8-31-20 To stop political violence, support peaceful protests
You can't demand peaceful protests and dismiss them at the same time. ake no bones about it: The political violence overtaking the country is a terrible thing, a development that is both morally terrible and utterly stupid. Few Americans, no matter where they sit on the political spectrum, will benefit from the spectacle of our fellow citizens injuring and killing each other in the streets. Yet the attacks seem to be spiraling out of control. What is to be done? Condemning the violence is the first step. That is what former Vice President Joe Biden did Sunday, after a man was shot to death in Portland during a clash between Black Lives Protesters and supporters of President Trump. "I condemn violence of every kind by anyone, whether on the left or the right," Biden said in a statement. Even that kind of humane declaration seemed beyond some right-wing luminaries, like Tucker Carlson and Ann Coulter, who defended and even celebrated Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old who allegedly shot and killed two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last week. "I want him as my president," Coulter wrote. Clearly, some people like to watch the world burn. So a few expressions of disapproval aren't enough. Action is needed. America's leaders can start with a simple, temperature-lowering gesture: They can take nonviolent protests seriously. Right now, the evidence is they don't. The Republicans who occupy the White House can occasionally muster up a defense of peaceful demonstrations. President Trump this summer called himself an "ally of peaceful protesters," and Vice President Mike Pence last week suggested that Black Lives Matter demonstrators might get a better hearing if they kept their activities nonviolent. "President Trump and I will always support the right of Americans to peacefully protest," he told the Republican National Convention. It is difficult to believe them, however. Trump, for example, made his comments just moments before peaceful protesters were violently cleared from Lafayette Park for his Bible photo op. That is not exactly the act of an ally. And there was a peaceful protest last week against police brutality against Black Americans. On Wednesday, the night Pence spoke to the RNC, the Milwaukee Bucks decided not to play their playoff game against the Orlando Magic, inadvertently starting a strike that spread to the rest of the NBA and then to baseball, tennis, and football. "It's something that we did from our heart," said Bucks guard George Hill. "We were tired of different things going on in this world. We wanted action; we wanted things to be held accountable."
8-31-20 Portland protests: Trump and Biden clash over street violence
US President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden have clashed over the violence that has erupted at protests in Portland, Oregon. Mr Trump blamed the Democrat mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler, for allowing the "death and destruction of his city". But Mr Biden said the president was "recklessly encouraging violence". A man was shot dead in Portland on Saturday as elsewhere in the city a pro-Trump rally clashed with Black Lives Matter protesters. Portland has become a flashpoint for demonstrations against police brutality and racism since the police killing of African-American George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25 May triggered a wave of national and international outrage. Mayor Wheeler warned against people coming to the city to seek revenge amid a flurry of social media posts. "For those of you saying on Twitter this morning that you plan to come to Portland to seek retribution, I'm calling on you to stay away," he said. He also hit back at Mr Trump's criticism, saying it was the US president who had "created the hate and the division". "I'd appreciate it if the president would support us or stay the hell out of the way," he said. Some activists have called for the mayor's resignation, saying he was not capable of resolving the protests. In a series of tweets on Sunday, Mr Trump said that "Portland will never recover with a fool for a mayor", and suggested sending federal forces to the city. He also accused Mr Biden of being "unwilling to lead". In a statement, Mr Biden said: "[Trump] may believe tweeting about law and order makes him strong - but his failure to call on his supporters to stop seeking conflict shows just how weak he is." Law and order is a major theme of President Trump's bid for re-election, painting the Democrats and their candidate Joe Biden as soft on crime. Earlier, acting US Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said Democrats officials in Portland had allowed "lawlessness and chaos" to develop, saying "all options" were on the table to resolve the situation. Democrats have responded by saying the violence is happening under Mr Trump's presidency, and accuse the US leader of worsening the situation with his rhetoric.
8-31-20 French magazine condemned for showing MP Danièle Obono as slave
A French right-wing magazine has been criticised across the political spectrum in France for depicting a black socialist MP, Danièle Obono, as a slave. The article in Valeurs actuelles accused Africans of colluding in slavery, and had a sketch of Ms Obono with an iron collar around her neck. Prime Minister Jean Castex said it was a "revolting publication". The magazine apologised to Ms Obono but denied the article was racist. Ms Obono, born in Gabon, is a deputy in the National Assembly for left-wing party France Unbowed, led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon. She represents a Paris constituency. She tweeted the image with the words "the far right - odious, stupid and cruel". "This image is an insult to my ancestors, my family and my political movement," she said, adding she was "more determined than ever to fight against #racism, for liberty, equality and fraternity" - repeating the most famous slogan of the French Revolution. The French presidential office said President Emmanuel Macron called Ms Obono and "expressed his clear condemnation of any form of racism". Wallerand De Saint-Just, a senior figure in the far-right National Rally (RN), condemned the magazine's image of Ms Obono, saying it showed "contempt for her". France saw big protests in June and July condemning colonial-era slavery and racism in France today, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and fury at the US police killing of George Floyd. President Macron has vowed to combat racism but said France would not remove controversial statues of colonial-era figures. There have been campaigns against such statues in the UK and US. The magazine Valeurs actuelles - meaning "current values" - said it had placed Ms Obono back in the context of 18th Century slavery as part of a fictional feature series. "Our text is not racist at all," it argued. "It is convenient for our opponents to throw that accusation at us."
8-30-20 Jacob Blake: Donald Trump to visit Kenosha amid unrest
US President Donald Trump is to visit the city in Wisconsin which has seen widespread unrest since a black man was shot in the back and seriously injured by a policeman. Mr Trump will travel to Kenosha on Tuesday, the White House said. The president will meet with law enforcement officers and assess the damage from the recent protests. Jacob Blake was paralysed after being shot seven times by an officer and it is not clear if he will walk again. The shooting sparked sometimes violent demonstrations in Kenosha and in other cities across the US. The year had already seen widespread protests against racism and police brutality over the death of in police custody of another black man, George Floyd. The president will meet with local police and "survey damage from recent riots", White House spokesman Judd Deere said. Asked if the president would meet the family of Mr Blake, Mr Deere said the schedule had yet to be confirmed. The US president has said little directly about last Sunday's shooting. When asked on Friday if he thought the officer who shot Mr Blake should be charged, the president said: "Well I'm looking into it very strongly. I'll be getting reports," adding that he "didn't like the sight of it". President Trump has made law and order a key part of his bid for re-election this year. In his speech at the Republican National Convention he condemned the "rioting, looting, arson and violence we have seen in Democrat-run cities", citing Kenosha and several others. Wisconsin is a swing state that backed Barack Obama twice but was narrowly won by Donald Trump in 2016 by just over 20,000 votes. Jacob Blake's sister: 'I have been watching police murder people that look like me for years'
8-30-20 Portland clashes: Fatal shooting as rival groups protest
A man has been shot dead in Oregon as a large procession of supporters of President Trump clashed with Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland. Images from the scene showed medics trying to save the man, who appeared to be white. Police have not given an identity or specified whether the shooting was directly linked to the clashes which broke out in a downtown area. Portland's streets have been the scene of frequent protests in recent weeks. The city has become a focus for demonstrations against police brutality and racism since the police killing of African-American George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25 May triggered a wave of national and international outrage. Federal forces were sent by President Trump to Portland in July in what was described as a move to prevent violence but later withdrawn. Acting homeland security chief Chad Wolf refused to rule out sending them back when pressed on ABC's This Week. "I believe all options continue to be on the table, specifically as we talk about Portland," he said. The latest pro-Trump rally was on the third Saturday in a row. In a statement, Portland police said: "Portland Police officers heard sounds of gunfire from the area of Southeast 3rd Avenue and Southwest Alder Street. They responded and located a victim with a gunshot wound to the chest." The man did not survive, they said. Oregon Live reported that "camouflage gear" with "thin blue line patches" was seen next to the body - a common sign of support for the police. The man was wearing a hat linked to far-right group Patriot Prayer, the New York Times reports. Another image shows police trying to restrain a man who was apparently with the person who was shot. (Webmaster's comment: Right wing extremists on our streets are a danger to us all!)
8-30-20 Black Lives Matter: US teen billed for police overtime after protest
A teenager who organised a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally in the US state of New Jersey was asked to pay nearly $2,500 (£1,900) in police overtime costs, US media report. Emily Gil, 18, said she organised the action to support US anti-racism protests and highlight issues with affordable housing in her community. But she was shocked to later receive a bill from the local mayor. The mayor told BBC partner CBS that he was now rescinding the charges. Ms Gil said the peaceful protest in the borough of Englewood Cliffs on 25 July lasted about 90 minutes and was attended by only 30 to 40 people. She said she did not know the event would incur any charges until she received a letter demanding payment days later. "I was shocked when I read that I had to pay to exercise my First Amendment right," she told CBS. Englewood Cliffs Mayor Mario Kranjac said the borough had the right to charge for police services at private events. "We always bill…the bicycle race or running race or any other event, where our police are used, including utility work, people pay for the overtime," he told CBS. He later said, however, that he was rescinding the bill, adding that he wanted to "make certain that everyone's Constitutional Rights are fully respected." He said he had no issue with the protest and that he is working to combat issues with affordable housing. (Webmaster's comment: Whites will do anything they can think of of suppress black people!)
8-30-20 Brazil's Indigenous communities suffer grave losses from coronavirus
The loss of many ancestral leaders is taking its toll. Chief Aritana Yawalapiti led his people for five decades. During his life, he fiercely defended his people's traditions and land. He was instrumental in the creation of the 6.5 million-acre Xingu Indigenous Territory and was recognized as one of the greatest warriors of his people. The Indigenous people of the upper Xingu are known for their elaborate funeral rites ceremony. In a video posted online to raise funds for the community amid Aritana's illness, young warriors in colorful clothing dance and sing and then face off against each other in a wrestling battle. It represents the close of a long process of mourning. Now, the funeral ceremony will have to be held for him. Aritana died on Aug. 5 from COVID-19 at a hospital in Goiânia. His brother Matariwá and his niece Nhapukalo also died of the coronavirus in recent weeks. "Aritana played a very important role in calling attention to and raising the awareness of the different peoples there about the risks and the dangers that surrounded the Xingu Indigenous Park," said André Villas-Bôas, the executive secretary of the Socio-Environmental Institute, during a recent radio report. "And his generation of leaders is leaving." Aritana is just one of 170 Indigenous elders and leaders in Brazil who have died so far from COVID-19. It's a devastating loss that's impacting Indigenous peoples across the country. "We can't bring these people back to reshare their knowledge that they acquired over their long lives. Our major concern is to monitor our leaders that are left with traditional knowledge and find a way to record their learning in order to carry on," said Nildo Fontes, a member of the Tucano people in the Upper Río Negro, near the Brazilian borders with Colombia and Venezuela. He lost his uncle, a tribal elder, to coronavirus. He says in many ways, the pandemic caught them by surprise, but they are trying to develop strategies to now learn all they can from the elders who are left. Vovó, or grandmother Bernaldina, is another. She died in late June. She was an artist and a healer from the Macuxi tribe in the Raposa Serra do Sol territory, along the border with Guyana. "She was one of our greatest and most active teachers because she knew most of our traditions and made them accessible, as opposed to others who can't or don't want to share their knowledge," said her adopted son, Jaider Esbell. Esbell is an artist who says her song, her voice, and her love gave her an uncanny ability to straddle the worlds between the Indigenous and Western cultures. "I'm now working on a project to construct a type of art gallery as a memorial for Vovó Bernaldina, in the community where she lived, as a way to keep her memory alive and carry on her work," Esbell said. Language is among the most important types of ancestral knowledge that is fading with the loss of these elders. "There are roughly 150 to 160 Indigenous languages spoken in Brazil today, which is what is left of a diversity that was much greater at the time of the conquest," said Bruna Franchetto, a professor of linguistics and anthropology at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. "But many groups only have the very last few speakers. That is our biggest concern. These are what UNESCO calls severely endangered languages." Many of those speakers are dying. Chief Aritana was one of the last Yawalapiti native speakers. These languages are being lost and with them, a piece of their identity. If there is any silver lining, Almerinda Ramos de Lima has seen it. She's the director of the Federation of Indigenous Organizations of the Rio Negro, representing 23 tribes and roughly 29,000 families. She's the first woman to be elected to that position. She said that recently, she visited dozens of communities. COVID-19 had infected people in every village, but she was inspired. "It was powerful to see and hear how they cured themselves," Almerinda said. "They didn't wait for exams. They didn't wait for doctors to arrive. Each community organized and shared the traditional medicines that they were preparing." Almerinda says they even shared recipes and plants between villages and tribes, a sign of the importance of valuing their ancestral knowledge and territories. "Where we have forests, where we have plants, we have traditional medicine," she said. "We have our cure inside the forest."
8-29-20 Jacob Blake reportedly released from handcuffs in hospital bed
Jacob Blake, the black man shot in the back by police in the US state of Wisconsin, has reportedly been released from handcuffs while in hospital. Police in Kenosha had said that Mr Blake was in custody for previous warrants and the handcuffs were policy. His attorney told US media that these warrants had been cancelled and that officers guarding Mr Blake had left. Mr Blake was paralysed after being shot seven times by police and it is not clear if he will walk again. (Webmaster's comment: Imagine the number of black people who are shot and crippled everyday that we never hear about!) Meanwhile, a court hearing for a teenager charged with killing two people during unrest over Mr Blake's shooting has been delayed by a month. Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, had been due to appear before a court in Lake County, Illinois, for a hearing on a request to have him extradited to Wisconsin. But a judge postponed the extradition hearing until 25 September. Mr Rittenhouse did not appear during Friday's brief video conference. He faces six criminal counts, including first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide and possession of a dangerous weapon below the legal age of 18. Mr Rittenhouse is being defended by a prominent legal firm whose clients have included President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani and former Trump adviser Carter Page. Mr Blake's shooting in the city of Kenosha sparked demonstrations there and in other cities across the US. It has been relatively quiet for the past two nights. Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian said on Friday that the citywide curfew would remain in place through the weekend. There are more than 1,000 National Guard troops deployed in Kenosha with more on their way, authorities said.
8-29-20 March on Washington 2020: 'Change is slow in America'
Thousands flocked to the Lincoln Memorial in the US capital to march for racial justice. The event was dubbed the 'Get Your Knees Off Our Necks' march, and police brutality was top of many marchers’ minds. The BBC spoke to attendees to see how far the country has come, and what’s left to achieve.
8-28-20 Covid-19 news: Children at ‘strikingly low’ risk of severe illness
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. Children are at “strikingly low” risk of getting severely ill from coronavirus. Children are much less likely to get severe covid-19 than adults, and it is very rare for them to die from it, according to a UK study that was published in the BMJ today. The study tracked 651 under-18s admitted to hospital with coronavirus between January and July in England, Scotland and Wales. Six children died, 1 per cent of the total, and they had all had other severe illnesses before the virus struck, some of which were themselves life-limiting. The authors say this is a “strikingly low” death rate compared with 27 per cent for all ages in the population as a whole over the same time period. The findings are in line with previous similar research. Young people make up 1 to 2 per cent of cases of covid-19 worldwide, although it’s not clear why they seem to be less affected. “There have been no deaths in otherwise healthy school-age children,” Calum Semple at the University of Liverpool told the BBC. “There is no direct harm from children going back to school,” he said. The findings come as some UK schools have been reopening for all their pupils for the first time since lockdown in March, with most schools in England due to be back by next week. Schools reopening in the US have found Legionnaires’ disease bacteria in their water supply, which can cause deadly pneumonia. The Legionella microbe was found in the water supply of five schools in Ohio and four in Pennsylvania last week, and experts say it could be in more. The World Health Organization is trying to get more countries to join Covax, its coronavirus vaccine allocation scheme, according to documents seen by Reuters. The WHO plan would see countries pooling funds so that if one vaccine succeeds, all participants will get a fair allocation. But the UN agency has struggled to get enough richer nations on board. Countries including the UK, the US and Japan have made their own deals with manufacturers developing vaccines, securing millions of doses for their own citizens. Several large US states have said they will not follow official federal policy to stop testing people who think they have been exposed to the coronavirus but who do not have symptoms. In a rebuke to the new testing policy announced by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), California, Texas, Florida, New York and four other states have said they will continue with the old regime. The CDC’s move provoked claims that it was a politically motivated move to lower the number of people testing positive ahead of the 2020 election.
8-28-20 France Covid-19: Paris compulsory face-mask rule comes into force
Wearing a face-mask in public has become mandatory across Paris and several surrounding areas, amid a surge in Covid-19 cases in France. The move comes a day after the country recorded 6,111 new infections - its highest number since early May. The number of "red zones" where the virus is in active circulation has risen from two to 21. Announcing new local curbs on Thursday, PM Jean Castex said he wanted to avoid another general lockdown. He said the coronavirus was "gaining ground" across France, and that if the government did not act fast infection growth could become "exponential". Despite a sharp rise in cases in recent weeks, daily death tolls have remained low. Overall, more than 30,500 people have died and almost 300,000 have been infected in France. A number of European countries are seeing a surge in new cases, and Germany is also planning tighter rules. Chancellor Angela Merkel warned on Friday that in the coming months things would become "even more difficult than now", as people have been able to enjoy life outdoors over the summer. The French prime minister said all pedestrians would have to wear face masks in public areas in the capital from 08:00 on Friday (06:00 GMT). While individual streets and areas of the capital already have rules on wearing face-coverings, this new rule will be far more extensive, covering not only Paris but its inner ring of Seine-Saint-Denis, Hauts-de-Seine and Val-de-Marne. Mask-wearing has taken over the streets of Paris by stealth over the past few months, and the blanket enforcement of face-masks in and around the capital from 08:00 triggered little real outcry, except for one thing: the new rules were originally designed to apply to cyclists and runners, along with pedestrians. By the time the regulation came into force this morning, Paris city hall had intervened, and won a reprieve, saying it was "dangerous" and "counterproductive" to force these two groups to wear masks, especially when the mayor has been encouraging people to cycle to work to relieve pressure on public transport.
8-28-20 Jacob Blake handcuffed to his hospital bed, family say
Jacob Blake, the black man shot seven times in the back by police in the US state of Wisconsin, has been handcuffed to his hospital bed, his family says. Mr Blake, 29, has been left paralysed from the waist down by the shooting. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers told reporters that he "couldn't imagine" why handcuffs would be necessary. Meanwhile, a teenager charged with killing two people and injuring another during protests over Mr Blake's shooting is due to appear in court. Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, will appear in Lake County, Illinois, for a hearing on a request to have him extradited to Wisconsin. He faces six criminal counts including first-degree intentional homicide, attempted homicide, reckless endangerment and possession of a dangerous weapon below the legal age of 18. Kyle Rittenhouse is being defended by a prominent legal firm whose clients have included President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani and former Trump adviser Carter Page, Reuters news agency reports. Mr Blake's shooting in the city of Kenosha sparked demonstrations there and in other cities across the US. It has been relatively quiet for the past two nights. Mr Blake's father, also called Jacob Blake, spoke to reporters after visiting his son in hospital. "I hate it that he was laying in that bed with the handcuff on to the bed," he said, quoted by the Chicago Sun-Times. "He can't go anywhere. Why do you have him cuffed to the bed?" Mr Blake said his son was "under arrest" but the family was not sure what charges he faced. (Webmaster's comment: He's guilty of being black and not dying!) Governor Evers, asked by reporters if he was concerned that Mr Blake had been handcuffed, said: "Hell yes." "I would have no personal understanding why that would be necessary," he said. "Certainly he's paid a horrific price already, been shot seven or eight times in the back." Kenosha police and sheriff's department, as well as the district attorney's office, did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment on the handcuffs issue. On Thursday the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called for the immediate resignation of Kenosha's police chief and county sheriff, accusing them of defending "white supremacy" and "demonizing people who were murdered for exercising their First Amendment rights and speaking out against police violence".
8-28-20 March on Washington: Thousands expected at historic civil rights march
Thousands are expected to gather in Washington DC to commemorate the 1963 civil rights March on Washington and in protest of police violence. The families of black Americans shot or killed by police will speak at the same site where Martin Luther King Jr delivered his I Have a Dream speech. Friday's event is called the Commitment March: Get Your Knee off Our Necks, a reference to George Floyd's death. It follows renewed protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake. The relatives of Mr Blake, Mr Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Eric Garner are expected to deliver speeches at the march. They will be joined by civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III - the eldest son of Mr King Jr. The event comes in the wake of at times violent protests over Mr Blake's shooting that have left two dead in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Mr Blake was shot and injured by police last Sunday. Since Mr Floyd's death in May, marches in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and against racism and police brutality have swept the US and the globe. Protesters continue to seek justice for Mr Floyd, who died after being held down by police officers, one of whom had his knee on Mr Floyd's neck, and Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed in her home when officers raided her apartment. Democratic vice-presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris is also expected to address the rally virtually. Rev Sharpton announced the march - which falls on the 57th anniversary of the 1963 event - at Mr Floyd's memorial service in June. His organisation, the National Action Network, worked with Mr King III to convene the march. Planners said the event will bring together generations for a day of action to advocate for police reform as well as to urge Americans to vote in the upcoming presidential election. Up to 50,000 people were anticipated to attend, Rev Sharpton said. Given Covid-19 concerns, people have been encouraged to participate virtually if they cannot attend or in local marches taking place in other states. In Washington, there will be temperature checks and mandatory masks along with social distancing.
8-28-20 Harnessing hate
How negative partisanship now defines our politics. Historian Henry Adams once defined politics as the "systematic organization of hatreds." It was true in the Civil War era, and just as true today. In 2020, who you hate is who you are. Voters are largely driven by what they're against, rather than what they're for. Political scientists call this phenomenon negative partisanship, and its dominance has been on full display at both the Democratic and Republican national conventions. At the Democrats' soiree, a parade of speakers from former President Obama to several disaffected Republicans echoed the same message: Our nation cannot survive another four years of Donald Trump, who has shown he "will tear our democracy down if that's what it takes to win." The Republicans this week countered with dire warnings that Democrats "won't let you go to church" and will empty the prisons and fire the police and "invite MS-13 to live next door." It's a far cry from Ronald Reagan's "shining city on a hill" or Obama's "hope and change," but as political scientist Rachel Bitecofer observes, "Partisanship is a hell of a drug, especially when it's cut with a heavy dose of existential fear." It's hard to dispute the point. Both Democratic and Republican partisans, research has found, have come to despise the other tribe and their elected leaders more than they like their own leaders. Ticket splitting by voters has become rare, and in any given election, 90 percent of Democrats and Republicans vote for their party's nominee. Harnessing fear and hatred can drive turnout, which has become the key to winning national elections. But as America stumbles further down this road, we are headed toward profound danger: For democracies to function, voters and parties must be willing to accept defeat. Once the votes are counted, the losers must concede that their opponents have a legitimate, if temporary, claim on power. Will that happen this November — and if it doesn't, what then?
8-27-20 You know what violence is
Violence is a through line of this summer, and this week it ran through Kenosha, Wisconsin. Protests have raged through the small, Midwest city since police shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back, paralyzing him. Demonstrations that were mostly or entirely peaceful during daylight have devolved into vandalism and arson at night, with dozens of businesses, apartments, and vehicles damaged, looted, or burned. Then, late Tuesday, two people were killed and a third wounded when they were shot, allegedly by a 17-year-old suspect who before the shooting said he was on hand, seemingly as a voluntary vigilante, to protect local businesses. All this — the police shooting, the arson, the vigilante killings — is violence. It is not all the same degree of violence, but it is violence nonetheless. That may seem too obvious to state, but the nature of violence has come under dispute. Too many seem unwilling to acknowledge they know it when they see it — like CNN running a chyron describing Kenosha's unrest as "fiery but mostly peaceful," or Vice President Mike Pence decrying violence by looters but not by police, or Twitter critics angry that property damage would be called "violence" at all. Standard definitions of violence have two consistent elements: use of physical force and intent to inflict harm. Eliminate the physical force and it may be more appropriate to speak of aggression, abuse, manipulation, exploitation, threat, malice, or coercion — all evils, but not identical to violence, which they only sometimes include. Eliminate the intent to harm and the act at hand may be an accident, an act of protective restraint (as when a medical worker uses force to control a delirious patient), or a mechanistic or natural force. These two elements have deep roots in the etymology of violence. The word "comes from violare in classical Latin," explains Gandhian scholar Michael Nagler, who founded the Peace and Conflict Studies Program at U.C. Berkeley. "Violare means 'to bear in on with force' and in the classical period it came to mean 'injure, dishonor, outrage, violate.'" We use "violent" to describe weather events and animal predation, Nagler says, but these are metaphorical meanings, for "only humans can, properly speaking, be violent." The boundaries of violence have also been scrutinized since antiquity. Christian peace traditions have long examined violence to understand what is and isn't pleasing to God. The African theologian Tertullian deemed imprisonment, torture, execution, warfare, and any "occupation of the sword" impermissibly violent. Early Quaker leaders testified they had "wronged no man's person or possessions," and thus "used no force nor violence against any man." All this is to say the question of how to define violence isn't new. It has been asked for centuries and, frankly, answered well. We know violence when we see it. We know, as those Quakers did, that it includes forcibly harming people and their possessions. There's nothing in the definition that limits the physical harm in question to human bodies, and destroying possessions can destroy lives, as anyone who lost their home, food, or livelihood in the Tulsa race massacre or a genocidal famine or under scorched-earth policy could tell you. This runs contrary to the belief of growing number on the left, who, in the words of Current Affairs' Nathan J. Robinson, argue the "word 'violence' should be reserved for harm done to people," because to do otherwise would imply equivalence between people and property. But this redefinition is absurd. Of course, violence against a thing is not the same as violence against a human. But then, neither is punching someone the moral equivalent of beheading them. Violence has degrees. To admit this is not conflation.
8-27-20 Covid-19 news: Europe faces ‘tricky moment’ as coronavirus cases climb
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. WHO warns Europe is entering “tricky moment” as coronavirus cases climb. As some European countries have continued to report growth in covid-19 cases, governments are responding by tightening up restrictions and safety measures. France reported 5429 daily cases today, up from 3776 a week ago, and Italy counted 1366 cases, its biggest daily increase in more than three months and up against 642 a week ago. Daily numbers in other major European countries are relatively stable, with Spain at 7296, Germany at 1507 and the UK at 1048. The French prime minister Jean Castex warned the country had seen an “undeniable surge” of cases and the epidemic “could become exponential”, with cases rising as quickly as they did in the early days of the pandemic. The virus is now circulating in 20 of the country’s 101 “departments”, up from two previously. With France’s reproduction number – the average number of people one infected person will likely infect – now at 1.4, Castex said masks will become mandatory in Paris. The 21-day Tour de France will still go ahead this Saturday. The German government today rejected calls to relax restrictions, with a leaked plan saying private parties will be limited to 25 people and the anticipated end of a ban on large public gatherings in October will instead be extended to the end of the year. Hans Kluge at the World Health Organization said today that Europe is entering a “tricky moment” as schools reopen across the continent, though he stressed that schools had not been a “main contributor” to the epidemic. Asked by New Scientist at a press conference today if European countries’ responses to growing cases this week are commensurate with keeping the virus in check, Maria van Kerkhove at the WHO said: “What we are seeing is countries applying different measures. What we are seeing are targeted, tailored approaches. Hopefully these are time-bound.” On measures such as mandating face coverings and limiting the size of gatherings, she said: “All of these are different tools that may need to be applied. I think what we’re seeing is this calibration, of putting in efforts to suppress transmission to keep it at a low level while allowing societies to open up. This is one of the critical things we are all trying to figure out now.” The number of patients getting heart disease services at hospitals in the US and UK dropped by more than half during the countries’ lockdown, researchers have found. Writing in the journal Open Heart, they warned cardiology departments need to be prepared for a “significant increase in workload” in the coming months as a result. A drug used to help cats with another coronavirus has been found to show promise in tackling the current coronavirus outbreak. The drug, GC376, and its parent, GC373, are “strong drug candidates for the treatment of human coronavirus infections because they have already been successful in animals,” the team write in Nature.
8-27-20 Coronavirus: Vaccine front-runner China already inoculating workers
Earlier this month, the head of a well-known, privately-owned Chinese conglomerate told his staff that a vaccine for Covid-19 was expected to come to market by November. The boss, whose firm has a healthcare division, said that he saw it as a portent of economic recovery; a chance for his firms to sell more, according to a person privy to the comments. Within a few weeks the Chinese government was forced to go public with its apparent progress. The novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 originated in humans in China, before it spread ceaselessly across the world. Now China is using its global footprint in a relentless effort to win the race to develop and deploy an effective vaccine. Last week one of the developmental vaccines was pictured in state-run media; a small branded box was shown, held up by a smiling woman in a lab. Sinopharm said it hopes to have it ready to go on sale by December. It even named a price, equivalent to about $140 (£106). China's determination is out there for all to see. We know that half of the leading six candidate vaccines being tested in the final stage of mass trials across the world are Chinese. These global trials are a necessity. Ironically, China is not in a position to test the vaccines on the required scale at home because it's been so successful at containing the spread of the virus within its borders. "All vaccine manufacturers are looking for sites for their phase three trials (in which the vaccine is given to thousands of people) where Covid-19 is still circulating at relatively higher rates," Professor Ben Cowling from the Hong Kong University Public School of Health told me. He's optimistic about all the vaccines currently in development, including the Chinese ones. "I think all of the vaccines currently in phase three have a good chance of being found to be effective."
8-27-20 Covid-19: Five ways to avoid catching the virus indoors
Good ventilation could be the key to avoiding coronavirus as autumn approaches and people spend more time indoors. For months we've been told to wash our hands and maintain social distancing to beat coronavirus. But scientists and engineers say we also need to think about the air we breathe, as children go back to school and more people return to offices. Good ventilation matters in five ways.
- If it's stuffy, walk away: When you walk into a room and the air feels stale, something is wrong with the ventilation. Not enough fresh air is being introduced, which increases your chances of getting infected by coronavirus.
- Look up at the air conditioning: From offices to shops, air conditioning is welcome on hot days - but check the type of unit. The simplest is a slender white box mounted on walls or ceilings, known as a split air conditioner.
- Ask about the 'fresh air ratio': In a modern building where the windows are sealed, how can you get enough fresh air? You're relying on a ventilation system in which stale air is extracted from the rooms and piped to an air handling unit, often on the roof.
- Check if there's virus in the filters: A modern ventilation system will have filters but these are not fool-proof. In the US, researchers investigating the Oregon Health & Science University Hospital found that traces of coronavirus were trapped by the filters but some had somehow slipped through.
- Watch out for draughts: Talk to any expert in the field and they will say that fresh air is the key. But one specialist in modelling the movement of air says it's not that simple.
8-27-20 France Covid-19: Paris-wide face mask rule amid 'undeniable surge'
French Prime Minister Jean Castex has responded to a steep increase in infections with a series of measures including increased testing and plans for compulsory face-coverings in Paris. The number of "red zones" where the virus is in active circulation has risen from two to 21. If France did not act fast, the spread could become "exponential", he warned. A number of European countries are seeing a new surge in cases, and Germany is also planning tighter rules. French officials recorded 5,429 new infections on Wednesday and Mr Castex said Covid-19 was "gaining ground" across the country. There was an "undeniable resurgence of the epidemic", he said, with a national rate of 39 positive cases per 100,000 people, four times the rate of a month ago. Promising to do everything to avoid another widespread lockdown, the prime minister said wearing a mask would become mandatory in the capital. While individual streets and areas in the capital already have rules on wearing face-coverings, the prime minister said he had asked the head of police and Mayor Anne Hidalgo to work towards a city-wide requirement. Mr Castex's team later clarified that a final decision had not been taken but it "appears most likely". Paris is already a red zone, along with the southern area of Bouches-du-Rhône, where France's second city Marseille made masks compulsory from Wednesday evening. There was also a question of masks for the "inner ring" of areas surrounding Paris, said Mr Castex. They have now been classed as red zones too, along with a broad expanse of the southern coastal fringe and the Gironde area around Bordeaux. Masks will also become part of normal life for French schoolchildren aged 11 and over. The World Health Organization has recommended use of masks in school from the age of 12. Masks are already required in most enclosed public spaces and will be mandatory in workplaces from next month. Meanwhile, Health Minister Olivier Véran has promised to step up Covid testing to reach a million tests a week in September, with the aim of making them available to "anyone who needs one and anyone who wants one".
8-27-20 Jacob Blake: Police officer in Kenosha shooting named
Wisconsin's attorney general has named the officer who shot a black man on Sunday, sparking days of demonstrations. Josh Kaul told reporters on Wednesday that Rusten Sheskey shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back as he opened the door of his car. Officers found a knife in Mr Blake's car, he added, but no other weapons. The shooting has sparked a wave of protests in recent days, some of which have turned violent. A 17-year-old was arrested on Wednesday after two people were killed and another injured amid unrest on Tuesday night. Mr Blake is recovering in hospital and is conscious, but his lawyers fear it will take a "miracle" for him to walk again. US President Donald Trump has since sent federal law enforcement to Kenosha, tweeting they were to combat "looting, arson, violence, and lawlessness on American streets". The Department of Justice has opened a federal investigation into the shooting. It has sent more than 200 FBI agents and US Marshals to the city, according to a spokeswoman. Shortly after Mr Trump's tweet, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers said he had authorised 500 National Guard troops to support law enforcement efforts amid concerns about further violence. Protests have also spread to a number of other US cities, including Portland, Oregon and in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where the police killing of unarmed black man George Floyd in May sparked Black Lives Matter protests across the US and globally. On Wednesday, Mr Kaul updated reporters on the ongoing investigation into the shooting. Officers were called to an address on Sunday evening after a woman reported "her boyfriend was present and was not supposed to be on the premises". Lawyers for Mr Blake have said he had been trying to "de-escalate a domestic incident" when police drew their weapons. While there they tried to arrest Mr Blake, initially using a taser against him. After Mr Blake opened his car door, Officer Rusten Sheskey - who has been in the Kenosha Police Department for seven years - fired seven shots into Mr Blake's back.
8-27-20 Mandatory mail-in voting hurts neither Democratic nor Republican candidates
Mail-in ballots have recently become a hotly debated topic in politics. Mandatory mail-in voting leads to a slight uptick in voter turnout — for both Democrats and Republicans. That’s the conclusion that researchers came to after analyzing more than 40 million individual voting records from Utah and Washington — two states that have switched from in-person voting to almost exclusively mail-in voting over several years — as well as nearly 30 years of nationwide county-level voting data. The finding, published August 26 in Science Advances, suggests the current political zeitgeist that mail-in voting benefits one party over another is false, says political scientist Michael Barber of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. When voters cast ballots by mail, he says, “neither party is hurt.” Although Utah and Washington do not reflect voting patterns in the country as a whole, the authors note, because Washington leans blue and Utah red, the two states demonstrate how mail-in voting could affect voter turnout by party. With the country in the midst of a pandemic, policy makers and public health experts have proposed voluntary mail-in voting as one way for Americans to safely vote in November. And many states have made such voting easier. A recent Washington Post analysis shows that over 80 percent of voters in the country can now cast their ballots by mail. But some Republican voters especially are wary of the process. A Gallup poll from May 2020 found that 83 percent of Democratic respondents were OK with their state allowing all residents to vote by mail, but only 40 percent of Republicans were. In a separate question, 76 percent of Republicans said mail-in voting would lead to more fraud compared with 27 percent of Democrats.
8-27-20 US Postal Service: Officials report no evidence of foreign mail-in vote meddling
US intelligence officials say there is no evidence of foreign efforts to meddle with mail-in voting, refuting President Donald Trump's claims. The report comes amid an ongoing row over the US Postal Service, which is tasked with handling mail-in ballots for the November presidential election. A vast number of Americans are expected to vote by post due to the pandemic. Mr Trump has for months alleged, without evidence, that large-scale mail voting will lead to voter fraud. On Wednesday, a senior national intelligence official told reporters: "We have no information or intelligence that any nation-state threat actor is engaging in any kind of activity to undermine any part of the mail-in vote or ballots." It contradicts Mr Trump's remarks that voting by mail - which he himself has done - is susceptible to foreign interference. In the wake of confirmed Russian interference during the 2016 election, US authorities have been seeking to safeguard systems ahead of the 3 November poll. Election security officials earlier this month confirmed that the Kremlin was working against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, while China would prefer a Mr Biden win. Iran may also attempt to interfere with US institutions. Mr Trump has dismissed the notion that the Russians are seeking to boost his campaign. A cybersecurity official on Wednesday's call noted that targeting voting machines is "in the playbook" for governments like Russia but that no such effort has successfully affected American's ability to vote. "We saw it in 2016, we know it's an option now," the official said. "We continue to receive reporting from state and local election officials of scanning and probing of election infrastructure as a whole." Officials also said that more than 90% of votes during the 2020 election should have an auditable record.
8-26-20 Letting people in the US vote by mail has little impact on who wins
Neither the Republicans or Democrats would gain an advantage if every voter in US elections was given the opportunity to vote by mail, according to a new statistical analysis. The debate surrounding postal voting in the US has come to a boil this year, as the country determines how best to hold a presidential election in the midst of a pandemic. Voting by mail has been put forward as a solution to staging an election while minimising the risk of spreading the coronavirus, but President Donald Trump has claimed it would result in voter fraud and give his Democrat opponents an unfair advantage. Michael Barber at Brigham Young University in Utah and John Holbein at the University of Virginia devised a model to look at the effect of voting by mail, by combining county-level voting data from 1992 to 2018 with US census records. In 2018, only 175 of the 3100 or so countries in the US had switched to mostly or entirely staging their elections by postal vote, including all those in Oregon and Colorado. The pair first modelled how election turnout and party vote shares morphed as these counties switched to postal voting. They also compared turnout and vote share in postal-voting counties with counties that still held in-person elections. Using all this data, they were able to estimate what would happen to the average county if its election was conducted by mail. Barber says the model works because the counties that switched to postal voting are representative of the country. “Some are more conservative, while others are more liberal,” he says. “You also have both rural and urban counties.” The model showed that giving everyone a postal vote would increase voter turnout by 2 per cent. It also showed that the Democrats would have a non-statistically significant increase in their vote share by 0.7 per cent. As there was no effect at a county level on election outcome, the pair argue that mail-in voting would have no effect at a national level either.
8-26-20 Covid-19 news: Face coverings made mandatory in some UK schools
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Face coverings will now be mandatory for secondary school pupils in areas of England under lockdown. Secondary school pupils in areas of England under local lockdowns will now be required to wear face coverings in all communal areas except classrooms, after the government reversed its guidance last night. The government has been under mounting pressure from headteachers to adopt a stricter policy on the use of face coverings ahead of schools reopening next month. Within coronavirus hotspots, “it probably does make sense in confined areas outside the classroom to use a face covering in the corridor and elsewhere,” UK prime minister Boris Johnson told journalists today, citing recently updated World Health Organization guidelines. The new rule won’t apply to schools in areas that aren’t under lockdown, although head teachers in any secondary school will have the flexibility to introduce their own rules. In Wales, the decision on the use of face coverings in schools will be left to individual schools and councils. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been criticised for changing its guidelines on coronavirus testing to say that some people without symptoms may not require a test, even if they have been in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. The change has not been explained by CDC leaders. Leana Wen, a doctor and public health professor at George Washington University, told CNN, “These are exactly the people who should be tested,” as they are key to contact tracing. Fewer than 40,000 cases were confirmed in the US yesterday and daily new coronavirus cases there have been falling, after peaking on 22 July at about 70,000, though this may be due to insufficient testing. The total number of tests administered has fallen from an average of more than 820,000 per day in mid-August to about 690,000 per day in the last week or so.
8-26-20 Watchdog clears Toronto police in Korchinski-Paquet death
A civilian watchdog agency has cleared Toronto police of any wrongdoing in the death of a young black and indigenous woman earlier this year. Regis Korchinski-Paquet, 29, fell to her death from her balcony after police went to her apartment on a domestic disturbance call. Six police officers were in and around her apartment at the time of her fall. Her death triggered large anti-police and anti-racism protests in Toronto and other parts of Canada. On Wednesday, the Canadian province of Ontario's Special Investigation Unit (SIU) released the results of an investigation into the high-profile case, finding "no reasonable grounds to believe that any of the officers committed a criminal offence in connection with Ms Korchinski-Paquet's death". It also found no indication of "overt racism" by any of the officers involved. But in a video statement, SIU director Joseph Martino said "it must be acknowledged that Miss Korchinski-Paquet's death and others in recent months has raised important issues of social consequence". Her death came shortly after George Floyd's death in Minneapolis in police custody, which sparked a US, and then global, protest movement. The family's lawyer, Knia Singh, says the family is disappointed with the SIU report, which he says was "thorough but left out key elements". He added that an independent family post-mortem examination differed from the one conducted by the coroner. Her sister, Renee Korchinski-Beals, called the SIU report's findings "disgusting". On 27 May, police received several emergency calls from Ms Korchinski-Paquet, her mother and her brother, about a domestic disturbance at her residence, on the 24th floor of an apartment building in Toronto, according to the SIU report. Family members have said Ms Korchinski-Paquet had epileptic seizures earlier that day, and that they affected her behaviour and she often needed time to calm down after they occurred.
8-26-20 RNC 2020: The Republican Party now the Party of Trump
Chalk this up as one more example of how the Republican Party has become the Party of Trump. One of the traditional duties of the delegates to the quadrennial national party conventions, both Democratic and Republican, is to adopt a platform stating their policy preferences and principles. These documents - akin to British party manifestos - are typically the subject of intense haggling and debate among the delegates, but are largely ignored by the candidates themselves, unless opponents decide to highlight a portion they think general-election voters will find extreme or unpopular. Even with the coronavirus pandemic reshaping political conventions this year, the Democrats adopted a 91-page document with headings such as "Healing the Soul of America" and "Restoring and Strengthening Our Democracy". The party's liberal wing expressed some displeasure with the absence of language endorsing universal healthcare or the "Green New Deal" environmental plan. The Republicans, on the other hand, decided to scrap the whole thing entirely. Instead, the delegates gathering for the limited in-person convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, passed a one-page resolution stating that they weren't going to have a new platform, but instead the party "has and will continue to enthusiastically support the president's America-first agenda". The delegates said they made this decision because they did not want their reduced number in Charlotte making policy decisions for the entire party. The resolution also took some swipes at the media for their coverage of a June decision by the party's executive committee to adopt the 2016 platform as-is in 2020. While that might seem a reasonable decision given the circumstances, doing so without any changes meant the document included shots meant for the then in-power Democrats, like "all international executive agreements and political arrangements entered into by the current Administration must be deemed null and void as mere expressions of the current president's preferences". (Webmaster's comment: Setting the stage for adopting Trump as ruler and dictator!)
8-26-20 RNC 2020: Melania Trump makes plea for racial harmony
US First Lady Melania Trump has made a plea for racial unity, in a live speech from the White House to the Republican party convention. "Stop the violence and looting," she also said as protests continued over a police shooting in Wisconsin. (Webmaster's comment: Then stop the police from killing unarmed black people!) Mrs Trump urged Americans to stop making assumptions based on race and reflected candidly on US history. President Donald Trump currently trails Democratic challenger Joe Biden in opinion polls for November's election. Mr Trump will address the convention's final night on Thursday. The normally limelight-shunning US first lady delivered Tuesday evening's keynote address before a small audience, including her husband, in the Rose Garden of the White House. "Like all of you, I have reflected on the racial unrest in our country," she said. "It is a harsh reality that we are not proud of parts of our history. I encourage you to focus on the future while still learning from the past." She added: "I urge people to come together in a civil manner so we can work and live up to our standard American ideals. "I also ask people to stop the violence and looting being done in the name of justice, and never make assumptions based on the colour of a person's skin." Tuesday's convention schedule began with a prayer for Jacob Blake, the 29-year-old black man shot multiple times in the back by police in Wisconsin on Sunday.
8-26-20 Jacob Blake shooting: 'I'm not sad. I'm not sorry. I'm angry'
Jacob Blake's sister says that she is numb, angry and tired after years of seeing police shoot black people. Mr Blake is in hospital and his father announced today that he is paralysed from the waist down.
8-26-20 Jacob Blake: Two shot dead in third night of Wisconsin unrest
Two people have been killed and one injured during a third night of unrest in the US city of Kenosha, sparked by the police shooting of a black man. Police said three people had been shot, but gave no details about who was involved. Local media reports earlier said the violence was believed to have stemmed from a conflict between protesters and armed men guarding a petrol station. Unrest broke out after Jacob Blake was shot and injured by police on Sunday. Video footage showed the 29-year-old being shot a number of times as he leaned into a car. His lawyers said it would take "a miracle" for him to walk again. People have since defied emergency curfews in the city to join protests, which at times have turned violent. In their statement, Kenosha Police said officials responded to "reports of shots being fired and multiple gunshot victims" in the city at about 23:45 on Tuesday (04:45 Wednesday GMT). "The shooting resulted in two fatalities and a third gunshot victim was transported to a hospital with serious, but non-life threatening injuries," the statement said. It added that the identities of the victims were still being determined and that no further details would be given at this time. An investigation has been opened. Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth earlier told the New York Times that an investigation into the shootings would be focused on a group of men armed with guns outside a petrol station. Footage shared online showed a man with a rifle being chased by a crowd before he fell to the ground and appeared to fire multiple rounds at them. Other video shows armed civilians, many dressed in military fatigues, congregating outside businesses they said they were protecting. Footage also shows people running through the streets as gunshots ring out, and wounded men on the ground. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers said on Tuesday he was sending more National Guard troops to the city amid the unrest.
8-26-20 US Postal Service: Three states sue Trump government
Three US states are suing the Trump administration over changes to the US Postal Service (USPS) ahead of the November election. It is the latest development in a huge row over the federal agency, which is tasked with handling mail-in ballots for the vote. The filing alleges "partisan meddling" is slowing deliveries, which could "endanger" election plans. Neither the White House nor the USPS have yet commented on the filing. Democrats allege that the head of the USPS, who was appointed by US President Donald Trump, has tried to deliberately "sabotage" the election with a series of recent reforms. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has dismissed the allegations. The top Republican donor told senators on Friday that all ballots will arrive on time and announced the reforms would be delayed until after the election. But he has overseen the removal of mail boxes and reduced overtime pay for workers. An unprecedented number of US voters are expected to vote by post this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Mr Trump has repeatedly made allegations that mail-in ballots will lead to voter fraud - something dismissed by experts and voting officials. Hawaii, New Jersey and New York states are all plaintiffs in the lawsuit, as are the cities of San Francisco and New York. "Thanks to a series of sweeping policy changes beleaguered by partisan meddling, the independent agency has become a political football set to undermine a federal election," the filing reads. It claims President Trump has "repeatedly, emphatically, and openly attempted to undermine mail-in voting efforts". Officials appointed by him meanwhile "eliminated or substantially altered" processes that kept mail delivered on time, leading to severe delays and a massive backlog. New York state Attorney General Letitia James tweeted on Tuesday about filing the suit. "The slowdown is nothing more than a voter suppression tactic," she wrote.
8-26-20 We all have hidden prejudices – here’s how to override them
Confronting our unconscious biases requires concerted effort. Fortunately, there are simple things everyone can do to avoid the cognitive shortcuts that underpin them. We are still getting to grips with the most effective ways to identify and address bias. What is clear is that it is a difficult task that requires concerted, consistent effort. But there are strategies that make a difference. A first step is to make biases visible. This can include taking the Implicit Association Test to raise awareness, but this needs to be complemented by active reflection – including recognising triggers for bias and examining how our life experiences have shaped our biases. Research has shown that using blind or anonymised hiring practices may help weaken biases that can limit opportunities for women and minority groups. One study found that using blind auditions increased the likelihood that women musicians were hired by an orchestra by up to 46 per cent. Research in France, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands has showed that removing names from applications increases the likelihood that candidates from minority groups will be invited to interview. We can tackle generalised assumptions by being clear that a particular attribute is associated with an individual rather than their whole group, for example “This boy is good at maths”. This approach can help to diminish stereotypes and the pressure to conform to them. Taking our time with important decisions can also help us avoid cognitive shortcuts that perpetuate bias. When this isn’t possible, rehearsing reactions to high stress situations can help prevent biased snap decisions, research with police has shown. Finding ways to identify with members of different groups by forging links with your own sense of self can diminish bias. In one study, nurses from diverse ethnicities who were shown videos of white or black patients in pain recommended the same amount of pain relief regardless of the patient’s race if first asked to imagine how they felt. When not prompted this way, the nurses suggested more pain relief for white patients. Metaphorically stepping into someone else’s shoes can have a big impact.
8-26-20 Lasana Harris interview: How your brain is conditioned for prejudice
We are more aware of how “unconscious" biases work than ever before, says neuroscientist Lasana Harris – and we can use our conscious brains to override them. WHY are we prejudiced? What happens in our brains when we make assumptions about people who look or speak differently to us? As movements such as Black Lives Matter work to expose the systemic racism in the US and Europe, such questions are taking on new and long overdue urgency. If we are to overcome our biases, we need to understand their neural and psychological roots. Lasana Harris, a neuroscientist and experimental psychologist at University College London, is among those striving for such an understanding. His research focuses on how we think about other people’s minds, known as social cognition, and more specifically on how we perceive others. Working with Susan Fiske at Princeton University, his research on the brain mechanisms underlying dehumanisation has revealed the surprising ease with which we can stop ourselves from having empathy for the plights of others. Such insights have informed his thinking on racism, too. Harris views what many people call unconscious bias as an inevitable result of the associations we learn and the way our brains react to perceived threats. Rather than something we engage in unconsciously, he argues that it is something we know we are doing but struggle to control. Lasana Harris: Firstly, if I want to do something to another human being that is something I don’t typically like doing to human beings, then I’m going to need to not think about their mind while I do it. The other reason is that dehumanisation is a way to regulate emotional responses, preventing us from identifying with suffering and feeling negative ourselves. Take homeless people, for instance. If you have to feel empathic towards every single person you see living on the streets, you would be exhausted before you got home. Or you might feel worried about them and guilty that you didn’t help. That’s a feeling you want to avoid having every time you leave your house. We have demonstrated that the brain regions that are always engaged when you think about other people aren’t engaged when you think about different types of people – in this case, what we call “extreme out-groups” like drug addicts and homeless people.
8-26-20 What do unconscious bias tests really reveal about racism?
Psychologists have shown that reflexive biases influence our perceptions of others, potentially explaining the persistence of various forms of prejudice. But reliably measuring our implicit biases is trickier than it first appeared. YOU are biased. So am I. We all discriminate. It is both a source of concern and comfort that we don’t necessarily do so deliberately and that our prejudices aren’t always wilful. If societies are to truly confront the pernicious effects of racism and prejudice, the importance of examining these biases and how they become etched into the brain is becoming increasingly clear. The death of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis on 25 May shook the world to attention, but it was no isolated incident. Every day there are stories of people being treated with suspicion – or far worse – based on their skin colour while going about their daily lives. This is in spite of the fact that, for the past 40 years, opinion polls show a steady decline in racist views in the US, UK and other countries. That has led some researchers to suspect that, as explicit racism has been driven underground, unconscious bias is playing a critical role. This suspicion inspired the creation of the Implicit Association Test, a tool that aims to reveal unconscious biases with a few clicks of the mouse. Unfortunately, the accuracy and reliability of this widely celebrated test isn’t what it once seemed. Pinning down the nature and extent of hidden bias is proving to be extraordinarily complicated. Eradicating it is far from straightforward, too – and it turns out that some efforts to do so may further entrench the very prejudices they are meant to uproot. But we are making progress, not least in understanding the processes in our brains that perpetuate bias – and what we can do to change them.
8-26-20 COVID-19 plasma treatments may be safe, but we don’t know if they work
Blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors can be used to treat hospitalized patients, FDA says. With emergency permission for using plasma donated by recovered COVID-19 patients to treat sick ones, some researchers are once again raising concerns that the push for speed is getting ahead of the science. No randomized controlled trials have shown that convalescent plasma works against COVID-19 yet. Even so, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced August 23 that it would allow convalescent plasma to be used under an emergency use authorization. That move has some experts worried that an unproven treatment may interfere with other more promising therapies, and may make it harder to find out if convalescent plasma really can help against COVID-19. The authorization came less than a week after the New York Times reported that top National Institutes of Health officials were trying to stop an emergency use authorization for plasma, citing concerns about lack of sufficient data. On August 22, President Donald Trump tweeted dissatisfaction with the pace of FDA approval for new vaccines and therapies to fight COVID-19. While convalescent plasma appears safe, and there are hints that it may help people in early stages of the disease, not enough data have been amassed to say that the treatment is effective, some experts warn. “We lack the randomized controlled trial data we need to better understand its utility in COVID-19 treatment,” Thomas File Jr., president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said in a statement August 23. There’s a need “to better understand the benefits of convalescent plasma treatment before authorizing its wider use in patients with COVID-19.” Here’s what the studies have told us so far about using convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19 patients and what we still need to learn.
8-25-20 Jerry Falwell Jr. reveals evangelicalism's authority problem
American evangelicalism has a problem with authority, and the resignation of former Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. has forced it to the surface. Falwell's departure and the ignomious circumstances that prompted it were met by some evangelicals with protest: Why is the media saying he's our guy? What makes Jerry Falwell Jr. an "evangelical leader"? I don't follow him. For an outsider looking in on the movement, this may seem like a protest in bad faith. It's not. "I've been in evangelical circles for 30 years," says a representative tweet. "Falwell's dad certainly was someone who had a vision for Liberty and had a lot of influence, but I have never heard anyone EVER refer to Falwell Jr. as a leader in evangelicalism. I'm not trying to be combative, just honest." I could say exactly the same, and for most, I think this protest is sincere. But I also think it's entirely fair to call Falwell an "evangelical leader" because of how leadership is often developed and authority asserted within American evangelicalism. It's a problem that makes the movement prone to exactly the sort of scandal we see with Falwell this week. To understand this problem, you have to know a little bit about church governance. Some denominations, like the Catholic Church, have a strong system of top-down control. If Pope Francis were caught in an illicit liaison à la Falwell, no Catholic could respond by denying the pope is properly deemed a "Catholic leader." Evangelicalism has no comparable hierarchy, and many Christians within it worship in groups that are also light on top-down authority. There's no Baptist pope, and many evangelicals are in nondenominational congregations whose governance is entirely self-contained. Thus can anyone start their own church — and they do. Anyone can launch a blog or podcast or YouTube channel and build a digital congregation — and they do that, too. There's a real sense of spiritual entrepreneurship in evangelicalism, as indeed there always has been. There's also a real sense of unaccountability, now made riskier by the sheer reach the internet allows such leaders to garner. That isn't news to evangelicals. In 2017, Christianity Today (where I am also a columnist) published an article by Tish Harrison Warren, an Anglican priest, titled, "Who's in charge of the Christian blogosphere?" Warren focused on the blogger as a "new kind of Christian celebrity — and authority" who accrues a "huge [following] based on a cult of personality and hold[s] extensive power and influence, yet often lack[s] any accountability to formal structures of church governance." Parsing the raging controversy Warren's argument occasioned, historian Daniel Silliman, who is now a Christianity Today editor, explained "authority has always been contested and in crisis" in evangelicalism. "That's the history," he wrote. (Other scholars agree and link evangelical debate about theological and ecclesial authority to debates about political and scriptural authority, too.)
8-25-20 Convalescent plasma treatment for covid-19 has been oversold by the US
Blood plasma donated by people who have recovered from covid-19 will be used as a treatment for the infection in the US. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted an emergency use authorisation for the treatment on 23 August, but the evidence that it works is lacking. Convalescent plasma is known to have been used to treat pandemic flu back in 1918. It involves collecting blood plasma – the yellow liquid component of blood stripped of its blood cells – from people who have recovered from a disease. The plasma can contain antibodies generated by the immune system to fight or prevent a future infection, although the antibody levels vary between donors. The treatment does appear to work for some infections, such as diphtheria, but research has been spotty, and there has been a lack of randomised, placebo-controlled trials, says Lise Estcourt at the University of Oxford. More recently, the treatment was found to be ineffective for Ebola. Several studies are under way to test convalescent plasma for covid-19. The largest has been run by the Mayo Clinic in the US – about 71,000 people have received treatment across 2780 hospitals over the past five months as part of a programme that enables access to experimental therapies. Based on the data collected from around 35,000 of these individuals, the researchers behind the project found that people treated with plasma containing higher levels of antibody, and those treated earlier in the course of their illness, appear less likely to die within a seven or 30-day window. But because the study wasn’t randomised, and none of the participants received a placebo, it is impossible to draw firm conclusions from the data. It isn’t clear if some other factor might have improved survival rates in some people. The treatment of and survival from covid-19 has improved over time, for example. “We’re still not certain of the effectiveness,” says Estcourt, who is part of a team running a clinical trial of convalescent plasma in the UK.
8-25-20 FDA chief apologises for overstating benefits of plasma on Covid-19
The top doctor at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has apologised for overstating the benefits of plasma for treating Covid-19 patients. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn came under fire after his agency on Sunday gave emergency authorisation to use convalescent plasma on Covid patients. Echoing President Donald Trump, Mr Hahn touted the treatment as life-saving. Scientists quickly questioned the data provided by Mr Hahn, who suggested plasma could reduce deaths by 35%. This claim exaggerated preliminary findings from a clinic at the Mayo Clinic. "I personally could have done a better job and should have done a better job at that press conference explaining what the data show regarding convalescent plasma," Mr Hahn told CBS News on Tuesday. But Mr Hahn maintained that the decision to authorise the treatment for emergency use was made by FDA career scientists, "based upon sound science and data". Mr Hahn's remarks come as he fields criticism for appearing to play politics, backing the Trump administration amid its push for a breakthrough treatment of Covid-19 in the run-up to the presidential election on 3 November. Announcing the emergency use of blood plasma, Mr Trump heralded the "historic" step, saying the treatment would save "countless" lives. The announcement came a day after Mr Trump accused the FDA of impeding the rollout of vaccines and therapeutics for political reasons. More than 177,000 people have died from coronavirus since the start of the outbreak in the US, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Nearly 5.8 million cases have also been confirmed nationwide. The country has had more confirmed cases and deaths than anywhere else in the world. The FDA had already approved the use of plasma transfusions on coronavirus patients under certain conditions. It has now given the treatment "emergency use authorisation", rather than full approval, saying that early research suggests blood plasma can decrease mortality and improve patient health if it is administered within the first three days of admittance to hospital. However, more trials are needed to prove its effectiveness.
8-25-20 Covid-19 news: UK criticised for confusing school face covering rules
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 government under pressure to review policy on face coverings in schools in England. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization issued new guidance saying that children above age 12 should wear face masks in line with recommended practice for adults in the place where they live. Recent outbreaks in Scotland “reinforce the idea that covid-19 transmission in schools is potentially substantial”, said Rowland Kao at the University of Edinburgh in a statement. “Should masks be adopted, their use must be accompanied by awareness of the need for good mask hygiene and regular handwashing.” Two more patients have been reported to have been reinfected with the coronavirus, one in the Netherlands and another in Belgium. Yesterday, researchers at the University of Hong Kong announced that they had documented the first case of coronavirus reinfection. “That someone would emerge with a reinfection, that doesn’t make me nervous,” Marion Koopmans at Erasmus University Medical Center in the Nether Coronavirus cases in Spain are continuing to surge, with 175.7 cases per 100,000 people, according to the latest 14-day cumulative figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. This is compared to 62.8 cases per 100,000 people in France and 22.5 cases per 100,000 people in the UK. Unions in Madrid last week warned that the primary care system was “on the edge of collapse” due to lack of staff and capacity for testing. People living in the Gaza Strip have been put under a lockdown after local authorities confirmed the first locally acquired cases of the coronavirus. A 48-hour lockdown went into effect on Monday evening across the territory. Bali in Indonesia will not reopen to foreign tourists this year due to concerns about rising coronavirus cases.
8-25-20 RNC 2020: Trump warns Republican convention of ‘rigged election’
US President Donald Trump has warned his fellow Republicans their opponents may "steal" November's election, as his party anointed him as their candidate. "They're using Covid to defraud the American people," Mr Trump told delegates on the first day of the party convention in North Carolina. He repeated an untrue claim that mail-in ballots could lead to voter fraud. An unprecedented number of Americans are expected to vote by mail as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Experts and voting officials have dismissed the claim that mail-in voting leads to fraud as a false conspiracy theory. Mr Trump himself uses the system regularly. Opinion polls suggest he is lagging behind Democratic challenger Joe Biden. Mr Biden, the former vice-president to Barack Obama, has boasted a 10-point lead on occasions. Addressing delegates in person at a party conference that has been dramatically scaled back by the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Trump accused Democrats of "using Covid to steal an election". "The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election," he said. "We're going to win." Mr Trump had also warned of a "rigged" election in 2016, as he trailed Hillary Clinton in the polls. But in 2016 the polls were far less clear and just a few percentage points separated Mr Trump and his then-rival Hillary Clinton at several points as election day neared.On Monday, Mr Trump was officially nominated as a formality to be the Republican nominee at his party's convention in the city of Charlotte. Supporters cheered him, chanting: "Four more years!" The president is expected to make live television addresses on every day of the convention, leading up to his acceptance speech to the party jamboree on Thursday. It is unusual for candidates to address the convention before that point, as Mr Trump has done.
8-25-20 Jacob Blake: Father says man shot in Wisconsin is 'paralysed'
The black man shot many times in the back by Wisconsin police officers is paralysed from the waist down, his father has said. Jacob Blake, 29, was shot several times as he went to a car and opened its door in the city of Kenosha on Sunday. The shooting sparked two nights of protests in the city, with buildings and cars set alight. His father has now told a US newspaper that his son is paralysed - although doctors do not know if it is permanent. Jacob Blake Snr told the Chicago Sun Times his son had "eight holes" in his body. "What justified all those shots?" his father asked. "What justified doing that in front of my grandsons? What are we doing?" Video footage of Mr Blake's shooting, taken from across the street and shared on social media, shows the father-of-three leaning into the car and an officer grabbing his shirt, with seven shots heard. Police said they were responding to a domestic incident, but it is so far unclear who called police and what happened before the video recording began. The shooting comes as the US grapples with the treatment of African-Americans at the hands US law enforcement, as well as wider questions about racism in society, following the killing of another black man, George Floyd, in May. Mr Floyd's death sparked protests around the country. People took to the streets in Kenosha within hours of Sunday's shooting, with hundreds marching on police headquarters. Cars were later set alight, and police urged 24-hour businesses to consider closing because of "numerous" calls about armed robberies and shots being fired. On Monday, Governor Tony Evers has called up the National Guard to aid local police, with a curfew imposed from 20:00 local time (01:00 GMT) until 07:00 on Tuesday. But some ignored the curfew, and police used tear gas to try to force protesters - some of whom were throwing water bottles - to disperse. (Webmaster's comment: All the officers who did this should be arrested, tried, convicted and in prison for attempted murder!)
8-25-20 What we can learn from how a doctor’s race can affect Black newborns’ survival
Black newborns cared for by Black doctors are less likely to die than those with white doctors. At the beginning of life, babies face racial health disparities that imperil their survival. The infant mortality rate in the United States is more than twice as high for Black infants as it is for white infants: 10.8 deaths per 1,000 live births compared with 4.6 per 1,000 as of 2018, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now a study suggests that when Black newborns are treated by Black physicians after birth, the mortality disparity between Black and white babies shrinks. Why a doctor’s race makes a difference remains a complicated question. But the answers may point to how to make sure the best care is available to all babies from all doctors. Health disparities are differences in health that are tied to economic, social or environmental disadvantages. The inequities that fuel these disparities include differences in access to health care (SN: 4/23/19) and exposure to pollution (SN: 7/30/20) and the health effects of racism (SN: 8/6/19). Even with gains in insurance coverage this past decade, Black Americans are still less likely to have insurance than white Americans: In the first half of 2019, 13.6 percent of Black adults were uninsured, compared with 9.8 percent of white adults, according to the CDC. And researchers reported in April that fewer Black women than white women have uninterrupted insurance coverage before, during and after pregnancy. Beyond access to health care are the health harms that stem from structural racism. The historical, racist practice of redlining neighborhoods has been linked to the risk of preterm birth and more emergency room visits due to asthma. Leaving a segregated neighborhood may lead to a drop in blood pressure (SN: 5/15/17). (Webmaster's comment: Racism is built-in everywhere!)
8-24-20 Australia looks to be finally beating its second wave of coronavirus
The second wave of the coronavirus in Australia appears to be finally subsiding, but the country isn’t out of the woods yet. Australia had its first covid-19 outbreak under control by the end of April, but was hit by a new wave in June that has been even bigger and deadlier than the first. The fresh outbreak occurred after the virus escaped two hotels in Melbourne, Victoria, that were being used to quarantine citizens returning from overseas. Security guards working at the hotels contracted the virus from infected guests and it then spread to the community. Since this leak, almost 17,000 people in Victoria have caught the virus and 411 have died. In comparison, about 1400 Victorians were infected and 19 died during the first outbreak. The explosiveness of the second outbreak has been attributed to the virus finding its way into public housing towers, care centres for older people and other highly connected communities. Melbourne was placed under lockdown on 8 July to try to contain the virus, with residents only permitted to leave their homes to buy essentials, access medical care, exercise or go to school or work. After cases continued to climb, mask-wearing in public became mandatory throughout the city on 22 July, and an additional 8pm to 5am curfew was imposed on 2 August. A few days later, on 5 August, the rest of Victoria was placed under lockdown. Tests have also been offered to anyone with even mild cold or flu symptoms. These strict measures seem to finally be working. Daily new cases have been steadily declining from a high of 723 on 30 July to 116 on 24 August – the lowest recorded in more than two months. At the same time, the R number, which is an estimate of how many people are likely to catch covid-19 from a single infected individual, has dropped from above 3 before the lockdown to around 0.5. “We’ve clearly turned a major corner,” says Catherine Bennett at Deakin University in Melbourne.
8-24-20 Covid-19 is becoming less deadly in Europe but we don't know why
It is becoming increasingly clear that people are less likely to die if they get covid-19 now compared with earlier in the pandemic, at least in Europe, but the reasons why are still shrouded in uncertainty. One UK doctor has said that the coronavirus was “getting a little bit less angry”, while an infectious disease consultant at the National University of Singapore claimed that a mutated version of the coronavirus, D614G, is making the illness less deadly. In England, the proportion of people infected by the coronavirus who later died was certainly lower in early August than it was in late June. Over the period, this infection fatality rate (IFR) dropped by between 55 and 80 per cent, depending on which data set was used, found Jason Oke at the University of Oxford and his colleagues. “This doesn’t seem to be the same disease or as lethal as it was earlier on when we saw huge numbers of people dying,” he says. For example, the week beginning 17 August saw 95 people die and just over 7000 cases across the UK. In the first week of April, 7164 died and nearly 40,000 tested positive. Dividing deaths by cases gives a crude case fatality rate of around 1 per cent in August, compared with nearly 18 per cent in April. These figures don’t represent the true IFRs at these times, both because deaths lag behind infections by a few weeks, and because testing regimes have changed over time, but are indicative of a shift in the IFR. Oke and his colleagues used a more sophisticated method to estimate the change in IFR. The situation isn’t unique to England and the rest of the UK, says Oke, who has found the same trend repeated across Europe. Nonetheless, why this is happening isn’t so clear. According to data for England, a larger proportion of younger people are being infected than was happening around the first peak of cases in April, with cases rates for 10-16 August the highest among 15-44 year olds.
8-24-20 Man who believed virus was hoax loses wife to Covid-19
A Florida taxi driver, who believed false claims that coronavirus was a hoax, has lost his wife to Covid-19. Brian Lee Hitchens and his wife, Erin, had read claims online that the virus was fabricated, linked to 5G or similar to the flu. The couple didn't follow health guidance or seek help when they fell ill in early May. Brian recovered but his 46-year-old wife became critically ill and died this month from heart problems linked to the virus. Brian spoke to the BBC in July as part of an investigation into the human cost of coronavirus misinformation. At the time, his wife was on a ventilator in hospital. Erin, a pastor in Florida, had existing health problems - she suffered from asthma and a sleeping disorder. Her husband explained that the couple did not follow health guidance at the start of the pandemic because of the false claims they had seen online. Brian continued to work as a taxi driver and to collect his wife's medicine without observing social distancing rules or wearing a mask. They had also failed to seek help as soon as possible when they fell ill in May and were both subsequently diagnosed with Covid-19. Brian told BBC News that he "wished [he'd] listened from the beginning" and hoped his wife would forgive him. "This is a real virus that affects people differently. I can't change the past. I can only live in today and make better choices for the future," Brian explained. "She's no longer suffering, but in peace. I go through times missing her, but I know she's in a better place." Brian said he and his wife didn't have one firm belief about Covid-19. Instead, they switched between thinking the virus was a hoax, linked to 5G technology, or a real, but mild ailment. They came across these theories on Facebook. "We thought the government was using it to distract us," Brian explained, "or it was to do with 5G." But after the couple fell ill with the virus in May, Brian took to Facebook in a viral post to explain that he'd been misled by what he'd seen online about the virus. "If you have to go out please use wisdom and don't be foolish like I was so the same thing won't happen to you like it happened to me and my wife," he wrote.
8-24-20 Trump's postal-vote tweet misleading, says Twitter
Twitter has hidden a tweet by Donald Trump for containing "misleading claims" that could "dissuade voters" ahead of the November election.The US president tweeted on Sunday postal voting could encourage fraud and puts users at risk of contracting coronavirus. The tweet can be viewed behind a disclaimer that says it breaks rules around "civic and election integrity". Users cannot "like", reply to or retweet the content. "So now the Democrats are using mail drop boxes, which are a voter-security disaster," the president tweeted. "Among other things, they make it possible for a person to vote multiple times. "Also, who controls them? Are they placed in Republican or Democrat areas? They are not Covid sanitised - a big fraud." The social-media giant later put a warning on the tweet, and said: "We placed a public interest notice on this tweet for violating our civic-integrity policy for making misleading health claims that could potentially dissuade people from participation in voting." The same post remains unaltered on Facebook, with no warning, but includes a link to additional voting information. A surge in postal ballots is expected in the election, due to the coronavirus outbreak. Mr Trump has previously claimed mail-in voting fraud would harm his campaign. But there is little evidence this method of voting leads to widespread fraud. "You may not use Twitter's services for the purpose of manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes," Twitter added. "This includes posting or sharing content that may suppress participation or mislead people about when, where, or how to participate in a civic process." Twitter rules also state severe or repeated violations can lead to permanent suspension on the site. In May, Twitter flagged a tweet by President Trump for the first time, for glorifying violence. And in June, another of his tweets was deemed to have violated rules against abusive behaviour. Similarly, in August, Twitter froze the official Trump campaign account until it removed a post that contained "harmful Covid misinformation".
8-24-20 Trump's bad habit of overpromising and underdelivering
Why the president's claims about convalescent plasma should be met with skepticism. President Trump keeps making a rookie political mistake: overpromising and underdelivering. He did it again Sunday, making the "truly history announcement" that the Food and Drug Administration had given emergency use authorization to allow doctors to treat COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma — basically, an infusion from patients who have recovered from the virus. Convalescent plasma is a "powerful therapy," Trump said. "It has an incredible rate of success." "This is a major advance in the treatment of patients," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said. "This is a major advance." There are reasons to be skeptical. A preliminary Mayo Clinic study does show improvements in the death rate for coronavirus patients who receive this treatment soon after their diagnosis. But the study is missing a key component for sound scientific research: It doesn't include a placebo group for comparison. And even if the treatment is effective, the supply is limited because it relies on recovered patients donating their plasma. For now, that's a relatively small group. As such, some top government health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, last week argued against authorizing the treatment. As with so many things related to COVID-19, there is still a lot experts simply do not know with certainty. But that didn't stop Trump from recklessly promising that convalescent plasma will save "countless lives." The president has offered similar assurances before during the pandemic: Remember when he said that hydroxychloroquine would prove to be a miracle drug? Or that Americans would be back in church by Easter? Or that the virus would go away on its own? Of course, none of these assertions ever came to fruition. Such high expectations and subsequently dashed hopes is bad for public health. "I worry that engendering false hope will cause complacency that will deprive us of the time needed to find a lasting solution," H. Holden Thorp, the editor of Science journals, wrote in March. "And I worry about lasting damage if science overpromises." So why does Trump keep doing this? Surely, some of it comes down to habit. The president is a salesman (some would say a conman) whose entire public history is full of gold-plated hyperbole. He often seems to genuinely believe that his failures are accomplishments — on Sunday he lamented to reporters about "the success we have that people don't talk about" during the pandemic, once again incorrectly saying the U.S. coronavirus fatality rate is the lowest in the world. And Trump's tendency to overpromise might stem from a lifetime of avoiding accountability for his failures. There has always been a bankruptcy court, a reality show producer, or a rich father to pick up him and dust him off when things go wrong. There is evidence, too, that the president believes he can simply speak success into existence. Trump's biographers have noted his affinity with Norman Vincent Peale, the author of The Power of Positive Thinking and, literally, an evangelist for self-confidence. "Have faith in your abilities!" Peale exhorted. As my colleague Damon Linker has noted, Trump's tendencies fit perfectly within a Republican Party whose leaders long ago rejected the "reality-based community" in favor of their own vision. In such cases, hopefulness often curdles into hubris.
8-24-20 Kellyanne Conway resigns as senior White House adviser
Kellyanne Conway has announced that she is resigning from her post as senior adviser to US President Donald Trump. In a statement, Mrs Conway, 53, said she was stepping down at the end of August to focus on her children, giving them "less drama, more mama". Her husband, George, an outspoken critic of the president, will also be stepping back from political activism. She added that her decision was "completely my choice", and that she would announce future plans "in time". The announcement came hours after one of Mrs Conway's daughters, Claudia, 15, tweeted that her mother's job had "ruined [her] life". Mrs Conway, who is still scheduled to speak at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday, informed Mr Trump on Sunday night. A Republican strategist and veteran pollster, she was the first woman to manage a successful US presidential campaign, spearheading Mr Trump's effort in 2016. As senior counsellor at the White House, Mrs Conway acted as political adviser to President Trump and maintained a highly influential position in the administration. In contrast, her husband George is a co-founder of The Lincoln Project - a Republican political action committee working to prevent the re-election of President Trump in 2020. "The past four years have allowed me blessings beyond compare," she said in a statement. "[George and I] disagree about plenty but we are united on what matters most: the kids," she added. "Our four children are teens and tweens starting a new academic year, in middle school and high school, remotely from home for at least a few months," continued Mrs Conway. "As millions of parents nationwide know, kids 'doing school from home' requires a level of attention and vigilance that is as unusual as these times." Claudia Conway's tweet about her mother went viral over the weekend. (Webmaster's comment: The rats are leaving the sinking ship!)
8-24-20 Kenosha shooting: Protests erupt after US police shoot black man
Protests have erupted in the US state of Wisconsin after police shot a black man many times while responding to what they said was a domestic incident. The man, identified as Jacob Blake, was taken to hospital for surgery and is now in intensive care, his family said. Video posted online appears to show Mr Blake being shot in the back as he tries to get into a car in Kenosha. Authorities in the city declared an emergency overnight curfew after unrest broke out following the shooting. Hundreds of people marched on police headquarters on Sunday night. Vehicles were set on fire and protesters shouted "We won't back down". In a public safety alert, police urged 24-hour businesses to consider closing because of "numerous" calls about armed robberies and shots being fired. Officers used tear gas to try to disperse hundreds of protesters who defied the county-wide curfew, which is in place until 07:00 on Monday (12:00 GMT). Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers condemned the shooting of Mr Blake, who was reportedly unarmed. "While we do not have all of the details yet, what we know for certain is that he is not the first black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country," he said in a statement. "I have said all along that although we must offer our empathy, equally important is our action. In the coming days, we will demand just that of elected officials in our state who have failed to recognise the racism in our state and our country for far too long." Jacob Blake's name was trending on social media and thousands signed a petition calling for the officers involved to be charged. He is now out of surgery and in stable condition, according to family and friends on social media. The shooting comes amid heightened tensions in the US over racism and police brutality following the death of African-American man George Floyd earlier this year. (Webmaster's comment: We must charge all murder prone policemen with crimes and lock them away in prison for a long time!)
8-23-20 US Postal Service: House backs election cash boost
The US House of Representatives has passed a bill that would inject $25bn (£19bn) into the Postal Service (USPS) ahead of November's election. The legislation would also block cuts and changes that critics have said will hamper mail-in voting. Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi recalled lawmakers from the summer recess to vote on the bill, which she said would protect the USPS. After the vote, President Trump tweeted the measure was a Democrat ballot scam. "Representatives of the Post Office have repeatedly stated that they DO NOT NEED MONEY, and will not make changes, " said Donald Trump. He has threatened to veto the bill, which is in any case unlikely to make progress in the Republican-controlled Senate. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said the chamber would "absolutely not pass" the bill. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said earlier that further cost-cutting measures at the postal service would be suspended until after November's vote. A slowdown in mail deliveries amid cost-saving measures at USPS has fuelled fears about how one of the oldest and most trusted institutions in the US can handle an unprecedented influx of mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic. President Trump strongly opposes mail-in ballots and has repeatedly suggested it could lead to widespread voter fraud despite there being no evidence for this. The "Delivering for America Act" passed by the House in a rare Saturday sitting includes $25bn of emergency coronavirus funding requested by the USPS's board of governors. More than a dozen Republicans crossed the floor to vote with their Democratic opponents. The bill would require the USPS to treat all official election correspondence as first-class mail. The service would be prohibited until January 2021 from implementing or approving any changes to operations or service levels that would "impede prompt, reliable, and efficient service", including closing or reducing the hours of post offices, removing mail sorting machines and mailboxes, or stopping overtime payments. "This is not a partisan issue," Democratic Representative Carolyn Maloney, the bill's author, said before the debate. "It makes absolutely no sense to impose these kinds of dangerous cuts in the middle of a pandemic and just months before the elections in November."
8-23-20 US trans rights: The teen who sued his school, and won, over bathroom use
"I hope we've now moved past the need to have courts saying trans people should be respected and treated normally." Drew Adams, a trans man, has spent the past three years fighting for transgender students to be allowed to use bathrooms at school that match their gender identity. It came about after Drew, at the age of 14, was told by his school in Florida that he wasn't allowed to use the men's bathroom. A federal court has now ruled in Drew's favour in the first US trial involving a transgender student's access to bathrooms. The ruling applies to Florida, Georgia and Alabama. "I knew I had an obligation to people hiding their true trans identity, because there are so many people who don't have accepting families," Drew, who's now 19, tells Radio 1 Newsbeat. "And if they don't have their families, and they don't have their school, who do they have?" Drew was in history class when he was called to the principal's office. "I sat with three other counsellors standing over me. They told me I wasn't allowed to use the men's bathroom," he says. Drew felt "very small, nervous and terrified" because he thought he'd "done something wrong". "I was really surprised and so confused. "But they said that was the rule and I was only allowed to use the gender-neutral cubicles - there was only one in the entire school at the time." The more Drew thought about the school's decision, the more upset he became. His mum, Erica Kasper, was "also angry" and they "had meetings with people from the school authorities". After not getting the answers they were looking for, Drew and his mum filed a civil rights complaint against the school - leading to an investigation. "There were lots of calls, emails and discussions about bathrooms." But Drew says things stalled after the 2016 presidential election and they stopped hearing back. "We got tired of waiting so we reached out to Lambda Legal - an organisation that fights for LGBTQ rights - and filed a lawsuit against my school in 2017."
8-23-20 Coronavirus: Is the US the worst-hit country for deaths?
As coronavirus cases continue to rise in the US, there are competing narratives about the impact of the disease. President Trump claims the country has one of the lowest death rates from the virus in the world. He's also said excess deaths are significantly lower than elsewhere - that's the number of extra deaths above what would be expected. But others say the US has been hit worse than other countries, pointing out it has the most recorded Covid deaths of any country in the world. "More than 170,000 Americans have died - by far the worst performance of any nation on earth," Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden has said. We've looked at three different ways you can measure the rate of Covid-19 deaths, two of which show that while the US is not the worst affected, it's among those most badly hit. First, there is no international standard for how you measure deaths, or their causes. And making comparisons is tricky as countries record deaths in different ways. But experts say one of the most telling measures is how many extra deaths a country experiences above the number who would have been expected to die. This "excess" death data captures some potentially unrecorded coronavirus deaths, and other deaths that might be the result of strain on healthcare systems and other indirect effects of the epidemic. It can therefore provide a more complete picture of how a country has been affected overall. Most developed countries publish excess death data, but they do it less frequently than the daily coronavirus death totals they provide. The US experienced almost 200,000 excess deaths from the start of the outbreak up to 11 July, according to the latest data available. That's an 18% increase on previous years. Although the time periods are different, looking at the latest data from the world's leading industrialised nations, we can see the US has a lower proportion of excess deaths so far than Italy and the UK.
8-23-20 TikTok to launch legal action against Trump over ban
Chinese video app TikTok is set to launch legal action to challenge a ban imposed by US President Donald Trump. Mr Trump's executive order prohibits transactions with TikTok's owner ByteDance from mid-September. Officials in Washington are concerned that the company could pass data on American users to the Chinese government, something ByteDance has denied doing. The short video-sharing app has 80 million active US users. TikTok says it has tried to engage with the Mr Trump's administration for nearly a year but has encountered a lack of due process and an administration that pays "no attention to facts". "To ensure that the rule of law is not discarded and that our company and users are treated fairly, we have no choice but to challenge the executive order through the judicial system," a company spokesperson said. TikTok expects the legal action to begin this week, says BBC Business reporter Vivienne Nunis. On Friday a group of Chinese-Americans filed a separate lawsuit against the president's similar ban on the social media app WeChat, which is owned by the Chinese firm, Tencent. TikTok's users post short video clips on the platform on topics ranging from dance routines to international politics. Its popularity exploded in recent months particularly with teenagers and it has been downloaded more than a billion times around the world. But Mr Trump claims China is able to use the app to track the locations of federal employees, collect information for use in blackmail, or spy on companies. The growth of mobile apps developed and owned by Chinese firms "threatens the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States", Mr Trump says. "This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans' personal and proprietary information," he claims in his executive order.
8-23-20 Donald Trump's sister says he's an 'unprincipled phoney'
US President Donald Trump's eldest sister, a former federal judge, has said her brother is a liar who "has no principles", secret recordings reveal. The critical remarks by Maryanne Trump Barry were recorded by her niece, Mary Trump, who last month published a book excoriating the president. "His goddamned tweet and lying, oh my God," Ms Barry is heard saying. "It's the phoniness and this cruelty." Mary Trump said she had taped her aunt to protect herself from litigation. Mr Trump responded to the latest revelations in a statement issued by the White House, saying: "Every day it's something else, who cares." The recordings were first reported by The Washington Post, after which the Associated Press obtained them. In the secret recordings, Ms Barry criticises the Trump administration's immigration policy, which has led to children being held at migrant detention centres at the border. "All he wants to do is appeal to his base," she said. One of the claims made in Mary Trump's memoir - Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man - is that her uncle paid a friend to take an SAT test for him - a standardised exam which determines university placement. Ms Barry refers to this in the recording, even suggesting that she remembers the name of the friend involved. "He got into University of Pennsylvania because he had somebody take the exams," she said. A Superior Court judge in California has ordered the president to pay $44,100 (£34,000) to Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels. The sum was awarded to cover her legal fees relating to a non-disclosure agreement over an alleged affair between the two. Ms Daniels alleges that she and Mr Trump had sex in a hotel room in Lake Tahoe, a resort area between California and Nevada, in 2006.
8-22-20 Coronavirus pandemic could be over within two years - WHO head
The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) says he hopes the coronavirus pandemic will be over in under two years. Speaking in Geneva, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the Spanish flu of 1918 had taken two years to overcome. But he added that current advances in technology could enable the world to halt the virus "in a shorter time". "Of course with more connectiveness, the virus has a better chance of spreading," he said. "But at the same time, we have also the technology to stop it, and the knowledge to stop it," he noted, stressing the importance of "national unity, global solidarity". The flu of 1918 killed at least 50 million people. Coronavirus has so far killed almost 800,000 people and infected nearly 23 million. Prof Sir Mark Walport, a member of the UK's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) - on Saturday said that Covid-19 was "going to be with us forever in some form or another". "So, a bit like flu, people will need re-vaccination at regular intervals," he told the BBC. In Geneva, Dr Tedros said corruption related to supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic was "unacceptable", describing it as "murder". "If health workers work without PPE, we're risking their lives. And that also risks the lives of the people they serve," he added, in response to a question. Although the question related to allegations of corruption in South Africa, a number of countries have faced similar issues. On Friday, protests were held in the Kenyan capital Nairobi over alleged corruption during the pandemic, while doctors from a number of the city's public hospitals went on strike over unpaid wages and a lack of protective equipment. The same day, the head of the WHO's health emergencies programme warned the scale of the coronavirus outbreak in Mexico was "clearly under-recognised". Dr Mike Ryan said the equivalent of around three people per 100,000 were being tested in Mexico, compared with about 150 per 100,000 people in the US. Mexico has the third highest number of deaths in the world, with almost 60,000 fatalities recorded since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University.
8-22-20 US Postal Service head: Mail-in ballots 'will arrive in time'
The head of the US Postal Service has said the agency is "fully capable and committed" to handling the nation's mail-in votes for November's election. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told lawmakers that postal votes would continue to be prioritised and that recent policy changes were not made in attempt to influence the 2020 election. Democrats say new delivery policies could lead to issues with postal votes. The row quickly became a top campaign issue in the past two weeks. Mr DeJoy, a top Republican donor and former logistics executive appointed to lead the agency in May, told a senate panel on Friday that the delivery changes - which have drastically slowed deliveries - were based on a "data-driven" review of mail volume. He addressed the Republican-led Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee amid a public furore to the changes, and amid concerns that they were made to help re-elect US President Donald Trump. During the hearing, Mr DeJoy fended off criticism from lawmakers who said they were concerned that the removal of mail sorting machines and post boxes would lead to millions of ballots being delivered too late to be counted on election day. Mr DeJoy told lawmakers that he is "extremely highly confident" that ballots sent back to state election officials seven days before election day on 3 November will still be delivered on time. It comes after the US Postal Service (USPS) sent letters to states warning that mail delays may mean that millions of ballots are unable to be returned by the deadline. "There have been no changes to any policies with regard to election mail," he told lawmakers, adding: "The postal service is fully capable and committed to delivering the nation's election mail fully and on time." (Webmaster's comment: Don't believe this Trump lackey! All Trump's lacleys lie all the time!) Slower mail delivery times in the US have raised concerns about how one of the oldest and most trusted institutions in the US can handle an unprecedented influx of mail-in ballots in November's election.
8-21-20 Covid-19 news: UK cases level off as R number rises slightly
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. Coronavirus R number in UK rises slightly but infections appear to be levelling off. In the UK, the latest estimate for the R number, the number of people each coronavirus case infects, has risen to between 0.9 and 1.1, up slightly from 0.8 to 1.0 the previous week. However, due to a time lag in the data used to model the R number, this is more representative of the situation two to three weeks ago. Estimates for the infection growth rates range between -3 and 1 per cent. This suggests infections in the UK are levelling off on average, in a continuation of the trend observed over the last few weeks. This is consistent with the latest results from the random swab testing survey by the Office for National Statistics, which suggests about 24,600 people in England – 1 in 2200 – had the virus in the week ending 13 August, compared to 28,300 people – 1 in 1900 – in the week ending 9 August. Travellers arriving in the UK from Croatia, Austria and Trinidad and Tobago will be required to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival, starting at 4.00 am on Saturday, UK transport minister Grant Shapps announced yesterday. There are currently 47.2 cases per 100,000 people in Croatia compared to 21.2 per 100,000 people in the UK, according to cumulative figures for the last 14 days from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Those arriving in the UK from Portugal, which currently has a case rate of 28.5 per 100,000 people, will no longer need to self-isolate. Shapps said it would be “too difficult” for the UK to adopt a more targeted approach to the quarantine rules like Germany’s, affecting travellers from specific regions rather than entire countries, due to the difficulty in assessing infection patterns overseas in sufficient detail. Coronavirus cases have been reported among pupils or teachers at 41 schools in Germany’s capital Berlin, less than two weeks after schools reopened. Berlin was one of the first places in Germany to reopen schools after the summer break. Schools in Scotland reopened earlier this month and schools in England will reopen in September. South Korea recorded its highest number of daily new coronavirus cases since 8 March, with 324 new cases confirmed on Thursday. There have been 732 cases linked to the new outbreak so far, 56 of which have been linked to a single church in Seoul. Lebanon has reintroduced a partial lockdown and an overnight curfew in an attempt to suppress a recent spike in coronavirus infections in the aftermath of the Beirut port explosion. The country recorded 605 new cases on Thursday, its highest daily case number so far.
8-21-20 DNC 2020: Biden vows to end Trump's 'season of darkness'
Newly minted Democratic White House nominee Joe Biden said US President Donald Trump has "cloaked America in darkness for much too long". The former US vice-president said his rival has unleashed "too much anger, too much fear, too much division". His impassioned speech was the capstone of a political career spanning nearly half a century. Mr Biden, 77, heads into the general election campaign with a clear lead in opinion polls over Mr Trump, 74. But with 75 days to go until the election the Republican president has plenty of time to narrow the gap. Mr Biden's live speech marked the grand finale of the four-night Democratic party conference. But there was no balloon drop, cheering throngs, or any of the other fanfare and razzamatazz of the typical American party conference, because of the coronavirus pandemic. Organisers opted instead for a virtual set piece of mostly pre-recorded speeches crunched into two hours of highly produced programming each evening. In his address from his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, Mr Biden said: "Here and now, I give you my word, if you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us, not the worst. "I'll be an ally of the light, not the darkness. "It's time for us, for we the people, to come together. And make no mistake, united we can and will overcome this season of darkness in America. "We'll choose hope over fear, facts over fiction, fairness over privilege." Mr Biden said "character is on the ballot" this November. "We can choose a path of becoming angrier, less hopeful, more divided, a path of shadow and suspicion," he said. "Or, or, we can choose a different path and together take this chance to heal, to reform, to unite. A path of hope and light. "This is a life-changing election. This will determine what America is going to look like for a long, long time." Mr Biden vowed to heal a country crippled by a deadly pandemic and economic catastrophe and riven by a reckoning on race.
8-21-20 DNC 2020: Did Joe Biden succeed in making his case?
Call it Joe Biden's "return to normalcy" speech. That was the Warren G Harding slogan when he ran for president in 1920, with a campaign centred on healing and calming Americans after the trauma of World War One. In his winning presidential bid, he preached healing, serenity and restoration. To put it in modern terms, an end to all the drama. Biden billed his campaign as a "battle for the soul of this nation", but his message on Thursday night - echoing Democratic speakers all week - was not so different from Harding's. "It's time for people to come together," said Biden. "This is not a partisan moment, this must be an American moment." He spoke of his campaign being an opportunity to heal, to reform, to unite, to "be a path of hope and light". If he loses in November, it won't be because of anything that happened Thursday night or at the convention this entire week - which is exactly what a party currently leading in the polls wants. So what were the three key things that stood out? In big speeches like this, stagecraft - delivery - can be as important as the content. Stumble, and even the most eloquent words can be overshadowed. Given that Trump and the Republicans seem to be building their campaign attacks around the assertion that 77-year-old Biden is suffering from age-related incapacity - "diminished" is the term they frequently used - there was particular pressure for Biden to hit his marks. He did. He flashed righteous anger when the text called for, such as when launching attacks on Donald Trump's handling of Covid-19 and the violence at the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. He dialled it back when he sought to be reassuring, talking about those who have lost loved ones or are facing economic hardship. It's not easy delivering an emotional speech from what was essentially a dark, empty ballroom, but the unusual circumstances of this "virtual" may have worked in Biden's favour, as well. The circumscribed format kept his text taut and lean, avoiding the longtime politician's occasional penchant for senatorial bloviation. He gave the shortest Democratic acceptance speech since 1984. Biden has made thousands of speeches in his nearly half-century in public life. On Thursday night, he gave a powerful address, delivered powerfully.
8-20-20 Kamala Harris speech: What was the verdict on how she did?
The stakes could not have been higher for Kamala Harris as she made history to formally accept the Democratic vice-presidential nomination. How did she do? Only three women have been on the top ticket for a major party before, and none has made it to the White House. The California senator, who spoke in an almost empty auditorium in Delaware, is also the first black woman and the first Asian American to be nominated. We asked voters and experts to assess her performance. A single mother to three boys, Ms Reese was "thrilled" by the news last week that Kamala Harris would serve as Joe Biden's running mate. "Kamala has been a superpower in our government, not only showing the world what strong ambitious women of colour can do for our communities, but also speaking up for the voiceless within the justice system and in service." For 37-year-old Reese - an author, healthcare worker, and a black woman - Harris's speech tonight showed her "a woman connected to people". "Tonight, we saw a vulnerable human being with a heart, with compassion, with character," she said. "This is a key component we have been missing in the White House and that wasn't lost. "She didn't hit hard on the politics because people are exhausted - we want to know someone who cares about others, sees people, and will fight for human beings first [and] will be leading the country into the future." She says she was sceptical of Senator Harris as a presidential candidate. "Initially, I wasn't very excited about her," she says. "We've already had a black president and so as a black person I was pragmatic: I didn't think the country was ready to elect a black woman as president." But Kemp-Prosterman was "shocked by my own excitement" when Harris was selected last week as the vice-presidential candidate. "Hearing her tonight, I got very emotional," she says. Like Harris, Kemp-Prosterman is also a graduate of a historically black college and university (HBCU) and was a member of the same sorority.
8-20-20 Steve Bannon charged with fraud over Mexico wall funds
Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon has been arrested and charged with fraud over a fundraising campaign to build a wall on the US-Mexico border. Mr Bannon and three others defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors in connection with the "We Build the Wall" campaign, which raised $25m (£19m), the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said. Mr Bannon received more than $1m, at least some of which he used to cover personal expenses, it alleged. In court, he entered a not guilty plea. Mr Bannon, who has been released on bail, was a key architect of Donald Trump's 2016 presidential election victory. His right-wing anti-immigration ideology fuelled Mr Trump's "America First" campaign. He was arrested on a 150-foot (45m) yacht called the Lady May in Connecticut by agents from the US Postal Inspection Service, which investigates fraud cases. The yacht is owned by Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, US media report. Mr Bannon is the sixth former senior aide to Donald Trump to face criminal charges - after ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, veteran political operator Roger Stone, ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, ex-deputy campaign manager Rick Gates and ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Responding to Mr Bannon's arrest, President Trump said he felt "very badly" about it. He also said he had had no involvement with "We Build the Wall". "I said, 'This is for government; this isn't for private people' - and it sounded to me like showboating and I think I let my opinion be very strongly stated at the time," he said. The "We Build the Wall" campaign pledged to use donations to build segments of the border barrier - whose construction was a key Trump promise during the 2016 election - on private land. But Audrey Strauss, the acting US Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), said Mr Bannon, Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea had "defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalising on their interest in funding a border wall to raise millions of dollars, under the false pretence that all of that money would be spent on construction".
8-20-20 Covid-19 news: Risk of coronavirus resurgence in Europe, says WHO
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. WHO warns of “risk of resurgence” in Europe as Germany and Spain see cases surge. The risk of a resurgence of the coronavirus “has never been far away,” the World Health Organization (WHO) regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge said during a briefing today. Europe recorded 40,000 more coronavirus cases in the first week of August, compared to the first week of June, when cases were at their lowest, and cases have steadily been rising in the region, in part due to the relaxation of public health and social measures, he said. Germany recorded its highest daily number of new cases since April, with 1707 new cases confirmed on Wednesday. Spain recorded 3715 cases on the same day, the highest daily number there since the country’s lockdown was lifted in late June. “Authorities have been easing some of the restrictions and people have been dropping their guard,” said Kluge. Kluge thanked young people for the sacrifices they have made to protect themselves and others from covid-19 but expressed concern about people aged between 15 and 24, who account for a growing number of cases. “Low risk does not mean no risk. No one is invincible,” he said. England saw a 27 per cent increase in the number of people testing positive for coronavirus in the week ending 12 August compared to the previous week, according to the Department of Health and Social Care. Its latest figures state that 6616 people tested positive for the virus, whilst the number of people tested for the virus went down by 2 per cent over the same time period. India reported a record daily increase in coronavirus cases for the country today, with more than 69,652 cases confirmed, according to its health ministry.
8-20-20 US jobless claims rise back above one million
The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits unexpectedly climbed back above one million last week, official figures show. The US Labor Department said claims rose to 1.1 million, ahead of economists' forecasts of 925,000. The rise came as US President Donald Trump faces increased pressure over his handling of the health crisis. Coronavirus infections continue to spread across the US, prompting local authorities to restrict businesses. The number of people claiming jobless benefits had fallen in the prior two weeks. Most recently, it dipped below one million to 971,000 for the first time since March in the week to 8 August. But economists have warned that the recent jobs improvement is at risk of stalling, as health concerns drive people to limit their activity and spending even as reopening continues. "Today's rise in initial jobless will disappoint the market, especially following last week's promising data," said Richard Flynn, UK managing director at stock broker Charles Schwab. "While hard-hit industries brought workers back in July, the level of weakness remains unprecedented, and the impact of virus-related rolling shutdowns could continue to reverse some of that improvement." The US economy suffered its sharpest economic contraction in more than 70 years of record keeping in the April-June period, shrinking at an annual rate of 33%. Although the unemployment rate has fallen from the 14.7% high in April as businesses open and activity resumes, the 10.2% rate recorded in July remains higher than any month during the financial crisis. This data doesn't feel like the V shaped recovery that President Trump and the Republicans are banking on. With the number of Americans filing for unemployment back into seven digits after two weeks of declines, the jobs market is a reflection of the upheavals facing the world's largest economy. And yet at this key inflection point, Congress is still divided over the next relief package that might help many Americans who lost their jobs when the US shut down to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Republicans want a smaller package.
8-20-20 DNC 2020: Kamala Harris blasts Trump 'failure of leadership'
Kamala Harris has accepted her historic nomination as the US Democratic party's vice-presidential candidate, running with Joe Biden for the White House. DIn a speech to her party convention, the first US woman of colour on a major-party ticket assailed President Donald Trump's "failure of leadership". The California senator pledged to speak "truths" to the American public. Mr Biden and Ms Harris will challenge Mr Trump and his Vice-President Mike Pence in the election on 3 November. The coronavirus pandemic has forced Democrats to abandon the cheering throngs, fanfare and razzmatazz of the typical party convention in favour of a virtual event of pre-recorded and live speeches. The grand finale of the four-night conference will see Mr Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, deliver a speech on Thursday. "We're at an inflection point," she said, speaking live from a largely empty hotel ballroom in Mr Biden's hometown of Wilmington, Delaware. Attacking Mr Trump, she continued: "The constant chaos leaves us adrift. The incompetence makes us feel afraid. The callousness makes us feel alone. It's a lot. "And here's the thing: We can do better and deserve so much more. "We must elect a president who will bring something different, something better, and do the important work." Ms Harris - the child of immigrants from India and Jamaica - pledged that she and Mr Biden would revive a country fractured by the coronavirus pandemic and racial tension. "There is no vaccine for racism," she said. "We've got to do the work." She continued: "Donald Trump's failure has cost lives and livelihoods." "Right now, we have a president who turns our tragedies into political weapons," she added.
8-20-20 Steve Bannon charged with fraud over Mexico wall funds
Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon has been arrested and charged with fraud over a fundraising campaign to build a wall on the US-Mexico border. Mr Bannon and three others defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors in connection with the "We Build the Wall" campaign, which raised $25m (£19m), the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said. Mr Bannon received more than $1m, at least some of which he used to cover personal expenses, the DoJ said. He is due to appear in court later. The "We build the wall" campaign pledged to use donations to build segments of the border barrier - whose construction was a key Trump promise during the 2016 election - on private land. But Audrey Strauss, the Acting US Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), said Mr Bannon, Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea had "defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalising on their interest in funding a border wall to raise millions of dollars, under the false pretence that all of that money would be spent on construction". Mr Bannon had received more than $1m through a non-profit organisation he controlled, at least some of which he used to cover "hundreds of thousands of dollars in Bannon's personal expenses", the DoJ said. Meanwhile, Mr Kolfage - founder of "We Build the Wall" - covertly took $350,000 for his personal use, the statement said. "While repeatedly assuring donors that Brian Kolfage, the founder and public face of We Build the Wall, would not be paid a cent, the defendants secretly schemed to pass hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage, which he used to fund his lavish lifestyle," Ms Strauss said. SDNY Inspector-in-Charge Philip R Bartlett said the four created "sham invoices and accounts to launder donations and cover up their crimes, showing no regard for the law or the truth".
8-20-20 Flint water crisis: Michigan 'agrees to pay $600m'
The US state of Michigan has agreed to pay a settlement of $600m to victims of the Flint water crisis, US media say. Most of the money will go to children in the city who were exposed to drinking water poisoned with lead, reports add. At least 12 people died after Flint switched its water supply to the Flint River in 2014 to save money. An outbreak of Legionnaires' disease followed, and nearly 100,000 residents were left without safe tap water. The settlement is expected to be formally announced later this week, the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal say, citing sources familiar with the case. There has been no official comment from the Michigan state government yet. Anyone who lived in Flint between 2014 and 2016 could be eligible for the settlement money, US media say. However, almost 80% of the funds will go to residents who were under 18 at the time. Experts say children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning, particularly babies and children under five who can experience brain damage before their brains are fully developed. Flint is a majority-African American city, where over 40% of the residents live in poverty. In 2014, Flint switched its water supply away from Detroit's system, which draws from Lake Huron, and instead used water from the Flint river. Flint was in a financial state of emergency and the switch was meant to save the city millions of dollars. But the water from the river was more corrosive than Lake Huron's water and was not treated properly, causing lead - a powerful neurotoxin - to leach from the pipes. Residents started noticing that tap water sometimes came out blue or yellow - and many began to lose their hair, or develop rashes on their arms and face. Despite this, local officials and leaders denied anything was wrong for over a year, even as residents complained that the water tasted and looked strange. (Webmaster's comment: As always it's money first, safety second.)
8-19-20 Trump attacks Goodyear for campaign clothes ban
US President Donald Trump has called for a boycott of American tyre company Goodyear, stoking a controversy over political expression in the workplace. The attack followed reports the firm had forbidden staff from wearing Trump campaign gear, while allowing "Black Lives Matter" and gay rights attire. Goodyear said its rules forbid activism that falls "outside the scope of racial justice and equity issues". The tyre-maker said its goal was an "inclusive, respectful workplace". The firm's shares slumped as much as 6% following the president's attack but later regained ground. Goodyear is the largest tyre company in North America. Its branded tyres were on 24% of new vehicles in the United States in 2018, according to Tyre Business, an industry publication. It drew the president's ire after a report from a Kansas news outlet, based on a slide from a presentation, which had been shared by an employee. The slide outlined what was "acceptable" and "unacceptable", with gear bearing the Trump campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" and "All Lives Matter" statements in the latter category. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump was concerned that the company allowed attire supporting the "Black Lives Matter" movement and other issues related to equality, but not the "Blue Lives Matter" group backing police officers, or Make America Great Again. "As far as I'm concerned, 'Blue Lives Matter' is an equity issue. There have been police officers across this country that have been targeted because they wear the badge," she told a briefing. "Goodyear needs to come out to clarify their policy." Goodyear defended its stance on Wednesday, but said the slide in question had not been prepared at headquarters. It also said it did not indicate an "anti-police" policy. "Goodyear has always wholeheartedly supported both equality and law enforcement and will continue to do so," it said. "These are not mutually exclusive." Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, who represents Ohio, the midwestern state where Goodyear is based, said the president's call for a boycott was "despicable".
8-19-20 Covid-19 news: UK to expand random testing to identify virus outbreaks
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. Random swab testing survey to be expanded in England and to other UK nations. Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison backtracked today after saying that coronavirus vaccination would be mandatory in Australia. Currently there isn’t a coronavirus vaccine available but there are 160 vaccine candidates being developed and 31 are in human trials. The Australian government recently secured access to the vaccine candidate being developed by the University of Oxford in partnership with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, and has now said that if the vaccine is approved it will offer it to Australian citizens for free. Clarifying his earlier comments about making the vaccine mandatory, Morrison said “we can’t hold someone down and make them take it”, adding that vaccination would be “encouraged.” Almost 1200 fewer people died this year in New Zealand up to 20 July compared to during the same period last year, a rare trend in light of the global pandemic. Some researchers speculate this may be due to a reduction in deaths from other respiratory illnesses, thanks to the introduction of measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus. In May, neighbouring Australia reported lower flu rates than usual, which was also attributed to coronavirus lockdown measures. New Zealand has recorded only 22 covid-19 related deaths. South Korea recorded its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases since March yesterday, with 297 cases of the virus confirmed. Officials in Seoul have begun introducing restrictions on gatherings in the city and its surrounding area, prohibiting indoor gatherings of more than 50 people and outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people.
8-19-20 US Postal Service: Democrats to press with bill despite U-turn on cutbacks
Democrats are to press on with a bill to fund the US Postal Service, despite the postmaster's decision to suspend a controversial plan to cut it back. Critics said the changes would have hampered postal voting, a key issue in November's presidential election. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a key ally of President Trump, who believes postal votes will harm his re-election, halted the cuts until after the poll. Leading Democrat Nancy Pelosi said the service was still at risk. A surge in postal ballots is expected in the election, amid the coronavirus outbreak. But President Trump strongly opposes them, saying they would lead to widespread voter fraud, although there is no evidence this would happen. The US Postal Service (USPS) has been under financial pressure, which will only increase with the postal-voting burden. Up to half of all votes could be postal ballots. Under Mr DeJoy it had begun what it said were cost-cutting measures. These included removing mail boxes, cancelling delivery runs, reducing overtime and closing down sorting centres. But opponents said this would slow down the handling of postal ballots. Referring to postal ballots, Mr Trump said on Tuesday the election may "never come out with an outcome" and "they'll have to do it again, and nobody wants that". He has not shown any desire to increase funding to the USPS. The row has sparked allegations that the USPS, the most popular government agency, is being politicised. Ms Pelosi, the Speaker of the Democrat-run House of Representatives, said it still planned to vote on a Postal Service bill that proposes a $25bn (£19bn) boost to funding and measures to halt organisational changes. She said Mr DeJoy's suspension "only halts a limited number of the postmaster's changes, does not reverse damage already done, and alone is not enough to ensure voters will not be disenfranchised by the president this fall.
8-19-20 Coronavirus: Lebanon to impose lockdown as cases spike after explosion
Lebanon will impose a two-week lockdown to contain a surge in coronavirus infections following the devastating explosion in Beirut two weeks ago. Markets, shopping centres, gyms and pools will have to close from Friday and there will be an overnight curfew. Officials reported a record 456 new cases of Covid-19 and two deaths on Monday, and 421 cases on Tuesday. Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan has warned that hospitals are rapidly running out of space for new patients. "The situation is unbearable," he told a local radio station on Monday. Six major hospitals and 20 clinics sustained partial or heavy structural damage as a result of the huge blast at Beirut's port, which killed at least 178 people. Those medical facilities still functioning and field hospitals are treating thousands of patients for trauma and burns, as well as those more seriously injured. An estimated 300,000 people were also left homeless by the blast. Many are now living in damaged buildings, temporary sites or shared shelters, with limited access to water and sanitation. The disaster added to an already critical situation faced by Lebanon due to a severe economic downturn that has been compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) said last week that Lebanon had done a "very impressive job" of tackling the coronavirus, which has killed at least 107 people in the country since February. However, before the blast there had been an upward trend in the daily numbers of new cases and the government had planned a partial lockdown to help manage hospitals' caseloads. Transmission rates have since increased and are expected to further increase in the coming weeks, as many people have been unable to follow precautionary measures, such as social distancing.
8-18-20 Coronavirus essential guide: Everything you need to know on covid-19
On 7 January, New Scientist first reported on a mysterious illness emerging in China. At least 59 people had become ill with the disease, and seven were in a critical condition. SARS, MERS and bird flu had all been ruled out as the culprit. “It seems that a new virus or bacteria might be the cause of the disease,” one scientist told our reporter at the time. “That is worrying.” Given what we know today, these words seem like something of a chilling understatement. Back then, authorities said there was no evidence the disease could spread between people. If only that had proved to be the case. Two days after running the original news story, we were able to report that the cause was a new coronavirus, closely related to MERS and SARS. By mid-February, it had acquired a name, SARS-CoV-2, as had the disease it causes: covid-19. Over the past six months, this terminology has become part of a new global language as we have had to adapt our lives in the face of this novel foe. What has not been lacking is science as researchers across the planet leapt onto the case. Very quickly, a picture of the virus began to crystallise. Thanks to fast and collaborative work by scientists, we learned about the biology of the virus, how it spreads, who is most at risk of disease and the symptoms people get. That knowledge helped to guide public policy and form a basis for action on a massive and global scale. The research continues apace, and even though the virus had infected more than 21 million people and claimed in excess of 775,000 lives worldwide as this special edition went to press, there are many things we still don’t know about this coronavirus and the disease it causes. Indeed, it can be hard to keep up with the latest developments, especially when there are many sources of misinformation – even some of the world’s most prominent leaders. This is why we have put together this special issue of our Essential Guides collection – a curated selection of our best and most relevant content on the coronavirus published over the past six months and brought bang up to date with the latest developments. Here, you will find a wealth of accurate, well-reported information that we hope will help you not only understand the coronavirus and this pandemic better, but also assist you in navigating the decisions we are all having to make, not just now but in the crucial months to come.
8-18-20 Covid-19 news: WHO calls for an end to 'vaccine nationalism'
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. “We need to prevent vaccine nationalism,” says WHO director-general. The World Health Organization (WHO) today called for an end to “vaccine nationalism”, the hoarding of vaccine doses by some nations. “The fastest way to end this pandemic and to reopen economies is to start by protecting the highest risk populations everywhere,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press briefing today. “We need to prevent vaccine nationalism,” he said. The priority should be protecting essential workers and other at-risk groups, Ghebreyesus said: “If we can work together, we can ensure that all essential workers are protected and proven treatments like dexamethasone are available to those who need them.” Although there currently isn’t a vaccine available for covid-19 there are more than 160 candidates in development, with 31 in human trials. Several countries have already secured deals for doses of some of these vaccine candidates. The UK has purchased at least 190 million doses, including 100 million of the vaccine candidate being developed by the University of Oxford and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Separately, Takeshi Kasai, WHO Western Pacific regional director, told the briefing that “the epidemic is changing.” He said that “people in their 20s, 30s and 40s are increasingly driving the spread. Many are unaware they are infected.” This increases the risk of the virus spreading to the more vulnerable,” he added. Voters from six US states filed a lawsuit against the country’s president Donald Trump and the postmaster general Louis DeJoy yesterday over cuts to the US postal service ahead of the upcoming general election. Many states are expecting a surge in postal ballots this year due to the pandemic.
8-18-20 Return of covid-19 to New Zealand shows that no one can relax
A fresh outbreak of covid-19 in New Zealand following its elimination there is a sobering reminder of how the virus can evade the toughest defences. The country has responded swiftly, but it remains to be seen if it can beat the virus again. New Zealand declared zero remaining covid-19 cases on 8 June after enacting one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. Restrictions were eased, but it has since sought to keep the virus out with tight border controls that include a ban on international visitors, quarantining its citizens who return from abroad and requiring protective equipment for all airport and seaport workers. These measures allowed New Zealand to go 102 days without recording any new locally acquired covid-19 cases. However, on 11 August, the country was rocked by news that four members of a family in Auckland had tested positive for the virus, without any identifiable source of infection. “It’s something we had been preparing for, but it’s still a shock when it happens, particularly after having a three-month dream run,” says Michael Baker at the University of Otago, who sits on the New Zealand government’s covid-19 advisory panel. In line with its “go hard, go early” strategy for the virus, the government put Auckland in lockdown the next day, banning residents from leaving home for non-essential reasons. Authorities in Auckland also began testing anyone with even remote connections to the new cases, as well as all port workers, staff at quarantine facilities and anyone with cold and flu symptoms, in an effort to find out where the virus had come from and how far it had spread. By 18 August, this testing blitz had identified another 65 cases connected to the original family cluster, as well as one in a man employed at a quarantine facility.
8-18-20 Democratic convention: Michelle Obama blasts Trump
Michelle Obama has launched a stinging attack on US President Donald Trump as Democrats prepared to crown Joe Biden as their White House challenger. "Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country," said the former US first lady in an emotional recorded message to the Democratic convention. Disaffected members of Mr Trump's Republican party also piled in on him at the Democratic party conference. The election takes place on Tuesday 3 November. Because of the coronavirus outbreak, Democrats scrapped plans for a crowded party extravaganza with balloon drops and all the other political razzmatazz in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But it is unclear whether the largely virtual schedule of pre-recorded speeches with no live audience can generate the same level of enthusiasm as pre-pandemic gatherings of the party faithful. Republicans will face the same challenge as they make their case for four more years in the White House at a drastically scaled-down convention next week. Mrs Obama, who recorded her keynote address before Mr Biden announced his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, six days ago, launched a blistering attack on Mr Trump. "You simply cannot fake your way through this job," she said in remarks that closed the first night of the convention on Monday. The headline speaker added: "Our economy is in shambles because of a virus that this president downplayed for too long." "Stating the simple fact that a black life matters is still met with derision from the nation's highest office," Mrs Obama continued. "Because whenever we look to this White House for some leadership, or consolation or any semblance of steadiness, what we get instead is chaos, division and a total and utter lack of empathy." She said the last four years had been difficult to explain to America's children. "They see our leaders labelling fellow citizens enemies of the state, while emboldening torch-bearing white supremacists.
8-18-20 Michelle Obama: Trump is 'wrong president' for US
Michelle Obama speaks at the 2020 Democratic National Convention.
8-18-20 US couple who pointed guns at BLM protesters 'to speak at Republican convention'
A husband and wife who pointed guns at racial justice protesters in the US will reportedly appear at the Republican Party convention this month. Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who are both lawyers, were filmed brandishing weapons as demonstrators marched along their private Missouri street in June. They gained national prominence after the clip was widely shared, and were later charged over the incident. The couple said they armed themselves because they felt threatened. On Monday, their lawyer told the New York Times that Mark McCloskey would "definitely be speaking" at the Republican National Convention (RNC). The scaled-down event is due to take place between 24 and 27 August in Charlotte, North Carolina. But Patricia McCloskey is not expected to speak. "She will be at her husband's side," the lawyer, Albert Watkins, said. The RNC will be attended by several hundred delegates who will cast proxy votes for thousands of others and formally re-nominate Donald Trump as the party's candidate for the presidential election in November. The McCloskeys will reportedly express their support for Mr Trump as part of a live video presentation at the event. Much of this year's RNC will be live-streamed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Organisers of the convention have not publicly confirmed US media reports of the appearance and the schedule has not yet been published. Video footage showed Mr McCloskey, 63, and his wife, 61, draw guns as Black Lives Matter demonstrators marched past their $1.15m (£873,000) mansion in St Louis on 28 June. The protesters were heading to the home of Mayor Lyda Krewson to call for her resignation, after she infuriated activists by reading out the names and addresses of people advocating defunding the police during a Facebook Live broadcast. (Webmaster's comment: Indoctinated with a desire to kill black people!)
8-18-20 Stars sign open letter supporting Polish LGBT rights
Writer Margaret Atwood and actor James Norton are among the prominent names who have signed an open letter in support of Poland's LGBT communities. Published on website Wyborcza.pl, the letter calls on the Polish government "to stop targeting sexual minorities". Addressed to the EU Commission's president, it demands "immediate steps" to defend LGBT rights in Poland. Polish President Andrzej Duda has said the LGBT movement is "more destructive" than communism. The Polish government has frequently used inflammatory language against the LGBT community. Poland does not currently recognise same-sex unions - whether those are marriages or civil unions. Same-sex couples are also legally banned from adopting children. The letter, signed by dozens of writers, filmmakers and actors including Ed Harris, Pedro Almodóvar, Deborah Levi, Isabelle Huppert, Anne Enright, Stellan Skarsgaard, Mike Leigh, refers to protests earlier this month. The letter reads: "On Friday, 7 August 2020, 48 persons were arrested in Warsaw - in some cases quite brutally - and detained on the grounds that they had participated in a violent illegal gathering. "In fact, they were engaged in a peaceful protest in solidarity with an LGBT+ activist named Margot, who had been arrested for damaging a homophobic campaigner's van. Her group had also placed rainbow flags over statues, including a statue of Christ." Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki denounced the activists at the time, saying the statues symbolise values that are important to millions of Poles. The letter adds: "Homophobic aggression in Poland is growing because it is condoned by the ruling party, which has chosen sexual minorities as a scapegoat with no regard for the safety and well-being of citizens." Last month, the EU said it would deny funding to six Polish towns that declared themselves "LGBT-free zones."
8-17-20 Covid-19 news: England scraps exam grading algorithm after protests
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. A-level and GCSE grades in England to be based on teachers’ predictions instead of controversial algorithm. Voters in the US are concerned about whether it is still safe to post their ballots, after the country’s president Donald Trump last week said he would block additional funding required for the postal service to handle the expected surge in postal ballots this year. Many US states have been trying to make postal voting easier so that people are able to vote safely during the pandemic. South Korea tightened social distancing rules on Sunday after 197 new coronavirus cases linked to a new outbreak were confirmed on Saturday. “We’re facing a crisis where if the current spread isn’t controlled, it would bring an exponential rise in cases, which could in turn lead to the collapse of our medical system and enormous economic damage,” director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Jeong Eun-kyeong said during a briefing. New Zealand’s general election will be postponed by a month due to an on-going coronavirus outbreak in Auckland, the country’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced today. Nine new cases in the new cluster were confirmed today, bringing the total to 58 cases so far. A new test for coronavirus-specific T-cells – immune cells that help the body fight infections – could help researchers developing vaccine candidates. The test is being developed by UK company Indoor Biotechnologies, which says early trials found that some people who had the coronavirus but tested negative for antibodies went on to test positive for T-cells. It still isn’t clear whether antibodies or T-cells provide long-lasting immunity against the virus and how long such immunity might last.
8-17-20 USPS: Pelosi to recall the House to 'save' the post office
Speaker Nancy Pelosi will call on the House of Representatives to return to session in the coming days to vote on a bill to protect the US Postal Service. In a letter released on Sunday, Ms Pelosi accused President Trump of a "campaign to sabotage the election". It comes after the USPS warned that millions of mail ballots may not arrive in time to be counted in the election. Critics blamed the new USPS head - a loyal supporter of the president - for a slowdown in deliveries. A record number of people are expected to vote by mail ahead of the 3 November presidential election due to the pandemic. The president has repeatedly said mail-in ballots will lead to voting fraud and give a boost to his rival, Democrat Joe Biden. However, experts say the mail-in voting system, which Mr Trump himself uses, is safe from tampering. In a letter released on Sunday, Ms Pelosi criticised plans by the new head of the USPS, Louis DeJoy, which she said would "degrade postal service, delay the mail, and - according to the Postal Service itself - threaten to deny the ability of eligible Americans to cast their votes through the mail in the upcoming elections in a timely fashion". "Lives, livelihoods and the life of our American Democracy are under threat from the president," she added. Ms Pelosi said she would call on House representatives to vote on a new bill to prohibit the USPS from introducing any changes to the service or operations it provided at the beginning of this year in the coming week. A date for the vote has not yet been announced. She also joined a number of Democrats in calling on Mr DeJoy and another senior USPS figure to testify at an "urgent" hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on 24 August. Democrats, including former President Barack Obama, have accused Mr Trump of attacking postal voting and the USPS in a bid to "undermine the election".
8-17-20 New Zealand: Jacinda Ardern delays election over coronavirus fears
The prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, has postponed the country's general election by a month amid a spike in coronavirus cases. The vote was due to take place on 19 September but will now be held on 17 October instead. Ms Ardern said on Monday that the new date would allow parties "to plan around the range of circumstances we will be campaigning under". Earlier this week, the country's largest city went back into lockdown. "This decision gives all parties time over the next nine weeks to campaign and the Electoral Commission enough time to ensure an election can go ahead," Ms Ardern said, adding that she had "absolutely no intention" of allowing any further delays to the vote. The opposition National Party has argued the election should be delayed as restrictions on campaigning mean Ms Ardern had an unfair advantage. Restrictions were imposed on Auckland on Wednesday after a number of new infections were identified in the city. Nine new coronavirus cases were confirmed on Monday, bringing the number of active cases linked to the Auckland cluster to 58. The outbreak was initially traced back to members of one family, although Ms Ardern later said that subsequent contact-tracing had found an earlier case involving a shop worker who became sick on 31 July. A health official who knew the family told the New Zealand Herald that the family were "shell-shocked" and "a little embarrassed that it had happened to them". The announcement that new cases had been discovered shocked the country, which had recorded no locally transmitted cases for more than three months. There are four "alert levels" in New Zealand, and Auckland has been on Level 3 since the new measures were announced. The rest of the country is on Level 2. Before the new cluster was identified, the government had lifted almost all of its lockdown restrictions, which were first imposed in March.
8-17-20 Parents must be allowed to pick their poison this school year
There are no good options this fall, particularly for disadvantaged kids, so at least let parents choose. The usual debates in education circles aren't helping right now. These conversations — about school choice and vouchers and equity, public vs. private vs. charter vs. home, standardized testing and screen time and district residency rules and teachers' unions — can't be suspended as COVID-19 spikes around the country ahead of the start of the fall semester. But in their status quo version, such debates are distorting the more pressing matter of getting through this hell year. It won't work to shoehorn discussion of this semester into our normal policy frameworks. Perhaps instead of sticking to those ordinary patterns, we could start with two presuppositions: Just about every option will be worse for disadvantaged students. And families should be given as many choices as possible to navigate this fall. Parents must be allowed to pick their poison. Consider how re-openings will affect disadvantaged students. If public schools open their doors, those with worse facilities will be primed for more HVAC-borne outbreaks; those that are overcrowded will battle to enforce distancing rules; and those that are understaffed will struggle to find subs when teachers need to get tested or treated. Parents who fight for their children to have in-class aides or special education and accommodations will have to fight even harder. Students for whom English is a second language will have more difficulty communicating with masks. Unpredictable cycles of opening and closing as positive COVID-19 tests trigger school shutdowns will be challenging for all parents, but especially for those who don't have generous family leave packages or white-collar jobs that let them work from home. Is it any wonder a majority of American oppose re-opening schools, and opposition is above average among minority and low-income families? Hybrid approaches and fully online education have obvious safety appeal, particularly for teachers. But only 80 percent of U.S. households have internet access, and being in that 80 percent is no guarantee of having a fast, reliable connection, or a functional computer, or a computer each student can use uninterrupted for hours every day, or the supervision most children will require to sit still and actually learn something. Families with parents who aren't fluent in English will struggle to help their children when they're confused or even get basic logistical updates from teachers and administrators. Distance learning doesn't work well for younger children — kids in an irreplaceable window of brain plasticity — and few families will be able to give their youngest members the attention they need to make online classes viable. Learning pods are an increasingly popular option among wealthier families, and understandably so. They combine in-person instruction tailored to the needs of a small group of children with minimal risk of coronavirus infection. They also guarantee kids can see and play with their friends in real life, which is deeply important for children's mental health. But without vouchers from their school districts to pay for their portion of a pod teacher's salary, poor, working class, and middle class families won't have this option, which runs around $12,000 a year per student depending on the program and pod size. Homeschooling co-ops, where parents take turns teaching a group of kids on different days or topics, are more accessible, but they still require parents to have the time and knowledge to teach.
8-15-20 US 2020: Postal service warns of delays in mail-in vote count
The US Postal Service (USPS) has warned that millions of mail-in votes may not arrive in time to be counted on the presidential election day, 3 November. In letters to states across the country last month, the agency said "certain deadlines... are incongruous with the Postal Service's delivery standards". Critics have blamed the new USPS head - a loyal supporter of President Donald Trump - for a slowdown in deliveries. A record number of people are expected to vote by mail due to the pandemic. But on Thursday, Mr Trump said he was blocking additional funding for the USPS to help with election issues, because he opposed mail-in voting. He has repeatedly said mail-in ballots will lead to voting fraud - and give a boost to his rival Democrat Joe Biden. Experts say the mail-in voting system - which is used by the American military and by Mr Trump himself - is safe from tampering. Former President Barack Obama strongly criticised what he described as Mr Trump's "attempts to undermine the election", writing on Twitter that the administration was "more concerned with suppressing the vote than suppressing a virus". Meanwhile, Congress's two top Democrats - Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer - called on the president to stop his "assault" on the postal service and "allow the 2020 election to proceed without his sabotage tactics". Their comments come as a poll by Axios/ Survey Monkey found that three quarters of Republican voters plan to vote in person, while more than half of Democratic voters plan to use a mail vote. Private delivery services Fedex and UPS have both rejected calls to help ease the pressure on the postal agency. Meanwhile, the USPS has reportedly begun removing mail sorting machines - many of which would normally be used to process ballots during the election - according to Vice.
8-15-20 Trump's Post Office meddling is plainly illegal
We have it straight from the horse's mouth. On Thursday, President Trump flatly admitted he opposes aid to the Post Office because he wants to prevent mail-in voting. "They want three and a half billion dollars for the mail-in votes. Universal mail-in ballots. They want $25 billion, billion, for the Post Office. Now they need that money in order to make the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots," he said on Fox News. "But if they don't get those two items that means you can't have universal mail-in voting because you they're not equipped to have it." There we have it, folks: Trump now openly admits he is sandbagging the Post Office to prevent Americans from voting by mail. Obstructing the ability to vote of the American people is a crime at the federal level and in every state. Not for the first time, the president has confessed to criminal acts on television. Now, Trump defenders will no doubt claim that the president is just trying to prevent voter fraud. This is a ridiculous argument for three reasons. First, the president does not get to prevent certain kinds of voting just because he alleges there is fraud happening. Election administration is largely governed at the state level, and several states — like Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Utah — have had universal mail-in voting as the foundation of their systems for years (where it has worked just fine). Trump's throwing a monkey wrench into the gears of the Post Office is a likely unconstitutional infringement of state authority to run their own elections, in addition to being directly criminal. Second, Trump is lying. We know he's lying because countless studies have found mail-in voter fraud to be virtually nonexistent compared to the number of ballots cast, because it doesn't even make sense as a way to commit election theft, and most of all because Trump himself has voted through the mail repeatedly — in 2017 and 2018 in New York, and just this week for the primary election in Florida. His argument is a scam and obviously so. Third, we can also see what the game is by how new postmaster general Louis DeJoy, who met with Trump last week and is undeniably a partisan lackey, is slashing the Post Office's baseline capacity. As David Dayen argues at The American Prospect, even 100 percent mail-in voting would barely burden the agency at all, given that it delivers 182 million pieces of mail every day (or used to, anyway), and most ballots have a very short transit route — from county election offices to homes and back again. That is why DeJoy is ending postal carrier overtime, destroying automated letter-sorting machines that cost millions of dollars, and pulling up hundreds of outdoor mailboxes. Voting by mail is so trivial for the USPS that it is necessary to seriously damage the agency to render it incapable of carrying it out. Sure enough, the agency has already warned that mail-in ballots could fail to be delivered in time in nearly every state.
8-14-20 US 2020: Biden campaign says Trump 'abhorrent' for fuelling Harris conspiracy
The campaign team for Democratic White House candidate Joe Biden has issued a scathing response after US President Donald Trump amplified a conspiracy theory about his running mate. Mr Trump said he had "heard" that Kamala Harris - a US-born citizen whose parents were immigrants - "doesn't qualify" to serve as US vice-president. The fringe theory has been dismissed by constitutional experts. The Biden campaign called the comments "abhorrent" and "pathetic". They noted that Mr Trump spent years promoting a false "birther" theory that ex-President Barack Obama was not born in the US. Ms Harris, a senator from California, on Tuesday became the first black woman and the first Asian-American to be named as a running mate on a main-party US presidential ticket. "Donald Trump was the national leader of the grotesque, racist birther movement with respect to President Obama and has sought to fuel racism and tear our nation apart on every single day of his presidency," a Biden campaign spokesman said in an email. "So it's unsurprising, but no less abhorrent, that as Trump makes a fool of himself straining to distract the American people from the horrific toll of his failed coronavirus response that his campaign and their allies would resort to wretched, demonstrably false lies in their pathetic desperation." Ms Harris was born to a Jamaican father and Indian mother in Oakland, California, on 20 October 1964. As such, she is eligible to serve as president or vice-president. Constitutional scholars have dismissed the fringe legal theory that Mr Trump was referring to. To be vice-president or president, Kamala Harris "has to be a natural-born citizen, at least 35 years old, and a resident in the United States for at least 14 years", Juliet Sorensen, a law professor at Northwestern University, told the Associated Press news agency. "She is. That's really the end of the inquiry." Anyone born in the US and subject to its jurisdiction is a natural born citizen, regardless of the citizenship of their parents, says the Cornell Legal Information Institute.
8-14-20 Dolly Parton: 'Of course black lives matter!'
US country music star Dolly Parton has come out in support of Black Lives Matter, in a rare comment on politics. She told Billboard Magazine: "Do we think our little white asses are the only ones that matter? No!". With a broad fan base that spans the right and the left, the singer generally eschews political subjects. Her comments come amid a nationwide reckoning on race that has impacted all of US society, including country music. Although Ms Parton has not attended Black Lives Matter marches, she said she supported anti-racism activists' right to protest. "I understand people having to make themselves known and felt and seen," she told the music magazine. The entertainment mogul - who owns Dollywood amusement park in her home state of Tennessee as well as other attractions - also spoke about her decision in 2018 to drop the "Dixie" from her Dixie Stampede attraction. A 2017 article in Slate critiqued Ms Parton's attraction, calling it a "lily-white kitsch extravaganza". "Dixie" was often used as a nickname for the southern states that made up the Confederate States of America during the US Civil War era. There's such a thing as innocent ignorance, and so many of us are guilty of that," she told Billboard. "When they said 'Dixie' was an offensive word, I thought, 'Well, I don't want to offend anybody. This is a business. We'll just call it The Stampede.' "As soon as you realise that [something] is a problem, you should fix it. Don't be a dumbass. That's where my heart is. I would never dream of hurting anybody on purpose." George Floyd's death, and the subsequent nationwide protests, has impacted industries from publishing to sport to country music, inspiring some artists to join marches while forcing others to reconsider their own racial blindspots. Two other country acts, the Dixie Chicks and Lady Antebellum, have dropped words linked to the Confederacy from their names, becoming The Chicks and Lady A, respectively. President Donald Trump has taken the opposite approach, describing protesters as "anarchists" and condemning those who kneel for the national anthem.
8-14-20 Covid-19 news: France could quarantine arrivals from the 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. UK visitors to France could face restrictions after UK imposed quarantine on arrivals. Restrictions affecting parts of northern England and Leicester will stay in place due to on-going local outbreaks, the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care announced today. People living in the affected areas in Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, East Lancashire and Leicester aren’t allowed to meet with people from other households indoors or in private gardens. Oldham in Greater Manchester has experienced the largest week-on-week rise in cases in England, recording a rate of 107.5 cases per 100,000 people between 2 and 8 August, up from 57.8 during the previous week. The government says the restrictions will be reviewed again next week. Elsewhere in England, easing of restrictions allowing small wedding receptions, live indoor performances and beauty treatments will go ahead from Saturday after being delayed from the original date of 1 August, UK prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed today. Bowling alleys, casinos and play centres will also be allowed to reopen. Despite some local outbreaks, coronavirus cases across England as a whole appear to be levelling off, according to the latest results from a random swab testing survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The ONS estimates that 28,300 people in England – one in 1900 people – had the virus in the week ending 9 August, the same as the previous week. New Zealand has extended a lockdown in Auckland by at least 12 days, the country’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced today. New Zealand had been free of locally transmitted coronavirus infections for 102 days until four people from the same household in Auckland tested positive for the virus earlier this week. The number of cases in the new outbreak there has since risen to 29. North Korea has lifted a three-week lockdown in the border city of Kaesong after a suspected coronavirus case there, state media reported today. The World Health Organization last week said that tests on the suspected case – a man who returned to North Korea after defecting – had been inconclusive. North Korea has not reported any other cases.
8-14-20 Trump stokes 'birther' conspiracy theory about Kamala Harris
President Donald Trump says he has "heard" Democratic candidate Kamala Harris "doesn't qualify" to serve as US vice-president, amplifying a fringe legal theory critics decry as racist. She was born in the US to a Jamaican father and Indian mother in Oakland, California, on 20 October 1964. As such, she is eligible to serve as president or vice-president. For years, Mr Trump promoted a false "birther" theory that ex-President Barack Obama was not born in the US. Ms Harris, a California senator, was named on Tuesday as the first woman of colour to serve as running mate on a main-party US presidential ticket. She is deputy to Democratic White House candidate Joe Biden, who will challenge Mr Trump, a Republican, in November's general election. "The VP has the same eligibility requirements as the president," Juliet Sorensen, a law professor at Northwestern University, told the Associated Press (AP) news agency. "Kamala Harris, she has to be a natural-born citizen, at least 35 years old, and a resident in the United States for at least 14 years. She is. That's really the end of the inquiry." Anyone born in the US and subject to its jurisdiction is a natural born citizen, regardless of the citizenship of their parents, says the Cornell Legal Information Institute. The Biden campaign sent a scathing statement in response to the president stoking the false conspiracy theory. "Donald Trump was the national leader of the grotesque, racist birther movement with respect to President Obama and has sought to fuel racism and tear our nation apart on every single day of his presidency," a Biden campaign spokesman said in an email. "So it's unsurprising, but no less abhorrent, that as Trump makes a fool of himself straining to distract the American people from the horrific toll of his failed coronavirus response that his campaign and their allies would resort to wretched, demonstrably false lies in their pathetic desperation."
8-14-20 Coronavirus: Florida sheriff bans deputies from wearing masks
A Florida sheriff has banned his officers from wearing face masks at work. Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods' order also includes visitors to the office. It is thought to be the first such mask ban for US law enforcement. He said it was vital officers' orders were clearly understood and that anyone coming to the station be identifiable. Florida is one of the states hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with over 550,000 cases and 8,700 deaths. "My order will stand as is when you are on-duty/working as my employee and representing my office - masks will not be worn," an email Sherriff Woods sent to his officers read, according to local paper the Ocala-Star Banner. Sheriff Woods, whose jurisdiction is about 80 miles (130km) north of Orlando, also said visitors must remove their masks before entering the lobby of the station, linking his decision to recent protests against police brutality and racism. "In light of the current events when it comes to the sentiment and/or hatred toward law enforcement in our country today, this is being done to ensure there is clear communication and for identification purposes of any individual walking into a lobby," he wrote in his email. His order, issued on Tuesday, has some exemptions, including for those officers working in jails where the infection risk is higher, or at the county courthouse, hospitals or schools. More than 200 inmates at the county's jail have tested positive, according to the Ocala-Star Banner, which first reported on the mask ban. At least 36 jail employees have also tested positive, and an infected nurse who worked there has died, the newspaper reported. In his email, Mr Woods says he has carefully studied the issue and has found the evidence for wearing a mask to be inconclusive. World Health Organization (WHO) advice says non-medical face coverings should be worn in public where social distancing is not possible. Coronavirus is spread when droplets are sprayed into the air when infected people talk, cough or sneeze. Those droplets can then fall on surfaces. The WHO says there is also emerging evidence of airborne transmission of the virus, with tiny particles hanging in aerosol form in the air.
8-14-20 Department of Justice says Yale discriminates against whites and Asians
The US government says Yale University is illegally discriminating against white and Asian-American applicants. The results of a two-year investigation by the Department of Justice found the Ivy League university had breached civil rights law in its undergraduate admissions process. The department threatened to file a lawsuit against the university if it failed to take "remedial" measures. A Yale spokeswoman said the university "categorically" denied the accusations. President Donald Trump's administration has been a strong opponent of so-called affirmative action. The programmes, which were supported by former President Barack Obama, seek to boost admissions of under-represented minorities, particularly Hispanics and African-Americans. The Department of Justice's report, published on Thursday, said that while the Supreme Court allows universities that receive taxpayer funding to use race as "one of a number of factors" during admissions, "Yale's use of race is anything but limited". "Yale uses race at multiple steps of its admissions process resulting in a multiplied effect of race on an applicant's likelihood of admission," it said. Yale strongly rejected the report's conclusions, which it said had been made before the university was able to provide all of the information requested by the Department of Justice. "Had the Department fully received and fairly weighed this information, it would have concluded that Yale's practices absolutely comply with decades of Supreme Court precedent," Yale said in a statement. The university said it considers a many factors during the admissions process and said it would not change its process "on the basis of such a meritless, hasty accusation." Last year, Harvard University was cleared of discrimination against Asian-American applicants by a federal judge following a lawsuit, although the ruling is now being appealed.
8-14-20 Interfaith soccer teams eased Muslim-Christian tensions — to a point
A study in Iraq shows the benefits and limitations of social cohesion interventions. Bringing rival groups together to reduce prejudices is not a new idea. But can positive contact help ethnic groups reconcile after extreme violence? A social scientist tested that idea in Iraq by putting Christians and Muslims on the same soccer teams. The resulting camaraderie among players did help bridge those communities — but only to a point. Relations between Muslims and Christians disintegrated in northern Iraq after the Islamic State took over Mosul and surrounding regions in 2014. Some 100,000 Christians from Mosul alone were among those who fled their homes, returning years later to live uneasily alongside Muslim residents who they saw as complicit in the attacks. Political scientist Salma Mousa of Stanford University, an avid soccer fan who grew up in the Middle East, wondered if the popular sport could bring those communities together. Players did make small behavioral changes on the field, but that didn’t translate to broader attitudinal shifts. For instance, at the end of the two-month league, roughly 61 percent of Christian players on mixed teams agreed to register for mixed teams the following season, compared with 47 percent of players on all-Christian teams, Mousa reports in the Aug. 14 Science. Almost 54 percent of Christian players on mixed teams voted for a Muslim newcomer to win a sportsmanship award, given to a person not on their own team, compared with about 31 percent of players on all-Christian teams. And when researchers contacted players six months later, about 61 percent of Christian players from mixed teams were training with Muslim players at least once a week compared with 17 percent of players from the all-Christian teams.
8-14-20 New Zealand extends Auckland lockdown for 12 days
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a 12-day extension of the country’s Covid-19 restrictions, after a cluster of cases grew to 29. There are four “alert levels” in New Zealand, and Auckland has been on Level 3 since Wednesday. The rest of the country is on Level 2, and Ms Ardern said both would be extended. New Zealand has had success containing coronavirus, and went 102 days without a community transmission. The origin of the cluster in Auckland - New Zealand's largest city with a population of 1.5 million - is still being investigated. The PM said the decision to extend the restrictions was “in keeping with our cautionary approach and New Zealand's philosophy of going hard and going early”. She said that, in 12 days’ time, she thought “the cluster will be identified, will be isolated, and we can move to Level 2 in Auckland with confidence”. All 29 cases “remain linked to one cluster centred in Auckland”, Ms Ardern said, adding that 38 people are in government quarantine. But she said that, although the first cases of the new outbreak were confirmed in Auckland on Tuesday, contact-tracing had uncovered an earlier case, involving a shop worker in the Mt Wellington district of Auckland who became sick on 31 July. “In terms of the ongoing investigation to identify where the virus originated from, there are still no clear connections at this point,” Ms Ardern said. But she said genomic testing and contact-tracing suggested the current outbreak was not linked to border entry points or New Zealand's previous outbreak in March. New Zealand could expect to see more cases from the cluster, she said, adding: "It will grow before it slows. "And it may continue to be linked to schools, churches and social gatherings, as it has done to date. We also know, based on overseas experience and our own, that it is possible to contain a cluster or outbreak without ever being able to identify its origin."
8-13-20 US jobless claims below 1m for first time since March
The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment has dipped below 1 million for the first time since March. About 963,000 people sought the benefits last week, down from nearly 1.2 million the week before, the Labor Department said. The figures have been subsiding since peaking at 6.9 million in late March. But they remain extremely high, driving debate in Washington over the need for further stimulus. More than 28 million people - nearly one in five American workers - were still collecting benefits in the week ended 25 July, the Labor Department said. Prior to the pandemic, the highest number of new jobless claims recorded in a week was 695,000, set in 1982. "Another larger-than-expected decline in jobless claims suggests that the jobs recovery is regaining some momentum but with a staggering 28 million workers still claiming some form of jobless benefits, much labour market progress remains to be done," said Lydia Boussour, senior US economist at Oxford Economics. Hiring in the US slowed last month as the country struggled to contain the coronavirus, with employers adding 1.8 million jobs, down from 4.8 million in June. The unemployment rate was 10.2%, down from April's 14.7% but still higher the 10% peak during the 2007-2009 financial crisis. Economists say the path of the economic recovery remains uncertain, and likely to worsen after an emergency $600 increase to unemployment benefits, intended to top off payments during the pandemic, expired last month. Talks in Washington about additional stimulus collapsed last week without a deal.
8-13-20 Americans, go home: Tension at Canada-US border
As the pandemic continues to sweep the US, Canadians are getting more and more concerned about what American visitors could be bringing with them over the border. Built directly on the border of Blaine, Washington and Surrey, British Columbia, the Peace Arch is a 67-foot high (20 metres) testament to the close ties between Canada and the US. Inscribed on one side are the words "May these gates never be closed", a reminder of the nearly 8,891 km (5,525 miles) of un-militarised border that separates the two nations. For almost 100 years, those words have been heeded - until the coronavirus pandemic effectively shut the border indefinitely. The closure came into effect on 21 March, and was agreed upon by both governments. After being extended several times over the summer, it remains in effect until 21 August - although most expect it to be extended again. "I never thought I'd be sitting here mid-August and that border is still closed," says Len Saunders, a dual citizen who lives in Blaine. "It just seems to be dragging on and on and on with no end in sight." While the border closure has had significant economic and personal repercussions for the millions of people that live along it or have loved ones on the other side, the vast majority of Canadians want it to stay shut. A July poll by Ipsos Reid found that eight in ten Canadians wanted the border to stay closed until at least the end of 2020. And as the pandemic has continued to spread across the US, so have tensions between American drivers and Canadian residents. While non-essential travel is forbidden, commercial drivers delivering goods and people who work across the border in essential services are permitted to cross.
8-13-20 Covid-19 news: England’s death toll revised down by more than 5000
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 government has changed the way deaths from covid-19 are recorded in England. England’s covid-19 death toll has been revised down by more than 5000, after the UK government announced a new UK-wide standard for recording deaths caused by the coronavirus. The changes mean the removal of 5377 deaths from Public Health England’s official record, decreasing the UK’s total numbers of deaths from the virus from 46,706 to 41,329 as of 12 August. The coronavirus may have been circulating in New Zealand for weeks prior to the country’s new outbreak, according to New Zealand’s director-general of health, Ashley Bloomfield. The first person in the new cluster of cases started showing symptoms as early as 31 July, Bloomfield said during a media briefing in Wellington, adding that genome sequencing was underway on the original four cases to try and trace the train of transmission. Officials are also investigating the theory that the cases were imported via refrigerated freight. New Zealand had been free of locally transmitted coronavirus infections for 102 days before four people from the same household tested positive earlier this week. Authorities in two cities in China said they found traces of the coronavirus on imported frozen food and on food packaging. Samples of chicken wings imported to the city of Shenzhen from Brazil and packaging of frozen shrimp imported from Ecuador to a city in China’s Anhui province tested positive for the virus. It isn’t yet clear when the products became contaminated but China is increasing screening at its ports. The coronavirus can survive for up to two years frozen at -20°C but is destroyed by heating to 70°C. The World Health Organization says that there isn’t currently any evidence that people can catch the virus from food or food packaging.
8-13-20 Trilobites living 429 million years ago had eyes like modern insects
An animal that lived 429 million years ago had compound eyes almost identical to those of modern insects like bees and dragonflies. The finding implies that the compound eye evolved very early in the history of animals. “I am quite sure that its roots lie far back in the Precambrian somewhere,” says Brigitte Schoenemann at the University of Cologne in Germany. The Cambrian period, when many of the major animal groups appeared, began about 540 million years ago. With Euan Clarkson at the University of Edinburgh in the UK, Schoenemann re-examined a fossil of a 1.2-centimetre-long animal called Aulacopleura koninckii. It was a trilobite: a marine animal a bit like a woodlouse, related to insects and shrimp. Trilobites dominated the oceans for 300 million years, beginning about 520 million years ago. The last ones died out 252 million years ago. Studying trilobites offers clues to the origins of related groups like insects and crustaceans. Schoenemann and Clarkson found that one A. koninckii specimen still had its left eye. It was a compound eye like those of modern insects, which contains many tiny receptors called ommatidia, each with light-sensitive cells and a lens to focus light. Each ommatidium contributes a single “pixel” to create a mosaic-like image. The internal structures of its ommatidia were almost identical to those of modern insects. The only difference was that they weren’t quite as densely packed into the eye, probably reducing the amount of detail the animal could see. But to all intents and purposes, it was a modern compound eye, says Schoenemann. The oldest known compound eye with preserved internal structures belonged to another trilobite, which lived in the early Cambrian over 500 million years ago. Schoenemann’s team described it in 2017. That eye was more primitive though. “There were no distinct lenses,” says Schoenemann. The ommatidia were topped with “a kind of translucent window, without any capacity of focusing”. Also, the eye only had about 100 ommatidia. It isn’t clear how long compound eyes existed before the Cambrian trilobite, says Schoenemann. Such eyes may have appeared only once, in the earliest ancestors of insects and trilobites. (Webmaster's comment: So much for the religious nonsense that human eyes are too complex to evolve. Complex eyes evolved over 500 million years ago.)
8-13-20 Joe Biden and Kamala Harris say Trump has left US 'in tatters'
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and running mate Kamala Harris have attacked "whining" President Donald Trump as an incompetent leader who has left the US "in tatters". The pair held their first campaign event together, a day after Mr Biden unveiled Ms Harris as his number two. President Trump hit back, saying Ms Harris had "dropped like a rock" in her own presidential bid. Mr Biden will face Mr Trump, a Republican, in November's election. Wednesday's event at a school in Wilmington, Delaware, was not open to the public, with Mr Biden, 77, citing coronavirus prevention needs. Both candidates walked on stage wearing masks to address a group of masked journalists. Mr Biden noted that Ms Harris, a US senator from California, was the first woman of colour to serve as a presidential running mate for a major US party. Mr Biden said: "The choice we make this November is going to decide the future of America for a very, very long time." He continued: "Donald Trump has already started his attacks, calling Kamala, quote, nasty, whining about how she is, quote, mean to his appointees. "It's not a surprise because whining is what Donald Trump does best, better than any president in American history. "Is anybody surprised that Donald Trump has a problem with a strong woman, or strong women across the board?" He also attacked Mr Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, the unemployment rate and "his politics of racist rhetoric that appeals to division". Coming to the podium next, Ms Harris said: "I am ready to get to work." The 55-year-old former prosecutor told reporters: "Everything we care about, our economy, our health, our children, the kind of country we live in, it's all on the line." Ms Harris - the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica - continued: "America is crying out for leadership, yet we have a president who cares more about himself than the people who elected him. "He inherited the longest economic expansion in history from Barack Obama and Joe Biden. And then, like everything else he inherited, he ran it straight into the ground."
8-13-20 QAnon is suddenly everywhere — whether people realize it or not
How the fringe movement tricks normal people into amplifying incoherent conspiracy theories. apping through Instagram stories recently, I was surprised to find my entirely normal friend sharing QAnon content. She was surprised, too, because she'd never heard the word "QAnon" in her life. Three in four Americans could say the same, as of March, and only 3 percent then said they knew "a lot" about QAnon, which refers to both a conspiracy theory and the movement that has grown up around it. As I wrote while exploring QAnon's religious aspects earlier this year, the gospel of Q goes like this: There's a cabal of powerful figures in government (the "deep state"), business, academia, and media who make time for child sex trafficking, cannibalism, and satanic sacrifice in their busy schedule of world domination. Q is the movement's anonymous digital prophet whose forum posts ("Q drops") reveal both the nature of the cabal and how the movement's messianic figure, President Trump, plans to defeat it. Q drops are unfalsifiable to QAnon's true believers. Prophecies believed to have come true are taken as proof of the whole theory's veracity. Anything that doesn't pan out is evidence of the cabal's struggle to retain power. Whatever happens, Q is right. The inaugural Q drop, for example, promised Hillary Clinton would be arrested in late October of 2017. She'd be stopped from fleeing the country by the Marine Corps, Q said, and extradited if she made it across the border. The National Guard would be deployed to quell "massive riots" in response to Clinton's downfall. None of this happened, of course — yet somehow the incoherent ramblings which forecast it sparked a movement anyway. Q's influence is already significant in politics proper. A Q follower named Marjorie Taylor Greene won a Republican congressional primary in Georgia on Tuesday. As her district is solidly red, there's a strong chance we'll have QAnon in Congress come January. Greene may not be the only one, either: Axios counted 10 other GOP nominees with ties to Q. Forbes found several more. The Washington Post in July estimated almost 600,000 Americans have already voted for an openly pro-Q politician. Trump hasn't explicitly affirmed the theory, but he praised Greene effusively and has repeatedly retweeted QAnon posts. His press secretary once promised a Q supporter to ask Trump about Q's identity. His second son promoted a campaign rally with a Q graphic and hashtag. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided fertile ground for QAnon's growth, too. Various Q narratives have described the illness as a hoax to expand cabal power, hawked supplements as coronavirus cures, or spread myths, like the claim that having children wear masks puts them at greater risk of being trafficked. QAnon undoubtedly contributed to one in four Americans' belief that the pandemic was possibly or definitely "planned by powerful people." It's difficult to estimate how many are knowingly involved in QAnon, but a guess in the low millions is reasonable. An internal Facebook investigation reported Monday found more than 3 million users have joined major QAnon groups or followed prominent QAnon pages. There's probably a lot of overlap within that total — a single user might be a member of multiple groups — but there are also no doubt plenty of QAnon users who haven't formally linked themselves to these bigger hubs of Q support. If Q's following is north of 3 million, that means roughly one in every 100 Americans gives Q some degree of credence.
8-13-20 US calls for shower rules to be eased after Trump hair complaints
The US government has proposed changing the definition of a showerhead to allow increased water flow, following complaints from President Donald Trump about his hair routine. Under a 1992 law, showerheads in the US are not allowed to produce more than 2.5 gallons (9.5l) of water per minute. The Trump administration wants this limit to apply to each nozzle, rather than the overall fixture. Consumer and conservation groups argue that it is wasteful and unnecessary. The changes were proposed by the Department of Energy on Wednesday following complaints by Mr Trump at the White House last month. "So showerheads - you take a shower, the water doesn't come out. You want to wash your hands, the water doesn't come out. So what do you do? You just stand there longer or you take a shower longer? Because my hair - I don't know about you, but it has to be perfect. Perfect," he said. Andrew deLaski, executive director of the energy conservation group Appliance Standards Awareness Project, said the proposal was "silly". With four or five or more nozzles, "you could have 10, 15 gallons per minute powering out of the showerhead, literally probably washing you out of the bathroom," he told the Associated Press news agency. "If the president needs help finding a good shower, we can point him to some great consumer websites that help you identify a good showerhead that provides a dense soak and a good shower," he added. David Friedman, vice president of advocacy at the organisation Consumer Reports, said showerheads in the US already "achieve high levels of customer satisfaction", while saving people money. The proposal could face court battles if it advances, Reuters news agency reports.
8-13-20 Is Sweden's coronavirus strategy a cautionary tale or a success story?
Sweden was one of the few European countries not to impose a compulsory lockdown. Its unusual strategy for tackling the coronavirus outbreak has been both hailed as a success and condemned as a failure. So which is it? Those who regard the strategy as a success claim it reduced the economic impact, but it isn’t clear that it did. What is clear is that so far Sweden has had a more protracted outbreak with far more deaths per capita than its neighbours. While it is sometimes implied that Sweden didn’t have a lockdown, it did. It was just largely voluntary, with only a few legal measures such as a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people. “Voluntary restrictions work as well as legal ones,” says the architect of Sweden’s strategy, chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell. This appears to be true, in Sweden at least. The measures did work nearly as well in getting people to change their behaviour. Adam Sheridan at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, for instance, has used data from a bank to compare spending patterns up to April in Sweden and Denmark. Denmark introduced a compulsory lockdown on 11 March, one of the first in Europe. Sheridan found that spending – an indicator of behaviour as well as economic activity – fell by nearly as much in Sweden as in Denmark: 25 compared with 29 per cent. Similarly, data from the Citymapper phone app, which helps people plan their travel routes, suggests that travel in Stockholm fell to 40 per cent of the normal level. “That’s a substantial reduction,” says Martin McKee at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, whose team did the analysis. However, there were even bigger falls in other major European cities during compulsory lockdowns, to 20 per cent on average. So there was a substantial voluntary lockdown in Sweden – yet it wasn’t nearly as effective in reducing the spread of the coronavirus as the compulsory lockdowns in neighbouring Denmark and Norway. Cases and deaths rose faster in Sweden and have been slower to decline.
8-13-20 Coronavirus: Spain's Galicia region bans smoking over Covid-19 risk
The Spanish region of Galicia has effectively banned smoking in public places over concerns it increases the risk of Covid-19 transmission. It has issued a blanket ban on smoking in the street and in public places, such as restaurants and bars, if social distancing is not possible. The north-western region is the first to introduce such a measure, although others are considering following suit. It comes as Spain faces the worst infection rate in western Europe. Daily cases have risen from fewer than 150 in June to more than 1,500 throughout August. It recorded 1,690 new cases in the latest daily count on Wednesday, bringing the country's total to almost 330,000. Galicia's smoking ban was announced in a press conference on Wednesday after experts recommended the measure to the regional government. The move is supported by health ministry research, published last month, that outlined the link between smoking and the increased spread of coronavirus. It said the risk was heightened because people project droplets - and potentially Covid-19 - when they exhale smoke. It also said smokers risked infection in other ways, such as by touching their cigarette before bringing it to their mouth and by handling face masks when taking them on and off. The research also pointed to the wider negative health effects of smoking. "It has been proven that tobacco use, in any of its forms, worsens the course of respiratory diseases," it said. "Current evidence indicates that smoking is associated with... a higher risk of developing a severe form of symptoms," it added.
8-12-20 Covid-19 news: Germany joins Spain in worrying surge of infections
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. Germany and Spain among a growing list of western European countries where coronavirus cases are surging. Coronavirus cases are rising in Germany, Spain and other countries in western Europe, with Spain recording 1418 new infections on Tuesday, and Germany detecting 1200 cases in the last 24 hours, the country’s biggest daily increase for three months. In the Netherlands, daily new infections are back to about half the level they were at during the initial peak. Spain now has the highest rate of coronavirus infections in the region, with 94 cases per 100,000 people, compared to 38 in the Netherlands, 30 in France, 18 in the UK and 14 in Germany, according to cumulative figures for the last 14 days from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn, says people returning from holiday may be the reason for the increasing number of cases in Germany, as the UK and Germany continue to warn people against non-essential travel to parts of Spain. Any holidaymakers returning to the UK from Spain are required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. The list of countries from which all arrivals to the UK must quarantine may be updated this week to include 14 more countries, including France. The World Health Organization (WHO) is in talks with Russian authorities about reviewing the coronavirus vaccine candidate whose approval for use in Russia yesterday sparked criticism from researchers. Russia’s vaccine, Sputnik-V, is not on the WHO’s list of six vaccines that have reached phase III trials involving clinical testing on large groups of people. Russia’s health minister Mikhail Murashko today dismissed safety concerns expressed by foreign researchers about the rapid approval of the vaccine as “groundless.” Lebanon announced its highest number of daily new coronavirus cases yesterday since the start of the pandemic, with more than 300 new cases and seven deaths from covid-19. Hospitals in the country are overwhelmed following the aftermath of the explosion in Beirut last week. WHO spokesperson Tarik Jarasevic told a UN briefing yesterday that the displacement of people due to the explosion risks accelerating the spread of the coronavirus there. At least 800 people are estimated to have died around the world as a result of misinformation about the coronavirus during the first three months of this year, a study has found. A further 5800 people are estimated to have been admitted to hospital for the same reason during this period. The majority of the deaths and hospitalisations were due to people consuming methanol and alcohol-based cleaning products, incorrectly believing that they were cures for covid-19, according to the study, which was published in The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. The worldwide death toll has passed 744,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 20.4 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.
8-12-20 Everything you need to know about Russia's coronavirus vaccine claims
Russian president Vladimir Putin announced yesterday that the country has approved a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes covid-19. Putin said that the vaccine is safe and effective. Russia apparently plans to start mass vaccinations in October. However, the announcement has caused global concern. Immunologists say there is no way to be sure that the vaccine is safe, let alone effective, and that Russia seems to be cutting corners. The vaccine has been dubbed “Sputnik V”, in reference to the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, which was launched by the USSR in 1957 – a sign that the Russian government plans to trumpet it as a matter of national pride. It has been developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, part of Russia’s Ministry of Health. The vaccine would be administered in two shots, 21 days apart. Both shots contain modified adenoviruses, which would ordinarily cause a common cold. Both have been given the gene for the spike protein from the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. This protein allows the virus to enter human cells. In theory, this should prime the immune system for an encounter with the actual coronavirus. Known as a viral vector, this is a fairly standard approach to a vaccine, and other groups are pursuing similar methods. New vaccines must normally pass three tests before they can be used widely. A phase I trial involves a small number of volunteers, and is intended to determine a safe dose. Phase II requires more people, because it tests whether the vaccine triggers an immune response, and also looks more carefully for side effects. Then a large phase III trial is used to find out whether the vaccine actually protects against infection. This isn’t just a formality: a vaccine might trigger an immune response in phase II, but this may not be enough to confer real immunity in phase III. The Russian researchers have preregistered phase I and phase II trials, and according to one website for the vaccine, these trials were completed in early August. It claims that there were no adverse effects, and that the vaccine triggered the desired immune response. But no detailed results have been released. It also claims that a phase III trial will commence today in a number of countries including Brazil, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In other words, the vaccine hasn’t been through the full gamut of tests. Without the data from phase I and II, we don’t know how safe it is. And without phase III, we don’t know if it works. “We actually have no idea if it is safe and effective at all,” writes epidemiologist Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz in The Guardian.
8-12-20 We must think globally not nationalistically to beat the coronavirus
THE covid-19 pandemic has exposed some major fault lines in public trust of science and medicine. From conspiracy theories about 5G phone masts, Chinese bioweapons and Bill Gates to some people’s refusal to wear masks even when required to do so, it is clear that a significant minority of people are worryingly resistant to the facts. These conspiracy theories and their fallout are going to look like very minor skirmishes if and when a covid-19 vaccine becomes available. Already there are worrying signs that many people will refuse to get vaccinated. A survey released last week found that around half of the UK may decide to decline. International polls have found similar levels of anti-vaccine sentiment. You might be tempted to condemn refuseniks to their fate. But of course, their actions will have consequences for others, too. Vaccines are principally aimed at protecting individuals, but they can also create a social good through herd immunity. That is a lifesaver for people who, for various reasons, cannot be vaccinated. This is just one reason why clinical trials mustn’t be rushed. An unsafe or mediocre vaccine could be worse than none at all. Scientists also have a duty to build trust in vaccination, and thankfully they already are. A project called CONVINCE has started the hard and thankless task of persuading those worried about vaccines to change their minds. A vaccine will also widen another fault line that is already running through the body politic: nationalism versus globalism. Last week, the World Health Organization warned about the dangers of rich countries hogging scarce supplies. This “vaccine nationalism” blighted the global response to the 2009 flu pandemic and it looks as if it is rearing its ugly head again. Once more, the answer must lie in using facts to change minds. We need to convince governments that nationalist responses are bound to fail when it comes to this new coronavirus. The pandemic is, by definition, a global problem – and it needs a global solution.
8-12-20 Here’s what we know about Russia’s unverified coronavirus vaccine
Despite incomplete testing, Sputnik-V may be the first COVID-19 vaccine for the general public. Russia has launched a new Sputnik — this time, a vaccine to combat the coronavirus. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in a televised cabinet meeting August 11 that the country is ready to roll out the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine to the general public. Teachers and doctors may be among the first inoculated. Dubbed Sputnik-V, after the first artificial satellite, the vaccine has been tested in only a small number of people. The announcement came even though no published information is available about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, and scientists have yet to complete the final phase of clinical testing to determine whether it works. Nonetheless the vaccine has been submitted to the health ministry for registration, comparable to applying for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It “works quite effectively. It forms a stable immunity,” Putin declared. Researchers around the world have been racing to create a vaccine (SN: 7/10/20), but none have been thoroughly vetted yet. Russia has tried various tactics to get in front of the competition, with hackers in the country reportedly trying to steal vaccine data from the United States, Great Britain and Canada. Being the first to approve a vaccine may be a matter of national pride, but the declaration of victory may be premature, some vaccine researchers say. Usually, vaccines go through three phases of clinical tests. The first two phases test the vaccine in small numbers of people for safety and may collect data on whether people make antibodies or have other responses to the vaccine. The third phase tests the vaccine in thousands of people to determine whether it lowers the infection rate. That third phase of testing has not even started for the Russian vaccine.
8-12-20 Coronavirus: Russia calls international concern over vaccine 'groundless'
Russia has dismissed mounting international concern over the safety of its locally developed Covid-19 vaccine as "absolutely groundless". On Tuesday, it said a vaccine had been given regulatory approval after less than two months of testing on humans. But experts were quick to raise concerns about the speed of Russia's work, and a growing list of countries have expressed scepticism. Scientists in Germany, France, Spain and the US have all urged caution. "It seems our foreign colleagues are sensing the specific competitive advantages of the Russian drug and are trying to express opinions that... are absolutely groundless," Russia's Health Minister Mikhail Murashko told the Interfax news agency on Wednesday. He added that the vaccine would be available soon. "The first packages of the medical vaccine... will be received within the next two weeks, primarily for doctors," Mr Murashko said. Russian officials have said they plan to start mass vaccination in October. The announcement on Tuesday was made by President Vladimir Putin, who said the vaccine had passed all the required checks and his daughter had already been given it. But the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was in talks with Russian authorities about undertaking a review of the vaccine, which has been named Sputnik-V. It is not among the organisation's list of six vaccines that have reached phase three clinical trials, which involve more widespread testing in humans. The progress Russia says it has made on a coronavirus vaccine has been met with scepticism by health officials and media outlets in the US and Europe. On Wednesday, Germany's health minister expressed concern that it had not been properly tested. "It can be dangerous to start vaccinating millions... of people too early because it could pretty much kill the acceptance of vaccination if it goes wrong," Jens Spahn told local media. "Based on everything we know... this has not been sufficiently tested," he added. "It's not about being first somehow - it's about having a safe vaccine."
8-12-20 Coronavirus in Europe: Infections surge in Germany and Spain
Germany has recorded its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases in more than three months, as countries across the region struggle to contain a surge in infections. The latest official figures showed a rise of more than 1,200 cases in Germany in the past 24 hours. Health Minister Jens Spahn said the increase was due, in part, to people returning from holidays. It came as Germany warned against non-essential trips to parts of Spain. The foreign ministry said it had added a partial travel warning to the Spanish capital Madrid and the Basque region on Tuesday amid rising infections there. Warnings were already in place for the regions of Aragon, Catalonia and Navarra. Germany has recorded more than 9,000 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began. Spain is facing the worst coronavirus infection rate in Western Europe. It recorded 1,418 new infections in its latest daily count on Tuesday and said there were 675 "active outbreaks" in the country. Salvador Macip, an expert in health sciences at Catalonia's Open University, told AFP news agency the country was at a "critical moment". "We are right at a point where things can get better or worse. This means we have to pull out all the stops to curb outbreaks before they become more serious," he said. In total, Spain has recorded more than 326,000 cases - the highest number in Western Europe and the 11th highest in the world. Wearing a face mask became compulsory in all public areas in Brussels on Wednesday amid a rise in cases. The order applies to those aged 12 and above. People were previously only required to wear masks in crowded public spaces and enclosed areas of the Belgian capital, such as shopping centres. Authorities said the enhanced rules were introduced because of a rise in infections, with Brussels recording an average of 50 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants per day over the past week. Police checks are being ramped up to ensure that people follow the new rules. The mask-wearing regulation is one of the strictest currently in place in Europe. Belgium has recorded more than 75,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 9,800 deaths, according to data collated by Johns Hopkins University.
8-12-20 Covid-19 lockdown means 115 million Indian children risk malnutrition
A staggering 115 million children in India are at risk of malnutrition, as the world’s largest school lunch programme has been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. When India went under a strict lockdown on 24 March to reduce the spread of the virus, 12-year-old Kavi’s life changed. His mother, a roadside tailor, was no longer able to work and his father doesn’t have a job due to health problems. With schools closed, Kavi began selling fruit and vegetables from a sparsely stocked cart. The cart is now their primary source of income, but isn’t enough for a family of four. “Some days, we just eat rice or chapati with salt,” says Kavi. Before lockdown, Kavi was guaranteed a nutritious meal of rice, lentils and vegetables under India’s state-run school lunch programme. As many as 115 million children between the ages of 6 and 14 were dependent on these school lunches for their daily dietary requirements, which aimed to address India’s chronic malnutrition problem. Of the 1 million deaths of children under 5 in India in 2017, around 700,000 were attributed to malnutrition. In 2019, a report funded by UNICEF found that more than 80 per cent of adolescents in India suffered from hidden malnutrition – deficiency of one or more micronutrients such as iron, folate, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. But access to this vital scheme has been impaired by the pandemic. “States have been repeatedly urged to ensure children continued to receive their food entitlements to maintain their nutritional status,” says Ritu Aggarwal, a director of the lunch programme. In some states, teachers have been delivering uncooked rice, potatoes or lentils to children’s homes, while in others parents are given a cash equivalent.
8-12-20 Coronavirus: White House weighs plan to keep out US citizens and legal residents
The US is weighing new rules that would temporarily bar US citizens and legal residents from entering the US to control a surge in coronavirus cases. US media say the proposal would affect people suspected of having been exposed to or infected with the virus. President Donald Trump has often touted his travel bans on foreigners as key to curbing the spread of the virus. But US citizens and lawful residents have so far been exempt from travel restrictions regarding entering the US. It is unclear whether the proposed measures will move forward. The draft memo, first reported by the New York Times, would seek to use public health powers to expand the administration's legal authority. The proposed rule would affect all entry points, including airports and borders with Canada and Mexico, though it particularly references the virus outbreak in Mexico, according to the Times. It notes that any order applying to US citizens and permanent residents should protect individuals' constitutional rights and would only apply in "the rarest of circumstances". The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has the power to detain and examine individuals travelling in and around the US if they are suspected of carrying certain diseases, like tuberculosis or Sars. It is unclear whether this would legally allow the government to deny entry to citizens or residents, however, or how long they might be prohibited from returning. The CDC and US Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the BBC. American Civil Liberties Union Immigrant Rights Project director Omar Jadwat said preventing US citizens from their country would be unconstitutional. "The Trump administration has rolled out one border ban after another - most recently on children and asylum seekers - using Covid-19 as an excuse, while failing abysmally to get the virus under control in the United States. The rumoured order would be another grave error in a year that has already seen far too many."
8-12-20 QAnon supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene wins Georgia Republican primary
A US businesswoman who has expressed support for the QAnon conspiracy theory has won the Republican nomination for a seat in the House of Representatives. Marjorie Taylor Greene is now expected to be elected in November to represent Georgia's heavily conservative 14th congressional district, and become QAnon's first devotee in Congress. It comes amid a social media crackdown on the conspiracy theory. QAnon says "deep-state" traitors are plotting against Donald Trump. Ms Greene is part of a growing list of Republican candidates to express support for the conspiracy theory. In another major result on Tuesday, Ilhan Omar defeated a well-funded challenger to put her on track for re-election, along with other members of the "squad" of Democratic congresswomen. Ms Greene, a businesswoman who owns a construction company with her husband, beat neurosurgeon John Cowan for the Republican nomination on Tuesday. She will face Democrat Kevin Van Ausdal in November but is widely expected to win in the conservative district. The controversial candidate has previously expressed support for QAnon - a wide-ranging, unfounded conspiracy theory that says that Donald Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media. In a YouTube video, she praised "Q" - the pseudonymous figure who started the conspiracy theory - as a "patriot". In recent weeks, several social media sites have taken action against QAnon, with Twitter banning thousands of accounts linked to the conspiracy theory and TikTok blocking hashtags related to it from appearing in search results, among other measures. The FBI has designated QAnon a potential domestic extremist threat. While other candidates have also expressed support for QAnon, most stand little chance of being elected. Aside from QAnon, Ms Greene has positioned herself as a strong supporter of Mr Trump and is pro-gun, pro-border wall and anti-abortion. Several Republican officials spoke out against her campaign earlier this year when videos were unearthed showing her making offensive remarks about black people, Muslims and Jews.
8-12-20 Biden VP pick: Kamala Harris chosen as running mate
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has named Kamala Harris as his running mate - the first black woman and South Asian American in the role. Once a rival for the top job, the California senator of Indian-Jamaican heritage had long been considered the front-runner for the number two slot. The former California attorney general has been urging police reform amid nationwide anti-racism protests. Mr Biden will face President Donald Trump in the election on 3 November. After Tuesday's announcement, Ms Harris tweeted that Mr Biden "can unify the American people because he's spent his life fighting for us. And as president, he'll build an America that lives up to our ideals. "I'm honored to join him as our party's nominee for Vice President, and do what it takes to make him our Commander-in-Chief." Mr Biden and Ms Harris will deliver remarks in Wilmington, Delaware, on Wednesday afternoon on "working together to restore the soul of the nation and fight for working families to move the country forward", the Biden campaign said. At a White House news conference on Tuesday, Mr Trump, a Republican, said he was pleased with Mr Biden's choice, adding that Ms Harris did "very, very poorly" in her effort to become the Democratic nominee. Ms Harris will take part in a debate with Mr Trump's running mate, Vice-President Mike Pence, on 7 October in Salt Lake City, Utah. In last year's race to be the Democratic nominee, Kamala Harris showed herself to be a forceful speaker, launching blistering attacks on Donald Trump. The role of a vice-presidential running mate isn't always clearly defined. One of the traditional roles is to go on the offensive in exposing the opposition's weaknesses, while the presidential nominee focuses on communicating the party's message, says the BBC's North America reporter Anthony Zurcher. Constitutionally, the vice-president steps in to the top job should the president die or leave office during his or her term. Mr Biden will turn 78 in November, meaning should he be elected he will be the oldest US president in history (Ronald Reagan was 77 when he left office).
8-11-20 Covid-19 news: New Zealand reimposes Auckland lockdown after new cases
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. New Zealand reimposes Auckland lockdown after first locally transmitted cases for 102 days. New Zealand has reported its first new coronavirus cases thought to be acquired through local transmission, after going 102 days without a single reported case outside of managed isolation or quarantine. Four people within one family in south Auckland tested positive for the virus, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern said today at a press briefing. New Zealand has been widely praised for its aggressive response to the coronavirus, closing its borders to non-nationals and implementing one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, all at a time when the country had only 205 cases and no deaths from covid-19. Testing is now being ramped up in Auckland and lockdown restrictions will be reimposed there from tomorrow. Everyone except essential workers will be asked to work from home and schools will be closed for most children. Other public facilities, including bars and restaurants, will be required to close and gatherings will be limited to 10 people. Researchers have expressed concerns about the approval of a coronavirus vaccine candidate in Russia today. The virus has been approved for widespread use, despite only being tested in dozens of people. “There is no data on the Russian-led vaccine for the global health community to scrutinise,” said Michael Head, public health research fellow at the University of Southampton, UK. Russia’s president Vladimir Putin said one of his daughters has already been inoculated, and claimed it was safe. The number of contact tracers working for NHS Test and Trace will be reduced by 6000 in England by the end of this month, the UK government has announced. The remaining 12,000 contact tracers will work more closely with local public health authorities to help with contact tracing within communities. Between 16 and 22 July, NHS Test and Trace only managed to reach 75 per cent of the contacts of people who tested positive for the coronavirus in England. Dido Harding, head of NHS Test and Trace said that having a more localised approach will ensure more contacts of coronavirus cases within communities can be reached. Australia’s remote Northern Territory will keep its borders shut to coronavirus-affected states until at least 2022, according to local officials. People arriving from affected states will be required to quarantine at a hotel for 14 days at their own expense.
8-11-20 Coronavirus: Putin says vaccine has been approved for use
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said a locally developed vaccine for Covid-19 has been given regulatory approval after less than two months of testing on humans. Mr Putin said the vaccine had passed all the required checks, adding that his daughter had already been given it. Officials have said they plan to start mass vaccination in October. Experts have raised concerns about the speed of Russia's work, suggesting that researchers might be cutting corners. Amid fears that safety could have been compromised, the World Health Organization (WHO) urged Russia last week to follow international guidelines for producing a vaccine against Covid-19. On Tuesday, the WHO said it had been in talks with Russian authorities about undertaking a review of the vaccine, which has been named Sputnik-V. Currently, the Russian vaccine is not among the WHO's list of six vaccines that have reached phase three clinical trials, which involve more widespread testing in humans. More than 100 vaccines around the world are in early development, with some of those being tested on people in clinical trials. Despite rapid progress, most experts think any vaccine would not become widely available until mid-2021. Calling it a world first, President Putin said the vaccine, developed by Moscow's Gamaleya Institute, offered "sustainable immunity" against the coronavirus. He said he knew the vaccine was "quite effective", without giving further details, and stressed that it had passed "all needed checks". Mr Putin also said the vaccine had been given to one of his daughters, who was feeling fine despite a brief temperature increase. "I think in this sense she took part in the experiment," Mr Putin said. "After the first injection her temperature was 38 degrees, the next day 37.5, and that was it. After the second injection her temperature went up slightly, then back to normal." He did not specify which of his two daughters had received the vaccine.
8-11-20 Black-ish episode airs two years after being pulled for being 'anti-Trump'
An episode of hit US sitcom Black-ish, which was pulled by ABC over concerns that it was too anti-Trump, has become available to watch for the first time. The network dropped Please, Baby, Please in 2018 because it was worried about the script's "partisanship", creator Kenya Barris said at the time. Barris has now said he went back to ABC in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests to ask it to reconsider. "We hope it inspires some much-needed conversation," Barris said. "[Conversation] not only about what we were grappling with then or how it led to where we are now, but conversations about where we want our country to go moving forward and, most importantly, how we get there together." The Golden Globe-winning Black-ish follows the lives of an upper-middle-class African-American family led by Andre "Dre" Johnson, played by Anthony Anderson, and Rainbow Johnson, played by Tracee Ellis Ross. It's known for tackling social issues alongside personal ones. However, Please, Baby, Please supposedly contained more anti-Trump material than the show had tackled before, at a time when ABC was courting more conservative viewers. The episode sees Dre improvising a bedtime story to his young son, in which he expresses many of his concerns about the state of the US a year after Donald Trump - whom he calls "the Shady King" - was elected. Another scene finds Dre and his eldest son arguing over the rights of NFL players to take a knee during the national anthem. At the time, Barris and ABC said they had mutually agreed that the episode wasn't ready to be seen. "One of the things that has always made Black-ish so special is how it deftly examines delicate social issues in a way that simultaneously entertains and educates," ABC said in a statement at the time. (Webmaster's comment: This is illegal! It is an violation of free speech!)
8-10-20 Covid-19 news: Coronavirus not seasonal and will bounce back, says WHO
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. No indication there is seasonality with the coronavirus, says WHO. There is no indication that the coronavirus is seasonal and it could bounce back any time, World Health Organization (WHO) leaders said at a press briefing today. Evidence suggests the coronavirus is unlike flu, which tends to spike in autumn and winter. “If you take pressure off the virus, the virus will bounce back. That’s what we will say to countries in Europe – keep the pressure on,” said Mike Ryan, WHO executive director of the emergencies program. Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead of WHO’s covid-19 response, said that the majority of the world’s population remains susceptible to the virus, and WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus emphasised the importance of countries taking targeted action to tackle local outbreaks through methods like localised lockdowns employed in Leicester, UK. The WHO says it has only received a fraction of the funding it needs for an initiative aimed at developing and distributing drugs, vaccines and other tools to help tackle the pandemic. “While we’re grateful for those that have made contributions, we’re only 10 per cent of the way to funding the billions required to realise the promise of the ACT [Access to Covid-19 Tools] accelerator,” Tedros said during a press briefing today. “Greece has formally entered a second wave of the epidemic,” Gkikas Magiorkinis, an epidemiologist at Athens University and one of the scientists advising the Greek government, told journalists today. This comes after Greece recorded its highest number of daily new coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, with 203 confirmed on Sunday. In France, it is now compulsory to wear a face mask outdoors in certain crowded areas within Paris. Health officials said the rate of positive coronavirus tests was 2.4 per cent in the Paris area compared to the average of 1.6 per cent for people tested in the country as a whole. Other cities, including Nice and Lille, have also introduced new rules making face masks mandatory in specific outdoor areas. It has been more than 100 days since New Zealand last detected a locally acquired coronavirus case. As of today, the country has only 21 active infections, all of which are being managed in isolation facilities. Authorities are still testing thousands of people each day. “We need to be prepared to quickly stamp out any future cases,” said New Zealand’s director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield on Sunday.
8-10-20 Chicago protests: Restrictions imposed after chaotic night of unrest
Chicago police will limit access to the city centre after a night of violence and looting following reports of a police shooting. Police Superintendent David Brown said the area will be restricted from 20:00 to 06:00 and a "heavy police presence" will continue until further notice. He said the "shameful destruction" was "fuelled by misinformation" about a suspect shot by police on Sunday. Social media videos showed hundreds of people looting and confronting police. As of Monday, Chicago police have arrested over 100 individuals for looting, disorderly conduct and battery against police, among other charges. In addition to widespread damage, police reported an exchange of gunfire with suspects in the early hours of Monday. City officials had temporarily suspended transportation services to the downtown area and raised bridges. A number of videos posted on social media show vandalism and damage to shops - some of it miles from the downtown area. Some clips show individuals walking out of shops with items. In one video, a police officer is struck in the face with an object apparently flung by an individual in the street. Officials said 13 officers were injured throughout the night, including one who was struck by a bottle. A civilian and a security guard were also injured by gunfire. In one incident, police said they were arresting a suspect carrying a cash register when a vehicle passed by the officers and fired shots. According to the Associated Press news agency, looters left behind boxes of rocks they had brought to smash windows. "This was obviously very orchestrated," Roman Catholic priest and community activist Rev Michael Pfleger told television station WBBM-TV. Chicago is one of several US cities that has experienced a recent surge in shootings and homicides. The city reported its deadliest day in 30 years in June. The Trump administration has ordered federal agents to several cities, including Chicago, to help quell the crime wave. (Webmaster's comment: Violent protests are so STUPID! They just give excuse for more violence by police!)
8-10-20 Coronavirus: Is the world winning the pandemic fight?
It is little more than six months since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the arrival of a new virus a global emergency. On that day, at the end of January, there had been almost 10,000 reported cases of coronavirus and more than 200 people had died. None of those deaths were outside of China. Since then the world, and our lives, have changed profoundly. So how are we faring in this battle between the human race and the coronavirus? If we take the planet as a whole, the picture is looking rough. There have been more than 19 million confirmed cases and 700,000 deaths. At the start of the pandemic it was taking weeks to clock up each 100,000 infections, now those milestones are measured in hours. "We're still in the midst of an accelerating, intense and very serious pandemic," Dr Margaret Harris, from the WHO, told me. "It's there in every community in the world." While this is a single pandemic, it is not one single story. The impact of Covid-19 is different around the world and it is easy to blind yourself to the reality beyond your own country. But one fact unites everyone, whether they make their home in the Amazon rainforest, the skyscrapers of Singapore or the late-summer streets of the UK: this is a virus that thrives on close human contact. The more we come together, the easier it will spread. That is as true today as when the virus first emerged in China. This central tenet explains the situation wherever you are in the world and dictates what the future will look like. It is driving the high volume of cases in Latin America - the current epicentre of the pandemic - and the surge in India. It explains why Hong Kong is keeping people in quarantine facilities or the South Korean authorities are monitoring people's bank accounts and phones. It illustrates why Europe and Australia are struggling to balance lifting lockdowns and containing the disease. And why we are trying to find a "new normal" rather than the old one.
8-10-20 Coronavirus: Australia records deadliest day but fewer new infections
Australia has recorded its deadliest day of the coronavirus pandemic amid a second wave of infections in Melbourne. Victoria state - of which Melbourne is the capital - reported 19 deaths on Monday. Victoria has now seen about two-thirds of Australia's total 314 deaths and approximately 21,400 cases. But the number of daily infections - though still in the hundreds - has dropped in recent days, prompting hope that a strict lockdown is working. Melbourne's second lockdown began over a month ago, but residents have been subject to a night-time curfew and stricter requirements since 3 August. Workers must carry a permit to leave home, and all non-essential businesses have been shut. Mask-wearing in public is also compulsory. Victoria reported 322 new cases on Monday, down from a high of 725 recorded five days ago. Other states reported few or no cases. More than 100 deaths have been recorded in Victoria in just the past week as hospital admission rates also rise. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said it was too early to tell if the state was at a turning point, but "we're certainly seeing some greater stability" following the stricter measures. "It's always better to be lower than the previous day, but it is only one day's data," he said. Most deaths have been linked to outbreaks in nearly 100 aged care homes in the state. But a man in his 30s was among last week's victims - prompting authorities to urge young people to take greater care. In neighbouring New South Wales (NSW), which has seen small virus clusters in Sydney, the state government urged young people to restrict their social activities. Queensland, which has closed its border to NSW and Victoria, said on Monday it appeared to have avoided an outbreak, two weeks after travellers brought the virus back from Melbourne.
8-9-20 Coronavirus: Trump signs relief order after talks at Congress collapse
US President Donald Trump has taken executive action to provide economic aid to millions of Americans hit by the pandemic, saying he was forced to do so after talks at Congress broke down. The directives include measures to support the unemployed, suspend payroll tax and extend student loans. Some of them are likely to face legal challenges given that Congress controls federal spending, not the president. Democratic rival Joe Biden said they were "a series of half-baked measures". It is not known whether the move will mean the end of talks between senior government officials and top Democrats for a stimulus package. Negotiations broke down on Friday after two weeks. Mr Trump said the measures would provide up to $400 (£306) per week in supplemental unemployment benefits to tens of millions of jobless Americans. This is less than the $600 people had been receiving until 31 July, when the benefit expired. The president also said states would cover 25% of the new payments - the previous benefit was fully funded by the federal government. He is seeking to divert money from a previously approved disaster aid to states. Mr Trump said it would be up to the states, which already face huge budget shortfalls due to the pandemic, to determine how much to be used from that fund to pay for the benefit. This means that the extra payment may end up amounting only to $300 a week. "This is the money they need, this is the money they want, this gives them an incentive to go back to work," President Trump said of the lower payments during a news conference on Saturday from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. The measures also included a suspension of the collection of payroll taxes - which pay for Social Security and other federal programmes - through to the end of this year, a suspension of federal student loan payments, and efforts to minimise evictions but not a moratorium. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives had approved a $3.5 trillion package which was rejected by the Republican-held Senate.
8-9-20 Coronavirus: Brazil passes 100,000 deaths as outbreak shows no sign of easing
Brazil has recorded more 100,000 deaths linked to Covid-19, the world's second-highest figure, as the outbreak in the country shows no sign of easing. The virus killed 50,000 people in three months, but that number doubled in just 50 days. There have been more than three million confirmed cases so far. The pandemic is yet to peak but shops and restaurants have already reopened. President Jair Bolsonaro has downplayed the impact of the virus and opposed measures that could hit the economy. The far-right leader, who caught the disease himself and recovered, fought restrictions imposed by state governors to curb Covid-19, and has frequently joined crowds of supporters, at times without a face mask. Experts have complained of a lack of a co-ordinated plan by the Bolsonaro government as local authorities now focus on restarting the economy, which is likely to boost the spread of the virus. The federal government's response is being led by an army general who has no experience in public health. Two earlier health ministers, both physicians, left the job after disagreeing with the president over social distancing measures and the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment, though studies say it is ineffective and even dangerous. President Bolsonaro - who has called Covid-19 a "little flu" and has been criticised at home and abroad for his response to the outbreak - said he recovered from his own infection thanks to the anti-malarial drug. Brazil has had 100,477 virus-related deaths and 3,012,412 cases, according to the health ministry, though the numbers are believed to be much higher because of insufficient testing. Only the United States has higher figures. "We should be living in despair, because this is a tragedy like a world war. But Brazil is under collective anaesthesia," Dr José Davi Urbaez, a senior member of the Infectious Diseases Society, told Reuters news agency. "The government's message today is: 'Catch your coronavirus and if it's serious, there is intensive care.' That sums up our policy today."
8-8-20 Coronavirus: Last-ditch talks on new aid package for US economy fail
Last-ditch negotiations at the US Congress to forge another stimulus package for the coronavirus-ravaged economy have collapsed in stalemate. Democrats and Republicans remain at odds over everything from unemployment benefits to financial aid for schools to cash injections for states' coffers. The US unemployment rate stands at 10.2%, higher than any level during the 2008 financial crisis. Jobless benefits have expired, as has a federal moratorium on evictions. The failure to reach a deal will disappoint tens of millions of unemployed Americans who had been receiving an extra $600 (£450) a week on top of normal unemployment benefits during the pandemic. That payment expired last month and Republicans want to reduce it. On Friday, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the most powerful elected Democrat, held a meeting in her Capitol Hill office with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Mrs Pelosi said in a news conference that she was willing to offer a trillion-dollar compromise on a $3.5tn (£2.7tn) stimulus bill passed by her Democratic-controlled chamber but rejected by the Republican-held Senate. "We'll go down one trillion, you go up one trillion," she told reporters as she staked out her position, adding: "We have a moral responsibility to find common ground." As he entered Mrs Pelosi's office on Friday, Mr Mnuchin called her proposal "a non-starter". Republicans prefer a package closer to $1tn total and want any deal to include legal protections for employers against virus-related health claims from workers. They also want far less aid to local governments than Democrats are seeking. In a surprise news conference on Friday evening from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he is spending the weekend, President Trump blamed Democratic congressional leaders for the impasse.
8-8-20 Coronavirus: Why US is expecting an 'avalanche' of evictions
As hair salons, churches and restaurants reopened across the US, so did eviction courts. A federal moratorium on evictions has now expired and the politicians are not close to a deal on a new economic rescue package. Advocates and experts warn that an unprecedented crush of evictions is coming, threatening millions of Americans with homelessness as the pandemic continues to spread. Sitting in her car parked outside of the little white house in Kansas City, Missouri, where she'd lived for two years, Tamika Cole was overwhelmed. She'd worked a long shift as a machine operator the night before, at a factory where she makes detergent bottles for $18 an hour. It's good, stable work. Nevertheless, Cole was on the brink of losing her home. Her nerves were shot. "What am I supposed to do?" she said. "I'm tired of crying." Cole said that she came home in early May to find an eviction notice affixed to her door. She believed that it was because of a dispute she had with her upstairs neighbour, but that her landlord never spoke to her about it before filing the eviction against her. Due to the coronavirus, an eviction moratorium was in place in Kansas City, and Cole's landlord couldn't force her to move out right away. But she said that didn't stop him from trying to make her as uncomfortable as possible, entering her apartment without her knowledge, cutting off her electricity, and unscrewing and removing a barred security door on her unit. Now, due to the rapid reopening of Missouri and states like it all over the country, the moratorium was allowed to expire. The renter protections Cole had were gone and she was facing homelessness in the middle of the pandemic. "I've been up all night," she said. "I'm just trying to make it." In Kansas City, local courts declared a moratorium on evictions after a campaign by local tenants' rights activists. Similar campaigns have had success nationally, and as the pandemic went into full swing in the US in mid-to-late March, most places halted eviction proceedings in some form - either on the state or local level - as both a means of shoring up newly out-of-work renters and as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus.
8-8-20 US election 2020: Democrats call for inquiry into Postal Service changes
Congressional Democrats have called for an investigation into decisions made by the head of the US Postal Service (USPS), which they say have slowed deliveries ahead of the election. There is expected to be a huge rise in mail-in voting in November's presidential vote, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats have suggested cost-cutting at USPS could affect the vote count. But postal chief Louis DeJoy has insisted standards will be met. "Although there will likely be an unprecedented increase in election mail volume due to the pandemic, the Postal Service has ample capacity to deliver all election mail securely and on-time in accordance with our delivery standards, and we will do so," the Trump supporter told a board meeting on Friday. But he said election officials had to "take our normal processing and delivery standards into account". Top Democrats including Senator Elizabeth Warren on Friday called on the USPS inspector general to investigate operational changes made by Mr DeJoy, including preventing postal workers from working overtime to deliver mail. "Given the ongoing concerns about the adverse impacts of Trump Administration policies on the quality and efficiency of the Postal Service, we ask that you conduct an audit of all operational changes put in place by Mr DeJoy and other Trump Administration officials in 2020," they said. They asked for the inquiry to specifically focus on how this could affect election-related mail. President Donald Trump has suggested that increased postal voting in November could lead to fraud and inaccurate results, There is little evidence to support his claims. Mr DeJoy insisted on Friday that USPS was "not slowing down election mail or any other mail". While he had "good relationship" with Mr Trump, "the notion that I would ever make decisions concerning the Postal Service at the direction of the president, or anyone else in the administration, is wholly off-base", he said.
8-8-20 Coronavirus Vietnam: The mysterious resurgence of Covid-19
In mid-July, Vietnam still shone as a Covid-19 outlier. No reported deaths, and months without a locally transmitted case. Fans packed into football stadiums, schools had reopened, and customers returned to their favourite cafes. "We were already back to normal life," said Mai Xuan Tu, a 27-year-old from Da Nang in central Vietnam. Like many in the coastal city wildly popular with domestic visitors, she works in the tourism industry and was slowly resuming bookings for the tour company she founded. But by the end of July, Da Nang was the epicentre of a new coronavirus outbreak, the source of which has stumped scientists. Cases suddenly surged after 99 straight days with no local transmissions. Last week the city saw the country's first Covid-19 death, a toll that has since risen to 10. Just weeks earlier, Vietnam was praised globally as a rare pandemic success story. The communist country acted fast and decisively where other nations faltered, closing its borders to almost all travellers except returning citizens as early as March. It quarantined and tested anyone who entered the country in government facilities, and conducted widespread contact-tracing and testing nationwide. So what went wrong? "I'm not sure anything went wrong," says Prof Michael Toole, an epidemiologist and principal research fellow at the Burnet Institute in Melbourne. Most countries that thought they had the pandemic under control have seen resurgences, he says, pointing to a long list including Spain, Australia and Hong Kong. "Like in the first wave, Vietnam has responded quickly and forcefully." Around 80,000 visitors in Danang - many of whom had relaxed into thinking the disease was contained - were flown home promptly after the new cases emerged, as the historic port city sealed itself off from visitors and retreated into full lockdown. Vietnam's spike shows that "once there's a little crack and the virus gets in it can just spread so quickly," Prof Toole says.
8-8-20 Jerry Falwell Jr to take leave of absence after racy photo
The president of one of the world's largest evangelical Christian colleges has agreed to step aside after posting a photo of himself, trousers unzipped. Jerry Falwell, a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, said he would take an indefinite leave of absence from Liberty University in Virginia. The college board did not provide a reason for the move. Mr Falwell had conceded the Instagram photo was "weird", but defended it as "all in good fun". The university said in a statement on Friday: "The Executive Committee of Liberty University's Board of Trustees, acting on behalf of the full Board, met today and requested that Jerry Falwell, Jr take an indefinite leave of absence from his roles as President and Chancellor of Liberty University, to which he has agreed, effective immediately." The college has a strict code of conduct for how students must behave at the university, including barring premarital sex and the consumption of media either on or off campus "that is offensive to Liberty's standards and traditions", such as lewd lyrics, anti-Christian messages, sexual content and nudity. Hairstyles and fashions are to "avoid extremes" and students are to dress modestly at all times. The photo showed Mr Falwell with his arm around a woman who was not his wife. Her shorts also appeared to be unbuttoned. His other hand was holding a glass of dark-coloured liquid. "More vacation shots. Lots of good friends visited us on the yacht," the accompanying caption read. "I promise that's just black water in my glass." He later deleted the post. The image provoked outrage and charges of hypocrisy from the political right and left, with Republican lawmaker Mark Waller, chairman of the powerful House Republican Caucus, calling on Mr Falwell to step down. "Jerry Falwell Jr's ongoing behaviour is appalling," Mr Walker, an advisory board member at the university, wrote on Twitter. "I'm convinced Falwell should step down."
8-7-20 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally: South Dakota town ready to welcome 250,000 bikers
This is the 80th year of the South Dakota rally. It could be one of the largest public gatherings since the start of the pandemic. Some worry it could be a "super-spreader" event. (Webmaster's comment: It will be and many people wiil get sick and die because of this event!)
8-7-20 Covid-19 news: Coronavirus cases may be levelling off in England
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. The number of people estimated to have the virus in England may be levelling off. The number of people estimated to have covid-19 in England appears to be levelling off, after rising slightly in July, according to a random swab testing survey of almost 120,000 people by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The ONS estimates that 28,300 people outside of hospitals and care homes in England had the virus in the week ending 2 August – about one in every 1900 people. This is down slightly from the previous week’s estimate of 35,700. But it isn’t clear how infection rates may differ across different regions. In Wales, which was included in the survey for the first time, an estimated 1400 people had covid-19 in the week ending 2 August, equivalent to one in every 2200 people. Coronavirus vaccine trials could be undermined by the lack of diversity among participants, according to researchers. In the recent trial of a coronavirus vaccine candidate being developed by the University of Oxford in partnership with AstraZeneca, fewer than 1 per cent of the approximately 1000 participants were black and only about 5 per cent were Asian, compared to 91 per cent of participants who were white. In a smaller trial of a vaccine candidate being developed by US company Moderna, 40 out of 45 participants were white. “Diversity is important to ensure pockets of people don’t have adverse side-effects,” Oluwadamilola Fayanju, a surgeon and researcher at Duke University told the Guardian. More than one million people in countries across Africa have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, although health officials say this is certainly an underestimate. “We haven’t seen the peak in Africa yet,” Mary Stephen, technical officer at the World Health Organization’s regional office for Africa told Al Jazeera. Although the majority of cases confirmed so far are in South Africa, it is also performing significantly more tests than other African countries. India has recorded its highest number of daily new coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, with 62,538 cases confirmed on Friday. There have been more than 2 million cases recorded in the country since the pandemic began.
8-7-20 One in Three Americans Would Not Get COVID-19 Vaccine
But many Americans appear reluctant to be vaccinated, even if a vaccine were FDA-approved and available to them at no cost. Asked if they would get such a COVID-19 vaccine, 65% say they would, but 35% would not. (Webmaster's comment: Those that don't vaccinate will deserve what they get!) The coronavirus' toll on the lives of people around the world continues to grow, with over 18 million confirmed cases and more than 700,000 deaths, including upwards of 150,000 of those in the United States. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently testified before Congress that he continues to be confident that a coronavirus vaccine will be ready by early 2021. With more indications that a vaccine could be close, the next question for health professionals, policymakers and political leaders will be Americans' willingness to be vaccinated once a vaccine is ready.
- 35% of Americans would not get free, FDA-approved vaccine if ready today
- Republicans less inclined than Democrats to be vaccinated
- Four in 10 non-White Americans would not get vaccine
8-7-20 US jobs growth slows in July as pandemic takes toll
Hiring in the US slowed sharply in July as the country struggled to control the coronavirus pandemic. Employers added 1.8 million jobs last month, down from a record 4.8 million in June. The unemployment rate fell to 10.2%, continuing to improve from the high of 14.7% seen in April. The figures reignited calls for Washington to approve further economic stimulus, though the slowdown was not as bad as many economists had feared. The US Labor Department report, "confirms that the resurgence in new virus cases caused the economic recovery to slow, but also underlines that it has not yet gone into reverse," said Andrew Hunter, senior US economist at Capital Economics. The job gains in July came from many of the sectors hit hardest by shutdowns, including restaurants, bars and retail outlets. Economists have said this kind of hiring, happening as states around the country allow establishments to reopen, represents the "easy" part of a long recovery ahead. Since February, the US has lost more than 12 million jobs and seen unemployment spike from a roughly 50-year-low of 3.5%. In the three months to the end of June, the country's economy was hit by its sharpest quarterly contraction in more than 70 years of record-keeping, shrinking at an annual rate of 33% or nearly 10% year-on-year. The 10.2% unemployment rate the US Labor Department reported for July is higher than the worst of the 2007-2009 financial crisis, when the jobless rate peaked at 10%. This week, nearly 1.2 million people filed new claims for unemployment. More than 31 million people - roughly 1 in 5 American workers - continue to collect the benefits. Heidi Shierholz, economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, said: "We added 1.8 million jobs in July, but our jobs level remains in absolute crisis". Economists have said the loss of momentum last month is a sign of the peril facing the economy, as health concerns put a dampener on consumer spending and temporary measures passed in March, including bans on evictions and a $600 emergency boost to unemployment benefits, expire.
8-7-20 Coronavirus: Dr Fauci says daughters have been harassed
Top US virus expert Dr Anthony Fauci has spoken about how his daughters have been harassed due to his public statements about tackling the pandemic. Dr Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, also told CNN he had personally received death threats. As a result he said he had hired security to protect his family. The top doctor has been at odds with President Donald Trump at several points during the pandemic. "Getting death threats for me and my family and harassing my daughters to the point where I have to get security is just, I mean, it's amazing," Dr Fauci, who has become a household name in the US, said. "I wish that they did not have to go through that," he added. "I wouldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams that people who object to things that are pure public health principles are so set against it... that they actually threaten you." He and his wife, bioethicist Dr. Christine Grady, have three adult daughters. As head of immunology at the National Institutes of Health during the 1980s HIV/Aids epidemic, Dr Fauci, 79, has been in the line of fire before amid a public health crisis. Over Dr Fauci's five decades as a medical researcher, he has seen his effigy burnt, been called a "murderer" by protesters and had smoke bombs thrown outside his office window. He has been involved in a number of public disagreements with President Trump during the coronavirus crisis. Late last month, Dr Fauci called the president's sharing of a video which included claims masks are not needed to fight Covid-19, "not helpful".
8-7-20 US election 2020: Trump says opponent Biden will 'hurt God'
US President Donald Trump has said Joe Biden is "against God", ramping up attacks on his Democratic rival and foreshadowing an ugly election battle. The remarks, during a trip to Ohio, came as Mr Trump tries to make up ground in the crucial Midwestern states that were his path to victory in 2016. "He's against God. He's against guns," said the president, a Republican. Mr Biden, an avowed Catholic, will take on Mr Trump in November. Opinion polls suggest the Democrat currently leads. Mr Trump, who identifies himself as Presbyterian, said of Mr Biden earlier in the day in Cleveland, Ohio: "He's following the radical left agenda. "Take away your guns, destroy your Second Amendment. No religion, no anything, hurt the Bible, hurt God. "He's against God, he's against guns, he's against energy, our kind of energy." Mr Trump has been accused of using the platform of the presidency for political gain by injecting campaign-style rhetoric into taxpayer-funded official engagements intended to communicate US government policy. At a washing machine factory later on Thursday, the president kept up the onslaught on his challenger. "I wouldn't say he's at the top of his game," the president said. On Thursday, Mr Biden appeared to suggest the African-American community was homogenous - a comment Mr Trump then described as "very insulting". In an interview, Mr Biden had said: "What you all know but most people don't know, unlike the African American community with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community with incredibly different attitudes about different things." He later issued an apology on Twitter. For his part, Mr Trump has long been accused of stoking racial tensions, going back decades before he became a political figure. Last year, Democrats from Virginia's Black Legislative Caucus boycotted Mr Trump's visit because of what they termed his "racist and xenophobic" rhetoric.
8-7-20 TikTok threatens legal action against Trump US ban
TikTok is threatening legal action against the US after Donald Trump ordered firms to stop doing business with the Chinese app within 45 days. The company said it was "shocked" by an executive order from the US President outlining the ban. TikTok said it would "pursue all remedies available" to "ensure the rule of law is not discarded". Mr Trump issued a similar order against China's WeChat in a major escalation in Washington's stand-off with Beijing. WeChat's owner, Tencent, said: "We are reviewing the executive order to get a full understanding." As well as WeChat, Tencent is also a leading gaming company and its investments include a 40% stake in Epic Games - the company behind the hugely popular Fortnite video game. The president has already threatened to ban TikTok in the US, citing national security concerns, and the company is now in talks to sell its American business to Microsoft. They have until 15 September to reach a deal - a deadline set by Mr Trump. The Trump administration claims that the Chinese government has access to user information gathered by TikTok, which the company has denied. TikTok, which is owned by China's ByteDance, said it had attempted to engage with the US government for nearly a year "in good faith". However, it said: "What we encountered instead was that the administration paid no attention to facts, dictated terms of an agreement without going through standard legal processes, and tried to insert itself into negotiations between private businesses." The executive orders against the short-video sharing platform and the messaging service WeChat are the latest measure in an increasingly broad Trump administration campaign against China. On Thursday, Washington announced recommendations that Chinese firms listed on US stock markets should be delisted unless they provided regulators with access to their audited accounts. China's Foreign Ministry on Friday accused the US of using national security as a cover to exert hegemony. (Webmaster's comment: Trump has no legal right to force businesses to follow his arbitary rules!)
8-7-20 New York attorney general sues to dissolve NRA
New York's attorney general has announced a lawsuit aimed at dissolving the powerful National Rifle Association over alleged financial mismanagement. Letitia James said the NRA had diverted millions of dollars to leaders including its chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, for their personal use. "For these years of misconduct we are seeking an order to dissolve the NRA in its entirety," she said. The NRA described the lawsuit as a "baseless, premeditated attack". Ms James said that the four named defendants - Mr LaPierre, Wilson Phillips, Joshua Powell and John Frazer - "instituted a culture of self-dealing, mismanagement and negligent oversight at the NRA that was illegal, oppressive and fraudulent". The attorney general outlined a litany of charges against the defendants, but accused Mr LaPierre, long the face of the powerful gun lobby group, of being the "central figure" behind the organisation's wrongdoings. One example of misconduct alleged in the lawsuit states that Mr LaPierre visited the Bahamas more than eight times by private plane using funds intended for the NRA, for a total cost of $500,000 (£380,000). The corruption "is so broad", Ms James said, that total dissolution of the organisation is necessary. Responding to questions, Ms James, a Democrat, rejected the notion that the charges against the NRA - closely tied to the Republican party - were at all influenced by her own politics. "We followed the facts and the law," she said. "We've come to the conclusion that the NRA unfortunately was serving as a personal piggy bank to four individual defendants." The case filed by Ms James' office alleges more than $64m (£48.7m) was lost in just three years as a result of the defendants' abuse. Also on Thursday, the District Attorney for Washington, DC filed a separate lawsuit against the organisation "for misusing charitable funds to support wasteful spending by the NRA and its executives". The New York lawsuit will almost certainly be contested in court by the NRA. The suit will add another strain to an already beleaguered organisation, facing congressional inquiries, investigations in multiple states and internal complaints.
8-7-20 US gun control: What is the NRA and why is it so powerful?
It is one of the most powerful players in one of the most hotly-debated issues in the US - gun control - but what exactly is the NRA? Here's a quick guide. NRA stands for National Rifle Association. The group was founded in 1871 by two US Civil War veterans as a recreational group designed to "promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis". The NRA's path into political lobbying began in 1934 when it started mailing members with information about upcoming firearms bills. The association supported two major gun control acts, the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) and Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), but became more politically active following the passage of the GCA in the 1970s. In 1975, it began attempting to influence policy directly via a newly formed lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action. In 1977 it formed its own Political Action Committee (PAC), to channel funds to legislators. The NRA is now among the most powerful special interest lobby groups in the US, with a substantial budget to influence members of Congress on gun policy. It is run by executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre. In August 2020, prosecutors in New York and Washington DC announced that they would seek to dissolve the organisation over allegations that senior leadership misused a charity fund, redirecting the money for lavish personal spending. The NRA spends about $250m per year, far more than all the country's gun control advocacy groups put together. But the NRA has a much larger membership than any of those groups and disburses funds for things such as gun ranges and educational programmes. In terms of lobbying, the NRA officially spends about $3m per year to influence gun policy - the recorded amount spent on lobbying in 2014 was $3.3m. That is only the recorded contributions to lawmakers however, and considerable sums are spent elsewhere via PACs and independent expenditures - funds which are difficult to track. Analysts point out that the NRA also wields considerable indirect influence via its highly politically engaged membership, many of whom will vote one way or another based on this single issue. The NRA publicly grades members of Congress from A to F on their perceived friendliness to gun rights. Those ratings can have a serious effect on poll numbers and even cost pro-gun control candidates a seat.
8-6-20 'No one is above the law, not even the NRA'
New York's Attorney General Letitia James has announced a lawsuit aimed at dissolving the powerful National Rifle Association over alleged financial mismanagement. One of the claims alleges NRA head Wayne LaPierre visited the Bahamas more than eight times in three years by private plane using funds intended for the NRA, for a total cost of $500,000 (£380,225). NRA President Carolyn Meadows said "this was a baseless, premeditated attack on our organization and the Second Amendment freedoms it fights to defend". She added that "as evidenced by the lawsuit filed by the NRA today against the [New York Attorney General], we not only will not shrink from this fight – we will confront it and prevail.”
8-6-20 The terrible tradeoff of keeping schools closed
It may be extremely difficult to open schools safely. But not doing so will come with steep long-term costs. Honestly acknowledging trade-offs is what makes for serious governing. A key difference between policy activists and policy analysts is that the former either severely minimize the existence of trade-offs or ignore them completely. Lower speed limits would save lives, but they would also waste more of our time and make it more expensive to ship goods around our continent-sized country. Sharply higher taxes might raise more revenue for government, but they could reduce incentives to work, save, and invest. Big budget deficits might juice the economy in the short run, but they could result in higher long-term interest rates. One commonality among "populist" governments is that they ignore economic trade-offs and govern as if such constraints do not exist. Financial crises are frequently the result. The terrible physical toll of COVID-19 is immense and obvious: Nearly 160,000 American dead so far and an untold number of recovered victims with possible long-term health damage. Other costs are not so immediate. And that is what makes the debate around virtual schooling so difficult. Keeping kids out of school this year would be a different sort of economic catastrophe, but one every bit as serious as the deep recession from which we are currently recovering. School is not just daycare for younger students so more of us can go to work. Nor is it just a "credentialing" mechanism for older students that allows future employers to find the best workers. One of the strongest and most persistent findings of modern economics is that schooling really does something important to help kids become high-functioning adults, including as workers in an advanced, globalized economy. Those findings are seen to be as true today as when they were first identified in the 1950s. Indeed, a 2018 World Bank analysis shows the benefits increasing since 2000. It is really not controversial: Missing school is tremendously harmful, harm that can be quantified in reduced future earnings. And it is not a small reduction. A new calculation by economist Michael Strain, my colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, finds keeping kids home for another semester after the spring shutdown represents a loss of over $30,000 per decade in future earnings for a typical worker who graduated high school but didn't attend college. And if kids only get online schooling until September 2021, the losses for many would likely be even larger. We have been here before, unfortunately. While many of us were unaware of the "forgotten pandemic" of the 1918 influenza, probably far fewer know about the 1916 polio epidemic, the first major outbreak of that virus in the United States. It struck in late June of that year and persisted into November, with more than 23,000 cases diagnosed and some 5,000 fatalities. Among the measures taken by local officials to combat the virus were school closings. A 2017 paper by economists Keith Meyers of the University of Arizona and Melissa Thomasson of Miami University found children ages 14 to 17 during the pandemic ended up with "less educational attainment in 1940 compared to their slightly older peers." (Webmaster's comment: It's a simple choice. Do you want to risk your children's lives?)
8-6-20 Facebook and Twitter restrict Trump accounts over 'harmful' virus claim
Facebook and Twitter have penalised Donald Trump and his campaign for posts in which the president claimed children were "almost immune" to coronavirus. Facebook deleted the post - a clip from an interview Mr Trump gave to Fox News - saying it contained "harmful Covid misinformation". the same clip was removed. US public health advice makes clear children have no immunity to Covid-19. A Facebook spokesperson said on Wednesday evening: "This video includes false claims that a group of people is immune from COVID-19 which is a violation of our policies around harmful COVID misinformation." It was the first time the social giant had taken action to remove content posted by the president based on its coronavirus-misinformation policy, but not the first time it has penalised Mr Trump over content on his page. Later on Wednesday, Twitter said it had frozen the @TeamTrump account because it posted the same interview excerpt, which President Trump's account shared. A Twitter spokesman said the @TeamTrump tweet "is in violation of the Twitter Rules on COVID-19 misinformation". "The account owner will be required to remove the Tweet before they can Tweet again." It later appeared to have been deleted. Twitter last month temporarily suspended Mr Trump's son, Donald Jr, for sharing a clip it said promoted "misinformation" about coronavirus and hydroxychloroquine. But in March, Twitter said a tweet by entrepreneur Elon Musk suggesting children are "essentially immune" to coronavirus did not break its rules. Speaking by telephone to morning show Fox and Friends on Wednesday, Mr Trump argued it was time for all schools nationwide to reopen. He said: "If you look at children, children are almost - and I would almost say definitely - almost immune from this disease. "So few, they've got stronger, hard to believe, I don't know how you feel about it, but they've got much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this. "And they don't have a problem, they just don't have a problem." Mr Trump, who is running for re-election in November, also said of coronavirus: "This thing's going away. It will go away like things go away."(Webmaster's comment: Trump would endanger our children's lives for the sake of his re-election.)
8-6-20 Coronavirus: Los Angeles to shut off water and power to party houses
The mayor of Los Angeles has said the city will be authorised to shut off water and power to properties where large parties and gatherings are held despite restrictions imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus. Eric Garcetti said house parties had become "nightclubs in the hills" and that the focus would be on gatherings "posing significant public dangers". The rule comes into force on Friday. California is the worst-affected US state with over 532,000 Covid-19 cases. State authorities have also reported 9,872 deaths resulting from coronavirus. Los Angeles county continues to report the highest number of infections in the state - 197,912 as of Wednesday. Last month California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered an immediate halt to indoor activities at restaurants, bars and entertainment venues. But Los Angeles authorities have reported a string of house parties thrown during the pandemic. Earlier this week, a woman was fatally shot at a party in the city's Beverly Crest neighbourhood, where around 200 people had attended. Mayor Garcetti told reporters that parties are often taking place at homes that are vacant or used for short-term rentals. "The consequences of these large parties ripple far beyond these parties," he said. "They ripple throughout our entire community because the virus can quickly and easily spread." The US continues to grapple with the world's biggest coronavirus outbreak, with over 4.8 million cases and at least 158,268 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
8-5-20 Coronavirus pandemic shows no sign of slowing across South America
While Europe is preparing hurriedly for a possible second wave of covid-19 infections, South America is yet to see the end of the first. Four months since governments began national lockdowns in March, the spread of covid-19 shows “no signs of slowing down” across the Americas, said Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), in a press briefing last month. South America already has four of the 10 countries worst hit by covid-19, with Brazil having recorded more than 2.8 million confirmed cases, Peru more than 435,000, Chile more than 360,000 and Colombia more than 330,000. The region has recorded more than 148,000 covid-19 related deaths. The real situation is also probably far worse than government figures suggest. For instance, reports claim that Venezuela’s authoritarian government may be under-reporting cases. “Case totals are really unknown because the testing regime has been difficult to implement,” says Michael Touchton at the Covid-19 Policy Observatory for Latin America at the University of Miami, Florida. Brazil, which has recorded the most cases and deaths in the region, had tested 11.93 per 1000 inhabitants as of 31 July. The UK had tested 140.86 per 1000 and Germany 95.56. Brazil’s president has come under fire for underplaying the danger of the virus, not locking the country down, insufficient testing and tracing and not requiring the use of face masks. “You’re going to continue to see an explosion of cases and no flattening of the curve, plus a huge undercount [in Brazil],” Touchton says. Though the region’s largest countries have reported the highest number of cases, PAHO is particularly concerned with Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, where infections continue to surge despite swift lockdowns being implemented in March.
8-5-20 Coronavirus: Sweden's economy hit less hard by pandemic
Sweden, which avoided a lockdown during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, saw its economy shrink 8.6% in the April-to-June period from the previous three months. The flash estimate from the Swedish statistics office indicated that the country had fared better than other EU nations which took stricter measures. However, it was still the largest quarterly fall for at least 40 years. The European Union saw a contraction of 11.9% for the same period. Individual nations did even worse, with Spain seeing an 18.5% contraction, while the French and Italian economies shrank by 13.8% and 12.4% respectively. "The downturn in GDP is the largest for a single quarter for the period of 1980 and forward," Statistics Sweden said. "It is, as expected, a dramatic downturn. But compared to other countries, it is considerably better, for instance if you compare to southern Europe," said Nordea bank chief analyst Torbjorn Isaksson. Sweden has largely relied on voluntary social distancing guidelines since the start of the pandemic, including working from home where possible and avoiding public transport. Although businesses have largely continued to operate in Sweden, the country's economy is highly dependent on exports, which were hit by lack of demand from abroad. The authorities here have always said the country's Covid-19 strategy wasn't designed to protect the economy. They have stressed that the aim was to introduce sustainable, long-term, measures. But the government did hope that keeping more of society open would help limit job losses and mitigate the effect on businesses.
8-5-20 Neil Young sues Donald Trump's campaign for using his songs
Neil Young is suing Donald Trump's re-election campaign for repeatedly using his music without his permission. The rock star says the US president breached copyright laws by playing his songs at political rallies and events. The Canadian has objected to the use of Rockin' in the Free World and Devil's Sidewalk for what he called an "un-American campaign of ignorance and hate". The Trump campaign has not yet commented. Young said he had complained about Mr Trump's use of his music since 2015, but had been "wilfully" ignored. The singer, who is now officially a US citizen after having lived in the country for decades, is seeking damages of up to $150,000 (£114,400) per infringement. These include at a Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June, and the US president's visit to Mount Rushmore in July. "This complaint is not intended to disrespect the rights and opinions of American citizens, who are free to support the candidate of their choosing," Young's lawyers wrote in the filing, which was posted on the performer's website. "However, Plaintiff in good conscience cannot allow his music to be used as a 'theme song' for a divisive, un-American campaign of ignorance and hate." The 74-year-old has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice - first as a solo artist, and then with his old band Buffalo Springfield. He's not the only musician angry with the US president for having used their material. Last month, The Rolling Stones warned President Trump that he could face legal action if he continued using their songs at his campaign rallies. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards also joined artists including Aerosmith and Sir Elton John in recently signing an open letter calling on politicians to obtain permission before playing their music at campaign and political events.
8-5-20 Five big questions about when and how to open schools amid COVID-19
It’s time to layer up defenses to keep kids as safe as possible when they head back to class. It’s back-to-school time in the United States, but for the world’s leader in coronavirus infections and deaths, what “back to school” means is anything but clear. Many countries have gotten ahead of the pandemic with extensive testing, tracing and quarantining. That tight control means that children in Denmark, Singapore and China have returned to school, with extra safety measures. The situation is fundamentally different in the United States. No other country has attempted to send children to school with coronavirus infection levels as high as they are in some parts of the country. Many large school districts, including those in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Houston, will begin the school year with all kids learning from home. Other districts have yet to announce their plans, which may include models that mix in-person learning with remote classwork. School districts have been struggling to make the call, given a lack of data on how to reduce risk. Two major scientific societies have provided some guidance. On June 25, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommended that policy decisions be made with the goal of having children in school, in person. The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine agreed, urging in a July 15 report that to the extent possible, in-person education should be prioritized, particularly for young children and those with special needs. Doing so in a way that minimizes risk will come at a hefty price. The National Academies’ report estimated a price tag of $1.8 million for an average U.S. school district with around 3,300 students. That would pay for personal protective gear such as masks, hand-washing stations, cleaning supplies and extra staff so that students could be spread out. Of course, even if a district spends the funds, there are no guarantees that students, teachers and staff won’t get sick.
8-5-20 Covid-19 news: World faces catastrophe from school closures, says UN
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. World faces “catastrophe” due to school closures, says UN chief. The world faces a “generational catastrophe” as a result of school closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic, UN secretary-general António Guterres said today. Getting students safely back to the classroom once local transmission of the coronavirus is under control must be a “top priority” for governments, and failing to do this “could waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress, and exacerbate entrenched inequalities,” he said in a video message today. Since mid-July, schools have been closed in about 160 countries worldwide, affecting more than 1 billion students. In the UK, a modelling study published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health suggests that current levels of coronavirus testing and contact tracing will be insufficient to prevent a second wave of the virus when schools reopen in September. In the US, teachers, support staff and parents in more than 35 school districts protested against US president Donald Trump’s push to reopen schools while covid-19 is still surging in many states. Virologists have been excluded from UK government discussions on how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, says the UK Clinical Virology Network, which represents researchers in the field. Virologists say they were not consulted about the government’s purchase of new 90 minute tests for the coronavirus and other respiratory viruses from two UK companies, which was announced yesterday. The group sent a letter to government scientific and medical advisors, Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty in July but say they have not heard back. “It just seems there is a rush to do everything privately,” Will Irving, one of the signatories at the University of Nottingham, told the Guardian. India recorded 52,050 new cases yesterday, according to health officials, making it the seventh consecutive day that daily new cases in the country surpassed 50,000. Australia today increased fines for repeated breaches of the lockdown in the state of Victoria from A$1652 (£900) to A$5000 (£2739). There has been a rise in people resisting lockdown measures, according to authorities in the state capital Melbourne.
8-4-20 The American leadership void
Everyone knows reopening schools is going to be a disaster. So why are we doing it anyway? The school year is looming on the horizon, despite the fact that the coronavirus pandemic is still raging out of control in almost every state, and most schools do not have one tenth of the resources and preparation necessary to operate safely. Still, American politicians across the country are pushing to get schools back open. It's yet more evidence of the utter void at the heart of the American leadership class. Few people in positions of authority are willing or capable of governing, and especially not Republicans. They are either deranged maniacs like President Trump, or they are avoiding unpopular decisions in a way guaranteed to fuel the pandemic, simply so that they can shift blame away from themselves. Getting schools open is obviously a matter of great urgency. The current situation is wearing American families to the bone. Parents report having to juggle work, child care, and distance learning over Zoom is driving them to the breaking point. It follows that being able to open up the schools would be a godsend for both parents, who could go back to work and get a little rest, and kids, who could go back to actually learning, and seeing their friends (even at a distance). But insofar as schools actually are reopened, it's a virtual certainty that in most cases there will be outbreaks and they will close right back down again. We have already seen multiple outbreaks at summer camps, where both children and staff were infected. Indeed, Israel threw months of pandemic control work in the trash by jumping the gun on schools. The country had new cases down to just a handful per day by early May, and had been carefully experimenting with limited school openings. But in mid-May the Israeli government abruptly reopened the whole school system, and touched off a galloping outbreak across the country. Israel is now in a much worse position than it was in April. And contrary to some conventional wisdom on the right that kids never get that sick from COVID-19, we know now that occasionally they do, and a few have died. Worse, they definitely can transmit the disease, and will therefore easily pass it on to teachers, school staff, and their families at home, many of whom will be much more vulnerable. Even Republican governors probably see the writing on the wall here. The pandemic is not going anywhere, Trump is not going to do anything about it, there is neither money nor time to set up schools properly, and therefore it just isn't going to work. But to simply admit defeat would mean attracting a lot of negative attention from conservatives, who insist it's all fake news, and from the people who are just hoping it can work so they can go back to their jobs. It seems many state leaders, therefore, have settled on pushing forward and letting the outbreaks happen so it won't seem to be their fault that schools can't reopen. At time of writing, plans are afoot for in-person instruction in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. In only a handful of states is in-person learning explicitly contingent on local outbreak conditions. On the contrary, Texas Governor Greg Abbott says schools can't be closed unless they have an outbreak. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is also in the process of forcing his state's open. Indiana schools are already partly reopening without even a statewide plan for how they can do so; one infected student has already been reported. It's the same desperate desire to avoid governing that we've seen throughout the pandemic. It isn't primarily state and local leaders' fault that our national response has failed so spectacularly and they aren't being given the resources they need, but it will be their fault if they deliberately allow new outbreaks to happen. Opening schools properly would require a great deal of effort and money. At a minimum, schools would need new social distancing protocols, mass testing capacity, more staff to decrease class sizes, and ideally upgrades to their internet service (to allow for some distance learning) and HVAC systems (to improve ventilation and prevent air from recirculating). Instead, education budgets are being slashed across the country, and in most places they weren't sufficient in the first place. (Webmaster's comment: We'll be sending many of our children off to certain death! But we don't seem to care!)
8-4-20 Coronavirus: US has no cohesive plan to tackle massive second wave
WHEN Antoine Dupont started to feel under the weather in mid-July, he immediately wanted to be tested for the coronavirus. Unable to find a facility where he could get this done near his home in West Palm Beach, Florida, a friend told him about an urgent care clinic with a handful of appointments in Boca Raton, 30 minutes away. He secured a test for the next Friday. D“The nurse said I’d hear back by Tuesday because of the weekend, which seemed a little long to me,” he says. “I didn’t get my results until the next Friday – and only after I had been calling the clinic for a few days.” His test result came back negative. But the news didn’t come as a relief. He was still feeling ill – and by then his ex-wife and son, who he sees on weekends, had tested positive for the coronavirus. Dupont says he doesn’t believe his result was accurate. However, he sees no reason to get another test. “The whole testing system is a dismal failure of epic proportions,” he says. “With the labs backed up the way they are, I wouldn’t get an answer in a reasonable amount of time anyway.” He isn’t the only person in the US struggling to get a test. Individuals in other states that have been hit hard by the virus, like Texas, Louisiana and Georgia, are facing the same challenges – and it is damaging the ability of those places to effectively control the spread of covid-19. As of 4 August, Florida had over 490,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 7100 deaths related to covid-19. Even though cases have started to dip a bit, the number is still alarmingly high. “Florida is one state that is continuing to see massive spread, but it’s not the only state that is showing those kinds of numbers,” says Ali Nouri at the Federation of American Scientists. “Unfortunately, it all goes to show, across the United States, by and large, we are not doing as much as we need to be doing in order to get this virus under control,” he says. On 23 July, the US passed an unwanted milestone: 4 million confirmed cases. This number makes up more than a quarter of the global total, despite the US accounting for just 4.4 per cent of the world’s population.
8-4-20 Donald Trump: US Treasury should get cut of TikTok deal
Donald Trump says the government should get a cut from the sale of TikTok's US unit if an American firm buys it. The US president said he made a demand for a "substantial portion" of the purchase price in a phone call at the weekend with Microsoft's boss. He also warned he will ban the app, which is owned by China's ByteDance, on 15 September if there is no deal. ByteDance is under pressure to sell its US business after Mr Trump threatened a crackdown on Chinese tech companies. The Trump administration has accused TikTok and others of providing data to the Chinese government, which Beijing and TikTok deny. "The United States should get a very large percentage of that price, because we're making it possible," Mr Trump said. "It would come from the sale, which nobody else would be thinking about but me, but that's the way I think, and I think it's very fair," he added. Nicholas Klein, a lawyer at DLA Piper, said generally "the government doesn't have the authority to take a cut of a private deal through" the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which is the inter-agency committee that reviews some foreign investments in the US. The state-run China Daily newspaper said on Tuesday that Beijing would not accept the "theft" of a Chinese technology company. It also warned in an editorial that China had "plenty of ways to respond if the administration carries out its planned smash and grab". Charlotte Jee, a reporter at MIT Technology Review, a magazine owned by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Mr Trump's comments were "pretty astonishing". Speaking to the BBC's Today programme, she said: "I hate to say this but it is kind of almost Mafia-like behaviour - threatening a ban which pushes down the price then saying 'oh we should get a cut of that deal afterwards to say thank you for what we've done there'. "It is extraordinary behaviour as well because last week we had lawmakers in the US trying to look at whether tech companies are too big and now we've got Trump trying to make one of them even bigger so it is a really, really bizarre situation to be in." (Webmaster's comment: Government blackmail of private companies is illegal!)
8-4-20 What's going on with TikTok?
TikTok users in the US are rallying to save the app, as Microsoft confirms discussions to acquire the Chinese-owned short-video sensation after President Trump threatened it with a sweeping ban.
8-4-20 NY attorney expands inquiry into Trump 'criminal conduct'
A New York prosecutor seeking US President Donald Trump's tax returns says he is investigating reported "protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organization". Monday's court filing suggests the inquiry is broader than alleged hush money payments made to two women who say they had affairs with Mr Trump. The Supreme Court ruled last month that lawyers could examine the tax returns. Mr Trump has repeatedly dismissed the probe, calling it a "witch hunt". Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr has filed a subpoena to obtain eight years of Mr Trump's personal and corporate tax returns, which the Trump Organization is challenging. The Republican president accuses the Manhattan prosecutor, a Democrat, of pursuing a political vendetta. Last week, Mr Trump's lawyers filed a complaint arguing the subpoena was "wildly overbroad" and issued in bad faith. Responding in court documents filed on Monday, lawyers for Mr Vance said that allegations of criminal activity at the Trump Organization date back "over a decade". His lawyers citied newspaper articles about supposed bank and insurance fraud at the Trump Organization and congressional testimony by the president's former lawyer Michael Cohen, who said Mr Trump would devalue his assets when trying to reduce his taxes. They said their inquiry extends beyond purported hush money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal in the lead-up to the 2016 election. Such payments could violate campaign financing laws. The president denies the affairs took place. Speaking to reporters, Mr Trump described the investigation as "Democratic stuff". "They failed with Mueller," he said, referring to the justice department investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller that failed to establish the president had colluded with the Kremlin during his election campaign. "They failed with everything, they failed with Congress, they failed at every stage of the ga Mr Trump, who inherited money from his father and went on to become a property developer, is the first president since Richard Nixon not to have made his tax returns public while running for office.
8-4-20 Being a Chinese student in the US: ‘Neither the US nor China wants us’
Stranded abroad by the coronavirus pandemic and squeezed by political tensions, Chinese students in the United States are rethinking their attitudes to their host and home countries. Eight years ago, Shizheng Tie, then aged 13, moved alone from China to rural Ohio for one sole purpose: education. She once had a budding American dream, but now she says she is facing hostility in that country. "As a Chinese living in the US, I am very scared now," she says. Tie, now a senior student at Johns Hopkins University, describes America as "anti-China" and "chaotic". Some 360,000 Chinese students are currently enrolled in schools in the US. In the past months, they have experienced two historical events - a global pandemic and unprecedented tensions between the US and China, which have reshaped their views of the two nations. The majority of Chinese students in the US are self-funded and hope their western education will lead to a good career. Meanwhile, Washington has warned that not all students from China are "normal", claiming some are Beijing's proxies who conduct economic espionage, orchestrate pro-China views and monitor other Chinese students on American campuses. The Trump administration recently cancelled visas for 3,000 students they believe have ties to the Chinese military. One US senator even suggested that Chinese nationals should be banned from studying math and science in America. Amid the harsh rhetoric, many Chinese students fear that they are being turned into a political target for Washington. Tie, majoring in environmental science, says she is pessimistic about her academic future in the US, given the growing scrutiny over Chinese students and scholars in science and technology. "I used to think I'd pursue my PhD in the US and perhaps settle down here, but now I see myself returning to China after obtaining a master's degree," Tie says. Yingyi Ma, associate professor of sociology at Syracuse University, says Chinese students in the US are now "politicised and marginalised at an unprecedented level", as Washington is sending "very unfriendly signals".
8-3-20 Opening schools in UK without more testing risks covid-19 second wave
The UK faces a second wave of coronavirus infections this winter if the country’s testing and contact tracing system doesn’t improve by the time schools fully reopen and people return to workplaces, researchers have warned. Jasmina Panovska-Griffiths at University College London (UCL) and her colleagues found that there is a risk of the UK experiencing a second peak in December that will be more than twice the size of the first one. Her team modelled the amount of testing and tracing needed to stop the virus rebounding as society eases restrictions. If all children in the UK return to school by early September, as is currently planned, and almost three-quarters of people return to workplaces, the UK would need to be testing 75 per cent of symptomatic covid-19 cases to stay on top of the spread of the virus, the researchers found. The current rate in England, which the team used as a basis for their UK modelling, is 50 per cent. The proportion of their contacts traced would have to jump from about 50 per cent in England now to 68 per cent for the whole of the UK. “It needs to improve,” said Russell Viner at UCL, who also worked on the study, during a press conference by the team. “Plans have been put in place to ensure schools can re-open safely. Local health officials, using the latest data, will able to determine the best action to take to help curb the spread of the virus should there be a rise in cases,” says a spokesperson for the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care. The analysis comes amid wider questions about the role of children in transmitting the virus, as many countries across the world prepare to reopen schools in September, though some such as Scotland will reopen within days.
8-3-20 Heavy drinking drove hundreds of thousands of Americans to early graves
From 2011 to 2015, excessive drinking ended lives 29 years sooner, on average, than expected. Heavy drinking is robbing Americans of decades of life. From 2011 to 2015, an average of 93,296 deaths annually could be tied to excessive alcohol use, or 255 deaths per day. Excessive drinking brought death early, typically 29 years sooner than would have been expected. All told, the United States saw 2.7 million years of potential life lost each year, researchers report in the July 31 Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report. The researchers used a program developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that estimates annual deaths and years of potential life lost due to an individual’s own or another’s excessive drinking. The tool takes into account whether the cause of death is fully attributable to alcohol, such as alcoholic liver cirrhosis, or whether excessive drinking can partially contribute to a condition, such as breast cancer. Annually, about 51,000 of the deaths were from chronic conditions. The rest were sudden demises such as poisonings that involved another substance along with alcohol or alcohol-related car crashes. The CDC defines excessive alcohol use as binging — drinking five or more drinks at a time for men, four or more for women — or drinking heavily over the course of the week. Men qualify at 15 or more drinks per week; for women, it’s eight or more. The numbers of deaths and years of life extinguished due to excessive drinking have gone up since the last report. That assessment covered 2006 to 2010 and reported close to 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million lost years annually. Recommendations from the Community Preventive Services Task Force, made up of public health and prevention experts, to stem excessive drinking include raising taxes on alcohol and regulating the number of places that sell alcoholic beverages (SN: 8/9/17). (Webmaster's comment: These are very stupid people. We need to remove them from the gene pool as soon as possible so let them self-destruct!)
8-3-20 Kaepernick shirt used as a target at Navy Seal event
The US Navy Seals are investigating after footage emerged of military dogs attacking a "stand-in" wearing a Colin Kaepernick shirt at an event last year. The video was reportedly taken at the National Navy Seal Museum in Florida in 2019, but went viral this weekend. In a statement, the Navy Seals said the video was "completely inconsistent" with its values. Kaepernick, a quarterback, began kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice in 2016. Several clips posted on Twitter on Sunday show a target wearing the red Kaepernick jersey being attacked by a number of military dogs. In one video, the man appears to say "Oh man, I will stand" after being brought down by the dogs, drawing laughter from the crowd. "We became aware today of a video of a Navy Seal Museum event posted last year," the Navy Seals said in a message posted on Twitter. "The inherent message of this video is completely inconsistent with the values and ethos of Naval Special Warfare and the US Navy. "We are investigating the matter fully and initial indications are that there were no active duty Navy personnel or equipment involved with this independent organisation's event." Kaepernick first started kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 when he was a player for the San Francisco 49ers. However, he faced a strong backlash and has remained unsigned for several years. Only this year did the National Football League (NFL) reverse its opposition to players taking a knee during the anthem. The decision came amid global protests over the death of African-American George Floyd while in police custody.
8-3-20 Coronavirus: Melbourne lockdown to keep a million workers at home
Melbourne is shutting down shops, factories and other non-essential businesses as authorities fight a second wave of coronavirus. Other measures include a night-time curfew for the city's five million residents, after an earlier lockdown failed to contain the virus. About one million workers will soon be staying at home in the Australian city. A payment for people instructed to isolate for 14 days who have run out of sick leave will also be introduced. The A$1,500 ($1,070; £815) is mainly aimed at those who cannot access other benefits, and can be applied for more than once, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. Authorities hope the new restrictions will reduce transmission of the coronavirus. Until recently, Australia had had more success than many other countries in tackling Covid-19, but an outbreak in Victoria's state capital has pushed the nation to its worst point yet. More than half of the nation's total 18,300 cases have been recorded in just the last month in Victoria. There have been 215 deaths. The only valid reasons for leaving home during these hours are work, medical care or care-giving. Many people say they have accepted the necessity of the restrictions but expressed anger and despair over the new measures. "I'm sure there are a lot of people that are depressed including myself and my husband," Jane Baxter-Swale told the BBC. "We don't know when these measures are going to finish. There's no finality to this virus which is awful." Under "Stage Four" lockdown, Melbourne residents will also only be allowed to shop and exercise within 5km (three miles) of their home. Exercise outside of the home will only be allowed for one hour at a time. Only one person per household will be allowed to go grocery shopping, and this can only happen once a day.
8-3-20 Coronavirus: Dozens test positive for Covid-19 on Norwegian cruise ship
At least 40 passengers and crew on a Norwegian cruise ship have tested positive for Covid-19, officials say. Hundreds more passengers on the MS Roald Amundsen are in quarantine and awaiting test results, the company that owns the ship said. The ship, which belongs to the Norwegian firm Hurtigruten, docked in the port of Tromso in northern Norway on Friday. Hurtigruten has halted all leisure cruises because of the outbreak. "We are now focusing all available efforts in taking care of our guests and colleagues," the company's Chief Executive Daniel Skjeldamsaid in a statement. "A preliminary evaluation shows a breakdown in several of our internal procedures," he added. "The only responsible choice is to suspend all expedition sailings." Four crew members were admitted to hospital on Friday with coronavirus symptoms, shortly after the ship docked in Tromso, and later tested positive for the virus. Another 32 of the 158 staff on board were infected, test results showed. But almost 180 passengers were allowed to disembark the ship, leaving the authorities scrambling to locate and test those who had been on board. All the passengers have now been contacted and told to self-isolate, health officials said on Sunday. Five passengers have so far tested positive out of 387 who have travelled on the ship since 17 July. "We expect that more infections will be found in connection to this outbreak," Line Vold, a health official, told Reuters news agency. The MS Roald Amundsen had been on a week-long voyage to Svalbard in the Arctic, and was also reportedly scheduled to visit ports in England and Scotland in September. But all future journeys are uncertain as the cruise industry finds itself affected by the coronavirus pandemic once again. Thousands of passengers were stranded at sea earlier this year as ships were hit by outbreaks of the virus.
8-3-20 Coronavirus: Iran cover-up of deaths revealed by data leak
The number of deaths from coronavirus in Iran is nearly triple what Iran's government claims, a BBC Persian service investigation has found. The government's own records appear to show almost 42,000 people died with Covid-19 symptoms up to 20 July, versus 14,405 reported by its health ministry. The number of people known to be infected is also almost double official figures: 451,024 as opposed to 278,827. The official numbers still make Iran the worst-hit in the Middle East. In recent weeks, it has suffered a second steep rise in the number of cases. The first death in Iran from Covid-19 was recorded on 22 January, according to lists and medical records that have been passed to the BBC. This was almost a month before the first official case of coronavirus was reported there. Since the outbreak of the virus in Iran, many observers have doubted the official numbers. There have been irregularities in data between national and regional levels, which some local authorities have spoken out about, and statisticians have tried to give alternative estimates. A level of undercounting, largely due to testing capacity, is seen across the world, but the information leaked to the BBC reveals Iranian authorities have reported significantly lower daily numbers despite having a record of all deaths - suggesting they were deliberately suppressed. he data was sent to the BBC by an anonymous source. It includes details of daily admissions to hospitals across Iran, including names, age, gender, symptoms, date and length of periods spent in hospital, and underlying conditions patients might have. The details on lists correspond to those of some living and deceased patients already known to the BBC. The source says they have shared this data with the BBC to "shed light on truth" and to end "political games" over the epidemic. The discrepancy between the official figures and the number of deaths on these records also matches the difference between the official figure and calculations of excess mortality until mid-June. Excess mortality refers to the number of deaths above and beyond what would be expected under "normal" conditions.
8-3-20 The US may have the most to lose if Donald Trump bans TikTok
Video-sharing service TikTok is in a race against time to complete a deal with Microsoft, after US president Donald Trump threatened to ban the app, owned by ByteDance, a Chinese technology company. For Trump, TikTok being overseen by Microsoft would allay a major fear he and others have about the rise of TikTok: that data produced in the app is sent to China, where it could be seen by the country’s ruling Communist Party. ByteDance denies that this happens. In a blog post, Microsoft stated that it is negotiating to run TikTok in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, with plans to complete discussions by 15 September. TikTok has been targeted by Trump for months as part of a wider geopolitical argument between China and the US. Trump’s political campaign has spent thousands of dollars on Facebook adverts reaching millions of voters in the past two weeks that claim TikTok is spying on people in the US. The claims aren’t true, according to security researchers, who say TikTok gathers similar data to US social platforms. TikTok itself claims that it hasn’t received any requests from the Chinese government to access data – and if approached, it would refuse. Trump’s attacks appear to be motivated by a diminishing of US power over the internet’s key services. “This is the first app for American people where it’s quite clearly super popular but isn’t American,” says Matthew Brennan, a tech analyst based in China. “I think Europeans are much more sympathetic towards that situation, whereas for Americans it’s a first. They’re struggling to handle it.” The US isn’t the only country with a negative view of Chinese tech. India banned 59 Chinese-owned apps on 29 June, including TikTok, while politicians in the UK and Australia have called for TikTok to be banned there. At the same time, reports suggest that TikTok may be moving its global headquarters to London, which could place the UK in conflict with the US.
8-3-20 Microsoft and TikTok talks continue after Trump call
US tech giant Microsoft has confirmed that it is continuing talks to purchase the US operations of Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok. Microsoft boss Satya Nadella had a conversation with President Donald Trump about the acquisition on Sunday, the tech firm said. Microsoft stressed that it "fully appreciates the importance" of addressing President Trump's concerns. A full security review of the app will be conducted, the company added. Microsoft will also have to provide the US government with a list of the "proper economic benefits" to the country, it said in a blog post. The tech giant hopes to conclude discussions with TikTok's parent firm ByteDance by 15 September. Microsoft said it was looking to purchase the TikTok service in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and would operate the app in these markets. The tech firm added that it "may" invite other American investors to participate in the purchase "on a minority basis". Microsoft emphasised that it would ensure that "all private data of TikTok's American users" was transferred to and remained in the US. Further, it would ensure that any data currently stored or backed up outside the country would be deleted from servers after it was transferred to US data centres. It also said that Microsoft "appreciates the US Government's and President Trump's personal involvement as it continues to develop strong security protections for the country." But the tech giant added that current discussions were still in the "preliminary" stage, and as such there was "no assurance" that the purchase would proceed. A possible sale of TikTok's US operations to Microsoft was thought to be on hold after Donald Trump vowed to ban the video-sharing app, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The potential sale had been seen close to agreement but was put in doubt after the US president's warning on Friday. And on Sunday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that President Trump would take action "in the coming days" against Chinese-owned software that he believed to pose a national security risk. (Webmaster's comment: The greatest risk to our national security is President Trump. He is a "clear and present danger" to all of us!)
8-2-20 What we know about schoolkids and coronavirus
Is it safe to reopen the schools in the fall?. As schools and parents struggle with the decision to reopen in-person classes, what do we know about kids' vulnerability? Here's everything you need to know:
- Can children get COVID-19? Yes, but the evidence strongly suggests that children are less prone to infection by the coronavirus than adults. Those under 18 account for about 6 percent of confirmed cases in the U.S., despite constituting some 22 percent of the population, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Can children get seriously ill? In rare cases. But the Nature study found that among those between 10 and 19, only 21 percent showed any symptoms at all. Hospitalizations are rare among the young, and deaths rarer still; as of July 22, the COVKID Project, which tracks pediatric figures in the U.S., counted 77 deaths among the young from a total of more than 144,000 deaths overall, and just over 800 intensive-care admissions.
- Why are children less vulnerable? It's "a huge puzzle," said Nicholas Davies, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. But there are several theories. One is that children's cells have fewer of the ACE2 receptors the coronavirus latches on to in order to launch an infection.
- Can children infect others? This is the million-dollar question. Numerous studies from Europe and Asia have suggested children pass the disease on to others at a lower rate than adults. In a study of 39 Swiss households infected with COVID, children were suspected of having been the source in only three.
- What is the difference? The study confirmed that younger children are significantly less likely to spread the virus — but found those between 10 and 19 transmit the virus at similar rates to adults. That lines up with evidence offered by reopened schools in Israel, New Zealand, and France, where the largest outbreaks have been in middle and high schools. A study of French schools by a scientist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris found that the risk of infection was much greater in high schools than in elementary schools.
- The school experience abroad: Schools offer the best opportunity to study transmission among the young — and there the evidence is mixed. A number of European countries, including Germany, Norway, and Denmark, have reopened schools without incident; researchers in Australia, Ireland, and Finland have also found no evidence of school spread in those countries.
8-2-20 Coronavirus: Media to be barred from Trump election nomination
The US Republican Party's vote to nominate its presidential candidate this month will be held in private, without press in attendance. A Republican National Convention spokeswoman gave coronavirus health guidelines as the reason, the Associated Press reports. Delegates are due to gather in North Carolina to formally renominate President Donald Trump. The 336 delegates will meet on 24 August in the city of Charlotte. They will cast proxy votes for some 2,500 official delegates. Mr Trump is the party's sole remaining nominee, and his renomination will officially launch his re-election bid. The party was "working within the parameters set before us by state and local guidelines regarding the number of people who can attend events", the spokeswoman said. The decision marks a significant change for the convention, which historically has worked to draw media attention to spread party messaging to the public. Mr Trump had switched the location of the convention to Jacksonville, Florida, after the Democratic governor of North Carolina insisted in May on limiting the crowd size at the convention, on the grounds of social distancing. But Mr Trump later scrapped the Florida convention, blaming the state's coronavirus "flare-up".
8-2-20 Are US cities seeing a surge in violent crime as Trump claims?
President Donald Trump has said US cities are seeing a spike in crime, as he sends in federal law enforcement agents to tackle the situation. He has denounced a string of Democrat-run cities which are "plagued by violent crime". We've looked at violent crime, and found it's down overall in many cities, but murders have risen sharply in some. In many major US cities, including Chicago and New York, violent crime overall is down compared with the same time last year. Various cities define violent crime in slightly different ways, but it usually includes murder, robbery, assault and rape. Individual years can fluctuate but violent crime across America has been on a downward trend since the 1990s. A study by the New York Times found violent crime from the start of this year through to the beginning of June was down 2% across 25 large American cities, compared with the same period in 2019. In April and May, violent crime in many US cities declined significantly compared with previous years, due in part to coronavirus lockdown measures. But President Trump has pointed to a string of murders in certain cities, and homicides in contrast have increased sharply in some areas. A review of data from 27 American cities found that Chicago led the way as homicides surged through to the end of June. The president has sent more than 100 federal agents to help local law enforcement in Chicago. As of 26 July, murders are up more than a 50% from this time last year. President Trump has proposed expanding the deployment of federal law enforcement to the north-eastern cities of New York and Philadelphia. Philadelphia is seeing a spike in murders, while reports of other violent crimes have declined. It's a similar trend in New York, as although rapes and robberies are down, the murder rate is up more than 50% compared with the same point in 2019. New York's murder rate has decreased significantly since the 1990s, but June saw the most shootings in a single month since 1996, according to the New York Police Department.
8-2-20 Can summer survive America's coronavirus spike?
America's first coronavirus surge nearly wiped out the summer season on Cape Cod, one of the most popular summer destinations in the US. Now there is talk about a second wave - will this imperil the vacation spot's escape? When the pandemic hit the US in March, Sarah Sherman, owner of Hopper Real Estate in Eastham - a holiday home rental business on the Cape - saw her summer season erased with cancellations. But by mid-July, her business had revived - despite the number of cases in the country setting records. At one point, she scored more than 16 bookings in just two days - a number unheard of in a typical year. "It's definitely feeling like summer," she says. The return of visitors was a major relief to Ms Sherman and business owners like her across Cape Cod, a peninsula that juts off Massachusetts into the Atlantic Ocean that was made famous as the summer playground of the Kennedys. Cold and grey in the winter, it is dependent economically on the summer months, when its population doubles and families from across the northeast pour in to sunbathe, cycle and gorge on lobster and fried clams. As the country went into lockdown, reservations "just stopped", she recalls. "We were like, 'Oh my god, what is going to happen?'" "We didn't know whether there was going to be a summer." That worst case scenario didn't materialise. Families with second homes de-camped for extended stays earlier in the year than usual. Renters soon followed, as a long spring in lockdown created pent-up demand, particularly for places like the Cape, to which most visitors travel by car. By the 4 July holiday weekend - typically one of the busiest in the year - occupancy rates at hotels were above 90%. But as case counts rise elsewhere in the country, Ms Sherman says it is too early to say if the area's economy has escaped. "As we watch the rest of the country spike, we're like, 'If that happens here, that could close down the rest of our summer really quickly.'"
8-2-20 Coronavirus: Victoria declares state of disaster after spike in cases
The Australian state of Victoria has declared a state of disaster and imposed new lockdown measures after a surge in coronavirus infections. Under the new rules, which came into effect at 18:00 (08:00 GMT), residents of the state capital Melbourne are subject to a night-time curfew. There will be further restrictions on residents' ability to leave home. Australia has been more successful than many other countries in tackling Covid-19, but cases are rising in Victoria. The state - Australia's second most populous state - now accounts for many of the country's new infections in recent weeks, prompting the return of lockdown restrictions in early July. But on Sunday Premier Daniel Andrews said the measures were working but too slowly. "We must go harder. It's the only way we'll get to the other side of this," he told reporters. The new rules will remain in place until at least 13 September, Mr Andrews added. On Sunday, Victoria reported 671 new coronavirus cases and seven deaths. Those increases brought the totals to 11,557 infections and 123 deaths. The night-time curfew is being implemented across Melbourne from 20:00 to 05:00. The only valid reasons for leaving home during these hours will be work, medical care or care-giving. Melbourne residents will only be allowed to shop and exercise within 5km (three miles) of their home. Exercise outside of the home will only be allowed for one hour at a time. Only one person per household is allowed to shop for essentials at a time. All students across the state are returning to home-based learning and childcare centres are closed. Restrictions will also be tightened across regional Victoria from Thursday, with restaurants, cafes, bars and gyms closing from 23:59 on Wednesday. To ensure these rules are observed, police will be given additional powers, Mr Andrews said. "We have got to limit the amount of movement, therefore limiting the amount of transmission of this virus. We have to clamp down on this," Mr Andrews said.
8-2-20 Coronavirus: South Africa cases pass half million mark
More than half a million coronavirus cases have been confirmed in South Africa, according to the country's health minister. Zwelini Mkhize announced 10,107 new cases on Saturday, bringing the tally to 503,290, along with 8,153 deaths. South Africa is the hardest-hit country on the continent and accounts for half of all reported infections in Africa. It also has the fifth-highest number of cases in the world after the US, Brazil, Russia and India. Researchers have said the true number of deaths in the country may be far higher. South African health authorities have said the rate of infection is increasing rapidly, with cases currently concentrated around the capital, Pretoria. More than a third of all infections have been reported in Gauteng - South Africa's financial hub, and a province that has quickly become the epicentre of the national outbreak. Infections are not expected to peak for another month. Responding to the new figures, President Cyril Ramaphosa called on citizens to remain vigilant. "We have to continue to work together to reduce the number of new infections. As with many other countries across the world, we need to continually adjust the measures we take to prevent new outbreaks or to safeguard our health system", he said. South Africa imposed a strict lockdown in April and May that slowed the spread of the coronavirus. It began a gradual reopening in June but restrictions - including a ban on alcohol sales - were reintroduced last month as infection rates began to rise again. A state of emergency is also in force until 15 August. The influx of patients has put an incredible strain on South Africa's hospitals, and a BBC investigation found an array of systematic failures that had exhausted healthcare professionals and brought the health service near to collapse. President Cyril Ramaphosa said last month that 28,000 hospital beds had been made available for Covid-19 patients but the country still faced a "serious" shortage of doctors and nurses. Last week the World Health Organization warned that South Africa's experience was a likely a precursor to what would happen across the rest of the continent.
8-2-20 Egypt tells Elon Musk its pyramids were not built by aliens
Egypt has invited billionaire Elon Musk to visit the country and see for himself that its famous pyramids were not built by aliens. The SpaceX boss had tweeted what appeared to be support for conspiracy theorists who say aliens were involved in the colossal construction effort. (Webmaster's comment: NUTS! There is NO EVIDENCE for this!) But Egypt's international co-operation minister does not want them taking any of the credit. She says seeing the tombs of the pyramid builders would be the proof. The tombs discovered in the 1990s are definitive evidence, experts say, that the magnificent structures were indeed built by ancient Egyptians. On Friday, the tech tycoon tweeted: "Aliens built the pyramids obv", which was retweeted more than 84,000 times. Egypt's Minister of International Co-operation Rania al-Mashat responded on Twitter, saying she followed and admired Mr Musk's work. But she urged him to further explore evidence about the building of the structures built for pharaohs of Egypt. Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass also responded in a short video in Arabic, posted on social media, saying Mr Musk's argument was a "complete hallucination". "I found the tombs of the pyramids builders that tell everyone that the builders of the pyramids are Egyptians and they were not slaves," EgyptToday quotes him as saying. Mr Musk did later tweet a link to a BBC History site about the lives of the pyramid builders, saying: "This BBC article provides a sensible summary for how it was done." There are more than 100 surviving pyramids but the most famous is the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt - standing at more than 450ft (137m). Most of them were built as tombs - a final resting places for Egypt's royalty. Mr Musk is known for his prolific and at times erratic tweeting. He once told CNBC: "Twitter's a war zone. If somebody's gonna jump in the war zone, it's, like, 'Okay, you're in the arena. Let's go!'"
8-1-20 Our COVID choice
We already know how to drive infections way, way down. For a moment, I forgot. Karla and I were at an outdoor restaurant on a summer evening, surrounded by tables of chattering families and relaxed couples. In the waning yellow sunlight, we sipped wine, enjoyed our halibut, and soaked up the life around us. Giddy liberation was in the air. The entire main street of this small suburban town north of New York City had been closed to cars, so that restaurants, a pizza place, and an ice cream joint could set up distanced tables outside. People wore masks on sidewalks and while making their way to their tables, taking them off when they were seated. Similar successful adaptations to the pandemic can be found throughout the Northeast, where the test-positivity rate has fallen to about 1 percent and deaths and hospitalizations have plunged. The coronavirus is a formidable foe, but we now know how to minimize its person-to-person spread. How many people get sick and die between now and a vaccine is largely under our control. "We can virtually eliminate the virus any time we decide to," says Andy Slavitt, a former head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Several other countries in Asia and Europe have largely done so. To undo the damage of premature re-openings in the South and West, Slavitt says, these states would need a second lockdown, closing all bars, indoor restaurants, churches, and public transit for about 50 days. Masks should be mandated, and interstate travel shut down. These policies, Slavitt calculates, would drive the reproduction rate of COVID-19 down to 0.5. Then exponential pandemic math would take over, and a community with 60,000 active cases would, 50 days later, have just 58 cases. At that point, testing and contact tracing become fast and effective. Life could safely resume, with some prudent restrictions. The alternative is now on display in ICUs in Florida, Arizona, and Texas. Will successive surges define our lives into 2021? Our choice.
8-1-20 Is Western Europe losing its grip on the coronavirus?
How worried should the world be about a second wave? For weeks now, Western Europe has been gazing in awestruck horror at the United States, whose ramshackle state and rotten, conspiracy-infested politics have created the worst coronavirus outbreak in the developed world. France, Germany, Spain, and Italy all suffered terrible early outbreaks but got things under control, while America has been equal parts international object lesson and laughingstock. But it now seems Western Europe is starting to experience a minor resurgence of the virus, taking some of the shine off their success. While these countries will likely get it under control much faster than they did the first time, it's yet another warning that controlling the pandemic is going to be a difficult, long-term project. Only an effective vaccine will allow a full return to normal life in most places. Let's dig into the numbers. Just like in American states, there is enormous variation between different countries. Norway is seeing just a handful of cases per day, Italy a few hundred, France, and Germany nearly a thousand, and Spain nearly 2,000. The last country is especially worrisome, given the gruesome death toll it experienced during the first wave. Reporting indicates that the increase stems from the same factors that caused the initial outbreak: international travel and indoor congregation. This is prime tourism season on the continent, and like Americans, Europeans are desperate to get back to some semblance of normal life. Several major outbreaks in Spain have been traced to nightclubs, no doubt because people had been packed together in confined, loud spaces. Many are also sick and tired of control measures like wearing masks — indeed, in France in early July several men assaulted a bus driver who asked them to comply with the rule that they be masked on public transport. The driver later died of his injuries. However, it seems likely that most of Europe will get a handle on things before they spiral out of control. Even if we adjust for population, Spain is still seeing less than a quarter as many new daily cases as the U.S., and its positive test rate is just 3-5 percent, whereas back in April it was over 20 percent. That means the current surge appears larger than it really is in comparison to the first one, because many more cases were likely missed back then. What's more, these nations are far better prepared than they were at the beginning of the year. They have stockpiled medical equipment and protective gear, putting their hospitals in a much better position. Mass testing means these countries will not be caught flat-footed as they were in February and March, and they also now have test-trace-isolate protocols in place to find and squelch outbreaks before they spread to the rest of the country. Already the Spanish government has closed several categories of venues, and introduced new lockdowns in some towns — though it does seem its pandemic control bureaucracies are well short of the German or Italian standard, and the government has struggled politically to shore them up. On the other hand, Italy was hit about as badly as Spain, but it has thus far dodged a resurgence after opening back up, thanks to a vigilant state and an abundance of caution among the citizenry. The Italian government has held on to emergency powers allowing it to impose various controls if necessary, and its public health authority has set up a monitoring system that collates granular virus data from around the country every week. "People are very careful: They wear masks and they respect social distancing. There is a very high level of awareness," Donatella Albini, an Italian public health official, told The Wall Street Journal. Once burned, twice shy, as the saying goes.
8-1-20 TikTok: Trump says he will ban Chinese video app in the US
President Donald Trump has announced he is banning the Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok in the US. He told reporters he could sign an executive order as early as Saturday. US security officials have expressed concern that the app, owned by Chinese firm ByteDance, could be used to collect the personal data of Americans. TikTok has denied accusations that it is controlled by or shares data with the Chinese government. The fast-growing app has up to 80 million active monthly users in America and the ban would be a major blow for ByteDance. "As far as TikTok is concerned, we're banning them from the United States," Mr Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One. It was not immediately clear what authority Mr Trump has to ban TikTok, how that ban would be enforced and what legal challenges it would face. Microsoft has reportedly been in talks to buy the app from ByteDance, but Mr Trump appeared to cast doubt that such a deal would be allowed to go through. If the deal went ahead reports say it would involve ByteDance shedding TikTok's US operations. A TikTok spokesperson declined to comment on Mr Trump's mooted ban, but told US media outlets the company was "confident in the long-term success of TikTok" in the US. The move to ban TikTok comes at a time of heightened tensions between the Trump administration and the Chinese government over a number of issues, including trade disputes and Beijing's handling of the coronavirus outbreak. The platform has exploded in popularity in recent years, mostly with people under 20. They use the app to share 15-second videos that often involve lip-synching to songs, comedy routines and unusual editing tricks. These videos are then made available to both followers and strangers. By default, all accounts are public, although users can restrict uploads to an approved list of contacts. (Webmaster's comment: The United States is behind China in almost all technology. This is the only way United States can beat the Chinese. Ban Chinese technology!)
8-1-20 Coronavirus: Russia plans mass vaccination campaign in October
Russian health authorities are preparing to start a mass vaccination campaign against coronavirus in October, the health minister has said. Russian media quoted Mikhail Murashko as saying that doctors and teachers would be the first to receive the vaccine. Reuters, citing anonymous sources, said Russia's first potential vaccine would be approved by regulators this month. However, some experts are concerned at Russia's fast-track approach. On Friday, the leading infectious disease expert in the US, Dr Anthony Fauci, said he hoped that Russia - and China - were "actually testing the vaccine" before administering them to anyone. Dr Fauci has said that the US should have a "safe and effective" vaccine by the end of this year. "I do not believe that there will be vaccines so far ahead of us that we will have to depend on other countries to get us vaccines," he told US lawmakers. Scores of possible coronavirus vaccines are being developed around the world and more than 20 are currently in clinical trials. Mr Murashko, quoted by Interfax news agency, said that the Gamaleya Institute, a research facility in Moscow, had finished clinical trials of a vaccine and that paperwork was being prepared to register it. "We plan wider vaccinations for October," he said, adding that teachers and doctors would be the first to receive it. Last month, Russian scientists said that early-stage trials of an adenovirus-based vaccine developed by the Gamaleya Institute had been completed and that the results were a success. Last month the UK, US and Canada security services said a Russian hacking group had targeted various organisations involved in Covid-19 vaccine development, with the likely intention of stealing information. The UK's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said it was more than 95% certain that the group called APT29 - also known as The Dukes or Cozy Bear - was part of Russian intelligence services. Russia's ambassador to the UK, Andrei Kelin, rejected the accusation, telling the BBC that there was "no sense in it". In the UK, trials of a vaccine developed by Oxford University have shown that it can trigger an immune response and a deal has been signed with AstraZeneca to supply 100 million doses in Britain alone.
8-1-20 Coronavirus: Mexico's death toll becomes world's third highest
Mexico has become the country with the third highest death toll with coronavirus, with only the US and Brazil recording greater numbers. It has now suffered at least 46,688 deaths during the pandemic, with a total of 424,637 infections. Previously the United Kingdom had the third highest toll, and registered 46,204 deaths as of Friday. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the effects of the pandemic will be felt "for decades to come". In Mexico, local authorities have previously said they believe the real number of infections is likely to be significantly higher than those reported. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is eager to restart the country's flagging economy. His government announced a phased plan to lift restrictions in May. In Mexico City, the capital, hundreds of thousands of factory workers returned to their jobs in mid-June. Some non-essential businesses were then allowed to reopen at the start of July in the city, the epicentre of the country's epidemic. But critics say Mr Obrador was slow to impose lockdown measures and has lifted them too quickly. Most of the Mexican economy stopped on 23 March but some industries that were declared key to the functioning of the nation and were exempt from the restrictions. On Friday ten state governors chastised the government's handling of the outbreak and called for the resignation of Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell - an epidemiologist and Mexico's coronavirus tsar. More than 17.5 million coronavirus cases have been reported worldwide, along with nearly 679,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The US has recorded at least 153,415 deaths and Brazil 92,475. Some countries have tried to emerge from lockdown but in many, cases are rising again, reports the BBC's Geneva correspondent, Imogen Foulkes.
8-1-20 Coronavirus: Thousands protest in Germany against restrictions
Thousands of people in the German capital Berlin are taking part in a protest against the country's coronavirus restrictions. The demonstrators say the measures, including the wearing of facemasks, violate their rights and freedoms. Germany has been less badly affected by the pandemic than some European countries, but cases are starting to rise again. On Friday it recorded more than 900 new cases and seven deaths. Official estimates say at least 15,000 people are taking part in the protests, which is being called "The Day of Freedom". Protesters held up banners featuring such slogans as "Corona, false alarm", "We are being forced to wear a muzzle". The BBC's Damian McGuinness in Berlin says some are from the far right and some are conspiracy theorists who do not believe Covid-19 exists, but others are ordinary people who simply object to the government's approach to the pandemic. The mood is peaceful but hardly anyone is wearing a face-covering or observing the required social distancing, our correspondent says. "Our demand is to go back to democracy. Away with these laws that have been imposed on us, away with the masks that make us slaves," said one woman. Restrictions in Germany include the wearing of face-coverings in shops and on public transport, social distancing rules and hygiene requirements apply throughout the country. Mandatory testing has been introduced for holidaymakers returning from high-risk areas. Germany has had more than 210,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 9,000 related deaths since the pandemic began. (Webmaster's comment: Many Germans are just as stupid as many Americans!)
8-1-20 Dr Fauci grilled on virus spread during protests
"You're putting words into my mouth," the top US infectious disease expert said as he was grilled on Capitol Hill. Dr Fauci clashed with congressman Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, over whether the government should limit protests when many Americans have also been told not to go to church or gyms. (Webmaster's comment: Every statement Dr. Fasci makes is an equivocation! He refuses to say yes or no all of the time! He never takes a stand!)