The Full Belmonte, 2/1/21
100% Pure News. Distilled.
Myanmar's powerful military has taken control of the country in a coup and declared a state of emergency. The country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and other senior government leaders were detained today in early morning raids, and citizens woke up to widespread internet and communications blackouts. A military news outlet announced that power has been handed over to army chief Min Aung Hlaing, who has been under US sanctions designated for human rights abuses related to the atrocities against the Rohingya Muslim community. The coup comes in response to alleged voting irregularities in November's election, in which Suu Kyi's party claimed an overwhelming victory and the military-backed party underperformed. Political tensions have swirled for weeks, as have rumors that the military would soon take over.” Read more at CNN
“Chanting slogans against President Vladimir Putin, tens of thousands took to the streets Sunday across Russia to demand the release of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, keeping up nationwide protests that have rattled the Kremlin. More than 5,100 people were detained by police, according to a monitoring group, and some were beaten.
The massive protests came despite efforts by Russian authorities to stem the tide of demonstrations after tens of thousands rallied across the country the previous weekend in the largest, most widespread show of discontent that Russia had seen in years. Despite threats of jail terms, warnings to social media groups, and tight police cordons, the protests again engulfed cities across Russia’s 11 time zones on Sunday.” Read more at Boston Globe
“The news about the vaccines continues to be excellent — and the public discussion of it continues to be more negative than the facts warrant.
Here’s the key fact: All five vaccines with public results have eliminated Covid-19 deaths. They have also drastically reduced hospitalizations. ‘They’re all good trial results,’ Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, told me. ‘It’s great news.’
Many people are instead focusing on relatively minor differences among the vaccine results and wrongly assuming that those differences mean that some vaccines won’t prevent serious illnesses. It’s still too early to be sure, because a few of the vaccine makers have released only a small amount of data. But the available data is very encouraging — including about the vaccines’ effect on the virus’s variants.
‘The vaccines are poised to deliver what people so desperately want: an end, however protracted, to this pandemic,’ as Julia Marcus of Harvard Medical School recently wrote in The Atlantic.
Why is the public understanding more negative than it should be? Much of the confusion revolves around the meaning of the word ‘effective.’
What do we care about?
In the official language of research science, a vaccine is typically considered effective only if it prevents people from coming down with any degree of illness. With a disease that’s always or usually horrible, like ebola or rabies, that definition is also the most meaningful one.
But it’s not the most meaningful definition for most coronavirus infections.
Whether you realize it or not, you have almost certainly had a coronavirus. Coronaviruses have been circulating for decades if not centuries, and they’re often mild. The common cold can be a coronavirus. The world isn’t going to eliminate coronaviruses — or this particular one, known as SARS-CoV-2 — anytime soon.
Yet we don’t need to eliminate it for life to return to normal. We instead need to downgrade it from a deadly pandemic to a normal virus. Once that happens, adults can go back to work, and children back to school. Grandparents can nuzzle their grandchildren, and you can meet your friends at a restaurant.
As Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told me this weekend: ‘I don’t actually care about infections. I care about hospitalizations and deaths and long-term complications.’
By those measures, all five of the vaccines — from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Novavax and Johnson & Johnson — look extremely good. Of the roughly 75,000 people who have received one of the fivein a research trial, not a single person has died from Covid, and only a few people appear to have been hospitalized. None have remained hospitalized 28 days after receiving a shot.
To put that in perspective, it helps to think about what Covid has done so far to a representative group of 75,000 American adults: It has killed roughly 150 of them and sent several hundred more to the hospital. The vaccines reduce those numbers to zero and nearly zero, based on the research trials.
Zero isn’t even the most relevant benchmark. A typical U.S. flu season kills between five and 15 out of every 75,000 adults and hospitalizes more than 100 of them.
I assume you would agree that any vaccine that transforms Covid into something much milder than a typical flu deserves to be called effective. But that is not the scientific definition. When you read that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 66 percent effective or that the Novavax vaccine was 89 percent effective, those numbers are referring to the prevention of all illness. They count mild symptoms as a failure.
‘In terms of the severe outcomes, which is what we really care about, the news is fantastic,’ Dr. Aaron Richterman, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, said.
What about the highly contagious new virus variants that have emerged in Britain, Brazil and South Africa? The South African variant does appear to make the vaccines less effective at eliminating infections.
Fortunately, there is no evidence yet that it increases deaths among vaccinated people. Two of the five vaccines — from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax — have reported some results from South Africa, and none of the people there who received a vaccine died of Covid. ‘People are still not getting serious illness. They’re still not dying,’ Dr. Rebecca Wurtz of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health told me.
The most likely reason, epidemiologists say, is that the vaccines still provide considerable protection against the variant, albeit not quite as much as against the original version. Some protection appears to be enough to turn this coronavirus into a fairly normal disease in the vast majority of cases.
‘This variant is clearly making it a little tougher to get the most vigorous response that you would want to have,’ Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said. ‘But still, for severe disease, it’s looking really good.’
A vaccination site in North Charleston, S.C. Cameron Pollack for The New York Times
What would an expert do?
The biggest caveat is the possibility that future data will be less heartening. Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, for example, have issued press releases about their data, but no independent group has yet released an analysis. It will also be important to see much more data about how the vaccines interact with the variants.
But don’t confuse uncertainty with bad news. The available vaccine evidence is nearly as positive as it could conceivably be. And our overly negative interpretation of it is causing real problems.
Some people worry that schools cannot reopen even after teachers are vaccinated. Others are left with the mistaken impression that only the two vaccines with the highest official effectiveness rates — from Moderna and Pfizer — are worth getting.
In truth, so long as the data holds up, any of the five vaccines can save your life.
Last week, Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University told my colleague Denise Grady about a conversation he had with other experts. During it, they imagined that a close relative had to choose between getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine now or waiting three weeks to get the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. “All of us said, ‘Get the one tomorrow,’ Schaffner said. ‘The virus is bad. You’re risking three more weeks of exposure as opposed to getting protection tomorrow.’ Read more at New York Times
“President Biden will meet with ten Republican senators who outlined a framework for a smaller coronavirus relief bill.” Read more at New York Times
“Donald Trump has named two lawyers to his impeachment defense team after parting ways with an earlier set of attorneys. The two lawyers representing him will be an Alabama attorney, David Schoen, and a former prosecutor in Pennsylvania, Bruce Castor. Several South Carolina lawyers who were to represent Trump at the trial starting next week have left the team. Trump is the first president in American history to be impeached twice. He will stand trial in the Senate on a charge that he incited his supporters to storm Congress on Jan. 6.” Read more at AP
“Among President Biden’s most specific foreign policy promises was a pledge to convene a global democracy summit during his first year in office. The gathering would be intended to take a public stand against the authoritarian and populist tides that rose during the presidency of Donald J. Trump and, as Mr. Biden and his advisers see it, threaten to swamp Western political values.
In the weeks since Mr. Biden’s election, however, America’s own democracy has been staggering. This month, a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol and disrupted the hallowed peaceful transfer of power. Next week, the Senate will begin its second presidential impeachment trial of Mr. Trump in a year. Republicans in Congress are poised to impose legislative gridlock by obstructing Mr. Biden’s every move.
The sense of a dysfunctional, if not entirely broken, democratic system has foreign rivals crowing — and suggesting that the United States has no business lecturing other nations.” Read more at New York Times
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order requiring masks on airplanes, mass transit, taxis and trains goes into effect late tonight, making not wearing a mask a violation of federal law. The directive also covers ride-share vehicles and does not apply to private cars or commercial trucks operated by individuals.” [The Hill] Read more at Reuters
“A powerful winter storm that roared through the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic over the weekend before merging with another system is expected to pummel parts of the East Coast on Monday . Blizzard conditions with up to 2 feet of snow were possible for some areas, and almost 80 million people were under winter storm warnings, watches and advisories. Major Eastern cities including Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City were bracing for the biggest snowfall of the season, Accuweather warned. As the storm fully emerges across the Ohio Valley, forecasters expect it to erupt into a full-blown nor’easter.” Read more at USA Today
“Monday marks the start of Black History Month , a federally recognized celebration of the contributions African Americans have made to the U.S. and a time to reflect on the continued struggle for racial justice. The theme for 2021 is ‘The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity,’ chosen by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Black History Month got its start in 1926, when Carter G. Woodson proposed a national “Negro History Week," which was intended to be a time to showcase everything students learned about Black history throughout the school year. But it wasn't until 1976, during the height of the civil rights movement, that President Gerald R. Ford expanded the week into Black History Month.” Read more at USA Today
“A first-of-its-kind legislation that decriminalizes the possession of all illegal drugs in Oregon goes into effect Monday. Instead of a criminal justice-based approach, Measure 110 is a pivot to a health care-based approach for the state, offering treatment instead of prison time for those with addictions. Those in possession will be fined $100, a citation that will be dropped if they agree to treatment. The law will be implemented over the next decade by the state officials at the Oregon Health Authority. Nationally, others are hopeful this could be the first in a wave of progressive measures that undo years of damage caused by drug criminalization, which disproportionately imprisoned people of color across the United States.” Read more at USA Today
“Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has called on teachers to return to classrooms Monday, despite the city not having reached an agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union on how and when to reopen schools in the nation's third-largest district. Approximately 70,000 students were originally expected to return to classes Monday, but Lightfoot said she was directing parents not to bring their students to school until Tuesday. She called on all pre-K through 8 teachers, except those with preapproved accommodations, to return to schools Monday. Lightfoot and union officials said they have reached an agreement on four key issues: health and safety protocols, ventilation, contact tracing and safety committees. But outstanding issues include telework accommodations for teachers with immunocompromised household members, a public health metric that would guide school reopening, vaccinations for educators and more.” Read more at USA Today
“A Nazi sympathizer from Montana has been slapped with a $9.9 million fine from the Federal Communications Commission for racist and harassing robocalls across eight states that targeted political figures and attempted to influence the murder case against an avowed white supremacist.
Scott D. Rhodes made thousands of calls in 2018 harassing Black and Jewish politicians including Stacey Abrams, then the Democratic nominee for Georgia governor, and Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor in Florida, as well as California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, another Democrat, according to an FCC complaint.
He also sent more than 800 robocalls to Brooklyn, Iowa, a week after the murder of college student Mollie Tibbetts. Relatives of Tibbetts were among those who received Rhodes' robocalls, telling the Des Moines Register of the USA TODAY Network that the ‘profoundly racist’ calls were ‘twisted and grotesque.’” Read more at USA Today
“Captain Tom Moore, the 100-year-old World War II veteran who captivated the British public in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic with his fundraising efforts, has been hospitalized with COVID-19.” Read more at AP
“Merkel Steps In - Chancellor Angela Merkel convenes talks today with pharmaceutical industry representatives, German state leaders and European Union officials to discuss the slow pace of vaccination across the bloc. The aim is to boost the production capacity of vaccines and speed their rollout. The virtual meeting is an acknowledgement of the EU’s stuttering performance and its controversial decision to restrict exports when faced with reduced deliveries, prompting global complaints and charges of protectionism.” Read more at Bloomberg
“Israel-Palestinians Vaccine: Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s office says Israel has agreed to transfer 5,000 vaccine doses to the Palestinians to immunize front-line medical workers. It's the first time that Israel has confirmed the transfer of vaccines to the Palestinians. Israel is one of the world’s leaders in vaccinating its population after striking procurement deals with international drug giants Pfizer and Moderna, Josef Federman reports from Jerusalem.
The Palestinians have not begun to vaccinate their people. The World Health Organization has raised concerns about the disparity between Israel and Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, and international human rights groups and U.N. experts have said Israel is responsible for the wellbeing of Palestinians in these areas.
In the meantime, thousands of ultra-Orthodox Israelis thronged a pair of funerals for two prominent rabbis in Jerusalem, flouting the country’s ban on large public gatherings during the pandemic. The phenomenon has undermined the country’s aggressive vaccination campaign to bring a raging outbreak under control and threatens to damage Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the March election.” Read more at AP
“Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) announced on Sunday the formation of a new PAC focused on challenging the Republican Party’s acceptance of Trump.” Read more at The Hill
“At least 19 state and local elected officials attended former President Donald Trump’s rally on Jan. 6, and some stormed the Capitol.” Read more at New York Times
“The police in Rochester, N.Y., released body-camera footage that shows officers using handcuffs and pepper spray on a 9-year-old girl.” Read more at New York Times
“The Lincoln Project is condemning co-founder John Weaver in the wake of allegations that the longtime GOP strategist made unsolicited sexual overtures to several young men, including one who was 14 years old at the time he received sexual messages from Weaver.
‘John Weaver led a secret life that was built on a foundation of deception at every level. He is a predator, a liar, and an abuser. We extend our deepest sympathies to those who were targeted by his deplorable and predatory behavior,’ the group said in a statement Sunday.
The Lincoln Project, a group of Republicans who opposed former president Donald Trump, rose to prominence last year as they campaigned against Trump and others who supported him. Weaver, 61, helped co-found the group. Weaver previously worked on the presidential campaigns for John McCain and John Kasich.” Read more at Washington Post
“Facebook tightens control of Groups. An overhaul of the social-media giant's forums for like-minded users is planned after the company's own review found that American Facebook Groups had become a vector for the rabid partisanship and even calls for violence that inflamed the country after the election.” Read more at Wall Street Journal
“Covid-19 vaccines to stress-test grocery stores and pharmacies. The job of vaccinating much of the American public is about to fall largely on retail pharmacies, with chains like CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and Kroger saying they are ready to give tens of millions of shots a month.” Read more at Wall Street Journal
“Lives Lived: Sophie was an innovative producer and performer whose music distilled speed, noise, melody, clarity and catchiness into hyperpop. She died at 34.
The photographer Corky Lee was determined to restore the contributions of Asian-Americans to the historical record and to document their present-day lives and struggles. Lee died, from Covid-19, at 73.” Read more at New York Times
“Warning bells are sounding for the U.S. semiconductor industry as Intel grapples with troubles that could imperil the future of domestic chipmaking, Axios chief tech correspondent Ina Fried writes from S.F.
Why it matters: Chips are some of the only strategic tech products that are actually manufactured in the U.S., accounting for a quarter-million U.S. jobs. They're also a key piece in the power struggle between the U.S. and China.
Intel is weighing whether to outsource some manufacturing after struggling mightily to get its next-generation chip production up and running.
The percentage of chips made in the U.S. has already declined from 37% in 1990 to 12% today, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association.
Beijing has grand designs on dominating the global chip market, which would in turn boost China's economic and technological might and could give the country an edge in A.I. and other next-generation technologies.
Both Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin talked about the strategic importance of the U.S. chip industry in their confirmation hearings.” Read more at Axios
“Former South African President Jacob Zuma said he will refuse to cooperate with a judicial panel that’s probing graft during his nine-year rule, in violation of an order by the nation’s top court.” Read more at Bloomberg
“Central African Republic’s refugee exodus. Over 200,000 people have fled the Central African Republic since violence erupted following a disputed presidential election on Dec. 27, the United Nations refugee agency has reported.
The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, a 12-member regional group, has called for a cease-fire, as well as the lifting of a 2013 U.N. arms embargo in order to provide weapons to government troops. Writing in Foreign Policy on Jan. 29, former U.S. Ambassador to CAR Laurence Wohlers explained why the prospects for wider international intervention are limited.” Read more at Foreign Policy