Opinion
August 20, 2020

Like Bran Stark vanishing for the entire fifth season of Game of Thrones, Steve Bannon has been mostly offscreen since he was ousted as White House chief strategist over the summer of 2017. But now he's back, returning to the Trump Show under the sort of circumstances only 2020 — or a really desperate sitcom writer — could concoct.

The past four years have felt at times like watching a really bad TV show, one I'd have called "unfocused" and "uneven" were I writing a review about it; I wouldn't have spared the bad dialogue, either. Really, the Trump Show jumped the shark long ago, with that storyline about the porn star, the anticlimactic impeachment season, and the president's losing battle against K-pop stans (alright, that last episode was actually pretty good — maybe the show does sometimes have its moments).

Still, reading today that Bannon was taken into custody "at sea" by U.S. Postal Service agents — the protagonists of this season, if you haven't been keeping up with the recaps — for putting money from an online fundraiser to "Build The Wall" (a nice Season One callback) to personal use, you have to wonder: who is writing this thing?

If our literal democracy weren't at threat, it'd almost be amusing. As it stands, though, there's nothing more horrifying than reading about current politics and being reminded of TV, which is supposed to be an entertaining diversion and not reflective of actual real life. Bannon's reappearance on a supervillain yacht, then, isn't an elegant comedic twist thought up by David Mandel — it re-emphasizes the fact that Trump did not in fact hire "the best people," but surrounded himself with self-serving and corrupt yes-men (Bannon has pleaded not guilty to the fraud charges). The late-season resurfacing of the 2016 southern border wall talking point, meanwhile, isn't uninspired writing; it's a reminder of how the administration has conned its supporters for years into believing it's actually acting in their interests.

And the Postal Service being the ones to save the day — well alright, maybe there's not a whole lot more to read into that other than that they're clearly an agency worth celebrating. But before you run off to write a pilot about postal workers fighting crime on the high seas — the elite unit that caught Bannon already has its own TV show. Jeva Lange

11:49 a.m.

Black Panther star Letitia Wright has taken down a tweet and said her "intention was not to hurt anyone" after coming under fire for posting an anti-vaccine YouTube video.

Wright, who's best known for playing T'Challa's sister Shuri in Black Panther, on Thursday night tweeted out a YouTube video to her more than 350,000 followers called "COVID-19 VACCINE, SHOULD WE TAKE IT." In it, a speaker from Light London Church "questions the legitimacy of" COVID-19 vaccination, Variety reports. He also describes himself as a "skeptic" of vaccines in general and says "I don't know if I'm going to take" a COVID-19 vaccine. The claims in the video "echo those of others who have baselessly criticized vaccine use," NBC News writes.

After being blasted as irresponsible, Wright complained that "you get cancelled" if "you don't conform to popular opinions," also saying she is not "saying don't take" a COVID-19 vaccine but is "concerned about what's in it." By Friday, she had deleted the original tweet and said "my intention was not to hurt anyone" but still defended herself for wanting to raise "concerns with what the vaccine contains and what we are putting in our bodies."

After a COVID-19 vaccine was approved in the U.K., and as two companies await approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for their COVID-19 vaccines, health experts have expressed concerns over whether enough people will ultimately get vaccinated against the coronavirus, and numerous public figures including former presidents have volunteered to get a COVID-19 vaccine on camera in order to reassure the public that it's safe.

Writer Roxane Gay joined those blasting Wright for the tweets, writing, "Promoting anti-vaccine propaganda and shrouding it in intellectual curiosity is asinine. And dangerous." Wright's Marvel co-star Don Cheadle also described the video as "crazy" and said he "would never defend anybody posting this." Brendan Morrow

11:28 a.m.

Promising results from Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccines have raised hopes that an end to the pandemic may be in sight. But distribution issues aside, a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology out last week is raising further concerns about those vaccines' effectiveness.

After initial human trials, Moderna reported its vaccine to be 94 percent effective in preventing coronavirus transmission, while Pfizer's was 95 percent effective and AstraZeneca's 90 percent. But these vaccines, along with many others still in development, share a potential weakness, MIT researchers report. Researchers used artificial intelligence and machine learning to examine a vaccine similar to these big developers', and found that while less than .5 percent of white trial participants didn't respond strongly to the vaccine, nearly 10 percent of Asian participants did not. This could mean "people of Black or Asian ancestry could have a slightly increased risk of vaccine ineffectiveness," the study's senior author David Gifford said in an article accompanying the study.

A lack of diversity in the vaccine trial pools may have led developers to calibrate the vaccine to a specific version of human genes — white people's genes in particular. But MIT researchers did offer a potential solution: "adding a small number of additional COVID-19 peptides" — strings of amino acids that make up proteins, which in turn make up a coronavirus — "to a given dose of the vaccine," MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence lab writes.

"The study's results highlight longstanding trends in health care" and clinical trials, Health IT Analytics notes. Minority groups are often underrepresented in trials, making it less certain how effective vaccines and drugs will be for them and potentially leading to the formulation of vaccines that are tailored for white people. That's especially troubling amid the coronavirus pandemic, as Black and brown people have disproportionately been hospitalized with and died of the virus. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:55 a.m.

The U.S. has seen more than 275,000 people die of COVID-19 as of Friday, with cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from the virus all reaching record highs across the country.

This week alone, 12 states and Puerto Rico hit daily death records, Axios notes. The U.S. itself hit a daily death record on Wednesday, when around 3,100 people died of the virus. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top coronavirus expert, warned Thursday that the U.S. hasn't even seen its expected post-Thanksgiving case surge yet.

While vaccine developments could bring an end to the pandemic next year, researchers predict there are still several dismal months ahead. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projected in mid-November that 470,000 people in the U.S. would die of the virus by March 1. The institute's director Christopher Murray told The Washington Post that researchers are currently revising that estimate to project even more deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention meanwhile rolled out an aggregated forecast of 37 coronavirus models on Thursday that projected anywhere from 303,000 to 329,000 people will die of COVID-19 by Dec. 26. Around 9,500 to 19,500 people are projected to die of the virus the week of Christmas alone. Hospitals across the country are struggling to keep up with the record hospitalizations, trying to bring back retired nurses and doctors and recruit nursing students who don't even have their licenses yet, The Associated Press reports. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:43 a.m.

The last jobs report to be released this year has arrived, and it's a major disappointment.

The Labor Department on Friday said the U.S. economy added 245,000 jobs in November, which was down from the 440,000 jobs economists were expecting, CNBC reports. It was also "by far the lowest monthly total since the economy started its halting recovery," NBC News reports. In October, 610,000 jobs were added, the Labor Department says. The unemployment rate in November also dipped from 6.9 percent to 6.7 percent.

"Today's report is a firm reminder that we're not out of the woods yet," Glassdoor economist Daniel Zhao said, per CNBC. “Even with a vaccine on the horizon, many are bracing for a long winter ahead."

This disappointing report comes as COVID-19 cases spike around the United States, prompting states to implement new restrictions. The jobs numbers offered a "red flag that momentum is waning," The Washington Post's Heather Long wrote, while former White House deputy press secretary and CNBC contributor Tony Fratto said that although the addition of 245,000 jobs "would be a very good normal jobs day," this "isn't a normal jobs day and so it's quite a horrible number."

Politico's Ben White echoed that sentiment, writing that "the pace of jobs coming back is heading toward zero" and adding that "it's quite possible, given the pace we are on, that we could return to net job losses in December, especially with no new stimulus." Brendan Morrow

8:20 a.m.

As COVID-19 cases continue to climb in the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning "we're in a very precarious situation," even before the country experiences the "full brunt" of a post-Thanksgiving surge.

Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, spoke to NBC's Today after the U.S. on Thursday set another new record by reporting almost 213,000 COVID-19 cases in a single day, per The Washington Post. But when asked by Savannah Guthrie whether the U.S. is seeing a surge in recent days as a result of Americans traveling and holding gatherings for Thanksgiving, Fauci said there may be a "little bit of a blip" but warned there will be "more of a surge" in the coming weeks.

"We don't expect to see the full brunt of it [until] between two and three weeks following Thanksgiving," Fauci said. "So I think we have not yet seen the post-Thanksgiving peak. That's the concerning thing because the numbers in and of themselves are alarming, and then you realize that it is likely we'll see more of a surge as we get to two to three weeks past the Thanksgiving holiday."

Fauci added that this is particularly concerning because this would mean the COVID-19 surge would be occurring in December as Americans prepare to celebrate Christmas. Earlier this week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans not to travel for the holidays, a warning also previously issued before Thanksgiving.

During the interview on Today, Fauci also confirmed he accepted an offer to serve as President-elect Joe Biden's chief medical adviser "right on the spot," and he added that he approves of the president-elect urging all Americans to wear masks for his first 100 days in office.

"I discussed that with him, and I told him I thought that was a good idea," Fauci said, though he added that "it might be that" wearing masks will still be necessary beyond those 100 days. Brendan Morrow

2:07 a.m.

The Bureau of Land Management said on Thursday that it will hold an auction in early January for drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

As part of tax legislation passed by the GOP-led Congress in 2017, the Bureau of Land Management is required to hold two lease sales for drilling rights in the refuge's coastal plain within seven years, with the first one having to take place by December 2021. The auction is set for Jan. 6, just a few weeks before President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration. Biden has said he will take steps to ensure the 19.64-million-acre refuge, the pristine home to migrating caribou and polar bears, is permanently protected.

NPR reports that the Trump administration has accelerated the sale, with the Bureau of Land Management not waiting the required 30 days for oil companies to tell the government the land they want included in the lease sale. The coastal plain covers 1.6 million acres, and is believed to hold billions of barrels of oil.

Conservation groups say drilling in the area could cause irreparable damage to the refuge and wildlife, with Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune telling CBS News auctioning off the leases is "a shameful attempt by Donald Trump to give one last handout to the fossil fuel industry on his way out the door, at the expense of our public lands and our climate." Six banks, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Citi, have told the Sierra Club they will not finance drilling in the refuge. Catherine Garcia

1:17 a.m.

Mahinda Dasanayaka wants all kids to have access to books, and to make this happen, he turned his motorbike into a library on two wheels.

Dasanayaka, a 32-year-old father of two, is a child protection officer for the Sri Lankan government. Three years ago, he launched a program called Book and Me, and once or twice a week he travels to about 20 villages across Kegalle, a mountainous region northeast of Sri Lanka's capital, to distribute books. He goes to villages that do not have libraries, and Dasanayaka told The Associated Press kids are "always eagerly waiting for me, always looking for new books."

He brings everything from biographies to detective stories, which he carefully packs in a steel box attached to his bike. His collection has grown to about 3,000 books — some he bought with his modest salary, others donated. Dasanayaka said there are "some kids who hadn't seen even a children's storybook until I went to their villages," and he continues the program because he wants to bring people together and "change the way kids look at society, to change their perspectives and broaden their imagination."

Dasanayaka talks to the kids about the books, and hopes to soon form reading clubs in the villages. He told AP seeing the children read brings him joy, and he is "delighted to hear the kids say that books helped them to change their lives." That, he added, is "my ultimate happiness." Catherine Garcia

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