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ENVIRONMENT, CULTURE, WORLD NEWS

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Offline Darja

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Re: ENVIRONMENT, CULTURE, WORLD NEWS
« Reply #30 on: Jul 22, 2021, 03:34 AM »
Biden says ditching the filibuster would throw Congress ‘into chaos’ and lead to gridlock

By Annie Karni
NY Times
July 22, 2021

President Biden on Wednesday night defended the filibuster, a procedural tactic that stands to hold up much of his agenda in the Senate, even as he reiterated that he viewed it as a relic of Jim Crow.

“There’s no reason to protect it other than you’re going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done,” he said at a CNN Town Hall in Cincinnati. “Nothing at all will get done.”

Mr. Biden said there was too much at stake to risk that level of “chaos” that a fight over the filibuster would ignite, including voting rights legislation he still wants to see passed. He also said waging a war against the filibuster would play into the hands of Republicans seeking to hold up his agenda. “Wouldn’t my friends on the other side love to have a debate about the filibuster instead of passing the Recovery Act?” he said.

At his first news conference as president last March, Mr. Biden thrilled progressives who want to change the rules governing the Senate’s signature procedural weapon that require a 60-vote supermajority to advance a bill. Mr. Biden said the filibuster was “being abused in a gigantic way.”

That month, he also endorsed a return to what is called the talking filibuster: the requirement that opponents of legislation be required to occupy the floor and make their case against it.

On Wednesday night, he reiterated his support for a return to the old form but made it clear that he thought a filibuster fight was only a distraction.

“I’ve been saying for a long, long time the abuse of the filibuster is pretty overwhelming,” he said.

But when it came to passing voting rights legislation, he added, “I want to make sure we bring along not just all the Democrats, we bring along Republicans who I know know better. They know better than this. What I don’t want to do is get wrapped up right now in the argument whether or not this is all about the filibuster.”

Mr. Biden rejected the idea that overturning or changing the filibuster was the only way he would pass his agenda through a divided Congress.

“I’m trying to bring the country together,” he said. “And I don’t want the debate to only be about whether or not we have a filibuster, or exception to the filibuster, or going back to the way the filibuster had to be used before.”

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G.O.P. Blocks Infrastructure Debate in Senate, Raising Doubts About a Deal

The failed test vote reflected mistrust between Democrats and Republicans, raising questions about whether they could agree on a key piece of President Biden’s agenda.

By Emily Cochrane
NY Times
July 23, 2021

WASHINGTON — Republicans blocked the Senate on Wednesday from taking up an emerging bipartisan infrastructure plan, raising doubts about the fate of a major piece of President Biden’s agenda even as negotiators continued to seek a compromise.

The failed vote underscored the intense mistrust between the two parties, which has complicated the effort to complete a deal. Both Republicans and Democrats in the group seeking a deal say they are still making progress toward agreement on a package with nearly $600 billion in new funds for roads, bridges, rail, transit and other infrastructure, which could be the first major infusion of federal public works spending since the 2009 stimulus law.

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, forced the vote in a bid to intensify pressure for a swift resolution to the talks, acting over the pleas of centrist Republicans who said they needed more time to solidify their deal with Democrats. With many Democrats harboring concerns that Republicans will drag out the process only to withhold support from a final bill, he argued that there was still time to iron out final details.

“This vote is not a deadline to have every final detail worked out — it is not an attempt to jam anyone,” Mr. Schumer said before the vote, adding that negotiators would have “many opportunities” to add their plan to the bill “even if they need a few more days to finalize the language.”

But Republicans said they were not ready to commit to considering an infrastructure measure, and warned that putting the matter to a vote risked scuttling a potential bipartisan breakthrough. On Wednesday, as they shuttled between meetings and votes, Republican negotiators said a final deal could emerge in the coming days, about a month after they first triumphantly announced agreement on a framework.

“We’re optimistic that once we get past this vote today, that we’re going to continue our work and that we will be ready in the coming days,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine and a key negotiator. She said members of the group “think that we will be largely ready on Monday.”

With all 50 Republicans in the Senate opposed, Democrats fell short of the 60 votes that would have been needed to move forward with an infrastructure debate. All 50 members of the Democratic caucus initially voted to proceed, but Mr. Schumer switched his vote to enable him under Senate rules to bring up the measure again.

It was an inauspicious beginning to what Democrats had hoped would be a period of intense activity on Capitol Hill, with action on a bipartisan infrastructure measure and a far more ambitious, $3.5 trillion partisan budget blueprint that would include money to address climate change, expand health care and education and broaden child care and paid leave.

Instead, senators spent Wednesday voicing frustration over their failure to begin debating the infrastructure plan and privately meeting to work through the details of how to structure and finance the package. In a joint statement after the vote, 22 senators involved in and briefed on the bipartisan efforts professed optimism that they could finish the deal and vowed to keep working over the coming days.

At a town-hall discussion in Cincinnati on Wednesday, Mr. Biden predicted that Republicans would need “till Monday” to get the deal done, but that it would come together.

“I come from a tradition in the Senate, you shake your hand, that’s it. You keep your word. And I’ve found Rob Portman does that,” Mr. Biden said, referring to an Ohio senator who is one of the Republicans leading the negotiations. He added, “I think it’s going to get done.”

Republicans, including the five negotiators who have been involved in discussions on a compromise, argued that Democrats had threatened their progress by rushing a vote on the package before the deal was ready. Democrats questioned why Republicans, many of whom have said they want a bipartisan infrastructure compromise, would be unwilling to simply allow a debate to move forward while the negotiations proceed.

Underlying the finger-pointing were longstanding worries by both parties about the political ramifications of a deal. Democrats, particularly progressives, have long been concerned that Republicans would drag out negotiations to force concessions and then ultimately withhold their support.

Republicans are wary of getting prematurely locked into an agreement with Mr. Biden that members of their own party — many of whom deeply oppose costly federal spending packages — might reject.

Still, even as they voted unanimously against the maneuver, several Senate Republicans said they would support a rescheduled vote as early as Monday if a deal could be reached by then. At least 11 Republicans — enough to overcome a filibuster if every Democrat and independent agreed — readied a letter to Mr. Schumer making that commitment, though it was unclear on Wednesday whether he had received it.

For Republicans who have been negotiating the infrastructure deal with Democrats, voting no on Wednesday was a calculated gamble that they could swiftly finish the text and it could be brought up for another vote. Should they complete the deal in the coming days, they would still have to persuade enough of their colleagues to support the measure for it to clear the 60-vote filibuster threshold.

“This is not a deal breaker,” said Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah and another negotiator. “This is just making sure that we have an agreement in place, among all the parties, before we actually vote to move to the bill.”

“We need to move as fast as we can,” he added. “I’m not critical of the pressure to move — that’s the nature of the job.”

Since announcing their agreement on an initial framework, a bipartisan group of 10 senators and top White House officials have haggled over the details of an overall package set to provide $1.2 trillion over eight years, with $579 billion in new funding for roads, bridges, broadband and highways on top of the continuation of existing transportation programs, which committee leaders have largely agreed to outside the talks.

But the failed vote still frustrated some liberal Democrats, who have repeatedly warned against what they view as the mistakes of 2010, when they delayed votes on the Affordable Care Act in hopes of Republican votes that never emerged. They have argued that Democrats can easily slip the new spending for roads, bridges, broadband and highways into the broader spending package set to take shape in the coming weeks.

“It’s been too long — we’ve wasted several months,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington, the chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus, on Tuesday ahead of the vote. “The plan is always delay, delay, delay and wait until you get to an August recess.”

Virtual negotiations between the 10 core senators and top White House officials have stretched late into the evening most nights this week, and, on Tuesday, an in-person meeting with fajitas, tacos and wine ended when the last senators left just before 11 p.m.

They continued on Wednesday, as the group of senators met for lunch and briefed a group of Senate allies and Representatives Josh Gottheimer, Democrat of New Jersey, and Brian Fitzpatrick, Republican of Pennsylvania, the leaders of the so-called House Problem Solvers Caucus.

Lawmakers remain at odds over how to maintain funding levels for existing transit programs. The group of key negotiators also has to finalize how to finance the overall measure, with Republicans in particular reluctant to support legislation that is not completely paid for.

In discussions over the weekend, negotiators jettisoned a provision that would boost I.R.S. enforcement to collect unpaid taxes as a result of conservative backlash. Instead, they are now debating the terms of undoing a Trump-era rule that changes the way drug companies can offer discounts to health plans for Medicare patients as an option.

Democrats are also working to hammer out the contours of the $3.5 trillion budget blueprint, which will unlock the fast-track reconciliation process and allow party leaders to advance the remainder of their economic priorities on a simple majority vote, bypassing Republicans. That outline will most likely not emerge until Budget Committee staff members know whether to accommodate elements of the bipartisan framework, which would push the cost of the package higher.

“Our job right now is to move this thing as rapidly as we can,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent in charge of the Budget Committee. “My hope is that by early August, we will have a budget proposal to bring to the floor for a vote, and do what the American people want.”

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Pelosi Bars Trump Loyalists From Jan. 6 Inquiry, Prompting a G.O.P. Boycott

Democrats said Representatives Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, who amplified Donald J. Trump’s lies of a stolen election and opposed investigating the assault, could not be trusted to scrutinize it.

By Luke Broadwater and Nicholas Fandos
NY Times
July 22, 2021

WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi moved on Wednesday to bar two of former President Donald J. Trump’s most vociferous Republican defenders in Congress from joining a select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, saying their conduct suggested they could not be trusted to participate.

In an unusual move, Ms. Pelosi announced that she was rejecting Representatives Jim Banks of Indiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio, both of whom amplified Mr. Trump’s false claims of election fraud, joined their party’s efforts to challenge President Biden’s victory on Jan. 6 and have opposed efforts to investigate the assault on the Capitol by Trump supporters. She agreed to seat the other three Republicans who had been chosen for the panel.

But Ms. Pelosi said she could not allow the pair to take part, based on their actions around the riot and comments they had made undercutting the investigation. Mr. Banks, who has equated the deadly attack to unrest during the racial justice protests last summer, said the Jan. 6 inquiry was created to “malign conservatives and to justify the left’s authoritarian agenda.” Mr. Jordan, one of the biggest cheerleaders of Mr. Trump’s attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the 2020 election, pressed Mr. Trump’s false claims of election fraud on the House floor as protesters breached the Capitol, and has called the select committee “impeachment Round 3.”

The speaker’s decision drew an angry response from Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, who announced that Republicans would boycott the panel altogether. He seized on Ms. Pelosi’s intervention as confirmation of his charge that the investigation was nothing more than a political exercise to hurt the G.O.P.

The partisan brawl, unfolding even before the select committee has begun its work, underscored the difficult task it faces in scrutinizing an attack on the lawmakers now charged with dissecting it. It was also the latest evidence of how poisonous relations have become between the two parties, especially in the House, in the aftermath of Mr. Trump’s defeat and the violent bid to block certification of the outcome.

Many Democrats no longer wish to work with or hear from Republicans who helped spread Mr. Trump’s lie of a stolen election, especially those who led the effort and have sought to downplay the severity and significance of the assault that it inspired. Some said allowing two of the most prominent defenders to serve on a panel examining the attack was akin to allowing criminals to investigate their own crimes.

In a statement, Ms. Pelosi said she had rejected Mr. Banks and Mr. Jordan “with respect for the integrity of the investigation, with an insistence on the truth and with concern about statements made and actions taken by these members.”

“The unprecedented nature of Jan. 6 demands this unprecedented decision,” she added.

A visibly agitated Mr. McCarthy hastily called a news conference to condemn Ms. Pelosi’s move and accuse her of excessive partisanship. He pledged to carry out a Republican-only investigation into the events of Jan. 6, focused on how Ms. Pelosi should have done more to protect the Capitol from a mob of Trump loyalists.

“Why was the Capitol so ill-prepared for that day, when they knew on Dec. 14 that they had a problem?” Mr. McCarthy said, referring to Democrats. “Pelosi has created a sham process.”

In a television studio on Capitol Hill, Mr. McCarthy, Mr. Banks and Mr. Jordan — appearing with the three other Republicans chosen to sit on the panel — sought to divert blame for the riot from Mr. Trump and their own political supporters who carried it out, instead faulting Democrats who they said had not adequately planned for the onslaught.

Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi, the chairman of the select committee, said he would “not be distracted by sideshows” and pledged to move forward with the panel’s work, including its first public hearing next week where Capitol and District of Columbia police officers are set to testify about how they fought off the mob.

Ms. Pelosi had quietly debated her options with Democratic members of the panel, who had expressed reservations about allowing firebrands like Mr. Jordan and Mr. Banks, so closely associated with Mr. Trump’s efforts to undermine the election, to serve alongside them.

“There are people who want to derail and thwart an investigation and there are people who want to conduct an investigation,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland and a member of the panel. “That’s the fault line here.”

Democrats received high-profile backing from Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Mr. McCarthy’s former No. 3 whom Ms. Pelosi appointed to the committee after she was ousted from her leadership position in May for criticizing Mr. Trump.

“The rhetoric that we have heard from the minority leader is disingenuous,” Ms. Cheney told reporters on the steps of the Capitol. “At every opportunity, the minority leader has attempted to prevent the American people from understanding what happened, to block this investigation.”

She said Ms. Pelosi had been right to bar Mr. Jordan and Mr. Banks from the panel, saying that Mr. Jordan was a potential “material witness” and Mr. Banks had “disqualified himself” with recent comments disparaging the committee’s work.

Mr. Banks has come under criticism for arranging a recent trip for House Republicans to join Mr. Trump at the southwestern border, in which a participant in the Capitol riot at times served as a translator. He had also released a combative statement Monday night in which he blamed the Biden administration for its response to the riot — which occurred during the final days of the Trump administration — and said he would not allow the committee “to be turned into a forum for condemning millions of Americans because of their political beliefs.”

On Wednesday, both he and Mr. Jordan accused Ms. Pelosi of failing to secure the Capitol from the rioters, who stalked her through the corridors on Jan. 6, chanting “Nancy.”

Congressional leaders do not oversee security in the Capitol, though they hire those who do. It is controlled by the Capitol Police Board, which includes the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms and the architect of the Capitol. At the time of the attack, the House sergeant-at-arms, Paul D. Irving, had been on the job since 2012, when he was hired under Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio. The Senate sergeant-at-arms at the time, Michael Stenger, was hired in 2018 when Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, led the chamber.

Mr. Jordan, who has called the committee's work a political attack on Mr. Trump, was among a group of House Republicans who met with the former president in December to help plan the effort to challenge Mr. Biden’s victory. Democratic members of the select committee were considering calling him as a witness in their investigation.

Ms. Cheney reportedly clashed with Mr. Jordan on the House floor on Jan. 6, blaming him for the riot, according to a new book by two reporters for The Washington Post.

Ms. Pelosi had said she would accept Mr. McCarthy’s three other nominees to the panel — Representative Rodney Davis of Illinois, Representative Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota and Representative Troy Nehls of Texas — and said she encouraged Mr. McCarthy to offer two new picks to replace Mr. Jordan and Mr. Banks.

But following Mr. McCarthy’s lead, those three also said they would not participate.

“I was certainly prepared to help this committee get to the truth,” said Mr. Nehls, brandishing a binder of research. “But unfortunately, Speaker Pelosi has shown she’s more interested in playing politics.”

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White House officials debate masking push as covid infections spike

Tama/Getty Images)
WA Post
7/22/2021

Top White House aides and Biden administration officials are debating whether they should urge vaccinated Americans to wear masks in more settings as the delta variant causes spikes in coronavirus infections across the country, according to six people familiar with the discussions.

The talks are in a preliminary phase and their result could be as simple as new messaging from top White House officials. But some of the talks include officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who are separately examining whether to update their masking guidance, according to a Biden administration aide and a federal health official.

Officials cautioned that any new formal guidance would have to come from the CDC, and they maintained that the White House has taken a hands-off approach with the agency to ensure they are not interfering with the work of scientists. But the high-level discussions reflect rising concerns across the administration about the threat of the delta variant and a renewed focus on what measures may need to be reintroduced to slow its spread.

One idea batted around by some officials would be to ask all Americans to wear masks when vaccinated and unvaccinated people mix at public places or indoors, such as at malls or movie theaters, according to two people familiar with the conversations.

So far, leaders in the White House have been hesitant about any policies that would explicitly require Americans to show proof of their vaccination status, according to a person familiar with those talks. Depending on where discussions lead, that decision could ultimately fall to business owners who want to offer mask-free environments.

 The conversations are taking place as the country is seeing more than 40,000 new cases of coronavirus infections a day, an increase from a low of about 11,000 cases a day in June. The uptick is largely driven by the delta variant, a far more infectious strain of the novel coronavirus. Moreover, the rate of vaccination continues to slow, with about 500,000 people a day getting shots now, according to The Washington Post’s vaccine tracker. And breakthrough infections also are cropping up among vaccinated sports stars and politicians who are tested regularly.

“At the White House, we follow the guidance and advice of health and medical experts,” said Kevin Munoz, assistant press secretary. “Public health guidance is made by the CDC, and they continue to recommend that fully vaccinated individuals do not wear a mask. If you are not vaccinated, you should be wearing a mask.”

You got a coronavirus vaccine. But you still became infected. How did that happen?

Any new masking recommendations would be primarily aimed at protecting the unvaccinated population, which makes up nearly all current hospitalizations and deaths caused by the virus.

A return to a recommendation of more masking or a shift in White House messaging that urges Americans to wear face coverings in more situations would be a blow to President Biden’s efforts to convince Americans that the virus is in retreat.

Success against the virus is a message that Biden hopes to use in the 2022 midterm elections to help his party retain control of the House and Senate.

During a CNN town hall meeting Wednesday evening, Biden suggested that in the fall, children under age 12 will have to wear masks in school, implying that it was unlikely that a vaccine would be approved for them by then.

“The CDC is going to say that what we should do is everyone .?.?. under the age of 12 should probably be wearing a mask in school,” Biden said. “That’s probably what’s going to happen.”

Biden celebrated in May when the CDC said that vaccinated Americans no longer needed to wear masks in most settings, a change that some public health officials said was premature. He doubled down weeks later, throwing a Fourth of July blowout that featured 1,000 mostly unmasked people on the South Lawn of the White House as the delta variant strengthened.

The resurgence of the virus also could undercut the country’s economic progress over the past six months and threatens to interfere with the Biden administration’s other top priorities, including passing a sweeping infrastructure package, reopening schools in the fall and returning to a sense of normalcy for all Americans.

A number of White House officials, and people in touch with the White House, have privately said that changes to the masking guidance would be difficult to communicate, confusing to Americans and hard to enforce.

But, at least in the minds of some White House officials, the need to find ways to mitigate the threat posed by the delta variant makes remasking a topic worth discussing.

“It’s fair to say they are reconsidering everything,” said Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, who spoke with CDC and state officials on several calls this week. “I think everything’s on the table,” including whether to revisit recommendations on wearing masks and social distancing, Plescia added, noting that officials were particularly worried about the surge of coronavirus cases in the South and Midwest, where a disproportionately large proportion of Americans remains unvaccinated.

The context of the conversations is “what are the levers we can pull to fight delta,” said one person familiar with the talks.

People infected with the delta variant appear to carry a viral load that is 1,000 times higher than earlier versions of the virus and can easily spread it, particularly among the unvaccinated, experts say.

Officials said the White House would defer to the CDC on whether to recommend broader use of face coverings, including among the vaccinated, according to two administration officials familiar with the talks.

“This should be CDC’s call,” one official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of not being authorized to speak to the news media.

The official noted that Biden and his deputies have vowed to “follow the science,” in contrast to President Donald Trump, who often pressured the CDC and other scientific agencies to modify their guidance last year.

Vaccine hesitancy morphs into hostility as opposition to shots hardens

“But as we saw in May, there are problems with just leaving it to the CDC,” the official added, referring to the agency’s decision to relax its mask recommendations on May 13, which caught the White House by surprise.

Experts at the CDC are thinking through all options, including masking, according to a federal health official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions continue.

“At this time, we have no intention of changing our masking guidance,” said CDC spokesman Jason McDonald.

Public health experts say the situation has changed drastically since May, when the CDC issued its guidance for fully vaccinated individuals. The delta variant is surging, accounting for 83 percent of sequenced coronavirus infections, a dramatic increase from 50 percent for the week of July 3, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told a Senate panel this week.

Nearly two-thirds of U.S. counties have vaccination coverage of less than 40 percent, and more than 97 percent of people hospitalized with severe covid-19 infections are unvaccinated, according to the CDC.

“They would be irresponsible if they did not reconsider mask advice,” said Jody Lanard, a physician who worked for nearly two decades as a pandemic communications adviser consulting with the World Health Organization.

But reconsidering mask advice would put the CDC in a difficult position.

When the agency issued guidance for fully vaccinated people in May, saying they did not need to wear masks in most places, the announcement was not explained well, Lanard said. Some people interpreted it as giving a pass to unvaccinated people to not wear masks, she said.

CDC officials “always say they want to follow the science, but they did not prepare the public early on to say ‘we are looking at multiple factors, including how science fits in with reality and social science, and how it fits with expected and unexpected changes, especially sudden changes, where we have to turn on a dime to try to protect more people,’ ” Lanard said.

Mask mandates make a return — along with controversy

But, she added, the CDC could gain credibility by directly acknowledging to the public the confusion and mixed messaging. Such a message could be: “We have delta. We are going to take a chance of enraging people who are already understandably enraged by our mask advice. … This is a new phase of the pandemic not being under control, but it’s better than the last phase.”

Many Americans have stopped wearing masks, and officials are bracing for a challenge in convincing skeptics to put them back on.

Fifty-two percent of Americans say they are regularly wearing a mask when they are in public, down from 84 percent in early May, according to an Axios-Ipsos poll released Tuesday.

“When CDC issued its guidance on masking a couple months ago, that people who were vaccinated didn’t need to wear them, we didn’t have the delta variant around,” said Linsey Marr, a Virginia Tech engineer who has studied the transmission of airborne diseases. “But cases are rising now, vaccination rates have stalled, and delta transmits much more easily than the earlier variants. And so I think we do need to revisit that guidance.”

Covid-related hospitalizations have risen 34 percent nationwide in the past week, according to The Post’s tracking, with some states reporting sharply higher figures; Louisiana has registered a 75 percent increase in covid-related hospitalizations over the past week, and Florida has reported a 52 percent jump.

“When you’re starting to see hospitalizations tick up, you have to do something. You have to make a move or you find yourself back in a place where we don’t have enough hospital capacity,” said Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Rivers said that she didn’t see the need for a national mask mandate but thought that states that were reporting “over 10 cases per 100,000 people per day could stand to use a mask mandate” — a threshold that would apply to 20 states today, according to The Post’s tracking. Those states are mostly in the South and Midwest, where fewer than half of residents have been fully vaccinated.

Already, some jurisdictions are taking matters into their own hands. Health officials in California last week recommended or required that residents in eight counties resume wearing masks indoors. That includes Los Angeles County, where officials reinstituted an indoor mask mandate over the weekend, requiring all residents regardless of their vaccination status to wear masks in indoor public spaces.

Going further than the CDC, pediatricians group recommends masks in schools even for the vaccinated

But, in an example of the power of the current CDC guidance, the L.A. county sheriff cited the federal guidelines when he said that his department will “ask for voluntary compliance” and not aggressively enforce the new local guidelines.

In Virginia, state officials are urging all elementary school students and employees to wear masks indoors this fall even if vaccinated. Virginia issued guidance Wednesday “strongly” recommending that elementary schools continue requiring mask-wearing until the coronavirus vaccine is available for children under 12. The guidance says students and staffers in middle and high schools should wear masks indoors if they are not fully vaccinated.

The tone also is shifting in Congress. On Tuesday, the attending physician of Congress, Brian P. Monahan, sent out a message that vaccinated people “may consider additional protective actions” including wearing masks, according to a copy of the message obtained by The Post.

The message also warned members of Congress and their staffers that the rules about masking could be tightened in coming weeks and months.

“Individuals have the personal discretion to wear a mask,” according to the message, “and future developments in the coronavirus delta variant local threat may require the resumption of mask wear for all as now seen in several counties in the United States.”

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Offline Darja

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Re: ENVIRONMENT, CULTURE, WORLD NEWS
« Reply #31 on: Jul 23, 2021, 02:16 AM »

Humans started growing cannabis 12,000 years ago — for food, fibers, and probably to get high

Humans and weed go back 120 centuries.

Mihai Andrei   
ZME
July 23, 2021

A new study traced back the origin of cannabis agriculture to nearly 12,000 years ago in East Asia. During this time cannabis was likely a multipurpose crop — it was only 4,000 years ago that farmers started growing different strains for either fiber or drug production.
Cannabis landraces in Qinghai province, central China. Credit: Guangpeng Ren.

Although it’s largely understudied due to legal reasons, cannabis is one of the first plants to be domesticated by humans. Archaeological studies have found traces of cannabis in various different cultures across the centuries, but when and where exactly was cannabis domesticated was still unclear.

Many botanists believed the plant emerged in central Asia, but a new study shows that east Asia (including parts of China) is the origin of domesticated cannabis.

A research team was led by Luca Fumagalli of the University of Lausanne and involved scientists from Britain, China, India, Pakistan, Qatar, and Switzerland. The researchers compared and analyzed 110 whole genomes of different plants, ranging from wild-growing feral plants and landraces to historical cultivars and modern hybrids.

They concluded that the ancestral domestication of cannabis plants occurred some 12,000 years ago, during a period called the Neolithic, and that the plants likely had multiple uses.

    “We show that cannabis sativa was first domesticated in early Neolithic times in East Asia and that all current hemp and drug cultivars diverged from an ancestral gene pool currently represented by feral plants and landraces in China,” the study reads.

    “Our genomic dating suggests that early domesticated ancestors of hemp and drug types diverged from Basal cannabis [around 12,000 years ago] indicating that the species had already been domesticated by early Neolithic times”, the study adds. The results go against a popular theory regarding the plant’s origin, the researchers add.

    “Contrary to a widely-accepted view, which associates cannabis with a Central Asian center of crop domestication, our results are consistent with a single domestication origin of cannabis sativa in East Asia, in line with early archaeological evidence.”

When a study can land you in jail


It’s hard to study cannabis, regardless of what your reasons are. You can’t just go around picking or buying plants because the odds are that’ll get you in trouble. To make matters even more difficult, if you want to see where a domesticated plant originated from, you have to collect samples from different parts of the world — which is even more likely to get you in trouble.

So for decades, researchers looked at indirect evidence. Most cannabis strains appear to be from Central Asia, and several cultures of that region have used cannabis for thousands of years, so that seems like a likely place of origin. It’s a good guess, but not exactly true.

Cannabis grows pretty much everywhere — that’s why it’s called “weed” — and just because people in Central Asia were quick to adopt the plant doesn’t necessarily mean they were the first ones to grow it.

After crossing legal and logistic hurdles, Fumagalli was able to gather around 80 different types of cannabis plants, either cultivated by farmers or growing in the wild. They also included 30 previously sequenced genomes in the analysis.

With this, they found that the likely ancestor of modern cannabis (the initial wild plant that was domesticated) is likely extinct. However, its closest relatives survive in parts of northwestern China. This fits very well with existing archaeological evidence, which shows evidence of hemp cord markings some 12,000 years ago. In particular, it seems to fit with a 2016 study by other scientists that said that the earliest cannabis records were mostly from China and Japan.

The early domestication of cannabis in the Neolithic could be a big deal. Cannabis isn’t exactly a food crop. You can indeed use it to get oil, and the seeds can be consumed but its main use is for fibers and for intoxication. Usually, when archaeologists look at a population domesticating a crop, they naturally think of food as a priority — but this would suggest that Neolithic folk also had, uhm, other priorities. Or simply, cannabis was a multi-purpose crop.

Diversifying crops

The team also identified the genetic changes that farmers brought over the centuries through selective breeding. They found that some 4,000 years ago, farmers started to focus on either plants that would produce fibers, or on those better suited for producing drugs.

For instance, hemp strains bred for fiber production have mutations that inhibit branching, which makes them grow taller and produce more fibers. Meanwhile, strains bred for drug production, have mutations that encourage branching and reduce vertical growth. This results in shorter plants that produce more flowers. In addition, plants grown for drug productions also have mutations that boost the production of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

For millennia, hemp (the cannabis grown for fibers) has been an important crop. Clothes, ropes, and various other products used hemp fibers, but the emergence of modern metalworking and modern synthetic fibers (such as nylon) led to its downfall, and the once-popular plant became all but forgotten. Until recently.

Recently, we’ve seen a resurgence in the interest in cannabis, for sustainable fiber production as well as medicinal and recreational purposes. With more and more countries decriminalizing the possession and growth of cannabis, the plant may be making a comeback — and for researchers looking to study its origin, that’s great news.

While this study offers an unprecedented view into the evolutionary history of cannabis, it’s still a relatively small sample size. Finding wild samples is hard — and feral samples you find today aren’t really wild, they’re just grown varieties that escaped and are now feral. Furthermore, even gaining access to cultivars can be difficult.

Maybe, as society becomes more inclined to consider cannabis, researchers can gain access to more resources about it as well. By studying its genomic history, scientists can also provide valuable insights into the desired functional properties of plants, helping growers develop better varieties both for medicine and for other uses.

The study has been published in Science Advances.

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Re: ENVIRONMENT, CULTURE, WORLD NEWS
« Reply #32 on: Jul 23, 2021, 02:19 AM »

Norway starts work on carbon storage program — says it’s “absolutely necessary”

The country believes simply reducing our emissions isn't enough -- we'll also need to sequester carbon underground.

Mihai Andrei   
ZME
July 23, 2021

Norway is investing 1.7 billion euros into a full-scale carbon capture, transport, and storage project. The project named “Longship” is now under construction, and Norway is inviting other countries to join the project.

If we want to ensure a sustainable future without catastrophic climate damage, we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions — especially carbon dioxide. That can be done in several ways; one approach is to replace fossil fuel energy with renewable energy; another is to replace diesel cars with electric cars, or bicycles; changing our diets to less carbon-intensive foods can also make a big difference.

But there’s one area in which reducing emission has proven extremely difficult: factories — especially cement factories.

Cement alone represents around 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and, overall, 20% of global emissions come from heavy industries, which are typically factory-based). If cement facilities were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter behind only China and the US. This is where carbon capture and storage (CCS) would come into play.

    “According to the UN Panel on Climate Change, the capture, transport and storage of CO? emissions from the combustion of fossil energy and industrial production is crucial in order to reduce the world’s greenhouse gas emissions,” the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy writes on the project’s page.

    “For some industries, especially cement production and waste incineration, the capture and storage of CO? is the only way to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

CCS is the process of capturing carbon dioxide and sequestering it underground. It works best when the CO? is captured from large point sources like (you’ve guessed it) factories. The technology could also be used to extract existing carbon from the atmosphere, but that technique is far less mature.

The aim is to prevent the release of carbon into the atmosphere and instead, inject it into geological formations where it would stay indefinitely.

The problem is that CCS is still expensive, and the technology is still emerging. Without a firm tax on carbon, the technology is pretty much a money sink. Besides, you also require the right geology to inject the carbon.

But Norway, a country that could become carbon-neutral as early as 2030, has the right suitable geological conditions, and is willing to invest money into a pioneering project, with the approval of the Norwegian Parliament. CCS is “absolutely necessary” if the world is to avoid runaway climate change, a state secretary told Dezeen.

    “If we succeed in capturing and storing CO?, it will be significantly cheaper to achieve the climate goals. Longship contributes in making this more feasible and less costly,” the project’s page writes. The carbon dioxide will be buried under the North Sea, into suitable bedrock. There is enough bedrock at the site to store Norway’s current emissions for a thousand years.

The government is also working with several companies. Northern Lights, the organization tasked with transporting the greenhouse gas and storing it under the sea, is already in discussion with several industrial partners. Reportedly, 60 companies are already interested in the project. The first carbon capture will happen at the Norcem cement factory in Brevik.

From Brevik, the CO? will be transported by ship to a new reception terminal in Øygarden in Hordaland. Then, the CO? will be sent through pipelines and permanently stored in a geological formation about 2,600 meters below the seabed. Northern Lights (a venture that involves Equinor, Shell, and Total) will realize the transport and storage of CO? in Longship. However, it's not clear how much such a service could cost.

This is an encouraging step, but in order for CCS to work, it requires international cooperation -- not just for the storage itself, but also for developing and commercializing new technology. Without CCS, reaching our emissions goals is exceedingly difficult -- but we're still just getting started.

According to the Global CCS Institute, in 2020, CCS operations had a capacity of about 40 million tons of CO2 per year, with another 50 million tons per year in development. In contrast, the world emits about 38 billion tonnes of CO2 every year.

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Re: ENVIRONMENT, CULTURE, WORLD NEWS
« Reply #33 on: Jul 23, 2021, 02:23 AM »
‘Nowhere is safe’: heat shatters vision of Pacific north-west as climate refuge

Residents of the region, known for its mild weather, are facing a shifting reality

Oliver Milman
Guardian
23 Jul 2021 07.00 BST

The recent heatwave that broiled the US Pacific north-west not only obliterated temperature records in cities such as Seattle and Portland – it also put a torch to a comforting bromide that the region would be a mild, safe haven from the ravages of the climate crisis.

Unprecedented temperatures baked the region three weeks ago, part of a procession of heatwaves that have hit the parched US west, from Montana to southern California, over the past month. A “heat dome” that settled over the area saw Seattle reach 108F (42.2C), smashing the previous record by 3F (1.7C), while Portland, Oregon, soared to its own record of 116F (46.7C). Some inland areas managed to get up to 118F (47.8C).

The conditions in a corner of the US known for its moderate, often lukewarm, summers bewildered residents.

Roads cracked and buckled in the heat, power cables melted, restaurants shut down. Hospitals suddenly found themselves overwhelmed, with several hundred people believed to have died in the heat. Slightly north, off the coast of Vancouver, an estimated 1 billion marine creatures perished, as helpless mussels and clams cooked in their own shells.

“We saw the forecasts and it was hard to believe as we don’t really have heatwaves like that. In Seattle it’s usually so overcast during June we call it Juneuary,” said Kristie Ebi, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington who knew the heatwave was serious when she woke up at 6am with the temperature already at 80F. “You see the heatwaves hit other places and you know it’s bad but there’s not the sense of urgency until it hits you.”
The Bootleg fire burns in Southern Oregon on 17 July.

An old joke in Seattle is that you will know more people with a boat than people with air conditioning and the latest figures show just 44% of households in the city are fitted with air con. The Pacific north-west’s image as a place of rugged natural beauty, comfortable climes and forward-thinking politics has helped draw plenty of newcomers – Seattle was the fastest-growing major US city last year – but the freakish heatwave has provided a sobering reality check to its blossoming status as a refuge.

“There are a lot of people moving up from California with the idea there’s a lot of natural amenities and a lot of cheap space but all of these factors are changing,” said Jesse Keenan, an expert in climate adaptation at Tulane University. “It’s becoming less affordable and is increasingly burdened by forest fires, terrible smoke, flash floods and these heatwaves that suddenly make things a matter of life or death.”

The Pacific north-west has heated up by an average of 2F (1.1C) over the past century, with growing wildfires, failing coastal fisheries, receding snowpack and increasing heat taking its toll upon a region historically unprepared for such extremes. The recent heatwave would have been “virtually impossible” without human-induced climate breakdown, scientists have said.

Communities in the north-west face a “monumental task” to adapt to this shifting reality, Keenan said, requiring the upgrading of homes, businesses and public buildings with proper cooling, increasing shade with more tree cover, making urban surfaces more reflective to the heat and retooling an electricity grid ill-equipped for huge power surges in summertime.

“There is a very rapid change in the climate under way and at the moment they are not well prepared for extreme heat,” Keenan said. “People are finally feeling the pain of that.”

Oregon was supposed to be a tranquil haven for Steven Mana’oakamai Johnson, who moved to the state in 2017 after witnessing his home in Saipan, part of the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean, menaced by typhoons made increasingly powerful by the warming ocean and atmosphere.

But when the heatwave struck, Johnson, his partner and their dog had to flee their Corvallis apartment, which does not have air conditioning, to stay on the Oregon coast in an attempt to cool down. The surging heat, which followed wildfires that raged nearby last year, has forced Johnson to revise his previous assumptions.

“I always thought this was a comfortable place, that it could even be a host state for climate migrants,” said Johnson, a biologist. “But there has been this big wake-up that things are moving faster than anticipated. It was shocking how hot it got, and how long it took to cool down.”

Several of Johnson’s friends are among the many people now inundating local contractors with requests to install air conditioning.

“In just a few days you’ve seen this big change in how people are thinking about adapting,” he said. “It has changed my view of Oregon. It’s hammered home to me that climate change is inescapable – no matter where you are or when you go there, you have to think about it. Nowhere is safe, nowhere is truly a refuge.”

The calculus for some people is even more existential. A few hundred miles north of Seattle, the small Canadian town of Lytton was almost completely consumed by a fast-moving wildfire on 30 June, the day after it set a stunning new national record temperature of 121F (49.6C), a huge leap on the previous record and higher than any temperature ever gauged in Europe or South America.

Lytton is located in a more arid inland area than the breezier British Columbia coast and so often gets scorching heat in summer, although nothing approaching the incredible extremes endured this year. It is forcing some to think about their presence in what is supposed to be a safe corner of the world.

“I firmly believe there will be more and more fires until there are no trees here,” said Jim Ryan, a computer programmer who has lived in Spence’s Bridge, a small town near Lytton, for the past 30 years. “Even if I don’t get burned out, do I want to spend every summer living in smoke, in a place more polluted than in the big cities?”

Ash is still falling down around Ryan’s house and in most recent summers a nearby wildfire has choked his town, leaving his clothes smelling of smoke. “There were always fires before, but never this big, they never took off as fast,” he said.

“To me, it is climate change in action. I don’t really want to move away but I don’t want to live here and cut short my life either. That’s something we are struggling with. The question is, though – where would we go to?”

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Re: ENVIRONMENT, CULTURE, WORLD NEWS
« Reply #34 on: Jul 23, 2021, 02:25 AM »

EXPLAINER: What's fueling Russia's 'unprecedented' fires?

AP
7/23/2021

MOSCOW (AP) — Thousands of wildfires engulf broad expanses of Russia each year, destroying forests and shrouding regions in acrid smoke. Northeastern Siberia has had particularly massive fires this summer amid record-setting heat. Many other regions across the vast country also have battled wildfires.

Some factors behind Russia's endemic wildfires and their consequences: RECORD HEAT In recent years, Russia has recorded high temperatures that many scientists regard as a clear result of climate change. The hot weather has caused permafrost to melt and fueled a growing number of fires.

The vast Sakha-Yakutia region of Siberia has had a long spell of extremely hot and dry weather this summer, with temperatures reaching 39 degrees Celsius (102 degrees Fahrenheit) and setting records for several days. The heat wave helped spark hundreds of fires, which so far have scorched more than 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) of land, making it the worst-affected region in Russia.

The fires have shrouded Yakutia’s cities, towns and villages in thick smoke, forcing authorities to briefly suspend flights at the regional capital’s airport. The Defense Ministry deployed transport planes and helicopters to help douse the flames.

Fedot Tumusov, a member of the Russian parliament who represents the region, called the blazes “unprecedented” in their scope. MONITORING DIFFICULTIES The forests that cover huge areas of Russia make monitoring and quickly spotting new fires a daunting task.

In 2007, a federal network to spot fires from aircraft was disbanded and had its assets turned over to regional authorities. The much-criticized change resulted in the program's rapid deterioration. The government later reversed the move and reestablished the federal agency in charge of monitoring forests from the air. However, its resources remain limited, making it hard to survey the massive forests of Siberia and the Far East.

NEGLECT OF FIRE SAFETY RULES While some wildfires are sparked by lightning, experts estimate that over 70% of them are caused by people, from carelessly discarding cigarettes to abandoned campfires, but there are other causes.

Authorities regularly conduct controlled burns, setting a fire to clear the way for new vegetation or to deprive unplanned wildfires of fuel. Observers say such intentional burns often are poorly managed and sometimes trigger bigger blazes instead of containing them.

Farmers also use the same technique to burn grass and small trees on agricultural lands. Such burns regularly get out of control. ARSON Activists and experts say that fires are often set deliberately to cover up evidence of illegal lumbering or to create new places for timber harvesting under the false pretext of clearing burned areas.

Activists in Siberia and the Far East allege such arson is driven by strong demand for timber in the colossal Chinese market, and they have called for a total ban on timber exports to China. Officials have acknowledged the problem and pledged to tighten oversight, but Russia's far-flung territory and regulatory loopholes make it hard to halt the illegal activity.

Critics blame the 2007 forest code that gave control over timberlands to regional authorities and businesses, eroding centralized monitoring, fueling corruption and contributing to illegal tree-cutting practices that help spawn fires.

CONTROVERSIAL REGULATIONS Russian law allows authorities to let wildfires burn in certain areas if the potential damage is considered not worth the costs of containing them. Critics have long assailed the provision, arguing it encourages inaction by authorities and slows firefighting efforts so a blaze that could have been extinguished at a relatively small cost is often allowed to burn uncontrolled.

“They eventually have to extinguish it anyway, but the damage and the costs are incomparable,” said Mikhail Kreindlin of Greenpeace Russia. LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES In addition to destroying trees, wildfires also kill wildlife and pose a threat to human health by polluting the air.

Carbon emissions from fires and the destruction of forests, which are a major source of oxygen, also contribute to global warming and its potentially catastrophic impact. This year's fires in Siberia already have emitted more carbon than those in some previous years, according to Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.

He said the peat fires that are common in Siberia and many other Russian regions are particularly harmful in terms of emissions because peat has been absorbing carbon for tens of thousands of years. "Then it’s releasing all that carbon back into the atmosphere,” Parrington said.

While pledging adherence to the Paris agreement on climate change, Russian officials often underline the key role played by their forests in slowing down global warming. However, regular wildfires have the opposite effect, dramatically boosting carbon emissions.

“They emphasize that huge areas are covered by forests but neglect the effect of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from fires,” Greenpeace's Kreindlin said.

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Re: ENVIRONMENT, CULTURE, WORLD NEWS
« Reply #35 on: Jul 23, 2021, 02:30 AM »
 Tokyo Olympics: Female athletes face double standards over uniforms

Agence France-Presse
July 23, 2021

The Norwegian women's beach handball team were fined because their shorts were too long, British Paralympian Olivia Breen was told by an official that her briefs were too short and Olympic swimmer Alice Dearing won't be allowed to wear a swimming cap for natural black hair at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Ahead of the Games, set to start on July 23, female athletes are being scrutinized for their choice of sportswear. FRANCE 24 looks at why athletic uniform regulations for women are so harsh.

The 2021 Tokyo Olympics haven't even begun and the run-up is already fraught with debate on what female athletes should or shouldn't wear.

Double Paralympic world champion Olivia Breen is the latest Olympic athlete to be caught in a sartorial storm. After competing in the long jump at the English Championships in Bedford on July 18, an official said her briefs were "too short and inappropriate".

"She said to me that I should consider wearing shorts because my briefs were too revealing," Breen told FRANCE 24. "I was so taken by surprise and gobsmacked that I asked her if she was joking. She said no, and insisted I should buy a pair of shorts."

Writing about the incident in a Twitter post, Breen pointed to a double standard regarding athletic dress codes and questioned whether male athletes would be subjected to the same level of scrutiny.

"I have been wearing the same style sprint briefs for many years," she said in her post. "I recognize that there needs to be regulations and guidelines in relation to competition kit, but women should not be made to feel self-conscious about what they are wearing when competing, [they] should feel comfortable and at ease."

The 24-year-old says she was in full compliance with athletic uniform regulations, which allow athletes in her department to wear sponsor gear (the briefs), as long as they also don a club vest or a national kit. Their outfits cannot be "objectionable or see-through".

"It's 2021, it's not the 18th century," she told FRANCE 24. "I shouldn't be told what I can and can't wear."

Breen filed an official complaint to England Athletics on Monday, but says she hasn't heard anything back. The young athlete is set to take part in the Tokyo Paralympics this August and intends on wearing the "contentious" briefs. "I'm not letting them stop me from wearing them. I will be wearing them in Tokyo," she said.

Racist measures and double standards

Breen's case is in no way singular. Alice Dearing, the first black swimmer ever to represent Team Great Britain at the Tokyo Olympics, will not be allowed to wear the swimming cap made specifically for natural black hair she has been promoting.

Earlier this month, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) banned the use of swimming caps made specifically to protect dreadlocks, afros, weaves, braids and thick curly hair for the 2021 Games. Soul Cap, the company behind the swimming caps, were told by FINA that it was because their product doesn't fit "the natural form of the head".

In yet another effort to sanction female athletes for their uniforms, the European Handball Federation (EHF) fined the Norwegian women's beach handball team 1,500 euros for wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms at the Euro 2021 championships. Calling it a case of "improper clothing", the EHF said players didn't abide by athlete uniform regulations, which require women to wear bikini bottoms "with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg" and are determined by the International Handball Federation.

Male beach handball players, on the other hand, are free to wear shorts as long as 10 centimeters above the knee just as long as they aren't "too baggy".

The team had approached the EHF before the competition, asking for permission to play in shorts. They were told that any breach of protocol would be met with fines.

Although beach handball isn't part of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, it's a stark reminder of the glaring double standards held when athletic uniform regulations are devised.

Who decides?

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), the authority in charge of organzing the Olympic Games, says it is not responsible for establishing and enforcing uniform regulations. Instead, it's up to international federations for each individual sport to decide what the appropriate attire for each gender group is.

According to the most recent Olympic Charter published by the IOC, they have the "sole and exclusive authority to prescribe and determine the clothing and uniforms to be worn, and the equipment to be used, by the members of their delegations on the occasion of Olympic Games".

International sports federations don't make their criteria for athletic uniform regulations public. FRANCE 24 tried to contact FINA and England Athletics for comment, but received no response.

Helen Jefferson Lenskyj, a professor at the University of Toronto and author of "The Olympic Games: A Critical Approach", says uniform decisions are based on either "practical considerations related to the demands of the sport", "traditional roots like the GI for martial arts" or gender differentiation. Some federations also argue that their decisions are purely based on performance, or that they ensure fairness.

But Lenskyj sees clear gender discrimination at play, especially given that many federations are still largely run by men. "Sports judged on aesthetics like figure skating have clothing rules consistent with judges' often stereotypical views of what a 'feminine' skater should look life. Women's beach volleyball uniform regulations are based solely on heterosexual sex appeal," she says.

"What's clear is that a lot of it is commercial," Janice Forsyth, former director of Western University's International Center for Olympic Studies in Ontario, told FRANCE 24. "[The international federations] try to appeal to what they think is a heterosexual male audience, try to titillate them into watching women's sports, arguing that it raises interest thereby making it more lucrative by potentially attracting sponsors and TV contracts or even corporate sponsorships for athletes."

If motivated, international federations could move quickly to change uniform regulations for women. The fact that they choose not to, according to Forsyth, is purely for marketing reasons.

A little bit of history repeating

Not every Olympic sport is stuck in the "18th century", as Paralympic star Olivia Breen put it, but many have a history of controversy when it comes to female athletic uniform regulations. Swimming, athletics, badminton, boxing, gymnastics and beach volleyball, for example, have particularly poor track records.

Just before the 2012 London Olympics, the Amateur International Boxing Association tried to make female boxers wear skirts instead of shorts. Their reasoning was that spectators would be able to discern more easily between female and male boxers, as they couldn't "tell the difference" before.

The suggestion sparked outrage and an online petition started by amateur London-based boxer Elizabeth Plank demanded women be free to choose what they wear in the ring. After garnering more than 57,000 signatures, the decision was amended and female boxers were free to choose between shorts or a skirt.

That same year, the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) changed its dress code. Before the amendment, women players were forced to wear bikinis or bodysuits during games. But public pressure mounted and the FIVB published new rules, allowing women to wear shorts and sleeved tops out of respect for "religious and cultural requirements" of some participating countries.

In 2011, the Badminton World Federation were less forgiving about their uniform requirements. Ahead of the London Olympics the following year, the organization decided that female athletes playing at an elite level must wear dressers or skirts. They defended their decision saying this would create a more "attractive presentation".

But recent sartorial debates are just the latest hurdle for female athletes, particularly when it comes to the Olympic Games. Women were barred from joining the games for decades and even subjected to gender testing. And even though the IOC openly promotes inclusivity, female athletes are still subjected to more scrutiny than their male counterparts.

"We're just scratching the surface," Forsyth from Western University says. "If we're just talking about and debating uniforms, imagine what we're going to find if we dig a little deeper."

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Re: ENVIRONMENT, CULTURE, WORLD NEWS
« Reply #36 on: Jul 23, 2021, 02:48 AM »
US in ‘another pivotal moment’ as Delta variant drives surge in Covid cases

    Hospitals are filling up, especially in areas with low vaccinations
    CDC offers no change in guidance on mask wearing

Joanna Walters in New York
Guardian
Fri 23 Jul 2021 03.35 BST

The US is “at another pivotal moment in this pandemic” as rising Covid-19 cases show no signs of abating, driven by the Delta variant, and some hospitals are filling up, especially in areas with low vaccination rates, government officials warned on Thursday.

The US government did not change its guidance on mask wearing, despite debates going on in the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about whether those who have been vaccinated should once again be officially advised to wear masks indoors to prevent the spread.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said that the Delta variant of coronavirus “is now spreading with incredible efficiency” in the US and that, compared with the original coronavirus strain that broke out in the US in early 2020, this variant is “more aggressive”.

“It is one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of and that I have seen in my 20-year career,” she said at a White House briefing on Thursday, noting that the US is “not out of the woods”.

Walensky warned: “We are at another pivotal moment in this pandemic, with cases rising again and some hospitals reaching their capacity in some areas.”

The US is far from the dire situation before the vaccines were widely available, when repeated surges of infections in 2020 drove the US death toll in the pandemic above 600,000, the highest in the world.

But officials are becoming concerned as new cases have continued to rise fast in the last two weeks and vaccination rates are stuck stubbornly just below Joe Biden’s 4 July goal of 70% of American adults having had at least one shot.

The Delta variant now accounts for more than 83% of new coronavirus cases in the US. And Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical adviser to the president, said there are some areas of the country where Delta accounts for more than 90% of new infections.

“And if you look at the recent seven-day or 14-day averages of cases, for example, the cases are up by, like, 195%. The hospitalizations are up 46%. And the 14-day average for deaths are up 42% … it’s not the direction we want it to be,” Fauci told NPR News, adding: “We’ve got to do much better.”

A smiling and unmasked Biden in May hailed a “great day” and said that “if you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask” or practice social distancing.

But the US president is now almost daily urging eligible Americans who have not been vaccinated to get the shot, saying on Wednesday night that it was “gigantically important”.

On Thursday, when Walensky was asked if official mask guidance had changed she said it had not.

“Fully vaccinated people are protected from severe illness,” she said but added that in areas with high numbers of cases, low vaccination rates and where the Delta variant is rising “you should be wearing a mask if you are unvaccinated. If you are vaccinated you get exceptional protection from the vaccine but you have the opportunity to make the personal choice to add extra layers of protection if you so choose.”

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Re: ENVIRONMENT, CULTURE, WORLD NEWS
« Reply #37 on: Jul 23, 2021, 02:51 AM »
Belarus NGOs condemn government crackdown after ‘black week’ of raids

Human rights groups say latest series of arrests and searches are part of ‘a total purge on civil society’

Andrew Roth in Moscow
Guardian
Fri 23 Jul 2021 05.00 BST

The government of Belarus has launched a broad crackdown on civil society, launching raids and arrests on dozens of organisations in what has been described as a “black week” for the country’s NGOs.

The raids, which began last week, have touched all corners of civil society, from groups that campaign for political prisoners’ rights to those that crowdfund medical care and have helped medics in the fight against coronavirus.

The pressure follow mass arrests of opposition politicians and the closure and harassment of much of the country’s independent media, as longtime leader Alexander Lukashenko seeks to stamp out even apolitical efforts by Belarusians to self-organise.

‘Persecuted, jailed, destroyed’: Belarus seeks to stifle dissent..Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/may/28/persecuted-jailed-destroyed-belarus-seeks-stifle-dissent

“It’s a total purge of civil society,” said Marina Vorobei, the founder of Freeunion.online, an online platform for public unions and initiatives that helps with self-organisation and provides tools for secure networking and remote work. “NGOs have always been under pressure in Belarus … but these raids, this wave of arrests and seizures have never been seen by the non-profit sector.”

On Thursday Lukashenko vowed that the raids on NGOs would continue, calling them “bandits and foreign agents”. “A mopping-up operation is going on,” Lukashenko said. “Do you think it’s easy? There are thousands of our people working for them, and their brains are distorted and brainwashed with foreign money.”

Many expected the crackdown. In an interview last month, Valentin Stefanovich of the Viasna human rights centre, which provides financial and legal assistance to political prisoners, said they had been hit with raids and criminal cases and were expecting further pressure from the government.

“Everyone can be arrested in our country today,” Stefanovich said when asked if he was worried about being detained. “Part of our organisation has gone abroad. So they’ll never be able to shut down our activities completely. But as for me personally, it could happen at any moment, and I may not manage to get away. It’s just the way it is.”

Last Wednesday, police raided the offices and homes of at least 14 rights groups, media organisations, NGOs and charity groups, including 10 members of Viasna. Stefanovich was arrested, along with chairman Ales Bialiatski, Uladzimir Labkovich and his partner Nina Labkovich. The raids and arrests have continued, with more than 60 searches having taken place over the last 10 days.

“These raids and arbitrary arrests are just another instance of the crackdown against human rights defenders, civil society organisations and independent media that has been going on since the widely disputed presidential election in August 2020, when thousands of Belarusians took to the streets in mostly peaceful protests,” Viasna wrote in a statement.

The blow against NGOs has also extended to groups that focus exclusively on charity work, crowdfunding and organising medical aid for vulnerable communities that now face being cut off entirely.

Last week, police also raided the office and homes of senior members of the Imena NGO, an online platform that crowdfunds aid to help solve societal problems in Belarus. Its projects help fund homes for children with cancer and other terminally ill children, shelters for women and children who have been the victims of domestic violence, aid for the homeless, search parties, and support for medics battling Covid-19.

Katerina Sinyuk, the organisation’s founder, said that she could not discuss the investigation against the group because she had been required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. In the meantime, the organisation’s bank accounts have been frozen, effectively paralysing their operations.

“We help people in difficult situations regardless of their political beliefs. We don’t ask what their views or orientations are. That’s the point of charity work,” said Sinyuk in an interview, adding that their projects have helped more than 50,000 people.

“Why have we fallen in this situation and what should we tell the people that we help now?” she continued. “We don’t know. We don’t want to abandon them because these are very vulnerable people.”

“For many we’re the only source of funding,” she said. “And of course all these projects are just in shock.”

One example was a mobile children’s hospice that provides care and medicine to dozens of children around the country.

“We need to help look after these children because besides us, there really is nobody permanently raising funding for these kinds of projects,” she said. “This situation could lead to thousands of people being left without care.”

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Re: ENVIRONMENT, CULTURE, WORLD NEWS
« Reply #38 on: Jul 23, 2021, 02:54 AM »
Violence against Africa’s children is rising. It stains our collective conscience

Graça Machel

We must apply our own home-grown initiatives if we are to curb abuses of Africa’s most vulnerable

Guardian
Fri 23 Jul 2021 07.01 BST

Of all the unspeakable injustices suffered by Africa’s children – and I’ve witnessed many – violence is surely the worst because it is almost entirely preventable. Africa’s children suffer many hardships, including poverty, hunger and disease. Violence against children is avoidable, yet young people in Africa, especially girls, continue to live with sexual violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation, forced labour, corporal punishment and countless other forms of abuse.

After decades spent trying to improve young people’s life chances, I had hoped to see at the very least a significant reduction in violence that threatens children. It is now 31 years since the adoption of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and we have seen some governments putting into place laws and policies aimed at ending violence against children. There have also been efforts, though insufficient, towards eradicating female genital mutilation and child marriage, which cause untold lifelong suffering.

Progress is uneven, fragmented and slow. Violence against children is once more on the rise driven partly by online sexual exploitation and child sexual abuse tourism and recently by lockdowns and school closures. These have pushed violence behind closed doors where it goes unseen and unreported. Armed conflicts by groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia and Amba separatists in Cameroon, frequently target children, making them the most common victims of abductions, rape, forced marriages and murder.

Regrettably, many African governments lack the political will to tackle these gross violations. This week, in an attempt to galvanise action, the African Partnership to End Violence against Children (Apevac) convened a high-level virtual conference to present its new research findings confirming worrying levels of violence and slow government responses. Thankfully, there are also some good, African solutions that can be successfully applied across the continent.

    In some parts of Africa, four in 10 girls suffer sexual violence before the age of 15

I have witnessed the worst, as well as the best, of humanity. Yet the brutality revealed in these findings plumb new depths. Children still face unacceptable levels and forms of physical, psychological and sexual violence. In some parts of Africa, four in 10 girls suffer sexual violence before the age of 15. Even worse is that children in most need – those in residential care or used as child labour, with disabilities, living on the streets, or in armed conflict and refugee situations – are not protected.

Violence against children is not a uniquely African phenomenon. The World Health Organization estimated last year that globally up to a billion children aged 2-17 had experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence or neglect. Many African children enjoy peaceful lives, but it is clear the continent faces an urgent problem, fuelled by complex social and economic drivers. Increasing urbanisation, armed conflict, forced displacement, humanitarian and climate-related disasters all play a part.

Evidence shows that in the long term violence against children leads to poor health, higher school dropout rates and worse job prospects, with consequences for the cost of health and social care, and economic productivity. In South Africa, for example, the economic losses resulting from violence against children in 2015 were estimated at $13.5bn (£9.8bn), or 4.3% of GDP. The reduced earnings attributable to physical and emotional violence in childhood were $2bn and $750m respectively. If these costs were replicated across sub-Saharan Africa, they would exceed the total official development assistance from the 38-member country Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

African governments are storing up problems for the future. By 2050, the continent will be home to about a billion young people. These children must be given the right life chances now. It is they who will drive Africa into the future and power a social and economic renaissance. The violence these children encounter today threatens to derail Africa’s ambitions.

Ending violence against children is one of the most important priorities of our time, and it will not happen without strong political leadership. I applaud Apevac and its call to the African Union to adopt a regional action plan and to political leaders to massively scale up investment in their countries. It is important that political and financial investment is given to Africa’s homegrown initiatives to end violence against children. Studies show such initiatives can be successful in addressing the interplay between schools and societies, law and culture, patriarchy and child rights.

Violence against children is preventable. We must redouble our efforts to stop it and remove the stain on our collective conscience. The United Nation’s sustainable development goal 16.2 aims to end all forms of violence against children by 2030. Achieving this will unlock multiple wins in gender equality, education, health and a more peaceful and inclusive Africa, where every child grows up safe and secure.

    Graça Machel is chair of the African Child Policy Forum’s international board of trustees.

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« Reply #39 on: Jul 23, 2021, 02:57 AM »
Hunger sweeps India in Covid’s shadow as millions miss out on rations

Desperation grows for those unable to access subsidised food, as worst hunger in two decades reported

Kavitha Iyer
Guardian
7/23/2021

When India’s devastating second wave of Covid-19 struck in April, Nazia Habib Khan’s second marriage abruptly came to an end after a year of beatings and abuse. The 28-year-old daughter of migrants from the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh returned to live with her mother, brothers and a sister-in-law in Mumbai.

Their 40 sq metre (400 sq ft) home in Kurla East stands huddled among the 800 or so brick, tin sheet and tarpaulin houses of Qureshi Nagar, the entire shanty town trembling when a train roars past on a nearby railway line.

Once on the housekeeping staff at a hospital and later a domestic help who washed utensils and floors, Khan is now without work, income or savings. To keep tensions and arguments in her overcrowded home to a minimum, she waits every morning and evening for a small package of food from a community kitchen operated by a women’s savings group.

Khan has been entirely dependent on food aid since the kitchen was launched in April to supply free meals to the slum’s impoverished, jobless residents. She comes every day, for lunch and dinner for herself and her two daughters, aged 10 and 11 months.
Sujata Sawant, who runs a community kitchen in the Qureshi Nagar slum in Mumbai. ‘We are supplying 1,300 meals every day now. And 90% of those who take our food do not have any other source.’
Sujata Sawant, who runs a community kitchen in the Qureshi Nagar slum in Mumbai. ‘We are supplying 1,300 meals every day now. And 90% of those who take our food do not have any other source.’ Photograph: Courtesy of Khaana Chahiye Foundation

“My own earning is zero, so I try not to let my children’s food be an additional expense for my family,” says Khan. One night last week, her toddler was running a high fever and Khan couldn’t leave the house. She asked a neighbour’s 10-year-old boy to collect the dinners of khichdi (rice and lentils), roti sabzi (bread and vegetables) or a pulao rice dish. “The alternative was to sleep hungry.”

Khan and her daughters are among millions of Indians unable to access subsidised rice and wheat under India’s National Food Security Act (NFSA), a 2013 law that entitles 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population to receive highly subsidised food through the targeted public distribution system (TPDS). Two-thirds of Indians are eligible to receive quotas in different categories on presenting their ration card at designated “fair-price shops”. The TPDS is one of the world’s largest food-distribution networks.

    Can a slum-dweller without a job afford a cooking gas cylinder?

Sujata Sawant, Kurla community kitchen

India’s domestic migrants, long unable to access their right to food because they live away from their home states where they are registered for the benefits, face more hunger and desperation today than at any time in the past two decades. Analysis by Pew Research in March found that the number of India’s poorest people – those earning $2 or less a day – had increased by 75 million due to the recession brought on by Covid.

The Kurla slum is home to day labourers and women who work as domestic help or maids, all migrants from other states, whose ration cards are registered at their home addresses or who have no ration card at all.

Khan’s neighbours include drivers whose families collect their quota of grains from their homes in Uttar Pradesh, as well as men from Tamil Nadu’s poorest villages living in groups who make a living selling idlis (steamed rice cakes). There are also itinerant vendors of detergent and steel wool, originally from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan. Work and incomes have shrunk dramatically across most households. The month of April 2020 alone saw 122 million Indians lose their jobs, including almost all day labourers.

The Kurla community kitchen that Khan depends on has sought more funding as the number of poor and hungry who use it grows. “We are supplying 1,300 meals every day now,” says Sujata Sawant, who runs the kitchen. “And 90% of those who take our food do not have any other source.”

In 2020, Sawant mobilised donations for 14,500 grocery parcels but in the two months since the second lockdown in May this year, she has already distributed 4,500 of them.

On 29 June, responding to Covid-induced distress among migrant workers in towns and cities across India, the supreme court ordered key reforms including expediting the rollout of a “one nation, one ration card” scheme to allow migrants to buy subsidised grain from outlets anywhere in the country, while their families continue to claim their entitlement at home. The country’s top court set a deadline of 31 July for this and also ordered registration of all casual and migrant workers, and community kitchens to be set up for labourers until at least the end of the pandemic.

“This will still leave out the millions who do not have ration cards at all,” says Mukta Srivastava, Maharashtra state’s convener for the Right to Food Campaign, a coalition of civil society groups whose lobbying led to the NFSA being enacted. “This exclusion in the current economic conditions exacerbates hunger,” she says.

    All of us working on hunger relief since the pandemic began can see that hunger persists

Neeraj Shetye

Currently, the NFSA benefits about 800 million people. But 67% of India’s 1.3 billion population is supposed to be eligible. The shortfall from the legally mandated coverage is more than 100 million, according to estimates by the economists Jean Drèze, Reetika Khera and Meghna Mungikar.

During the pandemic, the number of Indians living below the international poverty line (less than $2 a day) has grown. One of the court’s directives was to consider re-determining the total number of NFSA beneficiaries. Yet, despite the pandemic’s effects on jobs and the economy, the government’s top thinktank, the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), reportedly recommended a cut in the percentages of people covered in rural and urban areas, reducing total coverage of the food security law.

Sawant says cardholders are often unable to obtain their full quota, are turned away by shop owners or cheated with low quantities. Some items such as paraffin, a key domestic fuel, are no longer provided through the TPDS. “Can a slum dweller without a job afford a cooking gas cylinder that costs 900 rupees [£9]?” asks Sawant.

Repeated increases in fuel tax have led to soaring prices, further eroding disposable incomes and putting more basic goods out of reach for millions of Indians. The first week of July alone recorded five increases in petrol prices and three in diesel; June and May each witnessed 16 separate price rises for diesel and petrol.

Srivastava, the right to food campaigner, said the other challenge in implementing the supreme court order was the technical problems involved. For the card to be used everywhere, all states must have electronic terminals, or EPOS machines, and the verifiable 12-digit identification number for the vast biometric Aadhaar system used in the machines have still not been fully rolled out.

Neeraj Shetye, of the Khaana Chahiye Foundation, which has distributed 6.2m meals to poor people in Mumbai and its outskirts since the first lockdown, says it backed Sawant’s community kitchen as an experiment, to provide a livelihood for the female staff, who all come from the slum, as well as providing rent for the community kitchen, and for groceries for the meals.

“All of us who are working on hunger relief since the pandemic began can see that hunger persists,” he says. “The demand for our food distribution drives and ration kits never flagged.”

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« Reply #40 on: Jul 23, 2021, 03:21 AM »
Pelosi wants ‘Americans to know the truth’ of the Capitol attack – but will we ever really know?

Speaker is locked in a battle of wills with Kevin McCarthy who is determined to change the political conversation, critics say

David Smith in Washington
Guardian
Fri 23 Jul 2021 08.30 BST

Last modified on Fri 23 Jul 2021 09.03 BST

It was, Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Thursday, one of the darkest days in America’s history – an assault on democracy, Congress and the constitution. “The American people want to know the truth,” she said.

But will the truth of the 6 January insurrection at the US Capitol ever be fully told?

Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, finds herself locked in a battle of wills with Kevin McCarthy, the Republican minority leader who, critics say, is determined to change the political conversation to any other subject.

The two Californians have clashed bitterly this week over the makeup of a special committee to investigate the riot, which disrupted the certification of Joe Biden’s election win over Donald Trump. At stake is not only a full accounting of that day – what role Trump played, why security forces fell short – but also the political class’s ability to investigate itself.

“Clearly Washington today is not capable of getting to the truth,” said Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota. “You’ve got such poisonous tribal warfare between Republicans and Democrats that every encounter is one of viciousness.

“The die was cast several months ago when McCarthy refused to support a nonpartisan approach. He doesn’t want to get to the truth. The truth is so damning about Trump and McCarthy doesn’t want to be at odds with Trump. That’s the bottom line political calculation here.”

America was stunned on 6 January when a mob of Trump supporters laid siege to the Capitol, penetrating the Senate chamber and calling for vice president Mike Pence to be hanged. Five people died, more than a hundred were injured and members of Congress ran for the lives as a result of the historic national security failure.

The Democratic-controlled House voted to create a commission, split evenly between the parties, modeled on the body that investigated the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. But Republicans in the Senate blocked the proposal in May by deploying a procedural rule known as the filibuster.

The House’s next move was to create its own Democratic-majority select committee to investigate the causes of 6 January, how it was organized, who paid for it, who persuaded thousands of Trump supporters to descend on Washington and what happened when they did. It was opposed by all but two Republicans: Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, both outspoken critics of Trump.

Who should sit on the panel is now the subject of a bitter power struggle. On Wednesday Pelosi rejected two Republicans picked by McCarthy: Jim Banks of Indiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio. Both are staunch and unabashed Trump allies who deny his role in the attack.

Banks recently travelled with the former president to the US-Mexico border and visited him at his New Jersey golf course. Jordan was one of Trump’s strongest defenders during his two impeachments and last month described the new investigation to “impeachment three”.

An angry McCarthy denounced Pelosi’s move as “an egregious abuse of power” and said Republicans would not take part at all. He claimed that the panel has lost “all legitimacy” because Pelosi would not allow the Republicans to name their own members.

On Thursday the war of words intensified. At a press conference, Pelosi argued that it would be “ridiculous” to let Banks and Jordan serve on the committee. “They had made statements and taken actions that I think would impact the integrity of the committee, the work of the committee,” she said.

“This is deadly serious. It’s about our constitution, our country. It’s about an assault on the Capitol that’s being mischaracterized for some reason at the expense of finding the truth for the American people.”

Pelosi added: “It is my responsibility as speaker of the House to make sure we get to the truth on this, and we will not let their antics stand in the way of that.”

Later McCarthy returned fire once again. “This is a sham committee that’s just politically driven by Speaker Pelosi,” he told reporters.

But analysts note McCarthy’s loyalty to Trump, his potential to be subpoenaed to testify about a phone conversation with the then president on 6 January, and his personal ambition to replace Pelosi in the speaker’s chair after next year’s midterm elections.

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said: “Look, I accept hypocrisy – it’s a big part of politics – but this is just dripping with hypocrisy. They stood up and said on or shortly after January 6 that it was a terrible thing and that these people must be brought to justice and now I think they’re going to award them presidential medals of freedom!

“It’s just beyond belief but it’s designed for one thing. They know that they’ll never convince independents, much less Democrats, of their ridiculous point of view about January 6. This is designed to shore up Republicans and to please Trump and it’s working.”

Democrats insist that the investigation will go ahead whether the Republicans in question take part or not, as Pelosi has already appointed eight of the 13 members including Cheney, which gives them a bipartisan quorum to proceed, according to committee rules. It will hold its first hearing next week, with at least four rank-and-file police officers who battled rioters testifying about their experiences.

The standoff is symptomatic of raw political divisions in Congress and raises the prospect that the only comprehensive investigation currently being conducted into the attack will be done almost entirely by Democrats. McCarthy will surely seek to portray it as hopelessly partisan and therefore lacking credibility.

But Kurt Bardella, a former Republican congressional aide who switched to the Democrats, disagrees. He said: “If anything, the omission of January 6 sympathisers will ensure that the committee’s work progresses in a fair, impartial manner free from the stunts and the antics and the interruptions and the disruptions that have become commonplace by Republicans like Jim Jordan.

“Now we’ll be able to have proceedings where we hear from witnesses, where we have a real line of questions that aren’t interrupted, where facts will be allowed to be given a transparent airing for the American people to decide how they feel about the information presented by the committee. The investigative process will be able to happen now unobstructed from interference from January 6 sympathizers.”

Bardella remains optimistic that the committee will be able shed new light on the events of one of America’s darkest days. He added: “The reality is that those complicit in creating the environment that enabled January 6 to happen cannot be expected to be impartial investigators. It would be akin to inviting members of al-Qaida to be on the 9/11 commission.”

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Democrats rally around Pelosi as GOP threatens payback for snub in Jan. 6 probe

WA Post
7/23/2021

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and fellow House Democrats on Thursday defended her unprecedented move to reject GOP appointments to a panel investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, while Republicans warned that the move would prompt retaliation and send Congress further down a partisan spiral.

Pelosi’s decision this week to sideline Reps. Jim Banks (Ind.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio) — both ardent defenders of former president Donald Trump — prompted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) to lash out at Pelosi and withdraw all five of his designees from the investigative committee.

But Pelosi’s move won strong backing from House Democrats, many of whom remain disturbed and angry about the violent incursion of Trump supporters into the Capitol. The upheaval of congressional norms, several said Thursday, was outweighed by the risk of giving Republicans an official platform to distort, minimize and deflect a focused inquiry into the causes of the riot.

“This was an assault on the fabric of, the hallmark of our democracy, which is the transfer of power, and the fact that they aren’t treating it seriously really, really is upsetting to me and a lot of members,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), one of the Democrats serving on the panel. “We want people who are going to have allegiance to the oath of office that they took, not an allegiance to one person. And they’ve clearly pledged their allegiance to the former president.”

Bipartisan House probe of Jan. 6 insurrection falls apart after Pelosi blocks two GOP members

Pressed by reporters Thursday on why she targeted Banks and Jordan, Pelosi said the two “made statements and took actions that just made it ridiculous” to seat them. She noted that she has agreed to seat other Republicans who voted to reject electoral votes cast in the 2020 election.

“It is my responsibility as speaker of the House to make sure we get to the truth on this, and we will not let their antics stand in the way of that,” she said.

McCarthy on Thursday lashed out anew at what he called a “sham committee” and said Pelosi’s decision to reject his own designees “puts a great deal of doubt” on any findings the committee might make: “The idea that she’s going to pick and choose, you’re not going to get an outcome.”

Some of his deputies, meanwhile, openly contemplated how Democrats might pay a price with their own committee assignments when Republicans regain the majority.

“There will be a strong appetite for revenge when we’re in the majority next time, and there will certainly be discussions in our conference whether we do it or not,” said Rep. Richard Hudson of North Carolina, a junior member of the GOP leadership. “Banks and Jordan are a lot of things, but they are serious legislators and they would have taken this very seriously.”

Democrats — as well as Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), an anti-Trump Republican selected by Pelosi — said the speaker was more than justified in rejecting Banks and Jordan, while allowing three other McCarthy designees — Reps. Kelly Armstrong (N.D.), Rodney Davis (Ill.) and Troy E. Nehls (Tex.) — to serve.

“There’s a certain conduct and respectability that we’ve been able to maintain,” said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), who is leading the inquiry. “Some of them don’t have exactly a reputation for civility and decorum.”

Said Aguilar: “We take a look at other people’s social media and what they say and how they conduct themselves. .?.?. It should be a baseline that people understand that this was a free and fair election and Joe Biden is the rightful president, and it’s unfortunate that Kevin McCarthy appointed people who don’t believe in that.”

Jordan, 57, is in his eighth term representing a rural northwestern Ohio district, and he has been at the vanguard of the GOP’s embrace of hard-line conservatism and, more recently, Trump.

He was among the first Republicans to cast doubt on Biden’s victories in swing states — starting with an appearance at a “Stop the Steal” rally in Pennsylvania two days after the election. While he has decried the Capitol violence and condemned the rioters as criminals, he has refused to say that Trump or other Republicans bear any responsibility.

Several Republicans who oppose Jan. 6 commission are potential witnesses about Trump’s conduct that day

Jordan is also a skilled partisan brawler, having served on the GOP-created select committee formed to examine the 2012 terrorist attack on U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya, and led the GOP opposition to both of Trump’s impeachments.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) on Thursday called Jordan a “potential witness,” because of his close relationship with Trump and his role in organizing GOP support for challenging electoral votes for Biden ahead of the Jan. 6 joint session.

“A lot of the investigation is going to look at: What was Trump’s intent? What was the planning? What did he know about who was going to be there?” he said. “If Jordan was in those meetings, now he’s conflicted.”

Banks, 42, is a relative newcomer to the Republican ranks — first winning election in 2016 — but he has moved rapidly into prominence. A former naval reserve officer who did a tour of duty in Afghanistan, Banks won election last year as chairman of the Republican Study Committee, an influential conservative policy group, and helped lead the effort to expel Cheney as GOP conference chairwoman after she voted to impeach Trump this year.

Multiple Democrats said Thursday they were disturbed by a CNN report that an alleged Capitol rioter, Anthony Aguero, accompanied an RSC-sponsored trip that Banks led to the U.S.-Mexico border in May and served as an informal interpreter. Banks has denied inviting Aguero or meeting with him during the trip.

One member familiar with the internal deliberations said Pelosi and other leaders were also swayed by the statement Banks issued after being tapped by McCarthy to lead the panel’s GOP contingent. He indicated that he would push to investigate other episodes of political violence, including the street riots seen last year after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and accused Pelosi of seeking to “malign conservatives and to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.”

Pelosi herself on Thursday pointed to a line in Banks’s statement indicating that he would “do everything possible to give the American people the facts about the lead up to January 6, the riot that day, and the responses from Capitol leadership and the Biden administration.”

“There was no Biden administration on January 6th,” Pelosi said. “But let’s not go into that.”

Capitol Police had intelligence indicating an armed invasion weeks before Jan. 6 riot, Senate probe finds

Addressing reporters on Wednesday, both Banks and Jordan accused Democrats of seeking to distract from their own political problems, such as rising crime and inflation, while also suggesting that Pelosi and the Democrats bore responsibility for the Jan. 6 attack by “normalizing” mob violence.

“I don’t think they’re going to address the fundamental question. .?.?. Why wasn’t there a proper security presence at the Capitol that day?” Jordan said. “Only one person can answer that question — only one: the speaker of the United States House of Representatives.”

While the House speaker occupies a special role as the highest constitutional officer of the legislative branch, in practice, the responsibility for Capitol security is shared with the Senate majority leader — on Jan. 6, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — and is largely delegated to the two sergeants-at-arms for the House and Senate. Those officials, in turn, provide shared oversight of the Capitol Police.

A bipartisan Senate report released last month documented multiple security failures on the part of the sergeants-at-arms and Capitol Police brass. It did not blame Pelosi or McConnell.

“People breaking into the Capitol, assaulting Capitol police and what have you — that’s a serious, serious endeavor, and try to somehow say it was the speaker’s fault or that Joe Biden was responsible, I mean, that is just totally off base,” Thompson said.

The select committee is scheduled to hold its first hearing Tuesday, featuring Capitol Police and D.C. police officers who responded on Jan. 6. Further hearings are certain to follow, and Thompson has not ruled out calling Republican members of Congress — or Trump — to testify.

Among the potential Republican members who could be called as witnesses are McCarthy and Jordan, who spoke to Trump during the riot, as well as Rep. Greg Pence (Ind.), who spent much of the day under Secret Service protection with his brother, former vice president Mike Pence.

While Pelosi did not rule out naming additional GOP members to the panel — such as anti-Trump Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) — Thompson said he was prepared to move forward with the members Pelosi has already named. He named David Buckley, a former CIA inspector general, as the panel’s top staffer on Thursday, and told reporters that Republicans could be added to the staff as soon as this weekend. While Thompson would not comment on potential hires, former GOP congressman Denver Riggleman of Virginia met with Thompson’s staff on Thursday.

Pelosi’s move against Banks and Jordan was the second time House precedents have been upended in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack. In February, lawmakers voted largely along party lines to strip Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) of her committee assignments after a string of inflammatory comments.

Republicans warned that Democrats were inviting retribution as soon as the majority changes hands, which could come as soon as January 2023. Already, multiple GOP lawmakers said, members are quietly discussing which Democrats might be jettisoned from their committee posts — with Reps. Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Adam B. Schiff (Calif.) and Swalwell seen as prime targets.

“There’s going to be a bit of a ‘turnabout is fair play,’ ” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), who supported the bipartisan commission but opposed the select committee. “What they’re doing is they’re laying the seeds for very unpleasant behavior in about a year and a half. And I don’t think it’s right; it’s not good for the institution.”

Asked about the prospects for retaliation and the further deterioration of interparty relations, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said, “I don’t think it could get much worse.”

“They can threaten us, but they’re going to do whatever they’re going to do anyway,” he said. “Why? Because they’re a party led by Donald Trump.”

***********

Democrats’ Divide on Voting Rights Widens as Biden Faces Pressure

The president is increasingly at odds with leaders of the voting rights movement, who see a contrast between his soaring language and his willingness to push Congress to pass federal legislation.

By Katie Rogers and Nick Corasaniti
NY Times
July 22, 2021

WASHINGTON — A quiet divide between President Biden and the leaders of the voting rights movement burst into the open on Thursday, as 150 organizations urged him to use his political mettle to push for two expansive federal voting rights bills that would combat a Republican wave of balloting restrictions.

In the letter, signed by civil rights groups including the Leadership Conference and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, activists argued that with the “ideal of bipartisan cooperation on voting rights” nowhere to be found in a sharply divided Senate, Mr. Biden must “support the passage of these bills by whatever means necessary.”

The issue is of paramount importance to Democrats: Republicans have passed roughly 30 laws in states across the country this year that are likely to make voting harder, especially in Black and Latino communities, which lean Democratic. Several of the laws give state legislators more power over how elections are run and make it easier to challenge the results.

In a fiery speech in Philadelphia last week, Mr. Biden warned that the G.O.P. effort was the “most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War.”

But the president and voting rights advocates are increasingly in disagreement about how to pass that test.

Mr. Biden, a veteran of the Senate who for decades has believed in negotiating on the particulars of voting rights legislation, has faced calls to push Democratic senators to eliminate the filibuster, which would allow the two major voting bills proposed by the party to pass with a simple majority. The president and his advisers have repeatedly pointed out that he does not have the votes within his own party to pass federal voting legislation, and does not have the power to unilaterally roll back the filibuster even if he supported doing so.   

But voting rights groups say that Mr. Biden is not expending sufficient political capital or using the full force of his bully pulpit to persuade Congress. They point to the contrast between his soaring language — “Jim Crow on steroids,” he has called the G.O.P. voting laws — and his opposition to abolishing the Senate filibuster.

“As you noted in your speech, our democracy is in peril,” the groups said in their letter. “We certainly cannot allow an arcane Senate procedural rule to derail efforts that a majority of Americans support.”

Ultimately, the advocates fear that the Biden administration — currently focused on a bipartisan infrastructure deal and an ambitious spending proposal — has largely accepted the Republican restrictions as baked in, and is now dedicating more of its effort to juicing Democratic turnout.

In private calls with voting rights groups and civil rights leaders, White House officials and close allies of the president have expressed confidence that it is possible to “out-organize voter suppression,” according to multiple people familiar with the conversations.

“I have heard an emphasis on organizing,” said Sherrilyn A. Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who visited the Oval Office to meet with the president two weeks ago. But, she added, “we cannot litigate our way out of this and we cannot organize our way out of this.”

Several Biden advisers involved in the private calls said this week that they did not recall telling attendees that voter suppression could be out-organized, but said organizing was integral to the administration’s efforts.

Broadly, Mr. Biden’s advisers insist that the administration is committed to protecting access to the ballot and passing two federal bills: the For the People Act, an overhaul of federal election laws that was considered more of a political statement than viable legislation when it was first introduced in 2019, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore important parts of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court stripped away in 2013.

Republicans have castigated the For the People Act as overreaching and partisan. And Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, has said there is no need for a bill restoring parts of the Voting Rights Act.

White House officials privately note that even if Mr. Biden came out in support of ending the filibuster, moderate Democrats, including Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have publicly resisted such a move. Mr. Manchin has also called the For the People Act a piece of “partisan” legislation.

When asked whether the administration’s focus had shifted toward political organizing and opposing the G.O.P. laws in the courts, the officials say that critics who are focused on federal voting protections are misinterpreting the president’s public remarks.

Cedric Richmond, a senior adviser to Mr. Biden and a former congressman from Louisiana, said in an interview that advocates who have zeroed in on Mr. Biden’s comments about organizing should see them as one part of the administration’s broader work on voting rights.

“I think it’s very clear what he said,” Mr. Richmond said of the president’s speech in Philadelphia. “Which is: We’re going to have to meet this challenge in the courts, in the halls of Congress and in the streets.”

But in interviews, more than 20 civil rights leaders and voting rights advocates said that while they believed in Mr. Biden’s conviction to protect the right to vote, they thought his call for a “new coalition” of Americans to take up the issue was not what they needed from the White House.

Some advocates found this approach — the idea that the vaunted voter registration, education and get-out-the-vote efforts that helped propel Mr. Biden to victory could be used against G.O.P. voting laws — naïve at best, signaling that the White House viewed the issue as simply an election challenge, rather than a moral threat to broad civil rights progress.

The Fight Over Voting Rights

After former President Donald J. Trump returned in recent months to making false claims that the 2020 election had been stolen from him, Republican lawmakers in many states have marched ahead to pass laws that make it harder to vote and that change how elections are run, frustrating Democrats and even some election officials in their own party.

        A Key Topic: The rules and procedures of elections have become central issues in American politics. As of June 21, lawmakers had passed 28 new laws in 17 states to make the process of voting more difficult, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a research institute.
        The Basic Measures: The restrictions vary by state but can include limiting the use of ballot drop boxes, adding identification requirements for voters requesting absentee ballots, and doing away with local laws that allow automatic registration for absentee voting.
        More Extreme Measures: Some measures go beyond altering how one votes, including tweaking rules concerning the Electoral College and judicial elections, clamping down on citizen-led ballot initiatives, and outlawing private donations that provide resources for administering elections.
        Pushback: This Republican effort has led Democrats in Congress to find a way to pass federal voting laws. A sweeping voting rights bill passed the House in March, but faces difficult obstacles in the Senate, including from Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia. Republicans have remained united against the proposal and even if the bill became law, it would most likely face steep legal challenges.
        Florida: Measures here include limiting the use of drop boxes, adding more identification requirements for absentee ballots, requiring voters to request an absentee ballot for each election, limiting who could collect and drop off ballots, and further empowering partisan observers during the ballot-counting process.
        Texas: Texas Democrats successfully blocked the state’s expansive voting bill, known as S.B. 7, in a late-night walkout and are starting a major statewide registration program focused on racially diverse communities. But Republicans in the state have pledged to return in a special session and pass a similar voting bill. S.B. 7 included new restrictions on absentee voting; granted broad new autonomy and authority to partisan poll watchers; escalated punishments for mistakes or offenses by election officials; and banned both drive-through voting and 24-hour voting.
        Other States: Arizona’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill that would limit the distribution of mail ballots. The bill, which includes removing voters from the state’s Permanent Early Voting List if they do not cast a ballot at least once every two years, may be only the first in a series of voting restrictions to be enacted there. Georgia Republicans in March enacted far-reaching new voting laws that limit ballot drop-boxes and make the distribution of water within certain boundaries of a polling station a misdemeanor. And Iowa has imposed new limits, including reducing the period for early voting and in-person voting hours on Election Day.

“The notion that some new coalition can be formed that would allow for greater efforts at organizing and voter turnout is perhaps a bit unrealistic,” said Wade Henderson, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “We have already formed one of the most diverse and strongest coalitions in support of voting rights that ever existed. At the end of the day, that is inadequate to the challenge of the moment. We need federal legislation.”

Voting rights advocates have taken note of the fact that Mr. Biden, who has publicly negotiated with holdout senators from both parties for his stimulus and infrastructure proposals, has yet to openly exert similar pressure on senators when it comes to voting rights.

For his part, Mr. Biden has at times appeared frustrated about the slim odds voting rights bills face in the Senate.

“I hear all the folks on TV saying, ‘Why doesn’t Biden get this done?’” he said during a speech in Tulsa, Okla., last month. “Well, because Biden only has a majority of, effectively, four votes in the House and a tie in the Senate, with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends.”

Mr. Biden’s aides say the way forward must be based partly on education, because the new Republican laws will add complications to voting like making it harder to cast a ballot early or by mail, limiting drop boxes and shortening early voting periods.

The president signed an executive order this year directing all federal agencies to find ways to make it as easy as possible to register Americans to vote. In a speech this month, Vice President Kamala Harris said the Democratic National Committee would dedicate $25 million to an effort to educate voters.

Inside the White House, officials say they are hard at work bringing together voting rights advocates, poll workers and others who can tell them more about problems on the ground. Dozens of advisers hold several meetings a day on the subject. The president requests updates on the issue daily, according to three advisers familiar with his schedule.

Progressive groups and advocates say the White House should have a larger role to play.

“Talking about grass-roots organizing, talking about voter registration is important, and we are grateful for the amplification of what our work is — and I want to be clear that that’s our work,” said Nsé Ufot, the executive director of the New Georgia Project, a civil rights group. “That’s what we’ve been doing. That’s what got us to this moment. That’s what gave us a Biden-Harris administration. And now we need them to do their jobs. I can’t write legislation. I can’t whip votes. I don’t have 47 years in that body, in the United States Senate. I’m not the president of that body. But they are.”

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the founder of the Poor People’s Campaign and a prominent civil rights leader, urged Mr. Biden to wield his influence. “Go to Texas, and meet with a diverse group of people on the ground to put a face on this issue. Then go to Arizona. Go to West Virginia,” he said. “There ought to be a speech from the well of Congress.”

Democrats have been blanketing the airwaves, outspending Republicans on ads related to voting by $9.2 million to $1.6 million across the country, though the bulk of the money has come from left-leaning outside groups like End Citizens United, Fair Fight Action and Fix Our Senate.

“We need more from the president,” said Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman and Democratic presidential candidate. “It’s only through his leadership, frankly, that we have any hope of passing voting rights legislation before it’s too late.”

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CDC warns this is ‘pivotal moment’ in fight against delta variant

‘It is one of the most infectious respiratory viruses ... I have seen in my 20-year career,’ director says

By Dan Diamond
WA Post
7/23/2021

The Washington Post is providing this important information about the coronavirus for free. For more, sign up for our daily Coronavirus Updates newsletter where all stories are free to read. To support this work, please subscribe to the Post.

Top Biden administration officials on Thursday said that a hyper-transmissible variant of the coronavirus is posing new challenges for the nation’s health system, urging millions of unvaccinated Americans to get shots to protect themselves and their communities.

The delta variant, first detected in India, now represents more than 83 percent of cases circulating in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People infected with the variant appear to carry a viral load that is more than 1,000 times that of those infected with earlier forms of the virus, allowing the virus to spread rapidly among unvaccinated people, scientists have found.

“The delta variant is more aggressive and much more transmissible than previously circulating strains. It is one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of and that I have seen in my 20-year career,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters.

“We are yet at another pivotal moment in this pandemic, with cases rising again and some hospitals reaching their capacity in some areas,” Walensky added. “We need to come together as one nation, unified in our resolve to protect the health of ourselves, our children, our community, our country and our future with the tools we have available.”

The daily average of confirmed coronavirus cases has roughly quadrupled during July, from about 13,000 per day at the start of the month to 43,243 now, according to The Washington Post’s seven-day average of infections. The virus is spreading most rapidly across the South and Midwest, in states with low vaccination rates, and hospital officials there say they are reeling from a new surge of patients, driven by the delta variant.

For instance, coronavirus-related hospitalizations in Alabama have more than doubled this month, with 213 patients in intensive care units, up from 79 on July 1, according to The Post’s tracking. Only 34 percent of Alabama residents have been fully vaccinated against the virus.

“If you have not been vaccinated for #COVID19, now is the time,” the Alabama Hospital Association exhorted on Twitter on Tuesday. “Cases are on the rise and the vaccine could save your life.”

The White House said that it is moving to respond to the groundswell of infections, announcing an additional $1.6 billion in funding to boost coronavirus testing and prevention in settings where people live in proximity, such as prisons and homeless shelters. NBC News first reported the funding.

Biden officials also announced $100 million in funding for rural health clinics in communities with low vaccination uptake, seeking to boost education and outreach, and detailed their efforts to deploy surge response teams to areas seeing virus spikes, including Missouri and Nevada.

“We know everyone’s vaccination journey is different. We are ready to get more Americans vaccinated whenever, wherever they’re ready,” said Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus coordinator.

Officials declined to answer questions about whether the White House is considering new masking messages in light of the delta variant’s spread, reiterating that the CDC would decide whether to revise its guidance. The Post reported Wednesday that senior officials are debating whether they should urge vaccinated Americans to wear masks in more indoor settings.

Public health experts said they have growing questions about the risk of vaccinated people contracting the virus and infecting others, particularly because the CDC is tracking only the most serious of those cases.

“There are clearly examples of vaccinated people spreading the virus. The question is, how often is it happening? We don’t know the answer to that,” said Walid Gellad, the director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing.

Gellad criticized the CDC for not offering additional guidance for Americans who have been fully vaccinated, such as when they should be getting tested.

“Preparing the public and preparing clinicians for breakthrough infections, that’s the piece I think we’re not seeing,” Gellad said. “They need to readdress that. We need to know these things now, because two months from now is too late.”

Officials in Texas, New Jersey and other states have said that dozens of vaccinated, often elderly Americans have died of covid-19, but cautioned that that is a very small percentage of overall deaths linked to the virus.

Senior administration officials said that the current vaccines remain highly effective against the delta variant.

“It's important to remember … infections after vaccination are expected,” infectious-disease expert Anthony S. Fauci told reporters. “No vaccine is 100 percent effective. However, even if a vaccine does not completely protect against infection, it usually, if it's successful, protects against serious disease.”

A full course of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is slightly less effective against the delta variant than it was against a previously dominant version of the virus, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday. Researchers found that two doses of the vaccine offered 88 percent protection against symptomatic disease caused by the delta variant, compared with 94 percent against the earlier alpha strain of the virus that was predominant at the beginning of the year.

In recent days, a growing number of Republicans have urged their supporters to get vaccinated, citing the threat of the delta variant and noting that millions of conservative voters say they don’t want the vaccine. “I just felt the time was right to do it,” Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), the no. 2 House Republican, told The Post in an interview Tuesday.

But other Republicans have said the rising fears are overblown.

“There’s so much optimism that should be out there right now,” Sen. Roger Marshall (Kan.) said on Fox Business Network, acknowledging the delta variant is “spreading a little bit across the country.”

Biden officials sounded a more sober note.

“If you are not vaccinated, please take the delta variant seriously,” Walensky said. “This virus has no incentive to let up, and it remains in search of the next vulnerable person to infect.”

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Why Vaccinated People Are Getting ‘Breakthrough’ Infections

The vaccines are effective at preventing serious illness and death, but they are not a golden shield against the coronavirus.

By Apoorva Mandavilli
NY Times
July 23, 2021

A wedding in Oklahoma leads to 15 vaccinated guests becoming infected with the coronavirus. Raucous Fourth of July celebrations disperse the virus from Provincetown, Mass., to dozens of places across the country, sometimes carried by fully vaccinated celebrants.

As the Delta variant surges across the nation, reports of infections in vaccinated people have become increasingly frequent — including, most recently, among at least six Texas Democrats, a White House aide and an aide to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The highly contagious variant, combined with a lagging vaccination campaign and the near absence of preventive restrictions, is fueling a rapid rise in cases in all states, and hospitalizations in nearly all of them. It now accounts for about 83 percent of infections diagnosed in the United States.

But as worrying as the trend may seem, breakthrough infections — those occurring in vaccinated people — are still relatively uncommon, experts said, and those that cause serious illness, hospitalization or death even more so. More than 97 percent of people hospitalized for Covid-19 are unvaccinated.

“The takeaway message remains, if you’re vaccinated, you are protected,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York. “You are not going to end up with severe disease, hospitalization or death.”

Reports of breakthrough infections should not be taken to mean that the vaccines do not work, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the Biden administration’s top pandemic adviser, said on Thursday at a news briefing.

“By no means does that mean that you’re dealing with an unsuccessful vaccine,” he said. “The success of the vaccine is based on the prevention of illness.”

Still, vaccinated people can come down with infections, overwhelmingly asymptomatic or mild. That may come as a surprise to many vaccinated Americans, who often assume that they are completely shielded from the virus. And breakthrough infections raise the possibility, as yet unresolved, that vaccinated people may spread the virus to others.

Given the upwelling of virus across much of the country, some scientists say it is time for vaccinated people to consider wearing masks indoors and in crowded spaces like shopping malls or concert halls — a recommendation that goes beyond current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends masking only for unvaccinated people.

The agency does not plan to change its guidelines unless there is a significant change in the science, said a federal official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter.

The agency’s guidance already gives local leaders latitude to adjust their policies based on rates of transmission in their communities, he added. Citing the rise of the Delta variant, health officials in several California jurisdictions are already urging a return to indoor masking; Los Angeles County is requiring it.

“Seatbelts reduce risk, but we still need to drive carefully,” said Dr. Scott Dryden-Peterson, an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. “We’re still trying to figure out what is ‘drive carefully’ in the Delta era, and what we should be doing.”

The uncertainty about Delta results in part from how it differs from previous versions of the coronavirus. Although its mode of transmission is the same — it is inhaled, usually in indoor spaces — Delta is thought to be about twice as contagious as the original virus.

Significantly, early evidence also suggests that people infected with the Delta variant may carry roughly a thousandfold more virus than those infected with the original virus. While that does not seem to mean that they get sicker, it does probably mean that they are more contagious and for longer.

Dose also matters: A vaccinated person exposed to a low dose of the coronavirus may never become infected, or not noticeably so. A vaccinated person exposed to extremely high viral loads of the Delta variant is more likely to find his or her immune defenses overwhelmed.

The problem grows worse as community transmission rates rise, because exposures in dose and number will increase. Vaccination rates in the country have stalled, with less than half of Americans fully immunized, giving the virus plenty of room to spread.

Unvaccinated people “are not, for the most part, taking precautions, and that’s what’s driving it for everybody,” said Dr. Eric J. Rubin, the editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine. “We’re all susceptible to whatever anyone’s behavior is in this epidemic.”

Dr. Gounder likened the amount of protection offered by the vaccines to a golf umbrella that keeps people dry in a rainstorm. “But if you’re out in a hurricane, you’re still going to get wet,” she said. “That’s kind of the situation that the Delta variant has created, where there’s still a lot of community spread.”

For the average vaccinated person, a breakthrough infection is likely to be inconsequential, causing few to no symptoms. But there is concern among scientists that a few vaccinated people who become infected may go on to develop long Covid, a poorly understood constellation of symptoms that persists after the active infection is resolved.

Much has been made of Delta’s ability to sidestep immune defenses. In fact, all of the existing vaccines seem able to prevent serious illness and death from the variant. In laboratory studies, Delta actually has proved to be a milder threat than Beta, the variant first identified in South Africa.

Whether a vaccinated person ever becomes infected may depend on how high antibodies spiked after vaccination, how potent those antibodies are against the variant, and whether the level of antibodies in the person’s blood has waned since immunization.

In any case, immune defenses primed by the vaccines should recognize the virus soon after infection and destroy it before significant damage occurs.

There is limited evidence beyond anecdotal reports to indicate whether breakthrough infections with the Delta variant are more common or more likely to fan out to other people. The C.D.C. has recorded about 5,500 hospitalizations and deaths in vaccinated people, but it is not tracking milder breakthrough infections.

Additional data is emerging from the Covid-19 Sports and Society Workgroup, a coalition of professional sports leagues that is working closely with the C.D.C. Sports teams in the group are testing more than 10,000 people at least daily and sequencing all infections, according to Dr. Robby Sikka, a physician who worked with the N.B.A.’s Minnesota Timberwolves.

Breakthrough infections in the leagues seem to be more common with the Delta variant than with Alpha, the variant first identified in Britain, he said. As would be predicted, the vaccines cut down the severity and duration of illness significantly, with players returning less than two weeks after becoming infected, compared with nearly three weeks earlier in the pandemic.

But while they are infected, the players carry very high amounts of virus for seven to 10 days, compared with two or three days in those infected with Alpha, Dr. Sikka said. Infected players are required to quarantine, so the project has not been able to track whether they spread the virus to others — but it’s likely that they would, he added.

“If they’re put just willy-nilly back into society, I think you’re going to have spread from vaccinated individuals,” he added. “They don’t even recognize they have Covid because they think they’re vaccinated.”

Elyse Freitas was shocked to discover that 15 vaccinated people became infected at her wedding. Dr. Freitas, 34, a biologist at the University of Oklahoma, said she had been very cautious throughout the pandemic, and had already postponed her wedding once. But after much deliberation, she celebrated the wedding indoors on July 10.

Based on the symptoms, Dr. Freitas believes that the initial infection was at a bachelorette party two days before the wedding, when a dozen vaccinated people went unmasked to bars in downtown Oklahoma City; seven of them later tested positive. Eventually, 17 guests at the wedding became infected, nearly all with mild symptoms.

“In hindsight, I should have paid more attention to the vaccination rates in Oklahoma and the emergence of the Delta variant and adjusted my plans accordingly,” she said.

An outbreak in Provincetown, Mass., illustrates how quickly a cluster can grow, given the right conditions. During its famed Fourth of July celebrations, the small town hosted more than 60,000 unmasked revelers, dancing and mingling in crowded bars and house parties.

The crowds this year were much larger than usual, said Adam Hunt, 55, an advertising executive who has lived in Provincetown part time for about 20 years. But the bars and clubs didn’t open until they were allowed to, Mr. Hunt noted: “We thought we were doing the right thing. We thought we were OK.”

Mr. Hunt did not become infected with the virus, but several of his vaccinated friends who had flown in from places as far as Hawaii and Alabama tested positive after their return. In all, the cluster has grown to at least 256 cases — including 66 visitors from other states — about two-thirds in vaccinated people.

“I did not expect that people who were vaccinated would be becoming positive at the rate that they were,” said Steve Katsurinis, chair of the Provincetown Board of Health. Provincetown has moved swiftly to contain the outbreak, reinstating a mask advisory and stepping up testing. It is conducting 250 tests a day, compared with about eight a day before July 1, Mr. Katsurinis said.

Health officials should also help the public understand that vaccines are doing what they are supposed to — preventing people from getting seriously ill, said Kristen Panthagani, a geneticist at Baylor College of Medicine who runs a blog explaining complex scientific concepts.

“Vaccine efficacy isn’t 100 percent — it never is,” she said. “We shouldn’t expect Covid vaccines to be perfect, either. That’s too high an expectation.”

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Should Vaccinated People Start Wearing Masks Again?

With daily reports of breakthrough infections and the rise of the Delta variant, vaccinated people may need to take a few more precautions. Here’s what you need to know.

By Tara Parker-Pope
NY Times
July 23, 2021,

As the Delta variant spreads among the unvaccinated, many fully vaccinated people are also beginning to worry. Is it time to mask up again?

While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question, most experts agree that masks remain a wise precaution in certain settings for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated. How often you use a mask will depend on your personal health tolerance and risk, the infection and vaccination rates in your community, and whom you’re spending time with.

The bottom line is this: While being fully vaccinated protects against serious illness and hospitalization from Covid-19, no vaccine offers 100 percent protection. As long as large numbers of people remain unvaccinated and continue to spread coronavirus, vaccinated people will be exposed to the Delta variant, and a small percentage of them will develop so-called breakthrough infections. Here are answers to common questions about how you can protect yourself and lower your risk for a breakthrough infection.
When should a vaccinated person wear a mask?

To decide whether a mask is needed, first ask yourself these questions.

    Are the people I’m with also vaccinated?

    What’s the case rate and vaccination rate in my community?

    Will I be in a poorly ventilated indoor space, or outside? Will the increased risk of exposure last for a few minutes or for hours?

    What’s my personal risk (or the risk for those around me) for complications from Covid-19?

Experts agree that if everyone you’re with is vaccinated and symptom-free, you don’t need to wear a mask.

“I don’t wear a mask hanging out with other vaccinated people,” said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “I don’t even think about it. I’m going to the office with a bunch of people, and they’re all vaccinated. I’m not worried about it.”

But once you start to venture into enclosed public spaces where the chances of your encountering unvaccinated people are greater, a mask is probably a good idea. Being fully vaccinated remains the strongest protection against Covid-19, but risk is cumulative. The more opportunities you give the virus to challenge the antibodies you’ve built up from your vaccine, the higher your risk of coming into contact with a large enough exposure that the virus will break through the protective barrier generated by your vaccine.

For that reason, the case rate and vaccination rate of your community are among  the most important factors influencing the need for masks. In Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, for instance, more than 70 percent of adults are fully vaccinated. In Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas, fewer than 45 percent of adults are vaccinated. In some counties, overall vaccination rates are far lower.

“We’re two Covid nations right now,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital. In Harris County, Texas, where Dr. Hotez lives, case counts are rising, up by 116 percent in the past two weeks, and only 44 percent of the community is fully vaccinated. “I’m wearing a mask indoors most of the time,” said Dr. Hotez.

Finally, masking is more important in poorly ventilated indoor spaces than outdoors, where risk of infection is extremely low. Dr. Jha notes that he recently dashed into a coffee shop, unmasked, because in his area of the country, infection rates are low and vaccination rates are high, and he was only there for a few minutes.

Your personal risk matters, too. If you are older or immune compromised, your antibody response to the vaccine may not be as strong as the response in a young person. Avoiding crowded spaces and wearing a mask when you’re indoors and don’t know the vaccination status of those around you is a good idea.

Use The Times tracker to find the vaccination rates and case rates in your area.
Why is the Delta variant prompting experts to rethink mask guidance?

When the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that vaccinated people could stop wearing masks, case counts were dropping, vaccinations were on the rise and the highly-infectious Delta variant had not yet taken hold. Since then, Delta has spread rapidly and now accounts for more than 83 percent of cases in the United States.

People infected with the Delta variant are known to shed much higher levels of virus for longer periods of time compared with earlier lineages of the coronavirus. One preliminary study estimated the viral load is 1,000 times greater in people with the Delta variant. These high viral loads give the virus more opportunities to challenge your antibodies and break through your vaccine’s protection.

“This is twice as transmissible as the original lineage of Covid,” said Dr. Hotez. “The reproductive number of the virus is around 6,” he said, referring to the number of people a virus carrier is likely to infect. “That means 85 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated. Only a few areas of the country are reaching that.”

Is it safe for vaccinated people to go to restaurants, museums, the movies, a wedding or other large gatherings?

The answer depends on your personal risk tolerance and the level of vaccinations and Covid-19 cases in your community. The more time you spend with unvaccinated people in enclosed spaces for long periods of time, the higher your risk of crossing paths with the Delta variant, or any other variants that may crop up.

Large gatherings, by definition, offer more opportunities to get infected with coronavirus, even if you’re vaccinated. Scientists have documented breakthrough infections at a recent wedding in Oklahoma and July 4 celebrations in Provincetown, Mass.

But even with the Delta variant, full vaccination appears to be about 90 percent effective at preventing serious illness and hospitalization from Covid-19. If you are at very high risk for complications from Covid-19, however, you should consider avoiding risky situations and wear a mask when the vaccination status of those around you is unknown.

Healthy vaccinated people who are at low risk of complications have to decide what level of personal risk they are willing to tolerate. Wearing a mask at larger indoor gatherings will lower their risk for infection. If you’re healthy and vaccinated but caring for an aging parent or spending time with others at high risk, you should consider their risk too when deciding whether to attend an event or wear a mask.

“If I go into a public area, I’ll generally wear a mask,” said Dr. Hotez. “Up until recently I took my son and his girlfriend out for dinner in a restaurant, and I wouldn’t wear a mask because transmission was way down. Now I’m not so sure. I may readjust my thinking about restaurants while Delta is accelerating.”

If breakthrough infections are rare, why do I keep hearing about them?

Breakthrough infections get a lot of attention because vaccinated people talk about them on social media. When clusters of breakthrough infections happen, they also are reported in science journals or the media.

But it’s important to remember that while breakthrough cases are relatively rare, they can still occur no matter what vaccine you get.

“No vaccines are 100 percent effective at preventing illness in vaccinated people,” the C.D.C. states on its website. “There will be a small percentage of fully vaccinated people who still get sick, are hospitalized or die from Covid-19.”

A breakthrough case doesn’t mean your vaccine isn’t working. In fact, most cases of breakthrough infections result in no symptoms or only mild illness, which shows the vaccines are working well to prevent serious illness from Covid-19.

As of July 12, more than 159 million people in the United States had been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Of those, just 5,492 had breakthrough cases that resulted in serious illness,  including 1,063 who died. That’s less than 0.0007 percent of the vaccinated population. Meanwhile, 99 percent of deaths from Covid-19 are among the unvaccinated.

Many infectious disease experts are frustrated that the C.D.C. is only documenting cases in which a vaccinated person with Covid-19 is hospitalized or dies. But many breakthrough infections still are being detected in asymptomatic people who are being tested frequently, like baseball players and Olympic athletes. Many of those people are traveling or spending extended periods of time in close quarters with others.

“Sports figures are different,” said Dr. Jha. “Part of the problem is they are also encountering a lot of unvaccinated people, including in their own little circle.”

I’m vaccinated. How often should I be tested for Covid-19?

If you’re fully vaccinated and you know you’ve been exposed to someone with Covid-19, it’s a good idea to be tested, even if you don’t have symptoms.

And if you have cold symptoms or any other signs of infection, experts agree you should be tested. Many vaccinated people who aren’t wearing masks have picked up summer colds that cause runny noses, fever and coughing. But it’s impossible to tell the difference between a summer cold and Covid-19. Anyone with cough or cold symptoms should wear a mask to protect those around them and get tested to rule out Covid-19. It’s a good idea to keep a few home Covid tests on hand as well.

“If I woke up one morning and had cold symptoms, I would put on a mask at home, and I would get myself tested,” said Dr. Jha. “I don’t want to cause breakthrough infections for other members of my family, and I don’t want to give it to my 9-year-old kid.”

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Texas GOP lawmakers want 2020 election audit — but only in big counties that mostly went for Biden

By Eva Ruth Moravec
Wa Post
7/23/2021

AUSTIN — Support is growing among Texas Republicans for a push to audit the results of the 2020 election in a state that former president Donald Trump won handily. But the proposal, introduced in the House earlier this month, would only re-examine votes in Texas’s largest counties, most of which went for President Biden.

The legislation, House Bill 241, calls for an independent third party appointed by the state’s top GOP officials to conduct a forensic audit of results in counties with more than 415,000 people. Of the 13 counties that meet that criteria, 10 voted for Biden last year.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Steve Toth, said earlier this week that his constituents are concerned about fraud in the election. In an interview, Toth added that he also became convinced an audit was needed after a meeting earlier this year with U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.), who claimed to have evidence of vote fraud in a 2018 race that he lost.

“No amount of fraud should be acceptable in our election system,” Toth said. “I think it's important that we get to the bottom of this and make sure that people start to believe in their voting system.”

But Democrats and some election officials say there is no need for an audit, pointing out that Republicans have not demonstrated any evidence of widespread fraud in the state.

“We’re chasing ghosts. It has been proven, time and again, that there was no major election fraud. P.S.: Trump won Texas,” said Lorena Perez McGill, a Democrat who lost to Toth in the November election. “So I don’t understand what he seeks to accomplish with this.”

For now, the bill is stalled as House Democrats continue to wait out a 30-day special session in Washington, D.C., denying Republicans a quorum to continue. But the effort is the latest attempt by state lawmakers across the country clamoring for audits following Trump’s false claims of mass voting fraud after his loss.

Toth’s proposal has gained 26 GOP backers since Texas Democrats fled the state. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) tweeted his support for the bill Wednesday, writing, “There is no reason not to do an audit. There is no reason not to know the truth of every election.”

The bill would require a forensic auditor to complete the work by Feb. 1, 2022, and report back to the legislature, “detailing any anomalies or discrepancies in voter data, ballot data or tabulation” in the 13 counties. Among the counties included is Montgomery County, where Toth was reelected in November; the bill’s sponsor declined to say whether he believed there was fraud in his election.

Some experts have argued that a statewide audit could be useful. Such audits are commonplace in close elections or in cases where discrepancies emerged after the fact.

But while Toth said he would support a statewide effort, he also argued the undertaking would be too expensive and time-consuming. Asked if he would consider including some smaller counties, Toth replied, “What’s the point? I mean, all the small counties are red.”

Some experts said Toth’s bill, as written, would probably fail on a technical level in a state where counties use a variety of methods, including paper ballots, preprinted ballots and digital machines.

“I think this is a very poorly thought-out piece of legislation, and a waste of time and money that could be spent on deploying trustworthy voting systems,” said Philip Stark, a statistics professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

Stark worked pro bono with others recently on a forensic audit of a November 2020 election in Windham, N.H., where results from a hand count did not match a machine count. Unlike in Toth’s bill, Stark said, New Hampshire legislators specified how the audit should be done.

“A forensic audit usually means that something went wrong and you’re trying to do a root-cause analysis,” said Stark, whose team in New Hampshire found that folds in the ballots had caused the discrepancy. “This just looks like, ‘Go fishing and figure out what dirt you can find on the election.’”

Some Texas election officials also criticized Toth’s bill, noting that the state ran a successful election despite record numbers of voters during a pandemic. Lisa Johnson, president of the County and District Clerk’s Association of Texas, called it “unnecessary.”

“It’s really frustrating to see them continually make elections more difficult to hold without feeling like you’re being attacked by certain

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Re: ENVIRONMENT, CULTURE, WORLD NEWS
« Reply #41 on: Jul 23, 2021, 05:38 AM »
 DC insider: Kevin McCarthy was 'a pathetic glob of protoplasm' during Jan. 6 insurrection

Bob Brigham
RAW STORY
July 23, 2021

Longtime Democratic Party strategist James Carville blasted House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in rudimentary biological terms during a Thursday evening interview by MSNBC's Brian Williams.

Williams noted Carville had given "famous advice to members of your party to own that insurrection every day, hold it up to the Republicans every day."

"The question is, how do you reckon they have done so far this week? I noted some genuine surprise that McCarthy was going to, in effect, pull a Benghazi on this — throw up a bunch of distractions and including but not limited to [Nancy] Pelosi didn't have enough security on hand that day."

"Well, remember McCarthy was a pathetic glob of protoplasm," Carville, a former Marine, replied. "He was panicked out of his mind on January 6th, calling the president, begging for help and everything else. Then he refuses to have the bipartisan committee and now he's doing this. The guy has no sense of shame. It's just -- it's really unbelievable when you look at the actual facts of what happened."

Carville explained how he saw the political situation, saying, "McCarthy is not a particularly bright man and a particularly weak person. And I think that Pelosi is a very bright and a very strong person."

He then suggested the investigation would look at the getaway car driver.

"And I think we're going to want to find out how much cooperation that these criminals on January 6th had from members of Congress. I know there's great interest in that, and I think that Speaker Pelosi is going to want that committee to look into that and find out if there's culpability, because somebody was driving this getaway car."

Watch: https://youtu.be/TFnAncwUPoo

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Offline Darja

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Re: ENVIRONMENT, CULTURE, WORLD NEWS
« Reply #42 on: Today at 03:23 AM »

Self-healing material could one day automatically repair broken phone screens in seconds

Scientists in India have made a new class of crystalline material with self-healing properties.

Tibi Puiu   
ZME
July 24, 2021

Smartphones today are super powerful but can also be equally expensive. This is quite inconvenient given that phones have a proclivity for dropping on the floor. It’s no wonder many people have had their phone screen shattered at least once before. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, chances are you have some form of anxiety caused by a fear of dropping your phone. But perhaps in the future, this anxiety may be dispelled by new technology that allows screens to self-repair within moments after impact with a nasty concrete pavement.

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) in Kolkata and the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur recently demonstrated a self-healing crystalline material in the journal Science, which when broken can reassemble the broken pieces into the original form.

    “Wound healing in living tissue and bone has inspired many synthetic self-healing polymers, gels and other soft materials in the last decade or so. However, replicating such repair in crystalline materials has remained a challenge as they are rigid and prevent diffusion of material at the damaged part due to dense and regularly arranged molecules in them,” the researchers said in a statement.

The researchers led by Professor C Malla Reddy embarked on this study with the aim to prove that mechanical impacts do not necessarily have to result in irreparable damage. With this in mind, they developed a type of solid material with a polar arrangement in the crystalline state (positive end to negative end). If the material is broken somewhere along its surface, there will be opposite electrical potentials at the fractured surfaces.

This organic material is piezoelectric, meaning it can convert mechanical energy into electricity and vice-versa. A prime example of this phenomenon is the microphone in your phone that converts mechanical acoustic waves into an electrical signal that is later decoded on the other end and converted back into sound so the other person can hear you speak. But piezoelectricity apparently also plays a major role in initiating self-healing in natural biomaterials, such as damaged bone and collagen following a mechanical injury.

Individual needle-shaped crystals, each around 2 mm long and 0.2 mm wide, join together thanks to powerful attractive forces developed between their surfaces. When a fracture occurs, these forces join the piece back together without the need for any external force such as heat or electricity, unlike previous self-healing materials presented by other researchers.

    “Since the previous decade, tremendous research has been done to find self-healing properties in the unnatural polymers, gels and composites which are soft and amorphous in nature. Various strategies have been employed to mimic nature but almost all of them need at least one stimulus such as heat, light, solvent or a chemical healing agent. And universally all materials fail when the broken parts fall apart’, Professor Reddy said.

And unlike other self-healing materials, which tend to be soft and amorphous, this particular material is up to ten times harder and has a crystalline structure, making it ideal for electronics.

It’s not clear whether this material could be used to coat smartphone screens since that would require some complementary properties that do not interfere with the user experience (i.e. ensuring the screen is still responsible when tapped). However, experiments showed that the material exhibits strong polarisation and non-linear optical response. Couple with its self-healing ability, this could make it ideal for optical sensing, high precision metrology, and optical nano probing among others.

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Offline Darja

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Re: ENVIRONMENT, CULTURE, WORLD NEWS
« Reply #43 on: Today at 03:27 AM »
‘Something’s not right’: Northern Irish townland has its 31.2C day in the sun

Ballywatticock was country’s hottest ever spot last week – but its reign had ended within days

Rory Carroll Ireland correspondent
Guardian
24 Jul 2021 10.30 BST

In the annals of climate change it will be remembered, if at all, as a diverting footnote: the brief reign of Ballywatticock.

Few people in Northern Ireland had heard of this townland on the shores of Strangford Lough in County Down until its weather station recorded the hottest temperature for the UK last Saturday: 31.2C (88.16F).

The measurement set a new record for Northern Ireland and unleashed a slew of jokes about an enigmatic name that possibly originated from the Irish baile Uaiteacoc, or Watticock’s townland.

“Ballywatticock of course being adapted from the Irish: baile meaning ‘townland’, Uaitecoc meaning ‘with a big thermometer’,” said one.

Someone changed the local speed limit sign from 30 to 31.2, delighting TV crews that used it as a backdrop to crown this previously anonymous patchwork of fields and houses the hottest place in Northern Ireland.

Residents enjoyed the attention. “It’s good to have a bit of excitement, some craic,” said Donald Crowe, 77, a retired farmer who has hosted the weather station in his garden since 1961.

“It’s excellent. A wee bit of publicity,” said Chris Holmes, 58, who has spent a lifetime assuring outsiders that Ballywatticock is a real place.

Now it had a place in the record books, he said. “Last Saturday was like walking off a plane in a really hot country.” He indicated a landscape of yellowing grass, the product of weeks of heat. “All those fields are burned to a crisp.”

Brian Jameson, 56, said last Saturday was windless, with not a zephyr coming from the sea just down the road. “It was unbelievable – a dry, searing heat. I came out of the house and I thought: wow, something’s not right.”

It is possible the multiple thermometers in Crowe’s garden – some sit in Met Office boxes, others rest on grass, some are in tubes in the soil – were not right. The Met Office dispatched a technician to verify the readings and is expected to give a verdict in coming days.

Meanwhile, dramatic footage from the US, Germany, Russia, China and elsewhere this week delivered their own stark judgment: the planet is not right.

Smoke from forest fires in the western US travelled thousands of miles and polluted New York’s air. A heatwave in Siberia, one of the world’s coldest regions, sparked wildfires that smothered the city of Yakutsk with an “airpocalypse” of toxic smoke. Researchers said the catastrophic floods that killed more than 200 people in western Europe may become more common because of global heating.

Such disasters felt remote from Ballywatticock, where residents expressed hope the heatwave would endure and let this usually wet, windy corner of the British Isles feel Sicilian a while longer.

Yet images of extreme weather beyond their shores, and their own sense that Northern Ireland’s climate is changing, nagged residents. It was fun to be famous, but what if that fame reflected unfolding global calamity?

“I believe the climate is changing. There’s too much evidence all around,” said Patrina Jameson, 57. Her son Ryan, 29, worried about what awaited his generation. “I believe the damage has already been done. Something has changed big time.”

Once upon a time weather records might last years, even decades. Ballywatticock’s reign as Northern Ireland’s hottest ever spot had ended in less than a week. On Wednesday a weather station in Castlederg, a County Tyrone village 80 miles (130km) to the west, recorded 31.3C (88.34F).

“Northern Ireland has for the second time in five days provisionally broken its all-time temperature record,” said the Met Office. The measurement will also need verification before becoming official.

    Northern Ireland has for the second time in 5 days provisionally broken it's all-time temperature record 📈

    Castlederg in County Tyrone recorded a temperature of 31.3 °C at 1437 this afternoon 🌡?

    This exceeds the 31.2 °C that Ballywatticock recorded last Saturday #heatwave pic.twitter.com/M4viWndTEi
    — Met Office (@metoffice) July 21, 2021

Castlederg also holds the record for Northern Ireland’s lowest temperature: -18.7C (-1.66F) during the winter of 2010.

Ballywatticock could not compete with a song of ice and fire. Northern Ireland had a new extreme weather celebrity.

Castlederg’s reign proved even more fleeting. On Thursday a weather station in Armagh recorded 31.4C.

    Northern Ireland has once again provisionally broken its highest #temperature on record 📈

    Armagh reached 31.4 °C at 1520 this afternoon🌡?

    This beats the 31.2 °C that Ballywatticock recorded on Saturday and the 31.3 °C that Castlederg recorded yesterday #UKHeatwave #heatwave pic.twitter.com/lItf4fwt8Z
    — Met Office (@metoffice) July 22, 2021

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Offline Darja

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Re: ENVIRONMENT, CULTURE, WORLD NEWS
« Reply #44 on: Today at 03:29 AM »
Smog tower to help Delhi breathe but experts sceptical

Agence France-Presse
July 24, 2021

A new attempt at purifying New Delhi's notoriously polluted air will see forty giant fans push out filtered air in the heart of the Indian capital's posh downtown shopping district.

But the $2 million "smog tower" has no shortage of doubters who say it will not help a city notorious for some of the world's dirtiest air.

The 25-meter (82 foot) high tower is meant to filter air over a one square kilometer radius around the swanky shops and cafes in Connaught Place.

The neighborhood's British colonial-era buildings are hit by a grey-yellow smog every winter.

"Smog is an annual phenomenon because of particulate matter. So we are (trying) to contain this," said Anwar Ali Khan, who is in charge of the project.

The engineer added the objective is to eliminate up to 50 percent of the most deadly PM2.5 particles from the air.

The city has said more towers could be built if this experiment works.

Delhi's chief minister Arvind Kejriwal once called the Indian capital a "gas chamber" because of its intense pollution.

Experts say that while smog towers may work they are just a pinprick against the relentless foe of car and truck fumes, construction dirt, industrial emissions and the agricultural stubble burning that engulf the city of more than 20 million.

"Installing smog towers has never been, and will never be a solution," Sunil Dahiya, an analyst with the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, told AFP.

"If we really, really want to address pollution, it has to be addressed at the source."

Dahiya added the tower will be powered by regular grid-based electricity with more than 70 percent of India's electricity coming from coal.

"So we will only be adding to pollution elsewhere in the country."

China built a 60-meter high smog tower in the badly polluted city of Xian, but the experiment has not spread to other cities.

Delhi's attempts to halve the number of cars allowed on the city's roads have not had much success.

"Every government claims that they're working to reduce pollution but we don't see the results," Delhi resident Pradeep Kumar told AFP.

Engineers hope to complete the smog tower by August 15, when India celebrates its independence day.

More mega purifiers are already in the works in Delhi and Bangalore.

"The objective is not to clear entire Delhi's air, it is to create special zones where people can breathe," Ali, the engineer, said.

© 2021 AFP