8-31-21 Biden 'ferociously' responds to critics during Afghanistan 'rebuttal' speech
President Biden's speech on Tuesday about the end of the United States' 20-year military mission in Afghanistan felt like "a rebuttal to domestic critics," Washington Post columnist Ishaan Tharoor wrote afterward. Throughout his remarks, Biden firmly argued that his administration made the right calls up to and throughout the chaotic and deadly evacuation process in Kabul. Other analysts agreed with Tharoor's assessment — CNN's John Harwood noted that Biden responded "ferociously to ferocious political attacks he has faced over the last two weeks," PBS News' Yamiche Alcindor said the president was "pushing back hard" and "pointedly defending his choice" to end American involvement in the Afghan conflict, and ABC News' Ian Pannell called the speech "an attempt ... to burnish his record." There may have been consensus on what Biden was trying to accomplish with his rhetoric, but analysts disagreed on how it Americans will feel about it. Breaking Defense's Aaron Mehta predicted Biden's words won't play well in national security circles, but will likely be popular in the rest of society. Bill Kristol, on the other hand, thought Biden erred by going on the defensive. "He sounds more like a candidate than our president," Kristol tweeted. "Today is not about him. Our war in Afghanistan is over. Pay tribute to the troops, pledge to heal wounds, rally the nation to a better future."
8-31-21 The Taliban reportedly struck a deal with U.S. to escort Americans to Kabul's airport. A U.S. defense official said 'it worked beautifully.'
The Biden administration continually tried to assure Americans that the Taliban was cooperating with the U.S. during its withdrawal from Afghanistan over the last few weeks after the group took Kabul. Now, citing two U.S. defense officials, CNN reports that the U.S. military struck a deal with the Taliban that led to the latter escorting Americans to the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport during that time. The plan was kept under wraps because Washington was concerned about how the Taliban would react to any publicity and because of security threats posed by the Islamic State in Afghanistan, the officials said. But the escort missions apparently happened "several times a day" throughout the evacuation process, and one official said the arrangement "worked beautifully." U.S. forces were reportedly able to observe the Americans who were accompanied by the Taliban approach the airport. While the strategy may have proved successful in several cases, there were still many reports of the Taliban blocking American citizens and Afghans who aided the U.S. military from getting into the airport. Per The New York Times, some evacuation hopefuls reported to U.S.-based relief organizations that members of the Taliban confiscated their American passports at checkpoints. Read more at CNN and The New York Times.
8-31-21 Deputies had to break up fights at a Florida school district office that announced a mask mandate
Fists were "flying" and doctors were "shoved" on Monday after a mask mandate was announced at the Lee County School District board meeting in Florida, reports NBC News affiliate NBC-2. Sheriff's deputies were called in to break up the fights. The majority of parents who spoke at the meeting were against the mask mandate. One man somehow connected the mandate to child sex trafficking, claiming, "by putting masks on these kids' face, you can't identify any of 'em, so by the nine of you [school board officials] voting already on this, tells me you guys support sex trafficking." A woman, wearing a 'My Body, My Choice' sticker, argued that kids "eat their masks." A physician and mother of a child in the Lee County School District, which includes around 90,000 students, thanked the board members for keeping "faculty and students safe." Leaving the building after the meeting, the doctor was "shoved," NBC-2 reports. The doctor said she was "not at all" shocked by the escalated fiasco. If students or faculty do not honor the mask mandate there may be "disciplinary actions depending on the situation," writes NBC-2. The 30-day mandate is in response to Florida's increasing COVID-19 infections and death toll, though 14,000 students have reportedly been opted out of the mandate using a medical opt-out option.
8-31-21 Afghanistan: Last US military flight departs ending America's longest war
The last US military flight has left Kabul airport, marking the end of a 20-year presence in Afghanistan and America's longest war. Officials said the last C17 aircraft took off with the US ambassador onboard after midnight local time on Tuesday. They added that the diplomatic mission to assist those unable to leave before the deadline would continue. Celebratory gunfire by the Taliban was heard after the last plane departed. The aircraft's departure was the final chapter in a contentious military effort, which eventually saw the US handing Afghanistan back to the very Islamist militants it sought to root out when American troops entered the country in 2001. It also was the end of a massive evacuation effort that began on 14 August soon after the Taliban took over the country. America's top military commander in the region, Gen Kenneth McKenzie, said that in total, US and coalition aircraft evacuated more than 123,000 civilians - an average of more than 7,500 civilians per day during that time. Speaking after the announcement, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called the evacuation a "massive military, diplomatic and humanitarian undertaking" and one of the most challenging the US has ever carried out. "A new chapter has begun," he said. "The military mission is over. A new diplomatic mission has begun." He said the Taliban needed to earn its legitimacy and would be judged on the extent to which it fulfilled its commitments and obligations to allow civilians free travel to and from the country, protected the rights of all Afghans including women, and prevented terror groups from gaining a foothold. He added that while the US had suspended its diplomatic presence in Kabul, transferring operations to the Qatari capital of Doha, it would continue its "relentless efforts" to help Americans, and Afghans with US passports, to leave Afghanistan if they wanted to.
8-31-21 Gunfire as Taliban celebrate US leaving Afghanistan
Gunfire rang out at Kabul as the Taliban celebrated the last US troops leaving Afghanistan. BBC News chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet says the skies were full of red tracer and machine gun fire as the Taliban hailed the US departure, nearly 20 years since the US-led invasion forced them from power.
8-31-21 The U.S. destroyed or 'demilitarized' all equipment left at Kabul airport, depriving the Taliban of more trophies
When the last U.S. military aircraft flew out of Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport on Monday, the only usable equipment left behind was machinery to help the airport return to civilian operation as soon as possible, U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Frank McKenzie said at a press conference. The rest of the equipment — 70 mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles, 27 Humvees, 73 aircraft, an unspecified number of counter-rocket, artillery, and mortar (C-RAM) systems — was destroyed or "demilitarized." These vehicles and weapons will "never be able to be operated by anyone again," McKenzie said. "Troops likely used thermate grenades, which burn at temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, to destroy key components of the equipment," USA Today reports, citing a Pentagon official, while "some pieces of equipment were likely blown up" at the airport. "McKenzie stressed that the equipment would be of no use in combat," USA Today notes, "but they will likely be display by the Taliban as trophies of their decades-long fight to retake their country." "The U.S. military removed planes, heavy weapons, and sophisticated military equipment as it began winding down its operations in Afghanistan in the spring," NPR reports. "But it couldn't take home 20 years of accumulated hardware and instead left much of it to the Afghan military" — and after the Afghan military collapsed over the summer, "the Taliban wasted no time in gloating over their new war booty," including billions of dollars in captured "aircraft, trucks, Humvees, artillery guns, and night-vision goggles." The U.S.-supplied "rifles, plate carrier vests, and other infantry gear provide legitimate tactical value to the group's foot soldiers," The Washington Post reports, but "some of the captured equipment, like helicopters and attack planes, may be more useful for propaganda imagery than for everyday use." U.S. contractors maintained the Black Hawk helicopters, C-130 transport planes, and other aircraft that require expensive and hard-to-find parts, and the Taliban lacks the technical expertise to keep them airborne, even if they find pilots. The Taliban were "significantly helpful" in enabling the U.S. and allied forces to airlift 122,000 people out of Kabul's airport in two weeks, McKenzie said, but they will have a hard time securing Kabul. When the Taliban swept through Afghanistan, freeing its fighters from prisons, it also swelled the ranks of ISIS-K to about 2,000 militants, he said. "Now they are going to be able to reap what they sowed."
8-31-21 A highly-mutated coronavirus variant seems to only be spreading slowly so far
Scientists are keeping an eye on a coronavirus variant, known currently as C.1.2, that was first detected in South Africa in May because it has characteristics similar to other mutated forms of the virus that have become more transmissible. A study also found that it is further away from the original strain than any other variant. For now, though, they're not panicking. The World Health Organization on Tuesday said the variant "does not appear to be increasing in circulation," and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa said that while C.1.2 has been detected in all nine of the country's provinces (as well as a few other places around the world), it's only been detected at a low rate. Per Forbes, the variant made up just 1 percent of all sequenced cases in South Africa in June. That did rise to 3 percent in July, but the more famous Delta variant still appears to be quite dominant in the country, accounting for 67 percent and 89 percent of South African infections in June and July, respectively. In fact, Delta may be one of things that prevents C.1.2 from becoming a greater concern. "C.1.2 would have to be pretty good, pretty fit, and pretty fast to outcompete Delta at this stage," Dr. Megan Steain, a virologist at the University of Sydney's Central Clinical School, told The Guardian. "I think we're still very much at a point where this could die out, the prevalence is really low." Still scientists and health agencies like the WHO will continue to monitor the variant. Read more at The Guardian and Forbes.
8-31-21 These charts show that COVID-19 vaccines are doing their job
Immunizations are keeping the majority of vaccinated people out of the hospital. As the coronavirus continues to surge across the United States, hospitals are again filling up with ill COVID-19 patients. And the vast majority of those patients are unvaccinated, as two new charts help make exceedingly clear. One of those charts shows that from January 24 to July 24, vaccinated individuals were hospitalized with COVID-19 at a much lower cumulative rate than unvaccinated individuals. And the difference in rates between the two groups has only grown over time. By late July, a total of about 26 adults per 100,000 vaccinated people had been hospitalized for COVID-19. That’s compared with about 431 hospitalized people for every 100,000 unvaccinated individuals — a rate roughly 17 times as high as for those who were vaccinated. The data come from 13 states, including California, Georgia and Utah. The gap in the cumulative hospitalization rates among unvaccinated and fully vaccinated adults 18 years and older has been growing since COVID-19 vaccines started rolling out in late 2020. The data were adjusted for age and come from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Utah. That trend held when the researchers charted hospitalization rates on a weekly basis too. From January to July, weekly hospitalization rates among unvaccinated people were six to 31 times as high as those in vaccinated people, the researchers report August 29 at medRxiv.org. The accumulation of hospitalizations in each group over time, which that first chart shows, illustrates the risk of developing severe COVID-19 overall. And its message is clear: If you’re vaccinated during this pandemic, your risk of hospitalization is much, much lower than if you’re not vaccinated. The weekly rate, on the other hand, is a bit like the speedometer on a car — providing a glimpse of what’s happening week by week as the coronavirus spreads. Its message is also clear: The risk of a vaccinated person becoming hospitalized remains low at any given time, while the risk for unvaccinated people can fluctuate, probably as a result of community transmission. Since January, weekly COVID-19 hospitalization rates have fluctuated in unvaccinated people but have been consistently higher than in vaccinated people. For instance, as the delta variant became the dominant variant in June, hospitalizations of unvaccinated adults 18 years and older spiked while rates for vaccinated remained steady and low. The data were adjusted for age and come from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Utah.
8-31-21 Covid: EU recommends new travel restrictions for US as cases rise
The European Union recommended a pause on all non-essential travel from the US as Covid-19 cases surge. The daily average for hospital admissions has risen past 100,000 for the first time since last winter. The recent wave, driven by the Delta variant, is most severe in the US South but cases are rising nationwide. Monday's guidance from the 27-nation bloc reverses advice from June that lifted restrictions on American travellers ahead of tourism season. The recommendation is nonbinding, meaning individual countries will be allowed to decide if they still wish to allow US visitors with proof of vaccination, negative tests, or quarantine. Though the EU first lifted travel restrictions on Americans in June, the US has kept their ban on European non-essential travel in place since March 2020. Earlier this month, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the lack of reciprocity would not be allowed to "drag on for weeks". Israel, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro, and North Macedonia have also been removed from the EU's safe travel list. Hospital admissions in the US for Covid-19 patients have reached levels not seen since January, when the country reached its all-time high with more than 142,000 coronavirus patients in hospital beds. Florida has more than 16,000 Covid-19 patients in hospital - the most of any state - followed by Texas and California, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services. The latest surge is straining hospitals and health care workers. Roughly one in five intensive care units have reached at least 95% capacity. Death rates have risen too - reaching an average of more than 1,000 per day. Just over half of all Americans are fully vaccinated against Covid-19. With the full approval of the Pfizer vaccine by the US Food and Drug Administration last week, the Biden administration has doubled down on its efforts to increase vaccination rates. Unvaccinated people are about 29 times more likely to be admitted to hospital with Covid-19 than those who are fully vaccinated, according to a study released by the US Centres of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week.
8-31-21 Nike is giving its head office staff a week's break
Staff at Nike's corporate headquarters in Oregon have been given a week off to support their mental health, ahead of the return to the office in September. From today until Friday, the US firm will "power down" to give employees a rest after a tough year. "Take the time to unwind, destress and spend time with your loved ones," the firm's head of insights Matt Marrazzo said in a message to staff. It follows similar moves from dating app Bumble and Linkedin. A growing number of employees have reported feeling burnt out as the pandemic drags on and many continue to work from home. Big US firms such as Apple, Uber and bank Wells Fargo have also delayed plans for staff to return to the office as infections surge across the US. Making the announcement on Linkedin last week, Mr Marrazzo told Nike staff: "Do not work" - adding that the past year had been "rough" and they were "living through a traumatic event". "In a year (or two) unlike any other, taking time for rest and recovery is key to performing well and staying sane. "It's not just a 'week off' for the team... it's an acknowledgment that we can prioritize mental health and still get work done." According to reports, it also reflects the fact Nike has had a successful year, with sales up and its stock gaining 20%. Bumble, the dating app where women are in charge of making the first move, told its 700 staff worldwide to switch off and focus on themselves back in June. One senior executive revealed on Twitter that founder Whitney Wolfe Herd had made the move "having correctly intuited our collective burnout". LinkedIn also gave its workers a week off in April while Citi Group said in March it would have "Zoom-free Fridays" to combat pandemic fatigue.
8-30-21 Number of Americans left in Afghanistan is in the 'very low hundreds,' says Gen. McKenzie
As the Pentagon on Monday announced the official end to the 20-year war in Afghanistan, Commander of U.S. Central Command Gen. Kenneth McKenzie confirmed that although the "vast majority" of Americans in Afghanistan were evacuated, some were in fact left behind. "There's a lot of heartbreak associated with this departure," said McKenzie. "We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out." McKenzie added that staying another 10 days wouldn't have changed the outcome. That said, Mckenzie added that the State Department is going to work "very hard" to get those that are left — a number he believes to be in the "very low hundreds" — out of the country, writes ABC News' Conor Finnegan. Those who want to leave will still have the opportunity to. Although the military phase of the mission in Afghanistan has ended, "the diplomatic sequel to that will now begin," said McKenzie. "Our desire to bring these people out remains as intense as it was before. The weapons have just shifted ... from the military realm to the diplomatic realm."
8-30-21 Afghanistan: US investigates civilian deaths in Kabul strike
A US drone strike targeting a suicide bomber ended up killing 10 members of one family, including six children, surviving relatives have told the BBC. The 10 were killed when a car parked at their home was struck by an explosion on Sunday. The US military said a vehicle carrying at least one person associated with the Afghan branch of the Islamic State group was targeted. It said people nearby may have been hit in the aftermath of the strike. Some of those killed had previously worked for international organisations and held visas allowing them entry to the US, the BBC has been told. The youngest child to be killed was two-year-old Sumaya, and the oldest child was 12-year-old Farzad. Ramin Yousufi, a relative of the victims, said: "It's wrong, it's a brutal attack, and it's happened based on wrong information." Another relative, Emal Ahmadi, told the BBC that it was his two-year-old daughter who was killed in the strike. Mr Ahmadi said he and others in the family had applied for evacuation to the US, and had been waiting for a phone call telling them to go to the airport. That included one of his relatives, Nasser, who was killed in the strike and had previously worked as a translator with US forces. The US, he added, had made "a mistake, it was a big mistake". US Central Command has said they are investigating reports of the incident, but are unclear how the 10 died. In a statement, it said there had been a number of "substantial and powerful subsequent explosions" following the drone strike. It said the explosions suggested there had been "a large amount of explosive material inside, that may have caused additional casualties". Central Command had previously said the strike was successful at "eliminating an imminent" threat to Kabul's Hamad Karzai International airport from IS-K (Islamic State Khorasan Province), IS's Afghan affiliate. (Webmasters Comment: Killing civilians, women and children is a war crime! It's Vietnam all over again! "Kill anything that moves!")
8-30-21 U.S. drone strike targeting Islamic State reportedly killed 10 Afghan civilians, including children
Reports from the ground indicate that a U.S. drone strike targeting the Islamic State killed 10 Afghan civilians, including several children, in Kabul on Sunday. The strike reportedly took out a vehicle armed with explosives that allegedly posed a threat to Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport, which was the site of a devastating suicide bombing just days before. U.S. Central Command later acknowledged in a statement that "we know that there were substantial and powerful subsequent explosions resulting from the destruction of the vehicle, indicating a large amount of explosive material inside that may have caused additional casualties," adding that "it is unclear what may have happened, and we are investigating further." Los Angeles Times foreign correspondent, Nabih Bulos, who is Kabul, reported that it's still not certain whether the U.S. drone strike was the cause of the fatalities because there were also reports of a mortar attack in the same area. One way to tell, he said, is for the Pentagon to clarify what type of missile it used. If it was the same strike, though, Bulos lamented that the 20-year war in Afghanistan ended the way it started, "with civilians bearing the brunt of it."
8-30-21 Afghanistan: US drone strike 'eliminates airport bomb threat'
A US drone strike in the Afghan capital Kabul has prevented another deadly suicide attack at the airport, US military officials say. The strike targeted a vehicle carrying at least one person associated with the Afghan branch of the Islamic State group, US Central Command said. The US had warned of possible further attacks as evacuations wind down. Despite this, it has said that it will keep evacuating Afghans from Kabul airport until "the last moment". A deadline for the evacuation mission of 31 August was agreed between the US and the Taliban, who now control most of the country. The US will be the last to complete its mission, with all other countries having already concluded theirs. The final flights returning British troops from Afghanistan have been arriving in the UK on Sunday. The US says it has facilitated the evacuation of more than 110,000 people from Kabul airport since 14 August - a day before the Taliban took control of the capital. The BBC's Lyse Doucet, in Kabul, says she and her colleagues are still receiving urgent SOS messages from Afghans who feel threatened by the Taliban. They include musicians, university students and female politicians. Many of them feel they cannot have the kind of future they had prepared for after two decades of international engagement, our correspondent says - and many say the Taliban are stopping them from leaving. On Sunday, Capt Bill Urban of Central Command said the US had carried out a targeted drone strike aimed at "eliminating an imminent" threat to Kabul airport. "We are confident we successfully hit the target," he said, adding: "Secondary explosions from the vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material." He said later that Central Command were aware of reports of civilian casualties following the drone strike. "It is unclear what may have happened, and we are investigating further," he said, adding that Central Command would be "deeply saddened by any potential loss of innocent life".
8-30-21 U.S. Kabul evacuation continues 'uninterrupted' amid apparently failed rocket attack
A U.S. anti-missile system at Kabul's international airport intercepted as many as five rockets fired early Monday, U.S. officials said. There were no initial reports of casualties, and the White House said President Biden was briefed on the attack and "informed that operations continue uninterrupted" at the airport. U.S. military C-17 cargo jets continued to land and take off roughly every 20 minutes Monday morning, The Associated Press reports. A Taliban official said there were no reports of Afghan casualties or injuries from the attack, either. Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said last week that U.S. forces at the airport "actually have pretty good protection against [rocket attacks]. We have our anti-rocket and mortar system." At least some of the rockets were believed to have been fired from Kabul's Chahr-e-Shaheed neighborhood, from a four-door sedan outfitted with six homemade rocket tubes. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, AP reports, though the Islamic State and other militants use such tubes to move rockets close to a target. While U.S. officials said the rockets were intercepted, witnesses told AP they struck residential apartment blocks in the Salim Karwan neighborhood. Some residents reported shrapnel from the rockets falling on their homes, BBC News reports. The U.S. plans to wrap up its occupation of the Kabul airport on Tuesday and leave control of the facility to the Taliban. The last British troops arrived back in the United Kingdom on Sunday, and most other Western nations ended their participation in the airlift on Thursday and Friday. The U.S. is focusing its last days on getting U.S. troops and equipment, plus any remaining U.S. citizens who want to leave, out of Afghanistan. The State Department said Sunday that about 300 U.S. citizens are still trying to get out of Afghanistan and that the U.S. has the capacity to evacuate them before Tuesday's deadline. Kabul's airport was one of the few remaining ways for foreigners and vulnerable Afghans to leave Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The U.S. and dozens of other countries said in a joint statement Sunday that they "have received assurances from the Taliban that all foreign nationals and any Afghan citizen with travel authorization from our countries will be allowed to proceed in a safe and orderly manner to points of departure and travel outside the country."
8-30-21 ‘On the Fringe’ explores the thin line between science and pseudoscience
In his latest book, historian Michael Gordin shows how hard it is to define pseudoscience. There is no such thing as pseudoscience, and Michael Gordin has written a book about it. In On the Fringe, Gordin, a historian at Princeton University, does not deny that there are endeavors afoot in the world that are labeled pseudoscience. Rather he shows that the term has no precise meaning, and that there is no unambiguous, universal test for delineating true science from the false versions on its fringe. Many well-known examples of pseudoscience, he notes, were once mainstream scientific disciplines. Astrology, for instance, was for centuries respected or practiced by the most prominent scientific thinkers of their time. Astrology’s time is long past, of course. So Gordin refers to it, and alchemy, and eugenics, as vestigial sciences — once regarded as totally scientific, but cast aside into the pseudoscience realm by the advance of knowledge. Other pseudosciences arise having never attained respectable scientific status. Some are ideologically driven “hyperpoliticized” sciences; some, like creationism, are “counterestablishment” ventures that feign scientific trappings; others are wishful thinking delusions like extrasensory perception. Advocates for many such pseudosciences seek legitimacy by imitating the scientific process — holding conferences, publishing journals and claiming to cite evidence (though presented in ways riddled with logical fallacies). The problem is, “real” science also sometimes suffers from errors of rigor and logic, as recent concerns about reproducing experimental results have demonstrated (SN: 3/27/10, p. 26). So drawing a sharp line between real and pseudo remains a difficult task. Gordin provides neat, quick summaries of all these issues in his brief but thoughtful and enjoyable book. Most valuable of all is his first chapter, in which he demolishes the notion that philosopher Karl Popper’s “falsifiability” criterion allows a clear demarcation between science and non- (or pseudo-) science. Falsifiable, Gordin points out, is undefinable. If nothing else, every working scientist (and science journalist) should read this chapter to learn that the refrain “if it’s not falsifiable, it’s not science” is philosophically unsound gibberish, a sign of a weak argument.
8-29-21 U.S. says drone strike on Kabul 'suicide bombers' prevented 'imminent' ISIS attack, may have killed 'innocent' civilians
U.S. Central Command said Sunday evening that a U.S. drone strike earlier in the day blew up a vehicle and "multiple suicide bombers" from Afghanistan's Islamic State affiliate and prevented an "imminent ISIS-K threat to" Kabul's international airport. The Hellfire missile hit at least one vehicle in a residential area about a mile from the airport, and a U.S. official told ABC News that two ISIS-K terrorists were seen loading what appeared to be explosives into the trunk of one of the targeted cars. "We know that there were substantial and powerful subsequent explosions resulting from the destruction of the vehicle, indicating a large amount of explosive material inside that may have caused additional casualties," said Navy Capt. Bill Urban, a CENTCOM spokesman. "It is unclear what may have happened, and we are investigating further." He said the Pentagon is "aware of reports of civilian casualties following our strike on a vehicle in Kabul today," and "we would be deeply saddened by any potential loss of innocent life." The drone strike or the secondary blast of explosives killed as many as nine people, including between three and six children, neighbors, family members, and Afghan health officials told journalists. A neighbor, Ahmaduddin, told The Associated Press that the missile strike set off explosions inside the house, and he had collected bodies of children afterward. U.S. officials are in the final phase of evacuating Kabul's airport, and they describe the security situation as tense. The State Department said Sunday that about 250 Americans have said they are still trying to leave Afghanistan, and about 114,400 people, including nearly 5,500 American citizens, have been evacuated via the Kabul airport since Aug. 14. As many as five missiles were fired at the airport early Monday local time, ABC News and Reuters report, but the U.S. military fired an anti-missile defense system to intercept the rockets, there are no sign of casualties, and flights are continuing to leave the airport.
8-29-21 Anti-mask activist who organized protests in Texas dies of COVID-19
Caleb Wallace, the 30-year-old founder of a group called the San Angelo Freedom Defenders who protested against masks and business closures in Texas, died on Saturday of COVID-19. His wife, Jessica Wallace, who is pregnant with their fourth child, announced his death on a GoFundMe page. Wallace lived in San Angelo, Texas, and in July 2020 organized an event called the Freedom Rally, where participants demonstrated against lockdowns, the media, and the science behind COVID-19, The Associated Press reports. In April, Wallace demanded San Angelo's school district get rid of all of its COVID-19 safety protocols. Jessica Wallace told the San Angelo Standard-Times that on July 26, her husband began experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, and instead of going to the hospital to get tested, he started taking high doses of Vitamin C, zinc, and the anti-parasitic medicine ivermectin, which is used for livestock. Health officials have urged people to stop taking this medication for the coronavirus. On July 30, Wallace was admitted to the emergency room, and eight days later was put on a ventilator. Jessica Wallace wrote on the GoFundMe page that her husband was "an imperfect man but he loved his family and his little girls more than anything." She said to those who "wished him death," she is "sorry his views and opinions hurt you. I prayed he'd come out of this with a new perspective and more appreciation for life. I can't say much more than that because I can't speak for him."
8-29-21 Afghanistan: Biden says another Kabul airport attack likely
Another attack on Kabul airport is highly likely, US President Joe Biden has warned, saying commanders have told him it could come as early as Sunday. The state department has urged all US citizens to leave the area near the airport because of a "specific, credible threat". The US is continuing evacuations but the final UK troops, diplomats and officials have now left Kabul. A suicide bombing near the airport on Thursday resulted in some 170 deaths. A local branch of the Islamic State group - Islamic State in Khorasan Province (IS-K) - claimed the attack. In retaliation, the US carried out a drone strike on eastern Afghanistan late on Friday, saying it had killed two "high-profile" IS-K members. The two are described as a planner and a facilitator. It is unclear whether they were directly involved in planning the Kabul airport attack. "This strike was not the last. We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay," Mr Biden said in a statement released on Saturday. IS-K is the most extreme and violent of all the jihadist militant groups in Afghanistan and has major differences with the Taliban, who now control most of the country. It accuses them of abandoning the battlefield in favour of a negotiated peace settlement with the Americans. The Taliban condemned the air strike, saying the Americans should have consulted them first, a spokesman told Reuters news agency. The next few days of the US evacuation operation are likely to be the most dangerous since it began, White House officials say. US troops have begun their withdrawal from the airport - their numbers are now down to 4,000, from a peak of 5,800 in the past week. One Western security official told Reuters that US forces were in the final phase, although a time for the end of the operation had yet to be decided. Just over 1,000 civilians remain to be airlifted, the official said. A Taliban official told Reuters their technical experts and engineers were ready to take over the airport when they were given the "final nod from the Americans". The Taliban have set up further layers of checkpoints around the airport and are not allowing most Afghans through, the Associated Press adds. In all, more than 110,000 people - both Afghans and foreign nationals - have been evacuated from Kabul airport since the airlift began two weeks ago.
8-29-21 Herat under the Taliban: residents on the new rulers
The BBC has been speaking to people in Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest city, with a population estimated to be more than 500,000.. It’s a strategically important provincial capital in the west of the country, and is close to the borders with Iran and Turkmenistan. Residents said their lives had totally changed living since the Taliban control, and that they fear for their safety.
8-28-21 The bloodlust of Joe Biden's Afghanistan critics
They have no solution but to get more American troops killed. There was a tragic suicide bombing at the Kabul airport on Thursday. At time of writing 169 people were confirmed killed, including 13 American soldiers. This caused an instant frenzy of denunciation on cable news and from Republican neoconservatives. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) demanded that Biden resign immediately, as did Meghan McCain. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) demanded Biden reverse course. "For every American who is killed, a city in Afghanistan should be wiped off the face of the Earth," tweeted conservative pundit Todd Starnes. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fl.) released a joint statement demanding Biden recognize the former Afghan vice president and intelligence chief as the legitimate government of the country. Yet these blood-crazed critics have no arguments or even suggestions that do not involve getting more American soldiers killed, except genocidal slaughter of Afghan civilians. President Biden is right to stay the course. It is not yet completely clear who committed the attack, but initial reports finger a local ISIS offshoot, with the likely objective of re-starting the conflict between the Taliban and the U.S. In an interesting coincidence, that's apparently the exact same objective of Graham, Starnes, and the rest of the hardliners screaming at Biden. (By the way, it is worth pointing out that the Taliban is bitterly opposed to ISIS, and indeed in the past has received temporary support in their fight with the group from none other than the U.S. military.) To re-state what is still completely undeniable, we just finished 20 years of occupation that categorically failed to create a viable Afghan government. That government is now gone. There is an agreement with the Taliban to get out at the end of the month, signed by President Trump and adhered to by Biden. To renege on that agreement — by sending in more troops, or re-taking the Bagram air base, as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested — would not only require putting more forces in to re-start the war, it would expose the troops there now protecting the evacuation to immediate attack on all sides, and possibly even cut them off from reinforcement, given how easy it is to prevent flights into the Kabul airport. Indeed, as members of the U.S. government, Graham and Walz's demand exposes American soldiers to a nontrivial risk that the Taliban will take it as a statement of policy and open fire. And then what? Not a single one of these cretins has even bothered to outline a medium-term plan. The simple fact is the Kabul evacuation can't help but be a dangerous business, and some attack or another was always a risk. Indeed, this is the first sacrifice of American soldiers in years that can be said to have actually accomplished anything worthwhile in Afghanistan. Over 2,400 of them died over the last 20 years in a war any fool could see was impossible to win by 2003 at the latest. Their lives were squandered — along with those of perhaps a quarter-million civilians — by three presidents who were too stupid or cowardly to look reality in the face, cut our losses, and get out of there. These troops, by contrast, gave their lives protecting an evacuation that — while flawed in many ways — actually has done a great deal of good. Over 100,000 people have indeed been airlifted out at time of writing, and mass evacuations are still ongoing. Given the chaos of the initial collapse of Kabul, and the tense relationship with the Taliban, it's a pretty remarkable accomplishment.
8-28-21 Biden warns another Kabul attack 'highly likely' in next 24-36 hours
President Biden on Saturday released a statement warning that the situation on the ground at Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport remains "extremely dangerous" as the United States nears its evacuation deadline. Just two days ago, a suicide bomb attack allegedly carried out by the Islamic State took place outside an airport gate, killing nearly 200 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members (whose names were released by the Pentagon on Saturday; their ages ranged from 20 to 31). Now, Biden said commanders in the field told him another attack is "highly likely in the next 24-36 hours." In response, he "directed them to take every possible measure to prioritize force protection, and ensured that they have all the authorities, resources, and plans to protect our men and women on the ground." Biden also said the retaliatory strike that the U.S. military confirmed had killed two "high-profile" ISIS targets on Friday won't be the last. "We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay," he said.
8-28-21 U.S. confirms 2 'high-profile ISIS targets' killed in retaliatory strike in Afghanistan
The United States is now able to confirm that "two high-profile" Islamic State leaders in Afghanistan who allegedly played a role in planning the deadly attack at Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport earlier this week have been killed in a U.S. military retaliatory airstrike, Army Maj. Gen. William Taylor said Saturday morning. A third target was reportedly wounded, and there are reportedly no known civilian casualties. The military first indicated they had killed an extremist leader in the strike on Friday, but more information has apparently come in since then. Taylor also said the U.S. "will continue to have the ability to defend ourselves and to leverage the over-the-horizon capability to conduct counterterrorism operations as needed" in Afghanistan. The strike has raised questions over whether the U.S. and the Taliban, which considers ISIS an enemy but is still viewed by Washington as a terrorist organization in its own right, will technically become partners or at least coordinate in this regard. That could be a tricky situation for both sides, especially when it comes to public messaging, and one that likely does not come without significant risks for the U.S.
8-28-21 Infectious disease expert: Americans must 'recalibrate' vaccine expectations
COVID-19 vaccines won't eliminate the coronavirus, "no matter how many booster shots the United States gives," Céline R. Gounder writes for The Atlantic. But that's no reason to panic or lose confidence in them. Grounder, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at New York University's Grossman School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital in New York City, thinks public health messaging got out of hand early on during the vaccine drive, especially when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published real-world evidence that showed that two doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were 90 percent effective at preventing infections, as opposed to just disease. After that, folks got excited, believing that full vaccination status meant you could only very rarely get infected or transmit the disease. But now that the efficacy appears to be lower, there's a lot of anxiety. Grounder tried to ease that, explaining that vaccines are typically more effective at protecting against infection outright when battling viruses that have longer incubation periods, like measles and smallpox. In those cases, the body is trained to kick the virus out before it can really establish itself. But the coronavirus and influenza, for example, don't take as long to start replicating and can do so before a vaccinated defense system revs up. Once it does, though, the virus doesn't have much room to operate and is usually blocked from progressing in the lungs and causing serious damage. With that in mind, Grounder says Americans simply need to "recalibrate our expectations about what makes a vaccine successful." While "the public discussion of the pandemic has become distorted by a presumption that vaccination can and should eliminate COVID-19 entirely," that's not an attainable standard, she argues. And it's one that makes "each breakthrough infection" look "like evidence that the vaccines are not working," even though they're performing "extremely well" and reducing what may have been serious infections to either mild or asymptomatic ones. Read Grounder's full piece at The Atlantic.
8-28-21 A pair of 'significant' findings from an otherwise inconclusive U.S. intelligence report on coronavirus origins
A review by the United States' intelligence community did not reach a firm conclusion on the origin of the coronavirus that sparked the COVID-19 pandemic, but it still may prove quite helpful moving forward. While the report, ordered by President Biden earlier this year, determined only that both natural spillover from an infected animal and a lab leak were plausible theories as to how the pathogen jumped to humans, an unclassified summary of the report released Friday did show that there was broad agreement among the intelligence community on multiple areas, including that the virus was "not developed as a biological weapon" and that Chinese officials "did not have foreknowledge" of the virus ahead of the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, back in the fall of 2019. Those don't provide a clear answer to the origin question, but they're still "significant," Robert Garry, a microbiologist at Tulane University School of Medicine, told NPR. He argued that if government officials didn't know about the coronavirus, then it's unlikely the Wuhan Institute of Virology — the lab most often associated with a potential lab leak — would have, either. "It's huge to mainly rule out that this is a product of engineering," Garry told Nature. Per NPR, Garry thinks the report moves "the needle" toward "the natural origin" theory in that case. "I think you have to look at the scientific data that's out there," he said. "Follow the science, follow the animals." Read more at NPR and Nature.
8-28-21 RFK's daughter vows to fight potential parole of father's assassin with 'everything I've got'
In an interview on NewsNation Now on Friday night, Kerry Kennedy, one of Robert F. Kennedy's nine surviving children, expressed her disappointment with a California parole board's decision to recommend parole for Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of killing her father, who was then a Democratic senator representing New York and in the midst of a presidential campaign, in Los Angeles in 1968. "I can tell you, I'm going to fight this with everything I've got," Kerry Kennedy, a human rights lawyer, told host Ashleigh Banfield. Kennedy and six of her other siblings released a statement criticizing the recommendation. "We adamantly oppose the parole and release of Sirhan Sirhan and are shocked by a ruling that we believe ignores the standards for parole of a confessed, first-degree murderer in the state of California," it reads. Two other siblings, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Douglas Kennedy, are supportive of the recommendation, with the latter saying he's "grateful" to see Sirhan "as a human being worthy of compassion and love." As for Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Kerry Kennedy noted that he has pushed numerous conspiracy theories in recent years, including many about COVID-19 vaccines. "Why in the world anyone would take him seriously is just beyond comprehension," she said. Sirhan's parole is not automatic — the recommendation was made by a two-person panel, but now the entire board has a few months to review the decision. After that it gets passed to California's governor who can sign off on it, reverse it, or modify it. Kerry Kennedy is hoping that the incumbent Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) — who she indicated considers her father a hero of his — will shut it down, though he is facing a recall election at the moment.
8-28-21 Afghanistan: US says drone strike killed IS-K planner
The US military says it believes it has killed a planner for the Afghan branch of the Islamic State group in a drone strike in the east of the country. The suspected member of the IS-K group was targeted in Nangarhar province. IS-K said it had carried out an attack outside Kabul airport on Thursday that may have killed as many as 170 people, including 13 US troops. A mass airlift has been under way at the airport since Taliban militants overran the capital this month. In the past two weeks, more than 100,000 people are believed to have been evacuated, with the deadline set by the US for its forces to leave Afghanistan expiring on Tuesday. President Joe Biden promised on Friday to hunt down the jihadists behind Thursday's suicide bombing. IS-K, or Islamic State Khorasan Province, is the most extreme and violent of all the jihadist militant groups in Afghanistan. The US drone strike is the first reported in Afghanistan since Thursday's blast. Capt Bill Urban of Central Command said: "The unmanned airstrike occurred in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties." He described it as an "over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation". A Reaper drone, launched from the Middle East, struck the militant while he was in a car with another IS member, killing them both, an official told Reuters news agency. Most of IS-K's several thousand extremists are believed to be in hiding in the province, east of Kabul. Thursday's blast outside Kabul airport tore through crowds of men, women and children. Dozens of Afghans trying to leave the country were killed. In addition to the US personnel killed, two British nationals and the child of a British national were among the dead. "We will not forgive, we will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay," Mr Biden warned the perpetrators on Friday. He said another attack in Kabul was likely in the coming days.
8-28-21 What now for Afghans arriving in America?
A thin length of yellow tape cordoned off the new arrivals - hundreds of Afghan refugees fresh off the plane from Kabul airport - from the intrusion of their new world, the grounds of an exhibition centre in Chantilly, Virginia. Masoud, his wife and four children were among them, clutching plastic bags filled with blankets, toothbrushes and the like. Someone had given the girls notebooks, the kind American children will be going back to school with this week. He had been a driver for US forces and then the Afghan government, he told BBC Persian. "Everyone knew who I was working for," Masoud said. As soon as Kabul fell to Taliban hands on 15 August, he shut his house and went straight to the airport, though not with his car, today perhaps still abandoned in his driveway. "I could not stay longer" he said, realising he had a target on his back. "For years people had seen me with these [government-marked] cars". It was just as well Masoud fled quickly. Those lucky enough to have escaped before the allied troop withdrawal deadline of 31 August can look forward to a new life in the US or one of two dozen countries that have opened their doors to Afghan refugees - even as hope dims for those trapped in Afghanistan when evacuations end. When they landed at Dulles Airport, just outside Washington DC, men, women, children and the elderly were shepherded aboard a fleet of buses and taken to the centre that would give them temporary shelter. Rows of neatly made beds with green covers made the cavernous place resemble the inside of a military barracks. A fleet of 20 or 30 portable toilets had been put in a back lot. Some 300 people would spend the night there, BBC Persian was told before access to the centre was cut off to journalists. A translator volunteering at the centre described seeing among the arrivals a young girl who had come with only a sister and cousins, but no parents. "Her mother had to choose between sending her daughter alone or keeping her in Afghanistan," BBC Persian was told. Her relatives did not know when or if the girl's mother would make it. Another woman had just given birth five days earlier, but had kept quiet about her condition, bearing the pain all the way from Kabul to Virginia. The translator discovered that she was bleeding and called an ambulance, she said.
8-28-21 Covid origin: US spy agencies publish 'inconclusive' report
The US intelligence community has been unable to determine the origins of Covid-19, and is split on whether it leaked from a lab or developed in nature, according to a new report. The report issued by the office that oversees the nation's 18 spy agencies did conclusively determine that it was not developed as a biological weapon. Experts warn that time is running out to gather evidence of its beginnings. China's foreign minister has dismissed the report as "anti-science". The report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said the intelligence community remains divided on Covid's most likely origin. "All agencies assess that two hypotheses are plausible: natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident." According to the report, several unnamed spy agencies thought Covid emerged from "natural exposure to an animal infected with it or a close progenitor virus". But they only had "low confidence" in this conclusion. One intelligence agency developed "moderate confidence" that the first human infection was likely due a "laboratory-associated incident" at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has studied coronaviruses in bats for more than a decade. President Biden issued a statement after the report's publication, criticising China for not co-operating with the investigation. "Critical information about the origins of this pandemic exists in the People's Republic of China, yet from the beginning, government officials in China have worked to prevent international investigators and members of the global public health community from accessing it," Mr Biden said. "The world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them, "he added. The pandemic, which has claimed nearly 4.5 million lives around the world, began in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.
8-28-21 Iran nuclear: Other options if diplomacy fails, says Biden
US President Joe Biden has said that if diplomacy does not resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis, America "is ready to turn to other options". He was speaking in Washington after the first face-to-face talks with Israel's new prime minister, Naftali Bennett. Mr Bennett praised the president's stance, and his vow to never let Iran acquire nuclear weapons. The meeting had been delayed for 24 hours following the deadly attack by the IS group at Kabul airport. Mr Bennett, who took office in June, had said the issue of Iran's nuclear programme would be top of the agenda in his talks with Mr Biden. Iran considers Israel its arch-foe and lsrael views its nuclear ambitions as an existential threat. Iran says its programme is entirely peaceful but Western powers and the UN's nuclear agency say they are not convinced. Following 50 minutes of talks at the White House, Mr Biden told reporters the US was willing to take unspecified measures if negotiations with Iran do not get results. "We're putting diplomacy first and see where that takes us. But if diplomacy fails, we're ready to turn to other options," he said. In response, Mr Bennett reiterated the point. "I was happy to hear your clear words that Iran will never be able to acquire a nuclear weapon," he said, "and that you emphasise that you will try the diplomatic route, but there's other options if that doesn't work out." Mr Bennett's predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu had been close to US President Donald Trump but had clashed with Barack Obama's administration, when Mr Biden served as vice-president. The new prime minister told Mr Biden he looked forward to "working with you now and many years ahead". Talks to try to revive a frayed 2015 nuclear deal with world powers had been taking place in Vienna but stalled several months ago. Iran has gradually breached its commitments under the accord in retaliation for the sanctions that Mr Trump reinstated when he pulled the US out of the deal in 2018, which he called "defective at its core".
8-28-21 Robert F Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan recommended for parole
A Californian parole board has voted to grant prison release to the murderer of Democratic 1968 presidential candidate Robert F Kennedy (RFK). Sirhan Sirhan served 53 years in jail for shooting the frontrunner after a speech at a Los Angeles hotel, arguably altering the course of history. The vote, establishing that he is not a public threat, does not necessarily guarantee he will walk free. The decision now falls to Californian Governor Gavin Newsom. The Democrat is currently in the throes of an election campaign. "Over half a century has passed," Sirhan reportedly told parole commissioners. "That young impulsive kid I was does not exist anymore." "Senator Kennedy was the hope of the world and I injured, and I harmed all of them and it pains me to experience that, the knowledge for such a horrible deed," he added according to the Associated Press, the only news agency that was allowed to attend his parole hearing. The local district attorney's office in LA has said that they will not move to oppose his release. Now 77, the Palestinian-born assassin was requesting parole for the 16th time. He said after his arrest he had carried out his attack over the then-senator's support for US aid to Israel. He later said he had no memory of the attack. The board's decision came after two of Kennedy's children appealed to the parole board to release their father's killer. "I really do believe any prisoner who is found to be not a threat to themselves or the world should be released," Douglas Kennedy said, according to the Associated Press.
8-28-21 Canada election: Justin Trudeau rally cancelled after angry protests
Justin Trudeau has been forced to cancel an election rally after a crowd of angry protesters ambushed the event. The Canadian prime minister had been set to address supporters in Bolton, Ontario, but the event was called off over security concerns. Dozens of protesters gathered at the rally and shouted obscenities before Mr Trudeau could speak. The Liberal prime minister is hoping to secure a majority in a snap general election he called earlier this month. But in recent days his canvassing efforts have been dogged by protests against Covid-19 vaccines and government restrictions. At Friday's rally, his campaign bus had to be escorted away by police after the event was cancelled following a two-hour delay. The 49-year-old said the protests showed how the pandemic had been hard on everyone. "We all had a difficult year. Those folks out protesting, they had a difficult year too, and I know and I hear the anger, the frustration, perhaps the fear," Mr Trudeau said. He said the event had been cancelled because organisers could not ensure people's safety. Earlier on Friday, crowds had disrupted the prime minister's visit to a bakery in the town of Nobleton, with some jeering and holding signs reading "Trudeau Treason". On Wednesday, on a visit to British Columbia, he was met by anti-vaccine protesters, with some shouting they would refuse the Covid jab. Vaccine mandates - that Mr Trudeau has backed for some workers and most travellers - have become a key issue in the general election campaign. Mr Trudeau called the election on 15 August when polls indicated his minority Liberal government looked within reach of forming a majority. Canadians will vote on 20 September, some two years ahead of schedule. In October 2019, voters handed him a minority, meaning he has had to rely on opposition parties to help him pass his agenda. Opposition parties have criticised the Liberals for calling a five-week long campaign during the Covid-19 pandemic's latest wave simply for "political gain".
8-27-21 The 'truly bonkers story' of how feed-store ivermectin went dangerously viral
"A lot of people have asked me this week: Where did this ivermectin obsession come from?" NBC News' Ben Collins tweeted Thursday. "Who could possibly benefit from it? Most importantly, why did my antivaxx aunt start eating horse goo from the tractor store?" The answers, he said, is a "truly bonkers story" involving a group called America's Frontline Doctors (AFLD), an affiliated website over-promising ivermectin prescriptions, a Florida online pharmacy, and frustrated vaccine opponents who end up eating paste meant for deworming horses and cattle to try and fight COVID-19. The CDC and FDA have issued separate warnings in the past week against ingesting ivermectin to fight COVID-19. The human version of ivermectin, "originally introduced as a veterinary drug for livestock animals in the late-1970s," is generally safe in low doses and "useful in combating certain human diseases caused by parasites," though not viruses, NBC News reports. Interest in ivermectin as a COVID treatment started in late 2020 but remained "reasonably low until July." That's about when AFLD began promoting ivermectin among anti-vaccination groups. AFLD "describes itself as a 'non-partisan' group of medical professionals," Time reported Thursday. "But it originated as a right-wing political organization," founded to support former President Donald Trump's push to dial back pandemic mitigation measures. AFLD later found promoting alternative COVID-19 treatments profitable, and it's now a "leading purveyor of medical disinformation" in the anti-vaccination world, Time adds. "They're the 21st century, digital version of snake-oil salesmen," Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, tells Time. "And in the case of ivermectin, it's extremely dangerous." "In recent weeks, a variety of conservative figures and anti-vaccination activists have embraced the drug," NBC News reports. "Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, and Tucker Carlson have mentioned it. Phil Valentine, the conservative radio host who died from COVID-19 this week, also turned to ivermectin after his diagnosis and urged his listeners to do the same. (He later encouraged listeners to get vaccinated.)" "First it was hydroxychloroquine, then it was bleach, powerful lights, now it's horse dewormer?" Seth Meyers sighed on Thursday's Late Night. "I'm honestly terrified to imagine what's next. One day we're going to wake up and Brian Kilmeade's gonna be telling people who can cure COVID by eating kibble and sleeping in a bed of kitty litter."
8-27-21 Covid: Vaccine complications dwarfed by virus risks
A major review of vaccines suggests the AstraZeneca jab does raise the risk of blood clots and another serious condition that can cause bleeding. But the study found the risk of such problems following a coronavirus infection was still much higher. The University of Oxford-led team also found an increased risk of stroke after the Pfizer jab - but again at a much lower rate than after infection. The team said it once again showed the "substantial" benefit of vaccination. It comes after a coroner ruled on Thursday that BBC Radio Newcastle presenter Lisa Shaw died because of complications from the AstraZeneca jab. The 44-year-old died in May after developing headaches a week after getting her first dose. She suffered blood clots in the brain. The research team looked at records from more than 29 million people who received a first dose of a Covid vaccine between December and April, who were mostly over 40, as well as nearly 1.8 million who were infected with the virus. The study, published in the British Medical Journal, looked for complications up to 28 days after being jabbed or infected. It found that for every 10 million people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine: 1. an extra 107 would be hospitalised or die from thrombocytopenia, which can cause internal bleeding and haemorrhages, but that was nearly nine times lower than the risk of the same condition following an infection. 2. an extra 66 would be hospitalised or die from blood clots in the veins, but that was nearly 200 times lower than the risk following an infection. For every 10 million people vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, it found: 1. 143 extra strokes would be seen, but that was nearly 12 times lower than the risk following an infection. Lead author Prof Julia Hippisley-Cox said it was important people were aware of the risks, but that they were kept in context given the higher risk from being infected.
8-27-21 Covid-19 news: Blood clot risk higher after infection than vaccination
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. Study compares risk of blood clotting problems after covid-19 infection and vaccination. The risk of blood clotting problems is much higher after covid-19 infection than after receiving a covid-19 vaccine, according to research from the University of Oxford. The study, published in the British Medical Journal, looked at more than 29 million people aged 16 or older who had a first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in England between December 2020 and April 2021. It focused on the risks of blood clots and thrombocytopenia, a condition involving low levels of platelets – cells that help the blood clot. Around half of all people hospitalised with covid-19 still have at least one persistent symptom after one year, according to a study of 1276 patients from Wuhan, China. Around a third of participants experienced shortness of breath after one year. Fatigue and muscle weakness affected about half of participants after 6 months, but fell to one in five after 12 months. Seven destinations have been added to the UK’s green list for travel, meaning people arriving from those places will not have to quarantine. The Azores, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Liechtenstein, Lithuania and Switzerland will be redesignated from 30 August. Thailand and Montenegro will be moved to the red list, meaning returning UK residents must quarantine in a hotel for 11 nights on arrival. Lockdown will be relaxed in most of New Zealand from 1 September, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has announced, but stringent restrictions will remain in Auckland and Northland. The changes in most of the country mean businesses can operate for online orders and contactless services, but public venues remain closed. Nearly 350 people have been infected in the latest outbreak. “We may be seeing the beginning of a plateau of cases, but caution is still required,” Ardern said.
8-27-21 Covid vaccine: More than half of Indian adults have had first jab
More than half of India's eligible population - some 473 million people - have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, official data says. India has been ramping up its vaccination drive as it races to stave off a third wave of infections. It has so far given more than 610 million doses of three approved vaccines - Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik V. The government aims to vaccinate all Indians by the end of this year. India took 19 days to administer the last 100 million doses, compared to 85 days to give the first 100 million jabs, the government said. But only about 15% of eligible adults have been fully vaccinated since the beginning of the drive in January. Regional disparities persist as well with larger and poorer states lagging behind smaller and richer states. India has reported more than 32 million Covid cases, second only to the US. The country is also only the third in the world to record more than 400,000 deaths - behind the US and Brazil. Since 16 January, India has administered more than 610 million doses. Some 473 million people have received the first dose and another 138 million or so have received both doses so far. India has been giving 5.3 million jabs daily on an average for about a month now, according to Dr Rijo M John, a health economist. "This daily average is far from what is required to finish the drive off this year. I don't see the target of vaccinating all adults by this year-end materialising," Dr John told the BBC. Experts say India needs to administer more than 10 million doses a day to fully inoculate all eligible adults by the end of this year. Much will depend on levels of vaccine hesitancy and the availability of doses in the coming months. "The major roadblock will continue to be supply itself for the foreseeable future," Dr John said. India's daily case count has been dropping - it has been reporting less than 40,000 new daily cases in the past month and most of them from the southern state of Kerala.
8-27-21 Afghanistan: US will hunt down Kabul airport attack jihadists, says Biden
President Joe Biden has promised to hunt down the jihadists behind an attack in Kabul which killed at least 90 people - including 13 US troops. Mr Biden warned the US would "not forgive" the perpetrators. The twin blasts, claimed by a local branch of Islamic State (IS), tore through crowds of men, women and children outside Kabul airport. They were hoping to join the 100,000 people airlifted out of Afghanistan since it fell to Taliban militants. There had been repeated warnings that an attack was likely, but it either did not reach or did not deter those waiting. US troops in control of Kabul international airport have been facilitating the evacuation of foreign nationals and Afghans who had been working with foreign missions. They have been aiming to complete this within a 31 August deadline for US forces to leave under an agreement with the Taliban. A number of European countries have already announced the end of their evacuation plans. The UK said on Friday it would not be processing any more applications, acknowledging it was leaving people behind. Speaking hours after Thursday's attack, Mr Biden vowed to complete the evacuation mission, adding "we will not be deterred by terrorists". He said the US military had been ordered to attack the leadership, assets and facilities of the group known as Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K), active in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The group is part of the global IS network, but has local links - even to the Taliban. However, IS-K have accused the Taliban of abandoning the battlefield in favour of a negotiated peace settlement. The attack at the airport - which began at about 18:00 local time (13:30 GMT) - targeted "translators and collaborators with the American army", the jihadist group said. The first blast happened near the Abbey Gate, where US and British forces have been checking people entering the airport, followed by a second minutes later at a hotel which was used by British officials to process Afghans hoping to travel to the UK.
8-27-21 Afghanistan: Pen Farthing team 'turned away' from airport
An ex-Royal Marine has told how he was "turned away" while trying to leave Kabul - as the UK's defence minister said his supporters had "taken up too much time" of senior commanders. Paul "Pen" Farthing was attempting to get his staff and rescue animals out of Afghanistan when they became caught up in Thursday's airport bomb blasts. His team said they were "safe" but still in Afghanistan. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said he hoped they made it back. But he said supporters of Mr Farthing's animal charity rescue mission had "taken up too much time of my senior commanders dealing with this issue when they should be focused on dealing with the humanitarian crisis". Mr Wallace said: "My people were focused for the last two weeks on a humanitarian crisis. "And I had to listen sometimes to calls of abuse to my advisers, to my officials, based mainly on falsehoods, that somebody, somewhere had blocked a flight - no-one blocked a flight. "Fundamentally, as we have seen on the media, there are desperate, desperate people, and I was not prepared to push those people out of the way for that. "When people's time is right, they were called forward, and that's the right thing to do. But I hope he comes back, he was advised to come back, his wife came back last Friday, so I hope he does as well." Mr Farthing set up the Nowzad animal shelter in Kabul, rescuing dogs, cats and donkeys, after serving in Afghanistan in the mid-2000s. Since the collapse of the Afghan government, Mr Farthing and his supporters have campaigned to have his staff and their families as well as 140 dogs and 60 cats evacuated from the country in a plan he has dubbed Operation Ark. Mr Farthing, originally from Dovercourt in Essex, said the team were 300m (984ft) inside Kabul Airport on Thursday but were turned away and as a result got caught up in the terror attack that killed US troops and Afghan civilians queuing up to flee the Taliban.
8-27-21 Harvard's new chaplain is an atheist. Is that a contradiction?
What the rise of humanism reveals about a university founded by Puritans. The motto of Harvard University, which might as well be tattooed on aspirants to the American upper class, is "veritas." For those who never learned the Latin that was once part of the standard curriculum, that means "truth." It seems like an obvious fit for the nation's most prominent institution of higher learning. Isn't pursuing truth what a university is all about? But the motto's history isn't so simple. Although it appeared in several versions following Harvard's establishment in 1643, most stressed the theological character of the truth to which the college was devoted. "Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae" — truth for Christ and Church — read one version. "In Christam Gloriam" — to the glory of Christ — went another. The one word version was adopted in the late 19th century, partly at the urging of poet Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. A surprising announcement on Thursday revived tensions between Harvard's original mission and its more recent secular orientation. The association of more than 30 Harvard chaplains representing a wide range of religious communities elected Greg Epstein as their new leader. The surprise isn't that Epstein is not a Christian, an element of Harvard's heritage that the university hasn't stressed for decades. It's that he doesn't believe in God at all. An atheist chaplain seems like a contradiction in terms. Epstein's life work is to convince people that it's not. An ordained "humanist rabbi," Epstein doesn't oppose religious texts, ideas, or practices. But he argues that people who doubt the existence of supernatural forces need their own ways of inculcating virtues, exploring the meaning of life, and sustaining communities that can extend through generations. In his 2009 book Good Without God, Epstein contrasts this approach to two rival forms of non-belief. One is "antagonistic atheism" associated with figures like Marx, Nietzsche, and the so-called New Atheists of the early 2000s. The antagonistic project tries to expose religious teachings as primitive myths at best and, at worst, intentional lies used to justify exploitation. Its goal is the liberation of humanity from superstition. One problem with this approach is that it hasn't delivered on the promise to replace ignorance with truth. Modern natural science undermined, or at least complicated, many traditional religious beliefs. Yet it doesn't answer questions about the origin of the material world, the basis of human consciousness, or the meaning of "uncanny" experiences that gave rise to those beliefs in the first place. Another issue is that antagonistic atheism can be counterproductive. Rather than persuading believers, polemics against religion are most effective in polarizing the whole subject. In the 19th century, antagonistic atheism helped legitimize the public expression of non-belief. But it also encouraged fundamentalist reactions that was more hostile to ideals of reason and freedom than the orthodoxies that the skeptics attacked. Finally, antagonistic atheists have a way of swapping one dogma for another. The most dramatic example is Marxism, which rejected any appeal to divine redemption while promulgating a philosophy of history leading to the ultimate triumph of justice on earth. Scholars dispute whether such movements are properly described as "political religions," a term coined in the 1930s by the German political theorist Eric Voegelin, but there is at least an analogy between religious movements and modern ideologies. For these reasons, antagonistic atheism is probably a dead end. The main alternative is more subtle. What Epstein calls "reconstructionism" doesn't try to refute religion. Rather, it seeks to reinterpret religious sources and doctrines in ways that dispense with appeals to miraculous events or supernatural beings.
8-27-21 Dylann Roof: US court upholds death sentence on church attacker
An appeals court in the US has upheld the death sentence given to a white supremacist who killed nine black people at a South Carolina church. Dylann Roof targeted a Bible study group in 2015, and told a jury before being convicted two years later: "I felt like I had to do it." Upholding the sentence, the appeals judge said the crimes "qualify him for the harshest penalty that a just society can impose". Roof remains on death row in Indiana. Last month, US Attorney-General Merrick Garland halted federal executions pending a review by the justice department, following the Trump administration's prolific use of capital punishment. The 2015 massacre shocked the nation and reignited a debate about race relations and the flying of the Confederate flag. Roof told police he wanted to start a race war and he was photographed holding the battle flag, which to many is a symbol of racism. The tragedy led to the flag being removed from the South Carolina statehouse, where it had flown for 50 years.
8-27-21 Supreme Court: Biden eviction moratorium shot down by Supreme Court
The US Supreme Court has ruled to allow evictions to resume across the country. It blocked the Biden administration's Covid-related moratorium on evictions, which would have extended protections to millions of Americans. The moratorium was first put in place a year ago to combat homelessness during the Covid pandemic. All three liberal judges dissented from the ruling, while all six conservatives ruled in favour of blocking the extension. "If a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it," the court wrote in an unsigned opinion released on Thursday evening. The Biden administration had argued that the moratorium was needed due to a spike in Covid cases. "The trajectory of the pandemic has since changed - unexpectedly, dramatically and for the worse," the Biden administration said in a brief. "As of August 19, 2021, the seven-day average of daily new cases is 130,926, nearly a ten-fold increase over the rate when this court ruled". But extension opponents said many landlords are struggling with their mortgage repayments without regular rent money. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that the Biden administration is disappointed by the Supreme Court's ruling. "Families will face the painful impact of evictions and communities across the country will face greater risk of exposure to Covid-19," she said. Ms Psaki added that the White House was calling on local and state courts, landlords and government agencies to "act urgently" to prevent evictions. To help renters, the Department of the Treasury on Wednesday also announced a reduction in paperwork requirements to receive emergency rental assistance. The department warned that state and local governments that fail to provide relief to at-risk renters may receive less funding than jurisdictions that do. According to August US Census bureau data, 3.5 million Americans said they face eviction in the next two months.
8-27-21 Department of Education offers $1.1 billion in loan forgiveness to ITT Tech students
The Department of Education will forgive $1.1 billion in federal loans for students who attended the now-defunct ITT Technical Institute but left after March 2008 without finishing their degree. ITT Tech shut down in 2016, closing more than 130 schools after the Education Department said it could no longer enroll new students who needed federal loans and grants. Students had long accused the for-profit college of using fraudulent recruitment practices, and the Education Department launched an investigation. In a statement, the department said it found that "for years, ITT hid its true financial state from borrowers while luring many of them into taking out private loans with misleading and unaffordable terms that may have caused borrowers to leave school." By forgiving the $1.1 billion in federal loans, about 115,000 former students will see their debt erased, Axios reports. There has been a push for the government to wipe out more student loans, and since January, the Education Department has forgiven $9.5 billion in loans, affecting more than 563,000 borrowers.
8-26-21 More than 120 coronavirus cases in 5 states linked to Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
Public health officials have linked more than 120 new coronavirus infections to the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, which ended on Aug. 15. The South Dakota Department of Transportation said close to 526,000 vehicles passed through Sturgis during the rally, which started Aug. 6; this was up 14 percent from 2020 and 5 percent from 2019. Through contact tracing, South Dakota health officials have linked 16 cases to the event, while their counterparts in North Dakota have identified 42 cases, followed by Wyoming with 32 cases, Wisconsin with 20 cases, and Minnesota with 13 cases, The Washington Post reports. Because Sturgis attracts bikers from across the United States, making it harder to conduct contact tracing, it's likely that the number of infections is higher, especially since the highly contagious Delta variant is the predominant strain in the U.S. Last summer, before vaccines were available, public health officials said it's likely the rally was a contributing factor to a surge in cases in the Upper Midwest, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and South Dakota Department of Health found that it did lead to widespread transmission of the virus nationwide, the Post says. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who has criticized wearing masks and taking other safety precautions amid the pandemic, urged people to attend Sturgis in 2020 and 2021, writing on Facebook ahead of this year's event that "there's a risk associated with everything that we do in life. Bikers get that better than anyone." Since the rally, the CDC has designated Meade County, home to Sturgis, and nearby Pennington and Lawrence counties as "hot spots." All three counties saw their case numbers start to go up in the month before the rally, and after the event, they've quadrupled or increased more than fivefold, the Post reports.
8-26-21 Supreme Court ends CDC's pandemic eviction moratorium with no hearings, over liberal dissent
The U.S. Supreme Court's conservative majority late Thursday allowed eviction proceedings to resume for as many as 3.5 million people, blocking a Biden administration ban on evictions in areas hard-hit by COVID-19. The court majority, in an unsigned option, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had exceeded its authority in issuing the temporary moratorium, and "if a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it." The Supreme Court was ruling on whether the moratorium remained in effect while lower courts considered the challenge from landlords represented by the Georgia and Alabama chapters of the National Association of Realtors. But since the CDC's latest moratorium, issued Aug. 3, only lasted until Oct. 3, the court effectively quashed it. This was the Biden administration's second loss this week before the Supreme Court's "shadow docket" of unsigned, short "emergency" rulings issued with little briefing, no oral arguments, and frequently significant policy outcomes. Justice Stephen Breyer alluded to that in a dissent joined by the court's other two liberals. "Applicants raise contested legal questions about an important federal statute on which the lower courts are split and on which this court has never actually spoken," he wrote. "These questions call for considered decision making, informed by full briefing and argument. Their answers impact the health of millions." The "public interest," Breyer added, "strongly favors respecting the CDC's judgment at this moment, when over 90 percent of counties are experiencing high transmission rates." The Supreme Court had suggested this outcome in June when five justices temporarily allowed the moratorium to continue through the end of July. At the time, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said Congress would have to re-authorize the moratorium for it to continue. Still, this is Biden's second "shadow docket" loss before a Supreme Court that granted emergency relief to former President Donald Trump 28 of the 41 times his administration requested it, with "the justices increasingly using these emergency procedural orders to quietly but profoundly affect substantive policy," University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck writes in The Washington Post. "Without providing more than one sentence of explanation" in their "shadow docket" rulings, it's hard to know "whether the court was showing special solicitude to the federal government in general, or to Trump specifically."
8-26-21 Afghanistan: Terror attack warning issued for Kabul airport
A number of nations say there is a high threat of a terrorist attack at Kabul airport and have warned their citizens not to travel there. Australia, the US and UK have issued alerts to their citizens. Those already outside the airport are advised to leave the area immediately. More than 82,000 people have been airlifted from Kabul, which fell to the Taliban 10 days ago. Countries are rushing to evacuate people by a 31 August deadline. Thousands of people are still waiting inside and outside the airport, hoping to fly out of the country. The Taliban have opposed extending the deadline but also promised to allow foreigners and Afghans to leave the country beyond 31 August, according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. On Thursday, Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marise Payne, said: "There is an ongoing and very high threat of a terrorist attack". It comes hours after the US State Department told those waiting at the Abbey Gate, East Gate or North Gate to "leave immediately". The UK issued similar advice asking people there to "move away to a safe location and await further advice". The Foreign Office said that the security situation in Afghanistan "remains volatile" adding that there was "an ongoing and high threat of a terrorist attack". None of the countries gave any further information on the security threat. In a speech on Tuesday, US President Joe Biden said the US-controlled airlift would have to come to an end soon because of an increasing threat from the Islamic State group in Afghanistan. About 19,000 people have been evacuated on US-organised flights in the past 24 hours, Mr Blinken said on Wednesday, with airlifts stepped up in recent days amid scenes of chaos. He said that the US was still on track to complete operations at Kabul airport by the end of the month. "Only the United States could organise and execute a mission of this scale and this complexity," he told reporters in Washington. "The Taliban have made public and private commitments to provide and permit safe passage for Americans, for third-country nationals and Afghans at risk past August 31st," he said. He added that the US would help those who wanted to leave Afghanistan "not just during the duration of our evacuation and relocation mission, but every day thereafter".
8-26-21 Canada races to beat US deadline in Afghanistan
Canada is racing to wind down its Afghanistan evacuation effort ahead of America's 31 August deadline, as officials warn some may be left behind. As of 24 August, Canada had airlifted more than 2,700 people out of Kabul, including Canadian citizens, Afghans and other foreign nationals. But efforts have been stymied by chaos on the ground, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan acknowledged on Wednesday. "We are pushing our people and our aircrafts to their limits," he said. Canada has vowed to take in 20,000 Afghan refugees, but has not specified a timeline. Officials say the country's armed forces may have just days left to complete evacuation efforts before they are forced to withdraw. Canada's efforts rely on the American military's control of the Kabul airport, meaning it must wind down efforts before they leave. "We would have liked to have stayed beyond the 31st deadline, but as you know this decision has been made by the Americans," Mr Sajjan said. Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said on Wednesday it was possible that Canada would not complete its evacuation in time for the draw down. He said the "commitment" will continue beyond the deadline, without offering specifics. Reports out of Afghanistan have described a chaotic effort by the Canadian military to get people out of the country. Criticism was amplified this week by cell phone footage posted to Facebook that appeared to show Canadian special forces ignoring the pleas of Afghans claiming to have Canadian exit documents. Asked about the footage on Wednesday, Minister Sajjan called the scene "heart-wrenching", but defended the work of the military saying that they "have to establish security" at the airport. "Security is what allows that work to continue to bring people in," he said. Canada formally withdrew its own military presence in Afghanistan in 2014, but forces were sent back in recent days to assist rescue efforts.
8-26-21 3 reasons the Supreme Court's order to revive Trump's 'Remain in Mexico' policy could be toothless
A divided Supreme Court late Tuesday declined the Biden administration's request to pause a district judge's order to immediately reinstate former President Donald Trump's "Remain in Mexico" policy. President Biden had ended the program, formally called the Migrant Protection Protocols, on his first day in office. The Biden administration said it will take steps to comply with the ruling while it challenges the district judge's order, and immigrant advocates warned of another looming humanitarian crisis. But there are at least three reasons the judicial intervention in immigration policy won't have any immediate effect. First, Mexico is under no obligation to follow the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling, and the U.S. can't start returning non-Mexican asylum seekers across the border without Mexico's permission. None of the 71,000 asylum seekers returned to Mexico under Trump's policy were Mexican. The Supreme Court told "the Biden administration that they have to make a good faith effort to restart this program," NPR Mexico City correspondent James Frederick explained Wednesday. "So in theory, they could ask Mexico to restart it. Mexico could say no. And the Biden administration can turn around to the Supreme Court and say, we made efforts, but it's not possible because of Mexico. So in theory, the policy could die right there." Some analysts argue that, given Mexico's cooperation with Trump's hard-line policies, a hard no is unlikely. But the Biden administration also has broad discretion over how it carries out a court-revived policy. "It could reimplement it on a very small scale for families who meet certain criteria from very specific nationalities, or it could do something broader," Migration Policy Institute analyst Jessica Bolter tells The Associated Press. The third reason there should be no immediate effect is the pandemic. "The Trump administration placed roughly 6,000 migrants into the program from April 2020 to January 2021," out of 71,000 total, AP reports. Starting in April 2020, the Trump administration began blocking migrants from seeking asylum inside the U.S. through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's invocation of Title 42. The CDC renewed Title 42 in early August. The Biden administration "has emphasized that Title 42 is not an immigration authority, but a public health authority, and its continued use is dictated by the CDC's analysis of the public health situation," AP reports. The end result is that most migrants still have to remain in Mexico.
8-26-21 The U.S. will reportedly approve booster shots for all 3 COVID-19 vaccines at 6 months, not 8
U.S. officials said last week that adults vaccinated with the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines should start getting booster shots eight months after their second dose was administered, starting in mid-September. Now, a person familiar with the plans tells The Wall Street Journal, federal regulators will likely approve boosters for all three approved vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson — starting six months after inoculation. Data the Food and Drug Administration is reviewing from vaccine makers and other countries is based on boosters given at six months, the Journal reports. "The Biden administration and companies have said that there should be enough supply for boosters that they plan to begin distributing more widely on Sept. 20. The U.S. has purchased a combined 1 billion doses from Pfizer and Moderna." The booster rollout for adults who aren't immunocompromised hinges on FDA approval and a recommendation from a key Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outside vaccine advisory committee. Preliminary studies show significant boosts to immune protections, but "that doesn't mean every patient needs to get a booster at six months," says Leana Wen, health policy professor at George Washington University. There is some evidence that the vaccines lose some potency after several months and the Delta variant of the coronavirus has infected more vaccinated people than previous strains, although most breakthrough infections are mild. The discussions about booster shots comes as the U.S. has more than 100,000 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, a level last seen on Jan. 30, before the vaccines were widely available, The Washington Post reports. Nearly a third of those hospitalizations are in Florida (17,000) and Texas (14,000), states with lower-than-average vaccination rates, large populations, and governors opposed to vaccine and mask requirements. The number of new daily cases is also almost back up to January levels — an average of 148,000 cases on Wednesday versus 151,000 on Jan. 30 — but COVID-19 deaths, 1,1000 a day, are much lower than the daily average of 3,100 recorded at the January peak.
8-26-21 Japan suspends 1.6 million Moderna doses over contamination fears
Japan has suspended the use of about 1.63 million doses of the Moderna vaccine due to contamination. The health ministry said "foreign materials" were found in some doses of a batch of roughly 560,000 vials. Takeda Pharmaceutical, which sells and distributes the vaccine in Japan, said Moderna had put three batches on hold "out of an abundance of caution". It said an issue at a manufacturing contract site in Spain was the likely cause, but did not elaborate. "To date, no safety or efficacy issues have been identified," Moderna said, adding that it would work with regulators and Takeda to investigate the matter further. There are no details of what the "foreign objects" are, but Takeda described it as particulate matter, after which it said conducted an emergency examination. Reports of contamination also came from seven other vaccination centres, according to the Japan Times newspaper, with 39 vials - or 390 doses - found to have been affected. The health ministry has published the batch numbers so that people who had received their shot before the suspension could check if they have got a potentially contaminated shot, Japan Times added. Japan is battling a spike in Covid cases, with eight more prefectures placed under a state of emergency on Wednesday. It's capital Tokyo, is currently hosting the Paralympic Games. The country has already approved the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines for use - it only started using Moderna in May. Just over 40% of Japanese people are fully vaccinated and around 50% have received one dose.
8-26-21 Covid-19 news: NHS England prepares to vaccinate children aged 12-15
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. English health providers planning for possible vaccine rollout as pupils return to schools. The National Health Service in England is preparing for the possible rollout of vaccines to 12 to 15-year-olds from 6 September, according to media reports. NHS trusts are being told they must have plans ready by 4pm on Friday, The Daily Telegraph reported. The Department of Health has said no decisions have yet been made to extend the vaccine programme to younger people, but said they “continue to plan for a range of scenarios”. So far, vaccines have been offered to people aged 16 and above and children aged 12 to 15 with a high-risk condition or a vulnerable family member. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is still deliberating on broadening the rollout further. Children aged 12 and over are already being vaccinated in the US, Canada, France and the Netherlands. Japan has suspended the use of 1.63 million doses of Moderna’s covid-19 vaccine after reports that some vials had been contaminated with “particulate matter”. Japan and Moderna say the move is a precaution and that no safety or efficacy issues have been identified. According to a health ministry official, Takeda, the pharmaceutical company that is distributing the Moderna shots in Japan, first learned of the issue on 16 August, but did not notify the government until 25 August, because it needed time to find out which vials were affected and where they had been distributed. Trials have shown that a booster shot of Johnson & Johnson’s covid-19 vaccine produces a big increase in antibody levels, the company has announced. The J&J vaccine has been administered as a single dose since it was approved for emergency use in the US in February. Trial volunteers who received a second dose six to eight months after the first saw antibody levels rise nine times higher than 28 days after the first shot, the company said.
8-26-21 Search for Covid's origins stalled, scientists say
"The window of opportunity" to conduct crucial studies into how the Covid-19 pandemic started is closing, senior scientists have said. A team appointed by the World Health Organization to find the cause of the outbreak say the process has stalled. And further delay could make crucial studies "biologically impossible". In an article in the scientific journal Nature, they call on political and scientific leaders to expedite those studies "while there is still time". Dutch virologist Prof Marion Koopmans, a member of the WHO team, told BBC Radio 4's Inside Science programme the risk of pandemics was increasing. "Because of the way the world is changing - population increase, crowding and more interaction between humans and animals, we need to learn where things go wrong and how we can avoid that in the future," she said. The WHO team visited Wuhan in January and published a report in March recommending: 1. searching blood banks in China and other countries for antibodies to the virus in blood donated in the months preceding the December 2019 outbreak. 2. taking samples from farmed wild animals such as mink and racoon dog that might be the "intermediate host" that allowed the virus to jump species. But since farmed animals have a limited lifespan and blood banks store donations for a fixed period, the researchers are worried that valuable biological information may already have been lost. The politically contentious issue of whether the virus might have escaped from a laboratory in China had also made some of the work more difficult, Prof Koopmans said. All the lines of inquiry were relevant, she said, "but when accusations get mixed with the scientific questions, things become quite difficult". In their report, however, the team concluded while it was impossible to determine how the virus had infected the first humans, "all available evidence" suggested it had a natural animal origin and was "not a manipulated or constructed virus".
8-25-21 New large study provides 'clear evidence' for Pfizer vaccine safety
A new study published by The New England Journal of Medicine provides "clear evidence" for the safety of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, which was just granted full approval by the Food and Drug Administration. The study, a large one, took data from Israel's largest health care organization and compared vaccinated individuals to their unvaccinated peers, while also performing a similar analysis of people naturally infected by the coronavirus by matching them with those who hadn't been infected, to assess whether there was an increase in risk of adverse side effects. The most significant risk difference for vaccinated folks was lymph node enlargement, which scientists expected. Notably, there was a small risk increase for myocarditis, or heart inflammation, but it was substantially lower than the increase for people who were diagnosed with COVID-19. In fact, COVID-19 infections increased the risk for numerous ailments in the study. Read the full results at The New England Journal of Medicine.
8-25-21 Scientists call for urgent investigation into covid-19 animal origins
The window of opportunity to establish the origins of SARS-CoV-2 will close within months if action isn’t taken soon, warn scientists tasked by the World Health Organization (WHO) to discover how the virus emerged. In a wide-ranging article in the journal Nature, the team calls for a second phase of origin studies to start urgently and asks for renewed focus on an animal origin of the virus, rather than a leak from a laboratory. The group also defended its work, which in March concluded that a lab leak was “extremely unlikely”, but has received criticism from some governments and commentators. “We wrote [the article] because the clock is ticking and time is passing,” says Marion Koopmans at the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, who was part of the team that visited Wuhan, China, in January to explore the origins of the virus. “We feel a sense of urgency is missing.” Waning covid-19 antibodies in the first people infected by the virus and the culling of animals at Chinese wildlife farms are two reasons why the “window is rapidly closing on the biological feasibility” of tracing the virus back to where it started, the group says. Asked how long remains to identify the virus’ origin, Koopmans says it is a matter of months, not years. The article comes after WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called in July for a second phase of studies into the virus’ origins, including an audit of processes at laboratories such as the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which researches coronaviruses. The Chinese government rejected the proposal, claiming it showed “arrogance towards science”. A separate report by US intelligence on the origins of covid-19, which was requested by US president Joe Biden and ordered to explore the possibility of a lab leak, is expected to be made public within days. (Webmasters Comment: This "lab leak" is a US led witch hunt!) Koopmans says the spotlight must be put back on what the team concluded is SARS-CoV-2’s most likely origin: an animal virus moving into humans through a direct contact or an intermediary, either at the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan or at another step of the wildlife trade.
8-25-21 The hidden costs of American imperialism
Man cannot live on a vicarious sense of power alone. Did you notice that Tennessee suffered severe flooding a few days ago? If you were just watching TV, chances are good that it slipped your notice. Broadcast news has been throwing such a purple-faced screaming tantrum over the withdrawal from Afghanistan that they barely have had time for 21 dead Americans. It's a good example of how American empire comes at the expense of the welfare of the American citizenry. People are drowning and going hungry while the national elite is gripped with narcissistic panic over an imperial defeat halfway around the world. The media frenzy over the Afghanistan withdrawal is the most intense such event I can recall in years — maybe even since the depths of the 2008 financial crisis. The absurd mask of so-called objectivity was abandoned entirely; anchors and reporters displayed open anger and disgust at Biden's actions, especially his refusal to submit to their moral hectoring and restart the war. This display of emotion shows they had become personally invested in the American empire, viewing it in a sense as an extension of their own identity. When the U.S. military cruised to easy victory against the Taliban in 2001 they felt great pride and satisfaction, as if they had participated personally (and some indeed had). When the ensuing occupation got bogged down in an unwinnable quagmire, showing the empire was not omnipotent — and in fact was stunningly incompetent and corrupt — they felt uncomfortable and ashamed, and stopped covering the war almost entirely. But now that the inevitable defeat has come, the humiliating failure can no longer be denied, their pride has been wounded, and they are lashing out with rage and defiance. This imperial pride creates two problems: First, the temptation to whitewash what the empire is really doing. For all the coverage of Afghans stuck in the Kabul airport this week — which is a serious problem, to be clear — there has been barely any coverage of the horrifying atrocities committed under U.S. occupation for the last 20 years. Mainstream media virtually ignored the pedophile gangs, drug trafficking, and staggering corruption we tolerated; not to mention the killing of civilians, the bombing of hospitals, and countless other disasters. The hard truth is that the U.S. occupation was so awful, many Afghans came to see the Taliban as "the lesser evil." Second, while the empire might give D.C. elites and some portion of the population a vicarious sense of power and importance, that "benefit" is wholly insubstantial. Weather disasters of every description are striking with greater and greater power all over the country. Tens of millions of Americans still lack health insurance. One thousand people are still dying every day from COVID-19. Losing a war is actually a lot less humiliating than the abject condition of the American welfare state. America has been in this rut for a long time. In his final sermon in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. famously considered what he called the "drum major instinct," by which he meant imperial ambition, desire for power, and so on. He argued that a "perverted" form of this instinct was why the U.S. was embroiled in the Vietnam War at the time. But this is why we are drifting. And we are drifting there because nations are caught up with the drum major instinct. "I must be first." "I must be supreme." "Our nation must rule the world." And I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I'm going to continue to say it to America, because I love this country too much to see the drift that it has taken. God didn't call America to do what she's doing in the world now. God didn't call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war as the war in Vietnam. And we are criminals in that war. We've committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I'm going to continue to say it. And we won't stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation.
8-25-21 Afghanistan: 'The sooner we finish, the better,' says Joe Biden
US President Joe Biden says the US is "on pace" to meet a 31 August deadline for evacuations, despite previous calls from allies for an extension. "The sooner we finish the better," he said. Some American troops have already been withdrawn, US media report - although evacuations are not affected. At least 70,700 people have been airlifted from Kabul, which fell to the Taliban nine days ago. The militants have opposed any extension to the evacuation deadline. President Biden said: "The Taliban have been taking steps to help get our people out," adding that the international community would judge the Taliban by their actions. "None of us are going to take the Taliban's word for it," he added. Mr Biden said the airlift had to come to an end soon because of an increasing threat from the Islamic State group in Afghanistan. The longer the US stayed in the country, he said, there was an "acute and growing risk of an attack" by the group. In other developments: 1. The World Bank halted funding for projects in Afghanistan. It cited concerns over how the Taliban's takeover would impact the country's development prospects, especially for women. 2. The World Health Organization warned there were only enough medical supplies in Afghanistan to last a week. It said attempts to deliver medical supplies had been blocked due to restrictions at Kabul airport. 3. Accommodation website AirBnB promised to provide temporary lodging for 20,000 refugees at no charge to help them resettle across the world. 4. Russia is to use four planes to evacuate more than 500 people, both its own citizens and citizens of other ex-Soviet states, from Afghanistan. Mr Biden was speaking after leaders of the G7 - which consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, plus the EU - discussed the Afghan crisis during a virtual meeting. The UK and other allies had urged the US to stay beyond 31 August to allow more relief fights. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who chaired the talks, said Britain would continue to evacuate people "until the last moment". He also urged the Taliban to allow Afghans to leave beyond the deadline.
8-25-21 Afghanistan: Secret Kabul talks between CIA and Taliban - US media
The head of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) secretly met the leader of the Taliban in Kabul on Monday, sources have told US media. Neither the Taliban nor the CIA would confirm the reported meeting between William Burns and Mullah Baradar. US President Joe Biden has set a deadline of 31 August for American forces to leave Afghanistan. Allies - including the UK - want an extension. US forces have been in Afghanistan since 2001, following the 9/11 attacks. Sources have told US news outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press and broadcaster NPR about the CIA-Taliban meeting. However, they gave few details. If confirmed, this would be the highest-level contact between the US and the Taliban since the militants took Kabul on 15 August, prompting the internationally backed Afghan government to flee. About 5,800 US troops are currently guarding Kabul airport as thousands of foreign nationals and Afghans try to leave the country. The Washington Post says the discussions are likely to have involved the deadline for the US military to conclude its airlift. Also on Tuesday, the Taliban said no more Afghans would be allowed to leave the country, nor would the deadline for the US withdrawal be extended. Mullah Baradar is one of the four men who founded the Taliban in 1994. He was captured in a US-Pakistani operation in 2010 and spent eight years in prison. Since 2019, he has been the head of the Taliban political office in Qatar. In February 2020, he signed the Doha agreement on the withdrawal of US and Nato troops. He was also the first Taliban leader to communicate directly with a US president, after having a telephone conversation with Donald Trump in 2020.
8-25-21 Afghanistan: How much opium is produced and what's the Taliban's record?
The Taliban claims opium poppy cultivation was stopped and the flow of illegal drugs halted when it was last in power in Afghanistan. But although there was a sharp drop in 2001 - when it was last in control - opium poppy cultivation in Taliban-held areas has risen in subsequent years. Opium poppy plants can be refined to form the the basis for several highly addictive drugs, including heroin. Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Its opium harvest accounts for more than 80% of the world's supply. In 2018 the UNODC estimated opium production contributed up to 11% of the country's economy. After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said: "When we were in power before there was no production of drugs." He said "we will bring opium cultivation to zero again" and that there would be no smuggling. At first, opium poppy cultivation rose substantially under Taliban rule - from around 41,000 hectares in 1998, to more than 64,000 in 2000, according to the US State Department. This was largely in Taliban-controlled Helmand province, which accounted for 39% of the world's illicit opium production. But in July 2000 the Taliban banned opium poppy farming in areas they controlled. And a UN report in May 2001 "observed the near total success of the ban in eliminating poppy cultivation in Taliban controlled areas". Following the Taliban's ban on opium poppy farming, there was a noticeable dip in opium and heroin seizures globally in 2001 and 2002. However, things have since changed. Although there has been cultivation in regions controlled until recently by the former government, most poppy growing has been concentrated in areas held by the Taliban. Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, for example, had the most land used for poppy cultivation in 2020 when controlled by the Taliban.
8-25-21 Amid chaotic evacuation efforts, 2 congressmen made secret, unauthorized trip to Kabul
Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) made an unauthorized trip to Kabul on Tuesday, leaving several officials at the State Department and Pentagon furious, two people familiar with the matter told The Washington Post. With the Taliban now effectively in control of Afghanistan, U.S. officials are working around the clock to try to get American citizens and Afghan translators and contractors who worked for the U.S. military out of the country. There are U.S. troops at the Kabul airport, and on Sunday National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan warned that the threat of an attack by the Islamic State against the facility is "real" and "acute." Moulton and Meijer are both veterans who served in Iraq and critics of President Biden's Afghanistan strategy. Moulton's spokesman Tim Biba told the Post they first flew to the United Arab Emirates and then "figured out a way onto an empty military flight going into Kabul." They left less than 24 hours after they arrived, taking up space on an airplane the United States is using for evacuations. Biba said Moulton and Meijer decided ahead of time they would only leave Kabul if they could get on a plane with at least three empty seats, so they weren't taking a spot that could have been used by an evacuee. "They ensured the flight was not going to be full," Biba said. "They also believe this method of travel, which will take them to an area where evacuees have been temporarily relocated, will provide them with additional information and increase their ability to provide oversight." In a joint statement, Moulton and Meijer told the Post they spoke with service members and State Department officials in Kabul, and believe Biden should extend the Aug. 31 deadline to evacuate Americans and vulnerable Afghans from Afghanistan. Several U.S. officials and diplomats pushed back at the congressmen, saying they distracted military and civilian workers who are frantically trying to get people out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible. One irate diplomat told the Post this was "one of the most irresponsible things I've heard a lawmaker do. It absolutely deserves admonishment." Another senior administration official described the jaunt as being "as moronic as it is selfish. They're taking seats away from Americans and at-risk Afghans — while putting our diplomats and service members at greater risk — so they can have a moment in front of the cameras." Read more at The Washington Post.
8-25-21 US court rules asylum seekers must stay in Mexico
The US Supreme Court has ordered President Joe Biden to reinstate a policy of making asylum seekers stay in Mexico while claims are processed. The policy was put in place by his predecessor, Donald Trump, as part of his measures to restrict the number of asylum seekers entering the US. But Mr Biden suspended it on his first day of office. Rights groups say the policy subjects migrants to dangerous conditions in Mexico's border towns. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court rejected a bid to block a Texas-based judge's ruling requiring the government to revive the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) policy. It said the Biden administration had "failed to show a likelihood of success" on the claim that rescinding the policy was not "arbitrary and capricious". The Biden administration can make another attempt to try and end the policy. The American Civil Liberties Union has called on Mr Biden to try again and provide a "fuller explanation" for why the policy should be terminated. Some 70,000 migrants were enrolled in the MPP policy. A month after Mr Biden's inauguration, his administration began to gradually process these tens of thousands of people waiting in Mexico, allowing them into the US while their cases are heard. It's not yet clear how many people will be affected by the ruling. The US Homeland Security department said it regretted the Supreme Court's decision and would "continue to vigorously challenge it".
8-25-21 The 'vast majority' of U.S. COVID-19 deaths are still unvaccinated adults 65 and older
People 65 and older are the most-vaccinated demographic in the U.S., with more than 84 percent fully vaccinated, versus 52 percent of the entire U.S. population. "But national averages mask the high rate of older Americans who remain deeply vulnerable," The New York Times reports "Older people still account for most COVID-19 deaths, and in many counties, especially in the South and Mountain West, seniors without full vaccination make up more than 10 percent of the total population." The highly infectious Delta variant is sending and increasing share of younger unvaccinated adults to the hospital, but "the vast majority of people dying from COVID-19 are people who are older and unvaccinated," Johns Hopkins infectious disease epidemiologist David Dowdy tells the Times. Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, said the "swaths of populations in counties who are healthy Americans, over 60, who are not vaccinated" are "at extreme risk, and they don't realized it." The U.S. "has a far higher share of seniors without full vaccine protection than many other wealthy countries," like Canada, Spain, and Britain, the Times reports, and "that discrepancy may help explain why the Delta wave has led to such a higher rate of death in the United States than in Britain," where the surge in Delta infections did not lead to a big uptick in hospitalizations and deaths. You can read more, with graphs and maps, at The New York Times.
8-25-21 Covid-19 news: Vaccine protection wanes within six months, study hints
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 UK data suggest efficacy of two vaccines wanes over time. The protection provided by two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines starts to wane within six months, new research suggests. The Pfizer jab was 88 per cent effective at preventing covid-19 infection a month after the second dose, but after five to six months the protection decreased to 74 per cent, according to analysis from the Zoe Covid study involving more than 1.2 million participants in the UK. With the AstraZeneca vaccine, protection dropped from 77 per cent one month after the second dose to 67 per cent after four to five months. “In my opinion, a reasonable worst-case scenario could see protection below 50 per cent for the elderly and healthcare workers by winter,” said Tim Spector, lead scientist on the Zoe Covid Study. The study’s findings are in line with another recent analysis, which found that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine wanes in effectiveness by around a fifth every month after the second dose, and that both vaccines are less effective in older age groups. A US intelligence report ordered by president Joe Biden has been unable to determine whether the SARS-CoV2 virus arose naturally or escaped from a lab, according to The Washington Post. Intelligence agencies will seek to make parts of the report public within days, officials familiar with the matter told the newspaper. The prime minister of Vietnam, Pham Minh Chinh, has written to the head of the World Health Organization to urge its vaccine sharing programme COVAX to prioritise Vietnam “in the fastest manner and with the largest volume possible.” After successfully containing the virus for most of last year, the country is now facing a crisis driven by the delta variant. Only 2 per cent of its population is fully vaccinated. In the past two days, China and the US have announced they will donate 2 million and 1 million vaccine doses to Vietnam, respectively.
8-25-21 Goldman Sachs mandates vaccines for US staff and visitors
Goldman Sachs has made it compulsory for its staff to be fully vaccinated against coronavirus in order to work in its US offices. The investment bank said from 7 September all employees, along with clients and visitors, would need to be doubled jabbed to enter its buildings. Goldman said it would also introduce mandatory once-a-week testing from the same date for staff. Workers who are not fully vaccinated will be expected to work from home. Goldman told the BBC the policy was being introduced in the US, where workers returned the office in July, and not at its sites around world. Proof of vaccination status will be required via an app from October, it added. A spokesperson said that from Wednesday face masks would also be required - regardless of vaccination status - in all common areas of its buildings, such as lobbies, lifts, hallways, restrooms and cafes, except while seated for eating and drinking. The bank had previously ordered its US bankers to disclose their vaccine status before returning to the office but refrained from mandating them. The announcement comes after Pfizer's two-dose vaccine received full approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The vaccine had initially only been given emergency use authorisation. The approval is expected to set off more vaccine mandates by employers and organisations in the US at time when infections are rising and vaccine hesitancy remains high. Last month, Goldman announced bankers returning to its London head office would be required to wear masks in the building, despite the easing of the UK government's coronavirus restrictions. But Richard Gnodde, the head of Goldman Sachs International, said the bank would not insist on people being vaccinated, nor would it force people to return if they felt uncomfortable doing so. "[We will] continue to manage our exit from this in a cautious and appropriate way to make sure that our people feel comfortable," he told the BBC.
8-25-21 US House approves Biden's $3.5tn domestic budget blueprint
The US Congress has approved a $3.5tn (£2.54tn) budget blueprint, setting the stage for Democrats to enact President Joe Biden's ambitious economic agenda. The rule that passed on Tuesday allows Democrats, who narrowly control both chambers, to move ahead with key policy proposals. Mr Biden's party hopes to devote significant resources to family support, health and climate schemes. It passed the House of Representatives 220-212, with no Republican support. The resolution's fate was unclear as late as Tuesday morning, amid a standoff between progressive and centrist House Democrats. The Democrats are enacting a process called budget reconciliation to approve Mr Biden's larger spending package - and passage of the budget blueprint Tuesday is the first step. A group of 10 moderate Democratic lawmakers had threatened to withhold votes on the blueprint unless the House first approved a $1tn bipartisan infrastructure bill. That package includes funding for roads, bridges, the power grid, public transport and internet. To win a compromise after over 24 hours of debate, top House Democrats have assured moderates that the infrastructure bill will be discussed on 27 September, when the House is back in session. "Passing this rule paves the way for the Building Back Better plan, which will forge legislative progress unseen in 50 years," Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said ahead of the vote. The top Democrat added that delays only threaten the economic plan and other bills. Mr Biden's Build Back Better domestic plan is aimed at creating jobs and lowering costs for working families. It is largely financed with tax increases on the rich and large corporations. Since June, Mrs Pelosi had said that that far-reaching $3.5tn infrastructure plan must move forward before the infrastructure deal.
8-25-21 Coronavirus origins: US intelligence report 'inconclusive'
A US intelligence report requested by President Biden into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic is inconclusive, US media reports say. Agencies are reportedly divided on whether the virus - first seen in China - was the result of a natural spillover from animal to human or was caused by a laboratory accident. An summary of the report is expected to be published in the coming days. The pandemic has claimed more than four million lives around the world. While countries have been working to contain the spread of the virus, scientists have been trying to work out from where it first appeared in early 2020 in the Chinese city of Wuhan. A team from the World Health Organization, who visited Wuhan, concluded in a report earlier this year that the disease most likely spilled over from an animal sold at a market. But its apparent dismissal of the possibility the virus might have leaked accidentally from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has studied coronaviruses in bats for more than a decade, has been rejected by some scientists. In May President Biden gave the US intelligence agencies 90 days to assess the data and produce a report that "could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion" on the virus's origins. Intelligence that several researchers at the Wuhan lab were hospitalised in November 2019, and China's refusal to allow a thorough investigation into the lab theory, is said to have prompted Mr Biden's decision. However, in June, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines played down hopes of reaching a conclusion, telling Yahoo News: "We're hoping to find a smoking gun, but it might not happen." Many scientists believe it could take years of research before a definitive conclusion on the virus's origins is reached. "We should not even be thinking about closing the book or backing off, but rather ratcheting up the effort," David Relman, a Stanford University microbiologist, told the Washington post. The intelligence report was delivered to President Biden on Monday. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said it might take "a couple of days, if not longer, to put together an unclassified version" for the public.
8-25-21 China schools: 'Xi Jinping Thought' introduced into curriculum
China will introduce the political ideology of the Chinese President in its national curriculum. "Xi Jinping thought" will help "teenagers establish Marxist beliefs", said the Ministry of Education (MOE) in new guidelines. The ideology will be integrated from primary school up to university. This is the latest effort by Mr Xi to consolidate the ruling Chinese Communist Party's role in different areas of society. In a statement, the MOE said it aimed "to cultivate the builders and successors of socialism with an all-round moral, intellectual, physical and aesthetic grounding". The guidelines include labour education "to cultivate their hard-working spirit" and education on national security. In 2018, China's top body enshrined "Xi Jinping Thought" into the constitution. Since then, it's been introduced across some universities and amongst political youth wings holding extra-curricular activities and schools. "Xi Jinping Thought" has 14 main principles which emphasise Communist ideals and also: 1. Call for "complete and deep reform" and "new developing ideas". 2. Promise "harmonious living between man and nature". 3. Emphasise "absolute authority of the party over the people's army". 4. Emphasise the importance of "'one country two systems' and reunification with the motherland". The new guidelines however, will see a much more extensive roll-out. "Primary schools will focus on cultivating love for the country, the Communist Party of China, and socialism. In middle schools, the focus will be on a combination of perceptual experience and knowledge study, to help students form basic political judgments and opinions," state media outlet Global Times reported. "In college, there will be more emphasis on the establishment of theoretical thinking," it added. The ministry is also working on including themes such as party leadership and national defence education into the curriculum, Tian Huisheng, an education ministry official told Global Times.
8-24-21 White House says daily vaccination rate is rising among Americans getting 1st jab
White House officials on Tuesday said the United States is making "critical progress" with vaccinating Americans against COVID-19, as the daily number of people receiving their first dose of a vaccine has jumped by more than 70 percent since mid-July. White House COVID-19 Response Team Coordinator Jeff Zients said an average of 450,000 Americans a day are getting their first vaccine dose, an increase from 260,000 about a month ago, The Washington Post reports. This is good news in the face of the highly contagious Delta variant, Zients said, which is the predominant COVID strain in the U.S. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine received full approval by the Food and Drug Administration on Monday, and public health officials are hopeful this will inspire more people who are hesitant of getting vaccinated to get the jab, leading to even higher numbers in the next few weeks.
8-24-21 House passes John Lewis voting rights bill
With a 219-212 vote along party lines, the House on Tuesday evening passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named in honor of the late Democratic congressman and civil rights leader. Supporters say the bill will strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which in recent years was hobbled by the Supreme Court, and is crucial to fighting against GOP-controlled state legislatures that are passing strict election laws that cut early voting hours, eliminate absentee ballot drop-off boxes, and impose stricter voter ID requirements. Under the measure, all states will have to get federal approval before changing voting procedures, and some will have to be supervised by the federal government when enacting those changes. The bill was introduced by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), who said "old battles have become new again. I want you to know that the modern day barriers to voting are no less pernicious than those literacy tests and those poll taxes. And what we must do, as we did back in the 60s, is when we see states running amok, we need federal oversight." The measure faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where at least 10 Republicans would need to join Democrats to advance it. (Webmasters Comment: The GOP is against anything that allows non-whites to vote!)
8-24-21 Supreme Court allows revival of Trump administration's 'Remain in Mexico' policy
The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected the Biden administration's request to pause a lower court's order restoring the Trump administration's "Remain in Mexico" immigration policy. The Supreme Court's three liberal justices voiced their dissent and said they would have granted the request to block the lower court's order, CNN reports. Under the policy, migrants crossing the southern border seeking asylum in the U.S. were forced to stay in Mexico while waiting for their court dates. Immigration advocates decried the practice, saying that many of the asylum seekers had to live in dangerous border towns rife with crime and gangs. President Biden suspended the policy when he first took office and later ended it, causing Texas and Missouri to sue the administration in an attempt to keep the policy in place. Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee, ruled that the Biden administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act when it ended the policy, and he ordered its revival. The Biden administration in turn filed a petition to the Supreme Court last week, arguing that bringing the policy back "would result in irreparable harm."
8-24-21 Taliban spokesperson asks U.S. to stop encouraging Afghans to leave the country
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said Tuesday that the militant group will stop Afghans from fleeing the country, promising safety to those who aided Western efforts amid fears of Taliban reprisal, writes Forbes. Mujahid said Afghans would no longer be allowed to travel to the airport in Kabul, and reportedly asked the U.S. stop evacuating citiziens because "we need their talent," per Forbes. "We are not in favor of allowing Afghans to leave," he reportedly said, per Axios. Mujahid also told those who worked with the U.S. that "we have forgotten everything in the past," suggesting they were safe in Afghanistan, and insisted the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline was not up for negotiation. Since those remarks, President Biden confirmed the U.S. will stick to its end-of-month target. It's unclear "whether and how" the airport will operate once U.S. troops depart, Axios writes, although the Taliban has said Afghans will "continue to be able to obtain passports and fly out of the country." Mujahid's remarks on Tuesday urged those waiting outside of the airport to return home. According to Axios, Mujahid also "seemed to confirm" reports that women were turned away from their work in offices and government ministries, but said it was only due to "temporary security concerns" and they would eventually be able to return. Read more at Forbes and Axios.
8-24-21 Mississippi, FDA urge people to stop ingesting livestock deworming medicine to fight COVID-19
Researchers are studying what effects, if any, human versions of the lice and topical skin medicine ivermectin has against COVID-19, but health officials are warning people to stop buying and ingesting versions of the drug meant to deworm cows and horses. Mississippi's Department of Health said last Friday that 70 percent of recent calls to the state poison control center were related to people who ingested livestock ivermectin, which can cause a rash, vomiting, abdominal pain, neurological disorders, severe hepatitis, coma, or even death. Most of the Mississippi ivermectin calls involved people with mild symptoms, but at least one person has reportedly been hospitalized for ivermectin toxicity. "You wouldn't get your chemotherapy at a feed store," Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said in a Zoom call last week. "I mean, you wouldn't want to treat your pneumonia with your animal's medication. It can be dangerous to get the wrong doses of medication, especially for something that's meant for a horse or a cow." "You are not a horse," the Food and Drug Administration tweeted over the weekend, linking to a fact sheet on ivermectin. "You are not a cow. Seriously, y'all. Stop it." The fact sheet noted that ivermectin is not an anti-viral, isn't approved for COVID-19, and it "can interact with other medications, like blood-thinners." Mississippi, with 36.8 percent of its population fully vaccinated, has a higher vaccination rate than only one state, Alabama, NPR notes. The rising use of ivermectin tracks a surge in the Delta strain of the coronavirus in the South and other parts of the country. Meanwhile, few people are taking advantage of an FDA-approved treatment for early COVID-19 infections, monoclonal antibodies, which "are free to patients" and mostly free of side effects, The Washington Post reports. "They are accessible on an outpatient basis, via a single infusion or four injections. Hospitals, urgent-care centers and even private doctors are authorized to dispense them." Former President Donald Trump was treated with Regeneron's monoclonal antibodies when he was hospitalized with a serious COVID-19 infection in October 2020, before they were available to the public, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) are pushing the treatment in their states; Abbott even took Regeneron's monoclonal antibodies after testing positive earlier this month. The Biden administration is expanding access to monoclonal antibodies but has focused its public outreach on promoting the vaccines. (Webmasters Comment: The people taking this drug have cow shit for brains!)
8-24-21 Fauci: Getting pandemic under control by spring is 'within our power'
If enough people get vaccinated, the United States could get the spread of COVID-19 under control by spring 2022, Dr. Anthony Fauci says. Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser, told CNN's Anderson Cooper that "if we can get through this winter" and get the "overwhelming majority" of people vaccinated who haven't already gotten their shot, the U.S. could "start to get some good control in the spring of 2022" and "start getting back to a degree of normality." Fauci added, though, that reaching this goal is "up to us" and will depend on people getting vaccinated. "If we keep lingering without getting those people vaccinated that should be vaccinated, this thing could linger on, leading to the development of another variant which could complicate things," he said. "So it's within our power to get this under control." Fauci's comments came after the FDA officially approved Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, and he told CNN this should "give a lot of incentive and backing for a lot of institutions and organizations and places of employment to mandate" vaccination, which he argued is "a good thing." As for when children under 12 could be able to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Fauci told NBC's Today on Tuesday there's a "reasonable chance" this age group could be eligible before the upcoming holiday season.
8-24-21 Pfizer becomes first Covid vaccine to gain full FDA approval
Pfizer's two-dose Covid-19 vaccine has received full approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - the first jab to be licensed in the nation. The vaccine had initially been given emergency use authorisation. Its two jabs, three weeks apart, are now fully approved for those aged 16 and older. The approval is expected to set off more vaccine mandates by employers and organisations across the country. It comes amid lingering vaccine hesitancy among many Americans. In a statement, the FDA said its review for approval included data from approximately 44,000 people. The vaccine, which will now be marketed as Comirnaty, was found to be 91% effective in preventing Covid disease. Acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock said that the public "can be very confident" the vaccine meets high safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality standards. It still has emergency use authorisation for children aged 12 to 15. Following the announcement, the US military said they would officially require all 1.3m active duty US troops to get vaccinated. The jabs are being provided at no cost to Americans. The FDA initially gave Pfizer temporary authorisation - a clearance given if the agency determines the benefits of a product outweigh potential risks during a public health emergency. This full approval is essentially permanent. The licensing process requires companies to provide the FDA with information on how and where the product is made, as well as other clinical testing data. Critics had been calling on the FDA to speed up this approval process as the nation struggled with dropping vaccination rates earlier this year. The spread of the contagious Delta variant has already given some hard-hit regions a bump in vaccination rates in recent weeks. While the agency took steps to increase staff and resources, it had previously said it would take six months to get the required data. The approval ultimately came less than four months after Pfizer-BioNTech filed for licensing in early May - the fastest vaccine approval in the FDA's more than 100 year history.
8-24-21 Covid-19 news: Almost 5000 UK cases linked to Boardmasters festival
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. Thousands of people test positive after attending music and surfing festival. Almost 5000 coronavirus cases are suspected to be linked to Boardmasters, a music and surfing festival that took place earlier this month in Cornwall, UK. Health officials said 4700 people who tested positive for the virus confirmed they had attended the festival or had connections to it. The cases are spread across the country but around 800 are living in Cornwall, a Cornwall Council official said. Boardmasters was held between 11 and 15 August in the Newquay area. The covid-19 policy on its website said all ticket-holders aged 11 and over would be asked to demonstrate their covid-19 status through the NHS Covid Pass app before entering. This meant attendees had to provide proof of a negative lateral flow test taken within 24 hours of arrival at the festival gates, proof of being vaccinated with both doses (with the second received at least 14 days before the festival), or proof of a prior infection confirmed by a PCR test at least 10 days and up to 180 days earlier. People who camped at the festival had to take a second lateral flow test during the event on 13 August and log their results in the NHS Covid Pass app. Face masks were not compulsory but were encouraged. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has become the first covid-19 jab to get full approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The vaccine has been in use since December 2020, when the FDA granted it emergency use authorisation for people aged 16 and over. It has already been administered to more than 204 million people in the US. President Joe Biden said he hoped the decision would encourage those who have not been vaccinated to come forward for their shots. Several major employers, including the Pentagon, responded by announcing new requirements for their workers to be vaccinated. The number of patients with covid-19 in hospital in England has hit 6000 for the first time in more than five months. The figure, which is a snapshot of patients as of 8am on 23 August, is up 11 per cent on the previous week. Patient levels have not been this high since 14 March, according to data published by NHS England. An average of 100 deaths per day from covid-19 have been recorded in the UK over the past week, another figure last seen in March.
8-24-21 Afghanistan: US under pressure over evacuation deadline
The US is being pressed by allies to delay its withdrawal from Afghanistan to allow more time for evacuating those who want to flee the country, now that it is run by Taliban militants. US troops controlling Kabul airport - the only one in the country functioning - are scheduled to leave by 31 August. The UK is hosting a G-7 summit, warning "not everyone will get out". The Taliban have warned of consequences if foreign forces remain after the deadline agreed with the US. Currently 5,800 US troops are on the ground. President Joe Biden is set to decide within the next 24 hours whether to extend their stay, an official told Reuters news agency. The US has evacuated, and facilitated the evacuation of, approximately 48,000 people since an intense airlift started on 14 August, the White House said. Others seeking to flee remain crammed in or near the international airport in the capital, Kabul. Many of the people fleeing, particularly those who worked with foreign forces, live in fear of reprisals from a group that imposed a harsh version of Islamic law when in power from 1996 to 2001. France, Germany and the UK have pressed for more time to complete the evacuations from Afghanistan. France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters in the United Arab Emirates: "We are concerned about the deadline set by the United States on August 31. Additional time is needed to complete ongoing operations." Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he had discussed keeping Kabul airport open beyond the deadline with Nato allies and the Taliban. On Tuesday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to push the US for an extension during the virtual summit with other G7 leaders. But Defence Secretary Ben Wallace it would all depend on both the US and the Taliban. "Our focus is to get as many people out," Mr Wallace said. "But the scale of the challenge means that not everyone will get out. We are ruthlessly prioritising people."
8-24-21 Afghanistan: Credible reports of executions by Taliban says UN
Reports of the Taliban carrying out summary executions in Afghanistan are "credible", says UN Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet. Other rights violations, including restrictions on women and recruiting child soldiers, were also reported, she told the UN Human Rights Council. The Taliban practised a strict version of Islamic law (Sharia) when they ran Afghanistan before 2001. They retook the country nine days ago, with the fall of the capital, Kabul. Since then, the militants have tried to convey a more restrained image, promising rights for women and girls and some freedom of speech. Ms Bachelet says women's rights are a "fundamental red line" and has called on UN member states to create a dedicated body to monitor human rights in Afghanistan. China's UN envoy said the US military and other international forces should be held accountable for rights violations committed during their time in Afghanistan. Thousands of Afghans are still massing at Kabul airport, hoping to flee the country before 31 August. That is the deadline set by US President Joe Biden for American troops to leave Afghanistan. The UK, France and Germany have asked for an extension. However, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has admitted that Mr Biden is unlikely to move the deadline. The Taliban have warned of unspecified consequences if he does. "We're not going to get everybody out of the country," Mr Wallace warned. About 50,000 people - Afghans and foreigners - have been airlifted out of Afghanistan over the past 10 days, officials say. Mr Biden is likely to come under pressure to extend his troops' deployment around Kabul airport when he holds talks with leaders of the other G7 leading industrial countries later on Tuesday. Without the US, which currently secures and operates the international airport, UK government ministers say evacuations from the airport cannot continue. Thousands of people including British citizens, other foreign nationals and Afghans eligible for resettlement abroad are still waiting to get out.
8-24-21 Humanitarian agencies are struggling to get food into Afghanistan
With half of Afghanistan's population relying on humanitarian aid before the Taliban took control of the government this month, United Nations agencies are worried about getting enough food, water, and medical supplies into the country before winter. Because of the deteriorating security situation at the Kabul airport, commercial flights can't fly in, and that's holding up deliveries of surgical equipment and kits to treat severe malnutrition, the World Health Organization said on Monday. The World Food Program has been able to move some supplies into Afghanistan via border crossings in Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan. "Winter is coming," Andrew Patterson of the World Food Program told The Guardian. "We are going into the lean season and many Afghan roads will be covered in snow. We need to get the food into our warehouses where it needs to be distributed." About 22,000 tons of food are now in Afghanistan, Patterson said, with 7,000 tons on the way, but in order to have enough food to last through December, 54,000 additional tons must be delivered. The program needs $200 million in funding to get more supplies into Afghanistan, and there are fears that the food will run out in September, The Guardian reports. Afghanistan lost about 40 percent of its crops this year because of severe drought, the World Food Program said, and it's estimated that half of all children under 5 in the country are malnourished.
8-24-21 CIA director reportedly holds secret meeting with Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar
William Burns, the director of the CIA, secretly met with Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul on Monday, The Washington Post and NBC News report. The meeting reportedly took place as the Aug. 31 deadline for the United States to complete its ongoing evacuation efforts in Afghanistan approaches, and the Post writes that while the CIA declined to comment on the meeting, it "likely involved" this impending deadline. President Biden has been facing pressure to extend the Aug. 31 deadline, though the Taliban said this week that the U.S. keeping troops in Afghanistan beyond that date would cross a "red line." NBC News reports that Biden will make a decision Tuesday about whether to push the deadline back, and according to CNN, top allies are set to press him to extend it during a Tuesday meeting. On Sunday, Biden said that "our hope is we will not have to extend," but he added, "there are going to be discussions, I suspect, on how far along we are in the process."
8-24-21 US VP Kamala Harris criticises Beijing intimidation in South China Sea
US Vice President Kamala Harris has hit out at China during a speech made in Singapore on the first leg of a South East Asian tour. Ms Harris accused Beijing of coercion and intimidation in the South China Sea, which has been a regional flashpoint for years. She said the US would "stand with our allies in the face of threats". Ms Harris' trip is seen as an attempt to reaffirm US commitment to the region. Her speech which touched on a number of other issues, also mentioned the US pu On China, Ms Harris criticised its claims "to the vast majority of the South China Sea," which she said were based on intimidation and coercion. "These unlawful claims have been rejected by the 2016 arbitral tribunal decision and Beijing's actions continue to undermine the rules-based order and threaten the sovereignty of nations," she said. Ms Harris was referring to a landmark legal victory the Philippines won over China, concerning territorial incursions in the South China sea. Since 2012, and despite the tribunal ruling, there has been a constant Chinese Coastguard presence there - with Filipino fishermen reporting harassment by the authorities. In recent years, China has been increasingly assertive over what it says are centuries-old rights to the contested region, and has been rapidly building up its military presence to back up those claims. Several other countries including Japan claim ownership of various small islands and reefs that dot the sea and with it, access to resources. Although the South China sea is a massive regional issue, Ms Harris' trip has been largely overshadowed by the country's rushed exit from Afghanistan, which is due to happen by 31 August. She did not go into detail on the issue which has been criticised by the global community, only saying the US had "achieved what we had gone there to do", and adding that they were now "laser focused" on evacuating Afghans who had worked with US troops.
8-23-21 NYC public schools, Pentagon announce vaccine mandates after Pfizer approval
Two notable vaccine mandates have been announced from New York City and the Pentagon as the first COVID-19 vaccine officially receives approval from the Food and Drug Administration. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced Monday that all staff in the city's public schools will be required to get at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 27. This will apply to "principals, teachers, custodians, food service, you name it," he said. According to The New York Times, the mayor had previously announced that city workers would be required to either get vaccinated or submit for coronavirus testing weekly. In his announcement, de Blasio noted this was coming on the same morning that the FDA said it was fully approving Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, which was previously authorized for emergency use in the United States. Experts said this would likely lead to additional vaccine mandates. "This is a game-changing moment," de Blasio said of the Pfizer FDA approval. "We've been waiting for this for a long time, to have the full approval of a vaccine. We now have it. This helps us move forward." Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby also announced Monday that all service members will be required to get vaccinated as a result of the FDA approval. "We're going to move forward, making that vaccine mandatory," Kirby said, per CNN. "We're preparing the guidance to the force right now. And the actual completion date of it, in other words, how fast we want to see it get done, we're working through that guidance right now."
8-23-21 Pfizer CEO expects COVID vaccine trials for kids to be completed in September
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was fully approved on Monday by the Food and Drug Administration for people 16 and older, but it will still be some time before it's authorized for use in young children. The Pfizer vaccine is available for kids between the ages of 12 and 15 under an emergency use authorization. Before emergency use authorization can be expanded to kids under 12 — which is expected this fall or winter, NBC News reports — clinical trials must be completed. Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, told reporters on Monday the agency needs to have a "good safety dataset, because we certainly want to make sure we get it right in the children ages 5 through 11 and then even in younger children after that." Pfizer and Moderna are both conducting vaccine trials in kids to determine the proper dosage and whether it is safe and effective for younger people. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told NBC News on Monday he expects studies on children ages 5 to 11 will finish in September, and the data will then get submitted to the FDA. Following adult vaccine trials, the FDA asks for two months worth of follow-up safety data, but for the children's trials, the FDA is requesting four to six months of data. In the week ending last Thursday, there were 180,000 new cases of COVID-19 among kids and teenagers, the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a statement on Monday, and the organization is urging the FDA to "work aggressively to authorize a vaccine for ages 11 and younger."
8-23-21 Pfizer becomes first Covid vaccine to gain full FDA approval
Pfizer's two-dose Covid-19 vaccine has received full approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - the first jab to be licensed in the nation. The vaccine had initially been given emergency use authorisation. Its two jabs, three weeks apart, are now fully approved for those aged 16 and older. The approval is expected to set off more vaccine mandates by employers and organisations across the country. It comes amid lingering vaccine hesitancy among many Americans. In a statement, the FDA said its review for approval included data from approximately 44,000 people. The vaccine, which will now be marketed as Comirnaty, was found to be 91% effective in preventing Covid-19. It is still being provided at no cost to Americans. Acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock said that the public "can be very confident" the vaccine meets high safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality standards. It still has emergency use authorisation for children aged 12 to 15. The FDA initially gave Pfizer temporary authorisation in the US - a clearance given if the agency determines the benefits of a product outweigh potential risks during a public health emergency. This full approval is essentially permanent. The licensing process requires companies to provide the FDA with information on how and where the product is made, as well as other clinical testing data. Critics had been calling on the FDA to speed up this approval process as the nation struggled with dropping vaccination rates. While the agency took steps to increase staff and resources, it had previously said it would take six months to get the required data. The approval ultimately came less than four months after Pfizer-BioNTech filed for licensing in early May - the fastest vaccine approval in the FDA's more than 100 year history. Polling data released at the end of June by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that about 30% of unvaccinated American results said they would be more likely to get a vaccine if it received full FDA approval. The number rises to nearly 50% among Americans taking a "wait and see" approach to vaccines. To date, more than 92 million vaccinated Americans - more than half of the total - have received the Pfizer vaccine.
8-23-21 FDA fully approves Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, which could be an 'important confidence-builder'
The Food and Drug Administration has for the first time granted full approval to a COVID-19 vaccine. The FDA announced Monday it has fully approved the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech, which had previously been authorized for emergency use, for those 16 or older. Earning full approval from the FDA required additional data, and experts have been hopeful this could encourage more people to get the shot. "While this and other vaccines have met the FDA's rigorous, scientific standards for emergency use authorization, as the first FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine, the public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product," Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said. "While millions of people have already safely received COVID-19 vaccines, we recognize that for some, the FDA approval of a vaccine may now instill additional confidence to get vaccinated." The approval comes amid the spread of the more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 and as U.S. health officials prepare to start administering booster shots to all Americans. As for whether the full FDA approval will result in an uptick in vaccinations, former FDA chief scientist Jesse Goodman predicted to The Washington Post it "will provide an additional nudge but not make a huge difference." But Heidi J. Larson, director of the Vaccine Confidence Project, told The Post, "It's a great thing that it's finally getting its approval. It will be an important confidence-builder." Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy also previously told CNN that full approval from the FDA could prompt more businesses and universities to start "putting vaccine requirements in place in order to create safer spaces for people to work and learn."
8-23-21 Erasing Native American culture
The U.S. and Canada are starting to face their history of forcing indigenous children into abusive boarding schools. The U.S. and Canada are starting to face their history of forcing indigenous children into abusive boarding schools. Here's everything you need to know:
- What was the school's goal? Simply put, cultural genocide. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the U.S. government and religious leaders used compulsory boarding schools to force young Native Americans to give up the languages and cultures of their ancestors, which were considered self-evidently inferior to a Christian, western-style upbringing.
- Who ran boarding schools in the U.S.? Of the 367 boarding schools for Native Americans known to have operated in the U.S., the federal government operated more than half, the Catholic Church about 100, and many others were run by various Protestant denominations.
- What was life like for students? They were essentially treated like prisoners. On arrival at the school, the long hair of both boys and girls — which had deep spiritual significance for many indigenous peoples — was typically shorn. Children were compelled to discard their traditional clothes and take English names. In later years, new students were doused with DDT. They were forbidden from speaking their own languages, and the ban was often enforced with corporal punishment.
- Was there any resistance? Escapes were so common that some schools offered bounties for the return of runaways. Many parents also resisted sending their children away, though the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs could withhold food from those who refused to comply.
- When did the schools close? In the 1960s and '70s, the Pan-Indian Movement demanded the right to a self-determined education; finally, in 1978, the Indian Child Welfare Act abolished compulsory boarding-school education. Most of the remaining boarding schools closed soon after, but 15 schools are still taking boarders, with modified educational goals.
- How is this history being addressed? Haaland has requested that the Department of the Interior make a final report next April. Last month, the Sicangu Lakota of South Dakota successfully brought home the remains of nine children and teenagers who died at Carlisle. In 2008, the Jesuits paid $5 million to 16 people who said they were sexually abused by clergy at a Washington state boarding school. So far, the Vatican has not issued a formal apology for the church's mistreatment of indigenous children in Catholic boarding schools. The United States government also has not issued a specific apology for forced boarding: A 2020 congressional bill that would have created a truth-and-reconciliation commission died in committee.
- The scars of family separation: When they graduated, boarding-school students often found themselves alienated from their people, unable to speak their language, and lacking important life skills. Traumatized and shamed, many sank into poverty and substance abuse, which damaged their ability to raise their own children; indigenous people who were once separated from their parents frequently had their kids become wards of the state.
8-23-21 Covid: Taiwan rolls out homegrown vaccine amid criticism
Taiwan has begun administering its first domestically developed Covid-19 vaccine, amid criticism that its approval was rushed. The island's health ministry authorised emergency use of the Medigen vaccine last month although clinical trials are yet to be completed. Taiwan's vaccination efforts have been hampered by delivery delays and hesitancy amongst its population. President Tsai Ing-wen led the way in receiving the Medigen jab on Monday. At the time of its approval, the vaccine - made by Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corp - has yet to complete phase three trials but was granted emergency approval by regulators. The company said there were no major safety concerns and studies showed that antibodies created were "no worse than" those created by AstraZeneca's vaccine. It's expected to complete the final round of trials being held in Paraguay later this year. Medigen, whose Chinese name literally means "high-end", is a recombinant protein vaccine, similar to the vaccine developed by Novavax. The Novavax jab uses a more traditional method of recreating part of the spike protein of the virus to stimulate the immune system. "We have done so many experiments, everyone has seen how safe our vaccine is. There are so few side effects, almost no fever and so on. So I think everyone can rest assured," Medigen's Chief Executive Officer Charles Chen told Reuters. However, its rollout has been clouded by accusations, many from the main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT) that the vaccine is unsafe or that its entry into the market was rushed. Two prominent members of the party approached a court to revoke the emergency use approval due to insufficient testing. One of them said there is no need for Taiwanese people to be treated as "white rats in a laboratory". Taiwan has been using Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines, but President Tsai held off receiving her shot until the Medigen jab was ready.
8-23-21 Clashes break out between far-right and far-left demonstrators in Portland
Members of far-right and far-left groups carrying bats, paintball guns, and shields clashed Sunday in Portland, Oregon, with brawls breaking out in an old Kmart parking lot and on city streets. At one point, there was an exchange of gunfire, but no one was injured, The Oregonian reports. The Portland Police Department said the incident is under investigation, and a man has been arrested and charged with unlawful use and possession of a firearm. Earlier in the day, about 300 people met up at Tom McCall Waterfront Park to protest against a planned gathering by right-wing groups. The right-wing event was moved to the parking lot of a closed Kmart, with about 100 people, many of them affiliated with the Proud Boys, attending. Smaller groups of far-left protesters arrived at the parking lot later in the afternoon, and soon insults were flying and skirmishes breaking out. The fighting moved to a nearby roadway, with someone spraying bear mace in the crowd, The Oregonian reports. Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell told reporters on Friday that officers would not break up any fights they saw, instead focusing their attention on people violating the law.
8-23-21 Covid-19 news: UK to offer antibody testing to those who test positive
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. Antibody testing programme to collect data on immune responses and vaccine effectiveness The UK is launching an antibody testing programme for people who have contracted the coronavirus. The programme, which plans to offer tests to thousands of adults per day, aims to improve our understanding of how much protection antibodies give us following covid-19 infection and vaccination. Antibodies are proteins produced by the body to defend against viruses and other invading microbes. Antibody testing can give an indication of how strong someone’s immune response is, but they do not definitively show whether someone is protected against infection. UK health minister Sajid Javid has promised to crack down on “cowboy” behaviour by companies who take advantage of holidaymakers with misleading prices for coronavirus testing kits. Javid highlighted 82 private travel testing firms, who make up around 18 per cent of those on the government website, who will be issued with a two-strike warning and could be struck off the official gov.uk list. A recent Department of Health and Social Care review discovered they were displaying lower prices on the gov.uk site than people would have to pay in reality once they get to the checkout. Taiwan has begun rolling out a homegrown vaccine with clinical trials yet to be completed and no data available on the vaccine’s efficacy. Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen was among the first to receive the vaccine developed by Medigen. The government has ordered an initial 5 million doses. So far around 40 per cent of Taiwan’s population has received at least one dose of either Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. New Zealand has extended its lockdown, with restrictions set to remain across the country until Friday and in Auckland until at least 31 August. Thirty-five new cases were recorded today, bringing the number of current infections to 107.
8-22-21 South a 'harbinger' for rest of U.S. as schools reopen, former FDA commissioner warns
Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CBS News' Major Garrett on Sunday's edition of Face the Nation that data suggest the South's current COVID-19 epidemic is contracting. However, there should still be some "very hard weeks ahead" for the region as hospitalizations, which lag behind case numbers, continue to rise before peaking themselves. Gottlieb then zeroed in on Florida, where he said that nearly every age group is showing declines in day-to-day case numbers. That's a good thing, of course, except for the fact that the trend doesn't hold for one demographic: school-aged children. "That's the only category that's still expanding, and expanding very quickly," Gottlieb said, explaining that the Delta variant has been getting into schools, which often reopen earlier in the South. "It's proving to be hard to control in schools ... I think that this is a harbinger of the challenges that we're gonna face nationally as schools reopen. The schools could become focal points of community transmission, and could become environments that aren't safe for children if we can't control very large outbreaks." The way to avoid those outbreaks without closing schools, Gottlieb reiterated, is to test aggressively and utilize other mitigation techniques such as mask-wearing and "proper ventilation."
8-22-21 Trump booed at Alabama rally after telling crowd to get vaccinated
Former President Donald Trump heard an unfamiliar sound during his Saturday night rally in Cullman, Alabama: Booing, directed at him. The jeers at Trump events are usually aimed at the media, Twitter and Facebook, Hillary Clinton, or anyone with the last name of Biden, but this time, they came after Trump encouraged the crowd to get vaccinated against COVID-19. "I believe totally in your freedoms," Trump said. "I do, you're free, you got to do what you have to do. But I recommend taking the vaccines. I did it, it's good, take the vaccines." Immediately, people began to boo. "That's okay," Trump responded. "That's all right. That's good, you got your freedoms. But I happen to take the vaccine. If it doesn't work, you'll be the first to know. Okay." Trump was hospitalized last October with COVID-19, and was vaccinated before leaving the White House in January. Alabama has been hit hard by the coronavirus, with the highly contagious Delta variant causing a surge in cases. Alabama health officials said 85 percent of people hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, and there has been an increase in the number of children with COVID-19; this week, 50 infected kids have been hospitalized, The Guardian reports. Officials shared their concerns that Trump's rally would be a super-spreader event, with Luke Satterfield, an attorney for Cullman, saying beforehand that the city wants to "prevent as many non-COVID related things as possible, so our hospital can use its resources to focus on the pandemic and its variants. We don't want to put any extra strain on them."
8-22-21 COVID-19 is sticking around. America should plan accordingly.
How to end a pandemic when the virus never goes away. The Delta variant that first appeared in India continues to surge across the United States. While the virus may have burned through states like Louisiana and Florida so fast that case loads are already starting to drop, if last year's seasonal patterns are repeated we can expect similar surges in the Northeast and Midwest as the weather cools. It feels like Back to the Future — back to sweatpants and Zoom school and washing the groceries. It's not — or it shouldn't be. The current COVID-19 wave is significantly different from what happened last winter, in ways that make the current situation both much better and much harder to get a handle on. Both differences have important consequences for how we need to respond. Overwhelmingly, the reason why the current wave is much better is that vaccinations are still proving extremely effective at preventing serious illness and death. The best evidence comes out of Iceland, which is now a notable COVID hotspot but which has not suffered any COVID deaths since May and has seen only a modest uptick in hospitalizations. The reason: Iceland's population is over 70 percent vaccinated, primarily with the most effective mRNA vaccines like Pfizer (though they used the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines as well). That's cold comfort for countries that have barely begun to vaccinate their populations, from Southeast Asia to the Middle East to Africa — and more than enough reason to step up vaccine production and distribution around the world. But for the wealthy countries of Europe, North America, and East Asia, mass vaccination provides a straightforward way to drastically reduce the impact of COVID. And while children remain largely unvaccinated (for now), and therefore highly susceptible to catching the Delta variant, the evidence so far suggests that children remain vastly less at risk than older people to severe disease or death — and no more at risk than they were from the earlier variants. The rise in pediatric COVID cases in the Delta wave, like the rise in symptomatic disease among younger vaccinated people, is likely due to the rapid spread of the variant — which has likely far outstripped our capacity to measure it — rather than increased severity. But that rapid spread is why the current wave is so hard to get a handle on. The Delta strain of COVID is vastly more infectious than prior strains — more than twice as infectious as the original strain — and as with the original strain, those infected shed the most virus before they become symptomatic, if they even get sick at all. This appears to be true for vaccinated individuals as well, at least some of the time. In fact, a major factor in transmission is likely vaccinated individuals with asymptomatic breakthrough cases they never know about. Again, Iceland is important proof case in this regard; with their high vaccination rate, how could they have become a hot spot unless vaccinated people can spread the disease? That's why, in jurisdictions that are more COVID-cautious, there's been increased pressure to restore the non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) like mandatory mask-wearing and social-distancing that predominated in the pre-vaccine era of the pandemic. Ironically, though, the very fact that the Delta variant is so much more infectious makes the case for those interventions in some ways weaker, not stronger.
8-22-21 Covid: New Zealand pandemic strategy in doubt amid Delta spread
The arrival of the highly infectious Delta variant "does raise some big questions" about New Zealand's pandemic response, a minister has said. Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said the variant "changes the game considerably" and makes existing protections "look less adequate". It comes as the country announced a further 21 confirmed cases in the latest outbreak of the virus. New Zealand had gone six months without a single Covid infection. The country was praised for its rapid, strict lockdown measures in 2020 which effectively stopped the spread of the virus. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has repeatedly referred to New Zealand as "our team of five million". According to Johns Hopkins University data, there have been 3,016 total confirmed cases in the country, and 26 reported deaths. But authorities recently announced a snap lockdown after one man tested positive in Auckland with the Delta variant. There are now 72 active cases. Seven schools in the city have reported positive cases among students, and the country has also announced six infections in the capital, Wellington. Officials are now warning that they will probably extend the Auckland lockdown, which is set to expire on Tuesday. Speaking to the media on Sunday, Mr Hipkins said eliminating the virus inside New Zealand was still the government's aim. "The reality though is that a virus that can be infectious within 24 hours of someone getting it - that changes the game considerably," he told the televised Q+A political talk show on Sunday. "It does mean that all of our existing protections... start to look less adequate and less robust," he said, adding that it raises "some pretty big questions about what the long-term future of our plans are". "At some point we will have to start to be more open in the future." According to the New Zealand ministry of health website, as of Thursday more than 960,000 people were double vaccinated, and nearly 1.7 million had received a first dose, in a population of just under five million.
8-21-21 Biden warns lives could be lost in Kabul airlift
US President Joe Biden has acknowledged the mass evacuation from Afghanistan is "not without risk of loss". Speaking at the White House, Mr Biden said the US had rescued 13,000 people to date in "one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history". But the president's suggestion that US evacuees were not being hampered by the Taliban was contradicted by his own defence secretary. Mr Biden has faced international blowback over the Taliban's takeover. "Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home," said Mr Biden, who cut short his holiday to address the crisis. Taking questions from reporters, the president said the US military would make the "same commitment" to 50-65,000 Afghan allies hoping to leave, before adding the evacuation of American citizens was the "priority". "Make no mistake, this evacuation mission is dangerous. It involves risks to our armed forces and it's being conducted under difficult circumstances," said Mr Biden. "I cannot promise what the final outcome will be or that it will be without risk of loss. But as commander in chief, I can assure you that I will mobilise every resource necessary," he added. He also said it would not be necessary to send US troops into Kabul to extract trapped Americans, claiming that the Taliban was permitting airport entry to anyone holding a US passport. However, numerous reports from Kabul have suggested US citizens are having trouble reaching the airport. And Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers in a briefing on Friday that Americans trying to leave Afghanistan have been beaten by Taliban fighters, reports Politico. The Biden administration has been questioned repeatedly this week on how the US intelligence service seemed to so seriously misjudge the situation in Afghanistan. On Friday, Mr Biden again rejected the notion of an intelligence failure, saying there was a "consensus" among officials that the Taliban surging to power this quickly was "highly unlikely".
8-21-21 Afghanistan: The desperate scramble to escape
"Get back, get back," screamed the British soldier at a crowd gathered in front of the secure compound where those being evacuated by the UK embassy are taken before flying out. In front of him, many frantically waved their British passports in the air, hoping to be allowed through but a group of Afghan security guards wielding rubber hoses tried to push them back. Many in the crowd had not received any indication they would be evacuated, but had pitched up in any case, desperate for a route out of Afghanistan. Others, however, had received emails from the embassy telling them arrive here, and wait to be processed for a flight. They include Helmand Khan, an Uber driver from west London, who had arrived with his young children in Afghanistan a few months back to visit relatives. He thrusts a handful of British passports towards me. "For the last three days I'm trying to go inside," he tells me in despair, with his two young sons by his side. Also here is Khalid, a former interpreter for the British army. His wife gave birth to a child just two weeks ago, and he's terrified the baby could die in such scenes. "I've been here since the morning," he says, "the Taliban lashed me on the back on my way." A short walk away is the main entrance to the compound. Thousands have turned up, the vast majority with no realistic prospect of being evacuated. British soldiers at times fired into the air to control the crowd. The only way to get inside is to somehow push your way through the crowd, and wave your documents in their faces, hoping they will allow you past. The situation seems even more chaotic at the airport gates manned by US soldiers, while in front of the main civilian entrance to the airport the Taliban have been regularly firing into the air and beating back crowds who try and surge inside. I'm constantly bombarded with questions by the Afghans who are trying to enter the British controlled compound, and who are at a total loss as to what to do. "Can you help me?" "Will they let me in?" Many try to show me documents they've brought with them, proving they spent time working with international forces or foreign embassies.
8-21-21 Biden: The 'sheer desperation' in Afghanistan is 'completely understandable'
President Biden on Friday spoke to the situation unfolding in Afghanistan, addressing his administration's much-criticized withdrawal response and the chaotic and dangerous effort to evacuate American citizens and Afghan allies. "The past week has been heartbreaking," said Biden. "We've seen gut-wrenching images of panicked people acting out of sheer desperation. You know, it's completely understandable. They're frightened. They're sad. Uncertain what happens next." "I don't think anyone, any one of us can see these pictures and not feel that pain on a human level," he added. The president also defended the disorder coming out of the airport at Kabul, maintaining the operation to be one of the "largest, most difficult airlifts in history," and one that could only be attempted and carried out by the United States. He noted that roughly 13,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan since the operation began on Aug. 14, but the administration is reportedly still working to determine how many Americans are left.
8-21-21 U.S. embassy warns Americans against traveling to Kabul airport for now
The United States Embassy in Afghanistan on Saturday warned American citizens against traveling to Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport, where evacuation flights are departing from, unless they've received individual instructions to do so "because of potential security threats outside the gates." The announcement comes as the U.S. tries to safely evacuate its citizens who have remained in Kabul since the Taliban took the Afghan capital last week, as well as Afghan civilians who aided the U.S. military. On Friday, President Biden vowed to get everyone home and said he hadn't heard of any Americans having trouble getting to the airport, a claim that received pushback from ABC News journalist Ian Pannell. It's not clear how many Americans are still trying to get to the airport or how the latest security warning will affect the evacuation effort. The embassy said it will update U.S. citizens as the security situation changes.
8-21-21 Biden's week of blame and tumult after Kabul fall
Declaring his support for the Afghan war decades ago, Joe Biden warned: "History is going to judge us very harshly, I believe, if we allow the hope of a liberated Afghanistan to evaporate because we are fearful of the phrase nation-building or we do not stay the course." Will this be the week that history judges his presidency? West Wing assistants tapped at keyboards, heads down, while aides chatted away as if business as usual, belying the chaos unfolding in the wider world. The stunning fall of Afghanistan back into Taliban hands as the US was ending its 20-year war had brought about a crisis gripping all corners from Kabul to Camp David. Over the six days that saw Western allies forced to airlift citizens, Afghans desperately clinging to planes to leave the country and a volte-face on Mr Biden's promise to withdraw troops by 31 August, his promises of competence and strength had for some begun to ring hollow. Heading into a week that will bring a congressional hearing on the exit and massive efforts to step up the pace of evacuations, few seemed satisfied with what little answer the administration has provided about what has been widely seen as Mr Biden's worst days of governance. Mr Biden sat alone in a conference room before a panel of faces on the screen, his national security team virtually beamed in to Camp David, the presidential retreat outside Washington where he had gone for the weekend. The trip, planned for Friday to Wednesday, had not gone as planned. The world awoke to news last Saturday that Taliban fighters had taken the southern city of Kandahar and were making a swift advance upon Kabul. By Sunday, the capital was breached. What had happened that brought about such a sudden and apparently unexpected collapse? In every public appearance, Mr Biden would characterise the events of the week as a binary choice between staying and going.
8-21-21 Greece erects fence at Turkey border amid warnings of Afghan migrant surge
Greece has installed a 40km (25-mile) fence and surveillance system on its border with Turkey amid concern over a surge of migrants from Afghanistan. "We cannot wait, passively, for the possible impact," Greece's Citizens' Protection Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis said on a visit to the region of Evros on Friday. "Our borders will remain inviolable." His comments came as Turkey called on European countries to take responsibility for Afghan migrants. In a telephone conversation with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a sharp increase in people leaving Afghanistan could pose "a serious challenge for everyone". "A new wave of migration is inevitable if the necessary measures are not taken in Afghanistan and in Iran," Mr Erdogan said. The rapid takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, an Islamist militant group, has left some fearing for their lives and seeking to escape the country, often by any means necessary. Mr Chrisochoidis said the crisis had created new "possibilities for migrant flows" into Europe. Greece, which was on the frontline of the migrant crisis in 2015 when more than a million people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East crossed from Turkey into the EU, has said it may send back any Afghans that arrive illegally through the country. Of those who arrived in Greece during the migrant crisis, many travelled further north throughout Europe, but about 60,000 have remained in the country. Last year, Athens temporarily blocked new asylum applications after Mr Erdogan said Turkey had "opened the doors" for migrants to travel to the EU. Mr Mitsotakis said at the time that Greece had increased "the level of deterrence at our borders to the maximum", with security personnel deployed to the Evros land border.
8-21-21 Covid: Australian police clash with anti-lockdown protesters
Police in the Australian cities of Melbourne and Sydney have clashed with thousands of people protesting against Covid lockdowns. In Melbourne, mounted officers used pepper spray when elements of a 4,000-strong rally broke through police lines. Police arrested 218 people, and at least seven officers were injured. In Sydney, where lockdown measures have been extended for another month, more than 1,000 officers dispersed protests. It came as the state of New South Wales (NSW), of which Sydney is the capital, recorded 825 new locally-acquired cases, the highest number for any Australian territory in a 24-hour period. In Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, more than 2,000 protesters gathered before holding a largely peaceful march. Police in the state of Victoria condemned the violence that broke out in Melbourne on Saturday. "While there were some peaceful protesters in attendance, the majority of those who attended came with violence in mind," a spokeswoman said, quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald. "The behaviour seen by police was so hostile and aggressive that they were left with no choice but to use all tactics available to them." All those arrested face fines of A$5,452 (£2,850) for breaching Covid regulations, police said. Three people were also charged with assaulting police. Stay-at-home orders were extended across Victoria on Saturday in a bid to contain a widening outbreak of Covid cases. The protests in Sydney were smaller, with about 250 people taking part. Deputy NSW Police Commissioner Mal Lanyon told reporters that one officer had been injured after being dragged into a road by a protester and that 47 arrests had been made. He said police had stopped about 38,000 cars heading into the city centre and handed out 260 infringement notices to people across the state suspected of breaching lockdown regulations. He called the actions of the protesters "deplorable", saying the police response was not about stopping free speech but stopping the spread of coronavirus.
8-21-21 India approves world's first DNA Covid vaccine
India's drug regulator has approved the world's first DNA vaccine against Covid-19 for emergency use. The three-dose ZyCoV-D vaccine prevented symptomatic disease in 66% of those vaccinated, according to an interim study quoted by the vaccine maker Cadila Healthcare. The firm plans to make up to 120 million doses of India's second home-grown vaccine every year. Previous DNA vaccines have worked well in animals but not humans. India has so far given more than 570 million doses of three previously approved vaccines - Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik V. About 13% of adults have been fully vaccinated and 47% have received at least one shot since the beginning of the drive in January. Cadila Healthcare said it had conducted the largest clinical trial for the vaccine in India so far, involving 28,000 volunteers in more than 50 centres. This is also the first time, the firm claimed, a Covid-19 vaccine had been tested in young people in India - 1,000 people belonging to the 12-18 age group. The jab was found to be "safe and very well tolerated" in this age group. The key third phase of clinical trials was conducted at the peak of the deadly second wave of the virus. The vaccine maker believes this reaffirmed the jab's "efficacy against the mutant strains", especially the highly infectious Delta variant. "I am quite excited about the vaccine because it offers a lot of good potential. If this jab works, the future of vaccination becomes logistically simpler," said Prof Shahid Jameel, a well-known virologist. DNA and RNA are building blocks of life. They are molecules that carry that genetic information which are passed on from parents to children. Like other vaccines, a DNA vaccine, once administered, teaches the body's immune system to fight the real virus. ZyCoV-D uses plasmids or small rings of DNA, that contain genetic information, to deliver the jab between two layers of the skin. The plasmids carry information to the cells to make the "spike protein", which the virus uses to latch on and enter human cells. Most Covid-19 vaccines work by giving the body instructions to make a fragment of the spike protein so it can trigger a person's immune system to produce antibodies and teach itself to fight off the virus.
8-20-21 The right wants to betray the Afghan people 1 more time
Anti-refugee paranoia is little more than racism. If there is one thing President Biden should be criticized for regarding Afghanistan, it is refugee policy. The Washington Post reports that his administration has been dragging its feet for months on processing applications. (That said, after the chaos seen earlier this week, some flights have resumed at the Kabul airport, with the apparent toleration of the Taliban. It remains to be seen how many people will actually get out.) Biden deserves blame for not moving quicker to get refugees out and accept them into the U.S., and for instead trying to shunt them off into other countries. But half the reason he is doing that is because of right-wing media, which is working hard to whip up a racist frenzy over the prospect of any refugees whatsoever. "So first we invade, and then we are invaded. It is always the same," said Fox News' Tucker Carlson, the top-rated cable news host in the country, a few days ago. "Is it really our responsibility to welcome thousands of potentially unvetted refugees from Afghanistan?" said Laura Ingraham on her Fox News shows. Biden is "doing to America what Angela Merkel did to Germany and Europe," wrote former Trump adviser Stephen Miller. It's truly despicable racism, even for conservative media. Let me review some history. Back in the 1980s, the U.S. flooded Afghanistan with money and weapons, much of it going to extremist fanatics, solely to harm a geopolitical rival, the Soviet Union. That aim was indeed accomplished, but at the cost of an appallingly bloody war that killed something like 10 percent of the Afghan population. When the Soviets withdrew, Americans promptly forgot all about the place, and war continued for another bloody three years before the Soviet-backed regime fell to a group of extremists (though the Taliban were a largely separate group from the mujahideen the U.S. had armed previously). The U.S. continued to ignore Afghanistan until 9/11. The response to that event, naturally, was more intervention — invading the country, toppling the Taliban, and setting up a U.S.-backed government. But instead of trying to defeat al Qaeda, come to a quick political settlement, and get out, Donald Rumsfeld refused to accept a Taliban surrender, dooming the occupation to be an indefinite Vietnam-style quagmire that could end in only one way: American defeat. Something like a quarter-million people in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been killed in 20 years of grinding, pointless war. An entire generation of people have grown up without even the memory of peace. The Afghan economy has been warped beyond recognition by billions upon billions of "reconstruction" dollars, which mostly flowed into the pockets of corrupt warlords or equally-corrupt American contractors. The so-called "government" the U.S. stood up was so corrupt that it made the Taliban look like Switzerland — as The Economist noted back in 2019, a trucker driving from Herat to Kandahar would have to pay the Taliban to pass, but only once because they gave him a receipt. Government soldiers, by contrast, would stick him up 30 times. In short, for 40 years Afghanistan has been the plaything of dimwitted, incompetent American imperialists, and the result has been physical, social, and economic carnage on a scale few Americans could imagine. And now that people are suggesting that the people who helped the occupation — people who trusted in the good faith of the United States, and who may now be killed as a result — should simply be allowed into America to live safely like anyone else, formerly warmongering conservatives (Carlson, Ingraham, and Miller all fervently supported the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq) are whipping up a nativist frenzy.
8-20-21 Tear gas, guns used as crowd control at Kabul airport
A day after the Pentagon claimed to be restoring order at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, military personnel on Friday used tear gas and fired guns into the air as means of controlling the large and chaotic crowd, The Wall Street Journal reports. It was not immediately clear as to what country the soldiers were from. Troops are also moving just outside the airport's perimeter, surrounded by Taliban, "to disperse crowds and clear the way for families struggling to get in," the Journal reports. To reach the airport, Afghans and foreigners must pass through dangerous Taliban checkpoints, where fighters are firing into the air and using violence to control the sea of people. According to German military officials, getting people through Kabul, past the checkpoints, and inside the airport "has proven immensely difficult," per the Journal. The militant group is reportedly using the checkpoints to search for "key individuals from the ousted government." One desperate Afghan, who worked for a U.S. contractor and has an approved U.S. Special Immigrant Visa, reportedly abandoned his airport evacuation attempts Friday morning after an all-night melee, in which he carried his children on his shoulders so as to prevent them from being crushed, left him exhausted. "We were stuck between the aggression of the Taliban and U.S. forces in the gate," the man told the Journal. "I don't know if I will ever be able to get out." Read more at The Wall Street Journal.
8-20-21 Afghanistan: Taliban 'tortured and massacred' men from Hazara minority
The Taliban recently "massacred" and brutally tortured several members of the Hazara minority in Afghanistan, says human rights group Amnesty International. Witnesses have given harrowing accounts of the killings, which took place in early July in Ghazni province. Since taking over the Afghan capital Kabul on Sunday, the Taliban have tried to portray a more restrained image. But Amnesty said the incident was a "horrifying indicator" of Taliban rule. The Hazara community is Afghanistan's third largest ethnic group. They mainly practise Shia Islam and have faced long-term discrimination and persecution in predominantly Sunni Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the report published on Thursday, Amnesty said the nine Hazara men were killed between 4 and 6 July in Malistan district in the eastern Ghazni province. The rights group interviewed eyewitnesses and reviewed photographic evidence after the killings. Villagers said they had escaped to the mountains when fighting intensified between government forces and Taliban fighters. When some of them returned to the village of Mundarakht to collect food, they said the Taliban had looted their homes and were waiting for them. Separately, some men who passed through Mundarakht on their way home to their hamlet were also ambushed. In total six men were allegedly shot, some in the head, and three were tortured to death. According to witness accounts, one man was strangled with his own scarf and had his arm muscles sliced off. Another's body was shot to pieces. One eyewitness said they asked the fighters why they inflicted such brutality on their people. "When it is the time of conflict, everyone dies, it doesn't matter if you have guns or not. It is the time of war," a fighter allegedly said.
8-20-21 Covid-19 news: UK approves first-of-its-kind antibody treatment
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. Ronapreve, the first drug designed specifically to tackle covid-19, gets approval. The UK has approved the first treatment to use artificial antibodies to prevent and fight the coronavirus. According to The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the drug may be used to prevent covid-19 infection, treat acute symptoms of the disease and reduce the likelihood of being admitted to hospital due to the virus. Sajid Javid, UK Health Secretary, said that he hoped it would be rolled out to patients soon. Trials of the drug, called Ronapreve, took place before widespread vaccination and before the emergence of virus variants. The drug, previously known as REGN-Cov2, was given to former US president Donald Trump when he was admitted to hospital with covid-19 last year. Ronapreve, developed by pharmaceutical firms Regeneron and Roche, is given either by injection or infusion and acts at the lining of the respiratory system, where it binds tightly to the virus and prevents it from gaining access to the cells, the MHRA said. It consists of monoclonal antibodies, proteins produced in the lab that mimic antibodies found in the immune system. Another antibody drug developed by AstraZeneca reduced the risk of developing symptomatic covid-19 by 77 per cent in clinical trials, the company has announced. Javid has said he is confident a coronavirus booster campaign can start next month across the UK, however the government is waiting on final advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, before giving further details. The JCVI met on Thursday and had been expected to discuss the potential for boosters for the most vulnerable. But officials told the PA news agency that boosters had not been discussed at the meeting, although they would not confirm what was spoken about. Lockdown has been extended in Sydney, Australia, until the end of September and a nightly curfew will be introduced from 23 August in the 12 worst-affected council areas, covering 2 million residents.Researchers have managed to capture 3D images of human airway cells infected by SARS-CoV-2 using an extraordinary microscopic technique.
8-20-21 Covid-19: Mississippi quarantines 20,000 pupils at start of new school year
Just days after the start of their academic year, over 20,000 pupils from 800 Mississippi schools have been told to quarantine due to Covid exposure. Some 4,500 children became sick with Covid during this first week of school. Across the US, states like Mississippi with low vaccination rates and relaxed mask rules have asked thousands of students and staff to quarantine. The Delta variant, the dominant strain in the US, has been affecting younger people at a higher rate. The US has recorded about 4.4m child infections - out of a total of 37m - since the pandemic began. Fewer than 2% of child Covid-19 cases require hospital admission, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, and no more than 0.03% of all such cases in the US have resulted in death. Children under 12 are not yet approved to be vaccinated in the US, putting them at a higher risk of catching the highly contagious variant. Infections and hospital admissions are on the rise among the young in a way not seen earlier in the pandemic, when the virus was mostly affecting the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions. In Mississippi, since classes came back from summer break on 9 August, around 5% of all students have been asked to quarantine, according to data from the state's health department. Less than 36% of Mississippi residents are fully vaccinated. State epidemiologist Dr Paul Byers described the number of children now in quarantine as "dramatic". "That exceeds what we've experienced... when we were at our previous peak for the impact on the schools," he told reporters on Wednesday. A 13-year-old girl died over the weekend, Dr Byers said, adding that she was the fifth child to die because of the virus in the state. Mississippi's only paediatric hospital has had to turn parts of a garage into a field hospital due to the rise in admissions. The southern US state is just the latest to face such outbreaks among children.
8-20-21 Covid: Sydney lockdown extended and curfew imposed on 2m people
A lockdown in the Australian city of Sydney has been extended until the end of September to slow the spread of a Covid outbreak. Authorities also imposed a curfew on two million residents in the city's worst-hit suburbs. Residents of Sydney have been under stay-at-home orders since late June. However, infections have more than doubled in the past week with 642 new cases recorded on Friday, and 681 on Thursday. "I apologise to the vast majority of people in those communities who are doing the right thing but for our health and safety moving forward we need to make these difficult decisions," New South Wales (NSW) Premier Gladys Berejiklian said. She added that the curfew - which will run from 2100 to 0500 - was aimed at "reducing the movement of young people", because police said there had been instances of rule-breaking late at night. But critics say there's little medical evidence to show that curfews are an effective virus control - a view also expressed by the Ms Berejiklian last month. Local lawmakers have also criticised authorities for applying harsher restrictions in the city's poorer west and south-west suburbs. The toughest rules target Sydneysiders living in 12 council areas of concern - which are also the city's most ethnically diverse communities. Along with the curfew, people in those suburbs will be limited to just one hour of exercise daily. The measures were designed to prevent more people from "losing loved ones", the premier said. Critics say the state government could have acted earlier to tackle the outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant. Australia on Thursday marked its highest daily infections since the pandemic began, recording 754 cases. Currently over half of Australia's 25 million people are living in lockdown, amid outbreaks in Melbourne and Canberra. Sydney remains the biggest concern - 65 deaths have now been recorded in NSW as a result of the latest outbreak. The rest of NSW is also in lockdown, but Ms Berejiklian said restrictions outside Sydney would be eased on 28 August.
8-20-21 Flight attendants are flocking to self-defense classes as 2021 unruly passenger fines top $1 million
The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday that so far this year it has issued more than $1 million in fines for in-flight incidents and "received approximately 3,889 reports of unruly behavior by passengers, including about 2,867 reports of passengers refusing to comply with the federal face mask mandate." One unidentified passenger was fined $45,000 for "throwing objects" at fellow passengers on an Orlando-bound Jet Blue flight and "grabbing a flight attendant by the ankles and putting his head up her skirt." Many flight attendants are responding by attending self-defense training taught by federal air marshals. The courses, started in 2004, were paused last year during the pandemic, but with air travel booming again and passengers misbehaving, "they're back up and running with four times the amount of classes and double the number of attendees as before," ABC News reports. On Thursday, NBC News took viewers inside one of those self-defense sessions in Chicago. "I think people are just kind of just at a tipping point with the pandemic," flight attendant Robin Gilinger told ABC News. "And when they're up in the air at 35,000 feet, there's no one to stop them. There's no police officer on the corner they can go to. It's just the flight attendants." United Airlines on Wednesday told its flight attendants not to use duct tape to restrain unruly passengers. Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, argues that self-defense training should be mandatory, especially in this environment. "Flight attendants are saying they don't recognize this job," she told ABC News. "We have a lot of stories of kicking and punching and, my gosh, urinating and spitting and throwing trash at places and really disrespectful, awful name calling and threats." The four-hour sessions focus on de-escalation, not just defending against violent or unruly passengers. "We're not here to beat our passengers," Gilinger said. "We're here to stop the unrest that has precipitated through this pandemic."
8-20-21 The devastating human cost of rising gun violence in the US
After a decline, gun violence in many US cities has been on the rise since 2018. That includes the nation's capital, Washington DC, despite the city having some of the nation’s toughest gun laws. Which communities are hardest hit by these deadly shootings? And what new solutions can address what Washington has labelled a public health crisis?
8-20-21 'We felt free': Cubans remain defiant in face of protest crackdown
The unspoken rule in Cuba has long been: do not speak out. Even during the island's dire food shortages, most Cubans have coped with characteristic stoicism, taking care that their mutterings of complaint do not grow into loud calls for change, at least not in front of anyone in authority. But 11 July was a day unlike any other in modern Cuba. Months of pent-up frustration bubbled over - not just over food shortages but also the lack of medicines, long power outages, worsening inflation and the coronavirus pandemic. As the demonstrations quickly spread across the island, the specific conditions which prompted people onto the streets varied slightly from place to place - a greater emphasis on blackouts in San Antonio de los Baños near Havana, more reference to the Covid-19 crisis in the city of Matanzas. Yet all the protests shared one common chant: "Libertad". They clamoured for liberty, freedom and change after 63 years of one-party rule. "In that moment, saying whatever you wanted to say, you felt free. It was an experience I would recommend to everyone of my generation", says independent journalist Alfredo Martínez, who participated in the protest outside the Capitolio building, one of the most iconic buildings in Havana. He says the fear of reprisals quickly evaporated during such an unprecedented event. "It felt so good to finally be able to protest in our own country. It's only human to feel fear but that moved to the background because you knew you were doing the right thing - you weren't doing anything wrong or illegal." The demonstrations were swiftly met with force as hundreds were rounded up by the police and a feared unit of elite troops called "Black Berets". International human rights organisations say around 800 detainees are still being held, including some who are underage. Their family members say they were given summary trials and that many were sentenced without a defence lawyer present.
8-19-21 The Biden administration has a 'timely plan for J&J booster shots,' too, surgeon general says
Federal health officials on Wednesday advised the more than 150 million Americans who've gotten two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines that they should get a third shot starting Sept. 20. But what about the 14 million who opted for the one-and-done Johnson & Johnson vaccine? "We anticipate vaccine boosters will likely be needed" for them, too, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said at a White House briefing. "We expect more data on J&J in the coming weeks. With those data in hand, we will keep the public informed of a timely plan for J&J booster shots." The Biden administration is pushing a booster shot because the mRNA vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, appear to be losing some efficacy against the much more transmissible Delta variant. There's less data for the Johnson & Johnson shot's longevity, though Johnson & Johnson told The New York Times it will "will share new data shortly regarding boosting with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine," probably "in the coming weeks." "If you're doing data-driven decisions and you don't have the data, what can you do?" asked John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medicine. He told the Times he "would be very, very surprised" if the U.S. didn't approve a second J&J shot "in the reasonably near future," adding, "The federal government is well aware of the J.&J. situation. ... It's not being overlooked." Dr. Dan Barouch, a virologist at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said new real-world data from health workers in South Africa has "very clear results showing that the single-shot J&J vaccine provided substantial protection against the Delta variant." Barouch and Moore said they expect that when the booster shot is approved, it will be for a second J&J dose, not Pfizer or Moderna.
8-19-21 Texas schools can ignore Abbott's mask mandate ban for now, all-GOP Texas Supreme Court says
Texas school districts can disregard Gov. Greg Abbott's (R) emergency order forbidding any government entity to require masks, at least for now, after the Texas Supreme Court on Thursday declined to overturn a lower court's ruling and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) said it will suspend enforcement of Abbott's order during ongoing litigation. Among the various legal challenges from Texas cities, counties, and school districts, a disabilities rights group sued in federal court to overrun the ban and President Biden instructed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Wednesday to "protect our children" from COVID-19 "using all of his oversight authorities and legal action if appropriate against governors who are trying to block and intimidate local schools officials and educators." The Texas Supreme Court on Thursday rejected state Attorney General Ken Paxton's (R) request to overturn a ruling by state District Judge Jan Soifer that allowed Harris County and eight school districts to mandate masks in public schools and said Abbott can't enforce his ban "against Texas independent school districts. But the Supreme Court, an elected body made up entirely of Republicans, did not rule on the legal merits of the case, instead deciding Paxton's petition "must be presented first to the court of appeals unless there is a compelling reason not to do so." About 58 school districts and eight counties have instituted mask requirements, either challenging or ignoring Abbott's directive, according to a list kept by Paxton. Some school districts have been creative, The Texas Tribune reports. "In a novel approach, Paris Independent School District made mask-wearing a part of the school dress code for students and employees."
8-19-21 Texas House Democrats return to the state Capitol, ending 38-day standoff
For the first time in 38 days, the Texas House reached a quorum on Thursday, after some of the Democrats who left in July to protest voting restrictions returned to the state Capitol. More than 50 House Democrats fled Texas last month in order to ensure there wasn't a quorum, keeping the GOP-backed voting measure from passing. The Democrats traveled en masse to Washington, D.C., where they urged lawmakers to take action on federal voting rights legislation. Two of those Democrats came to the Texas state Capitol on Thursday afternoon, along with a colleague who had been out recovering from having his leg amputated, and having those three present was enough for the House to achieve a quorum. In a statement, the Democrats — state Reps. Armando Walle, Ana Hernandez, and Garnet Coleman — said they were "proud" to have broken quorum, but with COVID-19 "ravaging our state and overwhelming our health care system," it was "time to move past these partisan legislative calls, and to come together to help our state mitigate the effects of the current COVID-19 surge." The House is in a 30-day special session that will end on Sept. 5, and Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has made it clear he wants strict voting legislation passed before then. Over the last several months, Texas Republicans have called for banning 24-hour polling sites, Sunday morning early voting, and drive-thru voting, as well as giving partisan poll watchers more access to voting sites, The Associated Press reports.
8-19-21 Afghanistan crisis: Biden says US troops may stay past withdrawal deadline
US President Joe Biden says US troops may stay in Afghanistan beyond his planned 31 August withdrawal date to help evacuate Americans. There have been chaotic scenes at Kabul Airport as foreign powers seek to get their citizens home. President Biden again defended his handling of Afghanistan, where the Taliban have capitalised on the US pulling out to sweep to power. He told US broadcaster ABC News he didn't think he'd made any mistakes. "The idea that somehow there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don't know how that happens," he said. Mr Biden had wanted US forces out by the end of this month, but up to 15,000 US citizens are stranded in the country. Washington has pledged to evacuate all remaining American citizens, along with 50-65,000 Afghans - such as former translators for the US military. About 4,500 US troops are in temporary control of Karzai International Airport in the nation's capital, but Taliban fighters and checkpoints ring the perimeter. The Taliban are blocking Afghans from entering the airport without travel documents - but even those with valid authorisation have struggled. In his interview, Mr Biden was asked about images that went viral this week of Afghans falling from an American military plane as it gained altitude over Kabul. "What I thought was... we have to gain control of this. We have to move this more quickly. We have to move in a way in which we can take control of that airport. And we did," he said. On helping US citizens stuck in Afghanistan, he said "if there's American citizens left, we're gonna stay till we get them all out". Mr Biden was pressed on his assessment only last month that a Taliban takeover of the country was "highly unlikely". He said intelligence reports had suggested such a scenario was more likely by the end of this year.
8-19-21 Afghanistan crisis: 'Many here will be deeply fearful for their future'
After the Taliban swept to victory in Afghanistan, they pledged the country would not be used as a base for terror, and the rights of women would be respected "within the framework of Islamic law." But as the city of Kabul gradually returns to a sense of normality, residents are still waiting to see what kind of government emerges and what their rule will mean for women, human rights and politics freedom.
8-19-21 Afghanistan: Pakistan fences off from Afghan refugees
On the surface, it almost looks normal on this part of the Pakistani-Afghan border. But a closer look would show how much things have changed. The tricolour flag of the Republic of Afghanistan has been replaced with the white flag of the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan, and in place of Afghan border security forces now stand gun-holding bearded Taliban militants. They are now in control of Torkham - the busiest crossing with Pakistan. A few days back, hundreds of panicked Afghan civilians gathered here for days, desperate for a way out. Then what seemed inevitable happened: outnumbered Afghan police forces surrendered to the Taliban. Pakistan, worried about a fighting spillover, had shut its side of the border prior to the Taliban's takeover. But after brief closure it was reopened for trade and restricted pedestrian movement. Normally, about 6,000-7,000 people would travel between the two countries daily - but today there are hardly 50 people standing on the Afghanistan side to enter Pakistan. It's taking longer than usual. Pakistani security officials say that they don't want any militants to enter disguised as civilians. That's why they have made the vetting process at the border more strict. Torkham has been the main point of refugees' influx into Pakistan for decades. Now the number of Afghans seeking refuge is much lower. The Taliban are not letting anyone out. Only traders or those with valid travel documents are allowed to cross. But it's not the only thing keeping Afghan refugees away. Amid increasing violence across the border in recent years, Pakistan has been fencing itself off from Afghanistan. All border crossings are now heavily manned, making it impossible for Afghan refugees to enter without government consent. Just a few metres away from the border, Ahsan Khan, 56, was busy taking out his luggage from a taxi. He was off to the Afghan city of Jalalabad. "I have been travelling from this border since I was in school. There was a time when my father would take us directly to Jalalabad without any checks," Mr Khan says.
8-19-21 U.S. COVID-19 breakthrough infections are 'uncommon,' rising 'considerably,' and 'sort of okay'
The Biden administration is advising eight-month booster shots for Americans vaccinated with the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines because the Delta variant, which now accounts for about 98.8 percent of new U.S. infections, is a lot more contagious and the effectiveness of the vaccines appears to wane with time. "Fortunately," the COVID-19 vaccines are "still holding at a high level" of protection from hospitalization and death, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Wednesday. "But our anticipation is that if the trajectory that we are seeing continues ... we will likely see in the future an increase in breakthrough hospitalizations and breakthrough deaths" without boosters. Even as the Delta variant surges, "COVID-19 breakthrough cases remain uncommon," The Wall Street Journal reports, citing its own analysis of data from health departments in 44 states and Washington, D.C. In those states, about 0.1 percent of vaccinated residents got COVID between Jan. 1 and early August, the Journal found. "This continues to be 'a pandemic of the unvaccinated,'" but "breakthrough infections accounted for 12 percent to 24 percent of COVID-related hospitalizations" in seven states keeping detailed records, The New York Times reports, citing its analysis. Those breakthrough cases are mostly among older or immunocompromised adults — in Oregon, for example, the median age for a breakthrough-associated death is 83, and 74 percent of breakthrough cases nationwide are among people 65 and older, federal data show. The overall numbers remain small, but it's pretty clear "the chances of a breakthrough infection have gone up considerably," U.C. San Francisco's Dr. Robert Wachter tells the Times. "Remember when the early vaccine studies came out, it was like nobody gets hospitalized, nobody dies," he added. "That clearly is not true." "Let's be real, here: Breakthrough infections are sort of okay," Larry Corey, a virologist at Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, tells the Journal. "You get infected and you have a cold, maybe an achy fever for 24 hours. But you don't end up in the hospital, and you don't end up with that 2.5 percent chance of dying once you are hospitalized." "All we're really seeing, with vaccine breakthrough cases that come into the hospital, are people who are over 80 or have a compromised immune system," adds Jorge Bernett, an infectious disease specialist with John Muir Health in Walnut Creek, California. "Basically everyone who is on a ventilator is unvaccinated."
8-19-21 Taliban finds it isn't so easy to set up its non-'democratic' Afghan government based on Sharia law
"Over the course of more than two decades, the Taliban proved that they knew how to wage an insurgency" in Afghanistan, The New York Times reports Thursday. "Over the last five days, ominous signs have emerged that they have yet to learn how to run a country." The Taliban marked Afghanistan's Independence Day on Thursday, a celebration of the country's liberation from British rule in 1919, by cheering their successful "jihadi resistance" against "another arrogant power of the world, the United States." But protests against Taliban rule that broke out Wednesday in Jalalabad and Khost province, violently suppressed by Taliban forces, spread to Kabul on Thursday, including near the presidential palace. Some opposition figures are converging in the last holdout, the Panjshir Valley, with an eye to reviving the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance for armed resistance. "With many ATMs out of cash and worries about rising food prices in this nation of 38 million people reliant on imports, the Taliban face all the challenges of the civilian government they dethroned without the level of international aid it enjoyed," The Associated Press reports. The Taliban has so far been unable to access Afghanistan's $9 billion in foreign reserves, most of it effectively frozen by the U.S., and International Monetary Fund aid and development money are off-limits at least until Afghanistan has a new government. The Taliban does have revenue from mining, customs taxes, and narcotics smuggling, The Wall Street Journal reports. Waheedullah Hashimi, a high-ranking Taliban commander, tells Reuters that Afghanistan will probably be governed by a ruling council that answers to Haibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban's supreme leader. Taliban leadership will meet to discuss the new government later this week, he added, but "there will be no democratic system at all because it does not have any base in our country," and the new political system "is clear: It is Sharia law and that is it." That system would be similar to the one the Taliban employed when it last ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001. A different Taliban leader told Afghan reporters Tuesday that women will have more rights this time around, including access to jobs and education, but Hashimi told Reuters that "our [scholars] will decide whether girls are allowed to go to school or not" and "whether they should wear hijab, burqa, or only [a] veil plus abaya or something, or not. That is up to them.
8-19-21 Covid vaccine: US plans to offer booster Covid jabs in September
Covid-19 vaccine booster jabs will be offered to "all Americans" from 20 September, according to US officials. The jabs will first be given to healthcare workers, nursing home residents and older people who were vaccinated at least eight months ago. The White House says the initiative is a response to rising infections from the Delta variant and evidence that the protectiveness of the vaccines fades. A final decision still requires approval and a formal recommendation. Daily cases in the United States have soared since early July. At the time, there were fewer than 10,000 cases and now there are more than 150,000 across the nation. Hospitals are stretched thin and the death rates in many states have led officials to re-instate mask mandates and social distancing protocols. The heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, are all in agreement on the need for a booster vaccine. It will be up to these groups to approve the White House's plan. The effectiveness of the Covid vaccine is now known to decrease over time, officials say, "and in association with the dominance of the Delta variant, we are starting to see evidence of reduced protection against mild and moderate disease". "We conclude that a booster shot will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability." The booster will be made available to Americans who received their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine eight months ago. The White House said they anticipate that people who received Johnson & Johnson's single-dose Covid vaccine will also need boosters, but more research is needed. In recent weeks, several other countries such as Israel, France and Germany have decided to offer boosters to older adults as well as people with weak immune systems. However, the World Health Organization recently called for a pause on booster jabs until at least the end of September - or when more of the populations in lower-income nations receive at least their first round of vaccines.
8-19-21 Covid-19 news: US to start offering booster vaccines in 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. Third doses of covid-19 vaccines will be rolled out to combat delta variant surge in US. The US will start making booster vaccines available on 20 September, health officials have announced. The shots will be offered to people who had their second dose eight months earlier, initially focusing on healthcare workers, nursing home residents and older people, who were among the first to be vaccinated. “It’s the best way to protect ourselves from new variants that may arise,” president Joe Biden told reporters at the White House on Wednesday. “It will make you safer and for longer. It will help end this pandemic faster.” However, the World Health Organization has urged rich countries and vaccine manufacturers to prioritise distributing vaccines to low- and middle-income countries before pushing ahead with third doses at home. Finn also told BBC Breakfast: “I think it’s less clear really whether a third dose in a more general way, for sort of all people above a certain age, is really going to make very much difference.” Vaccine evidence: A UK study has found that protection from the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines wanes over time. Both vaccines provide good protection against symptomatic infections by the delta coronavirus variant, but are around 15 per cent less effective against delta than against the alpha variant. The findings also imply that vaccinated people who do get infected might be just as infectious as unvaccinated people. The ventilation problem: Maximising airflow in public spaces is crucial to cut covid-19 transmission, but questions remain about what technology to use and how effective it needs to be.
8-18-21 Biden instructs Education Department to take 'appropriate' action against governors who ban school mask mandates
President Biden on Wednesday said his administration will not "stand by" while governors try to "block and intimidate" local officials who have imposed mask mandates at schools, and he has asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to use "legal action if appropriate" against those leaders. Biden did not specifically name any governors, but Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas), and Gov. Doug Ducey (R-Ariz.) have all threatened to take measures against school districts that defy their bans on mask mandates, including withholding funding. Still, with the highly contagious Delta variant spreading across the U.S., several districts in those states have voted in favor of universal mask mandates. On Wednesday, Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida, the fourth-largest district in the U.S., passed a mask mandate, with medical exemptions. These districts just want to keep their students safe, Biden said, and they are following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has said wearing a mask helps curb the spread of the coronavirus and anyone over the age of 2 should wear a face covering while inside school buildings. Biden said he wants Cardona to take "additional steps to protect our children," and this includes "using all of his oversight authorities and legal action if appropriate against governors who are trying to block and intimidate local schools officials and educators." Cardona has sent letters to DeSantis, Abbott, and Ducey, as well as the governors of Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah, saying bans on school masking mandates put students at risk and "may infringe upon a school district's authority to adopt policies to protect students and educators as they develop their safe return to in-person instruction plans required by federal law," The Washington Post reports. This isn't about politics, Biden said, but rather "keeping our children safe. It's about taking on the virus together, united."
8-18-21 Biden: No way to execute Afghanistan withdrawal 'without chaos'
There was no other way the United States' withdrawal from Afghanistan could have unfolded aside from the way it did, President Biden suggested in an exclusive interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos. Biden has faced criticism across the political spectrum for the implementation of the evacuation, which is not yet complete. But he's held firm to his belief that his administration has continually made the right calls, despite harrowing images of the chaotic scenes at Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport. When Stephanopoulos asked him if he thought the process could have been handled any differently, Biden said again doubled down. "We're gonna go back in hindsight and look, but the idea that somehow there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don't know how that happens," the president argued, explaining that such a possibility was, in Stephanopoulous' words, "always priced into the decision" to leave.
8-18-21 Biden says U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan until all Americans are out
President Biden said he is committed to keeping United States troops in Afghanistan until all Americans who want to leave the country are able to do so, telling ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that he is focused on getting this done before Aug. 31. Earlier this year, Biden set Aug. 31 as the deadline for a total withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and he told Stephanopoulos in an interview airing Wednesday night that on that day, "if there's American citizens left, we're gonna stay to get them all out." There are 10,000 to 15,000 Americans and between 50,000 and 65,000 Afghans the United States wants to evacuate, Biden said, and "the commitment holds to get everyone out that, in fact, we can get out and everyone who should come out. And that's the objective. That's what we're doing now. And I think we'll get there." The U.S. needs to get 5,000 to 7,000 people out of the country every day to hit this target, and must do so with the Taliban effectively running the Afghan government. Read more at ABC News.
8-18-21 U.S. to start offering COVID-19 booster shots to all Americans beginning Sept. 20
The Biden administration is planning to start offering COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to all Americans beginning next month. Health officials said Wednesday that "we have developed a plan" to begin offering "booster shots for all Americans beginning the week of September 20 and starting 8 months after an individual's second dose." Those Americans who received a COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer or Moderna earliest, such as nursing home residents, are expected to be eligible for a booster at that point subject to approval from the FDA and CDC, the announcement said. Additionally, the health officials said that they anticipate booster shots will "likely" be needed for those who received Johnson & Johnson's single-shot vaccine, though because this vaccine didn't begin to be administered in the United States until March 2021, officials will "keep the public informed with a timely plan for J&J booster shots" after receiving more data in the coming weeks. The plan comes after the Food and Drug Administration recently approved a booster shot for immunocompromised people amid the spread of the more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 and amid concerns "that the vaccine may start to wane in its effectiveness," as National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins explained. The health officials said Wednesday the COVID-19 vaccines "continue to be remarkably effective," including against the Delta variant, but data suggests that "current protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death could diminish in the months ahead." Booster shots, the officials said, will therefore be necessary to "maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability."
8-18-21 The FDA's inexcusable foot-dragging on child vaccination
The new school year is fertile ground for the Delta variant to spread. Many American parents are extremely anxious about returning their kids to school amid the resurgent COVID-19 pandemic — which is especially frustrating because the country is swimming in vaccines. Yet instead of scrambling to issue an emergency use authorization so children can get vaccinated, the FDA has asked Pfizer and Moderna to greatly expand the sample size of their clinical trials for children, which will likely push back initial approval by months, into midwinter. This is unacceptable. The Food and Drug Administration already has data on kids aged between 5-11, and should issue emergency authorization for all children under 12 as soon as possible, so long as that data shows an acceptably low risk of complications. Dithering to understand very rare side effects is simply bad risk management with the Delta variant spreading like wildfire. The reason the FDA is asking for more data is concerns over rare side effects, myocarditis and pericarditis (types of inflammation of the heart) that were seen in a few young people in Israel and the elsewhere. The worry is that younger kids might be at higher risk due to differences in their immune systems. In the abstract, that makes sense — obviously in ideal conditions one would want the best possible data on what the vaccines do in kids. We should be cautious when approving new treatments for children. But we are just as obviously not in ideal conditions. The pandemic is absolutely out of control in many southern states, and even in heavily-vaccinated states cases are still rising. Meanwhile, the school year is close to starting or has already started across much of the country, and school districts in many conservative states are in an open battle with their state governments over the right to have even slight protections in the classroom. Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis are both in court over this question. Even so, whatever protections schools do set up will likely be inadequate, given how cash-strapped American schools tend to be and the extreme contagiousness of the Delta variant. Sure enough, when schools have started with in-person instruction, instantaneous gigantic outbreaks have commonly been the result. Some 121,000 COVID cases were reported among children last week, and a record 1,900 kids are currently hospitalized. Multiple cities have run out of pediatric ICU beds. So the FDA is facing a tough choice. The raging pandemic means there is no way to avoid risk: Either approve the vaccine for kids aged 5-11 right away, chancing that a few kids will come down with complications, or sit back and let most of them get COVID. The correct choice will depend on which option causes less harm. Obviously I am not an expert in the science of what mRNA vaccines might do in kids. But multiple credentialed doctors and epidemiologists have argued that the data the FDA already has is enough to make an educated guess, and that vaccination will almost certainly be far, far safer than COVID. In Israel, the risk of myocarditis was roughly between one in 3000 and one in 6000 for men between 16 and 24 (the highest-risk group), and all but two of them recovered. "Ninety-nine percent of the experts in this area are convinced these vaccines are absolutely safe in children and adults from what we've seen," Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a Stanford professor of pediatric diseases, told Michelle Goldberg at The New York Times. The American Academy of Pediatrics wrote an open letter to the FDA making the same argument I have above. "The FDA should strongly consider authorizing these vaccines for children ages 5-11 years based on data from the initial enrolled cohort, which are already available, while continuing to follow safety data from the expanded cohort in the post-market setting," they wrote.
8-18-21 Covid-19 news: New Zealand begins nationwide lockdown
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. Ten cases confirmed in outbreak of delta variant in Auckland. New Zealand has begun a nationwide lockdown in a bid to contain the delta variant of the coronavirus. So far 10 cases have been confirmed in the outbreak, but modelling suggests the numbers could rise to between 50 and 100. “From the experience of what we’ve seen overseas, we are absolutely anticipating more cases,” prime minister Jacinda Ardern said. The level 4 alert, the highest level, means people other than essential workers can only leave home for groceries, healthcare, covid-19 tests and exercise. The lockdown will cover the entire country for at least three days, and remain in place in Auckland for a week. New Zealand had been free of local covid-19 infections since February, and only 21 per cent of the total population has been fully vaccinated. The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, has tested positive for covid-19, his office has announced. Abbott is fully vaccinated and not showing any symptoms, and he is receiving a monoclonal antibody treatment, according to a statement. Abbott has restricted the extent to which local authorities in Texas can mandate covid-19 vaccination and the wearing of face masks. On Monday, he attended a Republican party event with a crowd of hundreds. Texas is currently a hotspot in a covid-19 surge taking place in the southern US, driven by the delta variant. Yesterday the US recorded more than 1000 covid-19 deaths for the first time since March, according to a Reuters tally. Vaccine supplies are urgently needed in southeast Asia, the Red Cross has warned. The region has recorded 38,522 deaths in the past two weeks, nearly twice as many as North America. Indonesia is one of the worst-affected countries, with an average of 1466 deaths a day during the last week. “We fear that as the virus spreads from cities to regional and rural areas that many more lives will be lost among the unvaccinated,” said Alexander Matheou, Asia Pacific Director of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in a statement.
8-18-21 Covishield: WHO flags fake jabs in India, Africa
The World Health Organization (WHO) said it has identified counterfeit versions of India's primary Covid vaccine, Covishield. The doses were seized by authorities in India and Africa between July and August, a WHO statement said. It also said the vaccine's maker, Serum Institute of India, confirmed that the doses were fake. The WHO warned that fake vaccines "pose a serious risk to global public health". It called for their removal from circulation. There has been no official statement by the Indian government, but local reports said the country's health ministry was investigating the matter. "Although we have a strong system to prevent such cases, with this development, the only thing we want to ensure is that no Indian received a fake vaccine," an unidentified health official told the Mint news website. Covishield is the Indian-made version of AstraZeneca's jab and is the most widely used vaccine in India with more than 486 million doses administered so far. Serum had supplied millions of Covishield vaccines to countries in Asia, Africa and South America - as part of deals that were inked with various governments and the global Covax scheme for poorer countries. India also sent Covishield doses to some of its neighbours as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "vaccine diplomacy". But in the wake of a devastating second Covid wave in April and May, the government decided to accelerate the vaccine drive and banned exports. Serum has since maintained that their priority remains India's own needs - and they may not export again until the end of this year. India, which is the second worst-affected country in the world, aims to vaccinate all its people by the end of this year. About 13% of the population has been fully vaccinated since the beginning of the drive in January.
8-18-21 Three ways this Afghanistan crisis really hurts Biden
There's a quote in To Kill A Mockingbird where Jem is told by Miss Maudie that "things are never as bad as they seem." For Joe Biden, right now, things do look pretty dark. But if I'm digging into my quotations book, who can better Kipling's If - and that line about treating triumph and failure as the impostors that they are? Politicians have been told down the ages that there is no coming back from this or that catastrophe, and - yet - back they come. The shambolic unravelling of America's withdrawal from Afghanistan comes from a yet to be written textbook of "how to lose at everything". Warnings hadn't been heeded, intelligence was clearly totally inadequate, planning was lamentable, execution woeful. Let's just focus in on one thing - although there are any number that are worthy of examination. The withdrawal came during the "fighting season" - a phrase I have to say I have always found rather odd. But in Afghanistan there is a fighting season which starts in spring - and then in winter, when the country freezes over, there is a time when the Taliban go home to their tribal homelands. Did no-one think that it might have been better to have ordered the withdrawal for the dead of winter when Taliban forces weren't there, poised to fill the vacuum? The end result might have been the same - a Taliban takeover - but it would have almost certainly led to a more orderly drawdown. Yet the Biden administration wanted an eye-catching date. They wanted the withdrawal completed by 11 September. Twenty years on from 9/11 - an artificial, self-imposed deadline. One more quote. After the catastrophic Bay of Pigs invasion, when Cuban emigres backed by the CIA tried to overthrow Fidel Castro, John F Kennedy - the president at the time of that debacle - noted sorrowfully that victory has a hundred fathers, but failure is an orphan. Joe Biden is an orphan right now. And that could have consequences for his presidency; and far more importantly how the rest of the world sees America.
8-18-21 Afghanistan crisis: Chaos as Europeans scramble to evacuate Kabul
Chaotic conditions have been reported outside Kabul airport as European governments rush to bring home their citizens as well as Afghan colleagues. French, Dutch, German, Spanish, Czech and Polish planes have all left in recent hours. Shots were reported near the airport on Wednesday, as crowds approached. The Dutch government said the situation was "awful", but was widely criticised for its failure to prepare for the Taliban's takeover of the capital. Staff at the Dutch embassy were so taken by surprise on Sunday that they said they did not have time tell Afghan colleagues they were going. The head of the Dutch military union feared there was little time left to evacuate interpreters and local staff: "If we don't succeed in the next 48 to 72 hours it'll be too late," Anne-Marie Snels told the BBC. Several European governments sent planes to Kabul on Wednesday, and the European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said earlier: "We cannot abandon [Afghan colleagues] and we are doing everything we can to offer them shelter in the EU". France revealed it had flown to safety 25 French nationals and 184 Afghans "in need of protection". On board the flight to Abu Dhabi were four Dutch nationals, an Irish citizen and two Kenyans. While France is using Abu Dhabi as an air bridge, Germany is using Uzbekistan for its operations. After an initial flight landed in Frankfurt late on Tuesday, a second flight flew to Tashkent on Wednesday. A Czech plane landed in Prague carrying 87 people including Ambassador Jiri Baloun and dozens of Afghans who had helped Czech officials, while another flight left Kabul on Wednesday afternoon. A first Spanish flight left for Dubai, and Poland flew out almost 50 people, most of them Afghans. UK Ambassador Laurie Bristow said 700 British nationals and Afghans had been airlifted out on Tuesday and they were "trying to scale up the speed and pace over the next couple of days".
8-18-21 Cuba tightens control of internet after protests
The Cuban government has introduced new regulations on the use of social media and the internet, which critics say are aimed at stifling dissent. The decrees were published in the wake of the largest anti-government protests to sweep through the Communist-run island in decades. People used social media to share footage of the demonstrations and galvanise supporters. The decrees make inciting acts "that alter public order" a crime. They also order internet providers to cut access to those who "spread fake news or hurt the image of the state". They were published in the Gaceta Oficial newspaper just over a month after thousands of Cubans took to the streets in a rare show of anger with the Communist government. The protests, which started in the small town of San Antonio de los Baños, seemed to have no formal organiser but appear to have ben convened through an online community forum. They quickly spread throughout the country after a live broadcast on Facebook of people attending the impromptu march in San Antonio was widely shared. Access to mobile internet in Cuba was only introduced in December 2018 but has given Cubans the ability to get news from sources other than state-controlled media. However, Cuba's telecommunications network remains under the control of the state and in the hours and days following the protests, users found they could not access Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram or Telegram. The director of Netblocks, a London-based internet monitoring firm, told the Associate Press news agency at the time that the outages seemed to be "a response to social media-fuelled protest" by the Cuban government. Cuban officials said the new decrees were aimed at keeping Cubans safe from cybercrime. Deputy Communications Minister Wilfredo González told AFP news agency the new regulations were brought in to protect Cubans' personal data and "their privacy".
8-18-21 Pope Francis says getting vaccinated is an 'act of love'
Pope Francis has appeared in a new ad campaign encouraging viewers to "care for one another" by getting vaccinated against COVID-19. Francis spoke out to encourage COVID-19 vaccination in a public service ad released by the non-profit group Ad Council, which also includes messages in support of vaccination from a group of cardinals and archbishops, The New York Times reports. "Getting the vaccines that are authorized by the respective authorities is an act of love," Pope Francis says. "And helping the majority of people to do so is an act of love. Love for oneself, love for our families and friends, and love for all peoples." Francis adds that getting vaccinated is "a simple yet profound way to care for one another, especially the most vulnerable," and "I pray to God that each one of us can make his or her own small gesture of love." He also says that COVID-19 vaccines "bring hope to end the pandemic, but only if they are available to all and if we collaborate with one another." The comments from Francis, who previously suggested getting vaccinated was a moral obligation, come amid a rise in COVID-19 cases globally due to the spread of the more contagious Delta variant. Ad Council said this is its first campaign to be "designed for and distributed to a global audience," and it hopes Francis' message can provide a boost of confidence in vaccination. "To the world's billion-plus Catholics, the pope is one of the most trusted messengers and holds unparalleled influence," Ad Council President Lisa Sherman said. "We are extremely grateful to him and the Cardinals and Archbishops for lending their voices and platforms to help people across the globe feel more confident in the vaccines." Description
8-17-21 Texas Gov. Greg Abbott attended crowded GOP event before testing positive for COVID
The night before Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) tested positive for COVID-19, he attended a standing room only event held by the Republican Club of Heritage Ranch. Abbott, who is running for re-election in 2022, and his campaign shared photos and videos of the indoor gathering, showing a mostly maskless and older crowd packed into a room. Abbott also did not wear a mask, and videos show him moving from person to person, stopping to chat and take photos, The Associated Press reports. AP called Republican Club of Heritage Ranch President Jack DeSimone for comment, but he responded he didn't like "to have conversations like this." After announcing that Abbott tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, his spokesman, Mark Miner, said "everyone that the governor has been in close contact with today has been notified." His infection comes as Texas tries to grapple with a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, with facilities in Houston running out of room in intensive care units and the state requesting five morgue trailers from the federal government. Despite a surge in COVID-19 cases, Abbott has barred mask mandates in Texas, and state Rep. Rafael Anchia (D) said he is "praying this sign will cause him to rescind the order stopping schools from requiring masks."
8-17-21 Federal travel mask mandate extended into January
The Transportation Security Administration announced on Tuesday it is extending the federal mask mandate for airplane, bus, and train passengers through Jan. 18. This is being done to "minimize the spread of COVID-19 on public transportation," the agency said, and comes as the Delta variant continues to spread across the country. The mandate was put in place on Feb. 1, and was already extended once before in April to Sept. 13. "Extending the federal mask mandate for travel makes sense for the current health environment," Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy for the U.S. Travel Association, said in a statement. "The universal wearing of masks in airports and on airplanes, trains, and other forms of public transportation is both an effective safeguard against spreading the virus and boosts public confidence in traveling — both of which are paramount for a sustained economic recovery." Those found in violation of the mandate face fines, and there are exemptions for travelers under the age of 2 and people with specific disabilities.
8-17-21 Los Angeles County will require face masks at major outdoor events
Starting at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Los Angeles County will require that people attending large outdoor gatherings, including concerts, sporting events, and festivals, wear a face mask. "As the highly infectious Delta variant continues to spread, wearing masks — regardless of vaccination status — indoors and in crowded settings, including at outdoor mega events, reduces the risk of being infected with and transmitting COVID-19," the L.A. County Department of Public Health said in a statement Tuesday. The mandate covers outdoor events attended by more than 10,000 people, the Los Angeles Times reports. Under the order, a mask must be worn at all times, except when a person is actively eating and drinking. In July, when coronavirus cases in California began to rise again, L.A. County reimposed a mask requirement for all indoor public spaces. The Delta variant is highly contagious, and causing breakthrough infections for people who are fully vaccinated. Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, a deputy health officer for Orange County, California, said last week that COVID is "lingering in the air, so there is still a potential to get COVID when you're outdoors and in close contact or at least in close proximity to others, and you're in social events where people are spitting, singing, coughing, sneezing right in the air that you're breathing.
8-17-21 Biden defends 'messy' US pullout from Afghanistan
President Joe Biden has said he stands "squarely" behind the US exit from Afghanistan as he faces withering criticism over the Taliban's lightning conquest of the war-torn country. "How many more American lives is it worth?" asked the Democratic president. He said that despite the "messy" pullout, "there was never a good time to withdraw US forces". On Sunday, the Taliban declared victory after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled and his government collapsed. The militants' return to rule brings an end to almost 20 years of a US-led coalition's presence in the country. Kabul was the last major city in Afghanistan to fall to a Taliban offensive that began months ago but accelerated in recent days as they gained control of territories, shocking many observers. Mr Biden's address followed a dramatic day at Kabul's international airport, where hundreds of civilians desperate to flee the country forced their way inside on Monday. Many thronged the runway, running alongside a moving military transporter aircraft as it prepared for take-off. Some clung to the side of a plane, and at least two of them are reported to have perished when they fell from the aircraft after it had left the ground. American troops killed two armed Afghans who were part of the crowd that breached the airport perimeter. Seven people reportedly died in total. The US suspended its evacuation from Kabul but it has now resumed. A remarkable picture from Sunday appears to show 640 Afghans packed onboard a US military cargo plane leaving Kabul for Qatar. The image, not verified by the BBC, was obtained by the US defence analysis website, Defense One. Panicked civilians had scrambled up the loading ramp, the website quoted US officials as saying, but the crew decided it was best to take off rather than force the Afghans off. (Webmasters Comment: The same thing happened in Vietnam when the United States pulled out! The people were sick of our murderous control of their country!)
8-17-21 Afghanistan: Striking image captures Kabul exodus
It's one of the most striking images from the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban. Hundreds of Afghans packed into a US military cargo plane as they flee Kabul. The faces, many male but with some women and children, look up towards the camera, their expressions a mixture of anxiety and possibly some relief. The image, not verified by the BBC, was obtained by the US defence analysis website, Defense One. On Sunday, panicked civilians had scrambled up the loading ramp, the website quoted a US official as saying, but the crew decided it was best to take off rather than force the Afghans off the plane. The number onboard - 640 - is among the highest carried by that type of plane, a C-17 Globemaster. It's approaching, though still some way off, the record for the number of people transported by any plane - an Israeli Boeing 747 carrying more than 1,000 Jewish migrants from Ethiopia in 1991. The US defence official quoted by Defense One, says the flight from Kabul to Qatar was one of several which managed to extract hundreds of Afghans from Kabul. The photo, not officially released by the Pentagon, stands in contrast to the chaotic images which emerged from Kabul airport on Monday as it was overrun by Afghans terrified at the prospect of Taliban rule. US soldiers struggled to keep control. An image of the same type of plane from Monday showed hundreds of Afghans running alongside the moving aircraft, some clinging to the side. Local media reports said at least two fell to their deaths once it took off. Some have questioned why it is predominantly men seen at the airport. One explanation is that many women have been staying indoors, fearing how they will be treated by the Taliban. Another is that many families would want their men to leave first so they can help from outside Afghanistan, financially, and eventually find a way to bring their loved ones out of the country. While the airlifts will be welcomed by many, the numbers could be a drop in the ocean of those who feel compelled to leave in fear of the Taliban.
8-17-21 Afghanistan crisis: How America watched as Taliban won the war
US President Joe Biden admitted the Taliban's lightning-fast return to power would be "gut-wrenching" to the many Americans with a profound connection to Afghanistan. We spent the day with military veterans who served - and lost loved ones - in the conflict, and with Afghans who now call the US home. Despite the driving rain, dozens of people congregated outside the post office in Hookstown, Pennsylvania, as it was renamed after Staff Sergeant Dylan Elchin, a son of the town killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. "It's very wonderful to see Dylan honoured," said Sgt Elchin's grandfather Ron Bogolea. "He sacrificed everything for our country and I believe that we should all be honouring our military more - for what they do for not only the USA but for the entire world," he said. "The events of the last several days have shown that we don't always succeed, we certainly are not perfect, but our hearts are in the right place," said US Congressman for this area, Conor Lamb, during his speech here. But Christian Easley, an Air Force recruiter who helped train Sgt Elchin, told me that for him the current circumstances in Afghanistan had not changed his perspective at all. "Dylan had to follow his orders to go accomplish his mission. He did everything that was asked of him and then some," Mr Easley said. "Regardless of what has happened during this past week I knew that Dylan did everything right." For some though, this has clearly been a time for profound reflection. Captain Jeremy Caskey, the Chaplain that offered the invocation at the ceremony here, had himself served in Afghanistan. His brother, Marine Sgt Joseph Caskey, was killed in action there in 2010. When asked about the turn of events in Afghanistan this week, he took a moment to collect his thoughts. "It has been very difficult. You always want to know that what you are doing has purpose and meaning, but purpose and meaning doesn't just come in victory. I believe sometimes it comes in the sacrifice and the experience of it," says Capt Caskey. "Are we better off? Is the country better off? Are they better off? It's hard to say."
8-17-21 White House hasn't faced 'true worst-case scenario' in Afghanistan
While the security situation in Afghanistan deteriorated much more quickly than the Biden administration expected after the Taliban launched their offensive earlier this month, a senior White House official told The Washington Post that the United States has not faced its "true worst-case scenario." Those fears reportedly would have been realized had U.S. forces had to fight their way out of the embassy in Kabul to evacuate government officials, the Post writes. The second part of that scenario did happen, but the evacuation was "a noncombatant operation," which is something the Pentagon reportedly prepared for during an exercise on Aug. 6. Because the White House was able to avoid a conflict within the embassy, the administration has now turned its focus to providing security to Kabul's airport and aiding evacuation flights for Afghan civilians and American citizens who live in Afghanistan, the official said. Read more at The Washington Post.
8-17-21 Why is the Taliban's Kabul victory being compared to the fall of Saigon?
As the US continues its withdrawal from the Afghan capital, social media has been flooded with pictures of a helicopter evacuating people from the American embassy in Kabul. It's a familiar image to some. Back in 1975, photographer Hubert van Es snapped a now-iconic picture of people scrambling into a helicopter on a rooftop in Saigon, at the close of the Vietnam War. Analysts and US lawmakers - both Republican and Democrat - have been comparing the so-called fall of Saigon with the Taliban takeover of Kabul. The Vietnam War was a conflict between the communist government of North Vietnam, and South Vietnam and its principal ally, the US. Against the backdrop of the Cold War, the North was supported by the Soviet Union and other communist allies, while the South was backed by Western forces - including hundreds of thousands of US troops. It was costly and lengthy war for the US - lasting almost 20 years - and extremely divisive among Americans. The phrase "the fall of Saigon" refers to the capture of Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital, on 30 April 1975 by communist forces of the People's Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong. America withdrew its military from South Vietnam in 1973, and two years later the country announced its surrender after Northern forces took Saigon - later renaming it Ho Chi Minh City, after the late North Vietnamese leader. Like Kabul, the city's capture came much quicker than the US had expected. In response, the US abandoned its embassy in Saigon and evacuated over 7,000 American citizens, South Vietnamese and other foreign nationals by helicopter - a scramble known as Operation Frequent Wind. By its end, the Vietnam War had become increasingly unpopular back in the US, and had cost not only billions of dollars but over 58,000 American lives. For some, the fall of Saigon was a blow to America's standing on the world stage. In the decades since, the term Vietnam Syndrome has emerged - denoting a reluctance by American voters to commit military power abroad. Many US policymakers have drawn parallels between Saigon and Kabul. "This is Joe Biden's Saigon," tweeted Elise Stefanik, chair of the Republican House Conference. "A disastrous failure on the international stage that will never be forgotten." (Webmasters Comment: In Vietnam we murdered over 2 million civilian men, women, and children with naplam and agent orange! In Afghanistan we murdered men, women, and children at funerals and weddings because we thought they might contain Taliban! What's the difference?)
8-17-21 With Houston hospitals filled by COVID patients, man shot 6 times 10 days ago is still waiting for surgery
It's been 10 days since Joel Valdez was shot outside of a Houston grocery store, and he still hasn't been able to undergo surgery, due to his hospital being overcrowded with COVID-19 patients. Valdez was sitting inside his car on Aug. 6 when he was shot six times, an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire of a domestic dispute. He was brought to Ben Taub Hospital, where as of Monday morning the intensive care unit was at 103 percent capacity, with 33 percent of the beds filled with COVID-19 patients, The Washington Post reports. Valdez was shot three times in his left shoulder and needs surgery, but the hospital is so overwhelmed by COVID-19 that he's still waiting. "Everybody is really surprised I'm still in this bed a week later," he told Fox 26 over the weekend. It's not just Ben Taub Hospital that's packed — Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital in Houston is at 94 percent capacity in the intensive care unit, with 54 percent of those patients hospitalized with COVID-19. In Texas, the seven-day average of new daily hospitalizations was 11,993 as of Monday. Because its hospitals are filled with so many COVID-19 patients, Harris Health System doctors have to look at each patient daily to assess who is most in need of surgery, spokesperson Amanda Callaway told the Post. "Due to strained resources, surgical patients are being prioritized based on several factors, which unfortunately may result in a delay of non-emergent surgical procedures," she added. With the highly contagious Delta variant spreading across the United States and millions of people still not vaccinated, hospitals in Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and other states are reporting bed shortages. Valdez told Fox 26 it's "a little frustrating" that he has "broken bones and bullets in me" but doctors don't see getting him into surgery as an urgent matter. He advises his fellow Houston residents to "do your best to maintain your health and not end up in a situation that puts you in the hospital right now."
8-17-21 Texas requests 5 FEMA morgue trailers in anticipation of COVID-19 fatality surge
Texas has requested five mortuary trailers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in anticipation of a spike in COVID-19 deaths as the Delta variant continues to take its toll, Texas Department of State Health Services spokesman Doug Loveday tells NBC News. He said the request was put in Aug. 4, because "we are anticipating a need within the state of Texas for these trailers as COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to increase." The five morge trailers will be based in San Antonio and moved to other cities as needed, and the health services department said they were requested as a precautionary measure. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg was not aware of the state's request, but it "makes sense," spokesman Bruce Davidson said. "Deaths are starting to mount for sure." Texas is averaging 80 COVID-19 deaths a day, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Neighboring Louisiana is one of four states that have hit pandemic-high COVID-19 infections, along with Oregon, Hawaii, Florida, and Mississippi, CNBC reports. Louisiana had a nation-high per capital infection rate of 126 cases per 100,000 residents, followed closely by Florida and Mississippi, and "about 1 of every 1,600 Louisiana residents is currently in a hospital bed with COVID, and more are arriving each day," The Advocate reports. "We are rapidly getting to the point where we could have a major failure of our health care delivery system," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said Friday. "There's some people out there whose care is being delayed to the point where, for them, it's already failed."
8-17-21 New Zealand goes into nationwide lockdown over a single COVID-19 case
New Zealand is headed into a nationwide lockdown after a single case of COVID-19 was confirmed. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Tuesday the country will be locked down after officials confirmed the first locally transmitted case of COVID-19 in six months, CNN reports. The lockdown will go into effect on Tuesday evening. Schools, offices, and businesses that aren't essential services will close under the level 4 lockdown, BBC News reports. Auckland and Coromandel will be locked down for seven days, as the man who tested positive lives in the former and visited the latter, and the rest of the country will lock down for three days, according to The Associated Press. New Zealand was able to largely eliminate COVID-19 last year after implementing an early lockdown and closing its borders. The country recently announced it would reopen its borders to international travelers in early 2022. "I want to assure New Zealand that we have planned for this eventuality," Ardern said Tuesday, per BBC News. "Going hard and early has worked for us before." Ardern, calling the Delta variant of COVID-19 a "game changer," added that "we have seen what can happen elsewhere if we fail to get on top of it," and "we only get one chance." But the prime minister said that "while we know that Delta is a more dangerous enemy to combat, the same actions that overcome the virus last year can be applied to beat it again."
8-17-21 New Zealand enters nationwide lockdown over one Covid case
New Zealand has announced a snap lockdown after a man tested positive for Covid, the first case in six months. The case was detected in Auckland, which will be in lockdown for a week, while the rest of the country will be in lockdown for three days. Authorities say they are working on the assumption that the new case was the Delta variant. Just around 20% of its population has been fully vaccinated. Coromandel, a coastal town where the infected person had visited, will be in lockdown for seven days too. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the toughest "level 4" rules were required - closing schools, offices and all businesses with only essential services remaining operational. "I want to assure New Zealand that we have planned for this eventuality. Going hard and early has worked for us before," she said. The patient is a 58-year-old man, who is believed to have been infectious since last Thursday. There are at least 23 potential sites of transmission. There was reportedly a rush at supermarkets in Auckland, as locals anticipated a snap lockdown. Officials said there was a need for strong response because of the fear of the Delta variant, and because there was no clear link between the new case and the border or quarantine facilities. Data released by New Zealand's Ministry of Health on Monday showed that all Covid-19 cases detected at the country's border in recent weeks had been Delta. "We have seen what can happen elsewhere if we fail to get on top of it. We only get one chance," Ms Ardern said in a televised national address, calling the Delta strain "a game changer". New Zealand has been successful in eliminating the virus from within its borders, although its international borders remain largely closed. However, its vaccination programme has rolled out at a slow pace, with only around 20% of people fully vaccinated and 33% of people having received one dose, according to Our World in Data.
8-17-21 Covid-19: Lockdown not enough to stop Australia’s delta variant crisis
In Sydney, Australia, the pandemic feels like it is just getting started. The city is battling its worst covid-19 outbreak yet, which is being blamed on the highly contagious delta coronavirus variant and low vaccination rates. Since early in the pandemic, Australia has tried to keep the coronavirus out altogether by banning international visitors, quarantining all Australians returning from overseas and rapidly locking down whenever covid-19 is detected in the community. This worked for a long period – in the first half of 2021, the country didn’t record a single death from locally acquired covid-19. Then the delta variant arrived. A Sydney limousine driver who transported international aircrew was infected in mid-June, prompting stay-at-home orders to be introduced across greater Sydney on 26 June. The city’s lockdown is now in its eighth week – people can only leave home for reasons like buying food and essential work – but covid-19 cases and deaths are climbing. Over 400 covid-19 cases are now being recorded daily in Sydney and the rest of the state of New South Wales. Eight deaths from the virus were recorded on 15 August – the state’s highest daily toll of the pandemic so far. The virus has also started to spread into other Australian states and territories. There are several reasons why case numbers aren’t going down this time, even though the same lockdown, test, trace and isolate strategies that successfully contained previous outbreaks have been deployed, say experts. One is the greater transmissibility of the delta variant compared with earlier variants, says Catherine Bennett at Deakin University in Melbourne. “Now, if the virus gets into a household, everyone gets infected, whereas last year probably only a third of people would,” she says.
8-16-21 U.S. will reportedly advise 8-month COVID-19 booster shot for all eligible Americans
U.S. will reportedly advise 8-month COVID-19 booster shot for all eligible Americans "I think Delta changed everything," one person familiar with the decision tells the Post. The Food and Drug Administration approved a booster shot for immunocompromised people last week, and National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins said Sunday that the first groups offered booster shots next would probably be "health care providers, as well as people in nursing homes, and then gradually moving forward" to older Americans and other groups more vulnerable to the coronavirus. Those groups also got first shot at the vaccine, putting them closer to the eight-month window. "There is a concern that the vaccine may start to wane in its effectiveness," Collins said. "And Delta is a nasty one for us to try to deal with. The combination of those two means we may need boosters." The shots would not be offered until at least mid-September, when the FDA is expected to approve Pfizer/BioNTech's application for boosters. More than a million Americans have already gotten unapproved booster shots. The World Health Organization has asked wealthier countries to hold off on offering booster shots until at least October, arguing it is more ethical and effective to share doses with countries that need vaccine supply. The Biden administration, which has begun sending more than 110 vaccine doses to those countries, said it has enough supply still to deliver boosters to Americans if that's what health official recommend.
8-16-21 Humbled by Afghanistan
The debate about America's failure in Afghanistan could use a little more humility — on both sides. The American-backed government in Afghanistan has collapsed with stunning, searing speed. President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on Sunday as Taliban fighters entered Kabul, while the U.S. embassy in the city reportedly lowered its flag amidst the evacuation of American personnel from the country. For the United States, the war is over, lost, a disaster. The Taliban have won. The results are likely to be tragic and terrifying, especially for the country's women. As might be expected, events abroad have reverberated stateside, setting off a round of finger-pointing and angry arguments over the wisdom of President Biden's decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. On one side, those who say that Biden should have at least kept a nominal troop presence in the country — and who argue America's swift withdrawal was a "psychological blow" to government forces that had been fighting alongside U.S. troops for most of the last 20 years. "We set them up for failure," retired Gen. David Petraeus, the former CIA director, told The New York Times. On the other side — the side I take — there are those who argue this awful moment was coming anyway, whether the United States departed Afghanistan now or in five, 10, or 20 years. The Taliban were always going to be able to outwait us; it's their country after all. A generation of endless war is enough. "After 20 years of backstopping the Afghan government and paying for the Afghan security forces, extending the U.S. troop presence in the country was unlikely to make much of a difference in the war," analyst Daniel DePetris wrote for USA Today. What the debate could use is a little more humility, on both sides. For the hawks, this means truly reconciling with how U.S. failures in Afghanistan over the last two decades contributed to the chaos we're now seeing. As documented by The Washington Post's Craig Whitlock, American presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and even Donald Trump hid the truth from the public about the weakness of the American position in the country, even obscuring an assassination attempt on then-Vice President Dick Cheney when he visited. U.S. generals so often falsely declared a sense of confidence — about the war effort, about the progress in training the Afghan armed forces — "that their statements amounted to a disinformation campaign," Whitlock writes. Sometimes the truth seeped out. Even as he asked President Obama for a surge of troops to Afghanistan in 2009, Gen. Stanley McChrystal acknowledged in a memo that the "weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials" had, along with other factors, "created fertile ground for the insurgency." McChrystal got his troops, but 12 years later, not much has changed — a big reason the Taliban has been able to advance so quickly. And if it's true that the Afghan government has collapsed because its forces couldn't function without U.S. air support and intelligence, that also means that in 20 years the United States never quite got around to preparing those forces to stand on their own. In any case, it's clear that years of hollow happy talk has discredited the pro-war position — one recent poll suggests that 70 percent of the American public favors the withdrawal from Afghanistan, including most Republicans. Biden may be overseeing the end of the war, but it was his Republican predecessor who set it in motion. All of this would seem to require some introspection from America's hawks.
8-16-21 How the Taliban stormed across Afghanistan in ten days
The Taliban swept across Afghanistan in just 10 days, taking control of towns and cities across the country. Taliban fighters took their first provincial capital on 6 August - and by 15 August, they were at the gates of Kabul. Their lightning advance prompted tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, many arriving in the Afghan capital, others heading for neighbouring countries. And there was chaos in Kabul, as President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and thousands of his countrymen and women tried to do likewise. Emboldened by the withdrawal of US and other international forces, in June, the Taliban already controlled large parts of the country. But after 6 August, their advance accelerated with a new momentum. Provincial capitals toppled in quick succession. By 8 August, the Taliban had taken control in Kunduz. Herat, Lashkar Gah and Kandahar followed within a few days. Despite 20 years of outside support, billions of dollars of funding, an extensive programme of training and US air support, the Afghan security forces largely collapsed. In some areas, they did stand and fight. In Lashkar Gah, Afghan troops were pinned back in key positions, as the Taliban attacked repeatedly. Hundreds of commandos were sent in to restore order - but when the Taliban detonated a massive car bomb outside the police headquarters, on 11 August, the battle was largely over. In many areas, Afghan units that found themselves running out of ammunition and other supplies simply fled. Troops armed and trained by the US to safeguard ordinary Afghans left them to largely fend for themselves. And in some places, the authorities agreed to allow the Taliban to take over, to avoid further bloodshed. In Ghazni, reports suggest the police chief and governor were both allowed to leave the city in return for agreeing to a Taliban takeover. On 14 August, Mazar-i-Sharif fell to the Taliban, with little resistance from Afghan troops, some of whom left the city and headed for the border with Uzbekistan at Haraitan.
8-16-21 Afghan officials, security forces reportedly started selling out to the Taliban in early 2020
Secretary of State Antony Blinken conceded Sunday that the Taliban's effective takeover of Afghanistan "happened more quickly than we anticipated." The domino-like fall of Afghanistan's regional capitals, then the national capital, was years in the making, aided by widespread corruption, an isolated and poorly advised President Ashraf Ghani, President Biden's expeditious withdrawal of U.S. forces and contractors, and demoralized and often unpaid security forces, political and military analysts say. But "the spectacular collapse of Afghanistan's military that allowed Taliban fighters to walk into the Afghan capital Sunday despite 20 years of training and billions of dollars in American aid began with a series of deals brokered in rural villages" in early 2020, The Washington Post reports. The deals "were often described by Afghan officials as cease-fires, but Taliban leaders were in fact offering money in exchange for government forces to hand over their weapons," and "over the next year and a half, the meetings advanced to the district level and then rapidly on to provincial capitals, culminating in a breathtaking series of negotiated surrenders by government forces." After the Trump administration and Taliban, meeting in Doha, reached a bilateral agreement in February 2020 for a conditional full withdrawal of U.S. forces, "some Afghan forces realized they would soon no longer be able to count on American air power and other crucial battlefield support and grew receptive to the Taliban's approaches," the Post reports. "The negotiated surrenders to the Taliban slowly gained pace in the months following the Doha deal," and then "the capitulations began to snowball" after Biden announced in April that the U.S. was pulling out this summer. "Some just wanted the money," but other Afghan officials saw the Doha agreement as an "assurance" the Taliban would return to power and chose self-preservation, an Afghan special forces officer told the Post. "The day the deal was signed we saw the change. Everyone was just looking out for himself. It was like [the United States] left us to fail." Four U.S. administrations have spent more than $88 billion on Afghanistan's security since 2001, despite "serious concerns about the corrosive effects of corruption" and actual Afghan troop numbers, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan (SIGAR) said in a July 2021 report. "The question of whether that money was well spent will ultimately be answered by the outcome of the fighting on the ground."
8-16-21 U.S. military takes control of Kabul airport, aims to evacuate 5,000 civilians a day
The U.S. military took control of air traffic at Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport and secured the airport's perimeter, the Pentagon and State Department said late Sunday, as thousands of Americans, foreign nationals, and Afghans jostled to leave the country, now effectively under Taliban control. President Biden has ordered about 6,000 U.S. troops to secure the airport and aid the evacuation, and the full contingent of U.S. forces is set to arrive within 48 hours, the joint statement said. "Tomorrow and over the coming days, we will be transferring out of the country thousands of American citizens who have been resident in Afghanistan, as well as locally employed staff of the U.S. mission in Kabul and their families, and other particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals," the Pentagon and State Department said. All U.S. Embassy staff were moved to the airport Sunday, and U.S. officials say they are working to accelerate the evacuation of Afghans who helped the U.S. and are eligible for Special Immigrant Visas. "The Pentagon intends to have enough aircraft to fly out as many as 5,000 civilians a day, both Americans and the Afghan translators and others who worked with the U.S. during the war," The Associated Press reports. "But tens of thousands of Afghans who have worked with U.S. and other NATO forces are seeking to flee with family members. And it was by no means clear how long Kabul's deteriorating security would allow any evacuations to continue." There are about 88,000 Afghans eligible for SIVs who could need to be evacuated, and only about 2,000 have arrived in the U.S. over the past two weeks, The Washington Post reports. The Pentagon has plans to relocate up to 30,000 SIV applicants to the U.S. in the immediate future while their applications are processed, Fox News reported Sunday night, citing Defense Department documents. "Once we get more airlift out of Kabul, we're going to put as many people on those planes as we can," and "not just American citizens, but perhaps some Afghan SIV applicants as well," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told Fox News. "We're going to focus on getting people out of the country, then sorting it out at the next stop." He added that "we're going to be in oversight of the air operations at the airport for as long as we can."
8-16-21 Afghanistan: Life in Kabul after the Taliban victory
The Taliban captured Afghanistan's capital Kabul on Sunday, 20 years after they were ousted from power. So what does it look and feel like the day after its fall? The Taliban are everywhere, at the checkpoints which used to be official police or army barricades. There is not much panic in the city today, as there was yesterday. The Taliban were controlling traffic, they were searching cars, and they were especially searching those vehicles which used to belong to police and the army. They have taken all those vehicles and they are using them. If there are Taliban fighters themselves driving those vehicles now, they are stopped at checkpoints, too. They told us that they checked these vehicles to make sure they were not looters and thieves disguised as Taliban. The scenes at the airport were catastrophic. On the road there were families, children, young, old, all walking along the 2km (1.2 miles) road. People are struggling to flee this country. Most are just waiting, on the green belt in the middle of the road. I'm talking about more than 10,000 people at the airport. At the approach to the main entrance gates, there were Taliban with heavy weapons trying to disperse people by shooting in the air. People who wanted to get in were climbing the walls, the gates, even the barbed wire. Every single person was pushing to get in. We spoke to an eyewitness who was stuck at the airport on Sunday. He had a flight to go to Uzbekistan, but it didn't happen. Officials then abandoned the airport. People had arrived without any tickets or passports - they thought they could get on any plane and be able to fly to anywhere else in the world, the eyewitness said. Thousands of people were stuck inside the airport, without food or water. There were many women and children - and disabled people, too. But if you go into the city centre, life appears to be normal. There is a lot less traffic, most of the shops are closed. But people look much calmer than yesterday - yesterday, everybody was furious. There was a big traffic gridlock. I've only seen a few women on the street - some single women as well, without escort. Some were wearing blue burkas, but I also saw some wearing surgical face masks and headscarves. And the Taliban seemed alright with them.
8-16-21 Will the Taliban take Afghanistan back to the past?
"Thanks to God you are come," shouted an old man as my colleagues and I marched into Kabul on 14 November 2001, battling our way through the joyful crowds. The anti-Taliban forces of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, which had the backing of the US and other Western countries, had halted on the city outskirts, and the Taliban had simply run for it. Five years of the most extreme religious dictatorship in recent times were over. Under the Taliban, Afghanistan had become a black hole in which all sorts of extremism could thrive. Only two months earlier the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington had been planned and guided by Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda movement. It simply never occurred to me then that Taliban could make a comeback. Now of course everyone is looking for reasons. They aren't hard to find. The governments of Afghanistan's two post-Taliban presidents, Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani, were democratically elected but never strong, and corruption was the system which worked best. Nevertheless President Ghani would still be in his palace and the army would be driving round in its expensive Western vehicles, if Donald Trump had not decided that he needed a foreign policy success before the 2020 election. He thought that bringing a long-running war to an end would achieve that. Several Afghan politicians and journalists I know were horrified by the conclusion of the US talks with the Taliban political leadership in Doha in February 2020, and doubly so when President Joe Biden made it clear he was going to stick to it. I was warned that no matter how moderate and peaceable the leaders in Doha might promise to be, the Taliban fighters on the ground would feel no compulsion to observe the fine print. And so it proved. Directly after the US, British and other Western troops began pulling out, the Taliban fighters across Afghanistan made their play for power. Reports of prisoners being executed brought an atmosphere of blind panic in one town after another, until Kabul itself succumbed and officials and soldiers were battling their way to the airport to get out. (Webmasters Comment: Just like Vietnam. The people didn't want us so we had to leave!)
8-16-21 Canada election: Trudeau calls snap summer campaign
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called a snap summer general election as Canada enters into its pandemic fourth wave. The general election comes as polls indicate his minority Liberal government looks within reach of forming a majority. The 49-year-old Liberal leader says "Canadians need to choose how we finish the fight against Covid-19". Canadians will vote on 20 September, some two years ahead of schedule. On Sunday, Mr Trudeau visited Canada's Governor General Mary Simon - the representative of the Queen, Canada's head of state - and asked her to dissolve Parliament. The leader of the centrist Liberals said a general election was necessary so voters have a voice on the path forward at a "pivotal moment". In October 2019, voters handed him a minority, meaning he has had to rely on opposition parties to help him pass his agenda. Opposition parties criticised the Liberals for calling a five-week long campaign during the pandemic's latest wave simply for "political gain". "Politically, I don't really know if there's been a better time for this government," says Abacus Data CEO David Coletto. "The mood of the public is a good one right now." The pollster says that about 46% of Canadians in their recent surveys say they believe the country is heading in the right direction - the highest it's been in about five years. The global coronavirus pandemic is sure to dominate the campaign, as it has much of Mr Trudeau's second term. Over 25.000 Canadians have died from Covid, but the country fared better than others, such as the US. Still, its record on the pandemic has been mixed. It was slow to close its borders. The military had to be sent to some elderly care homes to help contain outbreaks. The initial vaccine rollout was slow, with Mr Trudeau facing questions over the lack of domestic vaccine production. The government was quick to get pandemic relief spending out the door, though it racked up record levels of debt to do so.
8-16-21 Why is Israel demolishing homes in East Jerusalem?
The demolition of houses built without planning permission in East Jerusalem is seen by some Palestinians as an attempt to drive them out - but Israel says it is trying to keep the city in order.
8-15-21 NIH director says he'll be surprised if U.S. doesn't hit 200,000 COVID-19 cases per day soon
National Institutes for Health Director Francis Collins told Fox News' Chris Wallace on Sunday that he'll be surprised if the United States doesn't begin recording 200,000 COVID-19 cases per day once again in the next couple of weeks. The latest Delta variant-fueled increase in cases has shown no signs of slowing down, he said, making 90 million unvaccinated Americans "sitting ducks for this virus." "That's heartbreaking, considering we never thought we would be back in that space again. That was January, February," he said, referring to the last wave of cases just before the U.S. ramped up its vaccine rollout. "That shouldn't be August. But here we are." Meanwhile, Michael Osterholm, the director of the Centers for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, gave NBC News' Chuck Todd an update on the timeline of the current surge, which he believes "could sustain itself for another four to six weeks." Even if vaccinations pick up steam, he explained, immunity won't kick in for a few weeks, so other mitigation efforts like mask-wearing will be necessary to bring infections down.
8-15-21 Afghan conflict: Taliban enter outskirts of the capital Kabul
Taliban militants have reached the outskirts of Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, after taking control of most of the rest of the country. The interior minister says negotiations have taken place to ensure a peaceful transition of power. A Taliban statement says fighters had been ordered to remain on the edges of the capital. "We assure the people in Afghanistan - there will be no revenge on anyone," a Taliban spokesman told the BBC. Russia is planning to convene an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. It says it will not be closing its embassy, because it has been provided with security assurances by the Taliban. It is almost 20 years since the Taliban were ousted by a US-led military coalition. Bagram airfield and prison, about 40km (25 miles) north of the city centre, are in Taliban hands, the militants say. Once the largest American military facility in Afghanistan, the complex was evacuated by the US military in the dead of night on 2 July. President Joe Biden has defended his decision to speed up the US withdrawal, saying he could not justify an "endless American presence in the middle of another country's civil conflict". The US now is evacuating staff from its Kabul embassy - with people seen boarding military planes at the airport, where 5,000 US troops have been deployed to help with the operation. Earlier on Sunday, militants took control of Jalalabad, a key eastern city, without a fight. This means the Taliban have secured the roads connecting the country with Pakistan. Mainly with panic - some trying to reach the airport, many abandoning their cars and opting to walk because of traffic jams. There have been chaotic scenes as people try to withdraw cash from ATMs and others queue to get travel documents at the passport office and at foreign visa centres. Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told the BBC that people in Kabul have no need to worry and their properties and lives are safe. "We are the servants of the people and of this country," he said. The militants did not want Afghans to flee but to stay and help with the post-conflict reconstruction, Mr Shaheen stressed. A Taliban government would give women the right to education and work, he added. (Webmasters Comment: The Taliban consider all women as chattel!)
8-15-21 'This was a race and we lost': How US doctors really feel about Covid surge
Nearly 620,000 Americans have died from Covid-19, and over 32 million have been infected. Healthcare workers have been at the forefront of the pandemic battle. And for many, the last few months have felt like déjà vu. A rise in the number of Covid patients in hospital, a surge in deaths, and rampant misinformation about the disease have made some feel like it's "summer 2020 all over again". But has the vaccine changed anything? Do medical professionals have hope for the fall? We went back to several healthcare professionals - doctors, nurses, and medical staff - who we spoke to last summer, to ask how they are faring nearly 18 months into the Covid pandemic. Here's what they told us. (Webmasters Comment: The unvacinated have attacked America with their disease and ignorance.)
8-15-21 Will COVID-19 variants keep getting worse?
The Delta variant has dramatically changed the course of the pandemic. What will the next variant bring? The highly contagious Delta variant is now responsible for the vast majority of COVID-19 cases in the United States. How might the virus next evolve? Viruses are constantly mutating. Most mutations are relatively harmless and do not affect a virus' properties, but some mutations can make a disease more infectious or severe. When it comes to COVID-19, the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are tracking variants of interest (VOIs) and variants of concern (VOCs). A VOI is suspected of being more contagious, capable of causing more severe disease, and/or reducing vaccine effectiveness than an original strain; a VOI becomes a VOC when there is evidence to support these suspicions. There are four known VOCs: Alpha, which was first identified in the United Kingdom; Beta, first identified in South Africa; Delta, first identified in India; and Gamma, first identified in Japan and Brazil. Because of its alarmingly rapid spread. The Delta variant, which emerged from India's devastating second COVID wave in the spring, became the dominant strain worldwide in a few short months thanks to its high transmissibility. Data shows it is at least twice as contagious as previous variants. People who contracted the original strain tended to spread the virus to three others, on average; models suggest that figure jumps to seven for Delta. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious disease expert, said data shows people who become infected by the Delta variant have viral loads "about 1,000 times higher in quantity" than people who were infected with the Alpha variant. Studies out of Canada and Scotland suggest unvaccinated people infected with the Delta variant are also more likely to be hospitalized than patients with the original virus strain or the Alpha variant. The good news is that so far, the vaccines available in the U.S. remain very effective at preventing severe illness and death, even against the Delta variant. But in areas with low vaccination rates, cases are on the rise and hospitals are filling up. The Delta Plus variant is related to Delta and has an additional mutation in its spike protein. Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California San Francisco, says public health experts believe Delta Plus is "at least as bad as Delta," but they don't have the clinical and biological information necessary to know if it is more transmissible, makes people sicker, or is able to evade vaccines. Right now, it only represents a small fraction of U.S. infections. "That's what keeps me up at night," Shweta Bansal, an infectious-disease ecologist at Georgetown University, told The Atlantic. The longer the virus is allowed to spread in unvaccinated populations, the greater the chance of it mutating when jumping from host to host. The big concern is that a new variant will be able to evade the vaccines, and everyone — regardless of their vaccination status — will be vulnerable to the virus once again. We've already seen the virus change several times in the less than two years since COVID-19 emerged. But while scientists are surprised by COVID-19's rapid mutations, there are evolutionary pressures on how viruses change. When an organism evolves to become more fit in one way, it often sheds a different trait at the same time. For example, a virus might mutate to become more contagious, but at the expense of its own severity. Such evolutionary trade-offs help keep many viruses in check. "There isn't a super-ultimate virus that has every bad combination of mutations," Dr. Aris Katzourakis, who studies viral evolution at the University of Oxford, told BBC.
8-15-21 Polish law on property stolen by Nazis angers Israel
Poland's president Andrzej Duda has approved a law that will make it harder for Jewish people to recover property lost during and after World War Two. Israel has recalled its diplomatic envoy to Warsaw over the changes, branding the law "anti-Semitic". The legislation relates to claims on property stolen by Nazi Germany, then seized by Poland's communist regime. The law sets a 30-year limit on challenges to such confiscations. As most happened soon after the war, many outstanding claims will now be blocked. The Polish government says the change will end a period of legal chaos, but Israel condemned it forcibly. "Poland today approved - not for the first time - an immoral, anti-Semitic law," Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement. Mr Lapid also said he was recommending Poland's ambassador to Israel remain on his summer holiday in Poland. "He should use the time available to him to explain to the Poles what the Holocaust means to the citizens of Israel and how much we will not tolerate contempt for the memory of the victims and the memory of the Holocaust," he tweeted. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett branded the law "shameful". He said it showed "disgraceful contempt for the Holocaust's memory". About six million Jews died in the Holocaust, half of them Polish. About 90% of Poland's pre-war Jewish community were killed. Israel's opposition to the legislation was supported by the US, and Mr Lapid said further courses of action would be discussed with Washington. The Polish government has previously said the new law has nothing to do with Israeli and US fears. When World War Two ended, Poland's communist authorities nationalised many properties that had been left empty because their owners had fled or been killed. The new law covers both Jewish and non-Jewish claimants, but critics say Jewish owners were often late in lodging claims after the war and will be disproportionately affected. (Webmasters Comment: Anti-Semintism is returning to the world! The Nazis are back!)
8-14-21 Could a transitional government 'end the current violence' in Afghanistan?
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday made his first public appearance since the Taliban quickened the pace of their offensive ahead of the United States' departure from the country. As the insurgents continue to seize provincial capitals and head toward Kabul, Ghani said in a televised speech that he has begun "consultations" with other political leaders in Afghanistan. He did not go into detail about those consultations, but Victoria Fontan, a professor of peace studies at the American University in Afghanistan, told Al Jazeera it's possible he may be working on a transition to a different government — a step American University in Afghanistan law professor Haroun Rahimi believes will be necessary to avoid a "worst case scenario." Fontan said it's possible "this solution could end the current violence," though she added that the Taliban "have already rejected this type of negotiated settlement." Read more at Al Jazeera.
8-13-21 Afghanistan pullout: Biden's biggest call yet - will it be his most calamitous?
If you like neat lines, tidiness and admire symmetry, what's not to like about the decision of Joe Biden to pull American combat troops out of Afghanistan by 11 September 2021 - exactly 20 years on from 9/11? In modern day America it often feels that all roads lead back to 9/11; the single most defining - and scarring - event since Pearl Harbor: the surprise attack by the Japanese on America's Pacific fleet, which would ultimately bring America into World War Two. And so it was that 9/11 led to this country's longest military encounter. The attack on the Twin Towers, the plane that flew into the Pentagon, and the one that crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, were initially the spur for a surge of US nationalism. Young people - in fact people of all ages - were going along to armed forces recruitment offices wanting to sign up. America had come under attack; these patriots wanted to fight to defend the country the "land of the free", and seek revenge on those who would do the US harm. And don't mistake this for some kind of kneejerk jingoism. It wasn't that. I knew many people - not just Americans - who were of a liberal bent and had been no great fans of all the doings of the US of A but who have a visceral sense this was a moment where you had to pick your team. Were you on the side of the rule of law, free and fair elections, due process, sexual equality, universal education? Or were you on the side of those who would fly planes into buildings, or would stone people to death, or throw homosexuals off of buildings, or deny girls schooling? If that seems a massive over-simplification, maybe it is - but in the devastating aftermath of 9/11, that is how it seemed to many. But by 2016 it was one of the factors that led to Donald Trump's election: the weariness of the "endless wars" as candidate Trump would refer to the quagmires of Afghanistan and Iraq; the wariness of America being able to act as the world's policeman.
8-13-21 Afghanistan veterans are 'riveted in horror' by Taliban's 'faster-than-expected' takeover
As Afghanistan continues to fall to the Taliban at a "faster-than-expected" pace, those who served in the war are reportedly "riveted in horror" watching the militant group make gains, and immensely frustrated by the withdrawal that's threatening to undo their 20 years of work, The Washington Post reports. "It makes me angry, really angry," said Tom Amenta, a retired veteran who was originally deployed in 2002. Afghanistan "has never had a clean solution," he told the Post. "But now that it's gotten hard, we're just going to bounce? It doesn't make it right." The United Kingdom's Foreign Affairs Select Committee Chair Tom Tugendhat, who also served in Afghanistan, called the withdrawal "wasteful and unnecessary," adding that it's as though the rug has been pulled out from under the Afghan government. "It's just frustrating," lamented Army veteran John Whalen. "We knew that this would happen. Now, all the people who went and served, are like, 'Why did my friend die?'" Whalen told the Post he asks himself that question, too. Scott Novak, a former Army medic, added that, as the situation progresses, there's a "lingering sense of sadness" amongst his military friends. "No one's saying, 'Hey, you know, at least we did something.' There's just nothing to really show for it," he explained. "And so, everyone's kind of angry and wondering, why? Why were we even there?"
8-14-21 Climate change: July world's hottest month ever recorded - US agency
July was the world's hottest month ever recorded, a US federal scientific and regulatory agency has reported. The data shows that the combined land and ocean-surface temperature was 0.93C (1.68F) above the 20th Century average of 15.8C (60.4F). It is the highest temperature since record-keeping began 142 years ago. The previous record, set in July 2016, was equalled in 2019 and 2020. Experts believe this is due to the long-term impact of climate change. In a statement, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that July's "unenviable distinction" was a cause for concern. "In this case, first place is the worst place to be," NOAA administrator Rick Spinrad said in a statement. "This new record adds to the disturbing and disruptive path that climate change has set for the globe." The combined land and ocean-surface temperature was 0.01C higher than the 2016 record. In the Northern Hemisphere, land-surface temperature reached an "unprecedented" 1.54C higher than average, surpassing a previous record set in 2012. The data also showed that July was Asia's hottest month on record, as well as Europe's second hottest after July 2018. The NOAA statement also included a map of significant climate "anomalies" in July, which noted that global tropical cyclone activity this year has been unusually high for the number of named storms. Earlier this week, a report from the United Nations said that climate change is having an "unprecedented" impact on earth, with some changes likely to be "irreversible for centuries to millennia." UN Secretary General António Guterres said that the findings were "a code red for humanity." "If we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe. But as today's report makes clear, there is no time for delay and no room for excuses," he said. The authors of the report say that since 1970, global surface temperatures have risen faster than in any other 50-year period over the past 2,000 years.
8-14-21 Rage is in the air
At times, the pandemic has brought out the best in humanity, but it has also brought out the worst I was recently tooling down the middle lane of a crowded highway when a $75,000 SUV blew past me in the right lane at roughly 100 mph. He abruptly cut in front of me and zigzagged through heavy traffic, braking, speeding up, abruptly weaving in and out of all three lanes. In my rearview mirror I saw another weaving SUV coming up at the same speed, and then a third. Their hyperaggressive driving was deranged, but unfortunately not unusual. As perhaps you've noticed, the roads are now full of deranged drivers doing 90 mph or more, or roaring down residential streets at double the local speed limit, as if no one else mattered. From Maine to California, police say they've caught more motorists driving recklessly and exceeding 100 mph than ever before. "People are flying down the roads," a Maine state trooper tells The Associated Press. "It's just ridiculous." What's this about? The pandemic, I think, has given us a collective case of PTSD. We have all experienced an acute loss of control; an invisible virus has governed how and whether we work, how our kids are educated (or aren't), how we travel, dine out, and socialize. The Delta surge — a sucker punch to the gut just as freedom seemed near — has inflamed the ambient sense of powerlessness. Rage is in the air. Reckless driving is one way of venting anger and reasserting control. So is refusing to get vaccinated, and attacking your tribal enemies online or in person, with fists and/or guns. Frustration, fear, and loss have us looking for someone to blame: the CDC, masks, Trump, Fauci, the fanatics in the other tribe, China. But these targets are distant, so people take it out on each other, especially in anonymous encounters. At times, the pandemic has brought out the best in humanity, but it has also brought out the worst. And as Yeats observed in 1919, "the worst are full of passionate intensity." Can the center hold?
8-14-21 The war in Afghanistan has been lost for 2 decades
The Taliban tried to surrender in December 2001. Donald Rumsfeld said no. The government of Afghanistan that the U.S. spent almost 20 years, $2.2 trillion, and 2,448 of its own soldiers' lives propping up, getting something like 40,000 Afghan civilians killed, is collapsing. Taliban forces have taken cities across the country with contemptuous ease, and the fall of the capital city Kabul is expected in weeks if not days. Voices from the foreign policy "Blob" are clamoring for blood. "On Afghanistan, Biden's credibility is now shot," writes Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times. "Jihadists are still out there and very much want to kill us," claims Georgetown professor Paul Miller. Anonymous military officials are telling friendly journalists that Al Qaeda is going to come back. The reality is that the war in Afghanistan has been lost for nearly 20 years already. Prolonging the fighting can only delay the inevitable. The collapse of putative Afghan government forces is happening so quickly that the lack of a few thousand American troops cannot possibly be the main reason why. Very likely the Taliban was simply biding its time — only launching its assault once American forces were largely out of the way and seemed unlikely to fight back. Once the Afghan army was on its own, it melted away like butter in a hot skillet. As I wrote in 2015, and again in 2017, and again in 2019, the U.S.-backed Afghan government has never been worthy of the name. It has always been incompetent, riddled with corruption (thanks in large part to the clumsy and monumentally crooked American occupation), and never had anything like broad legitimacy. The passage of time did nothing to help these problems. It turns out that a domestic government that depends utterly on a ruthless and/or apathetic foreign conqueror whose forces routinely inflict terrible carnage on the local population (either accidentally or on purpose) does not sink deep roots. As journalist Spencer Ackerman notes, the hard truth is that war in Afghanistan was lost only a few months after it began: in December, 2001. That was when the Taliban, reeling from American attacks, tried to negotiate surrender terms. Their requests were quite modest — mainly just for their leader Mohammad Omar to be able to live under house arrest. Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld rejected them out of hand. "I do not think there will be a negotiated end to the situation, that's unacceptable to the United States," he said. It takes truly world-historical arrogance to refuse a quick and easy end to a war in the most notoriously hard-to-occupy place on the planet, but that's what happened. (Negotiated settlements were attempted again in 2003 and 2010-11, but neither worked, arguably doomed by Rumsfeld's appalling decision.) The Taliban thus settled on the only option available to them: a war of attrition. They figured the Americans would be no better at standing up a client government than the Soviets or the British before them, and could be harassed out of the country eventually. They were correct. Anyone with the slightest familiarity with Afghan history — particularly the failure of the incomprehensibly brutal tactics used by Soviet occupiers — could have predicted this outcome. Twenty years of occupation have not changed the fact that the Taliban is by far the most effective fighting force in Afghanistan. On the contrary, it has made them stronger — allowing them to practice endlessly at guerrilla warfare, to gain support as the most credible force trying to throw off the yoke of despised foreign aggressors, and pick up tons of free weapons. Much of the billions and billions of dollars spent on trying to stand up an Afghan army has ended up directly in Taliban hands, as they pick up equipment abandoned by rotten U.S.-supplied formations. The ongoing rout is handing them all kinds of goodies.
8-14-21 US-Mexico border migrant detention levels reach 21-year high
The number of migrants detained at the US-Mexico border in July exceeded 200,000 for the first time in 21 years, government data shows. A total of 212,672 migrants were apprehended by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), including an all-time high of 19,000 unaccompanied minors. It continues a trend of rising migrant numbers this year, despite the White House urging people to stay away. Experts say many migrants are fleeing violence and extreme poverty. The July figure represents the highest monthly total since April 2000 - the latest sign of the growing humanitarian crisis facing the Biden administration. Attempted migrant crossings have historically dipped during the hot summer months along the nearly 2,000-mile southern border. But July's numbers are a 13% increase from June, when over approximately 188,000 migrants were detained by US border control. In May, 180,000 migrants were stopped in attempted crossings. On Thursday, US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas described the situation as "one of the toughest challenges" the country faces. "It is complicated, changing and involves vulnerable people at a time of a global pandemic," he said. It is also proving politically troublesome for President Joe Biden. An AP-NORC poll in May found that 54% of Americans disapprove of how the Democrat is handling immigration issues. In early August, the Biden administration announced that it would indefinitely extend a Trump-era pandemic policy that allows the US to swiftly expel undocumented migrants. Unaccompanied children and some families are exempt. More than 45% of July's total were processed for expulsion under this policy, known as Title 42. Many, however, re-attempt the crossing.
8-14-21 Australia: New South Wales 'in worst ever Covid situation'
The leader of New South Wales has warned this is "the worst situation Australia's been in" since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. State Premier Gladys Berejiklian said rules would be tightened in Sydney, the state capital, which is in lockdown. Covid fines will also go up to AU$5,000 (US$3,685; £2,656) from AU$1,000. "This is literally a war, and we've known we've been in a war for some time, but never to this extent," Ms Berejiklian told reporters. She added that September and October would be "very difficult". Case numbers and deaths in the Australian state remain relatively low compared to some of the world's worst outbreaks, including in the US and UK. However, locally transmitted infections hit 466 on Saturday - a significant increase from the previous daily high of 390 set a day earlier. Four deaths were reported on Saturday, bringing the state's total number of deaths in this outbreak to 42. Sydney has been in lockdown for nine weeks. Officials had hoped to lift the city's restrictions on 28 August, but that is now looking increasingly unlikely. From Monday, people will be restricted to staying within 5km of their home for shopping, exercise or outdoor recreation, with exemptions in place for social bubbles. And from 21 August, anyone wishing to travel from Greater Sydney to regional New South Wales will need a permit. Anyone found travelling without a permit will be fined AU$3,000. Hundreds more defence personnel will also enforce lockdown measures in the city, after Australian Defence Force soldiers were first deployed last month. NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said some people had been using excuses related to exercise, social bubbles and regional travel. "These are some of the strongest powers we've ever had in the history of the NSW Police Force," he told reporters. "It's all about getting ahead of Delta [variant of Covid-19], not chasing it."
8-13-21 Arnold Schwarzenegger asks if Americans are 'really this selfish and angry' after his rant against anti-maskers
Arnold Schwarzenegger is continuing to call out those "schmucks" refusing to wear a mask or get vaccinated against COVID-19. The former Republican governor of California earlier this week blasted anyone who claims that wearing a mask infringes upon their freedom, telling them "screw your freedom" and that "you're a schmuck for not wearing a mask." He expanded on that in an essay for The Atlantic on Friday, saying he stands by his rant, while acknowledging it may have been "a little much." Schwarzenegger goes on to write, though, that some responses he received to his rant "really worried me," as "many people told me that the Constitution gives them rights, but not responsibilities," and they apparently "feel no duty to protect their fellow citizens." In response to this sentiment, he calls on Americans to reflect on the fact that "our country began with a willingness to make personal sacrifices for the collective good." our country," he continues. "We have lost more than 600,000 Americans to COVID-19. Are we really this selfish and angry? Are we this partisan?" Schwarzenegger also writes that it "doesn't bother me" that some have accused him of being a RINO, or a Republican In Name Only, because of his stance. "Honestly, rhinos are beautiful, powerful animals," he writes, "so I take that as a compliment." Read the full essay at The Atlantic.
8-13-21 Florida's DeSantis concedes he can't actually cut the salaries of school officials who issue mask requirements
The White House on Wednesday was toying with ways to cover the salaries of Florida school officials targeted by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) for requiring students, teachers, and school staff to wear masks to slow the spread of COVID-19's Delta variant. But on Thursday, DeSantis acknowledged he can't actually follow through with his administration's threat to strip those officials of their paychecks. Christina Pushaw, a DeSantis spokeswoman, suggested the school officials cut their own salaries for defying DeSantis' mask mandate ban. The issue," Pushaw told the Tampa Bay Times, is that "superintendents and school board members are not state employees. Therefore, the only way the state could tailor the financial penalty would be to withhold an amount of funding equal to their salaries." When Alachua County Public Schools officials made that point to the state, that "neither the Florida Department of Education nor the Board of Education control the payroll distribution of school districts," Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said he "may recommend" the State Board of Education withhold funds from the Alachua and Broward school districts 'in an amount equal to the salaries of the superintendent and all the members of the school board." Pushaw argued that "it wouldn't be fair to the students" if those school officials did not dock their own pay. Alachua County Public Schools is at risk of losing $300,000 of its $537 million 2021-22 budget, while Broward County Public Schools could lose $700,000 of its $2.6 billion annual budget, the Times notes. DeSantis has argued that it is the sole responsibility of parents to decide if their kids wear masks at school, and he has banned both mask and vaccine requirements in the state. On Thursday, President Biden called the local leaders and school officials who buck such bans "heroes" and thanked them for standing up to their governors.
8-13-21 Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is literally fiddling while COVID-19 cases burn through overwhelmed hospitals
COVID-19's Delta variant has sent Texas hospitals back to crisis levels not seen since the bad old days of late February, before vaccines were widely available. The state is averaging about 12,400 new cases a day. More than 10,000 Texans, mostly unvaccinated, have been hospitalized for COVID-19 this week — a 400 percent increase in the last month — and ICUs in at least 53 hospitals are full. "If this continues, and I have no reason to believe that it will not, there is no way my hospital is going to be able to handle this," Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, a top health official in Houston's Harris County, told state lawmakers Tuesday. "I am one of those people that always sees the glass half-full, I always see the silver lining. But I am frightened by what is coming." The response from the state government "has turned to self-parody," Ross Ramsey writes at The Texas Tribune. "As COVID-19 cases rose and hospitalizations approached outright crisis, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) tweeted a photo of himself playing the fiddle at a weekend political gathering. Way to go, Nero." More concretely, Abbott has stuck to his executive order barring local governments and school districts from requiring masks to slow COVID-19's spread. The Houston Independent School District on Thursday joined school districts in Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and Fort Worth — the state's largest cities — to require masks anyway, and Dallas and Bexar counties successfully sued this week to get around Abbott's ban on municipal mask mandates. "The rebellion is spreading across the state," said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. Now Abbott is moving to quash that rebellion after facing criticism from further-right conservatives. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission threatened to pull the liquor licenses of two Austin restaurants Wednesday if they continued requiring proof of vaccination to enter — the restaurants, evidently unaware a new state law forbade that, dropped the requirement Thursday. And Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton vowed to sue any school or government official that defies his executive order banning mask requirements. "If we have local officials who just defy law because they feel like they know better, then we end up with little dictators all over the state and we don't have any rule of law and we lose our representative government that we vote for," Paxton told Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty on Wednesday.
8-13-21 Back to school triggers US fury over masks for students
Across the US, local school board meetings have witnessed protests and showdowns. With Covid cases on the rise again, American parents and officials are wrestling with how students can safely return to the classroom.
8-13-21 Covid booster: US approves third jab for the immunocompromised
US drug regulators have given approval for immunocompromised Americans to get an additional Covid jab as a booster to help stave off infection and illness. The order issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) affects around 10 million people, including transplant recipients and cancer patients. It marks the first time that US health officials have indicated that booster shots may be necessary to fight Covid. Several others countries have begun providing booster jabs to some groups. The issue of booster vaccines will be discussed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccines panel at a meeting on Friday. If approved by the group, boosters could become available by this weekend. Experts say the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson may not sufficiently protect some people, especially those who have a weakened immune system. All three vaccines are currently approved in the US under an emergency use authorisation. Pfizer, which has applied for full authorisation, has lobbied US and European regulators to approve a third booster dose. It comes as evidence grows that antibody protection from vaccines may wear off over time, and as some people seek their third dose on the black market. On Thursday, US disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci said boosters may only be needed for those whose immune systems are low. "We don't feel at this particular point that apart from the immune-compromised, we don't feel we need to give boosters right now," the advisor to President Joe Biden told CBS. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization, has called for a moratorium on booster shots until at least the end of September to allow every country to vaccinate at least 10% of their population. Israel has already provided booster shots to people over 60 who were vaccinated at least five months earlier. The UK, France and Germany had plans to begin distributing them starting in September.
8-13-21 US census: Hispanic and Asian-American driving US population growth
Population shifts revealed by the 2020 Census herald changes to come in US politics as the country becomes more diverse, experts say. The number of Americans who identify as white has fallen below 60% for the first time and population growth is being driven by ethnic minorities. Results of the once-in-a-decade count will be used to draw voting districts ahead of next year's midterm elections. The data, collected amid the Covid-19 pandemic, could fray political nerves. It shows the demographic shift of every neighbourhood in the US over the last 10 years. It includes racial and ethnic data as well as the voting age population of each location. The overall population grew by 7.4% over the last decade to reach 331 million. The rate of growth was the slowest since the 1930s. Just over half of the total growth was a result of the increase in the US Hispanic population, which reached 62.1 million, or 18.7% of the total in 2020, compared to 16.4% in 2010 and 12.6% in 2000. Additionally, the Asian-American population swelled by 35% to 24 million, making it the fastest growing segment of the US population. The black population grew by 5.6%, though essentially held steady at 12.1% as a share of the overall US demographic. The changes could usher in a new kind of identity, say academics. "It's going to require new ways of understanding about who's American," says New York University's Ann Morning, the author of The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference. Those new ways will be felt at the ballot box because information released from the count will be used to redraw congressional voting districts that can help determine who will get elected. The districts can be drawn up by independent groups or by state governments and can thus be heavily influenced by the party in power. Republicans control the efforts in 20 states, and Democrats in 10 states. Elsewhere, the redistricting is done by outside groups. The new districts would go into effect in time for the midterm elections next year.
8-12-21 2020 Census data shows U.S. population is more diverse and urban
The U.S. Census Bureau released new data from the 2020 Census on Thursday, showing for the first time ever a drop in the non-Hispanic white population. Nicholas Jones, director of race and ethnic research and outreach for the Census Bureau's population division, said analysis of the 2020 Census results "show that the U.S. population is much more multiracial and more racially and ethnically diverse than what we have measured in the past." The data — which will be used to redraw congressional and legislative districts in the country just one year before the 2022 midterms — indicates growth among Latino, Asian, and multi-racial Americans, the Los Angeles Times reports. White people are still the largest racial or ethnic group in the United States, comprising 57.8 percent of the total population, down from 63.7 percent in 2010. Latinos are the second largest group, making up 18.7 percent of the population. The national population rose by 7.4 percent over the last decade, the second slowest rate of growth in U.S. history. About 80 percent of urban areas saw population gains, as more people are leaving rural regions, and more Americans who are on the move are choosing homes in the West and South, compared to the Midwest and Northeast.
8-12-21 The case against anti-vaxxer coddling
Liberals are right to be furious. And it's good politics too. The coronavirus pandemic is back in the United States in a big way. Many had hoped that wide availability of vaccines would at least reduce the virus to a slow burn, but the combination of the ultra-contagious Delta variant and low vaccination rates in much of the country has caused a renewed surge of infection, hospitalization, and death. Across almost the whole Gulf Coast, cases are spiraling completely out of control, and states are running short of hospital ICU beds. Vaccinated Americans are starting to seethe. In June and early July, it seemed like the U.S. nearly had this thing beaten. But now the stubborn entitlement of a reactionary minority is delaying the return of normal life indefinitely, and putting the lives of others — in particular, all the children under 12 and those with compromised immune systems who cannot get vaccinated — at risk. Surveys have repeatedly shown that vaccine refusal is largely a partisan phenomenon. Some have argued that attacking anti-vaxxers is ineffective, or worry that it will lead to dangerous conflict. But a furious reaction is healthy, natural, and frankly overdue. Liberals should embrace their anger, and stand up to those who are deliberately prolonging the pandemic. Here's where we stand as a country. The vaccines are proving to be somewhat less effective against the Delta variant, but still provide strong protection against infection, very strong protection against hospitalization, and almost complete protection against death. The highly-vaccinated states in the Northeast have so far seen only a relatively modest increases in cases, small increases in hospitalization, and few deaths. But as noted above, the least-vaccinated states are in dire straits. Nationally, about 70 percent of people above 18 have gotten at least one shot, but the 30 percent of vaccine refuseniks are concentrated in conservative states — though I should note that only about a third of Republicans (presumably the hard core of dedicated partisans) say they will not get the vaccine. As usual, I should add a caveat that this argument is not directed at people who haven't gotten a vaccine for more understandable reasons — lack of time off work, fear of needles, simple procrastination, or whatever — I'm talking about motivated, ideological anti-vaxxers and especially prominent cynical propagandists pushing that view. (Still, if you haven't gotten around to vaccination yet, please go and do it immediately. Lives are at stake.) There is unsurprisingly a stone obvious correlation between the rate of vaccination and the rate of new cases, which are skyrocketing across the South. The major exception is Florida, which has about an average level of vaccination but among the worst outbreaks. However, this may be due to vaccine tourism — a lot of retired snow birds who got their shots because Florida opened up vaccine eligibility early, and people who came in from other countries for the same reason, who have since left the state — making its vaccination numbers look higher than they are. (It seems in some counties, data show well over 100 percent of the population vaccinated, which obviously can't be right.) (Webmasters Comment: Lock them up and throw away the key!)
8-12-21 A majority of Americans support increased attention on the country's history of racism
A majority of Americans believe increased attention on the history of slavery and racism in the U.S. is a good thing for society, Axios reports per a Pew Research Center survey published Thursday. Among Democrats and Democrat-leaning adults, 78 percent see the heightened emphasis on the country's racist past as a positive. Meanwhile, 46 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning adults view it as a negative, and 29 percent see it as neither good nor bad. Just 25 percent of conservative-leaning adults view the attention as positive. When broken down by race and ethnicity, 75 percent of Black adults, 64 percent of Asian American adults, and 59 percent of Hispanic adults believe the spotlight on racism to be a good thing, but only 46 percent of white adults agreed. America's history with racism and slavery as a positive; 26 percent claimed the opposite, per Axios. The poll's results sharpen the already-distinct picture emerging from the cultural wars — that "fights over critical race theory in [the] present are really about defining the past." Pew Research Center surveyed 10,221 respondents from July 8-18, 2021. Results have a margin of error of 1.5 percent. See more results at Axios and Pew Research Center.
8-12-21 Supreme Court rejects request to block Indiana University's COVID-19 vaccine mandate
Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett on Thursday rejected a request from eight Indiana University students trying to block the school's COVID-19 vaccine mandate. In May, Indiana University announced it was requiring all students, faculty, and staff members get vaccinated, with religious and medical exemptions. Of the eight students who sued, six have received a religious exemption and a seventh is qualified but has not yet applied, The Washington Post reports. Barrett oversees emergency petitions submitted from the school's region, and in her decision, did not give a reason for the rejection or mention referring the matter to her fellow justices. This was the first case related to vaccination requirements to make it to the Supreme Court, after a federal district judge and panel of the Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit rejected the request. In the 7th Circuit opinion, Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote that "each university may decide what is necessary to keep other students safe in a congregate setting. Vaccinations protect not only the vaccinated persons but also those who come in contact with them, and at a university close contact is inevitable."
8-12-21 Pacific Northwest braces for 2nd brutal heat wave as new analysis sees 600 deaths from 1st wave
The National Weather Service has issued heat warnings and advisories through Friday for parts of the Midwest, Northeast, and Mid-Atlantic regions, but the Pacific Northwest, especially, is bracing for a second round of dangerously hot temperatures this week. Portland is projected to top 100 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday and Friday and Seattle should hit the mid-90s; both cities "would break all-time records this week if the late June heat wave had not done so already," The Associated Press reports. Portland and other Oregon cities have set up cooling stations and Gov. Kate Brown (D) has declared a state of emergency. Temperatures in the region typically top out in the 80s during the summer, and few people have air conditioning. Oregon officially recorded 96 heat-related deaths from the June onslaught and Washington registered 95 deaths, but a new New York Times analysis of excess deaths suggests the real numbers were nearly 160 deaths in Oregon and 450 in Washington. Climate scientists concluded that the June heat wave would not have possible without the influence of human-caused climate change, and a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this week warned that more extreme weather events are now inevitable. But heat deaths are largely preventable, Kristie Ebi, a professor in the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the University of Washington, told the Times. "The more we understand about these deaths, the better we can prepare."
8-12-21 How North American cities are bracing for more heatwaves
This summer's extreme heatwave in western Canada and the Pacific Northwest was linked to hundreds of deaths. How can cities better prepare for dangerously high temperatures? Shane Sanders says it was some of the worst working conditions he's ever experienced in his eight-year career. The paramedic was on 12-hour shifts in a Vancouver suburb during the record-shattering heatwave in late June. He and his colleagues were "dripping through their uniforms, taking their shirts off just to cool down" and "kicking back as much water as they could between calls" in 35C (95F) temperatures, without factoring in humidity. "There were paramedics puking outside after calls because they were so fatigued and rundown - just getting heat exhaustion symptoms themselves," he says. A few times he ended up treating more than one patient during calls, because the wait for an ambulance meant more people in a home had been overcome by heat once they arrived, he says. Troy Clifford heard similar stories from other paramedics: one who treated an elderly woman whose home had reached a broiling 50C, another who responded to 11 cardiac arrest calls in just one shift. Clifford, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of British Columbia union, called the extreme heat a "perfect storm" for the paramedic services in the province, which were already straining under staffing shortages and increased call volumes during the Covid pandemic. At some points during the heatwave, there were waits of an hour or more for critical calls coming into the dispatch centre, he says. From 25 June to 1 July, over 700 deaths were reported to the BC coroner's office - three times the normal amount - the majority of which are believed linked to the extreme heat. The province and its health services were both pushed to explain why they weren't better prepared - and Vancouver has since vowed to implement a plan to be ready for when temperatures spike again, like they are expected to through this weekend. Heatwaves are becoming more likely and more intense because of human-induced climate change, but have often taken a back seat when it comes to how cities prepare for extreme weather.
8-11-21 Former Afghan diplomat says fellow citizens 'are really up to here with Americans'
As the Taliban rapidly gains ground in Afghanistan, taking several provincial capitals in just a few days, the country's citizens are directing ire at the United States, the brother of a "legendary" Afghan rebel leader who fought against both the Soviet Union and the Taliban told The Wall Street Journal. D"Every Afghan, they are really up to here with Americans," said Ahmad Wali Massoud, whose brother Ahmad Shah Massoud was assassinated in a Taliban-Al Qaeda-linked plot just two days before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "You came to Afghanistan to root out terrorism. What happened?" On his Twitter account, the younger Massoud, who served as Afghanistan's ambassador to the U.K. from 2002 to 2006, has criticized both the U.S. and Afghan governments, calling the former's military withdrawal "irresponsible," but adding that President Ashraf Ghani and other political leaders "were living under the delusion of making Americans as their permanent strategic ally." On Tuesday, he wrote that the swift fall of the provincial capitals is the legacy of the U.S.'s 20-year presence in Afghanistan. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.
8-11-21 California requires teachers to get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced on Wednesday that school employees in the state must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing. California is the first state to enact such requirements. "We think this is the right thing to do," Newsom said, "and we think this is a sustainable way to keeping our schools open and to address the No. 1 anxiety that parents like myself have for young children — and that is knowing that the schools are doing everything in their power to keep our kids safe." The California Teachers Assn. pushed hard to get its members access to COVID-19 vaccines when they were first made available, the Los Angeles Times reports, and said at least 90 percent of its ranks report being vaccinated. The state's largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, is requiring all students and employees — vaccinated or unvaccinated — get tested weekly, as the highly contagious Delta continues to spread. This will involve collecting and processing about 100,000 tests every day. Earlier this summer, the University of California and Cal State systems both announced that students and staffers must be vaccinated in order to attend in-person classes or enter indoor facilities on campuses.
8-11-21 What needs to happen before a COVID vaccine for kids is authorized
As the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine for children under 12 continues, patiently-waiting parents who are hungry for answers might try keeping an eye out for a few notable signs of progress, writes The Atlantic. The first "milestone" will be reached when under-12 vaccine trials stop accepting new participants, notes The Atlantic; after that, researchers "can put all their effort into evaluating the trial itself." As of Wednesday, both Pfizer and Moderna's trials were reportedly still listed as "recruiting" in the National Library of Medicine's clinical-trial database. For context, Pfizer submitted an FDA application for its adolescent vaccine iteration just over two months after closing trial enrollment. The next and more obvious milestone would be reached when either manufacturer submits an emergency use authorization application. Then, in the case of Pfizer, the company's 12-to-15-year-old EUA was approved a month after its submission. However, late last month, Pfizer and Moderna both extended the recruitment phrases for their under-12 vaccine clinical trials. The FDA, which requested the extension, said it is concerned about "having a large-enough sample size to detect rare side effects," writes The Atlantic. It is unclear how much time the extra recruiting will take. So, in the meantime, the best way to protect young children continues to be "masking, quality ventilation, frequent testing, and vaccinating as many adults and adolescents as possible," writes The Atlantic.
8-11-21 Ex-U.S. attorney reportedly testifies he quit before Trump could fire him for not backing election fraud claims
During closed-door testimony on Wednesday, Byung J. Pak, a former U.S. attorney in Atlanta, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he resigned suddenly in January after being told that then-President Donald Trump was going to fire him for refusing to say there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia, a person familiar with the testimony told The New York Times. Pak said the warning came on Jan. 3 from top Justice Department officials who relayed that Trump wasn't happy when Pak announced he investigated Trump's claims of voter fraud in Fulton County and found no evidence, the Times reports. Rather than be publicly fired, Pak wrote a letter of resignation on Jan. 4, stating that he did his best "to be thoughtful and consistent, and to provide justice for my fellow citizens in a fair, effective, and efficient manner." On Jan. 3, audio was leaked to The Washington Post of a Jan. 2 phone call Trump had with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), during which Trump asked Raffensperger to find the number of votes needed to overturn the state's election results and deliver him a victory. During the call, Trump made a reference to "your never-Trumper U.S. attorney there." The Senate Judiciary Committee is investigating the last weeks of the Trump presidency and pressure his administration put on the Justice Department to falsely claim the election was stolen. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters that Pak "answered all questions in a seemingly honest and candid way, and my impression is that he believes in the rule of law and that he stood up for it."
8-11-21 New York Governor Andrew Cuomo resigns in wake of harassment report
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has resigned after an inquiry found that he sexually harassed multiple women, prompting efforts to remove him. "The best way I can help now is if I step aside," he said, while continuing to deny the claims. The resignation will take effect in 14 days. Lt Governor Kathy Hochul will become the first woman to lead New York state. Mr Cuomo had been facing pressure to resign from fellow Democrats, including President Joe Biden. Just a year ago he was basking in adulation as millions of Americans tuned in daily to his no-nonsense televised briefings on the coronavirus pandemic. Mr Cuomo is the third New York governor in a row to leave office under a cloud of scandal. The independent investigation by the New York Attorney General's office found that Mr Cuomo, 63, sexually harassed 11 women, including state employees. Women alleged that he made sexual comments, inappropriately touched or groped them, and kissed them without consent. The report led many prominent Democrats to turn against Mr Cuomo, including Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Senate leader Chuck Schumer and New York's two US senators. His fellow New York Democrats had begun plans to impeach him. He is still facing criminal investigations relating to the harassment claims. As he announced his resignation on Tuesday, Mr Cuomo continued to deny allegations of sexual harassment but said he wanted to "deeply, deeply" apologise to any women who may have been offended by his actions. "In my mind I've never crossed the line with anyone. but I didn't realise the extent to which the line has been redrawn," he said. He added that his instinct was "to fight through this controversy, because I believe it is politically motivated". But he said he was resigning because the "current trajectory" of the scandal would generate months of distractions and "cost taxpayers millions of dollars". Mr Cuomo said the allegations had harmed his relationship with his daughters. "I have sat on the couch with them, hearing the ugly accusations for weeks. I have seen the look in their eyes, and the expression on their faces. It hurt," he said. He said he told them he "never did and would never intentionally disrespect a woman". (Webmasters Comment: Absolute Bullshit! Women do not make this stuff up!)
8-11-21 Florida governor says no salaries for school leaders requiring masks
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a vocal critic of Covid restrictions, has said the state can withhold salaries from school leaders who enact mask mandates. He earlier issued an order against such policies in schools, but some districts have pushed back, saying their pupils must still mask. The row comes as US schools begin their new academic year, and as Delta variant surges affect younger groups. There is no evidence the Delta variant is more severe in children. Multiple states have recently recorded spiking paediatric hospital admissions, though a number of the child patients reportedly have other conditions such as asthma, diabetes or respiratory syncytial virus. Just 1% of US children infected with coronavirus end up in hospital and 0.01% die, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Across the US, there have been showdowns between governors and local school districts over student mask mandates. In a statement on Monday, the Republican governor of Florida said the state board of education "could move to withhold the salary of the district superintendent or school board members" if they issue rules requiring children to wear face masks. Teachers or other school staff would not be affected. In Mr DeSantis' July order, he said forcing masks on students would encroach on parents' rights. The same day, one of Florida's largest government-run school districts announced that students must wear masks for the beginning of the school year, unless they have an excuse from a doctor or psychologist. "Heaven forbid we lost a child to this virus, I can't just simply blame the governor of the state of Florida - I just can't," said Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna during a live-streamed news conference to announce the decision. Another Florida superintendent cautioned in a Monday opinion piece for the Washington Post that two employees have died of the virus in the last two weeks, "and school hasn't even started".
8-11-21 Kathy Hochul: Who is New York's first female governor?
Kathy Hochul is to become the first female governor of New York, after Andrew Cuomo resigned over sexual harassment allegations - which he denies. Ms Hochul will take over as the top politician in the fourth most populous US state in just two weeks' time. But who is she? Described by her predecessor as "smart and competent", the 62-year-old is a centrist Democrat from the Buffalo area of New York state. She joined the governor's team in 2014, and has held the largely ceremonial role of lieutenant governor. Ms Hochul is from a family of steelworkers, and her grandparents fled poverty in Ireland before making New York their home. One of six children, she gained an undergraduate degree from Syracuse University, and a law degree from Catholic University of America. From there, she started off working as an aide on Capitol Hill and worked in local positions before being elected to Congress. Ms Hochul has been an advocate for women facing domestic and sexual violence throughout her career. She led Mr Cuomo's "Enough is Enough" campaign to fight sexual assault on college campuses. In 2006 she also established the Kathleen Mary House, a transitional home for victims of domestic violence, with her mother and aunt. In 2008, the governor-to-be caused controversy when serving as the Eerie county clerk, after she opposed then-governor Eliot Spitzer's plan to give drivers' licences to undocumented immigrants. She walked back on the comments 10 years later, stating, "it is a whole different era out there". Ms Hochul had joined the chorus of politicians denouncing Andrew Cuomo last week, and said his resignation on Tuesday was the "right thing to do". The investigation into Mr Cuomo "documented repulsive & unlawful behaviour by the Governor towards multiple women", she tweeted. An independent investigation by the New York Attorney General's office found that Mr Cuomo had sexually harassed 11 women, including state employees.
8-11-21 Kathy Hochul: New York's next governor influenced by Irish roots
The woman set to become New York's next governor is a proud Irish-American who has often spoken of how her Irish roots influenced her political outlook. Kathy Hochul's Irish-born grandparents emigrated from County Kerry to the United States just over a century ago. She recently described how they "had a profound impact" on her decision to enter politics. Ms Hochul will become the first woman to lead New York state when she replaces Andrew Cuomo. Mr Cuomo resigned after an independent inquiry found that he sexually harassed 11 women - allegations which he has denied. Ms Hochul, who is lieutenant governor - Mr Cuomo's deputy - welcomed his resignation as "the right thing to do" and said she was ready to serve. In two weeks' time, she will take office as the 57th governor of New York. Ms Hochul was born Kathleen Mary Courtney in 1958. Her website states she was "raised in a blue-collar Irish Catholic family in Buffalo that instilled a deep passion for public service and activism". Her father, Jack Courtney, was an impoverished steel plant worker who later became president of a technology company. Mr Courtney's parents both hailed from the same village in County Kerry, but the couple did not get together until after they emigrated to the American Midwest, meeting in Chicago in 1919. In an article she wrote for the Irish Echo newspaper to mark St Patrick's Day earlier this year, Ms Hochul set out her Irish-American roots in detail. "Just over 100 years ago, my father's parents fled lives surely destined for poverty in County Kerry," she wrote. "From the migrant farms of South Dakota, to domestic servitude in Chicago and finally to a steel plant in Lackawanna, they suffered hardship like millions of immigrants before and after them, but ultimately lived the American dream. "Looking back, I realize these two barely educated but loving people had a profound impact on my decision to enter public service."
8-11-21 6 answers to parents’ COVID-19 questions as kids return to school
Universal masking in schools could be key to making the 2021–22 school year go smoothly. Last fall, my husband and I managed our children’s first run-of-the-mill cold masquerading as COVID-19 with ease. We took them for the requisite tests and waited for the results. Meanwhile, the kids stayed home from school, using screens to answer math problems or watch educational programming. At least schools in Vermont, where we live, were mostly open, we said. At least the kids were getting some in-person education and social interaction. At least we were getting some uninterrupted work time. Then we got our first “close contact” call from school, informing us that someone who had been near one of our kids had tested positive for COVID-19. We were told to wait seven days after exposure and then get a test or wait 10 days with no test before sending them back to school. Soon came the second call. Then a mystery case of diarrhea. The missed school days started piling up. Our ease became uneasy. Elementary schools in our area remained open, initially for two days and then four, for the entire 2020–2021 school year. Even now, after a chaotic year where each kid missed weeks of in-person school, I remain thankful for the schools’ heroic efforts to maintain some semblance of normal during a very abnormal time. But as schools across the country reopen this fall, our rocky experience serves as an example of what other families could go through. “Large numbers of students are going to be vulnerable to frequent quarantines,” says pediatric infectious diseases specialist Adam Hersh of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. “That is going to be incredibly disruptive.” In some ways, opening schools this year is even more precarious than last fall. The super contagious delta variant has become the dominant coronavirus strain across the United States (SN: 7/30/21). Some medical experts are predicting an uptick of colds and other seasonal respiratory illnesses that have symptoms mirroring those of COVID-19, which could mean even more missed school as kids wait for the all clear. And few states are requiring protective masks, even for unvaccinated students, while several states have even banned school districts from issuing mask mandates.
8-11-21 LGBTQ advocacy group targets redistricting to aid representation in largely gay areas
The LGBTQ Victory Fund is launching a "first-of-its-kind" redistricting effort to bolster lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender candidates nationwide next year, Politico reports. To do so, advocates are lobbying map-drawing authorities in certain states to classify gay populations as "communities of interest," a status given to other minority groups so they can elect their preferred candidate in local, state, or federal races, Politico writes. These specially-considered areas are known as "opportunity districts." The Victory Fund campaign has specifically focused in on Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan, and Montana, since redistricting in those states is handled by nonpartisan commisions rather than state legislators who might ignore public input. The strategy is simple — lobby map authorities to "keep gay areas intact," and compile data that definitively locates LGBTQ communities to move the effort forward. "It's about the awareness that these communities exist, and not to just ignore them and to dismiss them," said Rep. Brianna Titone (D), Colorado's first transgender legislator. "We do have a collective voice that we want to be heard." Only 0.19 percent of all elected officials identify as LGBTQ, despite the community comprising at least 5.6 percent of the population, per Politico. Notably, efforts could have their greatest impact at the municipal level, where it would likely be easier for a majority-LGBTQ community to reach "critical mass" in a city council district, writes Politico. "We all know how consequential redistricting is for representation," added Victory Fund spokesperson Elliot Imse. "A line drawn in the middle of a neighborhood with a large LGBTQ population can be the difference between electing an LGBTQ person to city council or state legislature or having zero people in these places." Read more at Politico.
8-10-21 Texas House speaker signs warrants to arrest 52 absent Democratic lawmakers
The Texas House voted 80-12 on Tuesday to approve the arrest of 52 Democrats who left the state in July so there wasn't the quorum needed to pass a strict election bill that would add new restrictions on voting. After the vote, House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) signed civil arrest warrants for the lawmakers, which will be delivered to the House sergeant-at-arms on Wednesday morning, Phelan's spokesman told The Dallas Morning News. Earlier Tuesday, the Texas Supreme Court overturned an order signed by District Judge Brad Urrutia on Monday that would have prevented 19 House members from being subject to "a call of the House," which Republicans said could be invoked so the Democrats would be forced to return to the Texas Capitol. Rep. Chris Turner, chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, said in a statement it is "fully within our rights as legislators to break quorum to protect our constituents. Texas House Democrats are committed to fighting with everything we have against Republicans' attacks on our freedom to vote." Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D) agreed, tweeting that the "anti-voter bills are nefarious attempts to disenfranchise Texans and these authoritarian motions by Republicans just cement that we are on the right side of history. We must hold the line against these desperate attempts to destroy our democracy." After the House Democrats were able to first block the bill in May, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) called a special session in July to get it passed, resulting in their mass exodus. One Republican who is opposed to the measure, Rep. Lyle Larson, voted against authorizing the arrest warrants. "Have we got to the point where we believe our own bull shizz so much that we arrest our own colleagues?" he tweeted. "Civil discourse took a nasty turn today."
8-10-21 In win for San Antonio and Bexar County, judge temporarily overrides Texas governor's ban on mask mandates
Officials in San Antonio and Bexar County can temporarily issue mask mandates, despite Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's (R) order prohibiting local governments and school districts in the state from requiring masks, Judge Antonia Arteaga ruled on Tuesday. San Antonio and Bexar County filed a lawsuit on Tuesday morning requesting a temporary restraining order blocking Abbott's action, with officials wanting to make masks mandatory inside public schools and municipal buildings. Arteaga said she did not take her decision lightly, The Texas Tribune reports, citing the school year starting and public guidance from Dr. Junda Woo, health director of San Antonio's Metropolitan Health District, who said masks are necessary in schools as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads in the state. Another hearing on the matter is set for Monday, but Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzalez said during a press conference that "for now, we're going to take a victory lap, we're very happy with the result that we got today." Renae Eze, a spokeswoman for Abbott's office, said the governor's "resolve to protect the rights and freedoms of all Texans has not wavered." The Delta variant is behind a surge in COVID-19 cases across Texas, with the state reporting a positivity rate of 18.1 percent. The COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States have not yet been approved for children under 12, and with the school year starting, districts and teachers associations have been calling for mandatory masks on campus.
8-10-21 As COVID-19 hospitalizations rise, federal government sends hundreds of ventilators to Florida
Hundreds of ventilators from the federal government's Strategic National Stockpile have been sent to Florida, as the state deals with a surge in COVID-19 cases. An official with the Department of Health and Human Services told NBC News that Florida received 200 ventilators, 100 smaller breathing devices, and other related supplies. As of Tuesday, there are 14,787 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Florida — 145 percent more than during the state's last peak in July 2020 — the Florida Hospital Association said. Almost 90 percent of intensive care unit beds and 85 percent of all patient beds are full, and public health officials say most of the hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated. The equipment was requested by local and state health officials, NBC News reports, and when asked about the ventilators being sent to Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said he would "have to check to see if that's true or not. I would honestly doubt that that's true, but I'll look." Despite the rising number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, DeSantis will not reverse his bans on mask and vaccination mandates.
8-10-21 US job vacancies hit a record 10.1 million
US job openings hit a fresh record in June amid reports the country continues to face a labour shortage. Job vacancies jumped by 590,000 to 10.1 million on the last day of the month, according to figures from the Labor Department. That was up from a record 9.5 million openings in May and well above economists' expectations. It comes as companies struggle to find workers in sectors such as leisure and hospitality as the economy reopens. "The ratio of openings to hires, despite easing in June, remained at historically elevated levels," JPMorgan analyst Peter McCrory said. US unemployment surged to 14.8% at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but the economy has been recovering strongly this year. However, despite restrictions being eased, workers have not rushed back to jobs in the numbers expected. The shortfall has been blamed on a lack of affordable childcare, generous unemployment benefits, and pandemic-related retirements and career changes. Some also believe there are too many low-skilled jobs being advertised, and not enough suitable candidates. Official unemployment figures in July suggested the country might be turning a corner, as employment rose by 943,000. The unemployment rate also fell 0.5 percentage points to 5.4%. However the figures mainly pre-date the rise of the Delta variant of Covid in the US, which has led to a surge in infections and fears new restrictions could be imposed. Already New York City has said all customers and staff of restaurants, gyms and other indoor businesses will have to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. And the city's Auto Show, scheduled to run from 20 to 29 August, has been cancelled due to fears about rising infection rates. Figures from the Labor Department showed the number of people voluntarily leaving their employment in June increased to 3.9 million from 3.6 million in May, well above pre-pandemic levels.
8-10-21 Infrastructure bill: $1tn for clean energy, internet, trains and more
After 50 hours of US congressional debate over some 2,700 pages, the future of a sweeping $1tn (£722bn) infrastructure bill still hangs in the balance. But it's not just its size that makes it historic. The bill is expected to pass the Senate on Tuesday, but that just means it will be punted back to the House of Representatives. Only after gaining House approval can the long-awaited bill head to President Joe Biden's desk for a final signature. As the hefty, "once-in-a-generation" legislation continues its trudge through the halls of Capitol Hill, let's leave the debates on the floor and take a look instead at the most interesting numbers to come out of it. There's a proposed $550bn in direct federal spending for infrastructure - about what was spent in 1956 to build the US interstate highway system. But from addressing global warming concerns to remote working issues, this isn't your grandparents' infrastructure package. Roads, bridges, major projects - lawmakers have allotted about a fifth of the federal spending in this bill to all the things that come to mind at the word infrastructure. It could be called overdue; a World Economic Forum report in 2019 put the US shy of the top 10 among other wealthy nations for transportation infrastructure. And 20% of major highways and roads plus 45,000 bridges are considered to be in poor condition, according to the White House. There's also an additional $55bn set out for water infrastructure, to replace lead pipes and ensure access to clean drinking water. That trains feature in this historic legislation is unsurprising under a president with an Amtrak station named after him. Though it's less money than Mr Biden initially hoped for, $66bn has been set aside to upgrade passenger and freight rail, with grants as well for intercity and high-speed train services. The funds would also go towards connecting more areas with rail, beyond the eastern seaboard. The digital divide has become a bigger issue in recent years - with inequalities thrown into relief during the remote-everything of the pandemic. This allotment seeks to link up millions living in rural and lower-income communities with reliable internet access. Companies who receive a share of this government funding will need to have lower-priced plans on offer and allow customers to compare costs. A programme to subsidise internet and related tech for low income families is also on the books.Going green and clean was a big part of Mr Biden's campaign promises. His earlier hopes for over $100bn towards clean energy have been temporarily dashed, but this bill puts billions towards new power lines, rebuilding America's old electric grids and expanding clean energy. Building new transmission lines with higher-voltage capacities will be key to getting this clean energy out across the country. There are over a dozen billions in addition for electrifying public transportation and building more electric car chargers. Add $21bn more to the tally for cleaning up soil and groundwater in old mines and gas fields.
8-10-21 Dallas and Austin public schools will require masks in defiance of governor's directive. Houston is probably next.
The superintendents of the Dallas Independent School District and Austin Independent School District announced Monday that staff, students, and visitors at Dallas and Austin public schools will be required to wear face masks, effective this week. The Houston Independent School District board will vote on a mask requirement later this week. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued an executive order in July barring public schools and other government entities from mandating masks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics have advised that all people in K-12 schools wear masks indoors. Texas is one of a half-dozen states that have ordered schools to disregard that advice, even as COVID-19's Delta variant has sent case numbers and hospitalizations rising sharply. The Delta variant also appears to spread more easily to children. Children under 12 aren't yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines. "With numbers getting significantly worse this decision is urgent, and an important one when it comes to protecting our students, teachers, staff, and their families," Dallas schools Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said Monday. The local teacher's union thanked Hinojosa "for taking bold action and listening to medical advisers and science about what is happening." Austin schools Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde announced AISD's mask requirement at a school board meeting Monday night. "I am responsible for the safety, health, and welfare of each and every one of our students and our staff," she said. "If I err, I must err on the side of ensuring that we've been overly cautious, not that we have fallen short." Abbott has argued that COVID-19 safety is the responsibility of individuals and parents, not the state, and he urged the state legislature to enshrine his mask mandate ban in law. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins asked a state judge late Monday to rule Abbott's ban an unenforceable excess of the governor's authority. "School districts and government closest to the people should make decisions on how best to keep students and others safe," Jenkins said. Abbott insisted Monday evening that Texas "is taking action to combat the recent rise in COVID-19 cases," and he asked hospitals to voluntarily postpone most elective surgeries and said the state will import nurses to help understaffed and overwhelmed hospitals. "Texans can help bolster our efforts by getting vaccinated against COVID-19," he added. "The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective, and it is our best defense against the virus."
8-10-21 We won't know how dangerous COVID-19's Delta variant is for children until after school starts
Children and teens are preparing to return to school across the U.S. as COVID-19's Delta variant continues to push up hospitalizations across the U.S., including at children's hospitals. From July 31 to Aug. 6, an average of 216 children with COVID-19 were being hospitalized a day in the U.S., just shy of the pandemic's January peak, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Tennessee's children's hospitals will be full by the end of this week, the state's health department predicted Monday. The looming question parents are staring down the beginning of the school year is this: Are more children getting sick and going to the hospital because the much more contagious Delta variant is infecting more children, or does the Delta variant make children sicker than previous strains? Pediatric specialists and epidemiologists don't have a good answer yet. Most of the children who contract COVID-19 "are not very sick," Dr. Wassam Rahman, medical director of the pediatric emergency center at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, tells The New York Times. "But as you might imagine, families are scared." And since hospitalizations are a lagging indicator, "I think time will tell, really," if the Delta strain is more severe in children, Rahman added. "We need at least a month, maybe two months before we get a sense of trends." That's an especially long wait for kids under 12 returning to school still ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccines, and their parents. "There's no firm evidence that the disease is more severe," Dr. Jim Versalovic, interim pediatrician in chief at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, tells the Times. Nationally, about 1 percent of infected children end up in the hospital and 0.01 percent die, the American Academy of Pediatrics says. Still, more children with COVID-19 means more children hospitalized with the virus, Versalovic said. "It's a numbers game at this point." Until more data comes in, parents and children age 2 and up wear masks in larger crowds, AAP's Sean O'Leary tells The Washington Post. "The most important thing that we can do is everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated, be vaccinated." Dr. Richard Malley, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Boston Children's Hospital, agreed. "The safest way to never find out whether Delta is more aggressive to children than the original strain is to really enhance vaccination," he told the Times.
8-10-21 What kids lost when COVID-19 upended school
A year and a half of pandemic has left many children struggling academically and emotionally. At the start of a school year, kids usually show up with oversized backpacks stocked with fresh pencils, crisp notebooks and snacks. This back-to-school season, many children will carry extra baggage. Eighteen months of an unprecedented pandemic turned routines — including going to school — topsy-turvy. This fall, many kids are heading to their new classrooms toting traumas, worries and gaps in their learning. What’s more, schoolchildren are returning as the pandemic is once again shifting the ground under our feet. Infections driven by the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus are putting new twists on questions over how to keep kids learning while still protecting unvaccinated children from illness. These burdens may profoundly change yet another school year. This year comes on the heels of one already marked by losses big and small. When school buildings abruptly closed in the spring of 2020 and school shifted online, many children lost regular time spent together with friends and teachers. Kids missed out on gym class, organized sports and time to goof around at recess. Some kids even lost their voices, digitally silenced by exasperated teachers doing their best to corral rambunctious students in virtual classrooms. “I’m muting you,” these kids were told. But every student had their own personal pandemic experience. “You can’t generalize,” says Pedro Noguera, dean of the education school at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Half of the kids in the United States went to in-person school by the end of 2020, either full-time or on a hybrid schedule. Faced with closed schools, some kids instead had private teachers and learning bubbles. Others muddled along on their own, without solid internet access or a quiet place to sit.
8-10-21 Covid: Canada opens its border to vaccinated Americans
For the first time since the start of the pandemic, Canada is allowing Americans to enter the country. The BBC spoke with Canadian residents and business owners to hear how they feel about the move. Canadians are still prohibited from entering the US, which has not yet lifted its own Covid travel ban.
8-10-21 What American conservatives really admire about Orbán's Hungary
The appeal has been misconstrued on both left and right. Tucker Carlson's decision to spend last week broadcasting from Hungary and reciting nightly love letters to the country's prime minister Viktor Orban on Fox News has predictably provoked an intense reaction. Many critics see this as the latest sign of a growing fondness for authoritarianism and even fascism on the American right. The drift toward Caesarism is very real, as I've examined on more than one occasion in recent weeks. Yet conservative admiration for Orban has other sources, and it's crucial to recognize the difference. For one thing, Orban's Fidesz Party has actually won elections by wide pluralities — and, if a unified anti-Fidesz opposition holds together, it runs the serious risk of going down to defeat in next year's parliamentary elections. (Benjamin Netanyahu was unseated in Israel a few months ago by precisely such a unified opposition.) Suffice it to say that a government that comes to power by election and then faces the prospect of being booted from office through the same means can hardly be described as a tyranny. Other critics do somewhat better in seeking to understand the infatuation for Orban on the American right in somewhat less incendiary terms. The Washington Post's Daniel Drezner speaks for many in reducing the allure to "simple" admiration for a leader who uses "legal means to punish his enemies, rig the system in his favor, and stay in power for more than a decade." It is certainly true that Hungarian elections are less than fully free and fair, with the Fidesz Party controlling something on the order of 90 percent of the country's media and with harassment of journalists who try to investigate government corruption increasingly widespread. That's a good part of the reason why liberals across the Western world, myself included, hope Orban and his party are soundly defeated next year. Yet that isn't what American conservatives talk or think about when they look to Budapest for inspiration. Ross Douthat comes closer to the mark when he suggests that it is mainly fear of an intolerant progressivism at home that has driven the American right to embrace the Hungarian prime minister — as exactly the kind of strong-man protector they need to defend themselves against the left. But that doesn't go far enough. Grasping what Orban really signifies for the right requires going beyond mere defensiveness to reflect on the high hopes he has raised for pushing back on and even reversing gains for the progressive left in recent years and decades. Belief in moral progress is ubiquitous on the left and broadly pervasive throughout American culture (and the culture of the Western world more generally). Even most advocates of critical race theory would concede that the U.S. today is a better place than it was when Black Americans were held as slaves, with the rights exercised by the country's white citizens summarily denied them. First there were the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, which brought emancipation and the promise of full political equality. That promise went largely unfulfilled for a hundred more years, until the civil rights movement finally goaded the government into backing it up, which, despite frequent setbacks and continued struggles for racial justice and equality, it mostly has. (Webmasters Comment: Tucker Carlson is courting a Hitler!)
8-9-21 Florida governor's office says if school officials impose mask mandates, salaries could be withheld
After several Florida school districts said they won't be following Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R) executive order banning mask mandates on campuses, his office on Monday said the Florida Department of Education could withhold the salaries of those superintendents and school board members. DeSantis said his order protects "parents' freedom to choose whether their children wear masks." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines state that at K-12 schools, people should wear masks indoors, and with Florida seeing a record surge in the number of new COVID-19 cases, several school districts have filed lawsuits against DeSantis' order or voted to have students wear masks, even if just for the first two weeks of classes. On Friday, Florida reported 134,506 new COVID-19 cases over the last week — that's more than during any other seven-day period during the pandemic, CNN reports. Florida Department of Health data shows that among kids 12 and younger, there were 13,596 new COVID-19 cases reported last week, up from 10,585 new cases the week before. The new case positivity rate for kids under 12 is 20.5 percent, which is higher than the overall state new case positivity rate of 18.9 percent.
8-9-21 With COVID-19 hospitalizations up, there are just 8 ICU beds open in Arkansas
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Arkansas rose by 103 patients to 1,376 on Monday, the state's largest daily increase since the start of the pandemic. The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units also went up by 26 to 509, leaving just eight ICU beds available in the entire state for patients with life-threatening ailments, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports. The number of COVID-19 patients on ventilators jumped by 25 to 286. Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) tweeted that these "are very startling numbers. We saw the largest single-day increase in hospitalizations and have eclipsed our previous high of COVID hospitalizations. There are currently only eight ICU beds available in the state. Vaccinations reduce hospitalizations." There was an increase in vaccinations on Monday, with the number of first and second doses administered in the state up by 5,115. With Arkansas a coronavirus hotspot, Hutchinson said last week that he regrets signing a law banning the state and local governments from imposing mask mandates. Arkansas has recorded 6,322 confirmed COVID-19 deaths.
8-9-21 Pentagon set to require COVID-19 vaccines for U.S. military members, memo shows
The Pentagon is set to require COVID-19 vaccines for members of the United States military, a memo sent by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and obtained by The Associated Press shows. The decision will make the armed services the latest sector in the U.S. to have a vaccine mandate amid a Delta variant-fueld nationwide increase in coronavirus infections. "I will seek [President Biden's] approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September," Austin wrote in the memo, though he clarified the requirement could come into play sooner than that if the Food and Drug Administration removes the emergency use label from the currently avaible vacciners ahead of schedule. Until the FDA acts, Austin will need a waiver from Biden to impose the mandate, but there doesn't seem to be any risk that the president will turn down the request since Biden himself told defense officials to draw up the strategy, AP notes. As things stand, per AP, the Navy has said 74 percent of all active duty and reserve sailors have received at least one shot, while the Air Force clocks in at 65 percent. The Army has the lowest number, which appears to be around 50 percent. Read more at The Associated Press.
8-9-21 Canada opens border to fully vaccinated Americans
Canada on Monday is lifting its ban on Americans crossing its border for nonessential travel, for the first time since March 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. is not reciprocating yet, keeping its northern and southern borders closed at least until Aug. 21. Americans who want to travel to Canada will have to be fully vaccinated, test negative for COVID-19 within three days of travel, and fill out a detailed application online. The Canada Border Services Agency did not estimate how many U.S. residents it expects to cross the border, but it suggested travelers might face long lines. "CBSA will not compromise the health and safety of Canadians for the sake of border wait times," said agency spokeswoman Rebecca Purdy.
8-8-21 Former FDA commissioner suggests Delta variant should force reconsideration of school safety measures
The Delta coronavirus variant should change the way we approach COVID-19 mitigation efforts in schools, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb suggested during Sunday's edition of Face the Nation on CBS. Although lower risk than other situations, schools weren't "inherently safe" even before Delta became the dominant variant in the United States. But now that the more transmissible strain is here, it's a bad time to get rid of precautionary measures like masks, testing, or podding students, Gottlieb said. If those aren't in place, especially in areas with a lot of infection, "we can expect a different result" from earlier waves, when outbreaks were generally suppressed in schools. Additionally, Gottlieb said there are still a lot of unknowns about Delta, including whether it causes more serious illness. That's a worry since kids under the age of 12, though generally much less susceptible to COVID-19, aren't eligible for vaccination yet. "I can't think of a business right now that would put 30 unvaccinated people in a confined space without masks and keep them there for the whole day," Gottlieb said. "No business would do that responsibly and yet that's what we're gonna be doing in some schools. So, I think we need to enter the school year with a degree of humility and prudence."
8-8-21 Senate votes to end debate on bipartisan infrastructure bill
The Senate voted 68-29 on Sunday night to end debate on the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, meaning the measure could pass as soon as Monday night. Eighteen Republicans voted with the Democrats to move the legislation along. Under Senate rules, lawmakers opposed to the measure could run the clock for 30 more hours before a final vote, The Hill reports, which could push the expected passage of the bill to Tuesday morning. If it passes, it will go on to the House. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday said Democrats are "ready and willing to vote on additional amendments to the bill before moving to final passage. Once again that will require the cooperation of our Republican colleagues. I hope they will cooperate so we can move more quickly. Otherwise we'll proceed by the book and finish the bill."
8-8-21 Tokyo 2020: Olympic athletes targeted by false and misleading claims
As the Tokyo Olympics comes to an end, social media posts have been spreading misleading content about some of the competitors, and the events in which they competed. We've selected some of the more widely-shared examples. No, Simone Biles wasn't stopped from taking medication. A viral post on Facebook - now with a warning flag on it from the social media platform - falsely claims that the US star gymnast stopped competing in some events because she wasn't allowed to take medication for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Simone Biles revealed in 2016 that she was on medication for it. When she pulled out of the women's gymnastics team final last week, she said it was to focus on her mental health. But unfounded claims spread widely on social media, saying that she'd been unable to take ADHD medication because it's banned in Japan. It's true that Japan bans some drugs used for ADHD, but there are special exemptions for athletes competing in the Olympics. But more importantly, Team USA have told us the claim about the medication is not true because she's not using it. Speaking after winning a bronze in the beam final in Tokyo, Biles herself dealt with the speculation head on, and said she had not taken ADHD medication since 2017. No, a Saudi athlete did not die after losing to an Israeli. False claims about the death of Saudi judo competitor Tahani Al-Qahtani went viral on social media after she lost to her Israeli opponent, Raz Hershko. The posts claimed that she had suffered a heart attack because she was subject to bullying and abuse online after she lost. But this is wrong and the athlete is very much alive. Qahtani had faced criticism from social media users for agreeing to compete against an Israeli, after other Arab competitors withdrew from a different judo event because they did not want to do the same thing. The rumours began circulating after a fake website pretending to be Saudi Sabq, a popular Arabic online news portal, posted an article with the claim. It was by-lined to the deputy editor of Saudi Sabq, Abdullah Al-Barqawi.
8-8-21 Capitol riot: Off-duty Seattle police officers fired over assault
Two off-duty police officers who stood by as President Donald Trump's backers stormed the US Capitol in Washington DC on 6 January have lost their jobs. Alexander Everett and Caitlin Everett, a married couple from Seattle, were fired following the recommendations of an inquiry into the attack. It says they trespassed onto restricted grounds and stood by in the immediate vicinity of an "active insurrection". At least 535 rioters have been arrested since the attack. Capitol riots: What we have learned six months on Prosecutors have so far secured only a few convictions into the attack aimed at disrupting the confirmation of Democrat Joe Biden's victory in last year's presidential election. The assault led to the political impeachment and acquittal of Republican Mr Trump, who was accused by lawmakers of inciting the riot - a claim the now former president has repeatedly denied. The decision to sack the two police officers was taken on Friday by Seattle's interim police chief Adrian Diaz. According to the investigation, the two police officers downplayed their actions in Washington DC. Mr Diaz said such behaviour by law enforcement officers could not be tolerated. The Everetts attended the pro-Trump rally that took place before the mob entered the Capitol. They say they were yards away and did not witness the assault. Last month, several police officers who defended the US Capitol testified before a Congressional committee investigating the attack. One officer, Aquilino Gonell, said he feared he would be crushed by the mob. Another officer, Harry Dunn, who is black, said he was racially abused.
8-8-21 Saudi Arabia to allow in vaccinated Umrah pilgrims
Saudi Arabia is to begin accepting vaccinated foreign visitors to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina as part of the Umrah pilgrimage. The authorities will begin taking travel requests from Monday. The kingdom closed its borders some 18 months ago because of the coronavirus pandemic. Since 1 August, vaccinated foreign tourists are also allowed in. Last month, only around 60,000 vaccinated residents were allowed to take part in a scaled-down Hajj. The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims who are able to must perform at least once in their lifetime. It takes place at a set time of year: in 2022, it will run from 7 to 12 July. The Umrah pilgrimage includes Medina as well as Mecca. It can be undertaken at any time of the year and attracts millions from around the world. Saudi Arabia will initially allow 60,000 pilgrims to perform the pilgrimage each month, gradually increasing numbers to reach two million people a month, the state Saudi Press Agency (SPA) says. Saudi Arabia recognises the following vaccines: Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Foreign visitors will also have to agree to undergo quarantine if necessary, the SPA quotes deputy hajj minister Abdulfattah bin Sulaiman Mashat as saying. The country has recorded nearly 532,000 coronavirus cases and more than 8,300 deaths. Separately, it has also said it will begin compensating the families of health workers who died because of the coronavirus, state media reported. Last year, it said each would receive 500,000 riyals ($133,000; £96,000).
8-7-21 Senate breaks filibuster on bipartisan infrastructure bill
The Senate, in a rare Saturday session, voted to break the filibuster and advance the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. The final vote was 67-27, with eighteen Republicans joining the Democratic majority to clear the 60-vote threshold. Two other Republicans, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), were absent (Graham is recovering from a COVID-19 infection), but would have supported the motion, as well. It's not quite ready for a final vote yet, as lawmakers will continue to work their way through a series of proposed amendments. Passage technically could happen at some point Saturday if the sides can reach an agreement, or it could drag on for a few days. Some senators are reportedly more optimistic than others.
8-7-21 U.S. embassy says its ability to assist 'extremely limited' as it urges American citizens to flee Afghanistan
The United States Embassy in Afghanistan is urging U.S. citizens to leave Afghanistan immediately as the Taliban continues to gain ground in the country amid a withdrawal of American troops. However, the embassy said in a statement Saturday that its ability to assist those citizens who are still in the country "is extremely limited," even within the capital, Kabul, because of security concerns and reduced staffing. Evacuees should take whatever commercial flight options are available, the embassy said, adding that anyone "who cannot afford at this time to purchase a commercial ticket" to the U.S. can receive a "repatriation loan." The Taliban is moving swiftly, taking two provincial capitals in as many days, and the group also killed Dawa Khan Menapal, the director of Afghanistan's Government Information Media Center, on Friday. In a separate statement, the American embassy condemned the Taliban offensive, which it said contradicts the group's claim that it supports a negotiated settlement agreed upon earlier this year. Read the statements here and here.
8-7-21 Education experts 'deeply concerned' pandemic-related disenrollment concentrated in kindergarten
An analysis by The New York Times in conjunction with Stanford University found that in 33 states, 10,000 public schools lost at least 20 percent of their kindergartners between fall 2019 and fall 2020. The major disenrollment drive appears to be directly related to the coronavirus pandemic and a Stanford research paper suggests fully remote school districts took a heavier hit. While there were declines in previous years, they were less drastic — in 2019 and in 2018, for example, the Times writes that only about 4,000 schools hit the 20 percent threshold. "We have to be deeply concerned," Thomas Dee, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, told the Times. Kindergarten may be optional in many states, but the Times notes that educators consider it crucial in the long run, not only because students receive their introduction to numbers, the alphabet, and phonics during that time, but also because it's often when students are first diagnosed with disabilities like autism spectrum disorder. Worse still, schools in lower income areas were hit the hardest. One example highlighted by the Times was Linapuni Elementary School in Honululu, Hawaii. The school sits in a public housing complex and many of its students are reportedly from Pacific Islander immigrant families that do not speak English. Its enrollment declined by half, from 65 to 32 in the fall, and only 10 of the missing students returned when classrooms reopened for in-person learning in the new year. Read more at The New York Times.
8-7-21 US expands citizenship for children born abroad in win for same-sex couples
The US says children born abroad using assisted reproductive technology can now qualify for citizenship, in a move seen as a win for same-sex couples. To be eligible before, babies born overseas needed to be genetically related to the American parent. The change follows lawsuits from couples whose children were born using surrogates and other methods. Experts estimate the new policy will affect hundreds of families living outside of the US. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) policy, announced Thursday, means children of married couples where at least one parent is an American and one is related to the child, are eligible for citizenship and family benefits. The agency's director, Ur Jaddou, said this new interpretation of the law is meant to ensure "fair access and support for all families and their loved ones". There are likely hundreds of couples this decision will affect, though the exact figure is unclear, according to Aaron Morris, executive director of the LGBT advocacy group Immigration Equality. "In denying that their children were citizens, they were also disrespecting the marriage of the parents," Mr Morris adds. "It was like a double injury to all these families." James Derek Mize and Jonathan Gregg were one of those families. Their daughter, Simone, was born in the UK using a surrogate in 2018. While Mr Mize and Mr Gregg are both US citizens, Simone was denied citizenship because she was genetically related to only Mr Gregg - who the government ruled had not physically been in the US long enough to pass on citizenship. The US also did not recognise both fathers as Simone's parents. Mr Mize tells the BBC that the situation was "stressful and confusing". "There was really no end in sight," he says. "We didn't know if it was going to be a six-month situation, a year or three-year long situation, or a decade. We had no idea."
8-7-21 Families of 9/11 victims tell Biden not to attend memorial events
Family members of the victims of the 11 September 2001 terror attacks have called on President Joe Biden to stay away from memorial events unless he declassifies files about the attacks. Nearly 1,800 people signed a letter calling on him to release documents that they believe implicate officials from Saudi Arabia in the plot. They say that if he refuses, he should not attend ceremonies next month to commemorate the 20th anniversary. Nearly 3,000 people died on 9/11. The attacks were committed by the Al Qaeda terror group, investigators say, and triggered the US invasion of Afghanistan. Fifteen of the 19 plane hijackers were Saudi nationals. "We cannot in good faith, and with veneration to those lost, sick, and injured, welcome the president to our hallowed grounds until he fulfils his commitment," says the letter from family members, first responders and survivors. They call on President Biden to stay away from the three sites where the attacks took place - in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. The families have long argued that Saudi officials had advance knowledge of the attack, and did nothing to stop it. They have sued the government of Saudi Arabia, which has denied being involved. Last month, the lawsuit saw several top former Saudi officials questioned under oath. The depositions remain sealed, further upsetting families. "Since the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission in 2004 much investigative evidence has been uncovered implicating Saudi government officials in supporting the attacks," the families' statement continues. "Through multiple administrations, the Department of Justice and the FBI have actively sought to keep this information secret and prevent the American people from learning the full truth about the 9/11 attacks." The administrations of George W Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump also declined to declassify the documents, citing national security concerns.
8-7-21 China says no more Mao badges after IOC warning
China has said its athletes will no longer wear political badges at medal ceremonies at the Tokyo Games, the International Olympic Committee says. The IOC says it has received a "clarification" from the Chinese Olympic Committee over the political gesture of its athletes. Two Chinese cyclists wore badges with an image of former leader Mao Zedong during a medal ceremony last week. Such gestures are banned during competition or at medal ceremonies. The IOC reviewed the incident, but said it had received assurances from China. "On China, we have received clarification and the athletes have been warned," said Christian Klaue, IOC director of corporate communications and public affairs. "We have also received assurances that it will not happen again. With this, the IOC considers this case closed." The Chinese pair - Bao Shanju and Zhong Tianshi - won the women's sprint on Monday. Article 50 of the Olympic Charter says "no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas". Rules were eased last month to allow athletes to "express their views" before and after competing, paving the way for athletes to take the knee to highlight racism without facing sanction. But bans remain on gestures or statements during competition or at medal ceremonies. Mao Zedong ruled China with an iron fist from 1949 until his death in 1976. He was responsible for one of the biggest humanitarian disasters in history when his Great Leap Forward campaign, aimed at modernising China's agriculture and industry, led to widespread famine and the deaths of up to 45 million people. Billions of Chairman Mao badges were produced in China in the 1960s. They were worn during the Cultural Revolution to show loyalty to Mao, but remain commonplace today.
8-6-21 Greg Abbott turns Republican rage into law
On the Texas governor's unconstitutional embrace of the base Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott wants everyone to believe he is a champion of personal freedom and public health. To advance the first he has banned mask requirements by local governments and proof of vaccination mandates by local governments and many private businesses. To advance the second he has ordered state troopers to stop private vehicles suspected of transporting duly admitted migrants "who pose a risk of carrying COVID-19 into Texas communities." He issued executive orders to accomplish both ends. But if his actions prove anything, it is his rather lopsided populism that doesn't respect any limits on his powers. Abbott initially banned local mask mandates in May, threatening to impose a $1,000 fine on counties, cities, and public schools that violated his order. And now just as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued new guidance advising indoor masking even for vaccinated people in the wake of the new Delta variant, Abbott is going the other way. Not only has he doubled down on his mask mandate ban but he has also banned "vaccine passports" in the state. And he is doing so even as Texas has experienced a 200 percent spike in COVID cases over two weeks, more than 70 points above the national average. One can certainly question the upside of the CDC's new mask guidance given that vaccines are quite effective against the new Delta variant. One can also argue that government agencies shouldn't require proof of vaccination as a condition of providing services to constituents. On the other hand, duly elected local officials experiencing pandemic breakouts should have the leeway to protect public health as they see fit. Where exactly to draw that balance is debatable. But what's not is whether the government has any business dictating the terms of services for private enterprises that are not violating anyone's constitutionally protected rights. Yet Abbott's edict would not only forbid any business receiving state grants or contracts to require proof of immunization from customers as a condition of service but also potentially make business licenses conditional on foregoing such proof. This will basically kill the cruise industry given that its whole reopening model depends on guaranteeing a COVID-free environment, which is why the industry has been pushing back hard against both Abbott's directive and a similar one issued by Florida's Republican governor. This directive might also force businesses such as hair salons to forego inquiring about the immunization status of customers or risk losing their operating permits. Abbott claims that he is taking this action so that individual Texans – rather than local governments or businesses – can "decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks" and "engage in leisure activities." But protecting individual rights doesn't mean stripping these entities of their legitimate powers and rights. Yet even as Abbott has few compunctions about overriding the public health concerns of local authorities, he is not averse to invoking those same concerns to justify defying the federal government when it comes to asylum seekers. There is little evidence that migrants are responsible for spreading COVID-19 in Texas, as Abbot claims. One can make a far more plausible case that the state's relatively low vaccination rate – about 6 points below the national average for the fully vaccinated -- is the real culprit here. But if COVID-19 were Abbott's real concern he would not have rebuffed the Biden administration's offer to test the migrants before release.
8-6-21 US economy adds more jobs than expected in July
The US economy added more jobs than expected in July as employment rose by 943,000. There were gains in sectors including leisure and hospitality, education and professional services. Forecasts for jobs created last month had varied widely from 350,000 to 1.6 million, with a consensus of 870,000. But the figures mainly pre-date the rise of the Delta variant of Covid in the US which has led to a surge in infections. There are also fears new restrictions could be imposed. "It's been a sprint in terms of growth, but we may be moving into more of a marathon," said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West in San Francisco. "Travel season is winding down, and the Delta variant is a big concern." The hiring in July helped lower the unemployment rate by 0.5 percentage points to 5.4%. In all, 8.7 million people remain unemployed, down considerably from the highs seen in April last year. However, that is still well above the pre-pandemic measure of 5.7 million in February 2020. Despite the concerns about Delta, economists said the figures hinted at the underlying strength of the economy's recovery. Richard Flynn, UK director at Charles Schwab, said the numbers were "an encouraging sign for markets that the economic reopening has kicked into a higher gear". "This is a strong report," said Aberdeen Standard Investments deputy chief economist James McCann, adding that it would "cement" the view that the US central bank, the Federal Reserve, was likely to begin slowing the pace of its large-scale asset purchases. "[Fed chair Jay] Powell may well use the meeting of central bank policymakers in Jackson Hole later this month to provide further hints, but he has made clear that these jobs reports are a cornerstone in the Fed's thinking on tightening policy," he said. In the first three months of the year the US economy rebounded faster than expected after contracting sharply in 2020. But in the second quarter the recovery slowed following a rise in coronavirus cases, growing at an annualised rate of 6.5%, well below forecasts of 8.5%.
8-6-21 Mississippi has only 6 open ICU beds left amid Delta 'tsunami'
The rapid spread of the highly infectious Delta variant has pushed U.S. COVID-19 cases to an average of 94,000 a day, the highest number since mid-February, and COVID-19 deaths are up 75 percent in the past two weeks to an average of 426 a day, from 244. Hospitals are once more being overwhelmed in parts of the country, especially those with low vaccination rates. More than 40 percent of all U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations are in four states: Georgia (38 percent of the population fully vaccinated), Louisiana (38 percent vaccinated), Florida (49 percent vaccinated), and Mississippi (35 percent vaccinated). Mississippi hospitals had nearly 1,200 COVID-19 patients as of Thursday, and "as of midweek, Mississippi had just six open intensive care beds in the entire state," The Associated Press reports. The Delta variant is "sweeping across Mississippi like a tsunami," with no end in sight, said State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs. Nationwide, about 45,000 COVID-19 patients are in the hospital, a number that has grown fourfold in the past month but is well below the nearly 124,000 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in January, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Some states are hitting new pandemic records, though. In Louisiana, roughly 2,350 coronavirus patients are in hospitals, some of which are delaying elective surgery and, in one case, an organ transplant. In Georgia, with 2,600 COVID-19 patients, dozens of hospitals say they have had to turn away patients this week. And Florida has more than 12,500 hospitalized COVID-19 patients as of Thursday, more than 2,500 of them in the ICU. "We are seeing a surge like we've not seen before in terms of the patients coming," Dr. Marc Napp, chief medical officer for Memorial Healthcare System in Hollywood, Florida, told AP on Wednesday. "There are only so many beds, so many doctors, only so many nurses." Texas hospitals are dealing with both skyrocketing COVID-19 cases and "historically low staffing levels," The Texas Tribune reports. The state has 23,000 more unfilled jobs for registered nurses than there are nurses seeking to fill them, the Texas Workforce Commission found. Nurses, burned out after a brutal year fighting COVID-19, are either leaving nursing or taking higher-paying jobs or hiring bonuses to work elsewhere. "If we don't have enough nurses, we close units," Joycesarah McCabe, chief of nursing at Goodall-Witcher Healthcare hospital near Waco, tells the Tribune. "We close hospitals."
8-6-21 What the U.S. can learn from India's brutal Delta surge
The Delta variant of the COVID-19 coronavirus was identified in India in late 2020, and in March, "a catastrophic surge in coronavirus cases ripped through India, killing tens of thousands in a matter of weeks, before plunging just as sharply," The Washington Post reports. The sharp drop, instead of the predicted continued exponential rise, surprised public health officials, but the virus hasn't faded away or even dropped to pre-March numbers. In some parts of India, cases are on the rise again. "India's experience with the Delta variant, which was responsible for nearly 90 percent of cases in May at the peak of the second wave, offers a preview for other countries, including the United States and China, as they grapple with the stubbornly persistent variant," the Post says. The first lesson is that if there are pockets of people without immunity — either from vaccines, or previous exposure to the coronavirus — the Delta variant will ruthlessly seek them out. India's vaccination rate is low, but a national seroprevalence survey released in July suggested that about two-thirds of the country has antibodies after the brutal spring surge. Karala state, India's current epicenter, reported 44 percent seropositivity. "Another lesson in India's experience dealing with its delta wave: Infection among children isn't likely to be severe," the Post reports. India's numbers "are on par with data shared by UNICEF on infection rates among children: Fourteen percent of all coronavirus infections in 103 countries were made up of people younger than 20. The mortality rate for the age group was less than 1 percent." A third lesson is that — "for reasons clear to no one — Delta appears to peak and fall quickly," says Dr. Bob Wachter at U.C. San Francisco. That happened in India and also Britain. The U.K., like the U.S., has a relatively high immunization rate, and Britain could be approaching "population immunity, with people immune either from vaccinations or natural infection," suggests Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said what he's learned from closely observing India's Delta surge is that it's really difficult to predict when and how the next COVID-19 wave will hit. He estimated that the Delta variant is so infectious, another surge is probably coming unless 80 to 90 percent of the population is vaccinated.
8-6-21 CNN fires unvaccinated employees for going to office
US news network CNN has sacked three employees for going into an office without having been vaccinated against Covid, US media say. It is one of the first examples of a US firm firing staff for breaching a company vaccination mandate. It is legal in the US for firms to require employees to be vaccinated. Many large firms - including Facebook and Google - say they will require employees to be vaccinated when offices fully re-open in the months ahead. CNN chief Jeff Zucker mentioned the dismissal in a company memo sent on Thursday and seen by several US media outlets. Vaccination is mandatory for anyone reporting in the field, working with any other employees or going into an office, he is quoted as saying in the memo. "Let me be clear - we have a zero-tolerance policy on this," Mr Zucker, chairman of news and sports for WarnerMedia, is quoted as saying. In May the US government said it was legal for employers to require staff attending the workplace in person to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Major airlines Delta and United Airlines are requiring new employees to show proof of vaccination, while investment bank Goldman Sachs is requiring its employees to disclose their vaccination status, although does not require staff to be vaccinated, AP reports. President Biden has ordered two million federal employees to show proof of vaccination or be subject to mandatory testing and mask-wearing.
8-6-21 Jennifer Aniston explains cutting off unvaccinated friends
Jennifer Aniston has expanded on why she has cut off some of her friends who have refused to be vaccinated. Earlier this week, the Friends actress said she had "lost a few people from [her] weekly routine" who had decided against having a Covid jab. Some of her Instagram followers have since asked why she was so worried, given that she had been vaccinated. "Because if you have the variant, you are still able to give it to me," she posted on Thursday. "I may get slightly sick but I will not be admitted to a hospital and or die. "But I can give it to someone else who does not have the vaccine and whose health is compromised (or has a previous existing condition) - and therefore I would put their lives at risk." The actress made the comments on her Instagram story, which allows users to post pictures, videos and messages which only stay live for 24 hours. In her interview with InStyle, published on Tuesday, Aniston said: "There's still a large group of people who are anti-vaxxers or just don't listen to the facts. It's a real shame. "I've just lost a few people in my weekly routine who have refused or did not disclose [whether or not they had been vaccinated], and it was unfortunate. I feel it's your moral and professional obligation to inform, since we're not all podded up and being tested every single day." She added: "It's tricky because everyone is entitled to their own opinion - but a lot of opinions don't feel based in anything except fear or propaganda." Aniston is one of the most famous actresses in the world, thanks in large part to her portrayal of Rachel on the US sitcom Friends. Earlier this year, the cast of the show hit the headlines when they reunited on screen for the first time in 17 years. Aniston broke an Instagram record (which has since been beaten) when she joined the social media platform in 2019, and now has 37 million followers.
8-6-21 Tucker Carlson: What the Fox News host is doing in Hungary
US guest of honour and Fox News host Tucker Carlson was granted a lightning visit by military helicopter to Hungary's 175km (109-mile) high-tech, high-cost razor-wire border fence with Serbia this week. He liked what he saw. After praising the fence for being so "clean and orderly", in contrast to the "chaos" on the US-Mexican border, he told his viewers: "It doesn't require a GDP the size of the US, it doesn't require high-tech walls, guns, or surveillance equipment. All it requires is the will to do it." And he praised Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for not allowing "this nation of 10 million people to be changed forever by people we didn't invite in and who are coming here illegally". To make sure his US viewers understood his message, he contrasted Mr Orban's policies with those of US President Joe Biden. "Because the lessons are so obvious, and such a clear refutation to the policies we currently have, and the people who instituted those policies, Hungary and its government have been ruthlessly attacked and unfairly attacked: 'It's authoritarian, they're fascists…' There are many lies being told right now, that may be the greatest of all." Carlson is attending a three-day festival organised by the Matthias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) in Esztergom, the former Hungarian capital and home of the Roman Catholic Church. MCC is an extremely well-funded school for top students, whom Mr Orban's Fidesz government are carefully grooming to become the country's new right-wing elite. Both Carlson and Mr Orban are due to address the crowds from the main stage. Carlson's visit comes at a useful time for Mr Orban. After 11 years in almost unchallenged power, he faces a fierce battle for re-election in eight months time, against an unusually united opposition, from left to right, which accuses him of hijacking Hungarian democracy and financially favouring his own coterie of oligarchs and loyalists. Mr Orban also stands accused of using Pegasus spyware purchased from the Israeli company NSO to tap the phones and mine the personal data of up to 300 independent journalists, lawyers and businessmen not aligned with his Fidesz party. (Webmasters Comment: A dictator and a dictator supporter get together.)
8-6-21 How American Jews lost by winning
On the triumph and the tragedy of the American Jewish story. The president of Harvard is a Jew. So were two of his last four predecessors. The secretary of the treasury and former chairwoman of the Federal Reserve is a Jew. So were her two confirmed predecessors in the former position and two predecessors in the latter. Since Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death, there have been only two Jews on the Supreme Court. But that loss is partially compensated by Merrick Garland's position as attorney general, a consolation price for his blocked nomination to the Supreme Court. The position of Jews at the top of major civic institutions is both a success story and a somewhat touchy subject. Out of all disproportion to numbers — under 2 percent of the US population — Jews occupy some of the most influential positions in American life. As a small but hugely influential group defined by a combination of religious, ethnic, and cultural characteristics, American Jews can be seen as successors to the WASPs of the 20th century (the subject of my last column). The upward mobility of the descendants of most Ashkenazi immigrants in the late 19th Century came at a cost, though. Jews moved smoothly into positions opened to meritocratic competition, but gradually lost the vitality that fueled their success. Despite their decline into social invisibility, WASPs won by losing, as institutions including Harvard, the Federal Reserve, and the judiciary achieved ever greater influence over American life. American Jews lost by winning, taking over the reins of power but giving up their distinctive identity. Despite their tiny population before the mid-19th century, Jews are woven into American mythology. Pilgrim and Puritans were inspired by the epic of the Biblical Hebrews. During the war of independence, ministers compared the 13 states to the tribes of Israel. Just as the chosen people required a new covenant in order to become a unified nation, Americans needed a new constitution. There were ugly incidents of exclusion. On the whole, though, Jews were better integrated in American life than anywhere else in the Western world. Jews responded in kind. Many rejected traditional hopes for restoration to the land of Israel, embracing the United States as the new promised land. An almost religious commitment in America as the first true home Jews could claim in 200 years fueled an extraordinary record of creativity. American literature, cinema, music, and scholarship are unimaginable without Jewish contributions. Antipathy to Jews intensified after the Civil War, though. Increased immigration, the growing role of finance, and endemic corruption encouraged anxieties that Jews were threats to American unity and prosperity. Popular memory blames low-class nativists for rising Jew hatred, but the new anti-semitism was largely an elite phenomenon. Facing challenges to their vision of national regeneration, WASPs fixated on Jews as the personification of a different and worse America. In public, patrician reformers including both Roosevelts cultivated Jewish support, but in private, both could be less welcoming. Intensifying through the 1930s, upper-class anti-semitism was only discredited by the Second World War, which exposed the world to murderous hatred with no American counterpart. Among Jews, WASPs provoked a combination of awed fascination and resentment. To the small, mostly German-Jewish elite, WASPs were the model to be imitated. Excluded from WASP schools and organizations, they set up substitutes for "our crowd." Particularly in New York City, these institutions developed into a sort of parallel world. They even adopted the tradition of silly nicknames, as represented by "Punch" Sulzberger, who inherited The New York Times.
8-5-21 People in US went out less as covid-19 death rates rose in their area
Covid-19 lockdowns and the number of deaths in an area were the strongest influences on travel patterns during the pandemic, according to location data gathered from 837,000 people in the US over nine months. Using data from a measurement app called Cuebiq, which tracked users using the global positioning system (GPS) signal on their phone for 16 hours a day between January and September 2020, Lorenzo Lucchini at the Fondazione Bruno Kessler in Italy and his colleagues in Italy and the US analysed people’s movements around four US states: Arizona, Oklahoma, Kentucky and New York. The GPS data tailed individuals to within 22 metres of their real location as they travelled. The team recorded stops as someone staying within 65 metres of one location for at least 5 minutes. The group analysed how mobility changed during the early stages of the pandemic at an individual level, and how people responded to the imposition and lifting of interventions such as local or state-wide lockdowns. Unsurprisingly, when lockdowns were introduced, people stayed away from places such as shops. New York’s non-essential shops – stores that aren’t groceries or pharmacies, for example – saw a 67 per cent drop in the number of visits recorded shortly after state governor Andrew Cuomo introduced a stay-at-home order on 22 March. This was nearly twice the drop in visits recorded by supermarkets, which saw a 38 per cent drop. When people did go out, they lingered less. People spent an average of 27 per cent less time in New York shops during the stay-at-home directive put in place between 9 May and 23 May. Over time, people began to stay longer and make more visits out of their homes, but the numbers didn’t return to pre-pandemic levels during the study period. “People were trying to reduce the number of contacts they made,” says Lucchini. “They’re aware of the risk they’re taking, and trying to reduce it by following another approach.”
8-5-21 Mexico files 'long shot' lawsuit accusing 10 U.S. gun manufacturers of trafficking complicity
Mexico on Wednesday sued 10 U.S. gun manufacturers and distributors in U.S. federal court in Boston, arguing that the gunmakers knowingly and actively facilitate the southward flow of firearms to Mexican drug cartels. "These weapons are intimately linked to the violence that Mexico is living through today," Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said at a news conference. The Mexican government is seeking at least $10 billion in damages for the bloodshed U.S. guns have contributed to in Mexico. The first-of-its-kind foreign lawsuit names gunmakers Smith & Wesson, Beretta USA, Beretta Holding, Colt, Glock, Barrett Firearms, Sturm, Ruger, Century International Arms, and the gun wholesaler Interstate Arms, or Witmer Public Safety Group. About 70 percent of the firearms Mexico submitted for tracking between 2014 and 2018 originated in the U.S., the Justice Department says. Mexico claims U.S. gunmakers intentionally market their guns in ways that appeal to drug traffickers and refuse to restrict sales to businesses they know are selling firearms to Mexican cartels. The gunmakers did not comment on the suit, but their U.S. trade group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, called Mexico's allegations "baseless," saying "the Mexican government is responsible for the rampant crime and corruption within their own borders." Legal scholars agreed that Mexico has a steep legal hill to climb, given the broad legal immunity Congress gave to gunmakers in 2005. "It's a bit of a long shot," Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, told The New York Times. "It may just be a way to get the attention of the federal government and Biden and the White House so they can sit down and make a deal." Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor and expert on gun policy, agreed that Mexico's lawsuit is a "long shot," but he also called it "bold and innovative" and pointed to a proposed $33 million settlement Remington has offered to Sandy Hook parents as evidence of recent "cracks in the immunity armor provided by federal law." Mexico did not seek the U.S. government's advice before filing its lawsuit, but the White House noted that President Biden has urged Congress to repeal the 2005 liability shield. Ebrard said Mexico's priority is to "reduce homicides," which hit 36,000 last year — or 29 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, versus the U.S. rate of 5.8 per 100,000. "We aren't looking to change American laws," he added.
8-5-21 Mexico sues US gun manufacturers over arms trafficking
The Mexican government has sued some of the biggest US gun manufacturers, accusing them of fuelling bloodshed through reckless business practices. The lawsuit alleges that the companies knew they were contributing to illegal arms trafficking, which has been linked to many deaths. Officials say Mexico is seeking as much as $10bn (£7.2bn) in compensation, though any amount would be decided by the court. The companies have not yet commented. They include Smith & Wesson and Barrett Firearms, among others. The BBC has contacted both companies for comment. The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday in the US state of Massachusetts. It says the Mexican government took the action "to put an end to the massive damage that the [companies] cause by actively facilitating the unlawful trafficking of their guns to drug cartels and other criminals in Mexico". The gun manufacturers "are conscious of the fact that their products are trafficked and used in illicit activities against the civilian population and authorities of Mexico", the Foreign Ministry said in a document related to the lawsuit. Mexico said the companies had used "marketing strategies to promote weapons that are ever more lethal, without mechanisms of security or traceability". Mexican officials said that some of the guns made by Colt appeared to target the Mexican market in particular, such as a pistol engraved with the face and name of Mexican revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata. Mexico has strict rules regulating the sale of weapons and they can only be purchased legally at one shop located on an army base in the capital. As a result, those who want to buy weapons often get them from the US. According to a Mexican government statement, criminal organisations buy thousands of pistols, rifles, assault weapons and ammunition in supermarkets, on the internet and at arms fairs in the US which are then used to commit crimes in Mexico. The US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found that 70% of firearms recovered in Mexico between 2014 and 2018 which were submitted for tracing had come from the US. In 2019 alone, more than 17,000 murders in Mexico were linked to trafficked weapons.
8-5-21 I mmunity from lawsuit over Jan. 6 Capitol attack
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) on Wednesday asked a federal judge to grant him immunity from a lawsuit filed in March by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), which accuses Brooks of inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. In the suit, Swalwell alleges that Brooks, former President Donald Trump, and Rudy Giuliani knew when they spoke at a "Stop the Steal" rally ahead of the Capitol assault that they were lying when they claimed the 2020 election results were rigged. During Brooks' address to the crowd, he wore a "Fire Pelosi" hat and declared that "today is the day that American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass." Brooks is representing himself, and earlier argued that his remarks were within his scope of duty as a member of Congress and the case should be dismissed. The Justice Department rejected Brooks' assertion that he was doing his job, stating that fomenting an attack on Congress is "not within the scope of employment of a representative — or any federal employee."
8-5-21 Over Gov. Ron DeSantis' objections, Florida school districts are imposing mask mandates
Several school districts in Florida are pushing back against Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and his executive order prohibiting schools from imposing mask requirements for students. On Tuesday night, the School Board of Alachua County voted in favor of requiring all students to wear masks during the first two weeks of school. In the last few days, two janitors in the district have died of COVID-19, and board member Robert Hyatt told Politico he doesn't think "that we need to get in any kind of match with the governor. To me, it's not being defiant. It's being reactive to what the situation is." There are also 15 active COVID-19 cases among district employees, and Superintendent Carlee Simon said they're "running into a situation where we are literally losing our workforce." On Wednesday, Leon County — home to Tallahassee — said it wants to enact a mandatory mask rule for kids in pre-kindergarten through the eighth grade, and the Broward County School District announced it will keep its mask mandate, changing course from an earlier statement that it would comply with DeSantis' order. Florida continues to see a sharp rise in new coronavirus cases, with 16,935 reported in the state on Tuesday. There are a record 12,000 people hospitalized with the virus in Florida, The Miami Herald reports, and most of the infected patients are younger and unvaccinated. With the Delta variant fueling the surge, Florida accounted for 16 percent of all new U.S. cases on Tuesday, and the state's seven-day average of new cases was up 700 percent on Aug. 3 versus July 3. Still, DeSantis is resisting mask mandates, and schools that keep them in place risk losing state funding. Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna on Wednesday said it may seem "controversial," but "I absolutely believe" that having mask requirements for students "is the right thing to do temporarily until we have a better understanding of the Delta variant and the impact it has on school-aged children."
8-5-21 Washington NFL team bans fans from wearing Native American dress
The Washington Football Team, which dropped the controversial name Redskins last year, has now banned fans from wearing Native American headdresses and face paint at its home stadium. The new policy was among several the US NFL team said would help provide the "best possible fan experience for all". The Redskins name and logo was retired by the franchise in July last year. It followed years of pressure from groups and sponsors who criticised the name as offensive to Native Americans. On Wednesday, the Washington DC-based American football team said it was updating policies for its FedExField stadium in Maryland for the new season. It said it was "excited to welcome everyone back wearing their burgundy and gold", but that Native American costumes and paint "may no longer be worn into the stadium". The announcement also addressed the Covid-19 pandemic, with new rules on mask wearing and cashless payments. Washington's NFL franchise was first named the Redskins in 1933, when they still played in Boston. It became one of the most famous names in American sports, with a logo recognised the world over. The club has said a new team nickname will be announced next year. Many US sports teams were named after indigenous people, adopting logos and mascots to match, but in recent years there has been increased sensitivity to those thought to be crude or stereotypical. Last month, the Cleveland Indians baseball team dropped their controversial name for one aimed at being more inclusive: the Guardians.
8-5-21 How a fake network pushes pro-China propaganda
A sprawling network of more than 350 fake social media profiles is pushing pro-China narratives and attempting to discredit those seen as opponents of China's government, according to a new study. The aim is to delegitimise the West and boost China's influence and image overseas, the report by the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR) suggests. The study, shared with the BBC, found that the network of fake profiles circulated garish cartoons depicting, among others, exiled Chinese tycoon Guo Wengui, an outspoken critic of China. Other controversial figures featured in the cartoons included "whistleblower" scientist Li-Meng Yan, and Steve Bannon, former political strategist for Donald Trump. Each of these individuals has themselves been accused of spreading disinformation, including false information about Covid-19. Some of the accounts - spread across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube - use fake AI-generated profile pictures, while others appear to have been hijacked after previously posting in other languages. There is no concrete evidence that the network is linked to the Chinese government, but according to the CIR, a non-profit group which works to counter disinformation, it resembles pro-China networks previously taken down by Twitter and Facebook. These networks amplified pro-China narratives similar to those promoted by Chinese state representatives and state media. Much of the content shared by the network focuses on the US, and in particular on divisive issues like gun laws and race politics. One of the narratives pushed by the network paints the US as having a poor human rights record. Posts from the fake accounts cite the murder of George Floyd among examples, as well as discrimination against Asians. Some accounts repeatedly deny human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region, where experts say China has detained at least a million Muslims against their will, calling the allegations "lies fabricated by the United States and the West". "The aim of the network appears to be to delegitimise the West by amplifying pro-Chinese narratives," said Benjamin Strick, the author of the CIR report.
8-5-21 US plans to require Covid vaccine for foreign travellers
The US will eventually require almost all foreign visitors to be fully vaccinated, a White House official has said. The unnamed official told several news agencies that the Biden administration had tasked inter-agency groups with creating a phased reopening for international visitors. No timeline for the decision was given. The US has seen a rise in cases, particularly among the unvaccinated, amid the spread of the Delta variant. Current Covid-19 rules prevent most international travellers from entering the country. The first round of travel restrictions were imposed on China in January 2020. Since then, the US ban has expanded to include non-US citizens who had recently visited the UK, the 26-nation Schengen bloc in Europe, Brazil, Ireland, India, Iran and South Africa. Those who are able to enter the country must show proof of a negative Covid test taken within three days of travel. Last week, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the US would "maintain existing travel restrictions at this point" due to rising infections, despite opposition from airlines and the tourism industry. On Wednesday, the unnamed White House official said the administration was looking to reopen in a "safe and sustainable manner", adding that "with limited exceptions... foreign nationals travelling to the United States - from all countries - need to be fully vaccinated".
8-4-21 U.S. will likely require vaccinations for international visitors
Most international travelers are still barred from entering the United States because of the Delta variant-fueled rise in coronavirus cases, but the Biden administration has continuously been working on a plan to lift restrictions, whenever that may occur. As things stand, it appears likely that, with a few exceptions, proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 will be required for nearly all foreign visitors, a White House official reportedly told Reuters on Wednesday. The picture is pretty murky beyond that, it seems, though Reuters reports the White House has been discussing how to implement such a policy with airlines. As Reuters notes, the Biden administration will also need to clarify whether vaccines that haven't been approved by the Food and Drug Administration will count, as well as what kind of proof will be accepted. Read more at Reuters.
8-4-21 Why pandemic parenting is harder than the data suggests it should be
Parenting means constantly weighing relative risks. It's only harder with COVID because it's new. My family recently moved halfway across the country, and we decided to try a local daycare in our new city. The place we picked had a lot to recommend it, and by happy chance our twins enrolled mere days after the state mask mandate lifted. Several weeks later, however, when new federal mask guidance dropped, the daycare voluntarily revived its mask requirement for kids 2 and up. We withdrew our kids from the facility because, like the World Health Organization, we don't think toddlers should wear masks. You may judge our decision a groundless caution and the daycare's policy an eminently reasonable call — or you might reverse those judgments, as I do. Gallup poll results published Tuesday show just over half of American parents of K-12 students believe unvaccinated children should go to school masked this fall, and that sort of disagreement is raging all over as our third COVID-affected schoolyear begins: What's an acceptable level of pandemic risk for children? What degree of risk tolerance makes you a Bad Parent? How should we balance the direct risk of the disease itself with the many indirect, less measurable, yet still very real risks incurred by upending children's lives? These questions are uniquely tricky, I think, not because COVID-19's risk to children is uniquely high or — at this point in the pandemic — because the information about that risk is uniquely muddled. They're primarily tricky because they're so new, and that means we have to actually think them through. Parents make judgment calls about risk every day. Should your kid climb a tree? Learn to swim? Ride in a car? Try peanut butter? Taste your beer? Keep a playdate while a stomach bug is going around? Sleep over at a friend's house? We might not always frame them this way, but each one of these questions is a risk assessment. We usually do a decent job making such calls, and we agree on a lot, even across cultural rifts like the helicopter parent vs. free-range kids divide. In this subconscious decision mode, parents constantly expose our children to risk, weighing potential costs against attainable benefits, day in and day out, typically with little deliberation or worry. There's no practical alternative — you have to make a snap decision when the question arrives: "Mom, can I ... ?" That's feasible because most of these questions are familiar, and familiarity gives us a working knowledge on which to base our calls. I've climbed trees and drank beer and gone to sleepovers, and I know firsthand the advantages of driving a car. I put my children in our car without a second thought, though vehicle accidents are the second-highest cause of children's deaths in the United States, because I believe (as almost everyone does) the benefits exceed the risks. I never considered doing otherwise. I certainly didn't agonize over the decision the way many Americans are now agonizing over the best choices for kids and COVID-19. That difference isn't because COVID-19 is riskier or the risk more uncertain. For children, the opposite is true, as we've known for some time: The youth are enormously protected against this illness. "Serious forms of COVID are so rare in children that a few countries with better recent COVID track records than the U.S. — like Britain, Germany and Israel — may not even officially urge vaccinations for most children," The New York Times reported in June. "The decision will be up to individual parents." An unvaccinated 30-year-old (let alone a child) has a lower risk of death from COVID-19 than a vaccinated 60-year-old:
8-4-21 Covid third wave: Florida surpasses all-time record for hospital admissions
The number of Covid patients in Florida hospitals has risen to a new high, breaking records set during previous waves before vaccines were available. US health officials say 11,515 Florida residents are currently in hospital. Many are younger and healthier than patients seen earlier in the pandemic. On Saturday, Florida set a record for most new infections in a single day. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis opposes efforts to make vaccines or masks mandatory. Across the US, one in three new cases last week were recorded in Florida or Texas. Hospital beds in Florida are quickly filling up. Some have already reached capacity, with patients placed in hallways, lobby waiting areas and makeshift overflow centres. "We have more Covid patients in our hospital with this surge than we did with the original surge," one hospital official in Tallahassee, Dr Dean Watson, told NBC News. "We have been living Covid for over a year and a half. The stress and the strain for all the providers and nursing staff is really getting to everyone." It comes as vaccine rates, which have slowed since the spring, have begun to tick up again as the highly contagious Delta variant sweeps the country. Over 70% of Americans have now received at least one vaccine jab, a milestone that President Joe Biden had hoped to hit by the 4 July Independence Day holiday. The vaccination rate in Florida roughly mirrors the national average, but is below the rates seen in many north-eastern states. About 50% of residents have been fully vaccinated, but the number is far higher among the state's large pensioner community. Officials say the vaccinated are unlikely to experience symptoms if they catch the coronavirus, although they can still spread it. The unvaccinated account for nearly all cases of sickness and death, say officials who are now referring to Covid as a "pandemic of the unvaccinated". Florida has recorded over 39,000 deaths since the coronavirus pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University.
8-4-21 Biden urges 2 GOP governors to 'please help' fight COVID-19 spread or 'at least get out of the way'
President Biden said at a press conference Tuesday that "some states" are enacting policies "that forbid people from doing the right thing" to hinder the spread of COVID-19, adding: "I say to these governors: Please help. But if you aren't going to help, at least get out of the way of the people that are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives." When asked, Biden pointed to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), both of whom signed executive orders preventing public schools and local governments from requiring masks, vaccines, or other COVID-19 restrictions. "Their decisions are not good for their constituents," Biden said. "These two states, Florida and Texas, account for one third of all new COVID-19 cases in the entire country," and their governors "should allow businesses and universities who want to do the right thing to be able to do it." "Until now, Biden has largely sought to avoid statements that could exacerbate the partisan cast of the vaccine debate and has gone out of his way to praise Republicans who are promoting vaccinations," The Washington Post reports. "But the White House has grown increasingly frustrated with leaders who are actively seeking to block efforts to encourage or require vaccinations." Abbott spokeswoman Renae Eze said the governor "has been clear that we must rely on personal responsibility, not government mandates. Every Texan has a right to choose for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, or get vaccinated." Earlier Tuesday, before Biden's comments, DeSantis suggested the news media's "hysteria" and attempts "to fear-monger" were making Florida's outbreak seem worse than it actually is, noting that deaths have not risen as much as infections. DeSantis has repeatedly urged all Floridians to voluntarily get vaccinated and touts his efforts to vaccinate senior citizens. Florida ranks 24th in overall U.S. vaccinations, with 49.1 percent of the state's entire population fully inoculated. In Texas, 43.9 percent of the entire population has been fully vaccinated.
8-4-21 Missouri governor pardons couple who pointed guns at protesters
A US couple who gained nationwide notoriety after they pointed guns at Black Lives Matter protesters last year have been pardoned. Mark and Patricia McCloskey were filmed holding weapons outside their home in St Louis, Missouri. They were fined after pleading guilty to misdemeanour charges this year. But Missouri's Republican Governor Mike Parson has now pardoned them, something he had promised after US conservatives began to support the couple. The pair, both lawyers, appeared briefly at last year's Republican National Convention, and Mr McCloskey has announced plans to run for a US Senate seat in Missouri. "When the angry mob came to destroy my house and kill my family, I took a stand against them," he reportedly said in a recent campaign video. "I will never back down." The incident took place on 28 June 2020 amid nationwide demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd. Police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nine minutes, and has been sentenced to over 22 years in prison. Video footage of Mark McCloskey waving an assault rifle and Patricia McCloskey carrying a semi-automatic pistol quickly went viral. The two became a symbol of US divisions over the protests, with Democrats harshly criticising them and Republicans praising the lawyers. The pair were quickly charged. A complaint issued by St Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said both had displayed their semi-automatic weapons "readily capable of lethal use, in an angry or threatening manner". In June this year Mr McCloskey, 63, pleaded guilty to misdemeanour fourth-degree assault and was fined $750 (£538). His wife, 61, pleaded guilty to misdemeanour harassment and was fined $2,000. But at the start of their legal case Governor Parson had vowed to pardon them if convicted. On Tuesday his office issued a press release confirming he had stuck to his promise.
8-3-21 Missouri governor pardons St. Louis couple who waved guns at protesters
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) announced on Tuesday that last week, he pardoned Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who waved their guns at peaceful racial justice protesters walking by their home in June 2020. The McCloskeys, both personal injury attorneys, live in a gated community, and the demonstrators passed their house on the way to the home of then-Mayor Lyda Krewson. Videos and images showing Mark and Patricia McCloskey brandishing their weapons went viral, with former President Donald Trump defending them and the couple invited to speak at the Republican National Convention. In May, Mark McCloskey said he would seek the Republican nomination for one of Missouri's Senate seats. Earlier this summer, the McCloskeys pleaded guilty to misdemeanor firearm charges, and were fined and told to turn over the guns involved in the incident. Parson said during a radio interview last year and again during a later press conference that he would pardon the couple. In addition to the McCloskeys, Parson pardoned 10 other people on Friday. He did not pardon Kevin Strickland, a Kansas City man who has spent 43 years in prison for a shooting that prosecutors and two people who pleaded guilty to the crime say he didn't commit. Despite prosecutors and lawyers declaring Strickland, a Black man convicted by an all-white jury, innocent, Parson has said he's not convinced. Missouri House Democratic Minority Leader Crystal Quade said in a statement that it is "beyond disgusting that Mark and Patricia McCloskey admitted they broke the law and within weeks are rewarded with pardons, yet men like Kevin Strickland, who has spent more than 40 years in prison for crimes even prosecutors now say he didn't commit, remain behind bars with no hope of clemency."
8-3-21 Tucker Carlson joins the right-wing pilgrimage to Budapest
Tucker Carlson has become the latest and highest-profile figure on the American right to make a pilgrimage to Hungary. Fans of Carlson's top-rated prime time show on Fox News learned Monday that he would be broadcasting all week from Budapest, where he would also be delivering a speech next weekend at MCC Feszt — a conference sponsored by the Mathias Corvinus Collegium, a think tank recently granted $1.7 billion (about 1 percent of Hungary's GDP) by Prime Minister Viktor Orban in order to help foster the kind of nationalistic conservatism favored by his government. That includes kicking Central European University out of the country, banning the academic study of gender from colleges, allowing the ruling Fidesz Party to gobble up 90 percent of media in the country, and demonizing George Soros for cultural trends the prime minister's supporters dislike. Carlson is unlikely to be the last conservative to pay hommage to Orban. John O'Sullivan, a one-time Thatcherite conservative who served as an editor of National Review through most of the 1990s, has been president of the Danube Institute in Budapest since 2017, bringing in a long list of American conservatives for conferences on right-wing populism and the threat of cancel culture. In addition to a speech by Carlson, the MCC Feszt will include remarks by such prominent figures on the American right as Dennis Prager and Rod Dreher, the latter of whom has been living in Hungary and blogging effusively for The American Conservative about the Orban government for months. Dreher was joined a few months ago by Notre Dame's Patrick Deneen, author of surprise bestseller Why Liberalism Failed, for a lengthy discussion at MCC of the transnational conservative future. All of which means that Hungary looks to be for populist conservatives in the 2020s what the Soviet Union was for the international left a century ago: a foreign model of a morally and politically edifying future. That doesn't mean or imply a moral equivalence between Orban's nationalism and Soviet communism. But it does point to a similarly transactional relationship. In return for providing earnest intellectuals with hope, a government often treated as an international pariah gets to enjoy a flood of fawning coverage when those ideologically engaged writers and talkers start sharing their carefully curated experiences with the world. Time will tell if today's pilgrims turn out to be genuine prophets of the political future or just the latest band of useful idiots for a discredited and unsavory regime. (Webmasters Comment: Reminds me of the Libertarians support of the Augusto Pinochet right-wing dictatorship in Chile because it supported "Free Enterprize!" Over 3,000 were murdered by the regime and tens of thousands were tortured! And the LIBERTARIANS supported this in the name of Free Enterprize!)
8-3-21 Report: The FDA is aiming for final approval of the Pfizer vaccine by Labor Day
The Food and Drug Administration is aiming to fully approve the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine by Labor Day or sooner, people familiar with the matter told The New York Times. Because of the highly contagious Delta variant, coronavirus cases are on the rise across the United States, and the hope is that a full approval will push skeptics to get inoculated. In late 2020, the FDA granted emergency authorization to the Pfizer vaccine, and the company applied for full approval on May 7. Moderna also received emergency authorization for its vaccine, and submitted its application for final approval on June 1. As part of the approval process, FDA employees will review hundreds of thousands of documents, looking at data on vaccine efficacy, immune responses, and breakthrough infections. Once a coronavirus vaccine is fully approved, it's expected that many schools and hospitals, as well as the city of San Francisco and the Department of Defense, will mandate that workers and students get vaccinated, the Times reports. As of Tuesday, 58 percent of Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
8-3-21 Covid third wave: Americans 'scared and angry' as pandemic worsens
Americans are feeling a sense of whiplash as leaders scramble to account for a surge in Covid cases and a rise in hospital admissions. The country's vaccination rate was once the envy of the world and restrictions were lifted in the spring, well ahead of many other nations. But now, with only half of the population vaccinated and the Delta variant surging, the summer of freedom feels like it's coming to a premature end. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that masks should again be worn indoors - for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated. Many Americans are now looking ahead to the colder weather and schools re-opening with more hesitancy, fear and frustration. Here's what they said. Virginia has reported 1,000 Covid cases for the second day in a row, following three months without a day over 1,000 reported cases. The state is doing better than many other US states with vaccinations - with 54.78% of the population vaccinated. According to state officials, almost all patients in hospital for Covid are unvaccinated. The number of Covid patients taken to hospital has soared after the state of Nevada reached a 15% test positivity rate. A vast majority of recent deaths have occurred in Clark County, home to tourist hotspot Las Vegas. The Nevada governor imposed a new mandate Tuesday that requires everyone to wear masks indoors, which the southern Nevada casino industry have said they support. The state has a vaccination rate of 45.71%. Louisiana has eight times more Covid cases than it did four weeks ago. On 27 July, the southern state saw the largest single day increase of people taken to hospital due to Covid since 2020 March - with 1,390 in hospital. The governor has encouraged all Louisianans to mask up indoors and get vaccinated to "protect against the Delta variant". Currently, 36.56% of the state's population is fully vaccinated.
8-3-21 Florida is now topping its worst COVID-19 infection and hospitalization numbers of the pandemic
The Florida Hospital Association reported 10,389 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Monday, the highest statewide number of the pandemic, two days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Florida had registered more than 21,000 new coronavirus infections on Friday, the state's highest one-day total. Florida's previous hospitalization record, set July 23, 2020, was 10,170, the hospital association said. The Delta variant is driving the sharp uptick in COVID-19 cases in Florida and across the U.S. Florida accounts for roughly 20 percent of new U.S. cases. About 95 percent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated, says Mary Mayhew, chief executive of the Florida Hospital Association. And with the age of sick COVID-19 patients dropping amid the Delta surge, "we have to convince 25-year-olds, 30-year-olds that this is now life threatening for them," she told MSNBC's Morning Joe on Monday. "That is not what they saw and what we experienced last year." The average age of Floridians hospitalized with COVID-19 is now 42 years old, NBC News' Vaughn Hillyard reported Monday.
8-3-21 11 percent of unvaccinated Americans blame Trump for the new COVID-19 wave, poll finds
Americans overwhelming blame the unvaccinated for the upsurge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations as the Delta variant sweeps across the U.S., an Axios/Ipsos poll released Tuesday morning found. Overall, 58 percent of respondents blamed unvaccinated adults for the new COVID-19 wave, 32 percent blamed people from other countries traveling to the U.S., and 28 percent blamed former President Donald Trump. But Axios and Ipsos also split the results apart by vaccinated and unvaccinated respondents, and things got a little strange. Nearly 80 percent of vaccinated respondents blamed the unvaccinated for the new COVID-19 wave, but so did 10 percent of unvaccinated respondents. Trump was fingered by 36 percent of vaccinated respondents but also by 11 percent of unvaccinated adults. The unvaccinated were more prone to blame foreign visitors (37 percent), the mainstream media (27 percent), Americans traveling abroad (23 percent), and President Biden (21 percent). A third of vaccinated adults blamed conservative media. "The findings expose a surreal gap between the views of the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, showing how tough getting to herd immunity could be," Axios says, but also "providing new evidence that mandates could make a difference." When unvaccinated respondents were asked what would prompt them to get the vaccine, only one in three said a requirement from their employer would work, Axios says. "But that was the highest response among a series of hypothetical incentives that also included getting a raise, bonus, or paid time off, or being required to show vaccination in order to attending sporting events or concerts or to board a plane or train." "We're dealing with a serious misinformation wall at this point that's clouding facts" for a "recalcitrant group," said Ipsos U.S. Public Affairs president Cliff Young. "The only way to get to them if you're going to get to them is hard policies, hard mandates." The Axios/Ipsos Poll surveyed a nationally representative sample of 999 adults from July 30 to Aug. 3, and the survey's margin of sampling error for the entire sample is ±3.3 percentage points. Respondents were told they could choose as many of the listed blame targets as they liked.
8-3-21 Covid vaccine inequity 'completely unacceptable and unethical'
A panel convened by the World Health Organization to look at what lessons could be learnt from the Covid pandemic has recommended that high-income countries do more to help low-income countries. Richer countries should give $19 billion to fund access to vaccines and treatments in poorer countries, and give 1 billion doses by September, The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response has said. But so far the pledges from richer countries are "not big enough", says the panel's co-chair Helen Clark, and meanwhile under-vaccinated countries with Covid outbreaks are seeing spikes in death tolls. Ms Clark, who is also the former prime minister of New Zealand, was speaking to the BBC's Karishma Vaswani on the Newsday programme.
8-3-21 CDC director Rochelle Walensky says vaccines worked in Provincetown
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky tells the BBC that the outbreak in Provincetown, Massachusetts, showed that vaccines helped protect people from serious illness and death amid an "immense amount of exposure". Nearly 75% of Covid cases documented in the tourist town in July were people who had been fully vaccinated - and of those, only four people required hospital treatment.
8-3-21 Wuhan: Chinese city to test entire population after virus resurfaces
Authorities in the Chinese city of Wuhan will begin testing its entire population, after a handful of positive coronavirus cases were detected there. Wuhan has recorded seven locally transmitted cases - the first local infections in more than a year. The city of 11 million people shot into the spotlight after the coronavirus was first detected there in 2019. China is currently seeing one of its biggest outbreaks in months, with 300 cases detected in 10 days. Some 15 provinces across the country have been affected, which has led to the government rolling out mass testing measures and lockdown estrictions. Authorities have attributed the spread of the virus to the highly contagious Delta variant and the domestic tourism season. The announcement in Wuhan came as China reported 90 new virus cases on Tuesday. The National Health Commission said 61 of these were locally transmitted - compared with 55 local cases a day earlier. China had been largely successful in controlling the virus within its borders. However, this new spread, which was first detected among workers at a busy airport in Nanjing, has sparked concern. Authorities have tested the 9.2 million residents of Nanjing three times and imposed lockdown on hundreds of thousands of people. But over the weekend the spotlight turned to popular tourist destination Zhangjiajie in Hunan province, where many of the latest cases have emerged. Travellers from Nanjing were thought to have visited the city recently. Health officials have zeroed in on a theatre in Zhangjiajie, and are now trying to track down about 5,000 people who attended performances and then travelled back to their home cities. "Zhangjiajie has now become the new ground zero for China's epidemic spread," Zhong Nanshan, China's leading respiratory disease expert, told reporters. The new outbreak has also reached the capital Beijing, with the city reporting several locally transmitted infections.
8-3-21 Tokyo Olympics: Chinese nationalists turn on their athletes
The pressure on Chinese athletes to perform has never been higher. Anything less than a gold is being seen as athletes being unpatriotic by furious nationalists online. The BBC's Waiyee Yip reports. China's mixed doubles table tennis team made a tearful apology at the Tokyo Olympics last week - for winning a silver medal. "I feel like I've failed the team... I'm sorry everyone," Liu Shiwen said, bowing in apology, tears welling in her eyes. Her partner, Xu Xin, added: "The whole country was looking forward to this final. I think the entire Chinese team cannot accept this result." Their finals loss against Japan in a sport they usually dominate had left many online furious. On microblogging platform Weibo, some "keyboard warriors" attacked the pair, saying they had "failed the nation". Others made unsubstantiated claims of referee bias towards Japan's Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito. As nationalist fever continues to sweep the country, racking up the Olympic medal tally has become much more than just sporting glory. For the ultra-nationalist crowd, losing an Olympic medal is akin to being "unpatriotic", experts told the BBC. "To these people, Olympic medal tables are real-time trackers of national prowess and, by extension, of national dignity," said Dr Florian Schneider, director of the Netherlands' Leiden Asia Centre. "In that context, someone who fails at a competition against foreigners has let down or even betrayed the nation." The table tennis match was an especially bitter pill to swallow because it had been a loss to Japan, with which China shares a tumultuous history. Japan's occupation of Manchuria in northern China in 1931 before a wider war began six years later, killed millions of Chinese. It is still a sore point between the two nations. To Chinese nationalists, then, the match was not just an athletic event, Dr Schneider said. "It's a stand-off between China and Japan."
8-2-21 U.S. finally hits 70 percent vaccination threshold
The United States has finally hit the 70-percent vaccination threshold, Cyrus Shahpar, the White House's COVID-19 data director, announced Monday. President Biden said earlier this year he was aiming for 70 percent of American adults to have received at least one shot of the available vaccines by July 4, but the goal was not met in time. Now, though, the latest Delta variant-fueled COVID-19 wave seems to have spurred an increase in vaccinations — not only has the U.S. reached a milestone, Shahpar notes, but the country's seven-day vaccination average is also the highest it's been in a month.While the White House is optimistic about the renewed effort, a new poll from Monmouth University shows there are still some significant gaps in terms of who's receiving the vaccine. Just over 51 percent of people who identify as Republican voters have gotten a shot, while the same can be said for only 63 percent of people under the age of 35. The Monmouth University was poll was conducted between July 21 and July 26 and among 804 American adults. The margin of error was 3.5 percentage points. Read the full results here.
8-2-21 U.S. extends border policy allowing officials to expel migrants
The Biden administration will keep invoking the public health rule Title 42 during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing the U.S. to continue turning away migrants at the border without a chance to seek asylum. Coronavirus cases are up across the U.S. because of the highly contagious Delta variant, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday said if non-citizens are allowed to come into the U.S. from Mexico or Canada, it "creates a serious danger" of further spread. While many single migrant adults and families have been turned away at the southern border, under the Biden administration, unaccompanied children are allowed to enter the U.S. The administration had been planning on lifting the public health rule this summer, and several immigration advocacy groups have been pushing for an end to it, arguing that the Trump administration imposed the rule not because officials wanted to stop the spread of COVID-19, but because they could use it to limit immigration, The New York Times reports. The American Civil Liberties Union on Monday filed a lawsuit to block enforcement of the rule. In response, the Biden administration said it has to be in place because the immigration system is overwhelmed, border facilities are already overcrowded, and there has been an increase in the number of COVID-19 infections among migrants and border officers.
8-2-21 Japan extends emergency measures as covid-19 spikes during Olympics
Tokyo is seeing a record-breaking rise in covid-19 cases as thousands of athletes and coaches fly in from around the world for the postponed 2020 Olympic games. But Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga denies any link between the event and the surging number of infections. Tokyo is currently in its fourth official state of emergency, which began on 12 July ahead of the Olympics and is now expected to last until 31 August. The measures include an alcohol ban in bars and restaurants and reduced opening hours. Okinawa is already under the same measures and Suga announced over the weekend that they would also be expanded to Saitama, Kanagawa, Chiba and Osaka. Less stringent measures will also be introduced in five other prefectures: Hokkaido, Ishikawa, Hyogo, Kyoto, and Fukuoka. The Olympics were originally scheduled for 2020 but were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the Olympics are now taking place at a time when the country’s coronavirus situation is worse than it was the previous year, according to data on cases. Tokyo saw a sharp rise in covid-19 cases from the start of July and rates last week had doubled from those seen the previous week. On 2 August, the city reported 3058 new cases and the infection rate in Tokyo now stands at 88 people per 100,000. Less than a third of the Japanese population has been fully vaccinated. On 29 July, more than 10,000 new cases across Japan were reported for the first time. This record was beaten just days later when 12,340 cases were recorded on 1 August, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. “If the increase of infection does not stop, the severe symptoms cases will increase and the medical system may possibly be further under strain,” said Suga at a press conference. Meanwhile, Shigeru Omi, chair of the government’s coronavirus subcommittee, told The Japan Times that there was “barely any prospect” of curtailing the outbreak.
8-2-21 Police officer who responded to Capitol attack is 3rd to die by suicide
A third police officer who responded to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack has died by suicide, the Metropolitan Police Department said on Monday. Officer Gunther Hashida, 44, was found dead at his home on Thursday. Hashida, who is survived by his wife and three children, joined the force in May 2003 and was assigned to the Emergency Response Team within the Special Operations Department. Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman Brianna Burch told The Guardian that the agency is "grieving" and "our thoughts and prayers are with Officer Hashida's family and friends." Two other officers who responded to the Capitol attack later died by suicide: Jeffrey Smith and Howard Liebengood. Last week, several officers who were injured and suffered verbal abuse during the assault on the Capitol testified before the House Jan. 6 select committee, describing what they went through that day and how they are coping in the aftermath.
8-2-21 Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urges Congress to increase debt ceiling and 'protect the full faith and credit' of the U.S.
In a letter to congressional leaders, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Monday implored lawmakers to "protect the full faith and credit of the United States" by raising or suspending the U.S. debt ceiling, something she had previously requested be handled by Aug. 2, CNBC reports. The letter also notified leaders that the Treasury Department had begun using "extraordinary measures" — or emergency cash conservation steps — to keep from breaching the federal borrowing limit after it went back into effect over the weekend, per CNBC and The Wall Street Journal. "As I stated in my July 23 letter, the period of time that extraordinary measures may last is subject to heightened uncertainty related to the economic impact of the pandemic," wrote Yellen. "Therefore, I respectfully urge Congress to protect the full faith and credit of the United States by acting as soon as possible." The so-called "extraordinary measures" will reportedly buy the Treasury some time — but after that, Congress "will need to either raise or suspend the borrowing limit or risk the U.S. defaulting on its obligations," writes CNBC. Defaulting, which the federal government has never done, would have "disastrous effects" on the U.S. economy. Lindsey Piegza, chief economist for Stifel, told CNBC that "from a procedural standpoint," the extraordinary measures aren't "much of a concern." However, she added "the implication is a further showdown in Washington eroding the average American's confidence in a cohesive, functioning government" that simultaneously highlights "ongoing infighting among policy officials" on both sides of the aisle. Read more at CNBC.
8-2-21 America's troubling pandemic reality
It's become apparent that COVID isn't going away any time soon. Where does that leave us? What do we call this phase of the pandemic in America? Stalemate? Limbo? The new normal? It's certainly odd and even horrifying, whatever the label. Florida on Sunday set a new pandemic-era record with more than 10,000 COVID-related hospitalizations reported. A similar record was set Saturday in Springfield, Mo. Medical facilities in Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Louisiana, among others, reported a spike in patient admissions. Young adults are the largest demographic group among the newly hospitalized, and the number of children being admitted is also spiking in some states. For many people, in many parts of the United States, this is a scary moment: Every one of those hospitalizations represents — at the very least — a life disrupted. On the other hand, about half the country is fully vaccinated — mostly protected from severe illness, and death, even against the Delta variant. As a result, you're not really seeing calls to shut down businesses or send everybody back to their homes for a fresh round of no-contact grocery deliveries and Zoom meetings. Some of us are wearing masks again, and maybe we're taking more time getting back to the office than we thought we might, but at the moment it doesn't look like everyday life is going to be utterly disrupted like it was in March 2020. "I don't think we're gonna see lockdowns," Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday on ABC. "I think we have enough of the percentage of people [vaccinated] in the country — not enough to crush the outbreak — but I believe enough to not allow us to get into the situation we were in last winter." Then he added: "But things are going to get worse." So things are bad and getting worse, but not lockdown bad. We could be doing better. We should be doing better: More Americans should be vaccinated by now. But we're not. And it's difficult not to contemplate the possibility that this will be our reality for a while — no longer collectively chained to the pandemic's very worst horrors, but not quite free of it either. That's not good enough, is it? We've long known that it is unlikely that COVID will be completely wiped out soon, if ever: There have been endless stories about how the illness will become endemic instead of pandemic, something more akin to seasonal health issues like the flu or cold — a problem, but relatively manageable. What the country is experiencing right now is obviously worse and more severe than that scenario. Troublingly, this is to a large degree the product of millions of individual choices to rely solely on faith, or to watch Tucker Carlson, or to avoid conflicts with friends and family, or simply to prove one's ideological bona fides. Among the vaxxed, online and in private conversations, there has been a low but unmistakable rumbling that it's time to leave the un-vaxxed to their fates. They made their choice, now let them live — or die — with it. That's understandable, even human: It's exhausting to be stuck with a terrible problem when the resolution is unquestionably there for the taking. It's tough to remain empathetic when you read story after story after story about people who refused to get the vaccine and now, because of great illness or worse, have changed their minds much too late. We're also unfortunately all too practiced at absorbing mass death into our national metabolism. Think about all the gun massacres we've seen in recent years — from Sandy Hook to Orlando to Pittsburgh to El Paso, just for starters — and how little changed in their aftermaths. It probably shouldn't be surprising that more than 600,000 deaths haven't been enough to shake up our society's us-versus-them dynamics. Cynicism is a natural response.
8-2-21 China Covid: Concerns grow as Delta outbreak spreads
A fresh Covid outbreak in China has spread to more locations, raising concerns in local media over the country's vulnerability to the highly contagious Delta variant. More than 300 cases have been detected within a span of 10 days. Local headlines have been dominated by news on the outbreak, and the country's top respiratory diseases specialist has reportedly expressed grave concern. The government has imposed fresh travel restrictions and is testing millions. It is unclear how many in China are fully vaccinated, although authorities say more than 1.6 billion doses have been administered so far. A total of 15 provinces and municipalities have now confirmed cases, of which 12 are connected to an outbreak that began in Nanjing in China's eastern Jiangsu province. Authorities have attributed the spread to the Delta variant and the domestic tourist season. Although case numbers are considerably lower than other places, it is considered the largest outbreak in months in China, a country that was largely successful in controlling the virus within its borders last year. Cases first emerged in July in Nanjing airport, among workers who had cleaned a plane that arrived from Russia. Authorities promptly tested 9.2 million residents of Nanjing and imposed lockdown on hundreds of thousands of people. But over the weekend the spotlight turned to popular tourist destination Zhangjiajie in central Hunan province, where many of the latest cases have emerged. Travellers from Nanjing were thought to have visited the city recently. Health officials have zeroed in on a theatre in Zhangjiajie, and are now trying to track down about 5,000 people who attended performances and then travelled back to their home cities. One performance alone had hosted about 2,000 people, according to reports. All attractions in Zhangjiajie have been closed and tourists are being asked to take a Covid test before leaving the city, local media reported.
8-2-21 DaBaby dropped by US music festival Lollapalooza
US music festival Lollapalooza has dropped rapper DaBaby from its Sunday line-up over comments he made about people with HIV and Aids. The Chicago festival tweeted that "Lollapalooza was founded on diversity, inclusivity, respect, and love. "With that in mind, DaBaby will no longer be performing at Grant Park tonight." The rapper has been widely condemned for homophobic and derogatory comments he made about HIV and gay men. While performing at Rolling Loud festival in Miami on 25 July, he urged the audience to "put your cell phone light up", apart from those who were HIV-positive or were gay men who had sex in car parks. He also wrongly claimed that HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases would "make you die in two or three weeks". Medication helping those with HIV to live long, healthy lives has been available for decades. Lollapalooza said rapper Young Thug would fill DaBaby's slot on Sunday night. Earlier this week, DaBaby was dropped from a benefit concert for the Working Families Party, a US political party that says it wants "freedom and equality for all". "We have to hold people accountable and live to our values, which is why there is a change in our line-up," the Working Families Party stated. DaBaby has also parted ways with online fashion retailer Boohoo, with whom he had a clothing deal. Several musicians have spoken out against the rapper's remarks, among them Sir Elton John, who founded his Aids Foundation charity in 1992. "We must break down the stigma around HIV and not spread it. As musicians, it's our job to bring people together," Sir Elton wrote on Instagram. DaBaby ultimately tweeted an apology, saying he had been "insensitive" and "anybody who done ever been effected by AIDS/HIV y'all got the right to be upset." But on his Instagram story, he doubled down on the insults by calling people with Aids "nasty" and "junkies on the street".
8-1-21 Senators release $1 trillion infrastructure bill
On Sunday night, Democratic and Republican senators unveiled their $1 trillion infrastructure bill, with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) saying it "takes our aging and outdated infrastructure in this country and modernizes it, and that's good for everybody." The White House supports the bipartisan, 2,700-page Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which funds improvements to the nation's roads, bridges, ports, and pipes. About half of the package would be new federal spending, with the rest planned investments, The Washington Post reports. Spending would be covered through several different means, including collecting unpaid taxes on cryptocurrency. The package includes $73 billion to modernize the country's energy grid; $66 billion for passenger railways; $55 billion to improve drinking water, including replacing every lead pipe in the U.S.; $65 billion to expand broadband internet access; and $7.5 billion for the first-ever national network of electric vehicle charging stations. The Senate voted last week to move ahead with debate on the infrastructure proposal, which effectively needs 60 votes to pass, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday night said a final vote on the bill could take place "in a matter of days."
8-1-21 Rep. Paul Gosar's siblings say he helped 'incite' Jan. 6 Capitol attack and must resign
The siblings of Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) have long been vocal about their opposition to his right-wing views, and in an opinion piece for NBC News published Sunday, they called on him to resign, saying his actions leading up to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot were a "betrayal" to the country. Dave Gosar, Jennifer Gosar, and Tim Gosar said they have been aware of their brothers's "unhinged behavior for years," and disagree with him on everything from his claim that COVID-19 was overblown to his support of Roy Moore's Senate run in Alabama, which came after he was accused of sexual misconduct. Now, they are focused on Gosar's role in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. In a direct message to their brother, the Gosars wrote that it seems "you are immune to shame. In addition to betraying your family and causing irreparable damage to the relationships within it, you decided to betray your country by helping incite the Jan. 6 domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol." They said he helped organize Stop the Steal rallies and "achieved the deplorable distinction of being the congressman with the most tweets devoted to election lies and instigating the riot." The siblings called it "shocking" that Gosar is "trying to gaslight everyone" by saying Ashli Babbitt, a woman shot and killed by police on Jan. 6 while trying to climb through a door that led to the House chamber, was "somehow an innocent bystander." Gosar, they added, was lying about the election on the House floor that day, and those "lies helped delay the Capitol Police from clearing the chamber, and this delay led at least in part to the officer's decision to shoot Babbitt to protect you. And now you have the gall to blame those men and women who protected you for her death." Gosar, they said, does not have "the intellect, character, or maturity" to be a congressman, and it's likely his "lifelong, insecure need for the approval of others caused you to sacrifice your common decency and integrity to satisfy Trump and his followers in order to keep your seat." If he doesn't resign or his colleagues don't step in to have him removed, Gosar's siblings concluded, he is "likely doomed to go down in history as a cautionary tale: a person who betrayed his family, his country, and even himself."
8-1-21 Israeli data suggest infected, vaccinated individuals have low chance of spreading COVID-19
Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, Israel's director of public health services, had some bad news and good news for CBS' John Dickerson on Sunday's edition of Face the Nation. Preis told Dickerson that Israel, which has served as one of the best test cases for how COVID-19 vaccinations work in the real world because it vaccinated its population early and often, has found that about 50 percent of the people testing positive for COVID-19 right now are fully immunized, though she clarified that the vaccines are still highly effective at preventing severe disease. But even though the data suggest that breakthrough infections may become more common over time (in the U.S., they make up a far lower share of new cases), there's evidence that those individuals are not spreading the virus frequently or widely. Preis explained that, excluding instances of household spread, 80 percent of vaccinated individuals who have been infected have "zero contacts" that have been confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 because of their connection. About 10 percent of those vaccinated, infected individuals have just one contact who likely caught the virus from them, while fewer than 10 percent have more than one contact who later tested positive. "Their ability to infect others is 50 percent lower than those who are not vaccinated," Preis said.
8-1-21 Anti-eviction lawmaker camps overnight on US Capitol steps
Congresswoman Cori Bush has spent a night on the steps of the US Capitol to protest against the end of a Covid-related moratorium on evictions. The House Democrat said shortly before the freeze expired at midnight Saturday that seven million people would be "at risk for evictions" over unpaid rent. The freeze was imposed 11 months ago in part to halt the spread of infections through crowding in shelters. Ms Bush, who was once homeless, wants the measure to be extended. In a tweet early on Saturday, she wrote: "Good morning. The eviction moratorium expires tonight at midnight. We could have extended it yesterday, but some Democrats went on vacation instead. "We slept at the Capitol last night to ask them to come back and do their jobs. Today's their last chance. We're still here." The Democrat-majority House of Representatives adjourned for a seven-week recess on Friday without renewing the moratorium. Extension opponents say many landlords are struggling with their mortgage repayments without regular rent money. Ms Bush, 45, said that despite managing only an hour of sleep in a chair, she was now preparing to spend another night outside the Capitol in Washington DC. On Saturday, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren and Jim McGovern, a House Republican, briefly joined Ms Bush to voice their full support for her action.
8-1-21 New Zealand Dawn Raids: Jacinda Ardern formally apologises
New Zealand's Prime Minister has formally apologised for an immigration crackdown in the 1970s against Pacific Islanders. The Dawn Raids targeted people who overstayed their visas, deporting them to their countries of origin. They disproportionately affected Pacific Islanders, despite most visa overstayers being from the UK, Australia and South Africa. Jacinda Ardern has now issued a "formal and unreserved apology". Pacific Islander communities in New Zealand still "suffer and carry the scars" from the policy, she said, adding that she hoped the apology "has brought some much-needed closure". Ms Ardern spoke at a gathering of affected families, Pacific Island dignitaries and government officials in Auckland. According to news site Stuff, Princess Mele Sui'ilikutapu of Tonga welcomed the New Zealand government's attempt to address the "inhumane and unjust" treatment of her people. She called the apology "a dawn for my community". Beginning in the early 1970s, the Dawn Raids saw government forces launch early morning operations in the homes and workplaces of people who had overstayed their visas. New Zealand had welcomed thousands of migrants from Pacific Islands after the end of World War Two, needing workers for its booming economy. By 1976, the government says there were more than 50,000 Pacific Islanders in the country. But an economic crisis in the early 1970s caused unemployment to rise. Some politicians and in the press began to attack migrants. Raids began in 1974 and continued through the decade. The policy spawned mounting criticism from religious, political and civil groups until it was eventually halted by the start of the 1980s. New Zealand's minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio, was himself a victim of the operation. Born in Samoa before moving to New Zealand, he has said that the day of the raid was "etched into my memory". "To have someone knocking on the door in the early hours, flashlight in your face, disrespecting the owner of the home, with an Alsatian dog frothing at the mouth wanting to come in... It is quite traumatising," he said when Ms Ardern announced the apology in June.