Thursday, December 31, 2020

Microsoft Says SolarWinds Hackers Also Broke Into Its Source Code

Alyse Stanley
Dec. 31, 2020

The hackers behind the massive SolarWinds cyberattack, an operation allegedly backed by Russia that compromised networks at many U.S. agencies and Fortune 500 corporations, also broke into Microsoft’s internal systems and accessed one of the company’s most closely guarded secrets: its source code.

“We detected unusual activity with a small number of internal accounts and upon review, we discovered one account had been used to view source code in a number of source code repositories,” said the Microsoft Security Response Center team in a blog post on Thursday.

Microsoft had previously confirmed that it, like the scores of other cyberattack victims, unknowingly downloaded malicious code hidden in SolarWinds’ popular network management tool Orion Platform. But Thursday’s disclosure is its first admission that hackers accessed internal company systems. 


The company said Thursday that the compromised account was only able to view Microsoft’s source code as it did not have the necessary permissions to tamper with it. While its internal investigation is still ongoing, Microsoft said it has so far found “no evidence of access to production services or customer data” and “no indications that our systems were used to attack others.”


While hackers may not have been able to change Microsoft’s source code, even just sneaking a peek at the company’s secret sauce could have disastrous consequences. Bad actors could use that kind of insight into the inner workings of Microsoft’s services to help them circumvent its security measures in future attacks. The hackers essentially scored blueprints on how to potentially hack Microsoft products.

Experts believe that the state-sponsored Russian group known as ATP 29 infiltrated SolarWinds as early as 2019, but the attack went under the radar until earlier this month. The team of highly sophisticated hackers reportedly used malware tucked away on the Texas-based software company’s product that could quietly harvest user data such as internal correspondence, keystrokes, and credentials.

According to SolarWinds, more than half of its 33,000 Orion customers may have been infected. Its clientele includes the Departments of Homeland Security, State, and Treasury among dozens of other federal agencies as well as three-fourths of the corporations on the Fortune 500 list. Federal investigations remain ongoing and the scope of the attack is still being uncovered, as Microsoft’s latest disclosure illustrates. 

"It's just utter chaos": California becomes third state to surpass 25,000 COVID-19 deaths

 By Carter Evans CBS News December 31, 2020, 6:37 PM

California on Thursday became the third state to surpass 25,000 COVID deaths, following New York and Texas. In Los Angeles County, many funeral homes are filled to capacity, and health care professionals feel as if they're under siege.

Hospitals in Southern California are at the breaking point with 1 in 5 COVID-19 tests coming back positive.

"It's just utter chaos," said nurse Tavonia Ekwegh, who runs the ER at Anaheim Global Medical Center. Tents outside the medical center are filling up.

"It is a war zone, we have ambulance run after ambulance run," Ekwegh said.

Hospitalizations are on track to double in January. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti put it in blunt terms: The "simple answer" is that L.A. hospitals can't handle twice as many patients.

"People will die in the hallways of our hospitals," Garcetti said. "Our behavior will dictate whether people live or die as much as any action the hospital takes."


His message to city residents is to be "lifesavers, don't be killers."

"When 95% of people are doing the right thing, it's still dangerous, let alone when 80% of people are doing the right thing, and it's disastrous," Garcetti said.


Joe Biden to have new Secret Service team amid concern about Trump loyalty

Victoria Bekiempis in New York
Thu 31 Dec 2020 11.48 EST
Last modified on Thu 31 Dec 2020 18.32 EST

Joe Biden is expected to receive Secret Service protection with a new team that is more familiar to him and replacing some agents amid concerns that they may be politically allied with Donald Trump.

In a changing of the guard as well as the man to be guarded at the White House, Biden’s security detail will undergo some staffing changes, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.

Several “senior” Secret Service agents are poised to return to the president-elect’s protection team and Biden knows these agents well because they guarded him and his family during his time as vice-president, according to the article, echoed in a report by CNN, citing a law enforcement source.

Re-assignments and promotions are common during transition periods between presidential administrations and are meant to increase comfort and trust between a president-elect and his security team, who shadow the commander-in-chief closely, including during private moments and sensitive discussions.

Although staffing changes are typical, several incidents reportedly contributed to the heightened concerns from Biden’s allies that some agents and officers might be loyal to Trump.


Certain pet foods recalled after reports of 28 dog deaths, FDA warns


Dec. 31, 2020, 9:52 AM EST
By Sara G. Miller

At least 28 dogs have died and another eight have become sick after eating dog food that contained high levels of a toxin called aflatoxin, the Food and Drug Administration said, as some pet foods were recalled Wednesday.

The FDA is investigating these reports, and alerting pet owners and veterinarians that certain Sportmix brand pet foods "may contain potentially fatal levels of aflatoxin."

Aflatoxin is produced by the mold Aspergillus flavus, the FDA says. This mold can grow on corn and other grains used in pet foods. At high levels, it can be deadly for pets.

On Wednesday, Midwest Pet Food Inc., which manufactures the Sportmix brand of pet foods, announced a recall of nine lots of the pet food. A list of recalled products can be found on the FDA's website.


Four-year-old boy dies from Covid-19 complications in upstate New York


The Independent
Josh Marcus
Thu, December 31, 2020, 4:18 PM EST

A four-year-old from upstate New York died from Covid complications over the weekend, one of the youngest people in the country to perish from the virus, and a reminder that children are still at risk during the coronavirus pandemic.

Xavier M. Harris of Utica, New York, died of heart complications from Covid-19 on Saturday, the day after Christmas, his family and friends confirmed to the New York Post.

“He was an extremely healthy little boy,” Brandie Reid, a family friend, told the Post. “He had had no prior health problems at all, according to his mom.”


His tragic death is a reminder that while less [sic] children have been sick with the virus than adults, and seem less effective at spreading it, they’re still not immune, as common misconceptions about the pandemic hold.


Trump ‘did not want anyone tested for Covid unless they were in hospital and vomiting’


The Independent
Rachel Brodsky
Thu, December 31, 2020, 4:53 PM EST

In a closer look at President Donald Trump's last few months in office, The New York Times has published a detailed new report around how the outgoing US leader wanted to approach the worsening coronavirus pandemic.

Overheard yelling at his son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner on 19 August, Mr Trump reportedly demanded to "do what Mexico does" when it comes to testing for Covid-19.

"They don’t give you a test till you get to the emergency room and you’re vomiting," he said during a gathering of top aides in the Oval Office.


According to interviews with more than two dozen current and former administration officials, Mr Trump's main concern around managing the public health crisis in the last quarter of his presidency essentially boiled down to how he could stand to benefit.

For example, as he made public promises around vaccine availability by Election Day, Mr Trump expressed worry that Joe Biden would receive credit if that deadline was hit.


As of Thursday (30 December), 342,577 Americans had died from the pandemic. Vice President Mike Pence, Dr Anthony Fauci, Mr Azar, and more officials have received a Covid-19 vaccine. Mr Trump, who contracted the virus in October, has not.

Wisconsin pharmacist arrested for deliberately spoiling COVID-19 vaccine, police say


Dec. 31. 2020


Authorities arrested a suburban Milwaukee pharmacist Thursday suspected of deliberately ruining hundreds of doses of coronavirus vaccine by removing it from refrigeration for two nights.

The Grafton Police Department said the former Advocate Aurora Health pharmacist was arrested on suspicion of reckless endangerment, adulterating a prescription drug and criminal damage to property. The department said in a news release that he was in jail. Police did not identify the pharmacist, saying he has not yet been formally charged.

His motive remains unclear. Police said that detectives believe he knew the spoiled doses would be useless and people who received them would mistakenly think they'd been vaccinated when they hadn't.


Bahr said that means that the doses people received Saturday are all but useless. Moderna has told Aurora that there's no safety concerns but the system is monitoring them closely, he said.


US reports single-day record of more than 3,900 deaths from COVID-19


Charles Davis

Dec. 30, 2020


This week saw the deadliest day in the United States since the coronavirus pandemic began, with a record-breaking number of hospitalizations foreshadowing potentially darker days still to come.

States across the US reported more than 3,900 deaths on Wednesday and over 125,000 hospitalizations, according to data from The Covid Tracking Project. The figures may not reflect the actual tallies due to delays in reporting over the holidays, the group said.

At least 341,505 Americans have now died from the virus, per Johns Hopkins University, the highest total for any country in the world.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the death toll could be as high as 424,000 by January 23, based on a review of modeling forecasts.


4 bar charts showing key COVID-19 metrics for the US over time. Today, states reported 1.6M tests, 226k cases, 125,220 currently hospitalized (record), and 3,903 deaths (record).

Louisiana Congressman-Elect Luke Letlow Dies from Coronavirus at 41


National Review

Mairead McArdle
Wed, December 30, 2020, 8:40 AM EST

Luke Letlow, a Republican congressman-elect from Louisiana, died Tuesday evening at the age of 41 after battling complications from the coronavirus, his spokesman confirmed.

“Congressman-elect Luke Letlow, 41, passed away this evening at Ochsner-LSU Health Shreveport due to complications from COVID-19,” Andrew Bautsch, a spokesman for Letlow, wrote in a post on Letlow’s Facebook page.


Letlow received the drug Remdesivir as well as steroids during his treatment for the virus, Dr. G.E. Ghali, chancellor of Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport, said in a statement.


The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months


Rutger Bregman
 Sat 9 May 2020 04.00 EDT
Last modified on Wed 30 Dec 2020 10.39 EST

For centuries western culture has been permeated by the idea that humans are selfish creatures. That cynical image of humanity has been proclaimed in films and novels, history books and scientific research. But in the last 20 years, something extraordinary has happened. Scientists from all over the world have switched to a more hopeful view of mankind. This development is still so young that researchers in different fields often don’t even know about each other.


I began to wonder: had anyone ever studied what real children would do if they found themselves alone on a deserted island? I wrote an article on the subject, in which I compared Lord of the Flies to modern scientific insights and concluded that, in all probability, kids would act very differently. Readers responded sceptically. All my examples concerned kids at home, at school, or at summer camp. Thus began my quest for a real-life Lord of the Flies. After trawling the web for a while, I came across an obscure blog that told an arresting story: “One day, in 1977, six boys set out from Tonga on a fishing trip ... Caught in a huge storm, the boys were shipwrecked on a deserted island. What do they do, this little tribe? They made a pact never to quarrel.”

The article did not provide any sources. But sometimes all it takes is a stroke of luck. Sifting through a newspaper archive one day, I typed a year incorrectly and there it was. The reference to 1977 turned out to have been a typo. In the 6 October 1966 edition of Australian newspaper The Age, a headline jumped out at me: “Sunday showing for Tongan castaways”. The story concerned six boys who had been found three weeks earlier on a rocky islet south of Tonga, an island group in the Pacific Ocean. The boys had been rescued by an Australian sea captain after being marooned on the island of ‘Ata for more than a year. According to the article, the captain had even got a television station to film a re-enactment of the boys’ adventure.


But that night the boys made a grave error. They fell asleep. A few hours later they awoke to water crashing down over their heads. It was dark. They hoisted the sail, which the wind promptly tore to shreds. Next to break was the rudder. “We drifted for eight days,” Mano told me. “Without food. Without water.” The boys tried catching fish. They managed to collect some rainwater in hollowed-out coconut shells and shared it equally between them, each taking a sip in the morning and another in the evening.

Then, on the eighth day, they spied a miracle on the horizon. A small island, to be precise. Not a tropical paradise with waving palm trees and sandy beaches, but a hulking mass of rock, jutting up more than a thousand feet out of the ocean. These days, ‘Ata is considered uninhabitable. But “by the time we arrived,” Captain Warner wrote in his memoirs, “the boys had set up a small commune with food garden, hollowed-out tree trunks to store rainwater, a gymnasium with curious weights, a badminton court, chicken pens and a permanent fire, all from handiwork, an old knife blade and much determination.” While the boys in Lord of the Flies come to blows over the fire, those in this real-life version tended their flame so it never went out, for more than a year.

The kids agreed to work in teams of two, drawing up a strict roster for garden, kitchen and guard duty. Sometimes they quarrelled, but whenever that happened they solved it by imposing a time-out. Their days began and ended with song and prayer. Kolo fashioned a makeshift guitar from a piece of driftwood, half a coconut shell and six steel wires salvaged from their wrecked boat – an instrument Peter has kept all these years – and played it to help lift their spirits.


Wednesday, December 30, 2020

US reports its first known case of new UK Covid variant

Maanvi Singh
Tue 29 Dec 2020 17.13 EST

A man in Colorado has become the first known US case of the newly identified strain of Covid-19 circulating in the UK. The new variant is thought to be more contagious than other, established variants and has prompted some countries to restrict travel from the UK.

The Colorado man who contracted the new variant, called B.1.1.7, is in his 20s, and had no travel history, according to the state’s health department. In a statement, Governor Jared Polis said that health officials are conducting an investigation into how the man might have contracted the virus, while he recovers in isolation.

Although the new variant had not been found in the US until now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that it was likely already circulating through the country. The agency said while the new variant has not been identified through sequencing efforts “labs have only 51,000 of the 17m US cases” – and the variant might not have been picked up.


The new variant has also recently been detected in at least 17 countries, including South Korea, Spain, Australia and Canada. On Christmas Day, the CDC issued new guidelines for travelers from the UK, requiring proof of a negative Covid-19 test.

That the Colorado man who tested positive for the new variant has no travel history is significant in that it suggests the new variant is already spreading through US communities, said Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert at Emory University, in a tweet.

“There is a lot we don’t know about this new Covid-19 variant, but scientists in the United Kingdom are warning the world that it is significantly more contagious,” Polis said in a statement. “We are working to prevent spread and contain the virus at all levels.”


Experts say that the coronavirus vaccines currently being distributed are likely to still work to protect people against the new variant. Scientists believe that although it is more contagious, it does not cause a more severe illness than other established variants. Research is still ongoing, however, and it remains uncertain whether the new variant is actually more transmissible due to a genetic advantage, or whether it is simply spreading so widely due to fluke superspreader events. A report from Public Health England found that the new variant was not linked to higher rates of hospitalization or death.

New variants of the coronavirus have been seen almost since the virus was first detected in China nearly a year ago. It is common for viruses to undergo minor changes as they reproduce and move through a population.

The US, unlike the UK, has not broadly and consistently been tracking genomic sequences of Covid-19 infections and has a less robust process for tracking viral mutations.


Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Despite recommendations, patients with treatment-resistant hypertension rarely tested for primary al


News Release 28-Dec-2020
American College of Physicians

1. Despite recommendations, patients with treatment-resistant hypertension rarely tested for primary aldosteronism
URL goes live when the embargo lifts

A retrospective cohort study found that testing for primary aldosteronism in patients with treatment-resistent hypertension was rare and also associated with higher rates of evidence-based treatment and better longitudinal blood pressure control. The findings are published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Primary aldosteronism is a common cause of secondary hypertension and is highly prevalent among patients with treatment-resistant hypertension. Primary aldosteronism is associated with a 4- to 12-fold increased risk for adverse cardiovascular events compared with primary hypertension and can be effectively treated with MRAs or surgery. Although clinical practice guidelines recommend aldosteronism screening for such patients, they may not be followed.


The data showed that fewer than 2% of patients with incident apparent treatment-resistant hypertension underwent guideline-recommended testing for primary aldosteronism. Testing rates ranged from 0% to 6% across medical centers and did not correlate to population size of patients with apparent treatment-resistant hypertension. Testing also was associated with higher rates of evidence-based treatment with mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist (MRAs) and better longitudinal blood pressure control. Testing rates also did not change meaningfully over nearly 2 decades of follow-up despite an increasing number of guidelines recommending testing for primary aldosteronism in this population. According to the researchers, these findings suggest an opportunity for the VHA to introduce innovative practices to educate providers about the importance of testing high-risk patients. 

New studies suggest vaping could cloud your thoughts


News Release 28-Dec-2020
University of Rochester Medical Center


Two new studies from the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) have uncovered an association between vaping and mental fog. Both adults and kids who vape were more likely to report difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions than their non-vaping, non-smoking peers. It also appeared that kids were more likely to experience mental fog if they started vaping before the age of 14.


"Our studies add to growing evidence that vaping should not be considered a safe alternative to tobacco smoking," said study author Li.


Both studies show that people who smoke and vape - regardless of age - are most likely to report struggling with mental function. Behind that group, people who only vape or only smoke reported mental fog at similar rates, which were significantly higher than those reported by people who don't smoke or vape.

The youth study also found that students who reported starting to vape early - between eight and 13 years of age - were more likely to report difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions than those who started vaping at 14 or older.


Both studies show that people who smoke and vape - regardless of age - are most likely to report struggling with mental function. Behind that group, people who only vape or only smoke reported mental fog at similar rates, which were significantly higher than those reported by people who don't smoke or vape.

The youth study also found that students who reported starting to vape early - between eight and 13 years of age - were more likely to report difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions than those who started vaping at 14 or older. 

College football players underestimate risk of injury and concussion


News Release 29-Dec-2020
University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus


College football players may underestimate their risk of injury and concussion, according to a new study published today in JAMA Network Open.

Christine Baugh, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and member of the CU Center for Bioethics and Humanities, is the corresponding author of the article, "Accuracy of US College Football Players' Estimates of Their Risk of Concussion or Injury."

Baugh and co-authors report on survey results of 296 college football players from four teams in the Power 5 Conferences of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Athletes were surveyed in 2017. The researchers found that between 43 percent and 91 percent of respondents underestimated their risk of injury and between 42 percent and 63 percent underestimated their risk of concussion.


Omni Hotels Accepted Millions In PPP Funds But Didn't Pay Workers

December 29, 20205:07 AM ET
Heard on Morning Edition
Bill O'Driscoll

Omni Hotels & Resorts, the international luxury hotel chain owned by billionaire Robert B. Rowling, is being accused of misusing millions of dollars in federal pandemic relief funds meant to keep workers on payroll.

The Omni William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh is one of a number of hotels in the Omni Hotels & Resorts chain that accepted federal Paycheck Protection Program funds but did not use them to pay workers.
Bill O'Driscoll/WESA

Unite Here, a service workers union with more than 300,000 members in North America, said several Omni hotels where it represents workers took Paycheck Protection Program loans but never paid hundreds of workers.

Unite Here said 32 Omni hotels received about $76 million in loans from the program, known as PPP. About $23 million of that went to seven hotels, in cities including Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, where the union represents more than 1,000 housekeepers, servers and other service workers.

In its application to the Small Business Administration, the Omni Providence Hotel in Rhode Island asked for a $2.6 million PPP loan, promising to retain 246 jobs.


PPP rules do permit a business to use funds for payroll even if it is closed. But the Omni elected not to do that. Instead, the chain said in its statement, "any amount of the PPP loans that are not forgiven will be returned or repaid with interest per program terms."

Critics say whether the hotels pay back the loans is beside the point. They note, for instance, that the interest rate on PPP loans is just 1% — well below market rate.

"It's disgusting if companies want to use this as a way to get a low-interest loan from the federal government," says Unite Here's Aramayo. "It's really not fair for a company to take money that was intended to help out their own workforce and use it for some other purpose."


"I do think about other businesses that maybe didn't get money because Omni did, either truly small businesses that were struggling or another company that might have used it to actually pay their workers," said Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. "It doesn't seem like a great investment of taxpayer dollars, even if they pay back the money at the end of the day."


Cognitive dissonance

Seen on Facebook:

Can anyone explain to me how the Bernie Sanders $2,000 stimulus checks are socialism, but the Donald Trump $2,000 checks are not?

Monday, December 28, 2020

Homeless man hailed as hero after rushing into burning animal shelter to save cats and dogs


The Independent
Shweta Sharma
Mon, December 28, 2020, 2:11 AM EST

A homeless man in Georgia’s Atlanta is being hailed as a hero for risking his life to rescue more than a dozen animals from a shelter that had caught fire.

Keith Walker, 53, managed to save all the six dogs and 10 cats that were trapped in the W-Underdogs shelter after a fire engulfed its kitchen on 18 December, said W-Underdogs on its Facebook page.


Officials knew about sexual abuse at Lowell prison —and did nothing. System must have independent oversight | Opinion


Miami Herald
Greg Newburn
Mon, December 28, 2020, 2:41 PM EST

A horrifying new report by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reveals that, for more than a decade, Florida’s political leaders and the state Department of Corrections (FDC) have ignored the sexual abuse by staff, including rape, of incarcerated women at the Lowell Correctional Institution.

The report is shocking, but not surprising to anyone who’s paid attention to Florida’s prison system. Its findings should, at a minimum, finally prompt the Legislature to establish independent oversight of Florida’s prisons.

According to DOJ, Florida Corrections was made aware of systemic sexual abuse of Lowell prisoners by staff as early as 2006, but failed to take action to remedy the problem. In fact, the report notes the Department created a safe harbor for some of the worst offenders.

One sergeant at Lowell was accused in 2017 of sexually abusing a prisoner, “causing lesions on the prisoner’s throat from oral sex, and then retaliating against the prisoner when she refused his sexual advances.” FDC confirmed the prisoner’s injuries, but failed to complete the investigation into the allegation. That sergeant remained employed until his arrest earlier this year — for sexual misconduct with a different woman.


DOJ found it is common for employees at Lowell to bribe women with contraband in exchange for sex, compel women into abusive sexual “relationships” and watch women shower and use the toilet. Then they threaten the women with solitary confinement if they report the abuse.

Last year, after an employee at Lowell beat a woman until she was paralyzed from the neck down, FAMM and Florida Cares invited women who had been incarcerated at Lowell, and families of women currently incarcerated, to share their stories.


Actually, anyone who wanted to know what was happening at Lowell could easily have learned this information. They just needed to listen to the women incarcerated there and their families, who have been begging anyone and everyone for 15 years to put an end to the horror at Lowell.

Since FDC was made aware that women in its care were being raped, four people have served as Florida’s governor and seven have served as FDC secretary. Each knew, or should have known, this was happening. None of them did anything to stop it.


Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul sentenced to five and a half years in prison


The Telegraph
David Rose
Mon, December 28, 2020, 7:57 AM EST

A prominent Saudi Arabian activist who campaigned for the right to drive was sentenced to nearly six years in jail today, despite international criticism of her trial and claims she had been tortured.  

Loujain al-Hathloul, 31, was arrested with a dozen other women’s rights campaigners in 2018, even as the Gulf kingdom lifted the ban on women driving and pledged to relax patriarchal male guardianship laws.

A judge in a Saudi terrorism court in Riyadh on Monday sentenced her to five years and eight months on charges related to her activism, including seeking to change the Saudi political system conspiring with foreign governments and harming national security.

The judge insisted that she had confessed to the allegations and rejected Ms Hathloul’s claims that she was tortured with water-boarding, electric shocks and had been threatened with rape after her arrest.  

She spent eight months in solitary confinement last year and in October went on hunger strike in protest at her treatment.

However, the court suspended two years and 10 months of her sentence, which Ms Hathloul’s sister Lina said could see her released early next year, due to time already spent behind bars.


House backs increasing coronavirus stimulus checks to $2,000


Dec. 28, 2020, 11:56 AM EST / Updated Dec. 28, 2020, 1:39 PM EST
By Dareh Gregorian

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill Monday evening to increase direct coronavirus relief payments to some people to $2,000, though the measure faces an uphill battle in the Republican-run Senate, despite support from President Donald Trump.

The legislation would increase the $600 in direct payments to those who earned less than $75,000 last year to $2,000. Because the bill was brought up using an expedited procedure, it required a two-thirds majority to pass the House.

Trump insisted on increasing the payments after his administration struck a deal for the $600 checks as part of a coronavirus relief and government spending package, which passed both chambers of Congress last week and which his administration helped to negotiate.


Ceiling fans sold at Home Depot recalled after blades detach


More 190,000 ceiling fans sold at The Home Depot have been recalled amid reports its blades can detach while in use and cause injury or property damage.

The King of Fans recalled its Hampton Bay 54-inch Mara Indoor/Outdoor fans after the company has received 47 reports of the blade detaching from the fan, including two reports of the fan blade hitting a consumer and four reports of the blade causing property damage, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).


Sunday, December 27, 2020

FBI team leader: How I know the Blackwater defendants didn't deserve a pardon from Trump

 The Russians must be pleased to see the U.S. made to look bad.

Updated 2:16 PM ET, Thu December 24, 20

I am not a writer, an academic or one who has frequently spoken out publicly on political issues. I am a 35-year law enforcement professional. I retired on September 11, 2019, after 23 years as FBI special agent. 


The team leader of Raven 23 called the command center and requested permission to leave the protected US Green Zone and go to assist the incoming Blackwater team. This request was denied.

The team leader then chose to violate the orders and left the US Green Zone anyway.


[See article for details of killings.]


I could go on with each of the 17 victims killed and 20 seriously injured in this incident. Same story, sitting in traffic waiting to get somewhere, anywhere but Nisour Square. In each case the vehicles were processed methodically and forensic evidence was recovered.

The Blackwater Raven 23 defendants claimed that they responded to gunfire aimed at them while stopping traffic in Nisour Square that day. I believed this to be the case before we deployed to Iraq for this crime scene investigation. I had worked with Blackwater operators on previous deployments to Iraq and they were good people doing a difficult job in a dangerous environment. That said, I would let the evidence lead the investigation and assist the agents in finding the truth.


I know that as a career law enforcement professional, if I had been involved in a shooting, I would do everything in my power to protect the evidence of bullet impacts coming toward me and show that I was defending myself. If you know the FBI Evidence Response Team is on their way to review the vehicles in the shooting, lock them up, protect the evidence. It is not rocket science.

What happened next gave me more than pause. The four armored vehicles involved in the Nisour Square shooting were silver in color when they were observed on tape leaving the US Green zone against orders. The vehicles in front of us at the "Man Camp" were now desert sand color. The reported impact points -- we were told they the impacts were from bullet rounds -- on the side of the vehicle were no long there.


The FBI team made four trips to Iraq to investigate this shooting. The agency spared no expense to gather as much evidence from the scene and the vehicles as possible. Countless interviews were conducted and over a thousand photographs were taken of the scene. The evidence was collected professionally, and the best examiners in the world did the analysis.

All of this evidence was introduced into several US court hearings. The prosecution team was fair, professional and extremely competent. The defendants in this case had some of the most knowledgeable and professional defense teams possible. The judge was one of the most fair and objective jurists on the bench. 

A jury heard the evidence and found four Blackwater guards guilty of murder, manslaughter and weapons charges. The system worked and justice was brought to the deceased, the injured victims and their families.

The families of those killed and wounded at Nisour Square will now watch those responsible for this tragedy go free thanks to a pardon by the President of the United States. This simply makes me sad and angry. I spoke to Mohammed this morning. He told me he could no longer tell his family and the people of Baghdad that the system worked and justice was found for Ali. Mohammed asked me one more question. Could this pardon be changed? I told him "no." I could not say Inshallah. The purpose of my writing this piece is to introduce you to these victims.

There is no forensic evidence of anyone shooting at the Blackwater team. How do I know? The evidence told me that.

Climate crisis is causing lakes to shrink


News Release 23-Dec-2020
MARUM - Center for Marine Environmental Sciences, University of Bremen


While global sea levels are rising due to the climate crisis and threatening near-coastal infrastructures, higher temperatures in other areas are having exactly the opposite effect. The water levels are falling and also causing massive problems. Although the consequences are equally serious, however, declining water levels are receiving less attention according to Matthias Prange, Thomas Wilke of the Justus Liebig University in Gießen, and Frank P. Wesselingh of the University of Utrecht and the Naturalis Biodiversity Center Leiden (the Netherlands).


Saturday, December 26, 2020

Mass die-off of birds in south-western US 'caused by starvation'


Phoebe Weston
Sat 26 Dec 2020 11.00 GMT
Last modified on Sat 26 Dec 2020 11.02 GMT

The mass die-off of thousands of songbirds in south-western US was caused by long-term starvation, made worse by unseasonably cold weather probably linked to the climate crisis, scientists have said.

Flycatchers, swallows and warblers were among the migratory birds “falling out of the sky” in September, with carcasses found in New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Arizona and Nebraska. A USGS National Wildlife Health Center necropsy has found 80% of specimens showed typical signs of starvation.

Muscles controlling the birds’ wings were severely shrunken, blood was found in their intestinal tract and they had kidney failure as well as an overall loss of body fat. The remaining 20% were not in good enough condition to carry out proper tests. Nearly 10,000 dead birds were reported to the wildlife mortality database by citizens, and previous estimates suggest hundreds of thousands may have died.


“We’re not talking about short-term starvation – this is a longer-term starvation,” said Martha Desmond, a professor in the biology department at New Mexico State University (NMSU), who collected carcasses. “They became so emaciated they actually had to turn to wasting their major flight muscles. This means that this isn’t something that happened overnight.”

The birds probably would have started their migration in poor condition, which could be related to the “mega-drought” in the south west of the country. “Here in New Mexico we’ve seen a very dry year, and we’re forecast to have more of those dry years. And in turn I would say it appears that a change in climate is playing a role in this, and that we can expect to see more of this in the future,” said Desmond.


Allison Salas, a graduate student at NMSU, said the volume of carcasses she had collected had given her chills. She said: “The fact that we’re finding hundreds of these birds dying, just kind of falling out of the sky is extremely alarming.”

Desmond’s team is hoping to get funding to support more research into mass die-offs in birds so they can better monitor what is happening. Sleeman agreedthat large-scale mass mortality wildlife events are happening more frequently. “It’s something we definitely need to keep track of,” he added.

One in 1,000 Americans have died from Covid-19


The Independent
Alex Woodward
Sat, December 26, 2020, 6:45 PM EST

Within 10 months since the onset of a public health crisis that has upended the lives of millions of Americans, the nation’s death toll has surpassed 330,000, during what has become the year’s deadliest month, with nearly 60,000 lives lost within the final weeks of 2020.

The overwhelming scale of death means that one in 1,000 Americans have died from Covid-19.

Nearly 19 million confirmed infections have been reported in 2020, with an average number of daily new cases remaining above 200,000 within the year’s final days, according to Johns Hopkins University – more than three times higher than the outbreak’s summer peak in July.

Within the final weeks of the year, Covid-19 has become the leading cause of death in the US. Health officials have forecast a death toll that could reach 400,000 early next year – eclipsing American lives lost during World War II, based on projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

The arrival and promise of an effective vaccine, of which nearly 2 million doses have already been administered, will arrive too late for thousands of current patients.


Donald Trump has refused to sign a $900bn relief package that extends $300 weekly federal unemployment benefits for 11 weeks and send a one-time $600 direct payment to most Americans. A lapse in benefits, effective on 26 December, could delay critically needed relief to millions of Americans.

Your brain on cortisol: Why overstressed gray matter is leading us astray in lockdown


Dec. 25, 2020, 4:30 AM EST
By Elaina Patton


The prolonged traumatic, or "chronic toxic," stress that most people have been experiencing throughout the pandemic makes it more difficult to keep desires in check, and it in turn promotes illogical pleasure-seeking, said Dr. Robert Lustig, a professor emeritus of pediatric endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of "Metabolical." In scientific terms: When brains are flooded with the stress hormone cortisol on a long-term basis, it inhibits the function of the prefrontal cortex, leading to excessive activation of the "reward center" of the brain — triggering the excessive baking, drinking, smoking and shopping that filled the idle hours of 2020.

"Dopamine is the reward neurotransmitter. It is held in check by the prefrontal cortex. When that inhibition is released, the reward center looks for hedonic stimuli," Lustig said. "Those can be chemical — cocaine, heroin, nicotine, alcohol, sugar — or behavioral — shopping, gambling, internet gaming, social media, pornography."


Trump claims Florida ‘doing well’ as cases pass 1.25m with death toll nearly seven times that of Japan


The Independent
Alex Woodward
Sat, December 26, 2020, 4:32 PM EST

Donald Trump, while spending the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida, falsely claimed the state is “doing well" amid the coronavirus pandemic while states with Democratic governors are “absolutely ruining the lives of so many people” with stringent lockdown measures.

More than 1.2 million Covid-19 infections have been reported in Florida, whose Republican governor Ron DeSantis is a staunch Trump ally.


More than 21,000 people in the state have died from coronavirus-related illness since the onset of the pandemic. Roughly 23,000 people have died from the coronavirus in California, a state with roughly twice as many people as Florida.

Florida’s death toll is roughly seven times greater than Japan’s, which has a population of more than 126 million.


December has become the deadliest month of 2020, with more than 57,000 coronavirus-linked deaths through the month up to 23 December, and an average of 2,500 deaths every day.

Nationwide surges in infections are being driven by cases in the South and in the West.

Cases in Arizona, California, Florida, Tennessee and Texas account for 40 per cent of all new cases reported with the past week, according to the COVID Tracking Project.


He also rejected economic relief measures to temporarily help keep Americans at home and businesses closed to keep infections at bay; he is currently refusing to sign a federal spending bill with $900bn in aid that extends unemployment benefits as well an eviction moratorium and provides direct payments of $600 to most Americans.

Phase 1a, 1b or 1c? Understanding Coronavirus Vaccine Priority Groups


by Dena Bunis, AARP, December 21, 2020 

People age 75 and older and frontline essential workers, including police officers, firefighters, teachers, grocery store staff and U.S. Postal Service employees, should be next in line to get a COVID-19 vaccine, a federal advisory panel recommended on Dec. 20.

By a 13-1 vote, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) also recommended to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that people ages 65 to 74, people ages 16 to 64 with high-risk conditions and other essential workers follow in what's being called Phase 1c, behind Americans 75-plus and frontline essential employees in Phase 1b. Whether or not to include all people 65 and older in Phase 1b consumed much of the debate during ACIP's five-hour meeting.

 The first priority group of 24 million Americans, designated as Phase 1a, began getting inoculated last week with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. This category includes health care workers and residents and staff of nursing homes. Nearly 6 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, which received its emergency use authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Dec. 18, have already begun to ship.


Land ecosystems are becoming less efficient at absorbing CO2


News Release 18-Dec-2020
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center


Land ecosystems currently play a key role in mitigating climate change. The more carbon dioxide (CO2) plants and trees absorb during photosynthesis, the process they use to make food, the less CO2 remains trapped in the atmosphere where it can cause temperatures to rise. But scientists have identified an unsettling trend - as levels of CO2 in the atmosphere increase, 86 percent of land ecosystems globally are becoming progressively less efficient at absorbing it.


In effect, climate change is weakening plants' ability to mitigate further climate change over large areas of the planet.


"What this means is that to avoid 1.5 or 2°C warming and the associated climate impacts, we need to adjust the remaining carbon budget to account for the weakening of the plant CO2 Fertilization Effect," he said. "And because of this weakening, land ecosystems will not be as reliable for climate mitigation in the coming decades."

Friday, December 25, 2020

Devastating skin disease covering up to 70% of a dolphin's body tied to climate change


News Release 18-Dec-2020
In collaboration with Australian researchers, The Marine Mammal Center has found that the increasing frequency and severity of storm systems drastically decrease the salinity of coastal waters, causing fatal skin disease in dolphins worldwide
The Marine Mammal Center


Scientists at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, CA - the largest marine mammal hospital in the world - and international colleagues have identified a novel skin disease in dolphins that is linked to climate change. The study is a groundbreaking discovery, as it is the first time since the disease first appeared in 2005 that scientists have been able to link a cause to the condition that affects coastal dolphin communities worldwide. Due to the decreased water salinity brought upon by climate change, the dolphins develop patchy and raised skin lesions across their bodies - sometimes covering upwards of 70 percent of their skin.


This study comes on the heels of significant outbreaks in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas and Australia in recent years. In all of these locations, a sudden and drastic decrease in salinity in the waters was the common factor. Coastal dolphins are accustomed to seasonal changes in salinity levels in their marine habitat, but they do not live in freshwater. The increasing severity and frequency of storm events like hurricanes and cyclones, particularly if they are preceded by drought conditions, are dumping unusual volumes of rain that turn coastal waters to freshwater. Freshwater conditions can persist for months, particularly after intense storms such as hurricanes Harvey and Katrina. With the increasing climate temperatures, climate scientists have predicted extreme storms like these will occur more frequently and, consequently, will result in more frequent and severe disease outbreaks in dolphins.

"This devastating skin disease has been killing dolphins since Hurricane Katrina, and we're pleased to finally define the problem," said Duignan. "With a record hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico this year and more intense storm systems worldwide due to climate change, we can absolutely expect to see more of these devastating outbreaks killing dolphins."


Oceans without oxygen


News Release 17-Dec-2020
University of California - Santa Barbara


With no dissolved oxygen to sustain animals or plants, ocean anoxic zones are areas where only microbes suited to the environment can live.

"You don't get big fish," said UC Santa Barbara biogeochemist Morgan Raven. "You don't even get charismatic zooplankton." But although anoxic oceans may seem alien to organisms like ourselves that breathe oxygen, they're full of life, she said.

These strange ecosystems are expanding, thanks to climate change -- a development that is of concern for fisheries and anyone who relies on oxygen-rich oceans.


The most consumed species of mussels contain microplastics all around the world


News Release 17-Dec-2020
Universität Bayreuth


"If you eat mussels, you eat microplastics." This was already known to a limited extent about mussels from individual ocean regions. A new study by the University of Bayreuth, led by Prof. Dr. Christian Laforsch, reveals that this claim holds true globally.


A little-known threat: Infectious microbes in wildfire smoke


News Release 17-Dec-2020
American Association for the Advancement of Science


Smoke from the growing number of annual wildfires across the western United States and Australia has led to lengthy periods of unhealthy and hazardous air quality for millions of people living in these regions. In a Perspective, Leda Kobziar and George Thompson III highlight a little-known and poorly understood threat potentially lurking in the plumes - infectious microbes. According to Kobziar and Thompson, wildfire smoke contains living microbes - bacteria and fungi known to affect human health - aerosolized from burning materials such as soils, detritus and wild woods and transported in smoke plumes. However, while the pulmonary and cardiovascular consequences of smoke exposure are well known and recognized, the potential for wildfire smoke to be a source of infection has been overlooked and remains unaddressed in public health and wildfire science. To date, very little research has been done to determine whether the transport of smoke-borne microbes poses a health risk, in addition to the risk known from particulate inhalation, despite compelling evidence that shows increasing rates of certain fungal infections in areas with increased levels of wildfire smoke.


An 11-year-old boy used his birthday money to buy Chick-fil-A for the homeless - and now the chain is putting him in a commercial

Rachel Askinasi
Fri, December 25, 2020, 4:29 PM EST

While many 11-year-olds ask for birthday presents, one boy decided to donate his gift of $150. Rather than donating the money outright, he used it to buy Chick-fil-A for his local homeless community.

"During the pandemic, a lot of people lost their jobs so they don't have a lot of food and toys for their kid," Brycen Gault told WJBF.

Gault's mother, Lakeya Collins, told the news network that she and her son bought 20 meals from the chain that wants us all to "eat more chikin" and dropped them off for members of the homeless community.


"As we were pulling away from feeding the homeless for his birthday, he said, 'Mom do you feel that?'" Collins explained. "I said 'feel what?' he said, 'Those chills from God.' Honestly, I felt those chills from God."


Lawsuit claims Miami homebuilder and a ‘band of thieves’ stole millions from customers


Miami Herald
Rene Rodriguez
Thu, December 24, 2020, 10:27 AM EST

A Miami homebuilder has been sued, accused of stealing millions of dollars from his clients to finance his high-roller lifestyle of weekend gambling stints at the Hard Rock Casino, two Rolls Royces and a Range Rover, and a luxury condo in Brickell.

According to a complaint filed in Miami-Dade circuit court late Wednesday, Francisco Mendez, owner of the Miami-based Pioneer Inter-Development real estate developer, overpaid the contractors working on several homes, then demanded they return the extra money to him as a kickback.

There is more of this kind of fraud than people would like to believe,” said John Criste, an attorney at Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton, the firm representing the plaintiffs. “But the fact that it is prevalent doesn’t make it right. In this instance, Mr. Mendez and his cohorts happened to get caught. They got caught because the instances of fraud in this case are egregious.”


Instead, the construction stretched out for nearly three years while Taylor continued to pay construction-related invoices. In the summer of 2020, Taylor called the subcontractors and discovered a difference between what they were paid and what he was billed. In one instance, he overpaid a concrete contractor $600,000 — money that went to Mendez.

Taylor also discovered he had been billed twice, in the amount of $11,139, by a window subcontractor using identical invoices. He was later billed an additional $44,695 by Pioneer, but the window company had no record of that transaction.


SNAP benefits yield greatest economic output, research says


NBC News
Martha C. White
Wed, December 23, 2020, 7:32 PM EST

The $13 billion boost in food stamp benefits in the new coronavirus aid bill isn't some kind of giveaway to the poor — it's some of the best stimulus government money can buy.

Economists say the new increase for food stamps, known as SNAP, for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, through June wouldn't just help those going hungry during the pandemic. It would also boost the economy more than other kinds of stimulus spending.

Every dollar spent on SNAP turns into $1.73 in economic activity, compared to $1.36 for every dollar spent on federal aid to state governments and $1.29 for every dollar allocated for a payroll tax holiday, according to Moody's Analytics researchers.

Meanwhile, cutting the corporate tax rate yields a paltry 30 cents per dollar.

"Every dollar in SNAP benefits boosts the economy," said Luis Guardia, president of the nonprofit Food Research and Action Center. "It helps strengthen the existing food supply and the mechanisms that support that."


The Agriculture Department found that SNAP spending has 10 times the job creation impact of other transfer payments or federal expenditures, particularly in rural areas.


SNAP benefits are based on the Agriculture Department's Thrifty Food Plan, which calculates weekly food costs of about $40 a week for single adults, or $134.50 for a family of four.

The budget assumes that shoppers can buy in bulk to get lower prices. That isn't always possible for families who live paycheck to paycheck.


Because of the pandemic, the number of Americans estimated to be at risk of going hungry has risen from 35 million to nearly 50 million, according to estimates by the nonprofit Feeding America.

Much of that new need is coming from people who've never had to reach for food stamps before.


US companies no longer have to pay sick leave to people with Covid after Mitch McConnell reportedly blocks extension


The Independent
James Crump
Tue, December 22, 2020, 4:35 PM EST

US businesses will no longer have to provide sick leave to employees who contract coronavirus, after Senate Majority Leader  [republican] Mitch McConnell reportedly blocked an extension of the policy.

At the start of the pandemic in the US in March, Congress passed legislation that allowed employees to claim two weeks of paid sick leave if they contracted Covid-19.

The legislation also mandated two weeks of paid leave to care for a relative who was quarantining after contracting Covid-19, and 10 weeks of paid family leave to look after a child whose school or daycare was closed because of the pandemic.

The requirement was not universal, as businesses with more than 500 employees were exempt from providing the paid leave, while companies with fewer than 50 workers were able to apply for an exemption.

However, as part of the first coronavirus relief package since spring, which was agreed by Congress on Sunday, the paid leave mandate was not extended, according to Buzzfeed News.

Both Republican and Democratic Congressional aides told Buzzfeed that the extension of paid leave was left out of the bill as a concession to Mr McConnell, who had been pushing for it not to be included.

Despite the end of the mandate, the bill does extend a refundable tax credit that subsidises the cost of paying sick leave until the end of March 2021.

However, making use of this subsidy is optional for businesses, meaning that US employees will no longer be automatically entitled to paid sick leave after contracting Covid-19.


Thursday, December 24, 2020

A person who knowingly went to work while sick likely led to the COVID-19 deaths of 7 people and forced more than 300 people into quarantine, health officials say


Kelly McLaughlin
Thu, December 24, 2020, 2:39 PM EST

Kelly McLaughlin
Thu, December 24, 2020, 2:39 PM EST
Boots test covid coronavirus

    Health officials in Douglas County, Oregon, said last week that one person who went to work sick with COVID-19 caused two outbreaks of the virus.

    Officials said that at least seven people died from COVID-19 as a result of the person going to work, and at least 300 people were forced to quarantine.

    Officials referred to the person's decision to go to work as a "superspreader action."

    Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

A person living in southern Oregon knowingly went to work while sick, and likely caused seven people to die from COVID-19 and forced more than 300 people into quarantine, health officials said.

Douglas County officials said last week that the person had "unwittingly and unconsciously" chose to go to work while sick, and later tested positive for COVID-19.

It's unclear exactly when the the person went to work or where they are employed, but Douglas County officials said in a December 17 statement that the action led to two major COVID-19 outbreaks.


Wildfires fueled by climate change threaten toxic Superfund sites


Dec. 23, 2020, 5:00 AM EST
By Michael Kodas, Inside Climate News and David Hasemyer, Inside Climate News
For Jake Jeresek, a leader of the U.S. Forest Service’s firefighting operation in the Kootenai National Forest of northwest Montana, blazes in the woods 4 miles east of the town of Libby demand the most urgent response. But, before his crew can snuff any flames in those woods, they must recite a poem.

“When the sunlight strikes raindrops in the air, they act like a tiny prism and form a rainbow,” crew members intone in turn.

The poem is a test of the firefighters’ respirators — a piece of safety equipment required in no other forest in the nation. The verse’s vocalizations ensure the respirators are properly sealed to the firefighters’ faces.

Contaminated by Libby amphibole, a highly toxic mixture of asbestos fibers unleashed by a former mine that has killed hundreds of area residents, this section of forest is an officially designated hazardous waste zone — Superfund Operable Unit 3 of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Libby Asbestos Site.

With wildfires heightened by climate change threatening 234 Superfund sites across the country, according to the federal government, the OU3 Libby Asbestos Site presents a kind of worst-case scenario in which a wildfire could send asbestos-contaminated ash into nearby communities. Some firefighters worry a plume of smoke could carry the forest’s toxins hundreds of miles away.

t’s one of the 945 Superfund sites that the Government Accountability Office last year found were vulnerable to hurricanes, flooding, sea level rise, increased precipitation or wildfires, all of which are intensifying as the planet warms.


Some firefighters and land managers fear that it is only a matter of time before megafires like those that exploded across Colorado and California this year burn over a toxic site with disastrous consequences. There have already been a number of extremely close calls.


“Climate change is driving increased severe, extensive fire behavior. We're seeing more and more large, dramatic, destructive fires,” said Don Whittemore, a fire incident commander from Colorado who helped the Forest Service, EPA, state and county leaders put together their plan for managing fires in OU3.



Creek Fire forces Christmas Eve evacuations north of San Diego


Dec. 24, 2020, 1:36 PM EST / Updated Dec. 24, 2020, 5:17 PM EST
By Tim Fitzsimons

A wildfire near a military base 50 miles north of San Diego forced thousands of people to evacuate on Christmas Eve, according to local fire authorities.

The fire broke out Wednesday in northern San Diego County, much of which is occupied by Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. NBC San Diego reported that about 7,000 people were ordered to evacuate overnight in the base communities and in neighboring Fallbrook.

In an update posted just after 9 a.m. PT, Ryan Rushing, a division chief at the Camp Pendleton Fire Department, said the fire had burned over 3,000 acres was zero percent contained.

Rushing said the fire's quick development was "fueled by steep terrain, difficult access, and winds."


tags: extreme weather, severe weather

'Mom, we need food': Thousands in South Sudan near famine

Climate disruption is making the situation worse, increasing conflict, decreasing food supplies, at times making it hard to deliver aid, as in the flooding cited in this article.


Thu, December 24, 2020, 2:03 AM EST

After nearly a week of hiding from conflict, Kallayn Keneng watched two of her young children die. “They cried and cried and said, ‘Mom, we need food,'" she said. But she had nothing to give. Too frail to bury her 5-year-old and 7-year-old after days without eating, she covered their bodies with grass and left them in the forest.

Now the mourning 40-year-old awaits food aid, one of more than 30,000 people said to be in likely famine in South Sudan's Pibor county. The new finding by international food security experts means this could be the first part of the world in famine since one was declared in 2017 in another part of the country then deep in civil war.

South Sudan is one of four countries with areas that could slip into famine, the United Nations has warned, along with Yemen, Burkina Faso and northeastern Nigeria.

Pibor county this year has seen deadly local violence and unprecedented flooding that have hurt aid efforts. On a visit to the town of Lekuangole this month, seven families told The Associated Press that 13 of their children starved to death between February and November.


The Famine Review Committee’s report, released this month by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, stops short of declaring famine because of insufficient data. But famine is thought to be occurring, meaning at least 20% of households face extreme food gaps and at least 30% of children are acutely malnourished.


Flooding has cut off most road access to Pibor town and its better medical care, forcing some severely sick children to travel for three days along the river in flimsy plastic rafts.


Trump’s old tweet suggesting Clinton should accept defeat ‘with dignity’ returns to haunt him


The Independent
Shweta Sharma
Thu, December 24, 2020, 2:43 AM EST

An old tweet by Donald Trump suggesting that Hilary Clinton should “lose with dignity” has resurfaced to haunt him as he continues to refuse to accept the election result and complain of voter fraud despite the lack of any proof that supports his claims.

Mr Trump shared the message shortly after he was elected president in 2016, endorsing comments made by Vladimir Putin about Ms Clinton and the Democratic Party at an annual news conference in Moscow.

"Vladimir Putin said today about Hillary and Dems: 'In my opinion, it is humiliating. One must be able to lose with dignity.' So true!” read the tweet.


Last month, Mr Trump’s critics hit back by reminding him of his 2014 tweet in which he said: “What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate”.

The outgoing president is to yet acknowledge his defeat in the US presidential elections even as Mr Biden is all set for taking the oath of office in January 2021.

Mr Trump is reported to be throwing a “temper tantrum” and telling his advisers that he won’t leave the White House. "He's throwing a f****** temper tantrum. He's going to leave. He's just lashing out," an adviser said.


High court allows murder charge after fetus is stillborn

Smoking increases the risk of still birth, as does drinking alcohol.  Are they going to charge women who smoked or drank during pregnancy and had a still birth with murder?



Thu, December 24, 2020, 2:18 PM EST

The California Supreme Court declined to stop the prosecution of a woman who was charged with murder after authorities said she used methamphetamine before her fetus was stillborn.


Chelsea Becker of Hanford has remained in custody on $2 million bail since the 2019 stillbirth. Police say methamphetamine was found in the fetus and that Becker, who was 8½ months pregnant at the time of the stillbirth, acknowledged using the drug. Becker, 26, has pleaded not guilty.

Supporters say substance use disorder is a medical condition, not a crime, and that there is not enough evidence to say methamphetamine use causes stillbirths.

Philip Esbenshade, executive assistant to Kings County District Attorney Keith Fagundes, said the law authorizes a murder charge for “the reckless or indifferent unlawful conduct of a mother that results in the unlawful death of her fetus.”


The 1970 California law allowing a murder charge does not say whether the pregnant woman herself can be charged. But it lists circumstances that would bar prosecution, including legal abortion, medical intervention to save the woman’s life, or any act that was “solicited, aided, abetted or consented to by the mother of the fetus.”

 [It appears that this law would not apply to charging the mother in this case.]

2020 closes a decade of exceptional heat

World Meteorological Organization
Published 24 December 2020

As 2020 draws to an end, it closes the warmest decade (2011-2020) on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization. This year remains on track to be one of the three warmest on record, and may even rival 2016 as the warmest on record. The six warmest years have all been since 2015.

The exceptional heat of 2020 is despite a cooling La Niña event, which is now mature and impacting weather patterns in many parts of the world. According to most models, La Niña is expected to peak in intensity in either December or January and continue through the early part of 2021, according to a new WMO summary.

“Record warm years have usually coincided with a strong El Niño event, as was the case in 2016. We are now experiencing a La Niña, which has a cooling effect on global temperatures, but has not been sufficient to put a brake on this year’s heat. Despite the current La Niña conditions, this year has already shown near record heat comparable to the previous record of 2016,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Taalas.


The difference between the warmest three years is small and exact rankings for each data set could change once data for the entire year are available.

The temperature ranking of individual years is less important than long-term trends. Since the 1980s each decade has been warmer than the previous one. And that trend is expected to continue because of record levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, in particular, remains in the atmosphere for many decades, thus committing the planet to future warming.




Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Urban land and aerosols amplify hazardous weather, steer storms toward cities


News Release 15-Dec-2020
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory


Urban landscapes and human-made aerosols--particles suspended in the atmosphere--have the potential to not only make gusts stronger and hail larger; they can also start storms sooner and even pull them toward cities, according to new research exploring the impact of urban development on hazardous weather, led by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.


tags: extreme weather, severe weather,

Expect fewer, but more destructive landfalling tropical cyclones


News Release 16-Dec-2020
Institute for Basic Science


A study based on new high-resolution supercomputer simulations, published in this week's issue of the journal Science Advances, reveals that global warming will intensify landfalling tropical cyclones of category 3 or higher in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, while suppressing the formation of weaker events.

Tropical cyclones (including typhoons and hurricanes), are the most fatal and costliest weather disasters on our planet. Millions of people are affected every year by the destructive power of these extreme weather systems,


tags: extreme weather, severe weather,

A child so sick they feared the worst, now they urge others to wear masks



Wed, December 23, 2020, 12:29 PM EST

Kale Wuthrich watched doctors surround his son in the emergency room, giving him fluids though IV tubes, running a battery of tests and trying to stabilize him. He was enveloped by the confusion and fear that had been building since his 12-year-old suddenly fell ill weeks after a mild bout with the coronavirus.

“He was very close at that point to not making it, and basically they told me to sit in the corner and pray,” Wuthrich said. “And that’s what I did.”

Shortly after Thanksgiving, the boy from a secluded valley in Idaho became one of hundreds of children in the U.S. who have been diagnosed with a rare, extreme immune response to COVID-19 called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children. Cooper Wuthrich’s fever spiked as his joints and organs became inflamed, including his heart, putting his life at risk, his father said.

“Cooper had it in every organ, in his joints; his feet were swelled up the size of mine, his poor eyes were red, bugged out of his head and very lethargic, very scared," Kale Wuthrich said. “Cooper would never, has never complained about pain, but that’s all he could do was tell me how bad he hurt.”

After days in the hospital, Cooper is back home. But the kid who loves sledding and skiing spent much of the following days on the couch in the lounge of the Montpelier, Idaho, truck stop that his parents partly own. A short walk left him with a bloody nose, and he’s still on medications that require twice-daily injections.

For Cooper’s parents, his illness deepened their commitment to wearing masks and urging others to do so, though pushback can be intense in conservative Idaho. Hundreds of people have protested mask requirements for months, even forcing one Boise health official to rush home this month in fear for her child as protesters blasted a sound clip of gunfire outside her front door.


Cooper caught the virus in late October, likely at school, which is open for in-person classes without a mask requirement, said his mother, Dani Wuthrich.

“He had got himself grounded, and so he hadn’t been allowed to go anywhere except for to school,” she said. “We kind of don’t know anywhere else he could have gotten it besides school.”


The root seems to be a dysfunction of the immune system, which kicks into overdrive when exposed to the virus, releasing chemicals that can damage organs. Symptoms include fever, abdominal or neck pain, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, bloodshot eyes and fatigue.

It can be tricky to identify at first because some kids have such mild COVID-19 symptoms that parents didn't know they had the virus until the inflammatory syndrome appears, Truong said. It’s unclear why some children get the syndrome and others don't, so the only way to prevent it is to stop kids from getting the virus, with steps like masks and social distancing, she said.

Back home in Idaho, the Wuthriches are trying to persuade friends and family to take precautions. To a hunting buddy, Kale Wuthrich made his case for mask-wearing by comparing it to the camouflage he puts on his face while staking out deer.


'My second life': California nurse walks out of hospital after 8-month COVID-19 ordeal


Steve Gorman
Tue, December 22, 2020, 5:45 PM EST

As a veteran ICU nurse whose job is to care for the most critically ill patients at her hospital in Long Beach, California, Merlin Pambuan was well aware of the deadly ravages COVID-19 can inflict on the human body.

Last spring in a tragic role reversal, Pambuan became one of those patients - admitted to the intensive care unit of St. Mary Medical Center, her workplace for the past 40 years, where she was rendered unconscious by paralysis-inducing sedation and placed on a ventilator to breathe. A feeding tube was later added.

She came close to death on several occasions, her doctors later revealed. So dire was her condition at one point that end-of-life options were discussed with her family.

By the time she awoke and could breathe on her own again, she was too weak to stand. But she fought back and struggled through weeks of painful therapy to regain her strength and mobility, celebrating her 66th birthday in St. Mary's acute rehabilitation ward in late October.

On Monday Pambuan beat the odds of her eight-month ordeal by walking out the front door of the hospital, drawing cheers, applause and exhilaration from colleagues lining the lobby to rejoice in her discharge.


studies show frontline healthcare workers' frequent, close contact with coronavirus patients puts them at higher risk of contracting the disease, hence the decision to give them top priority in getting immunized.


Pambuan spent the last few months of her hospital stay undergoing physical and respiratory rehabilitation and will continue recuperation from home, while making peace, she said, with a change in pace.

"It's going to be very difficult for me," she said. "But I have to accept it, that I'm going to be on oxygen for a while and slow down a little bit."


GM recalls 840K vehicles for seat belt, suspension problems


Associated Press

Wed, December 23, 2020, 8:39 AM EST

General Motors is recalling nearly 840,000 vehicles in the U.S. for suspension problems or because the front seat belts can fail.

The seat belt recall covers 624,000 2019 through 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 pickup trucks. Also included are the 2021 Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe and GMC Yukon XL, and the 2020 and 2021 Silverado 2500 and 3500 and GMC Sierra 2500 and 3500.

All have split bench seats. Pickups with bucket seats are not affected.

GM says in government documents that the seat belt brackets may not have been secured to the seat frame. That means the belts may not properly restrain people in a crash. The company says it doesn’t know of any crashes or injuries.

GM will notify owners starting Feb. 1 and dealers will inspect the seat belt brackets and assemble them correctly.


Trump leaves Washington in limbo with relief threat


By Naomi Jagoda and Morgan Chalfant - 12/23/20 05:12 PM EST

President Trump has left Washington in limbo after signaling opposition to the massive coronavirus relief and government funding package passed with bipartisan support this week, threatening a government shutdown in his final days in office.

Trump, who left Washington for his Mar-a-Lago resort on Palm Beach, Fla., on Wednesday, did not definitively say he would veto the $2.3 trillion package, but his opposition left members of both parties shaking their heads and wondering if he’d come around to sign the legislation before funding is set to run out on Dec. 29.

Congress would have limited options and time should Trump veto the package.

The most plausible move may be for Congress to pass a weeks-long continuing resolution to fund the government through the beginning of January.


Failure to promptly enact a relief package could further hamper an economy already showing new signs of slowing as coronavirus cases explode across the country, forcing some states and localities to implement new restrictions on businesses to curb COVID-19’s spread.

Two unemployment assistance programs funded by the CARES Act are set to expire the day after Christmas, and the federal moratorium on evictions will expire at the end of the year. As of mid-December, more than 14 million weekly claims were being made in the two programs alone.

A shutdown would put millions of federal employees on furlough in the midst of the economic downturn while closing nonessential services. Trump has already presided over the longest shutdown in U.S. history, a 35-day affair from December 2018 through January 2019 over funding for his border wall.


One former White House official attributed Trump’s last-minute objection to the bill as a bid to stay relevant in the waning weeks of his term.


Republicans vent over surprise Trump move on COVID-19 relief

Given Trump's past actions, I have to wonder if he is doing things like this as revenge on our country for not re-electing him.  It's certainly consistent with his tendency to stab allies in the back.


By Juliegrace Brufke - 12/23/20 04:38 PM EST

House Republicans vented during a conference call held Wednesday over President Trump’s threat to veto the sweeping coronavirus relief and omnibus spending package, which could potentially tee up an end-of-the-year government shutdown.

Trump in a video post to Twitter on Tuesday complained that the $600 direct payments included in the bill were too small, and called for them to be $2,000.

Democrats, who have backed larger payments, are seeking to turn that against the GOP with a unanimous consent request on Thursday to agree to stand-alone legislation that would make the checks $2,000. 


The president is set to travel to his Mar-a-Lago resort on Wednesday. If he does not sign the new legislation, the government would shut down on Dec. 29 without other action by Congress.


The lawmaker noted that some of the provisions Trump railed against were included in his own budget request.

"I've been with the president at about every turn, you know, tried to stand with him, tried to support him, and here he is now bitching about the stuff he asked us to put in the bill. It's just not helpful when we're being divided and here we are being divided by him," the lawmaker told The Hill.

"The Defense bill, the veto, everything — I mean, if he wants us to all vote with him on the sixth you'd think he'd be trying to pull us together. It makes it harder for anybody that was maybe feeling charitable towards him – it pisses off anybody who cares about Defense, you know this stuff pisses off appropriators, it just makes it harder for us to come together and kumbaya to support him later," the member added.


The Blackwater guards Trump pardoned were jailed for a massacre of civilians, including 2 kids

People have noticed that after making these pardons, Trump made his threat to veto the government spending bill just passed by Congress, unless the amount of direct payouts is increased, after he had told Congress he would sign the bill.  This threat has taken attention off the pardons.



The Week
Peter Weber
Wed, December 23, 2020, 8:15 AM EST

The 15 people President Trump pardoned Tuesday evening include the first two congressmen who endorsed him for president — former Reps. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) and Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), both convicted of financial crimes — two people jailed in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, and four private guards working for Blackwater who were serving long sentences for an unprovoked and unnecessary 2007 massacre of civilians in Baghdad's Nisour Square that left 17 Iraqis dead, including two boys, ages 8 and 11.

Blackwater, since sold and renamed Academi, is a private military contractor outfit headed at the time by Erik Prince, brother to Trump's education secretary, Betsy DeVos. The Nisour Square massacre marked a low point in U.S.-Iraqi relations after the 2003 U.S. invasion, and federal prosecutors spent years bringing the four Blackwater guards — Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard — to justice.


Right-Wing Embrace Of Conspiracy Is 'Mass Radicalization,' Experts Warn December 15, 202012:17 PM ET

December 15, 202012:17 PM ET
Hannah Allam

The widespread embrace of conspiracy and disinformation amounts to a "mass radicalization" of Americans, and increases the risk of right-wing violence, veteran security officials and terrorism researchers warn.

At conferences, in op-eds and at agency meetings, domestic terrorism analysts are raising concern about the security implications of millions of conservatives buying into baseless right-wing claims. They say the line between mainstream and fringe is vanishing, with conspiracy-minded Republicans now marching alongside armed extremists at rallies across the country. Disparate factions on the right are coalescing into one side, analysts say, self-proclaimed "real Americans" who are cocooned in their own news outlets, their own social media networks and, ultimately, their own "truth."

"This tent that used to be sort of 'far-right extremists' has gotten a lot broader. To me, a former counterterrorism official, that's a radicalization process," said Mary McCord, a former federal prosecutor who oversaw terrorism cases and who's now a law professor at Georgetown University.


At the online conference, participants characterized the shift as a mass radicalization. Neumann said the issue keeps her up at night worrying about where the country is heading. She talked about family members who've gone down the right-wing rabbit hole of disinformation. She said conversations with them require patience and negotiation, such as laying out her conditions for coronavirus safety protocols at family gatherings.


On the conference call, the analysts agreed that the leftist fringe also is hardening and promoting its own conspiracies. But they said there's simply no equivalency with the right in terms of the volume of disinformation and conspiracy, or in its connections to violent acts.

"There is a monetization of outrage on both sides," Neumann said, "but in particular the conservative infotainment sector makes money off of that outrage."

On the topic of solutions, the panelists floated ideas about education, media literacy, trusted mediators. But they added there's little chance of progress until Trump, a superspreader of conspiracies and disinformation, is out of the White House.


Kruglanski said revolutions and wars throughout history offer examples of how quickly extremism can go mainstream.

"Every large political movement started at one point as a small fringe minority," he said. "And when it catches on, it can engulf the whole society. So, you know, the danger is there."

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Community-based programs reduce sexual violence, study shows


News Release 22-Dec-2020
University of Pittsburgh


Through small, neighborhood classes, researchers at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and Promundo-US significantly reduced sexual violence among teenage boys living in areas of concentrated disadvantage.

The study, published today in JAMA, is the culmination of a large Centers for Disease Control and Prevention clinical trial spanning 20 racially segregated neighborhoods in the Pittsburgh area to evaluate two violence prevention programs. The proportion of youth reporting the use of sexual or partner violence in their relationships decreased in both groups by about 12 percentage points.


For young men enrolled in Manhood 2.0, the use of partner violence--including physical or verbal abuse, sexual harassment, sexual coercion and cyber abuse--dropped from 64% at baseline to 52% in the months following the program. For those who received job training, self-reported sexual violence dropped from 53% to 41%.

That was a surprise. Miller said she expected job training to have a positive impact in other areas of life, but not violence towards women.

"Job skills training is a structural intervention, grounded in economic justice," Miller said. "Perhaps this resonated and resulted in young men using less violence because they felt more hopeful about their future."

Next, the researchers hope to study whether combining Manhood 2.0 with job readiness training might have an even greater impact on intimate partner and sexual violence than either curriculum alone.


COVID immunity lasts up to 8 months, new data reveals


News Release 22-Dec-2020
Monash University


Australian researchers have revealed - for the first time - that people who have been infected with the COVID-19 virus have immune memory to protect against reinfection for at least eight months.


The publication reveals the discovery that specific cells within the immune system called memory B cells, "remembers" infection by the virus, and if challenged again, through re-exposure to the virus, triggers a protective immune response through rapid production of protective antibodies.


As with other studies - looking only at the antibody response - the researchers found that antibodies against the virus started to drop off after 20 days post infection.

However - importantly - all patients continued to have memory B cells that recognised one of two components of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the spike and nucleocapsid proteins. These virus-specific memory B cells were stably present as far as eight months after infection.

According to Associate Professor van Zelm, the results give hope to the efficacy of any vaccine against the virus and also explains why there have been so few examples of genuine reinfection across the millions of those who have tested positive for the virus globally.


Masks not enough to stop COVID-19's spread without distancing


News Release 22-Dec-2020
American Institute of Physics


Simply wearing a mask may not be enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19 without social distancing.

In Physics of Fluids, by AIP Publishing, researchers tested how five different types of mask materials impacted the spread of droplets that carry the coronavirus when we cough or sneeze.

Every material tested dramatically reduced the number of droplets that were spread. But at distances of less than 6 feet, enough droplets to potentially cause illness still made it through several of the materials.

"A mask definitely helps, but if the people are very close to each other, there is still a chance of spreading or contracting the virus," said Krishna Kota, an associate professor at New Mexico State University and one of the article's authors. "It's not just masks that will help. It's both the masks and distancing."