Tag Archive for: COVID-19


Jackson mayor says latest water disruption “worst case scenario”.

Southwest Airlines: Pilot union says weather not solely to blame for mass cancellations.

US, other countries consider travel restrictions for China.



Jackson mayor says latest water disruption “worst case scenario”

Jackson, MS, has been under a boil water notice since Christmas Day after freezing weather caused a drop in water pressure. Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba declared a state of emergency yesterday and declared the situation a “worst case scenario”. Local authorities hoped that increasing output from two water treatment plants might remedy the immediate problem. But even after increasing output at the O. B. Curtis and J.H. Fewell water treatment plants, much of the city remains without adequate water pressure. An official press release on Monday said “We are producing significant amounts of water and pushing that into the system, but the pressure is not increasing — despite those efforts at the plants.”

This would seem to suggest unidentified leaks somewhere in the city’s pipe network. Residents are being asked to keep taps closed to maintain what pressure there is. Officials are also urging residents to report any leaks so that they can be repaired and hopefully restore pressure. However, there are numerous anecdotal reports on Jackson’s government Facebook page from residents who say they’ve been reporting leaks for days and that no crews have yet arrived.

Mayor Lumumba explained to residents that the boil water notice is a requirement of the EPA when water pressure falls below a certain level. He did not say whether there were any indications that any water that flows out of taps poses a danger to residents. The city is continuing to work with the recently-appointed third-party manager, Ted Henifin. 

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Southwest Airlines: Pilot union says weather not solely to blame for 1000s of cancellations

Over the weekend, major airlines were forced to cancel thousands of flights due to the severe weather across the country. All but one, Southwest Airlines, were largely back to normal by Tuesday. On Monday, the carrier canceled 70% of its flights and then 60% on Tuesday. In contrast, most major airlines were only canceling about 2% of their flights by Tuesday.

A Southwest spokesman solely blamed the weather for leaving them “chasing our tails, trying to catch up”. However, Casey Murray, president of Southwest’s pilots union, says weather is the least of the airline’s problems. Firstly, Murray says the company’s scheduling software dates to the 1990s – when the airline was much smaller – and is no longer up to the job. Secondly, he cited an overall failure of leadership. “Whether it was pilots, whether it was customer service agents, whether it was ramp agents – they weren’t given the tools to do their job,” Murray said. “Nor were they given the leadership to answer the questions and to be able to provide solutions.” 

The Department of Transportation has taken notice of Southwest’s disproportionately high number of cancellations and is investigating. After a disastrous summer for many air travelers, DOT at last put airlines on notice, promising fines and other consequences if airlines continued to book more flights than they could handle given industry-wide staffing shortages.

The cancellations disrupted plans for thousands of customers and left many stranded. Democratic Senators Edward Markey (MT) and Richard Blumenthal (CT) are demanding that Southwest payout “significant monetary compensation” to customers. “Southwest is planning to issue a $428 million dividend next year – the company can afford to do right by the consumers it has harmed,” the senators said on Tuesday.

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US, other countries consider travel restrictions for China

Just China’s COVID infections are taking off at an astronomical rate, the country has announced an end to three years of tight travel restrictions. Under China’s Zero COVID policy, travel between provinces and abroad were tightly controlled, with lengthy quarantine periods for returning travelers. Next month is Chinese New Year, which is one of the busiest travel periods of the year. During this time, millions of Chinese people crisscross the country visiting relatives. This has raised concerns that city dwellers will bring COVID infections to rural areas, where health systems are more limited.

Many Chinese also take advantage of the extended New Year holiday to go abroad.  Following the announcement that travel restrictions would be lifted next month, Chinese people flocked to travel websites to book trips. But some of their favorite destinations will be tightening their controls on travelers from China due to the COVID surge. Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan and India have already announced requirements for negative COVID tests or 7-day quarantines for Chinese arrivals. The US may be following suit, blaming China’s “lack of transparent data” on its COVID surge.

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Buffalo barber opens his shop for people to come in out of the cold. Border crisis: Supreme Court allows Title 42 to stay in place indefinitely. China rushes to vaccinate elderly amid COVID surge, but many are hesitant.



Buffalo barber opens his shop for people to come in out of the cold

The blistering winter weather this past week has left more than 60 dead in the US. In Buffalo, NY, alone, at least 34 have succumbed to the freezing weather. Buffalo is famous for rough winters and its hardy citizens are no novices when it comes to blizzards. But the severity of this storm seems to have caught even them off guard. Even more heart-rending are the stories of people froze to death in their cars after becoming trapped. And the city’s emergency workers expect to find more victims as the weather warms and snows covering cars melt away.

Over the Christmas weekend, Craig Elston, owner of the C&C Cutz barbershop in Buffalo, was moved to do something for his fellow Buffalonians after witnessing just this sort of tragic scene. “Once I seen the first person laid out with family and kids with them in the snow, it broke my heart,” Elston recalls. “And I’m sitting in here with heat and light, and the barbershop is warm. And it’s a big space that can heat and shelter other people. So it just naturally, you know, came upon me, like, Craig, open the barbershop up, do a live video on all platforms and let people know that they can come here and get some type of shelter”.

And that’s what he did. On Christmas Eve, Elston took to TikTok, Facebook and other social media with a simple message: “Please, man, anybody out there that’s stuck, do not stay in your car, man. The barbershop here welcomes you. Get some heat, get some electricity, charge your phone, get in contact with your family”.

An unforgettable Christmas

Craig Elston in front his Buffalo, NY, barber shop where he sheltered dozens of people.

Soon after, several people arrived to take Elston up on his offer. In all about 50 people came in and out over the weekend. At one time, about 30 people were sheltered in Elston’s shop. “People were actually sleeping here, a lot of people I’ve never even met before, a lot of people that was visiting Buffalo and they got stranded in cars, or a lot of people that was without heat and gas. I just wanted them to have somewhere where they could come charge their phone and see if they could get somebody to come help them”.

Elston and others ventured out to a nearby corner store for food and drink. Neighbors came with food as well, and some in the shop got food from the vending machine. Elston and the people in his shop enjoyed an unusual Christmas meal of “Vienna sausages, Hot Pockets, chips, peach tea”. The group also watched movies and a football game on Elston’s TV.

Sadly, Elston missed Christmas with his daughters who were snowed-in with their mothers in different parts of the city. Still, Elston says this Christmas will stay with him for a long time. “I’m never going to forget this Christmas because, in front of my eyes, I’ve seen people that was almost half – like, half to death here. If I can have an opportunity to help somebody, I think that’s what we all supposed to do”. 

Click here to listen to the full story (about 5 minutes; opens in new tab).

Click here for stunning photos of Buffalo’s blizzard (opens in new tab).


Border crisis: Supreme Court allows Title 42 to stay in place indefinitely

The Supreme Court has granted a petition from the attorneys general of several Republican-led states to allow Title 42 to remain in place. The Trump administration first established Title 42 in March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic. The measure allows US border authorities to quickly expel migrants coming over the border, without allowing them to request asylum. The right to request asylum is guaranteed both under US law and international refugee law. The Trump administration nevertheless adopted the measure, ostensibly to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Since then, the measure has been used to expel migrants more than 2.5 million times. That doesn’t mean 2.5 million people, as many attempted to cross multiple times and then turned back.

President Biden has been trying to revoke Title 42 since he assumed office. Since Title 42 was an executive action, and the executive branch has authority to implement enforcement policy in immigration matters, Biden and the Department of Homeland Security should have the authority to end it whenever they choose. But lower federal courts have on several occasions sided with GOP-led states who don’t want the measure lifted. 

Today’s decision by the Supreme Court leaves Title 42 in place while the court considers an appeal from the GOP states. There’s no set timeline for when the court will hear the case or issue a ruling. This could potentially push any decision back until June 2023.

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China rushes to vaccinate elderly amid COVID surge, but many are hesitant

Over the last three years, China implemented a strict “Zero COVID” policy that would lock down entire cities when only a few infections emerged. This created economic chaos and immense hardship for ordinary citizens. However, the government seems to have done little to prepare for what would happen when the inevitable happened and the country re-opened. For instance, few new hospital beds or ICU units were added. China is also lagging behind on vaccinations of the elderly. Officially, 90% of Chinese have received at least one vaccine dose, but only two-thirds of those over 80.

With runaway numbers of infections and many deaths, China has ramped up efforts to vaccinate the elderly. Authorities are now going door-to-door, offering up to 500 yuan ($70) to anyone over 60 willing to take a vaccine. However, many elderly people are skeptical about the safety and efficacy of Chinese vaccines. This is in part because the Chinese government hasn’t published its findings for vaccine trials in people 60 and older. Some don’t want vaccines at all, while others would prefer to have non-Chinese vaccines like Pfizer or Moderna. Given current trends, experts predict between 1 and 2 million COVID deaths in China by the end of 2023.

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Brittney Griner freed: US swaps WNBA star for “Merchant of Death”. “Tripledemic” of flu, RSV, COVID strains hospitals. Iran carries out first execution connected with headscarf protests.




Brittney Griner freed: US swaps WNBA star for “Merchant of Death”

WNBA star Brittney Griner is now on her way home to the US after months as a Russian prisoner. President Biden, joined at the White House by Griner’s wife Cherelle Griner, announced that the US had reached a prisoner swap deal with Russia. Russia is releasing Griner in exchange for the US releasing the notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Griner arrived in Moscow in February where she plays for a professional women’s basketball team during the US off season. Police arrested her at the airport after finding vape cannisters in her bag containing hashish oil. Griner has a US prescription for the hash oil which she uses for pain management. However, marijuana is illegal in Russia in all its forms. 

The case received a great deal of media attention as Griner’s arrest coincided with the build-up of Russian military assets on Ukraine’s border. Once Russia invaded, many suspected that Russia had detained Griner to use her as a pawn in negotiations with the West.

Griner appeared in a Russian court over the summer. Despite pleading guilty to smuggling in a bid for leniency, she received a 9-year sentence in one of Russia’s notorious penal colonies.

Griner’s family and fans met today’s news of her release with elation. However, the family of another American imprisoned in Russia, Paul Whelan, were disappointed that Whelan was not also coming home. Whelan is a former US Marine who was arrested in Russia in 2020 on espionage charges. President Biden said the US has not given up on bringing Whelan home, but said that Russia “unfairly” considered Whelan’s case as being different to Griner’s. 

Who is Viktor Bout?

During the 1990s and early 2000s, Viktor Bout earned himself the nickname “Merchant of Death”. He was an international arms dealer suspected of having deep ties to the Russian government. He built a notorious reputation as someone who could obtain, sell, and move military-grade hardware to anyone, anywhere in the world for the right price. Bout would even sell his high-grade weapons to both sides in an armed conflict. His wares helped to fuel deadly conflicts in Africa, particularly during civil wars in Angola, DR Congo, and Sierra Leone. The 2005 film “Lord of War” starring Nicholas Cage was loosely based on Bout.

After an elaborate sting operation, US authorities arrested Bout in 2008 over a conspiracy to sell weapons to Colombian rebels to kill Americans. He was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison.

Securing Bout’s release has been a high priority for the Kremlin and Putin’s government has raised the possibility in negotiations with the US many times. It’s not clear whether Bout was himself working for the Russian government, but many think it likely as he was able to easily procure the latest in Russian weapons and even combat aircraft.

US security analysts believe it’s unlikely that Bout will once again represent a danger once he’s released. However, Bout is only 55 (we think) and if Putin is backing him, it doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility that he could go right back to arms dealing on a mass scale.

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“Tripledemic” of flu, RSV, COVID straining hospitals

Doctors are raising the alarm as cases of flu, COVID and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are spiking across the country. Unlike during much of the COVID pandemic, children are proving to be especially vulnerable, especially to RSV. Pediatric units in major cities across the country are full to capacity, with many young children and even infants on ventilators. Many children are coming in with RSV and other infections at the same time.

RSV is a virus that commonly affects people in the winter months. However, infections began rising unusually early this year. Following the Thanksgiving holidays, cases of flu, COVID and RSV all predictably rose. Public health officials are urging people to get their flu vaccines and COVID boosters and to go back to social distancing and mask wearing to avoid overwhelming hospitals over the holidays.

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Iran carries out first execution connected with headscarf protests

When Iran’s attorney general hinted over the weekend that the country’s morality police might have disbanded, some observers wondered whether this meant the regime was attempting to assuage the growing protest movement. In the three months since a 22-year-old woman died in the custody of the morality police, the protest has taken on revolutionary overtones. However, the protests have continued, as has the state’s brutal police response to them.

Today Iran carried out the first execution known to be connected with the protest movement. Mohsen Shekari, 23, was hanged after being convicted of “warring against God”. Shekari took part in some of the earliest protests. He was arrested for allegedly stabbing and wounding a member of a pro-government militia during a demonstration. He was also accused of blocking a road with his motorcycle. Iran state television aired footage of Shekari’s confession, which rights groups believe was coerced. Shekari was visibly bruised in the recording.

Shekari was one of 21 people facing charges connected with the demonstrations which carry the possibility of the death penalty. Iran’s security forces have killed hundreds of protesters outright, many of them children.

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Students’ math, reading skills backslid during pandemic. STL school shooter had AR-15, 600 rounds of ammo. Secret Russian work at Ukraine nuke plant may shed light on “dirty bomb” threat.



US student math, reading test scores backslide during pandemic

New results of reading and math assessments of the the nation’s 4th and 8th graders show how far behind America’s students have fallen during the pandemic. Students have lost significant ground in reading skills and math skills have suffered their sharpest decline since the assessment began in 1990.

Many parents and educators worried students’ skills would suffer from remote learning. The results of these assessments indicate that learning disruptions have affected children across the country and across all racial and socio-economic backgrounds. However, a gap that between white students and students of color has grown significantly since the last assessment in 2019. Additionally, students that were already struggling academically have fallen even further behind their peers. 

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona called these results a “wake-up call”. Even now that most schools have resumed regular in-person teaching, a widespread shortage of teachers will make it more difficult for students to regain lost ground. There was a long-standing teacher shortage before the pandemic, but during the pandemic many more teachers retired or left the profession than is typical. Recruitment of new teachers has also slowed.

Cardona observed that the teacher shortage is a “symptom of decades of underinvestment” and called on states to use more COVID relief money to boost teacher pay.

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STL school shooter had AR-15, 600 rounds of ammo

The shooter at the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School has been identified as Orlando Harris, 19, a former student at the school. Harris yesterday killed 15-year-old student Alexandria Bell and physical education teacher Jean Kuczka, 61. A school security official had observed Harris attempting to enter locked doors and alerted authorities. Police arrived within four minutes of Harris gaining entry to the school.

No motivation for the shooting has emerged but authorities say Harris had mental health issues. Today, police stated that Harris was carrying an AR-15 style rifle and 12 magazines, totaling 600 rounds of ammunition. That was more than enough rounds to kill every student in the school. Central Visual and Performing Arts has 383 students. The Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience, another magnet school that shares a campus with CVPA, has 336 students.

Yesterday’s shooting was the country’s 40th school shooting to result in injury or death just in 2022.

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Secret Russian work at Ukraine nuke plant may shed light on “dirty bomb” threat

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu recently accused Ukraine of a plot to detonate a “dirty bomb”. A dirty bomb uses conventional explosives to disperse nuclear waste as a terror tactic. The US and other Western powers have dismissed Russia’s accusations against Ukraine, but worry that the Russians may be plotting a false-flag operation. In other words, they fear that Russia will itself plant a dirty bomb and blame it on Ukraine, or that they are using the accusation to justify a pre-emptive first strike.

Ukraine has invited international inspectors to its facilities to further discredit the accusation. Energoatom, the private company which operates Ukraine’s four nuclear plants, has raised a troubling accusation of its own. The company claims that Russians have been undergoing secret work at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. The plant’s Ukrainian minders are still running the facility, but the plant has been under Russian military occupation for once. For the last week, Energoatom says, the Russian occupiers have carried out secret construction work which they won’t allow the Ukrainian staff or international inspectors to access.

Energoatom “assumes” the Russians are using radioactive waste stored at the plan to prepare “a terrorist act”. The company warns that a detonation of these materials could result in “radiation contamination of several hundred square kilometers of the adjacent territory”.

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Pizza delivery man saves 5 kids from house fire. Tonight’s Jan. 6 hearing to focus on Trump’s 187 minutes of inaction during riot. Italian PM’s resignation comes at a terrible time for Europe.

**BREAKING** Biden tests positive for COVID-19

President Biden, 79, has tested positive for COVID-19 for the first time. He’s reportedly experiencing mild symptoms and taking Paxlovid. Biden recently returned from a visit to the Middle East. There he met with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

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Pizza delivery man saves 5 kids from house fire

Earlier this month, an Indiana pizza delivery man drove past a burning house. Seeing no emergency vehicles had yet arrived on scene, Nick Bostic, 25, got out of his car and rushed toward the house to alert the occupants.

“I slammed on the brakes, I turned the steering wheel, I did a 180. I ran into the back of the house and I was yelling for anybody. Four faces, three or four faces, came out the top,” Bostic said.

In the home was an 18-year-old babysitting her siblings, 1, 6, and 13 years old, along with a friend of the 13-year-old. The parents of the four siblings were out playing darts at the time.

After Bostic alerted her, the 18-year-old managed to get three of the children out herself, but she told Bostic the 6-year-old was still in the house. Bostic said he entered the house to search for the missing child and “I heard a faint whine, a faint crying noise and I went down there till I found that baby”. By then, the house was filled with smoke and flame, forcing Bostic to jump from a second floor window with the child in his arms.

By then, fire crews and other first responders had arrived. They attended to the child as Bostic collapsed, bleeding and coughing on the ground, asking for oxygen. A police body camera captured Bostic, still lying prone on the grass, asking the firemen about the child. “Is the baby OK? Please tell me the baby’s OK” he asks, before a voice assures him the child is fine.

A GoFundMe for Bostic’s medical bills far surpassed its $100,000 goal with donations totaling $470,000 as of yesterday afternoon.

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Tonight’s Jan. 6 hearing to focus on Trump’s 187 minutes of inaction during riot

The last in the current series of televised hearings of the Jan. 6 committee will air tonight at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT. The committee has said it plans to hold more hearings later this year. The committee’s chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) will not be present tonight as he has tested positive for COVID. Thompson is vaccinated and boosted and is said to be feeling OK.

Tonight’s hearing will examine the 3 hours during which President Trump refused to act as his supporters and bands of far-right militants stormed the Capitol. The committee will hear live testimony from former Trump White House aides Sarah Matthews and Matthew Pottinger.

Both Matthews and Pottinger resigned due to Trump’s actions on the 6th. In previously aired pre-recorded testimony, Pottinger said that the final straw for him was Trump’s 2:24 p.m. tweet saying, “(Vice President) Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution”. Trump and some of his allies had leaned on Pence to block the certification of the 2020 election, something Pence refused to do. At the time Trump posted that tweet, his supporters had already set up a makeshift gallows outside the Capitol and were chanting “Hang Mike Pence”.

Secret Service text saga continues

Last week, reports surfaced that members of the Secret Service had deleted texts from Jan. 5 and 6 following a subpoena from the committee. Those texts could have provided vital insight on the days in question. The Secret Service disputes the allegation that they deleted the texts to evade the subpoena, claiming instead that they were lost in a planned “system migration”. 

Earlier this week, Jan. 6 committee member Zoe Lofgren claimed that the Secret Service would in fact be turning over some texts. This turned out not to be the case. On Tuesday, the Secret Service handed the committee a 10,000-page document dump, containing only one relevant text. It has been reported that forensic investigators are attempting to recover the deleted texts, but it seems committee members aren’t holding their breath.

The committee’s members issued a scathing joint statement yesterday. According to the statement, the “procedure for preserving content prior to this purge appears to have been contrary to federal records retention requirements and may represent a possible violation of the Federal Records Act”. 

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Italian PM’s resignation comes at a terrible time for Europe

Mario Draghi has officially ended his 17-month tenure as Italy’s Prime Minister, submitting his resignation to Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella this afternoon.

Mattarella had tapped Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank, to step in as PM in February 2021. Since then, Draghi has led Italy’s COVID policy response and attempted to navigate his debt-laden homeland’s COVID-driven financial crisis. But last week, the unity government of right, left and populist parties showed signs of coming apart. Draghi finally lost a key confidence vote, prompting him to resign. 

The government’s collapse was met with outrage and concern in Italy and abroad. Draghi’s resignation comes at a particularly difficult moment for Europe. Prices are rising, wildfires are raging, COVID is surging, and the war in Ukraine is dragging on. Italy itself is experiencing a drought that is devastating much of its food crops. 

Mattarella has asked Draghi to stay on in a caretaker government for the time being. It’s likely that Mattarella will seek to dissolve Parliament and force elections as soon as September or October. Under normal circumstances, the current Parliamentary term would last into 2023.

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Study sees possible COVID link with mysterious child hepatitis cases. Fed announces biggest rate hike since 1994; another likely in July. UK’s controversial plan to deport refugees to Rwanda on hold.




Study finds possible COVID link with mysterious child hepatitis cases

A study investigating the cause of hundreds of cases of severe hepatitis in young children across the world suggests a possible link to prior COVID infection. A few weeks ago, public health officials at the WHO, in Europe, the US, and Britain had flagged hundreds of cases of childhood hepatitis that could not be linked with the viruses that cause hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. About 700 cases in children, ranging from infants to 17-year-olds, have been identified in 34 countries. Of those, 10 have died and 38 required liver transplants.

Israeli researchers conducted a very small study of 5 cases in children from 3 months to 13 years old. All of them had previously recovered from COVID and later developed severe hepatitis, and some required transplant. Researchers stress that the Israeli study is far too small to form a firm conclusion as to the cause of the mysterious child hepatitis cases. However, the findings might point the way for larger studies in future.

Of the 700 worldwide cases, only 12% had an active COVID infection at the time of their diagnosis. But, it’s possible that some of the child hepatitis cases could be linked to well-documented cases of rare multi-organ syndrome (MIS-C) in which children recover from COVID and then suffering severe inflammatory symptoms weeks or months later. Three quarters of the children also tested positive for adenovirus 41, but researchers have said this may be coincidental rather than causative. Gastroenterologist Dr. Madhu Vennikandam says the children may be experiencing “an autoimmune reaction from a viral infection causing hepatitis, where the child’s immune system attacks their own liver cells in an attempt to combat the virus”.

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Related: FDA recommends authorizing COVID vaccine for children under 6


Fed announces biggest rate hike since 1994; another likely in July

The Federal Reserve has raised its benchmark short-term interest rate by three-quarters of a percentage point, the largest one-time hike since 1994. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell also indicated that a similar hike was on the table for next month. Just last month, the Fed raised the rate by half a percentage point, and projected a similar rise this month. The Fed’s decision to increase the amount of the hike beyond its projection has been interpreted as a reaction to a higher-than-expected rate of inflation last month. 

Earlier this week when the Fed telegraphed its decision to raise rates by three-quarters of a point rather than half a point, it sparked a sell-off on the stock market. Many American CEOs have publicly aired fears that a recession may be on the horizon. Furthermore, economists have echoed this sentiment, with some even warning of the possibility of stagflation, meaning slow growth with high inflation. With more aggressive rate hikes, the Fed is increasing the risk of a recession. Sales of homes and vehicles, for example, have already dropped off sharply in response to the previous, more modest rate hikes. But prices for commodities like gasoline, food, and clothing have continued to rise, with demand seemingly unaffected by higher interest rates.

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UK’s controversial plan to deport refugees to Rwanda on hold

The European Court of Human Rights has temporarily blocked Britain’s plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. Minutes before the first flight containing just a handful of refugees, mostly from Middle Eastern nations, was due to take off, the ECHR ruled that the plan carried “a real risk of irreversible harm”.

Britain’s Home Secretary, Priti Patel, hatched the plan as a deterrent to asylum seekers who routinely attempt to cross the busy shipping lanes of the English Channel in unseaworthy vessels. The plan required a £120 million ($150 million) upfront payment to Rwanda, a dictatorship in central Africa. Britain would send essentially warehouse its refugees in Rwanda where they would await their asylum hearings. It is in some ways similar to the Remain in Mexico policy adopted by the US. However, the asylum process foreseen in the plan would only grant asylum in Rwanda, not the UK. Immigration activists have likened the plan to human trafficking on a mass scale.

Rwanda itself has a very poor human rights record. Just recently, Rwandan police gunned down refugees who were protesting conditions in the camps. The conditions of the Rwandan camps where refugees would await the asylum process are similarly dangerous and the living conditions are poor.

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California mulls buying up farms to save water. 13 mass shootings kill 18, wound at least 72 this weekend. US, South Korea fire missiles in warning to North.




California mulls buying up farms to save water in worst drought in 1200 years

California’s legislature is considering spending $1.5 billion to buy up farms in the state to save water. The state has been experiencing varying intensities of drought for the last two decades. Based on environmental data, scientists believe this is the worst drought in at least 1,200 years.

Californians are accustomed to conserving water, but the state’s leaders have had a more difficult time convincing agricultural enterprises to do the same. Farms in California provide much of the country’s fruits, nuts and vegetables, all of which are very thirsty crops. Farmers are subject to some allocation restrictions based on seniority. The state recently allocated water allowances for farms throughout the state with some going down to zero.

But farmers who possess “senior water rights” can take as much water as they need from rivers and waterways. Legislators are considering buying up some of these senior water rights to keep water levels up to protect salmon and other fish in vulnerable river systems.

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13 mass shootings killed 18, wounded at least 72 over the weekend

As Republicans and Democrats in Congress reach a standstill on new gun control legislation, 13 more mass shootings took place in 10 states over the weekend. Tennessee, Georgia, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, Texas, New York, Nebraska, Michigan and Arizona all saw mass shootings this weekend. Michigan had 3 and Arizona had two.

The FBI classifies a mass shooting as any shooting event where four or more people are shot, not including the shooter. By the end of the last week, there had already been 233 mass shootings across the country just in 2022.

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US, South Korea fire missiles in warning to North Korea

Today, the US and South Korea fired 8 surface-to-surface ballistic missiles into the sea as a show of force to North Korea. In recent weeks, North Korea’s military has been conducting regular missile launches including hypersonic weapons and test launches of inter-continental ballistic missiles. Recently, Washington and Seoul have both expressed fears that the North will also soon resume its nuclear weapons tests. Kim Jong Un put nuclear weapons tests on hold in 2017 following short-lived and ultimately unsuccessful disarmament talks with then-President Trump. The North Korean leader has recently promised to resume these tests.

North Korea is currently battling its first publicly acknowledged outbreak of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. When the pandemic started, the reclusive country shut its borders even more tightly and has not allowed foreign visitors for over two years. As a result, trade with its neighbor and only major ally China have been largely cut off. North Korea has also repeatedly turned down offers of COVID vaccines both from China and Western countries.

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Reagan shooter John Hinckley Jr., to be released after 41 years. Pilot shortage caused Memorial Day travel chaos. Shanghai lockdown eases after 2 months.



Reagan shooter John Hinckley Jr., to be released after 41 years

In 1981, John Hinckley Jr., shot and seriously wounded then-President Ronald Reagan outside a Washington DC hotel. Three others were also wounded in the attack.

At the time, Hinckley was suffering from acute psychosis. He was obsessed with the actress Jodie Foster, and believed that killing Reagan would impress her. For this reason, Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He remained in a psychiatric institution until 2016, when he was allowed to live with his mother with numerous restrictions on his freedom.

Now, a judge has ruled that Hinckley, now 67, will receive an unconditional release as of June 15.

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Memorial Day travel chaos caused by pilot shortage

In 2020, Congress gave over $50 billion to the commercial airline industry after aggressive lobbying from major airlines. Airlines said they needed the money to keep their personnel on their payrolls and maintain equipment as air travel came to a near standstill.

Despite receiving the needed funds, airlines failed to do both these things. Instead, they furloughed and laid off flight attendants and offered buyouts to pilots who took early retirement. Meanwhile, recruitment and flight instruction were on hold.

As a result, there is now a nationwide shortage of pilots across the commercial aviation industry. As more pilots continue to retire going forward, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects there will be more than 14,000 new openings for pilots each year over the next decade. 

Now airline execs are playing catch-up on training and recruitment for pilots. Two airlines have opened their own flight schools to lower the barrier of entry for new pilots. Flight training can cost upwards of $100,000. However, until pilot recruitment catches up with demand, airlines will continue having to cancel flights. Some airlines have predicted they’ll have to cancel 150 flights a day over the summer.

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Shanghai lockdown eases after 2 months

Back in March, authorities in China told residents of Shanghai that they would be going into a 5-day lockdown after a rise in COVID cases. Now after almost two months of residents almost total confinement, much of the city now has its freedom back. 

Shanghai has a population of 25 million and is China’s most populous city. Reports emerged early on that many residents did not have enough food and had little or no access to medical care and medications. Videos telling the story of residents’ hardships circulated widely on the internet, including within Chinese social media platforms.

Smaller cities across China had previously endured draconian lockdowns, but Shanghai was the first major city to do so. Until Shanghai, Chinese citizens were largely accepting of the country’s “Zero COVID” policy and the heavy restrictions that came with it.

Since Shanghai is a global commercial hub and a major port city, the lockdown also had a serious impact both on China’s economy and worldwide supply chain issues.

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Related: Zero COVID causes wave of emigration from China.


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500 Native American boarding school deaths found so far. Haitian refugee boat capsizes near Puerto Rico. North Korea’s first COVID outbreak.




Probe identifies 500 Native American boarding school deaths so far

Last June, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced a federal probe of Native American boarding schools that operated in the US from the early 19th century to the mid-20th century. The purpose of these institutions was to forcibly assimilate the children of Native American tribes into white, Christian culture.

These state-sponsored programs forcibly deported children from their tribal lands to attend these schools, often far away from their families. Children at the schools were forbidden to speak their native languages and suffered immense hardship and abuse. Native scholars say that the cruelties that children endured in these schools have left a lasting mark on Native American communities, creating a generational legacy of poverty, marginalization, mental health issues, and substance abuse. 

However, many of the children never came home. One of the objectives of this probe is to identify children who died at these schools, locate their graves, and repatriate their remains to their tribes if possible. So far, the investigation has identified 403 assimilation schools that operated in 37 states or territories. The records of 20 of those schools have thus far been carefully studied, pointing to at least 500 children who died in their care. Researchers expect that the final number may be in the thousands or even tens of thousands. Common causes of death were disease, abuse, and accidental injuries.

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At least 11 dead after migrant boat capsizes near Puerto Rico

Yesterday, a boat carrying an unknown number of Haitian migrants capsized in the waters off Desecheo Island near Puerto Rico. An ongoing US Coast Guard rescue operation has so far located 38 survivors, while 11 people have been confirmed dead. 

In recent months, Haitians have been making desperate and dangerous attempts to flee poverty, gang violence, and political unrest in their country. Many have resorted to boarding unseaworthy and overcrowded boats in a bid to reach US waters. Less than a week ago, the US Coast Guard and Dominican Navy rescued 68 people in the Mona Passage, a stretch of ocean between Puerto Rico and Hispaniola (the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Back in March, a boat carrying 300 Haitian migrants ran aground in the Florida Keys.

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North Korea reports its first COVID outbreak

North Korea has reported is first COVID cases and deaths. According to the Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s official broadcaster, 6 people have died so far. Since late April, KCNA reports that 350,000 people have been treated for fever, of which 162,000 have recovered. 

Since the country is lacking in COVID-19 testing kits and other medical equipment, it’s impossible to reliably estimate how many North Koreans may have been infected. Scientists have been able to confirm that omicron variant is responsible. Outside experts fear that COVID could be especially deadly in North Korea since many of its people are unvaccinated and malnourished. 

Over two years ago, North Korea closed its borders tightly in hopes of shutting out the disease. This has made it difficult to obtain aid from China, North Korea’s western neighbor and closest political ally. The loss of outside aid and a poor harvest have led to widespread food shortages in the country.

North Korea’s leadership has also refused offers of Chinese vaccines. Some have speculated that this may have been due to concerns over their effectiveness.

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US passes 1 million COVID deaths. Fed raises interest rates again to cool inflation. EU proposes ban on Russian oil.




US passes 1 million COVID deaths

Today, the US marked its 1 millionth COVID death in the 27 months since the first case was detected in the country. This is the highest COVID death toll of any country in the world, with Brazil a distant second at 660,000. The US accounts for about 16% of the 6.24 million COVID deaths worldwide.

The grim milestone is a reminder that the pandemic is still with us. In New York, cases and hospitalizations are on the rise. In the past month, hospitalizations in the state have more than tripled (153%). For the first time since February, the state logged over 2000 hospitalizations today.

Even among those who have caught COVID and survived, there are those whom the disease continues to affect. British researchers have conducted a studying of 46 patients who received critical COVID care between March and June 2020. They found that in these patients, the effects of severe COVID on their cognitive abilities was equivalent to roughly 20 years of aging, or a loss of 10 IQ points.

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Fed raises interest rates again to cool inflation

The Federal Reserve announced today that it will raise its short-term interest rate by a half-percentage point to a range of 0.75% to 1%. This is the largest single hike on this rate since 2000. The Fed raised already this rate by one-quarter of a percentage point back in March. Since the early days of the pandemic recession, the rate had been near zero. The central bank also says it will start reducing its $9 trillion balance sheet, consisting mostly of Treasury and mortgage bonds. 

Both the offloading of bonds and the rise in interests rates mean that borrowers can expect to see higher costs on loans. This can affect mortgages, credit card debt and other kinds of borrowing. Just since the beginning of 2022, mortgage rates have already risen two percentage points to an average of 5.1% for a 30-year fixed mortgage. This means an already tight and expensive housing market is about to get even pricier.

The Fed hopes that gradually raising the cost of borrowing will tamp down spending to slow down rapid inflation. However, if they raise rates too quickly, they risk tipping the economy into recession. Federal Reserve Charmain Jerome Powell acknowledges that this is going to be a delicate balancing act.

With inflation still rising month by month, some experts are already seeing the early signs of a recession on the horizon.

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More: How higher rates will affect Americans’ finances (opens in new tab).



EU proposes ban on Russian oil

European Union President Ursula von der Leyen has proposed phasing out purchases of Russian crude and refined oil products within the bloc. The proposal would end purchases of crude within 6 months and refined oil products by the end of the year. The plan would require unanimous approval from all 27 member states, some of which are more dependent on Russian fossil fuels than others.

Overall, the bloc imports about one-quarter of its oil from Russia, totaling about $1 billion in purchases per day. Europe is Russia’s largest fossil fuel customer and relies on this income to continue its military campaign in Ukraine. Since the invasion, EU leaders had been debating the feasibility of replacing Russian oil with purchases from Middle Eastern producers or the US.

Germany is particularly reliant on Russian energy supplies and has resisted calls for a boycott on the grounds that it would devastate Germany’s own economy. However, the urgency of ending dependence on Russian oil increased after Russia’s state-owned fossil fuel supplier Gazprom abruptly announced it would no longer fulfill orders for Poland and Bulgaria. 

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National Guard deployed in D.C. awaiting trucker convoy. New, more contagious variant of omicron has experts worried. How the Ukraine crisis could be affecting you.




National Guard deployed in D.C. awaiting trucker convoy

Several groups across the U.S. are attempting to organize trucker convoys like Canada’s so-called “Freedom Convoy” to roll towards Washington, D.C. over the next several days. Each of the groups is actively fundraising online to supply gas and food to the truckers.

The convoys variously plan to depart from California, Pennsylvania and several other states in the coming days. One of the California organizers says the cross-country trip will cost about $5000 in gas per trucker. The operational goals of the truckers vary, with some saying they hope to set up a blockade within D.C. itself. Others plan to snarl up traffic on the surrounding highways leading into and out of the city. The organizers’ grievances include every thing from vaccine and mask mandates to high gas prices.

In response, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has granted requests from Capitol Police and D.C. Metro Police for National Guard troops. The Pentagon will deploy 700-800 unarmed National Guard troops in and around D.C., as well as about 50 “large tactical vehicles”. The troops will be there to oversee traffic rather than perform law enforcement duties.

The truckers’ plans will likely complicate commutes for people living in nearby cities in Virginia and Maryland. D.C. authorities have not yet issued warnings to residents to avoid particular areas, but are monitoring the situation closely.

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New, more contagious variant of omicron has experts worried

A new subvariant of omicron dubbed BA.2 has been gradually taking hold in the U.S. BA.2 has already fueled second omicron waves in parts of Africa and Europe, and experts worry that it could prolong the current U.S. wave. BA.2 is about 30% more contagious than the original omicron variant. At present, there’s no data to suggest that BA.2 is more dangerous to infected people that omicron. Still, the original omicron variant is currently infecting about 100,000 people a day in the U.S., and claiming about 2,000 lives each day.

The timing of BA.2’s arrival and spread in the U.S. couldn’t be worse. Vaccination numbers are tailing off and many states are lifting mask mandates. Even CDC head Rochelle Walensky recently endorsed giving people “a break” from masks. Experts fear that with elections ahead, many state and national leaders are in a rush to declare a premature victory over COVID.

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What might the Ukraine crisis cost you?

Before Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, President Biden warned that sanctions levied as a deterrent to Russia would not be painless, even for Americans. With inflation already high, the conflict and sanctions may drive up prices still further.

Oil and gas

Biden has specifically foreseen a rise in already high gas prices, since Russia is an important global supplier. The administration has been in talks with other oil-producing countries to convince them to up production to offset shortages both in the U.S. and Europe. But the oil-rich nations who still have capacity to increase production have been reluctant to do so, seduced by the premium they are able to charge as demand rises. Experts predict oil may creep up to $100 per barrel by next week.


Russia and Ukraine both possess large deposits of rare-earth minerals that are necessary for semi-conductor production. Disruption in these supplies due to sanctions and conflict could further tighten the already limited supply of microchips used in everything from smart phones to cars. Because of this shortage, 80% of people are already paying more than the sticker price for new cars.

Food crops

Russia and Ukraine are also major suppliers of food crops like wheat, with their main markets being Central Asia and the Middle East. Holdups in this supply chain could ultimately drive food prices higher the world over. Grain crop shortages could have a knock-on effect in driving up prices of feed grain for cattle, and thus the price of meat.

What’s being done?

Rampant inflation in the U.S. has been a major political liability for Biden. But prices on key commodities are rising all over the world. In Europe and parts of Asia, inflation on key commodities like food and gas have far outpaced the U.S. The interconnectedness of global supply chains mean there is little any single nation can do to address the major drivers of inflation.

However, there are are specific steps the administration is taking to try to keep costs down at home. The administration is considering tapping into federal oil reserves once again in the event that oil stops flowing from Russia. U.S. ports will also be receiving $450 billion from last year’s infrastructure package to get domestic supply chains flowing more smoothly. Last week, the Department of Justice announced it would be investigating U.S. industries who are profiteering off supply chain woes.

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NC fertilizer plant still burning, could explode. Teacher shortage may persist long after pandemic. Canada: Truckers protesting vaccine rule wreak havoc.




NC fertilizer plant continues to burn, threatens ‘one of the worst explosions in U.S. history’

A fire that started Monday evening at the Winston Weaver Company fertilizer plant near Winston-Salem, NC, continues to burn. When the fire started, the plant was storing at least 600 tons of ammonium nitrate, the same compound responsible for the massive 2020 explosion in Beirut. Firefighters soon left the scene of the blaze Monday evening due to the risk and began evacuating the surrounding area. They’ve since evacuated about 6500 people from 2500 homes within a one-mile radius of the facility.

Local authorities continue to monitor the fire using drones, and an automated fire truck remains at the scene to spray water on hotspots. Initially, authorities warned that there was a “36-hour window” during which an explosion could occur. But officials say the danger remains. Even after a midday shower suppressed some of the flames, firefighters say there is still active fires at the facility.

The rain brought on another hazard, push a cloud of toxic smoke closer to the ground. Winston-Salem Battalion Chief Patrick Grubbs said they are still urging anyone who has left the area to stay away and anyone still present to leave. Grubbs also confirmed that the low-lying smoke posed health risks to anyone nearby.

While local authorities are closely monitoring the scene and interviewing witnesses, there is no indication yet of how the fire started. An investigation will take place once the situation is stable.

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Pandemic brings chronic teacher shortage to crisis point

The omicron wave has schools around the country struggling to keep doors open and kids in the classroom. With many educators and faculty calling in sick, districts are struggling with how to fill the vacancies. Many states have adopted stopgap measures to expand the pool of substitute teachers. States have variously called upon parents, police officers, state bureaucrats, National Guard members, and even recent high school graduates to plug the gap. Other states prioritizing professional teaching have turned to remote learning and reduced schedules.

But education experts say that the pandemic is merely the latest in a growing number of stressors teachers have been facing in recent years, and that its knock-on effects could be with us long after the pandemic passes. For years, low pay, politicized curriculums, standardized testing, inadequate resources and a lack of autonomy have shrunk the number of college graduates willing to become teachers. In most states, the number of newly-graduated teachers has been declining for years. And now, a survey of National Education Association members conducted in January shows that 55% of teachers are planning to leave the profession sooner than planned due to pandemic stressors. That’s up from 37% in August.

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Canada: Truckers protesting vaccine rules wreak havoc in Ottawa

For almost a week, truckers in Canada have been amassing in Ottawa to protest a new rule that requires truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border to be vaccinated. The so-called “Freedom Convoy” has drawn criticism from most but also some public and political support. In addition to blocking border crossing points, protesting truckers have brought their rigs to the nation’s capital and parked up near federal buildings. The blare of big rig horns is heard day and night, and the city is filling with diesel exhaust fumes from idling trucks.

The protesters aren’t just a headache for the government; some of their number have also terrorized the city’s populace. Numerous businesses in central Ottawa have shut down. Some business owners say they fear for staff who’ve been threatened by the truckers when trying to enforce masking rules on their premises. The city’s mayor also blames the convoy and its supporters for acts of vandalism, including at a war memorial. Protesters have also carried out violent assaults, notably at a homeless shelter. 

While the vast majority of protesters are peaceful, the protest has also attracted more radical elements, including QAnon supporters and militant white supremacists. Some have even been spotted flying the Nazi flag. Canada’s Conservative Party Leader ousted its leader Erin O’Toole after he initially voiced support for the protesters. During a televised interview with one of O’Toole’s MPs who was supporting the truckers, a swastika flag was visible in the background.

GoFundMe has suspended an online fundraiser for one of the protesting groups after the group’s extremist ties came to light.

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