“As 2021 closed out, Omicron drove coronavirus cases to record highs, upended air travel and left staffing holes at hospitals. The highly contagious variant is still racing across the country, and teachers, parents and workplaces are bracing for the impact. Many wonder whether life will ever be normal again.
The U.S. is averaging more than 386,000 cases a day, likely a vast undercount. Hospitalizations are growing at a much slower rate, but the death rate is falling. Puerto Rico is facing a 4,600-percent increase in cases in recent weeks.
Scientists say that Omicron may peak in the U.S. in mid-January. New estimates suggest that the country’s cases could peak by Jan. 9 at around 2.5 million cases per week, though that number may go as high as 5.4 million. Still, the enormous numbers of people getting infected could greatly strain hospitals, especially in places with lower vaccination rates.” Read more at New York Times
“Covax delivered over 309 million coronavirus vaccine doses in December, marking a dramatic increase in the delivery rate for a global vaccine-sharing initiative that had struggled for much of 2021 amid a lack of supply and logistical problems.
In total, roughly 910 million doses were delivered through the U.N.-backed initiative as of Dec. 30, according to provisional tracking by UNICEF released to The Washington Post on Friday.
The final tally for the year is far short of the 2 billion-plus doses that Covax had initially aimed for, and is leagues below even loftier targets that some activists said it should be aiming for. But with roughly a third of doses delivered in the final month of the year, there are cautious hopes that Covax may have sidestepped some of the problems that plagued it in 2020.” Read more at Washington Post
“Despite the dizzying pace of cases, there was a bit of good news from the latest scientific reports.
People infected with Omicron were about half as likely to be hospitalized as those with the Delta variant, according to a report from British health officials, and they were only one-third as likely to need emergency care.
A laboratory study from South African scientists suggested that people who have recovered from an Omicron infection might be able to repel infections from the Delta variant.
Several studies have offered a possible explanation for Omicron’s milder effects: It often concentrates in the nose, throat and windpipe rather than damaging the lungs, as previous variants did.” Read more at New York Times
The remnants of a home after the Marshall fire and a snowstorm in Boulder County, Colo.Erin Schaff/The New York Times
“First came the firestorm, and then came the frozen pipes.
Two days after the most damaging wildfire in Colorado’s history, residents outside of Boulder confronted nearly a foot of snow and single-digit temperatures. But the desperately needed snow arrived too late to save as many as 1,000 homes that were destroyed in the blaze. The fire, fueled by hurricane-force wind gusts, roared through parched grasses and into suburban cul-de-sacs, reducing entire neighborhoods to ashes.
With thousands of surviving homes still without power and gas on Saturday, the 7-degree temperatures and 10 inches of snow touched off a frantic new battle against the weather and rescue operations. Three people are believed to be missing.” Read more at New York Times
“Phil Spampinato had never contemplated the question of whether violence against the government might be justified — at least not in the United States. But as he watched Republicans across the country move to reshape election laws in response to former president Donald Trump’s false fraud claims, the part-time engineering consultant from Dover, Del., said he began thinking differently about ‘defending your way of life.’
‘Not too many years ago, I would have said that those conditions are not possible, and that no such violence is really ever appropriate,’ said Spampinato, 73, an independent.
The notion of legitimate violence against the government had also not occurred to Anthea Ward, a mother of two in Michigan, until the past year — prompted by her fear that President Biden would go too far to force her and her family to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
‘The world we live in now is scary,’ said Ward, 32, a Republican. ‘I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist but sometimes it feels like a movie. It’s no longer a war against Democrats and Republicans. It’s a war between good and evil.’
A year after a pro-Trump mob ransacked the Capitol in the worst attack on the home of Congress since it was burned by British forces in 1814, a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll finds that about 1 in 3 Americans say they believe violence against the government can at times be justified.
The findings represent the largest share to feel that way since the question has been asked in various polls in more than two decades. They offer a window into the country’s psyche at a tumultuous period in American history, marked by last year’s insurrection, the rise of Trump’s election claims as an energizing force on the right, deepening fissures over the government’s role in combating the pandemic, and mounting racial justice protests sparked by police killings of Black Americans.
The percentage of adults who say violence is justified is up, from 23 percent in 2015 and 16 percent in 2010 in polls by CBS News and the New York Times.
A majority continue to say that violence against the government is never justified — but the 62 percent who hold that view is a new low point, and a stark difference from the 1990s, when as many as 90 percent said violence was never justified.
While a 2015 survey found no significant partisan divide when it comes to the question of justified violence against the government, the new poll identified a sharper rise on the right — with 40 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of independents saying it can be acceptable. The view was held by 23 percent of Democrats, the survey finds.” Read more at Washington Post
Capitol Police are seen through the broken glass of a Rotunda door at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 7, 2021, the day after hundreds of rioters stormed the premises. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
“The House staffer quit after awakening one night and imagining a pack of Proud Boys amassing outside his apartment door. Another left after questioning whether strangers he encountered had helped plot the insurrection. A police officer resigned, still agitated by the frantic voices of co-workers she recalled hearing on her radio scanner that day.
‘What’s the plan?’ one had asked.
‘I’ve got an officer down!’ another had shouted.
A year ago, they all worked at the U.S. Capitol, a citadel of American democracy they believed was as impervious to attack as any center of Washington power. But Jan. 6, 2021, upended all that. An invading mob of Donald Trump’s followers destroyed that sense of security — not only on that day but in the long year that followed.
‘There’s a dark cloud over Capitol Hill,’ said Jodi Breiterman, a Capitol Police officer who submitted retirement papers in November after almost 21 years on the force, and will officially leave the agency in mid-January. ‘I look at officers’ faces, and they’ve changed. They’ve lost weight and they don’t know why.’
In the months since the insurrection, senators and representatives have chronicled the trauma of Jan. 6, recalling how they cowered behind seats in the House chamber and barricaded themselves in offices as Trump acolytes pounded on doors and shouted threats of violence.
Yet alongside the political leaders, there were hundreds of Capitol workers who suffered their own trauma that day. They are the supporting cast on the edges of Washington’s biggest stage: the legislative aides, police officers, custodians and cafeteria workers who keep the business of government moving and ensure that the Capitol is safe, clean and well-functioning.
In many cases, they soldiered on after the insurrection, entrenched in positions that can be high-pressure and demanding even on routine days. But for other Capitol workers, Jan. 6 became a psychic tipping point, a reason to leave jobs that had made them targets for threats and potential danger.” Read more at Washington Post
“Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, an adviser to former President Trump, provided the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot with a trove of documents in response to a subpoena by the panel for efforts involving overturning the election.
A letter from Kerik's attorney dated Friday indicates that Kerik wants to cooperate with the committee "and any investigators who are truly willing to move ahead swiftly and get to the truth."
‘Mr. Kerik is a strong believer in our constitutional system of government and would have never participated in any effort to knowingly promote false claims,’ Timothy Parlatore, Kerik’s attorney, wrote to the committee's chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), in a letter shared by Kerik and reported on by Politico.
‘He believed then, as he does now, that there were significant election improprieties and inconsistencies as well as evidence of possible fraud in the election that must be properly investigated,’ Parlatore continued. ‘It is for this reason, that Mr. Kerik very much wants to cooperate with your committee and any investigators who are truly willing to move ahead swiftly and get to the truth.’” Read more at The Hill
Why it matters: In many scenarios, consumers should no longer face unexpected charges from doctors not in their insurance networks.
How it works: Patients still have to pay in-network copays, deductibles and other cost-sharing, which have been rising. But any additional out-of-network bills are now prohibited for the following services:
Emergency care in a hospital ER, a freestanding ER or urgent care center.
Elective care at an in-network hospital or surgery center, but where doctors — notably anesthesiologists, pathologists, radiologists and assistant surgeons — may be out-of-network. This is known as ‘drive-by doctoring.’
Behind the scenes: Instead of sending out bills, doctors and insurance companies have to resolve their differences.
If the two sides can't agree on a payment rate within 30 days, either side can request federal arbitration.
The doctor and insurer then go to the arbiter with their best offer, and the arbiter picks one.” Read more at Axios
“Starting Jan. 1, labels at the grocery store are about to get a makeover on foods that have been genetically modified.
The goal was to get rid of the patchwork of different labels for foods and ingredients that have been scientifically tinkered with, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, the move also puts a greater burden on consumers to do their homework to understand what the labels mean, food advocates say.
Foods that previously were labeled as containing ‘genetically engineered’ (GE) ingredients or ‘genetically modified organisms’ (GMOs) will now be labeled as ‘bioengineered,’ or come with a phone number or QR code guiding consumers to more information online.” Read more at Boston Globe
“Georgia will be the setting of several fierce political showdowns in 2022.
In the governor’s race, Stacey Abrams’s carefully calibrated strategy of bridging the left and center-left wings of the Democratic Party faces a test in her run for governor of Georgia. Those close to her campaign say they expect an extremely close race.
As the presumptive Democratic candidate, Abrams could face off against Gov. Brian Kemp, to whom she narrowly lost in 2018, or former Senator David Perdue, who has the backing of Donald Trump. The Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, also faces a Trump-backed candidate.
New York City’s mayor, Eric Adams, was sworn in at a pared-down ceremony in Times Square.Gabriela Bhaskar/The New York Times
“Eric Adams took office as New York City’s 110th mayor.
Not since 2002, when Michael Bloomberg took office after the Sept. 11 attacks, has an incoming mayor confronted such daunting challenges in New York City. Adams, the city’s second Black mayor, faces difficult decisions over how to lead New Yorkers through the next wave of the coronavirus pandemic, and how to confront a struggling economic recovery and high rates of violent crimes.
Still, his swearing-in ceremony in Times Square before the ball-drop crowd was jubilant. ‘Trust me, we’re ready for a major comeback because this is New York,’ Adams said.
Addressing the problems on Rikers Island will be among Adams’s most pressing concerns. Decades of mismanagement are behind the violence at Rikers, one of America’s most expensive jail complexes.” Read more at New York Times
“A Louisiana judge who could be heard on a video using a racial slur while watching security footage of a foiled burglary outside her home has resigned, according to her lawyer and a letter from the judge.
‘I take full responsibility for the hurtful words I used to describe the individual who burglarized the vehicles at my home,’ the judge, Michelle Odinet, of the City Court of Lafayette, La., wrote in a letter dated Friday to the chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court.
‘I am sorry for the pain that I have caused my community and ask for your forgiveness, as my words did not foster the public’s confidence and integrity for the judiciary,’ she wrote.
Ms. Odinet said she was stepping down ‘after much reflection and prayer, and in order to facilitate healing within the community.’
In the video, people off camera inside the judge’s home can be heard using a racial slur repeatedly and laughing as they narrate security-camera footage of a person trying to break into a car on Dec. 11.
The word ‘mom’ is used a few times in the clip, and at least two people in the room identify themselves as being in the security footage, helping stop the burglary. Ms. Odinet’s lawyer, Dane S. Ciolino, later confirmed that she had used a racial slur in the video, which did not show the faces of those speaking.
After an unknown person released the video to the local news media, civic groups, including the Lafayette branch of the N.A.A.C.P., called on the judge to resign, and criminal defense lawyers asked the judge to recuse herself from their cases.
Mr. Ciolino acknowledged on Friday that the video footage had raised understandable concerns about Ms. Odinet’s impartiality as a judge.
‘There was never going to be a situation where African Americans would appear before her and not file motions to recuse,’ Mr. Ciolino said.” Read more at New York Times
The Southernmost Point buoy landmark in Key West, Fla., was damaged early Saturday, police said. Authorities say vandals set it on fire. (Credit: The City of Key West)
“The famous Southernmost Point landmark in Key West, Fla. — a colorful, giant buoy that reads ‘90 miles to Cuba’ — suffered extensive damage early Saturday after vandals placed a discarded Christmas tree in front of it and set it on fire, police said.
The popular destination, which draws scores of tourists, including Cuban Americans who visit and reflect on the country some still call home, was charred sometime between 3 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. on New Year’s Day, investigators said.
No arrests had been made as of Saturday afternoon, but authorities said they are seeking two White male suspects on charges of criminal mischief. The suspects, who have not been publicly named, were captured lighting the buoy on fire on a webcam dedicated to filming the Southernmost Point 24 hours a day.
Alyson Crean, a Key West police spokeswoman, told The Washington Post that the investigation is ongoing. She said the buoy blaze was extinguished shortly after the Key West Fire Department arrived on the scene.” Read more at Washington Post
“SEOUL — Kim Jong-un has begun his second decade as North Korea’s leader with a vow to alleviate the country’s chronic food shortages, state media reported on Saturday — a problem that he inherited from his late father 10 years ago and has yet to fix.
Mr. Kim, 37, presided over a five-day meeting this week of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, which drew more attention than usual because it came at the end of his first decade in power.
On Saturday, New Year’s Day, the North’s state media carried lengthy reports on the meeting. They mentioned no diplomatic overtures from Mr. Kim toward the United States or South Korea, and only a brief reiteration of his frequent promise to increase the North’s military power. But much space was devoted to the subject of food shortages, which many analysts see as the biggest shortcoming of Mr. Kim’s leadership.
One of the first promises that Mr. Kim made after inheriting power from his father, Kim Jong-il, a decade ago was that long-suffering North Koreans would ‘never have to tighten their belt again.’ But that goal has remained elusive. Several months ago, Mr. Kim issued a rare warning that the North faced a ‘tense’ food situation, brought about by the coronavirus pandemic and international sanctions against his nuclear weapons program.” Read more at New York Times
“WASHINGTON — Four months after an Islamic State suicide bomber killed scores of people, including 13 American service members, outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, U.S. and foreign intelligence officials have pieced together a profile of the assailant.
Military commanders say they are using that information to focus on an Islamic State cell that they believe was involved in the attack, including its leadership and foot soldiers. The cell members could be among the first insurgents struck by armed MQ-9 Reaper drones flying missions over Afghanistan from a base in the Persian Gulf. The United States has not carried out any airstrikes in the country since the last American troops left on Aug. 30.
The attack at the airport’s Abbey Gate unfolded four days earlier, during the frenzied final days of the largest noncombatant evacuation ever conducted by the U.S. military. It was one of the deadliest attacks of the 20-year war in Afghanistan.
The Islamic State identified the suicide bomber as Abdul Rahman Al-Logari. American officials say he was a former engineering student who was one of several thousand militants freed from at least two high-security prisons after the Taliban seized control of Kabul on Aug. 15. The Taliban emptied the facilities indiscriminately, releasing not only their own imprisoned members but also fighters from Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, the group’s branch in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s nemesis.” Read more at New York Times
“CAPE TOWN, South Africa — In an almost empty cathedral, with an unvarnished, rope-handled coffin placed before the altar, South Africa said farewell Saturday to Archbishop Desmond Tutu with the simplicity that he had planned.
Tutu’s death last Sunday at age 90 was followed by a week of mourning as the world remembered his powerful role both in opposing apartheid and in promoting unity and reconciliation after its defeat.
But his funeral in a rain-soaked Cape Town, where pandemic regulations limited attendance to 100 and discouraged crowds outside, was far more subdued than the packed stadiums and parade of dignitaries that mourned South Africa’s other Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Nelson Mandela. It was exactly what the archbishop had wanted.” Read more at Boston Globe
“SEOUL — They have shown up whenever women rallied against sexual violence and gender biases in South Korea. Dozens of young men, mostly dressed in black, taunted the protesters, squealing and chanting, ‘Thud! Thud!’ to imitate the noise they said the ‘ugly feminist pigs’ made when they walked.
‘Out with man haters!’ they shouted. ‘Feminism is a mental illness!’
On the streets, such rallies would be easy to dismiss as the extreme rhetoric of a fringe group. But the anti-feminist sentiments are being amplified online, finding a vast audience that is increasingly imposing its agenda on South Korean society and politics.
These male activists have targeted anything that smacks of feminism, forcing a university to cancel a lecture by a woman they accused of spreading misandry. They have vilified prominent women, criticizing An San, a three-time gold medalist in the Tokyo Olympics, for her short haircut.
They have threatened businesses with boycotts, prompting companies to pull advertisements with the image of pinching fingers they said ridiculed the size of male genitalia. And they have taken aim at the government for promoting a feminist agenda, eliciting promises from rival presidential candidates to reform the country’s 20-year-old Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.
South Korea is reckoning with a new type of political correctness enforced by angry young men who bristle at any forces they see as undermining opportunity — and feminists, in their mind, are enemy No. 1. Inequality is one of the most delicate issues in South Korea, a nation with deepening economic uncertainty, fed by runaway housing prices, a lack of jobs and a widening income gap.
‘We don’t hate women, and we don’t oppose elevating their rights,’ said Bae In-kyu, 31, the head of Man on Solidarity, one of the country’s most active anti-feminist groups. ‘But feminists are a social evil.’
The group spearheads the street rallies and runs a YouTube channel with 450,000 subscribers. To its members, feminists equal man haters.
Its motto once read, ‘Till the day all feminists are exterminated!’
The backlash against feminism in South Korea may seem bewildering.
South Korea has the highest gender wage gap among the wealthy countries. Less than one-fifth of its national lawmakers are women. Women make up only 5.2 percent of the board members of publicly listed businesses, compared with 28 percent in the United States.
And yet, most young men in the country argue that it is men, not women, in South Korea who feel threatened and marginalized. Among South Korean men in their 20s, nearly 79 percent said they were victims of serious gender discrimination, according to a poll in May.
‘There is a culture of misogyny in male-dominant online communities, depicting feminists as radical misandrists and spreading fear of feminists,’ said Kim Ju-hee, 26, a nurse who has organized protests denouncing anti-feminists.
The wave of anti-feminism in South Korea shares many of the incendiary taglines with right-wing populist movements in the West that peddle such messages. Women who argue for abortion rights are labeled ‘destroyers of family.’ Feminists are not champions of gender equality, but ‘female supremacists.’
In South Korea, ‘women’ and ‘feminists’ are two of the most common targets of online hate speech, according to the country’s National Human Rights Commission.
The backlash represents a split from previous generations.
Older South Korean men acknowledge benefiting from a patriarchal culture that had marginalized women. Decades ago, when South Korea lacked everything from food to cash, sons were more likely to be enrolled in higher education. In some families, women were not allowed to eat from the same table as men and newly born girls were named Mal-ja, or ‘Last Daughter.’ Sex-preference abortions were common.
As the country has grown richer, such practices have become a distant memory. Families now dote on their daughters. More women attend college than men, and they have more opportunities in the government and elsewhere, though a significant glass ceiling persists.
“Men in their 20s are deeply unhappy, considering themselves victims of reverse discrimination, angry that they had to pay the price for gender discriminations created under the earlier generations,” said Oh Jae-ho, a researcher at the Gyeonggi Research Institute in South Korea.
If older men saw women as needing protection, younger men considered them competitors in a cutthroat job market.
Anti-feminists often note that men are put at a disadvantage because they have to delay getting jobs to complete their mandatory military service. But many women drop out of the work force after giving birth, and much of the domestic duties fall to them.
‘What more do you want? We gave you your own space in the subway, bus, parking lot,’ the male rapper San E writes in his 2018 song ‘Feminist,’ which has a cult following among young anti-feminists. ‘Oh girls don’t need a prince! Then pay half for the house when we marry.’
The gender wars have infused the South Korean presidential race, largely seen as a contest for young voters. With the virulent anti-feminist voice surging, no major candidate is speaking out for women’s rights, once such a popular cause that President Moon Jae-in called himself a ‘feminist’ when he campaigned about five years ago….
Women’s rights advocates’ fear is that the rise of anti-feminism might stymie, or even roll back, the hard-won progress South Korea has made in expanding women’s rights. In recent decades, they fought to legalize abortion and started one of the most powerful #MeToo campaigns in Asia.” Read more at New York Times
“SRINAGAR, Kashmir — At least 12 people were killed and more than a dozen were injured in a stampede early Saturday near the city of Jammu in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir, as thousands of devotees were paying obeisance at a famous Hindu shrine to mark the beginning of the new year.” Read more at New York Times
“CAIRO — An advertisement by a French automaker has stirred up controversy in Egypt after activists said it promotes sexual harassment in a country where the practice is rampant.
The ad by the Egyptian branch of Citroën, released last month, shows popular Egyptian singer and actor Amr Diab driving the latest version of the company’s C4, before coming to an abrupt stop in front of a woman crossing the street.
Diab looks at the woman and snaps a picture of her from a camera fixed in the car's rearview mirror. The singer is seen smiling as the woman’s image appears on his phone. Both are then seen together as if on a date.
Although apparently intended to feature the car's camera, the advertisement has drawn criticism of the automaker and the 60-year-old singer, seen as a role model for many across the Arab world.
Under pressure from the backlash online, Citroën Egypt offered an apology and removed the 100-second commercial.
‘We deeply regret and understand the negative interpretation of this part of this film. With our business partner in Egypt, we took the decision to withdraw this commercial from all Citroën channels and we present our sincere apologies to all offended communities by this film,’ it said in a statement.
There was no comment from Diab, who still has the video on his social media accounts with tens of millions of followers.
Sexual harassment, mostly ranging from catcalls to occasional pinching or grabbing, is rampant in Egypt, a conservative Muslim country with more than 100 million people.
Speak Up, an Egyptian feminist initiative, called the add ‘creepy’ and said it promoted ‘photographing girls casually on the street without their consent only because he likes them.’
‘Everything can be a double-edged sword. In this advert, @Citroen #Egypt chose to show the negative aspects of their C4′s new features, from harming people’s privacy to harassing girls in the street! #MeToo,’ a user named The Lady said in a post on Twitter.” Read more at Boston Globe
“‘Why retire from something you love? They’ll retire you fast enough.’”
In a television career that spanned seven decades, Betty White created some of the most memorable characters in sitcom history, won multiple Emmys, became a game show regular and hosted ‘Saturday Night Live’ when she was 88. She championed equity causes before they became popular and dedicated time to animal welfare. Above all, she was known for her kindness.
White died on Friday at 99, just a few weeks shy of her 100th birthday. Hollywood stars and seemingly the entire internet paid tribute to her trailblazing career. ‘The world looks a little different now,’ the actor Ryan Reynolds wrote. ‘She was great at defying expectation. She managed to grow very old and somehow, not old enough.’” Read more at New York Times
“A planned 100th-birthday cinema special for Betty White, who died on New Year’s Eve at age 99, will now become a tribute to the Hollywood icon, the New York Post reports.
The 100-minute special, ‘Betty White: 100 Years Young,’ will play in theaters Jan. 17, when she would have turned 100.” Read more at Axios
The number of small urban farms growing mushrooms, like Smallhold’s in New York, is expected to bloom.Chris Maggio for The New York Times
“How will Americans eat in 2022?
Food industry leaders say it will be another pragmatic, roll-up-your-sleeves kind of year, shaped by the needs of people working from home.
Climate change is top of mind. Mushrooms from small urban farms may replace some animal products. Plant-based chicken is coming, and coming fast. And look for kelp, which removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. To drink: Sweet and colorful cocktails from the 1980s — maybe brewed with hibiscus — are making a comeback.
You’ll also most likely see more cannabis-based products. One promises not to lead to ‘the munchies’ but to weight loss. There’s just one problem: the science.” Read more at New York Times
The Perseid meteor shower put on a show over the Negev desert in Israel in August.Amir Cohen/Reuters
“Lie back, look up and see what the cosmos has to offer.
On any given night, far from the bright city lights, there’s a chance you’ll see a beautiful streak shoot across the sky as a meteor flies overhead. The year starts with the Quadrantid meteor shower, which peaks tonight, and at the end of May we may be able to see a new shower called the Tau Herculids. Here are other showers to keep an eye on.
We also spoke to NASA’s retiring top scientist, Jim Green, about making Mars — and maybe Venus — habitable.” Read more at New York Times