Your Tuesday Briefing – The New York Times

Vaccine hesitancy in Romania, stoked by powerful forces online and in the real world, has left the country with Europe’s second-lowest vaccination rate and the world’s highest per capita death rate from Covid-19 in recent weeks. Around 44 percent of adults have had at least one dose, ahead of only Bulgaria, which is at 29 percent. The E.U. overall stands at 81 percent.

“This wave is far worse than the others — it is like a war,” said one doctor working at an infectious disease hospital in the Romanian capital, Bucharest. The surge in cases could have been avoided if more people had been vaccinated, she said.

The history of Communism in Eastern European countries, and the disarray and corruption that followed, has made many people suspicious of what officials and doctors tell them to do. Complicating matters, Romania has been without a government since last month, when a centrist coalition unraveled.

Mixed signals: The Romanian Orthodox church has not thrown its support behind the vaccines. Though its leader, Patriarch Daniel in Bucharest, told people to make up their own minds and listen to doctors, many local clerics and some influential bishops have denounced vaccines as the Devil’s work.

The Israeli government has called for the Biden administration to remove from a blacklist hacking software sold by an Israeli surveillance firm. The U.S. slapped sanctions on the company last week on the grounds that it had acted against the “national security or foreign policy interests” of the U.S.

The software, made by NSO Group, has been used to spy on journalists, opposition groups and rights activists. NSO says that the software — which allows governments to penetrate a phone, monitor its location and extract its contents — is intended to help countries combat organized crime and terrorism. Israel said the software was a crucial element of its foreign policy.

There have been many revelations of abuse, including that the company’s Pegasus software was used to hack the phones of political opponents in dozens of countries. On Monday, privacy experts said that Pegasus had been deployed against Palestinian rights activists, raising questions about whether the Israeli government itself was behind the hacking.

Response: The Israeli prime minister’s office and the Defense Ministry denied that Pegasus had been used to hack the Palestinians’ phones. An NSO spokeswoman said that the company would not say who used the software, and that it did not have access to information about whom the program was used against.

In the Biden administration’s latest crackdown on cybercrime, the Justice Department has charged a Russian man with conducting cyberattacks and has seized more than $6 million in ransom.

The man, Yevgeniy Polyanin, was accused in court documents of deploying ransomware known as REvil against businesses and government offices in Texas in 2019. He has not been taken into custody by American authorities, and the prospects of him facing trial in the U.S. remain unclear. The department also arrested a Ukrainian man for another attack.

The arrests are part of a sustained, coordinated, global effort to combat ransomware. That effort has intensified in recent weeks as authorities in Ukraine, Romania, Kuwait and South Korea have started arresting cybercriminals who use what is known as “ransomware as a service,” in which hackers break into a network, encrypt the data, and then demand a ransom to decrypt it.

Quotable: “The United States, together with our allies, will do everything in our power to identify the perpetrators of ransomware attacks, to bring them to justice, and to recover the funds they have stolen from their victims,” Merrick Garland, the U.S. attorney general, said in a statement.

The U.S. reopened to fully vaccinated travelers from dozens of countries yesterday, allowing some to see their loved ones for the first time in a year or more. Many Europeans struggled to understand why the ban remained in place for so long. For some travelers, the new rules brought confusion; for others, exclusion.

“My Lady Luck is back,” said one man as he waited for his girlfriend. “You can make daily calls, stay connected by FaceTime, but you want to experience her fingers, her touch, her kiss.” They saw each other from down a hallway, and embraced upon reuniting. She kept her mask on as they kissed. Read more stories of long-awaited reunions.

The Israeli historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari is the author of “Sapiens,” “Homo Deus” and “21 Lessons for the 21st Century.” He believes that human society has largely been driven by our species’s capacity to believe in what he calls fictions, whose power is derived from their existence in our collective imaginations.

When it comes to communicating the risk of climate change, scientists face a narrative problem, Harari told David Marchese in this interview in The Times.

“Our minds didn’t evolve for this kind of story,” he said. “When we evolved as hunter-gatherers, it was never the case that we could somehow change the climate in ways which were bad for us, so it’s not the kind of story that we were interested in. We were interested in the story that some people in the tribe are conspiring to kill me.”

The good news, he argued, is that the problem appears to be soluble. “According to the best reports I’ve read, if we now start investing 2 percent of global annual G.D.P. in developing eco-friendly technologies and eco-friendly infrastructure, that should be enough to prevent catastrophic climate change,” Harari said.

Shifting 2 percent of the budget is well within the power of most politicians, and it makes for a story that’s easy to communicate. “We need to stay away from the apocalyptic thinking that it’s too late and the world is ending and move toward a more practical thing: 2 percent of the budget,” he said. “It’s not very impressive, but that’s the whole point. It’s hopeful.”

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