Good Morning, Gnuville! Surprise! It’s me and CG with you this morning, on emergency sub duty because Jessiestaf had to call in sick yesterday. Man, I think this is the first Monday that Jessie has ever missed posting the GNR — at least to my recollection. Talk about a solid record! We are thinking of you, Jessie and hope you are feeling much better today!
Because I didn’t know I would be writing this until after supper last night, it’s going to be a bit terser than usual. Luckily, though, there’s always plenty of good news so let’s dig right in!
Biden Administration Averts UN diplomatic crisis
Experience and competence really make a difference. I am thankful every day that we’ve got Joe Biden and his administration running things right now:
US averts UN diplomatic crisis over Israeli settlements, Edith M Lederer and Matthew Lee, AP, February 19, 2023.
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Biden administration has averted a potential diplomatic crisis over Israeli settlements at the United Nations that had threatened to overshadow U.S. efforts for the world body to focus on Russia’s war with Ukraine ahead of this week’s one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion.
Multiple diplomats familiar with the situation said Sunday that the U.S. had successfully managed to forestall a contentious U.N. Security Council resolution pushed by the Palestinians that would have condemned Israel for settlement expansion and demanded a halt to future activity.
To avoid a vote and a likely U.S. veto of such a resolution, the diplomats said the administration managed to convince both Israel and the Palestinians to agree in principle to a six-month freeze in any unilateral action they might take.
On the Israeli side, that would mean a commitment to not expanding settlements until at least August, according to the diplomats.
More benefits of Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act
USDA Reveals How Nearly $1B in New Conservation Funding Will Be Spent, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, February 14, 2023.
This week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced how his department would be rolling out $850 million in new conservation funding, the first round of investments made possible by last year’s Inflation Reduction Act. The TRCP applauds this move to help fund oversubscribed private land conservation programs at the Natural Resources Conservation Service that benefit fish, wildlife, habitat connectivity, and hunting and fishing opportunities in rural America.
The once-in-a-generation influx of conservation spending will support a diverse range of voluntary activities, such as planting filter strips and grassed waterways, improving grazing management, and restoring wetlands. These practices are being prioritized for their carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas reduction benefits, in addition to co-benefits of wildlife habitat and water quality improvements. ✂️
The U.S. Department of Agriculture also unveiled a Western Water and Working Lands Framework for Conservation Action—a comprehensive, multi-state strategy under the NRCS to address key water and land management needs. This includes supporting conservation practices that protect groundwater and surface availability and enhancing resilience to drought and other natural hazards. The USDA will also provide an additional $25 million in funding to support investments in more resilient water infrastructure in partnership with the Bureau of Reclamation.
The pandemic’s silver lining
COVID-19 Fueled Record-Breaking Investments in Global Health, Kevin O’Rourke, Angela Micah, Joseph Dieleman, Think Global Health, February 3, 2023.
Among other positive disruptions due to COVID-19 is a massive increase in development assistance for health (DAH); spending to fight COVID-19 led to the largest year-over-year increase in total DAH on record. Development assistance for health encompasses a range of programs and activities, from diagnosing conditions, to purchasing supplies (like mosquito bed nets), to treating disease. Many low- and lower-middle-income countries rely on DAH to maintain or improve health, and without DAH the historical burden of diseases like malaria and HIV/AIDS may well have been higher. ✂️
According to new research from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, in 2021, total DAH was an estimated $67.4 billion—an 8.6 percent increase over the 2020 total of $62.1 billion. That in turn, was an increase of 43.9 percent over the 2019 total. Much of the increase in total DAH is due to a jump in DAH for "other infectious diseases"—a category that includes COVID-19.
To put the COVID-19-driven rise in DAH in perspective, before the onset of the pandemic the largest single-year increase in total DAH was between 2007 and 2008, when it went up roughly $6 billion, from $25 billion to $31 billion; the increase was driven by an infusion of US bilateral aid, in part due to PEPFAR. And prior to the increase in DAH for other infectious diseases, the largest increase in spending for a single cause was for HIV/AIDS. Between 2009 and 2010, DAH for HIV/AIDS went up by nearly a quarter ($2.1 billion).
another covid-related medical discovery
Australian researchers find protein in lung that blocks COVID infection, Rebecca Falconer, Axios, February 10, 2023.
Australian scientists announced Friday they've discovered a protein in the lung that sticks to the COVID-19 virus like Velcro and forms a natural protective barrier in a person's body to block infection.
Why it matters: The study, published in the journal PLOS Biology on Friday, "opens up an entirely new area of immunology research" around this receptor protein, LRRC15, and "offers a promising pathway to develop new drugs to prevent viral infection from coronaviruses like COVID-19 or deal with fibrosis in the lungs," per a statement from the University of Sydney announcing their findings.✂️
What they're saying: "The LRRC15 protein appears to effectively mop up extracellular virus floating around in infected lungs," said Cassandra Berry, an immunology professor at Murdoch University in Western Australia, who was not involved in the study, in an emailed statement.
- "This discovery allows us to better understand innate immunity that helps to protect us during virus invasion and offers new ways for development of antivirals."
Ukraine’s Electricity is back up
Thanks to better defense systems (in no small part thanks to Joe Biden’s leadership) and Ukrainian grit and engineering knowhow, the country has managed to repair or work around most of the damage that Russia caused with its illegal attacks on civilian infrastructure:
For three days in a row, Ukrainians have electricity all 24 hours, in first since October, Euromaidan Press, February 14, 2023.
Ukraine’s transmission system operator Ukrenergo informed that for the third day in a row, there is no deficit in the energy system of Ukraine. That means there is enough electricity for all Ukrainians, and they receive it not by schedule but during all 24 hours.
This situation occurred for the first time since October 2022, when Russia started regularly targeting Ukraine’s power grid and power plants to deprive Ukrainians of electricity. However, the plan has failed. Recent Russian missile attacks had little impact since Ukraine’s air defense downed nearly 85% of Russian missiles. Its capabilities have significantly improved since October, while the Russian missile stockpile ran close to the end.
Also, several thermal power plants were repaired and resumed their work, Ukrenergo informed while importing additional electricity from Slovakia also helped to stabilize the situation.
“Strong men” are not invincible
Something we should always bear in mind — when the awfulness of the world’s bad actors just seems to go on and on without consequence — is that these people are human beings, not demi-gods (no matter how deluded they themselves may be on that score). Reports from Russia indicate that V. Putin has taken to traveling in an armored train disguised as an ordinary passenger train. That is a sign of his fear and weakness. If that terrible man suffers from anxiety and is in fear for his life, then that is good news for all decent people everywhere.
Faint cracks emerge in the facade of Putin’s rule, one year after Ukraine invasion, Nathan Hodge, CNN, February 19, 2023.
Russia is now in an uncertain new phase, and it’s clear there will be no rewind, no return to the status quo ante, for ordinary citizens.
So is Putin’s grip on power unchallenged? Rumors are now flying inside the country about another wave of mobilization. And in Moscow, signs of elite competition are beginning to emerge, even as some Russians are seeing through the cracks in the wall of state propaganda.✂️
Before last February, Russia’s budding middle class could benefit from Putin’s social contract: Stay out of politics, and you’ll enjoy life in a European-style Moscow or St. Petersburg. Now that the bargain is out the window. Russia is further than ever from Europe, and it remains to be seen if support for an open-ended war can be sustained.
Brittney Griner seems to be doing well
After her terrible ordeal being held hostage in Russia last year, it looks like Brittney Griner is reclaiming her life, at her own pace. It is good news to see that she took the time out of the public spotlight to process what happened to her and it is great news that she is ready to play again:
AP source: Brittney Griner re-signs with Phoenix Mercury, Doug Feinberg, AP, February 19, 2023.
Brittney Griner is headed back to the Phoenix Mercury.
Griner, who was a free agent, re-signed with the Mercury on a one-year contract according to a person familiar with the deal. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity on Saturday because no announcement has been made.✂️
Griner, who was drafted No. 1 in 2013 by the Mercury, was listed Saturday on Phoenix’s roster on the WNBA website.
Since returning home from Russia, Griner has been out of the public spotlight, with the exception of appearances at the Super Bowl, the Phoenix Open and an MLK Day event in Phoenix, where she lives.
In Case you needed another reason to go to costco
Costco CEO stuns young boy by responding to his email asking for help with school fundraiser, Eric Pfeiffer, Upworthy, February 16, 2023.
Imagine your 12-year-old son is helping take part in his school’s Valentine’s Day fundraiser. You’d probably be proud and encouraged at the way he’s getting involved and doing something good, right?
Now imagine, as part of that effort, he decided to email the CEO of Costco, one of the most beloved big box retailers in the world. Well, that’s cute, right? But what if he told you the CEO not only wrote back but went out of his way to donate exactly what your son asked for?✂️
Jelinek not only saw the email but jumped into action, asking his colleague "Can we find him a teddy?" Then his lieutenant emailed their colleagues to quickly find a bear for Cerwin’s school, writing: “Do whatever it takes to find a Big Bear and set up pick up for Lesley. Keep me posted.”✂️
“I couldn’t believe that they responded so fast and that so many people helped,” Grant told Upworthy. “They didn’t want anything, just to help our school.” ✂️
Grant’s mother Lesley Cerwin told Upworthy. “He is a boundlessly optimistic child and as a parent you worry the world will chip away at that positivity. I’m grateful that the team at Costco reaffirmed my son’s belief that the world is full of good people.”
That’s it for this hastily put-together Monday GNR. Don’t worry, I expect Jessiestaf and the GNR newsroom will be back next week! Meanwhile, let’s see how much good news you all can stuff into the comments box!
Happy Monday, Gnuville!