April 16, 2021
The Good News
- Signs Of Economic Boom Emerge As Retail Sales Surge, Jobless Claims Hit Pandemic Low (NPR)
- Washington state governor OKs bill banning for-profit jails (AP)
“If security were all that mattered, computers would never be turned on, let alone hooked into a network with literally millions of potential intruders” ― Dan Farmer
“If you spend more on coffee than on IT security, you will be hacked. What’s more, you deserve to be hacked” ― Richard Clarke
The US Is Putin’ New Sanctions In Place
(Alexei Druzhinin via Getty Images)
Elections matter. After years of turning a blind eye to Moscow’s meddling, the US announced Thursday it was imposing sweeping sanctions against Russia over election interference, cyber hacking, and other “harmful foreign activities.”
The announcement marks the first time America has formally blamed Russia for last year’s massive cyber hack against nine federal agencies, known as the SolarWinds breach. It’s also the first confirmation that US intelligence agencies had determined Russia was behind offers of financial incentives to the Taliban for killing US soldiers in Afghanistan. Other “harmful foreign activities” include Russia’s occupation and alleged human rights abuses in Crimea.
10 personnel from Russia’s diplomatic mission in Washington, including “representatives of Russian intelligence services,” will be expelled. Also sanctioned are individuals and “the private and state-owned companies” that “enable the Russian Intelligence Services’ cyber activities.” According to the Treasury Department, they are “16 entities and 16 individuals who attempted to influence the 2020 US presidential election at the direction of the leadership of the Russian Government.” Also “disinformation outlets controlled by Russian intelligence services,” the Russian “financier” and an “enabler” of the “troll farm” previously sanctioned for 2016 election interference, as well as a “known Russian agent.”
US financial institutions will be prohibited from certain dealings with Russian sovereign debt. This ban on American companies trading Russia’s sovereign debt with the country’s central bank is an expansion of previous limits, and caused Russia’s ruble currency to slide.
Heightened concern about the massive buildup of Russian forces along Ukraine’s border and in Crimea — the Ukrainian peninsula that has been occupied by Russia since 2014 — led to sanctioning “five individuals and three entities related to Russia’s occupation of the Crimea … and its severe human rights abuses against the local population.”
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said President Biden told Russian President Vladimir Putin about the coming sanctions during a phone call on Tuesday. Sullivan said the President reminded his counterpart of a conversation earlier this year in which Biden warned Putin the US would “respond” if it determined Russia was behind recent cyber intrusions and election interference. Biden said he had determined Russia did conduct these actions, and that as a man of his word, he was making “proportionate responses,” but not looking to escalate. Biden then proposed he and Putin meet in person in the coming months.
After Thursday’s announcement, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the US Ambassador in Moscow, John Sullivan, had been summoned for a “difficult conversation.” Calling US behavior aggressive, Zakharova said a response was “unavoidable,” and that Washington would “pay for the degradation of bilateral relations.” (ABC)
France’s Total Recall
(AFP via Getty Images)
- An anti-France far-right party has ramped up protests in Pakistan against French president Emmanuel Macron, accusing him of committing “blasphemy,” a crime that can carry the death penalty.
- The protests have been growing more violent since last November when Macron voiced his support for the right to republish cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad. Many Muslims consider the caricatures insulting as well as Islamophobic because they often link the faith to “terrorism.” Insulting Islam’s prophet, holy book, or other religious personages are crimes of blasphemy.
- Threats have become so serious that the French embassy in Pakistan has advised all French citizens and companies to temporarily leave the country. Another French official said that while the embassy in Islamabad would remain open, some staff would also be leaving the country. An embassy spokesman said the departures “will be carried out by existing commercial airlines.” (Al Jazeera)
Boris’ Partial Impartiality
- The International Criminal Court (ICC) launched a formal inquiry last month into alleged war crimes committed in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, including the period covered by the 2014 Gaza war, the 2018 Gaza border clashes, and Israeli settlement building in the West Bank. Hundreds of Israelis — including soldiers and senior political figures — could be at risk of prosecution. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the case as “undiluted anti-semitism.”
- In a letter to the UK’s Conservative Friends of Israel lobby group, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that while his government had “respect [for] the independence” of the court, it opposed this particular inquiry into Israel. He backed Israel’s claims that the court has no jurisdiction to investigate because “Israel is not a party to the statute of Rome [that established the court] and Palestine is not a sovereign state.” Johnson also wrote that the investigation “gives the impression of being a partial and prejudicial attack on a friend and ally of the UK’s.”
- Palestine countered in a statement saying the letter was a “deeply regrettable” contradiction of international law and previous British policy. “It is clear that the UK now believes Israel is above the law. There is no other interpretation….” The statement added: “On the one hand, [Johnson] claims to support the mission of the ICC. On the other, he seems to argue that its mission cannot extend to Israel because it is a ‘friend and an ally’ of the UK.” (Guardian)
Additional World News
- Will Japan Confront China? A Visit to Washington May Offer a Clue. (NYT, $)
- Is China really about to invade Taiwan? (Al Jazeera). The invasion that never comes.
- A Surprising Kind Of First Aid For Mozambicans Fleeing Violence (NPR)
- Facebook planned to remove fake accounts in India – until it realized a BJP politician was involved (Guardian)
- Seeking Cooperation on Climate, U.S. Faces Friction With China (NYT, $). China thinks they’ll reduce enough carbon emissions for the both of them.
- Instagram apologizes for promoting weight-loss content to users with eating disorders (Guardian)
- Myanmar’s lost generation: nation’s youth sacrificing futures for freedom (Guardian)
- Russia ‘threatening Ukraine with destruction’, Kyiv says (Al Jazeera)
- J&J Vaccine Pause Creates ‘Perfect Storm’ For Misinformation (NPR). Blood clotting from vaccines is so rare, you’re more likely to get it from an oral contraceptive.
- CDC expert panel punts on deciding fate of J&J COVID vaccine (ArsTechnica)
Pelosi Pulls The Plug On Court-Packing
- A group of House and Senate Democrats introduced legislation Thursday to expand the number of Supreme Court justices from nine to 13. The group said the change was necessary to restore balance to the court, after Senate Republicans blocked what should have been President Obama’s nominee in 2016, then rushed through a third Trump nominee days before last year’s election.
- Strong conservatives now make up two-thirds of the court. The bill has no chance of passage in the Senate due to the filibuster rule. However, even House Democrats won’t have a chance to vote on it because Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she had “no plans to bring it to the floor.”
- Pelosi said she preferred President Biden’s approach, which was the creation last week of a new commission to study the issue. Biden ordered the commission to report back in six months on its recommendations. The last time Congress changed the number of Supreme Court justices was in 1869. (NYT, $; National Geographic)
Justice Centers Find No Justice
- As bad as the pandemic has been on America’s general population, it’s been far worse for the people imprisoned in America’s jails. The New York Times recently reported that 34 out of 100 people in prisons across the country have contracted the virus, more than three times the rate of the general population. On average, seven people behind bars have died every day of the pandemic, and the numbers are likely considerably higher.
- Many inmates, like the 3,800 infected at the Fresno County, California jail, are being held in pre-trial detention, where they’ve been locked up since the pandemic’s beginning without a trial or even a timeline for when they should expect one. The vast majority remain in jail because they can’t afford to pay a fine or bail. One 64-year-old Black man died in a Texas jail because he couldn’t afford the $100 bail. A University of Texas report says that’s the case for 80% of all those who died of the virus in Texas county jails.
- Protests demanding the release of people locked inside immigration centers, prisons, and jails began almost as soon as the pandemic started. Initially, many state and local governments did release some prisoners, but that trend has reversed. There have been various uprisings among prisoners, the most recent on April 4 in a St. Louis jail.
- President Biden has done a phenomenal job trying to get as many Americans vaccinated as possible; unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to include the incarcerated population. And unless something changes, a Trump-era policy will soon see thousands of low-level offenders sent back to federal prisons. (Guardian)
Additional USA News
- What companies do in the shadows: Amazon’s warehouse boom linked to health hazards in America’s most polluted region (Guardian)
- Kim Potter Charged With 2nd-Degree Manslaughter In Death Of Daunte Wright (NPR) & Daunte Wright and the grim financial incentive behind traffic stops (Vox)
- How Texas’s zombie oil wells are creating an environmental disaster zone (Guardian)
- Wild Homecoming: 14 Bison Returned To Tribal Land In Reparations Effort (NPR)
- This much is clear: Derek Chauvin’s trial won’t change policing in America (Guardian)
- A Post-Filibuster World Would Be a Nightmare for Progressives (Politico)
- Cities, not warzones: Stop Training Police Like They’re Joining the Military (Atlantic)
- Companies talk the talk on Georgia voting rights but how will they act? (Guardian)
- Defunding police: An idea most Democrats don’t want to talk about (Al Jazeera)
Searching For Organs In Inorganic Places
- Laurence Gonzales wrote about it over a decade ago in his ostensibly fictional book, Lucy. His character is a hybrid human being — part human, part ape.
- It’s no longer fiction. Scientists have created embryos that are a mix of human and monkey cells. The international team who collaborated in the work said the embryos — described Thursday in the journal Cell — were created in part to try to find new ways to produce organs for people who need transplants.
- As you can imagine, it’s raised a ton of ethical questions. But the scientists who conducted the research and some other bioethicists defended the experiment, frankly because the demand for organs to transplant vastly outweighs the supply.
- In recent years, some researchers in the US and elsewhere have been injecting human stem cells into sheep and pig embryos to see if they might eventually grow human organs in the animals for transplantation. That approach didn’t work. So Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences in La Jolla, California, and a co-author of the Cell study, teamed up with scientists in China and elsewhere to try something different.
- The researchers injected 25 human ‘induced pluripotent stem cells’, or iPS cells, into embryos from macaque monkeys, which are much more closely genetically related to humans than are sheep and pigs. After one day the researchers detected human cells growing in 132 of the embryos, which they were then able to study for up to 19 days.
- Belmonte said the goal was never to create a new organism, but to try understanding how cells from different organisms communicate with one another, an important step toward eventually helping researchers find new ways to grow organs for transplantation in other animals. He was very excited about the prospect.
- A bioethicist at Harvard University also said he didn’t see an ethical problem, because the research was “aimed at lofty humanitarian goals.” That should make the Lucys of the world sleep better at night. (NPR)
- Coinbase, A Bitcoin Startup, Goes Public. Is Crypto Really The ‘Future Of Finance’? (NPR)
- €500,000 set aside to save Rome’s pine trees from deadly parasite (Guardian)
- Battery enthusiasts are getting the electric blues: As Auto Industry Goes Electric, Can It Avoid A Battery Bottleneck? (NPR)
- Birds by the Billions: A Guide to Spring’s Avian Parade (NYT, $)
- The 2 Rules for Eating to Fight Climate Change (Atlantic)
- Magic mushrooms show promise in treatment for depression, study says (Guardian)
- Mark Zuckerberg is urged to scrap plans for an Instagram for children. (NYT, $). Who could have foreseen any issues there?
- The Ghostwriters Behind Our Emails and Text Messages (Atlantic)