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Frustrated industry groups see Biden’s Covid czar as obstacle to reopening travel

The White House is resisting lifting U.S. travel bans on a broad swath of foreign countries, despite a rising chorus of voices both inside and outside the administration questioning whether they are still necessary in the fight against Covid-19.

Critics of the bans point to Jeff Zients, the coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus pandemic response, as the main obstacle standing in the way of easing the longstanding restrictions, according to five people familiar with the matter. And some of them have grown so frustrated with Zients that they said they have begun discussing ways to go around him and take their case to other top administration officials instead.

President Joe Biden is under intense pressure from members of Congress, European governments, the travel industry and stranded individuals to lift the restrictions — particularly on Canada and much of Europe, where vaccine rates are relatively high. They argue that the bans are costing billions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of jobs, and separating families.

Just last month, Europe eased restrictions for vaccinated American travelers, and Canada announced this week that it could open its border to fully vaccinated Americans for nonessential travel as early as mid-August.

“I think the American people are owed an explanation: What the hell happened?” said Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), one of 75 lawmakers who sent a letter to Biden last week urging him “to begin taking science-based, data-driven steps to safely reopen international travel to the United States.” Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) are preparing to send a letter to Biden as well, according to a Senate Democratic aide.

Some senior officials in the Biden administration, including Cabinet secretaries and doctors, have expressed support for easing the restrictions as long as travelers coming into the U.S. can prove they have received vaccinations or provide a negative Covid test. But the administration remains resistant to asking businesses, including airlines, to require proof of vaccination, according to two senior administration officials familiar with the deliberations.

The White House has repeatedly ruled out a so-called national vaccine passport in the face of pushback among conservatives who have raised concerns about government overreach and discrimination against Americans who opt not to get vaccinated.

A doctor in touch with the White House said physicians at the White House are generally supportive of vaccination proof. “Jeff Zients is the holdup of the proof of vaccination,” the person said. “He thinks there are real political consequences to the Biden team looking like they are pro-vaccine passports. He’s thinking politically, but scientifically proof of vaccination is everything.”

“I do think ultimately, yeah, Zients is the decision maker,” an airline lobbyist agreed. “He’s certainly been the one [airline] CEOs have met with and talked to.”

The White House did not directly address the criticisms of Zients. But it countered that it’s focused on restarting international travel safely.

“It is mission-critical that we are making a decision on travel restrictions with the best available data and incredible precision,” Kevin Munoz, a White House spokespereson, said in a statement. “We take incredibly seriously these decisions and the interagency working groups are united behind and steadfastly focused on getting this right.”

Last month, the administration set up four working groups with representatives from different U.S. agencies and officials from Canada, Mexico, the European Union and the United Kingdom to find a way to lift restrictions. The groups — led by the White House Covid response team and the National Security Council — include representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and Transportation. They have yet to outline a plan and publicly, White House officials have said only that they are “following the science” and listening to public health officials.

Zients gave reporters a little more information Friday morning, saying that any decision on travel bans would be guided by “many variables, including case rates, vaccination rates and the prevalence of any variants, including the Delta variant.” But the administration has not announced what benchmarks will need to be met before the restrictions will be lifted, frustrating those lobbying on the issue.

“They just don’t have an answer. It feels to me like this is an, ‘We’ll know it when we see it,’ and they don’t want to be tied to any certain criteria,” the airline lobbyist said.

Earlier this week, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo — who isn’t a member of the working groups — said that she is pressing for the easing of the restrictions but that U.S. health officials remain concerned about the possibility of more outbreaks.

“I’m pushing really hard,” Raimondo told Reuters. “The CDC is nervous, and it’s hard to know if people are vaccinated. There’s no vaccine passport that’s reliable, and that’s kind of a big hurdle.”

But on Thursday, a Commerce Department official sidestepped questions on Raimondo’s support.

“We recognize the importance of international travel,” the official said. “The best step to reopening travel is getting more people vaccinated in the U.S. and across the globe. Any decisions about reopening international travel will be guided by our public health and medical experts.”

The deliberations come at a time when Covid-19 infection rates attributable to the highly transmissible Delta variant are surging in states across the Midwest and the South, where vaccination rates remain below the national average. Top health officials are increasingly concerned about the rate of transmission in the unvaccinated communities and the possibility that the Delta variant could cause big new outbreaks ahead of school reopenings. Those public health concerns, one White House official said, trump any worries about the economic impact of the restrictions.

At a news conference Thursday, alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Biden pledged to provide more information about when the restrictions will be lifted in the coming days. He said he brought in Zients when Merkel raised the question during their bilateral talks earlier in the day.

“I’ll be able to answer that question to you within the next several days, when it’s likely to happen,” Biden said. “I’m waiting to hear from our folks, our Covid team, as to when that should be done.”

Critics of the bans say it’s not just economic concerns driving their opposition — there’s also no scientific rationale to restricting foreigners who’ve received a Covid vaccine from entering the country.

“The travel bans and which countries are affected don’t make sense. They don’t make scientific sense, or frankly common sense,” said Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University. “It seems to be because of the Biden administration’s … squeamishness over vaccine verification. It’s time they get over it and see that vaccination is our pathway out of this pandemic.”

The bans date back to last year, when former President Donald Trump sealed off the U.S. to most Europeans as well as travelers from other countries, including China, Brazil, India, South Africa and Iran. Trump lifted some bans as he was leaving office, but Biden reinstated them and has kept them in place.

Some travelers can receive exemptions, including U.S. citizens, green-card holders, their spouses and children, as well as diplomats, students, journalists and those who work in the areas involving “critical infrastructure” or “significant economic activity.”

But several other classes of visa holders are out of luck, as are casual tourists. So are bi-national couples who are not married, thousands of whom have banded together to form an online movement called #LoveIsNotTourism to try and pressure the Biden administration to drop the restrictions. They’ve shared thousands upon thousands of tweets, videos and images on social media calling for the administration to lift the ban or at least give them more information.

A top executive at a major U.S. airline said the industry has shown the administration how they could provide self-administered tests when travel is booked as well as how they can attach testing results to boarding passes and vaccination status to frequent flier numbers.

“We’ve seen this sort of caution from the CDC throughout the COVID crisis,” the executive said. “I don’t want to second-guess the science but a lot of the science would certainly indicate that the protection that is afforded by the vaccines should be a path for opening up international travel.”

But oversight of international travel is spread across a number of different federal agencies, making it harder for any single Cabinet member to take the lead on pushing to move faster.

“There’s not a clear Cabinet agency that can kind of push something in the face of White House slowness,” said Stewart Verdery, a lobbyist working on the issue and a former Department of Homeland Security assistant secretary during President George W. Bush’s administration.

German officials raised the issue of the U.S. travel ban directly with Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his visit to the country at the end of June, according to two senior officials with knowledge of the matter. Though the U.S. had been expected to announce it would lift the restrictions, the officials said Blinken relayed at the time that the administration was still considering its options and had not made a final decision. Those same officials told POLITICO that German officials have since pressed the administration for a specific answer on the issue.

“Our travel policy not only lacks rationality, but also is hurting America a great deal,” said Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown health law professor who’s informally advised the Biden administration.

Gostin praised Zients’ work to combat the pandemic over the past six months but said continuing to restrict international travel was a blind spot.

“He’s smart,” Gostin said. “He’s followed the evidence. But in this case I think he’s more focused on the political optics, because I don’t think that there’s any good evidence that our current travel policy keeps us safe.”

Erin Banco, Eugene Daniels, Daniel Lippman and Kathryn A. Wolfe contributed to this report.

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This post originally posted here Politics, Policy, Political News Top Stories

Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains how the race between the vaccines and the variants could leave the nation split into two groups

It has been neck and neck for a while, and honestly, I was ready to cheer a vaccine victory. We nearly dropped to an average of fewer than 10,000 new cases a day, an important number because, according to President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, that number moves the country into “containment” — a time when we would finally get our arms around the spread. We came tantalizingly close: 11,299 cases in late June.
But, then the variants caught some speed, and the vaccine started to fall behind; we are now at an average of 23,472 new cases a day as of Tuesday, and all indications point to that number rising. There are many countries around the world that now are seeing case rates increase against a backdrop of sparse vaccine supply. Here in the United States, we have plenty of vaccine available, a precious commodity almost every country around the world wishes they had. We have the means to distribute vaccines and have even made them totally free of charge.
I believe most of us also fundamentally understand the best way to get a handle on the pandemic and return fully to life as we know it is to vaccinate enough people. What we are lacking is the will.
It may be that some parts of the country really haven’t gotten the memo on the importance of vaccines — or even worse, they are receiving another far more insidious message: that it’s the vaccines themselves that are the problem.
They aren’t the problem. They are our best shot at being rescued from this ongoing pandemic. Research from the Commonwealth Fund estimates the Covid-19 vaccines have already saved about 280,000 lives and averted up to 1.25 million hospitalizations in the United States. A vaccine protects not only the person getting it but those around them as well — including children under the age of 12, for whom the current coronavirus vaccines are not yet authorized, or those who have weakened immune systems that prevent their bodies from generating a strong immune response after vaccination.
That is the very definition of herd immunity: providing a ring of protection around the vulnerable. In order to get there, around 70% of people need to be fully vaccinated. That level of immunity will make it so that we are no longer such willing hosts to the virus and put us on a path to eventually run it out of town.
The vaccines also directly protect us from future variants; mutated versions of the virus that emerge in infected people and can be more contagious than the original strain. Right now, it’s the Delta variant that is wreaking havoc in the United States and elsewhere, but the more the virus spreads, the higher the chances another variant of concern will take its place. Vaccinations slow these mutations from happening because if a person doesn’t get infected in the first place, their body can’t possibly become a breeding ground for a mutation.

A look at the numbers

President Joe Biden set what initially appeared to be an attainable goal: have 70% of the adult population with at least one Covid-19 vaccine shot by July 4th. But after months of steady vaccine progress, the numbers began to dwindle and the goal was missed.
Currently about 59% of the US population has at least one dose and 48% is fully vaccinated, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But that doesn’t tell the full story. The United States cannot be painted with a single brush stroke, and nowhere is that more true than with this pandemic. As things stand now, the top five states have 60% or more of their population fully vaccinated versus less than 36% for the bottom five states.
According to a CNN analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University and the CDC, states that have fully vaccinated more than half of their residents reported an average of 2.8 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people each day last week, compared to an average of about 7.8 cases per 100,000 people each day in states that have vaccinated fewer than half of their residents. That’s almost a three-fold difference. It’s in those states with the highest vaccination rates where you can see the vaccines truly work their magic. It’s not just cases decreasing, but more importantly, hospitalizations and deaths plummeting as well. The vaccines accomplished exactly what they were designed to do.
Early data from a number of states suggests that 99.5% of those Covid-19 deaths during the first six months of the year have been in unvaccinated people. Just consider that if a patient in the United States is hospitalized or dies of Covid, 99 times out of 100 they are unvaccinated. Dying at this stage in the pandemic is almost like a soldier dying after a peace treaty has been signed. Heartbreaking and largely preventable.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky called any suffering or death from Covid-19 “tragic,” and noted that available vaccines mean that “the suffering and loss we are now seeing is nearly entirely avoidable.”
“We have seen the successes of our vaccination program over the last eight months with cases, hospitalizations and deaths far lower than the peaks we saw in January,” she said. “And yet on the other hand, we are starting to see some new and concerning trends.”
One of those trends is the falling rate of vaccination. An average of 282,143 people are reaching “fully vaccinated” status each day — one of the lowest daily rates since the end of January, when vaccination efforts were just picking up steam. And it’s almost a 50% drop from last week, when an average of about 535,000 people became fully vaccinated each day. At our peak in mid-April, an average of nearly 1.8 million people — more than six times as many — were becoming fully vaccinated every day.

The wrath of Delta

Another new and concerning trend involves the rise of the Delta variant, which is believed to be much more contagious; it now makes up more than 50% of Covid-19 cases in the US — and in some places, that number tops 80%. Its dominance is making the vaccination issue even more pressing.
Fauci called it “a real bad actor virus” on CBS earlier this week.
The Delta variant, first identified in India, is likely behind the current uptick in cases. The US is now averaging more than 23,000 new Covid-19 cases each day, according to Johns Hopkins University, almost double two weeks ago. The average number of daily cases is rising in 46 states. And we’re seeing 261 new Covid-19 deaths each day — a 21% increase from last week. Again, deaths that are largely preventable.
How contagious is the Delta variant? If you remember back to the start of the pandemic, we measured how infectious a communicable disease is using a mathematical term called R0 (R-nought), also called the reproduction number. It basically estimates the average number of people one infected individual will go on to infect. If the R0 number falls below 1, the disease eventually dies out.
According to estimates, the original virus found in Wuhan, China had an R0 between 2.4 and 2.6. The Alpha variant, which had been the dominant variant and was first identified in the United Kingdom, was between 4 and 5. The Delta variant’s reproduction number is estimated to be somewhere between 5 and 8.
That means the Delta variant is estimated to be two to three times more contagious than the original virus first seen in Wuhan, Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said via email.
What does that look like in real life? Unforgiving. A remarkable look at CCTV footage from Australia revealed a simple encounter between two people passing each other at an indoor shopping area that resulted in two separate instances of transmission. The encounter was brief. The premier of New South Wales, where the incidents occurred, even called it “scarily fleeting.”
That is why the rise of the Delta variant coupled with low vaccination areas is really worrying public health experts, just as they were ready to start looking at Covid in the rear view mirror.
A new data analysis by researchers at Georgetown University has now identified 30 clusters of counties with low vaccination rates and significant population sizes that are vulnerable to surges in Covid-19 cases and could become breeding grounds for even more deadly Covid-19 variants. The five most significant clusters are sprawled across large swaths of the southeastern United States and a smaller portion in the Midwest. No surprise, most are already seeing increases in Covid-19 cases.
“We can’t have it both ways; we can’t be both unmasked and unvaccinated. That won’t work,” Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a CNN medical analyst and professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, said Monday.
Or as Dr. Barney Graham, deputy director of the Vaccine Research Center at the NIAID and one of the developers of the Moderna vaccine, told me: The country will no longer be split into vaccinated and unvaccinated; it will simply be split into vaccinated and infected.
That’s where this road leads.

How to unstick the stuck vax rate

The simple answer is: Get vaccinated. You know that by now, and again, most people do. The doctors, nurses and health care teams recommending this are not political, but I can understand why you might think otherwise lately.
During the Conservative Political Action Conference’s summer gathering in Dallas last weekend, attendees cheered author Alex Berenson when he pointed out that the Biden administration fell short of its vaccination goal.
At least 34 states as of June have introduced bills that would limit requiring someone to demonstrate their vaccination status or immunity against Covid-19 in certain areas such as workplaces or government buildings, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures; 13 of those bills have passed into law. That includes at least seven states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Montana, Oklahoma and Utah — that enacted legislation this year that would restrict public schools from requiring either coronavirus vaccinations or documentation of vaccination status.
And in Tennessee Dr. Michelle Fiscus, a pediatrician who has served as the state’s medical director of the vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization for two years, says she was fired after she shared information about a decades-old state policy that allowed some teens to be immunized without parental consent.

Vaccine benefits outweigh risks

It’s true that there have been a few concerning possible side effects associated with the vaccines. They include reports of a rare neurological condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome developing in some who received the Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine as well as reports of rare blood clots in others; and heart inflammation in a small number of people who received Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.
While these are all serious conditions, it’s important to remember these events are very, very rare occurrences out of the almost 185 million people who have received at least one shot in this country. And it’s reassuring to know that in the vast majority of cases, those who developed these side effects recovered. The same can’t be said for Covid-19, which has killed more than 607,000 people in this country, caused almost 34 million infections, and can cause symptoms that linger long after the person has “recovered.”
It’s also true there have been breakthrough cases of Covid-19 among the fully vaccinated, but that is to be expected. Even if an infection occurs, the important thing to remember is that the vaccines offer excellent protection against severe disease and death — the two most important outcomes. And that’s true even for the Delta variant, according to recent data from Israel and the United Kingdom.
Some progress is being made. A new poll released Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that about 20% of Americans who were initially hesitant about or squarely against getting the Covid-19 vaccine have since gotten their shots. Of course, seen from the glass-half-empty perspective, that means 80% haven’t.
Convincing most unvaccinated Americans to get their shots will take more time than initial phases of vaccinations, White House Covid-19 chief Jeff Zients told reporters at a Covid-19 response team briefing earlier in the month.
“Each person in this phase will take longer to reach, but that makes them no less important. And the spread of the Delta variant, which poses a particular threat to our young people, only strengthens our resolve to reach everyone,” he said.
That’s an effort I am 100% behind.

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This post originally posted here CNN.com – RSS Channel – HP Hero

Study Compares Isotretinoin Benefits in Different Weight Groups

Although adolescents with acne received different cumulative doses of isotretinoin based on their body mass index, there were no differences in acne clearance, relapse, and most side effects between normal-weight, overweight, and obese individuals, a retrospective cohort study found.

“Oral isotretinoin is among the most effective treatments for acne and is indicated for the treatment of severe acne or when first-line regimens have failed,” Maggie Tallmadge said at the annual meeting of the Society for Pediatric Dermatology. In adolescents with acne, isotretinoin is prescribed at a dose of 0.5-1 mg/kg per day “with the goal of reaching a cumulative dose of 120-150 mg/kg and clinical clearance with durable remission,” she said. “Most providers do not prescribe a daily dose over 80 mg due to perceived increased risk of side effects, including xerosis, cheilitis, liver dysfunction, and acne flare. However, many adolescents weigh over 80 kg and are therefore effectively underdosed, prolonging treatment time and possibly increasing the risk of side effects due to prolonged therapy.”

To evaluate differences in treatment courses among normal-weight, overweight, and obese adolescents, and the efficacy and safety of treatment, Tallmadge, a third-year medical student at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and colleagues completed a retrospective chart review of 550 dermatology patients at Children’s Wisconsin, also in Milwaukee, who completed at least 2 months of isotretinoin treatment for acne when they were between the ages of 10 and 24, from November 2012 to January 2020. They collected data on age, weight, height, daily dose, cumulative dose, time to acne clearance, side effects, and acne recurrence after treatment, and classified patients as normal weight, overweight, or obese based on their body mass index for age percentile.

Of the 550 patients, 367 (67%) were normal weight, 101 (18%) were overweight, and 82 (15%) were obese. The median age of those in the normal-weight and overweight groups was 16, and was 15 in the obese group.

There was were significant differences in the median cumulative dose in each weight group: 143.7 mg/kg for normal-weight patients, 138.2 mg/kg for overweight patients, and 140.6 mg/kg for obese patients (P < .001).

“Despite achieving different cumulative doses, there was no difference in acne clearance, relapse, and most side effects among the three [body mass index] cohorts,” Tallmadge said. “Thus, it appears that current treatment strategies may be appropriate for overweight and obese adolescents.”

The proportion of patients with acne clearance did not differ significantly among the three groups of patients: 62% who were in the normal weight range, 60% who were overweight, and 59% who were obese had clearance of facial acne with treatment (P = .84).

Of patients whose treatment course was completed by the time of data collection, the proportion with acne recurrences was similar between the three groups: 25% of normal-weight patients, 27% of overweight patients, and 35% of obese patients (P > .05). Of patients whose treatment course was completed by the time of data collection, there was no significant differences in acne recurrence: 25% of normal-weight patients, 27% of overweight patients, and 35% of obese patients.

However, the proportion of patients reporting headaches differed significantly between the groups: 29% of normal-weight patients, compared with 40% of both overweight and obese patients (P = .035). The researchers also observed a significant positive correlation between increased BMI and increased triglyceride and ALT levels during treatment (P < .001 for both associations), yet no elevations required clinical action.

Funding for the study was provided by the MCW Medical Student Summer Research Program and the American Acne & Rosacea Society.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com , part of the Medscape Professional Network.

Author: Doug Brunk
Read more here >>> Medscape Medical News

China targets more tech groups after Didi crackdown

China targets more tech groups after Didi crackdownBeijing has broadened a crackdown on tech platforms, targeting more US-listed companies after ordering the removal of ride-sharing group Didi Chuxing from Chinese app stores in a move that sent tech shares tumbling.

The Cyberspace Administration of China on Monday announced it was investigating Boss Zhipin, an online recruitment company, and Chinese truck-hailing apps Yunmanman and Huochebang, which merged in 2017 to form Full Truck Alliance. The platforms are not allowed to register new users while they are under investigation.

The CAC’s announcement cited suspected violations of China’s national security and cyber security laws, without providing details.

The regulatory crackdown sent tremors through Asian markets on Monday. Japanese group SoftBank, whose Vision Fund is a large Didi investor, fell 5.4 per cent, while internet groups Alibaba and Tencent dropped 2.9 per cent and 3.7 per cent, respectively, in Hong Kong.

Didi’s shares fell 5.3 per cent on Friday, two days after the company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, having raised $ 4.4bn in the biggest listing by a Chinese company in the US since Alibaba in 2014.

The crackdown by China’s cyber security regulator on Didi and others marked a new offensive on the country’s tech companies, invoking previously unused cyber security regulations. China’s financial and competition watchdogs have already reined in companies including Ant Group and Alibaba, two pillars of billionaire Jack Ma’s internet empire, and ecommerce group Meituan.

Like Didi, Full Truck Alliance and Boss Zhipin listed in New York in June, raising $ 1.6bn and $ 912m, respectively.

The three tech groups are industry leaders in China, and are all backed by Tencent, China’s most valuable technology group, which has avoided the worst of the regulatory crackdown.

The CAC said the probes were being conducted under new cyber space procedures enacted on June 1 that strengthened oversight of companies operating critical information technology infrastructure that could touch on national security.

“[Chinese] regulators’ statements over recent months make it clear that companies’ first responsibility is to ensure data security before going abroad,” said Kendra Schaefer, technology analyst at Trivium, a Beijing-based consultancy. “The message is: companies are welcome to IPO overseas so long as their domestic house is in order first.”

The Global Times, a nationalist Chinese state-run tabloid, said that Didi’s international shareholders — which also include US ride-hailing group Uber — meant that protecting users’ personal information was a national security issue.

“An internet giant absolutely cannot have a better command than the state of the super-database that is Chinese people’s personal data,” the newspaper wrote in an editorial on Monday.

The crackdown began on Friday when the CAC announced it was investigating Didi, telling the company to stop registering new users and drivers for its app.

On Sunday, the CAC ordered Didi be removed from Chinese app stores. The company responded that it would “resolutely implement” authorities’ demands.

The latest crackdown came as 34 Chinese companies raised a record $ 12.4bn in New York floats in the first half of 2021. However, more than two-thirds of Chinese groups have fallen below their initial public offering price.

US regulators have intensified scrutiny of Chinese companies listing in the country after Luckin Coffee fabricated hundreds of millions of dollars in sales in a scandal that fed longstanding fears about auditing standards and transparency.

Under a law passed in December, Chinese companies trading on American exchanges face the threat of delisting unless they give US authorities access to audit accounts, which is banned by Beijing.

Author: Christian Shepherd and Yuan Yang in Beijing
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Black and Queer AI Groups Say They'll Spurn Google Funding

Three groups focused on increasing diversity in artificial intelligence say they will no longer take funding from Google. In a joint statement released Monday, Black in AI, Queer in AI, and Widening NLP said they acted to protest Google’s treatment of its former ethical AI team leaders Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell, as well as former recruiter April Christina Curley, a Black queer woman.

“The potential for AI technologies to cause particular harm to members of our communities weighs heavily on our organizations,” the statement reads. “Google’s actions in the last few months have inflicted tremendous harms that have reverberated throughout our entire community. They not only have caused damage but set a dangerous precedent for what type of research, advocacy, and retaliation is permissible in our community.”

In the statement, the groups endorse calls made in March by current and former Google employees for academic conferences to reject Google funding and for policymakers to enact stronger whistleblower protections for AI researchers.

This is the first time in the short history of each of the three organizations that they have turned down funding from a sponsor.

Monday’s announcement marks the latest fallout in response to Google’s treatment of Black people and women and accusations of interference in research papers about AI slated for publication at academic conferences.

In March, organizers of the Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency (FAccT) conference turned down Google funding, and researcher Luke Stark turned down $ 60,000 in Google funding. Queer in AI organizer Luca Soldaini told WIRED the organization received $ 20,000 from Google in the past year; Widening NLP received $ 15,000 from Google.

Cochair Xandra Schofield said Widening NLP, founded in 2017 with a goal of bringing more women into the field, felt a need to sign the joint statement because Google’s actions were inconsistent with the group’s mission of supporting underrepresented researchers. Mitchell was a cofounder of the organization. Widening NLP cochair Haley Lepp added that “by supporting these scholars, we also want to support their research, and their ability to do research that might be critical of the effects of AI.”

Affinity groups like Black in AI, Queer in AI, and Widening NLP are nonprofit organizations formed to protect and represent people who have been historically underrepresented in the machine learning community. They operate separate from machine learning conferences but can attract hundreds of attendees to workshops or social events collocated at the most widely attended conferences. In recent years, affinity groups have formed for people with disabilities and for Jews and Muslims.

Queer in AI has also objected to Google Scholar’s approach to trans and nonbinary authors who want to update publications after changing their names, Soldaini said.

“We’ve had great to very bad experiences with that, and Google has been on the very bad side,” he said. Name change requests to Google often get no response, he said.

Gebru is a cofounder of Black in AI. The paper in dispute at the time she says she was fired, about the dangers large language models pose to marginalized communities, was ultimately published identifying her as an author with Black in AI. In a talk last week at the International Conference on Learning Representations, which lists Google as a platinum sponsor, Gebru encouraged academics to refuse to review papers submitted to machine learning conferences that were edited by lawyers.

“Academics should not hedge their bets but take a stand,” Gebru said. “This is not about intentions. It’s about power, and multinational corporations have too much power and they need to be regulated.”

Black in AI cofounder Rediet Abebe, who will become the first Black woman faculty member at the University of California Berkeley’s department of electrical engineering and computer science, committed last year to not taking money from Google to diminish the company’s sway over AI research.

Author: Khari Johnson
This post originally appeared on Business Latest

Twitter Groups Offer India a Covid-19 Lifeline

In Srinagar, the city where I live in Indian-administered Kashmir, the streets are deserted under a lockdown. But through Twitter I hear cries of desperation from across India: a son begging for an oxygen cylinder to save his mother; a daughter pumping the chest of a parent outside a hospital; an elderly man carrying his dead wife on a bicycle to find a place to cremate her; all of India turning into a pyre from mass cremations.

As the number of new cases of Covid-19 jumps by the hundreds of thousands daily, Indian Twitter, with its 18.9 million users, is now a compendium of despair. Yet it has also turned into something else: a kind of citizens’ emergency hotline where neighbors cry out to neighbors for help. Using hashtags like #CovidSOS and #SOSIndia, a post gets traction. Other users reply with resources or tag other people, hoping someone—anyone—might be able to help. On-the-ground volunteers working with NGOs or relief groups sometimes respond directly or give advice on where local resources might be found. Groups have also formed on Telegram and WhatsApp to find oxygen tanks, empty beds, and other essentials. The activity on these platforms is both heartening evidence of people coming together and a rebuke of the government’s failure to prevent, contain, and address this second Covid-19 wave.

Somya Lakhani, a journalist with 12,000 followers on Twitter, had Covid-19. She was suffering with a severe headache and sore throat and gasping for air. Even raising a single finger hurt. Unable to sleep, she logged into Twitter at 4 am and retweeted calls of people who were in even more critical condition, trying to amplify and spread these SOS messages. One asked for help for a 37-year-old nurse who worked at a Covid-19 center in New Delhi. “She needs help, an ICU bed … (please) help 🙏. #CovidSOS #COVIDEmergency.” Lakhani scrolled through her feed and frantically called or DM’ed the numbers for resources she found listed there. An hour later she tweeted again: “She is no more.”

“I was going on Twitter as the last resort after nothing offline worked for me,” said Lakhani, adding that her DMs are now flooded with requests from Covid-19 patients and the phone doesn’t stop ringing. But with the rising demand and chaos across the country, the leads are drying up. “We are losing eight out of 10 people we raise an SOS for,” she said. “Where is the government? I have no one to reach to out for help. How long can Twitter run the country for them?”

In January, at the World Economic Forum, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, who leads the Hindu nationalist government, boasted of India’s success in containing the new coronavirus. “The country where 18 percent of the world’s population lives has saved the world—entire humanity—from a major tragedy by effectively controlling corona,” he said. But then, the guardrails came down. The government allowed masses of people to attend Hindu festivals and ruling party members addressed political rallies with tens of thousands of attendees.

All hell broke loose: Major hospitals in metropolitan cities ran out of oxygen; sick people died awaiting medical assistance; and the crematoriums ran out of firewood. People were left on their own. Official tallies put deaths at more than 3,000 every day, but experts say the real number is much higher. 

In some sense, simply by revealing the gaps in official aid, Indian Twitter is full of implicit criticism of the Modi government. But the platform itself has complied with a government clampdown on explicit criticism. Twitter removed at least 53 tweets challenging the government’s handling of the pandemic. New regulations in India require social media platforms to erase content that authorities deem unlawful; Twitter told The Washington Post that it blocked the tweets in accordance with local law.

Author: Yashraj Sharma
This post originally appeared on Business Latest

Biden’s corporate tax rate hike could kill millions of jobs, business group’s study finds

New research from the US National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) found that about one million jobs would be lost in the first two years if the corporate tax rate increased to 28% and other policies went into effect.

The study, which was conducted by Rice University economists for the NAM, calculated the impact of increasing the corporate tax rate. It said that global domestic product (GDP) would be down $ 117 billion by 2023, $ 190 billion in 2026, and $ 119 billion in 2031.

Under the plan, announced by the US Treasury Department, the corporate tax rate could be raised to 28% from the current 21%. The Biden administration said the increase would bring America’s corporate tax rate more closely in line with other advanced economies and reduce inequality. It would also remain lower than it was before the 2017 Trump tax cuts, when the rate stood at 35%.

“This study tells us quantitatively what manufacturers from coast to coast will tell you qualitatively: increasing the tax burden on companies in America means fewer American jobs. One million jobs would be lost in the first two years, to be exact,” said NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons.

The study pointed out that the 2017 tax law resulted in 263,000 new jobs in the manufacturing sector in 2018, while manufacturing wages increased by 3% in the same year and continued going up.

Aside from raising the corporate tax rate, the White House also proposed significant changes to several international tax provisions included in the Trump tax cuts. Among the biggest changes would be a doubling of the global minimum tax to 21% to force companies to pay the tax on a wider span of income across countries.
Also on rt.com Boom Bust explores what Biden’s $ 2 TRILLION infrastructure plan is all about
The proposals received strong support from France and Germany, as well as the Italian prime minister Mario Draghi, who chairs the G20 this year. Draghi said he was “fully behind [the US] call for a global minimum corporate tax.”

France’s Minister of the Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire said that “a global agreement on international taxation is now within reach. We must seize this historic opportunity.”

The countries will be now working towards reaching an agreement on corporate tax reform through the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in time for a July summit of G20 finance ministers.

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT’s business section

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Masters tee times: Full list for first round groups including McIlroy, Thomas and Johnson

14:48 H Matsuyama (Jpn), H English (US), A Ancer (Mex)

15:06 B Watson (US), B Koepka (US), V Hovland (Nor)

15:18 S Garcia (Spa), W Simpson (US), C Bezuidenhout (SA)

15:30 D Johnson (US), L Westwood (Eng), T Strafaci (US)

15:42 X Schauffele (US), J Rahm (Spa), R McIlroy (NI)

15:54 P Reed (US), D Berger (US), P Casey (Eng)

16:06 V Singh (Fij), M Laird (Sco)

16:18 L Mize (US), J Walker (US), B Gay (US)

16:30 C Ortiz (Mex), M Hughes (Can), B Wiesberger (Aut)

16:42 M Weir (Can), CT Pan (Tai), R MacIntyre (Sco)

16:54 JM Olazabal (Spa), M Wallace (Eng), L Griffin (US)

AstraZeneca blood clots: MHRA lists groups that shouldn't receive AZ Covid vaccine

The AstraZeneca Covid vaccine has been under review by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for its links to rare blood clots. By the end of March 79 people in the UK had suffered rare blood clots following vaccination.
Of the 79 cases, involving 51 women and 28 men, 19 people died, three of whom were under 30 years old.

The review has prompted the government’s vaccine advisory group, the JCVI to recommend people aged 18 to 29 be offered an alternative vaccine where available – the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine instead.

But the MHRA has said this isn’t proof it was the jabs that caused the clots.

Speaking during Wednesday’s press conference, Dr June Raine, of the MHRA, said side-effects of the vaccine were “extremely rare”, but that work was ongoing to identify if the vaccine was definitely causing the clots.

READ MORE: AstraZeneca blood clot: Dr Amir Khan warns of blood clot symptoms to spot after jab

She added: “The balance of benefits and known risks is still favourable for the majority of people.”

Chair Committee of Human Medicines, Sir Munir Pirmohamed also advised three other groups of people to approach the AstraZeneca vaccine with caution.

He said: “Based on the current available data the commission who have met have advised the following; First, a pregnant woman should continue to discuss with her healthcare professional whether the benefits of having the vaccine outweigh the risks for them.

“Number two, people with a history of blood disorders that increase the risk of clotting should only have the COVID-19 vaccine (AstraZeneca) where the benefits outweigh any potential risks.

DON’T MISS

“Number three, anyone who experiences cerebral venous thrombosis or other major blood clots occurring together with low levels of platelets after the first vaccine (AstraZeneca) should not have the second dose.”

The MHRA has said those who have had their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine should still get their second dose.

At the press briefing, EMA executive director Emeritus Cooke said the combination of blood clots and low blood platelets was very rare but was seen in “all ages, and in men and women”.

She added the EMA safety committee have confirmed the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing COVID-19 overall outweigh the risks of side effects.

The UK government has stated, like all medicines, this vaccine can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them.

In clinical studies with the AstraZeneca vaccine, most side effects were mild to moderate in nature and resolved within a few days, with some still present a week after vaccination.

Very common side effects are listed as:

  • tenderness, pain, warmth, itching or bruising where the injection is given
  • generally feeling unwell
  • feeling tired (fatigue)
  • chills or feeling feverish
  • headache
  • feeling sick (nausea)
  • joint pain or muscle ache

If you get any side effects, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse.

Reports can also be made on the Yellow Card reporting site, via the mobile app from the Google Play Store or Apple App store, or via freephone (0800 731 6789, 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday).

Symptoms of blood clots include:

  • Throbbing pain
  • Cramping pain
  • Swelling, redness and warmth in a leg or arm
  • Sudden breathlessness
  • Sharp chest pain (sometimes worse when you inhale)
  • A cough or coughing up blood.

Call 111 if you’re concerned about a blood clot. If the situation escalates call 999.

Read More

Patagonia to donate $1 million to Georgia voting rights groups

Outdoor clothing company Patagonia announced on Monday that it would donate $ 1 million to multiple voting rights groups in Georgia in direct response to the restrictive voting legislation that recently passed in the state.

In a press release[1], Patagonia celebrated the record amount of voter turnout seen in the 2020 election, reiterating the assessment made by many voting officials that they were “safe, secure elections.”

“But instead of celebrating democracy in action, a group of lawmakers in Georgia and states across America are doing everything in their power to make it harder for their constituents to vote,” Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert said.

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“Protecting our democracy is an all-hands-on-deck commitment that’s ongoing. Standing in solidarity with Black CEOs and business leaders, I call on fellow CEOs to join in denouncing these attacks on our democracy and to do more than make a corporate statement,” Gellert continued.

Gellert stated that the $ 1 million donation would be divided equally between the Black Voters Matter Fund and the New Georgia Project.

Gellert called on fellow business leaders to do three things: fund voting rights activists, send a letter to politicians calling on them to pass the John LewisJohn LewisThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden’s infrastructure plan triggers definition debate The devil went down to Georgia to suppress the vote Georgia election law prevents African American, Latinx, others from exercising the right to vote MORE[3][4][5][6][7][2] Voting Rights Advancement Act and spread the message through their various business partners.

“Many of you have acknowledged that as business leaders, we must support all stakeholders and not just answer to shareholders,” Gellert continued. “Let’s show the world we mean it. Our communities and employees will have a more equitable chance to thrive when they have the ability to participate in the direction of our great country. Let’s take action together for them.”

Several business leaders have spoken out[8] against the voting legislation in Georgia, which critics have said will disproportionately limit access for voters of color.

Major League Baseball announced last week that it would be moving its All-Star Game out of Georgia in response to the legislation, eliciting outrage from GOP leaders and dismay from Georgia Democrats.

[email protected] (Joseph Choi)