The Supreme Court Reaches Critical Mass
November 17, 2020
The Good News
- Shelling out: Endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles in Mexico: Record number hatch (USA Today)
- Fauci: Moderna’s ‘outstanding’ vaccine results are ‘as good as it gets’ (Yahoo! News). Just what the doctor ordered.
“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien
“The safety of the people shall be the highest law.” — Marcus Tullius Cicero
The Supreme Court Reaches Critical Mass
(Alex Wong via Getty Images)
Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s newest ultra-conservative pick for Supreme Court justice, hasn’t yet weighed in on an election issue, which many thought might be the first indication of the Court’s sharp shift to the right. Instead, her impact will now likely be felt as a result of an emergency application filed by the Roman Catholic Church last week. The application asks the Court to lift certain COVID-19 restrictions New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put in place in responding to a public health crisis.
The case at hand involves restrictions the governor imposed on houses of worship, prompted in large part by rising cases of COVID-19 in Orthodox Jewish areas of Brooklyn. In “red zones” where the COVID-19 risk is highest, no more than 10 people may attend church services. In slightly less dangerous “orange zones,” up to 25 people may attend. This applies to all churches, even ones that can seat over 1,000 people.
On November 9th, Cuomo downgraded Brooklyn from a red zone to an orange zone, even though COVID-19 cases were continuing to rise across New York City and around the state. Regardless, church leaders contend the restrictions are an unconstitutional incursion on religious freedom.
There is precedent in the matter. In recent months, prior to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death, churches in both California and Nevada had asked the Supreme Court to lift government restrictions on attendance at religious services aimed at addressing the pandemic. In the California case, Chief Justice John Roberts joined with the liberal wing of the Court to decide in favor of officials charged with protecting the public, saying they “should not be subject to second-guessing by an unelected federal judiciary, which lacks the background, competence and expertise to assess public health and is not accountable to the people.” The Nevada case was decided similarly.
But a few hours after the New York diocese filed its application last Thursday, Justice Samuel Alito — who had dissented in both prior cases — delivered a barn-burning speech to a conservative legal group expressing the opposite view. “Whenever fundamental rights are restricted, the Supreme Court and other courts cannot close their eyes,” Alito said, rejecting the idea that executive officials have “unlimited, unreviewable discretion” in an emergency. “The pandemic has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty. This is especially evident with respect to religious liberty.” The Court, now with a solid conservative majority, could rule on the Brooklyn cases as early as next week.
China Presses Charges On The Press
- A 37-year-old Chinese lawyer-turned-journalist, who was arrested last May for reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak and response in Wuhan, has been formally indicted on charges of spreading false information. The indictment sheet, released on Monday, said Zhang Zhan had sent “false information through text, video and other media through the Internet media such as WeChat, Twitter, and YouTube. She also accepted interviews from overseas media Free Radio Asia and Epoch Times and maliciously speculated on Wuhan’s COVID-19 epidemic. Prosecutors recommended a sentence of four to five years in prison.
- Zhang is among numerous journalists arrested this year after traveling to Wuhan to report on the virus. Chen Qiushi, another former lawyer turned journalist, was detained in January. Li Zehua, who traveled to Wuhan to report after Chen’s disappearance, went missing in early February but was released in April. Wuhan resident Fang Bin went missing at the same time and has not been seen since.
- The NGO Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said Zhang’s reports included “the detentions of other independent reporters and harassment of families of victims seeking accountability from the epicentre via her WeChat, Twitter and YouTube accounts.” Zhang was previously detained on similar accusations by Chinese authorities in 2018, and again in 2019 for voicing support for Hong Kong activists. At that time she was held for more than two months and forced to undergo psychiatric assessments. (Guardian)
Things Are Looking Up For Tokyo ‘21
- Promising news of the development of COVID-19 vaccines is causing members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to be “very confident” the Summer Olympics can take place in Tokyo next year with a reasonable number of spectators. If vaccines are approved, the IOC also wants to “convince” foreign athletes and spectators to be vaccinated before coming to Japan.
- “In order to protect the Japanese people and out of respect for the Japanese people, the IOC will undertake great effort so that as many as possible — Olympic participants and visitors — will arrive here vaccinated, if by then a vaccine is available,” IOC President Thomas Bach said Monday.
- The Games were postponed for a year last March, near the onset of the pandemic; they are now scheduled to begin July 23, 2021. As evidence that sports can still take place safely despite the pandemic, Bach pointed to successful test events held in Japan recently, including an international gymnastics competition in Tokyo last week involving competitors from China, Russia, the US, and the host country. About 2,000 fans attended. (WaPo)
Additional World News
- Global treaty to tackle plastic pollution gains steam without US and UK (Guardian)
- SpaceX successfully launches second crew to space on first operational mission (The Verge)
- Climate cabal: The Secret Club for Billionaires Who Care About Climate Change (Bloomberg)
- Japan leads economic ‘Zoom boom’ out of recession (BBC)
- Trump plans last-minute China crackdown (Axios)
- Her Abuse Was a ‘Family Matter,’ Until It Went Live (NYT, $)
- Indian factory workers supplying major brands allege routine exploitation (BBC)
- After War Between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Peace Sees Winners and Losers Swap Places (NYT, $)
- AP sources: Trump to order troop cuts in Afghanistan, Iraq (AP). There’s one battle he’s willing to bow out of.
- Tigray crisis viewpoint: Why Ethiopia is spiralling out of control (BBC)
- No more mouthing off in the South: On Latin America, Biden to stress diplomacy and less bravado (LA Times, $)
- Hurricane Iota nears landfall in Central America as Category 5; humanitarian crisis looms (NBC)
Another Vaccine Victory
(Jakub Porzycki via Getty Images)
- A week after Pfizer and BioNTech said their COVID-19 vaccine candidate was more than 90 percent effective, the biotech company Moderna announced Monday that clinical trials showed its experimental vaccine was 94.5 percent effective. Both Moderna and Pfizer use the same technology to make their vaccines. It’s based on a molecule known as mRNA, or messenger RNA. That molecule contains genetic instructions for making proteins inside cells.
- To make the vaccine, researchers created an mRNA with the code for making the COVID-19 spike protein, which is the key to the virus infecting cells. The protein is also what can trigger someone’s immune system to make antibodies against the virus, but without causing infection since the rest of the virus is missing. That two mRNA vaccines appear to be working is remarkable, since the technology is new and the Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve an mRNA vaccine.
- Both vaccines require two doses, but have much different storage requirements. Pfizer’s vaccine requires storage in specialized ultracold freezers capable of cooling below minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. Moderna’s vaccine can be stored in freezers at about 25 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature easily reached by a home freezer. And Moderna’s vaccine will remain potent for up to 30 days at normal refrigerated temperatures, which should facilitate distribution. (CNN, NPR)
- Coronavirus: Health expert says vaccine race akin to law of the jungle (CNBC)
- New lockdowns and restrictions sweep across the country as Covid-19 cases continue to rise (NBC)
- Doctors Are Calling It Quits Under Stress of the Pandemic (NYT, $)
- Think it will soon be too cold to eat outside? Heed this advice from Alaska, Scandinavia — even the South Pole (WaPo, $)
Amazon’s Bezos Makes It Rain For Climate Change
- Amazon founder and world’s richest human, Jeff Bezos, is finally entering the mainstream of US climate philanthropy. After unveiling his massive $10 billion climate push program last February, Bezos announced the first recipients of nearly $800 million in grants from the Bezos Earth Fund on Monday.
- The first awards are going to already well-financed, uncontroversial, and long-established organizations. Bezos is awarding $100 million each to the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Nature Conservancy, the World Resources Defense Institute, and the World Wildlife Fund. The five groups are among the largest environmental nonprofits in the country. Less recognizable groups not yet named will also be recipients.
- Bezos said he had wanted to start making contributions this summer, but the deadline was pushed back in part because of the pandemic. The Bezos Earth Fund does not have a leader yet — rather unusual for a charity already handing out millions of dollars — but it’s in the process of hiring one. Bezos’ own company, Amazon, has been criticized by environmental activists for not doing enough to combat climate change in its corporate practices. (Vox, Forbes)
Additional USA News
- A Nightmare COVID Winter Could Force a GOP Awakening on Stimulus (Intelligencer). What will it take to spark another stimulus?
- Ossoff, Warnock start Georgia runoffs behind the eight ball (Politico)
- Democrats divided: Biden’s election win brings end to party’s uneasy truce (Guardian)
- How A Record Number Of Republican Women Will — And Won’t — Change Congress (FiveThirty)
- A PSA to the GSA: How Emily Murphy Stands Between Biden’s Team and Transition (NYT, $)
- Barack Obama rules out role in Biden cabinet – ‘Michelle would leave me’ (Guardian). Happy wife, happy life.
- Obama Says Trump Is ‘Denying Reality’ By Failing To Concede To Biden & Why Obama Fears for Our Democracy (NPR, Atlantic, $)
- Trump, Trying to Cling to Power, Fans Unrest and Conspiracies (NYT, $)
- Hate crimes in US reach highest level in more than a decade (AP)
- ‘Rumble in the Bronx’ Fight Club Drew 200. The Sheriff Shut It Down. (NYT, $). Looks like they broke the first rule…
- Billionaire Who Broke The World: LOL Oops (Defector)
You Have To Pay A Pretty Price For This Pigeon
- Here’s an investment few people saw happening: Belgium racing pigeons. A two-year-old female named New Kim just sold in an online auction for a world record of 1.6 million euros ($1.89 million), which surpassed the previous record of 1.252 million euros ($1.42 million) set in March 2019 for another Belgian pigeon, a male named Armando. Here’s the deal. The sport of pigeon racing is very popular in Belgium. In fact, no other country has such a high concentration of pigeon enthusiasts.
- “So you have 20,000 pigeon fanciers in a very small country competing with each other on a very high level. It’s like the [European soccer’s elite club competition] Champions League,” said Nikolaas Gyselbrechtthe, founder and CEO of PIPA — the number one broker of exclusive quality racing pigeons, and the world’s most prominent pigeon news source and auction house — not the 4-stringed Chinese lute. “These record prices are unbelievable, because this is a female. Armando was a male. Usually, a male is worth more than a female because it can produce more offspring,” Gyselbrechtthe said.
- Chinese enthusiasm for long-distance racing of homing pigeons has driven prices up sharply, with birds from the traditional heartland of the sport in Belgium being particularly prized. Bidding on New Kim started at 200 euros on November 2nd, but rose to a bid of 1.31 million euros from a South African group within 90 minutes. Then in the auction’s last 30 minutes on Sunday, two wealthy Chinese collectors fought it out down to the wire. A member of the family that bred and owns New Kim had this to say: “The only thing I can see is we are in total shock.” (Reuters)
- ‘Nocebo effect’ cause of most statin side-effects, study suggests (Guardian)
- Why Your Brain’s Sense of Time Is So Elastic (Nautilus) … wait, it’s November already?!
- Just in time for the new slate of consoles… Video gaming can benefit mental health, find Oxford academics (Guardian)
- How the US Military Buys Location Data from Ordinary Apps (Vice)
- Blubber goes boom: 50 Years Ago Today, Oregon Blew Up a Dead Whale. With Dynamite. On Live TV. (Popular Mechanics)
- Meet the fearless women sailors taking on the ‘Everest of the seas’ (NatGeo)
- In times of crisis, the arts are weapons for the soul (Aeon)
- Futuristic climate solution could spell disaster for Earth’s own defenses (Inverse)
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