Friday, July 23, 2021

Wake-Up Call: 3 States Have 40 Percent Of New COVID Cases

Just three states -- Florida, Texas and Missouri -- accounted for 40 percent of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. this week, White House pandemic response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters Thursday, with Florida alone accounting for 20 percent of cases. Zients also said that 97 percent of hospitalizations and deaths are in unvaccinated people, stating, "The threat is now predominantly only to the unvaccinated." At the same time, Zients shared the good news that the five states that have had the most significant rise in infections -- Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida, Nevada and Missouri -- are seeing vaccinations rates go up, beating the national average for a second week in a row.

➤GARLAND SAYS JUSTICE DEPARTMENT WILL CRACK DOWN ON GUN TRAFFICKING: Amid a surge in gun violence in the country, Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday (July 22nd) that the Justice Department will crack down on gun trafficking. He said that will be part of a broader effort against gun violence, including funding community intervention programs. The Justice Department has launched strike forces against gun violence in Chicago, New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco. Experts say there are a number of potential causes for this year's spike in crime, including the pandemic, economic worries, and large gatherings taking place after the many months of lockdowns.

➤BIDEN CONDEMNS CRACKDOWN ON CUBAN PROTESTERS, NEW SANCTIONS IMPOSED: President Biden yesterday condemned the crackdown in Cuba on protesters who mounted recent rare demonstrations against the government, and his administration announced new sanctions. Biden said in a statement, "I unequivocally condemn the mass detentions and sham trials that are unjustly sentencing to prison those who dared to speak out in an effort to intimidate and threaten the Cuban people into silence." The new sanctions were imposed on a Cuban government special brigade that the U.S. charges was involved in human rights abuses during the Cuban government crackdown on protests as well as on Cuban military and political leader Alvaro Lopez Miera. Cuba’s Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, which is led to by Lopez Miera, has attacked protesters and arrested or disappeared over 100 of them, according to the U.S. This comes after the White House said earlier this week that Biden had ordered several steps to increase pressure on the Cuban government.

➤U-S CARRIED OUT AIRSTRIKES IN SUPPORT OF AFGHAN FORCES: The U.S. has carried out several airstrikes this week in support of Afghan forces who are fighting Taliban insurgents, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Thursday. The strikes show the U.S. intends to continue supporting Afghan forces, at least until the end of the U.S. military withdrawal on August 31st, according to AP. The administration hasn't said whether that support will continue after the U.S. pullout is complete. Meanwhile, the House voted overwhelmingly, 407-16, yesterday to allow thousands more Afghans into the U.S. who worked with Americans in the Afghanistan war, such as translators. The U.S. is allowing those Afghans and their immediate families into the U.S. to protect them from Taliban retaliation. The Biden administration says there are 20,000 applicants so far, but half of them haven't yet completed the initial stages of review for the visas.

➤SOFTWARE COMPANY KASEYA GET DECRYPTION KEY IN RANSOMWARE ATTACK: Florida software company Kaseya said yesterday (July 22nd) that it had gotten a universal decryption key that will work for all of the more than 1,000 businesses and public organizations that were hit in a ransomware attack over the Fourth of July weekend that exploited Kaseya's software. The company wouldn't say how they got the key or whether they paid a ransom for it, with a spokesperson saying only that it came from a, quote, "trusted third party." The Russian-linked ransomware group REvil that was behind the attack disappeared from the internet on July 13th, and it's not known why.

➤LEGISLATION WOULD REMOVE TECH COMPANIES' LEGAL PROTECTION IN MISINFORMATION CASES: Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar introduced legislation yesterday that would remove tech companies' Section 230 legal protection in cases in which they allow health misinformation to spread on their platforms, such as vaccine misinformation. 

Section 230 protects companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google from being sued for content posted on their platforms. The exception under Klobuchar's bill would be when a social media platform’s algorithm promotes health misinformation related to a, quote, "existing public health emergency." In those situations, the Secretary of Health and Human Services would define health misinformation. The law wouldn't apply if posts are shown via what it calls a "neutral mechanism," such as posts ranked chronologically, instead of an algorithm ranking what people see. Klobuchar said, "These are some of the biggest, richest companies in the world, and they must do more to prevent the spread of deadly vaccine misinformation."

➤DISAGREEMENT MAY BE A WAY TO MAKE ONLINE CONTENT SPREAD FASTER, FURTHER: If you want a post to spread on social media you’ll want to post something controversial. University of Central Florida researchers analyzed thousands of Reddit posts, and found those labeled controversial by a Reddit algorithm got viewed by nearly twice the number of people and traveled nearly twice as fast when compared to posts not labeled controversial. Researchers say the finding is important as it shows that disagreement may be a powerful way to get people to pay attention to messages. Study co-author Ivan Garibay adds, “There may be an incentive in terms of influence and audience size for a social media user to consistently include controversial and provocative topics on their posts. This benefits the person posting the messages. However, controversial comments can be divisive, which could contribute to a polarized audience and society.”

➤WIDESPREAD INTERNET OUTAGES YESTERDAY: There was a widespread internet disruption for about an hour yesterday that caused outages for the some of the world's biggest sites. The outages started to appear around 11:40 a.m. ET, and Akamai, which operates one of the world's largest and most important content delivery networks, reported a problem with its service at about 12:10 p.m. ET. Akamai tweeted at 12:47 p.m. ET that it had fixed the problem and that systems were returning to normal. The company said the issue was due to a bad software update that disrupted the DNS system, which directs users to websites.

➤NEW CHIEF FOR U.S. CAPITOL POLICE: Officials announced yesterday that J. Thomas Manger, a former police chief in Maryland and Virginia, had been appointed the new chief of the U.S. Capitol Police. The Capitol Police Board, which oversees the force, said Manger had been chosen after a nationwide search. Manger is taking over a force on which morale has plummeted as it deals with the aftermath of the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Manger was police chief in Montgomery County, Maryland, for 15 years, and before that led the Fairfax County, Virginia, police department. He's taking over from Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman, who was elevated after former Chief Steven Sund was forced out immediately after January 6th.

➤VIDEO GAME GIANT ACTIVISION BLIZZARD SUED BY CALIFORNIA OVER 'FRAT BOY' CULTURE: Video game giant Activision Blizzard has been sued by California labor regulators, who charge the company has a, quote, "pervasive 'frat boy' workplace culture." The suit says female employees at the company that created Call of Duty and World of Warcraft faced sexual harassment, unequal pay, being passed over for promotions, and retaliation for raising concerns. It charges that male employees would, quote, "engage in banter about their sexual encounters, talk openly about female bodies, and joke about rape." Activision Blizzard called the claims in the lawsuit "distorted, and in many cases false."

➤STUDY..WATCHING TOO MUCH TV INCREASES YOUR RISK OF SLEEP APNEA:  Spending more than four hours a day in front of the TV increases your risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Harvard Medical School researchers monitored the health and physical activity levels of over 130,000 people for 10 to 18 years. They found that increased levels of sedentary behavior, and corresponding low levels pf physical activity increased the risk of developing OSA. The researchers say people who spend all day sitting down, such as in office jobs, should compensate by getting more exercise during their leisure time. One researcher says, “People who followed the current World Health Organization physical activity guidelines of getting at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week and spent less than four hours per day sitting watching TV, had substantially lower OSA risk.”

➤WHEN TO VIEW JULY’S FULL BUCK MOON:  If you want to see the next full moon you’ll want to look up tonight. Called the buck moon and the thunder moon, July’s full moon will appear opposite the sun in Earth-based longitude at 10:37 p.m ET, according to NASA. The moon will appear full now through Sunday morning. The Maine Farmer’s Almanac says this full moon was named by Algonquin tribes in the Northeast for the period when new antlers of buck deer push out of their foreheads. It’s also known as the thunder moon due to the season’s frequent thunderstorms.

🏈NFL TEAMS TOLD COULD FACE FORFEITS FOR COVID OUTBREAKS AMONG UNVACCINATED: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell warned all teams in a memo yesterday that teams that have Covid-19 outbreaks among unvaccinated players next season could forfeit games, according to media reports. The memo said no games would be rescheduled in those cases and forfeits could happen instead, with players not getting paid. The memo said, "If a game can’t be rescheduled and is canceled due to a Covid outbreak among non-vaccinated players on one of the competing teams, the team with the outbreak will forfeit and will be deemed to have played 16 games for purposes of draft, waiver priority, etc." If there's a Covid outbreak because of cases in vaccinated players, the memo said, "we will attempt to minimize the competitive and economic burden on both participating teams." The NFL hasn't made vaccinations mandatory, but the league and the players associations are strongly urging them, and the memo ramps up the pressure.

🏀PARADE HELD IN MILWAUKEE FOR NBA CHAMPION BUCKS: A parade was held in downtown Milwaukee Thursday for the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks, with thousands of fans lining the street to celebrate the city's first NBA title in 50 years. Open-air buses and flatbed trucks carried the Bucks players, including NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. He spoke to cheering fans in the Deer District, which is the area outside the Bucks' Fiserv Forum, declaring, "Milwaukee, we did it baby! We did it!"

⚾RAYS GET CRUZ IN TRADE WITH TWINS: The Tampa Bay Rays acquired Nelson Cruz in a four-player trade with the Minnesota Twins last night. The Rays obtained the 41-year-old Cruz, a seven-time All-Star, and minor league player Calvin Faucher from the Twins in exchange for minor leaguer pitchers Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman. Cruz's 19 home runs are tied for the second most among designated hitters this season.

The NBA's New Orleans Pelicans have hired Phoenix Suns assistant Willie Green as their new head coach. This will be the first head coaching position for Green, a former 12-year NBA player who's been an assistant coach for the past five years with the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix, which just lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals.

🏒CANADIENS GM SAYS CAPTAIN WEBER TO MISS NEXT SEASON, CAREER MAY BE OVER: Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said in a video conference yesterday that team captain Shea Weber won't play at all next season because of a number of injuries, and that the 35-year-old's career may be over. Weber has played 16 seasons with the Nashville Predators and Montreal, including this past season, when the Canadiens lost in the Stanley Cup Final to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

🏀NBA LEGEND BILL RUSSELL TO AUCTION MOST OF HIS MEMORABILIA: NBA legend Bill Russell announced yesterday (July 22nd) that he will be auctioning off most of his memorabilia from his Hall of Fame career. Hundreds of items from Russell's personal collection will be sold, including trophies, rings, basketballs, jerseys and more. Among them are the first and last of the NBA-record 11 championship rings he won with the Boston Celtics, four of his five NBA Most Valuable Player trophies, and his 1956 U.S. men’s basketball Olympic gold medal.

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