Daniel Garber Buds and Blossoms 1916
Up in the Air – “How much does your life weigh?
As the Seychelles began to offer free coronavirus vaccinations early this year, President Wavel Ramkalawan told reporters that the country was planning to reach herd immunity within weeks. It was an ambitious target for a small, geographically isolated island nation in the Indian Ocean. But with its economy heavily reliant on tourism, the country called in favors to attain a vaccine supply from regional allies, including India and the United Arab Emirates. The effort initially seemed to be a success. The Seychelles stands as the most vaccinated nation on Earth, with more than 60% of its population fully vaccinated, more than other vaccine giants such as Israel and Britain, and almost twice the United States’ rate of vaccination.
But that success has been undermined this week as the Seychelles has found itself with its largest number of new coronavirus cases per capita, and has been forced to reinstate a number of restrictions. Though the number of new cases is relatively low – peaking at an average of just over 100 new cases a day – they are a big deal in a country with a population of less than 100,000. On a per capita basis, the Seychelles outbreak is worse than India’s raging surge. In a small country, even a small number of cases can be overwhelming. “A spike in cases places an enormous burden on an already strained public health system,” said Malshini Senaratne, director of Eco-Sol, an environmental consultancy firm in Seychelles.
With the country’s main treatment center for covid-19 patients nearing capacity and doctors and nurses among the sick, the Seychelles announced the return of coronavirus restrictions, school closures and limited opening hours for shops and restaurants. [..] So far, the number of deaths in the Seychelles attributed to the virus is relatively low – 28 out of more than 6,000 cases. But the surge in new cases may also confirm that the vaccines being used in the country have comparatively low effectiveness. Roughly 60% of the doses administered in Seychelles are vaccines made by the Chinese company Sinopharm that were donated to the Seychelles by the United Arab Emirates. The remaining doses are of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and produced by the Serum Institute of India.
In many ways, Seychelles government negotiations for vaccine supplies were savvy and speedy. But the country has ended up using two vaccines that appear to be less effective against symptomatic covid-19. The World Health Organization had recently estimated the efficiency of the Sinopharm vaccine at just over 78% for adults under 60, with little data on its success with older patients. The UAE has asked some who received the Sinopharm vaccine to return for third doses, citing low immune responses, though officials said only a “very small number” need to do so. Meanwhile, U.S. trials of AstraZeneca have found that the vaccine is 79% effective overall. Both vaccines are considerably lower in effectiveness than the vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna, which use mRNA technology and have reported effectiveness rates of around 95%.
Shouldn’t this be: “The Virus Is An Airborne Threat, The New York Times Acknowledges”?
Federal health officials on Friday updated public guidance about how the coronavirus spreads, emphasizing that transmission occurs by inhaling very fine respiratory droplets and aerosolized particles, as well as through contact with sprayed droplets or touching contaminated hands to one’s mouth, nose or eyes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now states explicitly — in large, bold lettering — that airborne virus can be inhaled even when one is more than six feet away from an infected individual. The new language, posted online, is a change from the agency’s previous position that most infections were acquired through “close contact, not airborne transmission.”
As the pandemic unfolded last year, infectious disease experts warned for months that both the C.D.C. and the World Health Organization were overlooking research that strongly suggested the coronavirus traveled aloft in small, airborne particles. Several scientists on Friday welcomed the agency’s scrapping of the term “close contact,” which they criticized as vague and said did not necessarily capture the nuances of aerosol transmission. “C.D.C. has now caught up to the latest scientific evidence, and they’ve gotten rid of some old problematic terms and thinking about how transmission occurs,” said Linsey Marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia Tech. The new focus underscores the need for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue standards for employers to address potential hazards in the workplace, some experts said.
“They hadn’t talked much about aerosols and were more focused on droplets,” said David Michaels, an epidemiologist at George Washington School of Public Health and head of OSHA in the Obama administration. He and other researchers expressed concern that the C.D.C. has not yet strengthened its recommendations on preventing exposure to aerosolized virus. The new information has significant implications for indoor environments, and workplaces in particular, Dr. Michaels said. Virus-laden particles “maintain their airborne properties for hours, and they accumulate in a room that doesn’t have good ventilation.” “There’s more exposure closer up,” Dr. Michaels said. “But when you’re further away, there’s still a risk, and also these particles stay in the air.”
Donald Milton, an aerosol scientist at the University of Maryland, agreed that federal officials should provide better guidelines for keeping workplaces safe. “We need better focus on good respirators for people who have to be close to other people for long periods of time,” Dr. Milton said. “A surgical mask, even if it’s tucked in on the edges, is still not really going to give you enough protection if you’re in a meatpacking plant elbow to elbow all day long with other people.”
‘Love in the Time of Cholera’
Throughout history, mankind has been forced to contend with a number of serial diseases, many of which had a far better track record for killing than the current coronavirus strain, which comes with a better than 99 percent survival rate. And our ancestors confronted those invisible enemies with heroism, without feeling the need to sacrifice what made them quintessentially human. In the novel ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’, by the late Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the prospect of death and dying during the cholera outbreak of the late 19th century took a deserved back seat to the animated celebration of life and love that leaps from every page. “There were cockfights in the patios, accordion music on the street corners, riders on thoroughbred horses, rockets and bells,” Marquez wrote of his South American town at a time when bubble-wrapping the populace was an unthinkable preventive measure against the pandemic.
“At midnight the visitors left, the public fiesta scattered into smoldering embers…” Despite this lusty, unbridled passion for life, Marquez was careful to point out that the native population was not reckless with its health and safety, but rather took all of the normal – with emphasis on the word ‘normal’ – precautions against the deadly cholera outbreak. In one scene reminiscent of our current imbroglio, a riverboat captain is confronted by an armed patrol assigned to stop any vessel that may be transporting infected passengers. He tells the patrol that he had “only three passengers on board and all of them had cholera… but none of the twenty-seven men of the crew had any contact with them.”
Nevertheless, the commander of the patrol “was not satisfied, and he ordered them to leave the bay and wait in Las Mercedes Marsh… while the forms were prepared for placing the ship in quarantine.” In other words, the people did what they could to prevent unnecessary death, but the great play of life never stopped or hid in the shadows. What will future writers convey about our current battle against Covid-19, which many believe has led humanity to the brink of absolute madness? That far from allowing the human spirit to triumph in the face of adversity, we cowered and hid ourselves in our homes, prevented children from learning and playing together, while letting our small businesses go up in proverbial flames? That is not the way humans over the millennia have responded to crises.
Even during the darkest moments of World War II, when the threat of a Nazi attack hung heavy in the air, the daily business of living did not stop. In similar fashion, people should not let the fear and risk of Covid destroy the essence of what it means to be human. If we stop living as a way to achieve victory over an enemy – be it a foreign adversary or an invisible contagion – then we have already admitted our defeat.
A voice of authority.
Chelsea Clinton has spoken out against freedom of vaccine-critical speech at a Vatican conference dedicated to dialogue. Speaking during a pre-recorded online meeting, Clinton, 41, responded to a question about so-called “vaccine hesitancy” regarding COVID-19 vaccines by saying that there must be a global effort to crack down on vaccine-critical social media posts. “I personally very strongly believe there has to be more intensive and intentional and coordinated global regulation of the content on social media platforms,” she said. “We know that the most popular video across all of Latin America for the last few weeks that now has tens of millions of views is just an anti-vax, anti-science screed that YouTube has just refused to take down.”
Clinton added that anti-vaccine content created in the United States “flourishes” across the world by way of social media platforms. Her attempts to convince the managers of these sites to remove the material has not worked, she said. “We know that — because I have tried — that appealing to the leadership of these companies to do the right thing has just not worked, and so we need regulation.” Clinton is the Vice President of the Clinton Foundation and the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Like her parents, she is an outspoken advocate for abortion. She appeared alongside Dr. Paul Farmer of Harvard Medical School and Dr. Walter Ricciardi, the Italian president of the World Federation of Public Health Associations, at a pre-recorded online meeting forming part of the Fifth International Vatican “Unite to Prevent & Unite to Cure” conference. Their meeting was first aired today.
Clinton said that the Clinton Foundation has been doing what it can to convince the “vaccine hesitant” and the “vaccine refusers” to take doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. She believes it is important to differentiate between people who are “hesitant” and those in the “refusal group.” The “hesitant” have questions that she can answer, for instance regarding the speed at which the vaccines were developed, their ingredients, and “conspiracies about microchips.” The people in the “refusal group,” “often young people, don’t think they need the experimental vaccine or would prefer to wait a few years before taking it, Clinton added. They also include people in communities who “have been maltreated” by the American “health system for generations.”=
“Cuomo insisted the new plan is legal. ”
People who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine will be seated separately from those who have in two major baseball stadiums in New York, officials announced this week. The segregation will be enforced at Fans at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, home to Major League Baseball’s New York Mets and New York Yankees. “There are going to be separate sections for those who are vaccinated,” Randy Levine, president of the Yankees, told a May 5 briefing he joined with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “As we sell tickets on an individual basis, they will go into one of those two areas, either unvaccinated or vaccinated because we will have some inventory in both types of location,” added Sandy Alderson, the president of the Mets.
The details of how the new policy will be enforced are still being developed. Sections with people who are vaccinated against the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19, can be full, with no capacity restrictions. But in sections with unvaccinated people, fans will need to be spaced apart six feet. All fans, regardless of their status, must wear a mask, even though the games are played outdoors. “For baseball reopening, May 19th. Two different categories. Not Yankees/Mets. Vaccinated/Unvaccinated,” Cuomo, a Democrat who has refused calls to resign over sexual assault allegations and his administration hiding the number of elderly New Yorkers who died from COVID-19, told the briefing.
“I want to thank the Mets and the Yankees from the bottom of my heart. It’s a pain in the neck for them to operate this vaccinated and unvaccinated. The gentlemen who run the stadiums are here. It’s not easy to do this. Nobody’s done this before. Nobody’s done any of this before, let’s be honest,” he added. Cuomo insisted the new plan is legal.
“Selling gold for the price of radishes”
From ventilator and chip shortages to what kind of ships traverses through which canals, the linkages and nodes of the global economy have rarely been in the spotlight as much as they have over the last 12 months. Many of these disruptions are short-term ones, but they have also brought attention to longstanding challenges of supply chain resilience and dependence. One of those challenges is that of China’s grip on rare earth elements (REEs), a key input in permanent magnets that are in everything from smart phones and wind turbines to electric vehicles and missile guidance systems. This is not the first time these 17 elements that sit at the bottom of the periodic table have raised alarm from Tokyo to Washington. Back in 2010, Beijing was roundly accused of embargoing REE exports to Japan as Sino-Japan relations soured.
At the time, China was responsible for some 90%-plus of REE supplies globally, even though its estimated reserves are around just 25%-33% of the global total. Given the wide belief in Japan and the United States—which also happen to be the largest importers of REEs—that China could weaponize this resource, its supply monopoly raised hackles and intensified calls for diversification. A decade since, has much changed? I had trekked to Inner Mongolia’s Baotou Rare Earth Hi-Tech Zone back in 2010 to gain more insight into China’s designs on the REE industry and how that affected the global market. It’s worth revisiting this industry now to understand how its dynamics shaped Beijing’s thinking and intent on managing this resource.
China has long viewed REEs as a strategic resource, with the industry’s development spurred by a quip supposedly attributed to Deng Xiaoping: “The Middle East has oil, but China has rare earths.” Yet as China became the dominant supplier of REEs over subsequent decades, it saw the price of REEs plummet, hardly the price-setting influence that an OPEC exerted on oil prices. That frustrated the economic nationalists in Beijing, grumbling that China was essentially “selling gold at the price of radishes.” Much of that frustration stemmed from the government’s inability to regulate a wild industry that was rife with smuggling. At one point in 2011, it was estimated that there was a gap of 120% between REE volumes that China officially exported and what other countries imported.
Meanwhile, REE mining was also exacting a hefty environmental toll. The Chinese government decided it needed to consolidate the REE industry. Beijing thought it could clean up the illegal business, while also receiving some of that price-setting power that has long eluded it. What’s more, the move also dovetailed with rolling out the original “strategic emerging industries” initiative, the start of China’s effort to indigenize supply chains and move up the value chain. In other words, why export this resource for pennies when China should keep more of it for its own tech industries of the future?
Global Share of REE Production (in tons)
“I’m afraid I have some bad news.”
American whistleblower Edward Snowden and many others mocked a former CNN White House correspondent for insinuating that US government lies and spying were unique to the Trump administration and reporters don’t expect it. Michelle Kosinski, who worked as CNN’s White House correspondent between 2014 and 2019, claimed on Saturday that “as an American journalist, you never expect” your “own govt to lie to you,” “hide information the public has a right to know,” and “spy on your communications.” “Trump’s unAmerican regime did all of these. No one should accept this,” she concluded. Kosinski was quickly ridiculed, both for suggesting that American journalists were so naive and for making government surveillance and disinformation appear exclusive to former President Donald Trump’s brief administration.
Whistleblower and former CIA employee Edward Snowden – who leaked information about the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance program on civilians and had to flee the US – told Kosinski, “I’m afraid I have some bad news.” “You are hideously unqualified to be a journalist if you think this, good lord,” tweeted another person, while journalist Alan MacLeod called Kosinski’s thought process “the level of naive state worship required to get a top job in the media.” Despite the heavy criticism, Kosinski stood by her post, claiming Trump’s “tens of thousands of outright lies, treasonous allegiances, and attacks on democracy” weren’t “equivalent” to the mass surveillance and disinformation campaigns from previous administrations.
A curious detail: ..a group dubbed “DarkSide,” known for deploying ransomware and extorting victims while avoiding targets in post-Soviet states ..
Top U.S. fuel pipeline operator Colonial Pipeline has shut its entire network, the source of nearly half of the U.S. East Coast’s fuel supply, after a cyber attack that the company said was caused by ransomware. The incident is one of the most disruptive digital ransom operations ever reported and has drawn attention to how critical U.S. energy infrastructure is vulnerable to hackers. The shutdown has raised fears of a price spike at gasoline pumps ahead of peak summer driving season if it persists. Colonial transports 2.5 million barrels per day of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other refined products through 5,500 miles (8,850 km) of pipelines linking refiners on the Gulf Coast to the eastern and southern United States. Colonial said it shut down systems to contain the threat after learning of the attack on Friday.
That action also temporarily halted operations and affected some of its IT systems, the company said. While the U.S. government investigation is in early stages, one former official and two industry sources said the hackers are likely a professional cybercriminal group. The former official said investigators are looking at a group dubbed “DarkSide,” known for deploying ransomware and extorting victim swhile avoiding targets in post-Soviet states. Colonial said the incident involved the use of ransomware, a type of malware designed to lock down systems by encrypting data and demanding payment to regain access. Colonial has engaged a cybersecurity firm to launch an investigation and contacted law enforcement and federal agencies, it said.
Just dumb stuff.
The Pentagon’s Special Operations Command Europe kicked off the Trojan Footprint 21 exercise on May 3; what is identified as its premier special operations forces drills. The war games will be held until May 14 in five Black Sea and Balkans nations: Bulgaria, Georgia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Romania. Special forces from the U.S. – all branches of the armed forces including Green Berets – the five host nations, Britain, Germany, Spain and Ukraine are involved. With the exception of Turkey, all Black Sea littoral states but Russia are participating.
The exercise is designed for “enhancing interoperability between NATO allies” to prepare for “counter[ing] myriad threats.” Though there aren’t a thousand, only one, threat. Russia. Just as it is all-service so it is “all-domain” with air, land and sea forces engaged in combating an unnamed adversary in the Black Sea. One which has a fleet based in Sevastopol in Crimea. Trojan Footprint 21 is occurring simultaneously with the massive DEFENDER-Europe 21 war games in the same area and ahead of the Steadfast Defender exercise, also to be held in the Black Sea region.
“..revising a section in an official transcript to play down the prospect of Ukraine joining the NATO military bloc..”
Would the US go to war with Russia over Ukraine? As tensions escalate between Moscow and Kiev, some have warned that the latter’s ‘alliance’ with Washington could spiral into a conflict between the two main nuclear superpowers. Except, of course, there is no alliance between the US and Ukraine. This week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken effectively ended the notion that Ukraine has Western backers ready to step in at a moment’s notice if it finds itself under attack. Pressed on whether American forces could be sent into battle against Russian troops to support Kiev in the event of war in an interview with MSNBC, he answered only that Washington is committed to “helping Ukraine defend itself.”
In other words, no. Indeed, with these words, Blinken backed up suspicions in Moscow that Washington stands ready to fight Moscow down to the very last Ukrainian, but would never risk its own troops. It is difficult to overstate the importance of the secretary of state’s response, which has effectively ended a calculated policy of strategic ambiguity over Ukraine. For years, the State Department has been reluctant to be drawn on just how far it would go for the Eastern European nation, and whether it would send its own soldiers into battle for its supposed ally.
The fact that mask has slipped now fundamentally changes the nature of the situation. It comes as the White House has also seemingly pivoted its foreign policy in the region by revising a section in an official transcript to play down the prospect of Ukraine joining the NATO military bloc. After turning to the West following the 2014 Maidan, Kiev has played up its credentials with the EU and US, emphasizing the importance of its ‘alliances’ and its role as a vanguard against supposed Russian aggression towards Central Europe. That argument is now based on less and less evidence.
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