Welcome to Wednesday. Christmas (25th), Kwanzaa (26th-1st), and New Year’s (we all know this one) are right around the corner.
We’re taking a break from the news until January 4th. But we have something special to share…
Last month, we announced the Dear America Project. The idea: Collect visions for the future from every background and creed to identify what (if anything) ties us together, and what (if anything) can overcome our division.
We’ve completed our analysis of the responses and put together a series of emails providing insights into the psyche of the U.S. of A. We’ll be sharing it next week; you don’t want to miss it. (One could even say we’re psyched to share our psyche insights. 😉 )
“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.”
🦠 COVID-19 Mutations: What We Know
Last week, the UK imposed its most stringent lockdown since the pandemic began after identifying a new strain of coronavirus circulating in England. Health officials estimate it could be as much as 70% more transmissible (based on predictive modeling).
In South Africa, scientists identified a similar COVID-19 variant sharing one of the mutations seen in the British equivalent. The new strain has reportedly been found in up to 90% of South African samples analyzed since mid-November.
🤿 A deeper dive…
Global health officials say they are concerned – but not surprised – by the new mutations, which should not cause public alarm.
Researchers have recorded thousands of tiny modifications to COVID-19’s genetic material since it was first detected nearly a year ago – something that’s “natural and expected,” the WHO said in a statement on Monday.
The organization said “there is no evidence” the new strains identified in the UK and South Africa lead to more severe cases.
The British variant has nearly two dozen mutations, including several that affect how the virus attaches to human cells and infects them.
UK officialssaid these mutations may allow the variant to replicate and transmit more efficiently, but the recent surge in COVID-19 cases could also be related to human behavior. They plan to verify the new strain’s increased transmissibility in qualitative lab experiments.
💉 How Does This Affect Vaccinations?
It would take years for the virus to evolve enough to render the current COVID-19 vaccines useless.
The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines induce each recipient to produce a large, complex, and unique set of antibodies that overwhelms any potential mutations.
BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said yesterday the company’s shot will work against the new strain, but if the mutation proves more transmissible it could raise the threshold necessary to achieve herd immunity.
💬 Relevant Quote: “The fact is that you have a thousand big guns pointed at the virus. No matter how the virus twists and weaves, it’s not that easy to find a genetic solution that can really combat all these different antibody specificities.” Dr. Kartik Chandran, Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
🌎 Around the World
Beginning Sunday, more than 40 countries imposed travel restrictions to and from the UK and, in some cases, South Africa. (The full list)
The European Commissionrecommended the EU’s 27 member states lift blanket bans on flights and travel to the UK to “ensure essential travel and avoid supply chain disruptions” while discouraging non-essential travel.
U.S. health officials say a UK travel ban is likely unnecessary due to a lack of evidence to suggest the new strain would affect vaccination efforts, and the likelihood that it did not originate in the UK, but was first identified there due to the country’s robust monitoring system.
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🔄 Round Robin
CA Gov. Gavin NewsomselectedAlex Padilla, the state’s secretary of state, to fill the Senate seat left vacant by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Padilla will become the first Latino senator to represent the state.
Dr. Deborah Dirx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus response, said she plans to retire yesterday. The move comes days after the AP reported she traveled out of state over Thanksgiving weekend in violation of CDC guidelines and her own public advice.
President-elect Biden has selected CT Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona as his nominee for Secretary of Education, per multiple reports. Cardona, a former elementary school teacher and principal, would need to pass Senate confirmation before assuming the role.
🇷🇺🇪🇺 Russia Retaliates Against EU Sanctions
Russia imposed travel bans on an unspecified number of EU officials Tuesday in response to EU sanctions placed on Russian officials for the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. In August, Navalny was airlifted to a German hospital after being administered a poison doctors later identified as a Novichok agent.
More: The move comes a day after Navalny released a YouTube video in which he purportedly impersonated a Kremlin official over the phone to extract an admission of guilt from an unsuspecting Russian agent, who said the Novichok agent was administered via Navalny’s underpants. The video garnered over 13M views in 24 hours.
🇮🇱 Israel will hold its fourth election in two years this upcoming March. A snap election was triggered by parliament’s failure to meet last night’s midnight deadline to pass a budget.
💰 Ripple Effect
The SEC filed a civil lawsuit on Tuesday against cryptocurrency giant Ripple, and both its CEO and executive chairman, for allegedly selling over $1.3 billion in unregistered securities. The charges pertain to XRP – the world’s third-largest cryptocurrency by market value (behind Bitcoin & Ether).
💬 Relevant Quotes:
SEC: “Ripple created an information vacuum such that Ripple and the two insiders with the most control over it—Larsen and Garlinghouse—could sell XRP into a market that possessed only the information [the] defendants chose to share about Ripple and XRP.” -SEC filing
Ripple: “The SEC action is without merit. XRP is a currency like Bitcoin and Ether and does not have to be registered as a security.” -Martin Flumenbaum, attorney for Ripple co-founder Chris Larsen
⚖️ DOJ (Law)Suits Up
The Justice Department filed a civil lawsuit against Walmart over its alleged role in America’s ongoing opioid crisis yesterday. The DOJ is accusing Walmart of failing to identify and report thousands of suspicious orders for controlled substances across the company’s 5,000+ U.S. pharmacies as required by federal law.
More: The DOJ suit comes nearly two months after Walmart preemptively sued the Justice Department, DEA, and AG William Barr seeking to prevent the government from extracting civil damages. That suit remains ongoing.
🌀 Spin It to Win It
U.S. holding company IAC announced plans to spin off its full stake in online-video platform Vimeo yesterday. The deal, which is expected to close in Q2 2021, would see Vimeo become an independent publicly-traded company, with IAC shareholders receiving a proportionate amount of Vimeo stock. Shares of IAC closed Tuesday up more than 14%.
Speaking of Spinning…
🚲 Shares of Pelotonreached an all-time high during trading on Tuesday after the company announced a $420M deal to acquire exercise equipment manufacturer Precor.
📦 Deliver Us
UPS driver Anthony Gaskin is a hero to the people of Hallsley, a neighborhood in Chesterfield, VA. Throughout the pandemic, the mail carrier has delivered a staggering 180 packages to the small community’s homeowners, completing each shipment with warmth and kindness that did not go unnoticed.
On December 15th, hundreds of Hallsley residents lined the neighborhood streets as Anthony arrived to fulfill an order – holding signs, ringing bells, and honking car horns to show their appreciation for the dedicated deliveryman.
👽 Search & Rescue
Road Dogs & Rescue, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, is dedicated to rescuing bulldogs from slaughterhouses worldwide. Through the nonprofit, founder Nikki Carvey discovered Mork, a bulldog from China scheduled to be euthanized for the meat market.
Rescuing Mork off of a meat truck with hours to spare, the nonprofit team delivered Mork to the care of Nikki – who has since started an Instagram page drawing attention to the pup’s uncanny resemblance to Baby Yoda (we know… but no spoiler alerts here). (Photos)
🧶 A Close-Knit Community
Nelson Mendoca, a resident at the Phoenix Drug & Alcohol Recovery & Education Society in Surrey, Canada, never imagined he would be knitting after being released from prison. However, shortly after arriving at the recovery facility, Nelson found himself making knit winter caps to overcome feelings of nervousness.
Town & Trail delivers all natural, human-grade treats — perfect for any dog.
Taking a less is more approach, Town & Trail treats are made from USDA beef and contain only five human-grade ingredients. These naturally shelf-stable treats are rooted in South African tradition and are air-dried, keeping healthy protein and nutrients in — and gross chemicals out.
🎅 ‘Tis the Season… a $27 per person Christmas-themed event in South Australia is being hailed as the “Fyre Festival” of children’s Santa events due to… well, just take a look. (Bonus: It even spawned this tongue-in-cheek petition to preserve “the true spirit of Christmas” after the event closed its doors due to complaints.)
💪🤖 The Strong, Silent Type… U.S. Army researchers are teaming with scientists from UNC and Duke University to develop robots packed with muscle tissue that boast never-before-seen agility and versatility.
🎤 Get the Show on the Road
Which celebrity was the first to perform at a Super Bowl halftime show?
A) Carol Channing
B) Elvis Presley
C) Ella Fitzgerald
D) Bob Dylan
(keep scrolling for the answer)
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Historically, Super Bowl halftime shows were centered around university marching bands from across the country. In 1970, Tony Award-winning actress Carol Channing performed “When the Saints Go Marching In” during the halftime of Super Bowl IV in New Orleans, LA, alongside Southern University’s marching band.