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Democrats smell a rout — and the chance to control redistricting in 2021

Some Republicans, however, acknowledge the party faces a genuine threat in longtime conservative bastions like Texas.

“The switch was flipped on in the November 2018 midterm elections. It was, ‘Oh boy, this is real, we better get our act together,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican strategist in Texas. “But I’m also not sure the party has figured it out.”

Democrats are far more cognizant of the opportunity and risk of redistricting than they were in 2010. National Democratic groups, including the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Governors Association, have separate efforts to help Democrats compete in down-ballot races.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the campaign arm for statehouse Democrats, is on track to raise and spend about five times more than it did during the last redistricting cycle.

“Democratic donors across the country really understand the significance of legislative races across the country,” said DLCC President Jessica Post, who was a junior staffer there during the Republican wave in 2010.

National groups are eyeing Texas not only because Biden is polling close to Trump, but because Democrats need to gain control of at least one chamber of the state legislature to have a say in the state’s congressional map.

Texas stands to gain a handful of new congressional seats after the Census. In 2018, Democrats flipped two state Senate seats and 12 in the state House. The nine state House seats Democrats are eyeing to flip the chamber were all carried by former Rep. Beto O’Rourke when he ran for Senate two years ago.

In an interview, O’Rourke said years of litigation over the state’s maps — and claims those maps have diluted the power of voters of color — are motivating Democratic voters.

“Folks are talking about this and they get that if we have a Democratic majority, not only can we help decide what those new congressional districts look like, we can help to redraw existing state House, state Senate, U.S. Congress districts to include instead of exclude Black and brown voters in this state,” O’Rourke said.

O’Rourke is among the higher-profile Democrats working to direct resources and attention to obscure statehouse races in states like Texas and North Carolina.

So, too, is Virginia State Delegate Danica Roem, who in 2017 was the first openly transgender person to be elected to a U.S. statehouse. Roem said she’s held Zoom calls to help raise money for candidates or state parties in places like North Carolina and Texas.

In some areas, Democrats don’t need to win outright to advance their cause. In Kansas, they’re aiming to break the GOP’s statehouse supermajority so Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly can wield her veto power over congressional maps. To do that, they need to flip one seat in the state House and two in the state Senate.

Democrats are zeroing in on races in states with independent redistricting commissions that have come under fire from Republicans. They include Michigan, where Republican lawmakers have tried to take control of funding for the redistricting commission, and Arizona, where legislators have tried to split a legislative district that is the only majority Native American one in the state.

North Carolina is important for another reason. Despite having a Democratic governor, state rules prevent him from vetoing maps crafted by the majority GOP legislature.

Several factors make Democrats believe this time will be different. They’ve already made important strides to thwart Republican map-making in 2021, including winning the governorships in Wisconsin and Michigan and reelecting Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf. They also forced the redrawing of some old maps that put them in better position in places like North Carolina, and are encouraged by recent turnout in primaries in Wisconsin and Georgia during the coronavirus pandemic.

At the same time, with so much attention focused on the presidential election and control of the Senate, many Democrats still worry that down-ballot races will get short shrift.

“The question is … given the extraordinary and appropriate emphasis on the presidential race and the extraordinary emphasis on winning back the Senate, are we going to miss the third leg of this stool, which is losing control of the states and having this extreme congressional and legislative gerrymandering for another decade,” asked Tom Steyer, the billionaire climate activist who ran for president and has spent hundreds of millions to elect Democrats.

Steyer said he’s encouraged by the grass-roots activity on the ground. Yet taken together, he’s still concerned about the broader “Republican playbook” — which he said includes redistricting, voter suppression and preventing vote-by mail expansion — if Democrats don’t remain vigilant.

Dave Abrams, deputy executive director of the Republican State Leadership Committee, predicted that Democrats are “going to fail again” at the state level despite their renewed efforts. He said voters would “definitively reject the liberals’ new radical agenda that dismantles our nation and replaces it with a lawless society.”

But Texas House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner, who lost his state seat to remapping in 2010 and was later reelected, said that recent polls showing Trump and Biden virtually tied in Texas suggests the president is slipping in the suburbs. That alone, he said, is plenty of incentive for national Democrats to play in the Lone Star state.

“We’re very bullish about 2020,” he said, pointing to the party’s gains in Texas in the 2018 midterms. “It’s a complete train wreck of an environment for the Republican Party right now.”

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Shanghai soars more than 4% as ‘bull sentiment’ drives markets

Stocks in Asia Pacific were higher in Monday trade, with stocks in mainland China leading gains regionally.

The Shanghai composite soared 4.24% in morning trade while the Shenzhen component rose 3.29%. The Shenzhen composite also jumped 3.1% 

Jackson Wong, asset management director at Amber Hill Capital, told CNBC in an email that “bull sentiment” in mainland Chinese shares was “driving the markets.”

Wong said the “sudden surge” in trading volume, as well as a break out for the Shanghai composite last week, raised investor expectations that “another bull run is coming.” Some of the reasons he suggested for the uptick in sentiment included the country being less affected by the coronavirus outbreak at the moment.

Bank of Communications’ Hao Hong agreed partly with Wong’s assessment, telling CNBC that the Shanghai composite has “broken through” its 850-day long-term moving average.

“The market continues to believe that the central bank will ease more, as seen by China’s recent credti and monetary expansion,” Hong, 

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index also saw robust gains, rising 3.15% in morning trade.

Elsewhere in the region, the Nikkei 225 in Japan rose 1.55% while the Topix index added 1.45%. South Korea’s Kospi advanced 1.38%.

Meanwhile, shares in Australia edged higher, as the S&P/ASX 200 added 0.22%.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index traded 1.45% higher.

The moves upward regionally came despite the World Health Organization saying Saturday that more than 200,000 coronavirus cases were confirmed over a 24-hour period — a record.

Over in the U.S., the states of Florida and Texas reported daily record spikes in coronavirus cases on Saturday. The recent surge in cases has raised concerns over the possibility of lockdowns being reintroduced to curb the virus’ spread, that could put a dent on the prospects for economic recovery.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was last at 96.99 after touching an earlier high of 97.195.

The Japanese yen traded at 107.67 per dollar after strengthening from levels above 108 against the greenback last week. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.6955 following a rise from levels around $0.684 in the previous trading week.

Oil prices were mixed in the morning of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures up 0.35% to $42.95 per barrel. U.S. crude futures, on the other hand, shed 0.64% to $40.39 per barrel.

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Ryan Adams Apologizes To Mandy Moore And Other Women Who Accused Him Of Abuse

Singer-songwriter Ryan Adams — who was accused of sexual misconduct and psychological abuse last year by several women, including ex-wife Mandy Moore — apologized for his past “harmful behavior.”

In a letter published in The Daily Mail Friday, the prolific musician expressed regret for how he “mistreated people throughout my life and career,” adding that, after this “period of isolation and reflection,” he’s now sober and in therapy.  

“All I can say is that I’m sorry. It’s that simple,” Adams wrote. “That being said, no amount of growth will ever take away the suffering I had caused. I will never be off the hook and I am fully accountable for my harmful behavior, and will be for my actions moving forward.”

The New York Times published an expose in February 2019 detailing Adams’ alleged pattern of manipulative and abusive behavior involving young female musicians. Seven women, including Moore and singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers, said he dangled career opportunities in front of them before pursuing them for sex, only to later retaliate against them professionally.

Moore, who was married to Adams from 2009 to 2016, said that “music was a point of control” in their marriage.

Adams was also accused of initiating sexually explicit communications with an underage fan, which prompted the FBI to open an investigation into the alleged texts. There’s been no further news about the investigation since it was first reported in 2019.

At the time, Adams apologized for “unintentionally” causing pain. But his lawyer denied that he “ever engaged in inappropriate online sexual communications with someone he knew was underage.”

The Grammy-nominated singer didn’t address the accusations specifically in his statement. But Adams wrote that he’s “truly realized the harm that I’ve caused” and vowed to “finally start to fix myself so I could be a better friend, a better partner, and a better man overall.”

Adams acknowledged that many will consider his remarks the “same empty bullshit apology that I’ve always used when I was called out” but added that he’s since made significant changes in his life, including seeking professional help and prioritizing his sobriety. 

“There is no way to convince people that this time is truly different, but this is the albatross that I deserve to carry with me as a result of my actions,” he wrote. 

Adams scrapped multiple albums and a European tour in the wake of the accusations. He hinted that he might make a return to music in his statement, saying that he’s written enough to “fill half a dozen albums” over the past year. Adams shared on Instagram on the day of his apology that he relaunched his website.

He concluded his apology: “I hope that the people I’ve hurt will heal. And I hope that they will find a way to forgive me.”

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The Coronavirus Cost Of Your July 4th Barbecue

BuzzFeed News has reporters around the world bringing you trustworthy stories about the impact of the coronavirus. To help keep this news free, become a member.

After months of stress, Americans have been looking forward to the pre–COVID-19 pleasures of a (socially distanced) 4th of July. How about a cookout? It’s a traditional, low-key summer celebration — but amid the nation’s growing outbreak, even a simple home-cooked meal comes at an exorbitant price.

A BuzzFeed News investigation reveals the extent to which the virus — and the nation’s inadequate response to it — has infected, sickened, and even killed workers up and down the nation’s food supply chains as they work to keep our refrigerators full.

Take a typical summer feast: tangy ribs, a side of creamy pasta salad, and a slice of freshly baked apple pie. If you shop at a Walmart Supercenter, in, say, Massachusetts, the apples you’d buy would have been picked by workers in Washington state’s Yakima Valley, who live in a crowded labor camp with few protections in place. The fruit would then be sorted into boxes in an Allan Bros. packhouse, which for weeks failed to follow federal COVID-19 safety guidelines — even after employees started falling ill.

The ribs would have been sliced and packed by employees at a pork processing plant — like the Tyson Foods facility in Indiana that stayed open for weeks, even as the virus spread through its staff.

The pasta would have been stacked by grocery clerks whose employer was slow to close down for a deep cleaning after workers got sick, and to inform the local health department and customers of the growing outbreak.

From those three workplaces alone — the Allan Bros. packhouse in Yakima Valley, the Tyson plant in Indiana, and the Walmart in Massachusetts — around 1,100 employees have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least four have died, according to a BuzzFeed News investigation based on government documents, company memos, and interviews with around 50 workers, managers, local officials, and labor advocates.

Worried about putting themselves and restaurant staffers at risk, many Americans have turned to home cooking as a safer, more ethical option. But what may seem safer for consumers can still be deadly for the low-paid, often immigrant workers who make up America’s sprawling food supply chains. Across the country, from fields to packhouses to slaughterhouses to grocery stores, companies failed to require masks, build protective barriers, or arrange testing until after outbreaks had spread through the workforce. Some workers in the chain still do not get sick pay, forcing them to choose between spreading the virus or missing out on paychecks — between feeding your family or protecting their own.

“I’d just like to see them keep us safe,” Dennis Medbourn, a worker at the Tyson plant in Logansport, Indiana, where three coworkers he knew have died from COVID-19 complications, told BuzzFeed News. “We’re working a lot of hours, too, to try to make up for the meat shortage.”

Courtesy Eklund Family

Yok Yen Lee (left), who died of the coronavirus, is seen with her daughter, Elaine Eklund.

One grocery worker, Yok Yen Lee, a door greeter at the Walmart in Quincy, Massachusetts, continued to report to work up until days before she died from COVID-19.

“She was really hardworking,” her daughter, Elaine Eklund, told BuzzFeed News. “She absolutely loved that job. She wanted to do that job for her whole life.”

The paths through which food reaches Americans’ plates originate on farms and in factories in small cities and rural towns before making their way across the 50 states. The networks are intricately interrelated, which means that the people who live in those areas and work in those jobs, along with the friends and relatives they come into contact with, shoulder a disproportionate share of the risk to keep the nation fed. An apple picker at a FirstFruits Farms orchard in Yakima Valley appears to have caught the virus from her husband who worked at a Tyson beef plant in the area, according to Erik Nicholson, vice president of United Farm Workers. FirstFruits didn’t respond to a detailed request for comment.

Are you still working during the coronavirus pandemic? We’d love to hear your story. Reach out at or via one of our tip line channels.

Since the start of the pandemic, around 29,000 workers at grocery stores, meatpacking plants, and other food processing facilities have been infected nationwide, and at least 225 have died, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. This is almost certainly an undercount: Many companies have declined to order widespread testing, even at workplaces where employees are falling ill. As a result, the full scope of infections among frontline food workers may never be known.

“What this pandemic is making very clear is that some of our most underpaid, marginalized, and exploited workers are, in fact, our most essential,” said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who co-sponsored a bill with other Senate colleagues in June to provide protections for the country’s agricultural workers. “Every plate of food reflects a disturbing reality: Food-supply workers — from farmworkers to grocery store clerks — are risking their lives every day to keep us fed, often in unsafe conditions, and far too often making starvation wages.”

“If they don’t work, they don’t get paid — and if they don’t get paid, they don’t eat.”


Bobby Doherty for BuzzFeed News

Bobby Doherty for BuzzFeed News

“If they don’t work, they don’t get paid — and if they don’t get paid, they don’t eat.”

On April 30, Angelina Lara felt an itch in her throat.

For seven months, she’d worked as a fruit packer for Allan Bros., one of at least 18 produce companies in Yakima Valley, a fertile agricultural zone that rolls east across central Washington from the mighty Cascade mountain range. Lara, 48, grew up in Southern California but moved to the city of Yakima in 2005, following relatives who had come for the jobs at the valley’s plentiful packhouses. Around a third of the local jobs there are in agriculture, more than the next two industries combined. Apples are one of the main businesses in town, and the fruit is at the center of the Yakima city seal. Central Washington accounts for 60% of the nation’s apple production.

Over the years, Lara worked at numerous packhouses, including a previous stint at Allan Bros. She returned to the company last year for a job that paid $13.50 an hour, more than the $12 minimum wage she made previously. Inside a squat warehouse on Highway 12 in the foothills of Mount Rainier, Lara and her fellow day shift employees washed and sorted apples, which are packed and shipped year-round in the region. Around 300 workers clock in for the day shift, standing along a brisk conveyor belt about 2 feet apart, sorting apples, like the organic Fuji variety sold at Walmarts across the country, and separating out fruit that’s been spoiled or infested with worms. (The night shift handles seasonal fruit, such as cherries.)

It’s hard, tiring work, Lara said, and “it’s impossible to be 6 feet apart because at times the line moves so fast that you need somebody to help you with all the apples.”

Elaine Thompson / AP

In this photo taken Oct. 15, 2019, workers sort Granny Smith apples to ready them for shipping in a packing plant in Yakima, Washington.

As COVID-19 was spreading across the state and the country in March and April, Allan Bros. added plexiglass barriers to the office area where management and administrators worked. “But the same was not put in the warehouse,” said Shauri Tello, who moved from Mexico to Yakima when she was 15 and began working in the fruit industry shortly after she graduated high school at age 18, two years ago.

The company hadn’t yet begun providing workers with masks, so some workers brought their own from home, according to four employees and a memo from health officials who inspected the site on May 8.

Lara didn’t immediately assume the itch in her throat meant she’d caught the coronavirus. At the time, she didn’t know if anyone at work had been infected, she said. Still, she stayed home from work the next day as a precaution. Within 24 hours, she had developed a fever. Then she began to have trouble breathing. Lara has asthma, but this was worse than any asthma attack she had ever had. “I was home alone, so I started panicking,” she said. At the hospital, she said, she paid for the COVID-19 test herself — $152 — and it came back positive.

Lara informed Allan Bros. that, under doctor’s orders, she would stay home and quarantine for two weeks. She and another worker who tested positive said that company officials told them that their leave would be unpaid.

She asked her supervisor to “let [her] coworkers know so they can take precautions,” Lara said. “They never did it. Nobody even knew I was sick.”

Three of her coworkers corroborated that claim, saying that management didn’t tell them about any cases at the plant in April and early May. In an emailed statement in response to questions, Allan Bros. denied failing to inform employees about cases until May but declined to specify when it began doing so.

Today, Yakima County has the highest rate of per capita COVID-19 cases in the Pacific Northwest — about 1 for every 34 people. In central Washington — as in other areas such as California’s Imperial and San Joaquin valleys — the agricultural industry is experiencing a reckoning; the methods for packing produce and housing migrant workers that have been maximized for efficiency have created the ideal conditions for the spread of a devastating virus.

Elaine Thompson / AP

A sign outside Yakima, Washington, declares the city the “Palm Springs of Washington,” on Wednesday, June 17, 2020

“When farmers were designing farmworker housing and warehouses in which fruit is sorted, they were in no way considering pandemics,” said Dr. Malcolm Butler, the officer for the combined health district of Chelan and Douglas counties, which lie north of Yakima and are home to some 20 agriculture companies. “They built an industry and fed the world, and unfortunately social distancing is not possible. It’s very challenging and extensive to retool an entire industry at the drop of a hat.”

By late April, the virus had been quietly spreading among apple pickers and packers in central Washington for weeks. The scope of the outbreak remained unknown, in part because many companies were reluctant to arrange comprehensive testing. But even the available case numbers at the time revealed that the region’s fruit workers were facing a mounting threat.

Two weeks before Lara got sick, on April 13, three apple pickers at the Stemilt Growers farm in Douglas County, 70 miles north of the Allan Bros. facilities, developed coughs, according to a court statement from Stemilt’s human resources director, Zach Williams. These three were among the thousands who entered the country on temporary work visas, known as H-2A, for jobs at the region’s farms. While packhouses are largely staffed with local residents who have lived in Washington for years, field work is mostly done by seasonal laborers who ride buses up from Mexico for gigs that can last upward of six months.

Elaine Thompson / AP

A supervisor looks up at a worker pulling honey crisp apples off trees during a thinning operation at an orchard in Yakima, Washington on Tuesday, June 16, 2020.

Sixty-nine of those workers were housed at Stemilt’s “North District” housing facility, Williams stated. They slept on bunk beds in rooms shared with as many as three others. They also shared a kitchen, a laundry room, and several bathrooms. In the mornings, they piled into vans that carried 14 of them at a time to the orchards.

The company began implementing new procedures to protect workers from COVID-19 as early as March 13, after a worker at a different Stemilt housing facility tested positive. In a memo to employees, Stemilt said that vans and common areas across the company would be sanitized every night and throughout the day.

Those measures weren’t enough.

While the three North District workers were awaiting their test results in mid April, three others at the camp began showing similar symptoms. Ultimately, all six tested positive, according to Williams’ statement. Over the next few days, Stemilt coordinated with local health officials to begin testing all the workers from the North District camp, as well as the eight local crew leaders who worked with them. All the crew leaders tested negative, but 44 of the 69 guest workers ultimately tested positive. When Stemilt conducted another round of testing on April 22, nine more workers tested positive. Most of the cases were asymptomatic. No one was hospitalized.

The state’s Employment Security Department said it expects 27,000 H-2A jobs in 2020. Stemilt declined to comment for this story.

Stemilt was the exception — not in terms of its explosion of cases, but because it looked for them at all. Though local officials in nearby Yakima County offered to organize free testing at all produce industry workplaces, only one fruit company, Columbia Reach Pack, had taken them up on it by late May, according to local health department documents. At most fruit companies in the region, workers only got tested if they showed symptoms or were exposed to a confirmed case, and then called health authorities. Still, by the third week of May, more than 300 fruit workers in the region had tested positive, and health officials identified outbreaks — a workplace infection rate of at least 5% — at seven of the county’s 18 produce companies.

Allan Bros., where Lara worked, was one of the companies that declined to test its workers. Danielle Vincent, a spokesperson for Allan Bros., denied that the county offered to test all its workers — though other companies confirmed the offer, and government documents show that local health officials were “Awaiting Response” from Allan Bros. on an inquiry about whether the company “Want[s] Employee Testing.”

Though 19 of 515 employees at its packhouse had been diagnosed by May 21, the company did not schedule widespread testing, according to local health department records. Workers had to decide whether to risk going to work and getting sick, or staying home and not getting paid.

“The fear of every worker that I know is that they may come down with the virus. And if they don’t work, they don’t get paid — and if they don’t get paid, they don’t eat,” said Erik Nicholson, national vice president of United Farm Workers.

Evan Abell / AP

Workers from Columbia Reach Pack continue to strike in front of the business on River Road on Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in Yakima, Washington.

COVID-19 exacerbates long-standing power disparities between farmworkers, some of whom are undocumented, and their employers, noted Beth Lyon, a law professor and founder of Cornell University’s Farmworker Legal Assistance Clinic.

And while the country has deemed them “essential” during a pandemic, most farmworkers can be fired at will, making many hesitant to advocate for safety measures.

This is particularly true of guest workers, whose visas are directly tied to their employer. “If they speak up for health protections like masks or social distancing, they are likely to lose not only their livelihood but also their housing” and their permission to be in the United States, Lyon told BuzzFeed News.

Local officials and farm owners attribute some of their slow reactions to the pandemic to the lack of direction at the federal level. That’s led the industry to “take care of itself” said Butler, the Chelan–Douglas Health District officer.

“The difficulty we’ve had was that there was absolutely no guidance on what was the right way to house H-2A workers,” he said.

Sean Gilbert, who leads Gilbert Orchards, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s changing position on masks left his company in a conundrum. In March — as the country’s top public health agency told citizens not to use masks and to save them for healthcare professionals — orchard and packhouse operators donated a few thousand N95 masks they had gathered for fire season to local hospitals. Weeks later, when the CDC changed its guidance, those businesses were left scrambling, facing stiff competition and spiking prices for face coverings as the rest of the world competed for mask shipments.

Gilbert, whose operation includes 4,000 acres of orchards and 1,200 workers during peak season, noted that apples are a “labor-intensive business” with small margins. As a result of social distancing measures, the packhouse could only prepare 10,000 boxes of apples per shift from late March to the end of May, rather than the typical 12,000.

“Keeping people apart means that people can’t hand off things in a process,” he told BuzzFeed News, “and it slows the process down.” He added that protective equipment and hazard pay add a further squeeze on Gilbert Orchards’ economics. “COVID has fundamentally changed how we do business.”

Yet he didn’t see the need to allow health officials to test all his employees. Gilbert Orchards — where at least 26 of the 350 or so employees in the packhouse, shipping, and administrative departments have been diagnosed — declined Yakima County’s offer to arrange testing at the facility and instead suggested its workers take advantage of the free testing sites local officials had set up around the valley.

Gilbert said part of his reasoning was fear of upsetting his employees. “I turned down their offer to bring in a National Guard unit to quarantine our facility while they escorted people to and from testing tents,” he told BuzzFeed News. “I felt that requiring that of all employees would have been potentially traumatic.”

Evan Abell / AP

A committee of Allan Bros. workers exits the company’s office after turning in a signed agreement to return to work, Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Naches, Washington, after a strike to protest what they consider unsafe working conditions at several fruit warehouses during the COVID-19 outbreak.

If guest workers are among the most vulnerable employees in the produce industry, workers who live year-round in central Washington are only slightly more secure.

Lara’s diagnosis, she said, threw her family into a precarious financial position. Her husband, who works at the same warehouse, and her two sons, who work as nursing assistants, tested negative but stayed home as a precaution in case they subsequently caught the virus from her. The household of four went without a paycheck for two weeks. Lara qualified for unemployment insurance because she’d been diagnosed, and her husband and sons may be eligible for family leave benefits — but whatever government money they’d receive wouldn’t come soon enough to meet the bills coming due. The family burned through years’ worth of savings in a matter of days, she said.

Back at Allan Bros., meanwhile, workers in the packhouse said the company still hadn’t distributed masks, and as the cases mounted, many were growing angry.

On May 7, dozens of Allan Bros. workers went on strike over conditions they said were unsafe; in the days that followed, around 500 workers from six other fruit companies joined them. When Lara’s quarantine ended, she took a spot in the line of workers holding signs by the road, chanting through colorful cloth masks. Local lawyers and union representatives estimated that the labor action was one of the largest they’d seen among agriculture workers in Yakima, reminiscent of the marches César Chávez attended in the county in the 1980s.

Nearly every day, at each of the seven strike locations, the workers encountered local white residents driving by, shouting at them to get back to work, said Cristina Ortega, an activist who participated in the strikes. She recalled those drivers saying things like “If you don’t like it, get out.” On another occasion, a man shouted out his car window that he was going to “come back and shoot you all,” according to a Yakima County Sheriff’s Office incident report and written witness statements. When deputies later caught him returning to the scene, he told them that Allan Bros. “treats those people very well and they should not be protesting,” according to the incident report. The man was arrested and charged with malicious harassment.

The backlash against the striking workers reflected a long-standing resistance to Yakima’s growing Latinx population for some. Latinx residents accounted for 15% of the city’s population in 1980, 30% in 2000, and 50% in 2018. Still, no Latinx candidate had been elected to office in the city until 2015, after a federal judge ruled that the city’s previous system of at-large council seats violated the Voting Rights Act. In 2016, a majority of the county’s residents cast their ballots for Donald Trump.

Three weeks into the strike, Lara finally went back to work. Allan Bros. had installed protective barriers in the packhouse, offered a $1-an-hour pay raise, and started providing masks, according to Lara and three coworkers. Though she has been cleared of infection, she still has trouble breathing and sleeps sitting up most nights. She said her doctor told her it might be months before she feels normal again.

She considers herself fortunate, she said. One of her coworkers, 60-year-old David Cruz, got sick a few days after she did. His wife and daughter tested positive too, Lara said. He had worked at the plant for 12 years, most recently putting together boxes on the upper level of the warehouse. When Lara saw him on breaks, he was “always positive, getting along with everybody,” she said. On one of the last days of work before the pandemic hit, Cruz told Lara about his plans to visit his mother in Mexico for the first time in years. “He was very happy he was going to see her,” Lara recalled. “He was planning for June or July.”

He died on May 31. His coworkers collected $4,000 to give to his wife. The mood at the packhouse has been somber since.

“Wow. It spread out really, really quick.”

Pork Ribs

Bobby Doherty for BuzzFeed News

Bobby Doherty for BuzzFeed News

“Wow. It spread out really, really quick.”

Every morning at the Tyson pork plant in Logansport, Indiana, a low-slung town of 18,000 that’s located at the intersection of three highways and surrounded by livestock ranches, farmers deliver the hogs to the kill floor, known colloquially as the “hot side.”

There, the pigs move through pens, into a machine that stuns them, and then onto a conveyor belt that carries them to the knife that slits their throats. On a normal day, Tyson’s kill floor processes five hogs every 16 seconds, according to Dennis Medbourn, a 52-year-old worker who sets the speed on the machines. Workers stand elbow to elbow along the production line, peel the hog’s skin off, cut through its center, remove its guts, and hang its carcass on a hook that takes it to the plant’s refrigerated “cold side.” The movements are strenuous and repetitive; to try to prevent injuries, ergonomic monitors — their official job title — walk up and down the line checking on the welfare of workers.

An ergonomic monitor on the hot side, a 16-year Tyson veteran who requested anonymity out of fear of losing his job, began seeing some of his coworkers wearing cloth masks they brought from home in early April.

Darron Cummings / AP

An employee leaving the Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Logansport, Indiana on Thursday, April 23, 2020.

Outbreaks were beginning to pop up at meatpacking plants around the country. Tyson had instituted temperature checks at Logansport but hadn’t yet installed plexiglass barriers or distributed any protective equipment — even though another Tyson pork plant, in Columbus Junction, Iowa, had closed on April 6, leaving the company all the more reliant on its other five hog slaughterhouses.

“That’s when everybody was thinking, Man, why don’t they close our plant?” said Medbourn. “You’d hear people coughing and stuff. People weren’t showing up for work more than usual.”

Tyson declined to comment on whether its Logansport plant increased production during that period, but a spokesperson, Liz Cronston, said, “The level of production at which we determine to operate in our facilities is dependent on ensuring team member safety.”

The company has maintained that its response to the pandemic was swifter than most. Cronston noted that Tyson began seeking masks for workers even before the CDC recommended their use, and it was one of the first companies to proactively test all employees for COVID-19. “If we learned a team member had tested positive for the virus, we notified co-workers who had been in close contact,” she said. “Our priority and focus have been the protection of our team members and their communities.”

The ergonomic monitor tried to maintain a few feet of distance when he checked on workers — but the long, open-tiered plant was loud with the whirring of electric saws, the rumble of conveyor belts, and the echoing clangs of metal. He sometimes had to lean in close to talk and hear, he said. He interacted with around 200 workers each day. Tyson began requiring employees to wear masks in mid-April.

On April 23, with rising case numbers at several facilities, Tyson organized COVID-19 testing for all 2,200 of its workers in Logansport.

The monitor and others on his shift filed into a big white tent in the parking lot, “all pushed together to get out from the rain” as nurses swabbed their noses, he said.

A few days later, he got a call informing him of his result: He had COVID-19 — one of 890 Tyson workers to test positive by the end of April in Logansport, a staggering 40% of the plant’s workforce. Like most of them, the monitor showed no symptoms at the time of diagnosis, although he did recall feeling unusually tired the previous week. He shuddered at the thought that he may have infected the people he saw every day.

“I wouldn’t have suspected if I didn’t get tested,” he said. “I was really freaked out. Just, like, wow. It spread out really, really quick.”

Tyson closed its Logansport plant for two weeks starting on April 25. All six of its pork plants have had outbreaks of at least 200 cases, and five have temporarily closed. At one point, four of the country’s five largest known outbreaks in meatpacking plants were at Tyson sites. To date, around 8,500 Tyson workers have tested positive, more than the company’s three biggest industry competitors combined, according to data compiled by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

But Tyson’s standing at the top of this list isn’t necessarily because its plants are more dangerous than those of its rivals, but because the company has been more committed to determining how many of its employees have been infected, even though revealing those numbers almost guarantees a plant’s closure. The other big meat companies — JBS, Smithfield Foods, and Cargill — haven’t conducted comprehensive testing at most facilities, even as meat processing plants became widely known as incubators for the virus.

“We believe it’s imperative that we share our experience addressing this pandemic because safety is not a point of competitive advantage,” said Cronston, Tyson’s spokesperson. “Results from these tests have allowed us to find team members who have the virus but don’t have symptoms and would not otherwise have been identified.”

For Tyson, JBS, Smithfield, and Cargill, closing a plant sends a ripple effect across both ends of the supply line. The four companies produce around 85% of the meat sold in the US, churning out pork, beef, and poultry in massive facilities staffed by the thousands of employees needed to reach output goals. The concentration of meat production into a few dozen mega-plants has led to lower prices but has also left the system vulnerable to major disruption, adding further pressure on workers to help keep the plants going.

Tyson is the largest buyer for many farmers around the country and one of the largest suppliers for many groceries, including Walmart. A plant closure can lead to lost wages for livestock sellers at the start of the chain and barren meat shelves for consumers at the end. “Our plants must remain operational,” CEO John Tyson wrote in a full-page ad in the Washington Post and New York Times in late April, noting the company’s “responsibility to feed our country.” The Trump administration codified that idea into law with its April 28 executive order granting meatpacking corporations immunity from legal liability for sick workers.

As Tyson got ready to reopen the Logansport plant, it notified employees through an automated text service that starting May 6, “If eligible to work, you will be required to work all scheduled hours in order to receive the guarantee pay.” Workers would receive a $30 “daily show up bonus” for all shifts through the end of May, another text stated. A May 8 text told employees that if they had been “symptom free for the last 72 hours without the use of any medication you can report to Tyson” — though the message didn’t include CDC’s additional recommendation that those diagnosed should only stop isolating at least 10 days from the onset of symptoms. One worker, a loin cutter in the cold side, told BuzzFeed News that he didn’t feel symptoms until 12 days after he tested positive, just as his two weeks of paid quarantine time was ending, leaving him temporarily without a paycheck as he applied for short-term disability to cover additional time off.

Michael Conroy / AP

Workers line up to enter the Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Logansport, Indiana on Thursday, May 7, 2020.

Tyson maintains that its policy has been clear: “Any team member who has tested positive will remain on sick leave until they’ve satisfied official health requirements for return to work,” Cronston said.

But some Logansport workers vented their frustrations on a private Facebook group called “Tyson Talk,” expressing dismay at the company’s plan to reopen even while nearly half of its workforce was under quarantine. They also shared health updates; on May 5, a group member wrote in both English and Spanish that someone from the slaughter side had died from the virus.

In fact, at least three workers at the Logansport plant have died of the coronavirus, according to local health officials and a union steward at the plant.

Tyson officials refused to confirm the number of workers who died. “We’re deeply saddened by the loss of any team member,” Cronston said. “We don’t have a number to share.”

Tyson also declined to provide an update on the number of confirmed cases at the plant since the 890 reported in April, but local health officials estimated that “over 1,000” of the plant’s workers have tested positive.

Cass County, where Logansport is located, has nearly triple the rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people compared to the rate of the next highest Indiana county, and Tyson’s pork processing facility is one of the area’s largest employers. Tyson was “absolutely the hot spot” for COVID-19 in the county, said Serenity Alter, the administrator for the Cass County Health Department.

The Tyson plant reopened on May 6. The company ramped up production as quickly as its workers could return, accelerating from half-capacity to nearly full capacity within two weeks. It provided face shields, built plexiglass barriers in the cafeteria, and expanded its cleaning staff.

“All you can do is wear one of these masks and wash your hands,” a Tyson senior manager in Texas said of the risk that meatpacking workers face during the pandemic. “I gotta assume most of the people in our facility have been around or interacted with someone who was positive.”

Michael Conroy / AP

Workers are seen leaving the Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Logansport carrying various types of personal protective equipment, on Thursday, May 7, 2020.

Two months removed from the Logansport plant’s mass testing, some workers are still infected with the virus, though Tyson won’t say how many are now out sick.

“We currently have very few cases,” Cronston said. “We are aware of no positive cases of any team member currently working in our facility.”

When he returned from his quarantine, the ergonomic monitor wore a mask and kept several feet of distance from the coworkers he checked on. At the facility last month, he and others walked past a daily reminder of the cost of producing pork through the pandemic: A memorial of wreaths and photos in the common area honored the three workers who have died from the virus. It stayed up until the middle of June.

“We weren’t prepared to lose her this suddenly.”


Bobby Doherty for BuzzFeed News

Bobby Doherty for BuzzFeed News

“We weren’t prepared to lose her this suddenly.”

While fruit pickers and meat-packers labor out of view of consumers, grocery clerks serve at the public-facing end point of the supply chain, the final set of hands to touch your food before you do. As grocery stores became all the more critical to keeping people fed during lockdown, their safety protocols soon concerned not just the workers who spend their days there but the customers passing through.

In March, as the US declared a state of emergency, panicked shoppers flocked to supermarkets to hoard toilet paper, flour, and pasta; in stores around the country, shelves began to empty. Some lined up in the early morning for a first crack at the inventory. Many didn’t wear masks.

It didn’t take long for the virus to reach the Walmart Supercenter in Worcester, Massachusetts, which has an online inventory that includes Tyson pork ribs and Fuji apples from Rainier Fruit, Allan Bros.’ distributor. (A spokesperson for Walmart said that Tyson pork ribs are not on the store’s shelves at this time.) On April 27, the store posted on Facebook that it would close on April 30 for a single “day of deep cleaning and sanitizing” before reopening early the next morning. Some shoppers from the postindustrial city around 50 miles from Boston were horrified.

Brian Snyder / Reuters

Shopping carts are left outside the Walmart Superstore in Worcester, Massachusetts, temporarily closed by an order from the city after numerous employees tested positive for the coronavirus, on April 30, 2020.

“How do you ‘deep clean’ in one day??” a commenter wrote.

But while shoppers had the option of staying away from the store, some of Walmart’s workers felt they did not. Despite the widespread testing shortages at the time, the company’s COVID-19 emergency leave policy didn’t offer additional paid time off to staffers unless they tested positive or were subject to mandatory quarantine — a policy that advocates said is too narrow as it doesn’t clearly cover workers who feel ill, are immunocompromised, or need to care for a sick relative.

By the end of April, Walmart knew that a growing number of employees in Worcester — as well as in another store in Quincy, an hour’s drive away — had contracted the virus, which was quickly spreading through the state. Although the company had released a plan detailing how they’d keep workers safe a month prior, the stores weren’t providing staffers or local public health departments with enough information about sick workers, records show.

“We have had consistent problems with Walmart,” Quincy’s health commissioner, Ruth Jones, wrote on April 28 to the Massachusetts attorney general’s office. “They have a cluster of Covid cases among employees and have not been cooperative in giving us contact information or in following proper quarantine and isolation guidelines.”

Yok Yen Lee, a 69-year-old door greeter at the Quincy store, was so fearful of contracting the coronavirus that she used most of her accumulated paid time off in March and early April when case numbers in the US began to skyrocket, her daughter, Elaine Eklund, told BuzzFeed News. Shortly after Lee returned to work in mid-April, she began to feel sick but assumed she’d caught a cold from spending her eight-hour shift standing outside in near-freezing temperatures. On April 11, the Quincy Health Department contacted Walmart to inform the store that one of Lee’s coworkers had tested positive for the coronavirus. Although Walmart had waived its normal attendance policy in March, Lee continued to clock in, afraid of losing her job if she took more days off, Eklund said.

Walmart’s website says it began requiring employees to wear masks on April 17. But one current Quincy checkout employee, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing their job, said management told employees in April that masks weren’t necessary. Sometimes there would be 500 people in the store and no social distancing in the employee back rooms, according to the employee. “It was like corona was a myth,” they said. A Walmart spokesperson declined to comment on these specific allegations.

Lee had worked at the store for about 15 years, after emigrating from China in the 1980s and working a series of retail jobs. Colleagues described her as a joyous woman who doled out hugs and danced spontaneously but also showed a tough side when it came to dealing with rude customers.

Lee told at least one colleague, the checkout employee, that she had a slight cough. She had attempted to apply for extended leave, but found the process, which was managed by a third-party administrator, exceedingly complicated as she primarily spoke Cantonese, Eklund said. On April 19, Lee didn’t feel well at work and went home early. The next day, she had a fever and couldn’t get out of bed. Paramedics, with the help of a maintenance worker, cut the lock to her door and rushed her to a hospital, where she was intubated. Her request for extended leave from Walmart was approved on April 28, as she lay bedridden in the ICU, Eklund recalled.

She would have turned 70 last week. Instead, she died on May 3 — one of at least 22 Walmart employees killed by COVID-19 nationwide, according to United for Respect, a labor advocacy group. Lee left behind a daughter and two grandchildren, including one who was born in December.

“She never even got a real family picture with her grandson,” Eklund said. “We were starting to become a complete family. We weren’t prepared to lose her this suddenly.”

Only after Lee died did the Quincy Walmart close its doors. It soon emerged that 33 other employees there had contracted the virus.

The Worcester Walmart became one of the largest clusters in the state, with 82 employees ultimately diagnosed with COVID-19. It was also one of the largest outbreaks at any grocery retailer in the country.

By the time the store posted on Facebook about the daylong cleaning in late April, local officials were investigating the situation. Public health inspectors obtained an internal company list showing that nearly two dozen employees had tested positive for the coronavirus before the store closed, 20 within a one-week time period, Walter Bird Jr., a city spokesperson, told BuzzFeed News.

They also reviewed a photo of a sign instructing staffers to work their scheduled shifts during that April 30 cleaning: They were expected to help “clean, sanitize and stock” the store alongside a third-party cleaning service so it would be ready to open the next morning.

Obtained by BuzzFeed News

A sign posted on the door of the Walmart Supercenter in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The city of Worcester issued a cease-and-desist order that day, “forcing the store to close immediately,” Bird said. It was the first time any US Walmart was closed by the government. The store didn’t reopen until May 5, after the company agreed to test all of the store’s nearly 400 employees.

The outbreaks in the Quincy and Worcester Walmarts were caused by “dangerous working conditions” present at other branches, as well, according to a complaint recently filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration by United for Respect, which surveyed stores nationwide. The complaint claimed that Walmart didn’t provide sufficient paid sick leave to its employees, “thereby pressuring people to go to work even if they have symptoms or have been exposed to the virus.”

The complaint also alleged that Walmart didn’t enforce social distancing and had failed to quickly close stores for cleaning and disinfecting after employees were exposed or diagnosed — as was the case in Worcester and Quincy — allowing the virus to spread further among employees and the public.

All these failures violated state and federal guidance for employers, the complaint alleged.

“Communities across the country have suffered from coronavirus cases, and with more than 1.5 million associates in the United States, and stores, clubs and other facilities located within 10 miles of 90 percent of the U.S. population, Walmart is not immune to the impact of COVID-19,” said Phillip Keene, a Walmart spokesperson. The corporation has worked “to find an appropriate balance between supporting our associates and serving our customers” during the pandemic, he said, by following deep cleaning, sanitizing, and social distancing protocols guided by the CDC. Associates are given health screenings and temperature checks prior to their shifts, for example, and employees who appear ill are asked to return home. Walmart has instructed managers since March to inform associates when one of their coworkers falls ill, Keene said.

There are no laws mandating that retailers report coronavirus cases, leaving it up to stores to decide how best to handle outbreaks. In May, a delegation of state lawmakers led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren sent a letter to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, demanding more information about how the retail giant would make changes to prevent future outbreaks and protect workers.

In its response, Walmart deflected responsibility, saying it may be “impossible to track the source of anyone’s infection.”

“Walmart’s response is unacceptable,” Warren said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “Nearly 100 Walmart workers in Massachusetts got sick with coronavirus and one died due to an outbreak at the store but the company refused to answer questions on what happened and what changes it is making to keep our residents safe at work.”

One recent afternoon in June, as protesters filled streets across the country, a line of masked shoppers stretched outside the Worcester Walmart as the store limited capacity to around 20% below its usual level. Shelves were stocked with pasta again, apples were piled into abundant mounds, and pork ribs lay beside long rows of fresh meat. Fruit farms, meatpacking plants, and grocery stores were open for business in every corner of America. The food supply chains kept on humming. ●

Courtesy Eklund Family

Yok Yen Lee, seen her carrying her granddaughter in 2018, was never able to take a full family photo with her new grandson who was born in December, according to daughter Elaine Eklund. Lee died in May of COVID-19.

Salvador Hernandez contributed reporting to this story.

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New Trump Appointee Puts Global Internet Freedom at Risk, Critics Say

WASHINGTON — When Michael Pack, a conservative filmmaker and ally of Stephen K. Bannon, recently fired the heads of four U.S. government-funded news outlets, many became alarmed that he would turn the independently operated organizations, as well as the Voice of America, into “Trump TV.”

But Mr. Pack, the new chief executive of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, also cleaned house last month at the lesser-known Open Technology Fund, an internet freedom group overseen by the agency Mr. Pack now runs.

Many worry that the move could have an even greater effect.

In less than a decade, the Open Technology Fund has quietly become integral to the world’s repressed communities. Over two billion people in 60 countries rely on tools developed and supported by the fund, like Signal and Tor, to connect to the internet securely and send encrypted messages in authoritarian societies.

After Mr. Pack was confirmed for his new post on June 4, following a personal campaign of support by President Trump, Mr. Pack fired the technology group’s top officials and bipartisan board, an action now being fought in the courts. A federal judge on Thursday ruled in Mr. Pack’s favor, a decision that plaintiffs will likely appeal.

On Friday, Mr. Pack appointed an interim chief executive, James M. Miles, to head the fund, according to a letter obtained by The New York Times. Mr. Miles is little known in the internet freedom community, and his appointment needs approval from the fund’s new board, which is stacked with Trump administration officials and chaired by Mr. Pack.

The move was a victory for a lobbying effort backed by religious freedom advocates displeased with the fund’s work and who are often allied with conservative political figures.

This battle revolves around software developed by Falun Gong, the secretive spiritual movement persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party.

Some Falun Gong members have become notable players in American politics. The Epoch Times, a newspaper started by Falun Gong practitioners, has spent millions of dollars on pro-Trump ads, including conspiratorial ones, on Facebook and YouTube — and was even banned by Facebook last year from buying more ads because it had tried to evade advertising rules.

Now, allies of Falun Gong are making a big push for the Open Technology Fund and the State Department to give money to some of the group’s software, notably Ultrasurf, developed about a decade ago by a Falun Gong member.

Their thinking is that if enough Chinese citizens have this software to bypass the Great Firewall of government censorship, the citizens will see news about repression by the Communist Party.

But pieces of circumvention software like Ultrasurf are considered old, and they are not widespread in China, according to cybersecurity experts. Just as important, Chinese patriots or nationalists who have access to reports critical of the Communist Party — including students in the United States — often do not change their views.

“Anyone who has studied China’s information control regimes and the evolution of Chinese technology knows that funding a set of circumvention tools is not going to bring down the Chinese Communist Party,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, a former Beijing bureau chief for CNN who directs an internet freedom program at the New America Foundation that has received State Department funds before.

Critics also warn that if lobbyists get their way and shift the fund’s focus toward solely supporting software like Ultrasurf, it could set back the fight for internet freedom by decades.

Both Democrats and Republicans are worried. Leading Republican senators, Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, wrote to Mr. Pack in a letter on Wednesday with five other senators expressing their “deep concern” about his staff cuts, saying the moves raised “serious questions about the future of the U.S. Agency for Global Media” under his leadership. Other Republican members of Congress said earlier that they were concerned about the Open Technology Fund.

The group started in 2012 as a pilot program within Radio Free Asia. It was founded by Libby Liu, then the president of the broadcasting outlet. Seven years later, Congress allowed it to become an independent nonprofit grantee of the Agency for Global Media. Lawmakers appropriated $20 million to the group for its 2020 fiscal year.

The bulk of the money goes to incubating new technology that promotes human rights and open societies. The group supports projects such as widely popular encrypted messaging tools like Signal and technology like Pakistan’s first 24/7 hotline for confidentially reporting sexual harassment.

The Open Technology Fund also looks to create and train a community of technical experts who can fend off sophisticated cyberattacks against internet freedom.

One of the bedrock principles of the Open Technology Fund is to support open-source technology. Creating and funding tools that are open source means a worldwide collective of programmers can examine the products to ensure they are safe and secure for people in repressed societies to use, cybersecurity experts say.

“Imagine a teenager in a country where being L.G.B.T.Q. is illegal, and they just want to have a normal social life,” said Isabela Bagueros, the executive director of the Tor Project, a nonprofit digital privacy group. “The internet enables that, and if you provide the security for them to do so, it is extremely important as a part of life.”

At the heart of lobbying efforts supporting the Falun Gong developers are Michael J. Horowitz, a Reagan administration budget official, and Katrina Lantos Swett, the daughter of the former congressman Tom Lantos, Democrat of California and a noted champion for human rights.

During the time Mr. Pack assumed his role, they have worked to advance their agenda.

On June 13, three days after Mr. Pack took office, Mr. Horowitz was a guest on a talk show hosted by Mr. Bannon, who was formerly Mr. Trump’s chief strategist. Mr. Horowitz denounced Ms. Liu, who was the chief executive of the technology fund. Ms. Liu happened to be tendering her resignation to the board that day, effective in July. Mr. Pack fired her on June 17 and dismissed the board.

Ms. Swett has been vocal about her displeasure with leadership at the fund because they have shied away from focusing most of the group’s funding toward programs like Ultrasurf. She claims it is one of the most effective tools to fight against China’s firewall, despite criticism from experts who warn that since Ultrasurf is closed source, there is no way to independently verify its performance or assure end users that they are not being tracked.

“Open source versus closed source, we don’t get hung up on those things,” Ms. Swett said.

Many internet freedom experts disagree with this approach.

“There is no person in their right mind who should be advocating for closed-source applications,” said Nima Fatemi, the founding director of Kandoo, an internet freedom nonprofit. “When we’re talking about people inside Iran, China and Russia who are already facing so much oppression, using these tools don’t guarantee safety or security; they actually put them in more danger.”

The day after Mr. Pack assumed office, Ms. Swett sent him and officials at the State Department a letter requesting that $20 million in funding be steered toward firewall circumvention programs like Ultrasurf. The State Department declined to comment.

And one day after Mr. Pack fired Ms. Liu, officials with the White House’s National Security Council received communication from the Lantos Foundation advocating the funding of programs like Ultrasurf.

Ms. Swett denied contacting the National Security Council herself, but she said she could not rule out whether someone on her foundation’s staff reached out to the organization. The National Security Council did not return an email seeking comment.

Current and former officials at the fund were also alarmed when Mr. Pack froze much of the organization’s funding a day after being sworn in.

Around $2 million was budgeted to train Hong Kong residents in fighting Chinese cyberattacks. Stopping it would have dealt a potential blow to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. More than $7 million was allocated to fund technology that could fight attempts to block access to news provided by U.S. government-funded broadcasting outlets like Voice of America.

The agency unfroze the nonprofit’s funding over a week ago, according to an email obtained by The New York Times. The U.S. Agency for Global Media did not return a request for comment.

An initial pitch for funding Ultrasurf reached its peak around 2009 and 2010, during the first Obama administration. Mr. Horowitz, a religious freedom advocate, was a leader in those efforts. The company has received at least $8.4 million in funding from the U.S. government since 2013, according to records reviewed by The Times.

It stopped receiving money in 2017 after an internal analysis by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a precursor to the U.S. Agency for Global Media, showed that the program’s “cancellation had no impact” on allowing Chinese citizens to circumvent the country’s firewall to access news sites like Voice of America Mandarin, according to documents reviewed by The Times.

Ultrasurf estimates that it has over six million users in places like China, Iran and Russia, according to unverified analysis provided by Clint Jin, the company’s founder and a member of Falun Gong.

Multiple cybersecurity experts raised doubts about the company’s numbers.

“It’s a myopic, single-tool solution to a very complex, diverse problem,” Nathan Freitas, the founder of the Guardian Project, a collective of cybersecurity experts, said of firewall circumvention software like Ultrasurf. “It’s showing up with a hammer to solve everything.”

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Ghislaine Maxwell could be back in New York in days: report

Ghislaine Maxwell could be back in New York as soon as Sunday — but not to the same jail where doomed pedophile Jeffrey Epstein died, according to a report.

Instead, Maxwell — nabbed Thursday at a secluded New Hampshire estate after months on the run from child sex abuse charges — is expected to be held at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center before a possible court appearance early next week, said The Daily Mail.

Jeffrey Epstein was found dead of an apparent suicide in August 2019 in the Manhattan Correctional Center.

US Attorney General William Barr “personally called” Manhattan prosecutors to warn that “No harm must come” to Maxwell, a source told the tabloid.

“After the debacle with Epstein nothing can happen to her,” said the source, who added a plea deal is possible if Maxwell “has proof which will lead to the conviction of bigger fish.”

The FBI nearly had Maxwell at least once in the past year, in an extended “high-stakes game of cat and mouse” which costs millions but didn’t kick into high gear the feds secured an indictment against her, sources told the Mail.

“This has taken millions of dollars and hundreds of man hours. At least five million bucks, maybe more. The FBI has been tracking her for a year. They had her, then they lost her,” according to the Mail’s source.

“She was in Colorado and Wyoming, then they lost her until she showed up in New Hampshire.

“They had to build a case and put it in front of a grand jury.

“These things take time. She slipped through the net once but as soon as the grand jury came back with an indictment 10 days ago, it was on,” the source added.

The socialite was so stunned when the dozens of officers stormed the mansion, dubbed “TuckedAway,” that she didn’t even seem to be aware of the handcuffs.

“Let’s just say, we didn’t knock politely on the door. It was smashed down,” an officer told the Mail.

“Maxwell was up and dressed, in the living room, wearing sweat pants and a top. Strangely she didn’t seem to have much reaction. It was like it wasn’t registering with her.

“She was turned around quickly and cuffed. She was in custody in a matter of seconds.”

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Whose Lincoln Memorial Is It?

Then in 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King gave his most famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” from its steps. To King, Lincoln was a flawed figure in certain ways, occasionally guilty of “vacillating.” But he brilliantly borrowed Lincoln’s rhetoric to weave the struggle of his people into the wider story of American history. The sight of thousands of peaceful supporters, listening on the steps, seemed to prove it. It remains the defining image of the Lincoln Memorial.

For all of these reasons, it was disorienting to see those steps blocked by National Guardsmen—who were there not to air out their views, but to prevent the public from doing so. The steps are important to the memorial: They lead visitors steadily upward, where they can approach Lincoln, read his words, and gaze back at the Capitol. The stunning visual panorama is a well-calibrated effect, consonant with Lincoln’s belief that our democracy must, somehow, spring from the people.

The wide steps—perfect for social distancing—are another part of the memorial’s appeal. In many ways, this is a monument to civility. But at times when Americans are deeply divided, the memorial can reflect that division.

Fifty years ago, that kept happening, throughout an embattled year that increasingly resembles our own. As 1970 began, a divisive president, Richard Nixon, was appealing to his base with racially coded dog whistles, while fighting an unpopular war in Vietnam and trying to contain protests over everything from the environment to women’s rights. Naturally, the protesters often found their way to Lincoln’s steps, where the oversize statue seemed, vaguely, to sympathize with the mandate for change.

But in the spring, as events spilled out of control, Nixon, too, began to daydream about the statue and the steps. In the first week of May, the country erupted after the invasion of Cambodia, and four students at Kent State University were killed by National Guardsmen on May 4. Predictably, huge crowds came back to the Mall, and their shouts could be heard inside the White House.

In the early hours of May 9, the president was having trouble sleeping and felt the pull of Lincoln. What Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, would later call “the weirdest day so far” began early. At 4:35 am, alarmed Secret Service agents began to report, “Searchlight is on the lawn!” The president ordered his limousine to take him to the Lincoln Memorial, where he found hundreds of protesters, and—amazingly—began to talk to them. He later bragged about how he tried to elevate them out of their intellectual “wasteland,” but in reality, he mainly rambled about the Syracuse football team. Still, he deserved credit for his courage in going there at all. American democracy was slightly less dysfunctional as a result.

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Breaking New

Kimberly Guilfoyle, Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, tests positive

Donald Trump Jr. looks on as Kimberly Guilfoyle speaks during a ‘Make America Great Again’ campaign rally at Williamsport Regional Airport, May 20, 2019 in Montoursville, Pennsylvania.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

Kimberly Guilfoyle, a senior Trump campaign official and Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, tested positive for coronavirus while in South Dakota on Friday, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Trump Jr., the eldest son of President Donald Trump, tested negative, the person said.

Neither Trump Jr. nor Guilfoyle traveled with the president on Air Force One as the president went to Mount Rushmore for a July 4th weekend celebration, the person said.

They both planned to attend but never made it to the site. Requests for comment from Guilfoyle and Trump Jr. were not immediately returned Friday night.

Guilfoyle is expected to drive back to the East Coast to avoid interactions with other people, two people familiar with the matter said.

The White House says Trump is tested for the coronavirus daily.

The New York Times first reported that Guilfoyle tested positive.

The development occurred on a day in which there were more than 53,000 new cases of COVID-19 reported across the United States, according to NBC News counts.

Guilfoyle, who is Trump Victory Finance Committee chair, spoke at Trump’s June 20 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and in the introductory program ahead of Trump’s remarks in Phoenix, Arizona, on June 23.

But it is unknown when or where she was exposed to the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19.

While the site of exposure is not known, since the Tulsa rally multiple people who attended have tested positive for the virus, including a journalist and at least two members of the campaign’s advance team.

In addition, six campaign staffers tested positive hours before the rally but were not present at the event.

On Thursday it was announced that former presidential candidate Herman Cain, who attended the Tulsa rally, tested positive for COVID-19.

He received the positive result on Monday, and on Wednesday he developed symptoms serious enough that he required hospitalization, a  posted to his Twitter account said.

Cain, 74, did not need a respirator and was awake and alert at an Atlanta area hospital, the statement said.

It is not known when Cain was exposed to or contracted the illness.

Trump’s campaign said in a statement Thursday that Trump did not meet with Cain at the Tulsa rally.

There have been more than 2.7 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States, with more than 130,000 deaths linked to the disease, according to NBC News’ count.

Cases have been rising in a number of states, and 19 states have either rolled back or paused reopening plans due to the illness.

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Hong Kong’s First Lesbian Pop Star Is Also One Of Its Outspoken Political Activists

Denise Ho set a precedent in 2012 when she came out as a lesbian, reportedly becoming Hong Kong’s first major female singer ever to do so. 

Eight years later, the 43-year-old Cantopop icon continues to take personal and professional risks as her career has grown to encompass activism amid Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests. 

Often referred to as the “Umbrella Movement,” those demonstrations began in 2014 with the aim of ensuring that Hong Kong ― run by the U.K. as part of the former British Empire until 1997 ― would maintain some political independence from China. 

Her journey is captured for posterity in “Denise Ho: Becoming the Song,” which hit virtual cinemas this week. Directed by Sue Williams, the documentary follows Ho throughout 2017 as she aims to re-establish herself within the Cantopop music scene after losing sponsorships and getting blacklisted by radio because of her activism. 

(Watch the trailer for “Denise Ho: Becoming the Song” above.) 

“Under the cloak of the global pandemic, China is carrying out a harsh crackdown on ordinary Hong Kongers and arresting more pro-democratic leaders,” Williams, whose credits include 2016′s “Death by Design,” said in press notes for the film. “Denise’s creativity and resilience are a moving reminder of the power of courageous individuals — and music — in the fight for freedom and democracy.”

“Denise Ho: Becoming the Song” hit virtual cinemas the day after LGBTQ Pride Month ended, but its Wednesday release couldn’t be better timed. On Tuesday, China passed a new security law giving the nation extensive powers over Hong Kong’s legal system. 

The controversial legislation said that anyone who provokes “hatred” of the Chinese government commits a criminal act. By Thursday, local police had reportedly arrested about 370 people, 10 of whom were suspected of violating the new law.

Since its release Wednesday, “Denise Ho: Becoming the Song” has been met with steady critical praise.

“The film does an excellent job of introducing the pop star to unfamiliar audiences, contextualizing her activism and, more broadly, examining the role art can play in shaping our beliefs,” The New York Times said. Meanwhile, The Hollywood Reporter called the documentary “a thoughtful, if surprisingly reserved portrait.” 

“Denise Ho: Becoming The Song” was released virtually July 1. 

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Breaking New

Las Vegas Coronavirus Relief Task Force Partnered With Company Tied To UAE Intelligence

A company that owns an app that some allege may have been secretly used by the autocratic regime of the United Arab Emirates to spy on people may have gained an entry point into Southern Nevada, after a COVID-19 relief task force in Nevada struck a deal in May with the company — despite the company’s ties to the UAE’s intelligence services.

Both the firm, Abu Dhabi–based Group 42, and the private-sector Nevada COVID-19 Response, Relief, and Recovery Task Force said in a press release that Nevada had obtained “vital testing materials thanks to a long-term partnership with the UAE and G42.”

According to the press release, the government of the UAE donated coronavirus test kits, and G42 offered its expertise and technical capabilities, as well as help with an “innovative genomic study” at the University Medical Center in Las Vegas, the press release said.

Former CEO of MGM Resorts Jim Murren, the head of the task force, said in the release that “resources from G42 will substantially increase our ability to conduct COVID-19 testing and research to help us mitigate the effects of this virus.”

But what Murren appears not to have known is that G42 was involved in building a digital tool allegedly used by the intelligence services of the United Arab Emirates.

G42, an artificial intelligence company, is the only registered shareholder of ToTok, a chat app that was the subject of an exposé in the New York Times in December. Downloaded millions of times around the world, ToTok may have been used by the UAE’s intelligence services to collect data on people who use it, their conversations, and their images, according to the Times’ analysis of the app.

The app’s creator was listed as a company called Breej Holding, but according to the Times, it was “most likely a front company affiliated with DarkMatter, an Abu Dhabi-based cyberintelligence and hacking firm where Emirati intelligence officials, former National Security Agency employees and former Israeli military intelligence operatives work. DarkMatter is under F.B.I. investigation, according to former employees and law enforcement officials, for possible cybercrimes.”

After the New York Times investigation, both Google and Apple removed ToTok from their app stores.

Bill Marczak, a researcher at Toronto-based digital research group Citizen Lab who has written extensively about G42, said he was surprised when he first saw the news of the Las Vegas deal. “It raises a question about what data this company is getting access to,” he said.

Along with Breej Holdings and DarkMatter, G42 is part of an opaque web of companies linked to the powerful Abu Dhabi royal Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who oversees much of the country’s national security apparatus. A Reuters investigation in January 2019 found that DarkMatter recruited former NSA operatives to spy on suspected militants, other governments, and human rights activists.

G42 shares a number of staff with DarkMatter, including its CEO, Peng Xiao. The company has said previously it has no connection to DarkMatter.

On Wednesday, a representative for ToTok told BuzzFeed News, “ToTok is a private company that is led by a group of international entrepreneurs and engineers. ToTok does not spy on its users and the company has no connections to any government entity.”

On the same day, a spokesperson for G42 told BuzzFeed News, “G42 was ToTok’s first investor and has also acted as an incubator in the early days of ToTok’s development. G42 still provides the startup with counsel on various legal and accounting matters, but ultimately ToTok is an independent commercial company. ToTok’s daily operations and all strategic decisions about the company, product, and technology are managed by the ToTok executive team.”

In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Murren was asked if he had heard of ToTok, and said, “No, I haven’t.”

He added that “G42 had no involvement on the [lab] project.”

He said G42 had only brokered an introduction to the government of the United Arab Emirates, which sent supplies, including coronavirus test kits. He said the company did not provide resources, technology, or expertise to the lab at the Las Vegas Convention Center, which is run by the University Medical Center.

Murren said staff at Nevada’s University Medical Center held a call with G42 to discuss using artificial intelligence in population health and genomic studies, as well as coronavirus testing.

The lab started doing tests last Thursday, Murren added.

“The genomic study was the original intent of the conversation we had with G42,” Murren said. Because G42 is an AI company, he said he hoped to discuss “health security” measures that could be taken in casinos, like thermal cameras to screen for fevers.

“I hope to have those discussions with G42 in the future, but there has been no follow-up on more sophisticated studies,” he said.

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