Sioux Falls Atheists
Sioux Falls Atheists and Atheism, Agnostics and Humanism

144 Atheism & Humanism News Articles
for September 2021
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9-19-21 Police outnumber protesters at right-wing Capitol rally
A few hundred protesters gathered around the US Capitol on Saturday, for a rally in support of the pro-Trump rioters who ransacked the building on 6 January. But the group were easily outnumbered by the police and journalists present. Ahead of the event, police said they had detected "threats of violence" and security was tightened in Washington. Organisers had a permit for 700 to attend, but only about 100 to 200 protesters turned up, Reuters reports. Capitol Police said 400 to 450 people were inside the protest area - but that figure included the heavy media presence. Washington police officials had been expressing concern about the "Justice for J6" event for weeks. Its organisers - Look Ahead America - were led by Matt Braynard, the former director of data and strategy for Donald Trump's successful 2016 campaign. Hundreds of officers patrolled the Capitol grounds and 100 National Guard troops were on standby. A fence was erected around the Capitol, and lawmakers were advised to avoid the area. Speakers at the rally insisted that hundreds of rioters arrested for their actions on 6 January were "political prisoners" who had committed no violence. About 600 people have been charged in the federal investigation into the Capitol riot, where a pro-Trump mob tried to stop the US Congress from certifying the 2020 election result. At least 185 are accused of assaulting, resisting, or impeding police officers or employees. More than 70 were charged with destroying or stealing government property. Most of those charged have been released ahead of their trials. The Associated Press news agency reports that about 63 are still in custody, citing court and jail records. In July, officers who defended the Capitol during the riot told a Congressional committee they had been beaten and suffered racial abuse. One testified that he was knocked unconscious and suffered a heart attack. Another, an Iraq War veteran, compared the scene to a "medieval battlefield".

9-19-21 Canada election: Why it’s easier to vote in Canada than the US
Perhaps it's no surprise, but when it comes time to vote, Canadians are very good about doing it politely, and in queues. While Americans are still embroiled in a bitter feud over voting rights and the outcome of the 2020 election, their neighbours to the north are hardly breaking a sweat as they head to the polls to vote in their country's general election on 20 September. Things like widespread advanced voting, mail-in ballots, and federally-run elections seem to make it easier for Canadians to show up at the polls - voter turnout in Canada was higher (62%) than in the US (56%), according to data from Pew Research that looked at the 2016 presidential election and the 2019 Canadian federal election. Here's a look at some of the ways it's easier to be a voter in Canada than the US. Perhaps the most fundamental difference between Canadian and American elections is that Canadian federal elections are all run by one, non-partisan federal body, Elections Canada, while in the US, elections are run at the state level. That guarantees that a voter in Nova Scotia has the same system as a voter in Nunavut. In the US, a person's voting rights vary widely state by state. These myriad rules make it easier for partisanship to creep in, says Matthew Lebo, who teaches political science at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, and specialises in American political systems. "In Canada everything is done by Elections Canada - it's non-partisan, and they work hard to be non-partisan," he told the BBC. "In the states, every state is doing it themselves, they are definitely not non-partisan." This is partly how the 2020 US presidential election became so contested, with a handful of Republican state governments fighting to overturn the Democratic presidential victory. While the focus during a Canadian campaign tends to be on the party leaders and who will be prime minister, under Canada's system of government, it's actually 338 separate races, with candidates in each of the country's federal ridings (constituencies). (Webmasters Comment: t's a lot easier because they have no GOP!)

9-19-21 Aukus: France recalls envoys amid security pact row
France has said it is recalling its ambassadors in the US and Australia for consultations, in protest at a security deal which also includes the UK. The French foreign minister said the "exceptional decision" was justified by the situation's "exceptional gravity". The alliance, known as Aukus, will see Australia being given the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines. The move angered France as it scuppered a multibillion-dollar deal it had signed with Australia. The agreement is widely seen as an effort to counter China's influence in the contested South China Sea. It was announced on Wednesday by US President Joe Biden, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison. France was informed of the alliance only hours before the public announcement was made. In a statement late on Friday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who had described the pact as a "stab in the back", said the ambassadors were being recalled at the request of President Emmanuel Macron. The deal "constitute[s] unacceptable behaviour between allies and partners whose consequences directly affect the vision we have of our alliances, of our partnerships and of the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe", Mr Le Drian said. A White House official said the Biden administration regretted the move and would be engaged with France in the coming days to resolve their differences. Speaking in Washington, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she understood the "disappointment" in France and hoped to work with the country to ensure it understood "the value we place on the bilateral relationship". A recall of ambassadors is highly unusual between allies, and it is believed to be the first time France has recalled envoys from the two countries. French diplomats in Washington had already cancelled a gala to celebrate ties between the US and France which was scheduled for Friday.

9-19-21 Aukus: Australia defends role in security pact amid French condemnation
Australia has defended its decision to scrap a multi-billion dollar submarine purchase from France in favour of a new security pact with the US and UK. Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected accusations that Australia had lied, saying France should have been aware it was prepared to break the deal. France says the Aukus pact has led to a "serious crisis" between the allies. In an unprecedented move, it has recalled its ambassadors from the US and Australia as a sign of protest. Under the Aukus pact, Australia will be given the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines as a way of countering China's influence in the contested South China Sea. The partnership has ended a deal worth $37bn (£27bn) signed by Australia in 2016 for France to build 12 conventional submarines. France says it was informed of the pact only hours before the public announcement was made earlier this week. Mr Morrison on Sunday said he understood France's disappointment, but that he had always been clear about Australia's position. The French government "would have had every reason to know that we had deep and grave concerns", he said. "Ultimately this was a decision about whether the submarines that were being built, at great cost to the Australian taxpayer, were going to be able to do a job that we needed it to do when they went into service and our strategic judgment based on the best possible of intelligence and defence advice was that it would not." Mr Morrison's comments came after French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France 2 television there had been "lying, duplicity, a major breach of trust and contempt" over the deal. He said France's ambassadors to the US and Australia were being recalled to "re-evaluate the situation", but that there had been "no need" to recall the ambassador to the UK, which he described as a "third wheel". US President Joe Biden is expected to hold talks with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in the coming days. "We want explanations," French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Sunday. (Webmasters Comment: It's pretty simple! The United States planing to attack China!)

9-19-21 Migrants in Texas: Thousands moved to processing centres
US officials have moved thousands of migrants away from a Texas border town that has seen an influx of mostly Haitian migrants over the past week. More than 10,000 people had gathered under a bridge connecting Del Rio in Texas to Mexico's Ciudad Acuña. Local officials have struggled to provide them with food and adequate sanitation. Some 2,000 people were moved to immigration and processing stations on Friday. The US government says it plans to fly the migrants back to where they began their journeys. Flights are expected to start on Sunday, with the US currently negotiating returns with the countries in question. Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry sent support to the migrants on social media late on Saturday, saying "arrangements have already been made" to welcome those who return. But some migrants say they are afraid to return. "In Haiti, there is no security," Fabricio Jean, 38, who is at the camp with his wife and two daughters, told the Associated Press. "The country is in a political crisis." "There's people killing each other in Haiti, there's just no justice," another father of two, 29-year-old Stelin Jean told the Texas Tribune. "I just want to live a calm life without any problems, I want to live somewhere where I know there's justice." The US Department for Homeland Security said in a statement that the transfers will continue "in order to ensure that irregular migrants are swiftly taken into custody, processed and removed from the United States consistent with our laws and policy". It added that US Customs and Border Protection is sending 400 additional agents to Del Rio, a city with a population of roughly 35,000. Del Rio's Mayor Bruno Lozano has declared a state of emergency, and described the situation as "unprecedented" and "surreal". He said border patrol had been overwhelmed and that "agitated" migrants were living in impossible conditions. The makeshift camp at Del Rio has few basic services, and migrants waiting in temperatures of 37C (99F), have been wading back across the river into Mexico to get supplies. (Webmasters Comment: Sending immigrants back to their deaths!)

9-18-21 Rally in support of Jan. 6 rioters draws sparse crowd in D.C.
A rally in Washington, D.C., in support of the hundreds of rioters who face criminal charges for breaching the Capitol on Jan. 6 has reportedly drawn a relatively small crowd so far on Saturday. Capitol Police estimated 400-450 people at the demonstration site on the National Mall, though there were also reportedly a fair amount of journalists and "curiosity seekers" in the area, as well. The "Justice for J6" protest wasn't expected to be massive with organizers hoping around 700 people would show up to its permit area, but it appears a large police presence prevented it from reaching that size. Time's Vera Bergengruen, however, reports that Saturday's rally was overhyped, subsequently obscuring "what has been happening to ... far-right movements in the aftermath of Jan. 6" outside of the nation's capital. People involved in such movements have been urging their supporters to "ignore" events like "Justice for J6" and instead focus their efforts at the local level, especially by protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other pandemic-related measures, as well as challenging school committees and boards. In other words, the lack of enthusiasm for Saturday's widely-covered demonstration doesn't necessarily provide the clearest look at what's really happening on the ground.

9-18-21 GOP's Kinzinger tells 'silent' colleagues 'the time for hiding is over' in fight against Trump
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who has become one of former President Donald Trump's fiercest critics within the Republican Party, released a video statement on Saturday directed at his GOP colleagues in Congress who he said lack "courage to speak out" against Trump "while privately hoping for change." The impetus for Kinzinger's message was the decision by his friend Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) — who along with Kinzinger was one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 riot — to not run for re-election next year amid a challenge from the party's pro-Trump faction. The looming end of Gonzalez's tenure in the lower chamber does indicate Trump is "winning" the intra-GOP battle, Kinziger admitted. But he said that's only because other lawmakers have remained silent during the tumult. "The future of the party and politics of this country doesn't rest on the 10 of us," Kinzinger said, referring to the impeachment supporters. "The time for hiding is over, the stakes are too high," Kinziger warned, adding that anyone who believes Trump truly is the party's leader must "own his comments" or "denounce them," while anyone who doesn't think Trump should helm the GOP "must publicly say that."

9-18-21 France's anger at U.S., U.K., Australia over defense deal may not die down quickly
France's anger at its allies Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom over their trilateral defense agreement may not die down overnight. The pact effectively cancels a pre-existing deal between France and Australia, in which the latter had ordered French-built submarines. In response, French President Emmanuel Macron recalled the government's ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia, which may only be "the tip of the iceberg," Peter Ricketts, a former U.K. ambassador to France, told BBC radio on Saturday. "This is far more than just a diplomatic spat," he said, explaining that the France-Australia deal "wasn't just an arms contract," but a "strategic partnership." Now, "there's a deep sense of betrayal in France." What's more, Australia went behind Paris' back with two fellow NATO members, leaving Macron and company wondering what exactly the alliance is for, Ricketts said. "I think people underestimated the impact that this would have in France and how this would seem as a humiliation and betrayal in a year President Macron is running for election in a very tight race with the far right," he added. Read more at The Guardian.

9-18-21 IA reportedly warned military about civilian presence just seconds before missile hit in Kabul
The CIA urgently warned the U.S. military that Afghan civilians, including children, were likely in the immediate vicinity of the intended target of a deadly missile strike late last month in Kabul, CNN reports, citing three sources familiar with the situation. The message didn't arrive in time. The military believed a vehicle contained explosives and posed an imminent threat to Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport during the chaotic evacuation process after the Taliban took control of the Afghan capital. But Central Command admitted Friday that its information was incorrect — there were no explosives in the car, and the driver did not have connections to the Islamic State's Afghanistan affiliate, known as ISIS-K. It's unclear if the CIA was aware of the faulty intelligence, or if the agency had only picked up on the civilian presence. Either way, by the time the CIA issued warning, the missile was just seconds away from hitting the car, CNN reports. It killed 10 people, including seven children. Read more at CNN. (Webmasters Comment: Killing innocent civilians is a terror tactic the United State has used for over 100 years!)

9-18-21 Afghanistan: US admits Kabul drone strike killed civilians
The US has admitted that a drone strike in Kabul days before its military pullout killed 10 innocent people. A US Central Command investigation found that an aid worker and nine members of his family, including seven children, died in the 29 August strike. The youngest child, Sumaya, was just two years old. The deadly strike happened days after a terror attack at Kabul airport, amid a frenzied evacuation effort following the Taliban's sudden return to power. It was one of the US military's final acts in Afghanistan, before ending its 20-year operation in the country. US intelligence had tracked the aid worker's car for eight hours, believing it was linked to IS-K militants - a local branch of the Islamic State (IS) group, US Central Command Gen Kenneth McKenzie said. The investigation found the man's car had been seen at a compound associated with IS-K, and its movements aligned with other intelligence about the terror group's plans for an attack on Kabul airport. At one point, a surveillance drone saw men loading what appeared to be explosives into the boot of the car, but these turned out to be containers of water. Gen McKenzie described the strike as a "tragic mistake", and added that the Taliban had not been involved in the intelligence that led to the strike. The strike happened as the aid worker - named as Zamairi Ahmadi - pulled into the driveway of his home, 3km (1.8 miles) from the airport. The explosion set off a secondary blast, which US officials initially said was proof that the car was indeed carrying explosives. However the investigation has found it was most likely caused by a propane tank in the driveway. One of those killed, Ahmad Naser, had been a translator with US forces. Other victims had previously worked for international organisations and held visas allowing them entry to the US. Relatives of the victims told the BBC the day after the strike that they had applied to be evacuated, and had been waiting for a phone call telling them to go to the airport. In a statement, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said: "We now know that there was no connection between Mr Ahmadi and Isis-Khorasan, that his activities on that day were completely harmless and not at all related to the imminent threat we believed we faced. "We apologise, and we will endeavour to learn from this horrible mistake." (Webmasters Comment: This was a war crime! All those involved need to be arrested, tried, convicted and hung!)

9-18-21 Covid-19: US FDA recommends booster jabs for over 65s
A panel advising the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended boosters of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine for people 65 and over, and those at high risk. But it voted against recommending a shot for everyone aged 16 and over. The outcome is a blow for President Joe Biden, who said widespread jabs would be available by next week if approved. The FDA's scientific advisory committee voted 16 to 3 against the boosters for those aged 16 and over. Many of the panel's independent experts - including infectious disease specialists - said scientific data suggested a widespread roll-out of vaccines was not warranted. Ahead of a meeting on Friday, some scientists said they believed that boosters were unlikely to have a significant impact on the course of the pandemic. Dr Monica Gandhi, an infectious diseases physician and professor at the University of California San Francisco, said she was not convinced by the immunology research. "Antibodies do come down over time, but [the human body] has the blueprint to make more," she told the BBC. These blueprints come in the form of "memory B" cells which form part of the adaptive immune system. "There's been paper after paper that shows good circulating memory B cells after the second dose," Dr Gandhi said. Some have also said that additional vaccine doses would be more useful if distributed to parts of the world where many people have yet to receive their first or second jabs. "If you take away the moral and ethical questions, there's still the public health question of where the next variant is going to come from," she said. "It's likely to come from places with low vaccination rates." Advocates of the booster point to data that shows the Pfizer vaccine's effectiveness against Covid-19 falls from 96% to 84% after four months. Pfizer says that a third shot brings its effectiveness back up to 95% - including against the fast spreading Delta variant. Dr Priscilla Hanudel, a Los Angeles-based emergency doctor, said that immunocompromised people "definitely" need to get a booster.

9-18-21 Police warn of threats ahead of right-wing rally at US Capitol
Police say they have detected "some threats of violence" ahead of a planned right-wing rally in Washington DC on Saturday. Event organisers say it is aimed at supporting those arrested for taking part in the Capitol riots on 6 January. Security has been tightened in Washington ahead of the rally, at which 700 people are expected. The event's coordinator, a former Donald Trump campaign operative, has vowed the event will be peaceful. For weeks, Capitol Hill and Washington DC police officials have expressed concern about the "Justice for J6" event. At a news conference on Friday, US Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said there had been "some threats of violence" associated with Saturday's events, although he declined to comment on their credibility. "What we do know is the chatter we heard before January 6, the threats turned out to be credible," Mr Manger said. "So we're not taking any chances." Additionally, Mr Manger said that police are particularly concerned about the possibility of clashes between attendees and nearby counter-protesters. Ahead of the event, Washington DC's police force announced it was mobilising the entire police force. On Friday, DC police chief Robert J Contee said that the force would be increasingly visible around the city during the rally, and would strictly enforce "no gun zones". Local laws prohibit firearms within 1,000 feet (305m) of "first amendment activities". The Department of Defense has also approved the deployment of 100 National Guard soldiers to help safeguard the event alongside police. A fence has also been erected around the Capitol, while lawmakers have been advised to avoid the area. The event's organisers - Look Ahead America - are led by Matt Braynard, the former director of data and strategy for Donald Trump's successful 2016 campaign. Mr Braynard has repeatedly urged event attendees to remain peaceful. Earlier this week he asked supporters to avoid wearing pro-Trump clothing or paraphernalia.

9-18-21 Migrants in Texas: US 'to fly thousands back to Haiti'
The US government is set to fly back to Haiti thousands of migrants who have gathered under a US-Mexico border bridge in recent days, US media report Flights will begin on Sunday and could involve up to eight a day, officials told the Associated Press. At least 10,000 people, mostly Haitian migrants, are camped under the bridge connecting Del Rio in Texas to Mexico's Ciudad Acuña, and more are expected. Del Rio's mayor Bruno Lozano has declared a state of emergency. Describing the situation as "unprecedented" and "surreal", he said border patrol had been overwhelmed and "agitated" migrants were living in impossible conditions. The border crossing at Del Rio was temporarily closed on Friday "to respond to urgent safety and security needs presented by" the influx of migrants, US Customs and Border Protection said. The makeshift camp at Del Rio has few basic services and migrants, waiting in temperatures of 37C (99F), have been wading back across the river into Mexico to get supplies. Shelters have been made from giant reeds and many are using the river to bathe and wash clothes in, the AP reports. At least two babies are reported to have been born in the camp. Ramses Colon, a 41-year-old Afro-Cuban asylum seeker who worked in Peru to save money for the trip, said the camp was "chaos". "You stand there among thousands with your little ticket waiting for your turn," he told the Washington Post. Migrants have been given tickets with numbers while they wait to be processed. Republican Congressman Tony Gonzalez, whose district includes Del Rio, said in an interview with Fox News that the situation is "as bad as I've ever seen it". "When you see the amount of people and how chaotic it is and how there is literally no border, folks are coming to and from Mexico with ease, it's gut wrenching and it's dangerous," Mr Gonzalez added. (Webmasters Comment: This is a death sentence!)

9-17-21 Pentagon admits August drone strike killed 10 Afghans, likely no ISIS-K operatives: 'A tragic mistake'
The Pentagon on Friday admitted that a drone strike in Kabul on Aug. 29 — initially calculated to target ISIS-K and prevent an attack on Americans troops — resulted in the deaths of 10 civilians, including seven children, The New York Times reports. The U.S. military had reportedly incorrectly asserted the driver of the car targeted in the strike, Zemari Ahmadi, was connected to the Islamic State. What's more, the explosives officials believed to be loaded in the trunk of Ahmadi's car were likely just water bottles. "In short, the car posed no threat at all, investigators concluded," per the Times. "This strike was taken in the earnest belief that it would prevent an imminent threat to our forces and the evacuees at the airport, but it was a mistake and I offer my sincere apology," said Commander of United States Central Command Gen. Kenneth McKenzie. He added that he is "fully responsible for this strike," and that it was "a tragic mistake," per the Military Times. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the department will "endeavor to learn from this horrible mistake." Ahmadi, the driver of the targeted vehicle, "was just as innocent a victim as were the others tragically killed," he said. Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, who had previously defended the Aug. 29 drone operation as a "righteous strike," also condemned the "horrible tragedy." "In a dynamic high-threat environment, the commanders on the ground had appropriate authority and had reasonable certainty that the target was valid," said Milley, "but after deeper post-strike analysis, our conclusion is that innocent civilians were killed." Read more at The New York Times and CNN.

9-17-21 Do drone strikes create more terrorists than they kill?
In a horrific late Friday afternoon news dump, the Pentagon confirmed what was widely suspected: their investigation had concluded that a drone strike conducted on the way out of Afghanistan killed an aid worker and members of his family, including children, rather than an ISIS-K terrorist. What had once been defended as a "righteous strike" was now a "tragic mistake." If we are not careful, it is one that will be repeated regularly. Because the risk to American personnel is significantly less than having boots on the ground, there will be a temptation to promiscuous drone strikes as an easy counterrorism solution. But in addition to the immorality of inflicting death on civilians, errant strikes and collateral damage come with a terrorism risk. The family of the aid worker could be radicalized against the United States. If such killings occur with increasing frequency, this effect could ripple throughout the Afghan population. Consider: Would Americans have ever wanted to make war against, or even thought much about, Afghanistan if it wasn't for the 9/11 attacks? We still must ask whether we are killing more terrorists than we are creating. Those of us who wish to end the forever wars that came after 9/11 and also prevent future iterations of the attacks on our country must grapple with what happened to Zemari Ahmadi. An inherent risk of the "over the horizon" strategy rightly touted as an alternative to permanent occupation of foreign lands is that we keep bombing but with intelligence inferior to that which we can gather on the ground. There remains a strong need for a sufficient intelligence capability monitoring potential threats, neither missing them before they hit the homeland nor misunderstanding them and harming the innocent. The dreadful alternative calls to mind a trenchant exchange Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) had with Secretary of State Antony Blinken while the drone strike was still under review. "We can't sort of have an investigation after we kill people," the Kentucky Republican said. "We have an investigation before we kill people."

9-17-21 FDA panel overwhelmingly rejects approval of Pfizer vaccine booster shots for people 16 and older
A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel has voted against approving booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for those 16 and older, just days before a Biden administration plan to administer additional doses to all Americans was set to begin. An independent panel advising the FDA met on Friday to consider whether to endorse a third dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for Americans 16 years and older. The committee voted 16 to 2 against doing so, The New York Times reports. The panel did, however, recommend booster doses for those 65 and older and at high risk for severe COVID-19, according to CNN. Last month, the Biden administration announced a plan to begin offering COVID-19 booster shots to all Americans starting on Sept. 20, pending FDA and CDC approval. But it was later reported that the administration might have to scale this plan back, as during a meeting with the White House, top health officials "warned that more time may be needed before enough data is in to recommend boosters for all adults," CNN wrote. During the Friday meeting of the FDA advisory panel, committee member Dr. Michael G. Kurilla said that "it's unclear that everyone needs to be boosted, other than a subset of the population that clearly would be at high risk for serious disease," per the Times. The Biden administration previously faced criticism for announcing its planned timeline to administer booster shots before they had been approved for all Americans. "What I do think was backwards and not helpful was that the White House made an announcement with a certain date before really all the data had come in," former FDA Chief Scientist Jesse Goodman told CNN, "before [the] FDA had a chance to review it, and before there was this public discussion that we're now going to have."

9-17-21 Idaho doctors and nurses are 'beyond frustrated' by COVID misinformation, as state expands health care rationing
Idaho expanded health care rationing statewide on Thursday amid ballooning COVID-19 hospitalizations, allowing providers to first allocate ICU beds and limited resources to patients most likely to survive, if necessary, per The Associated Press. Although the news may not have come as a surprise (Idaho is one of the country's least vaccinated states), Carolyn McFarlane, a Boise-based doctor, told the Idaho Capital Sun she felt "defeated" by the announcement. "I feel like we broke the system. In many ways," she added. "That our community, unfortunately, I think, wasn't hearing the messages of health care providers for weeks and weeks." In a way, McFarlane noted, things have started to feel a lot like a "battlefield with mass casualties." Alicia Luciani, a Boise nurse, is also "beyond frustrated by the people and ideological groups who spread bogus information about COVID-19," and feels like state leaders aren't delivering a "strong and consistent message" about the virus to their constituents, writes the Idaho Capital Sun. "A lot of us say all the time, 'I wish I could wear a camera,' just so people could see what I'm seeing on a daily basis," she said. "It's really hard to hold up iPads for family members, massive amounts of family members, to say goodbye to their loved one." Dr. Wesley Pidcock echoed the dissonance between the outside world and hospital front lines: "It's hard to be here all day long and see this … and then you go to, like, Whole Foods, or you go to the store, and you walk in there, and you're the only one wearing a mask, right?" "No one really realizes what actually happens here," he added. Read more at the Idaho Capital Sun.

9-17-21 The insanity of leaving Africa unvaccinated
It's absolutely vital for rich countries to get vaccines to poorer countries, for their own self-interest if nothing else. Rich countries are getting fairly well vaccinated. Most of Western Europe is past 60 percent vaccination, and a few countries have cracked 70 percent — meaning an effective end to the pandemic. After a belated start, Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea are catching up fast. Even the middle-income and poorer countries in Asia and Latin America are coming along, with only a couple exceptions. But there is a continent-sized hole in the vaccination scheme: Africa. Morocco, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe are the only countries there over 15 percent vaccination (at 51, 29, and 16 percent respectively). Most of sub-Saharan Africa has not cracked 5 percent. Several countries have not even reached 1 percent. This is because Africa is the poorest continent, and the rich world has not gotten its act together to mass-produce and distribute vaccines there. It's the height of irresponsibility. Earlier this year I argued that it was absolutely vital for the rich world to get vaccines to poorer countries. Obviously it's immoral to let people die by the millions because they live in places too impoverished or dysfunctional to obtain or distribute vaccines. But it's also bad for everyone because allowing the virus to circulate in the Global South risks new variants cropping up that could get around the vaccines and harm rich countries. It's also disastrous for an economy that depends on global trade. Sure enough, that risk was proved real with the Delta variant. This apparently evolved during a gigantic outbreak in India in late 2020 — before the vaccines were widely available, of course, but still proof that allowing unchecked circulation is hideously dangerous. Meanwhile, the ongoing pandemic is manifestly fouling up the global economy, America included. No less than the International Monetary Fund (historically the economic leg-breaker of neoliberalism) recently estimated that a global vaccination and virus control effort would cost just $50 billion, and create additional output of $9 trillion by 2025. If there was ever a case where massive humanitarian aid was unambiguously the right move, it is here. Whether you are a socialist, capitalist, liberal, conservative, or just a plain old selfish cynic, vaccinating Africa is very obviously the right move. The relative pittance it would cost would pay for itself in a matter of weeks — and per the IMF analysis, create another $1 trillion in tax revenue in rich countries over the medium term. Heck, Jeff Bezos could finance it out of pocket by himself and still be the fourth-richest person in the world. Yet as historian Adam Tooze writes at The New York Times, "none of the members of the Group of 20 have stepped up, not Europe, not the United States, not even China. Billions of people will be forced to wait until 2023 to receive even their first shot." (By way of comparison, Democrats in both the House and Senate recently agreed to stuff another $25 billion into the military budget for next year that President Biden didn't even ask for, despite the fact that the U.S. just ended a major war.)

9-17-21 France recalls ambassador to the U.S. 'for the first time ever'
In what's typically seen as a "severe diplomatic step ... usually used against adversaries," France has recalled its ambassadors to both the U.S. and Australia in protest of the countries' controversial nuclear submarine partnership, The New York Times reports. According to the French foreign ministry, this is "the first time ever" France has recalled its U.S. ambassador, writes the Star Tribune. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the "exceptional decision," apparently made by President Emmanuel Macron, "is justified by the exceptional gravity of the announcements made on 15 September by Australia and the United States," per the Times. On Wednesday, the U.S. announced a new nuclear submarine partnership with Australia and the U.K. that effectively cancels out an exisiting defense deal between Australia and France. Le Drian called the arrangement a "stab in the back," and likened the situation's handling to that of former President Donald Trump. Friday's recall is an escalation of the conflict, in which Philippe Étienne, the French ambassador the U.S., will return to Paris "for consultations." Le Drian on Friday said the abandonment of the French deal and the newfound partnership "constitute unacceptable behavior among allies and partners; their consequences affect the very concept we have of our alliances, our partnerships, and the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe," per CNN. The White House, for its part, will "continue to be engaged [with France] in the coming days to resolve our differences, as we have done at other points over the course of our long alliance," said an official to CNBC. Read more at CNBC and The New York Times.

9-17-21 US immigration: Thousands gather under bridge at US-Mexico border in growing crisis
Some 10,000 migrants have gathered under a US-Mexico border bridge over recent days, leading to a growing humanitarian crisis. The bridge connects Del Rio in Texas to Mexico's Ciudad Acuña and the temporary camp there has grown with staggering speed in recent days. The mostly Haitian migrants, who have crossed the Rio Grande, are sleeping under the bridge in squalid conditions The US government has been facing a surge of migrants at the border. Earlier this year, it was reported that 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. And last month, the authorities arrested more than 195,000 migrants at the Mexican border, according to government data released on Wednesday. This summer's numbers represent a significant increase from the 51,000 arrested in August 2019. The makeshift camp has few basic services, and migrants waiting in temperatures of 37C (99F) are said to be going back to Mexico to get supplies. They are said to be mostly Haitians, with some Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans also present, reports say. They appear to be part of a larger wave of Haitians heading north, many of whom arrived in Brazil and other South American nations after the 2010 earthquake, the Washington Post reports. According to Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano, more than 10,500 migrants were under the Del Rio International Bridge as of Thursday evening, Reuters news agency reports. Ramses Colon, a 41-year-old Afro-Cuban asylum seeker who worked in Peru to save money for the trip, said the Del Rio camp was "chaos". "You stand there among thousands with your little ticket waiting for your turn," he told the Washington Post. Migrants have been given tickets with numbers while they wait to be processed. Border Patrol said in a statement it was increasing staffing in Del Rio to facilitate a "safe, humane and orderly process". "To prevent injuries from heat-related illness, the shaded area underneath Del Rio International Bridge is serving as a temporary staging site while migrants wait to be taken into USBP [US Border Patrol] custody," it added.

9-17-21 Trump calls Saturday rally in support of Jan. 6 defendants 'a setup' to make him look bad
Washington, D.C., is bracing for Saturday's rally in support of the people charged with storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to stop Congress from ceremoniously certifying President Biden's victory over former President Donald Trump. The "Justice for J6" rally was organized by a former Trump campaign operative, and the attendees will almost certainly be Trump supporters, but Trump is perhaps surprisingly unenthusiastic about the event. "On Saturday, that's a setup," Trump told The Federalist on Thursday. "If people don't show up they'll say, 'Oh, it's a lack of spirit.' And if people do show up they'll be harassed." The former president "has little interest in engaging with the protest and has no plans to be anywhere near Washington on Saturday," The New York Times reported Wednesday, citing aides. "Trump views the planned protest as a setup that the news media will use against him regardless of the outcome." It isn't clear how many people will attend the rally — perhaps about 500, CNN reports, citing an intelligence report — but even the biggest Trump supporters in Congress are expected to stay away, too. That includes lawmakers who encouraged the Jan. 6 siege, like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), and are sympathetic to the idea that many of 600-plus people charged for participating in the riot are being treated unfairly by the criminal justice system. "There are a lot of clearly angry people who want to march on the Capitol," Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, told the Times. "I haven't talked to a single Republican up here in the Senate that has encouraged or enabled anything like that." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said police "need to take a firm line, buddy," and "if anybody gets out of line, they need to whack 'em." "I can appreciate why Republicans don't want anything to do with this," GOP strategist John Feehery tells the Times, "but there is a lot of angst in the Republican base." Congressional Republicans and Democrats both know that "the only hope Democrats have of keeping the House is to make Jan. 6 the issue of the campaign," he added. "The only people who don't seem to know that are the activists."

9-17-21 Watch a BBC newscaster explain the U.S. ivermectin boom to a British audience
BBC News broadcaster Ros Atkins presented a seven-minute rundown this week of the surge in the off-label use of ivermectin to treat or try and prevent COVID-19, mostly in the U.S. It's "fascinating" to watch this outside look at "the U.S. ivermectin craze," Dr. Bob Wachter at U.C. San Francisco tweeted Thursday, adding that Atkins "plays it [straight-ish], but you can imagine what would be in a thought bubble." "In the U.S., a drug called ivermectin is being touted as a way of treating and preventing COVID-19, despite a lack of evidence to back this up," Atkins said. "Ivermectin is cheap, it's widely available, its makers won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Medicine for how it treats parasitic diseases in humans. It's also used as a dewormer for horses, and the advice from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the FDA, is clear" — it isn't approved for COVID-19. The FDA's increasingly urgent "intervention was prompted by an increase in sales of ivermectin" at pet and feed stores, Atkins said. "And look at this: According to the U.S. National Poison Data System, there was a 245 percent jump in reported exposure cases from July to August. In other words, these are people who've taken ivermectin and become ill." For these people and others, "it seems either the distinction between the products for humans and animals is not registering, or some people don't mind," Atkins said. "And to understand why ivermectin has become bound up in the pandemic, we need to go back to last year," and early research that has led nowhere yet. Some U.S. doctors are prescribing ivermectin anyway, "and it's clear that many of those who are turning to ivermectin despite a lack of evidence are turning away from the COVID vaccines, despite a lot of evidence," Atkin concludes. "All of which means that as case numbers in the U.S. have risen through the summer, so has interest in ivermectin. It's a story about some Americans' response to COVID, but it's also a story about the erosion of trust in politics and in science, and how that erosion has led some people to conclude that this drug is what they need — even, in some cases, the version of it that's for horses." Watch his full report below, including his attempt to say "y'all" and his winking fact check of Australian tennis player Pat Cash.

9-17-21 Covid-19 news: How common is long covid in people who get infected?
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. A new analysis suggests that long covid affects 6 per cent of people who experience symptoms. Long covid appears to affect between 3 to 11.7 per cent of people infected by the coronavirus, according to an analysis by the UK Office for National Statistics that used several different approaches to gauge the prevalence of the chronic condition. According to the analysis, as many as 17.7 per cent of people who had symptomatic covid-19 infections self-report as experiencing long covid 12 weeks later, but the proportion of symptomatic cases who experience at least one ONS-defined long covid symptoms continuously for 12 weeks or more is lower, at 6.7 per cent. In April, the ONS published a study suggesting that 13.7 per cent of people who test positive for covid go on to experience some symptoms for 12 weeks or longer. Now, the ONS has used several approaches to get a more detailed look at how common long covid is. The new study found that, when looking across people who test positive for covid-19 – regardless of whether they had symptoms or not during their initial infection – long covid appears to be less common than previously thought. Among those in the study who tested positive for covid-19, 5 per cent reported one or more of 12 common symptoms 12 to 16 weeks after infection. However, 3.4 per cent of people in the control group also reported such symptoms, suggesting that the coronavirus may not be to blame in the majority of cases. Around 3000 healthcare workers who haven’t been vaccinated for covid-19 have been suspended in France. A new rule came into force on 15 September that makes vaccination mandatory for 2.7 million frontline staff. Italy is planning to make it mandatory for most public and private workers to have a “green pass” that indicates that a person has been fully vaccinated, recently recovered from the coronavirus, or recently tested negative for it. Since August, a green pass has been necessary for accessing most leisure activities in the country. The army may be called upon to help Scotland’s ambulance service, which is under “acute pressure”, first minister Nicola Sturgeon said yesterday.

9-17-21 Aukus: US and UK face backlash over Australia defence deal
The US and UK are facing growing international criticism over a new security pact signed with Australia. The deal - seen as an effort to counter China - will see the US and UK give Australia the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines. But the move angered France, which said it had been "stabbed in the back", while China accused the three powers of having a "Cold War mentality". And the pact has raised fears that it could provoke China into a war. The alliance, known as Aukus, was announced by US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison on Wednesday. While they did not mention China, Aukus is being widely viewed as an effort to counter Beijing's influence in the contested South China Sea. Mr Johnson later told MPs that the agreement was "not intended to be adversarial" to China. But the prime minister was questioned by his predecessor, Theresa May, about whether the deal could lead to Britain being dragged into war with China. She asked the prime minister about the "implications" of the partnership in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Mr Johnson replied: "The United Kingdom remains determined to defend international law and that is the strong advice we would give to our friends across the world, and the strong advice that we would give to the government in Beijing." Democratic Taiwan sees itself as a sovereign state, but Beijing has increased pressure on the island which it views as a breakaway province. Meanwhile Washington has sought to quell anger in Paris at the pact, which has scuppered a multibillion-dollar submarine deal France had signed with Australia. France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called the announcement a "stab in the back". He called it a "brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision" that reminded him of former US President Donald Trump. French diplomats in Washington cancelled a gala to celebrate ties between the US and France in retaliation. (Webmasters Comment: We just want to kill the Chinese people and establish the United States as the only world super power!)

9-16-21 Expert predicts a 'very hard' period between U.S. and France following Australian submarine deal
An expert on French-American relations predicts a "very hard" period in the friendship between the U.S. and France in the wake of the former's nuclear submarine partnership with Australia, The New York Times reports. "This looks like a new geopolitical order without binding alliances," said the expert, Nicole Bacharan. "To confront China, the United States appears to have chosen a different alliance, with the Anglo-Saxon world confronting France." The U.S., U.K.,and Australia deal is at odds with one made between France and Australia in 2016, intended to provide the latter with "conventional, less technologically sophisticated submarines," writes the Times. That contract has now collapsed, in favor of the U.S. and U.K. arrangement. Paris has since claimed the new deal to be a "stab in the back," and one that reminds French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian of former President Donald Trump. "This brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr. Trump used to do," Le Drian told Franceinfo radio. "I am angry and bitter. This isn't done between allies." On Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken attemped to soothe some of that ire, calling France a "vital partner" in the Indo-Pacific region, and one that Washington will continue to work with. "We cooperate incredibly closely with France on many shared priorities in the Indo-Pacific but also beyond around the world. We're going to continue to do so. We place fundamental value on that relationship, on that partnership," said Blinken. Read more at The New York Times.

9-16-21 Idaho allows hospitals overwhelmed by COVID patients to start rationing health care
Amid a surge in new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations that are overwhelming medical facilities, the Idaho Department of Health and Wellness on Thursday announced that the state is experiencing a hospital resource crisis, and strained hospitals are allowed to ration health care. Under crisis standards of care, hospitals are able to determine how to prioritize care based on patients doctors believe have the best chances of survival. "In other words, someone who is otherwise healthy and would recover more rapidly may get treated or have access to a ventilator before someone who is not likely to recover," the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said. It's a "dire" situation, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said in a statement. "We don't have enough resources to adequately treat the patients in our hospitals, whether you are there for COVID-19 or a heart attack or because of a car accident." Idaho saw the second largest per capita increase in the number of hospitalized coronavirus patients over the last week, second to West Virginia, data compiled by The Washington Post shows. The highly contagious Delta variant has been fueling the surge in cases, especially in areas with low vaccination rates.

9-16-21 Doctor who called COVID-19 vaccine 'needle rape' is now on Idaho's largest regional health board
As Idaho hospitals deal with having so many coronavirus patients that they now have the option of rationing health care, the newest member of the state's largest public health board, a doctor who has called COVID-19 vaccines "fake" and "needle rape," is settling in. Ryan Cole, a pathologist in Boise, has replaced Dr. Ted Epperly on the Central District Board of Health. Epperly served on the board for 15 years, but was ousted because he supports taking public health measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Cole, who was backed by the Ada County Republican Party, was chosen by the Republican county commissioners, who said they liked his "outsider" perspective and how he "questioned" medical guidance, The Washington Post reports. The sole Democratic commissioner objected to Cole's appointment. Cole has spent much of the pandemic on the right-wing media circuit downplaying the virus and touting unproven treatments for it, like the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin. During an event this summer in San Antonio, he called the coronavirus vaccine "fake" and "needle rape," later telling KTVB it was a "tongue-in-cheek" comment. Idaho has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the United States, with just 40 percent of residents fully vaccinated, and the state is seeing a surge in new infections and hospitalizations. The Idaho Medical Association released a statement last week saying by choosing Cole, the commissioners "favored politics over public health" and Cole's claims about the coronavirus and vaccine "do not align with the Idaho standards of care." Epperly told the Post that watching "my state implode over political decisions that have adverse consequences on health is horrifying to me. ... That's the tragedy that I'm watching unfold."

9-16-21 The fence around the Capitol returns for far-right Sept. 18 rally's back. In line with comments made by U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger on Monday, the fencing around the Capitol is on its way back up in anticipation of Saturday's "Justice for J6" rally, a planned protest supporting those charged in the Jan. 6 riot. "Many people who live in this area are waking up to a very different Capitol Hill this morning," CNN's Shimon Prokupecz told John Berman on New Day. "Fencing, again, up all across the perimeter of the Capitol." Construction began late Wednesday, according to The Hill. Prokupecz said the fencing is "much like" that which was seen in the "days and months and weeks" after the insurrection, and workers are still finishing up its placement, as well as adding "concrete barriers" in the event a protester tries to ram a car into the building. "The big question, obviously, for law enforcement, for officials here, is what is going to happen," said Prokupecz. "Certainly anywhere you go here in Washington, D.C., this is all people are talking about." It's worth nothing that although there is concern over what might unfold, some don't expect Saturday's rally to be nearly as rowdy as Jan. 6.

9-16-21 US general defends 'secret' phone calls with China
Top US General Mark Milley has defended himself after a book reported he had "secret" phone calls with China amid concerns about then-President Donald Trump. The calls last October and January were to reassure the Chinese military, Gen Milley said on Wednesday. Mr Trump said the claims were fabricated and Republicans have called for the general to be fired. President Joe Biden said he has "great confidence" in Gen Milley. Gen Milley's spokesman said that the calls were in keeping with his "duties and responsibilities conveying reassurance in order to maintain strategic stability". The phone calls to Chinese General Li Zuocheng were revealed on Tuesday in extracts from a new book by Washington Post investigative reporters. They were made just after the presidential election and after Mr Trump refused to accept his defeat. The book, "Peril", said that after the January 6 riots, Gen Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "was certain that Trump had gone into a serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election". He was allegedly worried that Mr Trump could "go rogue", the book claims. He allegedly told the Chinese general that the "American government is stable" and reassured Gen Li that the US would not attack. If they did so, the Chinese would be warned first, the extract quotes him as saying. The book also said that Gen Milley had told his staff that if Mr Trump ordered a nuclear strike, then he would have to confirm it before it was carried out. Mr Trump accused Gen Milley of "treason" and described the claims as "fake news" in a statement. Senior Republican Senator Marco Rubio has also called for Mr Biden to fire the general. On Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: "The president has complete confidence in his leadership, his patriotism and his fidelity to our Constitution." She added that Mr Biden has complete confidence in Gen Milley continuing to serve in his role.

9-16-21 Afghanistan: Life under Taliban rule one month on
At Afghanistan's border with Uzbekistan a cargo train rolls over a bridge and into the newly created "Islamic Emirate". The Taliban's white and black flag flutters next to the Uzbek one. Some traders have welcomed the group's return to power. The driver of a truck being loaded with wheat tells me in the past he was regularly forced to pay bribes to corrupt police officials whenever passing their checkpoints. "Now, it's not like that," he says. "I could drive all the way to Kabul and not pay a penny." It's been exactly one month since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan. Now cash is in short supply, and the country is facing a mounting economic crisis. One source in the business community tells us trade levels have dropped significantly, as Afghan importers aren't able to pay for new goods. The Taliban's head of customs at Hairatan port, Maulvi Saeed, tells us the group is cutting duty rates to promote trade, and wants to encourage wealthy traders to return to the country. "It will create jobs for the people, and the businessmen will be rewarded in the afterlife," he says. Around an hour's drive away is Mazar-i-Sharif, the country's fourth largest city. On the surface life appears to be continuing as normal, though many are suffering financially. I head to the intricately tiled Blue Mosque, the cultural heart of the city. I was last here in August, shortly before the Taliban takeover. Back then, the grounds were teeming with young men and women posing for selfies. Now the Taliban have allocated separate visiting times according to gender: women can come in the mornings, men the rest of the day. When we visit, there are plenty of women strolling around, but there seem to be significantly fewer than before. "Things are alright, but maybe people still need more time to get used to the new government," one woman suggests timidly. I'm meeting Haji Hekmat, an influential local Taliban leader. "You might have brought security," I put to him, "but your critics say you're killing the culture here." "No," he replies emphatically, "Western influences have been here for the past 20 years… Control of Afghanistan has passed from one foreign hand to another for 40 years, we have lost our own traditions and values. We are bringing our culture back to life." According to his understanding of Islam, the mixing of men and women is prohibited. (Webmasters Comment: The Taliban men are unspeakably EVIL!)

9-16-21 Covid-19 news: Call to investigate impact of vaccines on menstruation
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. More than 30,000 reported cases of menstrual changes after vaccination in the UK. A possible link between covid-19 vaccines and menstrual changes is plausible and should be investigated, according to a reproductive immunology specialist. Writing in the BMJ, Victoria Male at Imperial College London notes that changes to periods and unexpected vaginal bleeding aren’t currently listed as covid-19 vaccination side effects by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. However, more than 30,000 reports of such changes have been made to the MHRA through its yellow card side effects reporting scheme. Because menstrual changes have been reported after various different kinds of covid-19 vaccine, Male suggests that, if there is a link, it is likely to be caused by the body’s immune response to vaccination, rather than a reaction to a specific vaccine component. Male notes that a study of menstruating women found that a quarter of those who caught covid-19 experienced menstrual disruption, and that vaccination against the human papillomavirus has been linked to menstrual changes. According to Male, most people who report changes to their periods after vaccination find that they return to normal the following cycle. There is no evidence that covid-19 vaccination reduces fertility. However, she argues that it is important to research the effects of the vaccines on menstruation. “Vaccine hesitancy among young women is largely driven by false claims that covid-19 vaccines could harm their chances of future pregnancy,” she writes. “Failing to thoroughly investigate reports of menstrual changes after vaccination is likely to fuel these fears.” For the seventh day in a row, over 8000 people in the UK are in hospital with covid-19. Nadhim Zahawi, the UK’s vaccine minister, is to switch to the role of education secretary. The move came as part of the prime minister’s reshuffle yesterday. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is in isolation, after a number of people in his entourage caught covid-19.

9-16-21 Putin reveals the Kremlin is awash in COVID-19 cases
Russian President Vladimir Putin is quarantining due to COVID-19 cases in his orbit — and not just a few of them. The Kremlin confirmed earlier this week that Putin was in isolation because there had been cases of COVID-19 in his entourage, and he revealed Thursday that dozens of people have tested positive, Politico reports. "In my closest circle, as you know, there are cases of illness of coronavirus," Putin said. "It's not one or two, it's several tens of people. And now I have to self-isolate for a few days." Putin explained that he wouldn't be able to attend the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Collective Security Treaty Organization in person as a result, per Politico. Earlier this week, the Kremlin said that "several people" in Putin's entourage had tested positive for COVID-19 and that he "must take a responsible position and not endanger the health of his colleagues" by quarantining, CNN reported. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, however, said that the Russian president tested negative for COVID-19 and is "absolutely healthy." At the time, Putin also said he hoped this would show the Russian Sputnik V vaccine's "high parameters for protection against COVID-19 in real life." Before going into quarantine, CNN notes, Putin met in person with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, though the Kremlin spokesman insisted that "nobody's health was endangered."

9-16-21 Aukus: China denounces US-UK-Australia pact as irresponsible
China has denounced a historic security pact between the US, UK and Australia, describing the alliance as "extremely irresponsible" and "narrow minded". The pact, announced on Wednesday, will see the US and UK provide Australia with the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines for the first time. It is being widely viewed as an effort to counter China's influence in the contested South China Sea. The region has been a flashpoint for years and tensions there remain high. On Thursday, Chinese Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the newly announced alliance risked "severely damaging regional peace... and intensifying the arms race". He criticised what he called "the obsolete cold war... mentality" and warned the three countries were "hurting their own interests". Chinese state media carried editorials denouncing the pact, and one in the Global Times newspaper said Australia had now "turned itself into an adversary of China". The new partnership, under the name Aukus, was announced in a joint virtual press conference between US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison on Wednesday. And while China was not mentioned directly, the three leaders referred repeatedly to regional security concerns which they said had "grown significantly". "This is an historic opportunity for the three nations, with like-minded allies and partners, to protect shared values and promote security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region," a joint statement read. The Aukus alliance is probably the most significant security arrangement between the three nations since World War Two, analysts say. The pact will focus on military capability, separating it from the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance which also includes New Zealand and Canada. While Australia's submarines is the big-ticket item, Aukus will also involve the sharing of cyber capabilities and other undersea technologies. (Webmasters Comment: Like I already said this is why the US got out of Afghanistan. So we could focus our resources on attacking China!)

9-15-21 U.S. to share nuclear submarine technology with Australia
President Biden announced on Wednesday that the United States and Britain will enter a new security partnership with Australia, providing the country with the technology necessary to make nuclear-powered submarines. The partnership will be known as AUKUS, and comes at a time when the U.S. and its closest allies are trying to curb China's influence in the region, although Biden did not mention the country by name during his remarks. "We all recognize the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term," Biden said. "We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region and how it may evolve because the future of each of our nations, and indeed the world, depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific, enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead." Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the submarines will be built in Adelaide, and his country will "continue to meet all our nuclear non-proliferation obligations." Nuclear-powered submarines are quieter, move faster, can be deployed for longer periods of time, and are harder to detect. (Webmasters Comment: Preparing to attack China!)

9-15-21 Cheap covid-19 antibody test shows if you have immunity in 5 minutes
A cheap 5-minute test can accurately determine whether you have had covid-19 in the past or determine whether you have protection from a vaccine by detecting antibodies in blood or saliva. When a person is infected with the coronavirus or is vaccinated against it, their immune system produces antibodies to fight the virus. These antibodies continue to be produced for at least six months, so they can be used to detect a past infection or vaccine response. Tests for coronavirus antibodies already exist, but they tend to be expensive, complicated or not very accurate. Feng Yan at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and his colleagues made a cheaper, more convenient covid-19 antibody test using organic electrochemical transistors. These convert biological signals to electrical signals, and are becoming popular for detecting biological molecules like proteins and glucose. A drop of blood or saliva is placed on one of these transistors, which is made of gold and embedded in a small plastic strip. As coronavirus antibodies bind to it, the transistor produces electrical signals that are read by a lightweight portable meter connected via Bluetooth to a mobile phone. The whole process takes less than 5 minutes. The test proved to be highly accurate at measuring coronavirus antibodies when it was tried on samples of blood and saliva that had been spiked with different antibody levels in the lab, including very low levels. Yan and his colleagues are now planning a clinical trial to confirm the test also works in real-world settings. If the trial is successful, the team will apply for approval to sell the test, which should cost less than $1 per test strip, says Yan. Like other covid-19 antibody tests, the new test could be useful for estimating levels of immunity to the virus – either from natural infection or vaccination – in different populations, says Yan. It could also show when the protective effects of vaccines are starting to wear off and booster shots may be needed, he says.

9-15-21 Is the delta coronavirus variant more dangerous for children?
OVER recent months, some US hospitals have admitted record numbers of children with covid-19, leading to fears that the now-predominant delta variant of the coronavirus is more dangerous for this age group. Is that true? When the pandemic took hold last year, we quickly learned that younger people are much less susceptible to serious covid-19. Age is by far the biggest risk factor for severe cases, with people aged 80 and over more than a thousand times as likely to die from infection than under-25s. Then the more-transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus sprang up in India, surging through the UK in May and doing the same in the US in June. By July, some US hospitals were reporting alarming numbers of under-18s needing hospital treatment for covid-19. In southern states, such as Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and Louisiana, paediatric intensive care units started becoming overwhelmed. Francis Collins, head of the US National Institutes of Health, said last month that while there was no proof that delta affects children more severely, he was hearing from paediatricians that “the kids who are in the hospital are both more numerous and more seriously ill”. One factor is that relatively few children are vaccinated, with covid-19 vaccines not used in under-12s and only a quarter of US 12 to 15-year-olds being fully vaccinated by mid-July. Some studies, such as one from the UK in June, have found that, in general, unvaccinated people infected with delta are twice as likely to need hospital treatment as unvaccinated people with the alpha variant. Until recently, no one had yet looked at the risk in under-18s specifically, however, nor at their rate of needing intensive care. US figures out this month from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now show that the proportion of children admitted to hospital who needed intensive care was about the same in August as in the period up to mid-June, before delta took hold, at about one in four.

9-15-21 Generation Covid: What the pandemic means for young people’s futures
The long-term impact of the pandemic will be felt most by those growing up in its grasp. Generational analysis can tell us what we should expect, from education and income to mental health and the response to climate change. TOO often discussion of generations descends into stereotypes and manufactured conflicts – avocado-obsessed, narcissistic millennials against selfish, wasteful baby boomers. Instead of serious analysis, we get apocryphal predictions about millennials “killing” everything from wine corks to the napkin industry. Such discourse wouldn’t be so worrisome if it didn’t sully genuine research into generational differences, a powerful tool to understand and anticipate societal shifts. They can provide unique and often surprising insights into how societies and individuals develop and change. That is because generational changes are like tides: powerful, slow-moving and relatively predictable. Once a generation is set on a course, it tends to continue, which helps us see likely futures. That is true even through severe shocks like war or pandemic, which tend to accentuate and accelerate trends. Existing vulnerabilities are ruthlessly exposed, and we are pushed further and faster down paths we were already on. We tend to settle into our value systems and behaviours during late childhood and early adulthood, so generation-shaping events have a stronger impact on people who experience them while coming of age. This is why it is vitally important to heed the lessons we learn by looking at previous generations so we can understand what the covid-19 pandemic will mean for those growing up through it, and use those insights to help Generation Covid meet the unprecedented challenges ahead. Some approaches that define swathes of the population purely on when people were born are closer to astrology than serious analysis. The type of generational analysis I use in my new book, Generations: Does when you’re born shape who you are?, however, is built on the fact that there are three big forces acting on us that shape our attitudes and behaviours: when we were born (cohort effects), how old we are (life cycle effects) and the impact of events (period effects).

9-15-21 Covid-19 has laid bare social inequities – now is the time to fix them
WE ARE far from the end of covid-19, but it isn’t too early to begin to assess the pandemic’s likely long-term effects on society and how we should respond. Younger people, whose education, career development and opportunities for social interaction in formative years have been most affected, are a natural focus of attention. Our special report on “Generation Covid: What the pandemic means for young people’s futures” comes on the back of an exclusive survey New Scientist conducted with a team at King’s College London. It represents an attempt to marry the best of recent research with some hard data on how the pandemic has affected all generations – and how they themselves view their future prospects. Covid-19 may well turn out to be a generation-defining event. If so, it is because it has laid bare and amplified not just the pre-existing inequalities between generations, but those within them, too. Take one stark figure: in the first lockdown in the UK, 74 per cent of privately educated students received a full online education; for state schools, the figure was half that. That is bad for the pupils involved and bad for society as well. We need some big thinking from politicians. Investment in a more equitable, sustainable future, one that prioritises long-term growth, must be emphasised over and above getting back to pre-pandemic “business as usual”. This isn’t just about tackling inequality in educational, career or housing prospects. One very real danger is that the pressing need to invest in environmental sustainability will be knocked back by short-sighted thinking that prioritises more “immediate” concerns. There, our survey results provide food for thought. Some six in 10 people across all generations in the UK believe action is needed to reduce income inequalities. Around 70 per cent, meanwhile, believe that climate change, biodiversity loss and other environmental issues are big enough problems to justify changes to our lifestyles. Healthy majorities across all generations in the US agree on that.

9-15-21 GOP lawmaker in New Hampshire becomes a Democrat, saying anti-mask 'extremists' pushed him out
New Hampshire state Rep. William Marsh, once a Republican, is now a Democrat, saying he switched parties because so many GOP lawmakers are anti-mask and against the coronavirus vaccine. Marsh told The Washington Post he is a moderate, and people like him are being pushed out of the Republican Party by its more extreme members. He reached his limit this week when New Hampshire House Republicans hosted a rally on Tuesday opposing President Biden's vaccine mandates for workers in the federal and private sectors. "Politics, I'm afraid, is a team sport," he said. "You've got to work with other people, and if nobody's interested in what you have to say, you might as well go home." In New Hampshire, the number of new coronavirus cases is on the rise, with infections up 16 percent from last week and deaths up 36 percent, the Post reports. Marsh is an ophthalmologist, and he told the Post it's "not in the interest of the public to allow COVID to spread in New Hampshire as it has in Florida. I'm a doctor first, so I stood up for my patients and said, 'I'm done with this.' And I left." In a statement, New Hampshire House Speaker Sherman Packard (R) said Marsh didn't understand that Tuesday's rally was about "unconstitutional mandates and executive orders." Marsh disagreed, arguing that he did understand and there is precedent supporting the constitutionality of mandates, and he won't "stand idly by while extremists reject the reasonable precautions of vaccinations and masks."

Newsom says recall rejection shows voters 'said yes to' science, diversity, and economic justice
With California delivering a decisive rejection of the recall effort against him, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Tuesday night said he was "humbled and grateful" for the support of "millions of Californians who exercised their fundamental right to vote. About 45 minutes after the polls closed and as the mail-in ballot results were announced, several news networks called the election in favor of Newsom; with 62 percent of the expected statewide results reported, 67 percent voted "no" to removing Newsom from office, while 33 percent voted "yes." Speaking to supporters in Sacramento, Newsom said that "no is not the only thing expressed tonight. I want to focus on what we said yes to as a state. We said yes to science, we said yes to vaccines, we said yes to ending this pandemic. We said yes to people's right to vote without fear of fake fraud or voter suppression. We said yes to women's fundamental, constitutional right to decide for herself what she does with her body, her fate, her future." "We said yes to diversity, we said yes to inclusion, we said yes to pluralism, we said yes to all those things that we hold dear as Californians and I would argue as Americans," Newsom continued. "Economic justice, social justice, racial justice, environmental justice, our values where California has made so much progress. All of those things were on the ballot this evening." He said voters rejected "division, the cynicism, so much of the negativity that's defined our politics in this country over the course of so many years," and called on Californians to "disregard false separateness" and remember that "we have so much more in common" than "we give ourselves credit for."

9-15-21 California recall: Democratic governor survives bid to oust him
California Governor Gavin Newsom appears to have survived a rare state-wide vote to remove him with a clear majority, US media report. Republicans launched the election over his handling of the pandemic. The Democrat, currently in the third year of his four-year term, had faced a field of 46 candidates, and was expected to win by a large margin. Both President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris campaigned with Mr Newsom ahead of the contest. The BBC's US partner CBS projects that the governor will prevail, with about two-thirds of voters backing him and more than 70% of the vote tallied. "I'm humbled and grateful to the millions and millions of Californians that exercised their fundamental right to vote," Mr Newsom said in a victory speech in Sacramento. The outcome has been closely watched as a bellwether for national 2022 elections. Mr Newsom's main rival, conservative radio host Larry Elder, claimed that the vote was rigged before polls even opened. On the eve of the recall vote, Mr Biden appeared at a rally with Mr Newsom - a former San Francisco mayor - to tell voters that their choice will "reverberate around the world". The effort to unseat Mr Newsom has been driven by increasingly partisan politics, but gained steam after he was photographed dining at a fancy restaurant while urging Californians to stay home to avoid spreading Covid-19. He apologised for the "bad mistake" but some voters found his actions to be hypocritical. Nearly 1.5 million signatures were gathered by petition (equal to 12% of the 2018 vote), meeting the bar for an election to decide whether Californians wanted to keep Mr Newsom in office, or replace him for the remainder of his term. Mr Newsom faced a ragtag group of mostly conservatives hoping to take his place, including reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner, who vanished from the campaign trail to film Celebrity Big Brother in Australia.

9-15-21 Larry Elder says he was running against 'the left-wing media,' not Gavin Newsom
Republican California recall candidate Larry Elder conceded on Tuesday night, telling his supporters, "Let's be gracious in defeat. By the way, we may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war." Elder was one of the 46 candidates on the recall ballot; if Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) had been ousted from office, the candidate with the most votes would have replaced him. Earlier in the week, Elder dodged questions about whether he would accept the results, and sponsored a website that claimed he lost the election before it even took place. Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel tweeted from Elder's Election Night party, and said the conservative talk show host was "giving highlights from his stump speech," including touting his focus on school choice. "This speech sounds a little like a 2022 opening act," Weigel added, noting that Elder recently told CBS News' Major Garrett that he wants to stay in politics. During his remarks, Elder declared that he "wasn't running against Gavin Newsom, I was running against the left-wing media ... and we still scared the bejesus out of them." He also denied that "systemic racism" is a problem, brought up former President Barack Obama, saying he has embraced "this bogus Black Lives Matter movement," and stated that his own "movement is about bringing people together and dealing with the problems we have." (Webmasters Comment: A loser in more ways than one!)

9-15-21 Caitlyn Jenner tells Californians who voted to keep Newsom 'you kind of get the government you deserve'
Caitlyn Jenner expressed shock on Tuesday night when voters turned out in force to vote "no" on the recall effort against California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), telling reporters, "It's a shame." The Republican reality TV star was one of 46 candidates vying to replace Newsom; with 62 percent of the estimated vote in, she received 1.2 percent. Jenner slammed Newsom, saying he "didn't campaign on not one of his successes, because he doesn't have any," and then chided those who voted against the recall. "I can't believe that this many people actually voted to keep him in office," Jenner said. "It's a shame, honestly, it's a shame. You kind of get the government you deserve." Jenner announced her candidacy in April, and made headlines for leaving California midway through the campaign to appear on Celebrity Big Brother in Australia and for being interviewed by Fox News host Sean Hannity in her private airplane hangar, where she lamented how many of her fellow aviators are leaving the state because of the homeless. (Webmasters Comment: Another loser in more ways than one!)

9-15-21 Covid-19 news: England could see 2000 to 7000 hospitalisations a day
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. Rapid increase in covid-19 hospitalisations in England predicted for October. Modellers on the UK government’s SAGE committee of scientific advisers have calculated that between 2000 and 7000 people a day could be hospitalised with covid-19 in England in October unless some restrictions are introduced to curb infection rates. Around 1000 people a day are currently being admitted to UK hospitals with covid-19. At the height of last winter’s peak, 4500 people were hospitalised across the UK daily. This winter, hospitals are likely to be under even more strain, as they handle long-covid cases and seasonal flu. According to SAGE, “it is highly likely that a significant decrease in home working in the next few months would result in a rapid increase in hospital admissions. If enacted early enough, a relatively light set of measures could be sufficient to curb sustained growth.” The World Health Organization yesterday issued an urgent call for vaccine equity worldwide, with a particular stress on the need for vaccination in Africa. WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was joined by various global health leaders in calling for better cooperation in vaccine supply and access. 1 in 500 US residents have died of covid-19 since the pandemic started, reports CNN. France’s vaccination mandate for healthcare workers comes into effect today. The government of New South Wales in Australia is planning to make it illegal to attend hospitality venues without being fully-vaccinated.

9-15-21 Afghanistan: Taliban leaders in bust-up at presidential palace, sources say
A major row broke out between leaders of the Taliban just days after they set up a new government in Afghanistan, senior Taliban officials told the BBC. Supporters of two rival factions reportedly brawled at the presidential palace in the capital Kabul. The argument appeared to centre on who did the most to secure victory over the US, and how power was divided up in the new cabinet. The Taliban have officially denied the reports. The group seized control of Afghanistan last month, and have since declared the country an "Islamic Emirate". Their new interim cabinet is entirely male and made up of senior Taliban figures, some of whom are notorious for attacks on US forces over the past two decades. The dispute came to light after a Taliban co-founder, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, disappeared from view for several days. One Taliban source told BBC Pashto that Mr Baradar and Khalil ur-Rahman Haqqani - the minister for refugees and a prominent figure within the militant Haqqani network - had exchanged strong words, as their followers brawled with each other nearby. A senior Taliban member based in Qatar and a person connected to those involved also confirmed that an argument had taken place late last week. The sources said the argument had broken out because Mr Baradar, the new deputy prime minister, was unhappy about the structure of their interim government. The row also reportedly stemmed from divisions over who in the Taliban should take credit for their victory in Afghanistan. Mr Baradar reportedly believes that the emphasis should be placed on diplomacy carried out by people like him, while members of the Haqqani group - which is run by one of the most senior Taliban figures - and their backers say it was achieved through fighting. Mr Baradar was the first Taliban leader to communicate directly with a US president, having a telephone conversation with Donald Trump in 2020. Before that, he signed the Doha agreement on the withdrawal of US troops on behalf of the Taliban.

9-15-21 EU must step up and build defence - von der Leyen
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said the EU should seek to beef up its military capabilities to confront security threats and global crises. She told the European Parliament she believed EU military forces would be "part of the solution". After the Afghan pull-out the EU needed the "political will" to intervene militarily without US-led Nato. France will host an EU defence summit next year, she added. "It is time for Europe to step up to the next level," Mrs von der Leyen said in her annual State of the Union address. The EU has historically relied on the Nato alliance for military action. The rapid collapse of the Kabul government has raised questions about the EU's ability to drive its own defence policy. German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said earlier this month the EU should become "a strategic player to be reckoned with". French President Emmanuel Macron has in the past backed the idea of a European army. That was given added impetus by the UK's departure from the EU as it feared duplication with Nato. The Commission president said the EU had to provide greater stability in its own neighbourhood and elsewhere, taking part in missions that did not include Nato and the UN. It also had to share intelligence and become a leader in cyber-security. What had held the EU back until now was "not just a shortfall of capacity - it is the lack of political will", she explained. "You can have the most advanced forces in the world - but if you are never prepared to use them, of what use are they?" she told the Strasbourg parliament. One EU diplomat described the notion of an active EU defence force as a "non-starter", BBC Brussels correspondent Jessica Parker reports. She says there is huge scepticism, even exasperation, in some quarters about an idea that has long been discussed. Proposals for an EU rapid-response force first emerged in the 1990s. In 2007, so-called battlegroups of 1,500 troops drawn from each member state were created.

9-14-21 Gavin Newsom tells Republicans claiming voter fraud to 'grow up'
Before the polls closed on Tuesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) delivered a message to Republicans who claim widespread voter fraud is an issue in the state's recall election: "Grow up." Newsom told reporters in San Francisco that it was "embarrassing" to even have to respond to baseless accusations of voter fraud. Earlier in the day, former President Donald Trump told Newsmax that the election was "probably rigged," while a website for Republican candidate Larry Elder asked voters to sign a petition "demanding" an investigation into his loss days before the election was even held. "This election fraud stuff is a crock," Newsom said. "It's shameful. ... As an American, I'm ashamed. I'm disgusted by it. Stop. Grow up. These people literally are vandalizing our democracy, trust in our institutions. ... I care too much about this country. We're debating democracy in America right now. This big lie, I mean, this insurrection — what the hell's wrong with these folks? Grow up. Accept the results." Claims of voter fraud are "fantasy," Newsom said. "They're making stuff up, and it's hurting our country. Forget this election — guys like me come and go. We're a dime a dozen, politicians. Quite literally, a dime a dozen. It's about our institutions. It's about this nation. It's about trust and confidence. It's about who we are. It's about citizens feeling empowered and that their voice matters." Do not, he added, allow these voter fraud allegations to "be normalized." (Webmasters Comment: I looks like voters are rejecting Trump's bullshit!)

9-14-21 California Gov. Gavin Newsom survives recall effort
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has prevailed and will win the state's recall election, several news outlets are projecting. Voters were asked to answer two questions: should Newsom be removed from office, and if Newsom is removed, who should take his place? With 62 percent of the statewide results reported, 67 percent voted "no" to removing Newsom from office, while 33 percent voted "yes." Newsom is serving his first term as governor. The last recall election in California was in 2003, when Democrat Gray Davis was ousted from office and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

9-14-21 It's reportedly costing billions of dollars to treat hospitalized unvaccinated COVID patients
A new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation pegged the preventable cost of hospitalizing and treating unvaccinated COVID patients between June and August at an estimated $5.7 billion, CNN reports. Using data from both the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service as well as health care studies, the report's authors found that each of the 287,000 "preventable" COVID-19 hospitalizations in the last three months cost around $20,000. When multiplied together, the two numbers amount to the $5.7 billion figure. The analysis deems "preventable" hospitalizations to be "hospitalizations of unvaccinated adults for COVID-19 treatment primarily, while accounting for any post-vaccination infections that would have been expected if this population had been vaccinated," per CNN. The authors believe $5.7 billion to likely be "a conservative estimate of costs." The study also "did not account for outpatient care costs, and some data indicates inpatient health care costs for Covid-19 treatment may be higher than the $20,000 figure used," per CNN. Overall, the monetary cost of COVID treatment for the unvaccinated is important to note, the authors write, because it is "borne not only by patients but also by society more broadly, including taxpayer-funded public programs and private insurance premiums paid by workers, businesses, and individual purchasers." Read more at CNN and the Kaiser Family Foundation. (Webmasters Comment: If they could have vaccinated but didn't, send them home without treatment!)

9-14-21 Al Qaeda could 'threaten' U.S. from Afghanistan within 1 to 2 years, top intelligence official says
"The current assessment" of when al Qaeda may be able "to build some capacity to at least threaten" the United States is "conservatively" between one and two years, said Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, at Tuesday's annual Intelligence and National Security Summit, per The New York Times. The terrorist organization founded by Osama bin Laden seems likely to again use Afghanistan as a hub of sorts now that it's ally, the Taliban, is running the country for the first time since 2001. The Taliban has suggested it won't tolerate al Qaeda and other extremist groups in Afghanistan like it did before (al Qaeda was based in Afghanistan in the lead up to 9/11), but many anlaysts aren't buying that. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken himself acknowledged the ties between the two have "not been severed." The CIA is already watching closely for "some potential movement of al Qaeda to Afghanistan," David Cohen, the deputy director of the agency said. Previously at the summit, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said the intelligence community was prioritizing countries like Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Syria as bases for terrorist groups that may target the U.S., while Afghanistan was not quite at the same point. Tuesday's comments suggest there's a chance for some reshuffling in the next couple of years, however. Read more at The New York Times.

9-14-21 How US Secretary of State Blinken defended chaotic Afghan pull-out
op US diplomat Antony Blinken has defended the chaotic Afghanistan pull-out in the first official testimony to members of Congress since the exit. The Secretary of State has faced particular criticism regarding the Americans and allies left behind. Republicans on Monday described the exit as a humiliating loss to the Taliban. Democrats focused on the US-Taliban deal set by Donald Trump. Mr Blinken argued staying longer would not have made a difference. In nearly 20 years of war, more than 6,000 Americans and 100,000 local Afghans were killed, at an estimated cost of more than $2tn (£1.4tn). Amid criticism at home and from allies abroad, Democrats and Biden officials have tried to shift focus away from the final days in Afghanistan. They instead say the loss was due to mistakes made over the course of America's longest war. Republicans during the hearing clashed with Mr Blinken over the fate of Afghan allies "abandoned" in Kabul, increased terror threats and human rights concerns with the Taliban back in power. Here are the key questions lawmakers asked during Monday's hearing - and how Mr Blinken defended the decision to leave. In his opening remarks, Mr Blinken echoed President Joe Biden: "If 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in support, equipment, and training did not suffice, why would another year, or five, or ten, make a difference?" He also emphasised that no US military or intelligence officials thought that Afghanistan would fall so quickly. But Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, decried the pull-out as "an unconditional surrender to the Taliban" and argued it would not have happened if Mr Biden had listened to military advisers. "We are now at the mercy of the Taliban's reign of terror," Mr McCaul said. Questions remain over exactly how many Americans remain in Afghanistan, and numerous lawmakers from both sides asked Mr Blinken for an exact figure. "As of last week, there were about 100 American citizens in Afghanistan who told us they wish to leave the country," said Mr Blinken, adding that the number represents "a snapshot in time." He noted that last week, the US offered evacuation "seats" to 60 of them, and only 30 accepted. No figure was given for the number of US allies that are still in the country.

9-14-21 Afghanistan crisis: Taliban kill civilians in resistance stronghold
The BBC has found that at least 20 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan's Panjshir Valley, which has seen fighting between the Taliban and opposition forces. Communications have been cut in the valley, making reporting difficult, but the BBC has evidence of Taliban killings despite promises of restraint. Footage from a dusty roadside in Panjshir shows a man wearing military gear surrounded by Taliban fighters. Gunfire rings out and he slumps to the ground. It is not clear if the man killed was an army member - combat uniforms are common in the region. In the video a bystander insisted he was a civilian. The BBC has established there have been at least 20 such deaths in Panjshir. One of the victims was a shopkeeper and father-of-two called Abdul Sami. Local sources said the man would not flee when the Taliban advanced, telling them: "I'm just a poor shop owner and have nothing to do with war." But he was arrested, accused of selling sim cards to resistance fighters. Days later his body was dumped near his home. Witnesses who saw his body said it showed signs of torture. When the Taliban swept to power last month, just one region held out. The Panjshir Valley has long been a focal point for resistance in Afghanistan. Under the opposition commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, the region repelled both the Soviet forces and the Taliban. Mountain peaks surround the valley making it difficult for anyone trying to capture it. Massoud's son Ahmad led the resistance against the Taliban the second time they took control of Afghanistan, but last week the militant group declared victory, posting footage of their fighters raising their flag. The resistance forces have vowed to fight on, with Ahmad Massoud calling for a "national uprising" against the Taliban. Now attention is turning to what happens next in Panjshir, as elsewhere in Afghanistan, with the Taliban back in charge. When the Taliban entered the valley, they encouraged residents to carry on as normal.

9-14-21 California recall election: Biden campaigns with Gavin Newsom
US President Joe Biden has thrown his support behind California Governor Gavin Newsom, on the eve of a vote that could remove the governor from office. The recall vote will see Californians decide if they approve of Mr Newsom, and if not, who should replace him. At a rally in Long Beach, Mr Biden said the result would "reverberate around the world". Polls show a comfortable lead for the Democrat, whose main rival, Larry Elder, is a conservative radio host. Mr Newsom was democratically elected and took office in 2019, but Republicans hope to unseat him early. It is only the second-ever recall vote for a governor to appear on the ballots of the Democratic state. "The eyes of the nation are on you," Mr Biden said, urging the Long Beach crowd to vote "no" to the recall. "You either keep Gavin Newsom as your governor or you'll get Donald Trump," he added, calling Mr Elder a "clone" of the former president. Since he took office in 2019, Gavin Newsom has cemented California's status as America's progressive and free-spending state. But frustration over his handling of the pandemic and increasing partisanship in US politics has fuelled a Republican-led effort to supplant him before his term ends. He is now facing some 46 candidates, including transgender activist and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner. California has been firmly Democratic in national elections, but the state does have Republican regions - and six million voters there cast ballots for Donald Trump in 2020. High enthusiasm among this voting group has raised tensions ahead of Tuesday's election. Mr Biden is now one of several high-profile Democrats to campaign on behalf of Mr Newsom - Vice-President Kamala Harris visited the state last week. The last successful recall election of a California governor, in 2003, led to Arnold Schwarzenegger taking over the role. There have been consistent attempts to call such elections against Golden State governors since the late 1960s.

9-13-21 Ahead of California's recall election, Larry Elder website blames loss on voter fraud
California's recall election isn't until Tuesday, but a website sponsored by Republican candidate Larry Elder is already asking voters to sign a petition "demanding" the California legislature investigate "the twisted results of the 2021 recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom." The website, called Stop CA Fraud, states it is paid for by the Larry Elder Ballot Measure Committee Recall Newsom Committee, which is receiving major funding from Elder for Governor 2021. It falsely says that officials are "either through laziness or incompetence" allowing "thieves to steal amidst the dead of night and cheat our ballot box," which in turn means people "can no longer rely on its contents." It also claims that "statistical analyses used to detect fraud in elections held in 3rd-world nations (such as Russia, Venezuela, and Iran) have detected fraud in California resulting in Gov. Gavin Newsom being reinstated as governor." In addition to signing the petition, visitors to the website are able to donate to Elder's recall efforts. NBC News reports that the site was registered anonymously in August, and after the Elder campaign was contacted about it on Monday afternoon, a disclaimer appeared revealing who funds the site. In a statement, Elder spokeswoman Ying Ma said, "We should all be concerned about election integrity and we all want every proper vote to be counted. We've provided a link to an outside website that is providing an avenue for voters to document irregularities they encounter in this election." She added that the campaign believes "Larry will win on Election Day." Elder is a conservative radio talk show host and the leading Republican candidate in the recall effort. During an interview with NBC News on Monday, he was asked about whether he will accept the results of Tuesday's election. "Let's all work together to find out whether or not the election tomorrow is a fair election," Elder replied. Newsom has a double-digit lead in most recent polls, suggesting the recall effort will fail.

9-13-21 57 percent of vaccinated COVID-19 patients hospitalized in first half of 2021 had mild or asymptomatic infections, study finds
A recent nationwide study may lead health ofificials to rethink how to analyze COVID-19 hospitalizations as a pandemic metric, The Atlantic reports. After examining the electronic records for nearly 50,000 patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 at 100 Veterans Affairs hospitals across the United States between March 2020 and June 2021, researchers found that a significant number of the patients actually had mild or asymptomatic infections. Patients who required supplemental oxygen or registered a blood oxygen level below 94 were considered moderate to severe. Until mid-January 2021, when the vaccine drive really gained steam and the Delta variant had yet to take hold, 36 percent of patients were considered mild or asymptomatic. But in the next six months, that figure jumped to 48 percent, while an ever greater proportion — 57 percent — of vaccinated patients, who make up a much smaller share of admissions to begin with, had less severe cases. There are probably a few explanations behind the data, per The Atlantic. Many of the patients may have been admitted to the hospital for an unrelated illness and tested positive upon entrance. Others may have been treated as a preventative measure because of comorbities, and some may simply may have just needed quick, relatively easy treatments before leaving. nationally representative because there are few women and no children, and while Delta was around in the later months of the study, it wasn't at the level it is now, so the numbers may have changed since then. Still, the study further highlights the effectiveness of vaccines and suggests that nuance is necessary when looking at COVID-19 hospitalization data. Read more at The Atlantic.

9-13-21 Afghanistan not at the top of U.S. terror threat list, national intelligence director says
Amid growing concern that the Taliban's governance will once again turn Afghanistan into a safe haven for terrorist groups, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said Monday that terrorist threats emanating from several other countries pose a bigger risk to the United States. The intelligence community is, for now, prioritizing what's happening on the ground in Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Syria, Haines said during a virtual appearance at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington. D.C. "That's where we see the greatest threat," she added, explaining that Afghanistan is further down the list. Of course, the Taliban have only been in control of the country for a few weeks, so the situation will likely remain fluid, although the Biden administration is hoping the group stays true to promises that it won't allow an al Qaeda resurgance in Afghanistan. Many analysts remain doubtful that will be the case.

9-13-21 The CIA reportedly carried out secretive evacuation missions in Afghanistan
Specifics remain guarded, but reports indicate the CIA contributed to the evacuation of American citizens who remained in Kabul after the Taliban takeover. The Washington Post details the escape of one Afghan-American woman, who was working on a USAID project, from the city. Shaqaiq Birashk was contacted by a man claiming, honestly it turns out, to work for the U.S. government who set up transportation from her apartment. The "white-knuckle" drive was successful, and Birashk was taken to a CIA compound known as Eagle Base. From there she was transferred to Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport, and the Hungarian military subsequently flew her to Uzbekistan. After that she went on to Budapest before finally reuniting with her family in Colorado. A spokeswoman for the CIA told the Post only that the agency supported the broader evacuation in "various ways," but five current and former U.S. officials familiar with the missions, which were separate from other aerial rescues conducted by the U.S. military, shed a little more light on how things unfolded. The CIA rescues reportedly relied in part on Afghan counterterrorism forces still in operation after the fall of the central government. The forces reportedly worked with U.S. troops to "help pluck people from the crowd at the airport" and pick people up at their homes or prearranged street corners. Read more at The Washington Post.

9-13-21 The CIA reportedly carried out secretive evacuation missions in Afghanistan
Specifics remain guarded, but reports indicate the CIA contributed to the evacuation of American citizens who remained in Kabul after the Taliban takeover. The Washington Post details the escape of one Afghan-American woman, who was working on a USAID project, from the city. Shaqaiq Birashk was contacted by a man claiming, honestly it turns out, to work for the U.S. government who set up transportation from her apartment. The "white-knuckle" drive was successful, and Birashk was taken to a CIA compound known as Eagle Base. From there she was transferred to Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport, and the Hungarian military subsequently flew her to Uzbekistan. After that she went on to Budapest before finally reuniting with her family in Colorado. A spokeswoman for the CIA told the Post only that the agency supported the broader evacuation in "various ways," but five current and former U.S. officials familiar with the missions, which were separate from other aerial rescues conducted by the U.S. military, shed a little more light on how things unfolded. The CIA rescues reportedly relied in part on Afghan counterterrorism forces still in operation after the fall of the central government. The forces reportedly worked with U.S. troops to "help pluck people from the crowd at the airport" and pick people up at their homes or prearranged street corners. Read more at The Washington Post.

9-13-21 Afghanistan: UN seeks millions in international aid
The United Nations is seeking to raise more than $600m (£434m) in aid for Afghanistan, warning the country is facing a major humanitarian crisis. It is calling for international support at a conference in Geneva, following the Taliban's takeover last month. "After decades of war, suffering and insecurity, they [Afghans] face perhaps their most perilous hour," Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. The UN says the $600m target will bring "vital relief" to millions. In his opening remarks, Mr Guterres called the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan a "looming catastrophe", and said the people of Afghanistan were in desperate need of a lifeline. "Today one in three Afghans do not know where their next meal will come from, the poverty rate is spiralling and basic public services are close to collapse. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes and at the same time Afghanistan faces a severe drought - the second to hit the country in four years. Many people could run out of food by the end of this month just as winter approaches," he warned. The UN has appealed to the Taliban to give aid workers unimpeded access. Even before the Islamist militants retook control of Afghanistan in August, more than 550,000 people had been forced to flee their homes this year due to fighting. That means an estimated 3.5 million people are currently internally displaced within the country. Afghans have also had to deal with a severe drought as well as food shortages. The conference on Monday is being attended by top UN officials as well as aid organisations including the Red Cross and various international governments. About a third of the money it is seeking to raise would be used by the UN's World Food Programme (WFP), which earlier said many Afghans did not have access to cash to afford sufficient food. "It's now a race against time and the snow to deliver life-saving assistance," WFP deputy regional director Anthea Webb told Reuters news agency. "We are quite literally begging and borrowing to avoid food stocks running out."

9-12-21 Reducing flu risk key to managing COVID-19 long-term, former FDA commissioner says
Over time, COVID-19 will become endemic, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb writes for The Atlantic. But that doesn't mean it won't be a significant public health challenge, especially considering it will likely have similar affects to the seasonal flu, creating a dual viral threat every year. Gottlieb lays out a series of tactics health officials, businesses, and schools should take to proactively combat the situation, including encouraging remote work during the peak of flu and COVID-19 season, equipping buildings with improved airflow and filtration systems, producing antiviral drugs specific to COVID-19, and pushing widespread home testing. These measures will help fight the coronavirus, Gottlieb writes, but will likely "only partially interrupt" its spread because people often transmit the virus before they have symptoms, and it can travel long distances in poorly ventilated spaces. However, the strategies should still come in handy since "they could have a greater impact on the spread of a virus like influenza." If the threat of the flu alone is reduced enough, "the cumulative threat from these two pathogens becomes a burden more comparable to that of a bad flu season like the winter of 2018," Gottlieb explains. That's still a dangerous situation, but one that's more manageable than having two separate, equally-sized viral outbreaks working in tandem. Read Gottlieb's full piece at The Atlantic.

9-12-21 9/11 anniversary: Emotional tributes paid to lives lost
Relatives of people who died on 9/11 have read out victims' names, as the US marks 20 years since the deadliest terror attacks on its soil. Many struggled to hold back tearsat the ceremony held at Ground Zero, the site of the Twin Towers destroyed in the attacks by al-Qaeda militants. "Twenty years feels like an eternity, but it still feels like yesterday," cried Lisa Reina who lost her husband. A minute's silence was held at the exact time each hijacked plane crashed. George W Bush, who was the US president at the time, gave a speech in Pennsylvania, where one of the planes crashed into a field after passengers overpowered the hijackers. "The world was loud with carnage and sirens, and then quiet with missing voices that would never be heard again," he said. "It's hard to describe the mix of feelings we experienced." The official memorial in New York started with a minute's silence at 08:46 (12:46 GMT) - the exact moment the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center in 2001. All morning, roses continued to be placed beside the names of the 2,977 victims etched into the Ground Zero memorial. There were five more moments of silence over the next few hours - marking the time when the second plane crashed into the South Tower, when a third jet struck the Pentagon just outside Washington DC, when the fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania, and finally when each tower collapsed. The tributes continued into the night, as two beams of light shone four miles (6.4 km) into the sky. With thousands of names to read out, the list took hours to complete. Mike Low, whose daughter was a flight attendant in the first plane that hit the World Trade Center, started it off. He thanked those who helped his family get through "the darkest days of our lives". Mr Low recalled the "grey and black world" of New York in the aftermath of the attack, and asked for 9/11 to be remembered "not as numbers or a date, but the faces of ordinary people". Lisa Reina was nearly eight months pregnant when her husband Joseph was killed. Fighting back tears, she said: "Our son is the spitting image of you... Continue to watch over us and your family. Until we meet again, my love." A generation of relatives has been born since the attacks, and some took to the stage to share in the name-readings. One young girl told her late uncle: "I never met you, but I really miss you."

9-12-21 Guantanamo Bay: In a courtroom, just feet away from 9/11 suspects
This grim anniversary has meant renewed focus on the five suspects in detention accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks. The men, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, have all appeared in court in Guantanamo Bay this week after an 18 month hiatus in pre-trial hearings caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Behind the glass in the viewing gallery have been a small number of relatives of victims of the attacks, some members of non-profit organisations and a handful of journalists, all there to observe proceedings. Guantanamo Bay already feels cut off from the world, and given the magnitude of this case and weight of the horrific crimes being considered the courtroom here feels all the more singularly alien. "Walking into the courtroom for the first time was extremely emotionally powerful for me," says Dr Elizabeth Berry, whose younger brother Billy Burke was one of the firemen in the North Tower when it collapsed. "I wasn't quite sure what to expect because you see things in the newspapers, portrayals of the way people look which are not really an accurate representation when you see them in the courtroom. It was very moving and very difficult," she says. Dr Berry has attended many of the 42 pre-trial hearings in this case at Guantanamo Bay and says she specifically wanted to be here for the 20th anniversary of the attacks to feel she was supporting the team fighting for justice for her brother and nearly 3000 others. "I felt what better place to honour my brother than here with other family members, what and with this, the prosecution team," she says. It was noticeably difficult for most in the gallery to stop glancing, sometimes staring, at the defendants throughout the sessions. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, diminutive and with a henna-dyed orange beard, bounded into the courtroom the first morning to his seat beside his legal team. He and the four other defendants talked throughout much of the proceedings, either to their legal teams or to each other. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would often turn around for long periods, draping an arm over the back of his chair and chatting to Walid Bin Attash the defendant sitting directly behind him; the man believed to have conceived of the idea of the 9/11 attacks and overseen their planning, in animated discussion with one accused of training two of the hijackers.

9-12-21 FBI begins declassifying documents into Saudi 9/11 links
The FBI has released a newly declassified document that looks into connections between Saudi citizens in the US and two of the 9/11 attackers. Relatives of victims have long urged the release of the files, arguing Saudi officials had advance knowledge but did not try to stop the attacks. But the document provides no evidence that the Saudi government was linked to the 9/11 plot. Fifteen of the 19 plane hijackers were Saudi nationals. Ahead of the declassification, the Saudi embassy in Washington welcomed the release and once again denied any link between the kingdom and the hijackers, describing such claims as "false and malicious". The document was declassified on the 20th anniversary of the deadliest terror attacks on US soil - almost 3,000 people were killed after four planes were hijacked - and is the first of several expected to be released. Some families of the victims had put pressure on President Joe Biden to declassify the documents, saying he should not attend Saturday's commemoration ceremonies in New York if he was not prepared to release them. This 16-page FBI document is still heavily redacted. It is based on interviews with a source whose identity is classified (listed as PII) and outlines contacts between a number of Saudi nationals and two of the hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar. The hijackers posed as students to enter the US in 2000. The FBI memo says they then received significant logistical support from Omar al-Bayoumi, who witnesses said was a frequent visitor to the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles despite his official status at the time as a student. Mr Bayoumi, the source tells the FBI, had "very high status" at the consulate. "Bayoumi's assistance to Hamzi and Midha included translation, travel, lodging and financing," the memo said.

9-12-21 Pope warns of anti-Semitism as he visits Hungary
Pope Francis has warned the threat of anti-Semitism is "still lurking" in Europe, during a brief trip to Hungary. He was speaking after meeting Hungary's populist and anti-immigrant PM Viktor Orban, with whom he has stark differences on the issue of refugees. Mr Orban has also been accused of an anti-Semitic stance, but he has said this is "simply ridiculous". In a Facebook post, the PM said he had "asked Pope Francis not to let Christian Hungary perish". Pope Francis' meeting with Mr Orban lasted about 40 minutes in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. In his address to Christian and Jewish leaders afterwards, Francis warned of "the threat of anti-Semitism still lurking in Europe and elsewhere". He said: "This is a fuse that must not be allowed to burn. And the best way to defuse it is to work together, positively, and to promote fraternity." Hungary has a large Jewish community - some 100,000 strong. Mr Orban was criticised for his 2017 election campaign that included posters of Jewish financier George Soros, with the words "Let's not allow Soros to have the last laugh!" He rejected calls from the Jewish community to take them down. On a visit to London, the PM denied any anti-Semitism, saying that Mr Soros was simply a rival who favoured migrant movement. Mr Orban and the Pope certainly have divergent views on refugees and migration. Some of the PM's supporters in Hungary, along with pro-Orban media, have in the past mocked the Pope as "anti-Christian" for his comments on helping refugees. At a Mass later on Sunday, Pope Francis alluded to the issue, saying: "The cross, planted in the ground, not only invites us to be well-rooted, it also raises and extends its arms towards everyone." "The cross urges us to keep our roots firm, but without defensiveness... My wish is that you be like that: grounded and open, rooted and considerate," the pope said.

9-11-21 George W. Bush alludes to growing domestic terror threat in 9/11 anniversary remarks
During his remarks Saturday at the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, former President George W. Bush took a moment to address the rising threat of domestic terrorism in the United States. "We have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within," Bush said, acknowledging that while there's "little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home," they share a "disdain for pluralism ... a disregard for human life, and their determination to defile national symbols." That makes them "children of the same foul spirit," the former president said, adding that "it is our continuing duty to confront them." Bush did not specify which groups he was referring to, but some observers speculated it may have been a nod to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

9-11-21 9/11 anniversary: Official commemorations under way
Official commemorations are under way to commemorate 20 years since the 9/11 attacks against the US. The ceremony in New York started with a minute's silence at 08:46 EST (13:46 BST) - the exact time the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center in 2001. Thousands of people across the US have gathered to mark the sombre occasion. President Joe Biden will travel to all three attack sites on Saturday - New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. A minute's silence also marked the moment the second plane crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Similar tributes will take place at the times when a third jet struck the Pentagon in Virginia, a fourth hijacked plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, and finally when the World Trade Center towers collapsed. In total, 2,977 people died in the attacks, when al-Qaeda militants hijacked US passenger planes and crashed them. Most of those killed were US citizens, but the victims also included nationals from more than 90 countries. The first person to start reading out the names of the victims was Mike Low, who lost his daughter in the attack. Speaking solemnly, he thanked those who helped him and his family get through "the darkest days of our lives". Mr Low recalled the "grey and black world" of New York in the aftermath of the attack, and asked for 9/11 to be remembered "not as numbers or a date, but the faces of ordinary people". Relatives took turns to read names of victims, as well as emotional messages to their own loved ones who died. In a video released on the eve of the anniversary, President Biden paid tribute to the victims and the grief that has followed their relatives for two decades. "No matter how much time has passed, these commemorations bring everything painfully back as if you just got the news a few seconds ago," he said.

9-11-21 Afghanistan: UN condemns Taliban's brutal crackdown on protests
The UN has condemned the Taliban for their "increasingly violent response" to dissent, weeks after the group's rapid takeover of Afghanistan. Taliban fighters killed four people during recent protests, the UN said. Demonstrations have taken place across Afghanistan since the fall of Kabul on 15 August, demanding respect for women's rights and greater freedoms. Taliban fighters have used batons, whips, and live ammunition against protesters, the UN said in its report. "We call on the Taliban to immediately cease the use of force towards, and the arbitrary detention of, those exercising their right to peaceful assembly and the journalists covering the protests," a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a press statement. Taliban fighters swept across Afghanistan in August, capturing provincial centres and eventually the capital Kabul itself in less than two weeks. The US then led an airlift from the capital's international airport, evacuating more than 120,000 people before pulling out its own forces on 31 August. The Taliban takeover follows two decades of US military operations in Afghanistan, after American and allied forces ousted the group from power in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks. The US will mark the 20th anniversary of those attacks on Saturday. UN spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani criticised the Taliban's crackdown on demonstrations in a press briefing on Friday. Demonstrations have grown since 15 August, she said. But on Wednesday the Taliban banned unauthorised gatherings, and on Thursday they ordered telecommunications companies to shut off mobile internet in Kabul. It is crucial the group listen to Afghan women and men on the streets "during this time of great uncertainty", she said. The press statement also noted the deaths of at least four people - including a boy - and the violent dispersal of demonstrators in recent weeks. It also criticised violence against journalists. Reporters told the BBC this week they had been beaten, detained and flogged by the Taliban when they tried to cover the protests.

9-11-21 20 years on from 9/11 a trial like no other begins at Guantanamo Bay
This grim anniversary has meant renewed focus on the 5 suspects in detention accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks. The men, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, have all appeared in court in Guantanamo Bay this week after an 18 month hiatus in pre-trial hearings caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Behind the glass in the viewing gallery have been a small number of relatives of victims of the attacks, some members of non-profit organisations and a handful of journalists, all there to observe proceedings. Guantanamo Bay already feels cut off from the world, and given the magnitude of this case and weight of the horrific crimes being considered the courtroom here feels all the more singularly alien. "Walking into the courtroom for the first time was extremely emotionally powerful for me," says Dr Elizabeth Berry, whose younger brother Billy Burke was one of the firemen in the North Tower when it collapsed. "I wasn't quite sure what to expect because you see things in the newspapers, portrayals of the way people look which are not really an accurate representation when you see them in the courtroom. It was very moving and very difficult," she says. Dr Berry has attended many of the 42 pre-trial hearings in this case at Guantanamo Bay and says she specifically wanted to be here for the 20th anniversary of the attacks to feel she was supporting the team fighting for justice for her brother and nearly 3000 others. "I felt what better place to honour my brother than here with other family members, what and with this, the prosecution team," she says. It was noticeably difficult for most in the gallery to stop glancing, sometimes staring, at the defendants throughout the sessions. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, diminutive and with a henna-dyed orange beard, bounded into the courtroom the first morning to his seat beside his legal team. He and the four other defendants talked throughout much of the proceedings, either to their legal teams or to each other.

9-10-21 Afghanistan crisis: Five lessons learned (or not) since 9/11
What lessons, if any, have been learned from the 20 years of fighting terrorism across the world? What has worked and what hasn't? And today, as Afghanistan is once more ruled by the movement that sheltered al-Qaeda, are we any wiser than we were on the morning of 11 September 2001? For an America reeling from the worst ever terrorist attack on the continental USA, the world was seen by some in sharp contrast. There were the good guys versus the bad guys. "Every nation, every region," declared President George W Bush, nine days after the 9/11 attacks, "now has a decision to make. Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists". A so-called "War on Terror" had been declared. It has since led to the invasion of Afghanistan, then Iraq, to the rise of Isis and the proliferation of Iranian-backed militias across the Middle East, and the deaths of thousands of servicemen and women and many more civilians. Terrorism has not been eliminated - every major European country has suffered attacks in recent years - but there have been successes too. To date, there has never been an attack approaching the scale of 9/11. Al-Qaeda's bases in Afghanistan were destroyed, its leaders hunted down in Pakistan. The self-declared Isis caliphate that terrorised much of Syria and Iraq has been dismantled. The list below is doubtless contentious and it is far from comprehensive. It is based on my own observations of covering this subject across the Middle East, Afghanistan, Washington and Guantanamo Bay.

  1. Share vital intelligence: The clues were there but nobody joined up the dots in time. In the months leading up to 9/11, America's two primary intelligence agencies, the FBI and the CIA, were both aware that some kind of plot was in the wind.
  2. Define the mission and don't get distracted: Of all the many reasons why Afghanistan has reverted to Taliban rule, one stands out: the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. This ill-fated decision became a massive distraction to what was going on in Afghanistan.
  3. Choose your partners carefully: Britain's partnering with its closest ally, the US, in the 2003 invasion of Iraq meant that the UK was the junior partner in nearly all the key decisions that followed during the subsequent occupation.
  4. Respect human rights or lose the moral high ground: Time and again people in the Middle East have told me: "We may not have liked US foreign policy but we always respected its rule of law. Until Guantanamo Bay."
  5. Have an exit plan: The western interventions that preceded 9/11 were relatively quick and simple by comparison. Sierre Leone, Kosovo, even the Desert Storm campaign of 1991 - all had a finite ending.
  6. STOP KILLING INNOCENT CIVILIANS: The US killed over 200,000 innocent men, women and children in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Is it any wonder they haven't adopted our way of life!

9-10-21 Texas passes social media 'de-platforming' law
The US state of Texas has made it illegal for social media platforms to ban users "based on their political viewpoints". Prominent Republican politicians have accused Facebook, Twitter and others of censoring conservative views. Former US president Donald Trump was banned from Facebook and Twitter after a group of his supporters attacked the Capitol in January. The social networks have all denied stifling conservative views. However, they do enforce terms of service which prohibit content such as incitement to violence and co-ordinated disinformation. "Social media websites have become our modern-day public square," said Texas governor Greg Abbott, after signing the bill into law on Thursday. "They are a place for healthy public debate where information should be able to flow freely. "But there is a dangerous movement by social media companies to silence conservative viewpoints and ideas." The new law states social media platforms with more than 50 million users cannot ban people based on their political viewpoints. Facebook, Twitter and Google's YouTube are within its scope. Critics say the law does not respect the constitutional right of private businesses to decide what sort of content is allowed on their platforms. "This bill abandons conservative values, violates the First Amendment, and forces websites to host obscene, anti-semitic, racist, hateful and otherwise awful content," said Steve DelBianco, president of NetChoice trade association. "Moderation of user posts is crucial to keeping the internet safe for Texas families, but this bill would put the Texas government in charge of content policies." The law is due to come in to force in December, but may face legal challenges. In May, Florida passed a law which banned social networks from de-platforming politicians. However, some parts of that bill were suspended by a federal judge, who ruled that it violated the First Amendment right to free speech. Another Texas law, changing the rules around abortion in the state, is currently being challenged by the US Department of Justice.

9-10-21 Texas Gov. Greg Abbott slams 'Biden's vaccine mandate,' defends 'right to choose' vaccination
Some people appreciated President Biden's "angry dad vibe" in Thursday's speech outlining his administration's new policies to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, but there was one group that's just angry, specifically at the plan's push to ensure that about 100 million workers either get vaccinated or, in most cases, submit to weekly COVID-19 testing. Several Republican governors and the Republican National Committee focused on Biden's order that companies with 100 workers or more require vaccines or weekly testing, calling it an "unconstitutional" and "dictatorial" overreach. Several of them threatened legal actions. Some of the GOP governors tweeted their support for getting vaccinated, but all opposed "mandates." Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), for example, called "Biden's vaccine mandate" a "power grab," but he also raised some eyebrows by saying he supports "Texans' right to choose whether they get the COVID vaccine" injected in their bodies. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) also reiterated that he doesn't "support mandates of any kind," and said he opposes Biden's action because he's "concerned" about "them trying to force mandates on individuals and businesses." That is "a notable statement coming from DeSantis, who tried to place his own coronavirus restrictions on businesses by forbidding them from requiring vaccine passports," Marc Caputo writes at Politico. "DeSantis lost that fight in court. But his conservative base loved it. So he won by losing." But Biden will similarly win from his sweeping new COVID-19 policies, especially with "conservatives howling that Biden overreached" and taking him to court, Caputo argued. "If and when Biden gets sued, those who oppose him will be easier to define as the problem to the president's solution. And if Biden loses in court, he'll almost surely win in the court of public opinion. That is, he'll win by losing in a country where more than 75 percent of the adult population has already received one shot." And if he wins in court? "Millions more could get vaccinated, greatly reducing deaths, hospitalizations, economic devastation, and perhaps even Biden's slide in the polls," he added. "That's winning by winning."

9-10-21 Lawyer for parents who challenged Florida mask mandate ban 'not surprised' by court's reinstatement
A lawyer for the parents who challenged Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R) mask mandate ban said he is "not surprised" by a state appellate court's decision to overturn a trial judge's order against the ban, thus reinstating it temporarily, Law and Crime reports on Friday. "I am not surprised by the decision of the First District which has a reputation for being very friendly to this governor," said the parents' lawyer Craig A. Whisenhunt. "It is nonetheless very disappointing that they would reinstate a stay when the overwhelming evidence of irreparable harm cannot be legitimately disagreed with." Whisenhunt said the case is instead meant for Florida's Supreme Court, at which point he expects the plaintiffs to prevail. He added, "The question now becomes simply how quickly this case will reach that ultimate review and how many more Floridians will suffer the consequences of a pandemic because of the unconstitutional actions and failure of leadership demonstrated by this administration." The First District judges, all three of whom were appointed by Republican governors, overturned the trial judge's initial block because of "serious doubts about standing, jurisdiction, and other threshold matters." Read more at Law and Crime.

9-10-21 Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel roll their eyes at outrage over Biden's new vaccine requirements
"The biggest story today is that the coronavirus refuses to stop being the biggest story every day," Stephen Colbert said on Thursday's Late Show. "The more the virus spreads, the more it mutates, which experts say could lead to a possible 'monster' variant. And as we know, a monster variant could catch on in a flash and become a graveyard smash." That's why "this afternoon, President Biden gave a speech to outline his plan to curb the coronavirus," Colbert said, applauding Biden's order that all federal workers must get vaccinated. "Finally, the federal government has reached the high standard of audience for a comedy show." "In his speech, Biden said that vaccinated America's patience was wearing thin with the unvaccinated, and it was time for them to step up and get their shots," Colbert said. "And I say hear hear! Vaccine mandates have a proud patriotic history in this country," starting with George Washington and his army's smallpox outbreak. Between Biden's speech and vaccine rules, "this really does feel like when your dad stops threatening and actually does turn the car around," James Corden said at The Late Late Show. "Biden said it's time to stop horsing around, and then he was like, 'No, seriously, stop taking horse medicine.'" Yes, "Biden broke into my soap operas to outline his new plan to squelch this virus," including the new vaccination requirements, Jimmy Kimmel said on Kimmel Live. "Of course a lot of people are upset about this, they don't want to be told what to do, not even by the doctors who they will eventually rush to to beg for help when they get sick. But you know, there's a reason these pandemic movies end when the hero finds the cure for the disease. There's no Contagion sequel with Matt Damon running around trying to convince everyone to take the vaccine, they just take the vaccine. And thank God, by the way — he sucks, we don't need any more movies with him. I don't know, like a quarter of the country thinks herd immunity means they should be taking livestock medicine instead of the vaccination." The Tonight Show's Jimmy Fallon talked about NFL football and Tesla's laser windshild wipers. And Late Night's Seth Meyers explained why Trump is wrong that Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee would have won the war in Afghanistan.

9-10-21 Trump is reportedly 'open' to endorsing Jair Bolsonaro's re-election, possibly at a 'mega-rally' featuring them both
Far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has quite a few things in common with former President Donald Trump. Known as the "Trump of the Tropics," Bolsonaro has "molded himself" in the ex-president's image, and even stood firmly by his side as the Jan. 6 Capitol riot led global ally after global ally to turn their back on the man accused of inciting it. Luckily for Bolsonaro, however, Trump could reportedly be ready to reward the Brazilian leader for his loyalty. According to The Daily Beast, Trump "told confidants that he's open to publicly endorsing Bolsonaro's reelection, potentially at a mega-rally in Brazil where he and Bolsonaro could appear together side-by-side, to rail against what they each deem undesired election outcomes." Bolsonaro is widely expected to lose "decisively" in the race against former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and has gotten ahead of the fallout by preemptively spreading baseless claims of election fraud. The strategy is "jarringly reminiscent" of that employed by Trump following his defeat in the 2020 election, notes The Daily Beast. Regardless of whether or not the Trump-Bolsonaro mega-event comes to life, the "bromance" between the two chaotically likeminded leaders remains "firmly intact." Read more at The Daily Beast.

9-10-21 Covid: Biden orders employees of big businesses to be vaccinated or face testing
US President Joe Biden has announced sweeping new Covid-19 measures that require workers at large companies to be vaccinated or face weekly testing. The measures also include a vaccine mandate for millions of federal government workers and come as cases in the country are surging. Hospitals in several states have reached capacity amid the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant. The new requirements cover about 100 million workers. "This is not about freedom, or personal choice, it's about protecting yourself and those around you," the president said as he unveiled his plan. More than 650,000 Americans have died with Covid-19 since last year. Some 80 million people in the US remain unvaccinated. Mr Biden announced his plan in a speech at the White House on Thursday. He said he had directed the US Department of Labor to require all private businesses with 100 or more staff to mandate the jab or request proof of a negative coronavirus test from employees at least once a week. Nearly 17 million healthcare workers at facilities receiving federal benefits will also face the same requirements, he said. The plan triggered an immediate backlash among some Republicans, who argued that the government should not play a role in the health decisions of individuals. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said "Biden and the radical Democrats [have] thumbed their noses at the Constitution". The president's plan uses the full force of his executive power to mandate the jab for unvaccinated Americans. Some of his initiatives address common concerns of Americans who have yet to get the vaccine - such as not wanting to miss work to get the jab or recover from side effects. The president said that requirements that large businesses provide paid time off for workers to get vaccinated will be unveiled in the coming weeks by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Osha). Businesses that do not comply with the new rules may face thousands of dollars in fines per violation. A separate federal mandate, which the White House says will impact some 2.5 million government workers, supersedes Mr Biden's earlier order that permitted government employees to undergo regular testing if they did not wish to be vaccinated. Now workers that refuse the jab may be fired. Overall, the rule now requires that about two-thirds of all US workers be vaccinated.

9-10-21 Covid-19 news: UK approves Pfizer and AstraZeneca booster shots
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. Two covid-19 vaccines approved in UK for potential use as booster shots. The Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccines have been approved as safe and effective for use as a third shot by UK regulator the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). But a general booster campaign has not yet been recommended by the body that advises the UK government on who should receive vaccines, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). “This is an important regulatory change as it gives further options for the vaccination programme. It will now be for the JVCI to advise on whether booster jabs will be given,” June Raine of the MHRA said in a statement. The US will introduce strict new rules on vaccines that will affect 100 million working people, about two-thirds of the country’s labour force. Yesterday President Joe Biden said firms with more than 100 employees will have to ensure their staff are either fully vaccinated or take weekly covid-19 tests. And vaccination will be mandatory for federal government workers, contractors for the federal government and healthcare staff in settings that receive federal reimbursement. “The bottom line: we’re going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated co-workers,” Biden said at a press conference. Meanwhile Scotland is set to introduce vaccine passports for nightclubs and sports events from 1 October. A simple blood test could identify who is most at risk from developing severe covid-19 early in the course of infection. The test measures levels of antibodies against substances released by dying blood cells. Major airlines are giving out inaccurate information about covid-19 testing requirements to their passengers, according to an investigation by Which? In seven of 15 calls from investigators posing as customers, agents gave wrong answers, including some that would have seen passengers turned away at the airport. An auto-immune condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome has been added to the list of very rare side-effects from the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine by the European Medicines Agency. The EMA says 833 possible cases have been recorded out of 592 million doses given.

9-10-21 Biden pulls ATF nominee, in setback for gun safety advocates
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has had only one Senate-confirmed director since 2006 — B. Todd Jones in 2013 — and it won't have a new one anytime soon. The White House said Thursday that President Biden has withdrawn the nomination of David Chipman, a former ATF agent who later advocated for new gun safety laws as a top official at the gun violence prevention group Giffords, after it couldn't find 50 Senate votes to confirm him. Sen. Angus King (I-Vt.) had told the White House he wouldn't support Chipman's nomination, and Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) were noncommittal. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that Biden would nominate a new director "at an appropriate time," and a White House official told Politico that Biden won't create a Cabinet-level, non-Senate-confirmable position on gun violence, as some advocates want. "We have an office in the White House on gun policy, which is the Domestic Policy Council," the official said. The Justice Department is in talks with Chipman to bring him on in a senior adviser role, Politico reports, but Biden does not think he has the authority to name him ATF director as a recess appointment.

9-10-21 'Black national anthem' makes its debut at the NFL
The Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicked off professional American football's first game of the season. But before they did, fans heard something a little different. It started as a song to celebrate the president who emancipated America's slaves. Its writer thought little about it afterwards, but it took on a life of its own. Now "Lift Every Voice and Sing" - a ballad widely known today as the US black national anthem - has been played at the opening game of the National Football League's (NFL) 2021 season. The song was played after a year of racial tumult that touched almost every corner of American society, including professional sports. Male professional leagues are dominated by young black men, and in an effort to show more solidarity with players, the NFL said it would play "Lift Every Voice and Sing" at the beginning of games this season. It's the first time the song that has meant so much to so many will regularly open American professional sports games. "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was written in 1900 by civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson as a poem that his brother set to music. A native of Jacksonville, Florida, Johnson said the song was written when someone in the community wanted to organise a celebration to commemorate the birth date of Abraham Lincoln. Copies of the song were made for the occasion and it was "taught to and sung by a chorus of 500 coloured school children," he later recalled. A powerful hymn that calls upon all to sing "Till earth and heaven ring/Ring with the harmonies of Liberty" its lines reflect the gratitude of freedom for black Americans while describing aspirations for betterment: "We have come over a way that with tears has been watered/We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered/Out from the gloomy past...Keep us forever in the path, we pray." Johnson later moved to New York and became a well-known figure in the Harlem Renaissance. He was eventually appointed as a diplomat by the Teddy Roosevelt administration. "The song passed out of our minds" when he moved north, he later said. "But the school children of Jacksonville kept singing it; they went off to other schools and sang it; they became teachers and taught it to other children." In 1919, the National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the country's premier civil rights organisation, adopted it as its official song.

9-10-21 Canada federal election: Key takeaways from the debate
Canadian federal party leaders traded barbs over leadership, climate change and indigenous reconciliation in their final debate pitch to voters. The English-language TV debate is usually the most widely watched political sparring match on Canada's federal campaign election calendar. It comes this time just ahead of the opening of advanced polls and less than two weeks before the 20 September election day. Opinion polls suggest Justin Trudeau's centre-left Liberals are tied in first place with the centre-right Conservatives, the main opposition party. The debate was also a chance for three other federal leaders - the NDP's Jagmeet Singh , the Bloc Quebecois' Yves-Francois Blanchet and the Green Party's Annamie Paul - to sell their parties as strong alternatives. Here are some key takeaways from Thursday's debate. Mr Trudeau's job was to win back voters flirting with other parties - and to defend his record as prime minister. The Liberal leader had to deflect repeated attacks on his handling issues that ran the gamut from foreign affairs to climate change. "You've got the worst track record in all the G7 after six years [on climate]," Mr Singh said early on. Mr Trudeau responded by accusing the NDP's climate policies as being lacklustre. Mr Singh, leader of a left-wing party vying to be a progressive alternative for Liberal voters, was the one who most frequently hammered away at the prime minister, accusing him of failing to deliver on his promises. The fast-paced format and crowded stage meant there was little sustained back-and-forth, but all the leaders managed to land a few jabs. Pressed by Conservatives' leader Erin O'Toole on why he has not taken a tougher tone on China, Mr Trudeau snapped that "you do not simply lob tomatoes across the Pacific" when trying to solve geopolitical issues. He also continued to be pressed on his decision to call a snap election two years ahead of schedule in the hopes of securing a majority - an issue that has dogged him since the election call. Polls suggest his Liberals are stuck roughly in the same place they were in late 2019, the last time Canadians voted federally, when he ended up with a minority government.

9-10-21 US Biden and China's Xi hold first call in seven months
Chinese President Xi Jinping has spoken with his US counterpart Joe Biden for the first time in seven months. A White House Statement said both leaders had "discussed the responsibility of both nations to ensure competition does not veer into conflict". This is only the second call between them since President Biden took office. US- China relations have been tense, with clashes over issues like trade, espionage and the pandemic. "The two leaders had a broad, strategic discussion in which they discussed areas where our interests converge, and areas where our interests, values, and perspectives diverge," the White House Statement added. "This discussion, as President Biden made clear, was part of the United States' ongoing effort to responsibly manage the competition between the United States and the PRC." Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said the phone call was "candid [and] in-depth", adding that it had covered "extensive strategic communication and... issues of mutual concern". "Whether China and the US can properly handle their relations... is critical for the future and destiny of the world," said Mr Xi, according to the CCTV report. Mr Biden's predecessor Donald Trump had interacted more frequently with Mr Xi when he first took office. Within the first six months of his administration, Mr Trump spoke to Mr Xi twice over the phone, and also invited the Chinese President to Mar-a-Lago, Mr Trump's private club, where the two held talks in person. A senior White House official on Friday said the call came at the request of President Biden, who had become "exasperated" by the unwillingness of lower level Chinese officials to hold substantive talks with his administration. Earlier this year, high-level talks between the Biden administration and China were fraught with tension - with officials on both sides exchanging sharp rebukes. Chinese officials had accused the US of inciting countries "to attack China", while the US said China had "arrived intent on grandstanding".

9-10-21 Biden called China's Xi because lower-level talks were going nowhere, White House says
President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke for 90 minutes on Thursday night, their second call since Biden took office. Biden initiated the conversation with Xi, a U.S. official said, to "test the proposition that doing so at the leader level will be more effective than what we have found below him." Recent meetings between climate envoy John Kerry, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, and in March, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and their counterparts ended with the Chinese officials breaking diplomatic protocol and unproductively reiterating talking points for domestic political consumption, the White House said. "The two leaders had a broad, strategic discussion in which they discussed areas where our interests converge, and areas where our interests, values, and perspectives diverge," the White House said. "They agreed to engage on both sets of issues openly and straightforwardly," and "discussed the responsibility of both nations to ensure competition does not veer into conflict." Chinese state media called the discussion "candid and in-depth" and said Xi told Biden U.S. polices had "caused serious difficulties" between the two countries, and "Chinese-U.S. confrontation will bring disaster to both countries and the world." He suggested the U.S. and China could worth together on climate change, pandemic prevention, and economic revival. Biden wanted to convey to Xi his vision that China and the U.S. can simultaneously compete economically, avoid escalating that competition into violent confrontation, and cooperate on areas of mutual interest, U.S. officials said. Biden and Xi might meet on the sidelines of one of two international summits this fall.

9-9-21 U.S. says 21 Americans were on the first post-airlift passenger flight out of Afghanistan
Civilian flights out of Kabul International Airport resumed Thursday for the first time since U.S. forces ended a two-week evacuation on Aug. 31. The first international passenger flight, a Qatar Airways 777, left Kabul with 113 Western passport holders or legal residents on board, and Qatar said another flight with up to 200 people will leave Friday. Almost all the passengers on Thursday's flight were of Afghan origin, and many had gotten stuck in the country after coming to visit relatives over the summer, The Wall Street Journal reports. The U.S. State Department said it had "invited" 30 U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents to leave on Thursday, but about 10 citizens and 11 green card holders made it on the flight. Some of the invited Americans declined for health reasons, some wanted more time to decide about leaving, and others chose to remain with family members who could not leave, State Department spokesman Ned Price said. Before Thursday's flight, the U.S. estimated that about 100 Americans remain in Afghanistan, though outside groups say that doesn't count Americans who never notified the State Department they were in Afghanistan and the many more Afghans who helped the U.S. or want to leave for other reasons. Some U.S. citizens and residents are refusing to leave until they can bring family members with them, The Washington Post reports. But U.S. and Afghan definitions of family are pretty different, James Miervaldis, chairman of the evacuation group No One Left Behind, tells the Post. "When the Americans say, 'immediate family,' that's your spouse and your children. From an Afghan point of view, immediate family means spouse, children, sister, cousin, brothers; it's a much larger definition." U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called Thursday's flight, facilitated by Qatar, "a positive first step" that followed "careful and hard diplomacy and engagement" with a Taliban government that "have shown flexibility, and they have been businesslike and professional in our dealings with them in this effort."

9-9-21 Afghanistan veterans more likely than average voter to support Afghanistan withdrawal, poll finds
With President Biden's much-criticized Afghanistan withdrawal largely in the rearview, a new poll from Morning Consult found that veterans of America's longest war were more likely than the average voter to say they were in support of Biden's departure decision. Nearly 3 in 5 — 58 percent — of Afghanistan veterans backed the decision, including 42 percent who did so strongly. On the other hand, 52 percent of all voters expressed a degree of support for the withdrawal, while just 27 percent of that group did so strongly, per Morning Consult. Afghanistan veterans were also far more likely than the rest of voters to see the 20-year war as a success — 48 percent of veterans said they believed such, while just 27 percent of all voters agreed. Notably, former President Donald Trump received the highest marks when veterans were asked which wartime leader handled foreign policy in Afghanistan the best: Trump, Biden, former President Barack Obama, or former President George W. Bush. 63 percent backed Trump's Afghanistan dealings — which, of course, "set the stage for this year's withdrawal," wrote Morning Consult — and 54 percent said the same of Bush and Obama. But just 49 percent saw Biden's Afghanistan foreign policy with some degree of approval. Morning Consult surveyed 243 Afghanistan veterans and 7,988 registered voters across multiple polls between Aug. 17 and Sept. 2, 2021. Results per polling group have a margin of error of 6 percentage points and one percentage point, respectively. See more results at Morning Consult.

9-9-21 Covid-19 news: lab experiments help explain why the virus is so deadly
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Platelets could be to blame for deadly covid-19 blood clots. Tiny particles in the blood that promote clotting could be key to explaining why covid-19 can be deadly. The finding suggests that we may be able to use existing medicines to damp down platelet-triggered clotting in covid-19 patients. People with severe covid-19 often have complications from excessive blood clotting, such as heart attacks, strokes and kidney damage. Tessa Barrett at NYU Langone Health in New York and colleagues found that platelets from 291 hospital patients with covid-19 had higher levels of two molecules involved in clotting compared with platelets from uninfected people. Levels were especially high in those who had to stay longer in hospital, found the study, published in Science Advances yesterday. The UK is considering making covid-19 and flu jabs compulsory for frontline NHS staff and social care workers. The government has today launched a six-week consultation on making full vaccination against the two viruses a condition of employment, unless people are medically exempt. About nine in ten NHS staff have had two covid-19 doses so far, but that ranges from 78 to 94 per cent between hospitals. The flu vaccination rate among health service workers was 76 per cent last year. Speculation continues on whether the UK will start offering third coronavirus vaccine doses to the wider population, with the i newspaper reporting today that a booster programme for older age groups could begin in the next two weeks. Yesterday the World Health Organization said there should be no general booster campaigns until at least the end of the year to let low-income countries give 40 per cent of their populations their first two doses. Here’s what we know so far about the pros and cons of boosting. There is no evidence of airborne transmission of covid-19 in public toilets, according to a systematic review published in Science of Total Environment. The risk is very low, probably because people spend so little time in there and rarely interact with others, says Sotiris Vardoulakis at the Australian National University in Canberra. UK researchers are looking for volunteers to help identify covid-19 infections from the sound of people’s speech and coughing. You need to be prepared to upload sound recordings of yourself within three days of taking a lateral flow or PCR test for covid-19.

9-9-21 Moderna says it's developing a combination COVID-19 and flu vaccine
Moderna Inc. has announced the development of a single-dose, combination COVID-19 and flu vaccine, MarketWatch reports. The special vaccine candidate, called mRNA-1073, combines one COVID-19 booster with one flu booster, the company said during its R&D day Thursday. "I am proud of the progress that the Moderna team has made in advancing our best-in-class mRNA pipeline while addressing the global COVID-19 pandemic, said CEO Stéphane Bancel. "Today we are annoucning the first step in our novel respiratory vaccine program with the developmment of a single-dose vaccine that combines a booster against COVID-19 and a booster against flu." The company also said it plans to "develop booster vaccines against current variants of concern and against potential future variants of concern," writes MarketWatch. Data on the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in kids aged 6-11 is slated for the end of the year, Moderna noted, per CNBC's Meg Tirrell.

9-9-21 Afghanistan: First foreigners fly out of Kabul since US pull-out
Some 200 people, including Americans, have flown out of Kabul in the first such operation since US forces left the country. The Qatar Airways charter flight is now en route to the Qatari capital Doha, with a second flight due on Friday. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged help with evacuations during a recent visit to Qatar. Hundreds of Afghan citizens who had helped the US military were unable to get out in last month's US airlift. In a press conference held at the airport, Qatari special envoy Mutlaq bin Majed Al Qahtani described Kabul international airport as operational and said it was a historic day for Afghanistan. The flights are the first to leave since the rushed US military-led evacuations finished last month, following the Taliban takeover of the country on 15 August. More than 124,000 foreigners and Afghans fearful of Taliban retribution were flown out of the country. Around 100 US citizens are thought to be left in Afghanistan. Photos have also emerged showing injuries inflicted on two journalists who covered protests on Wednesday. They are reported to have been badly beaten after being arrested by the Taliban in Kabul. "One of the Taliban put his foot on my head, crushed my face against the concrete,"photographer Nematullah Naqdi told AFP news agency. "They kicked me in the head... I thought they were going to kill me." Mr Naqdi was covering a protest by women in front of a police station with his colleague at the local Etilaatroz newspaper, Taqi Darybai. The Taliban have banned protests unless authorised by the justice ministry. But dozens of demonstrators chanting "we want freedom" gathered near the Pakistan embassy in Kabul and Taliban gunmen opened fire to disperse them, protesters said. Local media have also reported another protest by women in Kapisa province, north-east of Kabul. Sources told Aamaj news that several women had been arrested.

9-9-21 Afghanistan: Journalists tell of beatings by Taliban
Journalists in Afghanistan say that they have been beaten, detained and flogged by the Taliban when attempting to cover protests. Photos circulating online show two journalists from Etilaatroz newspaper with welts and bruises after their arrest in the capital Kabul. One of them, Taqi Daryabi, told the BBC he had been taken to a district police station where he was kicked and beaten. On Wednesday, the BBC's team were also prevented from filming. Mr Daryabi, alongside Etilaatroz's photographer Nematullah Naqdi, had been covering a women's protest in Kabul on Wednesday. Afterwards, they were taken to a police station, where they say they were beaten with batons, electrical cables and whips. A few hours later, they were released by the Taliban, without explanation. "They took me to another room and handcuffed my hands behind me," he told the BBC's Secunder Kermani in Kabul. "I decided not to defend myself because I thought they would just beat me even worse, so I lay down on floor in a position to protect the front of my body. "Eight of them came and they started beating me... Using sticks, police sticks, rubber - whatever they had in their hands. The scar on my face is from shoes where they kicked me in face. "I was unconscious after that so they stopped. They took me to another building where there were cells and left me." Mr Daryabi said he had fallen unconscious after the beating, and that after about two hours he had been released. "I could barely walk but they were telling us to walk quickly. I was in very bad pain." Nematullah Naqdi said Taliban fighters had tried to take away his camera as soon as he started taking photographs of the protest. "One of the Taliban put his foot on my head, crushed my face against the concrete. They kicked me in the head... I thought they were going to kill me," Mr Naqdi told AFP news agency. He asked why he was being beaten, only to be told: "You are lucky you weren't beheaded."

9-9-21 Crowds cheered as workers took down and dismembered Richmond's Robert E. Lee statute. Trump complained.
After months of careful planning by Virginia officials and engineers, Richmond's 21-foot-high statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee's "surrender came so fast — after less than an hour of work Wednesday — that hundreds of onlookers were caught by surprise," The Washington Post reports. The jubilant crowd cheered. Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who had ordered Virginia's largest remaining Confederate statue removed in June 2020 and persisted through several court challenges, said "this day has been a long time coming." "The statue was on the ground by about 9 a.m., and by 10:45 a.m., workers had sawed off the torso of Lee and began loading it onto a flatbed truck," the Post reports. "Hours later, in the early afternoon, the truck carrying Lee and the horse pulled away in a thunderstorm," unceremoniously "ending the monument's 131-year reign embodying this city's mythology as the former capital of the Confederacy." Devon Henry, the Black foreman who oversaw Lee's removal, said this was the 21st Confederate memorial he has taken down since last summer. The other statues on Memorial Avenue — Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, and Matthew Fontaine Maury — were removed last year, and "the only city-owned Confederate memorial still standing is a statue of Gen. A.P. Hill in an intersection on the north side of the city," the Post reports. "Its removal is taking longer to plan because its namesake is buried, standing up, beneath the statue." "As recently as two years ago, Confederate enthusiasts waving battle flags were a common sight around Richmond," the Post recounts. "A succession of Black mayors and Black-majority city councils dared not challenge Richmond's Lost Cause iconography, and even the violence of 2017's 'Unite the Right' rally around a Lee statue in Charlottesville failed to change the landscape in Virginia's capital." The racial justice protests sparked by George Floyd's death changed that. But not everyone cheered the statue's removal. Former President Donald Trump lavishly praised Lee and condemned his statue's dismemberment in what Politico calls a "historically inaccurate statement not unlike other racially charged messages he has issued." Northam said the statue — erected in 1890, at the end of Reconstruction and beginning of Jim Crow — was "really a way to re-fight the Civil War." Lee and his Confederate allies, he added, "chose to be traitors to the United States and fought against our Constitution to promote slavery."

9-9-21 Robert E Lee statue: Virginia removes contentious memorial as crowds cheer
An imposing statue of an American Confederate general in Richmond, Virginia, has been taken down. Governor Ralph Northam announced it would come down amid national protests after the death of George Floyd. The statue became a focal point for this activism and crowds cheered as a crane removed it on Wednesday. Memorials to leaders of the pro-slavery, Confederate states - whose capital was Richmond - have long stirred controversy. While the removal of these statues is often done with little fanfare, authorities broadcast Wednesday's removal on social media. Large crowds also gathered at the site. Earlier in the week, Mr Northam called the statue "a monument to the Confederate insurrection". The 21ft (6.4m) statue - which dates to 1890 - was taken to a secure facility until a decision is made about what to do with it. The statue's 40ft (12m) pedestal, which is still covered in graffiti from the 2020 protests, will remain in place. Local officials have said that it will stay there until the area is "reimagined." The governor's plans to remove the statue in 2020 were delayed by two separate lawsuits by Richmond residents opposed to its removal. Last week, however, Virginia's Supreme Court rejected the lawsuits, paving the way for the statue to be removed. "This is an important step in showing who we are and what we value as a Commonwealth," Governor Northam said. Hundreds of statues of General Lee and other famous Confederate figures exist throughout the US. "There's no other country in the world that erects monuments to those who took up arms against their country," Mayor of Richmond, Levar Stoney, told BBC News. Since a wave of protests engulfed the US following George Floyd's death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, more than a dozen statues have been removed in Richmond alone. Former President Donald Trump released a statement on Wednesday night decrying the "complete desecration" of the statue. "Our culture is being destroyed," he wrote. (Webmasters Comment: Lee fought for slavery! And so will Trump!)

9-8-21 Covid-19 dashboard: Cases, deaths and vaccinations
This interactive dashboard tracks the world’s recorded covid-19 cases and deaths, plus vaccines administered. These charts track recorded covid-19 cases, deaths, deaths per million people, and the percentage of people who are fully vaccinated, broken down by country. We’ve used logarithmic scales to allow us to compare trends between countries. Keep up to date with the latest coronavirus news via our covid-19 daily update. This chart is built using data from Johns Hopkins University and is useful for seeing the trends of outbreaks in different countries. A straight, diagonal line upwards indicates an outbreak that is growing exponentially, while an upwards line that is curving off shows an outbreak is slowing down. The accuracy of the data may be compromised by factors such as limited testing or delays to the reporting of test results. The true number of cases worldwide will be much higher than shown here. Some countries are better than others at reporting deaths, and the true number worldwide will be much higher than shown here. Plotting deaths per million people in each country makes it possible to compare which countries have been hit proportionately hardest. The same caveats apply: some countries are better than others at reporting deaths. The number of fully vaccinated people for countries which report the breakdown of doses administered by first and second dose.

9-8-21 Exasperated West Virginia governor takes aim at 'crazy' anti-vaccine ideas
West Virgnia's Gov. Jim Justice (R) seems to be losing patience with COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy theorists. During a televised address on Wednesday, he rebuked them in exasperated fashion, asking "why in the world do we have to come up with these crazy ideas? And they're crazy ideas." He singled out one well-known, but baseless theory that the vaccines contain microchips which allow the government to track people who receive the shots. "The same very people that are saying that are carrying their cell phones around," he noted. "I mean, come on." This isn't the first time Justice has bluntly dismissed such conspiracy theories, and he also wasn't the only Republican to speak on the issue in a forthright manner on Wednesday. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who like Justice has consistently urged his constituents to get vaccinated, said arguments claiming the vaccines don't work "frequently are nonsense."

9-8-21 The 21st century began on 9/11
How the events of Sept. 11, 2001, inaugurated an age of militant populism and disruption. What does a day mean? We've been struggling to answer that question about Sept. 11, 2001 — to assimilate it into American and world history in a convincing way — for 20 years now. Looking back from the standpoint of 2021, most of the early reflections on the day's meaning are undistinguished. That's understandable. Making sense of one's own moment in the flow of time is always difficult, and especially so at moments of shock and trauma. I know that was true in my case. I was in Manhattan on 9/11. The first plane flew directly over my head on the way to its target three miles south of the office I was walking to from the 23nd Street subway station on Park Ave. Nothing I said or wrote about that day for months afterward is worth being remembered. I was angry and afraid, gritting my teeth as I walked as quickly as possible across the concourse of Grand Central Terminal twice a day, hoping I could avoid the suicide bombing I was sure would target rail commuters sooner or later. And don't even get me started on the imaginary unmarked white van containing a small nuke or dirty bomb. That van haunted my days and nights, threatening to turn my pregnant wife into a widow and robbing my unborn son of a father. Most commentary at the time, from the White House no less than journalists, enacted a slightly more polished version of my own private anxiety attack. There were some helpful explanatory pieces about Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. But most of it was blunt and reactive: This is war. They hate us for our freedoms. Wanted: Dead or Alive. But some managed something better. Andrew Sullivan penned a short, moving piece for The New York Times titled, "This is What a Day Means," reflecting on how Americans had always taken for granted their safety and isolation from so many of the world's worst problems and suffering, and that this was part of the country's allure for so many who had come here to build a new life. This sense of protection was shattered on Sept. 11, Sullivan suggested, and that made the day a historical turning point, like the day an assassin's bullet sparked World War I. It was a hinge moment, a single event on a single day that changed everything that followed. Sullivan's article was a powerful piece of writing, but it focused mainly on that moment of stunned disbelief rather than seeking to describe precisely how the world might change. In that respect, the short essay New York University historian Tony Judt wrote for The New Republic on the evening of Sept. 11 itself stands out as even more impressive — and perhaps the most insightful and prescient piece of writing to emerge from the immediate aftermath of that day's events. The essay, which isn't available online, is titled "Burst." It begins with an electrifying and bold statement: "On Tuesday morning, September 11, from my window in lower Manhattan, I watched the twenty-first century begin."

9-8-21 Texas enacts controversial voting rights overhaul
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has signed into law an overhaul on voting rights that introduces sweeping changes to ways Texans can cast ballots. The enactment of the Republican bill marks a bitter defeat for Democrats, who had fled the state in July in an effort to prevent it from passing. The law includes a ban on drive-through and 24-hour polling places, and adds ID requirements to vote by mail. It comes amid a wave of proposed voting overhauls in Republican-led states. At least 18 states have enacted new voting laws since the November 2020 presidential election, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Republicans in Texas argue the measures are essential for election security. "Election integrity is now law in the state of Texas," Mr Abbott said in a bill signing ceremony on Tuesday. He called the law a "paradigm" for other states wishing to pass election reform bills. There were no substantial allegations of voting fraud during elections last year in Texas. Democrats and civil rights groups say the bill disproportionately burdens or discourages voters from ethnic minorities, as well as the elderly and disabled. The newly banned drive-through voting was credited with encouraging record voter turnout in the city of Houston - a region that voted for Joe Biden over Donald Trump in the 2020 election by 13 points. At least 50 House Democrats boarded two private jets from Austin, Texas to Washington DC in July to prevent Republicans from holding a vote on the package. Republicans have maintained a grip on all state-wide offices there for three decades, and Texas had some of the most restrictive voting measures in the US even before this bill. Three federal lawsuits have already been filed in an effort to block the bill from taking effect. Minority rights groups and disability advocates argue that the Texas law violates the federal Voting Rights Act by intentionally discriminating against minority voters. (Webmasters Comment: Texas is doing every thing it can to create an all white male dictatorship!)

9-8-21 Afghanistan: Don't recognise Taliban regime, resistance urges
Anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan have asked the international community not to recognise the new government announced by the Islamists on Tuesday. The all-male cabinet consisting entirely of Taliban leaders or their associates is "illegal", they said. The US has expressed concern that the interim government includes figures linked to attacks on US forces. And the EU said the Islamist group had reneged on promises to make it "inclusive and representative". The interim cabinet is led by Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, who is on a UN blacklist. Another figure, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is wanted by the American FBI. The National Resistance Front (NRF) said it considered the announcement of the Taliban's caretaker cabinet "a clear sign of the group's enmity with the Afghan people". The Taliban insist they have now defeated the NRF in the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul, but NRF leaders say they are still fighting. In a statement, the US state department said it was concerned by the "affiliations and track records of some of the individuals". The statement said Washington would "continue to hold the Taliban to their commitments" to allow safe passage for foreign nationals and Afghans with travel documents, "including permitting flights currently ready to fly out of Afghanistan". US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is to hold a virtual meeting of 20 Western nations to co-ordinate a set of conditions for engagement with the Taliban government. The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in a sweeping offensive more than three weeks ago. It now faces many tough challenges in the conflict-torn country, including stabilising the economy and gaining international recognition. On Wednesday dozens of women marched in Kabul and in the province of Badakhshan, saying they would not accept a government without women. The Taliban deny using violence against the demonstrations. They say protesters need permission to march and should not use abusive language. Pakistan also denies any role in Afghanistan.

9-8-21 Brazil's Bolsonaro: Only God will remove me from power
Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro struck a defiant note on the country's independence day on Tuesday. He told tens of thousands of his supporters who had gathered in the city of São Paulo that only God would remove him from power. He also launched fresh attacks on Congress and the Supreme Court, institutions he says are persecuting him and his political allies. The court recently approved several investigations into Mr Bolsonaro. Mr Bolsonaro has always been fond of giving impassioned speeches in which he not only lambasts his critics and calls them names but also portrays himself as the victim of concerted attacks by his rivals. But mounting pressure from several investigations and calls for his impeachment have led to the president's rhetoric becoming ever more belligerent. The rallies he convened for independence day were seen as an attempt to demonstrate he can still draw huge crowds of supporters after recent polls had him trailing his left-wing rival Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva by nine percentage points. While elections are not due to be held until October 2022, Mr Bolsonaro's approval ratings have also dropped to an all-time low. A poll by the Atlas Institute suggested that 61% of Brazilians described his government's performance as bad or very bad, up from 23% when he first took office in January 2019. While an attempt to impeach the president over his handling of the Covid crisis was blocked by the speaker of the lower house of Congress, Mr Bolsonaro is portraying himself as under attack from Congress and the Supreme Court. Last week, he told evangelical leaders - who are among his staunchest backers - that "I have three alternatives for my future: being arrested, killed or victory". And he again took up that theme in his speech on independence day, saying that "only God will oust me". He also used his speech to again cast doubts on Brazil's electronic voting system, telling his supporters he would not take part in an election "farce" in 2022.

9-8-21 Virginia is preparing to remove huge Robert E. Lee statue, reportedly cut into 2 pieces
Virginia started preparations Tuesday to remove the largest remaining Confederate statue in the U.S., Richmond's Robert E. Lee monument. Crews erected protective fencing around the Monument Avenue area on Tuesday night, and the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily banned drones from flying within 2 nautical miles of the statue starting just after midnight Wednesday. The FAA said the ban, instituted for "Special Security Reasons," will last until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, once the statue is fully removed. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) ordered the Lee statue taken down in July 2020, but legal challenges held up the decision. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled unanimously last week that Northam could proceed. "Virginia's largest monument to the Confederate insurrection will come down this week," Northam said in a statement. "This is an important step in showing who we are and what we value as a Commonwealth." The statue will be stored in a secure state-owned facility. That secure facility, Richmond's WRIC 8 News reports, is the Goochland Women's Correctional Center in a neighboring county. And the 12-ton statue won't be coming down in one piece, a source familiar with the plans told WRIC. "The Lee statue will be cut at the waist. The upper body will be removed first, followed by Lee's legs still attached to the horse." The plaques on the monument's base will be removed Thursday, The Washington Post adds, but the 40-foot granite pedestal itself will be kept in place until Richmond, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the surrounding community decide what to do with it. The other four Confederate statues on Monument Avenue, owned by Richmond, were removed in 2020.

9-8-21 Covid-19 news: 80 per cent of over 16s in UK are now fully vaccinated
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. Latest figures show four in five of people 16 and over have now had two covid-19 vaccine doses. Four in five UK people aged 16 and over have had both covid-19 vaccine doses, according to government figures. They also show more than half of all teenagers aged 16 or 17 have had their first jab, just over four weeks since they were offered vaccination, suggesting low vaccine hesitancy among teenagers. Health and social care minister Sajid Javid called the figures “a phenomenal achievement”. The head of pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca says a third vaccine dose may not be needed for everyone. Writing in The Telegraph, chief executive Pascal Soriot and a colleague said: “A third dose for all may be needed, but it may not. Mobilising the NHS for a boosting programme that is not needed would potentially add unnecessary burden on the NHS over the long winter months.” The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is likely to decide on a booster programme this week. The UK government has denied reports in the i newspaper on Monday that it is planning a two-week “firebreak” lockdown around the school October half-term holiday. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said there were contingency plans for a range of scenarios, but a firebreak would be a last resort. Newly diagnosed sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in England fell by a third in 2020 compared with the year before. The drop is because people met up less during lockdowns and fewer people went to clinics to get tested, says Public Health England.

9-7-21 The COVID-19 risk for vaccinated people is roughly equal to 'riding in a vehicle,' recent data suggest
The odds of a vaccinated person getting sick with COVID-19 have changed since the more transmissible Delta variant came to dominate the U.S. pandemic, but probably not as much as you think, David Leonhardt writes in Tuesday's New York Times. In July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the "terrifying fact" that "vaccinated people with the Delta variant of the COVID virus carried roughly the same viral load in their noses and throats as unvaccinated people," but newer data "suggests the true picture is less alarming." Statistics from Utah, Virginia, and King County (Seattle), Washington — three areas that report detailed data on COVID-19 infections by vaccination status — "are consistent with the idea that about 1 in 5,000 vaccinated Americans have tested positive for COVID each day in recent weeks," Leonhardt writes, and in areas, like Seattle, with high vaccination rates, social distancing, and mask usage, the odds are "probably less than 1 in 10,000." The risks aren't zero — as Axios' Felix Salmon notes, a 1-in-5,000 risk every day works out to about a 7 percent per year chance of getting sick from COVID-19. And Leonhardt waves off the undiagnosed breakthrough cases, because they are "are often so mild that people do not notice them and do not pass the virus to anyone else. But the reality is that "the risks of getting any version of the virus remain small for the vaccinated, and the risks of getting badly sick remain minuscule," Leonhardt writes. "In Seattle on an average recent day, about one out of every one million vaccinated residents have been admitted to a hospital with COVID symptoms. That risk is so close to zero that the human mind can't easily process it. My best attempt is to say that the COVID risks for most vaccinated people are of the same order of magnitude as risks that people unthinkingly accept every day, like riding in a vehicle." You can read Leonhardt's entire case — and his explanation about why viral load "can end up being irrelevant" if you're vaccinated — at The New York Times.

9-7-21 'Vaxenfreude' and the shame around unvaccinated COVID-19 victims
Mike Kuhn, a funeral director in Reading, Pennsylvania, says his three funeral homes have laid to rest hundreds of people who died of COVID-19, but many of the grieving families wanted all mention of COVID left off the death notices. I've heard people where they're just like, I don't know why, but I just don't want to have COVID listed on the death certificate, and I don't want to hear that COVID had anything to do with my father's death," Kuhn told Brett Sholtis at WITF in Harrisburg on Tuesday's All Things Considered. Some of the people, he added, said they "don't really want to give a lot of credence to COVID. In some cases, Sholtis reports, "this creates a situation that psychologists call a disenfranchising death," where "mourners feel they don't have the right to fully grieve because of controversy over the cause of death." Ken Doka, the Hospice Foundation of America executive who pioneered the idea, said he saw this a lot during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, where a person's death is tainted by a supposed moral failure that mourners fear will lead to judgement from others. "So, for instance, if I say, my brother — which he didn't — but if I say to you, my brother died of lung cancer, what's the first question you're going to ask?" Doka told All Things Considered. "Was he a smoker? And somehow, if he's a smoker, he's responsible." With COVID-19, people might ask grieving relatives if the person who died was overweight or had pre-existing conditions. Or, they might ask if the person was vaccinated. Politico's Tyler Weyant argued Tuesday night that people should resist any sort of "vaxenfreude," which he defines as "the joy the vaccinated feel when the unvaccinated get COVID-19." "For millions of Americans who've been vaccinated for months, it is a tough sell to have no negative reactions toward those whom they blame for driving the latest spike in COVID," Weyant writes. But vaxenfreude "exposes a hideous lack of empathy and compassion among vaccinated people who, a year ago, emphasized the importance of getting a shot to protect everyone, not just yourself." Losing a loved one to COVID-19 "is heartbreaking" and "being unvaccinated doesn't make it less heartbreaking." Weyant says. "We shouldn't roll our eyes at this truth: Everyone who gets sick is someone's family member or friend."

9-7-21 Florida accounts for nearly a quarter of new U.S. COVID-19 deaths
August was Florida's deadliest month of the COVID-19 pandemic. With a new batch of delayed COVID-19 deaths reported Monday, Florida lost more than 6,600 people to the coronavirus in August, an average of 213 deaths a day. The newest seven-day average of COVID-19 deaths in Florida, 346, amounts to 23 percent of the 1,498 deaths recorded in the entire U.S. each day, according COVID-19 data compiled by The Washington Post. "While Florida's vaccination rate is slightly higher than the national average, the Sunshine State has an outsize population of elderly people, who are especially vulnerable to the virus; a vibrant party scene; and a Republican governor who has taken a hard line against mask requirements, vaccine passports and business shutdowns," The Associated Press reports. Florida's seven-day average of 1.61 deaths per 100,000 residents is the highest in the U.S., where the seven-day average is 0.45 deaths per 100,000 people, the Post reports. Heath Mayo, a conservative lawyer and writer, compared Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R) pandemic management with that of another Republican governor of a populous state, Charlie Baker in Massachusetts. Baker "has put his head down and made tough calls to keep his state safe," Mayo tweeted. "He hasn't been on Fox News, he hasn't been fundraising in Texas, he hasn't been spouting off anti-Fauci quips. He's just been succeeding." He included two charts to highlight his point. Thankfully, Florida appears to be turning a corner, with new infections and hospitalizations dropping, trends that usually precede a drop in fatalities by a few weeks. Still, the Post notes, "recovery could prove fleeting: Holiday weekends such as Labor Day have acted as a tinderbox for earlier outbreaks, and late summer marks the return of students to college campuses." Grade schools reopened in August, with masks required only in districts that defied a DeSantis ban; two districts announced temporary closures last week because COVID-19 illnesses had sidelined so many teachers and staff. "Every time in Florida, we are a warning for everyone else," Cindy A. Prins, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at the University of Florida, told the Post. If a state or local government ends mitigation measures, "I would have a very low threshold before deciding to put them back in. If you wait two or three weeks, it's too late."

9-7-21 Bolsonaro supporters march across Brazil, as the far-right president's approval rating continues to drop
In Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo, thousands of supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gathered on Tuesday to march through the streets, with some carrying signs and banners asking the far-right populist leader to use the military to take over the entire government. André Meneses, 60, told The Guardian he thinks members of Brazil's Supreme Court and leftist senators are "traitors" for standing in the way of Bolsonaro, and "the right thing to do is put them on the wall and f--ing ... shoot them." Meneses added that if he "was the president I would do that ... and I would sleep very well after their deaths, you know what I mean?" Polls show Bolsonaro's disapproval rating at an all-time high, with many people critical of his controversial response to COVID-19 — he has spoken out against lockdowns, masks, and vaccines, and more than 580,000 Brazilians have died of the virus since the pandemic started. Based on those numbers, Bolsonaro has little chance of being re-elected in 2022, The Guardian reports, and he has already started trying to sow doubts about the integrity of Brazil's voting system. "I can't participate in a farce like the one sponsored by the head of the electoral court," Bolsonaro said on Tuesday. Jean Paul Prates, a Workers' Party senator, said the marches are a "terrible spectacle," an illusion to make it look like Bolsonaro is more popular than he is. "It is truly dangerous that we have reached a point of such fanaticism and radicalism," Prates added. "This is a moment of real apprehension."

9-7-21 Taliban announces all-male interim government to lead Afghanistan
The Taliban has formed an all-male interim government for Afghanistan, with its interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, a specially designated terrorist on the FBI most wanted list. He is the head of the Haqqani network, an insurgent group believed to be behind dozens of attacks in Kabul and an assassination attempt against former Afghan President Hamid Karzai. It's also thought that the network is holding Mark Frerichs, a civilian contractor abducted in Afghanistan in January 2020. There isn't much diversity in the Cabinet — most members are from Afghanistan's dominant Pashtun ethnic group, The Associated Press reports, and many were part of the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s and early 2000s. Mullah Hasan Akhund has been tapped as interim prime minister, and one of his deputies is Mullah Abdul Ghani Barader, who signed the deal with the U.S. that led to the military withdrawal in August. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said this is a temporary government, but did not say how long the members will serve or how the permanent officials will be selected. The Taliban released a three-page statement about the government, with no mention of women. The militants promised to protect minorities and the poor, said education will be provided "to all countrymen within the framework of Sharia," and declared that "Afghanistan's soil will not be used against the security of any other country." Afghanistan relies on money and aid from foreign governments, and the Taliban asked humanitarian organizations and diplomats to come back, saying, "Their presence is the need of our country."

9-7-21 Florida accounts for nearly a quarter of new U.S. COVID-19 deaths
August was Florida's deadliest month of the COVID-19 pandemic. With a new batch of delayed COVID-19 deaths reported Monday, Florida lost more than 6,600 people to the coronavirus in August, an average of 213 deaths a day. The newest seven-day average of COVID-19 deaths in Florida, 346, amounts to 23 percent of the 1,498 deaths recorded in the entire U.S. each day, according COVID-19 data compiled by The Washington Post. "While Florida's vaccination rate is slightly higher than the national average, the Sunshine State has an outsize population of elderly people, who are especially vulnerable to the virus; a vibrant party scene; and a Republican governor who has taken a hard line against mask requirements, vaccine passports and business shutdowns," The Associated Press reports. Florida's seven-day average of 1.61 deaths per 100,000 residents is the highest in the U.S., where the seven-day average is 0.45 deaths per 100,000 people, the Post reports. Heath Mayo, a conservative lawyer and writer, compared Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R) pandemic management with that of another Republican governor of a populous state, Charlie Baker in Massachusetts. Baker "has put his head down and made tough calls to keep his state safe," Mayo tweeted. "He hasn't been on Fox News, he hasn't been fundraising in Texas, he hasn't been spouting off anti-Fauci quips. He's just been succeeding." He included two charts to highlight his point. Thankfully, Florida appears to be turning a corner, with new infections and hospitalizations dropping, trends that usually precede a drop in fatalities by a few weeks. Still, the Post notes, "recovery could prove fleeting: Holiday weekends such as Labor Day have acted as a tinderbox for earlier outbreaks, and late summer marks the return of students to college campuses." Grade schools reopened in August, with masks required only in districts that defied a DeSantis ban; two districts announced temporary closures last week because COVID-19 illnesses had sidelined so many teachers and staff. "Every time in Florida, we are a warning for everyone else," Cindy A. Prins, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at the University of Florida, told the Post. If a state or local government ends mitigation measures, "I would have a very low threshold before deciding to put them back in. If you wait two or three weeks, it's too late."

9-7-21 The COVID-19 risk for vaccinated people is roughly equal to 'riding in a vehicle,' recent data suggest
The odds of a vaccinated person getting sick with COVID-19 have changed since the more transmissible Delta variant came to dominate the U.S. pandemic, but probably not as much as you think, David Leonhardt writes in Tuesday's New York Times. In July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the "terrifying fact" that "vaccinated people with the Delta variant of the COVID virus carried roughly the same viral load in their noses and throats as unvaccinated people," but newer data "suggests the true picture is less alarming." Statistics from Utah, Virginia, and King County (Seattle), Washington — three areas that report detailed data on COVID-19 infections by vaccination status — "are consistent with the idea that about 1 in 5,000 vaccinated Americans have tested positive for COVID each day in recent weeks," Leonhardt writes, and in areas, like Seattle, with high vaccination rates, social distancing, and mask usage, the odds are "probably less than 1 in 10,000." The risks aren't zero — as Axios' Felix Salmon notes, a 1-in-5,000 risk every day works out to about a 7 percent per year chance of getting sick from COVID-19. And Leonhardt waves off the undiagnosed breakthrough cases, because they are "are often so mild that people do not notice them and do not pass the virus to anyone else." But the reality is that "the risks of getting any version of the virus remain small for the vaccinated, and the risks of getting badly sick remain minuscule," Leonhardt writes. "In Seattle on an average recent day, about one out of every one million vaccinated residents have been admitted to a hospital with COVID symptoms. That risk is so close to zero that the human mind can't easily process it. My best attempt is to say that the COVID risks for most vaccinated people are of the same order of magnitude as risks that people unthinkingly accept every day, like riding in a vehicle." You can read Leonhardt's entire case — and his explanation about why viral load "can end up being irrelevant" if you're vaccinated — at The New York Times.

9-7-21 Covid-19 news: Antibodies are less effective against delta variant
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Lab tests suggest the delta variant escapes immune responses more easily than alpha. The delta variant of the coronavirus is less sensitive than other common variants to antibodies in the blood of people who have previously been infected or vaccinated, researchers have found. The study, published in Nature, also found that the delta variant is more efficient at replicating and better at breaking into cells from the respiratory tract. These traits may account for why this variant has spread across the world rapidly since it was first identified in India in late 2020, becoming the dominant form of the virus worldwide. The UK government has drawn up plans for a “firebreak” lockdown in October in case hospitalisations remain high, according to the i newspaper. A member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) told the paper that the government could be forced to reintroduce restrictions if the National Health Service is at risk of being overwhelmed. “This is essentially the precautionary break that Sage suggested last year,” the unnamed SAGE member said. “It would be sensible to have contingency plans, and if a lockdown is required, to time it so that it has minimal economic and societal impact.” School half-term holidays, which fall at the end of October, could be extended from one to two weeks to help reduce transmission, the newspaper reported. The NHS will be given an extra £5.4 billion over the next six months to continue the response to coronavirus and tackle the treatment backlog caused by the pandemic. The Department of Health and Social Care said £1 billion of this funding will be specifically used to clear the waiting lists faced by patients due to covid-19, while £2.8 billion will be allocated for costs such as better infection control to continue to protect against the virus. A further £478 million will go towards discharging patients from hospitals to free up beds.

9-7-21 Taliban announce new government for Afghanistan
The Taliban have announced an interim government in Afghanistan, and declared the country an "Islamic Emirate". The government will be led by Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, one of the movement's founders. The interior minister will be a feared FBI-wanted leader of the Haqqani militant group. The Taliban seized control of most of the country more than three weeks ago, ousting the previous elected leadership. The announcement of the acting cabinet is a key step in the formation of a Taliban government. "We know the people of our country have been waiting for a new government," spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said, adding that the group had answered the people's needs. Sarajuddin Haqqani, the new acting interior minister, is head of the militant group known as the Haqqani network who are affiliated with the Taliban and have been behind some of the deadliest attacks in the country's two-decade-long war. Unlike the wider Taliban, the Haqqani network has been designated a foreign terrorist organisation by the US. Other appointments include Mullah Yaqoob as acting defence minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi as acting foreign minister, and Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Mullah Abdul Salam Hanafi as two deputies. Yaqoob is the son of Taliban founder and late supreme leader Mullah Omar. Baradar was previously head of the Taliban's political office, and oversaw the signing of the US withdrawal agreement last year. Asked why no women were announced, Ahmadullah Wasiq, from the Taliban Cultural Commission, told the BBC's Secunder Kermani that the cabinet had not been finalised yet.

9-7-21 Afghanistan: Taliban fire warning shots at protest in Kabul
The Taliban have fired warning shots to disperse the crowd at a large protest in the Afghan capital, Kabul. Video footage from the scene shows people running to safety, while heavy gunfire can be heard in the background. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets on Tuesday to denounce Taliban rule and demand women's rights. Protesters also chanted anti-Pakistan slogans, as many believe neighbouring Pakistan supports the Taliban, which the country denies. A video sent to the BBC shows Taliban fighters firing their guns into the air - a move the group banned last week after several people were reported killed after celebratory aerial fire. Guards at a nearby bank opened its basement car park to dozens of women who sheltered from the gunfire for about 20 minutes, one of the protesters told the BBC. Some journalists, including the BBC's team, were prevented from filming at the rally. Afghanistan's Tolo news agency reported that its cameraman was arrested and detained by the Taliban for nearly three hours. A former government official, who asked to remain anonymous, told the BBC that Taliban members were taking close-up photos of leading protesters, possibly to help identify them later. Women have been protesting for the past week, but on Tuesday men also joined their calls for equality and safety. Many observers had commented that there were few men at the previous women-led rallies. The protesters were heard chanting "long live the resistance" and "death to Pakistan" as they marched. "The Islamic government is shooting at our poor people," one woman at the protest told Reuters news agency. Another protester, Sarah Fahim, told AFP news agency: "Afghan women want their country to be free. They want their country to be rebuilt. We are tired... We want that all our people have normal lives. How long shall we live in this situation?"

9-7-21 The Taliban violently crushes 'one of the largest' protests against them thus far
The Taliban violently crushed yet another peaceful demonstration on Tuesday, as hundreds of women and men in Kabul marched in "one of the largest" protests against the militant group since it seized control roughly three weeks ago, The New York Times and The Washington Post report. Demonstrators in the streets "were met with blows from rifle butts and hit with sticks" before warning shots began, per the Times. They were reportedly marching to denounce Taliban rule, demand women's rights, express support for the anti-Taliban resistance in the newly-captured Panjshir Valley, and condemn the neighboring country of Pakistan, which many believe to support the Taliban, per the Post and BBC. "We were attacked by Taliban, they opened fire, some of the protesters were detained. Journalists were stopped from filming and covering the rally," one activist told the Post. She added that a Taliban vehicle drove into the crowd, and that fighters were deleting photos and videos of the protests from the phones of those seized. Protesters were chanting "long live the resistance" and "death to Pakistan" as they marched, writes BBC. Tuesday's demonstration was the second "involving women in the nation's capital in less than a week, and it was also the second to be crushed violently," the Times writes. "We are not defending our right for a job or a position we will work in, we are defending the blood of our youth, we are defending our country, our land," said one woman. Read more at The New York Times and The Washington Post.

9-7-21 Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been hit by gravel thrown by protesters during a campaign stop.
He was returning to his bus after visiting a brewery when he was pelted by gravel. He was not injured. Mr Trudeau called a snap election in mid-August, in the hope of gaining a majority government for his left-of-centre Liberal party. But his campaign has been disrupted by demonstrations against Covid-19 vaccine mandates and other restrictions. Just over a week ago, the prime minister was forced to cancel an election rally after a crowd of angry protesters ambushed the event. Speaking to journalists on his campaign plane after the incident in London, Ontario, Mr Trudeau said he may have been hit on the shoulder. According to a reporter with Canada's CTV National News, two people travelling on a media bus were also hit by the gravel, although they were not injured. Erin O'Toole, the leader of the opposition Conservative Party, described the incident as "disgusting". "Political violence is never justified and our media must be free from intimidation, harassment, and violence," he tweeted. Mr Trudeau's plans for vaccine mandates have become a a key issue ahead of the 20 September election. Last month, the government announced that all civil servants - including workers in federally regulated sectors, like rail - must be vaccinated by the end of October or risk losing their jobs. Commercial air, cruise and interprovincial train passengers must also be vaccinated to travel. Canada has one of the highest Covid vaccination rates in the world. Protests dogging Canadian prime ministers is not a new phenomenon - and many prime ministers, including Mr Trudeau, have faced security threats. Still, journalists covering the Liberal campaign say the anti-vaccine protest mobs following Mr Trudeau are more chaotic and sustained than they've seen in the past. For his part, the Liberal leader says he won't back down against what he calls a "small fringe element" of Canadian society. He also brushed off the latest altercation, comparing it to an incident a few years ago where a woman hurled pumpkin seeds his way.

9-7-21 Protesters hit Canada's Trudeau with 'little bits of gravel' after he criticized 'anti-vaxxer mobs'
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was hit by little rocks Monday night as a crowd of protesters gathered around his campaign bus after an event in London, Ontario, about 120 miles southwest of Toronto. Trudeau last month called a snap election for Sept. 20, and his campaign has had several run-ins with angry opponents of COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Trudeau told reporters Monday night that his shoulder "might have" been hit by "little bits of gravel," adding, "It's no big deal." CTV National News said two reporters traveling with Trudeau were also struck by the little rocks. Trudeau's Conservative Party challenger, Erin O'Toole, called the gravel-throwing incident "disgusting" on Twitter. "Political violence is never justified and our media must be free from intimidation, harassment, and violence," he said. This "was the latest ugly scene in a 36-day federal election campaign that has not been short of them," The Washington Post reports. "Vandals have defaced candidate lawn signs with antisemitic graffiti. Candidates of all political stripes have reported being targeted with sexist and racist slurs." And Trudeau, who has "sought to position vaccine mandates as a wedge issue," has attracted vociferous opposition from vaccine mandate opponents who have also targeted hospitals and local government officials. After a group of demonstrators, determined to be a security risk, prompted Trudeau to cancel a campaign event last week, he said "we all had a difficult year," including "those folks out protesting," and "we need to meet that anger with compassion." On Monday, before the rock-throwing incident, he said he won't back down before the "small finger element in this country that is angry, that doesn't believe in science, that is lashing out with racist, misogynistic attacks." "Canadians, the vast majority of Canadians are not represented by them," Trudeau added, and they won't allow "those anti-vaxxer mobs to dictate how this country gets through this pandemic." Canada is one of the most-vaccinated countries in the world, with nearly 68 percent of the population fully vaccinated. Polls show strong support for vaccine mandates like Trudeau has announced — for government officials and Canadians traveling between provinces and overseas — but his Liberal Party's lead has shrunk to a statistical tie with the Conservatives since the campaign started.

9-7-21 Florida gunman said he killed 4 strangers, including mother and infant, because voices told him to, sheriff says
Law enforcement officials in Florida's Polk County said Sunday that a 33-year-old former Marine in body armor entered two houses north of Lakeland early Sunday and murdered four people, including a mother and the 3-month-old baby she was carrying. The gunman, who surrendered after a long gunfight with deputies, also shot an 11-year-old girl seven times and killed the family dog, Sheriff Grady Judd at a news conference. He had no apparent connection to his victims. The alleged murderer, Bryan Riley, was wounded in the gunfight and tried unsuccessfully to grab a Lakeland Police officer's gun at the hospital, Judd said. Riley was charged with several murder counts on Sunday and informed in court on Monday that he would be held without bail. The only identified victim so far is Justice Gleason, 40. The others killed in the shooting were the 33-year-old woman and her child and a 62-year-old woman related to the family who was living in a separate house in the backyard. The 11-year-old girl is in stable condition. A man believed to be Riley showed up at the house on Saturday night and said God had sent him to prevent a girl named "Amber" from committing suicide, Judd said. After the residents told him nobody named Amber lived there and they would call the cops if he didn't leave, Riley is reported to have told them that was unnecessary because "I'm the cops for God." They called the police anyway, and a 20-minute search failed to find the man's vehicle, Judd said. Riley's girlfriend told police that he started saying he could speak directly with God after providing security at an Orlando church event, Judd said. She also said that Riley, a former Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, had PTSD but had never been violent before. According to an arrest affidavit, Riley told police that voices had instructed him to shoot several people, and he shot the baby "because I'm a sick guy" and he wants to "confess to all of it and be sent to jail." Judd said Riley was honorably discharged, and somehow turned from "a decorated veteran" to "a cold, calculated murderer" and "evil in the flesh." He lamented that Riley surrendered, saying "if he'd have given us the opportunity, we'd have shot him up alive. But he didn't because he's a coward." You can read more at the Tampa Bay Times.

9-6-21 Millions of Americans are losing jobless benefits on Labor Day
More than seven million unemployed people are losing jobless benefits Monday as three federal programs for people who lost work during the pandemic expire. Another three million people are losing a $300 weekly boost to their state unemployment benefits. While President Joe Biden has said states can use federal relief funds to extend the assistance programs after Labor Day, none are taking him up on the suggestion, CNN reports. Friday's August jobs report showed that U.S. employers added just 235,000 positions during the month, falling far short of the 720,000 economists had expected. There are some 10 million jobs currently available in the United States. Will pulling the plug on the jobless benefits nudge people back into the workforce? Not necessarily. As CNN notes, in states that ended the benefits early, the labor markets didn't see much improvement, suggesting the problem comes down to more than people preferring to collect government checks than get a job. Millions cite childcare problems as their reason for not returning to work; others say they're afraid of contracting or spreading COVID-19. Indeed, the ending of the jobless aid comes as a coronavirus surge driven by the highly infectious Delta variant threatens to derail the economic recovery. "Ultimately, the Delta variant wave is a harsh reminder that the pandemic is still in the driver's seat, and it controls our economic future," said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at jobs site Glassdoor.

9-6-21 Planes stranded at Mazar-i-Sharif airport waiting to leave
A US lawmaker has accused the Taliban of stopping Afghans and Americans from leaving Afghanistan via Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport. Republican House member Michael McCaul said on Sunday that planes had been trying to leave the airport "for the last couple of days". An NGO confirmed to the BBC that it had people waiting to board one of the flights. The Taliban has denied the claims, labelling them as propaganda. Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the BBC: "This is not true. Our Mujahideen have nothing to do with ordinary Afghans. This is propaganda and we reject it." Mr McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Fox News there were six planes carrying American citizens and Afghan interpreters waiting at the airport. "[The State Department] has cleared these flights and the Taliban will not let them leave the airport," he said. The Texas representative added: "We know the reason why is because the Taliban want something in exchange." In an email to members of Congress seen by CBS News, the State Department acknowledged there were charter flights at Mazar-i-Sharif that the Taliban will not allow to fly until they have approved the departure. Marina LeGree, founder and CEO of the NGO Ascend Athletics which works with Afghan girls and women, told the BBC that the number of planes could be higher than six, saying she has heard there could be as many as 1,000 people waiting to get out. Her organisation has a group of 34 people who have been waiting to leave for six days, among them 19 Americans and two green card holders. They are part of a larger organised evacuation under the auspices of the US government. Ms LeGree said she believed a dispute or negotiation between the Taliban and the Afghan airline Kam Air was holding up the flights. "We're just patiently waiting like everyone else and we've got people with families, there's a three-year-old in our mix who has been hauled around for a week now," she said. She added that the Taliban had come into the place where people were being held and arrested people a couple of times.

9-6-21 The Taliban reportedly won't let planes leave Afghanistan until 'they get more out of the Americans'
The Taliban is preventing multiple flights from taking off from the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, CBS News reports. An NGO in Afghanistan said two planes have been ready to evacuate 600 to 1,200 people, including 19 American citizens and two permanent residents, for the past six days while the U.S. government and Taliban continue to talk. The White House and State Department have maintained that they hold leverage over the Taliban, which will ensure the group cooperates and continues to allow people to leave Afghanistan, but a senior congressional source told CBS News that the Taliban is basically holding the planes "hostage" so they can "get more out of the Americans." Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, agrees. He told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday that he's concerned that U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad will come away from the talks recommending that the Biden administration acknowledge the Taliban as the legitimate government in Afghanistan. There are no indications that will be the case, however.

9-6-21 Can the U.S. do anything to speed up the stalled Afghanistan evacuation?
The Taliban has halted the departure of at least four chartered flights out of Afghanistan's Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport, stranding around 1,000 people, including Americans, seeking to flee the militant group's takeover, The Associated Press reports. Pressure is building for the United States to step in and help with the stalled evacuation, but is there anything the Biden administration can actually do? Maybe not. An unnamed spokesperson for the State Department told numerous outlets Sunday that since the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan officially ended on Aug. 30, the military does not "have personnel on the ground, we do not have air assets in the country, we do not control the airspace — whether over Afghanistan or elsewhere in the region." The spokesperson also indicated the administration was essentially in the dark about the specifics regarding the flights, unable to confirm "basic details" like how many U.S. citizens are on board, who chartered the planes, or even where they're supposed to land. It seems the U.S., like the rest of the world, is waiting to see what the Taliban will do next. The group has pledged to let people leave the country provided they have proper paperwork. Whether or not they keep this promise will likely set the stage for relations going forward, and give some indication as to just how much the group has changed — if at all. Meanwhile, the State Department official said the U.S. would keep working with the Taliban to get people out. "As with all Taliban commitments, we are focused on deeds not words, but we remind the Taliban that the entire international community is focused on whether they live up to their commitments," the spokesperson said, according to The Hill.

9-6-21 Covid-19 news: Scientists condemn lack of protections in UK schools
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. UK may push ahead with vaccinating 12-15 age group pending medical officers’ review. Sending children back to schools with inadequate mitigations for covid-19 in place will lead to widespread infections and disruptions to learning, a group of scientists have warned. In an open letter to UK education secretary Gavin Williamson published in the British Medical Journal on Friday, scientists and educators said allowing mass infection of children is “reckless” and recommended nine measures to protect children and wider society from a fourth wave. The measures included vaccinating all 12-to-15-year-olds, investing in ventilation in schools, providing remote learning options, and mental health support for students and staff. Ireland will continue with a major easing of covid-19 restrictions today, with live music returning and larger crowds allowed at indoor venues. The Irish government confirmed last week that it would be embarking on a phased easing of covid-19 restrictions, which will eventually see the vast majority of public health regulations removed by the end of October. The numbers permitted to attend outdoor sports events increases from today, while restrictions on indoor venues will also be eased, with larger crowds permitted. Vietnam has extended covid-19 restrictions in the capital, Hanoi, for a further two weeks in an effort to contain the delta variant. The city has been divided into red, orange and green zones based on infection rates, and barricades have been put in place to separate red zones from other areas. Authorities are planning to test up to 1.5 million people for the virus in higher-risk areas, Reuters reports.

9-6-21 Facebook apology as AI labels black men 'primates'
Facebook users who watched a newspaper video featuring black men were asked if they wanted to "keep seeing videos about primates" by an artificial-intelligence recommendation system. Facebook told BBC News it "was clearly an unacceptable error", disabled the system and launched an investigation. "We apologise to anyone who may have seen these offensive recommendations." It is the latest in a long-running series of errors that have raised concerns over racial bias in AI. In 2015, Google's Photos app labelled pictures of black people as "gorillas". The company said it was "appalled and genuinely sorry", though its fix, Wired reported in 2018, was simply to censor photo searches and tags for the word "gorilla". In May, Twitter admitted racial biases in the way its "saliency algorithm" cropped previews of images. Studies have also shown biases in the algorithms powering some facial-recognition systems. In 2020, Facebook announced a new "inclusive product council" - and a new equity team in Instagram - that would examine, among other things, whether its algorithms exhibited racial bias. The "primates" recommendation "was an algorithmic error on Facebook" and did not reflect the content of the video, a representative told BBC News. "We disabled the entire topic-recommendation feature as soon as we realised this was happening so we could investigate the cause and prevent this from happening again." "As we have said while we have made improvements to our AI, we know it's not perfect and we have more progress to make."

9-5-21 Poll: 70 percent of unvaccinated Americans would quit their job over exemption-less vaccine mandate
About 70 percent of unvaccinated Americans who are not self-employed said they would likely quit their job if their employer mandated COVID-19 vaccines and did not grant religious or medical exemptions, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll found. Those numbers don't suggest vaccine mandates would lead to a massive exodus from the workplace since a healthy majority of employees who are working at places that have yet to implement a mandate have already received their shots. But among the 30 percent or so who haven't, there is significant opposition. Only 16 percent from that group would comply with a mandate, while 35 percent said they would seek an exemption and 42 percent would leave. If there's no exemption, then 72 percent of those surveyed said they would quit. Still, overall vaccine hesitancy has continued to decline, and the Post poll is the latest data set indicating more and more people are willing to get their shots, or have already done so. Mask and vaccine requirements are also favored by a majority of people. The Post/ABC poll was conducted by telephone between Aug. 20-Sept. 1 among 1,066 adults in the U.S. The margin of error is 3.5 percentage points. Read more at The Washington Post.

9-5-21 Ivermectin: Oklahoma doctor warns against using drug for Covid treatment
A US doctor is urging people to stop taking the horse deworming drug Ivermectin to treat Covid-19. Patients have been needing urgent treatment at emergency units in Oklahoma hospitals after overdosing on the drug, Dr Jason McElyea says. Small doses of Ivermectin are approved for use on humans, but not for Covid. "You've got to have a prescription for this medication for a reason - because it can be dangerous," Dr McElyea told the BBC. He said a "handful" of people overdosing on the drug were putting further strain on hospital staff already stretched by a surge in Covid cases. "The [emergency rooms] are so backed up that gunshot victims were having hard times getting to facilities where they can get definitive care and be treated," he told local broadcaster KFOR earlier this week. Ivermectin, mainly a veterinary deworming agent, can be used in small doses to treat some human conditions. But the drug has become controversial after being promoted as a way of treating or preventing Covid, despite being so far unproven. Its use has become so common in the US that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement last month urging people not to take it. "You are not a horse. You are not a cow," the FDA said, warning that taking large doses of the substance "is dangerous and can cause serious harm". This week, the influential podcast host Joe Rogan, who has dismissed vaccines, said he was taking Ivermectin after testing positive for Covid-19. Dr McElyea said patients who had taken the drug were arriving at hospital with vomiting, muscle aches, and even vision loss. "Some people taking inappropriate doses have actually put themselves in worse conditions than if they'd caught Covid," he told KFOR. "You have to ask yourself, 'If I take this medicine, what am I going to do if something bad happens?' What's your next step, what's your back-up plan? If you're going to take a medicine that could affect your health, do it with a doctor on board." Oklahoma is one of several US states battling the spread of the Delta Covid variant, with 18,438 new cases recorded in the past week. (Webmasters Comment: If people take it and get sick from it don't treat them!)

9-4-21 The arguments for and against rolling out COVID-19 boosters this month
There seems to be no consensus on how and when the United States should go about delivering COVID-19 booster shots to Americans. On Friday, it was reported that top officials are urging the White House to scale back its plans to make everyone eligible starting Sept. 20. Instead, there's a chance only Pfizer recipients — and even then just a portion — will get their extra doses by that date because there isn't enough data on the Moderna vaccine — which may have more staying power than Pfizer's — and the Johnson & Johnson shot. Count the nation's top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci and former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb among the proponents of boosters, with the hope that a third dose (for Pfizer and Moderna) might be the cap the regimen needs. As Gottlieb explained during a CNBC appearance on Friday, it's possible that the first two doses were administered so closely together that they basically served as two "primes," rather than an initial shot and a booster. The third one, he said, could very well prove more durable, so he's not yet predicting the need for an annual booster. Others still think it's better to hold off for now. The Atlantic's Katherine Wu writes that most of the experts she's spoken to told her "the immunological argument for a COVID-19 booster this early is shaky at best," which is not necessarily a bad thing. That's because the vaccines available are still holding up well, especially against severe illness and death, and Wu clarifies that breakthrough symptomatic infections, while increasing, are still uncommon. Ali Ellebedy, an immunologist at Washington University in St. Louis, told Wu that people's immune systems should remember the coronavirus, including the Delta variant, for some time. Therefore, boosters may not make that much of a difference, at least until there's evidence that they lead to the long-term, durable antibody production Gottlieb mentioned as opposed to a "boom-and-bust cycle." Read more at The Atlantic.

9-4-21 Cheney, Thompson shoot down McCarthy's comments about FBI clearing Trump in connection to 1/6
Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the chair and vice chair of the House's Jan. 6 committee, released a statement Saturday dismissing comments made earlier this week by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) about the FBI clearing former President Donald Trump of wrongdoing in connection to the Capitol riot. In an interview with KGET on Thursday, McCarthy said the FBI and bipartisan Senate committees have investigated Trump's alleged role in the incident and "have found there's no involvement." But Thompson and Cheney, the latter of whom has been exchanging barbs with McCarthy in public throughout the last few months, said that the congressman was basing his comments off an "anonymous report," which they found to be baseless after reaching out to executive branch agencies and other congressional committees. "We will continue to pursue all elements of this investigation in a nonpartisan and thorough manner," the lawmakers said. Read the full statement below.

9-4-21 Should firms make vaccination mandatory?
Corporate America has a new message for unvaccinated workers. Corporate America has a new message for unvaccinated workers, said Jonathan Levin at Bloomberg: "Get the shot or get out." As soon as the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer's COVID vaccine last week, a wave of inoculation mandates swept across the corporate world. Workers at Disney theme parks will be required to show proof of vaccination starting next month to remain employed, Chevron and Hess will demand the same of workers on oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, and CVS has mandated shots for corporate employees and those working with customers. Delta Air Lines has taken a different approach, announcing last week that workers who shun COVID vaccines will have to pay an extra $200 to remain on the company's health plan. At least part of the airline's motivation is financial, said Jordan Weissman at Slate. Delta is self-insured, meaning it pays the medical claims of its own workers, and the average hospital stay for COVID costs the airline $50,000. More companies should jump on board and financially penalize vaccine holdouts. "If the threat of a potentially deadly illness won't convince them, well, hopefully the threat to their bank account will." Delta's plan might not yield many new shots, said Niraj Chokshi at The New York Times. It's illegal for businesses and insurers to charge higher prices to people with pre-existing health conditions, so the airline's vaccine surcharge is being structured as an employee "wellness" incentive program. Corporations use such programs — which must be voluntary and can involve rewards or penalties of up to 30 percent of a worker's health insurance premium — to nudge employees to change their behavior. But studies have found that such incentives "have very little impact on employee health." In some cases, they simply nudge "workers who are facing penalties to drop their workplace coverage." Delta's surcharge is "a slippery slope," said David Lazarus at the Los Angeles Times. If we start hiking the health premiums of people who are more likely to get sick, will workers with diabetes, heart disease, or a genetic predisposition for cancer also have to pay more for their coverage? And should drinkers have higher premiums than their teetotaling colleagues? The real problem with these mandates is that they're primarily being imposed "on people who don't need them," said Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post. Walmart and Walgreens have mandated vaccines for corporate employees "but not for store and warehouse workers." Uber and Lyft's policies apply to in-office staff but not to the drivers who interact with the public. These firms are understandably keen to avoid alienating workers amid a labor shortage. But this two-track approach — with one rule for blue-collar workers and another for white-collar employees who are likely already inoculated — won't speed the end of the pandemic. To do that, we'll need more governments to order mandates, as New York City's did with restaurants and gyms. Until then, "companies will continue to prioritize the bottom line rather than public welfare. As they're programmed to do."

9-4-21 Poor US jobs growth shows Covid Delta variant impact
The US economy added fewer jobs than expected in August as employment rose by 235,000. The figure was well down on the 1.05 million jobs created in July, adding to fears that the recovery from the pandemic may be running out of steam. Despite the disappointing hiring levels, the unemployment rate fell to 5.2% in August from 5.4% in July. Economists say rising infections caused by the Delta variant have hit spending on travel, tourism and hospitality. They also note that the Labor Department's data was collected in the second week of August, so does not reflect the impact of hurricanes Ida and Henri in the second half of the month. President Joe Biden said he was disappointed but defended his record on the economy, saying it was growing consistently. "Total job creation in the first seven months of my administration is nearly double, double any prior first-year president," he said. "While I know some wanted to see a larger number today, and so did I, what we've seen this year is a continued growth, month after month in job creation." Seema Shah, of Principal Global Investors, called the figures "a major miss" that "screamed Delta disruption". She added that the Federal Reserve may have to rethink its plan to start withdrawing stimulus for the US economy this year. "Not only did payrolls rise by less than a third of what was expected, the [labour market] participation rate was unchanged suggesting that labour supply is still struggling to recover as Covid confidence takes another hit. "The Fed has hung its hat on the assumption that people are starting to return to work, and unfortunately today's number will be a disappointment to them." According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were notable job gains in August in professional and business services, transportation and warehousing, private education and manufacturing. However, employment fell in retail and was flat in leisure and hospitality, after increasing by an average of 350,000 per month over the previous six months.

9-4-21 Capitol riot: 'QAnon Shaman' pleads guilty in federal court
A prominent supporter of the baseless conspiracy theory QAnon has accepted a plea deal in federal court for his involvement in the US Capitol riots. Jacob Anthony Chansley was one of thousands of Trump supporters who attempted to prevent the US Congress from certifying the 2020 election. Chansley pleaded guilty on Friday to one felony count of obstruction in an official proceeding. Nearly 600 people have been charged in the federal investigation of the riot. At least 36 defendants have to date pleaded guilty, eight of whom have pleaded guilty to felonies, according to CBS News. Chansley became the de facto face of the siege, pictured amid the unrest in horns and a bearskin headdress, with the American flag painted on his face. He called himself the "QAnon Shaman". QAnon is a wide-ranging conspiracy theory whose followers believe former President Donald Trump was waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media. Chansley told the FBI he came to DC "at the request of the president that all 'patriots' come to DC". He has been in custody for eight months. His attorney Albert Watkins told the court on Friday his client was "non-violent, peaceful and possessed of genuine mental health issues". Chansley - who has made several request for his release - now claims to disavow both QAnon and Mr Trump. He is due to be sentenced in November and could face up to 51 months in prison. (Webmasters Comment: Lock him up amd throw away the key!) Supporters of the Capitol riot defendants are reportedly planning a large demonstration in DC later this month.

9-3-21 Far-right groups plan on attending D.C. rally to support accused Capitol rioters
Members of right-wing extremist groups are planning on attending a rally Sept. 18 in Washington, D.C., to show their support for the hundreds of people accused of participating in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, people familiar with the matter told CBS News. On right-wing message boards, members of groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers are discussing the event, and intelligence picked up from these websites has been shared with Capitol Police leadership and the House sergeant at arms, CBS News reports. The extremists plan on using the event to demand "justice" for the hundreds of people accused of participating in the Capitol assault and charged with destruction of government property, conspiracy, and assaulting police officers. Law enforcement officials estimate that between 300 and 500 people will attend the rally, and while some members of Congress have been invited to participate, a federal law enforcement source told CBS News, it's unclear if any will make an appearance. Capitol Police will brief Congress on the matter next week, CBS News says, and they will discuss plans to secure the Capitol grounds during the event and whether they will put up a large perimeter fence. In a statement, Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said his team is "closely monitoring Sept. 18 and we are planning accordingly. After Jan. 6, we made department-wide changes to the way we gather and share intelligence internally and externally. I am confident the work we are doing now will make sure our officers have what they need to keep everyone safe."

9-3-21 QAnon Shaman' Jacob Chansley to plead guilty over Capitol riot role
Jacob Chansley, a 33-year-old from Arizona who was photographed inside the Capitol on Jan. 6 wearing face paint and a bearskin outfit with horns, has agreed to a plea deal, court records show. Chansley is well known in the QAnon conspiracy world, and has been dubbed the "QAnon Shaman." He was charged with six felonies in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, including obstructing congressional proceedings, and is set to appear in court on Friday. The details of his plea agreement have not yet been released. Since his arrest in the days after the riot, Chansley has tried multiple times to get out of jail. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth refused to let him out, writing in March that "the Court finds none of his many attempts to manipulate the evidence and minimize the seriousness of his actions persuasive." In a statement released Thursday, Chansley's attorney Al Watkins said over the last several months, his client has undergone "a process, one which has involved pain, depression, solitary confinement, introspection, recognition of mental health vulnerabilities, and a coming to grips with the need for more self-work." Watkins added that Chansley is currently "seeking, as part of his reconciliation of where he is today, to step away and distance himself from the Q vortex." (Webmasters Comment: He's a piece of S...! Lock him up for 20 years!)

9-3-21 US jobs growth disappoints as recovery falters
The US economy added fewer jobs than expected in August as employment rose by 235,000. The figure was well down on the 1.05 million jobs created in July, adding to fears that the recovery from the pandemic may be running out of steam. Despite the disappointing hiring levels, the unemployment rate fell to 5.2% in August from 5.4% in July. Economists say rising infections caused by the Delta variant have hit spending on travel, tourism and hospitality. They also note that the Labor Department's data was collected in the second week of August, so does not reflect the impact of hurricanes Ida and Henri in the second half of the month. Seema Shah of Principal Global Investors said the US Federal Reserve could rethink its plans to begin withdrawing stimulus for the US economy this year. "In a month where so much was riding on the August employment report, this is a major miss and screams Delta disruption," she said. "Not only did payrolls rise by less than a third of what was expected, the [labour market] participation rate was unchanged suggesting that labour supply is still struggling to recover as Covid confidence takes another hit. "The Fed has hung its hat on the assumption that people are starting to return to work, and unfortunately today's number will be a disappointment to them." According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were notable job gains in August in professional and business services, transportation and warehousing, private education and manufacturing. However, employment declined in retail and was flat in leisure and hospitality, after increasing by an average of 350,000 per month over the previous six months. While the number of people unemployed edged down to 8.4 million, it remains well above the pre-pandemic level of 5.7 million seen in February 2020. Joe Little, chief global strategist at HSBC Asset Management, said the weak jobs figures could turn out to be a blip, noting that average payrolls growth had averaged at around 700,000 over the last three months. Average earnings also jumped in August, suggesting that employers are trying to lure workers back amid labour shortages in some industries.

9-3-21 August's jobs report was a 'big, big miss'
Amid the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19, the latest U.S. jobs report has come in significantly under expectations. The Labor Department said Friday the U.S. economy added just 235,000 jobs in August. That was down from the 1.1. million jobs that were added in July and under the 720,000 jobs that economists were expecting, CNBC reports. The unemployment rate declined to 5.2 percent, the report said. "That is what one would call a big, big miss," CNN's Phil Mattingly wrote. The latest numbers came as the Delta variant of COVID-19 has sparked a surge in coronavirus cases in the United States, and experts had their eye on how this would affect the hiring numbers last month. The Labor Department said that in August, "employment in leisure and hospitality was unchanged," whereas it had increased by an average of 350,000 monthly for the last six months. Additionally, there was a loss of 42,000 jobs in food services and drinking. "Delta is a game-changer," Grant Thornton chief economist Diane Swonk told The New York Times. "It's not that people are laying off workers in reaction to Delta but people are pulling back on travel and tourism and going out to eat and that has consequences."

9-3-21 Will the Texas GOP abortion law backfire on Republicans?
""It took about a minute and a half between the Supreme Court's decision to let a draconian, constitutionally bizarre abortion law take effect and the widespread conclusion that it would prove a boon to Democratic political hopes even as it provoked their moral outrage," Jeff Greenfield writes at Politico. "There is plausibility to this notion," but scant hard evidence to support it. Plenty of Democrats are outraged at the Texas law and its "bounty hunters" enforcement mechanism, and "though some in the GOP are celebrating the moment as a long-sought win for the anti-abortion rights movement, others are minimizing the meaning of the Supreme Court's Wednesday midnight decision that allowed the bill to take effect," The Associated Press reports. "A few are even slamming the court and the law. Or dodging." "It is going to be a very motivating issue for women who haven't typically been single-issue pro-choice voters," GOP pollster Christine Matthews tells AP. She pointed to suburban women and independents who didn't actually believe Roe v. Wade was in jeopardy and live in areas with competitive congressional and gubernatorial races. "Democrats are already having a field day with the Texas law," the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote Thursday night. The Supreme Court was right not to interfere for now, "but this law is a misfire even if you oppose abortion," and it "sets an awful precedent that conservatives should hate. Could California allow private citizens to sue individuals for hate speech? Or New York deputize private lawsuits against gun owners?" "Texas Republicans have handed Democrats a political grenade to hurt the anti-abortion cause," the Journal editorial continues. "Sometimes we wonder if Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is a progressive plant. His ill-conceived legal attack against ObamaCare backfired on Republicans in last year's election and lost at the Supreme Court. Now he and his Texas mates are leading with their chins on abortion. How about thinking first?" Yes, "what Texas and the Supreme Court did with the end run around state responsibility, the 'deputizing' of private citizens to harass and financially ruin abortion providers, may evoke a sense of anger that would indeed change the political landscape," Greenfield writes "But it would be an exercise in overreach to presume that from history."

9-3-21 Afghanistan crisis: How Europe's relationship with Joe Biden turned sour
A series of disagreements, most notably over Afghanistan, have some European leaders revising their expectations about President Joe Biden, and thinking more about a future untethered to the US. From a white-knuckle grip with Donald Trump to an arm on the shoulder with President Biden, Emmanuel Macron's greetings tell the story of how EU leaders saw the change of US administrations. At a Nato summit in May 2017, the French president dug his fingertips into President Trump's hand, staring him in the face. "It wasn't innocent", Mr Macron later said. "In my bilateral dialogues, I won't let anything pass." Roll forward four years to the recent G7 summit in Cornwall, Joe Biden's first as US president, and again Mr Macron grasped the moment. As the cameras snapped, he walked across the beach with his arm around Mr Biden. The body language shift was clear: the two sides arm-in-arm once again. But in capitals across Europe, from London to Berlin, Afghanistan has soured the sweetness of Joe Biden's honeymoon. It's not the fact of the withdrawal itself that has rankled but the US's lack of coordination with allies, particularly since the Nato mission at the time of the drawdown comprised troops from 36 countries, three-quarters of whom were non-American, leading to an international scramble to evacuate. The German deployment in Afghanistan was its first major combat mission since World War II, so the frustration at how it ended runs deep. Armin Laschet, Germany's conservative candidate for chancellor ahead of elections later this month, called the US withdrawal "the greatest debacle that Nato has experienced since its foundation". Czech President Milos Zeman labelled it "cowardice", adding that "the Americans have lost the prestige of a global leader". "Expectations were very high when Joe Biden came in - probably too high, they were unrealistic," Carl Bildt, Sweden's former Prime Minister, told the BBC. "His 'America is back' suggested a golden age in our relations. But it didn't happen and there's been a shift in a fairly short period of time. The complete lack of consultations over the withdrawal has left a scar."

9-3-21 Covid-19 news: UK and Australia agree to share vaccine doses
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. The UK will send 4 million doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to Australia as part of an exchange deal, with Australia returning the same volume before the end of the year. The arrangement will allow the UK to better align timings of vaccine supply with future need, including for any booster programme or extension of the rollout to younger teenagers, the UK Department of Health and Social Care said. Australian prime minister Scott Morrison said the agreement would speed up the country’s efforts to come out of lockdown. “This will enable us to bring forward significantly the opportunity for Australia to open up again,” he told reporters. More than half the country’s population, including the cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, are under stay-at-home orders. Only 36 per cent of people over 16 are fully vaccinated. New South Wales recorded 1431 new cases and 12 deaths today, the state’s highest daily number of deaths so far. State premier Gladys Berejiklian said infections are expected to peak in the next fortnight. Around one in four young adults in the UK have still not received a first dose of covid-19 vaccine, figures show. The proportion of 18 to 29-year-olds who are unvaccinated is 23.5 per cent in Wales, 25.6 per cent in Scotland, 27.7 per cent in England and 29.2 per cent in Northern Ireland, according to the health agencies of the four nations. Adults over 18 have been able to get their first dose across the UK since the end of June. New figures also showed that almost two-thirds of 16 and 17-year-olds in Wales have had a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, while half of this age group in England and Scotland and 40 per cent in Northern Ireland have had a vaccine. The European Commission has reached an agreement with AstraZeneca on the delivery of covid-19 vaccines, bringing an end to an acrimonious legal dispute. Under the settlement, the drugmaker will have until the end of the first quarter of 2022 to deliver the remaining 200 million doses it has committed to the European Union, having missed its original deadline at the end of June.

9-2-21 Afghanistan crisis: Unclear if ruthless Taliban will change, says US general
The top US general has described the Taliban as a "ruthless group" and says it is unclear whether they will change. Gen Mark Milley said, however, it was "possible" that the US would co-ordinate with the Islamist militants on future counter-terrorism operations. US forces withdrew from Afghanistan on Tuesday, ending America's longest war 20 years after launching an invasion to oust the Taliban. The Islamists are now in control and expected to announce a new government. Gen Milley was speaking alongside US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, in their first public remarks since the last troops left Afghanistan. US President Joe Biden has been widely criticised over the abrupt manner of the withdrawal, which led to the unexpected collapse of the Afghan security forces the US had trained and funded for years. The Taliban's lightning advance sparked off a frenetic effort to evacuate thousands of foreign nationals and local Afghans who had been working for them. In the news conference on Wednesday, both Gen Milley and Secretary Austin praised the troops who had served in Afghanistan and the massive evacuation mission. Asked about their co-ordination with the Taliban in getting evacuees to the airport, Mr Austin said: "We were working with the Taliban on a very narrow set of issues, and that was just that - to get as many people out as we possibly could." "In war you do what you must in order to reduce risk to mission and force, not what you necessarily want to do," Gen Milley added. He said it was possible that the US would co-ordinate with the Taliban on future action against Islamic State affiliate IS-K, the group which claimed an attack outside Kabul airport last week that killed as many as 170 people, including 13 US service personnel. IS-K is the most extreme and violent of all the jihadist militant groups in Afghanistan. It has major differences with the Taliban, accusing them of abandoning jihad and the battlefield.

9-2-21 Covid-19 news: UK to offer third jab to immunosuppressed people
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. People with weakened immune systems offered third vaccine dose. Around half a million people in the UK who have severely weakened immune systems will be offered a third dose of a coronavirus vaccine. The recommendation from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) will apply to people over the age of 12 with conditions such as leukaemia, advanced HIV and recent organ transplants. These people may not have been able to mount a full immune response to vaccination, the advisers said, meaning they could be less protected than the wider population. Having two doses of coronavirus vaccine almost halves the likelihood of infected adults developing long covid, a new study has found. Researchers at King’s College London analysed data from more than 2 million people logging their symptoms, tests and vaccine status on the UK Zoe Covid Symptom Study app. The results suggest people who are double-jabbed are 73 per cent less likely to be admitted to hospital and 31 per cent less likely to develop severe symptoms. Scotland plans to introduce vaccine passports for nightclubs and some music festivals and football matches to curb coronavirus infections. First minister Nicola Sturgeon said the move – which is yet to be confirmed in a Holyrood vote next week – is “appropriate” as cases continue to surge. The scheme will apply to clubs as well as unseated indoor live events with more than 500 people in the audience. It will also apply to unseated outdoor events with more than 4000 in the audience, and at any event with more than 10,000 in attendance. From Friday, people in Scotland will be able to download a QR code showing their vaccination status. Children and people with certain medical conditions who cannot be vaccinated will be exempt from the scheme, Sturgeon said.

9-1-21 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan 'is not good news for China,' international relations scholar says
Despite the Chinese government's celebratory rhetoric about how the United States' withdrawal from Afghanistan exemplifies its decline as a global power, Beijing may not actually be relishing the departure, The Wall Street Journal reports. "The chaotic and sudden withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan is not good news for China," Ma Xiaolin, an international relations scholar at Zhejiang International Studies University in Hangzhou, China, told the Journal. He explained that the U.S. is still more advanced when it comes to technology, manufacturing, and military power, and said "China is not ready to replace the U.S. in the region." As the Journal notes, Afghanistan shares a border with China, meaning Beijing is more suspectible to consequences from the fallout of the American exit and the subsequent Taliban rule than Washington is, whether that be in the form of refugee flows, terrorism, or the drug trade. Plus, the U.S. will now likely have "more resources to put toward its strategic rivalry with China," the Journal writes. (Webmasters Comment: Which is why we left Afghanistan! We are preparing for a war with China!) The same goes for Russia. "Serious people in Moscow understand that the American military machine and all the components of America's global superiority are not going anywhere, and that the whole idea of no longer being involved in this 'forever war' was a correct one," Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, told the Journal. "Yes, the execution was monstrous, but the desire to focus resources on priority areas, especially East Asia and China, is causing here a certain unease, a disquiet." Read more at The Wall Street Journal.

9-1-21 FBI hate crime reports spike to 12-year high in 2020
US hate crimes hit a 12-year high in 2020, with over 10,000 people reporting offences related to their race, gender, sexuality, religion or disability. An annual FBI report released on Monday found the number of reported crimes against Asian and black Americans in particular surged last year. Reports were up 70% and 40% among both groups, respectively, with black people being the most targeted group overall. Hate crimes have increased in the US almost ever year since 2014. There were more than 7,700 criminal incidents reported to the FBI in 2020 - the most since 2008, which saw 7,783 incidents. As law enforcement groups are not mandated to submit hate crime data to the FBI, the numbers in the annual report is likely an undercount. In addition, local prosecutors may differ in what is charged as a hate crime. Last year's sharp rise in crimes targeting Asian Americans came as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the US. There were 274 crimes reported against those of Asian descent. Advocates have linked the rise in anti-Asian attacks to rhetoric blaming Asian people for the spread of the virus. While crimes against black Americans did not see as large a spike from 2019, there were 2,755 reported incidents, making African Americans the largest victim category. The FBI said nearly 62% of victims were targeted due to race or ethnicity biases. Offences based on religion and sexual orientation were the next most common, at around 13% and 20%. Most often, the offences were classified as intimidation, though 18% were aggravated assault crimes. Of the over 6,400 known offenders, 55% were white. US Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday said the FBI's report "confirms what we have seen and heard through our work and from our partners".

9-1-21 Trump reportedly told donors he hopes GOP voters get vaccinated because 'we need our people'
As COVID-19's Delta variant spreads across the U.S., "many Republican governors have taken sweeping action to combat what they see as an even more urgent danger posed by the pandemic: the threat to personal freedom," The New York Times reports. "Most top Republicans, including every Republican governor, have been vaccinated and have encouraged others to do so. But most have also stopped short of supporting inoculation requirements and have opposed masking requirements," sometimes using the levels of government to block vaccine and mask mandates at private businesses and local schools. "Freedom is good policy and good politics," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told the Times. But this definition of freedom also carries individual and community risks — a swath of Southern states with low vaccination rates and few COVID-19 restrictions are seeing their highest hospitalization numbers and death tolls of the pandemic. "In many ways, Republican leaders are simply following Republican voters," the Times notes, but "one Republican strategist privately lamented, only half-jokingly, that the party was going to kill off part of its own base with its vaccine hesitancy. Former President Donald J. Trump recently told donors at a New York Republican Party fundraiser that he hoped his supporters would get vaccinated because 'we need our people,' according to two attendees." When Trump publicly urged his supporters to get vaccinated at an Alabama rally, some of the crowd booed and Trump took a step back. "That's okay," he said. "You got your freedoms, but I happened to take the vaccine." Trump's political operation, which "has clearly assessed where his base stands," is sending out marketing texts blaring "FREEDOM PASSPORTS > VACCINE PASSPORTS," the Times notes. Defining "freedom" as enforced opposition to masks and vaccines is not very popular outside the GOP base, and it isn't very traditionally conservative, Republican pollsters and even some leaders say. "Liberty has never meant the freedom to threaten the health" of others, GOP pollster Whit Ayres told the Times. "That is a perversion of the definition of liberty and freedom."

9-1-21 Poll: 68 percent of parents say they have or will vaccinate their kids, a 12-point rise in 2 weeks
"Vaccine hesitancy in the U.S. is showing signs of crumbling," Axios reported Tuesday, citing a new Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index survey. The poll, released Tuesday, found that 20 percent of American adults say they are unlikely to get vaccinated, down from 34 percent in March and 23 percent two weeks ago, and that includes a new record-low 14 percent who say they are "not at all likely" to get inoculated. Seventy-two percent of adults said they have already gotten vaccinated. "The findings mirror those of other recent polls" showing "a decline in vaccine hesitancy, though not a huge one," Aaron Blake writes at The Washington Post. "Perhaps the more interesting finding in the Axios/Ipsos poll involves a big emerging issue in the vaccination campaign: vaccinating children. Polls have regularly shown parents are less sold on vaccinating their children than they are on vaccinating themselves, but the new poll shows a sharp decline in skepticism on vaccinating kids." In the survey, 68 percent of parents said they have either already vaccinated their children or are likely to do so as soon their kids are eligible for the shot. "That's the highest share ever in our survey, and a 12-point spike from 56 percent just two weeks ago," Axios notes. Only 31 percent of parents said they are unwilling to vaccinated their kids. The FDA has only approved a COVID-19 vaccine for children 12 or older, and Ipsos pollster Chris Jackson notes that the 48 million children younger than 12 now make up the country's largest group of unvaccinated people. The increase in parents open to inoculating their kids "suggests that once the vaccine is approved for younger kids, there may be a significant surge in the vaccination rate," Ipsos writes. Ipsos conducted the poll Aug. 27-30 among a nationally representative sample of 1,071 U.S. adults 18 and older. The margin of sampling error is ±3.2 percentage points. Meanwhile, overall vaccination rates are rising again, and pollsters attribute this upward trajectory to vaccine requirements, the increased risks from the more transmissible Delta variant, and, to some extent, FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine. "Although there does not appear to have been a mad rush of people getting vaccinated in the days immediately following approval," ABC News reports, "the uptick was significant enough to shift the country's vaccination trend upward."

9-1-21 The study that 'should basically end any scientific debate' about masks
A massive randomized trial on how well masks hold up against symptomatic COVID-19 infections may be one of the most crucial studies of the coronavirus pandemic because it was able to solve the tricky issue of examining mask-wearing at a community level rather than an individual one. The study involved launching pro-mask campaigns in some Bangladeshi villages, but not others, and the authors made two key findings. First, they determined that the public health interventions nearly tripled mask usage from 13 percent to 42 percent. Secondly, they discovered — by conducting sero-surveys backed up by interviews about COVID-19 symptoms and medical history — that masks did their job and reduced symptomatic infections in the communities that were subject to the campaigns by 9.3 percent. Jason Abuluck, an economist at Yale University who helped lead the study, told The Washington Post that figure would probably higher if masking was universal. There were a few other key notes in the study. Surgical masks were found to be particularly effective, while the jury is still out on cloth masks. And they were more effective in people older than 50, which could be explained by a few factors, including that young people were less likely to be symptomatic either way. They also may have been less compliant when it comes to masks. Either way, Abuluck is pretty confident about the research, arguing that it "should basically end any scientific debate about whether masks can be effective in combating [COVID-19] at the population" and calling it "a nail in the coffin" for anti-mask arguments. Read more at The Washington Post.

9-1-21 Covid-19 news: WHO monitoring ‘mu’ variant in Colombia and Ecuador
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. Mu variant identified in Colombia may be more resistant to vaccines. A new coronavirus variant, named mu, has been designated a variant of interest by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Mu, or B.1.621, was first identified in Colombia and cases have been recorded in South America and Europe. The WHO’s weekly bulletin on the pandemic said the variant has mutations indicating “potential properties of immune escape”, meaning current vaccines would be less effective against it, but that more studies would be needed to examine this further. One in seven children and young people infected with the coronavirus may still have symptoms 15 weeks later, according to preliminary findings from the world’s largest study on long covid in children. Researchers surveyed 3065 people in England aged 11 to 17 who tested positive for the virus between January and March and a matched control group who tested negative. Unusual tiredness and headaches were the most common persistent complaints. The UK will press on with plans to introduce vaccine passports for nightclubs from the end of September, Downing Street has confirmed. The proposals have previously been met with criticism from politicians on both sides as well as leaders in the night time hospitality industry. The scheme would see members of the public required to show proof of their vaccine status to gain entry to nightclubs and some other settings. Ireland has announced plans to end almost all coronavirus restrictions on 22 October. Vaccine certificates will no longer be required to enter bars and restaurants and there will be no limits on people attending indoor or outdoor events. Some restrictions will be relaxed earlier, with cinemas and theatres able to open at 60 per cent capacity on 6 September and workers beginning to return to workplaces on 20 September.

9-1-21 Japan finds black particles in Moderna vaccine
Japan has put a batch of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine on hold after a foreign substance was found in a vial. A pharmacist saw several black particles in one vial of the vaccine in Kanagawa Prefecture, according to authorities. Some 3,790 people had already received shots from the batch. The rest of the batch has now been put on hold. It comes less than a week after Japan suspended the use of about 1.63 million Moderna doses due to contamination. The pharmacist found the black particles while checking for foreign substances before the vaccine's use. The jab's domestic distributor has collected the vial suspected to be contaminated. Local media reports say there is no evidence so far of any health hazards caused by the potentially contaminated vaccine. Takeda Pharmaceutical, which sells and distributes the vaccine in Japan, had just last week put three batches of the vaccine on hold after "foreign materials" were found in some doses of a batch of roughly 560,000 vials. Spanish pharmaceutical firm Rovi, which bottles the vaccine, said in a statement that a manufacturing line in Spain could be the cause of the issue. It added that it was conducting an investigation. On Tuesday, Japan's health minister said foreign matter found in jabs in the southern prefecture of Okinawa were due to needles being incorrectly inserted into vials. Japan is battling a spike in Covid cases while it hosts the Paralympic Games. Its vaccination roll-out has been relatively slow, with just over 40% of Japanese people fully vaccinated and around 50% having received one dose.

9-1-21 Afghanistan: Joe Biden defends US pull-out as Taliban claim victory
US President Joe Biden has defended his decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan - a move which led to Taliban militants returning to power. Staying longer was not an option, Mr Biden said in an address to the nation, a day after the end of a 20-year US presence in Afghanistan. He praised troops for organising an airlift of more than 120,000 people wishing to flee the Taliban regime. The Islamist militants have been celebrating what they call a victory. US-led troops went into Afghanistan in 2001, ousting the Taliban in the wake of the devastating 9/11 attacks, blamed on al-Qaeda - a militant jihadist group then based in the Asian country. Mr Biden has been widely criticised - at home and by his allies - over the abrupt manner of the US withdrawal, which led to the unexpected collapse of the Afghan security forces US troops had trained and funded for years. Taliban militants were able to reclaim control of the whole country within 11 days - finally entering the capital, Kabul, on 15 August. President Biden deployed nearly 6,000 troops to seize control of the airport to co-ordinate the evacuation of US and allied foreign nationals and local Afghans who had been working for them. Thousands of people converged on Kabul international airport in the hope of being able to board one of the evacuation flights. In Tuesday's address, Mr Biden praised troops for the mass evacuation and promised to continue efforts to bring out those Americans who were still in Afghanistan and wanted to return - about 200 people altogether. "A lot of our veterans and their families have gone through hell," he said. "Deployment after deployment. Months and years away from their families... loss of limbs, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress." "I was not going to extend this forever war, and I was not extending a forever exit," Mr Biden said, adding: "The war in Afghanistan is now over." He said the US did not need troops on the ground to defend itself. The president later said his decision was "not just about Afghanistan". "It's about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries," he tweeted.

9-1-21 Biden defends pulling US troops out before all Americans evacuated
In an address to the nation, President Joe Biden defended his decision to pull US troops out of Afghanistan before all Americans were evacuated. (Webmasters Comment: He needs all our troops available to attack China next!)

9-1-21 White House: Americans staying in Afghanistan will get help if they change their minds
There are between 100 and 200 Americans still in Afghanistan, and President Biden on Tuesday said there is "no deadline" to get them out, should they decide to leave the country. The United States is in touch "with a number of these Americans," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a Tuesday news briefing, and making contact with them "through a range of means." Those who want to exit Afghanistan in the future will have options, she added. "Some of that may be over land, over borders, some of that may be through airplanes," Psaki said. "And so we're working again with the Qataris and the Turks on that. We're working to get the civilian side of the airport operational." The Americans remaining in Afghanistan are there for multiple reasons — many have lived in the country for years and aren't ready to go, while others have dual citizenship or want to stay with relatives who are not Americans. Biden said the "bottom line" is "90 percent of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave," and the U.S. "committed to get them out if they want to come out." With the Taliban now controlling Afghanistan, Psaki said it's likely the militant group's leaders are worried about who is leaving the country, and what will happen if "they allow some of these people out — the doctors, the lawyers, the people who have been trained by the Americans over the last 20 years, not to mention people in Afghanistan who could cause trouble for the Taliban if they were able to essentially go into exile and oppose the Taliban government."

9-1-21 House Republicans threaten to 'shut down' telecoms that comply with Jan. 6 subpoenas
The House Jan. 6 committee asked an array of telecommunication firms Monday to retain all records related to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, a first step toward obtaining select records. Some House Republicans whose records might be subpoenaed, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), responded Tuesday, threatening to retaliate against any telecom that complies with the committee's requests. McCarthy issued a statement Tuesday evening saying "a Republican majority will not forget" any "private companies" that "comply with the Democrat order to turn over private information," claiming that's a "violation of federal law." Substantively, "congressional committees have routinely used subpoena power to obtain data from private companies, including phone records, emails, and other communications," Politico reports. Seeking those records from members of Congress "would be a departure from past practices." Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) issued a more direct threat on Tucker Carlson's Fox News show Tuesday night: "These telecommunication companies, if they go along with this, they will be shut down — and that's a promise." You "might dismiss Greene as a harmless kook, but if she is getting airtime and a respectful hearing on the most highly rated political show on television, she is not harmless," Jonathan Chait writes at New York. "A Republican House acting alone can't shut down telecommunications firms, but it can harm their interests in all sorts of ways that could make them think twice about cooperating with an investigation." "If Congress is making demands for documents illegally, or privacy rights are being violated, you can sue to stop it." attorney Ken "Popehat" White advised. "Saying 'do it and we'll retaliate with punitive legislation' is pure corrupt thuggery." Marcy Wheeler suggested McCarthy's statement opened him up to obstruction charges — "Not so bright, this one," she tweeted — and the Jan. 6 committee hit a similar note in its response to McCartney, saying its efforts "won't be deterred by those who want to whitewash or cover up the events of January 6th, or obstruct our investigation." Committee member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told MSNBC that McCarthy's threat is "premised on a falsehood," adding "he's scared" and former President Donald Trump is "scared," too. "Kevin McCarthy lives to do whatever Trump wants," Schiff said. "But he is trying to threaten these companies, and it shows yet again why this man, Kevin McCarthy, can never be allowed to go anywhere near the speaker's office."

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