Monday, May 31, 2021

"IF the virus did originate from a lab in China"


“If you have been watching the news at all, you probably have heard that there is a credible possibility that the Coronavirus originated from a lab in China.  In fact, new reports show that three researchers from a Wuhan lab were hospitalized with a mysterious illness in November of 2019.  The lab in question experiments with viruses, like the Coronavirus… not as weapons, but to study and create vaccines for viruses before they mutate and spread through humans.

“These researchers became seriously ill, no explanation, just a month before the caca hit the fan… Right outside the door of the Wuhan lab.  We also know that previous breaches have happened in other labs of this type around the world.  So, it is totally possible for a bug to escape a lab, any lab.  

“IF true, it would actually explain a few other things…   The lab theory answers a lot of questions: Why was the virus so transmittable in humans? It was intentionally mutated that way. Why did China try to silence the first whistleblowers about the virus? They knew where the virus came from, it did not emerge through nature, but their own lab.

“The rest of the world was still trying to figure out what was going on.  It took months to get field hospitals in NYC.  Yet China was building a massive new Coronavirus hospital in Wuhan in 10 days.  Why were they so quick to act? They knew what leaked, and how dangerous it was. Why was China so quick to lockdown Wuhan? They knew what escaped.

“How did China know to mandate masks, social distance, and disinfect everything? They knew what the virus was, how quickly it spread, probably knew it was airborne, hence the need for everyone to mask up and lock down.

“China lied to the world about the virus, silenced those who tried to speak out about the virus.  They tried to cover it up every step of the way.  To this day, China has prevented the world community from coming into their country and performing a proper investigation about origins of the Coronavirus. Currently they are blaming the U.S. for the virus, saying it was shipped to them on bags of frozen food.

“Some may ask, what difference does it make?  Shouldn’t we just worry about vaccinating as many people as possible? Well it makes a world of difference.  IF the virus did originate from a lab in China, it could happen again.  This once-in-a-hundred-years virus was cultivated by man.  To date, the virus has killed nearly 600,000 Americans, at least 3.5 million worldwide.  It caused countless permanent injuries.  It utterly destroyed the world economy.

“And IF it came from man-made experiments, and released by human error, it is not a 100-year virus.  It is perhaps a once-in-a-decade virus, or maybe a twice a year virus?  Who knows.  It’s a human ingenuity x human error virus.  Forget watching the clock waiting for nature.  IF the lab theory is correct, the next worldwide pandemic may be replicating in a lab right now, under the supervision of a small group of people, waiting for one to make a mistake, so it can escape.  We won’t be waiting 100 years for it.  We only need to wait for Earl or Xin to have a sleepless night, miss their coffee, and make a mistake.  We have labs just like this here in America.

“It would also mean that China knew very well what the virus was all along, knew how dangerous it was, failed to sound the alarm to let the world know, and instead tried to cover it up. Remember, I say IF.  We still do not know.  Joe Biden has ordered an investigation to explore the origins of the Coronavirus, with results to be delivered in 90 days…” (Stephen Wright, from Your Daily Shit Show on Facebook).

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Warning to Democrats: "The Future of the Country Is at Stake" -Senator Bernie Sanders


“As the White House's fruitless infrastructure talks with Republican lawmakers persist with no deal in sight, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont warned Thursday that Democrats risk losing control of Congress if they get bogged down in unending negotiations with the GOP and fail to urgently confront the climate emergency, soaring prescription drug prices, and other key issues.

“‘What happens if they spend week after week, month after month 'negotiating' with Republicans who have little intention of addressing the serious crises facing the working families of this country?’ Sanders asked in a CNN op-ed. ‘What happens if, after the passage of the vitally important American Rescue Plan—the Covid-19 rescue package signed into law by President Biden in March—the momentum stops and we accomplish little or nothing?’

“Under such a scenario, the Vermont senator wrote, ‘there is a strong possibility that Republicans will win the House or the Senate or both bodies next year.’

“Sanders continued: ‘The American people want action, not never-ending ‘negotiations’ and obstructionism, and they will not come out and vote for a party that does not deliver. And if the Republicans do regain control of Congress, we can be sure that the economy will move steadily forward toward a system in which the rich get richer thanks to increased corporate domination. We can be sure that the climate crisis will intensify, diminishing the likelihood of our children and grandchildren living in a healthy and habitable environment. We can be sure that our government will drift away from democracy, as voter suppression, dark money and conspiracy theories continue to dominate our political system.’

“This is an unprecedented moment in American history. The Democrats in Congress must move forward boldly, protecting the working families of our country and restoring faith in government. Yes, the future of the country is at stake.The Vermont senator's warning came hours after Senate Republicans unveiled the outlines of an infrastructure counteroffer calling for just $257 billion in new spending over the next eight years—a far cry from Biden's initial $2.2 trillion plan and the president's pared-back $1.7 trillion proposal.

“Senior Senate Democrats reportedly believe that, with bipartisan talks set to spill into next week and possibly beyond, they will not be able to complete work on an eventual infrastructure and climate package by September 30, the end of the fiscal year—a timeline that likely means additional months of inaction on voting rights, child care, immigration reform, and other top agenda items.

“Earlier this week, Sanders cautioned that ‘millions of voters will be disenfranchised and Democrats will become a permanent minority party’ without passage of the For the People Act, a sweeping voting rights bill that is currently stuck in the Senate due to opposition from the GOP and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). If passed, the legislation would counteract many of the Republican Party's attacks on ballot access at the state level. In his op-ed on Thursday, Sanders—the chair of the Senate Budget Committee—wrote that he is prepared to swiftly assemble and approve a far-reaching infrastructure and climate measure using reconciliation, a filibuster-proof process that allows for the passage of spending bills with a simple-majority vote.

“But President Joe Biden, the Democratic leadership, and conservative rank-and-file Democrats such as Manchin have thus far refused to endorse such a path, opting instead to let weeks go by as bipartisan infrastructure talks continue to flounder. During a Financial Times event on Tuesday, Manchin signaled that he would be willing to let the negotiations drag out until the end of the year in the interest of pursuing an unlikely compromise with the GOP.

“‘Legislative calendar is a precious commodity,’ New York magazine's Eric Levitz wrote Monday. ‘And Democrats may have even less time to enact their agenda than they realize. On average, ten lawmakers have died in each two-year Congress. Chuck Schumer's bare majority rests on the health of several senior citizens in states where Republican governors have the power to fill vacant Senate seats. Biden can't afford to waste more than a month on a charade—which is what the infrastructure negotiations have become.’

“The Week's Ryan Cooper similarly argued in a column Thursday that—contrary to Manchin's claim that a bipartisan deal is within reach—congressional Republicans ‘obviously don't want Biden to pass anything,’ preferring instead to ‘string him along with fake promises of bipartisanship, running out the clock on the Democratic majority, until they get a chance at taking control of Congress in the 2022 midterms.’

“‘If that happens,’ Cooper wrote, ‘they will try to strangle the economy by demanding massive austerity every time the government needs to pass a budget or raise the debt limit—trying to create a recession that Biden will be blamed for, so that the Republican nominee (probably Donald Trump) will be elected in 2024.’

“‘Even the most conservative Democratic members of Congress agree on the need to do something on infrastructure,’ Cooper continued. ‘They can either figure out internally (and quickly) what they want to do and pass that on a party-line vote, or they can do nothing and effectively collaborate with the Republican plot to topple Biden and set up one-party rule. Those are the only options’” (Jake Johnson, Common Dreams).

Friday, May 28, 2021

Republican Treachery Knows No Bounds


A Senator's Oath of Office

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

(CNN) A crucial Senate vote on a bill to create an independent inquiry to investigate the deadly January 6 Capitol Hill riot failed Friday, falling short of the 10 Republican votes needed to advance and illustrating GOP efforts to move on from the insurrection that left five people dead and injured 140 police officers.

The vote was 54 to 35, showing the bill had a bipartisan majority of support with six Republicans voting with all Democrats. However, the bill needed 60 votes to advance. The six GOP senators who backed the bill were: Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

The Republican opposition highlights the hold former President Donald Trump still has on most of his party, and underscores the deep partisan divide surrounding the fallout of the attack on the US Capitol.

“…People of goodwill across the United States want some sort of road map to oppose this cold-blooded attack on the Constitution, but none exists. As James Madison warned us, without a virtuous people, no system of checks and balances will work. The Republicans have gone from being a party that touted virtue to being the most squalid and grubby expression of institutionalized self-interest in the modern history of the American republic…” -Tom Nichols, The Atlantic.

“…Democrats must be willing to exercise power while they have it... It also means being willing to deploy power to prevent a quick return to national power for Republicans via minority rule, and the dysfunction, disillusionment and resurgence of authoritarianism that this would bring. Democrats have a responsibility to do all they can to avoid consigning the country to that fate

“One might think this means a future in which each party goes all out to do what it can on its own while in power, followed by sinking back into brutal guerrilla resistance when they lose it. But that future is already upon us. That was made clear by the GOP’s 2017 headlong rush into a purely partisan effort to throw 20 million people off health insurance and pass massively regressive tax cuts for the rich, busting the deficit and constraining possibilities for future government action.

“For Democrats to act boldly out of a forthright appreciation of these circumstances does not rule out all bipartisan cooperation. One can see Democrats working with a handful of GOP senators on things such as an expanded child tax credit or infrastructure repair. But it does mean accepting the need to act forcefully to neutralize the GOP’s reliance on anti-democratic tactics, which will only get worse…” -Greg Sargent, The Washington Post.

What Is the Single-Pill COVID-19 Cure? (GoodRx)


You may be wondering if there will ever be a pill you can take at home to prevent or treat COVID-19. We don’t have one yet, but there’s good news. Pfizer is studying a new drug that may be available soon to treat COVID-19 with a single pill. Keep reading to find out more about what the drug is, how it treats COVID-19, and when it may be available.  

How would a single-pill COVID treatment work?

Pfizer is studying a new drug called PF-07321332 to see if it can be used in pill or capsule form to treat COVID-19. The hope is that the pill can be used to treat people with mild illness at home without the need for hospitalization. It’s possible it could also be used to prevent COVID-19 after an exposure to the virus. 

PF-07321332 is a protease inhibitor. It works by blocking a SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) protease. A protease is an enzyme that allows the virus to break down proteins so it can multiply by making copies of itself. Blocking the protease prevents the virus from reproducing so it can’t continue to cause infection.

What other conditions do protease inhibitors treat?

Protease inhibitors are not new drugs. Other protease inhibitors are already used to treat infections caused by viruses like hepatitis C and HIV. 

The FDA approved the first protease inhibitor used to treat HIV, saquinavir (Invirase), about 25 years ago. Before protease inhibitors were available for HIV treatment, other drugs called nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors or NRTIs were used. NRTIs work by blocking an enzyme called reverse transcriptase that HIV uses to make copies of itself. 

NRTIs did help people with HIV, but the virus quickly became resistant to these drugs. Once the virus becomes resistant, the drug no longer works, and the virus can continue to multiply and cause infection.  

Once protease inhibitors became available, HIV treatment improved. Scientists found that using protease inhibitors in combination with NRTIs was better than either alone. Using the drugs together helped prevent the virus from becoming resistant to treatment. 

They found people with HIV receiving the drug combination had low or undetectable levels of the virus in their blood. This means the drugs prevented the infection from getting worse. In fact, the combination of a protease inhibitor with two NRTIs decreased the number of people with HIV who progressed to AIDS or died from their disease by about 50%.

What stage of development is the pill currently in?

The pill is currently being studied in a phase 1 clinical trial. This means it is the first time it is being tested in humans. A drug has to go through four trial phases before scientists know if it is safe and effective.  

Phase 1 is used to test whether the drug is safe in humans and to test different doses of the drug. If this phase is successful, the drug will move on to testing in phase 2 and then phase 3. In these phases, it will be tested on increasingly larger groups of people to see how well it works in bigger populations. According to the FDA, about 70% of drugs move on to phase 2. Phase 4 trials are done after FDA approval so the drug can be monitored for safety as more people start taking it. 

Would this cover all strains of the COVID-19 virus?

We don’t know for sure yet, but the pill is likely to work against all strains of the COVID-19 virus, according to Pfizer. The protease blocked by Pfizer’s drug, called the 3C-like protease, is actually found in other types of coronaviruses, and it is not at high risk for mutating like other parts of the virus. Pfizer found PF-07321332 was effective against other types of coronaviruses like MERS when tested in the lab. 

Will I still need the pill if I’ve already received the COVID-19 vaccine?

The COVID-19 vaccines are very effective, but it is still possible to get COVID-19 even if you are vaccinated. For this reason, it is very likely that you may be able to take the pill if you get COVID-19 after being vaccinated, but we don’t know for sure. More research needs to be done before we will know exactly who can take the pill. 

When will the pill be available to the public?

We don’t know an exact date yet since the drug is still in the early stages of clinical trials. But Pfizer has said the pill could be available by the end of this year. This could change, so be sure to check back for more information.

The bottom line 

Pfizer is studying a treatment for COVID-19 that can be given in a single pill. This is exciting news, and it may be available as soon as the end of the year. 

It is important to remember, however, that the drug is just starting to be studied in people. We don’t know the details yet about who can take it, how safe it is, how well it works, or what the side effects are. Stay tuned for more information.

Sarah Pozniak, MD is a board-certified internal medicine physician. She cares for patients with acute and chronic medical conditions as a primary care physician in Washington, D.C.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Happy 80th Birthday, Bob Dylan

"I am no longer a teacher"


“This was my view from my classroom. A tiny window in the basement that I don't remember ever being washed in 20 years. No wonder I was diagnosed as severely Vitamin D deficient over a decade ago.

“But that ended Friday. I resigned on Monday. I am no longer a teacher.

“This year was the worst. Both personally and professionally. Last Sunday night I had had enough and resigned. Actually I reached out for help back in January and asked for a leave of absence so I could grieve my uncle's death and recover from teaching seven preps in three subject areas including three dual credit classes - and moving all that over to Canvas and Zoom during a pandemic. District administration said no. They did look for someone to take the leave, and offered the position to three candidates. All turned it down. I wasn't surprised. Who would accept such a ridiculous teaching load when there are plenty of other jobs out there?

“Next year I was scheduled to again teach seven/eight preps in three subject areas, with three dual credit classes, but this time with two classes stacked in one period. You read that right. Two different classes in one period. And we've been told the GOAL for next year is that we no longer teach hybrid. If it's an administrative goal, that means we'll be teaching hybrid because no one but me and other former union leaders seems to think hybrid is a change in working conditions...

“So I had a choice. Keep destroying my mind and body and get into emotionally an even worse state, or resign. I told both my DC and my principal that I needed time away when they told me they weren't going to give me a LOA. They shrugged it off. When I actually resigned, the first thing they said was ‘I didn't think you'd actually quit!’ Like I was just making up all the trauma and emotional distress I was in.

“We were always told to ‘Put the kids first...’ to the point of no care for the professional staff. It's a form of administrative gas lighting. Here's where I arrived at: if you don't tuck them in at night or plan to put them through college, they are your students, not your kids. There is a professional difference that needs to be acknowledged and remembered. Every evening or weekend spent on your students is an evening or weekend not spent with your own children or loved ones or friends. Life is too short for that.

“So now I'm free. My neighbor just told me she hasn't seen me smile in a long time. I don't even realize it. I'm still in that basement in my mind still. It isn't real yet. I've been a teacher for 25 years, so not being a teacher is unreal to me.

“I have three years until I'm able to collect my pension without penalty. This year was worth all three of those years.

“I'm out. No more view of the blue sky from a dirty sliver of a window.”

-Michael Cousineau

Sunday, May 23, 2021

HIV/AIDS vaccine: Why don’t we have one after 37 years, when we have several for COVID-19 after a few months? by Ronald C. Desrosiers, Professor of Pathology

Smallpox has been eradicated from the face of the Earth following a highly effective, worldwide vaccination campaign. Paralytic poliomyelitis is no longer a problem in the U.S. because of development and use of effective vaccines against the poliovirus. In current times, millions of lives have been saved because of rapid deployment of effective vaccines against COVID-19. And yet, it has been 37 years since HIV was discovered as the cause of AIDS, and there is no vaccine. Here I will describe the difficulties facing development of an effective vaccine against HIV/AIDS.

I am a professor of pathology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. My laboratory is credited with the discovery of the monkey virus called SIV, or simian immunodeficiency virus. SIV is the close monkey relative of the virus that causes AIDS in humans – HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus. My research has contributed importantly to the understanding of the mechanisms by which HIV causes disease and to vaccine development efforts.

HIV vaccine development efforts have come up short

Vaccines have unquestionably been society’s most potent weapon against viral diseases of medical importance. When the new disease AIDS burst onto the scene in the early 1980s and the virus that caused it was discovered in 1983-84, it was only natural to think that the research community would be able to develop a vaccine for it.

At a now famous press conference in 1984 announcing HIV as the cause of AIDS, then U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret Heckler predicted that a vaccine would be available in two years. Well, it is now 37 years later and there is no vaccine. The rapidity of COVID-19 vaccine development and distribution puts the lack of an HIV vaccine in stark contrast. The problem is not failure of government. The problem is not lack of spending. The difficulty lies in the HIV virus itself. In particular, this includes the remarkable HIV strain diversity and the immune evasion strategies of the virus.

So far there have been five large-scale Phase 3 vaccine efficacy trials against HIV, each at a cost of over US$100 million. The first three of these failed quite convincingly; no protection against acquisition of HIV infection, no lowering of viral loads in those who did become infected. In fact, in the third of these trials, the STEP trial, there was a statistically significant higher frequency of infection in individuals who had been vaccinated.

The fourth trial, the controversial Thai RV144 trial, initially reported a marginal degree of successful protection against the acquisition of HIV infection among vaccinated individuals. However, a subsequent statistical analysis reported that there was less than a 78% chance that the protection against acquisition was real.

A fifth vaccine trial, the HVTN 702 trial, was ordered to confirm and extend the results of the RV144 trial. The HVTN702 trial was halted early because of futility. No protection against acquisition. No lowering of viral load. Ouch.

The complexity of HIV

What is the problem? The biological properties that HIV has evolved make development of a successful vaccine very, very difficult. What are those properties?

First and foremost is the continuous unrelenting virus replication. Once HIV gets its foot in the door, it’s “gotcha.” Many vaccines do not protect absolutely against the acquisition of an infection, but they are able to severely limit the replication of the virus and any illness that might result. For a vaccine to be effective against HIV, it will likely need to provide an absolute sterilizing barrier and not just limit viral replication.

HIV has evolved an ability to generate and to tolerate many mutations in its genetic information. The consequence of this is an enormous amount of variation among strains of the virus not only from one individual to another but even within a single individual. Let’s use influenza for a comparison. Everyone knows that people need to get revaccinated against influenza virus each season because of season-to-season variability in the influenza strain that is circulating. Well, the variability of HIV within a single infected individual exceeds the entire worldwide sequence variability in the influenza virus during an entire season.

What are we going to put into a vaccine to cover this extent of strain variability?

HIV has also evolved an incredible ability to shield itself from recognition by antibodies. Enveloped viruses such as coronaviruses and herpes viruses encode a structure on their surface that each virus uses to gain entry into a cell. This structure is called a “glycoprotein,” meaning that it is composed of both sugars and protein. But the HIV envelope glycoprotein is extreme. It is the most heavily sugared protein of all viruses in all 22 families. More than half the weight is sugar. And the virus has figured out a way, meaning the virus has evolved by natural selection, to use these sugars as shields to protect itself from recognition by antibodies that the infected host is trying to make. The host cell adds these sugars and then views them as self.

These properties have important consequences relevant for vaccine development efforts. The antibodies that an HIV-infected person makes typically have only very weak neutralizing activity against the virus. Furthermore, these antibodies are very strain-specific; they will neutralize the strain with which the individual is infected but not the thousands and thousands of other strains circulating in the population. Researchers know how to elicit antibodies that will neutralize one strain, but not antibodies with an ability to protect against the thousands and thousands of strains circulating in the population. That’s a major problem for vaccine development efforts.

HIV is continually evolving within a single infected individual to stay one step ahead of the immune responses. The host elicits a particular immune response that attacks the virus. This puts selective pressure on the virus, and through natural selection a mutated virus variant appears that is no longer recognized by the individual’s immune system. The result is continuous unrelenting viral replication.

So, Should We Give Up?

No, we shouldn’t. One approach researchers are trying in animal models in a couple of laboratories is to use herpes viruses as vectors to deliver the AIDS virus proteins. The herpes virus family is of the “persistent” category. Once infected with a herpes virus, you are infected for life. And immune responses persist not just as memory but in a continually active fashion. Success of this approach, however, will still depend on figuring out how to elicit the breadth of immune responses that will allow coverage against the vast complexity of HIV sequences circulating in the population.

Another approach is to go after protective immunity from a different angle. Although the vast majority of HIV-infected individuals make antibodies with weak, strain-specific neutralizing activity, some rare individuals do make antibodies with potent neutralizing activity against a broad range of HIV isolates. These antibodies are rare and highly unusual, but we scientists do have them in our possession.

Also, scientists have recently figured out a way to achieve protective levels of these antibodies for life from a single administration. For life! This delivery depends on a viral vector, a vector called adeno-associated virus. When the vector is administered to muscle, muscle cells become factories that continuously produce the potent broadly neutralizing antibodies. Researchers have recently documented continuous production for six and a half years in a monkey.

We are making progress. We must not give up. (The Conversation).

Ronald C. Desrosiers, Professor of Pathology, Vice-chair for Research, University of Miami

Saturday, May 22, 2021

"With our very existence at stake, biodiversity loss must be a national priority on the same level as climate change" -Bonnie Rice


“Over the past weeks, I’ve become more hopeful about being able to see the friends and family I have deeply missed during the pandemic. This pandemic proved, more than ever, that humans need connection with one another for our mental health and wellbeing. But our need for deep, meaningful relationships extends beyond human-to-human interactions and spans to our natural world.

“Today [May 21] is Endangered Species Day, and I’m holding the feeling of ‘species loneliness’—the reality that humans are rapidly losing our connections to other species, and the deep-seated loneliness that results from that loss. 

“There is no question that when we feel more connected to the Earth and other species in the natural world, we are more likely to be better stewards for them. But as the world loses more land and wildlife habitat to extractive industries—a football field worth every 30 seconds in the United States—our isolation from nature and other species deepens.

“That is only amplified by stark inequities that exist when it comes to getting outdoors. Today, more than 100 million people across the United States don't have a park within a 10-minute walk of home, and that’s especially true for those of us living in low-income communities and those of us who do not identify as white.

“We must recognize that our fate is intimately tied to that of healthy lands, waters and biodiversity, and take action to protect nature and species that we coexist with and depend upon. The world’s wildlife populations have declined by two-thirds in the last 50 years alone, and scientists report that over one million species are now at risk of extinction.

“As a society, our loss of connection with the natural world is contributing to the human-caused mass extinction and public health crises we are and will continue to face. The stakes have never been higher. This year alone, we have been fighting an unprecedented amount of anti-wildlife bills in state legislatures.

“In Idaho, the Governor just passed legislation that could result in the killing of 90% of the state’s gray wolves. In Montana, several bills passed that would allow the state to permit individual hunters to kill an unlimited number of wolves, to bait, snare and ‘spotlight’ them at night— threatening over 30 years of one of the most successful wildlife recovery efforts in this country.

“Other newly-passed laws target grizzly bears, mountain lions, elk and other species. And even more state governments are engaged in relentless efforts to strip much-needed protections from lands, waters and wildlife. Together, these anti-wildlife and anti-environment laws could drive species back into extinction. But we can combat these attacks on nature by robustly and urgently implementing a national biodiversity strategy.

“With our very existence at stake, biodiversity loss must be a national priority on the same level as climate change. A national biodiversity strategy can help us reverse the trend of species loss by initiating a whole-of- government approach to saving habitat, fully funding and implementing the Endangered Species Act, and slowing extinction. Saving biodiversity also means ensuring more communities have clean air, clean water, and a sustainable, healthy climate.

“And we need a national biodiversity strategy that would center our friends and neighbors who have historically been shut out of wildlife management decisions, especially Tribal Nations. Today, Indigenous people across the world care for 80% of its biodiversity. In the United States, Tribal Nations have led the effort to save grizzly bears, wolves, salmon and many other critical species from extinction. Prioritizing Tribal management and sovereignty will be key in the work to slow extinction and helping nature thrive.

“Fortunately, Secretary of the Interior Haaland deeply understands the importance of Tribal rights and sovereignty, and is championing efforts to make conservation and protection of biodiversity a priority. The administration’s ‘America the Beautiful’ plan will help us protect 30% of lands and waters by 2030, which scientists say is absolutely key to slowing extinction.

“We have stopped the extinction of species before. Tribal Nations have worked tirelessly to save the earth’s biodiversity for centuries. We can learn from Indigenous-led management, protect more lands and waters, and implement a national biodiversity strategy to give nature the protection and care that it so desperately needs. In doing so, we can reignite our own connection to the natural world— finding with it the peace, solace, and health that a deep connection to Earth brings(Common Dreams).


Bonnie Rice is Senior Representative for the Sierra Club's Greater Yellowstone/Northern Rockies campaign, protecting wildlands and wildlife in the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Rockies ecosystems. She works out of the Club's office in Bozeman, Montana.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

New Idaho Law Allows Killing of 90 Percent of State’s Wolves (Smithsonian Magazine)


Last week, Idaho governor Brad Little signed a bill into law that allows hunters to kill about 90 percent of the state’s wolves. The new law, SB1211, was supported by ranchers who say that wolves threaten their livestock and hunters who say that the wolves have reduced elk populations.

Both of those claims are disputed by opponents of the new rules, who include scientists, conservation groups and other hunting groups, Douglas Main reports for National Geographic. The new law allows anyone with a wolf hunting tag to kill an unlimited number of wolves and lifts restrictions about how those animals can be killed. It also increases the state’s budget for hiring private contractors to kill wolves.

“Today marks a low point for gray wolf recovery in the U.S.,” says Zoe Hanley, a carnivore ecologist and representative of the Defenders of Wildlife, per the Associated Press’ Keith Ridler. “For years Idaho wolves have been intensely persecuted through the nation’s most permissive hunting and trapping seasons, and this bill all but pushes the species back to the brink of federal relisting.”

Gray wolves lost federal Endangered Species Act protections in January, though they had been delisted in the Northern Rockies since 2011. A recent count estimated that Idaho’s wolf population is 1,556 animals, and about 500 animals were killed in 2019 and 2020 through hunting, trapping and other population control efforts in the state, reports KTVB.

The new law creates a goal of 15 wolf packs in the state, or about 150 wolves total, per Outside magazine’s Wes Siler. The law also changes the restrictions for wolf hunting methods. When the law goes into effect, hunters will be able to use the same as those for other canines like coyotes, Rico Moore reports for the Guardian. That will open up the use of night-vision equipment, baiting, snowmobiles and ATVs, and hunting from helicopters. Trapping and snaring of wolves, including newborn pups, on private property will be allowed year-round, reports the Associated Press.

Cameron Mulrony, executive vice-president of the Idaho Cattle Association, argues that wolves have had a negative impact on livestock and big game hunting industries. “A cow taken by a wolf is similar to a thief stealing an item from a production line in a factory,” says Mulrony to the Guardian.

But opponents of the law argue that wolves have a relatively low impact on livestock losses. In the last fiscal year, the state’s livestock industry lost only 102 sheep and cattle to wolves, reports National Geographic. Idaho loses about 40,000 cattle to non-predator factors each year, per Outside.

The group Idaho for Wildlife wants wolf numbers reduced to 15 packs to boost the elk population for big game hunting. Steve Alder, a representative for the group, tells the Associated Press that “I think (the new law) will be very effective…I really do think that they’ll finally get wolves down to the 150.” However, research in Yellowstone National Park has shown that a healthy wolf population can stabilize the ecosystem and improve the health of elk herds, per National Geographic. There are currently about 120,000 elk in Idaho; only a few thousand elk less than the state’s all-time-high elk population of 125,000, and 8,000 more elk than when wolves were first reintroduced to the state in 1995, reports Outside.

“Backed by an array of misinformation and fearmongering, the state legislature stepped over experts at the Idaho Fish and Game Department and rushed to pass this horrific wolf-killing bill,” says Center for Biological Diversity senior attorney Andrea Zaccardi in an emailed statement. “And Republican lawmakers have promised that this is just the beginning, even though the new measure would doom 90% of Idaho’s wolves. We’re disappointed that Gov. Little signed such a cruel and ill-conceived bill into law.”

If the wolf population drops even further than SB1211 outlines, it is possible that the federal government could again take over management of wolves in the state. There are three ways that could happen in Idaho, per Lindsey Botts at Sierra magazine: if the state’s wolf population drops below 10 packs or 100 animals, if the population is below 150 individuals for three years in a row, or if human pressures significantly threaten the wolf population.


Monday, May 17, 2021

"It’s hard to look at": Donald Trump makes National Portrait Gallery debut

20:33 UTC Friday, 14 May 2021

Photo of ex-president will make way for a painted portrait as gallery says Trump’s team is considering artists.

A picture is worth a thousand tweets. Donald Trump gained immortality of sorts on Friday when he made his debut at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. But he also ran into some “good trouble”.

Canny curators have placed the 45th president face-to-face with a painting of John Lewis, the late congressman and civil rights hero whose habit of making what he called “good trouble” included boycotting Trump’s inauguration.

“Keeping him honest!” remarked Eric Bargeron, 40, a book editor from Columbia, South Carolina, as he observed Lewis in an exhibition called The Struggle for Justice, staring across the room at Trump in the popular America’s Presidents show.

The photo of Trump was taken by New York–based Pari Dukovic for Time magazine on 17 June 2019, the day before the president officially announced he would seek re-election. It shows him sitting at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, wearing his trademark long red tie.

The picture is accompanied by a caption in neutral museum language, noting that Trump was elected “after tapping into populist American sentiment” and that he “put forth an ‘America First’ agenda”. It records his two impeachments and says the coronavirus pandemic “became a key issue during his re-election campaign”.

The caption adds: “Trump did not concede [defeat], and a mob of his supporters, who refused to accept the results, attacked the US Capitol complex on 6 January 2021, when Congress was working to certify [Joe] Biden’s win.” The caption also appears in Spanish, a policy rarely seen at the Trump White House.

In another symbolic twist, the Trump picture has supplanted Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of Barack Obama, which is embarking on a year-long, five-city tour. Trump is now back-to-back with the famous Hope poster featuring Obama, by the artist Shepard Fairey.

The gallery, part of the Smithsonian Institution, reopened to timed pass holders on Friday after a six-month pandemic shutdown. It includes a special exhibition of portraits of first ladies, from Martha Washington to Melania Trump.

A trickle of visitors made their way to see Trump, whose likeness never quite made it to Mount Rushmore, join the pantheon of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt on the gallery walls.

Dan Freedman, a British documentary maker based in Louisville, Kentucky, was celebrating his 40th birthday but did not see Trump at first. “I deliberately averted my eyes,” he said. “It’s cool they put Obama behind the bad guy.”

Freedman made a noble sacrifice for the Guardian, walking across the room to study the Trump portrait. “He looks like an insecure man holding the desk to believe in himself,” he reported. “He doesn’t look very humble.”

Fellow Brit Fran McDonald, a professor at the University of Louisville, agreed: “It’s hard to look at. I started to take a picture of it and then decided I don’t want it on my phone. I’m so relieved we don’t have to look at him or listen to him any more. It was a relentless assault on the senses to have him in the 24-hour news cycle.”

The gallery draws visitors from all over America but judging by Friday’s crowd there will be few Trump worshippers eager to turn this into a “Make America Great Again” shrine ahead of a potential White House run in 2024.

Kevin Newman, 38, a police sergeant from Chicago, said he was “not a fan” of Trump. “I was interested in how they would portray him because he was a controversial president,” he said. “They have made him look good. If they had made him look bad it would have inflamed the controversy. They didn’t make him look orange.”

The photo will make way for a painted portrait – the gallery says Trump’s team is considering artists. Newman added: “He obviously cares very much about his image so it be interesting to see who he picks.”

Trump could look to the 1968 painting of Richard Nixon for a template. The artist, Norman Rockwell, admitted that, finding Nixon’s appearance elusive, he decided to err on the side of flattery.

Meg Krilov and James Fogel were visiting from Trump’s birthplace, New York. Krilov, 65, a retired physician, said of his portrait: “He looks very unhappy. I don’t think he really wanted to be president. He wanted to be king.”

Her husband Fogel, 70, a retired judge, added: “He was treasonous. He tried to overthrow the government. And I guess he’s still trying.”

Did it feel strange to see a former reality TV host, credibly accused of paying off a porn star, enshrined in the same room as Lyndon Johnson and George HW Bush? “It felt strange the entire time,” Fogel said. “It continues to feel strange.” -The Guardian

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