August 22, 2019

Environmental groups and researchers say the fires destroying the Amazon were almost all set by humans, as cattle ranchers and loggers want to take over the land.

Brazil's National Institute for Space Research said that so far this year, there have been 72,843 fires in the country, an 80 percent increase compared to this same time period in 2018; more than half of those blazes have been in the Amazon. The Amazon is a humid rainforest, and it is difficult, even during dry spells, for it to catch on fire, Christian Poirier of the nonprofit group Amazon Watch told CNN.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro promised during his campaign that he would open the Amazon up to business, and he has since slashed the environmental enforcement agency's budget. Environmentalists say his policies encourage ranchers and loggers to burn down land, with no fear about getting in trouble. The government has said lightning strikes are one reason for the fires, and Bolsonaro has also claimed baselessly that the fires were started by environmentalists to make him look bad.

The Amazon forest produces roughly 20 percent of the world's oxygen, and the World Wildlife Fund said if it is damaged beyond repair, the Amazon could start emitting carbon, which would make climate change even worse. Catherine Garcia

9:19 a.m.

Democrats announced the lineup of speakers at next week's Democratic National Convention on Tuesday, and all the usual suspects are included — former President Barack Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and several ex-presidential candidates, like Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

But there's one name missing from the list that has pundits in a tizzy: Susan Rice, the Obama-era diplomat who is reportedly a top pick for vice president.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden hasn't announced his runningmate yet, and as he continues to punt the announcement, speculation has been escalating. He's already committed to selecting a woman, and is under some pressure to select a Black woman. But while another top contender, Harris, is listed as a speaker at the DNC, Rice is nowhere to be seen, despite her prominence and renewed spotlight as a VP possibility. Could she be the unnamed "Vice Presidential Nominee" slotted to speak on Wednesday?

It's far from hard evidence, but with analysts hungry for an update in the veepstakes, it's hard to ignore. The DNC is set to begin on Monday, and will largely consist of pre-recorded videos and virtual appearances, to avoid the originally-planned gathering in Milwaukee. Delegates have been asked to stay home, though Biden is still expected to accept the nomination on stage in Wisconsin. Summer Meza

9:04 a.m.

President Trump's reasoning for why college football should happen this fall probably wouldn't satisfy a lot of folks in the medical and infectious disease research communities.

The president in an interview with Fox Sports on Tuesday said the season, which is in jeopardy because of the coronavirus pandemic, should be played because COVID-19 'just attacks old people,' especially those with other issues.

It is true that the coronavirus is much more deadly for older people with underlying issues, but young people, even athletes, could get quite sick from the pathogen. Indeed, one of the main reasons the NCAA's so-called 'Power 5 conferences' are contemplating postponing play until, they hope, the spring is because of a rare heart condition called myocarditis that's been linked to COVID-19. Boston Red Sox Eduardo Rodriguez, who contracted the virus, has been sidelined for the entire 2020 Major League Baseball season with the condition, for example. In other words, death is not the only risk. Tim O'Donnell

8:21 a.m.

The Environmental Protection Agency approved a new chemical Monday for use in repelling mosquitos, ticks, and other disease-bearing insects. The newly approved chemical, nootkatone, is a nontoxic oil found in Alaskan yellow cedars (Cupressus nootkatensis) and grapefruits, and it is so aromatic and safe for humans it is used in foods and perfumes. "If you drink Fresca or Squirt, you've drunk nootkatone," Ben Beard, deputy director of the division of vector-borne diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tells The New York Times.

The CDC discovered that nootkatone repels mosquitos, ticks, bedbugs, and fleas, and might also work against lice, sandflies, and other pests, 25 years ago. In high enough concentrations, the oil can kill bugs resistant to synthetic insecticides like DDT and pyrethroids. And it last as long as the synthetic chemicals, unlike other plant-based oils, like citronella and peppermint oil, whose effects wear off after about an hour, says Iowa State University inset toxicology expert Joel Coats. Still, Coats said, his lab has found nootkatone to be "an impressive repellent but a weak insecticide."

The after Oregon State University and CDC scientists discovered the repellant properties of nootkatone, the CDC licensed its patent to a Swiss company, Evolva, the Times reports. Getting EPA approval to use the oil as an active ingredient in insect repellants or insecticides was too expensive a process until the Zika epidemic hit in 2015 and Congress set aside money for mosquito control. That funding "was the key to moving the boulder up the hill," Beard told the Times. Peter Weber

7:19 a.m.

It is mathematically impossible for Kanye West to win the 2020 presidential election, but he is still running — with help from some Republicans who don't appear to be motivated by hopes for a President Kanye. It isn't clear what West is thinking.

West has told Forbes he's fine if his last-minute campaign siphoned votes off from Democrat Joe Biden and helped his friend President Trump win re-election. "I'm not denying it, I just told you," he told Forbes in July. "To say that the Black vote is Democratic is a form of racism and white supremacy." Last Thursday, he told Fobes he is "walking" for president, and when it was pointed out to him that he can only act as spoiler in 2020, West replied: "I'm not going to argue with you. Jesus is King."

Getting on the ballot in all 50 states takes work and expertise, and West has already missed his chances to appear on the ballot in California, Florida, Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. It's not clear his petition for Wisconsin was submitted on time, but it was dropped off by Lane Ruhland, a lawyer whose clients include the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee, and other GOP candidates.

A GOP-linked law firm submitted West's petition in Ohio, and a longtime GOP operative in Colorado, Rachel George, asked at least one Republican strategist last week: "Would you help me get Kanye West on the ballot in Colorado? No, I am not joking, and I realize this is hilarious," according to an email obtained by Vice News.

It isn't clear if West and his unorthodox Birthday Party will actually help Trump or hurt Biden, but "it's possible" he could tip the election, Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of the nonpartisan guide Inside Elections, tells the Los Angeles Times. "We don't know how close the most important states will be. We don't know if he will be on the ballot. And we certainly don't know how many votes he would receive," Gonzales added. "For people to say, 'Oh, Kanye is Black so he'll take Black voters from Biden' is a gross oversimplification of a more complex situation."

Part of the complexity is about West himself. After a bizarre South Carolina rally, West's wife, Kim Kardashian West, pointed to her husband's bipolar disorder and asked for "compassion and empathy." Peter Weber

5:41 a.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Tuesday that Russia has become the first country to approve a coronavirus vaccine, claiming victory in a global race to conquer COVID-19. The vaccine was developed by Moscow's Gamaleya Institute, and Putin said one of his two daughters is among the Russians already inoculated with the vaccine, joining a small group that includes the researchers who developed it and about 50 members of Russia's military.

Medical experts expressed concerns that the Kremlin aggressively and dangerously rushed the vaccine approval process, putting global prestige over public health. Putin said the Gamaleya vaccine had proven effective in two months of early-stage human trials and offered lasting immunity. Russian officials said Phase III trial of the vaccine will be conducted in Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and maybe Brazil as thousands of Russian medical workers, teachers, and other groups are inoculated. The World Health Organization lists the Gamaleya vaccine trial as in Phase I.

Top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci testified earlier this month that countries should only roll out vaccines after extensive testing. "I do hope that the Chinese and the Russians are actually testing the vaccine before they are administering the vaccine to anyone, because claims of having a vaccine ready to distribute before you do testing, I think, is problematic at best," Fauci told Congress. Peter Weber

4:37 a.m.

Stephen Colbert was back in the Ed Sullivan Theater — well, an office in the theater — for Monday's Late Show. "Now, you might recall that right before I went on break, Congress couldn't agree on ... anything, specifically how much supplemental unemployment pay out-of work Americans should get," he said. So President Trump stepped in with an executive order. Yes, "it's against the law," Colbert said. "But on the bright side, Trump's orders aren't just unconstitutional, they also don't help."

"You've got to give it to Trump, man: He knows that Congress is so gridlocked that they can make even him look good," Trevor Noah said at The Daily Show. "Because, you see, it doesn't matter if his executive orders are illegal or toothless or completely unworkable, he understands that even the appearance of doing something is better than the appearance of going on recess in the middle of a recession."

"So once again, Trump has tried to solve a problem and ended up creating a bigger mess," Noah said. "But if you're wondering whether he thinks he's doing a good job," it appears he thinks he's earned a spot on Mount Rushmore. "And honestly, I agree with him: I think we should put Trump on Mount Rushmore," he added. "But not a carving — I think we would actually put him on Mount Rushmore, no phone, no internet, problem solved."

"Trump's wasting his time at Mount Rushmore," Jimmy Fallon said at The Tonight Show. "If he wants something carved into rock that looks like him, the orange hue of the Grand Canyon is a much better option." Fallon was also unimpressed Trump "signed four executive orders to help the unemployed from his private country club. Even Marie Antoinette was like, 'Come on, man, read the room.'"

Asking to be put on Mount Rushmore is "like going up to a priest after mass and asking him, 'So, what's the process for adding someone to the trinity? What if it was like the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and the Dan?'" Seth Meyer joked at Late Night. "And even if there was a process to get on Mount Rushmore, I'm pretty sure presiding over the preventable deaths of 160,000 Americans and the worst economic crash since the Great Depression would be disqualifying." Watch his critique of Trump's "meaningless and blatantly unconstitutional executive orders" and his impressive Owen Wilson impersonation below. Peter Weber

2:01 a.m.

For the second night in a row, protesters who believe Belarus' presidential election was rigged took to the streets of Minsk, with thousands of people participating in Monday's demonstration.

In response, riot police fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades at the crowd, BBC News reports. Officials said one protester was killed when the explosive device they were carrying went off in their hands. This comes as Lithuania's Minister of Foreign Affairs tweeted early Tuesday that opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has fled to Lithuania, where she is now "safe."

On Sunday, the government said President Alexander Lukashenko, an authoritarian leader who has held power since 1994 and is known as "Europe's last dictator," won the presidential election with 80 percent of the vote. No outside observers were allowed to monitor the election, and the internet was down for much of the day, which opposition leaders claim was done on purpose so it was hard to share evidence of election fraud.

In years past, Lukashenko has not had any serious challengers, but this time, there was a popular opposition candidate: Tikhanovskaya, a former teacher. The government says Tikhanovskaya only received 9.9 percent of the vote, but she said on Monday she was the true winner, as the results announced by the Central Election Commission "do not correspond to reality and completely contradict common sense." Catherine Garcia

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