Pablo Picasso Portrait of the artist’s mother 1896
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The end of the vaccines?
Russia’s Federal Medical and Biological Agency (FMBA) has announced the development of a drug to fight against Covid-19, which would become the world’s first direct-acting antiviral antidote if clinical trials are successful.
According to Veronika Skvortsova, the head of FMBA, studies thus far have shown it is more than 99% effective. “This is the first etiotropic drug that directly affects the virus. In fact, this is an antidote for coronavirus infection,” she informed Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin on Wednesday, noting that preclinical studies have been completed, which have shown the remedy to be “completely safe” and “highly efficient.” Etiotropic means that the treatment is directed against the cause of a disease.
Skvortsova told the prime minister that the FMBA is ready to apply for permission for further testing, which they hope to get before the New Year. “If clinical trials confirm the effectiveness of this drug, it will be the first safe, effective, direct-acting antiviral drug that has no analogs in the world,” she explained. The FMBA is also working on a separate drug for the treatment of the most complex coronavirus cases, which suppresses and prevents a physiological reaction called ‘hypercytokinemia’. Also known as a ‘cytokine storm’, it is an immune response that leads to body tissue damage, and is thought by some to be causing Covid-19 deaths.
In May, the Russian Ministry of Health approved an anti-coronavirus drug called ‘Avifavir’, a Favipiravir-based treatment that has been used in Japan since 2014 against severe forms of influenza. The medication is being produced domestically. If effective, the antidote won’t be Russia’s only breakthrough during the Covid-19 crisis. Earlier this year, Russia became the first country to announce the registration of a coronavirus vaccine named Sputnik V. After trials, it was revealed to be 95 percent effective in producing antibodies after 40 days.
“The vaccines have not been trialled in China because the virus is not prevalent enough..”
China’s health authorities have approved a Covid vaccine from state-owned Sinopharm for general use on the population, the government has announced. At a press conference in Beijing a state taskforce announced the vaccine had exceeded World Health Organization standards and would help establish effective immunity in China. Health officials said vulnerable groups would be prioritised ahead of the general population. Key groups have already been receiving vaccines under emergency approvals, including about a million receiving the Sinopharm vaccine. Zeng Yixin, deputy head of the national health commission, said it was aiming for 60-70% vaccination coverage, which was expected to establish herd immunity.
“As the Chinese vaccine is proved to be safe and effective, we would like to encourage our people to participate on a voluntary and informed basis, and with consent,” he said. The officials did not give specific dates but said the rollout would begin “soon” at a “significantly reduced” cost. Zheng Zhongwei, head of the vaccine research and development working group, said the vaccine was a public good and the cost of production was “the only basis for pricing”. Zeng then added that the vaccine “must be provided free of charge for all people”, and state media subsequently reported that the vaccine will be free. Sinopharm is a state-owned pharmaceutical company with two vaccine candidates among China’s five experimental treatments in international final stage trials.
Public statements about Sinopharm vaccines do not appear to clarify which of the two candidates is being discussed. The approval followed an announcement on Wednesday by Sinopharm that phase 3 trials had found its vaccine to be 79% effective. This followed trials conducted in the UAE reporting 86% efficacy earlier in December. The vaccines have not been trialled in China because the virus is not prevalent enough, authorities say.
How much of this is hyperbole?
A new strain of COVID-19 that reached Ireland from the United Kingdom is spreading faster than the country’s most pessimistic forecasts, Prime Minister Micheal Martin said on Wednesday. “While international research for this new variant is ongoing, it is already very clear that we are dealing with a strain of the disease that spreads much, much more quickly,” Martin said in a televised address announcing a tightening of public-health restrictions for the next four weeks. “It is spreading at a rate that has surpassed the most pessimistic models available to us,” Martin said.
“Democratic senators in fact provided the majority of the votes for the measure that lets the defense bill proceed without a vote on the $2,000 checks.”
It was always a possibility that Democrats would get too scared to halt a major Pentagon bill in order to help millions of Americans get $2,000 survival checks — in fact, as we wrote earlier this week, it was very likely that they would back down the moment any bad-faith critic so much as waved a flag and said “support the troops.” And capitulation became even more likely when Clinton-era Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, corporate Democratic pundits and billionaire-owned elite media outlets began parroting a series of eerily similar let-them-eat-cake talking points against the survival checks — which McConnell promptly used to bludgeon proponents of the bipartisan initiative.
But even appreciating all of this — and also knowing that many Democratic leaders still cling to an outdated austerity ideology — the sheer scale of Wednesday’s Democratic surrender was truly a sight to behold. And it probably ended the chance for more immediate aid to millions of Americans facing eviction, starvation and bankruptcy. The day began with Sen. Bernie Sanders following through on his promise to deny unanimous consent for the Senate to advance a $740 billion defense authorization bill, until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allows an up-or-down vote on legislation that would send $2,000 survival checks to individuals making less than $75,000 and couples making less than $150,000.
Sanders’ move forced McConnell to ask the Senate to pass a formal motion to proceed on the defense bill, which would let Republicans move forward on the Pentagon priority without a vote on the $2,000 checks. The motion created the moment in which Democrats could have stood their ground and cornered the GOP leader. Instead, as Republicans saber rattled about the need to pass the defense bill, 41 Democrats obediently voted with McConnell, allowing him to move the defense bill forward without a vote on the checks. That included “yes” votes from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and vice-president elect Kamala Harris, the lead sponsor on a bill to give Americans monthly $2,000 checks during the pandemic. One day before her vote to help McConnell, Harris had called on the Republican leader to hold a vote on her legislation.
In the end, only six members of the Democratic Senate Caucus mustered the courage to vote against it — Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Chris Van Hollen, Jeff Merkley and Ed Markey. Democratic senators in fact provided the majority of the votes for the measure that lets the defense bill proceed without a vote on the $2,000 checks. It was called a motion to proceed, but it really was a motion demanding Democrats concede — and they instantly obliged.
The craziest claim of the year: “This is the guy who took Assad money!”
Over the past week comedian Jimmy Dore has single-handedly exposed a collection of self-styled leaders of progressive media as imperialist hacks joined at the hip with the Democratic Party and NATO. It all started when Dore, a self-described jagoff pothead comedian – called for progressive members of Congress to withhold their votes for Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker until she agreed to hold a floor vote on Medicare for All. With a pandemic raging and Americans losing their jobs and healthcare, it seemed like the perfect way to hold Democrats’ feet to the fire. But Dore’s push apparently threatened the most prominent progressive in Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
After she rejected his tactic in a series of tweets, deferring to the House Speaker she’s referred to lovingly as “Mama Bear,” a group of prominent podcasters sprang to her defense – and then launched a wave of personalized, vicious, and ultimately revealing attacks on Dore. Rather than debate the merits of his proposal, figures like Nomiki Konst, Ana Kasparian, Ben Dixon, and Cenk Uygur homed in on Dore’s personality, doing all they could to deflect from the substance of the issue, and insulating their hero AOC. The Youtube channel of longtime MSNBC contributor Sam Seder became a theater for the meltdown over Jimmy Dore’s rogue campaign for a M4A floor vote.
In the past week alone, Seder has done two lengthy segments devoted to smearing Jimmy Dore. During one 23 minute segment, podcaster and failed New York public advocate candidate Nomiki Konst launched a McCarthyite attack on Dore, accusing him of taking what she called “Assad money.” Nomiki Konst: “This is a clickbait game. There are hosts on air who want to make change. I think all of us are really concerned about educating our audience and bringing on informed people to help us understand everything, issues, and how to move through, and push for these changes. And then there are those who want to be multi-millionaires and famous. And you know, let’s just make those lines very clear. And not to mention, he has taken money, admitted to taking money, from pro-Assadist groups. So he’s not the pure guy that he wants to pretend… This is the guy who took Assad money!”
This was not just a neocon-style distraction, but a total lie. What Konst called Assad money had no relation to Assad. She was referring to a $2,500 donation from a U.S.-based anti-war nonprofit called the Association for Investment in Popular Action Committees. It does relief work in Cuba, Palestine, and Syria, targets of Washington’s ruthless hybrid warfare. This non-profit has also organized openly against the devastating U.S. proxy war on Syria.
Imagine if the US had a functioning media. We’d be rid of all this nonsense.
Allegations that China secretly offered bounties to Afghan militants to kill U.S. troops are “less” credible than previous intelligence reports indicating that Russia embarked on a similar operation, according to a senior U.S. official. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien briefed President Donald Trump on the unconfirmed allegations on Dec. 17, according to two other senior administration officials. But they stressed that the intelligence, first reported by Axios on Wednesday, is uncorroborated. In fact, the intelligence is “very thin” — thinner even than reports that Russia offered payments to the Taliban to target U.S. and coalition troops, which were never corroborated, the first senior U.S. official told POLITICO.
The official went on to described the recent intelligence as “rumors” and lacking “hard evidence.” But the allegations involving Chinese operatives in Afghanistan are being handled very differently by Trump officials than the those involving Moscow earlier this year. Trump initially denounced media reports on the alleged Russian bounties, calling it a “hoax.” He said intelligence officials told him he was not briefed about those allegations at the time because they did not find them credible. The Russian allegations have since been largely dismissed. “It just wasn’t there,” said the senior U.S. official.
Yet O’Brien briefed Trump and members of the national security team on the most recent allegations of Chinese activity in Afghanistan on Dec. 17 and convened a National Security Council Policy Coordination Committee on the topic on Dec. 22, one senior administration official said. The U.S. “treats this intelligence with caution, but any intelligence or reports relating to the safety of U.S. forces is something we take very seriously,” said the official. President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team will seek to learn “as much as we can about these allegations,” said a transition official, noting that the news is “another illustration of why we need full cooperation” from the Pentagon. Biden earlier this week accused Defense Department leadership of obstructing the transition.
Trump campaign senior advisor Jason Miller during an interview on Newsmax TV expressed the hope that evidence pertaining to election-related issues will be shared directly with the American people next week. If a minimum of one member of each congressional chamber objects to the electoral vote returns of a state during a joint session of Congress presided over by the vice president on Jan. 6, each chamber will separately debate for up to two hours and then vote on the objection, according to the Congressional Research Service: “An objection to a state’s electoral vote must be approved by both houses in order for any contested votes to be excluded.”
During the interview Miller mentioned a lawsuit Rep. Louie Gohmert is involved in that Miller said argues that it “should be the vice president overseeing the Senate that should have the final say if a slate of electors are chosen. And so we hope that Congressman Gohmert will be successful in this and that we’re gonna actually have a chance in front of the American people next week to present these cases, all these evidences of fraud and really go and make sure that the American people see it so we can have full confidence in our elections,” Miller said. Miller mentioned during the interview multiple examples of election-related concerns. “These are the specific types of evidence that we want to be able to present to the American public on the national stage and not allow local politicians to sweep it under the rug,” he said.
Just have the vote.
Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley said Wednesday he will object when Congress counts the Electoral College votes next week, which will force lawmakers in both the House and Senate to vote on whether to accept the results of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Hawley is the first senator to announce plans to object to the results, which is significant because both a House member and senator are required to mount an objection when Congress counts the Electoral College votes on January 6. The objection will not change the outcome of the election, only delaying the inevitable affirmation of Biden’s victory in November over President Donald Trump. Democrats will reject any objections in the House, and multiple Republican senators have argued against an objection that will provide a platform for Trump’s baseless conspiracy theories claiming the election was stolen from him.
Hawley’s objection, which other senators may still join, will also put many of his Senate Republican colleagues in a difficult political position, forcing them to vote on whether to side with Trump or with the popular will of the voters. Hawley told reporters Wednesday he alerted Senate Republican leadership of his plans before his announcement. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has privately urged Senate Republicans not to join the group of House members who are planning to object. Senate Majority Whip John Thune argued against it publicly, prompting a rebuke from Trump on Twitter and the threat of a primary challenge. Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican in Senate GOP leadership, acknowledged Wednesday afternoon that Republican leaders would rather their rank-and-file members not be forced to vote on challenges to the Electoral College ballots.
Shouldn’t this be global?
Russian President Vladimir Putin has approved new legislation that could see foreign social media companies punished for discriminating against the country’s media outlets. This year, RT and Sputnik have been censored on Twitter. The bill explicitly forbids censorship based on reasons such as nationality, language, and origin, as well as “in connection with the introduction of political or economic sanctions against Russia.” Once found guilty, a foreign network, such as YouTube or Facebook, could be subject to sanctions in the form of fines, the slowing down of traffic, or even a complete block. Earlier this year, US tech giant Twitter took action against RT and other publicly-funded Russian media outlets, subjecting their accounts to a shadow ban. This means that they are now undiscoverable via the website’s search function.
As well as making tweets much harder to find, Twitter also labeled several Russian sources as “state-affiliated media,” despite not doing so for Western equivalents, such as America’s state-run RFE/RL and the British government-backed BBC. After the bill was proposed, President Putin noted that the country should not “shoot itself in the foot” with any retaliatory actions against foreign media, but it is “absolutely obvious and understandable to any sane person” that these companies are discriminating against Russian outlets. The law was introduced last month by a group of parliamentarians, including MP Alexander Khinshtein and Senator Aleksey Pushkov. According to Pushkov, the law wasn’t written with the aim of blocking the websites, but to introduce legal responsibility for censorship.
“Broad population-wide lockdowns are such a dramatic inversion of the concept of liberty in a free society as to be nearly presumptively unconstitutional.”
Thanks in large part to Covid lockdowns, this year has left vast wreckage in its wake, with ten million jobs lost, more than 100,000 businesses and dozens of national chains bankrupted or closed. Up to 40 million people could face eviction in the coming months for failing to pay rent, and Americans report that their mental health is at record low levels. But the casualty list for 2020 must also include many of the political myths that shape Americans’ lives. Perhaps the biggest myth to die this year was that Americans’ constitutional rights are safeguarded by the Bill of Rights. After the Covid-19 pandemic began, governors in state after state effectively placed scores of millions of citizens under house arrest – dictates that former Attorney General Bill Barr aptly compared to “the greatest intrusion on civil liberties” since the end of slavery.
Politicians and government officials merely had to issue decrees, which were endlessly amended, in order to destroy citizens’ freedom of movement, freedom of association, and freedom of choice in daily life. Los Angeles earlier this month banned almost all walking and bicycling in the city, ordering four million people to “to remain in their homes” in a futile effort to banish a virus. The Rule of Law is another myth impaled by 2020’s dire developments. Courts have repeatedly struck down sweeping restrictions. Federal judge William Stickman IV invalidated some of Pennsylvania’s restrictions in a September ruling: “Broad population-wide lockdowns are such a dramatic inversion of the concept of liberty in a free society as to be nearly presumptively unconstitutional.”
After the Michigan Supreme Court effectively labeled Governor Gretchen Whitmer a lawless dictator, she responded by issuing “new COVID-19 emergency orders that are nearly identical to her invalidated emergency orders,” as the Mackinac Center noted. How many governors and mayors have you seen on the television news being led away in handcuffs after their arrest for violating citizens’ rights this year? None. Another myth that 2020 obliterated was the notion that politicians spending more than a hundred billion dollars every year for science and public health would keep Americans safe. The Centers for Disease Control utterly botched the initial testing regime, sending out bogus tests to state and local health departments and taking a month and a half to do what the Thai government achieved in one day. The Food and Drug Administration helped turn the coronavirus from a deadly peril into a national catastrophe.
Long after foreign nations had been ravaged and many cases had been detected in America, the FDA continued blocking private testing. The FDA continued forcing the nation’s most innovative firms to submit to its command-and-control approach, notwithstanding the pandemic. The benevolence and compassion of public school teachers was another myth that 2020 obliterated. Teacher unions helped barricade school doors the same way that segregationist governors in the 1950s and 1960s refused to obey federal court orders to admit black students. The Chicago Teachers Union proclaimed: “The push to reopen schools is based in sexism, racism, and misogyny.”
100 year-old reactors. Scary.
Nuclear power plants when they began being constructed were not seen as running for more than 40 years because of radioactivity embrittling metal parts and otherwise causing safety problems. But in recent decades, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has extended the operating licenses of nuclear power plants from 40 years to 60 years and then 80 years, and is now considering 100 years. “It is crazy,” declares Robert Alvarez, a former senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Energy and a U.S. Senate senior investigator and now senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and is an author of the book Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America’s Experience with Atomic Radiation.
“No reactor in history has lasted that long,” commented Alvarez. The oldest nuclear power plant in the U.S. was Oyster Creek, five miles south of Toms River, New Jersey, which opened in 1969 and was shut down 49 years later in 2018. The move is “an act of desperation in response to the collapse of the nuclear program in this country and the rest of the world,” he declares. The nuclear industry and nuclear power advocates in government are “desperately trying to hold on,” says Alvarez. With hardly any new nuclear power plants being constructed in the U.S. and the total number down to 94, they seek to have the operating licenses of existing nuclear power plants extended, he says, to keep the nuclear industry alive. It’s a sign of “the end of the messy romance with nuclear power.”
[..] “There is no empirical evidence” to support the notion that nuclear plants can have a century-long life span, says Alvarez. There “is no penciling away the problems of age” of nuclear power plants which operate under high-pressure, high-heat conditions and are subject to radiation fatigue. “The reality of wear-and-tear can’t be wished away.” “Who would want to ride in a 100 year-old car?” he asks.
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