Sailing Towards An Outbreak
July 21, 2021
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“It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.” — Oscar Wilde
“She burned too bright for this world.” — Emily Bronte
Pandemic Recovery Deltanother Blow
News of a resurgence in coronavirus cases caused global markets to fall sharply on Monday. In America, fears about the Delta variant sent the Dow into a 725-point slide. It was the worst one-day decline of 2021, threatening the Biden administration’s promises of a swift economic recovery. Investors got better news Tuesday when the Dow rebounded 500 points, but the rollercoaster ride will undoubtedly continue as cases keep rising, almost exclusively among unvaccinated populations.
Doctors Anthony Fauci, Rochelle Walensky, and Janet Woodcock testified before a Senate committee Tuesday about the administration’s Covid-19 response. CDC Director Walensky told lawmakers the Delta variant now makes up 83% of cases, up from 50% at the beginning of July. The alarming increase was most prevalent in areas of low vaccination that were “allowing for the emergence and rapid spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant.” Walensky said CDC data “indicates that vaccines are available to neutralize the circulating variants … and provide protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death.” Her agency’s message remains clear and unchanged: “the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 variants is to prevent the spread of disease and vaccination is the most powerful tool we have.”
States where cases are rising the fastest have considerable right-wing pushback against Biden’s efforts to increase vaccination rates: Missouri, Arkansas, Alaska, Alabama, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Louisiana, and Kansas. Of course, the hostility isn’t limited to just those states. At last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, Representative Lauren Boebert (R-CO) told the cheering crowd: “Don’t come knocking on my door with your ‘Fauci ouchie.’ You leave us the hell alone.”
Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has been made a pariah by Trump supporters. At Tuesday’s Senate hearing, Rand Paul (R-KY) stepped up his lengthy and ignoble campaign against the doctor. Paul accused Fauci of lying to Congress about whether the National Institute of Health funded ‘gain-of-function’ research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a reference to the argument over whether the coronavirus came from nature or a lab leak. Fauci showed uncharacteristic anger when he told Paul “I have never lied before the Congress” and “If there is any lying here, senator, it is you.”
The continuing rise in cases, coupled with an acute political impasse, does portend danger for a swift economic recovery. It could dampen consumer spending if fears reemerge about the safety of returning to some activities. The variant’s proliferation abroad has already hurt U.S. supply chains; shortages could exacerbate inflation by increasing the price of production. And a jump in hospitalizations and deaths among the unvaccinated poses a particular challenge for the Biden administration in more conservative parts of the country, where resistance to new restrictions is strong, and federal relief aid is starting to expire.
If all this isn’t chilling enough, on Monday, the Houston Methodist Hospital system, comprising eight Texas hospitals, reported its first case of the Lambda variant of Covid-19, first detected in Peru in December 2020. Last week, Houston Methodist had a little over 100 Covid-19 patients; that number rose to 185 on Monday, the majority of them being unvaccinated. 85% of those patients were diagnosed with the Delta variant. (WaPo, CNBC, NBC News, ABC News)
Sailing Towards An Outbreak
- More than 80% of personnel aboard a South Korean navy destroyer have tested positive for Covid-19. Munmu the Great has been on anti-piracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden since February. Since the outbreak began on July 15, 247 of the ship’s complement of 301 personnel have come down with the virus. Authorities have begun an operation to airlift them home, while a replacement team will steer the vessel back.
- South Korea has been battling new domestic cases of over 1,100 a day for the last two weeks, stoked by a surge in the highly transmissible Delta variant. Another 1,252 new infections were reported on Sunday. So far, the country has recorded 179,203 cases and 2,058 deaths; less than 13% of its 52 million population has been fully vaccinated. (CNN)
A Rise In Flood Concerns
- At least 31 people were killed Sunday after torrential rains swept through India’s financial, commercial, and entertainment capital of Mumbai, in the western state of Maharashtra. Thunderstorms triggered landslides that collapsed walls and crushed cars and houses, leaving some neighborhoods devastated.
- The city of 12 million people regularly experiences heavy rainfall during the July-September monsoon season; the rain often triggers building collapses, especially in poorer districts known for illegal or poorly built dwellings. In 2005, flooding in Maharashtra killed more than 1,000 people, including 410 from Mumbai.
- And in central China, severe flooding caused by record rainfall forced the evacuation of over 10,000 people in Henan province. Main roads were closed and flights canceled in more than a dozen cities in the province, which is home to some 94 million people. Images on social media showed entire streets submerged, with cars and debris left drifting in fast-moving floodwaters.
- In Zhengzhou, passengers were seen in flooded subway carriages with water reaching their shoulders. There were also fears that a dam in the province could collapse at any time after being damaged by the recent storms. Many factors contribute to flooding, but a warming atmosphere caused by climate change makes extreme rainfall more likely. (CNN, BBC)
Additional World News
- South Africa court postpones Zuma’s arms deal corruption trial for one month (CNN)
- Singapore shocked by killing of boy, 13, at school (BBC)
- Boris Johnson had to be talked out of meeting the Queen early on in the pandemic, ex-adviser claims (CNN)
- Mumbai rain: At least 31 people dead after torrential rain sweeps through city (CNN)
- Israel shells Lebanon after rockets fired over border (Al Jazeera)
- Fears over covid-19 again shrinks Saudi Arabia’s once immense hajj pilgrimage (WaPo, $)
- Baghdad bombing: ISIS claims responsibility for explosion on the eve of Eid that killed dozens (CNN)
Infrastructure Held Up By GOP
- Despite months of negotiations over the narrower, bipartisan part of President Biden’s overall $5 trillion infrastructure agenda, Republicans are still saying they need “more time” to consider how the slimmer $1.6 trillion bill would be paid for. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer scheduled a test vote for Wednesday to nudge the process along, but many Republicans think moving ahead with the smaller package would pave the way for the broader $3.5 trillion effort Democrats plan to pass on their own under special budget rules.
- Dems need at least 10 Republican votes to bypass a filibuster on the smaller package. A core group of Republicans still say they only want to spend about $600 billion, and are totally opposed to raising taxes on the wealthiest corporations and individuals making over $400,000 annually, as Democrats have suggested.
- The Progressive Caucus has said without passage of the bipartisan bill, members will not support the larger Dems-only bill. Polls consistently show Americans overwhelmingly support Biden’s infrastructure plans. White House aides and the bipartisan group of senators continue to negotiate privately to try wrapping up their deal, and say even a failed vote Wednesday won’t be the end of the road. (AP News)
Bezos’ Out Of This World Idea
- The second billionaire to blast off into space on his own rocket had a successful trip Tuesday, going up 66 miles and coming back down again. Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and world’s wealthiest man, and his three person crew, left the launch pad in the West Texas desert town of Van Horn aboard New Shepard, the rocket ship made by Bezos’ space company, Blue Origin.
- The flight lasted about 10 minutes, and passengers got to experience three minutes of weightlessness while taking in panoramic views of Earth. Then, as if to placate critics who’ve attacked the billions he’s spent on space travel, Bezos announced he’s giving away $200 million to recognize “courage and civility” on Earth.
- He’s calling his “surprise” philanthropic initiative the Courage and Civility Award, which aims to honor people who have “demonstrated courage” and tried to be a unifier in a divisive world. His first two recipients will receive $100 million each, no strings attached. They are CNN commentator and criminal justice system reform advocate Van Jones, and celebrated chef and founder of World Central Kitchen, José Andrés. Bezos said the men could keep the money themselves or give it to a charity of their choice. (CNN)
Additional USA News
- Texas house explosion injures 6 people, fire resuce officials say (USA Today)
- More than 110,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses have been destroyed in Georgia since December (CNN)
- Biden says Eid al-Adha carries ‘special meaning’ amid pandemic (The Hill)
- The Bootleg Fire Is Now Generating Its Own Weather (NYT, $)
- Twitter suspends Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, again, for Covid-19 tweets (NBC)
- King Abdullah of Jordan Meets With Biden at White House (NYT, $)
- Senate Dems consider Medicare age expansion, jeopardizing “soft” infrastructure deal (Axios)
Freezing Out Israel
Ben & Jerry’s, the Vermont-based ice cream company with a social conscience and peculiar names for flavors, announced Monday it will stop selling ice cream in occupied Palestinian territories because it’s inconsistent with the brand’s values.
Ben & Jerry’s said it informed its licensee in Israel that its agreement to supply Palestinian territories with pints of Chunky Monkey and Cherry Garcia will not be renewed when it expires at the end of 2022. The company has a different arrangement with Israel, so those customers can still get Phish Food and Half Baked.
The world-famous, iconic ice cream company had quite humble beginnings. It really was started by two guys named Ben and Jerry, who took a $5 correspondence course in ice-cream making from Penn State in 1978. They had three goals: social mission, brand integrity, and product quality. Then, with $8,000 of their own money and another $4,000 borrowed, they opened their first ice cream scoop shop in a renovated gas station in Burlington Vermont. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The company, now owned by Unilever, has been doing business in Israel since 1987. But in recent years fans have taken it to task for it — especially in West Bank settlements, considered illegal under international law — arguing it doesn’t align with Ben & Jerry’s liberal image. In 2015, Ben & Jerry’s posted on its website that it was “keenly aware of how complex the local market can be,” and it believed it could affect positive change by maintaining a presence in the region.
Now, it’s had a change of heart. And the decision, while surely popular with most fans, gets a big thumbs down from Israeli politicians, who say the company’s decided to brand itself the “anti-Israel ice cream.” Israel’s minister of interior immediately tweeted a retort to the announcement: “Your ice cream is not in line with our taste,” she said. “We will manage without you.” On Tuesday, Israel’s prime minister vowed to “act aggressively” against the decision — which could make an interesting name for a new flavor. (CNN, benjerry.com, ABC News)
- After capturing first photo of a black hole, Event Horizon Telescope zooms in on a second (CNET)
- She Hates Biden. Some of Her Neighbors Hate the Way She Shows It. (NYT, $)
- South Korea’s Moon scraps Olympic visit after diplomat’s ‘unacceptable’ remark (WaPo, $)
- Scientists create world’s thinnest magnet 2 hours ago (Phys.org)
- Amateur Astronomer Discovers New Moon Orbiting Jupiter (Yahoo)
- These tiny, bunny-faced animals have an unusual strategy for surviving the winter (NatGeo)
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