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

246 Atheism & Humanism News Articles
for September 2021
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9-30-21 Biden signs stopgap funding bill, averting government shutdown
President Biden signed a stopgap funding bill on Thursday evening, preventing a partial government shutdown that would have started on Friday morning. The House and Senate both voted earlier in the day to approve a short-term government funding bill, which will keep federal agencies open through Dec. 3; it also includes $28.6 billion for disaster aid and $6.3 billion to help with the settlement of Afghan refugees. The Senate voted 65-35 to pass the bill, more than the 60 votes necessary, while the House approved it 254-175. "There's so much more to do," Biden said in a statement. "But the passage of this bill reminds us that bipartisan work is possible and it gives us time to pass longer-term funding to keep our government running and delivering for the American people."

9-30-21 House delays vote on trillion-dollar infrastructure plan
With Democratic factions unable to reach an agreement on a broader spending package, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) late Thursday delayed the vote on a more than $1 trillion infrastructure plan, pushing it to Friday. The bipartisan bill calls for billions of dollars to upgrade the country's roads, bridges, ports, and broadband access. Progressive House Democrats said they would block the bill until moderates agreed to support some iteration of the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act, which expands the child tax credit, funds elder care and paid leave programs, and fights climate change. For most of Thursday, Pelosi and several of President Biden's top aides met with progressives, hoping to get them on board, but Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, stood firm, telling reporters her members won't vote for the infrastructure bill until Senate Democrats commit to the reconciliation bill. Two moderate Democratic senators — Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) — are unwilling to move forward on the Build Back Better package, citing cost and other, often unspecified objetions.

9-30-21 New California police reform laws will provide 'more accountability' for officers
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed eight police reform bills into law on Thursday, with the sweeping new measures doing everything from raising the minimum age of officers from 18 to 21 to enacting statewide standards on use of rubber bullets and tear gas used for crowd control. Newsom signed the bills days after congressional bipartisan negotiations for police reform legislation fell apart. "I want folks not to lose hope, that just because things aren't happening in Washington, D.C., that we can't move the needle here, not just in our state but in states all across the country," he said. California lawmakers got to work on the legislation in the wake of George Floyd's murder, as protesters took to the streets to demand accountability for police officers who use excessive force. One of the new measures signed by Newsom decertifies police officers found to have engaged in serious misconduct, including excessive force, racial bias, and dishonest. "We are in a crisis of trust when it comes to law enforcement right now," California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) said on Thursday, adding that he believes these new laws will create "more trust, more transparency, and more accountability."

9-30-21 Federal appellate court allows Biden administration to expel migrant families under public health order
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., sided with the Biden administration on Thursday and halted a lower court's decision that the Department of Homeland Security can't expel migrant families using a public health order called Title 42. The Trump administration had invoked Title 42 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to remove migrants from the U.S., ostensibly to prevent spread of the coronavirus. President Biden exempted unaccompanied minors from Title 42 but keep the order in place. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan had delayed his order until Thursday to give the government time to appeal. The appellate court's stay means Title 42 will likely remain in effect for months. The American Civil Liberties Union led the legal push to force an end to the Title 42 expulsions. "If the Biden administration really wants to treat asylum seekers humanely, it should end this lawless policy now and withdraw its appeal," ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said Thursday. "We will continue fighting to end this illegal policy." The Biden administration did move to undo another controversial Trump-ear immigration policy, the "Remain in Mexico" policy. Biden had ended the policy, which forced most asylum seekers at the southern border to wait in Mexico while their claims were processed, but another federal judge ordered him to restart the policy in August. On Wednesday night, DHS said it plans to issue a new memorandum terminating the policy.

9-30-21 Can the US avoid another government shutdown?
US politicians are once again battling over the funding of the federal government. At the heart of this is a bitter row over lifting the debt ceiling - a limit on the amount the US government can borrow. If Republicans and Democrats don't agree by Thursday night, the US could face a government shutdown. There are also dire warnings of a catastrophic default on the national debt that could reverberate through the US and the global economy. If this sounds familiar, it is - we've been here many times before. But the timing of this latest dispute is unique, with the US still recovering from the damaging impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. So what does it all mean and should we be worried? A shutdown happens when parts of the government close because politicians fail to agree a budget. They have become a feature of US politics in recent decades. Under the US system, the different branches of government have to reach an agreement on spending plans before they can become law. It was hoped that this would foster cooperation between the major political parties - but of course, Republicans and Democrats don't often see eye-to-eye these days. If an agreement is not reached by 1 October, then political leaders may agree on temporary funding based on the previous year's needs through a so-called continuing resolution, with the assumption that this will end as soon as the annual budget is agreed. If a continuing resolution isn't agreed then we reach what most people hope to avoid: a shutdown. Shutdowns are almost unique to US politics. In most countries, budget votes become votes of confidence in the government itself. But because the US has equal and often divided branches of government, that isn't the case. Under a shutdown, all non-essential government functions are frozen until congress reaches an agreement and the president can sign the bill into law. Many federal agencies, which rely on the funding approved by Congress, are effectively closed down and hundreds of thousands of government employees have to take a leave of absence, often without pay. Services such as national security, electricity generation and air-traffic control continue, but others that are considered non-essential, like visa and passport processing, could be delayed. Museums and national parks could also be closed.

9-30-21 A failed House infrastructure vote would be 'a serious blow' to the bipartisan bill but maybe not 'fatal'
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Wednesday "pretty much ensured defeat of the bipartisan infrastructure deal known as BIF, if the House votes on it at all today," Politico predicted Thursday morning. Progressive House Democrats have threatened to sink the legislation unless Manchin and his fellow centrists give a firm commitment that they will support the larger, more ambitious reconciliation package that completes President Biden's domestic agenda. Manchin called the current reconciliation framework "the definition of fiscal insanity" and suggested starting from scratch. "In their fight over trillions of dollars, their paramount policy goals, and perhaps their political fate, this isn't helping," The Associated Press reports: "Democratic progressives and centrists say they don't trust each other." The vast majority of congressional Democrats want both bills to pass, but in an essentially evenly split Congress, they don't have any votes to spare. Progressive Democrats have committed to "shooting the hostage," Politico's Sam Stein explains, because "collectively, they believe their position is essential in preventing Democratic self-sabotage," viewing passage of the infrastructure bill but not the popular reconciliaton packge as a politically "suicidal path." And this time they are being cheered on by "prominent Democratic-leaning pundits," Stein writes, and face little pressure to cave from the White House. "The plan is to bring the bill to the floor" on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) said Wednesday night. But asked if she has to votes to pass it, she said, "One hour at a time." The most likely scenario is that the BIF vote gets delayed, though that would irritate or even infuriate key moderates, Politico's Playbook team writes. The second-most-likely outcome is that Pelosi holds the vote and it goes down, even though that "would be an embarrassment for party leaders. But BIF looked dead several times in the Senate before it suddenly passed with bipartisan support. A losing vote in the House similarly wouldn't necessarily spell the end." The bottom line is that "a failed or delayed vote would deal a serious blow to BIF and reconciliation, potentially slowing the process by days or weeks until tempers cool," Politico argues. "But we'd be surprised if it's fatal: If Biden and Democratic leaders ask for some more time to figure this out, it's hard to imagine moderates walking away for good."

9-30-21 Afghanistan: US-Taliban deal hastened Afghan collapse, defence officials say
Top US defence officials have said the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan can be traced back to a deal between the group and the Trump administration. The so-called Doha agreement was signed in February 2020 and set a date for the US to withdraw its troops. Gen Frank McKenzie said the deal had a "really pernicious effect" on the Afghan government and military. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin agreed, saying the agreement had helped the Taliban get "stronger". In addition to setting a withdrawal date, the Doha agreement included broad obligations on the Taliban to take steps to prevent groups such as al-Qaeda from threatening the security of the US and its allies. After his election, US President Joe Biden continued the plan for withdrawal but with an end date of 31 August, instead of May. The US defence officials made the comments on Wednesday in testimony to the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee. The hearing is taking place weeks after a chaotic withdrawal at Kabul airport as foreign powers sought to get their citizens home and thousands of desperate Afghans begged for rescue. A suicide attack killed 182 people during the operation. As head of the US Central Command, Gen McKenzie oversaw the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which marked the end of a 20-year presence in the country and America's longest war. Gen McKenzie told the committee the Doha agreement had a strong psychological effect on the Afghan government because it set a date for "when they could expect all assistance to end". He said he had believed "for quite a while" that if the US reduced the number of its military advisers in Afghanistan below 2,500, the Afghan government and military would inevitably collapse. After the Doha agreement, he said the troop reduction ordered by President Biden in April was "the other nail in the coffin". Mr Austin said that by committing the US to ending air strikes against the Taliban, the Doha agreement meant the Islamist group "got stronger, they increased their offensive operations against Afghan security forces, and the Afghans were losing a lot of people on a weekly basis".

9-30-21 Covid-19 news: Study finds benefits of teen vaccination outweigh risks
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. Analysis supports vaccinating children aged 12 to 17.The benefits of offering two doses of covid-19 vaccine to all children aged 12 to 17 in England clearly outweigh the risks given the current high case rates, according to a new analysis. Children aged 12 to 15 are currently being offered only one dose of covid-19 vaccine unless they are considered high risk. Researchers estimated the covid-19 hospital admissions and deaths, plus cases of long covid, that would be prevented over four months by fully vaccinating all children in this age group. On 15 September, the case rate among 10 to 19-year-olds in England stood at 680 cases per 100,000. If the rate rises to 1000 per 100,000, vaccination could avert 4420 hospital admissions and 36 deaths over a 16-week period, the study estimated. At a lower case rate of 50 per 100,000, vaccination could avert 70 admissions and two deaths over the same period. Vaccination would avert between 8000 and 56,000 cases of long covid, the study suggests, assuming that between 2 and 14 per cent of teenagers with covid-19 go on to experience long covid. The study will be published today in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. The UK government’s furlough scheme, which has helped pay the wages of 11.6 million workers since the start of the pandemic, is ending today. Nearly one million workers were expected to be still on the scheme at the end of September, according to the Office for National Statistics. Economists have predicted that the end of the scheme will lead to a rise in the rate of unemployment, which stood at 4.6 per cent last month. YouTube says it will remove videos that contain misinformation about all vaccines, expanding its policies around health misinformation which had been strengthened during the coronavirus pandemic. The Google-owned video platform said its ban on covid-19 vaccine misinformation, which was introduced last year, has seen 130,000 videos removed so far as a result, but more scope is needed to clamp down on broader false claims about other vaccines appearing online. Under the new rules, any content which falsely alleges that any approved vaccine is dangerous and causes chronic health problems will be removed, as will videos that include misinformation about the content of vaccines.

9-29-21 South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem calls allegation of affair with Corey Lewandowski 'total garbage'
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) refuted allegations that she is having an extramarital affair with Corey Lewandowski, former President Donald Trump's ex-campaign manager, calling the claim "a disgusting lie." The rumors, she tweeted on Wednesday, are "total garbage," adding, "these old, tired attacks on conservative women are based on a falsehood that we can't achieve anything without a man's help." The online conservative journal American Greatness published a report on Tuesday with anonymous sources claiming Noem and Lewandowski have been engaged in an affair for months. The sources also said this alleged dalliance is an "open secret" in Washington, D.C., with members of Congress aware of it. Lewandowski, who serves as an adviser to Noem, is married with four children, while Noem is married with three children. "I love Bryon," Noem tweeted, referring to her husband of 29 years. "I'm proud of the God-fearing family we've raised together. Now I'm getting back to work. Earlier Wednesday, Politico reported that GOP donor Trashelle Odom accused Lewandowski of making unwanted sexual advances toward her last weekend during a charity event in Las Vegas that Noem also attended. Odom told Politico that Lewandowski "repeatedly touched me inappropriately, said vile and disgusting things to me, stalked me, and made me feel violated and fearful." Lewandowski's attorney said he would not "dignify" the "accusations and rumors ... with a further response."

9-29-21 Jan. 6 select committee issues subpoenas to organizers of pro-Trump rally
On Wednesday, the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot issued subpoenas to 11 people, including the founders and staffers of the pro-Trump group Women for America First. Women for America First held the permit for the "Stop the Steal" rally that took place immediately before supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol. The organization's founder, Amy Kremer, has been asked to turn over documents and appear before the committee for a deposition. Another person asked to give information to the committee is Maggie Mulvaney, the niece of Mick Mulvaney, an ex-GOP congressman and one-time acting White House chief of staff. She was listed on the rally permit as a "VIP lead," The Washington Post reports. Katrina Pierson, Trump's campaign spokeswoman in 2016, also received a subpoena on Wednesday. During the Trump administration, Pierson worked at a pro-Trump political organization, and was reportedly an informal liaison between the White House and the rally, the Post says. The committee, which is asking her to share documents and sit for a deposition, wrote that Pierson "participated in a meeting with President Trump in the Oval Office on Jan. 4, 2021," to discuss upcoming rallies. Last week, subpoenas were sent to several people close to Trump, including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and longtime adviser Steve Bannon. Many more subpoenas are expected to be issued in the coming weeks, and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the select committee's vice chair, said numerous people have "reached out to us who are coming in without subpoenas, coming in to talk to us, coming in to do what I think really is their duty as citizens to share what happened that day and in the days leading up to Jan. 6."

9-29-21 U.S. commander confirms Taliban floated U.S. control of Kabul security during evacuation
Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, on Wednesday testified before the House Armed Services Committee that he had a meeting with Taliban representative Abdul Ghani Baradar in Doha, Qatar. During the Aug. 15 meeting, Baradar floated the idea of the American military taking control of Kabul's security during the evacuation process, McKenzie testified. The remark confirmed previous reporting from The Washington Post. Clearly, McKenzie did not take Baradar up on that — he said he didn't even consider it a "formal offer" — and U.S. forces stuck to Hamid Karzai International Airport. The general explained that he had no instructions to commit to any citywide operation and the U.S. lacked the resources "to undertake that mission" anyway. He added that he was not sure if the message was ever brought to President Biden's attention.

9-29-21 Prioritising covid vaccines for people of colour may have saved lives
Prioritising people of colour for the covid-19 vaccines when they were in short supply would have prevented more deaths than rolling out the vaccine purely by age groups, a US modelling study suggests. When the coronavirus vaccines were in limited supply earlier this year, US authorities, along with most high-income countries, advised offering them first to healthcare workers, care home residents and then to people in age order. Age is one of the biggest determinants of risk from covid-19, but US and UK studies show that people of colour are also at higher risk – perhaps because they are more likely to live in crowded housing, have worse healthcare access and work in jobs with more exposure to the virus. Elizabeth Wrigley-Field at the University of Minnesota and her team investigated if a roll-out taking account of people’s race as well as their age would have avoided more deaths. They looked at two states, California and Minnesota, and modelled scenarios such as what would have happened if the vaccine had been offered to Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) groups aged 50 to 64 when it was available more broadly for anyone aged 65 to 69. They found that offering vaccines to groups of people defined by race and age bands, rather than just by age, would have avoided more risk of death. They didn’t calculate the number of deaths that might have been avoided by this strategy because the covid-19 death rate has varied throughout the pandemic. As targeting people by their race could have been discriminatory, health services should have organised vaccine distribution by combining age bands with where people live, to target neighbourhoods with high numbers of BIPOC people, says Wrigley-Field. The researchers found that, in California, targeting the vaccine by combining age bands with lower-income geographical neighbourhoods would have been effective at reaching BIPOC groups, but that this strategy would have worked less well in Minnesota.

9-28-21 The rush for ivermectin has 'strained the equine and livestock world'
ONCE AGAIN, YOU ARE NOT A COW. All this talk of ivermectin isn't coming at a detriment to humans alone — it could leave vulnerable animals without the proper medicine needed for care, as veterinarians, ranchers, and farmers contend with surging public demand, The New York Times reports. "I really think that's why we have a shortage, because so many people are using it," said Dr. Karen Emerson, a veternarian based in Mississippi. A common animal dewormer, ivermectin has emerged as an ill-informed method of warding off or battling COVID-19 in humans, writes the Times. Certain formulations of the drug can reportedly treat head lice and other ailments in people — but the FDA has warned Americans to otherwise leave the drug alone. Still, the increase in demand has "strained the equine and livestock world," writes the Times. Some farm owners, ranchers, and vets have been forced to switch to generic or more expensive alternatives, while others have used "expired ivermectin or quietly stockpiled the drug when they could." But many, said the Times, are just alarmed. Marc Fillion, a farmowner from South Carolina who uses ivermectin for his livestock, told the Times he is "pretty worried." He said, for instance, not treating young pigs with the medicine could have ultimately fatal consequences. And one Las Vegas animal supply store, for its part, is asking customers to show a photo of themselves with their horse in order to purchase the drug. Such experiences "underscore the real-world effects of misinformation and how far the fallout can spread," Kolina Koltai, a conspirary theory researcher at the University of Washington, told the Times. "It doesn't just affect the communities that believe in misinformation," she said. "This is something that's affecting even people who don't have a stake in the vaccine — it's affecting horses." Read more at The New York Times.

9-29-21 Do unvaccinated COVID patients deserve scarce care? A doctor weighs in.
Justice, judgment, and the last ICU bed. COVID-19 has become, in the phrase of Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky, "a pandemic of the unvaccinated." Six months after vaccines became widely available to the American public, nearly all those now hospitalized or dying from the illness never got their shot, some because they are too young or medically ineligible, and some by choice. As hospitalizations surged in late summer and early fall, debate has roiled around whether it's ethical to deny care to the willfully unvaccinated in a triage situation. Should vaccine status be included in crisis standards of care, like those invoked in Alaska and Idaho? Should doctors make a moral judgment in apportioning scarce resources, instead of a purely medical one? Is that how we decide who gets the final intensive care unit (ICU) bed? I explored this debate in an interview with Matthew Loftus, a writer and doctor who practices family medicine in Baltimore and Kenya. His tweets on the subject in late August caught my eye, particularly given what I knew of his writing on the ethics of vaccination and his clinical experience with addiction — a common analogy in the COVID triage debate — and communicable disease. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length. Let's start with the big question: Is it right to ration care according to vaccination status? No. I don't think it's right to ration care according to vaccination status, at least as a general principle. There might be specific situations in which that could guide clinical decision making, but that's different. I want to interrogate that with a couple arguments I've repeatedly seen around this issue. One is framed as a matter of justice. A good example appeared as an opinion piece in The Washington Post last week, where the author argued that usually it is "not the physician's place to judge" or provide care according to whether a patient's lifestyle choices contributed to their illness. But in times of crisis, she says, "we must ask: Is it fair to treat the person who chose to remain unvaccinated the same as someone who got the shot?" And her answer is: "Of course not," in fact, it "is ethically indefensible not to account for vaccination status" if you need a tiebreaker between two patients. I think that very simple appeal to fairness, to justice, resonates widely. And if you disagree, as it seems you do, how would you push back on that? I would say there are a lot of other ways we ration care. I think every patient is different, and every patient is going to have a different set of risk factors. Especially when it comes to these really intense, life-saving interventions — CPR and intubation — we already try to avoid doing them for people whom we don't think they will help. We try not to intubate someone if we know we will never get that tube out while the patient is alive, for example. And so I think it makes more sense to admit, "Okay, yes, we always are trying to decide how to apportion care." It's always a judgment call whether or not and how we use these particular interventions. You could imagine a scenario where you have two people who are otherwise exactly the same except for vaccination, where you could think about vaccination as a tiebreaker. But it's only in your imagination that you would have that scenario come up, and we already ration care in general in every health system everywhere, based on lots of different principles. (Webmasters Comment: I think the unvaccinated should be the last to receive care!)

9-29-21 New York says vaccine mandate for health care workers convinced most holdouts to get the shot
New York on Monday became the first state to require all health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The deadline seems to have convinced thousands of holdouts to get last-minute shots. As of Monday, 92 percent of New York's more than 650,000 hospital and nursing home employees have gotten at least one shot, according to Gov. Kathy Hochul's (D) office. Last week, 82 percent of nursing home workers and 84 percent of hospital personnel had gotten at least their first dose, and when former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced the mandate on Aug. 16, 70 percent of nursing home health workers and 77 percent of hospital staff were vaccinated. "At the same time, at least eight lawsuits and several angry protests against mandates in New York served as a reminder that thousands of health care workers would likely resign or choose to be fired rather than get vaccinated," The New York Times reports. Thanks to one federal lawsuit, health workers statewide who applied for as-yet-nonexistent religious exemptions have until Oct. 12 to get vaccinated. Vaccine mandates at other hospitals around the U.S. are proving similarly effective. Henry Ford Health System in Detroit raised its vaccination rate to 98 percent with its mandate, and Houston Methodist Hospital got all but about 153 now-fired workers, out of 25,000 employees, to get inculcated. In North Carolina, Novant Health said Monday that more than 99 percent of the system's roughly 35,000 workers have complied with its vaccine mandates, while another roughly 175 unvaccinated workers were pushed out. "We're seeing in a lot of places that this is working, it's effective," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday, backing President Biden's looming requirement that companies with 100 or more workers get everyone vaccinated or regularly tested. Polls show that solid majorities of Americans support Biden's vaccine requirements, even as many GOP base voters strongly oppose them, NPR News reports. Republican pollster Frank Luntz said in his focus groups of vaccine resisters and mandates, "it was plain to see they were mad about it, but a significant percentage of those who are not vaccinated would actually accept it if it meant that they could travel, if it meant that they could continue to work in the office." As for the rest, he said, "nothing is going to change their mind."

9-29-21 Covid-19 news: Long covid symptoms reported in over a third of cases
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Over a third of people recovering from covid-19 have at least one long covid symptom between 3 and 6 months after infection, a study has found. The finding is based on health records from over 270,000 people in the US. The most common reported symptoms were anxiety or depression, in 15 per cent of participants who’d had covid-19, followed by abnormal breathing and abdominal symptoms, both seen in 8 per cent, and fatigue, in 6 per cent. These symptoms are not necessarily related to covid-19, but the study compared their prevalence in people recovering from covid-19 and in people who’d had influenza, and found that, together, a set of 9 symptoms were 1.5 times more common after covid-19 than after the flu. Long covid symptoms were slightly more common in women than in men, and more common in those who had been hospitalised. People receiving a third dose of coronavirus vaccine experience similar rates of side effects to those receiving their second dose, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Out of 12,500 people who completed a survey, 79 per cent reported local reactions such as itching or pain at the injection site, while 74 per cent reported systemic reactions, which were mainly fatigue, muscle aches and headaches. Pfizer and BioNTech have submitted trial data for their covid-19 vaccine in 5-to-11-year-olds to the US medicines regulator, and say they will make a formal request for emergency authorisation in coming weeks. The Scottish government will delay the enforcement of vaccine passports by two weeks, first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said, giving businesses until 18 October to comply with the new law. People over 18 will have to show proof of vaccination to attend a nightclub or large event under the policy.

9-29-21 CNN's Clarissa Ward on Afghanistan's looming economic recession: 'We're talking about starvation and hunger'
"A massive and severe economic recession" is looming for Afghanistan in the wake of the United States' withdrawal and the Taliban takeover, CNN's Clarissa Ward reported from Kabul on Wednesday. "We're not just talking about purse strings being tight," Ward said. "We're talking about starvation and hunger, potentially." The reason is that "there is no cash coming into" the country and the Afghan central bank has effectively been frozen, Ward explained. Afghans can only take out about $200 per week, prices for basic goods are skyrocketing, and people are not getting paid. At the moment overseas funding for Afghanistan remains locked because of the international community's concern about the Taliban's legitimacy and their human rights violation, but Ward notes there some fierce Taliban critics in Afghanistan would still like to see the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund unfreeze that money. "Whatever their feelings are about the Taliban, at this stage this is becoming a serious humanitarian crisis in the making," Ward said. Watch the full report below. (Webmasters Comment: You can not expect barbar1ans and savages to run a government!)

9-29-21 Afghanistan: Biden was advised to keep 2,500 troops, say generals
Two top US generals have said they recommended keeping a force of 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, ahead of the full US withdrawal in August. Testimony by Gen Mark Milley and Gen Frank McKenzie to Congress seemed to contradict President Joe Biden, who said he did not recall any such advice. The Taliban took power in August, after rapidly advancing through the country. Gen Milley said the US had been taken by surprise by the speed of the Afghan government's collapse. The two US generals were questioned by the Senate armed services committee along with Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday. The hearing comes weeks after a chaotic withdrawal at Kabul airport as foreign powers sought to get their citizens home and thousands of desperate Afghans begged for rescue. A suicide attack killed 182 people during the withdrawal operation. Thirteen US service personnel and at least 169 Afghans were killed by the airport gate on 26 August. Gen McKenzie, who as head of US Central Command oversaw the withdrawal from Afghanistan, said under questioning from Republican senators that he recommended keeping a small force of 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. This appears to contradict President Joe Biden's assertion to an ABC journalist on 19 August that he did not recall anyone giving him such advice. Gen Milley said that he agreed with the recommendation, but when asked by Alaska Republican Dan Sullivan whether Mr Biden's comments were "a false statement", he refused to give a direct answer. Later White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki addressed the issue. "The president values the candid advice of... the joint chiefs and the military," she said. "That doesn't mean he always agrees with it." She said that if troops remained in the country after the August deadline the US would now be at war with the Taliban. Tuesday's hearing began with opening testimony from Mr Austin, followed by Gen Milley, who said it would now be harder to protect Americans from terrorist attacks from Afghanistan. "The Taliban was and remains a terrorist organisation and still has not broken ties with al-Qaeda," he said. "A reconstituted al-Qaeda or ISIS [Islamic State group] with aspirations to attack the US is a very real possibility, and those conditions to include activity in ungoverned spaces could present themselves in the next 12-36 months." (Webmasters Comment: The gemerals have a vested interest in war and killing! They live for that and they'll say anything to protect it!)

9-29-21 Capital Gazette shooting: 'No one could ever kill this paper'
Survivors of the calculated attack in 2018 that killed five inside a Maryland newsroom have a message for the gunman: "You cannot kill the truth." Jarrod Ramos was sentenced on Tuesday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for his attack on the Capital Gazette office. Prior to his sentencing, victims and family members denounced the shooter in emotional victim impact statements. Ramos "deserves and has earned" his sentence, the judge told the court. (Webmasters Comment: He deserves to be executed!) "He killed five people but no one could ever kill this paper," said former Gazette employee Selene San Felice, who hid under her desk during the attack. "I live to spread the truth." On 28 June 2018, armed with a shotgun and smoke grenades, Ramos broke into the office, barricaded exits and opened fire as people took cover under desks. Police called it a "targeted attack". Crime reporter Phil Davis described the afternoon to the Baltimore Sun in 2018 as "like a war zone". Staff members Wendi Winters, Rebecca Smith, Robert Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman and John McNamara were killed. Ramos, 41, had unsuccessfully sued the newspaper for defamation nine years ago after it published details of his 2011 guilty plea for criminal harassment. Police would later detail three letters Ramos sent out days before the attack, in which he threatened to kill every person in the Gazette newsroom. "It was his ego that could not handle that he was rejected," Anne Colt Leitess, the state's attorney for Anne Arundel County, told the court on Tuesday. "Because he could not live with that reality, others had to pay the price for hurting his feelings." "It's his silly grievances that will keep him warm at night. That is pathetic," she said, adding that the defendant was perhaps too arrogant to understand he might be wrong. Ms Leitess also reminded the court that Ramos has never shown remorse for his actions and considers it his "greatest regret in life" that he did not kill the entire newsroom staff. Ramos will serve five consecutive life sentences for each murder he committed.

9-28-21 Trump initially gave the order to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by Jan. 15, Joint Chiefs Chair Milley confirms
Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that he had received an "unclassified signed order" from former President Donald Trump on Nov. 11, 2020 to withdraw all armed forces from Afghanistan by Jan. 15, confirming previous reporting on the matter. The Military Times' Meghann Myers notes the order came two days after Trump fired former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who was worried about such a move. Trump did eventually pull the order back after further discussions, Milley says. The Jan. 15 date is notable because it would have taken place five days before Trump was set to leave the White House, though at the time Milley says he gave the order, the presidential election results were still somewhat up in the air, at least from Trump's perspective. Milley also addressed the Trump administration's 2020 negotiations with the Taliban, which many critics argue helped set the stage for their rapid and successful offensive to retake Afghanistan this summer. He said the Taliban failed to honor nearly all of their commitments, including cutting ties with al Qaeda. Additionally, both Milley and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, agreed the deal negatively affected the morale and performance of the Afghan army.

9-28-21 Joint Chiefs Chair Milley explains why he didn't resign over Afghanistan withdrawal
After learning that the Biden administration did not seek Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley's advice on whether to keep some troops at Kabul's airport beyond the Aug. 31 deadline until just a few days before the date, an incredulous Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) asked during Tuesday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing why the general didn't just resign over the situation. Milley had a pretty straightforward response. It would have been an "incredible act of political defiance" to resign, he said, adding that politics aren't part of the job. Instead he explained that it's his duty to give the president advice, which doesn't have to be taken. "This country doesn't want generals figuring out what orders we're going to accept and do or not," Milley said. That wasn't the only reason, however. Milley's father "didn't get a choice to resign at Iwo Jima and those kids there at Abbey Gate, they don't get a choice to resign," he said, referring to the American soldiers who were killed during an Islamic State suicide attack at the airport last month. "I'm not gonna turn back on that," Milley told Cotton.

9-28-21 United Airlines says almost all its workers are vaccinated
United Airlines gave its U.S.-based employees until Sept. 28 to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and nearly everyone complied, the company announced on Tuesday. Out of roughly 67,000 United workers, less than 3 percent applied for health or religious exemptions. About 1 percent declined to get vaccinated, and United is now in the process of terminating those 593 employees. In a memo to employees, United CEO Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart called this "a historic achievement for our airline and our employees as well as for the customers and communities we serve. Our rationale for requiring the vaccine for all United's U.S.-based employees was simple — to keep our people safe — and the truth is this: Everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated, and vaccine requirements work." United was the first U.S. carrier to make vaccines a requirement for employees. Hawaiian Airlines is giving its workforce until Nov. 1 to be fully vaccinated, while Frontier Airlines says its employees who aren't vaccinated by Oct. 1 must regularly show proof of a negative coronavirus test. Delta Air Lines has encouraged its workers to get vaccinated, and those who elect not to get the vaccine will have to pay a monthly $200 health insurance surcharge starting Nov. 1.

9-28-21 Majority of U.S. parents would get their child under 12 vaccinated, poll finds
With Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine potentially set to be ready for children under 12 by Halloween, a new poll suggests a majority of parents plan to get their young kids vaccinated. In a Gallup poll released Tuesday, 55 percent of parents in the United States with children younger than 12 said they would get them vaccinated if a COVID-19 vaccine were available to them, whereas 45 percent said they would not.This came as Pfizer on Tuesday submitted data to the FDA seeking to have its vaccine authorized for children between the ages of 5 and 11. The company previously announced that the vaccine was shown to be safe and effective among kids in this age group. Given this, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb suggested it's possible the vaccine could be approved for young kids "as early as around Halloween." The Gallup poll also found that more than half of parents with young kids are very or somewhat worried about them contracting COVID-19, and 90 percent of parents who are very worried about this said they'll get their child vaccinated. The poll also found that 82 percent of parents who are themselves fully vaccinated said they'd get their child vaccinated, but only one percent of parents who don't plan to get vaccinated will vaccinate their child. The Gallup poll was conducted from Sept. 13-19 by surveying a random sample of 4,034 adults online. The margin of error is 2 percentage points. Read more at Gallup. (Webmasters Comment: Amazing! 45% of Americans would rather their child die than get vaccinated!)

9-28-21 With attacks against workers on the rise, Missouri hospital to give staff panic buttons
Hundreds of workers at a Missouri hospital will be outfitted with panic buttons, due to a rise in assaults against them. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, attacks against Cox Medical Center Branson employees have tripled, The Associated Press reports. Hospitals are already high-stress environments, something that has been compounded due to COVID-19, and staffers at medical centers across the United States have reported everything from getting screamed at to being threatened with bodily harm. At Cox Medical Center Branson, up to 400 employees who work in emergency and inpatient hospital rooms will receive buttons to place on their identification badges. If they feel they are in an unsafe environment, the worker pushes the button, which notifies hospital security and triggers a tracking system. The hospital hopes to get the buttons distributed and operational by the end of the year. Alan Butler, director of safety and security at Cox Medical Center Branson, said in a statement the buttons "fill a critical void." Additionally, the Missouri Hospital Association is providing training to medical center employees so they can recognize when and how to de-escalate a situation.

9-28-21 South Dakota AG 'actively reviewing' governor's ethically dubious meeting with daughter, state officials
South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (R) said Tuesday that at the request of "concerned citizens and legislators," he is "actively reviewing" Gov. Kristi Noem's (R) meeting with state officials and her daughter, days after one of the summoned officials moved to deny the daughter real estate appraiser certification. Ravnsborg added that he will be "following the steps prescribed in codified law," but did not say what those steps would be. While Noem and Ravnsborg are both Republicans, they have been at odds since Noem called on Ravnsborg to step down after he was involved in a fatal hit-and-run. South Dakota's Legislature is scheduled to convene in November to decide whether to impeach Ravnsborg, who has pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges in connection with the accident. Noem summoned Sherry Bren, who ran the state Appraiser Certification Program, to a meeting at her office on July 27, 2020, with state Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman, Bren's direct supervisor, the governor's general counsel, and Noem's 26-year-old daughter, Kassidy Peters, The Associated Press reported Monday. Days before the meeting, Bren's office had moved to reject Peters' application to become a certified real estate appraiser. Peters' license was approved in November 2020, and according to an age discrimination complaint Bren filed in December, Hultman called to demand her resignation soon after, telling Bren to keep the call a secret from her direct supervisor and make it seem she had chose to retire on her own. Bren, 70, did leave her job in March after South Dakota paid her $200,000 to withdraw her complaint, AP reports. Government ethics experts said Noem's decision to include her daughter in the meeting was a red flag, even if the withheld license was not discussed — and Bren told AP that Peters' case did come up in the meeting. Noem should have recused herself from any discussion of the agency her daughter was seeking certification from, much less convene that meeting, Richard Painter, chief ethics lawyer for former President George W. Bush, told AP. "It's clearly a conflict of interest and an abuse of power for the benefit of a family member." Noem's spokesman accused AP of using Peters to attack Noem and said the governor's wading into the real estate appraisal license process was an example of how Noem "won't allow bureaucratic red tape to get in the way of South Dakota's sustained economic growth."

9-28-21 Infrastructure bill: $1tn for clean energy, internet, trains and more
The future of a sweeping $1tn (£722bn) infrastructure bill still hangs in the balance. But it's not just its size that makes it historic. On Thursday, the US House of Representatives will hold a vote on the plan, more than a month after it passed in the 100-member Senate, 69-30. Only after gaining House approval can the long-awaited bill head to President Joe Biden's desk for a final signature. This won't be easy, even though Mr Biden's Democrats control the chamber and a handful of House Republicans are expected to vote in favour of the legislation. Progressive and moderate Democrats are currently divided in their support. Moderates see the infrastructure bill as a priority, where progressives are insisting on moving forward with another bill that offers $3.5tn for social spending and climate change policies. But as this hefty, "once-in-a-generation" legislation continues its trudge through the halls of Capitol Hill, let's leave the debates on the floor and take a look instead at the most interesting numbers to come out of it. There's a proposed $550bn in direct federal spending for infrastructure - about what was spent in 1956 to build the US interstate highway system. But from addressing global warming concerns to remote working issues, this isn't your grandparents' infrastructure package. The $1tn bipartisan infrastructure bill is approaching its final destination, although it's still uncertain whether that will be Joe Biden's desk or the rubbish bin of discarded legislation. Its fate could be decided by liberal Democrats in the House of Representatives, who are threatening to tank the bill if they don't get guarantees from centrists to support their much bigger social spending package that is still being negotiated. Thursday could be the day of reckoning, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has scheduled an infrastructure vote. If Democrats can agree on a framework for the next round of legislation, liberals could grit their teeth and fall in line. If it looks like they're not on board, however, Pelosi may delay the vote - a move that will surely anger the centrists. It's a delicate dance with Biden's entire remaining legislative agenda for the year at stake. Delay may be at least a temporary answer, but kicking the can down the road risks further alienating Democrats throughout the party, who are already beginning to point fingers and assign blame. At some point, time will run out - and if Democrats wind up empty-handed, voters could make them pay in next year's mid-term congressional elections.

9-28-21 Trump initially gave the order to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by Jan. 15, Joint Chiefs Chair Milley confirms
Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that he had received an "unclassified signed order" from former Former President Donald Trump on Nov. 11, 2020 to withdraw all armed forces from Afghanistan by Jan. 15, confirming previous reporting on the matter. The Military Times' Meghann Myers notes that the order came two days after Trump fired former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who was worried about such a move. Trump did eventually pull the order back after further discussions, Milley says. The Jan. 15 date is notable because it would have taken place five days before Trump was set to leave the White House, though at the time Milley says he gave the order, the presidential election results were still somewhat up in the air, at least from Trump's perspective. Milley also addressed the Trump administration's 2020 negotiations with the Taliban, which many critics argue helped set the stage for their rapid and successful offensive to retake Afghanistan this summer. He said the Taliban failed to honor nearly all of their commitments, including cutting ties with Al Qaeda. Additionally, both Milley and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, agreed the deal negatively affected the morale and performance of the Afghan army.

9-28-21 Afghanistan: US General Mark Milley faces questions
The top US general and the secretary of defence are being questioned in Congress over the military withdrawal from Afghanistan last month. US troops had to accelerate their withdrawal after Kabul fell to the Taliban on 15 August. Senator and committee leader Jack Reed said that lawmakers want to understand whether the US "missed indicators" of the government's collapse. The US has said it will now move toward counter-terrorism missions. The hearing, held by the Senate armed services committee, comes weeks after a chaotic withdrawal at Kabul airport as foreign powers sought to get their citizens home and thousands of desperate Afghans begged for rescue. A suicide attack killed 182 people during the withdrawal operation. Thirteen US service personnel and at least 169 Afghans were killed by the airport gate on 26 August. Tuesday's hearing began with opening testimony from Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin followed by Gen Mark Milley. Another US general, Kenneth McKenzie, will also appear. As head of US Central Command, he oversaw the withdrawal from Afghanistan. US troops first entered Afghanistan in late 2001, shortly after the 9/11 attacks. By the time they left, the US had spent about $985bn (£724bn) and deployed tens of thousands of troops, peaking at 110,000 in 2011. In the weeks between the fall of Kabul and the withdrawal deadline of 31 August, the US evacuated its remaining 4,000 troops. It is also taking about 50,000 Afghan refugees who were airlifted out of Kabul. As many as 20 people died in the crowds which gathered at the airport in the days after the Taliban takeover. Gen Milley is likely to face tough questioning on Tuesday, especially from Republicans, who have called for him to be sacked. He and Gen McKenzie will probably be asked about a US drone strike in Kabul on 29 August which killed 10 innocent members of a single family.

9-28-21 Covid-19 news: Younger children in England less willing to get vaccine
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Survey of children in England finds younger ages more hesitant about vaccination. Younger children appear to be less willing to have a covid-19 vaccination than older teenagers, according to a survey of more than 27,000 students aged between nine and 18 in England. Overall, half the respondents said they were willing to have a coronavirus vaccination, 37 per cent said they were undecided and 13 per cent said they wanted to opt out. However, just over a third of nine-year-olds said they are willing to have a covid-19 jab, compared with 51 per cent of 13-year-olds and 78 per cent of 17-year-olds. The survey was carried out in schools across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Merseyside between May and July this year by researchers at the University of Oxford, University College London (UCL) and the University of Cambridge. The findings come after 12-to-15-year-olds in England and Scotland last week started to get vaccinated. Young people who believe they have had covid-19 already were more likely to say they will opt out of having a vaccine, the survey found. Students who were more hesitant about getting the jab were also more likely to attend schools in deprived areas, report spending longer on social media, and say they feel as though they did not identify with their school community. Smokers are 80 per cent more likely to be admitted to hospital and significantly more likely to die from covid-19 than non-smokers, new research shows. The study, published in the journal Thorax, is the first of its kind to look at both observational and genetic data on smoking and coronavirus. It included 421,469 participants in the UK Biobank study, with outcome data up to 18 August 2020. The results showed that, compared with never-smokers, current smokers were twice as likely to die with covid-19 if they smoked one to nine cigarettes a day, while those smoking 10 to 19 cigarettes a day were almost six times more likely to die. People who smoked more than 20 a day were over six times more likely to die compared to people who had never smoked. Vaccine passports would be required for those attending nightclubs, music venues, festivals and sports grounds in England under the government’s autumn and winter contingency Plan B. The proposed plan, published today, will only be introduced if the country faces a difficult winter with rising covid-19 cases in the colder months, the government said. The government is asking for views from businesses, event organisers, and venue operators on its proposals by 12 October.

9-28-21 Covid-19: President Joe Biden receives Pfizer booster jab
US President Joe Biden and Americans over 65 as well as those with underlying health conditions are now eligible for a third jab of the Pfizer vaccine after US authorities had approved it.

9-27-21 Public still 'hugely underestimating' how much more dangerous COVID-19 is for the elderly
Americans are still "hugely underestimating" just how much more dangerous COVID-19 is for the elderly, David Wallace-Wells writes for New York. Data compiled throughout the course of the pandemic from various countries show that "all else being equal an unvaccinated 66-year-old is about 30 times more likely to die, given a confirmed case, than an unvaccinated 36-year-old." Even more drastically, an 85-year-old faces a fatality risk of more than 10,000 times the one faced by a 10-year-old children, Wallace-Wells writes. He suggests that the age skew may be even more important to emphasize now in the wake of mass vaccinations. While the vaccines have "utterly transformed the shape of pandemic" and remain safe and effective — both in terms of preventing transmission and especially reducing the risk of severe disease — the vaccinated elderly still have a greater chance of dying from an infection than younger people, regardless of their vaccination status. British data, for instance, suggest a vaccinated 80-year-old has about the same mortality risk as an unvaccinated 50-year-old. And when there are breakthrough infections, the most severe cases overwhelmingly belong to older age groups. "Encouraging further vaccination remains by far the best tool we have in fighting the pandemic to an endgame détente," Wallace-Wells writes, but he adds that "we should also be clear along the way about the continuing risks to the vaccinated elderly and what might be done to protect them." Read the full piece at New York.

9-27-21 Union says dozens of Massachusetts state troopers are resigning over vaccine mandate
The president of the State Police Association of Massachusetts says dozens of troopers have submitted their resignations because they do not agree with the state's COVID-19 vaccine mandate. An attorney for the union, which represents 1,800 officers, said 20 percent of state police employees are unvaccinated. Union president Michael Cherven said in a statement that many of the departing troopers "plan to return to other departments offering reasonable alternatives such as mask wearing and regular testing." The Massachusetts State Police is "already critically short-staffed," he added, and it's "unfortunate" that Gov. Charlie Baker (R) chose to "mandate one of the most stringent vaccine mandates in the country with no reasonable alternatives." Under the mandate, starting Oct. 17, all executive department employees — which includes state troopers — must show proof of vaccination. If they don't get vaccinated, they could be "subject to disciplinary action" and terminated, CBS News reports. The union tried to win a hold on the mandate, arguing that the state should have bargained with workers before implementing it, but a judge rejected the request last week. In Massachusetts, more than 74 percent of residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Baker told reporters on Monday the mandate will keep everyone safe. "I think it's critically important for public officials who deal directly with the public on a regular basis, who have no idea whether the people they're dealing with are vaccinated or not," he said. "And those people who are dealing with them ought to believe that they are vaccinated."

9-27-21 Even the most vaccinated U.S. state falls behind Portugal, Singapore, and Chile
Even the most vaccinated state in the U.S. falls short of similar efforts in Portugal, Chile, and Singapore, according to The New York Times and the Mayo Clinic. More specifically, although Vermont leads the country in its percentage of fully vaccinated adults (having administered two doses to 69.3 percent of residents, per the Mayo Clinic), Portugal, Singapore, and Chile have fully vaccinated 84 percent, 79 percent, and 74 percent of their populations, respectively, according to the Times. In fact, as of Monday, there were still 15 other countries ahead of Vermont in terms of percentage fully vaccinated, including Canada, Belgium, and Uruguay, among others. The U.S. as a whole is ranked 42nd in the world, with a double jab rate of 55 percent. President Biden had previously set a goal to have 70 percent of Americans at least partially vaccinated by July 4. He is still 6 percent shy of reaching that goal, per the Times' data. Portugal is the current worldwide vax champion, having administered shots to about 84 percent of its population, reports Forbes, as well as the Times. The country began vaccinations at the same pace as other European countries, but an efficient campaign and "low levels of anti-vaccine sentiment" helped move things right along, Forbes writes. Rear Adm. Henrique Gouveia e Melo, the naval officer who took charge of vaccine rollout in February, also focused more on "large vaccination hubs" rather than small-scale distribution. Read more at The New York Times and Forbes.

9-27-21 California will now send ballots to all registered voters for every election
A practice started because of the coronavirus pandemic is now permanent in California. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Monday signed into law a bill requiring county elections officials to automatically send all active registered voters ballots for all elections. This measure also gives voters more time to get their mail-in ballots to elections offices, extending the deadline from three days to seven days after an election. Those who prefer to vote in-person will still have the option to do so. California, Newsom said in a statement, is "increasing voter access, expanding voting options, and bolstering elections integrity and transparency." Last year, ballots were sent to all eligible voters in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at polling sites. The state saw the highest general election turnout rate in nearly seven decades, with more than 70 percent of voters participating, The Sacramento Bee reports. The California Secretary of State's office said 86.7 percent of those votes were cast by mail-in ballots. Prior to the pandemic, voters were able to request mail-in ballots from their county elections offices, but this new law will likely get even more Californians involved in the process, Secretary of State Shirley Weber said in a statement. "The more people who participate in elections, the stronger our democracy and the more we have assurance that elections reflect the will of the people of California," she added.

9-27-21 Senate Republicans block bill to avert government shutdown
Senate Republicans on Monday evening blocked a measure passed by the House last week that would fund the government and suspend the federal debt ceiling. Before the vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the GOP does not want Democrats and President Biden to have the ability to spend more money as they pursue their policy changes. "We will support a clean continuing resolution that will prevent a government shutdown," McConnell said. "We will not provide Republican votes for raising the debt limit." If a bill to fund the government isn't passed by midnight Thursday, some federal agencies won't be operational on Friday morning, and if the debt ceiling isn't raised by mid-October, the U.S. could default on its debt, a catastrophic event that may lead to another recession and the destabilization of global markets, The Washington Post reports. Democrats have pushed back at McConnell and the GOP stance about the country's debts, saying that the $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus package was passed by a bipartisan vote last year, and the two parties worked together to raise the debt ceiling during the Trump administration, even when Democrats did not agree with Trump's policies. Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard on Monday urged lawmakers to take action ahead of the critical deadlines. "Congress knows what it needs to do," Brainard said. "It needs to step up. ... [The] American people have had enough drama."

9-27-21 Supreme Court's approval rating is sinking fast, even as justices insist they aren't partisans
A recent Gallup poll showed President Biden's approval rating falling 6 percentage points in one month, to 43 percent. But the Supreme Court fared worse, sliding to a record-low 40 percent from 49 percent in July and 58 percent a year earlier. Disapproval of the high court hit a new high of 53 percent. In a Marquette University Law School poll, public approval of the Supreme Court dropped to 49 percent in September from 60 percent in July. The Supreme Court's plummeting approval follows a handful of controversial "shadow docket" emergency rulings — without hearings or significant internal argument — overturning two Biden administration initiatives and, notably, allowing Texas' effective abortion ban to take effect over strident dissent from four of the nine justices. And it comes "as the court embarks Oct. 4 on one of the most potentially divisive terms in years," The Washington Post reports, with gun control, church-state separation, and the federal right to an abortion on the docket. "Not since Bush v. Gore has the public perception of the court's legitimacy seemed so seriously threatened," Irv Gornstein, executive director of the Georgetown Supreme Court Institute, said last week. Three of the nine justices — GOP appointees Amy Coney Barrett and Clarence Thomas and Democratic appointee Stephen Breyer — have publicly insisted this month that the justices aren't "partisan hacks," as Barrett said at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's University of Kentucky institute. Barrett and Thomas, who will appear alongside McConnell next month at an event at the conservative Heritage Foundation, insist their decisions are based on "judicial philosophy" and not partisan leanings, and Breyer is promoting his book on the perils of seeing the Supreme Court as political. Some conservatives blame Congress or the media for making the Supreme Court appear increasingly partisan, while liberals point to the court's actual rightward shift after McConnell's hardball court-tilting machinations. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) suggests "maybe it's just that everything now has become more political." Regardless, the public is taking note. "It is all well and good for justices to tell the public that their decisions reflect their judicial philosophies, not their political affiliations," Georgetown's Gornstein said. "If the right side's judicial philosophies always produce results favored by Republicans and the left side's judicial philosophies always produce results favored by Democrats, there is little chance of persuading the public there is a difference between the two."

9-27-21 'It was a big failure': How the U.S. bungled growing the Afghan economy
After spending $145 billion in two decades, the U.S. has withdrawn from Afghanistan and brought an end to its economic nation building efforts, which "largely failed," writes The Wall Street Journal. Although Afghanistan's economy did grow as a result of overseas efforts, the system the U.S. helped build "relies overwhelmingly on foreign aid, most of which evaporated overnight," per the Journal. And while that foreign aid built roads, schools, and health facilities, critics say it neglected a "self-sustaining private sector." Nowhere was the "failure to strengthen the Afghan state" more stark than in agriculture, argues the Journal. Even with $2 billion in U.S. spending funneled toward the cause, output "barely increased" over the last 20 years; in fact, it's share of GDP "has fallen to 20 percent from 70 percent in 1994, even though two in three Afghans still live in rural areas," writes the Journal. For example, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2010 paid the American Soybean Association to introduce soybeans to Afghan farmers, "it was a big failure," said one farmer who participated. By his account, there wasn't enough water to grow the crop, proper seeds weren't available locally, and there was no market for the harvested crop, writes the Journal. An ASA spokeswoman disagreed, saying the project achieved "successes in line with or exceeding its original objectives." The U.S. also tried introducing alternative crops to opium poppies, but farmers were "reluctant" to give up one of their few cash crops. Other options like saffron, pine nuts, and cotton were "far less lucrative, and rutted roads and poor storage infrastructure made exports difficult." International experts now fear the Afghan economy is on the verge of collapse. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.

9-27-21 Afghanistan: Taliban ban Helmand barbers from trimming beards
The Taliban have banned hairdressers in Afghanistan's Helmand province from shaving or trimming beards, saying it breaches their interpretation of Islamic law. Anyone violating the rule will be punished, Taliban religious police say. Some barbers in the capital Kabul have said they also received similar orders. The instructions suggest a return to the strict rulings of the group's past tenure in power, despite promises of a milder form of government. Since taking power last month, the Taliban have carried out harsh punishments on opponents. On Saturday, the group's fighters shot dead four alleged kidnappers and their bodies were hung in the streets of the western city of Herat. In a notice posted on salons in southern Helmand province, Taliban officers warned that hairdressers must follow Sharia law for haircuts and beards. "No one has a right to complain," the notice, which was seen by the BBC, read. "The fighters keep coming and ordering us to stop trimming beards," one barber in Kabul said. "One of them told me they can send undercover inspectors to catch us." Another hairdresser, who runs one of the city's biggest salons, said he received a call from someone claiming to be a government official. They instructed him to "stop following American styles" and not to shave or trim anyone's beard. During the Taliban's first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, the hardline Islamists banned flamboyant hairstyles and insisted that men grow beards. But since then, clean-shaven looks have become popular and many Afghan men have gone to salons for fashionable cuts. But the barbers, who have not been named to protect their safety, say the new rules are making it hard for them to make a living. "For many years my salon was somewhere for young people to shave as their wish and look trendy," one told the BBC. "There is no point continuing this business." "Fashion salons and barbers are becoming forbidden businesses," another said. "This was my job for 15 years and I don't think I can continue."

9-27-21 UK science minister 'wants strong European ties'
Britain's new science minister George Freeman has given a clear commitment to European collaboration on research. Speaking at the launch of a new UK space strategy he said international collaboration was vital in helping to advance this fast-growing sector. And he said this meant, in particular, strengthening ties with Europe, not diminishing them. The minister is keen to "land" as soon as possible associate memberships to key EU science programmes. These include the multi-billion-euro HorizonEU framework on R&D across Europe, and (directly in the context of space) the Copernicus/Sentinel Earth observation system. "As a very strong Remain campaigner in 2016, part of my mission here is to make sure that we deliver a very strong collaboration with Europe, both through the European Space Agency and through a number of other programmes," Mr Freeman said. "[We want space to be] the first area in which we demonstrate very clearly that the UK might have left the European political union, but we're not leaving the European scientific and cultural and research community. Far from it. "In fact, we want to make sure that post our withdrawal from the EU, we become an even stronger player in that research community. I mentioned Copernicus, specifically - we see it as a vital part of the ecosystem," he told BBC News. The Brexit agreement between Brussels and London made provision for the UK to stay within the science programmes of the EU, but, nine months after Britain's withdrawal from the Union, the protocols have yet to be tied down. It's hoped the publication of a new space strategy and a supporting budget in next month's Comprehensive Spending Review will clear the way for a Copernicus association at the very least. This can't come soon enough. A number of British companies and universities are worried that unless matters are sorted soon, they could be edged out of lucrative industrial contracts to build the next wave of Sentinel satellites.

9-27-21 Germany elections: Centre-left claim narrow win over Merkel's party
Germany's centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) have claimed victory in the federal election, telling the party of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel it should no longer be in power. SPD leader Olaf Scholz said he had a clear mandate to form a government, while his conservative rival Armin Laschet remains determined to fight on. The two parties have governed together for years. But Mr Scholz says it is time for a new coalition with the Greens and liberals. Preliminary results gave his party a narrow election win over the conservatives who suffered their worst-ever performance. Despite this, Mr Laschet said his party had given him its backing to enter talks with coalition partners, pushing Germany towards a potentially protracted power struggle. The Greens and pro-business FDP attracted the most support from the under-30s, in an election dominated by climate change and by differing proposals on how to tackle it. The Greens made history with almost 15% of the vote, even though it was well short of their ambitions. It was the tightest race in years, bringing an end to the post-war domination of the two big parties - Mr Scholz's SPD and his rival's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Exit polls predicted a dead heat, but this election was unpredictable from the start, and the result was never going to be the end of the story. For one thing, the outgoing chancellor is going nowhere until the coalition is formed - and that may have to wait until Christmas. The main parties want a new government in place by the time Germany takes over the leadership of the G7 group of nations in January. The next chancellor's task is to lead Europe's foremost economy over the next four years, with climate change at the top of voters' agenda. Mr Scholz's SPD supporters greeted him in raptures, but it was only later when his party edged into the lead that he told a televised audience the voters had given him the job of forming a "good, pragmatic government for Germany". Speaking on Monday he said there were three parties that were on the up - his party, the Greens and the liberals - and it was time for the conservatives to back down. "I think that the people in Germany want the Christian Democratic Union in opposition. This is their result now, what they decided during the election," he said in English.

9-27-21 2 big takeaways from the German election
There are two big stories to emerge from Sunday's elections in Germany. The first is that the center-left managed to bounce back after a trouncing in 2017 that left the Social Democratic Party (SPD) with just 20.5 percent of the vote, its worst showing since World War II. On Sunday, the SPD did better, with 25.7 percent, but the newer, environmentally focused Green Party also won 14.8 percent, nearly six points higher than four years ago. That gave the center left a combined total of 40.5 — 11 points higher than in 2017 and a real sign of resurgence. The second story is the bigger one — and that is the growing fragmentation of the German party system. A significant part of this story is the collapse in support for the center-right Christian Democrats (the CDU/CSU), which have governed the country under Angela Merkel since 2005 and on Sunday pulled in just 24.1 percent of the vote. That's the poorest showing ever for the center-right standard-bearers. But the story is larger than the electoral decline of the CDU/CSU. In 2002, country's two largest centrist parties — the CDU/CSU and SPD — won 77 percent of the vote, leaving the remaining parties to pick up the scraps. That figure dropped to 69.4 percent in 2005, and then to 56.8 percent in 2009. The centrist establishment surged back to prominence with 67.2 percent in 2013, but it collapsed to a new low of 53.4 percent four years ago. On Sunday, those two parties still finished first and second, but their combined total fell just short of a majority — with a mere 49.8 percent. Now add in the fact that the SPD prevailed over the CDU/CSU by just 1.6 points, and that the third-placed party (the Greens) finished less than 10 points behind the center right, with the classically liberal FDP and far-right AFD just a few points behind the Greens, and we're left with a very widely dispersed vote. This doesn't signal a surge of extremism. Unlike in France, where polling ahead of next year's presidential election shows two far-right candidates (National Rally's Marine Le Pen and talk-show rabblerouser Eric Zemmour) pulling around 30 percent of the vote, Germany's AFD lost some ground on Sunday, falling to 10.3 percent, 2.3 points lower than four years ago. The country's far-left party (Linke), meanwhile, did much worse, falling to just 4.9 percent from 9.2 in 2017. What the results do show is a country lacking anything approaching consensus about which style of centrism it wants to govern the country. That will make forming a stable government quite challenging over the coming weeks and maybe even months of negotiation. It will also make decisive action quite difficult for whatever government does get formed.

9-26-21 Germany's center-left Social Democrats narrowly beat Merkel's bloc in national election
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union-Christian Social Union bloc narrowly lost Sunday's national election to the center-left Social Democrats, election officials said early Monday in Berlin. With all 299 constituencies counted, the Social Democrats won 25.9 percent of the vote, the CDU bloc won 24.1 percent, the Greens came in third with 14.8 percent, and the business-centered Free Democrats earned 11.5 percent. No winning party in post-World War II German had ever taken less than 31 percent of the vote, The Associated Press reports. Social Democrats leader Olaf Scholz claimed victory and said voters had returned "an encouraging message and a clear mandate to make sure that we get a good, pragmatic government for Germany." A more subdued CDU bloc leader Armin Laschet declined to concede, noting that "it hasn't always been the first-placed party that provided the chancellor." Both parties will likely try to form a coalition government with the Greens and Free Democrats. Scholz, the outgoing vice chancellor and finance minister, and Laschet, governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, said they will try to form a government by Christmas. In the meantime, Merkel, who is retiring after 16 years as chancellor, will stay on to lead a caretaker government. "Whatever coalition ends up in power, Germany's friends can at least take heart that moderate centrism has prevailed, and the populism that has taken hold in other European countries failed to break through," Reuters reports. The far-right Alternative for Germany got 10.3 percent of the vote, down from 12.6 percent in 2017, and the post-communist Left party got 4.9 percent.

9-26-21 Liz Cheney says GOP 'coddling and enabling' of Trump could 'unravel the system'
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) may have been ousted from her leadership position within the Republican Party for speaking out against former President Donald Trump and his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, but that's not enough for her to say goodbye to the GOP. "I am not ready to cede the Republican Party," Cheney told 60 Minutes' Lesley Stahl in an interview that aired Sunday night. "And I'm not ready to cede it to the voices of extremism, to the voices of anti-Semitism, and the voices of racism, and there certainly are some in our party. But I'm going to fight for this party. I believe in it." Several Republicans have announced they are running against her in 2022, and Trump has already endorsed one candidate: attorney Harriet Hageman. Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, has the backing of former President George W. Bush, and he'll hold a fundraiser for her in October. Cheney said her hope is that after the midterms, the "right Republicans" take over, as she doesn't believe House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) should be elected House speaker. "What my party is doing right now in too many cases is coddling and enabling a man who does not believe in the rule of law and does not believe in the Constitution," Cheney said. "And that is a fundamental recipe to unravel the system." Cheney made it clear to Stahl that she holds conservative views: she's pro-gun rights and anti-abortion, plus she backs waterboarding and doesn't think it is torture, and she views Democratic policies as "dangerous." But she has changed her mind on one issue: same-sex marriage. Her sister, Mary, is gay and married to a woman, and in 2013, Cheney said she believed in the "traditional definition of marriage." She told Stahl she was "wrong. I was wrong. I love my sister very much. I love her family very much. And I was wrong."

9-26-21 German elections: Voters decide who will take charge after Merkel
The fight to succeed popular, long-serving chancellor Angela Merkel could barely be tighter as Germans vote in parliamentary elections. While the streets of Berlin hosted the annual marathon, the biggest race was taking place across the country. The three candidates vying to succeed the chancellor voted in warm late-summer sunshine, as final polls put Mrs Merkel's conservatives in second place. At stake is the leadership of Europe's most powerful economy. More than 60 million Germans over 18 are eligible to vote and long queues were reported outside polling stations in Berlin. Voting ends at 18:00 (17:00 BST) and the first exit polls in this unpredictable election come out immediately. The race looked over until the outgoing chancellor entered the fray in support of the conservative candidate, her career at the top of German politics now weeks from coming to an end. "It really matters who's in power," she warned voters repeatedly in the 48 hours before the vote. Her message was that Germany needed stability and its youth needed a future - and Armin Laschet was the man to provide it. There are plenty of uncertainties about this election. In the run-up, more than a third of voters were still unsure who to vote for, although a record number have already posted their votes in. Calling on all Germans to vote, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: "Whoever takes part will be heard, whoever does not vote lets others decide for them. For months the opinion polls have swayed this way and that. The conservative CDU and its Bavarian sister party led initially, and at one point the Greens went in front, but then came a surge for the Social Democrats under Olaf Scholz. Of the three candidates competing for the role of chancellor it is Mr Scholz who has galvanised voters most. As Mrs Merkel's deputy it has been easier for him than for his conservative rival to be seen as the continuity candidate.

9-26-21 Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou freed by Canada arrives home in China
A Chinese tech executive released after being detained in Canada for nearly three years has returned home. Huawei's Meng Wanzhou flew to Shenzhen on Saturday evening, hours after two Canadians freed by China had gone back. In 2018 China accused Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig of espionage, denying detaining them was in retaliation for Ms Meng's arrest. The apparent swap brings to an end a damaging diplomatic row between Beijing and the West. Mr Spavor and Mr Kovrig arrived in the western city of Calgary just before 06:00 local time (12:00 GMT) and were met by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. A couple of hours later Ms Meng touched down in Shenzhen, China, to applauds from a crowd gathered at the airport. "I'm finally back home!," said Ms Meng, according to the Global Times, a Chinese tabloid backed by the ruling Communist Party. "Where there is a Chinese flag, there is a beacon of faith," she added. "If faith has a colour, it must be China red." Ms Meng was wanted on charges in the US but was released after a deal between Canada and US prosecutors. Before her release, Ms Meng admitted misleading US investigators about Huawei's business dealings in Iran. She spent three years under house arrest in Canada while fighting extradition to the United States. China had earlier insisted that her case was not related to the sudden arrest of Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor in 2018. But China's the decision to free them after Ms Meng's release appears to show that pretence has been abandoned, reports Robin Brant, the BBC's Shanghai correspondent. Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor have maintained their innocence throughout, and critics have accused China of using them as political bargaining chips. After they arrived in Calgary, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shared images on Twitter of him welcoming the pair. "You've shown incredible strength, resilience, and perseverance," he wrote in the tweet. "Know that Canadians across the country will continue to be here for you, just as they have been."

9-25-21 China may have just 'strengthened its bargaining position' through 'hostage diplomacy'
China has continuously denied that two Canadian citizens it had held on espionage charges for nearly three years until Friday were hostages, but their quick release after a Huawei executive under arrest in Canada struck a deal with U.S. prosecutors, all but dispels that notion. Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were initially detained in 2018 just days after Vancouver police arrested Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. warrant following accusations that she misled investigators about Huawei's business dealings in Iran (she later admitted to doing so.) Now, everyone is back in their home countries, and it looks like Beijing may have come out on top in the standoff with Ottawa and Washington. "In a sense, China has strengthened its bargaining position in future negotiations like this," Donald Clarke, a professor specializing in China at George Washington University's Law School, told The New York Times. He added that it should serve as a warning that Beijing is willing to be "boldly transactional with foreign nationals" and "if you give them what they want, they will deliver as agreed." Brahma Chellaney, a prominent geostrategist, described China's "successful hostage diplomacy" as a "real shot in the arm" for President Xi Jinping and argued that the Biden administration had "vindicated" Beijing's "thuggish" detention of two innocent Canadians. Read more about how the situation could affect the Beijing-Washington relationship at The New York Times.

9-25-21 Taliban foot soldiers warned against taking selfies with leaders because of security concerns
The Taliban's younger foot soldiers have been warned that they're having too much fun, The Wall Street Journal reports. You've probably seen some photos of the armed fighters having a laugh in swan boats on a lake or enjoying amusement park rides. The shots seem particularly odd, if not surreal, when pitted against some of the more brutal reports about the group's actions since they've taken power. Now, senior leaders want them to take a step back from the leisure activities. Defense Minister Mawlawi Mohammad Yaqoob reportedly gave a speech this week in which he told members to "stick to the tasks you have been assigned" because otherwise "you are damaging our status, which has been created with the blood of our martyrs." He specifically called them out for driving too fast and wearing stylish clothes, including high-top sneakers, which are not in line with the Taliban's code. "This is the behavior of the warlords and gangsters of the puppet regime," Mawlawi Yaqoob said, per the Journal, referring to the U.S.-backed Afghan government from whom the Taliban recently wrested power. The foot soldiers were also reportedly instructed to stop taking so many selfies, particularly when they bump into leaders of the movement. The reasoning for this went further than adherence to the rules, however. Mawlawi Yaqoob's concern is that when those photos wind up on social media they can give away senior members' locations and activites, compromising their security. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.

9-25-21 COVID-19 booster discussions have led to a 'communications crisis' and 'nonstop' phone calls
The back-and-forth on COVID-19 booster shots among the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and their advisory panels amounts to a "communications crisis," Robert Murphy, the executive director of the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told The Washington Post. Many Americans seem like they aren't sure if they're eligible for a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (the only one of the three available shots that's received formal discussions on boosters) because of hard-to-follow guidance from public health officials — first, the CDC advisory panel narrowed the FDA panel's initial recommendation, and then CDC Director Rochelle Walensky overruled that, broadening it again. The situation, though, has led to a deluge of phone calls to healthcare providers at the local level. For instance, a customer service representative for Primary Health clinics in southwestern Idaho told the Post "the calls seem pretty nonstop." David Peterman, Primary Health's chief executive, said in light of the booster confusion "we went from 40,000 phone calls daily to 80,000," prompting him to ask staffers to take extra shifts. Jay A. Winsten, the founding director of the Center for Health Communications at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, thinks the solution should come from the top. While the FDA and CDC have a lot of experts in the health and science fields, "what's missing from the equation are communication experts," Winsten said, adding that "they need a seat at the table." Read more at The Washington Post.

9-25-21 The cost of long COVID
The mysterious constellation of pervasive symptoms has struck millions, and no one can say how long they’ll last. The mysterious constellation of pervasive symptoms has struck millions, and no one can say how long they'll last. Here's everything you need to know:

  1. How many people are affected? The CDC and states do not track long COVID cases, so there are no hard numbers, but numerous studies indicate the problem runs deep and wide. A University of Washington study found 30 percent of people who had COVID were still experiencing symptoms after six months; a study by Imperial College London showed almost 15 percent reported three or more symptoms after 12 weeks.
  2. What are the symptoms of long COVID? Literally hundreds of symptoms have been reported. Among the most common are nerve and muscle pain, persistent fatigue, breathing difficulties, heart palpitations, loss of smell and taste, and gastrointestinal distress. Issues plaguing post-COVID patients range from impaired metabolic function and kidney damage to blood-clotting problems and menstrual changes.
  3. What causes these problems? There are several leading theories. One is that they're caused by fragments or reserves of the virus that linger in the body. Another possible cause is persistent inflammation or damage wrought by the initial infection, affecting blood vessels, nerve pathways, or other areas of the body.
  4. Do long COVID patients improve? The range is broad. Some patients largely return to their old selves within three or four months. Many show meaningful improvement but have lingering issues. But some remain significantly impaired after a year or more, and struggle to hold jobs.
  5. What can be done? In February, the National Institutes of Health launched a $1.2 billion initiative to study the causes and treatment of long COVID. The American Medical Association and CDC have launched initiatives to educate doctors about identifying and treating the disorder.
  6. Long COVID and the vaccinated: Do vaccines affect the odds of developing long COVID? Evidence is emerging that vaccination significantly reduces the chances of lingering symptoms, but that some vaccinated people who get breakthrough infections do in fact become long-haulers.

9-25-21 Why a COVID-19 origin task force is disbanding
Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University professor who has chaired a COVID-19 commission affiliated with The Lancet scientific journals, told The Wall Street Journal that he's disbanding a task force of scientists probing the coronavirus' origins. He reached the decision because the group was linked too closely with the New York-based non-profit EcoHealth Alliance, which has been scrutinized by scientists and lawmakers due to its use of U.S. funds to study bat coronaviruses with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. EcoHealth alliance's president Peter Daszak, who has been a vocal opponent of the theory that the virus escaped from a lab, led the task force until he recused himself in June. But Sachs thought it was better to end the whole thing since other members had also collaborated with Daszak on other projects, although one member told the Journal there was no conflict of interest. Going forward, Sachs' commission will continue to study the origins of the virus, and the goal is to publish a report on the findings by mid-2022, but there will be a shift in the focus of the research. Now, the Journal reports, it will look at the broader issue of "biosafety concerns including government oversight and transparency regarding risky laboratory research."Sachs clarified that he doesn't favor any particular COVID-19 origin theory. It's been a busy week for the debate lab leak-natural spillover debate. First, The Intercept shedding light on a leaked 2018 grant proposal from EcoHealth Alliance, which detailed what some scientists consider high-risk coronavirus research. Meanwhile, a preprint of a study revealed that scientists found three viruses in Laos that are more similar to the COVID-19 coronavirus than any other known pathogen, which some scientists argue boosts the natural origin theory. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.

9-25-21 Why Denmark beat COVID and the U.S. didn't
In a pandemic, trust in science and government is critical. Denmark is beating COVID. The Danish government recently announced the virus is no longer a "critical threat" there, and lifted its vaccination and mask requirements for indoor activities. Denmark's death toll per million citizens over the course of the pandemic is just 22 percent of the U.S.'s, and daily deaths there have fallen to under 10. Our deaths are again running at more than 2,000 a day. Why the huge difference? Trust. A survey by researchers Michael Bang Petersen and Alexander Bor found that more than 90 percent of Danes trust their national health authorities and public decision makers, The Washington Post reported this week. As a result, 86 percent of eligible Danes have been vaccinated. In the U.S., trust in expertise, government, the media, and institutions has collapsed. Vaccinations are lagging below 50 percent in many states, and we may add another 100,000 deaths this fall and winter to our grim total of 675,000. The pandemic still casts a deep shadow over our lives. A society cannot function without a basic level of trust. The credibility void is filled with disinformation, conspiracy theories, cynicism, division, and resentment. The effects are plain to see: In Washington, consensus is dead and compromise virtually impossible. Trust in elections, the foundation of democracy, is eroding like a beach in a hurricane. In the face of all evidence, tens of millions of Americans continue to believe that the 2020 election was stolen, and that rigorously tested, lifesaving vaccines already administered to more than 200 million Americans — and billions worldwide — are dangerous and "experimental." People shun a simple shot largely because they see it as a form of surrender. In red states, the unvaccinated are flooding overwhelmed hospitals; Idaho has adopted "crisis standards of care," authorizing burned-out staff to ration beds to those most likely to survive. Meanwhile, in Denmark, crowds are flocking to concerts and bars to celebrate their freedom. Divided, we fall.

9-25-21 Afghanistan: Taliban hang bodies as warning in city of Herat, say reports
The Taliban are said to have have hung the dead bodies of four alleged kidnappers in public in the western city of Herat in an apparent warning. The gruesome display came a day after a notorious Taliban official warned that extreme punishments such as executions and amputations would resume. The men were killed in a gun battle after allegedly seizing a businessman and his son, a local official said. News agency AP was told a body was hung from a crane in the city centre. Wazir Ahmad Seddiqi, a local shopkeeper, told the agency that four bodies were brought to the square, one was hung there and the three other bodies were moved to other squares in the city to be displayed. The deputy governor for Herat, Maulwai Shair Ahmad Emar, was quoted by local media as saying that Taliban fighters had tracked the alleged kidnappers down and killed all of them in a firefight. "We hanged their dead bodies on the Herat squares to be a warning to the other kidnappers," the official was quoted as saying. The BBC has not independently confirmed the circumstances under which the men were killed. Since taking power in Afghanistan on 15 August, the Taliban have been promising a milder form of rule than in their previous tenure. But there have already been numerous reports of human rights abuses carried out across the country. The Taliban's notorious former head of religious police Mullah Nooruddin Turabi - now in charge of prisons - said on Thursday that extreme punishments such as executions and amputations would resume in Afghanistan as they were "necessary for security". In an interview with the Associated Press, he said these punishments may not be meted out in public, as they were under previous Taliban rule in the 1990s. But he dismissed outrage over their past public executions: "No-one will tell us what our laws should be."

9-24-21 The 'theoretical' downside of COVID boosters
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday night authorized the use of COVID-19 booster shots for seniors, at-risk adults, nursing home residents, and — in a decision breaking with its own advisery panel — frontline workers over the age of 18. However, with much of the world, as well as a percentage of the U.S., still unvaccinated, the booster conversation has left some asking — what are the implications of receiving another dose if you're not in an at-risk population? Are there any? Any downside is "probably more theoretical," epidemiologist Céline Gounder told The New Yorker. There have been cases of myocarditis, or heart inflammation, in younger men following jabs of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines; however, it is unclear whether there would be increased risk with a third dose — "it is very rare, so it would take a while to pick up on," said Gounder. She noted that instances of myocarditis have not led to permanent complications. The other pitfall, according to Gounder, would be cost — "both in terms of the vaccine itself, and also in terms of all of the facility and manpower costs of getting people their booster dose." In terms of beating COVID, however, the epidemiologist added that if we want to get to "the other side of this, you have to start paying attention to people who are not vaccinated — not just here but in the rest of the world." Read more at The New Yorker.

9-24-21 Haitian migrants at US border: 'We've been through 11 countries'
Even in late summer, few migrants attempt to cross into the United States from the Mexican border town of Mexicali. The temperatures are brutal, consistently in the mid-40C. And beyond the neighbouring US town of Calexico, lie many miles of inhospitable desert. Attempting the journey in the searing heat would be madness. Yet the migrants gathered in a Haitian restaurant a few blocks from the border wall have already been through worse. Especially Fiterson Janvier and his family. As they finish a Creole-style meal of chicken, rice-and-beans and plantains, there is both exhaustion and disbelief in their eyes. Exhaustion at their journey from South America over the past few months, and disbelief at some of the things they witnessed and experienced along the way. "I left my country on 26 August 2014," explains Mr Janvier, his three-year-old son absentmindedly playing with a toy car on the restaurant floor. Having spent several years in Brazil, he moved to Chile, met his wife and they had a child. But as they could not move beyond the lowest social rung in South America, they decided the time was right to attempt to reach the US. "We have been through eleven different countries to get here. Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador..." Mr Janvier begins to name them in order, describing an extraordinary journey on foot and by bus, that traverses the Andes and the Amazonian Basin. It was a deeply harrowing trip too. As he took his young family across the Darien Gap, seven days through the dense jungle between Colombia and Panama, Mr Janvier says he saw the dead bodies of other Haitian and Cuban migrants. He describes being robbed of what little he had by "bandits", most likely members of violent drug and people-smuggling gangs which operate in the region. He said some of the women were raped, although his wife managed to hide with the child when the gang appeared. Migrant rights groups estimate that in Mexico alone as many as 80% of migrants have been victimised, extorted or abused on their journey, many of them by the police and the immigration authorities.

9-24-21 Migrants freezing to death on Belarus-Poland border
The BBC has obtained first-hand accounts from migrants who say they’ve been illegally deported from the European Union by Polish border troops. Close to the border between Belarus and Poland, the BBC’s Europe correspondent Nick Beake found migrants stranded in a forest, with night-time temperatures dropping well below freezing. At least four people are known to have died. EU members Poland, Latvia and Lithuania have each declared a state of emergency amid a surge of thousands of people trying to cross from Belarus. The EU has accused the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of using migrants as a weapon, while Poland has banned aid workers and journalists from its border zone.

9-24-21 Gabby Petito case: The missing Americans you don't hear about
When 22-year-old Gabby Petito didn't return home from her cross-country road trip, her case sparked a firestorm of national media coverage and social media attention. Americans with their own missing relatives have been left wondering why their cases have not received the same interest. She was found dead in a Wyoming national park. Her partner refused to speak to the police, then vanished. Millions of people followed along on newspaper front pages, cable news shows and social media. Every new development in the Gabby Petito case has been amplified and analysed by sleuths, professional and amateur. Amid the suggestions and conspiracy theories, a flood of tips helped lead law enforcement to where Ms Petito lay dead. But for hundreds of thousands of other missing Americans, particularly non-white victims, public attention has been scarce. Researchers call it "missing white woman syndrome" and Michelle N Jeanis, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, says it has been in existence for decades. Ms Jeanis studies the relationship between missing persons and the media. She contends the news media's use of a "cautionary tale framing" around white women as victims is lucrative to the industry and reinforces systemic social biases, especially on social media. "Young, beautiful, typically middle class, white women are incredibly newsworthy when bad things happen to them," she told the BBC. In her research, Ms Jeanis found that social media often functions similarly to traditional media in such cases, so "white individuals get far more likes, shares and all forms of [social media] engagement than individuals of colour". (Webmasters Comment: Black women and children are raped and murdered by whites in the South in the forests! Black men are lynched and murdered by whites in the South in the forests! These people just go missing without trace! This has been going on for years!)

9-24-21 Taliban official says executions will return: 'No one will tell us what our laws should be'
Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, a founder of the Taliban who is now in charge of Afghanistan's prisons, told The Associated Press that while the strict Islamist group has "changed from the past," they will once again carry out executions and amputations. During the Taliban's previous rule in the 1990s, Turabi was the justice minister and head of the group that effectively served as Afghanistan's religious police. Executions and amputations were held in public places — convicted murderers were shot in the head by a member of their victim's family, while convicted thieves and highway robbers lost hands and sometimes feet. "Everyone criticized us for the punishments in the stadium, but we never said anything about their laws and their punishments," Turabi told AP. "No one will tell us what our laws should be. We will follow Islam and we will make our laws on the Quran." He added that "cutting off of hands is very necessary for security," as it deters others from stealing, and the Taliban is working to "develop a policy" on whether amputations and executions should again be done in public. AP reports that this week, Taliban fighters in Kabul carried out a punishment that they used previously, involving publicly humiliating men accused of minor theft. During at least two occasions, men were put in the back of a truck and driven around the city — in one case, some of the men's faces were painted, and in the other, they had stale bread stuffed in their mouths, AP says. Turabi is a hardliner, and in the 1990s, he ripped cassettes out of car radios, had his underlings beat men who trimmed their beards, and slapped a man who objected to him screaming at a woman journalist. Today, he said, the Taliban has "changed from the past." Afghan citizens will be able to have televisions, cell phones, and take photos and videos, he added, "because this is the necessity of the people, and we are serious about it."

9-24-21 Afghanistan: Executions will return, says senior Taliban official
The Taliban's notorious former head of religious police has said extreme punishments such as executions and amputations will resume in Afghanistan. Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, now in charge of prisons, told AP News amputations were "necessary for security". He said these punishments may not be meted out in public, as they were under previous Taliban rule in the 1990s. But he dismissed outrage over their past public executions: "No-one will tell us what our laws should be." Since taking power in Afghanistan on 15 August the Taliban have been promising a milder form of rule than in their previous tenure. But there have already been several reports of human rights abuses carried out across the country. On Thursday, Human Rights Watch warned that the Taliban in Herat were "searching out high-profile women, denying women freedom of movement outside their homes [and] imposing compulsory dress codes". And in August, Amnesty International said that Taliban fighters were behind the massacre of nine members of the persecuted Hazara minority. Amnesty's Secretary-General Agnès Callamard said at the time that the "cold-blooded brutality" of the killings was "a reminder of the Taliban's past record, and a horrifying indicator of what Taliban rule may bring". Days before the Taliban took control of Kabul, a Taliban judge in Balkh, Haji Badruddin, told the BBC's Secunder Kermani that he supported the group's harsh and literal interpretation of Islamic religious law. "In our Sharia it's clear, for those who have sex and are unmarried, whether it's a girl or a boy, the punishment is 100 lashes in public," Badruddin said. "But for anyone who's married, they have to be stoned to death... For those who steal: if it's proved, then his hand should be cut off." These hardline views are in tune with some ultra-conservative Afghans. However, the group are now balancing this desire to appeal to their conservative base with a need to form connections with the international community - and since coming into power, the Taliban have tried to present a more restrained image of themselves. (Webmasters Comment: The Taliban are primitive and barbaric men!)

9-24-21 CDC clears COVID booster shots for seniors, at-risk, and — siding with FDA over advisory panel — frontline workers
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late Thursday gave final authorization for tens of millions of Americans to get a COVID-19 booster shot — but it sided with the Food and Drug Administration over its own advisory panel in approving a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for people 18 and older who are at greater risk of infection because of their jobs. The other groups that can now sign up for booster shots are people 65 and older, those living in long-term care facilities, and adults 50 and older who have underlying health conditions. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky suggested Thursday night that she overruled the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices regarding frontline workers because it's her job "to recognize where our actions can have the greatest impact," and based on the "complex, often imperfect data," the CDC "must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good." The authorization only applies to a third Pfizer shot at least six months after a person's second dose, but Walensky said the CDC "will address, with the same sense of urgency, recommendations for the Moderna and J & J vaccines as soon as those data are available." The CDC immunization advisory panel had agreed with the FDA on most booster populations it authorized Wednesday night, but it voted 9 to 6 against recommending third shots for health-care providers, teachers, prison guards, grocery store workers, and others whose "frequent institutional or occupational exposure" puts them at greater risk. Some panel members said they voted against boosters for frontline workers because it opened the door to too many people or gave the false impression that the vaccines aren't still incredibly effective at protecting most people against serious illness, hospitalization, and death. Others suggested boosters might take focus off the primary goal of getting unvaccinated people their first shots. Biden administration officials had quietly hoped the CDC would side with the FDA, both so the nation's two top public health agencies would be in accord and also because President Biden and his advisers had wanted the booster shots cleared for most vaccinated Americans. In any case, "in reality, anyone who wants a booster will get one, as has already been happening," a federal health official told The Washington Post. More than two-thirds of COVID vaccinations are administered at pharmacies, and people don't need prescriptions or other documentation to get jabbed.

9-24-21 Covid-19 news: UK male life expectancy sees first drop in 40 years
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. Deaths from covid-19 lead to drop in life expectancy for boys born in UK. Life expectancy for men in the UK has fallen for the first time in four decades, due to the impact of the covid-19 pandemic. New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that a boy born between 2018 and 2020 is expected to live for 79 years, compared with 79.2 years for births between 2015 and 2017. For women, life expectancy remains unchanged at 82.9 years. The estimates are calculated based on current mortality rates, which were unusually high in 2020, especially for men. The figures do not mean a baby born in 2018-2020 will live a shorter life, says Pamela Cobb from the ONS Centre for Ageing and Demography. “To get a better estimate of this we need to consider how mortality and therefore life expectancy will improve into the future. It will be several years before we understand the impact, if any, of coronavirus on this,” she says. Covid-19 vaccines have prevented 123,100 deaths in England, according to new estimates. The figures, which have been calculated by Public Health England and the University of Cambridge, cover the period up to 17 September. Previous estimates had put the number at 112,300 deaths. Around 23.9 million infections have also been prevented by the vaccine rollout, along with 230,800 hospital admissions among people aged 45 and over. More than 89 per cent of all people aged 16 and over in England have now received at least one dose of vaccine, while nearly 82 per cent are fully vaccinated. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has endorsed booster vaccines for people aged 65 and over and those with underlying health conditions, following the authorisation from the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday. The CDC’s panel of advisers declined to support booster vaccines for people in jobs with a high risk of exposure to the virus, such as healthcare workers, but CDC director Rochelle Walensky decided to include this category in the agency’s recommendation. The advice applies to people who have already had two doses of Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine at least six months ago.

9-24-21 Capitol riot committee to investigate Trump allies
The committee investigating the Capitol riot has issued its first subpoenas of President Trump's allies - including Mark Meadows and Steve Bannon. The Democratic-led committee has demanded documents and called them to testify in mid-October. A letter written by the committee's chairman suggests they were involved in efforts to overturn the 2020 election that led to the deadly unrest. Lawmakers are after information on Mr Trump's actions leading up to the riot. The committee's first four subpoenas were issued to Mr Meadows, former White House chief of staff; Mr Bannon, Mr Trump's former advisor; former deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino; and Kashyap Patel, a former Pentagon chief of staff. "The committee is investigating the facts, circumstances, and causes of the January 6th attack and issues relating to the peaceful transfer of power," the committee said in a letter on Thursday. In four individual letters, the committee outlined the reasons for calling each witness forward. Mr Bannon will be asked about his communication with Mr Trump in late December and involvement in discussing plans to overturn the election, the committee said. They quoted him as saying "all hell is going to break loose tomorrow" on the eve of the riot. Mr Meadows will be asked about his communication with the organisers of the rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol. Mr Scavino reportedly told members of the House not to certify the election for Joe Biden, and Mr Patel was involved in discussions about security at the Capitol as the riot unfolded. In a statement, Mr Patel said he was "disappointed, but not surprised" the committee had issued a subpoena before asking for his voluntary cooperation. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the creation of a committee to investigate the Capitol Hill riot in January this year. Mrs Pelosi said the Democratic-led committee would aim to "establish the truth of that day and ensure that an attack of that kind cannot happen".

9-23-21 Drafts of audit report confirm Biden defeated Trump in Maricopa County
The controversial audit of Maricopa County's 2020 presidential vote confirmed that Joe Biden won Arizona by thousands of votes in November, according to draft versions of a report on the hand count. President Biden won the state thanks to strong numbers in Maricopa County. Former President Donald Trump and his allies falsely claimed there was widespread voter fraud in the election, and the GOP-led Arizona state Senate stepped in and initiated an audit of Maricopa County. They hired a company called Cyber Ninjas to carry out a hand recount of the county's votes, despite Cyber Ninjas having no experience with election audits. It took several months to complete the hand count, due to delays like a COVID-19 outbreak. The final report from Cyber Ninjas will be released on Friday afternoon, but multiple drafts in circulation on Thursday show that the audit confirms Biden won Maricopa County and Trump lost, The Arizona Republic reports. Biden even ended up doing better with the new hand count — Maricopa County certified Trump losing by 45,109 votes, while the draft reports say he lost by 45,469 votes. Still, the draft reports claim that the election results are inconclusive and offer recommendations on how the state can change its elections law. A draft viewed by the Republic "minimized" the ballot counts and focused instead on "issues that raise questions about the election process and voter integrity," the newspaper reports, raising red flags among several election analysts. Throughout the purported audit, the GOP-majority Maricopa County Board of Supervisors stood by the county's certification of the election results and slammed efforts to paint it as fraudulent. In a statement, board Chairman Jack Sellers said the draft reports show that "the tabulation equipment counted the ballots as they were designed to do, and the results reflect the will of the voters. That should be the end of the story. Everything else is just noise. But I'm sure it won't be. Board members told the truth in the face of angry phone calls and emails fueled by a coordinated campaign to shake Americans' faith in the power of their vote. Will they accept the truth now?"

9-23-21 US Haiti envoy quits over 'inhumane' deportations
The US special envoy for Haiti has resigned in protest over the deportation of Haitian migrants. The decision to return migrants fleeing an earthquake and political instability was "inhumane", senior diplomat Daniel Foote said. Last weekend, the US started flying out migrants from a Texas border town which has seen an influx, with some 13,000 having gathered under a bridge. They have been waiting in a makeshift camp in temperatures of 37C (99F). Local officials have struggled to provide them with food and adequate sanitation. Most of those at the camp are Haitians, but there are also Cubans, Peruvians, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans present. Since Sunday, the US has returned to Haiti 1,401 migrants from the Texas camp on the border with Mexico. But in his resignation letter, Mr Foote said Haiti was a "collapsed state" that "simply cannot support the forced infusion of thousands of returned migrants lacking food, shelter, and money without additional, avoidable human tragedy". Images of horse-mounted US officers corralling the migrants have evoked dark comparisons to US slavery and the country's historical mistreatment of black people. The widely shared images, taken by an AFP photographer earlier this week, appear to show US Border Patrol agents on horseback using their reins against the migrants and pushing them back towards the Rio Grande river that divides Texas and Mexico. That led to pressure on President Joe Biden's administration, and prompted calls from within his Democratic Party to give the Haitians asylum rather than fly them back to their home country. Many Haitians left the country after a devastating earthquake in 2010, and a large number of those in the camp had been living in Brazil or other South American countries and travelled north after being unable to secure jobs or legal status. This year has brought further hardship for the impoverished country. In July, Haiti's President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated - and in August it suffered another deadly earthquake.

9-23-21 Grim echoes of history in images of Haitians at US-Mexico border
Shocking images of horse-mounted officers corralling Haitian migrants along the US-Mexico border are evoking dark comparisons to US slavery and the country's historical mistreatment of black people. The widely shared images, taken by an AFP photographer earlier this week, appear to show US Border Patrol agents on horseback using their reins against Haitian migrants and pushing them back towards the Rio Grande river that divides Texas and Mexico. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has said that the officers were trying to manage the migrants crossing the river. He has vowed that his department will investigate reports of alleged abuse. Many Americans have likened the images to historical representations of slavery - which was abolished in 1865 - and other dark periods for black people in the US. One widely shared image, for example, compares a recent picture from the US border with a historical drawing of an African slave being pulled with a rope and struck with a whip. "That's exactly what it is. It's horrible, and it's pure evil," Angela Byrd, an African-American resident of Washington DC, told BBC News. "It's very disheartening, because of the historical connections that we - whether it be Haitians, Cubans or African Americans - have with a man, on a horse, with a whip." "It's a reminder of America's history, and how far we've come, but also of how far we still have to go," Ms Byrd added. "Clearly, some people are ready to change. Some people aren't." Officials have disputed that the agents "whipped" the migrants. The National Fraternal Order of Police labour union, for example, noted that the officers are simply holding the reins used to manoeuvre the horses. Among the prominent voices who have spoken out about the images is Derrick Johnson, the president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) - the nation's oldest civil rights group. On Monday, Mr Johnson met with administration officials and members of the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss the issue.

9-23-21 DHS says it 'is not and will not send' the Haitian migrants in Texas to Guantanamo Bay
The Homeland Security Department is soliciting bids from contractors to "erect temporary housing facilities for populations that exceed 120 and up to 400 migrants in a surge event" at the U.S. base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and "at least 10 percent of the augmented personnel must be fluent in Spanish and Haitian Creole," NBC News reports. Government records show that Guantánamo Bay, which has been used to house terrorism suspects since 2001, also has a more obscure immigrant holding facility that "will have an estimated daily population of 20 people." DHS told NBC News that, despite its inference, the Biden administration "is not and will not send Haitian nationals being encountered at the southwest border to the Migrant Operations Center (MOC) in Guantánamo Bay. The MOC has been used for decades to process migrants interdicted at sea for third-country resettlement. The request for information (RFI) recently posted is a typical, routine first step in a contract renewal, and unrelated to the Southwest Border." The Guantánamo contract, first awarded in 2002, ends in April 2022," DHS added, and "migrants awaiting resettlement who are not in ICE custody at the MOC are neither detained nor imprisoned and are free at any time to return to their country of origin." "During the George H.W. Bush administration from 1991 to 1993, when many Haitians sought to flee the country to seek asylum in Florida, as many as 12,000 were sent to Guantánamo Bay under a policy overseen by then-Attorney General William Barr," NBC News notes. Now, thousands of Haitian migrants have amassed under an international bridge between Del Rio, Texas, and Mexico, putting "the Biden administration in the exact place it's tried to avoid: knee deep in immigration politics," Politico reports. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas highlights that the U.S. is flying hundreds of the migrants back to Haiti, drawing rebukes from President Biden's fellow Democrats. But DHS has also released hundreds of the Haitians into the U.S. with orders to report to court for asylum hearings, The Associated Press reports. Most of the Haitians had been living in Chile, Brazil, and other South American countries since fleeing Haiti after a 2010 earthquake, AP reports. They saw or were sent detailed instructions on how to get to the U.S. border on WhatsApp, Facebook, and other social media apps, sometimes from relatives and other times from human smugglers looking to drum up business.

9-23-21 Aukus pact: France and US seek to mend rift
France and the US have made efforts to end a row which started last week with the announcement of a defence pact between the US, UK and Australia. The Aukus pact cost France a submarine contract worth billions of dollars. In a 30-minute phone call on Wednesday, the French and US presidents agreed to try to find a way forward. The US acknowledged that the situation would have benefited from "open consultations", and France agreed to send its ambassador back to Washington. In a carefully worded joint statement, the two governments said US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron would "open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence". The two leaders are set to meet in Europe at the end of next month. What is Aukus? It's a security pact between Australia, the US and UK. It allows for greater sharing of intelligence, but crucially it gives Australia secret technology to build nuclear-powered submarines, though not equipped with nuclear weapons. What's the aim? Aukus is widely seen as a response to the growing power of China, and an effort to counter its influence in the contested South China Sea. Why has it angered France? Australia cancelled a $37bn (£27bn) deal with a French company building diesel-powered submarines, and, what's more, France - a traditional Western ally - found out about the new pact only a few hours before the public announcement. Analysts have described Aukus as probably the most significant security arrangement between the three nations since World War Two. But the pact angered the French government, with Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian describing it as a "stab in the back". France considers the Asia-Pacific region to be of key strategic and economic importance, with 1.65 million French citizens on islands including La Réunion, New Caledonia, Mayotte and French Polynesia.

9-23-21 US approves Covid booster jabs for some older and at-risk Americans
US drug regulators have approved Pfizer booster vaccines for people over 65 if they had their last shot at least six months ago. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also authorised adults at higher risk of severe illness and who work in front-line jobs to get the booster jab. It means tens of millions of Americans are now eligible for their third shot. Prevention (CDC). Independent panels from the CDC are holding meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, and are expected to endorse the move quickly, US media reports. The panels' decisions will include recommendations on who qualifies as high risk, and which frontline workers should be eligible. For its part, the FDA says "health care workers, teachers and day care staff, grocery workers and those in homeless shelters or prisons" should be on that list, acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock said in a statement. The FDA move is a victory for President Joe Biden, who had promised that booster vaccines would be available from this month as long as they received approval from the FDA and CDC. For now, the decision only applies to Americans who have been vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech jab. Millions of Americans who received Moderna and Johnson & Johnson jabs will have to keep waiting for further booster approval. In the UK, the government has announced that it will offer boosters to everyone over 50 and to other vulnerable people as it heads towards the winter months. Germany, France and the Czech Republic have announced similar plans for older or vulnerable people. In Israel, boosters are already being offered to children as young as 12. The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on wealthier nations to hold off on providing booster shots until vaccination rates go up in lesser developed countries. "There are countries with less than 2% vaccination coverage, most of them in Africa, who are not even getting their first and second dose," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week. "And starting with boosters, especially giving it to healthy populations, is really not right."

9-23-21 Beijing 2022: US athletes told they must be vaccinated against Covid-19
United States athletes competing at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics have been told they must be vaccinated against Covid-19. American athletes did not have to be vaccinated at the Tokyo 2020 Games. United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) guidelines say the "health and well-being" of all athletes is "top priority". The Winter Olympics take place from 4-20 February with the Paralympics following from 4-13 March. "This step will increase our ability to create a safe and productive environment for Team USA athletes and staff, and allow us to restore consistency in planning, preparation and optimal service to athletes," the USOPC added. USOPC rules state that as of 1 November, all employees, athletes, contractors and others accessing its facilities must be vaccinated against the coronavirus. It said it would consider exemptions on a case-by-case basis. Unvaccinated individuals who receive an exemption will be required to have daily Covid-19 tests, which will be paid for by the USOPC. Around 100 of the 613 athletes representing the United States at the Tokyo Olympics had not received the Covid-19 vaccine. The International Olympic Committee has not yet instructed any athletes to be vaccinated in order to take part in future events. US swimmer Michael Andrew was criticised at Tokyo 2020 for being unvaccinated and not wearing a facemask during interviews.

9-23-21 Covid-19 news: US approves booster vaccines for over-65s
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. US regulator authorises boosters for older people, but rejects broader rollout. The US medicines regulator has authorised coronavirus booster vaccines for people aged 65 and over, people at high risk of severe disease and those who are regularly exposed to the virus, such as healthcare workers. The decision means that these groups can start to receive a third dose of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine 6 months after their second dose. Those who have had other vaccines will have to wait for further approvals. Pfizer had asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow extra doses for all people aged 16 and over, but the FDA panel concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support boosters for the wider population beyond high-risk groups. A separate advisory committee for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which determines US vaccine policy, is expected to issue guidance today which may include recommendations on which groups should qualify as high risk. The US has already given extra vaccines to over 2 million people with compromised immune systems. The US will donate 500 million more covid-19 vaccines to other countries, president Joe Biden has announced at a virtual summit on the pandemic, bringing the country’s total donations to over 1 billion doses. Delivery of the new tranche will begin in January. At a United Nations General Assembly meeting yesterday, leaders from developing nations including the Philippines, Peru and Ghana condemned wealthier nations for failing to share vaccines equitably. New travel rules for England that require travellers from some countries to quarantine even if they are fully vaccinated have sparked outrage and bewilderment, The Guardian reports. Under the rules, travellers to England who have been fully vaccinated with Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna or Janssen vaccines in the US, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea or a European Union country are exempt from quarantine, but people who received the same vaccines in other countries must quarantine for 10 days after arrival. Doctors and politicians from India, Brazil and Nigeria are among those who have expressed anger about the rules. A government scientific advisory committee has said that the number of people in England admitted to hospital with the coronavirus could rise to between 2000 and 7000 a day over the next few months. Here’s why the predictions for winter are so bleak, despite high vaccination rates.

9-22-21 FDA authorizes Pfizer booster shots for seniors and high-risk individuals
The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized booster doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for Americans 65 and older and two other groups: younger people with underlying health conditions and those whose jobs put them at high risk of getting the virus. Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must come up with its own recommendation on booster shots and when people should get them. A panel of CDC advisers convened on Wednesday to discuss the matter, and some suggested waiting a month and seeing what new evidence might come out about booster shots, The Associated Press reports. Pfizer has released data compiled by the pharmaceutical company and the Israeli government, which suggests that boosters are beneficial for people 65 and older, but might not do as much for younger people, even those with underlying conditions. "As we learn more about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, including the use of a booster dose, we will continue to evaluate the rapidly changing science and keep the public informed," Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the FDA, said in a statement.

9-22-21 Why covid-19 hospitalisations may soar in England despite vaccination
PEOPLE in England who thought the pandemic was all but over had a rude awakening last week. A government scientific advisory committee said that the number of people in England admitted to hospital with the coronavirus could rise to between 2000 and 7000 a day over the next few months. That compares with just under 1000 a day presently, and a little over 4000 at the height of the second wave in January. Given that so many people have now been vaccinated against covid-19 and case numbers have recently been declining, why are predictions for winter in England so bleak? One factor that can get overlooked is that even in places with good vaccine uptake, like the UK and parts of the US and Europe, vaccines don’t provide complete protection. There will always be three main groups who are vulnerable: those who aren’t being immunised, which at this stage in the UK mostly comprises children; those who refuse jabs; and those who have had the vaccine but it fails to protect them. “People forget about that, but no one ever said the vaccine was going to be 100 per cent effective,” says Simon Clarke at the University of Reading, UK. Because of these groups, modellers predicted earlier this year that as countries such as the UK emerged from lockdowns, they would see an “exit wave“, as increased mixing allowed the virus to spread. There are signs that the UK may have recently started the downward slope of such a wave. However, its trajectory was complicated by a spike in cases in July, which seems to have been triggered by people gathering inside to watch the European Football Championship. “If you shave that off, the situation is not that complicated,” says Mark Woolhouse at the University of Edinburgh, UK. “There was a rise in cases steadily over the summer that’s come to some sort of peak or plateau – that’s what a wave looks like.”

9-22-21 White House didn't act on suggestions to bolster processing in area where Haitian migrants gathered, emails suggest
Border Patrol agents offered specific suggestions to bolster processing in Del Rio, Texas, as early as June because of concerns that facilities would become overwhelmed, emails reviewed by ABC News reveal. Members of the National Border Patrol Council called for the use of digital tablets with wireless data capabilities so they could be used for "early initiation of the migrant intake process immediately after encounters with Customs and Border Protection." The Del Rio Sector Border Patrol management, an arm of the Homeland Security Department, did say over email it was exploring the option. However, "it never materialized into anything of substance," Jon Afinsen, the National Border Patrol Council's vice president told ABC News. Eventually, thousands of Haitian migrants, fleeing multiple crises in their home country, gathered in Del Rio, and Afinsen says efforts to handle the surge only began last week when the situation had already become too challenging. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was asked about the emails, which could be seen as early warning signs about the lack of preparedness, by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) on Wednesday, per ABC News. Mayorkas responded by saying the Biden administration was hampered by how rapidly the "unprecedented" migration occurred. Read more at ABC News.

9-22-21 Sen. Tim Scott reportedly rejected Democrats' 'bare minimum' final offer on police reform
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) told The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that bipartisan negotiations for a police reform bill are over after Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) turned down a final offer from Booker and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.). "The goal from the very beginning was to get meaningful reforms that would end the policing problem we've had in this nation for generations," Booker said, adding that in the end "we couldn't do it." One of the main sticking points was how dramatically the bill should alter qualified immunity, the practice that shields officers from lawsuits. However, other measures also became more challenging once language was introduced, with Democrats advocating for more sweeping changes and Scott's camp pushing a more incremental path, the Journal reports. Additionally, because protests against police brutality have died down compared to last summer and the nation's attention has somewhat moved away from the issue, there was reportedly less pressure to get something done. One source familiar with the offer from Booker and Bass told the Journal it represented the "bare minimum" of what they were willing to accept. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.

9-22-21 The weird intersection of Ivy League pandemic policy and Bob Jones University purity codes
Brown University mandates COVID-19 vaccination for faculty, staff, and students alike, so over 95 percent of the campus community is vaccinated. And, as Brown's pandemic policy pages note, the vaccines are "proven to be highly effective" in preventing transmission and serious illness. So Brown is nearly back to normal, right? So, so, so wrong. After a small spike in positive COVID-19 tests — 82 in a week, mostly among "asymptomatic undergraduate students," with "no indications of serious illness and no hospitalizations" — the university announced severe new rules. The restrictions are "short-term," but there's no firm timeline for lifting them. Now banned: social gatherings larger than five (even outdoors!), spending time with multiple friend groups, and going to indoor restaurants and bars. Students are required to wear masks in their dorm rooms with anyone but a roommate. Brown isn't the only elite university with near-universal vaccination and extreme pandemic restrictions, as Reason's Robby Soave has reported. Soave describes these rules as "authoritarian," inviting comparisons to harsh regimes of fiction and history. I'm reminded of something closer to home: hyper-strict student life rules at fundamentalist Christian colleges. I grew up in conservative evangelical circles, where — at my Christian high school, anyway — kids had a whisper network about colleges to avoid. We'd trade stories, some real and some embellished or apocryphal, about stickling rules at places like Bob Jones University and Pensacola Christian College. Don't let your parents make you go there, we warned. I imagine an institution like Brown sees a vast gulf of prestige and cultural value between itself and these fundamentalist enclaves. But the student life rules are weirdly similar in effect. Brown says no indoor restaurants and bars; at Bob Jones, "[s]tudents are not to patronize restaurants with a tavern or bar-like atmosphere or reputation or restaurants that do not have a dining room separate from live entertainment." Bob Jones has rules limiting how students can socialize, too: "Students may be together in any well-lit outside location from dawn until 10 minutes before curfew … Couples are not to socialize inside cars or inside the parking garage. ... Students, including mixed [sex] groups of at least three, may meet at or near the pavilions for fellowship until 10:20 p.m." The elite and fundamentalist colleges have different aims, of course — precluding COVID-19 transmission and extramarital sex, respectively — but both have chosen purity codes as their tool. Perhaps the Ivy League will take a page from Pensacola's student handbook and start shuffling people into separate staircases so their bodies can't touch.

9-22-21 Some states are giving 1st priority for monoclonal antibodies to unvaccinated patients
The Biden administration last week took a more active role in distributing monoclonal antibodies, a highly effective treatment for people recently infected with COVID-19 and at an elevated risk of otherwise being hospitalized, as demand for the antibody cocktails had ramped up, mostly in Southern states with lower vaccination rates. Federal distribution means those high-usage states will likely have to prioritize who gets the federally funded treatments, and some have decided to treat unvaccinated people first. Among those states is Tennessee, The Washington Post reports. "Demand is outstripping supply right now," said Karen Bloch, medical director of the antibody infusion clinic at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and while prioritizing the unvaccinated for her clinic's 80 infusion appointments a day "rub people the wrong way," people who haven't been immunized are much more likely to be hospitalized and die from COVID-19. That's the recommendation the National Institutes of Health issued earlier in September. Vaccinated individuals "are expected to have mounted an adequate immune response," so "unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated individuals who are at high risk of progressing to severe COVID-19" to "vaccinated individuals who are not expected to mount an adequate immune response" should be prioritized, the NIH said. This advice, which Tennessee has adopted, is "logical" but fraught with tough decisions about borderline cases, Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey told The Tennessean. There are also those who see prioritizing the unvaccinated as rewarding people who refuse to get immunized with the much cheaper, more effective, and fully approved vaccine, prolonging the pandemic for everyone. The COVID-19 pandemic is already the deadliest in U.S. history, recently surpassing the 1918-19 influenza pandemic. On CNN Tuesday, Dr. Sanjay Gupta compared these two pandemics and said 1918 America would be thrilled to have access to these vaccines.

9-22-21 Covid vaccine stockpiles: Could 241m doses go to waste?
President Biden is asking world leaders to pledge to vaccinate 70% of the global population by September next year. But research shows rich countries are still holding surpluses of vaccines, many of which could soon be thrown out. Boarding a plane to Iran this summer, Bahar was excited to see her father for the first time in four years. She had no idea coronavirus was about to rip through the country - and her family - in a deadly second wave. First it was a friend of the family, who was preparing for her son's wedding when she got sick. She died soon after. Then it was her father's uncle, then an elderly aunt. Bahar worried desperately about her grandmother who had only had one vaccine dose and was still waiting for her second. Bahar is 20 and lives in the US where she got vaccinated in April. Though she knew she was somewhat protected, she spent the final days of her trip cloistered in her father's house worried about who the virus would attack next. Few members of her family have been vaccinated in a country where supplies are low. Soon after she returned to the US, she found out her father was sick. She was far away and paralysed with fear. "It's like survivor's guilt," she says. "I left Iran totally fine, completely healthy just because I had two shots of the Pfizer vaccine." Her father recovered but many older relatives did not. "I felt pretty guilty knowing that." This imbalance of the vaccine supply makes for stark statistics. Just over half of the world has yet to receive even one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. According to Human Rights Watch, 75% of Covid vaccines have gone to 10 countries. The Economist Intelligence Unit have calculated that half of all of the vaccines made so far have gone to 15% of the world's population, the world's richest countries administering 100 times as many shots as the poorest. In June, members of the G7 - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States - pledged to donate one billion doses to poor countries over the next year. "I smiled when I saw that," says Agathe Demarais, lead author of a recent report on global vaccines supply at the Economist Intelligence Unit and a former diplomat. "I used to see this a lot. You know it's never going to happen."

9-22-21 President Biden pledges 500m more vaccine doses to developing world
The US is to donate 500 million more doses of the Pfizer vaccine to developing nations. President Joe Biden will make the pledge at a virtual Covid-19 summit on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, US officials have said. The additional jabs will see the total US commitment on vaccine sharing exceed one billion jabs. Experts say some 11 billion doses are required to vaccinate at least 70% of the global population. The World Health Organisation has set a minimum target of 40% vaccine coverage in every country by the end of 2021. But the goal is unlikely to be met. While many high-income countries have now given at least one shot to more than half their populations, only 2% of people in low-income countries have had their first dose, according to data from the University of Oxford. It's a big pledge but it'll be met with a fair share of scepticism from countries still waiting to vaccinate even 2% of their population. The US had already pledged 580m doses but delivered only 140m of those so far. So what's different now? Well, global production has picked up in the past few months and there are doses available. Rich countries could have 1.2bn spare doses by the end of the year, even if they run booster campaigns, according to science analytics firm Airfinity. 241m of those could go to waste if they're not donated. But these need to be sent very soon. Covax, the WHO-backed scheme to help distribute vaccines fairly, has told the BBC that too many of the donations it's receiving have come in small quantities, at the last minute and with little time left before they expire. That makes their job of getting them to where they are needed very hard. If Biden want to meet this ambitious goal of vaccinating the world by this time next year, that will have to change.

9-22-21 Covishield: UK recognises Covid jab after India outcry
The UK government has amended its foreign travel guidance to clarify that the Indian-made version of the AstraZeneca vaccine is an approved jab. But it is not clear whether people from India can travel to the UK without having to self-isolate for 10 days. The UK's refusal to recognise Covishield had triggered a firestorm of protests in India. With more than 721 million doses administered so far, Covishield is India's primary vaccine. On Tuesday, India described the rule as "discriminatory" and asked the UK to stop requiring fully-vaccinated Indians to self-isolate on arrival. At present, India is not listed as a country where people are recognised as fully vaccinated even if they've had both doses of an approved jab. So, Indians travelling to Britain have to self-isolate as well as book and take Covid-19 tests before they are allowed to move freely. Last week, the UK announced new rules - which will come into effect on 4 October - which mandate that travellers from a number of countries arriving in England do not have to self-isolate if they are fully vaccinated. India was not included in that list either. Prominent Indians called the rule "highly discriminatory", "racist" and "asinine", among other things. Foreign Minister S Jaishankar had taken up the matter "strongly" with his UK counterpart Liz Truss, according to India's foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla. It is "a discriminatory policy and does impact our citizens travelling to the UK", Mr Shringla told reporters. He had warned that India might take "reciprocal measures" if the UK did not address India's concerns. Such measures generally include India imposing similar restrictions on those arriving from Britain. British travellers to India are thermally screened for fever on arrival, and provide a negative Covid-19 test. They do not need to quarantine. A leading MP from the main opposition Congress party, Jairam Ramesh, had tweeted that the "bizarre" decision "smacked of racism".

9-22-21 Covid-19 news: Record cases in school children in England
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. More than one in a hundred school children in England have covid-19, but absences are lower than in July because whole classes no longer isolate. About 1.2 per cent of school children in England were absent due to confirmed or suspected covid-19 on 16 September, according to new figures from the UK’s Department for Education. This compares with 1.0 per cent in July before schools closed for the summer holidays. Most schools reopened in September having removed some social distancing restrictions, including mask-wearing and keeping children within “bubbles” – small groups usually consisting of one or a few classes. Under this system the whole bubble would bel sent home to isolate if one member tested positive. Now, under-18s do not have to stay at home and isolate if they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive – only if they themselves develop symptoms or have a positive test result. The new rules mean that while there is currently a higher rate of covid-19 infections among under-18s, fewer children have to miss school because of isolation rules. The total rate of covid-19-related absences was 1.5 per cent on 16 September, compared with 14.3 per cent in July. “These national figures mask some significant issues arising at a local level, and we already know of schools that are struggling to keep classes open due to outbreaks occurring,” Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers told The Guardian. Australia will reopen its borders for international travel by Christmas at the latest, the country’s Tourism Minister Dan Tehan said today. Meanwhile in the state of Victoria, teachers and childcare workers have been told that they must be fully vaccinated against covid-19 before they return to work next month. The Johnson & Johnson “single-dose” covid-19 vaccine is more effective after two doses, the firm said yesterday. A second dose of the jab given eight weeks after the first led to people being 94 per cent less likely to get a symptomatic infection compared with those who were unvaccinated, in a US trial. Just one dose was 66 per cent effective in the first month after vaccination. Giving the second dose six months after the first led to an even higher rise in antibodies.

9-22-21 Angry scenes at Haiti airport as deported migrants arrive
Angry scenes broke out at Haiti's main airport after migrants were deported to the country from the US. Angry scenes broke out at Haiti's main airport after migrants were deported to the country from the US. On Tuesday, migrants at the airport in Port-au-Prince rushed back towards the plane they had arrived on, while others threw shoes at the jet. Last weekend, the US started flying out migrants from a Texas border town which has seen an influx in recent weeks. About 13,000 would-be immigrants have gathered under a bridge connecting Del Rio in Texas to Ciudad Acuña in Mexico. Chaos unfolded at Toussaint Louverture airport as one man attempted to re-board the aircraft. The plane's crew rushed to close the jet's doors in time, Reuters news agency reports. Video footage taken a the airport shows people scrambling for their personal belongings after their bags were dumped out of the plane. There are reports that some migrants were not told they would be returning to Haiti. According to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), there were two separate incidents at the airport on Tuesday. A source told NBC News that the pilots on board one of the flights was assaulted on arrival in Haiti and three US immigration officers were also injured. In a separate incident in Texas, a group of Haitians reportedly fought Border Patrol agents and attempted to escape after realising they were being deported. At the time, the migrants were being transported on a bus from the town of Brownsville to Del Rio. "When the migrants found out they were going to be sent back to Haiti, they took the bus over and they fled," Brandon Judd, the president of the National Border Patrol Council, said at a news conference late on Tuesday. The removal of migrants has been criticised by Partners In Health, an NGO that has been working in the country. "During a challenging and dangerous period for Haiti, it is unthinkably cruel to send men, women and children back to what many of them do not even call 'home' anymore." About 4,000 people have either been deported or moved to other processing centres, according to DHS.

9-22-21 Aukus: Australia's big gamble on the US over China
By signing the Aukus pact last week, Australia revealed where it stands in the world: It is taking the side of the US over China. It's a definitive move for a country in the Asia-Pacific region, experts say. The security deal with the US (and the UK) gives Australia a huge defence upgrade from the world's most powerful military. But it's a gift with strings attached. And there is debate over whether such a decision - made without public consultation - will play out in Australia's national interests. As China has grown in power, it has begun to challenge US dominance in the Asia-Pacific region. China has built the world's largest navy and has become increasingly assertive over contested areas such as the South China Sea. Australia had long maintained it didn't have to choose between the two powers, but in recent years its attitude towards Beijing has hardened. China has been suspected of interfering in Australian politics and of cyber attacks on key institutions. Tensions were further inflamed last year when Australia called for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus. A flurry of Chinese sanctions against Australian exports followed. That was Australia's "a-ha" moment, says John Blaxland, an international security professor at the Australian National University. "What happened was the dawning realisation that all these things that had preceded weren't benign," he says. "We were talking about a country that had become surprisingly hostile." Australia realised it needed to improve its defences - and quickly. On that front, Aukus is a big coup for the country. The pact will give Australia access to nuclear-powered submarines and long-range missiles from US technology. This "super-enables an otherwise pedestrian middle-ranking military capability of little consequence beyond its border", says Prof Blaxland. In the event of conflict, Australia would also for the first time have the ability to strike adversaries from a distance.

9-21-21 House passes bill to avert government shutdown
The House voted along party lines on Tuesday night to fund the government until early December and suspend the federal debt limit through 2022. The bill now heads to the Senate, where some Republicans have already said they oppose the measure. The bill was passed with a vote of 220-211, and also provides disaster relief and aid for refugees. The end of the fiscal year is Sept. 30, and there won't be any funding for the government on Oct. 1 unless a measure is passed; under the package approved by the House, stopgap money will keep the government going through Dec. 3 and borrowing authority will be extended until the end of next year. Prior to the vote, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the country will "suffer greatly if we do not act now to stave off this unnecessary and preventable crisis." If borrowing limits are not waived or adjusted by the end of October, the U.S. risks defaulting on its debt load, and this "economic scenario is cataclysmic," Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody's Analytics, told The Associated Press.

9-21-21 J&J says booster shot provides 100 percent protection against severe COVID-19
New data indicates that a booster shot of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine provides 100 percent protection against severe COVID-19, the company announced Tuesday. Johnson & Johnson said that in a phase 3 trial, a booster shot of its vaccine given after two months provided 94 percent protection against symptomatic COVID-19 in the United States, and it also provided 100 percent protection against severe COVID-19 "at least 14 days post-final vaccination." Antibody levels "rose to four to six times higher than observed after the single shot," the company said. The booster shot provided 75 percent protection globally. "We now have generated evidence that a booster shot further increases protection against COVID-19 and is expected to extend the duration of protection significantly," Johnson & Johnson Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels said. Johnson & Johnson also said that when a booster was given six months after the first shot, there was a 12-fold increase in antibodies. The data suggests that "if you wait longer and have boost at six months or later then you likely will have better boost," Beth Israel Deaconess' Center for Virology and Vaccine Research head Dr. Dan Barouch explained to CNN. Johnson & Johnson said it has provided this data to the Food and Drug Administration. An FDA advisory panel recently met to consider whether to authorize a booster shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 to those over 16 in the United States, but they ultimately decided not to do so, instead recommending it for those over 65 or at high risk for severe COVID-19. The Biden administration had initially planned to administer COVID-19 booster shots to all adults beginning this week. Administration health officials said last month that "booster shots will likely be needed for people who received the Johnson & Johnson" vaccine, and they said they would "keep the public informed with a timely plan" for administering these boosters once there was more data available.

9-21-21 White House officials decry viral Border Patrol videos: 'This is not who we are'
Prominent White House officials took to the morning shows on Tuesday to further condemn the disturbing reports of horse-mounted U.S. Border Patrol agents chasing Haitian migrants in Texas. The Department of Homeland Security said Monday night it will be conducting a swift investigation into the matter, and that disciplinary action will be determined based on the investigation's findings. "One cannot weaponize a horse to aggressively attack a child. That is unacceptable," said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on CNN's New Day. "That is not what our policies and our training require." "We will not tolerate mistreatment, and we will address it with full force based on the facts that we learn," added Mayorkas. He noted that he was "horrified" and "profoundly" troubled by what he saw in the now-viral clips and images. Separately, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki appeared on CBS to decry the tactics she defined as "horrific." "This is not who we are," Psaki said. "That's not who the Biden-Harris administration is." On Monday, Psaki said during a press briefing that while she didn't have the full context for the videos, she "can't imagine what context would make that appropriate." "I don't think anyone seeing that footage would think it was acceptable or appropriate," she added.

9-21-21 DHS to investigate 'extremely troubling' video of horse-mounted border agents chasing Haitian migrants
The White House and Department of Homeland Security said Monday that videos of horse-mounted Border Patrol agents chasing Haitian migrants in Texas were disturbing and would be investigated. DHS "does not tolerate the abuse of migrants in our custody and we take these allegations very seriously," the department said in a statement Monday evening. "The footage is extremely troubling and the facts learned from the full investigation, which will be conducted swiftly, will define the appropriate disciplinary actions to be taken." The U.S. on Sunday began repatriating some of the more than 10,000 Haitian migrants amassed under an international bridge near Del Rio, Texas, flying them back to Haiti, though most of them traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border from Chile and elsewhere in South America. Video recorded Sunday shows horse-mounted Border Patrol agents rushing Haitian migrants along the Rio Grande, in some cases using obscenities while trying to force them to cross back to Mexico. Border Patrol chief Raul Ortiz said Monday he deployed horse-mounted agents in Del Rio to "find out if we had any individuals in distress, and be able to provide information and intelligence as to what the smuggling organizations were doing in and around the river." Speaking next to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in Del Rio, Ortiz said that contrary to reports, the agents did not have whips and appeared go be swinging their horses' reins while "trying to control" their animals, though he added that officials would "look into the matter to make sure that we do not have any activity that could be construed" as misconduct. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki took a harder line. "I've seen some of the footage, I don't have the full context. I can't imagine what context would make that appropriate," she said. "I don't think anyone seeing that footage would think it was acceptable or appropriate." Psaki added that she couldn't comment further without more information about what happened, it's clear from the "obviously horrific" footage that border agents "should never be able to do it again." Several congressional Democrats criticized U.S. Customs and Border Protection for apparently mistreating the Haitian migrants, and some migrant advocacy groups slammed the Biden administration for flying Haitians back to their chaotic and unsafe country. Prominent Republicans argue that Biden isn't doing enough to stop migrants at the border.

9-21-21 Migrants in Texas: US probes horseback charge on Haiti migrants
Images which appear to show border agents on horseback driving migrants back to a river like cattle have sparked an investigation in the US. The pictures widely shared on social media show the riders using their reins against the migrants and pushing them back towards the Rio Grande in Texas. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas says his department will investigate reports of alleged abuse. He said the officers were trying to manage the migrants crossing the river. Some 13,000 mainly Haitian migrants have gathered in a makeshift camp under a bridge connecting Del Rio to Mexico's Ciudad Acuña on the US-Mexico border. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the footage was horrible to watch. "I have seen some of the footage. I don't have the full context. I can't imagine what context would make that appropriate. But I don't have additional details and certainly I don't think anyone seeing that footage would think it was acceptable or appropriate." Some social media users said the pictures were reminiscent of the violence seen in slavery times in the US. The pictures taken by AFP photographer Paul Ratje show Haitians going back and forth across the border to get food for their families, and finding themselves blocked by the horses. "Some of the migrants started running to try to get around the horsemen, and one of the agents grabbed the Haitian in the picture by the shirt and he ended up swinging him around while the horse trotted in a circle," he said of a couple of particular photographs. Ratje says he does not think the man was hurt; shortly after that, he said they "kind of calmed down, and they started letting people in". US Border Patrol chief Raul Ortiz said the incident was being investigated to make sure there was not an "unacceptable" response by his officers, adding they operated in a difficult environment, trying to distinguish migrants from smugglers.

9-21-21 ISIS claims responsibility for string of deadly attacks in eastern Afghanistan
The Islamic State is stepping up its attacks in eastern Afghanistan, claiming responsibility for multiple recent roadside bombings that targeted Taliban fighters but left civilians dead as well. The bombings took place in Jalalabad, an ISIS stronghold, and purposely went after Taliban vehicles. On Sunday, eight people were killed in the blasts, including some Taliban militants, and dozens more injured. Additional explosions were heard in Jalalabad on Monday, and The Associated Press says there are unconfirmed reports that additional Taliban fighters were killed. After assuming control of Afghanistan in August, the Taliban told world leaders it would not let terrorist groups use the country as a base to plan overseas attacks. Before the U.S. finished its withdrawal last month, an ISIS attack at the Kabul airport killed 13 U.S. service members and 169 Afghan civilians. The Taliban and ISIS are rivals with different goals: While the Taliban wants to control Afghanistan with its strict interpretation of Islamic law, ISIS wants to have an Islamic empire across several countries. There are many more Taliban fighters in Afghanistan than ISIS militants, but research analyst Ibraheem Bahiss told AP these new attacks show ISIS is "making a very dramatic comeback. There could be a long-term struggle between the groups." Feda Mohammad's 18-year-old brother and 10-year-old cousin were killed in one of the Sunday blasts, and he told AP that after years of war, Afghans believed "that since the Taliban have come, peace will come. But there's no peace, no security. You can't hear anything except the news of bomb blasts killing this one or that."

9-21-21 Afghanistan: Fighting off hunger under the Taliban
Kabul is a city still waiting for its new life to take shape - a lot depends on the will and whims of its new Taliban masters. But it is hunger that could become the worst of Afghanistan's many crises. For the poor of the city, the majority, scraping together a few hundred Afghanis, a couple of dollars, to stave off starvation is the biggest challenge. Millions live in desperate poverty in a country that has received huge sums in foreign aid. The money left over that might help them, around $9bn in central bank reserves, is frozen by the Americans to keep it away from the Taliban. At dawn, hundreds of construction workers gather in one of Kabul's open-air markets with their tools looking for a day's work. Big building projects in the city have stopped. The banks are closed. The foreign money tap has been turned off. What is left amounts to a few drips. A handful of the construction workers get picked up for work. The rest are getting angry. One of the men, Hayat Khan, raged about the fortunes stolen by a corrupt elite in the last 20 years. "Wealthy people think about themselves, not the poor. I can't even buy bread. Believe me I cannot find a single dollar and the rest of the rich people put the aid dollars from the West in their pockets. "No-one cares for the poor people. When aid comes from outside, the people in power made sure it went to their relatives, not to the poor." Mohammed Anwar, lucky enough to have an office job, stopped to listen to my interviews with the building workers, and then chipped in, speaking English, accusing the Americans of theft. "In the name of Allah, we call on America to give us the money they have taken from the Afghan government. It must be used to rebuild Afghanistan." At that point a Taliban official, a forceful man with a bushy black beard intervened. He told us to leave the area, saying it was dangerous. I had not detected any sense of threat, but it was not the time and place to argue. He was shadowed by a Taliban bodyguard wearing wraparound sunglasses, in the US military style, and carrying a US-made assault rifle.

9-21-21 Canada election: Trudeau stays in power but Liberals fall short of majority
Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party has narrowly won Canada's election, but it failed to secure a majority of seats. This is Mr Trudeau's third federal election win, but his critics say the poll was a waste of time. The Liberals are projected to win 158 seats, short of the 170 seats needed for the majority Mr Trudeau was seeking with his early election call. The Conservatives have held onto their main opposition status and are expected to win about 122 seats. "There are still votes to be counted but what we've seen tonight is millions of Canadians have chosen a progressive plan," Mr Trudeau told supporters in Montreal in the early hours of Tuesday morning. "You elected a government that will fight for you and deliver for you," he said. The election, which took place during a fourth pandemic wave in Canada, was the most expensive in the country's history, costing some C$600m ($470m; £344m). The projected results suggest a parliament strikingly similar to the one elected just two years ago in 2019. The snap election call, sending Canadians to the polls for the second time in two years, was widely seen as a bid by Mr Trudeau to secure a majority government and he struggled to explain why a campaign was necessary. Conservative leader Erin O'Toole suggested it was a waste of time and money. "Canadians sent him back with another minority at a cost of $600m and deeper divisions in our great country", he told reporters. Mr Trudeau maintained that the election gave the incoming government a clear mandate in moving forward. But over the course of the campaign, he struggled to convince voters of the need for an election, which also coincided with rising Covid-19 case loads due to the Delta variant. Separately he was also heckled by anti-vaccine protesters on the campaign trail, with some shouting they would refuse the Covid jab.

9-21-21 World faces decisive decade - Biden
In his first address to the United Nations, US President Joe Biden has pledged cooperation with allies through "a decisive decade for our world". His reassurances come amid tensions with allies over the US' Afghanistan withdrawal and a major diplomatic row with France over a submarine deal. Mr Biden campaigned on returning America to a global leadership role, which he reaffirmed on Tuesday. "I believe we must work together like never before," said the president. The 76th General Assembly takes place against the backdrop of a climate crisis and a once-in-a-century pandemic, both of which have sharpened the divides globally. Mr Biden pushed for global cooperation on these fronts, saying: "Our own success is bound up in others succeeding as well."

9-21-21 Pfizer says its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and works well for kids ages 5–11
A lower dose prompted as many antibodies in kids as a full-dose did in teens and young adults. Elementary school–age children may soon be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German biotech company partner BioNTech reported September 20 that a low dose of their mRNA vaccine is safe for children. There are hints that the vaccine also protects against the coronavirus. The 10-microgram shots given to kids aged 5- to 11-years-old is a third of the dose given to people 12 and older. Yet after getting two shots 21 days apart, the younger kids produced levels of protective antibodies comparable to the levels made by 16- to 25-year-olds given two full doses. The companies, which shared the early results via a news release, did not report any data on protection against infection, hospitalization or death from the virus. That preliminary report is promising, says Debbie-Ann Shirley, a pediatric infectious diseases doctor at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and medical director of the COVID-19 clinic. Side effects from the vaccine were similar to those seen in older children with most being “brief, quickly resolved and mild.” Pfizer indicated that it will soon seek emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use of the vaccine in 5- to 11-year-olds. Both the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must still vet and sign off on use of the vaccine in kids. “We’re still a couple of steps away before we might be able to put it into the arms of children,” Shirley says. The news comes as cases of COVID-19 among children remain at their highest levels since the pandemic began, mostly driven by infections with delta variant. In the United States, nearly 226,000 children were diagnosed with the disease in the week ending September 16, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. While COVID-19 remains a mild disease for most who become infected, a total of 516 children have died of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, including 100 who died since August 4 (SN: 8/9/21).

9-21-21 Covid-19 news: Recorded US death toll reaches that of 1918-19 flu
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 number of recorded US covid-19 deaths is now level with the estimated toll of the 1918-19 flu pandemic. More than 675,000 people in the US have died from covid-19, putting the epidemic on a par with the pandemic influenza of 1918-19. Globally, the 1918-19 flu is thought to have killed 50 million people. So far, there have been more than 4.6 million deaths from covid-19 worldwide. The comparison between the impacts of covid-19 and the 1918-19 flu in the US reveals how deadly the virus still is in a country where just under 64 per cent of the population has received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and where an average of more than 1900 people are dying of covid-19 a day. However, it isn’t possible to make accurate parallels between the two pandemics, both worldwide and specifically in the US, as the flu’s death toll is based on less precise records and poorer scientific understanding. Similarly, covid-19 death tolls worldwide are only estimates, as limited testing means not every fatal case is detected and recorded. According to modelling by the University of Washington, a further 100,000 covid-19 deaths may occur in the US by the end of the year, raising the total death count to 776,000. UK prime minister Boris Johnson has declined to rule-out coronavirus-related restrictions this Christmas. Scotland’s emergency departments need an extra thousand beds for acute care, to relieve current pressure on accident and emergency units, according to doctors. India is to resume exporting coronavirus vaccine doses next month. The country is the world’s largest producer of vaccines, but halted exports in April when the domestic infection rate shot up.

9-20-21 COVID-19's estimated death toll surpasses the Spanish flu pandemic
In terms of raw numbers, the coronavirus pandemic is now believed to be the deadliest disease event in American history. More than 675,000 people have reportedly died of COVID-19 in the United States throughout the pandemic, which surpasses the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's estimate for the number of fatalities during the Spanish flu pandemic that began in 1918. Proportionally, though, the death toll from the Spanish flu was still greater, considering the U.S. population was much smaller back then. Either way, it's a grim milestone, and coronavirus deaths will continue to rise as the country deals with the more transmissible Delta variant. The Spanish flu became less deadly about two years after the initial outbreak, but it's unknown how the rest of the COVID-19 pandemic will play out, David Morens, a medical historian at the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Stat News.

9-20-21 Vaccine and mask mandates increasingly popular in Fox News poll, as pandemic concerns rise
Americans are increasingly worried about the COVID-19 pandemic and supportive of mask and vaccine requirements to slow the spread of the coronavirus, according to a Fox News poll released Sunday. A solid majority of respondents said they support requiring teachers and students to wear masks (67 percent), and a narrower 56 percent back requiring businesses with 100 or more employees to require their workers to be vaccinated or get tested weekly. Support for other mask and vaccine mandates fall between those two numbers. The poll also found that 54 percent of respondents favor cities and towns requiring proof of vaccination for indoor events and actives, up from 50 percent in August. That increasing acceptance of vaccine requirements is presumably tied to the 5 percentage point increase in people saying they are "extremely" or "very" concerned about the pandemic, to 74 percent from 69 percent in August. "The shift comes mainly from Republicans (+14) and men (+8)," Fox News notes. Two-thirds of parents said masks are effective and teachers and students should wear them, and 53 percent said teachers should be required to get vaccinated. President Biden's overall job approval rating fell to 50 percent in the poll, down from 53 percent in August. The respondents backed many of Biden's pandemic policies — the vaccine mandate for federal workers, for example, and support for requiring teachers and students to wear masks. And by a 56-39 margin, respondents supported a bill "that would allocate an additional $3.5 trillion toward infrastructure, including spending to address climate change, health care, and childcare," which describes the Biden-backed bill Democrats are trying to pass in Congress. But Afghanistan was a drag on his approval rating. The Fox News poll was conducted Sept. 12-15 under the joint direction of Beacon Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R), which surveyed 1,002 registered voters nationwide via landlines and cellphones. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is ±3 percentage points.

9-20-21 Pfizer and BioNTech say lower dose of COVID-19 vaccine proved safe, effective in kids 5 to 11
Pfizer and BioNTech said Monday morning that its COVID-19 vaccine was shown to be "safe, well-tolerated, and showed robust neutralizing antibody responses" in children 5 to 11. The 2,268 trial participants in that age group were given two smaller doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and the "results provide a strong foundation for seeking authorization of our vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old, and we plan to submit them to the FDA and other regulators with urgency," Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement. The Food and Drug Administration has given emergency approval of the vaccine for kids 12 to 15, and full approval to Americans 16 and older. "We are eager to extend the protection afforded by the vaccine to this younger population, subject to regulatory authorization, especially as we track the spread of the Delta variant and the substantial threat it poses to children," Bourla said. "Since July, pediatric cases of COVID-19 have risen by about 240 percent in the U.S. — underscoring the public health need for vaccination." Pfizer is conducting two other ongoing trials, of kids 2 to 5 and children 6 months to 2 years old, and the results for those studies could be in before the end of the year. Nearly 5.3 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 in the U.S., NBC News reports.

9-20-21 Xi may be moving China to economic system 'that doesn't exist anywhere in the world'
For a long time, analysts chalked Chinese President Xi Jinping's homages to Mao Zedong to "political stagecraft," but a Wall Street Journal examination of Xi's recent writings and speeches suggests they should be taking him much more seriously. It now appears Xi is "forcefully" trying to get China back to Mao's socialist vision, the Journal writes. It's a strategy that involves much more aggressive state interference in what could someday be the world's largest economy. That marks a change from the past forty years, during which China's leaders have allowed more room for market forces to operate, spurring the growth of the private sector. Xi, though, has increasingly shown himself to be more ideologically-driven than his predecessors, and his rhetoric over the last few years provides a look at his determination to target larger companies and redistribute wealth among the population. The Journal notes that Xi isn't trying to completely eradicate market forces (for instance, he reportedly wants to allow small-to-mid-size private business to continue to develop), but he wants the Chinese Communist Party to "steer flows of money" and curb the ability of entrepreneurs and investors to make profits to an even greater extent than it already does. "Xi does think he's moving to a new kind of system that doesn't exist anywhere in the world," Barry Naughton, a China economy expert at the University of California, San Diego, told the Journal. "I call it a government-steered economy." Read more at The Wall Street Journal.

9-20-21 Pfizer and BioNTech say lower dose of COVID-19 vaccine proved safe, effective in kids 5 to 11
Pfizer and BioNTech said Monday morning that its COVID-19 vaccine was shown to be "safe, well-tolerated, and showed robust neutralizing antibody responses" in children 5 to 11. The 2,268 trial participants in that age group were given two smaller doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and the "results provide a strong foundation for seeking authorization of our vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old, and we plan to submit them to the FDA and other regulators with urgency," Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement. The Food and Drug Administration has given emergency approval of the vaccine for kids 12 to 15, and full approval to Americans 16 and older. "We are eager to extend the protection afforded by the vaccine to this younger population, subject to regulatory authorization, especially as we track the spread of the Delta variant and the substantial threat it poses to children," Bourla said. "Since July, pediatric cases of COVID-19 have risen by about 240 percent in the U.S. — underscoring the public health need for vaccination." Pfizer is conducting two other ongoing trials, of kids 2 to 5 and children 6 months to 2 years old, and the results for those studies could be in before the end of the year. Nearly 5.3 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 in the U.S., NBC News reports.

9-20-21 Vaccine and mask mandates increasingly popular in Fox News poll, as pandemic concerns rise
Americans are increasingly worried about the COVID-19 pandemic and supportive of mask and vaccine requirements to slow the spread of the coronavirus, according to a Fox News poll released Sunday. A solid majority of respondents said they support requiring teachers and students to wear masks (67 percent), and a narrower 56 percent back requiring businesses with 100 or more employees to require their workers to be vaccinated or get tested weekly. Support for other mask and vaccine mandates fall between those two numbers. The poll also found that 54 percent of respondents favor cities and towns requiring proof of vaccination for indoor events and actives, up from 50 percent in August. That increasing acceptance of vaccine requirements is presumably tied to the 5 percentage point increase in people saying they are "extremely" or "very" concerned about the pandemic, to 74 percent from 69 percent in August. "The shift comes mainly from Republicans (+14) and men (+8)," Fox News notes. Two-thirds of parents said masks are effective and teachers and students should wear them, and 53 percent said teachers should be required to get vaccinated. President Biden's overall job approval rating fell to 50 percent in the poll, down from 53 percent in August. The respondents backed many of Biden's pandemic policies — the vaccine mandate for federal workers, for example, and support for requiring teachers and students to wear masks. And by a 56-39 margin, respondents supported a bill "that would allocate an additional $3.5 trillion toward infrastructure, including spending to address climate change, health care, and childcare," which describes the Biden-backed bill Democrats are trying to pass in Congress. But Afghanistan was a drag on his approval rating. The Fox News poll was conducted Sept. 12-15 under the joint direction of Beacon Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R), which surveyed 1,002 registered voters nationwide via landlines and cellphones. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is ±3 percentage points.

9-20-21 Biden lifts travel ban for vaccinated foreign nationals
The Biden administration on Monday announced the easing of pandemic-related travel restrictions — which have been in place since March 2020 when former President Donald Trump was still in office — for foreign nationals. The Financial Times was the first to report that the United States will soon be open again for some travelers from the United Kingdom and the European Union. Starting in November, people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including those enrolled in clinical trials for vaccines that have not yet been approved, will reportedly be able make a trip to the U.S. They'll also have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within three days before their departure and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will require airlines to collect information on passengers to help with contact tracing, but there will be no quarantine requirement. Previously, only American citiziens, their immediate family members, green card holders, and those with national interest exemptions were allowed into the country, and rules varied from country to country. "This is based on individuals rather than a country based approach, so it's a stronger system," White House COVID-19 coordinatory Jeff Zients said of the new policy.

9-20-21 Aukus: France pulls out of UK defence talks amid row
France's defence minister has cancelled talks with her UK counterpart amid the row prompted by a new security deal between Britain, the US and Australia. Paris is angry after Australia signed the Aukus pact to build nuclear-powered submarines, pulling out of a major contract with France in the process. UK PM Boris Johnson said France had nothing to worry about from the deal. But Florence Parly's meeting with UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace in London this week has been called off. Lord Ricketts, a former British ambassador to France who was due to co-chair the two days of talks, confirmed the meeting had been "postponed to a later date". Foreign Office minister James Cleverly told BBC Breakfast that "all bilateral relationships go through periods of tension", but added: "I have absolutely no doubt that ultimately our relationship with France will endure." He said the pact with Australia and the US was intended to "strengthen and deepen" the relationship with two long-standing defence partners and to support high-tech manufacturing and technology companies across the UK. The Aukus agreement brokered last week, widely seen as an effort to counter China's influence in the contested South China Sea, ended a deal worth $37bn (£27bn) signed by Australia in 2016 for France to build 12 conventional submarines. French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has described it as a "stab in the back" that constitutes "unacceptable behaviour between allies and partners". And in a rare step among allies, French President Emmanuel Macron ordered the recall of the French ambassadors to Washington and Canberra. The European Union has said it was "analysing" the impact of the Aukus agreement on its trade negotiations with Australia, which are due to resume in October. BBC Brussels correspondent Jessica Parker said it appeared the EU had hardened up its position over the weekend, as the extent of France's anger became clear.

9-20-21 Canada election: What you need to know about the campaign
Canadians are going to the polls on Monday to vote in an early general election. Can Prime Minister Justin Trudeau manage to win his sought-after majority? For the second time in two years, Canadians are voting in a federal election. Mr Trudeau launched the campaign mid-August, two years ahead of schedule as he seeks a third term in office. The campaign was a five-week sprint as all the party leaders made their pitches to voters, whose turn it is now to cast their ballots. Here is what you need to know about the campaign. Mr Trudeau said the election was necessary because it was a "pivotal moment" for the country to choose the next steps in the pandemic recovery. Over the summer, opinion polls also indicated his Liberals were in a good position to win a majority of seats in the House of Commons. The last time Canadians voted federally, in October 2019, the Liberals only had a narrow election win. Mr Trudeau, the 49-year-old leader of the centre-left party, formed government with a minority, meaning he had to rely on opposition parties to help him pass his legislative agenda. Soon after Mr Trudeau's August election call, support for the Liberals began to fall even as the fortunes of the Conservatives, the main opposition party, rose. New Conservative leader Erin O'Toole is running in his first federal campaign at the helm of the centre-right party. He begins the race as an unknown to many Canadians, but his pitch to moderate voters helped him gain traction. A few factors were an early drag on the Liberals' popularity. Canadians questioned the need for an election as the pandemic engulfed the country once more. Old political scandals also dogged Mr Trudeau on the campaign trail. From early September the two parties have been locked in a statistical tie for first place, each at about 30% support in national polls, indicating another minority government is likely. That means each party's ability to get their voters to the polls will be a crucial factor in the final results.

9-20-21 Migrants in Texas: US flies Haitian migrants back home from border
The United States has started flying migrants out of a Texas border town that has seen an influx of mostly Haitian migrants over the past week. Three flights landed at Haiti's Port-au-Prince airport on Sunday, each carrying 145 people, the Associated Press (AP) reports. About 13,000 would-be immigrants have gathered under a bridge connecting Del Rio in Texas to Mexico's Ciudad Acuña. They have been waiting in a makeshift camp in temperatures of 37C (99F). An emergency US public health order known as Title 42 allows authorities to expel most migrants before they can claim asylum. Local officials have struggled to provide those in Del Rio with food and adequate sanitation. Tom Cartwright, of the advocacy group Witness at the Border, who tracks US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) flights, told Reuters three flights left Texas - one from Laredo and two from San Antonio - on Sunday carrying Haitians back to Haiti. Border Patrol Chief Raul L Ortiz said 3,300 migrants had been moved from the camp to planes or detention centres. "Over the next six to seven days, our goal is to process the 12,662 migrants that we have underneath that bridge as quickly as we possibly can," he told a news conference on Sunday. He said the US was working with the migrants' home nations or countries they had travelled through, to get them to accept their return. While most of those at the camp are Haitians, there are also Cubans, Peruvians, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans present. Many Haitians left the country after a devastating earthquake in 2010, and a large number of those in the camp had been living in Brazil or other South American countries and travelled north after being unable to secure jobs or legal status. This year has brought further hardship for the impoverished island. In July, Haiti's president was assassinated - and in August it suffered another deadly earthquake. Some of those sent home said they planned to leave Haiti again as soon as possible.

9-19-21 Senate parliamentarian rules against including immigration measure in budget bill
Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled on Sunday that it is "not appropriate" for Democrats to include an immigration reform effort in their budget bill. Democrats had been wanting to include a pathway to citizenship for 8 million people in a reconciliation bill, which only needs a simple majority to pass the Senate; they argued that making millions of people citizens would have a major, positive impact on the economy. The Senate parliamentarian is nonpartisan and rules on technical issues, and MacDonough wrote that she found such a "tremendous and enduring policy change ... dwarfs its budgetary impact." MacDonough, who came to her decision after speaking with Democratic and Republican lawmakers, added that this would also "set a precedent that could be used to argue that rescinding any immigration status from anyone — not just those who obtain (legal permanent resident) status by virtue of this provision — would be permissible because the policy of stripping status from any immigrant does not vastly outweigh whatever budgetary impact there might be." In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Democrats are "deeply disappointed," but the "fight to provide lawful status for immigrants in budget reconciliation continues. Senate Democrats have prepared alternate proposals and will be holding additional meetings with the Senate parliamentarian in the coming days."

9-19-21 Largest evacuation flight since Aug. 31 takes off from Kabul
A chartered Qatar Airways flight carrying more than 230 passengers, including Afghan and American citizens, took off from Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport on Sunday and is headed to Doha. Qatari Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah Al-Khater first announced the departure, and CBS News' Ahmad Mukhtar confirmed the news. The flight is significant because it's the largest of its kind since the United States completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan on Aug. 31, leaving many concerned whether remaining Afghans and foreigners who were trying to leave the country could still get out with the Taliban in control. There have been reports of the group holding planes outside of Kabul. Another Qatari official told Reuters the country "will continue its collaboration with international partners on efforts that ensure freedom of movement in Afghanistan."

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: It'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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