that there is at least the theoretical risk that there is a new variant, a vaccine-busting variant coming in,” said Johnson. “So we will need to keep that under control.” The UK government is considering relaxing some restrictions in mid-February and will provide information on when schools in England can reopen “as soon as we can”, Johnson said. There are growing calls from parliament for more clarity on the issue. The highly transmissible coronavirus variant first sequenced in the UK has now been found in at least 22 US states, with almost 200 cases identified so far in the US as a whole, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new variant may be up to 70 per cent more infectious than the original variant and there are some concerns it could also be more deadly. A two-day effort to test 2 million people in Beijing, China has identified one coronavirus case. According to Chinese state media, 668,346 people were tested for the virus in Dongcheng and 1.13 million were tested in Xicheng. The only test that returned a positive result was that of a person in Xicheng. Beijing as a whole reported three new symptomatic cases of covid-19 in the last 24 hours, all of which were in the Daxing district, which went into full lockdown on 21 January after 12 cases were reported.
1-25-21 Biden set to overturn Trump transgender military ban
President Biden is expected to repeal Donald Trump's ban on transgender Americans joining the military, US media report. The ban was announced by Mr Trump via a tweet during his first year in office. The announcement could come on Monday at a ceremony with new Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin. There were 8,980 active duty transgender troops in 2019, according to Department of Defence data analysed by the Palm Center, a non-profit group. Mr Austin, a retired army general, spoke of the need to rescind the ban during his Senate confirmation hearing last week. "If you're fit and you're qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve," he said. Mr Trump announced on Twitter in 2017 that the country would no longer "accept or allow" transgender Americans to serve in the military, citing "tremendous medical costs and disruption". The ban took effect in April 2019. Trans personnel who were already serving were allowed to continue, but new recruits were locked out. Jim Mattis, the then defence secretary, refined the policy to limit it to individuals with a history of gender dysphoria, or when a person's biological sex and identity do not match. President Biden has repeatedly said he plans to overturn the ban. Prior to the inauguration, a memo from Ron Klain, now the White House Chief of Staff, said Mr Biden planned to use his first full week as president "to advance equity and support communities of colour and other underserved communities". This is expected to be the latest example of Mr Biden using executive orders to overturn Trump era policies. He has already signed orders halting construction of the Mexico border wall, overturning a ban on travellers from several predominantly Muslim countries, and launching an initiative to improve racial equity.
1-25-21 Covid-19: Why the US hasn't hit vaccine targets so far
President Joe Biden has pledged to boost the rollout of Covid vaccines in the US, and has criticised the speed of the operation under the previous administration. It's been "a dismal failure thus far," the president said, and he's committed to overseeing 100 million vaccine doses administered in his first 100 days. So how slowly has the rollout gone? As of 20 January, the day Mr Biden became president, about 16.5 million vaccines had been administered in the US, according to official statistics. When you look at the countries doing the most vaccinations by population, the US is fourth after Israel, UAE and the UK in terms of doses per 100 people. However, the US fell far short of the target set by the Trump administration to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of 2020. By 31 December, fewer than three million had received one. Moncef Slaoui, who had been leading the government's vaccine rollout plan, said at the time: "We know that it should be better, and we're working hard to make it better." Mr Slaoui has since submitted his resignation at the request of President Biden. Vaccinations have sped up considerably since the start of the year, more than doubling in Mr Trump's last week in office compared to the first week of January. The US did achieve more than one million doses a day on a few occasions during the Trump administration. The daily average over the week before Mr Trump left office was less than 900,000, according to Our World in Data, although there could be a slight lag in recording daily vaccination figures. The daily average has since risen above one million doses, and the Biden administration has come under some scrutiny for not setting a more ambitious target. Dr Anthony Fauci, the president's top medical adviser, has said "hopefully we'll meet and surpass that goal". There are wide variations across different US states - for example, as of 20 January, Alaska had given out more than 9,000 doses per 100,000 people and Alabama less than 3,000.
1-25-21 Josh Hawley knows exactly what he's doing
Turns out you can't go wrong with dishonest, cynical pandering to the Republican Party's base. osh Hawley knows better than to amplify Donald Trump's lies about losing the election. But the Republican senator from Missouri did so anyway, betting that it would raise his profile among Trump-loving conservative Republicans. His cynical bet was right on the money. Hawley has come under fierce criticism in recent weeks for being first out of the gate to oppose the certification of Joe Biden's presidential victory — an act that may not have incited the Capitol insurrection, but certainly didn't discourage it. (His fist-pumping salute to protesters on Jan. 6 didn't help things either.) Hawley's political mentor has disowned him, newspapers in his state have called for his resignation, he lost a book contract, and old friends are giving interviews about their disappointment. For that, Hawley gets the cover of today's New York Post, explaining why he is the real victim of recent events — that he is being "muzzled" for having controversial views. "I for one am not going to back down," he wrote in an "exclusive" column. "My book will be published, and I will continue to represent the people of my state without fear or favor, whatever the left or the corporations say." Needless to say, a politician isn't being muzzled if he gets to command the front page of a Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper. (Another publisher quickly snapped up the rights to his forthcoming book.) Hawley's profile is higher than it has ever been. But if we have learned anything in the few short weeks during which he has commanded the national spotlight, it's that reality — truth — doesn't always guide his actions. This is all very confusing to Hawley's former friends and colleagues, apparently. "I absolutely could not have predicted that the bright, idealistic, clear-thinking young student that I knew would follow this path," said David Kennedy, a Stanford historian who served as Hawley's adviser. "What Hawley and company were doing was kind of the gentlemanly version of the pointless disruption that happened when the mob invaded the Capitol." "I just think with his moral upbringing, why would he propagate that lie is beyond me," added Barbara Weibling, his middle school principal. "Josh knows better," said Thomas A. Lambert, who served with Hawley on the law school faculty at the University of Missouri. So it is well-established that Hawley knows what he is doing is wrong. But who cares? For much of the last four years, establishment Republicans tried to have it both ways — supporting Donald Trump, and getting his support in return, while oftentimes offering off-the-record reassurances to reporters that they knew Trump was bad news, and they couldn't wait to be rid of him. There was a sense that the grown-ups were biding their time, even if the time never seemed to come. They knew better. They didn't do better. And now neither is Hawley. For a few days after the Capitol insurrection it appeared establishment Republicans were ready to throw off Trump's shackles, if only in the interest of literal self-preservation. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) proclaimed "enough is enough." House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) acknowledged Trump's responsibility. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) even apologized to his Black constituents for undermining Black votes by supporting Trump's fraud claims. That time has already passed. Now, Graham is helping strategize Trump's impeachment defense. McCarthy is trying to blame literally everybody in the United States for the insurrection. Arizona Republicans spent the weekend censuring high-profile members for insufficient loyalty to Trump. There are some exceptions, but the bulk of the GOP seems decided that it is down with Trumpism for the long haul.
1-25-21 Trump must be prosecuted
Will Donald Trump face any accountability for his apparent crime spree as president? Part of that question will be answered soon, with the Senate trial for Trump's second impeachment. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will reportedly send over the article passed by the House on Monday, and while most Senate Republicans are likely going to vote to acquit based on a fake technicality, there will still be a vote. The more important question is whether Trump will face ordinary legal liability. There are already calls for President Biden to pardon Trump — most recently from Jonathan Rauch at Lawfare. "If we want Biden's presidency to succeed, accountability to be restored and democracy to be strengthened, then a pardon would likely do more good than harm," he argues. This is an astoundingly terrible argument. Trump's monstrous presidency was in no small part the product of previous elite impunity, and he should absolutely face legal liability as any other citizen would in his place. As an initial matter, Rauch is extremely cavalier about whether or not we know everything about Trump's lawbreaking. "Trump is nothing if not obvious about his transgressions." he writes. He notes that Trump almost certainly committed obstruction of justice in connection with the Russia investigation, and possibly committed sedition by siccing his mob of followers on the Capitol. But if "he committed crimes that we don't already know about, they are probably not of a new kind or magnitude." Only somebody who is staggeringly ignorant of the Trump canon could say something like this. Now, it is true that Trump is extremely blatant about much of his (apparent) lawbreaking and violations of the Constitution. But the actual pattern with Trump's life story is that he is constantly doing terrible stuff right out in the open, and then when somebody actually investigates any of it in detail, the truth is much, much worse. That was what happened when The New York Times investigated how he avoided paying almost any tax on his massive inheritance. It's the story of his business failures, how he stiffed his contractors, what he did with his money from The Apprentice, and on and on. It would be highly unusual for there to not be all kinds of scams and crimes in addition to the ones we already know about. Even if there aren't, it would be nuts to not investigate anyway, just in case! Moreover, Rauch mysteriously does not mention several obvious apparent crimes — blackmailing a foreign politician is illegal, soliciting a bribe is illegal, lying to a bank to get a loan is illegal, and on and on. (Again, it seems Rauch has not been paying much attention to the news.) Then Rauch complains that Trump would turn any trial into a media circus. "That kind of spectacle would not bring the country together in recognition of Trump's misdeeds. It might instead sow even more division and delegitimation," he writes. Now, this may not even be true. In prior legal situations when Trump faced genuine peril, he has tended to quiet down somewhat and evade questions, because he is a massive coward who usually backs down when confronted with a determined, powerful foe. But more importantly, this argument amounts to saying that a sufficiently rich and powerful person should be able to get away with crimes if they can muster exuberant public support. It can safely be dismissed.
1-25-21 Earnings of wealthiest 10 men during pandemic 'could buy vaccines for all
The combined wealth of 10 men increased during the coronavirus pandemic by $540bn (£400bn), Oxfam has found. This amount would be enough to prevent everyone in the world from falling into poverty because of the virus, and pay for a vaccine for all, the NGO said. Its report found the total wealth of billionaires was equivalent to the entire spending by all G20 governments on recovering from the virus. The charity is urging governments to consider taxes on the super-rich. But while the fortunes of the wealthy may have soared during the pandemic, there have also been some notable contributions to the emergency response by the world's richest people. Oxfam's report, the Inequality Virus, has been published as global leaders gather virtually for the World Economic Forum's "Davos Dialogue" meeting. Unprecedented support from governments for their economies saw the stock market boom, driving up billionaire wealth while the real economy faces the deepest recession in a century, it says. Worldwide, billionaires' wealth increased by $3.9tn (trillion) between 18 March and 31 December 2020 and now stands at $11.95tn - which is equivalent to what G20 governments have spent in response to the pandemic, the report adds. The 10 richest people, whose fortunes rose by $540bn since March 2020, include Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Tesla founder Elon Musk and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The report said that Mr Bezos had earned so much by September 2020 that he could have given all 876,000 Amazon employees a $105,000 bonus and still been as wealthy as he was before the pandemic. This compares with the world's poorest, for whom recovery could take more than a decade. Oxfam estimates that between 200 million and 500 million more people were living in poverty in 2020, reversing the decline in global poverty seen over the last two decades. "We think that this is... an opportunity to do something radical about building back fairer to think about wealth taxes, to think about corporation taxes, to think about increasing the basic social floor for every citizen," Danny Sriskandarajah, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB, told the BBC.
1-25-21 US police vehicle ploughs into crowd watching 'burnouts'
A police officer is under investigation in the US after his vehicle ploughed into a group of people, running over at least one, in Tacoma, Washington. Nobody was killed in the incident, although one person was rushed to hospital with injuries. A video shows a large group of people surrounding the police car as it revs its engine in an apparent effort to drive off. The group refuses to move, and police say people started hitting the car. The police officer then speeds through the group, hitting numerous people. One person is dragged under the car. Tacoma Police Department said multiple vehicles and approximately 100 people were blocking an intersection when officers arrived on the scene. The group was apparently watching street racers doing "burnouts". "During the operation, a responding Tacoma police vehicle was surrounded by the crowd. People hit the body of the police vehicle and its windows as the officer was stopped in the street," police said in a statement. "The officer, fearing for his safety, tried to back up, but was unable to do so because of the crowd," it said. "While trying to extricate himself from an unsafe position, the officer drove forward striking one individual and may have impacted others," it said. The person who was run over was rushed to hospital. Their condition is as yet unclear. The Pierce County Force Investigation Team is investigating the incident, the statement said. The police officer has not been identified. "I am concerned that our department is experiencing another use of deadly force incident," Interim Police Chief Mike Ake said in the statement. "I send my thoughts to anyone who was injured in tonight's event, and am committed to our department's full co-operation in the independent investigation and to assess the actions of the department's response during the incident." The incident comes at a time of rising anger over the use of excessive force by police in the US. People across the world took to the streets last year to demonstrate their anger at the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis, and to demand an end to police brutality and what they see as systemic racism.
1-24-21 Covid: New Zealand reports first case in the community in months
New Zealand has reported its first case of Covid-19 outside of a quarantine facility in more than two months. Health officials said a 56-year-old woman who had recently returned from Europe tested positive 10 days after completing a compulsory two-week period of managed isolation. Contact tracing efforts are under way, and authorities have published a list of locations the woman visited. New Zealand has been widely praised for its response to the pandemic. The country, with a population of five million, has recorded 1,927 confirmed cases and 25 deaths over the course of the pandemic. The Ministry of Health said the woman had tested negative twice before leaving an isolation facility in Auckland on 13 January. She started developing mild symptoms two days later, which then got progressively worse. She received a positive test result on Saturday and has been isolating at home. In a press conference on Sunday, Health Minister Chris Hipkins said it was too soon to speculate on the "origin or the strain of the infection". But the ministry said it was "working on the assumption any case might be a more transmissible variant and [was] taking appropriate precautions". Mr Hipkins said it was "too early" to comment on any further response. The woman visited a number of places in New Zealand's Northland region after leaving isolation. The Health Ministry published a list of the locations, including supermarkets, restaurants and a gallery. They said anyone who was at these places at the same time was considered a "casual contact", and asked them to stay at home and get tested "out of an abundance of caution". Four close contacts of the women have also been tested and are isolating.
1-24-21 PM talks to Biden in first call since inauguration
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has spoken to Joe Biden for the first time since the new US president was inaugurated. Mr Johnson said on Twitter that he looked forward to "deepening the longstanding alliance" between the UK and the US as they drove a "green and sustainable recovery from Covid-19". Mr Biden was sworn in as president and Kamala Harris as vice-president in a ceremony in Washington on Wednesday. The PM said their inauguration was a "step forward" for the US. A Downing Street spokesman said Mr Johnson "warmly welcomed" the president's decision to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change and the World Health Organization - both abandoned by Mr Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump. "The prime minister praised President Biden's early action on tackling climate change and commitment to reach net zero by 2050," the spokesman said. The spokesman added that, in building on the two nations' "long history of cooperation in security and defence, the leaders "re-committed to the Nato alliance and our shared values in promoting human rights and protecting democracy". The two leaders also talked about "the benefits of a potential free trade deal" between the UK and the US, with Mr Johnson reiterating his intention "to resolve existing trade issues as soon as possible". Mr Johnson and Mr Biden "looked forward to to meeting in person as soon as the circumstances allow" and to working together during the forthcoming G7, G20 and COP26 summits, the spokesman added. A White House statement said Mr Biden "conveyed his intention to strengthen the special relationship" between the US and UK and "revitalize transatlantic ties". Congratulating Mr Biden and Ms Harris - who is the first woman and first black and Asian-American person to serve as vice-president - the PM said earlier that their inauguration was a "step forward" for the US, which had "been through a bumpy period".
1-24-21 Krystina Arielle: Star Wars supports High Republic host after racist abuse
The official Star Wars Twitter account has tweeted in support for Krystina Arielle, the host of the upcoming Star Wars: The High Republic Show, after she received online harassment. Tweets by Arielle surfaced of her speaking about the role white people play in upholding racism. She then started receiving racist abuse, and accusations of being racist. But Star Wars tweeted in support of her, stating: "Our Star Wars community is one of hope and inclusivity". Ms Arielle was recently announced as the host of The High Republic Show, an upcoming web series about Star Wars: The High Republic, a new subseries of the Star Wars media franchise. She came under attack after social media users resurfaced numerous old tweets, mostly from last year when protests where taking place around the world in support of Black Lives Matter. In some of her past tweets, Arielle references white people while giving opinions on systemic racism. In one, she states: "Just a reminder that white women are just as complicit in upholding and enforcing white supremacy." "The last 24 hours have been ... not the greatest," she tweeted on Saturday, along with screenshots of highly offensive, racist messages. But many have spoken out in support of Arielle, while the hashtag #IStandWithKrystina started trending on Twitter. Matthew Mercer, host of the Critical Role podcast, which has featured her, said: "There are few as bright, badass and altogether wonderful as [Krystina Arielle], and anyone who tries to step into her ring better know we're right there beside her." This is not the first time someone involved in the Star Wars franchise has reported receiving racist abuse. Actor John Boyega said his casting in The Force Awakens elicited a blatantly racist backlash from some fans. "Nobody else had the uproar and death threats sent to their Instagram DMs and social media, saying, 'Black this and black that and you shouldn't be a Stormtrooper,'" he told British GQ last year. "Nobody else had that experience. But yet people are surprised that I'm this way. That's my frustration."
1-23-21 Covid: Biden signs executive orders on food aid and worker protections
US President Joe Biden has issued two more executive orders as he continues to roll back his predecessor's agenda. He signed one order on boosting food assistance and another on raising the federal minimum wage to $15. Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, said the action would "provide a critical lifeline" to millions of families. It comes a day after the new US president signed a raft of orders to boost the fight against coronavirus. This included expanding testing and accelerating vaccine distribution. Mr Biden said it would take months to defeat the pandemic but America would "get through this" if people stood together. The Trump administration was widely accused of failing to get to grips with the pandemic. The US has recorded the highest coronavirus death toll of any country in the world, with more than 410,000 fatalities, according to data collated by Johns Hopkins University. It has recorded more than 24.6 million cases. Mr Biden signed the two executive orders on Friday. The first increases food aid for children who rely on school meals as a main source for nutrition, but are unable to access them because of remote learning. It also creates a guarantee that workers can access unemployment benefits if they refuse a job on the grounds that it could jeopardise their health. The second is aimed at expanding protections for federal workers, by restoring collective bargaining rights and promoting a $15 (£11) hourly minimum wage. Mr Deese said the orders were "not a substitute" for a $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill that Mr Biden wants Congress to pass, but an essential lifeline for people who need immediate assistance. "The American people cannot afford to wait," he told reporters. "So many are hanging by a thread. They need help, and we're committed to doing everything we can to provide that help as quickly as possible."
1-23-21 National Guard: President Biden apologises over troops sleeping in car park
US President Joe Biden has apologised after some members of the National Guard stationed at the Capitol were pictured sleeping in a car park. More than 25,000 troops were deployed to Washington DC for his inauguration after violence earlier this month. Images spread on Thursday showing them forced to rest in a nearby parking garage after lawmakers returned. The conditions sparked anger among politicians, and some state governors recalled troops over the controversy. Mr Biden called the chief of the National Guard Bureau on Friday to apologise and ask what could be done, according to US media reports. First Lady Jill Biden also visited some of the troops to thank them personally, bringing biscuits from the White House as a gift. "I just wanted to come today to say thank you to all of you for keeping me and my family safe," she said. The photographs showing hundreds of troops in a parking garage went viral on Thursday and sparked outrage, including from members of Congress. Many voiced concerns about the conditions, with guardsmen exposed to car fumes and without proper access to facilities like toilets after having been on alert for days. Images of the cramped conditions also sparked fears about the spread of coronavirus. A US official, speaking anonymously to Reuters news agency, said on Friday that between 100 and 200 of those deployed had tested positive for Covid-19. The figure - which would represent a small proportion of the more than 25,000 deployed, has not been publicly confirmed. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat and the new Senate majority leader, said that the move was "an outrage" and pledged it "will never happen again". Ron DeSantis, Florida's governor, was among those who said he had ordered guards from his state to return home following the controversy.
1-23-21 Trump impeachment: Senate trial delayed until next month
The second impeachment trial of Donald Trump will begin next month under an agreement reached between Senate Democrats and Republicans. House of Representatives Democrats will send the charge of "inciting insurrection" to the Senate on Monday. But arguments will not begin until the week of 8 February, allowing Mr Trump's lawyers two weeks to build a defence. Democrats accuse the ex-president of instigating the deadly 6 January riot at the US Capitol. The House last week paved the way for the Senate proceedings by charging Mr Trump with inciting the violence, which left five people dead. His second impeachment trial will begin almost exactly a year after the Senate acquitted him on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. That case related to accusations he pressured Ukraine to help smear Joe Biden and his son. Mr Trump's term ended on Wednesday and he left Washington, snubbing his successor Joe Biden's inauguration. His speech to a rally ahead of the Capitol riot are at the heart of the case against him. The then-president told protesters near the White House to "peacefully and patriotically" make their voices heard as they prepared to march towards the US Capitol building, which houses the US Congress. He also told them to "fight like hell". Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said on Friday that the House would deliver the impeachment article - or charge - on Monday. "The Senate will conduct a trial of the impeachment of Donald Trump. It will be a full trial. It will be a fair trial," Mr Schumer said, speaking on the floor of the Senate. House Democrats say the article will be passed to the upper chamber of Congress at 19:00 local time on Monday. Democratic impeachment managers, lawmakers from the House who will act as prosecutors during the Senate trial, will be sworn in on Tuesday.
1-23-21 What next for Trump - and Trumpism? (What next for Hitler and Fascism?)
Donald Trump boarded Air Force One for the last time on Wednesday with a wave. As Frank Sinatra's My Way blared over the loudspeakers at Joint Base Andrews, the soon-to-be-ex-president took off for his new home in Florida. Although he had just finished promising a small gathering of supporters that he would be back "in some form", the future for Trump - and the political movement he rode to victory in 2016 - is murky. Just two months ago, he seemed poised to be a powerful force in American politics even after his November defeat. He was still beloved by Republicans, feared and respected by the party's politicians and viewed positively by nearly half of Americans, according to public opinion surveys. Then Trump spent two months trafficking in unsubstantiated allegations of electoral fraud, feuded with party officials in battleground states, unsuccessfully campaigned for two Republican incumbent senators in Georgia's run-off elections and instigated a crowd of supporters that would turn into a mob that attacked the US Capitol. He's been impeached (again) by a bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives and could, if convicted in the Senate, be permanently banned from running for public office. Over his five-year career in politics, Trump has wriggled free from political predicaments that would sink most others. He has been declared dead more times than Freddy Krueger. Yet he always seemed unsinkable; a submarine in a world of rowing boats. Stripped of his presidential powers and silenced by social media, he faces daunting challenges, both legal and financial. Can he still plot a successful political comeback? Will a Mar-a-Lago exile be his Elba or St Helena? And who might the tens of millions of Americans who supported him turn to instead? In the days following the US Capitol riot, Trump's overall public approval rating precipitously dropped to the mid-30s - some of the lowest of his entire presidency. At first blush, the numbers would indicate that his future political prospects have been mortally wounded.
1-23-21 Wuhan marks its anniversary with triumph and denial
Wuhan has long since recovered from the world's first outbreak of Covid-19. It is now being remembered not as a disaster but as a victory, and with an insistence that the virus came from somewhere - anywhere - but here. From the moment a new, pandemic coronavirus emerged in the same city as a laboratory dedicated to the study of new coronaviruses with pandemic potential, Prof Shi Zhengli has found herself the focus of one of the biggest scientific controversies of our time. For much of the past year she has met the suggestion that Sars-Cov-2 might have escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology with angry denial. Now though, she has offered her own thoughts on how the initial outbreak may have begun in the city. In an article in this month's edition of Science Magazine she referred to a number of studies that, she said, suggest the virus existed outside of China before Wuhan's first known case in December 2019. "Given the finding of Sars-Cov-2 on the surface of imported food packages, contact with contaminated uncooked food could be an important source of Sars-Cov-2 transmission," she wrote. From one of the world's leading experts on coronaviruses, even the discussion of such a possibility seems unusual. Could a spiralling outbreak of infection that almost destroyed Wuhan's health system, sparked the world's first Covid lockdown and spawned a global catastrophe really have arrived on imported food without any signs of similarly devastating outbreaks elsewhere? But with the virus vanquished, the idea that it is a foreign import is repeated with almost unanimity across this city of 11 million people. "It came here from other countries," one woman running a hotpot stall in a busy street tells me. "China is a victim." "Where did it come from?" the next-door fishmonger repeats my question aloud, and then answers: "It came from America."
1-23-21 Back inside the Wuhan market where Covid-19 was first traced
In the early days of Covid-19, it was traced to a so-called "wet market" in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, and it was suggested that this was where it made the leap from animals to humans, although experts now believe it may simply have been amplified there.
1-23-21 Coronavirus: EU vaccine woes mount as new delays emerge
A second coronavirus vaccine manufacturer has warned of supply issues to the European Union, compounding frustration in the bloc. AstraZeneca said a production problem meant the number of initial doses available would be lower than expected. The fresh blow comes after some nations' inoculation programmes were slowed due to a cut in deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The EU Health Commissioner expressed "deep dissatisfaction" at the news. Officials have not confirmed publicly how big the shortfall will be, but an unnamed EU official told Reuters news agency that deliveries would be reduced to 31m - a cut of 60% - in the first quarter of this year. The drug firm had been set to deliver about 80 million doses to the 27 nations by March, according to the official who spoke to Reuters. The AstraZeneca vaccine, developed with Oxford University, has not yet been approved by the EU's drug regulator but is expected to get the green light at the end of this month, paving the way for jabs to be given. A spokesman for AstraZeneca said on Friday that "initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated" without giving further details. His written statement blamed the discrepancy on "reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain" and said the firm was continuing to ramp up production volumes. News of the delay comes amid criticism and frustration across the region about the speed of vaccination roll-outs. Israel, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, and the US are all well ahead of EU nations in terms of doses given per capita so far. The European Commission has co-ordinated orders for all member states, with vaccines then distributed based on their population size. Vaccines are increasingly seen by experts as the only way out of the Covid-19 crisis, with many European nations struggling to cope with a deadly surge of the virus over the winter period.
1-22-21 Covid-19 news: UK variant may be 30 per cent more deadly
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. New variant of coronavirus in the UK may be deadlier than the original virus. Preliminary evidence indicates the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus first identified in the UK may additionally be more deadly, UK prime minister Boris Johnson told a press briefing on Friday. The government was briefed by researchers in the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, who are assessing the data on the variant, which appears to be about 30 per cent more deadly. Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and at Imperial College London who analysed data on the new variant concluded it is between 29 and 36 per cent more lethal, whereas researchers at the University of Exeter put the figure at 91 per cent. The UK’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, said the evidence on lethality “is not yet strong”, adding: “but it is obviously a concern”. People in England attending house parties of more than 15 people will receive £800 fines starting next week. Home secretary Priti Patel told a Downing street press conference that there remained a “small minority that refuse to do the right thing”. But some scientists, including members of the Independent SAGE group, are calling for the government to tighten restrictions in England, arguing that the main problem is that the existing rules are too permissive, rather than people not abiding by them. “The problem is not that people are flexing the rules but that the rules are too flexible,” Stephen Reicher at the University of St Andrews told an Independent SAGE briefing. When people do break the rules – for example, by not staying home when they have symptoms – it is often because they have little choice, added Susan Michie at University College London. “People are going out because they haven’t got enough income in order to stay home,” she said at the briefing. A coronavirus information-sharing platform for pharmaceutical companies organised by the World Health Organization hasn’t attracted any contributions since it was launched in May 2020, the Guardian reported.
1-22-21 Covid: Biden to sign executive orders on food aid and worker protections
US President Joe Biden is set to take executive action to help people struggling with the economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic. Two orders will increase food aid and expand protections for federal workers. Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, said the orders would "provide a critical lifeline" to millions of families. It comes a day after the new US president signed a raft of orders to boost the fight against coronavirus. This included expanding testing and accelerating vaccine distribution. Mr Biden said it would take months to defeat the pandemic but America would "get through this" if people stood together. The Trump administration was widely accused of failing to get to grips with the pandemic. The US has recorded the highest coronavirus death toll of any country in the world, with more than 410,000 fatalities, according to data collated by Johns Hopkins University. It has recorded more than 24.6 million cases. Mr Biden plans to sign the two executive orders on Friday. The first increases food aid for children who rely on school meals as a main source for nutrition, but are unable to access them because of remote learning. It also creates a guarantee that workers can access unemployment benefits if they refuse a job on the grounds that it could jeopardise their health. The second is aimed at expanding protections for federal workers, by restoring collective bargaining rights and promoting a $15 (£11) hourly minimum wage. Mr Deese said the orders were "not a substitute" for a $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill that Mr Biden wants Congress to path, but an essential lifeline for people who need immediate assistance. The American people cannot afford to wait," he told reporters. "So many are hanging by a thread. They need help, and we're committed to doing everything we can to provide that help as quickly as possible."
1-22-21 Wuhan lockdown: A year of China's fight against the Covid pandemic
A year ago on 23 January 2020 the world saw its first coronavirus lockdown come into force in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the pandemic is believed to have started. At the time, the wider world was shocked by the harsh restrictions and rigid enforcement. From late January until June, the city was effectively sealed off from the rest of the country. But even though it came at a significant cost, it proved to be a highly successful method of tackling the virus. One year on, China is often held up as one of the virus success stories - not least by Beijing itself. So how exactly did China get from lockdown to here - and how has Beijing controlled its own story? Authorities were slow to react to initial reports of a mystery illness circulating at a wet market in Wuhan in late 2019, allowing millions of the city's residents to move around the country in the days leading up to Chinese New Year, a traditional high-travel period, in January 2020. Earlier this week, an interim report by an independent panel appointed by the World Health Organization (WHO) criticised China's initial response, saying that "public health measures could have been applied more forcefully". But once China finally recognised there was a problem, authorities cracked down hard. On January 23, two days before the country celebrated Chinese New Year, the streets of Wuhan fell silent: some 11 million people were put under tight quarantine, and face masks and social distancing became mandatory. With medical capacities overwhelmed, authorities surprised the world as they managed to set up entire field hospitals within days. But even so, residents like Wenjun Wang were scared. She told the BBC at the time how her uncle had already died, and her parents were sick - but getting help was still all but impossible. The methods used in Wuhan would become routinely employed in the following months as China tackled outbreaks in other major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai with immediate lockdowns and swift mass testing. Entry into China, meanwhile, was managed by tight entry and quarantine control. (Webmaster's comment: Thanks to China's strict policies they have had only 4,635 deaths in a nation of almost 1.4 billion. In the the United States we have had over 420,000 deaths with a population of 1/4 that of China.)
1-22-21 America needs a better vaccine plan — and story
Why President Biden's most urgent pandemic task might be messaging. resident Biden's team has reviewed their predecessors' agenda for COVID-19 vaccine distribution and reportedly discovered the plans had the significant problem of failing to exist. "There is nothing for us to rework," an unnamed source with knowledge of the new administration's COVID-19 efforts told CNN. "We are going to have to build everything from scratch." In that it means months of potential progress have been needlessly lost — that the abysmally slow vaccination pace we've seen since mid-December was not inevitable — this is a horrifying revelation. But there may be an advantage here: The Biden administration can craft its vaccine distribution plan and, crucially, its messaging with a free hand. The message the Biden administration should be preaching is this: The vaccines are good. In fact, they are remarkably good. They are best-case scenario good. Our goal now is to get these good vaccines into as many people as possible as rapidly as possible so we can return to normal as soon as possible, because that is what the vaccines will enable us to do. Do you hate masks? Are you tired of social distancing? Do you want this whole stupid, awful thing to be over? That is what the vaccines can do — if we get them into our bodies, for, as epidemiologist Walter Orenstein observes, "vaccines which remain in the vial are 0 percent effective." It is vaccinations, not vaccines, that save lives. This seems simplistic, I know. It is certainly simple, and yet somehow it still needs to be said. Far too much of our public health messaging around the vaccines has been negative, as David Leonhardt has compellingly argued at The New York Times. "Right now, public discussion of the vaccines is full of warnings about their limitations," Leonhardt writes. "They're not 100 percent effective. Even vaccinated people may be able to spread the virus. And people shouldn't change their behavior once they get their shots." These warnings have a "basis in truth," he adds, but their collective impression is deeply — dangerously — misleading. They're adding to the very fears discussion of the vaccines should be relieving. "We're underselling the vaccine," one expert told Leonhardt. "It's driving me a little bit crazy," said another. A third: "It's going to save your life — that's where the emphasis has to be right now." There are two very different sources for the underselling Leonhardt describes. One is what we saw with the Trump administration: unjustified skepticism of vaccines generally, of the COVID-19 vaccine specifically, and (somehow, after 400,000 deaths even with all the lockdowns and distancing and so on) the reality of COVID-19 itself. This is the mindset encouraged by an ex-president apparently unwilling to get his own shot even though it might enhance his personal immunity and convince millions of his followers this vaccination is safe and desirable. The temptation for the Biden administration will be the opposite extreme, what critics have dubbed "doomerism." This is the perspective in which all risk is unacceptable, the mindset that last spring castigated Floridians for taking perfectly safe walks on the beach and now produces headlines like, "Vaccinated Brits told not to hug kids amid fears millions will ignore COVID rules once they have jab." However good the intentions here, any health message to the general public which says to refuse to hug your children indefinitely even after vaccination — and the article doesn't specify adult children in a separate household; it seems to be a blanket directive — should be a non-starter. It is utterly hopeless. Perhaps nothing is more certain to push an already-anxious public into pandemic nihilism and dismissal of vaccination as useless or worse.
1-22-21 Trump impeachment: Senate trial poised to start next week
Donald Trump's impeachment trial over his role in the deadly US Capitol riot is poised to begin next week in the Senate, according to Democrats. On Monday, the House of Representatives will deliver the impeachment charge to the Senate, triggering the trial process in the 100-member chamber. Republicans had argued for a delay, asking for more time to prepare. Mr Trump flew to Florida as his term ended on Wednesday, skipping his successor Joe Biden's inauguration. The House of Representatives last week charged Mr Trump with inciting a deadly riot at the US Capitol, paving the way for a Senate trial. If convicted, he could be barred from future office. Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said on Friday that the House would deliver the impeachment article on Monday. Unless Democrats, who took control of the Senate this week, change the rules, it will mean Mr Trump's trial will begin on Tuesday. "The Senate will conduct a trial of the impeachment of Donald Trump. It will be a full trial. It will be a fair trial," Senate Majority Leader Schumer said on the floor of the Senate. Mr Trump's actions ahead of the 6 January riot are at the heart of the case. The then president told protesters near the White House to "peacefully and patriotically" make their voices heard as they prepared to march towards the US Capitol building. He also told them to "fight like hell". The demonstration turned ugly as a mob forced its way into the congressional complex where lawmakers were certifying Mr Biden's election victory. Four protesters and a Capitol Police officer died in the mayhem. A week later, Mr Trump became the first US president to be impeached twice. His trial in the Senate will be the only one ever to have taken place after a president has left office.
1-22-21 Trump impeachment: Republicans seek delay until February
Republicans in the US Senate are asking Democrats to delay the start of former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial until February. They argue that this will give Mr Trump time to prepare a defence. The House of Representatives last week charged Mr Trump with inciting a deadly riot at the US Capitol, paving the way for a Senate trial. If convicted, he could be barred from future office. Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer is reviewing the Republicans' request. Some Democrats back a delay, saying it will give the Senate more time to confirm cabinet nominees, but others say a speedy trial is necessary to allow the country to move on. Mr Trump flew to Florida as his term ended on Wednesday, skipping his successor Joe Biden's inauguration. Mr Trump's actions ahead of the 6 January riot are at the heart of the case. The then president told protesters near the White House to "peacefully and patriotically" make their voices heard as they prepared to march towards the US Capitol building. He also told them to "fight like hell". The demonstration turned ugly as a mob forced its way into the congressional complex where lawmakers were certifying Mr Biden's election victory. Four protesters and a Capitol Police officer died in the mayhem. A week later, Mr Trump became the first US president to be impeached twice. His trial in the Senate will be the only one ever to have taken place after a president has left office. On a call to his fellow Republican senators on Thursday, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said he had asked House Democrats to hold off sending the single impeachment article to the Senate until 28 January - the move that would kick-start the trial's first phase. Under this timetable, Mr Trump would then have two weeks - until 11 February - to submit his pre-trial defence. Arguments would be expected to begin in mid-February. Republicans, who as of Wednesday no longer control the Senate, need the new Democratic majority leader, Mr Schumer, to agree to the idea.
1-22-21 Coronavirus vaccine delays halt Pfizer jabs in parts of Europe
Vaccinations in parts of Europe are being held up and in some cases halted because of a cut in deliveries of the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine. Germany's most populous state and several regions in Italy have suspended first jabs, while vaccinations for medics in Madrid have been stopped too. The US pharmaceutical firm has had to cut deliveries temporarily while cases in many European countries surge. Germany has reached 50,000 Covid deaths and Spain has seen record infections. Italy and Poland have threatened to take legal action in response to the reduction in vaccines. Pfizer said last week it was delaying shipments for the next few weeks because of work to increase capacity at its Belgian processing plant. The EU has ordered 600 million doses from Pfizer and has also authorised the Moderna vaccine. Responding to the delays, Hungary's right-wing Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, said the EU had to take some responsibility because of its slow approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which may come at the end of next week. Hungary has reached a deal with Russia to buy up large quantities of the Sputnik V vaccine, even though it has not received EU approval. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said after an EU summit on Thursday night that quick delivery had to be ensured. "We are determined to provide more predictability and stability to the delivery process and we look forward to more vaccines and more doses coming on stream soon," she said. Italy has been told to expect a a 20% cut in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine next week - it has already seen a 29% dip this week - and Rome is considering legal action. Special Covid commissioner Domenico Arcuri says jabs fell from 80,000 a day to an average of 28,000 last Saturday. Some Italian regions have seen a 60% fall in doses. Germany, where BioNTech is based, has had several states struggle with vaccine deliveries. North Rhine-Westphalia, in the west, halted jabs in hospitals on Tuesday and paused first vaccinations in nursing homes too. Second vaccinations are continuing but special centres for the over-80s will not open now until next month.
1-22-21 Africa's long wait for the Covid-19 vaccine
Africa will have to wait "weeks if not months" before receiving Covid-19 vaccines approved by the World Health Organization, according to various officials working towards getting doses for the continent. Close to 900 million doses have been secured so far through various initiatives, enough to inoculate about 30% of the continent's 1.3 billion people this year. Hoarding by wealthy nations, funding shortfalls, regulations and cold chain requirements have slowed the process of rolling out the vaccines. "The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure and the price will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the poorest countries," warned WHO head Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus. Calls for equity have been growing. Close to 40 million doses have been administered in at least 49 higher-income countries, compared to just 25 doses given in just one of the lowest-income countries, according to Dr Tedros. "Not 25 million, not 25,000, just 25," he said, without saying which country. So far, none of the main, Western vaccines has yet been administered in Africa, almost two months after the first doses were rolled out in Europe. A coalition of organisations and activists dubbed The People's Vaccine Alliance found that "rich nations representing just 14% of the world's population had bought up more than half (53%) of all the most promising vaccines." That included all of Moderna's vaccines for 2021 and 96% of Pfizer's expected production. Canada topped the chart, according to the data by analytics company Airfinity, "with enough doses to vaccinate each Canadian five times". Much of that demand has to be met before lower income countries can have a turn. In Africa, the situation rekindles memories of the 1990s, when antiretroviral (ARVs) treatment for HIV/Aids was made in the United States. Even though the continent had a much bigger population of people infected with HIV, it took at least six years before the life-saving treatment could be available for Africans. Twelve million people died in Africa from Aids-related complications in a decade, even as mortality in the US dropped drastically, according to analyses by the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
1-21-21 Howard students' joy as Kamala Harris makes history
Kamala Harris broke barriers to become America's first female, first black and first Asian-American vice-president. Students at her alma mater, Howard University, are inspired to follow her lead. The BBC asked them to film themselves watching the moment she made history.
1-21-21 Covid-19 news: ‘Too early to say’ when England lockdown will be lifted
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Too soon to say when restrictions in England could be lifted, says UK prime minister. US president Joe Biden signed 10 executive orders aimed at boosting the country’s fight against covid-19, including halting US withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO). The emergency legislation also aims to accelerate the nation’s covid-19 vaccination programme, increase coronavirus testing and increase the production of personal protective equipment, such as masks. On Thursday, it is expected that Biden will issue a directive including the intent to join the WHO’s vaccine accelerating COVAX scheme, which is working to deliver vaccines to low-income countries. Overall, the Biden administration is aiming to develop a comprehensive strategy for dealing with the pandemic, Biden’s covid-19 task force coordinator, Jeff Zients, told journalists. The US has recorded more than 24.4 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic and more than 406,000 deaths from covid-19. The European Union may ban travel from the UK and restrict movement across internal borders, in order to try to curb the spread of new coronavirus variants. Leaders will discuss potential measures on Thursday evening. “The danger is that when the infections in a country go up, this mutation becomes a quasi-majority variant and then the infection can no longer be controlled,” German chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, told German broadcaster ARD. “And therefore even stricter entry rules at our internal borders are unavoidable, and since everyone does not want that, it is important that we act together now.”
1-21-21 Covid dominates Biden’s first full day
Newly-elected US President Joe Biden has signed a series of executive orders reversing some of Trump's policies. He set America on the path to re-joining the Paris climate agreement and scrapped plans for the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline. He recommitted the US to the World Health Organization and ordered face masks to be worn on federal land. Biden ended a travel ban on majority-Muslim countries and ordered construction on Trump's Mexico border wall to stop. He is expected to sign 10 more executive orders later on Thursday as part of his ambitious plan to tackle the pandemic. World leaders welcomed the new presidency, hoping for a reset in relations after four turbulent years under Donald Trump. Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president in a ceremony on Wednesday, with few present due to the coronavirus restrictions. Kamala Harris was sworn in as vice-president - the first female and first black and Asian-American person to serve in the role.
1-21-21 Biden to sign 10 executive orders to tackle Covid-19
President Joe Biden is set to sign 10 executive orders to boost the fight against Covid which has ravaged the US. Vaccination will be accelerated and testing increased. Emergency legislation will be used to increase production of essentials like masks. In a break with former President Donald Trump, the policy stresses a national strategy rather than relying on states to decide what is best. The moves comes a day after Mr Biden was sworn in as the 46th president. The Trump administration was widely accused of failing to get to grips with the pandemic. In terms of total deaths from coronavirus, the US is the worst-hit country with more than 406,000 lives lost according to Johns Hopkins University. Nearly 24.5m have been infected. In his inauguration speech, Mr Biden warned that the coronavirus pandemic in the US was entering its "deadliest period". Mr Biden's Covid-19 task force co-ordinator, Jeff Zients, told reporters that under Mr Trump there was no strategy at federal level and a comprehensive approach was lacking. "As President Biden steps into office today, that all changes," he said. The administration unveiled a seven-point plan which included efforts to facilitate effective distribution of vaccines and reliable access to testing. "The American people deserve an urgent, robust and professional response to the growing public health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak," an introduction to the plan said. It said Mr Biden believed the government "must act swiftly and aggressively to help protect and support" essential workers and the most vulnerable. The aim is to give 100 million vaccine doses by the end of April, and reopen most schools safely within 100 days. Vaccine centres will be established at stadiums and community facilities. There will be more funding for state and local officials to help tackle the pandemic, and a new office will be established to co-ordinate the national response. The Defense Production Act will be used to speed up production of personal protective equipment and essential supplies needed for vaccine production. Mr Trump used the same piece of legislation to compel the production of items in short supply last year.
1-21-21 Biden administration outlines its ambitious plan to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic
The president plans to ask Congress for $400 billion to respond to the health crisis. Inauguration Day marks both a grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic and a new chapter in the U.S. response to it. On January 19, the United States surpassed 400,000 coronavirus deaths. A day later, newly sworn-in President Joe Biden was poised to launch an ambitious plan to tackle the public health crisis, including distributing 100 million vaccine shots in his first 100 days, issuing a “100 Days Masking Challenge” to encourage the public to wear masks and requiring people to keep physically distant and wear masks in federal buildings and on federal lands. The President also intends to ask Congress to spend $400 billion to kick-start his national COVID-19 response. The plan includes: 1. $20 billion for a national vaccine program that would partner with states, localities and tribal nations to fast-track vaccine rollout. The plan calls for more vaccination sites, including mobile centers, and expanded efforts to reach underserved communities. The National Guard will also be made available to states to assist with the effort; 2. $50 billion to expand testing, including bolstering support for laboratories and purchasing rapid antigen tests; 3. Funding 100,000 public health workers to aid in contact tracing, vaccine distribution or other needs of local health departments; 4. Expanding paid leave programs to allow more workers to stay home if sick. Exactly how much money goes toward these, and other, efforts depends in part on Congress, and the details will likely change in the coming weeks. Science News talked with Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and an adviser to the Biden transition team’s COVID-19 advisory board, about the new administration’s plans to handle the pandemic. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
1-21-21 Biden inauguration leaves QAnon believers in disarray
Followers of the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory are split over how to react after Joe Biden's inauguration confounded their predictions that Donald Trump would remain president in order to punish his enemies in the "deep state". Many reacted with shock and despair as Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th US president. "I just want to throw up," said one in a popular chat on the Telegram messaging app. "I'm so sick of all the disinformation and false hope." For weeks, QAnon followers had been promoting 20 January as a day of reckoning, when prominent Democrats and other elite "Satanic paedophiles" would be arrested and executed on the orders of President Trump. But, as Mr Biden took his oath and no arrests were made, some in the QAnon community had an uncomfortable meeting with reality. "It's done and we were played," wrote another. In the hours that followed, thousands more made similar comments on platforms like Gab, Telegram and other online forums where believers go to discuss the conspiracy, after being kicked off mainstream social media in the wake of the Capitol riots. Doubt even seeped into posts by some of the biggest influencers of the movement, as some started to question the phrase "trust the plan" - a key QAnon slogan that has been used by Q, an anonymous figure whom followers believe to be an influential government insider. "This is a very difficult day for all of us," said one influencer whose Twitter account with 200,000 followers was recently suspended. "Today's inauguration makes no sense to the Christian patriots and we thought 'the plan' was the way we would take this country back." The QAnon community "risks fracturing", said another influencer on Gab, a right-wing social media platform, adding that "real friendships might be irreparably damaged because people are angry". A number of extremist and neo-Nazi Telegram channels have already tried to capitalise on the chaos in the QAnon community, asking their members to seek out and convert distraught followers.
1-20-21 Covid-19 news: UK hospitals ‘like a war zone’ as deaths hit new record
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Hospitals in the UK under ‘enormous pressure’, says chief scientific adviser. UK hospitals are under significant strain, the country’s chief scientific adviser has warned, as hospital admissions and deaths continue to rise. “It may not look like it when you go for a walk in the park, but when you go into a hospital, this is very, very bad at the moment with enormous pressure and in some cases it looks like a war zone in terms of the things that people are having to deal with,” said Patrick Vallance. There are currently 39,068 people in hospital with covid-19 across the country, with 3947 receiving ventilation. On Wednesday, the UK reported 1820 deaths from covid-19 within 28 days of a positive test – the highest daily increase since the start of the pandemic. In the seven days up to 17 January, the UK reported an average of 1218 covid-19 deaths each day. A formula used to distribute covid-19 vaccines in England, which didn’t account for the size of GP practices, has resulted in fewer people receiving the jab in London, according to London mayor Sadiq Khan. He told the Guardian the supply model is now going to be revised, following a crisis meeting with UK vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi last week. NHS England figures show that 388,437 people in London have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine – the lowest of any region in England – despite London being one of the largest NHS regions in the country, with a population of 8.6 million people. The Midlands region, which includes 10.6 million people, has administered the most first doses of vaccine at 713,602. “Some areas have had different logistical challenges than others,” a spokesperson for Boris Johnson told the Guardian. US president Joe Biden held a vigil in Washington DC on Tuesday to memorialise the more than 400,000 people in the US who have died from covid-19. “To heal, we must remember,” he said at the memorial. “It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation.”
1-20-21 Trump pardons dozens in final hours, including ex-aide Steve Bannon
In the final hours of his presidency, Donald Trump has pardoned 73 people, including his former adviser Steve Bannon, who is facing fraud charges. Another 70 people had sentences commuted, ahead of Joe Biden's inauguration at noon (17:00 GMT). Rapper Lil Wayne received a pardon and there were commutations for rapper Kodak Black and former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. The president has not issued preemptive pardons for himself or family members. He can still issue more pardons on Wednesday morning, as he remains president until Mr Biden takes the oath of office outside the US Capitol. The inauguration ceremony will be tight on security following the recent breach of the Capitol by violent pro-Trump protesters. It will also be stripped of crowds due to the coronavirus pandemic. A statement from the White House listed the 73 individuals who had received pardons and the 70 who had their sentences commuted. Although many on the list are conventional examples of convicts whose cases have been championed by rights activists and supporters in the community, others maintain the president's trend of focusing on allies. Steve Bannon was a key strategist and adviser to President Trump during his 2016 campaign. He was charged in August last year with fraud over a fundraising campaign to build a wall on the US-Mexico border to stem illegal immigration, a key plank of Mr Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. Prosecutors said Mr Bannon and three others defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors in connection with the "We Build the Wall" campaign, which pledged to use donations to build segments of the barrier and raised $25m (£18m). It was alleged Mr Bannon received more than $1m, at least some of which he used to cover personal expenses. He denied the claims. As he was yet to stand trial his pardon is unusual, though certainly not unprecedented. The White House statement said Mr Bannon had been "an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen". It said prosecutors had "pursued" him with charges "related to fraud stemming from his involvement in a political project".
1-20-21 Biden inauguration: Trump leaves White House vowing 'we will be back'
Donald Trump has vowed he will be "back in some form" after departing the White House for the final time as president. He told supporters as he prepared to fly to Florida that it had been "a great honour to be your president". He is the first president to snub his successor's inauguration since 1869 but did say: "I wish the new administration great luck and great success." Joe Biden will take the oath of office by noon (17:00 GMT) in Washington amid heavy security. Some 25,000 troops will guard the inauguration ceremony following a deadly riot by pro-Trump supporters at the Capitol earlier this month. Mr Trump delivered his final speech as president at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, after flying there from the White House with First Lady Melania Trump. In a typically unscripted speech, he highlighted his "amazing" achievements, citing job creation, the establishment of a "Space Force", policies for veterans and on taxation, as well as the speedy development of Covid vaccines. He urged people to be "very, very careful" about the "horrible" pandemic and paid respects to those who had suffered. He added: "It's been a great honour and privilege to be your president... I will always fight for you. I will be watching. I will be listening. "I wish the new administration great luck and great success. I think they will have great success. They have the foundation to do something really spectacular." But, as with his farewell video address on Tuesday, he did not mention Mr Biden by name. Mr Trump added: "Goodbye. We love you. We will be back in some form. Have a good life. We will see you soon." He also paid tribute to his Vice-President Mike Pence, who was not at Andrews, having chosen instead to attend the inauguration ceremony. Mr Trump will be the first president not to attend his successor's inauguration since Andrew Johnson snubbed Ulysses S Grant in 1869.
1-20-21 Biden inauguration: New president to be sworn in amid Trump snub
Joe Biden is preparing to be sworn in as the 46th US president, ending one of the most dramatic political transitions in American history. He is due to take the oath of office at about 12:00 local time (17:00 GMT). Outgoing President Donald Trump, who has not formally conceded to Mr Biden, is snubbing the ceremony. The new president has announced a raft of executive orders aimed at dealing with the coronavirus crisis and reversing Mr Trump's key policies. Mr Trump left the White House for the last time as president shortly after 08:00 (13:00 GMT). He boarded a helicopter, flew to the nearby Andrews base, and is now flying to Florida. He is the first president not to attend his successor's inauguration since 1869. Mr Biden, a Democrat, will take the oath of office outside the US Capitol. There is extra-tight security after the building was stormed by violent pro-Trump protesters in a deadly riot on 6 January. Some 25,000 troops are guarding the inauguration ceremony, which will be missing the traditional hundreds of thousands of spectators because of the coronavirus pandemic. Alongside Mr Biden, Kamala Harris will make history when she is sworn in as the nation's first female vice-president. Early on Wednesday Mr Biden attended Mass at a cathedral in Washington - along with four Roman Catholic congressional leaders, both Democrats and Republicans - before making his way to the Capitol. Age 78, Mr Biden is the oldest US president ever to be sworn in. He will take the oath of office from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Among those present are three of his predecessors: Barack Obama - under whom Mr Biden served for eight years as vice-president - Bill Clinton and George W Bush. Outgoing Vice-President Mike Pence will also attend the ceremony. He skipped Mr Trump's farewell military salute event at Andrews base. Aides say Mr Biden will use his inaugural address of about half an hour to deliver an optimistic call for national unity after his Republican predecessor's turbulent tenure.
1-20-21 Biden inauguration: The stage is set at Capitol
Joe Biden has arrived at the US Capitol in Washington, where he will be sworn in as 46th US president just before 17:00 GMT. Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris will take the oath of office alongside him - the first woman to hold that position. Guests include former president Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, George W. Bush and Laura Bush, and Bill and Hillary Clinton. Trump will not attend his successor's inauguration - only the fourth president not to do so - but his deputy Mike Pence will be there. Biden and Harris started their day with a church service at the Cathedral of St Matthew in Washington. Some 25,000 troops will guard the inauguration ceremony after a deadly riot at the Capitol earlier this month. Donald and Melania Trump have left the White House for the last time, aboard the Marine One helicopter. The outgoing president spoke at a military send-off at Joint Base Andrews before flying to his resort in Florida. In the final hours of his presidency Trump pardoned 73 people, including his former adviser Steve Bannon. It’s windy from our live position looking down on the White House, as the behind-the-scenes ritual is under way of preparing the president’s residence for the next occupant. The pandemic and the circumstances of Donald Trump’s departure have made this tradition all the stranger. A speedy deep clean of the residence is under way, now that the 45th president and first lady have left for Florida. Staff have more time than usual to get ready for the next president, since Mr Trump is not attending the inaugural of his successor. One tradition which Mr Trump is honouring - he’s left a note for Joe Biden in the Resolute desk, reportedly at the urging of his chief of staff Mark Meadows.
1-20-21 Kamala Harris: A beginner's guide to being vice-president
Kamala Harris will make history when she takes the oath of office on Wednesday, becoming the first woman and first black and South Asian American to serve as US vice-president. Here's what awaits Ms Harris in her new job. Historically speaking, not a lot. It has been described as the least understood, most ridiculed and most often ignored constitutional role in the federal government, and for a long time it stayed that way. "The role of the vice-president was, frankly, to just be that heartbeat away from the president," said Barbara Perry, the director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia's Miller Centre. Unless the president died, or was seriously ill, the vice-president's job was largely to sit around and wait. For some vice-presidents, the dynamic meant holding a job you hoped would never be needed. "One of the vice-presidents in the early 20th Century said, 'Every day I ring the doorbell at the White House and hope the president will answer,'" Ms Perry said. That's not a role to take lightly. Nine of the country's 45 presidents has left office before the end of their term, eight by death - about one fifth of all presidents - giving their vice-presidents a sudden promotion. At 78 years old, Mr Biden will be the oldest president to assume the office, putting added stress on his next-in-line. It wasn't until the 1970s, under President Jimmy Carter, that the vice-president began to assume a bigger role. Mr Carter, a former Georgia governor, had built his candidacy around being a political outsider. "He knew he didn't know Washington," Ms Perry said. So when he won the nomination, he called on Walter Mondale, a long-time US senator, to show him the ropes and be a "true governing partner". While their close relationship was new, their strategic match followed a well-worn pattern of vice-presidents offering geographical or ideological balance to the president.
1-20-21 The inauguration's sad symbolism
Like almost every other aspect of the past year, Wednesday's inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won't look like any we've seen before. Aside from the alterations that have been made due to the coronavirus pandemic, the special measures being taken because of the January 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol and the ongoing threat of violence from Trump loyalists mean that this day will be a terrifyingly unique moment in history. The security measures are extensive. As many as 25,000 troops have been deployed to Washington, D.C. The National Mall, normally filled with as many as one million spectators, has been declared off limits, and barricades circle the Capitol where the inauguration ceremony will take place. Across the city, various zones have been marked off to restrict traffic and general movement. As The New York Times recently reported, "the security perimeter…is necessary to prevent an attack from domestic extremists. Such groups 'pose the most likely threat' to the inauguration, according to a joint threat assessment from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security." None of those threats should be confused with the legitimate and lawful protests that often accompany a presidential transition. Indeed, peaceful protests have been a regular feature of presidential inaugurations — and of American history itself. But the violence that has marked this presidential transition, and that possibly overshadows Wednesday's events, demonstrates the particular danger Trumpism still poses to the country and how much it has assaulted the basic foundations of American democracy. Especially in the 20th century, when inaugurations became enormous public spectacles, Americans have regularly protested the events. Sometimes they protested the person taking office. Other times, they used the moment to direct attention to a cherished cause. That was the case at the first major protest to mark an inauguration. In 1913, over five thousand women marched down Pennsylvania Avenue on the day before Woodrow Wilson's swearing in as president in what became known as the Women's Suffrage Parade. Wanting to bring focus to their call for a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, the marchers instead drew the ire of thousands of spectators, many of whom unleashed violent attacks on the women as police stood by. But the parade gave a boost to the growing suffrage movement. Seven years later, the Nineteenth Amendment fulfilled their goal. In the second half of the century, protests at presidential inaugurations accelerated. Anti-Vietnam War protestors gathered in Washington for Richard Nixon's first and second inaugurations in 1969 and 1973. At the latter, as many as 60,000 anti-war activists shouted, "Nixon, Agnew, you can't hide; we charge you with genocide." Opponents of another war, this time in Iraq, descended on George W. Bush's second inauguration in 2005. By then, Bush was used to it. Four years earlier, 20,000 of what The New York Times described as "loud but mostly peaceful protestors" had shown up to demonstrate against what they believed had been a stolen election. Much smaller protests visited Barack Obama's two inaugurations. His successor, however, would witness the largest protest ever assembled for a presidential inauguration when nearly half a million people in D.C. — and at least four million more in cities across the United States — joined in the Women's March the day after Donald Trump was sworn in.
1-20-21 Global spread of UK coronavirus variant could overwhelm health systems
THE more infectious coronavirus variant from the UK has gone global, causing fears that it could lead to a new wave of infections and deaths around the world in coming months if not brought under control. That brings new urgency to vaccination efforts. The B.1.1.7 variant has so far been reported in 55 countries. There is no evidence that it is more deadly, nor that it is yet spreading locally outside Europe and North America. But initial studies suggest that it is around 50 per cent more transmissible. That is actually a bigger problem than if it were more deadly, says Adam Kucharski at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. A simple calculation illustrates why. Suppose 10,000 people are infected in a city and each infects 1.1 other people on average, the low end for the estimated rate of infection in England now. After a month, 16,000 people would have been infected. If the infection fatality rate is 0.8 per cent, as it was in England at the end of the first wave of infections, it would mean 128 deaths. With a variant that is 50 per cent more deadly, those 16,000 cases would result in 192 deaths. But with a variant that is 50 per cent more transmissible, though no more deadly, there would be 122,000 cases after a month, leading to 976 deaths. To halt a surge in UK cases partly due to B.1.1.7, England and Scotland this month joined Wales and Northern Ireland in strict lockdown. By the start of this week, all parts of the UK had brought in tougher travel rules. Last month, Ireland began a strict lockdown after reporting the fastest growth rate of any country in coronavirus cases. One reason was relaxed restrictions in early December, with pubs and restaurants reopening, says Kingston Mills at Trinity College Dublin. But by last week, nearly half of all new cases were due to B.1.1.7. “I think it was a combination of both,” he says. The B.1.1.7 variant is now spreading locally in other nations in Europe and in some US states.
1-20-21 Recruiters less likely to contact ethnic minority groups on Swiss site
People from ethnic minority groups are less likely to be contacted by job recruiters than people from the majority group, according to an analysis of users on a Swiss public employment website. Dominik Hangartner of ETH Zurich in Switzerland and colleagues studied the actions of more than 43,000 recruiters who conducted 450,000 searches of 17.4 million jobseekers’ profiles between March and December 2017. They tracked every click to see how recruiters interacted with the profiles, which include information on ethnicity, age and nationality inserted by case workers at the Swiss national employment agency, similar to Job Centre Plus in the UK. How often Swiss nationals born in the country and from the majority ethnic group were contacted by recruiters was used as the baseline for the analysis, with the probability of recruiters clicking a button to contact job applicants based on ethnicity calculated relative to that. The team found that people from immigrant and ethnic minority groups were up to 19 per cent less likely to be contacted. Recruiters spent only 0.3 seconds less, on average, on profiles of ethnic minority jobseekers, which the researchers say means the result cannot be entirely explained by recruiters consciously discriminating against people based on ethnicity. But the time recruiters spent on a person’s profile varied depending on the time of day: between 9am and 10am, they spent 10.5 seconds on average per profile, and 12 per cent less time on those from jobseekers from minority ethnic backgrounds. Between 5pm and 6pm, they spent 9.5 seconds on the average profile, and 14.7 per cent less on ethnic minority accounts. Similar variations are found just before lunch breaks. The team found no significant difference based on the gender of applicants for the average job.
1-19-21 Can coronavirus variants reinfect people and evade the vaccines?
SOON after vaccination began in many countries, reports of faster-spreading coronavirus variants triggered fears that vaccines might not protect against them. The good news is that initial studies suggest that the existing shots will still work, although they might be slightly less effective against two variants, one that emerged in South Africa and one from Brazil. “I am optimistic that current vaccines will remain quite useful,” says Jesse Bloom at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. “But I do expect that eventually it will be necessary to update vaccines to account for viral evolution.” Antibodies are our main defence against viruses. When we get infected by a new virus, our immune system starts producing a range of antibodies that bind to various parts of viral proteins. Not all antibodies are equal. Studies show that only a few antibodies can “neutralise” viruses and prevent infections. These neutralising antibodies bind to key sites on viral proteins. For the coronavirus, one such site is the part of its so-called spike protein that binds to receptors on human cells and helps the virus get inside – the receptor binding domain. If this part of the spike protein changes, neutralising antibodies may not bind as well. A rapidly spreading variant named B.1.1.7, first spotted in the UK, has only one mutation that affects this binding domain. Initial studies of antibodies from those previously infected by the coronavirus or given the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine show little or no drop in effectiveness against B.1.1.7. The variant from South Africa, called B.1.351, is of more concern. It has three mutations in the binding domain, including one named E484K as it occurs at a site called E484. The variant from Brazil, known as P.1, has almost the same three mutations. According to a computer model, B.1.351’s spread can be explained by this variant being 50 per cent more transmissible or 20 per cent better at evading immunity in previously infected people, when compared with previous variants. Lab studies point to the latter.
1-19-21 Biden inauguration rehearsal paused amid US Capitol lockdown
The Capitol complex in Washington DC was briefly locked down after a security alert, two days before Joe Biden is inaugurated as US president. Police say they acted out of an abundance of caution after witnesses reported smoke rising nearby. The fire was several blocks away. It came amid preparations for a rehearsal for Mr Biden's inauguration. Five people died after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, which is home to the US Congress, on 6 January. Thousands of National Guard reserve soldiers have been deployed at the Capitol and around central Washington DC. There was no threat to the public, officials said after Monday's lockdown. Congress is currently in recess. Security is tight after the rioters overran the Capitol earlier this month. The National Mall - the landscaped park around the complex - has been closed, along with many major roads. Fences have been put up around the White House. The inauguration rehearsal scheduled for Monday has already been postponed once on security grounds. All 50 US states and the District of Columbia (DC) are on alert for possible violent protests. The FBI has warned of possible armed marches by pro-Trump supporters across state capitols. Once he is sworn in, Mr Biden will issue executive orders to reverse President Trump's travel bans and re-join the Paris climate accord. The president-elect is also expected to focus on reuniting families separated at the US-Mexico border, and to issue mandates on Covid-19 and mask-wearing. Mr Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris will take the oath of office in front of the Capitol building, overlooking the National Mall. Normally a crowd of hundreds of thousands would be there to witness a significant moment in American national life. However, between the coronavirus pandemic and security concerns, the size of the crowd is being severely restricted this year.
1-19-21 Capitol riots: Are US militia groups becoming more active?
Far-right groups like those that took part in the Capitol riots are an increasing and serious threat across the US, experts say. Since Joe Biden's victory in the presidential election in November, the involvement of armed groups in demonstrations has increased significantly, according to a group that tracks political violence. The FBI has warned of armed protests in all 50 states ahead of Mr Biden's inauguration on 20 January. The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) says far-right groups have taken an increasing part in demonstrations against the election result. Demonstrations are more likely to turn violent if militia members are present, the ACLED says. And these groups have not just started attending more protests - they are also ramping up training and recruitment events. There are dozens of militias across the US with varying ideologies, but generally they are anti-government. While they don't necessarily advocate violence, often they are armed and some have engaged in violent demonstrations. Many say they are acting in self-defence over fears of what they believe to be increasing federal government intrusion, with gun control a particular concern. Some states require militias to be authorised by the state government, but the second amendment of the US constitution limits the extent to which controls can be imposed on their activities. The number of militia groups declined in the US between 2017 and 2019, which militia researcher Amy Cooter says is a common pattern under Republican presidents. Despite typically being anti-government, these groups have increasingly gravitated towards President Trump. "Most of these groups see Mr Trump as the closest person to their ideal president that we have ever had," says Ms Cooter. Militia activity is widespread across most of the US.
1-19-21 US Capitol riots: Trump supporter arrested after Pelosi 'data theft'
A Donald Trump supporter suspected of stealing a laptop or hard drive from Democrat Nancy Pelosi's office during the US Capitol riots has been arrested. Riley June Williams, 22, was detained in Pennsylvania on charges of violently and illegally entering the building, and disorderly conduct. A former romantic partner had said in an affidavit Ms Williams intended to sell the data to Russian intelligence. Five people died after a pro-Trump mob stormed Congress on 6 January. Ms Williams' case is among more than 200 that have been opened since the president's supporters forced their way into the Capitol building as lawmakers met to confirm Joe Biden's election win. Ms Williams was arrested on Monday in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, police records show. Ms Williams had surrendered herself to authorities, sources told CBS News. The charge sheet lists "knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds". It makes no mention of the data allegations. The FBI is reportedly still investigating these claims, which were carried in a sworn statement presented by an FBI agent to a court. The affidavit says Ms Williams was seen in TV footage directing crowds who stormed the Capitol. The FBI agent in the court filing says the agency was tipped off by a former romantic partner of Ms Williams who alleged she had intended to take a laptop or hard drive from the office of Ms Pelosi, the Democrat Speaker of the House of Representatives. The witness "stated that Williams intended to send the computer device to a friend in Russia, who then planned to sell the device to SVR, Russia's foreign intelligence service", the affidavit said. The transfer of the device "fell through for unknown reasons", the witness is alleged to have said, "and Williams still has the computer device or destroyed it". Ms Pelosi's deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, tweeted two days after the attack that a laptop had been stolen from the speaker's office but it was only used to give presentations. The affidavit goes on to give details of an ITV News report from inside the Capitol building at the time of the siege, in which a woman identified as Ms Williams can be seen and heard directing the crowd to go up a staircase that leads to Ms Pelosi's office.
1-19-21 Pardons expected on Trump's final full day
Donald Trump is expected to pardon dozens of people on his final full day in office. Former New York Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver and the rapper Lil Wayne are among those reported to be under consideration. Democrat Joe Biden will be sworn in on Wednesday. Preparations are under way for the inauguration, with heightened security at the Capitol. Confirmation hearings begin in the Senate for some of Joe Biden's cabinet nominees. There could be as many as 25,000 National Guard troops in Washington DC by tomorrow. As many observers have pointed out on social media, that's more US troops than are currently stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. "We're making sure that our folks are trained and ready for anything they're going to be asked to do," said General Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau. In an interview on the TODAY Show, Hokanson said his Guardsmen - who have arrived in the nation's capital from all over the country - will co-ordinate with the Secret Service and other federal agencies on security and logistics for inauguration-related events. Referring to fears that right-wing extremists may be among the ranks of the National Guard, Hokanson said the organisation had vetted all troops. "I'm not concerned about that at all," said Hokanson. "We don't allow extremism of any type in our organisation." However, according to the Associated Press, two members of the National Guard have just been pulled from the security mission after they were found to have ties to right-wing militia groups. No plot against Joe Biden has been uncovered. The US Senate is back at work for the first time since its members voted to certify the results of the 2020 election. The upper chamber is holding confirmation hearings for five nominees to Joe Biden's cabinet. After two upset victories for the Democratic Party in Georgia earlier this month, the Senate is now split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. Leaders of the two parties - Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republican Mitch McConnell - are reportedly due to meet today to discuss how they will share power in the divided chamber. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not yet transmitted articles of impeachment against the president to the Senate, an action that must take place before it can begin its impeachment trial and decide whether or not to convict President Trump.
1-19-21 The most alarming thing about the Trump presidency
The presidency of Donald J. Trump is ending not with a whimper but with something like blissful silence. This doesn't mean the Trump administration ended early. On Monday, two days before the swearing in of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States, Trump issued an executive order calling for the creation of a statue-filled National Garden of American Heroes. On Tuesday, Trump's last day in office, he's set to issue dozens of pardons that are bound to make waves. Yet something has nonetheless been different about the waning days of the Trump administration — and that is how little the president himself has been heard from. After four years of incessant lies, insults, exaggerations, and poisonous conspiracy-mongering, the presidential gaslighting came to an abrupt end when Twitter and Facebook muzzled Trump by suspending his accounts in the days following the on Jan. 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill. The result has been 10 days unlike any similar stretch of time since January 2017. And that tells us something important about what we've lived through since then. In the days following Trump's inauguration four years ago, I proposed that in trying to make sense of the new and highly unusual administration just getting off the ground, analysts should work to separate out the normal from the abnormal and the truly alarming. The normal included things any Republican president would do — nominate conservative judges, support tax cuts, take executive action to roll back regulations, break from the Iran nuclear deal and Paris climate accord. The abnormal, meanwhile, involved policy moves connected to distinctively Trumpian policy commitments. These included everything from the travel ban and family separation on the Southern border to an international trade war, insults to allies, and chummy meetings with Kim Jong Un. For someone like myself, who isn't a Republican at all, there has been plenty in both categories to dislike, even hate. But most of these have been reversible — and indeed, the incoming Biden administration is preparing to reverse many of them very quickly. This can cause its own problems, since severe, even diametric, shifts of direction from one administration to the next make it hard for citizens and business owners at home, as well as allies, rivals, and opponents on the world stage, to anticipate and plan for the future. But it also means that many of the bad things that Trump has done can be undone. But not all them. That's where the third category comes in — with those actions and statements of the president that may well have irreparably damaged absolutely crucial aspects of American democracy. One week into the Trump presidency, just days after the new commander in chief lied during a visit to CIA headquarters about the size of the crowd at his inauguration, I placed that and other early events firmly in the category of the truly alarming. Just a week into the Trump administration, I had no idea how bad things would get. Four years later, many of us feel like people about to be liberated from a psychological torture chamber where we've been subjected to continual abuse by a merciless tormenter out to break our wills — daring us, over and over again, to continue upholding the truth in the face of a torrent of lies.
1-19-21 Trump tried to act like a mob boss. Instead he's just a thug.
He's no Don Corleone. Throughout the final, tortured moments of the 2020 presidential campaign, Donald Trump took to referring to his rival, Joe Biden, as the head of "the Biden crime family." But as psychologist Mary L. Trump, the soon-to-be-erstwhile commander-in-chief's niece, and author of Too Much and Never Enough, has suggested, some of Trump's statements are, in fact, projections of his own behavior. Indeed, Trump's alpha male posturing and affected bravado — which he used to foment a personal brand of being a savvy businessman and a mover-and-shaker blessed with raw cunning — is bound up in the mythos of the mobster as portrayed in pop culture, film, and TV. However, the realities that seep through that mythos, like blood on carpet, demonstrate why Trump is leaving the White House at a record low in approval. Trump may have tried to affect the steely suaveness of the hyper-competent crime boss, but he failed because, in fact, he's a blundering thug. The grand figure of the gangster mythos is Marlon Brando's tuxedoed Vito Corleone, brows furrowed with the pain of being such an intense strategic and tactical genius, speaking with an eloquent pathos about loyalty. His famous-to-the-point-of-parody offer to get what he wants by making his rival "an offer he can't refuse" has its sleazier echo in Trump's self-described "perfect" phone calls to Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, asking him to "do me a favor, though" by launching a fake investigation into Joe Biden, and in his post-election conversation with Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia Secretary of State, in which he said, "I only need 11,000 votes … Give me a break … Or we can keep it going, but that's not fair to the voters of Georgia because they're going to see what happened." It turned out that these men — and 81,283,485 voters — could very much refuse Trump's offers. Trump's inability to muscle his way to victory is a testament to how the pop culture perception of the all-powerful kingpin collides with the more finite realities of wheeling and dealing in real life. "He knows how to perform [the role of a gangster], with the bullying and aggression," says Joe Loya, critically acclaimed author of The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell, podcaster of Bank Robber Diaries, and former bank robber. "He kept trying to do the thing that mobsters do where they don't say the thing [they're asking for]. Finally, he realizes nothing he's saying is sticking, so he comes out and says it. He's a buffoon." To Loya, this highly performative aspect of Trump's persona — the part that will make a show of firing people on TV or by tweet, but kowtows to men like Vladimir Putin — is why he fails to achieve the mettle of a successful gangster, or world leader: "If this guy walked down the prison tier, everyone would recognize him as puffery." Trump is no Don Corleone. But Loya does see similarities between Trump and the more bullish scion of the Corleone family, Sonny, "who rose to the top, ran the family, but only for a moment because he was undone by his hubris. There's this hubris among certain people that ensures the most glorious moments of their entire lives are tied to their doom."
1-19-21 Biden to block Trump's Covid rule change on president's final day in office
US President-elect Joe Biden is to undo one of Donald Trump's last actions in office by blocking his decree lifting Covid travel bans on visitors from much of Europe and Brazil. Mr Biden's spokeswoman said now was not the time to be easing travel measures. Joe Biden will take office at 12:00 (17:00 GMT) on Wednesday. However, much of the spotlight is on Mr Trump's final moves, including presidential pardons. Security is intense in Washington DC ahead of the inauguration ceremony. Thousands of National Guard reserve soldiers have been deployed in the wake of the storming of the Capitol building by a pro-Trump mob on 6 January that left five people dead. The FBI had earlier warned of possible protests across the nation by right-wing extremists emboldened by the invasion. The US imposed travel restrictions on Europe last March and the Brazilian entry ban was put in place in May, but the White House decreed on Monday that the entry ban would end on 26 January, six days after Mr Biden takes office. Just minutes later, Mr Biden's spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said on Twitter: "On the advice of our medical team, the administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of Covid-19." She said that with "more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel". Barred from Twitter following the Capitol riots, the president has been uncharacteristically quiet and there have been few details of what he might do on Tuesday. A statement from the White House press office read simply: "President Trump will work from early in the morning until late in the evening. He will make many calls and have many meetings." There has been no invitation to Joe Biden for the traditional pre-inauguration meeting at the White House.
1-19-21 Joe Biden inauguration: When are he and Kamala Harris sworn in?
The inauguration of a new president is a day that usually follows decades of custom and precedent. A day that follows a routine set in stone. Well, you can forget all that this year. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will still take the oath, of course, to make them officially US president and vice-president, but this will be a much scaled back affair, due to Covid and the recent riots. Here's everything you need to know about the big day. The inauguration is the formal ceremony that marks the start of a new presidency, and it takes place in Washington DC. The only required feature is that the president-elect recite the presidential oath of office. "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Once he utters these words, Mr Biden will then take his place as the 46th president and the inauguration will be complete (but that's not all - celebrations follow). Kamala Harris will become vice-president once she takes the oath of office, which usually happens just before the president. By law, inauguration day is 20 January. Opening remarks are usually scheduled for around 11:30 EST (16:30 GMT) and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be sworn in around midday. Mr Biden will move into the White House later in the day - his home for the next four years. Presidential inaugurations typically involve detailed security plans, but even more so now, after a pro-Trump mob stormed the US Capitol on 6 January. Officials have ramped up security and closed off large sections of the city. The Secret Service has taken command of the security plans, backed up by some 15,000 National Guard troops, in addition to thousands of police officers. Washington DC is already under a state of emergency and will remain that way through inauguration. Agent Matt Miller, who is leading the security effort on behalf of the Secret Service, told reporters on Friday that planning for the event has been going on for over a year. And while Mr Biden has insisted on taking the oath of office outside, as is tradition, attendance to the event will be scaled back.
1-18-21 Covid-19 news: UK vaccine rollout extended to people 70 and over
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Over 70s and clinically vulnerable people next in line for covid-19 vaccines in the UK. People in the UK’s four nations aged 70 and over, as well as clinically extremely vulnerable individuals in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, will start receiving invitations to get vaccinated against covid-19 this week. “Today is a significant milestone in our vaccination programme as we open it up to millions of people who are most at risk from covid-19,” said UK prime minister Boris Johnson in a statement on Monday. “We have a long way to go and there will doubtless be challenges ahead – but by working together we are making huge progress in our fight against this virus,” he said. People in the top two priority groups, which include care home residents and staff, people aged 80 and over and frontline health and care staff, will continue to be prioritised first. That is in accordance with recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, UK health minister Matt Hancock explained. “When an area has already reached the vast majority of groups 1-2, they can now start opening up the programme to groups 3-4,” said Hancock. Just 25 covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in low-income countries, compared to 39 million doses given to people so far in wealthier countries, according to World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who described it as a “catastrophic moral failure”. All 25 doses were administered in Guinea, which is the only low-income country to have delivered any covid-19 jabs so far. “It’s not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries,” he said at a meeting of the WHO’s executive board on Monday. It is unlikely that Australia will fully open its borders in 2021, even if the majority of its population gets vaccinated against covid-19, according to Australian health minister Brendan Murphy. “I think that we’ll go most of this year with still substantial border restrictions,” Murphy told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday. “Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don’t know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus.” Quarantine requirements for travellers to Australia will probably also continue for some time, he said.
1-18-21 Biden inauguration: Fortified US statehouses see some small protests
Small groups of protesters - some of them armed - gathered on Sunday at statehouses in the US, where tensions are high after the deadly riots at the Capitol in Washington. Protests were held outside capitol buildings in Texas, Oregon, Michigan, Ohio and elsewhere. But many other statehouses were quiet, amid a ramping up of security across US legislatures. No clashes were reported. The FBI has warned of armed protests ahead of Wednesday's inauguration. President-elect Joe Biden will take office two weeks after pro-Trump protesters stormed the US Capitol in Washington DC on 6 January, leaving five dead, including a police officer. More than 25,000 National Guard troops are being deployed to secure Washington. In a sign of just how worried officials are about potential unrest, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told the Associated Press on Sunday that all Guard members were being vetted because of fears of an insider threat. Also on Sunday, a county official from New Mexico was arrested in Washington in connection with the riots at the US Capitol on 6 January. Couy Griffin, the founder of a group called Cowboys for Trump, had vowed to return on inauguration day with firearms to "embrace my Second Amendment". Many cities had prepared for potentially violent protests over the weekend, erecting barriers and deploying thousands of National Guard troops. Posts on pro-Trump and far-right online networks had called for armed demonstrations on Sunday in particular, but some militias told their followers not to attend, citing heavy security or claiming the planned events were police traps. Small crowds of protesters numbering in the dozens gathered in only some cities, leaving the streets surrounding many statehouses largely empty. The New York Times reported about 25 members of the Boogaloo Bois movement were among heavily-armed protesters who gathered at the statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. But the men - who are part of a loosely organised extremist group that wants to overthrow the US government - said they were there for a long-planned gun rights rally. Meanwhile in Michigan, about two dozen people - some carrying rifles - protested outside the statehouse in Lansing, as police watched on. "I am not here to be violent and I hope no one shows up to be violent," one protester told Reuters news agency.
1-18-21 Capitol riots: Are US militia groups becoming more active?
Far-right groups like those that took part in the Capitol riots are an increasing and serious threat across the US, experts say. Since Joe Biden's victory in the presidential election in November, the involvement of armed groups in demonstrations has increased significantly, according to a group that tracks political violence. The FBI has warned of armed protests in all 50 states ahead of Mr Biden's inauguration on 20 January. The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) says far-right groups have taken an increasing part in demonstrations against the election result. Demonstrations are more likely to turn violent if militia members are present, the ACLED says. And these groups have not just started attending more protests - they are also ramping up training and recruitment events. There are dozens of militias across the US with varying ideologies, but generally they are anti-government. While they don't necessarily advocate violence, often they are armed and some have engaged in violent demonstrations. Many say they are acting in self-defence over fears of what they believe to be increasing federal government intrusion, with gun control a particular concern. Some states require militias to be authorised by the state government, but the second amendment of the US constitution limits the extent to which controls can be imposed on their activities. The number of militia groups declined in the US between 2017 and 2019, which militia researcher Amy Cooter says is a common pattern under Republican presidents. Despite typically being anti-government, these groups have increasingly gravitated towards President Trump. "Most of these groups see Mr Trump as the closest person to their ideal president that we have ever had," says Ms Cooter. Militia activity is widespread across most of the US.
1-18-21 Trumpism isn't going anywhere
Donald Trump is on his way out. But the Trump era isn't over yet. It doesn't feel like 2020 ever really ended, does it? Many of us looked forward to the new year as, hopefully, something really new — a clean break from all the misery the last 12 months brought, a chance to start over with something like a clean slate, an opportunity to get it right this time. So far, though, 2021 feels like more of the same, full of doomscrolling, death, and demagoguery. I suspect a similar dynamic will be at play with Donald Trump. Trump's presidency will end at noon on Wednesday. Joe Biden will take the oath of office while soon-to-be-former Vice President Mike Pence looks on. Trump himself — now all but completely discredited after inciting the Capitol insurrection — will fly home to Florida. Even though the Trump administration is at an end, we are not quite finished with the Trump era. Whether he wants to or not, Biden will open his term focused on cleaning up Trump's mess. He inherits a pandemic that is killing as many as 4,000 Americans a day, a vaccine distribution system that has so far proven frustratingly inadequate, and a teetering economy. Biden has plans to fix these problems, of course — a goal of distributing 100 million vaccine doses within the first 100 days of his presidency, plus a new round of stimulus that would send another $1,400 per person to eligible families. Biden's success as a president will depend upon whether he can implement those plans, and how successful his solutions end up being. Complicating those challenges, of course, is Trump's other mess. Sometime soon, the Senate — controlled by the Democrats, but just barely — will take up the ex-president's impeachment trial for his role in the insurrection. Congress will have to juggle that effort with the need to pass the legislation to advance Biden's agenda, and Republican infighting over Trump's legacy probably won't help matters. Lurking in the background is the possibility of more violence by Trumpist dead-enders. There are reasons to hope that the extended Trump era will be over quickly. Twitter's permanent ban of Trump from its platform, for example, is already making a huge difference: One research firm found the amount of misinformation online dropped 73 percent in the week after the president and 70,000 QAnon aficionados were shut down by the platform. Reality itself might make a difference, too: When Wednesday comes and goes and Trump is no longer president, surely some (but probably not all) of those conspiracy theorists who support him will realize they have been duped and quietly recede from activism. It's also possible that multiple civil and criminal legal issues will leave Trump too occupied to make trouble over the next few years. And if we're lucky, a successful vaccination effort will also bring down the national temperature by a degree or two. Many observers have pointed out that the QAnon conspiracy became more popular because of the COVID-19 pandemic. "We shouldn't underestimate how the imposed social isolation of the pandemic and our pivot to social media for community has fostered the spread of such conspiracies," Tablet's Yair Rosenberg points out. As people emerge from isolation — to return to their churches, their workplaces, and other communal spaces — they may find they don't have time to indulge in dark political fantasies.
1-18-21 Racism in education: How 'truth pages' helped students fight back
The killing of George Floyd was a catalyst moment for social justice movements across the world. But after the coronavirus pandemic worsened some of those movements were pushed aside. One which hasn’t is an online reckoning orchestrated by students, known as 'Truth Pages'. In the summer following George Floyd’s death, racism exposé pages began springing up across both sides of the Atlantic, primarily on Instagram, allowing Black, Asian and minority ethnic students to share their experiences online. The result was a wave of call to actions, some more successful than others, enlisting the cooperation of institutions in tackling racism and racial inequality. The BBC’s Lorna Acquah investigates the racism experienced by students in the UK and the US and how the movement snowballed.
1-18-21 Migrant caravan: Guatemala blocks thousands bound for US
A group of US-bound Central American migrants has been met with truncheons and tear gas in Guatemala, where security forces blocked their path. Thousands of people were intercepted on a road near the border with Honduras on Sunday. The government said it would not accept "illegal mass movements". An estimated 7,000 migrants, mostly from Honduras, have entered in recent days, fleeing poverty and violence. They hope to travel on to Mexico, and then the US border. Every year, tens of thousands of Central American migrants attempt this perilous journey to try and reach the US, often on foot, in groups known as "caravans". President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat, has vowed to end the strict immigration policies of his predecessor, Donald Trump, a Republican. But the Biden administration, which will take office on Wednesday, has warned migrants not to make the journey, as immigration policies will not change overnight. As the migrants trekked across Guatemala towards its border with Mexico, they were slowed down by security forces near the south-eastern village of Vado Hondo. A group of soldiers and police officers blockaded a road, stopping many of them from advancing. Some people still attempted to force their way through, prompting security forces to push them back. Several people were injured. Many migrants retreated, with some waiting nearby to make a new attempt later. Others fled into nearby mountains. "Fortunately the security forces established a contingency plan... and contained this battle," said Guillermo Díaz, head of Guatemala's migration agency. A statement from the Guatemalan president's office said: "Guatemala's message is loud and clear: These types of illegal mass movements will not be accepted, that's why we are working together with the neighbouring nations to address this as a regional issue." The government later said 21 migrants who had sought medical assistance tested positive for Covid-19.
1-17-21 Biden inauguration: All 50 US states on alert for armed protests
All 50 US states and the District of Columbia (DC) are on alert for possible violent protests this weekend, ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on Wednesday. National Guard troops have been sent en masse to Washington DC, to deter any repeat of last week's deadly riots. The FBI has warned of possible armed marches by pro-Trump supporters at all 50 state capitols. Meanwhile, the Biden team has set out plans to reverse key Trump policies. In the hours after Mr Biden sets foot in the White House, he will embark on a blitz of executive actions designed to signal a clean break from his predecessor's administration, according to a memo seen by US media. He will return the US to the Paris climate agreement - a global pact on cutting carbon emissions. He will repeal the controversial travel ban on a list of mostly Muslim-majority countries. He will make wearing masks mandatory on federal property and when travelling interstate. Although Mr Biden, like President Trump, will be able to use executive orders as a means of bypassing Congress on some issues, his $1.9tn (£1.4tn) stimulus plan announced earlier this week will need to be approved by lawmakers, as will a bill on immigration reform. Much of Washington DC will be locked down ahead of Wednesday's inauguration, with National Guard troops deploying in their thousands. Many streets - some miles from the Capitol, the site of deadly rioting on 6 January - have been blocked off with concrete barriers and metal fences. The National Mall, which is usually thronged with thousands of people for inaugurations, has been shut at the request of the Secret Service - the agency charged with protecting the president. The Biden team had already asked Americans to avoid travelling to the nation's capital for the inauguration because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Local officials said people should watch the event remotely. Sunday is expected to also be a particular focus for protests, after posts on pro-Trump and far-right online networks called for armed demonstrations on that day. Some militias have told their followers not to attend, however, citing heavy security or claiming the planned events are police traps.
1-17-21 Biden inauguration: Executive orders to reverse Trump policies
Details are emerging of a raft of executive orders planned by US president-elect Joe Biden as soon as he takes office this week. Mr Biden will issue decrees to reverse President Trump's travel bans and re-join the Paris climate accord on his first day, US media reports. The president-elect is also expected to focus on reuniting children separated from families at the border and issue mandates on Covid-19 and mask-wearing. He will be inaugurated on Wednesday. All 50 US states are on high alert for possible violence in the run-up to the inauguration ceremony, with National Guard troops deployed in their thousands to guard Washington DC. In the hours after Mr Biden sets foot in the White House, he will embark on a blitz of executive actions designed to signal a clean break from his predecessor's administration, according to a memo seen by US media. Among the orders planned soon after taking office are: 1. A US return to the Paris climate agreement - the global pact on cutting carbon emissions. 2. Repealing the controversial travel ban on mostly Muslim-majority countries. 3. Mandating the wearing of masks on federal property and when travelling interstate. 4. An extension to nationwide restrictions on evictions and foreclosures due to the pandemic. The executive orders are just one part of his ambitious plan for his first 10 days in office, according the memo. The President-elect is also expected to send a major new immigration bill to Congress as well as focusing on passing a $1.9tn (£1.4tn) stimulus plan to help the country's economy recover from coronavirus. Mr Biden has also said his administration will aim to deliver 100 million Covid-19 jabs in his first 100 days in office - describing the rollout so far as a "dismal failure". "President-elect Biden will take action - not just to reverse the gravest damages of the Trump administration - but also to start moving our country forward," incoming White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain wrote in the memo. The president-elect is taking over a country in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic. Daily deaths from Covid-19 are in their thousands and almost 400,000 have lost their lives. On top of the virus raging, the country is reeling from recent political violence. The theme for Mr Biden's inauguration will be "America United" with the president-elect focusing on healing political divisions. Vice-President Mike Pence is expected to attend the ceremony, though Mr Trump has said he will not. Mr Biden will be sworn in exactly two weeks after the violent riots at the US Capitol on 6 January which aimed to thwart his election victory.
1-17-21 China looks to turn vaccine distribution into diplomacy
It is unclear whether China is poised to fully follow through on its vaccine pledges to developing countries. The hottest commodity on the planet right now is the COVID-19 vaccine. As wealthy countries such as the United States, Canada, and European nations stockpile doses — according to some estimates, enough to vaccinate their entire populations multiple times over — that leaves less wealthy countries wondering where to turn. (Webmaster's comment: It's obvious that they only want to save the white people!) That's where China has stepped in, offering priority access to Chinese-developed vaccines to countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. The effort could end up being a "soft power" diplomacy tool for China, says Yangzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations and director of global health studies at Seton Hall University's School of Diplomacy and International Relations. "Especially when you are dealing with countries where, for example, you have territorial disputes...by promising or providing the desperately needed vaccines, you expect them to soften their positions," Huang told The World. Expanding vaccine access also helps China reframe the narrative of the pandemic and improve China's image, Huang said. "By helping mitigating this gap in access between developing countries and developer countries, China actually not only mitigated that gap but portrayed itself as a benign global power," he said. In December, the Sinopharm vaccine, created by a state-run firm in China, announced a 79 percent efficacy rate and was approved for use by the government. But China has been criticized for a lack of transparency around trial results. Currently, it is unclear whether China is poised to fully follow through on its pledges. Huang says there has been a shift from emphasizing Chinese vaccines as a "global public good," as President Xi Jinping said last May, to "cooperation between China and countries in the developing world and accessing the Chinese-made vaccines," according to Huang. For example, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi finished a tour of a number of African nations last weekend without making a concrete commitment about vaccines or a timetable when nations could expect them. "That raises concerns, whether China actually overpromised," Huang said. "That is certainly not good news for successful vaccine diplomacy, because countries might feel China reneged on its promises, and they might turn to other countries like India or even Russia." But if China is seizing an opportunity to turn vaccine distribution into diplomacy, that's an opportunity seemingly missed by the United States, which has instead pursued a policy of "vaccine nationalism" under the Trump administration. As the New York Times reported last weekend, Ukraine turned to China for vaccine access after its initial attempts to obtain vaccines from "Pfizer and other Western vaccine makers" was thwarted by President Donald Trump's executive order blocking vaccine exports. "China was able to practice this vaccine diplomacy…precisely because the U.S. is not a player in this game," Huang said. "That allows countries like China or Russia to fill this void left by the United States," Huang added.
1-17-21 The pandemic windfall
Large companies and the very rich made a killing last year, while the U.S. wealth gap became wider than ever. Large companies and the very rich made a killing last year, while the U.S. wealth gap became wider than ever. Here's everything you need to know:
- Who has benefited? Tech giants, many major corporations, and Wall Street investors have had eye-popping gains during the pandemic, even as the COVID-19 recession has devastated major sectors of the economy. Apple's total stock value climbed to $2.29 trillion, up 133 percent since March.
- Who did best?: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' net worth has rocketed up $70 billion, to an estimated $182 billion, and four men have joined him in the ranks of "centibillionaires": Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose wealth increased by about 80 percent; Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who made about $20 billion; French luxury brand tycoon Bernard Arnault, whose fortune doubled to $117 billion; and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, the world's richest man as of last week.
- Why the big payday?: Life under quarantine has been a boon for e-commerce retailers like Amazon, Target, Walmart, and Best Buy; food delivery services like DoorDash; and streaming services like Netflix. Restless consumers not spending money on restaurants and travel are splurging at Home Depot and Lowe's for home-improvement projects, and on video games for escapism.
- How are workers faring?: It depends on their tax bracket. White-collar job losses were mostly recovered by late summer, while millions of low-wage workers remain out of work, especially in restaurant, hotel, and other service industries.
- Is the wealth gap widening? Profoundly. About 84 percent of stocks owned by U.S. households are held by the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans. The majority of last year's layoffs occurred at small businesses, millions of which could go under as massive COVID-19 surges force states to reimpose safety restrictions.
- How does the future look? For big corporations, bright. Wall Street is bullish, expecting a recovery similar to the one that followed the 2008 crisis, when large banks and private-equity firms gobbled up weakened competitors at fire-sale prices, and the top 1 percent of earners took in 95 percent of income gains made from 2009 to 2012.
- Not much trickle-down: When the economy cratered, several prominent CEOs vowed to look after their workers. Chuck Robbins, CEO of the software giant Cisco, said in April, "It's just silly for those of us who have the financial wherewithal to absorb this, for us to add to the problem."
1-17-21 Wilmington 1898: When white supremacists overthrew a US government
A violent mob, whipped into a frenzy by politicians, tearing apart a town to overthrow the elected government. Following state elections in 1898, white supremacists moved into the US port of Wilmington, North Carolina, then the largest city in the state. They destroyed black-owned businesses, murdered black residents, and forced the elected local government - a coalition of white and black politicians - to resign en masse. Historians have described it as the only coup in US history. Its ringleaders took power the same day as the insurrection and swiftly brought in laws to strip voting and civil rights from the state's black population. They faced no consequences. Wilmington's story has been thrust into the spotlight after a violent mob assaulted the US Capitol on 6 January, seeking to stop the certification of November's presidential election result. More than 120 years after its insurrection, the city is still grappling with its violent past. After the end of the US Civil War in 1865 - which pitted the northern Unionist states against the southern Confederacy - slavery was abolished throughout the newly-reunified country. Politicians in Washington DC passed a number of constitutional amendments granting freedom and rights to former slaves, and sent the army to enforce their policies. But many southerners resented these changes. In the decades that followed the civil war there were growing efforts to reverse many of the efforts aimed at integrating the freed black population into society. Wilmington in 1898 was a large and prosperous port, with a growing and successful black middle class. Undoubtedly, African Americans still faced daily prejudice and discrimination - banks for instance would refuse to lend to black people or would impose punishing interest rates. But in the 30 years after the civil war, African Americans in former Confederate states like North Carolina were slowly setting up businesses, buying homes, and exercising their freedom. Wilmington was even home to what was thought to be the only black daily newspaper in the country at that time, the Wilmington Daily Record. "African Americans were becoming quite successful," Yale University history professor Glenda Gilmore told the BBC. "They were going to universities, had rising literacy rates, and had rising property ownership."
1-16-21 Biden inauguration: All 50 US states on alert for armed protests
All 50 US states and the District of Columbia (DC) are on alert for possible violent protests this weekend, ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on Wednesday. National Guard troops from across the country are being sent to Washington DC, to discourage any repeat of the deadly riot that unfolded on 6 January. The FBI has warned of possible armed marches by pro-Trump demonstrators at all 50 state capitols. The National Mall in DC has been shut. Barricades are lining the streets of the capital amid tightened security. The Biden team had already urged Americans to avoid travelling to the capital because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and local officials said people should watch the inauguration remotely. Sunday is expected to be a particular focus for protests, after posts on pro-Trump and far-right online networks called for armed demonstrations on 17 January, and a march in Washington DC on inauguration day itself. Some militias have told their followers not to attend, citing heavy security or claiming the planned events are police traps. It follows a week in which Donald Trump became the first US president to be impeached twice. He now faces a Senate trial, on a charge of "incitement of insurrection" linked to the storming of the US Capitol by groups of his supporters on 6 January. States across the country are taking precautionary measures, from boarding up capitol windows to refusing to grant permits for rallies. The governors of Maryland, New Mexico and Utah have all declared states of emergency ahead of possible protests. California, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin are among those activating their National Guards, and Texas will shut its state capitol from Saturday until after inauguration day. According to the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, intelligence suggested "violent extremists" could infiltrate planned protests there to "conduct criminal acts". Virginia's Governor Ralph Northam told a news conference on Thursday: "If you're planning to come here or up to Washington with ill intent in your heart, you need to turn around right now and go home. You are not welcome here, and you're not welcome in our nation's capital. And if you come here and act out, Virginia will be ready." Analysts believe states that saw especially hostile or protracted election battles are at most risk of violence. One of them, Michigan, has erected a six-foot fence around its capitol in Lansing.
1-16-21 Capitol riots: Police describe a 'medieval battle'
Police officers who were targeted by a pro-Trump mob have been speaking out about the "medieval battle" that unfolded on the steps of the Capitol and inside the halls of American democracy last week. Police faced off against rioters equipped with clubs, shields, pitchforks, firearms, and metal poles stripped from seating set up for next week's inauguration. Here's what we've learned from their interviews with US media. Michael Fanone, a 40-year-old DC plainclothes narcotics detective who was told to wear his uniform that day, rushed to the West Terrace of the Capitol where he took turns holding back the crowd, and resting to rinse his face of the the chemical irritants that that crowd was spraying on police. "We weren't battling 50 or 60 rioters in this tunnel," the MPD (Metropolitan Police Department of District of Columbia) veteran told the Washington Post. "We were battling 15,000 people. It looked like a medieval battle scene." After he was grabbed by his helmet and dragged face-first down several steps, he said the crowd started stripping gear from his vest, including spare ammo, his radio and his badge - all while chanting "USA!". "We got one! We got one!" Mr Fanone said he heard people shout, with others chanting: "Kill him with his own gun!" Some members of the crowd protected him after he started yelling that he has children, the father of four told CNN. He sustained only minor injuries but later found out in hospital that he had suffered a mild heart attack during the brawl. MPD Officer Daniel Hodges, 32, had already been on shift for several hours before the rioting began. "We were battling, you know, tooth and nail for our lives," he told ABC News. In one viral video, Mr Hodges is seen pinned in a glass doorway between officers and the crowd, as rioters strip his gas mask from his face and beat him with his own police-issued baton. One rioter tried to gouge his eyes. "That was one of the three times that day where I thought: Well, this might be it," said Mr Hodges. "This might be the end for me." As he choked on tear gas, he is seen on video gasping for air to call out for help. Enough police were eventually able to push through the melee to extract him.
1-16-21 Trump's Christian supporters and the march on the Capitol
Christian supporters of President Donald Trump were among the thousands who descended on Washington DC last week. Their presence highlights a divide in American Christianity. Before the march on the US Capitol began last Wednesday, some knelt to pray. Thousands had come to the seat of power for a "Save America" rally organised to challenge the election result. Mr Trump addressed the crowd near the White House, calling on them to march on Congress where politicians were gathered to certify President-elect Joe Biden's win. The crowd was littered with religious imagery. "Jesus 2020" campaign flags flapped in the wind alongside Trump banners and the stars and stripes of the US flag. The throng did march to Congress, a protest that led to chaos at the Capitol. At least one group carried a large wooden cross. Another blew shofars - a Jewish ritual horn some Christian evangelicals have co-opted as a battle cry. Elsewhere a white flag featured an ichthys - or "Jesus fish" - an ancient symbol of Christianity. For some Christians, seeing religious symbols alongside Confederate flags was shocking. But for others, Mr Trump is their saviour - someone who was "defending Christians from secularists" as Franklin Graham, son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, told the BBC. The day before the rally, a throng of fervent religious supporters of President Trump held a "Jericho March" in Washington. Brandishing crosses and singing Christian hymns, they marched around the Capitol re-enacting the biblical story of when the Israelites besieged the enemy city of Jericho. The imagery on display was revealing of not just the racial and political divides in America, but the religious divides as well. Exit polls suggest that in 2020, like in 2016, around four-fifths of white evangelicals - who make up a quarter of the American electorate - backed the Republican president. But the opposite is true of black Christians - around 90% intended to vote for Democrat Joe Biden, according to pre-election polling.
1-16-21 The more contagious coronavirus variant may soon be the U.S.’s dominant strain
More rigorous efforts to vaccinate, wear masks and social distance are needed to curb its spread, CDC says. A highly contagious coronavirus variant will become the dominant version of the virus in the United States in March, emphasizing the need for more rapid vaccination, a new modeling study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests. The coronavirus variant was first identified in December in the United Kingdom (SN: 12/22/20). Called B.1.1.7, it has some mutations that may help the virus better spread among people, though the variant isn’t thought to cause more severe disease. It has so far been detected in 76 COVID-19 cases across 12 U.S. states. Because experts have analyzed the genetic fingerprints of only a small percentage of the millions of coronavirus infections in the United States, however, it’s unclear how widespread B.1.1.7 might be. Experts estimate that the variant currently causes less than half a percent of U.S. COVID-19 cases. But while B.1.1.7 might be present at low levels now, it has the potential to drive a surge in U.S. cases and outpace the most prevalent viral variants currently infecting people in two months, researchers report January 15 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Because B.1.1.7 is likely more transmissible, people must be more rigorous about following public health guidelines such as wearing masks to curb its spread, health officials say. “These measures will be more effective if they are instituted sooner rather than later,” the researchers warn. In the study, the team simulated how the variant might spread in the country from January to April 2021. Assuming that the variant is 50 percent more transmissible than other viral versions already spreading in the United States and that around 10 to 30 percent of people have immunity against any form of the virus from a previous bout of COVID-19, B.1.1.7 could cause most coronavirus cases in the country by March, the researchers found.
1-16-21 Covid: UK variant could drive 'rapid growth' in US cases, CDC warns
A highly contagious coronavirus variant first detected in the UK could become the dominant strain in the US by March, health officials have said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned of "rapid growth" of the variant in coming weeks. It said such a spike could further threaten health systems already strained by a winter Covid surge. The warning came on Friday as President-elect Joe Biden unveiled an ambitious plan to ramp up vaccinations. To meet his target of inoculating 100 million Americans within his first 100 days in office, Mr Biden said his administration would take a more active role in accelerating the distribution of vaccines. He outlined a plan to set up new mass vaccination centres, hire extra health workers, and ensure the shot is available to everyone, including minority communities that have been hit hardest by the epidemic. Official data shows that, so far, 12.2 million vaccine doses of have been administered in the US - a figure Mr Biden has criticised as insufficient. More than 30 million doses have been distributed to states. In a speech on Friday, Mr Biden told Americans that "we remain in a very dark winter", admitting that "things will get worse before they get better". "This is going to be one of the most challenging operational efforts ever undertaken by our country," Mr Biden, who takes office on 20 January, said of the vaccination drive. His address came a day after he announced a $1.9tn (£1.4tn) stimulus package for the battered US economy that included a further $20bn for the vaccine roll-out. The plan will need to pass Congress. The US has recorded the highest number of confirmed coronavirus infections - 23.5 million - of any country in the world. At about 391,000, the country's coronavirus deaths account for a fifth of the global total, which passed the two-million mark on Friday. The crisis is particularly acute in the state of California, where deaths have surged by more than 1,000% since November.
1-16-21 Covid in California: The state is struggling to contain the virus
California was praised for acting swiftly to contain the coronavirus last spring. Now more than 31,000 people have died of the virus in the state. What went wrong? California was the first to issue a state-wide stay-at-home order, and experts at the time predicted the pandemic would peak here in April with fewer than 2,000 lives lost. But since November, deaths have surged by more than 1,000%. In Los Angeles alone, nearly 2,000 people died this week. Makeshift morgues have been set up across the state, ICUs are full, oxygen is being rationed and ambulance teams have been told not to transport those unlikely to survive the night because hospitals are too full. Disneyland, which has been closed since March, is now being turned into a massive vaccination centre, along with Dodger Stadium, in the hopes of controlling what's become a super surge. Why is California in such dire Covid straits? "Fatigue," says Dr Neha Nanda, of the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine. "It's multifaceted, but fatigue is a big reason why." Southern California and Los Angeles are the hardest hit regions in California and the United States right now. Local and state officials begged Californians to not make holiday plans from Thanksgiving through to New Year. But even strict mandates here often go unenforced. Many businesses have collapsed, the film industry is mostly dormant. Productions that do get the green light are often forced to shut down again due to coronavirus outbreaks on set. And most schools in California have been closed since 13 March, with children isolated at home on computers, often with their parents away at work or trying to work alongside their children on overstretched Wi-Fi. And like most places, Covid-19 has hit Los Angeles' poor the hardest. Dr Heidi Behforouz, the medical director of LA County's Housing for Health, says she thinks Los Angeles is a city accustomed to tolerating extreme inequities in a country that does the same.
1-16-21 Coronavirus: EU anger over delayed Pfizer vaccine deliveries
Several EU countries are receiving significantly fewer doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine than expected, after the US firm slowed shipments. Six nations called the situation "unacceptable" and warned it "decreases the credibility of the vaccination process". Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia urged the EU to apply pressure on Pfizer-BioNTech. Pfizer said the reduced deliveries were a temporary issue. In a statement on Friday, the drugmaker said shipments were being affected by changes to its manufacturing processes designed to boost production. "Although this will temporarily impact shipments in late January to early February, it will provide a significant increase in doses available for patients in late February and March," Pfizer said. The company said its production upgrades would also have a "short-term impact" on the delivery of vaccines to the UK. Despite this, the UK government said it still planned to hit its target of vaccinating all priority groups by mid-February - about 15 million people. The vaccine from Pfizer is not the only candidate available in the UK, with the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca jab also currently being rolled out. The EU is not wholly reliant on the Pfizer jab either, having approved a vaccine manufactured by US company Moderna for use. Still, the development is expected to slow the pace of vaccination programmes. The German health ministry called Pfizer's announcement surprising and regrettable, noting that it had committed to binding delivery dates until mid-February. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she had been assured by Pfizer's chief executive that all orders guaranteed for delivery in the first quarter of the year would arrive. Last week, Ms von der Leyen said Pfizer had agreed to supply the EU with 600 million doses this year, double its initial order. The pledge may do little to soothe European governments battling to subdue a fast-spreading Covid-19 variant first detected in the UK.
1-16-21 American individualism and our collective crisis
Our national and social identity is deeply rooted in values like freedom, equality, and order. A political scientist explores how these ideas have affected the U.S. response to the worsening pandemic. he spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. is out of control: As of January, more than 22.7 million people have been infected nationwide and some 378,000 people have died. Yet many in the U.S. still resist wearing masks in public and even deem mask orders and social distancing guidelines as affronts to their personal freedoms. For political scientists like Deborah Schildkraut of Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, the U.S. response to the pandemic can be seen through the lens of American identity. For more than two decades, Schildkraut has been studying what it means to be American, a topic she explored in an article in the Annual Review of Political Science. In it, she wrote that scholars increasingly regard American identity as a social identity, "which refers to the part of a person's sense of self that derives from his or her membership in a particular group and the value or meaning that he or she attaches to such membership." According to Schildkraut, at a minimum American identity consists of two sets of norms. One involves an evolving set of beliefs that anyone can follow. These beliefs harken back to Thomas Jefferson and the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence ("We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.") The other set of norms depends on attributes such as one's race and religion. Knowable Magazine spoke with Schildkraut about the sometimes contradictory attributes Americans consider to be at the core of their national identity, the evolution of these ideas, and the impact they have on the country's ability to confront the pandemic. Social psychologists have written about the need to have positive distinctiveness. We like to feel good about the things that we think are unique about us. That drives a lot of in-group and out-group thinking. We like to think good things about the groups that we belong to. It doesn't always lead to thinking bad things about the groups that we don't belong to, but it easily can. Some parts of it haven't evolved all that much. A lot of the things people think of as being uniquely American are appropriately called aspirational: the idea of individualism, equality of opportunity, self-governance, and engaged citizenship. For as long as we've been asking people how important certain things are in being American, there's not been much variation over time in those kinds of things. You see more change over time on issues that are more explicitly about race and ethnicity. There's this idea of being a nation of immigrants. It's the American creed: the idea that anybody can become American if they do and believe certain things, and that your country of origin, the language you speak, your religion, all of that is separate from becoming American. It's crucially tied to the notion of the work ethic and that the opportunities are here for the taking. Of course, we know in practice that hasn't been true.The aspiration is that race and religion don't matter. And that anybody can be a true American. We know that in reality, certainly at an unstated level, when people think of what an American is many have an ideal in mind: It's white, Christian and, honestly, male.
1-16-21 'The death of American exceptionalism'
Views from abroad on U.S. Capitol attack. American democracy had a very bad day on Jan. 6. As images of rioters ransacking Capitol Hill shot across the globe, foreign leaders were quick to comment. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the images out of Washington made her furious and sad. "A ground rule of democracy," she said, "is that after elections there are winners and losers. Both have their role to play with decency and responsibility so that democracy itself remains the winner." In France, President Emmanuel Macron offered a heartfelt defense of the American political system. "What happened today in Washington, D.C., is not America. Definitely," he said in a video message in English. "We believe in the strength of our democracies. We believe in the strength of American democracy." Reactions came from all corners of the globe, including from Turkey, Venezuela, and China. The common thread in their messages? As Josep Borrell Fontelles, high representative of the EU for foreign affairs put it, American democracy appeared under siege. "I think one of the key issues right now is potentially the death of American exceptionalism," said Zachariah Mampilly, the Austin Marxe endowed chair of international affairs at The City University of New York, and author of several books on uprisings in Africa. "The idea that the U.S. is a uniquely democratic country that would not be prone to the types of actions that we witnessed [Wednesday]." Mampilly said for a long time, the U.S. relied on the narrative of exceptionalism to promote democracy abroad. Yet, during his time working and researching in African countries, he heard a lot of skepticism about that. "Many African countries have experienced American interventionism that has long not adhered to the rhetoric of democracy that the U.S. government deploys. So, there's a sense of comeuppance right now in many parts of the world," Mampilly said. In the city of Ramallah, in the West Bank, Salem Barahmeh was watching the riots play out in Washington with "a mix of amazement and horror." What immediately stood out to him was how different the police responded Wednesday compared to what he had seen over the summer with Black Lives Matter protests. "If those protesters were not white, they would have been arrested, beaten, hurt," said Barahmeh, who runs a nongovernmental organization called the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy. And Barahmeh said he could relate. "One thing that struck me was the parallel I felt in my own life as a Palestinian in Palestine, living under a system of segregation and also one where your freedom and rights are determined by your ethnonational identity," he said. The images of policemen taking selfies with rioters were disturbing to Sandip Roy, a writer based Kolkata, India. Roy said he, too, watched in disbelief as rioters shattered windows at the Capitol and trashed lawmakers' offices. At the same time, he said, the events of Wednesday should not have been all that surprising. "What has happened is that a certain kind of bigotry and hatred and violence has been mainstreamed and normalized," Roy said. "This was always part of the body politic in America but it was just not allowed to become mainstream." President Donald Trump has considerable support in India and according to Roy, in the aftermath of Wednesday's events, some of his fans have kept silent but others have applauded the actions of the rioters in Washington. India, Roy added, has had its own share of discontent in recent months related to issues such as farmers' rights and citizenship for Muslims in the country. "Ironically, the same people [Trump's fans] are quite aghast and shocked when farmers or protesters about a citizenship bill change for Muslims come to the Indian capital or do a kind of a hunger strike or block roads to press their demands," Roy said. American democracy will make it through this troubling time, he said. But it's high time for the country to examine its self-appointed role as the policeman of the world.
1-15-21 Covid-19 news: UK bans travel from South America over new variant
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Concern grows about new coronavirus variant identified in travellers from Brazil. Travellers from countries in South America, as well as from Portugal, Cape Verde and Panama, are now banned from entering the UK amid growing concern about a new variant of the coronavirus that was first identified in people who travelled to Japan from Brazil. The ban came into force at 04:00 GMT on Friday. As with the other coronavirus variants identified in the UK and South Africa, the new variant contains mutations in the coronavirus spike protein, which the virus uses to enter human cells. Both of these new variants are highly transmissible, which has prompted concerns that the variant first found in travellers from Brazil to Japan may also spread rapidly. Pfizer will temporarily decrease deliveries to Europe of its covid-19 vaccine, developed in partnership with BioNTech, while it undergoes upgrades to increase its production capacity. “We had expected 43,875 vaccine doses from Pfizer in week 3 (next week). Now it appears that we will get 36,075 doses,” the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) told Reuters on Friday. “This temporary reduction will affect all European countries,” the FHI said, adding that it isn’t currently clear when Pfizer will return to maximum production capacity. Many European Union nations have complained that they are receiving fewer supplies than expected. China is constructing a medical isolation centre in Hebei province to help contain a new covid-19 outbreak. The centre is expected to have space for 3000 makeshift wards with a capacity for several thousand people. China reported its highest daily increase in coronavirus cases in more than 10 months on Friday, with 144 new cases. More than 28 million people are living under new lockdowns in Hebei and Heilongjiang provinces.
1-15-21 Trump's vaccine delay is getting suspicious
This was supposed to be President Trump's big moment. The COVID-19 vaccine is rolling out by the millions across the country — something that had seemed like an impossibility when the president boasted back in May that "we are very confident that we're going to have a vaccine ... by the end of the year." The media expressed skepticism at the time, hedging Trump's quote with the reminder that "vaccines often take many years to develop and distribute." Yet sure enough, by Dec. 15, Trump was proven right: Safe and effective shots were going into American arms. As of Jan. 12, over half a million people have already received their second dose. So where is Trump to celebrate the nation's success? Admittedly, the president might have other things on his mind. But his conspicuous absence at such a pivotal juncture in the fight against COVID — and in particular, his lack of a televised vaccination moment of his own — is actively undermining his own efforts. Trump, of course, beat his own case of COVID back in October, presumably leaving him with some temporary natural immunity. But because coronavirus reinfections are possible, people need to get vaccinated regardless of if they've already been sick or tested positive, the CDC has said, stressing that "experts do not know how long someone is protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19" and that "some early evidence suggests natural immunity may not last very long." Dr. Anthony Fauci echoed the suggestion, telling Good Morning America that he would urge Trump to get vaccinated as soon as he can: "Even though the president himself was infected," Fauci said, "and he has likely antibodies that likely would be protective, we're not sure how long that protection lasts." Perhaps even more importantly, were Trump to roll up his sleeve on live TV, he would be leading by example while also helping to disabuse Americans of the erroneous belief that they're in the clear if they've already had a positive COVID-19 test. The official word on why Trump has not yet been vaccinated has to do with the monoclonal antibody cocktail he received while being treated for COVID-19 in the fall. According to the CDC, you must wait 90 days after receiving the antibodies before you get the vaccine, in order to avoid any "interference." December 31 would have marked 90 days since Trump was reported to have started the treatment on Oct. 2; he walked out of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center three days later. It's unclear precisely when Trump stopped receiving the antibody cocktail, but since the treatment is given intravenously, and the drug maker said he only received a single dose, it seems that he'd be well in the clear by mid-January. Even if, for whatever reason, Trump isn't okayed for the shot just yet, he should still be able to schedule and publicize his planned vaccination date. Instead, the White House has been strangely vague about his plans, claiming last month that the president is still waiting to be cleared by his medical team — an explanation that has the familiar echo of his dubious excuse for not releasing his tax returns due to an ongoing audit. The bottom line is, it's a dangerous time for the leader of the nation weathering the world's worst outbreak to offer anything other than full-throated enthusiasm about the shot. Even taking the White House's word for it, that Trump truly can't get a vaccine for ongoing medical reasons, he's failed to show up at vaccination events to even promote getting the shot. Trump didn't appear alongside Mike Pence when his vice president got the jab last month at Walter Reed, nor has Trump hosted any mass vaccination events or visited and thanked health-care workers who are helping with the distribution. "It will be enormously damaging to public trust in the vaccine if President Trump isn't visibly enthusiastic, including getting his shot on national television," Lawrence Gostin, a professor at Georgetown Law who focuses on public health, warned The Associated Press last month. "It simply isn't good enough to have Vice President Pence as a proxy."
1-15-21 Joe Biden unveils $1.9tn US economic relief package
President-elect Joe Biden has unveiled a $1.9tn (£1.4tn) stimulus plan for the coronavirus-sapped US economy before he takes office next week. If passed by Congress, it would include $1tn for households, with direct payments of $1,400 to all Americans. The relief proposal includes $415bn to fight the virus and $440bn for small businesses. Mr Biden, a Democrat, has promised to beat the pandemic that has killed more than 385,000 people in the US. He campaigned last year vowing to do a better job handling the virus than outgoing President Donald Trump, a Republican. The direct payments of $1,400 would come on top of $600 payments provided in a relief bill enacted last month. Mr Biden's proposal comes as a winter surge of the coronavirus breaks records. Each day brings well over 200,000 new cases in the US and the daily death toll sometimes tops 4,000. In a primetime speech on Thursday night from his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, he said: "A crisis of deep human suffering is in plain sight and there's no time to waste." "The very health of our nation is at stake," he added. "We have to act and we have to act now." The incoming president said: "There will be stumbles, but I will always be honest with you about both the progress we're making and what setbacks we meet." Mr Biden wants to pump $20bn into vaccinating Americans, including setting up mass vaccination hubs and dispatching mobile units to remote areas. Two effective vaccines were delivered under the Trump administration, but health officials say the rollout needs to speed up. "The vaccine rollout in the United States has been a dismal failure thus far," said Mr Biden. His administration aims to deliver 100 million jabs in 100 days. So far, about 11 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). His plan also calls for $50bn to expand testing and $130bn to help most schools reopen by the spring. The plan would fund the hiring of 100,000 public health workers for contact tracing.
1-15-21 US Capitol on high alert ahead of Biden's inauguration
In the aftermath of last week's Capitol riots, Washington DC is preparing for Joe Biden's inauguration with extreme security measures - closing roads, erecting barbed wire fences and deploying 20,000 US troops. The FBI revealed that dozens of people on its watchlist came to the capital the day of the riot.
1-15-21 The worst-case scenario for America's immediate future
It's not authoritarianism. It's another civil war. ne of the most unnerving things about analyzing American politics in recent years has been the need to start thinking in terms what financial analysts call "tail risk" — the likelihood that events normally considered rare or unlikely will actually happen. Ten years ago, most pundits would have described as exceedingly small the likelihood of someone like Donald Trump — a real-estate mogul, reality-show star, and promulgator of racist conspiracy theories who had no political experience at all — being elected president. Yet it happened. Two years ago, epidemiologists would have given a range of probabilities on the question of whether a pandemic would soon kill millions around the world in the space of 10 months. Because that's exactly what's happened, those on the more alarmist side would appear to have been vindicated, with those who were more sanguine shown to be insufficiently attuned to the dangers we faced. What additional tail risks does the United States confront today? And which of them is most likely to become a reality? A lot of commentary over the past four years has focused on the question of whether or not Trump is a fascist on the verge of becoming a ruthless authoritarian. I don't think there's much doubt that Trump personally would love to be a dictator — but there's also abundant evidence that he's never been anywhere close to making himself one, mainly because he's far too ignorant, lazy, and inept to outsmart and depose America's longstanding democratic-republican institutions. But that's not the only reason why Trump was never going to be able to impose fascism on the United States: American culture is too deeply hostile to tyranny, even to a fault. We're a country born of a tax revolt, after all, and many of us regularly mistake the ordinary exercise of government power as an existential threat to individual liberty. That means any effort to impose dictatorial rule would be maximally likely to inspire an equal and opposite reaction that results in greater disorder, breakdown, and chaos. That's why the tail-end scenario that worries me most by far is the outbreak of a civil war. I've written about this before, always feeling a little skittish when I do. I worry about sounding like a hysteric, which is the opposite of what I strive to do with my writing. Critics of my talk of civil unrest usually raise one of two objections. Some say that 21st-century Americans are just too slothful and self-absorbed to fight an actual civil war. We're a nation of couch potatoes, unhealthy, overweight, hooked on painkillers, and pathologically fixated on our computers and phones. That doesn't sound like the kind of people liable to brandish weapons and risk their lives for a cause. Then there are those who say that a civil war couldn't possibly break out today because, unlike in 1861, when one entire region of the country went to war against another, our battle lines are too scrambled in the real world to make combat viable. Where would the front lines be? What territory would be fought over and conquered? Until quite recently, I was largely persuaded by the first point. Ross Douthat's recent book on decadence, which I favorably reviewed last February, helped to persuade me that nearly everyone waging digital warfare online is indulging in a fantasy, immersed in virtual-reality combat, and maybe even blowing off steam that might make a real-world conflagration less likely than it would otherwise be. But last week shattered this assumption, showing that it's far more likely that this analysis is itself a fantasy. Thousands of people traveled to the nation's capital to participate in a physical assault on Congress. This shows that there absolutely are Americans in 2021 with the means and motivation to fight for a cause. As for the second objection, I think it's an error to assume that any civil war that might arise would need to resemble the one that tore the country apart from 1861 to 1865. Or that it would look like the West's most prominent recent civil war, the one that turned the former Yugoslavia into a charnel house during the 1990s. Both of those civil wars had a strong territorial component. The first was of course a conflict between the northern and southern regions of the country over the institution of slavery. The second was sparked by the reassertion of ethnonationalist and religious attachments in a country that had suppressed or blended them for decades.
1-15-21 Trump impeachment: Republicans clash as Senate trial looms
US Republicans in Congress are deeply divided after 10 members split with their party to impeach President Donald Trump on Wednesday. Congresswoman Liz Cheney, the third ranking House Republican, is facing calls to resign her party leadership role after her vote to impeach. The lawmakers who voted against Mr Trump face threats of violence, and have increased security, they say. It comes as Mr Trump prepares to leave office and faces a trial in the Senate. The House of Representatives voted by 232 votes to 197 on Wednesday to impeach him for allegedly inciting rioters who stormed the Capitol last week. The FBI has warned of possible armed protests planned for Washington DC and all 50 US state capitals in the run-up to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on Wednesday. Ms Cheney, a Wyoming congresswoman whose father was vice-president to Republican George W Bush, faced immediate calls to resign after voting to impeach Mr Trump for inciting insurrection against the US government. "I'm not going anywhere. This is a vote of conscience," said Ms Cheney, after Mr Trump's conservative defenders in Congress called for her to quit. "It's one where there are different views in our conference. But our nation is facing an unprecedented, since the Civil War, constitutional crisis," she told reporters on Wednesday, as Trump was impeached for a historic second time. Another Republican has said he and several colleagues have purchased body armour and have been forced to change their normal routines after receiving threats of violence. "It's sad that we have to get to that point, but you know our expectation is that someone may try to kill us," Michigan Republican Peter Meijer told MSNBC on Thursday. "We don't know what's going to happen next. We weren't expecting for the Capitol to get overrun for the first time in 200 years," he said. "And so in this unprecedented environment with an unprecedented degree of fear, of divisiveness and hatred, we have to account for every scenario."
1-14-21 Trump impeachment: Republicans defend - and some attack - president
For the second time, the House of Representatives has voted to impeach the president. Unlike the previous impeachment vote, this time 10 Republicans voted yes. Most were not in favour of the action, but some critiqued the president for what he said before and after the riot at the Capitol last week.
1-14-21 Covid-19 news: Pandemic has 'calamitous impact' on England's hospitals
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Record number of people waiting for non-covid-19 NHS treatment in England. The coronavirus pandemic is having a “calamitous impact” on other medical treatment in England, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons, Neil Mortensen, has said, as data published by NHS England revealed millions of people were waiting for hospital treatment unrelated to covid-19. About 4.46 million people were waiting to start hospital treatment in England in November last year, the highest figure ever recorded. “When we eventually emerge from this crisis, we will need sustained investment to treat all those who have been waiting patiently for treatment,” said Mortensen. NHS England figures also show that 192,169 of those people had been waiting 52 weeks or more by November 2020, compared to just 1400 people the previous year. The majority of people who have had covid-19 and recovered are protected from getting it again for at least five months, according to a study of healthcare workers by Public Health England. In Public Health England’s SIREN study, 20,787 healthcare workers were regularly tested for the coronavirus between 18 June and 24 November. Those who tested positive for coronavirus antibodies at the start of the study – 6614 of the participants – had an 83 per cent lower risk of reinfection, compared to those who tested negative at the start. A World Health Organization team has arrived in Wuhan, China, where it will investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday, China recorded its first death from covid-19 since May 2020 in Hebei province. The area is experiencing a new outbreak and tens of millions of people are under newly imposed lockdowns. UK ministers are expected to announce a ban on travel from Brazil, following the discovery of a new coronavirus variant in people who travelled from Brazil to Japan.
1-14-21 Trump impeachment: President faces Senate trial after historic second charge
Donald Trump faces trial in the Senate after becoming the first US president to be charged with misconduct in office for a second time. Mr Trump is accused of inciting a mob that stormed Congress last week after he repeated false claims of election fraud. Five people died. The trial will be held after the president leaves office next Wednesday. If Mr Trump is convicted, senators could also vote to bar him from ever holding public office again. The trial follows Wednesday's vote in the House of Representatives that formally charged - or impeached - the president with "incitement of insurrection" for his role in the riot. The Republican president has rejected responsibility for the violence. In a video released by the White House after the vote, he called on his supporters to remain peaceful, without mentioning his impeachment. The FBI has warned of possible armed protests planned for Washington DC and all 50 US state capitals in the days before Joe Biden, a Democrat, is inaugurated as the new US president. The Senate - the upper house of the US Congress - will hold a trial to determine the president's guilt but this will not happen during Mr Trump's remaining week in office. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said there was "simply no chance that a fair or serious trial" could conclude given "the rules, procedures, and Senate precedents" that govern trials involving presidents. A two-thirds majority will be needed to convict Mr Trump, meaning at least 17 Republicans would have to vote with Democrats in the evenly split, 100-seat chamber. As many as 20 Republicans are open to convicting the president, the New York Times reported on Tuesday. In a note to colleagues, Mr McConnell said he had not made a final decision on how he would vote. If Mr Trump is convicted, senators could then hold another vote to block him from running for elected office again, which he has indicated he planned to do in 2024. Mr Trump was impeached by the House in 2019 over his dealings with Ukraine, but acquitted by the Senate.
1-14-21 Can President Trump be removed from office or banned from politics altogether?
Donald Trump has been impeached - again. The president has become the first president in US history to be impeached twice, after being charged with "incitement of insurrection" over last week's deadly storming of Congress. The House of Representatives accused Mr Trump of encouraging violence with his false claims of election fraud. Mr Trump, a Republican, now faces trial in the upper chamber, the Senate, but not before he leaves office next Wednesday, when Democrat Joe Biden will be sworn in. So what happens now? To impeach means to bring charges in Congress that will form the basis for a trial. It's important to note this is a political process, rather than a criminal one. The US constitution states a president "shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanours". A vote was held on Wednesday in the House of Representatives. Ten of Mr Trump's Republican party joined Democrats to impeach him by 232-197. The president has been impeached once before over allegations he sought help from Ukraine to boost his chances of re-election. The Senate acquitted him of these charges. Now Mr Trump has become the first president in history to be impeached twice. Now that impeachment charges have been brought to the House and passed in a vote, the case is passed to the Senate, where a two-thirds vote is necessary to convict the president and remove him from office. It is unclear if Democrats will get those numbers in the Senate, where they only hold half of the seats. If Mr Trump is convicted by the Senate, lawmakers could hold another vote to block him from running for elected office again - which he has indicated he planned to do in 2024. This could be the biggest consequence of this impeachment. If he is convicted, a simple majority of senators would be needed to block Mr Trump from holding "any office of honour, trust or profit under the United States". This could be appealing to Republicans hoping to run for president in the future and those who want Mr Trump out of the party. However, none of this will come during Mr Trump's remaining week in office.
1-14-21 New York City is latest to cut Trump business ties
New York City said it will cut business ties with the Trump Organization, joining a growing list of corporations turning their back on the twice-impeached president. Mr Trump is facing a backlash both personally and politically following last week's riots at the US Capitol. The Trump Organization has contracts with New York City to run two skating rinks, a carousel and a golf course. The deals generate about $17m (£12.5m) a year for the company. "The city of New York will no longer have anything to do with the Trump Organization," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday evening. In a statement, the president's son Eric Trump said the city had no right to end the contracts, and would owe the Trump Organization $30m if it did so. "This is nothing more than political discrimination and we plan to fight it vigorously," he said.Cushman & Wakefield, one of the largest commercial property firms in the US, said it would be no longer working with the Trumps. The company leases a number of the organisation's properties including Trump Tower in New York City."Cushman & Wakefield has made the decision to no longer do business with the Trump Organization," a company spokesperson said. The Professional Golf Association (PGA) was one of the first organisations to begin the flight from Mr Trump when it announced on Monday it would move the 2022 PGA Championship from the president's club in New Jersey. Two banks, Deutsche Bank and Signature Bank, said this week they would end their relationships with Mr Trump. Signature Bank said it has begun closing Mr Trump's two personal accounts, which had balances of about $5.3m (£4m). "We witnessed the President of the United States encouraging the rioters and refraining from calling in the National Guard to protect the Congress in its performance of duty," the bank said in a statement.
1-14-21 Capitol riots: Did Trump's words at rally incite violence?
Donald Trump has been impeached for inciting a mob to attack the US Capitol. So what did the president say prior to the violence? Thousands gathered at a "Save America" rally organised to challenge the election result and they listened as Mr Trump spoke to them near the White House. In a 70-minute address, he exhorted them to march on Congress where politicians had met to certify Democrat Joe Biden's win. The attack began moments after he took the applause. Those words have now played a central part in his second impeachment, which happened after a day of debate in Congress. So what did he say? Here are five key quotes, followed by some legal analysis from Professor Garrett Epps of the University of Baltimore. 'We won this election, and we won it by a landslide', 'We will stop the steal', 'We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn't happen', 'If you don't fight like hell you're not going to have a country anymore', 'Peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard', 'We are going to the Capitol' It's quite rare that somebody can be convicted of incitement. In applying that to the president's speech at the Wednesday rally, it's an agonisingly close case. It's pretty goddamn imminent because he's telling people to march to the Capitol and I will march with you. There wouldn't be any time for better counsels to prevail because you're just going to leave the Ellipse and walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. He says we have to fight and show strength, but he also said we're very peacefully and patriotically going to ask, so he's covering himself. In the end, I think it's a jury question. I'm not sure he's entitled to a dismissal of charges as a matter of law. There's some discussion that government leaders have more leeway, but I don't know how that would play out. He clearly knew there were people in that crowd who were ready to and intended to be violent, and he certainly did nothing to discourage that. He not only did nothing to discourage it, he strongly hinted it should happen.
1-14-21 Twitter boss: Trump ban is 'right' but 'dangerous'
Twitter boss Jack Dorsey has said banning US President Donald Trump was the right thing to do. However, he expressed sadness at what he described as the "extraordinary and untenable circumstances" surrounding Mr Trump's permanent suspension. He also said the ban was in part a failure of Twitter's, which hadn't done enough to foster "healthy conversation" across its platforms. Twitter has been praised and criticised for freezing Mr Trump's account. German leader Angela Merkel and Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador - neither an ally of the outgoing US president - spoke out against the tech titan's move. In a long Twitter thread, Twitter's chief said he did not celebrate or feel pride in the ban - which came after the Capitol riot last week. He reiterated that removing the president from Twitter was made after "a clear warning" to Mr Trump. "We made a decision with the best information we had based on threats to physical safety both on and off Twitter," Mr Dorsey said. He also accepted that the move would have consequences for an open and free internet. "Having to take these actions fragment the public conversation. They divide us….And sets a precedent I feel is dangerous." He also addressed criticism that just a handful of tech bosses can make decisions on who does and doesn't have a voice on the internet - and on accusations of censorship. "A company making a business decision to moderate itself is different from a government removing access, yet can feel much the same," said Mr Dorsey. The decision to remove users, posts and tweets has been criticised by some for violating First Amendment - free speech - rights. However, big tech firms generally argue that as they are private companies, and not state actors, this law does not apply when they moderate their platforms. Facebook and YouTube have taken steps to silence the president, while Amazon shut down Parler, an app widely used by his supporters. Now Snapchat has also announced that Mr Trump will be permanently banned from its platform too. (Webmaster's comment: Those who incite and promote violence should be banned from all social media!)
1-14-21 Why banning 'harmful' online speech is a slippery slope
The mob attack on Capitol Hill on January 6, instigated by President Trump in the hope of thwarting or at least delaying the certification of President-elect Joe Biden's election victory, was unquestionably one of the most shameful episodes in the political history of the United States. Ironically, the failed insurrection may well be the beginning of the end of Trumpism. But the fallout from these tragic events could also include a far less welcome development: a rush to regulate, quash, and banish a wide range of expression regarded as potentially dangerous. The swift move to permanently ban Trump (and some of his more extreme supporters) from Twitter and other social media has prompted warnings about speech suppression even from people with little sympathy for the soon-to-be-ex-president, from the American Civil Liberties Union to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian dissident Alexei Navalny. Then, Parler, a nearly unmoderated Twitter alternative favored by the right, went dead after Google and Apple dropped its app from their online stores and Amazon booted it from its web hosting service. This raised more concerns about the ability of a few mega-corporations to drastically curtail online access for undesirables. New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, who believes that both Trump and Parler deserved to be de-platformed, writes that "it's dangerous to have a handful of callow young tech titans in charge of who has a megaphone and who does not." Trump's ban, it should be noted, was brought on by his barely veiled instigation of unrest in an explosive situation; arguably, too, he repeatedly violated Twitter rules with impunity prior to last week. Likewise, Parler has been a cesspit of hateful, unhinged, and violent postings that violate Amazon's terms of service. While the United States has extremely strong legal protections for speech, they cover only government censorship, not restrictions by private corporations (though, as Goldberg and others have noted, the situation becomes alarming when a few corporations can effectively cut off a speaker from mass audiences). And at least some of the speech targeted in last week's crackdown was almost certainly illegal even under American law, since it poses a clear danger of inciting imminent violence. But could the understandable backlash against extremism also fuel an already existing trend of speech- and thought-policing toward any views that run counter to progressive dogma? Already, a number of writers on the left have tried to argue in mainstream venues that the assault on Capitol Hill shows the need to curb a wide range of "bad" discourse. Vox culture critic Aja Romano blamed the Capitol Hill riot on far-right internet activity supposedly traceable to GamerGate, a 2014 videogame-community blow-up variously described as a harassment mob or a revolt against cronyism and "political correctness" in gaming journalism. It would be beside the point to revisit GamerGate, a complex and often misreported online saga (though it is worth noting that an FBI investigation linked no known GamerGate participants to criminal harassment and that plenty of its supporters were and have remained politically and socially liberal). But one of Romano's recommendations stands out: Social media platforms, she wrote, must "learn how to shut down disingenuous conversations over ethics and free speech." By what criteria social media platforms can determine which conversations on these topics are "disingenuous" remains unclear, and one may be forgiven for suspecting that they will be mainly political. Meanwhile, British writer and journalist Laurie Penny responded to the attack with a tweet urging no tolerance for "fascism":
1-13-21 Covid-19 news: UK records highest daily deaths since pandemic started
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. UK reports record 1564 deaths in a single day. The UK reported 1564 deaths from covid-19 within 28 days of a positive test on Wednesday, the highest daily increase since the pandemic began. The country also reported 47,525 new coronavirus cases. UK prime minister Boris Johnson said the government plans to open 24/7 covid-19 vaccination centres “as soon as we can”. “We have a huge network of 233 hospitals, 1000 GP surgeries, 200 pharmacies and 50 mass vaccination centres and they are going […] exceptionally fast,” he told parliament on Wednesday. “At the moment the limit is on supply.” On Tuesday, 223,726 people received a dose of covid-19 vaccine, up from 165,844 on Monday. The US recorded 4327 deaths from covid-19 on Tuesday, the country’s highest daily increase since the start of the pandemic. On the same day, US officials recommended that states broaden vaccination eligibility to people 65 or over who have chronic health conditions that make them more vulnerable to covid-19. China saw its biggest daily rise in coronavirus cases in more than five months on Tuesday. There were 115 new confirmed cases reported in the mainland on 12 January – the largest daily increase since 30 July, according to its National Health Commission. There are concerns about a new variant of the coronavirus first detected in people travelling to Japan from Brazil. Boris Johnson said he was concerned about the variant and that steps were being taken to protect the country from new infections entering from abroad. The new variant is different from the highly transmissible variants identified in the UK and South Africa. Israel’s health ministry reported that initial data suggests the vaccine developed by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech reduces infections by 50 per cent after 14 days. Israel has so far vaccinated almost 2 million people – about 20 per cent of the country’s population. (Webmaster's comment: China has 115 new cases, the US has 4,327 deaths!)
1-13-21 Do Democrats realize the danger they are in?
Democrats, already rattled by nearly falling into the hands of a violent mob during the attempted putsch at the Capitol on January 6, are facing the possibility of worse happening soon. Democratic members of Congress were briefed on three different additional conspiracies to overthrow the government on Monday, and at least one member has faced harassment by Trump loyalists out in the wild.. One has to wonder: Are Democratic leaders able to face how much danger they and their party are really in, or what it might take to preserve their lives? As I've written previously, the fascist mob was within yards of seizing members of Congress on several occasions during the January 6 putsch. If the guns, pipe bombs, flex cuffs, and literal gallows they carried are any indication, many members would have been hurt or murdered by the putschists — as they did murder one Capitol Police officer, as well as seriously injuring some 15 others. Now the extreme right is plotting new conspiracies to overturn democracy during the Biden inauguration, including by assassinating Democratic members of Congress or President-elect Biden, according to the new leadership of the Capitol Police. One plot "would involve insurrectionists forming a perimeter around the Capitol, the White House and the Supreme Court, and then blocking Democrats from entering the Capitol ? perhaps even killing them ? so that Republicans could take control of the government," writes Matt Fuller at HuffPost. One Chicago man has already been arrested for allegedly threatening violence against President-elect Biden. What's more, law enforcement agencies are clearly less than trustworthy. There were many off-duty cops and members of the military involved with the putsch, and already several Capitol Police officers have been suspended for fraternizing with the putschists. Meanwhile, a Secret Service agent is under investigation for unhinged social media posts accusing Democrats of treason and stealing the election. For every member of law enforcement dumb enough to get caught doing that, it's probably safe to assume there are several more with similar views but who keep such thoughts to themselves. Even if we think it is comparatively unlikely that the vast security apparatus will fail to protect the new president at least, there is still a major danger to the Democratic rank-and-file. Backbenchers get no Secret Service protection, and a pack of Trump supporters — who have been constantly whipped into a frenzy with inflammatory lies from half the Republican Party elite — were reportedly on the verge of violently attacking Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) at Dulles International Airport before security intervened (though Correa says those same security officers failed to even take down the names of his assailants).
1-13-21 America's rendezvous with reality
Politics finally confronts the fact that lies can have dire consequences. he days since last Wednesday's insurrection against the legislative branch of the United States have felt extremely odd and quite out of keeping with much of the past four years. Some of the peculiar sensation can be traced to fear flowing from the realization that thousands of our fellow citizens were so convinced of a lie (that the presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump) that they traveled all the way to the nation's capital for the express purpose of attacking the citadel of American democracy. Some of it may also follow from a new-found feeling of resolution — a conviction that no matter how futile it turns out to be, or how much it risks an escalation in violence, public as well as private institutions need to act now to try and crush the burgeoning MAGA insurrection against American self-government. But there's something more going on than a surge of fear and resolve. There's also a different feeling in the political air — one that might best be described as being snapped back to wakefulness from a semi-conscious dream state. Or maybe a feeling of rubber hitting road after a long, drawn out sideways skid on civic black ice. We may not right our course before we crash, but at least it feels like we might have a brief window and a chance to regain control over our direction. For the moment, at least, there's a sense in our public life that we've returned to reality after four interminable years of psychological torture and abuse — a time during which the president of the United States has systematically and repeatedly used a bully pulpit amplified with powerful new communication technologies to lie to us extravagantly and constantly about nearly everything. He has conjured an alternative reality of words into which millions of our fellow citizens have gladly retreated. But the rest of us have been captured by them, too, like epistemic hostages confined to a virtual world that was imagined into existence by a narcissistic sociopath. What we've confronted at long last this past week, as shock from the events on Capitol Hill have sunk in and reverberated throughout the nation, is that lies can have dire consequences — that if enough people believe enough of them, the result can be an all-too-real disaster. That has had the salutary effect of inspiring genuine concern in some of those who, until now, have been perfectly content to play along with the game, convinced that they benefitted from the transformation of our public life into a lunatic asylum.
1-13-21 The storming of the US Capitol
When rioters forced their way into the House chamber on 6 January, it marked the first time since the War of 1812 that the seat of US democracy had been breached. The BBC's North America correspondent Aleem Maqbool reports on the stunning events and asks: "How safe is US democracy?"
1-13-21 Trump impeachment: Several Republicans to join Democrats in House vote
The US House of Representatives is preparing to vote to impeach President Donald Trump over his role in last week's storming of Congress. Democrats accuse the president of encouraging his supporters to attack the Capitol building. Five people died. Members of Mr Trump's Republican party say they will join Democrats to impeach him on Wednesday, formally charging the president with inciting insurrection. President Trump has rejected any responsibility for the violence. The riot last Wednesday happened after Mr Trump told supporters at a rally in Washington DC to "fight like hell" against the result of November's election. As Democrats hold a majority in the House, the vote is likely to pass. The case will then head for the Senate, where a trial will be held to determine the president's guilt. A two-thirds majority would be needed there to convict Mr Trump, meaning at least 17 Republicans would have to vote for conviction. As many as 20 Senate Republicans are open to convicting the president, the New York Times reports. The timeline for a trial is not clear but it is unlikely to finish before Mr Trump leaves office on 20 January, when Joe Biden will be sworn in as president. The Senate could also use an impeachment trial to block Mr Trump from ever running for office again. He has indicated he plans to campaign for president in 2024. Wednesday's vote means that Mr Trump is likely to become the first US president ever to be impeached twice. In December 2019 he became the third president to be impeached over charges of breaking the law by asking Ukraine to investigate Mr Biden to boost his own chances of re-election. The Senate cleared him. The third most senior Republican in the House, Liz Cheney, vowed to back impeachment, saying Mr Trump had "summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack". "There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution," said the Wyoming representative, daughter of former Vice-President Dick Cheney. At least four other Republican House members said they would also vote for impeachment.
1-13-21 Trump faces second impeachment vote
. The US House of Representatives will vote later to impeach President Trump on charges of inciting his supporters to storm the Capitol last week. The vote is expected to pass in the Democrat-led House, which would make him the first US president to be impeached twice. A growing number of Republicans have voiced their support for impeachment, including senior House Republican Liz Cheney. But Republican Tom Cole urged others to vote against because it's a "flawed process" that will fuel divisions. President Trump has defended his pre-riot speech, in which he encouraged supporters to march to the Capitol, saying it was "totally appropriate". If Trump is impeached in the House, the Senate will then hold a trial. A two-thirds majority is required to convict him. It comes after Vice-President Mike Pence rejected efforts to invoke the 25th Amendment to strip Trump of power. The FBI says 70 people have been charged and 170 others identified over the deadly riots that left five people dead.
1-13-21 YouTube suspends Donald Trump's channel
YouTube has become the latest social network to suspend President Trump. The Google-owned service has prevented his account from uploading new videos or live-streaming material for a minimum of seven days, and has said it may extend the period. The firm said the channel had broken its rules over the incitement of violence. The president had posted several videos on Tuesday night, some of which remain online. Google has not provided details of what Mr Trump said in the video it banned, however the BBC has discovered it was a clip from a press conference he had given on Tuesday. The move came hours after civil rights groups had threatened to organise an ads boycott against YouTube. Jim Steyer - who previously helped coordinate similar action against Facebook last year - had called on Google to go further and take the president's channel offline. "We hope they will make it permanent. It is disappointing that it took a Trump-incited attack to get here, but appears that the major platforms are finally beginning to step up," he tweeted after the suspension.YouTube suspends Donald Trump's channel. Google said that Mr Trump could still face his page being closed if he falls foul of its three-strikes policy. "After review, and in light of concerns about the ongoing potential for violence, we removed new content uploaded to Donald J Trump's channel for violating our policies," it said in a statement. "It now has its first strike and is temporarily prevented from uploading new content for a minimum of seven days. "Given the ongoing concerns about violence, we will also be indefinitely disabling comments on President Trump's channel, as we've done to other channels where there are safety concerns found in the comments section." Meanwhile, Apple chief Tim Cook told CBS News that those involved with the riots on the US Capitol last week should be held accountable. "Everyone that had a part in it needs to be held accountable. I think no one is above the law. We're a rule of law country." He did not mention President Trump by name, but added: "I don't think we should let it go. This is something we've got to be serious about."
1-13-21 Can President Trump be removed from office or banned from politics altogether?
After the attack on Congress by a pro-Trump mob, there are growing calls for the president to be removed for "inciting" the riot. Donald Trump, a Republican, is due to leave office just days from now, on 20 January, when Democrat Joe Biden will be sworn in. But Democrats, including House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, want Mr Trump to be held responsible for actions which many say prompted the 6 January riot. Even though it may be too late to remove him before the end of his term, they are still keen to sanction him. So what is President Trump up against? Impeachment: To impeach means to bring charges in Congress that will form the basis for a trial. It's important to note this is a political process, rather than a criminal one. The US constitution states a president "shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanours". Democrats are likely to push for a vote later on Wednesday in the House of Representatives. The president has already been impeached over allegations he sought help from Ukraine to boost his chances of re-election. The Senate acquitted him of these charges. Now, Mr Trump could become the first president in history to be impeached twice. For that to happen, impeachment (charges) must be brought to the House and passed in a vote. The case is then passed to the Senate, where a two-thirds vote is necessary to convict the president and remove him from office. It is unclear if Democrats would get those numbers in the Senate, where they only hold half of the seats. If convicted, Mr Trump would also lose benefits granted to his predecessors under the 1958 Former Presidents Act, which include a pension and health insurance. He could also lose a lifetime security detail at taxpayers' expense, although experts say it is unclear if this would happen. If Mr Trump were to be convicted, the Senate could also hold a further vote to bar him from holding public office again.
1-13-21 Sinovac: Brazil results show Chinese vaccine 50.4% effective
A coronavirus vaccine developed by China's Sinovac has been found to be 50.4% effective in Brazilian clinical trials, according to the latest results released by researchers. It shows the vaccine is significantly less effective than previous data suggested - barely over the 50% needed for regulatory approval. The Chinese vaccine is one of two that the Brazilian government has lined up. Brazil has been one of the countries worst affected by Covid-19. Sinovac, a Beijing-based biopharmaceutical company, is behind CoronaVac, an inactivated vaccine. It works by using killed viral particles to expose the body's immune system to the virus without risking a serious disease response. Several countries, including Indonesia, Turkey and Singapore, have placed orders for the vaccine. Last week researchers at the Butantan Institute, which has been conducting the trials in Brazil, announced that the vaccine had a 78% efficacy against "mild-to-severe" Covid-19 cases. But on Tuesday they revealed that calculations for this figure did not include data from a group of "very mild infections" among those who received the vaccine that did not require clinical assistance. With the inclusion of this data, the efficacy rate is now 50.4%, said researchers. But Butantan stressed that the vaccine is 78% effective in preventing mild cases that needed treatment and 100% effective in staving off moderate to serious cases. The Sinovac trials have yielded different results across different countries. Last month Turkish researchers said the Sinovac vaccine was 91.25% effective, while Indonesia, which rolled out its mass vaccination programme on Wednesday, said it was 65.3% effective. Both were interim results from late-stage trials.
1-12-21 Warnings of huge new spike in US covid-19 cases as UK variant spreads
The highly contagious B.1.1.7. variant of the coronavirus, which was first detected in the UK, has officially reached 10 states in the US, but infectious disease experts say the true extent of its spread is unclear due to a lack of monitoring. Texas, Minnesota and New York are among the states that have detected the variant. Given it has been found in 10 states, it is likely to be present in more, says Lane Warmbrod at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. Still, she says, “it is hard to know how widespread the variant is because we don’t have sufficient genetic epidemiology capacity or capability in the US”. William Hanage at Harvard University says the overall picture is unclear due to insufficient monitoring. Community spread is occurring in at least California, Florida and Colorado, he says, though in each community the variant is rare – for now. The variant probably accounts for about 1 per cent of cases in the US today, estimates Eric Topol at Scripps Research Translational Institute in California. But the picture is foggy, he says. “Surveillance is extremely poor.” New daily cases in the US currently stand at 245,000 for the seven-day average, but Gigi Gronvall, also at Johns Hopkins University, says the UK variant isn’t the reason for the surge in transmission. “The variant is almost certainly not driving our current explosion of cases, or we would have more immediately found it in many states,” she says. Even if B.1.1.7. isn’t yet driving an acceleration in US cases, there is reason to think it will in the future, says Warmbrod, given research in the UK has found it to be between 40 and 70 per cent more transmissible than earlier variants. When the variant is established in the US, says Topol, it will trigger “a major surge that makes the US holiday surges look minimal”.warnings-of-huge-new-spike-in-us-covid-19-cases-as-uk-variant-spreads/#ixzz6jRNSpu1J
1-12-21 Covid-19 news: UK records worst year for excess deaths since 1940
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Pandemic caused UK excess deaths to rise to highest level since second world war. The UK has recorded the largest increase in excess deaths in the country since 1940 during the second world war. Last year there were approximately 697,000 deaths in the UK, almost 91,000 more than would have been expected based on the average in the previous five years. This does not account for the impact of deaths in December 2020, as figures are only available until November. “The UK has one of the highest rates of excess deaths in the world, with more excess deaths per million people than most other European countries or the US,” Richard Murray, chief executive of health charity the King’s Fund, told the BBC. “It will take a public inquiry to determine exactly what went wrong, but mistakes have been made.” Despite record numbers of people in hospitals in England, the pressure on the NHS may not peak until next month, MPs have been told. That is because the infection rate will not decrease as fast as it did after the first lockdown in March. “It’s going to go down more slowly because of the increased transmissibility of the new strain,” said Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents all NHS trusts in England. Hopson was referring to the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the UK in September. “It now looks like the peak for NHS demand may actually now be in February,” he said. “If that’s right, that’s going to basically mean there’s a higher level and a more extended period of pressure on the NHS than we were expecting even a week ago.” Germany’s lockdown could last another eight to 10 weeks, as concerns about the spread of the UK variant in the country grow. Israel may start vaccinating children over the age of 12 against covid-19 within the next two months, if pharmacological research shows this is safe, according to a local health official.
1-12-21 Trump supporters planning armed protests ahead of Biden inauguration, FBI warns
The FBI has warned of possible armed protests across the US as Trump supporters and far-right groups call for demonstrations before Joe Biden is sworn in as president. There are reports of armed groups planning to gather at all 50 state capitols and in Washington DC in the run-up to his 20 January inauguration. Security will be tight for the event after a pro-Trump mob stormed Congress. House Democrats say a vote to impeach the president will happen on Wednesday. They accuse President Trump of "incitement of insurrection" and say the vote will be held unless Vice-President Mike Pence invokes constitutional powers to remove Mr Trump from office. There is no sign Mr Pence is prepared to do so. Mr Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris are expected to be sworn in at a ceremony at the Capitol. The Biden team had already urged Americans to avoid travelling to the capital because of the Covid-19 pandemic, a call that is now being repeated by local authorities. Security officials have said there will be no repeat of the breach seen on 6 January, when thousands of pro-Trump supporters were able to break into the building where members of Congress were voting to certify the election result. Five people died in the riot, which happened after Mr Trump repeated unsubstantiated claims of fraud in the November vote and encouraged his supporters to march on the Capitol. Since then, calls for Mr Trump's resignation, removal from office or impeachment have grown among Democrats and some Republicans. Mr Trump has made no public statements since he was banned from several social media platforms - including Twitter - on Friday. He became the third US president to be impeached in December 2019 over charges of breaking the law by asking Ukraine to investigate his rival in the presidential election. The Senate cleared him. Posts on pro-Trump and far-right online networks have called for protests on a number of dates, including armed demonstrations in cities across the country on 17 January and a march in Washington DC on inauguration day itself. An internal FBI bulletin, reported by ABC News and other outlets, carries a warning that one group is calling for the "storming" of state, local and federal courthouses around the country if Mr Trump is removed from office early and on inauguration day if he is not.
1-12-21 Capitol riots: Trump says his speech was totally appropriate
US President Donald Trump has said his speech before last week's deadly Capitol riot, when he urged his supporters to march on Congress, was "totally appropriate". Mr Trump dismissed as "ridiculous" efforts by Democrats in Congress to impeach him for inciting insurrection. He leaves office on 20 January, when President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in. Democrats in the House of Representatives say a vote to impeach the president will happen on Wednesday. If the vote in the House is carried, Mr Trump will become the first president in US history to be impeached twice. However, the impeachment will only lead to his removal from office if a two-thirds majority votes in favour in the Senate. That would need the assent of a substantial number of Republicans and so far, few have shown any willingness to vote against a president from their own party. The House will vote first to ask Vice-President Mike Pence to invoke constitutional powers to remove Mr Trump from office - an idea Mr Pence is said to oppose. Calls for Mr Trump's resignation, removal from office or impeachment have grown among Democrats and some Republicans in the days following the riots in Congress in which five people died.
1-12-21 Pence under pressure to remove Trump immediately
The House of Representatives will vote to ask Vice-President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Donald Trump immediately. A vote to impeach the president will be held on Wednesday if Pence fails to act, as expected. Democrats charge Trump with "incitement of insurrection" over the invasion of the US Capitol last Wednesday. Dozens have been detained in connection with last week's violence, which left five people dead. The FBI is warning of armed protests in all 50 states by right-wing extremists ahead of Joe Biden's inauguration. Up to 15,000 National Guard troops will be deployed in Washington DC for the 20 January event. "We want no violence," says Trump, denying wrongdoing in his first live comments since the riot. Trump is on his way to Alamo, on the border with Mexico, to highlight work on building a wall to keep migrants out. Russian TV revels in US crisis. Reports of continuing tensions in the US in the wake of last week’s events fill the airwaves in Russia. Much of the Russian narrative mirrors Trump’s own talking points, including harsh criticism of the Democrats and the media. Pro-Kremlin TV stations generally describe the US political system as unfair and riddled with double standards. "America's political machine is getting ever more bogged down in America's own views of democracy," said an announcer on State TV’s Channel One. "The problem is that when it comes to the US, these views are quite different from when they are applied to other countries." Democrats have been criticised more harshly than Republicans, who were jointly gathered inside the Capitol in an effort to overturn Democrat Joe Biden's November victory. "The Democrats want to get rid of Trump as a political rival once and for all," said State TV's Channel One on Tuesday. "The situation in the US is looking increasingly like the start of a civil war," said pro-Kremlin Ren TV.
1-12-21 Trump impeachment move: Democrats start push to oust US president
Democrats have introduced an article of impeachment against US President Donald Trump for his role in last week's deadly invasion of the Capitol. The article filed in the House on Monday accuses Mr Trump of "incitement of insurrection". Democrats say a vote on the article will go ahead in the House on Wednesday unless Vice-President Mike Pence invokes constitutional powers to remove Mr Trump from office. Mr Pence is said to oppose the idea. "The president represents an imminent threat to our constitution, our country and the American people, and he must be removed from office immediately," Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. Calls for Mr Trump's resignation, removal from office or impeachment have grown among Democrats and some Republicans in the days following the riots in Congress in which five people died. The impeachment resolution accuses the president of encouraging his supporters to storm the Capitol building at a rally in which Mr Trump alleged, without evidence, that November's presidential election was "stolen" from him. The White House has dismissed the impeachment threat as "politically motivated", but Mr Trump has made no public statements since he was banned from several social media platforms - including Twitter - on Friday. He is due to leave office on 20 January, when Democrat Joe Biden will be sworn in as president. Mr Trump has said he will not attend Mr Biden's swearing-in ceremony. This is the second time Democrats have pursued impeachment against President Trump in the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of Congress. In December 2019, the House impeached Mr Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. But the Senate acquitted him on both charges in February 2020. No US president has ever been impeached twice. However, the prospect of an impeachment conviction is unlikely because of Mr Trump's broad Republican support in the Senate.
1-12-21 Arnold Schwarzenegger: 'I know where Trump's lies lead'
The actor and former California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, compared the US Capitol riots to Nazi Germany. The actor recounted his childhood growing up in Austria following World War 2.
1-12-21 California's Disneyland to become Covid vaccination site
California's Disneyland theme park is set to become a massive Covid-19 vaccination site this week, county officials announced on Monday. The "happiest place on earth" is one of several large distribution sites opening up in the state as cases soar and hospitals near capacity. The most populous US state has lagged behind in its vaccination rate, doling out around a third of its do California ranks 42nd out of 50 states in its vaccination rate per 100,000 residents, according to Centers for Disease Control data. The Disneyland resort in Orange County will become the region's first "super" distribution site, Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do said on Monday. It will have the capacity to vaccinate thousands of people daily. The park has been closed to visitors since mid-March - unlike it's sister resort, Walt Disney World in Florida, which has been open to reduced numbers of guests since July. California Governor Gavin Newsom announced similar vaccination sites would be opening up as early as this week at Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium, Cal Expo in Sacramento and Petco Park in San Diego. "We recognise that the current strategy is not going to get us to where we need to go as quickly as we all need to go," Mr Newsom said. "That's why we're speeding up the administration not just for priority groups but opening up large sites to do so." The state's current vaccination campaign is focusing on high priority individuals, like health care workers and long-term care facility residents. The Golden State has the third highest death rate in the country. More than 22,600 people have been admitted to hospital due to the virus, and state data shows that as of Monday, just over 1,200 intensive care beds were still available statewide. "The damaging impact to our families and our local hospitals from this surge is the worst disaster our county has experienced for decades," Los Angeles County's top public health official, Barbara Ferrer told reporters on Monday.
1-12-21 Australia clamps down in response to cases of UK coronavirus variant
Authorities in Australia have responded swiftly to contain potential outbreaks of the UK variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes covid-19. On Thursday 7 January, a cleaner for a hotel quarantine facility in Brisbane tested positive for the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant, first sequenced in the UK in September, which has now reached at least 45 countries. The variant has previously been detected in returning international passengers in hotel quarantine, but this is the first time someone had unknowingly been in the Australian community while potentially infectious. The following morning, with no further positive cases, Queensland state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced a short, citywide circuit-breaker lockdown affecting some 2 million residents. The city, where life has been normal for months, hadn’t locked down since the first wave in Australia in March. “Doing three days now could avoid doing 30 days in the future,” said Palaszczuk on Friday. The lockdown began on Friday at 6pm Brisbane time, and ended on Monday 11 January at the same time. It included a strict mask mandate for anyone leaving their homes, including while driving and exercising. Within days, contact tracers identified over 150 of the cleaner’s casual and close contacts, who have all been quarantined. The city recorded only one new case of community transmission during the lockdown period – the cleaner’s partner – but it is still too early to rule out unknown transmission. “We have to wait two weeks since the last possible exposure that index case had,” says Raina MacIntyre, an infectious diseases expert at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. The South African variant of SARS-CoV-2 has also been detected in Australia, with the first case seen in hotel quarantine on 22 December. In response to the threat posed by the two variants, on 8 January, Australia’s National Cabinet implemented tighter restrictions for returning passengers.
1-12-21 Coronavirus: Lebanon to impose round-the-clock curfew as cases spike
Lebanon will enforce an 11-day curfew, with hospitals struggling to cope with a spike in new coronavirus infections. People will be forbidden from leaving their homes from 05:00 (03:00 GMT) on Thursday, with few exemptions. They will be unable to shop in supermarkets and will need to rely on deliveries. The only airport will remain open, but the number of passengers will be cut. The authorities say that without drastic action the country's fragile health system will be overwhelmed. Compared to other countries, Lebanon had until now coped relatively well with the coronavirus.Despite a rise in the number of new cases, the government relaxed restrictions ahead of Christmas and New Year, hoping to bolster the country's crumbling economy. Bars and nightclubs were allowed to open for the first time in months. Health officials said that the easing of restrictions had now led to a dramatic spike in infections. Lebanon, which has a population of six million, has reported more than 222,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 1,629 deaths since the start of the pandemic. But in the past week alone, 30,250 people have tested positive and 117 have died, according to data collated by Johns Hopkins University. "We have seen dreadful scenes of citizens waiting in front of hospitals for a chair or a bed," President Michel Aoun said at a meeting of the Supreme Defence Council on Monday afternoon. "Radical measures must be taken so that we can mitigate the catastrophic consequences of the coronavirus outbreak," he added. Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab blamed the spike in cases on "the stubbornness of people and their rebellion against measures taken to protect them from the threat of this pandemic". But he also admitted that "the enforcement of these measures was not equal to the level of the risk".
1-11-21 Covid-19 news: England is facing ‘worst weeks of this pandemic’
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Hospitals in England struggle to cope with growing numbers of covid-19 patients. England’s chief medical officer on Monday issued a stark warning about what the country can expect in the coming weeks and urged people to avoid all unnecessary contact with others. “The next few weeks are going to be the worst weeks of this pandemic in terms of numbers into the NHS,” Chris Whitty told the BBC. He said there were more than 30,000 people with covid-19 in hospitals in England, compared to about 18,000 during the peak of the first wave in April last year. Hospitals around the country are taking exceptional measures to cope with the influx of people with covid-19, including putting trainees on wards and making nurses responsible for a greater number of patients than usual. Southend Hospital in England has been forced to reduce the amount of oxygen it uses to treat patients, because the hospital’s oxygen supply has “reached a critical situation”, according to documents seen by the BBC. UK prime minister Boris Johnson said 2 million people have been vaccinated against covid-19 in the country so far, including about 40 per cent of people over the age of 80 and 23 per cent of older care home residents. Later, UK health minister Matt Hancock said 2.6 million doses of covid-19 vaccine had been given to 2.3 million people in the country. The UK has now published full details of its vaccination programme, including its plan to be administering at least two million vaccinations per week in England by the end of January, and to have vaccinated 15 million people by mid-February. “It’s a race against time, because we can all see the threat that our NHS faces,” said Johnson. A highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus first identified in the UK accounted for almost half of the most recent sample of positive tests in Ireland, according to local authorities.
1-11-21 Can Trump's revolutionary faction be contained?
Ours is a precarious moment. Last week, the president of the United States incited an insurrection against the national legislature as it was acting to certify the results of a free and fair election. He paved the way for this treasonous act by repeatedly lying for two months about the veracity of the vote. Five people died in the ensuing melee, but generalized violence was not anywhere close to the worst thing that happened that day. If President Trump had incited a riot on the streets of Washington in which five people were killed, that would have been very bad. But this was an attack on the core institution of American democracy itself — and it could easily have been far, far worse. Some in the crowd brought heavy weaponry and homemade bombs. Still others were keen to take hostages and even to track down and murder the vice president of the United States for failing to overturn the results of the 2020 election (which he had no power to do). That makes what we witnessed last week categorically different from the kinds of protests, looting, and riots we've seen at many points throughout the recent and not-so-recent American past. Fueled by a potent mixture of painstakingly cultivated delusion and fury, Trump's MAGA militia — which also wreaked havoc that day at state houses across the country — acted as terrorists hell bent on decapitating American self-government. This is the pertinent context for understanding the extraordinary events of the days since the anti-democratic insurrection of January 6, 2020. They include a renewed effort to remove Trump from office through impeachment or the invocation of the 25th Amendment, as well as technology companies suspending the president's social-media accounts and working to shut down Parler, a platform that over the past few months has become an alternative to Twitter and Facebook for the conspiracy-addled far right. Such actions are entirely justified and in fact absolutely essential, first and foremost because more acts of insurrection could be coming between now and President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration nine days from now. Congress and tech companies are right to do whatever they can to keep that from happening — to draw firm and bright lines now, demonstrating that incitement to revolutionary acts against the seat of American democracy will not be tolerated, including, and perhaps especially, when the perpetrator is the president. Our baseline for freedom cannot be that would-be insurrectionists are entitled to make use of the most powerful facilitator of grassroots political organization ever devised. (That's precisely what social media is.) To say that they have such a right is to turn liberal democracy into a suicide pact. Could the actions of tech companies open the door to genuine abuses of power — including the "cancelation" of people and organizations for a much wider range of offenses and harms than outright incitement? Absolutely. And we should do everything we can to ensure it doesn't happen. But that is a task for another day. Right now, it is crucial that we do what we can to expel the leading insurrectionists from American public life. Unfortunately, it's far from clear that such efforts will work. It may be too late to keep Trump's revolutionary faction from threatening American democracy now and for a long time after the passing of the presidency that cultivated and encouraged it. The time to move against fundamental threats to the political order is when they are gathering force but still relatively weak. In our present context, that would have been the summer and fall of 2015, when Trump's presidential campaign began to catch fire by mobilizing voters who responded to his hateful nonsense, poisonous bile, and delusional conspiracies at campaign events, in his Twitter feed, and on debate stages.
1-11-21 America can't 'move forward' until Trump faces consequences
He must be held accountable for his actions, or things will get much worse. Republican supporters of President Trump have run out of principled reasons not to hold him accountable for his wicked deeds. They have turned instead to a kind of extortion. They admit the deadly insurrection last week at the U.S. Capitol was a terrible thing. But, they threaten, if Democrats or a few principled GOP members of Congress try to impose penalties on the president for inciting that insurrection, well, things might really get bad. "Those calling for impeachment or invoking the 25th Amendment in response to President Trump's rhetoric this week are themselves engaging in intemperate and inflammatory language and calling for action that is equally irresponsible and could well incite further violence," Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) wrote in a weekend tweet. Brady is perhaps the most straightforward in equating truth-based consequences with the lies (that Democrats stole the presidential election) Trump and allies like Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) promoted in advance of last Wednesday's riot. But he is far from alone among Republicans insisting that America move on from a disaster that is still unfolding. Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) joined several other members of Congress in writing a letter urging President-elect Joe Biden to call off Democratic efforts to impeach Trump, "in the spirit of healing and fidelity to the Constitution." "Let's move forward," added Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who also signed the letter. It might be worth swallowing the lost justice that comes with "moving forward" if it means a restoration of domestic tranquility and a modicum of mutual respect. But there is little reason to believe that will be the case. Trump has not backed off his false claims that he won the election. Hawley and Cruz have offered no apology for objecting to the certification of Biden's victory. Horrifying new videos and information about the insurrection continue to emerge. Trump-friendly lawmakers like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have found themselves in scary confrontations with the president's supporters, and Vice President Mike Pence — who has been slavishly devoted to the president these last four years — now faces death threats. Even more frightening, the internet is filled with speculation and threats that more violence from Trump's supporters is likely in the near future. "The stuff I've heard in the last 72 hours — from members of Congress, law enforcement friends, gun shop owners, MAGA devotees — is absolutely chilling," Politico's Tim Alberta wrote over the weekend. "We need to brace for a wave of violence in this country. Not just over the next couple of weeks, but over the next couple of years." Terrifying stuff. Looking forward requires accountability — now. But so far, Trump has had no real disincentive to stop lying about the election or anything else. When he tried to undermine the election by pressuring Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden, Republicans gave him a free pass. Voters tried to punish his awful presidency by turning him out of office, but he has spent the last two months trying to overturn their will. The only real penalty he has paid for all of this is losing his Twitter account. If the last four years have taught us anything, it is that Trump will do whatever he can get away with. He does not, and will not, restrain himself — not for the sake of decency, certainly. "Moving forward" in the Trump era has only ever given this president new opportunities to commit new transgressions. At some point, there has to be a price, or the cycle will continue. At a minimum, that should mean impeachment.
1-11-21 Democrats move ahead with efforts to remove Trump
House Resolution: Trump 'incapable of executing the duties of his office'. As the House of Representatives prepares to convene, the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has released a copy of today's resolution, calling on Vice-President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Donald Trump from office. In the text, the resolution urges Vice-President Pence to "declare what is obvious to a horrified nation: that the President is unable to successfully discharge the duties and powers of his office". It accuses President Trump of encouraging "rioters and insurrectionists to 'march on the Capitol' and 'fight'" during a rally on 6 January. The president also stands accused of "at least 3 attempts to intervene in the lawful vote counting and certification process in Georgia". Should Mr Pence fail to act on the resolution, Democrats have signalled their intention to impeach President Trump instead - the second impeachment he's faced in his four-year term.Democrats plan to pass a resolution asking Vice-President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Donald Trump. If Pence fails to act, as is predicted, Democrats will begin impeachment proceedings. They will charge Trump with "incitement of insurrection" related to the invasion of the US Capitol last Wednesday. Trump himself has made no public statements since Friday, when he was banned from several social media platforms. He leaves office on 20 January, when President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated. Social network Parler, popular with Trump supporters, is forced offline after being dropped by Amazon. Several people have been charged in connection with last week's violence, which left five people dead including a Capitol police officer. FBI receives over 40,000 digital tips over Capitol riots. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says it has received more than 40,000 digital tips from the public - including video and photos - in connection with violence around the Capitol last week. As part of its investigations, the FBI is offering a $50,000 (£37,000) reward for information leading to the arrest of an individual who planted pipe bombs at Democratic and Republican party headquarters. Since the riot last Wednesday, authorities have arrested at least 82 people. Among those who've been detained are a "QAnon Shaman" and a newly-elected West Virginia lawmaker. Another man, Richard Barnett, has also been detained after pictures showed him posing at the desk of Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives.
1-11-21 Parler: Amazon to remove site from web hosting service
Amazon is removing "free speech" social network Parler from its web hosting service for violating rules. If Parler fails to find a new web hosting service by Sunday evening, the entire network will go offline. Parler styles itself as an "unbiased" social media and has proved popular with people banned from Twitter. Amazon told Parler it had found 98 posts on the site that encouraged violence. Apple and Google have removed the app from their stores. Launched in 2018, Parler has proved particularly popular among supporters of US President Donald Trump and right-wing conservatives. Such groups have frequently accused Twitter and Facebook of unfairly censoring their views. While Mr Trump himself is not a user, the platform already features several high-profile contributors following earlier bursts of growth in 2020. Texas Senator Ted Cruz boasts 4.9 million followers on the platform, while Fox News host Sean Hannity has about seven million. The move comes after Apple suspended Parler from its app store. The suspension will remain in place for as long as the network continued to spread posts that incite violence, it said. Responding to Google's move earlier, Parler's chief executive John Matze said: "We won't cave to politically motivated companies and those authoritarians who hate free speech!" He also warned that Parler could be offline for up to a week while "we rebuild from scratch". It briefly became the most-downloaded app in the United States after the US election, following a clampdown on the spread of election misinformation by Twitter and Facebook. In a letter obtained by CNN, Amazon's AWS Trust and Safety team told Parler's Chief Policy Officer Amy Peikoff that the social network "does not have an effective process to comply with the AWS terms of service". "AWS provides technology and services to customers across the political spectrum, and we continue to respect Parler's right to determine for itself what content it will allow on its site", the letter said. "However we cannot provide services to a customer that is unable to effectively identify and remove content that encourages or incites violence against others.".
1-11-21 Trump National stripped of 2022 US PGA Championship
Trump National in Bedminster has been stripped of the US PGA Championship in 2022 as its organisers felt using the course as host would be "detrimental". The PGA of America voted to terminate the agreement on Sunday. US President Donald Trump, who owns the course, has been accused by Democrats and some Republicans of encouraging last Wednesday's riot in Congress. A representative for the Trump Organization said they were "incredibly disappointed" with the decision. "It has become clear that conducting the PGA Championship at Trump Bedminster would be detrimental to the PGA of America brand and would put at risk the PGA's ability to deliver our many programmes and sustain the longevity of our mission," said PGA of America President Jim Richerson. "It was a decision made to ensure the PGA of America and PGA professionals can continue to lead and grow our game for decades to come." The course in New Jersey, one of 17 courses around the world owned by Trump, was due to host the major in May 2022. Another of his properties, Trump Turnberry in Ayrshire, Scotland, has not been selected to host an Open Championship by the R&A since Trump bought the resort in 2014 - with the host venues now finalised up to 2024. Turnberry's Ailsa course has hosted The Open on four occasions since first staging the championship in 1977, most recently when Stewart Cink won in 2009. R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said there were "no plans" to stage any of its championships at Turnberry and that the governing body would "not do so in the foreseeable future". "We will not return until we are convinced that the focus will be on the championship, the players and the course itself and we do not believe that is achievable in the current circumstances," Slumbers said. The PGA of America is now searching for a replacement host for one of the game's biggest four men's individual events.
1-11-21 Inauguration 2021: What happens on the day Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are sworn in?
President-elect Joe Biden won't officially make his move to the White House until inauguration day - a political parade of sorts, when the Democrat and his Vice-President Kamala Harris take the oath of office. From the guest list to Covid-19 changes, to new security concerns, here's everything you need to know about the big day. What will be the security be? Presidential inaugurations typically involve detailed security plans, but even more so now, after a mob stormed the Capitol on 6 January. So far it's unclear what additional steps may be taken to protect attendees, but when Mr Biden is sworn in, DC will still be under a state of emergency, an order put in place by Mayor Muriel Bowser amid the chaos. The DC National Guard, which was called in on 6 January, will also remain mobilised for 30 days, meaning they will be on hand for the inauguration proceedings to assist Capitol police. Mr Biden has told reporters he is "not concerned about my safety, security, or the inauguration". But Senator Amy Klobuchar, a member of Mr Biden's inauguration committee, and who was at the Capitol during the incident, said she hoped for major changes to be made. (Webmaster's comment: I fully expect Trump's thugs to be back with guns and with intent to kill! Trump's thugs are nothing but animals and we should treat them as such!)
1-11-21 Pope Francis backs women's roles in Catholic services
Pope Francis has formally changed the law in the Roman Catholic Church, allowing women to administer communion and serve at the altar. But the ordained priesthood will still be the preserve of men, he stressed in the decree. It is official recognition of roles already performed by women in some Catholic services, especially in Western countries. The Pope said women were making a "precious contribution" to the Church. The announcement is expected to force conservative Church leaders to accept greater involvement of women in the liturgy. On the more reformist wing of the Church, Pope Francis has tried to present a more welcoming image through his rhetoric, the BBC's Mark Lowen reports from Rome. But last year, after a synod to decide whether to allow women to become deacons able to preside over some Church services, the Pope refused to make the change, frustrating some who had hoped for more fundamental reform during his pontificate. The Pope changed a clause in canon law from "lay men" to "lay persons", specifying that they can perform "the ministries of lector and acolyte" in Catholic services. His decree, called a Spiritus Domini, was accompanied by a letter explaining "the urgency... to rediscover the co-responsibility of all of the baptised in the Church, and the mission of the laity in a particular way".
1-10-21 America doesn't need new security laws to prosecute insurrection
President-elect Joe Biden is already suggesting new laws in response to the attempted right-wing putsch against the American government this week. The Wall Street Journal reports that "he plans to make a priority of passing a law against domestic terrorism ... [and has] been urged to create a White House post overseeing the fight against ideologically inspired violent extremists and increasing funding to combat them[.]" It's obvious after this past week why he would suggest such a thing, but this is a wrongheaded approach. There are already plenty of tools at the government's disposal to crack down on far-right insurrection. Rather than new laws and more bureaucracy, Biden and incoming Attorney General Merrick Garland should enforce the laws that already exist, and reform the dysfunctional security apparatus so it will do what it is told. These are necessary preconditions to any fight against right-wing insurrection. (Webmaster's comment: The problem is that our law enforcement agencies are full of racists, white nationalists, Klan, Neo-nazis, Proud Boys and QAnon!) As Ian Millhiser writes at Vox, there are at least a dozen federal laws that were obviously broken by at least some of the putschists. Insurrection, sedition, conspiracy, riot, assault, murder (a Capitol Police officer died of wounds sustained during the attack), possessing or placing explosives on federal property, robbery, trespassing — these are all extremely illegal with major penalties. Given the fact that many of these yahoos were taking selfies and livestreaming themselves in front of dozens of reporters and photojournalists, any conscious federal prosecutor could put most of them away for 10,000 years if he or she felt like it. Now, there is no law specifically against domestic terrorism, but "terrorism" is an extremely vague term that can and will be abused by prosecutors in future cases. It is already more than illegal enough to attempt to overthrow the government, we don't need to add more bans or punishment to the pile. Because there is a much, much larger obstacle to Biden taking on the threat of right-wing insurrection: the political corruption of the security bureaucracy. We all saw on Wednesday how sympathetic police departments are to right-wing terrorists. Many rank-and-file Capitol Police did fight the insurrectionists, and one was killed by them, but others were posing for selfies or reportedly giving them directions to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's office. More importantly, the Capitol Police top brass and other law enforcement departments ignored warnings that this was being planned out in the open, leaving loyal officers hanging out to dry. The mob reportedly also contained many off-duty police and members of the military, who flashed their IDs as they stormed the Capitol.
1-10-21 Viewpoint: What the Capitol riot means for US foreign policy
Many foreign leaders - and especially Washington's allies - will have watched the events this week on Capitol Hill with amazement and alarm. Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was one of the first to respond, tweeting "shocking scenes in Washington DC. The outcome of this democratic election must be respected". Who could ever have imagined such a comment, coming from the alliance's top official addressed to its leading member state? It is the sort of thing you would expect Mr Stoltenberg to be sending to a Belarus or a Venezuela. The episode says much about Washington's standing in the world after four years of the Donald Trump presidency. The US has haemorrhaged both influence and soft power. It has pulled out of arms control agreements, the Iran nuclear deal, and a major climate accord. It has sought to reduce its military engagements overseas while offering little in the way of diplomatic alternatives. Countries like Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have all, to an extent, sought to provide for their own security, mindful that the US president's attention span is limited. Indeed Donald Trump often appears to regard authoritarian leaders as more convivial hosts than the heads of government of many of his democratic allies. The forces of attraction that made the country a model for aspiring democrats everywhere are tarnished, its fissures are there for all to see. Today, as analyst Ian Bremmer notes: "The US is by far the most politically dysfunctional and divided of all the world's advanced industrial democracies. This matters because, over recent years, the international system has clearly suffered from Mr Trump's decision to pursue an America First policy. Authoritarians are on the march. China and Russia both feel their influence has been bolstered during the Trump years. The institutions of the liberal order - like Nato, the UN and many of its agencies - face varying degrees of crisis.
1-10-21 'QAnon Shaman' Jake Angeli charged over pro-Trump riots
A prominent follower of the baseless conspiracy theory QAnon has been charged over the US Capitol riots. Jacob Anthony Chansley, known as J Mr Chansley, who calls himself the QAnon Shaman, is allegedly the man pictured with a painted face, fur hat and horns inside Congress on Wednesday. Donald Trump faces another impeachment charge for his role in the unrest. Democrats accuse the president of encouraging the riots, in which five people died. The FBI has been appealing to the public to help bring the assailants to justice. Mr Chansley has not commented publicly on the charges. A statement from the federal attorney for Washington DC said: "It is alleged that Chansley was identified as the man seen in media coverage who entered the Capitol building dressed in horns, a bearskin headdress, red, white and blue face paint, shirtless, and tan pants. "This individual carried a spear, approximately 6 feet in length, with an American flag tied just below the blade." The statement said police had also detained a man from Florida believed to have been photographed carrying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's lectern from the House of Representatives chamber. Adam Johnson, 36, is being held on charges including one count of theft of government property and one count of violent entry. Also among those charged is West Virginia state lawmaker, Derrick Evans. He is alleged to have posted a video of himself online, standing outside the building with Trump supporters, and then going inside. He was arrested on Friday and is also accused of violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol Grounds, the Department of Justice statement said.
1-10-21 As COVID-19 cases spike, Israel leads world in vaccine distribution
New cases have surged to a three-month high in Israel, but health authorities have still managed to vaccinate about 50 percent of the country's high-risk population. For the past week, Israel has been vaccinating about 1.5 percent of its population daily — roughly 150,000 people per day — making it a world leader in vaccinating against COVID-19. New cases have surged to a three-month high, but health authorities have still managed to vaccinate about 50 percent of the country's high-risk population. Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said in a press conference that the entire Israeli population could be vaccinated as soon as April. "Within a time period of two to three months, we'll be able to vaccinate the entire population that can be vaccinated," Edelstein said. He added that inoculating the general public is expected to begin by next month. Israel is moving so fast, they're already planning for the day after the pandemic ends. "I estimate that by late March, early April most of those who so desire will be able to be vaccinated and then we can begin a large-scale opening of the economy and cultural activities," Edelstein said. On Monday, the Health Ministry unveiled its proposed "green passport" that will grant vaccinated Israelis permission to attend large gatherings and cultural events. "It's actually really an amazing project where everybody took part in it," said professor Gili Regev, director of the infectious disease unit at the Sheba Medical Center, Israel's largest hospital. Regev said Israel's successful campaign is largely thanks to its community-based health system. By law, all Israelis must be registered with one of the country's four health care providers. In a small country of 9 million people, Regev said, the vaccination effort has been a huge success. "And I think also the compliance of the population," Regev said. "There was a lot of PR about this, on how important it is and that this is really the only way to stop this pandemic. And I think all of those together is what actually made this happen. And yeah, it's really exciting." Israel signed agreements with multiple drug companies for vaccines, but it's distributing them faster than new shipments are arriving. By contrast, the situation next door in the Palestinian West Bank is very different. Outside the city of Nablus, Dr. Murad Shawer is the physician in charge at Hugo Chavez hospital, where the most complicated COVID-19 cases are sent from all across the West Bank. He and about 3 million other Palestinians living under Israeli military control will have to wait much longer for a vaccine. "It's very stressing [sic] for me and for all the personnel," Shawer said. "We have now crossing [sic] the peak of the disease and it will continue during the next three months at least." Numbers of new cases are starting to go down, Shawer said, and he believes the vaccine will have an impact. "I think [the] vaccine can help to get our target, but now I don't know how much time we have to wait to get this vaccine," Shawer said. So far, the cash-strapped Palestinian National Authority hasn't signed a single deal with any of the vaccine manufacturers. But Palestinian officials say it's a top priority. "We are in contact with Pfizer, with Sputnik-5, with AstraZeneca, with all the manufacturers," said Dr. Ali Abed Rabbo, director-general of the Palestinian Health Ministry. "The only one signed is with the COVAX facility that will provide 20 percent of the Palestinian population." COVAX is the initiative co-led by the World Health Organization to ensure a more equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines around the world.
1-10-21 Australia v India: Hosts apologise as alleged racist abuse investigated
Australian cricket's governing body has apologised to India and is investigating claims that visiting players were subjected to racist abuse by spectators during the third Test. India made an official complaint after day three on Saturday that bowlers Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj had received racist abuse in Sydney. And on Sunday, play was halted for 10 minutes after more alleged abuse. Six people were subsequently ejected from the Sydney Cricket Ground. Cricket Australia (CA) and New South Wales police are investigating this incident, which was reported to umpires by Siraj. India reported the alleged racist abuse on Saturday to match referee David Boon and the International Cricket Council said it was "incredibly disappointed" with the incidents at the SCG. The ICC said it will support CA in its investigation of the claims of racist abuse and that CA will have to submit a report within two weeks. Referring to Saturday's incident, CA's head of integrity and security Sean Carroll said: "If you engage in racist abuse, you are not welcome in Australian cricket. "Once those responsible are identified, CA will take the strongest measures possible under our anti-harassment code, including lengthy bans, further sanctions and referral to New South Wales police. "As series hosts, we unreservedly apologise to our friends in the Indian cricket team and assure them we will prosecute the matter to its fullest extent." India captain Virat Kohli, who only played the first Test of the series before returning home for the birth of his first child, said the allegations need to be "looked at with absolutely urgency" and "strict action" should be taken against the offenders. "Racial abuse is absolutely unacceptable," he said on social media. "Having gone through many incidents of really pathetic things said on the boundary lines, this is the absolute peak of rowdy behaviour. It's sad to see this happen on the field."
1-9-21 Will the legislature fight back?
As Congress considers a second impeachment of President Trump — this time for incitement to insurrection — it's worth stressing the considerable differences from the last outing, when he was impeached for corrupting American foreign policy to aid his re-election effort. The most important difference: This time, it's for real. By that, I don't mean to suggest the advocates for impeachment in 2019, or those who voted to convict Trump, weren't sincere. There was absolutely a case for Trump's impeachment and removal from office at that time, and, in retrospect, it would have done the republic a great deal of good if he had been removed, as even some then-dubious right-wing observers have come to conclude. But that impeachment was conducted with no real expectation of, nor plan for, success. The result was over-determined, driven by demands of the Democratic base that long predated the crimes that Trump was charged with. It came to be viewed as a purely partisan exercise, and as a result Trump's exoneration strengthened his hand within the GOP and emboldened him in his belief that he was above rebuke. We're seeing the consequences of that failure now, which is precisely why this next impeachment cannot merely be an exercise. The Animal House Putsch — which is, I think, the right term for such a futile and stupid gesture — would be alarming if it had no institutional support. It is the president's incitement, though, that takes the danger to an entirely different level, which is why prosecution of the putschists — which needs to be swift and forceful — will not excise the danger. A line needs to be drawn, and he needs to be removed. Precisely because it is necessary, though, it is also risky. The GOP has always had an incentive to muddle through and continue coddling this violent, extremist, and anti-democratic tendency, much as the Japanese military and political establishment did in the 1930s, with ultimately disastrous results. Those incentives remained in place even after the Georgia Senate elections — the Democratic victories in which may be credited in part to Trump's increasingly unhinged refusal to concede — because they can also be credited to Trump's absence from the ballot (turnout was robust everywhere, but fell more in overwhelmingly Trump-favorable districts than in districts that Biden won decisively). The right may feel itself caught between a rock and a hard place, unsure that they can win either with or without Trump. That's why the incentive to muddle through persists even now, after the attack on Congress, because that attack has substantial popular support, which the president remains able to command. If impeachment is to proceed, then, it must proceed to conviction. That means lining up the votes, which means an appeal to interests, and not just to principles. This needs to be a victory for democracy, in which the right has a share, and not for the Democratic Party. Those interests come into play in two ways. The most obvious is institutional. The riot on Wednesday was an attack on Congress, an attempt, however incoherent, to stop the legislature from doing its job. Precisely because it had the support of the president, though, it was not merely an eruption of mob rule, but yet another escalation of the president's efforts to overturn the election, first by legal means (his various unsuccessful court challenges), then by fraud (his unsuccessful pressuring of state officials to falsify the results), and finally by force. If Congress does not rebuke this act by the means it has ready at its disposal, then it will have declared by its silence that it accepts the legitimacy of the assault by the president, and faults only his easily-led goons. Any GOP senators who value their own power — and Mitch McConnell most certainly does — should readily discern how frayed the thread is by which that power now hangs, and should be ready to do whatever is necessary to restore it. (Webmaster's comment: We elected a Hitler and now we are paying the price!)
1-9-21 Twitter silences a dangerous president
witter has permanently suspended President Trump's account, and it honestly comes as a relief. We're going to need to have a longer conversation, soon, about what it means that a giant corporation can effectively silence the president of the United States if it chooses. But under the circumstances — with five people having died this week at the U.S. Capitol due to the president's encouragement of insurrectionists, and with the prospect of more violence to come — banning Trump is the best result. I remember the first time I encountered Trump's Twitter account, sometime in the early days of Barack Obama's presidency. At first, I thought it was a parody — somebody making up exaggerated versions of what the guy from The Apprentice might say if he would deign to waste his time on social media. After that came a series of realizations, starting a few minutes after I discovered the account and continuing over the months and years. That the account was real, not a parody. That not only was it real, but that Trump was absolutely serious about the nutty stuff — not just the birtherism, but even the everyday musings — that he was saying. That not only was he serious, but that many followers of the account took him seriously. That the stuff he was saying, on Twitter and in real life, was actually kind of dangerous. My arc of realizations, you'll probably note, also follows the arc of how we in the media treated Trump the man and presidential candidate. Many of us initially saw his candidacy as a joke — Jon Stewart on The Daily Show was positively gleeful about Trump's presidential announcement in 2015 — but good for clicks and ratings. Only dimly did many of us realize that he was a clown, yes, but also that he was and is serious, a threat to American democracy. Twitter came to the same conclusion, after years of protests by the president's critics and weeks of labeling his election fraud tweets as misinformation. The company didn't ban Trump because it didn't like his politics; there are lots of jerks on the platform, still, who haven't been banned and won't be. The action came because Twitter — almost certainly with the blessing of founder Jack Dorsey — decided Trump was still a threat to incite violence between now and Inauguration Day. Two tweets that Trump posted on Friday “are likely to inspire others to replicate the violent acts that took place on Jan. 6, 2021,” the company said in a statement, “and that there are multiple indicators that they are being received and understood as encouragement to do so.” You can argue whether that was a correct assessment — one of Trump's tweets on Friday was a statement that he wouldn't attend Joe Biden's inauguration, the other promising to be a “GIANT VOICE” for his voters going forward — but Trump had already inspired one ugly day in Washington D.C., in part by using his social media voice. Why take the chance of a repeat?
1-9-21 Twitter permanently suspends Trump's account
US President Donald Trump has been permanently suspended from Twitter "due to the risk of further incitement of violence", the company says. Twitter said the decision was made "after close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account". It comes amid a Big Tech purge of the online platforms used by Mr Trump and his supporters. Some lawmakers and celebrities have been calling for years on Twitter to ban Mr Trump altogether. Former First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted on Thursday that the Silicon Valley giants should stop enabling Mr Trump's "monstrous behaviour" and permanently expel him. Mr Trump was locked out of his account for 12 hours on Wednesday after he called the people who stormed the US Capitol "patriots". Hundreds of his supporters entered the complex as the US Congress attempted to certify Joe Biden's victory in the presidential election. The ensuing violence led to the deaths of four civilians and a police officer. Twitter warned then that it would ban Mr Trump "permanently" if he breached the platform's rules again. After being allowed back on Twitter, Mr Trump posted two tweets on Friday that the company cited as the final straws. In one, he wrote: "The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!" Twitter said this tweet "is being interpreted as further indication that President Trump does not plan to facilitate an 'orderly transition'". In the next, the president tweeted: "To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th." Twitter said this was "being received by a number of his supporters as further confirmation that the election was not legitimate". Twitter said both of these tweets were "in violation of the Glorification of Violence Policy".
1-9-21 Capitol riots: The hunt to identify and arrest Capitol rioters
After the siege on the US Capitol building, the FBI is appealing to the public for help in bringing the assailants to justice. Will this approach work? Trump supporters converged on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to express their rage over Joe Biden's victory in the election, wreaking havoc in Congress. Rioters were pictured vandalising congressional offices, and an aide to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Washington's top Democrat, reported a laptop was stolen. Richard Barnett, a 60-year-old from Gravette, Arkansas, one of the individuals who entered the Capitol building, has been arrested, according to Justice Department officials. He was not hard to find. He appeared in a now-iconic image of the siege: in the photo, he is sitting in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office, with his feet on a desk. He has been charged with theft of public property, among other offences. A West Virginia lawmaker, Derrick Evans, has also been charged. He posted a video of himself online, standing outside the building with Trump supporters, and then going inside the place. More than a dozen people have now been charged in offences related to the assault on the Capitol building, said federal law enforcement officials. More arrests are expected in the coming hours and days. The investigation is sweeping and ambitious, and it has enlisted the help of the public. These intruders could be charged with an array of crimes, ranging from trespassing and other relatively minor ones to serious offences involving firearms and explosive devises. They could be sentenced to many years in prison. Which is why the FBI is now asking: do you recognise anyone in this picture? If so, agents want to hear from you. They are conducting a massive effort to track down and arrest the people who broke into the Capitol building on Wednesday. They want everyone in the city, and across the US, to join their crime-solving team. Five people died, including one Capitol Police officer. So far there have been at least 82 arrests. Investigators in DC say they have received over 17,000 tips from the public on the rioters. The FBI is offering a $50,000 (£37,000) reward for information leading to the arrest of an individual who planted pipe bombs at Democratic and Republican party headquarters. The FBI has set up a tip hotline and a website, letting members of the public know how to contact them with information about the people who stormed the US Congress. (Webmaster's comment: All the Thugs who broke in the Capitol building should be arrested and charged with Treason!)
1-9-21 How protests swept across the US
While rioters in Washington DC made headlines, Trump supporters rallied at state capitols across America to protest the election results. In the state of Washington, a crowd marched from the capitol and broke in to the grounds of the governor's mansion.
1-9-21 Capitol riots: Black Americans decry police double standards
Black Americans are calling out double standards in how police use force to quell peaceful protests but appeared to hesitate when facing insurrection by a largely white pro-Trump mob. (Webmaster's comment: If that insurrection had been black people they'd all be be dead by now, plus many more of them across the country.)
1-9-21 Trump riots: Democrats plan to introduce article of impeachment
US Democrats plan to introduce an article of impeachment against President Donald Trump for his role in Wednesday's invasion of the US Capitol. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would move forward with impeachment if Mr Trump did not resign immediately. The charge of "incitement of insurrection" is set to be introduced by House Democrats on Monday. They accuse Mr Trump of encouraging a riot in Congress in which five people died. President-elect Joe Biden said impeachment was for Congress to decide, but said he had thought "for a long time President Trump was not fit to hold the job". The White House dismissed the impeachment as a "politically motivated" move that would "only serve to further divide our great country". Nearly 160 House of Representatives Democrats have signed on to the bill, which congressmen Ted Lieu of California and David Cicilline of Rhode Island began drafting while they were sheltering in place during Wednesday's chaos at the Capitol. If the process does go ahead, it would be the second time the House has pursued impeachment against President Trump. In December 2019, the lower chamber impeached Mr Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. But the Senate acquitted him on both charges in February 2020. No US president has ever been impeached twice. However, the prospect of an impeachment conviction seems remote because of Mr Trump's Republican broad support in the Senate. One moderate Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, told the Anchorage Daily News on Friday that Trump simply "needs to get out". And Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a regular critic of Trump, said he would "definitely consider" impeachment. But there is so far no indication that enough members of the president's party would agree to convict him.
1-9-21 Trump riots: Could the president be removed from power?
After the attack on Congress by a pro-Trump mob, there are growing calls for the president to be removed for "inciting" the riot. Donald Trump is due to leave office on 20 January, when Democrat Joe Biden will be sworn in. But many, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, want Mr Trump out of the White House before then. There are ways that the president could get his marching orders, although they are unlikely. Let's have a look at them. The top congressional Democrats - Speaker Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer - have urged Vice-President Mike Pence and Mr Trump's cabinet to remove the president for "his incitement of insurrection". To do this, Mr Pence would need to invoke the 25th Amendment. But what is it? The 25th Amendment allows the vice-president to become acting president when a president is unable to continue his duties, if for example, he or she becomes incapacitated due to a physical or mental illness. The part of the amendment being discussed is section four, which allows the vice-president and a majority of the cabinet to declare President Trump unable to perform his duties. They would need to sign a letter to the speakers of the Houses of Representatives and the Senate declaring the president unfit to govern, or incapable "of discharging the powers and duties of his office". At this point, Mr Pence would automatically take over. The president is given the chance to offer a written response, and if he contests the finding, then it falls on Congress to decide. Any vote in the Senate and House of Representatives ordering the president's removal requires a two-thirds majority. Until the issue is resolved, the vice-president would act as president. But the chances of Mr Pence and at least eight cabinet members breaking with the president and invoking the amendment so far seem unlikely.
1-8-21 Covid-19 news: Major incident declared in London as virus cases surge
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. London mayor Sadiq Khan urges Londoners to stay at home “to protect our NHS”. London mayor Sadiq Khan has declared a major incident in London in response to surging coronavirus cases and hospitalisations in the city. More than 100 firefighters have been drafted in to drive ambulances in London, to help cope with the increased demand. Khan said the London Ambulance Service is currently taking up to 8000 emergency calls per day, compared to 5500 on a typical busy day. “Londoners continue to make huge sacrifices and I am today imploring them to please stay home unless it is absolutely necessary for you to leave,” said London mayor Sadiq Khan in a statement. “If we do not take immediate action now, our NHS could be overwhelmed and more people will die. Stay at home to protect yourself, your family, friends and other Londoners and to protect our NHS,” said Khan. A major incident is one that presents a serious threat to the health of the community or that causes significant numbers or types of casualties requiring special arrangements to be implemented. Previously, major incidents have been declared in London for the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 and for terror attacks at Westminster Bridge and London Bridge. Preliminary research suggests the covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech is effective against the highly transmissible new variants of the coronavirus identified in the UK and South Africa. Antibodies isolated from the blood of 20 people who had received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine were still able to neutralise viruses containing one of the key mutations in laboratory tests. The research has not been peer-reviewed. Concerns that covid-19 vaccines will not work against the variant identified in South Africa prompted the introduction of testing for new arrivals into England and Scotland from abroad, according to UK transport minister Grant Shapps. A third covid-19 vaccine has been approved for use in the UK. The UK has ordered an additional 10 million doses of the mRNA vaccine developed by US company Moderna, on top of 7 million which it pre-ordered last year, but supplies for the additional doses are not expected to arrive until spring. More than 4000 people in the US died from covid-19 in a single day for the first time since the start of the pandemic. The country recorded 4033 deaths due to covid-19 on Thursday, according to the COVID Tracking Project, passing its previous record of 3903 deaths on 30 December.
1-8-21 The most surreal photos of the storming of the Capitol
It's hard to believe this is America.
1-8-21 Phone footage reveals chaotic scenes inside US Capitol
When Trump supporters stormed the Capitol they took out their cameras to record the chaos inside. The BBC looked through hours of phone footage to paint a picture of what happened.
1-8-21 US Capitol riot: 'It was like a zombie movie'
When a mob of President Trump's supporters stormed the US Capitol, the media was there to document what happened. Some of the photographs that emerged have captured the drama, the horror and the importance of the moment. Images of one man carrying the confederate flag, and of another sitting in the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s chair have been shared the world over.
1-8-21 Republican mayor: Trump is 'a clear and present danger'
A Republican mayor who backed Democrat Joe Biden says President Donald Trump needs to be removed from office immediately. Michael Taylor, the mayor of Sterling Heights, Michigan told BBC World News: "He presents a clear and present danger to the United States of America, to our democracy, to our nation, to our constitution, to our republic and I think it is time for him to go." Mr Trump has condemned the Capitol riots and promised an "smooth, orderly, and seamless transition of power".
1-8-21 Trump calls for an 'orderly transition of power' to Biden administration
In a video released one day after rioters stormed the US Capitol, President Donald Trump condemned their actions and acknowledged for the first time that the Biden administration will take over on January 20th, promising a "smooth, orderly, and seamless transition of power".
1-8-21 US Capitol riot: Police officer dies amid pressure on Trump over inciting violence
A US Capitol police officer has died from injuries sustained in the attack on Congress by a pro-Trump mob as top Democrats have called for the president to be removed for "inciting" the riot. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged Vice-President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th amendment to the Constitution to declare the president unfit for office. Alternatively, she vowed to initiate the process to impeach the president. Under pressure, Donald Trump finally condemned the "heinous attack". Wednesday's violence came hours after Mr Trump encouraged his supporters to fight against the election results as Congress was certifying President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the November vote. Five people have died in relation to the riot, including Brian Sicknick, an officer at the US Capitol Police (USCP) who was "injured while physically engaging with protesters", the police said. Meanwhile, the top congressional Democrats - Speaker Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer - have urged Vice-President Pence and Mr Trump's cabinet to remove the president for "his incitement of insurrection". "The President's dangerous and seditious acts necessitate his immediate removal from office," they said in a joint statement. The duo called for Mr Trump to be ousted using the 25th Amendment, which allows the vice-president to step up if the president is unable to perform his duties owing to a mental or physical illness. But it would require Mr Pence and at least eight cabinet members to break with Mr Trump and invoke the amendment, something they have so far seemed unlikely to do. Mr Trump is due to leave office on 20 January, when Mr Biden will be sworn in. Mrs Pelosi indicated that if the vice-president failed to act, she would convene the House to launch their second impeachment proceedings against Mr Trump. However, to succeed in convicting and removing the president, Democrats would need a two-thirds majority in the Senate, and there is no indication they would get those numbers. And it was not clear whether enough time remained to carry out the process.
1-8-21 Capitol riots: Questions mount over security failure
With the country still reeling from Wednesday's violence in Washington, serious questions are being asked about how such a massive security breach was able to happen at the heart of US government. Crowds of pro-Trump supporters were able to force their way inside one of the country's most historically and politically significant buildings while elected lawmakers were inside moving to certify Joe Biden's election victory. The world watched as a mob of rioters seemed to roam free around inside - looting and vandalising symbols of US democracy as they went. President-Elect Joe Biden has been scathing of the "unacceptable" handling of the rioters and compared it to the heavy-handed militarised response to last year's Black Lives Matter protests. Lindsay Graham, a Republican Senator, also railed against the security failures. "They could have blown the building up. They could have killed us all. They could've destroyed the government," he said. Criticism centres on preparation by police and their failure to anticipate possible violence, despite evidence that radical pro-Trump supporters and other groups were openly discussing their plans online. The Washington Post, citing sources close to the matter, says that Capitol Police charged with guarding the building and its grounds did not make early requests for help from the city's main police force or the National Guard nor set-up a multiagency command centre to coordinate response to any violence. And without an adequate security perimeter in place, their sparse police lines were quickly overwhelmed by thousands descending on the Capitol. Dozens of officers were injured, and one later died, in the effort to retake control - including some with armour, weapons and chemical spray agents. To many, the optics were a sharp contrast to last year's protests following the death of George Floyd, when rows of National Guard Troops guarded and enforced order in the capital. Even hours into Wednesday's violence, protesters were filmed being escorted or guided out of the building without arrest - even appearing to be helped down the Capitol stairs and having doors held open for them to exit. Another viral clip appeared to show a police officer posing for a selfie with a man inside. Many rioters photographed and even live-streamed their crimes. One was pictured, his face uncovered, with his feet up on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's desk, and then showing off a letter he appeared to have stolen from her office. A Confederate flag was paraded by another unmasked man and a well-known conspiracy theorist - wearing horns, fur and facepaint - was seen posing by a Senate chair that had been occupied by Vice President Mike Pence just hours earlier. Nick Ochs, a known member of the Proud Boys far-right group, tweeted a selfie of himself inside and later told CNN: "There were thousands of people in there - [the police] had no control of the situation. I didn't get stopped or questioned." (Webmaster's comment: If the rioters had been black, they'd all been dead!)
1-8-21 Capitol riots: Panel of Americans ‘shocked’ and ‘disgusted’
The storming of the US Capitol building in Washington DC stunned viewers around the world. But how did Americans feel seeing the seat of their government being ransacked? We asked members of our BBC voter panel for their views. I'm disgusted but not surprised. I anticipated this would happen and it was a matter of when, not if. I didn't anticipate that it would happen in the capital. This is the president whose people - since the racial justice movement in the summer - said they were for "law and order". So the "law and order" people broke into the Capitol and changed the American flag with the Trump flag. History shows that has not happened in over 200 years, so it tells you how dangerous this man is. It was just heart-breaking to watch what was going on and the behaviour of protesters is just not like the Trump people I've been around. If it did come from any conservatives, then I condemn it. There's no excuse for violence. It doesn't change my support for Trump. The people that love Trump, that's not going to change no matter if he gets a second term or not. It just means we're going to hold out for 2024 and hope either he runs again or his kids do. I find it absolutely shocking. I didn't think it would come to this. I had actually thought about going down to the protests with a sign that said "Republicans Against Trump". My brother said, if I had done that, there would have been five deaths, not four, and he may have been right. I'm astounded by the stupidity of these people who show up without masks and who are being filmed. Quite a few of them are going to prison. It's a serious situation when you break past a police barricade and go into a building that's supposed to be secure. It's so irritating I can't put into words how frustrating it is. They stormed the Capitol and the police were gentle and lackadaisical with them. I expected the police to use force, but they were so kind and gentle. During the summer, when the Black Lives Matter protests were going on, so many people were injured, locked up and lost their lives. From my own experience, marching peacefully on the front lines in Charleston, we had tear gas thrown at us and had to pour milk in our eyes. It was excruciating. And for what? We're marching for a cause, because we had the murder of somebody by the police. What are they upset about? They're upset because we are living in a democracy and they didn't get their way.
1-8-21 Trump riots: Policeman Brian Sicknick dies after 'engaging with protesters'
A police officer who died from injuries he suffered during the pro-Trump siege of the US Capitol has been named. Brian Sicknick "was physically engaging with protesters" when he was wounded, the US Capitol Police (USCP) said. His death is the fifth connected to the riots, which have led to calls for Donald Trump's removal as president. Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt was shot by a police officer, while three others died after suffering unspecified medical emergencies. The chief of the US Capitol Police said more than 50 law enforcement officers had been injured during the siege. Sicknick had been with the department since 2008. He was responding to the riots when he was injured, the USCP said in a statement. "He returned to his division office and collapsed. He was taken to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries," it said, adding that his death will be investigated. "After a day of fighting for his life, he passed away a hero," Sicknick's brother told ABC News. Republicans and Democrats have been paying their respects on social media. Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn said she was "truly devastated" by the news. Muriel Bowser, the Democratic mayor of the district of Columbia, paid tribute to Sicknick in a tweet. Meanwhile, Senator Ted Cruz has faced a backlash after tweeting that Sicknick was "a true hero". Mr Cruz, a loyal ally of the president, led the charge in the Senate against certifying President-elect Joe Biden's election win. Serious questions are being asked about how such a massive security breach was able to happen at the heart of US government. The chief of the US Capitol Police, Steven Sund, initially defended his force, but resigned soon after.
1-8-21 Trump riots: Could the president be removed from power?
After the attack on Congress by a pro-Trump mob, there are growing calls for the president to be removed for "inciting" the riot. Donald Trump is due to leave office on 20 January, when Democrat Joe Biden will be sworn in. But many, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, want Mr Trump out of the White House before then. There are ways that the president could get his marching orders, although they are unlikely. The top congressional Democrats - Speaker Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer - have urged Vice-President Mike Pence and Mr Trump's cabinet to remove the president for "his incitement of insurrection". To do this, Mr Pence would need to invoke the 25th Amendment. But what is it? The 25th Amendment allows the vice-president to become acting president when a president is unable to continue his duties, if for example, he or she becomes incapacitated due to a physical or mental illness. The part of the amendment being discussed is section four, which allows the vice-president and a majority of the cabinet to declare President Trump unable to perform his duties. If the vice-president fails to act, Mrs Pelosi has indicated she would convene the House to launch their second impeachment proceedings against Mr Trump. The president has already been impeached over allegations he sought help from Ukraine to boost his chances of re-election. The Senate acquitted him of these charges. Mr Trump could become the first president in history to be impeached twice. For that to happen, impeachment (charges) must be brought to the House and passed in a vote. Media reports, quoting unnamed sources, say Mr Trump has suggested to aides he is considering granting a pardon to himself in the final days of his presidency. The president already faces numerous investigations, including New York State inquiries into whether he misled tax authorities, banks or business partners.
1-8-21 Trump under pressure over Capitol riot
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has ordered flags at the US Capitol building to be flown at half mast in honour of police officer Brian Sicknick. Sicknick, a US Capitol officer, died from injuries sustained in Wednesday’s riot. He collapsed shortly after returning to his division office and died on Thursday evening in hospital. Pelosi’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Drew Hamill, confirmed the move on Twitter. 1. Top Democrats have called for President Trump to be removed for "inciting" Wednesday's Capitol riot. 2. His opponents say they may initiate the process to impeach the president, with a possible vote next week. 3. It is extremely unlikely impeachment proceedings would clear Congress, but they could be started as a symbolic gesture. 4. The US Constitution also allows the vice-president to step up if the president is unable to perform his duties owing to mental or physical illness. 5. But Vice-President Mike Pence has shown no sign he would be willing to invoke the 25th Amendment. 6. In a video, President Trump - who leaves office on 20 January - condemned the "heinous attack" vowing an "orderly" transfer of power. 7. Five people have died in relation to the riot, including Brian Sicknick, a US Capitol Police officer. 8. The justice department does not rule out charging Trump - some reports suggest he is considering a self-pardon. Democratic Congressman James Clyburn has said that impeachment proceedings could go ahead soon if Vice-President Mike Pence and the cabinet do not remove Donald Trump from office via the 25th Amendment. Speaking on CNN, he said: “I believe in the next six to seven days we can impeach but not remove.” The reason he said that is because while the Democrats can impeach Trump in the House of Representatives when things move to the Senate they get more complicated for the Democrats in two key ways: 1. There's not much time to hold a Senate trial before he leaves office anyway. 2. It will be difficult for them to muster the two-thirds vote required to actually remove him from the presidency. However there are signs that some Republicans could support the move. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska said earlier he would consider articles of impeachment because Trump had "disregarded his oath of office". (Webmaster's comment: Trump did not fire a shot, but he sure loaded the gun!)
1-8-21 US hit as jobs fall for first time since April
The US economy lost jobs last month for the first time since April as rising coronavirus cases took a toll. Employers shed 140,000 positions, leaving the jobless rate unchanged at 6.7%. Restaurants and bars led the payroll declines, as new restrictions in some places and cold weather sapped enthusiasm for outdoor dining. The figures were the latest sign that the fragile economic recovery from the pandemic remains at risk. The US has regained about half of the more than 20 million positions lost at the height of the lockdowns this spring. But nearly 11 million people remain out of work, while more than seven million others would like a job, but have given up looking or are unavailable for other reasons, the Labor Department said. The losses have hit low-wage and minority workers hardest, exacerbating divisions that pre-dated the pandemic, while job growth had been slowing even before last month's decline. The Labor Department said the US had gained more jobs in October and November than previously estimated, reducing some of the sting of Friday's numbers. But the report comes as other data shows consumer spending and confidence has weakened, even as vaccine approvals bring hope that life will start returning to normal. "This is not what recovery looks like," Elizabeth Pancotti, a senior adviser at Employ America, a liberal advocacy group focused on the labour market, said on Twitter. Other economists said job gains in sectors apart from leisure and hospitality bode well for future growth, pointing to hiring by construction, retail and transportation and warehousing firms last month. "While the fall... in December was far worse than the consensus estimate... it arguably overstates the weakness of the economy," wrote Michael Pearce, senior US economist at Capital Economics. "With employment in most other sectors rising strongly, the economy appears to be carrying more momentum into 2021 than we had thought."
1-8-21 Boeing to pay $2.5bn over 737 Max conspiracy
Boeing has agreed to pay $2.5bn (£1.8bn) to settle US criminal charges that it hid information from safety officials about the design of its 737 Max planes. The US Justice Department said the firm chose "profit over candour", impeding oversight of the planes, which were involved in two deadly crashes. About $500m will go to families of the 346 people killed in the tragedies. Boeing said the agreement acknowledged how the firm "fell short". Boeing chief executive David Calhoun said: "I firmly believe that entering into this resolution is the right thing for us to do - a step that appropriately acknowledges how we fell short of our values and expectations. "This resolution is a serious reminder to all of us of how critical our obligation of transparency to regulators is, and the consequences that our company can face if any one of us falls short of those expectations." The Justice Department said Boeing officials had concealed information about changes to an automated flight control system, known as MCAS, which investigations have tied to the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia in 2018 and 2019. The decision meant that pilot training manuals lacked information about the system, which overrode pilot commands based on faulty data, forcing the planes to nosedive shortly after take-off. Boeing did not co-operate with investigators for six months, the DOJ said. "The tragic crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 exposed fraudulent and deceptive conduct by employees of one of the world's leading commercial airplane manufacturers," said Acting Assistant Attorney General David Burns. "Boeing's employees chose the path of profit over candour by concealing material information from the FAA concerning the operation of its 737 Max airplane and engaging in an effort to cover up their deception." Under the terms of the agreement, Boeing was charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the US, which will be dismissed after three years if the firm continues to comply with the deal. Of the total settlement, the majority - $1.77bn, some of which has already been paid - is due to go the firm's airline customers, who were affected by the grounding of the planes following the crashes. The firm also agreed to pay a penalty of $243.6m. (Webmaster's comment: But why aren't Boeing executives going to prison!)
1-7-21 Covid-19 news: A third of people in England's hospitals have the virus
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. England hospitals cut back on services as nearly a third of patients have coronavirus. There are 26,467 covid-19 patients in hospital in England, accounting for nearly a third of all people in hospital. Many hospitals have had to cancel routine operations to accommodate a growing number of people with covid-19. The BBC reported that there are indications this is beginning to happen for cancer care as well. “The impact of the pandemic is taking care away from other illnesses such as cancer and heart disease,” Rupert Pearse, an intensive care consultant at the Royal London Hospital told the BBC. “We’re really struggling to provide the quality of patient care that we think patients deserve,” said Pearse. The number of covid-19 patients in England hospitals has increased by more than 50 per cent since Christmas, with average daily hospitalisations now exceeding 3000 per day – three times the usual winter rate for respiratory conditions. As coronavirus vaccines continue to be rolled out across the US, health officials have stressed that the risk of severe illness and death from covid-19 still outweighs the risk of developing a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine. In the US, 29 people have so far developed anaphylaxis after being vaccinated against covid-19 and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it currently appears that cases are occurring at a rate of about 5.5 per 1 million vaccine doses administered.
1-7-21 Capitol riots: Congress certifies Joe Biden's victory after violent disruption
The US Congress has certified Joe Biden's victory in the presidential election, hours after Trump supporters stormed the building in an attack that saw four people die. Lawmakers resumed the session after police managed to remove the mob, which had been encouraged by President Donald Trump in a bid to overturn his defeat. The certification clears the way for Mr Biden to be sworn in on 20 January. In response, Mr Trump finally pledged an "orderly transition" of power. Democrat Joe Biden's victory was confirmed at about 03:30 local time (08:30 GMT) on Thursday by a joint session presided over by Republican Vice-President Mike Pence, who called the violence a "dark day in the history of the United States Capitol". Wednesday's chaotic scenes followed months of escalating rhetoric from Mr Trump and some Republican allies that sought to undermine the result of the 3 November election. The invasion of the Capitol by the president's supporters - some armed - was an event without precedent in modern American history. Mr Biden blasted the "insurrection" as Mr Trump, while telling the mob to "go home", continued to make false claims of electoral fraud. The outgoing president's Twitter and Facebook accounts were later frozen. Objections by some Republican lawmakers to overturn the result in Arizona and Pennsylvania were rejected. Congress formally certified the final electoral college vote with Mr Biden receiving 306 votes to Mr Trump's 232. Shortly afterwards Mr Trump - whose social media accounts remain blocked - said in a statement: "Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th." Meanwhile, Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser said one of the four dead - a woman - was part of a group that forced entry into the House room while it was still in session. They were confronted by plainclothes officers, and an officer pulled out a weapon and fired it. The woman was taken to hospital and later proclaimed dead. She has not been officially named, but local media identified her as San Diego-area US Air Force veteran and Trump supporter Ashli Babbit. One woman and two men died as a result of "medical emergencies", officials said, without giving details. At least 14 members of the police were injured during the unrest. The rampage came as two Democrats won Senate seats in elections in Georgia, which shifted the balance of Congress to their party's effective political control. This major political victory will ease the passage of Mr Biden's agenda after he is inaugurated.
1-7-21 Biden victory confirmed after four die amid Capitol riot
Armed supporters of President Trump stormed the Capitol building and forced a lockdown. A woman was shot dead by police and three others died of "medical emergencies", say police. Congress reconvened after the violence and has now certified Joe Biden's election win. Some Republicans were trying to overturn the results in some states but lacked sufficient support. Trump called on his violent supporters to go home but repeated false claims the election was stolen. He has now released a statement promising an orderly transition of power. Earlier, Democrats won two Senate seats in Georgia that tipped control of the Senate their way. US President Donald Trump has less than two weeks left in office, but Democrats of the House Judiciary Committee are calling for his presidential powers to be removed after his supporters violently stormed the US Capitol on Wednesday. They have written a letter to Vice-President Mike Pence urging him to act to remove Donald Trump from office, saying he had stoked an act of insurrection and "sought to undermine our democracy". Discussions are focusing on the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution, which allows for a transfer of power from the president to the vice-president, either temporarily or permanently. The 25th Amendment allows the vice-president to become acting president when a president is unable to continue his duties, if for example, he or she becomes incapacitated due to a physical or mental illness. It also provides procedures for the removal of a president from office by the vice-president and cabinet members if he or she is found unable to discharge powers and duties. A US congressman has described to ABC News the moment a woman was shot dead in the Capitol building. Markwayne Mullin, a Republican lawmaker from Oklahoma, said the woman had been among a crowd of people trying to enter the House of Representatives chamber. "The mob was going to come through the door, there was a lot of members and staff that were in danger at the time,” he said. One of the plainclothes Capitol Police officers in the chamber fired his service weapon as “multiple individuals” tried to get into the room, he said. “When he [drew] his weapon, that's a decision that's very hard for anyone to make and, once you draw your weapon like that, you have to defend yourself with deadly force." The woman who was shot was taken to hospital, where she was later declared dead. She has not been officially named, but local media identified her as San Diego-area US Air Force veteran and Trump supporter Ashli Babbit. Mullin said the shooting did result in the departure of the crowd from the doors of the chamber. “[The officer's] actions may be judged in a lot of different ways moving forward,” Mullin said, “but his actions I believe saved people's lives even more. Unfortunately, it did take one though."
1-7-21 US Election 2020: Congress confirms Joe Biden's victory
The US Congress has formally confirmed Joe Biden's victory hours after violent protesters stormed the Capitol building. Vice President Mike Pence makes the announcement.
1-7-21 Georgia Senate election: Democrats take control with Warnock and Ossoff wins
The Democratic Party of US President-elect Joe Biden has won control of the Senate - and of Congress overall - with two victories in the state of Georgia. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff defeated Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue respectively. Democrats will control the Senate, the House of Representatives and the White House for the first time since 2009. An estimated four million Georgians turned out to vote in the run-off election. The result is a severe blow for outgoing Republican President Donald Trump. The Georgia election was rerun because none of the candidates in the November general election achieved the 50% needed for victory under state rules. Mr Warnock, a Baptist pastor, becomes the first black senator for Georgia - a slavery state in the US Civil War - and only the 11th black member of the Senate in US history. Mr Warnock paid tribute to his mother, Verlene, who as a teenager worked as a farm labourer. "The other day - because this is America - the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else's cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator," he said. With the result in Georgia, the Democrats and the Republicans will now each have 50 seats in the Senate, the upper house of Congress. However, the incoming Democratic vice-president, Kamala Harris, will preside over the Senate once she takes office and will have the tie-breaking vote. This gives the Biden administration a greater chance of achieving its agenda on issues such as healthcare and climate change. The Senate also has the power to approve or reject Mr Biden's nominees for cabinet and judicial posts. Both races were very tight. Mr Warnock defeated Senator Kelly Loeffler by a projected 50.7% to 49.3%, figures from the Associated Press indicate. Ms Loeffler, who was appointed to the Senate last year to fill a vacancy, is a Trump loyalist. The other contest was even closer. Jon Ossoff edged ahead of Senator David Perdue, 70, taking 50.28% to 49.72%. Final results are expected later. President Trump continued to make unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud, doubting the integrity of the Georgia vote. On Sunday, a recording emerged of Mr Trump putting pressure on Georgia's top election official, Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, to "find" enough votes to overturn Mr Biden's win in the state.
1-7-21 Capitol riots: Who broke into the building?
Who were the protesters that broke into buildings on Capitol Hill after attending a rally in support of Donald Trump? Some were carrying symbols and flags strongly associated with particular ideas and factions, but in practice many of the members and their causes overlap. Images show individuals associated with a range of extreme and far-right groups and supporters of fringe online conspiracy theories, many of whom have long been active online and at pro-Trump rallies. One of the most startling images, quickly shared across social media, shows a man dressed with a painted face, fur hat and horns, holding an American flag. He's been identified as Jake Angeli, a well-known supporter of the baseless conspiracy theory QAnon. He calls himself the QAnon Shaman. His social media presence shows him attending multiple QAnon events and posting YouTube videos about deep state conspiracies. He was pictured in November making a speech in Phoenix, Arizona, about unproven claims the election was fraudulent. His personal Facebook page is filled with images and memes relating to all sorts of extreme ideas and conspiracy theories. Another group spotted at the storming of the Capitol were members of the far-right group Proud Boys. The organisation was founded in 2016 and is anti-immigrant and all male. In the first US presidential debate President Trump in response to a question about white supremacists and militias said: "Proud Boys - stand back and stand by." One of their members, Nick Ochs, tweeted a selfie inside the building saying "Hello from the Capital lol". He also filmed a live stream inside. We haven't identified the individual standing on the left in the above image. Mr Ochs profile on the messaging app Telegram describes himself as a "Proud Boy Elder from Hawaii." Individuals with large followings online were also spotted at the protests. Among them was the social media personality Tim Gionet, who goes under the pseudonym "Baked Alaska". His livestream from inside the Capitol posted on a niche streaming service was watched by thousands of people and showed him talking to other protesters. A Trump supporter, Mr Gionet has made a name for himself as an internet troll. He's been described by the Southern Poverty Law Centre, a US nonprofit legal advocacy group, as a "white nationalist", a label he disputed in a comment to The Insider. YouTube banned his channel in October after he posted videos of himself harassing shop workers and refusing to wear a face-mask during the coronavirus pandemic. Other platforms that have previously shut down his accounts include Twitter and PayPal.
1-7-21 Capitol riots: A visual guide to the storming of Congress
The US is reeling after supporters of President Trump stormed the Capitol building in Washington DC on the day Congress was meeting to confirm Joe Biden's election victory. Lawmakers were forced to take shelter, the building was put into lockdown and four people died in the chaos that followed a pro-Trump rally near the White House. Here's a breakdown of how events unfolded on Wednesday. Just before midday local time (17:00 GMT) thousands of people gather at the Ellipse, near the White House, to hear the president speak at a "Save America" rally. He tells them: "We're going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue... and we're going to the Capitol and we're going to try and give… our Republicans, the weak ones... the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country." As the speech ends, crowds start to drift towards the Congress building, about a mile and a half away, where they are met by police barriers. Chanting crowds start to gather on both sides of the Capitol at around 13:10, grappling with police at the metal barricades. Tear gas and pepper spray are used to try to keep the protesters at bay. Police officers struggle to maintain control of the situation as protesters advance on the building on multiple fronts. On the east side, the crowd force their way through barricades on the Capitol Plaza and move on the main entrance, quickly gaining access to the Great Rotunda. Once inside, they head for the House and Senate chambers. Igor Bobic, a journalist for the Huffington Post, captures a group of men forcing a police officer to retreat up a set of stairs as they continue their advance. Senators are forced to abandon the process of confirming President-elect Biden's victory and the building goes into lockdown. The doors of the House chamber are locked and a makeshift barricade is erected in front of them. Security officials guard the entrance, guns drawn. Within an hour, protesters have also broken police lines on the west side of the Capitol, scaling walls to reach the building itself before smashing windows and forcing doors open. Other videos and images show rioters storming through the building's ornately-decorated corridors and chambers chanting "USA!" and "Stop the steal".
1-7-21 Capitol riots: How a Trump rally turned deadly
During a speech earlier in the day, President Trump had asked his supporters to march towards the Capitol in protest. They breached the building while Congress was certifying Joe Biden's win. Protesters made it all the way to the Senate floor and the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Here are the key moments in a dark day for US democracy.
1-7-21 The stunning failure of the Capitol police
A fascist pro-Trump mob attempted a putsch against the government of the United States Wednesday. Congress was certifying the Electoral College results, which several Republican lawmakers had planned to protest, when the mob stormed the Capitol building. Despite consisting of perhaps a thousand people at the most, they overwhelmed police barricades, broke into the building, and swarmed all over the House and Senate chambers. Members of Congress were forced to hide and then evacuated from the building. Details are still unclear, but at one point there seemed to be an armed standoff at the entrance to the House chamber, and several people were injured, including one protester who was shot and killed. The mob's goal was plainly to halt the certification, which indeed happened, and then somehow allow Trump to remain in office. Like many fascist attempts at seizing power, there was little strategy or planning beyond getting inside the building, but this is surely the most direct and successful assault on American institutions since the Civil War — and back then, nobody succeeded in flying the flag of treason on the grounds of the American legislature. Yet the Capitol Police, a special law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the Capitol grounds, was either utterly unprepared for what was coming, or allowed it to happen, or both. At a moment when force was needed to protect the legislature of the United States from right-wing terrorism, the police were missing in action. Only hours later, after more cops were brought in from Virginia and Maryland, and the D.C. National Guard had been activated, were the insurrectionists rooted out of the building. We have all seen dozens of times over the last several years the extreme violence that law enforcement departments across the country unleash with little or no provocation against leftist groups like antifa, Black Lives Matter protesters, Native Americans, or just random people who make them mad. Capitol Police shot an unarmed woman to death for running into a traffic barrier a few years ago. Federal law enforcement gassed and clubbed a park full of peaceful protesters so Trump could have a photo op outside a church. There can be no doubt whatsoever that if, say, the Black Panthers tried something like this, dozens of people would now be dead, and hundreds injured. It's also not like the cops didn't have any warning. These goons had been planning to do this online, out in the open for all to see. Moreover, Trump has been threatening to do something like this for weeks, and just before the storming of the Capitol, he whipped up the mob with an unhinged tirade. He will "never concede," he said. (He did not participate personally, of course, because he is a massive coward.) Yet police were taken unawares. Surely part of the explanation here is that it is a lot more easy and fun to beat up people who are not armed and generally won't fight back. Trump's brownshirts were carrying bear spray and guns and apparently injured a few cops. But another part is that police are, on average, clearly sympathetic to right-wing extremists. As terrorists violated the Capitol Police's most fundamental duty — to protect the Congress of the United States, just about the most important job any American police department could possibly have — the cops did not open fire en masse, stood around rather than arresting people, repeatedly tried to talk down the fascists as they broke into the House and Senate chamber, and at least one was even recorded chummily taking selfies with the insurrectionists. Police explanations to reporters were almost comically feeble. Indeed, this isn't the first time in the last few months a police force has quietly allowed a violent right-wing mob to shut down a legislature — Michigan State Police allowed this to happen in that state back in May. As The New Republic's Alex Pareene writes, "American police across the country share a coherent ideology. Armed white boys don't code as a threat to them; 'anarchists' and angry black people do[.]"
1-7-21 Actually, this is who we are
The insurrection at the Capitol is part of a long history of American violence. As pro-Trump insurgents stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, you heard the same refrain from commentators and elected officials over and over again: that this isn't the kind of thing that happens in America, that this looked like the situation in some war-torn foreign country, that we're better than this. "The scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect the true America," President-elect Joe Biden said in a nationally televised speech. "This is not who we are." Yes it is. American politicians, like Joe Biden, like to define us in terms of our collective national ideals, and that is nice — it can encourage us to be our best selves, but it also isn't the full truth. You are what you do, and right now America as a nation is at least partly defined less by lofty words about freedom and more by the fact that a group of angry white men, encouraged by the president of the United States, invaded the seat of our democratic republic in order to prevent an election from coming to fruition. This is what happens when opportunists like Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) encourage people to accept the lie that the election was stolen from them. This is what happens when so-called leaders like Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) dispute the very notion of American democracy. And this is what happens when most Republicans acquiesce to the ascendancy of a narcissist and con man like Donald Trump, quietly accepting four years of outrages while anonymously whispering mild criticisms to reporters. This is what has happened. This is who we are. And this didn't just happen suddenly. Maybe the United States has a long, enviable streak — now broken — of peaceful transfers of power, but that is only true at the White House level. My home state, Kansas, entered the Union only after a bloody struggle over whether slavery would be permitted here (and by clearing the land of its original inhabitants). That led to the Civil War, which we're still arguing about today. The end of Reconstruction resulted in the killings and oppression of Black people across the South. In 1898, a mob of white supremacists overthrew the government of Wilmington, North Carolina, and massacred many citizens. Lynch justice ruled vast stretches of America for much of the 20th century, enabled by a Congress that took decades to pass meaningful Civil Rights legislation. Bull Connor used fire hoses on protesters. John Lewis was beaten at Selma. Timothy McVeigh slaughtered civilians and children with his bomb in Oklahoma City. Politicians up to and including the current president have sometimes talked glibly of "Second Amendment remedies" to political developments they didn't like. In the last few months, armed demonstrators have created chaos in the state capitols of Oregon and Michigan. Even now, one of the major justifications for letting our children be shot in their schools is that Americans need assault rifles so they can exercise their choice of overthrowing the government if the ballot proves insufficient.
1-7-21 Trump blocked by Twitter and Facebook
Donald Trump has been suspended from Twitter and Facebook after tweeting to supporters who attacked the US Capitol. In a social media message to protesters he said "I love you" before telling them to go home. He also repeated false claims about election fraud. Twitter said it required the removal of three tweets for "severe violations of our Civic Integrity policy". The company said the president's account would remain locked for good if the tweets were not removed. It went on to say that "Future violations of the Twitter Rules... will result in permanent suspension of the @realDonaldTrump account". Mr Trump's account now states that three of his tweets are "no longer available because [they] violated" its rules. The platform only uses this specific notice in cases when account holders have deleted the post themselves. Although Twitter has declined to comment on the matter, this indicates that Mr Trump or one of his associates may have taken the action required to get the account restored after a 12-hour ban ends. Dan Scavino, White House director of social media, has used his own account to publish a statement on the President's behalf. "Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th," it quoted Mr Trump as saying. "I have always said we would continue our fight to ensure that only legal votes were counted. While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it's only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again!" Facebook and Instagram have banned Mr Trump from posting for 24 hours. YouTube also removed the video. Snapchat also stopped Mr Trump from creating new posts, but did not say if or when it would end the ban. Facebook said: "We removed it because on balance we believe it contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence." His supporters stormed the seat of US government and clashed with police, leading to the death of one woman. The violence brought to a halt congressional debate over Democrat Joe Biden's election win. In the House and Senate chambers, Republicans were challenging the certification of November's election results.
1-7-21 Nicola Sturgeon: 'Donald Trump should not visit Scotland to golf'
Scotland's first minister says Donald Trump shouldn't travel to the country to play golf. Commenting on reports that the US president may be planning such a trip, Nicola Sturgeon said only essential travel was allowed because of the coronavirus pandemic. There has been media speculation that Mr Trump may be planning a trip to Scotland to avoid attending the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on 20 January. Mr Trump owns golf resorts in both Ayrshire and Aberdeenshire. The White House has not confirmed the president's plans for the date.
1-7-21 Amazon pledges billions for affordable homes in US
Amazon has become the latest US tech giant to pledge billions of dollars to support affordable housing. The e-commerce giant said it was starting a fund of more than $2bn (£1.47bn) aimed at creating or preserving 20,000 homes across three regions in the US. The money will be used primarily to support low-cost loans for moderate income families, it said. The effort follows years of rising home and rental prices in the US. Home prices have climbed more than 6% each year since 2012, despite muted wage growth for most workers. Before the pandemic, rental rates had also risen steadily, driving a shortage of affordable units. In some cities, such as San Francisco, the rapid growth of the tech industry has been blamed for exacerbating the affordability crisis, after an influx of highly paid engineers drove up rents and priced out other residents. In 2019, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and Google, among other tech firms, made high-profile promises of hundreds of millions of dollars to help ease the crunch. Their efforts were welcomed by advocates, who also cautioned that more comprehensive measures were needed. Amazon, which has faced increasing scrutiny of its its work practices as its profits boom during the pandemic, said its initiative would focus on the areas around its hometown of Seattle, as well as Nashville and Washington DC, two other major employment hubs. The firm said it was targeting its fund at families earning up to 80% of each area's median income - up to roughly $95,000 for a family of four in the case of Seattle. In addition to subsidising the low-cost home loans, the firm is also planning donations to charities and other groups working on the housing issue. Amazon boss Jeff Bezos said the Housing Equity Fund would "help local families achieve long-term stability while building strong, inclusive communities". The average annual compensation of an Amazon worker in the US was $36,640 in 2019, roughly in line with the national average. Mr Bezos, who has an estimated net worth of more than $185bn and properties scattered across the US, earned 58 times that amount that year.
1-6-21 Covid-19 news: UK reports 1041 daily deaths, the highest since April
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. UK reports 1041 deaths from covid-19 in a single day. The UK reported 1041 deaths from covid-19 within 28 days of a positive test on Wednesday, the highest daily figure since 21 April, when 1224 deaths were reported. There were 62,322 new cases of coronavirus reported on Wednesday. “This upward trend of cases (and hospitalisations and deaths) is likely to continue for another 2-3 weeks as the impact of social mixing during Christmas/New Year continues to be felt,” said Julian Tang at the University of Leicester in a statement. A World Health Organization (WHO) team sent to China to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic has been denied entry to the country. Speaking at a news conference in Geneva, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “I’m very disappointed with this news, given that two members had already begun their journeys and others were not able to travel at the last minute, but had been in contact with senior Chinese officials.” Coronavirus cases and hospitalisations are surging in California. The state recorded more than 74,000 new coronavirus cases on Monday and 21,597 people were hospitalised, both record daily increases since the start of the pandemic. “It is getting harder and harder for healthcare workers to care for those coming to the hospital with gunshot wounds, heart attacks, strokes and injuries from car accidents,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis told the Los Angeles Times. People arriving in the UK from abroad may soon be required to show a negative coronavirus test in order to enter the country. A spokesperson for the Department for Transport told the BBC: “With a new strain of the virus on the loose in South Africa and a more infectious variant already widespread in the UK we need to do more.” The Department for Transport said full details of additional measures, which may also include testing before departure, remain to be agreed. Certain travellers, such as haulage drivers, may be exempt. The European Medicines Agency has recommended a covid-19 vaccine developed by US company Moderna for authorisation in the EU. The vaccine has already been authorised for emergency use in the US.
1-6-21 Georgia election: Democrats on course for Senate control
The Democratic Party of US President-elect Joe Biden is on the verge of taking control of the Senate as results come in from two elections in Georgia. Pastor Raphael Warnock is projected to win one seat. Fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff leads narrowly in the other. If they both win, Mr Biden will have a much better chance of pushing through his legislative agenda. The election is being rerun because of Georgia's rule that a candidate must take 50% of the vote in order to win. None of the candidates in November's general election met that threshold. With 98% of votes counted, US TV networks and the Associated Press news agency called the first of the two races for Mr Warnock. Control of the Senate in the first two years of Mr Biden's term will be determined by the outcome of the second run-off. Mr Warnock is set to become the first black senator for the state of Georgia - a slavery state in the US Civil War - and only the 11th black senator in US history. Claiming victory, he paid tribute to his mother, Verlene, who as a teenager worked as a farm labourer. "The other day - because this is America - the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else's cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator," he said. Although the Democrats would need to take both seats to gain full control of Congress, the Republican party of outgoing President Donald Trump only needs to win one in order to retain the Senate. Mr Ossoff has also claimed victory in his race against Republican Senator David Perdue, but that race is even tighter. Final results are expected by 12:00 on Wednesday, Georgia time (17:00 GMT). The margins are extremely tight. Mr Warnock is projected to have won his race by 50.6% to 49.4% for incumbent Senator Kelly Loeffler. Edison Research, which supplies election results to news organisations including the BBC, says Mr Ossoff is leading by 50.2%, to 49.8% for Mr Perdue.
1-6-21 US Congress set to certify Joe Biden victory amid protests
US lawmakers are set to meet on Wednesday to confirm Joe Biden's victory in the presidential election amid protests from Trump supporters. A joint session of Congress will count and confirm electoral college votes. Some Republicans have pledged to support President Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the result by formally objecting at the session, in a bid that is almost certain to fail. Hundreds of National Guard members are being mobilised. Supporters of Mr Trump have begun gathering in Washington DC to rally against the certification of his defeat, and counter-protests are expected. In a tweet on Tuesday, Mr Trump announced that he would be speaking at the "Save America Rally" the following day. He has refused to concede the 3 November election, repeatedly alleging fraud without providing any evidence. He has also tried to throw doubt on the integrity of Tuesday's senate run-off vote in the southern, traditionally Republican, state of Georgia. Projections by US TV networks suggest the Democrats have won one of the seats and are neck and neck for the second seat. If the Democrats win both seats they will have control of the Senate - something that will help Mr Biden push forward his agenda after he is inaugurated as president on 20 January. The two houses of Congress - the House of Representatives and the Senate - will hold a joint session on Wednesday, where they will open sealed certificates from the 50 US states containing a record of their electoral votes. Under the US system, voters cast their ballots for "electors", who in turn formally vote for the candidates weeks after the election. Mr Biden received 306 votes under the electoral college system, to Mr Trump's 232. Bipartisan representatives from the two chambers will read out the results on Wednesday and do an official count. There is a split in the Republican party, with dozens of House Republicans and a smaller group of Senators expected to object to the count from some of the key swing states.
1-6-21 US election 2020: Can Mike Pence reject Joe Biden's win?
US President Donald Trump says his vice-president, Mike Pence, has the power to reject the formal confirmation of Joe Biden as the next president. But this isn't the case. The vice-president has no legal authority to declare Mr Biden's election victory invalid. In the US, electors - based on the results in each state - officially decide who is to be the next president. Congress is meeting to count the electoral votes and confirm the nomination of president-elect Biden. This process usually takes place without controversy, but the president and his supporters are continuing to dispute the election results, citing unfounded claims of fraud. Once the electoral votes are counted, it will be up to Mr Pence to formally announce Mr Biden as the next US president. Mr Trump wants the vice-president to step in and reject the results of the election, declaring the vote fraudulent. The vice-president's role is largely procedural, as the president of the Senate. The 12th Amendment of the US Constitution says: "The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted." Mr Pence will be tasked with reading out the final presidential result as approved by Congress. It is not within his powers for him to reject the result. The Electoral Count Act of 1887 gives Congress the power to review the results, not the vice-president. Members of Congress can raise disputes. If a challenge is supported by a member in both the Senate and House (the upper and lower chambers of Congress), then counting is paused and the challenge is debated. Despite some significant support among Republicans in Congress, the president is not expected to have enough backers to overturn the results. This would require a majority of both chambers of Congress to vote in favour of nullifying the disputed results.
1-6-21 Can rebel Republicans overturn the election?
Election Day may feel like an era ago but the presidential saga isn't over yet. Now it's time for Congress to take centre stage - and there's already political drama aplenty. Americans cast their ballots on 3 November, setting in motion the electoral proceedings that led to Democrat Joe Biden becoming the US President-elect. But the presidential cycle is not done and dusted until Congress approves the Electoral College results and Mr Biden takes his oath of office on 20 January. From constitutional deadlines to congressional objections, there's a lot to explain. When Americans go to the polls in presidential elections they're actually voting for a group of officials who make up the electoral college. The word "college" here simply refers to a group of people with a shared task. These people are electors and their job is to choose the president and vice-president, based on the popular vote of their states. There are 538 electors in total, divvyed up among the states. Each elector represents one electoral vote, and a candidate needs to gain a majority of the votes - 270 or more - to win the presidency. In this election, President-elect Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump by 306-232. He also won the popular vote by more than seven million ballots. The electoral college meets every four years, a few weeks after election day, to cast their electoral votes. Congress will finalise the results of the 2020 election by certifying the electoral college votes. It's a part of the process enshrined in the Constitution. All 50 states have certified the election result, some after recounts and legal appeals. On 14 December, members of the electoral college sent off their votes in sealed certificates to Congress from across the country. On 6 January, these certificates will enter the Capitol in mahogany ballot boxes. Members of both the House of Representatives and Senate from both parties will read the votes out in alphabetical state order and tally them up. Vice-president Mike Pence, who is the president of the Senate, will preside and eventually declare the winner.
1-6-21 Trump's Georgia failure is complete
If nothing else, Tuesday night's runoff election in Georgia has given us the first Black U.S. Senator from that state — Rev. Raphael Warnock, who preaches in the pulpit once filled by Martin Luther King Jr. and will now occupy the seat once held by the segregationist Herman Talmadge. That's pretty awesome. But Democrats may have won a bigger prize: Control of the Senate itself. As of Wednesday morning, the vote is still close, but it appears that Democrat Jon Ossoff is on his way to defeating the incumbent, Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), to give his party the margin it needs for a very slim majority. If that holds, Democrats will hold the White House and both houses of Congress for the first time since the early days of President Barack Obama's tenure. Back then, Democrats had a global recession and the fallout from the Iraq War to confront. Now, they have a global recession and a pandemic to try to fix. It's never easy, is it? Three thoughts about Tuesday's election results in Georgia: Trump's failure is complete. I never understood the strategy of having Trump directly participate so much in the Georgia runoff campaign when he performed worse in November than the GOP's congressional candidates. That was probably a sign for Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler to encourage the president to stay home. Instead, the race in many ways became all about Trump. His fixation on having lost Georgia's electoral votes — a state Republicans hadn't lost in 30 years — led him to publicly and privately pressure the state's GOP officials to change the results. His rallies in Georgia only perfunctorily mentioned Perdue and Loeffler, and instead became extended rants about his hurt feelings. He even promised to be a fixture in the state's politics for years to come. The two Republican candidates, accordingly, joined the campaign to undermine the results of their own state's election. It seems more than possible that all of this left a bad taste in the mouths of Georgia voters — and that they decided that returning Perdue and Loeffler to the U.S. Senate might unnecessarily empower the Trumpist elements of the GOP. At the very least, as The New York Times' Maggie Haberman pointed out on Tuesday, Trump "spent two months refusing to concede the election. It left a mark." Stacey Abrams can write her own ticket. Of course, there were other factors that determined the election — including, notably, a strong turnout by Black voters. There are lots of people involved in making that happen, but Abrams has the highest profile, and perhaps the highest ambitions. (And she took a well-deserved victory lap on Tuesday night.) It is clear those efforts worked, both in November and on Tuesday night. Democrats should be eager to reward her with a high-profile post, but odds are good that she will run once more against incumbent Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) in 2022. Weirdly, she might get help from Trump, who has promised to campaign against Kemp in the next election. Democrats won. Progressives didn't. Some progressives on Tuesday started fantasizing on Twitter about possibilities of Democratic control of the Senate — D.C. statehood, getting rid of the filibuster, things like that. But Democratic majorities in both the Senate and the House are going to be so narrow that ambitious lefty legislation may not get much traction; it will only take a few centrist Democrats to defect or demand concessions. Already, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) is looking like one of the more powerful figures in national politics, and he is no friend of ending the filibuster or big-ticket items like Medicare-for-all. On the other hand, President Joe Biden will have an easier time getting both Cabinet members and judges confirmed now, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) stands to become chair of the Senate Budget Committee. And if your goal going into the November election was — minimally — to limit the damage Trump had done during his four years in office, Tuesday's results should at the very least provide some satisfaction.
1-6-21 Andrew Cuomo's vaccine disaster
A meddling micromanager who is terrible at managing strikes again. ew York Governor Andrew Cuomo sure is full of himself. The man overseeing the state with the second-worst rate of coronavirus deaths — about twice as bad as Florida — recently published a book boasting about his response to the pandemic, right before the virus got completely out of control in his state, again. Whereas nearby Philadelphia has got its numbers at least trending in the right direction over the last month, with a decline of about half since November, in New York City they have continued to increase steadily since October. Now that the vaccine is available, Cuomo is making another entirely characteristic mess of things. He is not only meddling with every aspect of distribution, but is so hideously incompetent that shots are getting administered at a glacial pace. It's just what he does. Long before the coronavirus pandemic began, New York state had a carefully-crafted mass vaccination plan, developed in part with federal grants, which was centered around county public health departments and had been practiced regularly for years. But since the coronavirus vaccine has been approved, Cuomo has seized control of the process without explanation, ignored the plan, and is running distribution through hospitals. Cuomo is so possessed by conservative desertist ideology, the idea that government benefits should only be allocated to people who deserve them, that until recently hospitals were supposed to use a Byzantine "matrix" to determine precisely who needs shots the most. The New York Times reports: "The state had advised clinics and other facilities to rank employees through a matrix that takes into account age, comorbidities, occupation, and the section of the facility where the person works." Cuomo threatened that any hospital caught ignoring prioritization rules would be fined $1 million. But then, because people were criticizing him about the slow pace of vaccination, he also said hospitals that failed to distribute their allotments within a week of receiving them would not get any more. The rules were loosened somewhat on Monday, but reportedly New York City still can't get approval for inoculating anyone in the general population over 75. As a result, the rate of vaccination is pitiful: New York state had only used a third of its supply as of Tuesday morning, and New York City less than a quarter. About 1.5 percent of state residents have been vaccinated — half the rate of South Dakota or West Virginia. Shots are basically not happening outside of normal business hours. County officials are furious, though most will not go on the record for fear of Cuomo's notorious vindictive streak. "In Albany County, officials have privately said they could vaccinate the population of the southern half of the county in a few days if they were given the coronavirus vaccines and allowed to mobilize their plan," reports the Times Union. When he isn't bungling the vaccine rollout, Cuomo is pointing fingers, mainly at hospitals and county officials. "This is a management issue for the hospitals," he said recently, neatly ignoring who dumped the responsibility in their laps in the first place, not to mention who saddled them with so many complicated requirements. Perhaps the most maddening thing about this enormous mess is that distributing vaccines is quite easy. You send out the vaccine, and then — stay with me here — you inject it into people's arms. Back in 1947, New York City vaccinated 6.4 million people against smallpox in less than a month. Then-Commissioner of Health Israel Weinstein accomplished this by scouring the country for vaccines, distributing them across the city, and going on the radio to urge people to come get their shots, for free. We're not talking about the moon landing here. Even today, when the reasonably competent government of the 1940s seems like an impossible dream world, this can be achieved. For instance, one hospital in Ukiah, California (population 16,000), recently had its freezer break down, thawing out its vaccine supply, and hurriedly vaccinated over 800 people in two hours so it wouldn't go to waste — or nearly 1 percent of what New York City has managed since mid-December. Most Americans are desperate for vaccines and will jump at the chance to get one.
1-5-21 Covid-19 news: Third England lockdown could last until March
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Lockdowns imposed in England and Scotland to try to curb surging virus cases. Strict new nationwide lockdowns came into force in England and Scotland, which cabinet office minister Michael Gove said could last in some form until March. UK prime minister Boris Johnson announced the new lockdown rules for England during a televised address on Monday evening, saying that vaccination of key groups of people by mid-February could allow the restrictions in England to be eased. But on Tuesday, cabinet office minister Michael Gove told Sky News: “We can’t predict with certainty that we’ll be able to lift restrictions in the week commencing [15 to 22 February]. What we will be doing is everything we can to make sure that as many people as possible are vaccinated, so that we can begin progressively to lift restrictions. I think it’s right to say that, as we enter March, we should be able to lift some of these restrictions – but not necessarily all.” The top four priority groups for vaccinations include older care home residents and their carers, people over 70, frontline health and social care workers, and clinically extremely vulnerable people. The UK reported 60,916 new daily coronavirus cases on Tuesday, surpassing 60,000 daily new cases for the first time since the start of the pandemic. One in 50 people in England and one in 30 in London are estimated to have the coronavirus, according to the most recent data from the Office for National Statistics, England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty said during a televised briefing on Tuesday. By comparison, one in 900 people were infected in early September. Researchers in South Africa are investigating whether a new variant of coronavirus spreading in the country might be resistant to existing covid-19 vaccines. “It’s a theoretical concern. A reasonable concern […] that the South African variant might be more resistant,” Shabir Madhi, who led trials of the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine in South Africa, told the BBC. Madhi said it was unlikely that the mutation in the South African variant would render current vaccines useless but said it might weaken their impact. Germany will extend its nationwide lockdown until at least the end of January. After a partial lockdown introduced in early November failed to sufficiently reduce infections, Germany entered a second nationwide lockdown on 16 December, which was originally due to be lifted on 10 January.
1-5-21 Coronavirus crisis worsens with global surges and fresh outbreaks
Coronavirus infections are on the rise in many countries around the world, with cases soaring in some nations and fresh outbreaks in several places where the virus was previously thought to be under control. This week, England and Scotland began new lockdowns, joining Wales and Northern Ireland, which already had similar restrictions in place. Without such action, the countries’ chief medical officers warned that hospitals would become overwhelmed within 21 days. Hospitals in England are treating 40 per cent more covid-19 patients than during the peak of the first wave. Elsewhere in Europe, several countries, including Greece and Germany, are extending existing lockdowns. The US is seeing recorded daily cases surge to their highest levels in the pandemic so far, at times over 250,000 a day, with California among the hardest hit. Some hospitals in the state are making plans for how to ration care, if needed. Even nations regarded as managing the pandemic well and keeping case numbers low are seeing infections reach their highest levels yet. Thailand, which has recorded only 8900 cases of covid-19 so far, and just 65 deaths, has seen a rise in infections after an outbreak that reportedly started in a seafood market. New daily cases have reached a record high of over 800 and new restrictions have been imposed in over half of the country’s provinces, including Bangkok. Japan, which managed to contain its first and second waves, is now experiencing a third wave. On 5 January, it saw 8400 new cases, its highest daily total so far. The Japanese government is considering declaring a state of emergency in the Tokyo region, the worst hit area, which would involve new restrictions. It seems increasingly unlikely that Tokyo will be able to host the Olympics as planned in July.
1-5-21 Georgia Senate election: Control of Congress up for grabs
The US state of Georgia is going to the polls for a second-round vote that will decide whether President-elect Joe Biden's Democrats control the Senate. Mr Biden's party needs to win both seats in the state's runoffs to gain full control of Congress - and with it the power to push forward his agenda. The Republican Party of outgoing President Donald Trump needs only to win one in order to retain the Senate. Mr Biden said Georgians could shape the US for years to come. Meanwhile, Mr Trump told voters it was their "last chance to save the America" they loved. Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue currently hold Georgia's two Senate seats. Ms Loeffler is taking on Reverend Raphael Warnock and Mr Perdue is battling Jon Ossoff. None of the candidates reached the 50% needed to win outright in the elections in November, forcing Tuesday's runoffs under Georgia's election rules. Voting began at 07:00 (12:00 GMT). The vote will decide the balance of power in the Senate. The Republicans currently hold 52 of the 100 seats. If both Democrats win on Tuesday, the Senate will be evenly split, allowing incoming Democratic Vice-President Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote. This would be crucial for pushing through Mr Biden's agenda, including on key issues such as healthcare and environmental regulations - policy areas with strong Republican opposition. The Senate also has the power to approve or reject Mr Biden's nominees for cabinet and judicial posts. If Mr Ossoff and Mr Warnock both win, it would bring the White House, Senate and the House of Representatives under Democratic control for the first time since President Barack Obama's election in 2008. Voting should last about 12 hours, ending at 19:00 local time (midnight GMT), although all those still in line to vote at that time will be allowed to do so. Democrats are hoping for a large turnout and have been buoyed by the fact that more than three million Georgians have already cast their ballots - nearly 40% of the state's registered voters. Early voting was a key benefit for Joe Biden in the presidential election.
1-5-21 Political careers should rise and fall on the vaccine rollout
There must be a political price for botching the most critical effort we face — and a reward for success. I have long hated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. I hated him back when I was more right-wing and I obviously didn't like him better when I became more left-wing. Over the years, I've said positive things about both Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres, and I can respect both a right-wing Machiavel like Avigdor Lieberman and a potentially transformational left-wing leader like Ayman Odeh. But I cannot recall ever saying anything positive about Bibi, whose relentless divisiveness and highly-personalized political style made him a harbinger of the populist-nationalist tendency that has wreaked havoc across the West. Yet now, for the first time, a little part of me wants him to win — to reward him for Israel's exemplary rollout of the COVID vaccine. Before getting into that, I should probably explain: yes, Israel is having yet another national election, their fourth in two years. Over that period, Netanyahu, leader of the right-wing Likud Party and Israel's longest-serving prime minister, has refused to step down in the face of multiple corruption indictments. Instead, he has indicted the political and legal system itself, denouncing the charges against him as a witch hunt, and turning Israeli politics into a national test of personal loyalty. Three successive elections, from April 2019 to March 2020, failed to break the logjam: The opposition was unable to achieve a majority or to force Likud into a subordinate position in a coalition, but neither was Likud able to form a majority with only its typical partners. The eruption of the pandemic is what ultimately split the opposition alliance, and led to the current coalition, which Netanyahu has now torpedoed in a bid to get rid of his unwelcome coalition partner, Benny Ganz's Blue and White party, and take firm control once more with a right-wing coalition that will protect him from the courts. The latest election would seem to offer ample opportunities to ditch Bibi if one were so inclined. Left-wing voters could opt for Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai's new party, The Israelis. Right-wing voters could opt for former Likudnik and one-time heir-apparent Gideon Saar's new party, New Hope (no relation to the Star Wars franchise). Centrist and secular-minded voters could vote for Yair Lapid's party, There Is a Future. Far-right voters could support Naftali Bennett's party, Rightwards, to assure that any post-Netanyahu coalition had a decidedly rightward tilt — as current polls suggest it definitely would have. Regardless of your political persuasion, there's no reason to vote for Bibi unless you want Bibi. So why on Earth would I be changing my tune, even slightly? The answer is the vaccine rollout. Israel stands head and shoulders above the entire world in the alacrity with which they have set out to inoculate the entire country. In only two weeks, they have given shots to over 10 percent of the population and 25 percent of those over 60 years old. The only thing that will keep them from sustaining this pace through the rest of the month is a limited supply of vaccine — but that should be relieved in late January when their orders to Modena are fulfilled (to date, they have been using the Pfizer vaccine). By way of comparison, the United States has vaccinated less than 1.3 percent of the country, even though we started a week before Israel did and have already distributed more than three times that many doses. And Europe is doing substantially worse, having placed their orders later than other wealthy countries, moved more slowly to approve the vaccines, and in general behaved in a shockingly lackadaisical manner around this all-important subject.
1-5-21 Are we witnessing the fall of the United States?
America needs nothing short of radical reversal on a range of fronts in order to pull out of its dangerous downward spiral. Over the past four years, it's become something of a cliché for certain political scientists on Twitter to respond to stories of Donald Trump's corruption, ineptitude, malice, and autocratic impulses by asking a provocative leading question: "What would you say if you saw it happening in another country?" Unfortunately, occasions for posing and answering this question by referring to democratic backsliding or burgeoning authoritarianism have accelerated since the start of the Trump administration, with the number rising in an especially steep crescendo over the past couple of months. Viewed from the outside, the United States looks today like a great power in decline — with its political system buckling, corruption spreading, and state capacity collapsing. The effort of Trump and key members of his party to overturn the results of a democratic election is a big part of this, but it's only one facet of America's downward spiral. To begin with the obvious: The president of the United States lost a free and fair election two months ago. The votes were counted and certified by the states. Objections were raised and claims of voting irregularities investigated, turning up no evidence of systematic fraud. Dozens of lawsuits have been filed and dismissed by judges appointed by both Republicans and Democrats. Yet just this past weekend, the president spent an hour on the phone badgering Georgia's secretary of state, trying to get him to "find" enough votes for him to reverse the outcome of the election. In making his case, the president relied almost exclusively on conspiracies about election fraud with no basis in reality. If we saw this happening in another country, we would conclude that the man who (for the next two weeks) occupies the nation's highest office is a mentally unfit, aspiring tyrant. When this is combined with the events queued up to unfold in Congress on Wednesday — when at least a dozen senators and as many as 140 members of the House of Representatives are prepared to object to the congressional certification of Joe Biden as the winner of the election — we are left with a vision of a country in which a large portion of one of its two major parties is prepared to countenance an unconstitutional and anti-democratic power grab. That's very bad. But it's far from the only example of American political breakdown. In the second-biggest political story of the week, partisan control of the Senate will be determined by the outcome of two runoff elections in Georgia — a contest in which both Republican candidates are extremely rich and both, as my colleague Ryan Cooper has noted, have been credibly accused of parlaying confidential briefings on the coronavirus pandemic into stock trades that earned them millions of dollars in profits. That's a level of corruption one would expect to see in a kleptocratic regime. Beyond corruption, the U.S. is facing an alarming collapse in state capacity on multiple levels. The most widely noted and most important recent example involves vaccine distribution. The federal government was effective at using money to encourage pharmaceutical companies to develop vaccines in record time against the COVID-19 pandemic. But now that we have them, we've dropped the ball. The feds are handing off the vaccines to states, which are passing them along to a range of hospitals, clinics, health departments, and assisted living facilities, as well as to drug store and supermarket chains like CVS, Walgreens, Rite-Aid, Walmart, and Kroger. If that sounds confusing, it is — massively. The result is that we've so far vaccinated just 1.3 percent of the country. That's about 4.3 million doses as of Sunday — more than 15 million short of the original goal of vaccinating 20 million people by the end of December.
1-5-21 Proud Boys leader held for burning Black Lives Matter flag
The leader of the far-right Proud Boys group has been arrested in Washington DC on suspicion of burning a Black Lives Matter flag last month. Enrique Tarrio faces misdemeanour destruction of property charges, police say. He has reportedly admitted torching a banner taken from a black church during a rally in December in the city. President Donald Trump has been urging supporters to gather in the capital this week for another demonstration. On Wednesday, members of Congress are due to certify Democratic President-elect Joe Biden's election victory before he takes office on 20 January. Mr Tarrio has said on the social media app Parler that the Proud Boys will "turn out in record numbers on Jan 6th", referring to his members as "the most notorious group of extraordinary gentlemen". The National Guard has been deployed by Washington DC's mayor to assist local authorities. Officials say the troops will not be armed and will be there to assist with crowd management and traffic control. A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Department, Dustin Sternbeck, told the Washington Post on Monday that Mr Tarrio had been stopped in a vehicle shortly after it entered the district. The 36-year-old was also found during his arrest to be in unlawful possession of two devices that allow guns to hold additional bullets, a source told CBS News. The destruction of property charge relates to a protest in Washington DC on 12 December in support of the outgoing Republican president's unsubstantiated claims of systemic election fraud. The mostly peaceful demonstration ended in isolated scuffles as confrontations with counter-protesters broke out. Police said more than three dozen people were arrested and four churches were vandalised. Mr Tarrio - who lives in Miami, where he also reportedly runs a grassroots organisation called Latinos for Trump - told the Washington Post at the time that he had burned the Black Lives Matter flag.
1-5-21 Republican Lauren Boebert vows to carry handgun to Congress
A newly elected congresswoman has pledged to carry a Glock handgun during her term in Washington DC. In a video released on Sunday, Republican Lauren Boebert is shown loading a handgun before walking around the city. "I will carry my firearm in DC and in Congress," she says in the video, which has been viewed over two million times. But the city's police chief has said he plans to speak to Ms Boebert about the strict rules on carrying firearms. Ms Boeber owns a restaurant called Shooters Grill in the town of Rifle, Colorado, where members of staff are encouraged to openly carry weapons, as is permitted under the state's laws. The issue of gun rights formed a key part of her campaign for last November's election. "Even though I now work in one of the most liberal cities in America, I refuse to give up my rights," Ms Boebert says in the video posted on Twitter on Sunday. "So as a five-foot tall, 100-pound woman I choose to protect myself legally, because I am my best security." But police were quick to respond, with Washington DC Police Chief Robert Contee III telling reporters: "That Congresswoman will be subjected to the same penalties as anyone else that's caught on the DC streets carrying a firearm." While the US constitution enshrines the people's right to keep and bear arms, the rules governing this vary. Members of Congress are allowed to keep firearms in their offices and transport them in Washington DC, as long as they are not loaded. However, a permit is needed to carry a gun through the city's streets and weapons from other states must first be registered with local authorities. Last month, a group of Democratic senators proposed new legislation to tighten existing rules for members of Congress. (Webmaster's comment: Most Republicans are all the same. They want to intimidate others!)
1-4-21 Covid-19 news: Much of UK faces tighter restrictions as cases surge
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. England expected to tighten restrictions and Scotland announces national lockdown. Much of the UK faces new lockdown measures as Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there is “no question” that restrictions in England will be tightened, and Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a strict new lockdown in Scotland starting at midnight on 5 January. Johnson is expected to announce tougher restrictions in England this evening in a televised appearance, which could include schools being closed and Tier 4 restrictions across the country. The UK recorded 58,784 new coronavirus cases on Monday and 407 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test, and the Joint Biosecurity Centre is expected to be raising the country’s covid-19 threat level to 5 – the highest level. An 82-year-old man became the first person to receive the coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford in partnership with AstraZeneca, as part of the UK’s mass vaccination programme. Brian Pinker received the jab at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford and 530,000 doses were ready for use on Monday. AstraZeneca has said it expects to supply about 2 million doses of the vaccine every week by the middle of January in the UK. Coronavirus cases in the UK are continuing to surge, with concern growing about a variant of the virus first detected in South Africa. “I’m incredibly worried about the South African variant, and that’s why we took the action that we did to restrict all flights from South Africa,” UK health minister Matt Hancock told BBC radio. “It’s even more of a problem than the UK new variant,” he said. John Bell at the University of Oxford told the Telegraph there was “a big question” as to whether existing vaccines would be effective against the South Africa strain, which contains mutations that affect part of the virus that is recognised by antibodies. However, he added that it should be possible to make new vaccines quickly, if this or any future variant of the coronavirus emerges that is resistant to the current ones. “It might take a month, or six weeks, to get a new vaccine, so everybody should stay calm. It’s going to be fine,” he said. “We’re now in a game of cat and mouse, because these are not the only two variants we’re going to see. We’re going to see lots of variants.” India approved two coronavirus vaccines for emergency use on Sunday, including the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and a vaccine called Covaxin being developed by Indian company Bharat Biotech. Gagandeep Kang at the Christian Medical College, Vellore in India expressed concerns about India’s approval of Covaxin, as phase III trials of the vaccine haven’t yet been completed. Kang told the Times of India newspaper that she had “never seen anything like this before”, adding that “there is absolutely no efficacy data that has been presented or published.”
1-4-21 US election: Trump tells Georgia election official to 'find' votes to overturn Biden win
US President Donald Trump has been recorded telling Georgia's top election official to "find" enough votes to overturn the election result. "I just want to find 11,780 votes," Mr Trump told Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in a recording released by the Washington Post. Mr Raffensperger is heard replying that Georgia's results are correct. Joe Biden won Georgia alongside other swing states, winning 306 electoral college votes to Mr Trump's 232. Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris called Mr Trump's comments "a bold abuse of power". It comes ahead of two crucial runoff elections in Georgia on Tuesday that will decide which party controls the Senate. Since the 3 November vote, Mr Trump has been making unsubstantiated allegations of widespread electoral fraud. All 50 states have certified the election result, some after recounts and legal appeals. Congress is due to formally approve the election result on 6 January and Mr Biden, a Democrat, is due to be inaugurated as president on 20 January. All 10 living former US defence secretaries have urged President Trump not to question the election results in an opinion piece for the Washington Post. The group also said he should not involve the military in voting disputes, an idea that's been mooted by some of Mr Trump's supporters. In excerpts of Saturday's phone call released by the Washington Post, Mr Trump can be heard alternately cajoling and pressurising Georgia's secretary of state. He insisted that he had won the election in Georgia and told Mr Raffensperger that there was "nothing wrong with saying you have recalculated". Mr Raffensperger responded by saying: "The challenge you have, Mr President, is that the data you have is wrong." Later in the call, Mr Trump said the rumour was that ballots had been shredded and voting machinery had been removed from Fulton County in the state - claims denied by Mr Raffensperger's lawyer. The president then threatened the official with possible legal consequences. "You know what they did and you're not reporting it. That's a criminal offence. You can't let that happen. That's a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer," Mr Trump said. He then called for the extra 11,780 votes - which would have given him a total of 2,473,634 votes in the state, one more than Mr Biden, who received 2,473,633 votes.
1-4-21 Raffensperger calls Trump 'just plain wrong' after election call
Georgia's top election official Brad Raffensperger has called President Donald Trump's false claims that he won the state in 2020 "just plain wrong". Mr Raffensperger's comment came after Mr Trump pressured him in a phone call to "find" votes proving his win. Criticism of Mr Trump's call has been widespread, with some claiming that it amounts to illegal vote tampering. Republicans fear that the call could undermine their efforts to win two Senate races in Georgia on Tuesday. If Republicans win both Georgia senate seats in the run-off election, they will retain control of the Senate. If their candidates lose, Democrats will control the Senate, House of Representatives and White House. "He did most of the talking. We did most of the listening," Mr Raffensperger told ABC News on Monday. "But I did want to make my points that the data that he has is just plain wrong," he said, describing what he told the president's team during the hour-long call on Saturday. "He had hundreds and hundreds of people he said that were dead that voted. We found two, that's an example of just - he has bad data," he added.
1-4-21 Georgia election: Donald Trump's phone call fact-checked
US President Donald Trump spent more than an hour on the phone to election officials in Georgia, as he continues to try to overturn the result in the state. He made a number of accusations of fraud for which he did not provide evidence. We've fact-checked some of his claims.
- 'So dead people voted. And I think the number is close to 5,000 people [in Georgia].': Cross-referencing lists of deaths across the US and voters in a particular state produces thousands of matches - with the same name and birth year - both dead and alive. Our study in Michigan produced a large number of matches even when the month of birth was included. And we contacted a sample of these "dead voters" and found them very much alive.
- '[There] were thousands and thousands of ballots in a box that was not an official or a sealed box.': An official investigation found "the entire security footage revealed there were no mystery ballots that were brought in from an unknown location and hidden under tables as has been reported by some". Fulton County elections director Richard Barron said workers "put those ballot bins under their workspace because it's the most convenient place to put those things". And state authorities said there was nothing unofficial about the boxes containing the ballots.
- 'They ran out because of a water-main break. And there was no water main, there was nothing. There was no break.': This is true - but the official investigation found they had been neither asked to leave or prevented from returning. Frances Watson, chief investigator for the Georgia secretary of state, said: "Nobody gave them any advice on what they should do. "And it was still open for them or the public to come back in to view at whatever time they wanted to."
- 'You had out-of-state voters - they voted in Georgia but they were from out of state - of 4,925.': The numbers given by Mr Trump's team regarding these supposed out-of-state voters were "not accurate", Mr Germany added. Speaking ahead of Tuesday's Senate run-off election in Georgia, Mr Raffensperger said "qualified Georgians and only Georgians are allowed to vote in our elections" and out-of-state voters would not be tolerated. And he warned anyone attempting to game the system: "We will find you and we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law."
1-4-21 Hawley and Cruz: How to lie without quite lying
These Republican senators will object to finalizing Biden's election. Why? Because, they say, lots of Republican voters believe a lie. For Republicans in Congress planning to vote Wednesday against certifying Joe Biden's presidential election victory, the lie has become its own justification. The lie is that Donald Trump was deprived of re-election due to fraud or some other shenanigans. Numerous courts have rejected those allegations, and the Justice Department hasn't found any evidence of wrongdoing widespread enough to overturn the election results. The president and a few of his nuttier allies keep flogging claims that the election was stolen — and Trump might even believe his own lies about the election, if we're to believe the recordings of his weekend phone call where he pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "recalculate" that state's voting results. But there is no reason to believe that is true. Given Trump's history of crying wolf whenever he doesn't win, there is plenty of reason to believe he is running his usual con. Nonetheless, Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and others will object to finalizing Biden's election. Why? Because — they say — lots of Republican voters believe the lie. "Millions of voters concerned about election integrity deserve to be heard," Hawley said in a tweet announcing his intentions. "I will object on January 6 on their behalf." A statement released Saturday by Cruz and some of his fellow Republican senators offered a similar justification. "By any measure, the allegations of fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election exceed any in our lifetimes," they wrote. "And those allegations are not believed just by one individual candidate. Instead, they are widespread. Reuters/Ipsos polling, tragically, shows that 39 percent of Americans believe 'the election was rigged.' That belief is held by Republicans (67 percent), Democrats (17 percent), and Independents (31 percent)." Trump himself parroted that premise in his phone call with Raffensperger. "The people of Georgia are angry, the people in the country are angry," he said. "And there's nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you've recalculated." You will notice that for the most part, Trump's Republican allies don't quite affirm the substance of the lie — they don't present any evidence to support allegations of wrongdoing, no real reason to believe that Joe Biden's election was anything but fairly and honorably won. Instead they cite the widespread (and wrongheaded) belief in wrongdoing as justification to upend our democracy. What a cute trick. The reason so many Americans — particularly Republicans — believe the election was rigged is because Trump keeps lying to them and telling them the election was rigged. That so many people have swallowed the president's falsehoods allows Hawley and Cruz to pose as defenders of the democratic ideal while simultaneously undercutting it. But it also has the effect of letting them magnify the lie and its potential consequences without doing anything so tawdry as lying themselves. It is a form of plausible deniability, a version of "just asking questions" that keeps untruths in play without taking responsibility for them. This is wrong and shamefully cynical. "He surely knows this isn't true and that the legal arguments don't hold water," an anonymous source close to Hawley told The Atlantic's Peter Wehner. "And yet clearly the incentives he confronts — as someone who wants to speak for those voters, and as someone with ambitions beyond the Senate — lead him to conclude he should pretend the lie is true." Not every Republican is on board with these efforts. Raffensperger, for example, held fast against Trump's pressure by simply and repeatedly — even respectfully, though it wasn't warranted — affirming the truth. "Mr. President," he said, according to the recording, "the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong." (Webmaster's comment: Trump has no data. He just makes it up hoping his idiot supporters will buy his lies.)
1-4-21 What do we do about COVID vaccine refusal?
At Ohio nursing homes, the state's governor said Wednesday, about 60 percent of staff have chosen not to take a COVID-19 vaccine despite their work with the single most vulnerable population in this pandemic: elderly and unwell people in an institutional setting where transmission is often swift and symptoms severe. In California, many frontline health-care workers are refusing vaccination, too. "At Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, one in five frontline nurses and doctors have declined the shot," the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday. "Roughly 20 percent to 40 percent of L.A. County's frontline workers who were offered the vaccine did the same, according to county public health officials. So many frontline workers in Riverside County have refused the vaccine — an estimated 50 percent — that hospital and public officials met to strategize how best to distribute the unused doses." And in Wisconsin this past weekend, a hospital employee admitted to purposefully sabotaging 50 vials — more than 500 doses — of the Moderna vaccine by removing it from required refrigeration. Some skepticism of the COVID-19 vaccines was inevitable. We always knew a subset of people medically eligible for the shots would refuse them. But this degree of opposition, especially in the health-care field, is unsettling. One recent survey found three in 10 health-care workers and a nearly identical percentage of the general population are "vaccine-hesitant." How do we handle this? The sabotage case in Wisconsin is the easiest. As is already happening, the employee should be fired and prosecuted as appropriate. Personal vaccine refusal is far trickier. Granted, these numbers may be somewhat inflated. They possibly include people who have a legitimate medical reason not to be vaccinated. They certainly include people with a temporary reason for refusal, especially pregnancy or breastfeeding (the Centers for Disease Control doesn't recommend against COVID-19 vaccination for women in either circumstance, but it does caution that data on outcomes there is limited). One of the nurses in the Los Angeles Times story, April Lu, cites exactly this reason for waiting. Even with those numerical caveats, however, these reports from Ohio and California suggest a startlingly high rate of refusal among health-care workers. "I feel people think, 'I can still make it until this ends without getting the vaccine,'" Lu said of her coworkers who are refusing without a reason like pregnancy. But the trouble is that the main way "this ends" is herd immunity, ideally achieved through widespread vaccination, not further years of wild viral spread and the death toll and social and economic misery that have come with it. But ... what can we really do? We can't fire all the nurses who won't get vaccinated when we're still in the middle of a pandemic. Many hospitals already have a critical staff shortage, so it's just not feasible to say only those who accept a vaccine can work. Sidelining 20 to 40 percent of available doctors and nurses would be catastrophic. An unvaccinated nurse is better than no nurse. I'm also deeply wary of some proposed enforcement mechanisms. As I wrote in April, immunity certificates with attendant privileges have an obvious appeal, but the precedent of requiring special papers to appear in public is troubling, and the potential for abuse is real. Certificates would also immediately be forged, potentially giving medically vulnerable people a false sense of security. (Webmaster's comment: Because of these miscreants the virus will run rampant in the US for a long, long time.)
1-4-21 Coronavirus: French government vows to speed up vaccinations
The French government has defended its coronavirus vaccination policy against criticism that it is going far too slowly, with 516 vaccinations reported in the first week. Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said the delay was down to logistics: teams had to visit elderly people in care homes and get each person's consent. The EU began vaccinating with Pfizer/BioNTech doses on 27 December. By Sunday morning about 240,000 had been vaccinated in Germany. The UK has become the first country in the world to start giving people the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine. About a million people have already been vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech drug in the UK. Gabriel Attal, quoted by French news website LCI, said the government was following scientific advice, prioritising the elderly in care homes. "A more gradual launch is necessary for logistical reasons: you cannot ask these people to go somewhere else in the country, and the delay is also linked to a pre-vaccination consultation and getting consent. This takes a bit more time." France is among Europe's hardest-hit countries in the pandemic. Its Covid-19 death toll so far is 65,037 - just behind Italy and the UK. French hospitals are treating 24,780 Covid patients, BFMTV reports. France launched its vaccinations last Monday, in line with the EU-wide roll-out. The Netherlands is the only EU country yet to start its vaccination campaign - the launch is set for 8 January. Mr Attal insisted that the government was sticking to a target of a million people vaccinated by the end of January, as "we have just over two million doses ready". The French vaccination campaign "will really take off this week and get stronger", he said. From Wednesday "94 medical centres in France will have more than 500,000 doses to give to health professionals". The website CovidTracker, which collates data from French health authorities, says that by 1 January 516 people had been vaccinated in France. CovidTracker estimates that to hit the one million target, nearly 35,000 people would have to be vaccinated daily in France.
1-4-21 Give poor countries the coronavirus vaccine for free
Get rid of the pandemic everywhere, as soon as possible. The coronavirus vaccines are being rolled out. Thus far Israel is way ahead of the pack in getting the shots out, with over 9 percent of its population reportedly having received an initial vaccine dose as of Thursday. Bahrain is in second place, followed by the U.K. and the U.S. — where the Trump administration's performance is, as usual, falling far short of promises. The European Union has been slower with its approval process, but given the far greater state capacity on that continent, they will surely get moving fast now that the first vaccine has been approved, with more coming soon. Poorer countries, alas, are at the back of the pack. Most of them have struggled to even secure a place in line for doses, and Reuters reports the World Health Organization program to distribute vaccines to them is a disorganized mess. Internal documents show a serious possibility of "nations home to billions of people with no access to vaccines until as late as 2024[.]" There's surely no way around rich countries prioritizing their own citizens. But the very moment there are plenty of doses to go around — when it becomes a question of distribution rather than supply, which looks possible in mid-to-late 2021 — the rich world should send out vaccines to every resident of every poor nation for free. The first and most obvious reason to do this is moral. It's simply unjust for the residents of poor nations to continue to suffer the pandemic because their governments can't outbid the rich world or can't afford to buy up enough doses all at once. A recent United Nations report on the 47 poorest countries (home to just over 1 billion people) found the pandemic has created the worst economic performance there in at least 30 years, with serious exchange rate pressure on currencies and a marked rise in poverty. Such countries can barely feed themselves, let alone shell out billions for vaccine doses. But there are self-interested reasons to give away vaccines as well. For one thing, there is a non-trivial amount of economic activity that depends on interactions between all nations. Raw materials production, manufacturing, tourism, and so on — all these are greatly enabled by people being able to travel freely between countries. The global economy is thoroughly interdependent, and the more countries that can be certified as virus-free, the more the economy can return to normal. Now, poor countries are often victimized by trade, and as I have written before, the global economy could badly stand to be reformed to help the working classes of all nations. But until that happens, my point here is that even on the most self-interested grounds, there is every reason for the rich world to pay for universal vaccination. More importantly, getting the spread of coronavirus down as far as possible — ideally eradicating it altogether — would be a great benefit for all the nations of the world. It's not clear yet how long vaccine immunity lasts, whether people will need booster shots, and so forth. The fewer chances there are of the virus breaking out and igniting more spread, the better. Allowing the virus to circulate anywhere is also dangerous because of mutation: The more people there are contracting the disease, the more chances it gets to transform into a worse form. A slight variant is circulating in the U.K. and other countries right now that is apparently much more contagious, which will make it even harder to reach herd immunity. The coronavirus is more stable than the flu virus, but it's still possible it might mutate to a much more deadly form, or one on which these vaccines do not work. It seems fair to conclude that most residents of rich countries would pay quite a lot to not start back at square one with a fresh pandemic.
1-3-21 Biden election: Mike Pence 'welcomes' senators' bid to derail result
US Vice-President Mike Pence has welcomed an effort by a group of senators to refuse to certify Joe Biden's presidential election win. The 11 Republican senators and senators-elect, led by Ted Cruz, want a 10-day delay to audit unsubstantiated allegations of election fraud. The move is certain to fail as most senators are expected to endorse Mr Biden in the 6 January vote. Mr Biden, a Democrat, is due to be inaugurated as president on 20 January. President Donald Trump has refused to concede the 3 November election, repeatedly alleging fraud without providing any evidence. Mr Pence has stopped short of echoing allegations of election fraud. But on Saturday, his chief of staff Marc Short said Mr Pence shared what he called "the concerns of millions of Americans about voter fraud and irregularities". Mr Pence "welcomes the efforts of members of the House and Senate to use the authority they have under the law to raise objections and bring forward evidence before the Congress and the American people", Mr Short said. As president of the Senate, Mr Pence will have the responsibility of overseeing the session on 6 January and declaring Mr Biden the winner. All 50 states have certified the election result, some after recounts and legal appeals. So far, US courts have rejected 60 challenges to Mr Biden's win. Mr Trump has notched up only one minor victory, concerning a small number of postal ballots in Pennsylvania, a state won by Mr Biden. "Once completed, individual states would evaluate the commission's findings and could convene a special legislative session to certify a change in their vote, if needed," they said. However, they said their bid was unlikely to succeed. "We are not naïve. We fully expect most, if not all, Democrats, and perhaps more than a few Republicans, to vote otherwise," they said.
1-3-21 Coronavirus: 'I lost my father - and my faith in America'
When her 66-year-old father died of Covid, Angelina Proia was left blindsided by his absence and the feeling that her government and fellow citizens had abandoned her. "I feel like my country has turned its back on us."
1-3-21 Coronavirus: India approves vaccines from Bharat Biotech and Oxford/AstraZeneca
India has formally approved the emergency use of two coronavirus vaccines as it prepares for one of the world's biggest inoculation drives. The drugs regulatory authority gave the green light to the jabs developed by AstraZeneca with Oxford University and by local firm Bharat Biotech. Prime Minister Narendra Modi called it "a decisive turning point". India plans to inoculate some 300 million people on a priority list this year. It has recorded the second-highest number of infections in the world, with more than 10.3 million confirmed cases to date. Nearly 150,000 people have died. On Saturday India held nationwide drills to prepare more than 90,000 health care workers to administer vaccines across the country, which has a population of 1.3 billion people. The Drugs Controller General of India said both manufacturers had submitted data showing their vaccines were safe to use. However, opposition politicians and some doctors have criticised a lack of transparency in the approval process. Dr Swapneil Parikh, an infectious diseases researcher based in Mumbai, told the BBC doctors were in a difficult position. "I understand there is a need to go through the process quickly, remove regulatory hurdles," he said. "However... [governments and regulators] have a duty to be transparent about the data they have reviewed and the process involved in making the decision to authorise a vaccine, because if they don't do this, it can affect the public's faith in the process." The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is being manufactured locally by the Serum Institute of India, the world's largest vaccine manufacturer. It says it is producing more than 50 million doses a month. Adar Poonawalla, the company's CEO, told the BBC in November that he aimed to ramp up production to 100 million doses a month after receiving regulatory approval.
1-3-21 Racism in ballet: Black dancer's 'humiliation' at racist comments
Chloé Lopes Gomes says she has faced racial harassment while being a ballet dancer. The French performer is the first black female dancer at Berlin's principal ballet company Staatsballett. Ms Gomes claims she was told she did not fit in because of her skin colour, and was asked to wear white make up so she would 'blend in' with the other dancers. The company has responded by saying her allegation "deeply moves us" and an internal investigation is underway into racism and discrimination at Staatsballett.
1-2-21 US election: Legal bid to get Pence to overturn results rejected
The latest in a series of attempts by allies of President Donald Trump to overturn the November US election result has failed. A Texas judge rejected the case, brought by Republican Louie Gohmert, seeking to stop Vice-President Mike Pence from certifying the final result. Lawyers for Mr Pence had asked for the case to be thrown out on Thursday. President-elect Joe Biden is due to take office on 20 January. Mr Trump is yet to concede. Mr Gohmert, a Republican congressman, told Newsmax TV that he planned to appeal against the verdict. Mr Trump's friends and colleagues in the Republican party have presented dozens of legal challenges to the November outcome which delivered a decisive win to Mr Biden. His victory was announced after days of vote-counting that took longer than in recent years because of the huge number of postal ballots cast due to the coronavirus pandemic. Mr Trump has made numerous unsubstantiated claims that Mr Biden's win, which saw the president-elect gain 306 electoral college votes to his rival's 232, was fraudulent. The electoral college is a system whereby each US state has an allocated number of points that is granted to the overall winner in each state. The candidate who gains the majority wins the presidency. Congressman Gohmert's case sought to allow Vice-President Mike Pence to reject some electoral college votes when they are ratified by Congress on 6 January. The vice-president presides over the vote certification in Congress in a ceremonial role that involves opening and tallying the envelopes containing electoral college votes before announcing the result. Mr Gohmert's case aimed to expand that role to allow Mr Pence to cast judgement on the validity of the votes and potentially replace votes for Mr Biden with ones for Mr Trump. But Judge Jeremy Kernodle, who was appointed to the Texas court in 2018 by Mr Trump, rejected the case, saying it was based on speculative events.
1-2-21 US Congress overrides Trump veto for first time
The US Congress has overturned President Donald Trump's veto of a defence spending bill, the first time this has happened in his presidency. The Republican-controlled Senate held a rare New Year's Day session to debate the move, which had already been voted for by the House of Representatives. The $740bn (£549bn) bill will fund defence policy for the year to come. Mr Trump, who leaves office in a few weeks, objected to certain provisions in the bill. The Senate voted 81-13 for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) - a two-thirds majority is required to override a presidential veto in both chambers. It comes just two days before a new US Congress is due to be sworn in. Mr Trump had taken issue with policies that limit troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and Europe and remove Confederate leaders' names from military bases. He also wanted the bill to repeal a liability shield for social media companies. Before the debate began, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he was determined to pass the bill. "Here's what the Senate is focused on - completing the annual defence legislation that looks after our brave men and women who volunteer to wear the uniform. "We've passed this legislation 59 years in a row. And one way or another, we're going to complete the 60th annual NDAA and pass it into law before this Congress concludes on Sunday," he added. Later Mr Trump responded to the vote specifically on the issue of liability protection. "Our Republican Senate just missed the opportunity to get rid of Section 230, which gives unlimited power to Big Tech companies. Pathetic!!!" he said on Twitter. Bills passed by Congress need a president's signature to become law. On rare occasions, a president may choose to veto - or reject - legislation because of some policy disagreement. Lawmakers can override a presidential veto and enact bills into law by mustering two-thirds of votes in both chambers of Congress.
1-2-21 Coronavirus: Israel leads vaccine race with 12% given jab
Israel has given vaccinations against coronavirus to more than one million people, the highest rate in the world, as global immunisation efforts step up. Israel has a rate of 11.55 vaccination doses per 100 people, followed by Bahrain at 3.49 and the UK at 1.47, according to a global tracking website affiliated with Oxford University. In comparison, France had vaccinated 138 people in total by 30 December. More than 1.8m people have now died of the virus around the world. The comparative figures on vaccination are put together by Our World in Data, which is a collaboration between Oxford University and an educational charity. They measure the number of people who have received a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Most of the vaccines approved for use so far rely on two doses, given more than a week apart. The US fell far short of its target of vaccinating 20 million people by the end of 2020, with just 2.78 million having received a jab by 30 December. Meanwhile, the US government's top infectious diseases expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, has said he does not agree with UK plans to give as many people as possible a first vaccine dose, while delaying second doses. Dr Fauci said the US would not be adopting a similar strategy. India has meanwhile approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use, Information Minister Prakesh Javadekar said on Saturday. Three more vaccines are awaiting approval. The country has been staging drills to prepare for mass distribution. Israel began vaccinations on 19 December and is delivering jabs to about 150,000 people a day, with priority given to the over-60s, health workers and people who are clinically vulnerable. It secured supplies of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine following negotiations early on in the pandemic. It is contacting people with priority access to the vaccine through its health care system - by law all Israelis must register with a recognised health care provider. Israel has safely subdivided shipments of the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored at -70C, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told YNet TV news. This means smaller batches of the vaccine can be sent out to remote communities. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is campaigning for re-election, has predicted Israel could emerge from the pandemic as early as February. It is currently in its third national lockdown.
1-2-21 America was always going to bungle the vaccine rollout
Incompetence + misinformation + austerity + elaborate eligibility requirements = disaster. Vaccines are being shipped out across the country, but most of them have not yet made it into actual Americans. Bloomberg has been tracking vaccination progress across the country — at time of writing, about 12.5 million doses have been sent out, yet just over 3 million shots have actually been administered. At this rate, it will take something like seven years to inoculate the whole country, and many doses may expire before they can be used. There was no way this wasn't going to be a disaster. President Trump, of course, has completely failed to organize anything at the federal level. For all his manic shattering of political norms, his most characteristic behavior is simply not doing anything in a moment of crisis. Since early November, over a thousand people a day have died of COVID, steadily increasing to nearly 4,000 on some recent days, but Trump has done virtually nothing except try to overturn the election with tweets, play golf, watch television, and pardon his criminal friends. What federal action that is happening is being rigged up by the remaining shreds of the bureaucracy Trump has not yet destroyed. He says himself that states are on their own. That of course is making things exponentially more difficult for those lower levels of government. The federal government has always played a central role in previous mass vaccination efforts, because it is the only entity that can coordinate the whole country. States and cities have already endured brutal austerity, laying off millions of employees and cutting back services. Now they are trying to organize a massive logistical operation during a murderous pandemic by the seat of their pants. Trump's constant firehose of lies and misinformation have also done terrible damage. The Los Angeles Times reports that even many frontline health-care workers are hesitant about taking the vaccine, in part because they are skeptical of the political and economic motives behind the production of the vaccine. Clear and consistent communication is vital in pandemic control, so the population will trust that control measures will work. Instead Trump has undermined trust in everything. That said, it is clear that many states and cities could be doing much better than they currently are. It has been obvious since January 2017 that the Trump administration would provide little help in a crisis. States and cities have had months to lay out a plan, and scrounge up the relative pittance needed to get shots into arms — cannibalizing every other department if necessary, for there can be nothing more important than getting that vaccine out. Yet a great many states and cities are whiffing it. It appears that the culprit here is some combination of authorities getting tangled up over who deserves the vaccine the most, snarling the process with elaborate eligibility requirements (a classic American neurosis), and the blistering incompetence that has characterized nearly every level of the American state response to the pandemic. As Dr. Ashish K. Jha writes in the Washington Post, the public health departments that are at the center of distribution have been starved of resources for decades, particularly after 2008.
1-2-21 France: More than 2,500 break virus restrictions at illegal rave
An illegal warehouse rave that began on New Year's Eve in France in defiance of coronavirus precautions has been shut down by police after arrests and clashes. Some of the 2,500 ravers in Lieuron near Rennes in Brittany had planned to party until Tuesday. Police issued fines to revellers found leaving and the organisers were being identified as the party ended. A number of party-goers were from the UK and Spain, police said. Attendees clashed with police, setting fire to a car and throwing objects at officers attempting to shut the event down. At least three officers were injured. A driver was apprehended with turntables, speakers and a generator in the boot of the vehicle, according to French TV station BFM TV. Police trying to stop the event faced "fierce hostility from many partygoers", a statement from local authorities said. But at 05:30 local time on Saturday the ravers began to accept the party was over and started to leave the two disused warehouse hangars, the local prefecture said. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said on Twitter that trucks, sound equipment and generators were seized at the scene and an investigation has been opened. More than 1,200 fines were issued for non-compliance with the curfew, not wearing a mask and attending an illegal gathering, Mr Darmanin said. On Friday authorities said they had opened a sanitary cordon around the party and anyone leaving the event was urged to self-isolate for seven days. One of the party-goers, who gave his name as Jo, told the AFP news agency that "very few had respected social distancing" at the event. A number of people slept in their cars before returning to dance, Le Monde newspaper reports. One reveller told Le Monde that the rave was "very well organised" with food stalls inside. Another, who came with four friends from Finisterre in north-west France, told the newspaper that she had wanted to "escape" for a few hours. On Friday an interior ministry crisis meeting was held and all vehicle exits from the rave were blocked as police sought to shut down the party.
1-1-21 Covid pandemic dampens New Year celebrations around the world
New Year celebrations around the world have been muted as many countries struggle to curb new spikes in coronavirus cases. Fireworks displays and other public gatherings were cancelled from Sydney to New York. Festivities were particularly restricted in Europe, amid fears over a more contagious variant of the virus. France mobilised 100,000 police to break up New Year's Eve parties and enforce a night-time curfew. More than 1.8 million people have died with the virus across the world since the start of the pandemic a year ago. More than 81 million cases have been reported. In France,the government ordered a visible security presence in urban areas from 20:00 (19:00 GMT) on Thursday, when the curfew began. In Paris half of the metro lines were closed. Several departments banned the sale of fireworks and limited alcohol sales as part of measures to stop the unrest and torching of cars that often takes place on the final night of the year. Although incidents of violence were reportedly fewer, police were attacked while trying to break up several large illegal raves. In Alsace, a 25-year-old man died when a firework he was holding exploded, local media said. France has had two lockdowns and bars, restaurants and cultural attractions will remain shut into the new year. In his New Year's address, President Emmanuel Macron tried to address criticism of the slow pace of vaccination in France, vowing to avoid "unjustifiable delays". In England - where the new coronavirus variant is spreading fast and more than 40 million people in the worst-affected regions are forced to stay at home - UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people to follow the rules. "That means not meeting up with friends or family indoors, unless they're in the same household or support bubble, and avoiding large gatherings of any kind," he said on Wednesday. London's streets were quiet during New Year's Eve after police there warned people to celebrate at home. Instead of the usual celebrations in front of the London Eye, a giant fireworks and light show was held across various locations in the capital.
1-1-21 In pictures: New Year, but not quite as we know it
Millions around the world have been seeing out 2020 and marking the start of 2021, although the coronavirus pandemic has forced many celebrations to take place in muted form behind closed doors. With lockdowns or other restrictions in place in many countries, would-be New Year partygoers were told to have a quiet night in. Others have attended ceremonies or festivals wearing masks or taking other precautions. In Tokyo, below, people visited the Kanda Myojin Shrine to offer prayers. The popular Shinto shrine reduced the number of visitors allowed, as Japan faces another wave of Covid-19 infections. In Wuhan, China, crowds gathered in the city with balloons and festive outfits to count down to midnight on New Year's Eve. Fireworks lit up the night sky in Taiwan to mark the beginning of 2021, witnessed by thousands of spectators who gathered in the centre of Taipei. Like this family in Seoul, South Korea, many globally have marked the celebration in a small way and often at home. It was a chilly celebration in Yekaterinburg, Russia, as people gathered at the city hall, waving sparklers in the 1905 Square. While in the United Arab Emirates, one of the largest New Year fireworks displays saw spectacular colours light up the sky over the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah. Pyrotechnics also illuminated the sky around the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, as the clock struck midnight in Dubai. The New Year's Eve party at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin is usually one of Europe's biggest street parties. But this year revellers were told to stay at home and watch the fireworks and music performances on TV or online instead. These worshippers in Abuja, Nigeria, marked the end of 2020 with a gospel service. Meanwhile, people in the city of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast were able to watch the fireworks display outside with friends and family. But in New York City, just a handful of people were allowed into Times Square to watch confetti rain down and the traditional crystal ball drop. Brazilian authorities closed Copacabana Beach, in Rio de Janeiro, but that did not stop some people enjoying celebrations. A fireworks and light show was held across various locations in London. A number of drones filled the sky close to the O2 Arena in East London forming messages referencing the pandemic, including the NHS logo.
1-1-21 Wall Street to kick out Chinese telecom giants
The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) said it will delist three Chinese telecommunications firms based on claimed links with its military. China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom Hong Kong have all been targeted by the Trump administration. Shares in the telecoms giants will be suspended on the NYSE next week while proceedings to delist them have begun. The companies earn all of their revenue in China and have no significant presence in the US. The delisting is seen more as a symbolic blow amid heightened geo-political tensions between the US and China. The three firms' shares are thinly traded in the US compared to their primary listings in Hong Kong. The state-owned companies dominate the telecoms industry in China. President Donald Trump signed an order in November barring American investments in Chinese firms owned or controlled by the military. The order prohibited US investors from buying and selling shares in a list of Chinese companies designated by the Pentagon as having military ties. Mr Trump has targeted a number of Chinese companies including TikTok, Huawei and Tencent on the grounds of national security. China responded with its own blacklist of US companies as tensions between the economic giants escalate. The shares of China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom Hong Kong will be suspended from trading between 7 and 11 January, the NYSE confirmed. US stock exchanges including the NYSE and Nasdaq courted Chinese companies during the past decade to list their shares on their stock markets. There are currently more than 200 Chinese companies listed on US stock markets with a total market capitalization of $2.2tn (£1.6tn). But as relations turned sour with the US, many Chinese firms have sought dual listings in China and Hong Kong. Companies including Chinese e-commerce giants Alibaba and JD.Com also have listings in New York but have conducted secondary listings in Hong Kong in the past two years as the trade war between the US and China intensified. Last month, the US House of Representatives passed a law to kick Chinese companies off US stock exchanges if they do not comply with its auditing rules. (Webmaster's comment: Demonizing China has not improved the U.S. economy one iota, in fact it hurts it!)