Texas Governor: Teenager Warned He Was About to Attack Elementary School

The U.S. teenage gunman who killed at least 19 children and two adults warned in a private message on a social network shortly ahead of time that he was about to shoot up an elementary school, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Wednesday.  

Abbott described Salvador Ramos as an 18-year-old high school dropout. The governor blamed mental health issues for Ramos’ assault Tuesday on the Robb Elementary School in the small city of Uvalde, Texas, which ended when a U.S. Border Patrol agent shot Ramos dead.  

But Abbott said officials had not discovered any mental health care concerns officially registered about Ramos, although news outlets reported that on occasion Ramos had randomly fired a BB gun at people on the streets of Uvalde and thrown eggs at cars. Acquaintances said he was angry because he had not completed enough classes to graduate this week with his classmates.  

Abbott said that 30 minutes before Ramos stormed into the school, he posted a message on Facebook saying, “I’m going to shoot my grandmother,” with whom he lived, and went on to fire a shot at her face. The woman, Celia Martinez, 66, survived the attack, was hospitalized, and is reported in serious condition.  

Moments later, he said in another message, “I shot my grandmother.” 

Then, in a third message, Ramos warned, “I’m going to shoot an elementary school,” Abbott recounted. 

Andy Stone, the spokesman for Facebook’s parent company Meta, clarified the text messages were sent to one person but did not disclose which of Meta’s platforms the gunman used.  

After Ramos crashed his car in a ditch near the school, police officers employed by the school district “engaged with the gunman.” There are conflicting reports about whether gunfire was exchanged. Ramos then carried an assault weapon into the school and killed all his victims in the same fourth-grade classroom, a law enforcement official told CNN.  

Abbott said 17 others were injured in the attack, but none had life-threatening injuries. A spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety said the injured include “multiple children” who survived gunfire in their classroom. 

The issue of gun control and the sale of guns are among the most contentious in U.S. politics, and Abbott’s news conference was no exception. As the governor, a gun-rights advocate, finished speaking, Beto O’Rourke, his Democratic gubernatorial opponent in the November election, shouted at him, “You are doing nothing!” to prevent gun violence.  

“Abbott made it easier to carry guns in public,” O’Rourke said on Twitter. “The moment to stop the next slaughter is right now.” 

U.S. President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he and first lady Jill Biden would visit Texas “in coming days,” adding that “the idea that an 18-year-old can walk into a store and buy weapons of war designed and marketed to kill is, I think, just wrong, just violates common sense.” 

“The Second Amendment is not absolute,” Biden said as he called for new limits on guns. When the constitutional amendment was written, he said, “you couldn’t own a cannon. You couldn’t own certain kinds of weapons. There’s always been limitations. But guess what — these actions we’ve taken before, they save lives. They can do it again.” 

It was not immediately clear that the latest mass killing changed the minds of any opposition Republican lawmakers in the Senate, who in the past have blocked more restrictive gun measures favored by Biden and Democratic senators.  

 At least 10 Republican lawmakers would need to join all 50 Democrats in the chamber to pass gun control legislation.  

Some lawmakers talked of trying to reach legislative compromises that would require further background checks of gun buyers, extend the time frame for such checks, or ban the sale of guns over the internet.  

From 1994 to 2004, the U.S. banned the sale of assault weapons, often used in mass killings and, according to police, in Tuesday’s attack. Congress did not renew the law.     

Legislative attempts to tighten gun laws have been adamantly opposed by lobbyists for gun manufacturers and pro-gun lawmakers who cite Americans’ rights to gun ownership enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.         

Tuesday’s attack was the deadliest school shooting in Texas and the deadliest elementary school shooting since the 2012 attack on Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 26 people dead, 20 of them schoolchildren.   

Law enforcement officials say that Ramos legally purchased two assault weapons days after his 18th birthday a couple of weeks ago, along with 375 rounds of ammunition. He posted pictures of the weapons on a social media account attributed to him.  

Abbott and Texas Senator Ted Cruz were among a group of Republican figures, including former President Donald Trump, scheduled to appear Friday in Houston at the annual convention of the National Rifle Association, the gun rights group that has opposed gun control measures.  

Cruz has also received $176,274 in campaign contributions from the NRA, according to Brady United, a nonprofit organization advocating for gun control.     

The Texas elementary school has an enrollment of about 600 students in the second, third and fourth grades and sits in a mostly residential neighborhood of modest homes. The town has a population of about 16,000 people and is the seat of government for Uvalde County. It is about 135 kilometers west of San Antonio and about 120 kilometers north of the border with Mexico.  

Texas has been the scene of several mass shootings over the past five years. A year before the Santa Fe, Texas, school shooting in 2018, a gunman at a Texas church killed more than two dozen people during a Sunday service in the small town of Sutherland Springs. In 2019, another gunman at a Walmart in El Paso killed 23 people in a racist attack.  

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters. 

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US Congress Weighs Ways to Prevent Mass Shootings

U.S. lawmakers will vote Thursday on whether to impose stricter background checks on gun sales after the second-worst mass school shooting in the nation’s history earlier this week. VOA Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson reports.

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Five Ways Climate Change Is Making Poor People Poorer

Heat waves like the ones roasting South Asia this year don’t just sap people’s strength. They drain people’s finances in ways that are not always obvious.

It’s one of the ways climate change is weighing on the economy and making poor people poorer.

“These effects are global, they are pronounced, and they are persistent,” said Teevrat Garg, an economist at the University of California-San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy.

South Asia is especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change-driven heat waves. But temperature extremes are becoming more common worldwide as the planet warms.

  1. Too hot to work

March and April were the hottest or near-hottest months on record across South Asia.

Climate change made this heat wave about 100 times more likely, according to the U.K. Met Office.

The heat has been brutal for farmers, construction workers and anyone who has to work outside. That’s about half the workforce in South Asia.

“Wage laborers like us work despite the heat,” Indian construction worker Kushilal Mandal told Agence France-Presse in April. “We won’t be able to eat if we don’t work.”

At these temperatures, heatstroke and even death are real risks.

Many work sites shut down early. But that means lost wages.

The U.N. International Labor Organization says that in 2030, hours lost to heat worldwide will be the equivalent of losing at least 80 million full-time jobs.

  1. Lower earnings for outdoor work

It doesn’t take a full work stoppage to hurt workers’ wages. People just can’t do as much when it’s hot.

In a study Garg co-authored, workers in Indonesia in a hot, sunny environment were 8% less productive than those in a shady environment that was about 3 degrees cooler. Doubling wages did not increase productivity.

“It’s not about workers feeling icky or lazy or just like, ‘I don’t want to work because it’s hot,’ ” Garg said. “It’s that heat is representing binding constraints on workers’ ability to do their job.”

  1. Factory slowdowns

Heat affects workers even if they are not exerting themselves. High temperatures slow down factory workers, too.

“We think of manufacturing as a thing that occurs inside. But inside doesn’t mean protected from heat. It doesn’t mean air conditioning,” said World Bank economist Patrick Behrer.

Studies as far back as 1915 show factory workers paid by the piece earn less at higher temperatures. Even call center workers get less done in hot conditions.

“It’s harder for you to pay attention. It’s harder for you to focus. You get tired more easily,” Behrer said. “All of those things feed through to reductions in productivity.”

  1. Workplace injuries

More than wages can be at risk.

“Because you’re paying less attention to what you’re doing or you’re more tired, you’re much more likely to injure yourself,” Behrer said.

On very hot days, workers are about 10% more likely to be injured on the job than on a cool day, Behrer and colleagues found in a study.

That could mean lost wages for the day, or it could be more serious. “If you get hurt on the job, that can be a permanent change in your life,” Behrer said.

  1. Poverty traps

Poorer areas are more vulnerable to the impacts of rising temperatures than wealthier areas, researchers have found. Workers tend to be in industries that are more exposed to heat. And poor people often can’t afford air conditioning. These inequalities are expected to worsen with global warming.

High temperatures also lower crop yields, which lower household incomes in largely agrarian economies such as those of South Asia.

The effects can be passed on to children in these rural households. Garg and colleagues found that students score lower on math and reading tests the year after a hot year, perhaps because their families had less money to spend on education, or even on food or health.

 

Adaptation

Societies can adapt to hotter temperatures. Factories, for example, can buy air conditioning.

But that’s money they won’t spend on better equipment or hiring more workers, Garg noted.

“Adaptation is not free. It’s expensive. It’s costly,” he said. “And in general we find that the poorer you are, the more expensive it is.”

Social safety net programs can help. Garg and colleagues, for example, conducted a study focused on a safety net program in India that supplemented income in rural areas. Since heat waves did not affect farm households’ budgets as much, the effect of heat on students’ test scores was smaller.

With heat waves becoming more common, demand for safety-net programs is growing.

“Countries are already paying for climate change,” Garg said, “because the demand on social protection is rapidly increasing as we get more and more hot days.”

“When we think about climate investments, [typically] we’re thinking about seawalls and green energy. And all of that’s quite important. But … safety net [programs] are going to play a huge role for low- and middle-income populations,” he said.

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Sanctions Frustrating Russian Ransomware Actors

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine appears to be having an unanticipated impact in cyberspace — a decrease in the number of ransomware attacks. 

“We have seen a recent decline since the Ukrainian invasion,” Rob Joyce, the U.S. National Security Agency’s director of cybersecurity, told a virtual forum Wednesday. 

Joyce said one reason for the decrease in ransomware attacks since the February 24 invasion is likely improved awareness and defensive measures by U.S. businesses. 

He also said some of it is tied to measures the United States and its Western allies have taken against Moscow in response to the war in Ukraine. 

“We’ve definitively seen the criminal actors in Russia complain that the functions of sanctions and the distance of their ability to use credit cards and other payment methods to get Western infrastructure to run these [ransomware] attacks have become much more difficult,” Joyce told The Cipher Brief’s Cyber Initiatives Group. 

“We’ve seen that have an impact on their [Russia’s] operations,” he added. “It’s driving the trend down a little bit.” 

Just days after Russian forces entered Ukraine, U.S. cybersecurity officials renewed their “Shields Up” awareness campaign, encouraging companies to take additional security precautions to protect against potential cyberattacks by Russia itself or by criminal hackers working on Moscow’s behalf. 

 

 

And those officials caution Russia still has the capability to inflict more damage in cyberspace. 

“Russia is continuing to explore options for potential cyberattacks,” the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s Matthew Hartman told a meeting of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week. 

“We are seeing glimpses into targeting and into access development,” Hartman said, noting Russia has for now held back from launching any major cyberattacks against the West. “We do not know at what point a calculus may change.” 

FBI cyber officials have likewise voiced concern that it could be a matter of time before the Kremlin authorizes cyberattacks targeting U.S. critical infrastructure, including against the energy, finance and telecommunication sectors. 

 

 

U.S. and NATO officials on Wednesday also cautioned that it would be a mistake to think that just because there have been few signs of “catastrophic effects” that Russia has not tried to leverage its cyber capabilities to its advantage. 

“It has been happening and it’s still happening,” said Stefanie Metka, head of the Cyber Threat Analysis Branch at NATO. “There’s a lot of cyber activity that’s happening all the time and probably we won’t know the full extent of it until we turn the computers back on.”  

Said the NSA’s Joyce: “If you look at Ukraine, they have been heavily targeted. What we’ve seen are a number of wiper viruses, seven or eight different or unique wiper viruses that have been thrown into the ecosystem of Ukraine and its near abroad.” Wiper viruses are viruses that erase a computer’s memory.

These included a cyberattack against a satellite communications company, which hampered the ability of Ukraine’s military to communicate and had spillover effects across Europe. 

 

But with help from the U.S. and other allies, Ukraine was able to mitigate the impact, Joyce said. 

“The Ukrainians have been under threat and under pressure for a number of years, and so they have continued to adapt and improve and develop their tradecraft to the point where they mount a good defense and, equally as important, they mount a great incident response,” he said.  

Some cybersecurity experts say that ability to respond might be one of the biggest take-aways, so far, from the invasion. 

“Resiliency matters,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, the founder of the Silverado Policy Accelerator and the former chief technology officer of cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, at Wednesday’s virtual forum. “The Ukrainians have gotten really, really good at rebuilding networks, quickly mitigating damage.” 

Another key lesson, he said, is the limitations of cyber. 

“If you’ve got kinetic options, if you can create a crater somewhere, take out a substation, take out a communication system, that’s what you’re going to prefer to use,” Alperovitch said. “That’s what’s easiest [to do] to get lasting damage.” 

 

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Six Ways Climate Change Is Making Poor People Poorer 

Heat waves like the ones roasting South Asia this year don’t just sap people’s strength. They drain people’s finances in ways that are not always obvious.

It’s one of the ways climate change is weighing on the economy and making poor people poorer.

“These effects are global, they are pronounced, and they are persistent,” said Teevrat Garg, an economist at the University of California-San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy.

South Asia is especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change-driven heat waves. But temperature extremes are becoming more common worldwide as the planet warms.

  1. Too hot to work

March and April were the hottest or near-hottest months on record across South Asia.

Climate change made this heat wave about 100 times more likely, according to the U.K. Met Office.

The heat has been brutal for farmers, construction workers and anyone who has to work outside. That’s about half the workforce in South Asia.

“Wage laborers like us work despite the heat,” Indian construction worker Kushilal Mandal told Agence France-Presse in April. “We won’t be able to eat if we don’t work.”

At these temperatures, heatstroke and even death are real risks.

Many work sites shut down early. But that means lost wages.

The U.N. International Labor Organization says that in 2030, hours lost to heat worldwide will be the equivalent of losing at least 80 million full-time jobs.

  1. Lower earnings for outdoor work

It doesn’t take a full work stoppage to hurt workers’ wages. People just can’t do as much when it’s hot.

In a study Garg co-authored, workers in Indonesia in a hot, sunny environment were 8% less productive than those in a shady environment that was about 3 degrees cooler. Doubling wages did not increase productivity.

“It’s not about workers feeling icky or lazy or just like, ‘I don’t want to work because it’s hot,’ ” Garg said. “It’s that heat is representing binding constraints on workers’ ability to do their job.”

  1. Factory slowdowns

Heat affects workers even if they are not exerting themselves. High temperatures slow down factory workers, too.

“We think of manufacturing as a thing that occurs inside. But inside doesn’t mean protected from heat. It doesn’t mean air conditioning,” said World Bank economist Patrick Behrer.

Studies as far back as 1915 show factory workers paid by the piece earn less at higher temperatures. Even call center workers get less done in hot conditions.

“It’s harder for you to pay attention. It’s harder for you to focus. You get tired more easily,” Behrer said. “All of those things feed through to reductions in productivity.”

  1. Workplace injuries

More than wages can be at risk.

“Because you’re paying less attention to what you’re doing or you’re more tired, you’re much more likely to injure yourself,” Behrer said.

On very hot days, workers are about 10% more likely to be injured on the job than on a cool day, Behrer and colleagues found in a study.

That could mean lost wages for the day, or it could be more serious. “If you get hurt on the job, that can be a permanent change in your life,” Behrer said.

  1. Poverty traps

Poorer areas are more vulnerable to the impacts of rising temperatures than wealthier areas, researchers have found. Workers tend to be in industries that are more exposed to heat. And poor people often can’t afford air conditioning. These inequalities are expected to worsen with global warming.

High temperatures also lower crop yields, which lower household incomes in largely agrarian economies such as those of South Asia.

The effects can be passed on to children in these rural households. Garg and colleagues found that students score lower on math and reading tests the year after a hot year, perhaps because their families had less money to spend on education, or even on food or health.

 

Adaptation

Societies can adapt to hotter temperatures. Factories, for example, can buy air conditioning.

But that’s money they won’t spend on better equipment or hiring more workers, Garg noted.

“Adaptation is not free. It’s expensive. It’s costly,” he said. “And in general we find that the poorer you are, the more expensive it is.”

Social safety net programs can help. Garg and colleagues, for example, conducted a study focused on a safety net program in India that supplemented income in rural areas. Since heat waves did not affect farm households’ budgets as much, the effect of heat on students’ test scores was smaller.

With heat waves becoming more common, demand for safety-net programs is growing.

“Countries are already paying for climate change,” Garg said, “because the demand on social protection is rapidly increasing as we get more and more hot days.”

“When we think about climate investments, [typically] we’re thinking about seawalls and green energy. And all of that’s quite important. But … safety net [programs] are going to play a huge role for low- and middle-income populations,” he said.

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Pfizer to Offer Low-Cost Medicines, Vaccines to Poor Nations 

Pfizer said Wednesday that it will provide nearly two dozen products, including its top-selling COVID-19 vaccine and treatment, at not-for-profit prices in some of the world’s poorest countries.

The drugmaker announced the program at the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland, and said it was aimed at improving health equity in 45 lower-income countries. Most of the countries are in Africa, but the list also includes Haiti, Syria, Cambodia and North Korea.

The products, which are widely available in the U.S. and the European Union, include 23 medicines and vaccines that treat infectious diseases, some cancers and rare and inflammatory conditions. Company spokeswoman Pam Eisele said only a small number of the medicines and vaccines are currently available in the 45 countries.

New York-based Pfizer will charge only manufacturing costs and “minimal” distribution expenses, Eisele said. It will comply with any sanctions and all other applicable laws.

The drugmaker also plans to provide help with public education, training for health care providers and drug supply management.

“What we discovered through the pandemic was that supply was not enough to resolve the issues that these countries are having,” Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla said Wednesday during a talk at Davos.

He noted that billions of doses of the company’s COVID-19 vaccine, Comirnaty, have been offered for free to low-income countries, mainly through the U.S. government, but those doses can’t be used right now.

Earlier this month, the head of the World Health Organization called on Pfizer to make its COVID-19 treatment more widely available in poorer countries.

Comirnaty brought in nearly $37 billion in sales last year, and analysts expect the company’s COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid to add almost $24 billion this year, according to the data firm FactSet.

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