‘Very special moment’ as Nepali sherpas are the first to reach top of K2 in winter | World News



A team of Nepalese sherpas has made history by scaling the world’s second-highest peak during the winter season.

The 10 climbers reached the summit of Pakistan’s K2 on Saturday, more than 20 years after the first winter attempt to reach the 8,611m summit.

The secretary of Pakistan’s Alpine Club, Karrar Haideri, said four international teams had arrived about a month ago to scale the mountain but the Nepalis were the only ones to succeed so far.

He said that the sherpas had been spread across different teams but had formed a new group so they could claim the historic feat for their country.

Previously nobody had managed to get higher than 7,750m in the winter – a record set almost two decades ago – but on Saturday the weather conditions were fair enough for the team to push ahead.

The group comprised Nirmal Purja, Gelje Sherpa, Mingma David Sherpa, Mingma G, Sona Sherpa, Mingma Tenzi Sherpa, Pem Chhiri Sherpa, Dawa Temba Sherpa, Kili Pemba Sherpa, and Dawa Tenjing Sherpa.

Mr Purja said in an Instagram post that the moment the group reached the top of the mountain was “very special”.

“The whole team waited 10m below the summit to form a group then stepped onto the summit together while singing our Nepalese national anthem.

“We are proud to have been a part of history for humankind and to show that collaboration, teamwork and a positive mental attitude can push limits to what we feel might be possible.”

K2 is on the Pakistan-China border and during the winter, winds on K2 can reach more than 125mph and temperatures can drop as low as -60C (-76F).

The mountain was first climbed in 1954 by Italian Achille Compagnoni and he is among only 367 people to have completed the ascent. Some 86 people have died trying.

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Santos 3-0 Boca Juniors: Santos beat Boca Juniors to reach Copa Libertadores final



Watch highlights as Brazilian side Santos beat Boca Juniors 3-0 to progress to the final of the Copa Libertadores were they will meet Palmeiras.

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Earth to reach temperature tipping point in next 20 to 30 years, new study finds — ScienceDaily


Earth’s ability to absorb nearly a third of human-caused carbon emissions through plants could be halved within the next two decades at the current rate of warming, according to a new study in Science Advances by researchers at Northern Arizona University, the Woodwell Climate Research Center and the University of Waikato, New Zealand. Using more than two decades of data from measurement towers in every major biome across the globe, the team identified a critical temperature tipping point beyond which plants’ ability to capture and store atmospheric carbon — a cumulative effect referred to as the “land carbon sink” — decreases as temperatures continue to rise.

The terrestrial biosphere — the activity of land plants and soil microbes — does much of Earth’s “breathing,” exchanging carbon dioxide and oxygen. Ecosystems across the globe pull in carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and release it back to the atmosphere via the respiration of microbes and plants. Over the past few decades, the biosphere has generally taken in more carbon than it has released, mitigating climate change.

But as record-breaking temperatures continue to spread across the globe, this may not continue; the NAU, Woodwell Climate and Waikato researchers have detected a temperature threshold beyond which plant carbon uptake slows and carbon release accelerates.

Lead author Katharyn Duffy, a postdoctoral researcher at NAU, noticed sharp declines in photosynthesis above this temperature threshold in nearly every biome across the globe, even after removing other effects such as water and sunlight.

“The Earth has a steadily growing fever, and much like the human body, we know every biological process has a range of temperatures at which it performs optimally, and ones above which function deteriorates,” Duffy said. “So, we wanted to ask, how much can plants withstand?”

This study is the first to detect a temperature threshold for photosynthesis from observational data at a global scale. While temperature thresholds for photosynthesis and respiration have been studied in the lab, the Fluxnet data provide a window into what ecosystems across Earth are actually experiencing and how they are responding.

“We know that the temperature optima for humans lie around 37 degrees Celsius (98 degrees Fahrenheit), but we in the scientific community didn’t know what those optima were for the terrestrial biosphere,” Duffy said.

She teamed up with researchers at Woodwell Climate and the University of Waikato who recently developed a new approach to answer that question: MacroMolecular Rate Theory (MMRT). With its basis in the principles of thermodynamics, MMRT allowed the researchers to generate temperature curves for every major biome and the globe.

The results were alarming.

The researchers found that temperature “peaks” for carbon uptake — 18 degrees C for the more widespread C3 plants and 28 degrees C for C4 plants — are already being exceeded in nature, but saw no temperature check on respiration. This means that in many biomes, continued warming will cause photosynthesis to decline while respiration rates rise exponentially, tipping the balance of ecosystems from carbon sink to carbon source and accelerating climate change.

“Different types of plants vary in the details of their temperature responses, but all show declines in photosynthesis when it gets too warm,” said NAU co-author George Koch.

Right now, less than 10 percent of the terrestrial biosphere experiences temperatures beyond this photosynthetic maximum. But at the current rate of emissions, up to half the terrestrial biosphere could experience temperatures beyond that productivity threshold by mid-century — and some of the most carbon-rich biomes in the world, including tropical rainforests in the Amazon and Southeast Asia and the Taiga in Russia and Canada, will be among the first to hit that tipping point.

“The most striking thing our analysis showed is that the temperature optima for photosynthesis in all ecosystems were so low,” said Vic Arcus, a biologist at the University of Waikato and co-author of the study. “Combined with the increased rate of ecosystem respiration across the temperatures we observed, our findings suggest that any temperature increase above 18 degrees C is potentially detrimental to the terrestrial carbon sink. Without curbing warming to remain at or below the levels established in the Paris Climate Accord, the land carbon sink will not continue to offset our emissions and buy us time.”

Funding for this research was provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (grant NNX12AK12G), National Science Foundation (NSF) East-Asia Pacific Summer Institute Fellowship (1614404), the Royal Society of New Zealand Foreign Partnership Programme (EAP- UOW1601) and the New Zealand Marsden Fund (grant 16-UOW-027). This work used eddy covariance data acquired and shared by the FLUXNET community, including AmeriFlux, AfriFlux, AsiaFlux, CarboAfrica, CarboEuropeIP, CarboItaly, CarboMont, ChinaFlux, Fluxnet-Canada, GreenGrass, ICOS, KoFlux, LBA, NECC, OzFlux-TERN, TCOS-Siberia and USCCC networks.

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To reach your exercise goals, start by tweaking your expectations


The reasons for our exercise inconstancy are many and complex, according to behavioural scientists, and involve an intricate mix of the psychological and practical. But one of the most common and fundamental obstacles to sticking with a resolution is the resolution itself.

“In the scientific literature, goals that are tailored, precise and set in short time scales are more likely to be achieved” than those that are none of those, said Guillaume Chevance, an assistant research professor at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health and lead author of the new study.

The goals also need to balance challenge and discouragement, he said.

But how to find that Goldilocks, just-right-for-you workout resolution has remained uncertain.

In many past studies of exercise compliance, researchers set goals for people that ranged from quite tough to quite easy and then watched to see whether participants met the goals and for how long. Not surprisingly, people succeeded at meeting unchallenging movement goals more often than hard ones, but that success did not necessarily translate into much more activity, overall. At the same time, substantially higher goals produced substantially more failures to meet the goal and, often, a falloff in activity in general.

These studies tended to be binary, though. People met goals or they did not. The studies rarely examined whether getting close to a difficult goal might encourage or dishearten people.

So for the new study, which was published in January in Health Psychology, Chevance, who at the time was affiliated with the University of California, San Diego in the US, and his colleagues decided to ask people to take a varying number of extra steps each day and see how long and well they might stick to the program.

They began by recruiting 20 overweight adult men and women who were, at the start, inactive but healthy enough to walk. They outfitted the volunteers with activity trackers and asked them to continue their normal lives for two weeks, while the researchers established their baseline step counts, which turned out to average about 5,000 steps a day.

Then the researchers had the volunteers download a phone app that sent them individualised step-count goals every day. The goals ranged, at random, from the same number of steps someone took at baseline up to 2.6 times as many. So, one day, participants might be aiming for their normal 5,000 steps and, the next day, 13,000.

The experiment continued for 80 days, after which researchers compared people’s daily goals, achievements and resulting, overall activity levels. And they found that people clearly walked more on days when they were asked to walk more; whenever goals exceeded people’s baseline step counts, they were more active, even if the goals were quite ambitious.

But few people achieved the highest step-count goals, often falling far short and, in general, walking little more than — or even less — than on days when the goals were more moderate. In essence, goals that people almost reached seemed the most effective at getting and keeping them moving.

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Of course, this was a small, short-term study and did not directly ask about people’s exercise motivations or whether they felt demoralised by failing to finish those 13,000 steps. It also looked at walking, which is not everyone’s preferred exercise, and steps, which some people may not have the desire or technological wherewithal to count. (Almost all mobile phones contain accelerometers, which will count steps for you, or you can purchase inexpensive pedometers.)

But the results contain useful advice for anyone hoping to be more active this year.

“Set precise, dynamic goals that are not too easy but realistic,” Chevance said. Maybe check the activity app on your phone for the past month, he said, to see how much you already walk and “add 10 per cent” as this week’s goal, a plan that would have you increasing by about 500 steps a day if your current life resembles that of the study volunteers.

Update this goal “at least every week,” he said, upping steps — or time or distance — once you easily exceed your target and dropping the bar a bit if you remain far below.

“If you are close,” he said, with the goal still a little distant, “you are on the right track.”

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How many people have to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to reach herd immunity? ‘The faster we do it, the faster we get back to life’


A growing share of Americans (45%) plans to get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it’s available or a few weeks after, according to a new Axios-Ipsos survey conducted Dec. 18 to Dec. 21 — up from 38% a week earlier and 29% in September.

In a separate USA Today/Suffolk University poll conducted Dec. 16 to Dec. 20, 46% said they would take the vaccine as soon as they can, a leap from the 26% who said so in late October. And a Pew Research Center poll conducted in November found 60% of U.S. adults said they would get a vaccine if it were “available today,” up from 51% two months earlier.

This snapshot of public sentiment, captured as vaccine makers roll out initial doses, bodes well for vaccine uptake as the pandemic continues to claim American lives and livelihoods.

After all, epidemiology is a numbers game — and “the more cases there are, the more cases there will be, period,” said Emily Landon, the executive medical director of infection prevention and control at University of Chicago Medicine.

“The more people who get vaccinated [against] COVID, the more people who will be immune to COVID. The more people who are immune to COVID, the less likely it is that you’ll have close contact with someone who has COVID,” Landon told MarketWatch. “And if you’re the one who gets vaccinated? Even better.”

Vaccination offers two benefits, said Joshua Epstein, a professor of epidemiology at the NYU School of Global Public Health: direct protection of the person vaccinated and the social benefit of vaccinated people not spreading the disease to others.

“If enough get vaccinated, the disease can die out on its own for lack of fuel,” Epstein said. “That’s the herd-immunity idea: Protect enough people that it has insufficient fuel to keep burning.” The goal of a vaccination strategy, he added, “is to tip the epidemic into that declining state.”

How many people need to get vaccinated

The vaccine candidate from Pfizer
PFE,
-1.21%
and its German partner, BioNTech
BNTX,
-9.13%,
showed 95% efficacy in protecting against COVID-19 in a late-stage clinical trial. Moderna’s
MRNA,
-9.72%
vaccine showed about 94% efficacy. 

It remains unclear whether the two vaccines, which received emergency-use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration this month, protect against symptomless COVID-19 infection or transmission. Preliminary data from Moderna’s trial suggested there may be a lower risk of asymptomatic infection after one dose, though further analysis is needed.


Estimates vary on what share of the population would need to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to achieve herd immunity, and experts warn that it’s hard to pin down a definitive figure just yet. 

Both consist of two doses: Pfizer’s requires a second shot three weeks after the first, while the Moderna’s shots come four weeks apart.

More than 2.1 million people in the U.S. had received their first vaccine dose as of Monday morning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 11.4 million doses had been distributed.

The U.S. has never reached herd immunity from natural infection with a novel virus; so far, vaccination has always been required. Estimates vary on what share of the population would need to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to achieve herd immunity, and experts warn that it’s hard to pin down a definitive figure just yet. 

See also: Doctors and scientists take aim at herd immunity, calling it ‘nonsense’ and a ‘nebulous’ idea

Moncef Slaoui, the Trump administration’s vaccine czar, told CNN in November that with the roughly 95% efficacy level demonstrated by Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines, “70% or so of the population being immunized would allow for true herd immunity to take place.”

“That is likely to happen somewhere in the month of May, or something like that, based on our plans,” he said.

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease doctor, said during a Nov. 30 livestream with Facebook
FB,
+3.59%
CEO Mark Zuckerberg that, while he wasn’t yet sure what percentage of the population would need to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to achieve herd immunity, “I would imagine it’s somewhere between 75% and 85% at least.”

Fauci, like many public health professionals, had earlier cited a herd-immunity estimate of 60% to 70%. In a December interview with the New York Times, he acknowledged he had gradually revised his estimate upward — to match his true sense of how many people would likely need to get vaccinated — because of both new science and increased public embrace of COVID-19 vaccines.

“When polls said only about half of all Americans would take a vaccine, I was saying herd immunity would take 70% to 75%,” Fauci told the Times. “Then, when newer surveys said 60% or more would take it, I thought, ‘I can nudge this up a bit,’ so I went to 80, 85.”

With that said, Fauci added, “we need to have some humility here.”

“We really don’t know what the real number is,” he said. “I think the real range is somewhere between 70% [and] 90%. But, I’m not going to say 90%.” Suggesting that high a target could strike a discouraging note, he said.

The percentage of people who need to be vaccinated will depend on the actual vaccine efficacy in real life and any future vaccine efficacy, Landon added. 

“If everyone got one of the mRNA vaccines and they worked about 90% of the time, we would need to vaccinate about 10% more than the ‘herd immunity’ target, whatever that may be,” she said. (The mRNA technology, employed in both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, teaches the body’s cells to create proteins that generate an immune response.)


As for concern over a new COVID-19 strain identified in the U.K., public health authorities caution against overreaction and say there is no evidence it would render current vaccines less effective.

Why? Because some people who get vaccinated will not actually be protected, Landon said — something that’s true of any vaccine.

“When a vaccine is 95% effective, that means 95% of the people are protected. In some populations that number is lower (older individuals, probably immunocompromised), and higher in others (young, healthy people). There are more old and immunocompromised people in real life than the trial, so I estimated about 90% overall,” she said. “So in order to average 70% of people immune, you’ll have to vaccinate more than 70% (probably 75 to 80%).”

As for concern over a new COVID-19 strain identified in the U.K., public health authorities caution against overreaction and say there is no evidence it would render current vaccines less effective. Much remains unknown, and the CDC has not identified the strain in the U.S. But if it turns out to be more easily transmissible than other strains of the virus, as some early reports have predicted, a higher level of vaccine coverage might be necessary to produce herd immunity, Epstein said.

“If the virus becomes more efficient in infecting people, we might need even a higher vaccination rate to ensure that normal life can continue without interruption,” BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin told the Wall Street Journal on Dec. 22. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is highly likely to work against this variant, he added.

One way to promote vaccine enthusiasm

There’s still plenty of work to be done to encourage vaccine uptake among groups that may be hesitant, including some people of color whose mistrust of the government and health-care system stems from a history of medical racism and experimentation, said Lindsey Leininger, a public health educator on faculty at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business and “Nerdy-Girl-in-Chief” for the science-communication project Dear Pandemic.


A recent study found that ’emphasizing the benefits of being a protector for others (instead of yourself) looks to be more effective in promoting greater adherence to recommended practices.’

But one evidence-based approach seems promising for the overall vaccine outreach and education effort: promoting the idea of being a “protector.” Research suggests that communicating about herd immunity and the protection vaccination offers — not just to oneself, but to others — can boost intention to get vaccinated, Leininger said. 

A recent study published in the journal Patient Education and Counseling found that “emphasizing the benefits of being a protector for others (instead of yourself) looks to be more effective in promoting greater adherence to recommended practices” regarding COVID-19 safety guidelines, according to its co-author, University of Michigan associate professor of general medicine Lawrence An.

“Coaching people and educating people around the indirect benefits they’re going to proffer once they get vaccinated is going to be really important,” Leininger said. “It’s going to help vaccine enthusiasm.”

After all, she said, everyone has someone close to them who’s vulnerable to a bad COVID-19 outcome, whether it’s a grandmother, a loved one with diabetes or an immunocompromised child. “The idea of protecting that person is the most powerful motivator for action around,” Leininger said, “and I think that that’s going to resonate and land for vaccination as well.”

‘You should jump to get that vaccine’

Once it’s your turn to get inoculated — which public health experts project will be in the spring or summer, assuming you’re not in any high-priority group — “you should jump to get that vaccine,” Landon said.

“You want to get as many people out of the spreading dynamic as soon as you can, because epidemics have this exponential growth property,” Epstein added. “One can give it to several, and they can give it to several and so on — so the earlier you can nip that process in the bud, the better off you are.”

In practical terms, the only way the U.S. will get to a point where masks and social distancing are no longer necessary and restaurants aren’t closed “is if everybody gets vaccinated,” Landon said. “And the faster we do it, the faster we get back to life.”



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How Did Jon Ossoff, 33, Get Within Reach of a Senate Seat?


Jon Ossoff was 16 years old when he wrote a letter to John Lewis, the Georgia congressman and civil rights pioneer, that led to a spot as a volunteer in Mr. Lewis’s office.

When Mr. Ossoff was 19 and a rising sophomore at Georgetown, he went to work for Hank Johnson as the primary speechwriter and press aide for Mr. Johnson’s 2006 congressional campaign.

And Mr. Ossoff was 26 when, without any journalism experience other than an internship, he was made chief executive of a small documentary film company based in England.

Mr. Ossoff has always been adept at making his own breaks. He has consistently outperformed his professional résumé, impressing lawmakers many years his senior with his intellect and drive. And he has capitalized on his own well-off upbringing and a series of well-timed introductions and personal endorsements to rise through Democratic politics in Georgia.

Now 33, Mr. Ossoff is pursuing his most ambitious goal yet: to capture a seat in the United States Senate against an incumbent Republican, David Perdue, in a traditionally conservative state. If successful, he would become the youngest senator in 40 years.

Mr. Ossoff first emerged on the national stage in 2017, when his bid for a House seat in a special election provided Democrats the first opportunity to express resistance to President Trump. Though he lost a close race in a well-off district in suburban Atlanta, the energy surrounding his candidacy enabled him to shatter fund-raising records and build the political network that has put him within reach of the Senate.

That energy has hardly abated. Federal filings made public last week showed Mr. Ossoff to be the best-funded Senate candidate in history after pulling in $106.7 million from mid-October to mid-December — almost $40 million more than Mr. Perdue’s tally. The stunning totals reflect the stakes: If Mr. Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock win their runoff races on Jan. 5, Democrats will gain control of the Senate.

Still, Mr. Ossoff has little record to run on, or against. Other than campaigning for positions in Congress, he has spent the years since leaving Mr. Johnson’s office running Insight TWI, an investigative documentary company of eight staff members that has headquarters in London — doing so mostly from Atlanta.

He has mounted a campaign based less on his own experience and accomplishments and more on the idea that his election will help foster a political change in Georgia — the kind voters signaled they wanted when they backed Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the presidential election. He has also consistently cited Mr. Perdue’s financial dealings to label him “a crook” who cashed in on the pandemic, an allegation Mr. Perdue denies.

At campaign events, Mr. Perdue, 71, often fails to even mention Mr. Ossoff as an opponent. Instead, he and Kelly Loeffler, the other Republican Senate candidate, direct most of their attacks at Mr. Warnock, whom they view as a more substantive target. Mr. Perdue skipped a debate against Mr. Ossoff early this month, leaving the Democrat onstage by himself making his pitch to voters, but he has unleashed an onslaught of negative ads against Mr. Ossoff, portraying him as a hostage of the radical left.

None of this has dented Mr. Ossoff’s confidence. As he heads into the final days of the race, he has emphasized his connections to Mr. Lewis. And far from apologizing for his youth, he has cast himself as the inheritor of the legacy of young people who have taken leadership roles in progressive political organizations in the South.

“John Lewis was 23, 24 years old when he was leading the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee,” Mr. Ossoff said during an interview last week. “I was so inspired by the fact that young people in that movement had made a difference. And I don’t think that young people should simply wait their turn but should engage fully in the life of our communities, and our country, and our world, and try to make a difference.”

When Mr. Ossoff began his first campaign for Congress in 2017, he initially ran his campaign headquarters out of the basement of his parents’ Atlanta home. When he was in Washington, he stayed at a Capitol Hill townhouse owned by his father.

At the time, Mr. Ossoff described himself as a former “senior national security staffer,” which was something of an embellishment considering that he had been a midlevel committee staff member for Mr. Johnson.

The Republican case against him boiled down to his not living in the district he sought to represent and an assertion that he would be a pawn of Nancy Pelosi, then the House minority leader.

“Other than being born to rich parents, Jon Ossoff has never accomplished a single thing in his life,” said Corry Bliss, who ran a Republican super PAC that spent millions attacking Mr. Ossoff in the 2017 race.

But Mr. Ossoff received a critical endorsement from Mr. Lewis, and he proved to be an adept fund-raiser who quickly built connections with key constituencies. Progressives rallied to him as a way to express their outrage at the Trump administration. In the runoff, Mr. Ossoff got 48 percent of the vote, losing to Karen Handel.

In the 2020 Senate race, Mr. Ossoff is running as a mainstream Democrat, expressing sympathy for but not aligning himself with the party’s most liberal figures. He has stayed on message, hammering Mr. Perdue over his finances, and perhaps more important, he has not made any major mistakes on the campaign trail or in interviews.

There has been very little reliable public polling of the two Georgia Senate runoff elections, but few doubt that Mr. Ossoff is facing an uphill climb. Georgia has not sent a Democrat to the Senate since 2000 and hasn’t elected any Democrat to statewide office since 2006. And Republicans have traditionally had an advantage in Georgia runoffs because the Democratic electorate includes people who vote more infrequently.

In the last Georgia Senate runoff, three weeks after the November 2008 election, voter turnout sank to 2.1 million from 3.7 million.

Georgia Democrats say much of that calculus has changed in 2020, as Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost the 2018 race for governor, has built a permanent progressive campaign infrastructure in the state. Already, more than two million Georgians have voted in the 2020 Senate runoffs.

“There is no more conventional wisdom, period,” said Jason Carter, a grandson of former President Jimmy Carter who was Georgia Democrats’ candidate for governor in 2014. “This election is different, this moment in history is different, and whatever anybody thinks they know, they don’t.”

The son of a publishing executive and a management consultant, Mr. Ossoff attended the prestigious Paideia School in Atlanta. In 2003, he read Mr. Lewis’s biography and talked his way into a volunteer position in the congressman’s office the next summer.

Michaeleen Crowell, who worked as Mr. Lewis’s legislative director and overlapped with Mr. Ossoff, said the congressman had received hundreds of letters from ambitious young people and that a parade of interns had come through his office. Mr. Ossoff, she said, made a special connection with the civil rights leader.

“You remind me of another time in my own life,” Mr. Lewis said to Mr. Ossoff in an Ossoff campaign video posted to Facebook in April, before Mr. Lewis’s death in July. “When I was 17 years old growing up in rural Alabama, I wrote a letter to Dr. King, and he wrote me back and sent me a round-trip Greyhound bus ticket and invited me to come to Montgomery and meet with him. And it changed my life.”

In the spring of 2006, Ms. Crowell helped arrange Mr. Ossoff’s transfer to work for the campaign of Hank Johnson, who was running a primary campaign against Representative Cynthia McKinney.

“He came to me asking if I could connect him,” she said of Mr. Ossoff. “I knew the folks who were running Hank’s campaign. So I said: ‘I know this young kid. He’s a go-getter.’”

Mr. Ossoff had just finished his freshman year at Georgetown University and had never worked on a campaign before. But in an initial three-hour meeting, he pitched Mr. Johnson, a local politician with a small law office, on using the internet to communicate with Democratic primary voters as well as donors, reporters and bloggers elsewhere.

“He wanted to use blogs and this new thing that I’d never heard of, Facebook, and so I gave him license to do that,” Mr. Johnson said. “It immediately put my campaign on the map. It got my campaign national attention.”

Mr. Ossoff quickly became one of Mr. Johnson’s most trusted aides. Mr. Johnson dispatched him to talk with Daraka Satcher, who would go on to become the congressman’s first chief of staff.

The two met at Bullfeathers, a venerable watering hole steps from the Capitol. Mr. Satcher said he had seen “this kid standing outside” who smiled and opened the door for him.

“I was offended, because he was clearly this kid, and I was like, ‘Do they really send a kid to vet me out?’” recalled Mr. Satcher, who then was in his early 30s.

Nonetheless, they sat down at a table for about an hour and a half and talked. “I’ll tell you, by the end of that lunch I was so impressed with him and his knowledge about policy and politics and his insight that it made me want to help the campaign even more,” he recounted. “I went from being offended to overly impressed,” Mr. Satcher said.

Mr. Johnson went on to beat Ms. McKinney and won accolades for his tech-savvy campaign. National Journal wrote that Mr. Johnson’s campaign had “the most unique blog strategy” and quoted Mr. Ossoff saying that blogs were “effective in reaching out to the people who make the news, the people who determine what’s hot and what’s not.”

When Mr. Johnson went to Washington the next January, Mr. Ossoff split time between his Georgetown studies and a job as a legislative correspondent in Mr. Johnson’s Capitol office, a highly unusual arrangement for an undergraduate.

Like many other young congressional staffers, most of Mr. Ossoff’s time was spent writing news releases and floor speeches that would be viewed only by the most die-hard of C-SPAN viewers. But in Mr. Johnson’s sixth month in office, Mr. Ossoff had achieved what would become his most concrete accomplishment: He proposed and wrote a House resolution that Mr. Johnson sponsored calling for peace talks to solve a conflict in northern Uganda.

“He was concerned about children being manipulated and used in an atrocious way,” Mr. Johnson said. “I knew nothing about the conflict before he brought it to my attention, and once he did, I thought it was a great idea.”

While he was at Georgetown, Mr. Ossoff sang in the campus a cappella group. Later he earned a pilot’s license in his off hours.

In 2003, Mr. Ossoff attended a small dinner party with his mother in southwestern France. At an outdoor table in a plum orchard, on a lovely summer evening, Mr. Ossoff was seated across the table from Ron McCullagh, a former BBC journalist who in 1991 had founded Insight News Television.

The company had produced award-winning documentaries such as “Cry Freetown,” about Sierra Leone’s civil war, and “Exodus,” which examined the efforts by thousands of Africans to make their way to Europe in search of better lives. Both films won Emmy Awards, among other prizes.

Mr. McCullagh and the teenage Jonathan Ossoff, as he called himself then, spoke for several hours, leading to a lasting friendship and a professional relationship.

“I was completely blown away by his brightness, by his intelligence and by his knowledge,” Mr. McCullagh recalled, adding how he had been struck by Mr. Ossoff’s “curiosity.”

“He told me about his thoughts on Chinese and American relationships, the importance of the China Sea” and the “strategic importance for the world of freedom of trade in that part of the world,” Mr. McCullagh recounted. “And the detail, knowledge he had of the situation was just very impressive. It was a very memorable dinner, and from that point on, we became friends.”

Mr. Ossoff ended up doing an internship at Insight News in July 2008. Five years later, Mr. McCullagh made a bold personnel move: He decided to hire Mr. Ossoff — then 26, with virtually no journalism experience — as chief executive of the organization and changed its name to Insight TWI — The World Investigates.

“It was a risk, but a calculated risk,” Mr. McCullagh said. “I wanted someone to take us forward. We needed some new thinking, and we got it.”

Mr. Ossoff invested $250,000 in Insight TWI months after he had joined, “to expand the business after Jon took over, when Jon came to Ron with some ideas,” according to a spokeswoman for Mr. Ossoff’s campaign. She said that Mr. Ossoff’s investment had not been related to his appointment as chief executive. Mr. McCullagh also invested the same amount at the time.

Mr. Ossoff’s campaign promotes him as an “investigative journalist,” though he does not act as an investigative reporter. As chief executive, he vets story ideas, helps prepare interview questions and attends to film production, editing and security arrangements for his staff. Mr. Ossoff also supervises the commissioning of documentaries with news media organizations like the BBC and Al Jazeera English.

According to his Senate campaign, Mr. Ossoff has been the executive producer of more than two dozen Insight TWI films on such subjects as soccer corruption in Ghana and child trafficking and sexual exploitation along the border of Bolivia and Argentina.

In Mr. Ossoff’s most recent personal financial report, filed in July, he valued Insight TWI at between $1 million and $5 million. According to records filed in November in Britain, he owns 75 percent or more of the organization’s shares.

Anas Aremeyaw Anas, a Ghanaian journalist who has worked with Insight TWI, said Mr. Ossoff had expanded the organization’s mission of having local reporters in Africa and other regions develop their own stories.

“The strategy was that we didn’t want parachute journalism,” Mr. Anas said. “Jon believed in having local journalists in places like Africa telling their stories and not having white men coming in.”

Diarmuid Jeffreys, manager of investigative programs for Al Jazeera English, called Mr. Ossoff a “tough negotiator” when it came to getting Insight TWI’s work commissioned.

“He doesn’t like to be pushed around,” Mr. Jeffreys said. “He will walk away if he doesn’t think a project is commercially viable or if he doesn’t think he can deliver it properly. He won’t just take any gig.”

Over the years, Insight TWI has prided itself on awards it has earned. Over a 14-year stretch beginning in 1999, according to its website, the company logged 47 awards or instances in which its documentaries were finalists, “shortlisted” or nominated for prizes. The awards include two Emmys, a Peabody and one British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award.

But there had been a drop-off in awards before Mr. Ossoff’s tenure at the helm, and in the eight years under his leadership, that has not changed; the company has received just two journalism prizes in that time.

“We have not prioritized applications for awards,” Mr. Ossoff said. “You can spend a lot of time applying for awards, and that time might be better spent developing journalism.”

Sheelagh McNeill, Susan Beachy and Kitty Bennett contributed research.



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UK and EU reach post-Brexit trade agreement


Just a week before the deadline, Britain and the European Union struck a free-trade deal on Thursday that should avert economic chaos on New Year’s and bring a measure of certainty for businesses after years of Brexit turmoil.
Once ratified by both sides, the agreement will ensure Britain and the 27-nation bloc can continue to trade in goods without tariffs or quotas after the UK breaks fully free of the EU on January 1.

Relief was palpable on both sides that nine months of tense and often testy negotiations had finally produced a positive result.

The Christmas Eve breakthrough was double welcome amid a coronavirus pandemic that has left some 70,000 people in Britain dead and led the country’s neighbours to shut its borders to the UK over a new and seemingly more contagious variant of the virus spreading in England.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said “it was a long and winding road but we have got a good deal to show for it.”

“It is fair, it is a balanced deal, and it is the right and responsible thing to do for both sides,” she said in Brussels.

The British and European parliaments both must hold votes on the agreement, though action by the latter may not happen until after the January 1 breakup. Britain’s Parliament is set to vote on the deal December 30.

It has been four-and-a-half years since Britons voted 52 per cent to 48 per cent to leave the EU and — in the words of the Brexiteers’ campaign slogan — “take back control” of the UK’s borders and laws.

It took more than three years of wrangling before Britain left the bloc’s political structures last January. Disentangling the two sides’ economies and reconciling Britain’s desire for independence with the EU’s aim of preserving its unity took months longer.

The devil will be in the detail of the 2000-page agreement, but both sides claimed the deal protects their cherished goals. Britain said it gives the UK control over its money, borders, laws and fishing waters and ensures the country is “no longer in the lunar pull of the EU.”

Von der Leyen said the agreement protects the EU’s single market and contains safeguards to ensure Britain does not unfairly undercut the bloc’s standards.

Johnson’s relief at striking a deal contrasted with his earlier insistence that the UK would “prosper mightily” even if no deal were reached and the UKand the EU had to reinstate tariffs on each other’s goods.

‘The deal is done,’ British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote on Thursday. (Twitter)

His government acknowledged that a chaotic no-deal exit — or a “crash-out,” as the British call it — would probably bring gridlock at the country’s ports, temporary shortages of some goods and price increases for staple foods. The turmoil could cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.

To avoid that, negotiating sessions alternating between London and Brussels — and sometimes disrupted by the pandemic — gradually whittled differences between the two sides down to three key issues: fair-competition rules, mechanisms for resolving future disputes, and fishing rights.

The EU has long feared that Britain would slash social, environmental and state aid rules after Brexit and gain a competitive advantage over the EU. Britain denies planning to institute weaker standards but said that having to follow EU regulations would undermine its sovereignty.

Brexit
In this January 30, 2020 file photo, a man unfurls a Union and EU flag outside the European Parliament in Brussels. Britain and the European Union have struck a provisional free-trade agreement that should avert New Year chaos for cross-border traders and bring a measure of certainty for businesses after years of Brexit turmoil. (AP)

A compromise was eventually reached on the tricky “level playing field” issues. That left the economically minor but hugely symbolic issue of fishing rights as the final sticking point, with maritime EU nations seeking to retain access to UK waters where they have long fished and Britain insisting it must exercise control as an “independent coastal state.”

Under the deal, the EU is giving up a quarter of the quota it catches in UK waters, far less than the 80 per cent Britain initially demanded. The system will be in place for five-and-a-half years, after which the quotas will be reassessed.

The UK has remained part of the EU’s single market and customs union during the 11-month post-Brexit transition period. As a result, many people so far have noticed little impact from Brexit.

On January 1, the breakup will start feeling real. Even with a trade deal, goods and people will no longer be able to move freely between the UK and its continental neighbours without border restrictions.

EU citizens will no longer be able to live and work in Britain without visas — though that does not apply to the 4 million already doing so — and Britons can no longer automatically work or retire in EU nations. Exporters and importers face customs declarations, goods checks and other obstacles.

The UK-EU border is already reeling from new restrictions placed on travellers from Britain into France and other European countries because of the new version of the coronavirus sweeping through London and southern England.

M20 motorway
Trucks are parked on the M20 motorway as part of Operation Stack, whilst the Port of Dover remains closed, in southern England near the Channel Tunnel and Dover, December 23, 2020. Trucks waiting to get out of Britain backed up for miles and people were left stranded as dozens of countries around the world slapped tough travel restrictions on the UK because of a new and seemingly more contagious variant of the coronavirus in England. (AP)

British supermarkets said the backlog will take days to clear and there could be shortages of some fresh produce over the holiday season.

Despite the deal, there are still unanswered questions about huge areas, including security cooperation between the UK and the bloc — with the UK set to lose access to real-time information in some EU law-enforcement databases — and access to the EU market for Britain’s huge financial services sector.

Von der Leyen said she felt “quiet satisfaction,” but no joy, now that the torrid Brexit saga that has consumed Britain and the EU for years is finally almost over.

“I know this is a difficult day for some, and to our friends in the United Kingdom I want to say parting is such sweet sorrow,” she said.

And in a warning that Britain might find the world outside lonely, she said: “No deal in the world can change reality or gravity in today’s economy and today’s world. We are one of the giants.”

Johnson said Britain will always be a strong friend and partner to the EU.

“Although we have left the EU, this country will remain, culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically, geologically attached to Europe,” he said.

– Reported with Associated Press



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How Many Americans Need To Get Vaccinated To Reach Herd Immunity? It Could Be 90%, Fauci Says.


Topline

 Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday that 90% of the population may need to be immune in order to stop the coronavirus from spreading, a marked increase from estimates earlier in the pandemic that put the figure closer to 60-70% and that shows the steep challenge the U.S. faces as it tries to get the virus under control.

Key Facts

In the spring and summer, experts estimated that 60-70% of the population would need to be immune to achieve herd immunity based on early data from China and Italy about the transmissibility of the virus.

But starting in November, Fauci slowly started raising that threshold to 75-85%, telling the New York Times he was comfortable doing so publicly because of increasing confidence in vaccines and his feeling that the public was ready to hear that returning to normal might take longer than initially expected.

In the New York Times interview published Thursday, Fauci estimated the herd immunity threshold could be as high as 90%, his highest estimate to date.

Scientists are revising their estimates upward because the virus is likely more infectious than early data suggested, thanks in part to new, more contagious variants as well as superspreader events that boost the virus’s transmissibility.

Even if enough people get vaccinated this year, experts say Covid-19 may never be eradicated entirely and it may stick around forever like the flu—but what is clear is that vaccines will allow Americans to return to their normal lives by significantly reducing Covid-19’s ability to spread.

Crucial Quote

“We need to have some humility here. We really don’t know what the real number is. I think the real range is somewhere between 70 to 90%,” Fauci told the New York Times.

Key Background

Viral vaccine misinformation, distrust in American institutions and a politicized vaccine development process have made swaths of the American public skeptical of Covid-19 vaccines. The good news is that public polling over the past few weeks has shown increasing confidence in them. According to an Ipsos poll released this week, 83% of Americans said they would eventually get inoculated, which is higher than the 77% reported in September. 

Surprising Fact

Fauci told Vox last week that even with 40% or 50% of American population vaccinated, the country should “start seeing an effect on the dynamic of the virus.”

Tangent

 Scientists say the safest way to reach herd immunity is by getting as many people vaccinated as possible. Early in the pandemic, right-wing pundits including White House coronavirus advisor Scott Atlas, and even leaders in Brazil and Sweden, promoted the idea of “natural” herd immunity. The idea was to let the virus run its course through the population and let those who aren’t immediately at risk get infected, thereby building up natural immunity. That idea was dismissed by epidemiologists, who argued it would cause too much collateral damage without even guaranteeing it would work.



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Breakthrough: UK and EU reach post-Brexit trade agreement


BRUSSELS — Britain and the European Union have struck a provisional free-trade agreement that should avert New Year’s chaos for cross-border commerce and bring a measure of certainty to businesses after years of Brexit turmoil.

The breakthrough came Thursday with just over a week to go until the U.K.’s split is completed.

Now comes the race to approve and ratify the deal before the U.K. leaves the EU’s economic structures at the end of the year. The British and European parliaments both must hold votes on the agreement.

Months of tense and often testy negotiations gradually whittled differences between the two sides down to three key issues: fair-competition rules, mechanisms for resolving future disputes and fishing rights. The rights of EU boats to trawl in British waters remained the last obstacle before it was resolved.

However, key aspects of the future relationship between the 27-nation bloc and its former member remain unresolved.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had insisted the U.K. would “prosper mightily” even if no deal were reached and the U.K. had to trade with the EU on World Trade Organization terms. But his government has acknowledged that a chaotic exit was likely to bring gridlock at Britain’s ports, temporary shortages of some goods and price increases for staple foods.

Britain withdrew from the EU’s political institutions on Jan. 31, and an economic transition period expires on Dec. 31.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

BRUSSELS (AP) — Nothing has come easy in the 4 1/2-year divorce proceedings between Britain and the European Union.

So it was no surprise that negotiators were struggling Thursday to put the finishing touches on a trade deal whose completion had been declared imminent 24 hours earlier. The rights of EU fishing boats to fish in British waters proved the most intractable and divisive issue, with negotiators haggling over quotas for some individual species.

After resolving nearly all of the remaining sticking points, negotiators combed through hundreds of pages of legal text well into Christmas Eve, bickering over tiny details that, if not dealt with, could force a chaotic economic break between the two sides on New Year’s Day.

“There is no sign of an imminent decision,” said an official close to the negotiations, speaking on condition of anonymity because the talks were still ongoing.

Trade will change regardless come Jan. 1, when the U.K. leaves the bloc’s single market and customs union. But both sides have been working furiously to avoid a nightmare scenario, in which the imposition of tariffs and duties would cost billions in trade, risk hundreds of thousands of jobs and potentially so snarl ports that many goods would struggle to get through.

That possibility was starkly illustrated this week when a brief French blockade of British trucks over coronavirus concerns created chaos at ports that continued Thursday and will take days to ease. Thousands of truckers stuck at the English port of Dover may be spending Christmas in line.

Once the last details of the Brexit deal are settled, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will confirm the deal in statements.

Sources on both sides said the long, difficult negotiations were on the cusp of being wrapped up by the two negotiating teams, holed up at EU headquarters in Brussels and fueled by deliveries of pizza and sandwiches.

Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney said there appeared to be “some sort of last-minute hitch” over fish, but that it was not surprising. He said he expected announcements of a deal from London and Brussels “later on today.”

Any agreement needs the approval of all 27 EU nations, and of the European and British parliaments, which it is expected to receive. Britain’s Parliament could be recalled from a Christmas break next week to vote. The European Parliament has warned it’s now too late for it to approve the deal before Jan. 1, but an agreement could provisionally be put in place and approved by EU legislators in January.

Britain’s currency, the pound, rose Thursday on expectations of a deal, up 0.5% against the dollar to just under $1.36.

In June 2016, Britons voted 52%-48% to leave the EU in order to — in the words of the Brexiteers’ campaign slogan — “take back control” of the U.K.’s borders and laws.

It took more than three years of wrangling before Britain left the bloc’s political structures on Jan. 31. Negotiating how to disentangle economies that were closely entwined as part of the EU’s single market for goods and services took months more.

Even with a deal, trade between Britain and the EU will face customs checks and other barriers on Jan. 1. But an agreement would avert the more disastrous effects of tariffs and duties., and leaves the mutually dependent, often fractious U.K.-EU relationship — and its 675 billion pounds ($918 billion) in annual trade — on a much more solid footing than a disruptive no-deal split.

Johnson has always insisted the U.K. will “prosper mightily” even if no deal is reached and the U.K. has to trade with the EU on World Trade Organization terms from Jan. 1.

But his government has acknowledged that a chaotic exit is likely to bring gridlock at Britain’s ports, temporary shortages of some goods and price increases for staple foods. Tariffs will be applied to many U.K. exports, including 10% on cars and more than 40% on lamb, battering the U.K. economy as it struggles to rebound from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the past few days, Johnson and von der Leyen have been drawn more and more into the talks, speaking by phone in a bid to unblock negotiations that have dragged on for months, hampered by the pandemic and by the two sides’ opposing views of what Brexit entails.

The EU has long feared that Britain would undercut the bloc’s social, environmental and state aid rules to be able to gain an unfair edge with its exports to the EU. Britain has said that having to meet EU rules would undercut its sovereignty.

Compromise was finally reached on those “level playing field” issues, leaving the economically minor but hugely symbolic issue of fish to be the final sticking point. Maritime EU nations are seeking to retain access to U.K. waters where they have long fished, but Britain has been insisting it must exercise control as an “independent coastal state.”

Businesses on both sides are clamoring for a deal that would save tens of billions in costs.

While both sides would suffer economically from a failure to secure a trade deal, most economists think Britain would take a greater hit, because it is smaller and more reliant on trade with the EU than the other way around.

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Lawless reported from London.

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Follow all AP stories on the Brexit trade talks at https://apnews.com/Brexit



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