What Happened Today: Sept. 19, 2022
Risks to U.S. security if China continues to lead tech race; U.S. border patrol downloading phones of 10,000 travelers a year; Canelo takes the super middleweight title
The Big Story
A new study finds that the United States faces significant security risks if it continues to fall behind China in the development of essential digital infrastructure. Across what it describes as three key battleground areas, the report released last week, “Mid-Decade Challenges to National Competitiveness,” argues that progress in developing semiconductors, high-speed 5G internet, and artificial intelligence between 2025 to 2030 will significantly affect the United States and global geopolitical security. “In our judgment, China leads the United States in 5G, commercial drones, offensive hypersonic weapons, and lithium battery production,” the report says. “The United States has modest leads in biotech, quantum computing, commercial space technologies, and cloud computing, but these could flip to the China column. In the AI competition, the United States has a small lead with China catching up quickly.”
Pointing to regulatory hurdles, the conflict between investment incentives and national interests, and a general slowdown of investment in new technologies, the report warns that lagging behind China in one or all of the battleground domains could lead to a degraded or restricted internet, entrenched surveillance vulnerabilities, military weaknesses, and a dependency of both the United States and its allies on China for technology development.
The report comes from the Special Competitive Studies Project, a private entity co-led by former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt and other members of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, an independent board commissioned by Congress in 2018. “Even if only some of this came to pass,” the report says, “it will lead to the transformation of our daily lives in ways that will be impossible to ignore.”
In the Back Pages: Drug Companies Test New Booster on Eight Mice and Zero Humans, FDA Approves It Anyway
→ U.S. Customs and Border Protection told lawmakers that its agency is uploading information collected from as many 10,000 phones and other digital devices each year into a massive government database open to several thousand state employees. The details of the briefing were first reported in The Washington Post, and lawmakers were apparently told the customs officials were seizing the data from travelers at airports before uploading it into the database where it will be stored for 15 years. Officers are allowed to access the database at any time without needing a warrant. At airports where border officials are stationed, they are authorized to take and scroll through any traveler’s phone or device they see fit, and if while conducting this “basic search” they have a “reasonable suspicion” the traveler has engaged in something unlawful, they can proceed to upload the contents of the traveler’s phone to the database.
→ It’s not just U.S. border agents spying on American travelers these days. Since 2020, when COVID-19 lockdowns triggered a mass migration to remote work, companies have taken to spying on their employees to keep track of their productivity. “One in three medium-to-large U.S. companies has adopted some kind of worker surveillance system, and the total fraction using such systems is now two in three,” a senior member of Gartner, a technology and consulting firm, told The Wall Street Journal in an article published over the weekend. Examples of the kind of monitoring tools used by employers include “software that can take a screenshot of a worker’s computer every 10 minutes, while also recording what apps and websites that worker visited, and how long she stayed.” Despite the rapid proliferation of workplace surveillance, there’s no evidence that it’s improving worker productivity.
→ President Joe Biden told 60 Minutes on Sunday that if Taiwan were to be invaded by China, the U.S. military would intervene and defend the island. “Yes, if in fact there was an unprecedented attack,” the president said. Following the interview, the White House said that, despite Biden’s statement, U.S. policy on Taiwan, which contains no formal promises to defend the independent island nation, hasn’t changed despite the president’s own claims to the contrary. It’s at least the fourth time that White House officials have clarified remarks made by Biden that seem to contradict the long-standing U.S. policy of “strategic ambiguity” toward threats against Taiwan’s sovereignty. At a press conference on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry representative Mao Ning said the United States should “fully understand the extremely important and highly sensitive nature of the Taiwan question.”
→ Video of the Day:
The arrival of flying jet packs for personal use seems like a pretty decent sign that the future is now.
→ In his first interview with a Western news outlet, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, ever the open-minded fellow, said he was unsure whether the Holocaust had happened. “There are some signs that it happened. If so, they should allow it to be investigated and researched,” Raisi told Lesley Stahl of CBS’s 60 Minutes. Before bringing up the Holocaust, Stahl had been asking Raisi about his involvement in the 1988 “Death Commissions” in Iran in which some 5,000 Iranians, including children, were loaded onto forklifts and executed by being hung from cranes. Raisi is now en route to New York, where he will participate in the United Nations General Assembly.
→ The European Central Bank has tapped Amazon and four other companies to develop prototypes for the forthcoming digital euro, which could compete with cryptocurrencies and may become a reality as soon as 2025. The ECB said the five companies will spend the next two years in an “investigation phase” to test and implement the digital euro integration in the central bank’s system. Though the prototypes won’t necessarily carry over completely to the final digital euro system, Amazon’s involvement in the project’s development should provide it a competitive advantage when it comes to integrating digital euro payments across its own marketplace.
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→ The funeral service for Queen Elizabeth II concluded Monday with her coffin being lowered into the royal vault of St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle while her son, England’s new king, Charles III, wiped away tears. Hundreds of thousands of mourners turned out Monday for the public funeral procession. It was England’s first state funeral since 1965, when the honor was bestowed on the former prime minister and wartime leader, Winston Churchill.
→ Deward Hastings, who became a local legend in Berkeley, California, for letting thousands of strangers into the hot tub he kept in his backyard, was found dead on Saturday afternoon, his body discovered by a visitor to the tub. For decades, Hastings, who was 78 when he died, was known to the public only by his alias, “The Hot Tub Guy.” The inspiration for the project came from Hastings’ hippie wandering in the 1960s, when he developed a love for hot springs and decided a public hot tub in Berkeley was the next best thing. To manage the crowds coming to soak in his backyard, Hasting used “a complex lock-code system that would keep visitors to around 60 people per day,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
→ Thread of the Day:
A new bulletin in The Atlantic eschews decades of data while leaning heavily on the opinion of an assistant sociology professor to support a thesis that argues “though sex differences in sports show advantages for men, researchers today still don’t know how much of this to attribute to biological difference versus the lack of support provided to women athletes to reach their highest potential.” The piece has inspired an avalanche of replies online, including from journalist Steve Magness, who breaks down a trove of sporting results to “acknowledge the biological reality.”
→ Saul Álvarez, the Mexican fighter known as Canelo, Spanish for “cinnamon,” due to his red hair, won a decisive victory over the aging Kazakh power puncher Gennady Golovkin Saturday night, besting the older Kazakh to retain his undisputed super middleweight title. The bout brought an end to a trilogy of fights between two of the sport’s biggest stars that began in 2017, when the two fought to a draw. Many boxing fans felt Golovkin had been robbed in that bout: The judges tipped the scales toward Álvarez because the younger fighter had more promotional power behind him. But in their rematch the following year, Álvarez won a majority decision. Now, four years later, with Golovkin 40 years old, it was unsurprisingly the younger, more dynamic fighter who came out on top over the weekend.
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Drug Companies Test New Booster on Eight Mice and Zero Humans, FDA Approves It Anyway
With no efficacy or safety data, the agency is enthusiastically promoting a fifth COVID shot
By Alex Gutentag
On Aug. 31, 2022, the Food and Drug Administration authorized bivalent boosters reformulated to target the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants. At the authorization meeting, FDA officials announced the approval of these new boosters for emergency use based on data from eight mice in a Pfizer study. At the same time, the FDA revoked authorization for the original monovalent boosters—meaning anyone subject to a booster or “up-to-date” mandate will have to take the bivalent booster, which has no proven safety or efficacy data in human beings.
While the flu vaccine is also approved on a yearly basis without full trials, the mRNA COVID vaccines do not share the flu shot’s decadeslong track record of observed safety. The population most likely to be mandated to take a bivalent booster consists largely of college students. The young men in this population are the exact demographic that face heightened safety concerns, specifically around myocarditis, as documented in multiple peer-reviewed studies. In fact, during a meeting of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend the bivalent boosters, the agency presented updated myocarditis data that confirmed the rates of myocarditis in young men were about 2-to-3.5 times higher (slide 35) than the agency had claimed last year (slide 13). Nevertheless, the FDA and CDC moved to recommend the bivalent boosters for anyone over the age of 12 without human clinical trials.
This is just the latest episode in the FDA’s less-than-thorough approach to new COVID vaccine approvals. For example, in May 2022, the FDA authorized monovalent Pfizer boosters for children ages 5-11 based on laboratory data that showed heightened antibody response levels in just 67 children.
During the opioid crisis, the FDA famously failed to demand adequate research, disregarded safety concerns, and allowed Purdue Pharma to promote oxycodone for uses that were never borne out by testing. Later, it was revealed that the agency had been plagued by ethical issues: When the FDA convened advisers to address mounting oxycodone safety concerns, for instance, five out of 10 of these advisers had received payments from Purdue, and another three had received payments from other opioid manufacturers.
The continuation of unchecked conflicts of interest, and several recent authorizations for uses of new medical products that are in many ways unproven, demonstrate that the FDA is essentially unresponsive to public outrage, culminating in the bizarre spectacle of the agency promoting bivalent boosters on social media through unsubstantiated claims of efficacy, acting not as a neutral regulator but actively advertising on behalf of pharmaceutical companies with government purchase contracts. The FDA’s disregard for its congressional mandate is not unique to this moment—it is a symptom of its decadeslong transformation into an agency captured by the corporations it is tasked with regulating.
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