March 15, 2021

Ireland and the Netherlands late Sunday joined Iceland, Denmark, Norway, and a few other European countries in suspending inoculations with the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, pointing to reports of serious blood clotting in Norway among a handful of people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine. Irish and Dutch medical authorities stressed that this is a temporary precautionary measure and there is no evidence that Norway's four cases of blood clotting, including one death, were linked to the vaccine.

The European Union's drugs regulator and World Health Organization have also said no data suggests a link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and an increased risk of blood clots. In a statement Sunday night, AstraZeneca said "the safety of the public will always come first " and it is "keeping this issue under close review, but available evidence does not confirm that the vaccine is the cause."

A review of the 17 million people in Europe and the U.K. who have already received the vaccine found 15 cases of deep vein thrombosis and 22 pulmonary embolisms, AstraZeneca said, adding those numbers are "much lower than would be expected to occur naturally in a general population of this size and is similar across other licensed COVID-19 vaccines."

AstraZeneca is right about the lack of any statistically significant risk, Cambridge University statistician David Spiegelhalter writes in The Guardian. "Some anxiety about a new vaccine is understandable, and any suspected reactions should be investigated," but correlation is not the same as causation and "so far, these vaccines have shown themselves to be extraordinarily safe. In fact, it's perhaps surprising that we haven't heard more stories of adverse effects. There could well be some extremely rare event that is triggered by COVID-19 vaccines, but there is no sign of this yet."

The vaccine has not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Peter Weber

5:17 a.m.

"Last week, the CDC officially announced that aside from a few exceptions, people who have gotten the COVID vaccine no longer need to wear masks to stay safe," Trevor Noah said on Monday's Daily Show. "But now, some people are telling the CDC to slow their roll," worried it's too soon to unmask, especially with no way to tell who is vaccinated.

The honor system is not a workable solution, Noah said. "I mean, have you ever seen the 10 Items or Less line?" In reality, "lots of unvaccinated people won't be wearing masks," while, "a lot of vaccinated people who don't need to wear a mask anymore are gonna keep doing it anyway," he said. "In fact, it kind of warms my heart a little bit to think that somewhere, a liberal who's wearing a mask even though he's vaccinated will run into a conservative wearing a mask to protect himself from vaccines, and the two of them will look at each other and think, 'Yeah, this guy gets it.'"

"For the new guidelines to work, the CDC is asking Americans to be honest about their vaccination status," Jimmy Fallon said at The Tonight Show. "Really? People can't even tell the truth on their Tinder profiles." In a boring new New York Times exposé, President Biden's advisers say he's "obsessed with details, asks many questions, and displays unexpected warmth," Fallon said. "The report also says that Biden's drink of choice is Orange Gatorade. Is it? Or is it just water with Metamucil?" He also had fun with Biden's unearthed Venmo history.

Biden apparently used his since-deleted Venmo account to send money to his granddaughters, Jimmy Kimmel said on Kimmel Live. "It's just weird to hear about a politician using Venmo to pay teenagers for something other than sex, isn't it?"

Kimmel also lingered on a new 60 Minutes report on UFOs. "The government calls them Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, UAP — just like the Cardi B song — and they've known about this for a couple years but they waited until now to talk about it," he said. "I feel like if this story had been on 60 Minutes in, like, 1988, it would be the only thing we talk about for the next 30 years," but after watching it, "you almost hope they're visitors from another planet, because if China has technology like this, we'd better learn to speak Mandarin like immediately." Peter Weber

2:41 a.m.

President Biden is trying to tackle a number of big problems, and he pretty clearly was hoping Mideast peace wasn't going to be one of them. But the long-simmering conflict between Israel and Hamas erupted again last week, more than 200 Palestinians and 10 Israelis are dead, and the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza and Hamas rockets for Israel show no sign of letting up.

Biden said Monday that he had voiced support for a ceasefire in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he isn't publicly pressuring Israel to accept a pause in fighting and Netanyahu has made clear he's not currently interested. Instead, Biden and his top aides have used some version of urging "calm" or a "sustainable calm" or de-escalating "tensions" more than 40 times over the past week, Politico reports. "What about 'peace,' 'peace talks,' or even 'ceasefire'? Not so much."

Biden and his team "have devoted relatively little time and staffing to the Israeli-Palestinian issue." Politico reports. "The administration, and many other observers, for that matter, also concluded that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians have the political will to engage in serious negotiations." White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said "every statement we make is with the objective of reducing the violence and bringing an end to the conflict on the ground."

Ilan Goldenberg, a former Obama administration official, said calm may be the most realistic hope right now. "Honestly, every Israeli and Palestinian I talk to tells us not to use the word 'peace,'" he told Politico. "They tell us nobody in both societies thinks that is possible right now."

But advocates for Palestinians say Biden is aiming too low. Khaled Elgindy, director of the Program on Palestine and Palestinian-Israeli Affairs at the Middle East Institute, said calls for "calm" benefit Israel, because Israelis will resume relatively normal lives when the violence ends while Gazans, still under Israeli occupation, will return to bombed-out buildings and heavy casualties. Peter Weber

2:05 a.m.

Rudy Giuliani is arguably a lot of things, but he isn't the "head of a drug cartel" or "a terrorist," his lawyers say, and shouldn't be treated as such.

In a redacted letter made public on Monday, Giuliani's attorneys asked a Manhattan federal judge to unseal the affidavits in support of a November 2019 search warrant that prosecutors used to secretly obtain files from Giuliani's Apple iCloud account. At the time, Giuliani was serving as the personal lawyer to former President Donald Trump, and his attorneys say the iCloud files collected likely included "material relating to the impending impeachment, the welfare of the country, and to national security."

The judge is deciding whether a "special master" should be appointed to Giuliani's case to protect attorney-client privilege. Giuliani's attorneys have asserted that the unsealed affidavits will help prove their argument that "this unilateral, secret review was illegal," The Associated Press reports.

Giuliani's legal team described him in the letter as a "distinguished lawyer," and accused prosecutors of treating him "as if he was the head of a drug cartel or a terrorist, in order to create maximum prejudicial coverage of both Giuliani and his most well-known client — the former president of the United States."

Federal prosecutors are looking closely at Giuliani's ties to Ukraine and whether he violated federal laws regarding lobbying for foreign countries, AP reports. Before the 2020 presidential election, Giuliani went to Ukraine to try to dig up dirt on then-candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, and has said the work he conducted in the country was on behalf of Trump. Catherine Garcia

1:26 a.m.

Thanks to the members of Girl Scout Troops 2377 and 134, kids playing at two parks in northern Illinois will now always be able to find new friends.

The Scouts spent two years collecting more than 300 pounds of plastic bottle caps, and using money raised through cookie sales, had those caps made into rainbow-colored buddy benches. When a child sits on the bench, it indicates that they are looking for someone to play with, ensuring that no one feels left out.

The benches were installed last month at Converse Park in Island Lake and Fort McHenry Park in McHenry. Troop leader Kelly Bays told The Daily Herald the benches are a "tangible way for us to share the Girl Scout law with our community. The Girls Scouts were able to use resources wisely, make the world a better place, be friendly and helpful, caring and considerate, and be a sister to every Girl Scout as two troops worked together to do this project." For their hard work, the Scouts earned their Take Action award. Catherine Garcia

1:19 a.m.

A Bengal tiger was on the loose last week in Houston, America's fourth-largest city, after last being seen in a car driven by Victor Hugo Cuevas, who faces separate murder and evading arrest charges. A Houston businesswoman said Monday she arranged the handover of the tiger, India, on Saturday to Houston police and animal control.

It is a story that has almost everything — tigers, car chases, mystery, clubs licensed to display exotic animals, indicted criminals — and now it has a theme song, too. On Monday, former Survivor lead singer Dave Bickler paid homage to Houston's tiger drama by singing a revised version of his enduring hit "Eye of the Tiger" for Stephen Colbert's Late Show. Bickler's voice has aged very well, but his song has kind of a dark finale. Watch below. Peter Weber

12:46 a.m.

Guo Wengui, a Chinese businessman living in self-exile in New York, is at the center of a vast online network of media websites and social media accounts that spread false claims about coronavirus vaccines, election fraud, and the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, researchers from the Graphika network analysis company write in a new report released Monday.

Guo is close to Stephen Bannon, the onetime chief strategist to former President Donald Trump; last summer, Bannon was arrested on Guo's yacht on federal fraud charges. In its report, Graphika said Guo is the "linchpin" of the disinformation network, and the "leading personality" who "appears to define goals and messaging and is positioned as a wise leader who should be admired and followed."

The network includes the media websites GTV and GNews, and Guo is often featured in their videos; in April, he appeared in a GNews video calling COVID-19 vaccines "fake" and "poison," The Washington Post reports. Graphika says the network's thousands of social media accounts work in tandem to spread disinformation, and they "appear to be run by real people but solely amplify Guo-related content." These Guo supporters call themselves "ants" and are organized into local action groups called "Himalaya farms," Graphika said.

The Graphika report is "an important forensic analysis of the ways that rich and politically motivated people can manipulate social media," Joan Donovan, director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard's Shorenstein Center, told the Post. In an email to the Post, a spokesman for Guo said he does not control the content on GTV or GNews and "implying that Mr. Guo is responsible for everything that is posted on [GTV] is ludicrous." Read more at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

12:38 a.m.

The Biden administration has cleared three more detainees at the U.S. military's Guantanamo Bay prison camp for release, lawyers for the detainees and U.S. government officials told The New York Times on Monday. None of the men has been charged with a crime and all of them have been in U.S. custody since 2002 or 2003.

The three cleared men include the oldest Guantanamo detainee — Saifullah Paracha, 73, of Pakistan — and one of the first men transferred to the prison camp under former President George W. Bush, 40-year-old Uthman Abdul al-Rahim Uthman of Yemen. The third detainee is Abdul Rabbani, 54, of Pakistan.

The detainees can now be transferred to a country that will take them, usually under specified security conditions, but it isn't clear when that will happen. Six other current Guantanamo detainees cleared for release have spent years waiting for the State Department to reach agreement with a new host country.

Former President Donald Trump, who released one detainee to Saudi Arabia during his term and sought to increase the number of detainees at the prison camp, shuttered the office charged with closing the Guantanamo prison. "Despite a pledge to renew the Obama administration effort to end detention operations at the Navy base in Cuba, the Biden administration has yet to restart the transfers," the Times reports. "For now, it has not designated a senior U.S. official to negotiate the deals with other countries."

The Bush administration imprisoned about 780 men at Guantanamo, then cut that number to 242 by the time former President Barack Obama took office. Obama reduced the number to 41 and tried unsuccessfully to transfer the remaining detainees to high-security U.S. prisons.

Of the remaining detainees, one has been convicted of war crimes, 11 more have been charged, and 19 are deemed too dangerous for transfer to another country. The attorney general, defense secretary, secretary of state, homeland security secretary, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and director of national intelligence all have to sign off on a detainee's clearance for release. Peter Weber

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