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« on: Oct 20, 2019, 04:50 AM »

We will be posting in this thread a variety of interesting stories about our environment, cultures around the world, and the current news of the day.
« Last Edit: Nov 02, 2019, 05:22 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: Feb 27, 2021, 03:53 AM »

Study says you’re less likely to catch COVID-19 if you wear these

By Chris Smith

    A new study says the risk of coronavirus transmission is further reduced for a particular category of people: Glass-wearers.
    Researchers from India concluded that people who wear glasses are 2-3 times less likely to catch COVID-19 than those who don’t wear any eyewear in public.
    The researchers think that if the virus enters the eyes, it can travel to the nose via the nasolacrimal duct.

The novel coronavirus pandemic is far from over, but the number of cases has been dropping for a few weeks now as vaccinations have been ramping up in various regions around the world. Israel might be the country closest to achieving COVID-19 herd immunity, but the pandemic is here to stay for quite a while. A significant percentage of a country’s population needs to be vaccinated or have survived an infection for herd immunity to be achieved. And even then, there’s always the risk of SARS-CoV-2 developing vaccine-defeating mutations that could infect people who had the illness or were vaccinated. That’s why people will have to continue to observe safety measures that can reduce the risk of infection even after they’ve received both vaccine doses. Face masks, social distancing, frequent hand hygiene, and the ventilation of indoor places can all help reduce the risk of transmission. And it looks like there might be one additional protective device that people might consider, assuming the conclusions of a new study are accurate.

Glass wearers are less likely to get infected than people who do not wear glasses, a new study out of India reports. The study was published on MedrXiv, which means it hasn’t been peer-reviewed. But ABC News explains that the Indian study offers similar conclusions as separate research from China. According to that paper, about 30% of China’s population wears-glasses, but just 5% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 wore glasses.

The Indian scientists looked at data from 304 COVID-19 patients aged 10 to 80 years old. All of them experienced symptoms, but only 60 of them wore glasses and 42 of them were considered long-time glasses-wearers.

The researchers noted that catching a COVID-19 infection through the eyes seems to be “extremely rare.” But the eyes remain an entry point for the pathogen. And other studies have shown that the virus can harm the eyes. The scientists say the virus can make its way to the nose via the nasolacrimal duct that connects each eye with the nose. Once in the nasal cavity, the virus can bind to ACE2 receptors and infect cells before descending to the lungs.

From the early days of the pandemic, health officials have advised the public to avoid touching the face with dirty hands, with special emphasis on the eyes, nose, and mouth. That’s how the virus can enter the body. Then health officials advised the population to wear face masks, which can block droplets and aerosols from reaching the nose and mouth. As an added benefit, masks also prevent people from touching the nose and mouth.

“An individual has [the] habit of touching his own face on average 23 times in an hour and his eyes on average 3 times per hour,” the researchers wrote.

Coronavirus transmission is believed to occur primarily via droplets and aerosols that are ejected by infected people while coughing, sneezing, and talking. But face masks will not block the virus from reaching the eyes or stop people from touching their eyes.

Health professionals treating COVID-19 patients are equipped with safety goggles or plastic shields to help block the virus from reaching their eyes. That’s in addition to medical-grade face masks used to cover the nose and mouth.

The Indian study indicates that glass wearers are 2-3 times less likely to get COVID-19 than people who don’t wear any glasses. If the conclusions are accurate, people might try to use glasses to further reduce coronavirus transmission risks while in public settings. The full study is available at this link.

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« Reply #2 on: Feb 27, 2021, 03:58 AM »

Atlantic Ocean circulation at weakest in a millennium, say scientists

Decline in system underpinning Gulf Stream could lead to more extreme weather in Europe and higher sea levels on US east coast

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent
27 Feb 2021 12.06 GMT

The Atlantic Ocean circulation that underpins the Gulf Stream, the weather system that brings warm and mild weather to Europe, is at its weakest in more than a millennium, and climate breakdown is the probable cause, according to new data.

Further weakening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) could result in more storms battering the UK, more intense winters and an increase in damaging heatwaves and droughts across Europe.

Scientists predict that the AMOC will weaken further if global heating continues, and could reduce by about 34% to 45% by the end of this century, which could bring us close to a “tipping point” at which the system could become irrevocably unstable. A weakened Gulf Stream would also raise sea levels on the Atlantic coast of the US, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Stefan Rahmstorf, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who co-authored the study published on Thursday in Nature Geoscience, told the Guardian that a weakening AMOC would increase the number and severity of storms hitting Britain, and bring more heatwaves to Europe.

He said the circulation had already slowed by about 15%, and the impacts were being seen. “In 20 to 30 years it is likely to weaken further, and that will inevitably influence our weather, so we would see an increase in storms and heatwaves in Europe, and sea level rises on the east coast of the US,” he said.

Rahmstorf and scientists from Maynooth University in Ireland and University College London in the UK concluded that the current weakening had not been seen over at least the last 1,000 years, after studying sediments, Greenland ice cores and other proxy data that revealed past weather patterns over that time. The AMOC has only been measured directly since 2004.

The AMOC is one of the world’s biggest ocean circulation systems, carrying warm surface water from the Gulf of Mexico towards the north Atlantic, where it cools and becomes saltier until it sinks north of Iceland, which in turn pulls more warm water from the Caribbean. This circulation is accompanied by winds that also help to bring mild and wet weather to Ireland, the UK and other parts of western Europe.

Scientists have long predicted a weakening of the AMOC as a result of global heating, and have raised concerns that it could collapse altogether. The new study found that any such point was likely to be decades away, but that continued high greenhouse gas emissions would bring it closer.

Rahmstorf said: “We risk triggering [a tipping point] in this century, and the circulation would spin down within the next century. It is extremely unlikely that we have already triggered it, but if we do not stop global warming, it is increasingly likely that we will trigger it.

“The consequences of this are so massive that even a 10% chance of triggering a breakdown would be an unacceptable risk.”

Research in 2018 also showed a weakening of the AMOC, but the paper in Nature Geoscience says this was unprecedented over the last millennium, a clear indication that human actions are to blame. Scientists have previously said a weakening of the Gulf Stream could cause freezing winters in western Europe and unprecedented changes across the Atlantic.

The AMOC is a large part of the Gulf Stream, often described as the “conveyor belt” that brings warm water from the equator. But the bigger weather system would not break down entirely if the ocean circulation became unstable, because winds also play a key role. The circulation has broken down before, in different circumstances, for instance at the end of the last ice age.

The Gulf Stream is separate from the jet stream that has helped to bring extreme weather to the northern hemisphere in recent weeks, though like the jet stream it is also affected by the rising temperatures in the Arctic. Normally, the very cold temperatures over the Arctic create a polar vortex that keeps a steady jet stream of air currents keeping that cold air in place. But higher temperatures over the Arctic have resulted in a weak and wandering jet stream, which has helped cold weather to spread much further south in some cases, while bringing warmer weather further north in others, contributing to the extremes in weather seen in the UK, Europe and the US in recent weeks.

Similarly, the Gulf Stream is affected by the melting of Arctic ice, which dumps large quantities of cold water to the south of Greenland, disrupting the flow of the AMOC. The impacts of variations in the Gulf Stream are seen over much longer periods than variations in the jet stream, but will also bring more extreme weather as the climate warms.

As well as causing more extreme weather across Europe and the east coast of the US, the weakening of the AMOC could have severe consequences for Atlantic marine ecosystems, disrupting fish populations and other marine life.

Andrew Meijers, the deputy science leader of polar oceans at British Antarctic Survey, who was not involved in the study, said: “The AMOC has a profound influence on global climate, particularly in North America and Europe, so this evidence of an ongoing weakening of the circulation is critical new evidence for the interpretation of future projections of regional and global climate.

“The AMOC is frequently modelled as having a tipping point below some circulation strength, a point at which the relatively stable overturning circulation becomes unstable or even collapses. The ongoing weakening of the overturning means we risk finding that point, which would have profound and likely irreversible impacts on the climate.”

Karsten Haustein, of the Climate Services Center in Germany, also independent of the study, said the US could be at risk of stronger hurricanes as a result of the Gulf Stream’s weakening.

“While the AMOC won’t collapse any time soon, the authors warn that the current could become unstable by the end of this century if warming continues unabated,” he said. “It has already been increasing the risk for stronger hurricanes at the US east coast due to warmer ocean waters, as well as potentially altering circulation patterns over western Europe.”

Dr Levke Caesar, of Maynooth University in Ireland, and the lead author of the paper, said sea level rises on the east coast of the US were another potential consequence. “The northward surface flow of the AMOC leads to a deflection of water masses to the right, away from the US east coast. This is due to Earth’s rotation that diverts moving objects such as currents to the right in the northern hemisphere and to the left in the southern hemisphere,” she said. “As the current slows down, this effect weakens and more water can pile up at the US east coast, leading to an enhanced sea level rise.”

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« Reply #3 on: Feb 27, 2021, 04:00 AM »

CO2 emissions: nations' pledges 'far away' from Paris target, says UN

Secretary general António Guterres says first assessment of promises amounts to ‘red alert for our planet’

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent
27 Feb 2021 16.22 GMT

The first assessment of countries’ pledges to cut their greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade, a vital component of the Paris climate agreement, has found they are only a fraction of the effort needed to avoid climate breakdown.

If all of the national pledges submitted so far were fulfilled, global emissions would be reduced by only 1% by 2030, compared with 2010 levels. Scientists have said a 45% reduction is needed in the next 10 years to keep global heating to no more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, in line with the Paris agreement.

Patricia Espinosa, the executive secretary of UN Climate Change, said: “We are very far away from a pathway that will meet the Paris agreement goal. We are collectively walking into a minefield blindfolded. The next step could be disaster.”

The assessment, published by the UN on Friday, covers countries responsible for only about a third of global emissions. Only 75 of the 197 signatories to the Paris accord submitted their national action plans for reducing emissions between now and 2030 – known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – in time to be assessed.

Some of the world’s biggest emitters, including China, the US and India, have still to formulate NDCs. They face renewed pressure to do so urgently. The UN has said that without them, the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in November will fail.

The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said: “2021 is a make-or-break year to confront the global climate emergency. Today’s interim report is a red alert for our planet. It shows governments are nowhere close to the level of ambition needed to meet the goals of the Paris agreement. The major emitters must step up with much more ambitious reduction targets for 2030 in their NDCs well before the November conference in Glasgow.”

Many of the countries still to produce NDCs, including China and the US, have stated their intention to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, seen as a key commitment to fulfil the Paris agreement. Guterres, however, said 2030 targets were also crucial: “Covid-19 recovery plans offer the opportunity to build back greener and cleaner. Long-term commitments must be matched by immediate actions to launch the decade of transformation that people and planet so desperately need.”

The US and China will now be firmly under the spotlight. China could publish its NDC as soon as next week, when the government is expected to unveil its next five-year plan. The US is holding a major international climate summit on 22 April, at which it could come forward with plans.

The two biggest emitters are involved in a diplomatic balancing act, echoing that before the Paris agreement, when presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping held their own summit before the talks in the French capital to forge a common understanding.

Helen Mountford, the vice-president of the World Resources Institute, called for stringent plans from both. “The US should set an ambitious and attainable 2030 emission reduction target of 50%, while China should peak its emissions by 2025, which our research shows is possible, as well as rein in its non-CO2 emissions” such as methane and industrial gases.

Aubrey Webson, the ambassador to the UN for Antigua and Barbuda and chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, many of which face inundation if temperatures rise by more than 1.5C, said: “The US recently rejoined the Paris agreement and the world applauded. Now we need them to continue to showcase real climate leadership.

“Other large emitters that have not yet made pledges must do so immediately. If we are truly determined to limit global warming to well below 1.5C, these emitters must do better. They must go further. And they must implement their climate targets faster.”

Espinosa also made it clear that the countries that had already submitted their pledges had not done enough. She refused to single any out, and the assessment – entitled the Initial NDC Synthesis Report – shows aggregate data. She said: “It is incredible to think that just when nations are facing an emergency that could eventually end human life on this planet, many are sticking to their business-as-usual approach.”

Japan submitted its NDC early last year, but since then the country’s new government and regional rivals China and South Korea have committed to net-zero targets, which could prompt a rethink. Australia and Brazil also submitted NDCs widely regarded as inadequate. EU member states agreed a target of 55% emissions cuts by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, though MEPs wanted to go further.

The UK, which will host Cop26, claimed its target of 68% emissions reductions by 2030 was the toughest of any developed country, but some economists calculated a target of 70% or more was feasible.

Carolina Schmidt, Chile’s environment minister who hosted the last Cop talks in 2019, said that of the major economies only the EU and UK had pledged enough. “With respect to the world’s biggest emitters, whose contributions are most decisive, only two followed Chile’s footsteps by presenting NDCs with a strong increase in greenhouse gas reduction targets last year,” she said.

“These were the EU and UK, whose efforts we commend. The remainder have either failed to present new NDCs or presented NDCs with no increase in ambition. They must all now step up if we are to keep the hopes of Paris alive, even if this means resubmitting an NDC to ensure it is fit for that task.”

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« Reply #4 on: Feb 27, 2021, 04:02 AM »

'Blossom circles' to bloom across England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Project aims to inspire UK equivalent of hanami – the Japanese custom of relishing fleeting sight and scent of blossom

Steven Morris
27 Feb 2021 07.01 GMT

The joyful sight of trees bursting into blossom during the first Covid lockdown last spring gave comfort and hope to countless people confined indoors or only allowed to roam very briefly outside.

Almost 12 months on a conservation charity is leading a major project to create “blossom circles” in cities across England, Wales and Northern Ireland to provide spaces for reflection and optimism to aid the emotional recovery from the pandemic.

The National Trust said the project – and other planned events this spring and in future years – was part of its ambition to inspire a British equivalent of hanami – the Japanese custom of relishing the fleeting sight and scent of blossom.

Planting is well under way at the first of the sites at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London. The design for the “London Blossom Garden” features 33 UK-grown trees, including cherry, plum, hawthorn and crab-apple to represent the 33 London boroughs.

Blossom circles are planned for Plymouth, Newcastle upon Tyne and Nottingham. Other locations will be announced in due course. The spaces will be used in various ways, including for events and social gatherings, workshops, festivals and exhibitions as lockdown restrictions are eased and for years to come.

The project, supported by the People’s Postcode Lottery, will help meet the trust’s ambition to plant 20m trees by 2030 to help tackle climate change and create new homes for nature.

Hilary McGrady, the charity’s director general, said: “Our vision is for nature, beauty and history for everyone. Our simple ambition with this project is to bring all of these elements together in the creation of green, nature-rich havens in the very heart of urban areas. Everyone needs beautiful, open spaces, wherever they live.”

In March last year the Trust urged people in lockdown to take a moment to pause, actively notice and enjoy the transient beauty of blossom, and share their images on social media using the hashtag #BlossomWatch.

Thousands of people took up the challenge, some sharing pictures of blossoms that brightened their back gardens while others spotted the delicate, colourful blooms as they took their permitted daily exercise.

McGrady said the ambition now was to embed blossom moments or events in the nation’s cultural calendar. Starting this year and building annually, National Trust, partners and communities nationally will be celebrating blossom through #BlossomWatch and sharing ideas for how people can get involved and connect with blossom wherever they are.

The project has been supported by a range of partners and political leaders.

Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, said: “I know from my time in Japan during the sakura season how beautiful cherry blossom can be. This is a fantastic example of how heritage organisations help make our neighbourhoods more beautiful and improve our physical and mental wellbeing.”

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said the capital’s garden would be a lasting, living memorial to commemorate all those who have lost their lives in the pandemic. “It will also be a tribute to the amazing ongoing work of our key workers and create a space for Londoners to contemplate and reflect on all this global pandemic has meant to our city and world,” he said.

National Trust blossom programme manager, Annie Reilly, added: “We will be working hard to ensure each space is designed to deliver something special in line with the individual needs of the local community. They might be large or small, intimate spaces; they will only become more beautiful over time as the trees root themselves in their surroundings, and we hope, into people’s daily lives.”

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« Reply #5 on: Feb 27, 2021, 04:06 AM »

Smuggled diary tells how abducted women survived Boko Haram camp

There was a rescue campaign on Twitter, but the women taken from a Nigerian school were saved by their strength and diplomacy

Jason Burke
27 Feb 2021 20.45 GMT

The resistance began three months after the young women were taken from their school dormitory by Islamist militants and hidden in the depths of a forest. It would end in direct confrontation and disobedience, and an unlikely victory which saved their lives.

But as the extremists of Boko Haram drove them through the bush to camps beyond the reach of any rescue, freedom was years away.

The story of the extraordinary courage of the women held for up to three years by the Islamist extremists in north-eastern Nigeria has never been told, despite the massive global attention focused on their abduction in April 2014.

The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls was tweeted by Michelle Obama, Kim Kardashian, the pope and others, in one of the most prominent examples of online activism ever. It brought the engagement of some of the most powerful states in the world, the dispatch of hundreds of troops and billions of dollars of military hardware to west Africa.

But now a book, due to be published early next month, will reveal the reality of life for the more than 200 women from the school in Chibok, who were kept as hostages in one of the most infamous mass abductions of recent decades.

“We wanted to tell the story of how these women survived, but also the story of why it took so long to free them in spite of, or perhaps because of, the social media campaign,” said Joe Parkinson, a co-author of Bring Back Our Girls, which is based on hundreds of interviews with the students, family members, former militants, officials, spies and others involved in their ordeal.

Among the students was Naomi Adamu. Her defiance began when the extremists told the students to swap their school uniforms for a black, flowing, all-covering garment. The 24-year-old kept her chequered blue dress, and then, risking a beating or worse, she began a diary.

The notebooks she eventually brought with her out of the forest provided much of the raw material for the book.

Adamu wrote on the days when it was safe, after compulsory lessons on the Qur’an and foraging for meagre rations from the forest.

The small act of rebellion gave her strength. When her Boko Haram minders told her she would be killed if she did not convert, marry a fighter and bear his children, she refused and was beaten with the butt of a rifle. Her captors did not follow through on their lethal threat, nor were she or the others who refused “marriage” subjected to sexual abuse. But they were condemned to backbreaking labour as “slaves”.

By mid-2015, with Boko Haram now on the retreat, Adamu and her closest friends were starting to lose their fear of the extremists. Inspired by her example, the other hostages began to fight back too, risking lashings with sticks and wire.

“I became the leader of our girls because I was the eldest among them and I was the most stubborn. Boko Haram wanted me to convert as an example because they knew the other girls listened to me – they beat me and bullied me and threatened to kill me, but I told them even if the heaven and earth come together I will not marry,” Adamu told the authors.

Soon, some of the hostages were openly insubordinate, refusing orders and being beaten repeatedly. They began quietly singing hymns when their guards were distracted. Then the singing got louder.

A small group of the most defiant students was separated. Adamu, their leader, was dubbed “the chief infidel” by furious Boko Haram leaders.

“When they realised we don’t wear hijab like the other girls they beat us and said they would cut off our heads. They made us wear hijab and pray but we decided together to fake the ceremony. We mouthed Christian prayers and told each other the story of Job,” said Adamu.

Once again the students were told they would be killed if they did not submit and convert. Again the small group of rebels refused.

“At a certain point we had seen so many bodies, we were no longer afraid to die,” she told the authors.

When Boko Haram tried to starve others into obedience, Adamu helped organise a clandestine supply of rice to fuel resistance. The tactic worked, and more and more students began to renounce the faith they said they had adopted only out of fear.

But beyond the forest, attempts to rescue the students were flagging.

“Twitter generated outrage … but not the actual means to free anybody,” said Parkinson. Nigeria’s feuding spy agencies called off a series of early deals, which probably would have freed all of the girls. The president himself suspected that the abduction was a hoax, set up by political rivals. Key informants close to Boko Haram were arrested by Nigeria’s military. A British spy plane sent to search for the women broke down en route to the country. Mutual distrust and poor relations with the Nigerians hindered the work of the 38 strong “interdisciplinary assistance team” deployed by the US. A botched air strike on Boko Haram’s headquarters left 10 of the girls dead and 30 or more injured, some maimed for life.

But Adamu remained determined to resist. “Partly I was strong because I was angry. I was angry we had been kidnapped before graduation,” she said. “And I was angry when 30 girls converted to Islam and got married … I felt some didn’t fight hard enough. It divided the group and weakened our resolve. People accepted they wouldn’t go home,” Adamu said.

Time was running out. The students were close to starvation, their rations were cut again and again. There was hope, however. Boko Haram was weaker than it had been since its resurgence in 2009, and increasingly fractured, with factions divided over what to do with their globally famous hostages.

A small team of Nigerian volunteers led by a diplomat from a little-known department of Switzerland’s foreign ministry, the human security division, had been working on a deal to free the students. In October 2016, a first batch of 21 students was released in return for a handful of senior Boko Haram militants. Then, seven months later, another 82. But at least 40 have died in the forest. Dozens are still there.

Adamu, defiant to the end, strapped her secret diaries to her body to carry them to freedom as she walked out through the bush. Driving away, she and the others chanted a Chibok song: “Today is a happy day.”

Parkinson, a reporter in Africa with the Wall Street Journal, said the story of the students raised an important question about dealing with extremists.

“The small team that ultimately answered the global demand to rescue the Chibok girls worked in secret for one of the world’s most discrete governments and smallest states. Its success relied not on loudly expressing moral judgment but on suspending it. They tried to reason with Boko Haram instead of denouncing it,” he said.

Adamu remains in northern Nigeria with ambitions to have her own family and set up some kind of business. But she is still not safe. Since the abduction of the Chibok students, Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 10,000 boys as child fighters as well as a similar number of girls and women, who have been used to make ransom demands to their families or forced into marriage.

“Our chief problem is that Chibok is now in danger again … If nothing changes it will only be a short time until one of us is kidnapped again,” she said.

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« Reply #6 on: Feb 27, 2021, 04:24 AM »

 Johnson & Johnson vaccine highly effective against severe Covid

Agence France-Presse
February 27, 2021

The single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine is highly effective in preventing severe Covid-19, including newer variants, according to documents released by the US Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday.

The news came as the regulator was set to convene an independent panel Friday that will likely vote to authorize the vaccine, making it the third available in the country hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.

In large clinical trials, the J&J vaccine's efficacy against severe disease was 85.9 percent in the United States, 81.7 percent in South Africa, and 87.6 percent in Brazil.

Overall, among 39,321 participants across all regions, the efficacy against severe Covid-19 was 85.4 percent, but it fell to 66.1 percent when including moderate forms of the disease.

Crucially, analyses of different demographic groups revealed no marked differences across age, race, or people with underlying conditions.

The vaccine was generally well-tolerated, with no reports of severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis), which have been seen in rare cases for the Pfizer and Moderna shots.

Mild to moderate reactions, like injection-site pain, headache, fatigue and muscle pains were more likely to occur in younger participants than older.

There were no reported deaths in the vaccine group, but five in the placebo group.

"The analysis supported a favorable safety profile with no specific safety concerns identified that would preclude issuance of an EUA (emergency use authorization)," the FDA wrote.
One dose, fridge storage

A third vaccine is seen as a vital means to ramp up the immunization rate in the United States, where more than 500,000 people have lost their lives to the coronavirus.

Some 65 million people in America have so far received at least one shot of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines -- but unlike those, the J&J vaccine requires just one dose, and is stored at fridge temperatures.

The trade-off is slightly less protection against mild or moderate forms of Covid-19.

"The vaccine was effective in preventing COVID-19 using a less restrictive definition of the disease and for more severe disease, including COVID-19 requiring medical intervention, considering all cases starting 14 days after vaccination," the FDA wrote in its briefing document.

"Although a lower efficacy overall was observed in South Africa, where there was a predominance of B.1.3.5 lineage during the time period of this study, vaccine efficacy against severe/critical COVID-19 was similarly high across the United States, South Africa, and Brazil," it added.

There was a hint, based on preliminary data, that the vaccine might be effective against asymptomatic infection.

But "this finding needs to be further investigated with additional data," wrote the company in a separate document made available by the FDA.

The J&J vaccine uses a common-cold causing adenovirus, which has been modified so that it can't replicate, to carry the DNA for a key protein of the coronavirus into human cells.

This makes those cells produce that protein, which in turn trains the human immune system should it encounter the real virus.

Other adenovirus vector vaccines against Covid-19 include those made by AstraZeneca-Oxford and Russia's Sputnik V.

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« Reply #7 on: Feb 27, 2021, 04:27 AM »

Myanmar police try to crush protests as envoy pleads with UN for action

One woman reportedly shot dead as Kyaw Moe Tun says strongest possible action needed to end military coup

Guardian staff and agencies
Sat 27 Feb 2021 10.07 GMT

Police cracked down in Myanmar on Saturday to prevent opponents of military rule gathering and one woman was shot and killed, media reported, hours after the country’s ambassador to the United Nations pleaded for international action to restore democracy.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the army seized power and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership, alleging fraud in a November election her party won in a landslide.

The coup has brought hundreds of thousands of protesters to Myanmar’s streets and drawn condemnation from western countries, with some imposing limited sanctions.

Police were out in force in the main city of Yangon and elsewhere on Saturday, taking up positions at usual protest sites and detaining people as they congregated, witnesses said. Several media workers were detained.

Three domestic media outlets said a woman was shot and killed in the central town of Monwya. Police there were not immediately available for comment.

Speaking on behalf of the civilian leaders deposed by the military takeover on 1 February, Kyaw Moe Tun pleaded with the United Nations general assembly on Friday to use “any means necessary” to take action against the Myanmar junta.

“We need further strongest possible action from the international community to immediately end the military coup, to stop oppressing the innocent people, to return the state power to the people and to restore the democracy,” said Kyaw Moe Tun to applause and praise.

Police used rubber bullets on Saturday to disperse a demonstration at Myaynigone junction, the site of an hours-long standoff the day before. At least 15 people were arrested, a police official confirmed.

“What are the police doing? They are protecting a crazy dictator,” the protesters chanted as they were chased away by the police.

Local reporters broadcast the chaotic scenes live on Facebook, including the moments when the shots rang out, which were also witnessed by reporters for the news agency AFP.

“We will try to find another way to protest – of course, we are afraid of their crackdown,” said protester Moe Moe, 23, who used a pseudonym. “We want to fight until we win.”

Three journalists were among those detained – an Associated Press photographer, a video journalist from Myanmar Now, and a photographer from the Myanmar Pressphoto Agency.

Similar scenes played out in the second city of Mandalay, and elsewhere, media reported. A protester in the central town of Monwya said police had fired water cannon as they surrounded a crowd.

“They’ve blocked all the ways out,” Aye Aye Tint told Reuters from the town. “They used water cannon against peaceful protesters, they shouldn’t treat people like that.”

Uncertainty has meanwhile grown over the whereabouts of Aung San Suu Kyi, as the independent Myanmar Now website on Friday quoted officials of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party as saying she had been moved this week from house arrest to an undisclosed location.

In his emotional address at the UN on behalf of the ousted civilian government on Friday night, Kyaw Moe Tun said the leaders represented the country’s legitimate government. He ended with a three-fingered salute used by protesters.

The UN’s special envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, warned that no country should recognise or legitimise the Myanmar junta.

“Regrettably, the current regime has so far asked me to postpone any visit. It seems they want to continue making large-scale arrests and have been coercing people to testify against the NLD government. This is cruel and inhumane,” she said.

The country has been largely paralysed by weeks of protests and a civil disobedience campaign of strikes against the military. While the military chief, Gen Min Aung Hlaing, says authorities are using minimal force during the protests, three protesters and one policeman have been killed.

“If there is any escalation in terms of military crackdown – and sadly as we have seen this before in Myanmar – against people exercising their basic rights, let us act swiftly and collectively,” Schraner Burgener said.

The army has promised an election, but has not given a date. It has imposed a one-year state of emergency.

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« Reply #8 on: Feb 27, 2021, 04:30 AM »

Kidnappers abduct 317 schoolgirls in Nigeria in armed night-time raid

Bandits carried out third mass kidnapping of students in three months, police say

Emmanuel Akinwotu in Dakar
27 Feb 2021 13.21 GMT

Police have said 317 schoolgirls have been abducted in north-west Nigeria, the third mass kidnapping of students in three months in an escalating wave of rural attacks blamed on groups of armed bandits.

The schoolgirls were abducted at about 1am from the town of Jangebe, Zamfara state, from the Jangebe government girls’ secondary school, police said on Friday.

Smuggled diary tells how abducted women survived Boko Haram camp
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Police and army officers have “commenced a joint search-and-rescue operation with a view to rescuing the 317 students kidnapped by the armed bandits”, Mohammed Shehu, a police spokesperson said.

A local government official in Zamfara said the gunmen shot sporadically and took the girls away. “Information available to me said they came with vehicles and moved the students, they also moved some on foot,” Sulaiman Tanau Anka, an information commissioner, told Reuters.

Unicef condemned the attack. “We are angered and saddened by yet another brutal attack on schoolchildren in Nigeria,” said Peter Hawkins, the UN body’s Nigeria representative.

A surge in armed militancy by several armed bandit groups in Africa’s most populous country has caused mounting dismay, amid a breakdown of security, particularly in rural areas. The groups operate from forest hideouts spanning north-western Nigeria into Niger, where they have launched attacks, kidnappings, theft and sexual violence on rural towns and villages.

In recent months, mass kidnappings for ransom, targeting schools, have become endemic, heightening fear for the welfare of students, and that already low levels of school enrolment in the region may suffer further. A lack of security has left many rural residents and schools exposed.

The rise in attacks is fuelled in part by sizeable government payoffs in exchange for the children, officials told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. The Nigerian government regularly denies such payouts.

Last week, unidentified gunmen killed a student in an overnight attack on a boarding school in the north-central Nigerian state of Niger and kidnapped 42 people, including 27 students. The hostages are yet to be released.

Despite several air raids and army operations, the bandit groups have continued to attack relentlessly and with ease. The groups have killed several hundreds of people over the last year. In some areas, the militants rove freely and are known to local residents and officials. The president, Muhammadu Buhari, who has been increasingly vilified for rising insecurity, last month replaced all the armed forces chiefs.

Many of the groups are made up of ethnic Fulanis, evolving from a land conflict between largely Fulani pastoralists and farmers of varying ethnicities across Nigeria.

In December, bandits abducted 344 schoolboys from the town of Kankara in north-west Katsina state. They were freed after six days but the government denied a ransom had been paid.

The gunmen were linked to Boko Haram, heightening fears of associations between the armed groups and jihadists still waging an 11-year insurgency in north-east Nigeria.

As agreements between the government and bandit groups to release kidnapped victims have become more frequent, attackers have increasingly courted public profile, without fear of arrest.

“Bandit leaders”, leading large groups of militants have spoken openly to local media in Nigeria, describing past attacks, while state governors have controversially advocated that the groups should be given amnesty and benefits. Obscure “peace deals” between bandit groups and local government officials, where weapons are reportedly surrendered, have failed to dent a rise in criminal activity overwhelming a largely poor and rural region.

The kidnapping is the latest in several attacks on schools in Nigeria by armed groups in recent years. In 2018 Islamic State’s west Africa branch kidnapped more than 100 schoolgirls from the town of Dapchi in north-east Nigeria, all but one of whom, a Christian, were released. A ransom was paid, according to the United Nations.

Boko Haram militants abducted 276 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in Borno state in April 2014. The incident drew widespread global attention, with several prominent personalities calling for their release.

Most have been found or rescued by the army, or freed in negotiations between the government and Boko Haram. About 100 are still missing, either remaining with Boko Haram or dead, security officials say.

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« Reply #9 on: Feb 27, 2021, 04:41 AM »

House approves $1.9tn Covid aid bill despite minimum wage setback

Relief bill represents Biden first big legislative win but wage hike proposal to be removed from Senate version

Daniel Strauss in Washington and agencies
Sat 27 Feb 2021 07.24 GMT

The US House of Representatives has passed Joe Biden’s $1.9tn coronavirus aid bill in his first major legislative victory.

Democrats who control the chamber passed the sweeping measure by a mostly party-line vote of 219 to 212 and sent it on to the Senate, where Democrats are planning a legislative manoeuvre to allow them to pass it without the support of Republicans.

The American Rescue Plan wo

Democrats have already suffered a blow in moving the bill through Congress when the Senate parliamentarian ruled that a $15 minimum wage increase could not be included in the bill under Senate rules.

Most Republicans opposed the cost of the bill designed to pay for vaccines and other medical supplies to battle a Covid-19 pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work.

The measure will also send a new round of emergency financial aid to households, small businesses and state and local governments.

A group of Senate Republicans had offered Biden a slimmed-down alternative, but the White House and some economists insist a bigger package is needed.

Biden has focused his first weeks in office on tackling the greatest public health crisis in a century, which has upended most aspects of American life.

Democrats control the House by a 221-211 margin, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi needed nearly all of her rank and file to get the bill passed before sending it to a 50-50 Senate, where the Democratic vice-president, Kamala Harris, holds the tie-breaking vote.

Embedded in the House bill is the federal minimum wage increase, which would be the first since 2009 and would gradually bump it up to $15 an hour in 2025 from the current $7.25 rate.

Biden has not given up on raising the minimum wage to $15, a top White House economic adviser said on Friday.

A higher wage “is the right thing to do”, White House national economic council director, Brian Deese, said in an interview on MSNBC.

“We’re going to consult with our congressional allies, congressional leaders today to talk about a path forward, about how we can make progress urgently on what is an urgent issue.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers must also act on the coronavirus stimulus package, Deese said.

The $15 minimum wage figure had already faced opposition in the Senate from most Republicans and at least two Democrats, which would have been enough to sink the plan. An array of senators are talking about a smaller increase, in the range of $10 to $12 an hour.

In a statement after the Senate parliamentarian’s ruling, Pelosi said: “House Democrats believe that the minimum wage hike is necessary.”

She said it would stay in the House version of the coronavirus bill.

In arguing for passage of the relief bill, Pelosi cited opinion polls indicating the support of a significant majority of Americans who have been battered by the yearlong pandemic.

“It’s about putting vaccinations in the arm, money in the pocket, children in the schools, workers in their jobs,” Pelosi told reporters on Thursday. “It’s what this country needs.“

Among the big-ticket items in the bill are $1,400 direct payments to individuals, a $400-per-week federal unemployment benefit through 29 August and help for those having difficulties paying their rent and home mortgages during the pandemic.

An array of business interests also have weighed in behind Biden’s America Rescue Plan Act, as the bill is called.

Republicans have criticized the legislation as a “liberal wishlist giveaway” that fails to dedicate enough money to reopening schools that have been partially operating with “virtual” learning during the pandemic.

The House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, complained it was “too costly, too corrupt”. While Republicans for months have blocked a new round of aid to state and local governments, McCarthy said he was open to his home state of California getting some of the bill’s $350bn in funding, despite a one-time $15bn budget surplus.

Efforts to craft a bipartisan coronavirus aid bill fizzled early on, shortly after Biden was sworn in as president on 20 January, following a series of bipartisan bills enacted in 2020 that totaled around $4tn.


US finds Saudi crown prince approved Khashoggi murder but does not sanction him

Biden administration to target ‘counter-dissident’ activity and Saudi official but not Mohammed bin Salman personally

Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington
27 Feb 2021 20.10 GMT

US intelligence agencies have concluded in a newly declassified intelligence report that Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, approved the 2018 murder of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi – but Washington stopped short of targeting the future Saudi king with financial or other sanctions.

The four-page report released on Friday confirmed the long-suspected view that the 35-year-old future king had a personal hand in the violent murder of one of his most prominent critics, a columnist and former Saudi insider who was living in exile in the US and used his platform to decry the prince’s crackdown on dissent.

The assessment’s release was accompanied by further actions from the Biden administration, including the unveiling of a new “Khashoggi policy” which is set to impose visa sanctions on individuals who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, engage in “counter-dissident” activities, including harassment, surveillance, and threats against journalists, activists, and dissidents.

The US treasury also issued new sanctions against Ahmad Hassan Mohammed al Asiri, the former deputy head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Presidency, who it said was “assigned” to murder Khashoggi and was the ringleader of the operation, as well as several members of the hit squad that killed the journalist.

Asked whether Joe Biden had concerns about Prince Mohammed’s position in Saudi succession, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said it was for Saudi Arabia to “determine the path forward on their future leadership”.

“I will say that the president has been clear, and we’ve been clear by our actions that we’re going to recalibrate the relationship,” Psaki said.

Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, told NPR that the report could complicate relations in the future. “I am sure it is not going to make things easier,” she said.

But even as the Biden administration was praised for releasing the partially redacted assessment, there were hints of frustration in Washington that Prince Mohammed would not face personal accountability for the grisly murder.

In Saudi Arabia, the mood was said to be one of relief. In a statement, the Saudi foreign ministry said the kingdom’s government “categorically rejects what is stated in the report provided to Congress”.

Senator Ron Wyden, who wrote the law that ultimately forced the report to be published, said there was “no question” in his mind that more should be declassified.

He added that more needed to be understood about the Saudi royal’s relationship with Donald Trump, whom he accused of covering up the murder as part of his “transactional” relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Wyden’s call for personal sanctions against Prince Mohammed were echoed by Agnès Callamard, the special rapporteur for extrajudicial killings who investigated the murder.

“The United States government should impose sanctions against the Crown Prince, as it has done for the other perpetrators – targeting his personal assets but also his international engagements,” Callamard said.

The partially redacted assessment, which was released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and relied heavily on information gathered by the CIA, said the agencies assessed that “Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi”.

It based the assessment on the prince’s “control of decision-making in the kingdom, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of [the prince’s] protective detail in the operation, and [his] support for the using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi”.

The US intelligence agencies’ assessment – which was released at about 9pm Saudi time – also found that the prince’s “absolute control” of the kingdom’s security and intelligence organisations made it “highly unlikely” that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation like Khashoggi’s murder without the prince’s approval.

Included in the assessment were several bullet points that contributed to the agencies’ findings, including that Prince Mohammed had “probably” fostered an environment in which aides were afraid that they might be fired or arrested if they failed to complete assigned tasks, suggesting they were “unlikely to question” the prince’s orders or undertake sensitive tasks without his approval.

    The US government should impose sanctions against the Crown Prince, as it has done for the other perpetrators

Agnès Callamard

The report pointed to the fact that the 15-member hit squad that arrived in Istanbul worked for or were associated with the Saudi Center for Studies and Media Affairs at the Royal Court – which at the time was led by Saud al-Qahtani, a close adviser to the prince who claimed publicly in 2018 that he did not make decisions without the prince’s approval.

“Although Saudi officials had pre-planned an unspecified operation against Khashoggi, we do not know how far in advance Saudi officials decided to harm him,” the report concluded.

While Prince Mohammed has previously denied ordering the killing or having any knowledge of it, the damning picture portrayed by the new report raises serious new questions about how the newly publicised information will affect the future heir’s relationship with the Biden administration and other foreign and business leaders.

One Saudi dissident living in exile compared the administration’s actions to convicting a man of murder, but then allowing him to walk out of court.

“I am disappointed, but it is early and we expect more to come,” the dissident said, adding that he believed it was now up to Congress to pass targeted sanctions against Prince Mohammed under the global Magnitsky Act.

The administration’s statements also alluded to other acts by Saudi Arabia, beyond Khashoggi’s murder, in what appeared to be a nod to reports that the CIA has intervened on at least two occasions – in Norway and in Canada – to warn that dissidents and activists were possibly under threat.

Tony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said: “While the United States remains invested in its relationship with Saudi Arabia, President Biden has made clear that partnership must reflect US values. To that end, we have made absolutely clear that extraterritorial threats and assaults by Saudi Arabia against activists, dissidents, and journalists must end. They will not be tolerated by the United States.”

The release of the report comes more than two years after Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on a mission to retrieve papers that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancee, Hadice Cengiz, who has since emerged as a fierce advocate for justice for her late partner.

Cengiz did not immediately comment on the report but tweeted a photo of Khashoggi.

While Khashoggi had been assured by Saudi officials that he would be safe inside the consulate’s walls, details later emerged – pieced together through recording and other evidence gathered by Turkish authorities – that described how a team of Saudi agents, who had arrived in Istanbul on state-owned planes for the intended purpose of killing the journalist – subdued, killed and then dismembered Khashoggi using a bone saw.

In one recording, a close ally of Prince Mohammed referred to the journalist as a “sacrificial lamb”.

The decision to release the report and expected move to issue further actions represents the first major foreign policy decision of Biden’s presidency, months after he vowed on the presidential campaign trail to make a “pariah” out of the kingdom. The White House’s “recalibration” of its relationship with Saudi Arabia is a major departure from the close relationship the crown prince, who is known as MBS, had with Trump, and Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Trump defended and brushed aside the findings of his own intelligence agencies, even after it became widely known through media reports that the CIA had concluded with a medium- to high-degree of confidence that Prince Mohammed had approved the murder.

Trump was reported to have bragged to the Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that he had protected the crown prince from congressional scrutiny, telling Woodward: “I saved his ass.”

The declassified US intelligence assessment was released after it was mandated by Congress. The Trump administration had ignored the law but the Biden administration signalled early on that it would be willing to release the document.

“By naming Mohammed bin Salman as the amoral murderer responsible for this heinous crime, the Biden-Harris administration is beginning to finally reassess America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and make clear that oil won’t wash away blood,” Wyden said.


Republicans continue to embrace Trump's election lie at CPAC

Conservative gathering in Florida has seven sessions this year focused on voter fraud and election-related issues

Sat 27 Feb 2021 08.00 GMT

Republicans have continued to embrace the myth of a stolen election the annual rightwing conclave of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), underscoring how the party continues to sustain the baseless idea months after Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 race and the deadly assault on the Capitol.

This year’s gathering of some of the party’s most fervent supporters has a staggering seven sessions focused on voter fraud and election-related issues. Several have inflammatory titles. “Other culprits, why judges and media refuse to look at the evidence,” was the name of one panel discussion on Friday. “The left pulled the strings, covered it up, and even admits it,” was another. “Failed states (GA, PA, NV, oh my!)” is the title of another scheduled for this weekend.

‘The base is solidly behind him’: Trumpism expected to thrive at CPAC
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Several speakers on Friday repeated debunked falsehoods about the election. Deroy Murdock, a Fox News contributor, repeated the lie that there were “mysterious late-night ballot dumps” that swung the election for Joe Biden and that there were vehicles with out-of-state license plates unloading ballots in the early hours of the election. Both of those claims have been debunked.

Stoking fears about fraud and advocating for stricter voting rules has become commonplace among Republicans in recent years, but in the wake of Trump’s presidency – and his loss to Biden – it has become a common rallying cry in the party. Even so, some observers said the focus on fanning the flames of the conspiracy theory at CPAC was still alarming.

“One program on lessons learned from voting in 2020 is appropriate to restore trust for half of America, but not seven!” said Eric Johnson, a former Republican lawmaker in Georgia who advised Kelly Loeffler’s US Senate campaign.

“Donald Trump convinced his base – a majority of Republicans, if polls are to be believed – that the election was stolen. Though the CPAC organizers likely know it’s false, they’re using this as a wedge issue to excite the base and sell more tickets,” said Nick Pasternak, who recently left the Republican party after working on several GOP campaigns.

He added: “CPAC’s willingness to make the election lie such a big issue this year is a concerning symbol of what many in the party think – and what they’ll do.”

Even though dozens of judges across the country, including several appointed by Donald Trump, rejected claims of fraud after the election, Murdock and other speakers at CPAC accused judges of being unwilling to examine evidence of fraud.

Hans von Spakovsky, a well-known conservative who has agitated for more restrictive voting policies for years, claimed that judges were reluctant to look at evidence because they feared they would be attacked. “When it becomes an extraordinary election contest, one with national implications and one in which they risk being attacked by one of the political parties, the news media, their reluctance gets even greater,” he said.

Pressed whether judges were afraid to look at the evidence, Von Spakovsky added: “I think in some cases that is true, in other cases they might have had valid procedural grounds, but it sure didn’t look like it to me.”

Asked how much evidence of fraud there was now, Murdock falsely said: “It may be shredded by now.”

Jesse Binnall, an attorney who represented the Trump campaign in Nevada, complained about the short deadline lawyers had to put together a case after the election and claimed judges were pressured by media reporting that noted voter fraud was not a widespread problem. “Right or wrong, they never tried to dig into the facts about voter fraud,” he said. “Our legs were cut off before we even walked into the courthouse.”

Litigants in American courts have to meet procedural thresholds to advance their case, something that prevents courts from having to hear frivolous claims. Again and again, Trump and his allies failed to convince courts that they cleared those bars.

“One might expect that when seeking such a startling outcome, a plaintiff would come formidably armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption,” Matthew Braun, a federal judge in Pennsylvania, wrote in December as he tossed out an effort from Trump and his allies to block certification of the election results there. “Instead, this court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations … unsupported by the evidence.”

The comments at CPAC underscore how Republicans continue to stoke uncertainty about the election – even after judges and Republican and Democratic elected officials alike repeatedly examined allegations of wrongdoing and did not find fraud, they continue to insist that there is unexamined evidence. In state legislatures across the country, are pushing new restrictions on voting. There are at least 253 pending bills to restrict voting across the United States, according to a tally by the Brennan Center for Justice.

In his remarks on Friday, Von Spakovsky expressed support for efforts to restrict voting by mail and said HR1, the bill pending in Congress that would require automatic and same-day registration, among other reforms, “the most anti-democratic bill I’ve ever seen during my 20 years in Washington”.

Jay Williams, a Republican strategist in Georgia, said the focus on elections was a way to gin up support among the party’s faithful base, which remains largely loyal to Trump and his allies.

“I would not equate ‘the party’ with CPAC so I wouldn’t put much stock in it from that perspective,” he said. “CPAC exists to make money and so it’s no surprise to me the organizers have jumped on to this issue as a way to drive engagement of their target market.”

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« Reply #10 on: Feb 27, 2021, 08:47 AM »

 Ex-CPAC chair rains hell on 2021 conference where 'facts don't matter' when it comes to Trump

Matthew Chapman
Raw Story
February 27, 2021

A former chair for the American Conservative Union has denounced the Conservative Political Action Conference, the annual gathering sponsored by his erstwhile group, claiming that it has become cult-like and tethered to an "alternate reality," reported the Huffington Post.

Former Rep. Mickey Edwards (R-OK) made the comments during an interview on CNN Friday night with anchor Erin Burnett.

"The Republican party really no longer stands for any kind of principles, conservative or otherwise," said Edwards. "The party seems now to be completely following the lead of one man wherever he goes, which is the definition of a cult. Now all that matters is 'Trump is for this, we're for this.' And that includes denying truth, denying fact, denying reality. It's such a disconnect from what's really happened in the world."

The speakers at CPAC, said Edwards, "are living in an alternate reality in which facts don't matter, the Constitution doesn't matter ... You know, they're no different than the people who flock to other totalitarian leaders in other countries. They're no different than they are in Hungary, they're no different than they used to be Germany. Whatever their great leader says, they do, and there's no underpinning of fact, there's no underpinning or concern about the norms of free democracy."

This year, CPAC's guest list has drawn controversy.

One speaker is a member of a Japanese cult whose leader believes he is a reincarnated alien from Venus. Another planned speaker, Young Pharoah, was disinvited after it emerged he has promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory, called Judaism a "complete lie," and said that pedophilia and bestality are the "intellectual property" of white people.


Republicans At CPAC Are ‘Horny For Another Insurrection’ In Stinging Supercut

“The Daily Show” montage spots similarities in the rhetoric of Republicans at the Conservative Political Action Conference and the U.S. Capitol rioters.

A stinging supercut calls out Republican rhetoric at this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida.

“The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” montage highlights how speakers — including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Donald Trump Jr. — used the same frenzied language in their addresses on Friday as the violent mob of then-President Donald Trump’s supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Watch: https://youtu.be/Gnpn3AcVrTg

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« Reply #11 on: Mar 01, 2021, 03:18 AM »

WHO investigation may have finally found coronavirus patient zero

Coronavirus OriginA medical worker in a protective suit is shown taking a swab for a coronavirus test.

By Chris Smith

    The World Health Organization will soon publish the findings of its official investigation into the origins of COVID-19.
    Investigators spoke with the man currently believed to be the first person who was infected by the novel coronavirus, discovering that the virus may have jumped to humans at a food market in Wuhan.
    The person believed to be the COVID-19 patient zero fell ill on December 8th, 2019, and had no travel history.

The first official World Health Organization (WHO) coronavirus investigation wrapped up a few weeks ago, and the early conclusions did not provide a better explanation for the origins of COVID-19. After several months of controversial planning, the researchers found that the likeliest explanation for the COVID-19 pandemic is an animal-to-human transmission. It’s unclear which animals might have spread the virus or when the jump to humans might have happened. In the process, WHO scientists spoke to a potential patient zero. If he was the first person to contract COVID-19, the location of the first covid case would shift to a food market in Wuhan rather than the infamous Huanan market. His story also indicates that COVID-19 transmission might have started well before late December 2019, when the first cases were announced to the world.

WHO officials met the presumed patient zero while visiting Wuhan, The Wall Street Journal reports. The man, an office worker in his 40s, is believed to have been infected on December 8th. He works for a private company and had no recent travel history.

“He has a very, in a way, dull and normal life—no hiking-in-the-mountains type of things,” Dr. Peter Ben Embarek told The Journal. The man’s main hobby was surfing the internet, Dr. Peter Daszak said. Both officials were on the ground in Wuhan during the infection, with Ben Embarek leading the WHO team. Patient zero told WHO investigators that his parents had visited another local community food market, not the one in Wuhan that was associated with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. China said months ago that the Wuhan market wasn’t the source of COVID-19.

The man’s claim that his parents had visited another market dropped at the end with the WHO interview. The scientists were not able to ascertain other details or identify the market. Daszak told CNN that the man’s parents had tested negative, but Chinese authorities should still trace their contacts at the market.

It’s unclear when the man’s parents were tested or what sort of test they received. There were no COVID-19 tests in early December 2019 since nobody was looking for this particular illness. Antibody tests can determine whether a person survived COVID-19 or not, but antibodies often start disappearing from the bloodstream several months after the infection.

The report notes that the WHO team wants to identify the market and see what sort of animals were sold there. They also want to see if any of the 174 cases confirmed from December 2019 — a figure that is higher than initial estimates — had connections to that market. Wuhan has some 400 food markets that serve a population of 400 million.

The WHO investigators said they found at least two types of animals that could carry the coronavirus at the Huanan market, including ferret badgers and rabbits.

The researchers also noted that the virus was spreading widely throughout the city within days of the first known cases from the market. This indicates the outbreak could have begun somewhere else. “There is clear evidence of simultaneous transmission of the virus in other places outside the market,” Thea Fischer told reporters in Wuhan. “It seems less likely that the market is the source of the virus epidemic.” Fisher is a Danish epidemiologist and a member of the WHO team.

This particular 40-year-old man might not actually be patient zero. Some researchers say that an older man fell sick on December 1st, 2019. A doctor who treated him said the man had other chronic illnesses and couldn’t speak. His relatives estimated the date when symptoms first appeared. The WHO will publish a summary report in the coming days that will recommend more studies to determine the pandemic’s origin.

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« Reply #12 on: Mar 01, 2021, 03:21 AM »

 Flood-prone Miami to spend billions tackling sea level rise

Agence France-Presse

The US city of Miami is to invest billions of dollars to tackle its vulnerability to rising sea levels, a reality that already affects the daily lives of residents used to constant flooding.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine-Cava said Friday she will protect communities hardest hit by rising sea levels, which eat away at beaches and leave residents particularly vulnerable to flooding during hurricane season.

"We must continue to focus on restoration, preservation and protection of this sacred space," she told a news conference.

"And so we will be together investing billions of dollars... in our infrastructure so that we can lift this community and others that are so affected by sea level rise," she added.

She cited "adaptation action areas" as a first priority to be studied, which would include raising low-lying roads, and waterproofing and converting southern Florida's widely used septic tanks into sewage systems.

The area, with extensive wetlands and sitting on porous stone that acts like a sponge, makes the state one of the most at risk from rising sea levels.

The problem is so visible that, during the summer rainy season, it is common to see Miamians kayaking along flooded avenues and cars sunk up to their windows.

The city of Miami Beach -- which is part of Miami-Dade County -- invested millions of dollars in raising the level of many of its streets in 2016.

And some private entrepreneurs have proposed creative, if expensive, ways to adapt to the challenge.

For example, Miami residents are used to seeing a houseboat that often docks near the port, although it has also appeared in other waters around Biscayne Bay.

It is valued at $5.5 million and adjusts to rising sea levels.

"It looks like a house, but technically it's a boat," said Nicolas Derouin, co-founder and managing director of Arkup, the Miami-based company that created this floating "villa" with a drop-down terrace over the sea.

The house, covered with a roof of solar panels, remains stable thanks to four hydraulic pillars that fix it to an underwater bed.

The Environmental Protection Agency says the sea level could rise by 30am to 120 cm over the coming century.

© 2021 AFP

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« Reply #13 on: Mar 01, 2021, 03:23 AM »

Airbus reveals planes sold in last two years will emit over 1bn tonnes of CO2

Landmark emissions disclosures cover 22-year lifetime of 1,429 aircraft sold in 2019 and 2020

Jasper Jolly

Planes sold by Airbus in 2019 and 2020 will produce well over 1bn tonnes of carbon dioxide during their lifetimes, according to landmark first estimates of the aerospace manufacturer’s emissions.

Airbus sold a record 863 planes in 2019, which would translate to 740m tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent produced over a 22-year period, according to figures seen by the Guardian. It sold 566 planes last year, for which lifetime emissions would be 440m tonnes.

The figures highlight the scale of the challenge of decarbonisation for the plane-making duopoly of Airbus and its US rival Boeing. Aviation accounts for about 1.9% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and this share is expected to rise rapidly as more people in poorer nations are able to afford to fly.

The emissions intensity of Airbus products fell from 66.6g of CO2 equivalent per passenger kilometre in 2019 to 63.5g in 2020. Airbus, which has factories in France, the UK, US and China, said this reflected more efficient planes even as the pandemic caused sales to fall.

Julie Kitcher, a member of Airbus’s executive committee who oversees sustainability and communications, said: “Despite the crisis, we’re accelerating the roadmap to decarbonising aviation.”

She said the disclosures were a worst-case view of potential emissions because sustainable fuels could cut the planes’ true net emissions.

The independently audited disclosures mark the first time Airbus has published an estimate of the carbon emissions its commercial planes will generate. These are part of what are known as scope 3 emissions, as opposed to direct emissions from company machinery (scope 1) or emissions embedded in purchased energy (scope 2).

The scope 3 disclosures come as scrutiny of the company’s emissions by the public, governments and investors increases. They will put pressure on Boeing to reveal its emissions.

Emissions disclosure is seen as an important first step in the long journey towards a net zero economy, but Airbus said it had not yet set a science-based target for cutting its carbon emissions.

The aviation industry has a non-binding target to reach net zero between 2060 and 2065, long after the 2050 deadline that scientists say is required to limit global heating to only 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

Airbus, Boeing, and engine manufacturers such as the UK’s Rolls-Royce are working on zero-emissions propulsion, as are a crowd of much smaller rivals. Some smaller electric planes are nearing production and Airbus is hoping to launch its first hydrogen-powered planes by 2035. Zero-emissions technology for long-haul flights is far off.

Airbus has reduced its emissions per passenger kilometre by half since 1990 through better aerodynamics, more efficient engines and lighter, stronger materials. However, further cuts in emissions will be more difficult to achieve.

Kitcher acknowledged that Airbus’s plans to cut emissions would depend heavily on sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), synthesised kerosene produced from replenishable resources. SAF would still emit similar amounts of CO2 but would theoretically cause net-zero emissions over its lifecycle.

About half of Airbus’s plan for net zero emissions by 2050 depends on SAF, 42% from new technologies and the rest from more efficient management of planes. Similarly, Boeing has committed to certifying all of its planes for 100% SAF use by 2030, after carrying out test flights.
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Andrew Murphy, the aviation director at the campaign group Transport & Environment, welcomed the prospect of better aviation emissions disclosure. He said, however, that non-CO2 heating effects such as those caused by aircraft contrails should also be reported. Non-CO2 effects heat the planet more than carbon, according to EU analysis.

He also said SAF was potentially viable but it would take concerted action by governments and industry over the next decade to scale it sustainably to anywhere near the levels required. The slow action meant the aviation industry was likely to rely heavily on carbon offsetting for the next decade, he said.

“The sector is in kind of a bind,” he said. “The only thing the sector can do for the next 10 years is mitigate its growth.”

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« Reply #14 on: Mar 01, 2021, 03:25 AM »

Australian scientists warn urgent action needed to save 19 'collapsing' ecosystems

A ‘confronting and sobering’ report details degradation of coral reefs, outback deserts, tropical savanna, Murray-Darling waterways, mangroves and forests

Adam Morton Environment editor

Leading scientists working across Australia and Antarctica have described 19 ecosystems that are collapsing due to the impact of humans and warned urgent action is required to prevent their complete loss.

A groundbreaking report – the result of work by 38 scientists from 29 universities and government agencies – details the degradation of coral reefs, arid outback deserts, tropical savanna, the waterways of the Murray-Darling Basin, mangroves in the Gulf of Carpentaria, and forests stretching from the rainforests of the far north to Gondwana-era conifers in Tasmania.

The list of damaged ecosystems extends beyond the continent to include subantarctic tundra of world heritage-listed Macquarie Island and moss beds in the east Antarctic.

The study’s lead author, Dr Dana Bergstrom from the Australian Antarctic Division, said 19 out of 20 ecosystems examined were experiencing potentially irreversible environmental changes, including the loss of species and the ability to perform important functions such as pollination.

Bergstrom said the collapses were a result of the ecosystems experiencing multiple pressures simultaneously. Some, such as rising average temperatures due to the climate crisis, habitat loss and invasive species, are chronic. Others are acute short-term events, many of them exacerbated by global heating. They include heatwaves, fires and storms.

While the report paints a dire picture, Bergstrom said a key message was that action now could still make a difference.

“None of the 19 ecosystems has yet collapsed across its entire range, but for all case studies there is documented evidence of ecosystem collapse in some areas,” she said.

“Urgent action will be essential to prevent the loss of any of these ecosystems in their entirety.”

Previous in-depth studies – including the government’s state of the environment report and last year’s review of the national environment laws by the former competition watchdog head Graeme Samuel – have found Australia’s natural heritage is in a perilous and worsening state, but they have mostly not considered in-depth what is happening within ecosystems.

The new report, which is published in the journal Global Change Biology, involved trawling peer-reviewed scientific papers and other reports to collect empirical data of the health of ecosystems, and assessing the results against criteria to determine whether they had changed state.

All but one of the ecosystems was found to have a low likelihood of recovery and to be heading towards permanent collapse. The exception was the subtropical rainforests of coastal New South Wales, which have been damaged to a lesser extent.

The scientists recommended a new framework to try to prevent ecosystems collapsing completely that they called the “3As”. It would require a greater awareness of the value of ecosystems, better planning to anticipate risks and rapid action to reduce them.

Among the examples in the report are the alpine ash forests of Victoria, which were found to be so frequently hit by fire that they often did not have enough time to produce seeds. In response, scientists had begun planting hybrid species that may cope better in the changed conditions.

Prof Euan Ritchie, from Deakin University and one of the authors, said the report was arguably the most comprehensive analysis of Australia’s environment to date. “It is confronting and sobering,” he said.

He cited the example of the tropical savannas across northern Australia that had been degraded by frequent fires, overgrazing by livestock and feral animals, invasive species including gamba grass, feral cats and cane toads, and, increasingly, extreme weather events.

It meant once-widespread native species such as the brush-tailed rabbit-rat were now rare and found in the few places where good habitat remained. “Improving fire management [and] feral animal and weed control are easily achievable steps we can take to protect this ecosystem and its remarkable and unique species, which also have significant cultural and economic value,” he said.

Bergstrom said while the idea that nature would take its own course was still pervasive, it was now time “to actually interfere with nature because we’re losing too much if we don’t”.

She said it was important to acknowledge work to bolster the environment was happening – from landcare and conservation groups and through actions supported by federal and state governments, including Indigenous ranger programs – but the report showed a more urgent and targeted response was needed.

“People talk about climate change as something in the future. Climate change is here and collapse is coming,” she told Guardian Australia. “But we have the ability and we have the skills. We just need the willpower to make it happen.

“Protecting these iconic ecosystems is not just for the animals and plants that live there. Our economic livelihoods, and ultimately our survival, are intimately connected to the natural world.”

The ecosystem report has been published as the government is facing criticism for not immediately acting on many of the recommendations made in Samuel’s review of the national environment laws.

Samuel found the laws were failing, and the government would be accepting the decline of celebrated environmental landmarks and the extinction of threatened animals, plants and ecosystems unless it embraced fundamental reform.

The government has introduced legislation for new national environmental standards as Samuel suggested, but has been accused of merely mimicking the existing laws and doing nothing to strengthen protection. Its proposed “assurance commissioner” to oversee the laws would not have the power to investigate decisions about specific developments.

While official data suggests Australia has the highest rate of mammal extinction over the past 200 years, the government has largely rebuffed calls for increased spending on the environment.

Funding for environment department and related programs were cut by more than a third after the Coalition was elected in 2013. Some was restored last year, much of it directed to “congestion busting” – increasing the pace at which development proposals were assessed.

An alliance of more than 70 conservation, farming and land management organisations last year pitched a $4bn plan to help repair the natural environment, saying it could create 53,000 jobs and boost regional economies in the wake of Covid-19. The government expressed interest in the report, but has not adopted its suggestions.

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