March 8, 2021
The Good News
- Mexican camp that was symbol of migrant misery empties out under Biden (Reuters)
- Africans Are Being Empowered to Write and Edit Wikipedia Articles About Their Own Countries and Culture (Good News Network)
“At any given moment, public opinion is a chaos of superstition, misinformation, and prejudice.” — Gore Vidal
“It is an unquestionable truth, that the body of the people in every country desire sincerely its prosperity. But.. to deny that they are frequently led into the grossest of errors, by misinformation and passion, would be a flattery which their own good sense must despise.” — Alexander Hamilton
For Voter Turnout And Vaccines, Misinformation Is Depressing
(Jeff Greenberg via Getty Images)
Maria Teresa Kumar is a Columbian American political rights activist and CEO of Voto Latino, an organization working to promote Hispanic voting and political engagement nationwide. She has a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Harvard. Kumar’s mother is Mercedes Vegvary, an educated woman with a business degree who runs an elderly care facility in Northern California. Vegvary told her daughter she didn’t plan to get a Covid-19 vaccine because a friend showed her a video wherein a woman in a white lab coat claiming to be a pharmacist in El Salvador says in Spanish that such vaccines aren’t safe for use in humans.
Videos with similar messages from Panama and the Middle East, translated into Spanish, moved into the US via text chains or internet messaging from people with family and friends in Latin America.
These tactics are the latest efforts in a widespread misinformation campaign aimed at Latinos. A movement to depress voter turnout among Latinos was happening prior to the 2020 election. Outlandish lies — complete with doctored content, quotes taken out of context, and conspiracy theories — were spread about Joe Biden, Black Lives Matter, a rigged election, and later about the mob that stormed the Capitol Building. All these stories were promoted on social media, often fueled by automated accounts.
A leading instigator of the misinformation is conservative activist Brandon Straka. Straka, 44, is a gay hair-stylist and Trump supporter who became a social media star in 2018 when he launched #WalkAway encouraging voters to leave the Democratic Party. Straka spoke at the January 5 “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington DC. He was prominent at the deadly siege on January 6, and later arrested in connection with his part in the assault.
That chaos campaign has now morphed into undermining coronavirus vaccination efforts in Spanish-speaking communities. A nonpartisan academic research report released last week said most false narratives “were translated from English and circulated via prominent platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as in closed group chat platforms like WhatsApp….” The report continued: “The most prominent narratives and those shared were either closely aligned with or completely repurposed from right-wing media outlets.”
Misinformation originally promoted in English is translated in Colombia, Brazil, Mexico Nicaragua, etc., then sent back to Hispanic voters in the US via communications from friends and relatives. Social media companies have cracked down on false claims and removed millions of pieces of content, but the spread continues at a furious pace. (AP, NBC News)
Spain’s Contentious Cattle Cull
(Alfonso Duran via Getty Images)
- Almost 900 head of cattle that spent the last two months and a half at sea aboard a Spanish vessel are now being slaughtered. Spain’s Agriculture Ministry said it was carrying out the operation after the owners of the cargo ship failed to respond to an order to cull the animals.
- The Ministry said the cattle set sail from Cartagena Spain on December 18 with the proper health authorizations. But both Turkey and Libya refused to let the animals disembark, reportedly over suspicions about their health. The ship returned to Cartagena, where it has been since February 25 with the cattle on board.
- After an official inspection, government veterinarians said the animals were either unfit for transport to another country or for return to Spain, and should be culled. Animal rights groups have denounced the mass slaughter. (AP)
Health Research Has Never Been So Fun
- Dutch officials in Amsterdam wanted to study the risks involved with reopening the country despite the coronavirus, so they invited a bunch of clubbers to hit the dance floor for four hours Saturday at a music event in the Ziggo Dome. The Dome has a normal capacity of 17,000. 100,000 people applied for the 1,350 tickets selling for $18 apiece. Tickets sold out in 20 minutes.
- The lucky participants were divided into five “bubbles” of 250 people, plus one of 50; each group had to comply with different rules. Some people were constrained in their movement on the dance floor; others were variously asked to wear a mask at all times or only when in motion. One group was given a fluorescent drink and encouraged to sing and scream to the music in order to examine how much saliva was released at moments of peak excitement.
- All the revelers were traced in their movements and contacts through a tag. The data collected will be analyzed and used to help make decisions on possibly easing the restrictions on nightlife in the future. One immediate observation was that people asked to wear their masks at all times soon dispensed with them as they got moved by the music. (Guardian)
Additional World News
- Abortion Is Now Legal in Argentina, but Opponents Are Making It Hard to Get (NYT, $)
- Afghanistan’s elite fighters struggle against Taliban with less US support (WaPo, $)
- Pope Francis In Iraq: On Day 3, Pontiff Visits Areas Decimated By ISIS (NPR)
- Escalating violence ups pressure for Myanmar sanctions (AP)
- Myanmar coup: Party official dies in custody after security raids (Yahoo News)
- Saudi-led coalition launches air raids on Yemen’s Sanaa (Al Jazeera)
- Nine killed after Duterte’s order to ‘finish off’ communists (Al Jazeera)
- YouTube Removes Myanmar Military Channels (NYT, $)
- COVID surge stirs unrest in parts of Latin America (Al Jazeera)
- Covid could endanger progress on gender equality, says Merkel (Guardian)
- Covid-19 stimulus bill: Joe Manchin is a winner, $15 minimum wage a loser (Vox)
- Biden team plots the country’s first national Covid testing strategy (Politico)
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On This Day In History
- On March 7, 1965, 600 marchers, led by 25-year-old civil rights activist John Lewis, attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on their way to Montgomery to plead their case for voting rights to Governor George Wallace.
- When the marchers reached the middle of the arched bridge over the Alabama River, they were boxed in on one side by armed state troopers wearing white helmets and gas masks and carrying billy clubs, and sheriff’s deputies, many on horseback, on the other. Footage of the ensuing brutal violence perpetrated against the non-violent marchers by troopers and deputies collectively shocked the nation and galvanized the fight against racial injustice.
- March 7, 2021 was the 56th anniversary of that “Bloody Sunday.” In a recorded commemoration address, President Biden announced he was signing a new executive order directing federal agencies to take a series of steps to promote voting access. The move highlights the sweeping voting and elections bill introduced by congressional Democrats to counter efforts by numerous Republican-led state legislatures to restrict voting access.
- House Resolution 1 was approved Wednesday by an almost party-line vote of 220-210. It faces an uncertain fate in the evenly-divided Senate. Conservatives have undertaken a $5 million campaign to try persuading moderate Senate Democrats to oppose rules changes needed to pass the legislation. (History, AP)
LA Finally Paying The Piper… and The Bruces
- In 1924 Willa and Charles Bruce were Manhattan Beach, California’s first Black landowners. The Bruces lived on their beachfront property in southwestern Los Angeles County, where they also ran a resort for Black families during a time when beaches in the strand were segregated. That same year LA County used eminent domain laws to seize the property and throw the Bruces out of their home.
- Part of the land was developed into a city park which houses lifeguard headquarters and a training center. Today LA County is exploring options to restore justice for the family, including giving the land back, paying for what they lost, or leasing the property from them so the lifeguard building can remain at the location. A Manhattan Beach city task force is recommending that the city council consider issuing an apology and creating a commemorative plaque to acknowledge the Bruce family.
- Anthony Bruce, now living in Florida, is one of the family’s last living direct descendants. He said the seizure robbed him of his family’s legacy. About the wrongs committed against his family, Bruce said: “I think we would be wealthy Americans still living there in California.” (Guardian)
Additional USA News
- Mail-in voting did not swell turnout or boost Democrats, study finds (Guardian)
- US states look to step up wolf kills, pushed by Republicans (AP)
- GOP pushes bills to allow social media ‘censorship’ lawsuits (AP). Not understanding technology isn’t going to stop Congress from legislating on it.
- Texas Utility Commission Won’t Reverse Charges From February Storm (NPR)
- Chicago activists end hunger strike against recycling plant but vow to ‘continue fight’ (Guardian)
- The GOP is having a change of heart on economics. It could have implications for policymaking. (NBC)
- These US cities defunded police: ‘We’re transferring money to the community’ (Guardian)
- President Biden’s New Malaria Czar Is Dr. Raj Panjabi (NPR)
- Joe Manchin’s stimulus stand exposes dangerous fissures in Democratic ranks (Guardian)
For Raccoons, This Year Has Been Garbage
- Raccoons do not make good pets. Period.
- If you need more convincing, consider this: Over the past year in Canada, Toronto Public Health has recorded a 62% increase in raccoon attacks on residents. Not because the adorable “trash pandas” are becoming more aggressive, but because humans sticking close to home during a coronavirus lockdown might also be spending more time outdoors. Plus they’re so bored they’ll try interacting with anything, even the infamous urban critters.
- The city has warned residents against approaching, petting, or feeding raccoons — acts that have inevitably resulted in a fearful mammal lashing out.
- “It’s really just people being foolish,” said Derick McChesney, owner of a Toronto wildlife-control company. “I’m face-to-face with them pretty much every day. One might be aggressive, especially if there are babies around. But for the most part nothing’s really changed with them.”
- Raccoons are wily nocturnal animals who enjoy peaceful places to sleep during the day. “They’ve always had a unique ability to figure out where the quiet spots of the house are. They love to nest directly above the master bedroom,” McChesney said. “Because they know that in the daytime, it’s usually quiet and they can get a good sleep.”
- That is, before people had to stay home during the day. Now both are annoyed. People hear a lot more rustling inside their walls, and raccoons can’t get a good day’s rest.
- One other thing people are taking greater notice of is an illness that stalks the raccoon population called canine distemper virus. Raccoons with the fatal illness can lose their fear of humans and lash out if threatened. So here’s another reminder: stay away from sick animals.
- In the end, some people use their time in lockdown to become more appreciative of the wildlife around them. Others just worry raccoons are destroying their house. (Guardian)
- Jack Dorsey is trying to sell his first tweet as an NFT (Verge)
- Spit Swapping, Hard Pants and Hope: New Ads Envision Post-Pandemic Life (NYT, $). Fashion companies are preparing for the Roaring 2020s.
- Pandemic Perspectives: How Bubonic Plague Reshaped Mumbai’s Streets (NPR)
- Feline philosophy: what humans can learn from cats (Vox)
- Food Critic, Provocateur Definitively Ranks Girl Scout Cookies (NPR). Police are on high alert following fears of riots from the Thin Mints community.
- How to Tell Which Emails Quietly Track You (Wired)
- Opinion | Is the Burger Nearing Extinction? (NYT, $)
- Why Cuttlefish Are Smarter Than We Thought (NPR)
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