November 18, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Unlocking the potential of vaccines built on messenger RNA: The technology could help to boost immunity against cancer, influenza and much more. (Elie Dolgin, 10/16/19, Nature)

Brad Kremer had waited months to receive an experimental cancer vaccine called BNT122, during which time the melanoma on his skin had spread to his liver and spine. His back pain was getting worse, he was rapidly losing weight and new cancerous lesions kept appearing on his left thigh. "It was very scary," says Kremer, a 52-year-old sales representative from Acton, Massachusetts.

But within weeks of his first injection in March, Kremer could see that the vaccine was working. The coin-sized melanoma spots that popped up from his skin were now flat discolourations measuring millimetres across. "I was actually witnessing the cancer cells shrinking before my eyes," he says. Several doses later, his appetite has returned, his back pain has subsided and scans show that his cancer is continuing to retreat.

Kremer's dramatic response exemplifies the medical potential of vaccines built on messenger RNA. In this method, strings of lab-synthesized nucleotides train the immune system to recognize and destroy disease-causing agents -- be they cancer cells or infectious viruses.

Other ways of making vaccines can achieve the same therapeutic objective. But the potency, versatility, speed of manufacturing and low cost of mRNA make it an attractive platform for the rapid development and large-scale production of new or custom-made vaccines.

Early clinical results have demonstrated the technology's promise. Researchers at BioNTech in Mainz, Germany, the manufacturer of the cancer vaccine that Kremer is receiving, reported in 2017 that all of the first 13 people with advanced-stage melanoma to receive the personalized immunotherapy -- which is tailor-made to match the genetic profile of each person's cancer -- showed elevated immunity against the mutated bits of their tumours. As a result, these patients' risk of developing new metastatic lesions was significantly reduced1. For viral diseases, prophylactic vaccine candidates against rabies2 and pandemic influenza3 have each proved safe and induced protective antibody responses in healthy volunteers. In both cases, however, the antiviral effects waned after less than a year, suggesting that improvements are needed to provide more robust and long-lasting immunity.

"There's a lot of potential here," says John Mascola, director of the Vaccine Research Center at the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. "It's still early in the development of these vaccines, but the platform has shown proof of concept."

How mRNA vaccines work so brilliantly and why they must be kept so cold (Sanjay Mishra, 11/18/20, The World)

Vaccines train the immune system to recognize the disease-causing part of a virus. Vaccines traditionally contain either weakened viruses or purified signature proteins of the virus.

But an mRNA vaccine is different, because rather than having the viral protein injected, a person receives genetic material -- mRNA -- that encodes the viral protein. When these genetic instructions are injected into the upper arm, the muscle cells translate them to make the viral protein directly in the body.

This approach mimics what the SARS-CoV-2 does in nature -- but the vaccine mRNA codes only for the critical fragment of the viral protein. This gives the immune system a preview of what the real virus looks like without causing disease. This preview gives the immune system time to design powerful antibodies that can neutralize the real virus if the individual is ever infected.

While this synthetic mRNA is genetic material, it cannot be transmitted to the next generation. After an mRNA injection, this molecule guides the protein production inside the muscle cells, which reaches peak levels for 24 to 48 hours and can last for a few more days.

Traditional vaccine development, although well studied, is very time-consuming and cannot respond instantaneously against novel pandemics such as COVID-19.

For example, with seasonal flu, it takes roughly six months from identification of the circulating influenza virus strain to produce a vaccine. The candidate flu vaccine virus is grown for about three weeks to produce a hybrid virus, which is less dangerous and better able to grow in hens' eggs. The hybrid virus is then injected into a lot of fertilized eggs and incubated for several days to make more copies. Then the fluid containing virus is harvested from eggs, the vaccine viruses are killed, and the viral proteins are purified over several days.

The mRNA vaccines can leapfrog the hurdles of developing traditional vaccines, such as producing noninfectious viruses or producing viral proteins at medically demanding levels of purity.

MRNA vaccines eliminate much of the manufacturing process because rather than having viral proteins injected, the human body uses the instructions to manufacture viral proteins itself.

Also, mRNA molecules are far simpler than proteins. For vaccines, mRNA is manufactured by chemical rather than biological synthesis, so it is much quicker than conventional vaccines to be redesigned, scaled up and mass-produced.

In fact, within days of the genetic code of the SARS-CoV-2 virus becoming available, the mRNA code for a candidate vaccine testing was ready. What's most attractive is that once the mRNA vaccine tools become viable, mRNA can be quickly tailored for other future pandemics.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Netflix struck gold with 'The Queen's Gambit,' and now guess which iPhone app is all the rage (CHRISTOPHER ZARA, 11/18/20, Fast Company)

Downloads for's app have skyrocketed in the United States since the series debuted last month, according to new data from App Annie. Among strategy games on the iPhone, the app has jumped to No. 3 in the United Sates and No. 2 in the U.K., the data shows. Among all games in the United States, the "Chess" app rose 256 spots since the series debuted. It's now No. 62.

It should obviously be 64.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Biden Expected to Reverse Many of Trump's Immigration Policies (Aline Barros, November 18, 2020, VOA News)

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to reverse many of President Donald Trump's landmark immigration policies after he takes office next year. Though untangling some immigration guidelines most likely will take time, Biden has vowed to reverse limits on temporary workers, loosen visa restrictions on international students, halt border wall construction and end private immigration detention centers.

As VOA recently reported, Biden is expected to prioritize restoring DACA -- an Obama-era program that protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children from deportation -- rescind travel restrictions on 13 countries and put in place a 100-day freeze on deportations while his administration issues new guidance.

The heir to Reagan/Bush Republicanism.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM

60-40 NATION:

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Biden is already letting us down: He's snubbed Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, walked back promises about student debt, and appointed some disappointing members of staff. The way this is going, the president-elect could end up primaried in 2024 (Carl Gibson, 11/18/20, Independent)

Initially, Biden campaigned on forgiving up to $50,000 of student loan debt per borrower if they work in the public or nonprofit sector. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently suggested that Biden could forgive $50,000 in student loan debt per borrower through executive order, instead of relying on Congress. But seemingly overnight, the president-elect shifted his tone to say he'd only forgive up to $10,000 in privately held debt -- even though 92% of student debt is federal -- and only for "economically distressed" borrowers, which suggests rigid means-testing will stand in the way of the scant few borrowers who may qualify.

Climate change is another top issue for this critical bloc of voters. In September, a poll of voters aged 18-29 conducted by NPR, Marist, and PBS NewsHour ranked climate change as the second biggest motivator for them in 2020 (the economy ranked first). Climate change is such a potent issue for young voters that even 49% of young Republicans told Pew Research this summer that the government should do more to combat its effects.  

But Biden's new climate adviser is Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), who relies heavily on the oil and gas industry for campaign donations. According to OpenSecrets, Richmond ranks 5th among House Democrats in oil and gas contributions, and 22nd out of all members of the House. 

"Cedric Richmond has taken big money from the fossil fuel industry, cozied up with oil and gas, and stayed silent while polluters poisoned his community," tweeted the official account for the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate activist group. "How will young people and frontline communities trust our voices will be heard louder than Big Oil in a Joe Biden administration?"

It also doesn't bode well for progressives that Biden's national security braintrust includes architects of the 20-year-long Afghanistan war. According to The Washington Post's James Hohmann, General Stanley McChrystal was present at a national security briefing for the Biden transition team. As legendary journalist Michael Hastings reported in his devastating 2010 Rolling Stone profile, General McChrystal was responsible for the failed "counterinsurgency" strategy that only served to further destabilize Afghanistan. Biden himself correctly predicted at the time that McChrystal's strategy "would plunge America into a military quagmire without weakening international terrorist networks." So why is the controversial general now failing up to advise the incoming administration on national security?

Perhaps most troubling is that Biden's most senior White House staff includes a venture capitalist (chief of staff Ron Klain) and a former pharmaceutical industry lobbyist (Steve Ricchetti). Additionally, the frontrunners for cabinet positions in Biden's White House are a mishmash of corporate executives from the tech and pharmaceutical industries, along with a few Wall Street bankers. 

If this weren't enough, Biden is simultaneously giving a huge middle finger to the left after it went out of its way to elect him. As The Independent reported last week, progressive icons like Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are expected to be "frozen" out of Biden's cabinet, despite them campaigning for Labor Secretary and Treasury Secretary, respectively. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


Trump team looks to box in Biden on foreign policy by lighting too many fires to put out (Nicole Gaouette, Kylie Atwood and Alex Marquardt,  November 17, 2020, CNN)

President Donald Trump's order of a further withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq is the latest foreign policy move on a growing list in his final weeks in office that are meant to limit President-elect Joe Biden's options before he takes office in January.

The White House has directed newly installed acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller to focus his attention in the remaining weeks on cyber and irregular warfare, with a focus on China in particular, an administration official tells CNN. It is contemplating new terrorist designations in Yemen that could complicate efforts to broker peace. And it has rushed through authorization of a massive arms sale that could alter the balance of power in the Middle East.
The Trump team has prepared legally required transition memos describing policy challenges, but there are no discussions about actions they could take or pause. Instead, the White House is barreling ahead. A second official tells CNN their goal is to set so many fires that it will be hard for the Biden administration to put them all out.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 PM


Meet New N.H. Lawmakers: Rep. Maria Perez From Milford (RICK GANLEY & MARY MCINTYRE, 11/18/20, NHPR)

NHPR's Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley is talking with some of the lawmakers who have been newly elected to the New Hampshire Legislature. Maria Perez, a Democrat, will represent Milford in the state House of Representatives.

Rick Ganley: So you emigrated from El Salvador to the U.S. 32 years ago, and you've been living in Milford for about 18 years now?

Maria Perez: Yeah, it's going to be close to 20 years.

Rick Ganley: But what brought you to New Hampshire?

Maria Perez: To be honest, when I moved here, my ex-husband brought me here. He was working in the textile industry and he was living in New Hampshire. So that's why I moved to New Hampshire.

Rick Ganley: And what made you decide to stay?

Maria Perez: New Hampshire is a beautiful place. And then if you want your kids to have a good education, and a quiet life and quality life, New Hampshire to me is one of the best places, you know. That's why I decided to stay in New Hampshire.

Rick Ganley: Yeah. And what about Milford specifically? What is it about Milford that attracted you?

Maria Perez: I love the nature. I love being in a quiet place. I love and enjoy a place that I can, like, have a quiet neighborhood and then Milford has that in the quality of life. I love having my vegetable gardens. In Nashua, you know, I felt like that the houses are too close to each other and I needed to feel like I have more space and like enjoy the life. So I love Milford.

Posted by orrinj at 12:36 PM


The Strange and Twisted Tale of Hydroxychloroquine: The much-hyped drug sparked a battle between power and knowledge. Let's not repeat it. (ADAM ROGERS, 11.11.2020, Wired)

THE POSSIBILITIES IN early 2020: Hydroxychloroquine might help. Or it might not. Or it might make people worse. No one knew.

One of the first people to leap into that breach was David Boulware, a diligent infectious disease researcher and professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota. Back in 2015 he'd worked on an Ebola drug trial with the National Institutes of Health, and he quickly raised his hand to work on trials of treatments for the new virus.

In early March, he and his team were supposed to be at an HIV conference in Boston, but by that point nobody was traveling anywhere. "We all had four days free to totally focus on this task," Boulware told me then. His group used the time to put together a plan to study hydroxychloroquine.

Right here--the stage where scientists come up with these "research protocols"--is where how-to-know starts getting complicated. It's a cliché because it's true: The answers you get depend on the questions you ask. In this case, Boulware's team decided not to test the drug on hospitalized patients, when the disease becomes severe. "If it was going to work, you'd have a better chance to alter the disease course early on," Boulware said.

They hoped it worked. But they didn't know. To find out, they proposed a classic structure: A couple hundred people would get the drug; a similar number would get a placebo--an inert fake. The ones getting the placebo would be the "control group," experiencing all the same things except for the drug, to isolate its effects. Neither researchers nor participants would know who got which until the end; that's called a "double-blind" study. And people would be assigned to the groups at random, to avoid even unconscious bias on the part of the researchers and prevent differences between groups of humans--socioeconomic, demographic, and so on--from throwing off the results.

That is, in other words, a large, double-blinded, randomized controlled trial. Boulware's team proposed two. One would look at whether hydroxychloroquine could prevent illness in people with exposure to an infected person--"post-exposure prophylaxis"--and another would see if taking the drug close to the onset of symptoms could keep those symptoms from getting worse. That was "early treatment." On March 13, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the study, a blisteringly fast green light from a typically cautious, plodding agency. The responses of the federal government's scientific policymaking would falter in key ways over the next few months, but this wasn't one of them.

Boulware started enrolling people almost immediately. For statistical validity, they'd need enough people so that some in the experimental groups and some in the controls would get Covid-19. The researchers would run the numbers, ask who got what, and they'd have an answer in weeks. They'd write up the results, publish in a journal, and it would be science.

Except Boulware's reasonable expectation that things would work the way they were supposed to didn't take into account the viral social-media blender that was spinning up its blades--making a viscous gazpacho out of Silicon Valley opportunism and the hottest of hot takes from the president of the United States.

EVEN THE STODGIEST of scientists don't believe that waiting months or years for a formal write-up of an experiment to penetrate a wall of skeptical reviewers, receiving an inscrutable thumbs-up to get published--in ink! on paper! that gets mailed! to libraries!--is an ideal system for disseminating new knowledge today. Yet that's still mostly how things work, despite the existence of the online version of most journals. But the Covid-19 pandemic came at a weird moment in the history of how information spreads. For one thing, that formal system was already in the process of breaking down. Due to the pressures of publication and academic seniority, some of the science that gets into peer-reviewed journals doesn't hold up to scrutiny, and many scientists are internalizing the hard truth of that " reproducibility crisis." Formal peer review and publication doesn't make something true. That's part of the reason the biomedical sciences were embracing a newer approach, one that their colleagues across the quad in the physics and math buildings had arrived at years before: "prepublication" or "prepress" articles that could go online as soon as their authors finished typing them.

That's good; it means faster, freer information and a more egalitarian kind of review. But rethinking the gatekeeping in the ways nominal experts disseminated nominal knowledge opened the door to other people playing the game. Thanks to widespread access to publishing tools and social media, pretty much anyone can marshal the trappings of expertise. The crisis of the global pandemic intersected with a crisis of belief, with opposing scientific ideas somehow getting tethered to political ideologies. With just a bit of Googling, anyone can find things that look like truth, that are what that person was hoping to hear in the first place. If one of those things goes viral, and if the science behind it is difficult or undercooked, pretty soon everyone starts nodding along.

Which is what happened on March 13--the same day the FDA approved Boulware's well-thought-out trial. A physician named James Todaro tweeted that chloroquine could fight Covid-19, and he'd written a paper that proved it. Now, this wasn't a "paper" from a peer-reviewed journal, or even a preprint. It was a Google Doc, coauthored by a lawyer named Gregory Rigano and a biochemist named Thomas Broker, identified as a Stanford PhD. It was a pretty good summary of all the research on chloroquine up to that point. It even cited the work of a French researcher named Didier Raoult, a controversial infectious disease specialist who, a few days later, claimed he had results showing that hydroxychloroquine worked against Covid-19 in human beings.

A steady rain of likes and retweets turned into a viral downpour. The influential Silicon Valley blog Stratechery linked to the Google Doc. Rigano went on Fox News. Elon Musk tweeted about the document with the link. Musk, who said he'd taken chloroquine for malaria, also tweeted a link to a video on hydroxychloroquine and Covid-19 produced by a small medical-education company called MedCram. The company had started doing brisk traffic covering the coronavirus; the hydroxychloroquine episode took off.

The original Google Doc made a good case for chloroquine being of interest--attempted use in prior pandemics, studies in cells and in animals, preliminary results from China. Not proof, to be sure, but tantalizing hints. But, as it turned out, the creators were not all that they appeared.

Rigano had done most of the initial work. According to his LinkedIn bio, Rigano was on leave from a master's program in bioinformatics at Johns Hopkins and was an adviser to a drug development program at Stanford. But the head of the bioinformatics program at Johns Hopkins told me Rigano wasn't really on leave from the program; he had only taken one class. And the codirector of the Stanford program told me that, while he'd met Rigano, he was in no way an "adviser." Todaro, whom Rigano met via Twitter, was a former ophthalmologist turned professional bitcoin investor. And Broker was not, it turned out, a Stanford biochemist. He attended Stanford but now was a retired virologist at the University of Alabama who studied not coronaviruses but an entirely different family of viruses. Broker disavowed any involvement in the paper, and Todaro and Rigano soon removed his name from it.

None of which is to say they were necessarily wrong. But none of which is to say they were necessarily right, either. Yet the idea rippled through Silicon Valley like photons through an optical cable. Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google had sucked up most of the disruption oxygen in tech, and entrepreneurial types were already interested in biotech as a thing to pour money on. And their libertarian bent means they're always looking for an institutional eyeball into which they can shove a venture-capital finger. The medical establishment, with its elitist reliance on the plodding, 20th-century model of clinical trials in the midst of a raging pandemic, seemed like a fat target.

The need for speed was real, and it played into the baser, basic instincts of the Valley. Those hold that all a technologist needs is a dream, a minimum-viable product, and the will to build a company. (A Stanford undergraduate degree doesn't hurt.) If you're trained to see your successes as the result of genius and instinct rather than luck, you might not be able to readily distinguish between the rigors of testing a drug's efficacy and the travails of bringing a product to market. But they are different processes with different goals. In the Valley, whether something works is different from, maybe even disconnected from, whether it sells.

Combine that with the quantified-self, n-of-1 approach to health and wellness that some of the same people also embrace, and you get not science but pseudo-science touted by the four-hour-body crowd that gets rejuvenating transfusions of young people's blood and rebrands nutritional diet shakes as food from a dystopian science fiction movie. "Tech, and especially Silicon Valley, has this belief that all you have to do is disrupt things and try shit and make it stick to the wall, and it will work and change everything," says one investor with a long history in health care. "We've had a tried-and-true method of getting vaccinations and drugs approved in the US that is absolutely antithetical to everything the tech industry believes and has found to be true."

As deaths in the US mounted and the economy went into a lockdown-induced spin, some rich and successful venture capitalists started arguing that the whole system was nonsense. As noted contrarian, investor, and former PayPal, LinkedIn, and Square executive Keith Rabois tweeted, "Randomized controls are horrible ideas. Largest impediment to progress in health spans." (Rabois agreed to consider answering emailed questions but didn't respond to the ones I sent.) Randomized, controlled trials not only take too long, Rabois and his ilk said, but were in this case unnecessary. You could instead use "real-world data," like the experience of the tens of thousands of people who were actually taking hydroxychloroquine, and do some kind of data thing on it.

"We've had a tried-and-true method of getting vaccinations and drugs approved in the US that is absolutely antithetical to everything the tech industry believes."

It's not crazy. Randomized controlled trials are, as the scientists say, the gold standard. But that method isn't the only way to figure out causality, or at least to start to get a sense of it. Sometimes double-blind studies are impractical. Sometimes nature and circumstance offer a great opportunity to see how changes in conditions have different effects. Observational studies, retrospective analyses of existing data, meta-analyses of grouped smaller studies--they're all useful, and certainly better than throwing biotechnological spaghetti against a pandemic to see what sticks. But look what happened months later, after similar hopes for convalescent plasma as a therapy turned into widespread use. After giving it to nearly 100,000 people, plasma appeared to be safe, but there was only limited evidence of its effectiveness.

If it's possible to characterize an entire swath of opinions, though, what the techfluencers seemed to be pitching was not a study where the parameters of observation were defined in advance, but one where all sorts of casually collected data, the flotsam and jetsam of our digital lives, might somehow be tabulated and correlated to whether, when, and how a person got hydroxychloroquine. Quantified self, but applied to everyone--quantified other.

To be fair, the ethics of demanding rigorous, time-consuming tests during a pandemic are worth debating. In a sense, this is about medicine now versus science later. Correctly administered, hydroxychloroquine only rarely has serious side effects; it's a well-understood, mostly safe drug. Why not just give it to everyone and monitor their outcomes? That's a very Silicon Valley approach--intermediate risk, high reward. "I appreciate some of the tech people coming to health care, because I do think we should be thinking about some things differently. Having fresh thinking is great. But fresh thinking is different from illogical thinking or uncaring thinking," the investor tells me. "If you're a tech guy flacking hydroxychloroquine to people who shouldn't use it, what the fuck? People can get really sick."

Even if they don't get sick, that plan still has problems. Giving people a drug that may or may not work is ethically dicey. And who would actually keep track of those outcomes? "Big data" approaches to medicine are susceptible to the distortions and bias of anecdotal evidence and intuition, exactly the mistakes that rigorous, large-scale, randomized controlled trials are designed to avoid. But over decades, those trials have gotten more and more complicated and expensive--just as government funding of them has plateaued. The main consequence has been that pharmaceutical companies fund their own trials, and the companies are highly incentivized to focus on drugs with huge potential markets. That often means more expensive lifestyle drugs and fewer worthy public health solutions or medicines with population-scale benefits--more Viagras, fewer Vancomycins. Little wonder, then, that researchers running trials for the unpatented drug hydroxychloroquine had such trouble gaining traction, while the expensive antiviral remdesivir, with the transnational pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences pushing it, found support for a trial in the NIH and in the White House--and is now standard in US Covid-19 treatment. The foxes all run their own chicken-coop businesses.

THE SAME WEEK the mania for the drug took hold in Silicon Valley, Larry Ellison, the chair of Oracle and the fifth-richest person on earth, started talking with Donald Trump. According to The Washington Post, Ellison wanted to pitch a widespread study of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as a treatment. Ellison proposed that Oracle could develop a website to track people's use of the drug along with their health outcomes, and the data would anticipate whatever a slow, expensive randomized controlled trial might eventually reveal. (Through a spokesperson, Ellison declined to answer my questions about these discussions, as did a White House spokesperson.)

Ellison seemed to make an impression. Shortly after that conversation, the Post reported, Trump met with his senior advisers on the coronavirus pandemic and asked if the government could expedite the approval process for hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine, and, for good measure, remdesivir. Emergency use authorizations had been employed during pandemics in the past, to allow treatments with potential to jump the line in times of urgent need. Remdesivir was in the midst of a large-scale randomized trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. Hydroxychloroquine didn't have the same backing.

The president's urgency wasn't just a matter of public health. Trump had promised Covid-19 would just disappear, but the US response to the disease was going entirely off the rails. During a disastrous visit to the CDC on March 6, Trump touted his own scientific acumen--"I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it"--but behind the scenes he was obstructing programs to begin widespread testing for the disease. The failure to do those tests meant that as March ticked onward, thousands of Americans were already infected. Trump acknowledged privately to the journalist Bob Woodward that Covid-19 was a dangerous, plague-level disease even as he railed against the press on Twitter and elsewhere, hoping to bolster a plummeting stock market. ("I don't want to create panic," he said in September when asked about why he had downplayed the severity of the pandemic.) And meanwhile every model, every infectious disease researcher, every epidemiologist was looking at case and fatality curves on the cusp of exponentiality, with worst-case fatality estimates in the millions.

A miracle cure must have sounded pretty good.

On March 19, the president conducted a press conference, and it was really weird.

This is where he started pitching hydroxychloroquine. "It's shown very encouraging--very, very encouraging early results. And we're going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately," the president said. The FDA was all in too: "They've gone through the approval process; it's been approved."

This was untrue in most respects.

Posted by orrinj at 12:35 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:05 PM


Posted by orrinj at 11:40 AM


Judge rules border agents can't use COVID-19 order to expel migrant kids (CAMILO MONTOYA-GALVEZ, NOVEMBER 18, 2020, CBS NEWS)

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered border authorities to stop expelling migrant children without letting them seek humanitarian refuge, dealing a severe blow to a pandemic-era policy the Trump administration has used to curtail legal protections for minors in U.S. immigration custody.

In a two-page order, Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said unaccompanied migrant children who are taken into custody by border officials must be afforded the safeguards Congress established for them and placed in shelters overseen by the government during their immigration proceedings.

"This cruel and unlawful policy, like so many others from the Trump administration, was putting thousands of children in grave danger," Lee Gelernt, the top American Civil Liberties Union lawyer in the case, told CBS News. "Not surprisingly, all three federal judges who have looked at it have concluded it should be halted."

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


Pro-mask or anti-mask? Your moral beliefs probably predict your stance (Eugene Y. Chan, 11/16/20, The Conversation)

I surveyed 1,033 Americans during the last week in April 2020, asking them how relevant each moral foundation is to staying at home, wearing face masks and practicing social distancing.

I found that Americans, on the whole, associated all three behaviors with the "caring" and "equality" foundations. Indeed, staying at home when you don't need to go out shows you care about others - I call this the caring foundation. But staying at home helps flatten the curve only if everyone does it - the equality foundation. The same can be said for wearing face masks and social distancing.

But I also found important age differences in two other moral foundations.

Younger adults felt that staying at home and wearing face masks go against their nature - what I call the nature foundation. It would make sense. Younger adults are more likely to crave social interactions, and so staying at home goes against what they perceive to be natural human behavior.

Meanwhile, wearing face masks not only is uncomfortable but hides one's face, which also goes against beliefs about how human beings are supposed to socialize.

Older adults, on the other hand, felt that all three behaviors show a greater value placed on communal goals and public health over personal comfort.

Interestingly, the authority foundation didn't relate to any of the three behaviors, regardless of age.

By understanding which moral foundations are relevant, social marketers, public health officials and policymakers can design more effective appeals to get people to stay at home, wear face masks and stay 6 feet apart.

For example, because Americans see the actions as showing they care, emphasizing how those behaviors show caring will likely increase compliance.

To target younger adults, who see staying at home and wearing face masks as going against the social nature of human beings, messages should suggest how these actions can actually facilitate socialization.

For example: "Wearing a mask lets you stay in touch, safely." Common slogans such as "Staying Apart, Together," while whimsical and a play on words, are unlikely to increase younger adults' uptake, since the "communal" foundation is a less relevant concern for them. Those slogans may be more effective for older adults.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The electric vehicle money surge (Ben Geman, 11/18/20, Axios)

Meanwhile, GM's latest move shows how incumbent automakers are increasingly concluding they need to go big into electric vehicles to position themselves for the future, even though sales of internal-combustion models still dominate the market.
Where it stands: The Arrival deal includes around $400 million in additional funding from investors including Fidelity, Wellington Management, a BNP Paribas energy funds, and BlackRock-managed funds.

This builds on prior funding of $118 million from BlackRock as well as Hyundai and Kia investments.

Arrival says it has $1.2 billion worth of signed contracts with customers, including a UPS order for 10,000 vans, and its first products are slated to go into production in the fourth quarter of 2021.

It comes on the heels of other electric vehicle companies going public (or about to) via reverse mergers including Canoo, Lordstown Motors, Fisker, the charging provider ChargePoint.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


GOP Officials in Michigan Temporarily Block Certification of Election Results (Matt Stieb, 11/17/20, New York)

The Republican chair of the committee, Monica Palmer, explained her rationale for the two nays, claiming the board of canvassers did "not have complete and accurate information on those poll books." Such a statement defied a recent state court rejection of a Republican lawsuit to block the certification of votes in Wayne County because of election fraud-- a ruling in which the judge said that the "plaintiffs' interpretation of events is incorrect and not credible." Nevertheless, the Michigan Republican Party released a statement from chair Laura Cox moments after the canvassers' decision, in which she said she was "proud" that "enough evidence of irregularities and potential voter fraud was uncovered resulting in the Wayne County Board of Canvassers refusing to certify their election results." (Even if there was evidence of irregularities, it would be all but impossible for Trump to win in a recount in a county where Biden won by over 37 points.)

While in the deadlock, Palmer went so far as to make a motion that would "certify the results in the communities other than the city of Detroit," an act that would disenfranchise voters in a city that is almost 79 percent Black. (The other Republican board member appears to have a history of posting racist memes of Obama.)

Ultimately, the pair stepped down from their brinkmanship. After a three-hour public Zoom call in which county residents lambasted the canvassing board -- "You will forever be known in southeast Michigan as two racists who did something so unprecedented that they disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Black voters in the city of Detroit," one local businessman said -- the board came back with a unanimous certification of the county's ballots.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


UK to ban gasoline car sales by 2030 as part of green plan (The Associated Press, November 17, 2020)

Britain will ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars by 2030, a decade earlier than its previous commitment, the prime minister said Tuesday.

Boris Johnson made the pledge as part of plans for a "green industrial revolution" that he claims could create up to 250,000 jobs in energy, transport and technology.

The GND is too conservative.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


FM Zarif says Iran would re-commit to nuclear deal if US returns (New Arab, 18 November, 2020)

FM Zarif said he would welcome the US' return to the nuclear deal.Tags:Iran, Zarif, nuclear deal, Trump, Biden

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Tehran would welcome the US' return to a nuclear deal if president-elect Joe Biden pursues such a move.

"We are ready to discuss how the United States can re-enter the accord," Zarif said, according to Reuters. 

"The situation will improve in the next few months. Biden can lift all sanctions with three executive orders."

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