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Monday, November 30, 2020

No Updates on Cleveland's Lapsed Recycling Program, But Report Expected Next Month

Posted By on Mon, Nov 30, 2020 at 4:23 PM

Clevelanders dropped off bags of recycling at City Hall to express anger at the lapsing of the curbside recycling program, (5/4/20). - SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
  • Clevelanders dropped off bags of recycling at City Hall to express anger at the lapsing of the curbside recycling program, (5/4/20).

The Frank Jackson administration provided scant information on the city's lapsed recycling program Monday, updating an anxious Cleveland City Council about the work of an environmental consulting firm which has been tasked with assessing the city's waste collection and disposal operations from top to bottom.

A draft report of that assessment, which will include analysis and recommendations for the curbside recycling program as well as other topics, is expected to be completed by the end of December.

The city's Chief Operations Officer, Darnell Brown, told council that the administration will then review recommendations and prioritize them by the end of January. In response to a question from Council President Kevin Kelley, Brown estimated that residents might begin to see changes in waste collection operations by the middle of next year, but said he was only speculating.

The presentation Monday did not include concrete information or recommendations about the recycling program. Council and residents have been hoping for answers ever since it was revealed earlier this year that due to global markets and the city's high rate of contamination, the city had suspended its curbside recycling program. When its most recent contract expired, the city issued two RFPs for a new contractor to handle recycling services but received only one, exorbitantly priced, bid. All Clevelanders' recyclable material has been disposed in a landfill, alongside garbage, for months.

Whether or not the City will resume its curbside recycling, and what form a new program might take, will presumably be outlined in next month's report.

Brown said that the consultant had been hard at work on "due diligence": gathering data, collecting resident feedback and going on ride-alongs with route supervisors to assess routes, garbage bin set-out rates, mileage, vehicle maintenance, staffing levels and more. Brown said it had been 20 years since the city of Cleveland modified its waste-collection routes.

Brown reiterated that the Jackson administration believed it was "good environmental policy" to have a city recycling program, but that the aim of the consultant's work was to "right size" recycling in the context of a larger waste collection framework to ensure that it remains efficient and feasible. 

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Cavs New Serial Killer Ransom Note Jersey is Actually Homage to Rock Hall Bands, Remains Ugly

Posted By on Mon, Nov 30, 2020 at 12:13 PM

The Cleveland Cavaliers' "City Edition" uniforms for the 2020-2021 season leaked this weekend. There they are. Plain black jerseys with vibrant red and yellow highlights. The overall effect is somewhat uneven, if not crazed, however, due to the only distinctive design features on them: the ransom note "Cleveland" wordmark and the red "LONG LIVE ROCK" tucked down near the pelvic hem.

Turns out the "Cleveland" letters, which together approximate a '90s graffiti vibe from a distance, are harvested from famous rock-band wordmarks on seminal albums. The bands have all been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an institution Cleveland elites never tire of touting. (This is what's supposed to make the jersey design locally relevant.) 

As Twitter User @PrimeWindler helpfully decoded above, the letters are nods to the Sex Pistols, David Bowie, Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana and Pink Floyd.

Unfortunately, the design is ugly. As noted, the wordmark's closest stylistic forebears are ransom notes assembled from magazine cutouts. Maybe these jerseys will look sort of funky in person, but the first impression is that it's a decent concept with a half-baked delivery. (When the jersey is officially unveiled, additional design elements will surely be highlighted.)

The City Edition uniforms were launched after Nike wrested control of the NBA apparel machine from Adidas in 2015. The Cavs wear theirs a few times each season in rotation with the "Association" (White), "Icon" (Red), and "Statement" (Black) jerseys and an occasional throwback. This is the fourth Cavs city edition. It follows the gray "The Land" unis, designed in part by LeBron James; the garish blue and orange Destination Cleveland garbage from 2018-2019; and the Navy, 50th anniversary tribute to prior jerseys last year.

In theory, the city editions are meant to celebrate an aspect of a given area's local culture and history. And while rock music has indeed been a Cleveland cultural touchstone, the Rock Hall itself is perhaps the least interesting element of that history. Efforts to celebrate Cleveland as a rock n' roll capital via guitar logos and so forth always come off as embarrassing corporate branding exercises, not as celebrations of a legitimate civic identity. Announcers can be expected to talk about the Rock Hall during games when the Cavs wear these jerseys, presumably intercut with museum b-roll.

And that's fine. But it's a missed opportunity to celebrate local bands, venues, institutions and media that contributed much more meaningfully to Cleveland's rock identity through the decades. (Maybe "WMMS" will be threaded into the shorts or something?) 

On first blush, compared to the lately unveiled splashy pixelated "Valley" city edition of the Phoenix Suns and the Isaac Hayes-inspired city edition of the Memphis Grizzlies, in which the black background is embossed with vertical stripes to recall vinyl records, the Cavs' city edition just seems uninspired. 

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House to Make Historic Vote to End Marijuana Prohibition This Week

Posted By on Mon, Nov 30, 2020 at 12:08 PM

  • mikeledray/shutterstock
The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on whether to federally decriminalize marijuana this week — an action that would be the biggest move toward marijuana legalization ever taken by Congress.

According to a notice posted by the office of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, the vote for the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, HR 3884, should come between Wednesday, Dec. 2 and Friday, Dec. 14.

"This floor vote represents the first Congressional roll call ever on the question of ending federal marijuana criminalization," NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said in a statement. "By advancing the MORE Act, the House of Representatives sends an unmistakable signal that America is ready to close the book marijuana prohibition and end the senseless oppression and fear that this failed policy wreaks on otherwise law-abiding citizens."

He added, "Americans are ready to responsibly legalize and regulate marijuana, and this vote shows some lawmakers are finally listening."

The MORE Act would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, expunge some criminal records, allow for more testing and research of the substance, allow veterans for the first time to obtain medical cannabis recommendations from their VA doctors, remove the threat of deportation for immigrants accused of minor marijuana infractions or who are gainfully employed in the state-legal cannabis industry, and create funding for people and communities impacted by the War on Drugs.

According to an October poll from Gallup, marijuana legalization has wide support. Overall, 68% of respondents said they supported it, compared to 32% who did not. Those who support it include 83% Democrats, and 72% of independents. Just 48% of Republicans support it, according to the poll.

The MORE Act was sponsored by Senator and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. President-elect Joe Biden has indicated that he supports cannabis decriminalization but has come short of calling for it to be legalized.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have now legalized the recreational use of marijuana; another 16 have decriminalized it.

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Groups Ramp Up Work on Budget Agenda for Ohio Kids

Posted By on Mon, Nov 30, 2020 at 9:17 AM

  • AdobeStock

COLUMBUS, Ohio — More than a dozen groups are banding together to make sure Ohio does right by its kids in the next state budget cycle.

The Ohio Children's Budget Coalition is ramping up efforts to maintain, protect and strengthen public resources that support children.

The Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio is among the organizations involved.

Gina Wilt, advocacy director for the housing group, said they'll use their collective voice to outline policy priorities in the coming months.

"All of our issues intersect," Wilt noted. "And sometimes we get into these silos, and we can't afford to be in silos right now. There's a potential $2 billion shortfall. The governor, he's going to have a lot to look through, and we must be in sync."

Wilt said they hope to build on their success of the last budget cycle, when funding was increased for seven of 11 issues in the coalition's agenda for children.

Specifically, Wilt said the last budget improved support for evidence-based home visiting, for mitigating children's lead exposure, and for wrap-around support in schools.

"Really being able to focus on families and children is a top priority," Wilt explained. "That's something that we think Gov. DeWine can get on board with. And he has shown that this is a top priority in work that he's already done. We need to make sure that that's continued."

Wilt added longstanding structural barriers and public-policy choices have created an uneven playing field for Ohio kids. She noted the economic downturn has disproportionately affected children and families of color.

"We have seen huge gaps in our safety net for children and families of color," Wilt contended. "That will definitely be a priority as we talk about all of these issues; child health, child care, education, justice issues related to our youth, housing and homelessness, and food security."

Gov. Mike DeWine is expected to release his budget recommendations for Fiscal Years 2022 to 2023 by mid-March, and the budget bill must be signed by June 30 to take effect July 1.

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Friday, November 27, 2020

Activists Say Enhanced Protest Punishments in Ohio Will Lead to More Police Misconduct

Posted By on Fri, Nov 27, 2020 at 1:34 PM

  • Sam Allard / Scene
Police already have been overly aggressive in this year’s civil rights protests, some protesters say. If Ohio adopts enhanced penalties related to protests, that will only aggravate the problem, they say.

Worse, according to the activists, the bill’s provision allowing deadly force by people who feel threatened during “riots” will only encourage people to go to protests seeking violence.

In contrast, the bill’s sponsors last week didn’t acknowledge that police had engaged in misconduct in Ohio or elsewhere during last summer’s wave of civil rights protests — which were themselves touched off by police misconduct when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on an unarmed Black man’s neck for more than eight minutes, killing him.

The legislation, House Bill 784, was introduced by two lawmakers from Southwest Ohio last Thursday.

In addition to allowing people to use deadly force in what is loosely defined as a “riot,” the bill also would make felonies of what currently are riot-related misdemeanors.

Also, it would allow law-enforcement officers claiming harm in demonstrations to sue any organization supporting the demonstration for treble damages. Taken together, HB 784’s provisions are meant to intimidate protesters from turning out in the first place, said one activist.

“It’s terrifying,” Samantha Grimsley said at rally outside the Statehouse last week against HB 784. “It’s meant to keep people from wanting to come out.”

That’s not how its sponsors see it.

“Our legislation is straightforward. It embraces the right of all Americans to step forward and peaceably assemble and make their voices heard,” one of them, Rep. Cindy Abrams, R-Harrison, told the House Criminal Justice Committee. “But it also says that when you break the law, there will be consequences. Freedom and speech and freedom of assembly are important cornerstones of our democracy. Whether I agree or disagree with what someone has to say, I will defend their right to say it.”

The bill is divorced from the reality of what police did last summer during protests of the Georgy Floyd killing, activists say.

On May 29, the day Floyd was killed, Columbus police moved in, using pepper spray to disburse a crowd, part of which was throwing water bottles into the police line. In the aftermath, some smashed downtown windows — including at the Ohio Statehouse.

Whether the protests themselves or the aggressive response by police are most culpable for the damage is hotly debated. But in the ensuing weeks, police were repeatedly criticized for aggressive tactics.

For example, police on May 30 pepper-sprayed a crowd that included U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin and Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce — all Black. Beatty said that one protester had a foot in the street as police were trying to keep the crowd on the sidewalk.

Grimsley said the summer saw many, many instances of overly aggressive policing in Columbus.

“George Floyd brought me out, but the police kept me out,” she said.

Across the country, police excesses during the protests seemed rampant. The news organization ProPublica in July reviewed 400 videos posted on social media and found “troubling conduct” in almost half of them, including improper use of pepper spray and punching and kicking protesters.

Police also went after journalists in the protests, with the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker reporting more than 328 “press freedom violations” between May 26 and June 6, Forbes reported. In Columbus, reporters — including student journalists — also reported being attacked by police during the protests.

But on Thursday, HB 784 cosponsor Sara Carruthers, R-Hamilton, didn’t acknowledge police misconduct. She said that police only use mace or pepper spray after multiple warnings. As for the pepper-spraying of Beatty and the other elected officials, she said, “I don’t know those people, so I don’t know. But I do know for a fact that (police) tell you at least three or four times ‘Please step back,’ and they do it in a very polite fashion.”

The bill’s sponsors appeared struggle to explain its provision to allow deadly force by people who feel threatened in protests.

Abrams described a situation in which a motorist might find himself or herself engulfed by demonstrators and in fear of being attacked as a situation where deadly force would be justified. Indeed, in early July a disabled Columbus man inadvertently drove amid a demonstration at Broad and High streets, where angry protesters did more than $8,000 worth of damage to his car before other protesters pulled him to safety.

But Aileen Day, who helped organize last week’s demonstration against HB 784, said its deadly force provision has other implications. She said that during last summer’s demonstrations, some people — including white supremacists — went to protests looking for violence. She said she’s terrified that the bill’s sanction of deadly force would only embolden them to start trouble and then kill.

Amid violent protests in Kenosha, Wisc., in August, police praised armed civilians for turning out to protect businesses. Then one of them, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, used his AR-15 to kill two men and wound another. His supporters say he acted in self defense, but Rittenhouse now faces homicide and other charges.

On Thursday, Ohio Rep. Jeffrey Crossman, D-Parma, wanted to know if HB 784 might incentivize armed people to go to protests looking for violence. Carruthers said, “If it was pre-planned, they will be dealt with.”

“Are they going to be charged with a homicide, or are they going to be excused under this bill?” Crossman asked.

Abrams didn’t seem to know the answer.

“I’m not a prosecutor and I am certainly not a judge and I’m certainly not a homicide detective, so that would be up to them to decide who they’re going to charge,” she said.

Originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal. Republished here with permission.

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Here’s Why COVID-19 Vaccines Like Pfizer’s Need to Be Kept So Cold

Posted By on Fri, Nov 27, 2020 at 10:49 AM

  • Pfizer
Pfizer is racing to get approval for its COVID-19 vaccine, applying for emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on November 20. But the pharmaceutical giant faces a huge challenge in distributing its vaccine, which has to be kept an ultrafrosty –70° Celsius, requiring special storage freezers and shipping containers.

It “has some unique storage requirements,” says Kurt Seetoo, the immunization program manager at the Maryland Department of Public Health in Baltimore. “We don’t normally store vaccines at that temperature, so that definitely is a challenge.”

That means that even though the vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech is likely to be the first vaccine to reach the finish line in the United States, its adoption may ultimately be limited. The FDA’s committee overseeing vaccines will meet on December 10 to discuss the emergency use request. That meeting will be streamed live on the agency’s web site and YouTube, Facebook and Twitter channels.

The companies are also seeking authorization to distribute the vaccine in Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan, the United Kingdom and other parts of the world, making its deep-freeze problem a global challenge.

A similar vaccine developed by Moderna and the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases also requires freezing. But it survives at a balmier –20° C, so can be kept in a standard freezer, and can even be stored at refrigerator temperatures for up to a month.. Most vaccines don’t require freezing at all, but both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines are a new type of vaccine for which the low temperatures are necessary to keep the vaccines from breaking down and becoming useless.

Both vaccines are based on messenger RNA, or mRNA, which carries instructions for building copies of the coronavirus’ spike protein. Human cells read those instructions and produce copies of the protein, which, in turn prime the immune system to attack the coronavirus should it come calling.

So why does Pfizer’s vaccine need to be frozen at sub-Antarctica temperatures and Moderna’s does not?

Answering that question requires some speculation. The companies aren’t likely to reveal all the tricks and commercial secrets they used to make the vaccines, says Sanjay Mishra, a protein chemist and data scientist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

But there are at least four things that may determine how fragile an mRNA vaccine is and how deeply it needs to be frozen to keep it fresh and effective. How the companies addressed those four challenges is likely the key to how cold the vaccines need to be, Mishra says.

The cold requirement conundrum starts with the difference in chemistry between RNA and its cousin, DNA.

One reason RNA is much less stable than DNA is due to an important difference in the sugars that make up the molecules’ backbones. RNA’s spine is a sugar called ribose, while DNA’s is deoxyribose. The difference: DNA is missing an oxygen molecule. As a result, “DNA can survive for generations,” Mishra says, but RNA is much more transient. “And for biology, that’s a good thing.”

When cells have a job to do, they usually need to call proteins into service. But like most manufacturers, cells don’t have a stockpile of proteins. They have to make new batches each time. The recipe for making proteins is stored in DNA.

Rather than risk damaging DNA recipes by putting them on the molecular kitchen counter while cooking up a batch of proteins, cells instead make RNA copies of the recipe. Those copies are read by cellular machinery and used to produce proteins.

Like a Mission Impossible message that self-destructs once it has been played, many RNAs are quickly degraded once read. Quickly disposing of RNA is one way to control how much of a particular protein is made. There are a host of enzymes dedicated to RNA’s destruction floating around inside cells and nearly everywhere else. Sticking RNA-based vaccines in the blast freezer prevents such enzymes from tearing apart the RNA and rendering the vaccine inert.

Another way the molecules’ stability differs lies in their architecture. DNA’s dual strands twine into a graceful double helix. But RNA goes it alone in a single strand that pairs with itself in some spots, creating fantastical shapes reminiscent of lollipops, hair pins and traffic circles. Those “secondary structures” can make some RNAs more fragile than others.

Yet another place that DNA’s and RNA’s chemical differences make things hard on RNA is the part of the molecules that spell out the instructions and ingredients of the recipe. The information-carry subunits of the molecules are known as nucleotides. DNA’s nucleotides are often represented by the letters A, T, C and G for adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine. RNA uses the same A, C and G, but in place of thymine it has a different letter: uracil, or U.

“Uracil is a problem because it juts out,” Mishra says. Those jutting Us are like a flag waving to special immune system proteins called Toll-like receptors. Those proteins help detect RNAs from viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and slate the invaders for destruction.

All these ways mRNA can fall apart or get waylaid by the immune system create an obstacle course for vaccine makers. The companies need to ensure that the RNA stays intact long enough to get into cells and bake up batches of spike protein. Both Moderna and Pfizer probably tinkered with the RNA’s chemistry to make a vaccine that could get the job done: Both have reported that their vaccines are about 95 percent effective at preventing illness in clinical trials (SN: 11/16/20; SN: 11/18/20).

While the details of each company’s approach aren’t known, they both probably fiddled slightly with the chemical letters of the mRNAs in order to make it easier for human cellular machinery to read the instructions. The companies also need to add additional RNA — a cap and tail — flanking the spike protein instructions to make the molecule stable and readable in human cells. That tampering may have disrupted or created secondary structures that could affect the RNA’s stability, Mishra says.

The uracil problem can be dealt with by adding a modified version of the nucleotide, which Toll-like receptors overlook, sparing the RNA from an initial immune system attack so that the vaccine has a better chance of making the protein that will build immune defenses against the virus. Exactly which modified version of uracil the companies may have introduced into the vaccine could also affect RNA stability, and thus the temperature at which each vaccine needs to be stored.

Finally, by itself, an RNA molecule is beneath a cell’s notice because it’s just too small, Mishra says. So the companies coat the mRNA with an emulsion of lipids, creating little bubbles known as lipid nanoparticles. Those nanoparticles need to big enough that cells will grab them, bring them inside and break open the particle to release the RNA.

Some types of lipids stand up to heat better than others. It’s “like regular oil versus fat. You know how lard is solid at room temperature” while oil is liquid, Mishra says. For nanoparticles, “what they’re made of makes a giant difference in how stable they will be in general to [maintain] the things inside.” The lipids the companies used could make a big difference in the vaccine’s ability to stand heat.

The need for ultracold storage might ultimately limit how many people end up getting vaccinated with Pfizer’s vaccine. “We anticipate that this Pfizer vaccine is pretty much only going to be used in this early phase,” Seetoo says.

The first wave of immunizations is expected to go to health care workers and other essential employees, such as firefighters and police, and to people who are at high risk of becoming severely ill or dying of COVID-19 should they contract it such as elderly people living in nursing facilities.

Pfizer has told health officials that the vaccine can be stored in special shipping containers that are recharged with dry ice for 15 days and stay refrigerated for another five days after thawing, Seetoo says. That gives health officials 20 days to get the vaccine into people’s arms once it’s delivered. But Moderna’s vaccine and a host of others that are still in testing seem to last longer at warmer temperatures. If those vaccines are as effective as Pfizer’s, they may be more attractive candidates in the long run because they don’t need such extreme special handling.

Originally published by Science News. Republished here with permission.

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Ohio Ranks No. 14 Most Overweight and Obese State in America

Posted By on Fri, Nov 27, 2020 at 6:56 AM

  • pexels

It's no secret that Americans struggle with obesity. In fact, a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that over 70% of American adults age 20 and older are either obese or overweight.

Personal finance website WalletHub recently produced a study that evaluates which states throughout the U.S. are the most overweight and obese based on a number of key metrics.

The study took into consideration 31 key metrics across 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Key metrics included obesity and the prevalence of those who are overweight in each state. The data was broken into categories including:

  • Share of overweight or obese adults, share of obese children and the projected obesity rate in 2030;
  • health consequences, which included the amount of adults with type 2 diabetes, heart disease rates and obesity-related death rates;
  • and food and fitness, which included fast food restaurants per capita, health-food access and the share of middle and high schools offering salad bars.
  • Based on the assessments, Ohio was ranked the No. 14 most overweight and obese state in America, decreasing four spots from last year's No. 10. We ranked No. 16 for obesity and overweight prevalence, No. 14 for health consequences and No. 15 for food and fitness.

West Virginia came in at No. 1 as the most overweight and obese state in America, while Utah once again ranked the least at No. 51.

According to the study, Ohio's most popular comfort food is buckeyes — a sweet peanut butter and chocolate treat that resembles the nut from a buckeye tree and is also the mascot for The Ohio State University. A typical serving of buckeyes is 362 calories.

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