Tag Archive for: Zero COVID

Breaking: All five former Memphis PD officers involved in Tyre Nichols’ death have been charged with second degree murder. Click here for the full story.

Virginia school admins were warned about boy, 6, who shot teacher – did nothing.

China: Coffins sell out as pandemic reaches rural areas for first time.



Virginia school admins were warned about boy, 6, who shot teacher – did nothing 

Virginia first grade teacher Abigail Zwerner, 25, who was shot by her student, a six-year-old boy, earlier this month plans to sue the Newport News school district, her attorney said yesterday. Diane Toscano, Zwerner’s attorney, told reporters yesterday, “On that day, over the course of a few hours, three different times – three times – school administration was warned by concerned teachers and employees that the boy had a gun on him at the school and was threatening people. But the administration could not be bothered”.

Warnings from 4 different employees

At around 11.15am, Zwerner herself had warned school administrators that the boy had threatened to beat up another child.

Then, Toscano said, at around 12:30pm, a second teacher reported to an administrator that she had searched the boy’s bookbag and found no gun. However, the teacher warned that administrator that she believed the boy had put the gun in his pocket before he went outside for recess. Searching a student’s person would have required the blessing of the administrator. But, Toscano said. “The administrator downplayed the report from the teacher and the possibility of a gun, saying, and I quote, ‘Well, he has little pockets.'”  

At 1pm, another student told a third teacher that the boy had shown him the gun and threatened to shoot him.

Following this incident, a fourth employee sought permission to search the boy from the administrators. That employee “was told to wait the situation out because the school day was almost over”, Toscano said. An hour later, the boy shot Zwerner in the chest. Zwerner spent two weeks in the hospital and is now recovering at home.

The district superintendent George Parker III confirmed that administrators had been warned at least once that the boy might have had a weapon. That tip was not passed on to the police when it was received, hours before the shooting. The schoolboard has now voted to dismiss Parker

An “acute disability”

Last week, an attorney for the boy’s family released a statement revealing that the boy had an “acute disability”. The boy’s care plan “included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day”. The week of the shooting was the first when a parent was not with him. “We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives,” the statement read.

The gun the boy used had been legally purchased by his mother. The family claims the gun was “secured” and they have no idea how he got hold of it.

Messages shared with The Washington Post indicate that the boy’s behavioral problems stretch far back in time before the day of the shooting. Zwerner had reportedly been seeking help dealing with his disturbing behavior throughout the school year. 

As on the day of the shooting, administrators were dismissive. One teacher reported that the boy had written her a note saying that he hated her and wanted to light her on fire and watch her die. The teacher brought this up with administrators and was told to drop it.

On another occasion, the boy had thrown furniture and objects around a classroom. He also barricaded the door, and the teacher had to seek help from another teacher, who forced the door open from the outside. 

The Newport News school district has had three school shootings since 2021.

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China: Coffins sell out as pandemic reaches rural areas for first time

For over 2 years, China’s harsh Zero COVID policy managed to keep the spread of the virus in check. However, weeks-long lockdowns of major cities also wrought economic havoc. After mounting protests, the central government abruptly rescinded the policy. Unfortunately, the government had not used those two years to prepare for what would eventually happen when things opened back up again. Only a few new ICU units were built and the government failed to obtain enough tests and COVID treatment drugs to meet the need. Additionally, while most of China’s population is vaccinated, the elderly are the least vaccinated. 

In mid-December, anecdotal reports on Chinese social media suggested that thousands were dying. Crematoria were also overwhelmed with at least 10-day waiting lists. Still, the government’s official confirmed deaths were absurdly low, in the single digits each week. After much ridicule, the government revised its numbers upward to 60,000 deaths in December. The most recent numbers show that at least 13,000 died in less than a week. However many believe this number is still a gross underestimate.

Year of the Rabbit

The Chinese are now celebrating the Lunar New Year. At this time of year, millions of people crisscross the country to visit relatives. Most are traveling from cities where they live and work to rural areas where they’re from. China’s rural population in the west and south of the country are poorer and have little access to services like healthcare. Now that the virus has arrived in these areas for the first time, it is spreading like wildfire and with deadly effect. Unlike the rest of the world, most people in these areas have no immunity to COVID either from vaccination or previous exposure.

The Year of the Rabbit is thought to bring good luck. That hope is not materializing so far. However, people in the funerary industry have been rushed off their feet, building coffins and supplying religious tokens for the dead. This is especially true in rural areas, where one customer joked that funerary workers are making “a small fortune”.

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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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In El Paso, migrants struggle to get in out of the cold. Key Jan. 6 witness says Trump-linked lawyer pressured her on testimony. Chinese state media downplays COVID surge, deaths.


Migrants in El Paso struggle to find shelter in below freezing temperatures

Even though the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the lifting of Title 42 this week, a steady stream of migrants continues to flow over the southern border into towns like El Paso, TX. For weeks, the city has been calling on state and federal government resources to help process, shelter and transfer the migrants out of the area. Earlier this week, El Paso’s mayor declared a state of emergency in hopes of unlocking more help. 

With most of El Paso’s existing shelters overrun, many migrants have had to make do sleeping on the street, in bus stations or the small local airport. But now in El Paso, as in much of the country, temperatures are dropping below freezing thanks to a massive Arctic wind and cold front. This has left the migrants, many of whom have young children or babies in tow, struggling to find places to get in out of the cold.

The city-run shelters still have some room, but some migrants say they have been denied access to these shelters. The federal government has kicked in some money for the municipal shelters and is requiring the city to admit only migrants with immigration paperwork. Migrants that crossed the border undetected don’t have this paperwork.  Even families with children are being turned away if they don’t have these documents. There are some local churches and charity-run shelters that are open to everyone, but they are largely full themselves.

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Key Jan. 6 witness says Trump-linked lawyer pressured her on testimony

This summer, Cassidy Hutchinson, former assistant to Trump Chief-of-staff Mark Meadows, gave extensive testimony in a televised hearing of the Congressional Jan. 6 committee. Her testimony covered events she was privy to leading from the weeks immediately following Trump’s loss in the Nov. 2020 election up to the events of Jan. 6. Both in her televised live testimony and recorded testimony, Hutchinson shed light on the motivations and actions of major players in Trump’s orbit.

The Jan. 6 Committee has wrapped up its work, issuing an 800-page report after issuing four criminal referrals for former Pres. Trump to the Justice Department. A day before releasing its full report, the committee released the full transcripts of Hutchinson’s testimony. This release included information that had not previously been public knowledge.

One key revelation has to do with efforts by Trump world to influence testimony given before the committee. The committee members previously revealed that witnesses (including at least one whose testimony was not televised) received messages from people close to Trump seeking to influence them. We now know that Hutchinson herself was one of them. 

Unable to pay the prices of other lawyers she contacted, Hutchinson initially retained the services of Stefan Passantino to represent her in her dealings with the committee. Passantino’s fees were paid by allies of Trump. Hutchinson told the committee Passantino had advised her not to cooperate with the committee and to instead risk a contempt charge. When she decided to go to the committee anyway, Passantino allegedly told her “the less you remember, the better”.

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Chinese state media downplays COVID surge, deaths

Following months of economic turmoil and recent social unrest, China has at last rolled back its strict “Zero COVID” policies. For over two years, any city with even just a few COVID infections would immediately be locked down. This policy focused on restricting the spread of COVID, but at enormous economic and social cost. Meanwhile, the government seems to have done little to prepare for the day when the policy would end. The country’s vaccination campaign is lagging significantly behind, even among the elderly who are most at risk. There’s also been little effort to increase the number of hospital and ICU beds.

Now that the policy has ended, China is experiencing a predictable explosion of COVID infections. The infection is spreading rapidly among the population that has less immunity from exposure or immunization than other countries at this point. There’s also anecdotal evidence suggesting a massive rise in COVID-related deaths. However, China’s state media has been downplaying the number of deaths. Thousands on Chinese social media have reported the deaths of loved ones, particularly the elderly. Hospitals in major cities are turning people away for lack of beds and crematoria have at least a 10 day waiting list.

Despite this, Chinese state media reports only 8 COVID deaths this month! After receiving massive ridicule for this from average citizens, the government revealed it only counts deaths from pneumonia or respiratory failure are classified as COVID deaths. Deaths from various inflammatory syndromes caused by COVID or people with pre-existing conditions are not being counted.

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Tornado, hail warnings in Mississippi today. Senate to hold final vote on same-sex marriage bill. China: Top security agency calls for “crackdown” on antigovernment protests.





Tornado, hail warnings in Mississippi today

Much of the state is in for a severe weather outlook starting this afternoon and continuing overnight into Wednesday morning. The Memphis office of the National Weather Service reports conditions that could create severe powerful “long-track” tornados as well as possible hail storms. 

Not only North Mississippi but the entire state is in the path of this storm system. Mississippi’s Emergency Management Agency has warned all three million residents to prepare for power outages. MEMA also advises to stay off the roads and to be prepared to take refuge in a safe place in their home in case of a tornado. Pay attention to local conditions. Make sure your phones are charged and pay attention weather alerts. Some alerts may be coming during the night.

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Senate to hold final vote on same-sex marriage bill

Today, the Senate hopes to hold its final vote on the Respect for Marriage Act. The bill would codify into law the right to marry both for same-sex couples and interracial couples. This bill has found enough bipartisan support to meet the Senate’s 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster. In a previous procedural vote, 12 Republican Senators joined all Democrats in opening debate on the bill.

Some GOP Senators have objected that the bill is pointless as the Supreme Court has already affirmed the right for same-sex couples to marry nationwide. It’s important to note, many raised this objection for decades when bills arose to codify a nationwide right to abortion.

In his Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health opinion in June, Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas specifically declared that he would like to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, which made same-sex marriage rights the law of the land in 2015. Thomas wrote that both Obergefell and Roe v. Wade were decided on the basis of the 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law, a premise Thomas considered flawed. Interestingly, Thomas, who is interracially married, made no mention of the 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision which established a right to interracial marriage and was also based on the equal protection clause. 

Assuming the Respect for Marriage Act passes the Senate today, the House should quickly ratify it and it could be on President Biden’s desk by the end of the week.

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China: Top security agency calls for “crackdown” on antigovernment protests

Large protests popped up in cities all over China this weekend in protest of President Xi Jinping’s Zero COVID policy. Last week, 10 people died in an apartment fire in Xinjiang because the entrance was barricaded. Much of Xinjiang, home to most of China’s Uighur Muslim minority, has been under continual COVID lockdown for the past two years.

But even China’s most prominent commercial cities in the east of the country have suffered periodic snap lockdowns. Earlier this year, Shanghai, a city of about 25 million people, was under strict lockdown for the better part of two months. Xi’s Zero COVID policy has created havoc in China’s economy, forcing factory districts, ports and entire cities to shut down.

Despite heavy censorship of any mention of the protests on Chinese social media, the protests have continued and spread to other cities. Police have engaged in violent showdowns in some instances. But in most cases, police have conducted a more “quiet” crackdown, filming protests and later rounding up attendees. Some protesters have reported getting phone calls and text messages from the police warning them against taking part in further demonstrations. 

Now, China’s top national security agency has called openly for a “crackdown” of what they call “hostile forces”. As in Iran, which has also experienced weeks of antigovernment protests, China is blaming the protests on international actors hostile to their government.

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Buffalo supermarket shooter pleads guilty to terrorism, murder charges. White House working to avert railroad strike. China: Rare antigovernment protests over lockdown policies





Buffalo supermarket shooter pleads guilty to terrorism, murder charges

Payton Gendron, the 19-year-old gunmen who carried out a mass shooting in May at a Topps supermarket in Buffalo, NY, has pleaded guilty to all state charges against him. There 15 total charges, including murder, attempted murder, and domestic terrorism motivated by hate. The last charge comes with a mandatory sentence of life without parole. Gendron still faces dozens of federal charges, some of which carry the possibility of a death sentence.

Gendron killed 10 Black people at the supermarket and has admitted that he was motivated by racism. In fact, several days before the incident, Gendron drove 200 miles from his home in Conklin, NY, to a majority-Black neighborhood in Buffalo to identify a location where he would be likely to kill as many Black people as possible. During the pandemic, Gendron became indoctrinated online into a white supremacist ideology known as “white replacement”.

In light of many deadly mass shootings this year, including several just in the past two weeks, President Biden is once again calling on Congress to pass an assault weapons ban during the December lame-duck session. However, to pass such a measure, Senate Democrats would need to find 10 Republicans to vote with them, which is unlikely. 

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White House working to avert railroad strike ahead of holidays

President Biden said last week that his administration is working with railroad companies and unions to avoid a possible railroad strike. Federal officials helped to broker an agreement in September which at least delayed strike talks until after the midterms. Since then, three of the 12 major railroad workers unions have voted to reject terms of that deal.

The unions could call a strike as soon as Dec. 9. If they do, the US freight rail system will grind to a halt, stopping deliveries of food, gas and other vital goods. Congress has the power to force an end to the strike by imposing the terms of the contract proposed in September. Biden is hoping to broker a more favorable deal that the unions will accept to avoid a strike.

Although the proposal came with a hefty wage hike over the next 5 years, workers have pointed out the raises barely keep up with inflation. Also, the deal included no paid sick days and did not address workers’ grievances over unpredictable work schedules. Click here for a 3-minute video where railroad workers explain their reasons for rejecting the deal.

Record profits despite supply chain problems

Workers are especially angry with the stinginess of the proposed contracts since the industry has reported record profits during the pandemic. The companies have increased their profits in part by laying off workers, increasing the burden on those that remain. Instead of reinvesting in the company or hiring more workers, the companies have used those profits for stock buybacks to increase pay packages of their executives.

In February, billionaire Warren Buffett, owner of Berkshire Hathaway (parent company of major railroad company BNSF), told shareholders that BNSF had earned record profits in 2021. Buffett, noted for his philanthropy, also recently donated $750 million dollars to charities run by his family. 

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China: Rare antigovernment protests over lockdown policies

Cities all over China erupted in massive antigovernment protests over the weekend due to China’s Zero COVID policy. Premier Xi Jinping’s pandemic policy has caused huge cities of millions of people to go into strict lockdowns when even a few COVID cases are detected. People are forbidden from leaving their homes for days or even weeks. The lockdowns can come with no warning, leaving residents no time to gather adequate food and medicine. Lockdowns in major cities have also had a major economic impact.

Despite the draconian lockdowns, COVID numbers are still rising. Today, China broke its record for daily cases with 40,347 new cases. Rather than rethinking the policy, the government has responded with lockdowns in more cities with even more restrictive measures.

The protests were sparked by an incident in the western province of Xinjiang last week. Ten people died in an apartment fire because the entrances were locked to keep residents from going outside. The demonstrations have been growing and spreading across the country. Police have been out in force engaging in violent clashes with peaceful protesters. Demonstrators are now openly calling for Xi to resign. 

Chinese media has not acknowledged the protests and censors have been eliminating any mention of them on Chinese social media sites like WeChat and Weibo. Nevertheless, the ranks of the protesters are growing with each passing day.

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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.

Click here for the full story (opens in new tab).

Related: Zero COVID causes wave of emigration from China.


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