Wednesday, August 17th, 2022

Your Friday Briefing: U.S. Vaccine Mandate Blocked


We’re covering a ruling on Biden’s vaccine mandate and a landmark Syrian war crimes conviction.

The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration from enforcing a vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers, dealing a blow to a key element of the White House’s plan to tame the pandemic.

The court allowed a narrower mandate requiring health care workers at facilities receiving federal money to be vaccinated.

It came as the president was ramping up virus containment efforts: Biden said on Thursday that he was directing his staff to purchase an additional 500 million coronavirus tests for distribution to Americans, doubling the government’s previous purchase and bringing the total number of promised tests to one billion.

The president also announced on Thursday that the administration was sending military medical personnel to six states to help hospitals deal with Covid-19 surges.

Data: For Biden, the roaring resurgence of the virus has helped drag down approval ratings as he enters his second year in office. The daily U.S. average reported on Wednesday was over 780,000 new cases, according to a Times database.

Trends: Hospitalizations are rising. It will be weeks before the toll of the Omicron surge in the country is known, experts caution, but it may be peaking in parts of the Northeast.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:


A court in Germany found Anwar Raslan, a former Syrian security officer, guilty on Thursday of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life in prison. Here are the latest updates.

The highest-ranking Syrian official to be held accountable for abuses during the country’s civil war, Raslan was accused of overseeing a detention center where prosecutors said at least 4,000 people were tortured and nearly 60 were killed.

An international network of lawyers, activists and war survivors have struggled for years to bring officials involved in the violence to justice. President Bashar al-Assad remains in power, and he and his senior advisers and military commanders avoid traveling to places where they might be arrested. It’s unlikely that they will stand trial soon.

Raslan entered Germany on a visa in 2014 and lived there legally until German authorities arrested him in 2019.

Context: Prosecutors indicted Raslan using “universal jurisdiction,” a legal principle stipulating that in the case of crimes against humanity and genocide, normal territorial restraints on prosecutions do not apply.


A third round of talks on military security in Eastern Europe failed to yield a breakthrough.

Russian officials did not close the door on diplomacy but sounded an increasingly pessimistic note. In Moscow, Sergei Ryabkov, a deputy foreign minister, said that it was premature to convene more negotiations until the West abandoned what he called a “dead end” approach.

The U.S. representative to Thursday’s meeting in Vienna, Michael Carpenter, also depicted the two sides as engaged in a standoff with no clear resolution. Ukraine, participating for the first time in this week’s discussions, said Russia’s massing of troops needed to be reversed.

The exchanges left tensions high and the implicit threat of further Russian military intervention in Ukraine on the table. It was far from clear whether Russia would be willing to proceed with diplomacy.

Related: A Russian-led military alliance began withdrawing troops from Kazakhstan on Thursday, Moscow said. President Vladimir Putin’s recent actions there, in Belarus and in Ukraine show that he is straining to maintain a sphere of influence.

Asia Pacific

After a year that put a spotlight on anti-Asian racism in the U.S., students have been pushing for Asian American studies programs. “What happens in the academy often follows what happens on the streets,” said Diane Fujino, a professor of Asian American studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Lives lived: Ronnie Spector, the lead singer of the Ronettes, the 1960s pop group with hits like “Be My Baby,” died at 78.

Chuck McGinley, a chemical engineer, has returned again and again to society’s stinkiest sites for the past half-century. His goal: to measure, describe and demystify smell.

The Nasal Ranger is one of his inventions, a 14-inch-long smell-measuring device, which looks like a cross between a radar gun and a bugle and measures the strength of an odor. To use it, you take a big sniff and turn a dial until you can no longer smell a particular smell. One psychologist called the device “quantum leaps” better than previous technology.

McGinley often applies his expertise in the gray area of recognizing odor as a pollutant. Despite having the power to sicken, there are few laws in the U.S. to regulate odor. The system is patchy, and it has left disputes to be dealt with in the courts. Part of McGinley’s work has been to empower communities near smelly places to find a vocabulary for their complaints and a way to measure what their noses are telling them.

But his work doesn’t completely stink. McGinley’s lab, which is run by his son, does testing for food companies and concocts recipes for immersive theater troupes and museums. One recent job: developing 22 smells for a theater production, including a “perfume and old-cedar smell” to mimic an old woman’s apartment.

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