In Brief: June 12, 2021

US vaccine surplus grows by the day as expiration dates loom

In Tennessee and North Carolina, demand for the COVID-19 vaccine has slowed down so much that they have given millions of doses back to the federal government, even though less than half of their total populations are vaccinated.

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Oklahoma has not asked for new doses from the government for more than a month, spurning its 200,000-a-week allotment. Around the country, states are rushing to use up doses before they expire this summer.

The U.S. is confronted with an ever-growing surplus of coronavirus vaccine, looming expiration dates and stubbornly lagging demand at a time when the developing world is clamoring for doses to stem a rise in infections.

Million-dollar prizes, free beer and marijuana, raffled-off hunting rifles and countless other giveaways around the country have failed to significantly move the needle on vaccine hesitancy, raising the specter of new outbreaks.

The stockpiles are becoming more daunting each week. Oklahoma has more than 700,000 doses on shelves but is administering only 4,500 a day and has 27,000 Pfizer and Moderna doses that are set to expire at the end of the month.

Justice Department will review restrictive GOP voting laws

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department will scrutinize a wave of new laws in Republican-controlled states that tighten voting rules, Attorney General Merrick Garland said Friday, vowing to take action on any violations of federal law.

He announced plans to double staffing within the department’s civil rights division and said the department would send guidance to states about election-related activity, including mail voting and post-election audits. He also pledged to investigate and prosecute those who would threaten election workers, noting a rise in such cases.

“There are many things open to debate in America, but the right of all eligible citizens to vote is not one of them,” Garland said in his first direct response to the restrictive voting laws being passed in more than a dozen states where Republicans control the legislature and governor’s office.

Speaking to staff of the agency’s civil rights division, he said the resources of the Justice Department must be rededicated to “meet the challenge of the current moment.”

His message was clear: The department doesn’t plan to stay on the sidelines of the voting battles that have erupted in statehouses across the country. Along with reviewing new state laws, Garland said the department also will examine existing ones for their potential to discriminate against minority voters.

Ice shelf protecting Antarctic glacier is breaking up faster

A critical Antarctic glacier is looking more vulnerable as satellite images show the ice shelf that blocks it from collapsing into the sea is breaking up much faster than before and spawning huge icebergs, a new study says.

The Pine Island Glacier’s ice shelf loss accelerated in 2017, causing scientists to worry that with climate change the glacier’s collapse could happen quicker than the many centuries predicted. The floating ice shelf acts like a cork in a bottle for the fast-melting glacier and prevents its much larger ice mass from flowing into the ocean.

That ice shelf has retreated by 12 miles between 2017 and 2020, according to a study in Friday’s Science Advances The crumbling shelf was caught on time-lapse video from a European satellite that takes pictures every six days.

“You can see stuff just tearing apart,” said study lead author Ian Joughin, a University of Washington glaciologist. “So it almost looks like the speed-up itself is weakening the glacier. … And so far we’ve lost maybe 20% of the main shelf.”

Between 2017 and 2020, there were three large breakup events, creating icebergs more than 5 miles long and 22 miles (36 kilometers) wide, which then split into lots of littler pieces, Joughin said. There also were many smaller breakups.

From wire sources

Nevada schools reckon with race, triggering polarization

RENO, Nev. — Nevada has become the latest flashpoint in a national debate over how to teach students about racism and its role in U.S. history, with parents clashing over curriculum proposals.

People wore MAGA hats and waved signs outside a packed school board meeting this week in Reno, while trustees considered expanding K-5 curriculum to include more teaching about equity, diversity and racism.

Opponents say the proposal would lead to the teaching of “critical race theory,” which seeks to reframe the narrative of American history. Critics say such lesson plans teach students to hate the United States.

A conservative group even suggested outfitting teachers with body cameras to ensure they aren’t indoctrinating children with such lessons.

“You guys have a serious problem with activist teachers pushing politics in the classroom, and there’s no place for it, especially for our fifth graders,” Karen England, Nevada Family Alliance executive director, told Washoe County School District trustees Tuesday.

Seized House records show just how far Trump admin would go

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump has made no secret of his long list of political enemies. It just wasn’t clear until now how far he would go to try to punish them.

Two House Democrats disclosed this week that their smartphone data was secretly obtained by the Trump Justice Department as part of an effort to uncover the source of leaks related to the investigation of Russian-related election interference.

It was a stunning revelation that one branch of government was using its power to gather private information on another, a move that carried echoes of President Richard Nixon during Watergate.

On Friday, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog announced that it was investigating the records seizure. And Democratic leaders in Congress are demanding that former top Justice officials testify before a Senate committee to explain why the iPhone records of Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both Democrats, and their family members were secretly subpoenaed in 2018. The records of at least 12 people were eventually shared by Apple.

The dispute showed that the rancorous partisan fights that coursed through the Trump presidency continue to play out in new and potentially damaging ways even as the Biden administration has worked to put those turbulent four years in the past.

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AP wins 2 Pulitzers for photos of pandemic pain, US unrest

Associated Press photographers awarded the Pulitzer Prize on Friday had dodged tear gas to capture protests against racial injustice and patiently built trust with elderly people to empathetically document the toll of the coronavirus pandemic.

AP’s chief photographer in Spain, Emilio Morenatti, won the feature photography prize. Work by 10 AP photographers won the breaking news prize.

“The outstanding work of the AP photography staff in covering racial justice protests and Emilio Morenatti’s compassionate, yearlong look at the impact of COVID-19 on the elderly in Spain are two shining examples of what photojournalists strive to do everywhere: use light and shadow to bring knowledge and understanding to all corners of the globe,” said J. David Ake, AP assistant managing editor and director of photography.

Traveling by scooter around Barcelona, Morenatti captured images of an older couple hugging and kissing through a plastic sheet, mortuary workers in hazmat gear removing bodies and of people enduring the crisis in isolation.

Morenatti separated himself from his family for months to avoid the risk of exposure as he documented the toll of COVID-19 on the elderly. He credited half the award to his wife, who took care of their children, and the other half to his colleagues.

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Pulitzers honor coronavirus pandemic, US protest coverage

The Associated Press won two Pulitzer Prizes in photography Friday for its coverage of the racial injustice protests and the coronavirus’s terrible toll on the elderly, while The New York Times received the public service award for its detailed, data-filled reporting on the pandemic.

In a year dominated by COVID-19 and furious debate over race and policing, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis won the breaking news reporting prize for its coverage of George Floyd’s murder and its aftermath, while Darnella Frazier — the teenager who recorded the killing on a cellphone — received a special citation.

Frazier’s award was intended to highlight “the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quest for truth and justice,” the Pulitzer Board said.

The AP and The New York Times each won two Pulitzers, the most prestigious prize in journalism, first awarded in 1917.

The feature photography prize went to AP’s chief photographer in Spain, Emilio Morenatti, who captured haunting images of an older couple embracing through a plastic sheet, mortuary workers in hazmat gear removing bodies, and people enduring the crisis in isolation.

Teen who recorded Floyd’s arrest, death wins Pulitzer nod

MINNEAPOLIS — The teenager who pulled out her cellphone and began recording when she saw George Floyd being pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer was given a special citation by the Pulitzer Prizes on Friday for her video that helped to launch a global movement to protest racial injustice.

Darnella Frazier was cited “for courageously recording the murder of George Floyd, a video that spurred protests against police brutality, around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quest for truth and justice,” the Pulitzer Prizes said.

Frazier was not giving interviews to the media, her publicist said Friday.

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Frazier was 17 when she recorded the arrest and death of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, on May 25, 2020. She testified at the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin that she was walking to a corner grocery store to get snacks with her then-9-year-old cousin when she saw a man being pinned to the pavement, “terrified, scared, begging for his life.”

She said she didn’t want her cousin to see what was happening so she ushered the girl into the store then went back out to the sidewalk and began recording because “it wasn’t right. He was suffering. He was in pain.” She kept recording even though she said she felt threatened when Chauvin ignored the cries of bystanders and pulled out his Mace as he knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds.

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