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ATHEISM and HUMANISM

9-24-21 The Haitian migrant surge, explained
Thousands of Haitian migrants crossed into the United States this month, setting up camp under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas. Here's everything you need to know. Thousands of Haitian migrants crossed into the United States this month, setting up camp under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas. The surge has put the Biden administration's immigration policies in the spotlight. Here's everything you need to know.

  1. What caused this sudden influx? Last week, an estimated 15,000 migrants, most of them native Haitians, were living in a makeshift camp in Del Rio. But the surge really began shortly after former President Donald Trump left office. A
  2. Why do they believe that? It mostly comes down to misinformation spread between friends and families. Many migrants say they heard through word of mouth that the U.S. border was open, and that it was relatively easy to cross into the country at Del Rio.
  3. hat are the conditions like in Del Rio? Pretty awful. Because the journey to the U.S. takes several months for most migrants, they travel light and don't bring a lot of necessities.
  4. Are any of the migrants allowed to stay? Two U.S. officials told The Associated Press that many of the migrants are being released in the United States with notices to appear at an immigration office within 60 days. Giving them this option rather than ordering an appearance in immigration court cuts the time needed to process migrants.
  5. So Democrats and Republicans are both angry about the situation? Yes, but for different reasons. Several GOP lawmakers have accused Biden of being too lenient on immigration, and suggest that's why so many migrants came to Del Rio.
  6. What happens to the migrants after they are deported? The migrants left Haiti for a reason — to escape poverty, violence, and instability — and don't want to return.

9-24-21 Why are so many Haitians at the US-Mexico border?
Thousands of predominantly Haitian migrants are still camped at the US border, where officials have struggled to provide them with food and sanitation. Last weekend, approximately 13,000 would-be migrants gathered under a bridge connecting Del Rio in Texas with Ciudad Acuña in Mexico. Many of the migrants are fleeing natural disasters, poverty and political turmoil, and making a treacherous journey through Latin America to reach the border. While citizens of several countries are represented in the migrant camp in Del Rio - including Dominicans, Venezuelans and Cubans - the vast majority are from Haiti. Of the Haitians, a significant number were those who fled after a devastating earthquake struck the country in 2010, and took up residence in Brazil and other South American countries. Haiti has also suffered from years of political instability, culminating in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July. The following month, the country suffered another deadly earthquake. Katiana Anglade, the Haitian-born development and operations director of the Washington-based Lambi Fund of Haiti, says the combination of natural disasters and political unrest over the years has left many Haitians "with nothing to hold on to". "There was a big lack of hope for the people who were living on the ground in Haiti," she says. "It's just been one shock after another, and one trauma after another." Many of the Haitians at the US-Mexico border experienced a long and difficult journey from South America. Ralph Thomassaint - a journalist for the Haitian news outlet AyiboPost who visited Del Rio this week to collect testimonies from migrants - says most of the migrants "had a sad story" from the journey. "Many, many women were raped during the trip, and many people die," he says. "You have thieves and gangs along the route, and people they have to pay to take them from one point to another."

9-24-21 There's reportedly a reason thousands of Haitians arrived in Texas on Mexican Independence Day
President Biden is getting a lot of heat for the way his administration is processing the roughly 15,000 Haitians who amassed at the U.S.-Mexico border in Del Rio, Texas, earlier this month. The Department of Homeland Security is flying hundreds of Haitians back to their chaotic homeland, even though most of them appear to have traveled to the U.S. border from long residencies in South America, and releasing hundreds more into the U.S. with orders to appear before immigration judges. On the ground in terms of who gets paroled into the country and who gets expelled, it seems like that's subjective," says Politico's Jack Herrera, who spent several days in Del Rio reporting on the "draconian" situation. "Decisions are being made on the ground by Border Patrol agents. It's not a very clear chain of command. When that happens, you get a bizarre mix of deterrents and random mercy." He said there now appears to be about 5,000 people left in the makeshift camps under the bridge between Del Rio and Mexico's Ciudad Acuña, adding, "It's still a zoo though." But there's also the question of why so many migrants, mostly Haitians, showed up at the Acuña border crossing all at once. That date, Sept. 16, appears to be important. "From my interviews with some Haitian migrants as well as with the attorneys who have interviewed a lot of these folks it seems like it was a complicated rumor that people were being allowed to cross the border in Del Rio," Herrera told Politico's Nightly newsletter "The reason they all arrived on the same day was actually they arrived on Mexican Independence Day. Because Mexican immigration authorities have been cracking down on movement throughout the region, migrants figured that during the Independence Day celebration, they would be distracted and it'd be easier to travel."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9-19-21 Police outnumber protesters at right-wing Capitol rally
A few hundred protesters gathered around the US Capitol on Saturday, for a rally in support of the pro-Trump rioters who ransacked the building on 6 January. But the group were easily outnumbered by the police and journalists present. Ahead of the event, police said they had detected "threats of violence" and security was tightened in Washington. Organisers had a permit for 700 to attend, but only about 100 to 200 protesters turned up, Reuters reports. Capitol Police said 400 to 450 people were inside the protest area - but that figure included the heavy media presence. Washington police officials had been expressing concern about the "Justice for J6" event for weeks. Its organisers - Look Ahead America - were led by Matt Braynard, the former director of data and strategy for Donald Trump's successful 2016 campaign. Hundreds of officers patrolled the Capitol grounds and 100 National Guard troops were on standby. A fence was erected around the Capitol, and lawmakers were advised to avoid the area. Speakers at the rally insisted that hundreds of rioters arrested for their actions on 6 January were "political prisoners" who had committed no violence. About 600 people have been charged in the federal investigation into the Capitol riot, where a pro-Trump mob tried to stop the US Congress from certifying the 2020 election result. At least 185 are accused of assaulting, resisting, or impeding police officers or employees. More than 70 were charged with destroying or stealing government property. Most of those charged have been released ahead of their trials. The Associated Press news agency reports that about 63 are still in custody, citing court and jail records. In July, officers who defended the Capitol during the riot told a Congressional committee they had been beaten and suffered racial abuse. One testified that he was knocked unconscious and suffered a heart attack. Another, an Iraq War veteran, compared the scene to a "medieval battlefield".

9-19-21 Canada election: Why it’s easier to vote in Canada than the US
Perhaps it's no surprise, but when it comes time to vote, Canadians are very good about doing it politely, and in queues. While Americans are still embroiled in a bitter feud over voting rights and the outcome of the 2020 election, their neighbours to the north are hardly breaking a sweat as they head to the polls to vote in their country's general election on 20 September. Things like widespread advanced voting, mail-in ballots, and federally-run elections seem to make it easier for Canadians to show up at the polls - voter turnout in Canada was higher (62%) than in the US (56%), according to data from Pew Research that looked at the 2016 presidential election and the 2019 Canadian federal election. Here's a look at some of the ways it's easier to be a voter in Canada than the US. Perhaps the most fundamental difference between Canadian and American elections is that Canadian federal elections are all run by one, non-partisan federal body, Elections Canada, while in the US, elections are run at the state level. That guarantees that a voter in Nova Scotia has the same system as a voter in Nunavut. In the US, a person's voting rights vary widely state by state. These myriad rules make it easier for partisanship to creep in, says Matthew Lebo, who teaches political science at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, and specialises in American political systems. "In Canada everything is done by Elections Canada - it's non-partisan, and they work hard to be non-partisan," he told the BBC. "In the states, every state is doing it themselves, they are definitely not non-partisan." This is partly how the 2020 US presidential election became so contested, with a handful of Republican state governments fighting to overturn the Democratic presidential victory. While the focus during a Canadian campaign tends to be on the party leaders and who will be prime minister, under Canada's system of government, it's actually 338 separate races, with candidates in each of the country's federal ridings (constituencies). (Webmasters Comment: It's a lot easier because they have no GOP!)

9-19-21 Aukus: France recalls envoys amid security pact row
France has said it is recalling its ambassadors in the US and Australia for consultations, in protest at a security deal which also includes the UK. The French foreign minister said the "exceptional decision" was justified by the situation's "exceptional gravity". The alliance, known as Aukus, will see Australia being given the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines. The move angered France as it scuppered a multibillion-dollar deal it had signed with Australia. The agreement is widely seen as an effort to counter China's influence in the contested South China Sea. It was announced on Wednesday by US President Joe Biden, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison. France was informed of the alliance only hours before the public announcement was made. In a statement late on Friday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who had described the pact as a "stab in the back", said the ambassadors were being recalled at the request of President Emmanuel Macron. The deal "constitute[s] unacceptable behaviour between allies and partners whose consequences directly affect the vision we have of our alliances, of our partnerships and of the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe", Mr Le Drian said. A White House official said the Biden administration regretted the move and would be engaged with France in the coming days to resolve their differences. Speaking in Washington, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she understood the "disappointment" in France and hoped to work with the country to ensure it understood "the value we place on the bilateral relationship". A recall of ambassadors is highly unusual between allies, and it is believed to be the first time France has recalled envoys from the two countries. French diplomats in Washington had already cancelled a gala to celebrate ties between the US and France which was scheduled for Friday.

9-19-21 Aukus: Australia defends role in security pact amid French condemnation
Australia has defended its decision to scrap a multi-billion dollar submarine purchase from France in favour of a new security pact with the US and UK. Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected accusations that Australia had lied, saying France should have been aware it was prepared to break the deal. France says the Aukus pact has led to a "serious crisis" between the allies. In an unprecedented move, it has recalled its ambassadors from the US and Australia as a sign of protest. Under the Aukus pact, Australia will be given the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines as a way of countering China's influence in the contested South China Sea. The partnership has ended a deal worth $37bn (£27bn) signed by Australia in 2016 for France to build 12 conventional submarines. France says it was informed of the pact only hours before the public announcement was made earlier this week. Mr Morrison on Sunday said he understood France's disappointment, but that he had always been clear about Australia's position. The French government "would have had every reason to know that we had deep and grave concerns", he said. "Ultimately this was a decision about whether the submarines that were being built, at great cost to the Australian taxpayer, were going to be able to do a job that we needed it to do when they went into service and our strategic judgment based on the best possible of intelligence and defence advice was that it would not." Mr Morrison's comments came after French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France 2 television there had been "lying, duplicity, a major breach of trust and contempt" over the deal. He said France's ambassadors to the US and Australia were being recalled to "re-evaluate the situation", but that there had been "no need" to recall the ambassador to the UK, which he described as a "third wheel". US President Joe Biden is expected to hold talks with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in the coming days. "We want explanations," French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Sunday. (Webmasters Comment: It's pretty simple! The United States planing to attack China!)

9-19-21 Migrants in Texas: Thousands moved to processing centres
US officials have moved thousands of migrants away from a Texas border town that has seen an influx of mostly Haitian migrants over the past week. More than 10,000 people had gathered under a bridge connecting Del Rio in Texas to Mexico's Ciudad Acuña. Local officials have struggled to provide them with food and adequate sanitation. Some 2,000 people were moved to immigration and processing stations on Friday. The US government says it plans to fly the migrants back to where they began their journeys. Flights are expected to start on Sunday, with the US currently negotiating returns with the countries in question. Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry sent support to the migrants on social media late on Saturday, saying "arrangements have already been made" to welcome those who return. But some migrants say they are afraid to return. "In Haiti, there is no security," Fabricio Jean, 38, who is at the camp with his wife and two daughters, told the Associated Press. "The country is in a political crisis." "There's people killing each other in Haiti, there's just no justice," another father of two, 29-year-old Stelin Jean told the Texas Tribune. "I just want to live a calm life without any problems, I want to live somewhere where I know there's justice." The US Department for Homeland Security said in a statement that the transfers will continue "in order to ensure that irregular migrants are swiftly taken into custody, processed and removed from the United States consistent with our laws and policy". It added that US Customs and Border Protection is sending 400 additional agents to Del Rio, a city with a population of roughly 35,000. Del Rio's Mayor Bruno Lozano has declared a state of emergency, and described the situation as "unprecedented" and "surreal". He said border patrol had been overwhelmed and that "agitated" migrants were living in impossible conditions. The makeshift camp at Del Rio has few basic services, and migrants waiting in temperatures of 37C (99F), have been wading back across the river into Mexico to get supplies. (Webmasters Comment: Sending immigrants back to their deaths!)

9-18-21 Rally in support of Jan. 6 rioters draws sparse crowd in D.C.
A rally in Washington, D.C., in support of the hundreds of rioters who face criminal charges for breaching the Capitol on Jan. 6 has reportedly drawn a relatively small crowd so far on Saturday. Capitol Police estimated 400-450 people at the demonstration site on the National Mall, though there were also reportedly a fair amount of journalists and "curiosity seekers" in the area, as well. The "Justice for J6" protest wasn't expected to be massive with organizers hoping around 700 people would show up to its permit area, but it appears a large police presence prevented it from reaching that size. Time's Vera Bergengruen, however, reports that Saturday's rally was overhyped, subsequently obscuring "what has been happening to ... far-right movements in the aftermath of Jan. 6" outside of the nation's capital. People involved in such movements have been urging their supporters to "ignore" events like "Justice for J6" and instead focus their efforts at the local level, especially by protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other pandemic-related measures, as well as challenging school committees and boards. In other words, the lack of enthusiasm for Saturday's widely-covered demonstration doesn't necessarily provide the clearest look at what's really happening on the ground.

9-18-21 GOP's Kinzinger tells 'silent' colleagues 'the time for hiding is over' in fight against Trump
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who has become one of former President Donald Trump's fiercest critics within the Republican Party, released a video statement on Saturday directed at his GOP colleagues in Congress who he said lack "courage to speak out" against Trump "while privately hoping for change." The impetus for Kinzinger's message was the decision by his friend Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) — who along with Kinzinger was one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 riot — to not run for re-election next year amid a challenge from the party's pro-Trump faction. The looming end of Gonzalez's tenure in the lower chamber does indicate Trump is "winning" the intra-GOP battle, Kinziger admitted. But he said that's only because other lawmakers have remained silent during the tumult. "The future of the party and politics of this country doesn't rest on the 10 of us," Kinzinger said, referring to the impeachment supporters. "The time for hiding is over, the stakes are too high," Kinziger warned, adding that anyone who believes Trump truly is the party's leader must "own his comments" or "denounce them," while anyone who doesn't think Trump should helm the GOP "must publicly say that."

9-18-21 France's anger at U.S., U.K., Australia over defense deal may not die down quickly
France's anger at its allies Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom over their trilateral defense agreement may not die down overnight. The pact effectively cancels a pre-existing deal between France and Australia, in which the latter had ordered French-built submarines. In response, French President Emmanuel Macron recalled the government's ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia, which may only be "the tip of the iceberg," Peter Ricketts, a former U.K. ambassador to France, told BBC radio on Saturday. "This is far more than just a diplomatic spat," he said, explaining that the France-Australia deal "wasn't just an arms contract," but a "strategic partnership." Now, "there's a deep sense of betrayal in France." What's more, Australia went behind Paris' back with two fellow NATO members, leaving Macron and company wondering what exactly the alliance is for, Ricketts said. "I think people underestimated the impact that this would have in France and how this would seem as a humiliation and betrayal in a year President Macron is running for election in a very tight race with the far right," he added. Read more at The Guardian.

9-18-21 IA reportedly warned military about civilian presence just seconds before missile hit in Kabul
The CIA urgently warned the U.S. military that Afghan civilians, including children, were likely in the immediate vicinity of the intended target of a deadly missile strike late last month in Kabul, CNN reports, citing three sources familiar with the situation. The message didn't arrive in time. The military believed a vehicle contained explosives and posed an imminent threat to Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport during the chaotic evacuation process after the Taliban took control of the Afghan capital. But Central Command admitted Friday that its information was incorrect — there were no explosives in the car, and the driver did not have connections to the Islamic State's Afghanistan affiliate, known as ISIS-K. It's unclear if the CIA was aware of the faulty intelligence, or if the agency had only picked up on the civilian presence. Either way, by the time the CIA issued warning, the missile was just seconds away from hitting the car, CNN reports. It killed 10 people, including seven children. Read more at CNN. (Webmasters Comment: Killing innocent civilians is a terror tactic the United State has used for over 100 years!)

9-18-21 Afghanistan: US admits Kabul drone strike killed civilians
The US has admitted that a drone strike in Kabul days before its military pullout killed 10 innocent people. A US Central Command investigation found that an aid worker and nine members of his family, including seven children, died in the 29 August strike. The youngest child, Sumaya, was just two years old. The deadly strike happened days after a terror attack at Kabul airport, amid a frenzied evacuation effort following the Taliban's sudden return to power. It was one of the US military's final acts in Afghanistan, before ending its 20-year operation in the country. US intelligence had tracked the aid worker's car for eight hours, believing it was linked to IS-K militants - a local branch of the Islamic State (IS) group, US Central Command Gen Kenneth McKenzie said. The investigation found the man's car had been seen at a compound associated with IS-K, and its movements aligned with other intelligence about the terror group's plans for an attack on Kabul airport. At one point, a surveillance drone saw men loading what appeared to be explosives into the boot of the car, but these turned out to be containers of water. Gen McKenzie described the strike as a "tragic mistake", and added that the Taliban had not been involved in the intelligence that led to the strike. The strike happened as the aid worker - named as Zamairi Ahmadi - pulled into the driveway of his home, 3km (1.8 miles) from the airport. The explosion set off a secondary blast, which US officials initially said was proof that the car was indeed carrying explosives. However the investigation has found it was most likely caused by a propane tank in the driveway. One of those killed, Ahmad Naser, had been a translator with US forces. Other victims had previously worked for international organisations and held visas allowing them entry to the US. Relatives of the victims told the BBC the day after the strike that they had applied to be evacuated, and had been waiting for a phone call telling them to go to the airport. In a statement, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said: "We now know that there was no connection between Mr Ahmadi and Isis-Khorasan, that his activities on that day were completely harmless and not at all related to the imminent threat we believed we faced. "We apologise, and we will endeavour to learn from this horrible mistake." (Webmasters Comment: This was a war crime! All those involved need to be arrested, tried, convicted and hung!)

9-18-21 Covid-19: US FDA recommends booster jabs for over 65s
A panel advising the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended boosters of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine for people 65 and over, and those at high risk. But it voted against recommending a shot for everyone aged 16 and over. The outcome is a blow for President Joe Biden, who said widespread jabs would be available by next week if approved. The FDA's scientific advisory committee voted 16 to 3 against the boosters for those aged 16 and over. Many of the panel's independent experts - including infectious disease specialists - said scientific data suggested a widespread roll-out of vaccines was not warranted. Ahead of a meeting on Friday, some scientists said they believed that boosters were unlikely to have a significant impact on the course of the pandemic. Dr Monica Gandhi, an infectious diseases physician and professor at the University of California San Francisco, said she was not convinced by the immunology research. "Antibodies do come down over time, but [the human body] has the blueprint to make more," she told the BBC. These blueprints come in the form of "memory B" cells which form part of the adaptive immune system. "There's been paper after paper that shows good circulating memory B cells after the second dose," Dr Gandhi said. Some have also said that additional vaccine doses would be more useful if distributed to parts of the world where many people have yet to receive their first or second jabs. "If you take away the moral and ethical questions, there's still the public health question of where the next variant is going to come from," she said. "It's likely to come from places with low vaccination rates." Advocates of the booster point to data that shows the Pfizer vaccine's effectiveness against Covid-19 falls from 96% to 84% after four months. Pfizer says that a third shot brings its effectiveness back up to 95% - including against the fast spreading Delta variant. Dr Priscilla Hanudel, a Los Angeles-based emergency doctor, said that immunocompromised people "definitely" need to get a booster.

9-18-21 Police warn of threats ahead of right-wing rally at US Capitol
Police say they have detected "some threats of violence" ahead of a planned right-wing rally in Washington DC on Saturday. Event organisers say it is aimed at supporting those arrested for taking part in the Capitol riots on 6 January. Security has been tightened in Washington ahead of the rally, at which 700 people are expected. The event's coordinator, a former Donald Trump campaign operative, has vowed the event will be peaceful. For weeks, Capitol Hill and Washington DC police officials have expressed concern about the "Justice for J6" event. At a news conference on Friday, US Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said there had been "some threats of violence" associated with Saturday's events, although he declined to comment on their credibility. "What we do know is the chatter we heard before January 6, the threats turned out to be credible," Mr Manger said. "So we're not taking any chances." Additionally, Mr Manger said that police are particularly concerned about the possibility of clashes between attendees and nearby counter-protesters. Ahead of the event, Washington DC's police force announced it was mobilising the entire police force. On Friday, DC police chief Robert J Contee said that the force would be increasingly visible around the city during the rally, and would strictly enforce "no gun zones". Local laws prohibit firearms within 1,000 feet (305m) of "first amendment activities". The Department of Defense has also approved the deployment of 100 National Guard soldiers to help safeguard the event alongside police. A fence has also been erected around the Capitol, while lawmakers have been advised to avoid the area. The event's organisers - Look Ahead America - are led by Matt Braynard, the former director of data and strategy for Donald Trump's successful 2016 campaign. Mr Braynard has repeatedly urged event attendees to remain peaceful. Earlier this week he asked supporters to avoid wearing pro-Trump clothing or paraphernalia.

9-18-21 Migrants in Texas: US 'to fly thousands back to Haiti'
The US government is set to fly back to Haiti thousands of migrants who have gathered under a US-Mexico border bridge in recent days, US media report Flights will begin on Sunday and could involve up to eight a day, officials told the Associated Press. At least 10,000 people, mostly Haitian migrants, are camped under the bridge connecting Del Rio in Texas to Mexico's Ciudad Acuña, and more are expected. Del Rio's mayor Bruno Lozano has declared a state of emergency. Describing the situation as "unprecedented" and "surreal", he said border patrol had been overwhelmed and "agitated" migrants were living in impossible conditions. The border crossing at Del Rio was temporarily closed on Friday "to respond to urgent safety and security needs presented by" the influx of migrants, US Customs and Border Protection said. The makeshift camp at Del Rio has few basic services and migrants, waiting in temperatures of 37C (99F), have been wading back across the river into Mexico to get supplies. Shelters have been made from giant reeds and many are using the river to bathe and wash clothes in, the AP reports. At least two babies are reported to have been born in the camp. Ramses Colon, a 41-year-old Afro-Cuban asylum seeker who worked in Peru to save money for the trip, said the camp was "chaos". "You stand there among thousands with your little ticket waiting for your turn," he told the Washington Post. Migrants have been given tickets with numbers while they wait to be processed. Republican Congressman Tony Gonzalez, whose district includes Del Rio, said in an interview with Fox News that the situation is "as bad as I've ever seen it". "When you see the amount of people and how chaotic it is and how there is literally no border, folks are coming to and from Mexico with ease, it's gut wrenching and it's dangerous," Mr Gonzalez added. (Webmasters Comment: This is a death sentence!)


FEMINISM

9-24-21 Kenyan basketballer: Sexual abuse rife for years
A former basketball player in Kenya says sexual abuse has plagued the country's women's game "for many, many years" but that a climate of fear is preventing victims from speaking out. Now in her 30s, she says she was sexually abused by one of her coaches as she started out in the game. Her comments come with African women's basketball under the spotlight following last week's publication of an official report which detailed "institutionalised sexual abuse" dating back decades in the Malian game. "Everywhere in Kenya, basketball players know these things but people have been quiet," the Kenyan victim, who we're calling Rachel to protect her identity, told BBC Sport Africa. "Many girls have been used but they don't want to say anything." "There were so many girls I see, even in big teams here, but they are all quiet. I think people have been afraid. In Kenya, people have been used." Speaking on condition of anonymity, Rachel said the abuse was often linked to pledges to advance the career of young players, many of them teenagers at the time. Rachel was speaking without knowledge of an ongoing investigation by Human Rights Watch (HRW) into allegations of sexual abuse in Kenyan basketball. The international campaign group played a key role in helping some of those who suffered from Mali's long-standing abuse, which was laid out in a report commissioned by basketball's governing body Fiba, find their voice. HRW is now turning its attention to Kenya. "Human Rights Watch is looking into and is concerned about reports of sexual abuse of young female athletes in Kenya's Basketball Federation (KBF)," Minky Worden, HRW's Director of Global Initiatives, told BBC Sport Africa. "Officials in national basketball have a duty to protect young players and to ensure their safety. Fiba, the global basketball federation, has a 'zero tolerance' policy against sexual abuse in sport. "It is the responsibility of Fiba and all national sports federations to ensure a safe environment for teen players, to kick abusers out of sport,

9-23-21 Morocco's Khadija rape case: Eleven jailed for 20 years
A Moroccan court has handed down 20-year prison sentences to 11 men found guilty of brutally raping and kidnapping a 17-year-old woman in 2018, according to the prosecution lawyer. The young woman - called Khadija - had gone public with the assault showing the scars, burns and tattoos she says the perpetrators inflicted on her. In a 2018 interview she said she would "never forgive" her attackers. The case caused national outrage and led to a #JusticePourKhadija campaign. Khadija's lawyer told the AFP news agency that he would appeal. Ibrahim Hachane said that the verdicts handed down in Beni Mallal were "not tough" because suspects convicted of trafficking can get up to 30 years in prison. Mr Hachane told AFP the attackers were also ordered to pay a $16,000 (£12,000) fine. Human rights campaigners warn that attacks against women are common in Morocco, with a study showing that more than half of women had experienced violence. In 2018 the government passed a law criminalising violence against women including a ban on forced marriage, sexual harassment in public places, and tougher penalties for certain forms of violence. But it was criticised by Human Rights Watch for not explicitly criminalising marital rape and lacking a precise definition of domestic violence. There are conflicting reports about the sentences of two further perpetrators. They were given two years in prison and a one-year suspended sentence respectively, according to AFP. However local news site Article19 says both the sentences were suspended. It also cites a minor who was given a three-year prison sentence. Khadija said she also suffered torture at the hands of the attackers, saying that what they did "destroyed" her. "I tried to escape several times, but I was caught and beaten," she said told Morocco's Chouf TV in a 2018 interview. "They tortured me, they did not give me food or drink, and they did not even allow me to take a shower." While many Moroccans were shocked, there was also a backlash as relatives of the suspects accused Khadija of lying in Moroccan media, accusing her of living a "depraved" lifestyle.

9-21-21 Afghan girls school ban would be un-Islamic, Pakistan PM says
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan has said preventing women from accessing education in neighbouring Afghanistan would be un-Islamic. In an interview with the BBC, Mr Khan laid out the conditions that would need to be met for Pakistan to formally recognise the new Taliban government. He called for the leadership to be inclusive and to respect human rights. Mr Khan also said Afghanistan should not be used to house terrorists who could threaten Pakistan's security. Last week, the Taliban excluded girls from secondary schools with only boys and male teachers allowed back. But Pakistan's leader said he believed girls would soon be able to attend. "The statements they have made since they came to power have been very encouraging," he told the BBC's John Simpson. "I think they will allow women to go to schools," he said. "The idea that women should not be educated is just not Islamic. It has nothing to do with religion." Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August, fears have grown over a return to the regime of the 1990s when the hardline Islamists severely restricted women's rights. Its leadership maintains that the rights of women will be respected "within the framework of Islamic law". The decision to exclude girls from returning to school last week prompted an international outcry, with a Taliban spokesman later saying they would return to the classroom "as soon as possible". But it is not yet clear when girls will be able to return or what form of education will be provided if they do. When pressed on whether the Taliban would realistically meet his criteria for formal recognition, Mr Khan repeatedly called on the international community to give the group more time. "It's just too early to say anything," he said, adding that he expected Afghan women to eventually "assert their rights". Pakistan has not been seen by all as a firm ally in the battle against jihadist terrorism. It has long been accused by many in the United States and elsewhere of providing support for the Taliban, something it denies.

9-21-21 Luis Miramontes helped enable the sexual revolution. Why isn’t he better known?
At 26, Miramontes synthesized an active ingredient in one of the first birth control pills. When Mexican scientist Luis Miramontes signed his lab notebook on October 15, 1951, he didn’t know he was documenting history. That day, he made a new molecule — norethindrone. Derived from the wild Mexican yam that locals call barbasco, norethindrone became one of the first active ingredients in birth control pills. “The pill” gave women control over when they had children and let men and women enjoy sex without the chance of reproduction, thus ushering in seismic social change. Miramontes’ notebook page has been immortalized in books and articles by his former supervisor, Carl Djerassi, as well as reporters. Yet compared with Djerassi and others who contributed to the pill, Miramontes attained little recognition, says Gabriela Soto Laveaga, a historian of science at Harvard University and author of Jungle Laboratories: Mexican Peasants, National Projects, and the Making of the Pill. “It isn’t until recently that Miramontes has even been spoken about.” Luis Ernesto Miramontes Cárdenas was born in 1925, in the wake of the Mexican Revolution. He grew up surrounded by strong female role models, including his aunt María Dolores Cárdenas Aréchiga, a onetime major in Pancho Villa’s army who later joined the army of teachers bringing education to the remotest corners of Mexico. Young Miramontes decided on a career in science. By the late 1940s, he was studying chemical engineering in Mexico City. It was a good time and place to be a skilled molecule maker. The Mexican company Syntex was blowing away global competition at producing low-cost hormones to treat diseases. The reason was the Mexican yam, Dioscorea mexicana, which contained large quantities of a precursor that could be used to make several hormones. In 1949, Miramontes became one of a group of researchers assigned to Syntex projects as part of an agreement with the National Autonomous University of Mexico, or UNAM. Djerassi, an Austrian-born American chemist, “liked the way I worked,” Miramontes said in a 2004 interview. “If he wanted something to turn out well, or to be verified, he’d give me the job.”

9-21-21 Texas abortion: Doctor sued in first known challenges of new law
A Texas doctor who admitted to breaking the state's new abortion legislation has been sued, in what could be a test of how lawful the mandate is. Writing for the Washington Post, Alan Braid said he had carried out a termination on a woman who was in the early stages of her pregnancy but "beyond the state's new limit". Former lawyers in Arkansas and Illinois filed lawsuits against him on Monday. The new legislation bans abortions from as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The law came into effect on 1 September, giving any individual - from Texas or elsewhere - the right to sue doctors who perform an abortion past the six-week point. However it does not allow the women who get the procedure to be sued. The law bans terminations after the detection of what anti-abortion campaigners call a foetal heartbeat, something medical authorities say is misleading. Dr Braid, who has been practising medicine for nearly 50 years, wrote in an opinion column published on the weekend: "I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients, and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care. "I fully understood that there could be legal consequences - but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn't get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested," he wrote. Oscar Stilley, a former lawyer in Arkansas who is serving a 15-year federal conviction for tax fraud in home confinement, said he had decided to file the lawsuit after reading Dr Braid's opinion piece. He said he was not opposed to abortion but sued to force a court to test the legality of the new legislation. In an interview with Reuters news agency, he said the new restrictions violate women's constitutional rights. A second lawsuit was filed by Felipe Gomez, from Illinois, who described himself as a "Pro Choice Plaintiff" in the suit and claimed the law was "illegal as written and as applied". Dr Braid has not commented on the lawsuits, the first known legal challenges to the law which is one of the most restrictive in the country.

9-20-21 Giving birth under the Taliban
Rabia is cradling her newborn baby, just days after giving birth at a small hospital in Nangarhar province in Afghanistan's east. "This is my third child, but the experience was totally different. It was horrible," she says. In a matter of weeks, the birthing unit Rabia delivered her baby in had been stripped down to its bare basics. She was given no pain relief, no medicine and no food. The hospital sweltered in temperatures topping 43C (109F) - the power had been cut and there was no fuel to work the generators. "We were sweating like we were taking a shower," says Rabia's midwife Abida, who worked tirelessly in darkness to deliver the baby by mobile phone light. "It was one of the worst experiences I've ever had in my job. It was too painful. But this is our story every night and every day in the hospital since the Taliban took over." Surviving childbirth means Rabia is one of the lucky ones. Afghanistan has one of the worst maternal and infant mortality rates in the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with 638 women dying per 100,000 live births. It used to be worse. Yet the progress made on maternal and neonatal care since the US-led invasion in 2001 is quickly unravelling. "There is now a great sense of urgency and desperation. I really feel the weight of that," says United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) executive director Natalia Kanem. The UNFPA estimates that, without immediate support for women and girls, there could be 51,000 additional maternal deaths, 4.8 million unintended pregnancies, and twice as many people who won't be able to access family planning clinics between now and 2025. "Primary health facilities across Afghanistan are collapsing… maternal mortality rates, child mortality rates, will increase, unfortunately," says Dr Wahid Majrooh, chief of public health, who is the only minister remaining in post since Kabul fell last month. He's pledged to fight for the health of Afghans, but faces an uphill battle.

9-19-21 The end of Roe v. Wade?
With the Supreme Court poised to revisit the landmark ruling this fall, at least 22 states are readying to outlaw abortion. With the Supreme Court poised to revisit the landmark ruling this fall, at least 22 states are readying to outlaw abortion. Here's everything you need to know:

  1. Is Roe v. Wade at risk? Many legal experts think so following the Supreme Court's 5-4 refusal this month to block a new Texas law that bans most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. "Any court that took the right to abortion seriously would have stayed this law," said Florida State University law professor Mary Ziegler. "The real question is how and when the court overrules Roe."
  2. Has the abortion rate changed recently? It's been in steady decline since 1990, when a post-Roe high of 1.6 million abortions were performed in U.S. clinics. That number dropped to about 1 million in 2011 and 862,000 in 2017, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.
  3. Where is access being restricted? Nearly 600 abortion restrictions have been passed at the state level over the past decade, most of them in the South, the Midwest, and the Plains. Thirty-three states now require women to receive pre-abortion counseling, which can include speculation about when a fetus can feel pain or the supposed link between abortion and breast cancer, which is not backed by any scientific evidence.
  4. Have many abortion providers closed? The number of independent abortion clinics in the U.S. has dropped by a third in recent years, from 510 in 2012 to 337 late last year. In at least 16 states, 95 percent of counties lack an abortion clinic; Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Mississippi have only one remaining abortion clinic each.
  5. Does prohibition stop abortion? History suggests not. In the 1950s and '60s, an estimated 200,000 to 1 million illegal abortions were performed each year in the U.S. Wealthy women would head abroad to get a termination or pay off a physician; poor and desperate women visited back-alley abortionists or attempted terminations at home, poking knitting needles or coat hangers into their wombs, or having their cervixes filled with Lysol.
  6. Could abortion become illegal in the U.S.? Ten states have "trigger" laws in place that would outlaw abortion the moment the Supreme Court overturns Roe, and another 12 states are thought likely to pass new bans. About 100,000 fewer legal abortions would be carried out each year if Roe were scrapped, according to a study by Middlebury College.
  7. Abortion goes underground: An underground railroad of sorts is ­developing to help women in red states travel to ­abortion providers or illegally obtain abortion pills. The national nonprofit Plan C sent a truck across Texas this month bearing an illuminated advert that read "Missed period? There's a pill for that."

9-19-21 Afghanistan: Stay home, female Kabul government workers told
The new Taliban mayor of Afghanistan's capital Kabul has told female employees in the city to stay home unless their jobs cannot be filled by a man. Hamdullah Noman said the Taliban "found it necessary to stop women from working for a while". It is the latest restriction imposed on Afghanistan's women by the country's hard-line new Islamist government. During their previous rule in the 1990s women were barred from education and the workplace. After seizing the country last month following the withdrawal of US forces, the Taliban said women's rights would be respected "within the framework of Islamic law". But the Taliban favour a strict interpretation of Islam's legal system, Sharia law. Since taking power working women have been told to stay at home until the security situation improves, and Taliban fighters have beaten women protesting against the all-male interim government. The Islamist group appears to have shut down the women's affairs ministry and replaced it with a department that once enforced strict religious doctrines. And this weekend secondary schools reopened, but with only boys and male teachers allowed back into classrooms. The Taliban said it was working on reopening schools for girls. According to the Kabul mayor about a third of the city's 3,000 employees are women. He said some would carry on working. "For example, women work in the women's toilets in the city where men cannot go," he said. "But for the positions that others [men] can fill, we have told them [women] to stay at home until the situation is normalised. Their salaries will be paid," he added. On Sunday, there were small protests outside the women's affairs ministry while another group of women held a press conference to demand their rights. One of those protesting at the ministry said "we do not want this ministry to be removed. The removal of women [means] the removal of human beings." (Webmasters Comment: Taliban men are brought up to beat women into submission!)

9-19-21 Afghanistan: The 'shattered dreams' of the Ariana cabin crew
They were supposed to be the face of Afghanistan's future - female cabin crew working for the national carrier, Ariana Airlines. Now, they have been told not to come back to work for the time being by their new bosses, the Taliban. Eleven of the women have come together to hide in an abandoned house, out of fear for their future. The BBC's chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet went to meet them.

9-18-21 'No reason' for optimism that Taliban's ban on girls' education will end, human rights analyst warns
Boys in grades 7-12 returned to school in Afghanistan on Saturday for the first time in months, but girls of the same age did not, as they effectively remain banned from going to class by the Taliban. The group has suggested it would allow girls to return to secondary school once the country's security situation eases, but there's widespread speculation that those are empty words. The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, they never formally banned girls' education, but maintained throughout their reign that it wasn't safe for them to attend. Heather Barr, the associate director of Human Rights Watch's Women's Rights Division, told The Wall Street Journal the current situation "feels very familiar" to the period between 1996 and 2001 when Afghan women and girls "were told to be patient and wait for a day that never came." Now, she said, there is once again "no reason for much optimism that this ban will end." Primary school-aged girls are allowed back in school, though they'll be taught separately from boys, and some private universities have also been given the go ahead to open gender-segregated classrooms. Still, many female students have opted against attending out of fear, the Journal reports. The latest developments may suggest the more moderate, pragmatic voices within the Taliban are losing out to hard-liners in policy fights at the moment, Mabouba Suraj, the head of the Afghan Women's Network, told The Associated Press. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.

9-18-21 Robert Durst convicted: US millionaire found guilty of first-degree murder
US real estate heir Robert Durst, subject of HBO crime documentary The Jinx, has been convicted of killing his best friend Susan Berman. Durst was found guilty of killing Ms Berman in 2000 to stop her talking to police about his wife's disappearance. Then aged 55, she was found shot in the head in her Beverly Hills home. In The Jinx's final part, Durst is heard muttering to himself: "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course." Hours before the last episode aired, authorities arrested Durst in New Orleans for Ms Berman's murder. Jurors were played the clip during the trial. Prosecutors called Durst, 78, a "narcissistic psychopath". It now looks likely he will die in jail. Susan Berman was a crime writer, and had acted as a spokesperson for Durst when he became a suspect in his wife's disappearance. At an earlier hearing, Durst's lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, objected to jurors also being shown clips from All the Good Things, a 2010 film about his marriage starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. The film was directed by The Jinx's filmmaker Andrew Jarecki and depicts the life of the tycoon, showing him as a murderer. Durst's wife Kathleen McCormack, a medical student, went missing in 1982 and is presumed dead. Shortly after Friday's verdict, her family issued a statement urging prosecutors in New York's Westchester County to prosecute Durst. "The justice system in Los Angeles has finally served the Berman family. It is now time for Westchester to do the same for the McCormack family," they said. Prosecutors argue that Durst actually murdered three people - the third being an elderly neighbour, Morris Black, who discovered Durst's identity in 2001 while he was hiding out in Texas. Durst was acquitted of murdering Mr Black, successfully arguing he had killed him on the grounds of self-defence before cutting up the body.

9-18-21 Afghanistan: Girls excluded as Afghan secondary schools reopen
The Taliban have excluded girls from Afghan secondary schools, after they ordered only boys and male teachers to return to the classroom. Schoolgirls told the BBC they were devastated not to be returning. "Everything looks very dark," one said. A Taliban spokesman said there were plans to open girls' schools soon. But there are fears Afghanistan is returning to the harsh rule of the 1990s when a similar ban on girls' schooling was in place. A statement issued ahead of Afghan schools reopening on Saturday said: "All male teachers and students should attend their educational institutions." Secondary schools are usually for students aged between 13 and 18, and most are segregated. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid was later quoted by Afghanistan's Bakhtar News Agency as saying that girls' schools would open soon. He said officials were currently working on the "procedure" for this, and details including the division of teachers. But schoolgirls and their parents said prospects were bleak. "I am so worried about my future," said one Afghan schoolgirl, who had hoped to be a lawyer. "Everything looks very dark. Every day I wake up and ask myself why I am alive? Should I stay at home and wait for someone to knock on the door and ask me to marry him? Is this the purpose of being a woman?" Her father said: "My mother was illiterate, and my father constantly bullied her and called her an idiot. I didn't want my daughter to become like my mum." Another schoolgirl, a 16-year-old from Kabul, said it was a "sorrowful day". "I wanted to become a doctor! And that dream has vanished. I don't think they would let us go back to school. Even if they open the high schools again, they don't want women to become educated." Earlier this week, the Taliban announced that women would be allowed to study at universities, but they would not be able to do so alongside men and would face a new dress code. Some suggested the new rules would exclude women from education because the universities do not have the resources to provide separate classes. Barring girls from secondary schools would mean none would be able to go on to further education.

9-18-21 'No reason' for optimism Taliban's ban on girls' education will end, human rights analyst warns
Boys in grades 7-12 returned to school in Afghanistan on Saturday for the first time in months, but girls of the same age did not, as they effectively remain banned from going to class by the Taliban. The group has suggested it would allow girls to return to secondary school once the country's security situation eases, but there's widespread speculation that those are empty words. The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, they never formally banned girls' education, but maintained throughout their reign that it wasn't safe for them to attend. Heather Barr, the associate director of Human Rights Watch's Women's Rights Division, told The Wall Street Journal the current situation "feels very familiar" to the period between 1996 and 2001 when Afghan women and girls "were told to be patient and wait for a day that never came." Now, she said, there is once again "no reason for much optimism that this ban will end." Primary school-aged girls are allowed back in school, though they'll be taught separately from boys, and some private universities have also been given the go ahead to open gender-segregated classrooms. Still, many female students have opted against attending out of fear, the Journal reports. The latest development may suggest that the more moderate, pragmatic voices within the Taliban are losing out to hard-liners in policy fights at the moment, Mabouba Suraj, the head of the Afghan Women's Network, told The Associated Press. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.


SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT

9-24-21 German election: Climate protesters rally in cities
Climate change activists are rallying in cities around Germany ahead of federal elections on Sunday. "No political party is doing enough," Swedish campaigner Greta Thunberg told a gathering of thousands in Berlin. The activists are calling for Germany to do more to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees C and to end the use of coal for power generation by 2030, instead of 2038. Climate change has been a central theme in the election campaign. In July, record floods swept western Germany, killing more than 180 people. However, this failed to translate into greater support for the Green Party, which is running third in opinion polls, at about 15%. The centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) are in the lead, on about 25%, with the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel trailing on about 22%. Activists from the "Fridays for the Future" campaign staged protests in about 470 German towns and cities on Friday. Germany signed up to the targets of the 2015 Paris accord, pledging to limit warming to a maximum of 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. However, it has consistently fallen short of its own targets. insufficient and violated fundamental freedoms by putting the burden of curbing CO2 emissions on the young. "It is clearer than ever that no political party is doing close to enough. But it's even worse than that. Not even their proposed commitments are close to being in line with what would be needed to fulfil the Paris agreement," Ms Thunberg said on Friday. Voting was essential, but not enough, she said, as she urged the crowds to be "active citizens" and go out on the streets.

9-24-21 ‘Ice Rivers’ invites you to get to know our world’s melting glaciers
A scientist’s memoir mixes personal recollections about fieldwork with a dash of science and history. I’ve always been a sucker for glacier lingo, whimsical words for a harsh landscape gouged, smoothed and bulldozed by ice. Moulins, drumlins, eskers and moraines. Cirques and arêtes. Cold katabatic winds blowing down a mountain, huffed from a glacier’s snout and said to be its spirit. Jemma Wadham’s Ice Rivers: A Story of Glaciers, Wilderness, and Humanity leans into this duality of whimsy and harshness, cheerfully pulling readers into this strange, icy world. Wadham, a glaciologist at the University of Bristol in England, confesses that her goal is to give readers a sense of connection to glaciers, which she knowingly anthropomorphizes: In her writing, glaciers have heavy bodies, dirty snouts and veins filled with water. “When I’m with them, I feel like I’m among friends,” she writes. “It is, in many ways, a love story.” And knowing the glaciers, she reasons — perhaps coming to love them — is key to trying to save them. Accordingly, the book’s chapters are anchored by site, and each chapter documents a different field expedition or series of expeditions to a particular glacier. Wadham takes us from the Swiss Alps to Norway’s Svalbard islands, from India’s Himalayas to Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys. It’s a breezy read, with an eager party host vibe (“let me introduce to you my friend the glacier; I think you two will get along”). While describing each site, Wadham dives into an engaging mishmash of personal recollections about her fieldwork, snippets of accessible glacier and climate science (I now know that these rivers of ice have three different manners of flow), a dash of alpine and polar exploration history, and many bits of local color. Ötzi the 5,300-year-old iceman, Erik the Red, Svalbard’s many polar bears and wild Patagonian horses all make an appearance, not to mention the mummified corpses of seals and penguins littering the Dry Valleys (SN: 7/12/18).

9-24-21 Rice feeds half the world. Climate change’s droughts and floods put it at risk
Scientists and growers will need to innovate to save the staple crop. Under a midday summer sun in California’s Sacramento Valley, rice farmer Peter Rystrom walks across a dusty, barren plot of land, parched soil crunching beneath each step. In a typical year, he’d be sloshing through inches of water amid lush, green rice plants. But today the soil lies naked and baking in the 35° Celsius (95° Fahrenheit) heat during a devastating drought that has hit most of the western United States. The drought started in early 2020, and conditions have become progressively drier. Low water levels in reservoirs and rivers have forced farmers like Rystrom, whose family has been growing rice on this land for four generations, to slash their water use. Rystrom stops and looks around. “We’ve had to cut back between 25 and 50 percent.” He’s relatively lucky. In some parts of the Sacramento Valley, depending on water rights, he says, farmers received no water this season. California is the second-largest U.S. producer of rice, after Arkansas, and over 95 percent of California’s rice is grown within about 160 kilometers of Sacramento. To the city’s east rise the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, which means “snowy mountains” in Spanish. Rice growers in the valley below count on the range to live up to its name each winter. In spring, melting snowpack flows into rivers and reservoirs, and then through an intricate network of canals and drainages to rice fields that farmers irrigate in a shallow inundation from April or May to September or October. If too little snow falls in those mountains, farmers like Rystrom are forced to leave fields unplanted. On April 1 this year, the date when California’s snowpack is usually at its deepest, it held about 40 percent less water than average, according to the California Department of Water Resources. On August 4, Lake Oroville, which supplies Rystrom and other local rice farmers with irrigation water, was at its lowest level on record.

9-23-21 Boris Johnson: Humanity is reaching a turning point on climate change
A climate summit of world leaders in 40 days' time will be the "turning point for humanity", PM Boris Johnson has said in a speech to the United Nations. He warned that global temperature rises were already inevitable, but called on his fellow leaders to commit to major changes to curb further warming. Four areas needed tackling - "coal, cars, cash and trees", he said. Countries must take responsibility for "the destruction we are inflicting, not just upon our planet but ourselves". "It's time for humanity to grow up," he added ahead of the UK hosting the COP26 summit in Glasgow. The prime minister also said it was time to listen to the warnings of scientists. "Look at Covid if you want an example of gloomy scientists being proved right." Setting the tone for November's meeting, he said countries must make "substantial changes" by the end of the decade if the world is to stave off further temperature rises. "I passionately believe that we can do it by making commitments in four areas - coal, cars, cash and trees," he said. Mr Johnson praised China's President Xi Jinping for his recent pledge to stop building new coal-fire energy plants abroad. But he called on the country - which produces 28% of global greenhouse gas emissions - to go further and end its domestic use of coal, saying the UK was proof that it could be done. The UK used coal to generate 25% of its electricity five years ago - but that is now down to 2%. Mr Johnson said it would be "gone altogether" by 2024. But Labour's shadow energy secretary Ed Miliband accused the UK government of "facing both ways" on climate change, urging other nations to take action while it considered plans for a new coal mine in Cumbria and cut money for improving home insulation. He told BBC Radio 4's World at One that a UK trade deal had also allowed Australia to renege on their climate commitments.

9-23-21 Alok Sharma: COP26 is for ordinary people, not just climate warriors
The man charged with leading a successful climate change summit in five weeks’ time insists he is no environmentalist – but is now convinced of the urgency of tackling global warming. “I’m a normal person, right, I’m not someone who’s some great climate warrior coming into this,” says Alok Sharma, the president of the COP26 meeting, who took up the job in February 2020. “But it has given me a real appreciation and understanding of why it is so vital that we get this right.” Sharma says that understanding is also spreading among the public, citing a recent chat with a nurse performing a routine covid-19 test. “She said ‘thank you for what you said about taking care of the climate yesterday on the news.’ This is resonating with ordinary people like me, who weren’t focused on this necessarily. We have to get this right, for our generation and future generations.” It is an attitude shared by his boss, UK prime minister Boris Johnson. “I am not one of those environmentalists who takes a moral pleasure in excoriating humanity for its excess,” Johnson told the UN General Assembly in a speech on 22 September, where he called on the world to “grow up” on climate change and said the COP26 summit in Glasgow, UK, this November is “turning point” for humanity. COP26 is seen as the most important international climate meeting since 2015, when the world adopted the Paris Agreement to hold global warming to below 1.5°C at best and well below 2°C at the worst. A hundred world leaders have said they will attend the summit in Glasgow, making it the largest political gathering the UK has ever hosted. Sharma says that number will grow, though key players such as Chinese president Xi Jinping have not yet confirmed they will attend. “Of course we want to see as many [heads of state] as possible,” he says. US president Joe Biden has said he will attend, along with high profile figures including Pope Francis.

9-23-21 Air pollution: Even worse than we thought - WHO
Air pollution is even more dangerous than previously thought, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned, as it slashes maximum safe levels of key pollutants such nitrogen dioxide. An estimated seven million people die prematurely each year from diseases linked to air pollution, the WHO says. Low- and middle-income countries suffer the most, because of their reliance on fossil fuels for economic development. The WHO puts air pollution on a par with smoking and unhealthy eating. It is urging its 194 member states to cut emissions and take action on climate change, ahead of the COP26 summit in November. Decade by decade, the limits for what's considered a safe amount of pollution are being ratcheted down. It's not news to people suffering from heart and lung problems that toxic particles and gases can harm people at much lower levels than previously thought. The changes to the guidelines mean the UK's legal limits for the most harmful pollutants are now four times higher than the maximum levels recommended by the WHO. The trouble is that the worst pollution - tiny particles which can be breathed into the lungs - is so terribly hard to stop. The new guidelines, released on Wednesday, halve the recommended maximum for exposure to tiny particles called PM2.5s. These are produced by burning fuels in power generation, domestic heating and vehicle engines. "Almost 80% of deaths related to PM2.5 could be avoided in the world if the current air pollution levels were reduced to those proposed in the updated guideline," the WHO said. It is also cutting the recommended limit for another class of microparticles, known as PM10s, by 25%. Other pollutants singled out in the guidelines include ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide. Air pollution is linked to conditions such as heart disease and strokes. In children, it can reduce lung growth and cause aggravated asthma. "Improving air quality can enhance climate change mitigation efforts, while reducing emissions will in turn improve air quality," the WHO says.

9-22-21 The UK energy crisis shows why it is time to look beyond fossil fuels
MANY critiques of the UK’s unfolding gas supply crisis have focused on the peculiarities of how its energy market is regulated. But that is to ignore the global scope of this crisis. In Europe, for example, gas prices are up 170 per cent since this January. The UK is particularly vulnerable to gas volatility due to its “dash for gas” to replace coal for electricity generation since the 1990s. That was largely driven by economics, with a happy by-product of reducing carbon emissions. Now countries the world over are attempting to replicate it. In 2019, demand for gas rose more than any other energy source. It is forecast to be up strongly this year and to keep growing until 2024. Gas advocates like to push the fuel as a “bridge” to transition the world from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Even if it weren’t for the gas industry’s manifold failings, from continued leaks to huge flaring emissions, it would be a distinctly ropey bridge. A path to net-zero emissions by mid-century needs deeper cuts than gas can deliver. Even the conservative International Energy Agency says there can be no new gas fields in a net-zero world. Yet many still argue that more fossil fuels are the answer. If only Russia would stop limiting its gas supplies to Europe, say some. Others call on the UK to exploit its shale gas reserves. Here’s news for them: last year, 62 per cent of electricity from new renewables projects was more affordable than the cheapest low-cost fossil fuel option. That figure will only increase as wind and solar technologies mature still further. Meanwhile, volatile fossil fuel prices were the main reason Norway’s central bank advised the country’s sovereign wealth fund to ditch oil and gas. The gas crisis should be taken for what it is: cutting the last support to the idea that fossil fuels in any shape provide a stable, economically viable solution to satisfying our future energy needs. The way forward is clear: accelerated investment in energy efficiency, low-carbon heating and renewable electricity generation and grid and storage technologies. The UK – and the world – needs to hear that message, and act on it.

9-22-21 Ecological grief is devastating but it may help us stop climate change
A WEEK into our family holiday in Greece, the thing we feared the most happened: a fire broke out on the hillside next to our house. Through the smoke, we could see trees and brush going up in flames. When an outhouse on the neighbouring property caught fire, we grabbed passports, wallets and phones, piled into the car and fled. There was nothing for it but to go to a beach and wait. A few hours later, we returned. The fire was out, the house and village intact. We were relieved and grateful, but shaken, and edgy for the rest of the holiday. Having briefly feared the loss of a rented holiday home and a longed-for family break, I can only imagine what it feels like to lose an actual home to a natural disaster, or to live in fear of it. Yet this is the experience of increasing numbers of people around the world as fires, floods, storms and melting ice invade our safest spaces. Such climate-fuelled natural disasters are obviously a danger to life, limb and property. But what is often overlooked is that they also take a psychological toll. According to the UK’s Royal College of Psychiatrists, the climate emergency is also a mental health emergency, because our psychological well-being is entwined with the natural world. For now, the people on the front line of this crisis are Indigenous communities who have a profound connection to the land, and who are being psychologically obliterated by the destruction they see being wrought upon it. One vivid example comes from Tikigâksuagusik, a coastal Inuit community in Labrador, Canada. There is no road in or out of the town, and its 300 or so inhabitants still live largely as their ancestors did. According to Ashlee Cunsolo, a researcher at the Labrador Institute who has worked with the community for 12 years, the people of Tikigâksuagusik are deeply connected to their environment. They use the land and sea to hunt, trap, fish and forage, and derive a sense of belonging from being in the wild. Above all, she says, they identify as “people of the sea ice”.

9-22-21 The American coffee farming opportunity created by climate change
As climate change-driven extreme heat, changing rain patterns, and even unexpected frosts harm coffee crops in Colombia, Brazil, and Vietnam, some U.S.-based farmers and researchers are seizing the opportunity created by rising temperatures, Reuters writes. The U.S. is the "world's largest" coffee consumer, but produces just 0.01% of the global crop, writes Reuters. However, as the climate warms, particularly in the southern part of the country, researchers at the University of Florida have begun investigating Florida as a potential region for coffee harvesting. "With climate change, we know many areas in the world will have difficulties growing coffee because it is going to be too hot, so Florida could be an option," said Diane Rowland, a lead researcher on the project. Farmers in California have also had luck growing coffee as of late. The plant "uses 20 percent less water than most fruit and nut trees," perfect for Golden State farmers plagued with droughts and forest fires, notes Reuters. And with production in top-producing Brazil hurt for both this year and next, farmers in new regions — like California — stand to benefit from the "the largest-ever coffee growing endeavor in the United States." Read more at Reuters.

9-22-21 WHO calls for lower limits on air pollution to save millions of lives
Millions of deaths could be avoided if the world adopts tough new air pollution limits set out today by the World Health Organization (WHO). The guidelines call for much lower daily and annual levels of exposure to six pollutants from cars, power stations and other sources, in the first major overhaul of the recommendations in 16 years. The stricter ceilings are due to an increase in research on the health impacts from even low levels of pollution. “We have even stronger evidence than before on the effect of air pollution on health. Before our evidence was huge, now it’s even stronger,” says Maria Neira at the WHO. Stephen Holgate at the University of Southampton, UK, says population-based studies have shown “there are no safe levels of air pollution”. The WHO’s air quality guidance isn’t legally binding but influences governments, and clean air campaigners have increasingly been calling for stricter measures. Under the new advice, annual limits on people’s exposure to tiny particulate matter known as PM2.5, which mostly comes from burning fossil fuels in cars and industry, are halved. Annual exposure to nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas from diesel vehicles, is cut by 75 per cent. Air pollution is currently the world’s greatest environmental threat to health, resulting in 7 million premature deaths a year, according to the WHO, although some estimates are even higher. The WHO calculates that if the world met the new PM2.5 limits, ignoring other measures, it would cut deaths due to PM2.5 by about 80 per cent, or 3.3 million people a year. “How can you refuse to reduce by 80 per cent?” says Neira. Air quality experts say the new limits are in line with the science on the health impact of exposure to dirty air. “These are really quite significant developments. It’s very dramatic. But it does reflect the current state of the literature,” says Jonathan Grigg at Queen Mary University of London.“Harms to health occur throughout the entire life course, but pregnancy and childhood are especially vulnerable periods, with mounting evidence for effects on long-term growth and cognitive ability,” says Frank Kelly at Imperial College London. “We need to view air pollution much more seriously, as it is a major public health problem.” Meeting the new guidelines is feasible but will be a challenge, especially in many UK cities, he adds.

9-22-21 COP 26: How much is the developing world getting to fight climate change?
President Biden has promised to double the amount of money the United States is providing to help poorer countries deal with climate change. His speech at the United Nations came a day after Boris Johnson said it was going to be 'tough' to meet climate finance goals in advance of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (Cop26), which takes place in Glasgow in November. The developed world had pledged to provide $100bn (£720m) a year by 2020 to poorer countries, to help them cope with climate change, but this has still not been achieved. It is going to be hard enough for rich countries to adjust to the need to remove fossil fuels and carbon from their own economies. But it is going to be a lot more challenging in developing nations, where there is far less money to pay for new infrastructure and technology. And there are an awful lot of people under threat. As long ago as 2009, the developed world agreed it would provide $100bn a year by 2020 to help poorer countries. But, although official figures have not yet been released, an expert report commissioned by the United Nations concludes the target has not been reached - even though a new and more ambitious target is now supposed to be set for 2025. "The $100bn commitment should be seen as a floor not a ceiling," lead author Amar Bhattacharya, from the Brookings Institution, says. "Some progress has been made - but a lot more needs to be done." For many countries, this is the biggest issue to resolve in the run-up to Cop26 - and the very poorest are demanding action. It is quite hard to calculate what money should be included in the overall figure, because it is a complicated mix of money from governments, international lenders and private companies. But the UN and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimate that by 2019 the figure had reached just over $79bn, only a small increase on the previous year, and they say it won't have got to $100 billion by 2020.

9-22-21 Life at 50C: Heat hitting home in Australia
Australia is one of the countries already seeing an increase in the number of extremely hot days because of climate change, with places like Sydney experiencing temperatures around 50C. The intense heat has led to unusually strong bushfires and some indigenous species dying en masse. As the BBC’s Life at 50 degrees season continues, this film explores how this new reality is hitting home in Australia.

9-22-21 Thailand is turning plastic waste into personal protective equipment
Millions of discarded plastic bottles in Thailand have found a new purpose amid the coronavirus pandemic. In a factory near Bangkok, plastic bottles are being shredded and turned into thread, which is woven into fabric that is treated to become waterproof. That fabric is then used to create personal protective equipment (PPE) for people working at hospitals and monks who are cremating COVID-19 victims. "What was trash is now valuable," Phra Maha Pranom Dhammalangkaro, abbott of the Chakdaeng temple, told Reuters. It can sometimes be hard to find traditional PPE in Thailand, and while these upcycled suits are not medical grade, they offer some protection while helping the environment. It takes about 18 plastic bottles to make one suit, which can be washed up to 20 times.

9-22-21 Gas price crisis: Food firms face huge price rise for carbon dioxide
The British food industry will be forced to pay five times more for carbon dioxide as part of a government deal with a US company to restart production in the UK. Environment Secretary George Eustice said carbon dioxide prices would rise from £200 per tonne to £1,000. The government has agreed to pay out tens of millions of pounds to CF Industries to reopen a plant in the UK. The closure had raised fears over food supplies and the nuclear industry. US-owned CF Industries recently shut two UK sites that produce 60% of the country's commercial carbon dioxide supplies, because of a sharp rise in gas prices. Farms, food producers and supermarkets have warned that a shortage of carbon dioxide will lead to significant disruption to the manufacture and supply of fresh produce. The Times also reported that ministers were concerned that the UK might have to close its six advanced gas-cooled nuclear reactors, which also use CO2. The government announced late on Tuesday night that it would meet the full operating costs to run CF Industries' Billingham plant in Teesside for three weeks. The costs are expected to be in the "low tens of millions" and will be below £50m. Mr Eustice said that the deal with CF Industries "will be not a loan, it will be a payment to underwrite some of their fixed costs". At the end of the three-week period, it is hoped that the price of carbon dioxide will have risen sufficiently to make it economically viable for CF Industries to keep production running. Mr Eustice said the food industry would have to accept "a big, sharp rise" carbon dioxide prices from £200 to £1,000 a tonne. "The critical thing was to get the production up and running expeditiously. That's why we've needed this government intervention," he said. "But we've had meetings with the food industry. They all recognise that the price of carbon dioxide is going to increase substantially and when that price increases, then the market signal will be then for these plants to continue producing." Mr Eustice insisted that the rise in cost would not have a "significant impact" on food prices.

9-22-21 China pledges to stop building new coal energy plants abroad
China will not build new coal-fire projects abroad, a move that could be pivotal in tackling global emissions. President Xi Jinping made the announcement in his address at the United Nations General Assembly. China has been funding coal projects in countries like Indonesia and Vietnam under a massive infrastructure project known as the Belt and Road initiative. But it has been under pressure to end the financing, as the world tries to meet Paris climate agreement targets. "China will step up support for other developing countries in developing green and low-carbon energy, and will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad," Mr Xi said in a video recording at the annual summit. No further details were provided, but the move could limit the expansion of coal plants in many developing countries under China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI has seen China fund trains, roads, ports and coal plants in numerous countries, many of them developing nations. For the first time in several years however, it did not fund any coal projects in the first half of 2021. China is also the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter and is heavily reliant on coal for domestic energy needs. Mr Xi mentioned promises made last year about China achieving peak emissions before 2030 and then transitioning to carbon neutrality by 2060. The US Climate Envoy John Kerry welcomed the announcement, saying in a statement that he was "absolutely delighted to hear that President Xi has made this important decision". The head of the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference due to be held in Scotland next month also applauded the news. "It is clear the writing is on the wall for coal power. I welcome President Xi's commitment to stop building new coal projects abroad - a key topic of my discussions during my visit to China," Alok Sharma said on Twitter.

9-21-21 Xi Jinping may have just signaled the end of international coal financing
International funding for coal may have just met its end. Chinese President Xi Jinping said during his video address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday that Beijing will no longer build coal plants overseas and instead support developing countries in the transition to green and low-carbon energy. Politico's Karl Mathieson notes that China is by far the largest financer of international coal, and considering the next largest backers — Japan and South Korea — previously made similar commitments, the practice will no longer have much, if any, actual weight behind it. While Xi's announcement appears to be a big deal, Belinda Schäpe of climate think tank E3G points out that China still hosts more than 50 percent of the world's coal fleet, so Beijing still needs to "lend credibility" to its domestic climate targets and unveil a clear timeline for phasing coal out at home.

9-21-21 Climate reporting reaches melting point
A trip to a melting glacier will shape how the BBC's new climate editor, Justin Rowlatt, reports on the story of climate change. You cannot help but be awed by the scale of Antarctica, the great white continent. I visited just before the pandemic struck and it is impossible not to feel humbled in the presence of something that seems so much bigger and more powerful than you. But that sensation is an illusion. When we finally flew over the front of the enormous glacier after weeks of travelling, I found myself staring down at an epic vision of shattered ice. As I wrote at the time, it felt like I'd reached the frontline of climate change; a place where the equilibrium that has held our world in balance for thousands of years was slipping and crashing. Satellite monitoring shows that the overall rate of ice loss from West Antarctica has increased five-fold over a 25-year period. This one glacier - Thwaite's glacier - alone now accounts for 4% of global sea level rise. Needless to say, this acceleration is a result of us humans polluting the air with greenhouse gases. That fact explodes any impression that the ice is overwhelming. The opposite is true, we are overwhelming the ice. I was surprised how moved I was by what I'd seen. In the weeks it took to travel home, I tried to process my emotions. I thought about the men and women who had set our camp, who flew the planes, cooked the meals, processed the rubbish and groomed the ice runways. And I thought about the scientists who have been studying the processes at work for decades. Our research trip was only possible because of a huge chain of human enterprise culminating with the hardworking people in the UK and US whose taxes paid for it all. As I flew back to the UK, I reflected how it is often claimed that selfishness, greed and conflict are the hallmarks of humanity, but that is wrong.

9-21-21 Rich nations must increase climate support funds, says Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson has renewed his call for richer countries to increase financial support to poorer ones fighting the effects of climate change. Speaking at a UN gathering in New York, the UK PM said he was "increasingly frustrated" at support offered to countries hit hard by global warming. He added many richer economies had pledged "nowhere near enough". A longstanding promise to give $100bn (£73bn) a year to poorer countries has not yet been met. Some 100 world leaders are meeting at the UN General Assembly this week, ahead of a key UN climate conference hosted in Glasgow next month. Mr Johnson said "history will judge" countries who "lacked the courage to step up" once the Glasgow conference, called COP26, has finished. As far back as 2009, the developed world agreed it would provide $100bn a year by 2020 to help poorer countries deal with the effects of climate change. But the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently estimated that by 2019 the figure had reached just over $79bn. Addressing other leaders at the UN climate meeting, Mr Johnson said the gap between what had been promised and what had been delivered "remains vast". "Too many major economies - some represented here today, some absent - are lagging too far behind," he added. On his way to New York, Mr Johnson had downplayed the chances of the $100bn target being hit by the Glasgow summit, saying it was "six out of 10". However, US President Joe Biden's climate envoy, John Kerry, has since raised hopes it could be met, hinting his boss could announce more money during his speech to the UN assembly on Tuesday. Mr Kerry told Sky News: "I think we're going to get it done by COP [26], and the US will do its part." Asked if Mr Biden will announce more funds this week, he added: "I'm telling you to stay tuned into the president's speech, and we'll see where we are."

9-21-21 Why is there a CO2 shortage and how will it hit food supplies?
The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) the UK produces has halved - prompting warnings of supermarket shortages. That's because food and drink firms use CO2 in hundreds of products, from fizzy drinks to bagged salads. Food grade CO2 is used in hundreds of products. The CO2 issue is "escalating quickly" and causing a "big supply issue", one supermarket executive told the BBC. "The big meat suppliers are saying they have two to three days' supply and are now having to prioritise how they use what they have," he said. Ranjit Singh Boparan - owner of the Bernard Matthews poultry brand and 2 Sisters Food Group - said the shortage was a "body blow" to the industry. And supermarket delivery firm Ocado said it had "limited stock" of some frozen items, because of the CO2 shortage. The Food and Drink Federation, stressed the UK was not going to run out of food, but there would be "major concerns" over supply to supermarkets and other food outlets. It said: "The knock-on effects of this may well be felt right the way through to the end of the year and particularly over the key Christmas trading period." Remaining UK carbon dioxide production is being prioritised for medical uses. It is used during some invasive surgeries to stabilise body cavities, to stimulate breathing and to get rid of warts and moles. CO2 is also used by the nuclear industry as a coolant. And it is used commercially in fire extinguishers, for inflating life rafts and life jackets, and as a liquid solvent. Two large UK fertiliser factories, on Teesside and in Cheshire, have stopped work because of soaring wholesale gas prices. The plants, owned by CF Industries, also make CO2 - as a by-product. Because the fertiliser factories have stopped working, there has been a cut of 60% of the UK's food-grade carbon dioxide supply.

9-20-21 Climate pledges tough to secure before COP26 summit, PM warns
There is a "six out of 10" chance of getting other countries to sign up to financial and environmental targets ahead of November's key COP26 climate change conference, the UK PM has said. Boris Johnson is in the US for a UN meeting where he will urge leaders to take "concrete action" on the issue. But he said it would be "tough" to persuade allies to meet their promise to give $100bn a year to developing nations to cut carbon emissions. The UK is hosting COP26 in Glasgow. Mr Johnson also defended new International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan over her past social media posts that rejected the science of climate change, acknowledging that he himself had not always supported action on global warming but "the facts change and people change their minds". With some 100 world leaders expected in New York at the UN General Assembly this week, Mr Johnson will seek to galvanise action during a series of high-level meetings. Speaking during his flight, Mr Johnson told reporters: "I think getting it all done this week is going to be a stretch. But I think getting it all done by COP, six out of 10. "It's going to be tough but people need to understand that this is crucial for the world." Downing Street has said developed countries have "collectively failed" on their annual $100bn (£73bn) target, with OECD figures last week showing that only $79.6bn in climate finance was mobilised in 2019. COP26 president Alok Sharma, who is with the PM, earlier revealed that Chinese President Xi Jinping had not yet committed to attending the conference. Mr Johnson said Mr Sharma had had "some great conversations already with his Chinese counterparts about the things they want to do". "I think China is massively important to this and I think China shows real signs of making progress," he added. Mr Johnson also insisted new International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan would do an "outstanding job" after social media posts emerged showing her previously denying climate change.

9-20-21 Blame fossil fuels, not renewables, for the UK's winter energy crisis
Soaring wholesale gas prices have left the UK in an energy crisis, with fears for vulnerable households as bills rise and a wave of energy firms folding. In the 1990s, the UK made a “dash for gas”. In recent years, it has leaned on the fuel to ease the phase out of an even more polluting fossil fuel, coal. That makes the UK heavily reliant on gas for energy, with 86 per cent of homes using it for heating and more than a third of electricity supplies coming from gas power plants. The main reason for the current crisis is a shortage of gas supplies, due in part to outages in production in Norway and elsewhere, and demand from Asia. It is also, to a much lesser degree, due to low output from wind power and a fire last week leaving a UK-France power link offline. Prices and carbon emissions are up, with ageing coal and mothballed gas power stations firing up again. Wholesale gas prices are up 176 per cent since the start of the year, and power prices in the past month are up 266 per cent on the average this year. The UK government is reportedly considering offering loans to energy companies that are struggling to cope with the higher wholesale prices, due to both the government’s cap on how much firms can charge consumers and a lack of financial hedging against the increase. It didn’t have to be this way. Energy crises like these are a cyclical feature of being at the mercy of the volatile nature of fossil fuel prices, subject to global and geopolitical factors beyond the control of any one nation. Countries that have prioritised domestic low-carbon energy are much more insulated to such shocks. The UK should know this: its last crisis was only in 2018, when the situation wasn’t as dire as today, but wholesale gas prices were surging and many energy suppliers were going bust, leaving society to pick up the bill.

9-19-21 Boris Johnson to call for climate action during US visit
Boris Johnson will urge world leaders to take "concrete action" on climate change during meetings at the UN's General Assembly in New York this week. The PM will also visit the White House for the first time since Joe Biden became US president. He is expected to push Mr Biden on the looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and the potential of reopening UK to US travel. The visit comes ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November. With some 100 world leaders expected in New York at the UN General Assembly this week, Mr Johnson will seek to galvanise action during a series of high-level meetings. Mr Johnson said he would push for action on coal, climate, cars and trees in particular. Downing Street said he would focus on supporting developing nations to mitigate the impact of the climate crisis, as well as on adapting to its consequences. Ahead of the visit, the PM said: "World leaders have a small window of time left to deliver on their climate commitments ahead of COP26. "My message to those I meet this week will be clear: future generations will judge us based on what we achieve in the coming months. "We need to continue to make a case for a sustainable recovery from coronavirus rooted in green growth. And we have a responsibility to ensure the benefits of that growth extend to all, no matter where they are born." The COP26 summit is widely seen as crucial if climate change is to be brought under control. It is the moment world leaders will discuss whether enough has been achieved since 2015's landmark Paris climate agreement. The task facing Boris Johnson is huge, because nations are falling way behind on plans to cut emissions. Scientists say to avoid the worst climate impacts, carbon emissions must be cut by 45% by 2030, but the latest UN analysis shows the trend is heading in the wrong direction. On current national policies, emissions could rise by 16% in this period. That could lead to a temperature increase of 2.7C (4.9F) above pre-industrial times. Meanwhile the climate has already dangerously heated, with deadly temperatures, wildfires, and floods - and that's with a temperature rise of just 1C at present. The PM will attempt to persuade China to quicken its timetable for reducing emissions, even though China's not primarily to blame for climate change so far.

9-19-21 From Katrina to Ida: How US presidents react to climate change and natural disasters
Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, US presidents have realised that their reactions to natural disasters can make or break them. A public policy expert analyses the responses of four presidents - from Bush to Biden - to superstorms over the past 16 years, and discusses how their views on climate change have differed.

9-18-21 Climate change: Biden urges world leaders to cut methane gas emissions
US President Joe Biden has urged world leaders to commit to cutting methane gas emissions by at least 30% below 2020 levels by the end of the decade. He said it would "rapidly reduce the rate of global warming" if other countries joined the US and the EU in signing up to the pledge. Methane is a greenhouse gas that experts say is a harmful contributor to global climate change. Mr Biden has made tackling the climate crisis one of his main priorities. The president reversed his predecessor Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the US from the Paris agreement - a legally binding international climate treaty adopted by nearly 200 countries - on his first day in office. Addressing world leaders at a virtual meeting on Friday, Mr Biden said cutting global methane emissions would not just help tackle climate change in the short term, but also improve public health and agricultural and fuel output. "We believe the collective goal is ambitious but realistic, and we urge you to join us in announcing this pledge at [the UN climate conference] COP26," he said. According to the White House, the virtual meeting was attended by leaders from the UK, EU, Argentina, Bangladesh, Indonesia, South Korea and Mexico, among others. In April, Mr Biden pledged to cut US carbon emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by the end of this decade. Major sources of methane include agriculture, and leaks from oil and gas production and landfills. Methane is also produced when living things decompose and is also a natural gas. It persists for just a short time in the atmosphere - unlike carbon dioxide - but methane is a much more potent global warming gas than CO2. Methane is also a source for another gas - ozone - in the lowest layer of the Earth's atmosphere. Ground-level ozone is a pollutant that can be harmful to the human body.

9-18-21 Climate change: UN warning over nations' climate plans
Despite all the promises to take action, the world is still on course to heat up to dangerous levels. That's the latest blunt assessment of the United Nations. Its experts have studied the climate plans of more than 100 countries and concluded that we're heading in the wrong direction. Scientists recently confirmed that to avoid the worst impacts of hotter conditions, global carbon emissions needed to be cut by 45% by 2030. But this new analysis shows that those emissions are set to rise by 16% during this period. That could eventually lead to a temperature rise of 2.7C (4.9F) above pre-industrial times - far above the limits set by the international community. "The 16% increase is a huge cause for concern," according to Patricia Espinosa, the UN's chief climate negotiator. "It is in sharp contrast with the calls by science for rapid, sustained and large-scale emission reductions to prevent the most severe climate consequences and suffering, especially of the most vulnerable, throughout the world." It's a stark warning about the scale of the challenge faced at the COP26 climate conference, scheduled to take place in Glasgow in just over six weeks' time. The central aim of the giant event is to keep alive hopes of limiting the rise in global temperatures by persuading nations to cut their emissions. Under the rules of the Paris Agreement on climate change, countries are meant to update their carbon reduction plans every five years. But the UN says that of 191 countries taking part in the agreement, only 113 have so far come up with improved pledges. Alok Sharma, the British minister who will chair the COP26 conference, said nations that had ambitious climate plans were "already bending the curve of emissions downwards". "But without action from all countries, especially the biggest economies, these efforts risk being in vain." A study by Climate Action Tracker found that of the G20 group of leading industrial nations, only a handful including the UK and the US have strengthened their targets to cut emissions.

9-18-21 Climate change: Should green campaigners put more pressure on China to slash emissions?
China will be urged at the UN next week to speed up the timetable for curbing its planet-heating carbon emissions. It will be nudged by the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who's experiencing climate pressure himself from activists blocking motorways. But is the UK, with its world-leading emissions targets, the right target for demonstrators? China produces 28% of global emissions and the UK just 1%. So shouldn't they be picketing the Chinese embassy instead of the M25 motorway? On the face of it, that seems a reasonable question. And some veteran activists would indeed support a well-judged China protest - we'll come to that later. But when I initially asked the radical green group Extinction Rebellion (XR) if they had considered demonstrating against China, it triggered a furious response. An XR member tweeted accusing me of perpetuating anti-Chinese racist stereotypes and failing to report climate change properly. Why so vitriolic? Well, there are two reasons. The first is practical: climate campaigning groups like Greenpeace and WWF have offices in Beijing and if they rattle China too hard, they could be swiftly closed down. The second reason touches a sore spot on the geopolitical history of climate change. For the purposes of climate negotiations, China has been regarded as a developing country because major industrialisation occurred from the mid-20th Century - after some other countries. Picketing the Chinese embassy would ostensibly transfer blame for the current crisis on to Beijing - while easing pressure for carbon cuts in historically wealthy nations such as the UK. That's exactly what some newspaper columnists want. But it runs counter to global climate diplomacy, which acknowledges that it's rich countries with a longer history of industrialisation that have caused most of the warming so far. What's more, much of the CO2 on China's carbon accounts is created by manufacturing stuff that Western consumers buy. So much stronger action from Beijing is certainly essential to prevent global heating getting even worse. But to be fair, China's not quite as blameworthy as it seems.


SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS

9-23-21 'This is a dream find': Scientists' 'bombshell' discovery in the 'peopling' of America
Astonishingly old" human footprints preserved in the ground across New Mexico's White Sands National Park have been determined to date back about 23,000 years to the Ice Age, a finding which, if certified, "would rejuvenate the scientific debate about how humans first spread across the Americas," The New York Times reports. "I think this is probably the biggest discovery about the peopling of America in a hundred years," said Ciprian Ardelean, an archaeologist at Autonomous University of Zacatecas in Mexico who was not involved in the discovery. "I don't know what gods they prayed to, but this is a dream find." For years, many archaeologists have maintained that humans "spread across North and South America only at the end of the last ice age," writes the Times. And starting in the 1970s, some researchers began to go back even further for humanity's presence in North America — some 26,000 years. But of the fossils and ancient finds they pointed to to support such a hypothesis, "none of them are unequivocal," said archaeologist Ben Potter; layers of sediment, perhaps, may have made a find appear older than it really is. The footprints, however, are far more definitive pieces of evidence that suggest humans journeyed across the Americas "when massive glaciers covered much of their path," writes the Times. "What is fascinating about the study of footprints is that they present snapshots in time," said Dr. Mathew Stewart, a zooarchaeologist not involved in the study. "This is a bombshell," added Ruth Gruhn, another archaeologist, of the study. "On the face of it, it's very hard to disprove." On that note, Dr. Potter said he would still like to see some stronger data; if it is true, however, he notes the discovery would have "some profound implications." Read more at The New York Times.

9-24-21 Dinosaurs: 'Bizarre' fossil is Africa's first ankylosaur
"Think of a coffee table. Short, broad, covered in spikes and walking towards you. That's an ankylosaur!" Dr Susie Maidment is describing a fabulous new fossil in her possession. All she has is a section of rib with prongs attached. But even from just this, the palaeontologist can tell it's a novel species of armoured dinosaur and the oldest ankylosaur ever found. What's more, it's come out of Africa, from Morocco, where these creatures have never been unearthed before. That's exciting enough but there's also something very strange about this ancient specimen. The spikes are fused directly to the bone, and this is a big puzzle, says Dr Maidment, who's affiliated to London's Natural History Museum (NHM). Ordinarily, you would expect rib bones to be covered by muscle, and then by skin, and for the armour - made of a protein called keratin, like your fingernails - to be sitting on top of that. But for the spikes to be connected straight through to the bone is just odd. For one thing, you'd think this would restrict the extension of the muscles and make it difficult for the animal to move. "Honestly, it's bizarre," Dr Maidment told BBC News. "We don't see this in any other extant (still living) or extinct vertebrate anywhere. It's a totally unprecedented morphology in the history of life on Earth." Dr Maidment's team were so taken aback by the fossil, they wondered for a while whether it might actually be a fake, or not an ankylosaur at all; perhaps it was some monster fish never previously identified. But with detailed scanning and further investigations, it's been possible to rule out both alternatives. Most of us are probably more familiar with stegosaurs. They were the armoured dinosaurs that had a row of imposing plates down their spine. You'll see a magnificent specimen, nicknamed Sophie, if you visit the NHM. Ankylosaurs were their evolutionary cousins. And very successful they were, too. They lived right through the Cretaceous, right up to the moment the asteroid struck 66 million years ago to wipe out 75% of all plant and animal species on the planet. When precisely the ankylosaurs first emerged, however, is still being studied, which makes this newly reported specimen extra special. It dates to the Middle Jurassic Period, around 168 million years ago.

9-24-21 Footprints in New Mexico are oldest evidence of humans in the Americas
Humans reached the Americas at least 7,000 years earlier than previously thought, according to new findings. The topic of when the continent was first settled from Asia has been controversial for decades. Many researchers are sceptical of evidence for humans in the North American interior much earlier than 16,000 years ago. Now, a team working in New Mexico has found scores of human footprints dated to between 23,000 and 21,000 years old. The discovery could transform views about when the continent was settled. It suggests there could have been great migrations that we know nothing about. And it raises the possibility that these earlier populations could have gone extinct. The footprints were formed in soft mud on the margins of a shallow lake which now forms part of Alkali Flat in White Sands. The research has been published in the journal Science. A team from the US Geological Survey carried out radiocarbon dating on seeds found in sediment layers above and below where the footprints were found. This gave the researchers remarkably precise dates for the impressions themselves. Based on their sizes, scientists think the tracks were made mainly by teenagers and younger children travelling back and forth - along with the occasional adult. They offer a fascinating window into what life was like for these early occupants of what is now the South West US. The scientists don't know for sure what the teenagers were doing, but it is possible they were helping the adults with a type of hunting custom seen in later Native American cultures. This was known as the buffalo jump and involved driving animals over a shallow cliff edge. The animals "all had to be processed in a short period of time," explained Dr Sally Reynolds, co-author from Bournemouth University. "You'd have to start fires, you'd have to start rendering the fat." The teenagers could have been helping out by collecting firewood, water or other essentials. The age of the discovery is key, because there have been countless claims of early human settlement in the Americas. But virtually all are disputed in some way.

9-24-21 How our ape ancestors suddenly lost their tails 25 million years ago
Around 25 million years ago, our ancestors lost their tails. Now geneticists may have found the exact mutation that prevents apes like us growing tails – and if they are right, this loss happened suddenly rather than tails gradually shrinking. “You lose the tail in one fell swoop,” says Itai Yanai at NYU Langone Health in New York. His colleague Bo Xia says he used to wonder as a child why people didn’t have tails like other animals. “This question was in my head when I was a little kid,” he says. “I was asking, ‘Where is my tail?’.” More recently, Xia’s coccyx – a small bit of bone at the base of the spine that is a vestige of mammalian tails – was injured in a car accident. “It was really painful,” he says. “It kept reminding me about the tail part of our body.” That led Xia to investigate the genetic basis of tail loss. Any mutations involved in tail loss should be present in apes but not monkeys. He and his colleagues compared ape and monkey versions of 31 genes involved in tail development. They found nothing in the protein-coding regions, so they looked in the bits of junk DNA found inside genes. If you think of proteins as flat-pack furniture, the genetic instruction booklets for making them come with lots of pages of gibberish that have to be removed before the instructions work. These extra bits, called introns, are cut from the mRNA copies of genes before proteins are made. What Xia found is that in the ancestor of apes, in a tail gene called TBXT, an Alu element landed smack bang in the middle of an intron. Alu elements are genetic parasites that copy and paste themselves all over the genome. “We have 1 million Alu elements littering our genome,” says Yanai. Normally, an Alu in an intron would make no difference – it would get edited out with the intron. But in this case, there is another Alu element nearby, but it is in inverse order. Because the two sequences are complementary, Xia realised, they bind together, forming a loop in the mRNA.

9-24-21 ‘Ghost tracks’ suggest people came to the Americas earlier than once thought
If confirmed, newly described footprints could help rewrite textbooks. Footprints left behind by prehistoric people may be some of the strongest evidence yet that humans arrived in the Americas earlier than previously thought. Over 60 “ghost tracks” — so-called because they pop up and disappear across the landscape — show that people romped through what’s now New Mexico 23,000 to 21,000 years ago, geoscientist Matthew Bennett and colleagues report in the Sept. 24 Science. If true, the fossil findings would be definitive proof that humans were in North America during the height of the last ice age, which peaked around 21,500 years ago. When people first arrived in the Americas is highly contested. Scientists have historically thought that humans traveled across the Bering land bridge that connected Asia to North America around 13,000 years ago, after the massive Laurentide Ice Sheet that once blanketed much of North America had started retreating into the Arctic (SN: 6/26/18). But a slew of more recent discoveries from across North and South America — including roughly 30,000-year-old animal bones from a Mexican cave (SN: 6/9/21) and stone tools from Texas (SN: 7/11/18) — suggest that humans may have arrived far earlier. At White Sands National Park in New Mexico, Bennett, of Bournemouth University in Poole, England, and colleagues used several methods to calculate the ages of the newly described tracks, including radiocarbon dating of aquatic plants embedded in and between the footprints. “One of the beautiful things about footprints is that, unlike stone tools or bones, they can’t be moved up or down the stratigraphy,” he says. “They’re fixed, and they’re very precise.” But some archaeologists aren’t yet convinced of the footprints’ ages. Loren Davis, an anthropologist at Oregon State University in Corvallis, says that he would like to see the researchers use other validation techniques to check the dates before “breaking out the champagne.”

9-23-21 DNA offers a new look at how Polynesia was settled
Voyagers migrated to islands sprinkled across a large area of the Pacific within about 500 years. Polynesian voyagers settled islands across a vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean within about 500 years, leaving a genetic trail of the routes that the travelers took, scientists say. Comparisons of present-day Polynesians’ DNA indicate that sea journeys launched from Samoa in western Polynesia headed south and then east, reaching Rarotonga in the Cook Islands by around the year 830. From the mid-1100s to the mid-1300s, people who had traveled farther east to a string of small islands called the Tuamotus fanned out to settle Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, and several other islands separated by thousands of kilometers on Polynesia’s eastern edge. On each of those islands, the Tuamotu travelers built massive stone statues like the ones Easter Island is famed for. That’s the scenario sketched out in a new study in the Sept. 23 Nature by Stanford University computational biologist Alexander Ioannidis, population geneticist Andrés Moreno-Estrada of the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity in Irapuato, Mexico, and their colleagues. The new analysis generally aligns with archaeological estimates of human migrations across eastern Polynesia from roughly 900 to 1250. And the study offers an unprecedented look at settlement pathways that zigged and zagged over a distance of more than 5,000 kilometers, the researchers say. “The colonization of eastern Polynesia was a remarkable event in which a vast area, some one-third of the planet, became inhabited by humans in … a relatively short period of time,” says archaeologist Carl Lipo of Binghamton University in New York, who wasn’t involved in the new research. Improved radiocarbon dating techniques applied to remains of short-lived plant species unearthed at archaeological sites are also producing a chronology of Polynesian colonization close to that proposed in the genetic study, Lipo says.

9-22-21 Story of epic human voyages across Polynesia revealed by genetics
A genetic study has helped shine a light on how the Polynesian islands of the central and southern Pacific – some of which are thousands of kilometres apart – were populated over the past thousand years. Alexander Ioannidis at Stanford University in California and his colleagues analysed the DNA of 430 people of Polynesian descent to map their genetic ancestry. Polynesia is made up of around 1000 islands that span one-third of the world. It includes New Zealand, Hawaii, Easter Island (Rapa Nui) and Samoa. People from Asia are believed to have reached Samoa, thought to be the first island in Polynesia to be inhabited, about 3000 years ago. These people – probably using double-hulled canoes – went on to populate several other islands in the Pacific. “We’ve had a general idea of how the islands of Polynesia were populated,” says Ioannidis. “But this is the first study to give us a far more detailed picture.” The researchers first had to figure out the order in which the islands were discovered. They did this by taking advantage of a genetic phenomenon called the founder effect, in which there is reduced genetic variation within a population if there are few initial members. This can happen when a small number of people settle on an island. If a small subset of that population then goes on to settle on another island, a second founder effect occurs, reducing genetic diversity again in a subtle but detectable way – and so on. By comparing the total genetic diversity in the DNA of the study’s participants across the islands, the team was able to tell which populations came from where first. The first migration across the ocean was from Samoa to the Cook Islands – a voyage of 1550 kilometres – around AD 830, according to the researchers. The team then determined clearer dates for the migrations by comparing specific DNA sequences in the genomes of the study’s participants. If two Polynesian people on different islands have specific identical parts in their DNA, it means they share an ancestor.

9-22-21 A third of the world's food goes to waste – here's how to stop the rot
Food waste isn't just morally objectionable; it also produces vast amounts of greenhouse gases. But this is one food fight we can win, with simple actions at home and new tech in industry. DeI OFTEN feel guilty in the kitchen. The problem isn’t my cooking; I live in France and pride myself on my culinary skills. The cause of my guilt is the amount of food I keep throwing away. A pile of leftover pasta, the uneaten salmon from my daughter’s plate, some expired tofu discovered at the back of the fridge – in it all goes. It sits there in a heap on top of the plastic packaging in which most of the food came wrapped. It might be a modest heap in my kitchen bin, but, worldwide, food waste is a problem of supersized proportions. About a third of all produce is lost or wasted, most of it thrown into landfill. As that food rots, it produces vast amounts of greenhouse gases. If food waste were a country, its carbon footprint would almost match that of the US. You might say that instead of cooking our food, we are cooking the planet. No wonder that scientists, campaigners – and plenty of ordinary folk like me – are deeply worried. I decided to turn to science and ask what we really know about how to make sure less food is squandered. It was eye-opening, to say the least. I have changed the way I shop and eat. My preferences on the way food is packaged have been transformed. I also learned that the food industry is at the beginning of some sweeping technological shifts, which could see food waste become not a problem, but an opportunity. For most of human history, sustenance has been hard won and not something we would have dreamed of wasting. I grew up in communist Poland. I remember the food shortages people experienced back then and how my mother cried when mice once got into our stock of sugar. Millions of people still live in food poverty. But those in richer parts of the world now have the dubious luxury of being able to waste food.

9-22-21 Everyday aches: Why it’s time to take minor ailments more seriously
There’s a lot that can go slightly wrong with the human body and most of the time science can’t explain why. But even our unremarkable illnesses deserve closer inspection. FOR a few months last year, I broke the habit of a lifetime and started keeping a diary. I hadn’t taken a sudden interest in recording my innermost thoughts, I was conducting a scientific-experiment-cum-book-project. I called it my “Mustn’t Grumble” diary; every evening, I noted down all of my minor health woes from that day. Keeping a record confirmed what I had suspected – that I’m constantly slightly ill. Highlights included a cold, a twitchy eyelid that drove me nuts for three days and a terrifying loss of taste and smell. There was also the tedious matter of my chronically sore shoulder and athlete’s foot. All in all, I battled dozens of minor ailments. I hesitate to extrapolate my findings to claim that everyone is a bit ill all the time, but I have yet to come across somebody who isn’t. Think about it: when was the last time you enjoyed a day when there was absolutely nothing wrong with you? And yet there is no formal scientific definition of a minor ailment, and medical understanding of such conditions is often surprisingly rudimentary. This should be a big issue, because about three-quarters of family doctor appointments in the UK are for conditions that rarely require medical intervention, such as back pain, dermatitis, indigestion, coughs and sprains. In the US, about 25 million people a year visit their doctor with common colds. Even so, the coronavirus pandemic has dragged us back into a world where someone with a sniffle or high temperature can be gravely ill or even dead in a week. It is time for a major re-evaluation of minor ailments. Obviously, there are occasions when we are properly ill – forced to retreat to our beds or make a doctor’s appointment. I’m not talking about that level of illness. I’m referring to the mild, irritating ailments and aches and pains that niggle us on a daily basis: headaches, coughs and sneezes, backache, cuts and bruises, zits, hay fever, heartburn, nosebleeds, constipation, insect bites and the rest. There is a lot that can go slightly wrong. All told, my research into the subject covers more than 100 minor ailments.

9-22-21 Changing how drugs are approved in England mustn't endanger safety
LAST month, plans were announced to change the way new medicines are assessed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). This body decides which medicines can be used in the National Health Services in England and Wales. While some proposals are clearly welcome, like getting firms to put submissions to NICE in plain English, others require caution, like accepting less rigorously conducted trials as supporting evidence. NICE says the changes are designed to speed up the introduction of new medicines and support innovation by pharmaceutical companies. It also wants to encourage drug companies to launch their products in the UK first, now the country has left the European Union. Faster access to medicines sounds like an unalloyed good, but the experience of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when trying to achieve the same thing is a cautionary tale. The FDA has a different job to NICE: to assess whether new medicines are safe, effective and are manufactured properly. The UK has an equivalent body that does that: the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. NICE assesses medicines on a fourth criterion: whether the benefits brought by a treatment are worth the price. Nevertheless, both the FDA and NICE act as brakes that stop pharmaceutical firms from being able to market whatever medicines they like. The FDA has come in for criticism for letting an increasing number of products be reviewed under fast-track schemes that require less stringent proof. Companies that get fast-track approval are supposed to carry out randomised trials after a product’s launch to show it really is effective, and to stop selling their medicine if the trial finds it doesn’t work. But the system isn’t always working as intended. In many cases, the companies’ post-approval trials are delayed for years. Even if a trial is negative, a drug might not be withdrawn; a study of fast-tracked cancer medicines in the US found that one-third were still in use years after being found not to work.

9-22-21 Dinosaurs may have waggled their tails to help walk more efficiently
When bipedal dinosaurs walked, they probably strode with a swagger, swishing their tails up and down for the same reason humans swing their arms when they walk. Traditionally, dinosaur tails have been seen as a counterbalance for the weight of a dinosaur’s head. But John Hutchinson and Peter Bishop at the Royal Veterinary College in London say the tail probably played a more active role in a dinosaur’s gait. With every step, the tail would swing up and down to regulate the dinosaur’s angular momentum and increase its walking efficiency. This comes from a computer simulation of Coelophysis bauri, a bipedal dinosaur that lived between about 220 to 195 million years ago. Hutchinson and Bishop and their colleagues designed the simulation as part of an ongoing research project aimed at better understanding the locomotion of early dinosaurs. To build an accurate biomechanical model of a long-extinct species, the team first turned to modern birds called tinamou (for instance a species called Eudromia elegans), which are small birds that prefer running to flying. By grafting a virtual model of a tinamou’s musculature onto a computerised version of its skeleton, the simulation was able to accurately replicate the tinamou’s gait. Hutchinson and Bishop then applied the simulation to the muscular and skeletal structure of C. bauri. The simulation didn’t perform exactly as expected. “Looking closely,” says Hutchinson, “we realised the tail was doing some rather funny stuff.” Instead of statically extending backward as expected, the tail was an active participant in locomotion. With every step, it would bob up and down twice and swing left and right once, matching the head and leg movements. To understand the role the tail was playing, the team deleted the tail from their computer model. When this happened, they found that the rest of the dinosaur’s muscles had to work 18 per cent harder to maintain a consistent running speed, suggesting that the tail’s movements made for more efficient steps. “By understanding how real, living animals work, we can make better inferences about how extinct ones worked,” says Hutchinson.

9-22-21 Covid: Immune therapy from llamas shows promise
A Covid therapy derived from a llama named Fifi has shown "significant potential" in early trials. It is a treatment made of "nanobodies", small, simpler versions of antibodies, which llamas and camels produce naturally in response to infection. Once the therapy has been tested in humans, scientists say, it could be given as a simple nasal spray - to treat and even prevent early infection. Prof James Naismith described nanobodies as "fantastically exciting". Prof Naismith, who is one of the lead researchers and director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute in Oxfordshire, explained that coronavirus-infected rodents treated with the new nanobody nasal spray fully recovered within six days. The treatment has, so far, been tested only in those lab animals, but Public Health England said it was among the "most effective SARS-CoV-2 neutralising agents" it had ever tested. This apparent covid-fighting potency comes from the strength with which nanobodies bind to the virus. Just like our own antibodies, virus-specific nanobodies latch on to and bind to viruses and bacteria that invade our bodies. This binding essentially tags an invading virus with an immune "red flag", to allow the rest of the body's immune armoury to target it for destruction. The nanobodies that these researchers produced - with the help of a llama's immune system - bind particularly tightly. "That's where we had some help from Fifi the 'Franklin [Institute] llama'," explained Prof Naismith. By vaccinating Fifi with a tiny, non-infectious piece of the viral protein, the scientists stimulated her immune system to make the special molecules. The scientists then carefully picked out and purified the most potent nanobodies in a sample of Fifi's blood; those that matched the viral protein most closely, like the key that best fits a specific lock. The team was then able to grow large quantities of the specially selected, most potent molecules.

9-22-21 Why only some people may get COVID-19 booster shots at first
Experts want more data before making the jabs more widespread. In the United States, it’s looking like booster shots of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine won’t be widely available to the general public starting this week. A panel of expert advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration unanimously recommended September 17 that boosters next be allowed for only certain groups: people 65 years and older, individuals at high risk of severe COVID-19 and those with jobs that put them at high risk of exposure. That’s more limited in scope than what the Biden administration proposed in August. Officials had announced plans to offer a third dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine to the general public at least six months after vaccination starting September 20, pending an OK from the FDA. Since officials unveiled that plan, it’s been widely debated. Some researchers — including Pfizer scientists — argue that because the vaccine’s protection against infections is waning, that could foreshadow a possible dip in protection against severe disease too. So the time to bolster everyone’s protection with a third dose is now, these researchers say. But others disagree, contending that it’s more important to focus on getting doses to unvaccinated people first, and that many younger, healthy vaccinated people remain well-protected against severe disease and death after just two doses. Third doses are already authorized for moderately to severely immunocompromised people who may not develop good protection from the initial shots (SN: 7/23/21). The case for another dose was obvious for that group, says Mark Slifka, a viral immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland who wasn’t involved with the FDA panel. The data were “clear as day that the third dose was important” and could help boost the levels of protective antibodies in some patients.

9-21-21 We can now bioengineer catnip instead of extracting it from plants
The key ingredient in catnip, called nepetalactone, can now be brewed in genetically engineered yeast. The chemical is a highly effective insect repellent, but catnip plants (Nepeta cataria) don’t contain enough of it to make production from these commercially viable. Insect repellents can help prevent serious diseases such as malaria, as well as nuisance bites. DEET is the most widely used mosquito repellent worldwide and is often still the most effective. However, some mosquito populations are evolving resistance to DEET, so alternatives are needed. Many studies have shown that nepetalactone is an effective insect repellent, with some even finding it more effective than DEET. Yet while catnip in various forms has long been used as a repellent, mass production of a cheap version isn’t feasible using the plant. Instead, Vincent Martin and his colleagues at Concordia University in Canada added eight extra genes to a strain of yeast, including some key enzymes from catnip, to create a chemical pathway for nepetalactone production. “We still need to do some work to boost levels,” says Martin. “I don’t believe it will be a huge hurdle.” The main obstacle is that the process also produces a substance toxic to the yeast. However, other groups engineering yeasts to produce various chemicals have had the same problem, and have solved it, Martin says. The researchers are now in discussion with companies about getting the investment needed to develop the yeast further and commercialise the process. They will also need to look at whether nepetalactone acts as a cat attractant as well as an insect repellent. “If you are walking around with this molecule on you, will there be no mosquitoes, but all the neighbourhood cats chasing you around? To be honest, I don’t know,” says Martin. “That’s certainly something we’re going to have to investigate.”

9-20-21 Stroke rehab should be offered for months longer than it currently is
People who have experienced a stroke may benefit from being treated with physiotherapy for much longer than is typically the case, to take best advantage of a critical window for rehabilitation exercises. Strokes involve damage to brain tissue caused by a blood clot or a burst blood vessel, which can leave people unable to use an arm or leg, for instance. People generally do recover some function as time passes, especially with physiotherapy. This is thought to be because the brain forms new neural pathways to replace the ones lost, an example of a rewiring process called neuroplasticity. To investigate the benefits of physio, Elissa Newport at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington DC and her colleagues studied the effects of giving an extra 20 hours of treatment, on top of usual rehab, to 72 people who had a stroke that affected an arm. Each participant was randomly assigned to receive up to 3 hours of physiotherapy a day, either in the first month after the stroke, between months two and three, after six months or not at all. After one year, people who got the extra therapy between months two and three improved the most, by nearly seven points on a commonly used 57-point scale for rating physical ability, compared with usual care. That could mean the difference between being able to dress independently and not, says Newport. People who got the extra therapy in the first month improved by about five points, and people who got it after six months showed no significant benefit. The difference between treatment in the first month and from months two to three wasn’t statistically significant. But the fact that benefits were seen during the third month contradicts the prevailing belief that for post-stroke rehab, “the earlier the better”, says Newport. In the US, most stroke survivors get rehab only for the first four weeks, while in the UK it tends to last up to six weeks.


ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY

9-24-21 Bloodthirsty vampire bats like to drink with friends over strangers
Social bonds extend beyond the roost and may save time and energy when hunting. Vampire bats may be bloodthirsty, but that doesn’t mean they can’t share a drink with friends. Fights can erupt among bats over gushing wounds bit into unsuspecting animals. But bats that have bonded while roosting often team up to drink blood away from home, researchers report September 23 in PLOS Biology. Vampire bats (Desmodus rotundus) can form long-term social bonds with each other through grooming, sharing regurgitated blood meals and generally hanging out together at the roost (SN: 10/31/19). But whether these friendships, which occur between both kin and nonkin, extend to the bats’ nightly hunting had been unclear. “They’re flying around out there, but we didn’t know if they were still interacting with each other,” says Gerald Carter, an evolutionary biologist at Ohio State University in Columbus. To find out, Carter and his colleague Simon Ripperger of the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, built on previous research that uncovered a colony’s social network using bat backpacks. Tiny computer sensors glued to 50 female bats in Tolé, Panama, continuously registered proximity to other sensors both within the roost and outside, revealing when bats met up while foraging. Bat buds rarely left the roost together, suggesting that they don’t go on tightly coordinated hunts, Carter says. But bats with a history of associating with one another were more likely than strangers to meet up in the field and likely feed together, the researchers found. Rendezvous with friends also lasted longer, on average, than other interactions. That was especially true for bats with many roost buddies. “These are more or less haphazard encounters,” Carter says. He suspects that the bats mostly forage alone, but when they encounter a friendly bat on a cow, for instance, they’ll feed together instead of fighting or flying off to find other food. Biting a new wound can take 10 to 40 minutes, Carter says, so sharing with a friend could save these bloodthirsty bats time and energy.

9-23-21 Hyenas make faces at each other when they want to play-fight
Hyenas engage in plenty of play-fighting, and they have a way to let fellow hyenas know when an attack is part of a game: they bob their heads and make clear facial expressions. Known for their particularly vicious fights and a strong dominance order in their clans, hyenas also frequently spend long periods of time play-fighting with each other. But they always make sure the message is clear that they don’t intend to be aggressive, especially if the fight is uneven, says Elisabetta Palagi at the University of Pisa, Italy. “It seems that if I want to play hard, I need signals to clarify that I am not attacking you, and that this is only play,” says Palagi. Palagi and her colleagues used multiple video cameras, including some motion-activated ones, to gather 38 hours of play-fighting footage among 24 wild spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) at the Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve in Limpopo, South Africa. Their analyses revealed that adults will regularly play-fight with other adults or with juveniles – while juveniles will also play-fight with each other – and that they consistently use subtle body language to communicate with each other that the fight isn’t serious, says Palagi. That body language involves mostly a relaxed, open mouth – similar to that previously reported in dogs, bears, seals and chimpanzees when they play-fight – but also a characteristic head bobbing, somewhat reminiscent of a bobblehead toy. Hyenas bob their heads during other gentle interactions with each other as well, such as before mating or affiliative behaviours like muzzle rubbing. But the relaxed, open mouth is used specifically during playtime, says Palagi. Surprisingly, the more unbalanced the play-fight is – meaning when one hyena was clearly “winning” and the other “losing” – the longer the play session lasts, says Palagi. In most animals, when the play-fight gets too uneven, the players either stop the fight or it escalates into true fighting. But hyenas seem to have an alternative approach. “This is completely different from any other species,” she says. “It’s incredible.”

9-22-21 Birds flocked to North American cities during covid-19 lockdowns
As human movements were restricted to limit the spread of covid-19 in early 2020, dozens of bird species became more abundant in urban centres in the US and Canada. Nicola Koper at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, and her colleagues analysed 4.3 million observations made by volunteer birdwatchers to compare numbers during the pandemic restrictions with those in previous years. Between March and May 2020, 66 of 82 species of birds observed by the birdwatchers across 93 North American counties displayed different land use patterns compared with those in the same months in pre-pandemic years. Most birds were seen spending more time in urban areas and near major roads and airports. The researchers adjusted the results to control for time spent birdwatching and the distance people had travelled to rule out the possibility that volunteers simply had more time to observe birds in urban regions at that time. Birds probably flocked to such areas during the restrictions because there was less noise and air pollution from traffic, which dropped by 8 to 25 per cent across the included counties, says Koper. “The fact that birds consistently moved into these areas when we reduced traffic tells us how much of an impact human traffic has on them.” Attracting more birds to urban spaces could help boost their numbers, which have declined by 3 billion in North America since 1970, largely due to habitat loss, says Koper. In return, birds provide us with pest control, help pollinate our crops and gardens and improve our psychological well-being, she says. “Research shows if you’re surrounded by more species of birds, you have better mental and emotional health.” To keep birds in urban areas, we should find ways to continue limiting car and air traffic, says Koper. For example, we could invest in public transport and quieter, zero-emissions electric cars, promote working from home and hold more virtual events so that people don’t need to travel, she says.

9-22-21 Study reveals kids on field trip discovered a new species of giant penguin
During a fossil-hunting excursion in January 2006, members of the Hamilton Junior Naturalist Club came across a major discovery in Waikato, New Zealand, although it took years to fully understand just what they uncovered. While in the upper Kawhia harbor, the children and their archaeologist guide noticed several fossils that looked different from the crustaceans they normally spotted. In a new study recently published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, scientists from Massey University announced that the kids found a new species of prehistoric penguin, having stumbled upon the most complete fossilized skeleton of an ancient giant penguin yet discovered. The fossil was donated to the Waikato Museum, and a team of researchers ultimately named the new species waewaeroa, Maori for "long legs." The penguin is between 27.3 and 34.6 million years old and when standing up was likely around five feet tall. Not much is known about the prehistoric giant penguins of New Zealand, and former club member Steffan Safey, who was 13 when the fossil was found, told The Guardian it's "sort of surreal to know that a discovery we made as kids so many years ago is contributing to academia today, and it's a new species even."

9-20-21 Endangered South African penguins killed by swarm of bees near Cape Town
Sixty-three endangered African penguins have been killed by a swarm of bees in a rare occurrence near Cape Town, bird conservationists in South Africa say. The protected birds, from a colony in Simonstown, were found on the shore with multiple bee-stings. They had no other physical injuries. National parks officials told the BBC this was the first known attack at the world-famous Boulders Beach, which attracts up to 60,000 visitors a year. "Usually the penguins and bees co-exist," said Dr Alison Kock, a marine biologist with South Africa's national parks agency (SANParks). "The bees don't sting unless provoked - we are working on the assumption that a nest or hive in the area was disturbed and caused a mass of bees to flee the nest, swarm and became aggressive," she added. "Unfortunately the bees encountered a group of penguins on their flight path." Post-mortems found that the birds had been stung around the eyes and on their flippers. That is because "those are the parts that are not covered by feathers," Dr Katta Ludynia, from the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (Sanccob), told the BBC. One of the penguins had been stung 27 times. "Seeing the number of stings in individual birds, it would have probably been deadly for any animal of that size," Dr Ludynia added. Honeybees die after stinging and a number of dead bees were found at the scene. "Once a honeybee has stung something, it leaves a pheromone behind so that the target is easily located by other honeybees defending the nest," said Jenny Cullinan of the African Wild Bee Institute, which is asking residents to stop keeping beehives in their gardens. African penguins are distinctive for their small size, and live on the coast and islands of South Africa and Namibia - though some have been spotted as far north as Gabon. Their populations are rapidly declining, the International Union for Conservation of Nature says, in main part because of commercial fishing and what it calls "environmental fluctuation".