4-19-21 Closing arguments in Floyd officer murder trial
Closing arguments will begin today in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. After both sides present their final remarks, the jury will be isolated as they discuss a verdict. Chauvin stands accused of second-degree and third-degree murder and manslaughter over the death of George Floyd. Chauvin was filmed kneeling on Floyd for over nine minutes during his arrest last May. Chauvin's defence has argued that drugs and poor health caused Floyd's death. The verdict in this case is being seen as a key moment in US race relations and policing. The city of Minneapolis is on edge as the trial nears its end and a nearby suburb grapples with the fall-out of another police killing. The men and women seated in the jury box hold the outcome of this trial in their hands. The closing arguments we're hearing now are meant for them - a last chance for both sides to sway the jurors before they begin their isolated discussions. Selecting jurors in an emotionally charged case over a black man's death in police custody was no easy feat. It was made even more complicated in the George Floyd case because of how well known his death was. After 11 days worth of jury summons last month, the two opposing legal teams settled on 15 Minnesota residents out of a jury pool of over 130 people. Among that group, 14 people - including two alternates - were sworn in for the trial. The jury panel skews younger, more white and more female. This is the last chance for the prosecution to try and convince the jury Chauvin is guilty. Prosecutor Steve Schleicher is speaking slowly, using repetitive language to drill home his points. "What the defendant did to George Floyd killed him," says Schleicher in his closing argument. The state prosecutor insists Derek Chauvin ignored Floyd's pleas repeatedly. "When he was unable to speak, the defendant continued," he says. "When he was unable to breathe, the defendant continued." "Beyond the point where he had a pulse, the defendant continued."
4-19-21 Namibian court denies entry to gay couple's surrogate daughters
A Namibian court has refused to issue a gay man emergency travel documents so that he can bring home his twin daughters from South Africa where they were born by surrogate. The authorities say Phillip Lühl must show genetic proof that he is their father before they can travel. Mr Lühl, 38, and his Mexican husband Guillermo Delgado say this is discriminatory. Both fathers' names are on the babies' birth certificates. Mr Lühl, a university lecturer and Namibian citizen, has argued that the paternity test being demanded of him would not be required from a single mother or heterosexual couple. He told the BBC his daughters were currently "stateless", and previously told AFP that Namibia's refusal amounted to "state-sanctioned homophobia". Sexual contact between males is forbidden in Namibia but the law is rarely enforced. Neighbouring South Africa meanwhile - where the couple got married - was the first country in the world to use its constitution to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation back in 1996. Mr Delgado is in Namibia with the couple's two-year-old son, while Mr Lühl is stuck in Johannesburg with the girls who are five weeks old. The BBC's Nomsa Maseko in Johannesburg says more details of the Namibian judge's ruling are to be made public later on Monday. Namibia's government said in March that the home affairs minister "did not agree to a request to issue the twins Namibian travel documents, because their entitlement to Namibian citizenship by descent had not been determined". Before Windhoek High Court's ruling on Monday, LGBTQ activists had decried the government's stance and a number of Mr Lühl's supporters took part in street protests a month ago. He spoke of his frustration at the time from South Africa. The couple have another ongoing case in Namibia, where they are seeking citizenship for their two-year-old son, born to the same surrogate in South Africa. They say there is a possibility they will appeal against the judgement once it has been reviewed by their lawyers.
4-19-21 India coronavirus: Delhi announces lockdown as Covid cases surge
India's capital Delhi has announced a week-long lockdown after a record spike in cases overwhelmed the city's healthcare system. Government offices and essential services, such as hospitals, pharmacies and grocers, will be open during the lockdown which starts on Monday. The city had imposed a weekend curfew, but reported its highest single-day spike so far on Sunday - 24, 462 cases. India has been reeling from a deadly second wave since the start of April. "I have always been against lockdowns, but this one will help us amplify the number of hospital beds in Delhi," Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said in a press conference on Monday. He also appealed to the city's migrant workers not to leave - last year's national lockdown saw millions of them heading back to their villages after they found themselves unemployed and running out of money. "This was a difficult decision to take but we had no other option left," Mr Kejriwal said. "I know when lockdowns are announced, daily-wage workers suffer and lose their jobs. But I appeal to them to not leave Delhi, it's a short lockdown and we will take care of you." India has been reporting more than 200,000 cases daily since 15 April - this is well past its peak last year, when it was averaging around 93,000 cases a day. Deaths too have been rising. India confirmed 1,620 deaths from the virus on Sunday. On Monday UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancelled a planned trip to India in view of the situation. Mr Johnson and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi will speak later this month to "launch ambitious plans for the future partnership", a statement said. Maharashtra, which has India's financial hub Mumbai as its capital, remains the worst-hit state, accounting for a nearly a third of India's more than 1.9 million active cases. But Delhi is the worst-hit city, confirming more cases daily than Mumbai in recent days.
4-17-21 Adam Toledo: Chicago police release video of officer shooting boy
Chicago police have released graphic footage of an officer shooting dead a 13-year-old boy in a dark alley. Bodycam video shows the policeman shouting "drop it" before shooting Adam Toledo once in the chest on 29 March. The boy does not appear to be holding a weapon in the split second he is shot, but police video shows a handgun near the spot where he falls. Small protests were held on Thursday evening around Chicago, hours after the city's mayor appealed for calm. The video's release follows the fatal police shooting on 11 April of Daunte Wright by an officer in a Minneapolis suburb. That shooting has sparked violent protests as the city awaits the outcome of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the officer accused in the death of George Floyd. The clip shows the officer jumping out of his squad car and chasing the Latino boy on foot down a dark alley as another suspect disappears from view. The policeman shouts: "Police! Stop! Stop right [expletive] now! Hands! Hands! Show me your [expletive] hands!" The boy turns and raises his hands. The officer shouts "Drop it" and fires his weapon - 19 seconds after exiting his squad car. Separate CCTV footage appears to show the teenager throwing something through a gap in the fence as the officer runs up to him. Bodycam video shows officers shining a light on a handgun behind the wooden fence after the shooting. The policeman calls for an ambulance while urging the fallen boy to "stay awake". Other officers arrive at the scene in the Little Village neighbourhood on the city's west side and CPR is performed. According to prosecutors, the teenager was with a 21-year-old man, Ruben Roman, who had just fired a gun at a passing car. The gunfire drew police to the area, resulting in the deadly confrontation. Mr Roman appeared in court on Saturday charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, reckless discharge of a firearm and child endangerment, according to local media reports. The Civilian Office of Police Accountability released the bodycam footage on Thursday along with CCTV video, arrest reports and audio recordings of the shots fired in the area that alerted police. (Webmaster's comment: Another black boy murdered by police. The bodycam shows him with his hands up and empty.)
4-17-21 Capitol riot: Prosecutors get first guilty plea 100 days after attack
Exactly 100 days since the 6 January riot that saw a pro-Trump mob storm the US Capitol, prosecutors have their first guilty plea. Jon Schaffer, 53, a member of the Oath Keepers militia group, pleaded guilty to two charges - obstruction of an official proceeding and entering a restricted building with a dangerous weapon. Schaffer, who is also a heavy metal guitarist in the band Iced Earth, had originally faced six charges including using a chemical irritant designed for grizzly bears on police officers during clashes. He turned himself to FBI agents in Indiana two weeks after his arrest, and after a photo of him inside the Capitol wearing a hat reading "Oath Keepers Lifetime Member" appeared on the front pages of US newspapers. He is facing 30 years in prison and is expected to co-operate with investigators. The suspects in the Capitol riot are a varied group: they include an ousted West Virginia lawmaker, several police officers and a left-wing activist from Utah. Most of the rioters were allowed to leave the crime scene, forcing investigators to conduct a national manhunt for the pro-Trump crowd that stormed the halls of Congress. Investigators for the District of Columbia says they have identified over 540 suspects and charged some 400 people in connection with the Capitol siege. Just weeks after the rampage in January, FBI officials said they had already been inundated with 140,000 videos and photos from members of the public. Officials say they are considering filing serious charges of seditious activity against some individuals who were involved in the siege on the Capitol. According to federal criminal code, seditious conspiracy means an effort to conspire to overthrow the US government. The punishment is severe: up to 20 years in prison. The rioters facing federal charges hail from 42 out of the 50 US states and the District of Columbia, according to the George Washington University extremism tracker.
4-17-21 Biden set to further regulate 'ghost guns'
Gun policy is a very politicized issue in the U.S. that impacts people across borders. President Joe Biden announced this week his desire to further regulate "ghost guns," which are homemade firearms made from parts bought online that don't have traceable serial numbers. Biden would like to see the individual kits and parts treated as weapons with serial numbers and require background checks. It's the first major gun control legislation in two decades that Democrats in Congress are trying to pass under the new administration. Biden says it is "long past time" to do so. A bipartisan Senate compromise that was narrowly defeated eight years ago was focused on expanding checks to sales at gun shows and on the internet. But Republicans say extending the requirements would trample Second Amendment rights. And the National Rifle Association (NRA), while weakened by some infighting and financial disputes, is still a powerful force in GOP campaigns. Around the world, these weapons often make their way into the hands of organized crime groups, creating dangerous living conditions for ordinary people. Ioan Grillo is an author and journalist based in Mexico City who has reported on ghost guns. He's published a new book called Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels. Grillo spoke to The World's host Marco Werman about the situation with ghost guns in the U.S. Ioan, what can you tell us about the proliferation of ghost guns in Latin America? Well, it's an increasingly serious issue. So, I can think of a couple of cases of various serious organized crime groups taking advantage of the huge market in gun parts in the United States. One is the Jalisco cartel. There was one raid back in 2014 of workshops of the Jalisco cartel where they found them assembling AR-15s; they had assembled 100 already with some machinery and parts almost certainly bought in the United States in 2019 in Florida. Customs inspectors found 100 receivers, which are one of the main parts for AR-15s. This led them to trace them down, going to Argentina, something called Operation Patagonia. And they found a group there called the PCC, which was assembling these rifles in workshops, and they found 2,500 guns. So, this is a serious pipeline of weaponry. Is there a clear sense of who is behind the creation and distribution of these types of weapons in Latin America? And are the creators traveling to the U.S. to collect them and sell them back in Jalisco, for example? People buy in the United States, online. You can order these kits, take them over the border quite easily. I had one interview with somebody who was also running gun parts over the border close to Ciudad Juárez. He was an American who actually had, was laying cable on both sides of the border and had a government permit and was taking advantage of that to traffic firearms. So, it's one way people could bring them easily and in bulk to Mexico. And also, the advantage of having no serial numbers. Then, when these are used in crimes, you can't trace them. And Latin American governments, have they had ghost guns on their radars? Are they generally aware that this has been going on — cross-border trafficking ghost gun parts? There is now, in the Mexican government, a move to take this issue seriously. This issue was kind of off the agenda for about a decade, but now we are seeing Latin American governments take this seriously. I was also in Los Angeles. I mean, right now the sheer numbers of ghost guns are not that high in a percentage. But I think one other reason that the need to act against ghost guns, as well as other firearms trafficking, is if you stop other firearms trafficking, they'll just switch to ghost guns.
4-17-21 Biden backtracks on keeping Trump cap on refugees
President Joe Biden has reversed course hours after signing an order to keep the number of refugees admitted annually to the US at Trump-era levels. Mr Biden drew ire on Friday as he held the cap at the historically low figure of 15,000, two months after he pledged to increase it to 65,500. The White House later said Mr Biden would raise the refugee cap next month. Reports say Mr Biden is concerned about letting in more people amid a record influx at the US-Mexico border. UN figures indicate there are more than 80 million refugees worldwide, with 85% of them hosted by developing countries. The White House said Friday's order would speed up refugee admissions to the US - since October around 2,000 people have been admitted under the programme. The order also changes the allocation of who is allowed in, with more slots being provided to arrivals from Africa, the Middle East and Central America, and an end to restrictions on resettlements from Somalia, Syria and Yemen. But Mr Biden - who vowed to raise the cap on refugees during his campaign - kept the maximum number allowed in annually at 15,000, a ceiling set by his predecessor as president, Donald Trump. Mr Biden stated the Trump-era cap "remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest". White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the Democratic president's directive had been the "subject of some confusion" after the news sparked outrage among aid groups, as well as from within Mr Biden's own party. Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Menendez described the figure as "appallingly low". Ms Psaki blamed Mr Biden's failure to deliver on the 62,500 figure that he announced to Congress two months ago on "the decimated refugee admissions programme we inherited". Ms Psaki said Mr Biden's order on Friday was meant to allow refugee flights to the US to begin within days.
4-17-21 Raúl Castro steps down as Cuban Communist Party leader
Raúl Castro says he is resigning as Cuban Communist Party leader, ending his family's six decades in power. Mr Castro, 89, told a party congress that he is handing over the leadership to a younger generation "full of passion and anti-imperialist spirit". His successor will be voted in at the end of the four-day congress. The move, which was expected, ends the era of formal leadership by him and his brother Fidel Castro, which began with the 1959 revolution. "I believe fervently in the strength and exemplary nature and comprehension of my compatriots," he told party delegates in Havana on Friday. Although Mr Castro has not endorsed a successor, it is widely believed the party leadership will pass to Miguel Díaz-Canel, who took over as the island's president in 2018. While the entire island knew this moment was coming, it was no less historic or symbolic when it arrived: Cuba will be officially governed by someone other than a Castro for the first time since 1959. The reality is that, at least in the short term, little will change. The man who took over from Raúl Castro as president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, may well succeed him now as the party's first secretary too. It seems likely he will be forced to take further steps to liberalise Cuba's centrally controlled economy. The island is currently in the grip of its worst economic crisis since the period immediately following the end of the Cold War. As a result, private farmers were recently permitted to sell beef and dairy products - goods previously under the sole control of the state. Any hope of improving ties with the US however may have to wait as the Biden administration has shown little inclination to unpick the Trump administration's harsher sanctions on Cuba at this stage. One thing is for sure, Raúl Castro's words of keeping "one foot in the stirrup" means he will remain a powerbroker behind the scenes. And by reiterating the island's eternal commitment to socialism it means that political change remains as unlikely under his successor as it was under his late brother, Fidel.
4-17-21 Covid-19 deaths pass three million worldwide
The number of people who have died worldwide in the Covid-19 pandemic has surpassed three million, according to Johns Hopkins University. The milestone comes the day after the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned the world was "approaching the highest rate of infection" so far. India - experiencing a second wave - recorded more than 230,000 new cases on Saturday alone. Almost 140 million cases have been recorded since the pandemic began. WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned on Friday that "cases and deaths are continuing to increase at worrying rates". He added that "globally, the number of new cases per week has nearly doubled over the past two months". The US, India and Brazil - the countries with the most recorded infections - have accounted for more than a million deaths between them, according to Johns Hopkins University. Last week saw an average of 12,000 deaths a day reported around the world, according to news agency AFP. However, official figures worldwide may not fully reflect the true number in many countries. Up until a few weeks ago, India appeared to have the pandemic relatively under control. Cases had been below 20,000 a day for much of January and February - a low figure in a country of more than a 1.3 billion people. But then infections began to rise rapidly: Saturday saw a record set for the third day in a row, with more than 234,000 cases reported. Hospitals are running low on beds and oxygen. Sick people are being turned away, and some families are turning to the black market to get the drugs they need. A BBC investigation found medication being offered at five times the official price. The capital Delhi has gone into lockdown over the weekend, with restrictions put in place in several other states, as officials try to stem the tide. All eyes are now on the Kumbh Mela festival, which has continued despite fears the millions of Hindu devotees who attend each year could bring the virus home with them. Some 1,600 people tested positive this week at the gathering in the northern state of Uttrakhand, with pictures showing thousands gathered closely together along the banks of the Ganges river. It has led Prime Minister Narendra Modi to plead with people to refrain from gathering.
4-17-21 Covid: Canada sounds the alarm as cases overtake US
The rate of coronavirus infections in Canada's biggest province has reached an all-time high as hospitals warn they are close to being overwhelmed. A panel of experts say infections in Ontario could increase by 600% by June if public health measures are weak and vaccination rates do not pick up. Last week, for the first time since the pandemic began, Canada registered more cases per million than the US. About 22% of Canadians have now received a first vaccine dose. That compares to 37% in the US. Ontario is now introducing strict new public measures, including: 1. a six-week stay-at-home order, 2. restrictions on non-essential travel, including checkpoints at the borders with the neighbouring provinces of Quebec and Manitoba, 3. new powers for police to stop and question people who leave home, 4. a halt to non-essential construction. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government would help Toronto, the largest city in the country, which has been hard-hit by the latest surge. "We're going to do whatever it takes to help. Discussions are ongoing about extra healthcare providers, and we are ready to step up," he said on Friday. New variants - especially the UK variant, B1.1.7 - account for more than two-thirds of infections in Ontario. Even with vaccinations progressing, the expert panel warned that the number of new cases in Ontario could go as high as 30,000 a day - in a province with 14 million people, 38% of the total population of Canada. On Friday, Ontario reported 4,812 new cases, its third straight day of setting new records since the pandemic began. Hospital admissions and the number of patients in intensive care also set records for Ontario: 1,955 and 701, respectively. The expert panel said the best-case scenario would bring new cases down to about 5,000 a day, but only with considerably more stringent public health measures than the ones now in place. It would also require a vaccination rate of 300,000 a day - three times the current pace.
4-17-21 India's Kumbh festival attracts big crowds amid devastating second Covid wave
This past week, as India grapples with a devastating second wave of the coronavirus, millions of devotees have descended on the banks of the Ganges river in the northern city of Haridwar to take a dip in the water. Hindus believe the river is holy and taking a dip in it will cleanse them of their sins and bring salvation. But the government of Uttarakhand state, where Haridwar is located, is facing heavy criticism for allowing the Kumbh Mela festival to go ahead amid a sharply worsening Covid picture. On Thursday, India reported more than 200,000 Covid cases for the first time since the pandemic began. One influential Hindu congregation decided to opt out of the massive festival. "The Kumbh Mela is over for us," Ravindra Puri, secretary of the Niranjani Akhada or congregation was quoted as saying in local media. The decision came a day after Swami Kapil Dev, the head of another prominent congregation, died after being diagnosed with Covid-19. It's unclear how many devotees at the Kumbh Mela have tested positive since the first day of bathing on 11 March. But Haridwar's chief medical officer, Dr SK Jha, said more than 1,600 cases had been confirmed among devotees between 10 and 14 April. But there are fears that the numbers could be even higher, and that many of those who have returned home could have taken the disease with them across the country. India has confirmed more than 14 million cases and 174,000 deaths from the virus so far. There had been a sharp drop in case numbers in January and February, but with cases and deaths now rising again, hospitals across the country are reporting a shortage of beds, oxygen cylinders and drugs. The uptick in cases did not discourage people from attending the Kumbh Mela. Ujwal Puri, a 34-year-old businessman, arrived in Haridwar on March 9 armed with bottles of sanitiser, masks and vitamin pills. Mr Puri expected stringent Covid security checks. But he told the BBC he faced no checks at the airport or in Haridwar. One of his photographs from the festival shows crowds at the banks, waiting to take a dip on one of the nights. Many people can be seen not wearing a mask or pulling it down to their chin. (Webmaster's comment: The Ganges is a giant sewer! Animals and humans bathe in it, shit in it, and then drink it!)
4-16-21 Covid-19 news: Infections in England at lowest level in 7 months
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. An estimated one in 480 people in England had covid-19 in the week up to 10 April. Coronavirus infections in England have fallen to their lowest level since September, according to the latest results of a random swab testing survey by the Office for National Statistics. An estimated one in 480 people in communities in England had covid-19 in the week up to 10 April, down from about one in 340 the previous week. It is the lowest prevalence rate recorded since the week up to 24 September, during which an estimated one in 500 people had covid-19. Equivalent prevalence estimates for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales were one in 500, one in 710 and one in 920 people, respectively, during the week up to 10 April. The world is seeing a “worrying” rise in coronavirus infections, World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on 16 April. “Globally, the number of new cases per week has nearly doubled over the past two months. This is approaching the highest rate of infection that we have seen so far during the pandemic,” he said at a briefing. More than 139.2 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed worldwide since the start of the pandemic, with the global covid-19 death toll approaching 3 million, according to Johns Hopkins University. Pfizer’s CEO, Albert Bourla, has said it is likely that people will need a third covid-19 vaccine dose within six to 12 months after they are first vaccinated, with a requirement for annual jabs also a possibility. “Variants will play a key role,” he said. Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel urged lawmakers on 16 April to approve new powers that would enable her to impose coronavirus lockdowns and curfews on areas with high infection rates. Daily new case numbers in Germany are rapidly approaching those seen during the peak of its second wave in January.
4-16-21 Indianapolis mass shooting: Eight dead at FedEx facility
Eight people have been killed and seven injured in a shooting in the US city of Indianapolis, police say. Witnesses heard several gunshots at a FedEx facility and one said he had seen a man firing an automatic weapon. The gunman, thought to have been acting alone, is believed to have killed himself, police say, adding that there is no ongoing threat to the public. Police say several of the injured are in hospital. Flights from the nearby airport are not affected. "As officers arrived, they came into contact with an active shooting incident," city police spokeswoman Genae Cook said, adding that it had taken place at around 23:00 local time (03:00 GMT). "After a preliminary search of the grounds, inside and out, we have located eight people at the scene with injuries consistent to gunshot wounds. Those eight were pronounced deceased here at the scene. Ms Cook said four of the injured had been transported to hospital, one in a critical condition. Many others were treated at the scene or themselves sought treatment in hospital. She said the motive for the killing was unclear. Ms Cook paid tribute to the officers involved. "It is very heart-breaking and, you know, in the Indianapolis Metro Police Department, the officers responded,... they went in and they did their job," she said. "And a lot of them are trying to face this because this is a sight that no-one should ever have to see." A FedEx statement said the company was aware of the shooting and co-operating with the authorities. "Safety is our top priority, and our thoughts are with all those who are affected," it said. Local media quoted FedEx worker Jeremiah Miller as saying he had seen the gunman firing. "I saw a man with a sub-machine gun of some sort, an automatic rifle, and he was firing in the open. I immediately ducked down and got scared," he said. The Gun Violence Archive puts the number of gun violence deaths from all causes at 12,395 so far this year in the US, of which 147 were in mass shootings. Last year saw a total of 43.549 deaths, and 610 in mass shootings.
4-16-21 Adam Toledo: Chicago police release video of officer shooting boy
Chicago police have released graphic footage of an officer shooting dead a 13-year-old boy in a dark alley. Bodycam video shows the policeman shouting "drop it" before shooting Adam Toledo once in the chest on 29 March. The boy does not appear to be holding a weapon in the split second he is shot, but police video shows a handgun near the spot where he falls. Small protests were held on Thursday evening around Chicago, hours after the city's mayor appealed for calm. The video's release follows the fatal police shooting on 11 April of Daunte Wright by an officer in a Minneapolis suburb. That shooting has sparked violent protests as the city awaits the outcome of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the officer accused in the death of George Floyd. The clip shows the officer jumping out of his squad car and chasing the Latino boy on foot down a dark alley as another suspect disappears from view. The policeman shouts: "Police! Stop! Stop right [expletive] now! Hands! Hands! Show me your [expletive] hands!" The boy turns and raises his hands. The officer shouts "Drop it" and fires his weapon - 19 seconds after exiting his squad car. Separate CCTV footage appears to show the teenager throwing something through a gap in the fence as the officer runs up to him. Bodycam video shows officers shining a light on a handgun behind the wooden fence after the shooting. The policeman calls for an ambulance while urging the fallen boy to "stay awake". Other officers arrive at the scene in the Little Village neighbourhood on the city's west side and CPR is performed. According to prosecutors, the teenager was with a 21-year-old man, Ruben Roman, who had just fired a gun at a passing car. The gunfire drew police to the area, resulting in the deadly confrontation. Mr Roman appeared in court on Saturday charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, reckless discharge of a firearm and child endangerment, according to local media reports. The Civilian Office of Police Accountability released the bodycam footage on Thursday along with CCTV video, arrest reports and audio recordings of the shots fired in the area that alerted police.
4-16-21 How George Floyd's death changed a small Iowa town
George Floyd's death, and the trial of Derek Chauvin, has shone a light on racial issues in small towns. Yet coming to terms with racism is tough, even for the well-meaning. Guy Nave, an academic with a Yale PhD, moved to Decorah nearly two decades ago. The Iowa town seemed idyllic. It had stone buildings, a train depot and Victorian homes that looked like gingerbread houses. Then, shortly after starting his job at a local college, he locked himself out of his house. He was rattling a patio door when police showed up. The officer had gotten a call, and was told "someone who didn't look like they belonged in the neighbourhood was walking around the house", Nave recalls. That person was a black man - that person was Nave. There were other incidents. He was pulled over a dozen times for minor violations during his first year living in the town. He focused on work and tried to ignore those incidents. Then, in May 2020, George Floyd died while in police custody and townspeople organised a Black Lives Matter march, the first of its kind. The town was waking up. Small towns are slow to change. A point of pride here is that glaciers missed Decorah, located in north-eastern Iowa, some 12,000 years ago, leaving it with rolling hills - a topography that dates back eons. It had been stuck in time culturally, too. Until recently, racism was rarely discussed. Floyd's death affected people here deeply, however, and sparked a movement. "It changed Decorah, in a way where they cannot close off from what is happening all around," says Maria Leitz, an educator. But not everyone reacted in the same way. "People were really sad about it," says Leitz. "But I was really mad about it." As the trial of Derek Chauvin - the former police officer accused in Floyd's death - unfolds, she pays attention, and watches some of the testimony. "I do hear snippets," she says. But she has tried to limit how much she sees: "It's just so emotional." With the trial underway, and as more protests take place in Minneapolis, people here are fighting racism with new energy.
4-16-21 China's economy grows 18.3% in post-Covid comeback
China's economy grew a record 18.3% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same quarter last year. It's the biggest jump in gross domestic product (GDP) since China started keeping quarterly records in 1992. However, Friday's figures are below expectations, with a Reuters poll of economists predicting 19% growth. They are also heavily skewed, and less indicative of strong growth, as they are compared to last year's huge economic contraction. In the first quarter of 2020, China's economy shrank 6.8% due to nationwide lockdowns at the peak of its Covid-19 outbreak. "The national economy made a good start," said China's National Bureau of Statistics, which released the first quarter data. But it added: "We must be aware that the Covid-19 epidemic is still spreading globally and the international landscape is complicated with high uncertainties and instabilities." Other key figures released by China's statistics department also point to a continuing rebound, but are also unusually strong because they are compared against extremely weak numbers from last year. Industrial output for March rose 14.1% over a year ago, while retail sales grew 34.2%. "Promisingly, the monthly indicators suggest that industrial production, consumption and investment all gained pace in March on a sequential basis, following the weakness in the first two months," said Louis Kuijs, head of Asia economics at research and consultancy firm Oxford Economics. However, some analysts predicted a number of sectors will slow as government fiscal and monetary support is reduced. Yue Su, the Economist Intelligence Unit's principal economist for China, while the latest figures show that the country's economic recovery is broad-based, some production and export activity could have been "front-loaded" into the first quarter, suggesting slower growth ahead. "Trade performance and domestic industrial activities for the rest of year might not be able to maintain such strong momentum, due to lack of measures to stimulate domestic economy," she said.
4-16-21 US imposes sanctions on Russia over cyber-attacks
The US has announced sanctions against Russia in response to what it says are cyber-attacks and other hostile acts. The measures, which target dozens of Russian entities and officials, aim to deter "Russia's harmful foreign activities", the White House said. The statement says Russian intelligence was behind last year's massive "SolarWinds" hack, and accuses Moscow of interference in the 2020 election. Russia denies all the allegations and says it will respond in kind. The sanctions announced on Thursday are detailed in an executive order signed by President Joe Biden. They come at a tense time for relations between the two countries. Last month the US targeted seven Russian officials and more than a dozen government entities over the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. Russia says it was not involved. In a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, Mr Biden vowed to defend US national interests "firmly", while proposing a meeting with Mr Putin to find areas where the two countries could work together. On Thursday, Mr Biden described his decision to impose sanctions on Russia as "proportionate". "I was clear with President Putin that we could have gone further, but I chose not to do so," Mr Biden told reporters. "The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia." He added that the way forwards is through "thoughtful dialogue and diplomatic process". A statement from the White House said the new sanctions show the US "will impose costs in a strategic and economically impactful manner on Russia" if it continues its "destabilising international action". It reaffirms the administration's view that the Russian government is behind cyber-attacks and has been trying to "undermine the conduct of free and fair democratic elections" in the US and allied nations.
4-16-21 TB Joshua: YouTube blocks Nigerian preacher over gay cure claim
YouTube has suspended the account of influential Nigerian TV evangelist TB Joshua over allegations of hate speech. A rights body filed a complaint after reviewing at least seven videos showing the preacher conducting prayers to "cure" gay people. Facebook has also removed at least one of the offending posts showing a woman being slapped while TB Joshua says he is casting out a "demonic spirit". The preacher said he was appealing against YouTube's decision. His YouTube account had 1.8 million subscribers. TB Joshua is one of Africa's most influential evangelists, with top politicians from across the continent among his followers. UK-based openDemocracy filed a complaint after reviewing seven videos posted on TB Joshua Ministries' YouTube channel between 2016 and 2020, which show the preacher conducting prayers to "cure" gay people. A YouTube spokesperson told openDemocracy that the channel had been closed because its policy "prohibits content which alleges that someone is mentally ill, diseased, or inferior because of their membership in a protected group including sexual orientation". A post on TB Joshua Ministries Facebook account said: "We have had a long and fruitful relationship with YouTube and believe this decision was made in haste." The video is an update of a prayer session of a woman called Okoye, first broadcast in 2018. In it TB Joshua slaps and pushes Okoye and an unnamed woman at least 16 times and tells Okoye: "There is a spirit disturbing you. She has transplanted herself into you. It is the spirit of woman," openDemocracy reports. The video which was viewed more than 1.5 million before the YouTube channel was taken down, later shows her testifying before the congregation that "the spirit of woman" had been destroying her life but she had been healed after the preacher's prayers. She declares that she had stopped having "affection" to women and "now I have affections for men".
4-16-21 Vaccines and risk
The human brain tends to make us fear the wrong threats. The human brain has two systems for assessing risk, and one isn't very reliable. The neocortex, which developed relatively late in human evolution, can make rational, risk-reward assessments based on evidence, data, and logic. The amygdala, a more primitive region we share with other mammals, reacts instantly to perceived threats with fear, anxiety, and the fight-or-flight response. Strong emotions often overrule logic, so our brains are biased to overreact to exotic risks like terrorism, plane crashes, and tarantulas, while downplaying the much greater likelihood we'll die of the flu, a car crash, heart disease — or COVID. For the past year, the pandemic has made us all subjects in a massive experiment on human risk assessment. We haven't done very well. Too many Americans decided that going about their usual activities without a mask or social distancing didn't feel as risky as the experts were saying ... and as a result, they caught and spread an invisible contagion. More than 560,000 have died. Now our brains are assessing the risk of getting vaccinated vs. going unprotected against COVID. That task was complicated this week with the discovery that six women out of the 7 million people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine developed blood clots — a rate of 0.00008 percent. By way of perspective, an unvaccinated American's risk of dying of COVID is 1 in 1,666, and the risk COVID will cause severe illness and lasting, "long haul" symptoms is far greater. But the "pause" in J&J vaccinations, while ethical and responsible, will undoubtedly harden the resistance of the 30 percent who say they will not take any vaccine. That would be a terrible outcome — for them and for the rest of us. The pandemic won't truly subside until vaccinations give the coronavirus vanishingly few new people to infect. Those whose amygdalae are wrongly telling them vaccines are riskier than COVID may well determine when, and if, life returns to normal.
4-16-21 Chile sees Covid surge despite vaccination success
Chile's Health Minister Enrique Paris has been striking a gloomy note at his daily Covid news conferences in recent days. The number of daily cases reached a new record high on 9 April, going over 9,000 for the first time since the pandemic began and considerably higher than the previous peak of just under 7,000 cases in mid-June. "It's worrying," he said last Friday. "We're going through a critical moment of the pandemic… I urge you to take care of yourselves, of your loved ones, of your families." Intensive care units are again overwhelmed, the country has for a second time closed its borders to everyone who is not a resident and most of its 18 million inhabitants are back in lockdown. "It feels like we're going backwards," says Santiago resident Sofía Pinto. "We need to download special permits online to be allowed out just twice a week for essential things like food shopping or doctor's visits." The frustration and confusion many Chileans are feeling over the renewed lockdown is due partly to the fact that just two months ago, President Sebastián Piñera was boasting about Chile having one of the fastest vaccination rollouts in the world. Critics have accused the Piñera government of getting caught up in triumphalism over the vaccine rollout and of having loosened coronavirus restrictions too fast. Like governments across the world, ministers here faced difficult choices. Chile's borders had been closed - bar for a few exceptions - from March to November 2020. But after a strict lockdown had driven the rolling seven-day average down to 1,300 cases in November, the decision was taken to reopen them, including to international tourists. Chileans were also given special holiday permits to travel more freely around the country during the southern hemisphere summer holidays after some experts argued it was important for people's mental health. Restaurants, shops, and holiday resorts were opened up to kickstart the faltering economy.
4-15-21 Covid-19 news: Doubts about Olympics as cases surge in Japan
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. As Japan battles fourth wave of infections, official says cancelling the Olympics is still an option. An official from Japan’s ruling party has said that cancelling the Olympics, scheduled to take place in Tokyo at the end of July, remains an option and will depend on the coronavirus situation. “If it seems impossible [to host the Olympics] anymore, then we have to stop it, decisively,” Toshihiro Nikai, a member of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party, told broadcaster TBS. He added: “If the Olympics were to spread infection, then what are the Olympics for?” Government and organising officials have previously said the postponed event would go ahead, but without international spectators. The number of positive coronavirus tests in England fell by 34 per cent in the week up to 7 April, according to the latest figures from NHS Test and Trace. 19,196 people tested positive for the virus, continuing a downward trend in positive tests observed since the week up to 6 January, NHS Test and Trace said in its report. Mass testing for the B.1.351 coronavirus variant, first identified in South Africa, is being carried out in six London boroughs as well as in parts of Smethwick in the West Midlands in England, after a new case was detected there. More than 200,000 new coronavirus cases were reported in India on 15 April, the highest daily case rate in the country since the pandemic began. Some hospitals, including those in the state of Maharashtra, have reported shortages of beds and oxygen supplies. India’s second wave of infections appears to be driven mainly by the more transmissible B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant.
4-15-21 Afghanistan: Biden calls for end to 'America's longest war'
The US will continue to support Afghanistan after withdrawing all US troops, but not "militarily," President Joe Biden has pledged. "It is time to end America's longest war," he said in a speech from the White House room where US airstrikes there were first declared in 2001. The pull-out is to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terror attacks, officials say. At least 2,500 US troops are part of the 9,600-strong Nato Afghan mission. The number of US troops on the ground in Afghanistan fluctuates, and US media report the current total is closer to 3,500. US and Nato officials have said the Taliban, a hardline Islamist movement, have so far failed to live up to commitments to reduce violence in Afghanistan. In Kabul, Afghan officials say they will continue peace talks in preparation for the withdrawal. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani tweeted that he had spoken on the phone with Mr Biden on Wednesday, and that the country "respects the US decision and we will work with our US partners to ensure a smooth transition". He added that Afghanistan's defence forces "are fully capable of defending its people and country". "We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result," said Mr Biden, the fourth president to oversee the war. "While we will not stay involved in Afghanistan militarily, our diplomatic and humanitarian work will continue," he continued, adding: "We will continue to support the government of Afghanistan." Mr Biden also pledged to continue providing assistance to Afghan defence and security forces - including 300,000 personnel, who he says "continue to fight valiantly on behalf of their country and defend the Afghan people, at great cost". He also paid his respects to the victims of the 11 September 2001 attack which triggered the US invasion of Afghanistan. "We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago," he said. "That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021." (Webmaster's comment: Just like in Vietnam we cannot win if the people don't want us!)
4-15-21 Afghanistan: 'We have won the war, America has lost', say Taliban
Driving to Taliban-controlled territory doesn't take long. Around 30 minutes from the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, passing large craters left by roadside bombs, we meet our host: Haji Hekmat, the Taliban's shadow mayor in Balkh district. Perfumed and in a black turban, he's a veteran member of the group, having first joined the militants in the 1990s when they ruled over the majority of the country. The Taliban have arranged a display of force for us. Lined up on either side of the street are heavily armed men, one carrying a rocket propelled grenade launcher, another an M4 assault rifle captured from US forces. Balkh was once one of the more stable parts of the country; now it's become one of the most violent. Baryalai, a local military commander with a ferocious reputation, points down the road, "the government forces are just there by the main market, but they can't leave their bases. This territory belongs to the mujahideen". It's a similar picture across much of Afghanistan: the government controls the cities and bigger towns, but the Taliban are encircling them, with a presence in large parts of the countryside. The militants assert their authority through sporadic checkpoints along key roads. As Taliban members stop and question passing cars, Aamir Sahib Ajmal, the local head of the Taliban's intelligence service, tells us they're searching for people linked to the government. "We will arrest them, and take them prisoner," he says. "Then we hand them over to our courts and they decide what will happen next." The Taliban believe victory is theirs. Sitting over a cup of green tea, Haji Hekmat proclaims, "we have won the war and America has lost". The decision by US President Joe Biden to delay the withdrawal of remaining US forces to September, meaning they will remain in the country past the 1 May deadline agreed last year, has sparked a sharp reaction from the Taliban's political leadership. Nonetheless, momentum seems to be with the militants. "We are ready for anything," says Haji Hekmat. "We are totally prepared for peace, and we are fully prepared for jihad." Sitting next to him, a military commander adds: "Jihad is an act of worship. Worship is something that, however much of it you do, you don't get tired."
4-15-21 US imposes sanctions on Russia over cyber-attacks
The US has announced sanctions against Russia in response to what it says are cyber-attacks and other hostile acts. The measures are aimed at deterring "Russia's harmful foreign activities", the White House said on Thursday. The sanctions, detailed in an executive order signed by President Joe Biden, target dozens of Russian entities, officials and diplomats. The US accuses Russia of malicious cyber-activity and interference in presidential elections. The Russian government has denied the allegations and called any new sanctions "illegal". The measures come at a tense time for relations between the two countries. Last month the US targeted seven Russian officials and more than a dozen government entities over the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. Russia says it had no part in the poisoning. In a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, Mr Biden vowed to defend US national interests "firmly", while proposing a meeting with Mr Putin to find areas where the two countries could work together. According to Thursday's White House statement, the new sanctions show the US "will impose costs in a strategic and economically impactful manner on Russia" if it continues its "destabilizing international action". It reaffirms the administration's view that the Russian government is behind the cyber-attacks and has been trying to "undermine the conduct of free and fair democratic elections" in the US and its allies. The sanctions target 32 entities and officials accused of trying to influence the 2020 US presidential election "and other acts of disinformation". Ten diplomats, including alleged spies, are being expelled from the US. The executive order also bars US financial institutions from purchasing rouble-denominated bonds from June. Last year, cyber-security researchers identified a hack in a piece of software called SolarWinds - which gave cyber-criminals access to 18,000 government and private computer networks.
4-15-21 Daunte Wright shooting: US ex-officer Kim Potter charged over killing
A US former police officer who shot dead a black motorist in Minnesota has been charged with second-degree manslaughter, prosecutors say. Kim Potter was arrested and later released on $100,000 (£72,000) bail. Police say Mrs Potter shot Daunte Wright accidentally, having mistakenly drawn her gun instead of her Taser. Responding to the charges, the Wright family's lawyer Ben Crump said the killing was an "intentional, deliberate, and unlawful use of force". Both Mrs Potter and local police chief Tim Gannon have resigned. The killing has sparked clashes between police and protesters in Brooklyn Center - a suburb of Minneapolis - and late on Wednesday, several hundred demonstrators again defied a curfew to gather outside police headquarters. As on previous nights, protesters threw bottles and other projectiles at police who responded with stun grenades and pepper spray. Minneapolis is already on edge amid the trial of a white ex-police officer accused of murdering African-American George Floyd. Minnesota's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) said Mrs Potter was taken into custody on Wednesday morning. She was booked into Hennepin County Jail on probable cause second-degree manslaughter before bail was posted. In Minnesota state law, a person can be found guilty of second-degree manslaughter if they can be proven to have shown culpable negligence whereby they create an unreasonable risk and "consciously take chances of causing death or great bodily harm" to someone else. Mrs Potter is due to make her first court appearance on Thursday. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 (£14,500) fine. Prosecutors must show that Mrs Potter was "culpably negligent" and took an "unreasonable risk" in her actions, Reuters reported. At a news conference, Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott called for people to protest peacefully. "With the news of the decision to charge the former Brooklyn Center police officer with manslaughter comes a prolonged period of continued grieving, hurt and understandable anger," he said.
4-15-21 Texas students disciplined over 'slave trade game'
A group of school students in Texas have been disciplined for setting up a "Slave Trade" messaging group that assigned prices to their black peers. Messages shared on the Snapchat app at a school in Aledo said one student was worth a dollar and another "100 bucks", the New York Times reported. The school district conducted an inquiry and found "racial harassment and cyber bullying" had occurred. But some parents accused authorities of failing to respond appropriately. School students at the Daniel Ninth Grade Campus in Aledo had posted messages on a group Snapchat that was reportedly labelled with terms such as "farm" and "auction". Ninth graders are typically 14 or 15. One message said the price set for one student "would be better if his hair wasn't so bad", according to the New York Times, which said it had seen screenshots of exchanges. The Aledo independent school district, situated about 32km (20 miles) west of Fort Worth, condemned the students' behaviour in a statement on Monday, saying that its investigation had been conducted in co-operation with the police. "We made a formal determination that racial harassment and cyber bullying had occurred and assigned disciplinary consequences," the statement said, without providing details about the number of students involved or the action taken. "This incident has caused tremendous pain for the victims, their families, and other students of colour and their families, and for that we are deeply saddened," it added. The principal of the Daniel Ninth Grade Campus of the Aledo Independent School District, Carolyn Ansley, said the investigation had found that "racially charged language" had been used in violation of the district's code of conduct. However, some parents have since criticised the district's response. "Calling it cyber bullying rather than calling it racism... that is the piece that really gets under my skin," parent Mark Grubbs said, NBC News in Dallas reports. "It makes me sick from the standpoint - 'Who do they think they are? What gives them the right to think they can do that to someone else?'" Mr Grubbs added.
4-13-21 Covid-19 news: One vaccine dose produces strong response in over-80s
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. A single dose of Pfizer or AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine produced strong immune responses among over-80s in a preliminary study. Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccines produced a strong immune response after a single dose in people aged over 80 in a preliminary study. It showed that 93 per cent of people had produced coronavirus-specific antibodies after receiving the Pfizer vaccine and 87 per cent of people after receiving the AstraZeneca jab. This was the first study to compare the performance of the two vaccines. Those who received the AstraZeneca vaccine showed a greater T-cell response, which forms another important arm of the body’s immune response to viruses. Just 12 per cent of people who had the Pfizer vaccine developed T-cells against the coronavirus spike protein compared with 31 per cent of those who had received the AstraZeneca jab. Overall immune responses were much higher in people who had previously had covid-19, compared with those who hadn’t. The study was carried out by Helen Parry at the University of Birmingham, UK, and her colleagues who analysed immune responses in a group of 165 volunteers aged 80 and over, each of whom had received a single dose of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine five to six weeks earlier. The US, the European Union and South Africa are pausing rollouts of the Johnson & Johnson covid-19 vaccine, following a small number of reports of rare blood clots in people who had received it. In the US, six cases of rare blood clots had been reported among 6.8 million people who had received the vaccine as of 13 April. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it is working closely with the US Food and Drug Administration and other international regulators to investigate all the cases reported and it expects to issue a recommendation next week. “While its review is ongoing, EMA remains of the view that the benefits of the vaccine in preventing COVID-19 outweigh the risks of side effects,” it said in a statement on 14 April. Denmark has become the first country to completely stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine, after the EMA concluded on 7 April that unusual blood clotting events should be listed as very rare side effects of the vaccine. However, the country’s health agency has not ruled out the possibility of resuming use of the vaccine in future if another wave of infections hits. Several European countries suspended use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in March over blood clot concerns, but many have since resumed use of the vaccine for certain age groups.
4-14-21 Derek Chauvin trial: Use of force 'justified' says defence expert
A police officer was "justified" in pinning George Floyd to the ground before his death, says a use-of-force expert called by the defence team. Barry Brodd told the trial in Minnesota that Derek Chauvin - who denies murder - acted with "objective reasonableness" during the arrest last May. Video of Mr Chauvin kneeling on the neck of Mr Floyd led to worldwide protests against racism and policing. Tensions are running high over a recent police shooting of a black man. That happened on Sunday in a Minnesota suburb only 10 miles (16 km) away from the court where Mr Chauvin's trial is taking place. On Tuesday, the court heard testimony from witnesses called by Mr Chauvin's defence team. Former police officer Mr Brodd told the court that "the imminent threat" posed by Floyd was a major factor in his detention. "I felt that Derek Chauvin was justified and acting with objective reasonableness following Minneapolis police department policy and current standards of law enforcement in his interaction with George Floyd," he said. "From a police officer's standpoint, you don't have to wait for it to happen. You just have to have a reasonable fear that somebody is going to strike you, stab you, shoot you." Mr Brodd added: "It's easy to sit in an office and judge an officer's conduct. It's more of a challenge to put yourself in the officer's shoes, to try to make an evaluation through what they are feeling, what they're sensing, the fear they have, and then make a determination." Defence lawyer Eric Nelson asked Mr Brodd: "Was this a deadly use of force?" "No, it was not," Mr Brodd replied. He said that the crowd surrounding George Floyd during his arrest "posed an unknown threat" and drew Mr Chauvin's attention away from Floyd. Cross-examining Mr Brodd, the prosecution maintained that the dangers of positional asphyxia - not being able to breathe in a certain position - were well known. (Webmaster's comment: The police want the right to kill blacks for any reason! This killing would never have happened if the victim had been white man!)
4-14-21 Daunte Wright shooting: Police resignations fail to ease unrest over death
The resignations of a police chief and of an officer who shot dead a black motorist in Minnesota have failed to end unrest over Sunday's killing. Chief Tim Gannon and Officer Kim Potter have quit the Brooklyn Center force. Mrs Potter said she shot Daunte Wright accidentally, having mistakenly drawn her gun instead of her Taser, a stance backed by Mr Gannon. Despite the resignations fresh clashes between police and protesters erupted for a third night. Mr Wright's mother has been speaking about her last phone call to her son. In tears, she told reporters she could never have imagined he would be killed. The death happened in a suburb of Minneapolis, a city already on edge amid the trial of a white ex-police officer accused of murdering African American George Floyd. On Tuesday night bottles and other projectiles were thrown at the Brooklyn Center police headquarters and officers responded by firing tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets. More than 60 people were arrested, Minnesota State Patrol Colonel Matt Langer told reporters. Another demonstration broke out in Portland, Oregon, on Tuesday night, with about 100 protesters marching on the Portland Police Association Building. Flames were seen coming out of the side of the police building about an hour later. The Portland Police Bureau declared the gathering a riot. Portland was the centre of mass demonstrations last year, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Speaking to reporters earlier, Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott said he had appointed 19-year veteran Tony Gruenig to take over for Tim Gannon. On Monday, Mr Gannon had said the shooting of Mr Wright appeared to be an "accidental discharge" after Mrs Potter mistook her service pistol for a stun gun. "I appreciate the officer stepping down," the mayor said, adding that he hoped her leaving would "bring some calm to the community".
4-14-21 Daunte Wright shooting: How can you mistake a gun for a Taser?
The killing of Daunte Wright, a young black man, in a suburb of Minneapolis in the US, was because an officer mistook her gun for a Taser, according to police. So how is it possible to mix up the two weapons? asers fire small dart-like electrodes that can deliver a high-voltage shock to disable temporarily a suspect and allow officers to deal with violent, or potentially violent, people at a distance. They are used by police forces around the world. Almost all American police departments now issue their officers with Tasers, according to one assessment. The US-based Axon company, which developed the Taser used by the Brooklyn Center police department involved in this incident, was quoted as saying their weapons were designed to be distinguishable from handguns. It had "implemented numerous features and training recommendations to reduce the possibility of these incidents occurring" - including making them look and feel different from a firearm. Distinctive Taser features include that they: are often produced in bright colours, weigh significantly less than police guns, typically have different grips, have no trigger safety mechanism, as most guns do. Police officers are typically trained to keep guns in a holster on their dominant side to avoid confusing it with their Taser, which is kept on the belt on the other side of the body. The Brooklyn Center police manual says that officers must position Tasers "in a reaction-side holster on the side opposite the duty weapon". "So if you're right-handed you carry your firearm on your right side and [you] carry your Taser on your left," Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon told reporters after the shooting of Mr Wright. He added: "This appears to me... that this was an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr Wright." The video of the incident that was circulated by police shows the officer shouting out "Taser, Taser, Taser" before shooting, and then appearing to realise she had used a handgun instead. The officer has been named as Kim Potter, who had worked for Brooklyn Center Police for 26 years. She has now resigned. (Webmaster's comment: No person could exer mistake the two weapons. She wanted to kill him!)
4-14-21 Haridwar: Hundreds test positive for Covid at Kumbh Mela
Hundreds of devotees, including nine top saints, have tested positive for Covid-19 in India's Haridwar city where huge crowds have gathered to participate in the Kumbh Mela festival. More than three million Hindu devotees bathed in the Ganges river on Tuesday to mark one of the most auspicious days of the two-month-long festival. Millions are expected to repeat the ritual on Wednesday. India reported 184,372 new cases on Tuesday - its highest-daily spike yet. Many have criticised the government for allowing the festival to go ahead amid a raging pandemic. Officials said that nearly 900,000 people had taken a dip in the holy river by afternoon on Wednesday, which is considered to be the most auspicious day of the entire festival. Hindus believe that the Ganges river is holy, and taking a dip in the water will cleanse them of their sins and bring salvation. Police officials say they are struggling to impose safety norms due to huge crowds on the banks of the river in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. Officials leading the festival's Covid-19 testing cell told the BBC that out of more than 20,000 samples collected in the area on Tuesday, 110 returned positive results. On Monday, 184 devotees had tested positive. They have been isolated while others have been moved to hospitals in Haridwar city. Dr Arjun Sengar, the health officer at the Kumbh Mela, said nine top religious leaders had also tested positive. Narendra Giri, the president of a consortium of 14 Hindu groups, also tested positive. He has been admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, which is a leading public hospital, in Haridwar. Akhilesh Yadav, former chief minister of neighbouring Uttar Pradesh state, has also tested positive. He visited Haridwar on Sunday and met some top saints, including Mr Giri. Yogi Adityanath, the current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has also tested positive although he did not visit the festival.
4-14-21 Johnson & Johnson vaccine paused over rare blood clots
The US, South Africa and European Union will temporarily stop the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Covid jab, after reports of rare blood clotting. Six cases were detected in more than 6.8 million doses of the vaccine, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said. Johnson & Johnson has paused its EU rollout, which started this week. It follows similar cases after doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which prompted curbs to its use. The FDA said it was recommending the temporary pause "out of an abundance of caution". It confirmed that one patient died from blood clotting complications, and another is in a critical condition. All six cases were in women aged between 18 and 48, with symptoms appearing six to 13 days after vaccination. Following the advice, all federal sites in the US have stopped using the vaccine until further investigations into its safety are completed. State and private contractors are expected to follow suit. The US has by far the most confirmed cases of Covid-19 - more than 31 million - with more than 562,000 deaths, another world high. Johnson & Johnson is a US health care company, but the vaccine was developed mainly by a pharmaceutical branch in Belgium with laboratories in the Netherlands, and is also known as Janssen. Unlike some of the other jabs, it is given as a single shot and can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures, making it easier to distribute in hotter climates or more remote areas. While many countries have pre-ordered millions of doses, it has only been approved in a few nations. It was cleared for use in the US on 27 February, but the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been used more widely. The J&J vaccine has been administered to nearly seven million people in the US, which is around 3% of the total immunisations given so far. Dr Anthony Fauci, the country's top Covid adviser, said it was too early to comment on whether it could have its authorisation revoked.
4-14-21 AstraZeneca vaccine: Denmark ceases rollout completely
Denmark has ceased giving the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine amid concerns about rare cases of blood clots, the first European country to do so fully. The move is expected to delay the country's vaccination programme by several weeks. Drug watchdog the European Medicines Agency last week announced a possible link with clots but said the risk of dying of Covid-19 was much greater. Several European countries had previously briefly suspended the jab. Most have now resumed vaccinations with AstraZeneca, but often with limits to older age groups. On Tuesday, the US, Canada and the European Union paused the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for similar reasons over clotting. South Africa has also paused its use, despite the Johnson & Johnson being its preferred vaccine because of its effectiveness against the South African variant. For both AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, the blood clot side effects are extremely rare. The EU's vaccine roll-out has been criticised by the World Health Organization (WHO) for being too slow, and there are concerns this latest delay could throw it into further turmoil. Both vaccines work by a similar method, known as adenoviral vectors. Danish officials said that all 2.4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be withdrawn until further notice. In a statement, the Danish Health Authority said studies had shown a higher than expected frequency of blood clots following doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Director General Soren Brostrom said it had been a "difficult decision" but Denmark had other vaccines available and the epidemic there was currently under control. "The upcoming target groups for vaccination are less likely to become severely ill from Covid-19," he said. "We must weigh this against the fact that we now have a known risk of severe adverse effects from vaccination with AstraZeneca, even if the risk in absolute terms is slight." However, the authority said it could not rule out using it again at another time.
4-14-21 U.S. pauses J&J vaccine rollout after 6 people of 6.8 million get rare blood clots
AstraZeneca's vaccine has also been linked to the rare clots in Europe and the U.K. Federal health officials in the United States are pressing pause on administering Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine following rare reports of blood clots in people who received the shot. U.S. officials are recommending that, for now, states halt the shots, too. Out of more than 6.8 million people vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson’s jab in the United States, six developed severe blood clots in the sinuses that drain blood from the brain, officials with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said April 13 in a news release. That condition, called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis or CVST, is coupled with low levels of platelets in the blood after vaccination. How long the pause will last largely depends on the outcome of an expert review of the cases, but could be a matter of days, Janet Woodcock, the FDA’s acting commissioner, said in an April 13 call with news reporters. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet April 14 to discuss the cases and potentially update its recommendations for use. The U.S. action comes less than a week after the European Medicines Agency announced that its experts had found a link between a COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford and conditions like CVST (SN:4/7/21). In the European Union and the United Kingdom, most of the rare blood clots have occurred in vaccinated women younger than 60 years old. But the risk factors remain unclear, according to the EMA. Health officials there have recommended that CVST and other unusual clots be listed as a rare side effect of AstraZeneca’s vaccine. In the United States, all six CVST cases were in women younger than 50 and appeared six to 13 days after vaccination. One person died and another is in critical condition. “These events appear to be extremely rare,” Woodcock said. She noted that like with AstraZeneca’s shot, there are too few cases with Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine to come to any conclusions about who is at highest risk of developing the clots. Johnson & Johnson has delayed the rollout of its vaccine in Europe, the pharmaceutical company said April 13 in a news release.
4-13-21 Covid-19 news: US authorities call for Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause
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. There have been six reports of rare blood clots among more than 6.8 million people in the US who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine US health authorities, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommended a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson covid-19 vaccine on 13 April as a precautionary measure, following reports of rare blood clots in six people who had received the vaccine. More than 6.8 million doses of the single-shot vaccine had been administered across the US as of 13 April. Among these, there were six reports of a rare blood clotting condition called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), which affects blood vessels in the brain, all of which were among women aged 18 to 48. A special meeting of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will review the reports on 14 April, the FDA and CDC said in a joint statement. “Until that process is complete, we are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution,” the statement said. In a statement on 13 April, Johnson & Johnson said that it has decided to “proactively delay the rollout” of its vaccine in Europe. On 9 April, the European Union’s medicines regulator announced it was reviewing four reported cases of rare blood clots in people who had received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but said it was not yet clear whether there was a causal association between the vaccine and the condition. An earlier review by the European Medicines Agency concluded on 7 April that unusual blood clotting events should be listed as very rare side effects of the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine. Several countries, including the UK, have limited use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine among younger age groups. Mass coronavirus testing has been deployed in parts of south London, predominantly in the boroughs of Wandsworth and Lambeth, where 44 confirmed cases and 30 probable cases of the B.1.351 coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa have been detected. On 12 April, the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care said all identified cases are self-isolating or have completed their isolation, and their contacts have been traced and asked to self-isolate. People aged 11 and over who live, work or travel through the affected areas are being urged to get tested. In the UK, all adults over the age of 50, clinically vulnerable adults and health and social care workers have now been offered a first dose of a covid-19 vaccine, ahead of the government’s target of offering a dose to everyone in its top nine priority groups for vaccination by 15 April. People over the age of 45 in England are now being invited to book vaccine appointments, although the NHS booking website initially crashed moments after it was opened. UK vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi tweeted shortly afterwards that the problem had been fixed.
4-13-21 How good are the coronavirus vaccines at blocking transmission?
To halt covid-19 in its tracks, we need vaccines that stop the virus spreading as well as preventing people becoming seriously ill. Until now it was unclear how effective the vaccines are at doing this, but with vaccine roll-outs well under way, we are starting to get some answers. The good news is that mRNA vaccines like Pfizer/BioNTech appear to be around 90 per cent effective at blocking transmission. The bad news is that as there are no plans to vaccinate children under 16 anytime soon, and a relatively high proportion of adults globally who say they will refuse vaccination, this might not be enough to raise herd immunity above the threshold needed to halt transmission. Vaccines can block transmission either by preventing people becoming infected or by stopping them passing the virus on even if they are infected. To grasp why blocking transmission is so important, imagine a vaccine that stops disease but not transmission. In that case, the virus would just keep spreading and reach people who haven’t been vaccinated, or for whom the vaccine hasn’t been effective, leading to many more deaths. Vaccinating care home workers wouldn’t stop them infecting care home residents, for instance. And initiatives like vaccine passports wouldn’t stop people from picking up the virus overseas and bringing it home – including new variants. “Transmission blocking matters enormously,” says Marm Kilpatrick at the University of California, Santa Cruz. It is very hard to measure transmission blocking directly. According to a 29 March report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the closest we have got to doing this was a study in Scotland looking at infections in household members of 150,000 healthcare workers. This study found that household members were 30 per cent less likely to become infected when the healthcare worker had received a single dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines. However, because household members may have been infected by people other than the healthcare worker, and the people in the study hadn’t received their second dose, this study probably significantly underestimates transmission blocking.
4-13-21 India sees record surges in cases due to coronavirus variants
Coronavirus cases are surging in many countries, with the highest number of new cases now being reported in Asia. India alone reported 161,736 new cases on 12 April. In the Indian city of Surat, parts of gas furnaces used for cremations melted after being used non-stop. Meanwhile, millions have been gathering for festivals across the country. The surge appears to be driven mainly by the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant from the UK, which is causing around 40 per cent of cases in Asia, according to pathogen-tracking project Nextstrain. Another 16 per cent of cases are due to the B.1.351 variant that evolved in South Africa. India’s daily case numbers are currently the highest in the world. Only the US has ever reported more daily cases, peaking at around 250,000 in January. However, India has a larger population. It is reporting around 100 cases per million people per day, which is lower than the rate declared by many other countries, including the US, Germany and Canada. Then again, India may be detecting a much lower proportion of cases than Western countries. It has reported around 13 million cases in total, but antibody surveys and modelling suggest the actual figure could be more than 450 million, says Gautam Menon at Ashoka University in Sonepat. Experts had been puzzled by India’s lack of a second wave. The reason why it is happening now isn’t entirely clear. Many first-wave restrictions have been relaxed and people may not be adhering as closely to those that remain. However, Menon says his models suggest this alone can’t explain the rapid rise in cases. He thinks new, more transmissible variants are mainly to blame. Another idea is that immunity acquired during the first wave is waning. All three factors could be involved. “I don’t think cases will peak for at least another two or three weeks,” says Menon. He is also worried that numbers are rising across the entire country at once. “This may reflect the importance of reinfections,” he says. “Should that be the case, we may be in for an extended period in which cases will rise or stay at the same level.”
4-13-21 Daunte Wright shooting: Dozens arrested in fresh unrest in Minnesota
About 40 people were arrested just north of Minneapolis in a second night of unrest over the police shooting of a black man. Protesters in the city of Brooklyn Center defied a curfew and threw objects at police, who responded with flash grenades and tear gas. Police said Daunte Wright, 20, was shot and died after an officer mistook her gun for a Taser during a traffic stop. The shooting came as the high-profile George Floyd murder trial continues. In a courtroom just a few miles away, ex-police officer Derek Chauvin is charged with murdering the African American man in May last year. Derek Chauvin's defence team on Monday asked for jury members to be sequestered - separated from other people - as they might be swayed by the latest events. The judge denied the request. The officer who shot Mr Wright was named on Monday as Kim Potter, 48, who has worked for Brooklyn Center Police for 26 years. Mr Wright was pulled over on Sunday for a traffic violation, but there was a struggle when he tried to get back into his car. After drawing her gun, apparently by mistake, the officer said: "Holy shit, I just shot him." The curfew went into force at 19:00 (midnight GMT) across four counties with a huge law enforcement deployment. In a press briefing after midnight local time, Minnesota State Patrol colonel Matt Langer said officers had reached out to organisers to try to keep protests peaceful but "unfortunately... the organisers weren't able to influence the desires of the crowd". Col Langer said officers had been "shelled pretty significantly with objects" including fireworks. He said protesters had pushed against the fence of the Brooklyn Center police headquarters and a decision had been made to push back the crowd. There were "sporadic" incidents of looting in the area and in other parts of Minneapolis and neighbouring St Paul. In response to the unrest, US President Joe Biden said peaceful protest was "understandable" but added: "I want to make it clear again: there is absolutely no justification, none, for looting." Shortly before midnight, Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliot said he had spoken to Daunte Wright's father and would "do everything to ensure justice is served". (Webmaster's comment: If you are a black man and the police stop you you could end up dead for no resaon!)
4-13-21 Covid-19: US agencies call for pause in Johnson & Johnson vaccine
US health authorities are calling for a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, after reports of extremely rare blood clotting cases. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said six cases in 6.8 million doses had been reported and it was acting "out of an abundance of caution". Johnson & Johnson said it was also delaying vaccine rollout in Europe. The US move follows similar rare cases in the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has prompted some curbs in its use. The US has by far the most confirmed cases of Covid-19 - more than 31 million - with more than 562,000 deaths, another world high. The picture for the virus in the US is complicated, though, with some areas in the north seeing surges in infections, the south less, and with the figures not always reflecting inoculation numbers. The Johnson & Johnson jab was approved in the US on 27 February and its use has been more limited so far than that of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna doses. Nevertheless, the government had hoped for hundreds of thousands of vaccinations of the jab every week as it is single-shot and its storage at common refrigerator temperatures makes it easier to distribute. In a joint statement, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said they were "reviewing data involving six reported US cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the J&J vaccine". It said the clotting was called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST). The statement said that this type of blood clot needed a different treatment than usual. The common treatment - an anticoagulant drug called heparin - "may be dangerous", it said. Pending a further review, the FDA and CDC recommended "a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution". This was to "ensure that the health care provider community is aware of the potential for these adverse events".
4-13-21 Covid: Younger Brazilians fall ill as cases explode
Concern is growing in Brazil about the rising number of young people who are critically ill in hospital with Covid-19. Research suggests more than half of patients being treated in intensive care last month were under 40. The BBC's Mark Lowen visited Latin America's largest cemetery, a makeshift hospital and a vaccine hub to find out why the handling of the pandemic in Brazil has become a public health disaster.
4-12-21 Covid-19 news: Cases in India hit record high as Kumbh Mela begins
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. As millions gather to celebrate Kumbh Mela, India’s coronavirus cases surge, overtaking Brazil in total number of infections. India reported a record increase of 168,912 new coronavirus cases on 12 April, bringing the country’s total number of cases since the start of the pandemic to about 13.53 million. India’s tally is now the second-highest in the world, narrowly overtaking Brazil, but remaining below the 31.2 million cases reported so far in the US. A preliminary study in Israel has suggested that the B.1.351 coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa may be able to evade protection provided by the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine to some extent. It found a disproportionately higher rate of the variant among a small number of people who developed covid-19 after being fully vaccinated compared with a group of unvaccinated people who developed the disease. However, the study only included a small number of people infected with the variant due to its low prevalence in Israel. The study, released online as a preprint, didn’t measure overall vaccine effectiveness as only people who had already tested positive for covid-19 were included. Covid-19 vaccines are to be rolled out to people over the age of 40 in England this week, Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, announced. More than 32.1 million people across the UK have received a first dose of a covid-19 vaccine so far, and more than 7.4 million have received two doses. The UK’s Department of Health and Social Care said the government is on course to meet its target of offering a jab to people over the age of 50 by 15 April and to all adults by the end of July. An update to the NHS Covid-19 app, England and Wales’ contact tracing app, has been blocked for breaking the terms of an agreement made with Apple and Google regarding the collection of user’s location data.
4-12-21 Minneapolis: Daunte Wright killing by police near city sparks unrest
Tear gas has been fired and a curfew imposed amid angry protests after police fatally shot a black man in a traffic stop in the US city of Brooklyn Center, just north of Minneapolis. The man has been identified by relatives as 20-year-old Daunte Wright. Brooklyn Center's mayor issued a curfew that lasted until 06:00 (11:00 GMT), telling people to "be safe, go home". Tensions in Minneapolis are high as the trial of a former officer accused of killing George Floyd takes place. A courtroom just 10 miles (16km) from the latest unrest will resume proceedings on Monday with the prosecution expected to begin wrapping up its case. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said he was "closely monitoring the situation" and praying for Mr Wright's family. Hundreds of protesters chanting Daunte Wright's name gathered late on Sunday outside the police headquarters in Brooklyn Center. Tensions rose as police donned riot gear, and two police vehicles were pelted with stones and jumped on, Reuters news agency reported. Protesters wrote with chalk on pavements and lit candles, but police later ordered the protesters to disperse, with footage showing tear gas and stun grenades being fired by officers. Local media reported some looting taking place in a number of areas and Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott announced on Twitter he was issuing a curfew until 06:00. In an early-morning video post on the death of Daunte Wright, Mayor Elliott said "our hearts are with his family" and pledged "we are going to make sure that everything is done in our power to ensure justice". Members of the Minnesota National Guard, already deployed for the murder trial of Derek Chauvin over the death of George Floyd, were sent to Brooklyn Center. Some remained on the streets after the curfew ended. Brooklyn Center has closed all school buildings, programmes and activities for Monday, local media report. The mayor has scheduled a press briefing for 11:00 (16:00 GMT). (Webmaster's comment: The police murder of blacks continues in Minneapolis!)
4-12-21 Police officer who pepper-sprayed US Army soldier fired
A police officer in Virginia has been fired after pointing a gun at, and pepper spraying, a black US army lieutenant during a traffic stop. Army Second Lieutenant Caron Nazario is wearing his uniform in bodycam footage of the incident, filmed in December. "I'm honestly afraid to get out," he tells two police officers. "Yeah, you should be," an officer says. Police said he was stopped for failing to display number plates but temporary plates are visible in the video. Lt Nazario filed a lawsuit against the two officers, Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker, this week. In a statement, officials in the town of Windsor in Virginia said the incident had resulted in "disciplinary action, and department-wide requirements for additional training were implemented beginning in January and continue up to the present". "Since that time, Officer Gutierrez was also terminated from his employment," it added. "The Town has also requested an investigation of this event by the Virginia State Police, and joins with elected officials who have called for a full and complete review of the actions of these officers." On Sunday, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said the incident was "disturbing" and had "angered" him. During the incident the soldier, who was handcuffed while his car was searched, asked why force was being used against him. He was told by a police officer: "Because you're not co-operating." He was later released without charge. Earlier this week Lt Nazario filed a lawsuit at the US District Court of Norfolk, Virginia, against the two Windsor Police Department officers. According to the lawsuit, Lt Nazario was pepper sprayed and knocked to the ground by the officers. Bodycam footage shows the officers pointing their guns at the lieutenant. The suit alleges violations to his constitutional rights, and includes assault, illegal search and illegal detention.
4-12-21 More transgender people are hiding their identity at work in the U.K. Why?
A recent survey by a U.K. recruitment company indicates that over two-thirds of transgender people nationwide continue to conceal their identity at work, and the numbers are increasing. Ashleigh Talbot, a transgender woman, used to hide her identity when she worked at a customer support center in Manchester, England. Almost 80 percent of her colleagues were male, and the culture was very "laddish," she said. "All of the work parties were just, 'Let's go and get smashed on Stella [beer],' kind of thing," she said. "And I witnessed lots of homophobia toward another one of my colleagues. Talbot says she sensed that if she came out as a transgender woman in that environment, it wouldn't go down well. Instead, she handed in her notice and left the company. That was in 2012. Talbot, who now works as a transgender activist, says that wasn't the last time she felt discriminated against at work because of her gender identity. And, she's not alone. A recent survey by U.K. recruitment company Totaljobs indicates that over two-thirds of transgender people nationwide continue to conceal their identity at work — and the numbers are increasing. By contrast, five years ago, the figure was 50 percent. Some draw a connection to a larger political debate. The rights of the transgender community have been a regular topic in British media in the last few years after the government announced a planned review of the Gender Recognition Act in 2018. The law governs how transgender people can have their gender identity legally recognized. The transgender community argued that the current law is demeaning and invasive. But much of the debate around the bill descended into a row about the rights of transgender women to access women-only spaces. The issue is hardly exclusive to Britain but the groups advocating most vocally in favor of women-only spaces that exclude transgender women are different from those who do so in the U.S. for example, Talbot says. "It's exactly the same rhetoric. You know, 'Trans people are a threat, a danger to kids, etc.' But on one side of the Atlantic, you've got hardcore, evangelical Republican Christians saying exactly the same thing as the people on the other side of the pond who are calling themselves 'progressive feminists.'" Many of those progressive feminists hold influential positions in respected British newspapers, Talbot says. The Guardian newspaper, a center-left broadsheet, found itself embroiled in the issue after one of its columnists, Suzanne Moore, wrote an opinion piece advocating for single-sex spaces. Over the following days, 338 members of The Guardian's staff wrote a letter to the paper's editor about the newspaper's "pattern of publishing transphobic content," which they said cemented its "reputation as a publication hostile to trans rights and trans employees." Moore has since left the publication. Talbot says the frequency with which British newspapers have published articles about transgender rights is unsettling — and adds that the majority of opinion pieces are hostile to the community. "For a period, every single Sunday, there was something in one of the big newspapers that was just overtly transphobic or misleading. It's astonishingly often, given that the trans community is such a small percentage of the population." Reform of the Gender Recognition Act was eventually shelved by the British government last year but debates about women-only spaces have continued. Dr. Sophie Lewis, visiting scholar at the Alice Paul Center for Research on Gender, Sexuality and Women at the University of Pennsylvania, says the political climate of the last four years with Brexit in Britain and former President Donald Trump in the U.S. has made things even more challenging for transgender people. (Webmaster's comment: ALL HOMOPHOBES ARE SICK!)
4-12-21 Yuri Gagarin: Sixty years since the first man went into space
Sixty years ago, a man went into space for the very first time. For the USSR, Yuri Gagarin’s single orbit of the Earth was a huge achievement and propaganda coup. There will be celebrations across Russia to mark the anniversary. Our Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg reports on the day a new Russian hero was born, and meets the little girl who witnessed it. (Webmaster's comment: The USSR built the first space station, first space walks, first woman in space. So much for the great America!)
4-11-21 How health insurance is faring under COVID
Millions of Americans lost employer-sponsored coverage when COVID-19 disrupted their jobs. Can America come up with a better system? About 158 million Americans, including workers and their dependents, obtained health insurance through an employer in 2019. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, sending the nation's unemployment rate to a historic high of 14.8 percent in April 2020. The rate remains elevated — 6.0 percent as of March — compared with pre-pandemic levels. So what happened to health coverage for all these people? Millions lost their insurance when jobs went away, but exactly how many is still far from clear, with estimates ranging from a low of 3.1 million Americans losing employer-sponsored insurance during 2020, to as many of 27 million. This would be in addition to the more than 35 million people who had no insurance at all in late 2019. COVID-19's true effects on America's uninsured rate will not be known until the government's official insurance survey is completed later this year. There are reasons for the lack of clarity. Some who lost jobs early in the pandemic have returned to work, and some may have enrolled in Medicaid or purchased insurance through the health-care marketplaces. Other people lost jobs and job-related insurance benefits later on during the pandemic. And though coverage may be available for many, "they have to go out and find it when a lot of other things in their lives are pretty complicated," says economist Sherry Glied, dean of New York University's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. "This has been one of those moments that has exposed the complexity of our health insurance system and the demands we put on people to manage that." Glied, who examined how the Affordable Care Act increased disease screenings and other aspects of preventive care in a 2018 article she coauthored in the Annual Review of Public Health, spoke with Knowable Magazine about whether America's health insurance system is serving the country well during the pandemic. The health insurance system in the United States is very complicated, but the easiest part of it is that people 65 and over all get their health insurance through Medicare. Most people under 65 get insurance through employers, either through their own job or the job of a family member, because spouses and kids can be covered under an employed person's job. Another chunk of people who are low-income get health insurance through the Medicaid program, which is paid for in part by the federal government and in part by the states. Then there's a small group of people who buy insurance on their own as individuals. Today, most of them are getting their coverage through the Obamacare marketplaces that were set up through the Affordable Care Act. Then there is still a group of people who are uninsured. In 2019, about 10 percent were uninsured, according to the main survey from which we learn about health insurance. We won't know how that changed in 2020 until those survey results are published later this year. You can see from my description of the whole system that there is a lot of potential for people to fall between the cracks, and COVID has increased the number of people who are in those spaces. One reason that we have seen disproportionate COVID morbidity and mortality among low-income people is because of the high level of preexisting conditions — diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, and so forth — among that population. And that is partly because of a long history of people not having continuous health insurance and not having access to appropriate care. We have always known that, of course. And COVID didn't cause those preexisting conditions. But COVID has really brought to light the high level of those conditions that already existed.
4-11-21 Italian American groups fight to keep Columbus Day in Philadelphia
Italian American groups have filed a lawsuit in Philadelphia after the city's mayor replaced the Columbus Day holiday with Indigenous People's Day. Officially observed since 1937, it commemorates Christopher Columbus landing in the Americas in 1492. The federal suit alleges the switch is among several "continued, unrelenting, and intentionally discriminatory acts" against those of Italian descent. The city's mayor has dismissed the suit as a "political ploy". Columbus' complicated legacy has led to calls to cancel the holiday. On the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage, in 1992, the city of Berkeley, California declared the day an "Indigenous People's Day", to mark the European colonisation of North America and its impact on Native American people and their cultures. Fourteen US states and the District of Columbia, as well as over 130 cities, have since followed suit and now celebrate 12 October as a day to honour Native American heritage. The 36-page lawsuit filed on Tuesday in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania accuses Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney of acting "unilaterally" when he chose to rename the holiday this January. A lawyer for the plaintiffs told CBS News Philadelphia it was meant to be "a power check" on the mayor's office. In their complaint, the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organisations, the 1492 Society, and an Italian American member of the Philadelphia City Council state: "While both groups' ethnicity deserves recognition, Mayor Kenney may not take action that discriminates against Italian Americans to exalt another ethnic group in its place." The suit calls for voiding the name change, but it also makes several unexpected claims. One assertion, made without evidence, states there is rising persecution of Italian Americans "at levels not seen since the 1920s", a time when the US set quotas on the inflow of Italian immigrants. (Webmaster's comment: Columbus was a monster! He would crucify indians 13 at a time for not giving him enough gold! Visit http://www.siouxfallsfreethinkers.com/the-truth-about-columbus.html)
4-11-21 US army officer sues police over violent traffic stop
A black US army lieutenant has filed a lawsuit against two policemen who pointed their guns and pepper-sprayed him during a traffic stop. Army Second Lieutenant Caron Nazario is still in his uniform during the bodycam footage, taken in December in Virginia. "I'm honestly afraid to get out," he tells the two police officers. "Yeah you should be," an officer says. A police report says his car was stopped for failing to display tags but a temporary dealer plate is visible. During the incident, the soldier, who was handcuffed while his car was searched, asked why force was being used against him and was told by a police officer: "Because you're not co-operating." He was later released without charge. The suit, filed at the US District Court of Norfolk, Virginia, against the two Windsor Police Department officers, Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker, alleges violations to his constitutional rights, and includes assault, illegal search and illegal detention. There was no immediate response from the Windsor Police Department when approached by US broadcaster CBS. The lawsuit comes at a time of increased scrutiny over alleged police brutality towards minorities and racial justice. Ex-police officer Derek Chauvin is currently on trial for the murder of George Floyd. The footage of Mr Chauvin, who is white, with his knee on African-American Mr Floyd's neck during an arrest sparked global protests against racism. Lt Nazario, who is Black and Latino, was in uniform and driving with a temporary paper licence plate on his back window on 5 December, when he was told to pull over in the town of Windsor. He then stopped at a petrol station and kept his hands outside the window, while asking the policemen why he was being stopped. Attorney Jonathan Arthur, who is representing Lt Nazario in the lawsuit, said that the army officer knew it was vital he kept his hands on show. "To unbuckle his seatbelt, to do anything, any misstep - he was afraid that they were going to kill him," Mr Arthur told CBS.
4-11-21 US soldier faces guns and pepper spray in traffic stop
A black US army lieutenant has filed a lawsuit against two police officers who pointed their guns at him and pepper-sprayed his face during a traffic stop. Lt Caron Nazario was pulled over while wearing his uniform in December in Windsor, Virginia. A police report says his car was stopped for not displaying a licence plate, but a temporary one is visible.
4-11-21 Covid-19: India vaccination crosses 100 million doses
India says it has become the "fastest country in the world" to administer more than 100 million doses of coronavirus vaccines, amid a deadly second wave of infections. It achieved the feat in 85 days, whereas the US took 89 days and China 102 days, the health ministry said. But the country reported a record daily increase of over 150,000 cases - and more than 800 new deaths - on Sunday. And there are reports the vast vaccination drive itself is struggling. This week, half a dozen states reported a shortage of doses even as the federal government insisted that it had 40 million doses in stock and that the "allegations" of vaccine scarcity were "utterly baseless". The inoculation drive aims to cover 250 million people by July, but experts say the pace needs to pick up further to meet the target. Everyone aged over 45 is now eligible for jabs at vaccination centres and hospitals. Most doses have so far been given to frontline workers and the over-60s. Since the pandemic began, India has confirmed more than 12 million cases and over 167,000 deaths. It has the third-highest number of Covid-19 infections in the world after the United States and Brazil. The country's drugs regulator has given the green light to two vaccines - one developed by AstraZeneca with Oxford University (Covishield) and one by Indian firm Bharat Biotech (Covaxin). Several other candidates are at different stages of trials. India launched its vaccination drive on 16 January, but it was limited to healthcare workers and frontline staff - a sanitation worker became the first Indian to receive the vaccine. From 1 March, the eligibility criteria was expanded to include people over 60 and those aged between 45 and 59 with other illnesses. The third phase, which began on 1 April, includes everyone above the age of 45.
4-10-21 Derek Chauvin trial: Police restraint killed George Floyd, expert says
George Floyd died because of how police restrained him, a medical expert at the trial of ex-police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis has said. Forensic pathologist Dr Lindsey Thomas said "the activities of the law enforcement officers resulted in Mr Floyd's death" from lack of oxygen. Mr Chauvin, 45, was filmed kneeling on Mr Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes during his arrest last May. The ex-officer is on trial for murder and has denied the charges against him. The footage of Mr Chauvin, who is white, with his knee on African-American Mr Floyd's neck sparked global protests against racism. Prosecutors are trying to prove Mr Chauvin's use of force resulted in Mr Floyd's death, while Mr Chauvin's defence are seeking to show he was following his training and that drugs and heart disease may have caused Mr Floyd's death. On Friday, the prosecution also called medical examiner Dr Andrew Michael Baker, who performed the post-mortem examination of Mr Floyd. He said Mr Floyd's death was due to his interaction with law enforcement, but said his drug use and underlying heart disease also played a role. The official autopsy of George Floyd makes no mention of asphyxia, but Dr Thomas - a veteran forensic pathologist who has performed well over 5,000 autopsies in multiple US states - said she believed it was the primary manner by which he died. Dr Thomas reviewed Mr Floyd's autopsy, medical reports and other materials on behalf of the prosecution. She also trained Dr Andrew Baker, the chief medical examiner who issued Mr Floyd's official death certificate. "This is not a sudden cardiac death," she said. "It's a death where both the heart and lungs stopped working." She said Mr Floyd was unable to get oxygen into his lungs with three police officers on top of him because he was handcuffed, in a prone position and had a knee on his neck. "What that means is the activities of the law enforcement officers resulted in Mr Floyd's death." She said she could confidently rule out other possible causes of death, including a drug overdose, a fatal heart attack and lung disease.
4-9-21 How red states silence urban voters
It's not just vote suppression. Just as one of the major storylines of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 was President Donald Trump facing off against Democratic governors like Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newson, much of the current political wrangling over COVID is being framed as President Biden urging caution versus GOP governors, like Florida's Ron DeSantis and Texas's Greg Abbott, throwing their states open without masks. But below the surface, there's been a possibly more consequential fight over COVID that has not received nearly as much attention. It's not between the president and the states, but between red state governors and their blue cities, which almost universally promoted mask mandates and other mitigation measures — and by all evidence were the key element staunching the spread of the virus in those states. That red state-blue city conflict on COVID also reflects a more far-ranging battle, itself part of the ideological right turn in the Republican Party over the last decade, in which Republican-dominated states have attacked local government power, as cities even in red states become more liberal and non-white. The recent Georgia legislation giving the state the power to override local election boards is of a piece with wave after wave of state legislation that has preempted local minimum wage laws, overturned local gay rights bills, and nullified local paid sick days bills. What is most dangerous about recent governors' actions on COVID-19 is less the elimination of statewide mask mandates and more that governors like Arizona's Doug Ducey, who never implemented a state rule, shut down local mandates in March. "The horrible surge last June was only curbed by masking — when the governor finally allowed cities to do it," Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego tweeted in response. City leaders in Dallas, Houston, and Austin condemned the similar decision by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to overturn local mask mandates, with even fellow Republican Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Rice saying his action was "premature." But until last month, almost every major city and dense county in the nation had mask mandates in place, one reason comparing "red state" and "blue state" responses to the pandemic made little sense. In fact, Miami-Dade had perhaps the most aggressive mask enforcement in the nation, citing hundreds of businesses and individuals for non-compliance and collecting nearly $300,000 in fines — at least until Florida Gov. DeSantis ended local government's ability to collect fines in September 2020. It's reasonable to see these aggressive local actions as a key reason 80 to 90 percent of Americans were reporting wearing masks by fall 2020, even in red states, and that the spread of the virus was reduced. One Kansas study found that spread of the virus decreased in its counties with mask mandates, while increased significantly in those without one, while a study in Oklahoma showed similar differences in spread of the disease in cities with and without local mandates. In Oklahoma, where almost every major city had mask mandates, two-thirds of COVID-19 hospitalizations came from nonmasking jurisdictions. If this success on masking shows the importance of local government action, the shutdown of that local flexibility by red state governors last month reflects the broader trend of expanding state preemption of local power in large swathes of public policy.
4-9-21 Covid-19 news: EU drugs regulator reviewing Johnson & Johnson vaccine
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. The EU’s medicines regulator is reviewing a small number of reports of rare blood clots in people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The European Union’s medicines regulator is reviewing four reported cases of rare blood clots associated with low levels of platelets – small particles in the blood that normally help in clotting – including one case which was fatal, in people who received the Johnson & Johnson covid-19 vaccine. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is also reviewing five reported cases of a bleeding condition, called capillary leak syndrome, in people who received the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine. “At this stage, it is not yet clear whether there is a causal association” between the vaccines and the reported conditions, the EMA said. Both the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are based on viral vector technologies, which use inactivated cold viruses to deliver genes encoding the coronavirus spike protein into the body to stimulate an immune response. World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said there is a “shocking imbalance” in the distribution of covid-19 vaccines worldwide. During a briefing on 9 April, he said most countries don’t have anywhere near enough vaccine doses to cover the most at-risk groups. “On average in high-income countries, almost one in four people has received a covid-19 vaccine. In low-income countries, it’s one in more than 500,” he said. An estimated one in 340 people in England had covid-19 in the week up to 3 April, up slightly from one in 370 the previous week, according to the latest results of a random swab testing survey by the Office for National Statistics. An error in vaccine production is expected to result in an 85 per cent reduction in deliveries of Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses to US states in the week beginning 12 April, compared to the previous week.
4-9-21 US gun violence: Biden takes action on 'international embarrassment'
US President Joe Biden has issued an order targeting homemade guns, known as "ghost guns" because they are unregistered and untraceable. "Gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it's an international embarrassment," he said on Thursday. The president is enacting new measures through an executive order, meaning he does not need approval from Congress. It includes efforts to set rules for certain guns, bolster background checks and support local violence prevention. However, the president will have an uphill task. The right to bear arms is protected by the Second Amendment to the US Constitution and many people see gun control laws as infringing on this constitutional right. Hours after the president's address, a gunman killed one person and injured five others at a cabinet-making shop in Bryan, Texas. A state trooper was also shot and injured while taking the suspect into custody. On Wednesday, five people, including two young children, killed in South Carolina. The suspect has been named as former NFL player Phillip Adams. This followed two mass shootings in March, which left a total of 18 people dead - one in Boulder, Colorado and the other in Atlanta, Georgia. Speaking in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday, Mr Biden said 106 people are killed every day by guns in the country. "This is an epidemic for God's sake. And it has to stop," he continued. He also offered condolences to the family killed in South Carolina. Mr Biden's executive order gives the Justice Department 30 days to propose a rule that will help reduce the number of so-called "ghost guns". These guns are self-assembled, which means they do not contain a serial number and cannot be traced. Background checks are also not required to purchase the assembly kits. "Anyone from a criminal to a terrorist can buy this kit and, in as little as 30 minutes, put together a weapon," Mr Biden said. Experts say that these homemade guns are increasingly being used in crimes. Over 40% of guns being seized in Los Angeles are ghost guns, according to federal firearms officials.
4-9-21 America's gun culture in charts
US president Joe Biden's announcement on gun control throws the spotlight once again on Americans' attitudes to firearms. Here is a selection of charts and maps on where America stands on the right to bear arms. How does the US compare with other countries? There were 14,400 gun-related homicides in 2019. Killings involving a gun accounted for nearly three quarters of all homicides in the US in that year. That's a larger proportion of homicides than in Canada, Australia, England and Wales, and many other countries. (Webmaster's comment: 73% of homicides in the United States are done using guns. 1.8 times any other country!) Who owns the world's guns? While it is difficult to know exactly how many guns civilians own around the world, by every estimate the US, with more than 390 million, is far out in front. The latest figures from the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based leading research project, are for 2018. (Webmaster's comment: United States has 2.2 times the number of guns per person than any other country!) Switzerland and Finland are two of the European countries with the most guns per person - they both have compulsory military service for all men over the age of 18. The Finnish interior ministry says about 60% of gun permits are granted for hunting - a popular pastime in Finland. Cyprus and Yemen also have military service. How do US gun deaths break down? Figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show there were a total of more than 38,300 deaths from guns in 2019 - of which more than 23,900 were suicides. A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found there was a strong relationship between higher levels of gun ownership in a state and higher firearm suicide rates for both men and women. The number of mass shootings fell last year during the pandemic. According to investigative magazine Mother Jones, which has been tracking such incidents since 1982, there were only two in the whole of 2020. Mother Jones defines a mass shooting as three or more people shot dead. It does not include violent crimes like robberies or gang-related violence in its statistics. Other figures from the Gun Violence Archive suggest mass shooting may have risen last year. It uses a broader definition of shootings including those where victims are shot and injured, as well as robberies.
4-9-21 Covid infections in Canada edge closer to US rate
The rate of Covid infections in Canada is edging close to - and may overtake - US levels for the first time. It comes as Canada struggles to contain new Covid-19 variants and to ramp up its distribution of vaccines. Many provinces are bringing in new virus mitigation restrictions as hospital admissions increase. As of Tuesday, the US had fully vaccinated 19.6% of its population, compared with 8.5% in the UK and 2% in Canada. "Around the world, countries are facing a very serious third wave of this pandemic," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned during a news conference on Tuesday. "And right now, so is Canada." Canada has recorded more than one million positive cases and 23,000 deaths from Covid-19, according to Johns Hopkins University. Its neighbour to the south, the US, has recorded nearly 31 million cases and over 559,000 deaths from Covid. Johns Hopkins University data shows that Canada's Covid rate relative to population has risen to 180 cases per one million people as of Tuesday. This means there are around 180 new virus cases, per million residents, each day. The US is now seeing about 196 Covid cases per one million people, significantly lower than the more than 700 cases per million it was recording in January. "We've been somewhat blind to our overall performance internationally because we're sitting right next door to the United States and the disaster that clearly was their experience during this pandemic," Ontario Hospital Association president Anthony Dale told the National Post. "They have clearly experienced much worse outcomes overall than Canada, make no mistake. However, it's the future I'm worried about, and we're trending in a worrisome direction in comparison to them when it comes to community spread." Over 16,000 cases of Covid variants have been recorded across Canada, health officials said on Thursday.
4-9-21 Covid-19: Why have deaths soared in Brazil?
Brazil has recorded more than 330,000 deaths from Covid, second only to the United States, and experts are warning the current surge in cases may not peak for several weeks. The rapid spread of a coronavirus variant first discovered in Brazil has been a major cause for concern around the world. President Jair Bolsonaro has consistently played down the severity of the virus, but he is now turning his focus to the nationwide vaccination drive which his critics say has come far too late. The president has been highly sceptical about the need to take decisive action to tackle the pandemic. He continues to oppose lockdowns, but his government has now stepped up its drive to vaccinate the country's population of more than 200 million people. Brazil has by far the highest overall death toll in Latin America. In recent weeks, it has accounted for around one in four of reported Covid deaths worldwide. It remains behind Peru and Mexico as a proportion of overall population, but daily deaths are rising rapidly in Brazil. Twice the number of people died in March than in any other month of the pandemic, and the upward trend has continued, as a more transmissible variant drives infections. A recent estimate from the University of Washington predicted that Brazil could see a total of more than 500,000 deaths by July. Regional leaders say mixed messaging and a resistance to lockdowns at the national level have made local restrictions harder to enforce. Hospital intensive care beds in many states across the country are full or close to capacity. Dr Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian professor of neuroscience at Duke University, told the BBC: "The country is in a nationwide hospital collapse right now - it's the first time in history the public health system has collapsed. "If we can acquire the vaccine in large quantities, we could at least mitigate the situation."
4-9-21 Covid: Australia faces vaccine delays after changing AstraZeneca advice
Australia's vaccine rollout is to be further delayed after local regulators advised limiting use of the AstraZeneca shot - the country's main vaccine. On Thursday, the government said it now recommended that people aged under 50 get the Pfizer jab over AstraZeneca's. It follows restrictions in other nations, after Europe's drug regulator found a rare blood clot risk linked to the vaccine. The move is likely to delay a goal to vaccinate all Australians this year. The country is already running about 85% behind schedule - it has inoculated about one million of its almost 26 million people so far. But Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia could afford the delay because it had almost no community transmission of Covid-19. On Friday, he announced that Australia had doubled its Pfizer contract to 40 million doses. But Australia so far has only received about one million Pfizer shots - with the rest to arrive "by the end of the year", the government has said. Australia also has a contract for 51 million Novovax vaccines, but it is yet to be approved by regulators. Mr Morrison strongly urged people aged over 50 to continue with their vaccine, saying any risk was very rare. "If an outbreak were to happen again... you would be putting yourself at risk if you didn't get the vaccine, because you would be exposing yourself to the more likely event of a Covid-contracted condition that could result in serious illness," he said. Critics of Australia's rollout have condemned the government for "putting all their eggs in one basket" with AstraZeneca. The setback upends timelines for potential border reopenings, overseas travel and economic recovery. Early studies have suggested that blood clotting may occur in approximately four to six out every one million people, said Australian regulators. They changed their advice for under-50s, after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on Wednesday said it found rare cases of blood clots among some adult vaccine recipients. The EMA said the benefits outweighed the risks.
4-8-21 Covid-19 news: Italy, Spain, Belgium limit use of AstraZeneca vaccine
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. Several European countries have now restricted use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in younger people. Italy, Spain and Belgium have followed other European countries, including Germany and France, in restricting use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in younger age groups. A review by the European Union’s medicines regulator concluded on 7 April that unusual blood clotting events should be listed as “very rare side effects” of the vaccine. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it was up to individual member states to decide who to vaccinate, but that there was no available evidence so far of specific risk factors such as age or gender. In response, Belgium announced it would restrict the vaccine to people over the age of 55 for a month, while Italy’s health minister, Roberto Speranza, said the vaccine would only be offered to people older than 60. Spain’s health minister, Carolina Darias, also said the vaccine would be temporarily limited to people older than 60 in Spain. The number of weekly deaths from covid-19 across England and Wales has fallen by about 90 per cent from the peak of the UK’s second wave, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics. There were 719 deaths involving covid-19 in the week up to 26 March, down from 8422 in the week up to 22 January. Some states in India, including Maharashtra and Odisha, are reporting shortages of covid-19 vaccines just as the country is in the midst of a second wave of infections, Reuters has reported. On 7 April, India reported a record 115,736 new COVID-19 cases.
4-8-21 US gun violence: Joe Biden to target 'ghost guns'
US President Joe Biden is to target homemade "ghost guns" as part of a new set of measures to tackle gun violence, a White House official has said. Ghost guns have no serial numbers, making them difficult to trace. They can be bought by minors and people who would not pass background checks. Mr Biden will enact the measures through an executive order, meaning he will not need approval from Congress. The move comes after high-profile mass shootings last month. A total of 18 people died in two mass shootings, one in Boulder, Colorado and the other in Atlanta Georgia. The executive order will include measures on the use of stabilising braces and community violence prevention. However, the president will have an uphill task. The right to bear arms is protected by the Second Amendment to the US Constitution and many people see gun control laws as infringing on their constitutional right. Later on Thursday, Mr Biden will say that he has given the Justice Department 30 days to propose a rule that will help reduce the number of "ghost guns". These guns are self-assembled, which means they do not contain a serial number and cannot be traced. Mr Biden will also give the Justice Department 60 days to come up with a rule on stabilising braces for pistols. Under the rule, the braces, which can be used to turn a pistol into a short-barrelled rifle, would be subject to regulation under the National Firearms Act. The Justice Department will also be asked to draft a "red flag law" which states can then use to create their own legislation. These laws authorise the courts and law enforcement to remove guns from people thought to be a risk to the community. An official told Reuters news agency that this was just the first step in tackling gun violence and that Mr Biden would continue to advocate for gun legislation. "The president will not wait for Congress to act before the administration takes our own steps, fully within the administration's authority and the Second Amendment, to save lives," the official said. Getting further steps through Congress would be difficult. The US Senate is currently split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Democratic Vice-President Kamala Harris holding the deciding vote. However, because of Senate rules, in practice 60 votes are needed to pass legislation, so some Republican support is required. Republicans have blocked significant gun control laws in the past. (Webmaster's comment: The Republicans support killing and murder!)
4-8-21 George Floyd: Expert witness criticises use of force during arrest
An expert witness has testified that "excessive" force was used by ex-officer Derek Chauvin during the arrest of unarmed black man George Floyd. Sgt Jody Stiger, a use of force expert for the Los Angeles Police Department, said that "deadly force" was used after Mr Floyd was placed in handcuffs. Mr Chauvin, 45, was filmed kneeling on Mr Floyd for over nine minutes during Mr Floyd's arrest last May. He is on trial for murder and has denied the charges against him. The footage of Mr Chauvin, who is white, with his knee on Mr Floyd's neck sparked global protests against racism. The trial is in its second week and is expected to last for at least one month. The defence is due to begin arguing its case next week. Prosecutors continued to argue that Mr Chauvin had used undue force, while the defence team sought to draw attention to Mr Floyd's alleged drug use, claiming he could be heard saying "I ate a lot of drugs" in bodycam video. As police officers are rarely convicted or charged at all for deaths that occur in custody, the verdict in this trial is being seen as an indication of how the US legal system will treat such cases in future. Sgt Stiger, who reviews use of force investigations for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) testified for the prosecution over two days. On Tuesday, he was one of four police officers who condemned Mr Chauvin's handling of the arrest, which was sparked by Mr Floyd's alleged use of a counterfeit $20 bill. On Wednesday, he argued that "deadly force" was used by the officers who pinned Mr Floyd to the ground. He added that "no force" was necessary after Mr Floyd had been placed in handcuffs and that continuing to press down on Mr Floyd could have caused "positional asphyxia, which could cause death". "He was in the prone position. He was handcuffed. He was not attempting to resist," Sgt Stiger said. "He was not attempting to assault the officers, kick, punch or anything of that nature." Being handcuffed with hands behind the back makes it difficult for a suspect to breathe, he said. "When you add body weight to that, it just increases the possibility of death," he continued.
4-8-21 Beijing now has more billionaires than any city
Beijing is now home to more billionaires than any other city in the world, according to the latest Forbes' annual rich list. The Chinese capital added 33 billionaires last year and now hosts 100, said the business magazine. This narrowly beats New York City, which hosts 99 and has held the top ranking for the last seven years. China's quick containment of Covid-19, the rise of its technology firms and stock markets helped it gain top spot. Although Beijing now has more billionaires than the Big Apple, the combined net worth of New York City's billionaires remained US$80bn (£58bn) greater than that of their counterparts in Beijing. Beijing's richest resident was Zhang Yiming, the founder of video-sharing app TikTok and chief executive of its parent firm ByteDance. He saw his net worth double to $35.6bn. In contrast, New York City's richest resident, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had a fortune worth $59bn. China, along with the US, has seen its technology giants become even bigger during the pandemic as more people shopped online and looked for sources of entertainment. This saw the massive creation of personal wealth for the founders and shareholders of these tech titans. China, whose figure included Hong Kong and Macao in the Forbes count, added more billionaires to the list than any other country globally, with 210 newcomers. Half of China's new billionaires made their fortunes from manufacturing or technology ventures, including female billionaire Kate Wang, who made her money from e-cigarettes. With 698 billionaires, China is closing in on the US, which still leads with 724 billionaires. A record 493 newcomers joined the list globally last year, roughly one new billionaire every 17 hours, according to Forbes. India had the third-highest number of billionaires, with 140. In total, the 1,149 billionaires from Asia Pacific were worth $4.7tn, compared with the US billionaires' $4.4 tn. Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon, remains the world's richest person for the fourth consecutive year. His net worth grew by $64bn to $177bn last year.
4-8-21 Czech vaccines: European rights court backs mandatory pre-school jabs
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has backed the Czech Republic in its requirement for mandatory pre-school vaccinations. The case was brought by families who were fined or whose children were refused entry to pre-schools because they had not been vaccinated. In a landmark ruling, the court found that while the Czech policy interfered with the right to a private life, there was a need to protect public health. All the cases pre-date the pandemic. However, the issue of routine childhood vaccinations has come under increasing scrutiny due to the spread of Covid-19. This is the first ruling from the ECHR on compulsory vaccination against childhood diseases. The judges backed the Czech legislation by 16 to 1. "The... measures could be regarded as being 'necessary in a democratic society'" the court said, adding: "The objective has to be that every child is protected against serious diseases, through vaccination or by virtue of herd immunity." Under the Czech rules, parents are legally obliged to vaccinate their children against a number of childhood diseases unless this is not possible for health reasons. However, the jabs cannot be forcibly given and unvaccinated children cannot be excluded on this basis once they reach primary school age. In one of the five cases involving pre-school exclusions, a family refused to allow their daughter to received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jab. The child joined the school in 2006 but her place was withdrawn two years later when the family doctor informed the headteacher that the child had not received the vaccination. A Czech court later backed the school's decision on the grounds that allowing the child to continue to go to the pre-school could endanger others. Other parents had been refused pre-school places, while one father was fined for failing to fully vaccinate his children. The Czech Republic is not the only EU country with mandatory childhood vaccinations. (Webmaster's comment: Children should not have to pay for the stupidity of their parents!)
4-7-21 Covid-19 news: UK to offer under-30s alternative to AstraZeneca jab
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 committee advises under-30s be offered alternative to AstraZeneca jab, while EU review finds no evidence age or gender are risk factors for side effects. The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that people under the age of 30 with no underlying health conditions should be offered an alternative covid-19 vaccine instead of the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot where possible, due to evidence linking the vaccine to rare blood clots. A review by the UK’s medicines regulator found that by the end of March, 79 people in the UK had experienced rare blood clots following vaccination with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – 19 of whom had died. The UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said this was not definitive evidence that the vaccine caused the clots but said the link was becoming firmer. However, both the MHRA in the UK and the EU’s medicines regulator, which has also been reviewing reports of rare blood clots, emphasised that the benefits of the vaccine in preventing covid-19 continue to outweigh the risk of side effects. “The balance of benefits and risks is still very favourable for the majority of people,” said June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA, at a press conference on 7 April. Several European countries, including Germany, France and the Netherlands, had already suspended use of the vaccine in younger people over the rare blood clot concerns. The EMA said it was up to individual member states to decide who to vaccinate, but said there was currently no available evidence of specific risk factors such as age, gender or previous medical history of clotting disorders. Brazil reported more than 4000 daily deaths on 7 April, a new record for the country. Hospitals remain under severe strain. According to Brazilian health institute Fiocruz, Brazil is facing the biggest health system collapse in its history. The UK’s rollout of the Moderna covid-19 vaccine began in Wales on 7 April. The Moderna shot is the third vaccine given authorisation for use in the UK.
4-7-21 Georgia voting: Fact-checking claims about the new election law
A controversial new election law in the US state of Georgia has led to heated disagreement between Democrats and Republicans over its impact on voting. Georgia voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 election, the first time the state had chosen a Democratic presidential candidate in more than 25 years. Democrats say the new law aims to restrict voting in future elections, but Republicans who control the state's government say it expands access and increases election security. We've looked at some of the main claims. President Biden has said: "What I'm worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is. It's sick. Deciding that you're going to end voting at five o'clock when working people are just getting off work." But it's not the case that voting has to finish at 5pm. The law allows counties to set voting hours anywhere between 7am and 7pm, as was the case previously. The new law does lay out the hours that are required as a minimum on election day, saying "voting shall be conducted beginning at 9:00 A.M. and ending at 5:00 P.M.", as opposed to "during normal business hours" stated in the old law. But "normal business hours" were widely interpreted as 9am to 5pm anyway, so the practical impact of this change is negligible. Drop boxes allow voters to submit their ballots early into locked containers, rather than relying on sending them in via post or standing in long lines on election day. Democrats say the new law reduces the number of these boxes, making it harder to vote. There will be fewer in forthcoming elections, but this needs to be put in context. Prior to the 2020 election, drop boxes weren't used in Georgia. They were brought in as part of emergency Covid action. The new law does significantly reduce the number of drop boxes from the 2020 level. For example, Fulton County says it will go down from 38 to eight drop boxes.
4-7-21 Transgender youth treatment banned by Arkansas
Arkansas has become the first US state to outlaw gender confirming treatments and surgery for transgender people under the age of 18. The bill also in effect bans doctors from providing puberty blockers, or from referring them to other providers for the treatment. The Republican state governor had vetoed the bill, calling it a "vast government overreach". But the state's Republican-controlled House and Senate overruled him. The bill has faced much opposition from groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, which said the law would block trans youth from important medical care and increase their already high risk of suicide. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said it was preparing litigation, stating that the bill "will drive families, doctors and businesses out of the state and send a terrible and heart-breaking message to the transgender young people who are watching in fear". "This is a sad day for Arkansas, but this fight is not over - and we're in it for the long haul," Holly Dickson, executive director of ACLU in Arkansas, said in a statement. Governor Asa Hutchinson had called the bill "a product of the cultural war in America". He argued it created "new standards of legislative interference with physicians and parents as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters involving young people". The override of Governor Hutchinson's veto needed only a simple majority, but passed easily in both chambers, with the House voting 72-25 in favour and the Senate 25-8. At least 16 other states are considering similar legislation. Supporters of the bill, who are almost all Republican, say they want to protect children from life-changing procedures they will later regret. They also point to side-effects of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, and cite occasional cases where transgender people reverse their decision to transition. But experts say each step is undertaken with the consultation of doctors, therapists and social workers, often over extended periods of time.
4-7-21 NYC doormen fired for not intervening in attack
Two doormen have been fired after they allegedly failed to intervene as an Asian-American woman was being attacked in New York. The 65-year-old woman was admitted to hospital after she was punched and kicked repeatedly last month. CCTV video from the attack appeared to show staff at the Manhattan building watching without intervening. The Brodsky Organization, owners of the building, said the men assisted the woman after the attacker left. The incident comes amid a rise in anti-Asian crimes in the wake of the pandemic, including a deadly attack in Atlanta in which three women of Asian descent were among the eight dead. The suspect in the New York assault, Brandon Elliot, has been charged with two counts of assault as a hate crime and one count of attempted assault as a hate crime. Footage shared by police appears to show a man approaching a woman in the street and kicking her to the ground. While she is lying on the floor outside a building entrance, he kicks her again in the stomach and the face. Staff at the building appear to watch the attack and a doorman is seen closing the door. The doormen were suspended after the attack, pending an investigation. A statement from the building's owners to CNN said that after the suspect fled the scene, the doormen assisted the woman and flagged down a police vehicle. However, it added that "required emergency and safety protocols were not followed". "We are extremely distraught and shocked by this incident, and our hearts go out to the victim," they added. The union that represents the staff members told the New York Times in a statement that the employees did assist the woman. In a longer video obtained by the New York Times, a delivery person appeared to be the sole witness when the attack happened and the doormen come out later, move towards the door and then close it. A minute later they are seen walking outside.
4-7-21 George Floyd death: Chauvin 'trained to stay away from neck'
A police trainer has testified that ex-officer Derek Chauvin was not trained to use his knee in a neck restraint as he did during George Floyd's arrest. Minneapolis use-of-force expert Lt Johnny Mercil said Mr Chauvin should also have later moved the prone Mr Floyd to a different position. Mr Chauvin, 45, was filmed kneeling on Mr Floyd for over nine minutes during Mr Floyd's arrest last May. Mr Chauvin is on trial for murder and has denied the charges against him. The footage of Mr Chauvin, who is white, with his knee on African-American Mr Floyd's neck sparked global protests against racism. With the trial in its second week, jurors have now heard from more than 20 witnesses, including four police training experts on Tuesday. The trial is expected to last for at least one month. As police officers are rarely convicted or charged at all for deaths that occur in custody, the verdict in this trial is being seen as an indication of how the US legal system will treat such cases in future. Prosecutors are seeking to prove that Mr Chauvin's actions violated his training and have focused their questions on police guidelines and strategies taught to help officers de-escalate situations. Mr Chauvin's defence attorneys have argued that Mr Floyd's efforts to resist arrest necessitated the restraint, and that the "hostile" crowd surrounding Mr Chauvin required "unique situational awareness". No witnesses at the scene were arrested, and several of them have testified that they urged officers to check Mr Floyd's pulse and provide him with medical care. Speaking at a group prayer session outside the heavily fortified courthouse on Tuesday, Mr Floyd's brother Philonise Floyd, said "after we get the verdict and we get this conviction, we'll be able to breathe". Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) training coordinator Mr Mercil told the court that officers are taught to use force in proportion to a suspect's level of resistance and it was "very important to be careful with the person". "We tell officers to stay away from the neck when possible," he said, adding that officers are told to place body weight on a suspect's shoulders when reasonable. Mr Mercil testified that based on the training that officers receive, Mr Chauvin should only have used that manner of neck restraint if there was "active aggression" involved. He said that Mr Floyd had no ability to resist or show aggression once he was face down on the ground.
4-7-21 Covid: Brazil has more than 4,000 deaths in 24 hours for first time
Brazil has recorded more than 4,000 Covid-related deaths in 24 hours for the first time, as a more contagious variant fuels a surge in cases. Hospitals are overcrowded, with people dying as they wait for treatment in some cities, and the health system is on the brink of collapse in many areas. The country's total death toll is now almost 337,000, second only to the US. But Presi He argues that the damage to the economy would be worse than the effects of the virus itself, and has tried to reverse some of the restrictions imposed by local authorities in the courts. Speaking to supporters outside the presidential residence on Tuesday, he criticised quarantine measures and suggested without evidence that they were linked to obesity and depression. He did not comment on the 4,195 deaths recorded in the previous 24 hours. To date, Brazil has recorded more than 13 million cases of coronavirus, according to the health ministry. Some 66,570 people died with Covid-19 in March, more than double the previous monthly record. "Brazil now... is a threat to the entire effort of the international community to control the pandemic," Dr Miguel Nicolelis, who has been closely tracking cases in the country, told the BBC. "If Brazil is not under control, then the planet is not going to be safe, because we are brewing new variants every week... and they are going to cross borders," he said. In most states, patients with Covid-19 are occupying more than 90% of intensive care unit beds, according to the health institute Fiocruz (in Portuguese). Several states have reported short supplies of oxygen and sedatives. But despite the critical situation, some cities and states are already easing measures limiting the movement of people. "The fact is the anti-lockdown narrative of President Jair Bolsonaro has won," Miguel Lago, executive director of Brazil's Institute for Health Policy Studies, which advises public health officials, told the Associated Press.
4-7-21 Covid: US rules out federal vaccine passports
The White House has ruled out introducing mandatory federal Covid-19 vaccination passports, saying citizens' privacy and rights should be protected. Schemes to introduce such passports have been touted around the world as a way to enable safe circulation of people while fighting the pandemic. But critics say such documents could be discriminatory. The US said it did not and would not support a "system that requires Americans to carry a credential". The country has reported more than 550,000 deaths linked to the virus and nearly 31 million cases, the highest numbers in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University. Addressing reporters, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said there would be no "federal vaccinations database" or a "federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential". "The government is not now, nor will be, supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential," she said. "Our interest is very simple from the federal government, which is Americans' privacy and rights should be protected, and so that these systems are not used against people unfairly." Countries around the world are looking at the introduction of so-called vaccine passports, which would be used to show that a person has been inoculated against Covid-19, as a way of safely reopening mass gatherings and travel. In England, a "Covid status certification" scheme is being developed to enable concerts and sports matches to take place. It would record whether people had been vaccinated, recently tested negative, or had already had and recovered from Covid-19. The European Union is also working on plans to introduce certificates, while in Israel a "Green Pass" is already available to anyone who has been fully vaccinated or has recovered from Covid-19, which they have to show to access facilities such as hotels, gyms or theatres.
4-6-21 Covid-19 vaccine passports tested in UK as lockdown restrictions ease
Vaccine passports for covid-19 are likely to become a “feature of our lives”, according to a UK government review of the scheme, despite mounting political opposition to making proof of vaccination a condition of entry to workplaces, shops and venues. Trials of vaccine passports, also known as certificates, will start shortly at specific events in England, including the FA cup final, and run until mid-May, the UK government announced on 5 April. The idea is that they could play an important but temporary role in the UK and internationally. The review was published as the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, confirmed the next phase of easing restrictions will go ahead in England as planned on 12 April. The UK government said certification should “never be required” in settings including public transport and essential shops, a stance in line with the German government. Discussions on vaccine passports are being held across all four UK nations. However, more than 70 MPs from across the political spectrum have launched a campaign to oppose vaccine certificates, which they say would be “divisive and discriminatory”. The Labour party has indicated it is minded to oppose the measures if they are put to a parliamentary vote. The UK government believes certificates are likely to be used until the end of the pandemic, whether it oversees them or not, because UK businesses could choose to implement them, and other countries have already begun requiring them at borders. “I think some sort of certification is becoming almost inevitable for travel,” says Melinda Mills at the University of Oxford, co-author of a recent Royal Society report on vaccine passports. Israel, which has some of the world’s highest vaccination rates, has already introduced them, while the EU is planning a scheme in time for its summer holiday season. The aviation sector has backed certificates to kick-start international travel.
4-6-21 Covid-19 news: EMA says no verdict yet on AstraZeneca jab review
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. The EU’s drugs regulator has been investigating reports of rare blood clots in a small number of people who received the vaccine. The European Union’s medicines regulator has denied that it has established an association between the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine and rare blood clots, after an official from the agency claimed it had. Marco Cavaleri, chair of the vaccine evaluation team at the European Medicines Agency (EMA), told Italian newspaper Il Messaggero that there is a “clear” link between the vaccine and an extremely rare blood clot in the brain, but did not provide any evidence to support his claim. In a statement on 6 April, the EMA said it had “not yet reached a conclusion and the review is currently ongoing”, adding that it expected to announce findings from the review on 7 or 8 April. It’s safety committee is investigating 44 reports of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, an extremely rare blood clot in the brain, out of 9.2 million people in the European Economic Area who received the vaccine. Both the EMA and the World Health Organization have consistently emphasised that the benefits of the vaccine in preventing covid-19 outweigh its risks. Coronavirus figures released by health authorities in several countries in South America indicate cases and deaths are continuing to surge across the continent. Brazil reported more than 28,000 new coronavirus cases in a single day on 5 April, as both Uruguay and Paraguay reported record increases in daily covid-19 deaths on the same day. Officials have linked the current surge to the P.1 coronavirus variant, originally from Brazil, which appears to be more transmissible than the original virus and may have mutations that enable it to evade antibodies from previous infection or from vaccination. On 25 March, Peru’s health minister said that 40 per cent of cases in the capital, Lima, were caused by P.1 and on 5 April he said cases had been detected “almost everywhere in Peru”, the BBC reported. Chile recorded 6196 daily new coronavirus cases on 25 March compared to 4770 daily cases two weeks earlier on 11 March, despite the fact that it had already rolled out 50.46 doses of vaccine per 100 people. Cases of the variant have also been detected in Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina. UK vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has emphasised that no decision has been made regarding the use of vaccine passports or certificates in the UK. But he said it would be “remiss” of the government not to consider covid-19 certification as a way of fully reopening the economy. “It’s only right that we look at all these options that are available to us to take our lives back,” Zahawi told the BBC’s Breakfast show. Boris Johnson said the government was looking at the possibility of vaccination passports for overseas travel. “I think that is going to be a fact of life probably,” he told reporters. Residents of Australia and New Zealand will be able to travel between the two countries without being required to quarantine starting from 19 April, New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced.
4-6-21 Janet Yellen's proposal to revolutionize corporate taxation
How to make big multinationals pay their fair share in every country. President Biden is proposing a substantial increase in the rate of corporate taxation as part of his infrastructure plan, bumping the headline rate up from 21 percent to 28 percent. This is actually below where it was before 2017, when the headline rate was 35 percent, but given the number of loopholes in the tax code, very few corporations actually paid full whack back then. If Biden's idea is passed, the effective rate of U.S. corporate tax will depend on what happens with those loopholes in Congress, which is not yet clear.More importantly, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is leading an effort to implement a global minimum corporate tax. This would be one of the most revolutionary economic agreements in history — blowing up the model of tax havens around the world, and drastically shifting the balance of power between corporations and national governments (especially small ones). The last several decades have seen a race to the bottom in corporate tax rates around the world, as economists Emanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman describe in their book Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay. America, for example, used to have very steep taxes on the rich — a 53 percent tax on corporate profits, a 75 percent tax on the biggest inherited estates, and a 94 percent top marginal income tax rate. Figures from economist Thomas Piketty show similar rates in France, Germany, and Britain in the period after the Second World War. But these have been gradually whittled away over the years through a combination of legal innovation from tax lawyers and accountants, and learned helplessness on the part of governments — especially after the neoliberal turn in the 1980s, when taxes came to be viewed an economic drag if not legalized theft. In 1980 the average corporate tax rate in Europe was about 45 percent; in 2020 it was about 20 percent. "Looking at most of the great retreats of progressive taxation, we find the same pattern: first, an outburst of tax dodging; then, governments lamenting that taxing the rich has become impossible and slashing their rates," they write. Thanks to all the succeeding rounds of tax cuts, today ultra-billionaires pay less in tax than any other group in the U.S. According to data compiled by Saez and Zucman, people on the Forbes 400 list of the richest people in the country pay just 23 percent of their income in tax, as compared to about 40 percent for the upper-middle class or 28 percent for the very poorest. It is of course wildly outrageous for the most well-off people to be contributing so little to support the country that makes their wealth possible, and the gigantic concentration of money in so few hands is manifestly corrupting politics around the world. Low corporate taxes are a big reason for this — as you can see with their handy tool, increasing the effective corporate rate to 40 percent would bump up the Forbes 400 tax rate by about 7 percentage points. But perhaps more insidious still is the politics of tax havens created by all these cuts. One of the key legal strategies that corporations use to avoid tax is by stashing their money overseas. Google, for instance, books much of its profit in Ireland, where the headline corporate tax rate is 12.5 percent (and in practice lower than that) and Bermuda, where the corporate tax is zero. As Saez and Zucman explain, companies do this basically through trickery. By selling assets that have no market price (above all intellectual property) to foreign subsidiaries for cheap, they can then book profits relating to those assets there and pay little in tax. In an economic sense, this is tantamount to fraud. There is not anything like the level of business activity that would justify all those profits being "made" in Ireland or Bermuda. They are overwhelmingly profits made elsewhere that are sheltered from tax authorities through accounting gimmicks.
4-6-21 George Floyd: Derek Chauvin violated policy, Minneapolis police chief says
The police chief of Minneapolis has testified that ex-officer Derek Chauvin violated the agency's policy on force during the arrest of George Floyd. Chief Medaria Arradondo said the way Mr Chauvin restrained Mr Floyd was not in line with training and "certainly not part of our ethics and our values". The chief fired Mr Chauvin and the three other officers involved days after Mr Floyd's death last May. Mr Chauvin, who is on trial for murder, has denied the charges against him. Footage of Mr Chauvin, who is white, kneeling on African-American Mr Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes last year sparked global protests against racism. Monday marks the sixth day in Mr Chauvin's trial, which is expected to last for at least one month. As police officers are rarely convicted or charged at all for deaths that occur in custody, the verdict in this trial is being seen as an indication of how the US legal system will treat such cases in future. Prosecutors, who are seeking to prove that Mr Chauvin's actions violated his training, focused their questions on departmental guidelines and strategies taught to help officers de-escalate situations. Mr Arradondo told the court Mr Floyd should not have been restrained in the manner used by the officers after he stopped resisting, "and certainly [not] once he was in distress". He said the type of restraint Mr Chauvin, 45, was using came "once there was no longer any resistance and clearly after Mr Floyd was no longer responsive - and even motionless". "That is, in no way, shape or form, by policy, is not part of our training, and is certainly not part of our ethics and our values." Mr Arradondo also noted it would be rare for officers to take into custody a suspect accused of passing a counterfeit bill, as Mr Floyd was. The police chief said "talking your way out of a situation" was always better than using force, adding that officers may seek the "community's help" when available. (Webmaster's comment: A white racist wanted to murder a black so that's what he did!)
4-6-21 Iran nuclear deal: US joins Vienna talks aimed at reviving accord
The United States has joined talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, which the Trump administration abandoned in 2018. President Joe Biden has said he wants to return to the landmark accord. But the six remaining state parties need to find a way for him to lift the sanctions imposed by his predecessor and for Iran to return to the agreed limits on its nuclear programme. Iran has said it will not meet the US face to face until that happens. The top US officials attending the meeting in Austria are reportedly based in a different hotel to the one hosting the meeting of the delegations from Iran and the other world powers - China, France, Germany, Russia and the UK. European officials are acting as intermediaries. "We don't underestimate the scale of the challenges ahead," US state department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Monday. "These are early days. We don't anticipate an early or immediate breakthrough, as these discussions, we fully expect, will be difficult." World powers don't trust Iran: Some countries believe Iran wants nuclear power because it wants to build a nuclear bomb - it denies this. So a deal was struck: In 2015, Iran and six other countries reached a major agreement. Iran would stop some nuclear work in return for an end to harsh penalties, or sanctions, hurting its economy. What is the problem now? Iran re-started banned nuclear work after former US President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. Even though new leader Joe Biden wants to rejoin, both sides say the other must make the first move. Mr Biden's special envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, told PBS Newshour last week that his goal was to "see whether we could agree on a road map back to compliance for both sides". He added: "The United States knows that, in order to get back into compliance, it's going to have to lift those sanctions that are inconsistent with the deal that was reached with Iran."
4-6-21 Covid surge in South America as Brazil variant spreads
Coronavirus figures released by health authorities across South America on Monday show a number of countries grappling with a spike in infections and deaths. Uruguay and Paraguay registered record numbers of daily deaths, while the total number of Covid cases surpassed the 13-million mark in Brazil. The surge has been attributed to the spread of the Brazil variant. The variant is thought to be more than twice as transmissible as the original. Brazilian public health institute Fiocruz says it has detected 92 variants of coronavirus in the country. Experts say that the development of new variants is not surprising: all viruses mutate as they make copies of themselves to spread. The P.1, or Brazil, variant has become a cause for concern is because it is thought to be much more contagious than the original strain. P.1 was first detected in travellers to Japan from the city of Manaus, in the Brazilian Amazon, and sequenced in early January. It has mutations on the spike protein, that part of the virus which attaches to human cells, and it is these mutations which are thought to make it more transmissible. The variant is thought to have emerged in Amazonas state in November 2020, spreading quickly in the state capital Manaus, where it accounted for 73% of cases by January 2021, according to figures analysed by researchers in Brazil. Preliminary data suggested it could be up to twice as infectious as the original strain, while more recent research puts that figure even higher, at 2.5 times as transmissible. As genetic sequencing is not widespread throughout the region, it is hard to determine how widely the variant has spread. However, the risk has always been deemed high, as Brazil shares borders with 10 countries. On 25 March, Peru's health minister said that 40% of cases in the capital, Lima, were caused by the Brazil variant, and on Monday he said that cases had been detected "almost everywhere in Peru".
4-5-21 The pandemic crime surge is a policing problem
Don't fall for the bad-faith campaign to cut off criminal justice reform before it really starts. The last several years have seen a building movement for criminal justice reform in America, culminating in the massive George Floyd protests around the country last summer. Progressive district attorneys like Larry Krasner in Philadelphia and Chesa Boudin in San Francisco have been elected promising to cut back on cash bail, reduce the severity of sentences, prosecute crooked or violent cops, and so forth. But reformers are running into a backlash. Krasner is up for reelection this year, and police unions are blaming him for the surge in violent crime that has happened in his city over the last year. They are backing a conservative challenger, Carlos Vega. A similar thing is happening in San Francisco, where a group of right-wing tech elites (with the typically tone-deaf slogan of "V.C. Lives Matter") are trying to recall Boudin. These arguments are a crock. A return to brutal war-on-crime tactics will not reduce crime — that will require staying the course on reform. The argument from police unions and Big Tech barons is the classic reactionary position on crime from the 1980s and '90s. These reformers are supposedly being soft on crime, so the argument goes, and so the criminal class is emboldened. Therefore we need to "get tough" and start brutally punishing offenders to set an example. Unfortunately, there are several giant holes in the argument. Take Krasner: As Joshua Vaughn writes at The Appeal, while Krasner has put through many worthy reforms (he has cut future sentences by 20,000 years compared to the prior DA) he is not even close to the radicals who think the police should be abolished altogether. Indeed, many activists have criticized him for continuing to use steep cash bail amounts for certain crimes. Krasner has not at all halted prosecution of serious crime — on the contrary, he has prosecuted over 99 percent of homicides, and over 98 percent of non-lethal shootings, in which Philadelphia police made an arrest. Unfortunately, the cops made arrests in only about 40 percent of homicides and less than 20 percent of non-lethal shootings. (The situation appears to be somewhat different in San Francisco, where murders were up modestly in 2020, but from record lows in 2019. Homicide clearance rates are apparently not yet available there for the last year, but the tech barons' complaints center around homelessness and property crime anyway. The police there have attempted to blame Boudin's policies for a record number of drug overdoses in the city.) The logic of the police unions is that if you punish murderers, there will be fewer murders. And it turns out that a great many criminals are escaping with impunity — it's just the fault of the police. On the raw numbers, any Philly murderer has a better-than-even chance of evading the cops. In fact, it's worse than that. Typically something like a third of murders basically solve themselves because the culprit is found at the scene, or there is very obvious evidence. Philly cops are doing barely better than that — meaning that if you kill someone and take any steps at all to cover your tracks, you're all but guaranteed to get away with it. Krasner is more than willing to prosecute violent offenders, but Philly cops are too lazy or incompetent to catch most of them.
4-5-21 SAG Awards: Screen Actors Guild honour The Trial of the Chicago 7
It was a big night for diversity at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards, with actors from ethnic minorities winning all four individual film categories for the first time. The 27th SAG Awards were held on Sunday as a virtual event. Viola Davis, Youn Yuh-jung, Daniel Kaluuya and the late Chadwick Boseman all triumphed in their categories. Aaron Sorkin's The Trial of the Chicago 7 won best ensemble cast in a motion picture, making history for Netflix. The ensemble prize is seen as the top honour at the SAG Awards, in the absence of a best picture category. The Trial of The Chicago 7 retells the story of the notorious courtroom drama involving a largely unrelated assortment of political activists who were accused of inciting a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The film stars Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne, Frank Langella, Sacha Baron Cohen, Michael Keaton, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeremy Strong, Yahya Abdul-Mateen, John Carroll Lynch and Alex Sharp. Its win means Keaton sets a new record by becoming the first person to be part of three SAG-winning ensembles, following his wins as part of 2014's Birdman and 2015's Spotlight. The SAG Awards are seen as a key indicator of which films and stars may come out on top at the Oscars, which will be presented later this month. However, the favourite to win the best picture Oscar this year, Nomadland, was not nominated for the top prize at SAG, as it centres around one character (played by Frances McDormand) rather than an ensemble cast. There was no red carpet to welcome nominees in Los Angeles this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, the awards were pre-recorded via video conference and squeezed into a one-hour broadcast. Chadwick Boseman, who died of cancer in August last year at the age of 43, won best male actor for his performance as a Blues musician in the 1920s drama Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, a film adapted from a cycle of plays by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, August Wilson.
4-4-21 Florida declares state of emergency over toxic wastewater leak
A state of emergency has been declared in Florida after a leak from a large pond of toxic wastewater in Tampa Bay. More than 300 homes in the area have been ordered to be evacuated, and a motorway near the Piney Point reservoir has been closed off. Residents were sent a text alert telling them to leave home immediately. Officials said the 77-acre (31-hectare) reservoir holds millions of gallons of water containing phosphorous and nitrogen from an old phosphate plant. The pond where the leak was found is in a stack of phosphogypsum, a radioactive waste product from the manufacture of fertiliser. The water contains small amounts of naturally occurring radium and uranium, and the stacks can also release radon gas. Attempts to repair the leak late on Friday, by plugging the hole with rocks and other materials, were unsuccessful. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared the state of emergency on Saturday. Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes told a press conference that there were concerns the water could flood the area, which is mostly agricultural. "We are talking about the potential of about 600 million gallons (2.3 billion litres) within a matter of seconds and minutes, leaving that retention pool and going around the surrounding area," he said. Thousands of gallons per minute is currently being pumped out of the reservoir now to bring the volume of water down, while other workers have been charting the path to control the flow of the water. By declaring a state of emergency, funds can be released to send more pumps and cranes to the area.
4-4-21 Covid-19: France enters third national lockdown amid ICU surge
France has entered its third national lockdown as it battles a surge in cases of Covid-19 that threatens to overwhelm the country's hospitals. All schools and non-essential shops will shut for four weeks, and a curfew will be in place from 19:00 to 06:00. On Friday, the number of seriously ill Covid patients in intensive care units (ICU) increased by 145 - the biggest jump in five months. President Emmanuel Macron has promised more hospital beds for Covid patients. France is currently battling a peak of about 5,000 Covid patients in ICUs. On Friday, the country recorded 46,677 new cases and 304 deaths. As well as the restrictions that came into force on Saturday, from Tuesday people will also need a valid reason to travel more than 10 km (six miles) from their homes. President Macron had hoped to keep France's coronavirus cases under control without having to impose another lockdown. However, the country has struggled with an EU-wide delay in the vaccine rollout, as well as several new strains of the virus. In Germany, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called on people to play their part and get vaccinated. Speaking in a television address to the nation on Saturday, he said the country was in the middle of a third wave and that it faced more restrictions. He also admitted that mistakes had been made - specifically in testing and in the vaccine rollout - and talked about there being a "crisis of trust" in the state. "Of course, there is no single silver bullet to get out of the pandemic," President Steinmeier said. "And that is why political dispute is needed - but the arguing must not become an end in itself. "Whether it's about a federal or state level, party or coalition, or whether opinion polls are up or down - none of that can play the main role now. "We need clarity and determination, we need understandable and pragmatic regulations so that people have direction, so that this country can again achieve what it has within."
4-4-21 India Covid: Maharashtra state to see curfew and weekend lockdown
The Indian state of Maharashtra will see tighter restrictions from Monday following a sharp spike in Covid-19 infections. A night time curfew will be enforced and the state will be under a full lockdown on weekends. India saw its highest day of infections since mid-September on Sunday, with 93,249 new cases. More than half of those were in Maharashtra, which has India's largest city Mumbai as its capital. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked a specialist teams to visit the state and investigate why there has been such a severe spike there. Some 165,000 people have died of Covid-19 in India, and there have been 12.5 million confirmed infections. This is Maharashtra's second full lockdown and government officials had been warning the move was imminent for some time. In a televised address on Friday, Maharashtra's Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said people were not following safety rules and some had caught Covid-19 after being vaccinated because they had stopped wearing masks. "People have become complacent. We are in a catch-22 situation - should we look at the economy or health?" Mr Thackeray said. "If this condition continues, I have told you already that in 15 days we will exhaust our [health] infrastructure," he added. Pune city, which is about 160km (100 miles) east of Mumbai, had already imposed a curfew and closed religious places, hotels, bars, shopping malls and cinemas for a week. Maharashtra is already under Covid restrictions that include a ban on public gatherings. But now, from Monday, there will be a night time curfew from 20:00 to 07:00 local time. On weekends, there will be a full lockdown starting at 20:00 on Fridays and going through till 07:00 on Mondays. Only essential businesses can operate during this time. Public transport will still run, but cinemas and playgrounds will be shut. Shops, bars and restaurants will be open only for take-away and parcel services only. Government office buildings have been told to operate at 50% capacity, with people to work from home if possible. These restrictions will last until 30 April, the government said.
4-3-21 MLB: All-Star Game leaves Georgia to protest against voting law
The US professional baseball league has said it will pull the 2021 All-Star Game and the Draft out of Georgia in protest of a restrictive voting law in the state. Major League Baseball "fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box," the Commissioner of Baseball Robert D Manfred, Jr said. A new host city has not been announced. The new law has received criticism from voting rights advocates. It restricts ballot access by placing limits on absentee voting, shortens periods for run-off elections and forbids the practice of giving food or water to voters waiting to cast ballots, among other things. Georgia's Governor, Republican Brian Kemp, signed the bill into law last week. Following the league's announcement, he accused it of caving in to "fear, political opportunism, and liberal lies" and placed blame on "cancel culture and woke political activists". "We will continue to stand up for secure, accessible, fair elections," he said on Twitter. The game was scheduled to play on 13 July at Truist Park in Cobb County, just outside of Atlanta. The Braves, Georgia's Major League Baseball (MLB) team, said they are "deeply disappointed" by the decision. "Businesses, employees, and fans in Georgia are the victims of this decision," they said in a statement. The All-Star Game is an annual event that is played at different ballparks around the country and is estimated to generate anywhere from $37m to $190m for the local economy. In March, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported that "many of [the] surrounding hotels/motels are already completely sold out" ahead of the game. The 2020 All-Star Game was cancelled due to the pandemic. Atlanta Mayor, Democrat Keisha Lance Bottoms, tweeted in support of the MLB's decision and said she believed it would be the "[first] of many dominoes to fall" in the aftermath of the state's new voting laws.
4-3-21 US lifts Trump-era sanctions against ICC prosecutor
The US has lifted sanctions on the International Criminal Court (ICC) top prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. The sanctions were imposed under former President Donald Trump over the court's investigation's into alleged war crimes by the US in Afghanistan, and US ally Israel in the Palesti The US is not a member of the ICC. The US has also removed Phakiso Mochochoko, head of the ICC's Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division, from the Specially Designated Nationals list, and has terminated a separate 2019 policy on visa restrictions on specific ICC personnel. Mr Blinken said in a statement that Washington continued to "disagree strongly with the ICC's actions relating to the Afghanistan and Palestinian situations", and that it objected to the ICC's "efforts to assert jurisdiction over personnel of non-States Parties such as the United States and Israel". "We believe, however, that our concerns about these cases would be better addressed through engagement with all stakeholders in the ICC process rather than through the imposition of sanctions," he said. He added that the US was encouraged by reforms being considered to help the ICC "prioritise its resources and to achieve its core mission of serving as a court of last resort in punishing and deterring atrocity crimes". Last year, the Trump administration accused the ICC of infringing on the US's national sovereignty when it launched its investigation into potential war crimes committed by US troops, the Taliban and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. Announcing the sanctions, Mr Blinken's predecessor Mike Pompeo called the court a "thoroughly broken and corrupted institution". The ICC responded that the sanctions were an attack on international justice and the rule of law. Ms Bensouda is leaving her job in June, and will be succeeded by British human rights lawyer Karim Khan. (Webmaster's comment: It's been proven again and again that the United States military forces are leading war criminals in the Middle East Wars!)
4-3-21 Derek Chauvin trial: Homicide chief criticises force used on George Floyd
The top homicide investigator in the US city of Minneapolis has said former police officer Derek Chauvin used "totally unnecessary" force when arresting George Floyd. Richard Zimmerman was testifying on the fifth day of Mr Chauvin's murder trial. White officer Mr Chauvin was filmed kneeling on African-American Mr Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes last May, sparking global protests. The 45-year-old has denied charges of murder and manslaughter. In his testimony on Friday, Lieutenant Zimmerman said he arrived on the scene after Mr Floyd's death in order to help ensure evidence was secured and witnesses were found. He said officers were responsible for the safety and wellbeing of anyone they arrested. "Totally unnecessary," he said, when asked about Mr Chauvin's actions. "If your knee is on a person's neck, that can kill them." He added that he could see no reason for Mr Chauvin to keep his knee on Mr Floyd for more than nine minutes. "First of all, pulling him down to the ground facedown and putting your knee on a neck for that amount of time is just uncalled for," he said. "I saw no reason why the officers felt they were in danger, if that's what they felt... and that's what they would have to have felt to be able to use that kind of force." Paramedics, bystanders and Mr Floyd's girlfriend are among those who have taken the stand since the trial began on Monday. At its opening, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said Mr Chauvin had "betrayed his badge" and claimed he used "excessive and unreasonable force". Defence lawyers have indicated they will argue that Mr Floyd died of an overdose and poor health, and the force used in his arrest was reasonable. Footage from both witnesses' mobile phones and the police officers' bodycams have been shown to the jury at length. (Webmaster's comment: The police are supposed to "Serve and Protect", not kill people!)
4-3-21 Belgian police 'are supposed to protect us'
Campaigners in Belgium are calling for urgent reform of the police after a series of high profile deaths.Most were from minority ethnic backgrounds. No officer – in any of the cases - has been jailed. t’s prompted accusations that the police are acting with impunity.The Belgian Federal force said it couldn’t comment on ongoing investigations but unions told the BBC the police were not institutionally racist.
4-3-21 Covid-19: Italy returns to strict lockdown for Easter
Italy has entered a strict three-day lockdown to try to prevent a surge in Covid-19 cases over Easter. All regions are now in the "red zone" - the highest tier of restrictions - as the country battles a third wave, with about 20,000 new cases a day. Non-essential movement is banned, but people are allowed to share an Easter meal at home with two other adults. Churches are also open, but worshippers are being told to attend services within their own regions. For the second year, Pope Francis will deliver his Easter message to an empty St Peter's Square. Following the holiday weekend, different regions will then remain in either "orange zone" or "red zone" restrictions until the end of the month. Italy's restrictions come as countries across Europe try to control a surge in cases of the virus, while struggling with a delayed vaccine rollout. More than 110,328 people in total have died of the coronavirus in Italy, and there have been 3.6 million confirmed infections. Just over a year after Italy became the first western nation to be hit by a coronavirus epidemic. In February 2020 people in many northern areas were told to stay at home and the lockdown was later extended to the rest of the country. Free movement was restored in June, but Italy is now facing a third wave of Covid-19. On 1 April, it registered 23,634 new cases and 501 deaths. Under the new lockdown measures, all non-essential shops are closed and cafes and restaurants are running a takeaway-only service. Red zone restrictions normally mean all non-essential travel is banned, but over the Easter weekend an exception is being made to allow people to visit friends and relatives within their regions for a holiday meal. The Italian government also announced it was placing 70,000 extra police officers on surveillance nationwide, in order to enforce the lockdown rules.
4-3-21 India Covid: Maharashtra to go into lockdown unless cases fall
The chief minister of the western Indian state of Maharashtra has warned a full lockdown could be imposed unless Covid-19 cases begin to fall. Uddhav Thackeray said people were failing to take precautions and warned the state's health system could become "inadequate" within weeks. Maharashtra recorded at least 47,828 cases on Friday. The same day, India reported 81,466 new cases, and 469 deaths - the highest daily spike since December. In a televised address, Mr Thackeray said: "Consider this a warning that I could impose a complete lockdown in the next couple of days if things remain the same." Some people were getting Covid-19 after being vaccinated because they had stopped wearing masks, he added. Last Sunday, he asked officials to prepare a plan to impose a lockdown and said people were not following safety rules. But the idea of new restrictions has been met with resistance from the opposition parties, members of the public and even from within the government. Pune city has already imposed a curfew and closed religious places, hotels, bars, shopping malls and cinemas for a week. The government has also brought down the cost of PCR and rapid antigen tests in a bid to tackle the outbreak. Since the pandemic began, India has reported more than 12.2 million cases and more than 163,000 deaths. It is the third-highest number of Covid-19 infections in the world after the US and Brazil. India's Covid caseload had fallen sharply in January with fewer than 15,000 infections daily. But cases began to spike again in March largely because of poor test-and-trace and lax safety protocols. On Thursday, India launched the third phase of its coronavirus vaccination drive with those above the age of 45 eligible for the jab. In the first two phases, frontline workers and people above the age of 60 were vaccinated.
4-2-21 Stock markets hit new records on Biden spending plan
Asian markets rose on Friday following a record-breaking session on Wall Street. The S&P 500 broke the 4000-point barrier for the first time, while the Nasdaq and Dow Jones also made gains. Investors were buoyed by President Joe Biden's new $2.3tn (£1.7tn) infrastructure spending plan and growing optimism about the economy. Markets in Tokyo and Seoul were up more than 1%, while Shanghai was also in positive territory. Trading was thin in Asia, as markets in Hong Kong and Australia were closed for Good Friday. The latest highs in the US point to renewed confidence among investors that the economic recovery is gaining pace. The S&P 500 has gained 7% since the start of 2021, although the Nasdaq is about 5% below its peak in February. President Biden's mega rebuilding package - which follows the passage of a $1.9tn stimulus - has stirred more enthusiasm among investors. "Investors greeted optimistically President Biden's infrastructure plan," brokerage TD Securities wrote in a note to clients. A key measure of US manufacturing activity also soared to its highest level in more than 37 years in March, a strong sign that a rebound is underway. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said its index of national factory activity jumped to a reading of 64.7 last month from 60.8 in February. A reading above 50 indicates expansion in manufacturing, which accounts for 12% of the US economy.
4-2-21 US jobs creation surges in March as recovery gains steam
The US economy saw a surge in hiring in March as vaccination increased, officials eased restrictions and people pushed to return to their pre-pandemic activities. Employers added more than 900,000 jobs driven by re-openings at restaurants, bars, construction sites and schools. The gains were the biggest since August and helped lower the unemployment rate to 6% from 6.2% in February. However, overall employment remains far lower than before the pandemic. The US lost more than 20 million jobs last spring as the virus led to widespread lockdowns. It has regained more than half, but the number of jobs is still more than 8 million down from February 2020, the US Labor Department said. Washington has approved trillions of dollars in recovery aid, including a $1.9tn (£1.4tn) package last month, to shield households and businesses from the disruption. Analysts are expecting a strong rebound later this year, as families emerge from lockdowns with pent-up demand and, in many cases, savings put away during the pandemic. Estimates suggest the growth rate in 2021 could hit 6% or higher. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said she is hopeful that near full employment could return next year. "The better than expected 916,000 rebound in non-farm payrolls in March still leaves employment 8.4 million below its pre-pandemic peak from just over a year ago, but with the vaccination program likely to reach critical mass within the next couple of months and the next round of fiscal stimulus providing a big boost, there is finally real light at the end of the tunnel," said Paul Ashworth, chief US economist at Capital Economics. The jobs report showed nearly every sector in the economy adding positions in March. More people entered the labour force, encouraged by the signs of rebound, and jobless rates fell for most groups. Officials also said employers added 156,000 more jobs in January and February than previous estimated.
4-2-21 Derek Chauvin trial: Paramedics say Floyd had no pulse when they arrived
Two paramedics have told a Minneapolis court that George Floyd had no pulse and did not appear to be breathing when they arrived at the scene. Former police officer Derek Chauvin is accused of killing Mr Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest in May 2020. Paramedic Seth Bravindar said he had to ask Mr Chauvin to get off Mr Floyd so that they could access the patient. Earlier, the court heard emotional testimony from Mr Floyd's girlfriend. Courteney Ross described their first kiss, and their struggle with opioid addiction on the fourth day of Mr Chauvin's trial. Mr Chauvin, 45, who was fired from the Minneapolis police force, denies charges of murder and manslaughter. Mr Bravinder said the initial call-out was deemed non-life threatening although that soon changed. He told the court he initially thought that a struggle was taking place when he and his partner arrived on the scene, but quickly realised that Mr Floyd, 46, was limp. Asked about video footage showing him gesturing to Mr Chauvin, Mr Bravinder said he wanted to "have him move" and this was "so we could move the patient". His partner Derek Smith checked Mr Floyd's neck for a pulse but could not find one. "In lay terms, I thought he was dead," Mr Smith said. "When I arrived on scene there was no medical services being provided to the patient," he added. Mr Bravinder cradled Mr Floyd's head to prevent it from hitting the road as they transferred him to a stretcher. They put him in an ambulance and started chest compressions. At one point Mr Smith thought he saw electrical activity from Mr Floyd's heart and delivered an electrical shock to try to restart it. "He was a human being and I was trying to give him a second chance at life," he said. Mr Bravinder said he had to stop the ambulance en route to the hospital to help his colleague after the heart monitor showed Mr Floyd had flatlined - his heart had stopped. All further efforts to resuscitate Mr Floyd failed. (Webmaster's comment: He was a big black man so the PIGS murdered him fully expecting to get away with it!)
4-2-21 What you should know before planning a post-vaccine gathering
After getting the COVID-19 vaccine, there are still safety guidelines to consider. We'll break it down. The CDC continues to emphasize the importance of the preventative measures we've all been taking for the past year against COVID-19. You know them well: Wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, stay at least 6 feet away from those outside your household, and avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces. Every day, more Americans receive their first or second vaccine, and according to the Associated Press, the U.S. is currently far ahead of its goal of 100 million doses within the first 100 days of President Biden's administration. In fact, with 2.5 million administered per day on average, the president has already bumped that goal up to 150 million, which may even end up being 200 million. While that's good news overall, it doesn't address the questions of whether and how vaccinated adults can socialize with one another. According to the CDC, if you're fully vaccinated, meaning you received a one-dose vaccine or your second shot at least two weeks ago, you "may be able to start doing some things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic." Vaccinated individuals are protected from severe illness and death related to COVID-19, and can now resume the following activities if they choose: Gathering indoors: Being indoors together without wearing masks is now considered safe. You can socialize, eat, drink, and yes, even hug mask-free indoors with members of one other household at a time, provided nobody in question is at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19. The maximum number of people allowed differs from state to state (you can see a full list here), but the CDC continues to recommend against "medium to large-sized gatherings," particularly in situations where social distancing is not possible. Those exposed to someone who tested positive in the past 14 days do not need to be tested or refrain from socializing. This excludes individuals who work in a group home setting or live with someone at high risk for severe illness. It's still strongly recommended that fully vaccinated individuals continue to practice preventative measures in public, including wearing a mask, washing hands, social distancing, and avoiding being in enclosed spaces with others. What we don't know: While these guidelines are informed by data sets from around the country, gray areas remain when it comes to social gatherings with other vaccinated people. It's not yet known, for instance, how effective the current available vaccines are against identified COVID-19 variants of concern (like the U.K., Brazilian, and South African strains). We also don't know how long vaccines provide protection, as we head into the spring and summer holidays when people tend to gather. What about travel? It's recommended that vaccinated people continue to delay their travel plans indefinitely. Those who must travel by bus, train, or air should take steps to protect others, such as getting tested, participating in state-run contact tracing programs, maintaining 6 feet of space between themselves and anyone they're not traveling with, and quarantining for a week at each destination (10 days if forgoing testing). Travelers are also urged to consider the behavior of those they'll encounter at their destination. According to the CDC, "...singing, shouting, not maintaining physical distancing, and not wearing masks consistently and correctly," can all increase the risk of infection. Make a plan in case someone in your traveling party becomes infected, including assessing the capacity of hospitals at your destination. Though the United States risk assessment level remains at "very high," hospitalizations are on a downward trend. Bear in mind that vaccination is just one step (though a highly effective one) toward reducing the spread of disease and keeping your friends, family, and neighbors safe and healthy.
4-1-21 Covid-19 news: There may be a million people with long covid in UK
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. Long-lasting symptoms after covid-19 reported by 13.7 per cent of people in UK study. An estimated 1.1 million people in the UK experienced long covid symptoms in the four weeks up to 6 March, according to a survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Of people with self-reported long covid, the ONS estimates that about 697,000 first had covid-19 at least 12 weeks earlier and approximately 70,000 first had the disease at least one year earlier. The survey found rates were highest among health and social care workers at 3.6 per cent and 3.1 per cent respectively, followed by people aged 35 to 49 or 50 to 69 and people with a pre-existing, activity-limiting health condition . It also found that prevalence was slightly higher among females compared to males. The World Health Organization has described Europe’s vaccination campaign as “unacceptably slow”. During a press briefing on 1 April, WHO Europe director Hans Kluge warned that Europe’s coronavirus situation is “more worrying than we have seen in several months” with cases surging in many countries. “[Vaccines] present our best way out of this pandemic,” he said. “Not only do they work, they are highly effective in preventing infection.” According to Our World In Data, just 11.4 per cent of people in the European Union had received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine as of 30 March, compared to 28.7 per cent in the US, 45.5 per cent in the UK and 60.5 per cent in Israel. French president Emmanuel Macron announced new restrictions aimed at combating a third wave of coronavirus infections in the country. During a televised address on 31 March, Macron said schools would move to remote learning from next week and that lockdown measures, introduced in some parts of France earlier in March, would be extended to other districts. “Everywhere this virus is spreading faster and faster, and we see patients coming into hospital,” he said, appealing to people to “limit their contacts with other people”.
4-1-21 Biden unveils 'once in a generation' spending plan
US President Joe Biden has called for trillions in spending aimed at re-igniting America's economic growth by upgrading its crumbling infrastructure and tackling climate change. The $2.3tn (£1.7tn) proposal would direct billions to initiatives such as charging stations for electric vehicles and eliminating lead water pipes. The spending would be partially offset by raising taxes on businesses. Those plans have already roused fierce opposition. Republicans have called the rises "a recipe for stagnation and decline", while powerful business lobby groups including the Business Roundtable and Chamber of Commerce said they supported investments but would oppose tax increases. The pushback is a sign of the tough fight ahead for the plan, which needs approval from Congress. The White House has promoted its proposal as the most ambitious public spending in decades, saying the investments are necessary to keep the US economy growing and competitive with other countries, especially China. "This is not a plan that tinkers around the edges," Mr Biden said in a speech in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Wednesday. "It's a once in a generation investment in America." It calls for investing more than $600bn in infrastructure, including modernising roads, replacing rail cars and buses and repairing crumbling bridges. Billions more would be devoted to initiatives like improving veterans hospitals, upgrading affordable housing, expanding high-speed broadband, and providing incentives for manufacturing and technology research. It calls for money to be directed to rural communities and communities of colour, including establishing a national climate-focused laboratory affiliated with an historically black university. The spending, which would have to be approved by Congress, would roll out over eight years. The White House said tax increases would offset the cost over 15 years.
4-1-21 US border crisis: A look inside a US child migrant facility
More than 3,400 unaccompanied children are being kept in the Texas processing centre. The Biden administration has allowed reporters to tour the facility following demands for greater access as the migrant crisis at the US-Mexico border continues to escalate.
4-1-21 Children dropped over US border wall
US authorities have released a video showing two children being dropped over a 14ft (4.2 m) wall by alleged smugglers at the US-Mexico border in New Mexico. The children, siblings from Ecuador, were taken to hospital by border patrol agents and are now in the care of the US authorities. El Paso Sector Chief Patrol Agent Gloria I. Chavez said she was “appalled by the way these smugglers viciously dropped innocent children from a 14-foot border barrier last night.” US authorities are now working with law enforcement in Mexico to identify the people seen dropping the children.
4-1-21 Is Canada turning the corner with Covid?
Canada has secured the largest vaccine portfolio in the world but has so far failed to get its inoculation programme off the ground, even as it faces the pandemic's third wave. In December, Canada's Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland announced a C$1bn (£580m) investment in vaccine agreements. Ottawa had secured seven separate vaccine purchase contracts, she said, enough for each Canadian to receive 10 doses, free of charge. Four months later, Canada is still lagging behind most Western nations in vaccinations. It is currently ranked 44 in global rankings of vaccinations per capita, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. This week, the country welcomed an announcement from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that Pzifer-BioNTech had agreed to accelerate delivery of five million vaccine doses, bringing them forward from late summer up to June. But the country is now waging war with a surge of new Covid-19 variants which threaten to overwhelm an already strained hospital system. The country has recorded more than 980,080 infections and almost 23,000 deaths. Canada was criticised at the end of last year for buying up multiple times the supply it needs to cover its population. It had signed deals with seven vaccine suppliers - including Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson&Johnson - for a total of over 400 million doses. But without the capacity to produce the vaccines domestically, Canada has been forced to rely on outside manufacturers, mainly in the EU and the US, where vaccine exports have been tied up with delays or cancelled altogether. Just over 12 out of every 100 Canadians have received at least one dose of vaccine, compared to about 30 in the US and 46 in the UK. Immunisation has been further frustrated by shifting guidance on the AstraZeneca vaccine. In late February, Health Canada authorised its use for all Canadians 18 and older. But this week, the government said that the vaccine should not be used in adults under age 55, citing questions over blood clots.
4-1-21 Covid: Europe's vaccine rollout 'unacceptably slow' - WHO
The World Health Organization (WHO) has criticised the rollout of coronavirus vaccines in Europe as being "unacceptably slow". It also says the situation in the region is more worrying than it has been for several months. Vaccination campaigns in much of Europe have been hit by delays and the number of infections is rising. France is the latest country to announce new lockdown measures, lasting four weeks. "Vaccines present our best way out of this pandemic... However, the rollout of these vaccines is unacceptably slow" and is prolonging the pandemic in the wider Europe region, WHO director for Europe Hans Kluge said in a statement. "We must speed up the process by ramping up manufacturing, reducing barriers to administering vaccines, and using every single vial we have in stock, now," he added. In the meantime, as long as vaccine coverage remained low, he said EU countries would have to impose lockdowns and other measures to compensate for the delays. Mr Kluge also warned that the vaccine rollout, despite its slow speed, risked "providing a false sense of security to authorities and the public alike". Last week saw increasing transmission of Covid-19 in the majority of countries in the WHO European region - which includes more than 50 countries and extends from Greenland to the far east of Russia. There were 1.6 million new cases and close to 24,000 deaths, the WHO said. Cases were rising in all but one age group, the organisation said. Only 10% of the nearly 900 million people in the region have had a single dose of coronavirus vaccine. It remains the second most affected by the virus of all the world's regions, with the total number of deaths fast approaching one million and the total number of cases about to surpass 45 million, it added. The WHO also warned of the risks of greater spread associated with increased mobility and number of gatherings over the forthcoming religious holidays of Passover, Easter and Ramadan. Some 27 countries of the more than 50 included in the WHO Europe region have implemented partial or full coronavirus lockdowns.