Russian Vaccine Roulette | Kamala Wins the Veepstakes | Bedlam in Belarus
August 12, 2020
The Good News
- Absolutely astronomical: Your Bones Are Made Out of Exploded Stars, Scientists Say (Futurism)
A new study finds that giving kids deworming treatment still benefits them 20 years later (Vox). Reaffirming the power of public health interventions.
“People who want a cure, provided they can have it without pain, are like those who favour progress, provided they can have it without change.”
(Jakub Porzyck via Getty Images)
It’s off to the Cold War Races, but this time instead of a global satellite, it’s an antiviral vaccine. President Vladimir Putin sprinted into first place on Tuesday when he announced that Russian scientists have achieved a breakthrough in the world-wide race for a COVID-19 vaccine. The experimental drug, named Sputnik V, is a reference to the first global orbital satellite launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, which set off the space race.
The formula — developed by the Gamaleya Institute in Moscow — has not undergone Phase 3 large-scale testing, a critical step to determine if it’s safe and effective. Few details of the research have been made public, or undergone peer review. However, Putin said one of his two daughters had already received a dose, and officials have pledged to administer the tentative vaccine to millions of people in the coming weeks, including tens of thousands of teachers and front-line health-care workers.
The World Health Organization still lists the Gamaleya vaccine as being in Phase 1. So far, it’s only been tested in small, early clinical trials by scientists who developed it, 50 members of the Russian military, and a handful of other volunteers. The head of the investment fund that bankrolled the country’s vaccination effort said Russia will move forward with expanded Phase 3 testing, but added his personal confidence in Sputnik V was so high that he, his wife, and his parents — who are both in their seventies — were test subjects.
Last month, security officials from the US, Britain, and Canada accused hackers linked to a Russian intelligence service of trying to steal information from researchers in those countries working to produce COVID-19 vaccines. Russian officials denied the accusations and dismissed international scrutiny of Moscow’s own vaccine efforts as merely political fodder.
Putin views winning the vaccine race as an avenue for greater geopolitical clout and bragging rights over Western powers, and he’s clearly eager to declare an early, if undocumented, victory. One expert criticized the aggressive strategy, saying: “This is changing the rules. This is cutting corners,” adding: “… it starts with Putin. He needs a win. [But] It’s harking back to the glory days of Russian science, it’s putting the Russian propaganda machine into full gear. I think this could backfire.”
An authority on international viral threats summed up Russia’s actions this way: “Using [an experimental vaccine] in the general population before the results of Phase 3 trials are fully studied is a gamble. A Russian roulette, if you will.”
Exile in Eastern Europe
- Aleksandr Lukashenko, Belarus’s autocratic ruler for the last 26 years, won a landslide reelection victory Sunday in a presidential race many claim was patently rigged. Protests erupted immediately after polls closed and continued Monday night and early Tuesday. Protesters barricaded streets and riot police beat back crowds with baton charges, stun grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets. By the end of the night, some 2,000 people were detained and one person died.
- Lukashenko’s main challenger was Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who entered the race after her husband, an opposition blogger, was jailed. She campaigned hard, but was told she’d only received 10 percent of Sunday’s vote. When she went to Minsk on Monday to officially contest the returns, she was held in a room for hours by security guards before being whisked away.
- Early Tuesday morning the foreign minister of neighboring Lithuania tweeted that Tikhanovskaya was in his country and was “safe.” Later a video was released, which Tikhanovskaya appeared to have recorded under duress. She read from a prepared script calling on Belarusians to back down, telling them “not to put your lives at risk” by resisting police and protesting in public squares.
- In a second cryptic video message, Tikhanovskaya said, “I made this decision absolutely independently … God forbid you will face the kind of choice that I faced.” A supporter who accompanied Tikhanovskaya to the elections office and hadn’t heard from her since said it was clear the candidate had recorded her video and left the country under pressure. “When all around you and your family are hostages, it is very difficult not to make statements under pressure,” she said. (NYT)
Port of No Call
- According to a US diplomatic cable, an American contractor working with the US Army warned four years ago about a large cache of potentially explosive chemicals stored in unsafe conditions in Beirut’s port. The American port security expert spotted the chemicals in 2016 during a safety inspection of the port.
- Colleagues in the Middle East say the contractor would have been expected to report the findings to the US Embassy or the Pentagon. A senior State Department official denied any American knowledge of the contractor’s findings, claiming they had no record of the dangerous cache, and only became aware of the allegation last week after the nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded, damaging buildings across a wide swath of central Beirut and killing more than 200 people.
- Defense Secretary Mark Esper continued espousing a spurious talking point that the blast might have been caused by a bomb or even “a Hezbollah arms shipment that blew up.” Last week’s blast fueled widespread anger towards Lebanon’s political elite and led to the resignation of the government on Monday. The fact that the US might have known about the chemicals and warned no one shocked and angered Western diplomats, who lost two colleagues in the blast and saw several others wounded. (NYT)
Additional World News
- Cutting the cord on unrest: Belarus Has Shut Down the Internet Amid a Controversial Election (Wired)
- ‘We Can’t Stand It Anymore’: Bolivian Protesters Demand Quick Elections (NPR)
- A century-old treaty haunts the Mediterranean (WaPo, $)
- Extreme poverty rises and a generation sees future slip away (PBS). New trends threaten decades of progress.
- Trump’s Unprecedented Pick For IDB Risks a Much-Needed Capital Injection (Foreign Policy)
- Poking the bear: U.S. health chief, visiting Taiwan, attacks China’s pandemic response (Reuters)
- How China Controlled the Coronavirus (New Yorker, $)
- U.S. to Label Hong Kong’s Goods as ‘Made in China’ in Blow to City (Bloomberg)
- Unions demand US government take charge over ‘inexcusable’ PPE shortage (Guardian)
- ‘It’s a lifestyle’: California gyms refuse to close, defying statewide restrictions (WaPo, $)
- COVID-19 in America, explained in 18 maps and charts (Vox)
- Know thine enemy: How Covid Sends Some Bodies to War With Themselves (NYT, $)
- Moderna’s Coronavirus Treatment Transforms Body Into Vaccine-Making Machine (Bloomberg)
- ICE Is Making Sure Migrant Kids Don’t Have COVID-19 — Then Expelling Them to “Prevent the Spread” of COVID-19 (ProPublica). ICE caught in hot water yet again.
- San Francisco Was Uniquely Prepared for COVID-19 (Wired, $)
- A mysterious success story: The pandemic appears to have spared Africa so far. Scientists are struggling to explain why (Science Mag)
Calling On Kamala
(Scott Olson via Getty Images)
- Soon-to-be Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has selected Senator Kamala Harris to be his running mate. Harris, a charismatic blue state senator (and San Francisco Democrat), former prosecutor, and onetime 2020 primary rival, has built a reputation as an unyielding antagonist of the Trump administration. The daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, 55-year-old Harris got her start as a line prosecutor in Alameda County.
- She was a decided longshot when she launched her first political run in 2003 for San Francisco district attorney. She defeated the incumbent, and six years later began an uphill battle for state attorney general, campaigning against a popular Republican DA from Los Angeles. As an anti-death penalty woman of color from San Francisco, Harris was seen by some in her own party as unelectable.
- But she had built up strong relationships with hard work, cultivating the Bay Area’s affluent class while personally passing out leaflets at transit stops and blocking out her weekends to appear at clubs and churches. She narrowly won that race, but drew little challenge for reelection in 2014. Two years later she cruised to an open Senate seat, becoming the first Indian American and only the second Black female senator.
- Her 2020 presidential bid was her first campaign loss. Biden’s selection brings together important minority and progressive constituencies. Harris’ colleague and former rival on the presidential campaign trail Senator Bernie Sanders said: “She understands what it takes to stand up for working people, fight for health care for all, and take down the most corrupt administration in history.”
- Shortly after news of Biden’s pick became public, the Trump campaign released a statement and digital ad on the president’s Twitter feed. It knocked Harris as “phony Kamala” and cast her as a liberal Trojan horse poised to take advantage of an aging candidate. President Trump assailed Harris from the White House briefing room, calling her treatment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh “extraordinarily nasty.” “I won’t forget that soon,” Trump told reporters. “I thought she was the meanest, the most horrible, most disrespectful of anybody in the U.S. Senate.” (Politico)
Brewing Discontent: Seattle’s Best Departs
- Embattled Seattle police chief Carmen Best has announced she will step down. Her decision comes in the wake of protests against police brutality, criticism over her department’s response, and a city council vote to shrink the police force and cut her salary. In a message to police department employees Monday night, Best said: “This was a difficult decision for me, but when it’s time, it’s time.”
- At a news conference Tuesday with Mayor Jenny Durkan, Best said her abrupt retirement was driven by a lack of consultation from the city council as they sought to cut the police department’s budget this summer, which showed a lack of respect for the department’s employees.
- She described the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted in May after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis as challenging, and criticized the salary reductions as personal, vindictive, punitive, and even illegal; leaders of no other departments were targeted by the council. Best also said she couldn’t bring herself to carry out the officer layoffs the council unanimously voted for Monday; warning a rule mandating layoffs by reverse seniority would result in a new class of diverse officers losing their jobs.
- Council members had asked her to pursue a waiver allowing out-of-order layoffs, arguing cops with sustained misconduct complaints should be let go first. The chief read a thank-you email she had received from a recently hired Black officer who she described as a “great young man.” “He is one of the people that will probably not keep a job here,” Best said. “And that, for me, I’m done. I can’t do it.” (Seattle Times)
Additional USA News
- Kamala Harris is the choice Joe Biden needed to win over Silicon Valley (Vox)
- Agree to disagree: Section 230 Is Hated by Both Democrats and Republicans for Different Reasons (Bloomberg)
- Census Bureau Workers Worry Rushed Count May Yield Inaccurate Data (NPR)
- Gripes with the stars and stripes: A record number of people are giving up their US citizenship, according to new research. Here’s why (CNN)
- Chicago protests: Restrictions imposed after chaotic night of unrest (BBC)
- Trump unveils new Covid adviser who backs reopening schools (Guardian)
- Half of US elementary and high school students will study virtually only this fall, study shows (CNBC). A nation divided on education.
- Millennial Futures Are Bleak. Blame Incarceration. (Atlantic, $)
- McDonald’s Sues Former CEO Steve Easterbrook (NYT, $)
Speakeasy, Train Hard
- Not since the Prohibition era have we seen such hideaways, like the underground bars in the 1920s and 1930s that required a special knock and a secret password. But one wrong turn in 2020 San Francisco and you may find something similar: a speakeasy gym of sorts, stocked with exercise equipment instead of moonshine spirits.
- With California outlawing indoor fitness centers during the pandemic, one unwelcome individual remarked she was surprised to stumble into a seemingly shuttered fitness center. “Oh, we’re not open,” one of the trainers said.
- It must have felt like one of those, “Believe what I say, not what you see with your own eyes” kind of moments. But the truth is, these hideaway-style gyms appear to be popping up everywhere, from LA to New Jersey. One fitness freak in Ann Arbor, Michigan turned to Reddit to get their fix. “Anybody want a home gym partner or know of a speakeasy gym?” they asked, assuring readers in a follow-up post, “not a cop.” “That is exactly what a cop would say,” responded someone in the thread. Welcome to the COVID-19 Prohibition era, when gym rats have gone underground.
- An economist at Harvard who’s spent 30 years studying prohibitions says governments can legislate all they want, but people will find a way. The lesson emerging from his studies is simple: “Prohibitions won’t eliminate things. They drive them underground.” I’m not a Harvard economist, but it doesn’t seem like it would take three decades to figure that out. (NPR)
- COVID-19 Lockdowns Have Led to a Huge Spike in Sex Doll Sales (Vice). Well that’s one business that doesn’t need stimulus relief.
- What It’s Like to Work at Disney World During a Pandemic (Rolling Stone)
- Pedaling through the pandemic: To Tame Traffic, Bogotá Bets Big on Bike Lanes (Bloomberg)
- Can Minneapolis Dismantle Its Police Department? (New Yorker, $)
- Want a company that lasts? Start a bank or a brewery (Big Think). A graph of world
- Do humans really have a killer instinct or is that just manly fancy? (Psyche)
- The mind of the moderate: Politicians, take note: Unaffiliated voters have distinct brain patterns, MRI scans reveal (Fast Company)
- Dwarf planet Ceres is geologically alive (NatGeo)
- Trash-Collecting Researchers Find Dietary Patterns in Discarded Hair Clippings (Scientific American)
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