6-30-21 The GOP's long assault on voting rights
A decades-long campaign to control the courts has succeeded in giving red states a license to discriminate. On Thursday, the Supreme Court closed out its latest term with another blow to the already weakened Voting Rights Act, showing once again that the burdens placed on Black voters in America will continue to be a struggle that only Congress can correct. In a second party-line decision, the court's conservatives made it easier for wealthy corporations to hide their political contributions. Together, the cases were a reminder that, as much as folks tend to fault former President Donald Trump for the corrosion of American democracy, making it harder for people of color to vote and helping corporations control elections with money are Republican Party projects that long predate him. It's one of the reasons why many of the recent media warnings about the fall of American democracy seem much-belated. If an entire political party is openly pursuing a strategy of denying Black folks the right to vote, how healthy of a democracy do we have? It's also another ominous signal of how successful the GOP's efforts to remake the judiciary have been. In Thursday's first decision, the court upheld two laws passed by Arizona's GOP-controlled legislature. The first prevents anyone but a voter's family member or caregiver from returning a mail-in ballot, which former President Donald Trump sinisterly described as "ballot harvesting," while the other throws out votes cast in the wrong precinct. These laws had been struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in January 2020 for having a "discriminatory impact" against Black, Native American, and Latino voters. George W. Bush-appointee Justice Samuel Alito argued for the conservative majority that the state's interest in the integrity of elections justified the measures, no bother if the cited concerns about voter fraud are based in fantasy or if the legislature admitted its motives were political. In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan lamented that the court's conservatives were weakening the landmark voting rights law for the second time in eight years. "What is tragic here is that the Court has (yet again) rewritten — in order to weaken — a statute that stands as a monument to America's greatness, and protects against its basest impulses." As noted by the Associated Press, criticism of the laws included the fact that "Native Americans who have to travel long distances to put their ballots in the mail were more likely to be affected by the ballot collection law." Moreover, the appeals court found that "votes cast by Black and Hispanic voters were more likely to be tossed out because they were cast in the wrong precinct." Yet Alito is a fan of discriminatory laws of this sort. He wrote the majority opinion in 2018's Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, which involved a challenge to Ohio's attempts to purge residents from the voter rolls on the basis of infrequent voting. As reported at the time, in three years, GOP state officials managed to purge nearly 1.2 million voters who were disproportionately likely to be nonwhite. In that decision, Alito's sympathy went towards the state, framing the case as an unfair attack by a "pair of advocacy groups" on Ohio officials. He took a similar stance later that year in Abbott v. Perez, when he ignored evidence that Texas lawmakers were purposely seeking to dilute votes.
6-30-21 Covid-19 news: England warned it may ‘repeat mistakes of last summer’
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. England “on line to repeat the mistakes of last summer”, warns science adviser. A scientist advising the UK government on its covid-19 response has said that England may be at risk of repeating “the mistakes of last summer” by lifting restrictions at a time when infection rates are too high. “The consequence [last summer] was we never got infections low enough to be able to deal with the disease and so when conditions changed in the autumn, when schools went back and people went back to work and universities went back and the weather got worse and we went inside, so infections spiked,” said Stephen Reicher at the University of St Andrews, a member of the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, in an interview with Times Radio. “This time round, we should learn from that and we should get infections low to a point where we’re in a much better place in the autumn, where we don’t have to reimpose restrictions.” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has fired a number of senior officials over what he called a “grave incident”, potentially related to covid-19 and national pandemic-related restrictions, which “caused a great risk to people and the nation’s safety”, according to a story in the BBC based on reporting by North Korean state media. The famously reclusive regime has previously insisted that North Korea had no coronavirus cases, and the country’s borders have been closed since January 2020 in an effort to limit the spread of the virus. French government scientific adviser Jean-François Delfraissy has warned that France may face a fourth wave of the coronavirus, due to an increase in cases caused by the delta variant of the virus. “I think we will have a fourth wave, but it will be much more moderate than the previous three waves because the level of vaccinations is different compared to before,” Delfraissy told France Info radio. Almost half of Australia’s population – more than 12 million people – are now under stay-at-home orders as seven cities have recently imposed restrictions to tackle an outbreak of the delta coronavirus variant. The outbreak has risen to more than 200 cases, according to officials. The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.94 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 181.9 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 1.82 billion people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.
6-30-21 Miami building collapse: What could have caused it?
As the search for survivors continues, questions are being raised about what caused a 12-storey apartment complex to collapse in Surfside, near Miami in Florida. Experts gathering information at the scene will have to consider a range of possible causes - from structural defects to environmental influences - and whether a combination of factors may have triggered the sudden collapse of the 40-year-old block. Video footage taken by a surveillance camera mounted on a neighbouring condominium shows that the building did not fall at once, but rather fell in stages. First, the south-facing central section collapsed, before the north-facing central section followed just three seconds later. Five seconds after that, the east-facing section crumbled. Some experts who have viewed the footage believe that the initial collapse was at the base of the building, around the pool area in front of the south-facing central section. Reports say one resident, Cassie Stratton, was on the phone to her husband in the moments before the collapse looking out of the window. She told him: "Honey, the pool is caving in." Aerial images of the aftermath show the decking area around the pool having collapsed into the underground car-parking area below. Though it is far too early to be certain about the cause, the pool area was identified as a major area of concern in a structural report carried out in 2018, with reports that it had got much worse since then. The 2018 inspection highlighted "a major error" in the original design of the apartment block. The engineer, Frank Morabito, warned that the ground floor pool deck was not sloped to drain, so any water "sits on the waterproofing until it evaporates". The report said the waterproofing below the ground floor pool deck and decorative planters was "beyond its useful life" and causing "major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas". Failure to replace the waterproofing in the near future would, it said, cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to "expand exponentially".
6-30-21 Miami building collapse: Letter in April warned of worsening damage
Residents of a Florida apartment building that collapsed last week received a letter in April warning of worsening structural damage. The letter, obtained and reported by US media, was sent by the president of the apartment block's building association. It said damage that was first reported in 2018 had "gotten significantly worse" and would soon "begin to multiply" without immediate repairs. At least 12 people were killed and 149 more are still missing in the collapse. The letter is the latest in a string of documents that have emerged providing evidence that the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside, north of Miami, had known structural issues. Lawsuits are already being filed over the deadly disaster, with the latest accusing the building association of "reckless and negligent conduct". The April letter, sent by the president of the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association, said that "observable damage" had gotten "significantly worse" and warned that "concrete deterioration is accelerating". The letter also warned about roof damage, and estimated that fixing the building's problems would cost about $15m (£10.8m). It follows reports about findings from a 2018 inspection that urged timely repairs after "major structural damage" was found, including "abundant cracking" in an underground parking garage. Questions over the collapse are mounting at the same time as a desperate search operation continues. Dozens remain missing in the rubble of the 12-floor apartment building, which partially collapsed in the early hours of Thursday as scores of residents slept. Officials insisted on Tuesday that the operation remains a search and rescue one. "Nobody is giving up hope here. Nobody is stopping. The work goes on. Full force," Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said.
6-30-21 Tucker Carlson: NSA hits back at allegations it spied on Fox News host
The US National Security Agency (NSA) has hit back at allegations by Fox News host Tucker Carlson that it is spying on him to force him off air. On Monday Carlson, a long-time critic of President Joe Biden, said a government whistle-blower had told him the NSA was monitoring him for "political reasons". The NSA denied he was a "target", saying it deals with foreign threats. Fox News has not commented publicly on its host's claim. In response to a question about Carlson's comments, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said the NSA "focuses on foreign threats and individuals who are attempting to do us harm on foreign soil". "Beyond that I would point you to the intelligence community," she added. The NSA, together with the Central Security Service, is responsible for intercepting and protecting electronic communications on behalf of the US government, and has a broad cyber security remit. During a segment of Tucker Carlson Tonight - one of America's most popular news programmes - Carlson said he was convinced by the alleged whistle-blower because they had information about an ongoing story "that could have only come directly from my texts and emails". He accused the agency of "planning to leak them in an attempt to take this show off the air", and said Fox News had filed a freedom of information request "for all information that the NSA and other agencies have gathered about this show". The NSA issued its own response on Twitter. "With limited exceptions (e.g. an emergency), NSA may not target a US citizen without a court order that explicitly authorizes the targeting," it said. But on his show on Tuesday, Carlson said this was "infuriatingly dishonest" and attacked the White House for failing to issue a denial. He recalled several unsuccessful attempts to speak on the phone with the NSA's director, General Paul Nakasone, who he said was "highly political" and "left-wing". Gen Nakasone was appointed by Republican President Donald Trump in 2018.
6-30-21 Texas nonprofit shares bizarre cheat sheet for identifying CRT buzzwords in the classroom
Stay alert — as the Texas Public Policy Foundation will have you know, Critical Race Theory is everywhere...even in the most basic, necessary, and important lessons on the history of America and racism. In a call to ban CRT from schools, the nonprofit research institute shared on Tuesday a graphic listing some of the less "buzzworthy" names and language for such teachings in the classroom. But included on the cheat sheet are innocuous terms like "identity" and "cultural intelligence;" major social causes like "equity, diversity, and inclusion" and "Black lives matter;" and touchstones of American history like "colonialism" and "colonizer." Looks like these guidelines aren't as clear or effective as TPPF thought.
6-30-21 How China eliminated malaria
China has officially been certified as malaria-free by the World Health Organization, a designation that came "following a 70-year effort" to eliminate the disease. WHO announced Wednesday that China was awarded a malaria-free certification, which the organization said was a "notable feat" after the country reported 30 million annual cases of it in the 1940s. "Their success was hard-earned and came only after decades of targeted and sustained action," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. "With this announcement, China joins the growing number of countries that are showing the world that a malaria-free future is a viable goal." As WHO explained, the Chinese government in 1967 launched a nationwide research program seeking malaria treatments, which led to the discovery of artemisinin, the "core compound" of the most effective antimalarial drugs. Going back to the 1950s, China also provided preventive antimalarial medicines to people and "made a major effort to reduce mosquito breeding grounds and stepped up the use of insecticide spraying in homes." In the 1980s, China began to "extensively" test the use of insecticide-treated nets, which led to "substantial reductions in malaria incidence," WHO said. Cases plummeted by 1990, and in 2010, China implemented a national plan to eliminate malaria and a strategy that included taking measures to prevent it from spreading within seven days of a diagnosis. According to The New York Times, Chinese officials have looked to share lessons from their fight against malaria with Africa, and Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention officials held a symposium on the subject with WHO and Harvard University last year. "By leveraging technology, implementing robust surveillance strategies, and firmly integrating the malaria control program into the country's health system, China made quick work of one of the most persistent diseases on Earth," Harvard's Chris Sweeney said. "It's a remarkable success story, and may hold valuable lessons for countries still struggling under the burden of this ancient killer.
6-30-21 Australia Covid: Seventh city locks down amid vaccine chaos
Seven Australian cities are now in lockdown as authorities scramble to prevent the spread of the highly contagious Delta coronavirus variant. Officials reported a slight case rise on Wednesday, to more than 200 cases. Nearly half the population - more than 12 million people - are under stay-at-home orders in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Darwin, Townsville and the Gold Coast. On Wednesday, the outback town of Alice Springs also entered a snap lockdown after cases emerged in South Australia. Authorities fear the virus could now spread to nearby Aboriginal communities which are already vulnerable. Across the country on Wednesday, state leaders said they were facing a "pressure cooker situation" as new cases emerged. Many leaders have urged faster vaccinations as just 5% of the population is fully vaccinated. But messaging around the country's main vaccine, the AstraZeneca jab, has been contradictory. If you woke up in Australia today, you'd be forgiven for being confused about vaccinations. There's been the slow rollout, the lack of supply, and vaccine hesitancy. Now, add mixed messaging from the leadership to this list and you've got a perfect storm. In a big U-turn on Monday Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that anyone under 40 who wants the AstraZeneca vaccine could have it after talking to their GP. That message was quickly rejected by the Australian Medical Association's president, who said it took him by surprise and went against expert advice. The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommends AstraZeneca for over 60s. State premiers then also accused the PM of wrong guidance, while criticising the shortage of the Pfizer alternative. Delta has breached Australia's defences faster than anticipated. It's underlined how slow and at times shambolic the vaccine rollout has been.
6-29-21 Covid-19 news: High-grade masks cut infections in healthcare workers
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. Use of FFP3 respirators increases protection of healthcare workers from coronavirus infection, according to data from one UK hospital. A UK hospital that increased the grade of medical face masks worn by healthcare workers treating covid-19 patients recorded a significant reduction in hospital-acquired coronavirus infections among those staff, a small study has found. Some Brazilian states have seen average life expectancy pushed back to levels not seen in 20 years due to the covid-19 pandemic, according to a study published in Nature Medicine. The study found that the total reported deaths caused by covid-19 in Brazil reduced average life expectancy at birth by 1.3 years in 2020 and by 1.8 years in the period between January and April this year. The delta variant of the coronavirus is now estimated to account for 20 per cent of new cases in France, the country’s health minister, Oliver Veran, told France Info radio on 29 June. A week earlier the variant was estimated to account for just 9 to 10 per cent of new cases in France. Several cities in Australia have entered new lockdowns as cases associated with an outbreak of the delta variant reached about 150. Lockdowns have been imposed in the cities of Brisbane, Perth, Sydney and Darwin. Tokyo in Japan is seeing a rise in coronavirus cases ahead of the Olympics in July. The city reported 317 new coronavirus cases on 28 June, up from 236 on the same day a week earlier. Indonesia is experiencing shortages of oxygen amid a surge in coronavirus cases. The country has reported record daily increases in infections of more than 20,000 recently.
6-29-21 US 'white supremacist' shoots two black bystanders
An American man who crashed a stolen lorry into a house before shooting two black bystanders was a suspected white supremacist, police say. Nathan Allen, 28, fatally shot retired policeman Dave Green and military veteran Ramona Cooper in Saturday afternoon's attack in Massachusetts. Investigators later found racist and anti-Semitic writings by Allen, who was shot dead by officers at the scene. He was married, employed and had a PhD and no criminal history, police said. According to CBS affiliate WBZ-TV, Allen walked through a marsh to a garage in the city of Winthrop where he stole a plumber's lorry. He crashed the vehicle into an unoccupied home, causing extensive damage. He then climbed out of the wreckage and attempted unsuccessfully to carjack another vehicle. As he walked away, he shot Ramona Cooper, 60, a staff sergeant in the Air Force, three times in the back, killing her. He then shot retired Massachusetts state trooper Dave Green, 68, multiple times. When police arrived on the scene they exchanged gunfire with Allen, killing him. Investigators said they found "troubling white supremacist rhetoric" in the gunman's handwriting. Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins told a press conference on Monday that Allen is believed to have acted alone. The prosecutor said he had "likely appeared unassuming" before unleashing his attack with a firearm that he legally owned. Her office's statement said: "This individual wrote about the superiority of the white race. About whites being 'apex predators'. He drew swastikas." The statement added: "He stole a box truck, crashed it into another vehicle and a property, walked away from the wreckage interacting with multiple individuals and choosing only to shoot and kill the two black people he encountered." In a tweet on Monday, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker called the killings "a despicable act".
6-29-21 British Jews' fear and defiance amid record monthly anti-Semitism reports
A monthly record number of reports of anti-Semitic incidents were recorded following the 11-day conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in May, a charity says. So how does it feel to be Jewish in the UK? Rabbi Nicky Liss had been preparing to give a midnight talk at a north London synagogue last month, when he began to feel nervous. A rabbi of 13 years, he was used to giving speeches. This one, to mark the start of the Jewish festival of Shavuot on 16 May, should not, on the face of it, have been any different. But that afternoon, events built to what he describes as a "crescendo". He'd learned that his good friend and fellow rabbi, Rafi Goodwin, had been attacked outside his synagogue in Chigwell, in Essex - allegedly struck over the head with a brick. Two men have denied causing grievous bodily harm, robbery and religiously aggravated criminal damage and are due to appear at Chelmsford Crown Court for trial in November. In a separate incident that afternoon, a man was filmed apparently using a megaphone to shout anti-Semitic abuse from a convoy of cars with Palestinian flags that travelled through St John's Wood in north-west London - an area that is home to a Jewish community. Four men were arrested and remain on bail until mid-July. Over the next few hours, worried phone calls and messages buzzed through Mr Liss's community. Some feared the situation in north London could become "very threatening" by the evening. Orthodox Jews do not use cars on religious holidays or the Sabbath, so Mr Liss had planned to walk the 25 minutes from his home on-site at Highgate synagogue to the synagogue in Hampstead Garden Suburb. But the day's events left Mr Liss with an agonising dilemma over whether he should go ahead with his talk - and what, as chair of United Synagogue's rabbinical council, he should advise concerned colleagues to do. Advice was sought from the Community Security Trust (CST), a Jewish charity that provides security support and monitors reports of anti-Semitic incidents.
6-29-21 UN human rights chief calls for reparations over racism
The United Nations Human Rights Council has urged global action including reparations to "make amends" for racism against people of African descent. Its new report also urges educational reform and apologies to address discrimination. The findings cite concerns in about 60 countries including the UK, Belgium, France, Canada, Brazil and Colombia. The study began after the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in US police custody in 2020. The findings say protests over the Minnesota man's death and the conviction of a white policeman were a "seminal point in the fight against racism". In a statement on Monday, UN high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet called "on all states to stop denying - and start dismantling - racism" and to "listen to the voices of people of African descent". The UN's report is based on discussions with more than 300 experts and people of African descent and seeks to push nations to take actions to end racial injustices. It found that police use of racial profiling and excessive force was systemic in much of North America, Europe and Latin America. The report said racism was the biggest problem in countries associated with the former trade of many millions of Africans for slavery. The findings conclude that in order to achieve racial justice countries should "make amends for centuries of violence and discrimination... including through formal acknowledgment and apologies, truth-telling processes, and reparations in various forms". It praises Black Lives Matter and says the group should "receive funding, public recognition and support". Ms Bachelet, a former president of Chile, said reparations must not only be financial in nature, but include other "guarantees" to prevent future injustices. She said: "States must show stronger political will to accelerate action for racial justice, redress and equality through specific, time-bound commitments to achieve results.
6-29-21 Most Indians oppose interfaith marriage, survey shows
Most Indians see themselves and their country as religiously tolerant but are against interfaith marriage, a survey from Pew Research Center has found. People across different faiths in the country said stopping interfaith marriage was a "high priority" for them. The research comes follows laws introduced in several Indian states that criminalise interfaith love. Pew interviewed 30,000 people across India in 17 languages for the study. The interviewees were from 26 states and three federally administered territories. According to the survey, 80% of the Muslims who were interviewed felt it was important to stop people from their community from marrying into another religion. Around 65% of Hindus felt the same. The survey also asked about the relationship between faith and nationality. It found that Hindus "tend to see their religious identity and Indian national identity as closely intertwined". Nearly two-thirds of Hindus (64%) said it was very important to be Hindu in order to be "truly Indian". The study found that despite sharing certain values and religious beliefs, members of India's major religious communities "often don't feel they have much in common". "Indians simultaneously express enthusiasm for religious tolerance and a consistent preference for keeping their religious communities in segregated spheres - they live together separately," the study said. Many lead religiously segregated lives, it added, when it comes to friendships, and "would prefer to keep people of certain religions out of their residential areas or village". Marriages between Hindus and Muslims have long attracted censure in conservative Indian families, but couples are also facing legal hurdles now. India's Special Marriage Act mandates a 30-day notice period for interfaith couples. And some Indian states led by the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have taken further steps, introducing laws which ban "unlawful conversion" by force or fraudulent means.
6-29-21 Miami building collapse: What could have caused it?
As the search for survivors continues, questions are being raised about what caused a 12 storey apartment complex to collapse in Surfside, near Miami in Florida. Experts gathering information at the scene will have to consider a range of possible causes - from structural defects to environmental influences - and whether a combination of factors may have triggered the sudden collapse of the 40-year-old block. Video footage taken by a surveillance camera mounted on a neighbouring condominium shows that the building did not fall at once, but rather fell in stages. First, the south-facing central section collapsed, before the north-facing central section followed just three seconds later. Five seconds after that, the east-facing section crumbled. Some experts who have viewed the footage believe that the initial collapse was at the base of the building, around the pool area in front of the south-facing central section. Reports say one resident, Cassie Stratton, was on the phone to her husband in the moments before the collapse looking out of the window. She told him: "Honey, the pool is caving in." Aerial images of the aftermath show the decking area around the pool having collapsed into the underground car-parking area below. Though it is far too early to be certain about the cause, the pool area was identified as a major area of concern in a structural report carried out in 2018. The 2018 inspection highlighted "a major error" in the original design of the apartment block. The engineer, Frank Morabito, warned that the ground floor pool deck was not sloped to drain, so any water "sits on the waterproofing until it evaporates". The report said the waterproofing below the ground floor pool deck and decorative planters was "beyond its useful life" and causing "major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas". Failure to replace the waterproofing in the near future would, it said, cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to "expand exponentially".
6-29-21 China pressure 'undermining Australian universities', report says
Chinese pro-democracy students in Australia fear punishment for their family back home if they speak out on sensitive issues, a new report says. Human Rights Watch found such students feel surveilled in Australia, leading many to self-censor in classrooms. Academics teaching China courses in the country say they have also felt pressure to censor themselves. The rights group said the perceived pressure was undermining the academic freedom of Australian universities. Australia's higher education system is heavily reliant on fee-paying Chinese students, which accounted in pre-Covid times for about 40% of all international students in the country. There are currently about 160,000 Chinese students are enrolled in Australian universities. There has been growing concern about China's influence on local campuses in recent years, following a deterioration in relations between the two nations. Human Rights Watch said it had interviewed nearly 50 students and academics in Australia and found an "atmosphere of fear" that had worsened in recent years. Researchers said they had confirmed three cases where a student's activities in Australia had prompted police in China to visit or get in contact with their families there over their actions. In one case, Chinese authorities also threatened a student with jail after they opened a Twitter account in Australia and posted pro-democracy messages. Many pro-democracy students also said they feared fellow students reporting on them to Chinese authorities. "Fear that what they did in Australia could result in Chinese authorities punishing or interrogating their parents back home weighed heavily on the minds of every pro-democracy student interviewed," said the report. Its author, Sophie McNeill, said university administrators were "failing in their duty of care to uphold the rights of students from China".
6-28-21 Study suggests Pfizer, Moderna COVID-19 vaccines could provide 'years' of protection
A new study reportedly suggests the COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna could provide protection for "years." As The New York Times reports, scientists in a new study sought to determine whether "vaccination alone" will provide long-lasting protection against COVID-19 after research suggested the vaccines may offer years of protection for those who were previously infected with the coronavirus. The study consisted of 41 people who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and the researchers extracted samples from lymph nodes of 14 participants. They found that 15 weeks after the first dose, "the number of memory cells that recognized the coronavirus had not declined," the Times writes. "The fact that the reactions continued for almost four months after vaccination — that's a very, very good sign," Washington University in St. Louis immunologist Ali Ellebedy, who led the study, told the Times. This suggested, the Times writes, that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines could "protect against the coronavirus for years," or "at least, against the existing coronavirus variants." The report notes that even if that's the case, COVID-19 vaccine boosters might still be necessary for some, including older adults and those with weak immune systems. But University of Arizona immunologist Deepta Bhattacharya told the Times, "Anything that would actually require a booster would be variant-based, not based on waning of immunity. I just don't see that happening." Read more at The New York Times.
6-28-21 Delta variant on track to become dominant cause of covid-19 globally
The more transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus is on track to become the dominant form globally, experts tell New Scientist. Now detected in at least 85 countries, its spread has triggered new lockdowns and other restrictions across the world. “I know that globally there is currently a lot of concern about the delta variant, and the World Health Organization is concerned about it too,” said Tedros Adhanom, director-general of the WHO, at a press conference on 25 June. Data from science analytics company Airfinity records delta as the second most dominant variant of concern globally, a designation used for more transmissible, harmful or vaccine-resistant versions of the virus. At around 80,000 cases detected to date globally, it still lags behind the 1 million detected cases of alpha, the variant of concern first identified in the UK. But delta’s rapid dominance in the UK shows how fast it can spread, even in a country with high vaccination rates. Delta was first detected in the UK in mid-April. It now accounts for 95 per cent of all new cases and has delayed the easing of restrictions. The variant is also spreading fast through Europe. “It may become dominant [across Europe] as cases seem to be increasing exponentially,” says Caroline Casey of Airfinity. In Portugal, delta already amounts to 70 per cent of cases in the capital Lisbon. The European Centre for Disease Control projects that, by the end of August, the variant will be responsible for 90 per cent of cases in the European Union. It wants an acceleration of EU vaccination programmes, noting two doses “provides nearly equivalent protection against the delta variant [compared with older variants]”. Other parts of the world are also struggling with the ease with which delta spreads. Lockdowns have been imposed in Sydney, Australia, and surrounding districts following more than a hundred cases of the variant. Israel has reintroduced a mandate on face masks just 10 days after lifting it, following imported cases of delta. In the US, the number of cases of the variant has increased from about 10 per cent of infections on 15 June to around 20 per cent now.
6-28-21 Pelosi unveils bill for Jan. 6 Capitol riot panel, may appoint a Republican among 8 Democratic picks
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) released legislation Monday to set up a select House committee to investigate the Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump, after Senate Republicans blocked an independent outside investigation in May. The House will hold a procedural vote Tuesday and is expected to vote on the legislation Wednesday. The Jan. 6 insurrection was "one of the darkest days in our nation's history," Pelosi said in a statement. "The Select Committee will investigate and report upon the facts and causes of the attack and report recommendations for preventing any future assault." The 13-member select committee will have subpoena power, no fixed end date, and could issue interim reports as it conducts its investigation. Pelosi would appoint eight of the members and the other five would be chosen "after consultation with" House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). But Pelosi "is seriously considering including a Republican among her eight appointments to the Select Committee," an unidentified Pelosi aide told reporters for several news organizations. If Pelosi did pick a Republican — and speculation quickly turned to Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) or Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), both vocal critics of Trump's role in fomenting the Capitol violence — that would give the panel a narrower 7-6 Democratic majority. Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), who helped negotiate the bill for the independent commission, took himself out of the running Monday, calling Pelosi's alternative a "turbo-charged partisan exercise" and saying he has "a hard time envisioning a scenario where I would participate, if asked." Katko was one of 35 House Republicans who voted for the independent commission, along with seven Senate Republicans. "Republican lawmakers who voted against the creation of an independent commission openly worried that its product might negatively affect the GOP in the 2022 midterm election cycle," The Washington Post reports. "But the commission would have had a deadline of the end of this year to produce a report," plus an even partisan split, and the House select committee is likely to work well into 2022 and could be even more politically disadvantageous for Trump and his party.
6-28-21 Supreme Court declines to hear bathroom case in victory for transgender student
The Supreme Court is passing on a key case involving a transgender student, and the ACLU is celebrating the news as an "incredible victory." The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear the case of Gavin Grimm, the transgender student who challenged a Virginia school board's policy that restrooms are "limited to the corresponding biological genders," NBC News reports. Lower courts sided with Grimm that this violated Title IX, the civil rights law against sex discrimination, and since the Supreme Court isn't taking up the case, Grimm's win stays in place. Josh Block, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, told NBC that this was "an incredible victory for Gavin and for transgender students around the country," while Grimm said, "I am glad that my years-long fight to have my school see me for who I am is over. Being forced to use the nurse's room, a private bathroom, and the girl's room was humiliating for me, and having to go to out-of-the-way bathrooms severely interfered with my education." According to CNN, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito both said they would have taken up the case.
6-28-21 Covid-19 news: Trial of first coronavirus variant vaccine under way
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. Trial of tweaked version of Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine under way, in effort to boost immunity against beta variant. The first participants received a slightly modified version of the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine, designed to be more effective against the beta variant of coronavirus, as part of a new trial which started on 27 June. The trial will involve about 2250 participants across the UK, South Africa, Brazil and Poland. The modified vaccine will be given to people who have previously been fully vaccinated with two doses of the original AstraZeneca vaccine, or with an mRNA covid-19 vaccine, at least three months after their most recent jab. An outbreak of the delta coronavirus variant in Sydney, Australia has grown to 128 cases. New cases have also been detected in other parts of the country, including in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia. Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison met state and territory leaders on 28 June and agreed on new restrictions to tackle the rise in cases, including more strict quarantine rules. Under the measures, all returned travellers, as well as their close contacts, will be required to take a coronavirus test two to three days after they leave quarantine. UK prime minister Boris Johnson has suggested that coronavirus restrictions in England won’t be lifted earlier than planned on 19 July. “We are seeing an increase in cases,” said Johnson during a campaign visit to Batley, in West Yorkshire on 28 June. “So we think it’s sensible to stick to our plan.” Sajid Javid, who has replaced Matt Hancock as UK health minister, said on 27 June that he wanted to see a return to normal “as quickly as possible”. South Africa’s government has tightened covid-19 restrictions for at least 14 days in an effort to curb a third wave of infections. Under the new measures, all gatherings will be prohibited and there will be a curfew from 9pm to 4am.
6-28-21 Don't fall for the Bill Barr rebrand
He defied Trump — but just barely. Bill Barr isn't a hero. He waited until the very last moment to do the absolute bare minimum. On Sunday The Atlantic published a story detailing how, at a critical moment a few weeks after the 2020 election won by Joe Biden, Barr — Donald Trump's attorney general — undercut the former president's claims of election fraud. It's a piece that reads mostly like it is intended to bolster Barr's own battered reputation: He cooperated with the story's author, ABC News Washington correspondent Jonathan Karl, and the article is peppered with spicy details about Trump acting like a "madman" as he sought to defy the vote. "If there was evidence of fraud, I had no motive to suppress it," Barr told Karl. "But my suspicion all the way along was that there was nothing there. It was all bullshit." Sounds steadfast, even valiant. But one leaves the story with a renewed sense that some of the most powerful men in America — and certainly those within Trump's orbit — were cowards who shirked their obligation to make a full-throated declaration that Biden won the 2020 presidential election. That's literally true in the case of Barr, who summoned an Associated Press reporter to lunch on Dec. 1 to publicly state that no election fraud had been found. Barr mumbled his announcement "between bites of salad," Karl reports, forcing a Department of Justice spokesperson to step in and ask Barr to repeat himself so the reporter could hear what he had just said. Barr did so. "To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election," Barr said. His words were soon broadcast to the world, and they enraged Trump — but, of course, the news did little to stop Trump's efforts to overturn the election. (Webmaster's comment: Barr is just a Thug, in sheep's clothing!)
6-28-21 Wuhan lab-leak theory fuels Trump comeback rally
The belief that Covid-19 originated in a Wuhan lab, once dismissed as a conspiracy theory, has gained respectability although it still remains unproven. Now former President Donald Trump is using this shift in scientific thinking to energise his supporters. Trump gloated at a rally in Ohio on Saturday evening, and said he had been proved right. He spoke of his belief that the coronavirus was scientifically engineered, in a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan. "I said it comes out of Wuhan - it comes out of the lab," he told his supporters, men and women dressed in red Make America Great Again hats, gathered at the rally, southwest of Cleveland. People "went crazy" when he said it, he told his supporters. But not any more. "Now they're saying: Most likely it came out of the Wuhan lab." At this, the crowd roared their approval. Until a few months ago, some media treated the lab-leak theory in a dismissive manner. So did some US scientists. In April 2020, Trump, while serving as president, said that people were looking closely at the theory of a lab leak. At the time, the virus was wreaking havoc in the US, and would soon upend the economy and destroy Trump's political prospects. More than 600,000 people in the US have died of the virus, and it continues to inflict a horrific toll across the country, and around the world. The origins of the virus remain unknown, and the theory about a lab leak is still just an idea, a hypothesis that has not been proven. Yet for many the theory has become more plausible, partly because no evidence has emerged to back alternative theories. A classified US intelligence report - saying three researchers at the Wuhan laboratory were treated in hospital in November 2019, just before the virus began infecting humans in the city - began circulating in US media in May. Members of the World Health Organization team travelled to Wuhan earlier this year, and afterwards, scientists began to talk about the possibility that the virus had come from a lab. But Trump is overstating it when he says he has been proved right. Anthony Fauci, the president's coronavirus response coordinator, told BBC World News America he thinks it is "much more likely that this a natural occurrence... but we'll all keep an open mind that until you nail down completely that connection... But most scientists believe... that this was a natural occurrence".
6-28-21 France's far-right National Rally party loses regional elections, in a blow to Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally party had been hoping to win control of at least one French province in this year's regional elections, but those hopes were dashed Sunday as the election wrapped up and voters picked incumbents from traditional center-left and center-right parties over both Le Pen's party and French President Emmanuel Macron's La République En Marche (LREM). Macron's LREM was effectively knocked out of contention in the first round of voting on June 20, but the National Rally candidate in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, Thierry Mariani, made a strong showing in the first stage. In Sunday's runoff vote, Mariani lost to incumbent regional president Renaud Muselier of the center-right Les Républicains, 42.7 percent to 57.3 percent. "The loss is great disappointment for Le Pen, who was hoping to take at least one region in Sunday's local ballots to boost to her presidential bid for 2022," Politico Europe reports. Macron and Le Pen are running neck-and-neck in early polls for next April's presidential election, but Les Républicains came out of the regional elections in a stronger position. Xavier Bertrand, who easily fended off a challenge from a National Rally candidate in the Hauts-de-France region, plans to run for president next year. Stanislas Guerini, the leader of centrist LREM, called the election results "a disappointment" but said the party had helped defeat National Rally candidates. Le Pen's party dominated the first round of the previous regional elections in 2015, only to lose every race in the runoff votes as voters from different parties banded together to block Le Pen's candidates.
6-28-21 France elections: Far-right National Rally fails in key regional battles
France has held its second round of regional elections, with Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally (RN) again failing to take power anywhere. President Emmanuel Macron's party also suffered bad results, while the centre-right Republicans and the Socialist Party both received surprise boosts. Turnout for Sunday's elections was at a record low, with under 35% of eligible voters casting their ballots. It comes ahead of French presidential elections due in April next year. Mr Macron's centrist La République En Marche (LREM) party, which performed badly in the first round of regional elections last week, also failed to win control of any region. It was the first time President Macron's party had taken part in regional elections, as it did not exist the last time they were held in 2015. Sunday's results are a blow to Ms Le Pen, who had hoped Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur would be her party's first regional victory as she seeks to boost her presidential hopes for 2022. But in Provence, the hotly tipped RN candidate Thierry Mariani lost to Republican Renaud Muselier. "Tonight we have chosen the fate of a free region," Mr Muselier tweeted. Left-wing candidates withdrew from the race in the region to help him defeat rival Mr Mariani. Ms Le Pen accused her rivals of forming "unnatural alliances" to block her and her party from power. "[They] did all they could to keep us out and prevent us from showing the French our capacity to lead a regional administration," she told supporters. The Hauts-de-France region around Calais in the north had also been earmarked as a potential gain for Ms Le Pen's RN, but was won by conservative Xavier Bertrand. "The far-right has been stopped in its tracks and we have pushed it back sharply," he told his supporters after the polls closed.
6-28-21 Covid-19: A coronavirus-linked threat to children in India
This month, four children were admitted separately to a hospital in the central Indian state of Maharashtra with symptoms of breathlessness and falling blood pressure. Their mothers had contracted Covid-19 more than a month ago. The children had developed no symptoms of the disease. At the 1,000-bed Kasturba Hospital in Sevagram, the young patients, however, were found to have antibodies to Covid-19, indicating past infection. Now they were battling a rare, inflammatory and potentially life threatening condition called multi-system inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C). This condition usually develops four to six weeks after children and teenagers have recovered from Covid-19. At the Kasturba Hospital, two of the sick children have recovered, while the other two are being treated in intensive care. "I would worry about this condition. We simply don't know how deep this problem is. It is worrisome we still don't have data on the burden of this disease in India," Dr SP Kalantri, medical superintendent of the hospital, said. As the deadly second wave of the coronavirus abates, paediatricians across India are reporting more cases of this rare but serious condition. Since doctors are still reporting cases, it is not clear how many children have been affected so far. The US has reported more than 4,000 such cases and 36 deaths from the disease so far. At Delhi's Gangaram Hospital, Dr Dhiren Gupta, an intensive care paediatric, has seen more than 75 patients, aged between four and 15, since March, when the second wave began. His hospital has opened an 18-bed MIS-C ward. He reckons there have been more than 500 such cases in the capital and its suburbs. Nearly 1,500km (932 miles) away, in the western city of Pune, Dr Aarti Kinikar, a paediatrician working in a government medical college and hospital, has seen 30 such cases since April. Thirteen of the sick children, aged four to 12 years, are still in hospital. Most of them have suffered from myocarditis, a disease marked by the inflammation of the heart muscle. "The numbers are too many after the second wave," Dr Kinikar said.
6-28-21 Australia Covid: Outbreaks emerge across country in 'new phase' of pandemic
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison has met national leaders for emergency talks on how to tackle a spike in Covid-19 infections. An outbreak in Sydney linked to the highly contagious Delta variant has grown to 128 cases. Cases have also been recorded in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia. Officials say it is a "critical time". Australia has kept case numbers low with border closures and lockdowns. Reports say the emergency meeting considered measures such as mandatory vaccinations for care home workers and new quarantine rules. This is the first time in months that cases have emerged in multiple parts of the country at the same time. "I think we're entering a new phase of this pandemic, with the more contagious Delta strain," Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told ABC News ahead of the meeting of the Covid-19 response committee. The escalation in Covid infections has prompted lockdowns in the cities of Sydney and Darwin, as well as restrictions across four states. The situation remains most concerning in Sydney, where some five million residents are subject to a stay-at-home order. The New South Wales (NSW) state government on Sunday expanded a lockdown to cover all of Greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Central Coast and Wollongong. Many businesses and venues have been ordered shut. On Monday NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian reported 18 new cases, down from the 30 reported the previous day. Nearly 59,000 people had been tested in the previous 24 hours. "We have to be prepared for the numbers to bounce around and we have to be prepared for the numbers to go up considerably because with this strain, we are seeing almost 100% of transmission within households," she said. Just a week ago Sydney was still in near Covid-free bliss - with people packed into restaurants and dancing in clubs. But the swift spread of Delta has upended the "new normal". The strain is now linked to three of four clusters affecting Australia.
6-27-21 Russia is having a hard time motivating people to get vaccinated
There are three widely available COVID-19 vaccines in Russia, but many Russians say they won't get a shot because they don't trust something made in their country. Russia announced last August that it had its first vaccine, called Sputnik V, and President Vladimir Putin's daughter had been inoculated with it. Researchers have found that Sputnik V, which is also being used in Brazil and Turkey, is about 91 percent effective. Even with multiple vaccination options, only 14 percent of Russia's 146 million residents have been vaccinated with at least one dose of a vaccine, and the government will not hit its goal of getting 30 million Russians vaccinated by June. Samyr Oynushev, 29, of Moscow told NBC News he believes COVID-19 vaccines are necessary, but will not get one made in Russia. "If I had a choice, I would rather take a non-Russian vaccine," he said. "I think that [low vaccination rates] are primarily the fault of the government, that people don't trust them so much." There have been giveaways of cars and groceries to entice people into getting vaccinated, and in Moscow, bars and restaurants have been ordered to serve only people who have proof of vaccination or antibodies. Across Russia, the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths are going up — 619 people died on Saturday, the highest number since Dec. 24, and in Moscow, the highly contagious Delta variant is linked to 90 percent of coronavirus cases reported last week. A study published in the journal Nature estimates that in St. Petersburg, about 45 percent of residents have COVID-19 antibodies, and that's another reason why many people are avoiding getting vaccinated. Epidemiologist Vasily Vlassov, infected with COVID-19 in January, is among those who said he does not feel motivated to get a Russian-made vaccine. "Russians know German cars are better than Russia's cars and they have a problem believing that a Russian vaccine is better," he told NBC News. Vlassov is now in Israel, and said he is thinking about getting the Pfizer shot before heading home.
6-27-21 Covid: NSW sees 30 new Covid cases as Sydney locks down
The Australian state of New South Wales has reported 30 new Covid cases on the second day of Greater Sydney's two-week lockdown. An expanded lockdown now covers 5m people in Greater Sydney, as well as the Blue Mountains, Central Coast and Wollongong. Cases of the highly infectious Delta variant now stand at 110. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Sunday that she expected that figure to rise. "Given how contagious this strain of the virus is, we do anticipate that in the next few days, case numbers are likely to increase even beyond what we have seen today because we are seeing that people in isolation, unfortunately, would have already transmitted to all their house contacts," she said. Stay-at-home orders will remain in place until 9 July for all of Greater Sydney and the other specified areas. Police have said they will use number plate recognition technology to monitor vehicles and ensure people have not strayed out of their lockdown zone. Virgin Australia said on Sunday it was contacted passengers and crew on five recent domestic flights, after a crew member had tested positive in Melbourne. In the Northern Territory, Darwin and two other towns have entered a 48-hour lockdown after four cases new cases were reported. On Saturday, New Zealand paused its quarantine-free travel bubble with all of Australia for three days because of the latest outbreak. The travel corridor between the two neighbours was opened in April. Travel between New Zealand and specific Australian regions has been closed for short periods as outbreaks occurred, but this is the first time the bubble has been shut with all of Australia. Australia has consistently maintained very low rates of Covid transmission and this is the first lockdown in Sydney - its largest city - since December. The outbreak of new infections emerged a week ago in Bondi, the famous beach suburb, and spread first into the city centre and then to its western fringes.
6-26-21 Florida building collapse: Report from 2018 warned of 'major damage'
An inspection in 2018 highlighted "a major error" in the original design of an apartment block that collapsed near Miami, Florida, it has been revealed. The engineer's report, which has just been made public, said the fault prevented water draining from the base of the seafront Champlain Towers. Part of the building collapsed on Thursday while many residents slept. Hopes are fading for the 159 people still unaccounted for. So far, four deaths have been confirmed. The building consultant's report from three years ago came to light in a series of documents made public by the town of Surfside. The engineer, Frank Morabito, said the lack of proper drainage was "a systemic issue" that stemmed from a flaw "in the development of the original contract documents". He flagged what he called "major structural damage" to the concrete platform beneath the swimming pool deck. "The failed waterproofing is causing major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas," he wrote. "Failure to replace the waterproofing in the near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially." The engineer also referred to "abundant cracking… of columns, beams and walls" in the parking garage. His report didn't suggest the 40-year-old building was at any imminent risk of collapse but he urged that the concrete repairs be carried out in "a timely fashion". Correspondents say it is not yet clear if the repairs were carried out or if the problems highlighted contributed to the structural failure. Champlain Towers had been due to undergo a multi-million dollar refurbishment this year. The governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, has promised that authorities will find out what happened saying "anybody affected by this directly wants that answer". Search and rescue teams continued to look for signs of life on Saturday, while families anxiously waited for updates. Rachel Spiegal, whose missing mother lived on the sixth floor of the building, told the Associated Press she was "praying for a miracle". Jeanne Ugarte said she did not expect her long-time friends who lived in the building to be found alive. "It's been too long," she told the news agency.
6-26-21 Miami building collapse: Demands for answers grow
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has said people "have a right to know" how a 12-storey building collapsed in the US city of Miami, as the search for survivors continues. The number of people listed as missing remains at 159, officials say, with four people known to have died. At least 102 people have now been accounted for, but it is uncertain how many were inside when it came down. Questions are now growing about what caused the building to collapse. Speaking on Friday, Governor DeSantis said the focus remained on finding survivors. But he called for a "timely" explanation for what happened, adding they needed to know "if this is a bigger issue, or something unique to the building". Champlain Towers South was completed in 1981. When it collapsed it was going through a recertification process for 40-year-old buildings, in line with city safety regulations. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a press conference on Friday night she was hopeful they would find survivors overnight. "We have hope because that's what our search and rescue team tells us, that they have hope," she told reporters. Rescuers are working in rotation with a limited number allowed on site at any one time to prevent any further collapse, she said. Teams from Mexico and Israel have also reportedly arrived to help with the search. As night fell on Friday, the fire rescue service warned people nearby to stay indoors due to the "smoky conditions". President Joe Biden has approved an emergency declaration for Florida, meaning the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) will help state agencies with the relief effort. A large section of the oceanfront Champlain Towers in Surfside crumbled to the ground at about 01:00 (05:00 GMT) on Thursday. Resident Barry Cohen was in bed when the building started to collapse. "It sounded like thunder, and my wife and I, we went out on the balcony; it looked like a bomb had exploded," he told the BBC. "When we opened the door, there was no building there, it was just a pile of rubble," he said. Eyewitnesses described hearing what sounded like thunder before seeing a huge cloud of dust in the aftermath of the collapse. One compared the scene to the 11 September 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York.
6-26-21 George Floyd murder: Derek Chauvin sentenced to over 22 years
The US white ex-police officer convicted of murdering African-American man George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020 has been sentenced to 22 years and six months in jail. The judge said Derek Chauvin's sentence was based "on your abuse of a position of trust and authority, and also the particular cruelty shown" to Mr Floyd. Mr Floyd, 48, died after Chauvin knelt on his neck for nine minutes. His murder caused global protests against racism and police brutality. Chauvin, 45, was convicted of second-degree murder and other charges last month. During his trial, his lawyer described the killing as "an error made in good faith". Chauvin was also told to register as a predatory offender and was barred from owning firearms for life. He and three other former officers are separately charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights. The Floyd family and their supporters welcomed the sentence. "This historic sentence brings the Floyd family and our nation one step closer to healing by delivering closure and accountability," lawyer Ben Crump tweeted. Mr Floyd's sister Bridgett Floyd said the sentence "shows that matters of police brutality are finally being taken seriously" but there was still "a long way to go". President Joe Biden said the sentence "seemed to be appropriate" but admitted that he did not know all the details. During the sentencing hearing, Mr Floyd's brother Terrence Floyd demanded the maximum available, a sentence of 40 years. "Why? What were you thinking? What was going through your head when you had your knee on my brother's neck?" he said. The judge said the case had been painful for the community and the country, but above all, for Mr Floyd's family. "What the sentence is not based on is emotion, or sympathy, but at the same time, I want to acknowledge the deep and tremendous pain that all the families are feeling, especially the Floyd family," said Judge Peter Cahill.
6-26-21 Kamala Harris visits US border amid migrant crisis
Kamala Harris has made her first trip as vice-president to the nation's southern border as the White House grapples with political pressure over a growing migrant crisis. In El Paso, Texas, Ms Harris called for an end to "finger-pointing". She also criticised ex-President Donald Trump. One of her fellow Democrats said this administration's handling of the border situation made the party look "weak". A record level of undocumented migrants have arrived at the border this year. (Webmaster's comment: Wrong! The numbers were 1 1/2 times larger for 2000 through 2006!) The numbers of asylum seekers and economic migrants fleeing poverty, corruption and gang violence in Latin America are only expected to grow during the summer months. This year US border agents have also separately apprehended two Yemeni men who were on a terror watchlist. In Friday's brief trip, Ms Harris visited immigration facilities and met girl migrants aged 9-16 not far from the border. "They were asking me questions: 'How do you become the first woman vice-president?'" Ms Harris said. "It also reminds me of the fact that this issue cannot be reduced to a political issue. We're talking about children, we're talking about families, we are talking about suffering." She called for an end to political "finger-pointing" and "infighting". During the trip she also said: "It is here in El Paso that the previous administration's child separation policy was unveiled," in a reference to Mr Trump's splitting up of migrant families. Critics said Ms Harris should have visited a tent complex at nearby Fort Bliss, where migrant children are being held. A BBC investigation of the Fort Bliss detention centre found reports of sexual abuse, Covid and lice outbreaks, hungry children being served undercooked meat and sandstorms engulfing the desert tent camps where the young people are being held. Ms Harris' motorcade was greeted by pro-Trump protesters waving flags. One demonstrator's sign said: "How many little girls need to be raped for this to be a crisis?"
6-26-21 Germany passes new citizenship law for descendants of Nazi victims
German lawmakers have approved changes that will make it easier for descendants of those who fled Nazi persecution to obtain citizenship. Under German law, people stripped of their citizenship on political, racial or religious grounds can have it restored, and so can their descendants. But legal loopholes had prevented many people from benefiting. Campaigners say the move allow many to reconnect with their German heritage, particularly in the Jewish community. "We acknowledge the work that the German people have undertaken to honour the memory of those lost and those who suffered in the [Holocaust]," said Felix Couchman, chair of the Article 116 Exclusions Group, which has been lobbying on the issue for years. "These measures have been necessary stepping stones to rebuilding trust," he added. While Germany's post-war constitution allows citizenship to be restored, the lack of a legal framework meant many people had their applications rejected. Some were denied because their ancestors had taken another nationality before their citizenship was revoked. For others it was because they were born to a German mother, but not a German father. Until a change to the law in 1953, German citizenship could only be passed on paternally. A legal decree was passed in 2019 to help close these loopholes. Now that it has passed the lower house of Germany's Bundestag, with a large majority, prospective applicants will have a firmer legal footing for their appeal. The law does also cover those who were directly deprived of their citizenship but, given the passage of time, descendants will be the main beneficiaries. The new law also bars the naturalisation of people convicted of racist, anti-Semitic or xenophobic acts. "This is not just about putting things right, it is about apologising in profound shame," said Interior Minister Horst Seehofer in March, when the government passed the draft law. "It is a huge fortune for our country if people want to become German, despite the fact that we took everything from their ancestors." (Webmaster's comment: Nazis and Jewish hatred are still alive in all countries, and especially in the United States!)
6-26-21 Covid: Sydney lockdown extended as Delta outbreak grows
The Australian city of Sydney has gone into a two-week lockdown after a rise in the number of coronavirus cases. More than one million people in central and eastern suburbs were already under restrictions imposed on Friday following a jump in cases. The lockdown now covers the whole city and some surrounding areas, and is extended from one week to two. More than 80 cases of the highly infectious Delta variant were confirmed in the city in recent days. New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said stay-at-home orders would be in place until 9 July for all of Greater Sydney - with a population of about five million - and the surrounding regions of Blue Mountains, Central Coast and Wollongong. "When you have a contagious variant, like the Delta virus, a three-day lockdown doesn't work - if we're going to do this we need to do it properly," she said. "We do need to brace ourselves for a potentially large number of cases in the following days." Police have said they will use number plate recognition technology to monitor vehicles and ensure people have not strayed out of their lockdown zone. On Saturday, New Zealand paused its quarantine-free travel bubble with all of Australia for three days because of the latest outbreak. The travel corridor between the two neighbours was opened in April. Travel between New Zealand and specific Australian regions has been closed for short periods as outbreaks occurred, but this is the first time the bubble has been shut with all of Australia. Australia has consistently maintained very low rates of Covid transmission and this is the first lockdown in Sydney - its largest city - since December. The outbreak of new infections emerged a week ago in Bondi, the famous beach suburb, and spread first into the city centre and then to its western fringes. It has been linked to a driver who transported international arrivals from the airport.
6-26-21 UFO report: US finds no explanation for sightings
The US government has said it has no explanation for dozens of unidentified flying objects seen by military pilots. A Pentagon report released on Friday says of 144 reports made about the phenomena since 2004, all but one remain unexplained. It does not rule out the possibility that the objects are extra-terrestrial. Congress demanded the report after the US military reported numerous instance of objects seen moving erratically in the sky. The Pentagon then established the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force last August to look into the reports. The group's job was to "detect, analyse and catalogue" these events, as well as to "gain insight" into the "nature and origins" of UFOs, the Pentagon said. The interim report released on Friday said most of the 144 reported cases of the "unidentified aerial phenomena" (UAP), came in the last two years, after the US Navy put in place a standardised reporting mechanism. In 143 of the reported cases, they "lack sufficient information in our dataset to attribute incidents to specific explanations". Crucially, it said there were "no clear indications that there is any non-terrestrial explanation" for the aircraft, but also did not rule it out. UAP "probably lack a single explanation", the report said. Some could be technologies from another nation like China or Russia, others could be natural atmospheric phenomena like ice crystals that could register on radar systems, while the report also suggested some could be "attributable to developments and classified programs by US entities". The one case they could identify "with high confidence" was identified as "a large, deflating balloon", the report said. It added that the UAP posed "a clear safety of flight issue and may pose a challenge to US national security". The taskforce is now "looking for novel ways to increase collection" of reports and gather more information, adding that "additional funding" could "further study of the topics laid out in this report". (Webmaster's comment: We've been having these reports since World War II. And we'll be having them 100 years from now. They're little green men from Jupiter!)
6-25-21 Lab leaks have happened before, and probably more often than you'd think
As researchers continue to investigate the origins of COVID-19, there has been an increased focus on the lab leak theory, a once-taboo hypothesis gaining credibility in the public and scientific communities that suggests the SARS-CoV-2 virus escaped from a lab in China. But as many perhaps wouldn't know, lab leaks have not only happened multiple times before, they've happened relatively recently, as well. "Nearly every SARS case since the original epidemic has been due to lab leaks — six incidents in three countries, including twice in a single month from a lab in Beijing," writes Dr. Zeynep Tufekci for The New York Times. In 2007, foot-and-mouth disease, a virus able to "devastate livestock," escaped via drainage pipe leak from a U.K. lab with the "highest biosafety rating," reports Tufekci. And don't think America hasn't made its own mistakes. In 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported "11 laboratory-acquired infections across six years," typically in BSL-3 labs, a biosafety rating one step down from the maximum BSL-4. "In each instance," writes Tufekci, exposure was not realized until "lab workers became infected." To curb potential disasters, scientists have suggested stricter controls, or moving research labs outside "densely populated cities." Some have even mentioned implementing a "stronger risk-benefit analysis" before researching a pathogen that could "inadvertently spark pandemics." Whatever the path, Tufekci calls on government officials and scientists to put "public interest before personal ambitions" and acknowledge biomedical research as a powerful, but potentially dangerous tool.
6-25-21 The Miami condo collapse is a devastating reminder of America's artificial land problem
Big chunks of American cities are built on man-made land that is a climate catastrophe waiting to happen. A condo complex in south Florida partly collapsed out of nowhere Thursday morning. At time of writing, at least four people are confirmed dead and 159 others are still missing — making it likely one of the worst building collapse disasters in American history. It is not yet known for certain what caused the collapse, but one probable culprit was the fact that the building had been built on reclaimed wetland, and as a result, had been sinking into the ground for decades. Scientist Shimon Wdowinski happened to study the area last year, and found that the building (which was built in in 1981) had been sinking at the rate of about 2 millimeters per year back in the 1990s. Even if some other factor was the proximate cause, the sinking surely made it worse — a building in such a situation can easily develop cracks in its foundation or other problems that compromise its structure. It's illustrative of a major problem in many American cities: reclaimed land. Big chunks of almost all American coastal cities are built on reclaimed land that will likely turn to soup as climate change causes ocean levels to rise. Rising seas of course threaten any city that is at a low elevation. But reclaimed land — that is, new land space made by dumping fill into a lake, river, ocean, or wetland — is at particular risk, because it is much less stable than normal land. At best, reclaimed areas are made with concrete, rocks, sand, or other material that can be compacted into a fairly stable shape. At worst, they are made by throwing some dirt over the top of a pile of garbage, and building more city on top of it.
6-25-21 CNN's Van Jones disappointed by Chauvin's sentence: 'A punch in the gut'
CNN commentator Van Jones is "very" disappointed over the prison sentence Derek Chauvin received for the muder of George Floyd. A judge sentenced Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, to 22.5 years in prison Friday after he was convicted of murdering Floyd, though according to The Associated Press, with good behavior, Chauvin "could be paroled after serving two-thirds of his sentence, or about 15 years." Jones expressed disappointment on CNN over the sentence and argued it was too light. "Very disappointing," Jones said. "15 years? I know people doing 15 years for nothing, I mean, for victimless crimes of drug possession. ... What this man did, there should have been the maximum of the maximum." Jones added that while he didn't think the sentence would spark "outrage," he argued it was still a "punch in the gut" because "this guy's life was worth more than 15 years," and he hoped the sentence would send a message to law enforcement that "you can't do this type of stuff [or] you're never going to come back home." CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig agreed that while the sentence was "serious," he felt it was "light" and that Chauvin should have received more time. CNN legal analyst Jennifer Rogers pointed out that the sentence itself was not 15 years but 22.5 years, but she added, "I do think that it was light like you all do." But Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said Friday that the sentence was "one of the longest a former police officer has ever received" for use of deadly force, adding that this is "not justice, but it is another moment of real accountability on the road to justice," per CBS. President Biden also said Friday that the sentence seemed "to be appropriate."
6-25-21 Covid-19 news: All adults in England told to ‘grab a 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. Any adults not yet vaccinated urged to “grab a jab” this weekend. Anyone 18 or older in England is being urged to get vaccinated against covid-19 this weekend in a campaign called “Grab A Jab”. The National Health Service is expanding capacity at hundreds of walk-in clinics at shopping centres, supermarket car parks, theatres and football stadiums. People can find their nearest venue at nhs.uk/grab-a-jab. Fourteen more countries and territories have been added to the UK’s “green list” for travel. They include: Ibiza, Menorca, Majorca, Formentera, Malta, Madeira and some islands in the Caribbean, including Barbados. Travellers to places on the green list do not have to automatically quarantine when they return to the UK, but must take PCR tests before departure and on their first day back. But UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps warned that restrictions could change and holiday makers should ensure their bookings could be altered. Israel has reintroduced rules that people must wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces – just ten days after the measure was lifted. The country is seeing a doubling of the number of new covid-19 cases every few days. There are still “significant weaknesses” with the performance of NHS Test and Trace, England’s system for notifying people when they have been in contact with someone with covid-19, the National Audit Office has found. The watchdog says turnaround times are poor and the service uses too many consultants.
6-25-21 Biden backs $1.2tn infrastructure bill but places big condition
The US Senate has struck an agreement for a $1.2tn (£860bn) infrastructure bill in what could herald a legislative victory for President Joe Biden. "We have a deal," said the president after meeting the cross-party group of senators at the White House. The eight-year plan includes funding for roads, bridges, the power grid, public transport and internet. But the deal is far from done as Mr Biden said it depended on the passage of another, bigger spending bill. At the White House on Thursday, Mr Biden praised the group of five Republican and five Democratic senators whom he met earlier, and promised the package would generate "millions" of jobs. The investments are long overdue, said Mr Biden, who has persisted with the cross-party negotiations despite the impatience and scepticism of some in his Democratic party. "We're in a race with China and the rest of the world for the 21st Century," he continued, adding: "This agreement signals to the world that we can function, deliver and do significant things." Less than half the money in the eight-year proposal is new spending. It includes $109bn for roads and bridges, $66bn for railways, $49bn for public transport and $25bn for airports, according to a White House statement. A further $73bn would be pumped into power grid and $65bn for expanding Americans' access to broadband internet. The package is meant to be paid for with unused coronavirus aid money and returned state jobless benefits. Democrats also argue the bill's proposed $40bn investment in the Internal Revenue Service for beefed-up enforcement would generate a net gain of $100bn in extra tax revenue. The plan will reportedly neither raise taxes on middle-income Americans, nor reverse the cuts to business taxes that were passed during the Trump presidency. Republicans had strongly opposed Mr Biden's calls to increase the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, while the president had rejected a plan to hike taxes on petrol.
6-25-21 Why New York Pride parade has barred uniformed police officers
Organisers of the annual Pride parade in New York City decided to exclude officers from walking the route in a bid to create a "safer space" for all participants. The BBC spoke with a gay officer who said she was "heartbroken" by the decision.
6-25-21 Coronavirus: Israel reimposes masks amid new virus fears
Israel has reintroduced a requirement to wear masks indoors amid a rise in coronavirus cases, just days after it lifted the measure. Concern has grown after the country recorded more than 100 new daily cases in successive days after registering zero earlier this month. Most of the cases have been linked to the Delta variant from abroad. Israel has been one of the most successful countries in the world in tackling the pandemic. It implemented the fastest vaccination programme, under which well over half the population of 9.3m has been partially or fully immunised. But on Thursday, 10 days after the mandate was lifted, Israel's coronavirus response chief Nachman Ash said people would once again need to wear masks indoors to try to stem the rise in cases. "We are seeing a doubling every few days," Mr Ash told public radio. "Another thing that's worrying is that the infections are spreading." The requirement to wear masks had been the last remaining restriction after all other measures, imposed during lockdown earlier this year, had been gradually dropped. Amid fears of a resurgence of the disease, the town of Binyamina in the north which registered the highest rate of cases in the country was designated a "red zone" on Wednesday - the first to be listed as such for months. Israel has also postponed the reopening of the country to vaccinated tourists by one month. Following the outbreak of the pandemic in late-2019, Israel became one of the worst affected countries in the world, registering about 60,000 infections per week at its peak in January. It imposed three lockdowns and ultimately saw a dramatic decline in cases as its vaccination programme was rolled out. More than 6,400 people have died with the virus in Israel.
6-24-21 Covid-19 news: 2 million people affected by long covid in England
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 covid may have affected more than 2 million people in England. Almost 6 per cent of adults in England have had long covid, meaning they experienced at least one lingering symptom after an infection with coronavirus, suggests research by Imperial College London published on 24 June. The estimate of 2 million suffering from the condition, which is the subject of a New Scientist special feature this week, is much higher than previous studies. The figure is extrapolated from surveys by the long-running ‘REACT-2’ study, using self-reported responses from around half a million people in England who reported having covid-19. The results show some people are more likely to be affected with persistent symptoms than others: women, smokers and anyone obese or overweight is more at risk. The UK’s foreign travel restrictions are expected to be tweaked in an announcement around 5pm today, which is widely expected to impose fewer barriers on fully vaccinated individuals. UK prime minister Boris Johnson said the changes will offer a “real opportunity to open up travel”, but other countries may have other ideas. Germany still requires UK visitors to quarantine on arrival, regardless of their vaccination status. China is on track to have fully vaccinated three quarters of its population by the end of this year, according to science analysts Airfinity. The group says that a “staggering” 23.6 million doses were given in China on one day, 22 June. To date, the country has administered a third of all covid-19 vaccine doses globally. 13 genetic sequences of covid-19 taken in Wuhan early in the pandemic were deleted from a US database at the request of Chinese researchers, finds a new paper, not yet peer-reviewed, by Jesse Bloom at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. “You can’t really say why they were removed. You can say that the practical consequence of removing them was that people didn’t notice they existed,” Bloom told the New York Times.
6-24-21 US crime: Is America seeing a surge in violence?
President Joe Biden is launching a renewed effort to tackle crime in the US, as a series of major cities experience spikes in violent offences. We've taken a look at the violent crime trends across the US. Police departments across the US define violent crime in slightly different ways, but the data usually includes murder, robbery, assault and rape. Overall, violent crime was up by about 3% in 2020 over the previous year, but this should be seen in the context of the longer term downward trend from a peak in the early 1990s. Across the US, there were 25% more murders recorded in 2020 than the previous year. This is a steep rise, but the murder rate is still far lower than than in the early 1990s, when it was almost double the current figure. Major US cities have tended to follow the national trend in becoming safer since the 1990s, but some have also seen a sharp rise in murders recently. These spikes in some of the biggest US cities have been of considerable concern to President Biden's administration. The New York Times looked at 37 cities across the US with data for the first three months of this year, and overall there has been an an 18% increase in murders compared with the same time period in 2020. Chicago has one of the worst records for murders, with a big increase in 2020 and a continuing upwards trend so far in 2021. Shooting incidents in Chicago are also up 15% on the same point last year, and are more than double the level they were at two years ago. A rise in the number of shootings has been seen in many other major US cities as well, with President Biden attempting to strengthen firearm regulations to combat gun violence. New York has also seen shooting incidents and murders rise, continuing an upward trend which began in 2020. Through to the middle of June, there have been almost 200 murders in New York so far this year - more than a 13% increase on the same period two years ago. And shooting incidents have more than doubled from the same period in 2019. Despite the recent spike in murders, both New York and Chicago, along with most other US cities, have seen overall violent crime drop significantly over the last 20 years.
6-24-21 Biden backs funding more police to fight crime wave
President Joe Biden has unveiled a plan that includes funding more police to combat a nationwide surge in homicides, which he blamed on lax gun control. He said officials in high crime areas can hire more law-enforcement personnel using coronavirus relief funding. Mr Biden's crime-fighting strategy calls for curtailing rogue gun dealers and firearms trafficking. Republicans are depicting Mr Biden's Democrats as weak on crime, amid calls by left-wingers to defund the police. Announcing his five-point strategy at the White House on Wednesday, the president urged cities and states to use $350bn (£250bn) of funding from a Covid-19 relief bill on public safety efforts, including adding more police officers, even beyond pre-pandemic levels. "It means more police officers, more nurses, more counsellors, more social workers or community violence interrupters to help resolve issues before they escalate into crimes," the president said. Some members of Mr Biden's party have amplified calls by Black Lives Matter activists to defund the police, though the president himself has resisted the slogan, which is unpopular with most voters. Mr Biden - who as a senator wrote a 1994 crime bill widely blamed for mass incarceration of black people - said on Wednesday: "This is not a time to turn our backs on law enforcement or our communities." Unless tamed, the crime wave is likely to become a major issue ahead of next year's congressional mid-term elections. During his remarks at the White House, the president also took aim at armed insurrectionists, saying they would "need F-15s and maybe some nuclear weapons" to take on the US government. The Biden administration has proposed gun control as a remedy for violent crime, although Democratic bills in Congress to limit Americans' access to firearms have been blocked by Republicans.
6-24-21 Vice-President Kamala Harris to make first trip to border
US Vice-President Kamala Harris will on Friday make her first trip to the US southern border since taking office. She has faced questions about why she has not visited the boundary since the White House assigned her in March to address the "root causes" of migration. The visit was announced a week after former President Donald Trump said he would go to the border on 30 June. The number of undocumented migrants reaching the US-Mexico border is at the highest level in more than 20 years. A BBC investigation of a detention centre for migrant children in El Paso, Texas, has found reports of sexual abuse, Covid and lice outbreaks, hungry children being served undercooked meat and sandstorms engulfing the desert tent camps where the minors are being held. Ms Harris will travel to El Paso with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, according to White House officials. When asked on Wednesday whether Ms Harris was bowing to political pressure, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the vice-president was going because the administration had determined now is the "appropriate time for her to go to the border" and help "get the situation under control". Mr Trump and other Republicans took credit. In a statement Mr Trump said: "After months of ignoring the crisis at the Southern Border, it is great that we got Kamala Harris to finally go and see the tremendous destruction and death that they've created - a direct result of Biden ending my very tough but fair Border policies. The announcement came on the day US Border Patrol chief Rodney Scott said he was leaving his job after less than two years in the position. He had embraced former President Trump's policies, particularly on building a border wall, a project Mr Biden has halted. Earlier this month, Ms Harris made her first trip abroad as vice-president - travelling to Mexico and Guatemala for talks about the humanitarian crisis. The presidents of both countries have blamed the Biden administration's policies for causing the record surge in undocumented migration. (Webmaster's comment: Statue of Liberty quote: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!")
6-24-21 Joplin hospital reopens shuttered COVID-19 ward as Missouri cases jump in under-vaccinated areas
COVID-19 infections and deaths continue to drop in the U.S., hitting a seven-day average of 273 deaths a day and 10,350 new cases, from a peak of about 3,300 deaths and 250,000 cases a day in January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday. But earlier this month, COVID-19 caseloads in highly vaccinated parts of the U.S. and areas with low vaccination rates started diverging, The Washington Post found, and now "COVID-19 transmission is accelerating in several poorly vaccinated states, primarily in the South plus Missouri and Utah, and more young people are turning up at hospitals," Bloomberg reports. The rapid spread of the delta variant, first identified in India, is poised to split the U.S. more sharply, the Post reported Wednesday, "with highly vaccinated areas continuing toward post-pandemic freedom and poorly vaccinated regions threatened by greater caseloads and hospitalizations."
6-24-21 Covid-19: Europe braces for surge in Delta variant
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that Europe is "on thin ice" as the Delta variant of Covid spreads on the continent. Her warning came as EU health officials said the variant would account for 90% of the bloc's cases by late August. The spread could disrupt plans for lifting restrictions during the summer. The Alpha variant, first discovered in the UK, hit Europe hard early this year and Delta, now dominant in the UK, is thought 40%-60% more transmissible. Andrea Ammon, the director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), said on Wednesday that the spread of the Delta variant showed the importance of speeding up vaccinations in Europe, as "preliminary data shows that it can also infect individuals that have received only one dose of the currently available vaccines". Two doses offered "high protection" against the Delta (B.1.617.2) variant, she added. Delta, first identified in India, now accounts for almost all new infections in the UK. On Wednesday Mrs Merkel called for a more co-ordinated EU response and said all member states should quarantine arrivals from the UK considering the dangers of the spread of Delta. The UK is not on the EU's list of safe countries, due to the spread of Delta, but that list is not binding on member states. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that while fully vaccinating people offered "a good way forward" for resuming travel, this summer would not be "like every other. This is going to be a more difficult summer to take a holiday". Here is how different parts of Europe are dealing with the threat of Delta. Although cases in France have been falling, Delta is causing concern in an area in the south-west of the country. On Thursday, Russia recorded more than 20,000 new cases and 569 deaths - the highest figures since January. Portugal's health minister has admitted the country could have "acted differently" to prevent the spread of the variant, which now accounts for more the half of new cases in Lisbon and the Tagus Valley. The German head of the World Medical Association has urged people not to travel to London for Euro 2020 matches over concerns about the Delta variant.
6-24-21 Illegal gold miners stalk Amazon as authorities look away
At around midday on 11 May, Dario Kopenawa, an indigenous leader, received a desperate phone call from a remote village in the Brazilian Amazon. Palimiú has a population of about 1,000, who live in large communal houses on the banks of a river called Uraricoera. You can only reach it by plane, or after a long journey on a boat. Kopenawa, from the Yanomami tribe, is used to hearing pleas for help from communities in the rainforest, but this one was different. "They attacked us," a man said, "they almost killed us". They, Kopenawa was told, were garimpeiros, or illegal gold miners, who had arrived on seven motorboats, some carrying automatic weapons, and started shooting indiscriminately. Hiding behind trees, the Yanomami fought back, using shotguns and bows. An indigenous man was grazed by a bullet in the head, Kopenawa learned, and four miners were injured. The attackers left after half an hour, but threatened to come back for revenge. Terrified, women fled into the dense jungle with their children to seek refuge. It was chaotic, and two boys, aged one and five, drowned. Palimiú sits on Brazil's largest indigenous reserve, which has an area similar to Portugal and 27,000 people. Mining is illegal there, but prospectors have always found ways to do their work. "Garimpeiros are all over the place," Kopenawa said. He avoids going to areas where they are because of death threats and, after the call, he alerted the authorities, saying something had to be done. The next day, a team of federal police travelled to Palimiú on a small plane, and were joined by Junior Hekukari, who heads the local indigenous health council. As he was leaving the area, Hekukari spotted some boats drifting with their engines switched off, and he guessed they were trying to avoid being noticed. As the men in the vessels approached, they shot multiple times at the village.
6-23-21 Military comes to aid of South Africa's hospitals amid third wave
WHILE global coronavirus case numbers continue to decline, cases are surging in some African countries. South Africa has sent military medical personnel to hospitals in its Gauteng region, the commercial heart of the country, to help them cope with soaring numbers of covid-19 patients. Experts in South Africa attribute its third wave to increased social mixing. “It’s happening because we were pretty relaxed in terms of restrictions, we were allowing people to mix quite freely, even pretty big gatherings were allowed,” says Richard Lessells at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban. The country is reporting nearly 200 cases per million people per day. During its second wave, it reported just over 300 cases per million at the peak. With case numbers climbing fast, the third might yet surpass the second. The third wave is being caused by the beta variant behind the country’s second wave, says Lessells. This variant evolved in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa towards the end of 2020, and has spread to many other countries. The delta and alpha variants are also present, but are responsible for a small proportion of cases in South Africa. “People are desperate for us to say the delta variant is causing the third wave because they feel like they have to have an explanation for why the third wave is happening,” says Lessells. “Actually at the moment the evidence suggests it’s still the beta variant.” There were far fewer introductions of delta in South Africa than in the UK, making it harder for it to spread widely. The reason why the Gauteng region is being particularly hard hit now could be because it wasn’t so badly affected in South Africa’s second wave, says Lessells, meaning fewer people have immunity. The arrival of winter could also be playing a part, as people spend more time indoors.
6-23-21 'Ashamed' Capitol rioter gets probation after guilty plea
Anna Morgan-Lloyd of Indiana was sentenced to three years of probation on Wednesday, after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor count of demonstrating inside the Capitol on Jan. 6. This is the first sentencing of a Jan. 6 rioter. After the attack, Lloyd, 49, called Jan. 6 "the most exciting day of my life," but she told U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth on Wednesday that she now is "ashamed that it became a savage display of violence that day." Lloyd said she wanted to support former President Donald Trump "peacefully" and it was "never my intent to be a part of something that's so disgraceful to our American people and so disgraceful to our country. I just want to apologize." In addition to serving probation, Lloyd must also perform 40 hours of community service and pay $500 in restitution. Prosecutors said probation was appropriate, The Washington Post reports, because Lloyd does not have any known ties to extremists and during the 10 minutes she was inside a Capitol hallway, she was not violent or destructive. They also said Lloyd spent an "eye-opening" two days in jail and has cooperated with law enforcement. Lamberth, a former federal and Army prosecutor, was appointed in 1987 by Ronald Reagan. He said he doesn't want other defendants to see Lloyd's sentencing and think "probation is the automatic outcome here, because it's not going to be." He also spoke out against comments made by Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), who last month said the pro-Trump rioters looked like they were on "a normal tourist visit." "I'm especially troubled by the accounts of some members of Congress that Jan. 6 was just a day of tourists walking through the Capitol," Lamberth said. "I don't know what planet they were on. ... This was not a peaceful demonstration. It was not an accident that it turned violent; it was intended to halt the very functioning of our government."
6-23-21 Gen. Mark Milley defends a military interest in critical race theory
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley defended critical race theory, particularly as it pertains to the military, in front of the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. In response to a question from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) asking how the Defense Department should think about critical race theory, Milley said he does think "it's important, actually, for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely read." The United States Military Academy is a university, he added, and in order to understand what led to January's Capitol riot, for example, leaders should be as open to analyzing "white rage" as Milley said he is. America's "soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and guardians" come from the American public, Milley continued, and military leaders should understand the population they serve. "I've read Karl Marx, I've read Lenin — that doesn't make me a communist," he said. "So what is wrong ... with having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend?" Furthermore, Milley said he finds it "offensive" that any military interest in studying and understanding such theories to better protect the American people would be pejoratively labeled as "woke."
6-23-21 Border Patrol chief who backed Trump's wall ousted
Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott has been asked by the Biden administration to step down, The Associated Press reports, and he told agents on Wednesday that he will "continue working hard to support you over the next several weeks to ensure a smooth transition." Scott was appointed in January 2020 and supported former President Donald Trump's hardline immigration policies. Scott was especially keen on Trump's unfulfilled promise to build a southern border wall, and did not go along with the Biden administration's directive to use the term "migrant" rather than "illegal alien," AP reports. During a phone call with top Border Patrol agents to talk about budgets, Scott said has 60 days to decide whether to retire or be reassigned, an official told AP, and he hasn't made up his mind yet on what to do. Scott also said his deputy, Raul Ortiz, will serve as interim chief. Border Patrol is part of the Department of Homeland Security, and the chief oversees almost 20,000 agents. This is not a job that is subject to Senate confirmation.
6-23-21 Senate Republicans block Democrats' election bill
US Republicans have torpedoed a Democratic bid to implement nationwide election rules, a cherished priority of President Joe Biden's party. The huge bill - which sought to make it easier for Americans to vote - ended up deadlocked 50-50 along party lines. Mr Biden said the issue was the "fight of his presidency", but some Democrats accuse him of not fighting hard enough. Advocates say the bill would have been the most far-reaching election measure since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It comes as Republican-led states advance proposals - which Mr Biden has depicted as racially discriminatory - to tighten election laws, and as former President Donald Trump, a Republican, continues to peddle unfounded claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. The Democrats' For the People Act passed the House of Representatives in March in a near party-line vote, with one Democrat joining all Republicans in opposing the bill. But 60 votes are needed in the 100-member Senate to advance most legislation, and the upper chamber is evenly split 50-50 between the two parties. Vice-President Kamala Harris, who has been assigned by the White House to push election reform, was presiding over the chamber as the bill failed. "The fight's not over," she said after the vote. The legislation would have introduced 15 days of early voting, made election day a public holiday, and guaranteed automatic voter registration for anyone with a driver's licence. Democrats said the legislation would have also ensured more transparency for certain campaign contributions and limited partisan influence over the drawing of congressional districts. The president's party argued the nearly 900-page proposal was critical to democracy, and would safeguard voting access for black voters. "Are we going to let reactionary state legislatures drag us back into the muck of voter suppression?" said Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer before the vote. "Are we going to let the most dishonest president in history continue to poison our democracy from the inside?" (Webmaster's comment: The last thing the Republicans want is giving non-white people the right to vote!)
6-23-21 Nancy Pelosi: 'Sanctity of the vote is very much in peril'
US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi tells the BBC that American democracy is in peril if voting rights reform fails.
6-23-21 New York mayoral election: Yang out as ex-police officer leads primary
Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang has dropped out of the race to become the Democratic candidate for New York City mayor after coming fourth in the primary election. Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams, an ex-police captain, is leading. For the first time a ranked-choice system is being used and the result is unlikely to be known for several weeks. New York is a Democratic stronghold and the party's candidate is likely to be its next mayor after November's vote. The mayor will oversee the city's recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Most restrictions have now been lifted, but the city has seen a rise in shootings and murders meaning public safety has dominated the campaign. Mr Yang - a tech entrepreneur who attracted a devoted following during his bid to be the Democratic presidential candidate in the 2020 election - had been the frontrunner to become the party's New York candidate. But he conceded after early results put him a distant fourth. "I am a numbers guy. And I am not going to be mayor of New York City based on the numbers that have come in tonight," the 46-year-old told supporters. The winning Democrat will face Republican candidate Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels, a volunteer organisation that carries out unarmed anti-crime patrols. He beat businessman Fernando Mateo. Eric Adams, a centrist candidate, was the first choice of more than 30% of those who voted in person or during the early voting period. In second place was Maya Wiley, a lawyer who previously served as counsel to the outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio. She is a left-wing progressive candidate who has received support from rising Democratic star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Kathryn Garcia, who was head of New York's sanitation department, is in third place with nearly 20%. Both Ms Wiley and Ms Garcia would be New York's first female mayor; Ms Wiley and Mr Adams would be its second black mayor. "Tonight we took a huge step forward," Mr Adams was quoted as saying by the New York Times. "As a city we're going to turn our pain into purpose. We're going to become a safe, affordable, fair city."
6-23-21 'Heartbreaking' conditions in US migrant child camp
At a US border detention centre in the Texan desert, migrant children have been living in alarming conditions - where disease is rampant, food can be dangerous and there are reports of sexual abuse, an investigation by the BBC has found through interviews with staff and children. In recent months, the US has seen a massive rise in migrants and asylum seekers from Central America. Violence, natural disasters and pandemic-related economic strife are some of the reasons behind the influx, experts say. Some have also suggested the perception of a more lenient administration under Democrat Joe Biden has contributed to the crisis, though the White House has urged migrants against journeying to the US border. The tented camp in the Fort Bliss military base in El Paso, Texas, is the temporary home for over 2,000 teenaged children who have crossed the US-Mexico border alone and are now awaiting reunification with family in the US. Findings from the BBC's investigation include allegations of sexual abuse, Covid and lice outbreaks, a child waiting hours for medical attention, a lack of clean clothes and hungry children being served undercooked meat. The BBC has spoken to camp employees about these conditions and seen photos and video smuggled out by staff. The Fort Bliss camp consists of at least 12 tents, some of which house hundreds of children at a time. The children spend most of their day in the tents, getting out for an hour or two of recreation, or to line up with hundreds of others for a meal. Staff told the BBC the food was mostly edible, but a 15-year-old who has now been released said he was fed uncooked meat. "Sometimes the chicken had blood, the meat very red. We couldn't stand our hunger and we ate it, but we got sick from it." A number of tents have also been set up just to accommodate the large numbers of sick children - the children have nicknamed it 'Covid city'. "Hundreds of children have tested positive for Covid," said one employee who asked to remain anonymous because staff are banned from speaking about the camp. In addition to Covid, outbreaks of the flu and strep throat have also been reported since the camp opened in late March. And some children in need of urgent medical attention have been neglected.
6-23-21 J amal Khashoggi's Saudi killers got paramilitary training in U.S., reportedly killed him with drugs from Egypt
Four Saudi operatives who participated in the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul were trained in paramilitary tactics in the U.S. in 2017 by a private security company, Tier 1 Group, The New York Times reports. Tier 1, based in Arkansas and owned by New York private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, trained the Saudis under a contract approved by the State Department, during a harsh crackdown on dissidents and royal rivals by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported the Tier 1 training in 2019, and senior Cerberus executive Louis Bremer confirmed it to the Times. Congress had asked Bremer about Tier 1's training of Khashoggi's killers during his confirmation process for a top Pentagon job. "The training provided was unrelated to their subsequent heinous acts," he said in a written answer he provided to the Times but Congress never saw because the Trump White House pulled his nomination. In a statement to the Times, Bremer called the training "protective in nature" and condemned "the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi." The U.S. concluded that bin Salman ordered or approved the 15-man hit squad's operation to "capture or kill" Khashoggi inside Istanbul's Saudi consulate, according to a U.S. intelligence report declassified in February. Bin Salman has publicly denied knowledge of the operation. Saudi prosecutors charged 11 lower-level operatives with Khashoggi's murder, convicted eight of them in secret trials, and condemned five to death, later cutting those sentences to 20 years, served "in a luxury compound outside Riyadh," Yahoo News reports, citing Saudi and U.S. intelligence sources. Turkish embassy officials were allowed to sit in on the secret trials, and their notes are public records in Turkey, Yahoo's Michael Isikoff reported last week. According to the Turkish notes, the Gulfstream jet carrying the Saudi kill team to Istanbul early Oct. 2, 2018, stopped in Egypt on the way to pick up a lethal dose of an illegal narcotic, presumably from Egyptian intelligence, according to Yahoo's translation. Kill team member Dr. Salah Tubaigy "injected Khashoggi in his left arm [with] a drug whose sale is illegal and which he brought from Cairo in high dosage that would be enough to kill him," the notes say, and the drugs did kill him within minutes. Tubaigy is believed to have dismembered Khashoggi with a bone saw, the body parts disposed of in some manner
6-23-21 Dr Fauci on Delta variant: Unvaccinated Americans risk new Covid surge
White House coronavirus adviser Dr Anthony Fauci tells the BBC the Delta variant will spread unless more Americans get the jab. But Dr Fauci says there would be regional surges of the coronavirus, instead of the nationwide spikes in transmission seen last year.
6-22-21 Harris says the right to vote is 'an American concern,' not partisan
After Senate Republicans blocked debate on the For the People Act, Vice President Kamala Harris told reporters on Tuesday evening that "the fight is not over." The Senate voted 50-50 along party lines, with 60 votes necessary to move forward with debate. The sweeping For the People Act would have expanded early voting, permitted same-day and automatic voter registration, changed campaign finance laws, and limited partisan gerrymandering. Harris, who has been tasked with leading the Biden administration's work on voting rights, presided over the vote. After leaving the Senate floor, Harris told reporters "this is one of the most critical issues that the United States Congress could take up, which is about the fundamental right to vote in our country. I think it is clear, certainly for the American people, that when we're talking about the right to vote it is not a Republican concern, or a Democratic concern, it is an American concern." Americans have the right to vote "in a meaningful way," she continued, and it comes down to whether there is "actual access to the voting process or is that being impeded." Harris said she and President Biden both support the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, and "the fight is not over." The John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would restore and strengthen parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, is expected to come to the Senate floor sometime this year. (Webmaster's comment: Our right to vote is under attack, and the Republicans are leading it!)
6-22-21 Senate Republicans block debate on voting rights legislation
Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked debate on the For the People Act, what would have been the most sweeping voting rights legislation in decades. The vote was split 50-50, with 60 votes necessary to start debate. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) slammed the "partisan blockade" and said while "Republicans may want to avoid the topic, hoping that their party's efforts to suppress votes and defend the big lie will go unnoticed. Democrats will not allow it. Democrats will never let voter suppression get swept under the rug." This is "not the finish line," Schumer said, and Democrats will "explore" every option available to advance legislation. "We have to," he added. "Voting rights are too important, too fundamental. This concerns the very core of our democracy and what we are about as a nation." Republicans vowed ahead of time to block the bill, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) calling the For the People Act "a transparently partisan plan" and "a recipe for undermining confidence in our elections." Since former President Donald Trump lost the November election, several Republican-led state legislatures have passed stricter voting laws that curb early voting, restrict access to mail-in ballots, and impose new voter ID requirements. The For the People Act would expand early voting and permit same-day and automatic voter registration.
6-22-21 Texas hospital system says 153 workers resigned or were fired after refusing COVID-19 vaccine
On April 1, the Houston Methodist hospital system told its employees that they were required to get the COVID-19 vaccine. More than two months later, 24,947 workers have been fully vaccinated, and 153 have either resigned or been terminated for not complying with the mandate. In early June, 178 employees were suspended for not getting vaccinated, and given two weeks to rectify the situation. Houston Methodist spokeswoman Gale Smith told The Washington Post on Tuesday that 25 of those employees have since been vaccinated. "Patients are always first, and that's what it's always been," Smith said. Jennifer Bridges, a former nurse with Houston Methodist, sued over the mandate, claiming it was forcing employees to be "guinea pigs" for COVID-19 vaccines. U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes dismissed the lawsuit earlier this month, writing that "this is not coercion. Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus. It is a choice made to keep staff, patients, and their families safer." Bridges, who said she has since been hired by a private nurse-staffing company, has appealed. Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom praised the ruling and the hospital system's workers who "made their decisions for our patients, who are always at the center of everything we do."
6-22-21 Interior Department to begin 'painful' review of Indigenous boarding schools
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has directed her department to investigate Indian boarding schools and "shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how hard it will be." Hundreds of thousands of children were forced to attend these schools in order to assimilate, and in a memo, Haaland said the Interior Department will "address the inter-generational impact" of these institutions. The investigation will also "uncover the truth about the loss of human life and the lasting consequences," she wrote, and include a report detailing cemeteries and possible burial sites of students. "I know that this process will be long and difficult," Haaland said. "I know that this process will be painful. It won't undo the heartbreak and loss we feel. But only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future that we're all proud to embrace." The boarding schools were first established in 1819 as part of the Indian Civilization Act, and students were told to completely give up their identities, unable to use their tribal languages and given new clothes and names. The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition says that by 1926, more than 80 percent of Indigenous school-age children were at government-run or religious boarding schools. Haaland, the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary, wrote in The Washington Post earlier this month that she is "a product of these horrific assimilation policies. My maternal grandparents were stolen from their families when they were only 8 years old and were forced to live away from their parents, culture, and communities until they were 13. Many children like them never made it back home." Some people aren't aware of what happened at these boarding schools, Haaland said, and "the first step to justice is acknowledging these painful truths and gaining a full understanding of their impacts so we can unravel the threads of trauma and injustice that linger."
6-22-21 Covid-19 news: 9 in 10 adults in England estimated to have antibodies
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. More than 85 per cent of adults in England, Wales and Northern Ireland estimated to have antibodies against the coronavirus. An estimated 9 in 10 adults in England – or 86.6 per cent – would have tested positive for antibodies against the coronavirus in the week starting 7 June, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). “This is [a] remarkably high rate and most of this will be due to the impact of vaccine,” said Paul Hunter at the University of East Anglia, UK, in a statement. In Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, equivalent figures were 88.7 per cent, 85.4 per cent and 79.1 per cent, respectively. Across the UK, there was a clear pattern between vaccination and testing positive for covid-19 antibodies, the ONS said in its report. “Whilst immunity to [coronavirus] infection is not guaranteed in people with antibodies, the presence of antibody is strongly correlated with at least some degree of protection. So this is very good news,” said Hunter. Pollen may facilitate the spread of the coronavirus, a modelling study has suggested. Talib Dbouk and Dimitris Drikakis at the University of Nicosia in Cyprus used a computational model to mimic the movement of a willow tree and introduced it into computer-simulated outdoor gatherings of between 10 and 100 people, some of whom were shedding coronavirus particles. The researchers found that, in their model, the tree pollen could carry virus particles along with it, potentially increasing the risk of airborne transmission. Their study, published in the journal Physics of Fluids, adds to previous research which has found a correlation between pollen concentrations and coronavirus infection rates. Almost 250,000 pupils in England missed school last week for reasons related to covid-19, the worst attendance figures since state schools fully reopened in March, the Guardian reported. According to weekly attendance figures published by the UK’s Department for Education, covid-related absences from secondary schools tripled between 10 and 17 June, while the rate of absences in primary schools doubled. Intensive care units in major cities in Colombia are operating at near full capacity amid a third wave of its coronavirus epidemic, according to health authorities. There have been more than 100,000 deaths from covid-19 in Colombia since the start of the pandemic. Average deaths from covid-19 per day in the US fell below 300 for the first time since March 2020, during the first wave of its epidemic. According to Johns Hopkins University, average covid-19 deaths per day in the US are down to about 293.
6-22-21 U.S. COVID-19 deaths drop to lowest level since March 2020, but young adults are a growing challenge
There was encouraging news about America's COVID-19 pandemic on Monday. Deaths from the new coronavirus have dropped to an average of 292 a day, from more than 3,400 a day in mid-January, according to Johns Hopkins University's data, and about 11,400 new cases are reported each day, down from more than 250,000 a day in early January. COVID-19 vaccines are the main cause of the shrinking pandemic in the U.S., and as of Monday, at least 150 million Americans are fully vaccinated. Even with the pandemic hitting its deadliest point in January, COVID-19 has dropped below accidents, strokes, Alzheimer's, and chronic lower respiratory diseases as a leading cause of death this year, new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers show. Last year, the CDC says, COVID-19 was the No. 3 killer in the U.S., after heart disease and cancer. About 45 percent of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, more than 53 percent has gotten at least one dose of the vaccines, the CDC says, and Virginia became the 16th state to hit 70 percent of adults at least partially vaccinated, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced. But the CDC also found that young adults are declining to get vaccinated in numbers that will make it incredibly hard to reach herd immunity. While 80 percent of U.S. adults over 65 had been immunized as of May 22, that number was just 38.3 percent for Americans 18 to 29, a CDC analysis found. The vaccination rate among young adults has dropped sharply, and in a separate CDC study, nearly half of the 2,726 respondents under 40 said they are unsure or have no plans to get vaccinated, "with 18- to 24-year-olds being the least likely to have been vaccinated and most likely to be unsure about getting a shot," The Washington Post reports. The study, conducted from March to May, also found that people with a college degree who live in higher-income households in metropolitan areas were the most likely to be vaccinated, while Black people under 40 with lower incomes, less education, and no insurance who live outside of metropolitan areas were the least likely to say the will get inoculated.
6-22-21 Appeals court blocks ruling overturning California's assault weapons ban
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday issued a stay of Judge Roger T. Benitez's decision to overturn California's ban on assault weapons. On June 4, Benitez declared that the state's 30-year ban on assault weapons was unconstitutional and "has had no effect" on stopping mass shootings. He also compared the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to a Swiss Army knife, calling it "good for both home and battle." His decision was quickly condemned by state officials, victims of gun violence, and gun control advocates. Benitez, who was nominated by former President George W. Bush, gave the state 30 days to appeal. On Jun 10, California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed an appeal. After the 9th Circuit put the hold on Benitez's decision, Bonta tweeted, "This leaves our assault weapons laws in effect while appellate proceedings continue. We won't stop defending these life-saving laws." The case is expected to make it to the Supreme Court. The ban was passed in response to a 1989 mass shooting at a schoolyard in Stockton; a gunman used an AK-47 and large-capacity magazines to kill five children, the Los Angeles Times reports. The original law was signed by Gov. George Deukmejian, a conservative Republican.
6-22-21 US Supreme Court sides with college athletes against NCAA
The US Supreme Court has ruled in favour of student athletes in a compensation row with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). In a unanimous decision, the court said limits on education-related benefits for athletes cannot be enforced. Under current NCAA rules, students cannot be paid, and scholarship money is capped at the cost of attendance. The NCAA defended the rules as necessary to protect the distinction between amateur and professional sport. College sports generated $18.9bn (£13.6bn) in 2019, according to the NCAA, but athletes are unpaid. The NCAA, the main governing body of US collegiate sports, hosts 90 championships in 24 sports, which see more than 57,000 total participants each year. The current and former athletes who filed the case had said the restrictions on compensation amounted to an unlawful restraint of trade. On Monday, the high court agreed, ruling that the NCAA's curbs on non-cash payments, including benefits like computers, musical instruments, academic awards and paid internships, violates a federal law called the Sherman Antitrust Act - meant to outlaw monopolies in business. The student athletes involved in the suit were members of top-tier basketball and American football teams, which generate the most revenue for the NCAA. Writing for the court, Donald Trump nominee Justice Neil Gorsuch said that the NCAA had essentially sought "immunity from the normal operation of the antitrust laws". In a concurring opinion, fellow conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh noted that "the NCAA's business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America." "The NCAA is not above the law," he said. Monday's decision upholds a ruling from a federal appeals court last year. The Biden administration had filed a brief in support of this lower court decision this March.
6-22-21 Canada: Fire destroys two Catholic churches on indigenous land
Police in Canada say they are treating fires that destroyed two Catholic churches on indigenous community land in British Columbia as suspicious. Sacred Heart Church and St Gregory's Church burnt down at about the same time early on Monday, as Canada marked National Indigenous People's Day. The two churches - built more than 100 years ago - are located about 40km (25 miles) apart in the western province. Liquid accelerants are believed to have been used, one fire official said. The two churches on the Penticton Indian Band reserve and the Osoyoos Indian Band reserve are less than 100km from Kamloops, where the remains of 215 children were found at a former boarding school in May. Thousands of indigenous children were sent to such schools in the 19th and 20th Centuries to be forcibly assimilated. The institutions were often run by the Roman Catholic Church. Police in Penticton said an officer spotted the blaze at Sacred Heart Church at about 01:00 local time on Monday (08:00 GMT), but the building was engulfed when the officer arrived at the scene. At about 03:10 local time, police in Oliver received reports that St Gregory's Church was also on fire. Both historic buildings burnt to the ground. "We believe by looking at the scene and the surroundings that there was a liquid accelerant used," Bob Graham, chief of the Oliver fire department, was quoted as saying by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. "Early indications are that it was set," he said. In a statement, Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokesman Sgt Jason Bayda said: "Should our investigations deem these fires as arson, the RCMP will be looking at all possible motives and allow the facts and evidence to direct our investigative action." "We are sensitive to the recent events, but won't speculate on a motive," he added.
6-22-21 NFL: Carl Nassib becomes first active player to come out as gay
Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib has become the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib, 28, made the announcement in a video posted on his Instagram account. "Just wanted to take a quick moment to say that I'm gay. I've been meaning to do this for a while now but I finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest," he said. "I really have the best life, the best family, friends and job a guy could ask for." Nassib added: "I'm a pretty private person so I hope that you guys know that I'm really not doing this for attention. I just think that representation and visibility are so important. "I actually hope that one day videos like this and the whole coming out process are just not necessary, but until then I'm going to do my best to cultivate a culture that's accepting and compassionate." Nassib also said he was donating £100,000 to the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention service for LGBTQ youth in America. Raiders owner Mark Davis told the Las Vegas Review-Journal: "These are personal decisions. It's 2021, and he's a Raider. If he's happy, I'm happy. It takes courage. "I thought we got to the point where this wasn't [a prominent news story]. It doesn't change my opinion of him as a man or as a Raider." In a statement, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell added: "The NFL family is proud of Carl for courageously sharing his truth today. Representation matters. "We share his hope that someday soon statements like his will no longer be newsworthy as we march toward full equality for the LGBTQ+ community." No openly gay player has played a regular-season game in the NFL. Defensive end Michael Sam came out as gay before he was drafted by the St Louis Rams in 2014 and played for them in the pre-season, but did not make their final roster. Former LA Galaxy and USA footballer Robbie Rogers became the first openly gay man to play in one of the USA's big five sports leagues when he came out in February 2013.
6-22-21 Mathematician J. Ernest Wilkins Jr. was a Manhattan Project standout despite racism
How one Black scientist brought his skills to atomic bomb efforts at the University of Chicago. The Manhattan Project brought together the finest scientific minds in the United States for one urgent purpose: to build an atomic bomb. That included people who had historically been marginalized, including Black scientists, who achieved greatness in an era of rampant discrimination. One of those minds was J. Ernest Wilkins Jr., a Black mathematician, nuclear scientist and optics researcher. Barely past his teen years as the Manhattan Project ramped up, he quickly began working with the top physicists of the time on what was perhaps the most consequential physics research project of the century. Born in Chicago in 1923, Wilkins was a math prodigy. He was one of the youngest students ever admitted to the University of Chicago — at age 13. He earned his Ph.D. at the university by the time he was 19, in 1942. His academic feats were so impressive that newspaper articles proclaimed him a genius. Soon, Wilkins began working in the university’s Metallurgical Laboratory, where much more was afoot than mundane studies of metals. Researchers there were helping design nuclear reactors to produce the plutonium needed to create an atomic bomb. With physicist Eugene Wigner, Wilkins began laying the theoretical physics groundwork for nuclear reactors. In a nuclear reactor, energy is released when uranium atoms fission, or split, after being hit by a neutron. Each fission also releases additional neutrons, which bounce around within the reactor at a variety of energies. Wigner and Wilkins’ work on determining the energy distribution of such neutrons is a foundation of nuclear physics, still cited by researchers today. Those neutrons go on to initiate more fissions, producing a chain reaction, so understanding their energies is crucial for designing reactors.
6-22-21 50 years ago, UFO sightings in the United States went bust
Excerpt from the June 26, 1971 issue of Science News. Since 1968 the number of UFO sightings has dropped off, along with public interest in them.… [The] scientific debunking of the UFO phenomena and the subsequent, though not necessarily connected, decline in sightings presents an interesting behavioral pattern…. UFO reports usually run in five-year cycles and 1972 should be the start of another cycle. Reports of unidentified flying objects have had their ups and downs. In 2020, people in the United States made more than 7,200 reports of UFO sightings — about 1,000 more than in 2019 and nearly 4,000 more than in 2018, according to the National UFO Reporting Center in Davenport, Wash. A quarter of last year’s reports occurred in March and April, when much of the country was under lockdown due to the pandemic. Many of these UFOs turned out to be drones or satellites (SN: 3/28/20, p. 24). In late April, the Pentagon officially released naval footage of “unidentified aerial phenomena” that had been shared online, which may have primed some people to seek UFOs in their own backyards.
6-21-21 Philippines' Duterte warns he'll jail people who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine
Do not pass go, do not collect $200 — if you're in the Philippines and refuse the COVID-19 vaccine, President Rodrigo Duterte wants you to go directly to jail. "You choose, vaccine or I will have you jailed," Duterte said on Monday during a televised address. The Philippines has reported more than 1.3 million COVID-19 cases and over 23,000 deaths. There is low turnout at vaccination sites in Manila, and while health officials have stressed the importance of the vaccine, they also have made it clear it's voluntary, Reuters reports. Duterte has decided to try to a different approach. There is "a crisis in this country," he said. "I'm just exasperated by Filipinos not heeding the government." As of Sunday, 2.1 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated. There are 110 million people living in the Philippines, and the government has said its goal is to inoculate 70 million by the end of the year. Duterte is known for his hardline stance on most things — he has waged a war on drugs since being elected in 2016, and thousands have been killed in the campaign. A prosecutor with the International Criminal Court has asked to investigate these deaths, but Duterte on Monday said he will not cooperate. "Why would I defend or face an accusation before white people," he said. "You must be crazy."
6-21-21 Covid-19 news: UK to announce plans for booster shots in coming weeks
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. UK to decide on booster vaccine programme following results from trials testing different vaccine combinations. Plans for a covid-19 vaccine booster programme will be announced in the coming weeks, UK health minister Matt Hancock has said. On 21 June, Hancock told BBC Breakfast that ministers were waiting for results from trials testing the effects of different combinations of covid-19 vaccines. “In the next few weeks, when we get the clinical data through on what’s the most effective combination [of covid-19 vaccines] to have […] then we’ll set out all the details for the booster programme for the autumn,” said Hancock. Speaking to reporters on the same day, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said the NHS could face “big pressures” in winter with flu season and that it is unlikely that restrictions in England would be lifted before 19 July. More than four in five adults across the UK have received a first dose of a covid-19 vaccine as of 21 June, and 59.5 per cent have received two vaccine doses. The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously advised that wealthy countries, such as the UK, should donate spare covid-19 vaccine doses to poorer nations before arranging to give third doses to fully vaccinated people. “Top-ups and other extra things and extra protection for people in the wealthy countries […] should come a bit later,” David Nabarro, WHO special envoy on covid-19, told the BBC in May. In South Africa, where just 1.8 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated and cases are surging, the country’s president Cyril Ramaphosa criticised the refusal of pharmaceutical companies and governments to support emergency waiving of patents on covid-19 vaccines. “It is selfish, it is unjust, it is wholly unfair,” Ramaphosa told the opening session of the Qatar Economic Forum on 21 June. “We are facing an emergency that is affecting the entire world.”
6-21-21 Sen. Ron Johnson was booed at a Milwaukee Juneteenth celebration
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) was greeted by boos and cries of "We don't want you here!" when he stopped by a Juneteenth celebration in Milwaukee on Saturday. Johnson was there to visit a Republican Party booth, and he told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he was surprised by the heckling. "This is unusual for Wisconsin," he said. "Most people in Wisconsin say, 'You are in our prayers, we are praying for you.' ... But you got some people here that are just sort of nasty at some points." Juneteenth is a celebration marking the end of slavery in the United States, when the last enslaved people in Texas learned they were free. Last week, Congress voted to make Juneteenth — June 19th — a federal holiday, and President Biden signed it into law. Initially, Johnson was against making Juneteenth a federal holiday, saying he didn't think taxpayers should have to cover the cost of federal workers having another day off, and last year he blocked the legislation. This time around, Johnson said he would no longer object to the bill, but still felt it was "strange" that "having taxpayers provide federal employees paid time off is now required to celebrate the end of slavery." Johnson may have been taken aback by the reaction from the crowd, but those who knew about his original opposition to making Juneteenth a federal holiday understood it. "Ron Johnson's politics are not for us," attendee Robert Agnew told the Journal Sentinel.
6-21-21 PM's research plan to make UK 'science superpower'
The prime minister has set out plans to cement the UK's place as a "science superpower". Boris Johnson announced how increases in the research budget would be spent. He will chair a new National Science and Technology Council to provide "strategic direction" on how research is harnessed for the "public good". And Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser to the government, will lead a new Office for Science and Technology Strategy. But one expert on research policy said the move risked taking decision-making out of scientists' hands. Labour said government cuts had already damaged research. The prime minister is said to want to build on the success of the UK's coronavirus vaccine programme and apply it to other areas. These include developing technology to reach net zero carbon emissions and curing cancer rather than simply treating it. "There can't have been a time in modern memory where every family has owed so much to British scientists (in developing a vaccine)," Mr Johnson said during a visit to a laboratory in Hertfordshire on Monday. Calling science ''the great liberator'', he added: "I've long believed that we can invest more in science as a country. And we want to use that public investment to trigger waves of private investment." The stated aim of the new Office for Science and Technology Strategy will be to push forward the government's research priorities. It will also identify resources needed to secure the UK's science capability. Sir Patrick will take up the position of the new national technology adviser, alongside his existing roles. He said the changes would put science and technology "right at the heart of policy making" and said he looked forward to helping identify "cutting-edge research and technologies". But James Wilsdon, who is digital science professor of research policy at Sheffield University, said the reorganisation carried risks: "Ministers and civil servants might have a bigger say over direction and priorities, at the expense of researchers themselves, who are typically better-placed to know where opportunities lie.
6-21-21 Laurel Hubbard: First transgender athlete to compete at Olympics
New Zealand's Laurel Hubbard has become the first ever transgender athlete picked to compete at an Olympics, in a controversial decision. Officials have selected her for the women's weightlifting team for Tokyo 2020, after qualifying requirements were recently modified. She had competed in men's events before coming out as transgender in 2013. Critics say Hubbard has an unfair advantage, but others have argued for more inclusion at the Games. "I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders," Hubbard said in a statement issued by the New Zealand Olympic Committee on Monday. She will compete in the women's 87-kg weightlifting category. The 43-year-old became eligible to compete at the Olympics when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2015 changed its rules allowing transgender athletes to compete as a woman if their testosterone levels are below a certain threshold. Testosterone is a hormone that increases muscle mass. While the athlete's testosterone levels are below that threshold, critics say her participation in the Olympics is still unfair for female-born athletes. They have pointed to the biological advantages of those who have gone through puberty as males, such as increased bone and muscle density. Last month, Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen, who is competing in the same category, said that if Hubbard were to compete in Tokyo it would be unfair for women and "like a bad joke". She said that while she fully supported the transgender community, the principle of inclusion should not be "at the expense of others". "Anyone that has trained weightlifting at a high level knows this to be true in their bones: this particular situation is unfair to the sport and to the athletes," she said in May. "Life-changing opportunities are missed for some athletes - medals and Olympic qualifications - and we are powerless."
6-21-21 Pakistani lawyer who represented Asia Bibi says he faces threats to his life
A Pakistani lawyer who has successfully overturned a number of convictions for "blasphemy" has said he believes his life is in danger from extremists. Saif ul Malook most recently oversaw the acquittal of a Christian couple who had been sentenced to death. Mr Malook shared social media posts with the BBC which called for him to be "executed" for securing the acquittal. Blasphemy is a deeply emotive topic in Muslim-majority Pakistan and is legally punishable by death. While no one has ever been executed for the offence, dozens of people accused of blaspheming have been killed by vigilantes. Human rights groups say the country's blasphemy laws often unfairly target religious minorities and can be used in personal feuds. Earlier this month, the high court in Lahore quashed the convictions of Christian couple Shagufta Kausar and her husband Shafqat Emmanuel, citing a lack of evidence. The pair were sentenced to death in 2014 for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages insulting the Prophet Muhammad. They insisted they were innocent. Ms Kausar's brother told the BBC last year he doubted the couple were literate enough even to have written the messages. The couple's lawyer, Mr Malook, previously also represented Asia Bibi, a Christian villager who spent eight years on death row in a case that attracted international condemnation. Ms Bibi was eventually acquitted by Pakistan's supreme court in 2018 and subsequently flown out of the country. The legal ruling led to large and violent protests by thousands of followers of a hardline cleric. But Mr Malook, who is the most prominent lawyer defending blasphemy cases in Pakistan, told the BBC that he considered the current threats against him the "most dangerous" he had ever received. "Even this was not done during Asia Bibi's case," he said. "Now they [the extremists] think I am the only hurdle in their way."
6-20-21 Anti-government activist Ammon Bundy running for governor in Idaho
Ammon Bundy, the anti-government rancher who led the occupation of Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016, wants to be Idaho's next governor. Bundy announced his campaign on Saturday, declaring in a video that he's "running for governor because I'm sick and tired of all of this political garbage just like you are. I'm tired of our freedoms being taken from us and I'm tired of the corruption that is rampant in our state government." Bundy is running as a Republican. Idaho's gubernatorial primary will take place in 2022, and several Republicans have already filed the paperwork necessary to enter the race, including the state's current Gov. Brad Little and Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin. Last year, Bundy was charged with trespassing and resisting arrest after he refused to leave the Idaho Statehouse during a protest against coronavirus precautions. He was ordered to stay away from the statehouse, and he missed his trial date in March because he would not wear a mask inside the courthouse. In 2016, a federal grand jury indicted Bundy and 15 others for their roles in the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge; he was acquitted of the charges.
6-20-21 Mike Pence: Hecklers brand ex-VP 'traitor' at conservative conference
Former US Vice-President Mike Pence has been heckled during a speech at a conference for religious conservatives. Some audience members yelled "traitor" and "freedom" as he addressed the Faith and Freedom Coalition in Orlando, Florida on Friday. The taunts were an apparent reaction to Mr Pence's role in validating Joe Biden's presidential election win. Undeterred, he continued with his 28-minute speech, as the hecklers were quickly escorted out by police. During his address, Mr Pence criticised the policies of Democratic US President Joe Biden and defended those of his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump. In January Mr Trump and many of his supporters urged Mr Pence - who as vice-president presided over the Senate - to overturn the certification of President Biden's election victory in Congress. When Mr Pence said he did not have the power to do so, many supporters of Mr Trump were furious with him. Trump supporters' anger at the election result culminated in a protest that morphed into a deadly attack on the Capitol building in Washington DC on 6 January this year. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Mr Pence appeared to distance himself from Mr Trump, who was impeached by lawmakers over the deadly storming of Congress. Mr Pence condemned those who stormed the Capitol and, unlike Mr Trump, attended the inauguration of President Biden on 20 January. But on Friday, Mr Pence used part of his speech to praise his former boss and his achievements while in office. "President Trump taught us what Republicans can accomplish when we stand firm on conservative principles and don't back down," Mr Pence said. "In 48 months, the Trump-Pence administration achieved the lowest unemployment, the most secure border and the strongest military in the history of the world."
6-20-21 Trans US veterans to be offered gender surgery for first time
The US government has announced it will offer gender confirmation surgery for transgender veterans through its health care coverage for the first time. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) secretary Denis McDonough announced the change at a Pride event in Florida. He said it would allow veterans to go through the full process "with VA at their side". Previously hormone therapy and mental health services were covered but not surgery. Gender confirmation surgery, also known as sex reassignment surgery, covers a range of procedures which alter a person's anatomy to match their gender identity. Mr McDonough made the announcement in Orlando on Saturday. The city this month marked five years since a gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub, killing 49 people. He said the VA would work to overcome a "dark history" of discrimination against trans veterans. A spokesman said the two-year process to start covering the surgeries would begin this summer. "This time will allow VA to develop capacity to meet the surgical needs that transgender veterans have called for and deserved for a long time... and I am proud to begin the process of delivering it," Mr McDonough said. He added that VA clinicians recommended the switch in policy, saying the decision "has very real physical health care impacts as well as significant mental health impacts." The Department of Veterans Affairs provides a range of health care to those eligible, including routine care, hospital services like kidney dialysis, surgery and organ transplants, and emergency care. However, it says some services are not covered, including abortion and cosmetic surgeries. The National Center for Transgender Equality quotes a widely cited estimate that there are more than 134,000 trans US veterans, and some 15,000 trans people currently serving in the US armed forces, but research for the US Department of Defense in 2016 put the numbers lower. Former President Donald Trump banned trans Americans from serving in the military in his first year in office. President Joe Biden repealed the ban in January.
6-20-21 Covid: Brazil hits 500,000 deaths amid 'critical' situation
The number of deaths related to Covid-19 has passed 500,000 in Brazil, the second-highest in the world, as experts say the outbreak could worsen amid slow vaccination and the start of winter. The virus continues to spread as President Jair Bolsonaro refuses to back measures like social distancing. The health institute Fiocruz says the situation is "critical". Only 15% of adults are fully vaccinated. Congress is investigating the government's handling of the pandemic. Dr Natalia Pasternak Taschner, a microbiologist at the Question of Science Institute, told the BBC she saw little sign that the rise in victims would slow. "People in Brazil are tired and they normalise death now so I think we still have a long way to go," she said. "If we're not successful in changing the behaviour of people and if we don't have campaigns for mask wearing, social distancing and vaccinations coming directly from the central government we're not going to be able to control it." President Bolsonaro has been heavily criticised for not implementing a co-ordinated national response and for his scepticism toward vaccines, lockdowns and mask-wearing requirements, which he has sought to loosen. In rallies in Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia and elsewhere, furious Brazilians carried banners with slogans like "Bolsonaro must go" or simply "500,000". "His position on Covid and his denialism are absurd. He has abandoned reality and common sense. There is no explaining this, it is surreal," Robert Almeida, a 50-year-old marching in Rio, told AFP. Protester Denise Azevedo told Reuters: "Herd immunity won't do any good. The only immunity you can get is with the vaccine. There is no early treatment. I have lost millions of friends, almost lost a cousin... people are orphans, fatherless, motherless, and childless." The president has said the impact of lockdowns on the economy would be worse than the virus, and insists he has done all he can to buy vaccines from several countries. But the opposition accuses him of delaying vaccine orders for political reasons, as he has consistently played down the severity of the pandemic.
6-19-21 Portland riots: Police crowd-control team resigns after officer indicted
Every member of a police crowd-control unit in the US city of Portland has resigned after one of its officers was indicted on an assault charge. The charge stemmed from violent anti-racism protests that rocked the city, in the state of Oregon, last year. Prosecutors allege the officer used "excessive and unlawful use of force" against a protester in August 2020. But Portland's police union described the decision to prosecute the officer as "politically driven". The crowd-control unit, known as the Rapid Response Team (RRT), comprised about 50 police officers. They serve in the team voluntarily and are deployed during events such as riots, large-scale searches or disaster situations. In a statement, Portland police said members had "left their voluntary positions and no longer comprise a team". It said the officers would continue in their regular assignments. Portland experienced weeks of protests against racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in May. Amid widespread rioting, vandalism and arson that often took place at night, the RTT was sent in to disperse crowds. The then Trump administration also sent federal security forces to the city in July to protect federal buildings that were being vandalised. However, their deployment exacerbated civil unrest, especially when footage emerged of protesters being grabbed off the street by federal officers and forced into unmarked cars. Earlier this week, a grand jury decided to indict Portland police officer Corey Budworth with one count of fourth-degree assault - the first RTT member to face criminal prosecution stemming from the protests. Video of the incident purportedly shows an officer using his baton to push a woman to the ground and then pushing the baton into her face, the New York Times reported. (Webmaster's comment: Let them go. Replace them with decent human beings!)
6-18-21 Biden suspends Trump's 25 percent tariff on Scotch whisky, but U.K. tariffs on U.S. bourbon remain
The U.S. and Britain agreed Thursday to a five-year suspension of 25 percent tariffs on certain goods imposed under former President Donald Trump as part of a long trade dispute over subsidies to Boeing and its European rival, Airbus. The Biden administration and the European Union resolved the aerospace dispute earlier this week, paving the way for the suspension of the 2019 retaliatory tariffs. For Britain, which was part of the EU in 2019 but isn't anymore, the highest-profile export hit in the trade war was single malt Scotch. The 25 percent tariffs on Scotch led a 30 percent drop in exports to the U.S. in the 18 months through March 2021, the Scotch Whisky Association says. Thursday's deal "enables distillers to focus on recovering exports to our largest and most valuable export market," Karen Betts, the whisky association's CEO, tells The Associated Press. While Scotch can flow more freely to the U.S. now, the same isn't true for bourbon in the U.K. American whiskeys still face a 25 percent tariff in Britain, under a different EU-U.S. trade dispute involving steel and aluminum. "We hope this positive momentum will also lead to the prompt and permanent removal of the EU and U.K.'s tariffs on American whiskeys," said Chris Swonger, chief executive of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.
6-18-21 Covid-19 news: 99% of UK cases thought to be due to delta variant
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Delta variant cases of covid-19 in the UK have drastically risen in the past week. The UK is continuing to see rising coronavirus infections, with the delta variant of the virus now estimated to account for 99 per cent of new cases. According to Public Health England, the number of confirmed cases of the delta variant has risen from 33,630 last week to 75,953 this week. On 18 June, World Health Organization (WHO) chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan told a news conference that the delta variant is “well on its way to becoming the dominant variant globally”. “This variant that has now taken over from the alpha [variant] is clearly significantly more infectious,” Adam Finn, a member of the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, told the BBC. “Regrettably, Israel has agreed to lend between 1 and 1.4 million covid-19 vaccine doses to the Palestinian Authority to accelerate vaccinations in the West Bank and Gaza. The doses of Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine would have expired if left unused, Forbes reported. Under the agreement, the Palestinian Authority is to reciprocate by sending the same number of doses back to Israel in September and October, when they receive vaccines allocated through the WHO’s COVAX scheme. A covid-19 vaccine candidate developed by German company CureVac was found to be just 47 per cent effective in a large trial. In a statement on 16 June the company said that more than half of the coronavirus cases in the trial were caused by variants of concern.
6-18-21 US Supreme Court rejects Trump-backed challenge to Obamacare
The US Supreme Court has rejected a Trump-backed challenge by Republican-led states to former President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul. Despite the court's conservative tilt, its nine justices ruled by 7-2 that the challengers did not have legal standing to sue. It is the third time since 2010 that the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as Obamacare, has survived a challenge. The law gave millions of low-income Americans access to medical insurance. It bans insurers from denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions. Thursday's ruling did not address the question of whether a key provision in the law was unconstitutional. The legal challenge from Texas and 17 other Republican-governed states had been backed by former President Donald Trump, who promised to have the act repealed when he was elected in 2016. Republicans tried and failed to overturn the law in Congress when they controlled both houses and in the courts on numerous occasions. Earlier this month, the White House said a record 31 million Americans were now covered by healthcare under the ACA. Conservative groups, led by the Republican-controlled state of Texas, were essentially trying to get the entirety of the Affordable Care Act killed on a technicality. By a comfortable 7-2 vote, the justices of the Supreme Court kicked their case to the kerb. The court didn't even bother to rule on the merits of Texas' arguments, instead holding that the litigants lacked the standing even to bring the case. The ruling suggests that while this court is decidedly more conservative than the one that narrowly upheld Obamacare in a highly charged 2012 decision, there's simply nowhere near a majority of justices interested in reversing that ruling, even if they disagreed with it at the time. This was the third case seeking to dismantle Barack Obama's signature healthcare reform to reach the Supreme Court - and the law has been sustained by a growing majority each time. (Webmaster's comment: The Republicans are always against anything that helps the American people!)
6-18-21 US Supreme Court blocks child slavery lawsuit against chocolate firms
The US Supreme Court has ruled food giants Nestlé USA and Cargill can't be sued for child slavery on African farms from where they buy their cocoa. Six African men alleged that they were trafficked from Mali and forced to work on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast. The group say both companies perpetuated that slave trade to keep cocoa prices low. The court ruled 8-1 that the group had no standing because the abuse happened outside the US. But it stopped short of a definitive ruling on whether the Alien Tort Act - an 18th century law - could be used to hold US companies to account for labour abuses committed in their supply chains abroad. About 70% of the world's cocoa is produced in West Africa, and much of this is exported to America. It's estimated that 1.56m children work on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast and Ghana, according to a report published by the US Department of Labor last year. In their lawsuit, the group of men alleged that they were forced to work on the cocoa farms for 12-14 hours a day. They also said they were kept under armed guard while they slept, in order to prevent them from escaping, and were paid little beyond basic food. While decrying child slavery, the companies argued the case should instead be made against the traffickers and the farmers who kept them in such conditions. In its decision, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, the court ruled that while Nestlé USA and Cargill provided the farms with technical and financial resources, there was no evidence that business decisions made in the US led to the men's forced labour. To activists who have fought chocolate firms for years, the ruling came as a blow. "They decided on the budgets, they decided on the planning, on the business aspects - all those things were done from the US," said Terry Collingsworth, executive director of International Rights Advocates, speaking to Fortune Magazine. Mr Collingsworth said his legal team would file a new lawsuit, alleging that many decisions made by Nestlé and Cargill in the US helped to pave the way for the use of child slaves in Ivory Coast. In a statement, Nestlé USA said it had never engaged in child labour and remained "unwavering in [its] dedication to combating child labour in the cocoa industry".
6-18-21 Juneteenth: What is the newest US holiday and how is it celebrated?
The Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, which establishes a holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the US, has been signed by President Joe Biden. "I've only been president for several months, but I think this will go down, for me, as one of the greatest honours I will have had as president," Mr Biden said at the signing event. So what is Juneteenth, how did it become a holiday and what do people do to celebrate it? On 19 June 1865 - months after the northern US states defeated the South in a civil war fought over slavery - enslaved African-Americans in Galveston, Texas, were told they were free. The day became known as Juneteenth, a word created by joining the words "June" and "nineteenth" together. The liberation of enslaved people in Texas came more than two and half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all enslaved people in the rebellious states to be free. The declaration by General Grainger to bring the Emancipation Proclamation into effect in Texas is seen by many as the end of slavery as it finally brought the practice to an end in the last state still holding the enslaved. Already 49 states and Washington DC formally recognise Juneteenth as a state or ceremonial holiday. South Dakota is the last remaining state. When he was senator of Illinois, Barack Obama co-sponsored legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday, but the law was never passed - even after he became president. This year, companies such as Nike, Uber, Twitter and many others have announced they are giving their employees a paid day off for Juneteenth. Governors in some states, including New York and Virginia, have also declared it a holiday for state employees. On Wednesday, the US House of Representatives backed the legislation by 415-14, a day after it was unanimously approved by the Senate. With the signature of President Biden, it has become law. Fourteen House Republicans voted against the bill. One lawmaker from Montana said the legislation was all about "identity politics". A Kentucky opponent of the bill said its establishment will "create confusion and push Americans to pick one of those two days as their independence day based on their racial identity". It is the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr Day was established in 1983.
6-17-21 Covid-19 news: Prior coronavirus infection may not protect long-term
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 small study suggests previous coronavirus infection doesn’t necessarily provide long-lasting immune responses. People who have been previously tested positive for the coronavirus may not be protected against becoming infected again, as the coronavirus doesn’t necessarily trigger long-lasting immune responses, according to a small, preliminary study. “In our view, previous infection does not necessarily protect you long-term from SARS-CoV-2, particularly variants of concern,” said Eleanor Barnes at the University of Oxford, one of the senior authors on the study. “You shouldn’t depend on it to protect you from subsequent disease, you should be vaccinated,” Barnes told the Guardian. Scientists are calling for the UK government to suspend daily contact testing trials in schools in England, in an open letter to UK education minister Gavin Williamson published in the BMJ. The aim of the trials is to evaluate the effectiveness of regular lateral flow testing for coronavirus in schools, as an alternative to 10-day isolation for the contacts of pupils who contract covid-19. However, the letter argues that the risks posed by the trials outweigh their benefits, as lateral flow tests can miss early-stage infections which may contribute to the spread of the delta variant of coronavirus. It comes as a study commissioned by the government found that coronavirus infections in England increased by 50 per cent between 3 May and 7 June, as the delta variant became more prevalent. Japan announced it would lift a state of emergency in Tokyo and eight other prefectures, while maintaining some social distancing measures, such as limiting spectator numbers at large events. The Olympics are due to begin in Tokyo on 23 July, after being postponed last year. Speaking at a news conference on 17 June, Japan’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga urged people in the country to watch the games on TV to avoid spreading the virus.
6-17-21 Biden returns from Europe to big fights over infrastructure, voting rights, and Joe Manchin
President Biden returns to Washington on Thursday fresh from a high-stakes summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin and friendlier confabulations with European allies — and he will land in the middle of high-stakes battles between centrist and progressive Democrats and Senate Republicans whose No. 3 leader just said he wants to "make Joe Biden a one-half-term president." While Biden was gone, there was progress on infrastructure and voting rights negotiations, but it leaves some of his big priorities up in the air and significant slices of his party threatening to bolt. This is the headache that awaits the president after he gets back from Europe, and there's no simple political Excedrin that can relieve it," Michael Grunwald writes at Politico. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), upon whose vote much of Biden's agenda rests, is circulating a list of proposed changes to the Democrats' main voting reform package, the For the People Act. "The list of demands is, on one hand, good news for congressional Democrats, who have been seeking a way forward by perhaps passing a narrower piece of legislation more closely targeted to the GOP-passed state voting restrictions," The Washington Post reports. "But Manchin's demands — particularly his support for mandatory voter ID laws — could alienate fellow Democrats," and they're probably null anyway unless Democrats end the filibuster, which Manchin won't do. On infrastructure, Manchin is one of 21 senators — 11 Republicans, 10 Democrats — who signaled Thursday they would support a compromise infrastructure bill "that provides an historic investment in our nation's core infrastructure needs without raising taxes." The roughly $1 trillion bipartisan framework includes $579 billion in new spending over five years, but the centrist coterie is still haggling over how to pay for it. Biden told reporters in Geneva on Wednesday he hasn't seen the details of the infrastructure plan but "I know that my chief of staff thinks there's some room." Progressive Democrats had their own message, Grunwald reports: "No Climate, No Deal." "The climate crisis may be urgent," but "addressing it through legislation requires rounding up the votes," Grunwald writes. "Whether the bipartisan negotiations on the Hill produce a deal, whether Democrats pursue their own bill that requires only 50 votes, the president won't get everything he wants for the climate. But it's quite likely that he'll get something. And then the left will have to decide whether that's better than nothing."
6-17-21 Biden and Putin praise Geneva summit talks but discord remains
The presidents of the US and Russia have praised their talks in Geneva but have made little concrete progress at the first such meeting since 2018. Disagreements were stated, said US President Joe Biden, but not in a hyperbolic way, and he said Russia did not want a new Cold War. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Mr Biden was an experienced statesman and the two "spoke the same language". The talks lasted around three hours, less time than was scheduled. Mr Biden said they did not need to spend more time talking and there was now a genuine prospect to improve relations with Russia. As a gift to the Russian leader, Mr Biden brought Mr Putin a custom-made pair of aviator sunglasses, a style favoured by the US president, and a crystal sculpture of a bison. It is unclear whether Mr Putin gave Mr Biden a gift. In 2018, the Russian leader gave former President Donald Trump a soccer ball after a meeting in Helsinki, Finland. The two sides agreed to begin a dialogue on nuclear arms control. They also said they would return ambassadors to each other's capitals - the envoys were mutually withdrawn for consultations in March, after the US accused Russia of meddling in the 2020 presidential election. However, there was little sign of agreement on other issues, including cyber-security, Ukraine and the fate of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is currently serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence in a penal colony. Mr Biden said there would be "devastating consequences" for Russia if Navalny died in prison. Before the summit, both sides said relations were at rock bottom. Mr Putin hinted at a possible deal on exchanging prisoners, saying he believed compromises could be found. On cyber-attacks, Mr Putin brushed away accusations of Russian responsibility, saying that most cyber-attacks in Russia originated from the US. Mr Biden said he told Mr Putin that critical infrastructure, such as water or energy, must be "off-limits" to hacking or other attacks.
6-17-21 Biden lashes out at CNN reporter
The president snaps at CNN’s chief White House correspondent after she asks about his summit with Mr Putin. "If you don't understand that you're in the wrong business," Mr Biden told Kaitlan Collins. The US president later apologised on the tarmac for being "such a wise guy".
6-17-21 Federal Reserve warns US economy path depends on virus
The US central bank has pledged to continue to support the economy even as the effects of the pandemic ease. The Federal Reserve kept interest rates on hold near zero on Wednesday, saying rising inflation was "largely reflecting transitory factors". A Fed statement said that while employment has strengthened, "risks to the economic outlook remain". But it warned that the path of the economy would depend "significantly" on the course of the virus. It comes amid fears rising prices could prompt the Bank to push up interest rates, increasing the cost of borrowing for businesses and consumers. US inflation, which measures the rate at which the prices for goods and services increase, continued to surge in May as prices for used cars and energy picked up. Consumer prices jumped 5% in the 12 months to the end of May, marking the biggest year-on-year increase since August 2008, according to recent figures from the US Labor Department. Inflation is the rate at which the prices for goods and services increase. It's one of the key measures of financial well-being because it affects what consumers can buy for their money. If there is inflation, money doesn't go as far. t's expressed as a percentage increase or decrease in prices over time. For example, if the inflation rate for the cost of a litre of petrol is 2% a year, motorists need to spend 2% more at the pump than 12 months earlier. And if wages don't keep up with inflation, purchasing power and the standard of living falls. Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) officials raised their forecast for inflation in 2021 to 3.4%, up from 2.4% in March, upgrading their projection for economic growth to 7.0%, up from 6.5% previously. Most members of the FOMC brought forward predictions for the Bank's first post-Covid interest rate hike to 2023 following their two-day meeting.
6-17-21 Juneteenth: US to add federal holiday marking end of slavery
The US Congress has overwhelmingly passed a bill to add a federal holiday to the calendar marking Juneteenth - the end of slavery in the nation. The House of Representatives backed the legislation by 415-14, a day after it was unanimously approved by the Senate. It is the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr Day was established in 1983. Juneteenth marks the day on 19 June 1865 when enslaved black people in Texas learned they had been freed. The measure now heads to the White House to be enacted into law. President Joe Biden's fellow Democrats sponsored the measure and it cruised through Congress with unexpected speed in a rare show of bipartisanship. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, spoke during the House floor debate before a photo showing a man's back scarred from whippings during slavery. She said the Juneteenth federal holiday was brought forward to "commemorate the end of chattel slavery, America's original sin, and to bring about celebration". Fourteen House Republicans voted against the bill. One of them, Matt Rosendale of Montana, said the legislation was all about "identity politics". "Since I believe in treating everyone equally, regardless of race, and that we should be focused on what unites us rather than our differences, I will vote no," he said. Clay Higgins, a Louisiana Republican, said he would support the measure, even though he objected to the bill's proposal to name the new holiday Juneteenth National Independence Day. "Why would the Democrats want to politicise this by co-opting the name of our sacred holiday of Independence Day?" Higgins asked, arguing they should have instead used the word "emancipation". An attempt to pass the same bill last year foundered when a Republican senator objected to the annual cost, which he pegged at $600m (£430m). But no-one opposed the measure in the upper chamber on Monday when it was passed unanimously.
6-17-21 Obamacare: US Supreme Court upholds affordable healthcare law
The US Supreme Court has upheld the law which aims to provide affordable health insurance for all Americans, dismissing a legal challenge from Texas and 17 other Republican-governed states. This is the third time since 2010 that the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the signature policy of former president Barack Obama, has survived a challenge. It bans insurers from denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions. The law gave millions of low-income Americans access to medical insurance. The justices ruled by a 7-2 majority that the challengers had no legal standing to file their case. The ruling did not touch on whether a key provision in the law was unconstitutional. The legal challenge was backed by former president Donald Trump, who promised to have the act repealed when he was elected in 2016. Republicans tried and failed to overturn the law in Congress, when they controlled both houses, and in the courts on numerous occasions. Conservative groups, led by the Republican-controlled state of Texas, were essentially trying to get the entirety of the Affordable Care Act killed on a technicality. By a comfortable 7-2 vote, the justices of the Supreme Court kicked their case to the curb. The court didn't even bother to rule on the merits of Texas' arguments, instead holding that the litigants lacked the standing even to bring the case. The ruling suggests that while this court is decidedly more conservative than the one that narrowly upheld Obamacare in a highly charged 2012 decision, there's simply nowhere near a majority of justices interested in reversing that ruling, even if they disagreed with it at the time. This was the third case seeking to dismantle Barack Obama's signature healthcare reform to reach the Supreme Court - and the law has been sustained by a growing majority each time.
6-16-21 DOJ restores asylum eligibility for those fleeing domestic violence
The Justice Department on Wednesday declared immigrants fleeing domestic violence and "members of an immediate family" may once again qualify for asylum in the U.S., Buzzfeed News reports. The latest from Attorney General Merrick Garland vacates previous decisions from Jeff Sessions and William Barr, in which the former attorneys general had overturned rulings granting asylum protections to certain categories of both groups. The DOJ's verdict, particularly in the case of domestic violence survivors, does not set new asylum standards, Buzzfeed writes, but instead favors the establishment of new "future regulations," which the Biden administration reportedly plans to unveil in the fall. "The vacating of these decisions allows these cases to be treated like any other — fairly and without bias or prejudgement," said Karen Musalo, a professor at UC Hastings Law School, arguing that the DOJ is making strides towards "reversing the biased decision-making of the Trump administration." "This is a big step towards ending the confusion created by a very ill-conceived legal precedent," said an immigration judge to Buzzfeed.
6-16-21 Covid-19 news: UK plans to make vaccines mandatory for care home staff
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. Covid-19 vaccinations to be made mandatory for care home staff in England under proposed UK plans. The UK government plans to make covid-19 vaccinations compulsory for care home staff, ministers are expected to announce. On 15 June, the Guardian reported that the government intends to push ahead with the mandatory vaccination plan, which will affect the majority of the approximately 1.5 million people who work in social care in England, despite employer and staff organisations warning that it could backfire if staff who don’t wish to get vaccinated decide to quit. The plan could also be extended to all NHS staff. Japan could allow up to 10,000 fans to attend Olympic events in Tokyo in July and August, after health advisers in the country approved plans to increase the number of spectators allowed to attend sports events. “It is important that we maintain thorough anti-infection measures to prevent a rebound in cases, especially as we foresee a spread of the delta variant,” Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister overseeing Japan’s coronavirus response, told a government advisory panel. A covid-19 state of emergency in Tokyo and other parts of Japan is due to end on 20 June. The European Union has added the US to its safe travel list, meaning people travelling to the bloc from the US will no longer need to quarantine on arrival if they present a negative coronavirus test. Other countries added to the EU’s safe list include Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia, Lebanon, Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong. The UK hasn’t been added to the list due to “serious concerns” about the delta variant of coronavirus and recent rises in cases, an EU diplomat told the Guardian. India’s government has doubled the interval between doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine from 6-8 weeks to 12-16 weeks.
6-16-21 Biden-Putin summit: US and Russian leaders meet for tense Geneva talks
US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin are meeting for their first, highly-anticipated summit. The talks in Geneva, Switzerland, come at a time when both sides describe relations as being at rock bottom. Discussions are set to include arms control and US allegations of Russian cyber-attacks. No major breakthroughs are expected but there are hopes of finding small areas of agreement. The arrangements for the meeting were carefully choreographed. The Russian president flew into Geneva on Wednesday before being taken by motorcade to the grand villa overlooking Lake Geneva where the summit is taking place. Mr Biden, who arrived in the city on Tuesday, then headed to the villa where the two leaders shook hands. Both are accompanied by senior officials for the talks. The meeting comes on the tail end of Mr Biden's first foreign trip as US president, in which he has also attended meetings with G7 and Nato leaders. Going into the summit, Mr Biden has stressed that he has the backing of his Western partners. The choice of Geneva as the setting harks back to the Cold War summit between US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985. Neither the US nor Russia currently has an ambassador in-country, and Russia recently included the US on its official list of "unfriendly states". However, Mr Biden has said the meeting is an important step if they are to ultimately find "stability and predictability" in relations, while Mr Putin told state TV there were "issues where we can work together". But Yuri Ushakov, Mr Putin's foreign affairs adviser, told journalists there was "not much" ground for optimism, while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the talks would be "very difficult". Meanwhile, asked if the leaders - who previously met while Mr Biden was vice-president - would share a meal together, one senior US official told AFP news agency: "There will be no breaking of bread."
6-16-21 Germany withdraws platoon from Nato mission in Lithuania
Germany has recalled a platoon from a Nato mission in Lithuania after reports emerged of troops engaging in racist and anti-Semitic behaviour, as well as sexual assault. The allegations were first published by Der Spiegel news magazine on Monday. Announcing the decision on Twitter, German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said the misconduct would be "punished with all severity". Four German soldiers were initially withdrawn as part of the investigation. The troops were in Lithuania as part of Nato's "enhanced forward presence", a mission which trains local soldiers as a deterrent against Russian in a number of Eastern European countries. "The misconduct of some soldiers in Lithuania is a slap in the face of everyone who works in the Bundeswehr [German army] day after day to serve the security of our country," Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer tweeted on Wednesday. She said the entire platoon would be withdrawn with "immediate effect", and that any necessary investigations and proceedings would take place in Germany. On Tuesday, the minister said that any soldiers who knew about the incidents but did not report them would also face punishment. According to Der Spiegel, the allegations relate to a party held at a hotel in Lithuania at the end of April. A number of troops are suspected of bullying, threatening violence, filming an incident of sexual assault against another soldier, as well as singing anti-Semitic songs. Separate allegations later emerged of sexual and racial abuse within the platoon, while some soldiers reported that a number of people sang a song to mark Adolf Hitler's birthday on 20 April, according to Der Spiegel. The German government has had to take action against suspected extremism in the armed forces on at least two occasions in recent years. Last year, Defence Minister Kramp-Karrenbauer ordered the partial dissolution of the elite KSK commando force after 20 of its members were suspected of right-wing extremism.
6-16-21 Covid: US death toll passes 600,000 as vaccination rate slows
The number of Americans who have died from Covid-19 has reached 600,012 - the most of any nation - according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The US also ranks highest in total number of recorded cases, with nearly 33.5 million infections since 2020. This latest milestone comes as President Joe Biden's goal of getting 70% of US adults vaccinated by 4 July appears increasingly likely to fail. Over 173 million people, around 52% of the US, have had at least one dose. Brazil and India have reported the next highest death tolls, with Brazil at more than 488,000 deaths and India at more than 377,000. It took around four months for the US to go from 500,000 to 600,000 deaths - about as long as it took to go from none to 100,000. It marks a significant change from the height of the pandemic when the death toll jumped from 300,000 to 400,000 in one month last winter. But the country's vaccination rate has begun to fall to around 1m doses administered per day - down from a high this April of nearly 3.4m. Roughly 43% of the US population, or about 144 million Americans, are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC says people are fully vaccinated at least two weeks after their final vaccine dose. It comes as the CDC officially labels the Delta mutation, first discovered in India, a "variant of concern". Delta variant cases amount to 10% of all new infections, the CDC said, and is growing in comparison to the dominant Alpha variant, first identified in Kent, UK. Though a majority of adult Americans have received at least one dose, the percentages vary wildly from state to state. Vermont has fully vaccinated 71% of its residents, but only 36% of Mississippians have received both jabs, according to a New York Times database. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found around a third of US adults were not planning on getting vaccinated yet - leading states and companies to offer countless vaccine incentives.
6-16-21 The Trump administration tried hard to prove the COVID-19 Wuhan lab-leak theory, came up short
The Trump administration launched several separate investigations into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, and former President Donald Trump and other senior officials pressed hard for evidence the virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Politico and The Washington Post reported Tuesday. But nobody was able to find more than inconclusive and circumstantial evidence. President Biden ordered a new 90-day review of the intelligence last month. By Feb. 1, 2020, the U.S. government's top scientists and medical experts had determined China did not engineer the new coronavirus, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins tells the Post. "I am not at all convinced that a natural origin is the only explanation; I've never been convinced," he said, but unless new evidence emerges, the coronavirus wasn't designed by humans. On April 30, 2020, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence codified that view, saying in a statement the intelligence community "concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified," and would continue working "to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan." That statement "angered some officials in the State Department who had wondered whether the virus was designed as part of a secretive Chinese bioweapons program," the Post reports. Trump immediately told reporters he was highly confident the virus came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but he was "not allowed" to say why. Privately, Trump "told aides that he believed the intelligence agencies had concluded that the virus came from the lab," the Post reports. "The agencies had never reached that conclusion." Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed three days later there was "enormous evidence" COVID-19 came from a lab, stoking "confusion elsewhere in the administration among some officials investigating COVID-19's origins," Politico reports. "He wanted a smoking gun, and we couldn't give it to him," one former official told the Post. Pompeo told the Post last week he became convinced of the virus' lab origins by "the cumulative amount of evidence" and "the absence of evidence for other theories." "We never got to a smoking gun," said Anthony Ruggiero, who led one of the Trump COVID-19 investigations at the National Security Council. "Had Trump officials found a smoking gun," current and former officials assured the Post, "they would have said so."
6-16-21 US Senate votes to make Juneteenth a holiday
The US Senate has unanimously passed a bill to make Juneteenth, the day that marks the end of slavery in the nation, a federal holiday. The measure now heads to the Democratic-led House, where it is all but certain to pass. Democratic and Republican senators hailed the rare bipartisan measure in the evenly split chamber. Juneteenth marks the day on 19 June 1865 when enslaved black people in Texas learned they had been freed. Charles Schumer, the Democratic leader of the Senate, said: "Making Juneteenth a federal holiday is a major step forward to recognise the wrongs of the past, but we must continue to work to ensure equal justice and fulfil the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and our Constitution." An attempt to pass the bill last year foundered when Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, objected to the cost of adding another federal holiday to the calendar. He said it would cost $600M a year to give government employees a day off. Mr Johnson did not oppose the measure again on Tuesday, though he said in a statement to the Washington Post that he was still concerned about the cost. "While it still seems strange that having taxpayers provide federal employees paid time off is now required to celebrate the end of slavery, it is clear that there is no appetite in Congress to further discuss the matter," he said. Had any senator objected, the bill would have been scheduled for debate, miring the proposal in a legislative timetable that is already chock-full with Biden administration priorities, such as infrastructure and voting rights. Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, welcomed the bill's passage on Tuesday in a tweet noting that Juneteenth was already a Texas state holiday. "Now more than ever, we need to learn from our history and continue to form a more perfect union," he said.
6-15-21 Senate unanimously passes bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday
The Senate unanimously passed a bill on Tuesday that would make Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, a federal holiday. Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, when the last enslaved people in Texas finally learned they were free. It was first celebrated in Texas in 1865, and today most states recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. The bill is expected to also pass in the House. "Making Juneteenth a federal holiday is a major step forward to recognizing the wrongs of the past, but we must continue to work to ensure equal justice and fulfill the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and our Constitution," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) had blocked an earlier attempt to pass a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday, saying there wasn't enough debate and federal employees did not need another day off. Before Tuesday's vote, he released a statement saying "it is clear that there is no appetite in Congress to further discuss the matter. Therefore, I do not intend to object."
6-15-21 House approves Congressional Gold Medals for Jan. 6 police officers. 21 Republicans voted no.
On the one hand, there was a rare outbreak of bipartisanship in Congress on Tuesday evening. The Senate voted unanimously to make Juneteenth a national holiday and the House soon after voted overwhelmingly to award the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the nation's highest civilian honors, to the law enforcement officers who protected lawmakers and their staff from the Jan. 6 mob that laid siege to the Capitol. On the other hand, while 406 House Democrats and Republicans voted to honor the officers, 21 Republicans voted no. "The vote underscored the lingering tensions in Congress amid efforts by some GOP lawmakers to whitewash the events of that day," The Washington Post reports. The legislation, in a compromise with the Senate after a months-long impasse, awards three Congressional Gold Medals to the Capitol Police "and those who protected the U.S. Capitol" on Jan. 6. One is for the Capitol Police, the second for the D.C. Metropolitan Police, and the third for the Smithsonian Institution; a fourth medal will be displayed inside the Capitol with the names of every law enforcement agency that helped expel the "insurrectionists." The legislation honors the "sacrifices" of the three police officers who died following the attack and the "courage" of Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman. "The desecration of the U.S. Capitol, which is the temple of our American Democracy, and the violence targeting Congress are horrors that will forever stain our nation's history," the bill says. The Republicans who voted no were Reps. Thomas Massie (Ky.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Michael Cloud (Texas), Andrew Clyde (Ga.), Warren Davidson (Ohio), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Bob Good (Va.), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Andy Harris (Md.), Jody Hice (Ga.), Mary Miller (Ill.), Barry Moore (Ala.), Ralph Norman (S.C.), Scott Perry (Pa.), John Rose (Tenn.), Matt Rosendale (Mont.), Chip Roy (Texas), and Greg Steube (Fla.). They faced bipartisan criticism for their votes.
6-15-21 Scotland set to delay end of lockdown to buy time for vaccinations
The Scottish government is likely to postpone the planned move to the lowest level of coronavirus restrictions on 28 June for three weeks, the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has announced. In a statement at the Scottish parliament, Sturgeon said caution is needed to provide extra time to push ahead with vaccinations. “Given the current situation – and the need to get more people fully vaccinated before we ease up further – it is reasonable to indicate now that I think it unlikely that any part of the country will move down a level from June 28,” she said. “Instead, it is likely that we will opt to maintain restrictions for a further three weeks from June 28 and use that time to vaccinate – with both doses – as many more people as possible. “Doing that will give us the best chance, later in July, of getting back on track and restoring the much greater normality that we all crave.” Sturgeon said the decision would be confirmed at the Scottish parliament next week, following a planned review of the current levels. The delay would mean restrictions would be lifted on 19 July, the same date that has been set for the end of lockdown rules in England following a four-week delay announced by UK prime minister Boris Johnson on 14 June. Earlier, officials indicated that Scotland has recorded two coronavirus deaths and 974 new cases in the past 24 hours. It brings the death toll under this measure, of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days, to 7683. The daily rate for positive covid-19 tests was 5 per cent, down from 5.2 per cent the previous day, according to figures published by the Scottish government. There were 137 people in hospital on Monday with recently confirmed covid-19, up from 128 on Sunday. Seventeen people were in intensive care, no change on the day before.
6-15-21 Covid-19 news: All adults in England likely to be offered jabs in days
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. People aged 18 and over in England should be eligible for covid-19 vaccine appointments in coming days. All people over the age of 18 in England are expected to become eligible for covid-19 vaccination this week, as more than 41 million people across the UK have now received at least one dose of vaccine. “I expect that by the end of this week, we’ll be able to open up the National Booking Service to all adults aged 18 and above,” chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens told the NHS Confederation conference on 15 June. “By 19 July we aim to have offered perhaps two-thirds of adults across the country double jabs,” said Stevens. UK cabinet office minister Michael Gove has suggested that people in the UK will have to learn to accept a certain level of deaths from covid-19 once restrictions are lifted. “We can provide people with the best protection possible through the vaccination programme but, as with flu, we know that every year there are a number of people who contract it, and every year certainly there are a number of people who are hospitalised and who suffer as a result of it,” Gove told Times Radio on 15 June. Uganda is facing shortages of covid-19 vaccines and oxygen as coronavirus cases and hospitalisations in the country surge in a third wave of the pandemic. “We really feel it’s an emergency,” Uganda Medical Association secretary general, Mukuzi Muhereza told the Guardian. “We are receiving SOS [calls] for oxygen and human resources from health facilities across the country.” The World Health Organization reported 1735 new coronavirus cases in Uganda on 13 June, a significant increase from the 60 daily new cases reported a month earlier on 13 May.
6-15-21 Marjorie Taylor Greene sorry for likening masks to Holocaust
A Republican lawmaker has apologised for likening coronavirus mask rules to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia disavowed her comments after a visit to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC. The conservative firebrand said it was important for her to acknowledge she had made "offensive remarks". The Trump ally has courted controversy since assuming office in January. Speaking outside the US Capitol on Monday, Mrs Greene said: "One of the best lessons that my father always taught me was when you make a mistake you should own it. "And I have a made a mistake and it's really bothered me for a couple of weeks now and so I definitely want to own it." She added: "There is no comparison to the Holocaust. "And there are words that I have said and remarks that I have made that I know are offensive and for that I want to apologise." She continued: "If we're going to lead, we need to be able to lead in a way where if we've messed up it's very important for us to say we're sorry." In an interview with a conservative podcast last month, Mrs Greene, 47, lambasted safety protocols adopted by Democrats in the House of Representatives, including a requirement that masks be worn on the chamber floor. "You know, we can look back in a time and history where people were told to wear a gold star," she said. "And they were definitely treated like second-class citizens, so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany. "This is exactly the type of abuse that Nancy Pelosi [Democratic House speaker] is talking about." After a firestorm of criticism, including from the Republican leadership, Mrs Greene persisted with the analogy. She tweeted out a news story about a supermarket chain that planned to allow vaccinated workers to go maskless. "Vaccinated employees get a vaccination logo just like the Nazi's forced Jewish people to wear a gold star," the lawmaker posted.
6-15-21 Airlines report 3,000 unruly passengers this year in US
Airlines have reported about 3,000 cases of unruly passengers to US aviation authorities this year as bad behaviour on flights takes off during the coronavirus pandemic. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said 2,300 of those reports were about people who refused to wear masks. Videos of rows over mask requirements on flights have been going viral. This year has also seen a record number of possible violations of the law on flights. Passengers found guilty of unruly or dangerous behaviour can face fines or possible jail time. The FAA said it had investigated the highest number of potential breaches of the law since records began in 1995. The agency said some 394 cases of passengers allegedly "interfering with the duties of a crew member" had been reported as of 25 May. This is twice as many as the whole of last year, when 183 cases were investigated. "In a typical year the agency will end up taking this type of enforcement action in about 100 to 160 enforcement cases so it's nothing new," said Steve Dickson, the chief of the FAA, in an interview with ABC News last month. "What really is new is the volume that we're seeing right now." In January, the administration of US President Joe Biden issued an order that made it national law to wear a mask on commercial airlines and other modes of transport. The order was issued to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the US, which has recorded the most infections in the world. Following this, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ruled that air passengers must wear face masks, unless they have an exemption. The FAA says it is enforcing a zero-tolerance policy towards passengers who cause disturbances or fail to obey the mask requirement on flights. As part of this policy, the agency unveiled plans to impose stricter penalties against unruly airline passengers in January this year. The agency said passengers could face fines of up to $35,000 (£24,700) and imprisonment. "The FAA has seen a disturbing increase in incidents where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behaviour," the agency said.
6-15-21 Deona Knajdek: Minneapolis mother-of-two killed as car hits protesters
A woman who died after her car was struck by another vehicle during a protest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has been identified as a mother-of-two. Deona Knajdek, 31, was reportedly using her car to block a street for demonstrators when the other vehicle crashed into hers on Sunday night. The suspect was detained at the scene by protesters and arrested by police. His motive was unclear. Activists were demanding more official evidence in the killing of a black man. Ms Knajdek died after being taken by ambulance to hospital. A second protester was injured and taken to hospital, said police. Investigators said a preliminary investigation indicated the driver's suspected use of drugs or alcohol might be a contributing factor in the crash. Ms Knajdek had posted a video on her Facebook page earlier on Sunday showing a peaceful protest with a handful of demonstrators at the Minneapolis intersection. Hours earlier she shared an image with the slogan: "If we don't get it, shut it down!!!" On the Facebook page, she identified herself as a recovering addict and abuse survivor. Ms Knajdek's mother, Debbie Kenney, visited the scene of the fatal collision on Monday. "She wanted something to matter and she wanted black lives to matter and for this all to stop," Ms Kenney told the Star Tribune. Ms Knajdek's brother, Garrett Knajdek, told the newspaper his sister "was using her car as a street blockade, and another vehicle struck her vehicle and her vehicle struck her". He said his sister had returned to Minnesota from Georgia a year and a half ago to reunite with her two daughters, aged 11 and 13. "She's such a wonderful person," the brother said. "She's had struggle and hard times, but she's always pulled out of it." Protests have been ongoing in Minneapolis since the fatal shooting on 3 June of a black man, Winston Boogie Smith, by law enforcement.
6-15-21 COVID-19 vaccines reduce hospitalization risk from Delta variant by at least 90 percent, U.K. studies find
Public health officials are worried about the Delta variant of the COVID-19 coronavirus, but two U.K. studies published Monday found that two doses of leading vaccines offer "very, very substantial" protection against the new, highly transmissible strain, Aziz Sheikh, director of the University of Edinburgh's Usher Institute and lead author of one of the two studies, tells The Wall Street Journal. One analysis by Public Health England of more than 14,000 Delta infections found that two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalization by 96 percent, while a double dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine lowered the risk by 92 percent. The second study, published as a letter in The Lancet by academics and public health experts in Scotland, found that two doses of either vaccine reduced hospitalization from the Delta variant by 70 percent and offered robust but slightly diminished protection against infection. The Delta variant, first seen in India, is now the dominant strain in Britain, accounting for 90 percent of new cases. Compared with previous variants, the Delta mutation appears significantly more likely to infect people who have only received one dose of the two-shot vaccines. The U.K.'s initial vaccination strategy involved getting one jab into as many arms as possible before focusing on second doses. "We've got an opportunity to counter the threat of this Delta variant by encouraging uptake of both doses of the vaccine," Jim McMenamin, national incident director for COVID-19 at Public Health Scotland, told reporters Monday.
6-15-21 Boeing-Airbus trade row set to end after 17 years
The US and the EU have agreed a truce in a 17-year trade dispute over subsidies for Boeing and Airbus. Under the agreement, both sides will remove taxes on $11.5bn (£8.2bn) of goods, including wine, cheese and tractors, for five years. Those tariffs, imposed by both sides as punishment in the escalating dispute, had already been suspended in March while they tried to resolve matters. In March the US suspended tariffs on UK imports arising from the dispute. US President Joe Biden had a summit with EU leaders on Tuesday, where he is trying to bolster support for his more assertive stance towards Russia and China, and move away from Trump-era trade rows. "I think we have great opportunities to work closely with the EU as well as Nato and we feel quite good about it," President Biden said. Airbus said it welcomed the truce, adding that the agreement "will provide the basis to create a level-playing field which we have advocated for since the start of this dispute". "It will also avoid lose-lose tariffs that are only adding to the many challenges that our industry faces," the planemaker added. The dispute between the US and EU has escalated over many years, with both sides accusing the other of unfairly propping up their flagship planemakers. In 2019, the World Trade Organization ruled that the EU had illegally provided support to Airbus, clearing the way for the US to respond with tariffs worth up to $7.5bn (£5.4bn) in annual trade. Roughly one year later, in a parallel case, it ruled that the US benefits to Boeing also violated trade rules, authorising the EU to hit the US with tariffs worth roughly $4bn. Since then, both sides have taken steps to remove the assistance found at fault. The US and the EU have taken a much more conciliatory stance in the 17-year dispute since President Biden took over from predecessor Donald Trump, who imposed tariffs on the EU.
6-15-21 Beijing tells Nato to stop hyping up China threat
China has accused Nato of slandering its peaceful development after alliance leaders warned about "systemic challenges" coming from Beijing. China's actions, including expanding its nuclear arsenal, threatened "rules-based international order", Nato said. It was the first time Nato had placed China at the centre of its agenda. In its response, China said its defence policy was "defensive in nature" and urged Nato to "devote more of its energy to promoting dialogue". "Our pursuit of defence and military modernisation is justified, reasonable, open and transparent," China's mission to the European Union said in a statement. It added that Nato should view China's development in a "rational manner" and "stop taking China's legitimate interests and rights as an excuse to manipulate bloc politics, create confrontation and fuel geopolitical competition". Nato's statement came at the end of a one-day summit in Brussels on Monday. It marked Joe Biden's first Nato meeting as US president. The powerful political and military alliance between 30 European and North American countries sees Russia as a main threat. Mr Biden is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday. According to the summit's communiqué (concluding statement), China's "stated ambitions and assertive behaviour present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to Alliance security". "We remain concerned with China's frequent lack of transparency and use of disinformation," it says. Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg told reporters: "We're not entering a new Cold War and China is not our adversary, not our enemy." But, he added: "We need to address together, as the alliance, the challenges that the rise of China poses to our security". China is one of the world's leading military and economic powers, whose ruling Communist Party has a tight grip on politics, daily life and much of society.
6-14-21 Hundreds protest Manchin over his opposition to voting rights legislation
Hundreds of demonstrators marched through Charleston, West Virginia, on Monday to protest Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and his opposition to the For the People Act, which would reform U.S. election law. The Poor People's Campaign organized the "Moral March on Manchin" after he said he opposed passing election reform along party lines, as this could divide the country further. The Senate is evenly split and his vote is necessary for Democrats to change the filibuster, a prerequisite for passing the law in this Congress. Supporters say the law would counteract strict voter restrictions being put in place by Republican-controlled state legislatures in the wake of former President Donald Trump's loss in November. Manchin supports a narrower election-reform law. Manchin also opposes a $15 minimum wage and was against President Biden's first $2 trillion infrastructure proposal. The Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, spoke to protesters at a Charleston park on Monday, and urged them to put pressure on Manchin to do more to help working people. "West Virginia needs a real senator," he said. The demonstrators walked about a mile from the park to Manchin's office, where an aide said the senator was unable to meet them as he was in Washington. They left behind a letter, signed by the protesters. Charleston resident Chuck Overstreet told The Associated Press he attended the march to send a message to Manchin. "With our senator pretty much controlling this thing, we want to be here to say we're not on the same page," he said.
6-14-21 Covid-19 news: End of lockdown in England to be postponed
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. Delayed lifting of restrictions in England “justified” due to threat posed by delta variant, say scientists. UK prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce a four-week delay to the lifting of coronavirus restrictions in England. The BBC reported on 14 June that senior UK government ministers have signed off on the decision and Johnson is expected to confirm the delay at a news conference at 6pm UK time on 14 June. Mark Woolhouse at the University of Edinburgh said the delay “would be justified”. In a statement, Woolhouse said: “The arrival of the delta variant has changed the assessment of the risks of re-opening: it is more transmissible, causes more severe disease and the vaccines are less effective against it.” A headache, sore throat and runny nose are now the most frequently reported symptoms of covid-19 in the UK, according to data from the ZOE Covid Symptom Study. The change may be linked to the increased prevalence of the delta variant (also called B.1.617.2), which now accounts for more than 90 per cent of UK coronavirus cases. “This variant seems to be working slightly differently,” Tim Spector, who runs the ZOE Covid Symptom Study, told the BBC. “People might think they’ve just got some sort of seasonal cold and they still go out to parties. We think this is fuelling a lot of the problem,” he said. “It might just feel like a bad cold or some funny ‘off’ feeling – but do stay at home and do get a test.” A covid-19 vaccine candidate developed by US company Novavax was found to be 90 per cent effective overall at preventing covid-19. The trial, which included 29,960 participants across 119 sites in the US and Mexico, found that the vaccine was 100 per cent effective at preventing moderate to severe disease and 93 per cent effective at preventing covid-19 caused by coronavirus variants of concern. During the trial, the alpha variant (also known as B.1.1.7) became the dominant variant in the US, Novavax said in a statement. The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.8 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 176 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 987.9 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.
6-14-21 Why is the DOJ still defending Trump?
The reasons seem noble, but there are obvious problems. Remember all the angst about "normalizing" Donald Trump? The concern was potent back in 2016 and 2017, when Trump was running for president and then astonishingly won office. Even then, it was clear to many observers that the former reality TV star possessed unusual amounts of narcissism, indecency, and indifference to governing norms — all in quantities that could be dangerous to American democracy. The media, in particular, came under scrutiny from the so-called "resistance," and was closely examined for any hint in its reporting that it made Trump and his deeds seem, well, normal or even acceptable. To normalize Trump was to make him safe, and he was most assuredly anything but safe. Trump is no longer president, of course. But it looks as though the Justice Department — now under Attorney General Merrick Garland — is still trying to normalize him, or at least defend some of his administration's more questionable choices. Consider what we've seen during from the department in the last few weeks: The government is refusing to release the full version of a memo, written up under former Attorney General William Barr, that sets out why the department concluded that Trump didn't obstruct justice during Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. We are learning that even after President Biden was inaugurated earlier this year, the department's lawyers sought to keep gag orders in place for controversial Trump-era leak investigations involving two Democratic congressmen, former White House counsel Don McGahn, and others. And last week, Justice attorneys filed a brief defending Trump from a defamation lawsuit filed last year by E. Jean Carroll, the advice columnist who has accused Trump of raping her during the 1990s — long before he became president. As it happens, Biden was fiercely critical of Trump and his Justice Department last year during the presidential campaign, particularly when its intervention in the Carroll case first became known. "This has been the most corrupt administration in modern American history," Biden grumbled. "The Justice Department has turned into the president's private law firm." So why is the department still defending Trump? The short answer seems to be that it is treating him like it would any other president. As Vox's Ian Milhiser pointed out last week, the Department of Justice doesn't just enforce federal law — one of its functions is to defend the "institutional interests" of the presidency. What's more, the department tends to stick to its own precedents, in part because backing away from previous positions is bad for business. "If Justice Department lawyers get a reputation for changing their arguments every time a new president comes into office," Milhiser wrote, "judges across the country could decide that those arguments are not credible, and DOJ risks losing many, many cases." Or, as Garland put it during a Senate hearing last week: "The essence of the rule of law ... is that like cases be treated alike, that there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans, that there not be one rule for friends and another for foes."
6-14-21 Nato summit: Nato must face up to China's rise, alliance chief says
The head of Nato has urged members to respond to China's rise at a summit designed to shore up US support for the Western alliance. The summit is expected to issue a statement describing China's behaviour as a "systemic challenge" after the meeting in Belgium. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the meeting was a "pivotal moment" for the alliance. It is US President Joe Biden's first Nato meeting since taking office. Nato is a powerful political and military alliance between 30 European and North American countries. It was established after World War Two in response to the threat of communist expansion. In recent years, the alliance came under strain as leaders debated its purpose and funding. Tensions grew during the presidency of Donald Trump, who complained about his country's financial contributions to the alliance and questioned the US commitment to defend European partners. In contrast, his successor Mr Biden has sought to reassert American backing for the 72-year-old alliance. "I want to make it clear: Nato is critically important for US interests," Mr Biden said as he arrived at the summit on Monday. His country, he said, had a "sacred obligation" to observe Article 5 of Nato's founding treaty, which commits members to defend each other from attack. According to a draft of the summit's communiqué (concluding statement) seen by news agencies, China's "stated ambitions and assertive behaviour present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to Alliance security". The draft document says China is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal, is "opaque" in the modernisation of its military and is co-operating militarily with Russia. "We remain concerned with China's frequent lack of transparency and use of disinformation," it adds. President Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said the Nato talks would focus on collective security, including standing up to China and its rapid military rise. (Webmaster's comment: china is only interested in doing worldwide business and expanding its tecnological superiority.)
6-14-21 China denounces G7 after statement on Xinjiang and Hong Kong
China has accused the G7 of "political manipulation" after it criticised Beijing over a range of issues. In a joint statement at the end of a three-day summit, leaders of the G7 countries urged China to "respect human rights and fundamental freedoms". Issues highlighted included abuses against the Uyghur Muslim minority group and the crackdown on Hong Kong pro-democracy activists. China's embassy in the UK accused the G7 of "baseless accusations". "Stop slandering China, stop interfering in China's internal affairs, and stop harming China's interests," a spokesman said on Monday. The statement by the G7 - the world's seven largest so-called advanced economies - included pledges on a number of issues, such as ending the coronavirus pandemic and steps to tackle climate change, as well as references to China. The group, made up of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, called on China to respect human rights in Xinjiang, a north-western region that is home to the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. Experts generally agree that China has detained as many as a million Uyghurs and other Muslims and imprisoned hundreds of thousands more in its crackdown in Xinjiang, which began in 2017. There have been widespread reports of physical and psychological torture inside prisons and detention camps in the region. China denies the allegations. The G7 statement also called for rights and freedoms to be respected in Hong Kong, where a new security law passed by China last year has made it easier to punish protesters. The leaders said Hong Kong should retain a "high degree of autonomy", as established under agreements when it was handed back to China in 1997. The statement underscored the "importance of peace and stability" across the Taiwan Strait - a heavily-policed waterway that separates China and Taiwan. China sees democratic Taiwan as a breakaway province, but Taiwan sees itself as a sovereign state. (Webmaster's comment: It's only the Nato powers that insist on rattling their rockets!)
6-14-21 Rand Paul says the idea of majority rule ‘goes against’ American democracy
As Democrats warn of an ongoing assault on democracy and some Republicans continue to downplay the effects of the Jan. 6 Capitol riots and former President Donald Trump's stolen-election rhetoric, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has seemingly dismissed it all — even racist 20th-century Jim Crow laws — as just a side effect of the democratic system. Paul "[embraces] the notion" that minority party pushback is the "essence" of America's representative democracy, "distinguishing it from direct democracy, where the majority rules and is free to trample the rights of the minority unimpeded," per a The New York Times article published Monday. The "idea" of democracy and majority rule is what "goes against" American's history and values, claimed Paul. "The Jim Crow laws came out of democracy. That's what you get when a majority ignores the rights of others," he added, seemingly redefining the pillars of democracy himself, and likening Republican pushback on a Democratic agenda to Black Americans' fight for civil rights. Democrats and their allies reportedly reject such arguments, claiming the country's authoritarian concerns can be traced directly back to Republicans and Trump. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) likens GOP comments to "pleading for mercy as an orphan after you killed both your parents."
6-14-21 Novavax vaccine could provide 'much-needed boost' to global vaccine push
A COVID-19 vaccine from Novavax was shown to be highly effective in a phase 3 trial, the company announced Monday. n a study that enrolled nearly 30,000 participants in the United States and Mexico, the Novavax vaccine demonstrated 90.4 percent overall efficacy, and it also "demonstrated 100 percent protection against moderate and severe disease," the company said. "It's very important for the world's population to have, yet again, another highly efficacious vaccine that looks in its trial to have a good safety profile," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, The Washington Post reports. The Novavax shots "may be the most tolerable yet tested," the Post also reported, with common side effects being fatigue, headaches, and muscle pain. In the U.S., Novavax might not seek emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration until September, and given the U.S. has sufficient vaccine supply, it's possible the FDA could tell the company to apply for a full license instead, The New York Times reports. But Novavax CEO Stanley Erck told The Wall Street Journal that "at least in the foreseeable future, we're going to have a bigger impact" outside of the U.S, and the company has pledged 1.1 billion doses to the World Health Organization global vaccine initiative Covax, per the Post. The vaccine, then, could provide a "much-needed boost to global" vaccination efforts if approved, the Journal writes. "Many of our first doses will go to ... low and middle-income countries, and that was the goal to begin with," Erck told The Associated Press. The vaccine also has the benefit of being able to be stored at refrigerator temperatures, ABC News reports. Novavax says that if the vaccine is approved, it's on track to produce 100 million doses a month by the end of the third quarter of 2021 and 150 million doses a month by the end of the fourth quarter.
6-14-21 Zero-covid countries have done best and it's not too late to switch
Countries that pursued strict pandemic suppression strategies fared better on measures of health, wealth and civil liberties than those that didn’t, according to an analysis published in The Lancet. The analysis covers the first year of the pandemic from February 2020, but has relevance to ongoing efforts to end it. Moving to an elimination strategy even at this stage could lead to better health and wealth, the authors say. The researchers compared 37 wealthy nations’ deaths from covid-19, GDP growth and strictness of lockdown measures. They classified the countries into two groups: five “elimination” countries, which took maximum action at all times to suppress the outbreak; and 32 “mitigation” countries, which reacted to events to stop their health systems from being overwhelmed. “What we found was that there were far fewer deaths in the five elimination countries compared to others,” says team member Jeffrey Lazarus of the Barcelona Institute for Global Health in Spain. “Likewise, swift lockdown measures in line with elimination were less strict and of shorter duration, and we found that elimination is superior to mitigation for GDP growth.” An elimination strategy essentially means mass testing, supporting people infected with the coronavirus to isolate, tracing those they have come into contact with and helping them to self-isolate too, border surveillance, and swift and stringent lockdowns when needed. This is “infectious disease class 101”, says Lazarus. According to Lazarus, these measures are often criticised on the grounds that, while they may protect heath, they damage economies and infringe on civil liberties. In fact, the study shows they are superior on all of these measures. The five elimination countries are Australia, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. They didn’t succeed in eliminating the virus but set out to do so and stuck to their guns, says Lazarus.
6-14-21 G7 summit: Biden says America is back at the table
US President Joe Biden has declared that "America is back at the table" following the G7 summit of world leaders in the UK. At a press conference on Sunday, Mr Biden said the summit had been "extraordinarily collaborative". G7 leaders agreed on action to tackle China's human rights record and climate change after three days of talks. Mr Biden said the organisation was in a "contest with autocracies" and welcomed its approach on China and Russia. He also sought to distance himself from his predecessor - Donald Trump - who he said believed climate change was "not a problem". "We had a president, the last [one] who basically said it's not a problem, global warming," Mr Biden said. "It is the existential problem facing humanity and it's being treated that way." The world leaders attending the Cornwall summit signed a declaration calling on China to "respect human rights and fundamental freedoms", especially in the Xinjiang region, the north-western region that is home to the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. Human rights groups allege China has subjected minorities in the region to mass detention, surveillance, and torture - something China strongly denies. "We're in a contest, not with China per se... with autocrats, autocratic governments around the world, as to whether or not democracies can compete with them in a rapidly changing 21st century," Mr Biden said. The G7 adopted a spending plan to support lower and middle-income countries in response to a similar Chinese scheme. Chinese officials, meanwhile, warned G7 leaders that the days when "small" groups of countries decided the fate of the world were long gone. The G7 also called for a transparent, expert-led study including in China, organised by the World Health Organization (WHO), amid claims Covid-19 may have leaked from a Chinese laboratory. "We haven't had access to the laboratories," Mr Biden told reporters. (Webmaster's comment: Have the Chinese ever been given access to our biological labortories?)
6-13-21 The main hurdle for a potential cybercriminal exchange between Russia, U.S.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday said he'd be willing to hand wanted cybercriminals over to the United States if Washington did the same thing. President Biden, who will meet with Putin in Switzerland this week and is expected to urge his counterpart to go after cybercriminal organizations in Russia who conduct ransomware attacks, was later asked about the idea, and said he'd be open to an agreement if "in fact" the alleged U.S.-based hackers are "committing those crimes." The question over whether individuals are committing crimes might be secondary, though. The real challenge facing a potential agremeent between the White House and the Kremlin is what constitutes a crime in the first place. As CNN's Bianna Golodryga and others pointed out, Putin and Biden have different views on "what qualifies as criminal," citing the former's crackdown on Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny and his supporters as a prime example.
6-13-21 The Tulsa Race Massacre
A century ago this month, a white mob destroyed a thriving Black neighborhood in Tulsa. What was 'Black Wall Street'? In the early 1900s, Tulsa, Oklahoma, was a racially segregated city of about 100,000 people, with about 9,000 Black residents confined to the Greenwood neighborhood. Forbidden from patronizing or opening businesses on the white side of town, Black Tulsans established Greenwood as a bustling middle-class neighborhood, with more than 200 businesses spread across 35 blocks, including 15 doctors, two newspapers, luxury shops, restaurants, hotels, theaters, salons, and a library. "Black Wall Street," as some called it, also had its own school system, post office, savings and loan bank, and hospital. Many white Tulsans resented the bustling, self-contained prosperity of what they derisively called "Little Africa" and "N-----town," and racial tensions simmered. Greenwood "disproved the whole idea that racial superiority was a fact of life," said Jim Goodwin, current publisher of The Oklahoma Eagle, a Black newspaper. On May 30, 1921, a spark ignited racial resentment into terrible violence. What happened? Dick Rowland, a 19-year-old Black shoeshiner, stepped into an elevator in the Drexel building in downtown Tulsa to use the "coloreds only" restroom on the top floor. The elevator operator was a 17-year-old white girl, Sarah Page, who ran out of the elevator screaming. No one knows what happened; in the Black community, it was said that Rowland tripped and grabbed onto Page's arm. The next day, The Tulsa Tribune ran a front-page story saying Rowland "scratched and tore her clothes," an accusation that in that era was tantamount to an attempted rape. Rowland was arrested by police, and a lynch mob of hundreds of men quickly assembled outside the courthouse, demanding Rowland be handed over. A group of about 75 Black men rushed to the scene to protect Rowland. A scuffle broke out between the two groups, a gun discharged, and witnesses said "all hell broke loose." That night, a white mob of more than 1,000 — including police officers — descended on Greenwood for a 13-hour orgy of violence. What did the mob do? The attackers looted and ransacked homes, set nearly every structure on fire, and shot men, women, and children; at least one machine gun was reportedly used in the massacre. The terror even rained down from above, as pilots dropped homemade incendiary bombs from crop dusters over the neighborhood. As many as 300 people were killed, and 1,471 homes were burned or looted. More than 800 were injured, and 8,000 people were left homeless. "I still see Black men being shot, Black bodies lying in the street," Viola Fletcher, a 107-year-old survivor, recently said in testimony before Congress. "I still see Black businesses being burned. I still hear airplanes flying overhead. I hear the screams. I have lived through the massacre every day." What happened to survivors? Many were taken into custody and forced to march with their hands in the air at gunpoint through white neighborhoods while being taunted and humiliated. Several prominent Black men were charged with "inciting a riot." (No white person was ever charged with a serious crime or imprisoned.) Insurance companies refused to pay damage claims, and Greenwood families lived in tents and shanties for much of the next year. Greenwood did begin to rebuild later that year, but most families never recovered their lost wealth.
6-13-21 Biden says he's 'satisfied' with G7's final stance on China
One of the major questions surrounding the Group of Seven summit in the United Kingdom this weekend was how the countries' leaders would approach China in their final communique, especially following reports that President Biden was urging his allies to take a strong stand against its forced labor practices. The communique was unveiled Sunday, and it appears the cohort opted to send a message to Beijing on that front, just not explicitly. For his part, Biden said he's "satisfied" with the final result, even though it wasn't as strong as the U.S. had hoped, Bloomberg's Jennifer Jacobs and The Wall Street Journal's Vivian Salama report. China received four direct mentions in the communique, including: a request for further investigation into the origins of COVID-19; an agreement to consult on China's "non-market ... practices which undermine the fair and transparent operation of the global economy"; an expression of concern regarding tensions in the South and East China Seas and the Taiwan Strait; and a call for Beijing "to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms" in Xinjiang, home to the country's Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities, as well as Hong Kong. Beijing wasn't named in a section of the communique that addresses the countries' concern of "forced labor in global supply chains, including state-sponsored forced labor of vulnerable groups and minorities, including in the agricultural, solar, and garment sectors," but the passage is seemingly aimed at the Chinese Communist Party, nevertheless. Other key points from the communique include a pledge to provide 1 billion coronavirus vaccines around the world, an endorsement of a 15 percent minimum global corporate tax rate, and a commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Read the full communique here and more at Bloomberg. (Webmaster's comment: Since America is a loser we have to attack China for winning!)
6-13-21 G7 summit: China says small groups do not rule the world
China has warned the G7 leaders that the days when a "small" group of countries decided the fate of the world were long gone. The comments, by a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in London, come as the leaders, who are meeting in England, seek a unified position over China. They adopted a spending plan in response to a massive Chinese scheme. Analysts say US President Joe Biden is determined that Western powers need to act now to counter a resurgent China. On Sunday, the G7 leaders are expected to issue a closing declaration promising more financial support for developing countries hit by the climate crisis, and funds for infrastructure projects in the developing world, an alternative to a Chinese programme. President Biden said he wanted the US-backed Build Back Better World (B3W) plan to be a higher-quality alternative to Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The scheme has helped finance trains, roads, and ports in many countries, but has been criticised for saddling some with debt. A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in London was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying: "The days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone. "We always believe that countries, big or small, strong or weak, poor or rich, are equals, and that world affairs should be handled through consultation by all countries." In a statement on Saturday, the G7 countries - the world's seven wealthiest democracies - said their infrastructure plan would offer a "values-driven, high-standard and transparent" partnership. Details of how it will be financed remain unclear. BBC political correspondent Rob Watson, at the summit, says that President Biden is trying to frame the post-pandemic world as a struggle between democracies and autocracies. But there appears to be no consensus yet among the G7 nations over whether China is a partner, a competitor or a security threat, our correspondent adds.
6-12-21 China's U.K. embassy scoffs at G7 as Biden urges allies to take stand against Beijing
President Biden wants his Group of Seven allies to take a strong stand against China's forced labor practices this weekend as the leaders of some of the world's richest nations continue their summit in the United Kingdom. But China appears prepared to dismiss whatever comes out of the meeting. Per The Guardian, the Chinese embassy in the U.K. released a statement Saturday directed at the G7 that said "the days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone." Now, the statement continues, "there is only one system in the world, that is, the international system with the United Nations at the core and the international order based on international law." In other words, Beijing is telling the G7 that it's old news. As for the G7 leaders, they all agree on "principles and values," a U.S. official told Bloomberg, so they're mostly on the same page when it comes to China, further evidenced by an agreement Saturday to back an infrastructure plan that would serve as an alternative to Beijing's belt and road initiative. But at the same time, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, specifically, have reportedly suggested they're worried about Biden's camp taking things to the point that they could lose any chance of cooperation from China. Read more at Bloomberg, The Washington Post, and The Guardian.
6-12-21 Seizure of Democrats' Apple data by Trump officials to be investigated
The US justice department will investigate attempts by officials in the Trump administration to seize the phone records of leading Democrats. The internal probe comes after reports that the department ordered Apple to release data as part of efforts to track down who was leaking information. Two House Intelligence Committee members said they had been told records of their iPhone calls were handed over. An official at the Biden White House criticised the actions as "appalling". Prosecutors under former Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued subpoenas - or orders to submit evidence - to Apple requesting data in 2017 and early 2018, according to the New York Times. They were reportedly looking for the source of news reports about contacts between Russia and associates of Republican President Donald Trump, a matter that was then the subject of congressional investigations, including by the House Intelligence Committee. Justice department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said his office was beginning a review of the "use of subpoenas and other legal authorities to obtain communication records" of members of Congress. He said the investigation could expand if "other issues" arise. His announcement came after Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and Judiciary Committee chairman Dick Durbin said Mr Sessions and William Barr, who was also attorney general under President Trump, must testify or face a subpoena. Speaking to Politico, Mr Barr said that while he ran the department he was "not aware of any congressman's records being sought in a leak case." The subpoenas were issued before his tenure, according to the New York Times. Two members of Congress - Representative Adam Schiff, now the Intelligence Committee's chairman, and committee member Eric Swalwell - are known to have been targeted. Mr Schiff said the investigation was "just the start", and called for a broader look at the "abuse of power targeting Congress and the press" by President Trump's justice department.
6-12-21 US lawmakers introduce bills targeting Big Tech
US lawmakers have introduced five bills aimed at limiting the power held by Big Tech companies. The bills were drafted after a 16-month investigation into the powers of Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook. They address topics including data, mergers, and the competitive behaviour of these companies - which could ultimately lead to them being forced to sell some assets. But there is not unanimous support for the bills targeting Big Tech. "Bills that target specific companies, instead of focusing on business practices, are simply bad policy... and could be ruled unconstitutional," Neil Bradley from the US Chamber of Commerce said in a statement. The bills will be referred to the House Judiciary Committee before being sent to the House floor. To become law, they must pass through the House of Representatives, the Senate and, finally, be signed by President Joe Biden. David Cicilline, the co-sponsor of the bills and Democratic chair of the Antitrust panel, tweeted a breakdown of the bills which, he says, will, "strengthen our laws to hold tech monopolies accountable, and build #AStrongerOnlineEconomy". "Big Tech's unchecked growth and dominance have led to incredible abuses of power that have hurt consumers, workers, small businesses and innovation," said Robert Weisman, president of the advocacy group Public Citizen. "That unchecked power ends now." US tech companies have faced increased scrutiny in Washington over their size and power in recent years. "From Amazon and Facebook to Google and Apple, it is clear that these unregulated tech giants have become too big to care," said Pramila Jayapal, a Democratic Representative and bill sponsor. A 16-month investigation by the Antitrust Subcommittee led to a 449-page report accusing the companies of charging high fees, forcing smaller customers into unfavourable contracts and of using "killer acquisitions" to hobble rivals. Many of these accusations form the basis for the proposed bills. (Webmaster's comment: The Chinese are kicking our ass and we want to hamstring those to can stand up against them.)
6-12-21 Canada truck attack: Loved ones describe family as 'the best among us'
On Saturday, London, Ontario's Muslim community will lay to rest four members of a family killed in what police say was a racially motivated attack. Here's what we know about the family. In May 2009, Madiha Salman was preparing to begin her master's degree in environmental engineering at Western University in London, Ontario. Madiha wrote to her soon-to-be faculty adviser, Professor Jason Gerhard, thanking him for his warm welcome into the programme, which she thought was going to be "a great experience of my life". With her husband, Salman Afzaal, and their toddler, Yumna, Madiha moved to London to begin her studies. After she graduated, the couple stayed in the city, eventually having a second child, and becoming well-loved members of its tight-knit Muslim community. On Sunday, Madiha, Salman and Yumna, and Salman's 74-year-old mother (who has not been named out of respect for the family's wishes), were struck and killed by a London man in a truck during an evening walk. The sole survivor was their nine-year-old son. Police say the family were victims of a premeditated attack - singled out for their Muslim faith. The violence has left London reeling, and triggered a nationwide outpouring of grief. "They were the best amongst us," said Saboor Khan, a London lawyer and long-time friend of the family. "Everybody knew them to be the most selfless, the most giving of people, the most generous, the most pleasant of people." The loss has sent a shock of anxiety through members of Canada's Muslim community, now confronted with the question of their own safety when they step outside. Over her 12 years in London, Madiha Salman pursued a career in engineering. She earned that master's degree and was on the cusp of completing a doctorate. "She was a spectacular student, teammate, and engineer," Gerhard said. "She was unbelievably brave and determined, she wasn't going to let anything get in her way." The professor recalled asking Madiha when he first interviewed her for the programme how she would handle the transition to Canadian education. He learned she had overcome obstacles before. In her undergraduate class in Pakistan, she told him, she was the only woman among 174 students. Madiha and Salman had come to Canada for a better future, her cousin Qaim-ul-Haq told the BBC from Pakistan. They were a positive couple, he said, "committed to the good of society".
6-12-21 G7 summit: Infrastructure plan to rival China adopted
G7 leaders seeking to rival China have adopted a plan to support lower- and middle-income companies in building better infrastructure. President Joe Biden said he wanted the US-backed Build Back Better World (B3W) plan to be a higher-quality alternative to a similar Chinese programme. China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has helped finance trains, roads, and ports in many countries. But it has been criticised for saddling some with debt. In a statement at their summit in the English county of Cornwall, the G7 leaders said they would offer a "values-driven, high-standard and transparent" partnership. It is not yet clear how the G7 plan will be financed. The US has been particularly critical of China's so-called "debt diplomacy". The G7, the world's seven wealthiest democracies, are also expected to commit to a new plan to stop future pandemics. The measures include cutting the time needed to develop vaccines and treatments for Covid-19 to under 100 days. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is hosting the three-day gathering at the seaside resort of Carbis Bay in Cornwall. The Americans see Saturday's session at the G7 as being about challenging the rise of Chinese influence around the world. Beijing's Belt-and-Road initiative, which has seen billions of dollars poured into developing countries, must be countered by the Western democracies. Senior administration officials want to prove that Western values can prevail. They argue that Chinese investment has come with too high a price tag; that the forced labour of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang is morally egregious, and economically unacceptable as it prevents fair competition. Global supply chains, Joe Biden will insist, must be free of this kind of labour. US officials say this is not just about confronting China, but about presenting a positive alternative for the world. But the Biden administration has been vague about how much the West would contribute to this global infrastructure plan and over what timescale. What is clear is a renewed determination among Western powers that they need to act now to counter a resurgent and increasingly powerful China.
6-11-21 G7 summit: Biden wants West to form alliance against China
US President Joe Biden is to urge Western countries to counter China's growing influence at the second day of the G7 summit, an aide told the BBC. At the meeting in Britain, President Biden is expected to call for a new alliance to rival Beijing's spending on infrastructure in developing countries. The US and its allies accuse China of forced labour and other human rights abuses in Xinjiang province. G7 leaders will also commit to a new plan to stop future pandemics. The measures include cutting the time needed to develop vaccines and treatments for Covid-19 to under 100 days. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is hosting the three-day gathering at the seaside resort of Carbis Bay in Cornwall. The Americans see Saturday's session at the G7 as being about challenging the rise of Chinese influence around the world. Beijing's Belt-and-Road initiative, which has seen billions of dollars poured into developing countries, must be countered by the Western democracies. Senior administration officials want to prove that Western values can prevail. They argue that Chinese investment has come with too high a price tag; that the forced labour of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang is morally egregious, and economically unacceptable as it prevents fair competition. Global supply chains, Joe Biden will insist, must be free of this kind of labour. US officials say this is not just about confronting China, but about presenting a positive alternative for the world. But the Biden administration has been vague about how much the West would contribute to this global infrastructure plan and over what timescale. What is clear is a renewed determination among Western powers that they need to act now to counter a resurgent and increasingly powerful China. Earlier this year, the US, the European Union, the UK and Canada introduced co-ordinated sanctions on China. The sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, targeted senior officials in Xinjiang who have been accused of serious human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims.
6-11-21 DOJ inspector general to probe secret subpoenas of Democrats during Trump administration
A report that the Department of Justice secretly subpoenaed records from Democrats as part of a leak investigation during the Trump administration has now prompted a watchdog review. Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz on Friday announced his office will review the department's "use of subpoenas and other legal authorities to obtain communication records of members of Congress and affiliated persons, and the news media" during investigations into leaks of classified information. The step came following a report from The New York Times that the DOJ under former President Donald Trump took the "highly unusual" step of subpoenaing Apple for data from the accounts of House Intelligence Committee Democrats critical of Trump, Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), and seized records of "at least a dozen people tied to the committee." The report drew a rebuke from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who on Friday slammed the "gross abuse of power" and threatened to subpoena former Attorney Generals Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions for testimony, The Washington Post reports. "The revelation that the Trump Justice Department secretly subpoenaed metadata of House Intelligence Committee Members and staff and their families, including a minor, is shocking," Schumer and Durbin said, per the Post. "This appalling politicization of the Department of Justice by Donald Trump and his sycophants must be investigated immediately by both the DOJ Inspector General and Congress." Barr distanced himself from the subpoenas of Democratic lawmakers in an interview with Politico on Friday, saying he was "not aware of any congressman's records being sought in a leak case" while he was attorney general. Following news of the watchdog review, Schiff applauded the move, while adding that the probe "will not obviate the need for other forms of oversight and accountability — including public oversight by Congress."
6-11-21 Why some say this Nevada town siren is a racist relic
Every night at 18:00 in Minden, Nevada, a siren sounds from the top of a steel-framed tower behind the fire department. There is disagreement in the small town of 3,500, at the base of the Sierra Nevada range, over what the 100-year-old siren means. Some town officials say it's a tribute to Minden's volunteer fire department. Some residents say they think of it as a town dinner bell. But others hear an echo from decades ago when, they say, the siren served as a warning for Native Americans to leave before sundown. In the early part of last century, Douglas County - encompassing Minden and a handful of other municipalities - adopted an ordinance forcing non-white residents to be in their homes or out of the county by 18:30, under threat of jail time, fines and often extrajudicial violence. In 1921, Minden installed a bright red siren which rang every day at noon and 18:00. Now, that evening blare may be silenced. This week, the state of Nevada passed a law officially banning the use of any siren which "previously sounded on specific days or times" in association with laws "which required persons of a particular race to leave the county, town or township within the county by a certain time". The law also bans the use of "racially discriminatory" mascots, logos, and names, as part of an effort to remove symbols that Native Americans have long considered offensive. Minden's siren is thought to be the only one left in the state. But some local authorities have pushed back against the new law, arguing that the siren is a part of the town's heritage, and is not associated with the racist sundown ordinance. Town officials have said the siren was first purchased by volunteer firemen for emergency response. According to town manager JD Frisby, it rang twice each day as part of a test for insurance requirements. The noon and 18:00 time slots were chosen, he said, to suit the firemen's schedules. But local Native American tribe members say the 18:00 hour was linked to the sundown ordinance - a signal that it was time to go. "The Indians weren't allowed in town after six," Bernice Auchoberry, a Washoe Native from Minden, said in an 1984 interview with the University of Nevada Oral History Program. "When the whistle blew, you had to be on your way home."
6-11-21 Covid-19 news: Health experts say G7 vaccine donation plan not enough
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 nascent plan by G7 nations to donate one billion vaccine doses has been criticised for not going far enough. G7 and EU leaders meeting in Cornwall, UK, from today are expected to announce plans to donate a billion vaccine doses to lower-income countries. The US has already announced that it will donate 500 million doses, and the UK 100 million. But the G7 plan has come under fire even before it has been formally announced. “The new US and UK commitments are a step in the right direction, but they don’t go far enough, fast enough,” said Alex Harris, director of government relations at the Wellcome charity in the UK, according to Reuters. “We urge G7 leaders to raise their ambition.” “If the best G7 leaders can manage is to donate 1 billion vaccine doses then this summit will have been a failure,” said Oxfam’s health policy manager Anna Marriott as saying. Marriott said the world needs 11 billion doses to end the pandemic. The Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine might have an extremely rare side effect called capillary leak syndrome, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has warned after its safety committee reviewed six cases. Most of these occurred in women within four days of vaccination. The EMA says people who have previously suffered from capillary leak syndrome – which can result in fluid leakage from small blood vessels, swelling and low blood pressure – should not be given the vaccine. The agency notes that more than 78 million people have had the AstraZeneca vaccine in the EU and UK. The province of Punjab in Pakistan has said it will block the mobile phones of people who refuse to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. The province includes the city of Lahore, population 11 million. According to AFP, a spokesperson for the Punjab primary health department said the decision had been taken because people had been very hesitant to get coronavirus vaccines, and that the state telecoms agency will decide how to implement the measure. The province of Sindh has previously said civil servants who refuse to be vaccinated will not be paid from July. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned people in the US to stop using a rapid coronavirus test made by Innova – the same test being widely used in the UK. The FDA said it “has significant concerns that the performance of the test has not been adequately established, presenting a risk to health”.
6-11-21 Trump officials seized Democrat's Apple data - reports
Democrats have demanded a probe into reports that officials acting under former President Donald Trump seized lawmakers' Apple account information. According to The New York Times, prosecutors subpoenaed the tech giant for account data for at least two House Intelligence Committee members. Representative Adam Schiff - now the committee's chairman - was reportedly one of those targeted. Top Democrat Nancy Pelosi called the report "harrowing". "These actions appear to be yet another egregious assault on our democracy waged by the former president," the House speaker said in a statement. She said she supported calls for an investigation, adding: "Transparency is essential." On Thursday night, representative Eric Swalwell told broadcaster CNN that he was another Democrat targeted. He confirmed that family members' information - including a child's - were also obtained. According to the New York Times report, prosecutors under former Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the request for Apple data in 2017 and early 2018. They were reportedly looking for the source of news reports about contacts between Russia and associates of Republican President Trump. The Justice Department also managed to get a gag order to stop Apple from telling those involved, the paper said. That order only expired this year, and Apple reportedly told the targets last month. None of the data seized tied any of the Democrats, their aides or their family members to the leaks, the New York Times said. US intelligence agencies say that Russia worked to help Donald Trump's election campaign in 2016 against Hillary Clinton. He and his campaign were later accused of colluding with Russia in this effort. Former FBI director Robert Mueller led an inquiry into the allegations, eventually concluding that there was no evidence of a conspiracy - but some 10 instances when Mr Trump possibly obstructed justice.
6-11-21 Hundreds of Americans, thousands around the world are still dying of COVID-19 every day
For many Americans, it may feel like the coronavirus pandemic is essentially over. But as of Thursday, "more people have died from COVID-19 already this year than in all of 2020," The Wall Street Journal reports — more than 1.884 million in the first six months of 2021, versus 1.880 million in 2020, according to official figures tallied by Johns Hopkins University. And while U.S. COVID-19 deaths have fallen 90 percent since their peak in January, hundreds of Americans are still dying every day from the coronavirus. Deaths are not distributed evenly, either around the world — Europe and North America accounted for 72 percent of daily deaths at the beginning of 2021, and now more than 75 percent of daily deaths are in South America, Asia, and Africa, the Journal reports — or inside the U.S. The main factor in who lives and who's dying now, globally and in the U.S., is vaccinations. "More than half of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and it's the remaining unvaccinated population that is driving the lingering deaths," The New York Times reports, citing experts and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The share of older Americans dying started dropping as soon as they became eligible for the vaccine, and the sharpest drops in deaths are among white people 75 and older and Asian Americans under 30. Half of all U.S. deaths are now among people 50 to 74, a group that made up a third of U.S. deaths in December, the Times reports. Nursing homes still account for about 7 percent of all U.S. COVID-19 deaths, even as such deaths have dropped more than 90 percent since December, the Times reports. Geographically, "while there is no longer a large epicenter, death rates are still high in small pockets across the nation." Read more about who is still dying from COVID-19 in the U.S., and view illustrative charts, at The New York Times.
6-11-21 Texas governor promises to build border wall amid migrant surge
The governor of Texas has vowed to build a wall on its border with Mexico, amid a surge in illegal migration. Republican Greg Abbott said he had allocated $1bn (£706m) in state funds to uphold border security. "While securing the border is the federal government's responsibility, Texas will not sit idly by as this crisis grows," Mr Abbott said. One of President Joe Biden's first acts in office was to end border wall construction. In February, the Democrat rolled back the emergency order used to fund his predecessor Donald Trump's Mexico border wall - a key symbol of the former president's agenda - and said no further tax dollars would be spent on it. It's not clear if Mr Abbott has the authority to order a wall in Texas independently. "It will help all of us to work on ways to stem the flow of unlawful immigration and to stem the flow of illegal contraband," the governor told a press conference on Thursday. But the plan is likely to face legal challenges. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas called it "an attempt to distract from his governing failures while targeting vulnerable immigrants". This month, the number of undocumented immigrants reaching the US-Mexico border hit its highest level in more than 20 years. US Customs and Border Protection said it had apprehended 180,034 migrants, mostly single adults, in May - the highest monthly total since April 2000. The majority are fleeing poverty and violence in Central American countries like Guatemala. A pandemic emergency rule known as Title 42 allows border agents to turn away most single adults and many families. However, it does not apply to unaccompanied children. Thousands have crossed the border and are being held in US immigration detention facilities. Tensions have been mounting between the Biden administration and Mr Abbott, whose state is an epicentre of illegal crossings. Justice Department officials threatened to sue Texas after the governor ordered child-care regulators to cancel the licences of centres that shelter immigrant children.
6-11-21 Hungary LGBT: Content aimed at children to be banned
Hungary's ruling nationalist party has submitted legislation to ban content it sees as promoting homosexuality and gender change to minors. The draft law would ban LGBT literature for under-18s, including educational material, and advertisements deemed to be promoting gay rights. Several human rights groups denounced it, saying it was similar to Russian restrictions on LGBT activities. The party, PM Viktor Orban's Fidesz, is preparing for elections in early 2022. Budapest Pride, an alliance of Hungarian LGBT groups, urged activists to lobby US President Joe Biden to raise the issue with Mr Orban in Europe next week. Hatter Society, one of those groups, said the Fidesz proposal "would seriously curb freedom of speech and children's rights". The proposal is included in a government bill that punishes paedophilia. It says youngsters under 18 cannot be shown pornographic content, or any content that encourages gender change or homosexuality, Reuters news agency reports. The Fidesz government and Poland's ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government are both under formal EU investigation for alleged breaches of EU rule-of-law standards. Neither country recognises gay marriage and both have laws restricting gay adoption. Hungary's constitution states that marriage is for heterosexual couples. In 2013 Russia passed a law imposing heavy fines for disseminating so-called "gay propaganda" to people under 18. It bans promotion of "homosexual behaviour among minors". Last year the Fidesz government condemned a Hungarian children's book, Wonderland Is For Everyone, which recasts fairy tale characters in roles representing minorities, notably Roma and gay people. Fidesz labelled it "homosexual propaganda", saying it should be banned from schools. Mr Orban, a Eurosceptic nationalist, has been re-elected in landslide votes since 2010.
6-11-21 LGBTQ: The podcast telling Singapore's hidden gay stories
Joshua, Kennede and Sam Jo call themselves The SG Boys. They have started one of the first LGBTQ podcasts in Singapore - where gay sex is still illegal. Singapore's government argues that the ban must remain to reflect society's conservative views, and as a compromise it has said it will not enforce the law. But LGBTQ activists argue that as long as it remains, it perpetuates a stigma and fuels discrimination. The SG Boys tell the BBC about the challenges of living as a gay person in Singapore, and how they hope their podcast will spread love and empathy for their community.
6-11-21 G7: UK and US have an 'indestructible relationship', PM says
The alliance between the US and the UK should be known as the "indestructible relationship", Boris Johnson has told the BBC after meeting US President Joe Biden for the first time. He said he had "terrific" talks with Mr Biden, who has travelled to Cornwall for the G7 summit of world leaders. The summit begins later, with vaccines and climate change on the agenda. Mr Johnson insisted the US president had not rebuked him over post-Brexit tensions in Northern Ireland. However, Mr Biden is said to have "deep concern" over the situation. The prime minister was speaking to the BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg, after meeting Mr Biden in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, on Thursday ahead of the G7 summit. The summit will see the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the US and UK gathering in person for the first time since the pandemic. Ahead of the meeting, Mr Johnson pledged the UK would donate more than 100 million vaccines to poorer countries in the next year, while Mr Biden promised 500 million doses of Pfizer vaccines to 92 low and middle-income countries and the African Union. The G7 nations are expected to collectively agree to provide a billion doses of Covid-19 vaccine in an effort to end the pandemic in 2022. Mr Johnson told the BBC the UK and US shared a belief in human rights, the rules-based international order and the transatlantic alliance. He said he thought of the association as "an indestructible relationship" or the "deep and meaningful relationship". "It's a relationship that has endured for a very long time, and has been an important part of peace and prosperity both in Europe and around the world," he said. The PM had previously let it be known that he preferred a new term for the so-called "special relationship" between the UK and US after decades of use.
6-10-21 Trump DOJ seized Apple data from Adam Schiff, other House Democrats
During the Trump administration, the Department of Justice launched an investigation into leaks of classified information, and subpoenaed Apple for data from accounts belonging to members of the House Intelligence Committee, their aides, and family members, The New York Times reports. One of the people involved was Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), then the top Democrat on the committee and a vocal critic of former President Donald Trump.In 2017 and 2018, the records of 12 people with connections to the committee — including a minor — were seized, several people with knowledge of the matter told the Times. The investigation began under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with prosecutors tasked with figuring out who was leaking information about contacts Trump associates had with Russian officials. They looked at national security officials who were part of the Obama administration, five people familiar with the matter told the Times, and while most were ruled out, the DOJ opened cases focusing on then-FBI Director James Comey and his deputy, Andrew McCabe. Apple only passed along metadata and account information, the Times reports, and was put under a gag order, which expired this year. In May, the company notified lawmakers to tell them about the leak investigation, the Times reports. People familiar with the matter said there was no evidence connecting the House Intelligence Committee to the leaks, but the probe was revived when William Barr became attorney general and prosecutors doubled down on trying to figure out who leaked information about Michael Flynn, Trump's first national security adviser, and his contacts with then-Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. The Times writes that the DOJ routinely investigates leaks, but it was "extraordinary" for the DOJ to subpoena "communications metadata from members of Congress — a nearly unheard-of move outside of corruptions investigations." David Laufman, a former Justice Department official who worked on leak investigations, told the Times that Trump had "an unmistakeable vendetta against Congressman Schiff," and this "raises serious questions about whether the manner in which this investigation was conducted was influenced by political considerations rather than purely legal ones." Schiff told the Times he was told last month that the investigation into the House Intelligence Committee had been closed. He called the probe another example of Trump using the Justice Department as "a cudgel against his political opponents and members of the media. It is increasingly apparent that those demands did not fall on deaf ears. The politicization of the department and the attacks on the rule of law are among the most dangerous assaults on our democracy carried out by the former president."
6-10-21 G7 countries expected to donate 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses worldwide
On the eve of the Group of Seven summit in England, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday night announced that the G7 nations are expected to pledge at least 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to distribute globally. Earlier, President Biden said that on Friday, the G7 countries — the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, and Italy — will share more details on their vaccine donation commitments. The U.S. will donate 500 million doses on top of 80 million doses already pledged, Biden said, adding, "We're going to help lead the world out of this pandemic working alongside our global partners." The U.S. doses will be manufactured by Pfizer, and will be distributed beginning in August through the COVAX alliance to 92 lower-income countries and the African Union, The Associated Press reports. "Our vaccine donations don't include pressure for favors or potential concessions," Biden said. "We're doing this to save lives, to end this pandemic, that's it. Our values call on us to do everything that we can to vaccinate the world against COVID-19." The United Kingdom is committed to delivering 100 million vaccine doses, AP says, with the first 5 million going out in the next few weeks. French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday said his country will share at least 30 million doses by the end of the year, and he believes "the European Union needs to have at least the same level of ambition as the United States. It's almost more important to say how many [doses] we deliver the next month than making promises to be fulfilled in 18 months from now."
6-10-21 Covid-19 news: Delta variant now causing 91 per cent of UK cases
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 health secretary Matt Hancock questioned on government’s handling of pandemic. The delta variant first identified in India is now causing 91 per cent of coronavirus infections in the UK, said health secretary Matt Hancock. He told MPs this was according to an assessment he saw on Wednesday evening. Hancock was speaking during more than four hours of questioning by MPs on the science and health committees. The US has bought 500 million doses of Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccines to donate to other countries through the COVAX vaccine sharing initiative. The doses will go to 92 low- and lower-income countries. Data from Israel suggest that higher levels of vaccination against covid-19 are associated with lower rates of infection among unvaccinated people aged 16 and under. The findings, published in Nature Medicine, show that vaccination helps to protect people in the community who have not been vaccinated. Bihar state in India has added more than 4000 deaths to its official covid-19 figures after the discovery of thousands of unreported cases, taking its total to 9429. Officials blamed the oversight on private hospitals delaying their reports of data. The announcement adds weight to suggestions that there is significant undercounting of deaths in India, particularly in rural areas where testing facilities are harder to access.
6-10-21 Biden warns Russia against 'harmful activities' at start of first official trip
US President Joe Biden has launched his first official overseas trip with a warning to Russia that it faces "robust and meaningful" consequences if it engages in "harmful activities". Mr Biden made clear his intention to strengthen ties with US allies, following strained relations under the Trump administration. President Biden arrived in the UK on Wednesday. He will meet PM Boris Johnson to agree a new "Atlantic Charter". The pact will be a modern version of the one agreed between Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt in 1941, with a focus on challenges including climate change and security. The BBC's political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, says the two are aiming to refresh a vital relationship, after the turbulence of the Trump years and the pressures of the pandemic. During a packed eight-day European visit Mr Biden will meet the Queen at Windsor Castle, attend a G7 leaders' meeting, and join his first Nato summit as president. At the end of his trip Mr Biden is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva. The White House has indicated that he intends to cover a "full range of pressing issues" with his Russian counterpart, including arms control, climate change, Russian military involvement in Ukraine, Russia's cyber-hacking activities and the jailing of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny. Three organisations linked to Mr Navalny were outlawed by a Moscow court on Wednesday for being "extremist". Addressing US troops and their families at the RAF Mildenhall airbase in Suffolk on Wednesday, where he landed before travelling on to Cornwall, Mr Biden said he would deliver a clear message to Mr Putin. "We're not seeking conflict with Russia," he said. "We want a stable and predictable relationship ... but I've been clear: The United States will respond in a robust and meaningful way if the Russian government engages in harmful activities."
6-10-21 Number of migrants at US border hits new record high
The number of undocumented migrants reaching the US-Mexico border has hit the highest level in more than 20 years in the latest sign of the humanitarian crisis facing the Biden administration. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said it caught 180,034 migrants, mostly single adults, in May. The number was up slightly from 178,854 in April and 172,000 in March. It was the biggest monthly total since April 2000 with increasing numbers coming from outside Central America. This includes countries like Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti and even some African nations. The number of unaccompanied children from Central America dropped to 10,765 in May, compared with 13,940 the previous month, according to CBP figures. The agency said that of the 180,034 people encountered in May, 112,302 individuals were expelled under a Trump-era policy known as Title 42, which was kept in place by US President Joe Biden. The border agency said the average daily number of children in its custody has plummeted to 640. However, another 16,200 migrant children are being held by the US health department. Some of these children have no relatives in the US, Health Secretary Xavier Becerra said on Tuesday in congressional testimony. JooYeun Chang, a US health department acting assistant secretary, said the numbers of unaccompanied migrant children since March are "simply unprecedented". The CBP update follows US Vice-President Kamala Harris' two-day visit to Guatemala and Mexico to address the root causes of immigration. She told illegal immigrants thinking of making the trek to America: "Do not come." According to CNN, the White House was "not thrilled" by Ms Harris' testy exchange during the trip with a TV news anchor, who asked her why she had not herself visited the US-Mexico border. The cable network's White House correspondent John Harwood said the vice-president's "obvious discomfort" with the question by NBC and her "nervous laughter" had left the White House "confused".
6-9-21 Texas hospital system suspends workers who won't get the COVID-19 vaccine
A Texas hospital system is suspending without pay 178 full-time and part-time employees who are refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19, saying the vaccination requirement is necessary and puts patients first. Houston Methodist, which operates a medical center and six community hospitals, set a Monday deadline for all workers to be fully vaccinated. Nearly 25,000 employees are inoculated, 285 received a medical or religious exemption, and 332 others got deferrals. In an email sent Tuesday, Houston Methodist CEO Dr. Marc Boom said 27 of the suspended workers have received one dose of the vaccine, and he is "hopeful they will get their second doses soon." He did not apologize for the vaccination mandate, which was announced in April, saying, "The science proves that the vaccines are not only safe, but necessary if we are going to turn the corner against COVID-19." Houston Methodist offered an incentive in March, giving vaccinated workers a $500 bonus, and made it clear that eventually, all employees would need to be fully vaccinated. If the suspended workers don't get vaccinated by June 21, they will be terminated, CBS MoneyWatch reports. A conservative activist lawyer is representing some of the workers, claiming in court documents that Houston Methodist is forcing them into being human "guinea pigs." The hospital system argues it is well within its legal rights to mandate vaccines, noting that since 2009, they have made flu vaccines mandatory for all workers.
6-9-21 The U.S. will reportedly purchase 500 million Pfizer doses, donate them worldwide
The United States is about to ramp up its global COVID-19 vaccine donation efforts, three people familiar with the Biden administration's plans told The Washington Post. Biden will reportedly announce during a Group of Seven meeting in the United Kingdom this week that the U.S. will purchase 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and designate them specifically for worldwide distribution over the next year. The White House had previously said it would share 80 million doses with other countries by the end of June, so this appears to be a significant development as the gap in vaccine accessibility between rich and poor countries grows more glaring. CNN's Kaitlin Collins reports that about 40 percent of the future doses will go out this year, and The Associated Press notes the remaining doses are slated for delivery in the first half of 2022. Read more at The Washington Post.
6-9-21 Covid-19 news: Most UK adults have covid-19 antibodies
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. Eight in ten adults in most of UK have covid-19 antibodies. About eight in ten adults in England now have antibodies against the coronavirus, according to the latest survey from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Levels are similar in Wales and Northern Ireland, but slightly lower in Scotland, at seven in ten adults. The survey of UK households was carried out in the week beginning 17 May, asking people to provide blood samples and for information on whether they had been vaccinated. The Moderna vaccine against covid-19 is likely to give better protection against new variants of the coronavirus than a natural infection, a study suggests. The work was based on testing antibodies from people’s blood against mutated virus spike proteins made in the lab. The researchers found that antibodies from people who had received the mRNA vaccine bind to a broader variety of spike proteins – which the virus uses to infect cells – than antibodies from people who had been naturally infected with covid-19. “People may have differing susceptibility to variants, depending on the way in which they acquired their immunity against the virus,” Allison Greaney at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, said in a statement. The AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine may be causing a further kind of rare blood clotting disorder, called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP). This vaccine, as well as that made by Johnson & Johnson, have previously been linked with a rare syndrome where people have unusual blood clots accompanied by low platelet levels. A new Scottish study has found the AstraZeneca jab may also be causing ITP at a rate of one in 100,000 doses. Coronavirus cases in the US are at their lowest level since March last year, averaging about 14,000 new infections a day in the past week. But the US could be the next country after India and the UK to see a significant rise in cases because of the delta (Indian) variant, according to UK experts speaking at a press briefing today. The latest estimate is that delta is 60 per cent more transmissible than the alpha variant which first emerged in the UK, according to Neil Ferguson at Imperial College London.
6-9-21 US super-rich 'pay almost no income tax'
Details claiming to reveal how little income tax US billionaires pay have been leaked to an news website. ProPublica says it has seen the tax returns of some of the world's richest people, including Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Warren Buffett. The website alleges Amazon's Mr Bezos paid no tax in 2007 and 2011, while Tesla's Mr Musk paid nothing in 2018. A White House spokeswoman called the leak "illegal", and the FBI and tax authorities are investigating. ProPublica said it was analysing what it called a "vast trove of Internal Revenue Service data" on the taxes of the billionaires, and would release further details over coming weeks. While the BBC has not been able to confirm the claims, the alleged leak comes at a time of growing debate about the amount of tax paid by the wealthy and widening inequality. ProPublica said the richest 25 Americans pay less in tax - an average of 15.8% of adjusted gross income - than most mainstream US workers. Jesse Eisinger, senior reporter and editor at ProPublica, told the Today Programme: "We were pretty astonished that you could get [tax] down to zero if you were a multi-billionaire. Actually paying zero in tax really floored us. Ultra-wealthy people can sidestep the system in an entirely legal way." "They have enormous ability to find deductions, find credits and exploit loopholes in the system," he said. So while the value of their wealth grows enormously through their ownership of shares in their company, that's not recorded as income. But there's more than that, he said: "They also take aggressive tax deductions, often because they have borrowed to fund their lifestyle." He said US billionaires buy an asset, build one or inherit a fortune, and then borrow against their wealth. Because they don't realise any gains or sell any stock, they're not taking any income, which could be taxed. "They then borrow from a bank at a relatively low interest rate, live off that and can use the interest expenses as deductions on their income," he said.
6-9-21 Kamala Harris under pressure to visit US-Mexico border
Vice-President Kamala Harris has faced pressure to visit the US-Mexico border, as she tries to tackle a record migration spike. Ms Harris had a testy exchange with a journalist who asked why she had not gone to the US southern boundary. Members of Ms Harris's own Democratic party meanwhile criticised her after she warned against illegal immigration. On a visit to Mexico on Tuesday, she said Washington aimed to boost economic development in the region. She and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said it was in the interests of both countries to address the root causes of migration. About 178,000 undocumented migrants arrived at the US southern border this April, the highest total in more than two decades. The vice-president's staff initially said the border was part of Ms Harris's portfolio when US President Joe Biden assigned her in March to stem migration from Latin America. But aides have recently been seeking to distance her from the politically toxic crisis. While recent public polling suggests a generally favourable view of the Biden administration's policies on the economy and pandemic, its handling of the immigration crisis has proven less popular. Asked in an interview with NBC News aired on Tuesday morning whether she had any plans to visit the border, Ms Harris threw up her arms and responded: "At some point. You know... we are going to the border. We have been to the border." When the host pointed out that she had not herself visited the region, she said with a laugh: "And I haven't been to Europe. I don't understand the point you're making." Ms Harris again brushed off questions about why she had not gone to the border as she spoke to reporters on Tuesday in Mexico. "It would be very easy to say," she said, "we'll travel to one place and therefore it's solved. I don't think anybody thinks that that would be the solution."
6-9-21 US Senate passes sweeping bill to counter China tech reach
US Senate lawmakers have approved a massive spending plan to boost technology research and production. The proposed measures come in the face of growing international competition, particularly from China. A Beijing official hit back at the bill on Wednesday, saying it "exaggerated the 'China threat'". The bill, which must pass the House of Representatives before being signed into law, is a rare point of agreement between Republicans and Democrats. In a vote in the upper chamber of the US Congress, 68 of the 100-member Senate supported the measure, with 32 against. The Senate is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, and experts say the vote shows how the two political parties are united on the need to counter Beijing's economic and military ambitions. Supporters say the package is one of the largest industrial bills in US history and the biggest investment in scientific research that the country has seen in decades. "I believe that this legislation will enable the United States to out-innovate, out-produce, and out-compete the world in the industries of the future," Senate majority leader and co-sponsor of the bill Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor. It authorises roughly $250bn (£176bn) in funding for technology research, semiconductor development and manufacturing, as well as subsidies for robot makers and chipmakers amid a shortage of computer chips worldwide. The computer chip shortage has hit automobile production at a time of rebounding global demand and bosses of big tech firms have told the BBC it could last as long as two years. The bill includes a number of China-specific provisions, including the prohibition of the social media app TikTok from being downloaded on government devices. The purchase of drones manufactured and sold by Chinese state enterprises would also be blocked under the legislation.
6-9-21 Nasal spray antibody treatment shows promise against COVID-19, variants in mouse study
Researchers in Texas report in the journal Nature that a COVID-19 antibody treatment they engineered has proved very effective at neutralizing more than 20 variants of the new coronavirus, at least in a study involving mice. A lead author of the study, antibody engineer Zhiqiang An at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, said antibody treatments for COVID-19 have not been very popular among doctors, partly because they are delivered intravenously and require high doses to be effective. The new treatment, created by attaching an immunoglobulin M (IgM) neutralizing antibody to the IgG antibodies used in most current antibody drugs, is delivered through a nasal spray. "Nasal delivery would allow for lower doses and direct access to the respiratory tract and lung," Reuters reports, citing the researchers. "It also could be self-administrated without medical supervision," and perhaps purchased at a pharmacy. The researchers report that when they sprayed the designer IgM antibody into the noses of mice six hours before or after the mice were infected with the coronavirus, it sharply cut the amount of virus in the mice's lungs two days later. This is a "big feat of engineering," said Guy Gorochov, an immunologist at Sorbonne University in Paris, but the study leaves a lot of open questions about how effective the treatment will be in humans. California biotech IGM Biosciences collaborated in An's study and will conduct human trials of the treatment.
6-9-21 San Francisco might have reached herd immunity
San Francisco's average of 13.7 new COVID-19 infections per day "is what herd immunity looks like," Dr. George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco, told The Guardian. Rutherford is one of several experts who believe San Francisco is the first major U.S. city to achieve the long sought-after goal. "You're going to have single cases, but they're not going to propagate out," he said. It's not entirely clear what the actual threshold is for herd immunity, but 68 percent of the northern California city's eligible residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and 80 percent have received at least one shot, The Guardian reports. Those numbers are certainly in the neighborhood of scientists' herd immunity estimates, some of which are as high as 90 percent, based on inoculations alone. When coupled with natural infections, it appears the coronavirus may have a hit a wall in San Francisco. The city has some natural advantages, The Guardian notes, including the fact that it has a relatively small population of children (no vaccines have been approved for anyone younger than 12), and it's a compact place, geographically speaking, which "has allowed teams of health workers to go door-to-door to reach" people who may not otherwise have been willing or able to get their shots. Read more at The Guardian.
6-9-21 Travel: US eases travel rules for 61 countries - but not UK
The US has eased travel restrictions for many countries as the roll-out of coronavirus vaccines continues. Its public health agency updated its criteria on Monday, which saw 61 countries lowered from a Level 4 "avoid all travel" rating. Countries such as France, Spain and Italy are now Level 3, which means fully-vaccinated passengers may go to these areas. Travellers from the US can visit the UK but must self-isolate. Because the US is on the UK's "amber list" visitors from the country have to self-isolate for 10 days on arrival. But most passengers from the UK are still banned from travelling to the US. Although the UK is listed as a Level 3 by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), under a presidential decree introduced last March, non-US citizens who have been in the UK in the last 14 days cannot enter the country unless a specific exemption applies. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that it had updated its criteria to "better differentiate countries with severe outbreak situations from countries with sustained, but controlled, Covid-19 spread." The CDC said the new criteria for a Level 4 "avoid all travel" recommendation has changed from 100 cases per 100,000 to 500 cases per 100,000. Japan also saw its travel rating lowered to allow vaccinated passengers to travel in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics in late July. On 24 May, the State Department had issued a warning against the country, citing a new wave of Covid-19 cases. The CDC said it also expects more countries to get lower ratings in the coming weeks. It comes after the bosses of all airlines that offer UK-US flights and Heathrow Airport issued a joint call for a trans-Atlantic travel "corridor" on Monday. The group said it would be "essential to igniting economic recovery" in a statement and urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Joe Biden to discuss the possibility at the upcoming G7 meeting.
6-9-21 France and Belgium loosen Covid restrictions for summer
France and Belgium have both entered their next phase for reopening in time for summer. In France, bars, restaurants, gyms and swimming pools are welcoming people indoors for the first time in seven months. Belgium is also easing its rules to allow indoor dining at cafes and restaurants. Both countries retain some limits, however, with numbers of customers restricted in both cases. In France, restaurants and bars can now operate at 50% capacity indoors. Gyms and indoor swimming pools are also only able to admit half of their maximum capacity. Outdoor terraces, which were allowed to open with restrictions last month, will now be able to operate at full capacity. Renowned bistro chef Yves Camdeborde told French radio "we feel happy and a little relieved after the months we've just gone through which have been psychologically hard and financially catastrophic". "It's almost strange to hear a client say 'a coffee inside please'," Christophe Guedes, who owns a bar in the suburbs of Paris, told the AFP news agency. An overnight curfew will also be delayed by two hours, meaning that people will be able to remain outside until 23:00 local time. The curfew could be scrapped altogether on 30 June if infection rates remain low. Other changes include an end to rules on working from home, although employers will have to agree the number of days staff come into the office in advance. Visitors from the EU and a number of other countries - including Australia, Israel, Lebanon and South Korea - can now visit France from without a PCR test, as long as they have completed the full course of an EU-approved vaccine (Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson). Fully vaccinated people from other areas, including the UK and the US, will still have to provide a negative test, but will no longer have to provide a compelling reason for travel. UK visitors have to quarantine on their return home. The rules will remain in place until the EU's green pass comes into effect in early July.
6-9-21 Coronavirus: Auckland ranked most liveable city as pandemic shifts list
Auckland in New Zealand has been named the world's most liveable city, in an annual ranking that has been shifted by the coronavirus pandemic. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) survey ranked 140 cities on factors including stability, infrastructure, education and access to healthcare. But the pandemic proved to be the defining factor in this year's list. It meant European cities fell while those in Australia, Japan and New Zealand rose up the rankings. Those island countries responded swiftly to the coronavirus outbreak and were able to minimise cases and loosen restrictions. European Union countries, meanwhile, had a sluggish start to their vaccine rollout and many member states imposed tough lockdowns which hurt their performance in this year's survey. Auckland topped the list followed by Osaka in Japan, Adelaide in Australia, Wellington in New Zealand and the Japanese capital Tokyo. No UK cities made the top ten. "Auckland rose to the top of the ranking owing to its successful approach in containing the Covid-19 pandemic, which allowed its society to remain open and the city to score strongly," the EIU said. "European cities fared particularly poorly in this year's edition," it added. "Eight of the top ten biggest falls in the rankings are European cities." Vienna, for example, fell from first place to 12th. The Austrian capital had led the list for several years, usually tied at the top with Melbourne. But Hamburg in northern Germany had the most dramatic fall - dropping 34 places to 47th. This trend was motivated by a "stress on hospital resources" which the study said had increased for most German and French cities, resulting in a "deteriorated healthcare score". Lockdown measures and restrictions on movement also reduced overall liveability, the study said.
6-8-21 Harris: U.S. and allies need to give migrants 'a sense of hope that help is on the way'
The U.S. will continue to "prioritize what's happening at the border and why people are going to the border," Vice President Kamala Harris said Tuesday evening during a press conference in Mexico City, adding that it is "short-sighted for any of us who are in the business of problem-solving to suggest we're only going to respond to the reaction as opposed to addressing the cause." Harris is on her first foreign trip as vice president, and Mexico is her second stop, after Guatemala. "There's no question we are entering a new era around the globe, and this new era has made it quite clear that we are interconnected and interdependent, and what affects one country affects the globe," Harris said. "The president and I feel very strongly that what happens abroad matters to the people of the United States." Migration is a "complicated issue, complex, and many factors are at play when we look at migration historically and currently," Harris said. While in Guatemala, Harris said the U.S. must address the root causes of migration from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and she reiterated this during her Tuesday remarks. "I want to be very clear that the problem at the border, in large part if not entirely, stems from the problems in these countries," she said. "I cannot say it enough — most people don't want to leave home, and when they do it is usually for one of two reasons: Either they are fleeing harm, or to stay home means they cannot satisfy the basic needs to sustain and take care of their families." The U.S. and its allies know that if potential migrants have "a sense of hope that help is on the way," they "will follow their first preference, which is to stay at home," Harris said. That's where they want to be, she argued, "in the town, in the neighborhood, in the place where they grew up, where they speak the language, they know the culture, they go to that church every Sunday, the place where their grandmother lives."
6-8-21 Devi Sridhar interview: Don't blame the scientists for lockdown
When not advising the Scottish government on its pandemic response, Devi Sridhar is being interviewed by TV news channels, writing opinion articles for The Guardian or tweeting to her almost 300,000 new followers. Throughout, she has been unafraid to call out governments when she thinks their response to covid-19 has been wrong. She tells New Scientist why scientists aren’t to blame for lockdowns, and why we shouldn’t become complacent about the virus’s toll. When did you realise this was going to be a global health crisis? It was when Wuhan went into lockdown. You realised that if China, with its resources and surveillance systems, was struggling, then how would poor countries manage? You could see that this was unlikely to be like other events. Has the pandemic changed perceptions of science? On the positive side we see more collaboration and sharing. On the flipside, there’s a lot of anger towards scientists for the lockdown measures, for the loss people have experienced. My point is: it’s not scientists. If your house is on fire, you don’t blame the firefighters. What has the pandemic taught us about public health? If you look at death rates per cases, parts of the world have really low death rates. It’s due to their health system being able to cope, but also the underlying health of their population. You do better with covid if you’re healthier. I hope we’ll now think more about the layers of protection we give people, not just vaccines and testing, but [improving] their underlying health. Is now a good time to win some of the UK’s old public health battles, like obesity? Definitely. What has been fantastic is people have realised how much they can do locally outside. Even in the brutal Scottish winter, people were outside. We also saw how restrictions and covid hit poor people harder. How do we address that inequality? It’s not enough to tell people to eat better and exercise more. They have to be able to afford it and have time to do it.
6-8-21 Celebrities call on G7 leaders to donate covid-19 vaccines immediately
As some of the world’s wealthiest democratic nations prepare to meet in the UK at the G7 summit this week, pressure is mounting on high-income countries to donate more covid-19 vaccines to poorer parts of the globe. Ahead of the talks, the children’s charity UNICEF warned the G7 group that member nations need to supply vaccine doses to COVAX, the vaccine distribution plan set up by the World Health Organization (WHO), at a slow and steady rate throughout the year. It said that offloading a large batch at once would risk jabs going to waste, as some low-income countries may not have the facilities for administering so many doses in one go. In an open letter co-written by Jeremy Farrah, director of the Wellcome Trust, the charity also called for 20 per cent of available UK vaccine doses between now and August to be donated, and requested that G7 countries collectively share 1 billion covid-19 vaccine doses over the course of 2021.“This is both achievable and essential if we are to have a real impact on the pandemic. It must start at once, with a clear plan for how this will be scaled up as countries become more protected,” the letter says. n a separate letter, celebrities including Billie Eilish and Claudia Schiffer echoed the need to share vaccines now, rather than waiting until domestic vaccine drives are complete. Former UK prime minister Gordon Brown made a similar plea this week, saying that it is in richer nations’ self-interest to stop outbreaks from happening elsewhere in the world, as greater spread of the coronavirus could lead to new, more dangerous variants developing. The WHO’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has also asked vaccine manufacturers to provide COVAX with half of all the vaccines they make this year.
6-8-21 Covid-19 news: England lockdown easing could be delayed by two weeks
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Covid-19 news: England lockdown easing could be delayed by two weeks. Likely delay for rollback of lockdown restrictions in England. England’s final stage of easing lockdown restrictions is likely to be put back by at least two weeks, a government source has told The Times. An end to social distancing rules, such as the “rule of six” or two households for indoor gatherings, and a ban on nightclubs and mass gatherings, had been pencilled in for 21 June. But after a “downbeat” briefing yesterday from England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific advisor Patrick Vallance, ministers are now considering the delay. The advisors pointed out that covid-19 vaccines currently available give less protection against the delta variant of the coronavirus, which was first identified in India. It also seems to be more transmissible. People in Greater Manchester and Lancashire were today asked to take extra social distancing precautions due to rising numbers of people infected with the delta variant. The measures include meeting people outside wherever possible, keeping two metres’ distance, and minimising travel into and out of the areas. The guidance already applied to several other areas of the UK including Bedford and Leicester. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said all affected areas would get supervised testing in schools and support for all residents to be tested twice a week. The stricter rules now apply to a tenth of England’s population. The delta variant of the coronavirus is becoming the primary cause of covid-19 cases in England, replacing the variant first identified in Kent, a study has found. Leon Danon of the Joint Universities Pandemic and Epidemiological Research (JUNIPER) consortium and colleagues analysed variants through routine surveillance testing in England. “This is a variant that’s very likely to dominate everywhere,” says Danon. People who catch the coronavirus after being vaccinated have milder symptoms and are less likely to transmit the virus, a US study has found. The research followed nearly 4000 healthcare staff and other key workers who were tested weekly since December. Those who got “breakthrough” infections after one or two doses of vaccine had 40 per cent less virus in their bodies and spent 2.3 fewer days in bed than people who had not been vaccinated. Healthcare and social care staff in England are experiencing critical levels of burnout due to the covid-19 pandemic, a report by parliament’s health and social care committee has found. Lack of staff means workers are being overstretched, said the MPs. People in the UK have been advised by environment secretary George Eustice to take holidays in their home country this year. However, travel to other countries is still permitted, under rules based on whether they are on the green, amber or red lists.
6-8-21 Senate releases bipartisan Capitol insurrection report identifying big problems, 20 solutions, no blame for Trump
The Senate Rules and Homeland Security committees early Tuesday released a bipartisan report outlining multiple intelligence, communications, and leadership failures during and before the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol. "The attack was, quite frankly, planned in plain sight," Homeland Security Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) told reporters. Capitol Police intelligence officers knew as early as Dec. 21 that "Stop the Steal" activists were organizing on social media to breach the Capitol on Jan. 6 and "bring guns" and other weapons, the 127-page report says. They were also sharing maps of the Capitol and its tunnel system, discussing the best entry points and how to trap lawmakers inside the tunnels. This information was not shared with Capitol Police leadership, rank-and-file officers, or other federal law enforcement. The report also sets out a detailed timeline of the Jan. 6 riot and contains interviews of Capitol Police officers recounting the "absolutely brutal" abuse they faced from the insurrectionists. The Senate report "is the first — and could be the last — bipartisan review of how hundreds of former President Donald Trump's supporters were able to violently push past security lines and break into the Capitol," The Associated Press reports. "As a bipartisan effort, the report does not delve into the root causes of the attack, including Trump's role as he called for his supporters to 'fight like hell' to overturn his election defeat that day. It does not call the attack an insurrection, even though it was." Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the top Republican on the Rules Committee and one of the GOP senators who recently blocked an independent bipartisan Jan. 6 commission, argues such an investigation would be redundant and take too long. The new Senate report "clearly states its scope was limited, and 'further scrutiny of these failures and the preparations and response of federal agencies' is needed," Axios notes. Blunt and Rules Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) plan to introduce legislation that would give the Capitol Police chief more authority to directly request help from the D.C. National Guard, one of 20 recommendations in their report. "This report is important in the fact that it allows us to make some immediate improvements to the security situation here in the Capitol," Peters said. "But it does not answer some of the bigger questions that we need to face, quite frankly, as a country and as a democracy."
6-8-21 US Capitol riot: Intelligence agency warnings failed to reach police
Warnings from US intelligence about the risk of an armed assault on the Capitol in Washington in January failed to reach police in time, a report by two Senate committees has found. Five people died when supporters of then US President Donald Trump stormed Congress on 6 January. The Senate report pointed to failures in communications and intelligence. The Capitol police force was criticised as being slow and ineffective in its response to the violence. The report does not discuss the role of the Republican president, Mr Trump, in the riots, although it does note he encouraged supporters to go the Capitol building. Sources told US media the wording was chosen carefully to preserve bipartisan agreement between Republican and Democrat senators on the committees. Mr Trump was impeached on a charge of inciting a mob to storm the Capitol but was acquitted in February. The Senate report is the joint work of the Rules and Homeland Security committees. In addition to covering the failures on the day it also sets out recommendations. Intelligence agencies are said to have failed to properly assess the social media chatter ahead of the violence. And on the day, the Washington DC National Guard was not deployed by the Pentagon until three hours after it was requested by police. Among the recommendations the report makes are allowing the Capitol police chief to get a direct response from the National Guard rather than awaiting Pentagon approval.
6-8-21 The GOP's looming legitimacy crisis
If Republicans take the White House in 2024, will anyone believe they did so fair and square? If Donald Trump wins back the presidency in 2024, will anybody but his most-devoted followers believe he did so fair and square? As has been well-documented, Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country have spent recent months passing bills ostensibly designed to enhance "election integrity," but widely seen as simply trying to make it more difficult for Democratic constituencies to get to the polls. It doesn't appear that Dems can or will block these actions — Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Sunday said he would vote against his party's For the People Act, dealing a blow to progressive hopes the federal government might override the GOP's maneuvers. On top of these debates, there is growing concern that conservative legislators might simply choose to award their states' electoral votes to their party's presidential candidate in 2024, no matter what voters actually decide. Who would be able to stop them? Republicans might well be able to win power using such techniques. But they might also be able to win without them. But in so openly working to tilt the playing field in their favor, Republicans may already be convincing American voters the party can't win the White House without a little funny business. In that case, the party will have created a crisis of legitimacy for itself when it next takes power. That would be a massive self-own — darkly amusing, if the possible consequences weren't so serious. Legitimacy matters. All governments depend on some mix of coercion (laws, prisons, taxes, police) and public acceptance of a regime's right to rule. When you have more of the latter, you often need less of the former. And when government's legitimacy falters, unrest can often follow — witness last summer's Black Lives Matter protests after the police murder of George Floyd. The balance is a living thing, always in flux. In a democracy, nothing undermines legitimacy faster than the public's sense that its leaders didn't follow the rules while acquiring power. Indeed, Trump has already created both an outright insurrection and an ongoing crisis for President Biden by convincing so many of his followers — falsely, egregiously — that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election. The shocking revelation of the Trump Era is that it takes only one particularly bold liar to threaten the underpinnings of a government that couldn't even be undone by the horrors of the Civil War. It doesn't have to be this way. Playing under 2020's ground rules, Trump came within a whisker's hair of winning an Electoral College victory again — and probably would have if the COVID-19 pandemic had not dramatically altered the course of the campaign. Republicans outperformed expectations in House and Senate elections, and a new Democratic post-mortem suggests that minority voters may be increasingly inclined to align with the GOP. There are plenty of reasons to believe conservatives can still win national elections without suppressing the opposition's votes.
6-8-21 Muslim family in Canada killed in 'premeditated' truck attack
Four members of a Muslim family were killed in a "premeditated" vehicle attack on Sunday, Canadian police say. The attack took place in the city of London, Ontario province. A boy aged nine, the family's only survivor, is in hospital with serious injuries. A 20-year-old Canadian man has been charged with four counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. The attack was the worst against Canadian Muslims since six people were killed in a Quebec City mosque in 2017. "It is believed that these victims were targeted because they were Muslim," Det Supt Paul Waight told a news conference on Monday. Police are weighing possible terrorism charges, he said, adding that it is believed to be a hate crime. Two women - aged 74 and 44 - a 46-year-old man and a 15-year-old girl were all killed. They have not been named, in accordance with the wishes of the family. A nine-year-old boy was in hospital with serious but non-life-threatening injuries, said police. Police named the alleged attacker as Nathanial Veltman, 20, of London, Ontario. He was arrested without incident at a shopping centre about 6km (4.8 miles) from the crime scene. It is not yet known if the suspect has ties to any hate groups, said Det Supt Waight. "There is no known previous connection between the suspect and the victims," Det Supt Waight said, adding that the suspect was wearing a vest that appeared to be "like body armour". Police said Mr Veltman had no previous convictions. Officials added that there was good weather and high visibility conditions when the black truck was seen mounting the kerb on Hyde Park Road at around 20:40 local time on Sunday. A 2016 census found that London - a city about 200km (125 miles) south-west of Toronto - is growing increasingly diverse. One in five people was born outside of Canada, with Arabs being the area's largest minority group, and South Asians coming in a close second.
6-8-21 Colonial Pipeline: US recovers most of ransom, justice department says
The US has recovered most of the $4.4m (£3.1m) ransom paid to a cyber-criminal gang responsible for taking the Colonial Pipeline offline last month. DarkSide - which US authorities said operates from eastern Europe and possibly Russia - infiltrated the pipeline last month. The attack disrupted supplies for several days causing fuel shortages. According to the firm, the pipeline carries 45% of the East Coast's supply of diesel, petrol and jet fuel. On Monday, Deputy Attorney-General Lisa Monaco said investigators had "found and recaptured" 63.7 Bitcoin worth $2.3m - "the majority" of the ransom paid. Since the ransom was paid the value of Bitcoin has fallen sharply. The US government has recommended in the past that companies do not pay criminals over ransomware attacks, in case they invite further hacks in the future. It has since urged companies to increase security measures against ransomware attacks like this. Commerce secretary Gina Raimondo said on Sunday that President Biden would raise the issue of such attacks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in a meeting planned this month. Colonial Pipeline took itself offline on Friday 7 May after the cyber-attack. In a statement Joseph Blount, chief executive of the Colonial Pipeline Company, said his firm was grateful for the "swift work and professionalism" of the FBI, which helped to recover the ransom. "Holding cyber criminals accountable and disrupting the ecosystem that allows them to operate is the best way to deter and defend against future attacks," he added. After the attack in May, Colonial made a cryptocurrency payment, and in return the company received a decryption tool so it could unlock the systems compromised by the hackers - although that was not enough to restart systems immediately, according to the Wall Street Journal.
6-8-21 Kamala Harris tells Guatemala migrants: 'Do not come to US'
US Vice President Kamala Harris has urged would-be migrants in Guatemala not to try to enter the United States illegally. Speaking on her first overseas trip since taking office, she said the journey north was dangerous and would mainly benefit people smugglers. Ms Harris warned people they would be turned back at the border. She has been tasked by President Joe Biden with controlling a surge in migration at the southern border. Ms Harris has described her task as finding solutions to tackle the root causes of the border crisis, including corruption and the lack of economic opportunities. Her staff say this first visit is primarily an information-gathering trip. In a news conference alongside Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, she warned against illegal migration to the US, saying: "Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our borders." She added: "If you come to our border, you will be turned back." Ms Harris said she wanted the US and Guatemala to "work together" to find solutions to "long-standing problems". She said people must be given a "sense of hope that help is on the way". "It must be coupled with relationships of trust. It must be coupled with tangible outcomes, in terms of what we do as leaders to convince people that there is a reason to be hopeful about their future and the future of their children," Ms Harris added. President Giammattei defended his government's own record of fighting corruption and said the fight against drug trafficking should be an key part of tackling the issue. He announced a new processing centre for migrants who had been sent back from the US and Mexico and said that the focus for both countries should be on creating prosperity. Ms Harris said the US would send 500,000 coronavirus vaccines to Guatemala and provide $26m (£18.3m) to fight the pandemic there. The region has been hard hit by the virus, further worsening living conditions.
6-8-21 Covid vaccines: Unicef asks G7 countries to donate now or risk wasting jabs
Millions of Covid vaccines could be wasted if rich countries send large amounts of leftover doses to poorer nations in one go, Unicef has warned. The charity said there needed to be a steady supply throughout the year because poor countries do not have resources to use them all at once. The UK and others have promised to donate their surplus doses - but they have been asked to give more earlier. Stars including Billie Eilish and David Beckham are backing Unicef's plea. The celebrities have signed a letter to the G7 group of rich countries - including the UK - asking them to donate 20% of their vaccines by August. "The pandemic will not be over anywhere until it is over everywhere," said Beckham. The other stars who have signed the letter include Andy Murray, Olivia Colman, Ewan McGregor, Liam Payne, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Orlando Bloom, Katy Perry, Gemma Chan, Whoopi Goldberg, Claudia Schiffer and Chris Hoy. Unicef's vaccine lead Lily Caprani told BBC Newsnight that countries needed to vaccinate their own populations at the same time as the rest of the world. "At some point, no doubt, we will need to vaccinate under-18s," she said. "But the priority at this moment has to be making sure that all of the vulnerable and priority groups around the world get vaccines. "So we're saying countries like the UK and the G7 need to donate their doses to those low income countries now, while still vaccinating their populations at home." But last week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said vaccinating children in the UK would take priority over sending doses abroad. Unlike other countries, the UK has not revealed how many doses it plans to donate to the Covax vaccine-sharing scheme, saying only that it will donate its excess doses. On Friday Mr Hancock said the UK did not currently have any spare doses.
6-8-21 Coronavirus: The 'unknown' Covid-19 deaths in rural India
The second wave of Covid-19 ravaged India as hospitals and then crematoriums ran out of space. Families struggled to find beds, oxygen or even medicines to save their loved ones. While cities were first hit, the second wave soon reached rural parts of the country. Hundreds died due to poor or no access to good healthcare. Most of them were not even able to get a Covid test done. Now experts believe that the number of deaths in rural India is much higher than official statistics. The BBC's Vikas Pandey and Anshul Verma visit villages in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, one of the worst-hit, to investigate alleged under-reporting of Covid-19 deaths.
6-7-21 Covid-19 news: Matt Hancock announces vaccine roll-out to under-30s
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. People aged 25 to 29 will be invited to book vaccines from tomorrow. Covid-19 vaccines will be offered to people aged 25 to 29 from tomorrow in the UK, health secretary Matt Hancock has announced. “From this week we will start offering vaccinations to people under 30, bringing us ever closer to the goal of offering a vaccine to all adults in the UK by the end of next month,” he told MPs. Hancock also said he has asked the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to advise on whether the vaccination programme should be extended to children, following the decision by the medicines regulator to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech jab for children aged 12 to 15.The Indian government will provide free covid-19 vaccines for all adults from 21 June, prime minister Narendra Modi has announced. Less than 4 per cent of the country’s population has been fully vaccinated so far, according to Our World in Data. Under the current policy, the federal government provides free vaccines to the elderly and frontline workers only, with state governments and private hospitals offering vaccines for a fee to other adults. “Whether it is the poor, the lower middle class, the middle class, or the upper middle class, under the federal government programme, everyone will get free vaccines,” Modi said in a televised address. Businesses in Delhi and Mumbai have begun reopening as part of a phased easing of lockdown measures in several states. India’s daily recorded coronavirus infection numbers have fallen from 400,000 a month ago to around 100,000. All adults in Wales will be offered a coronavirus vaccine by next Monday, first minister Mark Drakeford has said. If achieved, the milestone will come six weeks ahead of schedule, with the four UK nations previously saying they would offer a first dose to everyone over the age of 18 by the end of July. Ireland has taken another stride back to normality as pubs, restaurants and leisure facilities reopened. Hospitality venues can serve food and drinks outdoors, while gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres are now allowed to facilitate individual training.
6-7-21 G7: Biden calls for nations to boost their economies
The deal struck on tax understandably grabbed most of the attention at the G7 Finance Ministers' meeting, ahead of this week's Leaders' Summit in Cornwall. This should transform the international tax treatment of multinationals, tax havens and low tax jurisdictions. But perhaps the most important decision right now, across the world, is how to manage the withdrawal of the massive pandemic economic support packages. And that is why the economic intervention of the US at this meeting and at the upcoming Cornwall summit is of considerable importance. The message from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen here in London - which will be echoed by US President Joe Biden in Cornwall - is that all G7 nations, including the UK, should not even be talking about withdrawal of support. "G7 economies have the fiscal space to speed up their recoveries to not only reach pre-Covid levels of GDP, but also to support a return to pre-pandemic growth paths," said Secretary Yellen in a speech on Saturday. "This is why we continue to urge a to shift in our thinking from 'let's not withdraw support too early', to 'what more can we do now' - not just to end the pandemic, but to use fiscal policy to invest in addressing generational issues like climate change and inequality." Pointedly, she said all G7 economies had the "fiscal space" to speed up their recoveries, not only to make back up the size of the economy before the pandemic, but also to catch up with what would have been a growth path, in the absence of Covid-19. Ms Yellen pointed to International Monetary Fund (IMF) projections showing that the US would be the first G7 economy to return to its pre-pandemic size, thanks to the vaccine rollout and President Biden's giant stimulus plans. Despite record peacetime borrowing, and rising inflation, the US message to the world is to carry on stimulating your economies, because merely regaining the growth lost in the pandemic, will not create enough momentum in the recovery.
6-7-21 Unlocking: India states start reopening amid dip in Covid cases
Major Indian states that have been virus hotpots are easing restrictions as Covid case numbers continue to fall. National capital Delhi and financial hub, Mumbai, are among the cities that are opening partially. This comes in the wake of a crushing second wave that saw hospital beds, medicines and even oxygen run short as cases spiked and deaths rose. But experts continue to advice precaution amid a lagging vaccine drive and the threat posed by new variants. India has administered more than 230 million jabs of a Covid vaccine so far - but less than four percent of it's 1.4 billion people have been fully vaccinated. It has also struggled to speed up the drive across the country, partly because of a botched roll-out that saw demand outstrip supply. Among other things, it allowed higher prices for jabs in private hospitals, which has skewed access heavily in favour urban areas and those who can afford to pay. Vaccine hesitancy too remains a challenge, especially in rural areas. India reported about 101,000 new infections on Monday and more than 2,400 deaths - far lower than the nearly 400,000 daily cases it was recording about a month ago. It has registered some 28 million cases and 349,000 deaths so far, but experts say the actual toll is far higher. Despite the drop in case numbers, not all states have chosen to reopen. Rajasthan in the north, and Karnataka, Kerala Tamil Nadu and Telangana in the south have all extended lockdowns until the middle or end of this week. Even those that have reopened - Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana - are doing so cautiously, in phases and with conditions. Delhi's chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, said more restrictions will be announced if case numbers continue to fall, adding that his government is preparing for a third wave. The Delhi metro, India's largest rapid transport system, for instance, resumed operations on Monday at half its capacity. The city's shops will take turns to open on alternate days to limit crowding at markets or inside malls.
6-6-21 US to stop seizing reporters' records in leak investigations
The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has said it is ending a long-standing practice of secretly obtaining reporters' records during investigations into the leaking of classified information. It happened under both Republican and Democratic administrations. But the use of subpoenas and court orders to obtain journalists' records came under growing scrutiny this year. Democratic President Joe Biden has described the practise as "wrong". In the past few weeks it emerged that DoJ officials had secretly obtained phone and email records from journalists at several news organisations during the administration of Republican President Donald Trump - among them The Washington Post and CNN - and continued doing so in the early days of the Biden administration. Executives at the New York Times were also barred from revealing details of a secret court battle over emails relating to four of its reporters - under the terms of a "gag order". Now the DoJ has confirmed that it is bringing to an end a practice that endured under multiple presidential administrations. "DoJ has now completed a review to determine all instances in which the Department had pending compulsory requests from reporters in leak investigations," DoJ spokesman Anthony Coley said. "Going forward, consistent with the President's direction, this Department of Justice - in a change to its longstanding practice - will not seek compulsory legal process in leak investigations to obtain source information from members of the news media doing their jobs." According to CNN, despite Saturday's announcement, formal guidelines at the DoJ have not changed, meaning the practice could be reinstated under another administration.
6-6-21 Three police killings in the US: Is there a better way?
Since the April conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, police officers in the US have killed at least 83 civilians, almost two per day. On duty officers in the US kill civilians at a rate of 33.5 people per 10 million annually, according to advocacy group Prison Policy - a higher rate than most wealthy nations. More police are killed on the job in the US as well, due in part to the proliferation of guns. In 2020, 42 police officers were fatally shot while on duty, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. But that number is a fraction of the number of civilians killed by police. In the wake of Floyd's death and a string of other high-profile police killings, campaigners are calling for major reforms to the way police approach interactions with the public they serve. "Police have lost the benefit of the doubt," says Kirk Burkhalter, a New York Law School professor and 20-year veteran of the city's police department. There is now a blanket assumption that in every case of deadly force, police have done something wrong, he says. The BBC spoke to Burkhalter and another former officer, Ron Johnson from Ferguson, Missouri, about three civilian deaths at the hands of police. In each case, they explained how an officer's training should have steered their response, and what might have gone wrong. In April, police were called to the city's southeast side after reports of a disturbance. Footage from the day shows Officer Nicholas Reardon arrive as Bryant lunges at another young woman with a knife in her hand. Officer Reardon shouts "get down" as he approaches, draws his gun and fires several shots, fatally injuring the teen, who was black, less than 10 seconds after he exits his squad car. Reardon has been placed on paid administrative leave while an investigation is conducted by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Reardon was met with a chaotic scene - a "complete melee", Burkhalter says. There was a crowd of bystanders, many of them shouting. Body camera footage appears to show a girl fall to the grass after being shoved by Bryant before she is kicked by another bystander. But the commotion alone does not warrant deadly force, says Johnson, a former Missouri State Highway Patrol captain who led the police response in Ferguson following unrest after the death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old shot by a police officer in 2014.
6-6-21 11 people died in police bombing of activists' house
On 13 May 1985 a police helicopter dropped explosives on a house in residential Philadelphia in an attempt to end a stand-off with radical black activists from the MOVE organisation. In the resulting fire, 11 people died inside the MOVE house, including five children. More than 60 other properties in the neighbourhood were destroyed, or badly damaged by the blaze. Former Philadelphia reporter, Linn Washington, recalls watching the tragedy unfold that day.
6-6-21 Budapest protest against China's Fudan University campus
Thousands of people marched through Budapest to protest against plans to open a Chinese university campus in the Hungarian capital. Opponents of the project say it will undercut the country's own higher education and increase the influence of China's Communist authorities. The right-wing government of PM Viktor Orban has close ties with Beijing. Earlier this month, Hungary blocked an EU statement criticising China's treatment of Hong Kong. On Saturday, demonstrators opposing the plan to build China's Fudan University campus in Budapest marched through the city's streets to the parliament building. "Orban and [his right-wing party] Fidesz portray themselves as anti-communists, but in reality the communists are their friends," university student Szonja Radics, who was at the march, told AFP news agency. Another student demonstrator, named only as Patrik, said that any government funds planned for the Fudan University project should instead be used "to improve our own universities", Reuters reported. The construction of the Fudan University campus in Budapest is estimated to cost about $1.8bn (£1.2bn). This is more than the Orban government spent on its entire higher-education system in 2019. Some $1.5bn of the costs will be provided by a loan from a Chinese bank, documents obtained by Direkt36, a Hungarian investigative-journalism outlet, showed. Around two thirds of Hungarians do not support the Chinese university, according to liberal think tank Republikon Institute. The campus is also opposed by Mayor of Budapest Gergely Karacsony, who announced earlier this week that he was naming streets in the area after the victims of China's human rights violations. Among four new street signs include Free Hong Kong Road, Dalai Lama Street and Uyghur Martyrs' Road, after the mainly Muslim ethnic group that international governments say has been the victim of sustained human rights abuses and genocide in Xinjiang, China. China denies any allegations of human rights abuses. Fudan University is one of China's most prestigious educational institutions. The campus in Budapest, which is expected to be finished by 2024, will be its first site in the European Union.(Webmaster's comment: No one is being forced to attend!)
6-6-21 G7 tax deal doesn't go far enough, campaigners say
A landmark deal struck by rich nations to make multinational companies pay more tax has been criticised by campaigners for not going far enough. G7 finance ministers meeting in London agreed to battle tax avoidance by making big companies pay more tax in the countries where they do business. Tech giants firms likely to be impacted have welcomed the new rules. But the charity Oxfam says an agreed 15% global minimum corporate tax rate is "far too low" to make a difference. The deal announced on Saturday between the G7 group of wealthy nations - US, the UK, France, Germany, Canada, Italy and Japan, plus the EU - could see billions of dollars flow to governments to pay off debts incurred during the Covid crisis. UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, who hosted the summit, said the agreement would create "a fairer tax system fit for the 21st Century". The deal agreed in principle that multinational companies pay a minimum tax rate of at least 15% in each country they operate. But aid charities said the agreed rate is too low and would not stop tax havens from operating. "It's absurd for the G7 to claim it is 'overhauling' a broken global tax system by setting up a global minimum corporate tax rate that is similar to the soft rates charged by tax havens like Ireland, Switzerland and Singapore," said Oxfam's executive director Gabriela Bucher. "They are setting the bar so low that companies can just step over it." She said the deal was unfair as it would benefit G7 states, where many of the big companies are headquartered, at the expense of poorer nations. Alex Cobham, chief executive of the Tax Justice Network, called the deal a "turning point" but said it remained "extremely unfair". "We've got one step of the way today - the idea of a minimum tax rate - what we need is to make sure that the benefits of that, the revenues, are distributed fairly around the world," he told the BBC. The agreement will be considered at a meeting next month of the G20, including China and India.
6-6-21 Covid: Twitter suspends Naomi Wolf after tweeting anti-vaccine misinformation
American author Naomi Wolf has been suspended from Twitter after spreading vaccine misinformation. Dr Wolf, well known for her acclaimed third-wave feminist book The Beauty Myth, posted a wide-range of unfounded theories about vaccines. One tweet claimed that vaccines were a "software platform that can receive uploads". She also compared Dr Anthony Fauci, the top Covid adviser in the US, to Satan to her more than 140,000 followers. Most recently, she tweeted that the urine and faeces of people who had received the jab needed to be separated from general sewage supplies while tests were done to measure its impact on non-vaccinated people through drinking water. Dr Wolf was also duped into tweeting a made up quote on an image of an American adult film star dressed up as a doctor. Her suspension has been welcomed by many on the platform. Professor Gavin Yamey tweeted that he was pleased, adding that "Dr Wolf peddles horrific, dangerous anti-vaxx nonsense". But some have voiced concern that her suspension was stifling free speech. In 2019, the US publisher of a book by Dr Wolf cancelled its release after accuracy concerns were raised. During a BBC radio interview, it came to light that the author had misunderstood key 19th Century English legal terms within the book.
6-5-21 Facebook suspends Trump accounts for two years
Facebook Inc has suspended former US President Donald Trump's Facebook and Instagram accounts for two years. He was barred indefinitely from both sites in January in the wake of posts he made on the US Capitol riots, but last month Facebook's Oversight Board criticised the open-ended penalty. Facebook said Mr Trump's actions were "a severe violation of our rules". Mr Trump said the move was "an insult" to the millions who voted for him in last year's presidential election. Facebook's move comes as the social media giant is also ending a policy shielding politicians from some content moderation rules. It said that it would no longer give politicians immunity for deceptive or abusive content based on their comments being newsworthy. Mr Trump's ban was effective from the date of the initial suspension on 7 January, Facebook's vice-president of global affairs Nick Clegg said in a post. "Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr Trump's suspension, we believe his actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available," it added. "If we determine that there is still a serious risk to public safety, we will extend the restriction for a set period of time and continue to re-evaluate until that risk has receded." On his return, Mr Trump will be held to "a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions," for any violations, Mr Clegg's statement noted. In a statement issued from his Save America political action committee, Mr Trump said: "Facebook's ruling is an insult to the record-setting 75m people, plus many others, who voted for us..." "They shouldn't be allowed to get away with this censoring and silencing, and ultimately, we will win. Our country can't take this abuse anymore!" In a second statement on the two-year ban, Mr Trump attacked Facebook's founder. "Next time I'm in the White House there will be no more dinners, at his request, with Mark Zuckerberg and his wife," the former president said. "It will be all business!" The move by Facebook allows Mr Trump to return to the platform before the 2024 presidential election. (Webmaster's comment: The new Hitler should be banned forever!)
6-5-21 G7: Rich nations back deal to tax multinationals
The G7 group of advanced economies has reached a "historic" deal on taxing multinational companies. Finance ministers meeting in London agreed to battle tax avoidance through measures to make companies pay in the countries where they do business. They also agreed in principle to a global minimum corporate tax rate of 15% to avoid countries undercutting each other. Tech giants such as Amazon and Google could be among the companies affected. It was reported this week that an Irish subsidiary of Microsoft had paid zero corporation tax on $315bn (£222bn) profit last year because it was resident in Bermuda for tax purposes. The deal announced on Saturday, between the US, the UK, France, Germany, Canada, Italy and Japan, could see billions of dollars flow to governments to pay off debts incurred during the Covid crisis. Negotiated over many years, it will put pressure on other countries to follow suit, including at a meeting of the G20 next month. UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said the agreement was designed to create a level playing field for global companies. "After years of discussion, G7 finance ministers have reached a historic agreement to reform the global tax system to make it fit for the global digital age," he said. Governments have long grappled with the challenge of taxing global companies operating across many countries. That challenge has grown with the boom in huge tech corporations like Amazon and Facebook. At the moment companies can set up local branches in countries that have relatively low corporate tax rates and declare profits there. That means they only pay the local rate of tax, even if the profits mainly come from sales made elsewhere. This is legal and commonly done. The deal aims to stop this from happening in two ways. Firstly, the G7 want a global minimum tax rate so as to avoid a "race to the bottom" where countries can undercut each other with low tax rates. Secondly, the rules will aim to make companies pay tax in the countries where they are selling their products or services, rather than wherever they end up declaring their profits. (Webmaster's comment: We should be taxing the executives who are running these slave-labor camps!)
6-5-21 Cannabis boom: Why Oklahoma is a 'wild wild west'
Why is Oklahoma - one of the 'reddest' states in the US - a "wild wild west" for the cannabis business in the US? And what does that mean for cannabis entrepreneurs like Jayne and Vic Grissom?
6-4-21 The Delta variant of COVID-19 just got even scarier
With the United States still well short of reaching herd immunity against COVID-19, concern is growing over a new variant of the virus that researchers now believe is between 30 percent and 100 percent more transmissible than the previously most dominant variant. "The best estimate at the moment is this [new] variant may be 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha ['U.K.'] variant," epidemiologist Neil Ferguson told The Guardian. The new variant, known as the Delta variant, accounted for around 60 percent of cases in Delhi in April, at a time when one in every three samples tested in the city were coming back positive for COVID-19, India's Tribune reports. But while the Delta variant was first identified in India, it has now spread to 62 countries; on Friday, authorities in Australia's Victoria state confirmed the variant is a factor in their new Melbourne outbreak. The variant has also been found in the U.S. Though research is ongoing, there is not yet any sign that the Delta variant is more deadly than other variants. Still, that doesn't mean it's less dangerous; as Zeynep Tufekci wrote for The New York Times in an article titled "COVID's deadliest phase may be here soon" on May 28, "A variant with higher transmissibility is a huge danger to people without immunity either from vaccination or prior infection, even if the variant is no more deadly than previous versions of the virus … A more transmissible variant can burn through such an immunologically naïve population very fast." U.K. researchers recently found that two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine appear to be slightly less effective against the Delta variant (providing 81 percent protection, versus the 87 percent against the dominant U.K. variant). But single doses of a vaccine were particularly ineffective, with just 33 percent effectiveness. "If that is accurate," writes Intelligencer, "it means that [the Delta variant] may be the variant that currently poses the biggest threat to partially vaccinated populations worldwide."
6-4-21 Biden details where the U.S. will send its 1st 25 million donated COVID-19 vaccines
President Biden announced Thursday that the U.S. will donate 25 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to other nations as soon as possible, and share another 55 million doses before the end of June. About 75 percent of the initial batch, or about 19 million doses, will be distributed through COVAX, the global vaccination effort, while the remaining 6 million will be distributed directly to allies and "regional priorities," including Mexico, Canada, Haiti, India, South Korea, Ukraine, Egypt, Gaza and West Bank, and Iraq. The White House stipulated where the 19 million COVAX vaccines would be distributed: about 6 million doses to Latin America and the Caribbean, 7 million doses to Asia, and 5 million doses to Africa. "We are sharing these doses not to secure favors or extract concessions," Biden said in a statement. "We are sharing these vaccines to save lives and to lead the world in bringing an end to the pandemic, with the power of our example and with our values." He added that "as long as this pandemic is raging anywhere in the world, the American people will still be vulnerable." Biden announced in late April and mid-May that the U.S. would donate 80 million doses by the end of June, and his administration has faced growing pressure to start shipping out the doses. And that pressure has come from across the ideological spectrum — Jim Geraghty at the conservative National Review and liberal MSNBC host Chris Hayes both pushed the Biden administration to move faster on vaccine donations in the past two days. "Early in the Biden administration, White House, national security, and health officials agreed that their goal was for the U.S. to become the world leader in vaccine donations," Politico reports. "But they disagreed on when to start shipping out doses, how many to send, and whether to even call them donations," and they didn't start working on a donation framework until April. The White House initially planned to start its donation effort with 60 million doses of stockpiled AstraZeneca vaccine, which is approved in many other countries but not the U.S. Those doses are still in limbo pending the completion of a Food and Drug Administration safety review Biden's team expected to be finished weeks ago, Politico reports. The first batch of 25 million doses will come from the U.S. stockpile of Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
6-4-21 Covid-19 news: UK cases on the rise as delta variant becomes dominant
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 were 12,431 cases of the delta variant in the UK as of 3 June. The delta variant of the coronavirus has become the dominant variant of coronavirus in the UK according to data from Public Health England, as the total number of confirmed cases caused by the delta variant has increased to 12,431 as of 3 June, up from 6959 a week earlier. The rise in coronavirus cases across the UK may be related to the spread of the highly-transmissible delta variant. Kaori Yamaguchi, a Japanese Olympic official, criticised the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for ignoring public concerns about holding the Games in Tokyo during the coronavirus pandemic. Yamaguchi said the Japanese government and the IOC had been “avoiding dialogue” and that the IOC “seems to think that public opinion in Japan is not important”. Coronavirus cases in Tokyo have fallen slightly following a recent surge but on 4 June, Japan’s medical adviser Shigeru Omi warned that an increase in people’s movements during the Olympics could spark a fresh outbreak. US chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci is urging China to release the medical records of nine people whose illnesses may provide insights into the origins of the coronavirus. The nine individuals in question include three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology who reportedly became ill in November 2019 and six miners who became ill after entering a bat cave in 2012. “It is entirely conceivable that the origins of SARS-CoV-2 was in that cave and either started spreading naturally or went through the lab,” Fauci told the Financial Times.
6-4-21 Texas Republicans are a preview of national GOP rule
The party is putting a dark twist on the "laboratories of democracy" concept. It's just like Texas to out-Texas itself. That's exactly what the Lone Star State's Republican-dominated legislature has done this spring. On Monday, the latest Texas' legislative session came to a close, pulling off, as The New York Times described, "one of the most conservative… sessions" in recent history. That session included a bill that ended the state's handgun permit and training system and another that effectively banned abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, a time when most women do not know they are pregnant. Only a last-ditch political maneuver by Texas Democrats kept the legislature from passing one of the most restrictive voting bills in the nation. On Sunday, enough members of the legislature's Democratic minority used a walkout to break a quorum, thereby forcing the chamber to miss its deadline for voting the bill through. The proposed legislation included a raft of provisions that most experts acknowledge were designed to disproportionately impact voters of color in the state, including outlawing drive-through voting and 24-hour voting, new restrictions on mail voting, and increased punishments for local election officials who violate the new rules while, at the same time, granting alarmingly expansive authority to partisan poll watchers. The Republican push to dramatically suppress voting rights has already triumphed in states like Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and Iowa, where, in addition to other restrictions, bills have shortened voting hours and ended early voting. Other states, like Ohio and Michigan, may soon follow suit. And Texas may too. The state's Republican governor, Greg Abbott, has said he'll call the legislature back to a special session this year to get the repressive elections bill passed. He has also promised to veto the portion of the state budget that funds the legislature, including the salaries of legislators. "No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities," Abbott tweeted on Monday. Abbott, and his Republican lawmakers in Texas, certainly know about abandoning responsibilities. As COVID-19 raged in Texas this spring, Abbott decided it was just the moment to lift the mask mandate in his state. "It is now time to open Texas 100 percent," he declared. At the same time, Texas' Republican legislators were busy passing laws that weakened the state's ability to control the pandemic, including a bill that prohibits government entities and businesses from requiring proof of vaccination in order to enter or use their services. COVID-related bills that the legislature declined to pass included proposals that would have improved the state's vaccination database, created a mass vaccination and distribution emergency plan, and provided funding for investigating how racial inequities in the state contribute to health disparities. As the Texas Tribune headline accurately summarized the situation, "Texas lawmakers responded to the pandemic by limiting what the government can do in response to a pandemic." Their response to the other major crisis Texans faced this past year – the blackout of the state's power grid which left hundreds dead and millions freezing in the cold without drinkable water after winter storms hit the state in February – was only mildly better. Once again, the energy proposals that state legislators voted down or failed to even consider, including bills to raise energy efficiency standards and to link Texas' isolated power grid to other states as a backup, say more than whatever legislation they were willing to pass. However, it is worth noting that one of the energy bills passed will likely result in higher utility bills for the state's residents, money that will then be used to bail out the state's electricity companies.
6-4-21 UN: Cost of food rises at fastest pace in over a decade
Global food prices have jumped at their fastest monthly rate in over a decade, according to the United Nations. The UN uses a broad index of global food costs, which have also climbed for 12 months in a row. Suppliers have been affected by disruptions to production, labour and transport during the pandemic. Concerns are growing about broader inflation and how higher grocery bills will impact the world's economic recovery. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) food price index tracks prices around the world of a range of food including cereals, oilseeds, dairy products, meat and sugar. According to the index, food prices in May were 4.8% higher than April - the biggest monthly rise since October 2010 - and 39.7% higher than this time last year (May 2020). All five components of the index rose, led by the surging cost of vegetable oils, grain and sugar. That pushed the index up to its highest overall level since September 2011. The increased costs are a result of renewed demand in some countries and a backlog of low production. Market and supply disruptions due to restrictions on movement have created local shortages and higher prices. Experts had warned that high demand and low production would lead to rising inflation as economies exit lockdown. However, some industries could see a strong recovery. The FAO forecasts record global cereal production this year, which may help to ease upward price pressures. Earlier this week, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) warned UK consumers that they could face more expensive shopping bills in the autumn as costs climb. Inflation is the rate at which the prices for goods and services increase. As well as giving a snapshot of the price of our shopping and services, it influences interest rates and therefore our mortgages and is used to set regulated items, such as train tickets.
6-4-21 US economy adds fewer jobs than forecast despite reopening
The US economy saw an increase in hiring in May as restrictions eased, although fewer jobs were added than expected. Employers created 559,000 jobs, driven by reopenings at restaurants, bars and hotels in particular. That failed to meet economists' expectations of 675,000 jobs being added. However, the hiring did help lower the unemployment rate to 5.8% from the 6.1% seen in April. In all, 9.3 million people remain unemployed - down considerably from the highs seen in April last year, although still well above the pre-pandemic measure of 5.7 million in February 2020. Some of the worst-hit sectors during the pandemic - such as hospitality and education - saw significant numbers of jobs being added as a vaccination drive continued and restrictions eased. The number of jobs in restaurants, cafes and bars jumped by 292,000, for example. And the monthly report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the number of long-term unemployed fell by 431,000, although it still remains at 3.8 million. Robert Alster, chief information officer at wealth manager Close Brothers Asset Management, said: "April's figures were a shock, coming in at a quarter of the expected increase despite stellar economic growth and otherwise positive employment data. But he suggested: "Now we are seemingly back on track and signals are pointing towards a bright future for the US." In April, just 266,000 jobs were added. That was such a surprise, and so out of step with what economists were expecting, that many had wondered if it would be revised by much on Friday when May's data was released. Revisions are common as the government's number crunchers get more data to work with. But not this time. April's job number has only been increased by 12,000 jobs. And on top of that, May's new job figures were also mediocre - and less than forecast. All of which suggests that the US economic recovery may not be quite the post-Covid boom many were expecting. Not yet anyway.
6-4-21 Biden expands US investment ban on Chinese firms
US President Joe Biden is set to ban Americans from investing in dozens of Chinese tech and defence firms with alleged military ties. The new executive order will come into effect on 2 August, hitting 59 firms including communications giant Huawei. The list of firms will be updated on a rolling basis. It expands an order previously issued by former President Donald Trump. Even before the official announcement, China suggested it would retaliate. Under the new order, US investors will be banned from buying or selling publicly-traded securities for other companies including the China General Nuclear Power Corporation, China Mobile Limited and Costar Group. It expands the previous list from 31 firms to include surveillance companies and is aimed at ensuring "US persons are not financing the military industrial complex of the People's Republic of China," one White House official said. "The prohibitions are intentionally targeted and scoped to maximise the impact on the targets while minimising harm to global markets," the official added. Huawei recently said that sanctions imposed on it by the US in 2019 have had a major impact on its mobile phone business. The US took action amid claims that the company posed a security risk and last July, and the UK said it would exclude the company from building its 5G network. The new list of companies barred from US investment will update one from the Department of Defense. "We fully expect that in the months ahead... we'll be adding additional companies to the new executive order's restrictions," the White House said. It comes as the surveillance of citizens, including Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region in particular, has come under scrutiny. The Biden administration has also accused China of acting more aggressively abroad and more repressively at home.
6-4-21 NFL: How race-based formulas are interfering with concussion lawsuits
The National Football League has promised it will no longer settle concussion lawsuits using race-based formulas that assume black players have lower cognitive function. Why was it using them to begin with? In 2013, the NFL agreed to a multimillion-dollar settlement with retirees who alleged their on-field concussions had given rise to brain injuries and cognitive disorders like dementia. It has now awarded more than $856m (£600m) to compensate victims and pay for their medical exams. But several former black players say they have received nothing in spite of their concussion-related diagnoses. The vast majority of NFL retirees are black. They blame the settlement programme, which applies a binary standard - known as "race norming" - that assumes the average black player has a lower level of cognitive functioning than the average white player, and adjusts their cognitive test scores accordingly. As a result of the race norming methodology, they allege, black players must demonstrate greater levels of cognitive decline in order to be eligible for a payout. America's top-tier football league has defended its use of the scoring adjustments, pointing out the standards were originally established with the aim of correcting racial bias. Race norming was first used roughly 40 years ago, to forestall racial bias in aptitude tests. Aptitude scores in federal job applications were adjusted to account for the test takers' race and ethnicity, a policy first implemented under the Democratic administration of Jimmy Carter, extended under the Republican administration of Ronald Reagan and even adopted in 38 US states. It was outlawed at the federal level by the Civil Rights Act of 1991, but race norming was by then seen as a means of counteracting racist practices.
6-4-21 UK approves Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine in children aged 12 to 15
The UK has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for use in children aged 12 to 15. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) authorised the use of the jab in this younger age group following a review of its safety, quality and effectiveness. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was the first to be authorised for use in the UK at the end of last year. “We have carefully reviewed clinical trial data in children aged 12 to 15 years and have concluded that the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine is safe and effective in this age group and that the benefits of this vaccine outweigh any risk,” said June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA. The UK government has asked the independent experts at the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to advise whether routine vaccination should be offered to people aged 12 to 17, a spokesperson for the UK health department said. The announcement comes as a laboratory study reports that adults who have had the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine have lower antibody levels targeting the delta variant of the coronavirus than those against previously circulating variants in the UK. The research also suggests that levels of these antibodies are lower with increasing age, and that these decline over time. However, levels of antibodies alone don’t predict vaccine effectiveness and prospective population studies are also needed. Lower neutralising antibody levels may still be associated with protection against covid-19, the researchers say. “These data cannot tell us whether the vaccine will be any less effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalisation and death; we need to wait for the actual data on these outcomes,” said Eleanor Riley at the University of Edinburgh, UK, who wasn’t involved with the study.
6-4-21 Covid: White House defends Dr Fauci over lab leak emails
The White House has defended the president's top coronavirus adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, amid scrutiny of his recently released work emails. Dr Fauci has been the face of the nation's Covid-19 response, drawing both praise and criticism. And press secretary Jen Psaki said Dr Fauci had been an "undeniable asset". But emails have raised questions on whether he backed Chinese denials of the theory that Covid-19 leaked from a lab in Wuhan. A trove of Dr Fauci's emails covering the onset of the coronavirus outbreak were released this week to media under a freedom of information request. In one email sent last April, an executive at a health charity thanked Dr Fauci for publicly stating that scientific evidence does not support the lab-leak theory. In an interview with CNN, Dr Fauci said the email had been taken out of context by critics and he had an "open mind" about the origin of the virus. In his defence, Ms Psaki said at her daily press briefing on Thursday: "The president and the administration feel that Dr Fauci has played an incredible role in getting the pandemic under control, being a voice to the public throughout the course of this pandemic." There is no proof Covid-19 came from a lab, but US President Joe Biden has ordered a review into the matter that angered China, which has rejected the theory. Chinese authorities linked early Covid-19 cases to a seafood market in Wuhan, leading scientists to theorise the virus first passed to humans from animals. But recent US media reports have suggested growing evidence the virus could instead have emerged from a lab in Wuhan, perhaps through an accidental leak. On Thursday, Dr Fauci maintained there was nothing untoward in an email exchange between himself and an executive from a medical non-profit organisation that helped fund research at a diseases institute in Wuhan, the Chinese city where Covid-19 was first reported. The NIH, which is a US public health agency, gave $600,000 (£425,000) to the Wuhan Institute of Virology from 2014-19 via a grant to the New York-based non-profit group EcoHealth Alliance, for the purpose of researching bat coronaviruses.
6-3-21 Covid-19 news: Coronavirus cases hit six-week high in England
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. Weekly coronavirus cases in England rise as Portugal removed from UK’s “green list” for travel. Coronavirus cases in England are continuing to rise, with the number of people testing positive for the virus at its highest level in six weeks. A total of 17,162 people tested positive for the coronavirus in England in the week up to 26 May, up 22 per cent from 14,051 the previous week, according to figures from NHS Test and Trace. The most recent weekly figure is the highest since the week up to 14 April, when 18,050 people tested positive. Half of UK adults are now fully vaccinated against covid-19, UK vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi announced. In a tweet on 3 June, Zahawi described it as an “important milestone”. US president Joe Biden announced a national “month of action” on 2 June, with a new goal of getting at least 70 per cent of people in the country vaccinated against coronavirus before the 4 July public holiday. Biden encouraged people under 40 to “step up” and get vaccinated. On 3 June, the US outlined its plans for allocating covid-19 vaccine doses for donation to other countries. At least 75 per cent of the first 25 million vaccine doses will be shared through COVAX, a World Health Organization-backed platform for ensuring equitable access to vaccines globally. The remainder will be shared directly with countries currently “experiencing surges”, the White House said in a statement, “including Canada, Mexico, India, and the Republic of Korea”. A German police force has established a dedicated team to deal with a growing illegal trade in fake covid-19 vaccine certificates. Police in Cologne said fake certificates were being traded via the encrypted Telegram messaging service. Fully vaccinated people in Germany are exempt from certain covid-19 restrictions – for instance, they can visit restaurants without presenting a negative coronavirus test.
6-3-21 Donald Trump's 'communications' platform permanently taken offline
Donald Trump's communications platform has been permanently shut down, his spokesperson told CNBC. "It was just auxiliary to the broader efforts we have and are working on," senior aide Jason Miller said. The platform, titled From the Desk of Donald J Trump, launched last month and served as a way for the former president to publish his own content including press releases and videos. Mr Trump was banned from Facebook and Twitter after the Capitol Hill Riots. From the Desk of Donald J Trump had a section on the former president's official website, but it has now been removed. Mr Miller confirmed via Twitter that it is a precursor to Mr Trump's return to social media, although it is unclear when or how. The website - which was often referred to as a blog - had a rolling feed of Mr Trump's various posts and gave visitors the option to "like" the post and share it to Facebook and Twitter. The link to the website now directs visitors to a page encouraging them to sign up for alerts from Donald Trump. In March, Mr Miller told Fox News he thinks "we're going to see President Trump returning to social media in probably about two or three months" and "with his own platform". Mr Trump's own platform has been talked about since early this year, but it is unclear what it might look like. Some thought From the Desk of Donald J. Trump was the platform he had alluded to, but Mr Miller confirmed in May that it was not, saying: "we'll have additional information coming on that front in the very near future." The former president was an avid user of social media as a way to communicate directly to his followers. Since his removal from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, the former president has not been heard from in the same capacity, although this website was the closest he has been to directly communicating with his followers since January.
6-3-21 Google diversity head removed over anti-Semitic blog post
Google has removed its head of diversity over a 2007 blog post that said Jewish people had "an insatiable appetite for war and killing". In a post about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that resurfaced this week, Kamau Bobb also claimed Jewish people had an "insensitivity" to suffering. The post has now been deleted. On Thursday, a spokesperson for Google told the BBC that Mr Bobb would "no longer be part of our diversity team going forward". "We unequivocally condemn the past writings by a member of our diversity team that are causing deep offence and pain to members of our Jewish community," they said. "These writings are unquestionably hurtful. The author acknowledges this and has apologised. He will no longer be part of our diversity team... and will focus on his Stem [science, technology, engineering and maths] work. "This has come at at a time where we've seen an alarming increase in anti-Semitic attacks," the spokesperson added. "Anti-Semitism... has no place in society and we stand with our Jewish community in condemning it." Mr Bobb - who joined Google in 2018 - has apologised to staff for the blog post. In the 2007 post titled If I were a Jew, Mr Bobb described how he believed Jewish people should feel about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the Times of Israel reports. "If I were a Jew I would be concerned about my insatiable appetite for war and killing in defence of myself," he wrote. "Self-defence is undoubtedly an instinct, but I would be afraid of my increasing insensitivity to the suffering [of] others." When the post resurfaced, campaigners were quick to call for Mr Bobb's resignation. Michael Dickson, head of the pro-Israel organisation Stand With Us, tweeted that the blog made "revolting, and anti-Semitic, comparisons between Nazi actions and that of the world's only Jewish country". The US-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, meanwhile, also called for Mr Bobb to be removed from his post.
6-3-21 NFL agrees to drop race bias in concussion claims
The NFL has said it will stop settling concussion lawsuits using a race-based formula that assumes black players have a lower level of cognitive function. America's top-flight football league also pledged to review previous brain injury claims that have been settled via the practice known as race-norming. Two black players filed a civil rights lawsuit over the practice. One black player involved in the litigation called the policy "classic system racism". More than 2,000 former NFL players have lodged dementia claims, but fewer than 600 have received compensation. Lawyers say more than half of NFL retirees are black. Attorneys have requested details on how NFL brain injury payouts have been apportioned along racial lines, but are yet to receive any details. Two former black players, Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport, who were refused payouts under a $1bn (£0.7bn) NFL compensation scheme for brain injuries, launched a civil lawsuit over race-norming. But the judge dismissed the lawsuit in March and ordered the NFL and the main lawyer for the compensation scheme to negotiate a settlement. She also took the unusual step of calling for a full report on the racial bias allegations. In its use of race-norming, the league compares a given player's cognitive test scores with the supposed norm for his demographic group. Under the methodology, black players are assumed to possess a lower level of cognitive function than the average white player. But attorneys say the standard means that in order to qualify for compensation, the average black player must demonstrate a greater level of cognitive decline than a white counterpart. Ken Jenkins, a retired black player supporting the litigation, told the Hill: "This is classic systemic racism. Just because I'm black, I wasn't born with fewer brain cells."
6-2-21 Covid-19 news: Lowest England and Wales death figures since September
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. Proportion of deaths due to covid-19 in England and Wales at lowest level since September, but coronavirus cases in the UK are rising. There were 107 deaths from covid-19 in England and Wales in the week up to 21 May, down from 151 the previous week, according to the Office for National Statistics. Covid-19 accounted for 1.1 per cent of all deaths in the week up to 21 May, which is the lowest proportion recorded since the week up to 11 September, when the disease accounted for 1 per cent of all deaths in the two nations. Israel’s health ministry reported a small number of cases of heart inflammation observed mainly in young men who had received the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine. A study it commissioned found 275 cases of the condition, called myocarditis, among more than 5 million vaccinated individuals. Pfizer said it has not observed a higher rate of myocarditis among vaccinated people than would normally be expected to occur in the general population. On 28 May, the EU’s medicines regulator said it had received 107 reports of myocarditis following the vaccine, mainly in people under 30, but said there was no indication that the cases were due to the vaccine. Last month, a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory group recommended further study of the possibility of a link between myocarditis and mRNA vaccines, including the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. A lockdown in Melbourne, Australia has been extended for another week, while restrictions in the rest of the state of Victoria will be eased from midnight on 3 June. James Merlino, acting premier of Victoria, announced the extension of the Melbourne lockdown on 2 June. Six new cases were reported in the state on 2 June, bringing the total number of cases in the current outbreak to 60. The UK government’s commitment of £1.4 billion in funding for a post-pandemic catch-up programme for pupils in England is facing criticism from school leaders. The Association of School and College Leaders described the amount as “pitiful” compared to commitments made by other countries. The World Health Organization has approved China’s Sinovac covid-19 vaccine for emergency use.
6-2-21 Dogs are better, faster, and cheaper for detecting COVID-19 than antigen and PCR tests, researchers say
Dogs are being trained to detect COVID-19 in Thailand, France, Britain, Chile, Australia, Belgium, Germany, and other countries, and preliminary studies "suggest that their detection rate may surpass that of the rapid antigen testing often used in airports and other public places," The New York Times reports. Cells infected with COVID-19 have a specific scent that dogs can sniff out in seconds, even if the person doesn't have symptoms. "For dogs, the smell is obvious, just like grilled meat for us," Dr. Kaywalee Chatdarong, deputy dean of veterinary research and innovation at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, tells the Times. The six Labradors being trained at Chulalongkorn University accurately detect the COVID-19 virus 96.2 percent of the time in controlled settings, university researcher say, and studies have found results almost that impressive in Germany and the United Arab Emirates. The researchers hope that dogs can be deployed at transportation hubs, stadiums, and other crowded public places to find people infected with COVID-19, or used to sniff out clusters of cases in cities and other communities. Proponents say dogs are not only more accurate at detecting COVID-19, they are also much faster and cheaper than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. Researchers still have practical and scientific questions about the utility of deploying dogs as COVID-19 detectors — what happens if a dog gets infected with the coronavirus and loses its sense of smell, for example? — but all testing methods have strengths and weakness, and the dog research is ongoing. "COVID isn't going away, and there will be new variants," Lertchai Chaumrattanakul, a Chevron official who works with the Thai researchers to adapt drug-sniffing dogs for COVID-19, tells the Times. "Dogs want to be helpful, so let's use them."
6-1-21 U.S. daily average of COVID-19 cases dips below 20,000 for 1st time since March 2020
In another significant pandemic milestone, the United States' daily average of new COVID-19 cases has declined to a level not seen since March of 2020. The U.S.' seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases as of Monday declined to 17,248, CNN reports, citing Johns Hopkins University data. This, CNN noted, was the first time the United States' seven-day average of new coronavirus cases was below 20,000 since last March. It was a "stunning milestone," CNN wrote, while at the same time pointing out that it's possible the number was a bit "lower than reality" since some cases from the long Memorial Day weekend may not have been reported yet. Centers for Disease Control data recently confirmed that half of American adults have now been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and President Biden is aiming for 70 percent of U.S. adults to have received at least one dose by the Fourth of July. These new numbers come as New York City, which was once the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, on Monday recorded no new coronavirus deaths and saw its positivity rate decline to the lowest level on record since the pandemic began, as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced. "This is a testament to the power of vaccination," de Blasio said.
6-1-21 The world is struggling to contain the delta variant of coronavirus
CORONAVIRUS cases in India are now falling fast, but around the world several other countries are struggling to contain rising numbers of infections due to the variant first detected in India. In the UK, case numbers due to this variant – previously called B.1.617.2 but now named “delta” – are rising exponentially, sparking fears of a third wave and threatening plans to end lockdown restrictions in England later this month. In China, parts of the city of Guangzhou, which has a population of 15 million, have been locked down and people banned from leaving without a negative covid-19 test. Meanwhile, Vietnam – one of the few countries that has prevented a major coronavirus outbreak – is trying to contain a cluster of cases that it says are due to “a hybrid” of delta and the alpha (or B.1.1.7) variant that originated in the UK. There is growing evidence that delta is even more transmissible than alpha. In the UK, it has rapidly become the most common variant, overtaking alpha around mid May. Higher transmissibility makes it harder to prevent the spread of a variant. Restrictions that contained the spread of older variants may no longer be enough to contain delta. Although vaccines appear to be only slightly less effective at preventing symptomatic cases caused by delta, higher transmissibility also raises the herd immunity threshold, adding to the difficulties of preventing spread. This means that even in the UK, one of the countries with the highest vaccination rates, a more transmissible variant could still cause a major third wave of cases, hospitalisations and deaths if the spread of the variant isn’t controlled. According to an update by the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) on 13 May, if delta is 50 per cent more transmissible, continuing to relax restrictions “would lead to a substantial resurgence of hospitalisations (similar to, or larger than, previous peaks)”. In countries with lower vaccination rates, the threat is even greater.
6-1-21 Democrat Melanie Stansbury wins New Mexico House special election
Democrats are keeping the New Mexico House seat that was vacated by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in March, The Associated Press projects. tate Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D) won Tuesday's special election, defeating Republican state Sen. Mark Moores to represent New Mexico's 1st Congressional District. With more than 70 percent of the vote in, Stansbury leads Moores by almost 30 points. Stansbury went into the special election leading Moores in the polls, but Republicans were hoping they could flip the seat ahead of next year's midterms. President Biden won New Mexico's 1st Congressional District by 23 points in November, and Haaland — who vacated the seat after becoming the first Native American to lead the Department of the Interior — won her re-election by more than 16 points. In her victory speech Tuesday night, Stansbury told supporters "this moment is not just about standing up, but about leaning into the moment and bringing fundamental change to our politics and to our country. You made it possible for us to win this race and hold this seat ... because of the importance to this race for delivering President Joe Biden's agenda."
6-2-21 Tulsa Race Massacre: President Biden commemorates 100-year anniversary
Joe Biden has become the first sitting president to commemorate the 1921 Tulsa Massacre - one of the worst incidents of racial violence in US history. Mr Biden flew to Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Tuesday to mark the 100th anniversary of the attack, which claimed some 300 African-American lives. The two days of violence, sparked by a white mob, were largely erased from history for decades. It re-entered the national discourse amid racial justice protests last year. On 31 May 1921, a group of white Americans razed the affluent and predominantly black neighbourhood of Greenwood in Tulsa. The community - known by the moniker of "Black Wall Street" - was the country's wealthiest African-American neighbourhood until its many homes and businesses were burned down in the riot. In addition to the lives lost, many more black Americans were left injured or homeless. In the years following the incident, many official records were lost or destroyed, and schools did not teach about the massacre. Speaking in Tulsa on Tuesday, Mr Biden said: "For much too long, the history of what took place here was told in silence, cloaked in darkness." "My fellow Americans, this was not a riot. This was a massacre, and among the worst in our history. But not the only one." Less than two years after the Tulsa massacre, a white mob destroyed the black town of Rosewood in rural Florida. On 31 May, Mr Biden issued a proclamation for a day of remembrance. "We honour the legacy of the Greenwood community and of Black Wall Street by reaffirming our commitment to advance racial justice through the whole of our government, and working to root out systemic racism from our laws, our policies, and our hearts," read a statement from the White House. Only three survivors of the massacre - currently aged between 101 and 107 - are still alive. Mr Biden is expected to meet them during his trip. The president began his visit on Tuesday with a tour of the Hall of Survivors, an exhibit about the massacre at the Greenwood Cultural Center.
6-1-21 Covid-19 news: No plan to delay end of England lockdown, says UK PM
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 is nothing “currently in the data” to suggest planned easing of restrictions in England on 21 June should be delayed, says UK prime minister. There are currently no plans to delay easing of coronavirus restrictions in England from 21 June, according to UK prime Minister Boris Johnson. On 1 June, a spokesperson for Johnson told journalists who asked about the timeline to refer to comments made by Johnson on 27 May, when he said he didn’t see “anything currently in the data” that would divert him from the scheduled easing of rules. The spokesperson added: “We will continue to look at the data, we will continue to look at the latest scientific evidence as we move through June towards June 21.” Peru has revised its covid-19 death toll up to 180,764, from its previous official figure of 69,342, following a government review. Peru’s prime minister Violeta Bermudez said the death toll was increased based on advice from experts. “We think it is our duty to make public this updated information,” Bermudez told a press conference on 31 May. Australians who have been vaccinated against covid-19 may be able to leave the country and return with more lenient quarantine requirements than are currently in place, as part of a new plan that could be trialled within six weeks, the Guardian reported. Australia’s borders have been closed since March 2020 and returning residents are currently required to quarantine in hotels for two weeks upon arrival. The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, revealed the proposal in parliament on 1 June. The European Commission proposed lifting all quarantine obligations on travel within the European Union from 1 July for residents who are fully vaccinated against covid-19, as well as for those who can prove that they have recovered from the infection or who can present a negative coronavirus test.
6-1-21 Scotland to ease covid-19 lockdown on 5 June, but not for all areas
Covid-19 restrictions will be eased in parts of Scotland on 5 June, but much of the country will retain tougher measures due to spikes in cases of the virus, the first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said. Parts of the country will move from level 2 to level 1 of the five tiers of restrictions, which run from 0 to 4, she told the Scottish parliament. But Edinburgh and Midlothian, Dundee, East Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire, the three Ayrshire areas, North and South Lanarkshire and Clackmannanshire and Stirling will remain in level 2. Glasgow, which was kept in level 3 when measures eased in the rest of the country on 17 May, will move to level 2 on Saturday. Sturgeon said the outbreak there had stabilised with case numbers falling slightly. Glaswegians will be able to drink alcohol indoors, meet in private residences and hug loved ones from the weekend. Those in level 1 areas can meet outside and indoors in public places in larger groups. Numbers at events, weddings and funerals can also increase, and pubs can open slightly later indoors. Scotland currently has the highest rate of new cases of covid-19 of the four nations of the UK. But Sturgeon said there are “many parts of mainland Scotland where cases are at very low levels and broadly stable, or where case numbers might appear to be rising, but we are assured that they relate to clusters that are being managed”. Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross previously said areas shouldn’t be left behind if restrictions are relaxed. “Everyone understands that there will be a need for local, targeted measures when an outbreak occurs,” he said. “But leaving behind whole areas should be ruled out. Sweeping measures that unnecessarily hurt a whole city or council area are unfair on businesses and local people waiting to get on with their lives.”
6-1-21 NSA spying row: US and Denmark pressed over allegations
European powers have pressed the US and Denmark over reports the two worked together to spy on top European politicians, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Danish broadcaster DR said Denmark's Defence Intelligence Service (FE) collaborated with the US National Security Agency (NSA) to gather information from 2012 to 2014. Mrs Merkel is among those demanding answers. Both FE and the NSA are yet to comment. Denmark's Defence Minister, Trine Bramsen, did not confirm or deny the report but told AFP news agency that "systemic eavesdropping of close allies is unacceptable". She was not in charge of the ministry during the alleged spying. "This is not acceptable between allies, and even less between allies and European partners," said French President Emmanuel Macron, after speaking with Mrs Merkel. Mrs Merkel said she agreed with Mr Macron's comments, but that she was also reassured by the Danish defence minister's condemnation. Intelligence was allegedly collected on other officials from Germany, France, Sweden and Norway. Those nations have also called for explanations. Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg told public broadcaster NRK: "It's unacceptable if countries which have close allied co-operation feel the need to spy on one another." The NSA is said to have accessed text messages and the phone conversations of a number of prominent individuals by tapping into Danish internet cables in co-operation with the FE. The alleged set-up allowed the NSA to obtain data using the telephone numbers of politicians as search parameters, according to DR. The FE's subsequent secret investigation into the affair was codenamed "Operation Dunhammer" and concluded in 2015. DR interviewed nine sources, all of whom are said to have had access to classified information held by the FE. Along with Mrs Merkel, then-German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the opposition leader at the time, Peer Steinbrück, are also said to have been targeted. Similar allegations emerged in 2013.
6-1-21 End of covid-19 lockdown in England may be delayed, scientists say
The planned lifting of coronavirus restrictions in England on 21 June may have to be delayed, prominent scientists have said, with rising infection numbers threatening to cause a third wave. On Monday, 3383 lab-confirmed cases were confirmed in the UK – the sixth day in a row that 3000 or more cases had been recorded. The B.1.617.2 variant from India – now named the delta variant – may now be responsible for up to three quarters of cases in the country, the health secretary Matt Hancock said last week. Ravi Gupta from the University of Cambridge, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said a delay of a few weeks could have a significant impact on the UK’s battle against the pandemic and recommended it should be made clear to the public that it would be a temporary measure based on the surge in cases of the new variant. “Even a month delay could have a big impact on the eventual outcome of this,” Gupta told ITV’s Good Morning Britain. Across the UK, almost three-quarters (74.8 per cent) of the adult population has had their first covid-19 vaccine, with almost half (48.5 per cent) having had their second. But despite the success of the immunisation programme, many people remain vulnerable, said Adam Finn from the University of Bristol, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. “There’s vulnerability across the country. The idea that somehow the job is done is wrong,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “We’ve still got a lot of people out there who’ve neither had this virus, nor yet been immunised, and that’s why we’re in a vulnerable position right now.” Mark Walport, a former chief scientific adviser to the government, said ministers need more data before they can make a final decision.
6-1-21 Covid: Peru more than doubles death toll after review
Peru has more than doubled its Covid death toll following a review, making it the country with the world's highest death rate per capita, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The official death toll is now more than 180,000, up from 69,342, in a country of about 33 million people. Prime Minister Violeta Bermudez said the number was increased on the advice of Peruvian and international experts. This was in line with so-called excess deaths figures. Excess deaths are a measure of how many more people are dying than would be expected based on the previous few years. "We think it is our duty to make public this updated information," Ms Bermudez said. The news, released on Monday, came just six days before Peru is set to hold a presidential run-off election between leftist Pedro Castillo and right-wing candidate Keiko Fujimori. Peru has been one of the worst-hit countries in Latin America, resulting in an overstretched healthcare system and a lack of oxygen tanks. It has registered 1.9 million infections in total. Some of the reasons for it being so badly hit include an absence of fridges in people's homes - forcing many households to make frequent trips to markets to shop for food rather than stocking up - and overcrowding in homes and public places. The president of the Peruvian Medical Federation, Godofredo Talavera, said the increased toll was not a surprise. "We believe this occurs because our health system does not have the necessary conditions to care for patients. "There has been no government support with oxygen, with intensive care beds. We do not have enough vaccines at the moment. The first line of care has not been reactivated. All this makes us the first country in the world in mortality," he said. But experts say Peru has also had problems with its testing regime, as it lacks the resources to carry out widespread molecular tests, the most reliable type.
6-1-21 'White fungus': Drug-resistant fungal infections pose threat to India patients
In May, a middle-aged-man suffering from Covid-19 was admitted in an intensive care unit (ICU) of a hospital in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata. As his condition deteriorated, the patient was put on a ventilator. He was administered steroids, a life-saving treatment for severe and critically ill Covid-19 patients. But experts say the drug also reduces immunity and pushes up blood sugar levels in patients. After a prolonged stay in the ICU, the patient had recovered and was ready to go home when doctors found he was infected with a deadly, drug-resistant fungus. Candida auris (C. auris), discovered a little over a decade ago, is one of the world's most feared hospital microbes. This bloodstream infection is the most frequently detected germ in critical-care units around the world and has a mortality rate of around 70%. "We are seeing an increased number of patients with the infection during the second wave of Covid-19. There are a lot of sick people in the ICUs and many of them are on high steroid doses. That could be the reason," Dr Om Srivastava, a Mumbai-based infectious diseases specialist, said. As the second wave washes over India and severely ill patients clog the ICUs, doctors are seeing an uptick in a host of dangerous fungal infections. First, there was an outbreak of mucormycosis or the black-fungus, a rare but dangerous infection, which affects the nose, eye and sometimes the brain. Some 12,000 cases and more than 200 deaths from the disease have been already recorded. Now doctors are reporting a rise in other deadly fungal infections in Covid-19 patients, mostly after a week or 10 days of stay in the ICU. There are two species of Candida fungi - auris and albicans - and they can be fatal for human beings. Aspergillus, which is another kind of fungi group, affects the lungs, and it can also be fatal. Of the more than five million types of fungi, Candida and Aspergillus are the two major groups which cause a lot of human deaths.
6-1-21 Michael Flynn denies calling for Biden coup, despite video of his comments
Michael Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general and former President Donald Trump's first national security adviser, spoke at a QAnon conference in Dallas on Sunday, and he was widely criticized afterward for agreeing with an audience member that there should be a Myanmar-style coup in the U.S. Evidently, the idea of such a coup is popular in some QAnon circles as a way to get Trump back in office, and since Flynn also claimed falsely Sunday that Trump actually won the 2020 election, it isn't a stretch to assume he was endorsing a military putsch against President Biden. On Monday, Flynn claimed he was misquoted. In a video of the event, asked why there can't be a coup in the U.S., Flynn replied: "No reason, I mean, it should happen. No reason." Flynn said on Telegram "there is NO reason whatsoever for any coup in America, and I do not and have not at any time called for any action of that sort," adding: "Any reporting of any other belief by me is a boldface fabrication based on twisted reporting at a lively panel at a conference of Patriotic Americans who love this country, just as I do." He claimed he said: "There is no reason it (a coup) should happen here (in America)." Because we can't read Flynn's mind, it's possible that's what he meant to say. But it's not what he actually said. Flynn's actual comments got cheers from the QAnon audience. "It would be very marginally less contemptible if he at least owned up to giving the crowd the fascist red meat they so clearly wanted," Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, wrote on Twitter. "But he wants to cling whatever last shred of mainstream respectability he imagines he enjoys and also take the applause and cash from QAnon," plus get invited on Fox News. Retired four-star Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey told MSNBC on Monday night that "the Department of Justice is gonna be hard-pressed not to consider whether this language is criminal in nature." Flynn's rhetoric "is actually very dangerous," he added. "I think Mike Flynn has a mental health problem, to be blunt." (Webmaster's comment: Flynn should be charged with advocating treason!)
6-1-21 Trump has reportedly been telling people he'll be ‘reinstated’ by August
After former President Donald Trump's first national security adviser Michael Flynn appeared to express support for a coup in the United States, The New York Times' Maggie Haberman reports Trump himself has been baselessly asserting he will be back in the White House this year. Haberman tweeted on Tuesday, in response to reporting about Flynn's comments about a coup in the United States, that Trump "has been telling a number of people he's in contact with that he expects he will get reinstated by August" — confirming in a subsequent tweet she means reinstated as president. "No that isn't how it works," Haberman added, "but simply sharing the information." The reporting comes after Flynn at a QAnon conference over the weekend was asked why there can't be a coup in the United States like in Myanmar, and he said, "No reason, I mean, it should happen." He later claimed he was misquoted and said there is "NO reason whatsoever for any coup in America, and I do not and have not at any time called for any action of that sort." CNN's Donie O'Sullivan, though, noted that for months, "talk of a Myanmar-style coup in the United States has been popular among some Trump supporters" who falsely claim he won the 2020 presidential election. MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell has also baselessly claimed that the Supreme Court will overturn the results of the election and that Trump "will be back in office in August." Haberman notes that Trump pushing these baseless conspiracy theories about returning to office hasn't been "happening in a vacuum," but instead has been "happening as he faced the possibility of an indictment."