10-24-21 Former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan defends withdrawal deal he negotiated with Taliban
In his first interview since stepping down from his post as U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad defended the withdrawal deal he had negotiated with the Taliban, but told CBS Face The Nation's Margaret Brennan he "objected to the direction of the Biden administration's current Afghanistan policy," writes CBS News. "One reason I left the government is that the debate wasn't really as it should be based on realities and facts of what happened, what was going on and what our alternatives were," said Khalilzad to Brennan in the interview that appears to be airing over several days. The chief Taliban negotiator did not directly criticize President Biden, but he emphasized that the withdrawal agreement "was meant to be 'conditions-based' rather than driven by a calendar date," per CBS News. The Biden administration has argued its withdrawal plans were bound by an agreement negotiated under former President Donald Trump in February of 2020. "I was asked by the former president to negotiate our withdrawal from Afghanistan and get commitments from the Taliban (on) the terrorism front," Khalilzad explained, as reason for his resignation. "That has been achieved." "I'm not saying it was an orderly withdrawal," Khalilzad acknowledged. "This was an ugly and final phase. No doubt about it could have been a lot worse." And in the case of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who fled Kabul as the Taliban took over, the diplomat conceded "we could have pressed President Ghani harder." Khalilzad also assured the public that "a set of agreements," some of them unreleased, had been made with the Taliban regarding how they will handle terrorism. "We hold them accountable to those agreements," he said. "The American people should be pleased," Khalilzad argued. "Not with the way the final phase happened — we all are unhappy with that — but that the Afghan war is over for the United States."
10-24-21 German far-right group attempt to block migrants
German police have stopped armed members of an extremist right-wing group from blocking migrants crossing the Polish border. More than 50 far-right vigilantes were armed with pepper spray, a bayonet, a machete and batons, police said. The group is believed to support the Third Way, a far-right party with suspected links to neo-Nazi groups. The party has called on its members to take action against border crossings, which have increased since August. Police seized weapons and made the group leave the area near the town of Guben on Saturday night and early on Sunday, a spokesperson said. A counter-demonstration was held in opposition to the far-right patrols. "We don't want to leave the region to the neo-Nazis. We want to set an example that asylum is and will remain a human right," the organisers of the vigil told the news site Der Spiegel. Germany has deployed an extra 800 police officers to the Polish border in an effort to control the number of migrants attempting to enter the EU from Belarus, the interior minister was quoted as saying on Sunday. "Hundreds of officers are currently on duty there day and night. If necessary, I am prepared to reinforce them even further," Horst Seehofer told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper. There have been more than 6,000 unauthorised entries into Germany from Belarus and Poland this year, he said. There are no plans to shut the border with Poland, he said, but added that controls may need to be reintroduced.
10-23-21 Howard University students protest 'unlivable' housing conditions by sleeping in tents
Dozens of students at Howard University are sleeping in tents on campus grounds, saying they are putting their health at risk if they remain inside "unlivable" residence halls. Students at the historically Black university said the dorms have mold, insect and rodent infestations, and leaky ceilings, and often experience flooding. Freshman Lamiya Murray told ABC News that earlier this year, she had a respiratory infection, and she believes it was caused by mold in her room. "I expect decent housing," she said. "I expect to be in a space where I will feel safe and secure, but the dorms became a health hazard. I was waking up every morning with a cough that I didn't go to sleep with the night before, and struggling to breathe at night." On Oct. 12, student demonstrators took control of the Blackburn University Center as part of their protest over housing conditions, and draped a banner across the sidewalk that reads "Enough is enough." Howard University's student affairs division warned the students that they will go through a student conduct hearing and "face consequences up to and including expulsion from the university," ABC News reports. The administration said that students affected by mold have been placed in temporary housing, and the university is working to take care of the problem. Vice President for Student Affairs Cynthia Evers said in an email to students obtained by ABC News that "long, hot, wet summers, record-high temperatures, and humidity are environmental factors that create the climactic conditions that foster mold growth. We have listened to our students' concerns, and we have been responsive.
10-23-21 Erdogan orders removal of 10 ambassadors from Turkey, including U.S. envoy
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday said he ordered the country's foreign minister to declare 10 Western ambassadors "persona non grata at once," after they signed a joint statement earlier this week calling for the "urgent release" of philanthropist Osman Kavala from prison. Kavala was charged with financing protests in Turkey in 2013 and being involved in a failed 2016 coup, both allegations that he denies. He has been in prison since 2017, and while he was acquitted in 2020 of charges related to the protests, that ruling was overturned earlier this year. On Monday, the ambassadors to Turkey representing Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand, and the United States signed a joint statement asking for a "just and speedy" resolution to Kavala's case, as well as his "urgent release" from prison. Turkey's foreign ministry summoned the ambassadors and told them this statement was irresponsible, Reuters reports. During a speech in northwest Turkey on Saturday, Erdogan announced he "gave the necessary order to our foreign minister and said what must be done: These 10 ambassadors must be declared persona non grata at once. You will sort it out immediately. They will know and understand Turkey. The day they do not know and understand Turkey, they will leave." The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
10-23-21 Giving notice
Why Americans are quitting their jobs in droves. When a plague recedes like a spent tsunami, it reveals a world forever altered. Outbreaks of infectious disease — the bubonic plague, smallpox, cholera, the Spanish flu, AIDS — have been pivot points in human history. Plagues fueled the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire. They eroded feudalism and gave rise to capitalism and the middle class. They devastated indigenous people in the Americas and paved the way for European colonization. We have just begun to see the first glimpses of how COVID-19 will reshape our society, but it's already clear that work will never be quite the same. We're in the midst of "the Great Resignation," with more than 12 million Americans quitting their jobs in the last three months alone. Given a pause during the pandemic to re-evaluate what matters to them, and vivid reminders that life is fragile and uncertain, blue- and white-collar workers of all kinds have decided to fire up that old Johnny Paycheck song: "Take This Job and Shove It." I've gotten a paycheck every week for 40 years, and am a firm believer in "the dignity of work." But for work to provide dignity, people doing it need to be treated with decency and respect, not as cheap, replaceable cogs in a vast, soulless machine. Technology, globalization, and mammoth corporations have created an economy that depends on millions of worker bees doing tedious labor with lousy pay and benefits, long hours, and little or no autonomy or security. With so many burned-out Americans just saying "no," even after enhanced unemployment benefits came to an end, there is palpable panic in businesses large and small. Get back to work, you shiftless moochers! Um, please? People do need money, of course, so those who've quit dehumanizing gigs will need to figure out a Plan B. If they succeed, and if employers are forced to treat workers like human beings, the COVID plague will leave at least one positive legacy.
10-22-21 Pfizer's vaccine is over 90 percent effective against symptomatic COVID-19 in kids
Pfizer's vaccine was found to be more than 90 percent effective against symptomatic COVID-19 in children between the ages of 5 and 11, the company says. Pfizer and BioNTech released the new data on Friday from a trial that included about 2,000 children after previously seeking FDA emergency authorization to administer its COVID-19 vaccine to kids, CNN reports. The company said the vaccine was shown to be safe and 90.7 percent effective against symptomatic COVID-19 in children aged 5 to 11. The Pfizer vaccine is fully approved for those 16 and older and has also been authorized for those between 12 and 15. Previously, Pfizer said its vaccine was found to be "safe, well-tolerated, and showed robust neutralizing antibody responses" in children 5 to 11 in a trial. FDA advisers are set to meet next week to consider whether to recommend authorizing the vaccine for younger kids, according to The New York Times. The White House has said this vaccine could potentially be available for kids by Thanksgiving, and it unveiled a plan to distribute the vaccine after its approval earlier this week. Policy adviser Sonya Bernstein told The New York Times the Biden administration is aiming for a "kid-friendly experience that makes sure that we're getting shots in arms with trusted providers in ways that makes parents feel comfortable."
10-23-21 Record high migrant detentions at US-Mexico border
The US says more than 1.7 million migrants were detained along its border with Mexico in the past 12 months - the highest number ever recorded. More than one million of them were expelled to Mexico or their native countries, according to data from US Customs and Border Protection. Agents apprehended people from more than 160 countries. President Joe Biden's popularity in opinion polls has been sinking, partly as a result of his immigration policy. Just 35% of Americans said they approved of his handling of the issue, in an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey earlier this month. Mr Biden promised a more humane immigration policy than his predecessor Donald Trump, but the US-Mexico border has been engulfed in crisis for much of the Democrat's nine-month-old presidency. The detention numbers for the 2021 fiscal year, which ended in September, are the highest since 2000. That year, more than 1.6 million migrants were held at the US-Mexico border. But the number has not reached 1.7 million since US authorities first began tracking such entries in the 1960s. "The large number of expulsions during the pandemic has contributed to a larger-than-usual number of migrants making multiple border crossing attempts," the US Customs and Border Protection said. Those trying to enter the US illegally were mainly from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Of all those detained, the biggest category were adults travelling without children - more than 1.1 million (or 64%). At the same time, the US authorities said they encountered more than 145,000 unaccompanied children - a record number. Almost 11,000 of those children remained in government custody on Friday. A BBC investigation of the Fort Bliss detention centre in Texas earlier this year found reports of sexual abuse, Covid and lice outbreaks, hungry children being served undercooked meat and sandstorms engulfing the desert tent camps where the young people were being held.
10-22-21 Steve Bannon: House votes for ex-Trump aide to face contempt charge
The US House of Representatives has voted to hold ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress, opening him up to a potential prosecution. Mr Bannon had defied a summons from a congressional panel investigating the 6 January riot at the US Capitol. The House select committee voted to hold him in contempt on Tuesday, before passing the matter to the full chamber. Thursday's vote largely fell along party lines, with 229 voting in favour compared to 202 against the move. Only nine Republicans in the Democratic-controlled chamber voted to hold Mr Bannon in contempt. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is now expected to certify the vote before it is referred to the US Department of Justice, which has the final say on charges. A committee investigating the riot has been chasing testimony from Mr Bannon about his communications with Mr Trump before the invasion of the Capitol, as well as any knowledge he may have had of plans to overturn the results of the November 2020 election. Supporters of Mr Trump stormed the Capitol building and disrupted certification of President Joe Biden's electoral victory. More than 670 people have been arrested. As Thursday's vote began, Representative Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the 6 January committee, said Mr Bannon was believed to have "valuable" information about the riot. "What sort of precedent would it set for the House of Representatives if we allow a witness to ignore us flat out without facing any kind of consequences?" said the Mississippi Democrat. Indiana Republican Jim Banks took to the floor of the House to slam the "illicit criminal investigation into American citizens" and said Mr Bannon had become a "boogeyman" for the Democratic party. US Attorney General Merrick Garland, who leads the justice department, testified earlier on Thursday to Congress about the likelihood of criminal charges for Mr Bannon. Mr Garland said that the department will "apply the facts and the law and make a decision, consistent with the principles of prosecution".
10-22-21 Justice Department reportedly added 2 top prosecutors to the Matt Gaetz sex trafficking case
After weeks of brutal headlines in the spring about a Justice Department sex trafficking investigation, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has been keeping a pretty low profile recently, with fewer campaign events and zero appearances on Fox News — and his fundraising has withered with the faded spotlight, The Daily Beast reported Thursday. In the most recent quarter, from July through September, Gaetz reported raising just under $500,000 and spending $613,000. In the previous two quarters, Gaetz raised $1.8 million and $1.3 million respectively. But while news coverage of the investigation has waned, the investigation has apparently been humming along. Gaetz's former "wingman," Joel Greenberg, got a judge on Monday to delay his sentencing on sex trafficking and other charges to March, from November, because prosecutors said he is continuing to provide valuable assistance in their broader investigation. Greenberg pleaded guilty in May to sex-trafficking the same 17-year-old girl he says he saw Gaetz have sex with, among other charges. The Justice Department has also added two top prosecutors to the Gaetz investigation, The New York Times and ABC News reported Thursday, each citing two sources familiar with the matter. "The prosecutors — one a public corruption investigator with an expertise in child exploitation crimes, and the other a top leader of the public corruption unit — have been working on the Florida-based investigation for at least three months," the Times reports. "It is not unusual for prosecutors from the Justice Department in Washington to be added to local teams of federal investigators in high-profile cases that require a deep and specific expertise like sex crimes." A Gaetz spokesman told ABC News that "Gaetz is innocent," and "no number of political operative prosecutors at a politically weaponized DOJ will change this." The investigation started last August, at the tail end of the Trump administration.
10-22-21 Supply chain problems from ships to shelves, by the numbers
"The pandemic is haunting the global supply chain and, by extension, shoppers," two months before what's expected to be a big holiday shopping season, The Washington Post reports. Container ships are clogging ports, shipping costs are rising, and there's a dearth of truck drivers and warehouse workers. So things may get a little rough for shoppers, retailers, and the chain of companies that move goods from factories to ships to shelves, but there are big winners, too. Here's a look at some illustrative numbers: https://theweek.com/business-news/1006310/supply-chain-problems-from-ships-to-shelves-by-the-numbers
10-22-21 Judges are 'overwhelmingly' upholding COVID-19 vaccine mandates in many states
Despite legal challenges from "a range of people" — including nurses, firefighters, and students — judges have "overwhelmingly upheld" many state orders requiring health care workers, public employees, and government contractors to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or risk termination, The Wall Street Journal reports. The exceptions to the mostly-failed challenges are limited, typically involving religious objectors. "What we're seeing are courts finding that mandates are lawful and constitutional," said Jennifer Piatt, a deputy director with the Network for Public Health Law. Over 20 states and "dozens of cities" have implemented vaccine mandates as a way of controlling COVID — and in at least 17 lawsuits, notes the Journal, "judges appointed by both Democrats and Republicans have refused to block" the requirements. Courts in Maine, Massachusetts, and Oregon, for example, have rejected attempts to stop governors' inoculation mandates. In one Oregon case, U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon wrote in his opinion that while "certain plaintiffs face a difficult decision in having to take a vaccine they do not wish to take or find a new job, possibly in another state," their concerns are outweighed by "the state's interest in public health and welfare," per the Journal. What is, however, "less settled is the authority of the federal government to set vaccine rules in the private sector," adds the Journal. The Biden administration is in the process of finalizing emergency workplace regulations that would require large companies to implement a mandate. It is "also unclear" how religious objections will play into the leeway states have, considering courts have been quicker during the pandemic to block measures understood to violate freedom of religion under the First Amendment. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.
10-22-21 Biden says US will defend Taiwan if China attacks
President Joe Biden said the US would defend Taiwan if China attacked, in an apparent departure from a long-held US foreign policy position. But a White House spokesman later told some US media outlets that his remarks did not signify a change in policy. The US has a law which requires it to help Taiwan defend itself. But it pursues a policy of "strategic ambiguity," where it is deliberately vague about what it would actually do if China were to attack Taiwan. China has yet to respond to Mr Biden's comments. At a CNN town hall event, a participant referred to recent reports that China had tested a hypersonic missile. He asked Mr Biden if he could "vow to protect Taiwan", and what he would do to keep up with China's military development. Mr Biden responded: "Yes and yes." He added there was no need to "worry about whether they're going to be more powerful", because "China, Russia and the rest of the world knows we're the most powerful military in the history of the world". He was then queried a second time by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper if the US would come to Taiwan's defence in the event of an attack by China. Mr Biden replied: "Yes, we have a commitment to do that." A White House spokesperson later appeared to walk back Mr Biden's comments, telling US media outlets that the US was "not announcing any change in our policy and there is no change in our policy". This is not the first time this has happened. In August, Mr Biden appeared to suggest the same stance on Taiwan in an interview with ABC News. The White House had also said then that US policy on Taiwan had not changed. The US has no official diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but sells arms to it as part of its Taiwan Relations Act, which states that the US must provide the island with the means to defend itself. It has formal ties with China, and also diplomatically acknowledges China's position that there is only one Chinese government.
10-22-21 The 'Trump app' will be the insurrection on steroids
The truth about TRUTH. It seems fitting that former President Donald Trump is launching a new social media venture with a name that amounts to a troll of his political opponents. "TRUTH Social" — get it? The man who emits more lies per minute than anyone in American public life has chosen "truth" for the name of his alternative to Twitter and Facebook, and he's put the word in all-caps (at least in his press release announcing the venture) for a little extra zing. If this platform actually materializes — a big "if," given Trump's history as a con man full of bluster about business propositions that ultimately come to nothing — it will be a very big deal. First of all, because it would give Trump a way to circumvent the cordon sanitaire Twitter and Facebook have erected around him since the Jan. 6 insurrection. Once again, the former president would have a highly effective way to communicate directly to his supporters and receive obsessive coverage from mainstream media outlets on a daily or hourly basis. But even more significantly, the Trump app would bring us one step closer to the scariest 2024 scenario anyone has proposed. That's a series of events in which a narrow Trump loss that year is followed not just by a re-enactment of the Capitol riot, but by copycat protests around Washington, D.C., and in state capitals around the country as votes are being counted and results certified, with Trump himself (or trusted and more reliable members of his entourage) directing the movements of those protesters in real time through the app everyone involved will have on their smart phones. That would represent a big new step in the direction of full-on political disaster. The media venture itself appears to be real, backed by investment money that will allow Trump to form a company called the Trump Media and Technology Group, with the social media platform (modeled on Twitter) one of its arms. The money to found the company is supposedly coming from a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) called Digital World Acquisitions. As The New York Times notes, SPACs "are an increasingly popular type of investment vehicle that sells shares to the public with the intention of using the proceeds to buy private businesses." Digital World was incorporated shortly after Trump's loss in the 2020 election. Its chief executive, Patrick Orlando, is a former derivatives trader at Deutsche Bank, the only mainstream financial institution willing to do business with Trump in recent years. Digital World held an initial public offering on the Nasdaq stock exchange in September, raising about $283 million, with several major hedge funds buying shares. That's where the money is coming from for the launch of Trump's venture. The plan, at the moment, begins with a pre-sale of the app through Apple's App Store. (It is already available there.) The app will be open to invitees in November, with the full social media platform launching and opening to the public next year. All of this could easily come to nothing, or merely sputter and fail, as so many Trump ventures have done down through the decades. The man has proven himself a master of precisely one aspect of business, which is branding, often with little substance behind the hype. That could certainly turn out to be the case here.
10-22-21 Brian Laundrie: Remains of Gabby Petito's fiancé found - FBI
Human remains found in a Florida park on Wednesday are those of Brian Laundrie, the fiancé of murdered blogger Gabby Petito, the FBI says. The body of Mr Laundrie, who had been missing for over a month, was identified using dental records. Mr Laundrie, who was a person of interest in Gabby Petito's death, returned to Florida last month from a joint road trip without his partner. Her body was later found in Wyoming, where the couple had been travelling. "On October 21, 2021, a comparison of dental records confirmed that the human remains found at the T Mabry Carlton Jr Memorial Reserve and Myakkahatchee Creed Environmental Park are those of Brian Laundrie," the FBI said in a statement on Thursday. A lawyer representing Mr Laundrie's parents released a statement, saying: "Chris and Roberta Laundrie have been informed that the remains found yesterday in the reserve are indeed Brian's. "We have no further comment at this time and we ask that you respect the Laundries' privacy at this time." On Wednesday, officials said that the remains had been discovered in a part of the park that until recently had been underwater. Other items, including a backpack and notebook belonging to Brian, were also found during the search. According to NBC News, bones and a skull were discovered during the search. In a short news conference on Thursday, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno praised officials for working under "treacherous conditions" in the park. He described the chest-deep water as being filled with rattlesnakes and alligators. "It's not like you're searching a house or a car. These areas are huge and they are covered by water," he told reporters gathered outside the closed park. The case of Ms Petito, 22, and Mr Laundrie, 23, sparked nationwide media attention. The couple had spent their summer on a road trip through national parks, documenting their nomadic "van life" trip on social media. Ms Petito's parents reported her missing on 11 September after they were unable to contact her since the end of August.
10-21-21 FBI: Remains found in Florida nature reserve identified as Brian Laundrie
Skeletal remains found in Florida's Carlton Reserve on Wednesday are those of Brian Laundrie, the FBI's Denver office confirmed on Thursday. Dental records were used to make the identification. Laundrie, 23, had been missing since mid-September. Laundrie and his fiancée Gabby Petito, 22, went on a road trip during the summer, and when Laundrie returned to his family's Florida home in early September without Petito, her parents reported her missing. Laundrie refused to speak with law enforcement officials, then vanished after telling his family he was going to hike in the nature reserve. Petito's body was discovered in Wyoming on Sept. 19, with her death ruled a homicide. Laundrie was a person of interest in the case, but was not charged with Petito's death. The FBI said Laundrie's backpack and notebook were found near his remains. Law enforcement officials looking for Laundrie in the nature reserve had to make their way through difficult conditions, wading through water filled with alligators and snakes, CNN reports. "You're searching in areas that you just can't walk up and look," Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said. "It's not like you're searching a house or a car. These areas are huge and they're covered by water."
10-21-21 Gun violence rose 30 per cent in the US during the covid-19 pandemic
Gun violence rose by 31 per cent in the US during the first 13 months of the covid-19 pandemic, though it is unclear why. “We know gun violence has been rising in the US, but this was a significant leap from previous years,” says Paddy Ssentongo at Pennsylvania State University. “I was surprised by how stark the results were.” He and his colleagues compared rates of gun violence across each US state for the first 13 months of the pandemic – 1 March 2020 to 31 March 2021 – with the 13 months prior to the start of the pandemic – 31 January 2019 to 29 February 2020. The team used data from the not-for-profit Gun Violence Archive, which collects police records on both injuries and deaths caused by guns. For example, the number of injuries from guns in the US between 2018 and 2019 rose by 7 per cent, from 28,000 to 30,000. But during the covid-19 pandemic, the researchers found a 33 per cent rise in gun injuries, with numbers rising from 32,348 in the pre-pandemic period they analysed to 43,288 in first 13 months of the pandemic. The team also found that 28 states had a particularly significant rise in gun violence during the pandemic, including Iowa, Vermont and North Dakota. Minnesota saw the highest jump with a 120 per cent rise. Overall, the team found that there were 21,504 deaths in the US involving the use of guns during the pandemic, a 29 per cent increase on the 16,687 deaths in the 13 months before the pandemic. Looking at both gun injuries and deaths in total – the team saw a 31.2 per cent rise in incidents during the pandemic. The only state that saw a significant drop in gun violence during the pandemic was Alaska, where there was a 33 per cent drop. “The important thing to note here is that these percentage changes don’t tell you about how much violence these states had in the first place,” says Ssentongo. “For example, Alaska already had pretty low levels of gun violence,” so the number of cases of gun violence hasn’t dropped as much as other states.
10-21-21 CDC approves Moderna and J&J boosters, plus mixing shots
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday gave final approval for certain people to receive booster doses of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines. The agency also approved the option of mixing and matching, so people can receive a booster from a different manufacturer than their initial dose. Those who are eligible for the Moderna booster — including people 65 and older, nursing home residents, and those 50 and up who are at severe risk if they become infected by COVID-19 — and all Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients can sign up for boosters starting Friday. For Moderna, recipients can get a half-dose booster six months after being fully vaccinated, while those who got the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine can get a booster at least two months later. "These past 20 months have taught us many things, but mostly to have humility," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said. "We are constantly learning about this virus, growing the evidence base and accumulating more data." On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration authorized booster doses of the vaccines, followed by a CDC advisory panel earlier Thursday, leaving Walensky to make the final call on Thursday night.
10-21-21 Covid-19 news: Pfizer trial finds booster vaccine over 95% effective
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. Pfizer/BioNTech booster jab found highly effective in clinical trial. A booster shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine was found to be 95.6 per cent effective against covid-19 in a randomised trial, the two companies have announced. The trial involved more than 10,000 people who had received two doses of the vaccine in earlier clinical trials. The median age of the group was 53 and the median time between the second and third doses was 11 months. All were randomly assigned to get a booster shot or a placebo. There were five cases of covid-19 in the group that got the extra vaccine, and 109 cases in the placebo group. The findings have not yet been peer-reviewed. Yesterday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave its backing for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines to be given as booster shots in the US, having already recommended Pfizer/BioNTech boosters last month. The new advice allows people to “mix and match” by getting a different vaccine for the booster to their original vaccine. UK prime minister Boris Johnson has rejected calls to reimpose covid-19 measures as the number of daily cases passed 50,000 for the first time since mid July. “The numbers of infections are high but we are within the parameters of what the predictions were, what Spi-M [a modelling group] and the others said we would be at this stage given the steps we are taking. We are sticking with our plan,” he said in a televised statement. Restrictions on movement have been introduced in some parts of China in response to a new outbreak of covid-19. The country reported 28 new locally transmitted cases on Thursday. Tourist attractions have been closed and some long-distance bus and rail services suspended in the Gansu and Ningxia regions of northwestern China, Reuters reports. In areas of the Changping district of Beijing deemed high-risk, people were banned from leaving residential compounds, school classes were suspended and businesses were ordered to close.
10-21-21 Covid: WHO warns pandemic will drag on deep into 2022
The Covid pandemic will "go on for a year longer than it needs to" because poorer countries are not getting the vaccines they need, the World Health Organization (WHO) says. Dr Bruce Aylward, senior leader at the WHO, said it meant the Covid crisis could "easily drag on deep into 2022". Less than 5% of Africa's population have been vaccinated, compared to 40% on most other continents. The UK has delivered more than 10 million vaccines to countries in need. It has pledged a total of 100 million. The original idea behind Covax was that all countries would be able to acquire vaccines from its pool, including wealthy ones. But most G7 countries decided to hold back once they started making their own one-to-one deals with pharmaceutical companies. The vast majority of Covid vaccines overall have been used in high-income or upper middle-income countries. Africa accounts for just 2.6% of doses administered globally. The group of charities, which includes Oxfam and UNAids, also criticised Canada and the UK for procuring vaccines for their own populations via Covax, the UN-backed global programme to distribute vaccines fairly. Official figures show that earlier this year the UK received 539,370 Pfizer doses while Canada took just under a million AstraZeneca doses. Dr Aylward appealed to wealthy countries to give up their places in the queue for vaccines in order that pharmaceutical companies can prioritise the lowest-income countries instead. He said wealthy countries needed to "stocktake" where they were with their donation commitments made at summits such as the G7 meeting in St Ives this summer. "I can tell you we're not on track" he said. "We really need to speed it up or you know what? This pandemic is going to go on for a year longer than it needs to." The People's Vaccine - an alliance of charities - has released new figures suggesting just one in seven of the doses promised by pharmaceutical companies and wealthy countries are actually reaching their destinations in poorer countries.
10-21-21 Covid boosters: FDA approves Moderna and J&J shots
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines to be used as booster jabs, and said Americans can now receive doses of vaccines that are different from the one they initially received. The news that mixing-and-matching will soon be allowed comes one month after the FDA authorised Pfizer booster jabs for some Americans, including those over 65 or at higher risk of severe illness and who work in frontline jobs. However, the FDA's ruling still requires final approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) before jabs can begin being delivered. Less than 5% of Americans have so far received a booster jab, according to US health officials. But with tens of millions of US residents already eligible for a third shot, many remain confused about boosters, who needs them and how they help. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that a vast majority - 76% - of Americans that have been partially or fully vaccinated want a booster jab. Many Americans, however, say they are confused about who can receive the boosters and what the benefits are. "Of course, I'm confused. On one day the White House said that they'd give boosters to everyone. It turns out only some people can get them. I still don't know who decides," said Virginia resident David Williams. "It seems to me there's been a lot of contradictions." Others have reported being confused by the difference between the term "booster" and "third jab" and whether they mean the same thing or not. Doctors typically use the term "booster" for additional doses being given after the protection provided by the original vaccine begins to decrease. A third dose, on the other hand, typically refers to additional doses being given to immunocompromised people. Over the course of the pandemic, however, the terms have been used interchangeably in many instances. "I wasn't confused until recently when I began seeing the language of 'third or booster'," said Nevada resident Doris Rueda. "I think so many people think they are one and the same, but I think knowing there is a difference is important, especially [if one has] immunocompromised relatives."
10-21-21 Covid-19 news: UK's inaction is ‘wilfully negligent’, say doctors
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. ‘Time is now’ for coronavirus Plan B, says leader of doctors’ union. The leader of the UK’s doctors’ union has accused UK ministers of being “wilfully negligent” after the health secretary ruled out immediately implementing the government’s coronavirus “Plan B”. Sajid Javid said people must get their covid-19 vaccines and any booster shots, as well as doing things like wearing masks in crowded places as he repeated a warning that cases could reach 100,000 a day. But he said the government will not be implementing its “Plan B” strategy at this point. England’s autumn and winter coronavirus strategy includes “Plan B” as a contingency measure if the NHS comes under unsustainable pressure. That could include legally mandating face coverings in some settings, introducing mandatory vaccine-only covid status certification and asking people to work from home. The UK government has agreed deals with pharmaceutical companies to supply two new antiviral treatments for covid-19, subject to approval by the UK medicines regulator. The drugs would be aimed at those most at risk from the virus, including the elderly and those with weakened immune systems, either as treatments for infected people or to prevent infection in people exposed to the virus. The Department of Health and Social Care said it has secured 480,000 courses of Molnupiravir, made by Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD), and 250,000 courses of Pfizer’s PF-07321332/ritonavir. Molnupiravir has been shown in clinical trials to reduce the risk of hospital admission or death for at-risk adults with mild to moderate covid-19 by 50 per cent, while Pfizer’s antiviral is at the beginning of its phase three trials. The Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine is highly effective at preventing infection and illness from the delta variant among adolescents, according to data from Israel. The study included data on 94,354 young people aged 12 to 18 who had been given the vaccine and the same number of unvaccinated participants. The vaccine was estimated to be 90 per cent effective against covid-19 infection and 93 per cent effective against symptomatic covid-19 on days 7 to 21 after the second dose.
10-21-21 NFL to end race-based testing in dementia claims
The NFL has agreed to end race-based testing for compensation claims made by ex-players suffering from dementia, documents filed with a US court show. It follows revelations that the previous testing system was based on a formula that assumed black players have a lower level of cognitive function. This "race-norming" made it harder for black players to prove they suffered from injuries linked to their careers. The draft agreement means thousands of retirees may qualify for compensation. The 46-page document pledges that: "No Race Norms or Race Demographic Estimates - whether Black or White - shall be used in the Settlement Program going forward." Around 1,435 players, many of whom are black, will now be given the chance to have their tests rescored, or in some cases, seek a new round of cognitive testing. A panel of experts will also develop a new standard that will apply to all future tests under the scheme, any claims that have not yet been ruled on, and all claims that are currently on appeal. The vast majority of the league's players - over 60% of living retirees and 70% of active players - are black. Under race-norming, the NFL compared a player's cognitive test scores with the supposed norm for his demographic group. Under the methodology, black players are assumed to possess a lower level of cognitive function than the average white player. But attorneys say the standard means that in order to qualify for compensation, the average black player must demonstrate a greater level of cognitive decline than a white counterpart. While the NFL has defended the practice in the past, saying its standards "relied on widely accepted and long-established cognitive tests and scoring methodologies," in June it announced that it intended to discontinue the practice. The NFL's concussion fund has paid out $856 million (£600m) for five types of brain injuries, including early and advanced dementia, Parkinson's disease and Lou Gehrig's disease (also known as ALS) since it was established in 2013.
10-21-21 Netflix staff protest against 'transphobic' Dave Chappelle show
About 100 people have protested outside Netflix's headquarters over the airing of a comedy special by Dave Chappelle, which they say was transphobic. Netflix staff and transgender activists staged the walkout outside the streaming giant's Los Angeles offices. Demonstrators called on Netflix to fund more trans and non-binary talent, and other measures to avoid "transphobia and hate speech". Ahead of the rally, Netflix issued a statement in support of the activists. A video was also released featuring several Netflix stars, including Queer Eye's Jonathan Van Ness and The Good Place actress Jameela Jamil, thanking people for taking part in the demonstration. Other LGBT celebrities, including Elliot Page and Lilly Wachowski, voiced their support on social media. Netflix has been mired in controversy over The Closer, in which stand-up comedy star Chappelle says "gender is a fact" and that LGBT people are "too sensitive". Chappelle has laughed off the backlash, recently saying: "If this is what being cancelled is about, I love it." Netflix staff called for the rally, though it is unclear how many of those employees were among the protesters outside the offices. "We are here today not because we don't know how to take a joke. We're here because we're concerned that the jokes are taking lives," said rally organiser Ashlee Marie Preston in an interview with AFP news agency. She accused companies like Netflix of "[capitalising] off of tension" and using "algorithmic science to manipulate and distort our perceptions of ourselves and one another". Forty-four transgender people were killed in the US last year, according to Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental organisation. Netflix's Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos previously defended the firm's decision to air the programme.
10-21-21 Gabby Petito: 'Human remains' found in Brian Laundrie search
Investigators leading a search for the missing fiancé of a murdered US blogger have found apparent "human remains" in a Florida park, the FBI has said. Agents said items belonging to Brian Laundrie, who is a person of interest in Gabby Petito's death, were also found during the search. Mr Laundrie has been missing for over a month after returning to Florida from a joint trip without his partner. Her body was later found in Wyoming, where the couple had been travelling. In a news conference on Wednesday, FBI special agent Michael McPherson confirmed that investigators had found "what appears to be human remains" on a search in the Carlton Reserve area. He said the remains were discovered along with personal items including a backpack and notebook belonging to Mr Laundrie. "These items were found in an area that up until recently had been underwater," he added. Officials say the remains have not yet been identified and a search of the area is ongoing. The case of Ms Petito, 22, and Mr Laundrie, 23, has sparked widespread media attention. The couple had spent their summer on a road trip through national parks, documenting their nomadic "van life" trip on social media. Ms Petito's parents reported her missing on 11 September after they were unable to contact her since the end of August. It eventually emerged that Mr Laundrie had returned to Florida without Ms Petito on 1 September. Her family repeatedly appealed for her fiancé and his family to cooperate with investigators, but he then went missing himself. His parents told police they last saw him on 13 September - when he went hiking alone and never returned. Ms Petito's body was eventually discovered in Wyoming on 19 September. A coroner ruled last week that she had been strangled to death and left for weeks before her body was found. Mr Laundrie has not been charged with crimes relating to Ms Petito's killing, however, the FBI has issued a federal arrest warrant and charged him with fraudulently using her debit card after her death.
10-20-21 FDA OKs Moderna and J&J boosters, plus 'mix and match' approach
The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized booster doses of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines, and also said it is fine to mix and match initial doses and boosters. Under the emergency use authorization, a half dose of the Moderna vaccine can be given as a booster to people 65 and older who have been fully vaccinated for at least six months, as well as those 18 and older who are at high risk of severe COVID-19 or are frequently exposed to COVID-19 at their workplace. For the Johnson & Johnson booster, it may be administered to adults 18 and over, at least two months after they received their initial single dose of the vaccine. "As the pandemic continues to impact the country, science has shown that vaccination continues to be the safest and most effective way to prevent COVID-19, including the most serious consequences of the disease, such as hospitalization and death," FDA Acting Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said in a statement. "The available data suggest waning immunity in some populations who are fully vaccinated. The availability of these authorized boosters is important for continued protection against COVID-19 disease." On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will convene and determine whether to recommend the FDA authorization. Then, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky will decide if she should sign off on their guidance.
10-20-21 Capitol riot: Lawmakers vote to hold Steve Bannon in contempt
US lawmakers investigating the 6 January Capitol riot have supported holding a top aide of ex-President Donald Trump in contempt of Congress. Steve Bannon, a right-wing media executive who became Mr Trump's chief strategist, was summoned to testify before the panel, but refused to do so. Lawyers for Mr Bannon argued that communications involving the former president are protected. If convicted, he could face a fine and up to one year in prison. "It appears that Mr Bannon had substantial advanced knowledge of the plans for January 6, and likely had an important role in formulating those plans," congresswoman Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican and vice-chair of the committee probing the riot said in her opening statement. Subpoena documents quote Mr Bannon as saying on his radio show the day before the riot "all hell is going to break loose tomorrow". But Mr Trump has urged his former aides to reject any requests to testify, claiming they have the right to withhold information because of executive privilege - a legal principle that protects many White House communications. The former president filed a lawsuit on Monday seeking to block the House inquiry from obtaining records from the US National Archives. Mr Bannon - who was fired from the White House in 2017 but remained loyal to Donald Trump - has not publicly commented on Tuesday's vote. Through his lawyer, he has said that he will not cooperate until Mr Trump's executive privilege claim is resolved by a court. President Joe Biden's administration says Mr Trump has no legitimate privilege claim. The boundaries of the claim will be tested on Thursday, when the House of Representatives votes on whether to uphold the contempt charge against Mr Bannon. If upheld, the case will be referred to the justice department, which has the final say on bringing charges. The riot on 6 January saw a mob of Mr Trump's supporters storm the Capitol building to disrupt the official certification of Joe Biden's election victory. More than 670 people have since been charged with taking part.
10-20-21 NYC to impose vaccine mandate for all city workers, including police
New York City is expanding a vaccine mandate to cover all city workers, including police officers and firefighters, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) has announced. De Blasio said Wednesday the city will require all city workers to receive at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose by the end of this month, The New York Times reports. Those who aren't vaccinated by Nov. 1 will be required to go on unpaid leave. City employees were previously required to get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing, and a vaccine requirement was also put in place in the city for Department of Education workers. During an appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe, de Blasio said that about 46,000 city workers still aren't vaccinated but that they "have to be part of the solution" in bringing an end to "the COVID era." "It's time for these mandates," de Blasio said, urging other mayors around the country to take similar steps. "Finish this war, or we're going to have COVID with us way too long." De Blasio told Morning Joe there will be religious and medical exemptions but that city workers have had "months and months" to get vaccinated voluntarily. "If you choose not to" get a COVID-19 vaccine, the mayor said, "you have the right to go on unpaid leave ... but the bottom line is we're not going to pay people unless they're vaccinated." Following this announcement, the Police Benevolent Association, a police union, promised to challenge the mandate, with its president Patrick Lynch saying, "Now that the city has moved to unilaterally impose a mandate, we will proceed with legal action to protect our members' rights." According to The Wall Street Journal, about 70 percent of police officers in New York City have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.
10-20-21 Covid-19 news: NHS boss calls for UK to implement ‘Plan B’
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. Rising infection numbers prompt call to reintroduce coronavirus restrictions. A senior figure in the National Health Service has urged the UK government to immediately enforce “Plan B” coronavirus restrictions or “risk stumbling into a winter crisis”. Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, called for ministers to implement the back-up strategy which involves measures including mandatory face coverings in public places.The warning comes as coronavirus deaths in the UK rose to their highest daily level since early March, while cases are at their highest for almost three months. Downing Street said it was keeping a “very close eye” on rising case rates, but added that the prime minister has “absolutely no plan to introduce Plan B”, which could also involve introducing vaccine passports for nightclub entry. The UK government is keeping a “close eye” on a descendant of the coronavirus delta variant that is being seen in a growing number of cases. Downing Street said it was monitoring the AY4.2 variant, but said there was no evidence it spreads more easily. Scientists say AY4.2 carries two characteristic mutations in the spike protein, Y145H and A222V, both of which have been found in various other coronavirus lineages since the beginning of the pandemic, but they have remained at low frequency until now. Children in England aged between 12 and 15 will be able to get their covid-19 jabs at vaccination centres following concerns about rollout delays. Health secretary Sajid Javid told MPs the national booking service will be opened up to younger teenagers to book their covid-19 vaccinations outside of school to “make the most of half-term”. It comes after headteachers’ unions called for vaccines to be offered to pupils in walk-in centres, as well as school, after figures revealed the scale of the low take-up of the covid-19 jab among the cohort. The latest attendance data from the Department for Education (DfE) shows the number of children out of school for covid-19 related reasons in England has risen over the past fortnight. The DfE estimates that 2.6 per cent of all pupils – around 209,000 children – were not in class for reasons connected to coronavirus on Thursday last week. This is up from more than 204,000 children, or 2.5 per cent of all pupils, on 30 September.
10-20-21 Rachel Levine: Transgender official sworn in as four-star admiral
The US assistant secretary for health has been sworn in as the first transgender four-star officer in the country's history. Dr Rachel Levine, 63, is now an admiral of the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Dr Levine, appointed by President Joe Biden, is already the highest-ranking openly transgender official in the US. She described the occasion as "momentous" and "historic" during a swearing-in speech on Tuesday. "May this appointment today be the first of many more to come, as we create a diverse and more inclusive future," she said in a speech that paid tribute to other LGBTQ individuals who came before her. Dr Levine is a graduate of Harvard College and Tulane University School of Medicine and previously worked as a paediatrician. The US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps has about 6,000 uniformed officers and is tasked with responding to health crises like the coronavirus pandemic and natural disasters. Secretary of Health Xavier Becerra described Dr Levine's appointment to the job as a "giant step forward towards equality as a nation". She also served as Pennsylvania's physician general and the state's secretary of health, working on issues like responding to widespread opioid addiction. Dr Levine was confirmed as US assistant secretary for health in a 52-48 Senate vote in March. During the confirmation process, the nominee faced questions over her handling of the coronavirus pandemic in nursing homes during her time as health secretary of Pennsylvania. Critics blamed the deaths of many elderly people on a state policy that required nursing homes to accept Covid patients. Shortly after implementing that measure, Dr Levine acknowledged having moved her own mother out of a care home as virus cases rose.
10-20-21 Nikolas Cruz: Parkland gunman pleads guilty to murdering 17
A Florida man has pleaded guilty to murdering 17 people in a 2018 mass shooting at a high school campus in Parkland, Florida. Nikolas Cruz, 23, also pleaded guilty to 17 counts of attempted murder for those he injured in the attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He faces the possibility of the death penalty or life in prison. Among the deadliest school shootings in US history, the incident has become a rallying cry for gun control activists. Mr Cruz was 19-years-old when he shot dead 14 students and three employees with an AR-15 rifle at his former school. Another 17 people were wounded. In court on Wednesday, Judge Elizabeth Scherer asked Mr Cruz, one by one, how he pleaded to each murder. The case will now head to a penalty trial in which jurors must determine whether Mr Cruz is spared the death penalty to face life without parole. Judge Scherer has said she hopes that the case - for which thousands of jurors will have to be screened - can begin in January. Lawyers representing Mr Cruz had repeatedly said that he would plead guilty if the death penalty was not considered. Last week, his attorney, David Wheeler, told the judge that Mr Cruz's lawyers were asking the court to impose 17 consecutive life sentences for the massacre. The offer had been rejected by prosecutors, who in earlier court documents said they would seek his execution and prove that the crime "was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel". Last week, Mr Cruz pleaded guilty to a separate charge of attempted aggravated battery and three other felony charges stemming from an attack on a jail guard nine months after the shooting. In a hearing on Friday, he acknowledged that his conviction in the jailhouse assault could become an "aggravating factor" in determining whether he will be executed. Mr Cruz had been expelled from the school in 2017. Students and staff later described him as an "outcast" and troublemaker. (Webmasters Comment: He's a piece of excrement and and should be made to suffer for a long time when executed!)
10-20-21 Covid: Brazil's Bolsonaro 'should be charged with crimes against humanity'
Brazil's president should be accused of a series of crimes over his handling of the country's Covid-19 pandemic, a draft of a major inquiry report says. The report is the culmination of a six-month inquiry that has revealed scandals and corruption in government. President Bolsonaro has been accused of failing to control the virus that has killed more than 600,000 Brazilians. Excerpts leaked to the media indicate that the panel wants Mr Bolsonaro to face nine charges. Initial drafts of the report had recommended the president be charged with homicide and genocide against indigenous groups. But these recommendations have now apparently been dropped from the 1,200 page report, which urges charges of crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime. Despite the serious allegations, it is not clear what this means for Mr Bolsonaro, according to the BBC's South America correspondent Katy Watson. The draft report still needs to be voted on by the Senate commission where it could be vetoed and altered, and there is no guarantee it will lead to criminal charges. President Bolsonaro has dismissed the Congressional inquiry as politically motivated. He has frequently spoken out against lockdowns, masks and vaccinations. In March, he told Brazilians to "stop whining" about Covid, a day after the country saw a record rise in deaths over a 24-hour period. However, Mr Bolsonaro's popularity has already been dented by the pandemic, and this report could make life much harder for him if he wants to run for a second term in Brazil's 2022 elections. Brazil's confirmed Covid-related death toll is the second-highest in the world - behind only the US. Speaking to the BBC ahead of the report's publication, the inquiry rapporteur, Senator Renan Calheiros, said the panel wanted to punish those who contributed to "this massacre of Brazilians".
10-20-21 Brazilian lawmakers to seek charges against President Bolsonaro for COVID-related 'crimes against humanity'
A special Brazilian Senate panel will vote Wednesday on whether to ask the attorney general to charge President Jair Bolsonaro with several crimes, including "crimes against humanity," for his handing of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to drafts of the report viewed by The New York Times and other media organizations. The report appears to have the support of seven of the 11 committee members, suggesting it will be approved. The 1,200-page report is the fruit of six months of investigations into Bolsonaro's widely criticized pandemic response, characterized by denial, opposition to masks and distancing, pushing ineffective treatments while declining offers to purchase the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, overpaying for a less-effective vaccine from India — the deal was called off over suspicions of graft — and, according to the report, spearheading an online disinformation campaign that also attacked his critics. Bolsonaro's bungling of the pandemic has led to a decline in his poll numbers ahead of his 2022 re-election bid. The report, written by centrist Sen. Renan Calheiros, called for charging Bolsonaro with genocide and mass homicide charges, but those were removed in talks that stretched into Wednesday morning, Calheiros announced. The report effectively blames Bolsonaro's policies for more than 300,000 COVID-19 deaths, half the country's official total. It also recommends criminal charges against 69 other people, including three of Bolsonaro's sons — all of whom are in the government — and numerous current and former government officials. If the report is approved, the attorney general will have 30 days to decide whether to prosecute Bolsonaro, who appointed him and still has his support. The lower house of Congress, which Bolsonaro's supporters control, would also have to approve charges. "Few in Brazil believe that the recommendations will lead to a trial of the nation's most senior officials," The Washington Post reports. Realistically, "the major impact of the investigation is political, because it generated tons of news that certainly will be used by campaign strategists next year," Thiago de Aragão, director of strategy at political consultancy Arko Advice, tells The Associated Press. Calheiros said the committee could also seek justice through Brazil's Supreme Court or the International Criminal Court.
10-19-21 Jan. 6 committee votes to hold Steve Bannon in contempt
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack voted unanimously on Tuesday night to refer Steve Bannon to the Department of Justice for criminal contempt charges. The House will now vote on the matter. Bannon, an ally of former President Donald Trump who has pushed the false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, has refused to comply with the committee's subpoena seeking records and testimony related to the events of Jan. 6. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chair of the panel, said that it "brings me no joy" to have to vote to hold Bannon in contempt, but the "expectation of this committee is that all witnesses will cooperate with our investigation. Witnesses who have been subpoenaed have a legal obligation to do so." The committee is "investigating a violent attack on the seat of our democracy perpetrated by fellow citizens on our Constitution, an attempt to stop the certification of an election," Thompson continued. "It's shocking to me, shocking anyone would not do anything in their power to assist our investigation." Dozens of witnesses have turned over their records and been interviewed, Thompson said, adding that Bannon "stands alone in his complete defiance of our subpoena. It's not acceptable. No one in this country, no matter how wealthy or how powerful, is above the law. Left unaddressed, this defiance might encourage others to follow Mr. Bannon down the same path." The vote aired on live television, and Thompson asked people watching at home to "think about something — what would happen to you if you did what Mr. Bannon is doing if you were a material witness in a criminal prosecution or some other lawsuit? What would happen if you refused to show up? You think you'd be able to just go about your business? We all know the answer to that. There isn't a different set of rules for Mr. Bannon. He knows this. He knows that there are consequences for outright defiance and he's chosen a path toward criminal contempt by taking this position." Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) also spoke, repeating comments Bannon made on his podcast ahead of the Capitol riot. His remarks are why the committee wants to talk to him, Cheney said, as it "appears he had substantial advance knowledge of the plans of Jan. 6 and likely had an important role in formulating those plans." Bannon has "no legal right to ignore the committee's lawful subpoena," Cheney added, and the "American people are entitled to his testimony."
10-19-21 COVID-19 testing in schools works. So why aren’t more doing it?
Hurdles include logistics, public health decisions and community buy-in. In August 2020, the school superintendent in Omaha, Neb., approached a microbiology lab at the local university’s medical center. School districts across the country were starting to design pilot programs for routine COVID-19 testing in the coming fall semester, and Omaha Public Schools wanted to join the trend. The result? During Omaha’s pilot of frequent, asymptomatic testing, the rate of cases detected in the school testing program was six times as high as the case rate reported by traditional testing for symptomatic students only. The pilot program detected 70 cases per 1,000 students, compared with 12 per 1,000 in the official tally reported by the local public health department, researchers report September 22 in JAMA Network Open. “Asymptomatic screening dramatically increases case detection among students and staff in the K through 12 setting,” says M. Jana Broadhurst, a microbiologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center who led the team that designed and implemented pilot programs for the school district. In other words, regular testing of all students and staff will catch far more COVID-19 cases than simply testing those who demonstrate COVID-19 symptoms or have a known exposure to the virus. Catching those cases is crucial to nipping outbreaks in the bud and keeping kids in school and healthy. But this fall, Omaha Public Schools does not have a COVID-19 testing program at all. Why? “The absence of public health guidance on how to utilize and act upon those test results,” Broadhurst says. Omaha isn’t alone. Throughout the United States, numerous K–12 schools have struggled to implement routine COVID-19 testing, despite expansive funding from the federal government and a recent surge in cases, fueled by the delta variant (SN: 7/30/21). This surge has taken a huge toll on children, demonstrating for many experts the need for deploying testing as a safety measure (SN: 9/20/21). Many school districts have seen more cases among students — and more shut-down classrooms — in fall of 2021 than they did last fall, before vaccines were widely available.
10-19-21 Covid-19 news: No 10 warns of ‘challenging’ months ahead for UK
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. The UK faces “challenging” months ahead, Downing Street has warned as the country’s daily case numbers approach 50,000 for the first time since July. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show coronavirus infection levels in England are getting close to the peak seen at the height of the second wave and are mostly being driven by infections among schoolchildren. “We always knew the coming months would be challenging,” the prime minister’s spokesman said. “What we are seeing is case rates, hospitalisations and deaths still broadly in line with the modelling as set out a few months back now. The vaccination programme will continue to be our first line of defence, along with new treatments, testing and public health advice. But we will obviously keep a close watch on cases.” Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London and member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that another lockdown is unlikely, but urged caution. “People need to be aware that we have currently higher levels of infection in the community than we’ve almost ever had during the pandemic,” he said. “For the last three or four months we’ve been up at well over 1 per cent of the population infected at any point in time.” Ferguson suggested waning immunity is one reason why the UK has higher infection rates than other European countries that began vaccine rollouts later on, and said it is “critical” that we accelerate the booster programme, as well as vaccination for teenagers. A private laboratory suspected of issuing over 40,000 false negative results for covid-19 PCR tests was not fully accredited to perform the work, contrary to statements by health officials, The Guardian has reported. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) announced on Friday that it was investigating Immensa Health Clinics Ltd, which has received nearly £170 million in test-and-trace contracts since being set up in May 2020. Both the UKHSA and a government spokesperson said the lab had been fully accredited before being appointed. But UKAS, the UK accreditation body, told The Guardian that neither Immensa Health Clinicas Ltd nor its sister company, Dante Labs, has ever been accredited by the service. The US Food and Drug Administration is planning to allow booster shots from a different manufacturer to a person’s original vaccination, according to The New York Times. Last month the FDA authorised booster doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for some groups, but only for those who had previously received that vaccine. The agency is expected to approve Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines to be given as boosters this week, and will allow a “mix-and-match” approach to enable greater flexibility, the newspaper reports.
10-19-21 Covid: Australia's Flying Doctors take vaccines to vast remote areas
Australia’s vaccination rollout has really picked up in recent months, partly due to Covid outbreaks in Sydney and Melbourne. But in remote areas hardly touched by the virus, it’s often a different story. Australia's famous Royal Flying Doctor Service is part of a huge logistical effort to get jabs in arms.
10-19-21 Nick Rolovich: Washington State football coach fired for refusing Covid vaccine
A top US college football coach has been fired for refusing to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Washington State University (WSU) sacked Nick Rolovich, its highest-paid employee, and four of his assistants, for failing to meet a vaccine mandate. The mandate means all state workers in Washington have to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or lose their jobs. Mr Rolovich, 42, who earned $3.1m (£2.25m) a year, had applied for a religious exemption from the mandate. But WSU's Director of Athletics, Pat Chun, said the exemption had been refused. "This is a disheartening day for our football programme," Mr Chun said. "Our priority has been and will continue to be the health and wellbeing of the young men in our team." Mr Rolovich's sacking marks the culmination of a three-month showdown between the coach and Washington's Democratic Governor Jay Inslee. In August, Gov Inslee announced that all state employees and healthcare workers would need two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine to keep their jobs. Monday was the deadline for them to get vaccinated, or have a medical or religious exemption. But Mr Rolovich had said he would not get vaccinated, calling it a personal decision. "While I have made my own decision, I respect that every individual - including coaches, staff and student-athletes - can make his or her own decision regarding the Covid-19 vaccine. I will not comment further on my decision," he said earlier this year. Some 90% of WSU employees and 97% of students have been vaccinated, according to the college. Mr Rolovich, who was in his second season at WSU, is the first major college football coach to lose their job over their vaccination status. College sports netted nearly $19bn (£14 bn) in total revenue in 2019, most of which came from football, which is watched by five million people on average per game. Mr Rolovich's salary at WSU was barely above the average pay grade of head coaches in college football, but it made him the highest paid public employee in the state, according to local media.
10-19-21 Texas gained 2 new House seats thanks to explosive Latino growth. Both new districts are majority white.
Texas gained two congressional seats after the 2020 U.S. census, thanks to a decade of explosive growth. But while 95 percent of that growth is attributable to new Black, Latino, and Asian residents, The Texas Tribune reports, the Texas Legislature gave final approval Monday night to a new congressional map that gives "white voters effective control of both" new districts. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is expected to sign off on the new maps. In fact, voters of color lost representation under the new map, drawn by the Republicans who control the entire Texas redistricting process. The new map includes seven majority Latino districts, down from eight, and zero majority Black districts, down from one. The state gained almost 11 new Hispanic residents for every white resident over the past decade, the Tribune notes, and half the 4 million new Texans in the 2020 census are Latino. There are now roughly equal numbers of white and Latino residents of Texas. "This year's political mapmaking marks the first time in nearly half a century that Texas lawmakers are free to redraw the state's maps without federal oversight meant to protect voters of color from discrimination," the Tribune reports. "The Republicans who led the redistricting process offered little defense of the maps from the Senate and House floors before the final votes," but they have previously said they are complying with federal law and pursuing a partisan, not racial, gerrymander. Civil rights groups are already suing the state, claiming violations of the Voting Rights Act. On the partisan front, the Republican maps "protect their slipping grip on Texas by pulling more GOP-leaning voters into suburban districts where Democrats have made inroads in recent years," The Associated Press reports. The map appears to focus on fortifying GOP incumbents rather than maximizing GOP numbers through carving narrowly Republican districts. Still, Republicans will win one or both of the new districts, giving them 24 or 25 seats out of 38, up from their current 23 out of 36 districts. "What we're doing in passing this congressional map is a disservice to the people of Texas," and "it's shameful," state Rep. Rafael Anchía (D) told his colleagues before the vote. "I'd love to be able to say it is a stain on the legacy of voting rights, but that seems to be the playbook decade after decade after decade in this state."
10-19-21 Ahmaud Arbery: What do we know about the case?
Ahmaud Arbery was jogging in February when he was confronted by Gregory and Travis McMichael. Mr Arbery was fatally shot during the encounter. More than two months later, the two men were arrested, as was the neighbour who filmed the death. Gregory, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, have been in the custody of the Glynn County Sheriff's Department since last year. They were detained by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) on 7 May 2020. A neighbour who filmed a video of the confrontation, William Bryan, was arrested on 21 May 2020. At a preliminary trial hearing, a judge determined that there was enough evidence to try all three men for murder. It also emerged that Travis McMichael used a racial epithet and an expletive directed at Mr Arbery as he lay on the ground. The three men have denied the charges. Last May, Georgia appointed a new lead prosecutor in the case - district attorney Joyette Holmes - the fourth since Mr Arbery was killed. Her predecessor had called for a grand jury, but it could not be convened until Covid-19 restrictions began easing in June. The three men each face nine charges, including murder and aggravated assault. They have pleaded not guilty. Jury selection in their trial begins on 18 October. In the afternoon on 23 February, Mr Arbery was out for a jog in the coastal city of Brunswick. At one point, he entered the Satilla Shores neighbourhood. A neighbourhood resident, Gregory McMichael, told police he believed Mr Arbery resembled the suspect in a series of local break-ins. Police have said no reports were filed regarding these alleged break-ins. Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis, armed themselves with a pistol and a shotgun and pursued Mr Arbery in a pickup truck through the neighbourhood. According to the elder Mr McMichael, he and his son had said "stop, stop, we want to talk to you". He said Mr Arbery then attacked his son. Lawyers for Mr Arbery's family have said the 25-year-old was unarmed. Three shots were fired and Mr Arbery fell down on the street. An autopsy report showed Mr Arbery had two gunshot wounds in his chest, and a gunshot graze wound on the inside of one of his wrists. He did not have drugs or alcohol in his system. (Webmasters Comment: They shoud be executed for the murder!)
10-19-21 Trudeau visits First Nation to apologise after holiday snub
Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has met indigenous leaders two weeks after he took a seaside holiday on a day meant to honour residential schools survivors and victims. His decision to skip formal events on the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was widely criticised. The day honours the indigenous children who were forced to assimilate in state-backed residential schools. On Monday, Mr Trudeau visited the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc nation. "I am here today to say I wish I was here a few weeks ago, and I deeply regret it," Mr Trudeau said in his prepared remarks. The Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc Nation - located near the site of the former Kamloops residential school in British Columbia, where the unmarked graves of 215 children were discovered in May - had written twice to invite Mr Trudeau to mark the 30 September date. The letters had gone unanswered, and Mr Trudeau - after first saying he would be holding private meetings in Ottawa - was photographed with his family on a beach in Tofino, British Columbia. In a media event on Monday, Mr Trudeau said he had apologised privately for not having visited the community that day. He added that he and the leaders had an "important and necessary conversation" that morning on how to "move forward given the reality of residential schools and the ongoing tragedy that continues to colour not just our past, not just our present, but also unfortunately our future". In remarks before Mr Trudeau spoke, Chief Rosanne Casimir called the unearthing of the children's unmarked graves "a heavy burden" for the community. She called the unexpected news that Mr Trudeau was vacationing a gut punch to the community. "The shock, anger, sorrow and disbelief was palpable in our community, and it rippled throughout the world," she said. "Today is about making some positive steps forward, and rectifying a mistake."
10-19-21 Haiti kidnappers 'demand $17m' for missionaries
A gang which kidnapped a group of missionaries from the US and Canada in Haiti on Saturday is demanding $1m (£725,000) in ransom for each of the 17 people it is holding, the Haitian justice minister has told the Wall Street Journal. The gang is notorious for kidnapping groups of people for ransom. The same gang, 400 Mazowo, abducted a group of Catholic clergy in April. The clergy were later released but it is not clear if a ransom was paid. All of those kidnapped are US citizens, except one who is a Canadian national. Among those seized are five men, seven women and five children. The youngest child is reportedly only two years old. They worked for Christian Aids Ministries, a non-profit missionary organisation based in the US state of Ohio, which supplies Haitian children with shelter, food and clothing. The missionaries were returning from a visit to an orphanage when the bus they were travelling in was seized by the gang members on a main road in the town of Ganthier, east of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Ganthier is located in the Croix-des-Bouquets area which is controlled by 400 Mazowo gang. Seizing vehicles and all of their occupants for ransom is one of the main activities the 400 Mazowo gang uses to finance itself. The Washington Post said one of those abducted had posted a WhatsApp message calling for help. "Please pray for us!! We are being held hostage, they kidnapped our driver. Pray pray pray. We don't know where they're taking us," it said. The White House said on Monday that both the US Department of State and the FBI were assisting Haitian authorities with the case. A former field director for Christian Aid Ministries in Haiti told CNN that the kidnappers had already made contact with the missionary organisation. Adam Ki zinger, a Republican congressman from Illinois, told CNN he believed the US should negotiate with the kidnappers, but not pay ransom. "We need to track down where they are and see if negotiations - without paying ransom - are possible," he said. "Or do whatever we need to do, on a military front or police front."
10-18-21 Large employers fear vaccine mandates will chase away workers. But 'real world data tells a different story.'
As COVID-19 vaccine mandates roll out across federal agencies and among many private businesses, companies that fall under the Biden administration's vaccine-or-test requirement are worried about employees quitting, a new poll has found. President Biden directed the Labor Department to develop a rule that companies with 100+ employees must require proof of vaccination or weekly negative test results. It hasn't taken effect yet, but many of those employers told the Society for Human Resource Management they're worried it will lead to lots of resignations, reports The Hill. "Nearly 9 in 10 large employers believe some of their workers will quit their jobs over the Biden administration's coronavirus vaccine-or-test mandate," writes The Hill. Some are worried about general workplace disruption, while others are concerned about the cost of acquiring rapid COVID-19 tests. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they could not afford to pay for weekly testing. Fears that employees will quit en masse or move to smaller companies not affected by the rule are understandable, but other data doesn't point to the worries being warranted. As The Hill writes, "real world data tells a different story," pointing to United Airlines announcing layoffs of 230 employees who didn't comply with vaccine requirements — 0.3 percent of its workforce. Similarly, 58 percent of those surveyed in a September Morning Consult poll supported the Biden administration's vaccine mandate for large companies. The Society for Human Resource Management surveyed 1,289 of its members online between Sept. 27-30. Read more at The Hill.
10-18-21 COVID has already begun to 'reshape' the public health workforce
A deep dive into hundreds of health departments nationwide revealed the U.S. could be less prepared for the world's next pandemic than it was for that of COVID-19, reports The New York Times — and it's not for lack of trying. Instead, state and local public health institutions "endured not only the public's fury, but widespread staff defections, burnout, firings, unpredictable funding and a significant erosion in their authority" to implement orders necessary to pandemic response. An "invisible casualty" of the last year and a half, COVID has already begun to "reshape the public health work force in ways that could impair the ability to fight future pandemics," writes the Times. In fact, its examination identified "more than 500 top health officials who left their jobs in the past 19 months." Exiting personnel are "exhausted and demoralized," in part because of abuse and threats. And despite money from the federal government, "dozens of departments reported that they had not staffed up at all, but actually lost employees." "They didn't join our department to COVID test 10 hours a day or to give vaccinations 10 hours a day," said Kathy Emmons, executive director of the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department in Wyoming, of employees. "We were asking people to completely change their work priorities." With experienced-yet-frustrated workers out the door, short-staffed departments are unable to lure in replacements. And few departments can compete financially, "with hospitals in the middle of a nationwide nursing shortage," adds the Times. Sue Rhodes, a health department administrator in Kansas, echoed Emmons' frustration, explaining she's one of many officials unable to hire extra help. "Everybody looks at public health now and says, 'Who wants to work there?'" she said. "Who wants to work in that chaotic mess?" Read more at The New York Times.
10-18-21 Washington State coach Nick Rolovich out after not complying with COVID-19 vaccine mandate
Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich was fired with cause after refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine as required for all state employees, the school announced Monday night. Four assistant coaches who also did not comply with the state mandate were fired as well. Washington State's athletic director, Pat Chun, told reporters "every employee at Washington State University understood what had to be done to be within full compliance of the governor's proclamation," and the football players are "the biggest loser" in the situation. The program is "hurting," Chun added, and "our WSU community is fractured." Washington State President Kirk Schulz said if not for COVID-19 vaccines and mask mandates, "we would not be here today in an in-person setting," and vaccine orders work. The state mandate was announced in August, and that month, Rolovich, 42, said he would go along with it. Instead, he applied for a religious exemption in an attempt to avoid getting vaccinated ahead of Monday's deadline, Sports Illustrated reports.
10-18-21 Almost all Afghans could fall into poverty in coming months, says U.N.
The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is reportedly rapidly worsening as foreign aid runs out and many Afghans are unable to find work. The Wall Street Journal reports that "almost the entire Afghan population of 40 million people could fall below the poverty line in coming months," citing the United Nations' World Food Program. Already, 95 percent of Afghans aren't getting enough to eat, and for some desperate families, the situation has become so dire that they have been forced to hand over their children to settle debts, writes the Journal. Because many health clinics were dependent on foreign funding, most are now running out of essential resources and basic medicines. The lack of aid also means that many doctors and nurses haven't been paid in months despite continuing to care for patients, including severely malnourished babies. Advocacy organizations are urging other countries to continue providing humanitarian aid, despite the Taliban's takeover. "To pause the lifesaving funding because we're still negotiating female rights would be utterly wrong," said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. The U.S. halted its aid to Afghanistan upon leaving the country, but has since announced it would send $64 million in new humanitarian assistance. The U.S. is also in the process of working to resume evacuation flights. As the National Review notes, those flights will in part address the issue of remaining Americans who have been unable to leave Afghanistan since the Taliban took power. NBC News Connecticut reports that "more than three dozen Connecticut residents are still trying to leave" but the logistics and patchwork of organizations has led to delays. The State Department's regular evacuation flights will reportedly start back up "before the end of the year."
10-18-21 The supply chain fiasco
Supply chain issues are making it harder to fill shelves and get a variety of products into the hands of consumers. Here's what you need to know. Supply chain issues are making it harder to fill shelves and get a variety of products — from bicycles to computers to jeans — into the hands of consumers. Here's what you need to know.
- Why isn't the global supply chain working? The pandemic has affected all facets of life, with manufacturing hit especially hard. Americans have been using their stimulus money to go shopping, and demand for products is high, but there are shortages of raw materials and items like semiconductor chips, a necessity for the tech and automotive industries.
- Did the pandemic cause these labor shortages? Not really. While the pandemic did make it harder for new truck drivers to get their permits and licenses, the U.S. has been dealing with a lack of drivers for several years.
- What's being done to try to clear the bottlenecks? The adjacent Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach receive nearly half of all imports into the United States, and both have agreed to start operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Previously, they were generally only open to trucks on weekdays, with limited weekend hours.
- Is there anything else the White House can do? Matthew Sherwood, a global economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit, told the Los Angeles Times that the White House is "fairly limited" in how it can respond. The world is still dealing with a pandemic, and Biden can't hire truck drivers or tell overseas factories how to operate.
- How is all of this affecting prices? The disruptions in the supply chain drove up consumer prices 5.4 percent in September, the highest rate in more than a decade. Shipping prices have risen sharply — it is now 10 times more expensive to get a container from China to the West Coast of the United States compared to pre-pandemic times — and manufacturers pass that cost to consumers.
- Could this lead to more manufacturing being done in the U.S.? Now that it's clear how vulnerable the global supply chain is, some experts say it's likely companies will start considering moving production out of Asia back to the United States or to closer markets, like Mexico. "Instead of having 90 percent [of production] in one geography, I'm going to have 30/30/40 — split it up between three geographies," Michael Farlekas, CEO of the supply chain software company E2open, told the Financial Times.
- How will this affect holiday shopping? Retailers are telling consumers not to wait until Black Friday or Cyber Monday — start buying gifts now. Even with the ports preparing to operate round-the-clock, there will be delays in getting goods on the shelves, and some items aren't even expected to be available until 2022.
10-18-21 China's economic growth weakens amid supply chain and electricity issues
China's economy grew by 4.9 percent in the third quarter, a drop from the previous quarter's 7.9 percent. China has the world's second-largest economy, and this is its slowest pace of growth in a year. The country is dealing with a variety of issues, including supply chain delays, power outages that are slowing down factory output, a construction downturn, and the coronavirus pandemic. In the first quarter of the year, the economy grew a record 18.3 percent, thanks to overseas buyers snapping up Chinese-made goods, and analysts told Reuters they had expected the gross domestic product to rise 5.2 percent in the third quarter. During a Monday briefing, National Bureau of Statistics spokesperson Fu Linghui said the domestic economic recovery is "still unstable and uneven." Louis Kuijs, head of Asia economics at Oxford Economics, told Reuters more "ugly growth numbers" are expected in the coming months, and policymakers will likely "take more steps to shore up growth, including ensuring ample liquidity in the interbank market, accelerating infrastructure development, and relaxing some aspects of overall credit and real estate policies."
10-18-21 Covid-19 news: Valneva reports positive results from vaccine trial
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. Valneva vaccine shows good outcomes in comparison with AstraZeneca jab. A covid-19 vaccine made by Valneva produced stronger antibody responses and fewer side effects than the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in a clinical trial, the French company has announced. The trial included more than 4600 participants in the UK, who were randomly allocated one of the two vaccines, while delta was the predominant coronavirus variant in circulation. The rate of covid-19 cases was similar in the two groups and no participants developed severe illness from covid-19. Lockdown measures will remain in place in Auckland, New Zealand, for two more weeks, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has announced. The country’s largest city has been under severe restrictions since mid-August in an effort to contain an outbreak of the delta variant. Earlier this month, Ardern announced plans for a transition out of lockdown, but said today that restrictions would be needed for a while longer. “Any interim easing of restrictions… will not work towards our plan of minimising cases while we increase vaccinations,” she told a news conference. Thousands of children have returned to school in Sydney, Australia, for the first time in months as a tranche of covid-19 restrictions were eased in the city. The vaccination rate in the state of New South Wales reached 80 per cent, enabling the next stage of relaxations to go ahead under the national covid-19 strategy. Many shops and businesses can now reopen with capacity limits to allow social distancing. In Melbourne, a stay-at-home order that has lasted 73 days will be lifted next Friday with the vaccination rate in the state of Victoria due to pass 70 per cent.
10-18-21 Haiti kidnap: 400 Mawozo accused of US missionary kidnap
A notorious gang is behind the kidnap of a group of North American missionaries near Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, officials say. The five men, seven women and five children were returning from a visit to an orphanage when they were abducted on Saturday. Officials say they are being held by the 400 Mawozo gang - also blamed for the kidnap of Catholic clergy in April. Haiti has one of the highest rates of kidnapping in the world. This year has been particularly bad, with more than 600 kidnappings recorded in the first three quarters of 2021, compared with 231 over the same period last year, according to a local civil society group. The rise has come in the wake of President Jovenel Moïse's assassination in July, as rival factions fight to gain control of the country in the face of a struggling police force. The Catholic Church has previously described the situation as "a descent into hell", with gangs taking people from all walks of life, both local and foreign. According to Gedeon Jean, director of the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, based in Port-au-Prince, the vast majority of kidnappings were carried out by the 400 Mawozo gang. Haitian police inspector Frantz Champagne told The Associated Press news agency it was thought the gang was also behind Saturday's kidnap of the missionary group - 16 US citizens and one Canadian. News agency AFP said an unknown number of locals had also been taken. The missionaries - who had travelled to the country with the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries - were seized shortly after leaving the town of Croix-des-Bouquets, an area controlled by the gang. Mr Jean said it fit with the "type of kidnapping that 400 Mawozo do", telling the Miami Herald that taking an entire bus load of people was known as "a collective kidnapping". A State Department spokesperson told the BBC that US authorities have been in regular contact with Haitian authorities.
10-17-21 Gang kidnaps U.S. missionaries in Haiti
Gang members kidnapped as many as 17 Christian missionaries and their family members, most of them Americans, as they were leaving an orphanage in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Saturday, The New York Times and The Washington Post report. The reports cited Haitian security officials and a former field director for the group, Christian Aid Ministries. Local officials said the missionary group, which included children, was abducted from a bus headed to the airport and another destination. Haiti has been plagued by political tension and security problems for years, but the crisis has deepened since the July assassination of President Jovenel Moise. Kidnappings have spiked sixfold this year. "The mission field director and the American embassy are working to see what can be done," a voice on an audio recording from Christian Aid Ministries said, the Post reports. It added, "Pray that the gang members will come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ." The Caribbean nation now has the highest per-capita kidnapping rate in the world, according to The Washington Post.
10-17-21 Haiti: US Christian missionaries kidnapped in Port-au-Prince - reports
A group of US missionaries and their family members, including children, are reported to have been kidnapped by an armed gang near Haiti's Port-au-Prince. At least 15 people were taken off a bus after visiting an orphanage, Haitian security sources have told news media. Few details are known, but US officials said they were aware of the reports. Haiti has one of the highest rates of kidnapping in the world, as powerful gangs exploit the lawless situation to make money from ransom payments. Since the killing of President Jovenel Moïse in July, rival factions have been trying to gain control and the lack of security has intensified the daily struggle to survive of many Haitians. The Christian missionaries were seized shortly after leaving the town of Croix-des-Bouquets and continue to be held by the gang, according to a security source quoted by the AFP news agency. The Haitian justice ministry and the National Police have not commented. The US government is yet to provide any information on the incident, but the US state department told AFP it had seen the reports and that the safety of American citizens abroad was one of its highest priorities. Christian Aid Ministries, a US-based organisation, sent a voice message to religious groups in Haiti as a "special prayer alert", the Associated Press news agency reported. The message said the group was working with the US embassy in Haiti to "see what could be done" to help the abducted people. Christian Aid Ministries supports Haitians largely through donations and supplies shelter, food and clothing to children and helps to fund their education. Armed gangs have controlled the poorest districts of the Haitian capital for years. Recently they have extended their hold to other parts of Haiti's capital city Port-au-Prince and its outlying areas. More than 600 kidnappings were recorded in the first three quarters of 2021, compared with 231 over the same period last year, according to a local civil society group.
10-16-21 Sicilian Catholic diocese bans godparents. Yes, it's partly due to Mafia godfathers.
Earlier this month, the Roman Catholic dioceses of Catania, in Sicily, put a three-year pause on godparents, Jason Horowitz reports at The New York Times. "Church officials argue that the once-essential figure in a child's Catholic education has lost all spiritual significance," and that god-parenting has "fallen to earth as a secular custom between relatives or neighbors — many deficient in faith or living in sin, and was now a mere method of strengthening family ties. And sometimes mob ties, too." "It's an experiment," Msgr. Salvatore Genchi, the vicar general of Catania, told the Times. He estimated that 99 percent of the diocese's godparents were not spiritually fit for the role. Fr. Angelo Alfio Mangano at Cataina's Saint Maria in Ognina church said he hopes the pause on godparents will also halt threats "against the parish priest" from questionable characters trying to pressure the priest into naming them godfather. Catania isn't the first diocese to experiment with doing away with godparents. The next-door diocese of Acireale has made godparents optional, for example, and in Reggio Calabria — home to the 'Ndrangheta mob — Archbishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini petitioned Pope Francis in 2014 for a 10-year pause on godfathers, the Times reports. That effort was stopped by Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, "now on trial in the Vatican on money laundering charges," who insisted all of Calabria's bishops had to agree to the move. "Italian prosecutors have tracked baptisms to map out how underworld bosses spread influence, and mob widows in court have saved their most poisonous spite for 'the real Judases' who betray the baptismal bond," Horowitz writes. "But church officials warn that secularization more than anything led them to rub out the godparents, a Sicilian thing that's been going on for 2,000 years, or at least since the church's dicey first days, when sponsors known to bishops vouched for converts to prevent pagan infiltration." Read more, including from the former Sicilian president who insists there are no Mafia godfathers, at The New York Times.
10-16-21 American workers are fed up
The working class is restless. Can unions begin a new era in the fight for workers' rights? The American working class is restless. Across the country, unionized workers are going on strike in what might be the biggest wave of walkouts in over a decade, and workers in general are quitting their jobs at the highest rate ever measured (in data going back to 2000). This is an encouraging sign of long-overdue labor militancy. But it remains to be seen whether American unions can seize the moment to reverse their long-standing decline in membership and begin a new era in the fight for workers' rights. Let's consider their chances. The strike wave (dubbed "Striketober" on social media) is the most prominent piece of news. About 10,000 workers at John Deere recently walked off the job, arguing their pay, benefits, and working conditions were meager compared to the company's record profits and the CEO's $14.7 million compensation. Workers at Kellogg's have shut down factories across the country. More walkouts may come soon — over 24,000 nurses at Kaiser Permanente are near a strike, as are 60,000 film and TV workers. A much more widespread, if less organized, phenomenon is what's being called the Great Resignation. Some 3.6 percent of non-farm workers quit their jobs in August (the most recent month for which data is available). That's the highest figure in at least two decades, and likely long before that. It seems large swathes of the American workforce simply can't take it anymore. As Alex Press writes at Jacobin, the sectors with the highest quit rate are hospitality, retail, and health care — that is, the ones stressed hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. For the last 18 months, millions of people put their lives at risk running themselves ragged in crummy jobs, working long hours often for low wages and meager benefits. Is it any wonder so many food service workers (the ones who aren't dead, at least) are done being screamed at by bratty, entitled customers for $2.13 an hour plus tips? We see here how brutal contempt for workers has made the American economy fragile and dysfunctional. This country has an essentially 19th-century labor system in which the working class is assumed to be lazy and in need of discipline at all times — specifically, the threat of starvation to force people to take any job on offer. Thus, when the pandemic first started, risk was handled as it usually is: It was put entirely on workers. Business owners forced workers to stay on the job, often in dangerous, unsanitary conditions, without protective gear, sick leave, or other protections that would cost money or inconvenience the capitalist class. The result was needless suffering in all sorts of industries and an economy that is still about 5 million jobs short of the pre-pandemic level, despite record-high numbers of job openings. Business owners' cavalier indifference to the welfare of their workers burned up or killed many employees, and now employers are desperately short of labor. When worker shortages emerged months ago, both Republican governors and the Biden administration went with the old-time religion: They agreed the best idea was to get rid of the pandemic unemployment boost to starve workers into the available jobs. It didn't work, because that approach totally misunderstood what's happening. Some people are struggling, burned out, can't find child care, or are simply fed up. Others are trying to change careers, damn the consequences. They need to be helped into jobs, not mindlessly pummeled with more risks and demands.
10-16-21 Protesters yell 'F--k Joe Biden' as president meets with preschoolers at daycare center
President Biden made a little bit of news when he visited Connecticut on Friday. "No," he said when reporters asked if he supported term limits for Supreme Court justices — one reform being considered by a commission Biden appointed. But the visit did underscore how children are being dragged into the culture wars being fought between adults. Biden's first stop in Connecticut was the Capitol Child Development Center in Hartford, where he promoted the child care provisions of his Build Back Better proposal. He also visited the playground outside. While Biden was mingling with the preschoolers, about 50 "Trump supporters" nearby "chanted 'F--- Joe Biden. He's not our president,'" Noah Robertson of The Christian Science Monitor wrote in a White House pool report. Pool reporters on the playground "could still hear protesters chanting from the curb outside. More expletives. More yelling," he added in a follow-up report, noting there were also "Ban Title 42" chants, "perhaps suggesting it wasn't a solely Trump-supporting crowd." Audio pool reporter Scott Detrow of NPR News also remarked on the audible "F--- Joe Biden" chants, Fox News reports, as did The New York Times' Zolan Kanno-Youngs.
10-16-21 Afghanistan: US offers to pay relatives of Kabul drone attack victims
The US government has offered financial compensation to the relatives of 10 people mistakenly killed by the American military in a drone strike on the Afghan capital, Kabul, in August. An aid worker and nine members of his family, including seven children, died in the strike. The Pentagon said it was also working to help surviving members of the family relocate to the US. The strike took place days before the US military withdrew from Afghanistan. It came amid a frenzied evacuation effort following the Taliban's sudden return to power and only days after a devastating attack close to Kabul's airport by IS-K, a local branch of the Islamic State (IS) group. US intelligence had tracked the aid worker's car for eight hours on 29 August, believing it was linked to IS-K militants, US Central Command's Gen Kenneth McKenzie said last month. 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, an investigation 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. (Webmasters Comment: This was a war crime! Those involved should be arrested, tried, convicted, and in prison!)
10-16-21 Covid: US to lift travel ban for fully jabbed on 8 November
The US has said that it will reopen its borders to fully vaccinated travellers from 33 countries on 8 November. Under new rules announced by the White House, vaccinated people who have had a negative test in the 72 hours before travelling will be allowed to enter. The move marks the end of the tough restrictions that have been imposed on travellers since early last year. "This policy is guided by public health, stringent and consistent," a White House spokesman said. The new rules will apply to Schengen countries - a group of 26 European nations - as well as the UK, Brazil, China, India, Iran, Ireland, and South Africa. The current rules bar entry to most non-US citizens who have been in the UK, China, India, South Africa, Iran, Brazil or a number of European countries within the last 14 days. However, the policy has caused controversy, as passengers from 150 other countries, many of whom have struggled with high rates of Covid infection, have continued to enter the US freely. Officials announced that people who have been jabbed with one of the vaccines that are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or have been granted an Emergency Use Listing from the World Health Organization (WHO) will qualify under the system. The Emergency Use aspect will allow travellers who have received the AstraZeneca jab, widely used in the UK, as well as China's Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines, to enter the country. It was also confirmed that travellers will not be required to go into quarantine upon entering the country. The announcement was swiftly celebrated by would-be travellers across the globe. Among them was Kent resident Dan Johnson, who told the BBC he had been unable to visit his father in the US before he died of cancer in March. "I never got to say goodbye and hadn't seen him since 2019 due to the travel restrictions," he said. "It's been the hardest thing in the world. Lifting the ban feels much too late, but does mean that I can finally visit my step-mum and help her sort dad's belongings."
10-16-21 Covid: Russia's daily deaths pass 1,000 for first time
Russia on Saturday recorded 1,000 Covid-related deaths in a single day for the first time since the pandemic began. (Webmasters Comment: The US has had over 5,000 in a single day!) The figure had been rising all week, with the Kremlin blaming the Russian people for not taking up vaccination. Only about a third of the population has had a jab, amid wide distrust of the vaccines. Russia's figure of 222,000 Covid deaths is the highest in Europe, with another 33,000 infections reported on Saturday. The government has avoided bringing in strict restrictions because it says it needs to keep the economy working. The Kremlin has instead focused on public apathy on vaccination. This week, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "In a situation where infections are growing, it is necessary to continue to explain to people that they must get vaccinated. "It is really irresponsible not to get vaccinated. It kills," he said. The government insists the health system has not been overwhelmed and can cope with the rising number of patients. However, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko urged doctors who had left practices because of Covid fears to get vaccinated and come back to work. The number of active cases of infected people in Russia is around 750,000 - also the highest it has been since records started in February 2020. Overall infections since the outbreak began are now closing in on 8 million. The figures for the percentage of Russians who have had single and full vaccination are surprisingly close together - both just short of a third of the population. This suggests a large number of people do not want to be vaccinated at all. Recent opinion polls suggested that figure could be more than 50%. Russia has not been slow in developing vaccines. Its Sputnik V was rolled out quickly last year and it has approved three others. But it appears to have failed to convince many at home they are either necessary or reliable.
10-15-21 Why the FDA panel's booster greenlight was actually a 'bad meeting' for Johnson & Johnson
An advisory panel for the Food and Drug Administration voted on Friday to recommend authorizing booster shots for Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine. The recommendation, which is for people ages 18 and up, suggests boosters at least two months after the initial dose. As some experts view it, the vote essentially changes the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from a "one and done" single dose immunization into something closer to the two-shot regimen created by Moderna and Pfizer. "Many members of the [FDA] panel said that a second dose was important because the first dose did not provide strong enough protection," writes The New York Times. The J&J vaccine has slightly lower efficacy than the other two approved for use in the U.S., but has so far continued to successfully prevent most serious illness or hospitalization among recipients. The panel's vote isn't particularly surprising, since many experts have predicted that boosters would likely be approved to ward against waning immunity, but Stat News' Helen Branswell still reported that "this [turned] out to be a bad meeting for J&J," arguing that it's a bad look for Johnson & Johnson that so many FDA panelists believe the vaccine should become a two-dose regimen. The panel opted to recommend boosters sooner than J&J's suggested 6-month gap between doses. "I think this frankly was always a two-dose vaccine," said panelist Paul Offitt, an infectious disease expert at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "It's hard to recommend this as a one-dose vaccine." Though J&J isn't changing its vaccine authorization to now be considered a two-dose vaccine, that's essentially what the panel thinks it should become. Panelist Eric Rubin, editor-in-chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, said J&J should be asking for a universal booster dose at two months. "He didn't use the term, but that's a two-dose vaccine," writes Branswell. The other aspect of the meeting that doesn't bode well for Johnson & Johnson is that the panel is considering whether to recommend that J&J recipients get a booster from a different company. A vote on that issue will come later. Either way, as health reporters note, the fact that the FDA panel shot down J&J's argument that its COVID-19 vaccine could continue as a single-shot dose with a long gap between the initial jab and an eventual booster is a blow to both the company and Americans who benefited from a "one and done."
10-15-21 100,000 workers take action as 'Striketober' hits the US
More than 100,000 US workers will strike, or have threatened to in October, as a wave of industrial action dubbed "Striketober" hits America. On Thursday, 10,000 workers at farm equipment maker John Deere walked out over pay and conditions. Some 60,000 TV and film crew workers are set to strike on Monday, while 24,000 nurses could also protest. It follows a rise in US union activity after decades of decline, as staff demanded better rights in the pandemic. Employers have also found themselves on the back foot amid a labour shortage that has forced them to push up wages for the lowest paid. Thousands of other workers were already on strike in October, including 700 nurses in Massachusetts, 2,000 New York hospital workers and 1,400 Kellogg factory workers in Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. Some 6,500 lecturers in California are also on the brink of a walkout. On Thursday, left wing Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez voiced her support for the action using the hashtag #Striketober which has gone viral. 10,000 Deere & Company workers based mainly in Iowa and Illinois walked out on Thursday, in what is the largest US strike since 2019. They have rejected a new contract they say insufficiently increases wages and weakens pension rights. Deere said it was determined to reach an agreement that "put every employee in a better economic position". In addition, more than 24,000 nurses and other healthcare workers in California and Oregon voted on Monday to allow a strike, after pay negotiations with the private hospital group Kaiser Permanente stalled. Among other things, they want a 4% annual pay rise and longer breaks to tackle pandemic-related burnout. Kasier says it hopes to resolve the matter swiftly. Meanwhile, many US TV and film studios will stop work on Monday as 60,000 film and crew workers go on strike. It would be the biggest labour walkout in Hollywood since World War Two. Their union - the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees - accuses Hollywood giants such as Warner Bros and Netflix of failing to give workers proper breaks. Employees frequently work 12-hour days - often without meal breaks, it says. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (which represents the big media firms) says it continues "to negotiate in good faith".
10-15-21 Steve Bannon: Congress plots criminal charge for former Trump aide
A committee investigating the 6 January Capitol riot has said it will pursue criminal charges against former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon next week. Mr Bannon had been summoned to testify before the congressional panel investigating the riot on Thursday. He did not appear, prompting the head of the committee to schedule a Tuesday vote to hold him in criminal contempt. If convicted, Mr Bannon faces a fine and up to one year in prison. Democrats say he is trying to delay the probe. Mr Bannon - a former right-wing media executive who became Mr Trump's chief strategist - was fired from the White House in 2017 and was not in government at the time of the January riot. But he has been asked to testify regarding his communication with Mr Trump a week before the incident - as well as his involvement in discussing plans to overturn the election results that saw Joe Biden win the White House. Mr Trump's supporters stormed the Capitol building in Washington, DC on 6 January in a failed bid to overturn the certification of Mr Biden's victory. Hundreds of Mr Trump's supporters have since been arrested for their actions that day. Subpoena documents quoted Mr Bannon as saying "all hell is going to break loose tomorrow" on the eve of the riot, which left five dead. Mr Bannon has repeatedly said he has no plans to appear before the committee. He has argued that executive privilege, which shields some presidential communications, protects his discussions with Mr Trump. Mr Bannon's lawyers say he will continue to resist until a court has ruled on the matter. Democrats argue that Mr Bannon is employing a delaying tactic in an attempt to push back proceedings until after the midterm elections in November 2022, which may change the balance of power in the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of Congress.
10-15-21 Covid boosters: Who needs them and how do they help?
A panel advising the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is meeting to debate the need for additional doses of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. On Thursday, Moderna received a unanimous FDA panel vote in favour of a half-dose booster - but this has not been fully authorised just yet. The meetings this week come one month after the FDA authorised Pfizer booster jabs for some Americans, including those over 65 or at higher risk of severe illness and who work in frontline jobs. Prior to the FDA's decision, an advisory panel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had recommended that only those above 65 and immunocompromised people between 50 and 64 receive boosters. The Biden administration and the pharmaceutical companies involved have all offered broad support for boosters. While the approval meant that tens of millions of US residents became eligible for a third jab, Americans across the country remain confused about boosters, who needs them and how they help. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that a vast majority - 76% - of Americans that have been partially or fully vaccinated want a booster jab. Many Americans, however, say they are confused about who can receive the boosters and what the benefits are. "Of course, I'm confused. On one day the White House said that they'd give boosters to everyone. It turns out only some people can get them. I still don't know who decides," said Virginia resident David Williams. "It seems to me there's been a lot of contradictions." Others have reported being confused by the difference between the term "booster" and "third jab" and whether they mean the same thing or not. Doctors typically use the term "booster" when referencing additional doses being given after the protection provided by the original vaccine begins to decrease. A third dose, on the other hand, typically refers to additional doses being given to immunocompromised people. Over the course of the pandemic, however, the terms have been used interchangeably in many instances.
10-15-21 Covid: US to lift travel ban for fully jabbed on 8 November
The US has announced that it will reopen its borders to fully vaccinated travellers from 8 November. Under new rules announced by the White House, vaccinated people who have had a negative test in the 72 hours before travelling will be allowed to enter. The move marks the end of the tough restrictions that have been imposed on travellers since early last year. "This policy is guided by public health, stringent and consistent," a White House spokesman said. The current rules bar entry to most non-US citizens who have been in the UK and a number of other European countries, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil within the last 14 days. People who have received a jab from one of the vaccines approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or that have an Emergency Use Listing from the World Health Organization (WHO) will qualify under the system. Accepting WHO approved shots will allow travellers who have received the AstraZeneca jab, widely used in the UK, as well as China's Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines, to enter the country.
10-15-21 Covid-19 news: UK lab may have given 43,000 false PCR test results
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. Operations suspended at Wolverhampton testing lab after investigation. An estimated 43,000 people may have been given false negative results on covid-19 PCR tests, the UK Health Security Agency has said. NHS Test and Trace has suspended testing operations provided by Immensa Health Clinic Ltd at its laboratory in Wolverhampton following an investigation into reports of people receiving negative PCR test results after they have previously tested positive on a lateral flow test. Samples that would have gone to the lab are now being redirected to others. “There is no evidence of any faults with LFD [lateral flow] or PCR test kits themselves and the public should remain confident in using them and in other laboratory services currently provided, said Will Welfare, public health incident director at UKHSA. People who are taking statins may be less likely to die from coronavirus than similar people not on the medication, research suggests. Statins are a common treatment prescribed for lowering cholesterol in the blood. The research, published in PLOS Medicine, analysed data from 963,876 residents of Stockholm over the age of 45 between March and November 2020. It found that statin treatment was associated with a slightly lower risk of dying from covid-19. It is unclear whether the statins themselves cause a lower death rate, or if other factors are responsible. Charities have called the rollout of booster vaccines for people with compromised immune systems in the UK “a chaotic failure”, with less than half of those eligible contacted so far. Surveys by Blood Cancer UK and Kidney Care UK found that between 55 and 60 per cent of both patient groups have yet to be invited for a third dose. “It is now clear that the rollout of the third doses for the immunocompromised has been a failure that was poorly planned and badly implemented,” said Gemma Peters, chief executive for Blood Cancer UK.
10-15-21 Covid: Wave of Italian protests against mandatory work pass
Dockers at three big ports have staged protests at the requirement for all Italian workers to show a Covid pass. The Green Pass shows whether you have had the Covid vaccine, recovered from it or had a negative test. It became mandatory for all workplaces on Friday. About 6,000 workers went on strike outside Trieste port, a maritime gateway for northern Italy, Germany, Austria and central Europe. There was disruption in Genoa and Ancona too, but dockers worked normally in Italy's other major ports at Venice, Palermo, Naples and Gioia Tauro, Ansa news agency reported. About three million Italian workers are estimated to be still unvaccinated and protests were reported in many of the big cities. The move to make the Covid pass compulsory for workers is among the world's toughest anti-Covid measures. A worker without a Green Pass risks being suspended without pay and may be fined up to €1,500 (£1,270; $1,740). The pass, introduced in June, was already required for teachers and other school workers, for access to bars and restaurants and for leisure venues such as cinemas and football stadiums. Italy's coalition government, led by Mario Draghi, is extending it in the hope of avoiding another lockdown. Two-thirds of Italians consider it necessary, according to an Ipsos opinion poll this week. However, opponents rioted in Rome on 9 October. The far-right Forza Nuova party led violent protesters who vandalised the CGIL trade union building in Rome, during clashes with police. Overall more than 85% of Italians aged over 12 have had at least one jab, and officials said a further 1.2 million vaccinations had been carried out in the past week. "It is time to stop the economy, which is perhaps the only way we can show this government that many people are struggling," port workers' spokesman Stefano Puzzer told Rai TV. "We will carry on until the Green Pass goes."
10-15-21 Christchurch: New Zealand city parts ways with its wizard
The New Zealand city of Christchurch has cast its official wizard from the payroll after 23 years of service. Ian Brackenbury Channell, 88, was paid NZ$16,000 (£8,200; $11,280) a year to provide "acts of wizardry" and promote the city. However the city has now ended his contract, saying it is going in a more modern and diverse direction. Christchurch is the only city to have had an official Wizard since 1982, the city council's website says. Mr Channell told local media that he no longer fitted "the vibes" of the city because he was a provocateur. "They are a bunch of bureaucrats who have no imagination,'' he told the New Zealand news website, Stuff. Since he started as the official wizard more than two decades ago, Mr Channell has been paid some $368,000 under a unique tax-free status. According to his website, he holds a New Zealand driving licence under the name The Wizard. He is regarded as a tourist attraction for Christchurch, has performed rain-dances in New Zealand and Australia during droughts, and was on the Queen's Birthday Honours list in 2009. He was prominent during protests against the demolition of heritage buildings following the 2011 Canterbury earthquakes. Mr Channell was even declared a living work of art by the New Zealand Art Gallery Directors Association in 1982. But he has also been criticised for his remarks about women. Among other comments, he said "never strike a woman because they bruise too easily" on a comedy current affairs show in April, according to The Guardian. Born in London, Mr Channell studied sociology and psychology at Leeds University before moving to Australia where he taught sociology at the University of New South Wales. He moved to Christchurch in the early 1970s and became a regular fixture in the city square, where he would speak while standing high on a ladder dressed in his long cloak and pointed hat. The police tried to arrest him, but this enraged the public, and instead the square was made into a designated public speaking area.
10-15-21 The European right is in retreat
The financial crisis boosted the European right. The pandemic is helping the left. For several years after the 2008 financial crisis, it seemed that any brand of European lefty party, from socialist to milquetoast liberal, was on the road to extinction. Center-right or even far-right parties dominated elections from the Nordics to Hungary. The one high-profile success on the left, Greece's Syriza, was mercilessly crushed by European Union technocrats in 2015. But today, conservative parties are struggling and the broad left is showing signs of strength across Europe. It's a tentative sign that the far-right extremism fueled by the 2008 economic crisis is running into its limits. In Germany, for instance, recent elections saw the center-right Union party alliance (CDU/CSU) turn in the worst performance since its founding in 1949, with just 24 percent of the vote and 196 seats in the Bundestag — beaten outright by center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), which got 26 percent and 206 seats, their best performance since 2002. The Green Party had its best-ever result at 15 percent, while the centrist Liberals increased slightly to 12 percent. Further out parties lost on both sides — the far-right Alternative for Germany fell two points to 10 percent, while the Left Party had its worst showing since it was founded in 2007, not even reaching 5 percent. Coalition talks are underway, but it is reportedly likely that there will be a "stop light" coalition between the SPD, the Greens, and the Liberals. If true, that would mean the first non-conservative German chancellor since Angela Merkel first won in 2005. In Norway, by contrast, recent elections saw a decisive defeat of the incumbent conservative coalition, but while the center-left Labor Party got the most votes (at 26 percent), it actually lost one percentage point of support compared to 2017. The real change was collapse on the right and a rise of alternatives: the Conservative Party lost five points and nine seats, and the far-right, anti-immigrant Progress Party lost four points and six seats. Meanwhile, the Centre Party (a euroskeptic agrarian party) gained three points and nine seats; the Socialist Left Party gained two points and three seats; and the far-left Red Party gained three points and seven seats. Coalition talks between Labor and the left parties broke down over disagreements over oil, climate, and taxes, and presently Labor leader Jonas Gahr Støre has formed a minority government with the Centre Party. But he will need other parties' support to pass any laws, and will no doubt be governing with one eye looking over his left shoulder. The story in Norway is broadly similar to the 2019 elections in Denmark and Finland, when the ruling center-right coalitions were defeated thanks to a surge of support for various center-left and socialist parties. Conservatives are now out of government in every Nordic country. Other elections complicate the story somewhat. In the Czech Republic the right-wing blowhard Prime Minister Andrej Babis recently lost narrowly against a coalition of center-left and center-right parties. Babis — who explicitly modeled himself on Donald Trump to the point of producing his own trucker hat with a slogan of "Strong Czechia" — tried to win by whipping up deranged anti-immigrant xenophobia, but his feckless governance and manifest corruption helped bring him down. It was more support for democracy in general and a reaction against a spectacularly crooked far-right demagogue than a surge for the center-left Pirate Party that finished him. Nevertheless, it still counts as a move away from the right.
10-14-21 What pandemic experts are predicting for the U.S. this winter
As winter approaches, many Americans may be nervously recalling the COVID-19 surge of last year, and wondering whether we're barrelling toward holidays-on-lockdown 2.0. Scientists are considering the same questions, but reassuring that the U.S. is "definitely, without a doubt, hands-down in a better place this year," as Boston University's Dr. Nahid Bhadelia told The New York Times. Experts are cautioning Americans to remain vigilant in preventative measures, but also leaving room for optimism. Though another winter surge is "plausible," writes the Times, the Delta-driven wave of coronavirus cases is likely winding down. Another point that suggests this winter will lead the U.S. in the right direction is that government agencies are expected to soon approve a vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, which most parents say they'll welcome gladly. Given all the progress that has been made in combating the pandemic, Stanford University's Dr. Joshua Salomon told the Times, "it's not likely that [this year] will be as deadly as the surge we had last winter, unless we get really unlucky with respect to a new variant." On the other hand, reports The Washington Post, doctors are also expecting a winter "twindemic" with spikes in both coronavirus infections and flu cases. "Americans have built up less natural immunity against influenza because so few were infected in 2020," writes the Post. While this was a worry last winter, too, experts say it could be a larger concern this year since Americans are largely less locked-down now. Another big question mark, reports Stat News, is whether immunity, especially among unvaccinated Americans, may fade and trigger new community-wide waves. While immunity from vaccines has held strong in the months since they rolled out across the U.S., researchers are keeping a close eye on possible subsiding protection levels. Among unvaccinated Americans, immunity following COVID-19 infection could wane, leading to second or third cases. As Stat writes, "the crystal ball may be cloudy," but the Times notes that "our behavior is, at least, under our control, and it remains a critical variable."
10-14-21 Texas school official tells teachers they need to offer books with 'opposing' perspectives on the Holocaust
Teachers in a Texas school district were told last week that to go along with a new state law, if they have a book about the Holocaust in their classroom library, they need to also provide a book with an "opposing" perspective, NBC News reports. A teacher with the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake recorded Friday's discussion and shared it with NBC News. In the recording, the district's executive director of curriculum and instruction, Gina Peddy, is heard saying that teachers need to "try to remember the concepts" of House Bill 3979, which requires teachers offer different perspectives while discussing controversial issues. Peddy added, "And make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust, that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives." One teacher is heard asking, "How do you oppose the Holocaust?" In response, Peddy said, "Believe me. That's come up." Peddy did not respond to requests for comment from NBC News. A spokeswoman said the Carroll Independent School District is trying to help teachers comply with the law and "has not and will not mandate books be removed nor will we mandate that classroom libraries be unavailable." Six district teachers spoke with NBC News and shared their concerns, saying they have received mixed messages. They are also concerned that earlier this week, the school board voted to reprimand a fourth grade teacher after a parent complained about an anti-racism book in her classroom. "Teachers are literally afraid that we're going to be punished for having books in our class," one elementary school teacher told NBC News. "There are no children's books that show the 'opposing perspective' of the Holocaust or the 'opposing perspective' of slavery. Are we supposed to get rid of all of the books on those subjects?"
10-14-21 U.S. 'working closely' with partners to resume regular evacuation flights out of Afghanistan
The U.S. State Department plans to resume regular evacuation flights out of Afghanistan before the end of the year, or "as soon as we have the right combination of documentation and logistics," said a senior department official to The Wall Street Journal. Since the U.S. occupation ended on Aug. 31, over 200 U.S. citizens and residents have left Afghanistan on charter flights, since Kabul's international aiport is still closed to regular air travel. "Our goal is to accelerate the pace of these ongoing charter flights, and we are working closely with our partners to do that," added a second official. Additional flights will help residents, some visa applicants, and the small number of remaining U.S. citizens leave the country, and "will require coordination with the Taliban and other governments," explained the first official. There is no scheduled date for which flights will resume because the State Department is "still working through arrangements with neighboring countries," writes the Journal, like traveler documentation and flight permissions. "As soon as we have the right combination of documentation and logistics, we will get going again," said the first senior State Department official. Eventually, the U.S. would like to "run several flights a week," and "plans to centralize its evacuation efforts through Qatar," says the Journal. Special Immigrant Visa applicants will be eligible for seats on the flights, so long as they've completed the required procedural steps. Other at-risk Afghans, like female judges or government workers, will not qualify for flights under the current plan, adds the Journal. Said the first department official: "I think we're prepared to do this for the foreseeable future, that is certainly the reason for reorganizing the overall effort."
10-14-21 COVID-19 was the No. 1 killer of Americans age 35 to 54 last month, and No. 2 overall
COVID-19 was the No. 1 leading cause of death in the U.S. in January, at the peak of last winter's brutal coronavirus surge, but then vaccines became widely available and it dropped to No. 7 by July, the Kaiser Family Foundation says in a new analysis of COVID-19 fatalities. Then the Delta variant hit and found ample unvaccinated Americans to kick COVID-19 back up to the No. 2 killer in August and September, the leading cause of death for Americans age 35 to 54, and even the sixth or seventh leading cause of death for children. In September, "COVID-19 took the lives of 1,899 people per day on average," KFF writes. "By comparison, heart disease, which is typically the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. each year, leads to the death of about 2,000 Americans per day, and cancer claims about 1,600 American lives per day." Deaths are declining now, but "an average of over 1,600 people per day continued to die of COVID-19 in the first week of October," KFF said, "even as safe and effective vaccines have been free and widely available to adults in all states and D.C. since early May." September would still be alive if they had gotten vaccinated, including 49,000 people in September alone. "The overwhelming majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths continue to be preventable," KFF says. As of Oct. 7, about 78 percent of U.S. adults 18 and older have gotten at least one vaccine dose, KFF says, and more than 50 million adults remain unvaccinated. "In the first months after the vaccine rollout, Black Americans were far less likely than white Americans to be vaccinated," The New York Times reports. "But a wave of pro-vaccine campaigns and a surge of virus hospitalizations and deaths this summer, mostly among the unvaccinated and caused by the highly contagious Delta variant, have narrowed the gap," erasing it in low-vaccination states like Alabama, North Carolina, and Mississippi. If Mississippi — where 1 of every 300 residents has died of COVID 19 — were a country, it would have the world's third-highest per capita death rate, Times reporter Mike Baker noted. He also estimates that nearly 500,000 fewer Americans would have died of COVID-19 if the U.S. had managed to keep its fatality rate on par with Canada.
10-14-21 Covid boosters: Who needs them and how do they help?
A panel advising the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is meeting to debate the need for additional doses of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. The meetings on Thursday and Friday come one month after the FDA authorised Pfizer booster jabs for some Americans, including those over 65 or at higher risk of severe illness and who work in frontline jobs. Prior to the FDA's decision, an advisory panel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had recommended that only those above 65 and immunocompromised people between 50 and 64 receive boosters. The Biden administration and the pharmaceutical companies involved have all offered broad support for boosters. While the approval meant that tens of millions of US residents became eligible for a third jab, Americans across the country remain confused about boosters, who needs them and how they help. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that a vast majority - 76% - of Americans that have been partially or fully vaccinated want a booster jab. Many Americans, however, say they are confused about who can receive the boosters and what the benefits are. "Of course, I'm confused. On one day the White House said that they'd give boosters to everyone. It turns out only some people can get them. I still don't know who decides," said Virginia resident David Williams. "It seems to me there's been a lot of contradictions." Others have reported being confused by the difference between the term "booster" and "third jab" and whether they mean the same thing or not. Doctors typically use the term "booster" when referencing additional doses being given after the protection provided by the original vaccine begins to decrease. A third dose, on the other hand, typically refers to additional doses being given to immunocompromised people. Over the course of the pandemic, however, the terms have been used interchangeably in many instances. "I wasn't confused until recently when I began seeing the language of 'third or booster'," said Nevada resident Doris Rueda. "I think so many people think they are one and the same, but I think knowing there is a difference is important, especially [if one has] immunocompromised relatives."
10-14-21 Covid-19 news: Positive lateral flow test results ‘should be trusted’
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. Lateral flow tests are more accurate than first thought, analysis suggests. Positive results on lateral flow tests should be trusted when levels of covid-19 in the population are high, say researchers after a new analysis of the tests’ accuracy. Lateral flow (LF) tests, which can be carried out at home and give rapid results, are considered less reliable than PCR tests done in a laboratory. However, the tests measure different things: LF tests detect material from the surface proteins of the virus and identify people who are likely to be infectious, while PCR tests detect genetic material from the virus which can remain in the body for weeks after someone is infectious. This means it is expected that LF tests will not identify all the same cases as PCR tests, so a like-for-like comparison is inappropriate, says Irene Peterson at University College London. Using a new formula to assess the tests’ sensitivity, Peterson and her colleagues found that LF tests are more than 80 per cent effective at detecting any level of covid-19 infection and likely to be more than 90 per cent effective at detecting who is most infectious when they take the test. Coronavirus infections were rising exponentially among five to 17-year-olds in England in September, coinciding with the start of the autumn school term. The latest results from the React-1 study, based on more than 100,000 swabs from a random sample of the population, show that the overall prevalence of the virus has remained stable, with one in 120 people infected between 9 and 27 September. However, the infection rate grew among those aged under 18, and fell among those aged 18-54. The data also show that for vaccinated people, the risk of infection increases more than three months after vaccination. This finding “reinforces the need for a booster programme”, study leader Paul Elliott at Imperial College London told The Guardian. The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced a new team of 26 scientists charged with investigating the origins of the covid-19 pandemic. Its initial investigation concluded in March 2021 that the virus was probably transmitted from bats to humans via another animal, but said more research was needed. The new Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (Sago) will review what is already known and assess what further studies should be undertaken. “This is our best chance, and it may be our last chance to understand the origins of this virus,” said Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme. However, Chen Xu, China’s Ambassador to the UN, said the results of the initial study were “quite clear” and teams should be sent to other places.
10-14-21 Biden announces multi-industry '90-day sprint' to unsnarl clogged ports before Christmas
President Biden on Wednesday announced agreements with the largest U.S. port, retailers, and freight haulers to fix some kinks in the twisted global supply chain that have fed inflation, caused random shortages of goods, and threatens to disrupt holiday consumer spending. Analysts called it a good first step but said there's only so much a U.S. president can do unsnarl a global logistical mess involving rampant consumer demand running headlong into Asian factory problems, shipping jams and container shortages, and pandemic-related labor issues throughout the supply chain. The Port of Los Angeles agreed to join its sister port, Long Beach, and start operating 24/7, the White House said, while Walmart, FedEx, UPS, Target, and Home Depot committed to sending more drivers to the ports in the expanded hours to remove shipping containers clogging the ports and get the products to shelves. Labor unions agreed to supply the workers. The White House described the effort as a "90-day sprint" to clear a path for cargo. "Today's announcement has the potential to be a game changer," Biden said. "I say potential because all of these goods won't move by themselves. For the positive impact to be felt all across the country, and by all of you at home, we need major retailers who order the goods and the freight movers who take the goods from ships to factories and to stores to step up as well." The global supply chain has been stressed throughout the pandemic, exposing weak links in the U.S., including outdated ports that operate much fewer hours than those in Europe and Asia. The upgrades Biden has been working to implement for months won't help get toys on shelves before Christmas. "This is a good first step, although it is quite astonishing, and a measure of how severe this is, that it apparently takes the personal involvement of the president of the United States to get this obvious measure implemented," Bjorn Vang Jensen, vice president of global supply chain at Denmark's Sea-Intelligence ApS, tells The Wall Street Journal. "The bottom line is that there are challenges — because of the demand, because of the systemic issues — that affect the supply chain," Federal Maritime Commission chairman Dan Maffei tells Politico. "They are not going to cancel Christmas but are maybe going to make it so that you can't get the exact toy you want for your kids."
10-14-21 LA port to open round the clock to tackle shipping queues
One of biggest US ports will start operating 24 hours a day to try to clear long queues of cargo ships stuck waiting outside. It comes as officials scramble to ease global supply issues that may lead to goods shortages this Christmas. The Port of Los Angeles in California will handle more goods at night after a similar move by nearby Long Beach port. The ports - which handle 40% of all cargo containers entering the US - have faced months of problems. Major US firms such as Walmart and FedEx have also committed to increasing their round-the-clock operations to help clear the jam, the White House said on Wednesday. Global supply chains have been disrupted as economies have unlocked and consumer demand has roared back. As retailers rushed to restock their inventories, the shipping system struggled to keep up. Covid shutdowns at major ports and factories in Asia have added to the problem. It has led to shortages of children's toys, timber, new clothes and pet food in the US and elsewhere, while also pushing up consumer prices. The ports of LA and Long Beach - which are the main seaborne gateway to the US - have been hit hard. LA had to move 30% more shipping containers than usual in August, while Long Beach moved an extra 23%. On one day in September, a record 73 ships were forced to queue outside for a berth. Before Covid, it was unusual for more than one to have to wait at a time. Earlier this year, the Biden administration set up a Supply Chains Task Force and appointed a Port Envoy to find remedies for the disruption. Both the ports of LA and Long Beach will now offer more new off-peak night-time shifts and weekend hours, so they can unload cargo faster. On Wednesday, Walmart, UPS, FedEx, Samsung, The Home Depot and Target agreed to boost their night time operations at the port - something that should help clear 3,500 extra containers a week. The Biden administration hopes the plan will also unlock capacity in the rest of the supply chain, including US highways, railways and warehouses.
10-14-21 Afghanistan: Pakistan airline stops flights citing Taliban intimidation
Pakistan International Airlines has suspended flights to the Afghan capital Kabul, citing "heavy-handed" interference from the Taliban. The decision came after the Taliban ordered the airline to cut prices to levels seen before the fall of the Western-backed government in August. PIA has been the only foreign carrier operating regular flights out of Kabul. Tickets to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, had been selling for up to 10 times the August rate. The Taliban government's Transport Ministry said in a statement quoted by Reuters that tickets should "be adjusted to correspond with the conditions of a ticket before the victory of the Islamic Emirate", i.e. $120-150 (£87-110). It urged passengers to report any violations of this order, which was also directed at Afghan carrier Kam Air. Flights could be banned if the airlines did not comply, it added. But PIA spokesman Abdullah Khan said the company had to deal with last-minute changes by officials to regulations and flight permissions. Its staff were also facing intimidation, with its representative held at gunpoint for several hours, Mr Khan added. Services between the two countries have been severely limited since international flights resumed last month following the departure of US troops at the end of August. Mr Khan said that insurance premiums were so high that it was impossible to operate scheduled flights, and that the airline's decision to resume charter flights on 13 September had been taken on humanitarian grounds. A dire shortage of seats has meant one way tickets selling for as much as $1,200. However, there has been disappointment at PIA's decision from some passengers. "We are in bad need of these flights. The borders are closed, now if the airport is closed, it is like we are all in a cage," pharmaceutical company employee Abdullah told Reuters.
10-14-21 Is Trump's power over Republicans starting to slip?
Donald Trump's recent visit to Iowa - a key state in the presidential nomination process - has fuelled speculation that he is preparing for a 2024 White House run. With a base that loves him and Republican politicians who defer to him, he is still a powerful force within the party. But if he harbours presidential ambitions, he's not alone - and at least some conservatives aren't fully on board. There was a telling moment during Donald Trump's rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines on Saturday night. About halfway through his two-hour speech, the former president invited Senator Chuck Grassley onto the stage and endorsed his upcoming re-election campaign. Grassley, at age 88, is the longest-serving Republican in the US Senate. He was first elected to public office when Dwight D Eisenhower was president. He has won his last four re-election campaigns by an average of 34% and hasn't faced a Republican primary opponent since 1980. If there's one person in the Republican Party who shouldn't need Donald Trump's help to get re-elected, it's Chuck Grassley. Back in January, Grassley - like many prominent Republicans - seemed on the verge of cutting ties with Trump. He called the 6 January assault on the US Capitol by Trump supporters an "attack on American democracy itself". In February, he issued a blistering press release saying that, while he was voting to acquit Trump during his impeachment trial for allegedly instigating the 6 Capitol attack, he condemned the then-president's unwillingness to accept his election loss and called his language "extreme, aggressive and irresponsible". But on a balmy night in October, the Iowa senator was basking in the glow of the former president's loyal crowd - and openly acknowledged exactly why he was doing so. "I may have been born at night, but I wasn't born last night," Grassley said. "So if I didn't accept the endorsement of a person that's got 91 percent of the Republican voters in Iowa, I wouldn't be too smart."
10-13-21 House Jan. 6 committee hears testimony from Trump's final attorney general, subpoenas his deputy
Jeffrey Rosen, the acting attorney general in the tumultuous final days of the Trump administration, sat for eight hours of closed-door testimony Wednesday with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol siege, The Washington Post and Politico report, each citing two people familiar with the meeting. Rosen appeared before the committee voluntarily, and he explained his notes about events leading up to the Jan. 6 riot and testified about the steps the Justice Department took to counter the attack on the Capitol, the Post reports. The Jan. 6 panel also reportedly asked Rosen about his interactions with Jeffrey Clark, the former acting head of the DOJ's civil division and, according to emails and previous testimony, a key ally of President Trump in his efforts to stop President Biden from taking office. The committee wanted to know which of Clark's allies were inside the Justice Department and which were outside of the government, the Post reports. The Jan. 6 committee also subpoenaed Clark on Wednesday, requesting documents and an in-person deposition by Oct. 29. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said his committee needs to "understand Mr. Clark's role" in the "efforts inside the previous administration to delay the certification of the 2020 election and amplify misinformation about the election results," including "who was involved across the administration." Emails and Senate testimony from Rosen show that Clark nearly got Trump to appoint him attorney general in early January as part of an effort to nullify Biden's victory. "Well, here's the thing, Jeff Clark, my subordinates don't get to fire me," Rosen told Clark, according to his Senate testimony. It isn't clear how Clark will respond to the subpoena. Several of the witnesses contacted by the Jan. 6 committee are cooperating, others are "engaging" in negotiations, and at least one, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, has declined to participate, citing Trump's claims of executive privilege. Legal experts are dubious Trump's efforts to stop his former aides from testifying will be upheld by the courts, but the Jan. 6 committee has threatened to seek criminal contempt charges against those who ignore the subpoenas. It also has other options, the Post explains. "While Congress' enforcement power of subpoenas has its weak spots, if it wants to really ramp up the pressure, there aren't a lot of ways around avoiding a subpoena, other than going to jail."
10-13-21 Covid-19: US airlines defy Texas order to stop mandatory jabs
Two major US airlines have said they will not comply with an order from the Texas governor that bans companies from enforcing Covid-19 vaccinations. American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, which are both based in Texas, will still require all their employees to get the jabs. Last month, President Joe Biden said that staff of large companies must get vaccinated or face weekly testing. But Texas Governor Greg Abbott said vaccinations should "remain voluntary". On Tuesday, Mr Abbott, who is a strong opponent of making Covid-19 jabs mandatory, issued an executive order banning all organisations, including private companies, from enforcing vaccinations in the state. But American and Southwest Airlines have said they will stick with the federal order made by the president. American Airlines told Bloomberg: "We believe the federal vaccine mandate supersedes any conflicting state laws, and this does not change anything for American." Similarly, Southwest said it "would be expected to comply with the president's order to remain compliant as a federal contractor." The companies are in a complicated situation because they have contracts with the federal government to transport employees and goods, but their headquarters are in Texas. Under Joe Biden's sweeping changes, staff of all companies with more than 100 workers must be vaccinated by 8 December or agree to have regular tests, if they want to keep their jobs. There are limited exceptions. Southwest CEO Gary Kelly told CNBC that it was about keeping people safe and employed. "I've never been in favour of corporations imposing that kind of a mandate," he said. "The objective here, obviously, is to improve health and safety, not for people to lose their jobs," Mr Kelly added. When the changes were first announced by the president, both airlines said they would comply, and offered incentives such as extra pay for staff to get the shots. American Airlines, the country's largest carrier, employs more than 130,500 people. Southwest Airlines, which is the fourth largest airline in the US, employs 54,000 staff. A business group based in Texas, the Greater Houston Partnership, which counts ExxonMobil, Chevron and J.P. Morgan as its members, has also said it will continue supporti
10-13-21 Covid-19 news: Conflicting results raise questions over PCR tests
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 authorities investigate discrepancies between PCR and lateral flow tests. The UK Health Security Agency is investigating reports of people testing positive for the coronavirus in lateral flow tests but getting negative results on PCR tests, many of whom also have symptoms of covid-19. Under current rules, those who have negative results on PCR tests do not have to self-isolate, but scientists are increasingly concerned that PCR tests may be giving false assurances. PCR tests are generally considered to be the “gold standard”, but some studies suggest they give false negative results to as many as 30-40 per cent of people who actually have the virus. However, the proportion of lateral flow positives that were confirmed by PCR tests dropped in the most recent NHS Test and Trace statistics, suggesting something else besides false PCR negatives is happening, Oliver Johnson at the University of Bristol told The Guardian. The US will reopen its land borders with Canada and Mexico for fully vaccinated travellers next month. Only essential travel has been permitted since the start of the pandemic. The US will accept travellers who have been immunised with any of the vaccines approved by the World Health Organization, not just those in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Essential travellers such as truck drivers will also have to be vaccinated, but this requirement will not come into force until January, officials said. Around one in three UK doctors do not believe their organisation is ready for the challenges of winter, a doctors’ group is warning. A poll for the Royal College of Physicians found that medics also felt personally unprepared to deal with upcoming pressures, with many experiencing exhaustion and feeling demoralised. In the poll of more than 800 doctors, eight out of 10 of whom were consultants and most of whom worked in the NHS, 36 per cent said their organisation was not at all prepared for winter. Some 27 per cent of doctors said they were personally unprepared, and almost two-thirds said they were feeling tired or exhausted.
10-13-21 US to reopen Mexico Canada land borders for fully vaccinated travellers
The US has said it will reopen its land borders with Mexico and Canada to fully vaccinated travellers from November. It means those sealed out of the US because of the pandemic can enter - for any reason - using land and ferry crossing points. Unvaccinated travellers will still be banned from entering the US from Mexico and Canada by land. Air travel is allowed with a negative Covid test. The US has curbed travel from Mexico and Canada since March 2020. "We are pleased to be taking steps to resume regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. Currently, most non-US citizens who have been to the UK, China, India, South Africa, Iran, Brazil and a number of European countries within the past 14 days are not allowed into the US. But those rules will also be lifted in November, the Biden administration announced last month. Essential travellers, including students, truck drivers, US citizens and healthcare workers were never banned from crossing land borders. However from January 2022, they will also need to show proof of vaccination to get into the US from Mexico or Canada. "This approach will provide ample time for essential travellers... to get vaccinated," the Department of Homeland Security said. An exact date in November has not yet been announced, but will be "very soon", an official told Reuters news agency. Canada opened its border to fully vaccinated travellers from the US on 9 August. Mexico's border has remained open throughout the whole pandemic. A controversial law which allows the US to swiftly expel undocumented migrants to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in holding facilities will stay in place, US media reports. The border legislation, known as Title 42, has cut off access to asylum for hundreds of thousands of migrants trying to enter from Mexico.
10-13-21 U.S. to open Canada and Mexico borders to vaccinated visitors in November
The U.S. will open its land borders to fully vaccinated nonessential travelers in early November, at the same time it beings allowing fully vaccinated and COVID-free foreign nationals to arrive by air, senior Biden administration officials said Tuesday night. The policy shift, following 19 months of closed borders with Mexico and Canada, will be formally announced Wednesday. Unlike air travelers, those arriving by automobile, rail, or ferry will not need a negative COVID-19 test, and proof of inclusion with any vaccine approved by the World Health Organization will be accepted. While nonessential travel has been restricted from Mexico and Canada since the COVID-19 pandemic began, essential travel, notably trade, has been allowed. Truck drivers and other travelers deemed essential will have until mid-January to be fully vaccinated. Canada has already started allowing in fully vaccinated visitors from the U.S., with a negative test conducted within 72 hours of entry, and Mexico has been restriction-free all pandemic. Both countries have been pressuring the U.S. to open its borders. The new rules apply only to those seeking legal entry at U.S. land borders, U.S. officials cautioned, and those seeking to enter without permission will still be subject to expulsion under the pandemic-related Title 42 public health order.
10-13-21 Gabby Petito: US blogger was strangled to death - coroner
A 22-year-old "van life" blogger who went missing on a road trip with her fiancé was strangled to death, a Wyoming coroner has ruled. Gabby Petito had been dead for several weeks when her body was found last month near a national park the couple had visited, coroner Brent Blue said. Ms Petito's fiancé Brian Laundrie is a person of interest in the case but has been missing since mid-September. The plight of the travel influencer captured global attention. She had been documenting their nomadic "van life" trip through national parks in the American West on social media. Her disappearance also triggered a debate over the amount of attention accorded to missing white women. On Tuesday, Dr Blue told a news conference that Ms Petito's body was found in a campsite with signs of strangulation. Her body had been "outside in the wilderness for three to four weeks" before she was discovered on 20 September, the coroner said. He would not confirm if an item was used to kill her. He did not disclose details of her toxicology report, but did say that Ms Petito was not pregnant at the time of her death. The Teton County coroner's ruling follows an initial post-mortem in September in which he had called the death a homicide, meaning it had been caused by another person. Officials are in contact with Ms Petito's family about transferring her remains. "Unfortunately, this is only one of many deaths around the country of people who are involved in domestic violence and it's unfortunate that these other deaths do not get as much coverage as this one," Dr Blue added. He said the area was experiencing a "media circus". The case has also captivated amateur detectives, from TikTok sleuths to TV personalities. According to the FBI's National Crime Information Center, nearly 90,000 missing persons cases were actively ongoing at the end of 2020, though few receive national attention, let alone international coverage.
10-12-21 House approves legislation raising the debt ceiling until early December
The House on Tuesday evening approved a $480 billion debt ceiling increase, temporarily averting a default that could have been catastrophic to the U.S. economy. The 219-206 vote was along party lines. Last Thursday, the Senate passed the bill with a vote of 50-48. President Biden is expected to quickly sign the measure into law. Last month, the Treasury Department estimated that without congressional action, it wouldn't be able to pay the country's bills after Oct. 18. This new measure provides relief through Dec. 3, meaning lawmakers will have to revisit the issue soon. On Friday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wrote to Biden, telling him he won't work with Democrats on another debt limit increase.
10-12-21 Delta variant weakening global economic recovery, says IMF
The economic recovery has weakened in most rich nations due to the impact of the Delta variant of coronavirus, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) says. The fund cut its 2021 growth forecasts for advanced economies - in particular the US, Japan and Germany - but said most would grow strongly next year. But it warned developing ones may fall back due to a growing "vaccine divide". The IMF also voted to keep Kristalina Georgieva as its head after she was engulfed in a data rigging scandal. Ms Georgieva had vehemently denied claims she pressured staff to alter data in favour of China when she was head of the World Bank. The global economy contracted sharply in 2020, but rebounded strongly in the first half of this year as countries unlocked. However, in its latest World Economic Outlook, the IMF said "momentum had weakened" since then as the highly transmissible Delta variant of coronavirus stopped "a full return" to normality. IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath blamed the slowdown on continued health risks, supply chain disruption and higher inflation around the world. She also blamed shortages of raw materials and higher commodity prices, saying that "risks to economic prospects have increased". The IMF cut its projection for global growth in 2021 only marginally to 5.9%, but said it masked large downgrades for some rich countries. Notably it expects the world's largest economy, the US, to grow by only 6% this year, down from the 7% the fund forecast in July . It said Japan and Germany, the third and fourth largest, would expand by 2.4% and 3.1% respectively - down from 2.8% and 3.6%. The UK's economy is forecast to grow by 6.8% this year, down from the previous forecast of 7%. However, the IMF expects most advanced economies to return their pre-pandemic growth trends next year as supply chain issues ease, and to exceed it by about 1% in 2024. By contrast, it said emerging and developing economies (excluding China) could fall back and remain 5.5% below their pre-pandemic forecast by 2024.
10-12-21 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.
French study finds three covid-19 vaccines highly effective at preventing hospitalisation. Vaccination cuts the risk of dying or being hospitalised with covid-19 by over 90 per cent, according to a French study that is the largest of its kind yet. The research compared 11.3 million vaccinated people over the age of 50 with the same number of age-matched unvaccinated people between December 2020 and July 2021. The effectiveness was similar for the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines, and did not diminish during the five-month period of the study. The delta variant emerged in France just one month before the end of the study, but the results suggest that in this period, the vaccines were 84 per cent effective for those aged 75 and over and 92 per cent effective for those aged 50 to 74. Members of parliament have criticised the UK government’s response to the covid-19 pandemic in a wide-ranging report published today, accusing ministers of adopting a “fatalistic approach” to how much it could slow the spread of the virus. The report says the government made serious mistakes including ending community testing in March 2020, waiting too long to implement a lockdown, and allowing infected people to be sent from hospitals to care homes. Read our full story for more details. The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, has signed an executive order prohibiting any entity from enforcing covid-19 vaccine mandates in the state. The order conflicts with new rules being drawn up by the Biden Administration requiring employers with more than 100 workers to ensure their staff are vaccinated or tested weekly for the virus.
10-12-21 Texas Governor Greg Abbott bans mandatory vaccination in state
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has issued an executive order banning all organisations, including private companies, from enforcing vaccinations in the state. Mr Abbott, a Republican, has been one of the most vocal US leaders opposed to making coronavirus vaccines mandatory. He has issued similar orders before, but this is the first to include private employers and their customers. Many see mandating vaccines as encroaching on personal freedoms. The governor has called on state lawmakers to pass a ban into law. "The Covid-19 vaccine is safe, effective, and our best defence against the virus, but should remain voluntary and never forced," Mr Abbott said in a statement. The move will pit him against Democrat President Joe Biden, who called on firms last month to introduce mandatory vaccines for their staff. Earlier this year the governor lifted the requirement to wear masks in the state. He also signed an executive order in August against mandatory vaccinations for people who work in government agencies, including public schools and universities. Texas courts are dealing with multiple challenges to the lifting of the requirement to wear facemasks. Mr Abbott tested positive for coronavirus in August during a state-wide surge of hospital admissions. He credited his quick recovery to being fully vaccinated. The latest order comes as Mr Abbott faces pressure from two rival candidates in next year's Republican primary: former state Senator Don Huffines, and former Florida Congressman Allen West. Both competitors are strongly opposed to mandatory vaccinations. "[Mr Abbott] knows which the way the wind is blowing. He knows conservative Republican voters are tired of the vaccine mandates and tired of him being a failed leader," tweeted Mr Huffines. Many large businesses with a Texan presence have also come under the spotlight over the issue. Fort Worth-based American Airlines, the largest US carrier, told its 100,000 staff last week that they would be fired if they were unable to provide proof of full vaccination by 24 November. Facebook and Google, which employ a large number of people in the state, have also told employees that they would need proof of vaccination to return to the office.
10-12-21 Black scientists say UK research is institutionally racist
Dr Jazmin Scarlett, a student in volcanology, had been excited to embark on a career in academic research. She believed she was well placed to get job offers given she has a distinction in her masters and is a recipient of the prestigious President's medal from the Royal Geological Society. But almost a year on from obtaining her PhD, Dr Scarlett has received more than 30 rejections for full-time research posts. After one unsuccessful application, Dr Scarlett asked for feedback, and was told that although she was academically qualified, it was felt she "would not fit in". She acknowledges that getting a job in academia isn't easy, but suspects her race may be a factor. "I feel almost paranoia that it is because of the colour of my skin. Because the feedback I constantly get has been: 'Your CV is great, you are great in the interview, but there's someone that's got that little bit extra' - and those people have been white.'" She says that her peers who did PhDs around the same time as her and have taken the next step in their careers - as post doctoralresearchers - are all white. Dr Scarlett says: "My credentials and my CV and experience for the position are great, but why is it that someone else has been hired instead of me?" Many exceptionally gifted black science students choose not to get to even Dr Scarlett's stage. Jariatou Jarra wanted to research quantum mechanics when she started her physics degree at Imperial College London. After obtaining a First Class degree from one of the most prestigious scientific teaching institutions in the world, she decided to become a management consultant because she felt she did not belong. "When you see that you don't act the same, you don't look the same, it becomes very hard to find yourself completely involved. And once you look at the (academic staff), you don't see people that look like you in those positions where they would recommend you for a PhD, where they would support you. Because you don't see that, it becomes hard to imagine what life would be like in that space".
10-12-21 Spanish right attacks Biden over Columbus and conquests
Spanish right-wing politicians are rebuffing calls for Spain to apologise for dark chapters in its colonial past and have scorned US President Joe Biden's recent acknowledgement of the atrocities suffered by indigenous peoples. The leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP), Pablo Casado, described Spain's colonial expansion to the Americas as "the most important event in history after the Roman empire", on the eve of Spain's 12 October holiday marking Christopher Columbus's 1492 arrival in the New World. "Does the kingdom of Spain have to apologise because five centuries ago it discovered the New World, respected those who were there, created universities, created prosperity, built entire cities? I don't think so," Mr Casado said in a video posted on Twitter. His comments came after President Biden, in a message to mark the US Columbus Day holiday, said the explorer's arrival had led to "a wave of devastation" for Native Americans and he urged Americans not to "bury these shameful episodes of our past". He issued a proclamation to make the 11 October US holiday Indigenous Peoples' Day, alongside the existing Columbus Day. n Latin America, smallpox and other diseases brought by Europeans wiped out huge numbers of indigenous people, facilitating the settlers' conquests. Their superior weaponry enabled them to inflict massacres despite their relatively small numbers. In North America, the settlers' technological advantages were similarly key to driving indigenous people from their homes and seizing their land. The leader of Spain's far-right Vox party, Santiago Abascal, denounced Mr Biden as "the lamentable president of the United States". He added: "He has just attacked the great masterpiece of the Spanish conquest: the evangelisation. "How proud we can feel about what our ancestors did," he said, describing the Spanish colonies as "the empire of human rights". Vox, the third-largest party in parliament, frequently asserts Spain's historical importance, for example harking back to Catholic forces' defeat of Muslim adversaries during the Middle Ages. The Catalan separatists' attempt to create their own independent state in recent years appears to have fuelled nationalist feeling in much of Spain, encouraging some to take a boldly unapologetic view of the country's history.
10-11-21 How COVID boosters could be deepening vaccine skepticism
COVID-19 boosters have arrived — and with them, of course, plenty of debate. While health and administration officials reportedly remain at odds over the proper timeline in which to roll out third doses, unvaccinated hold-outs stand steadfast in their relunctance, writes The New York Times, perhaps even hardening in their skepticism thanks to the "mixed messages" from the booster campaign. "It seems like such a short time and people are already having to get boosters," said Christopher Poe, an unvaccinated manufacturing worker who grew more skeptical about the shot due to the third-dose discourse. "And the fact that they didn't realize that earlier in the rollout shows me that there could be other questions that could be out there, like the long-term effects." A September vaccine monitor survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation seemed to echo Poe's concerns. There, 71 percent of unvaccinated respondents said they believe the need for boosters means the vaccines aren't working. Officials also fear parents with young children will feel similarly skittish regarding efficacy when the time comes to inoculate their kids. The result is "really two different types of campaigns" in the U.S., Dr. Jennifer Avegno, director of the New Orleans health department, told the Times. Physicians are encouring vaccinated the vaccinated to come in for boosters while simulataneously struggling "to defend the need for the third shot to those who have yet to get their first." Meanwhile, an FDA advisory panel will meet Thursday and Friday to debate booster doses of both the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, CNBC reports. Currently, only Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine has been authorized for use. As of Saturday, over 7 million Americans had received a booster dose. Read more at The New York Times and CNBC.
10-11-21 Texas Gov. Greg Abbott bans 'any entity' from imposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Monday issued an executive order prohibiting all entities in Texas — including private businesses — from imposing COVID-19 vaccination mandates for employees and customers. He tweeted that the coronavirus vaccine is "safe, effective, and our best defense against the virus, but should always remain voluntary and never forced." He accused the Biden administration of "bullying" private companies into having vaccine mandates, saying such rules could cause "workforce disruptions that threaten Texas' continued recovery from the COVID-19 disaster." In an earlier executive order, Abbott banned COVID-19 vaccine requirements by government agencies, school districts, cities, and counties. Texas public schools do have vaccination requirements in place for K-12 students, including tetanus, polio, chickenpox, meningitis, hepatitis A, measles, and mumps and rubella. About 52 percent of Texans are vaccinated against COVID-19, including Abbott, who went on television to receive his shot.
10-11-21 UK's slow response to covid-19 was a 'serious' error, say MPs
The UK government was wrong to wait so long to implement a lockdown in England at the start of the covid-19 pandemic and made a “serious early error” by adopting a “fatalistic approach” to how much it could slow the spread of the coronavirus, members of parliament (MPs) say in a report published today. Other failings highlighted by the report include the “serious mistake” of stopping community testing in March 2020, an “often chaotic” test-and-trace system and “many thousands” of deaths that could have been avoided because people who had tested positive were sent from hospitals to care homes. The UK was also too narrowly prepared for a flu-like pandemic, according to the joint report by the 22 MPs on the Health and Social Care Committee and the Science and Technology Committee. The analysis is the most authoritative view on the government’s handling of the crisis to date, with a public inquiry not due to start until next year. “It was a bit like Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities: the best of times and the worst of times, the best of policy and the worst of policy,” says Greg Clark, chair of the Science and Technology Committee. “You had the brilliance of the vaccine roll-out, scientifically and administratively. But then you had real failures such as the lack of testing, the lack of data.” The vaccine programme and test and trace schemes were mirror images, in his view. UK prime minister Boris Johnson promised the latter would be “world-beating”, but it was hamstrung by inadequate capacity in England at the outset due a lack of investment in public health for several years, says Clark. He says the system “seemed to stumble from crisis to crisis”, was too centralised and failed to anticipate even predictable problems such as a spike in demand for tests in September 2020 as children returned to schools.
10-11-21 Trump lawyer John Eastman's employer argues he didn't explicitly ask Pence to overturn the election
The conservative Claremont Institute said Monday that it was breaking from tradition to publicly defend John Eastman, one of its senior fellows, from "a recent combined disinformation, de-platforming, and ostracism campaign" based on legal advice he gave to former President Donald Trump, his client, and former Vice President Mike Pence "at a critical stage during the 2020 elections in December 2020 and January 2021." What Eastman advised isn't up for debate — you can read the two-page memo and a longer six-page one he wrote about steps Pence could take to not certify President Biden's electoral victory in a Jan. 6 joint session of Congress. But the Claremont Institute asserts that his advice "has since been maliciously misrepresented and distorted" by the media, and that "contrary to almost universally false news accounts, which have done great damage, John did not ask the vice president ... to 'overturn' the election or to decide the validity of electoral votes." "The defense is among the most carefully worded straw-man arguments in modern political history," Aaron Blake writes at The Washington Post. "Essentially, the statement isn't disputing that Eastman provided a ready-made procedure for Trump and Pence to get the election overturned — he clearly and unambiguously did so — it's that he didn't explicitly say Pence should overturn it himself." NeverTrump conservative lawyer George Conway was more direct, calling Claremont's statement "a bald-faced, disgraceful lie" and demonstrating that "Pence understood that Trump and Eastman were asking him" to unilaterally "overturn the election." Steve Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor, agreed that Claremont "is attempting to whitewash John Eastman's 'how to coup in six easy steps' memo by blatantly misrepresenting what Eastman actually wrote." "What the Claremont Institute should really be responding to is whether it's comfortable with its employee explicitly seeking to help overturn an American election based upon claims that were routinely debunked and rejected in court," the Post's Blake advised. Eastman's memos were "a lot like if you knew someone wanted to rob a bank and you gave them the blueprints to that particular bank branch. Did you tell them to rob that bank? Of course not. Did you give them the means to accomplish what you knew they wanted to do? Yes. You were an accessory." Read the memos and Claremont's defense of them for yourself.
10-11-21 The needless loss of 22,000 lives in Florida and Texas
Effective vaccines against the coronavirus have been widely available and free across the country since May. Yet in that time, about 150,000 people have died of COVID-19. Low vaccine uptake is largely to blame — regions with high rates of vaccination have done comparatively well, while those with low rates have suffered shattering outbreaks that crushed hospital systems. As detailed at The Lancet, Pratha Sah and other scientists conducted an experiment to estimate what this meant in Texas and Florida. Their method is simple: Take the best-performing states (Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island, which achieved an average of 74 percent of adults vaccinated by July 31) as a benchmark for what high vaccine use could achieve, then run a computer simulation to calculate how much transmission, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19 could have been avoided in less-vaccinated Texas and Florida if they'd met that benchmark. The study found that if Texas and Florida had kept up with the leaders, they would have prevented approximately: 1,311,900 COVID-19 cases, 95,000 hospital admissions, 22,000 deaths. Similar calculations could be run elsewhere, with similarly miserable results. Today, big chunks of the Midwest, Mountain West, and Great Plains regions are still far, far below herd immunity levels of vaccination, and sure enough, they are seeing Delta variant waves as temperatures cool off and socializing moves indoors. The more vaccine uptake can be encouraged or mandated, the more lives will be saved.
10-11-21 No. 2 House Republican Steve Scalise slammed for refusing to say 2020 election wasn't stolen
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the No. 2 House Republican, refused several times to say on Fox News Sunday that President Biden won the 2020 election, even while he didn't explicitly endorse former President Donald Trump's lie that the election was stolen. A "number of states" did not "follow their state-passed laws that govern the election for president," he told host Chris Wallace. When Wallace asked again if a handful of small irregularities prevented him from saying the election wasn't "stolen," Scalise claimed "it's not just irregularities. It's states that did not follow the laws set which the Constitution says they're supposed to follow." In reality, "no election was stolen from Trump," The Associated Press clarifies. "Scalise on Sunday appeared to be referring to the legal argument, made in several lawsuits backed by Trump before and after last November's election, that the Constitution gives the power of election administration exclusively to state lawmakers," and that other state efforts to expand voting during the pandemic should be invalidated and those votes discarded. Those legal challenges failed. "Perpetuating the Big Lie is an attack on the core of our constitutional republic," Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) chided Scalise. On CNN, analyst John Avlon called Scalise's election comments "disgusting" and "pathetic," adding, "Scalise knows better and he's a coward for not being willing to say it." Fellow analyst Margaret Hoover explained that Scalise and "self-described Republican primary voters" have started "to use the term 'Constitution' and 'undermining the Constitution' as shorthand for 'something that was unfair to Donald Trump.'" And both of them had hard words for the broader GOP establishment's re-embrace of Trump. "Look, if trying to overturn an election isn't wrong, isn't disqualifying, nothing is," Avlon said. "And every single Iowa Republican who stood on the stage that night with Donald Trump is complicit" in "an effort to overturn an election and to have the cancer metastasize inside the Republican Party." At Saturday's Iowa rally, "Trump spent almost 30 minutes arguing falsely that he had won Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania," AP reports. "Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds stood by and welcomed his return to their state." They gave Trump "a wonderful gift," heading in 2024, Politico adds. "The presence of Grassley in particular signified that whatever qualms the GOP may have had with Trump are now faded memories; whatever questions they had about the direction of the party have been resolved."
10-11-21 Ohio police probed after man screaming 'I'm paraplegic' dragged from car
US police are investigating video showing a black man being dragged from his car by officers as he repeatedly screams "I'm paraplegic". Bodycam footage shows officers stopping Clifford Owensby in Dayton, Ohio, last month and asking him to step out of his car so they can search it for drugs. Mr Owensby, 39, refuses, saying he does not have use of his legs. The officers insist he must get out and then pull him from the vehicle by his hair and arms as he calls for help. The Dayton Police Department says it is now investigating the incident that took place on 30 September. Authorities say the officers stopped Mr Owensby because he was driving away from a house suspected of hosting involvement in drugs. Police say they found a bag of cash containing $22,450 (£16,500) in the car. Mr Owensby has not been charged over any drug-related offences. During the incident, Mr Owensby repeatedly refuses requests to leave the car, although officers do say they will help him out. Mr Owensby asks an officer to call in a "white shirt", meaning a superior. "Here's the thing, I'm going to pull you out and then I'll call a white shirt," an officer replies. As his frustration increases, he says: "You can co-operate and get out of the car or I'll drag you out of the car. Do you see your two options here?" Dayton's mayor Nan Whaley described the footage as "very concerning". Civil rights groups say they are also looking into the incident. "To pull this man out of the car, by his hair - a paraplegic - is totally unacceptable, inhumane and sets a bad light on our great city of Dayton, Ohio," Derrick Foward, of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told the Washington Post. A paraplegic person is unable to voluntarily move lower parts of the body. Some have defended the officers' actions. Jerome Dix, president of Dayton Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 44, said they had "followed the law, their training and departmental policies". "Sometimes the arrest of noncompliant individuals is not pretty, but is a necessary part of law enforcement to maintain public safety," Mr Dix told the Dayton Daily News.
10-11-21 Covid Australia: Sydney celebrates end of 107-day lockdown
Australia's largest city, Sydney, has emerged from Covid lockdown after almost four months, with locals celebrating a range of new freedoms. People queued for pubs and shops that opened at midnight on Monday. Many others have been enjoying anticipated reunions with relatives and friends. Household visits and travel had been banned beyond a 5km (3.1 mile) zone. Sydney exited lockdown after New South Wales state reached a 70% double-dose vaccination target for over-16s. Most restrictions have now been eased for fully vaccinated people. People can now share meals together at reopened cafes and restaurants, and visit gyms, libraries and pools. There were long queues for barbers and nail salons on Monday. The Lord Gladstone Hotel, an inner city pub, was doing a roaring lunch trade after months of limited trading and takeaway-only options. "We're stoked to be back, we're having the best Monday in months, even before Covid," Pat Blake, the pub's licensee, told the BBC. "People are just ready to come back and sit down for a schooie [beer], see their friends, be somewhere there's always music playing," he said. "The kitchen is pumping. I had forgotten about the pub smells. As soon as the fryers turned on it was really nostalgic." More restrictions will ease when 80% of over-16s are fully vaccinated. Currently, over 90% have received a first dose. "It's been a difficult 100 days," state Premier Dominic Perrottet said on Monday. "But the efforts that people have made right across the state, to go out and get vaccinated, has enabled this great day." Mr Perrottet warned that NSW was bracing for a surge in Covid cases, but said the healthcare system had been preparing for weeks. "We'll see hospitalisations increase… but we need to learn to live alongside the virus," he said. The state has not yet imposed a system to check vaccination status, leaving it up to individual businesses. Sydney's lockdown began in late June after a Delta variant outbreak took hold, leading to more than 50,000 infections and 439 deaths.
10-11-21 Sydney comes out of 4-month lockdown after reaching vaccination target
Sydney is celebrating its own version of “freedom day”. After living under lockdown for 107 days to curb an outbreak of the delta coronavirus variant, residents can socialise, dine out and go shopping again, now that more than 70 per cent of people aged 16 and over have been vaccinated. “I think it’s the right time to start opening up,” says Angela Webster at the University of Sydney in Australia. “We’re already starting to see the effects of vaccination with case numbers falling quite steeply.” Sydney and other parts of New South Wales have been battling the delta variant since it arrived in mid-June, ending a six-month run with almost no covid-19 cases and zero deaths. Sydney was locked down on 26 June to limit the spread of the delta variant, meaning people could only leave home for essential reasons like buying food. The rules were gradually tightened, limiting people’s travel to 5 kilometres and introducing curfews in some areas, but delta’s contagiousness meant that new daily cases continued to soar, peaking at 1599 on 11 September. This rapid spread was partly enabled by Australia’s initially slow vaccination rollout. On the first day of Sydney’s lockdown, fewer than 9 per cent of adults in New South Wales had received both jabs. To incentivise vaccination, the New South Wales government promised to release Sydney from lockdown when 70 per cent of people aged 16 and over were fully vaccinated. A concerted vaccination campaign has now seen 90 per cent of this group receive one dose and 74 per cent receive two doses. About 68 per cent of children aged 12 to 15 have also received one jab since becoming eligible. As vaccination rates have risen, infections in New South Wales have dropped to below 500 per day. Honouring its commitment, the New South Wales government announced it would begin easing restrictions from 11 October. Fully vaccinated people in Sydney and their children can now have 10 visitors to their homes, meet in outdoor groups of 30 and visit hospitality venues and shops anywhere in Sydney. These venues must operate with limited capacity and compulsory mask-wearing if indoors. Schools will start to reopen on 18 October.
10-10-21 It reportedly took Trump multiple takes to tell rioters to leave Capitol in Jan. 6 video
In his upcoming book Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show, ABC News' chief Washington correspondent Jon Karl reports that, during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, former President Donald Trump didn't make it easy on his aides who produced the Twitter video in which he called on his supporters to go home. At first, Trump, who reportedly boasted about the crowd size, pushed back against the members of his team who wanted him to put a halt to the rioting. And even when he relented and agreed to film the video, Trump reportedly had to go through several takes before he actually stuck to the script. An aide present for the recording told Karl that in earlier versions Trump never actually told the crowd to disperse. He eventually did, though some of that ambiguity remained in the final version, in which Trump told the rioters, "We love you. You are special." Watch Karl's report below, and read more anecdotes from the book, including new details about Trump's efforts to convince the Justice Department to help him overturn the election and his Jan. 6 call with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), at ABC News.
10-10-21 Adam Schiff: Jan. 6 select committee preparing to urge prosecution of anyone who ignores subpoenas
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, said on Sunday that the panel is "prepared to go forward and urge the Justice Department" to prosecute anyone who refuses to comply with subpoenas from the panel. Four ex-aides and advisers to former President Donald Trump — Steve Bannon, Mark Meadows, Dan Scavino, and Kash Patel — have all ignored requests for documents and testimony, at the request of Trump and his legal team. During an interview with CBS News' Face the Nation, Schiff said the select committee "wants to make sure that these witnesses come in and testify," as it is their "lawful duty." Schiff also cheered the Biden administration for "not asserting executive privilege" over documents from the Trump White House regarding the Capitol assault. He said he believes the materials will be turned over "very soon," adding that he applauds the administration for "not trying, because it's protecting its own prerogative, to deprive the American people of the full facts. So hats off to the administration." Last week, an attorney for Bannon said his client would assert executive privilege, but as The Guardian notes, Bannon was not working for Trump at the White House during the events of Jan. 6.
10-10-21 Taliban says U.S. agreed to give humanitarian aid to Afghanistan
The Taliban announced on Sunday that the United States agreed to provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan without formally recognizing the group's leadership, but the U.S. said in its own statement that the two sides only "discussed the United States' provision of robust humanitarian assistance, directly to the Afghan people." The U.S. and Taliban just wrapped up talks in Doha, Qatar, their first direct meeting since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August. The discussions were "candid and professional," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement, adding, "The U.S. delegation focused on security and terrorism concerns and safe passage for U.S. citizens, other foreign nationals, and our Afghan partners, as well as on human rights, including the meaningful participation of women and girls in all aspects of Afghan society." Afghanistan is experiencing its worst drought in nearly 40 years, and the Taliban has not revealed a plan to help farmers with financial support or other assistance.=
10-10-21 Scientists say 'premature' to predict if there will be another major COVID-19 wave, but room for optimism
The coronavirus pandemic has been so unpredictable over the last couple of years that trying to decipher whether the recent Delta variant surge (which is now declining) will be the last of its size feels "bold" and "premature," Nicholas Reich, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, told The Hill. He noted that new variants could pop up, and there are still questions about how long immunity from vaccination and prior infection last, leaving open the possibility for another intense period. Sure, those are things to keep an eye on, David Dowdy, a Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist told The Hill, acknowledging that "anyone who says they can predict the future of the pandemic is probably lying to you." But there's also room for optimism, he argued. At least in the sense that "we will not see another massive wave the way that we have seen so far." One reason, Dowdy suggested, is that a new, vaccine-evasive variant is unlikely to emerge in the short-term because Delta has remained so dominant across the world nothing else has been able to gain a real foothold. Read more at The Hill.
10-10-21 McConnell writes AG Garland letter defending parents' right to tell 'local schools what to teach'
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Saturday appeared to briefly step into the Virginia gubernatorial race, which has turned its focus to a debate over "parents rights" when it comes to education. In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, whom McConnell once blocked from getting a Supreme Court confirmation hearing, the senator said he was concerned that the Justice Department has "directed federal law enforcement to partner with state and local governments to address" violent threats against administrators, teachers, and others who work in the public school sphere across the country. McConnell dismissed the idea that Garland's view on the situation reflects the reality on the ground. Instead, McConnell painted the debate as a civil one, "the very basis of representative," and said parents "absolutely should be telling their local schools what to teach." "I hope you agree with me that the kind of grassroots interest parents have shown throughout the country in both the methods and substance of their children's education is to be commended and encouraged," he wrote. But McConnell didn't stop at praising the parents pushing back against their local education officials. He also criticized those officials, particularly in Virginia, for launching "shocking efforts ... to organize the intimidation and harassment of parents who have the temerity to want a better education for their children."
10-10-21 Afghanistan: US and Taliban hold first face-to-face talks since withdrawal
US officials have met Afghanistan's ruling Taliban for their first face-to-face talks since Washington pulled its troops from the country in August. The talks in Qatar are focusing on issues including containing extremist groups, the evacuation of US citizens and humanitarian aid, officials say. The US insists the meeting does not amount to recognition of the Taliban. It comes a day after Afghanistan suffered its deadliest attack since US forces withdrew. The suicide bombing at a mosque in the northern city of Kunduz killed at least 50 people and wounded more than 100 others. The Said Abad mosque was used by the minority Shia Muslim community in the Sunni Muslim-majority country. The Islamic State group said it was behind the attack. Speaking after the talks with the US opened in Qatar, Afghanistan's Taliban-appointed Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said the two sides had agreed to uphold the terms of the Doha agreement signed in 2020. The deal includes 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. Mr Muttaqi said US officials had also told the Taliban they would help in delivering Covid vaccines and humanitarian aid. The US has not yet commented on the details of Saturday's talks, but a state department spokesperson previously said officials would use the meeting to press the Taliban to respect women's rights, form an inclusive government and allow humanitarian agencies to operate. The meeting is set to continue on Sunday. Mr Muttaqi told reporters that the Islamist group wanted to improve relations with the international community but also warned that nobody should interfere with any country's internal policies. American officials have said the talks are a continuation of engagement with the Taliban on matters of national interest, not about giving legitimacy to the group's government. As the talks were taking place in the Qatari capital Doha, in Afghanistan funeral ceremonies were being held for the victims of Friday's attack.
10-10-21 Iraqis vote in first parliamentary election since 2019 mass protests
Iraqis are voting in the first parliamentary elections since mass protests over corruption, unemployment and poor services erupted in 2019. The poll had been due next year but was brought forward by six months in response to the unrest, during which hundreds of people were killed. The old electoral system based on party lists has also been replaced with one meant to help independent candidates. However, the main Shia Muslim blocs are still predicted to win the most seats. They have dominated parliament since the US-led invasion in 2003, which overthrew Saddam Hussein's regime and ushered in a power-sharing system based on sectarian and ethnic identity that allowed a narrow elite to keep a firm grip on power and encouraged patronage and corruption. The 2019 protests saw hundreds of thousands of mostly young people take to the streets of the capital, Baghdad, and cities in the predominantly Shia south to express their anger at the poor economic and living conditions endured by most Iraqis despite the country's enormous oil resources. Then-Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi's government resigned within weeks, but the protesters kept going and insisted that they wanted to sweep away the entire political establishment. More than 550 protesters were killed by security forces and gunmen suspected of links to Iran-backed Shia militias within the paramilitary Popular Mobilisation force between October and December 2019. The unrest subsided because of restrictions imposed to counter the spread of Covid-19. Former intelligence chief Mustafa al-Kadhimi promised to find solutions to Iraq's crises when he became prime minister in May 2020, but he has failed to address the protesters' main grievances. He has also been unable to prevent gunmen continuing to target critics of the government and Iranian influence in Iraq. At least 35 protest leaders, activists, journalists, lawyers and other civil society members have been killed and 80 others wounded in an apparent assassination campaign. Mr Kadhimi has, however, kept his promise to hold an early election.
10-10-21 Iran's revived nuclear program
Iran is closer to a bomb than ever before. Is a new nuclear deal possible? Iran is closer to a bomb than ever before. Is a new nuclear deal possible? Here's everything you need to know:
- What is Iran's nuclear status? Iran doesn't have nukes yet, but it is close to being able to build them. Since the Trump administration withdrew in 2018 from the 2015 nuclear deal — which brought U.N. nuclear inspections in exchange for sanctions relief — Iran has drastically increased the pace of its pursuit. It is currently about a month away from producing enough fuel for a weapon, although constructing a warhead and mounting it on a missile would take much longer.
- Who is Raisi? Raisi, 60, is an ultra-conservative protégé of 82-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and a top candidate to succeed him as Supreme Leader. His black turban signals that he is a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. A student protester when the Islamic Revolution broke out in 1979, he rose quickly to become a Tehran prosecutor and served on one of the four-judge panels, known as Death Committees, that retried several thousand dissident prisoners and condemned them to execution.
- What are the sanctions? The U.S. has laid various economic sanctions on Iran since 1979, when Islamic-radical students overthrew the U.S.-supported shah and took U.S. Embassy workers hostage. At that time, the U.S. froze $12 billion in Iranian assets. Over the years, the sanctions have been increased many times by both the U.S. and the U.N. Security Council to punish Tehran for pursuing nuclear weapons technology, and by the 2010s, the Iranian economy was suffering severely.
- What effect did that have? It actually strengthened the power of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a military body that answers directly to the Supreme Leader and has championed the nuclear program. The Revolutionary Guard has clashed with Iran's pro-democracy reformers for decades, but the reformers have had enough popular support to win parliament seats and even the presidency, acting as a check on the Supreme Leader's extremism.
- What has Biden done? President Biden is seeking to revive the agreement, promising "full compliance" from the U.S. if Iran does the same. But he's also ratcheted up the pressure by imposing new restrictions, blocking Iran from using its assets held in South Korean and Japanese banks to buy COVID vaccines, and pressuring the U.K. to halt repayment of old Iranian debt.
- What's the next step? Raisi insists that Iran will resume multination nuclear talks in Vienna "soon," but has not given a date. Yet with every passing month, the country gets closer to achieving breakout capability.
- Ramifications of a nuclear Iran: If Iran were to become a nuclear state, or even hover at threshold status, the entire Middle East could be destabilized. Some analysts think that Sunni Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which see Shiite Iran as a dangerous rival, would likely seek nukes if Iran got them.
10-10-21 Guatemala police free 126 migrants from abandoned container
Police in Guatemala have rescued 126 migrants who were abandoned inside a shipping container at the side of a road. They were found at dawn between the towns of Nueva Concepción and Cocales after locals reported hearing screams inside the trailer. Authorities believe they were abandoned by smugglers who had been paid to take them to the US via Mexico. More than 100 of those discovered are from the crisis-hit nation of Haiti. There were also people from Nepal and Ghana. Speaking after the discovery, a police spokesperson said: "We heard cries and knocks coming from inside the container. We opened the doors and found inside 126 undocumented people." Officers gave the migrants first aid before escorting them to a shelter run by the Guatemalan Migration Institute. A spokeswoman for Guatemala's migration authority, Alejandra Mena, said that the migrants had arrived in Central America in Honduras and from there begun to make the treacherous journey north to the US. They will now be transported back to the border with Honduras and handed over to authorities. The discovery comes just a day after Mexican authorities detained 652 migrants, including some 350 children, travelling in three refrigerated double-trailer trucks near the US southern border. Soldiers at a military checkpoint in Tamaulipas searched the trucks after hearing voices inside. The incident reflects growing concerns over the amount of migrants, among them large numbers of Haitians, taking significant risks in their attempts to reach the US. Since the start of 2021, more than 50 migrants have died while trying to cross a jungle corridor called the Darien Gap in Panama, on the border with Colombia, according to the Panamanian prosecutor's office. Haiti has suffered from years of instability, culminating in the assassination of President Jouvenal Moïse in July. The following month, the country was hit by a deadly earthquake.
10-10-21 China-Taiwan tensions: We will not bow to Beijing pressure, says leader
Taiwan will not bow to pressure from China and will defend its democratic way of life, President Tsai Ing-wen has said in a defiant speech amid heightened tensions over the island. Her remarks on Taiwan's National Day came after China's President Xi Jinping vowed to "fulfil reunification" China denounced Ms Tsai's speech, saying it "incited confrontation". Taiwan considers itself a sovereign state, while China views it as a breakaway province. Beijing has not ruled out the possible use of force to achieve unification. China has sent a record number of military jets into Taiwan's air defence zone in recent days. Three Chinese planes, including two fighter jets, crossed into the zone on Sunday, Taiwan's defence ministry said. Ms Tsai was re-elected by a landslide last year on a promise to stand up to Beijing. In her speech on Sunday, she said Taiwan was "standing on democracy's first line of defence". She said the island would not "act rashly" but would bolster its defences to "ensure that nobody can force Taiwan to take the path China has laid out for us". That path, she said, offered "neither a free and democratic way of life for Taiwan nor sovereignty" for its 23 million people. "The more we achieve, the greater the pressure we face from China," she said. She added that China's military flights into Taiwan's air defence zone had seriously affected national security and aviation safety, and described the situation as being "more complex and fluid than at any other point in the past 72 years". Ms Tsai also repeated an offer to talk with Chinese leaders on an equal footing, a suggestion Beijing - which brands her a "separatist" - has so far rejected. Her speech was followed by a flypast of Taiwanese fighter jets. One man watching Ms Tsai's speech told AFP news agency Taiwanese people could not accept unification with China. "China is presently rather authoritarian. Especially under Xi Jinping, its gotten worse. Reunification is not appropriate now," another said.
10-9-21 Does China really believe it can achieve peaceful reunification with Taiwan?
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday said reunification with Taiwan must happen, though he appeared to strike a more conciliatory tone on the matter than he has in other recent remarks. He did not directly mention using force to bring the island, which China claims as its territory, into Beijing's fold, instead saying that it should happen peacefully. But it's unclear just how committed Xi is to that rhetoric. Some China watchers are still convinced that Beijing would be willing to launch a military operation in the coming years, and the government has been pouring money into the People's Liberation Army. "Even moderate voices in Beijing have been calling for tossing out peaceful reunification," Oriana Skylar Mastro, a fellow at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, told The New York Times. "I think the military option is the option now." Plus, while Xi avoided making any threats this time around, he did add that "no one should underestimate the Chinese people's staunch determination, firm will, and strong ability to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity" and called Taiwan's independence movement the biggest obstacle to achieving the reunification of the motherland, and the most serious hidden danger to national rejuvenation." That likely will have a lot of folks reading between the lines. Read more at The New York Times and Reuters.
10-9-21 Trump must give documents to Capitol riot probe - Biden
US President Joe Biden has rejected a bid by Donald Trump to withhold documents from a congressional investigation into the Capitol riot.Mr Trump had asked that the records the committee requested remain hidden under executive privilege, which shields some presidential communications. Meanwhile his former aide Steve Bannon vowed to resist a subpoena to appear before the inquiry. The panel has threatened jail for any ex-officials who refuse to co-operate. Mr Trump's supporters stormed the Capitol building in Washington on 6 January in a failed bid to overturn the certification of Mr Biden's election victory in November. Hundreds of Mr Trump's supporters have since been arrested for their actions that day. Prosecutions continue. In August the congressional investigating committee asked for records relating to the day's events, including communications from Mr Trump, members of his family, his top aides, his lawyers and other former members of his administration. But Mr Trump argued he could claim executive privilege to prevent the documents from being handed over to the inquiry. Legal scholars are divided on whether executive privilege can be asserted by former presidents. The issue is likely to set off a series of legal challenges to be determined by the courts. On Friday the White House wrote to the National Archives saying that Mr Biden had "determined that an assertion of executive privilege is not in the best interests of the United States". Mr Bannon's refusal to testify led members of the 6 January committee to threaten criminal contempt of Congress charges against him. Democrats argue that Mr Bannon is employing a delaying tactic in an attempt to push back proceedings until after the midterm elections in November 2022, which may change the composition of the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of Congress. "The whole game is to drag this out as long as possible, to see whether they can mobilise enough voter suppression to get Congress to change hands," Rep Jamie Raskin told US media, adding: "We're not going to let people play games and sweep evidence under the rug." The committee has also ordered the testimony of Mr Trump's ex-Chief of Staff Mark Meadows; Dan Scavino, Mr Trump's social media manager; and Kash Patel, a former Pentagon chief of staff.
10-9-21 Hey Democrats: Starving people into jobs isn't working
Cutting super-unemployment didn't grow the economy. It hurt people. Last month, the pandemic unemployment benefits — what I've been calling super-unemployment — expired, with the support of both Republican governors and the Biden administration. The thinking, at least in part, was that this would help push workers into new jobs: Too many Americans had gotten fat and lazy living off unemployment benefits, and it was time to starve them into the labor market. Today, the September jobs report came in, and that thinking has been proved wrong. Just 194,000 jobs were created last month — as compared to hopeful economist predictions of 720,000. As Matt Bruenig writes at the People's Policy Project, "This was the worst month of job growth since Biden became president and the second-worst since May of last year when the pandemic labor market recovery began." America is still about 5 million jobs short of the pre-pandemic total. At this rate, it will be around December 2023 before that gap is closed. Starving people into jobs isn't working. Why not? Any theory must be somewhat speculative at this early date, but the most obvious factor here is surely the coronavirus. September saw the second-worst surge of COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, and that has previously shown a dampening economic effect. Even with available vaccines and pandemic fatigue, people are generally less willing to go out and spend money in shops and restaurants if a deadly disease is on the rampage. That creates a knock-on problem for families with younger children. Women's labor force participation fell slightly in September, which almost certainly has to do with child care. In-person school has restarted in most of the country, and Republican officials in many states have forbidden mask mandates or other pandemic control measures in the classroom. The result has been tens of thousands of infected children stuck at home for days or weeks at a time, with millions more forced to quarantine after exposure. Child care was already incredibly expensive before the pandemic, and in many states now it is straight up unavailable, so many parents have been forced to stay at home to care for their kids some or all of the time. Second, cutting super-unemployment removed tens of billions of dollars of spending from the economy. That money was going into the pockets of people likely to spend most of it. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that ending the program cut incomes by $144.3 billion and consumer spending by $79.2 billion this year. That means businesses have fewer sales — and fewer job openings. Third, we're still dealing with general labor market disruptions caused by the pandemic. Many front-line workers are burnt out from working through this nightmare. Others died from COVID-19 or are still dealing with "long COVID." Medical providers especially vulnerable to staff burnout — hospitals, nursing homes, and residential care facilities lost a combined 46,000 jobs in September — no doubt thanks to the surge of unvaccinated COVID-19 cases that crushed many hospitals in August and September.
10-9-21 Coronavirus in DR Congo: How funds went missing - report
Missing money, opaque pay practices and poor management hamper the coronavirus response in the Democratic Republic of Congo, researchers say. The Congo Research Group, based in New York University, says several new committees were set up that cost more money but failed to solve the problems. Its report says only $6m of the $363m Covid funding awarded by the IMF last year has been publicly accounted for. The Congolese government has not responded to BBC requests for comment. DR Congo is one of 50 countries across the world that have failed to fully vaccinate 10% of their population against coronavirus - in a target set by the World Health Organization (WHO). Estimates suggest that about 0.1% of the country's 89 million people have had a vaccine. To date, more than 57,000 people are known to have contracted coronavirus in DR Congo according to the WHO and 1,086 of them have died. Challenges include its reliance on the oft-criticised Covax scheme, an underfunded health system already ravaged by concurrent outbreaks of measles, Ebola and cholera, the widespread mistrust of the authorities, and conflict between the government and armed groups in the country's east. Added to this, critics say, is endemic corruption. In June the former Health Minister Vital Kamerhe was sentenced to 20 years' hard labour and barred from holding public office for 10 years, after facing charges of embezzling almost $50m (£39m) of public funds. His supporters say the trial was a political move designed to prevent him from standing for president. The Congo Research Group says the lessons have not been learnt from previous failures in the management of health funds, and claims at least $240,000 went missing in the purchase of ambulances and vehicles for the health ministry's Covid response. The study also quotes a government oversight body, the Inspection Générale des Finances, as saying one hospital in Kinshasa could not under any circumstance justify a recent invoice of $2.9m for the care of just 266 coronavirus patients.
10-9-21 Singapore to allow quarantine-free travel for UK and other nations
Singapore has announced it is easing coronavirus lockdown restrictions and will allow quarantine-free travel from a number of nations, including the UK. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said it was time to press on with the "strategy of living with Covid-19". He said so-called vaccinated travel lanes with Germany and Brunei had been successful, and would be extended to nine other countries. Singapore had very tight restrictions in place to tackle the pandemic. Covid-19-related deaths are very low, but the lockdown has had an impact on the South Asian island's status as a business and aviation hub. Prime Minister Lee told Singaporeans in a televised address that the Delta variant had shown the coronavirus was not going to go away. But with vaccinations, social distancing measures and careful monitoring, it is possible to live with the "new normal". "It will take us at least three months, and perhaps as long as six months, to get there," he said, acknowledging a likely surge in cases as restrictions ease that would have to be monitored closely. Prime Minister Lee said the vaccinated travel lanes with Germany and Brunei begun last month had shown that vaccinated people could travel safely and quarantine-free without contributing to a rise in cases. He said an expansion of the arrangement with countries with stable numbers of coronavirus cases would "keep us connected to global supply chains and help to preserve Singapore's hub status". From 13 October, the government announced, it would allow vaccinated travellers from Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, the US and the UK, and, from November, South Korea. The government also announced that it would allow groups of two vaccinated people to dine in restaurants and shop in malls. In-class teaching for children under the age of 12 will be allowed to resume although "centres are encouraged to continue conducting lessons online".
10-9-21 China-Taiwan tensions: Xi Jinping says 'reunification' must be fulfilled
China's President Xi Jinping has said that "reunification" with Taiwan "must be fulfilled", as heightened tensions over the island continue. Mr Xi said unification should be achieved peacefully, but warned that the Chinese people had a "glorious tradition" of opposing separatism. In response, Taiwan said its future lay in the hands of its people. Taiwan considers itself a sovereign state, while China views it as a breakaway province. Beijing has not ruled out the possible use of force to achieve unification. Mr Xi's intervention comes after China sent a record number of military jets into Taiwan's air defence zone in recent days. Some analysts say the flights could be seen as a warning to Taiwan's president ahead of the island's national day on Sunday. Taiwan's defence minister has said that tensions with China are at their worst in 40 years. But Mr Xi's remarks on Saturday were more conciliatory than his last major intervention on Taiwan in July, where he pledged to "smash" any attempts at formal Taiwanese independence. Speaking at an event marking the 110th anniversary of the revolution that overthrew China's last imperial dynasty in 1911, he said unification in a "peaceful manner" was "most in line with the overall interest of the Chinese nation, including Taiwan compatriots". But he added: "No one should underestimate the Chinese people's staunch determination, firm will, and strong ability to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity." "The historical task of the complete reunification of the motherland must be fulfilled, and will definitely be fulfilled," he said. Mr Xi has said he wants to see unification occur under a "one country, two systems" principle, similar to that employed in Hong Kong, which is part of China but has a degree of autonomy.
10-8-21 The job market for college students and recent grads is back
College seniors and recent graduates have been experiencing quite the rush of employment demand this year, with university placement office directors and corporate human resources executives reporting "that hiring is running well above" 2020 levels — and, in some cases, exceeding prepandemic activity in 2019, reports The New York Times. "Activity is up significantly from last year and is about 10 percent higher than it was before the pandemic," said Annette McLaughlin, director of the Office of Career Services at Fordham University. "It's likely that students will get multiple offers and they will have to choose." Jennifer Neef, director of the Career Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, echoed that sentiment: "The appetite for college labor is strong right now, whether it's student positions, or part time, all the way through entry-level jobs." Such conditions highlight "the longstanding economic premium for those with a college education over holders of just a high school diploma," writes the Times. The Washington Post previously reported that while millions of Americans have returned to work, Black Americans and workers without college degrees are getting left behind in the country's jobs recovery. Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, called it a "bifurcation in the labor market recovery." "People with high school diplomas or less witnessed a much more serious decline in employment opportunities during the COVID crisis." For the college-educated, however, it's back to business as usual — or perhaps even crazier, writes the Times. "I've been with the firm 26 years and I've never seen it this competitive," said recruiter Rod Adams of accounting and consulting firm PwC. The Labor Department reported Friday that the U.S. economy added 194,000 jobs in September, below economists' expectations of around 500,000. Read more at The New York Times.
10-8-21 Jobs report disappoints again with 194,000 additions in September
The latest U.S. jobs report is another big disappointment. The Labor Department reported Friday thatwsp_rte_replace_marker the U.S. economy added 194,000 jobs in September, below economists' expectations that around 500,000 jobs would be added, CNBC reports. The unemployment rate declined 0.4 percentage points to 4.8 percent. "Notable job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality, in professional and business services, in retail trade, and in transportation and warehousing," the Labor Department said. This comes after the U.S. jobs report for August also came in significantly under expectations. The Labor Department said last month that 235,000 jobs were added in August when economists had expected around 720,000, though this number was revised on Friday to 366,000. Both reports came amid a surge of COVID-19 cases in the United States driven by the more contagious Delta variant. Ahead of the newest report's release, Glassdoor senior economist Daniel Zhao wrote that "many economists had hoped that September school reopenings would unlock parents to return to the workforce" but that "the resurgence of the pandemic seems to have dashed those hopes." Still, the Times notes that the latest report was based on data collected in the middle of September and that COVID-19 cases have started to decline since then, so Zhao observed that it's a "glimpse in the rearview mirror" and that there's "still a case for optimism in the coming months."
10-8-21 The Postal Service is under siege. Black workers stand to lose the most.
The USPS has historically been known to benefit Black people in terms of social mobility and accessing the middle class. Much as I understand and relate to the pain of standing in what feels like the longest line ever invented at the Post Office, and wanting to cry out to the universe asking what one has done to endure such pain and poor customer service, I want the United States Postal Service to go on existing, and despair at the damage being inflicted upon it. The USPS is one of the oldest and most consistent institutions this country, and an essential service, handling 47 percent of the world's mail. It's also under siege. It was not designed to turn a profit, yet in 2018, a task force created by former President Donald Trump labeled the Postal Service's financial path "unsustainable," and recommended changes that would push the post closer to complete privatization. In a memo, Trump-appointee Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said the service operates on a "broken business model" and that "without dramatic change there is no end in sight and we face an impending liquidity crisis." As part of his 10-year plan for dramatic change, the USPS will reportedly lengthen its delivery time for about 30 percent of its volume. And this has already begun. As early as this past weekend, millions of Americans found themselves subjected to even more delays from an already struggling USPS. For a lot of people, it's not just packages of candles, clothes, and snacks that won't arrive on time — it's also their medicine. In other words, DeJoy is playing with people's lives in the pursuit of profit. But the undermining of the USPS is a real crisis not only for mail delivery, but for Black workers. The USPS has historically been known to benefit Black people in terms of social mobility and accessing the middle class. In There's Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality," published in 2010, author Philip F. Rubio, a history professor at North Carolina A&T State University, wrote that not only has the post office "been vital to Black community development, but Black postal worker activism changed the Post Office and its unions." Robert Zieger, emeritus professor of history at the University of Florida in Gainesville, said, "There's a long tradition of the public sector being more friendly, or less hostile, to African-American workers. The Post Office is the best example." The GOP expressed open hostility toward USPS at the expense of the Black worker long before Trump did. After all, it was former President George W. Bush and a Republican-controlled Congress that passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which required the post office to calculate all of its retiree pension and health-care costs for the next 75 years — including for people it hadn't even hired yet — and put away enough over the next 10 years to cover them. As a Business Insider discussion on the rise and fall of the USPS explained, "That'd be like you only working from age 18 to 28 and then expecting to live on that income until you were 103 years old."
10-8-21 US deeply concerned over Taiwan-China tension
The US is "deeply concerned" about actions that undermine peace across the Taiwan Strait, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan has told the BBC. His comments come after China sent a "record number" of military jets into Taiwan's air defence zone for four days in a row, in a public show of force. Taiwan considers itself a sovereign state - but China views the island as a breakaway province. Beijing has not ruled out the possible use of force to achieve unification. "We are going to stand up and speak out, both privately and publicly when we see the kinds of activities that are fundamentally destabilising," Mr Sullivan told the BBC's diplomatic correspondent James Landale in Brussels on Thursday, a day after meeting China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi. Asked whether the US was prepared to take military action to defend Taiwan, Mr Sullivan said: "Let me just say this, we are going to take action now to try to prevent that day from ever coming to pass." Pressed on whether the US was reluctant to use force in the wake of its recent withdrawal from Afghanistan, Mr Sullivan said it was "an enormous mistake to try to draw lessons" from that conflict. "Trying to say that coming out of Afghanistan somehow tells any country anything about the depth and level of commitment the US has elsewhere is a grave mistake." Mr Sullivan said China was "going to steadfastly defend its perspective on the world". And he added: "It's incumbent upon us as the United States, working with allies and partners to make clear where we stand, to stand up for our friends, to stand up for our interests... And that's what we intend to do." Taiwan broke away from the mainland as communists seized power in 1949. Analysts have warned that Beijing is becoming increasingly concerned that Taiwan's government is moving the island towards a formal declaration of independence and wants to deter its President Tsai Ing-wen from taking any steps in that direction. However, US President Joe Biden said his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping had agreed to abide by the "Taiwan agreement". Mr Biden appeared to be referring to Washington's longstanding "one China" policy under which it recognises China rather than Taiwan.
10-8-21 US Senate averts crisis by voting to extend debt ceiling
The US Senate has voted to temporarily raise the nation's debt limit, avoiding a historic default that experts say would have devastated the economy. Senators agreed to increase the limit by $480bn (£352bn), which will cover the US until early December. The bill was approved in a 50-48 vote, following weeks of partisan fighting. The breakthrough came less than two weeks before the US was set to be unable to borrow money or pay off loans for the first time ever. The bill now has to be approved by the House of Representatives, and will then be sent to President Joe Biden to be signed into law. The vote in the upper house of Congress came after Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell offered his support for a short-term extension. Senate Republicans have previously said that raising the debt limit is the "sole responsibility" of Democrats because they hold power in the White House and both chambers of Congress. They are frustrated by new spending proposals the Democrats are trying to push through without Republican support, and Mr McConnell tweeted last month that his party would "not facilitate another reckless, partisan taxing and spending spree". Speaking after the vote, the Democrats' Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer said Republicans had "played a dangerous and risky partisan game". "What is needed now is a long-term solution so we don't go through this risky drama every few months," he added. But several senior Republicans attacked Mr McConnell's decision to strike a deal with Mr Schumer. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham called the move "a complete capitulation". US lawmakers will still have to address this issue near the new December deadline to avert a default. If the US defaults on debts, experts say it will severely hurt the country's credit rating, plunge the global financial system into turmoil, and possibly lead to a self-inflicted recession.
10-8-21 Debt ceiling: What's next for the US debt limit
US lawmakers have temporarily put off a dangerous game of brinkmanship over lifting the debt ceiling - a limit on how much the US government can borrow. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Congress last week that the country will reach its ceiling by 18 October, which is less than two weeks away. Republicans dared Democrats to resolve the conflict alone. Democrats called that move reckless. The showdown has prompted fears of a default on the national debt. A default is unlikely and has never happened in US history but would have catastrophic implications for the US and the global economy. In fact on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said an agreement had been reached to extend the debt limit through early December, pushing the deadline by a few weeks. Impasses over the debt ceiling are not new in Washington politics, but amid a sluggish economic recovery from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, expect some jitters in financial markets. Here's what you need to know. The US government spends more money than it collects in taxes, so it borrows to make up for the shortfall. Borrowing is done via the US Treasury, through the issuing of bonds. US government bonds are seen as among the world's safest and most reliable investments. In 1939, Congress established an aggregate limit or "ceiling" on how much debt the government can accumulate. The ceiling has been lifted on more than 100 occasions to allow the government to borrow more. Congress often acts on it in a bipartisan manner and it is rarely the subject of a political standoff. As the country has become more bitterly partisan, however, lawmakers have used the debt ceiling vote as leverage against other issues. In a 2013 standoff, the last time the US was in serious danger of going over a "debt cliff", Republicans put up a blockade over the spending plans of President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
10-7-21 Senate approves bill raising the debt ceiling until early December
With a 50-48 vote, the Senate on Thursday night approved a bill that raises the debt ceiling through early December. The measure now goes to the House, where Democratic leaders are expected to quickly call lawmakers back for a vote. The Treasury warned that if action wasn't taken by Oct. 18, the result could be catastrophic, with the United States defaulting on its debt for the first time. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) led the GOP resistance against raising the debt limit, but on Wednesday he relented and offered a deal that grants a reprieve until early December. Before the Senate voted, McConnell met with his Republican colleagues, who voiced their concerns with the way he handled the situation, Axios reports. McConnell was able to get 11 Republicans — primarily moderates and those about to retire — to vote in favor of taking up the bill, but the final vote was strictly along party lines. "Republicans played a dangerous and risky partisan game, and I am glad that their brinkmanship did not work," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. "What is needed now is a long-term solution so we don't go through this risky drama every few months."
10-7-21 Florida Board of Education approves sanctioning school districts over mask mandates
Florida's Board of Education voted on Thursday to sanction eight school districts that imposed mask mandates without giving students the chance to opt out, saying they are defying an emergency rule set by the state's Department of Health. The board's commissioner, Richard Corcoran, has requested that funds for the school districts in Alachua, Brevard, Broward, Duval, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange, and Palm Beach counties are withheld "in an amount equal to 1/12 of all school board members' salaries." He also wants to withhold any amount equal to federal grant funds awarded to the districts by the Biden administration, CNN reports. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has ordered that parents have the ability to opt their children out of having to wear face coverings. School leaders have argued that a universal mask mandate is the best way to curb the spread of the coronavirus, with Alachua County Superintendent Carlee Simon saying in a statement on Thursday she believes her district's masking protocols "comply with state law and our constitutional obligation to provide students with a safe learning environment."
10-7-21 How America's jobs recovery left Black women behind
Although plenty of Americans have this year returned to work or rebounded from a COVID-19 related layoff, the U.S. jobs recovery so far "has largely left behind Black Americans and workers without college degrees," The Washington Post writes. But chief among those forgotten in the employment bounceback are Black women, whose unemployment is the "least recovered," reports the Post — still, there are "more than 550,000 fewer adult Black women working now than in February 2020," but the broad unemployment rate hides the disparaties. Women of color frequently cited child-care struggles, health concerns, "overlooked and ignored online applications," as well as too many low-paying jobs as roadblocks in their job hunt, the Post reports. "I wish people understood the struggle is real," said Jasmine Yates, a Houston-based Black woman whose job search has taken months."If someone actually went on Indeed or ZipRecruiter and saw how often they get ghosted or how many hundreds of people apply for one job, they would see that the struggle is real." A Labor Department analysis turned out similar qualms: Black men and women are about twice as likely as white Americans to say "they're unable to look for work because they can't find child care or because they have other family responsibilities," a Post analysis reveals. Even though economists predict a "return to full employment around late 2022," the "unevenness" of the progress thus far is "a reminder that the nation has to watch carefully in the coming months to ensure certain groups aren't left behind." "Across racial and ethnic groups, we saw a big unemployment shock in the worst possible way," said Bradley Hardy, a Georgetown University professor. But "the unevenness really did widen for Black families and Black workers, in particular."
10-7-21 The FDA could still authorize a vaccine for young children by Halloween
Pfizer has asked the FDA to authorize its COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in children ages 5-to-11-years-old, the company and BioNTech announced Thursday, in a decision that could "help protect more than 28 million people in the United States," writes The New York Times. If cleared, young children would receive two doses of the Pfizer vaccine three weeks apart — similar to adolescents and adults but at a lower dosage, writes The Wall Street Journal. Experts say they expect the shots to be administered at some schools, pediatrician offices, and certain pharmacies. Pfizer's Thursday request could mean the vaccines aren't available until November, if the FDA does in fact spend as much time reviewing the data for the 5-to-11-year-old age group as it did for 12-to-15-year-olds, notes CNBC. Still, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb told Face The Nation that approval by Halloween, a timeline he had originally backed, is "still possible." "Yeah, I think [vaccines for young kids by Halloween is] still possible," said Gottlieb. "The FDA has said that the review is going to be a matter of weeks, not months," which Gottlieb interprets to mean possibly a four-week or six-week timeline — the former of which would put the country right at Halloween; although, "if it slips a little, it could be mid-November," he said.
10-7-21 Covid-19 news: Past covid-19 infection boosts protection from vaccines
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. Vaccines are up to 94 per cent effective over 6 months in people who’ve also had covid-19. People who were infected with covid-19 and then received two vaccine doses have higher immunity against the virus than those who never had a natural infection. Figures from users of the Zoe Covid Symptom Study App suggest that people who got two Pfizer/BioNTech jabs after having the illness saw a 94 per cent reduction in their chances of a further infection within six months of their second dose, compared with 80 per cent protection for people who hadn’t ever had covid-19. For the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, people who’d had covid-19 were 90 per cent protected, compared with 71 per cent in people who hadn’t caught it. More than 400,000 people in the UK say they have had long covid for a year or more, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics. The most common symptoms were fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of smell and difficulty concentrating. About 1.1 million people or 1.7 per cent of the population were experiencing self-reported long covid of any duration, defined as symptoms lasting for more than four weeks after the first suspected coronavirus infection. Countries are rushing to buy supplies of molnupiravir, the first antiviral drug shown to reduce the risk of severe covid-19 that can be taken when people first get infected. Australia, Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore have announced deals to buy five-day courses of the medicine, with Taiwan and Thailand also in talks with US-based manufacturer Merck. When taken twice daily, the drug halves people’s chances of needing hospital treatment or dying.
10-7-21 Opioid crisis: US pharmacies face moment of truth as trial begins
Some of America's biggest pharmacy chains have gone on trial this week for the first time, accused of fuelling the country's opioids epidemic. Walgreens Boots Alliance, CVS, Walmart and Giant Eagle deny failing to stop excessive amounts of addictive prescription painkillers being sold in two Ohio counties. If found liable, they could face a wave of litigation and billions of dollars in compensation - not to mention serious reputational damage. More than 3,300 similar cases have been brought, largely by US state and local governments. They seek to hold the companies responsible for an opioid epidemic that led to nearly 500,000 overdose deaths from 1999 to 2019. Over the last few decades, millions of Americans have become addicts through over-prescription and abuse of legal opiate-based painkillers such as OxyContin. It has put immense strain on public health and policing resources in cities and towns across the US. Big pharmaceutical companies, doctors and pharmacy chains were accused of turning a blind eye to the problem, leading to criminal charges and billions of dollars in civil litigation. Yet pharmacy operators have not faced action until now. In this week's trial, the Ohio counties of Lake and Trumbull allege that Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and Giant Eagle refused to give their pharmacists the necessary "tools and opportunities" to stop the "diversion and improper sale" of opiates. They are also alleged to have ignored employee warnings about inadequate safeguards. As a result, large amounts of addictive painkillers ended up on the black market, they say. "They [the pharmacy chains] just dispensed like a vending machine," Mark Lanier, a lawyer for the countries, told the jury in Cleveland in his opening statement on Monday. He said the four firms were "the last line of defence" against people obtaining pills to illicitly sell on the streets. But he said they had failed to spot "red flags" of misuse and prioritised the processing of prescriptions quickly while patients shopped at their stores. "From the very beginning, they were supposed to train their pharmacists, and they didn't," Mr Lanier told the jury. "From the very beginning, they should have given the pharmacists the tools they'd need and they didn't."
10-7-21 Wyoming banking heir donated 98 percent of private funds for Abbott's Texas border wall
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's (R) solicitation of private funds for a state-built barrier along the Mexican border raked in $54 million, but $53.1 million of that came from one donor, Timothy Mellon, a Wyoming billionaire and grandson of the late banking tycoon Andrew Mellon, The Texas Tribune reports. "Before Mellon's donations, Abbott's private fundraising campaign had stalled at about $1.25 million around mid-August, two months after its launch — a drop in the bucket for a project with a price tag estimated in the billions of dollars," the Tribune reports. Then Mellon's money poured in over a few days in late August, and "the donations have since stalled again." Mellon made his contribution in stocks, not cash, which means he will likely get a tax break from the donation. Mellon appears to have no connection to Texas, but he did donate $20 million to America First Action, former President Donald Trump's super PAC, last year, and has given heavily to other Republican election funds, the Tribune reports. Along with Abbott's crowdfunding, the GOP-run Texas Legislature has approved nearly $3 billion in taxpayer money for border security, including $750 million earmarked for border barrier construction. Abbott, facing a primary challenge from his right flank, has focused on the border since March. The border fencing is intended in part to add to Trump's wall, scrapped by President Biden, but it's also part of a design to arrest migrants on ramped-up trespassing charges. "The quickly assembled system of arrests, detentions, and releases of migrants has been plagued by missteps since its onset, including families being improperly separated, violations of due process, and a lack of coordination among federal, state, and local officials," the Tribune reports. Last week, a state judge ordered the release of nearly 250 migrants who were arrested under Abbott's plan but never charged, and a state prosecutor dismissed charges Monday against 11 migrants who said state troopers forced them to walk for 20 minutes to private property and climb over the fence so they could be arrested for trespassing. Defense attorneys say that kind of alleged entrapment isn't unique. "We have heard reports and several of our clients have recounted that they are actually called over onto the river onto private property," Texas RioGrande Legal Aid's Kristin Etter tells the Tribune. Texas state police have arrested about 1,300 migrants on trespassing charges. Most are released within a month.
10-7-21 Abu Zubaydah: Top US court to rule on test case over state secrecy
An ex-CIA officer turned whistleblower against torture has called for the release of a suspected terrorist he captured nearly 20 years ago. John Kiriakou told the BBC that the torture and imprisonment of al-Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah has been "more than adequate punishment". The call for Mr Zubaydah's release from US custody came as the Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday weighing the US government's ability to keep potential torture evidence secret. Mr Zubaydah's detention lies at the heart of the case before the high court. Following his 2002 capture in Pakistan, the Palestinian has claimed that he was waterboarded, beaten, deprived of sleep, isolated and kept in painful "stress positions" during interrogations at a secret CIA "black site" in Poland before being transferred to detention at Guantanamo Bay, where he has been held without charge since 2006. The black sites were a network of facilities around the world used by the CIA to house and interrogate terror suspects in the years following the 11 September 2001 attacks. Mr Zubaydah has attempted to subpoena two CIA contractors for a Polish criminal investigation into the black site. The US federal government, however, has blocked the subpoenas, arguing that releasing the information would harm national security. The case is the first involving a Guantanamo Bay detainee heard by the Supreme Court in more than a decade. A ruling will have wide implications for determining the limits of the US government's right to secrecy. After being captured in Pakistan in March 2002, Mr Zubaydah - whom the George W Bush administration believed was a high-level terrorist recruiter and planner - was taken to black sites in several countries, including Thailand and Poland. While in CIA custody, he was questioned under torture. A US Senate report later found that Mr Zubaydah's interrogations included 83 instances of waterboarding, as well as sleep deprivation and 11 days confinement in a coffin-like box. While in CIA custody, Mr Zubaydah also lost his left eye.
10-7-21 World's first malaria vaccine approved for use in children in Africa
The world’s first malaria vaccine has been approved for general use in children in sub-Saharan Africa, along with other regions with moderate to high rates of the disease.“This is a historic moment. The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, said in a statement. Malaria, caused by a parasite spread by the bites of infected mosquitoes, is responsible for more than 400,000 deaths a year, most of them in young children in sub-Saharan Africa. It is chiefly tackled by people using insecticide-treated bed nets and drug treatments to reduce spread. The vaccine, called RTS,S or Mosquirix, consists of part of a protein from the parasite bound to part of a second protein, from the hepatitis B virus, which helps immune cells recognise the substance. Given as four doses from 5 months of age, it has been in development for nearly 40 years. Trials have shown that using the vaccine leads to a 30 per cent fall in cases of severe or deadly malaria even in areas where bed nets are widely used, the WHO said yesterday. This effectiveness is lower than vaccines against other diseases – for instance, the effectiveness of some covid-19 vaccines against severe disease range from 60 to 90 per cent. The latest trials also found that families who had their children vaccinated continued to use bed nets, and that the vaccine is cost-effective. Approving the vaccine for general use “increases equity in access to malaria prevention, helping to reach children that may not be benefiting from other interventions, like bed nets”, says Nanthalile Mugala at PATH, a global non-profit organisation for malaria development.
10-7-21 Historic go-ahead for malaria vaccine to protect African children
Children across much of Africa are to be vaccinated against malaria in a historic moment in the fight against the deadly disease. Malaria has been one of the biggest scourges on humanity for millennia and mostly kills babies and infants. Having a vaccine - after more than a century of trying - is among medicine's greatest achievements. The vaccine - called RTS,S - was proven effective six years ago. Now, after the success of pilot immunisation programmes in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, the World Health Organization says the vaccine should be rolled out across sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions with moderate to high malaria transmission. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said it was "a historic moment". "The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control," he said. "[It] could save tens of thousands of young lives each year." Malaria is a parasite that invades and destroys our blood cells in order to reproduce, and it's spread by the bite of blood-sucking mosquitoes. Drugs to kill the parasite, bed-nets to prevent bites and insecticides to kill the mosquito have all helped reduce malaria. But the greatest burden of the disease is felt in Africa, where more than 260,000 children died from the disease in 2019. It takes years of being repeatedly infected to build up immunity and even this only reduces the chances of becoming severely ill. Dr Kwame Amponsa-Achiano piloted the vaccine in Ghana to assess whether mass vaccination was feasible and effective. "It is quite an exciting moment for us, with large scale vaccination I believe the malaria toll will be reduced to the barest minimum," he said. Constantly catching malaria as a child inspired Dr Amponsa-Achiano to become a doctor in Ghana. "It was distressing, almost every week you were out of school, malaria has taken a toll on us for a long time," he told me.
10-6-21 WHO approves world's first malaria vaccine in 'long-awaited landmark decision'
The World Health Organization threw its support behind the first ever vaccine to prevent malaria, a "historical" decision that "could save the lives of tens of thousands of children in Africa each year," The New York Times reports. "I longed for the day that we would have an effective vaccine against this ancient and terrible disease," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, per The Wall Street Journal. "Today is that day. An historic day." Ghebreyesus also noted the vaccine, known as Mosquirix and developed by GlaxoSmithKline, would have to be used alongside other preventative measures like bed nets and pesticides. The WHO's endorsement is a "crucial step" in ramping up investment for greater production and rollout, writes the Journal. The shot will be deployed in sub-Saharan Africa and other at-risk regions. "This long-awaited landmark decision can reinvigorate the fight against malaria in the region at a time when progress on malaria control has stalled," said Thomas Breuer, chief global health officer at Glaxo. The vaccine has a "relatively low efficacy," and requires four doses in young children over approximately 18 months; but still, when combined with preventative drugs during high-transmissions seasons, the "dual approach" proved "much more effective at preventing severe disease ... than either method alone," per the Times and the Journal. What's more, Dr. Mary Hamel, who heads the WHO's malaria vaccine implementation program, believes distribution will be relatively simple. "We aren't going to have to spend a decade trying to figure out how to get this to children," Hamel said, adding, "The ability to reduce inequities in access to malaria prevention — that's important. It was impressive to see that this could reach children who are currently not being protected."
10-6-21 White House to purchase $1 billion worth of rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests
The White House on Wednesday said it will buy $1 billion worth of rapid, at-home coronavirus tests, quadrupling the number of tests available for Americans by December. Scott Becker, CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, told The Washington Post that because rapid tests haven't been widely available, it's harder for public health experts to track and fight COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant. This purchase of tests is "a big deal," he said. "The White House is beginning to take testing as seriously as they've taken vaccinations." Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said the Biden administration is also going to expand the number of pharmacies in the country's free COVID-19 testing program to 20,000. By December, Zients said, there should be 500 million at-home and PCR lab tests available at clinics, doctor's offices, and pharmacies every month. "Together, the steps we're taking will ensure that every American, no matter their income level or ZIP code, can access accurate, convenient, and affordable testing," he added.
10-6-21 Colorado hospital system says it won't perform transplants on unvaccinated patients
The Colorado hospital system UCHealth said in order to protect patients, it is requiring COVID-19 vaccination for transplant recipients and donors "in almost all situations." "For transplant patients who contract COVID-19, the mortality rate ranges from about 20 percent to more than 30 percent," UCHealth told CBS Denver in a statement. "This shows the extreme risk that COVID-19 poses to transplant recipients after their surgeries." In Colorado, 62.05 percent of residents are vaccinated. Leilani Lutali has stage 5 renal failure, and met her kidney donor, Jaimee Fougner, at Bible study. Lutali and Fougner are not vaccinated, with Fougner saying she doesn't want to get the vaccine for religious reasons. In September, UCHealth sent them both a letter about the vaccination policy, saying they had 30 days to get their first dose. If they refuse, Lutali and Fougner will be removed from the transplant list. "I said I'll sign a medical waiver," Lutali told CBS Denver. "I have to sign a waiver anyway for the transplant itself, releasing them from anything that could possibly go wrong. It's surgery, it's invasive. I sign a waiver for my life. I'm not sure why I can't sign a waiver for the COVID shot." So far, Lutali and Fougner haven't been able to find any other hospital in Colorado that will perform the transplant while they are unvaccinated. UCHealth said shots are nothing new for transplant recipients — most receive vaccinations, like MMR and hepatitis B, as a way to increase the likelihood that the transplant will be successful.
10-6-21 Afghans reportedly escaped Kabul through a CIA gate so secret not even the Taliban knew it existed
In the final 48 hours of the United States' evacuation from Afghanistan last month, many vulnerable Afghans who were not able to make it through Taliban checkpoints blocking access to Kabul's airport were still able to escape the country when the CIA opened a back door about two miles away from the main airport gates. The Wall Street Journal was the first to report on the gate, referred to as Glory Gate or Liberty Gate. The entrance, which was so secretive that even the Taliban was unaware of its existence, was initially used to smuggle out the CIA's priority cases, like intelligence assets or local agents, but its role expanded as the clock wound down. Sam Aronson, a political officer at the State Department, was on duty at Glory Gate in late August when several buses carrying Afghans who worked for the U.S. Embassy arrived without incident. So, he asked if they could also start ushering through families on the street who were on an evacuation waitlist, the Journal reports. He got the go ahead as long as he didn't "blow our gate," he told the Journal, and they completed the task successfully. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.
10-6-21 The impractical but plausible fantasy of a national divorce
Citing irreconcilable differences, many commentators on both sides of the red-blue divide have begun channeling country singer Tammy Wynette and contemplating a national divorce. The sentiment appears strongest on the right. Claremont Institute fellow David Reaboi warns of a future in which "the crisis and contempt between Americans builds beyond what is currently imaginable," leaving only pragmatic considerations about who gets the nukes, and "appeals to Boomer Patriotism" as the only basis for national unity. Others think pop artist Neil Sedaka is closer to the mark than Wynette: Breaking up is hard to do. Much of this discussion can be dismissed as quasi-Civil War cosplay by the Very Online. But we are genuinely two decades into a period of intense political polarization, combined with increasing moral certitude on both sides and profound disagreements over values and basic facts about the nation's history, religion, the nature of biological sex, even the winner of last year's presidential election. In a country where people follow their senators into restrooms and disown family members over political differences (or at least need to read essays about how to talk to them every Thanksgiving), it is easy to see why people doubt whether the center can hold. Yet the nation's federal constitutional system is set up to maximize the ability of people with different views to live together. That is, until progressives decide that institutions like the Senate should be scrapped as undemocratic, letting massive changes be implemented by razor-thin margins, or right-populists begin to see a federal government that barely got Donald Trump elected to run for a single term as the only institution capable of defending conservative values. The things that made the American system capable of accommodating true diversity are under assault by the forces of one-size-fits-all rule just when we need them the most. Some might conclude the desire for a federal government strong enough to guarantee liberal abortion policies in red states or ban transgender bathrooms in blue ones makes national divorce inevitable. But if the existing constitutional design of the country can't protect us, it's hard to imagine an amicable breakup creating a better one soon.
10-6-21 Idaho lieutenant governor bans vaccine mandates, tries to deploy National Guard during governor's 2-day trip
"Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em," William Shakespeare wrote in Twelfth Night, setting up a prank to humiliate a pretentious servant. It isn't clear which camp Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (R) would place herself in, but on Tuesday she took advantage of Gov. Brad Little's (R) out-of-state travels — for the second time this year — to issue a pandemic-related executive order and move to press the Idaho National Guard into border patrol duty. As soon as Little left to meet with nine other GOP governors in Texas, McGeachin issued an executive order prohibiting private companies from requiring employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, among other things. She also asked Maj. Gen. Michael J. Garshak how she could activate the National Guard and send them to the U.S.-Mexico border, The Associated Press reports. "I am unaware of any request for Idaho National Guard assistance under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) from Texas or Arizona," Garshak said in a one-paragraph reply. "As you are aware, the Idaho National Guard is not a law enforcement agency." Little, who did send State Police troopers to the border in June to help stop cross-border drug trafficking, was a little more direct. "I am in Texas performing my duties as the duly elected governor of Idaho, and I have not authorized the lieutenant governor to act on my behalf," he said in a statement. "I will be rescinding and reversing any actions taken by the lieutenant governor when I return." He added, "Attempting to deploy our National Guard for political grandstanding is an affront to the Idaho constitution and insults the men and women who have dedicated their life to serving our state and the country." In May, McGeachin issued a ban on mask mandates when Little was on an official trip to Tennessee. Little rescinded that order as soon as he returned. McGeachin is one of a crowded field of Republicans running to replace Little in 2022. Little has not indicated whether he is seeking re-election.
10-6-21 Ivermectin 'buyers clubs' want to use the drug to treat covid-19
MULTIPLE “buyers clubs” are trying to import the drug ivermectin to the UK to prevent and treat covid-19, even though there is no evidence supporting use of the drug in this way, and it could even be dangerous. The UK Medicines and Health products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) has cautioned people not to try to buy ivermectin through third parties to treat covid-19. The drug is used to treat parasite infections in humans and some other animals, but has gained a lot of attention as an unproven drug for preventing or treating covid-19. “Ivermectin is not a licensed medicine for covid-19. It can only be taken by those participating in closely supervised and highly regulated clinical trials,” an MHRA spokesperson told New Scientist. “Never self-prescribe or try to obtain medicines from an unregulated source – only take medicines prescribed by your doctor and obtained via a registered pharmacy or reputable outlet.” In the US, supplies of the human and livestock forms of ivermectin have run short after some people opposed to covid-19 vaccines sought to use it to treat or prevent infection. But according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), current evidence doesn’t show that ivermectin is effective against covid-19 – although clinical trials are ongoing. “Taking large doses of ivermectin is dangerous,” the FDA says on its website. The FDA also warns that formulations of ivermectin for animals are often highly concentrated and may contain inactive ingredients that haven’t been evaluated for use in people. Poison control centres in the US are struggling with a surge of ivermectin-related cases, and health officials in New Mexico recently reported that two people died from ivermectin toxicity after taking the drug. Throughout the pandemic, a number of drugs have attracted attention as possible preventatives of or treatments for covid-19. Like the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine before it, ivermectin is being used by some people with covid-19 to try to halt the onset of symptoms, and by some people who are against vaccines as a preventative measure. Trials of hydroxychloroquine haven’t found evidence of any benefits of using it for covid-19. (Webmasters Comment: People that select this unproven therapy should not be treated!)
10-6-21 Controversial New York police union head steps down after FBI raid
The board of the New York Police Department's Sergeants Benevolent Association, one of the city's main police unions, said late Tuesday it had requested the resignation of its controversial president, Ed Mullins, who is "apparently the target of the federal investigation." Mullins agreed to step down. Earlier Tuesday, the FBI had raided the SBA's Manhattan headquarters and Mullins' home on Long Island. After several hours at the union's Manhattan office, FBI agents carried at least 11 large cardboard boxes and a black trash bag to a minivan. The FBI said in a statement that its agents "were conducting a law enforcement operation pursuant to an ongoing investigation," but declined to give any details. The search was part of an investigation by the FBI and public corruption unit of the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, The New York Times reports, citing people with knowledge of the matter. The U.S. attorney's office declined to comment, as did a lawyer for Mullins. The SBA board said "the nature and scope of this criminal investigation has yet to be determined," and other than Mullins, "we have no reason to believe that any other member of the SBA is involved or targeted in this matter." Mullins joined the NYPD in 1982, made sergeant in 1993, and was elected to the first of his five terms as SBA president in 2002. The SBA, representing about 13,000 active and former police sergeants, says it is the fifth-largest police union in the U.S. Along with the largest police union, the Police Benevolent Association, its leadership has tended to be politically conservative. Mullins was particularly outspoken in his support for former President Donald Trump and criticism of New York's Democratic leaders and any efforts to reform police departments to root out racism and racial violence. And his use of Twitter landed him in hot water. Along with the FBI investigation, Mullins faces a NYPD disciplinary action for tweeting out a police report detailing the arrest of Mayor Bill de Blasio's daughter, Chiara, from a police brutality protest last year.
10-6-21 Tesla must pay $137m to racially harassed former worker
Carmaker Tesla has been ordered to pay almost $137m (£101m) in damages for failing to stop a black former worker at its Fresno plant from being abused. Owen Diaz, a lift operator from 2015 to 2016, was subjected to a racially hostile work environment, a federal court in San Francisco found. Mr Diaz claimed black workers regularly faced racist slurs on the factory floor and racist graffiti in bathrooms. Tesla disputed the verdict but said it recognised it was "not perfect". Mr Diaz's lawsuit alleged African-American workers "encountered a scene straight from the Jim Crow era" at the electric carmaker's Fremont factory. It said colleagues used racial epithets "daily" and told Mr Diaz to "go back to Africa". "Tesla's progressive image was a facade papering over its regressive, demeaning treatment of African-American employees," it said. Despite complaints to supervisors, the court found Tesla did not take reasonable steps to tackle the abuse. On Monday, the jury at the San Francisco court awarded Mr Diaz $130m in punitive damages and $6.9m for emotional distress, according to Mr Diaz's attorneys. One of them, Lawrence Organ of the California Civil Rights Law Group, said he hoped the high penalty would spur change. "It's gratifying to know that a jury's willing to hold Tesla accountable, one of the world's largest, richest corporations finally is told, 'You can't let this kind of thing happen at your factory,'" he told the Washington Post. In a message to employees shared on Tesla's website, the firm's vice president of people, Valerie Capers Workman, said she "strongly" believed the verdict was unjustified. The carmaker had responded in a "timely" way to Mr Diaz's complaints, she said. She added: "We do recognise that in 2015 and 2016 we were not perfect. We're still not perfect. But we have come a long way from five years ago." She said the firm had added an employee relations team, dedicated to investigating complaints, and a diversity team focused on ensuring equal opportunities at Tesla. Black employees made up just 4% of Tesla US leadership roles and 10% of its total workforce in the country, according to its first diversity report published in December, (Webmasters Comment: The fine should all come out of executive salaries!)
10-6-21 Abu Zubaydah: Top US court to hear test case on state secrecy
According to the US government, Abu Zubaydah was a terrorist recruiter responsible for the destruction of hundreds of lives. The George W Bush administration claimed he was an elusive master of disguise who inspired extremism, plotted attacks, and attracted new members to al-Qaeda until he was captured by the CIA. But his alleged crimes did not give anyone the right to torture him, and on Wednesday Mr Zubaydah's story will lie at the centre of a case in the highest US court that could have far-reaching consequences globally. The Palestinian has claimed that he was waterboarded, beaten, deprived of sleep, isolated and kept in painful 'stress positions' during interrogations at a secret CIA "black site" in Poland before being transferred to detention at Guantanamo Bay, where he has been held without charge since 2006. Mr Zubaydah has attempted to subpoena two CIA contractors for a Polish criminal investigation into the black site. The black sites were a network of facilities around the world used by the CIA to house and interrogate terror suspects in the years following the 2001 September 11 attacks. The US federal government, however, has blocked the subpoenas, arguing that releasing the information would harm national security. The case is the first involving a Guantanamo Bay detainee heard by the Supreme Court in more than a decade and has wide implications for determining the limits of the US government's right to secrecy. After being captured in Pakistan in March 2002, Mr Zubaydah was taken to CIA-run black sites in several countries, including Thailand and Poland. While in CIA custody, Mr Zubaydah was questioned under torture. A US Senate report later found that Mr Zubaydah's interrogations included 83 instances of waterboarding, as well as sleep deprivation and 11 days confinement in a coffin-like box. While in CIA custody, Mr Zubaydah also lost his left eye. The Supreme Court case stems from a Polish investigation into whether Polish officials were complicit in the CIA's black site programme. At the request of Polish investigators, in 2017 Mr Zubaydah's legal team sought testimony from CIA contractors James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. Both men were psychologists who played a key role in the agency's interrogation programme following the September 11 attacks.
10-6-21 Joyce Echaquan: Racism played role in death, coroner finds
The death of an indigenous woman, Joyce Echaquan, last year was preventable and an "undeniable" case of racism, a Canadian coroner has said. Ms Echaquan, a mother of seven, died shortly after recording a video of hospital staff insulting her. In her report, coroner Géhane Kamel found that the woman had died of excess fluid in her lungs. Staff at the hospital in Joliette, Quebec had incorrectly assumed she was suffering from a narcotics withdrawal. At a Tuesday press conference to explain the findings of her three-week inquiry, Ms Kamel said Ms Echaquan, who had a history of heart problems, was "infantilised" and labelled as a drug abuser by healthcare staff despite there being no evidence to support this. This mistaken assumption affected Ms Echaquan's care, Ms Kamel said, and contributed to her death. Asked if she thought Ms Echaquan would be alive today if she were white, Ms Kamel replied, "I think so" in French. The coroner, who said the inquiry "shook" her, appeared to hold back tears at some points during the press conference. Ms Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw woman, had gone to the Joliette hospital, about 70km (45 miles) from Montreal, suffering from stomach pains. She filmed herself in her hospital bed screaming and calling for urgent help. In the video, filmed in September 2020, two members of staff are in her room, and one can be heard saying to her, in French: "You're stupid as hell". Another tells her that she made bad choices in life and asks what her children would think of her behaviour. Both were later fired. Ms Echaquan's death caused a national outcry and calls for political leaders in Quebec to acknowledge the presence of systemic racism in the province. Quebec Premier François Legault has called the incident "totally unacceptable" but has denied such racism exists in his province. A lawyer for Ms Echaquan has said they will soon file a lawsuit over her death, as well as complaints with the province's college of physicians, order of nurses and human rights commission.
10-6-21 Russia investigates prison torture allegations after videos leaked
Russian authorities are investigating allegations of torture and rape in the prison system, after leaked videos appeared to show inmates being abused. More than a thousand videos were leaked to the human rights group Gulagu.net, which claims the footage proves hundreds of people have been tortured. One video appears to show a naked man being abused with a stick at a prison hospital in the city of Saratov. The BBC has not been able to independently verify the footage. Another video appears to show a man laying face-down with his hands taped behind him, as a guard presses a boot into his back. The films are part of a large trove of files provided by an anonymous Belarusian whistleblower who served time in the Saratov facility, Gulagu.net said. "If the authenticity of this material is confirmed, it would be grounds for a serious investigation," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday. He added that the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN), which oversees Russia's prisons was looking into the matter. An FSIN team has been sent to the Saratov prison to verify the allegations, while prosecutors are also reportedly investigating the claims. On Tuesday night, the head of the FSIN branch in the Saratov region reportedly quit over the scandal. Alexei Fedotov submitted a letter of resignation, according to the Interfax news agency. "It is the first time that human rights defenders have obtained such a colossal amount of information proving the systemic nature of torture in Russia," Gulagu.net founder Vladimir Osechkin told the AFP news agency. Mr Osechkin alleges that 200 inmates have been tortured and raped in Russian jails, with 40 depicted in videos. He has vowed to release more material in the coming days. Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch said her organisation could not verify the videos but the footage "gave grounds for strong concern." "The problem of torture in Russian penitentiaries is very acute and the government is not doing enough to ensure effective investigation," she said.
10-5-21 Five ways this Supreme Court could change America
Ever since Donald Trump appointed three conservative justices to the Supreme court during his four-year presidential term, it seemed to many like it was just a matter of time before the highest judicial body in the US started flexing its muscles by tackling some of the hot-button political and legal issues in the country today. With the start of a new court term on Monday, that time may have arrived. The upcoming docket has a handful of cases - on topics such as abortion, gun control, national security and religion - that could not only set lasting precedent for US courts, but fundamentally change the fabric of US society. More than few a political activists across the spectrum have taken notice, prompting some - particularly on the left - to issue dire warnings about the vast power of the judicial branch and suggest ways that power could be restrained, either through changing the composition of the Supreme Court or curtailing its authority. All this criticism has led conservatives on the court to bristle at the accusations that they have a political agenda. Justice Samuel Alito said critics were undertaking "unprecedented efforts to intimidate the court". Amy Coney Barrett, who replaced liberal justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg after her death last October, pushed back against those who say the justices are "a bunch of partisan hacks". Clarence Thomas, the longest-serving justice on the court, blamed the media for making it seem like judges were like politicians who rule based on their "personal preferences". If the conservative justices all vote together one of these major cases - dismantling abortion protections, for instance - such pleas may fall on deaf ears. Abortion: This will be one of the most-watched cases in recent Supreme Court history, as anti-abortion activists believe the conservative-dominated court could finally abandon nearly five decades of precedent under the landmark case Roe v Wade and allow states to impose new restrictions on abortions during the first six months of pregnancy. The case involves a Mississippi law prohibiting most abortions after the 15th week or pregnancy - a law that was designed from the start to give the court a chance to change course on this politically heated issue. Gun control: For most of US history, the Supreme Court made little effort to define the "right to bear arms" outlined in the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. That all changed in the landmark 2008 case District of Columbia v Heller, in which a narrow majority of the justices upheld a constitutional right to own a handgun. The latest target for gun-rights advocates are strict city and state regulations that they say infringe on that right. In the cross-hairs this term is New York City's tightly restricted access to concealed-carry handgun licences - a case that could give the justices an opportunity to rule that carrying a pistol, even in big cities, should be much easier.
10-5-21 Covid-19 news: Pfizer vaccine 90% effective against hospitalisation
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. Immunity wanes six months after second dose of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine is highly effective at preventing hospital admission even with the delta variant, new research shows – though its effectiveness against infection almost halves after six months. Two doses of the jab are 90 per cent effective against covid-19 hospital admission for all variants for at least six months, according to the study. But effectiveness against infection fell over the study period, dropping from 88 per cent within one month of receiving the second dose to 47 per cent after six months. Researchers analysed more than 3 million electronic health records from the Kaiser Permanente Southern California health system between December 2020 and August this year. They found that the drop in vaccine effectiveness against infection over time is probably due to waning immunity, and not the delta variant escaping the protection offered by the jab.The study, conducted by Kaiser Permanente and Pfizer, is published in The Lancet. In the UK, Pfizer/BioNTech booster jabs are currently being offered to those who had their second vaccine at least six months ago and are living in residential care homes for older adults, are over 50, or are frontline health and social care workers. People aged 16 to 49 with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe symptoms. and adults who have household contact with immunosuppressed individuals, are also being offered third doses. The European Union’s medicines regulator has recommended that people with weakened immune systems should have a third dose of Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. The agency also said a booster shot of this vaccine could be considered for adults with normal immune systems around six months after the second dose, but left it to member states to decide whether the wider population should get boosters. AstraZeneca has submitted a request to US regulators to authorise a new treatment to prevent covid-19 in people who have an impaired response to vaccines. The therapy, called AZD7442, contains lab-made antibodies designed to stay in the body for months. Trial results suggest that it cuts the risk of people developing any coronavirus symptoms by 77 per cent, the company has reported.
10-5-21 Guatemala: Anti-vaccine villagers attack and hold nurses with Covid jabs
Anti-vaccine residents in a village in rural Guatemala have attacked nurses who were trying to administer Covid-19 jabs, holding them for seven hours, officials say. About 500 people blocked a road and vandalised the team's cars in Maguilá, in the northern Alta Verapaz province. The 11 workers were released after police negotiated with the villagers, who destroyed about 50 vaccine doses. Authorities say online disinformation is feeding resistance to the vaccines. The nurses were "verbally and physically attacked" by the residents, who let the air out of the workers' tires and destroyed the cool boxes storing the doses, the health ministry said. "We were very scared because we had never been through something like this. We were just doing our duty," a nurse was quoted by the statement as saying. "We tried to explain a number of times that vaccination is voluntary and that we did not want to force anyone, yet they didn't let us [work]." Local media report that residents rejected the vaccine because a villager who received a dose had developed side effects, which were interpreted as being health problems linked to the jab. Experts say the most common side effects of the vaccines are pain or tenderness at the injection site. Some people have wider effects like fever, headache, nausea and fatigue, but they are usually mild and short-lived. Gabriel Sandoval, the director of the provincial health department, told the Associated Press officials had previously encountered communities that rejected vaccination teams, but that it was the first time they faced such physical resistance. "This was bound to happen," he said, citing false information about the vaccines being shared on social media. "A lot of people don't believe in the illness... There is a clash of cultures".
10-5-21 Deported Haitian migrants face uncertain future
Thousands of Haitian migrants have returned to the island after being deported by the US. Many of the migrants had been living in South America and have not set foot in Haiti for years. The BBC’s Will Grant spoke to migrants about the "inhumane" treatment they claim they received at the US border - and about how they'll try to rebuild their lives now.
10-4-21 America's two crime problems
Understanding the conundrum of police reform Last week brought fresh evidence that America has two crime problems: crime itself, and the police who are supposed to solve and prevent those crimes. It is not clear the two problems can be fixed independently. The FBI released statistics showing the United States in 2020 saw its largest-ever year-over-year jump in homicides — a nearly 30 percent increase from the year before. One obvious explanation for the new numbers is the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced most Americans into a stressful lockdown. Another is that the country is so awash in guns that it's all too easy for violence to surge when times get bad. Some conservatives have offered another possibility. They suggest that the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests that sprung up during Summer 2020 after George Floyd's murder by a Minneapolis police officer unleashed a wave of "anti-police fervor" that ended up making communities less safe. "Police are retiring or quitting in droves, often because they do not want to take the daily abuse unleashed by the mobs unfairly blaming average cops for the racial problems that the Floyd case revealed," Henry Olsen wrote in The Washington Post. He added: "There is also evidence that police are pulling back in performing some of their duties. Confronting someone for a traffic violation or what appears to be a misdemeanor could result in escalation, which it seems many cops are not willing to risk given the politicization of their jobs." Olsen is wrong on one point: The notion that law enforcement officers are quitting "in droves" is something of an urban myth. The Marshall Project, which covers crime policy, points out that American police departments lost less than 1 percent of their workforces in 2020, while the overall economy lost 6 percent of workers. Police seem to be staying in their jobs. It's tempting to dismiss Olsen's other point — that officers are pulling back from doing their jobs because they have come under increased scrutiny — because it suggests the homicide increase is a function of the nation's police being unwilling or unable to deal with widespread criticism. A complicating factor: The criticism is richly deserved. The Lancet medical journal released a study suggesting that the number of police killings since 1980 is nearly twice what had been previously known — about 55 percent of such deaths had been officially listed as having some other cause, with no mention of police involvement. More than 17,000 deaths overall had gone under-reported. Unsurprisingly, Black people were disproportionately represented among the dead. The U.S. accounted for more than 13 percent of the world's reported police-involved deaths in 2019 — despite having just 4 percent of the world's population. "Accountability and transparency in policing are lacking," the study's authors wrote, adding: "Police violence, like other forms of violence, is preventable." The results of the Lancet study aren't particularly surprising. (A smaller Harvard study in 2017 yielded similar results.) They confirm a sense — fueled by a recent onslaught of horrifying cell phone and body cam videos — that America's police are often violent and overzealous in carrying out their duties, particularly when it comes to dealing with Black people. The study's findings also suggest the problems aren't the result of "a few bad apples," but instead are widespread and systemic. (Webmasters Comment: Many white males join the police force so they can kill blacks and get away with it!)
10-4-21 Pediatric cases of COVID-19 are declining in the U.S.: 'Encouraging news'
New COVID-19 cases are declining in the United States, including among children, amid what one expert believes will be the "last major wave of infection." Since Sept. 1, the number of new daily cases of COVID-19 in the United States has declined 35 percent, The New York Times reports. According to CNN, the U.S. is currently averaging about 107,000 new cases each day, compared to over 150,000 a month ago. Plus, the Times writes, "even pediatric cases are falling, despite the lack of vaccine authorization for children under 12." Jennifer Nuzzo, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health epidemiologist, told The Washington Post that it's "encouraging news we see pediatric cases falling despite the absence of vaccines because it means we can do a lot by making sure we control spread of the viruses among adults." The American Academy of Pediatrics most recently reported that there was an 8.5 percent decline in the number of children who tested positive for COVID-19 during the week ending on Sept. 23, although it was still the fifth consecutive week that there were more than 200,000 cases among kids, according to CNN. The Times' David Leonhardt writes that the overall decline in COVID-19 cases in the United States is coming "even as millions of American children have again crowded into school buildings," though he cautions that "there is no guarantee that the decline in caseloads will continue." But Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, told the Times that "barring something unexpected, I'm of the opinion that this is the last major wave of infection." The decline also comes as parents are still waiting for a coronavirus vaccine to be made available for kids under 12. Pfizer and BioNTech are seeking authorization of their vaccine for kids between 5 and 11, and experts say that vaccine could earn emergency approval by Halloween.
10-4-21 Biden administration reverses Trump-era abortion referral ban on clinics
The Biden administration on Monday lifted a Trump-era rule that restricted federal funds from family planning clinics that provide abortion referrals. The new rule will go into effect on Nov. 8, and allows major providers like Planned Parenthood to once again participate in Title X, the federal family planning program that gives more than $250 million a year to clinics providing basic health care services to low-income women. "This rule is a step forward for family planning care as it aims to strengthen and restore our nation's Title X program," Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. "Our nation's family planning clinics play a critical role in delivering health care, and today more than ever, we are making clear that access to quality family planning care includes accurate information and referrals based on a patient's needs and direction." Trump enacted the policy in 2018, and the Department of Health and Human Services estimates that the number of patients served by family planning clinics dropped 40 percent after it went into effect, which may have led to more than 180,000 unintended pregnancies, The Associated Press reports.
10-4-21 Capitol rioter gets jail time after judge says 'a slap on the wrist' won't do
Matthew Mazzocco, a Texas man convicted of illegally demonstrating at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, is the first rioter to receive a jail term when prosecutors did not ask for one, The Washington Post reports. U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan on Monday said the "country is watching to see what the consequences are for something that has not ever happened in this country before, for actions and crimes that undermine the rule of law and our democracy," and if Mazzocco walked away with "probation and a slap on the wrist, that's not going to deter anyone from trying what he did again." Chutkan sentenced Mazzocco to 45 days in jail and 60 hours of community service and ordered him to pay $500 in restitution for damage done to the Capitol building during the riot. Court records say Mazzocco, 38, posted online photos he took at the Capitol on Jan. 6, and parents involved in the same San Antonio youth sports league turned him into the FBI. He was arrested on Jan. 17 and fired from his job as a loan officer. In July, Mazzocco pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, and prosecutors recommended he serve three months of home confinement. Chutkan noted that Mazzocco was inside the Capitol for 12 minutes and did not personally cause any damage, but "his presence was part of the mob. The mob isn't the mob without the number. People committed those violence acts because they had the safety of numbers." Before he was sentenced, Mazzocco told the court he is "truly sorry for my actions that day. It has truly taken a toll on me. I'm not just saying that because I want to get off. I know I made a big mistake. I want to apologize to the country, to you, and to the police officers. ... I'm just very sorry." (Webmasters Comment: Bullshit, just trying to get himself off!)
10-4-21 'Pandora Papers' reveal 14 world leaders, other elites hiding wealth in tax havens, including South Dakota
Five years ago, a massive leak of documents from a Panama law firm shed light on the widespread, often shady use of tax shelters by wealthy and powerful people around the world. After the "Panama Papers" were released, clients of another politically connected Panama law firm asked that security be strengthened so they weren't similarly exposed. That firm, Alemán, Cordero, Galindo & Lee — or Alcogal — represents one of the largest troves of leaked documents in what the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) is calling the "Pandora Papers," a bigger, more comprehensive tax haven accounting released Sunday. The Pandora Papers are based on nearly 3 terabytes of data from 14 different firms doing business in 38 jurisdictions. More than 600 journalists from 150 media outlets in 117 countries made sense of the 11.9 million financial records, which detail more than 29,000 offshore accounts held by more than 130 Forbes-designated billionaires and 330 current and former public officials in more than 90 countries, including 14 current heads of state. Jordan's King Abdullah II secretly invested more than $100 million in luxury real estate, including three adjacent oceanside properties in Malibu, the journalists found. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis used shell companies to purchase a $22 million chateau near Cannes in 2009. Other leaders in the cache include Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Chile's President Sebastián Piñera, Dominican President Luis Abinader, and President Milo Djukanovic of Montenegro, as well as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The tax havens include the usual suspects — the British Virgin Islands, Cyprus, Belize — but "the files provide substantial new evidence, for example, that South Dakota now rivals notoriously opaque jurisdictions in Europe and the Caribbean in financial secrecy." Offshore accounts and tax havens are generally not illegal, and the leaders who responded to the ICIJ report mostly said they followed all applicable laws. But they do, by design, deprive those countries of tax revenue. "The offshore financial system is a problem that should concern every law-abiding person around the world," former FBI financial crimes investigator Sherine Ebadi tells The Washington Post. "These systems don't just allow tax cheats to avoid paying their fair share. They undermine the fabric of a good society." Oxfam International agreed, saying in a statement that "this is where our missing hospitals are" as well as money for teachers, firefighters, and climate change mitigation.
10-4-21 Ron DeSantis v Biden: A bitter battle in Florida over vaccines
As cities and employers begin imposing mask and vaccination mandates across the United States, a debate rages over personal freedoms and public health. One side says mask and vaccine mandates are a step too far. The other argues we should follow science to protect ourselves and our communities. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has taken up the fight with the Biden administration.
10-4-21 Frances Haugen: Facebook whistleblower reveals identity
Frances Haugen: Facebook whistleblower reveals identity. Frances Haugen, 37, who worked as a product manager on the civic integrity team at Facebook, was interviewed on Sunday by CBS. She said the documents she leaked proved that Facebook repeatedly prioritised "growth over safety". Facebook said the leaks were misleading and glossed over positive research conducted by the company. In the interview, on CBS's 60 Minutes programme, Ms Haugen said she had left Facebook earlier this year after becoming exasperated with the company. Before departing, she copied a series of internal memos and documents. She shared those documents with the Wall Street Journal, which has been releasing the material in batches over the last three weeks - sometimes referred to as the Facebook Files. Revelations included documents that showed that celebrities, politicians and high profile Facebook users were treated differently by the company. The leaks revealed that moderation policies were applied differently, or not at all, to such accounts - a system known as XCheck (cross-check). Another leak showed that Facebook was also facing a complex lawsuit from a group of its own shareholders. The group alleges, among other things, that Facebook's $5bn (£3.65bn) payment to the US Federal Trade Commission to resolve the Cambridge Analytica data scandal was so high because it was designed to protect Mark Zuckerberg from personal liability. But it's allegations about Instagram that have been particularly worrying to US politicians. Internal research by Facebook (which owns Instagram) found that Instagram was impacting the mental health of teenagers but did not share its findings when they suggested that the platform was a "toxic" place for many youngsters. According to slides reported by the Wall Street Journal, 32% of teenage girls surveyed said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.
10-4-21 Covid-19 news: New Zealand plans to phase out elimination strategy
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. Vaccine rollout will allow New Zealand to scrap strict lockdowns, says prime minister. New Zealand will shift away from its “zero-covid” strategy to one in which virus transmission is controlled using vaccines, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has announced. Since the start of the pandemic, the country has sought to eliminate the virus by imposing strict lockdown measures in response to any outbreak. The approach was largely successful until August this year, when the arrival of the more infectious delta variant made it more difficult to stamp out transmission. Over 1300 cases have been recorded in the latest outbreak, which began in August. “With this outbreak and delta, the return to zero is incredibly difficult,” Ardern told a news conference today. “This is a change in approach we were always going to make over time. Our delta outbreak has accelerated this transition. Vaccines will support it,” she said. An antiviral pill developed by Merck cuts the risk of hospitalisation or death in covid-19 patients by about half, according to interim trial results. The trial involved 775 adults with mild to moderate covid-19 who were considered high-risk for severe disease. Half of the group were given a five-day course of molnupiravir, taken twice a day. The results were so encouraging that independent experts monitoring the trial recommended that it be stopped early. The company will seek emergency authorisation from US regulators in the next two weeks. If approved, the drug would be the first oral antiviral medication for covid-19. New rules making it easier to travel to the UK have come into force today. The traffic light system involving green, amber and red lists has been scrapped, with locations categorised as either on the red list or not. Fully vaccinated residents – and unvaccinated under 18s – from more than 50 countries and territories can now enter the UK without needing to complete a pre-departure lateral flow test, take a day-eight post-arrival PCR test, or self-isolate at home, with just a single day-two post-arrival test needed. People arriving from a red tier destination will still be required to spend 11 nights at a quarantine hotel costing £2,285 for solo travellers.
10-3-21 United Airlines CEO: Insisting on vaccines "right thing to do"
The boss of United Airlines has told the BBC that firing staff who refuse to get a coronavirus vaccine is "just the right thing to do". Around 300 of the airline's 67,000 US based staff are yet to comply with the strict policy, after an initial deadline of 27 September. Vaccine hesitancy has been a hugely divisive issue in the US but President Biden recently made it easier for big companies to take a tougher line. CEO Scott Kirby says United's strict policy is "about saving lives". He adds that "when I retire someday, hopefully long in the future, I will look back at this and it will be one of the proudest moments of my career that we've made the tough decision, but the right decision to require vaccines." More than 250 staff have complied with United's policy since last week's deadline. A further 2,000 employees have requested an exemption on medical or religious grounds. They haven't all been granted, but final numbers won't be clear until legal processes are resolved. Any dismissal process could take weeks or months as the company says it would follow agreements with trade unions. Mr Kirby says his airline's experience holds a lesson for other companies too which has been applauded by an "awful lot" of customers. "Despite all the rhetoric and all the challenges that business leaders may think they're going to have with the vaccine requirement, we did it. It was seven weeks from the time we announced it until we finished and we got to 99%." Whilst Mr Kirby is pleased about the influence he's been able to have over his staff there is frustration about the lack of a single global system for recognising the Covid vaccine and test status of passengers. The airline trade body, the International Airline Transport Association, is amongst those who have tried to introduce a unified system. "It's really complicated, and I don't blame governments", says Mr Kirby. He points out that "there's different vaccines in different parts of the world, every country has their own regulatory apparatus".
10-3-21 Brazil Bolsonaro: Thousands protest calling for president's removal
Thousands of people have taken to the streets in towns and cities across Brazil to protest against the country's president Jair Bolsonaro. The protests were organised by opposition parties and trade unions and fall exactly one year ahead of the country's elections. Mr Bolsonaro is currently falling behind in opinion polls. Many Brazilians are upset at the president's handling of the pandemic - more than 600,000 people have died. Demonstrations took place in more than 160 towns and cities on Saturday. Images show protesters carrying signs, calling for Mr Bolsonaro's removal. "This president who is there represents everything that is backward in the world - there is hunger, poverty, corruption and we are here to defend democracy," protester Valdo Oliveira told AFP news agency. There have been more than 100 requests filed with the Chamber of Deputies to impeach Mr Bolsonaro. However, its leader has refused to follow up on them. Brazil's Supreme court recently approved several investigations into Mr Bolsonaro. Saturday's protests come after a number of rallies in support of Mr Bolsonaro last month. They were seen as an attempt to demonstrate that 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. The elections are not due to be held until next October but Mr Bolsonaro's approval ratings have 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.
10-2-21 Biden insists stalled $1tn infrastructure bill will get done
President Biden has insisted his $1tn (£750bn) infrastructure bill will eventually be passed by Congress amid an impasse in his own party. "It doesn't matter whether it's in six minutes, six days, or six weeks, we're going to get it done," he said after a surprise visit to Congress on Friday. Some Democrats refuse to back the plan until a separate $3.5tn welfare and climate change bill is voted in. But centrists in the party want to spend less on those issues. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi admitted on Friday evening that "more time is needed" to find a compromise. Thursday's vote on the infrastructure bill was postponed and it was unclear when another attempt to hold a vote would be made. Mr Biden's visit to Capitol Hill on Friday saw him meet privately with House Democrats in a bid to break the deadlock. Media reports said he had sought to encourage compromise between the factions. Reuters quoted a source as saying Mr Biden had suggested scaling back the welfare and climate bill to about $2 trillion, saying "even a smaller bill can make historic investments". The bipartisan $1tn public works bill, which would apply to routine transportation, broadband, water systems and other projects, enjoys wide support - but liberal (or progressive) Democrats are linking its passage to their more ambitious welfare and climate change bill. That bill would raise taxes on corporations and the rich, investing the revenue in a broad array of social programmes, including early childhood education, universal preschool, government-funded two-year college education, paid family and medical leave, an expansion of government health insurance and environmental spending. Earlier this week, the White House cancelled Mr Biden's trip to Chicago so he could focus on whipping the needed votes. Reflecting the centrist position, Senator Joe Manchin said he was ready to meet the president less than halfway, at $1.5tn on infrastructure. He described the proposed figure of $3.5tn as "fiscal insanity". Senator Bernie Sanders, a leading liberal, tweeted on Friday that "the fate of the planet" rested on the $3.5tn bill. "Without a strong reconciliation bill there will be no serious effort to cut carbon emissions and transform our energy system away from fossil fuel," he said.
10-2-21 A new antiviral pill cuts COVID-19 hospitalization and death rates
Efforts to find an easy, early COVID-19 treatment may have finally panned out. An at-home pill against coronavirus halves the chance that people newly diagnosed with COVID-19 will land in the hospital or die, early results released by the drug’s developer indicate. The pill, an antiviral drug called molnupiravir, was tested against a placebo in people at high risk of developing severe disease. Of the 377 people who got the placebo, 14.1 percent, or 53, were hospitalized within 29 days of starting the trial, with eight dying. By comparison, 7.3 percent, or 28, of the 385 patients who got the drug were hospitalized in the same time period. None died, officials with the pharmaceutical company Merck announced October 1 in a news release. Similar numbers of people taking the drug and the placebo reported side effects, but fewer people in the drug group stopped treatment because of those side effects. The news release did not describe what those side effects were. About 40 percent of participants in the interim trial were infected with the gamma, delta or mu variants of the coronavirus (SN: 7/30/21). Molnupiravir was as effective against those variants as it was against earlier versions of the virus, the company reported. Full results from the study aren’t yet available and other scientists have not reviewed the data. Finding drugs that can work early in an infection hasn’t been easy (SN: 7/27/21). Currently, only some lab-made antibodies are authorized for newly diagnosed COVID-19 patients who are not sick enough to go to the hospital (SN: 9/22/20). Those antibodies must be given through an IV, making it difficult for some people to get treatment. “Antiviral treatments that can be taken at home to keep people with COVID-19 out of the hospital are critically needed,” Wendy Holman, chief executive officer of Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said in the news release. Ridgeback and Merck have partnered to develop molnupiravir and will share profits.
10-2-21 Covid antiviral pill can halve risk of hospitalisation
An experimental drug for severe Covid cuts the risk of hospitalisation or death by about half, interim clinical trial results suggest. The tablet - molnupiravir - was given twice a day to patients recently diagnosed with the disease. US drug-maker Merck said its results were so positive that outside monitors had asked to stop the trial early. It said it would apply for emergency use authorisation for the drug in the US in the next two weeks. Dr Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to US President Joe Biden, said the results were "very good news", but urged caution until the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had reviewed the data. If authorised by regulators, molnupiravir would be the first oral antiviral medication for Covid-19. The pill, which was originally developed to treat influenza, is designed to introduce errors into the genetic code of the virus, preventing it from spreading in the body. An analysis of 775 patients in the study found: 1. 7.3% of those given molnupiravir were hospitalised, 2. that compares with 14.1% of patients who were given a placebo or dummy pill. 3. there were no deaths in the molnupiravir group, but eight patients who were given a placebo in the trial later died of Covid. The data was published in a press release and has not yet been peer-reviewed. Unlike most Covid vaccines, which target the spike protein on the outside of the virus, the treatment works by targeting an enzyme the virus uses to make copies of itself. Merck, known by the name MSD in the UK, said that should make it equally effective against new variants of the virus as it evolves in the future. Daria Hazuda, Merck's vice-president of infectious disease discovery, told the BBC: "An antiviral treatment for people who are not vaccinated, or who are less responsive to immunity from vaccines, is a very important tool in helping to end this pandemic." Trial results suggest molnupiravir needs to be taken early after symptoms develop to have an effect. An earlier study in patients who had already been hospitalised with severe Covid was halted after disappointing results.
10-2-21 Australia announces plan to reopen its border
After putting a strict travel ban into place at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia has unveiled plans to start reopening its border next month. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Friday that the country is set to reopen its border for vaccinated citizens and permanent residents as soon as 80 percent of the population in a state or territory has been vaccinated, NBC News reports. This is expected to happen sometime in November, according to CNN. The country has stuck to strict COVID-19 rules, "even banning its own people from leaving the country," BBC News notes. But Morrison said Friday that the country is "finalizing plans so Australian families can be reunited, Australian workers can travel in and out of our country, and we can work towards welcoming tourists back to our shores," noting, "many countries around the world have now safely reopened to international travel and it will shortly be time for Australia to take the next step," per CNN. He also said, "It's time to give Australians their lives back." The Australian prime minister didn't announce a plan for opening the country's borders to foreign travelers, but he said the country is working "towards welcoming tourists back to our shores."
10-2-21 Covid threat looms over Thailand's plans to open up to tourists
Back in mid-June, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha surprised everyone by promising to reopen the country to foreign tourists by October. The time had come, he said, to take that calculated risk. At the time, few took him seriously. Thailand had zealously guarded its borders, imposing quarantine and mountains of paperwork on all arrivals since April last year. Foreign tourism, once an engine of the Thai economy, collapsed. Just over 70,000 came into the country in the first eight months of this year, compared to 40 million in the whole of 2019. Covid-19 was successfully contained through most of 2020, but by June this year infections were rising quickly, and the government was being roundly criticised for being too slow to start vaccinating. Opening up in October seemed impossible. But true to his word, the great reopening appears to have begun, albeit with only very modest steps. The night-time curfew has been shortened by an hour, starting at 10pm, and libraries and museums can open. You can visit a spa, but only with advanced booking and a recent negative Covid test. Fully-vaccinated tourists will now be quarantined for just one week instead of two. Further minor relaxations are expected in November. This is welcome news for the battered hospitality industry, but hardly sufficient to get the visitors pouring back in. Why is the Thai government proceeding so cautiously? The simple answer is vaccines and the limited number of ICU beds. Despite significantly ramping up its orders of vaccines, the government started late and is still a long way short of its official target of inoculating at least 70% of the population. By the end of September just over one quarter had received two doses, and many of those who received the less effective Sinovac vaccine are now having to get booster shots.
10-2-21 Sandy Hook: Alex Jones loses case over 'hoax' remarks
US radio host and prominent conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has lost another legal case after falsely calling a mass school shooting a "hoax". Twenty children and six adults were shot dead at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut in 2012. But Mr Jones claimed the event had been made up by supporters of gun controls and the mainstream media. He will now have to pay legal costs to the parents of two six-year-old boys killed in the attack. Mr Jones has long claimed on his radio show and right-wing Infowars website that the attack at Sandy Hook was "completely fake" and a "giant hoax". He has faced a slew of legal cases from several parents of the victims. In response, he has acknowledged the shooting took place but denied wronging the families. In Thursday's ruling, a Texas judge said Mr Jones had repeatedly failed to hand over legal documents and evidence to the court to support his claims about the attack. As a result, a default judgement was issued. Judge Maya Guerra Gamble wrote that Mr Jones and other defendants had shown "flagrant bad faith and callous disregard" by not turning over the files. The ruling means he and Infowars must pay an undecided amount to the parents of Noah Pozner and Jesse Lewis, two six-year-old boys who died. The amount will be determined in another trial. Mr Jones and an Infowars lawyer called the decision "stunning". "We are distressed by what we regard as a blatant abuse of discretion by the trial court," they said in a statement. Mr Jones's lawyers argue his comments were protected by free speech rights. But he has lost several defamation lawsuits brought against him for his claims on the attack. Last year, Mr Jones was ordered to pay more than $100,000 (£76,000) to the father of another six-year-old child who was killed at Sandy Hook. Alex Jones has been banned by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for hate speech and abusive behaviour. (Webmasters Comment: Alex Jones is Evil to his very core!)
10-1-21 California to require students get vaccinated against COVID-19 after full FDA approval
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has announced plans to require eligible students get vaccinated against COVID-19, making his state the first in the U.S. to unveil such a mandate. Newsom said Friday that eligible students who are participating in in-person instruction will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 after the Food and Drug Administration gives full approval to the vaccine for their age group, the Los Angeles Times reports. COVID-19 vaccines are currently available for children 12 and older under an emergency authorization, but they have only been fully approved for those 16 and over. The mandate will go into effect for eligible students during the term following full FDA approval of the vaccine, and there will be exemptions for medical reasons and for personal and religious beliefs. "State officials expect the mandate to begin taking effect next fall," the Los Angeles Times writes. During a news conference, Newsom said the COVID-19 vaccine would be added to the state's "well-established list" of 10 vaccines mandated for students. He similarly wrote on Twitter, "Our schools already require vaccines for measles, mumps and more. Why? Because vaccines work." The governor said waiting to implement the mandate until after full FDA approval will give California "time to work with" districts, parents, and educators on the plan. "I believe we will be the first state in America to move forward with this mandate and requirement, but I do not believe, by any stretch of the imagination, we will be the last state," Newsom said. "In fact, I anticipate other states to follow suit."
10-1-21 A hint the Afghanistan war isn't really over
The United States will continue "over the horizon" strikes against suspected terrorists in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said Thursday, a month after the U.S. war in Afghanistan theoretically came to a close. The statement raises an important question: Just how completely did the war end? When President Biden first announced his withdrawal timeline in May, his administration sent decidedly mixed messages. Biden himself had long favored keeping a residual American force on the ground indefinitely. Reports at the time indicated U.S. airstrikes would continue, a sizable presence of "clandestine Special Operations forces, Pentagon contractors, and covert intelligence operatives" would remain, and many recently exited U.S. forces would set up shop in nearby nations and waters so they could continue training Afghan allies and conducting airstrikes. Clearly some of that plan has changed following the chaotic U.S. withdrawal and Taliban takeover of Kabul. In recent weeks, Biden has rejected the residual force idea. Hopefully, we're no longer training the military of an Afghan government that no longer exists. But the status of clandestine troops, contractors, and spies is more uncertain. In early September, the Biden administration said only 100 to 200 Americans remained in Afghanistan. But some U.S. contractors aren't American, and if the Special Ops forces and spies were still present, they might not be included in that count. Admitting covert operatives are still in the country kind of ruins the whole "covert" thing. Then there are these "over the horizon" strikes, which Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby clarified aren't exclusively drone hits, like the recent U.S. strike that killed seven children and no terrorists. "It doesn't even always have to mean aviation," Kirby said. "'Over the horizon,' as [Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin] defined it, means that the strike, assets, and the target analysis comes from outside the country in which the operation occurs." In other words, plans to restation U.S. forces just outside Afghan borders may be significantly unchanged. (Strangely, those forces may set up shop on Russian military bases.) Some of these strikes — if they're not airstrikes — may even have U.S. boots once again on Afghan ground. And the strikes will fall under the aegis of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). That's the very authorization that launched the war in Afghanistan, the war that's supposed to be done.
10-1-21 Biden suffers blow as trillion-dollar vote delayed
US President Joe Biden has suffered a setback after Congress delayed a vote on a $1tn (£750bn) infrastructure plan. Part of his Democratic Party refuses to move forward with the plan until Congress signs off on a separate $3.5tn plan on welfare and climate change. That plan is at the heart of the party's agenda for government and passions are high among its liberal (progressive) and centrist wings. Centrists want to scale the legislation back radically. The $1tn public works bill, which would apply to routine transportation, broadband, water systems and other projects, enjoys wide support but liberal Democrats are linking it to their more ambitious welfare and climate change bill. That bill would raise taxes on corporations and the rich, investing the revenue in a broad array of social programmes, including early childhood education, universal preschool, government-funded two-year college education, paid family and medical leave, an expansion of government health insurance and environmental spending. President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have been trying to reconcile the liberals with the centrists. Reflecting the centrist position, Senator Joe Manchin said he was ready to meet the president less than halfway, at $1.5tn. He described the proposed figure of $3.5tn as "fiscal insanity". Sen Bernie Sanders, a leading liberal, said the issue was "not a baseball game" but "the most significant piece of legislation in 70 years". A fellow liberal, Representative Ilhan Omar, said: "Trying to kill your party's agenda is insanity. Not trying to make sure the president we all worked so hard to elect, his agenda pass, is insanity." The House will be back in session on Friday when efforts to push through the bills will resume. "We are not there yet, and so, we will need some additional time to finish the work, starting tomorrow morning first thing," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement on Thursday.
10-1-21 Is Biden's biggest win about to elude him?
On Wednesday night, Joe Biden stopped by the congressional baseball game, an annual event where politicians from both parties supposedly put partisan differences aside and take to the field to play America's beloved national pastime. While the president may have been all smiles as he handed out White House-branded ice cream bars, reminders of the gravity of the challenges facing his administration this week - challenges that could derail his entire presidency - were everywhere. When Biden's entrance was announced over the stadium loudspeaker, Republican fans in the crowd heartily booed. Most of the Republican players on the field, in fact, had voted against certifying his presidential victory. In one corner of the stadium, liberal activists unfurled a sign calling for trillions of dollars in new government social spending and another urging Democrats not to mess this up (although they opted for more colourful phrasing). Meanwhile, sitting in the front row of the stands, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi sat with her ear pressed against a cell phone, clearly more concerned with political strategy than the game on the field. Pelosi, perhaps more than anyone in the stadium, appreciates what is at stake for her party this week. Here's a look at the issues they are competing over and the key players and factions who will decide who ends up on top. The $1tn (£750bn) Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, or "Bif" as it's cheekily called, passed the US Senate last month and has been awaiting action in the House of Representatives - its last stop before the president's desk - since then. The bill would fund roads, bridges, broadband internet, lead-pipe replacement, electric car charging stations and a host of other brick-and-mortar projects. If the infrastructure bill is the current avatar for bipartisanship, the reconciliation bill - which because of parliamentary machinations only needs Democratic support - is the chance for the party to prove it can use its congressional majorities to enact its big-ticket policy priorities.
10-1-21 Covid-19 news: Flu and covid vaccines can be given at the same time
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. Vaccines for flu and covid-19 can safely be given at same appointment. It is safe for people to get coronavirus and flu vaccines at the same time, a clinical trial has found. The reported side effects were mainly mild to moderate and there were no negative impacts on the immune response to either vaccine when both were given on the same day, in different arms. Researchers say the results reinforce current coronavirus booster vaccine guidance in the UK, which is for both jabs to be given together where it is practically possible. The study, involving 679 volunteers in England and Wales, looked at two covid-19 and three flu vaccines, in six different combinations. Study participants were over the age of 18 and had already received one dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, and were awaiting their second dose. Scotland’s newly launched vaccine passport app has been hit by technical problems. From today, people attending large events and nightclubs will need to show proof they have had two doses of vaccine using the app before they are allowed in. The NHS Scotland Covid Status app was made available to download on Apple and Android devices on Thursday afternoon. But just hours after the app’s launch, comments circulating on social media suggested many users have been unable to register on it. The Scottish government said the large volume of people accessing the app at once could be a reason for the glitch. Australia will relax its rules on international travel for citizens and permanent residents in November, having had severe restrictions in place since March 2020. People will be allowed to leave the country once their state’s vaccination rate reaches 80 per cent, prime minister Scott Morrison has said. On returning to Australia, vaccinated residents will be allowed to quarantine at home for seven days instead of having to stay in a hotel for 14 days. No timetable has been announced for opening the border to foreign travellers. Only 15 out of 54 African countries have met the goal of vaccinating 10 per cent of their population by the end of September, the World Health Organization has said. Just 2 per cent of the more than 6 billion vaccines given globally have been administered on the continent.
10-1-21 COVID-19 pill cuts hospitalizations and deaths in half, Merck says
An experimental pill from Merck was shown in a trial to cut the risk of COVID-19 hospitalization and death in half, the company has announced. The drugmaker said Friday that in a trial, those who received its pill to treat COVID-19, molnupiravir, within five days of experiencing symptoms had half the rate of hospitalization and death as patients who received a placebo, The Associated Press reports. According to Merck, the rate of hospitalizations or deaths was 7.3 percent among those patients who received molnupiravir compared to 14.1 percent for the placebo group. Merck said it plans to seek emergency use authorization for the pill, which the company noted would become the first oral antiviral medicine to treat COVID-19 if approved. Merck CEO Robert M. Davis said the "compelling results" left the company "optimistic that molnupiravir can become an important medicine as part of the global effort to fight the pandemic." Merck Research Laboratories Vice President Dr. Dean Li also told The Associated Press that the results "exceeded what I thought the drug might be able to do in this clinical trial," adding, "When you see a 50 percent reduction in hospitalization or death that's a substantial clinical impact." The company says that if approved, it expects to produce 10 million doses of molnupiravir by the end of 2021.
10-1-21 Australian border to reopen for first time in pandemic
Australia will reopen its international border from November, giving long-awaited freedoms to vaccinated citizens and their relatives. Since March 2020, Australia has had some of the world's strictest border rules - even banning its own people from leaving the country. The policy has been praised for helping to suppress Covid, but it has also controversially separated families. "It's time to give Australians their lives back," PM Scott Morrison said. People would be eligible to travel when their state's vaccination rate hit 80%, Mr Morrison told a press briefing on Friday. Travel would not immediately be open to foreigners, but the government said it was working "towards welcoming tourists back to our shores". Amy Hayes, who lives in the English town of Reading, Berkshire, and has not been back to Queensland in nearly three years, said it was "encouraging to see things moving in the right direction". "But I'll believe the borders have reopened when I see it and hear the stories of stranded Aussies being able to get home uninhibited," she told BBC News. Ian Jasper, who lived for many years in Australia before returning to England, is hoping to travel to Perth, Australia, in December to see three of his children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Welcoming news of the border reopening in November, he told the BBC: "I'm 82 and not in the best of health - I'm getting a bit worried I might not make it." He said he hoped to be spend three months in Australia to celebrate Christmas and attend his granddaughter's wedding in February. Henry Aldridge is also excited to fly back to the UK for Christmas to see his parents and five siblings in London. His partner Shana, a nurse from Ireland who lives with him in Sydney, nearly broke down when they heard the news. "We're pretty excited," he told the BBC. "The first year and a half [of the pandemic] we looked on at the UK and thought, we're pretty happy here. But the last few months haven't been ideal."
10-1-21 Aukus: Australia-EU trade talks delayed as row deepens
Trade talks between Australia and the European Union have been postponed as a row with France over the so-called Aukus security partnership deepens. Last month, Canberra cancelled a $37bn ($27.5bn) deal with France to build a fleet of conventional submarines. Instead, it will build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with US and UK technology. The decision angered Paris, which called the deal a "stab in the back" by the US and Australia. In fact, soon after the Aukus agreement was announced, France recalled its ambassadors from both Canberra and Washington. The ambassador to Washington will now return to his post, but it is not clear if the ambassador to Canberra will do the same. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has previously questioned whether the EU would be able to strike a trade deal with Australia, in solidarity with France. But on Friday spokespeople for the Commission insisted it is not "punishing anybody". The decision to delay the talks by a month took place a couple of days ago and would "allow us to prepare better", they said, adding that it was not "unusual" to push back trade talks. Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan declined to comment on what part, if any, the submarine deal had played in delaying negotiations but confirmed that the next round of talks, which were scheduled to start on 12 October, had been postponed until the following month. "I will meet with my EU counterpart Valdis Dombrovskis next week to discuss the 12th negotiating round, which will now take place in November rather than October," he said. In June, after the last round of talks over a free trade deal, the European Commission said negotiations had "progressed in most areas of the future agreement". The next round of talks was expected to include a number of subjects including trade, investment and intellectual property rights. The EU is Australia's third-biggest trading partner, with trade in goods and services totalling almost $72bn last year.
10-1-21 ational school board group asks for federal help investigating 'heinous' threats
With many of its members facing verbal abuse and threats of violence due to mask mandates and other COVID-19 related policies, the National School Boards Association asked President Biden on Thursday for federal help investigating the harassment. The organization represents more than 90,000 school board members in 14,000 school districts across the United States, some of whom have said because of the vitriol, they are either resigning or won't seek re-election. Dozens of members have reported being harassed or assaulted, with an Illinois man allegedly hitting one official at a board meeting in September and an Ohio school board member receiving a letter saying he would "pay dearly" for being a "filthy traitor" upholding a mask mandate. "Whatever you feel about masks, it should not reach this level of rhetoric," Chip Slaven, executive director of the National School Boards Association, told The Associated Press. The group is asking the FBI, Justice Department, Homeland Security, and the Secret Service to assist with monitoring threat levels against students, staff, board members, and school sites, while also investigating any threats that violate federal laws. "As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes," the association wrote in its letter requesting help. In response, White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday called threats against school board members "horrible," and said while local law enforcement primarily handles safety concerns, Biden is "continuing to explore if more can be done from across the administration."