The Group of Seven (G7) leaders on Sunday expressed support for a “transparent” investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, while also seeking ways to better prepare for future pandemics.
President Joe Biden joined the leaders of the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan in signing a joint summit communiqué that addressed everything from strategies to end the current pandemic to a guideline for combatting climate change and an examination of international law regarding online safety and hate speech.
The international leaders are pushing for “a timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based WHO-convened Phase 2 COVID-19 Origins study including, as recommended by the experts’ report, in China.”
The G7 also committed to giving 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to countries in need as they continue to weather the pandemic.
In recent weeks, the debate over the origins of the coronavirus has become a huge issue among US lawmakers and several health experts who question if the coronavirus possibly originated in a lab in Wuhan, China.
However, China has refuted the claim, and Republicans have been critical of involvement by the World Health Organization regarding any possible investigation.
Last month, Biden asked for the intelligence community to “redouble their efforts” in ascertaining the origins of the coronavirus after it was revealed that there was COVID-19 evidence that had not yet been analyzed, according to The New York Times
At the time, the president also requested a report on the findings to be issued in three months.
Last year’s in-person G7 summit was set to be held at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, but was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
US Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg on Sunday backed the mask mandates still in effect on airplanes and public transit as a “matter of respect,” in the wake of recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that suggest that fully vaccinated travelers can forgo face coverings in many public spaces.
During an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” host Martha Raddatz pressed Buttigieg about the continued need for mask regulations on public transit, despite many fully vaccinated Americans dining out and returning to their fitness routines at gyms without face coverings.
“Well, some of the differences have to do with the physical space, some of them have to do with it being a workplace where in some of these transit and travel situations, people don’t have a choice,” he said. “It’s a matter of safety, but it’s also a matter of respect.”
Buttigieg asked for the public to be courteous toward transportation workers, many of whom worked through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Remember what they have been through, what they have been doing to keep you safe and make sure to show some appreciation and respect to everybody from a bus driver, operator to a flight attendant to a captain,” he said. “They have been on the frontlines of this pandemic. Their jobs have been in doubt. They are here for your safety.”
Buttigieg also noted that while 2021 Memorial Day weekend traffic is dramatically higher than last year, it would still take a while for the transportation system to ease back to pre-pandemic levels.
“As people return, we are coming out of one of the biggest shocks – perhaps the biggest shock – that the American transportation system has ever seen in terms of demands, schedules, all of these things changing and so the system is getting back into gear,” he said.
When Vice President Kamala Harris addressed the graduates of the United States Naval Academy on Friday, she became the first female commencement speaker in its 175-year-history.
At the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, Harris told the graduates that they would be taking “an oath to support our Constitution and defend it against all enemies.”
“No matter what changes in our world, the charge in this oath is constant,” she emphasized.
Harris spoke of the immense challenges that graduates would face, including the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and cybersecurity threats.
She called climate change “a very real threat to our national security” and lauded the graduates for being part of the future for tackling the issue.
“I look at you and I know you are among the experts who will navigate and mitigate this threat,” she said. “You are ocean engineers who will help navigate ships through thinning ice. You are mechanical engineers who will help reinforce sinking bases. You are electrical engineers who will soon help convert solar and wind energy into power, convert solar and wind energy into combat power.”
She told the graduates that they would be critical in securing the country’s infrastructure.
“Foreign adversaries have their sights set on our military technology, our intellectual property, our elections, our critical infrastructure,” she said. “The way I see it, midshipmen, you are those experts on the issue of cybersecurity.”
She added: “We must defend our nation against these threats. And at the same time, we must make advances in things that you’ve been learning, things like quantum computing and artificial intelligence and robotics, and things that will put our nation at a strategic advantage. You will be the ones to do it because the United States military is the best, the bravest, and the most brilliant.”
Harris also praised the military officers who have helped vaccinate Americans across the country.
The vice president’s speech comes as the Pentagon accelerates the timeline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, which will likely occur in mid-July, up from an earlier projected date of September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
She told the graduates that the September 11, 2001, attack “shaped your entire life, and it shaped our entire nation,” and said that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the fabric of American society.
“If we weren’t clear before, we know now: The world is interconnected,” she said. “Our world is interdependent. And our world is fragile.”
Harris also gave a nod to female graduates only 46 years since Congress mandated that women could be admitted to service academies.
“Just ask any Marine today, would she rather carry 20 pounds of batteries or solar panels, and I am positive, she will tell you a solar panel – and so would he,” she laughingly said.
She then paid respects to the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a graduate of the academy, whom she called “a great and courageous American.”
McCain, who passed away in August 2018, is buried at the US Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis.
“Most people don’t know he wanted to be buried next to his best friend who he met on the yard, Admiral Chuck Larson,” she said. “That is the ultimate example of what I mean, in it together.”
“No class gets to choose the world into which it graduates, and demands and the challenges you’re going to face in your career are going to look very different than those who walked these halls before you,” he told the graduates. “You chose, as a class motto – ‘We are the future.’ I don’t think you have any idea how profound that assertion is.”
GOP Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan on Sunday slammed Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia for comparing the mask policy on the House floor to the Holocaust, calling her comments “beyond reprehensible.”
Meijer and Greene are both freshmen in the House Republican Caucus.
Greene has long had a penchant for attracting controversy, though, from stalking Parkland school shooting survivor David Hogg before taking office to her constant needling of Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
In February, Greene lost her House committee assignments after endorsing violence against her political opponents on social media.
However, Greene’s most recent comments have drawn a new wave of criticism, including a rebuke from Meijer on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“Any comparisons to the Holocaust – it’s beyond reprehensible,” he said. “I don’t even have words to describe how disappointing it is to see this hyperbolic speech that frankly amps up and plays into a lot of the anti-Semitism that we’ve been seeing in our society today, vicious attacks on the streets of New York and in Los Angeles that should be, and I do condemn that in the strongest terms. There’s no excuse for that.”
During an appearance on Real America’s Voice last Thursday, Greene likened the House mask policy to the Holocaust.
“You know, we can look back at a time in history when people were told to wear a gold star, and they were definitely treated like second-class citizens, so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany,” she said. “And this is exactly the type of abuse that [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi is talking about.”
“You can never compare health-related restrictions with yellow stars, gas chambers & other Nazi atrocities,” the American Jewish Congress tweeted. “Such comparisons demean the Holocaust & contaminate American political speech.”
The group has asked that Greene retract her statements.
However, in an interview with Arizona 12 News reporter Bianca Buono, Greene doubled down on her comments.
“No one should be treated like a second-class citizen for saying ‘I don’t need to wear a mask,’ or saying that my medical records are my privacy based on my HIPAA rights, and so I stand by all of my statements,” Greene said. “I said nothing wrong.”
She added: “I think any rational Jewish person didn’t like what happened in Nazi Germany, and any rational Jewish person doesn’t like what’s happening with overbearing mask mandates and overbearing vaccine policies.”
Several Republicans have attempted to flout House regulations mandating masks on the floor, pointing to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that fully-vaccinated Americans can forgo mask-wearing in most places.
However, while all House Democrats have reported being vaccinated, just 45 percent of House Republicans indicated that they have received their shots, prompting the mandate to remain in place.
One millennial investor vowed to “never again” miss out on gains from hyped-up cryptocurrencies. One $500 investment later, he’s now the proud owner of 20 billion units of Australian Safe Shepherd, also known as ASS coin, Bloomberg reported.
The article described him as a “thrill-seeking amateur, goaded on by social media.” Social media platforms have become a key part of the boom in retail trading, as a recent survey showed one in five investors has used Reddit to help them make an investment decision.
Hackney, a former bar tender from Tampa, Florida, said he was part of the GameStop craze earlier this year in which an army of Reddit retail traders caused the stock to skyrocket, squeezing short sellers. As for his investment in the stock, he told Bloomberg he “was up and then, in a blink, he wasn’t.”
He invested in dogecoin, at one point, too. Dogecoin, which twisted and turned this past week amid broader market volatility, started as a social media joke about a popular meme and has since turned into a well-known altcoin.
In January, Hackney bought dogecoin at 4 cents, and the currency immediately doubled. But he couldn’t stand the wild price swings and sold his position, only to see it rocket to 70 cents earlier this month.
At that point, he vowed to never let that happen to him again, Bloomberg wrote. That’s when he put $500 into ASS coin.
Altcoins have taken hold of retail investors recently. Instead of the well-known bitcoin, many are investing in alternatives like dogecoin, litecoin, and safemoon, among others.
Earlier this week, Barstool sports founder Dave Portnoy, calling the alternatives “sh*tcoins,” invested $40,000 in Safemoon, which launched in March.
Cryptocurrency linked-stocks plummeted this week amid massive sell-offs in bitcoin and ethereum. Analysts have warned against investing in alternative cryptocurrencies, though, saying the social-media driven coins are unregulated and highly volatile.
One of the US’ major teachers’ unions has, at long last, come around to admitting its members should be back in school, full-time, this fall. It’s a huge, albeit long-delayed, development. But as a parent of three school-aged kids, count me as still skeptical.
The shift came when American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten last Thursday gave a long-anticipated speech to members of the second-largest teachers union in the country and thousands of its local affiliates.
Weingarten said plainly: “There is no doubt: Schools must be open. In person. Five days a week.”
The fog of pandemic fear, behind which the teachers’ unions have hidden for over a year, is lifting. The miracle of the COVID vaccines have made so many questionably-effective “better safe than sorry” safety measures truly obsolete.
But as a New York City public school parent whose kids haven’t been in school in any meaningful sense since March 10, 2020 – I’ve heard these sweet-sounding words about the teachers’ unions’ commitment to “fully” reopening schools before.
I’ll need to see it – full-time, in-person schooling with actual teachers in the classroom – in order to believe the teachers unions truly mean what they say this time around.
There’s always a “but”
Weingarten said all the right things in her speech, asserting that her union is “all in” on fully reopening schools. She conceded that “prolonged isolation” for young people is “harmful.” And she admitted “remote learning is not on par with in-person teaching” and “equity gaps have grown wider” as a result.
But there’s always a “but.”
The union boss said schools will need to continue to vigorously enforce social distancing, which will require schools to come up with a whole lot of additional space they don’t have. Weingarten also called for schools to reduce class size, and warned of yet-unknown risks that could complicate schools reopening or staying open next year.
And as The New York Times noted, “The devil will be in the details negotiated at bargaining tables, where local union leaders may demand additional safety measures as a precondition to a full return.”
If the past year of failed negotiations to get teachers back in schools has taught us anything, it’s that the unions get what they want without having to give much in return.
Teachers prioritized for vaccination? Done. Almost $200 billion in federal spending for COVID safety measures in schools? Done. Enormous amounts of time and resources spent on hygiene theater? Done.
The unions admitting they were wrong to hype the threat of schools becoming COVID hotspots, and thus making many Black and brown families not want to send their kids to school? Never.
We’ve seen this movie over and over again for the past 15 months
I can clearly envision the anti-reopening arguments that will begin percolating when this August rolls around:
“Too many parents don’t feel safe sending their children back into school buildings!”
With less than four months before the next school year begins, I’m not confident that any of these concerns will be effectively hashed out in time to save kids from losing part of a third year of their education.
As vaccines proliferate in the US, the AFT and other politically-powerful teachers unions can pat themselves on the back for so successfully working the system that they keep their “essential worker” membership from going into work for the entire pandemic.
But they also should be embarrassed over the damage they’ve done.
Forget about the learning loss – which some educators say we should now refer to as “learning change” – experienced during the pandemic. The psychological tolls and stunted socialization have been devastating for children kept out of schools and away from other kids for more than a year.
And by downplaying the necessity of in-person learning for so long, they’ve recklessly undermined the value of the noble profession of teaching.
Good teachers are invaluable guides through children’s development. Pretty much all teachers work hard. The pandemic has been brutal on educators.
But teachers unions have peddled the fiction that there has simply been no reasonable compromise available to fully reopen schools many months ago. That short-sighted misstep has driven people toward private schools and out of areas with politically-powerful public school teachers unions.
There are many institutions whose pandemic comportment deserves a full accounting once we’re truly out of the COVID woods.
The intransigence of the teachers unions and the feckless government officials who bent to their will at the expense of parents and students deserves a full, independent accounting.
Denying scientific evidence in the name of members “safety” was always just a front for flexing political power.
Weingarten’s seemingly-resolute declaration that it’s time for teachers to get back into school buildings was made up of nice-sounding words, but they are only words.
I’m not holding my breath that my kids will be back in school full-time in September, because I’ve seen this movie over and over again.
Teachers unions do not deserve to be trusted on their words at this point, just their deeds.