It’s not just more transmissible. Material obtained by the Washington Post includes alarming new CDC data about the COVID-19 delta variant. It’s more communicable than chickenpox or the 1918 flu that killed about 50 million people, and also causes more serious illness. Those conclusions, alongside knowing that even vaccinated people can spread the virus, led the agency to reverse its advice saying the inoculated needn’t wear masks indoors. That’s sparked fierce resistance among Republicans, like U.S. House members who marched through the Capitol uncovered Thursday. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said he’ll sanction local officials who mandate masks. (Sources: Washington Post, The Hill, USA Today)
2. First Flight of Afghan Translators Arrives in U.S.
The first group of Afghan translators and their families reportedly arrived outside Washington early today. This makes tangible the promise to protect those who helped America in its longest war from the surging Taliban. The 221 Afghans who evacuated from their homeland included 57 children, the AP reports, slated to stay at Fort Lee in Virginia. Officials plan to bring in 2,500 Afghans, keeping the departures secret for security. But the odds seem unlikely that they’ll transport as many as 20,000 Afghans, along with four times as many family members, estimated to have helped the U.S. mission. (Sources: AP, Al Jazeera, BBC)
3. Mercurial Philippine Leader Leans Away From China
Better get it in writing. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday toned down his bluster against American allies and agreed to opt back into a defense agreement with Washington. The occasion was a visit to Manila by the U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, whose Philippine counterpart, Delfin Lorenzana, announced Duterte’s decision to retract the letter he sent last year withdrawing from the Visiting Forces Agreement. That allows the two countries to conduct joint military exercises clearly aimed at countering China’s claims to the South China Sea, which Philippine officials have increasingly railed against. (Sources: VOA, Reuters)
4. Robinhood IPO Makes History, Badly
Short-sellers rejoice. The trading app at the center of the GameStop craze and the boosting of other heavily shorted meme stocks made a historic debut in its first day of trading yesterday. It’s stock price dropped 8.4%, making it the worst initial public offering in terms of share price. But Robinhood, which held 35% of its shares for app users to purchase, did sell 55 million shares, raising $2.1 billion and putting the company’s market value at $32 billion. While that’s nothing to sneeze at, analysts wonder if, when people emerge from their pandemic isolation, they’ll still be obsessing over their day-trading apps. (Sources: Bloomberg, CNBC)
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Coronavirus Update: President Biden yesterday encouraged state and local governments to pay $100 to the newly vaccinated, while ordering federal employees to get vaccinated or submit to weekly virus tests. And Israel plans to provide a third injection of the Pfizer/BioNTech inoculation to citizens over 60 in an effort to combat the virus’ more aggressive delta variant.
Today on The Carlos Watson Show, Olympic gold medalist Apolo Ohno joins Carlos to discuss how the pandemic forced the speed skater to slow down and find his “true north,” the lessons he learned from his immigrant father and his relationship with his own identity. Now working on his new book Hard Pivot, Ohno reflects on the mental health of Olympians outside of the international spotlight.
Does the shoe fit? After finishing second to Russian Evgeny Rylov in the 200-meter breaststroke today, U.S. swimmer Ryan Murphy commented that the competition “probably wasn’t clean.” Murphy insisted he wasn’t accusing anyone, but charged that cheating safeguards were inadequate. An institutionalized doping record has prohibited Russian athletes from directly representing their nation, competing as the Russian Olympic Committee instead. Rylov, a repeat champion who’s never tested positive, wouldn’t comment, but said he was “for a clean sport.” Meanwhile, 18-year-old Minnesotan Sunisa Lee helped make up for superstar Simone Biles’ absence, winning gold in the women’s gymnastics all-around competition. That makes her the first Hmong American to medal in the Games. (Sources: People, ESPN)
What do you think? Should Russians have been allowed to compete? Tell us here.
Is this the antidote for “creative accounting?” Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson yesterday sued Disney, charging that its July 9 simultaneous Disney Plus streaming release poisoned the film’s box office potential. Hollywood insiders say the move may cost the star $50 million, but Disney blasted Johansson’s claims, revealing her $20 million earnings so far and lamenting the suit’s “callous disregard” for the pandemic’s “horrific” effects, one of which was making theaters vectors for contagion. But the suit cites another motive: Top Disney execs stand to make handsome bonuses using Johansson’s star power to attract new streamers. (Sources: WSJ [sub], Deadline, The Observer)
3. Misfire Throws Space Station Into Emergency
Houston? You know the rest. The thrusters of a docking Russian module threw the entire International Space Station off of its normal position yesterday. Evoking the classic Apollo 13 scene, U.S. and Russian controllers below struggled for 47 minutes, during which the crew twice lost communications, finally firing another module’s engines to regain attitude. NASA said it wasn’t worrisome, but with station components designed for zero gravity, such stress can cause cracks, and the mishap has delayed the Friday launch of Boeing’s new spacecraft to Tuesday. Or as Zebulon Scoville, lead flight director in Houston tweeted, “Yeehaw! That. Was. A. Day.” (Sources: Ars Technica, Space.com)
4. NSO Blocks Governments From Using Pegasus Spyware
Will they promise to behave? The company whose spyware has caused international upheaval has reportedly blocked some of its governmental customers from its product. NPR cites an NSO Group employee saying the move was prompted by the Pegasus Project, a journalists’ consortium that found the spyware was used in the surveillance of journalists, activists and heads of state. The Jerusalem Post reported that Israeli regulatory officials visited NSO headquarters on Wednesday. While the NPR source admitted clients’ suspensions, it’s unclear if officials compelled them. The unnamed employee also said NSO will no longer “play along with the vicious and slanderous campaign” against it. (Sources: NPR, Jerusalem Post)
5. Legendary TV Pitchman Ron Popeil Dies
He didn’t invent the “Bass-O-Matic” of Saturday Night Live fame. But that bloody blender was inspired by Ron Popeil, one of America’s retail geniuses, who died this week in Los Angeles at the age of 86. With his Veg-O-Matic food processor, Pocket Fisherman multitool and many more must-have inventions, he commanded the checkbooks of decades of late-night television viewers. “But wait!” he often said, “There’s more!” Popeil got his start in the 1950s, selling his father’s household inventions at a Chicago grocery store, then created Ronco, a company name that will, for many baby boomers, always conjure the sound of “Jingle Bells.” (Sources: NYT, RogerEbert.com)
All good things must make way for other good things, so these will be the last of our favorite felines showcased in the Catalogue. Many thanks to everyone who shared their furry companions!