Semi-Finalists Set for the 2020 $250K Speed Chess Championship

On December 3, the 4 quarterfinalists met for the 2020 Speed Chess Championship, hosted on Chess.com. This year’s event is being held online due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Wesley So beat Jan-Krzystof Duda on November 19, Maxime Vachier-Legrave beat Levon Aronian on December 2. On December 3, World Champion Magus Carlsen faced off against Vladislav Artemiev and beat him in a close game.

After the Carlsen-Artemiev game, Hikaru Nakamura beat Vladimir Fedoseev.

The semifinalists will begin their games on December 11 and 12.

Wesley So will play against Hikaru Nakamura for the final spot, while Maxime Vachier-Lagrave will play against Magnus Carlsen.

The winners of the December 11th and 12th games will play the final round on December 13, 2020.

The winner will take a $250,000 winning, which is $100,000 more than 2019’s game winnings.

All games can be streamed on Chess.com for free with expert commentary by other seeded grand masters and international masters.

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CDC: Absolute 2 Week Quarantine No Longer Needed

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced new shorter quarantine options for those exposed to Covid-19: 10 days for those testing positive but are asymptomatic and 7 days for those with a negative test and no symptoms.

CDC has cited new evidence supporting an “acceptable risk” of transmission, which the CDC hopes will increase overall compliance and improve public health and economic constraints.

The CDC, however, also suggested people to postpone travel during the upcoming winter holidays and stay home because of the pandemic.

To be of note, these shorter quarantine recommendations do not replace the initial guidance of 14 days; however, the 10-day and 7-day guidelines were recommended based on some new research, the CDC stated.

The goal of reducing the quarantine days is to make it easier for people to take critical public health action and to reduce economic hardship associated with a longer period, especially if work is not possible as due to the quarantine.

The CDC continues to leave flexibility for local jurisdictions to adjust as they see fit.

The risk calculation is as follows: 1-10% risk of transmission when people quarantine for 10 days, and 5-12% risk of transmission when people quarantine for 7 days. The CDC believes the 1% transmission risk (at the lower end) is a “sweet spot” for transmission.

Ultimately, this recommendation follows as a result of input that the significant portion of people discontinue quarantine before 14 days are up due to pressure to return to work or to get people back in school.

The ultimate hope for the CDC is that the shortened time period would increase compliance.

This comes after 4 million people (more than 40% of last year) travelled home for Thanksgiving, as people chose not to heed CDC’s warning of staying home and chose to travel instead.

Even a small pocket of infected travelers could translate into hundreds of thousands of additional infections moving from one community to another, throughout United States. Ultimately, the CDC is choosing to allow some residual risk of infection in hopes that more people would actually abide by the quarantine, during what is supposed to be one of the most dangerous winter in recent history.

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GA State Election Official Berates the Public for Threats of Violence

On Tuesday, the voting implementation manager, Gabriel Sterling who works with the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office angrily berated the public on their irresponsible and immature behavior regarding the election results in Georgia.

He showed visible signs of anger and was shaken about some of the threats the public sent to the election workers. He exclaimed, “It’s all gone too far.”

A 20-year-old contract had received death threats and a noose, saying he should be hanged for treason. The tech was simply transporting a report for batches in Gwinnett County.

The state election officials are receiving police protection, as they had been receiving both sexual violence threats and death threats.

However, the 20-year-old who had received death threats was just an employee doing his job. Sterling not only berated the public, but he also called upon the President and the GOP Senators to condemn this behavior. He stated, “If you’re going to take a position of leadership – show some.”

While he encouraged the people to use their First Amendment rights, death threats and intimidation was not right. He also addressed Pres. Trump in his speech, stating, “Mr. President, it looks like you likely lost the state of Georgia.” He further explained that if this continued violent language did not stop, someone would get hurt, shot, or killed.

Senator Perdue and Senator Loeffler of Georgia have each sent a statement stating that they do not condone violence of any kind.

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Title: Europe Will Pay $103 million to Remove 1 Space Junk By 2025

Photo from Wikipedia

The European Space Agency has signed a $103 mil. contract with a Swiss startup ClearSpace. The goal of this contract is to remove a single space debris in 2025. This project seems expensive but involves an orbiting, mouth-like net, which could deal with the continuing pileup of orbiting space junk surrounding the Earth’s atmosphere.

ClearSpace is a spin-off of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL). The company will be collaborating with Germany, Czech Republic, Sweden, Poland, among several other European countries.

They are targeting the collection of 247-pound Vega Secondary Payload Adapter (Vespa) that has been orbiting around Earth since 2013. The adapter was part of the Proba-V satellite into space but currently serves no purpose.

While $103 mil. for a single space junk seems expensive, the European Space Agency is betting on it becoming a new commercial sector in an industry that continues to be highlighted as being the “next big thing.”

The net and spacecraft combo needs to capture the adapter which is currently traveling at speeds up to 17,400 miles per hour, and even the slightest miscalculation could cause serious collision. Assuming all goes well, the net will capture the adaptor and the spacecraft can return to Earth, burning the cargo on re-entry.

Currently, European Space Agency estimates that the space debris in orbit being tracked are at about 22,300. As items are added, chances for collision increases making the Earth’s orbit highly dangerous.

The Goal of this mission will be to guarantee the possibility of space travel for generations to come.

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Southern California Might Experience Power Shutoffs During Thanksgiving

Southern California utility company named Southern California Edison is warning a possible manual shutoff during the Thanksgiving weekend due to continued gusty and dry conditions which are conducive to wildfires. This would lead to a shutoff for more than 76,000 customers in and near Greater Los Angeles area.

The wildfires have been particularly harsh this year, already killing 30 people and recorded five of the six largest wildfires in California’s recorded history. The National Weather Service has put some parts of Southern California under fire weather watch from Thanksgiving afternoon to Friday evening.

Santa Ana winds are moderate to strong, with gusts of up to 60 mph, and with general low humidity, Los Angeles is highly at risk of another wildfire.

At the moment, those in Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ventura may be affected; most are in San Bernardino County.

The company serves about 5 million customers and usually issues such warnings three days prior to the possible shutoffs.

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Latest Death Toll in Ethiopia is 600 Civilians

According to a state-appointed human rights commission, at least 600 civilians were killed during an attack in Northern Ethiopia in early November, purely due to their ethnicity. Mai-Kadra is a town in Tigray region. On November 9, there was a massacre, where Tigrayan youths, with aid by local officials and police, going door-to-door in killing hundreds of people they identified as “Amharas and Wolkait.”

The human rights commission has accused the local Tigrayan militia, police security, and the Tigrayan youths for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.  The Tigrayans were noted to destroying and looting homes while also using knives, machetes, hatchets, and ropes to kill victims. Some ethnic Tigrayans saved people by hiding others in their homes, churches, and fields.

So far, the fighting between the government and the Tigrayan forces has resulted in more than 40,000 refugees fleeing into Sudan. Humanitarian organizations are struggling to provide services amid the large influx of refugees.

Unfortunately for Ethiopian government, it cannot necessarily claim clean hands either, as the government forces had been using air strikes and ground offensives against Tigray’s rulers for defiance. There may have been civilian deaths on both sides.

Unfortunately, this news is unverifiable due to the difficulties in communication.

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet raised alarm on Tuesday at the knowledge of heavy build up of tanks and artillery around the city of Mekelle in Tigray region.

Both the US and European powers are urging Ethiopia to act in de-escalation.

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Biden Announces Cabinet Members for 2021 Presidency

In a newsletter, Biden released six candidates for his new cabinet. He claimed to have found new secretaries for six of the departments. All of the first six secretaries have been nominated for national security and International relations.

Joe Biden has shown intent to nominate and the following individuals: Tony Blinken as Secretary of State, Alejandro Mayorkas as Secretary of Homeland Security, Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence, Linad Thomas-Greenfield as US Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), Jake Sullivan as National Security Advisor, and Secretary John Kerry as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.

Tony Blinken has experience with Joe Biden as a National Security Advisor while Joe Biden served as VP and as Deputy Secretary of State under Pres. Obama.

Alejandro Mayorkas served as Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security under Pres. Obama and is known for implementation of DACA, cybersecurity, as well as protective measures taken against the Ebola and the Zika virus during the Obama administration.

Avril Haines was a Deputy Director of the CIA and has now been assigned to serve as the Director of the CIA. Biden promises that the CIA will behave in a way to protect national security without being undermined or politicized.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield has 35 years of experience within the US Foreign Service and is to serve as the US Ambassador to the United Nations. She also served as the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the US Department of States’ Bureau of African Affairs from 2013 to 2017.

Jake Sullivan served as Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor during his Vice Presidency and is deemed to be one of the youngest National Security Advisors if confirmed.

John Kerry previously ran for the US presidency and worked as the Secretary of State under Pres. Obama. He encouraged the signing of the Paris Treaty, which the Trump administration withdrew from. This position is considered to be a new position, as cabinet-level climate change position or policy concerns had not been implemented or considered before.

As Pres. Trump’s term nears its end, Biden administration is beginning to show its form. 2021 is only a little over a month away.

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USPS Contractor Pays $116,513 In Back Wages Due to Wage Violations

U.S. Department of Labor | November 19, 2020

After an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD), Fames Transport Inc. – a mail-hauling contractor for the U.S. Postal Service in Southern California – has paid $116,513 in back wages and fringe benefits to 67 employees for violating the Service Contract Act (SCA).

The WHD investigation determined that Fames Transport Inc. failed to pay employees on the contract for all of the hours that they worked. Work performed prior to scheduled shifts, and some work time between routes went unrecorded, and unpaid. This unpaid time led to the employer’s failure to pay required prevailing wages and fringe benefits as required by the SCA. Failure to keep accurate records of the hours employees actually worked resulted in record keeping violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

“This investigation demonstrates the Department’s commitment to ensuring that employees are paid the wages they have rightfully earned and to leveling the playing field among all employers who do business with the government,” said Wage and Hour Assistant District Director Skarleth Kozlo, in West Covina, California. “We encourage government contractors, and all employers, to use the wide variety of tools we offer to learn about their responsibilities, ensure their pay practices comply with the law, and avoid violations like those found in this case.”

For more information about the FLSA, SCA and other laws enforced by the Wage and Hour Division, contact the toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Information is also available at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd.

WHD’s mission is to promote and achieve compliance with labor standards to protect and enhance the welfare of the nation’s workforce. WHD enforces federal minimum wage, overtime pay, record keeping and child labor requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act. WHD also enforces the paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave requirements of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, wage garnishment provisions of the Consumer Credit Protection Act and a number of employment standards and worker protections as provided in several immigration related statutes. Additionally, WHD administers and enforces the prevailing wage requirements of the Davis-Bacon Act and the Service Contract Act and other statutes applicable to federal contracts for construction and for the provision of goods and services.

The mission of the Department of Labor is to foster, promote and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.

 

With Covid Cases On the Rise, States are Shutting Down

Michigan recently began a temporary 3-week shut down, and New York is preparing a shut down of public schools as the COVID cases are on the rise as economic activity begins in times for the holiday season.

As more of the population become exposed to the coronavirus, even small gatherings are becoming dangerous. Virginia’s governor has decreased allowable social gathering population limit from 250-person limit back to 25-person limit. Most of the states are suggesting that people celebrate Thanksgiving in their own homes, to minimize traveling, and to take precautions when celebrating with others.

New York City plans to shut down its public school system on Thursday, indicating that New York City has begun its second wave of the coronavirus. The city reached a 3 percent test positivity rate over a 7-day rolling average, which is the most conservative threshold of any big school district in the country.  The schools were open for in-person instruction for less than 8 weeks.

This is considered to be a major disappointment for Mayor Bill de Blasio, as he was the first to reopen school buildings. The 300,000 students who had been attending in person will now have to be shuffled back to remote learning. Mayor Blasio promised to reopen the schools but explained that it would not take place until next month or later.

New York governor Andrew M. Cuomo equally voiced concerns and a promise that restrictions would be returning to public life; limited indoor dining and gyms have been open for under 2 months. The actual news conference was delayed for 5 hours as officials attempted to confirm the positivity numbers; the numbers had risen to exactly 3 percent.

As the midwest, west, and the south showed a surge in the number of exposures, New York boasted a low infection rate throughout the summer. New York, one of the major hot spots during the first phase of the pandemic, keeps a much more conservative allowable infection rate. Schools themselves are not showing too high of an infection rate, but the state is choosing to close the schools due to the rise in infection rates nonetheless. This is frustrating for parents and public health officials who both desire in-person instruction.

Unlike Western Europe where bars, restaurants, and theaters are closed while keeping schools open, New York has taken the opposite approach: bars, restaurants, and gyms remain open. Mayor Blasio suggested that the continued limited opening of businesses may have to be reassessed.

Those who suffer, unfortunately, are the children of low income families, as due to the nationwide shortage of devices, students cannot often log on, receive instructions, or do the school work necessary to keep in pace with in-person learning.

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After Devastating the Coast Previously Pounded by Eta, Iota Downgraded

Photo from Google Images

Hurricane Iota made landfall in Nicaragua as a Category 4 major hurricane in Central America. Iota had reached Category 5 strength before making landfall near Haulover, Nicaragua, but became Category 4 with maximum sustained winds near 155 mph as it made landfall.

If Iota was the only hurricane hitting the coast of Nicaragua, it was still quite harmful; however, this area had just been experiencing heavy rainfall and strong wind by Tropical Storm Eta. Iota might have weakened almost immediately once making landfall, but not before releasing heavy flooding rain, catastrophic winds, and mudslides. Swells from the storm will be felt as far north as the Yucatan Peninsula, as far east as Jamacaica, and as far south as Colombia. The landfall was just 15 miles south of Hurricane Eta’s landfall.

As of late Tuesday morning, there were no deaths reported, and the country’s disaster management agency is monitoring several cities in the Rivas region, as well as rivers and placing vulnerable families in shelters, such as those in Rivas and Bilwi. For example, telecommunications have been impacted, and the Bilwi residents have been asked to maintain calm and stay away from dangerous or vulnerable locations.

Although Iota has now downgraded to a tropical storm, it continues to pack winds of 65 mph as of 1 PM EST. The storm is about 105 miles east of Tegucigalpa, which is the Honduran capital. However, the storm is currently projected to dissipate near El Salvador by Wednesday night. Areas such as Hondoruas, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Belize can expect rain of at least 10 to 30 inches through Thursday, while El Salvador to Panama can expect 4 to 8, with isolated maximums of 12 inches.  The emergency agencies are concerned with swells that could cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.

This area has seen severe hurricanes, as Hurricane Eta has only hit a week before as Category 4 storm, causing landslides and flooding, displacing thousands and leaving significant number of people dead or missing.

This is the 13th hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, brining 30 named storms, which is now the most ever. This is also the latest year there had been a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic Basin. Strong hurricanes are difficult to cope with as is, but in a year where the coronavirus pandemic has made simple things very difficult, these hurricanes are turning out to be more devastating than before.

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