News, August 7th

Brazil decree to provide US$356 million for coronavirus vaccine

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro issued a decree on Thursday (August 6) to provide BRL1.9 billion (US$356 million) in funds to purchase and eventually produce a COVID-19 vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca PLC and Oxford University researchers.

Brazil’s Acting Health Minister General Eduardo Pazuello said the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is the most promising in the world to fight the virus and the technology will be acquired by Brazil, which is facing the worst outbreak outside the United States.

Brazil reported 53,139 new cases of the novel coronavirus and 1,237 deaths from the disease caused by the virus in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Thursday.

Brazil has registered 2,912,212 confirmed cases of the virus since the pandemic began, while the official death toll from COVID-19 has risen to 98,493, according to ministry data. It is the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak after the United States.

Eviction wave looms in Idaho’s Treasure Valley

The story of the housing crisis in the Treasure Valley has once again risen sharply in pitch, spurred on by the unremitting COVID-19 pandemic. The Treasure Valley – also known as the Boise Metropolitan Area – comprises nearly 40 percent of Idaho’s total population and is home to more than 730,000 people. Approximately 42 percent of them are renters. Now, these renters are facing an onslaught of evictions, housing shortages, and homelessness.

The Treasure Valley was already in a uniquely fervent housing crisis. It is one of the fastest-growing areas in the nation, and each year the housing inventory lags farther behind the booming demand. At the same time, real estate investors have been sinking their fangs into the valley’s hot market, crowding-out local homebuyers and keeping renters from ownership.

As a result of the steepening demand for rental units, profit-hungry landlords are able to be highly selective about tenants, and at what price. Monthly rent for all types of property in the valley are at an all-time high, continuing to rise through this historic pandemic. And though the cost of living here is lower than other metro areas, Idaho’s wages are among the lowest nationally, making rent a significant burden for working class tenants across the valley.

Risk factors for renters have grown exponentially during the time of the COVID-19 virus. The economic downturn that swept the area resulted in record high unemployment. Local organizations that are in place to support the renting and homeless populations have been overwhelmed by demand. Some report a tripling in call volume, and a growing number of families made homeless by the pandemic. The mayor of Boise, Lauren McLean, continually refuses to invoke her powers to stop evictions, despite demands and protests from many local organizations. She defers instead to the State of Idaho to act, though the State has demonstrated similar apathy to the plight of renters in the Treasure Valley.

According to Household Pulse Survey Data, as many as 1 in 4 Idaho renters are now facing eviction as the pandemic presses on, and this number is expected to grow in coming weeks. The CARES Act protection that allowed people to receive enhanced unemployment benefits ended on July 31, and the moratorium in place for evictions involving properties covered by federally backed mortgages will end on August 23. With these protections expiring, the nation is anticipating a landslide of evictions, and Idaho is no exception.

The tight rental market in the Treasure Valley means that finding someplace to live after eviction is difficult, and the pandemic has only worsened these conditions. Apartment showings have been canceled, and many leasing offices for rental companies are completely closed. Treasure Valley renters face eviction with the knowledge that they will be hard-pressed to find another place to live. Local residents have resorted to seeking storage units for their belongings, unable to secure housing upon moving out.

The legal eviction process in Idaho has always been harsh on renters when compared to the statutes of other states in the region. Idaho is an expedited eviction state, and landlords are known to take advantage of the speedy proceedings the state allows for the eviction of tenants. Under Idaho law, landlords can begin the eviction process if a renter is just three days late on rent. Furthermore, in Idaho, an eviction filing becomes a permanent part of the tenant’s record, which lowers their credit and decimates their future housing prospects.

A piece of Idaho law, which has been violating the rights of tenants since 1996, was finally overturned this summer on July 20. Idaho Code section 6-311A states that a judge should determine the outcome of eviction proceedings without a jury trial. In early June, Idaho Legal Aid Services filed a lawsuit, arguing that tenants have a constitutional right to a jury trial in eviction proceedings. The Court ruled in their favor, finding the statute unconstitutional under the Idaho Constitution.

This marks a noteworthy victory in more ways than one. Requesting a jury trial can help shift the unbalanced power dynamic between landlords and tenants in the courtroom. Additionally, due to COVID-19, jury trials in civil court cases – including evictions – are on hold until October. While eviction filings will still appear on one’s record, evictions themselves can be effectively postponed for the duration of the summer. What’s important now is to communicate, to any Idahoan facing eviction, is that they must contact the housing rights hotline at Idaho Legal Aid to learn how to request a hearing. Hearings will not be granted without making a request.

As stresses on the tenant class intensify under COVID-19, solidarity is more important now than ever. The Treasure Valley is enduring a hot, dry summer while property managers and landlords snap at our heels, relentlessly increasing rent, and eviction filings. This valley, rich in natural beauty, remains a ghastly demonstration of how the capitalist machine operates: profit over people, grinding human lives to grist without conscience. But, as we have seen, there are wrenches we can throw in the gears. Organizations and activists continue to fight for housing justice, and victories can be won. The time to stand up, together, is now.

Here’s how you can help the UN aid Lebanon’s recovery

After a devasting blast ripped through Beirut Port in Lebanon on Tuesday, wounding thousands, and rendering hundreds of thousands homeless, the UN moved rapidly to step up its relief effort.

The comprehensive network of specialist UN agencies are working together to help the people of the Lebanese capital get back on their feet, but if you are wondering what you can do to help, we’ve put together this list of what they are doing, and where you can donate, to ensure that any aid you can give, reaches the people most in need.

This Friday and into the weekend, the UN continues to mobilize emergency assistance, including relief items such as temporary shelters. for approximately 300,000 displaced people.

The horrific blast has brought into sharp focus the need for the international community to step up and help Lebanon and its people at their time of greatest crisis, suffering the impact of economic collapse, political turmoil and uncertainty, rising infection rates from COVID-19, and the terrible destruction wrought by Tuesday’s explosion.

The blast ripped through “a country already facing civil unrest, economic hardship, the coronavirus outbreak, and a heavy burden from the Syrian refugee crisis”, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, pointed out on Friday.

As more supplies are arriving each day to support operations, OCHA has released $6 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to fund trauma care, support to hospitals, repair damaged homes and provide logistical support.

Meanwhile, within 36 hours of the blast, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon, Najat Rochdi, had released $9 million from the Lebanon Humanitarian Fund to address primary health needs and provide food assistance to the most vulnerable.

In a specially recorded audio message for UN News, Ms. Rochdi gave an assurance that all funds that members of the public around the world feel moved to donate to the UN, and its NGO partners, “will go directly to the people who suffered from this horrendous blast’.

Any donation that can be provided “will help alleviate the immediate suffering and support the Lebanese people as they start the process of rebuilding”, said Mr. Lowcock.

Amid concerns that the explosion will worsen an already grim food security situation that has coincided with a profound financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Food Program (WFP) said it is in “close” discussions with Lebanese authorities to coordinate its emergency food response.

As the country works to rebuild Beirut Port, WFP announced on Friday that it would help boost food security across the country by importing wheat, flour and grain as huge cereal silos were destroyed in the epicenter of the blast.

Already providing cash and food programs in Lebanon, WFP will also help with logistical and supply chain expertise and any donation you can spare would be greatly appreciated.

The day after the massive blast, the World Health Organization (WHO) sent 20 tons of health supplies to cover 1,000 trauma and 1,000 surgical interventions for those injured in the explosion.

“We are working closely with national health authorities, health partners and hospitals treating the wounded, to identify additional needs and ensure immediate support,” said WHO Representative in Lebanon, Dr Iman Shankiti.

And on Friday afternoon WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus released $2.2M from the Contingency Fund for Emergencies (CFE) to support the immediate response while ensuring the continuity of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to support the UN agency’s work in dealing with the on-going outbreaks in countries dealing with multiple disasters like Lebanon. 

As they rush to support the Government-led response, “shelter, health and protection” are the top priorities for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), spokesperson Charlie Yaxley told reporters on Friday.

“The need for shelter is massive”, he said, adding that the explosion may have also impacted refugees living in Beirut.

As UNHCR continues to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, it is also working to decrease the pressure on overwhelmed hospitals and allow more patients to be treated promptly. Any contribution you can make will be used to help achieve this.

While the impacts of the explosion on Lebanon’s estimated 400,000 labor migrants and approximately 1.5 million refugees are yet to be seen, those already living in precarious situations will certainly be at greater risk, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The UN migration agency is working alongside UN partners to conduct a rapid assessment to further understand the magnitude of the damage and the specific needs of the most vulnerable people – including Lebanese citizens, migrants, and refugees. 

“Now more than ever we must guarantee the health, safety and security of Lebanon’s most vulnerable people”, said IOM Director General António Vitorino, stressing the need to incorporate the needs of migrants and refugees in broader emergency response plans. Click here to donate to IOM’s general relief efforts.

Against the backdrop of massive damage to homes, and COVID-19 cases spiking to a record 255 infections registered on Thursday, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) cited latest available figures on Friday estimating that up to 100,000 children might be homeless or living without water or electricity.

“The needs are immediate, and they are huge”, UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado told journalist in Geneva on Friday, appealing for an initial $8.25 million for the emergency response.

Among other things, UNICEF is working to replace PPE and other medical products lost in the blast while procuring critical health supplies; distribute water; reunite children separated from their families and provide them with psychosocial support.

Emergency cash assistance is needed, and damaged health care facilities and schools require rehabilitation, please consider donating here.

With large swathes of the city unfit to live in, the country’s principle port all but destroyed and the health system on its knees, the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) called the situation “dire”.

“Victims’ calls for accountability must be heard, including through undertaking an impartial, independent, thorough and transparent investigation into the explosion”, OHCHR Spokesperson Rupert Colville said, calling for “a swift international response and sustained engagement”, to prevent many more lives from being lost.

UN staff across the world have also stood shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity with their Lebanese colleagues.

The UN Staff Unions in New York, Nairobi and Vienna, as well as the Staff Associations of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), have raised $32,000 in funds so far from workers, to support the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and UNIFIL (the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon), both headquartered in Beirut.

How politics, personalities and price tags derailed Covid relief talks

What a difference five months make in the middle of a pandemic.

In March, as the coronavirus was beginning to hammer the United States, President Donald Trump and congressional leaders from both parties were able to quickly pass a $2.2 trillion relief package providing a financial lifeline to millions of workers and tens of thousands of small businesses facing an apocalyptic economic slowdown.

There were some bitter partisan disputes inside the Senate as the bill was crafted, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin wore out a path trodding between the offices of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as they put together the final deal. In the end, though, one of the most expensive pieces of legislation in history sailed through Congress without a single “no” vote.

Fast forward to August. More than 160,000 Americans are dead, unemployment has soared to levels not seen since the Great Depression, while federal payments to laid-off workers have expired, millions more face possible eviction, and coronavirus cases continue to spike nationwide. Meanwhile, Congress and the White House are mired in their ancient, all-consuming gridlock.

Two weeks of closed-door talks — with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Schumer facing off against White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Mnuchin — failed to lead to a breakthrough on a new coronavirus relief package. The two sides remained hundreds of billions of dollars apart on overall spending for the new package, and even more important, were separated by a huge ideological chasm over what role the government should play at this point in the calamity.

“It would be nice to do [a deal] with Democrats, but they’re just interested in one thing — and that’s protecting people who have not done a good job in managing cities and states,” Trump said on Friday night during a news conference at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

Amid the deadlock, Trump said he would issue a series of executive orders in the coming days to address the economic fallout from the pandemic. The orders are likely to divert tens of billions of dollars in congressionally approved funds to reinstitute federal unemployment payments, reimpose an eviction moratorium, continue the suspension of student loan payments and defer federal payroll tax payments. The unilateral moves could easily draw challenges in court.

Pelosi and Schumer expressed dismay at Trump’s expected executive orders, which had been telegraphed by Meadows all week.

“It doesn’t cover [the] opening of schools. It doesn’t cover testing,” Schumer complained. “It doesn’t cover dealing with rental assistance. It doesn’t cover elections. It doesn’t cover so many things. There’s a long list, I could go on and on and on.”

This White House official was singled out by Democrats as a major roadblock to any coronavirus relief deal.

But the massive failure by the nation’s leaders to find a consensus only months after a major bipartisan success comes down to a number of factors, both personal and political.

The elections are only 88 days away, and both sides are gambling that they’ve got more to gain from a stalemate than a deal. Personality clashes also infused the talks, with the presence of the conservative Meadows having a huge impact on the outcome. Many Republicans in both chambers didn’t want any deal in the first place, citing the growing national debt and arguing unspent money from March’s CARES Act should be pushed out before additional funds were approved. And then there was the growing emotional and psychological fatigue with the crisis itself, spurred on by a president who wants to see the country reopen as fast as possible to help his own political prospects.

Meadows, in particular, was singled out by Democrats as a major roadblock to any deal. Democrats point out that they were able to reach earlier agreements with the White House when Mnuchin was the point man and say Meadows’ presence in the talks has proven an unwelcome addition.

“[Meadows’] positions are quite hardened and noncompromising, more so than Mnuchin,” Schumer said of the co-founder of the hardline House Freedom Caucus. Democrats assert privately that Meadows was brought in “to blow up a deal,” while Mnuchin is there “to get something done.”

Meadows, however, wasn’t having any of it. The former North Carolina lawmaker — who became Trump’s fourth chief of staff in late March — said he and Mnuchin offered “many concessions” during the seemingly interminable round of face-to-face discussions, only to run into unreasonable Democratic resistance.

“I think it’s interesting just to hear the comments from Sen. Schumer and Speaker Pelosi saying that they want a deal, when behind closed doors their actions do not indicate the same thing,” he countered.

Pelosi, meanwhile, lashed out at McConnell for beginning negotiations only in July. Pelosi noted that the House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act in May. McConnell, though, scoffed at that legislation as nothing more than a Democratic wish list, and he repeatedly said the Senate would come up with its own plan.

“Mitch McConnell said pause, he pushed the pause button,” Pelosi said. “If we had acted in a closer time then so many lives and livelihoods would have been saved.”

In an interview with POLITICO this week, McConnell defended his decision to wait, arguing that a significant amount of the money from CARES had yet to be spent.

And McConnell also acknowledged that March’s political environment can’t be replicated now.

“It’s a lot harder now than it was four months ago,” McConnell said. “We’re that much closer to the election.”

At the end, though, the biggest problem was the price tag of a new deal.

Republican lawmakers and the White House wanted to keep the cost of what was likely to be the year’s last round of coronavirus relief legislation to $1 trillion. Pelosi and Schumer pushed a Democratic alternative that would cost well over $3 trillion, although they told reporters on Friday that the pair offered to cut a trillion dollars off that total in order to reach a deal. Schumer said he was dismayed when Mnuchin and Meadows didn’t leap at his proposal.

“And you should have seen their faces,” Schumer exclaimed.

With the election three months away, the political stakes of the impasse are high and it’s not yet clear which party will suffer most from the botched negotiations.

Trump is sinking in the polls and the GOP-controlled Senate is in play. Unlike when he was pushing the March CARES Act, McConnell now leads a deeply divided caucus, including incumbents facing reelection who want something to campaign on and fiscal hawks who want to see federal spending drastically cut back. If the economic misery increases, the party in power is likeliest to be blamed.

But Democrats are taking a risk too in rejecting any type of short-term agreement and could face some heat for the lapsed unemployment benefits in particular if they come to be seen as the roadblock.

The federal payments that expired at the end of July were $600 per week. The most recent White House offer was $400-per-week for five months, or state agencies would be allowed to determine a payment of up to 70 percent of a worker’s lost income with a $600 weekly cap. Pelosi and Schumer rejected the offer, saying they wanted $600 per week into 2021.

Democrats are also seeking $915 billion in financial aid for state and local governments over two years, a staggering amount of money that the White House and Senate Republicans said was unreasonable. Republicans offered $150 billion for one year. That huge gap was a major area of disagreement.

There were other important policy disputes — election security funding, money to reopen schools and aid to renters and homeowners, among others.

“I said come back when you’re ready to give a higher number,” Pelosi said.

Perhaps lost in the whole partisan dispute, however, was a sense of the scale of government aid being talked about here. The late Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.) was famous for his line, “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.” That’s a mere pittance in the current crisis.

“We come down a trillion from our top number which was $3.4 [trillion.] They go up a trillion, from their top number which was $1 [trillion], and that way, we could begin to meet in the middle, Schumer said after the negotiations had collapsed. “Unfortunately, they rejected it. They said they couldn’t go much above their existing $1 trillion, and that was disappointing.”

Paws!  It’s International Cat Day (we aren’t kitten!)

Videos of frolicking felines and gifs of purring pussies will be how most animal enthusiasts mark International Cat Day today.

But for owners who believe their pets are scratchy, aggressive, and mean, the problem is probably you, according to a Hong Kong-based cat consultant who has owned 50 in her lifetime.

Feline behaviorist Briganne Carter mostly helps cat owners deal with problems like their pets scratching furniture and urinating outside the litter box and said, “a lot of the time it has more to do with the pet owners than the cats.”

“Most people are really resistant to change in their environment to accommodate the cats,” Carter said. “And they just don’t know a lot about it.”

That’s where Carter comes in.

“I see often a very immaculate place with nice leather furniture, and the cat has nothing. So, what’s the cat going to do? The cat needs to scratch,” she said.

Sometimes the solution to destructive behavior can be as simple as buying a cat tree.

Other times, however, the problem is harder as it may stem from trauma in the animal’s past.

“Cats are super sensitive to emotion,” she said.

Lauren England, 43, pulled a feral kitten from a flooded drainpipe during a typhoon.

The rescue cat bonded with another feral kitten in foster care, so she took home both, naming one Sir Ian McKellen and the other Brian Blessed.

But it was not smooth sailing.

“They were just going crazy when I was in bed at night, and I could just hear things in here smashing and being torn,” England said, describing the kittens’ first week at home.

“It was just like a whirlwind had come through,” noting that she had several plants before the kittens but was now left with just one.

The kitten she rescued from the drainpipe had started “hissing and spitting”, and that’s when she sought help from Carter.

“I’ve never really had that level of aggression from a cat,” she admitted, despite growing up with them all her life.

Slowly the cats have come to trust her more, allowing themselves to be stroked – with a toothbrush – and sit at a distance on the couch.

“We’re not there yet but we’re making steady progress,” she said.

For Carter, the job is often as much about helping the pet owners as it is the cats. “I feel like a lot of what I do is counselling people.”

“I’ve got a bit of a life coach as well as a kitten coach at the moment,” England agreed.

What troubles Carter most is that some pet owners often give up on their cats because of “bad behavior”, instead of seeking behavioral solutions.

“There are thousands and thousands of cats that are needlessly abandoned, given to shelters,” she lamented, “because people don’t realize that the cat’s troubled behavior is actually very normal.”

“Cats are just being cats,” she says. “They’re doing exactly what they’re supposed to.”

Survivors of US Embassy attacks urge settlement with Sudan to support new government

Ellen Richards, Riz Khaliq and Edith Bartley say they are ready for justice.

Twenty-two years and one day since their lives were upended by the bombings at the U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, the survivors and the families of those killed have finalized a settlement with the government of Sudan, whose previous leader harbored the al-Qaida operatives responsible for those bloody attacks.

“My family was devastated by the bombing. My whole world was turned upside down. My career in the Foreign Service went down the tubes. But you know, through all of it, through every bit of it, I’ve always believed that justice would be served,” said Richards, who worked for the Commerce Department and was blinded in the Nairobi bombing.

For the Sudanese people, who overthrew genocidal dictator Omar al Bashir in a historic uprising last year — it is also a critical moment.

Amid widespread hunger and political instability, a new civilian transitional government has tried to steer the country through the uncertainty and toward democratic elections. But it has suffered under the yolk of international sanctions that block foreign aid and investment.

The Trump administration has said a settlement for those American families would unlock sanctions relief, including lifting Sudan’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism by the State Department — the most stringent of commercial penalties.

But there are some concerns that the deal reached, with Sudan offering $335 million in total, is inequitable. One U.S. senator, Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has blocked the congressional approval needed to finalize the settlement, even as its advocates say sanctions must be lifted urgently to support Sudan’s young civilian government.

“This is the first time in as long as I can remember that we have an opportunity to not only hold a country accountable for what they did at that time in history, but also help a country become part of the world economy, help a country set a path toward improving lives of their citizens,” said Khaliq, who was serving as a commercial attaché when he survived the attack in Nairobi.

The bombings killed 224 people, including 12 Americans killed at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.

But the settlement, reached with the U.S. government’s backing, would provide $3 million for each American or their family, while most of the victims, who were locally employed staff, will receive $400,000, including those who have since become U.S. citizens.

Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has called that unfair. His office did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment, but told The Washington Post in a statement, “We need a deal that, at minimum, is fair to all Americans with claims. There is no serious effort in the Senate to approve the Trump deal because it doesn’t meet that minimum standard.”

Bartley, whose father, and brother were killed in the blast, said that repeated requests from the families and victims to speak with Menendez have gone unanswered.

In response to his concerns, Bartley, who’s become a spokesperson for the families of those killed, said that the U.S. has provided other means of financial support, including $500 million from Congress’s victims of state-sponsored terrorism fund, and that the U.S. is limited in its ability to negotiate on behalf of other countries’ citizens.

“Our government espouses and only has the authority to espouse the claims of American citizens, those who were Americans at the time of the event,” she told reporters during a briefing with Khaliq, Richards and former congressman and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ed Royce, R-Calif.

“Every agreement could be better. We have to look at what’s obtainable here. We have to look at the ticking time bomb that is the situation that the Sudanese government is in if it doesn’t become stabilized or if it doesn’t get the support, get pulled into the global economy and the international community,” Khaliq added.

It’s been 14 months since those peaceful protests ousted Bashir, an autocratic leader who came to power in a coup in 1989, ruled during decades of oppression and violence, and has been found responsible for genocide and other war crimes in Darfur.

The historic demonstrations against him have powered through violent attacks and a military crackdown and yielded a transitional government that is tasked with laying the groundwork for civilian rule and democratic elections.

But that government and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok are struggling amid economic instability, deep poverty and now the novel coronavirus. Hamdok was nearly assassinated in March.

To advocates, that puts even greater pressure to act now.

“This happens in the middle of a pandemic, the middle of what Oxfam calls one of the hunger hot spots on the globe, the middle of a collapsing economic system because we can’t get relief in because of this sanction on state sponsor of terrorism — and it’s an injustice to call it that when the very individual is on trial in the country who brought the terror, and we are now in a position of undermining those who are trying to bring him to justice,” said Royce. “That’s the irrationality of where we are right now. That’s why the Senate has to act.”

Swiss ink deal with Moderna for 4.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine

The Swiss federal government says it has struck a deal with Moderna to supply Switzerland with 4.5 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine if the US biotech firm successfully develops one.

The Federal Office of Public Health says the agreement aims to guarantee Switzerland early access to the vaccine of Moderna and is one of the first such deals by any government with the company.

The federal government wants to ensure that the Swiss population has rapid access to a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, an office statement said on Thursday. At the same time, Switzerland is supporting multilateral projects for the fair distribution of a future vaccine.

The Moderna deal would make it possible to vaccinate 2.25 million people, because expectations are that two doses would be needed, it said. That would be enough for more than a fourth of the wealthy Alpine country’s population of about 8.2 million.

The Swiss government is also in talks with other vaccine companies and has already allocated 300 million Swiss francs (nearly 330 million) for purchases of COVID-19 vaccine. It did not specify the value of the Moderna deal.

Early trials found the experimental Moderna vaccine, developed with the US National Institutes of Health, revved up people’s immune systems. A larger study that’s expected to involve 30,000 people began last month and hopes to show the vaccine is strong enough to protect against the coronavirus.

The agreement comes amid a thorny debate about who should get a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine first.

Twitter’s discriminatory decision to label Chinese and Russian media as “state-affiliated” causes controversy online

Twitter on Thursday attached a special label to the accounts of “state-affiliated media entities” and their staff, a move that deals a heavy blow to media outlets from countries like China and Russia, while Western government-funded media including BBC and VOA are exempt from the treatment due to their “editorial independence”, with public and experts worldwide criticizing the Internet behemoth for its “double standards” and “violation of freedom of speech.”

In the blog post announcing the decision, Twitter stressed that these labels would apply only to the five permanent UN Security Council members, however, most media accounts affected by the new rules are from China and Russia. The announcement noted that state-affiliated media will no longer have their tweets promoted, adding that outlets that use state financing but enjoy editorial independence, such as NPR in the US and the BBC in the UK, will not be marked.

“Unlike independent media, state-affiliated media frequently use their news coverage as a means to advance a political agenda. We believe that people have the right to know when a media account is affiliated directly or indirectly with a state actor,” noted the announcement.

Major media outlets in China and Russia are all labelled as “state-affiliated media,” including People’s Daily, Xinhua News Agency and CGTN from China, as well as RT and Sputnik from Russia. Most Western government-funded media outlets are not included in the list, without Twitter giving solid evidence that they are “independent from the government.”

Twitter has yet to respond to a request to explain its decision as of press time.

“Twitter’s explanation for labelling Chinese and Russian media outlets as state-affiliated while exempting Western media from similar treatment is groundless and arrogant, proving that so-called freedom of speech is merely empty talk,” said Qin An, head of the Beijing-based Institute of China Cyberspace Strategy.

Twitter’s decision soon triggered fierce debate and controversy online. Twitter user “Labels” noted in his post that “Radio Free Europe was literally started by CIA, how come it is not on the list?”

Most real state-affiliated media outlets in the US, such as Radio Free Europe and VOA, are not labelled, even though the former is a US government-funded organization that received funds covertly from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) until 1972, broadcasting US ideologies mainly to countries in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East where the US government deemed “the free flow of information is either banned by government or not fully developed,” while the latter has been called a “US overseas prop organ damage machine” for decades.

“Voice of America (VOA) is supervised by US Agency for Global Media. Upon the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, any new agency CEO is now to be nominated by the US president and confirmed by the US Senate with authority to select key agency personnel. I would not call this ‘independent state-funded media’,” said a netizen on Sina Weibo.

Twitter’s decision is the latest of the US’ moves against Chinese media outlets. According to the Guardian, Google deleted 2,500 YouTube accounts with connections to China between April and June, noting that they were removed as “part of our ongoing investigation into coordinated influence operations linked to China.”

“It is dangerous that the US’ double-standard policies have now expanded to enterprise level, and even social media platforms like Twitter are now affected. It is hegemonism in cyberspace,” Qin added.

UK pledges to crack down on ‘appalling’ wave of illegal immigration across English Channel

The U.K. government is promising to crack down on an “appalling” fresh wave of illegal immigration that has seen hundreds of migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats — and the government is calling on France to do more to stop the crossings.

“The number of illegal small boat crossings is appalling and unacceptably high,” Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a statement. “The figures are shameful.”

At least 235 migrants in 17 boats landed or were picked up by British Coast Guard and Border Force boats on Thursday, surpassing last week’s record of 202 arrivals in one day.

Patel, a hardliner on immigration in Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government, said that the government is working both to stop the boats leaving France, and also to intercept and return those making the crossings.

Patel in her statement warned, however, that the matter was “complex” and faces “serious legislative, legal and operational barriers.”

Successive British governments have for decades been struggling with the flow of illegal immigration across the Channel, both from migrants traveling on boats and those trying to smuggle themselves through ports of entry in the backs of trucks and other vehicles.

Immigration activists have said that many migrants have legitimate reasons to go to the country and the government should offer legal routes to get there safely.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage has been seeking to draw attention to the increase in migrants landing on British shores for weeks, posting videos of the boats and investigating hotels where migrants are reportedly being housed.

The summer weather has led to an uptick in those looking to make the crossings. The channel itself is about 20 miles at its narrowest point.

Patel also said that the government needs French cooperation to intercept the boats and return the migrants to France. The Daily Mail reported that the government is considering using the Royal Navy to help stop the crisis.

The U.K. Daily Telegraph reports that French authorities stop vessels but if migrants threaten to jump in the water, they withdraw as preservation of life is the priority. They then shadow the migrants to make sure they arrived in the U.K. safely.

Last month, Patel and French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin agreed to set up a joint intelligence unit to stop the smuggling gangs who are helping the migrants make their journey into the U.K.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said on BBC Friday that the immigration minister will be in France next week to “step up our collaborative efforts with our French allies.”

The Telegraph reported that more than 3,000 migrants have reached the UK this year, compared with 1,892 for the whole of 2019.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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