Scientists urge concern, not alarm over new virus strains

Associated Press logoScientists urge concern, not alarm over new virus strainsBy MARILYNN MARCHIONE, AP Chief Medical Writer  1 hr ago

Associated Press logoScientists urge concern, not alarm over new virus strains

Does it spread more easily? Make people sicker? Mean that treatments and vaccines won’t work? Questions are multiplying as fast as new strains of the coronavirus, especially the one now moving through England. Scientists say there is reason for concern but that the new strains should not cause alarm.
“There’s zero evidence that there’s any increase in severity” of COVID-19 from the latest strain, the World Health Organization’s emergencies chief, Dr. Michael Ryan said Monday.

“We don’t want to overreact,” the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CNN.

Worry has been growing since Saturday, when Britain’s prime minister said a new strain, or variant, of the coronavirus seemed to spread more easily than earlier ones and was moving rapidly through England. Dozens of countries barred flights from the U.K., and southern England was placed under strict lockdown measures.

A: New variants have been seen almost since the virus was first detected in China nearly a year ago. Viruses often mutate, or develop small changes, as they reproduce and move through a population — something “that’s natural and expected,” WHO said in a statement Monday.

“Most of the mutations are trivial. It’s the change of one or two letters in the genetic alphabet that doesn’t make much difference in the ability to cause disease,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, a former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist who directs a global health program at Boston College.

A more concerning situation is when a virus mutates by changing the proteins on its surface to help it escape from drugs or the immune system, or if it acquires a lot of changes that make it very different from previous versions.


A: That can happen if one strain is a “founder” strain — the first one to take hold and start spreading in an area, or because “super spreader” events helped it become established.

It also can happen if a mutation gives a new variant an advantage, such as helping it spread more easily than other strains that are circulating, as may be the case in Britain.

“It’s more contagious than the original strain,” Landrigan said. “The reason it’s becoming the dominant strain in England is because it out-competes the other strains and moves faster and infects more people, so it wins the race.”

Moncef Slaoui, the chief science adviser for the U.S. government’s COVID-19 vaccine campaign, said scientists are still working to confirm whether the strain in England spreads more easily. He said it’s also possible that “seeding" of hidden cases "happened in the shadows” before scientists started looking for it.

The strain was first detected in September, WHO officials said.

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A: It has many mutations -- nearly two dozen -- and eight are on the spike protein that the virus uses to attach to and infect cells. The spike is what vaccines and antibody drugs target.

Dr. Ravi Gupta, a virus expert at the University of Cambridge in England, said modeling studies suggest it may be up to two times more infectious than the strain that’s been most common in England so far. He and other researchers posted a report of it on a website scientists use to quickly share developments but it has not been formally reviewed or published in a journal.


A: “There’s no indication that either of those is true, but clearly those are two issues we’ve got to watch,” Landrigan said. As more patients get infected with the new strain, “they’ll know fairly soon if the new strain makes people sicker.”

A WHO outbreak expert, Maria Van Kerkhove, said Monday that “the information that we have so far is that there isn’t a change” in the kind of illness or its severity from the new strain.


A: A couple of cases in England raise concern that the mutations in some of the emerging new strains could hurt the potency of drugs that supply antibodies to block the virus from infecting cells.

“The studies on antibody response are currently under way. We expect results in coming days and weeks,” Van Kerkhove said.

One drugmaker, Eli Lilly, said that tests in its lab using strains that contain the most concerning mutation suggest that its drug remains fully active.


A: Slaoui said the presumption is that current vaccines would still be effective against the variant, but that scientists are working to confirm that.

“My expectation is, this will not be a problem,” he said.

United Kingdom officials have said “they don’t believe there is impact on the vaccines,” Van Kerkhove said.

Vaccines induce broad immune system responses besides just prompting the immune system to make antibodies to the virus, so they are expected to still work, several scientists said.


A: Landrigan thinks they can.

“If the new strain is indeed more contagious than the original strain, then it’s very, very sensible to restrict travel,” he said. “It will slow things down. Any time you can break the chain of transmission you can slow the virus down.”

CNN quoted Fauci as saying that he was not criticizing other countries for suspending travel to England but that he would not advise the United States to take such a step.

The presence or extent of the new strain in the United States is unknown at this time.


A: Follow the advice to wear a mask, wash your hands often, maintain social distance and avoid crowds, public health experts say.

“The bottom line is we need to suppress transmission” of all virus strains that can cause COVID-19, said the WHO’s director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“The more we allow it to spread, the more mutations will happen.”

Associated Press writers Christina Larson in Washington and Candice Choi in New York contributed to this report.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.By MARILYNN MARCHIONE, AP Chief Medical Writer  1 hr ago

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Sens. Sasse and Merkley introduce bipartisan bill to crack down on porn sites making money from child rape

'While these suit-wearing traffickers got rich, their victims have lived with the pain and fear. That has to end now.'

Sens. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) on Friday introduced new legislation to crack down on pornography websites that may be complicit in human sex trafficking or rape.
Their bill, called the "Stop Internet Sexual Exploitation Act," would require online platforms that host pornography to implement "critical safeguards to protect Americans from sexual exploitation online," the senators said in a news release.

A recent exposé by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof showed how Pornhub, one of the internet's largest and most popular pornography websites, permits videos featuring sex trafficking victims, non-consensual sex, child rape, and other heinous criminal activity on its platform with little or now oversight. Kristof reported that the victims of these crimes have little to no recourse to have videos of their abuse removed from the internet. Sasse and Merkley aim to change that with their bill.

"Human dignity matters. A decent society has an obligation to fight sexual exploitation and human trafficking," Sasse said. "For years, Pornhub and its parent company Mindgeek monetized rape, abuse, and child exploitation. While these suit-wearing traffickers got rich, their victims have lived with the pain and fear. That has to end now. Our bill is aimed squarely at the monsters who profit from rape. Washington ought to be able to come together to combat human trafficking and make this right."

"The posting of intimate photos and videos without participants' consent is a massive invasion of privacy that drives shame, humiliation, and potentially suicide," Merkley said. "While some online platforms have recently announced steps to change some practices, much more needs to be done. We must ensure that not another single life of a child, man, or woman is destroyed by these sites."

The legislation would impose several new restrictions on online pornography platforms to protect victims of abuse.

Under the proposed law, pornography websites would be required to verify the identity of any user who wants to upload a video to their website and the user must provide a signed consent form from every individual appearing in the video before it can be published. The law would create a private right of action against any video uploader who posts pornographic content without the consent of the individual(s) featured in the image or video, giving victims of "revenge porn" a right to sue.

Also, pornography websites would be required to feature a notice or banner on the website instructing how an individual can request removal of a video featuring persons who did not consent to having that content uploaded on the platform. Video downloads from pornographic websites would be prohibited by law.

Pornographic websites would also be required by law to maintain a 24-hour hotline staffed by the website that people can contact to request removal of a video that has been distributed without their consent. The website would be required by law to remove the flagged video within two hours. They would be required to use software to block a removed video from being re-uploaded after removal.

The Federal Trade Commission would be responsible for enforcing the various parts of this legislation. The bill would also create a database of individuals who have indicated they do not consent to having pornographic materials about them distributed on the internet and porn sites would be required to check new content against this database before it can be uploaded to their platforms.

In response to Kristof's damning article, Pornhub this week announced several policy changes to combat the uploading and distribution of abusive content. Going forward, the website will ban unverified uploaders and has suspended all previously uploaded content that was not created by verified users or Pornhub partners. The company purged more than 10 million videos that did not meet this standard, removing almost 80% of the content on its website.

Sasse and Merkley's legislation would force other websites to follow suit and go even farther to crack down on abuse. Kristof praised the senators for working in a bipartisan fashion to fight against online rape videos and child pornography.

"The porn platforms have shown that self-regulation is not enough," Kristof tweeted Friday. "They did nothing for too long and simply monetized assaults on children. Some regulation is essential, along with liability both to compensate victims and incentivize better self-policing."

Laila Mickelwait, the director of abolition for anti-sex trafficking group Exodus Cry and the founder of the #Traffickinghub campaign — a movement that seeks to hold Pornhub accountable for "enabling and financially profiting off of videos of real sex-trafficking, child sexual abuse and other non consensual content" — hailed the proposed legislation as "highly critical" in a statement to TheBlaze.

"This new bi-partisan legislation by Senator Sasse and Senator Merkley is a highly critical and essential preventative measure that will do an enormous amount of good in stopping the monetization and immortalization of victim's sexual trauma on mainstream porn sites such as Pornhub," Mickelwait said.

She further called on Congress to ensure that there is third-party oversight of pornographic websites to enforce compliance with the proposed regulations.

"These regulations must be implemented by a third-party and use reliable methods for age verification, identification, and the guarantee of consent for those in videos uploaded to porn sites. We have evidence of fake IDs and forged documents being used in the past on these sites and they cannot be trusted to self-police," she said.

"We must also see serious consequences for non-compliance such as risk of shut-down and hefty monetary fines in order for this law to have teeth."

Editor's note: This article was updated with comments from Laila Mickelwait, the director of abolition for Exodus Cry.


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Mastercard, Visa, dump Pornhub following rape video exposé

Mastercard and Visa have dumped Pornhub following an exposé that revealed the site was infested with videos of rape and child sex abuse.

Mastercard confirmed “the presence of illegal material” on Pornhub’s website following the publication of a report by the New York Times, which reported that the smut site hosted videos of rape scenes, revenge porn and other footage taken without the knowledge or consent of the participants.

“Our investigation over the past several days has confirmed violations of our standards prohibiting unlawful content on their site,” Mastercard said in a statement. “As a result, and in accordance with our policies, we instructed the financial institutions that connect the site to our network to terminate acceptance. In addition, we continue to investigate potential illegal content on other websites to take the appropriate action.”

Visa, in its statement, said it was “instructing the financial institutions who serve [Pornhub owner] MindGeek to suspend processing of payments through the Visa network.”

Some of the videos described in op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof’s column included recordings of assaults on unconscious women and girls.

The exposé resulted in changes to the site’s policies on Tuesday, with Pornhub pledging to crack down on illegal content. Pornhub said it will impose new restrictions on who can upload videos and a hire new squad of content moderators that will seek out potentially illegal material.

In its biggest change, Pornhub will only allow verified users to upload videos to the site. That privilege is currently restricted to Pornhub’s content partners and members of its “Model Program,” which requires performers to verify their identities by uploading a photo of themselves.

Pornhub did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment.

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Former Israeli space security chief claims aliens

If professor Haim Eshed truly wanted to help avoid creating hysteria about little green men, his recent interview with a major Jewish newspaper is likely not going to help him out.

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Eshed, a retired Israeli general who served as the chief of Israel's space security program for almost 30 years, the Jerusalem Post reported, recently claimed to know about a secret deal between aliens from "the Galactic Federation" and leaders on Earth — specifically in the U.S. government.

In an interview with Yedoith Aharonoth, which the Jewish Press described as the "largest circulation for-pay newspaper" in Israel, Eshed said that aliens are here, but do not want to be identified yet because mankind is not ready and such a revelation would almost certainly cause mass panic.

According to Eshed, President Donald Trump was going to reveal their presence but yielded to an appeal from the aliens to keep their existence under wraps until they have a chance to get humanity to the point of being mentally capable of accepting the new reality.

"The UFOs have asked not to publish that they are here, humanity is not ready yet," Eshed told Yedoith. "Trump was on the verge of revealing, but the aliens in the Galactic Federation are saying: Wait, let people calm down first. They don't want to start mass hysteria. They want to first make us sane and understanding."

The professor said that the aliens are "waiting for humanity to evolve and reach a stage where we will generally understand what space and spaceships are."

So, why are they here? Well, the three-time Israeli Security Award recipient said he knows.

They've signed a contract with the United States government to do experiments on Earth to understand the "fabric of the universe," and they've enlisted Earthlings to help out, Eshed said.

"There's an agreement between the U.S. government and the aliens," he told the newspaper. "They signed a contract with us to do experiments here. They, too, are researching and trying to understand the whole fabric of the universe, and they want us as helpers."

Not only did Eshed break news of aliens here on Earth, he also revealed that there is an "underground base" on Mars. It is there that the aliens' "representatives" are living and working alongside American astronauts, the professor stated.

Were all of this true, the Jerusalem Post pointed out, it "would coincide with US President Donald Trump's creation of the Space Force as the fifth branch of the US armed forces."

If this is supposed to be kept a secret, why is Eshed revealing this sensitive info now?

The Post explained that the professor believed the timing was right considering "how much the academic landscape has changed, and how respected he is in academia."

You see, academia used to think he was crazy when he would bring up these claims, he said, but things are different today.

"If I had come up with what I'm saying today five years ago, I would have been hospitalized," Eshed told Yedoith. "Wherever I've gone with this in academia, they've said: the man has lost his mind. Today they're already talking differently. I have nothing to lose. I've received my degrees and awards, I am respected in universities abroad, where the trend is also changing."

NBC News attempted to get comments from the White House, the Pentagon, and Israeli officials, but none were offered.NEWS DECEMBER 08, 2020
Former Israeli space security chief claims aliens 'signed a contract' to do experiments here, asked not to be revealed yet — and President Trump almost spilled the beans
They apparently want to avoid hysteria


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Protesting America's past? Statues of former presidents, other historical monuments vandalized in 4 states over Thanksgiving

Elinor Aspegren, USA TODAYPublished 8:22 p.m. ET Nov. 26, 2020

Historical monuments and statues have been graffitied or toppled in four cities since Wednesday — seemingly in protest of America's past.

The statues and buildings vandalized on Wednesday and Thursday appear to have been targeted in protest of colonialism, gentrification and capitalism.

The words "land back" were spray-painted on statues and buildings in multiple cities. The LANDBACK campaign is an Indigenous movement against white supremacy and for Indigenous food sovereignty, housing, and clean air and water.

In Chicago, vandals tried but failed to topple a park statue of President William McKinley early Wednesday using a rope tethered to a car, police said.

McKinley was president from 1897 to 1901 and his push for westward expansion is now widely criticized as racist, for pushing Indigenous people off their land, WBBM-TV reported. 

In Portland, Oregon, protesters broke windows and sprayed graffiti, including the words 'land back,' on several markets early Thursday, according to a police press release announcing three arrests.

A monument at Portland's Lone Fir Cemetery, dedicated in 1903 to the veterans of the Civil War, Mexican, Spanish, and Indian wars, was tagged with anti-colonialism graffiti and its statue toppled and sprayed with red paint.

Photos of the vandalism spread on social media on Thanksgiving Day, though police did not immediately confirm the reports. 

In Portland, Oregon, protesters broke windows and sprayed graffiti, including the words 'land back,' on several markets early Thursday, according to a police press release announcing three arrests.

 A monument at Portland's Lone Fir Cemetery, dedicated in 1903 to the veterans of the Civil War, Mexican, Spanish, and Indian wars, was tagged with anti-colonialism graffiti and its statue toppled and sprayed with red paint.

Photos of the vandalism spread on social media on Thanksgiving Day, though police did not immediately confirm the reports.

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