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Overnight News Digest for June 5 (COVID Is Not Over edition)

Okay, so this is on me… I had been masking whenever I went out in public right through, despite the looks I was getting… until last month. Covid rates seemed way down, and I was tired of the BS, so… I dropped the mask.

This morning I tested positive. Which sucks. I’m taking Paxlovid, which will hopefully mitigate. But…

THIS IS NOT OVER. If your last vaccination was more than 6 months ago, you NEED a booster.

And I’d seriously recommend masking, even though it’s not comfortable. Because right now I feel like I got hit by a truck, and I can only hope I don’t get more profound damage — it’s a roll of the dice every time.

May Clinic — A Mayo Clinic virologist explains FLiRT and why you may need a new COVID-19 vaccination

A new variant of COVID-19, known as FLiRT, is now the most dominant strain in the U.S. This variant, which evolved from the omicron strain, is characterized by changes in its spike protein — the part of the virus that binds to host cells. Dr. Matthew Binnicker, director of the Clinical Virology Laboratory at Mayo Clinic, says that these changes could increase the virus’ ability to infect cells and evade the immune system, even in people who have previously been infected or vaccinated.

“This variant can evade the immune response more effectively than prior versions of the virus. If you’ve been infected, or you’ve been vaccinated, and you’ve got some antibodies in your system, those antibodies may not recognize the protein on the surface of the virus as well,” says Dr. Binnicker.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this new variant is now responsible for more than 28% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. Dr. Binnicker says there is a potential for an increase in cases during the summer months, with a more significant surge expected in the fall and winter.

…”With this latest round of variants, this FLiRT variant, the antibodies that you have from past vaccination may not bind and neutralize the virus as well. If you’ve been infected or vaccinated in the past three to four months, you’re probably going to have antibodies that are going to recognize these newer viruses effectively. And it will help you keep from getting really sick and may even help prevent you from coming down with any symptoms,” says Dr. Binnicker.

“If you were infected or vaccinated more than six months ago, you may not have as good of protection, and you may come down with a subsequent infection with the typical symptoms of COVID,” he adds.

…Receiving an updated vaccine will help protect you from the newer strain.

This is an open thread where everyone is welcome, especially night owls and early birds, to share and discuss the happenings of the day. Please feel free to share your articles and stories in the comments

NPR — To mark D-Day, Biden will deliver a defense of democracy that hits on campaign themes

President Biden is in France to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day, when tens of thousands of allied troops landed on the beaches at Normandy and turned the tide in World War II.

It’s a pilgrimage that many American presidents have made, but as Biden does it, the lessons of 80 years ago are being debated once again — and hold particular resonance for his reelection bid.

The anniversary comes as a land war rages once again in the European continent with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, raising the stakes as World War II fades from people’s memories and into the history books.

…Expect Biden to expand on those themes in an address to the American people he’s set to deliver from Pointe du Hoc, overlooking the beaches where the Americans landed on June 6, 1944. More than 70,000 American troops joined allied forces for the dangerous and daring D-Day operation. Casualties were heavy, with 2,500 Americans killed on D-Day itself and some 29,000 more in the Battle of Normandy that followed.

…Asked whether this speech about democracy and freedom was aimed at Trump, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said it would focus on universal themes. “Principles that have served as the foundation of American security and American democracy for generations, including the generation that scaled those cliffs, including today’s generation, including the next generation,” Sullivan told reporters traveling with Biden on Air Force One. “He’s going to be speaking in terms of principles and values and lessons from history that are applicable today.”

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Reuters — Person with bird flu died in Mexico, WHO says

A person with prior health complications who had contracted bird flu died in Mexico in April and the source of exposure to the virus was unknown, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

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WHO said the current risk of bird flu virus to the general population is low.

The 59-year-old resident of the State of Mexico had been hospitalized in Mexico City and died on April 24 after developing a fever, shortness of breath, diarrhea, nausea and general discomfort, WHO said

…It was the first laboratory-confirmed human case of infection with an influenza A(H5N2) virus globally and the first avian H5 virus reported in a person in Mexico, according to the WHO.

Scientists said the case is unrelated to the outbreak of H5N1 bird flu in the United States that has so far infected three dairy farm workers.

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Canary Media — Massachusetts kicks off first pilot to shift gas utilities to clean heat

Multiple states see thermal energy networks as a way to clean up gas utilities. Eversource’s pilot project will be an important first test of the concept.

Gas utilities could be key to the effort to get fossil fuels out of buildings — but only if they stop investing in pipes that deliver fossil gas and instead start building pipes for clean energy.

This week, a groundbreaking project meant to test that proposition is going live in Framingham, Massachusetts — and utilities and regulators across the country will be watching closely to see how it works out.

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On Tuesday, utility Eversource will flip the switch on the country’s first utility-operated underground thermal energy network. The $14 million project includes a one-mile loop of pipes that will connect to houses, apartments, commercial buildings, a community college campus, and a fire station. Those pipes will circulate a water-and-glycol solution through 88 boreholes that extend hundreds of feet into the earth, fetching the ambient temperature buried beneath the surface and shuttling it up into buildings.

The pipe is in the ground, the boreholes have been drilled. We’re ready to turn the pumps on and get going,” said Eric Bosworth, Eversource’s manager of clean technologies.

Grist — Caving on climate: Kathy Hochul axes congestion pricing in New York

The state’s Democratic governor is sacrificing a landmark climate policy to score political points.

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At an economic summit in Ireland last month, New York Governor Kathy Hochul bragged about her state’s decades-long quest to implement so-called congestion pricing in New York City. Within mere months, the extensive toll system was poised to take effect, charging cars and trucks a once-per-day fee between $15 and $36 to enter lower Manhattan — a move that, in addition to the quality-of-life benefits touted by Hochul, promised to both drastically reduce carbon emissions in one of the country’s most congested regions and also provide badly needed funding for its most extensive mass transit system.

“It took a long time because people feared backlash from drivers set in their ways,” she said in her speech. “We must get over that.”

Ultimately, however, Hochul herself couldn’t seem to get over this fear. On Wednesday, the governor announced an “indefinite” halt to the soon-to-debut program. In doing so, she jeopardized not only a road-ready policy to improve quality of life in New York City but also the “nation-leading climate plan” that is one of the governor’s signature initiatives.

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SpyTalk — Kushner’s Deal with Pro-Russia Serbs Raises Hackles

After weathering criticism over its reliance on a gusher of Saudi cash, Jared Kushner’s investment fund made its first big splash last month when it announced it had signed a $500 million deal with the Serbian government to develop a high end real estate project in downtown Belgrade on the site of a bombed down army building destroyed during the 1999 Kosovo war.

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But the fine print of the deal includes a commitment that seems destined to stir up even more international controversy: a pledge by Kushner’s firm, Affinity Partners, to construct a “memorial dedicated to all the victims of NATO aggression”— an allusion to the U.S.-backed bombing campaign that brought the Serbian government of Slobodan Milosevic to its knees a quarter century ago in response to its relentless campaign of repression and savage massacres of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Among those exercised over the Kushner deal is retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who served as NATO Supreme Allied Commander during the war.

While he has no objection to a U.S. firm investing in Serbia, the planned revisionist memorial—officially proclaiming America’s adversary in the war to have been a victim of  “aggression”— “is worse than a reversal” of U.S. policies in the region, said Clark in an interview with SpyTalk. “It’s a betrayal of the United States, its policies and the brave diplomats and airmen who did what they could to stop Serb ethnic cleansing.”

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Russian connection? What Russian connection?

BBC — Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch marries for fifth time

Mr Murdoch, 93, tied the knot on Saturday with his new wife Elena Zhukova, 67, a retired Russian biologist.

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…Mr Murdoch and Ms Zhukova are said to have met at a party hosted by one of his ex-wives, Chinese-born entrepreneur Wendi Deng.

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…Ms Zhukova was previously married to Russian oil billionaire Alexander Zhukov, while their daughter Dasha – a socialite and businesswoman – was married to the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich until 2017.

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Cory Doctorow’s Pluralistic — Ticketmaster jacks us for billions so it can pocket millions

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…How can Ticketmaster show such a low profit margin on its books but somehow end up costing event-goers such an absurd premium?

Start with the fact that Ticketmaster has three businesses, not just one. They sell tickets, but they also promote concerts (that is, front the money for personnel, travel and marketing), and they also own a bunch of the largest and most profitable venues in the country.

This allows them to play a shell-game that’s very similar to (and possibly not actually different from) money-laundering…

This is concentrated gains and diffuse losses. In order to command the highest salary of any American CFO, Berchtold has to cook up and maintain this process. In order to earn his $139m/year, Rapino has to play mafia don and keep everyone is his supply chain sufficiently terrorized or sufficiently greased to maintain omerta.

These two men take home a fifth of Ticketmaster’s net income because they possess a rare and valuable skill. They are able to obfuscate a corrupt arrangement, enrobing it in layers of performative complexity, until the average musician, concertgoer, or lawmaker, can’t understand it. Any attempt to unravel it will induce a deadly, soporific confusion. The investment industry term for his is MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over), the weaponization of complexity. A skilled MEGO artist can convince you that the pile of shit they’re peddling is so large that there must be a pony under it somewhere.

…It assuredly does. Understanding how Ticketmaster’s shell-game works is critical to understanding the similar shell-games played by many other kinds of monopolists, who have wrapped their tentacles around all the other parts of our lives. As David Dayen and Lindsay Owens write for The American Prospect, the companies that avoided monopoly prosecution by ripping off suppliers have bled those suppliers dry, and now they’re coming for their customers

From groceries to plane tickets, rent to cab rides, Amazon to Ticketmaster, we are living through the “Age of Recoupment,” when the long con of lowering prices to secure monopolies flips enters it final stage: greedflating the shit out of customers, and using the monopolist’s power over regulators to avoid consequences.

…If the DOJ makes its case against Ticketmaster, it will set a precedent, both in court and in policy circles, for understanding how a monopolist’s corruption works. Monopolists aren’t always businesses with gigantic margins. Like other criminals, their corruption can produce spectacular wealth and spectacular waste at the same time.

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Presswatch — Beware the Tory takeover of the Washington Post

Will Lewis, the white male former Rupert Murdoch henchman and British lord who mega-billionaire Jeff Bezos installed as publisher of the Washington Post a few months back, sure got one thing right on Monday.

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It was during a contentious, dismissive meeting he held with newsroom staffers a few hours after unceremoniously driving out executive editor Sally Buzbee and replacing her with two additional white male former Murdoch henchmen.

“If we keep doing the same things in the same ways,” the publisher said, according to one report, “we’re nuts,”

The big question, of course, is what he and his new Praetorian guard want to do differently. Thus far, he’s only shared the radical yet unformed idea of splitting the main newsroom in two and devoting the second one to the wildly enigmatic goals of “service and social media” to attract a new audience.  That’s the sort of plan you announce when you either have no plan or have one that you know won’t survive the scrutiny of your peers. (Remember The Messenger?)

And given their previous affiliations with Murdoch and with the fiercely right-wing Telegraph newspaper – sometimes referred to as the Torygraph — there is a palpable fear in and out of the Post newsroom that the three men will drag the Post’s political coverage in a more pro-Trump direction.

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National Catholic Reporter — ‘How did we miss this for so long?’: The link between extreme heat and preterm birth

…As Basu prepared for her second baby’s delivery, she began gathering state weather data and birth records to identify preterm births, those that occur prior to 37 weeks of gestation. Preterm birth is linked to a wide variety of health conditions, including anemia, respiratory distress, jaundice, sepsis, and retinopathy — and, at worst, infant mortality.

Researchers, including Basu, had already documented the impacts of air pollution on adverse pregnancy outcomes. But heat was, at the time, uncharted terrain — and the suggestion that it might have an effect was met with skepticism. Colleagues, particularly those who had not ever been pregnant, implied she was wasting her time. But when Basu published her study, her findings spurred similar research all over the world.

Basu analyzed 60,000 summertime births — those taking place between May and September — from 1999 to 2006, across 16 California counties. She found higher rates of preterm births during higher temperatures. She published the research in 2010, and even though she focused on California, it was the first large-scale epidemiological study looking at preterm delivery and temperature conducted anywhere in the world.

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What was especially shocking, Basu said, was how much greater the risk was for Black mothers — 2.5 times higher than for white populations.

“How did we miss this for so long?” Basu asked. “Women are often the last to get studied. But the most vulnerable people are those who are pregnant.”

Tell us what you’re up to in the comments, feel free to share anything else fun, cool, or infuriating, and… stay safe out there!

The crew of the Overnight News Digest consists of founder Magnifico, regular editors side pocket, maggiejean, Chitown Kev, jeremybloom, Magnifico, annetteboardman, Rise above the swamp, Besame and jck.  Alumni editors include (but not limited to) eeff, Interceptor 7, Man Oh Man, wader, Neon Vincent, palantir, Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse (RIP), ek hornbeck (RIP), rfall, ScottyUrb, Doctor RJ, BentLiberal, Oke (RIP) and jlms qkw

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