with Mariana Alfaro

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American ingenuity in 2021 means being able to go online and listen to wind gusts on the surface of Mars while you buy a counterfeit paper coronavirus vaccination card, without ever getting an actual jab in the arm and the protections it brings.

The pandemic appears to have turned sizeable swaths of the public into nervous teenagers eagerly chasing rumors of easily obtained fake IDs, passports to a world otherwise closed to them for (hotly debated) reasons of public health.

Now, with the prospects businesses or states might require digital “vaccine passports” certifying the bearer has been inoculated against a virus that has killed nearly 570,000 Americans, some people apparently want to make sure refusing to get the shot(s) doesn’t come with any consequences for their shopping or travel.

Experts say there are legitimate concerns about “vaccine passports” – the way they risk punishing underserved populations that cannot easily get vaccinated, for example, or the possibility government might fail to secure personal data, or use it for reasons not connected to the pandemic.

The counterfeit cards, however, raise the possibility of an unvaccinated person carrying the disease into a setting with people who cannot, for health reasons, be inoculated, and spreading the potentially deadly illness.

(We get it, you’re rebelling against a tyrannical government and pulling one over on the “deep state.” Just wear this shirt, Thomas Paine.)

And yes, fake vaccination cards are really a thing.

My colleague Dan Diamond reported this weekend on the booming cottage industry of selling blank copies of the cards, which feature logos from the Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“For months, officials have been a step behind the scammers, who have openly discussed strategies to fake the cards on social media, sold them on sites such as eBay and pulled blank photos off state websites. Federal officials’ decision to use paper cards that can be easily photocopied or even printed off a template, rather than a digital tracking system, worsened those risks.

’This is exactly the scenario that you want to guard against. It undermines the entire effort by having falsified cards out there,’ said Jennifer Kates, who oversees global health policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation and reviewed asianjackson’s eBay listings. ‘It certainly bolsters the argument for a digitized mechanism — which isn’t a tamper-proof system, but certainly a more secure one.’”

Federal officials last summer discussed using a digital approach, tracking shots by geographic area and keeping records on who had received what vaccine dose, Dan reported.

“But technical setbacks and time pressure forced the administration to rely instead on paper cards, which the CDC had positioned as a ‘fail-safe,’” one official told Dan.

The black and white, 4-inch-by-3-inch cards are easily faked. They feature the cardholder’s name and birthdate, in addition to the logos. They also include the name of the vaccine maker (Pfizer, for instance), the lot number, and date and location the shot was given.

Fake cards have spread enough that the National Association of Attorneys General released a letter early this month, signed by more than 40 of its members, urging Twitter, eBay and Shopify to crack down on the practice.

“The false and deceptive marketing and sales of fake COVID vaccine cards threatens the health of our communities, slows progress in getting our residents protected from the virus, and are a violation of the laws of many states,” they wrote.

The online commerce sites should track ads or sales of blank or “fraudulently completed” cards, block efforts to make such sales, and preserve “the content, username, and actual user identity” of would-be sellers, they wrote.

The letter came days after the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center warned against buying counterfeit vaccination cards.

“By misrepresenting yourself as vaccinated when entering schools, mass transit, workplaces, gyms, or places of worship, you put yourself and others around you at risk of contracting COVID-19,” the FBI warned. 

Because of the federal logos, making the cards may also be a crime – punishable with a fine and up to five years in prison.

A recent (and admittedly cursory) online search turned up hundreds of sellers of plastic pouches for vaccination cards, but no actual cards (unless you count this template available on the Tennessee Department of Health website).

Other online options definitely gave off the trying-too-hard vibe of the “Official Photo Identification” I bought in New York’s Times Square at 18.

Can this be fixed? Probably. But Dan’s reporting led to a sobering point:

While state and local immunization registries do store individual coronavirus vaccination data, officials said there’s no current system that would allow businesses, schools and other organizations to easily check the databases to see if a visitor was presenting a falsified paper card.”

What’s happening now

Testimony in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is charged with the murder of George Floyd, wraps up today. “Prosecutor Steve Schleicher is expected to deliver the closing argument for the state, followed by Chauvin defense attorney Eric Nelson, and then the prosecution’s rebuttal by Jerry Blackwell. Jury deliberations would begin afterward,” Holly Bailey, Abigail Hauslohner, Lateshia Beachum and Keith McMillan report.  

“If there is a conviction on any count, [Judge Peter Cahill] can either allow Chauvin to remain free on bail or be taken into custody until sentencing. Given the seriousness of the charges, it's nearly certain that conviction would mean Chauvin's immediate detention,” the Star Tribune’s Paul Walsh reports. “Not guilty on all charges, and Chauvin walks right out of the courtroom to never be tried again for the same act.” Cahill has said “there will be at least an hour between him being notified of the verdicts and them being read in court. ... The judge also said that if the jury has verdicts to return near 7 p.m., when deliberations are to wrap up each day, he will wait until the next morning to have them read.” 

As the verdict looms, there is a strong military presence in the Twin Cities. “Thousands of armed Guard members in fatigues are stationed on street corners — in front of libraries, laundromats, pharmacies, restaurants, office buildings and grocery stores. Businesses have boarded up windows, public buildings are surrounded by razor wire and for several nights last week curfews forced Twin Cities residents indoors after dark,” the Star Tribune’s Katie Galioto reports. “Stung by criticism of the response to riots last spring, when more than 1,000 buildings and businesses were damaged, Gov. Tim Walz, Mayor Jacob Frey and other leaders have opted for a massive presence to maintain law and order.” 

The former law enforcement officer suspected of gunning down three people in Austin last night was captured after a 20-hour manhunt. “Authorities tracked down Stephen Nicholas Broderick, 41, an ex-detective at the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, early Monday after getting two 911 calls about a man walking along a road in the Austin suburb of Manor. He had a pistol in his waistband but was taken into custody without any further violence,” Brittany Shammas reports.

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Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • "Federal turf wars over coronavirus rescues created ‘health and safety risks,’ watchdog concludes," by Dan Diamond: “A chaotic effort to return hundreds of Americans to the United States in the earliest days of the coronavirus outbreak — including bureaucratic infighting over whether flights out of Wuhan, China, were an ‘evacuation’ or ‘repatriation’ — put the evacuees, federal officials and even U.S. communities at risk, a government watchdog concluded.” Read the Government Accountability Office report here.
  • The race to untangle the secrets of rare, severe blood clots after Johnson & Johnson vaccination,” by Carolyn Y. Johnson: Making sense of rare, possibly related adverse events after vaccination can be notoriously tricky, but in this case, U.S. health officials have a blueprint. European scientists’ detective work on similar cases in March, paired with decades of painstaking research into an obscure immune reaction to the anticoagulant drug heparin, have given them a probable — but not certain — mechanism, just weeks after the cases began to be detected.”
  • Union alleges Amazon pressured workers as it seeks to set aside warehouse vote,” by Jay Greene: “The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union filed its objections with the National Labor Relations Board Friday, a move that triggers a hearing process to resolve its claims. Labor laws require the agency to set that hearing within 15 business days of the vote tally, or by April 30. If the union succeeds, the labor board could call for a new election.”
  • NASA flies a helicopter on Mars, the first time an aircraft has flown on another planet,” by Christian Davenport: “At about 3:30 a.m., the twin, carbon-fiber rotor blades began spinning furiously, and the chopper, called Ingenuity, lifted off the surface of the Red Planet, reaching an altitude of about 10 feet, where it hovered, turned and landed softly in an autonomous flight that lasted just 30 seconds, the space agency said.”
NASA successfully flew the four-pound helicopter named Ingenuity on the surface of Mars on April 19, the first powered flight of an aircraft on another planet. (NASA)

… and beyond

  • Trump’s fight with Murkowski roils GOP with new Alaska Senate challenger emerging,” by CNN’s Manu Raju and Alex Rogers: “Republican Kelly Tshibaka, a former Alaska Department of Administration commissioner, has offered herself as a vessel for the supporters of the former President, who won the state twice, as she lambasts Murkowski for her penchant for deal-cutting and breaking with Trump. The race is the first proxy battle between Trump, whose top political advisers have joined Tshibaka's campaign, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is backing the nearly 20-year incumbent.”
  • Proposed bill would make protesters convicted of an offense ineligible for student loans,” the Minnesota Daily’s Samantha Hendrickson reports: “Other forms of state financial aid, including food stamps, rent assistance and unemployment benefits, are also in the bill. Some University of Minnesota students are currently awaiting their court date after being arrested for protesting on highway I-94 last November. Thousands of college students from several universities across the Twin Cities have participated in protests against police brutality, following the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020.”

The first 100 days

President Biden will meet with a bipartisan group of lawmakers today as he continues to push his $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan. 
  • “Biden has continued to insist that he wants a bipartisan deal, even as Democrats in Congress maneuver to move ahead alone if they can’t get buy-in from Republicans,” John Wagner reports. “Lawmakers invited to Monday’s meeting have all previously served as a mayor or governor, jobs that made them fully acquainted with the importance of infrastructure, the White House reasons.”
  • But all hope for a bipartisan deal may not be lost: Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said Republican senators could be open to a smaller infrastructure bill of around $800 billion. On Sunday, Cornyn told Fox News that “there is a core infrastructure bill that we could pass.” “Let’s do it and leave the rest for another day and another fight,” he added. UPDATE: Cornyn’s office emails to note he did not endorse that dollar figure, but is open to a smaller, targeted bill.
  • A major Republican criticism of the Biden administration’s framework is that it includes some funding, such as $400 billion for caring for senior and disabled Americans, that they don’t believe should be considered infrastructure,” the Wall Street Journal’s John D. McKinnon reports. “Republicans also are generally concerned about Mr. Biden’s plan to offset the cost of his package with corporate tax increases.’"
ICE and the Border Patrol will stop using terms like “illegal alien” and “assimilation” under a new Biden executive order. 
  • The move is a rebuke of terms widely used under the Trump administration, Maria Sacchetti reports. “Among the changes: ‘Alien’ will become ‘noncitizen or migrant,’ ‘illegal’ will become ‘undocumented,’ and ‘assimilation’ will change to ‘integration.’”
  • The change is detailed in memos expected to be sent to immigration enforcement agencies today. “The memos also send a clear signal to a pair of law-enforcement agencies — and their associated labor unions that endorsed Trump’s candidacy for president — that under the Biden administration, their approach must change. ‘As the nation’s premier law enforcement agency, we set a tone and example for our country and partners across the world,’ CBP’s top official, Troy Miller, said in his memo.”
Adults in all U.S. states, D.C. and Puerto Rico are now eligible for vaccination, hitting Biden’s April 19 target. 
  • “The United States is administering an average of 3.2 million doses a day, up from roughly 2.5 million a month before. More than 131 million people, or half of all American adults, had received at least one shot as of Sunday,” the Times reports. “About 84.3 million people have been fully vaccinated.” The Times cites Nandita Mani, associate medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Washington Medical Center: “It’s truly historic that we have already reached this milestone."
Biden is holding a virtual Leaders Summit on Climate on Thursday.
  • The event is meant to signal the United States’ move to reassert its global leadership on climate issues. Forty world leaders have been invited to participate.
  • Biden “faces a vexing task: how to put forward a nonbinding but symbolic goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that will have a tangible impact on climate change efforts not only in the U.S. but throughout the world,” the AP reports. “The emissions target, eagerly awaited by all sides of the climate debate, will signal how aggressively Biden wants to move on climate change.”
  • “The number has to be achievable by 2030 but aggressive enough to satisfy scientists and advocates who call the coming decade a crucial, make-or-break moment for slowing climate change.”
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin will give a speech during the summit, in which he will "outline Russia’s approaches in the context of forging broad international cooperation aimed at overcoming the negative effects of global climate change,” the Kremlin said, per Isabelle Khurshudyan. “Putin has previously acknowledged that global warming is a direct threat to the country and that Russia is warming 2.5 times faster than the rest of the planet due to its vast Arctic territories. But Moscow has also published plans for how to ‘use the advantages’ of warmer temperatures — in particular, more access to navigation in the Arctic Ocean.”
  • Mexico's Andrés Manuel López Obrador will propose a new migration agreement between the countries of North and Central America during the climate meeting, CNN reports. “His proposal would ask Central American migrants as well as Mexicans considering emigration to work planting trees and crops across Mexico for three years in return for an eventual six-month US work visa.”
  • The White House removed Betsy Weatherhead, a scientist picked by the Trump administration to oversee the government’s definitive report on the effects of climate change, from her position, Jason Samenow reports. “According to people with knowledge of the situation, there was friction between Weatherhead and some of the officials among the 13 agencies participating in the research program on the direction of the report.” Per two officials, she was reassigned to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Quote of the day

Folks, I have good news,” Biden says in a White House video released this morning. “Everybody is eligible, as of today, to get the vaccine. We have enough of it; you need to be protected, and you need, in turn, to protect your neighbors and your family. So please, get the vaccine.”

More on our divided America

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is threatening retaliation against Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.). 
  • Waters was in Minnesota this weekend, where she said protesters should “get more confrontational” if Chauvin is not found guilty of murder in George Floyd’s death. McCarthy claimed Waters was “inciting violence” in Minneapolis and urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to discipline Waters. Other Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) also criticized Waters.
Minnesota police officers allegedly assaulted journalists covering unrest. Gov. Tim Walz (D) told police to “make changes.” 
  • “On Saturday, a lawyer representing more than 20 news media organizations sent a letter to Mr. Walz and leaders of Minnesota law enforcement organizations detailing a series of alleged assaults of journalists by police officers in the past week. Journalists have been sprayed with chemical irritants, arrested, thrown to the ground and beaten by police officers while covering protests, wrote the lawyer, Leita Walker,” the Times reports. “Apologies are not enough; it just cannot happen,” Walz said in response.
  • Details of the alleged attacks against journalists surfaced online over the weekend, including this account of the arrest of a CNN producer:

There's still a bear in the woods

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was moved a prison hospital amid concerns for his failing health.
  • The jailed Russian opposition leader’s allies have warned that he is “days” away from dying, Isabelle Khurshudyan reports. He was moved to the hospital this morning. “The 44-year-old Navalny is 21 days into a hunger strike, demanding access to proper medical care at his expense. ... In social media posts, doctors affiliated with Navalny said his health has rapidly deteriorated from the hunger strike and possible lingering effects from the nerve-agent poisoning that nearly killed him in August.”
  • U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN on Sunday that the Biden administration has warned Russia that there will be consequences if Navalny dies in prison.” Meanwhile, Russia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Andrei Kelin, told the BBC that Navalny “will not be allowed to die in prison” and claimed that his calls for medical help are an attempt to “attract attention.”
A controversial Russia expert whose bid to join the National Security Council caused an outcry among Kremlin critics is no longer under consideration for the role.
  • “Matthew Rojansky, the director of the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute, was being considered for the position of Russia director on the NSC — an influential role that would make him a key touchpoint between the various Cabinet agencies seeking to drive a concerted response to Russia’s aggressive moves in Eastern Europe and beyond,” Politico’s Natasha Bertrand reports. “But several current and former senior officials warned the White House against hiring Rojansky, arguing that appointing him would signal a conciliatory U.S. policy toward Moscow, said the people, who requested anonymity to describe the internal deliberations.”

Hot on the left

“Biden’s American Jobs Plan has put the United States on an aggressive path toward a clean electricity standard (CES) that, at least for the moment, is ambitious in scope and vague in the particulars,” The American Prospect’s Gabrielle Gurley reports. “The administration would require electric utilities to incorporate specified amounts of solar or wind and cleaner fuels in their energy portfolios and increase those sources over time, correspondingly decreasing dirtier fuels, to achieve ‘100 percent carbon-pollution free electricity by 2035.’ That’s one of the details that politicos, environmentalists, and infrastructure cognoscenti are now eagerly picking apart. The purposeful vagueness of the proposal doesn’t really tamp down objections in a Congress drowning in discord, and it also raises a host of other questions.”

Hot on the right

“One America News Network stays true to Trump,” the Times’s Rachel Abrams writes. “One America News Network, a right-wing cable news channel available in some 35 million households, has continued to broadcast segments questioning the validity of the 2020 presidential election. ... [But] some of OAN’s coverage has not had the full support of the staff. In interviews with 18 current and former OAN newsroom employees, 16 said the channel had broadcast reports that they considered misleading, inaccurate or untrue. [Still,] To go by much of OAN’s reporting, it is almost as if a transfer of power had never taken place.”

Public transportation, visualized

Public transit demand during the pandemic has shifted to neighborhoods with high numbers of Black, Hispanic and lower-income workers, flattening peak travel periods and forcing transit agencies to respond to new patterns before more workers return to offices this fall, a Post analysis of national transit data shows.

Today in Washington

Biden will meet with a bipartisan group of lawmakers today at 1:15 p.m. to discuss his $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan. 

Looking ahead: The vice president will travel to New Hampshire on Friday. 

In closing

John Oliver, in breaking down bankruptcy, explains how we can better serve those struggling with debt: