Thursday, April 8, 2021

Wake-Up Call: U-K Strain Now Dominant In U-S

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said yesterday that the U.K. variant of the coronavirus, which is more contagious, is now the dominant strain in the U.S., something experts had predicted would happen. That news came as case numbers and hospitalizations are increasing in the U.S. despite nearly three million people getting vaccinated a day, with Walensky saying the uptick in infections seems to be driven by young people. She said, "Hospitals are seeing more and more younger adults -- those in their 30s and 40s -- admitted with severe disease." Deaths, however, are decreasing, which Walensky said is likely a result of the elderly being vaccinated. Studies have suggested the current vaccines offer strong protection against the U.K. variant.
  • Meanwhile, British authorities recommended yesterday that the AstraZeneca vaccine not be given to adults under age 30 where possible because of growing evidence it may be linked to rare blood clots, particularly in younger people.
➤EXPERT TESTIFIES CHAUVIN PRESSED DOWN WITH KNEE ON FLOYD'S NECK AREA FOR ENTIRE TIME: A Los Angeles Police Department use-of-force expert testified in former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin's murder and manslaughter trial in the death of George Floyd yesterday, saying Chauvin bore down with most of his weight on Floyd's neck area for the entire nine-and-a-half minutes that Floyd was facedown on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back. Sergeant Jody Stiger based his analysis on the video evidence of the incident, saying the force used against Floyd was excessive. When Chauvin's attorney pointed to moments in the video when he said the officer's knee appeared to be on Floyd's shoulder blade area or the base of his neck, Stiger agreed his weight may have shifted at times, but said his knee still seemed to be near Floyd's neck.

Stiger did agree with the defense attorney when he said an officer’s actions must be judged from the point of view of a reasonable officer on the scene, not in hindsight. Stiger further said that as Floyd was on the ground, Chauvin squeezed Floyd's fingers and pulled one of his wrists toward his handcuffs, which uses pain to get someone to comply. But Stiger said Chauvin didn't appear to stop even as Floyd had been subdued, saying, "Then at that point it’s just pain."

In other testimony, state forensic scientist Breahna Giles said pills found in the SUV Floyd was driving contained methamphetamine and fentanyl, and forensic chemist Susan Meith said remnants of a pill found in the back of the police car also contained meth and fentanyl. That pill had been found to have DNA from Floyd's saliva. The medical examiner's autopsy had found both drugs in Floyd's system. The lead state investigator in the case, James Ryerson, initially said yesterday that Floyd seemed to say in body-cam video of his arrest, "I ate too many drugs." But when a prosecutor played a longer clip, Reyerson said he believed what Floyd actually said was, "I ain’t do no drugs."

➤BIDEN SAYS OPEN TO COMPROMISE ON HOW TO PAY FOR $2.3T INFRASTRUCTURE PLAN: President Biden said yesterday that he's open to compromise on how to pay for his ambitious $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, saying, "We'll be open to good ideas in good faith negotiations." However, Biden said not acting isn't an option, stating, "But here's what we won't be open to: We will not be open to doing nothing. Inaction, simply, is not an option." He said America needs to move forward on modern infrastructure, and that we'll lose out to China if we don't, saying, "You think China is waiting around to invest in this digital infrastructure or on research and development? I promise you. They are not waiting. But they’re counting on American democracy, to be too slow, too limited and too divided to keep pace." Biden has proposed that corporate tax increases pay for the plan, reversing some of the cuts they got in former President Donald Trump's 2017 tax bill, which has drawn criticism from Republicans and business groups. There's also been criticism because the infrastructure proposal goes beyond the traditional focus on just roads and bridges.

➤JUDGE..PUBLISHING NUDE PHOTOS OF CONGRESSWOMAN PROTECT BY 1A:  A judge dismissed former Rep. Katie Hill's revenge porn lawsuit against the Daily Mail yesterday, saying the publication was protected by the First Amendment when it ran nude photos of the then-congresswoman in October 2019. The photos, which Hill says were "nonconsensual," were taken by the California Democrat's ex-husband, Kenneth Heslep, who she has charged was abusive. Judge Yolanda Orozco accepted the Mail's argument that publishing the photos was a matter of public concern, writing that the images, quote, "spoke to [Hill’s] character and qualifications for her position, as they allegedly depicted [her] with a campaign staffer whom she was alleged to have had a sexual affair with and appeared to show [her] using a then-illegal drug and displaying a tattoo that was controversial because it resembled a white supremacy symbol that had become an issue during her congressional campaign." The judge rejected Hill's argument that the Mail could have just described the images, saying that the fact that the information could be disclosed in another way doesn't mean the image wasn't of public concern. Hill resigned after the photos were published and it emerged that she'd had a three-way relationship with her husband and a campaign staffer. Hill's attorney argued the ruling allows anyone who calls themself a journalist to do the same thing, which she said could lead to fewer women running for public office.

➤VIRGINIA LATEST STATE TO LEGALIZE MARIJUANA, FIRST IN THE SOUTH: Virginia on Wednesday became the latest state to legalize marijuana, and the first in the South to do so. State lawmakers approved proposed changes by Governor Ralph Northam to legislation allowing adults to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana starting in July. Northam made changes to the bill passed by the Legislature in February, including speeding up the timeline for legalization by about three years. Legal retail sales, however, will take a few years to set up.

➤FORMER VP PENCE GETS SEVEN-FIGURE BOOK DEAL: Former Vice President Mike Pence has gotten a book deal with Simon & Schuster that his agent said is worth "well into seven figures." Pence's autobiography will be released in 2023, and the deal also includes a second book, but details of that volume weren't provided. Simon & Schuster Vice President and Publisher Dana Canedy said Pence's memoir would be, quote, "revelatory." The news came yesterday on the same day that Pence launched an advocacy group, called Advancing American Freedom, which will promote the Trump administration’s record. Pence is considered a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate.

➤FORMER REPUBLICAN HOUSE SPEAKER BOEHNER BLASTS TRUMP IN NEW BOOK: Former Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who resigned from Congress in October 2015, blasts former President Donald Trump in his new book, blaming him for the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. The New York Times, which obtained an early copy of the book, called, On the House: A Washington Memoir, says Boehner writes that Trump, quote, "incited that bloody insurrection for nothing more than selfish reasons, perpetuated by the bulls**it he’d been shoveling since he lost a fair election the previous November." Boehner also claims of his fellow Republican that Trump's, quote, "refusal to accept the result of the election not only cost Republicans the Senate but led to mob violence." He called that Capitol attack "scary and sad" and "one of the lowest points of American democracy."
➤MOST OKAY WITH SLOWER AMAZON DELIVERY IN EXCHANGE FOR TREATING WORKERS BETTER:  Amazon is famous for how quickly it's able to get packages to customers, but amid reporting about mistreatment of its delivery and warehouse workers, a new poll found that most Americans say they'd be okay with slower Amazon delivery in exchange for the online retail behemoth treating its workers better. In the survey of over 1,200 people by GammaWire, more than 67 percent were okay with the tradeoff, with 50.9 percent saying deliveries coming a day or day two later would be alright, and another 16.5 percent saying they'd accept it taking an extra three days or more. Women were more likely to support longer delivery times for better worker treatment, with 77 percent of them saying they'd be okay with it compared to 57 percent of men. Researchers noted, however, that what people say may not actually be true when it comes to reality, saying, "While it can feel good to reply to a survey with a morally superior answer, actually committing to it in practice might be a bigger ask."

➤POTENTIALLY DEADLY ‘ZOOM ZOMBIES’ ARE ROAMING THE STREETS, A NEW REPORT FINDS: It turns out you shouldn’t Zoom and then drive. The Root Insurance Distracted Driving Awareness Survey reveals 54 percent of motorists who have driven soon after using Zoom report having trouble concentrating on the road. The issue seems to be worse the younger the driver is, as 48 percent of Gen Xers reports feeling this way, compared to 61 percent of millennials, and 65 percent of Gen Zers. Root Insurance CEO Alex Timm explains, “COVID-19 fundamentally changed the way we interact with our vehicles. As many abruptly shifted to a virtual environment, Americans’ reliance on technology dramatically increased along with their screen time, causing a majority of drivers to carry this distracted behavior into their vehicles.” Experts say videoconferencing takes more brain power than in-person interactions because you have to pay more attention, and driving takes a lot of this energy as well. To combat this, researchers suggest doing something mindless between videoconferencing and driving, such as laundry, to let your brain recharge.

🎵SCIENCE NOW SAYS YOU CAN JUDGE PEOPLE BY THEIR TASTE IN MUSIC AFTER ALL:  If you’ve judged someone by their music tastes in the past, you should know your judgements may have been legitimate. A new article written in The Hill looks at a few past studies, and notes that one “shows a link between preferred musical genres and our capacity for empathy, with results across samples showing that empathy levels are linked to preferences even within genres.” 

They specifically found that those with a bias toward empathizing preferred mellow music that might fall within the genres of R&B and soft rock, while those who prefer genres such as heavy metal or hard rock tend to show a bias towards logic-based thinking, rather than showing empathy. Another study found that self-assured people were more likely to enjoy positive music, while those who seek excitement prefer higher arousal music, and those who are open-minded had a more general preference for music overall, and were also more open to music that spanned genres. 

Researcher David Greenberg with University of Cambridge adds, “The idea that music is solely entertainment, or even just a pure aesthetic experience, is very misguided. Music is a form of language. It’s part of human evolution, and it’s deeply embedded into our brains.”

➤ONE IN THREE COVID-19 PATIENTS DIAGNOSED WITH PSYCHIATRIC DISORDER IN SIX MONTHS AFTER RECOVERY: COVID-19 is definitely not a joke. An analysis published Tuesday by The Lancet, shows that more than one-third of people in the United States who survive COVID-19 develop a psychiatric or neurological condition related to the virus within six months of infection. Among those with a psychiatric disorder related to the virus, anxiety was the most common (17% of patients), followed by depression (14% of patients.) Seven percent of patients who experienced neurological complication had a stroke while in intensive care, and two percent were diagnosed with dementia within six months of becoming infected. These diagnoses were more common in COVID-19 patients than in those with flu or respiratory infections over the same time period, suggesting the coronavirus has a specific impact on metal and brain health.

➤STARBUCKS’ BORROW A CUP PROGRAM REWARDS CUSTOMERS WITH BONUS STARS FOR USING REUSABLE CUPS: Starbucks has unveiled its new Borrow A Cup program, and it gives customers the option to order their drinks in reusable cups they can return to the store after they’re done. The company is starting with a small test run in select Seattle locations, and those taking part will simply opt to order their drink in a newly designed reusable cup, which looks similar to the classic cup design with a Starbucks logo and a white background. Participants will pay $1 for their reusable cup, which they’ll get back in the form of a $1 Starbucks credit when they return it. If you return your cup by June 14th, you’ll get the $1 credit and 10 Bonus Stars added to your Rewards account.

➤WOODS DRIVING NEARLY TWICE THE SPEED LIMIT AT TIME OF CRASH: Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said yesterday that Tiger Woods was driving 84 to 87 miles per hour at the time of his February 23rd crash outside L.A., nearly twice the speed limit of 45 miles per hour. Villanueva blamed the crash on Woods' high speed and loss of control behind the wheel." 

Sheriff's Captain James Powers said there was no evidence Woods tried to brake, and investigators believe he may have stepped on the gas instead of the brake in a panic. Woods, who suffered serious leg injuries in the crash and underwent surgery, told police he hadn't taking any medication or drunk any alcohol and detectives didn't seek warrants for blood samples, saying there was no evidence of impairment or distracted driving. Woods also told police he didn't remember driving and didn't know how the crash took place. Villanueva said last week they'd determined the cause of the crash, but needed permission from Woods to release it. He said yesterday that Woods had given it.

🏒21 CANUCKS PLAYERS POSITIVE FOR COVID-19: The NHL's Vancouver Canucks said yesterday that the number of players who'd tested positive for the coronavirus had grown to 21 players, and that four other members of the organization were also positive. The Canucks said the cases stem from a variant of the virus. The entire team is in quarantine, and after not being able to play since last week, it's uncertain when the team will return to competition.

➤NIKE SUSPENDS WATSON SPONSORSHIP AMID SEX ASSAULT, MISCONDUCT ALLEGATIONS: Nike said yesterday that it had suspended its endorsement contract with Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson amid allegations of sexual assault and misconduct brought against him in lawsuits by 22 women. Nike said they were "deeply concerned by the disturbing allegations." Beats by Dre also is reportedly dropping Watson, and Reliant Energy is removing him as a brand ambassador. The women making the accusations are massage therapists and others who said the alleged actions happened while they were giving Watson a massage.

🏀NETS' DURANT RETURNS AFTER 23-DAY INJURY ABSENCE: Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant returned last night in a game against the New Orleans Pelicans after missing 23 games due to a strained hamstring. Durant entered the game on the Nets' home court in the second quarter of Brooklyn's 139-111 win, finishing with 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists in 19 minutes.

➤CHINA WARNS U.S. NOT TO BOYCOTT BEIJING OLYMPICS: China warned the U.S. yesterday not to boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022, after the administration said it was talking with U.S. allies about a joint approach over the accusations of human rights abuses carried out by China against the Uighur ethnic minority, as well as Tibetans and Hong Kong residents. China rejects the accusations. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson warned that there would be a, quote, "robust Chinese response" to a boycott of the Beijing Games. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said yesterday that the U.S. isn't considering a boycott, stating, "We have not discussed, and are not discussing, any joint boycott with allies and partners."

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